One Meal Fits All (Or: Whatever You Gotta Tell Yourself)

April 1st, 2011 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

I think the surest way to ring the death knell on family dinner is to cook something different for every party present. It’s hard enough to get one dinner on the table let alone four, each of which may be greeted with groans or, worse, no comment at all. But considering that children (green-fearing, sauce-o-phobic, generally annoying children) are often the defining variable in the term “family dinner,” this can be a hard thing to get around. Luckily you are here, in the care of a family dinner expert, the author of not one, but (almost) two family dinner cookbooks, so pay careful attention to the hard-won, time-honored advice you are about to receive. The trick, I’ve decided, is to lock yourself into a state of extreme denial and then psyche yourself out with careful inner rationalizing every step of the cooking process in order to convince yourself that you are making one thing when in fact you are doing nothing of the sort. Behold last night’s dinner. I wanted — no, needed — my favorite ace-in-the-hole pasta: Whole wheat spaghetti with caramelized onions, spinach, and Parmesan. Even though Phoebe won’t touch pasta. Even though Abby loves pasta, but generally won’t eat this pasta unless it has a hint of sauce on it. (“Pink!” she commands.) But I plowed ahead anyway. Let me show you how it’s done.

Psyche-out Moment 1: I set four identical plates in a grid. This immediately creates the promise (illusion?) of uniformity and order.

Psyche-out Moment 2: I earmark the lower right bowl as Abby’s and spoon in just the right amount of spaghetti sauce — and a couple hunks of butter. This can barely be called “customizing” since it takes under 10 seconds.

Psyche-out Moment 3: I earmark the lower left bowl as Phoebe’s. And while, yes, the baked potato is not exactly the same thing as whole wheat spaghetti, it’s not like it took sooo much extra effort for me to chuck the thing in the oven at 400°F as soon as I walked in the door from work at 6:00. If I was editing this recipe for a magazine, I told myself rather convincingly, I would’ve just have to replace one word: “Pasta with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Parmesan” would be “Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Parmesan.” And Sour Cream.

Psyche-out Moment 4: Pasta is done and plated in three out of four bowls. Onions and spinach are done and plated in three out of four bowls. Three out of four! Even though the two kids’ bowls are barely related to each other, each can lay claim to having one major component in common with the grown-up version. Right? Right? Right? Who’s the April Fool? Not me! (more…)

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Dinner in the Morning

September 9th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals

Lemony Roast Chicken and Beans

I mentioned my dinner-in-the-morning strategy last spring when I asked you to marinate drumsticks in buttermilk before heading off for the day. (Meanwhile, if Abby had her druthers, she would subsist on that buttermilk “fried” chicken and that buttermilk “fried” chicken alone for the rest of her life.) The strange science behind the idea is this: If you take one or two minutes in the morning to chop an onion or wash some salad greens in preparation for your meal that night, it will inexplicably end up saving you 20 minutes of prep time on the other end of the day. (more…)

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Family Dinner: Book It!

April 23rd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Dinner, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

Short of actually feeding you and your family a meal at my kitchen table, I can’t imagine there is anything more satisfying than hearing about the successes you’ve all had using recipes and advice from DALS. Last night my neighbor Bonnie left a message for me — there was unmistakable triumph in her voice as she described the dredging stations she had set up for Homemade Chicken Fingers that she planned on serving her kids. (“No chicken nuggets for us tonight!”) At an event honoring my mother-in-law in Virginia last week, I sat next to the nicest woman named Courtney who told me her husband was at home making Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken for her daughters. Kiera, a friend from high school who I haven’t seen or talked to in two decades let me know via facebook that Todd’s Minty Peas were a huge hit at her house. (Btw, based on the traffic report from that post, I’m thinking the keywords “minty peas” might be more poplular than “tiger woods affair.” Thanks Todd!!!)

The other thing I’m hearing a lot these days is this: Do you actually, truly, for real sit down with your family every night for dinner?

The answer is yes — for the most part. But… Do I sit down to a fresh-from-the-farmer’s market meal every night? No. Do my kids eat the same things that we do every night? No. Are both you and Andy home from work in time for dinner every night? No.

You may remember my “two out of three” rule for family dinner. It’s incredibly rare for everything to work out perfectly — and the way around this, I’ve found, is to: 1) lower your standards and 2) plow ahead anyway. Sometimes, it even means deciding on the night a few days ahead of time and then actually writing it in the calendar (or the chalkboard in my case) to give it as much weight as the soccer practice or the 6:00 (more…)

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In-N-Out Burgers & Baked Potatoes

March 24th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

“Now this is the kind of dinner I can get into.” That’s what my husband said when he sat down to the table with four plates that looked exactly the same (a rarity). The menu: California-style turkey burgers and baked potatoes topped with sour cream and caramelized onions. I usually mix in a little barbecue sauce to the ground turkey (dark ground turkey a must) before I roll out the meat (underneath plastic wrap) but this time I just salted. As for the rolling? It really makes no discernible difference in

the way the burger tastes, but it prevents the patties from shriveling up into little hard hockey pucks. And psychologically I love that it feels so In-N-Out. (I say this having never patronized an In-N-Out, by the way.) After the burgers are fried, I add a little mayo, a little mustard, one leaf of bibb lettuce, a tomato, and sandwich it between whole wheat buns that I pick up at Trader Joe’s. Final touch: Little pickles, aka cornichons.

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