I'm about to head home to Atlanta for the holidays—and I can't wait. I can't wait for my dog to run around in that big yard; I can't wait to eat massive vats of my mother's kimchi fried rice; and I can't wait to cook for my family, to show them all of the many recipes that have sustained me over the past year.
My mother is an avid home cook and loves food magazines. She's inspired by them, gets ideas for her weekend dinner parties, and is known as the home "chef" of her niche Korean-American community in Georgia. Which is why in late December, when I drive home with my dog and a couple pounds of bone-in beef short ribs from my favorite butcher, I know that she's going to ask me, "What are you cooking these days?"
Every year she tells me how bored she is of her kitchen, and how she's looking for new inspiration. How, since her two sons "abandoned" her years ago, she has little reason to step into the "hearth of the home" and cook for pleasure because now there's just two.
Jean, like me, loves cooking with intention and with purpose. So it tends to be much easier on any given night to whip up a simple salad, or to go to a favorite local restaurant—because the act of cooking to nourish quickly became less of a priority when it was just her and my dad.
Which is why I've collected the recipes below, to share with my mother when I go home to her for Christmas. To remind her that cooking, even when it's just on a weeknight, can inspire a whole chain of reactions: self-care, creative stimulation, quality time with the people she cooks for. (At least, that's what she taught me growing up.) These are the kinds of family-friendly meals that can really help during this hectic holiday craze—fast, simple dinners that make you want to return to the calm of the kitchen. Because it's always worth it to cook a nice meal, whether it's just for you, the two of you, or the whole family.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).
Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.