I wrote about “The Family Dinner” a few weeks back and, no joke, have not stopped thumbing through its pages while I stand at the kitchen counter since. I mean, really–I’m kind of going through the equivalent of a junior high crush on this cookbook. I glance at it sideways from across the room, I feel a little jumpy and eager when I open it, I think about it when we’re apart…you know the feeling, I know you do.
So anyway, this weekend I finally found myself with a bit of free time (a rare commodity in these parts). Wanting to expand our chicken repertoire (you know how I feel about a good, whole bird), I turned the ever-pleasing pages until I found a recipe for Curry. It calls for a whole chicken and, after a few weeks of crushing from afar, “The Family Dinner” and I finally rendezvoused at the stove.
Here is what I’ll say about this recipe before I share it with you below. Ok, I’m going to make a list because, well, I feel like it and it seems like an appropriate medium for conveying my post-cooking sentiments.
1. Make this meal.
2. Extra make it if you have kids.
3. If you don’t have kids, you can definitely kick up the heat.
4. If you do have kids, they just might blow your mind like M blew mine and eat the entire plate of food before them, grinning the entire time and happily staying in their seats until mealtime is over.
5. The 8 parts of the chicken are: 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 breasts. Not, as John delighted in informing me after I refused his assistance butchering our dear bird, 2 wings, 2 legs, and 2 breasts that you then turn into 4 so that you can tell yourself you know how to butcher your own bird, thankyouverymuch.
Sloooooow Cooker Curry
Or, you know, not, if you’re like me and don’t have a slow cooker
1 T. vegetable oil
1 red onion, cut into wedges
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. very finely minced fresh ginger
2 T. curry powder, hot or mild
1/2 cinnamon sticks (don’t have one? 1 stick=1 tspn. ground cinnamon, so use 1/4 tspn. here)
3 whole cardamom pods or 1/4 tspn. ground cardamom (optional) (using cardamom makes me feel fancy)
1 14-ounce can good-quality crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. small red potatoes, unpeeled, cut bite-size
1 whole organic chicken, 4-5 pounds, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
1 c. Greek yogurt, whole or 2 percent
1 c. fresh or defrosted frozen peas
If using a slow cooker, heat up a large nonstick pan and drizzle in the oil. If not using a slow cooker, use a big, heavy-bottomed pot. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and saute until soft and golden. Add the garlic and spices, stir for 30 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. (This can be done the night before: Chill the sauce, add the potatoes and chicken, and store in the fridge until you’re ready to cook). If using a slow cooker, put the potatoes on the bottom, then the chicken, and top off with the tomato sauce. If not using a slow cooker, just add the potatoes and chicken to the sauce pot. For cooking with a slow cooker, set cooker to low for 6 to 8 hours. If using a pot, simmer for 40 minutes. In a slow cooker, fold in yogurt and peas 30 minutes before serving. In a pot, simmer for another 10 minutes before serving. Check flavors, ladle over rice and enjoy.
Growing up, I ate dinner with my brothers nearly every night. When we were young, my mom fed us before my dad came home but sat with us while we ate. It was before the days of smart phones and ipods, of constant access and inundation. The rules were this: no reading and no answering the phone. We didn’t have to talk, per say, but conversation inevitably flowed. Sometimes we’d talk about our days or ideas with our mom; others we’d slip into that language that only siblings share, continuing imagined adventures begun in the backyard that afternoon or debates lingering from the evening before. As we got older, dinner became an affair that all five of us met over most nights of the week. We learned to communicate–to talk and to listen–and how to behave at the table. More than that, though, we knew where to find each other as our lives became increasingly individualized.
Laurie David (of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame) has recently published a book called The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time. It is a beautiful book, one that I’ve been savoring as I pick my way through. Brimming with recipes (most offered by her friend and family chef Kirstin Uhrenholdt), David’s book goes into great detail about the importance of coming together as a family for a meal. While the book focuses on dinner, David repeatedly points out that you can come together with those you love over breakfast or snack or pre-bed tea with the same results. The benefits are myriad, no matter the meal. Kids perform better in school who eat with their families. They have lower teen pregnancy rates and lower rates of disordered eating. Consciousness around eating is fostered, whether take-out is being served up or a completely homemade meal. Everyone slows down for a while, and the end result is healthier, happier people.
In addition to recipes, David offers up interviews with famous chefs. She offers music suggestions to accompany cooking and eating. There are pages upon pages about simple ways to make the table feel special (light a candle, make place settings with Scrabble letters, etc). It is the rare page that doesn’t include information about ways that kids can help, too, whether it’s setting the table or scrubbing the potatoes. The more hands involved in making the meal, the more appreciation felt for the food once it arrives at the table.
We have been trying to eat dinner as a family more these days. We want M to grow up knowing where to find us. I’ve found it keeps me accountable, too. Quite simply, I want her to see me eat, to grow up watching me nourish my body in hopes it will help her know how to do the same. The thing about David’s book, though, is that while it’s focused on families with kids, her points apply to all of us. In our hustle bustle go-go-go society, we far too often eat standing up in the kitchen or shove food in our mouths while we drive. Eating is one of the most basic and essential human functions and it’s time that we get back to basics. So let’s all try to do like David more often. Light a candle, put your food on a plate (even if it’s a frozen pizza or delivery), and sit down. Our minds and bodies will thank us.
And, really. If you only own one cookbook, I suggest this one. It is truly excellent.