Easy Dinners for Busy Moms

My Riff on The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella

The Silver Palate is one of those classic cookbooks that everyone should have in their kitchen library.  I think the first one is still the best.  My riff of their Chicken Marbella evolved because my kids think prunes and dried apricots are “gross.” And my pepper mill has been broken for a few weeks and I keep forgetting to get a new one.  This tip is for busy parents:  buy 2 cut up chickens and marinate each chicken in a gallon size zip lock bag.  Do this over the weekend when you have more time.  Then, eat the first chicken during the week, say on Monday or Tuesday.  Freeze the second chicken for next week.  AND…use the leftover cooked chicken for a fabulous chicken salad recipe that even my kids love for packing lunches.  (or save it for your own lunch!)

2 chickens, cut up into pieces or just into halves (whatever is easier for you)

1/2 head of garlic, peeled and minced fine

Lay out the chickens on a baking tray and sprinkle both sides generously with:

1) salt

2) freshly ground pepper OR Aleppo pepper (I buy from Middle Eastern store)

3) 3 tablespoons of dried oregano (or 1 1/2 tablespoons per bag)

4) 1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup brown sugar per bag)

5) 2 or 3 bay leaves crumbled, in each bag

Then place 1 chicken each  into zip lock bags and pour over:

1) half the minced garlic into each bag

2) 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or a fancy vinegar if you have it (I use raspberry vinegar)

3) 1/2 cup white wine (or whatever wine is leftover in your fridge)

4) a glug of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons per bag)

Marinade chicken overnight in the fridge, turning occasionally.  Bake in 350 degree oven.  Cover baking tray with foil.  Place a rack on the baking tray (I use cookie tray).  Place chicken on top. Put legs on the outside because they need more time to cook and they’ll get more heat on the perimeter of the tray.  It takes about an hour but it depends on your oven; remove when juices run clear and skin is nicely bronzed.  Check after 45 minutes.

Amazing Chicken Salad from The New Best Recipe by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

Take leftover chicken and shred with your fingers into bite size pieces

2 medium celery ribs, cut into small dice

2 medium scallions, white and green parts, minced OR 1 small shallot, minced

1/2 cup mayonnaise (we like Hellman’s)

2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed

salt to taste and freshly ground pepper if the kids will tolerate that.

Mix together and enjoy!

And I wanted to give a plug to this cookbook; it’s from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  VERY TYPE A cooks who test the recipe a million different ways until they find the easiest and tastiest recipes which they then share.  They tell you about all the variations that they tried so when you follow their recipes, you KNOW it’s going to work AND that it’s the best recipe EVER for that particular dish!  My husband likes to follow a recipe precisely; I’m a little more free form.  But his cooking is always consistently delicious and mine is hit-or-miss!  This is his favorite cookbook!

Tomato Sauce for Pasta or to Dip Bread Into

This easy but delicious recipe is from my good friend Capability:Mom.


My favorite tomato sauce ever. I found this at  www.smittenkitchen.com

three simple ingredients = one great sauce

1 can whole tomatoes – preferably San Marzano – I have tried others and find this the best.

1/2 of one onion, peeled.

5 ounces of unsalted butter.

Seriously, that is it.  Put it all in a pan at the same time. I double it because it is so easy to do and so good. Great on fresh pasta, dried pasta, with breaded chicken cutlets, plain bread dipped in to it. Yum.

Heat over medium heat to a simmer, lower the heat. simmer for 45 minutes. crush tomatoes against pan with wooden spoon. Remove onion.

Another variation:  remove casings from sweet Italian sausage and saute in pan.  Then add sauce and serve over  pasta.

With meatballs from Barefoot Contessa Family Style:

1/2 pound ground veal, 1/2 pound ground pork, and 1 pound ground beef OR get 2 pounds of “meatball” mixture at your grocery store (my husband’s new find which is basically the same mixture)

1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (grate 4 slices of white bread on the large holes of a box grater)

1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs

2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley

2 teaspoons kosher salt; or 1 1/4 teaspoons of regular salt or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmet

1 large egg, beaten

Mix altogether.  You can double this recipe and freeze half of the mixture here to make an easy meal for the future.  Form small meatbals about a one inch diameter and saute in a pan with a little olive oil.  Add tomato sauce and simmer until cooked through; about 15 minutes on medium-low heat.  Serve with pasta.

Rigatoni (or Penne) with Salami, Mozzarella and Arugula from Williams Sonoma Pasta

This is a fast dinner because it’s more of an exercise in shopping and then some furious chopping and you are done.

Step 1:  Boil water and add salt.  Put in a package of pasta when the water is boiling and cook until al dente following package directions.

Step 2:  While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, chop:

about 14 Roma (Plum) tomatos into a dice

1/4 pound of salami into a dice

1/2 pound of mozzarella (one ball) into a dice

4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

Clean:  one bunch of arugula (we like baby arugula for this)

Step 3:  Heat a large saute pan with about 1/4 cup of olive oil on medium heat.  Add the garlic when hot, and then the tomatoes.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes or until the tomotos release their juice.  Add the salami.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat.

Step 4:  Add the drained pasta to the pan.  Add the mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.  Grate about a cup of pecorino or parmesano reggiano cheese and then gently mix in the arugula.  Serve immediately!  It’s good left over, warmed slightly.

Now that spring is here, or almost here, this is a great salad cookbook:  Raising the Salad Bar.

To be honest, I enjoy reading this cookbook and dreaming of making these amazing salads, but never seem to actually execute it.  It does inspire me at night when I’m whipping up a salad for dinner with whatever is in my fridge.  I’ll actually start making some of these salads and will report back!

To purchase any of the cookbooks shown, simply click on the image of the book.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. First of all…Yum! Love your take on the Chicken Marbella and you are such a nice Mom, my kids have to eat around the offensive prunes and capers. Will try the meatballs and chicken salad – great to have these all in one place! The smitten kitchen tomato sauce is now known as Simple Sauce in out house.

  2. Chenille

    The reads are so delicious

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