Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do-Little Dinners

I'm the mom of two children under the age of four; by definition, that makes me busy--dare I say harried? I think I do. I'm also in charge of running the household and doing the cooking and, with two wee ones who nap for about, oh, thirty seconds a day and then melt down most afternoons around 4:30, I find that one of my biggest challenges is putting a quick, nutritious, home-cooked dinner on the table every night. Add a tight budget (living on one salary for now) to the time crunch and you've got a situation calling for some serious creativity--not to mention a fair amount of kitchen savvy. I'm not talking about gourmet-cooking skills here, but the ability to throw tasty meals together in little time and with simple ingredients, with or without a recipe.

I always enjoy finding new family-dinner ideas that fit into my often-chaotic, always-exhausting life, and I bet I'm not the only one. Therefore, I'm adding something new to Mama in Wonderland this week. Every Tuesday I'm going to offer "Do-Little Dinners," a weekly feature devoted to fast, easy, and economical dinner ideas. They may be formal recipes, or they may be instructions for throwing something together from your pantry ingredients, but they'll always be something my family likes to eat. They'll often be vegetarian, because that's also how my family eats, but chicken, turkey, and fish will be represented as well. And don't let the vegetarian thing scare you off, if you (or your family members) are in love with real-deal burgers and roasts. Vegetarian options are cheap, healthy, and--believe me--just as delicious as meat-based dinners.

One last thing: Do-Little Dinners is about a fast but healthy and satisfactory result (without resorting to pizza delivery or the drive-thru every night). It's about getting done what needs to be done. In other words, though I feel strongly about feeding my family healthy, natural foods, and enjoy doing things like, say, baking corn muffins or biscuits from scratch to accompany a bowl of soup for a winter supper, in Do-Little Dinners I may advocate making biscuits with the help of a convenient box of Bisquick. For example. I'm also a big fan of frozen vegetables--a staple in our house, and just as nutritious as fresh--and, at times, canned fruit (in light syrup, which I drain/rinse off anyway). Would I prefer to stick exclusively to fresh, seasonal produce? Sure. I'd also prefer to cook without a crying baby climbing up my shins. In an ideal world, blah blah blah. I'm not the World's Greatest Cook; these meals aren't necessarily fancy. But they are fast, and they taste good, and you can cook them--usually--with a baby on one hip. So, let's go!

I'll start off easy, with what we had for dinner tonight:

Baked Salmon, Butternut Squash, Broccoli, and Biscuits

About 45-60 minutes before dinner, put a whole butternut squash (in a baking dish, with a few slits cut into the squash to prevent it from exploding in the oven) into a 425-degree oven.

Cut a fresh (or frozen, thawed) salmon fillet into four pieces. Place in oiled baking dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and dill. If you've got some Parmesan cheese around, sprinkle some of that on as well (the kind in a can is fine). At 15 minutes before dinner, put the salmon in the oven with the squash. It should be done in 12-15 minutes, or when it flakes easily with a fork.

While the salmon and squash are baking, steam or nuke some frozen broccoli and stir up some biscuits from a mix. (I do the drop-biscuit option on the Bisquick box when I'm in a real hurry.) You can turn up the oven if/when needed and bake these with the other things just before dinner; they typically only bake for 6-7 minutes and the temperature change won't hurt the squash or the fish.

When the squash comes out of the oven, carefully cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds/strings. It should be delectably soft and very easy to handle--though use potholders. Slice each half into wedges to serve--good plain or with butter, salt, and pepper.

How easy was that? And, if you want, you can skip the biscuits and use the squash as your starch. Even easier!


Rob Hardy said...

Great idea. Last night, I made up a little instant stuffing mix leftover from Thanksgiving, threw it in a dish with some chicken breasts, green beans, and cream of mushroom soup, then baked it. At the moment, I need dinners that can be made with only one functional hand.

Shan said...

Ooh, yeah, I bet you do. Hmmm. That's even tougher than cooking while holding a baby!

Christopher Tassava said...


Question said...

I'm looking forward to these. I hate to cook, so anything that makes it easier is tops in my book.