Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Real Simple Dinner Challenge - Week 1, Monday

You may have noticed my background change. This is in honor of my own version of a "Julie & Julia" challenge. See, I got my first issue of Real Simple last week, and from the moment I hefted it I was in love. The cover story, "A Month of Easy Dinners" didn't catch my eye first thing (I was hooked in by "21 smart, real-life laundry strategies" because laundry is overcoming me lately), but as I perused the magazine, I read the article and was intrigued by the idea of cooking these quick but (for me) exotic meals. I had never cooked fish, had no idea what shallots or bok choy tasted like, and had yet to introduce my children to fresh green beans (they've only ever had frozen or canned!). So although not all of the dinners appealed to me, I liked the idea of having every weekday meal planned for me, complete with shopping list, and trying out some fresh, healthy alternatives to our usual chicken/ground beef/pork chop dishes. It took me a few days to commit, but when I had to go to the grocery store anyway Monday morning, I decided to jump in.

Here are my self-made rules/goals for this challenge:
-I will start with the first week only, no expectations beyond the first week, and cook all the meals as laid out. If all goes well, I'll continue for the rest of the month.
-I will follow the recipes as closely as is prudent. For instance, I will not make substitutions unless absolutely necessary (unable to find an ingredient in the store), but sometimes amounts will be adjusted. For instance, there is absolutely no point in putting two whole peppers in a meal when I know not a single person in our family will eat them (peppers will still be used so as not to change the flavor, just not as many as is called for).
-Once the meal is cooked it will be plated to look as much like the picture in the magazine as possible instead of being served family style. Presentation counts big time when you're serving new foods to picky eaters.
-I will take pictures of each completed, plated dish.
-I will taste every ingredient in each meal, and clear my plate (or at least eat until I'm full). The children are expected to taste everything at least once, and then they are allowed to make themselves something else if they really dislike everything being served. (This is breaking from our usual dinner rule, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!" Meaning, you eat what you're served or you don't eat.)
-I will blog about each new cooking experience, noting how I would change the recipe if I were to cook it again.

Okay, are you ready to begin? Because I already have!

Week 1, Monday: Tilapia with Peppers and Olives
(I'm linking the recipes because it would be so time-intensive to type them all out--be sure to click on the links so you can see the Real Simple picture to compare it to how mine came out!)

Okay, first thing I thought when I read the recipe: "Oh, no! Fish!" The second thing: "Green olives? You have got to be kidding me!"

I have never cooked fish. Actually, I think I tried to cook a salmon once, early in our marriage, and that is what solidified my resolution to never cook fish. You see, it makes your whole house smell fishy. And since both Adam and I having grown up in land-locked states, there has never been a great love of fish between us, beyond the occasional fried shrimp or fish sticks (we don't even eat canned tuna!). So, I took a deep breath and went timidly to the meat counter. Luckily the butcher was helpful (not only with the tilapia fillets, but some of the other meats I needed for the rest of the week's dinners), and it was pretty painless bringing it home. Cooking it was very simple, and it didn't really make the house smell as fishy as I anticipated. Tilapia is, after all, the least "fishy" of the fish, I've heard. Here I am cooking (yeah, I'm a little dressed up, I went to see Footloose last night):

Cooking went off without a hitch. Katie helped me with the prep, measuring out the olives and fetching and pouring. It took about twice as long as stated in the recipe, but 40 minutes is still a quick meal if you ask me, and I'll get faster as I get used to all the prep. Here's the final product:

And here are the reactions from the diners:

Which led to:

To sum it up: I really enjoyed the meal. I was pleased with the combination of tastes, and was surprised to find I don't mind green olives (I'd never tasted them before!). I told Adam that if I'd ordered it at a restaurant, I would be satisfied, and happy with the meal. And it was quick to make and not terrible to clean up. However, because it did not get resounding approval from the rest of the family this recipe will not be a keeper.


Suzy said...

Dinner looks and sounds delish! I probably would have gotten the same response here. Keep trying! Sometime they'll like the new food you serve.

Kel said...

Sounds like a great challenge. I am excited to see how it goes.

Colleen said...

What a fun challenge. I like the idea of having all my meals planned for the month. I might have to copy you! :) I really like Tilapia. You can get a bag of it frozen at costco that is really good, easy to make, and not fishy at all! I'll have to get that again sometime...