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Two Recipes: Both Ruined By Stuff

Categories: Cooking, Food, Meal Planning


I’ve slowly been attempting to cook again after weeks of plain pasta and sauce and the occasional, very nutritious, bowl of cereal. I mentioned how the cooking I’d be doing now would involve all ingredients in one room rather than in the basement and the kitchen. It does not take much to dazzle me anymore, I take my excitement where I can get it, but I get a great big chill when I reach into a cupboard three steps from the counter and pull out what I need. Dream big everyone!

I’m trying, with all my might to create a ’stable’ of meals I can whip up off the top of my head. I’ve been attempting to do this for the last, oh, 3 years. So far, process is slow. My criteria is mainly that these dishes must hold some possibility of my family enjoying them and that they don’t take long to make. I want to eat dinner with my family and I want to make the food we eat, I don’t want to win any culinary awards. Although there should be an award for creating dishes my daughter will eat without gagging.

I decided to make this Ziti with Ricotta and Spinach dish from Family Fun last week. When Madison asked what we were eating I said, “Oh, you know….pasta.” Because she likes pasta, I thought the ricotta and spinach could be a ‘Surprise!’ later. She replied, “If it’s pasta what is all that other junk? You know I don’t like any stuff in my pasta.”

Oh sweet, darling Madison. I know you don’t but I wouldn’t be a good mother if I didn’t ignore that fact and force you to consume ’stuff’.

spinach ricotta pasta

I really wanted to like this, especially after Madison took a bite and chugged an entire glass of milk to wash it down declaring “ARE YOU HAPPY?”

Wow, yes, watching you eat my dinner like it’s poison made me incredibly happy. My life is complete.

But it was bland and flavorless. Everyone ate it (except Madison) but no one was really satisfied with it. We wasted a lot of food on that meal which reminds me of a tip: If you’re cooking for The Pickersons (or your own Picky Eaters) maybe make half a recipe of something you’re pretty sure they won’t like. Otherwise, enjoy your leftovers.

My grocery store has a recipe section and when making my meal plan for the week something about chicken, broccoli and cheddar seemed like a great idea. So I made it, using fresh broccoli chopped with a whole lot less onion in my food processor. I also used canned chicken because I never have leftover cooked chicken in the house. Canned chicken is, provided you have the right brand, not as startlingly horrid as you might imagine.

Unless you’re Madison and then, even though you like everything in this dish, get your milk glass ready so you can wash this down without tasting it.


I have a confession to make here. As I made this I felt a sort of giddy anticipation of what Maddie would say when I put this down in front of her. Even better, I wondered what my husband would say when he saw all these items mingling together. Because the truth is, if I really loved them and wanted them all to enjoy their meals I’d serve a grilled meat (no marinade), a steamed vegetable and/or baked potato and a bread product each night.

This bores me and makes my taste buds weep and also I just sort of like seeing the look on Maddie’s face when I put new food in front of her.

When this was planted in front of her she said, “It’s like you ruined the chicken.”

She ate one milk chased bite and the rest of the family ate this happily. Maybe happily is too strong a word. Max and I ate happily, Logan ate silently wondering why I did have to go and ruin the chicken with all this stuff mixed in.

How they suffer at my hands.

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20 comments so far...

  • That is too bad about the ricotta, because it *looks* delicious.

    The broccoli, chicken, and cheddar dish looks great, though. I can think of three little people I can torture with it, too.

    Jen Creer  |  August 21st, 2007 at 10:08 pm

  • I looked at the recipe for the ziti and their is no seasoning in it. I think it wouldn’t be so bland if you added things like rosemary, salt, pepper, oregano, maybe even majoram if you’re really crazy, red pepper. Standard Italian spices. I’m not saying your daughter will like it if you add these things, but you might! It’s a fine recipe otherwise.

    Jen  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 2:28 am

  • And use a really good/flavorful tomato sauce- that will help too.

    Jen  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 2:28 am

  • Oh that’s hilarious! My son calls them “yuckies” and wants me to pick out the “yuckies.” My DH is always complaining that I put too many “crunchy things” in our food. So if he’s made me mad I get him back with LOTS of “crunch things.” Its the small things in life that make me happy :)

    Jaye  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 2:37 am

  • I’ve made both of those meals many times for my husband and I. We call them “trailer trash”. Not that I’m calling you trailer trash. . . it’s just a fun joke between us when I take stuff from the pantry and randomly make a meal (I didn’t even know those two recipes had names!). Try a packet of Lipton noodles, some mushrooms, some frozen veggies (your pick!) and a can of tuna for haute cuisine!

    Flatbacker  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 5:43 am

  • I used to not be a very good cook. The magazines Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country have turned me into one. Ask my family - they’ll tell you. :-) I’m a total zealot for these mags. I think Cook’s Country is a better one to start out with (simpler, quicker recipes), but they’re both great. Check out their web sites 1st to see what you think - most of the good content is subscription only though.

    Also - you probably know this, and it’s not as convenient as opening a can, but rotisserie chicken from the supermarket is a great source of cooked chicken.

    JP  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 12:41 pm

  • My family doesn’t like “stuff” mixed together either. I do, one pot, one mess. But nooo… They want their side items separate and the meat alone and so on.

    Katie  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 1:03 pm

  • It is the common thread of torture by vegetables that ties mothers of the world together.

    kym b  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 2:26 pm

  • Both of those dishes look delicious to me!! I was a super picky eater as a child and my mom NEVER gave up. The last day before I left for college I’m sure she made me eat some casserole I didn’t like. Somewhere in there I figured out the power of mind over matter and now I will eat most of the things I didn’t like back then (broccoli, any casserole, beans, etc). My husband’s parents gave up, though, and he’s still exactly like a 10 year old about food. It’s ludicrous and annoying to me that he will only happily eat mac & cheese, steak, or pizza.

    Heather  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 3:11 pm

  • I have a recipe that is really similar to the Ziti dish, but substiutes onion and chive cream cheese for the ricotta and italian style diced tomatoes for the tomato sauce. Very tasty. Posted on my website if anyone’s interested.

    Tootsie  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 8:28 pm

  • “Wow, yes, watching you eat my dinner like it’s poison made me incredibly happy.”

    That’s funny, and exactly how I feel with 9 out of 10 meals I feed my daughter. You know, really disgusting things like home-made lasagna.

    amy  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 8:43 pm

  • I have the opposite problem. My 4 yo regularly requests meals like sushi or curry, and she pretty much eats anything and evrything that gets within striking distance. The only thing she hates is potatoes… What’s objectionable about potatoes to someone who will at sushi with raw fish and salmon roe????

    Kristie  |  August 23rd, 2007 at 2:47 am

  • I empathize with Madison. I grew up with a mother who didn’t care if I liked what was served or not. Her response was always, “Go make yourself a peanutbutter sandwich.” I reached adulthood not having had many basic foods, and having real issues with food. It borders on an eating disorder. Where I have been living for the last 20 years, it would be unthinkable to allow someone– especially a child– to sit at the table and go hungry. When I cook questionable main dishes, I make sure there is something my daughter will like and eat so we can sit at the table and enjoy each other instead of talking negatively about food. And I do not have to listen to criticisms of things I have made– also very rude. In our house dinner is a time to enjoy each other, to reconnect after the day. Life is too short, and psyches are too easily bruised, to spend each evening in struggle.

    KatieK  |  August 26th, 2007 at 5:09 am

  • Don’t worry about madison’s easily bruised psyche. Her psyche will be bruised by plenty of things but a plate of broccoli, cheese and chicken isn’t one of them.

    I didn’t lay out our entire meal plan here because it wasn’t the point but your veiled criticism warrants a brief overview.

    I cook ‘kids choice’ meals twice a week. One Maddie picks and the other Max picks. I also, no matter what is on the table, serve bread with butter, applesauce, cottage cheese or yogurt.

    No one is starving and I’m not spending my life tied into the very limited palates of a finicky 8 year old.

    I’m glad you’ve found what works for you. Your eating disorder though can hardly be blamed on a parent who refused to cook separate meals for a child. Mother blame is insipid.

    melissaS  |  August 26th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

  • It is not much of a discussion if only one side is heard– I am of the opinion that the comments are for an exchange of ideas. Simply put, I can identify with the child’s position; everyone before me had sided with the mother’s, so I thought I’d chime in.

    If I misunderstood about what you are serving every night, it’s because that is how it was portrayed. Now that you have filled in the menu, I see it was for comic effect only. That is something else entirely!

    I am off to look around the house for my sense of humor. Maybe the cat ate it.

    KateiK  |  August 26th, 2007 at 7:58 pm

  • The chicken, broccoli dish looks great. Do you have anything that uses a ton of zucchini? That’s what’s growing wild in my garden right now. :)

    Daisy  |  August 27th, 2007 at 3:16 am

  • Your Madison. She really is a character. I can’t believe she said that to you.

    thisKat  |  August 28th, 2007 at 9:12 am

  • Love your description of Maddie’s reaction. I have one like that too, and she often responds that the meal is “gross” when the other three of us have licked our plates clean. It makes the time I spend in the kitchen seem so appreciated.

    Amy  |  August 28th, 2007 at 3:54 pm

  • Okay Chris, my friend Kelly and I have always wondered what your other kids’ names are (besides Miles, of course), and now we are learning! It’s really rather weird to get the kids’ names finally, after reading your blog for so long. I am wondering what made you decide to give them up in this different format (I mean not on the blog but on here)? I probably could have found some names if I had read back in your archives, but I never have, though I would love to, if I had the time…

    Chris says: This post was written by Melissa Summers about her two children.

    cristen  |  January 15th, 2008 at 1:21 am

  • My kids aren’t casserole eaters; so all I get is the one bite with the milk chaser also. If I put spinach in anything (lasagna, stuffed shells, etc.) they will pick it out and avoid it at all costs. UGH!

    Joy H  |  March 14th, 2008 at 4:50 pm