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.

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.