Carmen Miller


Whatever happened to the Dining Room? Way too many of us have converted dining rooms into offices, play rooms, or depositories of "storage" for items which can't seem to find a permanent address elsewhere in the house. Even more of us have eternally lonely dining rooms that never get used.

It seems that newly constructed houses rarely even a dining room anymore. Sometimes space is at a premium, and the extra room just isn't practical. But if you have a dining room, don't be afraid to give it some attention. Clean off the table, put the toys away, and reclaim your dining room.

This doesn't have to be a room that is only used once or twice a year, for holidays. The same holds true for your wedding china - get it out of the cabinet and onto the table. Eating in the dining room feels a little special, which kids will embrace. They can also be involved with picking out place settings, and setting the table.

Mix and match your wedding china with other pieces - I shamelessly mix Wedgwood salad plates with plain white buffet plates I found on sale at Target for less than $1 per plate. I figure if something gets broken, that means it was being used, which is better than sitting in a closet for 20 years.

"Formal Dining" doesn't really have to be formal, and dinner doesn't have to be mundane, but can be served with a little style. Start gradually, by rotating in the dining room once a week, or even once a month. Like many of your favorite clothes, dinner can also be dressed up or down when you get creative with dishes, placemats and napkins. By the way, cloth napkins aren't fancy, but just an upgraded eco-alternative to paper.

Images of your family seated around a large, nicely set table don't have to be distant memories, or something that happens at someone else's house. Create your own memories, and have dinner with your family in style.

Risotto with shrimp and butternut squash

Serves 6


7 tablespoons olive oil, divided

12 fresh sage leaves

21/2 cups diced butternut squash

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

2 cups Arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

11/2 pounds medium (16-20 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sage leaves, and fry, turning once, until golden and crispy, about 1 minute. Place the leaves on a paper towel to drain.

2. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and saute the butternut squash until lightly browned and just tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the squash to a bowl and reserve the remaining oil in the skillet.

3. Melt the butter, and heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the onions until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic and saute 1 minute.

4. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Stir to coat the rice with the oil, then add the wine, 2 cups of broth, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, and continue to simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid is absorbed.

5. While the rice is cooking, reheat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the shrimp in batches until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.

6. Add the Parmesan cheese and squash to the rice, and stir to combine, allowing the cheese to melt. To serve, spoon some of the rice mixture onto individual plates, top with a few shrimp, and garnish with fried sage leaves.