It almost seems like a requirement that my January column will be about whatever is perceived to be new, hip and trendy for the New Year. As my brain tried to climb out of its bourbon-laced eggnog induced haze, words such as sustainable green foods, pomegranate boutique vodka martinis and meat glue began to emerge. These thoughts were all pushed aside by an innocent question from my 12-year-old niece Kathryn. “Uncle Persnickety, Whatever happened to Sunday dinner?” She innocently asked. The question hit me like a ton of leftover Christmas fruitcake. It triggered a flood of childhood memories of mouth-watering Sunday afternoon feasts, orchestrated by my mother and grandmother. It also made me realize that somewhere between high-school and entering the real world, Sunday dinner disappeared.
Of course we still eat food on Sundays, but we are more apt to settle for pizza and takeout rather than pot-roast or baked ham. Food has become a spectator sport like the NFL or NBA. We enjoy watching the food network, top chef or Hell’s Kitchen, but the thought of actually picking up a knife or turning on the stove to making real food is just too much of an ordeal for some people. This is a real tragedy. Sunday dinner was never about organic free range chicken or trying to replicate the latest 43 ingredient entrée from the hot celebrity chef of the moment. For me, Sunday dinner was about family and community. These components plus homemade cooking made with hands with the all-natural ingredient of love is what made the food so soul satisfying.
Think about your favorite foods as a child. Now think about ordering those dishes in a fancy restaurant. They never match up to the memory. Macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes have often been given the gourmet treatment by professional chefs, myself included, often with less than stellar results. Food made by loving hands and a person with passion for the ingredients always trumps pedigreed products produced by soulless kitchen staffs. How can we return love and passion to the food?
I think Kathryn has the right idea. Sunday dinner is a good place to start. It is also good that she is cooking at a young age. There is no need to try and cook Julia Child’s recipe catalog from A-Z. The scrambled eggs, French toast and spaghetti she makes now are great dishes to start with. Dishes with a high probability of success will help keep the passion burning. I think cooking one meal a week as a community or family would go a long way in restoring our passion for food and community.
My ideas for a good Sunday meal include spaghetti and homemade meatballs with Caesar salad and garlic bread. The meatballs can be made by all age groups and is a fun hands-on activity. Chicken and dumplings is good cold weather fare that is also simple to make. Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese can help teach kids, and parents, that chicken has shapes other than nugget and that mac-n-cheese doesn’t only come from a blue box. Roast beef, pork or chicken are also good beginner meals to make. Their longer cooking time allows for unhurried making of salads and other side dishes. Mash potatoes are another dish everyone enjoys that can be hands-on fun. From peeling to mashing, it can be a group activity.
Don’t worry if these first-time forays end up with some skin still on the potatoes or lumps. That’s just extra love going into the food. The more often you cook together, the better the food will become.
Yes, Kathryn the traditional Sunday dinner has temporarily disappeared from our kitchens and tables. I am hoping that you and others of your generation can help bring it back. Cooking in the kitchen together as friends and family can be fun. It is those meals and experiences that led me to cooking as a career and lifelong passion. Katherine, let me know when you and I can make Sunday dinner together for the family. The menu is your choice. For everyone else, Sunday dinner is a simple and fun tradition you can begin with the New Year. Start with these easy recipes: Seven Layer Salad, Roast Pork with pan gravy, Scalloped Potatoes, and Berry Cobbler. Until next month, Bon Appétit.
Seven Layer Salad
Served in a footed trifle bow. This recipe is inspired by my mom, who used to make it hours ahead. No, I am not mathematically challenged and yes, there are more than seven layers.
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, cored and torn into medium pieces
- 1 head romaine, cored torn into medium pieces
- 12 strips bacon, cooked cooled and diced
- 1 red onion, diced
- 6 eggs, hard cooked and diced
- 2 avocados, diced
- 4 tomatoes, diced
- 2 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar
- 2 cups crumbled croutons
- 1½ cups mayo
- ¼ cup vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 4 tbsp Dijon mustard
Mix dressing ingredients and chill.
To assemble, mix lettuces. Put half on bottom of trifle dish. Alternate half of the remaining ingredients then spread half the dressing in middle layer. Repeat process until bowl is filled. Top with remaining dressing and crumbled croutons.
- 1 5-lb pork roast
- 2 tbsp parsley
- 2 tbsp thyme
- 2 tbsp rosemary
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp honey
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 onions quartered
- 5 ribs celery
- 3 carrots split
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line roasting pan with celery, carrots and onion. Place pork roast on top. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper. Spread bread crumb mix on top. Cook until internal temp is 145 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Remove roast to platter to rest. Heat roasting pan with vegetables still in it. Dust with 3 tbsp flour. Stir well. Add 4 cups beef broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Simmer 5 minutes. Strain and serve with pork roast.
- 8-10 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼-inch
- 12 oz shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- 10 scallions, diced
- 6 eggs
- 1½ pints cream
Soak potatoes in custard mix. Layer in 9×11 casserole dish greased with butter. Sprinkle each layer with salt and pepper. Pour remaining custard mix over potatoes. Top final layer with cheddar and bread crumbs. Cover with foil. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 30 more minutes.
- 8 cups mixed frozen berries
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1¼ cup milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 4 cups Bisquick®
For the top
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 2 tbsp cinnamon sugar
Mix well. Let sit 20 minutes. Place in greased cast iron skillet. Mix crust ingredients. Drop onto top of berries. Spread evenly. Drizzle with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.