The Food Column: A dinnertime survival guide


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For many harried parents, the structure of this new cookbook is what will seem the most appealing.

It’s not divided into chapters like “poultry,” “sides” or “desserts.”

The chapters are titled according to the pitfalls you encounter regularly in the kitchen:

“I Have Zero Time!”

“I Can’t Afford Healthy Food.”

“I’m Not a Short-Order Cook!”

“Nobody’s Around to Eat It Anyway.”

And perhaps the hands-down favorite: “Frankly, I Just Don’t Feel Like It.”

The book is “Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide” by Sally Kuzemchak, described on the cover as “Kid Wrangler. Mealtime Heroine. Nutrition Whiz.”

She’s actually a food blogger and busy mom of 6- and 10-year-old sons, plus a registered dietitian. So, as she says, she understands the desire to serve your kids healthy food, but she’s also “all about reality,” recognizing that time, budget and pickiness can all get in the way of the ideal.

Ms. Kuzemchak’s biggest kitchen challenge is probably time, she said. She thinks most people face the same challenge, juggling soccer practices and play rehearsals, or parents’ differing work schedules, or the 20 minutes they’ve got to cook and eat between activities. But the good news is that she’s hit upon a number of quick, appetizing meals that please the whole family.

One of her family’s favorites is “Rosemary Oven-Fried Chicken,” which is coated in a panko and cashew combo and drizzled with honey before serving. That one is in the “I’m on a Diet, They’re Not” chapter, so it might sound decadent, but at 248 calories per serving, it’s not too bad.

“T-Riffic Tilapia Tacos,” from the “I’m Not A Short-Order Cook!” chapter, turned her kids into fish-eaters, she said. Before, they’d always complained that fish was crumbly and too hard to eat, but put a mild fish inside a tortilla and voila – it becomes a kid-pleaser.

The “Frankly, I Just Don’t Feel Like It” chapter includes sandwich and salad suggestions that can pass as dinner when you’re totally uninspired.

We’d quibble with perhaps a couple of the suggested meals. For instance, I don’t think I’d have put homemade pizza – including homemade dough – in the “I Can Barely Boil Water” chapter. If you can barely boil water, you’re not yet ready to mess with yeast.

But many of the recipes sound tasty and feature unique ingredients, like the one we tried, Pistachio Pesto Pasta (see recipe).

Ms. Kuzemchak says she cooks from “Dinnertime Survival Guide” all the time – she’s got a clean office copy and a dog-eared, spattered kitchen copy.

One of her favorite “cheats” is to serve breakfast for dinner, such as the Zesty Lemon Waffles in the book. They’ve got whole wheat flour and flaxseed, so they’re reasonably healthy, and the whole family sends up a cheer when they hear breakfast is on the dinner menu.

The recipes are a mash-up of favorites from her own kitchen, recipes she tweaked from blogger friends, new recipes from the “Cooking Light” magazine staff, and archived “Cooking Light” recipes that had turned out to be reader favorites. All the recipes cycled through the Cooking Light test kitchen before publication.

And although Ms. Kuzemchak truly does like to cook, she acknowledges that her family still eats out or gets takeout about once a week.

“I really like to cook, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it every night,” she said.

Charitable event

Garden Open House: Garden scavenger hunt, children’s crafts, tastings of local honey and garden tours. 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, at Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, 119 Davis Ave., Bellevue. Free, but North Hills Community Outreach suggests donations of organic potting soil, biodegradable twine, straw bales, metal garden stakes, liquid hand soap, first-aid items, sunscreen or laminator sheets for use by garden staff and volunteers. The garden supplies two North Hills Community Outreach food pantries with fresh fruits and vegetables. For information, call 412-307-0069 ext. 3312.

Classes/demos

Tomato canning: Learn to make tomato juice, tomato jam, canned tomatoes and other tomato dishes, plus take a farm tour and enjoy samples of the tomato dishes and other foods. 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, at Harvest Valley Farms in Valencia. $20; $15 for full-time students. For an invitation, e-mail stbarclay13@verizon.net.

Mushroom dish demo: Jeffrey Berkowitz, Life Design Health Coach and Recipe Development Chef at New Life Kitchen, demonstrates preparation of mushroom dishes. 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, at Beechwood Farms Nature reserve, 614 Dorseyville Road. Free. wpamushroomclub.org.

Meals

Dinner in the Field: The King family of Freedom Farms, which is featured in a reality TV show called “Farm Kings,” hosts dinners of seasonal vegetables and local meats at their Butler-area farm. Dinners are scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 24, Sept. 14 and Sept. 21. Cost is $25 per person. Reservations: 724-586-5551. “Farm Kings” opens its fourth season at 10 p.m. tomorrow on GAC.

“Cure’ated” Guest Chef Dinner Series: Washington, D.C., chefs Scott Drewno and Mike Isabella feature a menu built around the theme, “Princes of Pork.” 5 p.m. Sept. 14 at Cure in Lawrenceville. $135 per person. Reservations: 412-252-2595.

Pistachio pesto pasta

2 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cooking spray

8 ounces uncooked fusilli (short twisted pasta)

2 garlic cloves

2 cups basil leaves

1/4 cup shelled dry-roasted pistachios

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Sprinkle chicken with ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 5 minutes; slice chicken into ½-inch-thick strips.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta, reserving ¼ cup cooking liquid.

Drop garlic through food chute with food processor on; process until minced. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, basil, pistachios, lemon juice and oil; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl once. Transfer pesto to a large bowl; stir in reserved ¼ cup pasta water and cheese. Add chicken and pasta; toss gently to coat. Serves 4.

--Sally Kuzemchak, “Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide” (Oxmoor House, $24.95, 2014)


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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