Cooking for Two in an Empty Nest Kitchen

Mary Dell writes: One of my roles as a mom has been that of chief hunter and gatherer for our family meals. To say I am bored with every single chicken dish that I have placed on the kitchen table over the last two decades is an enormous understatement. With our youngest child a senior in high school, the end is in sight for family dinners as I have known them but a new challenge looms – cooking for two.

Fortunately, Lisa and I had a serendipitous introduction to Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook, when we were all on a terrifying flight  from Chicago back home this summer. Our shared adversity fostered a friendship and, by the time we finally arrived (safely) in New York, we had learned that Katie is not only an amazing writer and cook, but also someone with a steady sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.  She offered this advice for retooling our empty nest kitchens:  katie workman   chili-636

Dialing the quantities of recipes up or down sometimes feels daunting, but many recipes are highly flexible, and the freezer can become your best friend. Even if you make half of a recipe of turkey chili (a very easily recipe to scale down) you may have more than you need.  Just freeze extra in pint size containers for easy defrosting, and pull them out as you need them. Not only are you not worrying about how to consume the whole pot, but you’ve got another dinner ready to go. Apple Cider Beef Stew is another great candidate, as are most soups and stews, and casseroles (just divide them into two smaller pans and freeze one).


Also, think of how leftovers can be used in other meals a couple of days later. Extra Citrus Basil Shrimp Kebabs are a wonderful way to turn a green salad into a real lunch, cooked sausages get crumbled into a pasta, leftover Lemon Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast becomes Turkey Posole Soup.  Making cookies, but don’t want an extra dozen lingering around your kitchen? Freeze half the dough in rolled balls, then transfer them to a zipper top bag with all of the air pressed out, store them in the freezer and defrost and bake them as needed. And don’t forget – your neighbors will always appreciate a little care package!

StruesselApplePie-636 To that we would add, your college kid might actually venture to his post office box if he knows homemade treats awaits for him and his roommates. The cookies that Katie suggests seem perfect!  

Katie Workman is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook  and the creator of blog.  She is also the founding Editor in Chief of, “the website that shares tested, trusted recipes from cookbooks created by respected chefs and cookbook authors.”

Photo credit: Todd Coleman

Katie Workman and the Empty Nest Kitchen

Watermelon Margaritas and 11 Other Recipes for Memorial Day Weekend

Mary Dell writes: At the end of every month, I tear off another page of our oversize family calendar and toss the tattered sheet away. April lands in the recycling bin and I am gleeful. There, on the last line for May, is the gateway to summer: Memorial Day. This is the weekend that changes our cooking — kitchens are transformed as we uncover the backyard grills and take the heat outside. With longer days and warmer temperatures, I am drawn to traditional southern and spicy Southwestern dishes. If you’re planning a party, why not greet your guests with a tray of watermelon margaritas? I can guarantee the cookout that follows will be memorable.

Memorial Day Weekend, American flag, Memorial Day cookout, cookout recipes, watermelon margaritas

1. Lemonade with fresh mint

Mix together the juice of 10 lemons, 6 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 sprigs mint. Adjust to taste and add 8 sprigs of mint. Refrigerate and serve in tall glasses with a sprig of mint in each.

2. Watermelon margaritas

This recipe is from the late, great Gourmet magazine: Cut up a watermelon into cubes, place in Ziplock bag and freeze overnight. Place the frozen watermelon (5 cups), 1 cup Tequila, 1/2 cup Triple Sec, 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, and 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and blend until the consistency is slushy. Best watermelon margaritas, ever!

3. Crudite with a yogurt-based dipping sauce with chipolte pepper

From Chobani Yogurt’s website: In a blender, puree 2 cups nonfat plain yogurt with 1/2 cup salsa, 1 can chipolte pepper (halved and seeded), with 3/4 tsp salt. Chill overnight.

4. Deviled eggs

Hard boil 9 large eggs for 11 minutes and place in a bowl filled with ice-cold water. Peel the eggs, halve them and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks with a fork and mix with 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tsp mustard, 2 tbsp heavy cream, salt and pepper. Fill the cooked white egg halves and top with a sliver of jalapeno.

5. Guacamole

A classic from Helen Corbitt who ruled the roost at Neiman-Marcus for years: Mix together 2 cups mashed avocados, 2 tbls lemon juice, 1/2 tbsp grated onion, 2 tbsp chili sauce, 2 drops Tabasco sauce, salt to taste. Serve with a selection of white and blue corn tortilla chips.

6. Grilled, marinated skirt steak

My tried and true preparation for fajitas: Combine 2 cups picante sauce, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp lemon juice, a dash of pepper and a minced clove of garlic. Place a pound of skirt steak in a ziplock bag, pour in the marinade and refrigerate for 3-24 hours. Grill 6-7 minutes a side and slice into thin strips. Serve with warm tortillas on the side.

7. Tequila lime marinated chicken

This delightful dish comes from the Barefoot Contessa, Family Style Cookbook: Combine 1/2 cup gold tequila, 1 cup lime juice, 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tbsp jalapeno pepper, 1 tbsp minced garlic, 2 tsp kosher salt, tsp pepper. Place 6 boneless chicken breasts, skin on, in a Ziplock bag and pour the marinade. Refrigerate overnight. Grill skin-side down for 5 minutes, flip and grill another 10 minutes.

8. Green salad with corn and tomatoes

Mix a basic green salad, add wedges of tomatoes and corn shaved from the cob. Toss with a simple vinaigrette before serving.

9. Coleslaw

Place the following in a bowl: 1 head green cabbage, cored and finely shredded, 1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced, 2 carrots, shredded. Bring the following to boil: 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt for about 3 minutes. Whisk 1 tbsp Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup canola oil. Cool slightly. Stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tbsp sour cream. Mix with the cabbage, carrots and cucumber.

10. Black beans

Rinse and drain 1-16 ounce dry black beans, soaked overnight in cold water. In a large pot, cover beans with cold water, add 1 peeled yellow onion, 4 cloves peeled garlic, and I bay leaf. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Add Kosher salt during the last 20 minutes.

11. Southwestern rice

Heat 2 tbsp canola oil and saute 1/2 small chopped onion and 1 minced clove of garlic. Add 1 small chopped plum tomato and cook for 4 minutes. Add 1 cup white rice and stir to combine with onion mixture. Add 2 cups water, Kosher salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to low and simmer 15-20 minutes. Fluff with fork.

12. Vanilla ice cream with berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are in season, once again. Wash all, slice the strawberries, and serve along with vanilla ice cream. Adding chocolate sauce, sliced almonds, and whipped cream will transform a classic berry desert into towering sundaes.

Our friend and neighbor, Renee Cohen, is chef/instructor of CuisineArts Cooking School and supplied much of the culinary inspiration for this Memorial Day cookout.



Empty Nest Cooking

Mary Dell writes: What’s for dinner? is our kids way of saying hello to us as they walk into the door from school. Akin to the movie Groundhog Day, we seek an answer to this same old question every 24 hours. But one day, perhaps while sipping a first cup of coffee in our empty nest, we realize the question has ceased to be so very pressing.

After 20 years of grocery shopping an average of 2.2 times a week, preparing family meals 3.5 times a week, many of us are, frankly, happy to say goodbye to the stage in our lives where we logged 2300 trips to the store to cook over 4000 dinners!

But transitioning from pushing baskets overflowing with each child’s favorite foods to shopping for just one or two adults, means thinking about cooking in a new way. Gone are the long lists, junky snacks and super-sized quantities.  We have a chance to reboot our eating habits, ditching tired family favorites along the way.

cooking class, new recipes, pretty dining room table

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Thanksgiving Dinner: Meals and Memories

Mary Dell writes: Thanksgiving dinner is our favorite meal, hands down. Not only is it a day of fabulous eating, family and football, but it is also the day when we give our diets a hall pass, stuffing ourselves in a way we would never dream of the other 364 days of the year. But more than the food we savor, it is the scent of the feast that we love and that endures.

Thanksgiving Dinner

The sense of smell more than sight, hearing or even taste, is where we store our most cherished and vintage memories. Once you raise that first fork full of stuffing, you begin breathing in a memory of your childhood home. As you sit at the table with your friends and your kids, your parents, aunts, cousins…..everyone starts their own homeward journey remembering Thanksgivings when they were very, very young.

Lisa and I are getting ready for the holiday at our two homes and have asked our friends about their traditions.  While hewing to the classics, they shared a few favorites, both traditional and idiosyncratic, but all treasured like the family heirlooms they indeed are.

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