The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Timeby Laurie David, Grand Central Life & Style, 2010, 256 pages, ISBN: 0446565462
In spite of my son's preference for Chipotle™ burritoes in front of the t.v., most nights I insist on everyone sitting down together to meals made at home from scratch. Lately, my son has not seen the sense in eating at the table as a family. Why can't we all go in the living room and watch The Simpsons while we eat? he asked. I told him it is because we're only going to have him around for a few more years, and we want to enjoy his company as much as possible. But I have to admit, our dinner conversations have been less than stimulating, unless you are a die-hard Bulls, Bears, or Cubs fan. And, sadly, I am not. To the rescue: Laurie David's book, The Family Dinner. The book is full of interesting conversation starters, like "Name three places you would not want to go," which I trotted out on day one, and all of us were really and truly hooked on conversation. In fact, three places were not enough for my son: He wanted to list five. And he wanted to list five places he would like to go. And my husband suggested we add three places we'd like to go for a meal. And we started planning our next family vacation. And so on. Now when we all sit down to dinner, I throw out a new question. Most nights it keeps us at the dinner table longer than twenty minutes.
One other thing we've added to our weekly meals is having our son cook every Friday night. For now, I am supervising and making suggestions as to what he should cook. But as he begins to feel more at home at the stove, I will let him plan the meal and cook solo. This past Friday was his first meal. He made one of his favorites: sautéed shrimp with frozen vegetable and saffron rice. Simple but elegant. True saffron story: Last fall I had a coupon for a free spice from Penzey's, and I used it on the $80 saffron, Penzey's most expensive spice.
Most of the time, I do the cooking, and most of my meals, though from scratch, are pretty quick and easy. Following are two of my favorites. The chicken linguine I've been making for twenty years; the soup I just concocted last week for our first Meatless Monday. A salad and a good, crusty bread are all you need with either of these meals. I use the recipe for Light Whole Wheat Bread on page 74 of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
Chicken Linguine (Four Servings)
Sometimes I jazz this up by substituting shrimp for the chicken.
1 1/2 pounds skinless and boneless chicken breast
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 pound linguine, fettucine, or gemelli
Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the olive oil until a haze forms. Add the scallions and garlic and cook about two minutes. Add the chicken and cook until cooked through, about five to ten minutes. Add the lemon juice, basil, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir constantly until well incorporated, about thirty seconds. Toss the chicken mixture with the drained hot pasta. Serve immediately.
Tuscan Bean Soup (Four Servings)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 14 1/2-ounce can chicken or vegetable broth
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle
1 cup ditalini pasta
In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onion, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the beans, broth, tomatoes, and water. Turn heat to high, and heat the soup to boiling, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. While soup is simmering cook the pasta according to package directions. Add the salt, pepper, Pasta Sprinkle, and ditalini to the soup. Serve.