Easy Marinated Chicken Breasts

This is a good recipe to have in a collection when you don't know what else to make for dinner, but plain chicken breasts sound totally unappetizing.  It's very flexible, so it's pretty much impossible not to have all the ingredients handy.  These turn out flavorful and can then be added to pasta or fried rice or whatever else you may have the time and energy to make.

1 to 2 Tablespoons vinegar (cider, balsamic, or red wine)
2 to 3 teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, crumbled bay leaf, etc.)
1 to 2 Tablespoons mustard (whole grain or Dijon)
1 to 2 teaspoons garlic or onion powder (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

(1) Put vinegar, herbs, mustard, powders, and oil in large re-sealable plastic bag or plastic storage container. Close and shake to combine.
(2) Add chicken to marinade and cover thoroughly.  Allow to marinate at least half an hour.
(3) Cook chicken on Foreman grill, grill pan, or in oven at 375 degrees 20-30 minutes or until cooked through.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: Shake chicken and marinade together.

Slow Cooker Cranberry Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

A "seasonal" meal that adds a bit of autumn to your table - and is really easy to make.  I had trouble finding "whole berry cranberry sauce," but apparently half a bag of Craisins and 3/4 cup of water can be subsituted.  I usually add vegetables halfway through the cooking time so they retain a little of their crunch, but they can be added at the beginning with everything else and with no harm done.

I served this with brown rice because I was lazy.  Both kids ate what I gave them and asked for more.

3 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 can (16 oz) whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

(1) Put chicken, cranberry sauce, barbecue sauce, salt, and ppper into slow cooker.  Cook on low for 7-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours (until chicken is cooked through).
(2) Halfway through cooking time, add onion and celery.

Notes: I may try it with Craisins and water next time because I always have Craisins in the pantry.

Kid Participation: None.

Gnocchi with Chicken and Spinach

Original Recipe HERE

This is a recipe with a few basic ingredients that come together to make a tasty meal.  The key here is using gnocchi, since it's more filling than regular pasta, as well as a different texture.  This also lends itself easily to adding different spices (more garlic, dried basil or oregano, etc.) and increasing the amount of chicken or spinach, depending on how many people you're feeding.

I found the chicken to be somewhat dried out after browing it in the pan - perhaps I cooked it for too long.  But next time I'll Foreman grill or poach the chicken first and then brown it in the pan just enough to infuse some flavor in it.

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 (17.5 oz) package shelf-stable gnocchi
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 teaspoons olive oil, separated
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt [or more to taste]
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 - 1 cup spinach, chopped

(1) Cook gnocchi according to package directions.
(2) Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add diced chicken; sauté until lightly
(3) Add garlic and onion; cook until softened and fragrant (2-3 minutes).
(4) Add remaining olive oil, butter, drained gnocchi, salt, and pepper. Cook until gnocchi are golden brown on bottoms.
(5) Use spatula to flip the gnocchi. Add spinach and cook, tossing frequently, until wilted (about 3 minutes). Serve hot.

Notes: See above about alternate means for cooking chicken.  I could add a can of diced tomatoes or whisk together some tomato paste with a little water.

Kid Participation: None.


Mushroom Cheese Bread

Original Recipe Found in Taste of Home's 2006 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes

I rely on frozen, not-homemade garlic bread way too often, but we all love it...a hard, lazy habit to break.  So I was in the market for some new variations on a favorite side.  This was an easy way to dress up plain bread and more special than just tossing some shredded mozzarella on the frozen loaf.

I thought that there wasn't enough topping for an entire loaf of Italian bread, so I only used half of one.  This was a mistake, as the topping couldn't melt enough and the bread didn't get as crispy as I'd have liked.

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can (4 oz) mushroom pieces, drained or 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced thin
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped green onion
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning [optional]
1 loaf (1 pound) unsliced French or Italian bread

(1) Slice loaf in half length-wise.  Toast or broil until just crisped (not browned).
(2) In bowl, combine mozzarella, mushrooms, mayonnaise, parmesan, and onion.  Spread mixture over bread.
(3) Broil 5-10 minutes or until lightly browned and cheese is melted.

Notes: I used Italian bread this time, so I'll try French the next.  I'll also add some garlic powder to the cheese mixture.

Kid Participation:
* Mix topping ingredients together
* Spread cheese mixture over bread (if cooled)

Black Bean Spinach Pizza

Original Recipe Found in Taste of Home's 2006 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes

I love homemade pizza, but I worry my family gets tired of having it the same way every time.  This seemed like a somewhat healthy alternative version.

I didn't think the amount of beans would be enough, so I added another half-can of garbanzos.  In retrospect, there was too much bean-iness on the pizza, so I'll stick with the recommended one can next time.

pizza crust [I used this one]
1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce [optional]
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

(1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Prepare pizza crust according to directions
(2) In small bowl, combine beans, onion, chili powder, cumin, and garlic.  Mash (I used a pastry cutter) until a spreadable consistency is reached.  Spread over crust.
(3) In another bowl, combine salsa, spinach, and hot sauce.  Layer over bean mixture.
(4) Sprinkle cheese over pizza.
(5) Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Notes: More toppings, like chopped green onions or canned diced green chilis, would add more flavor.  So would using different types of cheese.  A different salsa, like a pineapple-based one, could be good.

Kid Particpation:
* Mash bean mixture
* Stir salsa mixture
* Sprinkle cheese

Asparagus with Mushrooms

Original Recipe Found in Taste of Home's 2006 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes

This recipe was a hit with both kids and both adults in the family.  We ate it as a side, but it could be modified into a main dish if diced chicken is added to the vegetables and it's all served over rice.

1 pound fresh aspargus
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms [I used baby bella]
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper
splash of balsamic vinegar [optional]
splash of soy sauce [optional]

(1) Trim ends off asparagus and cut into 2-inch pieces.
(2) In large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add asparagus and ginger; sautee 2-3 minutes or until crsip-tender.
(3) Add mushrooms, onion, salt, sugar, pepper, balsamic, and soy sauce.  Cook 2-3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.

Notes: Perhaps a little less ginger next time...the taste was a bit strong.

Kid Participation: None.


Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar

Original Recipe HERE

This is a recipe that makes you say, "Why didn't I think to do that?  Why did I instead need it laid out in black-and-white before the lightbulb went on?"  It's a no-brainer, low-maintenance side dish.

1 head cauliflower

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated [or shredded if necessary]
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

(1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
(2) Cut cauliflower into florets.  Toss with olive oil and salt.
(3) Spread onto baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.
(4) Remove cauliflower from oven and stir.  Sprinkle with cheese and roast another 3-4 minutes until cheese is melted.

Notes: I'll add some pepper and maybe some garlic powder, chili powder, or Italian seasoning.  Different cheeses are also an option.

Kid Participation:
* Toss cauliflower and oil
* Spread evenling onto baking sheet
* Sprinkle cheese

Sauce with Roasted Tomatoes

Original Recipe HERE

My mother grows all sorts of vegetables every summer.  And when the squirrels don't ravage her tomato crop, she brings me bags of them every time she visits.  Since I'm not a big fan of raw tomatoes, I never know what to do with them.  This will be a great way to use them up: make up a few batches of sauce and freeze them to use throughout the winter.

This made enough sauce for our family of four to have two complete meals with generous servings (apparently it makes 10 servings that are 1/2 cup each).

6-8 large tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces each
1/2 large red onion, roughly chopped
1 red chili pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, whole
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 can (15 oz) canned tomato sauce, no salt added
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine [I used cooking wine]
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

(1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
(2) Toss tomatoes, onion, chili, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, salt, oregano, and pepper together until well mixed.
(3) Spread onto large sheet pan. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until tomatoes just begin to char.  Set aside to cool slightly.
(4) In large pot, add roasted tomato mixture, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.  Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
(5) Add basil and parsley.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Puree sauce until smooth using an immersion blender or by adding in several batches to a blender.

Notes: Perhaps a few more garlic cloves, since I like a detectable garlic flavor in my tomato sauces.  I'll also try to time it for when we have an open bottle of red wine (not the cheap stuff from the condiment aisle).

Kid Participation:
* Toss tomato mixture before roasting (make sure the lid on the container is on tightly)
* Blend final product

Greek Israeli Couscous Salad

Original Recipe HERE

I wasn't sure if this would be a disappointment because its ingredient list is so basic.  I was worried about a lack of flavor, and I'm not a big fan of a strong lemon taste.  Plus I'd never had Israeli couscous before, and I'm hit-or-miss with my success at preparing regular couscous.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.  And both *N* and *J* gobbled it up and asked for seconds (her with words, him with grunting and pointing).

It says this serves four, which sounds accurate if you're dishing out large portions as a side dish.  Increasing the amount of couscous or veggies (or adding new ones, like chopped red pepper) could bump it up into entree territory.  It says you can use regular couscous, but I think the larger grains (kernals? particles?) of the Israeli variety make it heartier.

1 1/2 cups Israeli Couscous
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 large cucumber, seeded & diced
1 large tomato, seeded & diced
1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped [optional; I did not use]

(1) Place couscous and olive oil in medium sauce pan and toast for 5 minutes over medium heat.
(2) Add water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain if necessary.  Transfer to serving bowl and allow to cool.
(3) Pour in remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Notes: Next time I may just drain a can of diced tomatoes because fresh tomatoes aren't in season.  I may add some red or green onion to boost the crunch factor.

Kid Participation:
* Measure ingredients
* Mix ingredients


Bistro Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

This is a really flavorful dish with a bit of a kick to it.  Maybe that's due to the French onion soup?  I don't know, since I've only tasted it maybe twice in my life and can't remember if it's got that spicy zing.  It could just be the pepper - in which case, reduce the amount if you want a milder taste.

Since I don't like Swiss cheese, I used smoked gouda and thought it balanced out the zip from the sauce well.

2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup chopped shallots
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed french onion soup
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese [or cheese of choice]

(1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
(2) Sprinkle chicken breast halves with half of the salt and pepper, reserving the rest of the salt and pepper for the sauce.
(3) In medium skillet, melt butter in olive oil over medium-high heat.  Pan-fry chicken until both sides are golden but chicken is not cooked through. Remove chicken from skillet and put in 9x13" baking dish.
(4) Add shallots to skillet; cook and stir until softened (3-4 minutes).
(5) Add thyme and tomatoes with juices.  Cook until sauce has reduced a bit (4-5 minutes).
(6) Add soup and remaining salt and pepper.  Cook for 4 minutes.
(7) Pour sauce over chicken.  Bake, uncovered, 15-18 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
(8) Sprinkle chicken with cheese. Return to oven and bake another 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: None...too much heat involved.

Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes

Original Recipe HERE

This is one of those dishes that's easy to make but could give the impression that it's fancier than it really is.  Make sure to use a pasta that will "contain" the sauce, such as mini-shells or ruffles (or good old fashioned wagon wheels?) instead of something like linguini.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and chopped into small bits [I used baby bellas]
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dry Marsala wine
1 pound pasta
1/2 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed [or one 15 oz can of non-frozen artichokes]
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

(1) Place olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for one minute.
(2) Add mushrooms and one teaspoon of salt. Sauté 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all moisture has evaporated and mushrooms have cooked down.
(3) Add Marsala and continue cooking until almost all wine has evaporated (about 5 minutes).
(4) While mushroom mixture is cooking, cook pasta according to package directions so that it's tender but firm.  When done, add to mushrooms.
(5) Add artichoke hearts, Parmesan and cream to mushrooms.  Cook until artichokes are heated through (about 5 minutes).
(6) Stir in parsley and pepper, then adjust seasonings to taste before serving.

Notes: I will try different mushrooms (like creminis from the original recipe) to see about altering the taste.  Also, the artichoke flavor was a little too intense for my liking, so I may reduce the amount next time.

Kid Participation: None.

Cranberry Chicken Bake

This is a recipe from my mother that I enjoyed as a kid, so I was hoping my kids would like it, too. The copious amount of ketchup made me optimistic they'd fall in love, but the mere presence of onions and the tartnesss of the cranberries were potential dealbreakers. *J* ate most of his bowl but declared himself "none" (done) before his plate was clear. He didn't eat his green beans with mountains of powdered cheese, either, so I guess he just wasn't feeling food in general. *N* had three full servings, so *J* will face it again and we'll see if tonight was a fluke.

I served this over brown rice this time, but I've also done it with garlic mashed potatoes.
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ - 1 cup chopped onion [to taste]
1 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 cup ketchup
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries [can use frozen or craisins]
½ teaspoon freshly grated orange peel or 1 teaspoon orange juice [optional]

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease 9x13" baking dish.
1) Sprinkle both sides of each breast with salt and pepper (optional: cut each breast in half to speed up cooking time).
2) In small amount of olive oil, sautee chicken in pan on medium-high heat in until slightly browned.  Remove from pan and put in baking dish.
3) Add remaining olive oil to pan.  Sautee onion until crisp tender.
4) Add ketchup, brown sugar, and orange to onion.  Heat, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved.  Stir in cranberries until coated.
5) Pour sauce over chicken.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and cranberries begin to burst.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: None...sorry, kiddos.

Veggie Pizza Appetizers

This is a dish for which I pulled inspiration from several sources...several years ago.  It's a "make it up as you go to suit your own taste" kind of thing.  But it's always a hit at parties because people feel good about themselves for eating something loaded with vegetables.  It justifies going back for seconds (or fifths) of the queso dip or barbecue meatballs.  Using a variety of colorful vegetables - and chopping them very small so no one veggie dominates a particular slice of the pizza - draws attention to this appetizer.

Ingredients for "Sauce"
2 tubes crescent rolls
8 oz low-fat cream cheese [or to taste]
4 oz low-fat sour cream [or to taste]
bottled ranch dressing [or powdered ranch dressing mix]
1/4 cup salsa [optional]
grated parmesan [optional]
seasonings [garlic powder, salt, pepper, chili powder, cayenne, smoked
paprika etc.]

Ingredients for Toppings
green onions
red onion
peppers [red, green, yellow, or orange]
shredded Mexican cheese [optional]

1) Put cream cheese in mixing bowl and allow to soften slightly.
2) Unroll crescent rolls and spread onto baking sheet.  Distribute as evenly as possible and seal all seams.
3) Bake crescent rolls according to package directions.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely or until just slightly warm.
4) Add sour cream and ranch (and optional salsa) to cream cheese in several increments.  Mix thoroughly each time until desired consistency is reached (should be spreadable but not runny). 
5) Mix in optional parmsean and seasonings.  Evenly spread cheese mixture over crescent rolls.
6) Finely chop vegetables into smaller-than-bite-size pieces.  Toss together to mix well.
7) Scatter chopped vegetables over cheese mixture.  Top with shredded cheese (optional).  Gently press toppings to ensure they stay in place.
8) Cut pizza into pieces of desired size.  Refrigerate until serving.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation:
* Seal crescent roll seams
* Mix sauce ingredients together
* Spread sauce over crescent rolls
* Add toppings to pizza