Dinner Table Destinations

Jodi Liano
July 22, 2008

In this interview, Jodi Liano slakes our thirst for cooking and parenting wisdom -- and stokes our hunger!  We could go on and on, but we've got to run and get dinner ready! 

Sometimes by the end of the afternoon, we parents are especially eager for a getaway.  The energy's lagging, the day has taken its toll, and we'd love to have dinner be a bit of an adventure that seems far away from the regular-old.  Any ideas for some family dinner ideas that are a bit more far-flung than pizza and quesadillas?

I love Thai curries.  They can satisfy that need for something long cooked, like a stew, but they take no time and are packed with flavor. My favorite is a Thai Green Curry but, red or yellow curry paste are delish as well.  I make mine with beef (usually flank steak), chicken breast, or just plain veggies.  Add some steamed jasmine rice and you've got dinner.  If your kids aren't into the spicy stuff yet, tone down the curry paste and serve the curry with some chili sauce on the side.  The balance of sweet, salty, hot, and sour work really well and you might just be surprised how well your kids like it. 

Another great 'getaway' dish is Halibut Acqua Pazza.  If you harken to be eating at a seaside trattoria in Italy, this will do the trick.  The halibut, cooked in 'crazy water', could not be easier.  I've adapted my recipe for the legendary Marcella Hazan.  Simply add a 28 ounce can of chopped Italian tomatoes (I like Pomi), 4 cups of water, 3 sliced garlic cloves, 2 tbs. minced Italian parsley, and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil in a deep skillet.  Let it simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.  Uncover the pan, turn the heat to medium high and reduce the sauce by half.  This can be done well in advance and either left at room temp for a couple hours or refrigerated over night (love that!).  Just before dinner, bring the sauce to a simmer.  Season your fish well with salt and pepper and add it to the sauce (I usually do 4-6 ounce pieces of fish/person).  Cook 3-4 minutes, turn the fish over and cook 3-4 minutes more, just until opaque throughout.  Serve the fish over cooked angel hair pasta in shallow soup bowls.  Add a simple arugula salad and, again, dinner.  Trust me, kids eat this one up.

It's the blistering midsummer in most places (except of course for foggy San Francisco).  Perhaps destination: cool is where we'd most like to be heading.  Thoughts for easy, kid-friendly suppers that don't require going near the oven?

One of my favorites is to buy a jar of good quality imported oil packed tuna and drain it off.  Add it to a bowl with a can of drained and rinsed white beans, a minced shallot and a bit of minced fresh rosemary.  Drizzle it with a touch of balsamic and some extra virgin olive oil and that's dinner!  

I also love adding canned, drained garbanzo beans (very kid friendly)  to cold (or hot) pasta with chopped tomatoes, fresh italian parsley, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Add some cheese too-good Parmesan or, even better, grated ricotta salata.

Vietnamese summer rolls are fun too.  Take your kids on a field trip to your local Asian market-you won't believe all the treats.  While you are there, buy some rice paper wrappers (large circles), bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, carrot, and red leaf lettuce.  You should also pick up some shrimp (cooked medium prawns work fine-or you can cook them yourself).  Rehydrate the rice paper wrappers by putting them in a bowl of warm water for about 30 seconds.  Take them out of the water and put them on a clean kitchen towel, blotting off any excess water.  On the bottom third of the paper, place a lettuce leaf.  Top it with some julienned carrot, cilantro sprigs, mint leaves and a few shrimp (I usually slice my shrimp in half lengthwise so they lie flat).  Roll the paper up once, then fold the sides in to enclose the fillings, and continue to roll up.  These are best eaten right away but will keep a few hours if covered with a lightly damp towel and plastic wrap.  Be creative with the fillings too:  try cooked pork tenderloin, leftover chicken, and what ever veggies you like.  I've even done mango and crab, which is a great combo.  While you're at the Asian market, pick up some Thai sweet chili sauce -- it's great for dipping the rolls.

We loved your watermelon and feta salad idea.  Any other thoughts for presentations like that to take a tried-and-true kid fave like watermelon and present it a bit differently?

My number one favorite thing is cottage cheese pancakes.  They are high in protein and much lower in carbs so they're great to kick start the day or even for dinner when I'm too lazy to cook.  To me they are lighter and airer than regular pancakes and in our house they are definitely the 'fan favorite'. 

I also love getting spinach in things. I don't believe in hiding vegetables in my food-my fear being my son will grow up with a fear of eating real veggies if they are hiding in a chocolate brownie!  Spinach is great in scrambled eggs, tomato sauce, or even finely chopped in your meatballs.  

It's sweet but delicious -- homemade watermelon sorbet.  It is amazing and when you make ice cream or sorbet at home, you control the sugar that goes in so you know exactly what you're eating.  You can really use any pureed fruit that you like, just put it in the processor, puree it and strain it if you want. 

Do you have a rule of thumb in making dinner to ensure a happy family meal for instance, making sure there is at least one thing your child will like?  Or any other ideas to expand the horizons of your little one without creating a new battleground?

I have to admit, my pet peeve is parents who tell me their kids only eat chicken nuggets, pasta, or food that is white.  Come on!  There is a reason for that, and trust me, it isn't the kid's fault.  Parents need to take the responsibility for introducing their kids to new foods.  How to do this?  It's not always easy but, start making one dinner for the family.  Kids should not get their own special meal.  Center it around something you think your kids might like -- chicken, pasta, beef, etc. -- but branch out a bit.  

If your kids only eat chicken nuggets, try making chicken Milanese.  Pound your chicken breasts about to 1/2-inch thickness (or as your butcher to do this for you).  Fill a shallow bowl with 1/2 cup flour, another with 1 beaten egg, and another with 1 cup panko or regular breadcrumbs.  Season each bowl with salt and pepper, and the chicken as well.  Dunk your chicken pieces first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, shaking off excess over each bowl.  Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil.  When the butter/oil are hot, add the chicken and you should hear a sizzle.  Cook 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Transfer chicken to plates and, for the grown ups, top it with a simple salad of arugula and cherry tomatoes tossed in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.  

For the kids, add steamed veggies or, give them the same salad for a change of pace.  The trick is being persistent. Once your kids are hungry for one or two nights, they'll realize it is in their best interest to try what you cook.  Be patient with them and I promise, they won't starve and they will come around.

Involving your child in cooking is always a good way to enjoy getting dinner ready.  It's fun, and it usually increases the likelihood that she'll love it.  We are especially fond of preschools with rich cooking projects because it gets at so many life skills preschoolers are starting to develop.  What are your son's favorite things to help you make?

Where to begin!  He loves anything with dough-home made pizza dough, soft pretzels, bread, cookies, etc.  Then again, who doesn't love that stuff?  He also loves to mix anything with his hands.  We wash them good then he'll toss salads, fruit, etc.  He is also a big fan of being our resident 'banana squisher' when we make homemade banana bread.

What are your top five fave foods of summer?

Peaches, Blackberries, Cherries, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Figs. 

If you could really get away right now, where would you go and what would you eat for dinner once you got there?

I think I'd go to Tuscany. I'd eat farro cooked with summer squash which I had once in the Chianti region and it was unforgettable.  I'd have gelato every day.  Figs picked from the tree.  Penne arrabiata in a Roman trattoria.  Wild Boar ragu back in Tuscany.   Panzanella with those ripe red Italian tomatoes that are like nothing else I've ever taste.  The list could go on and on....

What were some of your favorite foods as a child?

Dungeness Crab (I loved all fish-my grandparents owned a fish market), Toast with Feta cheese on top, Plain yogurt drizzled with sugar, Cheerios-which I still love, and Chicken Picatta.

What are some of your son's favorite foods?

He is also a crab lover, plus homemade pasta (he makes it with his dad), spinach, Manchego cheese, meatballs, apricots, sole meuniere (filet of sole with lemon, capers and butter), and raspberry sorbet (of course he loves mac and cheese too!)


From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Exactly what is the positive change between the iphone 4 and i phone five that will be coming out for USA? i want to know should it be really worth it to buy the actual iphone 4 or if i must wait for the apple iphone five.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    Cool thx

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 3

    I love to introduce new foods to my child but it is so hard to do it. It's so easy to fall into the trap of just making the standard you know what they are going to eat foods. But I think they will be less picky if they try different foods. I'm going to try the Spring Rolls for sure!

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 4

    The recipes sound absolutely delicious. I can't wait to try some of them - especially the Vietnamese Spring Rolls and Cottage Cheese Pancakes. Yum!

    over a year ago


Similar Articles

The Savvy Library

From the educational to the whimsical, our Savvy editors help you explore your world. You can search our 1977 articles by keyword, subject, or date.

Notable Selection

Below you'll find some of the more popular selections from the Savvy Library: