Relentless

April 19th, 2014 · Dinner, Grilling, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood

Jenny begged me to write this post. She begged me to write it because we have spent most of the last week on spring break and she has spent much of that time feeling guilty about not having posted. She keeps circling the laptop, turning to me and saying, “Should I post? Just something quick? Is it bad that we haven’t done anything all week?” (This is what it’s like being a food blogger. And, I want to clarify: She is not being lazy. She is writing another book, working on a site redesign, we just handed in a Bon App column, and she is mapping out a whole bunch of new posts, which she’ll be rolling out in the next couple of weeks, for real. The point is: She likes you guys. She really likes you guys!*) So: I’m going to keep this short because my feelings of guilt re posting are not quite as debilitating, and because this vacation ends tomorrow, and because a bike ride with the kids — followed by an Easter egg salad sandwich with sweet relish — awaits.

Last Saturday evening, we fired up the Weber for the first time this year — always a cause for celebration in our house. We’d been kind of going off lately, food-wise, and wanted to keep things healthy. We decided on fish (Phoebe requested salmon, as per usual), a grilled vegetable (the asparagus at the farmer’s market was lookin’ good), and the kind of grainy, superfood salad that the kids would not touch if you paid them in unicorn sightings (we did quinoa with feta, tomatoes, and scallions). Jenny is standing over my shoulder right now, as I type this, and she approves, so consider this POSTED. – Andy

* Dear very nice commenter who writes in to say you miss it when Jenny doesn’t post as much: I love you, but you’re KILLING ME!

The key to this quinoa salad is the dressing. A good, tangy vinaigrette is what separates a great salad from a great big bowl of blah. (I used rice wine vinegar here, which went well with the salmon.)

This was the maiden voyage for this veggie basket, and I don’t want to overstate things here, but holy holy crap, I think I am in love. What have I been doing for the past twenty years, trying to keep all those asparagus spears from falling through the grate and into the fire? Veggie basket, where have you been all my life??? (I tossed these bad boys in olive oil, with lots of salt and pepper, and cooked for 6-8 minutes.)

Grilled Spicy Salmon

1 tablespoon Sriracha
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave
Freshly ground pepper

This is a marinade that we adapted from an old grilling book we had lying around, and it was originally meant to go with chicken. We tweaked it up, and marinated a 1 1/2 piece salmon filet in it for about 20 minutes before grilling. We grill a lot of salmon, so it’s always nice to find a way to keep things interesting. The Sriracha is the key here. I cook the salmon for about 10 minutes total, and watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn. Also: Because our kids always enjoy a dipping sauce, we served with spicy mayo.

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Hurry Up and Fail Already: Lessons in Creativity

April 15th, 2014 · Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

Jenny and I have written a lot about books on this blog — and more specifically, about the role books have played in our kids’ lives, the highlight reel they will summon when they’re old like us and thinking back on the things, beyond family, that added meaning to their lives. What we’ve never really talked (much) about is another part of the kid experience that would also factor into that discussion pretty prominently: Pixar movies. I can’t tell you how many times Phoebe has watched The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, and Abby has watched Toy Story 3 and Monsters Inc. — and, by extension, how many times Jenny and I have sat on the couch or in the backseat of the car, watching right along with them.

So many of our dinner conversations, over the past ten years, have centered around the question: What is your favorite Pixar movie, and why? I love these conversations because, while we’re talking about the movies themselves, we also end up talking about stuff that gets us fired up in a more cosmic way: Originality, artistic ambition, the difference between mediocre product and stuff that lasts, the fact that nobody speaks for the first 30 minutes of Wall-E, the importance of a strong central idea in any creative project, etc. The question of how people make great things — or, how art happens — is an endlessly chewy one, and it’s one that I had the good fortune to explore recently, while working on Creativity, Inc., by Pixar Co-Founder and President Ed Catmull, and Amy Wallace. In the book, Catmull mines his legendary staff for lessons about creativity — the inherent difficulty of it, the need for perseverance, the upside of fear and failure. I thought it would be fun to share a few excerpts we found inspiring, helpful reminders that anything worthwhile is hard. – Andy

Lesson 1: Fail As Fast As You Can
From: Andrew Stanton, Director, A Bug’s LifeFinding Nemo, and Wall-E

Andrew likes to say that we would all be a lot happier and more productive if we just hurried up and failed already. For him, moving quickly is a plus because it prevents him from getting stuck worrying about whether his chosen course of action is the wrong one. Instead, he favors being decisive, then forgiving yourself if your initial decision proves misguided. He likens the director’s job to that of a ship captain, out in the middle of the ocean, with a crew that’s depending on him to make land. The director’s job is to say, “Land is that way.” Maybe land actually is that way and maybe it isn’t, but if you don’t have somebody choosing a course—pointing their finger toward that spot there, on the horizon— then the ship goes nowhere. It’s not a tragedy if the leader changes her mind later and says, “Okay, it’s actually not that way, it’s this way. I was wrong. As long as you commit to a destination and drive toward it with all your might, people will accept when you correct course. People want decisiveness, but they also want honesty about when you’ve effed up. It’s a huge lesson: Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.” Other people are your allies, in other words, but that alliance takes sustained effort to build. And you should be prepared for that, not irritated by it. As Andrew says, continuing his nautical metaphor, “If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing? You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat.”

Lesson 2: Embrace Fear
From: Brad Bird, Director, The Incredibles and Ratatouille

There are moments, in any creative endeavor, where there is so much work to do and so little time to do it that you can’t help but feel fear. Brad knows that if he lingers too long in that frightened place, he will freak out. [Read more →]

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Spring Holiday Round-Up

April 11th, 2014 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

In season: Peas, Ramps, Asparagus and…Peeps! No shortage of ways to use ‘em up on the Interweb: Peep S’mores, Peep Sunflower Cake, Peep-Wreaths, Peep-infused Vodka. (Yes, it exists, but some things are just too weird to link to.)

Easter Main Option 1: Andy’s super-easy Apricot-glazed Ham (and my super-easy day-after-ham split pea soup)

Easter Main Option 2: Slow-cooked Lamb with Lemon and Oregano

Francois Payard’s Chocolate-Walnut Flourless Cookies (Thanks Jodi!)

Kosher for Passover: Cult Foods

If there was a single dish that could capture my religious background, it would probably be Bacon Matzoh-Brei.

Next week’s vacation reading: Delancey and Creativity Inc

Next week’s vacation eating: Two Boroughs Larder (if I can get a table!)

Vegetarian Cookbooks for Carnivores (ok fine, not holiday, per se, but spring…vegetables…close enough)

My sister’s go-to brisket

My mom’s go-to brisket

My go-to strawberry shortcake

Got some long school-less days ahead of you next week? This should help occupy the kids.

Turn those leftover Easter Eggs into Dinner.

Whatever feast you are cooking next week, wouldn’t you look great wearing this around the kitchen?

Have a great holiday!

Peeps photo: eac5 on flickr

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Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage Bolognese

April 10th, 2014 · Pork and Beef

I’m a little obsessed with this dinner — even though I haven’t really eaten a legitimate bowl of it yet.

It started at the farmer’s market on Saturday — right now is slim pickins there in terms of greens and produce (see: Winter, Brutal) but I was still able to pick up a few old friends that I had been missing these past few months: Some good eggs (as you know) a mini blueberry and a mini lemon pie for Andy’s birthday (as of this tenth day of April, breakfast pie has officially eclipsed the birthday biscuit), and some sweet Italian pork sausages from Kings Roaming Angus Farm. Having a coil of these sausages in the freezer is Money in the Bank, as far as dinner is concerned. I usually don’t do anything with them except broil or grill as is, then serve with a shredded kale salad and a can of baked beans — a rich man’s franks and beans. But when I got home, I happened to place the shrink-wrapped pork next to a can of tomatoes, and just like that they spoke to me. “Sausage bolognese,” they said. “We dare you not to make it.” [Read more →]

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Eggs: A Love Story

April 7th, 2014 · Dinner, Entertaining, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

There are four cartons of eggs in my refrigerator right now, which might sound strange considering my childrens’ well-chronicled antipathy towards all things orb-shaped and yolk-filled, but as far as I’m concerned, it might not be nearly enough. The first carton, our standard Trader Joe’s Large Brown Organic, is almost depleted so that hardly counts. The second is one I picked up at our farmer’s market this past Saturday (Hallelujah! It’s open!), and the last two dozen I bought at Stone Barns where we went for lunch a few hours later, because I couldn’t help it. Eating an egg from Stone Barns after a winter of Trader Joe’s eggs is like picking up Anna Karenina after a year of flipping through Archie comics. I needed to stock up. [Read more →]

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How to Shop Responsibly

April 4th, 2014 · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment

As we are all well too aware of, having kids these days seems to be synonymous with having stuff. Especially when we are new, impressionable parents, easily bamboozled by marketing messages telling us we need everything — from wipe warmers to the developmental toy du jour — or our kids will be destined for failure. But let’s forget about our kids for a minute. How is our culture of overconsumption playing out on the global field? How can we make sure we are purchasing from the right companies and staying on the right side of things? (Besides forgoing the iPotty all together, of course. iPotties!) Here to help us along is guest-poster Christine Bader, author of the much-touted  The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil and an expert in corporate responsibility. Welcome!

I work in corporate responsibility, which means working with companies on sustainable practices that are good for people and the environment. But I often have trouble practicing what I preach, and I know others who do this work do too. We push companies to offer sustainable products, but balk if there’s a price premium when doing our own shopping. We advocate for consumers to learn and demand more, but succumb to what’s easiest to get with one-click. Take my recent experience purchasing a rug for my 18-month-old twins. Child labor is a problem in the carpet industry, so I started on the Goodweave website for brands certified child-labor-free. Once I pinpointed those brands, I looked for online retailers that sold them, then within that search, looked for options made from with natural fibers like cotton and wool. It wasn’t  easy — and I do this for a living.

So how do we cut through all the information and shop responsibly? Is local better than organic? Is “fair trade” truly fair? Does a company getting a “sustainable” or “ethical trading initiative” seal mean it’s all good?  There are no easy answers — apart from consuming less, which we all could probably do — but that shouldn’t stop us from asking the questions. Once in awhile I take stock of all the stuff I’m surrounded by at that moment, ask myself what I know about each item, where it puts me on the responsible-to-over-consumption spectrum, and give myself a grade. Here’s my latest report card: [Read more →]

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Breakfasts of State Test Champions

April 1st, 2014 · Uncategorized

Not much we can do about Common Core at the moment, except make sure our State Test warriors are sent off this week with bellies full of healthy breakfasts. A few ideas for those of you in the same boat this spring:

Yogurt Parfaits – Lately we’ve been switching out the granola for Kashi 7-Whole Grain Nuggets (Kashi’s answer to Grape Nuts). Abby appreciates a good crunch.

Breakfast Cookies – Make a batch of these ahead of time and withdraw from the cookie bank all week long. {PS: Don’t tell them there’s quinoa in there.}

Fruit Smoothies – The classic. Definitely add some protein powder (or peanut butter or avocado) to give it some staying power.

Smashed Avocado on Toast - See yesterday’s post way at the bottom. I’m beginning to think there is no snack or meal problem that this does not solve  – it’s pulled its weight as a healthy afterschool snack, pre-soccer-practice not-quite-a-snack-not-quite-a-meal, quick weekend lunch, and now, as pre-State Test brain booster.

Andy’s Oatmeal with Fruit - It takes a little while to make, but the upside is enormous here. No chance anyone’s getting hungry halfway through reading comp with this in the gut.

Good luck everyone!

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The Dolly Awards

March 31st, 2014 · Uncategorized

Tis the season for waterlogged soccer fields, hoops madness, the dreaded state tests… and, let’s not forget, awards! Yes, there are the James Beard Awards, the National Magazine Awards, the Saveur Food Blog Awards (love those nominees!) but anyone who’s anyone knows that the most coveted prize of all is right here on Dinner: A Love Story. Presenting the Fourth Annual Dolly Awards, brought to you by the highly subjective, way-to0-excitable, two-person panel of DALS.

Best Jarred Sauce: Marcella Hazan’s
Given how simple it is to make, no house should ever be without a jar of Marcella Hazan’s famous three-ingredient tomato sauce (butter + tomatoes + whole onion) in the fridge. Especially my house, considering that Abby, connoisseur of all pasta with tomato sauce, would award it the hands-down Grand Prize Winner, if not a Nobel Peace Prize. The sauce is silky, luxurious, and clings to the pasta the way sauce should cling to pasta, which is I guess what happens when one of the three main ingredients is an enormous chunk of butter. Best of all, the entire recipe is basically one step: Dump everything in a pot and simmer. -Jenny

Best Kids’ Cookbook of the Moment: Fanny at Chez Panisse
It was a long winter. I’ve made a vow not to complain about it anymore. (See?) What I am going to do, though, is mention how many cold mornings I have woken up these past few weeks to the smell of something baking or frying, thanks to Phoebe’s discovery of Fanny at Chez Panisse. We’ve had this book on the shelves forever, but Phoebe has only recently discovered how simple and perfect each recipe is — not surprising given that it was written by Alice Waters’ daughter Fanny back in 1992. Among the many things Phoebe (and Fanny) have treated us to: Pooris with cucumber raita, corn bread, the buttery biscuits that you see above. Next up: 1-2-3-4 cake, so named because people used to remember the first few ingredients without writing it down (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, etc.). Note: It makes a great birthday gift for a six-, seven-, eight-year-old junior chef.

Best Host Gift: Jacques Torres Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies
When our friends John and Shiv came to visit us over the holidays last year, they brought their two kids, a lot of luggage, and a cooler filled with road trip snacks, wine, and — much to my curiosity — a foil-wrapped log of…what? “Dessert,” John said. He proceeded to unwrap the foil to reveal pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough from a Jacques Torres recipe that he claimed was the best out there. I wasn’t going to argue with him. During dinner, John excused himself, sliced up the dough, baked the cookies, and we all finished the meal with a warm, gooey, perfect-cakey-to-crispy-ratioed chocolate chip cookie and milk. They will be invited back. (Photo: Crepes of Wrath.-Jenny

Best Leftover Trick: Put an Egg on It
Last year, I heard Amanda Hesser speak on a panel with Deb Perelman and Luisa Weiss (#dreamteam) and when someone in the audience asked each for their go-to dinner, Hesser’s answer was “Whatever’s leftover with an egg on it.” Sadly, I can’t fall back on this move for dinner (egg-haters, etc etc), but it’s my go-to move on for lunch at least a few times a week. Above is some leftover farro with steamed asparagus, Sriracha, and a poached egg. -Jenny [Read more →]

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This Week in Salmon

March 27th, 2014 · Quick, Seafood


I know this is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway. Ready for it?? Here we go: Weeknight Entertaining is the New Dinner Party.

You heard it here first, don’t forget that.

So, um, why? Why would any of us want to throw one more variable into the dinnertime scramble? One more variable who actually needs to be fed? Simple: Because the bar is so much lower. As much as I love to have people over on a weekend night, it’s a production. And that’s good. I like some theatrics on a Saturday night. That’s what Saturday night is about when you are over 40 and your idea of excitement includes a Baltimore Oriole sighting during your morning run. (Forreal!! Right at the bottom of my street!)

But the other night, our friend Kendra came over for dinner. It was Monday, kind of a last-minute plan, and since we had already decided on Salmon Salad for dinner — I’m telling you, the recipe is MVP in our house — that was going to be the meal. No special cocktail, no special meat and cheese starter, or homemade dessert. (At least no homemade dessert homemade by us; Kendra rocked our world with this little number.) Starters would be chips and salsa; the milk glasses would be set on the kitchen table (not the dining room table) by Phoebe; and Kendra would essentially be folded into family dinner. When expectations are low, you can only be a hero.

Anyway, igniting dinner party trends (just watch!) was not supposed to be point of today’s post. What I really wanted to remind you about was how amazingly easy salmon is for weeknight cooking, dinner guest or not. That Salmon Salad (page 62 of DALS) is so clutch. This time, I tweaked the technique a bit — I used yellow potatoes and tossed them in the dressing before tossing the rest of the salad, so they were like silky German-Potato-Salad potatoes. It’s the only way I’m going to make it from now on.

I’ve also been looking for an excuse to really sing the praises of this Salmon with Mustard-Brown-Sugar Glaze over at Martha. I’ve linked to this before, but I just need to say again how genius it is. With red wine vinegar and sugar in the glaze, it has the sweet-and-sour thing going, and it could not be easier to whip together. The first time I made the recipe, Abby declared it the best salmon she’d ever eaten, and seven or eight times later, she still stands by that claim.

Lastly, there’s this basic salmon teriyaki recipe that is a good compromise to have in your back-pocket when, say, the kids are begging to go to the local Japanese place for dinner instead of Not another boring chicken, pleeeease? With a side of sushi rice and some magic teriyaki onions, it tastes like the version they order in the restaurant, only it’s a heck of a lot cheaper.

Salmon Teriyaki

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 sake
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pound salmon filet

Preheat broiler. In a small saucepan, whisk together everything except the fish. Let it simmer about 10 minutes until reduced and slightly syrupy. Brush sauce on top a salmon and broil for 10-12 minutes (depending on thickness of salmon), brushing sauce on every four or five minutes to get a nice caramel-y color. Serve with sushi rice and teriyaki onions.

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Abby’s Famous Swiss Chard (with a Side of Steak)

March 24th, 2014 · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

Guest-post from 10-year-old Abby:

I am so sick of kale. Good thing I taught my family to like chard with this world famous dish. Well not world famous, but famous in my house.

I love chard. The second I saw the rainbow-colored stems at farm camp growing in a garden with beautiful fluffy green leaves I knew that they would taste good. One morning I bought then at the farmers market. Later though, when we brought it home, I had no idea how to cook it. My dad started cooking the chard in a pan and putting red pepper on it. I took a taste, but it was a bit spicy, so I added some soy sauce to make it salty and to balance the spicy-ness. Then I tried it again, and it tasted really good, but it needed some sweetness. Finally I thought of the perfect solution: Rice Wine vinegar! (Mom’s note: seasoned rice wine vinegar!) I drizzled it on and sampled the chard. It was delicious! I put the whole thing into a bowl and honestly could not stop eating it. By the time it was dinnertime there was only half the amount I had cooked left in the bowl. Since that dinner, I make the recipe very often and every time it tastes even better.

And my mother (now typing) would like to add that it’s very delicious with a quick broiled (or grilled) marinated skirt steak. Here are both recipes:

Quick Broiled Skirt Steak with Abby’s Chard
Her mother would also like to let you know that this entire dinner can be made in 2o minutes, 15 if you have a 10-year-old sous chef taking over the chard. [Read more →]

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Dinner: The Playbook

March 20th, 2014 · Dinner: The Playbook, Uncategorized

Yes, that’s the cover of my new book, to be published soon, but before I go into more detail on it I want to know one thing:

Are you with me?

I need to know this because, while this book is going to be a lot of things — an adventure, a game-changer, a how-to manual for the family meal — it is first and foremost going to be a personal challenge, a commitment.

Loyal DALS readers have heard the story of The Great Dinner Rut of 2006 — that period, back when our girls were 3 and 4, when Andy and I were drowning in a sea of plain. Plain pasta, plain burger, plain chicken, plain pizza. Our once-solid dinner rotation had been reduced to what you’d find in your average minimum security prison. On any given night, we’d have a breakthrough — Flounder! Abby ate flounder! — until the next time we’d present it to the Li’l Lady of the Manor and she’d drum her fingers against the table and stare at us with cold, cold eyes, as if to say “For real? You think I’m gonna eat that?” I don’t want to go on too much here — you guys know the deal — but for two working parents who loved to cook and just wanted to end the day with a glass of wine and a meal that wasn’t beige, the situation was far from ideal.

“It’ll get better,” everyone told me. “You just have to wait out the toddler years. You’ll see!” But I didn’t want to wait out any years — years! –I wanted to eat real food again, food that I was excited about cooking and introducing to my kids. So I took control of the situation. One night, I made an announcement: We were going to embark on an adventure. (“Adventure” seemed like a key positioning strategy.) We were going to cook thirty new dinners in the next thirty days, and the only thing I asked was that they had to try a bite of every single one of them. One bite. They didn’t have to like every meal, but they did have to try every meal.

It always surprises me how game kids are in situations where you least expect it.

But not as game as Andy and I were. We got into it — scouring old cookbooks for recipes we’d always wanted to make, texting ideas back and forth on our commute, asking anyone we saw what their go-to dinners were. I’m talking about dedication I hadn’t seen since the days when we were planning our honeymoon. We came up with a  line up and got cooking.

Was a little nuts for two working parents to take this on? Yes. Did we almost give up along the way? Absolutely. Was every meal a hit? Not exactly. Abby puked up the trout (day 19) onto the dinner table and Phoebe moved her chair to the living room when we placed a bowl of gnocchi in front of her (day 16). But did it transform the way the kids (and their parents) thought about dinner?  Well… I hate to sound all gimmicky here, but yes. What we discovered was that Family Dinner is a contract. You buy in, or you don’t. This can mean lots of things to lots of different families, but for us, it meant cooking most nights and constantly looking for ways to keep it fresh. We didn’t know it then, but this project set us on our way, expanded our horizons, established dinner as a priority in our lives, and killed the chicken nugget dead once and for all.

So if my first book, Dinner: A Love Story, was a romantic yarn about the evolution of the family meal through marriage, babies and family, then Dinner: The Playbook is its nuts-and-bolts, down-and-dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves, LET’S-DO-THIS-THING companion. It tells the story of our grand experiment and everything I learned along the way, including:

  • Key shopping and organizing strategies
  • Guerrilla tactics for picky eaters and sauce-o-phobes
  • Tips for scouting new recipes that “keep the spark alive”
  • 80+ easy, kid-vetted recipes
  • Weekly meal plans that show you how to put all those recipes together over the course of 30 days — or even just seven days if that’s more your speed.

In short, it’s got everything you need to help bust you out of your own dinner rut. Even when you are working full time. Even when you would rather crawl into a dark hole than think about dinner.

Over the years, I have received so many emails from readers asking me: I am so busy and overwhelmed, and I want to put dinner on the table. How do I do it? Where do I start?

This book, I hope, provides an answer to that question.

So what do you say? Are you in? Please say yes!

Dinner: The Playbook will be out in late August — just in time for back-to-school bootcamp — but is available for pre-order with all the usual suspects: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebooks, and Ballantine.

The masterful Kristina DiMatteo designed the cover and the interior of Playbook, and it’s filled with the sweetest little details. The dedication page is one of my favorites. As is the Gina Triplett-illustrated spine on the cover. (Remember my recipe door? That’s Gina. I like to keep things in the family.)

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Never Fail Banana Bread

March 17th, 2014 · Baking and Sweets

Yesterday, Phoebe came home from school with her aspiring-baker friend Abby (different Abby) and declared “We want to make bread.”

“How long is this playdate exactly?” I asked.

“Abby’s mom is picking her up at 5:30.”

“Hmmm.” I was a little concerned about their plan.

“Aw c’mon…We can make that easy bread you always make?” She was, of course, referring to Jim Lahey’s world-famous No-Knead bread, the only bread I’ve ever dared bake. (And to be honest, it works so well, I don’t really know why I’d try any other.)

“Well you’re right, that one is easy,” I said. “But it still takes time.” I thought for a second.

“How about banana bread? That’s quick and we have a bunch of bananas that are not looking so hot.” Of course, it’s a total farce that something made with that much sugar and butter is called “bread” and not “cake,” but it was Friday, and why shouldn’t there be a little banana cake lying around over the weekend? Plus, I had the world’s most surefire recipe, which I knew two 12-year-olds could handle without parental supervision.

It was decided. I opened my old recipe binder….an actual honest-to-god BINDER with tabs that look like this:

And recipes that look like this:

The whole binder system seems so quaint now, in spite of the fact that I only started it about a decade ago. But I still reach for it all the time  – even though most of my tried-and-true recipes are digitized on this blog or immortalized in my cookbook. I think that’s because a lot of the recipes in the binder are handwritten…and we all remember the rule about handwritten recipes, right? How they’re the least likely of all recipes to let you down??  

The other thing about handwritten recipes? They are way off the Google grid…and how often can you say that in this day and age?

I sifted through recipes from my mother’s mother who I never met, recipes from old co-workers, Aunt Patty-anotated New York Times recipes from 1982 until I found what I was looking for: Elizabeth Mayhew’s banana bread recipe you see above. About ten years ago Elizabeth, then an editor at Real Simple with me, now a Today Show and Washington Post contributorcame in to my office to talk about recipes for a story loosely called “One-Bowl Breads.”  This was not an unusual scene — no matter what I was working on, food stories or otherwise, my first conversation was always Elizabeth, an idea-machine who came up with some of the more memorable tips the magazine is so famous for. Thanks to Elizabeth I never feel bad about serving dinner guests meatloaf on china platters which “elevate the everyday”; and I can always easily find my bed sheet sets (they are tucked into their matching pillow case like a little kit); and, as you have gathered by now, thanks to Elizabeth I have a killer one-bowl banana bread, the recipe for which she scrawled out in my office from memory. (“It’s my mother’s and I’ve made it too many times to count.”)

Elizabeth could be ruthless, too, which I loved. Once, in my office, she asked me why I had an ugly dried-out bouquet of flowers on my desk. I told her Andy bought them to congratulate me for an Times Op-Ed I had just written. “It reminds me of my potential,” I told her, somewhat pathetically. In one swift movement, she plucked out a tiny dried rose from the bouquet, placed it in a tiny box she found on my desk, shut the top, and handed the whole thing back to me. “Here’s your potential,” she said. “Now throw out those depressing flowers.” (Kids are not the only ones who appreciate a bit of authority.)

I still have that little box. And I still have her banana bread recipe, which is what I handed Phoebe and her friend for their baking date, and which the whole family moaned and groaned over all weekend. (Not surprisingly, they opted for the “optional” chocolate chips.)

I’m not going to rekey the recipe for you like I usually do. Instead, here is a link where you can download a PDF. (Or just drag the above photo to your desktop and print.) Baking time (in a loaf pan) is 50 minutes to an hour, or whenever a knife in the center comes out clean. Let’s see how long we can keep it from Mr. Google.

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Friday Round-Up

March 14th, 2014 · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Uncategorized

If I can’t get to Tulum anytime soon, at least I can make Hartwood‘s skirt steak with roasted plantains. (You can just tell from the photo that it’s going to be easy, right?)

The Knork reminds me: it’s a fine line between ridiculous and genius.

Rebecca Lee should be more famous than Pharrell. (No offense to Pharrell.) Last week, I heard her read the title story from her short story collection Bobcat (all about a dinner party) and laughed my head off.

Adam Lanza’s father talks to Andrew Solomon.

Food Nerds Unite! Last week, I reviewed a novel for the Times.

I love Sara’s “pseudo mac and cheese situation” here.

On Wednesday, we screened the first two episodes of Eyes on the Prize – do you remember that epic 14-part series on the Civil Rights movement? The girls were as riveted as we were when we watched it back in the 80s. (Best for kids 10 and older — and even then, keep your hand on the remote, there are a few disturbing moments.)

My ten-year-old’s idea of the perfect birthday gift for her dad.

I only found out about this yesterday (thanks Momfilter!) but I’m already obsessed with Artifact Uprising, the app that lets you turn your iphone photos into beautiful little albums in minutes.

Our friends are coming over for dinner tomorrow and one of them, Jim, requested Milk-braised Pork for the main. How much do I love a guest who does the think-work for me?

From Andy:

This, because any new Truckers album is a reason to rejoice.

This, because it’s one of the best, most heartbreaking magazine stories ever written, and because it has extra poignancy this week, given recent events.

This, because we are unrepentant Pixar fans in this house, and Creativity Inc — by the founder of the company, aka hero to our children — takes you inside to tell you how they do what they do.

This, because it sounds absurdly good and, more important, practically fits into your pocket, allowing you to cook or entertain while SHREDDING HEAVILY, no matter where you are.

This, because Abby has decided white cleats are back, and I respect that.

This, because because.

Have a great weekend.

Photo credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times.

 

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How to Get (a Rockin’) Dinner on the Table in 20 Minutes

March 13th, 2014 · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Tuesday night:

5:30 Wrap up work in my home office — even though I meant to wrap up work before kids got home from school two hours earlier. Oh well.

5:40 Realize that Andy is out tonight and it’s Tuesday, which means everyone has their various extracurricular pursuits until almost 9:00. Make radical decision: Let’s eat dinner before practice tonight instead of after.

5:41 Realize this means I have to get dinner on the table immediately if my midfielders stand a chance at digesting in time to run around like maniacs. Remove flounder from fridge.

5:45 Place large skillet on stovetop, add a few glugs olive oil, turn heat to medium-high, set up dredging station (whisked egg, flour, panko crumbs) for flounder.

5:52 While four flounder filets brown in olive oil, slice half head of Napa Cabbage very finely, drizzle in a dressing (mayo, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, olive oil, salt, black pepper, sugar whisked in a measuring cup) and toss.

5:59 Remove four cooked flounders, tent with foil; add another two to the pan. Meanwhile, open a can of Trader Joe’s organic baked beans and dump into a small pot. Much like a cat who can recognize the sound of a tuna can opening from two rooms away, Abby arrives within seconds. “Are we having baked beans?” Got her.

6:05 Dinner. Game over.

Related:

Basic Everyday Fried Fish; Cole Slaw, Trader Joes Hit List.

Last Night’s Dinner: Pasta with Mint Pea Pesto;

Anatomy of a Monday Night Dinner: Baked Mustardy Chicken Drumsticks with Brussels Sprouts.

 

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Clear the Afternoon, Kids! We’re Making Mole

March 10th, 2014 · Chicken and Turkey, Entertaining, Rituals

In my next book — which you’ll be hearing about shortly — there’s a whole section on recipes I call “Keep the Spark Alive” dinners. These meals are the opposite of what we make on, say, a Tuesday night, when efficiency and convenience are the most important ingredients. In some ways, they are the opposite of the DALS mission in general. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as important, especially when we are talking about the psychological health of a family cook. Think of it this way: If Pretzel Chicken and Beef and Broccoli stir-fries are the workhorse recipes, the ones that get me through the week day in and day out, “Spark” meals are the ones that remind me why I love to cook in the first place. They call for ingredients I’ve never used before and usually require a big chunk of luxurious time. Marcella’s Bolognese is a good example of a Spark dinner, so is Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai. And on this dreary New York morning, I’m pleased to announce, I have a new one to add to the list.

It started with Uncle Mike. At our annual Christmas Eve dinner at his house this past year, he served, among a dozen other things, the most amazing Chicken Mole.

The chicken was tender and stewy, the sauce was rich and deep, but not overpowering like some versions I’ve tasted in the past. The kids, skeptical at first, cleaned their plates. It was December, which meant by that point in the winter, I had eaten my fair share of braised short ribs at dinner parties, so part of the novelty of this meal was the fact that I was I dining on a hearty, warm-your-bones chicken-based main. Except for maybe Julia Child’s Coq au Vin, I don’t have a whole lot of those in my repertoire that would earn their keep on a holiday spread.

“How’d you make your mole?” I asked Mike. Only someone who has never made mole would broach the subject so innocently.

He gave a little knowing “Ha” before replying. Mike, an ambitious home cook who grows a dozen varieties of chile peppers in his backyard, and sends us a care package of home-dried Persimmons every November, is not one to shy away from an recipe that might call for pasillos, mulattos, piloncillo, and bolillo.  ”It’s a Diana Kennedy recipe, and it’s been days in the making.”

When I hear the name Diana Kennedy, I mentally turn the page. Diana Kennedy, as I’m sure you know, is one of our country’s foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. Because everyone has told me as much, I have a bunch of her books, and yet, whenever I crack the spine on one, determined this time to conquer at least a simple recipe, I remember: There is no such thing — and as with anything authentic and memorable, there probably shouldn’t be. The recipe Mike used was from Kennedy’s definitive Oaxacan cookbook, but a few days later, he emailed me another, slightly simpler Mole Negro, that looked similar. Mole Negro is one of dozens of versions — it’s the darker kind that incorporates chocolate — and he described it as “traditionally the most difficult.”

I looked at the recipe. Twenty-nine ingredients, half of which would require some scavenger hunting in Mexican markets around the county.  I filed it under “Another recipe, for another kind of cook.”

But damn that mole was good! It stayed with me all winter, and last week, when I was calendarizing (defined as The act of staring at your family’s schedule to see how you can squeeze some real life in between all the activities) I noticed a nice long empty weekend afternoon and evening. It was going to be our last Saturday without soccer until July, no one was coming over, and just by chance, that morning Abby had an orchestra concert a short drive away from a stretch of awesome Mexican grocers.

Mole was calling, and I needed to answer. [Read more →]

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What Kind of Entertainer Are You?

March 6th, 2014 · Domestic Affairs, Entertaining, Uncategorized

Do you ever wonder what your dinner guests say about you when they walk out your door? Do they marvel at your hosting abilities and wonder when they’ll get invited back? Do they praise the food but slag the company? Do they praise the company but slag the food? Do they judge your glassware? Do they climb into their car, sit for a second in the darkness, and say, Never again? That depends on what kind of entertainer you are. Take this quiz to find out… — Jenny and Andy

Your friends are coming over for dinner and you’ve made a (pretty tasting looking, if you don’t say so yourself) frittata with feta cheese, leeks, and baby asparagus. When your the guests arrive, the husband tells you he doesn’t eat feta. He’s not allergic, he just has a “thing” about it. In response, you:

a) Apologize profusely and, in a show of solidarity, toss the frittata into the garbage and start over using some good cheddar.
b) Wag your finger and say, “I guess Mr. Picky over here won’t be getting any dessert tonight!”
c) Roll your eyes, sigh audibly, and say, “Oh god, let me guess: you’re an only child?”
d) Say, “No problem! Which would you prefer: Honey Nut Cheerios or Peanut Butter and Jelly?”
e) Say: “No problem. I’ll just make you an omelet.” Think: “You are so incredibly dead to me.”

It’s 6:45 and your guests are due to arrive in 15 minutes. You hop on your computer to make a playlist, which consists of:

a) Whatever they play between those segments on that NPR show.
b) “Losing My Religion,” and the exact same thirty-seven songs you put on the mixed tape you made for your girlfriend in college.
c)  Haim, Haim, and more Haim.
d) Whatever comes up when you type “cool dinner party playlists” into the Google machine.
e) I don’t have time to make a playlist – isn’t there a Bland White Guy Pandora station on here somewhere?

You would describe your approach to menu planning as:

a) Buy fresh ingredients, and prepare them simply.
b) Three words: Short Ribs, bros!
c) Ramen. Or whatever rapo4 is hashtagging on his instagram feed.
d) Food’s not as important as the company — and besides, have you tried Trader Joes pot pies? They’re actually pretty good.
e) If it can be grilled, then I shall grill it.

Your default conversation starter when the silence borders on awkward is:

a) Okay. Edward Snowden: good guy or bad guy?
b) So, how’s your kitchen renovation going? Wolf or Viking?
c) What year is your Passat?
d) Who’s watching House of Cards?
e) What’s it all about? Life, I mean.

Your guests are raving about the braised pork, a recipe your friend Cindy made for you a few weeks ago. You: [Read more →]

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Notes from The Dinner Playbook

March 3rd, 2014 · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

There was a time, when the girls were two and three, that we dreamed of the day when they’d be 10 and 11, able to sit at the table and place food in their own mouths while filling us in on their days. Now that we’re finally here—avert your eyes, new parents—we realize that our dream was a mirage, that life finds a way of constantly moving the goalposts on you. Family dinner is still chaotic, only the challenges have shifted from the physical to the logistical. And March and April, for us—with the girls deeply entrenched in two spring sports—is the most chaotic time of year. As we’ve detailed more than once on this blog, practices don’t end until 7:30, which means that, most nights, dinner doesn’t happen until the (very European) hour of 8:30. When you’re dealing with an overstuffed activities schedule, it’s crucial to have a few strategies that make a solid dinner possible. Here are three we will be relying on all season long:

Strategy 1: The Before-Work Play
When the cook is on carpool duty—i.e., it’s not just the athlete coming home late—the key is to prepare something in that 15-minute window before you head to work in the morning. We love soba noodle salad with a simple rice vinegar dressing and greens—spinach, kale, chard—tossed right into the pasta water in the last minute of cooking. Refrigerate till you get home, toss on the dressing, and, if you have time, add some shredded chicken for the win.

Strategy 2: The Pan-Fried Pizza Move
By the time our li’l midfielders stagger through the door, they’re like a couple of feral dogs: They don’t even bother to take off their shin guards before inhaling whatever is put in front of them. A piece of fish on a night like this? Ain’t. Gonna. Cut. It. Individual pan-fried pizzas with whole wheat crust? That’s more like it. Just brown your rolled-out dough in a cast-iron pan with some olive oil, flip, add sauce and toppings, then finish under the broiler. Abby likes a classic Margherita; Phoebe goes for ham and pineapple. (Book owners: Please see page 281 for the official recipe.)

Strategy 3: The Freezer Plan
When there’s so little time on the clock, it’s tempting to fall back on takeout or frozen pot pies. But we’d rather walk through the door, reach into our freezer, and pull out something homemade—like a batch of bake-ahead turkey and spinach meatballs. Think of it as the utility man of the family dinner: ever reliable, can play both protein and vegetable, goes on a bun (meatball subs!) or over pasta, and will crush its store-bought competition any night of the week. Pro tip: Freeze them in single-serving batches, so you can thaw and deploy as needed. Victory.

This is our “Providers” column for the March 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the spinach-and-turkey meatball recipe. Photo by Matt Duckor (meatballs) for Bon Appetit.

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Book Review: All Joy and No Fun

February 27th, 2014 · Domestic Affairs

About a decade ago, when the girls were 6 months and almost 2, I showed up to the lobby of my office building just as I had every morning for five years and started rooting around my bag for the I.D. that would grant me access through the turnstiles. It was probably about 9:30, which meant I had likely been up four hours, and the caffeine hit from the single cup of coffee I allowed myself (breastfeeding, pumping, etc.) had long worn off. I seemed to find everything else in that bag — wallet, yellow-capped Medela bottles, Disney figurines — but not my I.D.  Watching everyone else glide through to the elevator bank was too much for my sleep-deprived state — so I stood there and wept. Surely this was the worst thing that could ever happen to any human. Where the hell was my I.D.? Why couldn’t it be right where it always was? What was wrong with me?

Had I read Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun I would’ve probably had the same outsized reaction, but I’m guessing I would’ve been a little more forgiving of myself. Because among the many things I learned in her meticulously reported book on the complex state of modern parenthood (based on her widely discussed 2010 New York magazine cover story), I learned that there wasn’t much I could do about my reaction — it turns out that the way we handle sleep deprivation is a fixed trait, with most of us fitting into one of three major groups: “Those who handle it fairly well, those of us who sort of fall apart, and those who respond catastrophically.”

This tidbit seems small and almost obvious, but as with most things, to understand the science, to read the hard research on why our houses have become messier than any time in history; why a three-year-old is biologically incapable of responding to logic; why I loved — craved — going to work when my kids were little (when I remembered my I.D.); why moments of unbridled parental euphoria are so hard to capture in the day-to-day life with kids…to drill down deep on all this stuff is both instructive and comforting. Especially when the reporting is interspersed with personal stories from parents across the country. All in all, I’d say that reading Senior’s book felt like one big exercise in what the medical folks might call normalizing.

All Joy is also a fascinating chronicle of the many paradoxes of modern parenthood including, but not limited to:

  • What’s great about America (your kids can grow up to be anything! There is no script) is also what’s so terrifying (there is no script!)
  • We’ve never been in greater contact with each other — digitally — and yet, compared to our parents’ generation where neighbors were in and out of our houses, and kids were playing kickball in the cul-de-sac, we’ve never been so alone, so on our own.
  • The more stuff children have, the more useless they become.
  • The very same empowering skills parents encourage in their children (particularly in middle class families) lead those children to challenge and reject parental authority.
  • Since after World War II — at which point the child’s status started shifting from “useful” to “protected,” — children have become “our crowning achievements,” and yet they have never been less equipped to live their own lives.

The most interesting paradox for me, though, was the fact that All Joy is really much more of an anthropological look at parenting than it is a parenting guide — Senior says this right away in her introduction — and is fundamentally based on the fact that raising happy children is harder and more elusive than it has been for any previous generation. And yet I came away the opposite of scared. Did I recognize myself in the story about the woman from Texas signing her kids up for tutors and football and softball without really knowing what the end game was? Yes. Did I freak a little when I read how a Brooklyn mom described her role in her teenage daughter’s life as “the pit crew?” (“I change all her tires, polish up the car, and get out of the way…then she peels out.”) Did the entire section on adolescence and its corresponding downward spiral effect on parental happiness scare the daylights out of me? Well, yes. But, oddly, when I closed the book, the more overwhelming feeling I experienced was that we were all in this together, struggling with the same (mostly unanswerable) questions — and even having a rough guide to the territory makes me feel just a little more mentally equipped to take the trip.

We’ll see how I feel about this theory in a few years.

Related: Jennifer Senior on Fresh Air. Also: a few cool giveaways coming up on facebook and instagram this month, so make sure you’re checking in.

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