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

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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Soup on the Brain

January 28th, 2013 · 60 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup

This post is for those of you in the Northeast who haven’t felt their toes since last week. And for those of you who keep tweeting and emailing requests for soups right now please, Jenny! And for my mom who called me last night and said Why haven’t you done some kind of soup yet? For those of you in warmer climes, sorry, this post is not for you. In fact, I’m going to do my best to suppress my envy of you and your warmer climes by just ignoring you completely.

Best Get-it-On-the-Table Fast Soup Greek Chicken Soup (Avgolemono), above. A Greek twist on chicken noodle. Just don’t do what I did last night, which was try to temper and whisk the egg into the broth during the 30 seconds my egg-hating sous chef Abby was retrieving bowls for serving. I panicked, didn’t get the egg mixture hot enough, whisked it into the main soup just as she was coming my way, only to find the pot of broth more Egg Drop Soup-ish than creamy, luscious Avgolemono. This wasn’t a disaster (I love Egg Drop soup) except Abby kept picking up little strings of white and yellow with her spoon and saying “This looks an awful lot like an egg.” (Me: “You were with me the whole time. How could there be an egg in there??”) If you have everything you need, you can be eating this in under 20 minutes.

Best Soup for Picky Eaters Tortilla Soup. If you are all set up for Super Bowl Nachos, then you are all set up for this soup. For me, it’s all about the lime, but for the kids, it might be all about the cheese. So think about the diners at the table as you assemble and customize accordingly.

Healthiest and Heartiest Butternut Squash Soup. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with this one, replacing the curry powder with smoked paprika (just a little; stuff’s strong) and topping with pepitas and Greek yogurt instead of walnuts and creme fraiche. No matter what you do, though, it’s a classic. It was also the recipe that convinced Andy that butternut squash was maybe worth a shot.

Scrappiest Soup Grated Vegetable. This is a riff on the soup made famous by Jacques Pepin that’s always good to have in your back-pocket. You basically bring a pot of chicken stock to a boil, then shred whatever vegetables you have directly into the pot. The only rules are to keep your carrots-onions-celery to an even ratio and, if you are using greens, to tear instead of shred. Simmer for about 15 minutes and stir in a few tablespoons of grits to thicken if desired. Serve with grated Parm or Gruyere and olive oil drizzled on top. And crusty bread.

Soup Most Likely You Could Convince the Baby Was His Regular Old Vegetable Puree Ariel & Yolanda’s Broccoli Soup. This looks so good, and calls for ingredients I always have in the pantry — I think I’ll try it out for lunch today since (shocker) girls are home from school due to inclement weather.

Others from around the web: Chorizo and White Bean, Tomato Bread Soup, Jamie Oliver’s Leek & Potato, Ina Garten’s Italian Wedding – amazing I haven’t made a version of this for the girls yet.

Stay warm.

Photo credit: Marcus Nilsson

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Two Bowls

July 21st, 2011 · 9 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Picky Eating, Sides, Salads, Soup

I wish I could say that the inspiration for this meal came from a stroll through my farmer’s market — from those gorgeous bunches of lacinato kale and bushels of Romano beans; from the juicy blackberries and rosy, plump apricots and white nectarines; from the summer spinach that seems to coo: Come hither! Slather me in olive oil and toss me around a little! (more…)

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Weaning Them Off the Nugget

March 18th, 2010 · 17 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Picky Eating

In some ways I feel like I could tell my life’s story through the breaded chicken cutlet.

It started with my mother: Mom could make a chicken cutlet. Crispy, golden, never overcooked. When I was growing up, she’d serve them with sautéed garlicky zucchini wedges. I’d slap the cold leftovers on a baguette with a slather of mayo. No one could replicate it. Then, when I was in fourth grade, Mom decided she wanted to master more in life than pan-fried poultry. She headed to law school at night and joined a practice four years later. Three nights a week, while she was out learning about torts and civil procedure, my dad was in charge of the kitchen. And, since his great enthusiasm for eating never seemed to translate to actually learning how to cook, my mom decided to teach him some basics … including making those breaded chicken cutlets.

He learned them, he cooked them. Three nights a week. For four years. A long four years. I never wanted to eat another one — until college, when I decided to make my boyfriend (now husband) dinner. My repertoire, it turned out, was as varied as my dad’s had been, and my skills considerably worse. On that romantic March evening in 1993, we popped open a couple microbrews, turned on some Seinfeld, and sat down to the rubberiest chicken dinner ever served.

Fifteen years later, with kids in the equation, I have been forced to master the meal. Not only out of respect to Grandma, but because, like all moms, I was forced to compete with the omnipresent twin evils: The Chicken Nugget and The Chicken Finger.

When Phoebe was little, we regularly fed her the packaged, pre-breaded nuggets. This was 2002, before I developed any sort of opinion about the provenance of my meat and before it ever dawned on me that I might be able to actually cook homemade meals for her.  Since I headed into the “two under two” phase soon after, the idea of setting up dredging stations after work and serving homemade cutlets to toddlers, who were 99% likely to reject them was downright hilarious. But, man, those dinosaur shaped nuggets? We didn’t have to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to know that they just weren’t right.

So we did what we’ve done probably two dozen times since. We embarked upon a baby-step transition, using Trader Joe’s Chicken Bites as a homemade halfway house. Though the T-Joes nuggets were not 100% natural either, there were fewer additives and, more important, they had a similar shape to the ones we had been eating, minimizing our risk of a tableside revolt. Only when we were really ready did we start experimenting with the chicken that might compete. Eventually, I struck on this magic formula.

The No Chicken-Nugget-Ever-Again-Breaded Chicken Cutlet

1.  Pound the living hell out of four organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Do not bother continuing with this recipe if you skip this step.)

2. Set up your dredging stations: a rimmed plate with two lightly beaten eggs, a plate with a mound of 3/4 cup flour (salted, peppered, and dry mustard-ed if you have it), a plate with a huge mound of Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs. Toss in some ground flax if you have it.

3. Dredge your chicken pieces first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the crumbs.

4. Sauté each breast in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Serve hot with garlicky sautéed zucchini (recipe below), broccolini and roasted butternut squash (shown above), or just a big, huge dollop of ketchup.

Quick Zucchini

1. Cut two pieces of zucchini in half lengthwise, then split each half in half, and each quarter in half lengthwise. Cut into wedges.

2. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add one clove of garlic (halved) and swirl it around in the oil. Remove garlic before it turns brown, about one minute.

3. Add zucchini wedges, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of flour. (If you are making chicken cutlets, use some of the leftover dredging flour.)

4. Mix every few minutes until zucchini is cooked through and has a nice golden color, about 3 to 4 minutes.

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