The Friday night dinner I made two Shabbats ago was not the best example of my cooking ability. My son had neglected his usual, glorious, three-hour nap, and instead had catnapped a bit while I ran errands. Whenever I tried to chop anything, he climbed onto something not designed with toddler safety in mind and then attempted to jump off. This added an element of terror to cooking that I could have done without, and did not enhance the final product.
“I think this might be the worst food I have ever made,” I offered, prior to bringing it to the table for our guests.
The broccoli was cooked with literally one minute to go until Shabbat, and was sitting on a pile of semi-raw and wet mushrooms and fresh garlic. The chicken had been in the oven for six hours, three of those with the oven off, because Shabbat had started three hours before the meal was served. I’m pregnant, and I’ve been relentlessly craving chipotle pepper, which seems a good excuse for why I had overly spiced a side dish.
My husband and a good friend who eats with us every week raised their eyebrows. They have seen me serve some pretty bad meals, and some pretty boring ones as well. I could see in their eyes memories of hideous meals past from when my son was younger–beef and pickles, a staple of my late pregnancy repertoire (low glycemic index, and pickles are green vegetables, right?), a truly odd pasta dish that I kept adding to, in a desperate attempt to make it taste halfway decent, and many meals that seemed to be missing any semblance of side dishes altogether (“What, you wanted something BESIDES just a hunk of overcooked chicken for dinner? How about a beer for your carb needs?).
My son is 2 now, and generally we eat better than we did during his babyhood. Except for that Shabbat dinner, we can often eat like normal people and cook things. We can make fresh vegetables and sauté them with garlic, we can have chili, we can have stews. It’s all very exciting now that sometimes we can put him down to cook.
I am, however, rather pregnant, and hopefully soon we may reenter the world of Cooking While Holding a Screaming Newborn in One’s Arm (or eating absurdly late). We expect to be amply fed by our community when/if the new baby comes, but my son is has wide-ranging food intolerances and allergies so I am not sure how well that will work out this time around.
So, in preparation for what I am sure will be a challenging time for cooking, and with those in mind who are about to enter into a similar phase, here are some dinner suggestions if you have a one kid who has wide ranging intolerances and allergies and another who you have to hold all the time:
Chicken Breasts with Sundried Tomatoes and Green Peas
1 chicken breast per person
A jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil
A bag of frozen peas (a green vegetable and starch in one delicious pre-cooked food!)
Spoon some of the sun-dried tomatoes and their oil over the chicken breasts, and bake in the oven on 350 degrees until the chicken is at least 165 degrees inside or completely white in the middle.
Microwave the green peas, or stick in the fridge in the morning to defrost and take them out at dinnertime.
Tomato and Wine Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
1 sweet potato per person
1 3-pound chicken (or more, depending how much your family eats)
1 jar of tomato sauce and whatever red wine you have lying around
Wrap sweet potatoes in tin foil, poke holes in the foil with a fork, and stick in the oven on a tray (cleaning sweet potato gook out of the oven while holding a baby is even less pleasant than chopping). Cook at 375 degrees until they are soft.
Dump chicken in a pan, and cover with tomato sauce. Add the red wine, and stir it around a bit if you are feeling ambitious.
Bake until a meat thermometer shows that the chicken is at least 165 degrees inside.
No-chop Stir-Fry (Vegetarian)
1 can of chickpeas
1 bag of green peas
1 ½ cup of raisins
1 container of tofu (chopped in squares for frying, or ripped apart with a spoon with one hand)
1 box of pasta
Any quick-cooking vegetable that you can buy pre-chopped, like mushrooms (optional)
Sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, and ginger powder to taste
1 splash of olive oil
Canola oil (optional)
Peanut butter (optional)
If you are feeling ambitious, drain your tofu for 15 minutes (put it on a plate under a bowl with a can on top of it), slice it, and fry it in hot canola oil and set aside.
If you are not feeling ambitious, see easier tofu instructions, below:
Make pasta according to the directions on the box and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a pan.
Add a pre-chopped vegetable if you have one, and a drained can of chickpeas.
Once chickpeas have cooked for a few minutes, add the frozen peas.
Add the fried or raw tofu to the pan.
Season with soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger and garlic powder to taste.
Fill serving bowls with pasta, spoon the stir-fry over it, and top with a heaping spoonful of peanut butter.