Planning a week of meals for two adults is difficult enough — add in kids and the task of coming up with weeknight-friendly meals that appeal to everyone can seem nearly impossible. This week we are asking meal-planning experts to share dinner menus for all kinds of diets and situations, and today Dinner: A Love Story author Jenny Rosenstrach has a flexible five-day plan of family dinners that keep everyone happy.
We don't even have kids nor do we have anyone in the house that is going "back to school," and yet the energy of this time of year is infectious. There is an upsurge in traffic at certain times of the day, office supply stores are swamped, and late afternoon grocery store trips become more of a hassle than usual. I think the back to school hustle and bustle affects us all, no? I notice the morning light beginning to change, and for some reason breakfast can start to seem like more and more of a challenge or chore. But then you remember overnight oats.
It's the first week of my second year of grad school and I have to admit I am not feeling ready. Mostly I'm bummed about four continuous months of only having enough time to do the bare minimum in the kitchen. Quick breakfasts, lunches that will survive several hours in a backpack and late-night dinners that don't involve a lot of fuss — my cooking now sounds like headlines from a women's magazine.
But maybe with kids or a long commute or a demanding job, you're right there with me. If so, you understand the appeal of frozen, single-serve oatmeal. These handy little pucks of cooked oatmeal have all the mix-ins frozen right into them, so they are easy to heat up quickly or grab on your way out the door and warm up at work or school.
I've been trying to squeeze in a few last summer hurrahs, and one quick trip I'm thinking of involves a small cabin and a tiny little kitchen and absolutely no internet. I reserved it specifically because of the tiny little kitchen and have started thinking about what may make for good meals while I'm there. Oatmeal is a clear choice for breakfast, but thinking through lunch and dinner with very simple ingredients that can travel well became a challenge. Until I remembered frittata.
I lived off packaged stir-fry dinners from the freezer section for the better part of my 20s. As easy as it is to throw together a spur of the moment stir-fry dinner, there were many nights when all I wanted to do was open a package, dump it in a pan, and have dinner ready — and let's be honest, there definitely still are. I stopped buying those frozen meals when I lost my love for the gloppy, overly-sweet sauces (and some of their unpronounceable ingredients), but since we've been talking about stocking our freezers with ready-made meals this month, I got to thinking: Could I make my own frozen stir-fry meal? The answer is a solid yes!
The beginning of the school year always takes me by surprise. I forget that I can't just throw a bunch of snacks and crudités on the table at a random time in the evening and call it dinner. It takes a minute to get back into the routine of regular meal times and cooking in advance, since my afternoon may be spent shuttling kids or haranguing them about homework. But I can always make Rice Dish, and I can always turn it into whatever I want.
Growing up, my mom always made cream cheese frosting to have with our birthday cakes and cupcakes and so, to this day, that's what I most prefer. Buttercream often comes off as a bit greasy to me and not all that interesting flavor-wise whereas cream cheese frosting has that wonderful tanginess. But lately, I've been swayed on occasion by this delicious (and simple) recipe.
Milk, lemon juice, and about half hour of your time — that's all you need to make a batch of fresh, creamy homemade ricotta. You're not going to believe how easy and foolproof this is! And trust me, once you make your own ricotta, it's hard to go back to the stuff from the tub.
In the winter, polenta, sausage and greens is a dinner we probably make at least once a week. Sometimes we'll mix it up with a rich tomato sauce or I'll cool the polenta in a pan, slice it into squares and fry it to have with a big salad. But in the summer we're rarely inspired to make a pot, likely because it just seems like such a stick-to-your-ribs cold weather food. But have you tried fresh corn polenta made with ripe summer corn? Now that's a different story.
Puppy chow is dangerous stuff. I had never even heard of the snack until my friend Beth, an Iowa native, left some at my house after a holiday gathering and I found myself eating handful after handful of the sweet, crunchy, nutty mixture. Why wasn't there a warning label? It didn't last the night.
So when I was coming up with a menu of slightly upscale versions of lowbrow snacks for an outdoor movie party, puppy chow seemed like the right fit, especially since I was co-hosting the party with Beth, the friend who had introduced me to the treat in the first place. And adding Nutella? Well, that's always the right fit. The result is a snack that is as crunchy and addictive as the original, but less tooth-achingly sweet, with the perfect balance of toasty cereal, sweet hazelnut, dark chocolate and a little salt — just enough to keep you going back for handful after handful.