In A Pinch

The other day I was Skyping with my sister. The topic of my blog came up as it often does (she is my editor and biggest fan) and she started giving me grief about how infrequent my posts have been in the last month or so. Well I immediately launched into a rant about how little time I had to get things done around here. How busy the holidays had been. How some nights I could barely get dinner to the table much less photograph it, write about it and get it up on the blog. Blah blah blah…

Even though our connection was not that great and there was bit of a time delay I could still see her rolling her eyes. Clearly, this excuse was not working on her. She wanted a weekly post in her mailbox, not some lame reason why I couldn’t get it done.

It got me thinking that I really needed to come up with some healthy meals that I could pull together super quick for those nights when we are racing against the clock to bedtime. And they needed to be blog worthy. Not just scrambled cheesy eggs, which are delicious, but not exactly interesting to read about or very original. Thus, my “In A Pinch Series” is born. A meal that is half homemade, half store-bought. Ideal for those nights when you are lingering somewhere between a leisurely home cooked meal and takeout.

Indian Simmer Sauce Shrimp

Ingredients

1 lb bag of raw frozen shrimp, thawed, peeled and deveined

Salt and pepper

2 cups Indian tomato simmer sauce (see note)

1/2 bag fresh baby spinach, pre-washed, roughly torn

2 Tbsp mascarpone cheese (optional)

Handful chopped cilantro (optional)

 

Note: I get a delicious Indian tomato simmer sauce at our local farmers market. When I see the vendor I stock up. But most supermarkets have several options of this type of sauce to choose from. You can use tomato simmer, green curry, or yellow curry sauce.

Method

Rinse shrimp, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile heat the simmer sauce in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Stir 1/4 cup of water into the simmer sauce. Then add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

IMG_7255

Add the shrimp to the sauce and cover. Cook over medium heat until the shrimp are cooked through, about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

IMG_7259

Lastly, stir in the mascarpone cheese. Cook for an additional minute until cheese is melted into the sauce. The mascarpone is optional but it makes the sauce creamy and tames the spice. Milk or yogurts are good substitutes.

IMG_7260

Serve over rice or with a hunk of crusty sourdough bread. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

IMG_7264

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “Whoa, that is spicy! Water, water!”

Liam (age 4): “I’m not eating this”

Dylan (age 4): “The Indian sauce is good”

Although the reviews don’t sound stellar, I consider this one a success. I got Matthew water and he inhaled it (the water and the shrimp). Liam did eventually try it and no one was bothered by the spinach!

Do you have any quick and easy semi-homemade recipes? Would love to hear about them!

Play Dates

A lot of times when the boys have friends over they want it to be a “dinner” play date. As I am cooking for three anyway, I usually don’t mind, what is one or two more. But since all play dates are not created equal, there are times the night doesn’t always end as planned.

Awhile back we had a few friends over and I served tuna fish to the kids. OMG – big mistake – I thought since I mixed it with plain pasta it would be a no-brainer, but it was a disaster. The moms had to scramble in my fridge for something to feed their melting children. To this day, we still laugh about the “tuna incident”.

There is one little guy I particularly enjoy having over, he eats everything I put on his plate and always asks for seconds. My kids see him eating so they usually follow suit. I once mentioned to his mom how much he enjoyed my dinners. She laughed and said that he would never refuse to eat something served to him. He was taught that would not be polite. Huh?! And here I thought it was my cooking!

The other day he came over and I decided to try a recipe that my cousin Judy sent me. I thought it would be a perfect choice for the four of them. She sent me the recipe in a narrative without any specific measurements so I sort of winged it.

Judy’s Pasta  (adapted from cousin Judy’s arsenal of recipes)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 can diced tomato

1/2-cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup fresh spinach, rough chopped

1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

10-12 large shrimp, cooked and chopped into bite size pieces

Salt & pepper

1 lb dry pasta, we used Rotini

Directions:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and Worcestershire sauce.

IMG_5776

Reduce heat and let simmer until tomatoes have softened, about 20-25 minutes. Do not add the shrimp until the last minute; they just need to heat through.

IMG_5777

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and toss pasta with the sauce in the skillet. Add a bit of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce stick to the pasta. Salt and pepper to taste. Add grated parmesan cheese if desired.

IMG_5785

IMG_5784

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “It’s a little good”

Liam (age 4): “It’s bad – just kidding!”

Dylan (age 4): “Don’t like the seaweed part”

Jaume (age 5): “Really yummy!”

What do Superheroes eat?

The other night at dinner, one of the boys brought up an interesting question – What does Batman eat? Well, as you can imagine this sparked quite a philosophical debate. Matthew insisted that superheroes eat “regular” food, Dylan thought Spiderman only ate spiders, and Liam was adamant that Superman eats soup, all kinds of soup, but ONLY soup.

There were a few things they did agree on. Superheroes eat A LOT and they like to eat in restaurants. Although they were not sure where these restaurants were, you know the ones that serve spiders…

Growing up I preferred Barbie to Batman but who doesn’t remember Popeye and his spinach. I am not even sure my kids would know who Popeye is BTW. Wow, that makes me feel old! I remember my mother used to make a dish with potatoes (from a box) mixed with spinach (from a can) – and I loved it. I wanted to update the dish here using fresh ingredients. Here is our version:

Superhero Spuds

Ingredients:

2 large russet potatoes

Olive oil

Kosher salt & black pepper

2 strips bacon

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups fresh spinach, rough chopped

2 oz. Mascarpone cheese

1/4-cup milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub potatoes clean under cold running water. Poke potatoes with a fork several times. (This is important! If you don’t poke hole, potatoes will explode in oven.) Rub each potato with olive oil and season with salt. Place on a baking sheet and cook for approx. 1 hour 15 minutes. They will crisp on the outside and should give a little when pressed.

IMG_4386

Meanwhile cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and drain on paper towels.  Leave about 1 tbsp of bacon drippings in the skillet and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes and then add the chopped spinach. Sauté until spinach is completely wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_4402

When potatoes are cooked allow them to cool and then slice in 1/2 and scoop out the centers, leaving about 1/4” border.

IMG_4407

Place the scooped out potato, mascarpone cheese and milk in large bowl and mash together. Add in spinach and bacon, reserving some bacon to sprinkle on top. Add salt and pepper to taste.

IMG_4411

Fill the scooped out potatoes with the spinach/potato mixture and top with the reserved bacon. Heat oven to 350 degrees, place potatoes on baking sheet and cook until heated through and browned in spots, about 25-30 minutes.

IMG_4423

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 5): “Bacon makes everyone big and strong – more bacon next time”

Liam (age 4): “I am only eating the bacon and I like the skin, it tastes like chocolate”

Dylan (age 4): “Mommy made a BAD dinner tonight…”

Ouch, I guess I was too overzealous with the spinach in Dylan’s opinion. Everyone tried some so I would definitely make these again. Maybe cut down on the spinach and put almost all the bacon on top so they will think I added a lot more. Sneaky I know….

Eating Out – Bedlam Style

A typical dinner out for our family usually means one or more of our kids on or under the table, at least one spilled drink, a meltdown or two, ending with ear shattering pleas for dessert. We are not always so sure if the people next to us are annoyed, amused, scared or just happy they have no kids.

Why do we keep doing it? It is usually fun to take them somewhere new they haven’t tried before. Even if most of the time they are saying how yucky the food is. They just get so ridiculously excited by the idea of eating in a restaurant; it is hard to deny them. And every once in a while the stars are in alignment and we have a great meal.

Sometimes these outings are quite successful – we leave feeling proud of the kids for trying new foods and letting us enjoy a glass of wine without having to scream at them to stop kicking each other. Other times (actually MOST times) we run out so embarrassed that we have to avoid the place for at least a month. This is usually enough time for another family to come upstage us in the bad behavior department.

Our last excursion was pretty bad on the sliding scale so I tried to recreate one dish the boys did like that night since we can’t go back for quite awhile!

Chicken Rollatini (easy version)

Ingredients

1 lb thin chicken cutlets or turkey

12 slices prosciutto (thinly sliced)

1/2 cup spinach leaves

2 cups mozzarella (shredded)

6-8 oz. tomato sauce or pasta sauce

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper*.
Pat dry chicken cutlets and season with salt and pepper. Layer each cutlet with a slice of prosciutto and then some spinach leaves. Sprinkle generous heaping of mozzarella cheese on top and then roll cutlet.  Place seam side down onto baking sheet * and top with tomato sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

 

Bake for approximately 25 minutes. If desired top with any remaining sauce and/or cheese. Or use on some pasta for a quick side.

  • These can also be cooked in a baking dish – the cheese will not ooze out as much. But my kids like the way it comes out on the baking sheet – nice and messy.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (big brother): “DEElicious”

Dylan (little brother): “I only like the burnt cheese part”

Liam (little brother): “I ate a lot! Now can I have dessert???????”