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If you haven't heard of Jenny Rosenstrach's Dinner: A Love Story yet, you have now. And you'll be reading and talking about this book and Rosenstrach's blog for a long time to come.
Soon into her marriage, when she and her husband, Andy, were still in their twenties and working their first real jobs, Jenny discovered the stress surrounding the question, What's for dinner? How did those 1950s women do it? We have visions of smiling, impeccably dressed young wives and mothers (wearing pearls), bringing out beautifully cooked three-course dinners to their clean and well-behaved children (who are sitting quietly at the table) and appreciative husbands (still in their suits), relaxing in their spotless houses. Reality, of course, is something else.
The answer for Jenny was to plan her meals. Fourteen years ago, she sat down with a blank journal and wrote down what she and Andy were going to cook that week. They shopped for the needed ingredients, and they had seven stress-free dinners. In Dinner: A Love Story, Jenny shares her tips and tricks (no, you don't have to keep a dinner diary) for putting a decent meal on the table most days of the year. When her first daughter was born, Jenny made a vow that she pretty much has never broken: They would have dinner as a family every single night. No matter what. Once in a great while that has meant ordering take-out, and sometimes it has meant grabbing a home-cooked meal from their freezer, but Jenny and Andy have stuck with the idea of the family dinner.
And guess what? They really are regular, working parents; they don't have a staff of paid help, and they don't have some kind of technology the rest of us peons are missing.
Dinner: A Love Story is part memoir, part how-to, and part cookbook, and it's definitely a book to read not just use. Even if you never cook from it (but why wouldn't you?), you'll find charming, engaging stories of the evolution of a family, tips on entertaining, strategies for staying sane while feeding young children, and inspiration for making recipes and menus your own. And because Jenny's style is friendly and informal, you'll feel as if you've made a new friend.
The book is divided into three main sections: Just Married, New Parenthood, and Family Dinner. No matter what your family looks like, you'll find recipes throughout the book that'll call to you. Here's how Jenny describes Dinner: A Love Story:
This book will cover all three of these phases of family dinner--the charming parts, the messy parts, the really annoying parts, the crazy-fun parts. Every meal that you read about . . . is a real meal. [By real] I mean that these meals really happened. These are the meals and menus we have served up. (p. xxi)Jenny notes that "this book might just be for everyone," and I have to agree with her. You don't have to be a planner or to have kids to be inspired by Jenny's story. No matter which stage your family is in (and remember newly wed isn't all that much different from empty nest), you'll find good advice and good food.
Now, what about the recipes? Each and every dish in Dinner: A Love Story is appealing. For Jenny, family does not equal boring. Along with lamb burger sliders, you'll find spaghetti with clams, turkey chili, pork dumplings, fish sandwiches, and BBQ ribs. There are plenty of variations to fit your taste, ideas for feeding picky eaters, and hand-holding tips for the unsure cook. Each recipe serves four, and each is accompanied by an estimated cooking time (very helpful).
Most recipes are set up traditionally, with specific measurements, but some use approximations (glug of olive oil, handful of herbs). Don't be afraid, this is (as Jenny points out) the way to learn to cook without being a slave to instructions. I love her go-to dishes for entertaining (plus six rules for success, even with kids underfoot), her "best" (most popular) weekday dishes, her advice on grilling, and her nine summary rules for creating your own family love story.
I can already tell that Jenny Rosenstrach's Dinner: A Love Story will be a book I'll read again, cook from often, and give as gifts.
Here's an easy dish that would work for a weekday or weekend. We had it on the grill, but I know it'd be awesome baked in the oven. I've included the recipe introduction to give you an idea of Jenny's voice. This recipe is from the "New Parenthood" section, and as the text indicates, one trick when you have an infant is to eat after you've put your baby to bed.
Apricot-Mustard Baked Chicken
This chicken takes about 10 minutes to pull together and then about a half hour of hands-off time in the oven. In theory, you could time things so the chicken is ready as soon as the kids go to sleep. But if you can't for the life of you figure out a way to steal the few minutes needed for prep while the kids are awake, then just take care of step 1: preheat the oven. (Photo is from p. 132 of the cookbook.)
Total time: 40 minutes
- 6 to 8 skin-on chicken pieces (thighs or drumsticks), rinsed and patted dry
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup apricot jam
- 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
- 1/4 cup water
- leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
Place the chicken on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking dish lined with foil or parchment paper, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 10 minutes.
While the chicken is baking, whisk together the jam, mustard, water, thyme, and a little salt and pepper in a small saucepan over low heat for about 3 minutes. It should be slightly syrupy.
Pull the chicken out of the oven and pour the sauce on top. Continue baking for another 15 minutes. For the last 3 minutes, place the chicken under the broiler on the top rack so it gets golden and crispy looking.
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