With football season, wrestling practice, homework, and Church activities during the week, some nights it’s really hard to find the time for dinners that require a lot of prep. My kids keep me on the go, and there’s never a dull moment. However, with so many activities crammed into just a few short hours, weeknights are when I try to use my ‘set it and forget it’ recipes. I’m always searching for ways to incorporate great taste and nutritious ingredients into my family’s dinners, especially in my simple meal ideas. This recipe was suggested to me by a friend and I adapted it to my taste from Food.com‘s version. My boys aren’t picky eaters, but they still balk at the use of the word ‘spinach’ in combination with the dinner they’re anticipating. Something about those pretty, leafy greens makes kids nervous. I swear, it must be ingrained in their DNA. They just can’t ever seem to believe that it might taste good, delicious even. That being said, my kids have heartily approved of this meal and not one leaf was left. It was a struggle for them not to lick their plates clean. Even my husband was pleasantly surprised that just a few common ingredients could yield such a hearty, flavorful meal. Perfect for a chilly fall evening.
Pan Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, fat-trimmed and cut into chunks
- 2 lbs. red potatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 large onion, white or yellow, cut into wedges
- 1 10 oz package fresh spinach, or frozen if thawed prior to use
- 3 tbsp garlic, minced
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- grated, or shredded Parmesan cheese, to taste
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
- In a large bowl combine potatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Toss to coat.
- Pour the mixture into a large roasting pan.
- Roast vegetables for 25 minutes, stirring once.
- Add chicken, tossing once more to coat.
- Roast 15 minutes longer, or until chicken is cooked through.
- Evenly distribute spinach over the chicken and vegetables.
- Roast 5 more minutes, or until spinach is wilted.
- Toss before serving.
- Garnish with Parmesan cheese
As our 3 year old is getting older, we’re working much harder on things he should know for school, especially the basics, such as letters, numbers, colors. He also loves making things with his hands and craft time. I figured rainbow pasta would be fun to use for a wide variety of crafts: necklaces, picture frames, learning to use glue, and of course, reinforcing colors! His favorite color is ‘greem’ so, of course, we made green pasta and then the primary colors. Start to finish this took maybe 20 minutes and was incredibly easy. Since my 3 year old still thinks his middle name is ‘Hoover’ and tries to eat everything I didn’t want to use rubbing alcohol to set the dye, even though that seemed to be the most common method. Instead, I used white vinegar. Grayson picked out bow tie, elbow, penne, and radiatore pastas to color. He helped with the entire project and thought it was ‘wonder-bull.’ You can also substitute rice for the pasta with the same great results for sensory activities as well as crafts.
- gallon zip lock bag
- 1 1/2 cups pasta (your choice)
- 5 drops food coloring of your choice
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- wax paper
- Pour the vinegar into the zip lock bag and add the food coloring. Swish the mixture around to get the vinegar and food coloring combined
- Add the dried pasta and seal the bag
- Lay the bag down onto a flat surface, counter top or kitchen table, and smooth out the pasta so it’s spread out flat within the bag
- Flip the bag every 5 minutes for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes remove the pasta from the bag, I used a slotted spoon, but most of the moisture was absorbed already, and spread the pasta out onto wax paper
- Try to prevent noodles from touching each other or they will dry stuck together
- When it’s dry, you’re ready to create!
*If you wanted to dye pasta that is safe for consumption, just add a few drops of the food coloring of your choice to boiling water and cook the pasta per the packages instructions
There are some things that just can’t be eaten without marinara. They just aren’t satisfying without the addition of its slightly sweet, robust flavor. Mozzarella sticks, toasted ravioli and pizza quesadillas immediately come to mind. Toss it with some cooked pasta and you have an easy entree. However, not all marinara is made the same and those that are truly delicious and flavorful are often rather pricey, even on sale or in bulk. At one point, to save some extra money in my grocery budget, I tried not buying it, but tomato sauce and pasta sauce were poor substitutions. So I set about finding a recipe that I could make at home for minimal cost. Now, let me introduce you to my homemade marinara that will tantalize your taste buds while leaving your wallet pleasantly plump! The entire recipe, which made 3 batches for our family of 6, cost about $3-4 to make and used things I always keep stocked in my pantry. Oh, and last but not least: it cooks in your crock pot while you sleep. You just set it and forget it. Easy, right?
Homemade Marinara Sauce
- 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, 28 oz ea
- 1 can tomato paste, 6 0z
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar*
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
- salt and pepper, to taste
*I make my own brown sugar. To make your own brown sugar simply combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 1/2 tbsp molasses and stir until evenly mixed. I give mine a quick spin in my food processor.
- Add all ingredients to your crockpot and stir well.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or overnight. If your crockpot is not airtight or notoriously dries things out, you may want to add more water as a precaution.
- Remove the lid, stir well. Remove the bay leaves, and enjoy! Also, do not be alarmed when your sauce is done if it’s bright red color has become darker and browner. You want this. It lets your know that it’s cooked and that the sugars in the sauce have caramelized.
Making your own marinara sauce is that easy! You can enjoy immediately over your favorite pasta, as a dipping sauce, or store for later use. I canned two jars, and froze the rest. To unfreeze, put it in the refrigerator the night before you intend to use it. Then, when it’s defrosted, just heat and eat.
Being that we have all these boys and seeing as how I am cheap, I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. Notice I said cheap. I’m not even going to try and dress it up and label myself as frugal, thrifty, etc. I’m just cheap. As part of my cost-cutting, we have a membership to Costco and that’s where the majority of our groceries come from. That being said, almost every trip to Costco my kids manage to convince me to buy them lunch, a snack, an ‘I’m going to die right this very minute if I don’t eat’ something from the food court. Their favorite thing to order is the Chicken Bake. So when I came across this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread, I knew they would love it.
I altered the recipe to the satisfaction of my tastes and those of my cheese-aholics. Notice I also changed the name. I could just imagine if I answered their ‘what’s for dinner’ question with something that included ‘garbage’ in its name. So I didn’t.
Buffalo Chicken Bake
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pizza dough (we used homemade and let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight)
8 oz. of shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce, divided
1/4 cup of ranch
1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Toss chicken with 1/4 cup of your wing sauce. You can add more or less depending on your desired spiciness. Stir to combine, the ranch dressing and remaining 1/4 cup wing sauce.
2. On a floured surface, or counter top, roll out dough into a long rectangular shape. Spread buffalo ranch sauce evenly across the dough. Add chicken and then top with both cheeses.
3. Pick a side and roll the dough up to form a log. Seal both ends (prevents ‘oozing’ while baking) and place seam side down on a non-stick or greased baking sheet.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Let sit and ‘rest’ for 5-10 minutes before cutting into slices, then serve!
My entire childhood I remember looking forward to Wednesday nights because it was ‘pizza night’. We had Church every Wednesday evening so we needed a quick dinner, and Grandma would just whip up a crust and pop a pizza in the oven. Everything Grandma made was from scratch, so it was crusty, carbohydrate heaven! Now, years later, my kids look forward to our own pizza nights and we pay homage to Grandma every time by using her trusty recipe for easy homemade pizza dough. I’m not sure where this recipe originated from, other than it’s the one that my Grandma used and was written down on an old note card and tucked away in her recipe box. It bakes up into the perfect crust and freezes well. This version makes enough dough for two pizzas. I usually make one pizza for dinner the day I make my dough and then store the other dough ball in the freezer. When I’m ready to use it, I simply let it thaw in the fridge beforehand. WARNING: Baking pizza on your own crust will ruin store bought pizza for you and your kids will beg you for it constantly! Baker beware 😉
Easy Homemade Pizza Dough
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp. yeast, or 1 packet
- 1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- olive oil or non-stick cooking spray for greasing the bowl
- Measure the warm water into a bowl. Add yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and bubbles up, about 5 minutes. Add the room temperature water and olive oil and stir to combine.
- Add flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the dry ingredients are combined. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and stir until a cohesive mass forms. Using the dough hook, let the mixer knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Stop the mixer when the dough starts to pull away from the sides and form a cohesive ball. As best you can form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep, well oiled bowl, and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
- Press the dough to deflate it, remove from the bowl, and turn onto a lightly floured work surface or countertop. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
- Pre-eat oven to 400 degrees. Form pieces of dough into smooth, round balls and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for ten minutes.
- Working with one dough ball and keeping the other covered, shape the dough, and transfer to a non-stick pizza pan of your choice. Top as desired. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the crust edges are golden brown and the cheese is golden brown in spots. Repeat with remaining ball of dough or freeze* for later use.
*If freezing the dough make sure you wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap before putting it in a freezer bag. Before freezing stops the yeast process, the bread will continue to expand some. It WILL pop through the plastic wrap, but the extra layer will prevent it from busting the freezer bag and offer you an extra layer of protection to prevent freezer burn. This dough tastes just as good after freezing as it does fresh.