Book Spotlight: Saving Dinner Basics: How to Cook Even If You Don't Know How
By Leanne Ely
Reviewed by Lisa M. Hendey
Ballantine Books, August 2006, Paperback, 192 pages
In anticipation of the start of yet another school year, I am refocusing my efforts on prioritizing family dinner. The obstacles to this are the hectic after-school/evening extracurricular activities my kids do and my own personal distaste for cooking. I realize, however, the importance of sitting down to dinner together whenever possible to keep our close ties as a family and to ensure that my children are eating nutritiously.
One of the best resources I've discovered to help with meeting this goal is the work of author and nutritionist Leanne Ely, also known as the "Dinner Diva". Leanne has penned several resources for families looking to bring back togetherness around the dinner table. My personal favorites are Saving Dinner Basics: How to Cook Even If You Don't Know How and Saving Dinner the Vegetarian Way: Healthy Menus, Recipes and Shopping Lists to Keep Everyone Happy at the Table. Leanne's books feature healthy, practical recipes that even cooking disasters like me can handle! In Saving Dinner Basics: How to Cook Even If You Don't Know How, Leanne puts the emphasis on mastering basic cooking skills and menu planning. Her helpful content is delivered with a wit and style that makes cooking her recipes seem almost fun.
I'm happy to share the following interview with "Dinner Diva" Leanne Ely:
Q: Leanne, congratulations on your work! Would you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
A: I am Leanne Ely, also known as the Dinner Diva from the Saving Dinner books and my website, www.savingdinner.com. As a nutritionist, seeing families understand the importance of the family dinner table has become my mission in life.
Q: Please give us a brief overview of Saving Dinner Basics. How does this book differ from your previous books?
Saving Dinner Basics is sort of the prequel to the other Saving Dinner books. This is the book that helps you with the basic skills, from setting up your kitchen to shopping for the ingredients and then preparing the food. This is a first book, really. It's also slightly cheeky--I don't like wasting my time wading through gigantic tomes to find the information I need so I cut everything down to fit nicely into a compact, easy to read (and quite fun, too) book.
Q: Do you have any special food or meal related suggestions for families looking to build new family traditions?
A: I think just getting to the table and making eating around the dinner table most every night is a family habit that should be first and foremost. After that habit is established, it's fun to make a night a special night. At our house, we used to have Breakfast for Dinner when the kids were little: orange juice in wine glasses, Vivaldi on the stereo, candles, good china, cloth napkins and stacks of pancakes! They loved it. Now we're trying to do a regular Sunday dinner so we can get the two that are out of the house home and corral the teenagers who are still home. These are traditions that build fond memories.
Q: What are your top tips for parents who are not experienced cooks?
A: Besides reading my new book? :-) Just START. Do the easy stuff first and once you have that mastered, go to the next thing. Do pick up a book on learning skills, whether it's mine or someone else's. Knowing how to handle a knife and how to time your cooking will save hours of time and frustration!
Q: Why do you feel dinnertime is so important for families? What can families do to prioritize mealtime with so many competing priorities?
A: Studies have shown that families who eat together more than 4-5 times a week, have less problems with teenaged trouble like drugs, smoking, drinking and premarital sex. Those same teenagers do better in school, too. That's one reason. The second is all about nutrition. Families who eat dinner together at the family dinner table have better nutritional habits and are less likely to have health problems, such as obesity and other preventable issues.
Q: Do you have a favorite recipe in this book?
I'm all about the Easy Button--I like them all because they are all easy, delicious and fun to prepare.
Q: What advice would you give to parents who may find themselves overwhelmed with the prospect of cooking and entertaining during the holiday seasons?
A: First of all, there is no rule that says you have to entertain. If you do need to do a little something, my suggestion is to do an Open House as opposed to a more extensive cocktail party or other equally challenging soiree. I have a wonderful New Year's Open House party in my book, Saving Dinner for the Holidays where I have the whole party outlined from decorating tips (don't--just keep your Christmas stuff up!), to a timeline, recipes plus easy and sneaky ways of getting past too much cooking. This is a tried and true party and will make you look like Martha without the hassle.