Notes from The Dinner Playbook

March 3rd, 2014 · 15 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

There was a time, when the girls were two and three, that we dreamed of the day when they’d be 10 and 11, able to sit at the table and place food in their own mouths while filling us in on their days. Now that we’re finally here—avert your eyes, new parents—we realize that our dream was a mirage, that life finds a way of constantly moving the goalposts on you. Family dinner is still chaotic, only the challenges have shifted from the physical to the logistical. And March and April, for us—with the girls deeply entrenched in two spring sports—is the most chaotic time of year. As we’ve detailed more than once on this blog, practices don’t end until 7:30, which means that, most nights, dinner doesn’t happen until the (very European) hour of 8:30. When you’re dealing with an overstuffed activities schedule, it’s crucial to have a few strategies that make a solid dinner possible. Here are three we will be relying on all season long:

Strategy 1: The Before-Work Play
When the cook is on carpool duty—i.e., it’s not just the athlete coming home late—the key is to prepare something in that 15-minute window before you head to work in the morning. We love soba noodle salad with a simple rice vinegar dressing and greens—spinach, kale, chard—tossed right into the pasta water in the last minute of cooking. Refrigerate till you get home, toss on the dressing, and, if you have time, add some shredded chicken for the win.

Strategy 2: The Pan-Fried Pizza Move
By the time our li’l midfielders stagger through the door, they’re like a couple of feral dogs: They don’t even bother to take off their shin guards before inhaling whatever is put in front of them. A piece of fish on a night like this? Ain’t. Gonna. Cut. It. Individual pan-fried pizzas with whole wheat crust? That’s more like it. Just brown your rolled-out dough in a cast-iron pan with some olive oil, flip, add sauce and toppings, then finish under the broiler. Abby likes a classic Margherita; Phoebe goes for ham and pineapple. (Book owners: Please see page 281 for the official recipe.)

Strategy 3: The Freezer Plan
When there’s so little time on the clock, it’s tempting to fall back on takeout or frozen pot pies. But we’d rather walk through the door, reach into our freezer, and pull out something homemade—like a batch of bake-ahead turkey and spinach meatballs. Think of it as the utility man of the family dinner: ever reliable, can play both protein and vegetable, goes on a bun (meatball subs!) or over pasta, and will crush its store-bought competition any night of the week. Pro tip: Freeze them in single-serving batches, so you can thaw and deploy as needed. Victory.

This is our “Providers” column for the March 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the spinach-and-turkey meatball recipe. Photo by Matt Duckor (meatballs) for Bon Appetit.

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Where Do I Begin?

February 21st, 2013 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

This is how a conversation went with my new friend Sarah, the first time I met her a few months ago:

Sarah: I really love your blog, it gives me hope.
Me: Hey, thanks. I’m so glad.
Sarah: But I don’t cook from it.
Me: Oh…you don’t?
Sarah: No, I don’t cook. I can’t do anything in the kitchen.
Me: Yes you can.
Sarah: No I can’t. I. Really. Can’t.

That week, I had just read a profile of Stacy London and it crossed my mind that Sarah felt the way about cooking the way I felt reading that story — the way I felt trying to figure out what I was going to wear to a fancy holiday party later that month: Intimidated. A little lost.

Me: It’s not hard. You just need a little confidence and one or two solid recipes in your rotation.
Sarah: Well, what are those recipes? I have no idea where to start.
Me: I have almost 500 recipes on my blog, start there!
Sarah: That doesn’t help.

She was totally right! Someone might as well have told me “How do you not have something to wear to that party? There are 500 stores in New York City that sell perfect party dresses.”

On this blog, sometimes we get so bogged down in the (admittedly plentiful) minutae of family dinner — from the benefits of cooking for your kids to how to stay on top of Meatless Mondays to what freaking books to discuss at the dinner table — that we can forget to dial back and address the most elemental of issues: Where Do I Begin?  It’s why I recently introduced the “First Time Here” button up there on the right. And it’s also why Andy and I wrote a feature for Bon Appetit this month called  A Family Dinner Primer. Besides telling you what to make for family dinner (including this rockin’ steakhouse steak salad pictured above), we hope it goes back to the basics and tells you how to make family dinner.

As for what to wear to family dinner? I’m open to suggestions.

Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing
If you want to do this on a weeknight, I highly recommend making the dressing and the pickled onions ahead of time. They are minor tasks, but just the kind of thing you’ll be glad you don’t have to do after a day wearing heels that were supposed to be more comfortable.
For the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk the following. Can be made in advance and stored for up to a week:
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
For the salad:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1-pound rib-eye, flank, or skirt steak
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
12 ounces fingerling potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
6 radishes, cut into thin wedges
2 cups greens (such as arugula or torn Bibb lettuce leaves)
Pickled Red Onions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Season steak with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until cooked to desired doneness, 5-8 minutes per side for medium-rare rib eye, about 4 minutes per side for flank steak, or 3 minutes per side for skirt steak. Transfer meat to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.
While steak rests, wipe out skillet and heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender, 8-10 minutes.
Slice steak and serve with horseradish dressing, potatoes, cucumber, radishes, greens, and Pickled Onions.
Photo by Gentl & Hyers.
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