Posted Online: March 12, 2013, 1:24 pm

Delivered dinners a godsend for new mothers

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Photo: McClatchy Newspapers
New mothers often get meals delivered by caring friends and relatives to help take the load off . In the case of Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan one of the meals is this taco box with tortillas, carnitas, guacamole and other Tex-Mex ingredients.
Exhaustion reigns when a new baby arrives. Between the 2 a.m. feedings, endless diaper changes and extreme sleep deprivation, merely getting dressed becomes a herculean effort. And don't even get us started on cooking one-handed while a purple-faced infant howls in your ear.

Thank heavens for grandparents, colleagues and neighbors, because one of the loveliest rituals that accompanies new motherhood is the parade of dinners, lovingly delivered by family and friends.There's lasagna, to be sure, but also chicken casseroles, rustic pasta dishes and, if you're lucky enough to be a friend of Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, a taco box filled to the brim with carnitas, tortillas, guacamole and other Tex-Mex embellishments.

The New York food blogger learned the value of those dinner deliveries when she had her daughter five years ago.

"There wasn't this parade of food I thought was going to happen," she said. "My mom couldn't stay very long. I was struggling. I was so hungry from nursing and what I was craving was really flavorful food."

These days, Gillingham-Ryan is the first dinner-deliverer on the scene when a friend has a baby — and she returns with another offering a few months later, when the novelty has worn off and the in-laws have decamped. And the co-founder of and its TheKitchn blog has gotten those dinners down to a science or, more specifically, a Taco Box.

Sometimes the box holds tortillas, toppings and a container of her favorite Heat Wave Carnitas, a slow cooker recipe she devised one summer when the mercury crested the triple-digit mark and it was too darn hot to turn on the stove.

Sometimes the Taco Box doesn't contain tacos at all. She'll bring white lasagna with prosciutto and mushrooms instead, or the Guinness-braised chicken she includes in her latest Williams-Sonoma cookbook, "Good Food to Share" (Weldon Owen, $29.95, 224 pages). She packs all the goodies in a wine crate for easy transport — although a grocery bag will do, too — and always tucks in some flowers.

"I definitely like a nice presentation," she said. "I'm not a big plastic person, but for this, don't make a lasagna in your grandmother's casserole dish and expect to get it back anytime soon. I put everything in little freezer bags so people can have one for dinner and put some in the freezer."

Gillingham-Ryan isn't the only gourmet mom with an arsenal of good dinner-delivery recipes, of course.

"I'm the queen of curry," said San Francisco food blogger Simran Singh, co-founder of the blog A Little Yumminess, "I send Indian food, because everyone sends lasagna."

Curries, lentils, tandoori chicken, spinach and sag paneer are all terrific choices, she said. And when Singh is too crunched for time, she turns to her slow cooker to whip up a Tex-Mex batch of Chicken Verde. It's an easy crowd-pleaser that can be made in bulk, she said, which ensures your family gets dinner, too.

"'Kill many birds with one stone' should be the mom mantra," Singh said.

Penne with Tuscan meat sauce is the go-to dish for Leslie Pease, co-founder of the new Back to the Table Cooking School, which will open July 12 in Lafayette. Pease uses a heavy-duty foil casserole that can go from freezer to oven, and that requires zero dishwashing, which makes it all the more appealing for new, sleep-deprived parents.

"It's a little more sophisticated than spaghetti and meatballs," Pease said, "and I haven't found one person who hasn't liked it."

That's how Tammy Braas-Hill feels about her favorite recipes, too. The cookbook chairman for the Junior League of San Francisco goes straight to the league's "San Francisco Entertains" cookbook (Favorite Recipes Press, $32, 176 pages), published last year. And there's no one, she said, who doesn't love the Chicken with Kalamata Olives and Lemons. The dish is easy to make and transport. It easily multiplies, reheats well and any leftovers will be wonderful served over green salad the next day.

Soups always are appreciated, too, Braas-Hill said, and you can package toppings and garnishes for potato leek soup or chicken-tortilla soup separately.

"Make the tortilla soup ahead," she said. "Then put avocado with a sprinkle of lemon, cheese, sour cream, cilantro leaves — don't chop them or they'll turn black — in little takeout containers."

Of course, it's not just new moms who appreciate a dinner delivery. Anyone dealing with a family illness or hospitalization needs a helping hand, too. Braas-Hill brings her elderly neighbors either the chicken or a Greek-style sea bass dish, wrapped in parchment, and quickly roasted.

Don't forget dessert, she said. Add butterscotch peanut butter chips and Tcho chocolate chips to a Tollhouse-style recipe. Bake them yourself as drop-cookies, or roll the dough into a log and freeze it, so your friends can slice and bake the cookies whenever they need a little pick-me-up.

"That," she said, "would be a cool kind of gift."

Dinner delivery tips

Check before you cook: Before you start cooking, check with the dinner recipients for any dietary restrictions. Nursing mothers' tastes and needs change.

Conquer and divide: Package any garnishes or greens separately to keep things fresh and pretty. Include any reheating or serving instructions.

Set greenness aside: We usually lean toward eco-friendly greenness, but for this kind of meal, it's best to use disposable containers or zip-top freezer bags or make the casserole dish itself a gift, too. If you deliver dinner in a container you want back, label it well and arrange to pick it up yourself.

Go online: The Internet is a great source for family-friendly recipes, especially on sites such as Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan's and Simran Singh and Stacie Dong's A Little Yumminess, And free online schedulers such as Meal Train ( make planning and organizing dinners for a friend incredibly easy. You set up an online calendar with the dates needed and any dietary parameters (low-sodium, nut-free, vegetarian, etc.), then friends go online to sign up.

Heat wave carnitas
Makes 20-30 taco-sized servings
1 6-8 pound pork butt, also called pork shoulder
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
8 whole cloves garlic, smashed
4 chipotle peppers, canned or dried
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup orange juice
1. Trim excess fat from the meat and discard. Place all ingredients in the slow-cooker. Set to cook on low for 8 hours. Meat is done when it literally falls off the bone. When cool enough to handle, lift the meat from the juices and place in a large bowl. Remove the bone, then shred the meat.
2. Skim the fat from the juices and keep juices as a medium for reheating the meat.
3. For carnitas tacos, reheat the meat and serve in corn tortillas with sour cream, cilantro, chopped red onion and lime wedges.
—Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan,

Penne with Tuscan meat sauce
Serves 8
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
1 pound ground pork
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup red wine or 1/2 cup water
16 ounces whole wheat penne or other dry pasta
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup grated mozzarella
1. Brown ground meats in a large saucepan. Drain fat. Add the carrots, onions and celery, and saute until tender.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, pepper, herbs and wine and bring to a simmer.
3. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta for 3 minutes shy of the package directions.
4. Mix the pasta and sauce together, and pour into a 9- by 13-inch foil baking pan. Top with grated cheeses, and cover with foil. At this point, you can freeze the dish, or deliver it with instructions to bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
—Leslie Pease, Back to the Table Cooking School

Chicken verde
Serves 6-8
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-size cubes
1 tablespoon cumin
Red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, to taste
2 16-ounce bottles Frontera Grill or similar tomatillo salsa
1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock or water, optional
1. Heat oil in a skillet. Sprinkle chicken with cumin, red pepper flakes and a little salt and pepper. Saute the chicken for 5-6 minutes until the chicken gets some color and caramelization.
2. Dump the chicken in a slow cooker, along with tomatillo salsa and chicken stock, if you are using it. (The stock thins the mixture and makes it soupier.) Cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours. Or, place the mixture in a large pot on the stovetop, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Serve this over rice, or wrapped in tortillas with your favorite burrito toppings. It also freezes well.
—Simran Singh,

Chicken with kalamata olives and lemon
Serves 6-8
Note: The leftover chicken is delicious served cold over a green salad.
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs
Salt, black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 large onion, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup chicken broth
Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season chicken salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken in batches and fry for 4-5 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed. Remove to a deep baking dish or Dutch oven with a slotted spoon.
2. Add onion and garlic to the drippings, and saute for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in turmeric, cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes; cook for 1-2 minutes. Add broth, lemon zest and ¼ cup juice, and cook for 3 minutes.
3. Spoon mixture over the chicken; add olives, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 minutes longer, or until liquid is desired consistency. Discard bay leaf and cinnamon. Drizzle with remaining lemon juice and garnish with mint.
—Junior League of San Francisco, "San Francisco Entertains" (, $33, 176 pages)

Israeli couscous with porcini and arugula
Serves 4-6
Note: This recipes doubles or triples easily. When making ahead, keep the arugula in a separate container so it doesn't wilt. You can use the same recipe for farro, barley or quinoa.
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup Israeli (or pearl) couscous
2 cups chicken or low-sodium broth, warmed
Kernels from 2 ears corn
2 handfuls baby arugula
1/4 pound smoked mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
Sea salt, pepper
1. Put the porcini in a small, heatproof bowl. Pour ½ cup boiling water over the mushrooms. Let steep until soft and plump, about 20 minutes
2. Meanwhile in a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and toast, stirring constantly, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Pour in stock. If necessary, add hot water to cover by ½ inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain in a sieve and transfer to a large salad bowl.
3. Drain mushrooms and chop into bite-sized pieces. Add to the couscous, along with the corn, arugula and mozzarella.
4. Whisk together remaining olive oil and vinegar. Pour over couscous and toss until well-coated. Season with salt and pepper, toss again and serve.
—Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, "Williams-Sonoma Good Food to Share" (Weldon Owen, $29.95, 224 pages)€©