Recipes for the Whole Family

Food to bring the family to the table.

This is the month for gathering around the table with those we love, giving thanks for our many blessings.

The epitome of such a meal is Thanksgiving, but sharing a meal with family can be as easy as grilled cheese sandwiches before running out the door to soccer practice.

Every family falls into ruts. Maybe between band practice, homework, a second job and sick kids, it’s been weeks since you’ve shared a meal together. The nice thing about November is it gives us a do-over. Our mindfulness for appreciating the small moments with family culminates in the big Thanksgiving meal, but it reminds us it can also take place with frozen waffles or bowls of tomato soup.

Tulsa’s Global Gardens is once again encouraging family meals in its Set the Table Tulsa program. The challenge: Commit to eating dinner together at least four nights a week during November.

If you’re used to eating dinner together, it may sound easy enough. I upped the ante for a personal challenge of creating more enjoyable mealtimes together. For that, I asked advice from Chef Cat Cox with Global Gardens. Here are five great tips she offered:

  1. Turn off all devices – phones, tablets, televisions – so there are no distractions.
  2. Serve meals family style with food placed in serving bowls and passed around. “This way, meals inherently become more interactive,” she said.
  3. Have the kids set the table. “Kids love to have jobs. For instance, if a child is in charge of setting the silverware, he or she can be the ‘silverware leader’ for the meal,” Cox said.
  4. Keep conversation starters. Ask thought-provoking questions like, “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Why? What is your favorite thing to do without electricity? What do you like about the world?” For small children, ask simpler questions, like “If you could be any animal at the zoo, what would you be? And what would that animal eat for dinner?”

Don’t like to cook? The meal doesn’t have to be prepared at home. The challenge is really about sitting down to a meal for 20 minutes with no distractions. It can be takeout. Breakfast for dinner is another favorite. It’s about spending time together at the table.

Whether you do or don’t like to cook, preparing food can be one of the biggest hang-ups when it comes to mealtime. Even the most organized, prepared moms and dads have days when they say, “It’s already 6 o’clock?!” Try not to let busyness be the distractor of family meals.

“I love to make big batches of things that can be used in another meal in a different way,” Cox said.

Cox suggests making over leftover potato salad by frying it in a skillet for breakfast home fries. Or, here’s one I’m looking forward to trying: Make lasagna noodles out of leftover polenta. Cox says to pour leftover polenta into a sheet pan to firm overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, cut it into sections to replace lasagna noodles for a gluten-free lasagna.

Big-batch cooking is another time-saver. Making a double batch of soup or chili may seem like a pain at the time, but it will pay off when you remember you have it stored in the freezer on a busy weeknight.

Cox also reminded me of a great time-saver we often walk by at the grocery store.

“Never underestimate the rotisserie chicken,” she said. “One of my favorite meals when I don’t have time is a prepared rotisserie chicken, simple green salad and a roasted vegetable. Right now it’s butternut squash, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts or sweet potato.”

I’m ready to set the table. Challenge accepted.

When I saw the Barefoot Contessa make risotto in the oven, I figured if it was good enough for her, it was good enough for me. This is a similar version that adds chopped rotisserie chicken.

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Oven Chicken Risotto

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice (short-grain)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken
  • 1 (8-ounce) package fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; bake 5 minutes or until melted. Stir in broth then rice, onion and salt.

Bake, covered, at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove from oven. Fluff rice with a fork. Stir in chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes; sprinkle with shredded basil. Serve immediately.

This easy slow-cooker dinner, adapted from Southern Living, can be turned into tacos, used as a topping for taco salads or served on corn tortillas and topped with a fried egg.

Pork Chalupa

  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 1 (3 ½-pound) bone-in pork loin roast
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 (32-ounce) box chicken broth
  • 1 (10-ounce) can Rotel tomatoes

Rinse and sort beans. Let soak overnight.

Drain water from beans, then place beans in a slow cooker. Add roast, green chiles, garlic, chili powder, salt, oregano and cumin. Pour chicken broth evenly over top of roast.

Cover and cook on high for 6 hours. Remove bones and fat from roast. Pull roast into large pieces using two forks. Stir in Rotel tomatoes. Cook uncovered, on high for 1 more hour or until liquid is slightly thickened.

Serve in taco shells, over lettuce as a salad or in bowls as a stew.

Here’s another dinner you can throw together pretty quickly on a busy night. Let the kids help layer the ingredients.

Baked Ziti

  • 1 pound dry ziti pasta
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 (26-ounce) jars spaghetti sauce
  • 6 ounces provolone cheese, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of slightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta, and cook about 8 minutes. Drain.

In a large skillet, brown onion and ground beef over medium heat. Add spaghetti sauce, and simmer 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer as follows: ½ of the ziti, provolone, sour cream, ½ sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheeses are melted.

Categories: Food