Entries from June 2010

Table Manners for Grown-ups

June 30th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

Last week I was having coffee with a friend and we ran into a dad she knows from her kids’ school. Jenny, she said, This is Tom. He is the best dinner guest.

I learned also that he is a writer. A film professor at a nearby university. But that’s not what stayed with me. When I saw him the next weekend across the farmer’s market the first thing I thought was, There goes that great dinner guest.

Man, I hope people describe me that way. I know people describe my husband that way. I like to think we are invited back to people’s dining rooms and kitchens and patios because every time Andy takes a bite of food that someone has cooked for him he makes a big point of showing of how satisfying it is. It doesn’t even have to be particularly delicious — though he loves good food and when it’s good, the fork will drop and some gutteral sound will be uttered. Even if he’s eating a steak that is about as tender as a piece of cardboard, he’ll express genuine appreciation for what’s on his plate, for the fact that someone has spent time in the kitchen making something for him. The fact that someone planned a menu, went shopping for ingredients, and most likely spent one half of the day straightening up the house and the other half protecting the straightened-up house from being torpedoed by the kids.

When I was editing at Real Simple and Cookie, we’d get a ton of letters from parents asking for help teaching their kids table manners* but the story I really wanted to write was about grown-up table manners, specifically how to behave when you are invited to someone’s house for dinner. In my book it comes down to two basic rules. Rules so basic that they can be easy to forget.

1)  Again, acknowledge the food you are eating. Even if it’s not good. Even if you are at this family’s house every single Sunday and have been for most of your adult life. Where do you buy beluga lentils? Where’d you find this oyster-fennel-hot pepper pilaf recipe? How did you get this sauce to be so good without butter? What is in the dressing on this salad? Man, this brownie is all about that hint of sea salt. I have to say, I don’t think there’s anything stranger than cooking for someone who sits through a whole meal without mentioning the meal in front of him. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you have to be a food writer to feel this way.

2) Acknowledge the event the next day. Give your host a call. A voice-mail is sufficient if no one answers. Send an email. It can be one line. It can be three pages long. The same friend who I was having coffee with sent me the most thoughtful note the morning after we grilled up some yogurt-marinated chicken for her and her husband. “It was so fun to see the set of Dinner: A Love Story,” she wrote. “I felt very backstage and glamorous!” She went on to praise the meal, my family, and even suggest a few ideas for DALS.

It sounds kinda narcissistic — the need to be acknowledged and praised — but it’s not about telling the host how great she is. You don’t have to lie and say the food is the best thing you’ve ever eaten and her family is otherworldly and their house is what you dream about when you fall asleep at night. But a meal is a kind of gift and it’s not cool to forget to say thanks.

*My favorite solution is up in that picture: Add a marble to a glass jar every time the kids make it through a meal without being told to “sit up straight” or “use your fork,” or “use your napkin” or “stop wiping the bacon grease on that perfectly beautiful Petit Bateau dress your aunt just gave you yesterday for crying out loud.”  Or, um, whatever. When the jar is filled, they get to go out to dinner and pick the restaurant.

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What We Can Learn From a Cast Iron Pan

June 29th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

I bought this Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillet about seven years ago after writing a story for Real Simple about pots and pans. The 8-inch skillet costs only 17 bucks, is naturally nonstick, moves easily from stovetop to oven, has been the site of untold thousands of pancake and French toast fry-ups, and, not least, is always good for conjuring up images of Ma Ingalls in my 21st-century kitchen.

But what really sold me on the pan were the Use & Care instructions in the pamphlet. I’m paraphrasing: Wash only with hot water. Do not use abrasive sponges or cleansers. You never want to clean a cast iron pan too well. The fat and the flavor left in the pan helps it build a naturally nonstick surface.

Can I tell you how much I love Use & Care instructions that reward laziness? It’s like braising a pork shoulder — the longer you ignore the hunk of meat simmering away in that pot, the more the pork will melt off the bone. And — here’s a leap — dare I say, it’s like summer parenting? Doesn’t too much engagement with the kids, too much cruise-directing, too much kneeling on the floor and playing horsie, too much chauffeuring from camp to camp, too much playdate-planning and organizing and in general too much supermomming make for enabled, dependent, unimaginative children? Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. (more…)

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MVP of the Picky Eater Arsenal: The Waffle Iron

June 28th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Vegetarian

You wouldn’t think that a gooey, melty grilled cheese would be too hard a sell on a kid, right? You also wouldn’t think that a grilled cheese is nutritious enough to warrant Kasparov-ian strategizing from that kid’s parents. But the Phoebe-wants-this-Abby-wants-that routine can wear on me (have I mentioned that each daughter requires her own brand of salsa when served with chips?) especially during something as supposedly simple as a weekend lunch. Why does Abby have to have a peanut butter sandwich and Phoebe have to have a grilled cheese? Why can’t both of them have a grilled cheese? It’s lunch! Why can’t I just make the same thing for both of them? Why? Why? Why?

That’s where the waffle iron came in. As soon as we discovered this neat little trick (from the “Sandwiches for Dinner” chapter in Time for Dinner) where the iron plays the role of panini maker, Abby was finally willing to eat a grilled cheese. Sorry, I mean Abby was finally willing to eat a “Waffle Sandwich.” (more…)

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Daddy Needs a Drink*

June 25th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Drinks, Posts by Andy, Rituals


Now that the swampy, soupy weather has officially arrived, it’s time to share a few heartfelt words about something near and dear to our hearts: the evening drink. When we got married, someone gave us one of those full-on Pottery Barn cocktail kits, the ones that come with the ten-gallon martini glasses and silver-plated shaker, stirrer, strainer, tongs, and beveled serving tray. Twelve years later, it’s still in the box. In the basement. Under piles of baby clothes and bank receipts we have yet to shred. That’s not because we don’t drink; with a 6-year-old and a 8-year-old underfoot, there’s nothing—and this is going to sound bad, but really: nuh-thing—we enjoy more than a taste of medicine at the end of a long day. The truth is, we’ve never busted it out because we’re not fans of the fussy drink. We don’t believe in cocktail hardware, and we don’t believe that having people over for dinner should include said people being forced to sit in your kitchen for twenty minutes, watching you craft a cocktail from fresh-squeezed kaffir limes, muddled mint leaves, and turbinado sugar. As you probably know from reading this blog, we tend to follow a pretty straight-up philosophy on food, a philosophy that also happens to apply cocktails: few ingredients, good ingredients, simple preparation.

Which brings us to the Dark and Stormy.

Having not grown up with a yacht, a family compound on the Vineyard, or a Roman numeral after my name, I had no idea this drink even existed for the first thirty-three years of my life. And can I tell you how I now mourn for those years? The Dark and Stormy is everything a cocktail should be: damned tasty, of course, but also fizzy, cold, summery, citrusy, and very, very easy to make. (more…)

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Tea Party Dinner

June 24th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Quick, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup

This is not exactly a traditional tea party spread, I realize. What you’re looking at is all the makings of one of my daughters’ favorite dinners: The BLT with Avocado on whole wheat toast. The girls get to assemble right at the table and it’s almost always good for a giggle: Sandwiches for dinner? Mom, you’re craaazy!

On this particular night, they turned into quartered tea party sandwiches because Andy had plans and wasn’t home for dinner. When Andy is out, I can go one of two ways. I can go Maverick where we barely sit down at the same time let alone eat the same thing. (This is the usual direction I head.) Or I can go Supergirl where we break out one tea cup from my wedding set (for me) and a few tea cups from their Ikea tea set (for them) and I announce that we’re having a juicy-meaty girl talk over our meal. So far, juicy-meaty girl talk amounts to the exact same thing as regular old dinner table talk, but my plan is to start getting them used to telling me those awful Queen-Bee-and-Wannabe friend stories now so they don’t shut me out down the road. I think I already hear mothers of teen-age girls laughing at me. (And this post isn’t even live as I type? how does that work?)

No mother-daughter Life Lessons were imparted over the Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked bacon that night. No therapeutic confessions or burning questions that required the wise counsel from someone who not only made it through second grade, but actually went on to survive middle school (me). Instead, my eldest decided to unload later that night — telling a dramatic story involving a lunchroom bully — while she was lying in bed with the lights out. With Andy. (more…)

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How I Buy Meat, by Alexandra Zissu

June 23rd, 2010 · 3 Comments · Kitchenlightenment, Pork and Beef, Uncategorized

For the next installment in DALS’s How I Buy Meat series, we hear from Alexandra Zissu, author of The Conscious Kitchen, and the “Ask an Organic Mom” columnist at TheDailyGreen.com. The goal of the HIBM series is to share exact meat-buying strategies and philosophies from food industry insiders, environmentalists, public health officials, etc. who also happen to be parents. Last time we heard from food-safety expert Doug Powell from KSU’s Dept. of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology. Today,  Zissu weighs in with her own thoughtful strategy.

Though I devote an entire chapter to meat in The Conscious Kitchen and am currently writing a book with Josh and Jessica Applestone of Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, New York, I don’t eat much meat. Never have. Not compared to the average American, anyway. I eat more since my daughter was born because I think it’s important for her growing body. But left to my own devices, I might even eat less. And at this point, after this many years of research, if it isn’t pastured and local, I’m eating vegetarian that night. I don’t eat much because I don’t particularly crave it on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I devour — usually involving pork (chops, bacon, stew meat — I love it all), or a perfect roast chicken. I avoided beef for years though the flavor of what Fleisher’s sources and sells has returned me to the realm of great steak and juicy burgers. But as much as I enjoy these, I don’t feel the need for them daily. Which, as it turns out, is a great thing. Livestock aren’t wild animals. They’re not part of the natural carbon cycle. We raise them to eat them. And their environmental impact, much like that of our ever-growing population, is monumental. Eating less means less impact – especially if we do it collectively. It adds up. Animals raised free-roaming on pasture are less destructive than their factory-farmed counterparts. Though of course they still have quite the footprint. They’re also not treated (for the most part) inhumanely, kept in cages, hopped up on drugs (scary hormones and antibiotics), and fed the most horrible genetically modified crap imaginable. It is amazing to me that the general public knows so little about what they eat, and yet willingly dines on — and feeds their children — meat from truly unhealthy animals containing residues of these drugs and this feed. We are what we eat. We are also what the thing we ate…ate, too. Right? If I served you a plate of chicken shit, would you puree it and spoon-feed it to your baby? No. But this is considered acceptable cattle feed, according to our government. And we offer those cattle to our families. (more…)

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I’ll-Miss-You Granola

June 22nd, 2010 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Rituals

This might also be called “Thanks-for-having-me” Granola or “Congratulations” Granola or “Just-Because” Granola. Because once you taste the crazy good olive-oil infused concoction — as I did at my friend Melissa‘s house — you will want to make it for everyone you know for every occasion. So far, mason jar after mason jar has been filled with it and given to my dad for Father’s Day, to weekend hosts who let my family crash their home for a backyard camp-out, and for my daughters’ two heaven-sent teachers as end-of-the-year gifts. I gave the girls blank shipping tags (which you can find at any stationery store) so they could tie on a personalized message. Abby chose “I’ll Miss You” and Phoebe chose  ”I Love You.” That one works, too.

I’ll-Miss-You Granola
From Melissa Clark’s Olive Oil Granola, The New York Times.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raw pistachios, hulled
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas), hulled
1 cup coconut chips
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Special equipment
Medium-size mason jars or any old glass jars
Plain shipping tags

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and well toasted. Transfer granola to a large bowl and let cool. Add to jars when completely cool and tie a shipping tag to the top. If there is no notch on the lid as shown above, replace the tag’s string with a long, thin ribbon and tie the tag around the neck of the jar.

If you’re not giving the granola away, serve with yogurt and fresh berries.

Makes about 9 cups.

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Quack & Cheese

June 21st, 2010 · 6 Comments · Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

Just want to clear one thing up: My family does not all sit down to the same dish every single night. We do most nights. But like every house that is inhabited by humans born in the 21st century, there is the constant chorus of requests (an awfully nice way to put it) from the royal diners. I want spaghetti not meatballs, I want meatballs not spaghetti. I want ketchup with my hamburger. I won’t eat my fish without soyaki. I don’t have to go on. I know you know.

There are also nights when it’s just not a realistic proposition for me to forego, say, the pasta with yogurt and caramelized onions that I’ve been craving all week…just because two of the four people at my table will wrinkle their noses in protest when they see it. On those nights, when we all eat together but eat wildly different things, I am not cooking elaborate Plan-B type meals.  I won’t make anything more complicated than peanut butter sandwiches and Annie’s Mac & Cheese if they’re not going along with what’s on the menu. I’ve never felt bad about the PB — it’s a wholesome meal as far as I’m concerned…all-natural peanuts on whole wheat bread. But the Mac & Cheese? Well, it’s organic, but is it nutritious? I stopped feeling guilty about it when my friend Claudia told me a trick she learned from her mother-in-law. Like all brilliant ideas, it’s so simple it’s genius.  She makes Annie’s Mac & Cheese with quinoa. Yes, quinoa, the complete protein that you usually see in the same sentence as the word “superfood.” She mixes an Annie’s cheese pack into a big batch of the stuff and her kids call it Quack and Cheese. My kids still won’t eat quinoa (I feel it, though, they’re getting close) so I thought I’d do a halfway-house version using elbow-shaped quinoa pasta, which you can find at most health and specialty stores. It’s appealingly yellow color made it an easy sell and even though Abby noticed its slightly chewier texture, this didn’t appear to be a deal-breaker.

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DALS Giveaway (+ Some News)

June 18th, 2010 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

A friend of mine said she saw one of my “Make Dinner Not War” bumper stickers on a car in Brooklyn last week. I can’t tell you how happy this made me. I’ve sent out hundreds of them — as far away as Vancouver, and as close as up the block — and sometimes at night I lie there imagining the constellation of those DALS readers spreading the word about family dinner on highways and byways. In Shawnee Kansas, in Louisville Kentucky. In Portland, Maine, Boca Raton, Chicago, Beverly Hills and all over San Francisco. (Thank you San Francisco!)

So my request is simple: I don’t want to have to imagine anymore. I want to see the stickers in action. Please send in photos of your bumper sticker (and you and your kids!) wherever it happens to be affixed. (One of you mentioned in an email to me that it’s on your office bulletin board? Love that!)  The one who sends in my favorite photo wins my Time for Dinner cookbook when it comes out in September. (Or another cookbook TBD if you’ve already pre-ordered, which, ahem, I’m sure you have.) By “favorite,” I mean…hmm, not really sure. I have a feeling I’ll know it when I see it. Consider this contest ongoing. Send me pix directly: Jenny AT dinneralovestory.com.

For those of you who missed the giveaway*, you still have a chance. Register today and you’ll be eligible for free bumper stickers, cookbooks, and more.

One more thing…

Thanks to all of you who have been begging me to convert my recipes to printer-friendly versions. I just wanted to let you know that this is officially in the works and something should be ready to go by the end of the next week. If you have any other suggestions (or complaints) always always tell me. Recipes too casually written? Are they too complicated? Too ambitious? Want more vegetarian dishes? More fish? More quick? More product recs? More picky eating strategies? More ideas for babies? You can either email me directly or write something in any comment field. I read all the comments — in fact I now get a Pavlovian endorphin rush as soon as I hear a WordPress comment “ping” on my iPhone — and even when I don’t respond, please know that I am listening.

Have a great weekend!
Love, Jenny

*If you registered on or before June 26, you will receive a free bumper sticker. Due to the overwhelming response (thank you!) it may take a few weeks to get the envelopes licked and mailed.

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Chicken Curry with Apples

June 17th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

I love this dinner. I’ve been making some variation of it for fifteen years — in fact I almost want to make the claim that it was the first recipe I had ever clipped from the New York Times Dining Section (technically the “Living” section back then…God I’m old) and cooked in my Upper East Side roach-infested studio.  The fact that the dish still holds up at my now kid-infested dinner table is a testament to its brilliance. The original version had you concocting your own curry blend with turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, but I’ve been lazy about this in the past few years and tend to fall back my decent-enough storebought madras curry blend.

Think of the meal as a starter curry for your kids — you can add as much or as little of the curry blend as you think they can handle. But be sure to include the apples — they make the dish fresh-tasting and lend sweetness for the kids. I garnish my plate with sliced almonds (or cashews if I have them) because I like the crunch, but that’s not a do-or-die move either.

Starter Curry: Curried Chicken With Apples

1/2 large onion chopped
2 teaspoons oil (olive or canola)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 large stalk celery, chopped
1 large apple (such as Fuji, Granny Smith), peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons curry powder (Madras curry if you think the kids can handle it)
3 to 4 medium-size boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size cubes as shown above
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Suggested garnishes: Plain yogurt, chopped cilantro or mint, sliced almonds or cashews

In a deep skillet, over medium high heat, saute onion in oil until it begins to soften. Add garlic, celery and apple. Cook a couple of minutes then add ginger and curry powder, stirring to combine.

Push the ingredients to one side of the pan, add a little more oil, and brown chicken on both sides. Then, stir all ingredients together and add broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about 5 more minutes until chicken is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and top with desired garnishes.

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2 All-Turkey Patties, Special Organic Sauce, Greens, Cheddar, on a Whole Wheat Bun

June 16th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Quick, Rituals

Phoebe was about four years old the first time she walked into a McDonald’s. It was somewhere in Virginia, an I-95 pitstop on our annual 800-mile drive down to South Carolina from New York. I remember her wide-eyeballing the playground outside, the Wizard of Oz doll display inside. Before she had taken a single bite of food, she turned to me and said, “Mom, this is the best restaurant I’ve ever been to.”

It was terrifying how they got her. So efficiently! So insidiously!

We bought her a Happy Meal so she could get her Dorothy doll, then we took her and her sister to the bathroom to change them into their pajamas. The goal was for them to be stuffed and comfortable so they would fall asleep for the remaining 300 miles. It worked.

I read Fast Food Nation and all the rest of them, but somehow still lodged in my brain is a McDonalds chip that equates the golden arches with happy childhood memories — heading to the drive-thru with my Dad to pick up a big order when my parents were going out and the sitter couldn’t cook, going after school with my best friend Jeni to scarf down a deep-fried apple pie before lacrosse practice.

As I said. Terrifying.

It’s hard to justify eating there more than our once-a-year roadtrip pitstop, but the McDonald’s happiness chip (and the better burger trend) had me experimenting with a Big Mac makeover recently. This is what I did:

  • Replaced ground beef with dark ground turkey (and rolled them In-n-Out style as usual)
  • Used whole wheat buns (For the middle layer, I used an extra bottom bun, sliced horizontally)
  • Replaced American cheese with Trader Joe’s sharp cheddar slices
  • Used organic ketchup, mustard, and mayo instead of “special sauce”
  • Had the grill been fired up, I would have flame-broiled the patties Burger-King-style, which my husband claims to this day is what makes BK home of the superior burger
  • Garnished with a parasol instead of an action figure

What is the opposite of “supersize?” Whatever it is, I recommend doing that, too. Served with a salad and baked french fries (coming soon), one of these mega-burgers is good enough for four people.

Lovin’ it.

Related: McDonald’s vs. Chipotle: Does the Big Mac Win?

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You Won’t Believe How Simple This Is

June 15th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ted Lee last week — he’s the co-author of the James Beard Award-winning book The Lee Bros Southern Cookbook (what they call in the trade a “category killer”) and most recently, Simple, Fresh, Southern, which is their entry into the “Everyday” category of cookbooks. (A favorite category of mine as you might imagine.) I asked Ted what I should cook from the book to prepare for our conversation and his reply sent me sprinting into the kitchen.

“Jenny, I see the weather in the NY-metro region is going to be thunderstorm-y and steamy this weekend, so go with the cold salads–Soybean and Cherry Tomato, Gingered Beets with Field Peas and Lemon, Easy Ambrosia, Cabbage Salad with Lime and Roasted Peanuts, Carrot and Turnip Slaw with Dill (sub equal qty carrots for turnips if desired). For entrees, do something quick in the broiler, like Gran’s Flank Steak or Crispy-Skin Salmon with Buttermilk Mint Sauce. And the Jersey strawberries should be slammin now: Strawberries with Port Syrup and Sour Cream. But if there are ripe Jersey peaches in yet (doubt it…) do the Cornmeal Drop-Biscuit cobbler, worth heating up the kitchen for!”

Is there any question that the guy knows how to get people excited about cooking? I instantly started plotting summer parties around each dish he mentioned. And for (more…)

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Announcing: Kitchenlightenment

June 14th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Kitchenlightenment

Is it clear yet how I feel about the dinner table? I think it’s kind of a big deal. And I don’t mean that it’s a big deal in the way all those studies tell us it is. Because for every study claiming that kids who eat with their parents do better in school and are less likely to be depressed or on drugs, there is research that questions it. (It’s the self-selecting theory — researchers argue that the kinds of parents who are more attuned to these issues in the first place are the ones more likely to organize quality family time around the table.) For me, it’s much more important to impart how meaningful it can be to sit down to good food with your family. Meaningful in both a micro way, i.e. the tangible, primal satisfaction you get from watching your kids eat well. And meaningful in the macro way, i.e. how what is on that dinner plate can be an entree to larger discussions about the environment, about nutrition, and other such lighthearted topics like the tyranny of mega-corporations and the food processed industry. It’s the macro way I have in mind as I launch what will hopefully be a regular column here at DALS. In it, you’ll hear what books, movies, articles, obsessions my family is talking about when we sit down to eat. Often, you’ll notice, we are not just talking around the dinner table, but about the food on our dinner table. And I guess that’s sort of the point. So with no further ado introducing…

Around and about the dinner table, June 14, 2010

What I’m watching: King of Corn, the documentary about the two college grads who go about planting, harvesting, and selling an acre of corn in Iowa with no farming experience whatsoever.

What I’m looking forward to watching: A screening of What’s Organic About Organic, followed by a panel discussion with Marion Nestle, June 27.

What the whole family is watching: The World Cup 2010. In my mind, it’s like the Olympics — it doesn’t count as Screen Time. It’s just something the kids need be a part of.

What I’m cooking from: Simple, Fresh, Southern, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee. The fact that I was heading into summer 2010 without this cookbook by the James Beard Award-winning team is frightening. Some of their recipes will be turning up on DALS this week.

What I’m somewhat surprised by: Gourmet‘s Next Life.

What words of wisdom from Jimmy Dean, Sausage King (1928-2010) I plan on quoting to my kids tonight: “You can’t take rejection personally. You have to say, ‘Well, that dumbass just didn’t know any better.’” (From the always brilliant What I’ve Learned column in Esquire.)

What I’m reading: The Unhealthy Truth, by Robyn O’Brien, Taste of Civilization, by Janet Flammang

What I’m supposed to be reading (for book club): Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

What Andy is reading: Manuscripts that will soon be books, proposals for books. But no books. (Though, he did just acquire a book by the Pulitzer-Prize winning Michael Moss tentatively titled Salt, Sugar, Fat.)

What Abby, 6, is reading: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning (with Mom), Little House in the Big Woods (with Dad)

What Phoebe, 8, is reading: Athena, the graphic novel by George O’Connor, via Myles at You Know, For Kids

Have a good week.

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Rigatoni with Mushrooms I’d Never Heard Of

June 11th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Vegetarian

Last week, as you may have noticed on my visual market post-mortem, I came home with a pile of cool-looking maitake mushrooms from the farmer’s market. I probably sound like I know what I’m talking about, but in truth, I had never heard of maitakes before I spied them on a vendor’s table next to the Lion’s Manes (another new-to-me variety) seven days ago. Phoebe was with me and asked what they were. I told her I didn’t know but I was going to buy them anyway because they smelled so off-the-charts rich and earthy. She asked, You’re going to eat something you’ve never heard of? I told her yes — Isn’t that what I’ve been asking of you and you sister for the last eight years? I liked being able to impart that lesson to her — that just because I am a grown-up who gets more excited by a clean sink than a Bourne movie  – doesn’t mean I ever have to lose a sense of adventure at the table. I also liked being able to eat this particular adventure tossed with fresh eggy pasta and Parm.

Rigatoni with Maitake Mushrooms
Serves 4

1 pound fresh rigatoni (I used egg, but you can use regular or whole wheat and I’m sure no one will come knocking)
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little more for later)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
dash of red pepper flakes (optional if your kids don’t like heat; but they probably don’t like mushrooms either, so might as well throw it in)
1 to 2 cups maitake mushrooms (or whatever fresh mushrooms you foraged at the market today), cleaned and chopped into bite-size pieces.
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan
handful of fresh thyme or parsley

In a medium pot, boil water and prepare pasta as directed. Drain, place in a large bowl (separating out pasta portions for kids who won’t eat mushrooms) and toss with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, add olive oil and saute garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. (Garlic shouldn’t burn since it’s “embedded” in onions.) Turn up heat slightly and add mushrooms, cooking until they release their liquid, about 3-5 minutes and adding more oil if you feel the mixture is too dry. Stir in lemon zest, salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with pasta.

Turn up the heat to high and add another generous glug of olive oil. Add bread crumbs and cook until toasted and crispy, about 1 minute. Add to pasta bowl along with Parmesan and fresh herbs.

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Would Anybody Like to Play a Game?

June 10th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Seafood, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook, Vegetarian

Now, granted this might be hard because it involves some knowledge of my cookbook shelves pre-June 10, 2010. But the game is this: Can anyone guess what new cookbook has been added to my kitchen library? I’ll give you a hint. It’s wedged in between Ruth Reichl and Marcella Hazan, a few doors down from Martha Stewart and Bugialli and Bittman, underneath Julia Child and Mario Batali and Jim Lahey…? Give up?

It’s Time for Dinner, the cookbook I co-authored with Pilar Guzman and Alanna Stang while we were all still at Cookie. Although the book doesn’t officially publish until September, I received a real-life, I-can-hold-it-in-my-hands advance copy by FedEx this morning and it’s hard not to be Abby-ish and imagine myself (and my cowriters) on the same shelf as my food heroes. But the thing is — there I am. There we are. Next to Marcella Hazan!

I would love nothing more than to show you every single page in the 272-page playbook, but I’m going to restrain myself and just deliver some good news to all those former Cookie readers who have written to me telling me how much they miss the “So You Have A…” column. There is an entire chapter of SYHAs in the cookbook — 20 ingredients, 3 meal options for each, which means 60 total recipes. (Sixty recipes in just one chapter, btw.) For those of you new to SYHA, the column was one of Cookie‘s most popular pages. It charted recipes visually and the choose-your-own-adventure strategy (“head this way if you have pork; that way if you have pasta”)  is tailor-made for parents who come in the door at 6:30, see a big bunch of swiss chard (or sausage or frozen peas or miso paste) in the fridge and need quick inspiration for how they can turn it into dinner.  As addicted as I am to my digital recipe generating these days, seeing the flowcharted recipes spread across two pages reminded me how impossible it is to replicate the feeling of opening a book (see? It lies flat!) and getting inspired by lush photographs (thank you, Marcus Nilsson) and clean design (thank you, Number 17). Ok, I’m done now with the shameless self-promotion. Thanks for listening.

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Detox Soup

June 9th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but we’ve been doing a lot of eating in my house lately — and while we always try to keep it relatively artery-friendly, we frequently hit stretches where this is impossible. This past week, for instance, there was the burgers-and-dogs barbecue at a friend’s house, there was the baked-good bacchanalia during the ballet recital intermission, there was Andy’s business dinner at a downtown restaurant that proved to be a five-course ode to butter and cream. This is usually the time we break out our Detox Soup, made in a blender from all things green, and perfect for a warm summer night when you don’t want to turn on the stove.

The kids don’t love the soup as much as we do so we present them with a mini serving and provide cucumber slices and mini whole wheat pitas (no spoon) so they think of it more as a dip than as a soup. (more…)

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June 8th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Baking and Sweets

“Mom, can you help me pick out what song should be in my head today?” Abby asked me this yesterday as we were in the throes of the morning scramble. (My next website, Breakfast: A Hate Story). I took the request as a lucky break, considering I was at that very moment grabbing strawberry jam from the fridge praying that neither she, nor her sister, nor her father would launch into Michael Jackson’s “Jam” as soon as they saw the jar on the table…thereby firmly planting the horrendously horrendous chorus in my head all day long. (Do you remember this song? The one that featured Michael Jordan in the video and that, for me, is impossible to separate from images of college girls dancing in Donna Karan body suit tops and high-waisted jeans? The fact that this song is so front-row-center on all our brains should give you some idea of the level of MJ-obsession we are dealing with in our house right now.)

I threw out a few options for Abby’s cranial playlist — while stealthily spreading jam on her toast — until she finally settled on The Black-eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling,” which her class is performing at her school’s “Field Day” next week. And then I returned the jam to the fridge way in the the back…behind the TraderAdes, behind the mustard, behind a high wall of pickle jars.

Fresh Strawberry Spread (Not Jam)

Slice up a medium bushel of de-stemmed strawberries (about 1 1/2 cups) and add to a small saucepan with about 1/3 cup sugar and the juice from one juicy lemon. Let the mixture cook on low heat for about 10 minutes until everything is syrupy. Cool, then whirl in a food processor for about three seconds. Store in a clean jam jar for up to a week. Spread on toast (or toasted pound cake, as shown above), waffles, pancakes, or drizzle into vanilla ice cream for strawberry sundaes.

Speaking of Strawberries: This week is “Strawberry Week” at Babble’s The Family Kitchen. All week long: parfaits, pies, granitas, ice cream, fools!

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Candy-Crusted Grilled Pork

June 7th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

Last year, we hosted Christmas dinner for the first time – the full deal, too, with both sets of grandparents, brothers, sisters, kids, cousins, and an insane puppy, all wilding through the house. We needed a meal that everyone would like and were determined not to serve chicken fingers and crinkle cut fries. We discussed various festive options — filet (too expensive), turkey (too Thanksgiving), goose (too inedible) – but just weren’t feeling any of them. So I asked my friend Adam , who has the kind of dinner parties that make you wonder why you even bother trying. Adam’s a man of strong opinions. About everything. There’s a right way to do things, and a wrong way to do things. “Dude,” he said. “You make a smoked ham. And you glaze it so it gets all shiny and shit. Put it in the middle of the table and let people admire it.”

His recipe contained all of two ingredients – apricot jam and dark rum – took about fifteen minutes to prepare, and was, as Adam would say, rindonkulously tasty. Guests were practically weeping with joy as their sodium levels skyrocketed, and the kids loved the crackly, candied crust. The dog seemed to approve of the leftovers.

Fast forward six months, to last Saturday night. A beautiful, warm June night, the perfect night for grilling. The only kids wilding through the house were our own. We decided to try Adam’s glaze on a one-pound pork tenderloin we’d had in the freezer for a couple of weeks. We added one ingredient (rosemary), but otherwise, we’re pleased to say that the same technique works for any occasion. Clean plates all around. We’ll be making this one again soon. – Posted by Andy (more…)

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