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

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Back to Brown Bagging: Cheesy Chicken and Kale Pasta

First day of school
First day of school: Reunited and it feels so good

Lady M went back to school this week. Her nerves were a bit frayed because she’s going to a new school and a lot of her friends have been scattered to the school district winds. The snapshot to the right captured her and a friend in a very relieved and heartfelt embrace. It was a short, but emotional week.

It was also incredibly hot so I stuck to easy things like Applegate Farms turkey breast and Cabot cheddar cheese kabobs and chicken fried rice (inspired by one of Weelicious’ blogs), along with fruit, veggies, and some muffins we made from raspberries we picked on vacation the week before. Today, we foraged at the farmers market in the park for fixings for the week. We ended up with corn, peaches, kale, green beans, red bell pepper, cucumbers, bread, and some gorgeous wildflowers.

Farmers' Market Booty (+ Baby Doll)
Farmers’ market booty (+ baby doll)

We had ambitious lunch plans for today. I woke up imagining a seamless, get-it-all-done-on-Sunday assembly line. The park had other ideas. We stopped to take a free yoga class, hung out with friends on the playground, and took a stroll around the pond. Along the way, we completely forgot about our lunch plans so we had to quickly improvise when we got home.

I had just a few minutes to throw together today’s lunch, which will eventually get thrown into a thermos this week.

Cheesy Chicken & Kale Pasta With Red Pepper Sticks
Cheesy Chicken & Kale Pasta With Red Pepper Sticks

Pasta with Chicken Sausage, Wilted Kale, and Romano Cheese

1 box of whole wheat pasta
2 chicken sausages, precooked
1 Tbsp. pesto
1 bunch of kale, chopped
1/4 cup Romano cheese (or any other good hard cheese you have on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste

While the pasta was boiling, I threw the two chicken sausages under the broiler until they were done. I quickly trimmed and chopped the kale and sautéed it in 1 tsp of olive oil until wilted. Then, I cut the sausage links into bite-sized pieces and set them aside. The last thing to do was to drain the pasta, return it to same pot, add the pesto, the chicken sausage, wilted kale, and stir! I served it with a sprinkle of grated cheese (and then a little bit more — the girl likes her grated cheese!).

It makes about 7-to-8 servings for the preschool set. If you want to tone down the carbs, you can mix up the proportions so it’s not so pasta heavy. To accompany my less-than-svelte physique, my lunch featured more kale than pasta (cue the sad trombone).

It really needed a pop of color so I served it with bell pepper strips. If I had my s%Zt together, they’d be in the pasta dish. Better luck next time.

Join me over at Recipe Rehab for the Brown Bag Challenge this week. We’ll be sharing great lunch ideas and giving away fabulous prizes.

Love,

The Lunch Lady