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Steering clear of the dinnertime ruts


There’s no guarantee that any of these recipes will meet with the approval of the little tasters at my house.

At least there’s usually one component that I can offer separately that will keep them from pushing away from the table hungry – chicken out of the potpie or meatballs separately from the main dish.

Here are recipes from each of the cookbooks featured on the cover of today’s Food section to offer inspiration at your house:

Meatball Pie

Adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 15th Edition.”

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

8 ounces packaged dried bucatini pasta or spaghetti

3 cups thinly sliced sweet onions (2 large)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 cup ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 (24- to 26-ounce jar purchased tomato and basil pasta sauce or marinara sauce

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 pound frozen cooked Italian meatballs, thawed

Small fresh basil leaves

Shaved Parmesan cheese

Grease a 10-inch springform pan. Line pan with parchment paper or foil. Grease parchment or foil; set pan aside. Or, grease a 2-quart square baking dish.

For pasta crust, in a small bowl stir together two of the eggs and grated Parmesan cheese; set aside. In a large saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta; return to saucepan. Add egg mixture; toss to coat. Press pasta mixture into prepared springform pan, building up sides slightly; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook onions, covered in hot butter over medium-low heat about 15 minutes, or until onions are tender and lightly brown, stirring occasionally. Uncover; increase heat to medium. Cook about 5 minutes more or until onions are golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl stir together the remaining egg, ricotta cheese, 2 tablespoons basil and pepper. Spread ricotta cheese mixture over pasta crust. Top with caramelized onions. Place springform pan on a large pizza pan or baking sheet (if using a baking dish, place directly on the oven rack). Bake for 15 minutes. Spoon 3/4 cup of the pasta sauce over the layers in pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.

Toss meatballs with 3/4 cup of the pasta sauce and 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Arrange meatball mixture over layers in pan, forming a mound. Top with 1/2 cup of the remaining pasta sauce.

Tent pie lightly with foil. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. Let stand, uncovered, on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Lift pie out of pan. Using a serrated knife, cut pie into wedges. Garnish with small basil leaves and shaved Parmesan cheese before serving. Heat and pass remaining pasta sauce.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 542 calories, 29 grams fat (15 grams saturated), 29 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrate, 157 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams dietary fiber.

Chicken Potpie with Green Apples and Cheddar Biscuits

From “Perfect One-Dish Dinners,” by Pam Anderson

If including cream sherry in a dish bound for a family table causes concern, let the dish cook for a few additional minutes after adding to allow the alcohol to burn off, or skip it. Anderson writes, “This recipe makes one big potpie, but to save time or simplify, make two potpies, using 9-inch pie plates or 8-inch square baking pans and top with refrigerated store-bought piecrust from a 15-ounce box, following the baking instructions in the recipe. Or, freeze the second pie for another occasion, and bake it (still frozen) at 400 degrees until golden and bubbly, about 1 hour.”

For the chicken:

2 cups chicken broth

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter, divided

2 large leeks, dark green leaves trimmed away, washed thoroughly to remove grit, and light green and white parts chopped

2 large Granny Smith apples, quartered, cored and thinly sliced crosswise

1 large rotisserie chicken, shredded (5-6 cups)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage

1/4 cup cream sherry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

For the biscuits:

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, frozen solid

1 cup cold buttermilk, plus a few more teaspoons if necessary

For the chicken, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Microwave chicken broth and evaporated milk in a microwave safe bowl until steamy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large (11 to 12-inch) deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and apples and cook, stirring, until just tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer leeks and apples, along with chicken, to a large bowl; set aside.

Heat remaining 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter over medium heat in the empty skillet. When foaming subsides, whisk in flour and sage and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in hot-milk mixture and simmer, stirring, until sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Turn off heat, stir in sherry and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir sauce, along with parsley, into chicken mixture. Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish or divide between two 8-inch square baking pans or two 9-inch pie plates.

For the biscuits, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cheddar with fork in a medium bowl. Using a box grater, coarsely grate frozen butter into dry ingredients; mix quickly with fingertips to evenly blend. Mix buttermilk into dry ingredients with fork until dough just comes together. Pinch dough with fingers into small rough rounds and place over filling. Bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 30-35 minutes. Serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Slow-Cooker Pork Loin with Apricot Glaze

From “Weight Watchers’ Eat! Move! Play!”

1 (2 1/2 pound boneless pork loin, trimmed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

6 carrots, sliced on the diagonal

4 parsnips, peeled and sliced on the diagonal

1 large onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup apricot preserves

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Sprinkle the pork with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, turning frequently, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a 5- or 6 quart slow cooker. Arrange the carrots and parsnips around the pork. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the preserves and mustard. Pour the mixture over the pork.

Cover and cook until the pork is fork tender, 4-5 hours on High or 8-10 hours on Low. Transfer the pork to a cutting board; cut into 10 slices. Serve with the vegetables and sauce.

Yield: 10 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 332 calories, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 25 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrate, 64 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Beef Taquitos

From Family Fun magazine. Substitute shredded chicken or ground turkey if you prefer.

“Like tacos, only neater to eat, taquitos have plenty of kid appeal. In Mexico, they’re often deep-fried, but baking them works well too. It’s easier and healthier, and the tortillas still turn golden brown and crispy around the edges. Served with salsa and sour cream, they make a quick and satisfying lunch or dinner,” editors write.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for brushing on the taquitos

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

3/4 pound lean ground beef

1 cup salsa, plus more for dipping

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

10 (6-inch) flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack

Sour cream

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook them for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the beef and use a wooden spoon or a spatula to break it up while it cooks, until it is no longer red, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of the salsa, the chili powder, and the salt and pepper. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Place the tortillas on a plate and cover them with damp paper towels. Microwave them until warm and pliable, about 45 seconds. Top each tortilla with 1/4 cup of the beef mixture, spreading it to an inch from the edges. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the beef.

Roll up the tortillas and place them on a foil-lined baking sheet with the seam sides down. Brush the taquitos lightly with vegetable oil, then bake them until the filling is heated through and the tortillas are lightly browned, about 8 to 12 minutes. Serve them hot with sour cream and/or salsa.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Pan Cooked Vegetables with Crunchy Fish

From “The Food Matters Cookbook,” by Mark Bittman

“Grated potatoes, winter squash and root vegetables cook in 10 minutes, so even if you don’t have a food processor and must grate by hand you still save time. Here the vegetables are heavily spiced with ginger (and/or garlic) and curry powder and topped with crunchy fish,” Bittman writes.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more as needed

1 small red onion or 4 scallions, chopped

About 2 pounds of winter squash, sweet potatoes, daikon radishes, turnips, carrots, parsnips or celery root, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon minced ginger and/or garlic

1 tablespoon curry powder, or to taste

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup cornmeal (fine or medium grind)

1/4 cup all purpose or whole wheat flour

About 12 ounces sturdy white fish fillets, cut into 4 pieces (see note)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

Lemon, lime or orange wedges for serving

Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add half the onion and the vegetables. Add the ginger and/or garlic and the curry powder and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and adding a little more oil if the mixture is sticking, until the onion has caramelized and the vegetables are lightly browned, about 10 minutes; the vegetables need not be fully tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a large serving platter (or divide among individual plates).

While the vegetables are cooking, combine the cornmeal and flour on a plate along with some salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture, pressing to make some of it stick, then shake to remove the excess.

Return the skillet to high heat; don’t bother to wipe it out. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When it’s hot, add the fish to the pan and cook, turning only once, until nicely browned on both sides and cooked through – a thin bladed knife will meet little or no resistance when the fish is done.

Put the fish on top of the vegetables; garnish with remaining onion and the herb. Serve with citrus slices if you like.

Note: Bittman recommends buying local and sustainable fish if you can find it.

Yield: 4 servings

Ham and Cheese Waffles

From “The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook”

Editors write: “These waffles make a great ‘on the go’ snack or light lunch. You can substitute 3/4 cup shredded light cheddar or Swiss cheese for the Parmesan. The number of waffles this recipe yields will depend on the size of your waffle maker; this recipe makes about 4 cups of waffle batter.”

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 large egg

1 3/4 cups 2 percent lowfat milk

4 ounces sliced deli ham, minced

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 scallion, minced

Whisk the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and mustard together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the melted butter and egg together, then whisk in the milk until uniform.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the milk mixture into the well, and whisk very gently until the milk mixture is just incorporated (a few lumps should remain). Fold in the ham, cheese and scallion with a rubber spatula.

Heat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions. Spray the hot waffle iron with vegetable oil spray then, following the manufacturer’s instructions, spread the appropriate amount of batter onto the waffle iron and cook until golden brown, about 3 1/2 minutes.

Remove the waffles from the waffle iron and serve. Repeat with remaining batter, spraying the waffle iron with vegetable oil spray as needed between batches.

Yield: 8

Nutrition per serving ( 1/2 cup batter) : 240 calories, 10 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 10 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrate, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber.

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