I write a lot on TLT about family dinner – why we value it so much in our house but also the challenges many families face in trying to pull it off, especially on busy weeknights. So when I learned that Laurie David — best known as an environmental activist and executive producer of the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” — had written a book on, of all things, family dinner, I was intrigued.
Laurie and her co-author, chef Kirstin Uhrenholdt, were nice enough to let me interview them about their book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time. It’s a wonderful compendium of tips, recipes, advice and insights to help all families, no matter how busy, restore this important ritual in their own homes. Today I present Part One of that interview, my questions to Kirstin Uhrenholdt, and tomorrow I’ll post Part Two, my interview with Laurie David.
Kirstin’s official bio says that grew up on a fruit farm in Denmark and found herself working as a chef in L.A. — by way of a cargo ship to Greenland and a stint as a beer wench in Appenzelle, Switzerland. (Clearly there are some good stories there for another day!) She developed and contributed the “75 kid-approved, fantastic recipes” in The Family Dinner.
TLT: Speaking from the perspective of a chef, what do you say to busy parents who claim they don’t have time to cook weeknight meals?
KU: There are parents, parents with very long hours, parents with two jobs who really do struggle with the time it takes to cook dinner. But for most of us it is a matter of gently re-prioritizing. Somehow cooking has become something that needs to be rushed and done in thirty minutes or less, but isn’t that time in the kitchen well spent? Is not only literally nourishing your family, but if you bring your kids into the kitchen the time will also be full of teaching moments and memories that will be helpful to them throughout their lives. Sure it will take a little longer, and be a bit (sometimes very) messy, but it will also be fun and give you more time with them.
TLT: What tips or strategies do you suggest to make weeknight meals easier to pull off? Are you an advocate of cooking large quantities ahead of time and freezing?
KU: I love my freezer! It is a good friend on nights I need a helping hand.
I think what stumps all of us is the “oh no, gotta have dinner ready by six and I have no clue what to make.” Once you know what to make, the cooking part is fairly easy and fun… so sit down on a slow Sunday with a cup of tea, and write out a week of menus. Include a few pantry dinners (easy dinners made with a few ingredients from your pantry and fridge) and take the afternoon to go grocery shopping. Then make a dish both for Sunday dinner and the freezer… like chili, lasagna or a few quarts of tomato sauce – but label it well, because if you are like me you won’t remember what it is tomorrow. I know this takes a little time, but in the long run it saves you from freaking out and running to the grocery store, with hungry kids in tow (not the easiest time to make good dinner choices).
TLT: Is there one particular recipe for an easy weeknight dinner that you’d like to share?
KU: How about a few “pantry dinners” ….
Roasted Potatoes and Sausages
Chop 3 large unpeeled potatoes, a sweet potato, a small onion and a head of broccoli into “dice sized dice.” Toss it all together with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour into a baking dish and top with a sliced turkey kielbasa sausage, perhaps a few sage leaves and some cubed cheddar as well. Put into a 450-degree oven and roast until the potatoes are tender and golden, about 35-40 minutes.
Broccoli with Pasta (not Pasta with Broccoli)
Mince 3 garlic cloves and mix them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, toss with 3 finely chopped heads of broccoli (yes it seems like a lot, but they shrink), a hand full of slivered almonds, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Pour onto an oiled baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees until they are starting to brown – about 20 minutes. Then toss with pasta that has been boiled in water salty as the sea.
Quick Soup with Greens
In your soup pot sauté some onions and plenty of garlic, add a small handful of white rice, quinoa or tiny pasta. Simmer in stock for 15 minutes, add chopped greens (kale, spinach, or collards), simmer for an additional 5 minutes or until the grains are very tender. Serve with grated Parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.
White Beans with Shrimp
Drain a can or two of white beans and sauté’ with a drizzle of olive oil, garlic, a pound of peeled shrimp, and a sprig of rosemary. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are done. Top with chopped raw tomatoes, spritz with some lemon juice and serve on slices of toasted bread. (Of course you can leave out the shrimp.)
TLT: Thanks so much for those recipes! Is there anything else you’d like to tell Lunch Tray readers about the recipes in the book or cooking family dinners?
KU: When I wrote the recipes for this book I had been thinking about my mom who had four kids, very long, hard days working in the fields, not a lot of fancy kitchen gear or very little money. But my mom had a desire to cook tasty, adventurous and healthy dinners. So the recipes were written for her – simple, without a lot of ingredients that are hard to find. All of them are good, wholesome and healthy comfort foods that somewhere in this world, a mom or dad is cooking for their kids right now. There are recipes that you finish off at the table together giving your children a chance to put the final touches on their own plate (watch how excited they get to participate!). There are plenty of recipes for meatless Mondays and both quick and easy recipes and recipes for your long slow Sundays. We also wanted to encourage kids to get into the kitchen, even if it is just to take the tips and tails off the sugar snap peas, so we have included a bunch of “kid’s can” tips under the recipes and a whole chapter on kids in the kitchen. And, of course, a few dessert recipes, to keep you lingering at the table while the candles burn down.
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Thanks to chef Kirstin Uhrenholdt for coming by The Lunch Tray — and for sharing recipes with us. Tomorrow, Part Two, my interview with Laurie David.