Practical tips, reliable recipes, & family-friendly food ideas

Homemade Mac n Cheese Recipe

mac n cheese recipeA good deal of getting our kiddos to eat what we eat involves compromise.  If I’m going to introduce something new during dinner, I try to make sure it’s accompanied by something familiar, something I know my kids will enjoy.  Mac n cheese is one of our “go to” side dishes.  If my daughter could choose just one thing to eat for the rest of her life, macaroni and cheese would be it.  It’s a safe bet for almost every family I know.

Now, you can go with the brand-name or even generic boxed standbys and be just fine.  If you do go this route, please try doctoring up your boxed macaroni and cheese by following the last 2 steps in the recipe below.  This basically involves adding a handful of small cubes of cheddar cheese and a heaping spoonful or two of sour cream.  These 2 small steps take ordinary mac n cheese and elevate it into something flavorful that the grownups will enjoy as much as the kids.

If you’re like us and prefer the taste and peace of mind that comes from the wholesome, made-from-scratch variety, give this homemade mac n cheese recipe a try.  It’s not as hard (or as heavy) as you might think.

macaroni cheese recipeJust like I mentioned in the post on how to make the best grilled cheese sandwich, making delicious Macaroni and Cheese from scratch involves using more than just one kind of cheese.  The variety of cheese (in my opinion) can differ, so long as all the cheese you use is flavorful.  Think about it this way: the more flavor the cheese has, the less you have to use.  The less cheese you use, the healthier this dish becomes!  In this recipe, I used extra sharp cheddar, parmesan, and gruyere.  I almost always shred the cheese on a box grater just before using it.  I can’t help but feeling that pre-shredded cheese is dry and inferior.  If that’s all you have, by all means, give it a try. Please be adventurous and try a variety of cheeses to find the combination your family likes best.  I would love for you to share your favorites in the comments below!

Summer Vegetable Recipe: Simple Veggie Salad

summer vegetable recipe simple veggie saladDuring the hot summer months, the last thing I want to do is make my house even hotter by turning on the stove and oven.  When there’s a chance to serve a dish that involves no cooking at all, I jump on it! Thank God the Summer season is so bountiful with fresh produce, or these opportunities would be few and far between.  Lucky for us, no cook side dishes frequent our weekly dinner menus during this time of the year.

This simple veggie salad is such a simple and refreshing summer vegetable recipe.  I encourage you to try this basic dressing on a variety of summer vegetables.Even if all you have in the fridge is a cucumber, give it a shot with this light and healthy dressing and you’ll open up a whole new world of possibilities.

How to make the BEST Grilled Cheese Sandwich

how-to-make-the-best-grilled-cheese-sandwich-recipeIt’s no secret that my family enjoys cheese.  I’m not talking about the ooey gooey cheese that you find on restaurant nachos or pizza, although, those aren’t half bad.  I’m talking about hard cheese, soft cheese, fresh cheese, stinky cheese, aged cheese, never-pre-grated cheese.  You see, we’re kind of cheese snobs.  Even our kids can sniff out the difference between processed cheese and the real deal cheeses (proud mama moment).

What makes these grilled cheese sandwiches the best grilled cheese sandwiches isn’t just the cheese, though.  Here are the 3 key components to making the best grilled cheese:

1. delicious bread (I prefer sourdough)
2. multiple cheese types combined into the same sandwich
3. crispy, crunchy, salty exterior

The first component is pretty simple: start with good bread.  I like to buy the La Brea Sourdough loaf (sliced) from Harris Teeter’s bakery.  It’s got a great tang, full flavor, and toasts up beautifully.

The second component has some wiggle room.  By that, I mean it doesn’t have to be the same every time you make a sandwich.  I usually just combine 2 or 3 different types of cheese based on what is available in the fridge.  This is a great way to use up odds and ends of random cheeses you may have from special recipes.  Here are a few of my favorite cheese combos:

cheddar • gruyere
cheddar • mont. jack (or pepperjack) • parmesan
parmesan • gruyere
parmesan • gruyere • cheddar
cheddar • mozzarella
mozzarella • parmesan
and my new favorite…
cheddar • parmesan • goat cheese

And the third and final component is the crispy, crunchy, salty exterior.  A couple of years ago, I uncovered a recipe for an Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup from the Food Network’s Rick Massa.  The tomato soup is to-die-for.  And, while I don’t make my sandwiches exactly the same, it was Rick’s recipe that taught me the secret to making the best grilled cheese sandwich: it’s in the crust. Rather than spreading one side of the bread with plain ol’ butter or dousing a hot pan with oil to grill up your sandwiches, this recipe called for making a flavored butter with which you spread onto the sides of the bread that will meet the pan.  And, one of the best parts is that the things you need to make this savory compound butter should be pantry staples, so there are no excuses to ever make grilled cheese sandwiches any other way!

Our family enjoys these grilled cheese sandwiches pretty much all year.  In the winter, we pair them with the tomato soup referenced above.  And in the warmer months, add a simple spring green or summer vegetable salad, and you can enjoy this (dare I say) ooey-gooey goodness all year round.

Cheeseburger Pizza Recipe

Cheeseburger-pizza-recipeGet ready, this Cheeseburger Pizza recipe makes a pizza that tastes just like… you guessed it… a cheeseburger!  It kind of is a cheeseburger, really.  I mean, nearly all the ingredients that you would put on a cheeseburger are on this pizza, so why would it taste like anything else?

Ultimately, this recipe will be one of many creative pizza ideas you’ll see featured on MENUbility.  If you follow our menus or know me personally, you may know that I’m a big fan of Naan as a pizza base.  If you ask Google “What is Naan?”, you’ll get back:

Naan – a type of leavened bread, typically of teardrop shape and traditionally cooked in a clay oven.

I like Naan for its taste, texture and size.  Usually, I find it in the bakery section of my grocery store and it’s sold in packs of 2.  So, for my family of 4, I buy 2 packages of Naan, giving me 4 individual-sized pizza crusts.  A friend of mine calls Naan Pizzas “Naanzas”, and we’ve adopted that term in our house, too.

On a typical night, my husband and I each have one naanza (1 per adult). My kids are still pretty small, so they usually consume 1/2 naanza each, leaving one whole naanza as leftovers for lunch the next day.  Pair it with salad, and you’ve got a lovely fast, easy weeknight pizza that everyone in the family will love.

A quick note on kids who don’t like cheeseburgers: my kids… they aren’t so crazy about them either. They would never order a cheeseburger out at a restaurant, ever.  I think it’s the format of a cheeseburger that is a little intimidating for them.  BUT, they do like cheeseburger pizzas.  And that’s just it.  It’s not always the ingredients that our kids protest.  Sometimes, it’s the format, the vehicle for those ingredients that they just can’t wrap their little heads around.  Before you count a dish out, I encourage you to try changing it up a bit.  Get creative! Deconstruct those sandwiches into salads, or that burrito into a rice bowl. Once we get them tasting things in a variety of ways, we can hope that their palates will become more adventurous and that one day, they’ll come to enjoy many of the same things we do as grown ups.

I’d love to hear about the creative ways you get your kids to eat a variety of food. Please also share your thoughts on this Cheeseburger Pizza recipe, too!



Weekly Dinner Menu for Summer No. 1

Confession: I’m pretty sure I gain a few pounds in the summer time and lose them in the winter time. It’s the opposite of the expected holiday weight gain that most people experience.  The same people who tend to put on the pounds over Thanksgiving and Christmas are the same people who tirelessly work to lose them before bathing suit season.  Not me.  My girlish figure goes by the wayside while I stuff my face with all the amazing produce that is harvested in our summer months.  Who can eat their weight in watermelon and peaches? Me! Tomatoes, Peppers, Corn, Herbs, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Sweet Potatoes, and Zucchini? Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, and Me. Is it possible to eat too much fresh produce? I’ll let you decide.

So it is with great excitement that I share with you our first weekly dinner menu of the summer. This week, you’ll see a few unconventional twists on some old standbys and a lot of fresh produce.  Just remember to make extra if you want leftovers for lunch the next day!

Weekly Dinner Menu for Summer #1



Dinner 1: 3 Cheese Grilled Cheese, Summer Veggie Salad & Watermelon

I guarantee you’ll never make a grilled cheese sandwich the ordinary way again!


Dinner 2: Zucchini Fritters w/cucumber yogurt sauce, Roasted Corn & Avocado Salad

The last time I made these fritters, even the kids who won’t touch zucchini gobbled them up!


Dinner 3: Cheeseburger Pizzas, Tomato & Cucumber Medley, Oven Fries

You’ll be surprised this pizza tastes just like a burger!


Dinner 4: Tomato Ricotta Tart, Grilled Green Bean Salad

For the tart, I plan on adding chopped pepperoni to the ricotta mixture, and for the green bean salad, I’ll be substituting roasted red peppers for the roma tomatoes and also adding some “massaged” kale.


Dinner 5: BBQ Chicken Sliders, Kale + Mango Slaw, Macaroni & Cheese



As you may know, Naan is my go-to for easy weeknight pizza crust.  Our bonus this week… Naan is on sale (BOGO) at Harris Teeter, one of the best grocery stores in NC!

I hope there’s something on this first summer weekly dinner menu that sounds tempting enough to make!  And, in the event that you want to try it all, download the printable 2-in-1 menu and grocery list to make all 5 family meals.  Cross out the items you don’t need (b/c you already have them) and use the extra lines to add in the items you’ll need for breakfast and lunch this week. I’ll be posting and linking recipes later today.

Happy Summer & Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful Dad’s I know!

Easy Beef Stroganoff the Whole Family Will Love

Easy Beef Stroganoff
In a previous life, I traveled from time to time for my job, which required “daddy” to cook dinner for the kiddos while I was away. These occasions called for something easy, tasty, and not too intimidating or complicated. A recipe for ground beef stroganoff found its way onto the “while I’m away” menu. My husband told me it was a hit with the kids, but to him, it tasted sort of, um, bland. The original recipe was insanely simple and used cream of mushroom soup as the base. After a few weeks, I decided to give this recipe a try myself, but we didn’t have any cream of mushroom soup on hand. It was a blessing in disguise as my improvisations resulted in a new and improved easy beef stroganoff sauce and it used ingredients I’m likely to have on hand at any given time. Score!

We regularly serve this with a side of green beans and either dinner rolls or roasted potatoes. The green beans are whole green beans of the generic variety, found in your grocer’s freezer section. I saute 2 slices of chopped bacon until crispy. To that, I add a half of a red onion (sliced), then add the green beans and salt and pepper to taste. This can simmer in a pan at low or low-medium heat while you’re making the stroganoff. Easy peasy.

Quick note: if you don’t eat red meat, need a break from it, or prefer something different, try this with ground chicken or turkey. Just be sure to use a little extra olive oil as these lean meats may turn out dry otherwise. You can even omit the meat and use extra mushrooms.  Just do a rough chop on them instead of a dice and it’ll be just a delicious.

Once upon a time, my family did not care for mushrooms at all (myself included).  If you’re in the same boat – or even if you don’t have mushrooms on hand, but you’ve got everything else – try this without the mushrooms.  I’m sure it’ll still taste great!

Let me know how this recipe goes for you!

5 Family Meal Ideas for late Spring (#5)

The strawberries have come and gone in North Carolina, indicating that the end of Spring is near, but the green tomatoes popping up on my backyard tomato plants tell me that a bountiful summer is just around the corner. I can practically smell the basil from my office!

I am getting pretty pumped about the upcoming Summer menus that I’ll be sharing with all of you.  Every couple of months, we usher in a whole new season of delicious ideas, many of which are inspired by and include a variety of locally available food sources.  So say hello to the final 5 delicious family meal ideas of Spring 2015.

  • 5-family-meal-ideas-for-JuneMeal #1Turkish Pizzas* (also known as PIDE) with Cucumber & Dill Salad – *notes: I use Naan instead of Turkish bread as my base for this pizza.  Also ground beef or chicken is a perfectly fine substitute for lamb in this dish. Want it vegetarian? Just omit the meat altogether.
  • Meal #2: Sautéed Perogies with Avocado Cream Sauce, Roasted Zucchini and Mango Slices

Don’t forget to download this week’s free printable 2-in-1 Menu & Grocery List, and, see below for super quick assembly instructions on the Balsamic BBQ Chicken Wraps!







 How to assemble your Balsamic BBQ Chicken Wraps:

For the wraps in meal #5, cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grilled using the marinade in the recipe link.  When the chicken is cooked through, remove from the grill and give it about 5-10 minutes to rest. Thinly slice the chicken breast against the grain and combine it in a tortilla in the following order:

  • A generous spoonful of Balsamic BBQ Mayo (2 tablespoons of mayo mixed with 1 tablespoon of the balsamic bbq sauce from the recipe)
  • Baby Arugula – lightly tossed in olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
  • Thinly sliced tomato – sprinkled with salt and pepper
  • Fresh Mozzarella slices and shaved Parmesan
  • Sliced Balsamic BBQ Chicken
  • Squeeze of lemon juice.

Wrap up with one side open and one closed or enjoy taco style!



Quick Healthy Asian Dinner: Sesame Noodles with Grilled Ponzu Chicken

Healthy Sesame Noodles and Ponzu Chicken RecipeThis delightfully quick and healthy Asian dinner packs a lot of flavor and nutrients into a quick and easy weeknight meal.  I’ve slightly modified and brought together two recipes from a couple of different sources: Chicken Sate with Ponzu Sauce from Cooking Light served with Lighter Sesame Noodles from an old publication of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food (circa 2008). You can make the recipes as they appear in the originals, or you can go along with my version, which I think tastes better and is even easier to make.



Kitchen-Notebook-Healthy-Sesame-Noodle-Recipe-and-Ponzu-Chicken-flareWhen a recipe deems itself worthy of making again (and again), it gets printed and put into my beloved Kitchen Notebook (pictured left).  My Kitchen Notebook is a collection of recipes and old menus that were big hits with the family. They are on everything from recipe cards to printed 8.5 x 11″ sheets to torn out magazine pages – all compiled into one 3-ring binder.  I digress… more on the Kitchen Notebook later. Let’s get our Sesame Noodles and Ponzu Chicken cooking!


stainless steel strainer spoonIf you don’t already have a stainless steel handled strainer, I’m happy to recommend this affordable little tool from Amazon.  I rarely dump my pasta in a colander these days. Instead, I use this handled strainer to transfer my hot pasta directly from the water into the sauce.  The 7″ version tends to be a little difficult to get in and out of most pots, so I’d suggest going with the 5″ strainer spoon.  You can thank me for better tasting pasta later.  🙂

Easy Crispy Asian Chicken with Soyaki Sauce

Have you wondered how the chicken (like General Tso’s or Crispy Honey) at Chinese takeout establishments could achieve such crispy chicken texture without deep frying it?  A while back, I heard the secret was cornstarch. I decided to give it a try on my own, making my best guesses on recreating the texture.  This recipe doesn’t have quite the buildup of batter on the outside, but the chicken gets nice and crispy.  The inside stays moist and juicy. If you like your entrees extra saucy, just spoon more soyaki sauce over your rice. Careful, though! Soy-based sauces are very salty, so you can go overboard! A couple of spoonfuls of extra sauce should be plenty.


Organic Basmati Rice on Amazon.comtrader joes island soyaki sauceServe this Crispy Asian Chicken with Soyaki Sauce over Basmati Rice (cooked according to the package).  I prefer the Island Soyaki Sauce from Trader Joe’s. Roasted Carrots are a natural side dish and can cook in the oven while you’re preparing the chicken and rice on the stovetop.  Try using chopped cilantro (instead of parsley or dill) on the carrots. Cilantro would also taste incredible on top of the Chicken and Rice.





Savory Apple Recipes: Apple-Fennel Slaw

Savory Apple Recipes - Apple Fennel SlawI love how much flavor is packed into this extremely simple and versatile slaw! We paired it with Warm Goat Cheese patties sitting on top of a bed of greens that were very lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  I imagine it would be delectable on a pulled pork sandwich as well. If you’re on the hunt for savory apple recipes, you’ve got to give this one a try!


What would you pair with this healthy, crazy-fast side dish?





This recipe is adapted slightly from the original Celery, Apple and Fennel Slaw recipe on Epicurious.