Pressed for time? Here’s how to cook for picky eaters

If you're a mom, you're busy, and time is always of the essence. Here, Katie Workman, author of "The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket," shares some of her family's favorite dishes and shows just how easy they are to make.

One-skillet cheesy beef and macaroni
Servings:

Serves 8 with a lot of leftovers, which you will be grateful for (so I guess it really serves 10 to 12).

Ingredients

    • 2 pounds lean ground beef
    • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
    • 1 cup chopped red, yellow, orange or green bell pepper (about 1⁄4-inch pieces)
    • 1 cup peeled chopped carrots
    • 1 cup chopped onion
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 1 teaspoon dried basil
    • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
    • 2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes in juice
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder (optional but recommended)
    • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 3⁄4 pound dried elbow macaroni
    • 2 cups (8 ounces) grated cheddar cheese

Preparation

Baking Directions:

Get a huge pan, a 12- or 13-incher (best pan in the world if you cook for a group regularly), make a vat of this, and keep it in the fridge. If you don’t have a huge honking pan, cut the recipe in half. If you have bigger kids who are constantly running in and out of the house with their friends, all of them starving and in need of fuel before or after soccer practice, then you, my friend, may never again be without a pot of this awaiting reheating and inhalation. My sister-in-law Lisa, with her three large boys and revolving cast of visiting teenagers, swears by it. It is reminiscent of something that rhymes with Flamberger Felper, but it’s better and it’s yours. Here’s how to make it:1. Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat (for this full recipe, it should be a deep 12-inch skillet). Add the beef and cook it until browned, stirring until no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Place the browned beef in a strainer and let the fat drain off, then set the beef aside.2. Wipe out the skillet, add the oil, and heat it over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic and cook until almost tender, about 5 minutes.3. Return the beef to the skillet and add the basil, oregano, tomatoes with their juice, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, if using, and 2 cups of water. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Increase the heat to high and let come to a simmer. Add the elbow macaroni, stir, and cover the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or black pepper as necessary.4. Sprinkle the cheddar on top, then cover the skillet and cook until the cheese is melty, about 1 minute. Serve this right out of the skillet.

Chicken Piccata-ed or plain
Servings:

Serves 6.

Ingredients

    • 2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
    • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin (about 2 pounds total)
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons minced shallots, or 1⁄3 cup minced onion
    • 1⁄2 teaspoon minced garlic
    • 1⁄2 cup dry white wine (optional)
    • 1 1⁄2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
    • 1 tablespoon rinsed and chopped capers
    • Chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley (optional), for serving

Preparation

Baking Directions:

This is absolutely one of my fallback dishes for entertaining families when I don’t know how finicky the kids’ palates are. My kids usually eat the grown-up version but occasionally one of them has a relapse of sorts and declares the sauce (which he loved the week prior) to be unfit for human consumption. Suddenly the simplified version of chicken breasts and rice or potatoes with no sauce is all he will touch. This is exactly the kind of flexible option that doesn’t make the cook (a.k.a., you) nuts and vaguely irritated since you will make one dish, just one, that allows the blander eaters to enjoy the meal without rendering the adults bored out of their skulls. Serve this with rice, mashed potatoes or any starch you love. A simple salad and some sautéed green beans will round it out nicely. Here’s how to make it:1. Place the flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper in a wide shallow bowl and use a fork to mix them together. Coat the chicken breasts in the flour mixture.2. Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add 2 or 3 of the chicken breasts, whatever will fit comfortably in a single layer in the skillet, and cook them until golden brown and almost cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the browned breasts to a plate and repeat with another tablespoon of oil and 2 or 3 more breasts until all of the chicken is cooked to this stage. 3. Don’t clean the skillet! Add the shallots and garlic and cook over medium heat until they are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, if using, and the chicken broth and stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Simmer until the liquid reduces slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the slightly undercooked chicken (any pieces that are going to be served with the sauce) to the pan and let them simmer to finish cooking, 2 to 3 minutes.4. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Add the lemon juice, butter, and capers to the skillet and stir until the butter is melted. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken, unless you plan to serve some of the chicken breasts plain. Sprinkle with parsley if desired. Note: To pound chicken breasts, place them between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin or a mallet to firmly but gently pound the breasts until they are about 1/2-inch thick throughout.

Fudgy one-pot brownies
Servings:

Makes 12 huge or 24 reasonably sized brownies.

Ingredients

    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus butter for greasing the baking pan (optional)
    • Nonstick cooking spray (optional)
    • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
    • 2 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
    • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preparation

Baking Directions:

It had been dawning on me that the surest way to achieve brownie nirvana, the kind of fudgy chocolatiness that wimpy people say is too chocolate-y (and then go on to polish off another brownie or two), is best achieved by combining cocoa powder and melted chocolate. During this period of intense brownie contemplation I had lunch with Melissa Clark, food writer and mom to young Dahlia, and mentioned my brownie quest. She thought she had a recipe somewhere with dueling chocolates, and she e-mailed it to me that afternoon. I tinkered with it a bit, determined to decode a perfect brownie that could be mixed right in the saucepan. This is the one-pot result. Fifteen minutes of hands-on time, max, and well worth every minute.I am also ridiculously pleased to say that this recipe shaves off two more common brownie-making steps. Often a recipe will tell you to chop the chocolate before melting it. Here you just make sure to melt it with the butter over low heat, and the chocolate will dissolve gently into the butter, without scorching. Also, you can skip the whole double boiler thing if you keep the heat low enough, don’t stray too far, and stir frequently. This saves you washing a chopping board, a knife (or a food processor bowl and blade), and the second double boiler pan. You will want to celebrate this with a brownie. Here's what to do:1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 13-by-9–inch baking pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.2. Place the butter and chocolate in a medium-size saucepan over low heat and let melt together, stirring until smooth. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder, sugar and salt, then blend in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring to mix quickly so they don’t have a chance to cook at all before they are blended in. Blend in the flour.3. Scrape the thick batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.4. Let the brownies cool in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut them into 12 or 24 squares.

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