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Rachael Ray's Quick Dinners

Rachel Ray holding pizza

It's the middle of the afternoon on a gorgeous day in Manhattan, and Angus Craige, nearly 3, seems restless at being stuck in the family's apartment. "Let's make a pizza," suggests his mom, Leslie, a freelance magazine editor. He climbs on a stool to reach the kitchen island countertop.

Angus isn't the only helper in the Craiges' kitchen today. On hand is Rachael Ray, the perky, down-to-earth host of the Food Network's 30-Minute Meals and author of nine cookbooks, including Cooking Rocks!, a new one for children filled with mouthwatering recipes like Crunchy Chicken Toes and Lemony Pepper-Parmesan Salad. "They're smart recipes for smart kids -- the dishes aren't bland or boring," Ray says. Child invited the popular chef to tell the Craiges how they can save time on preparing meals and still make them delicious and healthy -- something that's fallen by the wayside since their baby daughter, Ellis, was born four months ago. Leslie also enlisted Ray's guidance in persuading Angus, once enthusiastic about trying new foods, to reclaim his adventurous spirit.

Earlier while working in the Craiges' kitchen, Ray prepared the pizza crust, using frozen dough. "You can also ask your favorite local pizzeria to sell you some dough," she told Leslie. "You would hardly ever make your own pizza if you had to make the dough from scratch." Angus's first task: sprinkling broccoli on the pie. He seems wary of digging his hand into a pile of green, but Ray quickly intervenes. "Oh, they're just little trees," she says, tossing the broccoli with her hands. Angus ponders Ray's explanation for a second, then dips his hands in eagerly. "More?" he asks when the bowl is empty. "No," says Ray. "But you can help us put on the other pizza toppings."

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While Angus and his mom are sprinkling on chicken, cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes, Ray rattles off cooking tips that have helped make this daughter of a restaurateur a huge success. (She recently signed a multi-million-dollar cookbook deal with Clarkson Potter, putting her in the league of Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse.) One of Ray's major time-savers: not measuring every ingredient. "In baking, you have to be precise -- that's why I don't do a lot of baking," she jokes. When she cooks, Ray rarely uses measuring devices: 1 Tbs. olive oil is once around the pan, 1 cup of bread crumbs is a few handfuls, 1 tsp. paprika is 1/3 of a palmful. Her cookbooks are peppered with these makeshift measurements.

Ray also stresses organization: She moves Leslie's cutting board from her island to the counter alongside the oven so she can chop food and immediately put it into the pan. She suggests Leslie buy Angus child-safe scissors for the kitchen, explaining, "He can help cut herbs, peppers, and lettuce without a knife."

When Angus is done adding toppings to the pizza, he looks proudly at his masterpiece. But the real test will come when he tastes it. Leslie volunteers that Angus doesn't like broccoli and has never tried sun-dried tomatoes. Ray isn't worried in the least. "When I gave cooking lessons in a gourmet food store, kids always wanted to try samples," she recounts. "It's the parents who looked in the pot and said, 'You won't like that.'"

Fifteen minutes later, the pizza is ready. Without hesitation, Angus takes a bite. Soon the slice is gone -- with no mention of the broccoli or sun-dried tomatoes. Leslie and her husband, Jim, a portfolio manager who shares cooking duties, are pleasantly surprised. "I haven't involved Angus in cooking much, but now I'm going to more often," Leslie says. "It makes a tremendous difference."

Before leaving, Ray gives Leslie the instructions for the pizza, which was featured in Rachael Ray: 30-Minute Meals 2, as well as a few recipes from her kids' cookbook and 30-Minute Meals: Cooking 'Round the Clock, another new book. "Getting kids involved in cooking won't just make them better eaters," she says. "It'll build their confidence and pride about contributing to the family."

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You can help children as young as age 4 make this fun supper with dipping sauces featured in Ray's new book for kids, Cooking Rocks!

Serves:
4-6

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cornflakes
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 3 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 1/2 lb. chicken breast tenders
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce

Instructions:

Ask a grown-up to preheat oven to 375°F.

Step 1: In a pie pan or other shallow dish, pour out cornflakes. Crush cereal with your hands. Mix in bread crumbs, sugar, salt, pepper, and allspice.

Step 2: Ask a grown-up to help you drizzle oil evenly over the breading, tossing and turning it to mix oil all through the bread crumbs and crushed-up cornflakes. After your helper cuts chicken into 2" pieces, coat chicken with flour and eggs, then dip in the special crunchy breading. Arrange on a nonstick baking sheet. Ask your helper to place chicken in oven; cook 15 minutes or until crisp and brown.

Step 3: When chicken comes out of the oven, make the dipping sauce: Mix together honey mustard and barbecue sauce in a small bowl.

Nutritional Facts:

Each child-size serving (one-sixth of the recipe): 337 calories, 32 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 11 g fat (2 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 137 mg cholesterol, 68 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 697 mg sodium.

Kids won't mind eating their veggies when they're served in this super-speedy side dish accompanying the Crunchy Chicken Toes. (Cook and slice vegetables if serving to kids under age 4; raw veggies are a choking hazard.)

Serves:
4-6

Prep Time:
5 minutes

Cooking Time:
0 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup mild salsa
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 12 carrot sticks
  • 12 celery sticks
  • 12 cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed
  • 12 sugar snap peas, washed and dried

Instructions:

Step 1: Stir together salsa and sour cream. Scrape dip into a small bowl. Arrange veggies around the dip on a big plate and serve.

Nutritional Facts:

Each child-size serving (one-sixth of the recipe): 70 calories, 2 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat (2 g saturated), 3 g fiber, 8 mg cholesterol, 46 mg calcium, 0 mg iron, 279 mg sodium.

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It's a soup-er twist on a kid favorite: spaghetti and meatballs in a yummy tomato-soup broth.

Serves:
6-8

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 small yellow-skinned onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 lb. ground beef, pork, and veal mix, available at butcher counter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese plus extra to pass at the table
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti, broken in half
  • 1 cup basil leaves, torn or shredded

Instructions:

Step 1: Preheat a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add oil, carrots, onions, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and stock; cover pot. Turn up heat and bring to a fast boil.

Step 2: While soup comes to a boil, mix ground meat with cheese, bread crumbs, egg, and parsley. Roll into 1 1/2" to 2" meatballs. Place meatballs in soup. Return to a boil, then stir in spaghetti. Reduce the heat and simmer soup 10 minutes more, until pasta is tender and meatballs have cooked through. Stir in basil and remove soup from stove. Serve with cheese.

Nutritional Facts:

Each child-size serving (one-eighth of the recipe): 341 calories, 23 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (4 g saturated), 5 g fiber, 67 mg cholesterol, 151 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 769 mg sodium. (Use low-sodium tomato sauce and chicken stock to reduce salt content.)

The whole family will like this meal -- a perfect way to use your Thanksgiving leftovers -- almost as much as the big feast. The best part for you: This turkey dinner takes only a half-hour to cook.

Serves:
4 sandwiches

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. new potatoes or baby Yukon golds
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 4 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 3 strips Ready Crisp par cooked bacon, crisped in microwave and chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 14-oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lb. turkey breast meat
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock or turkey broth
  • 4 slices whole grain bread
  • 2 Tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley or chopped chives

Instructions:

Step 1: Cut larger potatoes in half and place in a medium pot; cover with water and a lid. Cook over high heat. When water boils, sprinkle in a little salt, remove lid, and cook 10 minutes, until tender.

Step 2: Meanwhile, heat a second medium pot on the stove over low heat. Add applesauce and cranberry sauce; gently stir to combine. Heat through, about 10 minutes.

Step 3: Drain cooked potatoes and return to hot pot. Smash with sour cream, 2 Tbs. butter, and bacon. Season with salt and pepper. (If mixture is too thick, thin it out with milk or a splash of broth.)

Step 4: Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat. Melt 2 Tbs. butter; whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in 2 cups stock or broth. Lightly season with salt and pepper; allow it to thicken slightly. Cut rotisserie meat away from the breast bones. If using deli turkey, remove from packaging and separate slices. Place turkey in gravy.

Step 5: Place bread slice on dinner plate; top with turkey. Serve smashed potatoes and cranberry sauce on the side. Spoon extra gravy over potatoes and turkey sandwiches. Sprinkle the plates with chopped parsley or chives and serve.

Nutritional Facts:

Each child-size serving (one-quarter sandwich and one-eighth of side dishes): 480 calories, 31 g protein, 54 g carbohydrate, 16 g fat (7 g saturated), 4 g fiber, 87 mg cholesterol, 61 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 425 mg sodium. (To reduce saturated fat to 5 grams, eliminate bacon and use half the amount of butter.)

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Each slice of this pie provides children with a balanced meal. Chicken offers protein and iron, tomatoes chip in cancer-fighting lycopene, cheese supplies calcium, and broccoli offers vitamin C and fiber. Dig in!

Serves:
8 slices

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz. package frozen pizza dough
  • 1 Tbs. plus 2 tsps. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 lb. broccoli
  • 3 cloves garlic, cracked
  • 1/3 lb. chicken breast, sliced in small strips
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 12 to 15 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Step 1: On a 12" nonstick pie pan, stretch dough to form pizza crust. Drizzle 2 tsp. olive oil onto crust and spread it with a pastry brush. Sprinkle crust with Parmesan cheese.

Step 2: In a small covered saucepan, bring 2" water to a boil. Separate broccoli tops into florets; discard lower stalks or reserve for a different use. Salt water and add broccoli. Cook, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain broccoli, set on cutting board, and chop florets into small pieces.

Step 3: Meanwhile, heat a small nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add oil, garlic, and chicken, and season with salt and pepper. Brown chicken until lightly golden, 5 minutes. Chop chicken and garlic into small pieces.

Step 4: To assemble pizza, dot crust with broccoli, garlic, and chicken. Add tablespoons of ricotta throughout and spread gently with the back of a spoon. Scatter sun-dried tomatoes around the pizza to the edges. Top with mozzarella.

Step 5: Place pizza on middle oven rack and lower heat to 450°F. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until cheese is golden and crust is brown and crisp at the edges. Remove from oven; allow to stand 5 minutes. Top with basil.

Nutritional Facts:

Each child-size serving (1 slice): 300 calories, 19 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 11 g fat (4 g saturated), 2 g fiber, 29 mg cholesterol, 233 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 550 mg sodium.

Copyright 2005. Reprinted with permission from the November 2004 issue of Child Magazine.