The following originally appeared on 9/18/08 at Exit 51.
I can’t recall the last time we didn’t eat dinner in front of the tv. We have one of those things, what do you call them? Oh yes, a dining room table. We do have one but in such a small house, it is usually all crapped up with mail and books and papers and reusable shopping bags. Come dinner time, it’s easier to just sit on the sofa instead of dealing with the growing pile of stuff that needs to be put away. Eventually, Mount Stuff will just collapse under its own weight and what’s left of the table will be momentarily cleared off. Sometimes this bugs me. At least we used to try and make the effort. But now, unless company is coming, we have a standing reservation in the living room.
This casual dining environment does mesh well with my style of cooking. It’s not like I bang out five course meals on any given day. I can’t even imagine how big our coffee table would have to be for that. Oh wait, that would probably be the size of our dining room table….right.
I don’t know about SFC, but growing up in my house, all meals were served either in the kitchen or dining room. The living room was strictly off limits for food and drinks. The rare exception was if we had a guest. They were allowed to have a drink in the living room. But they also had to sit on furniture entombed in thick plastic slipcovers. Was it a fair trade? I’m still not sure. But those were the rules.
Weekends saw big, traditional meals – fried chicken and pot roast were staples. But the weeknights were different. Both of my grandparents worked and once my brother and I were old enough to be home alone without burning the house down, our dinners were left for us in the oven. Mostly, this would be leftovers. But sometimes, we’d open the oven door and see a covered, shiny aluminum tray. It was TV Dinner night! We usually ate Swanson dinners. Their fried chicken, never as good as my grandmother’s, was always greasy. And the dry mashed potatoes were awful. But they did make one fine cherry cobbler.
We would take the dinners out of the oven and settle in at the dining room table. From there I had a direct view of the tv and my brother could watch it reflected off the glass front of the china cabinet. Most of my childhood memories of afternoon television – Captain Chesapeake, Speed Racer, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Lancelot Link (Secret Chimp) – are all from the point of view that I had from that chair in the dining room. So I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise that as an adult I still find myself eating in front of the tv. Only now the meals are a little more hands on.
Instead of a frozen meal that takes four minutes in the microwave, or a boil-in-bag salisbury steak (another recurring childhood dinner), I try to fix dinners that don’t require a lot of fuss but still taste good. One of my new favorites is so simple that I can’t believe I had to see it in a cookbook in order to put all the ingredients together. Best of all, it’s a great way to use up leftovers and you can make it for one as easily as you can for four. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
Quick TV Dinner
Adapted from the South Beach Diet
- 1 whole wheat english muffin, toasted
- 1 roasted red pepper
- rotisserie chicken breast, sliced approximately 1/4″ thick
- 2 slices cheddar cheese
Turn on your broiler while you toast the english muffin. Top the english muffin halves with roasted red pepper. Add sliced chicken breast, sprinkle with dried rosemary, and place one slice of cheese on each english muffin half. Place on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts and begins to brown.
Serves two, if you have to share.
I made it with roasted chicken but get creative with whatever you have in the fridge – flaked salmon, thinly sliced steak, pulled pork, portobello mushroom caps. Pair it with a side salad and you’ve got yourself a meal.