What time do you get home after work, and when do you sit down to eat?
On nights when you come home particularly late and exhausted, do you cook dinner? Or do you default to plan B - takeout, Tygh, cereal, etc.?
Do you eat with the kids or after they go to bed?
How many nights per week do you eat together as a family?
I've always been fascinated by other families' dinner rituals, but this subject has been especially top of mind with the recent publication of Dinner: The Playbook, the latest from food writer-turned blogger/author Jenny Rosenstrach. I know we both love Jenny's blog, Dinner: A Love Story, a project that grew out of the journals she kept that documented EVERY SINGLE MEAL she cooked/ate since 1998. (Why oh WHY didn't we think of this, ma cherie?) Today, born out of her own experience as a working mother, Jenny has become an advocate for the sanctity of the family dinner, mastering quality recipes that integrate into busy family life -- in other words, perfect for us.
Dinner: The Playbook is a follow-up to Jenny's bestselling debut cookbook, Dinner: A Love Story, and it's cleverly divided into "Go-To Weeknight Meals" and "Keep-the-Spark-Alive Dinners," so you balance out the quick-and-easy options with more elaborate recipes that take time, but pay big dividends in the form of flavor. Beyond the recipes, each section breaks down helpful organizing tips and ideas for getting a homemade meal on the table at night, accounting for obstacles ranging from picky eaters to late-night soccer practices that delay dinner until long after dark.
I have to say, one of the best things about the book -- and the blog -- is the quality of writing. Jenny spent most of her pre-blog career as a writer and editor for magazines like Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living and the now defunct parenting magazine, Cookie. Because of this, I feel like readers get something hugely valuable for their time: high-quality, engaging content by an experienced food writing professional. Not something you get with every food blog, right?
One point that Jenny builds on from the start is that family dinner doesn't have to be something special/new/drool-inducing every night. In fact, she argues that you're much more likely to succeed at the family dinner missive if you select easy recipes from the get-go. She also makes a strong case for weekend prep work, and she's right -- you really love your Sunday self when you come home exhausted on a Tuesday and know that the tomato sauce for the chicken meatballs is already done and waiting for you in the freezer.
1 1/4 pounds ground chicken
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup Pecorino (or Parm)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 egg, whisked
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-ounce can storebought pizza sauce (such as Don Pepino’s)
about 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (a dozen thin slices; to pile on the cheese would be to cancel out the fact that you were virtuous enough to replace fatty beef with lean chicken)
Preheat oven to 400°F, setting rack to upper third part of oven. In a large bowl, using your hands, gently mix together first 11 ingredients. Shape into lacrosse-ball size balls (that would be somewhere between golf and tennis) and place a few inches from each other on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix one spoonful of your pizza sauce with olive oil. Brush this mixture on top of each meatball. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove meatballs from oven, spoon some sauce on top of each meatball, and cover each with a slice of cheese. Broil another 3 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. Heat remaining sauce in a small saucepan. Serve meatballs with a dollop of sauce and a raw Tuscan kale salad that has been shredded and tossed with shallots, Pecornio, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Note - this recipe is included in the cookbook but is also featured on the DALS blog here.