Something funny happened last week, something so perfect for this time of year. I was engaged in a back-and-forth flurry of email among several moms, about a cookie baking project for the school staff, and someone offered up a thought about how something should be done. She added the line: “I’m suggesting, not volunteering.”
You have to admire her honesty. The to-do lists get longer and longer at this time of year, and my home is a confusion of wrapping paper, piled up coats and backpacks, holiday cards, and sticks of butter softening on the counter. I know we have a dog, and he’s in here somewhere, too.
And this year, like every year, I am determined to elbow past the chaos and the commercialism and create some moments and gifts with meaning. Meaning, dammit. So while I’ve done my share of shopping, the list below is what my weekend in the kitchen will be all about.
This is what happens to me when I’m planning a large-scale party: As I go along, I tell myself that WAY too many things can be done at the last minute: “Oh, I can mash these potatoes right before dinner.” “I’ll make the dip a little before the guests arrive.” “I’ll whip the cream just before dessert.” And then, suddenly, that last minute is packed with fifty-three no-big -deal tasks that make what was intended to be a relaxed meal . . . not.
If this sounds familiar, then we can be friends. But just know that this year I’m determined to stave off the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off syndrome that I fall prey to time and time again. I’m going to make (almost) everything ahead of time, and reheat come the big day. Here’s how it’s going to go down in my house on Thanksgiving, and (in a perfect world) at other future gatherings.
Let me just say that when the dust settles I will be sitting right next to my kids, fishing the “best” candy out of the bag (in my case, Snickers, Kit Kats, and Tootsie Pops), and bypassing the colored Tootsie Rolls. (I’m sorry, but a lime Tootsie Roll? Orange? Cherry? Why? Who? It’s just wrong.) They will sort candy, trade candy, have a slight meltdown at some point, and argue over how much candy they get to keep. That’s all fine.
But in order for me to be “Fun Mommy” that night, and to refrain from spending the whole evening saying things like “How many pieces of candy is that, Jack?” I do feel the need to lay a foundation of real food in my kids’ little bellies before they hit the bricks. If I can, we will all feel better. And I will have done my mom job, because they’ll have a buffer to stave off the sugar shakes. I might even be able to keep my mouth shut when we run into that neighborhood dentist who likes to hand out lollipops with her business cards attached to them.
Here’s what I’ll be serving my kids and their friends while they borrow my eyeliner and draw fake mustaches on one another:
A Light Pre–Trick-or-Treating Dinner That Makes You Feel Better About What’s About to Transpire
1. Deviled Eggs 101
A dose of protein, a handheld food, and they kind of look like eyes, which is a bonus.
2. Basic Quesadillas
Another no-forks-necessary item, and a way to slide a few vegetables into the mix.
3. Hearty Lentil, Vegetable and Grain Soup
Let a pot of this simmer on the stove, and kids can grab a mugful as they get ready to go out.
4. Asian Beef Kebabs
Food on a stick that’s easy to eat while makeup is being applied.
5. Chicken Tender Skewers with Spiced Curry Rub
And chicken on a stick.
If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em, right?
Right now you may well be trying to remember how exactly this weeknight dinner thing works. Did you in fact have staff last year that you forgot to rehire? Did the children constantly surprise you with home-cooked meals, so that when you skidded into the kitchen at 6:00 p.m., you could just dim the lights, pour a glass of sauvignon blanc, take a seat at the table, and snap open your linen napkin? Yeah, right.
Here’s where I’m starting:
- Monday: Turkey or Chicken Chili (made on Sunday)
- Tuesday: Creole Shrimp
- Wednesday: Roast Beef with Mustard Garlic Crust and Horseradish Sauce
- Thursday: Pasta with Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato and Scallion Sauce
- Friday: Chicken Breasts with White Wine-Tarragon Pan Sauce
Plus some sort of salad (even salad on a stick, just for fun) or a simple sautéed vegetable, and rice or maybe a baked potato, if the oven is already cranked. I would love to hear what is making it into your regular rotations this fall.
No, you hang up first,
P.S. I’ll be out and about quite a bit this fall, teaching cooking classes at Eataly in New York City and Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine, and doing a cooking demo at the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival in Connecticut. If you’re in the neighborhood, love to see you there!
5 Cooking Tips and 12 Recipes for Oven-Free Summer Dishes
How hot is it? It’s so hot that . . . Oh forget it, it’s so hot that nothing’s funny.
And do you also know what else is not funny? Sweating over a hot stove in August. The temperatures have ebbed and flowed in various parts of the country, but it seems that at some point most of us have been really, really hot, and surely will be again. There comes a summer moment when the thought of turning on the oven is as about appealing as cleaning it. Do you love to cook? Well, me too. But that oven thing is not happening right now, and stovetop things had better be fast. If you’ve got a grill, that’s a partial solution, but what we’re all really looking for are meals we can make 1) quickly or 2) ahead of time, and/or 3) that we can serve at room temp, or even chilled.
Here are a few tips for concocting summer meals that don’t entail an explosive burst of heat from your oven.
1) Room-Temperature Main-Dish Salads. These are just a very sensible way to think about lunch and dinner. The salad might be lettuce- or vegetable-based, or possibly grain-based, and then layered with seafood or chicken or steak on top if you like. Try herb grilled chicken on a bed of quinoa tossed with olives, lemon zest, and a handful of shredded basil; Teriyaki Chicken and Beef Skewers on a platter of brown rice mixed with sliced scallions; a simple piece of salmon on a pile of mixed greens with cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, and vinaigrette. Whatever you grill, make extra, because it will turn into a fabulous salad the next day.
2) Speaking of Skewers. Kebabs of all sorts are a very happy thought in these steamier months because they can be grilled, and they take a very short time to cook. And they’re pretty and fun to eat. Chicken Tender Skewers with Spiced Curry Rub, Citrus Basil Shrimp Kebabs, and Scallop and Pancetta Kebabs with Balsamic Glaze are fast and easy. And I’ve said it before and, sadly, I’ll say it again: Everything tastes better on a stick.
3) Plain Grilled Something, with Salsa. You can certainly purchase salsa in a jar, and there are a lot of exciting flavors to choose from these days, but what about a quick fruit salsa to top that chicken breast, that piece of swordfish, even that burger? Looking for fresh, spicy/sweet and different? Try Pineapple Mint Jalapeño Salsa or Citrusy Mango Ginger Salsa, which can be made ahead of time.
4) 5-Ingredient Pastas. Don’t have a grill? In the proverbial time it takes to boil water. . . . Yeah, yeah you get it. Try Thin Spaghetti with Fennel, Bacon and Parmesan. Or just sauté some garlic or onions and add piles of chopped fresh summer tomatoes, sliced zucchini—whatever you brought home from the market—toss it with cooked pasta, and shower it with grated cheese. This is also great as a room-temperature meal, so think leftovers.
5) For dessert, you’re not baking anything this week, unless you really, really have to. Unless your spouse is having a birthday with a zero at the end of it. Then you might melt some chocolate for refrigerated, no-bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares that can be made a day or two ahead of time. Or keep it very simple with a bowl of berries or Fruit Salad on a Stick.
You can probably tell that I am blithely ignoring all of the back-to-school displays that are peppering every retailer in sight, and making sure that I wring every drop of summer out of the coming weeks. And trying to do so without breaking too much of a sweat.
No, you hang up first,
8 Tips for a Fool-Proof Summer Picnic
Hey, yay, it’s officially summer, and because we are all wonderful people and good parents we’re hell-bent on finding outdoor activities that make the most of these pretty, warm, less-structured days. Of course, at some point we’ll plan a picnic. It seems so obvious, so simple, nostalgic even. But somehow there are a lot of stupid things that can go wrong and turn a delightful little outing into a “who-put-the-egg-salad-sandwiches-on-the-bottom-of-the-tote-bag/wait-I-thought-you-packed-the-cups: moment.”
Here are eight tips for making sure your picnic somewhat resembles the Norman Rockwell image you’ve got stuck in your mind. Obviously if you are doing this in your backyard you have less to worry about, but if you’re going farther afield:
1. Think finger food. Think drumsticks, sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, wedges of frittata, and cookies. Think cherries and berries (packed in sturdy containers to prevent squishing). And cut anything that needs to be cut before you leave home (quiches, brownies, and so on).
2. Sides should be easy to scoop and okay being jostled around: Breads and corn muffins. Pasta salads, slaws, big vegetable or green salads. Pack salad dressings in little plastic containers with tight lids and dress the salads on site.
3. Select foods that work well at room temperature. No one wants hot soup from a Thermos in July. Conversely, bringing an icebox pie is also not a good idea.
4. A fun drink is a great add-on. Instead of packing lots of individual cans or bottles, simplify that piece of the puzzle by packing one big Thermos of one interesting drink, like this Peach–Mango Spritzer.
5. Before packing perishables, get yourself organized. Pack the cooler right before you leave (remember to get ice ahead of time). Pack heavy on the bottom, light on top.
6. Make a checklist, and actually check things off as you pack them. Do not count on yourself to remember what you actually thought you put in the bag. You can’t have too many napkins, wipes, or trash bags, or too much bug spray.
7. Use paper and plastic for everything. You will do some wonderful environmental good deeds tomorrow, you will host a screening of An Inconvenient Truth, but today you are using disposable stuff when you can.
8. Unless a lifestyle magazine is coming to take photos of your picnic, this is a good moment to relax your presentation standards. Food tastes great outdoors, and you can arrange clementines into a pyramid another day. If anything, pack a few water guns and a Frisbee since the food is only a part of what’s so great about eating outdoors.
No, you hang up first,
A Father’s Day Menu Any Dad Could Love
For the record, I’m not a person who is particularly sold on these man-made commercial holidays. Instead wouldn’t it be lovely if our children would decide to celebrate us all on a random Tuesday, by spontaneously showering us with adorable hand-written coupons for backrubs and washing the dishes? But in the absence of that…well, here comes Father’s Day.
But this Father’s Day is the first one I’ve ever approached with real mixed feelings. On the one hand, there’s Gary, my bighearted husband and father to our two boys. He’s a great dad, and deserves to be celebrated, and celebrated he shall be. There will be grilling, there will be a gift, there will be handmade cards (if I have to shove the markers into their little clenched hands), and it will be fun. And it gave me great pleasure to come up with a menu that I know will make Gary stupidly happy. If you are looking for Father’s Day menu inspiration, see if Gary’s favorites match up with the dad in your day. Hint: Asian Barbecued Ribs, Lemon Pie with Saltine Crust and Whipped Cream).
But on the other side of this year’s Father’s Day is a huge hole—my dad died less than two months ago, and though in so many ways it doesn’t seem at all real yet, I think this day is going to pinch. I’ve spent so much of my life loving people though food—cooking the things they craved, trying to find the right thing to fill a need (macaroni and cheese for a friend going through fertility treatments, vegetable soup for a sick colleague, brownies to celebrate a new baby), and boy, did I cook a lot for my dad. Not just during the last months, when finding something he wanted to eat became more and more difficult, but ever since I could preheat an oven. So, even though I know I won’t actually be cooking for him, I will be picturing how much he’d be happy sitting down to the meal with us. I know that there are a lot of us who are celebrating the dads in our lives, even as we are missing the ones who no longer are, and I will be thinking of you all.
No, you hang up first,
P.S. Congratulations to our Bake Your Teacher a Thank You Sweepstakes winner, Gladis! And stay tuned for more sweepstakes and giveaways in the months to come!
How to Get Breakfast in Bed on Mother’s Day
Have you ever left a magazine conspicuously open to a page featuring a piece of jewelry that you wanted for your birthday? (Possibly even circled with a Sharpie?) Or said loudly to your significant other as you passed by a store window, “Wow, those shoes are amazing! Look at those shoes. Wow, those are some beautiful shoes.”
No, me neither. But I’m starting to think I should. And since Mother’s Day is right around the corner, what a great time to start. (Not that I didn’t enjoy the Wii my family gave
themselves me for Hanukkah).
I am not the only mom out there craving a little pampering on our super-special day (Sunday, May 12, in case you don’t have it in your calendar)—and however how unoriginal it might seem, breakfast in bed is a hell of a nice way to start the day. While I wouldn’t be totally averse to saying something like, “Hey, you people, how about some breakfast in here?” it would be more civilized to have them come to this idea on their own. Or sort of on their own.
As a little gift to all my fellow mothers, I have taken the liberty of sketching out a basic plan to raise all of our chances for getting breakfast in bed, complete with easy-to-follow recipes. Just print it out and leave it somewhere it will be seen (Maybe near the TV remote or the ice cream. Not, for instance, near the clarinet).
And whatever you do, don’t get out of bed until the dishes are done.
No, you hang up first,
P.S. Are you baking your teachers a thank you for teacher Appreciation Week, May 6 – 10? Love to hear and see what’s happening in your kitchens!
Bake Your Teacher a Thank You
Well, hi. At some point you decided, “Hey, I’d like to hear more from Katie Workman,” and guess what? Today’s the day! And here are my promises to you:
1) I will not clog your inbox—one email a month is what you will get from me.
2) The monthly emails will be entertaining, useful, and at times, funny, and if at any point they’re not. . . .
3) You can unsubscribe whenever you wish.
But let’s not get all negative, let’s talk a bit more about the fun we’re going to have! I’m going to send you tips, recipes, and ideas for cooking for your family and friends with more pleasure and ease and less frustration. And it would be really great if you felt like talking back to me—and there will be opportunities for that because I am very curious about what you’re cooking, what would make your life easier, and what your kids are loving or whining about. So, thanks for subscribing to The Mom 100 Cooks newsletter, and please, don’t be shy. I won’t be.
How to Bake Your Teachers a Thank You
A wonderful teacher is hard to overestimate, and when our kids are in the hands of an educator that “gets them,” it’s one of the best feelings in the world. May 6-10 is National Teacher Appreciation Week—so how to say “Thanks!” to all of those teachers (and school staff) who are bringing out the best in our kids? By baking them a thank you! Click here, and you’ll find three favorite cookie recipes.
And if you want to take it one simple step farther, do it with some friends. For the past four years I have co-chaired Teacher Appreciation Cookie Day at my kids’ school, and it’s the most rewarding volunteer project I’ve ever done there.
We simply organize a day when parents (and their kids) are invited to bake a batch of cookies using a particular recipe and bring the cookies to school. A couple of volunteers collect and distribute the cookies to the teachers throughout the school in a few jars with pretty labels letting the staff know that the cookies are a “thank you” from the parents. No onerous burden on any one parent, and the teachers are immensely touched by the idea of the parents and kids baking something for them with their own hands.
To get you started, click here to read the blog post which gives you all the helpful info you need in order to put together this easy and joyful event (Because you’re busy, right? I know, me too.)
And I would love to hear about your experiences, and see photos of your cookies, too. Please share! You can post to The Mom 100 wall on Facebook, comment at TheMom100.com, or post to Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest using the #BakeAThankYou hashtag. Even email me the photos! I’m quite chatty, so you’ll likely hear back.
No, you hang up first,