For some reason, people who coach kids’ sports teams insist on scheduling practices at a time when any normal family is eating dinner. I fully realize that these are volunteer coaches who have lives, and can’t coach until after they are done with their own jobs; I, my very own self, was a soccer coach last year. I am allowed to dream, though, and my dream is for a world where sports practices are from 4:00-6:00 or perhaps 7:00-9:00. If I ran for office, it would be part of my platform along with outlawing gum-snapping.
But I digress. Since my son, who mysteriously arrived with genes for sports (and math), plays football, basketball, and baseball, there is almost always some kind of practice scheduled during the week. Currently, football practice is from 5:30-7:30 three days a week, but Sam likes to get there early to help set up, which means practice really starts around 5:00, and the coaches often run the practice until there is absolutely no light in the sky, around 7:50. I suppose that we could eat dinner at 4:15, but this is an idea which offends my sense of Dining Decorum as it represents both an obscenely early dinner and a sort of gobbling frenzy that undermines the whole “family dinner” idea. On the other hand, 8:00 is very late for kids to eat dinner. Its pretty late for me to eat dinner unless I am in Italy and have had a multi-course lunch and a long nap in the afternoon.
Better 8:00 than 4:15, though, so I have had to make a plan for having dinner ready at the precise moment that Sam bursts through the door, flinging cleats, pads, and sweaty UnderArmour. This is tricky since, as I have noted, the precise moment is entirely imprecise. I could, theoretically have something simmering in the slow cooker, but I am using that particular appliance very sparingly these days. A couple of times a month I can use the old crock to make something that genuinely tastes great cooked that way, but it can’t be a thrice-weekly thing lest I should have a mutiny on my hands.
That leaves me with several choices. The first is to create super quick meal which can be made or assembled after we get home from practice (think stir-fry or sandwiches). I like the quick-meal model in the warmer months when I don’t want to run the oven or stove for long. Another option is the already-assembled casserole that goes in the often and stays warm until practice is actually over (think macaroni or lasagna). The casserole plan is my least favorite for uncertain dinner times due to several several traumatic episodes of “coach kept us late” dry-out, which is most unappetizing.
A third category, which I like for fall and winter is the non-slow cooker, but nevertheless slow cooking main dish, which is flexible enough to wait at a low simmer until we’re ready to eat. The food really tastes better if it simmers a bit, I like the extra warmth in the kitchen, and when hungry quarterbacks or point guards stomp into the house after practice it always smells like something delicious. Salad can be made ahead, and if a pot of water is kept at a simmer, it can quickly be brought to a boil to cook pasta, egg noodles, or diced potatoes for smashing in no more than 10-15 minutes. A second veggie can steam in a steamer basket over the starch du jour, or in the microwave, or be quickly sauteed while the starch is cooking. Ideal foods for this kind of cooking are pasta sauces, stews, soups, and chilis.
Tonight’s dinner comes from category # 3. I cooked a Beef Burgundy recipe from “Cooking Light,” and actually found that the meat was a bit chewy after 1 hour and 30 minutes cooking time when it should have been finished; left in the oven for an extra hour at a reduced temperature it became a delicious melange of tender beef, silky mushrooms and rich sauce. I kept water simmering, and when Rob called to say they were on their way home, I cranked it up to a boil, cooked the noodles and steamed some carrots, and when they walked in the door we had a dinner that was late, but pretty great.
(Adapted from Cooking Light Five Star Recipes: The Best of 10 Years)
- 2 1/2 pounds lean, bonesless round steak
- Vegetable cooking spray
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups Burgundy, or other dry, red wine
- 1 can reduced fat, reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
- 1 can beef consomme, undiluted
- 1 (1 ounce) envelope onion recipe soup mix
- 6 cups fresh, sliced mushrooms
- 1 (16 ounce) package frozen pearl onions
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 12 ounce packages medium egg noodles, uncooked
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup nonfat sour cream (I used reduced fat)
Preheat oven to 350. Trim the fat from steak. Cut steak into 1-inch cubes. Coat an ovenproof Dutch oven with cooking spray; place over medium heat until hot. Add steak; cook 9 minutes until steak is no longer pink. Drain well, set aside. Wipe drippings from Dutch oven with a paper towel.
Coat Dutch oven with cooking spray; place over medium-low heat. Add garlic; sautee 1 minute. Raise heat to medium. Add wine and next 3 ingredients; stir well, and bring to a boil. Return steak to Dutch oven; stir in mushrooms and onions. Remove from heat.
Place flour in small bowl. Gradually add water, blending with a wire whisk; add to steak mixture, stirring well. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours. (Note: after 1 1/2 hours I found the meat too tough and the sauce too liquid. I removed the lid and cooked at 350 for 30 more minutes to reduce the sauce, then re-covered the pot, lowered the oven temperature to 250 and “slow cooked” for another 90 minutes, but it was tender and ready to eat after the first 30 minutes at 250. You will need to experiment with your own oven and your own preferences with regards to chewy beef, but allow at least 2 hours of baking time).
Cook egg noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain noodles well, and place in a large serving bowl. Add Parmesan cheese and sour cream; toss mixture gently to coat. Serve steak mixture over noodle mixture.