By Maria Schulz
When you watch TV, does it infuriate you when sitcom moms and dads put the most extravagant meals on the table…even though they just came through the door and could never swing such a feast in the five minutes they’ve had to whip it up?
Okay, so maybe it’s just me. Coming up with a dinner plan is more stressful than being a contestant on Beat the Clock. I usually have no time whatsoever to throw something together, and a whole slew of activities planned for afterwards. Plus there are crazed people banging their forks and screaming something that sounds like HUNGRY HUNGRY HUNGRY HUNGRY who also resemble a torch-bearing mob.
I think my children will inscribe, “What’s For Dinner?” on my headstone, since they seem to enjoy asking me that question so much. I used to enjoy the supermarket commercial ditty about that very question when I was a kid. Now? Not so much.
To be or not to be is not really the question in my world. What’s for dinner is a more pressing concern. I have a stable of steady meals that I work in and out of a seemingly endless 2-week rotation, and some other meals that have appeared here and there. Here are some of them:
- Chicken Tetrazzini
- Spaghetti and Meatballs (chicken, turkey or beef)
- Marinated London broil
- Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice for you non Spanish speakers)
- Pork Tenderloin
- Salmon with Dijon Mustard Glaze
- Grilled Swordfish
- Baked Flounder
- Turkey Tacos
- Chicken Cutlets
- Chicken Meatballs and Rigatoni with Tomato Sauce
- Roasted Turkey Breast
- Balsamic Chicken
- Pasta Carbonara
- Beef Stew
- Pumpkin Soup
- Baked Ziti
Since even I get tired of my cooking, I have tried to find new ways to liven things up. Here are the dishes that didn’t make the cut:
Eggplant & Fontina Gratin
As a child, I didn’t like eggplant. The texture was weird and it was my least favorite meal cooked by my mom, who was a really good cook. Now that I’m the mom, I try to get my family to eat it. It makes Fridays in Lent much easier and sort of healthy. This particular dish was not a hit, even though on paper it seemed like a winner. There was eggplant and cheese! The lesson I learned was: eggplant parmesan is the only eggplant dish that has a chance with my family.
Spice-Rubbed Flank Steak
The steak itself was delicious, but the spice rub smelled like a gardener on a 100-degree day. I will have to bring the spice level WAY down to get my family to try this one again.
My father-in-law always loved when I served this soup on holidays. However, he passed away about 17 years ago (it had nothing to do with the soup) and I haven’t been able to convince anyone else to eat it since.
I used to make this for my husband and myself all the time. Unfortunately, I ate it while in the throes of morning sickness, when I used to get so uncontrollably sick that some of my co-workers feared I was carrying the e-bola virus. That took gnocchi off the menu map forever.
No, my children were not fooled just because I put Portobello mushrooms on the kebabs and gave them grill marks. “But aren’t the mushrooms meaty?” I said. “No!” they replied, with more venom then that angry mob. This one got many resounding thumbs down and multiple sad faces around the picnic table. The next time I made kebobs, I did add chicken and steak, and this got at least some of the vegetables eaten.
Linguine with White Clam Sauce
No one will touch this except me, which is okay by me. However, since I don’t like running Mom’s Diner, I tend not to make it—otherwise I’m cooking four meals in one night. This is something I get and enjoy when we go out.
When I was a kid, I had a friend from the neighborhood whose mom was a fantastic cook. I loved getting invited to her house for dinner, especially on nights during Lent or on Fridays.
Why, you ask? Because her mother would always make lentil soup, and they would always invite me to join them. This family of all girls could be shrieking at each other loud enough to shatter glass, or pulling each other’s hair out, but so what. I just sat there enjoying my big bowl of lentil soup with a dollop of sour cream on top and hunk of Italian bread on the side. My friend’s Dad was the only other one eating quietly, and to reward me for not shattering his eardrums, he would let me try a little jelly jar glass of wine. Fun!
Today, my husband and kids don’t see the point in Lentil Soup. It also gets multiple thumbs down and big unhappy faces. I make it for myself and enjoy it for lunch.
This one was another staple of my childhood. Back in the day, I really thought that the 4 Basic Food Groups were:
Frozen Pot Pies
My mother loved pot pie night. It allowed her to come home from work, watch a good solid hour of Guiding Light, and then pull out the pot pies from the freezer. We would mark each one with a “C” for chicken, “T” for Turkey, or “B” for beef, pop them in the oven, and then wait 45 minutes. Oila! Done.
I tried my hand at a homemade pot pie once but it was a lot of work for not much return. No one said, “Wow! You are the next Julia Child. Thank you for spending your very valuable time making this for me!” Instead, they just kind of said things like, “I don’t like carrots,” “Why did you put peas in there?” and “Can I have a frozen pizza?”
So I tried frozen pot pies, and for a while my family was okay with it. But then I ruined it by going to the well one too many times, and when they saw it on the table, I earned the sound of crickets instead of applause. So Pot Pies went bye bye for a while. Trust me though…like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, frozen pot pies will be back.
Any and all boxed foods that promise to turn your ground beef, ground chicken, ground turkey, or tuna into a great meal.
Listen, how hard is it to brown your meat, add seasonings and tomatoes, and throw in some freshly boiled corkscrew pasta and nuked mixed vegetables? Let me tell you: not very. And in my tortured culinary experience, any canned tuna-turned-casserole is just plain nasty. My husband put a ban on these dinners since his mother was a big fan back in the 70s. In this case, I’m with him.
So Hungry Lifers…what’s your favorite, quick dinner? I can use all the help I can get, so please leave me a comment and give me some ideas. Thanks!
Here’s a lentil soup recipe from Alton Brown that got a 5-star rating:
Don’t know what grains of paradise are, or where to find them? Read this link:
If you don’t want to splurge on that costly spice, try this reader-approved recipe from Giada:
A little sour cream on top—and a glass of red wine—is all you need for a satisfying and even healthy meal. Enjoy!