Jennie Perillo has had a longstanding love affair with food. A self-taught chef with more than 20 years in the food biz, she’s run her own personal chef business, had restaurant gigs ranging from host to manager, launched a successful blog, and worked as a food editor, writer, and recipe developer for major magazines.
We joined her for a Zoom chat last week, and asked her opinion on subjects ranging from dinner recipes to family time to home cooking - and how she's handling all of this in these very unusual circumstances. Here’s what she had to say.
What does your family’s dinner routine look like?
My husband passed away eight years ago, so I’ve been single parenting since our children were 3 and 8. Our daughters have become my co-pilots as they’ve grown into their tween and teen years, taking on responsibilities many kids their ages don’t have to think about, like cooking family meals.
Before stay-at-home started, I was commuting to work three hours each way, so dinner was a mixed bag. Some days my 16 year old, Isabella, cooked from one of our meal kits—we were actually customers before I joined the culinary team. The one routine we have stuck to, regardless of whether it's me or my daughter cooking, is to gather around the table and catch up on our day. Dinnertime is about both the emotional and physical health of our family.
Managing Mom Duty During Coronavirus
Q: How has your meal planning changed since we've all started staying home? I know I'm feeling a bit like all I do is cook.
Luckily my kids are old enough (almost 12 & 17) that they take care of their own breakfast and lunch. My usual 3-hour commute home has been reduced to 60-seconds, walking from my desk in the living room to the kitchen, which means I’m able to cook dinner at a reasonable time now—a positive side effect to this stressful moment we’re all experiencing.
The most stressful part has been grocery shopping. Thankfully, I get a Dinnerly delivery each week, which makes it possible to limit my grocery outings to once a week.
Q: How are your kids faring being indoors all day?
The upside to working 120 miles away from home is that we live in a rural area of upstate New York, so the kids get to go for walks and be in nature before and after school with no worry about social distancing since it’s just deer and wild turkeys up here!
Above: Jennie's daughters enjoying summer.
Q: Any tips for moms out there, whether cooking, parenting, or just not pulling their hair out over the next few months?
Be gentle with yourself and be sure to take time for yourself. It’s that old airline advice of putting on your own mask before helping others. Get your kids involved, whether it’s clearing the table, washing the dishes, folding laundry, etc. They’re more capable than you might be realizing. Most of all, let go of the idea of perfection to anyone else’s standards—if it’s working for you, then it’s perfect.
Home Cooked Meal Ideas
Any tips or hacks you have for making home-cooked dinner recipes easier or faster or cheaper… or all three?
Love your leftovers! Dinnerly meal kits take the guesswork and shopping out of the daily “what to cook” challenge, but we always have some little bit leftover, and I never toss it. Food is so precious, especially rigth now. Even a few roasted potatoes from last night’s dinner can be turned into a frittata (an Italian skillet casserole with eggs).
I’m also a big fan of cleaning as I go. There’s no worse feeling than enjoying a relaxing family dinner than to face a sink full of dishes, so I obsessively wash and tidy up the kitchen in between prep and cooking.
Dinnerly: What goes into creating Dinnerly recipes?
Jennie: Efficiency and taste are the key ingredients I think of when developing Dinnerly recipes. As a busy, working mom of two, I always feel like there’s never enough time to get everything done in a day. So, I try to be thoughtful of this. It influences every aspect of a recipe: how much prep is involved, how long a dish takes to cook, and how many different utensils are used to help with faster clean up.
You’ve developed a lot of dinner recipes for Dinnerly. Which is your all-time favorite and why?
This is like asking me to choose a favorite between my children! If I have to choose just one, it would be a dish I created for Dinnerly last fall—Salisbury Steak with Buttery Peas & Mashed Potatoes. I grew up eating TV Dinners (do they still call them that?!), so this dish is the ultimate cool-weather comfort food.