Cabin Fever Spaghetti and Meatballs

spaghetti-and-meatballs
Mid-blizzard spaghetti & meatballs (oh, and salad)

Grouchy much? I am — and I’m not alone. I had (rare) brunch plans with friends yesterday and the chief topic of discussion was how crotchety we’ve been lately — it turns out a lot of us are snapping at spouses and kids with abandon this winter. Saturday was one of those days. We went out to run errands under a clear, blue sky and then — bam — within an hour a mini blizzard had us heading for home. That left me with the task of coming up with dinner and a way to entertain a restless child until bedtime. Diet be damned — this strain of cabin fever was calling out for a little comfort. The solution? Pasta (the answer’s always pasta, usually with cheese). I left some of the serious calorie- and fat-slashing efforts for another day and blog post. The kiddo helped me add the ingredients to the food processor, roll the meatballs, and then count them (over and over — because counting’s huge when you’re four). We ended up with juicy meatballs that were bursting with flavor and a sauce that was like buttah, because, well, there was butter in it.

Melt-In-Your Mouth Meatballs

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion (or 1/2 large), diced
1 pound lean ground chuck
3 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of milk (whatever you have — skim, 2%, whole)
1/4 Tsp salt
A few turns of fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and drag out the food processor (insert clanging noise here as everything explodes from the cabinet). Chop the onion in half and peel the garlic, throw it in the processor and pulse until they’re broken down. Add the breadcrumbs, milk, and basil leaves and pulse for about a minute until incorporated. Then, add the meat, pulsing again until everything is evenly distributed. Shape the mixture in small golf ball-size meatballs and place them on a baking sheet.

Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes or until no longer pink in center. While the meatballs bake, whip up this quick sauce:

Like-Butter Tomato Sauce

I love Marcella Hazan‘s tomato sauce — it’s incredibly simple, yet incredibly delicious. I adapted it slightly based on what I had in the house (a little less butter and a few grape tomatoes thrown into the mix). It’s SO good.

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion (or 1/2 large), diced
1 28-oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup grape tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened and lightly brown. Throw some grape tomatoes in, piercing them with a knife (so that the juice and seeds mix with the onion and keep it from burning) until they’re soft. Add can of San Marzano tomatoes, plus salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer. When the meatballs are done cooking the oven, add them to the sauce and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Will these spaghetti and meatballs blow up your Instagram feed? Maybe not. But they might just save your sanity.

Love,
The Lunch Lady

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Healthy 2-Ingredient Hot Chocolate

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2-ingredient hot chocolate: Easy like Sunday morning

Now that it’s finally cold here in NYC, Operation Home Body is in full effect. And that means I’ll keep my tail home with my Pinterest boards and cookbooks at the ready, and maybe even get around to updating this blog a little more often. While I was away over Christmas, I wowed my nieces and nephews by making cocoa with nary a packet or powder, which made me realize, once again, that we’ve over complicated one of the simplest things on earth. On winter weekends, the kiddo and I fire up the frother and make an amazing cup of hot chocolate faster than you can boil water, rip open an envelope, and stir.

Here’s the ingredient list from our old friend, the Swiss Miss:

Ingredients: sugar, modified whey, cocoa (processed with alkali), hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, less than 2% of: salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglyderides, artificial flavor, carrageenan. Contains milk.

And here’s my version:

Decent quality dark chocolate and MILK — yup, that’s it.

Healthier Hot Cocoa

1 cup of milk of your choice (cow’s, goat, almond, whatever floats your boat)

2-3 dark chocolate discs (I use Jacques Torres’ baking discs for everything), or about a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips — look for about 60% dark chocolate to add just the right amount of sweetness

A sprinkle of cinnamon

Using frothing attachment on your coffee machine, or in saucepan on your stove top, scald the milk until it’s very hot. Drop 2-3 baking discs into the bottom of mug and pour the milk on top. Stir to “melt” the chocolate at the bottom of the cup. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve!

Quick and Delicious Udon Noodle Soup for Kids

What I’m packing tomorrow…


 Chicken Udon Noodle Soup

1 onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1 box of chicken stock
4 cups of water
3/4 cup carrots, shredded
1 large bunch of bok choy, kale, or any other green leafy vegetable, chopped into small pieces (I used bok choy)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup firm tofu, cut into small pieces
1 cup cooked chicken breast, diced
4 packets prepared udon noodles (or one pound dried)
Mint
Cilantro

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot and sauté  garlic, onion, and ginger until translucent. Add the box of chicken stock, carrots, your leafy vegetable, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. When the vegetables have cooked down a bit, add 4 cups of water, the tofu, chicken, and soy sauce — allow the soup of to cook for about 15 minutes more. Taste the soup and add a bit more soy if it needs more flavor or tastes too watery. Add the udon noodles and cook until they break apart and expand in the soup. Remove from heat and add 1 Tablespoon each chopped mint and cilantro; let them to wilt into the soup. I served the soup tonight with additional fresh chopped herbs, but I’ll omit those in the thermos tomorrow.

I love this soup because I can make it with anything I have in the fridge — miso paste instead of stock, kale, spinach, or salad greens instead of bok choy, fresh or frozen veggies, vegan, vegetarian, or meat-based — you name it. You can also control the time — taking it from this 30-minute soup to a 10-minute quickie with just a few items. The kiddo loves the thick, supremely slurpable udon noodles, along with the tender veggies, chicken, and tofu.

The only thing missing was a perfectly boiled egg on top. Next time…

Love,

The Lunch Lady

Healthy Treat: Dark Chocolate-Covered Apples

Dark Chocolate-Covered Apples

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Chocolate-covered apples for lunch? I get it — they’re not exactly brown-bag material. But after an amazing day at the pumpkin and apple farm, it seemed like the right thing to do.  I melted dark chocolate baking chips in a make-shift double boiler and started dipping. I let them rest on parchment paper in the fridge until the chocolate was set. The next day, I cut the apples and packed a couple of slices in her lunch bag. They were a hit!

(Hello) Kitty Bento Box Lunch

The kid has finally mastered staying upright under the weight of the backpack so I dragged out the PlanetBox this past week. It was  depressingly dreary in the mornings so these photos are a bit drab. The lunches, however, have been a hit!

Kitty Bento Lunch

In this lunch box:

  • Turkey and cheese sandwich (cut with kitty cat cookie cutter)
  • Celery and carrots
  • Apples and pears
  • Edamame
  • Dark chocolate, raisins, and dried cranberries

Here’s to better-looking photos this week!

Love,
The Lunch Lady

On This Week’s Menu: Roasted Pumpkin & Apple Soup

Roasted Pumpkin & Apple Soup

Ingredients

4 lbs fresh pumpkin (two small) peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
4 large Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cut into quarters
1 cup onion, chopped
6 cups fat free chicken broth (I used Pacific brands, which is lower in sodium)
1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (sage is better, but I had thyme)
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (ginger would also be good)
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Instructions

Toss together pumpkin, apples, onions, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper and spread evenly onto a baking sheet. Roast, mixing once, for 30 minutes.

Add in herbs, mix again, and continue roasting until very tender and starting to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes more.
Transfer to a Dutch oven and add one or two cups of broth. Use a hand blender to smooth, adding more broth as you blend.
Add in yogurt, cardamom, nutmeg and remaining salt and heat through over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for about 5-7 minutes.

LUNCH TIP: I found the soup was even better the second day — the apple really came through and the overall flavor was more balanced. It ended up being more dense than I wanted so I added more stock to thin it out (you could even use water without sacrificing flavor).

What’s your favorite fall soup?

Love,

The Lunch Lady

The Secret to Moist, Reheat-able Meatballs (Psst…They’re Perfect for School Lunches)

Spaghetti and Chicken Meatballs
Hot lunch: A slightly messy thermos of spaghetti and chicken meatballs

Last week, the kid and I made a tray of chicken meatballs for school lunches. It turns out that working with raw poultry is a preschoolers’ dream — so many opportunities to wash your hands!  While I’m a former vegetarian and often choose veggies (and, yes, I admit it, carbs) over meat a lot of the time, my daughter is all carnivore, just like her dad. The only thing that trumps meat in her personal codex of dietary laws is chocolate, which reminds me that I really should order mole next time we go out for Mexican.

When my in-laws were in town a few weeks ago, I made a big pasta dinner  — and I struck meatball gold with a recipe I came up with based on what I had in the fridge. I prefer to use ground chicken or turkey in my meatballs, but the meat often dries out because it’s so lean so I improvised a little. The secret to these amazingly light, moist, reheat-able meatballs is the combination of three simple ingredients I always have on hand: milk, bread, and pesto. Here’s my recipe for foolproof chicken or turkey meatballs that are as easy as they are delicious:

Chicken or Turkey Meatballs
1 pound ground lean chicken or turkey
2 slices of whole grain bread, torn into bits
1/2 cup of milk (whatever you have — skim, 2%, whole)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp pesto
1 Tsp olive oil
1/4 Tsp salt
A few turns of fresh cracked pepper

Chicken Meatballs
Chicken meatball supply is quickly being siphoned off by Dad

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Ask your kid to make a (controlled) mess by tearing up both slices of whole grain bread into tiny pieces in a small-to-medium size bowl. Pour the milk over the bread until every piece is coated; set aside for 15 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the milk. Add 1 Tsp of olive oil to a skillet on medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook until golden brown. In a large bowl, combine ground meat with the bread mixture, prepared pesto, onions, and garlic. Use a spatula or your hands to incorporate all of the ingredients into the meat. Shape mixture into 20-24 small meatballs and place 1 inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake uncovered 18 to 22 minutes or until no longer pink in center.

I serve them with what I call my “basic marinara” — one can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, a little sauteed garlic or onion, salt and pepper. If I have pesto on hand, I’ll throw that in, too. Pesto is one of my favorite flavor short cuts and just having a little jar of in the fridge inspires me to use it in everything from pasta to rice to sauces to egg dishes.

What’s your favorite flavor shortcut?

Love,

The Lunch Lady