The Hail Mary Dinner

 

The “Hail Mary” Dinner. You know the one I speak of.

When you get home from your kids’ activities at 6:30pm and realize you don’t really have the time or the ingredients to make a substantial dinner.

I used to feel so smug because when everyone else was posting and complaining about Mondays, I was this stay-at-home / work-at-home mom and Monday was just another day for me. But now all 3 of our kids have dance on Monday nights which means our Monday afternoon schedule looks like this:
2:30pm – Get B&C changed into dance clothes, double-check A’s bag to ensure she has everything she needs; pack snacks for everyone and water or coffee for myself.
3:00pm – Leave and pick up A from school
3:30pm – Arrive at dance studio and help A change; do her hair up in a bun
4:00pm – A’s Tap & Jazz class; C usually naps so B & I sit in the car for awhile
4:30pm – Go inside and have snack
5:00pm – A has Ballet; B&C have Pre-Ballet; I work, read, or chat with parents
5:45pm – B&C finish class; go downstairs & get everyone into outdoor clothes; possibly read a book; collect all bags and miscellaneous STUFF
6:00pm – A finishes class & changes; we all head out to car
6:25pm – Arrive at home; make & eat dinner; homework
7:15pm – Start bedtime routine
7:30pm – Tuck-in Time
8:00pm – BED! A will sometimes stay up to read quietly in bed until 8:30

You can see why it takes ALL MY ENERGY to get through Monday afternoons. This past Monday I used some peppermint & wild orange oil aromatically and it actually gave me an energy boost better than the coffee ever does. (Yes, there’s an oil for that!!)

Which brings me to… The Hail Mary Dinner I whipped up yesterday.

I opened up the cabinets & fridge to see….
Nothing.
Nada.
Zip.
Zilch.
…at least that would be quick and nutritious.

But what did I have?!? Some egg noodles, some leftover chicken, some leftover veggies, and a cookbook. I figured I could whip up a simple sauce/gravy and throw all the stuff together. Kind of a deconstructed casserole, if you will. Sure, we’ll go with that.

So I got the water going for the noodles, pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook, and opened it to the Sauces section. “Basic White Sauce.” PERFECT! Here’s how to make it:
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and the lumps are gone.
Gradually add 1 1/2 cups milk, stirring all the while.
Season with salt & pepper, and heat over medium high heat until it starts bubbling.
Continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Because it was so bland, I added some garlic and onion powder to taste.

While the sauce thickened, I reheated and cut up the chicken into bite size pieces, and reheated the leftover veggies in the microwave. I cooked the noodles and added a pat or two of butter, stirring until melted & mixed.

I added the chicken into the sauce.
I spooned the noodles into bowls.
I sprinkled some veggies over the noodles.
I scooped the chicken sauce over the noodles, and….
BAM! DINNER!

 

HailMary dinner

It was actually pretty good! Thankfully, the chicken was well-seasoned, so when I mixed it with the bland sauce, it was perfect. The kids gobbled it right up. To be fair, they probably would’ve eaten anything at that point, since they were so hungry.

Regardless, it boosted my confidence that I could create a real meal in a pinch without too much trouble. (PS. Leftovers make an excellent lunch the next day.)

HAIL MARY

 

When have you made a delicious dinner in a pinch? What did you make?

Spaghetti Squash: Make-Ahead Meal

School is back in session! And with it, extracurricular activities. Our eldest, A, auditioned for a Junior Dance Company at her current studio and was invited to participate! This is super exciting as I was never a dancer, but now I’m like officially a “DANCE MOM”. (Um, wait. I think there’s a reality show about dance moms… I don’t think they have a good rep. So, I’m just a dance mom. Not one of THOSE dance moms. Glad we cleared that up.)

My struggle with extracurriculars is scheduling them at a time that works with school and meals and bedtimes. Last year I learned that 4pm is the WORST time to have an hour long class, because everyone is so hungry during and right after, and by the time we got home it was already 30 minutes past our normal dinner time – that’s if we were lucky and didn’t hit a whole lot of rush hour traffic. Not the ideal way to make a meal. It makes that witching hour in the kitchen just a little bit worse.

But today I tried something that I will absolutely be doing again. A’s class is from 5-6pm, so I knew I had to have something at least half-way prepped before I took her. Today we had to run a few errands after picking her up from school, so we didn’t go home in between the end school and the start of class. Commence early major meal prep!

If you have a similar situation and don’t want to do take out, fast food, or frozen TV dinners every week, try this:

Several hours before dinner – about 5 is good, but schedule it however works for you – start on this Homemade Pasta Sauce. I started about 1:30, knowing I had to leave to pick A up from school between 2:45-3, and wouldn’t be back until after class, about 6:30. Once that has simmered for about an hour, blend it up and turn it down as low as possible. Pop a lid on it, and leave it to simmer for another few hours while you’re gone. My hubby was home on this particular day, so I informed him of what was going on – but if you’re uncomfortable leaving a burner on while you’re not there, just transfer it to a crock pot after blending, and leave on low (or even just the “keep warm” setting) until you return.
*Side Note: If you don’t have time or don’t want to attempt making the homemade sauce, I SUPPOSE you can use jarred sauce. It won’t have the same effect when you get home and walk in the door though. 😉

About an hour and 15 minutes before you have to leave, prep a spaghetti squash for the oven. The ones I’ve purchased at the store are generally VERY LARGE, and difficult to cut. One tip is to cut it on a damp kitchen towel so it doesn’t roll around. If you’ve never used spaghetti squash before, here is a picture:
spaghetti squash2

All you do with this awesome squash is cut it in half lengthwise and put it cut-side-down on a foil-covered baking sheet drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with S&P. I have heard of people doing it the opposite way – cut side up – and then of course you’d put the olive oil, S&P on the inside/top. The large ones need about an hour at 400ºF. I had 2 small ones fresh from our visit at Frederick Family Farm (possibly it’s own future post – we had a blast!), so I baked them at 350ºF for 45 minutes. *Note: I also cut the stems off. It makes it easier to cut in half lengthwise and also, since ours were fresh from the garden, they were very long and would’ve been more difficult to handle if I left the stems on.

Right before you leave, pull that baby out of the oven and let it rest on the stove until you return. It needs to be at least room temperature for you to handle it, regardless of when  you cook it.

The other thing you’ll need for this make-ahead meal is some pre-cooked ground sausage. I had some in my fridge from a few days prior when I made biscuits and gravy. (Do you remember my posts on Second Meal sausage pasta & this one sharing other Second Meal ideas?) I use half the chub for the biscuits and gravy, and save the other half for a dinner in the next day or two.

So. Before you leave you have:
1. Cooked ground sausage in the fridge
2. Spaghetti squash cooling on the stove
3. Sauce simmering in the pot

When you return home, follow these simple steps:
1. Turn the heat up on the sauce just to medium-low. Leave lid off. Stir.
2. Add the sausage and stir.
3. Holding the squash by the outside, use a fork to remove the seeds (I just pile them up on my baking sheet with tin foil) and then use the tines of the fork to scrape along the squash from top to bottom to remove the good stuff:

That's the stuff!

That’s the stuff!

Once I have the majority of it out, I scrape along the inside with the side of my fork to remove whatever is stubbornly clinging to the inside of the rind. (Peel? Crust?)
4. You can scrape that good stuff right into your pot with the sauce simmering. Once you’ve finished that, stir again. *If you’re not sure that you made enough sauce, or think you made TOO much, you can scrape the squash onto a cutting board or into a different pan and then add the sauce after the fact.
5. Sprinkle some cheese on top, and VOILA! You have successfully completed a healthy, home-cooked, filling, delicious make-ahead meal that will be ready to serve your family in 10 minutes within arriving home. (I think fresh grated Parmesan would be amazing here, but all I had was shredded mozzarella and some Kraft grated parm. So that’s what I used. OHI, right?!)

wpid-20140908_184802.jpg

Any questions? 🙂