The number one question I get asked by my kids is “what’s for dinner?” In fact, they asked the question so often that I began responding with my own questions.

I’d pick a random date far in the future and ask: “What’s for dinner July 29, 2022?”

The typical response would be an eye roll or sometimes another random date would be plucked from the air and the question asked again. We would all get a laugh out it.

If I asked them the question: What do you want? There were a few dishes that were always mentioned.

“Can you make the sweet and sour chicken?”

“Can you make meatloaf?”

As the family cook, I have to indulge them once in a while. If I only had to worry about preparing food for myself, I would make endless arrangements of salads and vegetables and a little bit of fish once in a while. I’ve been eating mostly plant-based foods lately, so the sweet and sour chicken and meatloaf requests have become more frequent.

Since we recently instituted Sunday dinner at my house, I thought this would be a good opportunity to cook the foods my family loves (as long as they’re served with a salad for me).

These aren’t complicated recipes and can be ready in under an hour. I hadn’t made tuna noodle casserole in quite some time so I decided to update the cream of celery soup version I had in my recipe archive.

I made a creamy sauce from scratch using albacore tuna and fresh cream with some simple seasonings. The result had much more flavor than any tuna noodle casserole I’d made before, without the preservatives found in the condensed soup.

Now when the question “what’s for dinner?” sparks a conversation, Tuna Noodle Casserole makes the list.

Next week: I’ll be writing about maple and will share the maple vinaigrette recipe I’ve been using on all those salads.

Onion-Smothered Meatloaf

2 lbs. ground beef

2 carrots, shredded

1 sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 c. celery, diced

1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped

1 1/2 c. ketchup, divided

1 egg, beaten

3/4 c. seasoned bread crumbs

2 tsp. Kosher saltB

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 T. tamari sauce

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Add the ground beef, carrots, celery, parsley, a cup of the ketchup, egg, bread crumbs, salt, garlic powder, tamari and Worcestershire sauce to a large bowl and mix with your hands until all ingredients are well incorporated. Lightly spray the top of a broiler pan or a heat proof wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Add the ground beef to the pan or rack and shape into a loaf. Drizzle with remaining ketchup over the top and spread a layer of the onions over the entire loaf. Set in an oven preheated to 400 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 160 degrees and the top is slightly charred.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

3 cans white albacore tuna, undrained

10 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots, defrosted

2 (16 oz.) packages penne pasta, cooked and drained

1 c. heady cream

1/2 c. milk

1/4 c. sour cream

2 T. butter

2 T. flour

1 sweet onion, chopped

1/4 c. seasoned breadcrumbs

1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped, if desired for garnish

Add the butter to a sauté pan and set over medium high heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the peas and carrots and cook for an additional minute. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir, then add the tuna and mix well. Whisk in the cream, milk and sour cream and stir while heating until the mixture is creamy and starting to thicken, then remove from heat. Add the pasta to a casserole dish, then pour the sauce mixture over the noodles and stir to coat the noodles. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, then cover with aluminum foil and set in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with parsley before serving, if desired.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

2 lbs. boneless chicken breast, cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes

3/4 c. cornstarch

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 c. ketchup

3/4 c. sugar

1 T. tamari sauce

1/2 tsp. tamarind paste

1/4 c. white vinegar

2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 c. grapeseed (or other vegetable oil) for frying

1/4 c. toasted sesame seed for garnish, if desired

1/4 c. green onion, chopped, for garnish, if desired

Add the ketchup, sugar, tamari sauce, tamarind paste, vinegar, and garlic powder to a bowl and whisk together (you can adjust amounts according to your taste). Set aside. Add the beaten egg to a shallow dish. Add the cornstarch to another shallow dish. Add the oil to a sauté pan set over high heat. When the oil is heated, dredge the chicken in the cornstarch, then dip in the egg and set in the oil. Brown the outside of the chicken in the oil, then set in a baking dish. Once all the chicken is browned, pour the sauce over the chicken and set in an oven preheated to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn the chicken over. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked throughout. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onion before serving, if desired.