Italy 🇮🇹 Arancini

It’s hard to say which I like more, risotto or the arancini made from the leftovers. Both are great and remind me of Italy. Arancini means “little orange” which is the standard size of these crunchy appetizers. They’re the Italian way to use up leftover rice. I like to serve them with a simple marinara sauce or roasted red pepper sauce for dipping. Yum!

*Naptime tip- Using risotto made earlier that week, stuff and roll the rice balls then cover and chill until ready to coat and fry.

*Bonus: Fried arancini can be frozen then re-warmed in the oven when ready to serve.

Arancini (Italian fried rice balls)

Recipe from Rachael McAllister

Yields about 24 arancini

Risotto ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large shallot (or 1/2 a yellow onion), finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

6 cups chicken or veg stock, simmering

1/2 cup frozen peas, optional

2/3 cup grated Parmesan

1-2 Tbs. lemon juice

1 tsp. freshly chopped parsley, optional

S&P to taste

1 Tbs. butter

Arancini ingredients:

2 cups panko, 1/2 cup separated

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

2 eggs, beaten

1 lb. fresh mozzarella, cubed

Canola or peanut oil, for frying

Risotto Method:

Pour the 6 cups of stock into a pot and bring to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the shallot or onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and toast in oil for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add 2 ladles-full of the simmering stock and cook, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add another ladle of the stock and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Keep adding another ladle of stock and stirring until the rice is barely al dente, about 20 minutes. Add one more ladle of stock to keep rice saucy and add peas, if using. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, lemon juice, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste.

Enjoy as is, or refrigerate until chilled to make arancini.

For the Arancini:

In a large bowl combine the risotto, 1/2 cup of the panko, the Parmesan and the eggs. Scoop up 2 Tablespoon-sized portions of the mixture and roll into a a ball with damp hands. Make an indentation in the center of each ball and insert a cube of mozzarella. Cover up the hole to completely enclose the cheese then roll each ball in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of panko to coat.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add enough oil so that it is 3-inches deep. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning occasionally, until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with marinara sauce for dipping.


Skillet shepherd’s pie

Growing up, I never liked shepherd’s pie. It seemed like a good idea, but always tasted bland. My husband’s family makes a version using canned tomato soup and lots of cheese. It definitely has more flavor, but is nowhere near traditional. This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen has tons of flavor and is much more traditional. Plus, it makes ground beef seriously tender! That’s a big deal.

Naptime tip: Chop your veg and get your potatoes cooked, mashed and in a ziplock bag in the fridge. Dinner will come together super fast!

Skillet Shepherd’s Pie

(slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves 6.

*Sometimes I split the stew into 2 loaf pans before topping with potatoes. Broil one and freeze the other!

1-1/2 pounds 93 percent lean ground beef

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Salt and pepper

2-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1‐inch chunks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup 2 percent low‐fat milk

1 large egg yolk

8 scallions, sliced thin

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

4 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons good apple cider

2 tablespoons all‐purpose flour

1-1/4 cups beef broth

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons cornstarch


Place potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in large saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain potatoes; return to saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, to evaporate any remaining moisture, about 1 minute. Off heat, mash potatoes smooth with potato masher. Stir in butter. Whisk milk and egg yolk together in bowl, then stir into potatoes. Stir in scallions; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover; set aside.

Toss ground beef with 2 tablespoons water, baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in bowl until well combined; let sit for 20 minutes.

While beef is sitting, heat oil in broiler-safe 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot and mushrooms and cook until vegetables begin to soften, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook until bottom of skillet is dark brown, about 1 minute. Stir in apple juice, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, Worcestershire, bay leaf, thyme; bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Pinch beef into 2-inch pieces and lay on top of mixture in skillet. Cover and cook gently until beef is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring and breaking up meat chunks with two forks halfway through cooking time. Combine cornstarch and remaining 2 teaspoons water in bowl, then stir into skillet. Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, until filling is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Season with pepper to taste.

Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place mashed potatoes in large zipper-lock bag; snip off corner to create 1-inch opening. Pipe potatoes evenly over filling to cover entire surface. Smooth potato with back of spoon, then use tines of fork to make ridges over surface. Place skillet on rimmed baking sheet; broil until potatoes are golden and sauce is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly; serve.

Cabbage Dolmades

Those little stuffed grape leaves you can get at Greek restaurants are most often made like this in Greek homes. Added bonus, my husband liked them better. It may seem weird to mix uncooked rice into the ground meat, but it turns out great!

*Naptime tip: Steam your cabbage while they sleep so the leaves are cool and ready to wrap for dinner time.

Cabbage dolmades

Here’s a link to the recipe!

Cabbage Dolmades recipe from Elly Says Opa

Garlic onion tortilla stack

This is the best appetizer in all the land. It combines 3 of my most favorite things; garlic, caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. The recipe comes from Guy Fieri and used to be served at his Johnny Garlic restaurants, but it’s been taken off the menu. So, now I have to make my own.

*Naptime tip: Chop onions and peel garlic one day, then cook and assemble the next. You can even freeze a finished stack to grill later!

Garlic, onion, grilled…these are AMAZING!

Garlic Onion Tortilla Stacks

(Slightly adapted from Guy Fieri/Food Network)

3/4 cup roasted garlic
Olive Oil
2/3 cup canola oil
4 cups small-diced red onion (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 Tbs. fresh thyme or sage)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Twelve 8-inch flour tortillas
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Add the garlic to a skillet over low heat with a little olive oil and cook until the garlic is soft and squishy.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the canola oil. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned but not overly dark, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the butter and sugar and cook until the onions have thoroughly browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the roasted garlic, Parmesan, mayonnaise, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and transfer to a medium bowl. Blitz with a stick blender until you have a smooth paste. Cover and refrigerate until cool, about an hour.

Reserve one-third of the mixture in the refrigerator to use to make the dipping sauce. Evenly spread a thin layer of the remaining mixture on the top of 11 of the tortillas. (Spread, stack, spread, stack, etc.) Stack the tortillas on top of one another and top with the 12th tortilla. Wrap the tortilla stack in plastic wrap, weighted down with a plate and refrigerate overnight to set up. (Or weight and freeze for later use.)

Preheat a grill to medium. Cut the stack into 16 wedges. Thoroughly oil the grill grates! Using tongs, grill each wedge on the cut sides until it’s warmed and grill marks appear. Don’t leave on the grill too long, or stack will fall apart!

Mix the reserved onion mixture with the balsamic vinegar to make a dipping sauce; season to taste. Serve the wedges with the dipping sauce.

Cranberry Bog Turkey Burgers

I’m a big fan of Rachael Ray’s Book of Burger. This recipe comes from that book, plus my husband made the English muffins! I loved this burger because it wasn’t trying to make turkey taste like beef and I could smother it in the cranberry mayo.

*Naptime tip: Use your kid-free time to chop your apple and veg, split your muffins and mix up the mayo. Dinner will come together so quick!

Cranberry Bog Turkey Burgers

(Recipe from Rachael Ray)
Total Time: 30 min     Prep:15 min     Cook:15 min     Yield:4 servings

Bog Burgers:
1 1/3 pounds (the average weight of one package from meat case) ground turkey breast
1 small McIntosh apple, finely chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 rib celery from heart of the stalk, finely chopped
1 rounded teaspoon poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for drizzling
4 sandwich size sourdough English muffins
1 cup prepared whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise or reduced fat mayonnaise
8 leaves Bibb lettuce, cleaned
Combine turkey, apple, onion, celery, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper in a bowl and form into 4 large patties. Preheat a large skillet or a grill pan to medium high heat. Drizzle skillet or brush grill with vegetable oil and cook patties 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Toast split English muffins. Mix together cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. Spread muffin halves with cran-mayonnaise and pile in burgers and Bibb lettuce.

White bread with Poolish

Hooray for a husband that loves baking bread! This recipe came from the book Flour Water Salt Yeastby Ken Forkish. I called this batch “Family bread” because we all had a part in making it!

*Naptime tip: Do your mixing and kneading while they sleep if you need something to de-stress.

I was in charge of slashing and baking.
I’m not an expert slasher. Yet.

This kind of bread loves to be toasted and buttered or dunked in soup. And we stuck one loaf in the freezer for when things get crazy again!


(Recipe adapted from Karen’s Kitchen Stories using the Forkish method)



500 g unbleached all purpose flour
500 g lukewarm (80 degrees F) water
.4 g (less than 1/8 tsp) instant yeast.

Final Dough

500 g unbleached all purpose flour
21 g salt
3 g (3/4) tsp instant yeast
250 g 105 degree F water
All of the poolish


  1. The night before you bake the loaves, mix the poolish in a large bowl by hand or with a dough whisk. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12 to 14 hours, until tripled in size.
  2. The next day, once the poolish is ready, add the flour, salt, and yeast and whisk together.
  3. Add the water to the poolish to loosen it from the sides of the bowl and scrape it into the flour mixture.
  4. Keeping a bowl of water nearby to wet your hands, mix the ingredients with your hands by folding and pinching alternately for about 3 minutes, until the ingredients are integrated and there is no apparent dry flour. The dough will be very shaggy.
  5. Cover the container and allow the dough to rise for about 2 to 3 hours, until it has increased in size by about 2 1/2 times, stretching and folding every 30 minutes three times during the first 90 minutes.
  6. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half with a bench knife or dough scraper. Shape each half into boules and place them seam side down into floured baskets. Cover with oiled plastic wrap.
  7. Preheat oven with pizza stone to 500 degrees F.
  8. Allow the dough to rise for about an hour.
  9. Carefully turn baskets out onto parchment paper on top of a pizza peel. Slash loaves if desired.
  10. Immediately after putting the loaves in, turn the oven down to 475 degrees F until the crust is browned and the bread sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom. (I think mine took 20-30 minutes).
  11. Allow the baked loaves to cool (and crackle!) for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Braised beef with Tortelloni

I never have to go to Olive Garden again! This is the best thing on their menu and now I can make it at home without the alcohol. I combined two copycat recipes and used a mixture of good apple juice, apple cider vinegar and honey to replace the Marsala. The result was awesome!  

*Naptime tip: Braise the beef while you’re kid-free, re-warming it and cooking the pasta when you’re ready for dinner.

Using these two sites as guides, here’s what I did:

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 C. flour
2 lbs boneless beef short rib
1 white onion, finely diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups Simply Apple juice
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
approx. 20 oz cheese tortelloni (or tortellini if the larger tortelloni cannot be found)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tomato, diced
8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
(adapted from Mommy Savers)
Dredge beef in flour and sear hot and fast in olive oil in a large skillet.  Remove when browned. Add a little more olive oil if necessary and sauté the onions and mushrooms over medium heat until softened. Add garlic, dried spices and salt and pepper then cook for 30 more seconds. Stir together the apple juice, apple cider vinegar and honey. Pour into the pan. Add the browned meat back in then cover and reduce heat to low. Braise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until the sauce has thickened and the meat is tender.   Stir occasionally, adding more apple juice if necessary.
10 minutes before the beef is finished, boil the tortelloni in salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Toss tortelloni into the pot with the beef for 5 minutes. Make a slurry with the balsamic vinegar and corn starch and add to the sauce. Cook until thickened. Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper. Finish with diced tomatoes and chopped basil.

Spicy stewed beef w/cheesy grits

This is one of our favorite dinners and it freezes great! The Pioneer Woman makes it CRAZY spicy! I only use about 2/3 of the called-for chipotle peppers and serve this with plenty of sour cream. I tried cutting the spice level in half but the sauce gets runny and sad. The Pioneer Woman’s grits are great too but the full recipe feeds an army! Anyway, it’s a keeper recipe for sure!

*Naptime tip: Use this time to get the beef braising, and chop the veg and grate the cheese for the grits.

(Slightly adapted from

20 Minutes

3 Hours
12 Servings


  • 2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 3 pounds Stew Meat Or Diced Chuck Roast
  • 1 can (7 Ounces) Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce, finely chopped
  • 4 cups Low-sodium Beef Broth, More If Needed
  • 5 cloves Minced Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Cumin
  • 2 teaspoons Chili Powder
  • 1 whole Onion, Diced
  • 1 whole Red Bell Pepper
  • 3 whole Chilies (any Variety, Hot Or Mild) (I’ve never used these)
  • 4 cups Stone Ground Grits
  • 6 cups Low Sodium Chicken (or Beef) Broth
  • 3 cups Water
  • 2 cups Half-and-half
  • 2 cups Grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Green onion or parsley for garnish


To make the meat, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over high heat. Throw in stew meat and brown for 1 minute, then add chipotle peppers, beef broth, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Stir, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, then cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is fall-apart tender and the liquid is thick. (Watch the meat occasionally and add more beef broth as needed.)

In the last hour of cooking time, make the grits: Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of both oil and butter. Add diced onion, bell pepper, and chilies and cook for five minutes or so. Pour in grits, then add chicken (or beef) broth and water. Stir, then bring to a boil . Reduce the heat to low, then cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 30 minutes, add half-and-half. Cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until grits are tender. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese.

Serve pile of grits with stewed meat (liquid and all) over the top. Sprinkle on sliced green onion for color.