Dinner on a deadline

Posted by Anita on 04.29.10 12:52 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Michael Ruhlman ruffled a lot feathers when he called bullshit on people who can’t find time to cook. To be sure, there are people out there making poor choices, watching hours of TV yet kvetching they can’t put any energy into feeding themselves or their families. But leaving this (admittedly large) group aside for a moment, I also know there are many smart, thoughtful people who simply can’t spend even an hour every day in the kitchen.

Take our household, as one example. I honestly don’t think anyone could question our devotion to good food and home cooking. We go to the farmers market every damned week, even when it’s pouring buckets. We grow a lot of our own produce, though it would be far simpler to buy it. And we preserve both our own harvest and foods we buy in season. We cure our own meats, from time to time. We spend whole days — whole weekends, even — focused on putting real food on our table, and sharing it with people we care about.

But even though I love nothing more than spending hours in the kitchen, the realities of my job and my life mean it’s a luxury that I can’t have all the time.

I know Ruhlman loves to stir the pot — and god love him for that, the world needs more agitators. I also know that his reality is different from mine, and probably yours: This is a man who works at home and devotes his professional life to food. His bread-baking is integrated into his bread-winning in a way that few of us could manage. But for many people, even his simple roast chicken is too much work. Hell, on some particularly craptacular nights, roast chicken is too much work for me. I’m not proud of that. But on the other hand, I don’t beat myself up about it. As Cameron often says: “We eat better at home than most people do in restaurants.” And I think that’s true even when we’re defrosting, reheating, and MacGyvering our way to the table.

We (by which I mean all of us who care about food, and health, and community) need to teach people to make good food in whatever time they have available, not heap scorn on those who think that 30-Minute Meals are the answer. I can make dinner — organic, local, balanced food — in 15 minutes if pressed. It may not be pretty, but it’s real and it’s delicious.

I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to reach the countertop, though, and a lot of what allows me to make those on-the-fly meals happen is the result of hard work at some point days or weeks earlier. Cooking on a daily basis requires planning. It also means relying not necessarily on convenience foods, but convenient food. It’s equal parts planning ahead, stocking your larder, and knowing your limitations — things that can take years to master by trial and error. We shouldn’t expect people to come straight to the kitchen knowing what they need to do.

I realize, as I write all this, that in a way I’ve been part of the problem.

I rarely mention, much less post, our quick-and-dirty weeknight meals. They’re often less-than-photogenic specimens, and they’re usually the sort of food you don’t really need a recipe to make. When I do resort to posting something unglamorous, it’s usually because I’ve signed on for a challenge, and the deadline is looming. I always feel odd, writing about a dinner that isn’t picture perfect, because it feels like I am shortchanging my readers. But on the other hand, I think (hope!) you all realize that we don’t eat beautiful food seven days a week.

DinneronaDeadline-logoSo here’s my commitment: Every week, for the next 12 weeks, I’m going to write about a trick I use to get dinner on the table quickly. I’ll also give you a little homework: Something simple enough that you can do it while your partner washes up after dinner, or in an hour or so on the weekend. And each post will include a recipe to show how to use the week’s tip in a real-life setting, usually a tried-and-true supper we actually eat on a regular basis. I’ll answer questions in the comments, and hopefully we can all learn from one another.

When I get to the bottom of my bag of tricks, I’ll throw it open to you. We’ll have a roundup event, where you can either use my tips to create your own weeknight meal, or post a time-saver of your own. By August, you’ll know what I know, and you’ll have put it into practice so you can riff on it yourself.

I may be preaching to the choir here; if you’re reading this blog, you may be doing these things already. On the other hand, a quick straw poll of my food-loving pals tells me there’s value in this exercise, even for the veterans. But fear not: I’ll keep things simple enough that novice cooks will be able to put the tips to use, too.

So, who’s with me: Who wants to play along?

cooking, Dinner on a Deadline



Comment by Whitney

This is the most elegant reaction to Rulman’s comment and I love that you want to turn something positive out of it.

I’m in!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 12:56PM

Comment by melissa

sounds fun ;) I’m all about sharing this kind of thing. I am in the same boat–while I do make every dinner, I don’t always have time to do anything elaborate or even moderately complex.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:00PM

Comment by Alexandra

Yay! I am excited to start this challenge! I’ve been sliding in how much I cook at home and want to get my cookin mojo back!

Looking forward to all of these tips! I could use them :)

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:08PM

Comment by Sean

I am neverendingly amazed at the insouciant way you manage to put spectacular food on your table time and time again. I look forward to learning some of your secrets and furthering my own kitchen-fu. Perhaps I should mix up a Grasshopper in anticipation?

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:09PM

Comment by barbara

A great idea Anita.I look forward to the series. Lack of energy forces me to have a repetoire of quick fix meals, healthy and without convenience foods. I cook like this most nights.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:17PM

Comment by Laura

I’m in – I’ll even cook along if you’d like. We’ll resort more and more frequently to down and dirty dinners as the spring continues to kick our asses. Plus – maybe it’ll get me back in the blogging habit!

Nice response to Ruhlman!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:23PM

Comment by Lynne Faubert

Cool idea! I don’t know how many times over the last 3-4 weeks the hub has suggested I put our dinner meal on my new blog. “If it’s good enough to it, maybe other people would like to know.” But I always censure myself and only post the nice(r) bits. Yet are they the most relevant and helpful? Hum.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:30PM

Comment by Jessamyn

Good for you! You said pretty much what I was thinking when I read his piece. We cook practically every day, but we shop out of our freezer and we eat leftovers regularly. I get home from work after five and need to get to bed early, there is just not time to spend two hours on dinner. I try to post some of our quick, throw-together dinners, but I like your idea of approaching it as a series of techniques or tricks. Looking forward to it!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:37PM

Comment by Marisol

I’m in too! I love your weekly grocery photos. They’re inspiring but most blog recipes are a little daunting for this single cook. I tend to stick to the same quick meals week after week. I’m looking forward to this series and thank you so much for doing it!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:39PM

Comment by Winnie

Very very well said. And I agree with you that it is more than possible to spend well under 30 minutes cooking something super healthy and delicious. It may not be photo-worthy, but so what. You do not need an hour, and many of us do not have an hour to spare during the week to cook! For me it’s all about having the fridge/pantry stocked with things I can make quickly, plus I could eat some form of stir fry every night. I like your dinner on a deadline idea too!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:45PM

Comment by Morgan

Yeah, Stacey and I are in. I hate commitment (see the first 15 days of 2009 project 365 on my flickr page…), but methinks we can pull this one off. We’ll have a good time cooking along as well.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:49PM

Comment by Karen Solomon

In our house, we say that if we don’t know what we’re having for dinner by 4:30pm, then (all too often), burritos or pizza it is.

Anita – i am all over this. I agree that i like your approach very much. You took Ruhlman’s words to heart, and you’re putting them to good use. As a working mom who loves food, i am always exploring dishes that can be prepped ahead and/or made in 15 minutes. If it weren’t for tofu with greens in oyster sauce, pasta fazul, and polenta in the slow cooker, we would indeed starve. Can’t wait to see where this takes your culinary explorations…

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:51PM

Comment by Robin

Anita, As soon as I started reading this post I thought of how great it would be to hear how you stock your larder and meal plan — I’d been meaning to ask you about it for quite some time actually. So, yes, I’m in. Really excited for your upcoming posts!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 1:54PM

Comment by Peter

I’m much like you are, with a garden, and cured meat hanging, and jars of pickles and preserves in the pantry. I have to say, though, that I’m more on Ruhlman’s side; it’s all in the wanting. We haven’t had cable in four years, and I use the time that would have sucked up making the best food I can every night. But I love to cook, and lots of people do not. I think it’s the pleasure and desire that make the difference. Too many people are scared of making food.

And as for your excellent idea, I’ll be happy to mention short-cuts and tricks, but my blog is pretty much a perpetual documentation of crazy make-em-ups anyway. And I hear you about the less photogenic meals, but I figure that the internet does not need another picture of lackluster penne so I tend to leave those out.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 2:01PM

Comment by Stephanie

I’m with you.

Now that we’ve got a third person at the dinner table, I’m even more pressed for time (and exhausted) than I was before and I enjoy cooking too much to give it up for the convenience and speed of take-out all the time.

I already try to keep our meals fairly simple, but I’ve always suspected I could do a better job of planning stuff out.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 2:04PM

Comment by Anna

I’m in. Ready and waiting. :)

Posted on 04.29.10 at 2:33PM

Comment by Jenny

I love this idea!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 2:58PM

Comment by katie

Great idea! I’m in. This is my reality, too – home after 6:00 every night, always want to be eating dinner shortly after getting home so I have time to get the kitchen cleaned up and then get out in the garden or read for a little bit. I spend most Sundays getting ready for the week so I can pull off quick dinners.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 3:06PM

Comment by Vanessa

Ciao Anita,

I am in. This is a dear topic for me, being a generally lazy individual who doesn’t like to plana week worth of meals- or garden my own food!! That said, I have just fixed a farro salad for me for lunch, which required a 15 minutes boiling of farro while I chopped a few cherry tomatoes and a bit of fennel. I consider myself a master of “working the pantry” when I don’t feel like planning an elaborate meal, and most of my dinners are prepared in 15 to 30 minutes, with rare exceptions for when we have guests… So, let’s do this challenge and play along, I am curious to learn more and share!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 3:50PM

Comment by sam

Fabulous idea. Great article. I have lost my cooking mojo for all of this year, so currently it takes me every ounce of energy to get anything at all on the table these days. The easier the better. I sometimes don’t even start cooking til 10pm. So I am looking forward to seeing what becomes of this, if you will allow me, because I feel like I need to start all over again.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 5:25PM

Comment by Holly

I’m in, and I’m so grateful you are doing this!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 5:27PM

Comment by Tammi

This is excellent, Anita. I’ve just been introduced to you by my mate, keeper of the fabulous Progressive Dinner Party blog. The internets are a wonderful thing – my last post was on exactly this question of ‘how do you do it?’! I look forward to hearing your stories. :-)

Posted on 04.29.10 at 5:29PM

Comment by Lana @ Never Enough Thyme

What an intriguing challenge and what an eloquent response to Mr. Ruhlman. I’m looking forward to the next 12 weeks following along with you!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 5:38PM

Comment by w_interrobang (wendy)

I’m totally in. I had mixed feelings about MR’s article, and he’s a very persuasive writer. But you convinced me to be squarely in your camp. Thanks for putting it so eloquently and honestly.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 5:46PM

Comment by Lori @ RecipeGirl

I love Ruhlman & his rants. I love how he gets everyone all riled up and thinking about food & cooking. It’s awesome entertainment. I can roast a chicken, but it certainly requires more effort than grilled cheese. I’m all for a quick meal, and I’m all for doing something more involved. And sometimes I don’t want to do anything at all in the kitchen… take me out for fish tacos! I love your idea of this challenge- great idea!

Posted on 04.29.10 at 5:46PM

Comment by Jen

I love this idea. As a fellow food blogger, there are many quick thrown together meals that I make to feed myself that I would never consider posting on the blog. But, it’s just those type of meals that keep me away from processed foods on such nights. I think we can all benefit from seeing each other’s shortcut meals.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 6:07PM

Comment by Ellen

I’m so often physically exhausted at the end of a work day that I wimp out and order in (great thing about NYC), saving my cooking for the weekends. I already do a lot of food preservation and look forward to the challenge.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 6:10PM

Comment by amy

As I said earlier this morning on twitter, I feel strongly about this one. I work full time, commute, single parent and even sleep occasionally. I also garden, can, and go to at least one farmer’s market weekly. But the reality of my life is that on a weeknight, I am lucky to be home by 5:30 with a child who generally is starving. Spending an hour cooking is not doable and to be honest 1/2 an hour is tough. My solution is to do a lot of cooking on the weekends, to have a well stocked freezer and pantry and to not feel guilty about the nights when dinner is whole wheat pasta and butter for my daughter. All about balance.

Posted on 04.29.10 at 7:04PM

Comment by Bob

I also think it’s a cool idea, I’ll definitely follow along. I really need to work on my cooking, I tend to leave it to those in the house who seem to know their way around the kitchen better than me. I think it’s pretty awesome that you wash up after your wifes cooking. Go you :-)

Posted on 04.29.10 at 7:43PM

Comment by Jason L. Cheung

This is why I love you 2. You bet I’ll be reading.

Posted on 04.30.10 at 2:40AM

Comment by lisa

i LOVE that you are doing this, and definitely will be playing along!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 7:42AM

Comment by Genie

I am absolutely, absolutely in — and so thrilled that you’re doing this. Great idea, great response, great inspiration. Cheering you from across the Bay!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 9:51AM

Comment by Julie Whitehorn

This is the best response yet to Ruhlman that I’ve read so far, and I look forward to reading your posts. Sadly, many people who have no time to cook (two jobs, public transit, food deserts, etc) are not reading food blogs. If we are to have a true food revolution, we have to find ways to reach people where they are . . . maybe guerilla cooking demos and knife skills classes on the street, in schools . . .

Posted on 04.30.10 at 9:57AM

Comment by Marisa

Anita, you are brilliant. Count me in as well.

Posted on 04.30.10 at 9:58AM

Comment by Lauren

Yes! Its so true. Daily healthy dinner = planning, pantry, and back-up plans.

I’m with you, girl!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 9:59AM

Comment by nicole

Thank you for this! I love to cook, but also end up doing a lot of ‘quick-and-dirty’ weeknight dinners too – and honestly a lot of them are really healthful and delicious, if not glamorous. And I think that’s ok! I will definitely follow along :)

Posted on 04.30.10 at 10:38AM

Comment by Craig

Really looking forward to this. I’m a Nutritional Therapist and one of my biggest challenge is giving people quick and easy cooking ideas.

Posted on 04.30.10 at 10:39AM

Comment by Heather in SF @HeatherHAL

Cooking for one most of the time and being on a fierce budget are not usually things I consider blog-worthy, but the way you put it, they should be, so I will write about them more. Thank you for the encouragement!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 10:49AM

Comment by Yazmena

My husband and I are so in! I’ve been looking for a way to get my husband more involved in the kitchen and I think this may be it. Love the idea.

Posted on 04.30.10 at 11:11AM

Comment by Brit

This is a fantastic idea and I can’t wait to try it!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 11:17AM

Comment by Barbara Bell

Awesome idea! I can’t wait!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 11:26AM

Comment by gfdiner - Kathy

I’ll join. Can we stand in a long line and lock in each other’s arms and skip down the road together? I just sent in my money for my local CSA, can’t wait for June and my veggies and happy eggs will start again.
I would love to learn new tips and tricks.

Posted on 04.30.10 at 1:05PM

Comment by Maja

This is brilliant! I can’t wait! I so agree with you. Why do some people have to judge others so harshly?! But dinner on a deadline is basically what I do every night. I am so excited to learn from you.

Posted on 04.30.10 at 1:42PM

Comment by Kristi

I found this from a tweet from Shauna Ahern and have subscribed to your feed. I just had a baby 3 weeks ago, and found myself falling out of the habit of cooking during my pregnancy. This is the perfect opportunity for me to recommit to cooking. I vow to start “planning” dinner at least three times/week. Not easy for a free-wheeling right brainer, but I do love to cook and get lots of satisfaction from feeding myself and my husband something in which I know every ingredient. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get me back on track!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 2:36PM

Comment by Livin Local

You go girl! I’m totally on board!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 2:59PM

Comment by heather

LOVELY idea! i’m most excited to learn other peoples’ cattywampus cobble-together meal tricks, to change up my own!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 4:18PM

Comment by MarocMama

Love this!! It’s a fabulous idea!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 5:01PM

Comment by blissmamaof3

I’m totally in, great idea!

Posted on 04.30.10 at 6:57PM

Comment by Heather

As a long-time foodie and blogger, but a new mom, I have been busting out my tricks left and right. I’ve been writing about them, too, but I love that you’re making this into a Thing.

I’ll bite.

Posted on 05.01.10 at 3:02PM

Comment by Sherry

This is the first time I have read your blog. I like the idea of sharing tips and tricks. I am a single, homeschooling mom with the physical limitation of having Fibromyalgia and often unable to stand for an hour to cook. What prep I do is usually sitting at my kitchen table (when it’s not covered in books and whatnot). I do shop farmer’s markets, am growing some of my own food this year, drink milk straight from the cow and generally try to keep it healthy, but sometimes, I am so exhausted and in such pain from my disability that dinner is not nearly as healthy as I would like.

I am looking forward to reading as you journey…

Posted on 05.01.10 at 5:45PM

Comment by Adrienne

I think this is a wonderful idea. Many folks need help in this department. And I could always use some fresh input.

Posted on 05.02.10 at 4:29AM

Comment by Lauren

Thank you thank you thank you thank you

Posted on 05.02.10 at 4:46AM

Comment by wendy

What a great idea! I’m definitely on board and will be doing this on my blog too. I’m glad I saw the link to your post and blog n lastnightsdinner!

Posted on 05.03.10 at 4:53AM

Pingback by Mushroom Leek Pasta « The Whole Kitchen

[...] of Married with Dinner, crafted the perfect response to Ruhlman, which you should go read immediately (or, as soon as you [...]

Posted on 05.03.10 at 8:11AM

Comment by Karen

Thank you so much! What a well-worded response to Mr. Ruhlman, and I’m so looking forward to your series — I’m a novice cook and tend to be a slave to recipes and am eager to learn more about managing my pantry/kitchen to get good meals on the table when I’m pressed for time.

Posted on 05.03.10 at 10:50AM

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Posted on 05.03.10 at 11:11AM

Comment by renee ~ heirloom seasons

Hi Anita, This is your cousin Renee! I found out about your blog a while ago, really love it, I like to go back and read your posts about Grandma and Grandpa.
I sure do understand the no time to cook thing, however, I have made dinner for my family just about every single night for more than a decade. We never eat out, (seriously never, occasionally a meal at a friend’s house), we never eat pre-made packaged meals, I love to prepare good food for my family, but yeah, it’s not as nice when you don’t have the time. (At least I work from home, but still, two jobs, homeschooling, etc…)
I’m seeing that my comment is very long but I just have to leave it. So happy to see you here, would love to have chats with you about local food goodness, Grandpa, childhood memories… Lots of love, Renee

Posted on 05.03.10 at 7:04PM

Comment by NelsonW

Knock ‘em dead Anita!

I am looking forward to your series.

Posted on 05.03.10 at 7:17PM

Pingback by Rethinking Weeknight Dinners — Last Night's Dinner

[...] Anita’s Dinner on a deadline post is still percolating around my brain, and it has been interesting to follow the responses her post has received so far. This last week has been a bit of an anomaly for us in the kitchen, with Mike fine-tuning his pizza recipes for food52’s Week 47 challenge, and me working on some cooking and recipe-testing projects of my own, but we’ve still had to get dinner on the table, and when it hasn’t been pizza or one of my works-in-progress, it has most often been something as simple as pasta. And as much as I’ve griped in the past about how I can’t bear to post another darned pasta dish, I’ve decided that I’m really okay with pasta being something we eat as often as we do, whether it makes it to the blog or not. [...]

Posted on 05.05.10 at 5:55AM

Comment by Aleta

What a great idea. Everyone needs a bag of tricks for quick, tasty dinners. I can’t wait to dig into yours. For my part, I usually just smear Dijon mustard over chicken breasts, sprinkle them with panko and pop them into the oven while I make a salad.

Posted on 05.06.10 at 9:14AM

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Posted on 05.07.10 at 7:00AM

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Posted on 05.08.10 at 7:48AM

Comment by The Raven

Definitely count me in. I’ve been trying out meal planning for the last several weeks and things really are going well. How could I not have done this before???

Posted on 05.10.10 at 10:16AM

Comment by ruhlman

this is a great post. thanks for adding to the conversation in such a productive way. I love your dinner on a deadline tag line, not emphasizing quick and easy, only the reality that we don’t always have time. Your first post is also excellent in its focus on planning rather than compromise. Continued success! I’ll be reading!

Posted on 05.11.10 at 5:26AM

Comment by Chris

Love it–looking forward to reading and participating, Anita. I’m in!

Posted on 05.11.10 at 8:28AM

Comment by Cathy/showfoodchef

Sounds fabulous- I just had one of those meals last nite where you don’t bring out the camera cuz it’s no lovely dish,but not a crumb is leftover. Great idea, Anita!

Posted on 05.11.10 at 9:03AM

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Posted on 05.15.10 at 10:46AM

Comment by Ann B

Late to the table (yes, bad pun intended), but I’m in! Great idea …

Posted on 05.18.10 at 3:20PM

Comment by Eleanor

It’s almost the end of week 2 and I only just discovered you.

I’m in!

Working full time and studying part time means I have to plan out my meals. Otherwise I get fat and I have the data to prove it.

Posted on 05.19.10 at 9:15PM

Comment by Kitchen Butterfly

I think it is a great idea to share tips and tricks for getting speedy dinners to the table. I’ll read when I can and maybe share what I’ve learnt from experience (having a fulltime job + 3 kids)

Posted on 05.23.10 at 5:03AM

Comment by Kristin the Brooklyn Forager

I’m definitely in! I just found this, but I’m all about getting good food to the table on a deadline and I could use some work :)

Posted on 05.23.10 at 2:51PM

Comment by molly

I’m new here, but won over, immediately, by this idea. It’s so true, that to cook is a habit, with all the tricks and tips that implies. Love this. Will be checking back.

Posted on 05.24.10 at 7:39PM

Comment by Liz

I love this idea, and am looking forward to catching up on what you’ve written so far. This fits nicely with our blog’s theme – feeding our family of 5 as well as we can given limited time and money!

Posted on 05.24.10 at 7:39PM

Pingback by Mom, What’s For Dinner? Is Meal Planning Really Gonna Be the Answer? « Family Foodie Survival Guide

[...] with food as you are.  I recently found my way to Married with Dinner, and am really enjoying her Dinner on a Deadline series.  And given that what she is proposing makes complete and total sense, and given that I’m [...]

Posted on 05.29.10 at 9:29AM

Comment by xine

late to the party, but am on board. can’t remember how i found you but am so glad i did at this time! just starting to learn real cooking and even started a balcony veggie garden. help wanted! thankyou!

Posted on 05.31.10 at 9:02PM

Pingback by Pasta with Tuna, Tomatoes and Olives

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Posted on 06.22.10 at 1:36AM

Comment by Jenny Lu

What happened to getting an update every week?

Posted on 07.06.10 at 9:53AM

Comment by Brenda

Hi Anita,

I feel kind of silly just commenting on a post from April. But I saw your blog on Gluten Free Girl and the Chef and as I was rummaging through your older post I saw this dinner on a deadline commitment. I was like what is this and how do I learn more? I love the idea and I think it is a wonderful challenge. I’ll be following you from now on.
All the best,

Posted on 02.01.11 at 3:34PM

Comment by Nicole -Recipes with Leftovers

There seems to be something called cooking burnout. With a little bit of planning and not too high expectations, you can make cooking a lot more do-able. I always expect too much from myself.

Posted on 06.06.11 at 8:54AM

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