My son Paul and his wife, Amber, were the original baby boomers, graduating from college in the ’80s, getting married and raising four children.
They both love to cook, and when their kids were growing up, they always ate family dinners together, every night. The only rule was for the kids to try everything on their plates, and fast food was limited to once a week,
Amber said that she never made separate dishes for the adults or the kids, and everyone ate whatever was served at the dinner table. The meals were crowded with playmates, teammates, boyfriends, girlfriends and the foreign students the family hosted every summer.
But now the house is empty. One of their daughters is working at dad’s CPA office and has her own apartment; the other daughter is married, teaching high school in Northern California. The two sons also are away — one in Irvine at law school, the youngest at UC Santa Cruz.
Amber and Paul Zeidler. Photos by Dan Kacvinski
It seemed to happen slowly, but all of a sudden Paul and Amber realized how quiet things are at home. Things started to change: Amber, in addition to managing the household, is a very creative artist, and now that the kids are out of the house, she has more time for her art. And Paul, always an athlete, now has more time to spend on his long-distance running. But for real fun, they both continue to expand their passion for swing dancing.
The couple is still cooking, of course, and, believe it or not, they are still preparing large quantities that become part of the next meal. They find many recipes difficult to reduce, and no one has any scorn for leftovers in their house. In fact, Paul takes lunch to work every day, preferring home-cooked food to anything he could order at the local restaurants.
Paul and Amber’s weekend shopping trip to the supermarket is a little different though. The cart is no longer filled as they are more selective, unless they are entertaining family or friends.
Amber explains that the main difference in her cooking now is that she no longer has to worry about making things that their youngest son, a picky eater, liked. Now they are preparing more dishes that they prefer, foods the kids never really enjoyed. One of their favorite dishes is Lamb With Almonds, a Turkish-inspired dish served with couscous.
But there’s always one thing they can count on — the kids will still return home from time to time. On those occasions, Chiles Rellenos remains the most-requested dish for family dinners.
Here are some of their favorite recipes, perfect for a pair of boomers enjoying an empty nest or a mom and dad happy to host the whole family again.
AMBER’S CUCUMBER-LEMON SLAW
I love this dish so much, I have to double the recipe if I want leftovers.
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup sour cream
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
About 10 minutes before serving, spread shredded cucumber onto several layers of paper towels; top with more paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally to absorb moisture from cucumbers.
Stir together the sour cream, scallions, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper and cucumber in a medium bowl.
Makes 4 servings.
AMBER’S PECAN RISOTTO
We try to eat meat only once a week. This is a vegetarian entrée we love. When I’m alone in the house, I stand in the kitchen stirring risotto and singing out loud. You can prepare this about 1 hour before serving.
1 1/4 cups pecan halves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
5 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, stir the pecans over medium heat until toasted. Remove from pan. Cool slightly, then chop coarsely; set aside. In the same large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add mushrooms; cook until the mushrooms are tender.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Remove mushrooms from large saucepan; set aside. Wipe pan clean.
In the large saucepan, heat remaining oil over medium heat; add rice, shallot and garlic. Cook just until rice is lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly add 1 cup broth to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup of broth to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until broth has been absorbed and rice is slightly creamy and tender.
Stir in spinach, cheese, pepper, mushrooms and pecans until combined. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
This meatless dish can be an entrée or, as dictated by the amounts called for in this recipe, a side. It reheats well in the microwave.
6 medium poblano chiles (about 4 ounces each)
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup corn kernels (cut from 2 medium ears of corn)
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F.
About 1 hour before serving, place whole poblano chiles in broiler pan and cook under broiler, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes.
Transfer chiles to large sheet of foil. Wrap foil around chiles and allow to steam at room temperature 10 minutes or until cool enough to handle. While chiles are steaming, combine cheese, corn and cilantro in medium bowl.
Remove chiles from foil. Cut a 2-inch lengthwise slit in side of each chile, being careful not to cut through top or bottom. Under running cold water, gently peel off skin. Remove seeds and veins from opening; for less-intense flavor, rinse inside and drain. Pat chiles dry with paper towels.
With spoon, fill each chile with about 1/2 cup of cheese mixture. Gently reshape chiles to close opening. Place 3 filled chiles in a single layer on a sheet of heavy-duty foil; bring the sides of the foil up and fold to seal well. Fold over ends to seal in juices. Bake foil packets in the oven for 10 minutes to heat chiles and melt cheese.
Makes 6 servings.
CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD
Paul and Amber’s son loves to put chocolate chips in banana bread (which they make using over-ripe bananas). Amber baked a loaf recently and brought it up to him at college. He didn’t have a knife in his dorm room, but he and his friends got through it somehow.
1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, softened
1 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in bananas, chocolate chips, pecans, lemon zest and eggs, just until dry ingredients are moistened. Then spoon the batter evenly into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan and finish cooling on wire rack.
Makes 8 to 12 servings.
If you’re planning for a meal featuring meat instead, try this Turkish-inspired dish. It’s nice enough for company, but then you won’t have those yummy leftovers. Serve it with couscous, and you’re done.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 beef-flavored bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon dried mint (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint)
Spinach leaves to cover a platter
1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
About 30 minutes before serving, heat canola in a large skillet over medium heat, add almonds, and cook, stirring, until golden brown. With slotted spoon, remove almonds to plate.
Over medium-high heat, in oil remaining in skillet, cook ground lamb, onions, bouillon cube, salt, garlic salt and pepper, stirring, until meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Add almonds, lime juice and mint. Stir mixture to blend well.
Line platter with spinach leaves; spoon meat mixture onto spinach leaves and garnish with tomato wedges.
Makes 4 (generous) servings.