Cooking dinner at my house is like an Olympic event.
The gun goes off the minute I walk in the house after work. I sprint past my husband, hurdle our 75-pound Siberian husky and scoop up my 1-year-old as I make my way to the kitchen. If I'm lucky, I can deposit one of them in a highchair with some cheese crackers as pots and pans clang together and the fridge door swings open.
All of it is in a vain effort to get dinner on the table (TV tray, if we're being honest) before one of us starts screaming and begging to go to bed.
The only thing that I think saves me is meal planning. Each week, I scour the newspaper, websites, blogs and cookbooks for dinners that fit my diet, my husband's taste and our 1-year-old's needs. One night a month, though, I don't have to scour: one meal comes from Dash.
Dash is a monthly food magazine inserted in The Journal Gazette. Each month, I pick a recipe, make it and tell you how it fared. Some are winners, some are losers and some are neither.
As Dash comes to its one-year anniversary, I decided to flip through those magazines and try some of the recipes I didn't get the chance to the first time around.
On the Web
You can find the recipes for the dishes that follow -- and more -- at www.dashrecipes.com.
Turkey Sausage Marinara with Grilled Polenta
I'm a fan of turkey sausage. I'm also a fan of polenta. My husband … well, he could eat Italian every night of the week. So when it came to trying this recipe, I was sure it was perfect for us.
But it wasn't.
In an effort to make this dish easy for moms, it relies heavily on store-bought, pre-made ingredients (marinara sauce from a jar and polenta from a tube) that often lack the flavor of something you would make yourself. You get to make it your "own" with sautéed peppers but it was just fine without them. In fact, my husband didn't notice that he didn't have any in his bowl.
Don't get me wrong – I ate the entire bowl, as did my husband, and our 1-year-old ate the turkey sausage as if he would never have it again. But throughout dinner, I would say things like, "I wonder if this would be better over creamy polenta. Or pasta." "Oh, do you remember that jalapeño bacon polenta I had at Casa the other week?"
Grilled Vegetable Salad
Wouldn't you know it – the one meal that requires the grill and I'm out of propane. I make do with an indoor grill pan and decide that ultimately, it works out for the best. I can grill the vegetables while keeping an eye on the pasta and make the dressing between flips. The dish is a lot more labor intensive than you would think and I made it even more so by putting grape tomatoes on a baking sheet and popping them under the broiler. Something about the recipe screamed, "Where are the tomatoes?" It does come together quickly, though, and in 20 minutes all of us were enjoying the salad.
I served this as a side dish with salmon filets and had it as leftovers with the salmon flaked into the salad.
"You struck gold with this one," my husband said as we cleaned up after dinner. The paella, which had a great flavor from the turmeric, was probably the perfect weeknight dish. If you pick up pre-peeled shrimp and cheat a bit with minced garlic from a jar, the only real work is chopping the vegetables and the chicken. The entire meal was ready in 15 minutes and used just one pan. And if you are worried about picky kids? My 1-year-old devoured it – peas and all.
I was most intrigued by this dish the first time I saw it – the combination of apricot, blue cheese and pecans – but was afraid to try the sweet-and-savory appetizer. This time around, I got brave and, I'm happy to report, that it was worth my while. The apricot was still the dominant flavor, and I liked the crunch of the pecans. The calorie count in this dish made me cringe, prompting me to cut down on the calorie-dense cheese and pecans. I didn't feel like I missed them but it could be why the blue cheese was more of an accent.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
One might think that taking a major ingredient – you know, like flour – from a cake recipe would doom the end product. If one thought that, he would be wrong. So wrong. Rich and fudgy, this cake is easy to make and difficult to resist.
Stuffed Baked Potato
Ninety-degree weather doesn't exactly scream baked potato, but I enjoyed this recipe, serving it with a Mexican-inspired salad for a quick and healthful lunch. It can easily be served with chicken tortilla soup for an easy weeknight dinner or use baby potatoes and serve it as an appetizer at a fiesta.
Messy, messy, messy. It's all I can say about this dish. From dipping the tortillas to the multiple layers to trying to divide the stacks into two portions, it just didn't work for us. I understand trying to put a twist on a traditional dish, but I think we'll stick with traditional enchiladas.
Spicy Baked Tilapia
People are always looking for a new chicken recipe. Well, it's tilapia in my case. It's affordable, low in calories and my son loves it. This recipe was simple enough – milk, bread crumbs, spices and fish – and quick to make. Even though it's breaded, the fish tasted surprisingly light and had great flavor.
When I was getting ready to make this, I had an "oh, shoot" moment. I hadn't looked closely enough at the recipe and wasn't sure whether I had the right seasonings in the pantry. As it turned out, I did but this could easily be made with whatever combo you have on hand. I can't wait to try it with Old Bay.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
It's hard not to be skeptical of a pancake recipe that calls for more cottage cheese than flour and no leavening agent. Alas, they were good but more crepe than pancake and did not have the staying power of a traditional pancake. But I will say that I felt much better giving these to my carbaholic son than the peanut butter banana pancakes his father is so fond of.
Blueberry French Toast Casserole
This time of year, you can't go wrong with blueberries. They are fresh, plump and flavorful, and I think they really made this dish. I prepared it the night before and portioned it out in oversized muffin tins. I popped it in the oven come morning and let it bake while I got ready for work. My son devoured it, as did I. My husband wasn't keen on the bites of cream cheese, and the next time I might be inclined to mix it with the eggs so it gets a bit "crumbier."
If I had it my way, I would never make this again. Never, ever. It's not that it's not a tasty dish – it received nothing but rave reviews when my in-laws came over for dinner. The reason I won't make it is because it's a pain. It was a chore to keep the bacon wrapped around the brat, and I had to say a prayer that the grease from the bacon wouldn't cause flare-ups on the grill. Mid-cooking, I realized that I might have made things a bit easier on myself had I bought pre-packaged, pre-cooked, overly processed brats and not the fresh ones from the butcher.
Like a fine wine, sangria gets better with age … or a few days in the fridge. Fruity and strong, this recipe is perfect for these hot summer days. Of course, you have to be willing to spend close to $20 a pitcher. Between the wine, liquors, fruit and club soda, the cost of this recipe can quickly get out of control. Another complaint? The recipe calls for 4 cups of red wine and a standard bottle is about 3. A 100-milliliter bottle of brandy isn't enough but the 250-milliliter will give you an after-dinner drink that, incidentally, you don't need because this sangria is strong.