The Process

February 15th, 2013 · 33 Comments · Uncategorized

I’m gonna come right out and say something pretty crazy right now. Please don’t think less of me, OK? Ready? Here we go:

I really don’t like coming home to a dinner that’s already made. Or one that just needs to be reheated in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Or ladled out of a crockpot.

Right about now the vinyl should be screeching. What the…? Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the one preaching efficiency? The one who tells us to start dinner in the morning, to assemble a big batch of grains or freezer meatballs on the weekend, to whisk a vinaigrette on a Sunday…all in the name of throwing together something quickly when it’s 6:30 on a weeknight, aka Go Time?

Yes, and well, no. Obviously, it’s how we are forced to cook most of the time. But I’m convinced that those kinds of dinners are not the ones that will convert dinner infidels into believers. This is what I hear from readers all the time: It’s so frustrating to spend all that time making a meal, getting all those dishes dirty, only to have my kids reject their food in five seconds flat. I hear you. I totally, 100% do. The reason why our spring garden is a tangle of overgrown weeds and why I don’t own one of those cute hand shovels (my friend Bonnie, upon hearing that, informed me “Jenny, that’s like not owning a spatula”) is because I have yet to embrace the weeding and planting and tending involved in gardening. And I never pay attention to which plants need mostly shade or mostly sun. And because I hate that feeling when my hands get all dry and cakey. But THE POINT IS….like dinner, gardening is about the process. The reason why Bonnie and all you green thumbs out there love to garden is because you love to be outside, digging in the dirt, every day investing in something that will pay back in beautiful dividends. And you lunatics probably even love that dry caked-dirt feeling on your hands, too. (more…)

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Pace Yourself

May 23rd, 2012 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

We’ve been talking a lot about the idea of pacing in our house. This is partly because it’s spring, which means it’s Presidential Physical Fitness Award time, which means that, among other things, the girls have been forced to learn how to run a mile without running out of steam.  (I’m both horrified and proud to discover that they take these fitness challenges as seriously as I did in 1981.) I’m also talking a lot about pacing because it seems that every interviewer I’ve spoken with in connection with my book, at some point comes around to this question: Is it OK to order takeout every now and then?

Well, you guys have been with me from the start, so you know how I’m going to answer this one. Obviously it’s NOT OK. Seriously, if you order in from that Chinese place again, God only knows what will become of your children who were doing so well in school and now — just because you were too lazy to make your own moo shu pork — they are on the fast track to failure. You know exactly who to blame when your kid comes up two minutes short on his mile run.

Sometimes I’m really tempted to answer it that way. I think everyone — including the interviewer — knows deep down that this whole family dinner thing is about balance. It’s not about everyone sitting down together every single night eating the exact same thing while deconstructing Kant. It’s about doing as many of these things (um, except the Kant part) as often as you can, and letting go when you can’t. As I’ve said before, to my daughters, and way back when I first started this blog, I’m pretty sure this whole dinner thing (this whole parenting thing actually) is about the marathon, not the sprint. Why wouldn’t I order Chinese if it means that’s the only way family dinner is going to happen that night?

Especially since the next day, I can take the leftover sticky rice and fry up a homemade crispy rice omelet.


Crispy Rice Omelet
Of course, this was only enjoyed by the two people at the table who don’t wrinkle their noses in disgust at the sight of eggs. That is, it was enjoyed by the grown-ups.

canola oil
2 tablespoons minced scallions or onions
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
shake of red pepper flakes (to taste)
3/4 cup leftover rice, preferably sticky Chinese takeout
3 – 4 eggs (I used 3 but wished it was more eggy)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
handful frozen peas (to taste)

Preheat broiler. Add a little oil to a cast iron or nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Add scallions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute until everything is soft and fragrant. Add rice and spread out in one layer, turning up heat a bit. Don’t stir for about a minute so it gets nice and crispy. Stir again and wait another minute. Meanwhile whisk together eggs and soy sauce and add peas to egg mixture. Turn heat down to medium-low and pour egg mixture over fried rice, tipping the pan so the egg distributes itself evenly over the rice. Cook until underside is crispy, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a broiler and bake another 3 minutes or until egg looks golden and bubbly on top. Serve with a drizzle of soy sauce and a green salad.

Then give yourself an award.

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May 2nd, 2012 · 2 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

When I first typed out the recipe for this very forgiving flatbread pizza, I added the word “optional” after “freshly grated nutmeg” and “fresh thyme” and then thought long and hard about why. For as long as I’ve been editing recipes I’ve been using “optional” as a way to say “I realize this is an ingredient you might not have on hand” or “I realize this is an extra step you might not want to take on a night that allows for not a single extra step” or “If this is the ingredient that makes dinner a deal-breaker with your kid, by all means omit!”  Have you noticed that you don’t ever come across “optional” in a serious recipe collection? (A quick flip through The Essential New York Times Cookbook, The Babbo Cookbook, and The Classic Italian Cookbook just confirmed this.) I’m guessing their philosophy is: If you’re going to do it, DO it. I love and embrace this philosophy. But I love and embrace it mostly on the weekend.

Here’s what you need to know about any of the Quick recipes on this site: Within reason, almost all the ingredients in any recipe are optional — or at the very least replaceable. This is especially true if not having the ingredient in question derails your plans for what was going to be a home-cooked dinner. (more…)

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Cook Once, Eat Twice

February 18th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pork and Beef, Rituals

Oh man, Pete Wells! I was so sad to read that this week’s “Cooking with Dexter” column (“Busy Signal”) is going to be his last for the New York Times Magazine. I’ve always appreciated how honestly he writes about the way food and family intersect — as you’ll read in his swan song, he never pretended cooking dinner for his kids with a full-time demanding job (in addition to writing this column, he’s the editor of the Times Dining Section) was easy or in any way regular. His wife has the more flexible work schedule so she’s the one who keeps the weeknight dinner train running. And most of the time, Wells concedes, he isn’t there for it. Or, when he is, he sometimes finds himself spending a harried half hour dredging fish fillets in homemade breadcrumbs instead of doing what he should be doing: heating up something from the freezer and chilling out with his kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in this position. It happens less now — now that I’m the wife with the flexible work situation, and now that the kids are older and not as whiny about wanting to eat right this second — but when it does, I think the same thing: Who am I supposed to be connecting with here? The kids or the chicken thighs? Which inevitably leads to Tomorrow night is Trader Joe’s Pizza Night. (more…)

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