Penny Goldsberry makes Cranberry Orange Scones
For Penny Goldsberry, weeknight family dinners are "99 percent improvisation."
In the midst of preparing the evening meal, when her three kids are asking "what's for dinner," even Penny doesn't know until it all comes together.
"But nine times out of 10, by the grace of God, it turns out pretty well," she says.
It takes practice and preparation to pull it off; a well-stocked kitchen is mandatory. But after years of experience Penny pulls ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry, adds some favorite seasoning blends and presto! She's got a delicious meal for her family of five.
When that happens, "I feel like I've run a marathon," says Penny, who runs six miles several times a week.
Creativity and resourcefulness are Penny's favorite tools in the kitchen; she prepares dinner almost nightly for her husband, John, and their children, "all foodies," she says with some pride.
But there's a downside to her approach, especially when the family wants an encore of a particular dish. Will she ever have exactly that mix of leftovers again? Will she remember how she put it together?
Probably not, but there's always the possibility that the next "marathon" will produce another winner, and Penny is always looking ahead to the next finish line.
"I buy what looks good, and with the items I keep in my pantry I just make it work," says the Arlington Heights woman.
Penny prefers ethnic markets and specialty shops, and she picks up fresh, prepared items, like marinara sauce from her favorite neighborhood restaurants, to mix with basic ingredients at home.
"It is time-consuming, no question about it," says Penny of producing the nightly family dinner, "but first and foremost, I know what my kids are eating."
For efficiency, Penny limits cooking to three nights a week and turn leftovers into speedy new meals for the other nights.
One of her favorite tricks is to buy fresh-baked bread from Panera to dress up sandwiches from leftover chicken or steak; any leftover bread turns into garlic toast for the next night.
"It won't go to waste," she says.
Teaching her children the value of nutritious, home cooked meals is a priority.
"I'm forever taking my kids to the grocery store," she says, for lessons in choosing fruits, vegetables and other healthy ingredients.
Learning to cook for themselves is important, but she wants her children to enjoy entertaining, too.
"This is a life skill," says Penny. "It goes with our culture of fellowship."
Penny entertains often, though she relies on recipes for company instead of her usual "seat-of-the-pants" technique. Today she gives us several recipes that work for family or casual entertaining, especially the ultra-easy pulled pork, which slow-cooks while you sleep.
The Greek-style lamb sauce with cinnamon is an unusual sauce for pasta, and the cranberry scones are so versatile. Try substituting dried and fresh blueberries with lemon zest or whatever fruit combination inspires you.
It may be the start of something improvisational.