30 June 2012

Weekend Cooking: Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach

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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
Preheat the oven to 400F.

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.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rebecca Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

Dinner: A Love Story at Powell's
Dinner: A Love Story at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062080905
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


jama 6/30/12, 7:07 AM  

Sounds like a very practical, user-friendly book. I love the idea of blending recipes with personal stories. The chicken recipe looks easy and yummy!

Just wanted to say how much I love your cookbook reviews -- among the best out there :)!

Tanya Patrice 6/30/12, 7:19 AM  

I love the idea behind this book - and I'm pretty sure my husband would want to marry this woman if he read this :-) It's awesome that the recipe you mentioned has so few ingredients = I get overwhelmed easily. Are the other recipes in the book like this?

studentspyglass.com 6/30/12, 7:34 AM  

I've never heard of this book, but I'll certainly be having a look at it. I'm not married/don't have kids, but at uni I cook for just myself and partner, so I think the Just Married section would probably be okay. When I'm not at uni I'm cooking for my whole family - 3 or 4 adults & 1 child, so the Family Dinner section would probably work then too.

That recipe looks amazing, and I've got most of the ingredients in the cupboard I think. I love the fact that it's simple (unlike a lot of cookbook recipes) and reasonably healthy too (though I think I'd do it on the grill as you did).

Beth F 6/30/12, 7:39 AM  

@Jama: Thanks so much. *blush*

@Tanya: yes, many (if not most) of the recipes are just this easy. Her recipes are down to earth and easy.

@Studentsypglass: no kids here either, but perfect for just two. Plus there are recipes for entertaining (with tips!) to help you when you have friends over.

Col (Col Reads) 6/30/12, 7:58 AM  

It is so funny to think about timing meals for a sleeping baby, but I remember doing it -- and would have appreciated a book that helped me do it :) Great review!

Peaceful Reader 6/30/12, 8:18 AM  

I love the concept of this book. As a busy family we also firmly believe in the family dinner every night. It is our time to share and really look at each other over our meal. Sometimes the kids argue, sometimes we are all tired but we are together.
I am interested to read this now so I can hear her tips. Thanks for a great review. My one question: Are the recipes mostly meat-based or is there variety?

Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook 6/30/12, 8:23 AM  

This one sounds great. I read cookbooks like novels and this one would be right up my alley! The mustard chicken looks delicious.

Heather 6/30/12, 8:59 AM  

sounds like some very practical answers to that question that I ask far too often. Even when I ask my family what they want, they aren't helpful, but they sure know what they don't want when I put dinner on the table and moan that it isn't what they wanted.

bermudaonion 6/30/12, 9:09 AM  

This sounds like the perfect book for me since I love memoirs and cookbooks! I admire their resolve to have family dinners. I know very few of Vance's friends at dinner at the table with their family like we did. (Those same kids ended up eating with us.) Carl and I still eat at the table and turn all distractions off while we eat.

Patty 6/30/12, 10:23 AM  

I am very intrigued by the idea of planning, as in actually devising and writing down a 7-day menu... Not so bad after all!

Beth S. 6/30/12, 11:12 AM  

This book sounds fabulous! I love that you alert me to such great food/cookbooks that I'd never heard of before.

I'm definitely going to have to make that apricot chicken!

Lisa@ButteryBooks 6/30/12, 11:48 AM  

I have not heard of this book, but it sounds like one I need to read. With the kid-filled schedule-less days of summer, home cooked meals have become a rarity in our house.

Debbie 6/30/12, 11:55 AM  

As you know, I loved the cookbook... and (this is so funny to me) we made the same recipe from it. I had planned on posting about the chicken this weekend sometime, but once I saw your review I had to do it today.

Debbie 6/30/12, 11:56 AM  

As you know, I loved the cookbook... and (this is so funny to me) we made the same recipe from it. I had planned on posting about the chicken this weekend sometime, but once I saw your review I had to do it today.

Tasha B. 6/30/12, 2:03 PM  

I'm always foiled when it comes to planning out meals. Foiled, I tells ye! I either forget a key ingredient, or the grocery store doesn't have it, or what it does have doesn't look too hot. And then when the day comes to make said dish, I don't feel like that particular recipe, so I just end up winging it anyway. =/

Rebecca 6/30/12, 2:37 PM  

I haven't read this yet but I now I definitely want to. Creating dinner after a full day's work can be stressful. Thanks for sharing the apricot chicken recipe. It looks delish!
Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate

Carole 6/30/12, 3:28 PM  

Hi Beth. Another week! Where does the time go? I have put up links for egg salad sandwich filling and this week's Food on Friday - chocolate - no one on a diet should look at it!
Have a lovely week

JoAnn 6/30/12, 3:48 PM  

Her recipe for Spicy Shrimp with Lime and Cilantro was in Everyday FOOD magazine last month... it is to die for! I've made it several times and have even used the spice blend on tilapia and chicken thighs. Need to get a copy of the book.

Julie P. 6/30/12, 6:35 PM  

This book sounds perfect for me!!! Although I think I'll pass on the recipe -- that grainy mustard freaks me out!

Becky 6/30/12, 8:35 PM  

This looks like an amazing book to check out! Thanks for sharing it, as I haven't heard of it before. *Off to go check it out...*

Esme 6/30/12, 8:43 PM  

This sounds like a fun and interesting read. I think it is time we plan a trip to Brittany-there is so much of the area to explore. Next time I want to go out to the islands.

Joy Weese Moll 6/30/12, 9:33 PM  

That looks like a wonderful chicken dish -- and so easy. Sounds like a great cookbook! A perfect wedding gift, I'd say.

Linda 7/1/12, 1:26 AM  

I've been hearing a lot about this book. I love that chicken recipe. Sounds delicious. Great review!

Chinoiseries 7/1/12, 5:20 AM  

A perfect book for many busy working parents in these times :) I find that I'm already going crazy without the kids and a partner who works on the weekends, so meal planning (with such diverse meals!) is really the solution. I find the idea of mixing up apricot jam and grainy mustard interesting. Will have to try that on tempeh or tofu. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Daryl Edelstein 7/1/12, 9:36 AM  

sounds like a good gift for newlyweds or even those of us who've been married a lifetime .. if you're into cooking, I was .. now I am over it .. but as always I thank you for sharing wonderful reviews!

(Diane) bookchickdi 7/1/12, 1:44 PM  

I picked up this book at BEA and can't wait to read it. I agree that planning your week's meals is a great way to go. When my sons were younger, we would go grocery shopping once a week and I had a plan for every day. Just a little bit of effort make such a big difference in how we ate.

Andi 7/1/12, 3:47 PM  

As a single, working mom this book is RIGHT up my alley! I've found it absolutely imperative to plan meals and sneak in prep after the kiddo is in bed or on weekends when he's at his dad's house. Right now I have the beginnings of a beef stroganoff in the refrigerator. I'll heat it, add some veggies, and throw in the sour cream closer to time for him to come home. Then we'll eat leftovers a night or two this week.

Good stuff! Thanks for the rec!

bookjourney 7/1/12, 6:09 PM  

I have this one and can not wait to get to it. I love the idea of meal planning, even now when it is just Al and I here I still struggle with the age old question, "What's for dinner?"

Oh and that chicken recipe looks delicious.... I have been on a cleanse (day 6 today!) no meat.... lol

Peppermint Ph.D. 7/2/12, 10:43 AM  

You have no idea how much I need this book. Can't wait!

Christine 7/10/12, 6:57 PM  

I've had this book for about a month or so now. Haven't finished reading it yet.. but I love it. :)

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