Maybe there are people out there who have enough time in their day to cook fresh, elaborate and, of course, scrumptious meals every night of the week, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t met any of them. Sure, we all have our moments when we go all out and make recipes that truly dazzle, but in reality, that isn’t what life is like for most of us.
And that’s where “Dinner Done–Practical Recipes for Your Busy Day” comes in, a labor of love produced by Leah Schapira, Victoria Dwek, Renee Muller, Esti Waldman and Shaindy Menzer of the Between Carpools lifestyle website. The ladies of Between Carpools get that we all spend our days juggling a million different jobs, because they do, too. And they appreciate that as we do our best not to drop any of those balls swirling crazily through the air, we still want yummy food for dinner every night, because they do, too.
I could shorten this article to just five words and say, “go buy this book now,” but there is just so much to say about “Dinner Done,” an ArtScroll publication. There are more than 150 recipes here. Yes, there are some that are a little more hands-on, but the vast majority are geared towards food you and your family will want to eat, and can be prepared in a flash.
Minimal cleanup also factors into the equation here, and there is an entire chapter devoted to recipes that are made from start to finish in a 9 x 13-inch pan, those disposable foil beauties that make our lives easier, displayed proudly in photographs alongside their more photogenic Pyrex and ceramic cousins. And yes, you can make a full meal in your favorite 9 x 13, so get ready to pull together pasta dishes like baked ziti or noodles with meat sauce without having to wash an extra pot and colander. Restaurant-style Asian orange chicken and yellow rice with bite-sized pieces of chicken go from start to finish in those iconic pans in an hour or less. Don’t even bother taking out your mixer or even a single bowl when it comes to making a quick dessert—carrot cake, Lotus blondies and no-mess chocolate peanut butter Chex mix are just a few of the sweet indulgences that are made from start to finish in 9 x 13 pans, trading duller-than-dull cleanup time for the far more exciting family and dinner time.
“Dinner Done” has been working overtime in my kitchen since it showed up on my doorstep about 10 days ago. The garlic sesame schnitzel was ridiculously easy to make—I don’t know about you, but I am happy to skip the “dunking in egg and dipping in crumbs” routine in favor of “throw everything in a bag and shake well,” especially for something that tasted so good. The saucy sesame chicken was equally successful, the ground chicken somehow not tasting spongy like it usually does, and the garlic, ginger, sesame oil and brown sugar sauce coming together in a wonderful way. The Syrian nachos did require more prep time, but it was well worth the additional effort—it was fun, different and delicious, with nary a crumb left over when I served it as a Shabbat morning appetizer.
Also yummy was the “everything but the bagel salmon,” the smear of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard a nice contrast to the fish, while the sesame, poppy, onion, garlic, salt and panko topping offered a satisfying crunch. Honorable mention goes to the make-ahead roasted veggie salad— while I skipped the feta cheese since I was serving it on Shabbat, I plan on making it again because I have no doubt that feta’s salty bite will be fabulous here. Be sure to mix up a full batch of the accompanying white wine basil dressing because this stuff is so good you are going to want to use it on other salads as well.
In addition to the recipes that we have already and tried and loved, there are several others on my must-taste-this list. The falafel crumble salad, with seasoned, mashed and baked chickpeas standing in for falafel, is definitely calling my name as is the sweet potato halves loaded up with goodies including black beans, cheese, avocado, Greek yogurt and jalapeno peppers. The smoked barbecue brisket is one of those recipes you put up in the morning and it welcomes you home in the afternoon, a serious blend of sauces and spices, making your house smell like heaven by the time supper rolls around. And if anyone wants to make me either the ultimate white pizza or the pastrami and corned beef meat pizza, I promise to be their BFF for life because there is nothing I like more than a good specialty pizza.
More than just recipes, “Dinner Done” is a treasure trove of practical tips, with the Between Carpools team reminding us to label 9 x 13 pans on the side, not the top, to make their contents more easily identifiable, coaching us through easy tomato peeling and teaching us how to microwave frozen bread so it actually tastes like bread, not rubber. Don’t forget to start saving empty paper towel tubes to keep raw cookie dough perfectly shaped and ready to slice and bake in your freezer, another great tip coming to you courtesy of “Dinner Done.”
It’s not often that a cookbook earns a spot in my kitchen five minutes after it shows up at my door, but “Dinner Done: is all that and more. With 320 pages of deliciousness and a true understanding of what real life is all about, “Dinner Done” is one of those books you are going to reach for again and again, and one that I suspect will stand the test of time and become a kitchen classic.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]