Growing up, my grandmother’s kitchen was always a magical place filled with culinary wonder and the delicious aroma of gravy (not sauce) simmering to perfection. Stepping into her kitchen,and peeking through her cabinets (and sometimes front coat closet) always gave me that anxious feeling of surprise. You never knew what kind of goodies you were going to stumble upon. Whether it was frozen, individual slices of homemade pizza in the freezer, or “Royal Dansk” tins filled to the brim with rock biscotti, anisette cookies or a dozen other varieties of Italian deliciousness, Grandma’s home-cooking always brought a smile to my face (and it still does!!).
Grandma has the cooking “gift”, that instinctive cooking know-how of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, that somehow always yields happy faces and full bellies. She has the magic to take a semi-empty “I’m an on-the-go grandma’s fridge” and turn it into a meal fit for kings… and toddlers!! Grandma how do you do it?
I witnessed this magic a couple of weeks ago when my mother and I decided to take lil’ Jojo in to see his GG (Great Grandma) on a Friday evening. The decision was very last minute, and of course we decided to stay for a meal because you really don’t ever want to leave. But as you know when you have a toddler, sometimes unexpected changes in plans lead to bigger problems (tantrums, meltdowns …you get the picture).So naturally , I began to panic a little because I hadn’t planned on what Jojo would eat for dinner ( he was also going through quite the picky spell…thank you going back-to-school). Silly me should’ve known that GG was on it. Before I could even put the pieces of my brain back together to think about dinner, she was already at work in the kitchen cooking up a dish that was so simple and delicious it made me laugh at how much I stress out about what he will eat. In no time, GG whipped up a delicious acini pasta dish with peas & corn that Jojo devoured. GG knows her stuff!
This recipe is very simple, but we need those simple and delicious meals in our lives for those unplanned dinner days when we would rather spend more time laughing and enjoying the company of our families than slave over an involved meal in the kitchen!
- 1 Box of Acini Pasta
- Frozen vegetable mix (GG used peas with corn)-1/2c-1c
- 1-3 tbsp of milk (sorry for the range, but it you know… it’s a little of this and a little of that!)
- 1-2 tbsp butter
- Cook 1/4 of the box of Acini Pasta according to the instructions on the box. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the suggested cook time.
- Drain pasta and return to pot. Turn off burner.
- Add 1/2c – 1c of thawed frozen vegetables, milk and butter. Stir until combined and creamy. (You could also add cut -up chicken or beans for protein)
*Jojo loved this quick and easy meal, and I must admit I devoured it too. Yummy! Thank you GG! You can also add parmesan cheese to this dish to give it more of a cheesy “grits” type taste.
No matter how good of an eater Jojo is, I am constantly fighting to get him to eat more vegetables without having to hide them in pastas, muffins, pancakes etc. I’m sure all you cooking moms and dads out there feel my pain! Nothing is more frustrating than watching that piece of broccoli get flung across your clean kitchen …well… maybe lunging for the rest of the plate so that it doesn’t end up on the floor with the broccoli is. (Yes LH, it has happened to me too 🙂 !)
At times offering a vegetable to your toddler with dinner can feel like your setting yourself up for failure (believe me I know), but as I’ve learned through my little kitchen experiments, it doesn’t always have to be. I was watching an episode of Dr Oz one afternoon, when he discussed encouraging young children to eat more vegetables. Now granted, nothing Dr Oz said was revolutionary advice, but somehow his magical Ozness made simple advice seem life-changing. In short, he suggested offering young children vegetables that taste good and said that preparing vegetables in a tasty way will encourage youngsters to enjoy them because they actually are delicious! Simple idea right? But somehow for me this was an Ahh haaa moment. I realized that I needed to change my Veggie War “game plan” and get my cook on. Here are a few ideas for simple but tasty veggies that are Jojo approved.
Roasted Cauliflower – Yes that’s right … cauliflower. Jojo loves it. There is something popcorn-esque about this preparation and everyone in my family loves it. The best part is it is ridiculously easy!
Ingredients: Cauliflower, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil
- Cut the head of cauliflower in half and cut out the hard core.
- Break apart the small cauliflower trees into small tree pieces.
- Place cauliflower pieces on a cookie sheet.
- Toss with olive oil, and salt & pepper to taste (*Do not over salt)
- Roast in a 425 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until the cauliflower is slightly golden brown on the tops of the trees.
This recipe is great for fresh broccoli as well. You may have to adjust the cook time depending on the size of the pieces. Jojo loves how sweet and caramelized the pieces get. The roasted flavor is a big hit!
Cinnamon Carrot Sticks– This veggie is even easier than roasting and very popular with lunch and dinner.
Ingredients: Baby carrots, cinnamon, honey
- Steam the desired amount of baby carrots on the stove or in the microwave. Then let carrots cool.
- Take cooled carrots and cut them in half long ways and then cut them in half long ways again.
- Sprinkle cut carrots with cinnamon and drizzle them with honey.
- Serve at room temperature or heat them in a skillet to caramelize them.
Told you it was easy! What’s even better is the reaction. It’s got the right amount of sweetness and spice to make it interesting and the stick shape makes it fun and very french fry like.
Enjoy the recipes. Let me know how they work out.
If you think it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me…you’re right! It has been! This summer I took time to relax, recharge and reconnect with my son. I took full advantage of my summer off to spend time doing all of those mommy and me activities with lil’ Jojo that I miss out on during the school year. From Gymboree, to Mother Goose Rhyme Time at the public library, to weekly trips to the local beach, Jojo and I lived the life of Riley for a couple of months 🙂 ! I was blessed.
Of course, with the extra time home I also found plenty of opportunities to experiment in the kitchen, which I LOVED! ( I will be sharing all of my delish- toddler approved recipes with you -no worries!!). I focused on finding and creating meals that would appeal to the whole family since Jojo hit many food milestones: learning to use a fork & spoon, developing a willingness to try new foods and expressing an interest in mommy and daddy’s food…which ultimately led to a newly found love for chicken … finally!!! Of course I take full credit for Jojo’s new love for chicken :)… and lord knows I spent a lot of time making numerous chicken dishes until I had success. So today, I figured I share a quick chicken dish that Jojo screams “yum” for!
Honey-Chili Chicken Nuggets
- 2 Boneless chicken breasts (Thick cut-not thin sliced)
- 2 Eggs
- 2 Cups Cheerios – processed into crumb or Bread crumb
- ½ Cup Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp chili powder
- Olive oil
- Set up a chicken dredging station with one plate of flour, one plate of breadcrumb and a plate for the eggs.
- Mix 2 cups of cheerio crumb/ breadcrumb with a ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, ½ tsp of chili powder and pepper to taste.
- Slice the boneless chicken breasts into nuggets.
- Dredge the nuggets in flour. Be sure to shake them to remove excess flour.
- In a separate bowl beat two eggs. Dredge the floured chicken nuggets in the egg mixture and then dredge the chicken nuggets in the crumb mixture.
- Place the chicken nuggets on a baking sheet that is greased with olive oil or sprayed with cooking spray.
- Drizzle the top of each nugget with olive oil and then drizzle the top of each nugget with honey.
- Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the nuggets. Check that the chicken is fully cooked before removing from the oven. The key to cooking juicy chicken is not to over cook it, so monitor it closely.
**BTW, my hubby loves this too, so this is a great FAMILY dinner! Pair it with your favorite vegetables and you have a meal!