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Ask A Chicago Expert: Best Fall Family Dishes

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"What's for dinner tonight?" is a question that many parents might dread. After a long day of school, work and activities, it's tempting to pick up the phone and order a pizza. But don't touch that dial just yet. We received recipes from three cooking experts in Chicago that families can make together. Grab those aprons and get ready to chop, mix and cook together as a family with these family-friendly recipes that incorporate some of the best ingredients available in fall in Chicago.

Sara Salzinski, Chef And Curriculum Coordinator
The Chopping Block
4747 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 472-6700

If you're apprehensive about cooking with your child, then consider taking Sara Salzinski's advice. "Don't put any pressure on the kids to do it one particular way. If something spills or doesn't turn out quite right, just have fun with it. Let them make mistakes, because that's how they will learn," she said. Salzinski, a graduate of Kendall College, teaches cooking classes at The Chopping Block and is the organization's curriculum coordinator. In addition to its location in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood, The Chopping Block has a facility in Merchandise Mart.

Sloppy Joes By The Chopping Block

For Salzinski, sloppy joes are more than just a quick meal to make on a weekday. "Sloppy joes are nostalgic for me," Salzinski explained, noting that she often ate the traditional favorite as a child. Sloppy joes can also be made up to about three days in advance, then reheated when it's time to eat. While the recipe below calls for ground beef, Salzinski noted you can use ground turkey. Serve these sloppy joes with sweet potato and parmesan oven fries; the recipe also follows.


  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 small onion, medium dice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 sesame seed buns
  • Sliced pickles


  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, and add the oil.
  2. Sauté the beef, breaking it up with a spoon, until golden brown and cooked through. If there's a lot of fat left in pan, drain all but 2 tablespoons.
  3. Add the onions and continue to cook until softened.
  4. Stir in the garlic, and cook an additional minute. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  5. Bring to a boil and then simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is cooked down (about 30 minutes). Serve in warm sesame seed buns with pickles.
Sweet Potato And Parmesan Oven Fries By The Chopping Block


  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss the potatoes with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place on a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake until tender and golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.
  4. Once the potatoes come out of the oven, top with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and serve.
Elena Marre, Founder
The Kids' Table
2337 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 235-2665

Elena Marre, founder of The Kids' Table, offers hands-on cooking classes through her organization. She shared a few tips for cooking with kids. "It can be daunting, especially for a parent who doesn't feel comfortable in the kitchen themselves. When you involve your kids, you might be doubling the time and make it more challenging. But the kids are more likely to eat something if they have a hand in the process. You get their participation. If they help make it, it's a lot less scary," she said. The Kids' Table offers classes for children as young as two years of age. Classes for older children, teens, adults and families are also available. The Kids' Table has locations in Chicago's Wicker Park and Lakeview neighborhoods.

Apple Muffins With Crumble Topping By The Kids' Table

If you need to use up those apples you picked with your family, then consider making a batch of these muffins. If you need to, make a dairy-free version, Marre noted you can substitute grape seed or canola oil for the butter in the crumble topping. The recipe yields 12 muffins and can be baked in about 18 minutes.


  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped into 1/4" pieces (about 1 cup)

For crumble topping:

  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 T butter, melted


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with nonstick spray and set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Add applesauce, sugar, oil and vanilla and whisk until well blended.  Whisk in baking soda and cinnamon. Stir in flours and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add diced apple, folding them into the batter. Using a 1/4 cup measure, transfer the muffin mix into each cup of the prepared muffin tin.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon and stir well. Drizzle melted butter on top and stir until well combined. Toss topping with your fingers to make sure the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of topping on top of each muffin.
  4. Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a muffin. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully remove each muffin and let cool on a rack for another 5 minutes.
Squash Salsa By The Kids' Table

This salsa recipe yields six to eight servings. "This salsa is super sweet and delicious," Marre noted. "The sweetness of the squash and bite of the onion makes a great combination. It's a great way to get another veggie into a meal."


  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 14.5 oz can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 corn cobs (or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn)
  • 1/4 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8-10 cilantro sprigs
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 tsp cumin


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Peel squash and halve it lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. Chop squash into 1/2 inch cubes (you need 3 cups chopped squash for this recipe). Toss squash with 1 T canola oil and sprinkle with salt. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread squash in a single layer on baking sheet. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until fork tender and lightly browned.
  3. If using fresh corn, remove husks and silks and place corn cobs directly on a gas burner. Turn to a medium flame and allow kernels to become slightly blackened, turning until entire cob is roasted. Allow to cool, then cut kernels from cob. (Sometimes it's easiest to cut cob in half first crosswise before trying to remove kernels, as they don't fly around so much.) If using frozen corn, thaw and drain off any excess water.
  4. Toss thawed corn with 1/2 T canola oil and roast on a baking sheet until kernels turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine squash cubes, roasted corn, black beans, onion and garlic. Tear cilantro leaves into small pieces and add to bowl, along with the lime juice, any remaining salt and the cumin. Stir well to combine. Serve with tortilla chips.
Luca Corazzina, Executive Chef
312 Chicago
136 N. LaSalle St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 696-2420

Luca Corazzina, executive chef of 312 Chicago, has incorporated a number of favorite Italian dishes on the restaurant's menu. Corazzina's resume includes Chicago restaurants Figo Ristorante and Prosecco. The restaurant is located in Chicago's Loop neighborhood.

Mini Pizzette Fritte (Mini Fried Pizzas) With Seasonal Vegetables By Executive Chef Luca Corazzina
This recipe was emailed to us and incorporates seasonal vegetables. The pizza dough yields 12 mini pizzas.
Pizza Dough
  • 2 ¼ cups warm water
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ounces dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Pizza Sauce

  • 1 16oz can Italian peeled tomatoes (crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½  teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano crushed


  1. Start by making the dough and combine water, salt, oil, yeast, and a little flour (about 1 cup) in a bowl.
  2. Stirring with wooden spoon, add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time, working out the lumps as you go (you may have a few clumps and that's okay). Keep adding flour until your dough is soft but not sticky.
  3. Sprinkle flour on a hard surface or board and knead the dough until smooth and evenly textured.
  4. Place in a covered bowl and let rise in a warm place until the thickness has doubled in bulk; about 1 hour.
  5. After the dough has risen, tear off small pieces and flatten with your hands to make the size of mini pizzas.
  6. Fry artichokes, cauliflower, mushrooms and endive (handful each) and set aside.
  7. Make the sauce by combining all ingredients in a pot and simmer over low heat.
  8. Fry dough in oil until golden brown on both sides and place finished pizzas on sheet pan.
  9. Remove the sauce from heat and add to mini pizzas (amount to taste).
  10. Top pizzas with fresh mozzarella or 2 percent mozzarella and vegetables, such as artichokes, cauliflower, mushrooms and endive.

Related: Best Family Hikes Near ChIcago

Megan Horst-Hatch is a runner, reader, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in "-er." She is also the president of Megan Writes, LLC. Her work can be found at

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