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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Twas the Week Before Christmas…

December 21st, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Vegetarian

…and neither you nor your spouse…can even think about getting dinner on the table. Especially if you are the one cooking the Big Dinner in a few short days for a few dozen guests. This easy pasta dish is a good fall-back plan for these kinds of nights, when all you want to do is pour a glass of milk over some Fruit Loops and call it a meal. It’s healthy, makes good use of last-legs grape tomatoes, and requires minimum hands-on time so you can go ahead and get something done — like wrap the karaoke machine or the Sambas or the new Amelia Rules book. Shhhhh!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roast Tomatoes and Mascarpone

Toss two small containers grape tomatoes and 1/2 red onion (roughly chopped) in olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 300°F for an hour or until tomatoes look shriveled and a little golden brown on top. (Watch them to make sure they don’t blacken.) During last 15 minutes of roasting, cook whole wheat penne according to package directions. After you drain penne, add olive oil and 1 clove garlic (minced) to the same pot and cook over low heat about a minute. Add pasta back to pot, then toss with tomatoes and onions. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone or ricotta and freshly grated Parmesan.

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