Entries from February 2010

“Pork in Milk”

February 28th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

My aunt Patty was the first great home cook I ever knew. She would get up at 5am, run a few miles, come home, make a big pot of coffee, and start making the gooiest, butteriest challah french toast you’ve ever seen. (At holiday time, she made it with egg nog. And she always added a dash of vanilla, a tradition we’ve continued with our own kids.) She’d clean up breakfast, and start in on lunch: maybe a wild rice salad with cranberries, maybe some egg salad sandwiches with onion and celery, maybe some chicken Milanese (she dredged in corn flakes crumbs). She’d clean up lunch, and start in on dinner. She’d stuff roasts with egg and pancetta and marinate butterflied legs of lamb in great, plastic tubs; she’d make fresh ricotta cheesecakes and tiramisu with real lady fingers and freshly whipped cream; and she would always, always turn down any offers of help. “Cooking is my therapy,” she’d say, tossing another pot onto the pile in the sink, and I remember not believing her.

Of all the things Patty would cook for us when we visited, there was one meal I looked forward to more than any other. It was based on a recipe from a woman named Marcella Hazan, a name that meant nothing to me at the time. Patty called it “pork in milk,” and she would make it just for me; it got to the point where I could sniff it out the moment I walked into her house.

“Pork in milk?” I’d say.

“How’d you know?” she’d respond.

When it was ready, she would take the pork out of the pot and slice it, put it on a platter, and bury it in mounds of nutty, slightly disconcerting-looking, sweet-smelling clusters of milk — the remnants of the braising liquid — that she spooned over the top. “Make sure you get enough clusters!” she’d say. “They’re the best part. Do you have enough? Here, take more!” I assumed, because she was Patty and because everything she did in the kitchen appeared to be designed for maximum complexity, that this “pork in milk” was difficult to make.

Turns out, it’s not.

“Pork in milk” is now one of our go-to weekend meals (and also one of the dishes enshrined on our recipe door). Our oldest daughter eats it with clusters, the younger one without, but they both eat it — and happily — which is a victory in and of itself. As for the difficulty: it’s seven ingredients and one pot, with a total hands-on time of maybe five minutes. – Andy

Click to the jump for the recipe.

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Perfect Pizza Crust

February 24th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Vegetarian

Homemade Pizza Crust
This recipe comes from Sullivan Street Bakery guru Jim Lahey, author of My Pizza and My Bread, the cookbook that I credit for a) upgrading my pizza life and b) upgrading my life in general. It’s that great. This recipe makes two balls of dough — enough for two separate thin crust pizzas. If you want a Whole Wheat Pizza Crust, replace anywhere from two to three of the cups of flour with whole wheat flour in equal measurements.

3 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cup room-temperature water

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Divide the dough in two and shape each into flattened balls. (Dough can be frozen at this point.)

When you are ready to make a pizza, preheat oven to 500°F roll out one ball of dough in a rectangular shape and place on an oiled cookie sheet. Top with:

Potatoes, Cheddar, and Thyme
Mushroom and Onion
Salad
Green Tomatoes and Onion
Mushroom and Margherita

Or if you want to experiment with your own toppings, the general rule is to bake it at 500°F for about 15-20 minutes. I always brush the exposed crust around the rim with olive oil. Keep an eye on cheese and crust while it bakes to make sure nothing burns.

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Tricky Tricky

February 19th, 2010 · No Comments · Pasta, Picky Eating

I thought this was pretty clever. My 3-year-old nephew is a fan of pasta but not so much of anything healthy that may accompany that pasta. So my brother gets him to eat chicken and other proteins by stuffing it inside his rigatoni, out of sight.

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How to Have Family Dinner: Six Rules

February 17th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

(illustration by Laurie Sandell)

Rule 1: If you have a kid under 3, don’t bother.

Tending to a toddler at the table — his milk spilling, his food dropping, his inability to articulate how multidimensional your marinara is — it all takes its toll on the rest of the diners’s satisfaction, especially the cook’s. You won’t be able to concentrate on any kind of conversation or enjoy what you just spent some time preparing, let alone be able to savor your family’s only unplugged moment of the day. You will in fact, only be setting yourself up for failure, potentially triggering a spiral into dark places of self-hatred. That can be hard to recover from.

Rule 2: Push bedtime later.
My kids have always gone to bed late (since we usually get home from work between 6:30-7:00) and logistically I think it’s the most important thing you can do to make life a little easier around the table. The “7:00 Bedtime” parents will probably not be happy with my prescription of  ”The 7:30 Dinner,” but if you can swing it, you can most likely give yourself a comfortable 30 minutes to drink a glass of wine, talk to the kids, and get a meal on the table. There are enough things going against you already with this whole endeavor — might as well control the clock. If your kids are starving and you can’t imagine how they will last that long — ply them with a healthy snack at 5:30.

Rule 3: The Two Out of Three Philosophy.
How do you define successful dinner? After editing the food pages of Cookie for so long, I got quite intimate with all the research. Most parents (moms, in this case) call a meal a success if:

  1. Every member of the family is accounted for and seated.
  2. There is a wholesome meal on the table.
  3. Everyone is eating the same wholesome meal.

There are other variables, yes — like if the TV is off and there are no punches thrown between siblings — but the three above are the biggies. This is what I do: If I can honestly say that I’ve hit two of these three truths, then you better believe I’m marking it down in the Successful Family Dinner column on my Good Mother Scorecard. If you find you are hitting all three truths all the time, please contact me — you are a nearly extinct breed and I’d like to conduct some kind of anthropological study on you.

Rule 4: Don’t force yourself to cook every night.
Along the same lower-your-standards lines, my friend Pilar (who was also the editor of Cookie editor and my co-author on Time For Dinner ) has her own set of rules for dinner making. Her whole philosophy is “If I Could Just Make it to Wednesday…” (later shorthanded to simply “Get to Wednesday”) and holds that if you can do your best to cook a good wholesome meal for your kids just til the middle of the week, then you are off the hook for Thursday and Friday. The point is this: We are no longer living in the same world we grew up in — no one expects you to produce a hot, made-from-scratch meal every night. But if you are one of those moms who finds it extremely satisfying to produce a hot, made-from-scratch meal for your kids, then do it when you can and let it go when you can’t. (By this point in my parenting career shouldn’t I know that telling mothers not to feel guilty is like telling Charlie Sheen not to drink?)

Rule 5: Cook within your culinary comfort zone.
Hopefully you will be getting a lot of ideas from DALS that will expand your recipe repertoire, but when you’re starting out, you should cook what you’re comfortable with. Remember, the name of the game is taking out any variable you can — so really, why would you start with a quinoa pilaf that requires you to hunt down some sort of special summer spinach at the farmer’s market? Start with something you can make without a recipe. Start with an omelette. Or a hamburger or a killer sandwich…or pasta tossed with fresh tomatoes. And once you do decide to try, say, Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork loin (oh please please please try it!) do it on a Saturday when you don’t have all the demands of a weeknight.

Rule 6: Follow Dinner: A Love Story.
There are all kinds of reasons not to have family dinner, I know, but please listen to what I have to say (and try what I have to cook). As long as you continue to entertain the option that maybe, just maybe, you’ll sort of, kind of, maybe, try to maybe, attempt to do it someday …I’ll be happy. And so will your family.

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When The Spouse is Away…

February 17th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

…the other spouse will throw all dinner rules out the window. At least, that’s the experience in my house. For whatever reason, when my husband is on the road, our sacred mealtime routine doesn’t seem so sacred anymore. While my kids get take-out or a Trader Joe’s pizza from the freezer, I will get all Prousty with a mammoth bowl of buttered-and-salted Manischewitz egg noodles (the superskinny kind) that I used to regularly wolf down for an after-school snack growing up. My husband does the same thing when I’m out of town or out for the night — his go-to maverick move is cacio e pepe (above) — pappardelle with olive oil, parm, and lots and lots of pepper.

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Grandma Catrino’s Biscotti

February 15th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Baking and Sweets

I never knew my grandmother (she died when my mom was 14), but my mother’s beautiful nieces (and fellow soulmates-in-cooking), Kay and Maryanne were nice enough to send me a bunch of Grandma Catrino’s recipes a few years back including the biscotti one above. This story alone would have been enough for the recipe to earn a time-honored place in black paint inside my cabinet door — but the biscotti also happens to be incredibly delicious. Click to the jump for instructions.


Biscotti: A recipe from Mary Camino Catrino (1898-1950), slightly adapted

Cream together 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) and 1 cup sugar. Add 3 eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift (or whisk) together 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 teaspoons baking powder.

Using an electric mixer, add flour mixture to butter/sugar/egg mixture — slowly so you don’t overload the mixer. Stir in: 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1 tablespoon anise seed, 1/2 cup chopped pecans or almonds.

Flour counter and hands. Take mixture out, place on a floured surface and knead; work into 3 loaves and shape. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes until firm and light brown. Cool and cut into strips.

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No-Knead Bread

February 13th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Baking and Sweets

Last fall, after probably the 10th person in as many weeks asked me if I’d tried Jim Lahey’s no-knead homemade bread yet, I finally decided to give it a go. I had never made my own bread before — in my mind bakers were as different a species from cooks as chemists were –  which was probably why I had avoided it as long as I did.  But the hardest thing about this recipe is remembering to mix up the ingredients the night before you want to make it. After that, you spend about two minutes on it and you have a fresh freaking loaf of bread! It would be worth it if only for the amazingly hearthy vibe the aroma lends to the house which seems to put the girls into a Little Mermaid-like trance. (Warning: After the first wave of euphoria, you will be completely resentful that you ever spent a penny on that “artisanal” loaf.) Click to the jump for recipe.

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Bake a Note

February 11th, 2010 · No Comments · Baking and Sweets

These alphabet cookie cutters from Fox Run Craftsmen (an awesome baking resource) were as fun a rainy-day activity as you’d think they’d be. Though Abby got slightly impatient with the methodical work of it and soon resorted to the classic gingerbread mold, my 7-year-old went to sleep dreaming of all the possibilities.

We used a favorite sugar-cookie-dough mix from Martha Stewart’s Cookie cookbook.

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In Praise of Dansk

February 9th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

For a good part of my life, my mother made dinner using her three-quart mustard yellow Dansk enamelware frying pan. To her, no other cookware could compare. It browned meat beautifully, it was responsive to heating and cooling, it moved from stove top to oven easily. Even when its signature wooden handle fell off in the mid-80s and she couldn’t find a new one to replace it, she continued to use the pan. (But at that point, transferring it from stove top to oven became a more precarious proposition, involving fast hands and elaborate layers of dish towels wrapped around its rim.) It wasn’t until a full decade later that the stalwart of the kitchen (nicknamed “the amputee” by my husband) was retired. So you can only imagine how happy I was when, scavenging around on eBay, I found the very same one in the very same color for $10. I gave it to her for Mother’s Day and bought myself a little something, too. This green one lives on my burner because I use it almost every day (for marinaras, soups, pastas) and because it reminds me of my victory.

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The Recipe Door

February 3rd, 2010 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

When we bought our house in 2003, the kitchen was terrible (think avocado counters, not of the charming retro variety), This was exciting to me for one reason: In a few years, when we could maybe afford to renovate, we could create the perfect family kitchen from scratch. Of course, as anyone who has lived through a renovation can attest, “perfect” means one thing to someone and another thing altogether to that someone’s spouse. (A story which deserves another post/Lifetime drama all its own.) But the idea to have an illustrator (the amazing Gina Triplett) paint recipes on the inside of an upper cabinet door was universally loved by all the decision-makers in the house, especially the kids. The only tricky part was figuring out which recipes were deserving of such an honor. Ultimately, to qualify for “cabinet door” treatment, we decided the recipe needed to be both steeped in family history and, of course, be delicious. The line-up: One recipe from each of our grandmothers  (Grandma Catrino’s biscotti, Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs)  “Rosa’s “mud cake , which my best friend’s mom served at every one of my best friend’s birthday parties when I was little, and Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork, which Aunt Patty made the first time I met my husband’s family in 1992. Now we have a private living memorial to those who have influenced me in the kitchen, and my kids will grow up with a certain reverence for these dishes. Guess that means I’m never moving.

The How-To: Triplett started by giving the door a coat of paint similar to the outside color. (This allowed her to paint over any mistakes she made along the way.) She then sketched out the words in pencil and went over them using a superfine paintbrush dipped in black paint.

PS: I’m thinking of expanding this project to a few more kitchen cabinet interiors. Does anyone have any good ideas? I was thinking of painting William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say” but what happens when plums aren’t in season?

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Summer-in-the-Winter Birthday Party

February 1st, 2010 · 7 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

I am so jealous of parents who have kids with warm-weather birthdays. My girls were born in late fall and early winter which basically precludes any attempt at an easy breezy outdoor party (aka: One of those let-them-run-around-then-serve-cake-then-say-goodbye parties). So for Phoebe’s 8th this year, we all decided to ignore the weather and have a summer party anyway — inside the snow-shrouded house. Phoebe insisted on planning the order of events, the playlist, the invite list. And though it didn’t exactly end up being easy-breezy, we had so much fun planning it that it was totally worth the effort. Here are some highlights:


The Invitation

Phoebe is really into Peanuts, so Snoopy of course found his way onto the invite. I always have the kids make their own invitations then I shrink and photocopy. It becomes an instant keepsake — not to mention costs exactly zero.

Leis and Sunglasses greet the guests. I ordered both from the all-powerful Oriental Trading Company.

Pin the Fin on the Shark
I google-imaged “shark” about a week before the party, freehand-copied the easiest one I could manage onto poster board, then had the girls help paint it. Then we played Pass the Coconut. All the credit for this one goes to Rebecca Ffrench, who was the party editor at Cookie.

Prize Table
I know, the self-esteem crazies will be after me for not giving a prize to everyone, but I think it makes the kids get so much more into the games when they know something is at stake. I wrap all the prizes (little crappy things, really, like a Polly Pocket, a yo-yo, etc.) to add a little more mystery to it and the game winners get to choose whichever one she wants.

Starfish Buddies
These were really cute (again, Oriental Trading), but I had budgeted 20 minutes for them and they only took about three, which left us scrambling a bit to fill time at the end. (Thank goodness for freeze dance.) The girls got to take them home in their goody bags.

Tropical Smoothie Bar
Another Rebecca Ffrench suggestion. (I’m telling you, the woman is a genius.) The kids got to choose whatever fruit they wanted and Andy did the blending and topped each off with a hibiscus straw.

Beach Cake
I would say we had the most fun with this. I drew it a couple different ways before Phoebe decided on this layout, then the girls helped me decorate it.

The “sand” is Nilla wafers that have been crushed in the food processor; the frosting is store-bought (with a little bit dyed blue for water); the parasols are from Oriental Trading, and the cake is, of course, Rosa’s Mud Cake, pretty much the only recipe I ever use for birthday parties.

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