Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta

Here’s what I want to know: whose idea was it to put magic wands in the hands of today’s little princes and princesses? Scepters I can understand, but no royal dress-up costume is complete these days without a magic wand. Maybe that’s just part of the expanding job description: “must be able to perform such royal duties as knighting brave squires, kissing frogs, and using a magic wand to zap the bejesus out of any inanimate object that must be transformed into a royal coach.”

Thank goodness we can put those magic wands to better use in the kitchen to conjure up a quick meal like Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta. It’s just the kind of thing Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother would have whipped up for the ball. Great dish for a roomful of nobility, but an equally good weeknight dinner that comes together so quickly that you’ll hardly have time to say “bibbidy, bobbidy, boo” before it’s on the table.

Satisfying and easy: it's rigatoni with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, olives and feta in a tomato base

Satisfying and easy: it’s rigatoni with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, olives and feta in a tomato base

It isn’t just the quick prep that makes this meal magical. If you’ve already purchased ingredients for our Savory Bread Pudding or our Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad or the Roasted Beet, Cucumber and Feta Salad or the Quick Greek Salad, this is an extra dish you can add into rotation later in the week with very little advance warning. Having several dishes planned in the course of a week that use the same ingredients in different ways is one of my favorite tricks, and is certainly both resourceful and a time-saver.

The pan sauce comes together...next step is adding the pasta

The pan sauce comes together…next step is adding the pasta

This rigatoni dish has a wonderful medley of Mediterranean flavors that some kids might at first shy away from, but serve it with familiar pasta noodles and it is both comforting and approachable. We’re lucky that our Stout Sprouts (aka the little women with the wands) like spinach. Using it as a supporting ingredient here — and not a main ingredient — makes this all the more child-friendly. This is also the first dish in which we were able to get Daughter 2 to try mushrooms, and I’m hopeful it’s not the last. (Is there a magic spell for that?)

Get out your wands and keep reading for our Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta recipe!

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Beef and Wheat Berry Sliders with Feta, Caramelized Onions, Baby Spinach and Mint Mayo

There are few more quintessentially American dishes than the good old hamburger. Like its cousin the frankfurter, its name belies origins in Germany that food historians still can not definitively verify. We do know that Louis Lassen, the owner of Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT, began selling hamburgers sandwiched between two thick slices of toast in 1900. This turn-of-the-century meal, recognized by the Library of Congress as being the United State’s first official “hamburger and steak sandwich,” became so popular that numerous others have stepped forward to challenge the title…though none has borne the burden of proof needed to unseat Louis.

The hamburger’s little brother, the slider, has even cloudier origins. We know it as a mini burger, nestled in a mini bun. And though the term now generally applies to any diminutive sandwich served up on a “bun-ette” — from crab cakes to sloppy joes — speculation is that sliders began their life aboard Navy ships that, when pitching and yawing at sea, sent burgers “sliding” in their own grease across the galley grill. Were it not, however, for the White Castle hamburger chain, the general public may never have begun associating the term “slider” with small burgers. For some folks I know, a slider will forever be White Castle’s Original Slider®, sold four-to-an-order, with nary a slice of cheese.

Click here to keep reading and see our recipe for Beef and Wheat Berry Sliders

Spinach-Basil Pesto

Let’s face it. Most children do not arrive in this world universally loving their veggies. Getting there can be a slow process. And for some kids (and some veggies), the process is longer than for others.

With all its natural sugar it’s not hard to warm up to the carrot. Corn, too, is an easy sell. But on the other side of the spectrum lurk broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach. Dark green vegetables contain higher amounts of certain natural compounds which many kids just don’t care for.  The bitter taste in cruciferous veggies like broccoli and kale come from what are know as glucosinolate compounds, and raw spinach contains carotenoids to which many people — although at times it seems those people fall disproportionately in the 0- to 10-year-old age group — react strongly. Indeed, scientists have identified genes that predispose certain individuals to be “supertasters” with highly-refined palates that distinguish and amplify certain flavors. (If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomena, read People Who Taste To Much by Sumathi Reddy, published in the Wall Street Journal in March, 2013.)

Supertaster or not, your child may occasionally approach their leafy greens with more aggression than anticipation. Why not harness that energy with a little invitation to, quite literally, pound their vegetables.

A spinach-basil pesto that even those supertasters can get behind. Get the recipe here.

Savory Bread Pudding: Spanakopita Reinvented

Was there a full moon this past Monday? No? Can someone explain, then, the clean dinner plates, clearing the table without being asked, and daughter 1 offering to rub my back while — her suggestion — I sit on the couch watching cooking shows?

Yea, that’s what I thought.

And the meal that inspired this astounding display of benevolence: a simple and savory bread pudding incorporating the traditional favors of a Greek spanakopita. Genius.

Genius because I’ve wanted to do a bread pudding for a while and this meatless-Monday version packs protein with veggies in a kid-friendly format. This was also made with ingredients we had on hand which was even better. Both girls pitched in to make it and played so nicely with one another for the hour it baked that I still feel mysterious and magical forces must have been at play. There is no other explanation.

There were eggs to beat and cheese to crumble and this seemed to get both of them pretty jazzed up to help. Lined up at the kitchen island, whisks in hand, they both pitched in and, once in the oven, they played nicely with one another for the 45 minutes it baked.

Cracking eggs

Cracking eggs

Whisking eggs

Whisking eggs

I’m a big spanakopita fan as it is, but sometimes the effort of working with phyllo/filo dough and spreading the melted butter on layer after layer is a show stopper, especially on a weeknight. This version came together in about 20 minutes even with my helpers “helping” and required less than an hour to bake up to a nice golden brown.

Adding the milk

Adding the milk

Cheese hands!

Cheese hands!

I’m not tempting fate, but spanakopita bread pudding night is going down in the annals of kitchen history as a very good evening indeed. Definitely worth repeating, and here’s how you can make yours:

Ingredients:
Approximately 3 cups of slightly stale 1-inch bread cubes — we used Sunday’s leftover sourdough bread, but half of any hearty artisanal loaf will work
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup low-fat milk
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 – 2 scallions, sliced (whites and greens)…we used 1 scallion, but I think the onion factor could have been dialed up
8 ounces frozen thawed chopped spinach (if you have fresh, wilt it in a hot skillet first and use about a cup, chopped)
Salt
Pepper
1 tablespoon melted butter for buttering baking dish

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees. Butter a 13″ x 9″ Pyrex baking dish with melted butter and put to the side.

Mix together the eggs, milk, feta, scallions and spinach and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour mixture over bread cubes and allow bread to soak in the liquids — at least 10 minutes but you can prepare up to this point and place the covered baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Bake the spanakopita bread pudding for approximately 45 minutes or until the tops of the bread cubes begin to brown and the casserole begins to bubble. The center should be firm and springy — no hints of raw egg. For a little more browning turn on the broiler and broil on high for no more than a minute or two, watching continuously to avoid burning the top of the bread pudding.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool for five minutes, and cut the bread pudding into generous squares.

Serves: 4

Spanakopita bread pudding just out of the oven

Spanakopita bread pudding just out of the oven

Kid rating: as daughter 1 said, “ten stars.” So much for my five-star rating system but trust me, I’m thrilled. Daughter 2 “loved it” and daughter 1 added that it was “super good” and “tastes a little like a pizza.” Hmmmm.
Parent rating: five stars. Like I said, mystical and magical forces at play. This is going to become a go-to recipe in our kitchen. Serve with a light cucumber salad, some olives…or even as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

From first bite to last....

From first bite to last….

...every morsel devoured

…every morsel devoured