Those of you who have your Ph.D in D.A.L.S. are already aware of the groundbreaking scientific work we’ve done proving various theories about dinner — the preparing of it, the consumption of it, the enjoyment of it. For instance, this well-worn favorite: When you take three measly minutes in the morning to do something that helps you get the momentum going on dinner prep — chopping vegetables, marinating meat, placing a pot of water on the stovetop — you will end up saving up to 15 minutes on the other end of the day when you arrive home from work. I can’t pretend to know why this is the case — as backing up our dinner theories with real data tends to take more time than we actually have. Time we would rather spend coming up with more impossible-to-prove wrong theories. Such as:
- Shredding bagged lettuce makes it taste fresher and better. It doesn’t matter what kind of lettuce — romaine, iceberg, endive — Last night I made some chili-rubbed chicken and placed it on a bed of shredded spinach (pictured above; recipe below), which I usually find chewy in its whole raw form. Not the case with the shred. Along the same lines, the fine chop of anything as it pertains to a saladex summerus will almost always upgrade it.
- When it comes to entertaining: Each kid under eight years old is the equivalent of five grown-ups in terms of volume and space and mess generating.
- Heat is the great equalizer when it comes to bagels. I’ll take a just-out-of-the-oven bagel from Missoula over a cold outer-borough bagel any day. (Please do not forward this to my Bronx-born Jewish father.)
- Dinner will taste twice as good when it’s eaten outside. It will taste three times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights. Four times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights and with a view of any body of water.
- Magic Formulas Worth Committing to Memory: Melon + Salt; Mint + Peas; Peanut Butter + Fudge Brownies; Bacon + Brussels Sprouts; Bacon + Eggs; Bacon + Maple; Bacon + Bacon; Bacon + Shoe Leather
- The quality of dinner at a restaurant is in converse proportion to the number of words on that restaurant’s menu. For instance, Tom Colicchio’s menu at Craft. This is how it reads: Mushrooms. Potatoes. Braised Short Ribs. A menu like that is always going to win out over the one listing Pork chops marinated in brandy and pomegranate juice with sweet potatoes and miso-mango chutney on a bed of shaved salsify and butter lettuces. (Another red flag: the pluralization of lettuce.)
- Kids are able to tap into deep wells of resourcefulness with remarkable efficiency when it comes to assembling the ice cream, the peanuts, and the chocolate sauce for sundaes.
- You won’t find a single parenting expert who endorses using bribery to convince a kid to eat.
- You won’t find a single parenting expert, who is a parent, who hasn’t used bribery to convince her kid to eat.
- Food eaten on sticks has a 40% higher rate of consumption with kids. Food served in conjunction with dips: 20%.
- Pop Tarts, Apple Jacks, Toast-R-Cakes, and other usually verboten breakfast foods possess nutritional merits when consumed on vacation.
- Everything tastes better on vacation. It just does.
- Anything braised tastes better the next day cold, eaten right out of its leftover dish with a fork, while standing in front of the refrigerator.
- Be wary of people who say they enjoy radishes dipped in salt.
- It’s practically the law that the phone call from the client — the one you’ve been dying to check off your list all day — always comes five minutes before you are leaving the office to make it home in time for dinner. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to control this phenomenon or — worse — allow it to control you.
Chili-rubbbed Chicken with Shredded Spinach (Rule 1) and Dip (Rule 10)
I generally go with about one medium size chicken breast per diner. You don’t need a lot of chicken if there is enough salad to stretch it. Best part about this meal: totally deconstructible for the kid who doesn’t want anything touching.
For rub: In a small bowl, mix together the following:
1 tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne (1/8 tsp)
pinch garlic salt (1/8 tsp)
2 generous pinches salt (1/2 tsp total)
shake or two of dried oregano
For dressing: In a measuring cup, mix together the following:
juice from 1 lime
3 heaping tablespoons sour cream
3 heaping tablespoons salsa
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar (to taste)
Pound 3 to 4 chicken breasts until about 1/4 inch thick. (As always, the most important thing is that the breasts are of even thickness.) Sprinkle a teaspoon of spice rub on top of each breast and, using your fingers, spread and press into the meat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet set over medium heat. Add chicken, spice-side down and cook 3-5 minutes until chicken looks cooked around the edges. While chicken is cooking, sprinkle and rub spice mixture into the other side of chicken. (Do not outsource this step to your children; there will be spitting oil.) Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes until cooked through. Slice as shown above — or actually however you want.
In a bowl, toss together a few handfuls of baby spinach (shredded with a chef’s knife into confetti), thawed frozen corn, 1/2 can black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 avocado (chopped), grape tomatoes (chopped), 1 bunch scallions (chopped), 1/4 cup cilantro (chopped). Top with chicken and drizzle with dressing.