These started with lots of our favorite flavors and ingredients – basil pesto! mozzarella! tomatoes! We are into a new groove with more in-person routines and special sandwiches make fast dinners – especially in September with some summer temps and some feelings of fall. Most of this can prep in advance and to make as sliders or full-sized sandwiches.
I loved these! Admittedly – the kids weren’t wow-ed. They ate all the elements but didn’t care about them being together. Not every meal will be everyone’s favorite so I feel like they were still a winner if the kiddos were reminded that their beloved pesto doesn’t only show up on pasta.
Pulled Pesto Chicken & Caprese Sandwiches Ingredients: (for 4 sandwiches or 8 sliders) 2 chicken thighs or breasts or rotisserie chicken 2 tablespoons basil pesto 4 rolls or 8 slider rolls 1/2 tomato 1/2 ball of fresh mozzarella 3 tablespoons creamy caesar dressing or garlic aoli or balsamic reduction drizzle (optional)
Directions: Cook the chicken and when fully cooked through, pull it apart with 2 forks and mix in the pesto. Toast the rolls (optional). Slice the tomato and mozzarella.
Spread the rolls with dressing or spread if using it. Assemble the sandwiches with tomato, chicken, and mozzarella. Enjoy!
I had some sourdough rolls and some slider rolls and we had it with caesar salad which the first grader loves to “make”.
These flavors work so well together and I appreciate that a smaller amount of chicken goes further for sandwiches like this, versus serving whole cuts of chicken per person.
I’d eat these as little appetizer crostini or as wraps or grilled into a panini too! I threw some of the leftover pesto pulled chicken on top of some pasta to pack for lunch or it would be fine to freeze too!
We got our new fridge and no longer have to live out of a dorm-sized fridge so the sky’s the limit for meals! I made this French Onion Soup Burger just in time for Labor Day weekend. Caramelized onions and really good cheese made these special but quite easy.
French Onion Soup Burgers Ingredients: (for 4) 1/2 onion 1 tablespoon butter ~1 1/2 pounds ground pork 1/2 packet Onion Soup mix (uses for leftovers at the end!) sprinkle of salt & pepper gruyere or fontina or other melting cheese onion rolls arugula
Directions: Caramelize the onions by slicing and sautéing over low heat with butter and a drizzle of olive oil for ~20-30 minutes until golden brown and soft. (I did a whole onion and froze the rest for another time. This can be done in advance up to a week in the fridge or 6+ months in the freezer) Preheat the grill. Mix together the ground pork with the soup mix, salt, and pepper. Slice the cheese and the rolls.
Form the meat into patties and stuff with some cheese. Either divide each patty with half on the bottom some cheese and the remaining to cover the cheese OR ball the meat to form a well in the middle to add the cheese, then press the meat around it to cover the cheese. Grill the burgers until cooked through (pork needs to get to 160-degrees on a meat thermometer). Add more cheese on top at the end to melt. Assemble the burgers with onions on top of the burger and cheese, and arugula. Enjoy!
These were great! The patties were so flavorful and cheesy. The kids split a burger – one asked if there were any without onions, but ate it anyway. Next time I might even put more caramelized onions into the burgers too!
Leftover caramelized onions freeze well and I’m sure these will go into a quiche or onto a pizza or into a panini. They will also liven up even a turkey melt so I never bother to make just a tiny bit.
Howwwww is summer ending? Wayy back in the late spring, we cobbled together a mix of summer camps for when Kindergarten let out and got a schedule together of grandparent care for the little one. Now we’re getting ready for back to school! We did all the summer things – as I post from our beach vacay.
Summer was hard with changes at work, some good camps – another not-so-good. The pup has consistently not been 100% and I just ordered more masks because somehow we’re still going through this. August was a good month in the kitchen though!
Then we made a Crab Rangoon Pizza that was fantastic but was hit or miss with you all! Crab filling, a cream cheese sauce, crispy wontons and duck sauce! What’s not to love?
For a super quick dinner we made crispy chicken sandwiches with peach topping. The chicken tender makes it decadant and a crowd pleaser, the fresh arugula is quite optional, and the peach topping? relish? compote? whatever you want to call it, is delicious. It is only a tiny bit sweet from the peach – the oil/vinegar, the tomatoes, and the onions keep it really on the savory side. The kiddos ate it just like this too.
I’m not sure what September has in store – our refrigerator is at a questionably working state. We’re awaiting a part because we don’t love the replacement options. It is annoying.
The Little Girl She started back to daycare a few days a week and loves it! We are so proud of how grown up she is getting! She loves corn on the cob and ice cream. We are seriously impressed by her coloring. Her birthday was fun! We swam, had a cake decorated like crayons, and grilled. She loved it!
The Big Guy: He is really into the Magic Treehouse Books and will listen endlessly. It is so fun to see what he chooses at the library- a lot of Lego ones, all the super heros, and non-fiction. I’m so glad to be done with camps – the last one wasn’t a fit and it is heartbreaking to feel unsure how it is going. He doesn’t complain which doesn’t make it better – we don’t get much from him so it is hard to support him. We think he must be growing! We are psyched for first grade though it is a new school, the bus, and a new routine.
Goals: Year of the fun mail! I think I missed it in Aug. More breakfasts: Lemonade Pancakes! Lunches coordinated or prepped in advance: I need to get back on it. I’d like to get the house a bit neater: Bullet journal – still keeping a meals list. What I’m reading: I read the Firekeeper’s Daughter thought it was page turning and so well crafted then I read Crying in H Mart which was an interesting perspective I don’t know relate to and then I read People We Meet on Vacation which wasn’t great for me – another title I’ve read of hers was much more my vibe and Delicious! was a fun one – especially as a work of fiction from a usual restaurant critic. What I’m Watching: Back to a few after Olympics took over our lives.
Sandwiches are the easiest dinner and was a hit for all of us! The kids were into it and I never expect everyone to like everything all the time. These were a good example of putting elements together the kids already know into a new combo. I thought they might dismantle and eat separately but they ate it as is- just less arugula!
Crispy Chicken Sandwich with Peach Topping Ingredients: (for 4) 1 peach or nectarine 1 slice onion 1/2 tomato 1 green onion 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 1/2 teaspoon olive oil ~6 breaded chicken fingers 4 sub rolls 1 cup arugula 4 tablespoons honey mustard dressing
Directions: Chop the peach, onion, tomato, green onion, vinegar, and oil. Stir well and refrigerate until serving.
Bake or air fry the chicken pieces until cooked through. Assemble the sandwiches by lightly toasting the rolls, spreading honey mustard on, then adding the arugula, chicken and lastly the peach topping. Enjoy!
I loved this! It was so fun and a great use for rolls we had from a sausage & peppers night and there’s always chicken kicking around here.
Add some avocado to the topping (mine weren’t ripe!) cheese would be good too!
This is the epitome of fun pizza toppings as an out-of-the-(pizza)-box. It seems special but includes flavors we love with ingredients we had – crab, cream cheese, crispy wontons and duck sauce! I try to do this for the kids to see flavors in other formats but in all honesty, us grown ups were the most excited.
Crab Rangoon Pizza Ingredients: pizza dough 2 tablespoons softened cream cheese 2 tablespoons heavy cream 1 green onion (or chives) 3/4 cup crab meat/ imitation crab meat, finely chopped 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella ~1 cup crispy wontons (sold near croutons!) 1/4 cup duck sauce
Directions: Let the dough come to room temperature, ~2+ hours from refrigeration or ~4 hours from frozen. Preheat a pizza oven or oven (or grill – though maybe parbake the dough flipping once before topping it.) Whisk together the softened cream cheese, heavy cream, green onion into a sauce. Spread the dough out and top with the sauce, then mozzarella, then crab.
Bake the pizza (ours went into the outdoor pizza oven for 60-90 seconds or in the oven it would take ~30 minutes at 400 degrees). Cook until the crust cooks through and the cheese melts. Once it is cooked, top with the wontons and a drizzle of duck sauce. Enjoy!
We loved this one! This time it was using the filling of some crab rangoons we hadn’t baked yet. Each kid ate a slice though I don’t think they went back for seconds of this one. We usually make 2-3 pizzas from a ball of pizza dough (~12 inch pies) and our others were a veggie one and a sausage & ricotta one.
I’m sure we’ll make it again and I would use leftover crab for crab cakes. Using leftover crab rangoons from a restaurant might be more cream cheesy than crab flavored but go for it! Leftover crispy wontons are great on an Asian-Inspired Burger or Pineapple Coconut Rice Bowls or on soft tacos or onto salad/slaw.
These took a few tries to get real lemonade flavor but were so fun! They are lemony and sweeter than a regular pancake. Top with some strawberries for arguably one of the best combos out there!
Lemonade Pancakes with Strawberries Ingredients (for ~5 pancakes) 1 cup pancake mix 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest 3/4 cup lemonade 1 teaspoon lemon juice 2 drops yellow food coloring (optional) ~6 large strawberries 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Directions: Mix together the pancake mix, lemon zest, and lemon juice until really well mixed.
Add in the lemonade and yellow food coloring (if using). Preheat a griddle or large skillet. Spray with non-stick spray or butter and scoop the batter onto the pan. Cook for ~3 minutes, once they bubble, flip and cook another few minutes. While the pancakes cook, cut the strawberries into slices. Sprinkle in a little sugar and a tablespoon of water. Stir well. Top the pancakes with the strawberries. Enjoy!
I loved these! The yellow was just to further encourage the lemon-ness. We made them first with just lemonade and there was zero lemon flavor.
Alternatively, spread some lemon curd (often sold near jelly) on a pancake and top with some strawberries for a similar vibe!
Summer is buzzing by. It feels like quite a mix of rainy days and super hot days. Work-life was turned upside down with the break up of my department, colleagues leaving, and now I’m trying to figure out what’s ahead.
July in the kitchen included some extra take-outs nights and extra “anything goes” nights after pool afternoons or when it was just too hot.
Chicken Piccata became a pizza! It was so good, quite flavorful, and we will definitely repeat – majorly lemon flavor with juicy chicken and fresh parsley. I skipped the capers but go for it if you love them!
August brings our beach vacation, Claire back to daycare a few days a week, and Claire turns 3! To make the most of the summer it feels like we need more beach time, more ice cream cones, and maybe some more days off. I have a breakfast blog post coming and some ideas for summer produce.
The Little Girl: She loooves cruising around the neighborhood on her balance bike. She is more into the big pool now. For awhile she mostly splashed on the stairs and got in and out. Now she likes to “swim” to the swimout seat and then across to climb the ladder. It is so fun to see her with books she’s memorized. She started watching TV a bit more and is into Daniel Tiger. She always says when she’s big she’ll go to camp. She goes back to daycare in a few weeks!
The Big Guy: He has been SO brave going to his day camps and each week being “new”. We hadn’t ever done camps before so we pieces together a few once we were ready to plan – I think we have favorites. They are so so so good for him to go do stuff away from home. I’m proud since new things feels hard for him but he’s been the picture of adaptability! Packing nut-free lunches is a re-learning curve for us- snacky lunch is the most successful. Swim lessons have been wonderful and he’s such a fish. I’ll never get over what he comes up with to make out of legos.
Goals: Year of the fun mail! Sadly another coworker is leaving so I sent a card. More breakfasts: One needed more work so it is bumped to August. Lunches coordinated or prepped in advance: a lot of breakfasts for lunch or all the random leftovers (like Soft Cornbread). I’d like to get the house a bit neater: ehh. Bullet journal – still keeping a meals list. What I’m reading: I read Circe for bookclub though it was mostly in June – it was the most scholastic book I’ve read in a while. Beach Read was quite cute and a nice brain-vacay. Of Women and Salt was just ok, but I don’t overwhelmingly recommend. We Run the Tides was one of the most accurate depictions I’ve seen of a teenage mind’s rebellion/naivety/independence/questions. I heard an interview with Elin Hildebrand and she said Blue Bistro was her fav of her books – I could see why! High-end Restaurant life is a world of its own and Nantucket is so idyllic. Carnegie’s Maid is captivating for historical fiction about the Carnegie family and early philanthropy from a fictitious perspective of a fictitious immigrant lady’s maid- so well written. What I’m Watching: All Olympics, all the time.
We love anything on a pizza so some leftover chicken breasts had me thinking of chicken piccata and what better way than on a pizza! It was a low-pressure way to cook it and to see who will like it and the chicken and lemon sauce and parsley flavors seemed summery to be on a pizza!
It would also be wonderful as a sandwich – or into a panini. Go for it!
Chicken Piccata Pizza Ingredients: (serves 4 for 1 large pizza or 3 small pizzas) 1 ball of pizza dough (or on 3 pieces of naan) 1 chicken breast, cut into 2-3 pieces 4 tablespoons flour + 1 tablespoon flour 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon salt & pepper 2 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons butter + 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup chicken broth 1/4 cup lemon juice 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Directions: Allow pizza dough to come to room temp – over a few hours. Preheat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of the butter & olive oil for pan frying over medium heat. Pound the chicken out flat and stir together the flour, garlic powder, and salt & pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces one at a time into the flour shaking off the excess then pan frying for ~3-4 minutes per side, flipping once. Check the internal temp with a meat thermometer – it should reach 165 degrees.
Remove the chicken (without draining the pan) and set the chicken aside. To the hot pan, add in the broth and lemon juice. Cook at a low boil for 5 minutes to reduce. Add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter + 1 tablespoon flour whisking continually over low heat for ~3 minutes then remove from the heat and let cool for 5+ minutes. Chop the chicken. Roll out the dough. Assemble the pizza by spreading sauce onto the pizza dough (I used ~1/2 of the sauce). Then add the shredded cheese and then the chicken. Bake (our pizza oven outside cooks pizza in ~90-seconds per pie, in the oven it might take ~20 minutes if the dough is par-baked, or 30 minutes from raw dough on a hot pizza stone). Top with parsley & enjoy!
We liked it! It was very, very lemony but bright and as pizza, it felt summery not being a heavy meal. The sauce was strong and while it wouldn’t be authentic (but I won’t tell anyone) if it was too much for you, you could also stir in a touch of cream or cream cheese or alfredo sauce (do that off the direct heat so the sauce doesn’t break).
The chicken was super juicy. That’s what a meat thermometer will do – no guessing to know if it is done! I know the 90-seconds in the pizza oven isn’t going to keep cooking, though 30 minutes in a high temp oven will!
We have enough sauce for another time. Or it would be good has a hot melty sub.
So….you’re going on vacation! Let’s chat menu ideas! Maybe you’ve got a group of friends or a few families or in a rental with minimal tools, and lots of mouths to feed, and everyone is hungry! I’ll guess you’ve got take out and some fun dinners out and some basic grilling nights covered.
Aim for some balance, anything customizable is good for a crowd, and don’t go crazy serving too many things. These meals don’t have to feel like Thanksgiving! Hit the grocery store salad bar/hot bar if you just need a little of an ingredient and don’t want leftovers – or for great side options without the stress! Here’s some starting points when it is your turn:
Sides: Grab a can of seasoned black beans, chips & guac to go with the tacos and you’re set! A few cheese quesadillas and avocados might help fill any gaps or please more palates. Street corn is one of my favs. Alternatives: Offer shredded rotisserie chicken as a filling option then everything else could stay the same. Hack: throw a lemonade drink mix packet into your bag and add to deli cole slaw- Poof, quick lemonade slaw! The fish is from the freezer section.
I loooove fish tacos and this are so so easy, have minimal clean up, and not lots of fish smell for anyone not eating it. Even our not-into-fish eater likes them and the kids do too. I “glue” the fish into the kids’ tacos with some shredded cheese and they most often eat the slaw on the side.
Sides: serve with some edamame (freezer section of the grocery store) or some Trader Joe’s Potstickers could go alongside too. Broccoli is good on the side (just roast in the oven with olive oil) or steam some green beans. Alternatives: enjoy warm warm, room temp or cold. Teriyaki chicken/beef/shrimp on the grill would be good if the crowd wants a protein. Hack: I’ve mixed up the sauce at home and brought it in a cooler and then just cooked pasta and mixed it when serving.
The kids crack up popping edamame out of the pods. This one is great variety to lots of grilled dinners and easily the fastest meal (also great for a vegetarian/meatless meal). ____________________________________________________________________________
Sides: cucumber salad goes well on the side or the pineapple could be on the side. Alternatives: Kielbasa and Pineapple can go on kebobs to grill for a really summery format of the same dish. Hack: Grab a microwave packet of coconut rice! Done! Sometimes there’s pulled pork already cooked at Trader Joe’s or in the regular grocery store. I would bring the pulled pork versus cooking a pork shoulder in a crockpot while away but go for whatever works for you!
Sides: Serve this salad with few other cold salads, some grilled chicken and some corn would be a fun meal! Alternatives: Add some bake-at-home rolls or a tube of biscuits if you’re fulfill a starch need for some of your eaters too. Hack: A bottle of balsamic reduction lasts forever and might be useful for a caprese salad another night!
The kids were super into peaches and loved this one. We do tomato/mozz salad often so this wasn’t a reach for us. Or if some of the crowd would be into this a tomato/mozz/basil one alongside it would fit in well.
Sides: chopped greek salad or veggies with hummus & tzatziki to dip Alternatives: The flatbreads can be topped with anything – these have hummus (or jarred tapenade) and cheese, some feta, some chicken sausage or grilled eggplant/zucchini. Maybe make half the flatbreads chicken sausage, half vegetarian. Serve everything separate with some orzo or rice to be a bowl for a custom option! Hack: Chicken sausages are fully cooked (plan on ~1/2 or 1/3 link per flatbread) and you’re not messing with dough so these can go in the oven or the grill just to melt the cheese and warm through! Sticking to 1 kind of hummus and not all the same veggies in the salad AND on top of the flatbreads will make them seem different.
Unused flatbreads can dip into any leftover hummus for your next snack!
Sides: a tossed salad plus the pasta “toppings” might fit well for a lighter meal if anyone opts for no pasta Alternatives: 1 pasta, 2 sauce options – tomato & a pesto/alfredo/brown butter?, some add ins like grilled veggies (bell peppers, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, etc) and capers or olives or parmesan. Hack: Go for jarred sauce when on vacay and meatballs from the freezer section! Any un-grilled veggies can be veggies & dip another time!
This would be such a hit with my crowd. Also easy for any one to put together. Again – don’t go crazy. The possibilities are endless but plan on a few!
Snacky Dinner might help if people are coming & going and you have dessert planned. Kids love unusual dinners like these. Serve a few dips, crackers & cheese, and some salads and call it a meal. Then go for ice cream. 🙂
Plan on hitting a few categories: vegetarian, a cooked one, a cold one, one they can build/customize, and span a few food groups. This is also helpful if there’s a day of a big lunch or late lunch! Some could be a picnic on the beach, by a playground, on a boat – however you vacation!
Watermelon & Cuke “salsa” is delicious and can be out awhile Cheeseburger Potato Skins could warm on the grill Meatball Sliders could be assembled by the eater Deviled Eggs get swooped up at parties- though they can’t sit out a long time so serve in smaller quantities and refill Wings on the grill are good Soft pretzels from the freezer are a treat for us – bake/toast oven bake for 4 minutes and are for lunch sometimes too.
A pre-dinner snack helps if the group is eating later than some are used to (kids!) – just don’t make it better than dinner or don’t let it take too long to then delay dinner! Veggies & salad dressing dip or a string cheese or a deviled egg or some trail mix right after a day at the beach helped tide us over to make it to dinner time while we took turns showering and getting ready and somebody cooking.
Our 3ish families typically plan a few dinners at the rental, takeout, and a few dinners out when we’re away for a week. We bring some things or ingredients we definitely need, then get remaining groceries once we’re there- based on our meal plan (also since we’re not flying to the beach). Covid messed with us a bit but we liked takeout the night we got there so we didn’t HAVE to grocery shop upon arrival.
I love a rice bowl because of the customization options! The little ones always surprise me with what is a hit any particular day and the bowls ensure everyone has the same things- maybe more of some parts than others. The littlest was most into the chicken and the big one loved the grilled zucchini…who knew! These were only a slight variation from grilling a few things.
BBQ Chicken Rice Bowls Ingredients: 1 cup brown rice 2 cups water/broth 1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce 4 chicken thighs 2 tablespoons mixed herb seasoning (we love Todd’s Dirt, or Italian seasoning, etc) 1 large zucchini 2-3 tomatoes 1 tablespoon Italian dressing 1 teaspoon honey
Directions: Cook the rice (mine took 7 minutes in the pressure cooker – or it could be made in advance too). Then mix in 1 tablespoon BBQ sauce. Preheat the grill. Season the chicken with the dried herbs. Then slice the zucchini into coins and brush with olive oil on both sides. Grill the chicken and when almost cooked through, add the zucchini to the grill for the last few minutes. Chop the tomatoes and mix with Italian dressing. Whisk or shake together the remaining 2 tablespoons of BBQ sauce with the honey. Spoon the bbq rice into each bowl, then top with sliced chicken, zucchini, tomatoes. Drizzle with honey bbq sauce and Enjoy!
Our kids tend to want things separate but I love love love the bites together. Letting them surprise us is always worth it. Grilled zucchini isn’t something we have all the time but they liked it. They do not love brown rice but I think the BBQ sauce made them a bit more into it, and we don’t try to please everyone all the time.
Avocado would be great in here, or corn, or greens, or cheese. The rice could be any grain or starch – farro or potlenta or orzo or couscous…go wild! I usually do a grain + a protein + 2 or more veggies + drizzle of something. I like contrasts of cooked and raw veggies. Here are others!