100 Rules of Dinner

Want to learn how to cook but don’t know where to start? Miss the last 600 posts on Dinner: A Love Story and don’t know how to catch up? Looking for something to read while anxiously awaiting dispatches from the Supreme Court? Look no further. Herewith, a list of one hundred definitively DALSian (which is to say totally unofficial, ridiculously subjective) rules of dinner.

1. “Acid” is usually the answer when you taste a dish and wonder “What’s missing?”

2. Always cook more spinach than you think you’ll need.

3. The quickest way to enrage me is to start eating before the cook has sat down. Even if I’m not the one cooking.

4. The juiciest limes are the small ones with thin, smooth skin.

5. Being cooked for in someone’s home is one of the finer pleasures in life.

6. But I’m pretty sure I’d skip that invitation if someone offered to take me to ABC Kitchen instead.

7. There is nothing sadder than a piece of warm pie without ice cream.

8. Improvising with herbs or vinegars? Yes. Improvising with baking soda or baking powder? No.

9. There are very few problems in a kid’s life that aren’t momentarily solved by a stack of chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday morning.

10. There are very few problems in my life that I can’t momentarily forget about when I’m cooking dinner with Andy.

11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.

12. Herbs in the salad.

13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.

14. Cinnamon in the chili.

15. Resist the urge to apologize when you’re cooking for people. Most of the time your dinner guests won’t notice anything is wrong until you bring it up.

16. There is no more fun question to put forth at the dinner table than “What would you do if you won this week’s Powerball?”

17. Dessert should be cake.

18. Kitchen chairs should be red. Or at least fun.

19. The term “100% All-Natural” when it appears on food packages: 100% meaningless.

20. If you have to unwrap it, it’s not going to be good for you.

21. It’s not wise to store your drinking glasses in the shelf above the dishwasher, the shelf that won’t be accessible until you shut the dishwasher.

22. Two words for those of you who haven’t switched from (iodized, metallic-tasting) table salt to (easy-to-handle, clean-tasting) kosher salt: Why the f not?

23. If my house were burning down and I could only save one thing from the kitchen, it would be my Master Copy of Dinner: A Love Story that I’ve had event planners, bookstore owners, morning show hosts, party guests, guest-posters, and family members sign as if it’s my high school yearbook.

24. Or maybe my Dutch Oven.

25. Slice a baguette on its side instead of right side up. That way you don’t end up smushing the loaf with your hand and knife.

26. Freeze soups and stews in flat bags so they thaw more quickly under running water. I know I’ve told you this one a thousand times, but it bears repeating.

27. The best way to seed a cucumber: Peel, halve horizontally, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.

28. The best way to get the conversation going at the table is by saying “Which kid got in trouble at school today?”

29. The best way to prepare scrambled eggs is with freshly grated Parm and snipped chives.

30. The best way to prevent tearing when chopping an onion is to wear contact lenses.

31. As far as I can tell, instructing your children to “please, dear Lord, please use your napkins” every night for ten straight years is not the best way to get your children to use napkins.

32. Learning how to Deconstruct my family dinners saved my family dinners.

33. It’s counterintuitive, but the sharpest knife is the safest knife.

34. When entertaining: Bo Ssam for the Boss; Short Ribs for the Neighbors; Minestrone for the Vegetarians.

35. When entertaining: Chicken is kind of a bummer.

36. When you use a knife to scrape food off a cutting board, use the dull side so you don’t ruin your blade.

37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.

38. If you have to ask “lime or lemon?” when making me a gin and tonic…I’ll make my own gin and tonic.

39. My new Holy Trinity: Rice Wine Vinegar, Fish Sauce, Grapeseed Oil.

40. When you throw shrimp into lightly boiling water, it takes exactly three minutes to cook.

41. If you’re gonna use storebought pizza sauce, Don Pepino is the one to buy.

42. There is no such thing as owning too many little bowls.

43. Without some crunch (nuts, celery, snap peas, radishes), salads can only reach half their potential.

44. An immersion blender is just not as life-changing as everyone promises it will be.

45. Everybody should know how to properly chop an onion.

46. Most everybody should know how to roast a chicken.

47. Establishing a post-dinner alternating lunch-packing schedule goes down as the smartest thing we’ve ever done as parents.

48. Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs are better the next day.

49. It’s not chaos. It’s richness.

50. You end the day with family dinner.

51. When making pasta, be sure to salt the water.

52. The proper cocktail construction: First ice, then booze, then mixer.

53. Nobody uses enough ice.

54. You very rarely feel worse about yourself after cooking dinner.

55. You very often feel worse about yourself after going out and spending $68 for four soggy pepper jack quesadillas, some rice and beans, and a couple of Shirley Temples.

56. The simpler the recipe, the more likely I am to cook it.

57. People who say bribery is not a good way to get kids to eat have never had kids.

58. When eating grilled stuff outside in the summer, there is no shame in cold, pink wine.

59. When cooking steak on the grill, get a nice char over hot coals and then move it to a less hot part of the grill — i.e. over indirect heat. Test for doneness by pressing down on the meat with your finger. When it’s ready, it will have the consistency of the flesh at the base of your thumb. Once it’s firm, you have overcooked it.

60. The best grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye.

61. The least healthy grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye, which tells you something re the relationship between fat and flavor.

62. As Julia Child once said, “There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables.”

63. Clean as you go. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough.

64. Eggs can become difficult to eat if you think too hard about them.

65. We never invested in a decent blender, and I rue that sh*t to this day.

66. We did invest in a big, expensive Le Creuset Dutch Oven and, 300 pork ragus later, I am so happy we did.

67. When roasting potatoes – or any vegetable, really – cook five minutes longer than the recipe says. And then cook five minutes more.

68. If you want to get something crispy, the pan needs to be hot. And so does the oil.

69. The ideal weeknight side: Baby carrots simmered for 15-20 minutes in a little water, a squeeze of honey, a couple of sprigs of thyme, salt, and curry powder.

70. Let us stop for a minute and consider the taste of a fresh ear of corn, rolled in butter, sprinkled with salt.

71. Performance enhancing drugs are to sports as butter is to cooking. Which is not to say that butter is evil. But it is cheating.

72. I can’t think of a single meat or fish that does not taste better on the grill.

73. Salt the water again.

74. Raw spinach does nothing for me.

75. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is delicious, and you enjoy eating it, say so. Say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”

76. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is maybe not the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life, but still, it clearly required thought and time and work and, yes, love, say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”

77. If you cook dinner for someone, and that person is not super forthcoming with his or her expressions of happiness or gratitude, you must (a) fight every urge to ask them if they like it, and (b) think twice about cooking for that person again.

78. Cooking is to baking as pleasure reading is to chemistry homework.

79. Salted butter for toast and bagels, unsalted butter for everything else.

80. Season your meat generously before you cook it, and then season it again while it’s cooking.

81. Everything in moderation, but particularly garlic.

82. I have a lot of regrets, but one of them is not substituting boneless chicken thighs for boneless chicken breasts in a recipe.

83. Three secret weapons of salad dressing: Teaspoon of sugar, dash of Sriracha, chives.

84. When making a hamburger, pack it loosely, and use lots of salt and pepper. And never ever ever ever press down on it with your spatula, for crying out loud. That is, unless your goal is to make it taste less good.

85. I serve turkey burgers. I know turkey burgers. Turkey burgers are a friend of mine. Turkey burgers, on your best day, you are no hamburgers.

86. Anything + Broccoli = A meal you can feel pretty good about.

87. If you care about what other people think about you and your parenting abilities, it is important that your kids only ask for their water “on the rocks” at home.

88. My ideal summer lunch: An open-faced heirloom tomato sandwich, on white toast smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with sea salt.

89. If I could keep only one cookbook, it would be Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Italian Cooking, followed by How to Cook Everything.

90. After Dinner: A Love Story, I mean.

91. The only acceptable mayonnaise brands are Hellman’s and Duke’s. It is a testament to how much I love my father that I can still accept him even though he puts LOW FAT MIRACLE WHIP on his sandwiches.

92. When I was a kid, my favorite meal was breaded pork chops that had been marinated in white vinegar. My mom would make them for my birthday, when the report cards arrived, and when I came home – with forty pounds of dirty laundry (and a gold hoop earring!) — from college. That smell, of the vinegary pork chops coated in Progresso Italian breadcrumbs, browning in olive oil in the Sunbeam electric frying pan, is burned so deep into my brain that, if you did the deathbed montage of my life, it’d be in there, right near the beginning. Not sure what that says about me, but it’s true.

93. More vinegar, less oil.

94. The ideal summer dinner: Fresh clams with pasta and a raw kale salad with pecorino romano and red onion.

95. Egg salad is a perfect food that is made even more perfect by the addition of dill, a handful of chopped pickles, and a dash of Dijon mustard.

96. The older I get, the less I like beer.

97. My ideal dessert: Jenny’s Mexican chocolate icebox cookies with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream. Or a fresh Mallomar, eaten in total quietude, so as to fully appreciate the sound of teeth cracking pristine chocolate shell.

98. Dredging the chicken or flounder before frying is an excellent task for a kid who is eager to help. Peeling a beet with a sharp knife is not.

99. Make friends with the fish guy at your farmer’s market.

100. Salt the water again.

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I’ve never commented on this blog before, but upon seeing Jenny’s #44, I had to comment — because I totally disagree with it!! I love my immersion blender and recommend it to everyone! Do you have some awesome alternative for blending soups??

Still love the blog, though, and most of the other rules were “right.” 🙂


I feel like a broken record when I keep saying “THIS is my favorite post” but, honestly, I think THIS is IT! It’s almost like a DALS highlight reel – I want to print it, memorize it, and have it written inside one of my cabinets.

Although I would just include ONE of Andy’s salt reminders. (Had a feeling that would top his list and not be on Jenny’s…)


Love it!!! You guys had me cracking up out loud. Seriously great!! I ditto Carrie – one to print, memorize and write inside the cabinets 🙂


Love this post. Loved your book. Feeling guilty about spending $25 on bad pizza and salad when I had the fixings for your chicken orzo soup at home. Getting offline now to go and make it so I can feel good about myself tomorrow. Thank you for your continued inspiration, humor, and love.


I love so many things about this list! Though I have to note about two:

22. We keep iodized salt around to use maybe 10 percent of the time simply so we get iodine. I did too many iodine deficiency disorder fundraisers in high school.

35. Coq a Vin. Nuff said.


Best post ever. Will you marry me (both of you)?
I didn’t have to pay for it, but oh I love my Vitamix. It’s worth the counter space it takes up, and that is saying a lot in a NYC kitchen.

Michelle Naomi

yes! love this list. i nodded in agreement to almost the entire list. I love food. One of my favorite things USED to be going out to eat. I enjoy it now and again these days but there is something about being in the kitchen and making meals myself. While I look forward to cooking dinners (and everything) for my family one day, for now by-monthly dinner gatherings with our friends makes my heart happy. Luckily for me I also have a husband that is at ease in the kitchen.

I also second the Vitamix comments…it’s changed my life. Love that thing


everything in my freezer in flat….soup, gr beef/pork mixture, leftover stuffing for stuffed pasta,lasagna,etc, leftover “imersion blendered” canned tomatoes, leftover tomato paste, bags of frozen lemon juice, pureed homemade baby food, homemade pesto, everything and anything. That way you just have to smack the freezer bag with a meat tenderizer for a small bit of anything. Though there was that one time that I needed something at the bottom of the pile and the whole thing fell out of the freezer in quick succession and made quite the mess when it all hit the ceramic tiled floor at conciderable speed. You’d think the contents were all glass. Deadly as a bunch of frozen bananas falling on your foot.

The one thing you forgot….for beginners
…practice, practice …and be brave
and EVERYTHING needs either fresh lemon juice or Lea & perrins, always have both on hand


“77. If you cook dinner for someone, and that person is not super forthcoming with his or her expressions of happiness or gratitude, you must (a) fight every urge to ask them if they like it, and (b) think twice about cooking for that person again.”

I have to use (a) a lot because I can’t do (b): I cook for my mother!


thank you so much for this brillant post! I’m going to print it and put it on my fridge door, or translate it to portuguese with some personal adaptations!!! Just loved it!!!


#35 – I disagree! My husband made the best roast chicken dinner Sunday night. Definitely good enough to serve guests!


This is SUCH a good list! I will now buy juicier limes, use more vinegar, always have broccoli on hand, add crunch at every opportunity and revel in owning masses of small bowls.


It took everything I had not to scream out “YES/AMEN/PREACH!!!” to these since I am at work…now off to rue the day I bought my bargain blender!


#87 – I have always loved the story of my friend Kate, as a six year old, asking a friend’s mom for ‘apple juice on the rocks’. Clearly a reflection of happy parents!


Love your lists! Will print and post where I can read them often – to keep me laughing.


Oh my god I love this so much. This is INSANE. They very best. Can I add? “Pancakes are a good Monday night dinner to ease the sting of returning to work and school. Nothing is sweeter than a dinner the kids don’t cry about.” Also, “Put the kids to bed early Sunday and have a true adult dinner with wine and conversation to ease the Sunday blues.”


Oh! My! Stars! Jenny, your #49 is spot on and Andy’s #87 had me LQTM. Laughing quietly to myself, I’m at work.

Also, you’ve inspired me! I’m SO compiling some kitchen rules for my kids to take with them, wherever they go.

Nancy B

Great blog! Our family is in the seafood and gourmet food business and we let our kids try foods most parents would assume they wouldn’t eat (like raw oysters, morels etc., both of which they loved, when they were under five years old). One of our secrets: telling them it was “grown up” food — nothing makes a food more desirable to a kid than letting them think we want to keep it for ourselves! The other secret: our pediatrician told us to get a baby food grinder and feed our kids ground up real, freshly cooked food, basically the same food we were eating. Commercial baby food is mostly tasteless, awful stuff. It’s no wonder toddlers balk when they first experience food with flavor after months of blandness. Our kids, now in their early 30s, eat, cook and enjoy fresh, healthy foods. Thank you Dr. D!


I agree wholeheartedly with #44. Also #56. Well, all of them actually , but especially those two.


I love this list! I’m 40yrs old, but I still want you guys to adopt me, or maybe just move in next door.

Tom Humphreys

Hey, are Andy and I genetically related or something? His list is kind of creeping me out…if you asked my wife for my 50 rules, like 35 of them are absolutely identical, except that my number one rule would be that oversized martini glasses are vulgar. Why not have two smaller martinis that are both nice and cold and fresh?


I wish there was a “print this” button for this post. I want it hanging in my kitchen.


This made my life. No seriously.

I love you so much. like SO MUCH.
don’t call the cops.


Re # 77: One of the things I admired about my fil was that after EVERY meal, he thanked my mil for making it. I’ve heard from others that this is normal, but it wasn’t in my experience. It should be.


I love both of your lists! As a non contact wearer, I will add to #30 that the best way to prevent tearing while cutting an onion is to chop it cold rather than room temp, and use a VERY sharp knife.


#87 – Our kids have been known to shout outside, “Dad! Is it cocktail night?!” Fridays = Shirley Temples, no exceptions.


i love this list. i’m new-ish to your blog, and this is a great way to get a sense of your flavor. thank you. and. in response to item #47 – i highly recommend the pack-your-own lunch routine. i never thought my kids could do it, but they can, and they do, and i feel like i won the lottery.

Kath the Cook

Oh hell yes! The only thing missing is a reference to rolling a joint, ha! Go buy the blender… you deserve it. Do it now!

A Life From Scratch

So many are amazing but the ice one won me over – I am obsessive about a lot of ice. One of the biggest fights my husband and I ever got into was him offering me a glass of water with barely any ice.

I was pretty far into my pregnancy. He handed it to me and I burst into tears claiming ‘don’t you KNOW me at all?????’



I have to disagree with number 44. I hate my blender, but LOVE my immersion blender. I use it nearly every single day. 🙂


I loved this entire list but I really cracked up at “If you care about what other people think about you and your parenting abilities, it is important that your kids only ask for their water “on the rocks” at home.”


Love this post, but I have a very important question! What is the recipe for the picture shown on the top right? It looks amazing!!


Jamie – It’s pan-fried pizza with pineapple and prosciutto! If you have my book, it’s in the pizza chapter.


Thanks for taking the time to compile this, which is full of useful information, pleasantly delivered. I agree with 99 of them (generally). The one about freezing everything in bags, however, horrifies me. As does the fact that you’ve told people to do it a hundred times –unless you have some source of safe, reusable bags. (Do you?) If all your readers used 50 plastic bags a year (less than one per week — not such an outrageous assumption), can you even imagine the quantity of non-recyclable waste that would produce? No. Don’t use ziplock bags for freezing. Invest in flat glass boxes. They’re wonderful to use in the fridge, too! ;o)


I do not cook, almost ever. And yet, I LOVED this post. I shared it with a couple of friends and then proceeded to tell them my favorite rules, which ended up being quite a few.


This was absolutely brilliant… I came across your blog via exPress-o, and just wanted to appreciate this post in particular – so fun and personal, I feel like I know you both and like we would totally get along 🙂 Well done and thanks for the tips!


Love this post.
I miss Duke’s. We lived in NC for a year, came back to CA, bought one to take back with us. Why only one!


All I’ve read is this list (linked to by Aimee at Simple Bites) and your “first time here?” page and I am in love! Can my family come over for dinner? Or you can come over here…just finished hosting Easter dinner for our pastor’s family (that meant five boys under the age of 5!) plus our nanny and her husband…it was–of course–a blast…and we haven’t started the dishes yet.


Awesome list! Also:
Add a few squares of chocolate to every pot of chili.
Why do cucumbers need to be seeded, anyway??


Love the gin and tonic line – completely agree! Also, never enough ice – BF’s family never has ice in their house ! It blows my mind!


Can someone explain what’s wrong with grilled vegetables? Seriously. I want to know.

Lauren Burkitt

This is so awesome, thanks for sharing. I laughed so hard to #87. What a lovely idea you two have put together here. I’m more than excited to read the book and learn more.

Smiles from Vancouver 🙂


#20 is insane.
what about delicious fresh goat cheese? extra firm tofu? I could go on for days.
#64… could not agree more. If i think about an egg while i’m eating it I get totally repulsed.

Annie Keeling

Whenever I am in the kitchen, I usually think about how soon I can get out. Thank you for all of this. I’m ready to mend my ways and YOU are helping me see food and cooking and family love in a new light.

Therese Z

From Peg Bracken: when entertaining, “Flowers in the powder room get you more points than flowers on the dining room table.”


Andy: #88 – Put a top on it, the mess of mayonaise and fresh tomato juices as you eat with your hands screams summer

# 96 – Less beer of better quality keeps up the interest.

Meg @ Peaches and Cake

Just found your blog through Whole Foods – new fan! I LOVE “When entertaining: Chicken is kind of a bummer.” HAH! So true! When you go over to someone’s house you want to eat something different and exciting! Everyone makes chicken at home. Unless it’s prepared fantastically.


First time here — fun list. But don’t you mean “ridiculously subjective” NOT “ridiculously objective” list??


#37.. if someone says they drink one or two glasses of wine and they are a guest at your house, you may want to plan on a bottle.. 🙂

Kate @ Savour Fare

Love this list.

A few thoughts:

1) Roast chicken, chicken piccata and waterzooi are all non-bummer chicken entertaining meals. Especially if you’ve cooked tiny potatoes in the chicken fat. Who wouldn’t love that?

2. Have you tried Trader Joe’s Real Mayonnaise? I was a lifelong Hellman’s/Best Foods devotee and now I am a convert.

3. Capers in egg salad.


A Facebook comment war that ensued upon my caption, “I 90% love this list,” resulted in my scoring each rule. My revised score is 53%. But I 90% love your post.

Andy, you scored 67% (Nice job. Had you not oversalted your pasta, you would have done even better!). Jenny: 39% (I see where you’re going here, but I’ve chosen a different path.)

Line item scores here: http://is.gd/dLUCUT

The rubric was: 1 pt = “love,” 0.5 pts = “like,” 0 pts = “huh?” Enjoy.


Other than #71 being the wrongest thing anyone has ever written maybe ever, this was a really fun and eerily accurate list.
Why is 71 so wrong? Few would argue that to this day cooking the perfect fried egg/rolled omelet is the mark of a seasoned cook. The secret to both? Butter.

Great Stone Face

Why iodized salt? Goiters are caused by iodine deficiency. Plus, worldwide, iodine deficiency affects two billion people and is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation.


I was JUST at ABC Kitchen on Friday! It was absolutely amazing! I would totally skip a dinner invitation as well. The food was amazing and the atmosphere was fantastic!


A few thoughts on this list.
Your dutch oven will survive any fire.
Grilled vegetables are delicious. Pinapple marinated in brown sugar and tequila is rediculously good though I know its not a veggie.
I agree on the beer thing, but I enjoy buying a half gallon beer from local breweries, the complex hard to drink stuff, and nursing that all night.
It may seem like sacrilege, but veganaise is really good. My ideal crab cake sauce: veganaise, sriracha, and pickle relish.


I hate eggs in any form and love grilled vegetables, but this list is awesome. My dutch oven and I are kindred spirits.


just wonderful! I love them all, especially the limes in gin and tonics. So happy to have found your blog.


To avoid tearing while cutting/chopping onions, first halve the onion and rinse thoroughly under running water. No tears!


Jenny’s #3 is right on…It sorta goes hand -in-hand with Andy’s #75, 76 & 77. Unfortunately 95% of American men do not know how to act in regard to someone cooking them a meal.

Jenny’s #2 is a no-no….spinach never touches my stove.
Andy’s #91 is debatable: Hellmann’s mayo and Kraft (regular) Miracle Whip are like comparing,…dare I say, apples and oranges. BOTH are excellent products with each their own uses. I’m never with both.


#1–how did I not know this? THANK YOU.

Salting pasta–really? I mean, it seems like since there is pretty strong agreement that salt is not great for us, leaving the salt out of pasta water makes sense (because the salt in the sauce has a stronger effect). ?? I wish you’d explained. Feel free to write an entire post on this.


Put the book in the Dutch Oven . This way when you grab it you are only grabbing the Oven. No rule about something in something.LOL


Loved loved loved this post. I adored the book and just started reading your blog. Your tips are great and your writing always makes me smile. 🙂


Please tell me that you mean “a [whole box of] fresh Mallomar[s];” that you are actually one of us. I did share with my kids, but it is a good thing they only go on sale once a year.