Though it’s been a bit drizzly in Boston lately, there’s no denying that spring has arrived. And with it comes a whole slew of new cookbooks filled with inspiration on what to cook this season. I’ve been a long-time fan of Sarah’s cooking and am excited to share her new cookbook, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work (which just so happens to be available today!). Sarah has been kind enough to join us to talk a bit about the book and offer insight into cooking for a family, as well as share one of the spring menus from the book–rhubarb cake, people … need I say more? Happy spring to all of you!
Everyone wants to know how to make dinner work, because when it works it is a great source of pride, connection, and light at the end of a long day. But when it doesn’t work, dinnertime is depleting, depressing, and so unbelievably stressful.
My answer to “What should I make for dinner?” comes in the form of my book, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work. My goal with this book is to help parents, and busy people in general, get into the rhythm of making home-cooked meals.
Nowadays we get a lot of our suggestions from a computer and have lost the community discussion about food, the sharing of beloved recipes. The recipes included in this book are our family favorites – the meals that have been in our regular rotation for years, as well as recent discoveries that have quickly become staples at our house.
There are many recipes in Feeding a Family that my kids eat weekly, if not daily, like Banana Milk with Flax Seeds and Black Bean Quinoa Burgers. Other dishes that my husband, Nick, or I happen to love (hello, Roasted Green Beans with Scallions) are entirely aspirational: the boys have never chosen to eat a full bite of them, but I continue to cook and serve these foods, knowing that someday they may catch on.
Make family dinners a priority in your house. Here are a few of my favorite tips on how to do just that:
- Follow your children’s lead in the kitchen–see what they like to cook and what tasks interest them. Maybe physical work like tearing kale leaves and peeling or chopping vegetables is their thing. Calmer tasks like measuring and mixing or decorating the dinner table appeal to others.
- Take care in what you (and other role models) eat, as children are observing you and are influenced by your choices. Think about your relationship with the “picky” foods. Do you cook, serve, and eat a lot of them?
- Aim to cook three or four dinners a week. Fill out the rest of the week with quick pantry dinner and leftovers.
In the book I invited four guest families to share their favorite seasonal dinners so you can see what works in other family kitchens. These families are all busy, hardworking, down-to-earth food lovers. Here, my friend Gina captures her favorite spring dinner – Herby Pasta with Mussels & Leeks, Caesar-ish Salad with Rosemary Croutons, and Rhubarb Cake with Vanilla Creme Fraiche.
I hope this beautiful spring meal will get you in the kitchen, then quickly outside, to sit and enjoy this long awaited season.
The Solons’ Family Meal, West Tisbury, Massachusetts
Shared by Gina Solon
After long, bleak months of wet, frigid weather, the days start to stretch, sometimes warming up just for a bit—just enough to cast upon us a little hope. In our family, many spring afternoons are spent outside. There is much unearthing to do from the remains of autumn and winter in our sandboxes and tree houses and gardens. And at least once a day there is a walk to our family farm. Lambs are coming at full speed now, and at any moment there could be another; you just have to peek. I love winter food—rich, substantial dishes that take hours to make—but in the spring, I am ready for brighter, crisper things. This meal is a combination of fresh and vibrant flavors, quickly assembled, but still warm and comforting. Perfect for the evenings when we roll into the house with cold fingertips, smelling like the earth.
Herby Pasta with Mussels and Leeks
I usually have most of the ingredients for the pasta dish lying around, except for the mussels, which are super affordable and readily available at most fish markets.
- 1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 leeks, white and light green parts sliced into 1-inch pieces
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and rinsed clean
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- Kosher salt
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just al dente, according to the package instructions, then drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the starchy cooking liquid.
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the leeks. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the leeks are slightly translucent. Add the wine, the reserved pasta water, and the mussels. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, until the mussels open. (Discard any mussels that haven’t opened after cooking.)
- Add the butter, pasta, and herbs to the pan and cook, tossing constantly, for about 1 to 2 minutes more. Season with salt and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
Caesar-ish Salad with Rosemary Croutons
When he was nine years old, my husband went to a restaurant where they made Caesar salad tableside, and he’s been making it at home ever since. This is our toned-down, family-friendly version. The salad is easy to throw together; the littles can tear the lettuce and mix the dressing all on their own. The croutons fill the house with a toasty, rosemary scent, and often half of them are gone before they make it into the bowl.
Kids Can: Little hands can tear lettuce leaves for the salad and mix together the dressing.
Serves 4 to 6
For the dressing
- 1/8 cup good extra virgin olive oil
- 2 heaping tablespoons real mayonnaise (I use Hellmann’s)
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Big pinch kosher salt
- A few grinds freshly ground black pepper
For the croutons
- 1/2 loaf crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 to 5 tablespoons salted butter
For the salad
- 2 large heads romaine lettuce
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, mayonnaise, buttermilk, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Cover and chill the dressing in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before using.
- To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread the bread squares on a large, rimmed baking sheet. With a mortar and pestle, grind the rosemary until the leaves are broken down and you have kind of a paste. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the rosemary and swirl it around a few times to flavor the butter. Drizzle the rosemary butter over the bread and toss the bread cubes with a spatula to coat them on all sides. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake the croutons for about ten minutes or so, until toasty and golden.
- To assemble the salad, tear the romaine heads into large pieces and place them in a large salad bowl. Drizzle the lettuce with the dressing and add the croutons. Grate some Parmesan on top and toss gently with tongs.
Rhubarb Cake with Vanilla Crème Fraîche
I love to make this simple cake using the abundance of rhubarb from my mother-in-law’s garden. It doubles as a breakfast cake in our house, too, often inhaled on the way to the bus stop.
Makes one 8-by-8-inch cake
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt (at room temperature)
- 3 to 4 stalks fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
For the topping
- Vanilla Crème Fraîche
- Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
- One 8-ounce container crème fraîche
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- Grease an 8 by 8-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flours, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, beat well to combine, then alternate between the flour mixture and the yogurt, adding a little at a time and beating well between additions. When all the flour and yogurt has been incorporated, fold in the rhubarb and ginger with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- To make the crème fraîche topping, mix together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or until chilled. Top the cake slices with dollops of the crème fraîche.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is now focused on opening her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: Recipes That Revamped My Pantry & Made Me Love Me, At Last, will be published by Roost Books/Penguin Random House in 2019. Her first cookbook, Food Gift Love, features more than 100 food gift recipes to make, wrap, and share and is available wherever you find favorite cookbooks.