Wheat Berry Salad

Original Recipe HERE
The only time I've ever seen - and thereafter consumed - wheat berries was at the Whole Foods fill-your-container bar thing.  There was a salad that looked good, so I got some.  I liked it, and then I forgot about wheat berries.  Until the next time I was at Whole Foods fill-your-container bar thing.  Repeat, repeat (probably literally...I go to Whole Foods maybe twice a year).  When I came across this recipe in my bookmarks, I thought it might be a good accompaniment to our Christmas dinner since all the other dishes were hot.
The kids ate it but didn't ask for more.  Upon pressing him to rate the holiday menu items, Husband hesitated on this one, which is the indicator that he wasn't a big fan.  However, my mom and I thought it was great.  I really like the texture of wheat berries: you actually feel like you're chewing something instead of the mush of similar grain-based dishes like quinoa and bulgur (and couscous, which has flour, which is made from a grain, so I'll include it here).
I didn't have all the ingredients, so I substituted with what was in my kitchen.
2 cups wheat berries
6 cups water
2 Tablespoons honey
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon lemon or lime juice [I used lemon]
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons peanut or sesame oil [I used sesame]
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants or craisins [I used currants]
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen peaches or mangoes, defrosted & chopped small [I used frozen mangoes]
1 small red bell pepper, chopped small
1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped [I did not include]
(1) Put wheat berries in medium saucepan.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer, uncovered, for 60 to 90 minutes or until desired tenderness is reached.  Add more water if needed.
(2) Pour wheat berries into a strainer.  Rinse, drain, and cool.
(3) Whisk honey, garlic, lemon/lime juice, rice vinegar, oil, and salt in a large bowl.
(4) Add wheat berries, raisins/currants/craisins, peanuts, peaches/mangoes, bell pepper, and spinach to the bowl with the dressing.  Stir to coat thoroughly.  Serve chilled or room temperature.
Kid Participation: None.

Slow Cooker Honey-Glazed Ham

Original Recipe HERE
Ham is a ham is a ham.  Unless it's horribly dried out, it's pretty hard to ruin a pre-cooked, spiral-cut ham.  Still, this turned out really well and might just be my standard holiday ham recipe from now on.  Using the crockpot is key because that leaves the oven available for all the side dishes.
The smallest ham I could find was 8.5 pounds.  I did my best to jam it into the crockpot, but it was ever so slightly too big.  I hacked away at it to make it fit.
5-7 pound bone-in, pre-cooked/smoked, spiral-cut ham
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground thyme

(1) Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Unwrap ham and discard flavor packet. Put ham into slow cooker.  Slice if necessary to fit.
(2) In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, butter, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and thyme. Pour mixture evenly over ham.
(3) Cover.  Cook on low for 6 hours, or until heated through.  Quickly baste 2 or 3 times during second half of cooking time.
Kid Participation: Eat lots of it.  And feed bits of it to the cats.


Baked Pasta, Gouda, & Caramelized Onions

Original Recipe HERE
This is, hands down, the greatest macaroni and cheese dish I've ever had.  I'd even venture to say it might be the greatest food item I've ever had.  It's that good.  It's the caramelized onions that took it into the stratosphere.  Everyone in my family loved it, and only *J* picked out the onions (and gave them to me...for once his pickiness worked in my favor!)
I didn't want to deal with cooking sausages, so I substituted precooked smoked sausage.  I imagine bacon would work just as well, though you'd need a lot of it in order to guarantee some in every bite.  Which is totally fine by me; I'm not afraid to use an entire package of bacon in one meal.
I also added all of the cheese and onions right into the pasta mixture and didn't leave any for garnishing the top.
The original author of the recipe said that she's used skim milk in place of the whole.  I used an unorthodox hybrid of whole milk, water, and half-n-half (because I hadn't gone grocery shopping in a week), and it was fine.  I imagine skim would make it the sauce a little thinner, but if you care at all about trying to make this dish healthier, apparently it's an option.
* For pasta & sauce:
1 lb (16 oz) pasta [I used ruffles]
1-1/2 lbs precooked sausage
1-1/2 cups caramelized onions
4 cups milk
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
6 Tablespoons flour
3/4 lb smoked Gouda, grated
Salt and pepper

* For caramelized onions:
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced [I used three medium-size onions]
2 teaspoons sugar

* For pasta & sauce:
(1) Preheat the oven to 350°.
(2) Prepare caramelized onions (directions below).
(3) Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente, according to directions.
(4) While pasta is cooking, slice sausage lengthwise twice, then slice into thin quarters.
(5) Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until slightly browned.  Transfer sausage to a large bowl.
(6) Add pasta to sausage.  Stir to combine.
(7) In  medium saucepan or microwave, heat milk until steaming.
(8) Return large saucepan to stove.  Add butter; melt over medium heat.
(9) Add flour.  Cook, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes.
(10) Whisk in hot milk, 1/4 cup at a time.  Continue whisking until sauce is smooth and thick and comes to a simmer.
(11) Add cheese.  Remove saucepan from heat.  Whisk until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.
(12) Add caramelized onions to pasta mixture.  Stir to combine.
(13) Add cheese sauce to pasta mixture.  Stir to combine.
(14) Grease 9x13" baking dish.  Add pasta mixture in an even layer.
(15) Bake until golden and bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven; let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

* For caramelized onions:
(1) In  large skillet, melt butter into olive oil over medium-high heat.
(2) Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly, until onions begin to soften (about 5 minutes).
(3) Stir in sugar.  Cook, scraping browned bits off bottom of pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown (about 20 minutes).
(4) If desired, dice onions into bite-size pieces.
Kid Participation: None.  I was too busy with all the steps to let them help out...heaven forbid they hose up the caramelized onions!

Apple Cider Milkshakes

Original Recipe HERE
Why didn't I think of this on my own?  It's brilliantly simple.  The dairy helps tone down the tartness of the cider, but the cider kicks the boring old vanilla ice cream into "yes, this is worth blowing a good portion of my daily caloric allotment on."  My kids love these, and I'm going to have to freeze some cider so we don't have to wait until next September to have these.
If you want your milkshake rather thin but don't want such a strong cider taste, I'm sure some milk could be added for consistency purposes.
vanilla ice cream
apple cider
ground cinnamon [optional]
(1) Add ice cream and cider to blender in whatever ration you prefer.
(2) Blend.  Adjust consistency by adding more ice cream or more cider.  Repeat until desired thickness is reached.
(3) Add cinnamon to taste.  Blend.
Kid Participation: Ask for one every day after getting home from school.


Baked Blueberry & Banana Oatmeal

Original Recipe HERE

I threw this together on a night when I had no idea what I was making but didn't want to resort to pasta or egg sandwiches yet again.  *N* was eating dinner at a friend's house, so the remaining four of us pretty much polished off the entire dish.  I was shocked to see it disappear before my eyes so quickly - and disappointed, since I was hoping to make the next day's morning routine easier by having breakfast already made.  I will definitely make this again.

I assume that other berries could be substituted.  I have a bag of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries in my freezer right now that would be worth a try.  Also, pureeing some (or all) of the bananas and mixing them into the wet ingredients might make for a moister, more uniformly-flavorful dish.
3 to 4 medium ripe bananas, sliced into 1/2" rounds
1 to 2 cups blueberries [I used thawed frozen berries]
1/2 cup honey or agave
2-1/2 cups uncooked oats [I used old fashioned] 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans [optional; I did not use]
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ [optional]
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
yogurt for topping [optional; I used fat-free French vanilla]
(1) Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a 9x13" baking dish.
(2) Arrange banana slices in a single layer in the dish. Sprinkle blueberries over bananas.
(3) Dust 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon over fruit.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons honey.
(4) Cover with foil.  Bake 15 minutes.
(5) Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine oats, nuts, baking powder, remaining cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
(6) In separate bowl, whisk together remaining honey, milk, eggs, and vanilla.
(7) Evenly spread oat mixture over fruit.  Slowly pour milk mixture over oats, distributing as evenly as possible.
(8) Bake oatmeal for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the oatmeal has set. Serve warm from the oven, with yogurt if desired.
Kid Participation: Eat it and love it.

White Cheddar Corn Soup

Original Recipe HERE
This soup was...wait for it...easy and tasty.  I know, I start just about every post with those two words somewhere in the first three lines.  But I guess that makes sense, since I'm not going to want to repeat anything that's not at least tasty - and easy is a huge bonus.
I bought a block of white cheddar and grated about a cup of it.  Then, for no reason I can explain, I switched to a garlic-and-herb block that I love.  I doubt it made much of a difference in the end product, so I'd think that most cheese could be substituted.  I mostly recognized corn with hints of red pepper; the cheese seemed to affect the texture more than the taste.
All three kids happily ate it, as did Husband and I.  I served it with "homemade" biscuits (courtesy of Bisquick and some milk) and sliced smoked sausage rounds, browned in a pan.  *N* and *J* enjoyed dipping the biscuits and sausage into the soup.
This made enough to feed all of us for one night plus leftovers for my lunch.  So it's not one of the huge Commitment Soups that you'll be eating for a week.
1 to 2 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion [preferably Vidalia], diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2-1/2 cups frozen corn kernels [I used one 16-oz bag]
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream or half-n-half
1-1/4 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
(1) In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter.
(2) Add onion and bell pepper; sauté 10 minutes or until softened.
(3) Add garlic; sauté 2 minutes.
(4) Add broth, corn, bay leaf, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 30 minutes.
(5) Discard bay leaf. Blend mixture with immersion blender (or transfer two cups at a time to a blender; return mixture to saucepan. Repeat until all soup is blended).
(6) Add cream to soup; bring to a boil.
(7) Stir in cheese.  Turn off heat; stir until cheese is melted.
Kid Participation: None.


Mexican Pizza

Original Recipe HERE
I've made this recipe several times already, and each time the entire thing is devoured by my family.  It has the convenience of homemade pizza without the post-meal feeling of being weighed-down as one often does after consuming lots of salty sauce, bready crust, and greasy cheese.  Of course, you could easily transform this one to fit that bill.  But the fresh, raw vegetables and screw-with-your-head concept ("But I don't use half a jar of Prego?!") are enough to make me really look forward to making pizza again and know I don't have to anticipate a food coma tinged with regret.
Depending on what culture my pizza is supposed to originate from, I add particular seasonings to my crust.  My go-to crust is this one (though the original recipe for this one has its own crust recipe), and for this pizza I add a few shakes of garlic powder, chili powder, and smoked paprika.  I don't like cumin, but I'm sure it would work.  If a premade crust is being used, the same seasonings can be added to the "sauce" instead.
Ingredients (NOTE: all are approximations and can be tweaked for personal preference)
pizza crust
1 cup refried beans [I use vegetarian or fatfree]
1/2 cup salsa
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend [or cheese of choice]
toppings: shredded lettuce, sliced avocado, black beans, sliced green onion, chopped tomatoes, etc.
(1) Prepare pizza crust as desired.  It is suggested that the crust be prebaked for a few minutes.
(2) Thoroughly combine refried beans and salsa.  Spread over crust.
(3) Sprinkle cheese evenly over "sauce."
(4) Finish cooking pizza.
(5) Top with vegetables immediately, while cheese is still melty.  Gently press into pizza if necessary.
Kid Participation:
* Prepare pizza crust
* Whisk together beans and salsa
* Sprinkle cheese over crust (while you hover, making sure they don't touch the hot pan)
* Spread toppings (see "while you hover" instruction directly above)

Slowcooker Corn & Bean Soup

Original Recipe HERE
This is a standard, sturdy recipe that doesn't open new culinary horizons, but it's tasty and healthy and light enough that you don't feel like you have five gallons of soup sloshing around in your stomach afterward.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can (28 oz) diced tomato
2 cans (15 oz each) beans of choice, drained & rinsed [I used black and pinto]
1 bag (1 lb) frozen corn kernels
1 medium zucchini, grated & drained
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 box (32 oz) vegetable stock
(1) Heat oil on medium heat in a large skillet.
(2) Add onions; cook for 3 minutes.
(3) Add garlic, chili powder, and cumin.  Cook 1 minute.
(4) Transfer onion mixture to slow cooker.
(5) Add remaining ingredients; stir to combine.
(6) Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours.
(7) Serve with accompaniments: sliced green onions, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, etc.
Kid Participation: None.

Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal

Original Recipe HERE
We had this as dinner because it was super easy to throw all the ingredients in the stand mixer's bowl, dump the batter in the dish, and toss it in the oven and forget about it until the timer went off.  Notice the verbs used; it was That Kind of Night.  Thank goodness for recipes like this that everyone liked, so at least we ended the day on a positive note.
The original recipe called for half a cup of oil, which seemed nasty to me.  Normally I'd substitute apple sauce for the oil, but there already was some.  So I broke out my first ever jar of coconut oil and gave it a whirl.  I was in a rush, so I didn't take the time to fully liquify it, double-boiler style.  I kind of softened it up via the microwave, and as soon as I added it to the cold batter, it solidified again.  So halfway through the baking, I stirred the batter as best I could in the hopes that would distribute it.  Next time I'll have a better technique, but I'll definitely use it again because it gave a slight hint of coconut that added to the final product rather than detracted.
The level of sweetness was good, though the amount of brown sugar made me pause a little just because I was serving this as dinner.  Substituting half with honey, or maybe even molasses, could work.  I made bacon and served the oatmeal as-is, but next time I'll made it a more complete meal with yogurt or something.  Or not.  Yeah, probably not.
2 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
1/4 cup coconut oil, liquified
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
2-1/4 cups milk [I used skim]
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt [I forgot this]
1/2 cup wheat flour
4 cups quick cooking oats
(1) Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9×13" baking dish.
(2) In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, applesauce, butter, oil,  pumpkin, milk, syrup and brown sugar until smooth.
(3) Add spice, baking powder, salt, flour and oats. Beat on low until incorporated.
(4) Pour batter into dish.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cooked through in the center of the dish.
(5) Let cool slightly before serving. Serve with milk, yogurt, Greek yogurt, or as is.
Kid Participation:
* Dump ingredients into mixing bowl
* Run mixer

Bulgur with Tomatoes & Honey

I came up with this recipe after my mom brought me a big container of bulgur (which we prefer to call "cracked wheat" because for some reason - perhaps because of her time spent in Turkey with the Peace Corps - her particular pronunciation of "bulgur" is offensive to my ears).  I was trying to figure out what to do with it, but all the recipes I was coming across online used ingredients I didn't have or took too long to cook or didn't sound like something my kids would eat.  So I mish-mashed this one together.  Apologies if it's actually a copyrighted recipe.
I thought this was great, and *N* and *J* both ate their portions, with *N* asking for more.  No way was I trusting *P* with something like this; the mess would've been of epic proportions.  We've had too many couscous travesties in this house; I know better now.  I doubled the recipe, and it fed us all at dinner plus gave me lunch for the next few days.  I thought it tasted just as good cold as hot.  I might throw in a littel garlic powder next time, but other than that, I liked the unholy trio of onion, honey, and tomato and how they worked well together.
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup bulgur
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon dried basil [I used Italian seasoning]
1-1/2 cups broth
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
salt & pepper
(1) Heat broth until hot.
(2) In a large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add onion; brown until tender.
(3) Add garlic; cook 1 minute.
(4) Add bulghur; allow it to get slightly toasty.
(5) Add tomatoes and Italian basil. Stir until well combined.
(6) Add hot broth.  Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 5 minutes.
(7) Add honey, tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well.
(8) Cook approximately 25 minutes or until broth is completely absorbed.
Kid Participation: None...the entire preparation involved shart knives or hot burners.

Roasted & Seasoned Carrots

Original Recipe HERE
All three kids gobbled these up and asked for more.  Personally, I didn't think they were anything special and finished my portion simply because I'm supposed to eat my vegetables.  I like how roasting carrots brings out some sweetness, but I probably wouldn't have saved this except that it may be a "oh no, what else can I make for dinner??" staple.  I'll experiment with various seasonings in the future to see if I can hit upon a version that all of us love.
2 cups carrot slices [or baby carrots cut in half]
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika [I used smoked]
(1) Preheat oven to 375.
(2) Toss all ingredients together until each carrot piece is well-coated.
(3) Spread on a baking sheet.  Roast 15-30 minutes or until desired softness is reached, stirring several times throughout cooking.
Kid Participation:
* Mix ingredients
* Surprise me by devouring them


BBQ Pasta Salad

Original Recipe HERE
I love me some pasta salad.  And barbecue sauce.  And onion.  And cheese.  And garlic powder.  And honey.  And yogurt.  So...this recipe was clearly created with me in mind.
It was easy to prepare and assemble, and it held up well until the next day when I finished off the leftovers.  I liked that it was different from the traditional pasta salads accessorized with oil-and-vinegar or bottled salad dressing.  The fresh vegetables made it seem lighter than it probably was.  All in all, a solid pasta salad recipe that I hope comes to mind the next time I ask a host if I can contribute anything.  It can easily be adjusted based on what vegetables and cheeses and other add-ins you have available.  Update: I've subsequently made it using thawed frozen peas and mixed veggies, snow peas (not so good), caramelized red onions, steamed broccoli, etc.  Also, one time I had some homemade mustard sauce to use up...so I put in a splash of regular BBQ sauce and used my own stuff for the rest.  Turned out just as well.
I used cellentani pasta, which was a good choice because it held up well against the crunchy vegetables and didn't turn to mush upon lots of stirring.  However, it didn't trap the sauce very well, and along with all the above-listed things I love, I love when sauce (of whatever kind) is trapped in pockets of my pasta so I get a little bonus every few bites.
1 pound elbow macaroni or other pasta shape
1/2 cup diced onion
4 green onions, sliced thin
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chili powder [or to taste]
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder [or to taste]
pinch cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 to 1 cup of any combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, and Greek yogurt
2/3 cup barbecue sauce
2 cups corn [fresh, frozen, or canned]
1-1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese [not the finely shredded kind]
2 cups quartered grape tomatoes
(1) Cook pasta according to al dente directions, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain.  Rinse with cold water until cool; drain again.  Transfer to a large bowl.
(2) In a separate small bowl, whisk together vinegar, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne, and honey.
(3) Add mayonnaise/sour cream/yogurt and barbecue sauce to spice mixture.
(4) Pour sauce over pasta; mix well.  Add in onions, corn, cheese, and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Kid Participation:
* Whisk together sauce ingredients
* Stir all ingredients
* Complain about having tomatoes in your dinner yet again


Roasted Peaches with Yogurt Sauce

Original Recipe HERE
My mom brought several peaches to us during her last visit.  I can always use fresh fruit to make meals for *P*, but I figured we all should enjoy the bounty this time.  I was going to serve these post-dinner one night, but my meal planning skills failed me and I was left without enough food to serve.  I decided that these weren't too dessert-y and made them as part of the main meal.  They were a hit, and in the future I think they'll be a good way to get some fresh fruit and protein and calcium into my kids.
Also, the yogurt sauce can stand on its own as a great fruit dip.  Hence why this recipe has the labels "dip" and "appetizer" applied. 
4 peaches, ripe but firm
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt [or whatever type you have]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon [or to taste]
1/2 to 1 Tablespoon honey [or agave syrup]
(1) Preheat oven to 450 F.  Line a baking sheet or casserole dish with foil.
(2) Wash peaches.  Cut in half; remove pits.  Place cut-side up in pan.
(3) Mix together cinnamon and sugar.
(4) Brush butter on peach halves.  Sprinkle each with pinches of cinnamon-sugar mixture.
(5) Cook peaches about 10 minutes, or until they are softened and easily cut.
(6) Meanwhile, mix together yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon, and honey.
(7) Serve peach halves in individual bowls.  Pour several spoonfuls of yogurt sauce over each.
Kid Participation:
* Brush butter
* Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture
* Whisk yogurt sauce ingredients

Sausage, Pepper, & Potato Bake

Original Recipe HERE
I made some tweaks to the original recipe - namely, adding turmeric.  It wasn't sure if the dish would have enough flavor for my liking.  And there's only so many times you can dump garlic salt into something before your taste buds start getting immune to the flavor.  I fished around my spice shelf, opened a few containers and sniffed, and decided it was turmeric's night to shine.  I liked the result and resolved to use this unappetizingly colorful spice more frequently.
4 precooked sausage links [I used chicken]
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cups red potatoes, cubed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric [or to taste]
2 peppers, diced [red, green, yellow, or orange]
1 leek [white part], cleaned and sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
salt & pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheese of your choice [I used garlic & herb]
(1) Preheat oven to 350 F.
(2) Slice sausage in half lengthwise and then into thin slices.
(3) Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  Add sausage; brown.  Remove from skillet; set aside.
(4) Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil to skillet.  Add potatoes; cook 6-8 minutes or until a light brown crust forms.  Halfway through cooking, add turmeric.
(5) Add peppers; saute 2-3 minutes or until peppers are tender-crisp.  Remove mixture from skillet; set aside.
(6) Add remaining olive oil to skillet.  Add leek; saute 2-3 minutes or until tender.
(7) Add garlic; saute 1 minute.
(8) Add tomatoes to skillet; stir mixture well.
(9) Add broth; bring to a gentle boil.  Season with salt and pepper.
(10) Pour mixture into 2-quart casserole dish.  Cover with foil; bake 45 minutes.  Remove foil; sprinkle with cheese; bake an additional 10 minutes.
Kid Participation: None.

20-Minute Black Bean Soup

Original Recipe HERE
Easy to throw together, quick to cook, and consumed by every family member (some via more helpings than others, but no one complained...that's a win in my mind).  It was filling while still feeling "light" and not overwhelming (either in taste or in heft).  I bet this could be made in the slowcooker.
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 15.5-oz cans black beans, drained & rinsed
15-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup corn [fresh, frozen, or canned]
1-1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 c feta cheese [optional]
shredded cheese [optional]
sour cream [optional]

(1) In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 6-8 minutes or until beginnning to brown.
(2) Stir in cumin and chili powder.
(3) Add beans, tomatoes, corn, broth, and salt. Bring to a boil; allow to cook for 2 minutes.
(4) Transfer 1 cup to a blender.  Process until smooth; stir back into soup (or use an immersion blender and blend to your liking).
(5) Remove from heat.  Serve topped with cheese(s) and sour cream.
Kid Participation: None.


Sweet & Spicy Cucumber Slices

Original Recipe HERE

This recipe is one of those that's well-suited to serving during the summer: little effort required, refreshingly crisp and cool, and it can sit out at a barbecue for a few hours without worry of spoilage or deterioration of quality.

I didn't use the full amount of red pepper flakes that the original recipe called for since I was hoping my kids would eat it - and generally the less heat, the better.  Also, I didn't reduce the marinade to 1/3 cup because it had already cooked well past 10 minutes and I was getting impatient.  I'd say I had at least 1/2 of a cup.

I could've eaten the entire batch of this myself, in one sitting.  However, I purposely saved some for the next day to see how it would hold up.  It was noticeably watered down - but still very edible.  Next time I will do more to drain (sweat?) the cucumbers and press as much water out as possible instead of simply drying them.  And reducing the marinade to the instructed amount would probably help with that as well.

1-1/2 lbs cucumber [I used 3]
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar [I used 1/4 cup rice and 1/4 cup red wine]
1/2 cup water
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
one slice of red onion

(1) Peel cucumber.  Cut in half lengthwise; slice into 1/4" pieces.
(2) Place cucumber slices in a colander sitting over a bowl.  Sprinkle with salt; toss well. Let sit for 1 hour refrigerated. Toss several times while draining.
(3) Meanwhile, combine vinegar, water, sugar and red pepper in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cook until reduced to a 1/3 cup (about 10 minutes). 
(4) While marinade is reducing, finely chop onion to make 2 tablespoons.
(5) Remove marinade from heat.  Add onion. Let mixture cool to room temp.
(6) Pat cucumbers dry with paper towels.  Combine them with the marinade.  For best results, refrigerate until well-chilled.  To avoid mixture becoming watered down, serve the same day it is made.

Kid Participation: None.

Seasoned Vegetable, Sausage, & Potato Skillet

Original Recipe HERE

My concern about this recipe was how flavorful it would be.  I knew the bratwurst would have a distinct taste, but the rest of the ingredients might be sort of...blah.  I thought this could be easily rectified by using Lipton onion soup mix, since that's my go-to when needing a quick potato side dish.  But I only had vegetable soup mix in the pantry, so I turned to my spice cabinet.  There was no rosemary like the original recipe called for.  Time for Plan C, which is when I start opening random spice containers and sniffing them to see what might work.  I settled on turmeric (which gave everything a not-so-appetizing yellow hue) and thyme, and I think they were good choices.

The potatoes were very soft after cooking them for the recommended time.  If you want them to be firmer, shave a few minutes off.  I wonder if cooking them without the lid on would also give them a little crustiness that would help them stand out from the other vegetables.

1 lb baby red potatoes, quartered
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1lb fully cooked chicken sausage [I used chicken bratwurst], sliced lengthwise & cut into 1/2" pieces
1 large onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed & roughly chopped
2 peppers [I used red and green], diced into 1" pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups zucchini, sliced lengthwise & cut into 1/2" pieces

(1) Put oil and potatoes in a large, deep non-stick skillet with a lid on high heat.  Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Once skillet is hot and potatoes start to sizzle, reduce heat to low.  Cook with a tight lid on for 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent burning.
(2) Remove from heat; let them sit 5 minutes without removing the lid. Set potatoes aside on a dish.
(3) Add sausage to skillet.  Sautee on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned (about 10 minutes).
(4) Add onions, peppers, and garlic to the skillet.  Sprinkle with turmeric and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions and peppers become slightly browned.
(5) Add zucchini; cook an additional 5 minutes or until softened.
(6) Return the potatoes back to the skillet and mix well. Adjust salt and pepper as needed; cover and cook 5 more minutes.

Kid Participation: None.

Crustless Zucchini & Cheese Pie

Original Recipe HERE
I prefer my quiches to have a crust (extra prefer it if it's homemade), but this eliminated that step that can be time-consuming and unpredictable.  I was shocked that *N* and *J* had three slices apiece.  Boo, no leftovers for me for lunch tomorrow.

I will try it with regular all-purpose flour next time.  I tasted the slight bitterness of the whole wheat and thought it distracted from the others (though I had the regular brown type, not the white as the recipe called for).  Also, I will try a cheese with a more pronounced flavor and probably throw in some garlic powder (because garlic powder enhances almost everything).

10 oz shredded zucchini [I used two medium]
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup fat free milk
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots 
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour (King Aurthur)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste

(1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a standard-size pie dish.
(2) Squeeze as much liquid out of zucchini as possible using a dishtowel or cheesecloth.
(3) In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and oil.
(4) Add zucchini, shallots, and cheeses to egg mixture.  Combine thoroughly.
(5) Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper.  Add to mixture.
(6) Pour batter into pie dish.  Bake 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Pie will be set and turning golden on top.  Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.

Kid Participation:
* Squeeze the heck out of the zucchini
* Whisk wet ingredients
* Stir all ingredients together

Chickpea, Peanut Butter, & Chocolate Chip Bites

Original Recipe HERE

I was eager yet apprehensive to try these.  Eager because I was intrigued by the chickpea element; apprehensive because I was scared I would like them a lot and eat them all and go back and make more.  I am nothing if not self-aware.

The original writer insisted that they were better warm and would be too chickpea-ish if eaten at room temperature.  I didn't have that experience.  All I tasted was the peanut butter with a nice hint of honey.  Most were eaten the night they were made, but 24 hours later the remaining ones were delicious and still ever-so-slightly gooey in the center.  They will remain soft after baking; don't wait until they get crispy.  Mine had a barely detectable crust on the top when I took them out.

Update: I made these again, and they DID taste too chickpea-ish (FYI, when something has chickpeas in it and I don't like it, I refer to them as garbanzos because that awkward, alternate name seems to fit my impression better than the benign "chickpea").  I eyeballed the amounts and probably didn't put in enough peanut butter or honey.  Next time I'll also try a bit of ground cinnamon in my quest to perfect this recipe.

1-1/4 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed & patted dry
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons peanut butter [I used Smart Balance creamy}
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (if peanut butter doesn't have salt in it)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

(1) Preheat oven to 350°F.
(2) Combine all ingredients, except for chocolate chips, in a food processor.  Process until very smooth.
(3) Add chocolate chips.  Process until just combined. Mixture will be very thick and sticky.
(4) With wet hands or a mini scoop, form dough into 1-1/2" balls. Place onto Silpat or piece of parchment paper lining a baking sheet.  They can be close together; they do not expand much.
(5) Bake 10 minutes. Yields about 30 1" bites.

Kid Participation:
* Add ingredients to food processor
* Operate processor
* Use scoop to place dough on cookie sheet
* Eat too many of them because they're so small that Mama would allow, "OK, just one more."


Buttercream Cream Cheese Frosting for Sugar Cookies

I developed this recipe by cobbling together several recipes I came across.  We used it at *N*'s fifth birthday party to decorate cookies.  It worked perfectly well, and I was glad to avoid the shortening that so many buttercream recipes call for - yet be able to have the "sturdiness" of the cream cheese to prevent the frosting from turning into a melted buttery mess.

It tasted good in that it was pretty standard frosting.  I was most interested in its functionality, however, and it delivered.  The night before the party, I used my mini ice cream scoop to put two Tablespoon-size balls of frosting in individual paper Dixie cups, thus making the serving of the frosting in the midst of the craziness much easier.

Update: I made a half-batch next time, and it was enough to cover about 30 sugar cookies, 2.5" in diameter.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 Tablespoons half-n-half [or cream]
4 to 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
Food coloring [optional]

(1) In a large mixing bowl, soften butter & cream cheese almost to room temperature.
(2) Cream butter & cream cheese together until well blended.
(3) Add vanilla extract; mix thoroughly.
(4) Add 2 Tbsp half-n-half and food coloring.
(5) Add sugar, one cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached.  Add additional food coloring if desired.
(6) Add remaining half-n-half if needed.

Kid Participation:
* Run mixer
* Dump ingredients into mixing bowl
* Constantly stick fingers into frosting and sample


Orange-Glazed Orange Cookies

Original Recipe HERE

I'm not normally a fan of orange-flavored...anything.  Except Sunkist.  I would have put that stuff in an IV and mainlined it as a child if an adult had let me.  Probably because my parents only let me indulge on special occasions, and "Thou most desires that which thou canst not obtain" - or something like that.  Anyway, I wasn't sure whether to proceed with the orange in the original recipe or switch it to lemon.  I stuck with the orange and was glad I did.  It was noticeable but not overpowering.  Husband brought these to work and received raves for them.  I'm glad to have added another recipe to my small-but-growing arsenal of Cookies That Don't Involve Chocolate and Aren't Incredibly Dense (I Mean Satisfyingly Filling).  Broadening my horizons and all that.  This recipe made about 30 cookies.

I also am excited to have learned the trick of infusing the sugar with the zest.  It may have been in my head, but I do think it made a difference.  I've subsequently used the technique a few times with lemon.

* For cookies
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons orange zest
1 cup [2 sticks] unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 egg
* For glaze
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoon orange zest
Fresh orange juice

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
(2) In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
(3) In  small bowl, combine sugar and zest by rubbing them together with your fingers until zest is completely incorporated into sugar.
(4) Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and zest-infused sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
(5) Add juice and egg; mix until combined.
(6) Reduce mixer speed to low.  Gradually add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. If dough seems slightly soft, refrigerate it for up to 30 minutes.
(7) Using a medium cookie scoop (or 2 tablespoonfuls), scoop dough and roll into balls.  Place them 2" apart on cookie sheets.
(8) Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until very lightly browned around edges but still pale in the middle. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes on the cookie sheet.  Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.
(9) To make glaze, whisk together powdered sugar, orange zest, and enough orange juice to achieve the desired consistency (less juice for a thicker glaze, more for a thinner one). Spread glaze over top of cooled cookies; allow to set at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Store at room temperature in an airtight container (divide layers with wax paper so the cookies don’t stick together).

Kid Participation:
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Rub sugar and zest
* Scoop dough balls
* Drizzle glaze if thin; spread glaze if thick (and you don't mind losing a few broken cookies to a heavy-handed spreader)

Black Bean Burgers

Original Recipe HERE

Husband loves him some cheeseburgers.  Bacon cheddar burgers, to be exact.  If there is one on the menu at a restaurant, he will order it.  It's maddening...it's like "Groundhog Day" every time we go out to eat.  And he also loves to grill at home, though he himself has dubbed his offerings "bronto-burgers" because of their extreme girth and density (he packs the meat so tightly...wait, that doesn't sound right...).  I'm always on him to please not use so much breadcrumbs and to flatten them out more.

Finally I took matters into my own hands and made these.  And we all liked them!  I may have just earned myself a permanent job as burger master.  As expected, the kids took the patties out of the buns and ate everything separately, but even Husband had to concede that these non-bronto-burgers were good.  The ingredient list below made eight full-size burgers.

3/4 cup panko
3 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika [optional]
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 red or orange bell pepper, finely diced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup shredded cheese [optional]
cheese slices [optional]
(1) Combine panko with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil; mix with a fork to blend.
(2) Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko mixture to the skillet.  Toast, stirring frequently, until light golden brown. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.
(3) Place 2½ cups of the beans in a large bowl.  Mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth.
(4) In a separate bowl, combine eggs, 1 Tablespoon of oil, and spices. Whisk to blend.
(5) Add egg mixture, toasted panko, remaining ½ cup beans, bell pepper, shallot, and cheese to the mashed beans. Stir until evenly combined.
(6) Divide mixture into 8 equal portions, about ½ cup each. Lightly pack into 1" thick patties (I used my 15-oz can strainer to make uniform patties).
(7) Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully lay half of the patties in the skillet; cook until well browned on both sides (8-10 minutes total).  Top with cheese slices during last minute of cooking if desired.
(8) Transfer cooked burgers to a plate and tent with foil.  Repeat with remaining oil and bean patties. Serve warm.

Kid Participation:
* Mash beans
* Mix together ingredients
* Form patties (if you don't mind cleaning up the resulting messy hands)


Garlicky Pasta with Broccoli

Original Recipe HERE

This might be my family's official favorite meal.  Every time I make it, each person - young or old, small or big - has multiple servings and wants leftovers the next day for lunch.  The kids actually cheer when I say I'm making "broccoli pasta."  It's crazy, I tell you.  But I will gladly take it.  A simple, quick, easy meal that everyone loves and uses ingredients I always have on hand...and also includes a vegetable?  I can't ask for more.

I like making this with gemelli pasta because of its non-mushy texture and how it pairs well with the broccoli (that will hopefully not be mushy, either).  Also, the amount of garlic and types / amounts of cheese are up to your personal preference.

When I haven't had enough broccoli, I've subbed cauliflower or carrots, and it still turns out well.

1 lb pasta of choice
2 to 3 broccoli heads
3 to 5 garlic cloves
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or other cheese blend

(1) Bring water to boil in a large pot.  While waiting, finely chop or press garlic cloves.  Add to olive oil to begin infusing.
(2) Cook pasta according to package directions for "al dente."
(3) In the meantime, chop broccoli into bite-size florets.  Add to pasta water for last 4 minutes of cooking time.  Broccoli should be spearable by a fork but not soft.
(4) Drain pasta.  Save about one cup of pasta water.  Transfer to large serving bowl.
(5) In pot used for pasta, heat olive oil and garlic mixture on medium heat.  Add salt.  Stir frequently.  Remove from heat when garlic becomes lightly golden (do not brown).
(6) Add pasta back to pot.  Toss to coat.  Add cheeses and pepper; stir again until evenly distributed.
(7) Add about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water; stir.  Add more if desired.

Kid Participation: Eat such copious amounts that parents are astounded at children's stomach capacity.


Creamy Dill Dip

Original Recipe HERE

This is a handy recipe to have because, while I always have all of these particular ingredients on hand, it's extremely forgiving and can be tweaked to suit preferences.  One could use different seasoned salt or fresh onion and dill.  I wonder if it could be warmed in the microwave and served as a hot dip - maybe with a little shredded mozzarella added to make it more melty?

We ate it with baby carrots and raw broccoli.  Husband and I both thought it was good, but my kids started out enthusiastic and then lost steam.  Neither finished their portion.  My guess is the dill flavor was too strong; next time I will ease up on it.

1 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon seasoned salt [I used Jane's Krazy]
1/2 Tablespoon dried minced onion
1/2 Tablespoon parsley flakes
1/2 Tablespoon dill weed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan [optional]

(1) Combine sour cream, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce until smooth.
(2) Whisk in seasonings until thoroughly mixed.
(3) Work any lumps out of Parmesan.  Whisk into dip.
(4) Store in refrigerator until ready to use (ideally several hours).

Kid Participation:
* Whisk ingredients
* Try it, tell me you like it, and then don't eat it when it's served to you