Drop-Down Menu

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dinner : A Playbook

A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to win an advance copy of "Dinner: The Playbook" in order to do a meal-planning challenge. Since I don't meal plan...at all...I was incredibly excited to get the book and get, um, meal plannin'.  The book is by the author of the "Dinner: A Love Story" book and blog, Jenny Rosenstrach.  I'm not really big on the whole "free stuff in exchange for reviews" thing but this was actually a CONEST! And I WON! Well, along with 50 other people. But still. I WON! And lord knows I need all the help I can get when it comes to the meal-planning shindig.

The book opens with tips for meal planning, specific steps to get started, and follows with what they call "go-to" weeknight recipes, meaning that they are quick and easy and their personal family favorites. It ends with "keep the spark alive" dinners that are a bit more complicated and time-consuming. It's written very conversationally. I dove in, read it, and made up my meal plan. 

You know how people say "talk down to the lowest common denominator"? In the meal planning world, that's me. So even though it was broken down into steps, I was still a little lost. But they are probably great for a normal person who has even the slightest concept of what to do. I get overwhelmed. I don't even know. Anything. At all. Which is strange because I'm actually a good cook and a good baker. (This is why I loved the clean eating challenge I did through Buzzfeed, because every single meal was planned out for two weeks. And yes, I've joined eMeals and other sites to get lists but for some reason I don't even get out the door with those).  The book did, however, give a few sample meal plans, which definitely helped (aka copied exactly).

Anyway, I picked out a few of the meals that sounded the best, made a lunch and dinner schedule, and went grocery shopping. 

The first dish I tried was sloppy joes (page 98). Because who doesn't love a sloppy joe?!?! Carys, apparently. Sigh. Also, I totally effed it up. I KNOW RIGHT? Who can mess up sloppy joes?? I just said I was a good cook, but I take it back. So you know how tomato paste comes in those tiny cans? Well, I didn't know that. I thought somehow I just got a tiny can. So when it said "1/2 a can" I thought I should probably just go ahead and use my full can. Since it was small and all. That would maybe be my one critique, that since it didn't give exact ounces or measurements I didn't realize I was messing up the entire thing until after it was cooked and they weren't....great.


They were still kind of okay. Maybe? Definitely too...thick and pasty.  My fault. I'm sorry, Jenny. Do you want your book back?

The next dish I made was cornmeal-crusted fish with homemade tartar sauce (page 108). It was another iffy dish and again, I think it was my fault.  I think when it said season "to taste" I didn't actually taste it. It ended up a little bland. The idea was fantastic, I just didn't execute very well. Next time I'll add more seasonings. Or maybe it was just the fish I picked? When I said I was a good cook up there, I actually meant to write terrible cook, apparently. (I swear I usually don't suck!) Carys loved it, though, so that's a huge win. I mean, she's not really that picky of an eater, but she's a toddler, and one day they'll refuse to eat anything that isn't white and the next day they'll eat sushi. 

Then I made a pasta dish with peas and bacon (page 100), but my family was over while I was making it, and I didn't want to take pictures of myself cooking it because that's weird. I only do that when no one is watching. But it was good. Really good. Everyone liked it.

I also made the pan-fried pizza (page 84) with my mom and sister, so no pics of that either. I probably could have, because they're my mom and sister and they have to love me no matter what, even if I'm taking pictures of food. That was also a huge win. And really easy. And really customizable, so even a cheese-hater like me (I KNOW WHAT? BURN ME AT THE STAKE.) can make it exactly like I want it.

I mean, not that you can't customize other meals. Because obviously you can.


The last meal I made were the shrimp rolls (page 74) and they were incredible. So, so, so good. It also happens to be the one of which I got the most pictures. Carys didn't like it. But I didn't even care because I could eat five batches of it all by myself.

You chop up some shrimp and some celery...

Mix it with mayo and horseradish sauce (I DON'T EVEN LIKE MAYO BUT LOVED THIS) and some scallions and lemon juice and red wine vinegar and paprika and dill and salt and pepper....

...chill in the fridge for a while...

...then scoop onto toasted, buttered buns (VERY IMPORTANT) and holy shit, you've got an awesome meal. The pickle is very important as well. The veggie rice pilaf, not so much. That's called, "Oh, you're supposed to include side dishes when you meal plan?"

I've made it like three times since the initial attempt as well. One time instead of using the mayo and horseradish, I mixed in the homemade tartar sauce from the cornmeal fish. Also delish. 

If you're a meal-planning pro, this probably isn't the book for you, because you'll probably be bored. Unless you want the amazing shrimp roll recipe, in which case it's worth it for that alone. If you're a TOTAL newbie to it all, it won't answer all your questions - but it's a good start. It was certainly a better start than the, well, nothing I had going before. If you're kind of knowledgeable about meal planning but need a push in the right direction, it's perfect. 

We won't talk about how often I've meal-planned since doing the challenge. It isn't every week. Or close. But in my defense ugh, it's so much work in the moment. I know it's easier in the long run. I need to make myself do it, because the "Uh, what are we eating for breakfast/lunch/dinner??" thing is getting really really REALLY old. 

Also, note that the book images pictured above are from the advance copy, which was black and white. The actual book has color photos and is larger.


  1. I will buy the book. I hope it helps me. I hate cooking and planning meals. Lol

  2. My kids would love the sloppy joes.