Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Dinner

I have wonderful memories of sitting down to Sunday afternoon dinners with my family. Sometimes it was only my mom, dad, sister and me - but others we were visiting my Nana in Connecticut or my Grandma and Grandpa in New Hampshire. I especially loved it when my mom would cook because the house would fill with the most wonderful smells

Roasted Pork
There's lots of research out there that points eating meals at home as a family being really beneficial to children.  Eating well (or at least better) is one of the biggest, but a family meal seated around a table can really help set the stage and lay a solid foundation for many other things in a child's life. Despite this, and for a variety of reasons, many families are struggling to to share meals together. 

I'm the first to admit that this was us, especially after The Munchkin joined our family of three and made it it a family of four. After a long day of work and shuttling kids out the door to school or to daycare coming home to cook was the last thing on my mind. We happen to live in an area where per-capita individuals eat out more than any area in the country (please don't ask me for a hard reference - see note below if you want to know where I pulled that one from) and because of that there is a plethora of restaurants making it very easy to eat out or pick up a to-go order. Hindsight being 20/20, I cringe to think about how much of our family budget was being allocated to eating meals every week. 

So what changed? 

Late last year The Oldest became very upset as we were getting ready to head out to eat. Sat down on the floor and began to cry kind of upset. When I finally got her calmed down enough that she could explain between sobs what was going on, she told me all she wanted to do was eat at home as a family. 

That was all the motivation I needed to make a change. 

It's not easy getting my family to sit down to a meal as many times per week as we can. I need to plan ahead, sometimes adjust MY schedule to make it work and I've had to get creative. We've started eating breakfast together on Saturday morning and Sunday - because I value my time in the evening to get ready for the week - I've returned to, you guessed it, a Sunday afternoon dinner.

It wasn't too hard to make the change because I love to cook. Years ago I was --> THIS <-- close to plunking down a deposit to become a student at the New England Culinary Institute. It's something that comes naturally to me - just something I know how to do. But I know that for others cooking can be a challenge. So, in my attempt to become more regular at blogging and wanting to give anyone who is reading a "gift" for the season, I'm going to do my best to log on on Sunday mornings, share with you what thoughts I've had about meals for the week, and share a recipe (or maybe two) with you in the hopes that maybe it will make it a little easier for you to have a meal with your family. 

I have a recipe that I'll share with you for the week, but first some "food" for thought (sorry, couldn't resist):

1. Prepacked Foods: I try to avoid them whenever possible but sometimes they are a necessary evil and will still be cheaper and many times more healthy for my family than going out. I always read labels when I do making note of the portion/serving size and the nutritional information. 20% of daily fat intake might not be too bad UNLESS one package of pulled pork is less than 1 pound and contains 8-10 servings. I like Laura's Lean, particularly the Beef Pot Roast. It's a bit more expensive at around $7 - $9 for the package, but when I consider I can serve it with steamed broccoli and a baked potato and come out to a grand total of about $4 per serving, it's still cheaper (and again, healthier) than eating out.

2. Start Small: Even though I love to cook, it still took me time to get into the HABIT of making meals during the week and when I began making the change my goal was to get two meals on the table each week. 

3. When I buy pork and chicken at the grocery and don't have plans to use them until later in the week I'll place them in a zip top bag, add a little orange juice, seal it and freeze. When I take it out to thaw it marinates in the oj, becomes tender and flavorful. Throw on a George Foreman or in the oven, cook and then baste with BBQ sauce and VOILA! 

4. If I'm making something like pasta with spaghetti sauce I'll buy two containers of sauce and extra of whatever I'm cooking up to put in it (ground beef, ground sausage) and make it up in one big batch. I'll use half of it for that meal and then freeze the rest for a later date. 

5. Remember, when introducing new foods and flavors to kids it takes them trying it 8 to 10 times before they can really tell whether or not they like it. If they don't like the taste of a vegetable steamed, try roasting it with a little bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. To make clean up easier put cut veggies into a zip top bag, drizzle with oil and salt, close and shake. It's a bit wasteful and the tree-hugging environmentalist in me cringes but if it makes getting a meal on the table easier, it's worth it.

6. Don't forget that meals can be simple and do not have to be involved. Whole grain blueberry pancakes with turkey sausage and apple sauce is easy to whip up, easy to involve kids, and easy to clean up from too.


My recipe for Sunday is one that I made yesterday: Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken. I'm not sure why it took me so long to try and conquer the Roasted Chicken - maybe because there's something that's intimidating about roasting a whole bird. Of course, my only experience with roasting poultry up to that point had been turkeys and those can intimidate almost anyone. I wanted a simple recipe both in flavor and preparation and this fit the bill. 

When I make this I usually roast extra veggies in the roasting pan in addition to the fennel and onion. Parsnips, carrots, celery, extra onions, rutabaga and potatoes have been used in the past. Last night, as a change, I also added two full heads of garlic sliced off at the top and at the end had two perfectly heads of rich, buttery, roasted garlic. I don't use the roasting rack - I lay all the veggies in the pan and then place the chicken directly on top. Word of advice, do tie the chicken's legs together otherwise you're likely to lose half of a lemon or the garlic not to mention I think that the bird stays juicier that way. Kitchen twine or string is your best bet and can be found at most specialty cooking stores (or if you're really nice to the person at the meat counter they might cut you off a small length) but any 100% natural cotton string (not bleached, no synthetic fibers) could work too. The recipe says it serves 3, but with added veggies and salad it's fed 3 adults and 2 kiddos. 

I serve with a salad so my family gets their greens. The first time I made this it was an instant hit and I was told it was a definite "do-over". Hopefully you will find the same.

Perfect Roast Chicken - Ina Garten
Preheat Oven to 425
Prep Time: Varies 30 to 60 minutes
Cook Time: 1.5 hours

1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables. 

And about how this area per capita eats out more than any other place in the United States? In a former professional life I coordinated special event fundraisers for a children's hospital. In 2003 a chain restaurant opened their very first location here and as part of their grand opening held a private fundraiser. When I asked the general manager at that time why here he said it was for a handful of reasons but one of the biggest was because it was a market where people eat out more than other places in the United States. I know there have been other restaurant groups that utilize this as a test market for concepts and menus so it makes sense to me. So again, I can't provide hard data, but given this man's position within the restaurant that opened I have to believe there is some truth behind his words.

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