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My path toward Time for Dinner: Strategies, Inspiration, and Recipes for Family Meals Every Night of the Week by Pilar Guzman and Jenny Rosenstrach is a long and twisted one that starts with my obsession with a heavy and heavenly buttery tomato sauce that was posted on the Smitten Kitchen blog. I love this sauce so much that I've come to develop a love for this blog too; it features some of the most gorgeous food photography around, and delicious and accessible recipes. Hey, if Deb can do it in her tiny New York City kitchen, maybe I can attempt to do it in my marginally larger abode.
So when she posted some recipes from Cookie, a fabulous, but now defunct parenting magazine, I had to learn more. I found several Cookie magazine recipes on Epicurious, and then hit a gold mine when I found Time for Dinner, a cookbook by Cookie editors.
I don't have a house full of kids, but I am short on time and this cookbook's extremely efficient, yet laid-back take on cooking makes me think you really can eat healthful, mouthwatering food and still get the rest of your ducks in a row and a full night's sleep.
1. "Chapter 3: I Want Something Simple, Fast, and Hard to Screw Up." The title says it all, really.
2. Good advice: There are so many tips for parents, including: recipes to help smaller kids gain weight; ways to make fish more appealing to kids; starter spices/flavors to introduce to kids, etc.
3. Avgolemono soup recipe: I've had a blast learning to make this lemony Greek comfort soup.
4. Cooking can be playtime. The editors know their audience, and figure people reading the book have toddlers hanging around "wanting to help." They devise a 2 page spread called "Babysitter in a Box," which consists of kitchen tools and foods that can be made into toys (rice in lidded jar is an instant maraca). Kids keep busy and feel like they are helping mom or dad make dinner.
5. Weekend warrior - A chapter is devoted to 8 things to cook on a weekend to make the rest of your weekday cooking a snap.
6. Weirdness works - Sometimes being a picky eater, or making dinner for a picky eater, requires creativity. From "cupcake-tin pork pies" to "ice-cube-tray sushi," there are ways to present food in interesting, if not appealing, new shapes and configurations. Not your bag? There's a section on how to replicate restaurant favorites like chicken fingers. If all else fails, they have 2 pages of ideas for dressing up the presentation of food-- drink umbrellas, silly straws, and eggcups, to name a few.
7. Flexibility: There's a chapter with ways to prepare flexible, tapas-style dinners where family can pick and choose what ends up on their plate.
8. Don't have a certain ingredient? Like Mark Bittman says, it's really okay. To help you out, the editors make helpful substitution suggestions throughout the book. Their lists of pantry, fridge, and freezer essentials are also useful to keep in mind.
9. Reassurance throughout: It's hard to create the perfect meal every time. The editors understand your good intentions and show you how to keep it easy while still making sure you and your kids enjoy food and get adequate nutrients.
10. Quick-prep charts: from mix + match meals (pick 1 protein, 1 veggie, and 1 carb) to "If you have an eggplant, here are 4 different things you can make with it." So extremely handy.
Karen Choy is the interim manager of the Atherton and Brisbane Libraries.