Cabin Fever Spaghetti and Meatballs

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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!

Stave Off Sandwich Boredom With This Quick Fix

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A new Asian market opened up in my neighborhood a few months ago and I finally ran in to check it out. An hour (and an overflowing cart) later, I came home with frozen mini Chinese buns to add to my lunch arsenal. I ended up dragging them out on a day I needed a quick fix, and threw together a low-rent version of chicken “banh mi.” The kiddo loved it and I used up some leftovers and death-row veggies from the crisper in the process. This might be my version of #winning.

Chicken Banh Mi

2 mini Chinese buns
1 small cucumber
4 baby carrots, shredded or sliced
1/2 shredded chicken
1/2 Tsp. hoisin sauce

Defrost mini buns, slice veggies and chicken, assemble sandwiches, squirt with a little hoisin, and go!

Chicken "banh mi" sandwiches with sesame sticks, apples, and veggies
Chicken “banh mi” sandwiches with sesame sticks, apples, and veggies

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!

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

Snack Attack: Healthy Pumpkin “Pop Tarts”

Healthy Pumpkin "Pop Tarts"
Healthy Pumpkin “Pop Tarts”

I can’t believe I’m even typing this. Just last week, I was the person complaining that dreaded “pumpkin spice season” is starting way too early. That said, the kid is going to to her first pumpkin farm field trip next week and I have a can of pumpkin burning a year-old hole in the pantry. Plus, I need snacks for school and activities to keep the kid busy so here I am. While these little snacks are technically a dessert, they’re pretty low in sugar and super-simple to make for school lunches and snacks  … so why not now? (Plus, who am I kidding? I love Halloween…)

Pumpkin “Pop Tarts”

For the crust

1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons very cold butter

Mix flour with salt in a bowl. Add cold butter and cut in a in food processor. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, until dough forms into a ball. Gather up and pat into a round disc. While you make the filling (see below), cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes before rolling out.

For the filling

1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
2 Tbsp of agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey
1/2 Tsp of cinnamon
1/4 Tsp of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You’ll also need your Halloween cookie cutters — go grab them or a sharp knife to create pumpkin and ghost shapes. In a small bowl, mix together the can of pumpkin, natural sweetener, and spices until incorporated (go ahead and taste it — you might need to adjust the spice and sweetness, depending on your tastes or your child’s). Using cookie cutters, cut multiple shapes (top and bottom) into rolled-out dough. Take one of the “shapes” and spread a thin layer of pumpkin mixture on each and top with the corresponding piece of dough. Crimp each piece together with your hands or a fork until sealed. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

You’ll probably have some of the pumpkin mixture left over at the end. Don’t throw it away! Stir it into oatmeal or hot cereal in the morning — it’s delicious!

Only 41 more days to Halloween…

Love,

The Lunch Lady