There are many things I feel I haven’t mastered as a parent yet. On the very day my son was born, I finally fully understood what I had heard so many times: that parenting is an ever-changing job. As I got comfortable doing one basic thing, such as changing his diaper, there was something else I needed to learn—holding him, swaddling him, rocking him to sleep, getting him dressed, bathing him. Those first 48 hours at the hospital were a whirlwind, and I feel I’ve remained in that moving state ever since.
As he quickly grows up and the challenges get more complex, I find satisfaction in what I call “daily wins”—that is, moments when my son and I are in sync and flow through small tasks without even realizing it. Changing his morning diaper, removing his PJs, and dressing him all in one sitting? Win. Feeding him breakfast, then cleaning him up, bundling him into his winter clothes, and getting him to climb in his car seat in one seemingly smooth motion? *Huge* win. Not that my son is especially difficult: he’s a toddler. And with young children, you quickly realize that daily routines aren’t ever routines, really. They follow the ebb and flow of a growing human being’s effervescent mind.
So while I used the word “mastering” earlier, I very well know I won’t ever feel like I’m fully in control, and I’m okay with that. I go from one small win to the next, and that’s enough to keep me happy. But one thing I thought I would be better at, given my experience, is cooking for the family. Planning balanced meals, preparing ingredients in advance, keeping the kitchen tidy—all that jazz. Well, over two years later, I’m still struggling. It keeps me up at night, sometimes: I put so much pressure on myself to serve delicious and satisfying food, when in fact I’m the only one who gets mad if we have another round of grilled cheese sandwiches. I had always sworn to myself I would raise an adventurous eater, but I had neglected to take into account said growing human being’s effervescent mind. So now, I try to find a balance between predictability and novelty, and between quickly prepared and flavorful.
To improve my skills, over the past few months, I’ve been learning from the experience of other parents who seem to be pulling it together, food-wise. I’ve started to pay closer attention to the recipes published by bloggers I know to be parents, and look for clues in their writing. How do they do it?
It was during that search for new “role models” that I discovered Emilie Raffa’s blog, The Clever Carrot. Not only did she have a gorgeous blog filled with recipes that appealed to me, but she was to publish a cookbook filled with “get-ahead strategies and timesaving tips for stress-free home cooking.” I pre-ordered a copy of The Clever Cookbook and couldn’t wait to discover her secrets.
Turns out that the first way Raffa actually made me feel better is by recounting her own story in the book’s introduction. A classically trained chef, she, too, went on a streak of PB&J sandwiches and cereal-for-dinner after her first son was born. She, too, struggled with finding a new balance in the kitchen. “It wasn’t until I had kids, and basically no free time, that I realized putting a homemade meal on the table was a constant struggle.” As she realized it was time to bring real food back to the table, she drew from her formal training to figure out time-saving strategies that would allow her to bring back the homemade values she grew up with.
So in her ingenious cookbook, Raffa shares her time-saving tips and the recipes she makes using her prep-ahead strategies. The chapters and recipes are organized around those tips. For example, the first chapter centers around prep-ahead vegetables—more specifically, mirepoix, the classic trio of onions, carrots, and celery that is the flavor basis of so many dishes. She even uses a grid-shaped dicing blade to perfectly cut up veggies in one motion! She then advises freezing the chopped veggies in individual bags so you can take out the exact quantity you need, when you need it. You can then use these pre-prepped veggies in one of her hearty soups, braised meats, or pasta dishes.
But far from being individual, isolated tips that you use either-or, they’re actually building blocks you learn to use together. For example, recipes presented later in the book may use mirepoix, but also her “Triple-Duty Chicken Stock,” and one of her spice blends. By the end of the book, you’re equipped with several new techniques that you can rely upon to make her recipes, or your own, more quickly.
One thing I’ve been focused on learning to do as I cook for my family is to plan for meals that build on top of the other, using shared ingredients or leftovers from the night before. Previously, I saw dinnertime as a series of individual projects that I started from scratch every night, but the past two years have shown me that I just can’t afford to cook like that anymore. I love that “The Clever Cookbook” demonstrates that a handful of basic components can get you through a full week of meals, with a fraction of the effort. Raffa has inspired me to create my own pantry- and freezerful of prepared ingredients that will help me quickly make our favorite dishes on weeknights, which will result in more flavorful meals, and, especially, fewer take-out meals.
Giveaway alert! Scroll down to the bottom of the post for details on how to win a copy of Emilie Raffa’s book, The Clever Cookbook.
Makes Makes about 24 meatballs
These easy, freezer-friendly meatballs benefit from a nutritious boost (spinach!) and a subtle sweetness (raisins!), making them a guaranteed family hit.
15 minPrep Time
25 minCook Time
40 minTotal Time
Preheat the oven to 350° [175°C]. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over low heat. Add the sliced green onions and sauté until soft, about 1 minute. Add the baby spinach leaves and raisins, and cook until the leaves begin to wilt and loose volume, about 2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the veggies 2 to 3 times, until coarsely chopped. Add the ground turkey or chicken, egg, and breadcrumbs. Season with ½ tsp [5 ml] kosher salt and a few turns of black pepper. Pulse again until the mixture is well combined. Remove the bowl from the base.
Using a mini ice cream scoop, making sure to pack each scoop tightly, portion the meatballs onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through so they bake evenly.
Serve the meatballs over tomato sauce, with the cooked pasta, grain, or rice of your choice. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, if desired.
If you are making the meatballs ahead of time, let them cool completely to room temperature, then store in airtight bags or containers. The meatballs will keep refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for up to three months.
I can’t help it: I love meatballs, and my son does too (win!). Meatballs are the first thing I learned to make ahead, even before I had a baby, and I know to serve them many different ways, depending on the veggies and sauces we have in the fridge. After rolling hundreds (thousands!) of meatballs over the years, I pride myself on being an “expert” in the matter, so it was obvious I needed to give Raffa’s turkey meatballs recipe a try. I wasn’t disappointed: the generous use of baby spinach boosts the nutritional value, while the addition of raisins—a trick she borrowed from her Sicilian grandmother—adds a subtle sweetness, which makes the meatballs 100% family-friendly.
She advises the use of a mini ice cream scoop to form the turkey meatballs, to avoid the need for rolling (and getting your hands dirty). I was already using the tool to make meatballs more quickly, but I thought skipping the rolling process would make for meatballs that fall apart. I made sure to pack each spoonful tightly, and the turkey meatballs turned out not only perfectly shaped, but dreamily tender. That tip alone allowed me to save so much time!
Quick note: If you want to double the recipe, make sure to use a 12-cup capacity food processor, or you’ll have to finish the mixing process in a separate bowl, like I did.
The giveaway has ended. Thanks to everyone who participated!
How to Win Here’s how to win a copy of The Clever Cookbook: Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking. Mandatory: Share one of your time-saving tips that allow you to serve homemade meals to your family. Or if you don’t have any, say what you look forward to learning from The Clever Cookbook! Optional: Take advantage of all the social media options in the Rafflecopter widget below to get more chances to win. When entering through social media, make sure I can recognize your name/address so I can reach you if you win.
The Fine Print You must be a U.S. or Canadian resident to win (or provide a U.S. or Canadian mailing address). Each winner needs to answer a simple skill question to get the prizes. The giveaway ends Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at midnight EST.
Good luck to everyone!