easy dinner

McDonald’s In The Kitchen, Fairsted Kitchen that is.

A Surprise From McDonald’s at Fairsted Kitchen


When I got the invitation to Fairsted Kitchen, it was a given that I would say yes. Every time I drive by it, I remind myself that we need to have dinner there, then I get home and life happens and I forget, again, at least until the next time I drive by.  And when I saw that McDonald’s was hosting and Executive Chef Stephanie Cmar (yes, foodie friends, of Bravo’s Top Chef and of Stacked Donuts fame), was going to cook only with McD’s ingredients, I was intrigued. How would this work? What would the menu look like? And most importantly…Would there be fries?!

Photo credit: Debbie Grubstein


And not only were there fries – there was a bar of fries!  Everyone talked, laughed and nibbled as we circled the table and there were lots of stories because…fries. And I was so excited that the charming and twinkle lighted exterior of Fairsted Kitchen was a perfect preview to the lovely space within –  warm wood tables, lovely vintage mismatched china, and a welcoming staff. What a wonderful antidote to a cold and rainy night.

Dinner was, as expected, fantastic. And made only from ingredients that would be used in a McDonald’s kitchen. The first up: chicken croquettes with cilantro lime sauce, cucumber, peanut salad, and wilted romaine puree and our hosts explained that the fresh produce was the same used in McDonald’s premium salads and McWraps.  I learned that McD’s sources from local distributors when possible.

Next up, gnocchi made with actual McDonald’s french fries that were put through a meat grinder. Wow, super clever Stephanie Cmar! The Bolognese made with sausage and 100% ground beef, was delicious! I also learned that McD’s uses 100% beef that is ground, then formed into patties and flash frozen, and made with no additives or preservatives. Good to know.

Dessert was seriously the biggest doughnut I have ever seen. It’s okay though, years of training had prepared me for the challenge and I was undaunted. Doughnuts with Cranberry and Salted Caramel made by Stephanie (McD’s uses USDA grade A fresh eggs and North American grown whole wheat flour).


Served with a perfect cup of coffee (from McCafe) and made with 100 percent Arabica coffee beans. I loved McDonald’s coffee when it was Newman’s Own and I love it now, too. A great price for great coffee.

Stephanie Cmar Fairsted Kitchen McDonald's In the Kitchen

Photos* were taken by Debbie Grubstein, friend, food blogger extraordinaire, and all around wonderful person. Thanks, Deb!

*except the coffee cup so you can see why Deb is good to have around!

This post was sponsored by McDonald’s. All opinions are, and always will be, my own. Thank you!


Weekday Dinners

Weekday Dinners

capability mom.com blog chicken dinner easy weeknight recipesThe summer of no-cook dinners is over and it is time to pull it together and actually use my kitchen to cook. Sigh. Well, I have a few tricks to making weeknight dinners easier and I will share them with you, because I am generous like that. Also, because I am pretty happy that I figured out to do this and am bragging a little bit. Let’s not get carried away, I didn’t split the atom, I just made easy dinners. Still.

First, plan a menu for the week. Hate to do that? I know, me too. Okay. Plan two days out and make the third day an easy default recipe (something you can make with your eyes closed). Here is my Monday-Tuesday solution.

Buy two whole chickens (on sale at Whole foods for 99 cents per pound) and roast them both at the same time. Make one your Monday dinner with roasted veggies. I added potatoes and apples to the pan, any root vegetable would be great or some squash (use a separate pan for squash and apples). Note, the apples will be mush if you leave them in for the whole time, they only take about 30 minutes. Check out Martha for the best recipe, I just tossed them in whole because I’m lazy. My go-to recipe for Perfect Roast Chicken is from The Barefoot Contessa. I ran out of time for the gravy but all was devoured without. Serve with a big green salad.capability mom.com blog chicken dinner easy weeknight recipes

The next night use the second chicken for a fun Make Your Own Burrito Night. We always have tortillas, cheese, avocado, rice (we used frozen brown rice) and beans in the house, so all that is needed is some lettuce, salsa and sour cream if that’s how you roll. Feel free to sautee up some onions and peppers if you want to or add some of the roasted veggies from Monday.

Set up a station on the kitchen counter and let everyone build their own. Carve up the chicken and you are good to go. For little ones, put small containers on the table filled with the choices you most want them to eat. Have cut up some carrots, cucumbers, celery and peppers on the table for maximum veggie intake.

But Wednesday? What about Wednesday? No, I won’t leave you without. I made pork chops (again from Martha) but I think I am a little in love with Whole Foods for this:

Image from Whole Foods


Mini Turkey Meatloaf and Maple Green Beans Sheet-Pan Dinner

I haven’t tried it yet (found it while I was trying to make sure the Whole Foods whole chickens were still on sale). Yum. My family are recent meatloaf converts and I am running this. Only one pan? I’m there.

Note- we didn’t use all the chicken for Burrito Night so I chopped up the rest for chicken salad. Also, if you are still looking for meals, take the chicken carcasses (never a pretty word), place in water and/or boxed chicken broth with some veggies to make a soup. Add pasta or rice. I use my pressure cooker for this quick soup. So very frugal of me, don’t you think?

A perfectly lovely and easy dinner

capability mom takes time out for lunch Tomato, Cucumber and Feta Cheese Salad over Arugula
Lunch: Tomato, Cucumber and Feta Cheese Salad over Arugula

Confession: Sometimes I lack imagination…in my dinner menu. This is what happens – I find something that (blessedly) everyone will eat and make it so often that they get sick of it. Try to understand – the excitement of finding a dinner everyone likes! The comfort level of making it without looking at a recipe or ingredient list! However, my joy is never long lasting and it is followed by disdain and ruin (as in the meal is out of the rotation when the complaints become too frequent or loud) and my previously celebrated meal is a goner. What can I say? My mother did the same thing (your fault, Mom!) and it is a tough cycle to break. But I am resolved – sort of.

I know there is no shortage of amazing recipes – there are many sites dedicated to sharing them (Bakespace, Epicurious, All recipes), to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of food blogs (Smitten Kitchen, Whisk Kid, David Lebowitz) and even my own collection of cookbooks.  Sometimes I am not inspired even with these amazing resources. Sigh, I am a slacker dinner mom.

But then the universe tilts and I am inspired. This time it was closer to home – two talented home chefs that never challenge their families with boring dinners.

So first, a perfect summer salad with tomatoes, feta cheese and cucumbers from Bon Appetit. I tried it Friday night at my friend’s house – it is delicious – think chopped Greek Salad and it takes less than 15 minutes to make. Bon Appetit suggests serving it with lamb – I made broiled chicken breasts and sweet Italian sausage (on sale at Whole Foods this week).

Cucumber, Tomato, and Feta Salad

Makes 8 servings  Recipe by the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen


•6 cups coarsely chopped English hothouse or Persian cucumbers (about 2 pounds total) I used English hothouse but found the skin a little tough in my salad – next time I would go with the Persian or peel partially).
•2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound total), coarsely chopped I used small vine ripened tomatoes.
•1 bunch scallions, chopped
•1 cup assorted pitted olives (such as Kalamata or Gaeta), halved
•1 7-ounce package feta, crumbled, divided
•1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
•6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
•Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, olives, half of feta, and mint in a large bowl. Whisk oil and lemon juice in a small bowl; season dressing with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining half of feta over and serve. Disclaimer: No one in my family likes olives except for me but all ate this. I have been requested to make the dressing again but with less gross stuff in the salad. I had it for lunch today over arugula from Newton Community Farm.

Am I finished with dinner? No, there is more! Another friend hosted our mother-daughter book group this past week and had (among other delicious things) beautiful pasta (whole wheat in one huge bowl, white pasta in the other) dressed with five Italian cheeses, served with marinated red peppers and tomatoes in the middle. Then she simply tossed everything together and served with some additional grated cheese.  I think she used just olive oil salt and pepper but I threw in some nice balsamic vinegar – terrific – especially nice with the chicken and sausage on the side (yes, that is how she served it) and both went really well with my chopped Greek salad. I grabbed a nice loaf of French Bread (Iggy’s) and the meal was complete.

Chicken – cook in your favorite way – I like Ina Garten’s basic prep or grilled is great this time of  year.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through.

Pasta with Italian Cheeses


One large red pepper (sliced finely)
Grape or Cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs, cut up)
olive oil (I didn’t measure – just covered the veggies – I know – annoying, right?)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Balsamic vinegar – to taste

Slice red pepper and cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Put in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Let stand for 30 minutes for best flavor – or for as long as it takes for the pasta to cook if for some reason you haven’t given yourself enough time. Never happens to me (last week we made both cookies and brownies in under an hour while simultaneously making dinner. My husband was impressed – just business as usual here).

If making for a large group – use two pots, one for white pasta, one for whole wheat) or combine half whole wheat pasta and half white pasta in one pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain.

Place pasta in large serving bowl and sprinkle grated cheese of choice (she said five – I can only think of Parmesan, Romano, and Grana Padano) Maybe some Manchego would be nice) over the pasta. Make a well in the center for the marinated veggies (feel free to put in your favorites or more likely, stuff you have on hand) Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.

Presentation is gorgeous – this is my go to for the next potluck!

A job for litl webbook – Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts Recipe at Epicurious.com

rainbow chard preparation by capability momSwiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts Recipe at Epicurious.com.

I am dragging my laptop to the kitchen counter and upping the zoom level to 150% – this looks like a job for a litl webbook if I ever saw one.  The recipe looks great but leaving out pine nuts and changing golden raisins to cranberries (reason: a dinner guest has nut allergy and I don’t have golden raisins).

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