I was talking to another mom on the soccer sidelines last week, and when she got wind of my book and blog, she asked what everyone asks: What’s for dinner tonight? I wasn’t going to walk in the door that night until almost 7:00 so I had planned my come-together-fast Fettucini with Pre-Shredded Brussels Sprouts. I told her that, and then she told me she was going vegetarian also with “a big fresh salad.” She then added, “Remember how our mothers used to think about dinner? A protein, a vegetable, and a starch?” Ha ha ha ha ha! I can’t remember exactly what she said next but it was something like this “Remember how charming and silly that was?”
If I’m making her out to be an ogre, I’m sorry, that is absolutely not the case — the woman is a saint — it’s only that I was kind of embarrassed. Apparently, the person who’s supposedly in love with dinner (me) is still thinking about dinner the way our mothers do. I mean, we’re big on Meatless Mondays in my house, and for a while there during the Atkins craze we made a big effort to replace the starch with a second vegetable. But for the most part, I have to say, the meat-starch-veg template is my default mode. When I’m thinking up dinner ideas, the plate is still a puzzle with three fill-in-the-blank pieces.
I will say, however, that I’ve updated that three-piece model a tiny bit with what I call my Two-for-One strategy. This means I try whenever possible to make a single dish that combines two food groups so I don’t feel like I’m making three separate dishes. For whatever self-delusional reason, it feels like less work and it makes dinner come together faster. Here are some of my favorites:
White Beans with Onions and Spinach (Protein + Veg, shown above)
Saute a halved garlic clove in a few glugs of olive oil to a skillet. Let it infuse the oil for a minute, then remove. Add 2 tablespoons chopped onions (or shallots or scallions), a shake of red pepper flakes, and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add one can of rinsed and drained white beans (such as Great Northerns or Cannellini), stir. Add a handful of frozen spinach (it’s best if it’s thaws, but works fine if it’s not). Add salt and pepper, and stir. Serve with grated Parm.
Chickpea Fries (Starch + Protein)
This one, which calls for chickpea flour (or besan) is both a starch and a protein, so just slap a salad alongside and they are less of a side dish than they are the main event. So so so delicious. Dip in marinara or ketchup. See page 210 of Dinner: A Love Story for recipe.
Cheddar-Squash Muffins (Starch + Vegetable)
I can see some of you out there getting into making a batch of these on the weekend, freezing, then popping into a 350°F oven to warm up before dinner during the week. See page 49 of Time for Dinner, the book I wrote with my former Cookie editor friends for recipe.
Corn Fritters (Any combo Protein + Veg + Starch)
This came from reader Nadja. I loved her note along with it: “I know that you are not “supposed” to hide anything from your kids, but honestly the “experts” who are writing these books had kids so long ago they have forgotten. I made these for the kids one night that we were going out and “hid” some cooked shrimp in them as that sounded delicious to me and they won’t eat seafood at all. My 5-year-old spotted it instantly and asked “what’s this?” So I told him “it’s love, it’s my love for you.” He didn’t buy that narrative but he ate it nevertheless. So did the 2-year-old because I told him it was “crunchy pancake.” And because there was ketchup.
2 cups frozen corn
1/3 cup milk
¾ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
Thaw the corn and put half in the blender with the milk and egg and puree until smooth. In a bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt and pepper. Add the puree to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in the remaining corn. At this point you can add any number of other things: cooked shrimp, fried onions, fried mushrooms (especially shitakes), red pepper, and probably other things that I haven’t thought of yet. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet and fry small mounds of the batter, turning once. Enjoy.
JR Note: I added two tablespoons of Parmesan and topped with yogurt.