Entries from March 2010

Who Needs Playmobil?

March 31st, 2010 · 1 Comment · Rituals

This post really has no business being on this blog — except for the fact that Paper Doll Command Central happens to be at the kitchen table, especially during long stretches of unscheduled spring breaks. You are looking at Alexandra and Claire, two paper dolls in my daughters’ collection of about three hundred (each with her own name). It works like this: the kids tell me what kind of doll they want me to draw, I do my best to sketch it (not always with grand success; they are still making fun of my attempt at Juliana, a half-princess, half-horse), then they are in charge of coloring, cutting, naming, then (most important) playing with them. I find if I put in a good thirty minutes with them on it, they disappear for hours, diving into elaborate adventures through imaginary worlds. And then I am free to make dinner.

During a looong snow day last year, I bought some poster board at the local stationery store and drew a few scenes for them. They lined up their poster boards in the living room and had the characters jump from place to place and room to room. My favorite, of course, was the restaurant, decorated with real photographs.

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Monogrammed Pot Pies

March 30th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Picky Eating

The girls flipped when I made these mini chicken pot pies for them a few weeks ago. The lettering was purely by accident — I had leftover scraps of dough, so I rolled the trimmings into a little worm, then scripted initials and words out of it. It just so happened I was making chicken pot pies from leftover roast chicken but I imagine the technique would work on any recipe that requires a pie crust.

"A" for Abby; "P" for Phoebe


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Money in the Bank

March 29th, 2010 · 11 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Vegetarian

Yesterday, I spent about 10 minutes making this free-form cherry pie. The cherries are jarred Morellos from Trader Joe’s but the homemade crust is Martha Stewart’s pate brisee, which had been sitting in the freezer and which, in my opinion elevates just about anything it wraps itself around to levels of unparalleled pastry brilliance. For the past few weeks every time I opened the freezer and saw the uncooked ball of pie dough waiting for me, the same happy thought popped into my head: Money in the Bank.

It was the same way I felt eight years ago when I returned to my full-time job after maternity leave. My self-worth could be directly correlated to how many ounces of breastmilk I could pump and squirrel away on any given day. Andy used to catch me in the kitchen staring at the neat little row of Medela bags along the freezer door. “Are you counting your bags of breastmilk again?” he’d ask.

In other words, no matter what phase of motherhood I’ve found myself in, I’ve always known the value of a well-stocked freezer. (Note to breastfeeding moms: I know it’s hard to fathom how you will ever get from Medela Mom to impromptu-free-form-pie Mom, but you will…trust me.) The cherry pie, of course was just a nice little weekend luxury, but that dough, which could also be used for chicken pot pie or a quick vegetable tart represents dinner-table security — as does its other ziploc’d freezer friends: homemade marinara, chicken stock, and a Jim Lahey pizza crust that has become my go-to for family entertaining. This weekend, while your kids are watching an episode of The Penguins of Madagascar, take a few minutes to make a deposit in the bank. Your next week’s self will thank you. (Click to the next page to choose.)


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Fish Presents

March 26th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Posts by Andy, Seafood

It didn’t take us long to figure out that, when it comes to rolling out a new product at the family table, so much depends upon the marketing campaign. I doubt our kids would have gone within a mile of cauliflower had we not first introduced it to them as “white broccoli.” They wouldn’t have sniffed brussels sprouts had we not sold them relentlessly as “baby lettuces.” Same goes for baked beans (“sweet beans”), bell peppers (“rainbow peppers”), dried cranberries (“red raisins”), and on and on. It’s the oldest trick in advertising and that’s not by accident.

Our latest venture in rebranding involved the kind of intimidating-sounding fish en papillote, which is just a fancy way of saying fish steamed in parchment paper. Neither description had a chance of flying with our kids. So we came up with something a little more intriguing. (Notice I did not say misleading.) Fish Presents, is what we decided on. Tonight we’re having fish presents! “Presents?” they asked. I gave them no further information.

The best thing about this meal is that you can chop everything ahead of time and then have the kids help you assemble and “wrap” the presents. So I sliced up 1 lemon and 1/2 a medium red onion, nice and thin, and 1 cup of shitake mushrooms. I boiled about 10 baby bok choy in salted water for two minutes, strained, and set aside. I poured 1/4 cup of olive oil into a small bowl and added a few red pepper flakes. Then the kids grabbed their stools, and we started the assembly line. Here’s how it goes:


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Spring Salads: Thinking in Threes

March 25th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Last year during a routine physical check-up I told my doctor I was worried about my brain — I couldn’t remember anything anymore. I was telling the same stories to the same people. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t pull up the name of that Terence Stamp movie I talked about throughout the year 1999. I forgot it was Store Day in second grade…again.

My doctor asked me if I had ever forgotten to pick up my kids at the bus stop.

No, thank goodness.

Your brain is fine. You’re just not paying attention. When you forget something important, then come talk to me.

I’ve come up with strategies to combat the forgetfulness and noticed that I’m good at remembering things in threes. When I leave the house: Keys-Wallet-Phone. When I go to bed: Face-Teeth-Contacts. When I am the one in charge of school bag-packing: Lunch-Homework-Library Book.

And lately, to make a memorable salad? Fruit-Nut-Cheese.  The combos below work when tossed with bibb, arugula, or mesclun and a simple vinaigrette. (You will also never hear me object to the addition of something in the onion family — snipped chives, scallions, or a finely chopped shallot). Bonus: These salads also provide an instantly Deconstructible Dinner for the kids.

Oh, and it was The Limey. The Terence Stamp movie was The Limey.

Threesome of Threesomes

1) Walnuts-Feta-Dried Cherries
Trader Joe’s sells the most delicious tart Montmorency cherries — for a much better price than the ones you get at Whole Foods.

2) Pecan-Pear-Blue Cheese
Try to buy candied pecans if you can. And if you have time, sautee the pear pieces briefly in butter.

3) Almonds-Manchego-Oranges (or even mandarins)
I prefer sliced almonds in salads. They integrate better with the leaves and have the most satisfyingly soft crunch.

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In-N-Out Burgers & Baked Potatoes

March 24th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

“Now this is the kind of dinner I can get into.” That’s what my husband said when he sat down to the table with four plates that looked exactly the same (a rarity). The menu: California-style turkey burgers and baked potatoes topped with sour cream and caramelized onions. I usually mix in a little barbecue sauce to the ground turkey (dark ground turkey a must) before I roll out the meat (underneath plastic wrap) but this time I just salted. As for the rolling? It really makes no discernible difference in

the way the burger tastes, but it prevents the patties from shriveling up into little hard hockey pucks. And psychologically I love that it feels so In-N-Out. (I say this having never patronized an In-N-Out, by the way.) After the burgers are fried, I add a little mayo, a little mustard, one leaf of bibb lettuce, a tomato, and sandwich it between whole wheat buns that I pick up at Trader Joe’s. Final touch: Little pickles, aka cornichons.

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Halfway Homemade: Chicken Curry with Spinach

March 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Picky Eating, Quick

It’s a good week when there’s a Maya Kaimal simmer sauce in the refrigerator — it means that one family dinner in the next five nights is going to be a complete no-brainer. I’ve tried lots of these prepared sauces over the years (my kids have always liked, or in the case of my youngest, tolerated curry) but Kaimal’s taste fresher and more vibrant than any of them. If I have a block of frozen spinach and remember to thaw some frozen chicken breasts from the weekend shop before I leave for work in the morning, it’s one of those halfway homemade meals I can scrape together in under 25 minutes at the other end of the day. My favorite is the Tamarind Curry (there’s also Coconut Curry, Vindaloo, Classic Korma, Tikka Masala and word on the street is she’s working on a shelf-stable line) but there’s not one in the batch that will let you down. Available at Whole Foods — click to the jump for the recipe.


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Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

March 21st, 2010 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook, Uncategorized

Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstrach (me), Alanna Stang (photo: Andrea Chu)

When I worked at Cookie, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by moms who (collectively) knew the answers to everything. Really everything! From Should I send my late-birthday kid to kindergarten or not? to What should I wear to a summer afternoon wedding? to Is Coraline too old for my six-year-old? But the real bonus was that two of them, editor-in-chief Pilar and executive editor Alanna, above, were astonishing cooks who loved nothing more than talking about food — particularly the kinds of food that their kids loved to wolf down. We spent our last year at Cookie compiling all our notes into a book and the result is something we promise is going to change the way you feel about cooking for your kids. It’s called Time For Dinner: Strategies, recipes, and inspiration for every night of the week (Chronicle) and will be out in September 2010. If you happen to be press and you’re interested in getting on the review copy list, you can email David_Hawk@chroniclebooks.com.


Time for Dinner is filled with more than 200 recipes–everything from customizable lasagnas to sushi hand rolls that look like ice cream cones–that will inspire your family dinner. (Victoria Granof developed the recipes and Marcus Nilsson shot the gorgeous photos.) You’ll also learn how to:

  • Make one meal that everyone in the family wants to eat
  • Break out of your rut
  • Keep the kids distracted while you cook
  • Plan and prep so you’re not scrambling for ideas every night
  • Master a few basic techniques you can fall back on
  • Reclaim dinner so you can start enjoying meals again!

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Trader Joe’s Evangelism

March 21st, 2010 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating

TJoes, as it is known in my house, is not so much a grocery store as it is a fringe church with its own congregation of lunatic cult members. Everyone I know who patronizes it for their weekly shop has incredibly strong, incredibly diverse ideas of what to buy and what to skip. Last week, sitting in my friend Todd’s kitchen, he read the short list of ingredients on the label of Trader Joe’s Instant Chocolate pudding with Joel-Osteenesque awe. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation with my friend Rory without her bringing up their thick-cut, French-toast-perfect Texas Toast. Like the inventory at TJoes itself, my list of must-buys is constantly evolving. As of this weekend in March, it goes something like… (more…)

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Spread the Word, Nicely

March 19th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Dinner

You know what drives me crazy? The way the conversation about Family Dinner can insidiously slip in the Family Values direction. The scaremongery tone of all those studies telling parents that our kids are headed down paths of drugs and destruction if we don’t eat together, does nothing to help the cause. (And sounds remarkably similar to Rick Santorum telling me I’m a bad person if I have a gay uncle.) It’s why I made this bumper sticker, and why, with springtime arriving this weekend, I feel the need to remind you: Every season, every week, every night is a new season/week/night to start over. Next week, check in with DALS for a slew of Family Dinner Starter Kits meals (including sloppy joes, fish for kids, and a genius slap-it-together dinner you could probably make right this second with your empty Friday Fridge.) And read up on some strategies that will hopefully motivate you — not make you feel bad about yourself.

But, you know what — it’s Friday, so don’t make anything tonight. Have a glass of wine instead and order in. That’s what we’ll be doing.

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Weaning Them Off the Nugget

March 18th, 2010 · 17 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Picky Eating

In some ways I feel like I could tell my life’s story through the breaded chicken cutlet.

It started with my mother: Mom could make a chicken cutlet. Crispy, golden, never overcooked. When I was growing up, she’d serve them with sautéed garlicky zucchini wedges. I’d slap the cold leftovers on a baguette with a slather of mayo. No one could replicate it. Then, when I was in fourth grade, Mom decided she wanted to master more in life than pan-fried poultry. She headed to law school at night and joined a practice four years later. Three nights a week, while she was out learning about torts and civil procedure, my dad was in charge of the kitchen. And, since his great enthusiasm for eating never seemed to translate to actually learning how to cook, my mom decided to teach him some basics … including making those breaded chicken cutlets.

He learned them, he cooked them. Three nights a week. For four years. A long four years. I never wanted to eat another one — until college, when I decided to make my boyfriend (now husband) dinner. My repertoire, it turned out, was as varied as my dad’s had been, and my skills considerably worse. On that romantic March evening in 1993, we popped open a couple microbrews, turned on some Seinfeld, and sat down to the rubberiest chicken dinner ever served.

Fifteen years later, with kids in the equation, I have been forced to master the meal. Not only out of respect to Grandma, but because, like all moms, I was forced to compete with the omnipresent twin evils: The Chicken Nugget and The Chicken Finger.

When Phoebe was little, we regularly fed her the packaged, pre-breaded nuggets. This was 2002, before I developed any sort of opinion about the provenance of my meat and before it ever dawned on me that I might be able to actually cook homemade meals for her.  Since I headed into the “two under two” phase soon after, the idea of setting up dredging stations after work and serving homemade cutlets to toddlers, who were 99% likely to reject them was downright hilarious. But, man, those dinosaur shaped nuggets? We didn’t have to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to know that they just weren’t right.

So we did what we’ve done probably two dozen times since. We embarked upon a baby-step transition, using Trader Joe’s Chicken Bites as a homemade halfway house. Though the T-Joes nuggets were not 100% natural either, there were fewer additives and, more important, they had a similar shape to the ones we had been eating, minimizing our risk of a tableside revolt. Only when we were really ready did we start experimenting with the chicken that might compete. Eventually, I struck on this magic formula.

The No Chicken-Nugget-Ever-Again-Breaded Chicken Cutlet

1.  Pound the living hell out of four organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Do not bother continuing with this recipe if you skip this step.)

2. Set up your dredging stations: a rimmed plate with two lightly beaten eggs, a plate with a mound of 3/4 cup flour (salted, peppered, and dry mustard-ed if you have it), a plate with a huge mound of Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs. Toss in some ground flax if you have it.

3. Dredge your chicken pieces first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the crumbs.

4. Sauté each breast in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Serve hot with garlicky sautéed zucchini (recipe below), broccolini and roasted butternut squash (shown above), or just a big, huge dollop of ketchup.

Quick Zucchini

1. Cut two pieces of zucchini in half lengthwise, then split each half in half, and each quarter in half lengthwise. Cut into wedges.

2. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add one clove of garlic (halved) and swirl it around in the oil. Remove garlic before it turns brown, about one minute.

3. Add zucchini wedges, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of flour. (If you are making chicken cutlets, use some of the leftover dredging flour.)

4. Mix every few minutes until zucchini is cooked through and has a nice golden color, about 3 to 4 minutes.

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The “OK Shelf”

March 17th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Rituals

My position on letting the kids help with dinner is this: No.

For me it’s one of those things that fall under the Sounds-Fun-But-Actually-Sucks category of kids activities. (Others on the list: parades, ice skating, any kind of music class that mom has to be present at.) That does not mean I’m categorically against my kids cooking with me. In fact, I love doing it, as long as I have psychologically earmarked it as a “project” as opposed to an actual meal-generating endeavor. For me, when the dinner countdown is on, I start twitching if I have to slow down to help my daughter “help.” Anyway, I’m not a complete tyrant. I have written before about my Babysitter in a Box, a carefully curated container of kitchen gear and foods (think rice maracas made out of tupperware bowls) that keep them busy making a pretend meal while I tend to the real meal. And now I’m on to the OK Shelf, which is an easy-to-access shelf (the middle one in the photo above) containing a bunch of kitchen-related bowls and pourers that my daughters don’t have to ask me to use. (The answer will always be “OK.”)  Every item on the OK shelf is either non-breakable or so cheap (hello Ikea tea set!) that it matters little if they chip it.

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Roast Chicken with Vegetables

March 14th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Uncategorized

People ask me all the time if I’m interested in having a third kid. The answer (for now, at least) is: Why would I when a cake mixer has two beaters to lick and a chicken has two drumsticks to serve? (Shouldn’t I take it as some sort of sign that the girls are both crazy about the legs while Andy and I are perfectly content with the breast and thighs?) Anyway — I would say a roast chicken is the recipe I get the most requests for from my friends. One of them — Lori — has even gone so far as saying she feels that being able to roast a chicken should be a requirement of motherhood. If that is the case, then I was not an official mother until I came upon this recipe two years ago. It requires no flipping from breast to back — once it’s in the oven, it’s in. I love that. And the carrots it roasts upon drink up all the chicken fat, which the girls love. They pass on the barley arugula salad I made with it last week, so I just let them have a roll. But as far as I’m concerned, it still counts as One Meal.

Perfect Roast Chicken

6 potatoes (anything but baking potatoes), cut into chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled, cut into chunks
1 whole roasting chicken (organic if you can swing it) about 4 pounds (make sure little packet of giblets removed from cavity)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, pricked several times with a knife
1 small bunch fresh thyme

Heat oven to 425°F. Arrange potatoes and carrots in a large oven-proof skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile,  rinse inside and outside of chicken under cold water and pat dry.  Brush chicken skin with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.  Fill cavity with lemon and thyme.  Place chicken breast-side up over roasting vegetables and continue roasting until chicken is a golden brown and juice run clear when thigh is pierced with a fork, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove chicken from the oven, carve, and serve with…

Barley & Arugula Salad

Cook barley according to package directions. Toss with baby arugula and your favorite red- or white-wine based vinaigrette. (I added a little storebought pesto to mine, but you could also just add whatever fresh herb is lying around.) Add shredded Parmesan and toss.

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The Chalkboard

March 5th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals

I bought this chalkboard decal from wallcandyarts.com and stuck it up in my kitchen because I just thought it was so pretty, but now, two years later, I’m not sure anyone in my house can live without it. At first I used it as a way to remind my babysitter of playdates and activities, but now it’s more like my calendar and a reminder for the kids that screams, “Look how much fun you’re going to have this week!!!” When it’s not updated, I hear about it. I’m even expected to write up an itinerary for the weekend and, in the summer, include the weather report.

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Rosa’s Mud Cake

March 1st, 2010 · 22 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

It’s hard to even count how many different shapes and sizes Rosa’s Mud Cake has taken over the past three decades. That’s it up there, in a heart shape underneath frosting and an army of m&ms for Phoebe’s Valentine-themed birthday party a few years back. It was also the cake I used for Phoebe’s birthday “beach cake” and the dessert I made for my parents anniversary (one round pan, sprinkled with powdered sugar, surrounded by raspberries) and, of course, the cake I ate at my best friend’s birthday parties all through childhood. Her mother is the famous Rosa and she cooked the most amazing meals for her family from a collection of recipes she had jammed into in little wooden box on her kitchen counter. (How I dream of that box!) Even before I had kids, I knew enough to dig around for the mud cake card so I could copy down the instructions and continue her tradition. The secret to its moist muddiness is a cup of strong black coffee. (Don’t be scared by that, you’ll hardly taste any mocha action.) Is there any wonder the recipe has been enshrined on my recipe door?


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