Entries Tagged as 'Deconstructing Dinner'

Top 10 Deconstructed Dinners

February 4th, 2014 · 25 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner

So I got this nice note from a reader the other day:

I have to tell you I did my first real deconstructed meal the other night where I was not catering to the kids. It was so easy, such an epiphany! My husband and I made Chicken Tikka Masala with browned cauliflower and frozen peas in it. Before adding the (jarred) sauce, I loaded up plates with juicy sauteed chicken chunks and browned cauliflower and added some grapes and they Gobbled. It. Up. I had hot dogs at the ready but was feeling very sad about it. So this was amazing!! Thank you! — Jennie T.

Chicken Tikka Masala! That is some brave new territory, and it made me think that we’ve covered the DALS Top 10 Quick MealsTop 10 Side DishesTop 10 Ways to Use a Rotisserie Chicken, and even Abby’s Top 10 Reads last summer — so I think it’s high time we rounded up our favorite Deconstructed Dinners for the family table. Break it down now:

1. Tortilla Soup (Which also has a nice definition of Deconstructed Dinner for those of you completely in the dark here)

2. Chinese Chicken and Broccoli (like Jennie T., just save a few of the unsauced chicken chunks for kids who might object to the hoisin)

3. Chili-Rubbed Chicken with Mexican Salad, shown above (related: Burrito Bowl)

4.  Steakhouse Steak Salad with (or without!) Horseradish Dressing

5. Fish in Parchment Paper (Part 1 and Part 2) to be filed under “Oldie but Goodie.”

6. Orrechiette with Sausage and Broccoli (the classic)

7. Kale Cobb Salad (hold the Easter egg dye)

8. Chicken Orzo Soup, shown above, page 290 Dinner: A Love Story  (When Abby was a soup-o-thrope, I used to pluck the tender shredded chicken from this and lightly pat it with a paper towel before serving it to her with lightly dried carrots and a mound of orzo. What can I say? I really wanted her to like my favorite soup.)

9. Spicy Peanut Noodles (it’s just “plain pasta with a side of crispy snow peas” to the kids if you serve the peanut sauce on the side), page 261 Dinner: A Love Story

10. Quinoa with Spinach, Egg, & Sriracha (No matter how much I deconstruct and disguise this, my kids will not touch, but you might have better luck.)

Don’t see your favorite? What is it?

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What Level Are You?

October 7th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

One of the emails I get all the time is pretty basic: “If I want to make family dinner happen regularly, where do I start?” And in spite of 650 blog posts, my next book coming out on that very topic, and, oh, roughly 5000 family dinners logged in my own house at my own kitchen table, it’s still one of the harder questions to answer. I like to think this is not because I am incompetent (though the jury is still out on that one) but because I am a realist. The truth is, family dinner is not an easy thing to make happen, and any blogger or magazine article or cookbook author who claims otherwise (“Family Dinner in Five Easy Steps!”) should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The way I see it, like anything, there are different levels of the game, and if you concentrate on mastering one level at a time, and building from there, it’s a lot easier (and more long-lasting) than just assuming your family of athletes and picky eaters and late workers and on-again, off-again vegetarians is going resemble a Norman Rockwell painting on the very first time you try. (And by the way: Is there anyone left who believes that a Norman-Rockwell-imagined world still exists?) Here’s the way I see it progressing, with the subtext being that EVERY LEVEL QUALIFIES as family dinner.

Level 1: Sitting Down Together
This is where you start. Forget about the food and just focus on logistics. Get everyone sitting around the table at the same time. Try to make the event last more than six minutes. If you can pick three or four days during the week to make this happen, you can consider yourself ready for Level 2. Level 1 menu ideas: storebought Rotisserie Chicken with a basic salad;  packaged dinners you feel good about, or something from the freezer like Meatballs.

Level 2: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade
So you’ve mastered the logistics. Now it’s time to focus on the food. Don’t panic and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make something overly complicated. (This is supposed to be fun, remember?) Take a step up from storebought foods and prepare something homemade that’s simple enough to make on autopilot (spaghetti with marinara? Omelet? Your grandmother’s famous curry?) Don’t feel bad about supplementing with a peanut butter sandwich if someone at the table protests.  Just try to make that peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat toast and good-quality peanut butter. In our house, dinners that qualify for Level 2 are:  Pizza, a Baked Potato bar; or a Roast Salmon with mustardy-dill yogurt sauce.

Level 3: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade That Everyone Likes
OK, if we were talking college sports here, I’d say you’re getting into Division 1 territory here. If you feel like you’ve sufficiently nailed down Levels 1 and 2, you can start to think about cooking one thing that everyone will eat. This is, of course, where Deconstructed Dinners come into play:  Indonesian Chicken Salad, Tortilla Soup, Salmon Salad (page 62, Dinner: A Love Story) are all great choices, but if you have meals that fall into this category I’m always interested in hearing about them. Always!

Level 4: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade That Everyone Likes and that You Can Feel Good About on a Cosmic Level
This level is actually the whole reason I wrote this post. In fact it was supposed to be the whole point of the post — the idea that we have been going all flexitarian lately, eating less meat, following the philosophy of “meat as condiment,” and really paying attention to where our pork, beef, and chicken is coming from when we do eat it. I don’t know a lot, but I know enough to realize that being able to philosophize about what’s on your table (as opposed to just, you know, getting something–anything! — on your table) is a very luxurious way to think about dinner — especially when you factor in the costs of high-quality meat. If I had to categorize this level of thinking, I’d call it Premier League Family Dinner. And though I can’t play at that level all the time, I aspire to it almost every night. Most recently with this recipe which taps into the idea that a little bit of really good sausage goes a loooong way.

Lentils with Crispy Sausages
Pictured above

1 1/4 cup brown lentils
2 1/2 – 3 cups liquid (chicken stock, water) or enough to cover lentils by about an inch
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vinegar (I used white balsamic, but you can use tarragon, red wine, regular balsamic)
1/3 cup olive oil (plus more for frying)
salt and pepper
1/2 pound good-quality sausage (sweet or spicy Italian work well), removed from their casings
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
3 tablespoons chopped bell pepper
leaves from two sprigs of fresh thyme (or finely chopped parsley)

In a medium pot, boil lentils in broth-water combo, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until they are tender, but firm enough to still hold their shape. Drain.

While lentils are cooking, make your dressing by whisking together mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, fry sausage in a little olive oil, breaking up with a fork, until cooked through and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.

Toss lentils with scallions, pepper, thyme, sausage bits, and vinaigrette. (You may not need all the vinaigrette — so drizzle it in instead of dumping it until it looks right.) Serve with crusty bread.

Other meat-as-condiment options: Hawaiian PizzaShredded Asian Cabbage with Chicken or ShrimpSoba Noodles with Chicken

 

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Burrito Bowl

March 13th, 2013 · 45 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

If you had to use one word to describe a Dinner: A Love Story recipe, what would it be?

A reporter asked me this last year when my book came out. Is there a harder question to answer in the world than one that begins “If you had to use one word…”? I mulled it over for a little bit.  I thought about “real,” (there’s my dinner diary and all); I thought about “nostalgic” (porcupine meatballs!); I thought about my friend Sally, who, when asked by a younger, cherubic coworker “If you had to use one word to describe your newborn what would it be?” replied: “Annoying.”

Over the years, the one word I’d use to describe a DALS dinner has evolved right along with the family and the family’s dinnertime needs. Early on, pre-kids, it might have been “ambitious.” With new babies around, probably “Quick” or “Easy.” With toddlers: “White.” But these days, for a recipe to earn a spot in the family dinner rotation, above all it has to be flexible. And by that I mean not only flexible because of how beautifully it can be deconstructed for picky eaters and flexitarians, but because of how you, the cook, are able to prepare it.

Take these burrito bowls, which I have been meaning to make ever since the girls walked into Chipotle for the first time and declared it the best restaurant in New York City. I knew the burritos-without-tortillas would become a major player in our family dinner lives because I could make the meal as simple or as complicated as my time and energy allowed. In other words: Every component in a burrito bowl can be either storebought or made-from-scratch (or some combination of the two) and still yield a healthy dinner. The black beans can be just black beans — or they can be black beans simmered with a bay leaf and some onions. The avocado can be chopped avocado, or it can be avocado mashed with cumin and red onion and salt. As I was making simple white rice — one of the few things I thought was a pretty straightforward task — Andy wandered by the stove and said, “You’re gonna add cilantro, lime and a ton of salt in there like Chipotle rice, right?”

Uh, right.

On a weeknight, you’d probably want more of the components to be simplified. On the weekend, it would serve you well to go all out because, obviously, if you put that much work into it, it’s gonna be badass. Come to think of it, maybe that would be a better word that flexible.

Burrito Bowl
I gave two versions of each component below: the “weeknight” (quick) and the “weekend” (less quick). Take a look, then expend energy building flavor on the things you like the most — or whatever the clock allows. (The only thing I insist you don’t shortcut is the chicken.) To serve: Present fixins on the table or counter, serve everyone a half cup of rice, then let them top as they please.

Chicken
I like this meal to be more veg-heavy, so I only cooked two (boneless, skinnless) chicken breasts. You can add another if you think your family will eat more than shown in the above bowl. To make: Cube two medium-size chicken breasts into pieces as shown above. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 onion (chopped finely), then the chicken. Sprinkle everything with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and more salt & pepper. Let chicken brown a little before tossing around in pan. When chicken is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes total), remove to a bowl. Squeeze a little lime juice on top.

Beans
Weeknight version: Heat a 14-ounce can of black beans in a small saucepan until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Weekend version: Heat 1/4 onion (sliced) in a small saucepan with a little vegetable oil. Add a 14-ounce container of black beans, a bay leaf, and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Rice
Weeknight: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. (This is based on a 1/2 cup rice per diner — you know your family better than I do, so make more if you think you’ll need it.)
Weekend: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. When rice is finished, toss in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, the juice from 1/2 lime, and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt.

Salsa
Weeknight: Use your favorite storebought salsa. (We like Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica or Roasted Tomatillo.)
Weekend: Finely chop 2 cups grape tomatoes (or any tomato if it’s summer) with 2 tablespoons chopped red onion, handful cilantro, splash of red wine vinegar,  salt, pepper, 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper.

Quick Guacamole
Weeknight: Slice an avocado into chunks
Weekend: Using a fork, mash one avocado with 1/4 teaspoon cumin, salt to taste, and a heavy squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Other components
Sharp cheddar (sliced or grated), fresh cilantro, sour cream, shredded lettuce. (Me: “What do you think about using shredded kale instead of romaine?” Andy: “Sounds great as long as I don’t have to have it.”)

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This Week in Deconstructing Dinners

February 13th, 2013 · 33 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Favorites, Sides, Salads, Soup

Probably when most people spy a book like Jeanne Kelley’s Salad for Dinner at the bookstore or in their library they pick it up and think Mmmm, this looks nice and healthy. Or: I could afford to shake up the Romaine routine. My first thought? A veritable treasure trove of potentially deconstructable dinners. True, I can look at almost any meal and envision how it can break down into child-friendly, nothing-touching, no-green-speck meals to please the sauce-o-thropes at the table. (Soup works, so does a pot roast.) But salads have got to be the most conducive. And if ever there were a cure for the parents who cannot seem to find common ground between their craving for The Way They Used to Eat and their toddler’s Craving for White Pasta…it’s this book. Kelley’s recipes take you far beyond the barren world of tomato-and-bagged-lettuce salads into the promised land of hearty, healthy, grain-rich, colorful, incredibly flavorful masterpieces you’d serve to any dinner guest — Seared Salmon with Quinoa, Asparagus, and Spinach; Thai Style Grilled Beef Salad; Toasted Barley, Long Bean, and Shitake Mushroom Salad with Tofu. And yet, very few of them seem out of reach. I opened the book during breakfast, found this jackpot Indonesian Chicken Salad recipe below and realized I had every single thing I needed to get it together for that night. Maybe you do, too.

 

Indonesian Pineapple, Chicken and Spicy Peanut Salad
Adapted from Salad for Dinnerby Jeanne Kelley

The peanut dressing is what ups the wow factor here, but it’s definitely spicy, so if you are worried about that with the kids, I’d limit the Sriracha to about a teaspoon. Also, Kelley instructs roasting the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet along with 1/4 cup of water then tented with foil. (About 40 minutes at 375°F.) I usually poach, but was curious about her method and found it to be much easier. The chicken (bone-in breasts) ended up incredibly tender and shred-friendly.

Spicy Peanut Dressing
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 large garlic clove, pressed

Salad
8 cups thinly sliced cabbage (from about 1 medium head)
1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into strips as shown above
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 pound shredded cooked chicken breast (see note above)
1/2 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts
lime wedges

In a large bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Add the cabbage, pineapple, carrots, red pepper, scallions, cilantro, and chicken and toss to combine. Serve sprinkled with peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice.

If you are deconstructing this salad for kids: Whisk dressing in a separate small bowl and serve separately from salad. (Or in a little dipping bowl, as shown above.) Instead of tossing all the salad ingredients together, place each one in its own clump in a wide shallow bowl, have the kids pick what they want, then proceed to toss for the normal people.

Last year, I couldn’t walk into a food editor’s office without seeing Jeanne Kelley’s book right on the very top of their cookbook pile with post-its sticking out of every side. I don’t know what took me so long to get my own copy, but I have a feeling I’m going to be using it a LOT.

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Summer Stew

July 18th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

I should probably be stripped of my food blogging rights for telling you to do anything with summer corn besides eat it on the cob with a little salt and butter, but you know I can’t resist the urge to share the discovery of a new deconstructible dinner. Last week was not the first time we’ve eaten this corn, chicken and sausage stew — not by a longshot, we ate a version of it almost every August weekend one summer in the 90s. But since then, we’ve had to think a bit more strategically about dinner, which, of course, is another way of saying, we’ve become parents. I was happy to discover last week, that the family classic joins the ranks of the tortilla soup, the salmon salad, and the other dinners on page 158-163 of my book that can be broken down into their individual components so that they can be more palatable to the kids, and less headache-inducing for the cook. It’s a goodie.

Summer Stew with Chicken, Corn, and Sausage
Adapted from Gourmet

3 links chorizo sausage (I used chicken), sliced into coins
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 or 7 boneless chicken thighs, salted and peppered
1/2 medium onion, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)
2 to 3 cups corn, cut off the cob
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
basil, chopped

In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown sausage in olive oil over medium heat until crispy. Remove.  Raise heat to medium-high and brown chicken (in batches if necessary) on both sides until mostly cooked through. Remove. Turn down heat to medium-low, add onion, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, and a little more oil if necessary. Stir until slightly wilted. Add corn and tomatoes and stir until vegetables release their juices.

Nestle chicken and sausage back in the vegetables, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Serve with basil and crusty bread in bowls, or separate into individual components for the kid who doesn’t like things “mixed” and serve on a plate.

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Dinner: A Morning Show Story

June 14th, 2012 · 19 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Favorites, Picky Eating, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup

So I went on the Today Show yesterday to talk about some themes you know well by now — deconstructing meals, picky eaters, my Trickle-Down Theory of Dinner (see page 10!) and of course, the book itself. I’ve known about this segment for about three months now — my publisher called me with the news while I was watching soccer practice — and if I were a certain kind of person I suppose I would have been broadcasting this news all over the world, posting it on my events page and facebook, tweeting from the green room and all that, but the truth is: I was kinda terrified about the whole Live TV thing. To the point where over the past few months I’ve been dividing my life into two distinct eras:   (more…)

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One Meal, Three Ways

June 4th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

If you asked 8-year-old Abby to list her favorite foods, I have a feeling the following would show up in the top ten: penne, fettucini, rigatoni, farfalle, gnocchi, orechiette, and (as of last week), cavatelli. I don’t know how much of this love affair is because she’s defining herself in opposition to her sister, a world class pasta hater,  but I do know that because of Phoebe’s refusal to touch the stuff, Abby doesn’t get a nice bowl of spaghetti and meatballs nearly as often as she’d like to. I also know that eliminating pasta from our dinner repertoire is not an option given how much Andy and I love it, and given how much the girls’ Great Grandmothers are named Turano and Catrino. So while the rest of us might get a nice bowl of cavatelli with spring asparagus, tomatoes, ricotta, and lemon, Phoebe would get something that looks like this:

Not bad, right? I might call this ricotta and tomatoes on baguette a first cousin of the real dinner.

And maybe I’d call this one a second cousin, which I might serve a toddler (or a pincer-grasping baby) who prefers his food equal but separate.

Pasta with Asparagus, Tomatoes, Ricotta & Lemon
This recipe has you tossing the aspargus in with the boiling pasta water which saves you a pot to clean. (You’re welcome!) For Version 2 dinner: toast a baguette, top with ricotta and tomatoes as shown. Drizzle with olive oil and some good sea salt. Serve asparagus on the side. For Version 3: I think you got that one.

Cook 1 pound pasta according to package directions. (We used cavatelli, but any kind will do.) While pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl a halved garlic clove in the oil just for a quick flavor hit, then remove. Add 1 1/2 cups chopped grape tomatoes (yellow or red), salt, pepper and cook until tomatoes are wilted.

During last three minutes that the pasta is cooking, toss in 1 bunch asparagus spears (chopped) to the pot. Drain pasta and asparagus together and immediately toss in with tomatoes, cooking until pasta is coated with tomato juice.

Remove from heat and toss in 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of ricotta (or to taste), 2 teaspoons lemon zest, salt, and pepper. (If it’s too hard to toss in the skillet, you can do  this in a large bowl.)

Serve with chopped fresh basil.

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Tortilla Soup: Delicious & Deconstructable

May 30th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Favorites

 

I can tell from newsletter subscriptions and my email inbox (please don’t ever stop writing me) that there are a lot of new faces stopping by DALS to check out what we’ve been doing here for the past two and a half years. So longtime loyal readers, please forgive me while I indulge the urge to do a little summary for our first-time visitors. First-time visitors: Welcome! Your pop quiz on skillet meals will not be administered until next week, but today I’d like to present to you the most fundamental of DALS Strategies for Family Dinners. It’s known around these parts as The Principle of Deconstruction and — are you paying attention, because it’s complicated – it goes like this:  If you are tired of being a short-order cook for your daughter who hates chicken but likes avocado and your son who hates avocado but likes chicken, and your toddler who only eats olives and cheese and caviar, you do not have to make three separate dinners. The key is to pick one meal that can be broken down into its individual ingredients (aka deconstructed) and reassembled the way your diners like it. That way, even though everyone is eating something different, you have only made one meal and, more important, you do not have the urge to politely excuse yourself then scream at the top of your lungs into the clothes dryer. I’ve gone on and on about deconstructing, I know, and there is a huge section in my book devoted to recipes that are conducive to this strategy, but lately I’ve been applying the Theory of Deconstruction to soups with much success. Look how I turned my 15-minute Tortilla Soup into for my soup-hating 8-year-old?

Nice right? The broth becomes a dip, and all the ingredients that she prefers…you know, dry…get placed on her plate before any offensive simmering begins. Tortilla Soup is made with shredded chicken, avocado, and hominy among other things and is insanely easy to put together.

Tortilla Soup

2 chicken boneless breasts (about 3/4 pound) rinsed and patted dry (or, you can use a storebought rotisserie chicken like I did above)
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1 dried chile pepper
1 15-ounce can hominy (found in international sections of supermarkets; look for Goya)
juice from 1 lime
various toppings: tortilla chips, avocado chunks, shredded cheddar cheese

Brown the chicken in a medium saucepan, about 2 minutes on each side. (It does not have to be cooked through. If using rotisserie chicken, shred it and continue to next step.) To the same pan, add oil and saute the onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and salt and pepper over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add the broth, chile pepper, and hominy and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred using two forks. Add the shreds back to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes.

If your kids will only eat the components of this soup and not the soup, lay out the components (chicken, cheese, avocado, etc) on a plate the way they’d find it least offensive. Then ladle the soup servings into bowls, you know, the way it was meant to be served, squeeze lime into each bowl and add the toppings.

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Kale Cobb Salad (or How to Turn Easter Eggs into Dinner)

April 12th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Quick

It’s 10:45 on Wednesday night. I’m in bed. The girls are too. If they are not yet asleep, they are puzzling over who will be booted from American Idol tomorrow. My husband is sitting next to me working on something very exciting for DALS that we will tell you all about the week of April 23. (Please make a point to visit that day.) And I’m writing about Cobb Salad. (How exactly did I get here? Please tell me.) I don’t have a whole lot to say about the meal, other than it was assembled between 4:00 and 4:20 (wedged in between a long overdue pediatrician appointment and a soccer practice that was plotting to invade our dinner hour), and that the swap-in of shredded kale for crunchy romaine went largely unnoticed by the girls since it was buried under some favorite flavors (read: bacon), and that it works well for kids because it can be customized like a salad bar, and that it made a dent in our significant stash of hard-boiled Easter eggs, and that I wish my kids would eat eggs as enthusiastically as they decorated them, and that every time I eat it I wonder why I only think to make this the week after Easter.

That’s all.

Kale Cobb Salad

In a bowl, toss together large bunch kale (shredded), 3 pieces bacon (crumbled), 2 tablespoons scallions/red onion/shallots (minced), handful tomatoes (chopped), 2 hard-boiled eggs (chopped), 1/2 cup crumbled blue or feta, 1 avocado (chopped), 1 cup cooked chicken (shredded or chopped) with your favorite dressing or this all-purpose vinaigrette. Set aside any potentially deal-breaking ingredient for the kids — in my house, that would  be the ingredient that inspired the meal to begin with: eggs.

A few other ways to use up hard-boiled eggs! Spring asparagus with chopped egg and onion (serve with crispy chicken or fried fish); sliced hard-boiled eggs on white toast with mayonnaise and chopped chives (Andy’s personal favorite); classic potato salad (if you have an advance copy of my new book, see page 244); Curried Egg Salad SandwichCaesar Salad Deviled EggsSalad Nicoise Sandwich; French meatloaf (page 136 of Time for Dinner)

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Split Screen Dinners

January 27th, 2011 · 4 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

From the Mail Bag! Reader Robin writes:

I don’t know if you get tired of people telling you stories about your site, but I had to share this one with you:

I made the Belgian Beef Stew tonight.  As I was finishing it up the girls came in to the kitchen and were grumbling things like,  “GROSS…I AM NOT GOING TO EAT THAT! That looks disgusting! Why didn’t you ask me what I wanted for dinner?” etc, etc.

So I said, “I actually made this dinner because the woman that wrote the recipe made it for her 7 & 8 year old daughters. And they loved it. There is a grown-up version and a kid’s version.  I showed them the picture of the two plates from your post.

It worked like a charm. We happily all ate dinner without one complaint!

Couple things about this one. For starters, I never ever ever ever get tired of people telling me stories like this! Ever! So please send yours. Next, it reminded me of my friend Sue telling me a while back how much comfort she got from seeing our dinner plates laid out split-screen style, which is to say, laid out truthfully. Lastly, it reminded the old point-and-cook strategy — showing kids what a new meal is going to look like before springing it on them — and how most of the time it really works. So follow Robin’s lead and show them the beef stew — or this one, a super simple pot roasty number that is just right for a winter weekend. (more…)

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Something For Everyone: Grilled Summer Salad

July 1st, 2010 · 9 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Grilling, Picky Eating

There was a photo in one of the last issues of Gourmet that haunts me to this day. In a good way. (What is the word for haunting in a good way? Word people…help, please.) You know how much I love the concept of Deconstructed Dinner? The idea of leveraging the “no-touching!” decree regularly issued by toddlers into a beautiful salad where everything is separated into individually delicious elements? Well the Gourmet photo showed a rustic platter holding about eight or nine different “stripes” of food — grilled chicken, grilled mushrooms, chick peas, radishes, greens. In other words, the most glorious Deconstructed Dinner ever constructed. I lost the issue and have had no luck finding the recipe on epicurious, but finally, a year later, Andy and I replicated the platter in our kitchen. That’s it up there. A veritable celebration of farmer’s market fabulousness. Shredded romaine, “campfire potatoes”, fresh garden peas, tiny spring onions, asparagus, chicken, and some homemade pesto drizzled on top. (Storebought will do, too.)

The only “stripe” on the platter that wasn’t prepared on the grill was the one made of orange-thyme roasted carrots — which is a big fave with the girls. I think this is probably because the recipe only really works with the small, tender, sweet carrots from the farmer’s market that resemble the kind Bugs Bunny walks around with. (Try saying “What’s up Doc?” while holding a nubby little baby carrot. So incredibly depressing.) To make: Chop off most of the carrot stems, rinse slightly (no need to peel if you rinse well), and slice them horizontally as shown. Toss with olive oil and some fresh thyme leaves and roast in a baking dish in a 425°F oven for about 15-20 minutes until tender. Halve an orange and roast alongside the carrots. (This concentrates its juices.) When the carrots are finished, squeeze about a tablespoon of orange juice all over them. (more…)

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Venn Diagram Dinner

April 29th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Pork and Beef

OK, so remember that dinner I wanted us all to make together this week? This is it above: Orechiette with Sausage and Broccoli. You’ll notice that no plate looks the same. Abby had the pasta and broccoli, Phoebe had the broccoli and sausage. Mom and Dad had it all mixed together. (Cool that broccoli was the common thread, no?) Anyway, when I put the bowls up against each other, it reminded me so much of living, breathing Venn Diagram that I couldn’t resist the urge to sketch up an actual one:

What does this teach us exactly? (Besides the fact that I have serious problems?) Hopefully it reminds us that family dinner is a constantly evolving algorithm of taste and logistics. That the overlapping rings will spin around and reposition based on factors that are beyond our control. All you can do is put the same delicious meal in front of them and assume that somehow everyone will still get exactly what they want.

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Easter Egg Cobb Salad

April 5th, 2010 · No Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Picky Eating, Sides, Salads, Soup

I am ashamed to say that it has never been hard for me to throw away my childrens’ artwork. Not all of it, of course. My general rule is that it must be either a) truly technically astounding or b) depict a family member. Everything else: into the recycling bin. (Poor Abby is still recoveirng from seeing her rattlesnake watercolor being heaved into a truck by a mustachioed sanitation worker.) But I must admit, it’s pure joy being able to sacrifice an artfully decorated Easter egg at the altar of dinner. This motley dozen (do take note of the Michael-Jackson themed “Beat it” one) was the inspiration for a family favorite: Cobb Salad. The recipe is sort of Stone-Soupish — a hard-boiled egg is a nice starting point, but with bacon to fry and greens to wash and chop, it is indeed only a starting point — but it’s one of those recipes that seems to work no matter what you have in the fridge. Deconstruct it for happier results with the kids, and eliminate all evidence of egg shells down the garbage disposal. Click to the jump for the recipe.

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