Yes, we have returned to the school schedule along with many families across the country. It is the time of year when I go from minimal attempts at making my family dinner to hardly ever. I would be OK with cereal and peanut butter every night; TheRoomDad is not. It is perplexing to him the lack of interest I have for preparing food during the school year. Preparing meals is such a time suck, and I am not up for it after a day of teaching.
There is a quick meal that I will cook when I have the ingredients. My kids love the recipe I have for Italian Chicken Soup. It is a lot like chicken noodle soup but with a twist. Any time we have a leftover cooked chicken breast, there is a good chance I am making Italian Chicken Soup for an easy weeknight dinner.
1 T. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 T. dried basil
2 t. fennel seeds
1/4 t. dried crushed red pepper
6 c. canned chicken broth
2 medium zucchini, diced (optional)
~9-oz. pasta (egg noodles, mini penne, mini bow ties, macaroni…)
1 1/2 c. cooked chicken, diced
Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add red bell pepper, onion, carrot, garlic basil, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. Saute until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes.
Cover pot and simmer 10 minutes.
Add zucchini (if using), cover, and simmer about 5 minutes.
Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Add pasta and boil until pasta is tender.
Add chicken and cook until heated through about 1 more minute.
Season soup to taste with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls, and serve.
You can replace the zucchini with yellow squash (and probably celery, but I have not tried it). Red bell pepper can be replaced with green bell pepper.
The original recipe called for cheese ravioli, but my family likes non-stuffed pasta better.
The recipes makes 4-5 servings, so we usually don’t have many leftovers.
I got a text earlier this week from my neighbor, Miss Jackie, suggesting we order pizza and have snacks Saturday night in the front yard while the kids rode bikes, played Ghosts in the Graveyard, and ran around. Easy enough– we love casual summer get togethers. Who knew there would be a pop-up thunderstorm at 5:00? The whole group ended up in my kitchen and playroom, and I drank margaritas. I made a blue cheese Columbine dip that works really well as a topping for hamburgers too, so we cancelled the pizza idea and grilled burgers.
The original recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Colorado Collage. Sewing Sister thinks we should add crumbled bacon to the top to make it even more delicious.
1/2 lb. crumbled blue cheese
1/3 c. chopped red onion
1/3 c. olive oil
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. crushed garlic
1 t. dry mustard
1/4 t. ground black pepper
1/3 c. chopped fresh parsley
Pour crumbled blue cheese in a 9-inch pie pan or similar sized dish (I used a quiche dish).
In a food processor, combine onion, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, and pepper. Pulse to blend.
Pour the dressing evenly over the blue cheese.
Sprinkle with parsley.
Let stand 2+ hours at room temperature.
Serve with blue corn tortilla chips, pita chips, or little toasted bread triangles.
Add a scoop to the top of a freshly grilled hamburger to make a blue cheese burger.
We attended the annual end of year family picnic for my son’s Cub Scout den. The other moms usually request my Pasta with Pesto and Peas side dish that both adults and children love, but I decided to go rogue this year and bring a sun-dried tomato pasta salad.
The recipe is a little risky because it uses black olives. Many people (meaning TheRoomMom) avoid olives. However, this recipe has just enough olives to give a salty/briny taste without actually having a super olive-y flavor. I originally got the recipe from an Ina Garten cookbook and have tweaked it a little over time. With Memorial Day picnics just around the corner, this recipe might be something to consider.
1 lb. fusili pasta (corkscrew pasta)
good olive oil
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, medium-diced
1/4 c. black kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 lb. fresh mozarella, medium-diced
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. basil leaves cut in chiffonade (thin ribbons)
5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
2 T. red wine vinegar
6 T. good olive oil
1 garlic clove, diced
1 t. capers, drained
2 t. kosher salt
3/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for the time given in the directions on the box (about 12 minutes). Drain well. Add pasta to a large bowl, and toss with a little olive oil (~2 t.) to keep from sticking together. Let the pasta cool.
While pasta is cooling, seed the tomatoes and dice. I used Roma tomatoes because they looked like they would be the reddest and tastiest of my choices in the store. If you can get really good homegrown tomatoes in another variety, use them.
Pit (if needed) and chop the black olives into a very small dice. Chop 6 sun-dried tomatoes. Cut the mozzarella into medium dice.
Add diced tomatoes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella to the cooled pasta and toss gently.
For the dressing, combine the dressing ingredients (sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt, and pepper) in a food processor and run the food processor until the dressing is almost smooth.
Pour the dressing over the pasta and toss well.
Just before serving, add basil and Parmesan cheese and toss again.
Can be made ahead.
It is served at room temperature, so it works well for tailgates, picnics, or group meals.
Diced artichoke hearts are a good addition.
Pairs well with grilled chicken or grilled steaks.
Now that school has started for the year, I am packing lunches again. I pack lunches for my two children and me almost every day. I dread this chore. It probably seems a little out of character for me to dislike packing school lunches since I love snacky food. I think part of the problem is packing the lunch at 6 am. The food seems so unappetizing at that time. I don’t like to pack the lunch the night before because then the food has a “soggy” quality to it the next day.
One solution I have for my adult school lunch is to cook something for dinner that becomes a good leftover. I can pack a single serving in a tupperware, pull it out of the refrigerator in the morning without having to see it or smell it, and it is ready to reheat or serve at lunchtime at school.
The Pasta, Pesto, and Peas and Orzo with Roasted Vegetables are two of my favorite leftovers for lunch choices. I just discovered this Baja Chicken Salad recipe after taking it to a group event, and it is a new leftover lunch that I will be bringing to school this year.
4 (16-oz) cans black beans
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/3 c. chopped green onions
1 package (10-oz) frozen corn, thawed
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro (plus a small handful more for garnish)
8 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, grilled (could also buy a whole roasted chicken)
1 avocado, sliced
1 c. salsa
1/2 c. fresh lime juice
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 T. ground cumin
1 t. minced fresh garlic
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. olive oil (I like less)
3/4 c. vegetable oil (I like less)
Combine dressing ingredients, mixing well, and let stand at least one hour. (Can be done 1 day ahead.)
Drain and rinse black beans. Mix black beans in a large bowl with peppers, onion, corn, and cilantro. Toss with dressing.
Cut chicken into strips.
Place vegetables with dressing on a large platter or large shallow serving dish. Arrange chicken strips and avocado slices on top.
Drizzle with salsa and scatter cilantro over all.
Because of the black beans and cilantro, do a teeth check after eating.
This recipe serves 8. The recipe can be halved.
Toss the avocado slices in lime juice to keep from browning.
I like to roast chicken breasts with skin on and bone in rather than grilling boneless chicken breasts. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken breasts on a roasting pan. Rub skin with olive oil and season generously with Kosher salt and black pepper. Cook chicken for about 40 minutes until golden on the top and cooked through. Remove from oven and tent with foil. Let rest until cool enough to handle. When cooled, remove skin and pull chicken off the bone; cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.
This is a great recipe for a big group, for picnics, for potluck dinners, and for lunch. I love that it is a meal in one dish. Anybody else have suggestions for good meals that hold up well in the refrigerator overnight?
Since I will need a cocktail for our 4th of July block party, I wanted to focus on a cocktail that has a red, white, or blue theme for this weekend’s new drink. Last night I tested cherry margaritas. I mentioned last week that I like tart drinks better and this one is almost perfect. Even if it did not taste that great (which it does), the color is so vibrant that people assume it is going to be delicious.
cherries (you need 15-20 for one batch)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 c. (plus a splash) of tequila
1/4 c. (plus a splash) of triple sec
lime wedges for garnish
Make a simple syrup by adding 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a pot on the stovetop at medium heat. Do not stir, but swirl sugar water occasionally while the pot is on the stove. Remove from heat once the sugar dissolves.
Pit ~15 cherries and put them in a blender. You can do more or less cherries depending on your taste. Add tequila, triple sec, 1/2 cup lime juice, and 1/2 cup cooled simple syrup to the blender.
Blend ~20 seconds until the cherries are ground up. It will look like a dull color, but as soon as you start blending, it turns this really bright pinky red color.
Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher. Press the mixture around the sieve with a spatula to get as much liquid through as possible.
Serve margarita over ice with a wedge of lime for garnish.
Makes ~4 servings
In Other News
A dear friend of TheRoomMom e-mailed the picture below to me. She served the Watermelon Vodka Slushie in this totally awesome watermelon keg. She said she had a few leakage problems. She picked up two more foam circles a little larger than the lock nuts to try to prevent leaking next time. My friend is visiting in a few weeks, and I will get a full report, but the materials list is below if you want to use the picture and the list to give it a try.
Hose Bibb, quarter turn (that’s the tap)
Faucet Lock Nuts (those black circles)
Brass Pipe Nipple 1/2″ (the piece with threads on both ends)