In Canada, the first Thursday of every November is National Men Make Dinner Day, the brainchild of an Ottawa d. j. named Sandy Sharkey, at 93.9 BOB FM. The National Men Make Dinner Day website has a handful of recipes, and its practical advice is very tongue-in-cheek.
Consider its “Rule #4: Main meal must include minimum of 4 ingredients and require at least one cooking utensil other than a fork.” And it has a list of prohibitions right out of a sitcom script: No “chewing gum, cotton candy, neighbor’s left-overs from last night,” are allowed.
National Men Make Dinner Day is designed for men who “never learned how to cook,” and are “somewhat afraid of the idea.” The Stay at Stove Dad motto starts with the words, “Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kitchen,” an allusion, of course, to a very dark comedy which plays on our deepest fears, and I appreciate how to have fun with a frightening concept: the need to feed one’s family every night.
In the spirit of National Men Make Dinner Day, I’ll pass on a tip. If you don’t know how to cook and you want to make a meal tonight, just check out this post by the cookbook author Michael Ruhlman, from earlier this year. He talks about how easy it is to make a good roast chicken, and what that can mean for a relationship. Read it, do it, and you’ll want to know how to make more dishes.
To put delicious food on the table for your family every night, a good place to start is with National Men Make Dinner Day’s "Rule #5, Man goes shopping for 'all' necessary ingredients. Bonus points if he takes inventory of cupboards and fridge first, before shopping trip.”
Daniel Moulthrop, a friend of mine who lives in Cleveland with his wife and three young children, recently had this to say on the subject, “about a month ago, I discovered the ancient art of menu planning and shopping in advance. It has significantly reduced the stress and burden around cooking. I feel a little like a housewife from the seventies, but I gotta tell you, coming home from work knowing that I can make dinner in under an hour and that I don't have to go to the store is kind of awesome.
I'll tell you how I came to this realization. Just a month into the school year, it had become routine for us to hit dinner time and not have anything ready to go for the kids, which reduced their big meal of the day to either a.) scrambled eggs, b.) carrot sticks, or c.) peanut butter sandwiches. And neither my wife, Dorothy, nor I could imagine throwing one more thing into the daily routine, even though our grocery store is practically on the way home. So we sat down one weekend naptime and asked ourselves, “what if we planned it out?” Then I could go to the store immediately, get everything we would need for dinners for the week, and give it a try.
It was like a revelation from God. I kid you not. Whether I was cooking or Dorothy was, we had the same experience--absolute relief and joy. Whoever got home first just looked at the menu taped to the chalkboard in the kitchen (Monday: stir fry with rice; Tuesday: chicken cutlets with broccoli; etc.) pulled whatever was necessary out of the fridge and executed.
Suddenly, dinner becomes something you can easily get on the table in 45 minutes or less, and manage while being somewhat responsive to the chaotic gaggle of children telling post-school stories or needing witching hour attention. What disappeared was that whole layer of high-level creativity that the unplanned dinner can demand. And that creative thing about imagining a dinner gets shifted over to some other moment, when the kids are asleep or otherwise taken care of--to a moment when you actually have the time and energy to devote to it.
When we first began this, we were a little tentative. We thought that this was the sort of thing done by people who don't know how to cook, people who need a recipe to make an omelet. For some reason, menu planning conjures a seventies housewife who favors casseroles and canned vegetables. We haven't gone to casseroles yet, but meatloaf is on this week's menu (for the simple reason that meatloaf rocks!)."
Here is one of Daniel Moulthrop’s go-to recipes:
Quick Finger Lickin’ Chicken and a Veggie
- 1-2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, sliced as thin as possible (usually one breast can become three thin cutlets)
- 1-2 eggs
- a few tbsp milk
- parsley (optional)
- grated parmagiano
- 1 head broccoli, washed and cut into florets
- 1 lemon, sliced
Slice up the chicken breasts so they are as thin as possible. If you've got younger kids, cut a few into chicken "finger" size.
Beat your eggs with some milk--1 egg, 1 tbsp.
In another bowl, mix together about a cup of breadcrumbs (we like the "italian" style), about 1/4 cup grated parm, and about a tbsp chopped, fresh parsley, if you have it.
Get your biggest frying pan or cast iron skillet heating up with about a quarter inch of vegetable oil. Set the burner on a little hotter than medium.
Dip the chicken in the egg, then drop in the breadcrumb bowl. Toss it around with the breadcrumbs and make sure it's fully covered, pile it on a plate. When you've got all the chicken fully breaded, the oil should be hot enough.
Start frying your chicken. cook until both sides are golden brown. Set aside on a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
While you fry, bring about two inches of water to boil in a separate pot with a cover. Once the water is boiling, drop the broccoli in the and cover. Watch it so you don't over cook. When it's still bright green and tender to your fork, pull it out of the pot and into a bowl. If you really want to get fancy about stopping the cooking process, throw it in the fridge for a minute.
Put the chicken on a serving plate, liberally spread two or three spoonfuls of capers on the pile and squeeze two lemon wedges on them. Serve with a side bowl of lemon wedges.