WND – Easy Dinners and Lazy Mondays

February 21, 2008

The complicated part about making dinner isn’t learning when chicken is done, or how to make rice, or even how to plan a balanced meal. The hard part is having everything be done at the same time.

Sautéed chicken
Corn pudding
Green beans

Most weeks I spend a little while on Monday evenings doing prep work for dinner on Wednesday. My roommate works late on Mondays so there’s no one home to distract me with things like conversation, and I find cooking in a quiet house is very soothing. Sometimes I listen to an NPR podcast, sometimes I dance around my kitchen while my cat looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, but most of the time I kind of let my brain go off line while I cook. Unless I’m trying to scale a recipe up or down, or do complex geometry to figure out how many individual tarts the recipe for a 9” quiche will make, cooking doesn’t demand much conscious thought. It’s not quite autopilot, but it’s different thinking skills than I use at work or in conversation. I can let my hands go on about the tasks of slicing and sautéing without much active thought being involved. It’s relaxing.

This Monday night I went out and had noodles and ginger cheesecake and saw a movie and that was relaxing too, but in an entirely different way. Since I knew I was going to go out and play on Monday night I planned a dinner that I have made so many times I could do it half asleep, and one that didn’t require any advance preparation. It doesn’t hurt that everyone loves corn pudding and I get greeted like a hero every time I make it.

Corn Pudding
Figure out what you’re making that has a fixed cooking time and work backwards from there. The corn pudding takes about 40 minutes to cook. I usually serve dinner at 7:45ish, so the corn pudding needs to go in the oven at just after 7pm. This in turn means the oven needs to be turned on at about 6:50. I mix up the ingredients for the corn pudding first and then just leave it on the counter until it’s time to put it in the oven.

Green Beans
Green beans are another vegetable I wasn’t overly fond of in high school. This isn’t because I had anything intrinsically against green beans, so much as because my mother loved green beans with an unholy passion and would serve them about three times a week. It’s taken me a while to come around to green beans again after my forced indoctrination in high school but I finally have.

I put water on to boil for the green beans as soon as I start cooking. I’m not going to use it until the very end of cooking, but if the water has already boiled once it’ll take it much less time to come to the boil a second time when you do need it.

I start trimming my green beans early because it always takes longer than I think it will, but I keep an eye on the time so I don’t get caught at 7:15 with perfectly trimmed green beans but nothing in the oven yet. The green beans aren’t going anywhere, and they’re the last thing to be cooked so if you need to stop half way through trimming them to get the corn pudding in the oven that’s fine.

When you start sautéing your chicken bring the water for the green beans up to the boil again, and when you put your last batch of chicken in to cook throw the green beans in the water. It’ll take about 3-4 minutes to cook the green beans crisp tender. When they’re ready drain them and throw them back in the pot over heat to cook some of the water off and then season with olive oil or butter and salt & pepper. The last batch of chicken should be ready to serve at that point. If it isn’t quite there leave the green beans in an uncovered pot for the minute or so it takes the chicken to catch up)

Sautéed Chicken
I buy thinly sliced chicken breast meat, but you can also butterfly chicken breasts and then pound them lightly to achieve the same idea. With two large frying pans it takes about 20-25 minutes to cook enough chicken to feed 7 people, so I need to start my pans heating at 7:25. Each batch of chicken will need to cook for about 5-7 minutes, and it’ll take about 2-2.5 batches to cook enough chicken. Don’t flour your chicken in advance, it just gets gummy. Flour it as you’re about to put it in the frying pan.

In between putting the corn pudding in the oven and starting the chicken get your salad ready and start making your salad dressing. Salad dressing is unfussy and if you need to stop part way though to set your table, or start heating your pans that’s fine.

Getting everything on the table at the same time is one part logic, one part planning and about eight parts practice. I helped my mother make dinner all through middle and high school and I’d be hard pressed to say which was a more useful skill to graduate with – the ability to write a 3000 word essay about pretty much anything, or the ability to make dinner.



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