Toddler approved: Stuffed shells

Toddler Approved Meals

Miss A has an affinity for all things Italian, like last week’s chicken “parm.” When I was little, my mom used to make these stuffed shells. My sister and I remember them fondly* and I thought Miss A would like them as well. We were right. She loved the stuffed shells. They’re easy enough for a weeknight dinner and perfect for a Friday during Lent.

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Toddler approved: Stuffed shells
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Get the water boiling and follow the directions on the box.
  2. Our box said boil for 9 minutes if baking.
  3. Shred the blocks of cheese. Mix together the cottage cheese and two eggs, then add the shredded cheese and mix.
  4. You can add seasoning like salt and pepper or this delicious Penzy's frozen pizza blend we received as a gift. When we made this for Miss A the first time, we left out the spices and just sprinkled them on before we ate.
  5. Pour about 1/3 cup of the pasta sauce on the bottom of your favorite baking dish.
  6. Drain the pasta and shock with cold water.
  7. Drain again.
  8. Using a soup spoon (or your favorite spoon) stuff the shells and line the baking dish.
  9. Pour remaining sauce (you might need another half a jar to get all of the pasta covered). Bake at 350 degrees for at least a half an hour or until all the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted.

Toddler Approved: Stuffed SHellsMy Opinion:
For at least the last 10 years, I’ve been making this dish wrong. I *remembered (incorrectly it seems) my mom using cheddar cheese and I couldn’t figure out why it never tasted exactly right. When shopping for the ingredients for this dish with my sister, she said she remembered our mom using colby cheese. Upon my first taste with J and Miss A I remarked that my sister had been right and the missing ingredient was colby cheese! That’s when we Facetimed my mom from the dinner table with the intention of showing her how excited Miss A was to eat one of her recipes. That’s when my mom asked about the ingredients. Turns out she sprinkled Parmesan cheese* on top! I feel like the kid in Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day (one of Miss A’s current favorites) when Alexander exclaims, “I HATE Limas” after having to eat lima beans for dinner because I very much dislike Parmesan cheese and absolutely do not remember that being part of this recipe. Isn’t it funny how something as simple as a childhood dish can be interpreted so differently?

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Toddler approved: Chicken “parm”

Toddler approved Chicken Parm
Miss A is continuing to learn to use toddler forks and spoons and loves practicing. She also loves Italian inspired dishes and eating dinner with us. That means J and I are regularly trying to come up with dinner recipes that work for all three of us. We had success once with this pork dish (probably because it contained A’s beloved apples), but not with much else since. On a whim, I whipped together this baked chicken and orzo dish. She couldn’t get enough and kept asking for more!

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Toddler approved: Chicken "parm"
Servings
people
Ingredients
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Yes, yes you can bake from frozen! I was thrilled to discover this after reading the back of the bag of frozen chicken. First, preheat the over to 350 degrees.
  2. Then put the olive oil in the bottom of the pan. We've used everything from a pie plate to a baking dish. What you use doesn't matter as much as making sure the bottom is mostly coated in olive oil.
  3. Put the chicken breasts on top of the oil and add pasta sauce.
  4. Bake for at least 45 to 50 minutes. Check for done-ness by cutting the largest chicken breast to see if it is still pink. If it is, put it back in the over for 10-15 minute minutes and check again. Since we baked from frozen, it usually takes about an hour of total baking.
  5. Because the chicken is topped with sauce and resting on olive oil, we haven't had any issues with drying it out even the one time I accidentally cooked it for almost an hour and a half.
  6. When there's about 15 minutes left in baking, cook the orzo per the package directions.
  7. We also like sauce, so we heat up about a cup and a half of the remaining pasta sauce in a sauce pot on the stovetop.
  8. When the chicken is cooked through, remove from oven and place mozzarella slices on top. It should melt.
  9. Serve over top the orzo and sauce with your favorite vegetable. Miss A is partial to peas.

My opinion:
Truthfully, it’s a bit bland for our palates, but a little salt and pepper after go a long way. As A gets better at chewing and using utensils, we will season and then brown the chicken before baking. This dish is super easy and very simple to get going before we pick Miss A up in the evening from school.
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Robert Irvine’s Eggplant Parmesan


I’m rather picky when it comes to Italian food. I blame my trip to Florence for spoiling Americanized Italian food for me forever. Luckily, there are a few recipes that measure up to my expectations and one of them is this delightful Eggplant Parmesan from the Food Network with a few modifications.

Ingredients:
eggplant, peeled (we particularly enjoyed an heirloom variety) and cut into disks
2 cups buttermilk
4 cups vegetable oil (we used our deep fryer)
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder (we used a bit more)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (we used about 2 tablespoons, since we didn’t have fresh oregano)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or minced fresh if you have it)
1 teaspoon ground white pepper (we used a little more of this too, about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 cups egg wash (which for us, was four eggs and one cup milk)
1 pound penne or fusilli pasta, cooked (we used bowtie because that’s what we had)
2 cups red sauce
Grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling (we used Mozzarella)
cooking spray of your choice (we used Pam Olive Oil spray)

Directions:
To bread the eggplant, first add the eggplant disks into the buttermilk and allow to soak, 1 to 2 hours (we let it soak for about an hour and a half).
Next, over medium heat, bring the oil to 350 degrees F in a wide shallow saucepan or deep fryer; then hold the oil warm until frying. Combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan powder, garlic, parsley, oregano and pepper in a bowl. Remove the eggplant from the buttermilk, and then coat with flour and tap off the excess. Dip the eggplant in the egg wash and finish with the breadcrumb-Parmesan mixture, coating well. Repeat the process with each eggplant, and then fry in the preheated oil. Allow the eggplant to brown, and then flip the cooked eggplant to ensure even cooking. Once golden brown on both sides, remove the eggplant and place on paper towels to allow the excess oil to drip off.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Drain the cooked pasta and once all the water is removed, toss with 3/4 cup of the red sauce. After tossing the pasta with the sauce, portion the pasta on plates. Place the cooked eggplant on a cooking spray covered baking sheet and finish with the remaining sauce. Add some cheese and bake, 4 to 5 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. After baking, place the eggplant over the sauced pasta and serve.

My opinion:
This is the best and simplest Eggplant Parmesan recipe we’ve found. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this to friends and family.