Real Food For Families

Salmon Quesadillas


I can’t believe that I have not done a post on quesadillas until now. There are so many, many reasons why I love them. It started back when I played in a golf league, years ago when I was single. We used to go out to eat afterwards and I think that every single time, I ordered some form of quesadillas. In fact, during my 20’s and 30’s, I may have ordered quesadillas 98% of the time when eating out. They never, ever disappointed me. Oddly enough, though, I never tried to make them at home. After I got married, I came to realize that my husband liked salmon. He liked salmon a lot…almost as much as I liked quesadillas. So one day, while searching for new salmon recipes, I stumbled upon Salmon Quesadillas. “This is awesome!” I said to myself…well, not really, this was before people said “Awesome!” so much. I probably said something like, “Holy smokes, Batman! This is the perfect meal!” So I went and bought canned wild salmon and basil and mozzarella cheese and tortilla wraps…and made my very first quesadillas at home. And holy smokes, Batman, they were awesome!!

~4 soft tortilla wraps (100% whole wheat if possible)
~melted butter or olive oil
~1 can of wild pink salmon
~2 cloves of garlic, minced
~2 teaspoons of dried basil
~ground black pepper
~shredded mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Drain the salmon and pick it apart to remove all of the bones (this is the most difficult part of this recipe…I hate doing this, tedious and kind of ick!)
3. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter in a skillet and sautée the garlic for a minute or so.
4. Add the salmon, basil and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool while you prepare the tortillas.
5. Lightly brush one side of each tortilla wrap with melted butter or olive oil.
6. Place the wraps, buttered side down, on a large rimmed baking sheet.
7. On one half of each wrap, layer shredded mozzarella cheese, then 1/4 of the salmon mixture, then more shredded cheese. Fold the other half of the wrap over and press them down slightly to flatten.
8. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 4 to 5 minutes, flip them over and continue to bake, 4 to 5 minutes on the second side.
9. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then cut them in half with a pizza cutter or scissors.

Now, of course, my kids won’t touch these, so I make them a plain cheese version. And that is one of the great things about quesadillas…you can put whatever you want in them and it’s fairly easy to make a few different kinds at the same time to accommodate everyone’s tastes. Some combinations we have tried…sliced apples and cheddar cheese, diced cooked chicken and feta cheese, diced pepperoni and mozzarella cheese…the possibilities are endless.

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Chickpea Salad


I found a version of this Ina Garten recipe while perusing the recipe archives of A Life From Scratch and thought it was a nice way to pretend that we live in a much warmer climate. It has been a looooonnnnng winter where we live and it is showing no signs of ending anytime soon. So dice up some cucumbers, slice some tomatoes, squeeze some lemons and think spring. It’s got to arrive eventually!

Chickpea Salad
For the salad:
~2, 15 oz. cans of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
~cherry tomatoes, about 20, sliced in half
~one cucumber, diced (I remove the seeds also…slice in half lengthwise and scrape a spoon down the middle to remove them)
~6 scallions, thinly sliced
~handful each of chopped, fresh basil, mint and parsley (our grocery store sells small recipe ready quantities of fresh herbs that work well for this)
~6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

For the dressing:
~juice and zest of 2 lemons
~2 cloves garlic, minced
~1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
~1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper
~1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine all of the salad ingredients.
2. Whisk together the lemon juice/zest, garlic, salt and pepper.
3. Slowly whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice mixture.
4. Drizzle as much of the dressing over the salad as you prefer.
5. Check your calendar again…yes…it’s still February 😕.


Game Day


While the rest of the country is gearing up for tomorrow’s “Big Game Day”, here in Syracuse, our big game is today! Syracuse University’s Men’s Basketball team is undefeated and going up against the legendary Duke Blue Devils for the first time since moving from the Big East to the ACC. For those of you who don’t follow college basketball…I know this means nothing …but here in the ‘Cuse, where everyone bleeds orange…this game is going to be a lot of fun to watch!

So we’re serving up home made chicken wings, meatball sliders, macaroni & cheese, salad (I had to sneak something good for us in there!) and orange cheese doodles!! Yes, I am giving in for one day and letting the kids eat cheese doodles and Doritos. But that is the beauty of trying to eat well most of the time. When these special occasions come along, you don’t sweat the bag of artificial colors and flavors you’re letting your kids consume.

I do want to share the recipe for the chicken wings and sauce. I completely stole this from Catherine Newman’s blog, Ben & Birdy, so I will send you right over there. What I love about it…the hot sauce she recommends for making the classic Buffalo wing sauce…has 5 ingredients, all real food! Win! Enjoy the game!

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Balsamic Reduction Sauce

I have no photo of my beautiful and delicious Balsamic Reduction Sauce, for reasons I will explain later. So instead, I offer you, leftover cute Christmas photos. Santa visited my parents home on Christmas Eve and had a nice visit with Katie, Christopher and all of their cousins. Thank you to Aunt Tricia for making sure that he included us in his long list of stops that evening!


So, back to the Balsamic Reduction Sauce….I made this to serve over lamb chops, arugula and spinach greens and it was very good and very beautiful on the plate. But, as anyone who takes photos of food realizes, it is best to take these shots in natural light. A photo of my dinner plate at 6:30 PM, in the Northeast is…just…well…sad. Combine that with the fact that I really don’t have any photography skills to speak of and I take the majority of the pictures for this blog with my iPad…high quality, gorgeous photography is just not happening around these parts! I know that’s not why you’re here. You come, obviously, for the award winning writing…oh, that’s not why you are here? You are here because you are my mother and you want to see photos of your grand kids? Okay, fine…here you go, Mom. But on the off chance that someone out there may, inadvertently stumble across this food blog on their way to the Pioneer Woman (an actual award winning food blog) and wonder why the photos are a disaster from October through April…that is why.

Balsamic Reduction Sauce (4 servings)
~1 Tablespoon olive oil
~2 shallots, minced
~1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
~3/4 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
~1 Tablespoon butter

Note: Ideally, prepare this sauce in the pan that you cooked your meat in. This is what helps to flavor the sauce. Remove the meat to a covered plate to keep warm. You may not need to add the oil if there is still enough in the pan to cook the shallots.

1. Cook the shallots for a few minutes over medium heat in a bit of oil until just browned.
2. Stir in the vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to get any bits of meat into the sauce.
3. Stir in the broth and continue to cook and stir over medium to medium high heat for 5 to 10 minutes until the sauce reduces by about a half and thickens up a bit.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it completely melts.
5. Pour the sauce over the cooked meat.

This sauce was great with the lamb chops, but would also be a nice addition to steak,chicken or pork. Here is the original recipe from Allrecipes.


School Lunch Ideas and a Blogiversary!

I’ve been taking pictures of some of the lunches my kids have brought to school over the past few months and thought I would share them. I love seeing other people’s ideas. Sometimes you feel like you pack the same thing over and over and it’s helpful to get inspiration from others! So here you go…

Grapes, whole wheat pretzel sticks, tomato/pesto/cheese roll ups, slices of cheddar cheese

Slices of mozzarella cheese, organic pepperoni, blueberries, PB&J sandwich

Cheese and Tomato sandwich, raspberries/blueberries, nuts/chocolate chips, organic pepperoni

Organic Salami/mustard/cheese sandwich, grapes/cantelope, sunflower seeds/chocolate chips

Tomato/pesto sandwich, olives, mixed nuts, grapes

PB&J sandwich, whole wheat pretzel sticks and dried raspberries, cut up carrots/red pepper

Whole wheat bagel, carrots/sugar snap peas, grapes, grapes, hummus

By the way, our blog, KatieJeanCooks, turned one year old yesterday. I believe that’s known as a Blogiversary! It has been a fun year documenting our journey to eating better and we hope you have been able to find something useful in our posts. Thanks for reading!


What is Polenta?


Every member of my family asked this question when they saw “Polenta Chicken Lasagna” written on the weekly menu plan, so maybe you are wondering about this ingredient as well. I keep hearing about it, but had never tried it until this past week. Polenta is made from cornmeal. It is an inexpensive, gluten-free grain that can be substituted for bread or pasta. It’s mostly complex carbohydrates, which are high in dietary fiber and digest more slowly than simple carbohydrates. This makes polenta a good source of energy for the body. Fresh made polenta has the consistency of grits, but it can be made into cakes for grilling or frying. You can also purchase it in precooked logs, wrapped in plastic, that don’t need to be refrigerated until opened. You typically slice the logs into 1/4 inch thick rounds to be used in most recipes. Have you ever tried polenta? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

~1 tube of precooked polenta (16 oz.)
~pesto (about 2 ounces or 1/4 cup)
~cooked chicken, diced or shredded, about 1 cup
~Tomato sauce (homemade or your favorite jarred sauce), about 1 1/2 cups
~mozzarella cheese, shredded or sliced thinly, about 8 oz.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Slice the polenta into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Arrange half of them in a single layer in the bottom of a buttered 8 inch square baking dish.
3. Spread half of the pesto over the polenta.
4. Arrange half of the chicken over the pesto layer.
5. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the chicken.
6. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese evenly over the sauce layer.
7. Repeat the layers, except leave off the final layer of cheese.
8. Cover with foil and bake at 375 (F) for 25 minutes.
9. Remove the foil, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on and return to the oven, uncovered for about 5 more minutes.

I made this in an 8×8 inch dish because I wasn’t sure if we would like it, but the next time I plan on doubling the recipe and using a 13×9 inch dish. There is also a lot of flexibility when it comes to how much time you want to invest in this recipe. You could make everything from scratch (crazy talk!!) or you could use pesto and sauce from a jar and pick up a rotisserie chicken. It’s also a perfect meal for using up leftover chicken, which is what I did this week.

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Happy Birthday!


Somebody around here had a birthday recently and her Mom is having a small panic attack at the sight of all of those candles. Would really like to freeze time…I feel like I say that every year…but now I really mean it!! What a pleasure it has been to watch her unfold into the kind, funny, hard working, beautiful person that she is. Happy Birthday, Katie!

We used Deb Perelman’s birthday cake recipe and also used raspberries to color the frosting. This is the first time I’ve tried this and I like how it turned out. You just put about a cup of berries in the blender (I used mostly raspberries along with a few blackberries), blend until puréed, and then press them through a strainer to get rid of the seeds/skins. You end up with about a third to a half of a cup of berry purée. Then mix that into your frosting. Deb’s cookbook has some more tips about which berries to use to get the color you’re going for.


Of course, then I had to go ahead and put those food dye laden sprinkles all over it…if it was summer, maybe I would have garnished it with fresh raspberries instead!

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2013 in 13 photos

I’m linking up with House Unseen today…13 photos from 2013…HAPPY NEW YEAR!




Menu Planning


I have wanted to write about menu planning for awhile, but have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it seems sort of silly. I have friends who make fun of my weekly “menu” on my dry erase board. I am sure that many people are saying, “Well…how nice that you have time to sit down with a cup of coffee and PLAN what you are going to serve each night for dinner.” And still others who are thinking, “Why are you wasting our time telling us things that are basic, common sense?” So I have hesitated to write this post. But…if you talk to people about making dinner or you pick up any “women’s” magazine (I realize that there are many men who handle the “making of the dinner” task) or you read parenting blogs…you quickly realize that almost everyone seems to struggle with the constant, never ending challenge of figuring out what to make for dinner. There is something about the relentlessness of it (is “relentlessness” even a word??). There is no “season” of making dinner, like lawn mowing during the summer or changing diapers during the baby/toddler years. Yes, there are occasional “days off” when you go out to dinner or pick up take out. But, once you hit young adulthood, “Making Dinner” is something that you (or someone in your household) are going to be doing for the rest of your life…at least until you check into the nursing home! So I am going to write about it. Mock me if you must…but hopefully you will take away something helpful…whether you have all of the time in the world to think about dinner or your kids think that dinner always comes with a toy.

Why I Menu Plan…
1. It saves time. Although it does take time to sit down and do the planning, once the meals have been chosen and the shopping has been done, I don’t usually have to go back to the store again that week. And I don’t have to spend any more time thinking about what to make or looking up recipes. The shopping trips themselves are also quicker because I have a pretty precise list of what I’m buying.
2. It saves money. I’m using up what I have and am less likely to waste food when I have planned out the meals for the week. And because of the shopping list, I am less likely to impulse buy. (Only “less likely to” certainly not “definitely won’t” as I know from past experience!)
3. It keeps my family’s eating more nutritionally balanced. Maybe I would be perfectly happy eating pasta every night, but that’s probably not the best thing for our health. Menu planning ensures that we’ll have fish one night, red meat another, and an occasional vegetarian meal.
4. It fits dinner into our reality and makes it more likely to happen. Our life doesn’t look like the life of my childhood, where we sat down to dinner at 5:30 every single night. But when I plan around the carpool to karate and when I schedule leftovers for the night I have to go to a meeting…I’m not so tempted to pull into the drive through.

Before You Start Menu Planning…
1. Make a master list of the things that you usually buy at the grocery store in the general order that you shop. I picked up a copy of my store’s directory and made my list according to the aisle numbers…I know that sounds over the top, but it has saved me a lot of time in the store.
2. Make a list of “Keeper Recipes” for each category of types of meals (Seafood, Chicken, Vegetarian, etc.). These are meals that you’ve made before that were easy enough and that the majority of your family liked. So if you need a chicken recipe for Tuesday, you have a list of 5 or 6 chicken ideas and where to find the recipe (or have hard copies of the recipes attached).
3. Bookmark the recipe indexes of 2 or 3 of your favorite food blogs so that you can easily refer to them for ideas. (My favorites are I’m an Organizing Junkie, Dinner, A Love Story and Simple Bites).

How I Menu Plan…
1. I sit down, in the kitchen, with my calendar, cookbooks/recipes (or whatever online recipe resources you might use) and two pieces of paper.
2. On the first piece of paper, I write down the days of the upcoming week and notes about what is going on with our schedule for the week that might affect dinner.
3. Then I take a look in my fridge/freezer to see what I already have that can be used for any meals this week.
4. Next, I start jotting down (in pencil) possible meals next to each day of the week, making sure not to plan anything time consuming for busy nights. I usually only plan about 5 meals each week since there are usually at least two nights that we get take out/eat out or have leftovers. If we are having fish, I try to plan that for the day that I am purchasing it. I don’t have a set type of meal for each night (e.g. Soup on Mondays, Fish on Fridays) but I make sure to keep things balanced out each week.
5. This next point addresses my menu planning weakness…try not to plan more than one “new” recipe per week. I tend to get lost in looking at different recipes, especially when I’m online. What was supposed to be a relatively quick planning session can turn into an hour of wandering from site to site trying to decide what new recipes to try. I love making new things and could easily spend all day perusing cookbooks and food blogs! Instead, I use my lists of “Keeper Recipes” (see “Before You Menu Plan” above) for most of the meals.
6. Once I’ve decided what I’m making for the week, I write down where to find the recipe next to each item (I bookmark any online recipes or save them in my Evernote app) or if I have an actual hard copy of a recipe, I pull it out. Then I take the paper with the Days of the Week/Meals/Recipe Locations and any hard copies of recipes and put them on a magnetic clip hanging on the side of my fridge.
7. On the second sheet of paper, using the recipes, I make up my grocery list. Don’t forget to include items you need for breakfasts/lunches/snacks. I don’t “menu plan” for meals other than dinners…some people do, but dinners are enough planning for me!
8. Finally, I write out the weekly dinner menu on a “white board” decal that is on my refrigerator, so the rest of the family can see what we’re having (and as a reminder to myself, so I remember if things need to be taken out of the freezer or prepped ahead of time, etc.).

Things don’t always go exactly according to the plan each week…sometimes “Chipotle Takeout” was never on the Menu Plan, but it mysteriously shows up on our dinner table, nonetheless. And sometimes the side of acorn squash that was supposed to accompany the chicken is MIA…but luckily my family is pretty flexible…and will gladly accept a raspberry pop tart as a substitute!



Kitchen Tip…Leftover Tomato Paste


Quick tip…you know how you never use the whole can of tomato paste? So then you stick it in the fridge, thinking that you’ll use it within the week. Then 2 months later, when you finally get around to cleaning out your fridge, you find it…and throw it out. Next time, scoop out 1 tablespoon size portions from what’s left in the can. Put them on a piece of parchment or wax paper on a small tray and freeze. When they are frozen, take them off the tray and put them back in the freezer in a freezer bag. Now, the next time you need tomato paste, you’ll have convenient 1 tablespoon size portions ready to use.

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