When my daughters were pre-school ages, spending 30 minutes by myself in the kitchen was a luxury. Baking had to fit in with the requirements of a hectic household and meals were carefully timed so as not to anger the gods of nap time.
I was reminded of those days during my recent overnight visit in Jacksonville with my daughter Leslie, 4-month-old grandson Liam, 3-year-old granddaughter Lila, and her astonishingly patient husband. Fun times.
During my crazy mommy days, I remember all I wanted was to get dinner on the table before I ran out of steam. Hmm, not much had really changed.
Along the way I've learned a few shortcuts to avoid the “let's order in because it's late and I've run out of energy” excuse.
Here are a few:
* Shine the sink. I know you're going to think this is nutty, but it really works. Nothing makes me feel less like cooking than coming home to crusted-over dishes.
Before you go to bed, clear out the sink of everything, either wash the dishes or load them in the dishwasher, scrub, rinse well and then shine with a towel. I call it “five minutes to a new attitude.”
There really is something magical about waking up in the morning to an empty, clean and shining sink.
* Next, set the table. I've learned this from hosting many holiday meals. If you're able, set the dinner table for the next day before you go to bed at night. Having it done ahead of cooking gives me one less thing to worry about. There's something psychologically very helpful in knowing that as I cook and bake, the table is right there and ready to go.
* Try menu rotation. Come up with simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. I had a friend that used to do this and at the time I thought this sounded boring, but in truth, she was on to something.
These meals don't have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. For example: Monday could be a protein, salad and bread; Tuesday, black beans and rice with salsa and so on. This also will simplify your shopping. As your children get older and you get more courageous, you can expand your repertoire.
On the subject of shortcuts, for Saturday's family cookout, quite by accident, we created a yummy marinade for grilled salmon and also used the remaining sauce as a salad vinaigrette. Talk about a twofer!
Some ingredient combinations are like alchemy and this week's recipe qualifies.
Fresh, crunchy and deeply flavorful, spicy ponzu sauced green beans are easily the most addictive vegetable in my current bag of tricks. I went home and made it again the following night.
I can make it in minutes and it keeps for days, becoming even tangier as it sits. Try it over green beans, as we did, or as a marinade, basting sauce, salad dressing or dipping sauce.
This is the kind of recipe that's ripe for substitutions, too. I added sesame seeds, left out the black bean and oyster sauce and exchanged crushed red chili flakes for the chili paste. You could even increase the dressing and add cubed tofu or cooked shrimp to turn the salad into a main course.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit the South Shore News and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.
Spicy Ponzu Sauce on Green Beans
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon Asian (toasted) sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon black bean sauce
1/2 teaspoon Asian red chili paste
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
Mix soy sauce, ponzu sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, chili paste, ginger, and garlic. Source: Adapted from www.myrecipes.com.