Bacon & Gorgonzola Mashed Potatoes

Original Recipe HERE

* This is one of the menu items Husband researched, planned, shopped for, and executed for Easter 2013.  It was the best meal he's ever made. *
2 pounds red new potatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
5 to 6 strips bacon
1/4 pound Gorgonzola cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature [he used half-n-half]
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
(1) Add potatoes and garlic to a medium pot.  Fill with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by an inch.  Season with salt; bring water to a boil.
(2) Reduce to a simmer.  Cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.
(3) Meanwhile, fry bacon in a skillet until crisp.  Set aside on a paper towel to drain. Roughly chop; reserve.
(4) Drain potatoes and garlic.  Place back in the pot with cheese, cream, butter, and chopped bacon.
(5) Roughly mash, adding more cream if needed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Baked Ham with Spiced Cherry Glaze

Original Recipe HERE

* This is one of the menu items Husband researched, planned, shopped for, and executed for Easter 2013. It was the best meal he's ever made. *
Nonstick spray
1 (5-pound) boneless ready-to-eat ham
1/2 cup water or white wine [he used water]
1 cup cherry preserves
1 tablespoon creamy prepared horseradish [he used regular]
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
(1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a roasting pan with foil and spray it with nonstick spray.
(2) Score the top and sides of the ham with a small sharp knife in a crisscross pattern.
(3) Put the ham in the pan, pour 1/2 cup water or white wine into the bottom of the pan and bake, covered loosely with a tent of foil, 45 to 60 minutes.
(4) To make the glaze, combine the preserves, horseradish, brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, salt, and lemon juice in a medium bowl.
(5) Transfer the cherry mixture to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil until the glaze is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the lemon zest.
(6) Remove the ham from the oven and brush the top with 1/4 cup of the glaze.
(7) Bake, uncovered, until the ham is hot and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 140 degrees F, about 20 minutes longer.
(8) Remove the ham from the oven to a cutting board and let stand 10 minutes before slicing. Arrange the sliced ham on a serving platter and serve with the reserved glaze.

Green Beans Provencal

Original Recipe HERE
* This is one of the menu items Husband researched, planned, shopped for, and executed for Easter 2013. It was the best meal he's ever made. * 
1 1/2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
15 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
(1) Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.
(2) Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
(3) Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with beans in the ice-water bath, making sure the beans are submerged. Drain the beans, shaking off the excess water.
(4) In the same pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add beans, garlic, tomatoes, olives and basil, and toss to combine.
(5) Drizzle vinegar over beans and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or cold.


Soft Pretzels

Original Recipe HERE
I made these for St. Patrick's Day.  I knew the kids probably wouldn't like the usual corned beef meal and other traditional Irish "delights" (a term used loosely for the dishes of an area not known for its cuisine).  So I went the cop-out route and served green food.  Including pretzels.  Because I added green food coloring to the dough.
These were really easy - and actually easier to do by hand.  I started the dough in the stand mixer, but I didn't like the way it seemed to be going, so I took it out and kneaded it with elbow grease.  Any shapes can be made from the dough, but I went with the universal pretzel shape.  The dough was so elastic that it kept retracting; I couldn't get it to the 20" ropes the original recipe made.  So my pretzels were small and chubby.  Next time I'll let the kids play with it and see what shapes they come up with.
I got 12 pretzels: 7 salt and 5 cinnamon-and-sugar.  The flavors weren't as pronounced as I'd hoped.  I wonder if rolling the dough pieces in the salt or C-and-S before forming into their shapes (instead of just sprinkling them afterward) would give better coverage and intensity.  Probably the easiest thing to do is just make little pretzel balls (or make the ropes, then slice them into bite-size pieces) and experiment with a variety of coatings.  These were dense (see original's notes about flour use) yet the perfect degree of softness.  They remained so the next day, but they were gone within 24 hours so I don't know how well they last past that.
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 packet active yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2-3/4 cups all-purpose white flour
1 large egg
course sea salt for topping [optional]
cinnamon-and-sugar for topping [optional]
(1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
(2) Dissolve yeast in warm water.  Stir until mostly mixed (about 1 minute)
(3) Add salt and sugar; stir.
(4) Add flour, 1 cup at a time and mixing after each addition.  Continue until dough is no longer sticky and bounces back when poked.
(5) Turn dough out onto floured surface.  Knead about 5 minutes.
(6) Shape dough into a ball.  Cut in to evenly-sized quarters.  Cut each quarter into three evenly-sized pieces (end result of 12 individual pieces of dough).
(7) Roll dough into a rope with an even diameter, aiming for at least 18" long.  Make a circle out of rope.  Hold together two loose ends together; twist and press back down onto bottom of circle.
(8) Beat egg; pour into shallow dish.  Dip pretzel into egg wash so all surfaces are covered.
(9) Put pretzel on baking sheet.  Sprinkle with topping.
(10) Bake 10-12 minutes.  Turn oven to broil for approximately 2 minutes to brown tops (watch closely to avoid burning).
(12) When done, remove to cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
Kid Participation:
* Mix ingredients
* Knead/punch/tug/torture dough
* Form pretzel shapes
* Sprinkle toppings
* Freak out with joy at seeing homemade pretzels served for dinner

Cheesy Broccoli Bites

Original Recipes HERE
Anything to get vegetables into the kids.  Some nights they love broccoli, and other nights they turn their noses up.  So I tried a new approach.  They ate these with no complaints and said they liked them.  They just signed themselves up for another batch to confirm or refute that.
I was worried these would fall apart, but I used a 1/4-cup measuring cup to scoop the mixture (for uniform size) and then packed it together into a firm ball.  Then I flattened it out into a patty.  Each of them stayed together with no problem, and they reheated well the next day.
1 package (16-oz) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
1-1/2 cup shredded cheese
3 eggs
1 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
(1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
(2) Chop broccoli until relatively fine.
(3) Whisk eggs in medium mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
(4) Add broccoli, cheese, and breadcrumbs to mixture.  Stir until well combined.
(5) Form mixture into patties of the same size (approximately 1/4-cup each).  Place on baking sheet.
(6) Bake approximately 25 minutes or until light golden brown and firm.  Flip patties after 15 minutes if desired (I did not).
Kid Participation:
* Mix ingredients
* Form patties (if you're in the mood for a mess and some haphazardly-shaped dinner elements)


Healthier Stuffed Shells

Original Recipe HERE
I abhor making stuffed shells.  I boil the noodles, and a quarter of them rip to the point of being unusuable.  Several more tear as I try to pry them apart and put filling inside.  Upon serving and cutting, they fall apart further and the cheese oozes out like I just disemboweled the shell.  So I only make them every two years or so: enough time for my memory to fade, and I'll come across a recipe and say, "Hmm, maybe THAT one will work!"  Never.  They still taste good, but the effort and frustration is still not worth it.
That said, I'm keeping this recipe because I liked the filling: tasty and a bit healtheir than I usually find.  I can probably use it in lasagna (another pasta dish I always end up rueing my decision to prepare) or another pasta/sauce/filling smorgasbord...baked ziti, perhaps?
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups tomato sauce
1 lb pasta shells [approximiately 24 shells], cooked [I had 30+]
shredded mozzarella [optional]
parmesan [optional]
(1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
(2) Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish.
(3) Mix together cheeses, salt, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and pepper.
(4) Fill each shell with cheese mixture; place in baking dish.  Repeat with all shells.
(5) Pour remaining tomato sauce over shells.  Sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan on top if desired.
(6) Cover dish with foil.  Bake 20 minutes.
Kid Participation:
* Mix together filling ingredients
* Pour sauce
* Sprinkle cheeses
* Practice knife skills at dinner and have Mama need to step in and put your shells out of their misery

Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

Original Recipe HERE
I never ate fruit with dinner as a child, other than my mom's homemade applesauce.  It was her go-to side dish with pork chops and pot roast.  I never make either of those in my house, so eating fruit after 12:00pm never really crossed my mind.  Until I had kids.  Since mine love it, I don't have trouble getting (most) fruits into them every day.  But I understand if they get burned out on eating the same kinds, in the same forms, day after day.  Enter dip.

I always have the ingredients with this on hand, so when I'm stumped for a side dish, I can whip it up (literally) in the stand mixer in minutes.  I also send it with *N* for school lunches.  So far, we can attest that it's great with pears, apples, bananas, pineapples, cantaloupe, and red grapes.  It certainly takes the health benefits of the fruit down a notch, but variety is the spice of life, and I'm OK with it.
It works better if you plan more than 5 minutes ahead so (1) the cream cheese has time to soften enough, and (2) the brown sugar has time to dissolve (I recommend making a batch, letting it sit about 10 minutes, and giving it another quick blending to break up any remaining clumps of sugar).
1 block (8 oz) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar [more or less, to taste]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon [more or less, to taste]
(1) With a mixer or by hand, blend cream cheese until easily spreadable.
(2) Add sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Blend until well mixed.
Kid Participation:
* Mush up cream cheese
* Add other ingredients & stir
* Neglect other parts of dinner in favor of eating just fruit and dip

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

Original Recipe HERE
I love food that comes in its own complete little "package."  These are perfectly sized for kids, and the presentation means they might be more apt to try it, too.  I normally stay away from any of those condensed/"cream of" soups, but I needed something easy that night.  I'm sure some substitution involving broth, corn starch, sour cream, etc. is available online.
I thought these were great.  *N* and *J* both said they liked them, but they didn't ask for more than the two I originally gave them.  But since it would be easy to tweak the flavors to suit different tastes, I'll definitely make these again.  Bonuses: I made the filling ahead of time and quickly assembled them when it was time to bake, they didn't make a mess at mealtime, and they were easy to reheat.
I doubled parts of the recipe since 10 pies wasn't going to be nearly enough to feed us; new amounts reflected below.  Time for some math: I used 3 cans of biscuits (7.5 oz each can, 10 biscuits to a can) and got 18 pies by using 1.5 biscuits per pie.
2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts - cooked and shredded
1 can (14.5 oz) condensed cream of ____ soup [your choice; I used mushroom with roasted garlic]
1.5 to 2 cups finely chopped vegetables, frozen or fresh [I used carrots, peas, celery, and onion]
1.5 cups shredded cheese of choice
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 to 3 cans (10 oz) *OR* 3 to 4 cans (7.5 oz) Pillsbury biscuits [I used buttermilk
(1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Spray or grease approximately 18 cups of muffin tins.
(2) In a medium bowl, combine soup, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper.
(3) Add chicken, vegetables, and cheese.  Mix thoroughly.
(4) Press biscuits into muffin cups, covering bottoms and up the sides.  Check to make sure no air pockets remain.
(5) Scoop chicken mixture into biscuits, filling to top.  Sprinkle with additional shredded cheese if desired.
(6) Bake 12 minutes.  Check pies; bake additional 2 to 3 minutes if biscuit edges are not golden brown yet.
(7) Cool in muffin tins for 3 minutes.  Remove; serve.
Kid Participation:
* Mix mixture
* Scoop mixture