Friday, January 27, 2012

Favorite Dinners & Beginner Tips

Here's a few of our family's favorites. 
What are yours? Share with a comment below!

Cook with your kids! It really is easy and fun. My tips on this are {here}.

Lasagna! I began making Trader Joe's Bolognese recipe a few years back, and it's SO yummy. It's that recipe or Slow Cooker Lasagna, courtesy of Diane Hopkins' blog and recipe book. If I have time and energy, I like to make my own french bread or focaccia...I know, sounds tricky, but it's so easy, even for a beginner like me. It just takes some time and some forethought...finding the recipe that works well is the trick. This one for focaccia was the very first I tried and it works like a dream. I served it to friends and they asked which bakery I had bought it from. (Now, that's a good recipe!)

Spaghetti, bread and a salad: almost too simple to mention, but so good, whether with meat or without. We like cooked Italian sausage and extra veggies in our sauce (like my Mom and sister make in their homes).

About serving veggies at mealtime: My all-time favorite salad is Caesar, but any good salad kids will usually try some. If it's there, eventually they will try it, so I keep serving it. If I don't have time to make a salad, I cut up veggies, like cucumbers and celery and serve them with baby carrots and ranch for another option. Often, I'll just have these cut-up on a sealable tray in the fridge, so it's easy to pull out and place on the table, or the kids & my hubby and I can snack on them during the day. It's an easy way to fit more veggies in, with less work on my part.

Homemade pizza. The BEST recipe (which also happens to be nutritious and use whole grains) comes from one of my favorite mentor moms, Diane Hopkins. My kids like plain cheese, but I dig pineapple and ham!


Taco salad. Hubby gets credit for this one...he started making it regularly after the birth of our third child and it's stuck as a staple in our house. Ground beef gets mixed with taco seasoning and is served warm over crisp lettuce with a dressing of salsa and sour cream. We like sauteed onions, as well. Toppings to try are chopped tomato, chopped olives, shredded cheese, and crumbled tortilla chips. I also like warmed refried beans mixed with the meat for this dish sometimes. You could easily adapt this dish to be served meatless with just warmed rice and beans, seasoned with cumin, oregano and chili powder.

Taco Soup or Italian Meatball soup. I LOVE that either of these variations can be put together in the morning in a slow cooker and be ready for dinner. So EASY! Saute onion and garlic and chopped celery and carrots in olive oil. Either add in ground beef or prepared meatballs. Add a lot of broth and a can of diced tomatoes. For taco soup, add a can of green chiles, some cooked pinto and kidney beans, and a can of corn and taco seasonings for flavor. For Italian, add cooked kidney beans, a handful of frozen green beans, and Italian seasoning. Cooked rice can also be a nice addition for either variation. Serve taco soup with crushed tortilla chips and cheese and sour cream. For the Italian soup, serve alongside crusty bread.

Fish, rice pilaf, steamed veggie. Baked salmon gets high marks around here. Broccoli and carrots and bell pepper are our go-to veggies for steamed, but I am partial to steamed brussel sprouts with butter. Begin with a rice cooker that you just set and forget, then stick the fish with lemon and dill and olive oil in the oven, and it only takes just a few minutes to steam the veg while the others cook. It's a low-energy, no-brainer, brain boosting meal. MMMMM!

Chili with corn chips, shredded cheese, and sour cream. Sometimes we serve this over baked potatoes with green onions, a tip I learned from my sister-in-law. It's very filling and comforting on a chilly day like today. I would love to develop a great recipe for homemade, mild chili. That one's on the list, but for now we buy a big can from Costco.

Okay, now...about cool kitchen gadgets and appliances...

Pressure cooker!! Have you not tried it out yet? I am loving my Fagor express 8 quart model.

Seriously, slow food, quick! Chicken in 8 minutes, mashed potatoes in 6, from scratch. Steamed broccoli in 3 minutes. Saves money, time, energy and effort, and retains flavor in the food wonderfully.

 What's not to love?

I have done a few things in it, including beans, two different chicken dishes, various veggies, and quinoa. I'm so excited to try more recipes, like hubby is asking for a roast.


If you have yet to conquer the kitchen, 
or just need some encouragement in this aspect of homemaking...

So you think you can't cook....

My advise to anyone struggling to make what their family will like / eat, think you haven't time or energy to make home-cooked meals that are affordable, or who otherwise feels like a failure as a cook, is:

  • Learn to make one recipe at a time really well, and then move on to another. Keep trying; you really can do this! Try a few recipes until one works well. Master chocolate chip cookies, or potato soup, or spaghetti sauce. Then, you have one item that you do well. It builds confidence, and your supply of recipes. When most people in the family will eat it, it's a winner.

  • Make it your own! Just bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies and everyone likes it? Well, now, that's YOUR "chocolate chip recipe"! (Of course, give credit to others when it's due, like if you are compiling a cookbook) Other people do this; you can have a recipe that's "yours", too. After you make it again and again, it's easier to put together without referring to a book all the time.

    • Plan ahead.  The Nanny Plan from BYUtv's show "Food Nanny" is a neat option; you can do your own the way you like. This makes a big difference as waiting until 4 p.m. to find out there is nothing to make dinner with is too late. It made cooking with dried beans and other things doable for me, as a part of everyday life. It also showed me that cooking for my family was easier when I spent more time at home, but planning helps a lot if you do have to spend time outside the home, whether for work, kid's activities, or whatnot.

      • Keep your goal in mind: cooking well for your family. After making a recipe that works well, don't mess with it. Don't go after every single chocolate chip cookie recipe out there, hoping that maybe this one will be the one that will top the last one (or outshine your neighbor's). That takes a lot of time, and unless you really need to improve on a recipe, stick with what your family likes and works well for you. Leave the recipe "one-upping" to those classy foody bloggers.  :-)

      • Make a cookbook! There are lots of companies you can use to create a professional looking one. I have used Tastebook, because I like the format, but I am not as happy with the quality. I might use another company next time. I am an in-your-hands, turn the pages, kind of person, but there are plenty of digital ways to collect and share recipes, too. Maybe you are the kind of gal who would also sell it when your cookbook is created; that can be done. Or if simple works for you: choose a binder and print off pages at home to slide into sheet protectors. It took me over 2 years to test recipes, compile, and then write and edit the book. I did it bit by bit, when I had a spare hour in the evening or Sunday--but it's done (!) and now when I have a new recipe to add here or there, I can order them individually. It feels like such an accomplishment, personally, to have this treasure trove of tried-and-true recipes that I can make anytime and know most of the family will eat and like. 

      Gateway to Good Food

        Many women I have talked to also share with me that they are learning the cooking basics themselves, in the middle of raising children--no easy task. But it can be done! Thankfully, we don't have to do this alone. You can totally learn to cook by using the 'Net! You can make things your family will like, that will nourish their bodies, and do it consistently. Here are some of my favorite resources for healthy cooking, that I often mention on my blog:

        I highly recommend watching "The Food Nanny". You can watch for FREE on here. She reminds you how important dinnertime is for families, especially those with young children. AND she shows you how DOABLE cooking from scratch for your family can be, whether you know how to boil water or not   :-)  I love her...check her out if you're in doubt!

        Diane Hopkins: a Homeschooling Mom, she has recipes for free on her blog and sells a simple, but tried-and-true cookbook, Hopkin's Healthy Home Cookin'.

        Cynthia Lair's blog Cookus Interruptus has the funniest, and helpful, videos on cooking fresh, whole foods meals, snacks, desserts, and more. Her cookbook is FABulous: Feeding the Whole Family.

        Hip Pressure Cooking and Miss Vickie. Good ideas and tested recipes to try out. Beginners paradise!

        Crystal @ Everyday Food Storage talks you through recipes, made by a Mom, for Moms, in her videos on her blog. She has recipes online you can use for free and sells a cookbook. She specializes in making food that tastes awesome with staples like whole wheat, dried beans, powdered eggs, and more. I LOVE her EZ wheat bread recipe. I also use it to make amazing cinnamon rolls. Key? Easy, inexpensive, and yummy. She recently did a Bosch giveaway, too.

        Why Do I Share?

        My desire is to share what works for me, and if it is helpful to someone, that is a blessing. If something I share here is helpful to you in some way, why not comment? If you have something that helped you in the kitchen department, why not share it here? It's a lot more fun for everyone when there's a conversation going on. Be a part of it!

        Do you have a question about cooking that I haven't answered in this post?
        I love to answer reader's questions. Ask away!

        Most of all, my wish for you is that this year, in 2012,
        you  renew  how you  enjoy  food with your family:

        Make it,  Eat it,  Enjoy ...  Repeat !      Happy Cooking   :-)


        1. Great. You had 2 of our favorites listed. Chili and taco salad. :-) One thing that has helped me greatly is planning ahead. I am finally making a menu. Best thing is that I gave everyone a day to pick what will be put on the menu! The kids are really getting more involved in the whole process. It makes them so happy. Me too. :-)

        2. I love cooking but I've discovered how much more fun it is when I have my little girls helping me. and on a plus side they eat better when they've helped make it. Bonus!


        3. Julie, That is fantastic to hear how your kids are involved in meal planning! How fun that two of our favorite meals are your family's, too.

        4. Veronica, I hear on you on how kids eat better when they are involved. I have noticed the same thing at our house.

        5. Nice post! I'm definitely going to have to refer to this one later and follow some of those links. Thanks!

        6. Ditto to what Amber said:) I'm going to. One back and check out those links. Some great advice here.....esp liked the one where you said to just stick to a recipe if we've found one that's good rather than waste time trying to find one that might be better!

        7. It's fun to share neat resources and ideas, isn't it? Thanks for your comments, Amber and Rosemary, and hope you do find something you like from those links. Happy cooking!


        Thanks for your comment today! I love reading your thoughts, too. :-)