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I understand this next statement may be “outdated thinking”, but I believe it is true.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.

It isn’t Always Perfect, but it Makes it Memorable

For all of my perfectionist friends out there, a word of advice: Relax, it doesn’t always have to be perfect!  No, really! But, I do understand.  I like it perfect too.  Years of cooking with friends and family have taught me that the community built in the kitchen that spills over to the table is what it’s all about.  If the dish isn’t “just so”, or the fork is the wrong side- um, ok well, actually I do switch them…. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it’s OK.  Life isn’t ruined because the dish looked ugly, was burned or the dog ate it, it is just something to laugh about later.  Julia Child is a great example of this, she could drop a chicken or an egg and just laugh and keep on going, you can too.  You may be surprised by the results and you will love what is made through it- Relationships!

What I want to give you in this blog is not just recipes and ideas for dinner, but the joy of dinner; not just dinner, but of every meal.  I want you learn about each other, laugh, cry, talk, share, build, and grow together. I want you to grow memories.  I want people to talk about the joy of sitting at your table.  You can do this whether you’re using a cardboard moving box for a dinning room table or you have a huge formal table in a massive dinning room.  It is about the atmosphere that is set and the comradery.  Be creative, have fun, and set the table.

The Process:  Each week I sit down with a nice cup of coffee and pour over magazines, cookbooks, and the internet and find 5 meals I’d like to make that week.  I base these meals on items that I have in my pantry and fridge so that I can be the most economical in my shopping.  I make 5 because life is busy and I may be away from home a night or we may eat leftovers.  Adapt it to fit your lifestyle.  Then from these meals I make my grocery list and try to stick to it.  I find the list helps me be frugal.  This process takes about a half an hour to an hour.

The Meals:

Spinach Gnocchi

Spinach Gnocchi with Shaved Ricotta Salata:  Food and Wine Magazine, Chef Marc Vetri

Time: 1 Hour

Ease: Intermediate Skill

Results: This was a nice dish, but a little intimidating. The recipe says “to form a soft dough”, but I would have liked a little more description.  My dough was probably a little too wet, and my end result was not like their picture, but it cooked well with a nice texture.

You may not be able to find Grana Padana and may use Parmigiano Reggiano instead.

I found the Ricotta Salata at the grocery in the specialty cheese area. It is a pressed, aged, salted and dried version of Ricotta.  My cheese loving husband liked this very much.  Remember, you are trying new things.  Embrace it!  This is nice with a salad and a fairly acidic dressing as a balance to the rich gnocchi.  I also served bread rounds with bruschetta on the side.

potatoesSoup a Week!!!  In our family we have a soup a week during autumn and winter (most weeks).  My family loves this so much so that when my daughter went away to college she said that when she realized she was missing soup-a-week she was even more homesick.  Food speaks!  This weeks Soup is Potato Soup

There are as many potato soup recipes as there are people.  Personally I make mine a little bit different every time, depending on my mood.  Spicy or baked potato like or pesto, cheesy, lumpy, smooth….  This only takes about an hour or less to make.

Saute onion (about 1/2 cup-2 cups) in 1 tablespoon butter and a little olive oil.  Once the onions are translucent I add a few cloves of garlic (if using this time) and I add whatever spices I may want to use, a pinch of cayenne pepper and stir them until fragrant.   I boil my potatoes (about 1 small potato per person) in vegetable or chicken broth (vegetable is nice if you are doing meatless Mondays). Once the onion mixture is ready add broth and potatoes (about 8 cups of broth).  Simmer until potatoes are tender and remove from heat.

Smooth and creamy or lumpy? This is where my family and friends disagree so here is the compromise: Pull out some of the potatoes and set aside then puree the remaining soup with a hand-held immersion blender or in a regular blender (a little at a time). Slowly add heavy cream to the pureed soup and stir well. I use around 1/4 -1/2 cup cream adjusted for consistency, then add the potatoes you pulled out back to the soup.  This makes the lumpy potato soup people happy while also satisfying the smooth potato soup people.  If they truly insist on no lumps, divide the lumps between the lumpy eaters bowls and ladle the smooth soup over the top.   Serve with a nice bread.

photo by L.W. Burbach

Hot and Sticky Lemon-Pepper Chicken: Food and Wine Magazine, Chef Richard Blaise

Time: 1 Hour

Ease: umm, this is iffy. See below

Results: I left this recipe for my husband to make when I wasn’t planning to be home. ( I told him to use chicken cut into pieces because I had found a great deal on chicken breasts and had a lot in the freezer.)  My husband struggled with the oil temperature and the batter all slid off the chicken and made sort of a glue in the bottom of the pot.  Ok, try again.  Second time around it worked well and in the end it tasted fine.  So results may vary by cook (tongue in cheek). Note: If you do not like sweet and savory combos, this may not be for you.  Serve this with steamed green beans and roasted potatoes.

photo by L.W. Burbach

Fondue Night!!!!

My family loves fondue.  Long live fondue.  As you see from my photo, fondue has been around for a while-ya diggin’ my groovy Avacado Green fondue pot.  We love to do this with friends and do use china!  We usually have a pot of broth, a pot of oil, a pot of cheese, and one of caramel or chocolate.  Just have fun with this one.

Time: several hours of fun and laughter

Ease: piece of cake (dipped in chocolate)

Results: Memory maker, laughter, some oops, silliness, just plain fun.

Suggestions: raw chicken (keep this separated from everything else!), broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, apples, cake, bread, squash, onion petals, sweet potato slices, potato slices, anything else you’d like to try.  We served this with tempura batter, Crab dip for mushroom caps, dipping sauces of: Ranch, Teriyaki, Thai chili paste, chutney, tahini, and a remoulade sauce. Long live fondue!

Margarita Pizza

Margarita PizzaClassic Margherita Pizza – New York Style: Food network, Chef Emeril Lagasse

Time: 1 Hour 13 Minutes

Ease:  Easy

Results:  This is just a great pizza all the way around!  If you are intimidated by making crust try looking in the deli or freezer section of your grocery.  Sometimes they stock dough from the pizzas made in store.  Fresh mozzarella is in the specialty cheese section of most stores.

Well, this week’s meals were not perfect.  We had fun, we still ate well and we made memories.  I’d say it was a successful week!

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.