Entries from September 2010

The Gateway Bean

September 29th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Five-minute Dinner: Beans on Toast

Last summer, on the final day of school, I drove Phoebe up to Skaneatles, a beautiful postcard-y town in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It was a belated sixth birthday celebration, and an opportunity for a little old school father-daughter bonding. The plan was to stay two nights in the Sherwood Inn, go for a cruise around the lake on the Judge Ben Wiles, do some hiking up at a nature preserve in Baldwinsville, and, of course, eat our faces off at the famous (locally, at least) Doug’s Fish Fry. Doug’s is one of those places that feels like it’s never not been there, where you grab a red plastic tray and order at a long counter, cafeteria-style, the kind of place where every entree comes with a side of slaw, and where there’s a model train running on an endless loop around the main dining room. Our first night, we went to Doug’s and ordered our fish and fries, and I got a side of baked beans. Now, let me back up for a second: at this point, Phoebe had never eaten a bean in her life. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them; she was appalled, repulsed, and disgusted by them. When I made chili, I’d have to keep one half of the pan bean-free or risk her not touching any of it. When I put a small bowl of black beans on Phoebe’s plate, to go along with her quesadilla, she would pick up the bowl with the tips of her fingers and remove it from her plate with utter contempt. Anyway: back to our night at Doug’s. We carried our trays to our table, got our ketchup and tartar sauce and tabasco, and sat down. Damn, did my beans look good — thicky and gooey, dark with molasses, with chunks of pork product floating in it. ”Come on, Phoebe,” I said. “How can you not like this?” (more…)

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Restaurant Replication

September 28th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Quick, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

The first time I made this chicken and broccoli for Abby she bestowed upon me the highest form of praise: Mom, how’d you get this to taste like the one we order from the Chinese restaurant? Now, granted, this is no fancy Chinese restaurant. It’s so not fancy, actually, that we’ve never even seen the inside of the place. But their chicken and broccoli dish is one of the first I can remember that Abby ate without any “eat-this-or-you-won’t-get-that” nonsense that dominated our dinner table conversation for so many years. So naturally, I set about trying to replicate it — minus whatever mystery ingredients made the leftovers coagulate in the takeout container the next day. I found success by riffing on a Cashew Chicken recipe in the fantastic Great Food Fast cookbook that Everyday Food published a few years ago. What struck me about this version was the hoisin — I knew Abby was a sucker for the sweet and spicy Chinese barbecue sauce and I had a jar of it in the fridge just begging to be used. You can find hoisin in the Asian department of pretty much any supermarket, but I find that most of those are too sweet. If you can swing it, try to pick up a jar at an Asian specialty market.

And by the way, on page 113 of the cookbook, we replicate three more kid-menu VIPs: chicken fingers, salmon teriyaki, and popcorn shrimp.

Restaurant-style Chinese Chicken and Broccoli

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, brown 3 or 4 chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed in a little cornstarch if you have time) in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. After a few minutes, push all the chicken to one side and turn down heat to medium-low. Add 2 cloves garlic (minced) and 1/2 large onion (chopped) and cook about 2 minutes until onions are soft. Mix together with the chicken, then add about 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, turn up the heat, and stir. Add 2 heaping tablespoons hoisin, 1/4 cup water and cook until chicken is heated through. Add steamed broccoli and cashews (my kids like it without cashews) and serve with rice.

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The Accidental Keepsake

September 27th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Grilling, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals, Seafood, Travel

Last week I forced myself to put together an iPhoto album from my massive file of summer vacation pictures. I try to do this once a season and enlist the girls help with caption-writing — the final product could rival a John Irving novel for how many exclamation points they make me use – and usually this is all I need to do to feel like I’ve sufficiently locked away the memories for safekeeping. But this time, I added a new album to the mix. It’s a collection of our “car quizzes” (above) which we’ve relied on as road trip boredom busters for the past few years. The quizzes are exactly as they sound: an assortment of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or true or false questions about wherever we’re headed or returning from. My initial goal for the 828-mile trip back from South Carolina was to write a straightforward list of 100 things we did on vacation, but the girls, who have a sixth sense for dutiful, linear, decidedly un-fun games, of course refused, instead begging for quiz after quiz after quiz after quiz. It wasn’t until I got home and looked through all the questions that I realized I had a keepsake that was every bit as revealing as a boring old list.

The quizzes reminded me of so many moments that have already been pushed aside to make mental space for less lovely thoughts, such as Don’t Forget to Call the Oral Surgeon. Like the fishing trip (above) where the girls reeled in some sea trout (below). It was so fresh that all Andy had to do to make it memorable was add a little olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon before grilling to perfection.

Needless to say, more than a few questions end up being about food and dinner.

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Apple Gazette

September 23rd, 2010 · 17 Comments · Baking and Sweets

A few years ago my coworker Alex was describing a friend of his — let’s call her Anya. While Alex sat in Anya’s kitchen he watched as she removed a homemade pie crust from the freezer, rolled it out, peeled and sliced a few Cortland apples right into the middle of the dough, sprinkled them with cinnamon, butter, sugar, nutmeg. A little more sugar. A little more cinnamon. Hmmm, maybe a squeeze of lemon. Yeah, that works. Then she folded the crust around the little pile and popped it in the oven. And the whole time Anya was improvising her baked apple pastry she was engaged in a conversation with Alex about Frank Rich and Thucydides and also her novel that — whaddayknow! — just hit the New York Times bestseller list. OK, I’m making that last part up. But in my mind this Anya woman has become something of a goddess to me. Even though I’ve never met her and even though her name is probably not Anya. She just embodied that person who I want to be in the kitchen — the person for whom everything comes so instinctively and effortlessly. The person who doesn’t bake a pie in a pie dish or even use a bowl to mix sugar into apple-pie apples! Needless to say, from that moment on, it is the only way I’ve ever made an apple pie, which is technically known as a galette, which in my house is now technically known as a gazette because that’s what Abby called it by accident and it just seems so much cuter. Don’t you think?

Anya’s Apple Gazette
My favorite thing about this recipe is that it does not yield a whopping monstrosity of a dessert that sits on the counter and gets picked at all week long. It’s just the right size for a family of four to each have a single modest serving. (more…)

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A Few Questions for Deb Perelman

September 22nd, 2010 · 5 Comments · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment

Last year, after hearing the news in a filled-to-capacity conference room on the 8th floor of the Conde Nast building that Cookie was folding, I went back to my office to begin the painful task of dismantling my bulletin board. The board (which I also called “my brain”) filled an entire wall in my office and was covered with about 200 index cards, each one representing a story idea that was in the works (white card) or that I wanted to be in the works soon (pink card). A “Morning-Duty Constitution” written up between parents (pink)…Recipes that don’t grease up the stovetop on “Cleaning Day” (white)…Some hilarious cartoons from Amy Krouse Rosenthal (white)…and then, scribbled on a pink card, “Deb Perelman.” Perelman, as you probably know already, is the creator of SmittenKitchen, the website that has become synonymous with food porn, and all the editors at Cookie (which only profiled parents) had been on bumpwatch with Perelman for years, waiting to descend upon her like a bunch of vultures once she had something to contribute to the family food conversation. Because we read the site pretty regularly, we knew she was due any day…A day, it turned out, we’d never be able to celebrate in the pages of Cookie. (more…)

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Wax-On Wax-Off, the Kitchen Edition

September 21st, 2010 · 19 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

My friend and Time for Dinner co-author Pilar Guzman has a theory about cooking from recipes (as opposed to improvising with what you’ve got in front of you). She calls it the Wax-On/Wax-Off theory. Remember how the Karate Kid had no idea he was developing muscle memory for defensive blocks until Mr. Miyagi took away the car-waxing cloth???  Pilar believes that there is a whole world of capable cooks out there who are still waxing cars…I mean, still relying on recipes even though their highly developed culinary muscles have fully prepared them to start winging it in the kitchen.

That person was me until a few years ago. I remember the recipe that turned it around for me — Chicken with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts. I had eaten some version of the dish in a restaurant and for whatever reason decided that this was the meal that was going to be my Crane Kick. I had probably cooked and edited 4200 skillet meals by that point in my life so I knew the basic technique was…

Brown meat in fat. Remove meat. Add vegetables. Add meat back to pan with some form of liquid. Simmer until meat is cooked through.

So I thought about the ingredients I needed, thought about the technique, then tested myself. The exercise not only yielded the most delicious dinner that even the girls inhaled like wolves, but ignited a little flicker of confidence that I knew would just keep growing. And it has. I think it’s a huge reason why I’ve been able to keep the family dinner thing going. (Is there anything less appealing than bobbing back and forth between a pot and a cookbook during the six-o’clock scramble?) So now, it’s your turn to test yourself. Up there in the picture are all the ingredients you need (chicken, bacon, brussels, onion, wine…forgot to show salt & pepper) to create Chicken with Bacon and Brussels (finished dish pictured below). See how you do…and let me know how it turns out.

Can I tell you how much I love this dinner? Not only is the bacon/ brussels combo genius, but the whole meal takes about a half hour and uses only one pot. (more…)

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Back-Pocket Bolognese

September 20th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Quick

OK, Valerie….I mean Readers….Meet Turkey Bolognese. This recipe has been in the rotation in our house for almost two decades. It was the sauce we cooked together in Andy’s first apartment (in 1994, in Brooklyn, when the only restaurant on Smith Street was The Red Rose) and the same one he made when we first came home from the hospital with a new baby — which we then stored in freezer bags alongside bags of expressed breastmilk. It is not only forgiving with measurements, but with schedules, too. It’s workable on a weeknight if you have a 40-45 minute window (about half that is hands-on time) or, if you wake up on a Sunday feeling particularly SuperMommish, you can cook up a batch to freeze and cash in on later in the week. (more…)

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Reader Feedback, both Good and Not-so-Good

September 17th, 2010 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook, Uncategorized

First the good ones. From Reader Romi:

I recently discovered your INCREDIBLE cookbook and now your Family Dinner site.  I’m a challenged cook (and working mother of 3) and the book — I swear – has changed my life in the kitchen.  I whipped up turkey bolognese in the morning yesterday (yes, in the am!) and have used your recipes every night for the last 2 weeks. Thank you!!

From Reader Amanda O:

Dear Jenny, I really, really wanted to put my “Make Dinner Not War” bumper sticker (thank you!) on my car.  But all I could think was, “Mom is going to yell at me.”  Keep in mind, I’m 27 years old, own my car free and clear, and have two kids.  But I could hear her plain as day, “Bumper stickers are trashy. They get faded and what about when you try to sell the car?”  So for the longest time, the sticker was clipped to my refrigerator mocking my lack of courage. And then one night I thought, “This would look lovely on the microwave.  It wouldn’t fade.  And you don’t re-sell microwaves.”  I took the plunge.  Then my son, who is 3, said, “Grandma will like that, Mom!”

Now the not-so-good:

A little context: I did an interview with WCBS 880 that is running on a loop this morning and (news permitting) on Sunday and I’m telling you this not because I expect you to tune in for all 32 riveting seconds, but because the online podcast inspired a few combative comments about family dinner. (And maybe about me? I can’t tell.) Like this one from “valerie:” (more…)

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Have a Baby, Win Some Books!

September 16th, 2010 · 36 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy

I’m not so good with remembering the everyday details of my life. I can’t tell you the name of my eighth grade math teacher, or my freshman year dorm room number, or my cholesterol reading from my last checkup, or even who I had lunch with last Thursday (without checking my calendar first). Just last week, I’m not proud to admit, I forgot my parents’ 48th wedding anniversary. Compared to Jenny, whose institutional memory for every moment and triumph and hiccup of her life is downright scary photographic, I’m like the amnesiac guy from Memento: I should probably start tattooing every inch of my body with the little stuff — i.e., the important stuff — before it fades away forever. You know what I do remember, though, with almost perfect clarity? Finishing The Trumpet of the Swan when I was a kid. (I was eight. Or maybe nine. I forget!) I remember turning that last page, and not wanting it to end, thinking this was the best book I’d ever read, and having this vague sense that something was going on here that I didn’t quite understand — at least, not enough to articulate it — except maybe to say that the words on the page, and the way way they made me feel, were a whole lot more powerful than what I was getting from Strange But True Sports Stories. The last paragraph still crushes me:

On the pond where the swans were, Louis put his trumpet away. The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings. Darkness settled on woods and field and marsh. A loon called its wild night cry. As Louis relaxed and prepared for sleep, all his thoughts were of how lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music, and how pleasant it was to look forward to another night of sleep and another day tomorrow, and the fresh morning, and the light that returns with the day.

The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings! Such a beautiful earth! The light that returns with the day! Dear, dear god. I would never forget this one. The Trumpet of the Swan was the book I would always think about when I thought about books from my youth, the book I would use to forge an identity apart from the big brother I revered (he was a devoted Stuart Little guy), the book I always imagined reading aloud to kids of my own. Which, thirty years later, I did.

Not only that, but I now push this book on my friends, too. Whenever someone has a baby, I go immediately to amazon and order up a copy — in hardcover, to ensure its longevity – secretly hoping that their kids will love it one day, too. But I also order other books — books for infants and toddlers and four-year-olds and eight- year-olds. Over the past few years, this has become our standard baby present, seven or eight books we’ve come to think of as a starter kit for the library we’d want, a gift that will keep on giving for years to come; a collection of books that will inspire some meaningful dinner table conversation. The list is always a little different, as I tailor it to the friend in question, but I generally pull from a list of books that I loved as a child, or came to love as a parent. I thought I’d write this list down here in case you need some good baby gift ideas…and so I won’t forget them. — Andy

Bruno Munari’s ABC by Bruno Munari (above)
Ages: 1+
What You’ll Remember About It: The extremely beautiful, graphic watercolors on a stark white background from this legendary artist and designer, and the fly that appears on every page.

I am A Bunny by Ole Rison, illlustrations by Richard Scarry
Ages: 1+
What You’ll Remember About It: The gorgeous, very un-Busytown illustrations from the great Richard Scarry, and the simple, tender story chronicling a year in the life of a bunny named Nicholas, who sleeps in a hollow tree and dreams of spring. (more…)

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Spaghetti with (or without) Clams

September 15th, 2010 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Seafood

I love sharing these kinds of recipes with parents. Doesn’t it look like we cooked up two completely different meals: one for the grown-ups (left) and one for the kids (right)? We didn’t at all. The astute eye will notice that everything you see on the right makes up the meal on the left. It just took a little think-work for Andy to strategically reserve a few pre-approved components from the chopping board before they were tossed into the pot with the steamed deal-breakers, I mean Little Necks.

Spaghetti and Clams
This is so easy and so amazingly delicious. It takes 20 minutes. Twenty minutes!!! If you think your kids will like it without any editing, just pretend the green instructions below don’t exist.

Make spaghetti according to package directions, setting aside plain pasta tossed with olive oil or butter on the kids plates if that’s the way it has to be. In a large stock pot or Dutch Oven set over medium heat, saute 1 chopped shallot, 1 minced garlic clove, a few shakes of red pepper flakes and some freshly ground pepper in olive oil. (Not necessary to salt — the clams are naturally briny.) Add about a dozen and a half fresh clams, a 1/2 cup white wine, and a small bunch of whatever fresh herbs (chopped) you have lying around. (Andy used parsley and basil.) When the clams steam open, add a handful of chopped tomatoes (any shape or color, setting some aside on the kids’ plates if you’d like), some corn off the cob (again, setting some aside) and cook another two or three minutes. Discard any clams that haven’t opened, then toss the whole thing with pasta, making sure to scoop lots of the broth into the bowl. Serve with crusty bread for sopping.

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Command Central

September 14th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals, Uncategorized

The first week of school was a little out of control. That weird bubble in the kitchen ceiling finally turned into full-blown leak. After five years of having not a single mechanical issue with the Mini, the brake pads decided to give way on the way to drop-off. Iris, our usually bordering-on-bonkers Boston Terrier, was slinking around lethargically for days before ending up in the ER until midnight on Wednesday. (She’s fine.) To say nothing of the general first-week-of-school anxieties from the kids that the whole house ends up absorbing.

When I have weeks like this, I find myself spending increasing amounts of time in front of Command Central, the kitchen desk and bulletin board pictured above where all the family organizing happens, and where I can pretend to have some illusion of control. It’s where I keep the laptop, the class lists, the printed yahoo calendar, the birthday invitations, the soccer schedules, the specials schedules, the afterschool schedules, as well as a random mix of photos and souvenirs from all the action, so that every now and then I can step back and remind myself that all of this chaos adds up to happy chaos. (BTW, tagline on back of the cookbook: Life is not chaotic: It’s rich.) (more…)

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Vegetable Hater Special

September 13th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Picky Eating, Vegetarian

My 3-year-old nephew Nathan is not a big fan of vegetables. Or the idea of eating in general. I spent a few days and many meals with him on vacation last month and watched as his dad — my brother — agonized over each crumb that did and didn’t go down the hatch. Annie’s Mac & Cheese is pretty much his only ace-in-the-hole option — that is, the only food my brother can be sure Nathan will eat when you put it in front of him. “Oh, and cake, too,” he said laughing. But I got the distinct feeling that he found it the opposite of funny.

For the entire vacation I had to force myself not to say what every single family member, friend, and physician said to Andy and me when Abby went on her Great Food Strike of 2004:  She’ll eat when she’s hungry! Why are you making yourself so crazy? Man did that prescription make me crazy. While of course there is something to the idea of not giving the kid so much power in the struggle — i.e. by not pushing, not hovering, not worrying — try putting this in to actual practice when your kid eats one raisin over the course of an entire week (February 9-15, 2004). (more…)

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Keeping the Flame Alive

September 10th, 2010 · 9 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Grilling, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

I think our “Grilled Chicken for People Who Hate Grilled Chicken” recipe has been the breakout dish of the season. And not only in your house as so many of you have mentioned — but in mine, too. I’d say we’ve served up some version of it at least once a week since June.

Which troubles me. I’m worried that it might become the Maque Choux of 2010. Maque Choux was this crazy delicious summer stew I found in Gourmet. It’s made with chicken and sausage and sweet corn, and if you haven’t ever made it, you should definitely remedy that matter as soon as possible. (Especially since fresh, sweet corn is disappearing rapidly.) When I met Maque Choux, I fell hard. We spent practically every Saturday night together for six weeks in the summer of 2002. With friends, with family, over candlelight. And then — you know how it goes — we flamed out. I look at Maque Choux’s photo now and feel nothing. Nothing except a deep sense of sadness and loss. We were so close once. What happened?? (more…)

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Dinner in the Morning

September 9th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals

Lemony Roast Chicken and Beans

I mentioned my dinner-in-the-morning strategy last spring when I asked you to marinate drumsticks in buttermilk before heading off for the day. (Meanwhile, if Abby had her druthers, she would subsist on that buttermilk “fried” chicken and that buttermilk “fried” chicken alone for the rest of her life.) The strange science behind the idea is this: If you take one or two minutes in the morning to chop an onion or wash some salad greens in preparation for your meal that night, it will inexplicably end up saving you 20 minutes of prep time on the other end of the day. (more…)

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Letter of Agreement

September 7th, 2010 · 51 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Favorites, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Posts by Andy, Rituals

What to do when packing the dreaded school lunch threatens to pull apart your marriage? Draw up a contract.

Related: The Blame Game

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Summer Recipe Round-up

September 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Dinner, Grilling, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

We only have about 48 vacation hours left to squeeze in more body-surfing, spiral-honing, sandcastle-building, cannon-balling, shell-collecting, beach-snoozing (Mom), and bike-riding. But you have the whole month, starting with Labor Day to squeeze in a few DALS dinners you’ve been meaning to try out on the family all summer. Herewith, the best of summer:

Barbecued Chicken with Cabbage-Peanut Slaw (pictured below)
Sweet Salmon with Campfire Potatoes
Rigatoni with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Yogurt-marinated Grilled Chicken
Grilled Chicken and Vegetables Summer Salad
Grilled Flank Steak
Grilled Pork with Peaches
Grilled Whole Fish
Fettuccine with Corn and Bacon
Grilled Fish Tacos
Seven Summer Salads: Egg and Potato Salad, Beets with Goat Cheese “Fluff,” Classic Corn and Tomatoes, White Bean and Kale, Cabbage-Corn-Peanut Slaw, Soybean and Tomato Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
Grilled Lamb-burger Sliders
Grilled Tandoori Chicken Burgers with Yogurt Sauce

And from Time for Dinner:

Grilled Tandoori Lamb Chops (page 253)
Fish Tacos with Fruit Slaw (page 222)
Corn and Shrimp Salad (page 207)
Fresh Corn Spoon Bread (page 207)

See you next week!

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Meat Camp

September 2nd, 2010 · 6 Comments · Pork and Beef, Rituals

Guest Post by Matthew Hranek, photographer; creator, The William Brown Project

This summer, my wife and I didn’t enroll my daughter 7-year-old daughter Clara in any kind of traditional camp. We were traveling a lot and there were only a few weeks where we’d have to fill large blocks of time. Plus, Clara’s usually pretty good about entertaining herself — until one afternoon last month. She was getting a little restless and I had a lot to get done in the kitchen, so I decided to involve her in the process…and call it Meat Camp.  I have been raising pigs for our own consumption at our place in the Catskills for six years now, and it’s been important for me to teach Clara about all aspects of meat, from how to raise the animals sustainably and consciously, to how we can use close to every bit of the animal if we’re clever about it. (more…)

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Trust Me On This One

September 1st, 2010 · 4 Comments · Pork and Beef, Sides, Salads, Soup

Guest Post by Todd Lawlor, aka Todd of Todd’s Minty Peas, aka Big-10 Blog Man, Hoopraker.

Jerusalem Artichokes. Bacon. Onion. Arugula. These four ingredients tossed with a good-quality balsamic vinaigrette work together to make one of the tastiest dishes I’ve had since the Clinton Era.* The showstopper here is the Jerusalem Artichoke. You might also know it as the Sunchoke, a much better description of the bulbous, knotty, goofy looking tuber since it has absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem, is absolutely nothing like a green artichoke and everything to do with, well, the root of a sunflower plant. Maybe you’ve seen them rolling out of a farmer’s market basket or suffocating under plastic wrap in your supermarket looking like a horribly mutated potato or a gigantic hunk of ginger and thought something along the lines of What the hell am I supposed to do with that thing? Well this is what your supposed to do with it. We’ve just met, but trust me on this one.

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