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What's for dinner?: the family supper: deconstructed.

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As the old adage goes, "The family that eats together keeps together." Unfortunately, in many homes the evening meal is taken in front of the television, on the sofa, and separately from the other members. Other families just grab food on the go or leave other individuals to fend for themselves.

When I worked for the Royal Family, even they did not eat their suppers together. Young children would eat separately from their parents. It was tradition that until the children knew proper dinner-table etiquette, they would eat their meals in the nursery with the nanny. Clearly, it's not just American families that don't share their mealtimes with one another.

In such a fast-paced world where most of us barely have enough time to sit down for a meal, let alone cook an entire meal, what's a family to do? Of course, it helps if you have a chef at home to plan and prepare dinner. But if you don't, not to worry. It is possible for your family to enjoy an old-fashioned meal together.

First, find a quiet window of time when every single member of the family is available. Generally, weekends work best for this. Bring out a notepad and pencil and start jotting down dishes that every family member can agree upon, dietary restrictions and all. Next, create a seven-day plan, penciling in any commitments for each day, such as your child's ballet lessons or soccer practice. Now, taking into account your family's commitments and your own obligations each day, plan dishes that you will realistically have time to cook each night. Consider quick, simple recipes for busy nights--or better yet, dishes that can be prepared ahead and reheated.

Take a look at the weekly menu you have created, and try your best to find balance and variety (it's what we chefs do). Beef two nights in a row? Then move things around, adding a fish or chicken dish in between. Mac 'n' cheese may be your family's favorite, but make a point to throw in some healthier options. For colder evenings, who can resist a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup? Instead of making traditional chicken nuggets, consider adding panko Japanese breadcrumbs to chicken tenders for a more heart-friendly alternative.

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Some family members may object to trying new dishes, but once the meals are served a few times, they will become accustomed to the foods. While it is always great to serve family favorites every once in a while, it is important for children to try different foods and develop their taste buds.

Once you finally have your family seated around the dinner table, I recommend serving the dishes "family style," where all of the food is placed at the center of the table. This is when bargaining power and incentives come in. Insist everyone try a little of each dish, including, yes, the broccoli. Family members may help themselves to seconds of a particular dish once they have eaten everything else on their plates. Surprisingly, it works.

As soon as your family gets in the habit of eating together, the next step is to make dinner a family event. By event, I mean having your children become involved in the process of preparing, serving, and cleaning up after the meal. Delegate chores on a rotational basis to family members, assigning tasks such as setting and clearing the table, and doing dishes. And, when possible, give your children the opportunity to assist you in the kitchen. For example, ask them if they would like to shape the meatballs or measure out ingredients. Your children will become more invested in the meals and value them more.

And remember, quality family time doesn't just mean eating together; the conversation is just as important. Be sure to turn off the television before any food is placed on the table. Work in a few rules to give these meals more meaning. It is also important that phones aren't answered and that no one gets up from the table until everyone is finished. After all, it is the memories you build that will make your children want to return to the warmth, comfort, and tradition of family suppers. And that makes it all worthwhile.

HOT POTATO PLEASING THE ROYAL FAMILY

When I worked at Kensington Palace, Princes William and Harry adored roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and requested the dishes as often as possible. However, both dishes had far too much fat for the health-conscious Princess Diana. So, for her, I would slice the breast off the cooked roasted chicken and remove the skin from it; I would also make her potatoes with egg white and paprika, and dry bake them instead of baking them in lots of oil. I set the healthier versions aside for the princess; only she could detect the difference. In time, I added more of the healthier versions to everyone's dishes, until, one day, there was no skin on the chicken, and none of the potatoes were bathed in any oil at all. No complaints were had--the boys hadn't noticed the gradual change.

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TURKEY POJARSKI WITH PAPRIKA CREAM SAUCE

This is a dish I prepared at Buckingham Palace quite often. It's a twist on meatballs, and I would suggest that if you have young children, you invite them into the kitchen to help shape them. Also, think about dividing the meat in half and leaving out the "bits." Younger children, while happy to try healthy turkey instead of ground fatty beef, don't like the "bits" in their food. Serve the balls in two separate bowls, and who knows? The kids may just be inquisitive and try the adult version. Serve the sauce on the side, introducing it to their palates gradually. I have served it on a bed of spinach. Try it. If it's good enough for Popeye, then its good enough for you.
TURKEY POJARSKI

Makes 6 portions

INGREDIENTS FOR THE POJARSKI:

1 lb. ground turkey
4 slices white bread, crusts removed
1 cup buttermilk
zest of 1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup red bell peppers,
very finely diced
1/2 cup celery, very finely diced
1/4 tsp. celery seeds
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SMITANE SAUCE:

1/4 cup butter
1 cup onion, finely diced
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

INGREDIENTS FOR THE MUSHROOMS:

8 oz. mixed wild mushrooms, trimmed
and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for frying
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped

PREPARATION

1. Dice the bread into 1/4-inch
cubes and place into a small
bowl with the buttermilk to
soak for at least 10 minutes.
Combine all of the other Pojarski
ingredients in a large bowl and
mix well. Add the bread and
buttermilk and mix again.

2. Shape the mix into teardrop shapes
about 3 inches long, 2 inches wide at the
widest point, and 11/4 inches high. Place
on a greased cookie tray and refrigerate.

3. To prepare the Smitane sauce, melt the
butter in a heavy-based pan over high
heat. Stir in the onions, reduce the heat,
and cook until soft and translucent. Add
the wine and bring to a boil. Cook for
several minutes, then remove from the
heat and stir in the flour and paprika.
Add the beef broth and cream and
reduce to a sauce-like consistency. Add
the lemon juice and season with the salt
and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

4. Place a large frying pan over high
heat and add the vegetable oil.
Cook the Pojarski in batches so
as not to crowd the pan. Cook
for about 3 minutes per side.

5. While the Pojarski is cooking,
saute the mushrooms in the
garlic and butter until tender.

6.Layer the bottom of a large serving
dish with the Smitane sauce. Arrange
the Pojarski neatly around the edge.
Garnish with the mushrooms and
sprinkle with the chopped dill.


Darren McGrady, the author of Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen, was the last chef who worked with Princess Diana. For the last 10 years he has been working as the private chef of a Texas billionaire.
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Title Annotation:Dish Up
Author:McGrady, Darren
Publication:Celeb Staff Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:1418
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