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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Top 10 Quick Dinners

September 7th, 2011 · 21 Comments · Favorites, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick

If I didn’t know that September was here by the first-day-of-school butterflies, the sudden, almost primal urge to re-organize my bulletin board, or the to-do list spinning through my brain like a slot machine at 3am, I’d know it by looking at my DALS email inbox. Help! You all write. I need quick dinner ideas for the back-to-school scramble. I started replying one by one, but then I thought almost everyone out there would be interested in my suggestions. So here they are, in no particular order.

1. Pretzel Chicken Courtesy of City Bakery (pictured Below).
2. Chicken Chorizo Tacos with Spinach and Avocado Or just eat the chorizo plain — it’s so good!
3. Pork Chops with Kale A Bugiali favorite.
4. Angel Hair with Corn and Bacon Your window for sweet summer corn is about to shut — take advantage of the fresh ears as much as possible!
5. Sausage Stew with Kale and White Beans I’m making this tonight.
6. Avgolemeno Insane how creamy this lemony Greek soup tastes — without using any cream at all.
7. Salmon with Brussels Sprouts and Ginger-Scallion Sauce  Superfast, superhealthy.
8. Quick and Easy Pork Fried Rice Easily made veg by omitting the pork. It’s almost too easy!
9. Turkey Sloppy Joes with Melted Cheddar For nostalgia night.
10. Chicken with Artichokes in a Creamy Mustard Sauce This is in danger of becoming my new “Stairway to Heaven” of Dinners. It always makes whatever list I’m compiling. But I promise it’s more satisfying.

Quick Dinner #2.

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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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