Gathering the family together around the dinner table is never an easy task, especially during the school year. Mother of three Amanda Johnson sought to remedy that problem by organizing a weekly dinner swap with a few friends. The idea was simple: Each person would prepare dinner one night a week for all of the families and then deliver the meal to each home. “My friends and I had young children at the time, and I thought it could be a convenient way to have a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table every night during the school year, ” Amanda explains. “We all agreed to try it for a month. If it worked we would keep it up, and if it didn’t, no hard feelings.”
Ten years later, the dinner swap is still going strong. In fact, it has made meal time an anticipated event. “So many times when my kids get home and know that dinner has been delivered, they will run to the refrigerator to see what it is, ” says Amanda. “They definitely have their favorite dishes and will get excited about certain ones.”
In addition to making meal planning easier for Amanda—along with friends Joanna Hufham and Nancy Faulkner—the dinner swap has gotten each family to try new and different dishes. “We all cook such different things so it breaks up the monotony, ” says Joanna, who gained a lot of inspiration in the kitchen from her two uncles, owners of the Bright Star restaurant in Bessemer. “My family is Greek so I tend to go that route with my meals. Nancy is from Louisiana so she has a lot of Cajun-inspired recipes, and Amanda has some great Southern dishes.”
But for these families, the swap has developed into more than just conveniently managing meals. It has created a special bond. “Cooking for each other strengthens your friendship, ” says Nancy. Adds Amanda, “You feel connected to one another when you’re eating each other’s food.”
ABOVE LEFT Easy access to everyday dishes and serving pieces makes meal prep even faster in Joanna’s kitchen. ABOVE RIGHT Henry Hufham reads over the menu for a recently delivered meal.
Tips for Creating Your Own Supper Swap
• Start with one or two friends whose families and activity schedules are similar to yours.
• Text or email each week to see what day is best for each of you to cook and deliver meals.
• Let each other know the week before what you are cooking to avoid duplicates.
• Send written or emailed cooking instructions with the prepared food.
• Decide how each family wants meals delivered (outside fridge, cooler by the door, etc.).
• Be aware of food allergies in the group.
• Decide on a “general” expected delivery time.
Blue Cheese Pear Salad
From Amanda’s Kitchen
1/3 cup white sugar, divided
1/2 cup pecans
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
11/2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
I head green leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
3 pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
5 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
4 green onions, sliced
In a skillet over medium heat, stir 1/4 cup sugar together with the pecans. Continue stirring gently until sugar has melted and pecans are caramelized. Transfer nuts onto waxed paper. Allow to cool, and break into pieces. For the dressing, blend oil, vinegar, remaining sugar, mustard, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix well. In a large serving bowl, layer lettuce, pears, blue cheese, avocado, and green onions. Pour dressing over salad, sprinkle with pecans, and gently toss. Serves 6 – 8 people.
Mississippi Green Beans
From Amanda’s Kitchen
3/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cans whole green beans, drained and rinsed
5 slices uncooked bacon (or can use store-bought bacon bits or pieces)
Mix butter, brown sugar, and soy sauce together and pour over green beans in casserole dish. Top with uncooked bacon chopped into small pieces. Marinate overnight in refrigerator. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serves 6 – 8 people.
Baked “Smothered” Chicken
From Nancy’s Kitchen
4-6 chicken breasts (with skin on and bone in)
1 small onion
1 small bell pepper
Tony Chachere’s Seasoning
4 – 6 pats of butter
1. Place chicken breasts in baking dish. (Use a fork to make some holes in chicken for seasoning and sauce to seep in.) Slice onion and bell pepper, and spread evenly over chicken breasts.
2. Season chicken breasts, onion, and bell pepper with Tony Chachere’s Seasoning (as much or little as you want). Place pats of butter on top of each chicken breast, and then generously shake worcestershire sauce over the top. Cover dish with foil, and bake at 350 ° for one hour. Uncover the last 15-20 minutes to brown the tops of the chicken breasts.
From Joanna’s Kitchen
5 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and cut into medium-size chunks
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Butter a 13- x 9-inch glass dish and fill with apple chunks. In a small bowl, cream butter, sugar, and flour. Knead dough with hands until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle apples with cinnamon and nutmeg, and then add dough on top to form a crust over apples. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Kitchen design: Sarah Jernigan Designs, Inc. 205.802.5868 • sarahjernigandesigns.com
text by Paige Townley • Styling by Missie Neville Crawford • photography by Art Meripol