Dinner Amidst Chaos

19 Aug

Yesterday was one of those days that flew by in a flurry of paper and phone calls and errands and STOP TOUCHING YOUR BROTHERs and Advil. Several doses of Advil. One of those days when I hit the bed at the very end and realized I’d been breathing all along, you know?

DH works in another state one or two days a week and on those days, I’m never quite sure what the evening’s routine will bring. Normally, he comes through the door about a half-hour before the kids go to bed, and by the time he gets changed and spends a few minutes with them before we brush teeth and tuck them in, it’s well past 8 p.m. And we’ve not yet had dinner.

There are a few ways to work around this so we’re not eating dinner 10 minutes before we pass out from exhaustion. The slow cooker is a godsend and I use it frequently, but tend to pull it out more in the colder months. I’ve also learned to make an entire dinner earlier in the day and pop it into the fridge to be re-heated later, but yesterday didn’t offer me a full hour anywhere to do that.

I call them “hurricane days,” and find the best way to work around them is to figure out how to piecemeal dinner together. Which is what we did yesterday, and we had a hot, reasonably healthy dinner on the table 10 minutes after the kids went to bed.

The first part of this is menu planning: the easiest way to figure this out is to have one thing that can be served cold (it was a tomato-cucumber salad last night), one thing that can be cooked ahead of time while other things are going on and re-heated later (a boxed wild rice blend), and an entree that can be prepped during the day and tossed into a pan for a bit at dinnertime (I did barbecued chicken breasts).

I had a pocket of time yesterday afternoon that involved some note reviewing for an article I’m working on. It was easy to bring the laptop up to the kitchen and sit at the table with my “real” work while the boxed rice mix simmered away on the stove. Rice microwaves beautifully, so cooking it while I was doing something else nearby and putting it in the fridge made total sense.

The kids ate dinner around 6. About a half-hour before that, I pulled a package of chicken breasts out of the freezer and defrosted them in a bowl of lukewarm water (which doesn’t threaten to start cooking them like the microwave can). I cut one up into strips, breaded them, and sauteed them into chicken fingers, which were served with some of the rice from the fridge and a banana. Kids fed–awesome.

While they ate, I butterflied the remaining breasts all the way through, to create four thin pieces out of the two whole breasts. Those went into the fridge, and I pulled my double grill pan out of the cabinet and set it on the stove. When I went upstairs to brush teeth and say goodnight to the not-so-little ones, I flipped the burner under the pan to medium-high; cast iron takes awhile to heat up, and the 10 minutes I was upstairs was perfect. I also pulled the chicken back onto the counter so it could come up to room temperature a little bit.

Back downstairs after kid bedtime, I sprayed the grill with olive oil spray and put the chicken on it to start cooking. While that went on, I chopped up the cucumber and tomato for our salad. Waited five minutes, flipped the chicken over, and started brushing it with barbecue sauce (I like Kraft honey barbecue, but that’s me).

Long and short, the chicken cooked, I heated up the rice, and we had dinner on the table by 8:15. Which is not bad at all for a hurricane day. Tonight, we’ll have leftovers; I have a class until 8 and need to shower after, so popping a plate in the microwave will be the only way we’ll eat at a remotely reasonable time.

Anyone else have great strategies for crazy-busy days? I’d love to hear them.

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