Reinventing the Meal

Celebrity chef Tyler Florence gets to the heart of why family dinner is a rewarding experience.

Feb 06, 2013



Family Eating Meal Together In Kitchen

Feb 06, 2013

Tyler Florence wants you to try something revolutionary tonight. Sit down, with your family, at the dinner table. Yes, we know — your brood is already overbooked with work, errands, school, and activities. But according to Tyler, a father of three and host of the popular Food Network shows Tyler’s Ultimate, Food 911, and How to Boil Water, enjoying a family dinner is not as impossible as you might think. And the rewards are well worth the effort.


On his cooking shows, Florence helps families find simple solutions to everyday kitchen challenges, like getting a good meal on the table under stress. But dinner is about far more than food to Florence — it’s an opportunity for parents and children to spend quality time together as the day’s madness begins to ease. “Mealtime is a communication tool, plain and simple,” he says.


We asked Tyler to offer his famous assistance to help you revive the calm, communal, and fun nature of dinner any night of the week. “The first step,” he advises, “is to eliminate the idea that meals just get in the way.”


Make a commitment — to dinner, and to each other. Try to set aside a few nights a week to cook and eat together. Your family dinners will become a foundation for the rest of your schedule, not something stressful you try to squeeze in. If you don’t have time to cook, at least try to eat together. I’m realistic. I’m busy too, and my boys and I love pizza, so we get it at least once a week.


Plan ahead. I know it sounds like one more step to do, but it’s a really important one, and it’s simpler than you think. Just find a cookbook you like, pick a few recipes for the week, and buy the ingredients you need to make them. Mastering grocery shopping is huge. Lots of people go to the store and grab random foods that look good, but when it comes to cooking them at home, it’s like an episode of Iron Chef. Chaos!


Involve the kids. Spend time together while you’re preparing the food, not just while you’re eating it. Older kids can help you choose recipes and find the ingredients at the store. All ages enjoy measuring things and adding a dash of this, a dash of that. It’s also a good idea to assign tasks to the kids, like setting the table or wiping the counter. It helps them learn responsibility and appreciation for the work you do.


Try new dishes together. The dinner table is a great opportunity to be adventurous. You can introduce your family to a whole new world of exciting foods and fresh flavors. You might try an interesting little sushi roll or a great stir fry. Many of these exotic-sounding dishes are actually simple and quick to make. Plus if your kids see you eating new things, they’ll be more likely to try them.


Enjoy each other. This is the only chance my family gets to spend two hours of alone time together, which we desperately need. I’m sure this is the case for many of you as well. It is our way to understand each other, to know what’s going on in the lives of the people with whom we live. We always come away from this important meal with an issue solved, a laugh or two, and a belly full of good food.


Think outside the box. Dinner isn’t the only meal that offers an opportunity for spending time together. Every Saturday, I do “Boys’ Lunch” with my oldest son at our favorite restaurant. We have a great time bonding. Try doing family brunches on the weekends, a one-on-one lunch, or Friday desserts. You can do picnics, after-school snack sessions, or breakfasts in bed. Get creative! The more invested in and excited you are about the time you spend together, the more you’ll get out of it.


Tyler's Family Recipes





1 store-bought roast chicken

2 quarts of cold water

2 carrots, cut into circles

3 ribs of celery, roughly chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic

¼ bunch fresh thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups dried pasta noodles

Juice of

½ lemon

¼ bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

  1. Place the whole roasted chicken into a large stockpot and pour just enough water in to cover the chicken.
  2. Add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and thyme. Place over medium heat and slowly bring up to a boil. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, then remove the chicken and shred the meat.
  3. Season shredded meat with salt and pepper, and put back into the pot. Add pasta.
  4. Gently boil until pasta is cooked, and finish with lemon juice and chopped parsley.

Makes 4 to 6 servings





2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb ground veal

1 lb ground beef

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

1 cup milk

1 quart of low-sodium chicken stock

2 tsp cinnamon

1 lb dried spaghetti

¼ cup grated Parmesan

¼ bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

  1. In a food processor, pulse the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic cloves until you achieve a smooth, pulpy consistency.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and cook the vegetable pulp for 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add ground veal and beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook until meat is nicely browned, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon as you cook.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with milk, chicken stock, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer on low for 1 hour until liquid has reduced and the meat is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water and strain.
  6. Toss spaghetti in Bolognese sauce and top with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Makes 4 to 6 servings





3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 lb shoulder of beef

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

3 dried red chiles

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1 Tbsp ancho chile powder

½ bunch cilantro

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

8 fresh medium corn tortillas

3 cups finely shredded romaine lettuce

½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves

2 limes, cut into wedges for garnish

1–3 lb Cotija cheese

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Season beef shoulder with plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper; then sear all over until you have a nice brown crust.
  3. Add onion and garlic to the bottom of the pot and stir so they caramelize a little.
  4. Add tomatoes, chiles, spices, and cilantro. Then add about 2 inches of water, cover the pot, and simmer for about 2 hours until the meat is tender and comes apart with little resistance. Add more water as it cooks down if necessary.
  5. Once cooked, break the meat apart with a wooden spoon, season with salt and pepper, and add red wine vinegar.
  6. Serve with warm tortillas, shredded lettuce, fresh cilantro leaves, lime, and crumbled cheese.

Makes 6 to 8 servings




Yield: 1 large cake, serves 8-10

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
1 1/2 cups finely minced carrots

1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained

3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour, plus extra for pan

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

a pinch of kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup molasses

4 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Butter a jelly roll pan and line with parchment. Set aside. 
  3. Take the carrots and chop into large pieces then mince in a food processor until you have a fine texture. 
  4. Drain pineapple and finely chop walnuts. Set aside. 
  5. In a large mixing bowl add flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices together. 
  6. In a separate bowl mix buttermilk, molasses, eggs, vegetable oil and dark brown sugar together.  
  7. Now combine wet and dry ingredients together to make a batter then fold in the carrots, pineapple and walnuts. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until cake is set and springs back when gently pressed in the middle. 
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and allow cake to cool on a rack while you prepare the frosting and cointreau carrots (recipes below). Once the cake has cooled, cut into three rectangles by cutting the cake lengthwise twice. 
  9. Stack the cake up into three tiers with cream cheese frosting in between each layer. Frost the outside of the entire finished cake – smoothing off the edges and corners (an offset spatula works well). 
  10. Top with Cointreau carrot rounds and drizzle a little of the syrup on top as well. 



2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 cups powdered sugar 

Using a kitchen mixer, combine cream cheese and butter until blended and you have a smooth, light texture. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and powdered sugar and beat until combined. Continue to beat until smooth and glossy – about 7 minutes.



1 medium carrot

1/2 stick unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup Cointreau

pinch of salt
Slice carrot up into rounds. Add carrot, butter, sugar, cointreau and salt to a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce until syrupy – about 5 minutes.



Yield: 4 servings

Time: 35 minutes

1 pound cake, store bought

1/2 cup lemon curd, store bought

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1 cup powdered sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the tops

2 cups of strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 Meyer lemon, juice only

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Set a small saucepan over medium heat and add strawberries, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar. 
  3. Set over medium heat to macerate for 4-5 minutes then remove form heat to cool. 
  4. In a large mixing bowl, whip heavy cream until you reach soft peaks. Fold in powdered sugar and lemon curd – a little at a time until they come together. 
  5. Set aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the cake.
  6. Using an inverted ramekin, carefully slice the pound cake into 1/4-inch thick, round slices. They should fit snugly inside of the ramekin itself. With the remaining scraps of pound cake, break up into coarse crumbs and toast on a sheet tray in the oven for 5 minutes until golden brown and fragrant.
  7. Now layer the puddings. Start with a layer of the lemon cream on the bottom, followed by cake, strawberries, lemon cream and cake again. Drizzle this layer of cake with syrup from the strawberries then top with a nice swirl of lemon cream and some toasted pound cake crumbs. 
  8. Garnish with a strawberry and dust with powdered sugar. 
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