Monday, July 1, 2013

Weeknight Dinners - Dread or Delight

Weeknight meals. On some days, fixing dinner is a struggle, or a challenge, or just a bit of an ongoing nuisance in an effort to simplify it. Eating out was formerly the default, but with budget and healthy eating priorities, that has been redefined. Perhaps you can relate to this dilemma.

The weekday, or workday in my situation, zooms by. I often find myself at the end, unprepared to do the dinner thing. As the sun sets, so sink my ambitions of fixing something fast and flavorful. Some weeks, I plan, I shop, therefore I am ready. Other weeks, it is like a daily surprise that sneaks up on me. Really? It is time once again to gather around a plate or bowl that does not mysteriously fill itself. So I seek and search out sages of survival, like my mom, who could serve a meal and make it look effortless and taste satisfying.

In Bread & Wine, by Shauna Niequist, I found some worthy advice. I found her common sense information practical and comforting. On page 265, she writes a few pages of down-to-earth tips and advice that made my weeknight dinner life look more hopeful. And I discovered I am not alone in this. At the end of the day, we are tired, time is short, and people are hungry. The perfect storm of feeding.

By the way, Bread & Wine is a great book to read, especially if you enjoy cooking and shared meals with those you love, friends and family. I appreciated this honest look at life and how centering a shared meal can be.

Here is a summary I created of a section near the end of the book. This is useful to me for personal reference. You may find it helpful as well, so I wanted to share it here. My notes are somewhat abbreviated, so I apologize if something does not make complete sense here, and suggest grabbing the book to broaden your understanding and to get many more great insights, ideas on life and food, including recipes. The following is adapted from the section titled "On Weeknight Cooking, With Pantry List:"

Weeknight dinner rules of thumb:
  • They are largely about what you have already done, as in cooked for another meal, a.k.a. leftovers.
  • Planning and shopping are necessary.
Step 1: Look for leftovers. Leftovers lead the way.
Step 2: Ask…salad, soup, rice bowl, or taco? [Other options: pasta, sandwich] - Brilliant suggestions!
Step 3: Select and begin. 

Option 1: Salad...go big...full sides. Suggestions: Start with baby spinach, add protein (diced chicken), add crunch (pecans), add fruit (dried or fresh), add cheese, and toss with vinaigrette. My friend just introduced me to a salad like this with cheese tortellini as the protein.

Option 2: Soup...starting of course with the aromatics (onion, garlic, or perhaps ginger). Use rice, chicken, veggies (perhaps a can of diced tomatoes), and fresh herbs. Niequist suggests an easy chicken and rice soup combo: onion, cooked chicken, rice, broth, salt and pepper. She suggests other alternatives in the book. I liked her ideas to add a handful baby spinach or frozen peas, carrots, celery, or cubed potatoes. She notes that carrots and potatoes increase cooking time, so be aware.

Option 3: Rice Bowl...brown rice, chicken or chicken sausages, broccoli, and softened onion. She does include easy to follow steps for creating a simple rice bowl. The sauce she suggested made my mouth water: into the pan where the cook just pan-fried chicken breasts or sausage, add softened onion back in (cooked prior to the chicken), spoonful of Dijon, a splash of white wine or a few tablespoons broth. Let it mix and bubble and cook down to a quick pan sauce. Option: add a bit of butter or a few tablespoons of heavy cream or whole milk. Yum! Niequist also goes on to describe creative simple alternatives to change this up a bit.

Option 4: Tacos...she's served scrambled egg tacos, which might be worth a try. Also, she suggests black bean and goat cheese tacos or sliced avocado and hummus tacos with a splash of salsa. She provides more direction and suggestions to create quick tacos with what's on hand.

Lists: I am a list junkie. On pages 271-272, Niequist gives lists for what to keep on hand in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator to make the weeknight dinner routine more drama-free. I'll lean into those lists as I continue to try to plan and shop to make dinner nice and not a nightmare.
"Who's up for scrambled eggs, pickles and syrup for dinner?" she cheered, and then realized with Shauna's lists, her dinnertime drama would soon end.
I feel empowered. What are your tips and tricks for weeknight dinners?

Note: I married a guy skilled in the kitchen with the gift of being able to throw open cupboard doors and like magic create a good meal, when I just stand there staring and groaning that there is nothing to eat. I am blessed to have a partner in the effort to provide dinner. Mondays are even his assigned night, since I'm doing all our laundry that day. Teamwork! So the weight of evening meals is not my burden to bear alone. for which I am grateful to him.
"There's nothing to eat for dinner," she cried in despair.

No comments:

Post a Comment