Although I often share images or videos of our food and family table, I’m also curious how other families connect around the table. What are other kitchen spaces like and how do they include children in the process? Is there even a process? Wink. What type of meals do other homes prefer and how do they make time together and experience food? This fall, I’m beginning a new series “In the Kitchen” where I plan to introduce other voices into this conversation on kitchen life and food. Each one will share something a bit different from the next, as location and homes and family life vary, but each will share a recipe or two, something to try in our own home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
To begin the series, I’m introducing Emily Nelson, a swoon-worthy food blogger at Gather&Dine and a mother of two in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a quiet soul with a broad palate and a penchant for whole foods, and I cannot wait to try her Caponata. Welcome, Emily!
When we built our house five years ago, I knew I wanted the kitchen to be at the very center of our home since gathering, cooking, and eating together are such important parts of family life. I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen, and both my children took a natural interest in working alongside me from a very early age. Pouring, mixing, and kneading were all fun and relatively easy tasks for them when they were young, and I have fond memories of messy afternoon baking sessions together. More recently we’ve been focusing a bit more on knife skills, and they have a great sense of accomplishment when they see a heaping bowl of vegetables they’ve chopped entirely on their own. Working together in the kitchen has been a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with one another. At the same time, the children build confidence and simultaneously acquire valuable skills to last their lifetimes.
Preparing food together also gives us opportunities to discuss healthy eating habits, which is especially helpful as the children become more independent and capable of making their own food choices. As a family, we try to eat according to whatever is fresh and seasonal with an overall wholesome and natural approach to food. While we do not adhere to a vegetarian diet, I do draw a lot of inspiration from various vegetarian cookbooks and blogs. Both Deborah Madision’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food and have heavily influenced my way of cooking and have been invaluable resources.
Meal planning once a week helps me to stay organized and minimizes trips to the store. I find cookbook perusing a delight rather than a chore, and I keep a running list of recipes I want to try. With my ever-growing list of recipes, I’m never out of ideas when it comes time for my weekly meal planning. I enjoy experimenting with food so there tends to be a lot of variety in our dinners, but I do try to incorporate at least one favorite and familiar meal on the menu every week. This helps with building comfort around the table, and also lends to sense of family identity. Sometimes the kids will join in helping to plan the meals, and Erin Gleeson’s Forest Feast for Kids has been a cookbook they have especially enjoyed.
We are very intentional about prioritizing our family dinners together. More and more as the kids have become older, I’m finding that there are numerous activities which can pull us apart at dinnertime. We try to fight against this as best as we can, and only schedule extracurricular activities during the dinner hour when we absolutely have to. It’s not easy, but guarding our mealtime together has been a priority nonetheless. Cooking and eating together has deepened our connections and relationships with each other, and has overall helped us to be a close family.
This caponata is traditionally served along with some crusty bread, and I think it also goes particularly well with grilled rosemary chicken. It’s a meal that can please both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, and is well suited for gatherings of all sorts. The kids helped with everything from washing and chopping the vegetables to sautéing and garnishing, so this was a family meal in the truest sense.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound
1 red bell pepper
1 red onion
4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons capers, drained
¾ cup green olives, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
chopped parsley to garnish
- Chop eggplant, red pepper, and onion into ¾-inch pieces.
- Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add eggplant, pepper, and onions and cook until vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for an additional minute.
- Add tomatoes, olives, capers, vinegar, and salt. Turn heat to low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. We enjoy this when the vegetables are not overly soft, but if you prefer a softer caponata, simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- Garnish with pine nuts and a generous handful of parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature with grilled rosemary chicken and some crusty bread.
GRILLED ROSEMARY CHICKEN
4 chicken breasts, about 2 pounds
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
lemon wedges and rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional
- Place chicken between 2 pieces of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to pound the chicken until it reaches an even 1/2 –inch thickness.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add chicken and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Preheat grill to medium high heat. Grill chicken breasts for 3-5 minutes on each side. Garnish with lemon wedges and rosemary along with an additional drizzle of olive oil.