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What's for dinner?

I love to cook, but most weeknights I'm so tired that all I want to do is eat out. Not that eating out with a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old isn't exhausting in itself. Plus, all that dining out gets really expensive. And kid menus don't usually offer the healthiest options.

So, to save money and make sure we eat relatively well, I try to plan out all the dinners and do the shopping on the weekend. Having a plan makes even the thought of cooking dinner easier. And there's no better incentive to stay in and cook than thinking of all that food in the fridge going to waste if I don't.

Another great incentive is recipes. I love trying new recipes. So when it's time to sit down and plan the menu I start cracking open the cookbooks and food mags and scouring the Internet.
With half a dozen tasty looking recipes to try, tying on the apron gets a whole lot easier.

I've got a pretty good collection of family-friendly recipes that are pretty quick to make (and, thankfully, to clean up). I got to thinking that it would be fun to share my ever-growing collection with other busy parents. And I'm willing to bet all you UrbanMamas and Papas out there have your own stash of quick and yummy recipes you might like to share too.

So to start this recipe exchange off, I'll supply three simple but flavorful soup recipes (see below) I made recently. Two of them helped me use up some leftover roast chicken and they all were a great way to warm up after our days playing in the snow.

Feel free to share your own soup or stew recipe(s) by using the comment link. We'll keep it all archived under the "Recipes -- Soups" category on the left side of the UrbanMamas home page. As the exchange gets going we'll add more categories, such as entrees, sides, vegetarian, etc.

Bon appetit!

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Here are the recipes. Enjoy!

Lemon-Ginger Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves four.
I adapted this recipe from one in Fine Cooking magazine. It's warming, flavorful and a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken from a roast. The ginger isn't too spicy for kids.

2-inch piece fresh ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1⁄3 cup)
2 quarts homemade or low-salt chicken broth
1 to 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
8 ounces fresh fettucine (look in the supermarket cold case)
1 bunch watercress sprigs (about 2 cups, stems trimmed)
1/3 cup ponzu sauce (New Seasons has it on the international foods aisle)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste

Peel the ginger and cut it into thick slices. Lay the slices on a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and smash the ginger with a meat mallet or a heavy pan.
Heat the vegetable oil in a 5- to 6-quart soup pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and ginger, and sauté, stirring, until shallots are slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any bits.

Bring the broth to a simmer and add the shredded chicken. Cook, partially covered, for about three minutes. Add the noodles (cut into shorter lengths if you like) and simmer for about 3 more minutes or according to package instructions. Remove from heat. Add the watercress, ponzu and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste.

Chicken Soup with Cheddar Dumplings
Serves 6

The dumplings are the stars of this soup. They're super easy to mix up and kids will love them. The base is so simple you can add more veggies if you like. Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, cut into half-moons
1 onion, diced
1 quart chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cornmeal (not coarse)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
¾ cup frozen corn kernels
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
2 cups cooked chicken cut into ½-inch cubes
Pepper

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrots and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Add broth and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the dumplings: Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in cheese and corn. Add egg and milk; stir vigorously to make a slightly sticky dough. Using lightly floured hands, form dough into 1-inch balls. Set aside.

Add the chicken to the soup, season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a gentle boil. Add dumplings, cover, and cook until dumplings are cooked through, about 6 minutes.


Fast White Bean Stew

Serves 4

With hardly any chopping required, this really is a fast soup. If you can't find thick slices of ham, the thinner slices of a spiral-cut ham will do fine. Adapted from Gourmet Magazine.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 ¾ cups chicken broth
3 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans (drain and rinse two of the cans of beans but don't drain the other)
1 (½-pound) piece baked ham (½ to ¾ inch thick), cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 (5-ounce) bag baby spinach

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, beans, ham and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted.

Oh, hooray! Soup is one of the few things I do well. Generally I try to do the whole thing in a rice cooker. Here is my favorite version of quick white bean soup (please forgive my congenital inability to give exact measures):

MEDITERRANEAN WHITE BEAN SOUP

(1) Set rice cooker to "Cook." Begin saute-ing chopped onion and a few cloves of minced garlic, in no more than a tablespoon of olive oil.

(2) Add about half a pound of bulk chicken-basil sausage.

(3) When the sausage is gently browned, add two cans of white beans, a generous amount of water and/or stock, and a bay leaf. Cover and allow to come to a boil.

(4) Chop up a nice red bell pepper and toss into the mix.

(5) Once the bell pepper softens slightly, begin seasoning the soup with salt, black pepper, and dried basil to taste.

(6) Stir in handfuls of spinach leaves until wilted.

(7) Make sure to switch the rice cooker back to "Warm." :)

P.S. One advantage of using a rice cooker is that leftovers can be transferred directly to the fridge, then back to the rice cooker base to be warmed up again. This soup tastes even better the next day.

Oh yes, I love soup (although my husband is one of those annoying "soup is not a meal" types but sometimes I can trick him if it's hearty enough!) And I love tried and true recipes of any kind.

Lately, I've been doing a crockpot once or twice a week, it's a great way to have a full meal put together without the end of day hussle. Here's a delicious recipe I did this week, it will definitely be added to the roster of regulars...

Zesty Chicken
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken cut into one inch chunks
1 lb Italian Style turkey sausage, cut into one inch peices
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1 1/2 tsp oregano
28 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
6 oz can tomato paste
14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained
4 oz can black olives, drained and sliced

Coat slow cooker with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients except for artichoke hearts and olives. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until meat is done. Stir in artichoke hearts and olives and cook another 10 minutes or so.

Serve over rice--we used brown rice and it was delicious and so, so easy!

thanks so much Danielle! I'm so glad you've started posting on this topic :) Here's my fave recipe for tomato soup (which I pair with grilled cheese sandwiches, my 20-month-old loves, but the four-year-old won't touch):

Fast and Sweet Tomato Soup
One yellow onion, sliced thin
One carrot, diced
Two tablespoons butter
Smoked paprika, salt, black pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon each or to taste)
One large can diced tomatoes (sometimes I use the plum tomatoes from Trader Joe's, they're cheaper)

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and, when hot, add spices and shake to coat. Add onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, over medium heat until onions just begin to caramelize and carrots are soft. Add tomatoes and simmer for about five minutes; taste and adjust seasoning, adding more spices, a bit of brown sugar, wine or balsamic vinegar as needed (wine and vinegar cut the sweetness, sugar adds to it). Puree soup, if desired, in a blender or food processor (I usually puree about 2/3 of it so it's a little chunky).

I also add chipotle pepper if the kids aren't touching the soup that night -- I love the smokey heat.

I think that soup is on the mind with this wintery weather. I just found the best recipe for Taco Soup. It's healthy and you could very well go meatless if it moves you. Thanks for all the other soup recipes since I often get in a rut and only cook the same things over and over. Enjoy this one!

THE BEST Taco Soup

- 8 oz ground turkey or beef (I'm sure that a soy meat substitute would work too, though I've never tried it myself)
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp of chili powder
- 1 tsp of oregano
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp of salt and pepper (each)
- 4 cups sodium reduced beef stock (or chicken or veggie stock I'm sure would work too)
- 2 cups of water
- 1 sm can tomato paste (6 oz)
- 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can corn (if using frozen corn, 1 cup)
- shredded cheddar cheese
- crushed tortilla chips

Brown meat in a big sauce pan. Add everything from the onion to the salt and pepper to the meat, mixing it over medium heat until the onion is soft. Add stock, water and tomato paste, bring to a boil. Add beans and corn, and reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Laddle up and top with cheese and chips. I'm telling you, this soup is super good.

Hooray! I'm a recipe junkie. I have a binder full of clipped out recipes for which I just recently came up with an organizing system. Here are a couple of family favorites.

FREGOLA
This is one of my four-year-old’s favorite dishes, both to make and to eat. It’s an easy and fun recipe for kids to help out with. Sorry we don’t have exact measurements…we’ve always just improvised amounts. No matter what, it turns out great every time! (Fregola means crumbs in Italian.)

You’ll Need:1 small bag of semolina flour (Bob’s Red Mill brand is available at Fred Meyer’s & New Seasons)
A small bowl of cold water
2 cookie sheets, 1 with raised edges (or a large cake pan)
A mesh colander
2 medium size bowls
A large pot
Clean hands!
Fregola condiments (marinara sauce,sautéed or steamed veggies, ricotta cheese, Parmesan, butter, use your imagination)

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
2. Fill the large pot with water and place on stove.
3. Pour 2-3 cups of semolina onto cookie sheet. Spread evenly.
4. Dip fingers into water and sprinkle water over flour. (The more fingers doing this the faster the process will go. Little fingers especially love this step!) Tiny beads will form. Gently shake the sheet to make sure the beads of flour are solidly coated. Repeat this step a few times until you have many beads of dough.
5. Place the colander over one of the medium bowls and pour the contents of
cookie sheet into the colander and gently shake the colander until all of the
loose flour has emptied out.
6. Spread the dough beads in the colander onto the 2nd cookie sheet. Pour the leftover flour back onto the 1st sheet. Add more flour as needed. Repeat steps 4-5 until you have enough fregola to feed your crowd (1/2-1 cups per person).
7. Turn the pot of water on to boil. Place sheet of fregola in preheated oven. Stir every 3 minutes or so until slightly toasted. It should dry out a little bit and turn golden brown. This usually takes 10-15 minutes.
8. Place toasted fregola into boiling water and boil for about 4 minutes. Drain and serve with whatever toppings you choose. (My son’s favorite is sautéed zucchini and mushrooms topped with marinara sauce mixed with ricotta cheese. YUM!)

RUBY CHICKEN
My brother is a chef on a boat. He emailed me a couple of weeks ago asking for any cranberry recipes I had as the ship had just received a glut of fresh cranberries. I sent him this one and he just wrote back yesterday saying that this was the crew's favorite dish so far. It's easy and you can use cranberry sauce instead of the fresh berries.

1 fryer, cut up, excess skin removed
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¼ cup butter
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries or 1 one-lb. can whole cranberry sauce or 1 cup leftover cranberry sauce
½ cup sugar (omit if using cranberry sauce)
¼ cup chopped onion
1 tsp grated orange zest
¾ cup orange juice
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger

Shake chicken in a bag with flour and salt. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown chicken in butter.

Combine and bring to a boil cranberries, sugar, onion, orange zest, juice, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir and pour over the chicken. Cover fry pan and simmer gently about 35 minutes until tender, or bake in a covered casserole at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Whoops. Sorry I didn't see the part about keeping the recipes to soups and stews. Ummm... Dump a quart of broth into the two above:)

Potato Leek soup

chopped leeks (about 4-whites only)
4 potatoes peeled and cubed
4 cups of chicken broth (can adjust to make soup thicker or thinner)
4 tablespoons butter
I carton of plain soy milk (can use milk)

Melt butter in stock pot, add leeks. Cook until leeks are tender, but not brown. Add potatoes and chicken broth bring to a boil then let simmer until potatoes are tender. put it in a food processor and blend until smooth. Put back in pot and add the soy milk (if using cold soy milk heat soup to desired temp) Add salt and pepper to taste.

My kids love this soup with brie toast (we put bread in the toaster oven with brie on top until melted) very yummy to dip in soup! I make this on my "mommy's brain is tired" days :)

Potato Chard Soup
3 very large russet potatoes
1 huge onion
1 huge bunch of chard
10 cups water
5 chicken or vegetable boullion cubes (I used regular old chicken squares)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch of hot red pepper flakes

1. Scrub and chop the potatoes, chop the onion.
2. Boil in a large soup pot: the water, potatoes, onion, and boullion cubes.
3. When potatoes are soft, remove from heat and add butter, cream, and cheese.
4. Using a handheld blender, or a potato masher or big spoon, cream some of the potatoes and blend thoroughly. No need to be completely puree, but blend it some to create creaminess.
5. Chop the chard into ribbons and add to the soup.
6. Add red pepper flakes.

This is a year-round favorite of mine and it's super easy. I frequently make it without the bacon & by eliminating that & substituting veg. broth for the chicken, you can make it vegetarian (not vegan). I've noted my 'make-it-even-easier' modifications along the way.


SUMMER CORN CHOWDER

Yield: Serves 4.


4 oz bacon, cut into 1/4 inch dice, optional
1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (1 c)
2 ribs celery, strings removed, cut into 1/2 inch dice (3/4 c)
8 sprigs thyme (I use a couple shakes of dried thyme)
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 c chicken stock, skimmed of fat (I use broth from the store)
3 ears yellow corn, kernels removed (I use about 2 1/2 c frozen)
5 oz small fingerling potatoes, cut into
1/2 inch slices (I use a baking potato cut into small chunks)
1 poblano chile, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch dice, optional
1 1/2 c half-and-half
1/2 c chopped fresh fennel bulb, optional

Place bacon in small stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is deep golden brown and all the fat has been rendered, about 4 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel and set aside. Discard all but 2 T of bacon fat.

Add onions, celery, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste to stockpot; cook over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 15 minutes.

Add corn, potatoes and chile; cook until potatoes are tender, 8-10 minutes. Remove and discard thyme. Add half-and-half, and simmer until soup is hot. Adjust season with salt and pepper. Garnish with reserved crisp bacon pieces.

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