Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Our top Cinco de Mayo recipes

Need ideas for your Cinco de Mayo menu? We've got you covered from appetizers, to dinner to dessert.

We have a special affinity for Mexican flavors here at Hot Dinner Happy Home, which means there is no shortage of recipes.

Today we're serving up some of our most popular Latin-inspired dishes.

What does your family eat for Cinco De Mayo? We'd love to know!

Mangia! Mangia!

P.S. Need more ideas? Simply type "taco" or "tortilla" or "enchilada" or "quesadilla" or "Mexican" into the search function in the upper left hand corner of this page to discover more recipes.

Taco Pie is easy, tasty and the perfect comfort food.

Tacos are fun and family friendly, especially when the kiddos get to build their own. Skip the packet and give DIY Taco Seasoning a try.

Amy's Guacamole is the perfect appetizer or topping for tacos — or any of the these dishes.

Crockpot Queso is a yummy way to honor Cinco de Mayo, especially as an appetizer.

Enchilada Casserole is spicy, cheesy and a great weeknight meal.

Don't forget dessert. These Cinnamon Crisps are a great way to end the meal.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Kid Friendly Pesto Chicken Bow Tie Pasta

My Tower Garden is going gangbusters. So far this Spring, I have harvested two kinds of lettuce, two kinds of kale, some spinach and some cilantro and basil. And there's so much more goodness to come -- tomatoes (large and cherry), yellow squash, peppers, celery, cucumbers and more.

I'm practically living off the land right here in South Charlotte. Ha!

With the basil I harvested this weekend, I made one of my kids' favorite dishes -- Pesto Chicken Bow Tie Pasta. They love this dish and I love that it goes a long way in that it fills them up for a few dinners with leftovers packed in their school lunches.

I hope your kids love it,  too!


Kid Friendly Pesto Chicken Bow Tie Pasta
For the pesto:
1 bunch of basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 garlic clove
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the rest of the dish:
1 pound bow tie pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions
1 pound chicken breast or tenders, seasoned with salt and pepper, cooked and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Put all of the pesto ingredients into food processor and blend until pine nuts are mostly smooth.

A note or two about the pesto: I really just eyeball all of the ingredients based on what I am making and the amount of basil on hand. Here is how much basil I harvested from my Tower Garden for this dish. Ideally, it would have been a bit more, but I was OK with that because this dish is going in my kids' Thermoses for their lunches for the week and they prefer the dish to be a little less "green."

You could easily double the amount of pesto you use here. You could also add more or less garlic. You could add a pinch of red pepper. You could add more olive oil if you want a runnier pesto. But be careful on the olive oil and add it bit my bit because you can quickly go from perfect pesto to an oily mess.

In large bowl, combine the cooked pasta and chicken with the pesto and the grated Parmesan cheese. Place in a baking dish that you have sprayed with cooking spray. Top with the shaved Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees until hot throughout.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Banana Zucchini Toddler Muffins

Elaine is eight months old, and she loves eating solid food. (Insert the cliche...she's growing up so fast!! Sniffle.) I've been making some purees, buying some jarred baby food, and feeding her bits from the table. I'm trying to keep it low pressure and fun for all of us.

Elaine is much more into self-feeding than Danny was. It's still pretty tricky for her to get food into her mouth, but she's persistent! I've been trying to figure out healthy foods that are easy for her to eat herself...things that aren't too slippery or crunchy. It dawned on me that muffins might be just the ticket. She can hold them in her little fists and chomp them up with her two tiny teeth.

My pal Therese directed me to her favorite healthy toddler muffin recipe that was full of fruit and veggies. I tweaked it a little, and I was thrilled with the results. So were my kids.

Let's get cooking!

P.S. Want more baby food recipes? Check out this post about some of my favorite homemade purees, including sweet potato and chicken baby food.

Banana Zucchini Toddler Muffins
Adapted from A Song of Sixpence
Makes about 28 mini muffins

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup brown sugar*
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 zucchini, shredded
1 cup flour
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup quick oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan and set aside.

Stir together oil, applesauce, brown sugar, bananas, eggs, and vanilla extract until combined. Stir in zucchini.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, chia seeds, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Fill mini muffin cups with batter. (I filled mine almost to the top.) Bake for about 15-17 minutes, until muffins spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

*This is not a lot of sugar, so these muffins have just a hint of sweetness. This is perfect for the baby, but just know that this isn't your standard sweet muffin. If you're looking for that, you might want to check out Coconut Carrot Muffins or Blueberry Zucchini Bread.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Turkey & Wild Rice Stew

Spring has definitely arrived in central Illinois, but we're still in that on-again, off-again pattern. Chilly, rainy days make me crave soup or stew, so I whipped this up for dinner using items already on hand.

I had turkey broth in the freezer, but you can easily substitute store bought or homemade chicken stock, chicken broth or vegetable broth.

The wild rice in this meal is special. Friends who traveled to Minnesota for a hunting trip brought it back for me. Minnesota Broken Rice grows naturally in fresh water. It's chewy with a nutty flavor. This rice is a bit tougher than brown rice and I've had trouble cooking it to the right consistency on its own. But it worked perfectly in this stew, staying al dente during the long simmering time. Rest assured, regular wild rice from the grocery store will work just as well in this main dish.

I'm calling this a stew because it was a bit thicker than I intended, but you can add more broth for a more soup-like consistency.

Mangia! Mangia!

Turkey & Wild Rice Stew
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 to 7 carrots, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
4 ribs celery, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion, diced
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons flour
4 to 6 cups (or more) turkey broth (or chicken or vegetable stock or broth)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup wild rice
2 1/2 cups chopped, cooked turkey or chicken
1/2 cup half & half or 1/2 cup milk combined with 1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons oil with 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery and onion and cook about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add the garlic and cook 3 to 5 more minutes, just until the garlic starts to brown.

Stir in thyme and cook until fragrant.

Add the flour and cook while stirring constantly, until the flour is browned and fully combined with the vegetables.

Pour in the turkey broth, bay leaves and soy sauce. Scrap up any browned bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven and stir to combine.

Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add wild rice, stir and then let simmer for another 25 to 30 minutes.

Add turkey, salt and pepper. Stir in half & half or milk and cook until slightly thickened. Add more broth if you want to thin out the liquid.

Serve garnished with fresh parsley or cilantro.

A note about leftovers: The stew may thicken even more in the fridge, but reheating it will return the dish to a more stew or soup-like meal. And you can always add a little more broth!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I think we can all admit that take-out is fantastic. Dinner on the table with no work? Uh, yes, please!

That said, it's not always the healthiest option. And sometimes I don't feel like leaving the house to pick it up. Can making dinner be lazier than take-out? With quick, easy, and tasty Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry, it sure can.

Let's get cooking!

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
Adapted from Life Made Sweeter

For the Stir Fry:
1 pound sirloin steak, sliced very thin across the grain
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Pepper, to taste
1 pound broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

For the Sauce:
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Mirin
Pepper, to taste

Combine steak, cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper in a small boil. Set aside to marinate for about 10 minutes.

While the steak marinates, stir together the sauce. In a small bowl, mix broth, oyster sauce, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, Mirin, and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Add broccoli and cook until bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

In the now-empty skillet, heat vegetable oil over high until it starts to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add beef and spread into a single layer. Allow it to cook until it gets nice and brown, about 2 minutes. Stir the steak around and allow to cook for another 1-2 minutes, being careful not to overcook the meat.

Add sauce to the skillet and bring to a boil. Allow sauce to cook and thicken for 2 minutes. Stir in cooked broccoli. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pasta & Fresh Tomato Sauce

Last week was busy. We had extra drama performances, a spring concert, baseball practices (and games) and the school play. My mother-in-law was in town, too, for a chance to cheer on her grandsons.

Despite all of this activity, I managed to cook dinner — twice. This is one of the meals I made.

In the time it takes for water to boil and pasta to cook, you can make a fresh and light tomato sauce instead of opening a jar. This recipe uses the same method as my recipe for Halibut with Tomato, Orange and Olives.

Cooking the tomatoes yourself is an easy way to dish up a healthy topping for pasta. A little lemon juice brightens up all those fresh flavors.

Mangia! Mangia!

Pasta & Fresh Tomato Sauce

3/4 pound pasta (any shape; my son Sam picked out rigatoni)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 pints cherry or grape tomatoes (I like a mixture of red and yellow ones)
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Fill a large pot with water and 1 tablespoon oil and set over high heat until it boils.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until onion just starts to get light brown. Add tomatoes and let cook for a few minutes.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook per package directions. Place in serving bowl after draining.

Continue to cook tomatoes, stirring occasionally. They will begin to burst. You can also gently press down on the tomatoes to release their juices. Cook until all tomatoes have burst and sauce thickens, about 15 to 20 minutes total.

Add lemon juice, parsley salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Pour tomato sauce over pasta and gently mix to coat all of the pasta. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese or your favorite Italian cheese.

I served my pasta as a side dish with grilled baked halibut and asparagus. It makes a terrific main dish, too, along with a nice green salad.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Curry Chicken Salad with Grapes and Cashews

Our friends Cathy and Daniel picnic like it's their job. They take it seriously and they're good at it. We experienced this firsthand when visiting them in Baltimore while on Spring Break. We met up at the park atop Federal Hill. They brought a delicious picnic lunch in a beautiful traditional picnic basket, because details matter to Cathy, a former opera director and stage manager turned interior designer.

Together we unpacked curry chicken sandwiches in mini pitas and -- for dessert -- homemade (by Daniel and nearly 3-year-old Gregory) oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. We poured Orangina into plastic picnic stemware.

The chicken salad was sooooo good that I had to make it as soon as we got home. Cathy told  me all of the ingredients, which she mostly eyeballs. That's what I do a lot when I cook, too. I would say my version (below) turned out slightly more powerful on the curry than Cathy's, while hers was creamier. I still want to work on getting mine to be more like Cathy's in creaminess.

Anyhow, play with it and make it your own. My tweaks included using some of the whites of the green onions and adding some red bell pepper.

One thing Cathy and I agree on: the mayonnaise. I've said it before and I will again. It's gotta be Duke's. (See my Deviled Egg Sampler.)

I love how Cathy used mini pitas, which sadly I didn't find at the grocery. The ones I bought were too teeny to be filled with more than a thimble-full of chicken salad.

So, I wish I'd taken a picture of Cathy's sandwiches, because they were so cute and pretty. Oh well...I was too busy stuffing my face. And taking in a beautiful day in Baltimore. And picnicking with my friends, the professional picnickers.


PS: I did get Penny to eat this in her school lunch.

Curry Chicken Salad with Grapes and Cashews

1 1/2 to 2 pounds of boneless chicken breast, cooked and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 heaping cup of seedless grapes -- red or white -- cut in half
3 green onions,  white and green parts sliced ultra thin
1/2 to 1 whole red pepper, diced small
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 teaspoons curry
Salt and pepper to taste
Cashew pieces for garnish

Mix all ingredients except for cashews together and chill thoroughly before serving. Add cashews just before serving.

And here is a trick with the red pepper, which can make a salad super watery if you aren't careful. After you dice the pepper, roll the pieces in a paper towel to get out some of the water.