If you’ve ever eaten at a Greek-American diner in your day, you’ve likely seen this sauce. It often comes on top of rice, whether you order a chicken kabob or a gyro. It’s a thin tomato-based sauce that is really simple but strangely addictive. We never made this at home for some reason (at least, not on its own), and I never managed to really get much of a recipe from a family member (nor was/am I interested in attempting to scale down a recipe that serves a restaurant), so I’ve been making this myself and tweaking it here and there. I don’t know what it is about this stuff but I want to eat it all the time.

This is often served with rice that has been cooked in broth or bouillon. I like using brown rice most of the time, and I hate cooking it the “regular” way so what I do when I want brown rice to get some added flavor from broth without straying from my tried and true brown rice method is either to bake it or to boil it in a pot of water for about 15 minutes, and then put the drained rice in a saucepan with broth (at that point, roughly half of what you would have used had you made the rice according to package directions), and cook normally.

You could, of course, make this with fresh tomatoes, but they aren’t really that great here yet (and I made this a few weeks ago, anyway). Canned tomatoes work really well, so don’t fret. You don’t really use much sauce per serving, so this will make quite a few servings, but we just freeze extras in a few small freezer bags to use at another time (which is also why you are seeing two different pictures. :)) My favorite way to have this is over both rice and grilled chicken/kabobs. With feta on the side, obviously.

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Today is the first day of the kids’ “summer camp” and I sent them wearing jackets and jeans because it was in the 40s this morning. Happy June?

If you’re like us, you probably don’t have to worry *too much* at the moment about meals that don’t take too long to make and heat up the house, but even so, allow me to introduce to you my new obsession: protein + salsa/relish. I have a feeling that, like meatballs, you will be seeing approximately 30 versions of a similar dish in the coming months (okay, maybe not 30, I’ll try to keep it a little interesting around here). These dishes work so well because you can flavor the protein any which way you choose and change up the relish to anything that’s in season, anything that works with the dish, or really anything you feel like eating. We’ve already done a version of this particular salsa with rhubarb and tomorrow we’re potentially throwing a red pepper-hazelnut salsa into the summer rotation. The crisp, cool salsa is decidedly summery, even if the weather isn’t there yet.

You can cook the chicken on the grill or indoors and either way it won’t take long. A broiler will get the job done in 8 minutes or so and heats up quickly, so you don’t have to worry about a stifling hot kitchen. The salsa is easy enough to make that you can finish it in those 8 minutes (in the recipe below I’ve had you make it ahead but, let’s be real, I’m way more of a cook-as-I-go- than prep-ahead-kinda gal), which means that, depending on what else you decide to serve this with, you can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes.

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I feel like we eat a lot of meatballs. Or meatball-like things. This may be something that comes with the territory of having kids, I guess? Kids love meatballs, or at least mine do. I mean, if you look at the first page of this blog alone, there are 3 meatball or meatball-like recipes on it. Four if you count burgers, which are kind of like giant meatballs. OK, I’ve typed the word “meatball” enough for at least a week.

Anyway, I know I told you recently that I have a crush on Lidia Bastianich and I have to tell you that I’ve been two-timing her with Yotam Ottolenghi. Though I’ve only blogged one of his other recipes, I have made several and they’ve all been faaaaaaaaaabulous. This one is no different.

These meatball-like (damn, I did it again) bites are extremely similar to kafta, but with the added goodness of feta, pine nuts, and zucchini. These were a HUGE hit with the whole family and even offered a way for me to get feta into Ian (seriously, what is with that kid not liking most cheeses, especially FETA?!). Though I didn’t do it this time, these would also be great with some yogurt sauce or labneh alongside (with the tomato sauce, I love them both together).  I also imagine these can be made entirely on the grill, but I know next to nothing about grilling, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. :)

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I don’t know who the first person was to pair rhubarb and strawberries together, but obviously, he or she was a genius. I guess it’s no surprise, what with both being in season at the same time and strawberries lending sweetness to tart rhubarb (and the other way around) but seriously, really good idea, Unknown Person.

I love to make bars. We love to eat bars. The amount of Trader Joe’s “a ___ walks into a bar” cereal bars we go through is…well, it’s a lot. I’ve made jam bars countless times.  I’ve added nutella. I’ve Christmassed them up with cranberries. There is just no getting around the fact that fruit bar desserts are good and so, so easy. And they don’t have to be for dessert, either. Deb called these “breakfast bars,” which gave me license to have one each morning until they were gone. Fruit and oats = oatmeal, right?

I saved about half the mixture for the top (reading comprehension failure), which was a bit too much, so you’ll probably want to do 1/2 CUP, as the recipe indicates. :)

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In the past, I have not spoken highly of ground turkey (or any sort of turkey, really) on this blog. It’s still not my favorite, but I’m beginning to see the value. It will never replace beef for me and, in fact, many times it’s not even healthier than lean beef, so why bother (I know, red meat, blah blah blah)? That said, I’ve gotten way better at both using it and making it. The farmer we used to get our meat from had REALLY good prices on ground turkey, so I blame him largely for the increase in consumption. The rest I credit to a veeeery technical culinary term I like to call flavoring the hell out of it.

These meatballs are quite basic but still full of flavor from the lemon zest, green onions, and parsley (and the dried oregano, which I couldn’t keep from adding since it’s a  natural pairing with lemon, if you’re Greek at least). On top of that, this meal comes together pretty quickly. The recipe does call for refrigerating the meatballs for 15 minutes after forming them (which I definitely recommend, also, so they don’t fall apart), but of course you could just make the meatballs earlier in the day or the night before and refrigerate them until you need them, making the actual dinnertime prep a little shorter (and the meatballs sturdier and more flavorful).

I don’t know if I’m a salt fiend or what, but 1/2 tsp. of salt did not seem like nearly enough for 1.25 lbs. of turkey (I generally use about 1 tsp. to 1 lb. of meat) so I increased that and honestly felt like they could have used a touch more, but maybe I *am* a salt fiend, so I’ve left the proportion a little lower than my standard below. Also, a cup and a half of rice sounded like too much for four servings, so I brought it down to 1 cup, which worked out well, with a good proportion of protein to carbs. Speaking of the carbs, they were of course my favorite part of the meal. White rice is such a guilty pleasure of mine, and add some tart, bright lemon and it’s a real home run in my book.

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I’ve always said I would pack my kids’ lunch, at least the vast majority of the time, but when I learned that our future elementary school doesn’t have a lunch program, I was a bit taken aback. Sure, I don’t want to spend money on a lunch that would likely be far less nutritious than the one I’m sending, but man, it sure would be nice to  have the option. You know, for those days.

Zachary’s current school has a great lunch program, but in the summers the kids are responsible for bringing lunch every Friday. OK, sure, that’s not bad, right? Except I found myself occasionally filled with dread on Thursday nights, trying to figure out lunch. For one thing, it’s almost Friday. I’m just DONE by Friday. For another, we grocery shop on Saturday so by Thursday/Friday there’s not a lot of remaining decent produce to pack much of anything. If my irritation once a week for one summer is a good indication, I better work on this whole lunch thing before public school starts.

You’re probably starting to get the connection here that pasta salads are a great idea for kid lunches. They pack well, you can load them with vegetables or protein, and they are forever adaptable. You certainly don’t have to just use pasta, either. Other grains like quinoa, rice, farro, and bulgur all work equally well. Pesto is a favorite of mine because I feel like it can be eaten at any temperature and be delicious. Z is a huge basil fan, so it works for him, too. The kids can’t take nuts to their school, so I often make it nutless (or just separate a small batch before adding the nuts) and it’s still great.

Zachary, however, has recently decided he doesn’t care for asparagus (his former second favorite vegetable) any more unless it’s basically charred to a crisp. Green beans (his current favorite vegetable) make an excellent replacement for (or addition to) the asparagus in this salad. But really, just use whatever you want. My plan for this summer is basically to eat a lot of pasta/grain salads for dinner on Thursday nights and reap the benefits when it comes to packing Friday lunches. :)

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I eat the same thing (or a very close approximation) for breakfast, morning snack, and afternoon snack 5 times a week. It doesn’t bother me at all. I never get bored. But dinner? For some reason, I can’t make the same dinners frequently or have any sort of “rotation.” It’s a mixture of boredom and wanting to try so many things. Cookbooks, bookmarks, Pinterest, and Pocket things. Still, we eat a lot of chicken. Chicken breast will never be our favorite thing (to be sure, Zachary has a “favorite proteins” list he updates very frequently, but chicken has never topped the list), but it’s healthy, it’s fast, and it’s highly adaptable. So it gets made a lot. In many different forms.

This is a dish we’ve made a couple of times now and really enjoyed. It’s a lighter version of Florentine, using a mere 2 tablespoons of cream vs. a cup or so. But the sauce is still flavorful and luxurious, thanks to being reduced down, and a dose of lemon zest and juice. The chicken is perfectly cooked, the spinach done but not overdone.

I feel like pasta is the go-to accompaniment for chicken Florentine, but we had this with baked brown rice, which I thought was perfect. Plus, with the vegetables in the rice and the spinach in the chicken, there was no need to make a third dish/veggie side. Score!

You’re supposed to put the chicken into a baking dish, but I saw no need to get something else dirty, so I just continued to use the skillet I’d been using for the rest of the dish.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to replace the water in the dish with more broth, but don’t. The broth/water mixture reduces for a while, so it will get plenty salty on its own and doesn’t need that extra oomph of salt/flavor that I feel like a lot of ATK recipes could benefit from (and often take the initiative to change myself). I used a low-sodium broth (also recommended) and didn’t need to add any salt to the finished sauce.

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It’s crazy how different my boys are from each other. As babies, Zachary was pretty fussy while Ian was extremely chill. As young toddlers, Zachary liked to read and Ian liked to climb. At 2, when you told Zachary not to do something, he didn’t do that thing (amazingly). At 2, when you tell Ian not to do something, he looks you in the eye, gets a huge grin on his face and does precisely that thing.

Zachary liked to help in the kitchen at an early age, but not Ian. Ian wanted to SEE what was going on (one similarity they have always shared is a love of food), but he wanted to do that by way of being held. He had zero interest in getting up on a stool or even just sitting down and watching. He was all about, you know, inconveniencing people. Or doing a lot of screaming.

But not long ago, Ian was amazingly cooperative when the three of us tried to make a quickbread. I gave it a whirl again with these muffins, and he stood on a stool and loved dumping ingredients in and stirring. And I have to tell you that, even though the cleanup might be a little more difficult, having both your hands free and a kid who isn’t mad throwing himself on the floor or hugging your knees is quite helpful when baking. I’m excited that we seem to  have turned the corner in this regard because I do really like cooking/baking with the kids.

As for the bad news, Ian was not crazy about these muffins. I am 99.9% sure that it was the texture of the strawberries because he was nibbling around them. Admittedly I am not huge on cooked strawberries either, unless they are chilled (think cheesecake), so while I did enjoy these muffins (and Zachary REALLY enjoyed them), I actually preferred them straight from the fridge.

These muffins have minimal sugar (especially if you don’t sprinkle the tops, which we didn’t) and are actually pretty healthy. We used whole wheat flour, lowfat milk, and I added some Greek yogurt to make these even more moist. I recommend refrigerating the leftovers to keep the strawberry moisture from making these too soggy/sticky.

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I hope you don’t mind my eking out the last few not-terribly-springy recipes here. I try to post at least relatively seasonal dishes, but sometimes life (or attempting to be handy at home when you’re not, or NHL playoffs, or laziness) get in the way. That said, my kids are meatball and meatloaf-obsessed, so they are more than happy to eat these year-round, and I can’t say I would argue with them.

I mentioned a while back that I’d never made a true meatloaf until fairly recently, but before that I used to make mini meatloaves pretty frequently. It actually started with a Kraft recipe that used Stovetop Stuffing in the meatloaves and then evolved from there. I’d later disguise meatballs as meatloaves (loaf shaped, but with a marinara glaze and stuffed with mozzarella), which allowed me to basically swap out pasta for mashed potatoes. I’ve had these mini meatloaves on my to-make list since I got Deb’s book but, like I said, life.

This is a pretty standard meatloaf/meatball recipe with just enough subtleties to make it a little different. The smoked paprika is a great addition and what is essentially a “pestata” of minced carrots/onion/celery add flavor and moistness to the meatballs. The glaze is perhaps not as sweet as traditional glazes (I actually added a bit more honey and less Dijon, because I don’t like Dijon in large doses)  but pairs well with the meat and is so easy to make. It can be hard to make moist meatballs using just beef (and I am here to admit I used pretty lean beef, on top of it) but these are it.

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I have a new crush, and her name is Lidia Bastianich.

I’ve known about Lidia for a while. I’ve made a bunch of her recipes, though I’ve somehow only managed to blog one. They’re always great. Always. You look at the ingredient list and nothing jumps out at you and says, “this super terrific and rarely-used ingredient will make your meal shine!” Instead, it’s just simple, normal ingredients. And she somehow manages to make them so harmonious and delightful.

We’ve had this meal at least 3 or 4 times. Every time, I ask myself why I’m making it on a Saturday because it’s so quick and easy (those types of meals tend to be reserved for weeknights). It just…I don’t know, seems like a weekend meal? The last time I made this (the photographs in this post), I didn’t even bother pounding and rolling chicken breasts. Tom had accidentally bought tenderloins, so I basically just sandwiched the breadcrumb filling between two, which made the meal even quicker, albeit not as pretty. There is no searing of the chicken before baking it, which is a good thing because me + stuffed/rolled chicken + browning =  a disaster for me (chicken falling apart in the pan as I try to flip it and all that). I’m normally against 100% baked chicken, but it works well in this case (thanks to the breadcrumbs, no doubt).

We’ve had this with baked brown rice pilaf and pasta, but I think my favorite non-vegetable side has been mashed cannellini beans. Once, I assumed parmesan cheese went into the breadcrumb mixture and only realized too late it did not. But cheese is never a bad thing, so clearly that adaptation was juuuust fine and I’m including it as an option below.

 

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