November 2, 2010

Aimee’s Harvest Dinner {Naptime Tales from the Trenches}

Butternut Squash Puree

Butternut Squash Puree for Harvest Dinner

Aimee Wimbush-Bourque is the editor of Simple Bites and the well-known blog Under the High Chair. She is also a culinary school graduate and busy mom of two. I never cease to be amazed at her fabulous inventive recipes and the techniques she employs to fit great food into her daily life. Today I invited her to share some stories about cooking with her kids and her recent harvest dinner. I loved hearing how she cooked her family meal over the course of several days and enjoyed it every step of the way. Note: For more of my interview with Aimee, and her amazing recipe for Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, come over to Babble and take a look.

Naptime Chef: Your boys are no longer infants but when they were, what kind of cooking methods did you employ to get table on the table every night?

Aimee: Parents of young children will agree that kids like to be right where the action is when they’re trying to make dinner. That’s right, directly underfoot. Now that I have two children of my own, it seems they appear at my elbow as soon as I pull out my Kitchen Aid. Fortunately, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

As parents, we have a responsibility to make eating about more than just putting food in our mouths.  Take the time to make the gathering and preparing of food, as well as the crucial sitting down together around the dinner table, central to eating.

First things first, however, be sure to teach your children the importance of kitchen safety and set boundaries early.

I have a few tricks that I employ when I need to get dinner on the table. Since the little ones wanted to be where I am, I don’t fight it (impossible anyway!) and often set them up to play in the corner of the kitchen.

They have one cupboard and one drawer that they are free to rifle through and ‘cook’ with the contents. I also occasionally set up ‘rice play’ – think mini indoor sandbox, but with post-dated rice, a few toy machines, and plenty of measuring spoons & cups.

If I’m canning or doing something that requires my full attention, I keep them occupied at the table with art supplies or play dough, and keep the youngest strapped into a booster seat so I can decide when he gets down!

I’ve also discovered that popsicles are my friends. My incredibly active 2 year old sits in his high chair for a full twenty minutes and enjoys a homemade popsicle. That usually gives me enough time to prep supper in the afternoon, if for some reason, he’s decided to skip his nap.

Harvest Dinner

Naptime Chef: These days you are a busy Mom of two feeding a family of four, when it comes to getting food on table what are your favorite tips and/or tricks? (i.e. do you bake ahead, freeze staples, etc)

Batch cooking really makes sense when you are a busy mom putting together a meal every night.  Even if it is something as simple as a pesto or tomato sauce, it offers a spring board to a substantial meal. I mean, here are 10 meal ideas just with a basic, four ingredient tomato sauce, so why not stock up on it?

Also, many think of batch cooking as hearty, winter fare such as stews, crock-pot dinners and pot pies, but it’s also possible to stock up on meals during the warm-weather months, as I illustrate in this post.

Menu planning is another life-saver. We’re pretty sold on it over at Simple Bites. I mean, it’s essential for moms on the go, plus has many side benefits such as saves money, time, and sanity – what’s not to like?!

Naptime Chef: Is there any particular story you have about pulling off a great meal, maybe even a holiday meal, by using your down time during the day or over the course of several days to cook?

It is incredibly important to know you food. What does that mean? Know what freezes well, what can be made a day or two before, and what needs to be served immediately.

For example, I recently hosted a ‘Harvest Dinner’ party for a dozen of our friends. Since I knew I didn’t want to give up an entire Saturday to cook –I’d rather be playing in the leaves with my kids!—I spaced the cooking out over the five days that preceded the event.

Really quickly, here’s how I did it:

A few weeks earlierClassic Applesauce, Cranberry Sauce, both canned. (to serve with the pork)

Wednesday: Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Rolls, made with my 2 year old, wrapped and frozen. They re-heat beautifully.

Thursday: My Cider Baked Beans. It’s a proven fact that these only get better with age! A few days to sit allowed the flavors of molasses, bacon, onions and fresh apple cider to blend.

Friday: Food shopping, prep pumpkin for cheesecake and squash for gratin.

Saturday: Slow-cooked Pork Shoulder, started early in the morning while the buys ate breakfast, Butternut Squash Gratin during naps, and Chilled Pumpkin Cheesecake was whipped up after the kids were in bed.

Sunday: I just had to braised some cabbage, leeks & apples for another side dish, and warm everything else. A friend brought a green salad with apples, blue cheese and walnuts and I had plenty of time to mingle before dinner.

It was an autumnal feast to remember, we were seventeen people in total, including children, and thanks to careful planning and simple recipes, I pulled it off easily during our everyday busy family life –and enjoyed the process!