One of the more fun parts of my “job” is that I have an excuse to reach out to people I’ve been secretly stalking for decades. Take last month, for instance, when I met Susan Spungen for breakfast at a Union Square coffee shop. Spungen spearheaded the food section at Martha Stewart Living twenty years ago. We have her to thank for leading the team that put together the Hors D’oeuvres Handbook, which is not only my finger food bible, but the bible of caterers across America. When I heard she was coming out with a book on Entertaining – What’s a Hostess to Do? – I set up a date, and over poached eggs and shaved asparagus, downloaded her hard-won wisdom.
21 Rules for Entertaining
Culled from What’s a Hostess to Do, by Susan Spungen (and so many thousands more where these came from)
1. Less can be more. Focus on a few beautiful well-conceived, well-prepared dishes.
2. Unless it’s the holiday, in which case the key word is “bounty.” (See above.)
3. The language you use for your invitation should focus on who you do want at the party (“Join us for a grown-up dinner”) not who you don’t want (“No kids please.”)
4. For the kids — When in doubt: “Bambini Pasta,” i.e. noodles, spaghetti, penne, whatever you got — with butter and Parm.
5. Some handy math: On average, assume your guests will have 2 drinks per hour (10 guests x 2 drinks x 2 hours = 40 drinks). There are approximately 5 wine glasses per bottle. A 1-liter bottle of liquor contains enough for 32 mixed drinks. One liter of mixer will make 8 drinks.
6. The Paloma is The New Margarita.
7. [OK, disclaimer: Susan didn't exactly say that, but I did, and will continue to all summer. To make: 1/2 cup grapefruit soda (such as Mexican Jarritos or Jamaican Ting), the juice of half a lime, and 2 ounces tequila. Serve over ice with lime wedge.]
8. Centerpieces: DO use short candles, DON’T use tall or overly fragrant flowers or plants; DO decorate with short flowers or potted plants, DON’T crowd the table.
9. Scented candles? Yes, for sure, in the bathroom. On the table? Never.
10. All will be fine if Nutella is on the menu. Nutella Dessert Sandwiches: Toast thinly sliced brioche bread, spread with Nutella and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.
11. Three Four-Syllable Laws of Sanity Preservation when entertaining: Make it Ahead, Cook What You Know, Think Mise en Place.
12. A multitude of sins can be easily overlooked when people are basking in a warm glow: Lighting should be soft.
13. Bathroom checklist: Close the shower curtain, empty the trash. If there is no lock, make an “occupied” sign to hang on the knob. Better yet, have the kids do it.
14. Invest in a collapsible metal coatrack and never dive through a mountain of identical black wool overcoats heaped on a bed ever again.
15. Winning Cheese and Fruit Pairs for a Starter Spread: Apples + Cheddar, Quince Paste + Manchego, Figs + Gorgonzola
16. Good salumi needs little accompaniment. But no one will object if it’s next to some good bread, olives, and crisp fennel slices.
17. To make after-party cleanup less soul-crushing, always start the evening with an empty dishwasher, dish rack, trash can, and sink.
19. Yes, you can bring wine = The answer when your friends ask What Can I Bring?
20. A good party is much more than the sum of its parts. The gathering takes on a life of its own, and it almost always works out, even when it doesn’t.
21. The no-fail menu for entertaining kids and adults: Ribs, Slaw (lose the brussels in the summer), and make-ahead Ice Cream Sandwiches.
To make: For each sandwich, place a scoop of ice cream on a chocolate chip cookie (try Tate’s brand or another thin crisp cookie). Top with another cookie and press down gently. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set in the freezer. Wrap individually after they’ve hardened, and freeze until ready to serve.
Giveaway!! One commenter selected at random below wins a copy of What’s a Hostess to Do? Winner announced on Monday, May 20, and must live in the 48 contiguous states. Update: Susan, #307 wins the freebie.
Art & Photo credits: Evan Sung (holiday spread) Sun Young Park (cocktail tray illustration), Susan Spungen (desserts)
Newest delusional tactic to keep the dessert madness in check: One spoonful of something with a LOT going on, including, but not limited to Strawberry Sundaes, Rich Man’s Reese’s (with sea salt), Banana Split, Brownie Sundae, Chipwich.
I know it seems hard to believe, but there are a handful of people out there in the world (OK, the immediate family) who have never heard of Andy’s seminal “grilled chicken for people who hate grilled chicken.” This, in spite of us linking to it so many times on DALS that I actually hear my early readers (Yo Amanda in SF!) thinking what I used to think at my childhood dinner table: “Oh jeez, not the chicken again.”
The secret of course, is the yogurt marinade. Which yogurt marinade? Well, that’s up to you. As long as you have the basic template ingredients (yogurt, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper) you can go in almost any direction that feels good to you. (Remember, this is marinating, which, I believe is Lithuanian for “You can’t screw it up.”) Start with this template:
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 large onion
1/3 cup olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper
Once you have all that in the blender, you can choose your own adventure:
Option 1 Lemon-Pepper: “The Classic” 1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
Juice from two lemons
1 really nice squeeze of honey
Even more black pepper (about 10-15 grinds)
Option 2 Tandoori: “The Crowdpleaser” (from Bon Appetit) 1 cup cilantro leaves (no need to chop since it’s going in the blender)
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon garam masala (McCormick now sells this — it’s an Indian spice blend that’s kind of sweet)
1 2-inch piece ginger
juice of one lime
Option 3 Middle Eastern: “The Middle Easterner” (I’m pre-coffee; can’t do better than that at the moment)
1/2 cup fresh oregano, stems removed
1 clove garlic
juice from one lemon
2 teaspoons cumin
Option 4 Mustard and Herb: “The Pantry Special”
½ cup Dijon mustard
leaves from a couple sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Option 5 Chutney: “The Cheater”
1/2 cup your favorite chutney (these are my favorite)
1/2 cup cilantro
Whichever direction you’ve chosen:
Give the ingredients a good whirl in the blender, then pour into a large freezer bag along with your meat — 2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs or breasts (pounded flat between two pieces of wax paper), drumsticks, or…here’s some breaking news: SHRIMP! I’ve discovered that a good flavorful yogurt marinade is a great way to kick up the sometimes bland frozen shrimp we pick up in the Northeast. (The photo above was made with the tandoori marinade — the dipping sauce is chutney mixed with lime and…more yogurt!)
Marinate your chicken or shrimp (thawed if frozen) in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight. Build a medium fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush grill grates with oil. Scrape excess marinade off chicken or shrimp. If you are making shrimp, thread them onto skewers. Grill chicken turning once, until browned and cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side. The shrimp will take a little less time, about 2-3 minutes a side.
When we’re little and we taste things for the first time, things can get a little hairy. Check out this video and pay careful attention to the Olive part, which might be the funniest thing you’ll see all weekend. (Thanks to the ever-reliable Dan for sending our way!)
It’s too embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve picked up a block of extra firm tofu at The Trader Joe’s Sunday Shop, only to have it end up, four weeks later, in the garbage can of good intentions. Nonetheless, this past weekend, I tossed one into the cart, avoiding eye contact with my husband who would no doubt be happy to point out my current 0-and-5 bean curd record. Why does it go to waste every time? Why do I have such a hard time figuring out what to do with it? Well, in addition to the big huge minus of the kids not fully embracing tofu (“It’s like a wet flavorless marshmallow,” Phoebe once said), I’m just not confident cooking and experimenting with it, and I don’t feel like I have an archive of inspiring recipes. Once, I confessed all this insecurity to a blogger whose posts led me to believe she had an advanced degree in Tofu, and begged her to be my Tofu Tutor. I think I scared her off, because I never heard from her again.
But this past Monday, I wasn’t messing around. In order for Tofu Family Dinner to happen, clearly I had to get out of my own way. So I made a plan. First, on facebook I asked you guys for suggestions. Wowowowow! Why don’t I do this more? Three hours and over 70 ideas later, I whittled the choices down to five, with the finalists mostly being chosen for simplicity, pantry overlap (no way was I hitting the store the day after our weekly shop), and how golden and shiny the tofu looked. (I did not want anything remotely resembling a marshmallow.) Next, I sent this email to Andy.
From: Jenny Rosenstrach [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 2:10 PM To: W, Andy Subject: Tofu Multiple Choice
I’m not holding my breath that girls will eat. we have leftover chicken for them.
Can you tell I’m procrastinating my real work in a major way? I hyperlinked the recipes for him and everything. This was his response:
From: Andy [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 2:10 PM To: R, Jenny Subject: Tofu Multiple Choice
B! But without that much garlic.
So that’s what you’re looking at below. Did the girls like it? No, but they each tried a bite before digging into their auxiliary proteins (leftover chicken sandwiches). For Andy and me, though, it was one of those dinners that ended up pre-empting all other conversation at the table. (“We need to make this again.” and “Damn!” and “So healthy!” and “How can you guys not like this?”) Thanks to all my facebook friends who shared their recipes, particularly Libby, Andrea, Mary, and Miller for providing the finalists above — and big thanks to Jessica who has officially introduced a keeper to the DALS rotation.
I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter, but, per Andy’s request, limited the garlic, used less sugar, and added some vinegar and fresh squeezed lime to cut the salty-sweetness. FYI: To press tofu, place your tofu block on a plate, cover with a few paper towels, then place a heavy pan on top for at least 30 minutes.
1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sesame oil (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 scallion chopped (for garnish)
fresh lime juice
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cornstarch to the tofu in a small bowl and toss to coat.
Add the tofu to the skillet and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes.
While the tofu is cooking, combine the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, 1/2 cup water and brown sugar. Mix well.
When tofu has browned, add the sauce, stir, then bring to a simmer before reducing heat to low. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened and reduced.
Serve with brown rice, soba noodles, or green beans, and garnish with green onion and a squeeze of lime.
When Jenny and I were in our mid-twenties, we both had jobs in publishing – she at Real Simple, me at Esquire – and worked a few blocks apart, in midtown Manhattan. Sounds pretty glamorous, doesn’t it? It wasn’t, not really. But it was fun. For Jenny, who had spent two decidedly unfulfilling years, post-college, at a financial consulting firm in suburban Connecticut, it was a chance to flex those creative muscles, to unleash that side of her that can make a dollhouse out of a pile of clip-art and a cabinet door. For me, it was a chance to work with a bunch of writers I’d long admired and, in the process, come to understand just how little I really understood about writing. Work-wise, everything felt new and different back then, if that makes sense; when each day presents you with something you’ve never done before, you are constantly learning and constantly being challenged and, as a result, constantly feeling like a screaming fraud on the cusp of being found out. This was both motivating and, in hindsight, good for the soul. I can remember telling an older co-worker and mentor, when he asked me how I was holding up during a particularly tough week — one with a lot of late nights — that I was doing GREAT, thank you for asking. I told him, with total sincerity, that in the two years I had been at Esquire, there had not been a single morning when I dreaded coming to work! And I remember the look on his face when I said it, too: a kind of tight smile that said, Ahhh, yes. I remember being twenty-five and naive once, as well, my son. And I am smiling somewhat inscrutably like this right now because it is the only way I can keep myself from informing you that there will come a day when the prospect of editing your 43rd “Women We Love” cover package will make getting out of bed in the morning seem very, very hard.
But in the meantime, Jenny and I were happy just living in the moment. We had no kids yet, no mortgage, no boxes of baby pictures accumulating in the basement, no ballet shoes, lacrosse sticks, soccer bags, emergency granola bar stashes, or Taylor Swift CDs rattling around in the back of our car. (Actually, we didn’t have a car.) Working in the same business, and the same neighborhood, we had so much to talk and commiserate about. (I’d always send her a list of possible titles for a story I was working on before running them by my boss, for example; she was my insurance against public humiliation.) Every couple of weeks, we’d meet for lunch – usually at the local Au Bon Pain or the dreary, sneeze-guarded salad bar at the deli on 54th Street – but once in a while, we’d splurge and walk over to Uncle Nick’s on 9th Avenue. Uncle Nick’s was a cramped and busy Greek place with exposed brick and a sweaty, open kitchen populated by people who yelled a lot. It had too many tables, chairs so heavy you could barely push them back, and excellent souvlaki. An Uncle Nick’s lunch was what I call a “day-ender” – absurd portions of food that is simultaneously so flavorful that you can’t stop eating it and so filling that you immediately resign yourself, upon eating it, to an afternoon spent mourning the decisions you have made in life, and yearning for sleep. We’d get the tzatziki and a salad with blocks of fresh feta, a kebab or souvlaki platter, a side of Greek potatoes and, of course, rice pudding. None of it was what I would call light, but it was the potatoes that dealt the most crushing, and pleasurable, blow. They were roasted, but not crispy, oily but not greasy, crack-like in their addictive qualities.
I haven’t been to Uncle Nick’s in ten years, easy. I don’t even know if it’s still there, and am too lazy at the moment to google it. But in our house, at least, it lives on: I made Greek potatoes to go with a leg of lamb we’d grilled on Jenny’s birthday last weekend and boy, did it ever take us back. There it was, exactly. That fantastic texture, that deep yellow color, those hints of lemon and oregano. Damn! And oddly, given my sappy tendencies, the only thought after eating them was not, Wow, where did all the time go? It was, Why the heck do we ever eat potatoes any other way? – Andy
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 1 cup water 1/2 cup good olive oil Juice from one lemon 1 tbsp oregano Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 500°F. Place cut, peeled potatoes into a baking dish large enough for each potato to rest on the bottom. In a bowl (I used a large measuring cup), combine water, olive oil, garlic lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper. Mix and pour over potatoes. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly brown on the edged and most of the olive oil has been absorbed. Finish with some sea salt.
The main course: a leg of lamb, grilled for about 15 minutes, until medium rare.
Side #2: Arugula salad with radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and mint. (We added the bulghur later, after we’d served the kids. Kids no like bulghur.)
If you weren’t already convinced that cooking dinner might just save you and your family, here’s an even better argument: Dinner might just save the world. From Michael Pollan’s Cooked:
To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already to, or to devote a Sunday to make a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy — even these modest acts will constitute a kind of vote. A vote for what exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization — against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our nonwaking moments as well: Ambien anyone?) It is to reject the debilitation notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”
I am so happy that Nicholas Day is guest-posting for DALS today. For starters, he has written some of my most favorite family food posts over at Food52. (His yes-we-can-have-sweet-potatoes-for-dinner story comes to mind right away.) Next, he’s feeding a four- and one-year-old, and I love to offer a perspective from the toddler-baby trenches whenever I can, since I can only remember that phase on the most intellectual level. (Who are those strange people in the above photo?) Which brings me to Day’s new book Baby Meets World, a completely fresh, often hilarious examination of exactly that ephemeral period of infancy. As he writes: “This book solves no problem that has to be solved this instant: if your child is screaming right now I cannot help you. Try the next book over. What this book does do is step back from the problems so they appear in perspective — perspective being that rarest commodity in parenting.” Here, he writes about how that perspective changed the way he approached feeding a baby. It’s a goodie.
When our son Isaiah was a baby, we paid a lot of attention to family dinner: we were careful never to have it. Isaiah ate his premasticated mush early; we ate our toothsome food late. We got to complete our sentences, if we still knew how.
It was because we almost never ate dinner with Isaiah that we decided, someday when he was not yet a year old, that we should eat down and eat together as a family. With impeccable new parent logic, we made Actual Dinner for the occasion. (Leg of lamb: I am not joking.) You know how this ends. At some point during the aborted dinner, I vaguely remember looking at Isaiah and thinking, But this is Special Time! Why are you ruining Special Time?
We went back to not having family dinner.
Isaiah is now four and some. His brother, Samuel, or Mila, is the baby who’s almost a year old. And our life is very different: because Isaiah now always eats with us, we eat early, which means that Mila eats with us too. He doesn’t eat premasticated mush. He eats whatever we eat. (It is never leg of lamb.) We don’t road-test each ingredient first. We don’t even cut it up, really.
This sounds like a disastrous plan. It works brilliantly. We have a solid fifteen minutes of family dinner, before Mila, in some preverbal pagan ritual, starts systemically slaughtering everything on his tray and disposing of the carcasses over the side.
Every baby is different, and aside from Mila’s blood-lust, we got lucky. But I have learned a few things about eating with small humans that I did not know when Isaiah was a baby, and I wish I had. They are:
1) Babies eat food.
This fact is curiously hidden in the literature, which always makes babies sound like very complicated consumers of food-like substances. There is talk of introducing new ingredients in stages, and the phasing-in of difficult tastes, and the super food must-haves with mega-antis and hyper-pros.
In response to the literature, I have devised a single rule for making baby food: at all costs, avoid making baby food. Feel free to write it down for handy reference.
My thinking is basically: Making food for everyone else is hard enough. As I have explained to Mila numerous times, just because he’s an infant doesn’t mean he gets to be infantilized.
The best argument for being Very Cautious and Complicated was always the allergy argument. So it helped that since Isaiah was a baby, the American Association of Pediatrics decided the no-nonsense advice they’d given parents about how to prevent allergies was—and this is a technical medical term—ass-backwards. The old advice, of course, was to postpone introducing potential allergens until later in infancy; the new advice is more or less the opposite. (This month the AAP published a new report about when parents were feeding their babies solid food—and the authors seemed shocked, shocked, that parents were not following the medical advice — waiting until after six months. I am sure the current advice is correct, just as the previous advice was also correct; I am also sure the AAP has forfeited the right to be shocked. The authors were very gently skewered by Perri Klass, a pediatrician herself, in the Times.)
As far as I can tell, the state of the science on allergies is: We’re still figuring it out! We’ll be right with you!
So Mila eats whatever we eat, except when we’re truly desperate and have dinner entirely composed of Isaiah’s leftover Halloween candy. I’m kidding, of course. That rarely happens.
2) Babies eat food the way it looks on your plate.
I was very attentive and semi-paranoid about what I fed Isaiah. For better or worse, I am neither with Mila. It helped that in between their babyhoods, I wrote a book on the history and science of infancy, Baby Meets World, and I learned that babies have survived a lot worse than not having their broccoli pureed. I am not suggesting we revive any of these ancient (and not so ancient) wrongheaded feeding practices. (Dried cow teats for bottles: probably not those either.) But babies are far more flexible and resilient than we think: they can handle a few chickpeas.
This was a major revelation. Cutting up food into neutrino-sized pieces is a hedge against everything else you will do wrong as a parent: at least, you think, at least I never gave you a whole grape. That’s how I felt about feeding Isaiah: I could control very little about the world, but I could control the size of the pear slices on his plate. And I would!
There was a problem, though: after months of feeding Isaiah specks of solid food, he was not especially skilled at eating food that was larger than speck-size. Back when he was about a year old, I still remember my amazement seeing another baby who put O’s in his mouth and then—wait for it—swallowedthe O’s. It felt like a magic trick.
I am not the brightest bulb in the pencil case. But eventually I realized that Isaiah was bad at eating food with texture because we gave him so little of it. By the time Mila arrived, we’d seen a primer on baby-led weaning. It has a complicated name to hide the fact that it is extremely simple: It means you pay less attention to what you feed your baby. You let the baby eat big people food in big people sizes. Yes, he did gag occasionally: The first couple times we were apoplectic. Then we calmed down. He did fine.
I still occasionally puree food for Mila; he eats faster than way. But he mostly eats food he can pick up. And it seems emblematic of parenting today that I needed something that looked like a system—that looked like the new way of feeding babies—in order to give myself permission to do this.
I’m going to try not to turn this blog into The Sporting Life, but — what can I say? It’s where I’m at right now. The girls’ spring games and practices are threatening to take over dinner. Now, I’m not in any way shape or form complaining about this (Rule #49 always and 4-ever!), but it occurred to me that even though my work life ends at 3:00 on many days, I’m not coming home to dinner until about the same time that many of you are coming home from the office. Sports or no sports. So I thought it might be helpful to see how the upcoming week of family dinners might play out.
Monday: Chicken Chili
There’s a game tonight that ends at 7:30, which means we will all walk in the door at 7:45. I think the girls could probably wait a half hour while I put a quick dinner together, but since I’m working from home today I’m going to do my best to cook something later this afternoon. Reheating it will take just about as long as it takes the girls to untie their cleats, remove all their gear, and then not put any of it away in their bags meant solely for this purpose. The plan is to sit down before 8:00.
Tuesday: Burgers with Bulghur Salad and Roasted Ramps (above) I’ll walk in the door around 6:45 which means I’ll have a good 45 minutes to get something together. I’m thinking it will be basic burgers with caramelized onions, some kind of salad made with the batch of bulghur made on the weekend, and roasted ramps that Andy picked up at the farmer’s market yesterday. Andy has been lobbying to toss those roasted ramps into a pile of spaghetti with Parm, toasted bread crumbs (and perhaps an egg stirred in at the end) but I’m a little pasta’d out these days. Plus, going that direction means making something separate for Phoebe since she doesn’t like pasta, so I think I know who’s gonna win this one. But ramps will be on the menu no matter what because they’ll be wilted if we wait one more day.
Wednesday: Black Bean Tacos Another game. Dinner won’t be until 7:45, but I’ll be home from work around 5:30, so will try to prepare the bean filling for this one before I have to drop off Abby at her field at 6:00. The good thing about beans is that you can cook them, turn off the stove, then let them sit until the post-game reheat. As anyone who has been following this blog (or who has a pulse for that matter) knows, there is no easier meal than a black bean quesadilla or taco. My friend Elena brought me a big hunk of tangy Queso Fresco from a Mexican market last week and it was just the kind of ingredient that instantly upgrades the entire meal. (Unless you are Abby and consider it blasphemy to add any cheese to a taco that’s not Cabot’s Extra Sharp Cheddar.) For filling: I’ll cook some garlic in olive oil in a skillet then add two cans of (drained) beans, chopped scallions, a teaspoon of cumin, a little water, and smush it with my fork until it looks about right. When it’s time to sit, add the filling to corn tortillas with some radishes, sliced avocado, sour cream, crumbled queso fresco (if you have it) and you are set. In less than 20 minutes, no less! Five minutes if you’ve already made the filling.
Thursday: Meatballs from the Freezer/Eggs for Mom and Dad
Abby and I will be home from soccer at 6:45, but Andy will pick up Phoebe at her practice so they won’t be home til 7:30. I’ll aim to have dinner ready when they come home — not because Phoebe will be starving, but because we will be dealing with deadline pressure on the other end of the meal: American Idol. (Elimination night is a big deal for the girls and it has become increasingly crucial that they watch it live.) So what’s for dinner? Last week I made a big batch of Great Grandma Turano’s Meatballs for a friend dealing with a sick kid (he’s going to be OK, don’t worry) and I set aside about a dozen of them for my freezer. Even though that’s not enough to feed the four of us, it’s enough for two little people which is better: Having their dinner already solved gives me permission to cook the grown-ups something else entirely — something the girls would never allow in the airspace on or around their dinner plates. Which is to say, we can make ourselves eggs. I love an omelet for dinner — especially for an end-of-the-week dinner because it’s one of those excellent repository recipes for wilting vegetables on their last legs. I’ll post an omelet recipe soon, but for those of you afraid of the flipping and breaking, I’d like to remind you that scrambled eggs serve the same purpose without the same pressure. (FYI, book owners: My favorite omelet recipe is on page 114. There’s a good frittata recipe on page 117, too.) Anyway, to summarize: Girls will get freezer meatballs, grown-ups will get omelets. Two totally different dinners, but only one is actually being cooked that night for those of you keeping score. (I always am.)
Friday No activities. Dinner with my friend Liz’s family. We have no idea what the plan is, and after a week of nothing but planning, I really like it that way.
For as long as I can remember my mother has called me “Miss Jenny.” Not all the time and not necessarily in public, but often enough so that I don’t notice unless I really stop and think about it. As an endearing as the little nickname is, I’m convinced my mom started calling me that not to be cute, but because it was part of a bigger plan she had for me.
Right after college, Mom had a roommate named Jane. To the rest of the world, though, Jane was known as “Miss Janey” the host of Pittsburgh’s Romper Room show. She was a celebrity among preschoolers (I feel certain I might hear from a few of you on this one) as well as in the greater Western Pennsylvania region, and to my mom, who at the time had a desk job at U.S. Steel, no one was more glamorous. On top of being a TV star, Miss Janey was warm, witty, and beautiful. Full of life was the term she’d use. ”Oh Jenny,” my mom would say. “She was just like you.” And just like that I’d imagine myself as Miss Jenny the celebrity TV host.
Moms are smart that way.
There would be more plans. My mother would go out of her way at the Grand Union to point out Geraldine Ferraro on the cover of Newsweek, and tell my sister and me whenever the occasion presented itself: “You could be the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court if you wanted to be.” (Until 1981 at which point we learned we’d have to settle for Second.) My mother made sure to steer me in the direction of some wildcard careers, too, pointing out that I’d make a great eye surgeon because “Oh Jenny, you’re so good with your fingers,” and once even making me sit down to draw a cartoon for the New Yorker because “Oh Jenny, you can draw better than any of these guys.” A real estate lawyer whose idea of fun was (still is) pouring through a densely-typed annotated contract, she didn’t quite grasp that the creative industries could sometimes be a little more complicated than that.
Her relentless career-mapping didn’t stop just because I became a grown-up. If anything, it ramped up. When I was just starting out in magazines — I mean just starting out, like bottom-of-the-barrel starting out — she sent me an article in the New York Times that profiled the newly appointed glamorous editor-in-chief of a super high-end lifestyle magazine. (Back when there were such things.) This editor just had a baby and I remember reps from Prada and Calvin Klein falling all over themselves figuring out what to send the little boy for a gift. The editor was a Big Deal and her appointment was Big News. But according to my mom, whoever hired her for the job had made a mistake by not interviewing me, the girl who was in charge of editing the programming schedule for a cable TV guide.
“You would’ve been perfect for that job, Jenny. She reminded me of you. She sounds just like you.”
And then a few weeks ago, during a cold spell in February, Mom called to tell me that she had just watched someone on the Today show making macaroni and cheese — all in one pot apparently. “Oh you would’ve loved her. She was so natural and funny. I think maybe you should try to watch it. She was sweet. Just a doll. She was just like you.”
The seed she planted that time was probably not what she had hoped for. Instead of unleashing my inner Miss Jenny, I instead found myself obsessing over the idea of a one-pot baked macaroni and cheese. My nine-year-old loves Mac & Cheese but for whatever reason I find myself avoiding a homemade batch because of all the gear involved. I started experimenting, spending more time in the kitchen that I would ever admit to Sandra Day O’Connor (or my mother). I discovered that it was a great recipe for salvaging leftover heels of cheese (almost any combo of hard cheeses worked) and though I never quite pared it down to ONE pot, I streamlined it to the point where all the prep work could be done in the time it took for the pasta to cook. Which means I have that much more time to work on my New Yorker cartoons.
Macaroni & Cheese
The first thing Miss Jenny would like you to know is that you should get that pot of water on the stove to boil immediately. Do it right now and then get the rest of the ingredients organized and prepped. In the end, you should only use two pots. This serves about eight kids (or probably two adults and three kids) and seems like the right kind of thing to make for a slumber party.
1 pound tubular pasta, such as penne rigate shown above
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
salt and pepper
1 3/4 cups milk
2 cups grated hard cheese (I used a mix of Parmesan, Cheddar, and aged Gouda Parano because that’s what I had in the fridge)
1/2 cup combination bread crumbs OR panko OR crumbled potato chips, mixed with 1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare pasta according to package instructions and drain. While it cooks melt the butter in a Dutch Oven over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, paprika, mustard powder, salt, and pepper, then slowly drizzle in the milk, whisking continuously until mixture is smooth. Raise heat a bit and bring to a roiling simmer. Cook until it thickens, about 1 minute. Toss in pasta and cheese. (It might look extra gooey — but that will be absorbed in the oven.)
Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and crumbled potato chips and bake for 20-25 minutes until it’s golden on top and bubbly on the sides.
My daughter’s idea of the perfect school lunch. She’ll eat it freezing cold if she has to.
Speaking of mothers, I’ll be at Anderson’s Book Store in Larchmont, NY on May 4 (2:00-4:00), signing books for anyone looking for a nice Mother’s Day gift. For those of you who don’t live in Larchmont, you can always find my book on this thing called the Interweb. As always, I’m happy to send free book plates with a special message. Send requests to jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com with the subject “Book plate.” Preferably before May 5 to guarantee delivery in time for Mother’s Day on May 12.
Here’s something hard to wrap my head around — this little entry you are reading marks Dinner: A Love Story’s 600th (!) post. I know! Hard to believe –seems like only yesterday we were turning 500. We plan on celebrating with a big ol’ pot of Grandma Turano’s meatballs and hope you’ll do the same from your own dinner table — wherever that dinner table happens to be.
So, you wonder, what would I like for my 600th birthday? That’s easy. I’m no dummy — I could never have made it this far without my smart, thoughtful, dedicated readers — so I’d love to get a little feedback from you. If you are so inclined, fill out this two-minute questionnaire to help make Dinner: A Love Story better, stronger, more book-centric, beef-centric, baby-centric, whatever-centric! The point is: I want to hear from you. There are only a dozen multiple-choice questions which I promise are completely painless. And here’s something cool: Even though it’s my birthday, YOUget the gifts. By participating in the questionnaire, you become automatically eligible to win either a Komachi chef’s knife, a copy of Dinner: A Love Story, or a four-pack of the official DALS “Make Dinner Not War” bumper sticker. (Three winners, who must live in the 48 contiguous states, will be selected and can choose whichever prize they’d like.) Deadline for entry: Sunday, May 12.
You’d like that link again, you say? Sure! Here you go. And thanks from the whole DALS team.
PS: Questionnaire or not, remember you can always just purchase a bumper sticker here.
Update: Keely, Chelsey, and Erin are the winners, but you can still fill out the survey if the spirit moves you. Thanks to everyone who participated.
I should qualify that a bit. When I say that “anyone” can make this, I suppose I should point out — before the haters do — that not just “anyone” would be able to figure out how to invert his or her wrist in a way that helps distribute a container of grape tomatoes onto a baking sheet. This technique, also known as “dumping,” involves a slight acceleration of the wrist, which helps direct the tomatoes onto the baking sheet and not flying across the kitchen at an errant trajectory. Oh…I guess it’s presumptuous of me to assume that pretty much “anyone” is going to own a piece of equipment as arcane as a “baking sheet.” For those of you who don’t own one, and who don’t live near a grocery store (a place where food and cooking miscellany is sold), I’m sorry. This recipe is probably not for you. Nor is it for anyone who has yet to master water boiling. Or pepper mill grinding. Or who hasn’t yet figured out how to transform a hard block of Parmesan cheese into snowy shreds, a technique known by many in the professional food world as “grating.”
But for everyone else in search of a quick dinner on a weeknight? This one’s for you.
Penne with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes This recipe changes for us based on what kind of night it is. If you have some time, I advise slow-cooking the tomatoes for an hour and a half at 300°F. This results in blistered, concentrated tomatoes that fall apart beautifully when mixed into the pasta. If it’s a weeknight and you only have 30 minutes or so, proceed as directed.
1 16-ounce container of grape tomatoes (or however many you’ve got)
1 small onion, chopped roughly (ok, I admit, a little skill involved here, but minimal!)
4 tablespoons olive oil
a shake of red pepper flakes (optional)
salt & pepper
a sprig of thyme, leaves removed (optional)
1 pound penne pasta (I like the ridged kind, penne rigate, or orecchiette)
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F. Dump tomatoes and onions on a baking sheet lined with foil. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, thyme leaves and toss with your fingers or a spoon. (Do this gently so you don’t rip the foil.) Bake for 25-30 minutes until tomatoes look shrivelly and brown but not burnt.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions. When draining, reserve a ¼ cup of pasta water. Place pasta pot back on burner over low heat and add butter and remaining olive oil.
Add penne back to the pot and toss with tomato-onion mixture and cheese. If it’s looking gloppy or sticky, add a little reserved pasta water to loosen.
Serve with additional grated Parm. If you are feeling indulgent, a dollop of ricotta is gonna be pretty excellent.
I do not want another second to go by without letting you know that after years of major hint-dropping on Andy’s part — much of it public (see #65) — you’ll be happy to hear that the DALShouse is finally home to a brand new 2-speed TurboBlend Vitamix 1782. I’ll let my husband go deep on this in a few days, but I will say that every morning since unwrapping the blender for his birthday last week, Andy has entered the kitchen, assembled his fruit, yogurt, ice, and exotic juices, then flipped the switch while summoning all of us to stop what we are doing. “LISTEN TO THAT!” he’ll shout, as if we would be able to listen to anything BUT the Vitamix whinnying at full tilt. On another afternoon while Andy was at work, I texted him a picture of the apple-papaya-pineapple-ginger juice I made in the Vitamix, noting to my astonishment that it absolutely pulverized a 1-inch knob of ginger beyond recognition. His response? “Tell me more.” The point is: I nailed the birthday present this year. Not even Abby calling from upstairs “Mom! Help me bring down the blender so Daddy can open it!” could have detracted from this long-awaited moment of smoothie-phile euphoria.
Compelling though it may be, the Vitamix was not supposed to be the story here. (How did that just happen?) The story is supposed to be what we had alongside the Vitamix-engineered smoothie that morning: The beautiful sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit you’re looking at up top. Somewhere along the way, gift opening (which is every bit as exciting for the kids when they’re not even doing the opening) started to take place during breakfast hour in our house. It’s almost like Christmas — as though they just can’t fathom waiting until the afternoon or dinner…or even til their parents are officially caffeinated to tear into the loot. Which is all fine, but it just felt wrong not to connect all this flying giftwrap and screaming to some kind of food ritual. For a weekday birthday that usually means chocolate chips tucked into toaster waffle divets, a candle sticking out of a pancake, a piece of heart-shaped toast – but God help us if the birthday falls on a weekend. The celebration automatically escalates to a bonafide sit-down affair with things like French toast and almond-spiked freshly whipped cream. Or, in last week’s case, these sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits, which we didn’t mean to make entirely from scratch (including the sausages!) but…well, did we tell you how we feel about birthdays? (Why wouldn’t we go all out?) The best thing about the sandwich, besides how buttery and delicious it is, and besides the fact that it’s one of Andy’s most favorite morning treats? We woke up to Phoebe forming and frying the sausage patties with her own two hands. At 7:00 AM, she was already way ahead of us.
Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit I didn’t initially set out to make my own biscuits, but when I opened the freezer and realized those Trader Joe’s frozen heat-n-serve numbers were gone, I had no choice but to search for a quick recipe. Which is tougher than it sounds when you don’t have buttermilk (and when you short-circuit at the sight of the word “knead”). The sausage recipe is adapted from one in Rozanne Gold’s Kids Cook 1-2-3 which remains our favorite children’s cookbook ever. And regarding the cheese: only drippy, fakey American will do.
For Biscuits [OR just pick up some storebought biscuits]
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a baking sheet or line with a silpat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a fork, combine the butter and flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Slowly add the milk, stirring with a fork, to the desired consistency.
Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and gently knead just to bring the dough together. Roll out the dough about 3/4 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or sturdy glass, cut about 12 biscuits, rerolling any scraps or just smushing a few flat with your hands as I did. Place on the baking sheet. Bake the biscuits for 13 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.
For Sausage Patties:
1/2 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 small garlic clove, pressed or very finely minced
Add all ingredients to a medium bowl and mix using a fork. Using your hands, form 6 flat patties. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes. Repeat on the flip side. (If patties are too thick, slice horizontally.) Freeze any leftovers.
Add butter or olive oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. Whisk together 3 eggs with a little salt and black pepper and pour into heated pan like a very large pancake. Heat until underside is cooked, about 1 minute. Try to flip all in one piece (you may need two spatulas for this) and cook the other side for an additional minute. Turn egg pancake onto a clean surface and, using the top of a glass (similar in size to the one you used for your biscuits), cut out three or four “egg discs.”
Place one sausage patty and one egg disk on a biscuit and drape a slice of American cheese on top. (You might want to trim the slice slightly.) Heat under the broiler for one minute, or until the cheese melts. Top with another biscuit.
OK, here’s a quick shot of the Vitamix in action. (“Now that’s what a smoothie should look like!”) More on this later — you can be sure of it.
Curtis Stone gets it. For starters, every chapter in his new family cookbook What’s For Dinnerincludes at least one cocktail, including a Blueberry Gin Bramble, a pitcher of White Sangria, and a crazy tempting looking bourbon and ginger-spiked Arnold Palmer. Then there is the introduction, where the host of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, who has worked in some of the most high-profile restaurant kitchens in the world, admits that when people ask him what the best thing he’s ever eaten is, he always finds himself replying the same way: “‘My mother used to make…” Stone continues, “Whether it’s chicken pot pie or meat loaf, the dishes we grew up eating, the ones made with love and shared around the dinner table, are the ones we seem to cherish most.” These days, he hopes to do some memory-making for the people sitting around his own family dinner table — his wife Lindsay and 15-month-old son, Hudson. What does that translate to? Korean Tacos, Potato and Bacon Frittata, Spaghetti with Garlic, Kale, and Lemon, quick Chicken and Chorizo Paella, Classic Meatloaf, Homemade Fish and Chips. In other words, family favorites, fresh ingredients, and simple prep — all of which is on display on every page of his beautiful book. To celebrate its publication, Stone was nice enough to participate in “21 Questions” and share one of his favorite go-to weeknight recipes.
My life in three bullet points:
The kitchen I grew up eating in was… always filled with the smells of home cooked meals.
When I was a child I wanted to be an Australian football player, naturally.
If I was stuck on a desert island, the food I’d make sure to have with me is tacos. They’ve got it all.
A great friend is my mum. I tell her everything.
Secret weapon in the kitchen is a sharp knife. It’s the number one essential.
Turning point in my life was the day I knocked on the door of Marco Pierre White’s Cafe Royal and offered to work for free just for the chance to learn from him.
My ideal breakfast is poached eggs.
My ideal dinner is a backyard barbecue with my best mates.
I stay healthy by… surfing and hiking.
Without my Google Maps app, I’m lost.
You wouldn’t know it but I am very good at gambling.
You wouldn’t know it but I’m no good at dancing…but it doesn’t stop me.
Until I became a father I had no idea how much sleep I used to get.
My favorite item of clothing: flip flops.
I drive a clean diesel Porsche Cayenne.
My house is my home.
A cookbook that changed me: White Heat, by Marco Pierre White.
A cup of coffee is essential.
Best restaurant meal I’ve had in past 12 months is Attica in Melbourne.
Why this shrimp and asparagus is a keeper: It’s fast, flavourful and incredibly easy to make.
The key to this high-roast cooking technique is to use a large half sheet pan (a rimmed baking sheet measuring 18-by-13) and to spread the ingredients out well so they brown lightly (for caramelized flavor) and don’t steam. See his book for grilling instructions.
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pound medium-thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 pound large (21 to 30 count) shrimp, peeled, tails left on, deveined
1/3 cup shaved Pecorino Romano (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Grate the zest from the lemon into a small bowl. Squeeze 2 tablespoons of juice from the lemon into the same bowl. Whisk in the shallots, then gradually whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the asparagus with 2 more tablespoons olive oil on a large rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.
Spread the asparagus on one side of the baking sheet, separating the spears. Roast until they turn a brighter shade of green, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the oven and arrange the shrimp on the empty side. Return the oven and roast until the shrimp are almost opaque throughout and the asparagus are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
In large bowl, toss the asparagus with enough vinaigrette to coat. Divide the asparagus among four plates and top with the shrimp, drizzling more vinaigrette on top along with a little Pecorino if using. [Read more →]
I could not be more excited to read Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Interestings. (If it’s even only half as good as The Wife, I’ll be way psyched.)
Be prepared to weep: My friend Laurie Sandell (from the “Loserati” chapter in my book) wrote a Modern Love essay for the Times about motherhood that will knock you out. And she’s not even a mother. Yet.
For those of you who know me personally, make sure you are sitting down for this declaration: I’ve seen Matilda and it’s about 8,000 times better than Annie. Call TicketMaster NOW.
A big huge thank you to Linda M. and her book club of over a decade: Karen, Gina, Jennifer, Jenny, Emily, Denise, little Margaux (!) and the others I didn’t get a chance to talk to directly. Linda was nice enough to a) Select Dinner: A Love Story for their book club pick and b) let me call in to talk about it. If you are reading DALS for your book club, get in touch! In case you can’t tell, I never get tired of talking about this stuff.
Seared Steak Fajitas from the ridiculously likable Sarah Carey. (“Let’s not call it burnt, let’s just call it a reallyreallyreally nice char.”)
For those of you who are like me and enjoy discussing dinner over morning coffee, I’m speaking here on April 18.
My Bon Appetit editor Carla is writing a new column for BA called Cooking Without Recipes. It’s gonna be good, trust me.
Lastly, some very exciting news: As of right this very moment, you can head over to Design My Meals where my two pals out in Silicon Valley Cara & Carla (different Carla) have archived over 200 DALS recipes (and thousands of others from the blogosphere and beyond) so that you can be more organized about your shopping for the week. (Isn’t that nice of them?) Among a million other things, DMM lets you search for a recipe by course, by special diet, by blogger, by what’s in your CSA box, etc. and drag those recipes onto a your own customized calendar. Then (sound the trumpets!) based on your lineup, the system generates a shopping list for you. Ready to join? Here’s where to sign up.
If you have an e-reader and you like George Saunders, beautiful illustrations, and fables narrated by animals, then check out the story Fox 8, which will cost you only 99 cents and which our eleven year old read and devoured and when I asked her tell me what she wanted to say about it, she just said: “There are no words to describe it. It’s funny, but sad. It kind of has a weird vibe, since it’s told from a fox’s point of view.” She means “weird” in the best possible way.
A pretty stunning piece about music and teachers — and life, really — in last week’s New Yorker. (Also, kudos to the person who came up with this title.)
This incredibly well-reported piece, by Mark Mazzetti, about one of the more compelling, Jason Bourne-ish news stories in recent memory. I will be buying his book about the CIA, The Way of the Knife.
As a dog owner and lover of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s writing, this piece about animal consciousness.
Two things, courtesy of my excellent work friends, Kendra and Kaela:
The graphic novel, Hilda and the Bird Parade, which I promptly went out and bought for the kids and which they both devoured and which has amazing artwork and a girl heroine with blue hair and a sidekick named Twig who is a baby fox with antlers.
Dorothy Parker gin, from New York Distilling Company. This was a birthday gift that I’m pretty sure I was supposed to savor. One week later, it is disturbingly close to empty.
A pair of these, which Abby forced me to buy, and which, I have to admit, make me happy when I put them on.
A few weeks ago, I gave one of my little PowerPoints to some parents at a community center. It was the usual 30-minute presentation, “Eight Rules for Family Dinner,” distilling all the usual DALSian principles (Deconstruct, Shop Once a Week, Plead Ignorance, etc) alongside colorful photos of meatballs and detox soups. As I wrapped up, a woman in the second row who had been nodding and smiling during my talk, raised her hand.
“Have your kids started travel sports yet?”
Was I imagining that her eyes squinted as she asked? Was it weird that I felt like the swordsman in Indiana Jones, the one who confronts Indie with his fancy sword moves, only to be dispatched by Indie with a single gunshot? Here at this talk, I had the distinct feeling that I was staring at a veteran who knew something I didn’t know, and was thinking to herself “Wow, this woman has no idea what she’s in for.”
The good news is that I could at least answer that my daughters had indeed started travel sports — in fact we were about two years into it. The bad news was that I had just started receiving the schedules for spring activities and it seemed as though every single one of them was conspiring to blow up family dinner as we knew it. It’s true what those parental sages warned: the older your kids get, the later their practices finish. It’s also true that more and more parenting seems to be happening in the Mazda in between ballet and lacrosse.
This spring, except for Fridays, we are not home from sports activities any earlier than 7:0o. Three nights a week, the girls are not home until 7:30. So in other words: Every day is now Tumultuous Tuesday, whichmeans that if I want dinner to keep happening as religiously as it has been all these years, I have to be super-organized about things.
Or! If I have a pizza dough in the fridge, I don’t have to think about dinner at all until the minute I walk in the house.
At 6:00 the other night, I dropped the girls off at a field that was 10 minutes away from my house. Once home, I spied the pizza dough then started weeding through the disparate ingredients populating our unorganized fridge. I laid everything out (see below) and made my decision: Half the pie would be Asparagus and Leek, Half the pie would be Tomato & Cheese, which was probably the side the girls would favor. I’d pile on the entire bunch of asparagus (even if the spears never became gooey-ed up in cheese) so they could have their asparagus on the side.
By the time the pizza was assembled, it had been decided over a flurry of texts that Andy would pick up the girls at 7:15, on his way home from work. But because part of me has never quite graduated from competitive sports myself, I looked at the clock: 6:30. I would’ve totally been able to bake that pizza (another 15-20 minutes), pull it out of the oven, pick up the girls in time, drop off their friend who needed a ride home, then arrive home with dinner ready to rock.
Only three more months of this to go.
Pizza: 1/2 Asparagus & Leek, 1/2 Tomato Cheese
1 22-ounce storebought pizza dough
1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup pizza sauce (I used 1/2 can of Don Pepino; if you have homemade, congrats!)
1 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed of woody ends
1/2 leek, trimmed (see photo for reference) and chopped
salt and pepper
few shakes red pepper flakes, to taste
1-2 kumato tomato* (totally optional!), chopped
Freshly grated Parm to taste
Preheat oven to 500°F. Press dough out to all corners of a large baking sheet that has been lightly brushed with olive oil. (FYI: It’s easier to stretch the dough when it’s room temperature, if at all possible.) Top one side with fresh mozzarella. Top the other half with pizza sauce under the mozzarella. In a medium bowl, toss asparagus and leeks with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Pile vegetables on the side of pizza with the cheese only. (Again, I don’t mind asparagus overflow here because I just pick off those roasted spears and give them to the kids as a vegetable side.) Add fresh tomatoes wherever you think it won’t offend people. (I went right down the middle.)
Top the entire thing with freshly grated Parm.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly. Garnish with chives. Unless you aren’t crazy about chives on top of leeks. (I personally love the double onion effect.)
*I am too lazy to look up what this thing actually is, but Andy always throws them into the cart at Trader Joe’s and they taste really good for out-of-season tomatoes.
A note about pizza for kids: While I love a good fresh round of melted mozzarella on my pie, I find it’s easier for young kids to eat melted cheese when it’s been sliced and chopped into smaller pieces. That way, when it melts, it doesn’t slide off the pizza in one large piece, taking all the sauce with it. (Fascinating, right? What would you ever do without me?)
My son is an amazing, precocious, active kid who has a love for all things sweet. He has always been on the higher end of the weight range but at this year’s annual visit things were more alarming and I realized that it’s time to start reigning things in. I am trying to figure out how to have age-appropriate conversations with him about eating healthy. My husband and I have struggled with our weight all our lives and don’t want to pass that along, but it also makes me question my own ability to address the topic with my son appropriately. I’m hoping you may have advice.
This is a great question, one that I’m not in any position to answer expertly, so I thought I’d call upon my friend Dr. Joanna Steinglass, a clinical researcher at Columbia Center for Eating Disorders. CCED focuses their research on eating behavior across the spectrum, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, pediatric and adult obesity and Joanna was nice enough to join us today to address Robyn’s question as well as a few others.
DALS: Welcome Joanna! Let’s start with some elementals. Say you have a new baby — a complete blank slate. What’s the ideal way to talk about food with this child from the start? What is the blueprint for fostering a healthy relationship with food and body image?
JS: First, there is no one “ideal” and no specific blueprint, so take a deep breath and relax. There are lots of ways to raise a healthy kid. It’s also important to remember that your baby is not really a blank slate and will bring his or her own temperament and personality, which will be a factor in how you go about nurturing a healthy relationship with food and body. Having said that, there are some core concepts that may be helpful. You can tell them “People come in all shapes and sizes. No one shape or size is better than another.” There is a nice children’s book called, Shapesville by Andy Mills and Becky Osborn that illustrates this point for kids in the 2 to 5 range. It’s also important that parents set an example for kids in the way they treat other people. If your kids learn that you don’t judge others based on their size, they’ll be more likely to internalize that. It’s worth making this point out loud whenever the opportunity arises by saying things like, “People can be healthy at any size” or “I like people in lots of different shapes and sizes.”
DALS: What if you have a kid who has gotten into some bad eating habits and you want to re-route him. How do you talk to him or her about this without making him/her feel bad about himself/herself?
JS: Focus on health not weight. And emphasize function over form. Remind your son that a healthy body is what allows you to do all that you do in the world. Think of something your child likes to do – whether that is a sport or otherwise – and point out how it’s his body that does that. If your child is an athlete, he or she probably gets a lot of reinforcement for this idea. But even if what your child most likes to do is to sit quietly and read or draw, you can reinforce the concept. You can say, “Your body is what allows you to do [fill in your child’s favorite activity]” to foster your child feeling good about his body’s capability. [Read more →]
You guys would laugh at my inbox. For starters, it seems like every third email that is sent to my DALS email has the subject line “Pork Ragu.” There’s usually one or two with a panicky vibe, like: “I have people coming over and the short ribs are looking dry! What do I do?” (Answer: Add whatever liquid you can find.) And then occasionally I get something magical, something with a picture attached like the one you see above. With a subject that says “Love Over Sunday Minestrone.” Suzi is a working mom of three kids and a DALS reader. Here’s what she wrote:
I just wanted to say thank you to you and Andy for the entertainment and for keeping our weeknight meals interesting. I think I made at least three DALS recipes per week while on maternity leave with our third baby this fall. A typical comment from my 4-year-old: ”Mom, you should make this again!”
Now that I’m back at work, my husband, Noah, is the prime dinner chef. He is not a reader of blogs, but I am slowly winning him over. My aim is to have him searching the blog for weeknight favorites soon too. Yesterday he set up this shot with the iPhone tripod. I happened to be making Sunday Minestrone, which you can see. He took one look at the photo and said, “You should send this in to your Dinner: A Love Story blog.” So here you go – dinner and love, all in one shot.
For the rest of you who occasionally write me asking How do you keep this blog going? There’s your answer. And here’s the Magical Minestrone. (Results Shown Above Not Guaranteed.)