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 in our test kitchen last week for coffee, fresh buttered biscuits (her personal recipe), and her opinion on subjects ranging from dinner recipes and family time, to home cooking and back to school. Here’s what she had to say.
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 in the test kitchen, which influences every aspect of a recipe, from how much prep is involved, how long a dish takes to cook and how many different utensils are used to aide in 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 new dish coming to Dinnerly this 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.
Back To School
September means back to school. What’s the best thing about sending your daughters back to school? (Because let’s be honest, you love ‘em and you’ll miss ‘em, but it’s kind of a relief when they’re not at home all day.)
I love the freedom summer offers my daughters, but I also thrive on structure, as do they. School offers a routine and predictability to daily life that makes it much easier to find some balance between working and motherhood. My girls both really enjoy school, too, so that helps!
We talked the other day about school lunches and you mentioned that they take their lunch to school—versus buy it at school—a few times a week. Any pro tips for packing a great school lunch?
As a former substitute teacher, my biggest advice is to ASK your children what they want to eat. I would see kids come to school with beautiful lunches they didn’t eat because they didn’t like the food. It’s a waste of time and money. Also, make sure your kiddos can open their lunch boxes (you’d be surprised how many, even in the upper grades, can’t open them easily). Get the kids involved. If you pack the main course, let them pack their snack. Letting them own their lunch experience is a way to teach them decision making, time management (mornings are BUSY), and instills confidence.
Above: Jennie's daughters enjoying summer.
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. On my commute days (I travel three hours each way), dinner is a mixed bag. Some days my 16 year old, Isabella, will cook from one of our meal kits—we were actually customers before I joined the culinary team. The one routine we do stick to, regardless of who’s cooking or what we’re eating, is to gather around the table and catch up on our day. Dinnertime is about both the emotional and physical health of our family.
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. Even a few roasted potatoes from last night’s dinner can be turned into a frittata (an Italian skillet casserole with eggs), perfect for packing in school lunches! 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.