Debra Ponzek knows something about trying to get dinner on the table after a busy day. Not only is she a successful chef—she and her husband Greg own four popular Aux Délices cafes in Fairfield County, CT, as well as an in-demand catering business and cooking school—she’s a mom of three. “I am a huge advocate of eating dinner together as much as possible! When all my kids were home I would aim for 5-6 days a week to eat together if we could,” says Ponzek. That goal led her to write The Dinnertime Survival and The Family Kitchen cookbooks. Here’s what she learned about putting together a homecooked family meal when it seems like a pipe dream—plus her recipe for fast and easy white chicken chili! She says she still uses these strategies today. “For us it is so important to connect over a meal and share a few minutes of our day. We don’t stay at the table as long as I would like, but hopefully all those dinners together made a positive impact!”

Prep Your Dinners

I cannot emphasize how much time chopping vegetables, marinating meat, and measuring out ingredients can save you. Whether it’s the night before, in the am before work or your kids go off to school—getting things ready to go for when you walk in the door is such a time savings! If I plan on having roasted chicken for dinner, I have it all set up in the pan ready to pop into the oven when I get home from work.

Plan Your Week

Take a little time on the weekend (or whenever) to plan at least easy three meals for the week. Make a note of what you will need to buy at the store or fish/meat market. Plan one night as a simple pasta and salad night and maybe one night as leftovers. I always have one to two basic recipes that make every week, just with a slight variation.

Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!

Until recently, every dinner I prepared was a protein, a grain or potato and a vegetable. Often now I make a “sheet pan” dinner with the whole meal on one pan that I pop into the oven. I save the more time consuming and complicated cooking for the weekend when I can enjoy it more!

Deb Ponzek’s Tex-Mex White Chicken Chili

Serves 6 to 8

    • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
    • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 pound)
    • 6 cups low sodium chicken stock
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
    • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
    • 2 ribs celery, finely diced
    • 2 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, finely chopped
    • Two 15-ounce cans white beans, drained
    • teaspoons ground cumin
    • 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 8 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese (about 2 cups), for garnish
    • Sour cream or Greek yogurt, for garnish

 

  1. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken and the chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and poach the chicken for 15 to 18 minutes, turning if needed, until just cooked through. Remove the chicken from the stock and set aside until cool enough to handle. Reserve 1 quart of the poaching liquid.
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  3. Finely shred the chicken and set aside until needed. Cover and refrigerate if making ahead of time. The chicken can be prepped to this point up to two days ahead of time.
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  5. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, celery and chipotle peppers. The vegetables can be chopped a day ahead of time. Keep them in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator.
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  7. Sauté the vegetables over medium low for 6 to 8 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the cumin and sauté for an additional minute. Add the beans, reserved liquid and chicken and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 25 minutes. Add the scallions and cilantro and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes longer until the flavors blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The chili can be made to this point two days ahead of time. Reheat over medium heat. Thin with a little chicken stock, if necessary.
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  9. Garnish the chili with shredded cheese and sour cream and serve.