If you’re looking for even more of my kitchen wisdom, jump over to baystateparent magazine, where I’ve been writing a monthly column since October 2016. Topics have included “Dinnertime Challenges,” “Quick-Fix Winter Meals,” and “Superfood Salads.” I’m especially excited for February’s column, “You Are What You Eat.” Let me know what you think!
Recipes and More
Here's where you will find information I've promised you in articles I've written, after bumping into you in the supermarket, or even in your dreams. Really.
Interested in some quick-fix, no-recipe-required meals for your children and family? Try any one of these super-fast ideas:
– Quick Chick: Season thinly-sliced chicken (or turkey) cutlets with McCormick’s Montreal Chicken seasoning. Heat a little olive oil and/or butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, just enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. When hot, add as many cutlets as will fit without crowding. Let cook for a few minutes, until golden brown on the underside. Flip with tongs and cook the second side until cooked through, about 3 more minutes. Repeat with remaining cutlets. Top with a sprinkle of shredded cheese if you’d like. Serve as is or over salad, pasta, or in a sandwich.
– Muffin Tin Lunch: My kids loved this! All you need is a 6-portion muffin tin for each child. Line each tin with paper muffin cups. Fill each cup with something from the fridge or pantry (grapes, carrot sticks, mini-bagels, chicken strips, cheese, nuts …), and lunch is served.
– Quesadilla: Grab a package of tortillas or flatbread. Take all the odds and ends out of your fridge and slice or chop bite-size, then combine in a big bowl (leftover cooked meat, bits of cheese, cooked vegetables, etc.). Season the mixture with spices, such as McCormick Perfect Pinch Mexican. Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Spray one side of a tortilla with olive oil spray and place, sprayed side down, in the skillet. Place some of the chopped mixture on half of the tortilla. Add a little more cheese if you’d like, and fold the “naked” half of tortilla on top of the filled half. Cook for a minute or two on each side. Serve with salsa.
– Themed Salad: Another creative use of leftovers. Start with greens (lettuce, spinach, kale) as a base. Then scour the fridge and pantry for toppings: create a Fajita Salad with leftover fajita fillings, avocado and tomatoes; a Pizza Salad can include shredded mozzarella cheese, sliced turkey pepperoni, olives, bell peppers; create a Cobb Salad with leftover grilled or roasted chicken, blue cheese, bacon and hard-boiled eggs. Before you know it you have a hearty, healthy lunch or dinner. Shake up a fast vinaigrette dressing in a clean jar: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
In my experience, the biggest cooking challenges many of us face are lack of essential cooking tools and lack of knowledge.
Most recipes require only a few sturdy pieces to get from instructions to completion: a sharp chef’s knife; a sturdy, clean cutting board anchored to the countertop; and a heavy-duty skillet, saucepan or Dutch oven. Gadgets and machines are nice, but are often space-wasters and not essential for most of your cooking needs.
I’ve been known to shop at Bed Bath and Beyond (with my stack of 20% off coupons), Kohl’s (also with coupons) and of course the upscale mall stores, though I think they are over-priced. Knives I have used and like include Henckles and my Anolon Santoku knife.
The most important features I look for are how the knife feels in my hand and whether the blade is covered completely, rather than exposed to prevent accidents. Look at how the blade meets the handle in the photo of my knives above, versus this one, sold on Amazon, which I would not buy:
Your cutting board should be sturdy and clean. Replace old boards if they are warped, cracked or deeply cut. To anchor to the counter, simply place a very damp paper towel or dish cloth on the counter and position your cutting board on top of it. This will prevent it from sliding around.
As far as pots and pans, I have used and liked Calphalon, Cuisinart, All-Clad and t-fal. At home I have a very large nonstick Calphalon skillet with a helper handle (essential for when that pan is hot and heavy) that I bought at Williams-Sonoma, and a set of t-fal saucepans with clear glass lids that I got at Kohls.
As far as knowledge, I recommend learning from friends or relatives, or taking a basic cooking skills class like those offered at Sur la Table, the Culinary Underground in Southborough, or an adult-education program.
Meatballs are a staple at my house. If I don’t have a batch in the freezer, something is seriously wrong. They are super simple to make — no knife or cutting board required! I freeze them in individual portions, so anyone can grab a container, heat and eat.
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
splash of milk
pinch of onion powder (more to taste)
pinch of garlic powder (more to taste)
salt and pepper
1 pound lean ground beef (I use 90% lean)
Optional: 1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil and spray with non-stick spray.
2. Whisk the egg in a large bowl. Add the cheese, bread crumbs, milk and seasonings. Stir to combine. You should have sort of a paste.
3. Crumble the ground beef on top of the mixture in the bowl. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands, until it is combined.
4. Form the mixture into 12 – 15 meatballs, placing them on the prepared baking sheet as you go. (You can also make a whole tray full of mini-meatballs with this same mixture, which are great in soup or with small pasta shapes for kids.) Wet your hands with cold water occasionally if the meat is sticking to them.
5. Bake the meatballs for 10 minutes (mini-meatballs) or 20 minutes (large meatballs), flipping over about half way through the cooking time. Meatballs are now ready when you are!
6. Optional: Place cooked meatballs in a pot of marinara sauce and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Serve immediately, or cool and store in refrigerator for up to 3 days or freezer for up to 1 month.
Monthly Menu Planning
This is the system I used to plan monthly menus at my home when there were four of us under one roof. Mind you, these were four people with very different tastes, temperaments and schedules. It worked like a charm at least 90% of the time, and it was EASY. If you don’t like my way of doing it, just google “monthly menu planning” or something similar, and you will get all sorts of other ways that might suit you better. Go for it. I promise I won’t be offended.
1. Print out a blank calendar for the current month (like this one).
2. Assign each day of the week a category that suits your family and schedule.
ATTENTION: You do NOT have to be a great cook to do this. This is more about planning than it is about cooking. If you’re not the Next Food Network Star, use titles like “Pizza,” “Chinese Take Out,” and “Go to Grandma’s.” My categories were something like this:
Sunday: Grill, Monday: Italian, Tuesday: Son’s favorites, Wednesday: Leftovers/Freezer, Thursday: Daughter’s favorites, Friday: Seafood, Saturday: Mom’s choice.
Next, consult your calendar and make note of which days people will not be home for dinner or you have events that will conflict with mealtime. Then go down the calendar and fill in every blank Sunday with a grilled meal, every Monday with an Italian meal, etc. until the entire month is filled. I advise using pencil for this part, because plans can change. And you might end up having take-out on those nights.
3. Post the dinner calendar in a place where everyone can see it.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Chicken Fried Rice
Makes 4 large servings
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 scallions — greens and whites chopped and separated
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — grated (if you can find ginger in the tube, use that)
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 medium zucchini — diced
3 medium carrots — diced small
2 cups mushrooms — sliced
2 cups broccoli florets — steamed
1 pound chicken breast — cut into thin bite size pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper or Montreal Chicken Seasoning
2 large eggs — lightly beaten
4 cups cooked rice
3 tablespoons low-sodium tamari sauce
Heat oil in large non-stick skillet or wok over medium high heat. When hot, add scallion whites, ginger and garlic and cook for 30 – 45 seconds.
Add zucchini, carrots and mushrooms and cook for 4 – 5 minutes, using spatula to stir vegetables constantly. Remove vegetables from pan and add to steamed broccoli.
Add a bit more oil and add chicken. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes, or until no longer pink. Remove the chicken from the pan and add to the vegetables.
Pour the beaten eggs into the skillet and cook until done, stirring or flipping once. Remove eggs from skillet and place on a cutting board. Roughly chop the eggs.
Return the chicken and vegetables to the skillet. Add the cooked rice and stir to combine. Add the tamari sauce and stir to combine. Finally, add the eggs back in, stirring to combine.
Garnish with scallion greens and serve.
This recipe is adapted from the book, “Cook This, Not That”