Please Set the Table

By: Lisa Wright Burbach

We are empty nesters and we sit at the table to eat dinner! Crazy right? -No, it’s connection. I love setting the table and sitting down to a yummy meal and to discuss the day, the future, and just life in general. We take a tip from other countries who celebrate meal time, family and who savor the meal, drink in the aromas, and visit with each other. It’s a relationship table.

I’m from the South and being able to set a proper table is an exam you have to pass to be able to own a string of pearls. It’s serious business!! And I’m grateful for it. I’ve been known to set the table with water glasses, wine glasses, dessert forks, the whole thing for nothing more elegant than sloppy joes.

In addition to setting the table for my family I find that setting a full and proper table when we have company makes them feel pampered and cherished even if they are simultaneously intimidated by it. It’s ok, you really can use the cloth napkin; they wash. Oh and start from the outside and work your way in with the silverware, but don’t worry; there is no test and I promise not to talk about you after you leave. “Van!! Did you see them eat that salad with their dessert fork!! Why I declare! I believe I will just have to set a spell and recover“. No, it will be fine, just eat and enjoy. (To you Northerners, the pearl thing was a joke).

I understand this next statement may be “outdated thinking”, but I believe it is true. When I was 20 and elderly woman told me “Use the China and crystal when you don’t have company-there are no more important people to be seated at your table than your husband and your family.”. It was great advice and I took it to heart. When my kids were small we used china for snacks; my 25 year old son eats snacks on china to this day. A conversation I will need to have with my future daughter-in-law I’m sure.

Try setting the table before you start cooking dinner it will help you feel organized and ready to go; better yet, get the fam involved and have them set the table! Not sure what to do? Here is a How-To from Martha Stewart and one from Real Simple.


RECIPE REVIEWS:

1.  Sweet Potato Soup w/ Blue Corn Tortillas by Bobby Flay/foodnetwork:  Note, the chipotles in adobo sauce can be very warm and you may need to make adjustments up or down based on your family/guests.

Time: 1 1/2 hour

Ease: Simple to moderate

Result: Most everyone loved this, not everyone.  It has combination of spicy, sweet, and smokey.  I will make this again. Serve with cornbread and a nice green vegetable.

2.  Skillet Lasagna:  Use the link as a guide, but feel creative with this one.  I used Newman’s own spaghetti sauce because I had it on hand, I also used spinach pasta in place of lasagna noodles for the same reason.  No reason for things just to sit in the pantry.

Time: 30 minutes

Ease: simple

Result: Turned out nicely, tasted about like you would expect.  We enjoyed it. Serve with steamed green beans or a salad.

3. Quiche: NOTE:MAKE DAY AHEAD FOR BEST TEXTURE. (we didn’t, but I recommend it.)This was a base for me and it takes a lot of work and hopefully Thomas Keller will never read this blog, because I am sure he will cringe repeatedly.  Apologies to great chefs for all that I am about to say for the sake of the basic home cook. First I used a store bought pastry; not the one in the tin, but the Pillsbury one you roll out. Next instead of mushrooms I used broccoli and caramelized onions. Don’t be afraid of caramelized onions, if you start it before anything else you will have sweet, browned, delicious onions by the time you are ready to use them. Lastly, for some reason I do not own a blender and had to make do with the magic bullet, soooo It could have gone a little better. But, even unskilled, ill-prepared this was so yummy!

Time:  2 hours prep & cooking and overnight resting

Ease: complicated

Result: Worth every minute of time.  This quiche is taller than most and great flavor and texture.

5.  One-Pot Sticky Chicken Wings I already had chicken breasts that I had frozen when they were on sale, so instead of wings I used chicken cut into nugget sizes.  I also had run out of star anise and used some anise seeds and it worked fine.  Mirin, oyster sauce, Thai pepper paste and Sake can be found in the ethnic section of many grocery stores. Udon noodles may be found a Whole Foods or ethnic groceries-spaghetti can be substituted. 

Time: 40 minutes

Ease: simple-moderate

Result:  My husband and I loved this meal and will eat it again.  I think this will become a family favorite.  To make it fun I served it with chopsticks on china of course.

A few more things: I buys spices from places like Whole Foods and Savory Spice Shop and find that I can have fun with exotic spices without spending a fortune.  I usually spend less than $2.00.  If this week sound intimidating keep checking back.  Some weeks I go crazy on the experimental side and other weeks its just the basics.  After a month or so you should see a variety of recipes ranging in difficulty, price, and time.  There will be something just your speed.

Have fun, try something new and please set the table.

I Love it When you get Fresh!

Dinner doesn’t have to be a chore and you don’t have to pull out the boxed mixes and packets to pull it off in time.  I promise, after a while you will embrace fresh, fresh, fresh!  It really doesn’t take much more time, if any, to use fresh ingredients.  The real issue is in our heads-it’s mental.  It seems like it is too hard, too time consuming, too involved etc., but the truth is that with a little practice you will be making fresh meals in minutes for your family and friends and they will love you for it.   Don’t feel like it has to be all or nothing here either; baby steps and start where you are.

Keep it fresh and alive at the table too.  Talk to each other, engage with your family and guests and get to really know each other.  Build trust at the table and remember to make it a safe place.  Here are some ice breakers: Get to Know you Cards, Dinner Conversation Starters, Highs and Lows: ask each other what the best part of the day was and what the worse part was and then talk about it.  Some of you are probably rolling your eyes right now, I admit a part of me does, but try it.  Be creative.  Dinner is not about getting food in their bellies, it is about savoring the moments both with your food and your relationships.  Enjoy!

TIP: Try setting up a Mise en Place to help you with time.  Don’t worry about dirtying more dishes; it cleans up quickly.

  • The Meals:

black bean quesadillasBlack Bean Quesadilla: Eating Well Magazine

Time: 15 Minutes

Ease: Simple

Review: This is a quick and easy meal.  I pull this out when I’m rushed for time and I’m still able to give my family a fresh meal.  It is a family favorite.

Tip: Use low sodium canned beans and rinse well and use pepper jack cheese for flavor.

baked RavioliBaked Ravioli: Marthastewart.com

Time: 35-1 Hour; This dish could be a quickie if you use prepared spaghetti sauce instead of making the sauce.  There are many spaghetti sauces on the market that still keep this as a “fresh” dish.  Try organic, low sodium and look for the shortest ingredient list.

Ease: Simple

Review:  I found this recipe to be a nice and easy meal, but did not find the sauce to be especially flavorful and added hot pepper flakes, red wine, and a few more Italian spices to make it a little more full in flavor.  Next time I will probably use prepared spaghetti sauce, which will also cut the time in half.  Play around with this one and see what you get.

lentil soupLentil Soup: The Foodnetwork.com  Chef: Alton Brown

Time: 50 Minutes

Ease: Simple

Review: A nice hearty soup! Adjust the puree to your personal tastes, we like it in the middle.  This recipe calls from ground grains of paradise.  They can be found in places like Savory Spice or specialty markets.  It is a peppery spice with sort of woodsy flavor.  Very nice.  If you can’t find it just use pepper.

meatonioncomboMeatloaf with Cheddar, Bacon, and Tomato Relish: Wichcraft cookbook    Chef: Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar(I’m still researching copyright usage of recipes from cookbooks.  Until I’m sure I’ll try to find a link for you, I linked to a blog called crepesofwrath.net.  A fun blog.)

Time: 30 minutes to 2 hours; The time difference depends upon whether you use leftover meatloaf or make it for this purpose.

Ease: Moderate

Review: Wow and yum!! If you don’t like meatloaf this may win you over.  It didn’t win over one of my eaters who didn’t care for the texture, but as for everyone else, people who still had room ate two!  You can try the meatloaf recipe (which is geat) or make your favorite recipe. 

I cut the bacon amounts in half and crumbled the bacon, just to try to make some attempt at cutting the fat. It still gave it a great flavor.  Don’t be scared by the tomato relish, it is simple to make and can be made while the meatloaf is cooking or even a few days ahead of time, but it truly makes the sandwich. This is a great recipe and now a family favorite. Try it, you can do it! Once you make the tomato relish you’ll be excited to try more.

Meal Five:   We had a pretty busy week this week and didn’t get to five meals, but I suggest that for a fifth meal make meatloaf earlier in the week, try making two at one time and serving one as a meal in itself and the other one for your sandwiches.  A great and easy side dish is roasted vegetables! I like to use chunks of squash, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, and bell peppers.  Toss in olive oil and salt and pepper and bake at 425 degrees for about a half an hour or until just tender, but not too soft.

Enjoy! Be creative, have fun, and set the table!

Photos may be used, but please link back to this blog and credit Lisa Burbach, recipes are links to existing recipes and I have no ownership of recipes other than the ones of Have created.  Thank you.

Welcome to Bringingbackdinner.com

I’m so glad you stopped by.  This blog is in response to requests from friends to send them menus and recipes.  I thought that doing it blog style may be fun and interactive for us all as well as accessible.  This first entry is an introduction.  Please feel free to respond to menu’s, recipes etc.  we will learn from each other.

I would not say that I am a great chef or especially graceful in the kitchen. I do not, off the top of my head, know how to make the perfect hollandaise sauce, make the best ceviche, whip up exotic aioli’s, well you get the picture.  What I can do reasonably well, is read a recipe and be able to judge whether 1. I will like it and 2. my family will like it.  So, I use recipes.  That said, I do often wander from a recipe and sometimes just “throw something together”.

I love cooking not so much for the cooking itself, but because it will make anyone who sits at my table fill warmed and welcomed.  I want the dinner table to be home, fellowship, laughter, enjoyment.  I want to build memories of happiness, peace, and joy but also make the table a safe place for deep conversations, heartfelt pleas and confessions.  Things confessed at the table stay at the table.  It is the heart of the home.  If you can barely hear it’s heartbeat anymore, I encourage you to make an effort to gather at the table.  You may have to start slow-once a month is better than not at all.

Set the table.  Whaaaatt, I don’t even know what fork to use! shhh, it will be ok.  I will help.  For starters, if you do not know what things are called or look like here is a great link to Martha Stewart’s page with wonderful pictures, Home Made Simple also has a helpful page.  Second, If you have it use it!  Somewhere deep in a closet is a crystal bowl or great Aunt somebody’s china-use it, use it, use it.

I once had an older woman tell me there is no more important person at my dinner table than my husband and my family.  She told me to use my fine china even if I am only serving sloppy Joes.  What great advice.  I don’t use it every day, but I do use some items every week.  My opinion is that to keep it stored in some attic, closet, or basement is the same thing as not having it.  What if something gets broken?  Then it does.  But, a dish that was lovingly used and eventually broken has more memory and joy that a dish that was stored away and never seen.  Use it.  Got that?  If you don’t have china, crystal etc.  that is OK too, you can still dress up your table from time to time.  Put sticks in a vase for fall or winter,  Dandelions if you need to for summer, something to make it special.

I realize that if your family or friends come in one day and find the table set (paper works) and a small vase (or dixie cup) filled with flowers or sticks, maybe candles, and they smell wonderful things from the kitchen that they may be shocked and perplexed.  That’s ok, think of it as that night’s dinner conversation; “Why (insert name) thinks she/he is Martha (Mack?) Stewart all of a sudden”  Then tell them you just want to bring back dinner.