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Making (tonight’s) dinner easy & special…

January 17, 2013

pantry pic bw lr2

Oh, hello, small pantry of boringness.  Yes, boringness.  Looks the same, all the time, & it’s too small.  (We’re planning to move this spring, so focusing on the opportunity areas of the home is making the process less sad.  That is my current strategy.)

I’ve listened (behind the scenes) to enough focus groups to understand “mom’s” complaints with dinner.  Not dinner-eating, dinner-making.

First, let’s talk about those pans…there’s too many of them.  Making dinner is not the problem; cleaning up after it is.  Amen.  (Lucky for me, my wonderful hubby usually steps in to assist.)

Then, when testing something new or healthy, there’s a risk that the “kids” will refuse to eat it.  (Sorry, dads out there, you are considered kids because you’re usually just as picky as the kids.)  All that work & no one’s going to eat it?  No, thank you.

Finally, there’s just the normal cooking rut, so you turn to those same 5 recipes in your mental cook book.  You know what I’m talking about.  That spaghetti & red sauce (how original!), chicken & potatoes, Taco Night (again!), etc.  Nothing exciting, but you know everyone is going to eat it & like it.

You want dinner to look be homemade, be healthy (or at least healthier than the fast food alternatives) & be fast!  I do, too.

italian wedding soup ingredients

So, here are a few of my tips & tricks…

Preparation short-cuts.  The cleaning & chopping time can add up.  I don’t mind doing it & BC (before children) it didn’t matter how long it took.  My biggest time saver is doing it the night before (or in the morning).  Just 15 min may not seem like a lot, but it helps when it comes to the dinnertime window.  And, I’ll the tupperware that stores the veggies overnight will often hold the cooked leftovers post-dinner.  Speaking of pans, that brings me to my next point…

Oh, the pans.  I would cook so much more if it didn’t produce any dishes.  Or, if I had a fairy or someone to clean up AND put the dishes away, sigh.  In lieu of that ever happening, cleaning just a couple pans/bowls during the preparation stage will help you in the long-run.  Just a couple.  Cooking more one-skillet recipes, like this, also helps.  Serving meals from the vessel you cooked it in (easier for some dishes) & serving dinner buffet style are some other suggestions.

Freshen it up.  Of course, fresh herbs are usually preferred in any dish over the dried kind.  But, a) it’s winter, and b) I can’t afford to always have fresh herbs available for ‘just in case’ I need them.  Giada would not be happy.  Fresh (Itallian) Parsley is the exception.  For $.79, I always have it because I can & do add it to so many things.  It just freshens up the whole meal.  Try it.  Whether it be simple scrambled eggs, homemade Bolognese or your jarred red sauce, your meal will seem a little more special.  Freshly grated cheese is another one.  Same for a little powdered sugar & whipped cream on your waffles.  It’s all about the presentation.

whole wheat waffles

Call a friend.  Nervous to try something new?  Or think you try new recipes (but not really at any sort of reliable frequency)?  Ask for the recipe!  That dip/side/dessert your friend/aunt/neighbor made can be yours!  And he/she can give you the hidden tips (you know, the ones not listed on the recipe.).  This could also be a trusted online, magazine or blogger resource.  If you like the recipe style (I’m currently obsessing over Ina Garten) & have some success, keep on it.

Switch it up.  Try a fettuccine instead of spaghetti, or fusilli instead of penne.  Ranch seasoning on your baked potatoes instead of Italian.  A different flavor of sausage.  Some minor tweaks can give your trusted recipe a new twist.

Fusilli pasta

Those are just a few of my strategies…I hope they help!  Til the next recipe…

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