Slow Cooker Pizza Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

As always, I used my 6-quart cooker.  I modified the original recipe a bit because I've learned that adding chopped veggies at the beginning of a slow cooking process usually results in mush.  I prefer mine to maintain a little crunch and their individual flavors so you can actually taste the pepper or onion or whatever if you get some of it in any particular forkful.  Also, cheese can get kind of burn-y and dried out, so I usually put it in with only a little cooking time left (or even wait until the cooker automatically switches to the "warm" setting).

This was a pretty basic recipe and therefore nothing mind-blowing, but it was hearty and easy and good enough to make again.  Thinking I didn't want to just serve bowls of saucy, cheesy chicken gooey-ness (not that there's anything wrong with that), I spontaneously baked a pizza crust.  I served it in wedges for dipping and scooping the main dish.  It worked fine, but next time I'll plan ahead and make breadsticks or tomato muffins or something more interesting.

3 to 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
14 oz pasta or pizza sauce
seasonings like basil, oregano, and garlic powder [optional]
20 pepperoni pieces [optional; I did not use]
1 4-oz can sliced black olives [optional]
3 to 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

(1) Put chicken into cooker.  Top with sauce and seasonings (if using). Put the pepperoni pieces evenly over the top if using.
(2) Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or about 3 on high.
(3) Add vegetables; stir to combine.  Sprinkle cheese on top.  Cook for an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Kid Participation:
* Dump sauce over chicken
* Place pepperoni slices
* Sprinkle cheese on top


Zucchini Fritters

Original Recipe HERE

My kids are OK with zucchini (sometimes), like to dip things, and are fans of foods perfectly sized for little hands.  I had hopes for these fritters, and *N* loved them.  *J* didn't gag but didn't finish the serving I gave him.  Husband and I also liked them, so the majority rules and I'll make them again.  We used the dipping sauce, which I recommend.  The fritters were flavorful enough on their own, but the sauce was an easy extra enhancer.

Apparently this yields about ten 2.5" fritters, but I suggest making them smaller and being sure they're pretty thin.  I didn't leave them in the oven long enough to see if they crisped up enough to make a difference, but they were definitely soft in the middle when I served them.  Not gooey - I wasn't worried they weren't cooked through.  But next time I'll probably reduce the diameter and thickness of the fritters and therefore end up with more than ten.  I was looking forward to leftovers for the next day, but I watched with sadness as the entire batch was scarfed up at dinner.

* Fritters
1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium)
1 teaspoon coarse or Kosher salt plus extra to taste
2 scallions, split lengthwise and sliced thin
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese [optional]
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Olive oil
* Dipping Sauce
1 cup sour cream or plain, full-fat yogurt
1 to 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest [I did not use this]
Salt, to taste
1 small garlic clove, minced or crushed

(1) Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Have a baking sheet ready.
(2) Trim ends off zucchini and grate them.
(3) In a large bowl, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.  Set aside for 10 minutes, then "dry" out the zucchini as much as possible (by pressing it against the holes of a colander with a wooden spoon, squeezing small handfuls at a time, or wrapping it in a clean dishtowel or piece of cheese cloth and wringing it).
(4) Return zucchini shreds to bowl. Taste; add more salt to taste if desired.
(5) Stir in scallions, egg, pepper, and parmesan.
(6) In a separate dish, stir together flour and baking powder; add mixture to zucchini batter.
(7) In a large heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Drop small bunches of the zucchini mixture onto the skillet, a few at a time.  Gently flatten with spatula.
(8) Cook fritters until the edges underneath are golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip fritters; fry on the other side until browned underneath again, about 2 to 3 minutes.
(9) Drain briefly on paper towels; transfer to baking sheet and then into the warm oven until needed.
(10) Repeat process with remaining batter, keeping the pan well-oiled.
(11) Leave fritters in oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking through.
(12) Combine all ingredients for dipping sauce, if using.

Kid Participation:
* Squeezing out zucchini (if you don't mind the mess it'll make)
* Stir together ingredients to make zucchini batter
* Create dipping sauce


Original Recipe HERE

As long as you plan ahead and allow for enough time for rising, these are easy, filling, and worth the effort.  I don't have a cool stand mixer (yet), so I did everything by hand and it was manageable.  The final product made me think of Olive Garden - which is a positive, since I love that place.  I'm under no illusions that it's "fine, authentic Italian dining" (despite their attempts to convince us every single employee gets months of training in the mother country), but I don't care.  I like to fill up on the breadsticks and salad (free unlimited refills!) and then eat a portion of my entree...and bring the rest home for tomorrow's lunch.  I'm cheap frugal and practical like that.

Next time I'll add more seasoning to the dough itself (garlic salt, oregano, basil, etc.).  The portion sizes of the sticks is generous, and sometimes I didn't get enough of the garlic butter in each bite.  Also, these could be made smaller or in other shapes to maximize the flavor-to-bite ratio.  I like the suggestion of cinnamon and sugar and will attempt to remember to try them that way.

Update: I didn't have time to make the fancy twists next time, so I rolled out the dough in as even a rectangle as possible and then sliced it into 12 approximately symmetrical pieces (so I had flat-ish, skinny rectangles).  I baked them for 12 minutes, then brushed them with melted butter and sprinkled with Parmesan and put them back in for an additional 2 minutes.

1 1/2 cups warm (105-115 degrees F) water
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 1/2 cups flour
melted butter
Parmesan cheese or garlic salt

(1) In a large bowl (the bowl of your mixer, if you have one), combine water, sugar, and yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes or until yeast is bubbly.
(2) Add salt and stir. Add 1 & 1/2 cups flour and mix well. Gradually add more flour (between 3-4 cups) until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and it barely sticks to your finger.
(3) Spray a glass or metal bowl with cooking spray and place dough in the bowl. Cover and allow to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
(4) Remove from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a rectangle and cut into 12 strips with a pizza cutter.
(5) Grease or spray a baking sheet.
(6) Roll each piece of dough into a "snake" and then drape over your forefinger at the halfway point.  Twist the dough several times; pinch the ends together.
(7) Place "dough rope" on baking sheet and repeat with remaining 11 pieces.
(8) Cover pan and allow dough to rise for another 30 minutes. With there's about 15 minutes left, preheat oven to 425.
(9) When done rising, bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
(10) Rub or brush melted butter on top of the breadsticks.  Sprinkle with garlic, Parmesan, or seasoning of choice.

Kid Participation:
* Measure ingredients
* Knead dough (and then follow up by doing it yourself)
* Roll out dough
* Cut dough with pizza cutter
* Make "snakes"
* Twist dough (do not expect uniformity)

Baked Eggplant Sticks

Original Recipe HERE

Not surprisingly, I couldn't fool the kids into thinking that these were "real" fries and they detected the eggplant element and only ate a few.  However, Husband and I liked them.  Which is good, since it made two full pans of sticks.  I made the recommended marinara dipping sauce, and the kids enjoyed that part, at least.

1 10-oz eggplant
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 large egg white
olive oil spray
(1) Preheat oven to 450°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray with oil.
(2) Cut ends off the eggplant. Slice eggplant in half, then into 1/4" thick slices. Cut each slice into 1/4" strips.
(3) Place eggplant strips in a bowl and season with olive oil, salt and pepper.
(4) Combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in a bowl.  Put egg whites in another.
(5) Dip a few strips of eggplant at a time into the egg whites, then into the breadcrumbs. Using a fork, remove eggplant from crumbs and place on the baking sheets.
(6) Spray with more oil and bake 10 minutes in the middle rack.
(7) Turn over and bake an additional 5 minutes or until golden. Serve hot.

Kid Participation: None, including consuming them.


Tortellini Sausage Soup

Original Recipe HERE

Husband and I thought this soup was really good.  The kids liked the pasta aspect but could pretty much take or leave the rest of it.

There's really no need to use tortellini other than personal preference and wanting the soup to be a bit heartier.  Next time I'll just cook up something small, like orzo or ditalini, on the side and ladle the soup over it in individual bowls.  Also, I think pre-cooked smoked sausage or kielbasa would streamline the recipe as well and not detract from the flavor.

3 links Italian sausage [uncooked]
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 onion
½ cup water
2 15-oz cans chicken broth
½ cup apple cider
1 16-oz can diced tomatoes
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 cup sliced carrots [I used baby carrots]
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons dried parsley [optional]
8-10 oz. package refrigerated or frozen cheese tortellini
grated parmesan cheese, to taste [optional]

(1) If using link sausage, remove casings and crumble into a large soup pot.  Turn heat to medium.
(2) Dice onion; add to pot. Continue cooking until onions are translucent and sausage is cooked through.
(3) Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, juice, water, chicken broth, carrots, oregano, and basil. Cover; simmer for 30 minutes.
(4) While soup is cooking, grate zucchini and put in collander to drain.  After 20 minutes, squeeze as much liquid out as possible.
(5) Add parsley and zucchini to soup; simmer for 15 minutes. Add tortellini and cook 6 minutes or until tender.  Garnish with parmesan if desired.

Kid Participation: None.  I'd say maybe squeezing the zucchini, but that would probably lead to a large clean-up effort that would fall to the parents.


Creamy Tomato Sauce

Original Recipe HERE

This is an easy way to improve my standard "I haven't planned anything for dinner and now it's 6pm and the vultures are starting to wander into my kitchen" meal of pasta.  I left the sauce relatively thick; next time I will thin it out a bit more and probably not combine the pasta and sauce before serving.  We turn to the ruffles pasta shape most of the time because (1) it's easy for little hands to grab or stab with a fork, and (2) it traps sauce well.

1/2 pound pasta
1/4 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 ounces. tomato paste
4 Tablespoons cream [I used half-n-half]
1/2 Tablespoon dried basil

(1) Cook pasta according to its directions.
(2) Meanwhile, heat a large pot or pan (able to hold cooked pasta) on medium heat.  Add olive oil and onion.
(3) After two minutes, add garlic.
(4) Turn down heat; add tomato paste.  Combine thoroughly with onions and garlic.
(5) Turn heat to low; add cream and basil.
(6) Drain pasta, reserving water.  Add pasta to sauce pan.  Toss together; add spoonfuls of pasta water to thin sauce to desired consistency.

Kid Participation: None.