Supper swap: Working moms make weeknights easier by sharing meal efforts

Mary Pesses, Anna Trimble and Amy Rabalais, shown here in Rabalais’ kitchen, have found that providing prepared meals to each other’s families once a week helps take a little of the stress out of juggling professional and home responsibilities. Photos by Collin Richie.

It’s 6 p.m. on Monday and the doorbell rings. The kids race to answer. It’s not a pizza or an Amazon Prime delivery. It’s the familiar face of Mary Pesses bringing over some home cooking, a ritual she has repeated weekly with her friends Anna Trimble and Amy Rabalais for two and a half years.

The friends reciprocate, with Trimble delivering on Tuesdays and Rabalais on Thursdays. “It all started when Anna moved back from Austin where she had been doing a supper co-op with friends there,” says Rabalais, an ear, nose and throat physician with Ochsner. “She announced, ‘When school starts, this is what we need to do,’ and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

With eight children under the age of 10 among them, these working moms have conquered the weeknight dinner dilemma, and there’s no end in sight for the trio. “It’s a win-win. I want to find other things to co-op,” says Trimble, a lawyer who works for an Austin firm from her Baton Rouge home. “It really simplifies life. Life gets so busy and complicated, and this is like a support group. I think everyone should do this!”

Trimble brings lots of vegetarian dishes to the mix, a carryover from her Austin group. She also frequently wheels out a recipe from her youth. “Country Captain Chicken is my signature. It’s straight out of the River Road Recipes cookbook. My mother sent the recipe to my college dining hall. It’s my favorite.”

Each member of the supper co-op only has to spend time chopping, peeling and prepping once a week.

Gathering in Rabalais’ living room, the friends share their devotion to their enduring supper swap. “We all have our thing,” Rabalais says. “Some of my dishes are fully prepped when I drop them off, and they can finish the cooking when they’re ready to eat. I love doing a pork tenderloin I marinate overnight or grits and grillades.”

Rabalais chose Thursday as her day to cook and drop off meals because of her work schedule. “Thursday is my hang-at-home day,” she says. “I’ve gotten used to cooking huge quantities. I have industrial-size pots, and we all pass around our Pyrex dishes and reusable containers. It really cuts down on waste. It’s not triple the time or money. I don’t have to go to the store as often, and our family sits down together at the table every night. It’s so relaxing!”

Pesses, a licensed social worker, reflects on her professional sensibilities to further endorse the supper swap. “The single greatest predictor of adolescent wellbeing is connectedness,” she says. “The co-op makes our lives so much easier and keeps us connected to each other. I’m a big believer in strong bonds with a handful of friends and parents who share in your values and build each other up while keeping it real. That’s a tough goal to maintain these days, and co-op helps me achieve it. This makes me a better mom. My kids are getting healthy meals and more family time.”

A crowd favorite dish that Pesses has mastered is her chicken pot pie, which she makes in personal-size servings. She’s quick to confess that she sometimes relies on shortcut options. “The degree of difficulty in each week’s meal varies,” Pesses says. “Some Mondays, I’ll put extra effort into the menu, using seasonal ingredients or branching out with a new recipe. There have also been plenty of times when it was tacos out of the box or store-bought rotisserie chicken and mac and cheese. Before this, I struggled.”

Rabalais flashes back to the beginning. “When I told my husband about our idea, he said, ‘This is going to last two weeks.’ Here we are two and a half years later. It has been awesome. We are pretty loose with expectations. Things happen. It all works out in the end. It is fun feeding your friends’ families. It feels good.”


CHICKEN POT PIE
From the recipe box of Mary Pesses, courtesy ofThe Best Recipe cookbook by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. Mary uses ramekins for the kids’ pies and larger versions for the adults, cutting the pie dough with kitchen shears to fit each dish. When it’s in season, asparagus is a great addition.
1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
2 cups chicken broth (I use store-bought cans of broth)
1½ Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small bundle fresh asparagus, tough ends trimmed and discarded, stalks cut into 1-in. pieces (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp. butter
½ cup flour
1½ cups milk
½ tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 to 3 Tbsp. dry sherry
¾ cup frozen peas, thawed
3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves
1 pie dough (I use store-bought rolled dough)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken and broth in small Dutch oven or soup kettle over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer; cook until chicken is just done, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer meat to large bowl and reserve broth.
Increase heat to medium-high; heat oil in now-empty pan. Add onion, carrots and celery (and asparagus, if desired); sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. While vegetables are cooking, shred meat into bite-size pieces. Transfer cooked vegetables to bowl with chicken; set aside.
Heat butter over medium heat in again-empty pan. When foaming subsides, add flour; cook for about 1 minute. Whisk in reserved chicken broth, milk and thyme. Bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer until sauce fully thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper; stir in sherry.
Pour sauce over chicken mixture; stir to combine. Stir in peas and parsley. Pour mixture into a 9 x 13-inch pan or other shallow baking dish. (For co-op, I use individual-size baking dishes so all family members have their own mini pot pies.) Top with pie dough, pressing edge of dough to outside rim of baking dish. Cut decorative slits in dough for steam to escape. Bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 30 minutes for large pies and 20 to 25 minutes for smaller pies.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

AMY’S PORK TENDERLOIN
From the recipe box of  Amy Rabalais: “I put all of the marinade ingredients in a plastic zip-top bag for each family, then put the tenderloin in. They bake the tenderloin at their houses, so they have the extra sauce in the bag to put on the tenderloin before cooking. I’ve also boiled the marinade for a few minutes to use as a sauce on top, but I’m usually too lazy. I usually cook the pork in the oven because this is a weeknight, but it’s also great grilled.” 
13 cup soy sauce
13 cup orange marmalade (I use Trader Joe’s Seville Orange Marmalade)
13 cup honey
1½ Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 (about 2-lb.) pork tenderloin
Combine soy sauce, marmalade, honey and vinegar in a plastic zip-top bag, and add pork. Seal bag, squeezing air out, and turn to coat pork. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place tenderloin in a small roasting pan and roast until done, about 20 minutes (145 degrees for medium, 150 for well done; temperature will rise as the meat rests). Slice and serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

RIVER ROADS COUNTRY CAPTAIN CHICKEN
From the recipe box of Anna Trimble, who declares this her favorite recipe, though she also gets winning praise for her enchiladas and black bean soup. “I leave the chutney and almonds out and send them on the side with each delivery so they can sprinkle on as desired. A 2½-times recipe makes plenty for our three families.”
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
18 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 (14-oz.) cans tomatoes
4 cups chopped cooked chicken
½ cup currants
Shredded coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
2 cups hot cooked rice
Chutney
Heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, curry powder, thyme, salt, sugar and cayenne. Stir for 1 minute, then add tomatoes and their juices. Cook, stirring occasionally, to slightly reduce juices, about 10 minutes. Add chicken and currants and transfer to a large baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbling, about 30 to 40 minutes. Garnish with coconut and almonds. Serve over rice with chutney if desired.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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