Try made-to-order family dinner for a mealtime change of pace at home. Run the kitchen like a restaurant for one night.

American Household News

AHN - Eat and Run

By COSMO MACERO JR.

I love eating dinner with my family. In fact, we all enjoy eating dinner together - whether it's home around the family table or out at a restaurant. Meal time is great family time, and that's something to be savored just as much as the food on your plate.

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But family dinner doesn't always have to mean family "style," which for generations has been the common household tradition in America. You know the drill: one meal with several components - meat, poultry, fish or a non-animal source of protein; a vegetable or a starch; some bread perhaps and a salad maybe. Or perhaps it's a pasta course or a "one-dish" meal. Either way: it's all about passing the serving platters and bowl around the table and everyone taking their own portions of the same foods.

You can change things up, however, and have some fun by trying a "made-to-order" family dinner. In other words: restaurant style. Individual plated meals for each person at the table, with the dishes prepared based on what each family member "orders" from the kitchen.

Sound crazy? Maybe.

I first thought of the idea some months ago as a way to break the COVID-19 monotony and meal-time boredom. Not to mention another alternative other than ordering take out. But it wasn't until just recently that we finally gave it a shot. And since it was my idea to begin with, it was only fair that I took the first run at being the cook and running the one-person kitchen.

Two key takeaways:

  1. It was really fun!
  2. It was wicked hard!

It wasn't so much the cooking of three different meals (our oldest son was working that night at an actual restaurant so it was just my wife and I and our 13-year-old son), but the timing of them. This is one of the reasons why restaurant kitchens - I quickly came to understand - need such large staffs of line cooks and prep cooks in addition to the chef or head cook. Trying to turn out three very different meals at the exact same time when you are working alone in the kitchen is a challenge. At least for me it was.

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Our menu for the night:

Mom - pan-seared scallops with blackened seasoning and roasted mixed vegetables.

Kid - cheese quesadillas and a taco bowl.

Dad - a pub-style hamburger with no roll smothered in onions and peppers.

It was three pretty different meals with the only ingredient overlap being the onions and peppers, which I cheated away from the larger diversity of veggies that went with the scallops.

I saved time by using a very large skillet where I was able to cook both the burger and the taco meat (each seasoned differently) at the same time. The vegetables take time to roast the way they are preferred in this house, but I shaved some minutes off total preparation by using instant rice. For a taco bowl you can get away with it ...

The scallops were the final dish to be cooked because they cook pretty fast, and you don't want scallops sitting around getting gummy and cold.

All in all it worked pretty well, but it was a solid 60 or 70 minutes from start to finish to get all three meals prepared and plated. Any ONE of those three dishes - served alone or to all three diners - and you are looking at 30 minutes tops.

Nonetheless it was a fun change of pace and something we might try again. But I will recruit at least one kitchen helper next time to make the process go more smoothly.

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