O Holy Chili

December 17th, 2014 · Uncategorized

We know what we’re having for Christmas dinner: The same exact thing we have every Christmas dinner, right down to the salad dressing and the sides. The trouble comes on the nights before and after, when we’ve got family over, friends stopping by, or a bunch of hungry kids sitting around the condo after a day of skiing. On these nights, we’re looking for a one-pot special, something easy to make (and easy to clean up) that everyone will eat. This year, we’ll be busting out some Texas-style chili. If you’ve been reading this blog over the years, you probably know we eat our share of chili, and we have a recipe we like that goes back a couple of generations. But sometimes you need to shake up the ol’ routine. Recently, I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues recently, Kaela, who is the daughter of a man from Texas who takes his chili very seriously, and this is what she told me: Her dad has the best chili recipe. It calls for sirloin instead of ground beef, bacon drippings instead of oil, and no beans. We did a trial batch, and Kaela just might be right. This chili is good. It’s smoky and dark and concentrated and UH-MAZING when eaten on a corn chip, with a little sour cream. They should sell air fresheners that smell like this chili. And make extra, as it’s twice as tasty the next day. — Andy

Texas Chili
Adapted from this Brazos River Chili. [Read more →]

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The Sweetest Menorah

December 15th, 2014 · Uncategorized

It’s been well documented that I’m not the most accomplished in the holiday crafts department. The most ambitious I’ll get is affixing graham crackers to a little milk carton with store-bought icing. And only then if a kindergarten teacher is supervising. But this little gumdrop menorah? This is exciting. It’s another entry from Jodi Levine’s Candy Aisle Crafts, which I just bought for my nieces, and which has a project like this for just about every holiday throughout the year. Everything you need for it — gumdrops, toothpicks, nonpareils, M&Ms — available in the supermarket candy aisle. As my 11-year-old would say, it’s the bomb dot com.

Related: Ronnie’s ChallahHow to Make Crispy Golden LatkesSweet and Sour Brisket. (Here’s an idea, how about sweet and sour brisket ON Ronnie’s Challah? Awwwww yeeeeaaaah.)

Happy Hannukah!

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Holiday Gift Guide

December 8th, 2014 · Uncategorized

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — at least it would be if you could check a few things off that massive list of yours. DALS is here to help! Need a holiday ham? Check. A classic Christmas cookie recipe? Here you go. And because we love you so much, herewith, our annual collection of gift ideas for friends and family, lovers and fighters, readers and eaters. Enjoy. -The Family DALS

Magna-Tiles ($52 for a 32-piece set.) The day after Thanksgiving, we stopped off at a friend’s house on our way back home. It was a kind of bleak, chilly day — Alanna, our host, made us a lunch of pasta with kale and lamb sausage, which fit the weather perfectly — and I spent most of the two hours we were there, on the floor, playing Magna-Tiles with their two sons. Their sons are a little younger than I am. Like, 35 years younger than I am. And yet! I could have stayed there all day, building stuff, feeling that slight pull-then-click of the magnets as the pieces locked together. If they had had these when I was a kid, I would have grown up to be an architect.  Maybe it’s not too late. — Andy

Booze ($30-60) I haven’t bought a serious bottle of booze in a few years. And that’s not because I haven’t had any serious booze in the past few years. It’s because our friends buy all the good stuff for us. Thank you presents, holiday presents, birthday presents, anniversary presents — every occasion, it seems, warrants an insane bottle of bourbon, wine, or gin. I’m not complaining (though I do worry a liiiiiittle about the signals we’re sending re: our priorities in life). Our two favorites lately are Widow Jane 8-year bourbon (which is made in Brooklyn, NY), and Cold River Gin (which is from Maine, and which makes a martini that will bring tears to your eyes). Both do the job, in style. – Andy

Cozy Earwarmer/Headband ($28) From 11-year-old Abby: “Recently, I got a chance to see this awesome headband. It was the softest, snuggest, coziest thing ever! That is why it’s #1 on my Christmas list. I would wear it to winter soccer, tennis and even under my ski helmet! I love the bright colors, but mostly it is about the fur lining… It is sooooo plush, and it looks like it could definitely keep me warm.” –Abby

Jacques Torres “Wicked” Hot Chocolate ($18) Decadent hot chocolate from the master of decadent chocolate, this (or maybe Frankie’s Olive Oil) will be what I give teachers, coaches, hosts or anyone else who makes me happy. The kick of cinnamon and cayenne is what makes it “wicked” and wicked special. –Jenny

Dinner Plates ($13 each) Anyone who has spent even a minute on this blog will know all about  my obsession with Heath Ceramics, artisanal designers of dishes and dreams. I have a few pieces (this and these) and fantasize about replacing every mismatched, chipped Ikea plate in my kitchen with one of their tableware lines. Only hitch in the plan? Um, it’s a little pricey. So until then, I’m going with these “18th Street” stoneware plates from Crate & Barrel, which hit the similar modern-but-rustic notes I’m so into these days. If all goes according to plan (are you listening friends and family?) you’ll be seeing them photographed underneath chicken and pork chop recipes on this blog very soon.  –Jenny

Vintage Board Games from eBay Have you played Monopoly lately? Or Sorry? Or Life? Or Battleship? Or any other nostalgic, old school board game that you played as a kid? We have a closet full of them upstairs, and every single one of them makes my eyes hurt. So many of these games have undergone merch-y makeovers since we were kids — I love Nemo and Buzz Lightyear, but they have no business near Park Place — and I haven’t seen one yet that I approve of. And since we get roped into these games every time our kids want to play — usually, like Tuesday night at 8:45 pm, when all you want to do is climb into bed —  it’s way more fun to play with the real thing. Easy to find (start with ebay), inexpensive (less than the new ones), and aesthetically pleasing (come on, you could frame that Sorry board)! – Andy

Marcel the Shell ($10) My boss, who does not have kids, called me into her office a couple of months ago. “You have got to see this video,” she said. I stood there, looking over her shoulder, as she cued up a clip on Youtube, and a tiny, one-eyed, sneaker-wearing snail named Marcel the Shell took the stage. I don’t know how to describe it other than: absolutely friggin’ delightful. So I went back to my desk and did some googling. Turns out, this was kind of a thing! (It’s a common theme in my life. This internet thing is amazing!) There were more videos, which I watched and loved. And better yet, there were books. Which would make a good Christmas present of the kids. And for me. – Andy

Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell ($20) People always ask me to recommend a good starter cookbook for kids, and I almost always tell them Kids Cook  1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold (master of simple cooking) and Fanny at Chez Panisse, which is the book my daughters reach for every time they decide they want to cook their parents dinner. (Every time = precisely once, for our anniversary this past October.) I’m officially adding Cal Peternell’s to the list. Peternell, chef at (where else?) Chez Panisse, wrote this for a kid considerably older than mine — his college-bound son — upon realizing that he was heading out into the world without having learned the most basic kitchen skills and recipes. When I say basic, I mean basic: toasts, vinaigrettes, risottos, beans, roast vegetables. But really, what else does anyone even need in this world? (PS: There’s also this line: “A crash course in cooking for yourself and others also goes by another name: it’s called dinner.”)

Ceci N’est Past Une Pipe Poster ($13) If you have a young TFIOS fan in the house — and if you need me to spell out what that stands for, you probably don’t — then you will no doubt impress him or her with this subtle nod to the Magritte T-shirt Hazel wears on her visit to Amsterdam with Augustus. If you have no idea what language I’m speaking, how’s this pitch: Also great for young fans of surrealism. –Jenny

Platter by Sophie Conran ($35) Perfectly round serving dishes are so…predictable. This porcelain one, with its charmingly misshapen perimeter, is more like a piece of art than something you’d use to serve spaghetti — or vegetables or salads or short ribs or Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork loin….or….anything. PS: The salad bowl looks lovely too. -Jenny

TracBall ($15) Summer evenings, when I was a kid, I would wait for my dad to come home and, once he’d changed out of his suit and poured two vodka tonics — one for him and one for my mom; I can still hear the ice clinking in the glass — I’d beg him to go outside and play. Overall, my first choice was to “chuck the apple,” as he referred to playing catch, but there was a two or three year stretch in there — probably around 4th and 5th grade — when TracBall was our game. It’s a kind of weird, 80s-ish hybrid between lacrosse and Frisbee, and we got pretty good at it — able to curve it both ways, fire hard, rising fastballs, run deep fly routes down the side of the yard and pull in over-the-shoulder catches. I can still see him out there, in his shorts and black dress socks, sweaty drink in hand, and I can see hear the zzzzzing sound of that ball as it lifted into the summer night. – Andy

Vera Bradley Phone Wristlet ($24) Too young for a bona fide purse, too old to be forgetting their phone and cash. Tweens seem to be into these colorful phone-wallet combos that come in over a dozen patters. (Shown above: Bittersweet) When your parents call and ask “What on earth do we get the granddaughters?” send them this link. -Jenny

Metallic Tattoos ($12 for five sheets with about two dozen tattoos per sheet) My nieces, age 11 and 13, deserve all the credit for these temporary tattoos, which wind up looking more like jewelry if you slap a few on at a time. Great for stocking stuffers or for wrapping around a wine bottle when a family is having you for dinner. -Jenny

Lunar Calendar (About $13)  Last year, when I told Jenny that I had bought Phoebe a lunar calendar for the holidays, she responded like this: “Wow, that’s random.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was random. But it was also (a) kind of beautiful to have on the wall, no matter its utility, and (b) actually useful! Phoebe checks it every morning, along with the weather, before coming down for breakfast. I asked her what she liked about it. She said, “I’m a science person. Do you ask a person who likes to play with dolls why they like playing with dolls?” To which I say: Exactly! – Andy

Beginner MicroScope ($80) Speaking of science, this microscope shall be the new obsession. – Andy 

Kids’ Books We asked 12-year-old Phoebe, our resident book expert, for three solid recommendations for kids this holiday season. Here is what she said: “The first one is Ares: Bringer of War by George O’Connor. I never really knew much about Ares, other than he was the god of chaos and bloodshed. Besides that, he had no significance whatsoever in any of the mythology books I’d read before. But George O’Connor has shown me a side of Ares that I’d never seen before — his softer side, his role in the Trojan War, etc. Graphic novel lovers will be into this. The art is awesome. The second book is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Now, this one just won the National Book Award, so it’s obviously going to to good. It is an autobiography by a woman who grew up in the South in the civil rights era. It’s about her becoming a writer, and it’s done in a very poetic style. Once you get into it, it’s awesome. The last book is The Shadow Hero, which I already wrote about on my blog. Let’s just say it’s heaven for nerds.” — Andy

Subscription to People Magazine (About $110 for 52 issues) My friend Liz had the best argument for buying herself a subscription when she first became a mother 13 years ago. “I was determined not to be one of those moms who has no idea who George Clooney is, then pleads parenthood as the excuse.” Sure, you can just go to People.com everyday, but some magazines are meant to be consumed in print, preferably on a snowy day with a big ole glass of red wine. –Jenny

Dinner: A Love Story, the Complete Collection ($12-30) I once read that in order to convince someone to get into a good habit, first, you have to provide the inspiration. Then, you need to provide the tools to make it happen. That’s how I’ve always thought of my duo of family-meal-making books. So if you have a friend who’d like to get into the dinner habit — or someone who is just in the market for some solid family recipes – Love Story provides the inspiration and Playbook provides the strategy. Plus: I’ll send personalized bookplates to the first 25 who email me at jenny@dinneralovestory.com. (Please provide address and message!) Thanks, as always for your support. -Jenny

For more ideas, check out gift guides from Bon Appetit, Cup of Jo, The New York Times, and Catherine Newman.

Past DALS gift guides: 2013, 2012, 2011

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The Annual Cookbook Tradition

December 4th, 2014 · Uncategorized

NOTE TO UNCLE MIKE: PLEASE DON’T READ!

Every Christmas when I was growing up, my mom would select a wrinkly wrapped gift from under the tree, shake it a bit, and say “Hmmmm, I wonder what this could be?” She knew what it was, of course. We all did. It was the annual bottle of Vitabath, the bath bubbles that came in the green and white ridged bottle that my dad gave to her every year. (Only my mother could stretch out an 8-ounce supply of bubble bath for 12 months.) I am such a sucker for the Annual Gift Tradition — not only because those gifts tell stories and connect us to holidays past and all that good stuff, but because they save a ton of think work if you’re on the giving end. It’s thoughtful giving on autopilot.

Some annual gifts can be downright inspired. Andy’s Uncle Julian used to give Aunt Patty a vintage cordial glass every year — none of them were the same, but he had an eye for that stuff, and when he broke out a bottle of Chateau D’yquem, it was always amazing to see how well each tiny glass of Sauternes looked next to the other. Then there’s Uncle Mike (yes, it’s practically law that uncles are the best gift-givers) who buys a few cases of wine every year, then divvies them all up for his brothers and nephews. In exchange for that wine, we have our own mini annual gift ritual — we give Uncle Mike whatever cookbook seems to be the cookbook of the moment. In the past we’ve presented him with Canal House Cooks Everyday, Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Jerusalem, and Amanda Hesser’s updated version of the classic The New York Times Cookbook, to name a few.

So here’s a dilemma that can be filed under “Cup Runneth Over” category: What cookbook do I get Uncle Mike for Christmas this year? Though the holidays are always blockbuster season for cookbooks, 2014′s offerings seems to be particularly awesome and I’m genuinely stumped. Uncle Mike is an adventurous cook, not afraid of an obscure ingredient, and happy to spend a whole day working through a seemingly impenetrable Diana Kennedy recipe, or hunting down dried guajillo chili peppers, or picking persimmons from the tree in his backyard. Not kidding. Here are a few options out there — what do you think? [Read more →]

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Archive Dive

December 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Sometimes I worry about my recipes the way I worry about my kids. As in, is this one getting enough attention? Does that one need a little extra love this week? I think it’s safe to say that Andy’s Pork Ragu is the Marcia Brady of dinners here on DALS (Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!) followed closely by Salmon Salad, Braised Short Ribs, and maybe those shrimp rolls from PlaybookIn my defense, there’s a good reason for the repetition: they’re favorites in our house and grace the table over and over, year in and year out. But that’s my house and I was thinking: Just because my daughters won’t go near the Mongolian Stir-fry Tofu (still!) doesn’t mean that your kid won’t beg for it every night. So herewith, a Redemption for the Forgotten: 10 recipes — all quick, all tasty — that deserve a little love.

1. Squash Toasts with Butternut Squash and Ricotta I could eat everything listed under “toasts” on the ABC Kitchen menu, but this one would be right at the top.

2. Orecchiette with Peas, Country Ham, and Mint – The orecchiettes work like little baseball mitts catching the peas. The country ham works cause…it’s country ham.

3. Pork Chops in Tomato Juice with Kale – It’s really amazing that this isn’t on my table twice a week given how much my kids like both pork and kale. Here, the chops are pounded super thin and braised in a delicate tomatoey broth.

4. Sticky Pomegranate Chicken (page 174, Playbook) Four ingredients, 90% of cooking time is hands-off.

5. Steak Tacos with Quick Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce Good for leftover steak or anytime you want a little meat to go a long way.

6. Lamb Sliders with Yogurt Sauce Slider always sounds way more fun than sandwich.

7. Fried Fish Nuggets with Bacony Greens This seems to be gaining traction with families dealing with egg allergies. (The dredge is sour cream, not a whisked egg.)

8. Lettuce Hand Rolls (with ground pork or turkey) The photo may be a little JV, but the dinner is decidedly varsity. I remember tasting a forkful of the 5-spiced ground meat straight out of the skillet at a photo shoot and knowing instantly that it would work at the family table.

9. Chickpea Fries I used to make these for the kids with ketchup (we called them “fancy fries”) but now I think I’d make them with a little yogurty-dill sauce and lemon. Maybe even as a starter next time someone comes over for dinner. Such a crowd-pleaser.

10. Pan-roasted Chicken Thighs with Leeks (page 282 Dinner: A Love Story) Chicken, leeks, mustard and the dashiest dash of cream to make it feel indulgent. Plus: Leeks. And P.S. Leeks!

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Mini Shepherd’s Pie

November 20th, 2014 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Of all the things that taste better the next day — Grandma Jody’s chicken, pasta with Bolognese — I think maybe Shepherd’s Pie is right up there on my list. At least part of the reason for this is because some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing in front of my best friend’s fridge, eating forkfuls of the pie’s spice-spiked meat straight from the dish. But most of the reason? Well, what’s there not to love about something smothered in a crust of mashed potatoes? (Boy I’m picking up a theme this week.) I’ve never actually made a real Shepherd’s Pie — the closest I’ve come are these miniature cheater’s version, cobbled together from everything left over on Thanksgiving. (Of course Shepherd’s Pie was invented to use up leftovers, like all the best recipes, so technically it’s in fact the opposite of cheating.) I heat up a little shallot in olive oil then add whatever I’ve got stored the tupperware bins (including those bacon bits hangin’ around the brussels sprouts). Once the filling is heated through, I spoon it into ramekins and spread reheated mashed potatoes on top. I don’t even bother baking the pies, but if you’re after a more crusty topping, skip the reheating of the potatoes and bake at 375° for about 20 minutes, sprinkled with some shredded cheese if you’re feeling decadent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Needless to say, it’s a big hit with the kids for Friday lunch.

Is there anything better than leftovers? Man, I could eat this screen right now. What leftover moves do you have in your Thanksgiving arsenals? Would love to know.

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Scalloped Potatoes

November 18th, 2014 · Posts by Andy, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

One night last week, Jenny and I were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, and Phoebe was sitting at the table, finishing her homework, surrounded by the contents of her scoliosis-inducing backpack. As Jenny checked Instagram and I scrubbed a pan of rice, talk turned to Thanksgiving — and our total lack of planning for it thus far. The way it usually works around here, Thanksgiving-wise, is that Jenny’s mom provides the turkey and the Jell-O chocolate pudding pie, and we are (happily) responsible for everything else: i.e., pan-roasted Brussels, cauliflower with anchovy breadcrumbs, three pepper cornbread stuffing, and mashed potatoes. “I assume we’re just making the usual?” I said.

“Actually,” Jenny said, “I was kind of thinking we should try scalloped potatoes this year instead of mashed.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s radical.”

“I’ve had a total craving ever since Todd mentioned that he made them recently. How good are scalloped potatoes?”

At this point, Phoebe’s pencil stopped moving. You should have seen the look on her face. It was like she’d just overheard us say we we’re going to give the dog away. “Wait, wait, wait,” she said. “You guys are joking, right?”

Phoebe, it should be noted, is a true creature of comfort. The stuff she likes, she really likes. Her bed, for instance, with its disintegrating quilt. Her house. Her little chair in her reading nook. Her Tintin collection. Her water-damaged Timex watch. Her pair of jeggings with the hole in the right knee. Her mashed potatoes. God, the kid loves mashed potatoes.

“Please,” she said. “It’s Thanksgiving. How can we not have mashed potatoes?”

Fast forward to the next day. I am at work and, in my building, there is an hour-long panel talk going on between Sam Sifton (author of Thanksgving: How to Cook it Well) and Gabrielle Hamilton, superstar chef and author of Prune. They talk about the beauty (and difficulty) of the three-ingredient recipe, the perfect temperature of butter when smeared on fresh radishes (waxy, never oily, and sprinkled with sea salt), and how they feed their kids (at this stage, Gabrielle says, her goal is simply caloric intake), and when they’re done, they take questions from the audience. First question: How do you guys feel about a traditional Thanksgiving? Pro or con?

Sam, after pointing out that felt obligated to answer first since, as he noted, he “literally wrote the book on Thanksgiving,” said he believed in tradition, and in Thanksgiving as the Great American Secular Holiday — it was pretty stirring, I have to say — and one that should be properly celebrated as such. How many times a year, he asked, do you eat a turkey? Are you sick of turkey or something? Gabrielle agreed, and launched into this beautiful paean to the familiar smells and tastes of the Thanksgiving table, and talked about how there is no night she looks forward to more at the restaurant — where, after the place clears out and the customers have all gone home, the staff gathers for their “family meal,” with all the fixings. The point was, however you celebrate it, and whoever you celebrate it with, tradition matters.

So it was decided. We would make the scalloped potatoes this weekend, when the stakes were low, and Phoebe would make the call: yea or nay. And this is what she sent me, via text, upon being asked her where she stood, when all was said and done: “Though your new potato dish is good,” she wrote, “in no way does it live up to the greatness of mashed potatoes, and I DO NOT permit you to serve these potatoes in mashed potatoes’  stead. The end.” So we’ll be eating these again soon, but not for Thanksgiving. At least not this year. – Andy

Scalloped Potatoes for Thanksgiving or Otherwise
From Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton
Note: I baked them in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, so upped the quantity on the milk/cream mixture a bit. The important thing is the instruction to make sure the milk comes “almost to the top” of the layered potatoes.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 large garlic clove, peeled, smashed, and minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and ground white pepper, or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, sliced thin, and kept in a bowl of cold water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan and bring to almost a boil. Remove from heat and add garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking dish or a 9-inch casserole with half the butter. Drain the potatoes and dry them lightly, then layer half of them in the dish so that they overlap slightly. Add half the milk, pouring it all over the potatoes. Layer the remainder of the potatoes in the dish, then add the rest of the milk so that it comes almost to their top.

Top with dots of the rest of the butter and place in the upper third of the oven until the potatoes are browned and the milk has been absorbed, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve in its container.

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Soup Dumpling Souvenirs

November 13th, 2014 · Picky Eating, Quick, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup

Those of you who have been with DALS for a while might know my theory, based on years of research (read: making dinner) in my personal lab (read: kitchen table), that the key to expanding kids’ palates is to bring them along with you on the weekly food shop. As the theory goes, when they select the pack of pomegranate seeds themselves — or the leeks or the avocadoes — they’ll be more likely to try it all at home.

When I wrote about this in Playbook, I focused mostly on the main grocery store run, the one where you pick up the dishwasher detergent right along with the week’s supply of chicken breasts. But I didn’t spend a lot of time talking the other kind of shopping trip, the ones that, for me, can be as exciting as the North American premiere of Mockingjay. (Countdown: One more week!) Think big food halls like Eataly and the Ferry Building; or small farm markets in parking lots; or, my favorite, ethnic mom-and-pop shops that we are constantly stumbling upon as we make our way around the Tri-State New York metropolitan area. There’s the Middle Eastern place sandwiched between two giant car dealerships in White Plains; the cluster of Latino stores in Port Chester (where, among other things, I procured the ingredients for mole last year); the old-school Italian market in Mamaroneck where prosciutto is pronounced with two syllables and two syllables only; the packed-to-the-gills Asian market where I can find cheap, authentic ingredients for my pad thai or just about anything else I want to cook from Thailand, India, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, or China. I even find myself drawn to the C-Town a few miles away because it has an entire wall devoted to any kind of Mexican cheese my little heart (or little recipe) calls for.

These places are magic for me. And for the kids, wandering their aisles in the middle of a weekend day can feel like a quick trip to another corner of the universe. Adding to the thrill: It is 100% required for them to bring home souvenirs. Last weekend, we stopped by our authentic Asian superstore after my midfielder’s rough loss (my midfielder’s really rough loss) and picked up some noodles for pan-frying, some lemongrass, a bottle of hoisin, and this big bag of pork soup dumplings, which, when simmered in homemade chicken stock and sprinkled with scallions, was just the ticket for the world’s easiest dinner on Monday night.

They were richer than I thought, so each of us only got three or four per bowl. (At that rate, we’ll  finish the bag by May.) We rounded out the meal with Andy’s “accidental broccoli,” that I drizzled with citrusy-miso dressing. As the kids on instagram might say: Yassss.

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The Confidence Question

November 10th, 2014 · Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

I always hear people say “If you can read, you can cook” or “As long as you are organized, you can get dinner together.” I believe both of these maxims to a certain point, but the older I get and the more I hear from parents struggling to get dinner on the table every night, the more I feel like we’re ignoring a bigger obstacle in the kitchen. And no, I’m not talking about the two-year-old pulling on our skirts as we attempt to boil water, though that’s certainly legit. Mostly, I’m talking about confidence — or, more to the point, the lack of confidence that holds so many of us back. [Read more →]

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A Chat with Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton

November 6th, 2014 · Cameos, Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

Gabrielle Hamilton’s new cookbook, Prune, a collection of recipes from her celebrated East Village restaurant of the same name, doesn’t have any introduction. There are no recipe headnotes (you know, those little wind-ups from the author explaining the genesis of the dish you are about to make, or some kind of hold-your-hand cheffy trick that might help as you make it?) There is no flap copy, and no index where one might go to look up Peas with Wasabi Butter and Honeycomb. Those same peas with wasabi butter and honeycomb that I ate at Prune in the summer of 2013, and that have stayed with me all these months later.

The only thing you get to read in Hamilton’s second book, (her first was the memoir Blood Bones and Butter) are the recipes themselves, but if you are after Hamilton’s vision or philosophy on cooking, that’s just about all you really need. Roasted Beets with Aioli, Figs and Raspberries with Steeped Lemon Cream, Grilled Shrimp with Anchovy Butter. As they say, in food and in art, the thing speaks for itself.

Prune was designed to sound and look like the overstuffed binder sitting on the kitchen shelf of every restaurant. The grease-stained recipes, devoid of any extra words, but hyper-specific and comically authoritative nonetheless, are directed at her staff, presumably at work in a hot, busy kitchen, and not necessarily at the home cook. “I know this one is a bitch to prep” she says of her Gazpacho. “Be glad we only serve it one month a year.” When seasoning the braising liquid for the Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Cider (recipe below) she writes, “Adjust now or never.” In her four-ingredient Omelette with Parmesan recipe: “There’s nothing to hide here, so please keep it tight.” Luckily, the home cook gets to listen in on the learning that always follows. With that Omelette: “Make sure your pan is the right temp, your butter is foaming and not sizzling, your eggs are fully beaten to their greatest volume, and that your Parm is neatly shaved and distributed evenly.” And luckily, Hamilton, mother of two, took some time last week to answer a few questions I had about the book, simple cooking, of course, dinner with her kids. Welcome Gabrielle, thanks for taking the time to talk today!

GH: No problem.

DALS: So I loved Blood Bones and Butter, and I remember reading an interview with you where you said you were going to take the easy way out with the next project and just do a cookbook. Most people would not call a 567-page cookbook “the easy way out.” How did you feel about writing a cookbook versus a memoir? 

GH: Well, I guess I’d like to issue a giant universal blanket apology to anyone who has ever made a cookbook. I definitely underestimated how much was involved before taking it on. This one was painstaking to put together. PAINstaking. I have noticde, though, that it’s been much easier to talk about. The questions I’m getting in interviews are a lot lighter, not really the case when you’re talking about moms and marriage.

It’s easier for you to talk about food? I’m good talking about food for about eleven minutes. After that it gets boring to me. [Read more →]

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Masterchef Junior Airs Tonight

November 4th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Restaurant takeovers, mystery boxes, some pate looking thing garnished with an apple slice by a girl named Oona? It can only be one thing: Masterchef Junior time. The kids loved Season 1 in our house. OK fine, we did, too — how cool to introduce the idea early that cooking can be fun.

Season 2 premieres tonight, November 4, 8PM.

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Friday Round-up

October 31st, 2014 · Uncategorized

What I’m reading and eating this week:

I finally watched Chef last night. A lot of solid food-nerd moments in there, but my favorite was when the Jon Favreau character showed me exactly how chefs (and food stylists) make pasta look so pretty. (Like what you’re looking at above.) You wind the noodles around one of those long two-tine forks while it’s still in the pan, then tip it perpendicularly on to your plate.

Top 50 Scariest Short Stories of All Time

Genius or a Cry for Help? Place cards made out of stenciled butternut squash. (Verdict: genius.)

My 12-year-old is addicted to Serial, the new podcast series from This American Life — think true crime meets documentary meets Ira Glass. (Note: I recommend parents listen to the first episode to determine if it’s appropriate for your kids.)

I’m coming back as Mimi Thorisson in my next life.

Enough with the food fetishizing? (Boy, someone’s cranky)

Speaking of which, we can all relax now that Crinkle Cuts are back.

This pie dish is perfect.

Leftover Candy Cookies Thin, chewy, crispy “galley” cookies with chocolate, pretzels, and then some.

How to Eat Cheap By Eating Vegan

Does calling someone a “mommy blogger” delegitimize her? One badass Mommy Blogger weighs in.

Gochujang Pork Shoulder Steaks: OhBoyOhBoyOhBoyOhBoyOhBoy

Baking Nerds rejoice: Dorie Greenspan’s latest is finally here.

I love these dinner plates – not just because they are designed by Massimo Vignelli, but because they remind me of my best friend’s childhood kitchen. (Whaddup Rosa?)

Lastly, Mazel Tov to my beautiful chocolate-loving niece who will become a bat mitzvah tomorrow. We are all so proud of you Alison! xoxoxo

Photo by Dana Gallagher for Kitchen Repertoire.

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What’s Brewing in that Witches Pot?

October 27th, 2014 · Dinner

So do you guys know about these things called slow-cookers? Get this: you throw a bunch of s#*t into a pot, press a button, and ten hours later, dinner is ready. It’s like magic!

I’m kidding of course. I think at least half of the nice people who read my blog have emailed me at some point in the past few years to ask  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT SLOW-COOKER DINNERS? WHY THE HECK DO YOU NOT OWN A SLOW COOKER?

Would you accept the answer: Because it’s too easy?

Last week, I finally bit the bullet and purchased one. When I turned to my all-knowing crockpot community on Facebook for advice (My request: “I don’t need the Cadillac of Slow-Cookers, a nice dependable Honda will do just fine”) I got a lot of suggestions, but ended up one-clicking The Original Crockpot. This one, you told me, is the one I want. It’s oval, so accommodates different cuts of meat; it’s durable, programmable, reasonably priced, and best of all, fits in a cabinet. I did consider the ones with browning capabilities, but eventually ruled them out for two reasons: 1) they tended to be more expensive and 2) I don’t see myself using a slow cooker for browning. I’m not after a hands-on technique-driven cooking experience here. (That’s what my Dutch Oven is for.)  All I want out of a slow-cooker is the permission to be artless and brain-dead about dinner when I know I’m headed for a hectic evening — or when the idea of cooking is about as appealing as an IRS audit.

I began my education in artlessness at 7:00 am, the morning after my crock pot landed on the doorstep. The goal? To not spend more than two minutes putting something together, and to use what I had in the fridge and pantry — no shopping allowed. It was a Thursday, so pickin’s were slim, but after scanning some of your recipe suggestions (thank you Facebook friends!) I decided to go with a version of this Santa Fe Chicken. I used onions instead of scallions, fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, a single dried guajillo pepper instead of cayenne, and, for good measure, threw in some chile powder, a pinch of cinnamon, and oregano. I didn’t measure a single thing and other than the onion, didn’t chop anything either. I pressed the 10-hour low function button and went about my day.

I wish I could say that was the last I thought about dinner until we sat down 10 hours later (to a delicious meal, btw). But it was quite the opposite actually: With dinner out of the way, and subsequently, with all my dinner-making psychic energy freed up, I found myself scrutinizing every meal I saw (on instagram, in magazines, on blogs and menus) wondering “Would this work in the slow cooker? Would that work in the slow-cooker?”

In other words I think I’m beginning to understand why you guys are so obsessed with this thing. I don’t know how often I’ll end up using it, but I’m certainly excited by the possibilities. And I’m particularly grateful that I caught on just as Halloween approaches — we usually make a big witch’s cauldron of something self-serve-y to keep on the stovetop, like Andy’s Second Place Chili or Rich Man’s Franks & Beans. Something quick and easy for the kids who want to be done with the business of real food so they can begin their pursuit of Supersize Milky Way Darks, and also something a weary grown-up chaperone might appreciate when they ring our doorbell. (That’s one of my most favorite things about Halloween — inviting parents in who I haven’t seen in a while.) I’m thinking this time I might go with one of these. As always, suggestions are welcome!

1) Chicken Tikka Masala Only problem here is that the recipe calls for cutting the chicken into pieces. But might be worth it because I know my eldest will flip over this recipe.

2) Korean Beef Tacos Or I might also just make Anna’s short ribs (which are so popular, they are also in Playbook.) Note: Anna posted Top 10 Slow Cooker Meals for Parents on her blog and I plan to work my way down that list as well. (Hello Indian Butter Chicken…)

3) Holiday Brisket So my sister makes this fantastic brisket every year for the High Holy Days that involves a can of Coke. The idea of pouring that into the pot is kinda great.

4) Barbecued Pull Pork Sandwiches My kids would freak.

5) Chicken Mole I’m going to avoid all the pre-pureeing and see what happens. I mean, how can it be bad.

6) Lentil Soup with Garlicky Vinaigrette From the always dependable Catherine Newman. Now if I could only figure out how to get my kids to like lentils. (Warning: It involves some sautéing in the prep work.)

7) Sweet-and-Sour Country Ribs This is one of the first up.

8) Thai Chicken Soup So up my alley.

9) Slow Cooker Cassoulet I’m not kidding, I remember Bittman writing this story (and this recipe) in 2003 — that’s how long I’ve put off this purchase. (The short rib pasta sauce looks pretty darn good, too.)

10) Lastly, not a full-on dinner recipe but…Chicken Stock! In the words of my friend Robin Z: “It’s not a sexy recipe, but let no organic chicken carcass go to waste! Immediately after roasting, put the bones, water, etc, in the pot & cook all night on low. Drain, refrigerate, skim fat, freeze or use as you go.” Love that idea. Thanks Robin! See you Saturday! :)

Because my daughter would never forgive me if I passed up a chance to use a Roz Chast cartoon.

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Friday Round-up: Halloween Edition

October 24th, 2014 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Best Halloween Party Goody Bag: Candy-Stuffed Disposable Gloves. (Buzzfeed) 

Best Creepy Kids Movie: Coraline (I’d recommend 8 and up; And don’t forget the book and the graphic novel)

Best Trying-to-Be-Scary-But-Actually-Adorable Halloween Treat: Little Cupcake Monster from alllielewisclapp‘s instagram feed.

Best Vintage Halloween Picture Book: Halloween with Morris and Borris, by Bernard Wiseman [Read more →]

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Anatomy of a Thursday Night Dinner

October 20th, 2014 · Anatomy of a Weeknight Dinner, Dinner, Vegetarian

6:30 Walk in the door to an empty house. Andy is traveling. Girls have gotten rides to practice. Scan fridge. Some leftover bagged greens, a head of cauliflower, a vinaigrette I made on the weekend. The only meat we have is frozen. Not enough time to thaw. Scan the pantry. Jackpot: Two cans of chickpeas. Center-of-the-plate problem: Solved.

7:20 Pick up Daughter 1 at soccer.

7:40 Return home. Daughter 1 takes a shower. I chop cauliflower, add to a baking dish, and toss with olive oil, dash red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes at 425°F, along with some foil-wrapped Trader Joe’s Naan that’s been in the freezer for who knows how long. While this is happening, I drain and dump chickpeas into a hot frying pan with olive oil, some chopped onions, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika. (I always think of my friend Todd’s advice when making these: “Cook them longer than you think you should.”) I let them get nice and crispy while I toss the leftover greens with vinaigrette and make a quick yogurt sauce for the chickpeas.

8:15 Daughter 2 returns from soccer practice in her carpool.

8:20 Cleats off, hands washed. (I think?) Dinner.

8:22 Daughter 1: “Do I have to eat chickpeas?”

8:23 Peanut butter jar is procured and spread across pita. More chickpeas for the rest of us.

The End.

Fried Chickpea Sandwiches with Yogurt Sauce

Add a generous amount of oil to a cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Drain, rinse and dry two 14-ounce cans of garbanzo beans. When pan is hot but not smoking, add beans (in batches, if necessary, or two pans — you want a single layer of beans on the pan’s surface). Fry about 15 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes or so. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel-lined bowl. Once all chickpeas are fried and drained, add salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne, a 1/2 teaspoon of both garlic salt, and paprika.

While the chickpeas fried, whisk together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and/or mint. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast Naan and serve with yogurt sauce and chickpeas. Or peanut butter if that’s the way it has to be.

P.S. What are the girls eating after school, but before practice? A Sneal, naturally.

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The “Do You Know?” Scale

October 16th, 2014 · Dinner, Rituals

I am embarrassingly late to the party on this one, but I finally got around to reading Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy FamiliesLet me amend that, I finally got around to reading the chapter in Secrets called “The Right Way to Have Family Dinner” that so many of you have told me about. There was a lot of good stuff in there — including a great story about how New Orleans chef John Besh and his wife abandoned the idea of a 6:00 family dinner in favor of family breakfast and a post-sports-activities family dessert — but what stuck with me the most, was the “Do You Know” Scale.

The scale refers to the twenty questions developed by psychologist Marshall Duke, his wife Sara, and a colleague Robyn Fivush to determine how well kids know their family history. Questions like “”Do you know where your grandfather grew up?” and “Do you know where your parents met?” According to their research, the more kids know about their family history, “the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

I know what you’re thinking: This is all great, but why is this in a chapter about Family Dinner? Apparently, the family histories we tell should be filled with moments of struggle and resilience, so sharing them at a dinner table while doing something reassuring, like eating, is a logical place to do it. Though the researchers emphasize that the important thing is that you share the stories, not where you share the stories. It’s all about the “child’s sense of being part of a larger family.”

I apologize if you all read this a year ago when the book came out, but I thought it might be helpful to see what the twenty questions were. Not so you can see if you pass or fail anything (I think my kids could maybe answer about half of them) but because they should trigger some pretty entertaining conversations at the table — or elsewhere.

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Today’s Lunch, Tomorrow’s Dinner

October 14th, 2014 · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

“Wait you just made that now?”

That’s what Abby said about this soup when she came in from the backyard, and it was exactly what I was thinking as I ladled the noodley broth into a bowl for her lunch. Wow, that was fast. This was yesterday — a holiday — and we had been on the road at various soccer tournaments throughout the DC area for three straight days. I don’t know how much time I logged in the car, but let’s just say I’m not going to be on the receiving end of a Friend of the Environment award any time soon, and the idea of getting in the Mazda even to go grocery shopping was more than I could handle.

Instead, I did what I do best: I procrastinated. If I could just scrape something together for lunch, I could maybe buy myself another few hours watching Glee re-runs before hitting Trader Joe’s.

The fridge was looking bleak — even the peanut butter jar was scraped clean — but I found an onion, a handful of dusty looking baby carrots, and about 30 ounces of a 32-ounce chicken broth container, which was about five minutes away from expiring. There was a single fat chicken breast. Maybe it was the ingredients speaking to me, or maybe it was something more primal (with chicken noodle soup moments, you can never be so sure), but I needed soup. That was as big and obvious to me as anything.

I’m not in the habit of whipping up homemade soup for lunch – or dinner for that matter — but now I’m wondering why that is. My friend Pilar used to give me soup recipes in pictures, drawing a cross-section of the stockpot to show me each layer of flavor: aromatics, seasoning, broth, fillings. And that’s really all the instruction I needed to turn a tumbleweedy, end-of-week fridge into something pretty damn comforting. Is it going to yield a flavor that is deep and multi-dimensional and Ivan-Ramen-worthy? Uh, no. But did it get the job done? Yes. And then some: There’s a batch of it in the freezer waiting for me for tomorrow’s dinner.

Noodle-Loaded Chicken Soup
I don’t love soups that are overly brothy, but if you do, no need to include as many noodles as I did. No set rules here.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot (or a handful of baby carrots) chopped
salt and pepper
1 32-ounce container chicken broth (about 4 cups)
1 large chicken breast, cut into thirds
angel hair, to taste (I used about a third of a 1-pound package), broken half with your hands

Add olive oil to a medium pot set over medium heat and add onions, celery, carrot, salt and pepper. Saute about 2 minutes until vegetables have slightly softened.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, and simmer for about 12 minutes. Remove chicken from soup and shred with two forks. (The less artful you are the better.) Bring soup back to a boil and add pasta. When angel hair is cooked through — about two minutes — add chicken back to the post. Season to taste and serve.

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Friday Round-up

October 10th, 2014 · Uncategorized

What I’m reading this week:

What if You Just Hate to Cook Dinner?  Virginia Heffernan, mother of two, poses the question “Why is food such a big part of raising children?” then proceeds to discuss the condescending language in family cookbooks, including mine. I have a fair amount I’d like to say about this essay, but for now, I’m going to do my mom proud and save it for the burn book I keep in the back of my sock drawer. I do feel the need, however, to address two things that I simply can not let pass. FIRST: The suggestion that I have ever implied, in my books or on this blog, that family dinner should fall entirely on moms. Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Maybe with the 100+ posts my husband has written for this blog, all of which address his day-to-day dinner-making for our daughters, from the post-soccer-practice scramble, to Friday-night Stromboli to his Pork Ragu recipe that people bring up with me over and over again, including, last month, someone sitting next to me on a plane who I had never met before. (People, it’s that good.) I guess I could also point to the “Family Dinner Boot Camp” series I did for Motherlode, the theme of which could be summarized as: “All in.” From the beginning, this blog has been about a return to the kitchen that involves everyone, including the kids who may or may not remember to set the table. If you find joy in making dinner, then you should make it yourself. If you need help from others, then you should include others. If others need help from you, then you should help. If you hate cooking, then dump a can of beans on toast (Andy’s post, btw), serve with some baby carrots and call it a day. There is no one way to do this – every family is different, every situation is different, and I try my best to recognize and respect that. SECOND:  I believe deeply in the idea that nobody should be made to feel bad about the way he or she approaches family dinner — or whether they can pull it off at all. I do this blog because I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy helping people who want to make it happen. If my tone here ever makes anyone feel anxious or guilty or less-than, if I ever sound condescending, then I’m failing in what I’m trying to accomplish, and you guys need to let me know about it. I take this kind of criticism seriously, and I rely on you to keep me honest. Anyway, give it a read and let me know what you think.

The bottom line is, you can assume I agree with Luisa and Katie.

Onward! What else:

Abby, my almost 11-year-old, is absolutely tearing through this book right now.

100 Rules of Dinner Re-posting. Just cause.

Is there anything better than when Catherine Newman “thinks out loud?

“Inside the Biggest Ever Hedge Fund Scandal” A profile of Steven A. Cohen that reads like a John Grisham novel.

Locals: Stone Barns Center still has a few slots open in their Little Cooks and Gardener’s Program. My girls did one of these a while ago and we’ve been dining out on the buttermilk ranch dressing they learned to make there ever since.

Masterchef Junior Season 2 The DVR is already set.

Grain Bowls: I could eat like this every day.

How do you raise kids who are The Opposite of Spoiled? I intend to find out.

Cooking Fast and Slow: A conversation between Mark Bittman and Mario Batali at the 92nd St Y this Sunday. Tickets are still available.

Ice Cream Hacks I can’t believe how much I love this. (Meanwhile: The ice cream sandwich cake reminded me of another classic cheat: ravioli lasagna.)

Another smart birthday party idea.

I’m a year late on this one, but these Fashion Icon Halloween costumes for kids cracked me up. (Anna Wintour!)

OMG, Malala!

Lastly, I had the great pleasure of hearing Lena Dunham read from her new book Not That Kind of Girl in Boston last week. At the end, when she and Mary Karr, who was interviewing her, took questions from the audience, someone asked, “I’m a second grade teacher and was wondering if you had any advice for inspiring girls, and for teaching them to be confident.” I can’t remember the first part of her answer, but eventually Dunham emphasized the need for girls, and women, to have each other’s backs, and demanded we go home and google “Shine Theory.” I did what I was told. Please read it if you haven’t already. It’s a good reminder for everyone, not just second-grade girls.

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