Mac & Cheese One-Dish Meals

I don’t usually use boxed macaroni & cheese, but when you have a hungry family and not much time, there are ways to beef it up to make a one-dish meal.  

I am cooking lunch for 15 people at Maia Mom’s Dream House every Thursday, and the challenge is to use what they have on hand without buying a lot of other ingredients.  They are able to get groceries from the Dream Center food pantry, so the food on hand changes every week.  This past week I used boxed macaroni & cheese, canned pinto beans, ground beef, leftover cooked chicken, and canned tomatoes to make two different versions, one taco with ground beef & beans and one Italian with chicken and tomatoes.  Everyone ended up taking some of each, and they were both surprisingly good.
Taco Mac & Cheese
Serves 8
  • 1/2 lb ground beef, browned
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 packet taco seasoning*
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 boxes macaroni & cheese, prepared according to package directions
Combine all ingredients except the macaroni & cheese, and simmer for a few minutes while you prepare the mac & cheese dinner.  When the mac & cheese dinner is prepared, add the meat mixture and mix well.  (I added some crushed tortilla chips to the top.)  *Instead of the taco seasoning mix and the diced tomatoes, I used salsa,chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Italian Mac & Cheese
Serves 4
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken (or browned ground beef or turkey)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes 
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings (or to taste)
  • 1 small can chopped black olives
  • 1 box macaroni & cheese, prepared according to package directions
Combine all ingredients except the macaroni & cheese, and simmer for a few minutes while you prepare the mac & cheese dinner. When the mac & cheese dinner is prepared, add the chicken and tomato mixture and mix well.
The inspiration for these dishes came from this blog post by The Humbled Homemaker.  (Check out that post for several other suggestions.)

#TBT – Chicken Florentine

I am going to be cooking this today for the residents, staff and volunteers at Maia Moms Dream House.  The Dream House is a home for single moms and their kids who are in crisis, usually homeless or on the brink of being homeless.  Maia Moms is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping single mothers and their children become stable and on a path to success.  To learn more about the organization, go to their website
This is a great versatile casserole that can feed a crowd (expecting about 15 people today).  My other challenge is to use the food that they have on hand (frozen chicken, frozen broccoli, dry egg noodles, and various spices) so I will be substituting broccoli for the spinach, and egg noodles for the penne pasta.  I am taking cottage cheese since it is vital to the recipe, and am taking the proper seasonings since I am not sure they will be available.  Obviously I will be at least doubling the recipe to feed this many people.  
One of the goals for cooking the meal is to demonstrate how to work with what you have on hand instead of making a special grocery store run for all the ingredients. The moms have access to a weekly food pantry so it can be a challenge using what is available that particular week.  The food pantry is run by the neighboring Dream Center, who is also a partner with us on the Dream House. 
I will let you know how it turns out!
For the recipe and original post, click here.

The Dream House – Cooking for a Crowd

I recently had the privilege of cooking dinner for Maia Moms’ first Mentor Match Night at The Dream House.  It was a truly inspirational night, with such a wonderful spirit of love, support and acceptance.  It was also a lot of fun with the little ones, running about and playing – no chance of it getting too formal and boring!
Let me start off with a little background information. MaiaMoms is a nonprofit organization located in North Charleston, SC, whose mission is to support single moms and their children who are struggling to make a better life for themselves. The organization is funded primarily by private donations, along with some fundraisers, corporate support and grants, and is always looking for supporters and volunteers.  Maia Moms helps by subsidizing the rent for moms who are pursuing higher education for themselves to enable them to spend more time with their children while they prepare for a career that can provide a decent living for their family.  While they are receiving the subsidy, they have to meet certain requirements including meeting with their family advocate regularly and attending a variety of life skills classes.  Another very important part of the program is matching each of them up with mentor teams of up to 3 women who just “do life” with them, providing love, encouragement and leading by example.    Calling these team members “mentors” is a bit of a misnomer, and a more accurate term would be “mom coachs”. 
A few months ago, Maia Moms was given the opportunity to partner with Seacoast Church’s Dream Center in The Dream House, a transitional home for mothers and children.  The Dream Center bought the house and handles all the upkeep and repairs, and Maia Moms provides and supervises the residents, all of whom are in the Maia Moms program.  The requirements for the moms living in The Dream House are a bit different than the rent subsidy moms in that they are not required to be pursuing higher education, but all the other requirements are the same – meeting with a family advocate, taking life skills classes, having a mom coach team.  The Dream House can house up to 4 families, although due to space constraints, they each must have children no older than 4 years old.  The first residents moved in on November 1st.
On November 18th, the moms, including the ones in the rent subsidy program, and their mom coach teams met up to be officially matched.  I cooked a simple dinner for everyone of a chicken and rice dish, a kale salad and both pumpkin and oatmeal raisin cookies.  I like to cook, but this was a challenge since I am not used to cooking for a larger crowd, and it was especially important that the meal be toddler-friendly.
For the main dish, I bought two rotisserie chickens from Costco and stripped all the meat off, leaving it in bite-sized chunks, and putting it in the refrigerator.  I took all the left-over scraps and bones and put them in a large slow cooker, adding an onion, a generous handful of carrots, and a heaping teaspoon of chopped garlic, and then filling it with water.  I set it on high until it was close to boiling and then turned it down to low, allowing it to cook overnight.  The next day, I strained all the solid pieces out of the broth and discarded them, added 1 teaspoon of each thyme and basil, and then simmered the broth for a couple of hours to reduce it down a bit and concentrate the flavors, adding salt to taste.  I used this broth as the liquid to cook 3 cups of uncooked rice.  While the rice was cooking, I prepared about 5 cups of frozen mixed vegetables according to package directions, and reheated the cooked chicken by quickly stir frying it in batches in a little sesame oil.  Once everything was cooked and hot, I combined it all in the slow cooker set on warm, and served it directly out of there.

The salad was super easy and won rave reviews.  I bought packaged kale salad from Costco – it contains everything including poppy seed dressing, dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds right in the same package.  It has several different types of green ingredients including kale, sliced brussels sprouts, chicory, broccoli and cabbage.  It sounds like a crazy combination, but it is absolutely delicious.  (Side note: It is also great stir fried, especially if you add a little bacon.)
I baked 2 kinds of cookies, and the pumpkin ones were the most popular. I will do a separate post on the oatmeal raisin ones, since I changed the recipe a bit and this post is getting a bit long.  In that next post, I will also tell you how I would normally do the chicken and rice for a much smaller batch.
For more information about Maia Moms, check out their website and follow them on Facebook.

Chicken Florentine Casserole

This is a surprisingly tasty pasta dish that even people who dislike cottage cheese and/or spinach usually like, and it is toddler-friendly. 

I sit on the Board of Directors for a non-profit called Maia Moms that helps encourage and support single moms and their kids on their journey to become self-supporting. We recently had the opportunity to partner with Seacoast Church’s Dream Center in a transitional home for up to 4 moms and their children called The Dream House.  Our first moms moved in on November 1st, and I made this casserole for move-in day.  It is easy to prepare ahead of time, ready to pop into the oven and bake for an easy hot meal.  It also freezes well (unbaked and thawed before baking).

Chicken Florentine Casserole
adapted from Skinny Ms.com

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups cooked chicken (I use meat from a rotisserie chicken) 
  • 1/2 box frozen spinach, thawed & squeezed to remove access liquid*
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup cottage cheese, blended to make smooth consistency
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 pound pasta (I used penne)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mist a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with oil. Cook pasta according to package directions making sure it is al dente (cook for a couple of minutes less than recommended time). In a large pot, heat olive oil to medium-low and saute garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and whisk for 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and stir until thickened. Add lemon juice, nutmeg, oregano & pepper. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and add blended cottage cheese, spinach, chicken, Parmesan cheese & pasta. Stir to combine. Place in casserole dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden & bubbly.
*Do not be tempted to add the whole package of spinach.  (Ask me how I know!)