If you want to shake up your tired dinner routine, get out of town. Leave your co-parent (if you have one) at home while you eat in restaurants or stay with a friend who will cook for you. If you’re a single parent, let the kids fix a day or two of meals. Revel in not cooking for a few days. Don’t even think about it. Don’t make and freeze soups and stews as a backup. They really can figure it out. In the process of muddling through without your guiding hand, they’ll also discover new foods they like.
I discovered my husband’s hidden talent for culinary improvisation recently. While I was away, he’d made a supper of boneless chicken thighs sautéed simply with salt and pepper. It seemed so obvious, yet I’d never done it without the pretense of an exotic preparation such as Vietnamese caramel-sauced chicken strips. But when my older son Gus asked if he could try cooking this himself, I took the bait. Another night off!
Sort of. I offered to make a quick salad to accompany his creation, and a star was born. While Gus sautéed the chicken, I mixed a batch of my favorite tahini Caesar dressing and chopped a couple of heads of romaine lettuce. Without enough time to make croutons, we settled for nice crusty bread dipped in olive oil. Supper was ready in half an hour. When we’d finished, Gus looked around the table and asked, “Why don’t we do this more often?”
Good question. Now we do.
Versatile Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Food52 and other inspirations
I make a batch of one of these variations every couple of weeks and keep it in the mini-fridge at work so I can have a substantial salad for lunch. Any one of them is great tossed with greens from the mustard family — kale, arugula, mizuna, or a mix.
Makes 1⅓ cups
½ cup tahini
⅔ to ¾ cups water (as needed to thin to desired consistency)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
Black pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar (optional and to taste)
If you have an immersion blender or food processor, combine all ingredients in the cup or bowl and process till smooth. You can also whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate for up to a week.
Tahini Caesar: Add anywhere from 2-6 minced anchovy fillets (or 1-2 teaspoons anchovy paste) and up to ½ cup grated parmesan cheese. Toss with chopped romaine and croutons.
Asian flavors: Substitute 2 tablespoons rice vinegar for lemon juice and toasted sesame oil for olive oil; add 1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger and 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce or miso before salting. Toss with a mix of shredded carrots and napa cabbage.
Green Goddess: Add up to a cup of mixed chopped herbs, including a few of these: tarragon, basil, parsley, chives, and dill; substitute 2 tablespoons cider vinegar for lemon juice. This is good with shredded kale.
Chicken Thighs à la Dad
Serves 4, possibly with leftovers
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as canola, sunflower, or grapeseed
¼ to ½ cup white wine, water, or chicken broth
Cut thighs into rough cubes by opening each one up on a cutting board, slicing it into strips 1” wide, then cutting them crosswise at 1” intervals. Toss them in a bowl with a teaspoon of salt and pepper.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium for a 2 minutes, then add oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken. Move it around in the pan until all the pieces are changing color from pink to beige. Stir occasionally while you assemble and toss toss your salad.
Keep a quarter-cup of wine, broth, or water by the pan to deglaze it near the end. Deglazing is the process of adding a liquid to a pan that has browned bit of food in it. The liquid detaches the bits from the pan and returns their flavor to the juices in the pan. Cook almost all the liquid off. The chicken is ready when the pieces have patches of golden-brown, and the interior has lost all pinkness. Taste for salt and pepper.