Cookbooks that promise winning strategies for family meals usually strike me the same way as books that promise quick, pain-free weight-loss tips: Yeah, right. But Time for Dinner (Chronicle Books), by the former editors of Cookie magazine, gets it right.
The authors understand that some nights are maple-glazed planked salmon nights, and some nights just call for egg salad sandwiches. I think they've hit the sweet spot where the tastes of most kids and most parents intersect: tomato-egg "cups" or risotto with sausage and peas.
They don't preach, but I like how their recipes are simple and workable without relying on packaged and premade mixes, and how their photo guides happen to default to organic ingredients. And, the authors know the phenomenon of "creating something from the seeming nothingness that is my refrigerator," giving suggestions for different meals that can be made by surveying the shelves and focusing on a single ingredient. When I had fresh tomatoes but little else, I went with their recommendation for pasta sauced with the tomatoes, goat cheese, garlic, and basil.
The idea that food must be cut in cute shapes for children has always irritated me, but I'm completely game for the book's quick veggie "sushi" made in an ice cube tray, and for using muffin tins for gorditas.
Best of all? The recipes I've tried so far have all worked. Kids and adults have eaten each one – family meals! If authors Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstrach, and Alanna Stang ever collaborate on a book on easy weight-loss techniques, I'm in.
Here's an example from one of the book's "strategic Sunday dinners," which gives four basic dishes to prepare on a Sunday and recipes for using the leftovers as building-block dinners for the rest of the week. The focus here is on the braised pork and its leftovers.
Sunday Dinner: Braised Pork
One 5-6 pound pork shoulder, a.k.a. picnic or Boston butt
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
6 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 orange
juice of 2 lemons
1. Stab deep slits with a knife into the pork shoulder.
2. In a small food processor or on a cutting board, make a paste from the garlic, paprika, and 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and smear it all over the pork, making sure some drips into the holes.
3. In a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, brown the pork in the remaining olive oil. (NOTE: We used heavy-duty tongs to turn the big piece of meat in order to sear both sides).
4. Add the orange and lemon juice (about a cup of liquid total) and cover.
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the internal temperature of the pork is 140 degrees F, about 1.5 hours. (NOTE: It's a forgiving recipe. As the authors note,
"the beauty of braised meat is that it's virtually impossible to overcook.")
Slice and serve the meat. The book recommends spooning the braising liquid over cooked barley, and accompanying it with roasted squash and cooked apples
In a medium-large pot, dump a 29-inch can of hominy, a 15-ounce can of chicken broth, a 16-ounce jar of tomatillo sauce (NOTE: In visits to four grocery stores, I couldn't find anything labeled "tomatillo sauce," so I substituted canned tomatillos and a tomatillo-heavy salsa); 1 head romaine lettuce (shredded), and a large chunk of leftover pork. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, then lower to medium for another 10 minutes. Serve with sliced radishes and a squeeze of lime.
Leftovers: Cuban Sandwiches
Layer leftover pork slices, dill pickles, a few slices of Swiss cheese (or substitute Gruyere or Provolone), and a smear of spicy brown mustard onto sandwich baguettes. Wrap them in foil and place them on a heated skillet. Place a heavy pan (cast iron is ideal) loaded down with canned items on top of the foil. Press the sandwiches until the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes.
Food writer Rebekah Denn goes through a lot of new cookbooks every month, and gives very few of them this kind of praise.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in October of 2010.