I haven't been home from the office during the week in time to make a family dinner since, well, since I went back to work when my older child was a year-old toddler. Now 13 and 10, our kids eat with the baby-sitter hours earlier than would be possible if they had to wait for us.
Rejecting any semblance of respect for this particular 1950s ideal has always taken the pressure off everyone at our house. No one complains, least of all me.
So it was with great consternation that I read Jeff and Jodie Morgan's "The Working Parents Cookbook," a paean to the family dinner hour. Guilt started to gnaw at my carefully rationalized approach to dinner from the first page.
The Morgans' new cookbook, their first as a couple, grew out of their family maxim that the dinner hour is sacred. Preserving a time each evening when they can sit down to eat, and talk, with their two teenage daughters is religion to the Morgans.
Good food can be made quickly. Time, or rather the lack of it, doesn't need to be the enemy of the family dinner, according to the Napa Valley couple with careers as a vintner and social worker. (Jeff had a previous life as a wine and food writer, penning "Dean & DeLuca: The Food and Wine Cookbook," published in 2002.)
It's hardly a new idea. And I might have ignored the Morgans' take on it, as I have most everyone else's, if it weren't for their refreshingly down-to-earth approach. Our weekends can be as hectic as the weekdays, and appealing dishes that fall together fast are appreciated at our house.
The Morgans have a knack for creating enticing recipes that can sound as good to a picky 5-year-old as they do to a sophisticated adult. Their recipes are easy to make, probably even for teenage cooks. Take their chicken kebabs marinated in yogurt and spices, a refreshing dish for people who rely on the grill to get meat on the table quickly. Yogurt, fresh ginger, cilantro, garlic, cumin and coriander turn cubes of workaday chicken breast into a Middle Eastern treat.
Our family dinner night is Sunday. So before going to my son's afternoon baseball game, I spent 15 minutes throwing together the marinade, tossed in the chicken and put the whole thing in the fridge. After the game, it took only a couple of minutes to grill the kebabs. The meat retained a pretty sheen from the yogurt glaze, along with a milky moistness that defied the gas grill's tendency to suck the moisture out of chicken.
The couscous salad with tomato and cilantro could have used a little more olive oil and a little less raw red onion. Still, it got us thinking about couscous salads, previously not on our short list. A quick scrounge around in the fridge and we were adding cubes of feta, chunks of avocado and chopped celery to perk it up.
A dish that is as appetizing as the kebabs is the white bean soup with kale. It's a straightforward one-pot meal that's a notch above the typical bean soup m lange. The kale retained its structure and bite without being overpowering.
Making it work
It wasn't, however, a 15-minute preparation, as the recipe says. This was a 40-minute chopping project. And even though we had soaked the beans for 24 hour