Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cookbooks: Time for Dinner by Pilar Guzmán, Jenny Rosenstarch and Alanna Stang

Though Time for Dinner: Strategies, Inspiration and Recipes for Family Meals Every Night of the Week (Chronicle Books) is a cookbook, it’s also something of a battle plan. The object, as the subtitle suggests, is to get through the whole week without breaking down and eating out. A warning label as the book begins explains the strategy:
What you are holding in your hand is more planned playbook than cookbook. It takes into account that some days, you feel like Supermom, ready to prep four days’ worth of meals; and some days, it’s all you can do to slather a little peanut butter and jelly on bread and, yes, call it dinner.
Unsurprisingly, the resulting book doesn’t present much in the way of haute cuisine. On the other hand, there really are lots of great suggestions for getting healthy and nutritious meals on the table, pronto.

The chapter headings tell their own story: “If I Could Just Make it to Wednesday,” “I Want to Have a Family Dinner Where We All Eat the Same Meal,” “Do Sandwiches Count?” (Hint: they do.) “I Want to Use What I Already Have,” and “Let’s All Have a Playdate.” The first chapter is, in some ways, the most important: “The Family Kitchen” explains what should be where in your kitchen to help you get the meals out as easily as possible.

For the most part, recipes here are simple, some almost to the point of crude. Clearly Ice-Cube Tray Sushi isn’t going to win any iron chef awards, but it gets the job done, and fast. Ditto Ham & Pickles on Ficelle, the one that might well be a serious contender for Simplest Recipe in the World Award:
1. Spread the butter evenly on the bread.
2. Divide the ham and cornichons evenly between the wedges [of bread]. Serve with grape tomatoes if desired.
While all of the recipes are intended to be easy to follow, most are not quite as simple as that one and many call for actual cooking, with heat.

There is a great deal of innovation in this book as well as much gentle instructing. If you’ve ever stood at your fridge pondering while a preschooler tugged on you, asking what was for supper in a plaintive voice that filled you with dread, then you simply must have Time for Dinner. It might even change your life. ◊

Monica Stark is an American writer and editor and a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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