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Weeknight Warriors: Three recipes to save your sanity on busy weeknights



Photo: Brian Child/Flickr

 

We all know the story: busy weeknights full of play dates, activities, music lessons, sports practices… They run on later and later into the evening and we arrive home with ravenous kids who don’t want to wait around for dinner. Hold off on the take-out, these heroic recipes are easy to do ahead of time, and they wait patiently for your return. Your kids (and your sanity) will thank you.

 

Havana Pulled Pork Tacos

Let your slow cooker do all the work here and you’ll end up with enough moist and tender pulled pork for two meals. All that’s left to do at dinner time is shred the meat, then serve with the toppings of your choice. Easy and delicious.

Serves a hungry family of 4 twice

 

3 lbs boneless pork shoulder

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

Corn tortillas

Serve with any combination of:

Black beans

Fresh cilantro

Chopped white onion

Shredded romaine lettuce

Lime wedges

Sliced avocado

 

  • Cut the pork shoulder into 3 pieces and season with the salt and pepper.  

  • Add the olive oil to a pan over medium-high heat, then sear the pork until brown on all sides.

  • Add to your slow cooker along with the orange and lime juices, oregano, cumin, and garlic.  

  • Cook on low for 8 hours until the pork is fall-apart tender.

  • Remove pork to a chopping board, then using a knife and fork, shred meat and place in a bowl.

  • Add ½ cup of the cooking juices, and season to taste.

  • Serve with warmed tortillas and any toppings you enjoy.

 

Slow-Cooked Peking Chicken

My kids love any kind of social, do-it-yourself meal, so this take on Peking duck has long been a favorite in my house. We wrap the chicken up with scallions and cucumber inside flour tortillas (which double for Chinese pancakes), but it would be just as delicious served over rice or noodles.

Serves 4

 

6 boneless chicken thighs

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon Mirin (optional)

2 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped ginger

2 scallions, chopped

Flour tortillas (taco size) quartered into triangles

Scallions, cut lengthwise into thirds

Cucumber, cut into sticks to match scallions

(Scallions and Cucumber can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator in Ziploc bags)

Hoisin sauce

 

  • Add the chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, honey, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and chopped scallions to the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 4 hours until chicken is cooked through.

  • Remove chicken from slow cooker to a chopping board and shred.  Add to a bowl and mix in the cooking juices from the slow cooker.

  • Serve chicken in tortillas with hoisin sauce, scallions and cucumber.

 

Pasta with Braised Eggplant, Tomato, Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

An excellent choice for Meatless Mondays, this big, comforting bowl of pasta appeals as much to the kids at the table as it does to the grown-ups. The eggplant and tomatoes melt down into a hearty and nutritious sauce, which can be made ahead of time. Add the fresh basil and mozzarella just before serving to lift it up with a hit of freshness and a burst of flavor.

Serves 4

 

1 medium-sized eggplant

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 medium red onion, diced

1 28oz can whole tomatoes

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup mascarpone cheese (optional)

1lb pasta of your choice (I use penne or rigatoni)

Bunch of fresh basil

8 oz fresh mozzarella, torn into shreds

 

  • Cut eggplant into 1” dice.  

  • Place a large skillet over medium heat, add the oil, then sauté eggplant cubes for around 8-10 minutes until softened.  

  • Add the garlic and the onion to the pan, then sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes.  

  • Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you go.  

  • Add the vinegar and season with salt and pepper.  

  • Turn the heat down to medium-low, then simmer the sauce gently for about 20 minutes.  

  • At this point the sauce can be held, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day ahead.

  • When you’re ready to eat, place a large pot of salted water on to boil and cook your pasta per the packet’s instructions.  Meanwhile, gently warm the sauce on the stove and add the mascarpone, stirring until it has melted into the sauce.  (The mascarpone can easily be omitted, but it does add a lovely, silky and luxurious element to the sauce.)

  • Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to a bowl, then top with the warm tomato sauce.

  • Stir in the pieces of mozzarella until they just start to melt.  

  • Scatter the fresh basil on top and serve.

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