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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(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

10-Minute Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Shivering under a light blanket this morning, I was certain it was officially fall. It was 50-something degrees and didn’t seem to be getting any warmer — even as it got closer to noon. I could feel the call of hibernation deep in my bones — that yearly, seasonal pull to stay home, cook, bake, and live out my domestic fantasies (those fantasies that seem to drop, along with my mop and broom, as soon as the mercury rises). Alas, it ended up being 75 degrees and the pull of an outdoor restaurant on the water (with seafood, beer, friends, and a sandpit for the kids) was stronger. Still, I know fall is coming and when it does, this cauliflower soup recipe from Sweet Paul will be there. I’ll probably swap the cup of cream for Greek yogurt to take it from a weekend treat to a weekday lunch, but it will be good just the same. Until then, I’ll enjoy the last of the Jersey peaches, roasted corn, clams, Brooklyn Summer Ale, and the sun on my face.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Photo Credit: Dana Gallagher

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cauliflower, broken into pieces
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream
salt and pepper

  1. Start with the toast, use a cookie cutter and cut out stars from toasted bread.
  2. Preheat oven to 380F.
  3. Place onion and cauliflower in a large oven proof dish and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
  5. Roast until golden.
  6. Place the cauliflower and onions in a large pot and add stock.
  7. Bring to a boil.
  8. Let it boil 5 minutes, add stock and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Pure in a blender and serve with a toasted star, a little olive oil and some pepper.

Recipe: Sweet Paul 

5 Healthy Back-to-School Snacks for Kids

Japanese egg molds become bunny eggs!
Ho-hum ovum to hooray!

This school year, my nightly pack-it-up routine has expanded to include two snacks.  I’m trying to make snacks as turnkey as possible by making a list of go-to items I can get from fridge to lunch box rather quickly. That way, I can focus on the main event, which is, of course, LUNCH (said in my best Oprah voice!). Fruit, yogurt, cheese, and cut-up veggies are natural go-to items, but here are some other favorites in rotation at the moment. As I sat down to write this list, I realized that the reason they’re so popular with the kid is because they’re all associated with FUN and LOVE.  And, well, I love that.

  1. Edamame. Is there another healthy snack that’s as delicious and satisfying as edamame? Maybe it’s just me, but edamame really activates the pleasure center in my brain normally reserved for salty/crunchy/bad-for-you things like potato chips. The kiddo loves them, too — and especially loves squirting them out of the pod and popping them into her mouth. They’re available everywhere I shop from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s to Costco to the regular grocery store so I stock up on whatever’s available at the time — individual snack packs or larger bags that I separate into other containers. I take them out of the freezer the night before, let them thaw in the fridge until morning, and pop ’em into the lunch bag. So easy.
  2. Trail mix. For Take Your Kids to Work Day at Everyday Health, my team and I organized a healthy trail mix bar for the kids. It inspired me to think harder about just packing snacks like Cheddar Bunnies and calling it a day. Now, I mix fun finger foods like snack crackers with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cacao nibs, and coconut chips (they’re SO good!) to even out the nutritional profile a bit. She loves the variety and I like finding new items to add to our make-shift trail mix bar at home.
  3. Popcorn. The addition of popcorn to a Friday night movie takes the weekend from ho-hum to hooray for my kid. She loves adding the popcorn kernels to the oil (safely, of course) and then waiting for that tell-tale pop-pop-pop to happen. We love to experiment with different herbs, oils, and toppings. Parmesan cheese is the current favorite, but I’m trying to get her out of her comfort zone. Mexican Lime is on my list of toppings to try.
  4. Muffins. Muffins are for Mommy-and-me time at my house. Lady M and I have gotten so good at finding ways to make our muffins healthier from adding brown bananas to cut sugar to Greek yogurt and black beans to cut the fat. But we’re not Nazi about it — we swap out so we can swap in. That way, there’s nothing standing the way of our muffins and a few delicious chocolate chips. We experiment with whatever’s on hand or in season. Last week, we went raspberry picking so we made raspberry and dark chocolate mini muffins (using up some sad-looking bananas from the fruit bowl for the win!). We gave a bunch to her new teachers and froze the rest for lunches for the weeks ahead.
  5. Bunny eggs. I bought Japanese egg molds back when she was a toddler as a way of getting out of making scrambled eggs every morning. You boil the eggs, allow them to cool, and then press the whole egg into an adorable shape. “Bunny Eggs” have been breakfast stars ever since! Now that she’s eating two snacks at school, I’m adding Bunny Eggs to the snack-time mix as well. With the edamame and the egg, I like the fact that she’s getting at least one protein-packed snack per day that isn’t processed or complicated.

Now that I’ve got this list to refresh my memory when mommy brain strikes, I have another problem to solve. This morning, the kid almost toppled over under the weight of  a backpack full of lunch, snacks, and her water bottle. 30 pounds of  preschooler + 8 pounds of food and food accoutrement = oy vey. If anyone has any ideas on now to lighten the load, let me know. My friend Nicole over at The Humble Larder, reminded me of wax paper and paper bags last night. I’m placing my right order now.

What are your favorite school snacks?

Love,

The Lunch Lady

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