Pepper Pasta Sauce

Original Recipe HERE
I thought this was a sneaky way to get a bit of vegetables into my kids.  Except *J*'s picky streak continues and he barely ate any.  *N* had seconds but declared, "It tastes...vegetable-y."  And so I came clean, and the thought of a pepper (normally something they avoid like the plague) diminished her enjoyment of further bites.
Husband and I really liked this.  I thought the pepper gave the sauce a nice twist and a slight sweetness.  I made several variations on the original recipe: amount of onion and garlic, addition of tomato paste, different type of sausage and tomatoes.
1 lb (16 oz box) dry pasta [I used small shells]
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb sausage [I used pre-cooked chicken]
1 can (14.5 oz) diced or crushed tomatoes
1 to 2 Tablespoons tomato paste [I used 2]
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream [I used 1/2 cup]
1/2 to 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese [I used 2/3 cup]
(1) Cook pasta according to package directions.
(2) Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
(3) Add onion and pepper to skillet.  Saute until just tender, about 3-5 minutes.
(4) While vegetables are cooking, cut sausages in half length-wise and then into small slices.
(5) Add garlic to skillet.  Saute until softened but not browned.
(6) Stir in tomatoes and heavy cream.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cook about 5 minutes.
(7) Use an immersion blender to puree sauce to desired consistency.
(8) Add sausage to sauce; heat through.
(9) Stir in Parmesan cheese until mixed well.
(10) Serve sauce over pasta.
Kid Participation: None.


Sausage & Stuffing Bake

Original recipe HERE
This is marketed as a brunch dish, but I made it for dinner.  It's a simple one to tweak according to your own tastes: type of sausage, variety of vegetables, or type of cheese.
My kids liked it and asked for seconds.  They even ate most of the vegetables.  I wish the egg element had been a little firmer, so next time I might cut the amount of egg whites and add in a few full eggs.  Also, the cheese congealed on top as the casserole cooled, so perhaps stirring the cheese into the stuffing mixture would prevent that and distribute the cheese flavor into every bite.

I used the cubed stuffing, but it still pretty much just turned into one mass of mush (which I say in a good way) along with the egg.  I thought there would be more of a bread-like substance throughout, but it was just egg-y.  The taste was fine, but the consistency wasn't what I was expecting...just an FYI.
1 lb sausage, precooked [I used Italian chicken]
1 small onion, diced small
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 to 3 carrots, peeled & diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups herb seasoned stuffing mix [I used Pepperidge Farm cubed style]
1/2 cup broth
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
5 oz sharp cheddar, grated
2 cups milk
16 oz carton fat-free egg substitute [I used a container of egg whites]
salt & pepper, to taste
(1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9x13" baking dish.
(2) Cut sausages in half lengthwise, then into slices.
(3) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.
(4) Add sausage, onion, mushrooms, celery, carrot, and garlic to skillet.  Saute until sausage is browned and vegetables are softened.
(5) In a large mixing bowl, combine stuffing and sausage mixture.  Stir thoroughly.
(6) Transfer stuffing mixture to the baking dish.  Drizzle with broth and melted butter.
(7) Sprinkle shredded cheese evenly over the stuffing mixture.
(8) In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg substitute, salt, and pepper. 
(9) Pour milk mixture evenly over the stuffing mixture. 
(10) Bake about 40 minutes, uncovered, or until egg is set and casserole is cooked through.  Allow to cool several minutes before serving.
Kid Participation: None.

Yogurt Banana Oat Muffins

Original Recipe HERE

I've made these twice and find them a filling snack.  The consistency is different than a usual muffin, probably due to the yogurt and oat flour.  I like to split them in half and spread peanut butter or Nutella on them.

1-1/4 cup oats [I used old fashioned]
1/2 cup yogurt [I used low fat vanilla]
1/2 cup milk
2 large, very ripe bananas, mashed [I used 3]
1/3 cup oil or applesauce [I used coconut oil]
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cup oat flour [about 2 cups oats]
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup raisins or walnuts [optional; I did not use]
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips [optional]
(1) Make oat flour by grinding approximately 2 cups of oats in a food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency.
(2) In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine oats, yogurt, and milk.  Let stand at least 10 minutes (mine was more like 45).
(3) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.
(4) In a separate bowl, sift together sugar, oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, and cinnamon.
(5) Add bananas, oil or applesauce, and egg to yogurt mixture.  Combine thoroughly.
(6) Add flour mixture to yogurt mixture.  Mix completely.
(7) Add raisins, walnuts, or chocolate chips if desired.
(8) Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.  Bake 16-20 minutes (mine were done at 18).  Allow to cool several minutes in tin before removing to cooling rack.

Kid Participation:
* Push buttons on food processor
* Add all ingredients to mixing bowls
* Demolish bananas

Feta Pasta Bake

Original Recipe HERE
I thought this was good, but the rest of my family members are iffy on feta.  I thought I could sneak it past them if it was cloaked in enough pasta, but no luck.  They ate it anyway, so it must've had some redeeming qualities.

I used spaghetti, but next time I'll use a smaller, bite-size kind of pasta (ditalini? small shells?).  The spaghetti didn't hold the slices together well after serving.  Also, I think it lacked flavor...I was hoping to detect the balsamic more strongly.  I added garlic and tomato paste to the original recipe; the updated version is below.
10 oz pasta
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 to 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 pint grape tomatoes or 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz Feta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons tomato paste.
Salt and pepper

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
(2) Cook pasta as directed.  Drain; rinse with cool water so they are room temperature when being combined with other ingredients.
(3) Meanwhile, heat oil in large, ovenproof skillet.  Add balsamic vinegar.
(4) Add tomatoes, onion, and garlic; saute 3 to 5 minutes.
(5) In a large mixing bowl, combine Feta, Parmesan, mozzarella, milk, eggs, and tomato paste.
(6) Fold cooled pasta into cheese mixture.
(7) Add onions and tomatoes to pasta; mix well.  Return all ingredients to the skillet; spread evenly.
(8) Bake skillet for 30 minutes or until eggs have set in the middle.
Kid Participation: None.


Chicken, Black Bean, & Green Chile Skillet

Original Recipe HERE
I thought this was just going to be a run-of-the-mill, easy one-pot meal that we'd all eat and then forget about (unless I put it on here and filed it away for a weeknight clean-out-the-pantry type meal).  But my kids LOVED it.  Yes, worthy of capital letters.  *N* and *P* each asked for three helpings, and *J* asked for two (which is big, considering he's going through a picky phase right now).  The four of us polished off almost the entire thing, so I thought the leftovers would be a hearty lunch for me.  No luck, since at breakfast *N* asked if we were having the same thing for dinner again.  This sort of question is rare, and usually I'd assume it would be followed by a, "...because I don't want it!" (they are usually very leftover-averse).  But she actually asked to eat it again!  Well, knock me over with a can of black beans! (actually, don't, because that would hurt).  I felt especially vindicated because *J* said several times how gross it looked before actually tasting it.

I was going to poach the chicken but realized I had a better chance of getting the kids to eat it if I made it more interesting (because they are also meat-averse lately).  So I followed the basic steps for the lime chicken that is linked to in the original recipe.  I sliced up the chicken breasts into "tenders"-sized pieces, marinated them for about 15 minutes (all I had time for), and then browned them until cooked through in a separate skillet.  I do think it helped the flavor of the dish.
I eyeballed most of the ingredients, so the amounts I used aren't exact...it's an easy recipe to play with to suit personal tastes. Also, since I had no hot sauce in the house, I bought the Cholula brand used in the original recipe (sorry, Tabasco...I'm just not that into you). I assume it was good, though I used it sparingly since my kids aren't fans of hot-and-spicy things.
I served it with sour cream and salsa mix-ins, and green onions would've been a nice touch.  In the future, I may use this as a taco, burrito, or enchilada filling.
The only thing I didn't like was that the cheese congealed on top once it cooled, so maybe mixing it into the main dish before putting it in the oven - or just waiting until serving and sprinkling it on then - would work better.
(sidenote: I think I set a personal record for number of parentheses and hyphens in one post)
2 to 3 cups cooked brown rice
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 cans (4 oz each) chopped green chiles
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
additional seasonings of choice [I used about 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning mix]
1 to 2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 cups cooked, chopped chicken
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
(2) Heat oil in cast iron skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add onion.  Saute several minutes, stirring occasionally.
(3) Add garlic to skillet.  Cook another two minutes.
(4) Add rice, chiles, beans, cumin, seasonings, lime juice, chicken, and hot sauce.  Stir until thoroughly combined.
(5) Sprinkle cheeses on top.  Bake skillet about 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
Kid Participation: None, other than eating multiple portions.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Original Recipe HERE

This is a great recipe to have on hand for when your kids want to make cookies - but YOU don't want to get involved in an hours-long process that involves a lot of mess and probablyyour kids losing interest and leaving the boring part of putting baking sheet after baking sheet in the oven and monitoring the time.  Upside: they're tasty!
Downside: they're greasy!  So you may reget letting your kids handle the dough unless you're hovering over them with a paper towel and orders to scrub their hands before they run through the house.
The recipe says it makes 20 cookies, and that was about what I got.  They spread more than I thought they would, so be sure to leave enough spacing on the baking sheet.
1 cup peanut butter [I used creamy]
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large or extra large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips [optional; I used it]
sugar for rolling [optional; I did not do]
(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat (I used a silpat).
(2) In a medium bowl, beat peanut butter and brown sugar until smooth.
(3) Add egg, vanilla, baking soda, and salt to peanut butter mixture.  Beat until incorporated. fold in chocolate chips, if using.
(4) Shape into balls approximately 1" diameter.  Roll in white sugar if desired.
(5) Slightly flatten with a fork into a criss-cross pattern or the bottom of a glass.
(6) Bake for 8-9 minutes (I did 9).  Let cookies sit on baking sheet for several minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Kid Participation:
* Beat all ingredients with a stand mixer
* Roll out balls of dough (if you don't care much about uniformity of size)
* Flatten cookies (if you can trust them to use a light touch)

Apricot Kielbasa Slices

Original Recipe in some magazine that has a field editor named Barbara McCalley
Not much to say about this one, other than it was any easy weeknight meal to throw together.  The kids liked it, probably due to the sweet factor.  I used some random jar of local apricot jelly and served it over brown rice.  There lemon flavor was a bit too strong for my taste; next time I'll do one tablespoon.
1 pound cooked kielbasa or sausage [I used chicken sausage]
1 jar (12 oz) apricot preserves
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
(1) Cut sausage in half length-wise, then into 1/4" slices.
(2) In a small bowl, combine preserves, lemon juice, mustard, and ginger.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.
(3) In a large skillet, brown the sausage (use a little olive oil if necessary).  Remove sausage; set aside.
(4) Add sauce mixture to skillet.  Cook over low heat, 2-3 minutes, or until heated through.  Stir occasionally.
(5) Return sausage to pan; cook several additional minutes until heated through.
Kid Participation:
* Whisk together sauce ingredients