Simply Kid Chefs: Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

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It was our oldest’s turn to prepare dinner. Our youngest received a new cookbook, Twist It Up, for his birthday. It’s written by a little boy who has leukemia and part of the proceeds go to funding research. The boys have been excited to try a recipe.

Our youngest allowed his brother the opportunity to cook from it. Not surprisingly, he picked a yummy, comfort food, spinach and cheese stuffed shells. We trekked to the store with his younger brother as we were hoping to also see the parade of rescue vehicles bringing toy donations for Stuff a Bus, supporting Toys for Tots.

Here is the parade and the toys that were donated. This doesn’t include the thousands of toys donated over the whole weekend, just the ones dropped off to police and fire stations on Cape Cod. As we were waiting and saw the volunteers assembling to unload the vehicles, the oldest asked if we can help next year. The answer, of course!

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Here is the 16,069 toys collected by the police and fire departments. The total for the weekend was 31,844!!

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Our oldest is pretty much running the kitchen. I slice the garlic, the end of the onion, drain the pasta and put the food in and out of the oven. That’s it, he does the rest! Here he is hard at work…

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Here is the recipe

Ingredients:
Marinara Sauce:
2tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/2teaspoon dried basil
1/2teaspoon dried oregano
1tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2teaspoons sugar
1teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
Pasta:
1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained
2tablespoons olive oil
1pound fresh spinach
1/4cup water
1 1/4cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3cups ricotta cheese
2large eggs, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/8teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2teaspoon coarse salt
1/4teaspoon white pepper
1/4cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Instructions
To prepare marinara sauce, heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sautΓ© until translucent. Add garlic and sautΓ© 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bouillon cubes, basil, oregano, parsley and sugar. Stir well. Simmer over low heat 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 6 cups.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Toss cooked pasta with olive oil and set aside.
  3. Combine spinach with 1/4 cup water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, covered, until spinach is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and squeeze spinach to remove excess moisture. Finely chop spinach.
  4. Combine mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, garlic, spinach 1/2 cup Parmesan, nutmeg and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir to blend. Generously stuff pasta shells with cheese mixture. Place stuffed shells in 2 (13 x 9-inch) baking dishes and cover with marinara sauce. Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley.
  5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is hot and bubbly.
  6. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving

We did not use an egg in the cheese mixture and it came out delicious! The chef was surprised at how much the spinach shrinks. He looked at me with each handful that went in and then was pleased to see how much it cooked down. πŸ™‚

The sauce was delicious and the meal was a big hit!!

Does your town do Stuff a Bus? What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Simply Kid Chefs: Quesadilla Pizza

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Our young chefs spent Saturday night with their grandparents and we didn’t plan cooking ahead. I called Sunday and spoke with our youngest about what he would like to prepare as I was heading out for the big weekly shop. He wanted to re-make quesadilla pizzas from Rachael Ray and we decided because it hadn’t been on the blog – it was ok πŸ™‚

This time, he was excited to try chorizo (not surprising as he loves ALL meat in tube form). I only put the pans in and out of the oven. The chef did everything else! He was pretty excited to slice by himself and do everything with minimal help.

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Here’s the recipe from Rachael Ray

Ingredients
8 flour tortillas
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup salsa, red or green, mild or hot
3/4 pound brick smoked cheddar or pepper Jack cheese
1/2 cup sliced green olives and pimentos, drained
3 scallions, cut up with kitchen scissors or chopped into small pieces
8 ounces chorizo or linquica sausage (available near the kielbasa in your grocery store’s meat department), thinly sliced or diced

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400Β°F.
Take out two nonstick cookie sheets. Place two tortillas on each cookie sheet, one next to the other.
Top each tortilla with lots of cheddar cheese.
Place another tortilla on top of each cheese-covered tortilla.
Put the tortillas in the oven and bake five minutes. Take them back out of the oven using pot holders.
Press the tortillas down a bit with a spatula to set them in place with the melted cheese.
Top each cheese quesadilla with some salsa, a sprinkle of smoked cheddar or pepper Jack cheese, olives, pimentos, scallions and some thin slices of chorizo or linquica sausage.
Put the pizzas into the oven and cook until the edges are brown and crisp and cheese is melted on top, 5-6 minutes more.
Take the pizzas out and transfer one whole pizza onto each dinner plate and serve.

It was a great, easy dinner on a football Sunday :). Like most recipes, it can be played with. The amount of cheese, salsa or meat can be easily changed and it was a huge hit with the entire family!!

Have you tried combining Mexican and pizza? What’s your favorite recipe to change up?

Simply Kid Chefs: Baked penne with fennel

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Our oldest was up and yet again he chose a yummy, comfort meal. Originally, he wanted to try another mix and match recipe but he came across this baked penne with fennel recipe from our cookbook and decided to give it a go.

He is becoming quite the pro in the kitchen! I still help with some of the cutting and keep a very close eye, but he is doing most of the work. His confidence continues to increase and he’s definitely enjoying the independence!

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I love his expression squeezing the tomato πŸ˜‰

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Here’s the recipe from the Food Network:

Ingredients
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
1/2 pound pancetta, trimmed of excess fat and diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 28 -ounce can whole plum tomatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces penne
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 3/4 cups grated fontina cheese (about 6 ounces)

Directions
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until the fat renders, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour off the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pan. Add the onion and fennel and cook until the fennel is soft, about 5 minutes. Crush the tomatoes into the pan with your hands, then pour in the juices from the can and bring to a simmer. Fill the empty can with 1/2 cup of the boiling water and add to the sauce. Stir in the cream and simmer while you cook the pasta.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the sauce. Stir in the basil and 1/2 cup parmesan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and toss.

Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer the pasta, mozzarella, fontina and the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan in the dish, alternating pasta and cheese. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake, uncovered, until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Per serving: Calories 757; Fat 45 g (Saturated 22 g); Cholesterol 117 mg; Sodium 939 mg; Carbohydrate 56 g; Fiber 6 g; Protein 33 g

Recipe courtesy Food Network Magazine
Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/baked-penne-with-fennel-recipe.html?oc=linkback

The meal was a big hit. Even our youngest ate it – he’s anti-pasta but pro-cheese ;). Our youngest picked out a piece of fennel and asked what it was. I told him and he tried it. Turns out, he loved it and kept picking it out of the dish to eat. It is pretty tasty!

Clearly, not the healthiest meal, but there are plenty of ways to cutback. You could use less heavy cream or just use mozzarella cheese. We made the recipe as is and chose to eat light, healthy meals for the remainder of the week. It’s really about what works for you πŸ™‚

Have you tried fennel? What’s your favorite way to use it? How do you feel about squeezing tomatoes into a dish?

Simply Kid Chefs: Crab Cakes

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We are slowly getting into our routine. As we’ve been adjusting, the kids’ cooking has been put on hold. Well, we’re back!! Our youngest was chomping at the bit and our oldest had basketball tryouts so the youngest is kicking off the school year cooking

Simply Kid Chefs: Grilled salmon with oregano oil, avocado tzatziki sauce and grilled lemons

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This week, our youngest took over the kitchen and stuck with his favorite, seafood! He was excited to try the grill and knew immediately that he wanted to make a salmon dish.

I suggested one of my favorite salmon recipes from Bobby Flay that I had found in the Food & Wine Best of the Best cookbook.Β I had never tried the avocado tzatziki sauce, but we have tons of oregano in the garden and love grilled lemons. Β The chef was on-board and we decided to give it a go πŸ™‚

After a great morning at the beach, we went off to the store and found a new seafood guy. For a treat, we picked up stuffed quahogs for an appetizer and the chef selected broccoli on the grill for a side.

The chef did most of the work in the kitchen. I cut open the avocados and chopped the Serrano chile, while he put everything in the food processor. He also cut the oregano from the garden and prepared the salmon. I chopped the broccoli, but he seasoned it and helped out it on the grill.

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My husband handled most of the grilling, but explained everything as he was doing it. The chef was able to help turn the broccoli, but the grill was pretty hot and a little smoky near the fish.

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The meal was a huge success! We will definitely be making the avocado tzatziki again πŸ™‚ The entire meal was easy to prepare and didn’t take long at all. Can’t beat a quick and delicious meal!!

Here is Bobby Flay’s recipe originally from Grill It, but I found it in Food and Wine’s Best of the Best

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What’s your favorite way to grill salmon? How is your summer going? Does your routine change in the summer?

Simply Kid Chefs: Taco Burgers

20140714-063427-23667433.jpgAfter some busy and fun weekends, our oldest took the kitchen back this weekend. Over the winter, the boys wanted to know if they would be cooking over the summer and I said, yes. They were beyond excited to think about using the grill.

As we talked about them getting back in the swing of cooking, they were both excited to return to the kitchen. I reminded this week’s chef that he could pick a grilling recipe.

It is no surprise that cheese burgers on the grill was his immediate decision. I suggested that we should do something to mix it up, a special sauce or flavoring. Without pause, he wanted to add taco seasoning to the meat. Why not?

After the beach, we went to the store and he selected toppings to go with his burgers. He decided on cheddar cheese, salsa, guacamole, crushed tortilla chips and Dad requested green chiles.

We came home, watched a little World Cup and got to work. He crushed the chips (I think one of his favorite parts) with a potato masher in a bowl and then got to work mixing the meat.

I helped him divide the meat, but he made the burgers himself.

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Then it was time to grill and he had a great teacher!

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He did everything except take the burgers off the grill. There was a little re-adjusting at times by Dad, but overall – he did the grilling.

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We kept everything pretty simple. The burgers were about 2 pounds ground beef with one packet of Old El Paso taco seasoning.

There are so many ways you could play with this. Fresh garlic, onion, cilantro with chili powder and paprika is one variation that jumps to mind.

As for easy and yummy, this meal received four thumbs up! Our youngest, who generally doesn’t eat burgers (he is a devout hot dog eater) ate his entire burger and complimented the chef πŸ™‚

How do you mix up burger recipes? Did you watch the World Cup?

If you missed it, last week I was featured by My Fit Family πŸ™‚ Click here to read it!

Simply Kid Chefs: Bacon-Tomato Cheese Toasts

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It was a pretty easy weekend around here. Field clean-up for Little League was the only item on our schedule. Thankfully, the weather has been improving and it was a beautiful weekend. Our oldest was this week’s chef πŸ™‚

He consulted the cookbook, made his list and off to the store we went. The recipe called for Texas toast, but we decided to find bread in the bakery section. We selected whole wheat ciabatta :).

The chef was able to handle most of the preparation. He sliced the tomatoes (with a little help), chopped the parsley and scallions. He even cut the bread into 4 sections, I sliced the sections in half. The bacon was all him. He also shredded the cheese in the food processor. I sliced the zucchini on our mandolin. It seemed a little too risky for little fingers.

The only recipe variation was the bread. Because the bread had a nice crust, we didn’t toast it. We put the crust side down and followed the directions from there.

Here is the chef prepping…

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Building the toasts and enjoying his success…

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Here’s the recipe from the Food Network:
Ingredients
2 ripe tomatoes
Kosher salt
8 strips bacon
4 slices Texas toast or other thick sandwich bread
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
5 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 small zucchini, very thinly sliced
Freshly ground pepper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Core the tomatoes and thinly slice. Place in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt; let drain for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes; transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour off and reserve the drippings, leaving 1 tablespoon in the skillet; toast the bread on one side in the drippings until golden (do this in batches, adding more drippings as needed). Place the bread, toasted-side down, on a baking sheet.

Combine the cheeses with the mayonnaise, scallions and parsley in a bowl. Spread the cheese mixture on the toasts, reserving about 1/3 cup. Crumble the bacon on top. Shake any excess liquid from the tomatoes; distribute the zucchini and tomatoes among the toasts. Dot with the reserved cheese mixture and season with pepper. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Per serving: Calories 680; Fat 55 g (Saturated 15 g); Cholesterol 65 mg; Sodium 1,181 mg; Carbohydrate 28 g; Fiber 2 g; Protein 19 g

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/bacon-tomato-cheese-toasts-recipe.html?oc=linkback

No surprise, these were a big hit!! The boys ate the tomatoes and zucchini without any negotiation πŸ™‚