Entries from April 2011

Asparagus with Chopped Easter Eggs

April 25th, 2011 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Picky Eating, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I often look at my daughters and ask myself “Whose children are these? How did they get here?” Sometimes this happens when I’m overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of parenting and the fact that I’ve brought two actual live human beings into this world. But most of the time it happens when I show up at the kitchen table with an egg and they recoil in disgust, as though I’ve just served up the family pet. Who are these children? How can they be mine and not like eggs? (Occasionally they will contest this fact and say they like eggs as long as they are baked in to a cake.) I think I could eat an egg every day for the rest of my life and not get sick of them. The day I first tried an organic one – a real, golden-yolked, eggy tasting egg – would be on the timeline of my life along with the day I got into college, the day I got married, and the day I became a mother.

The kids’ whole Heisman routine gets particularly annoying around this time of year when we have a dozen or so pastel-dyed hard-boiled Easter eggs lying around begging to be repurposed for dinner. But it doesn’t stop me. Last year I introduced you to our post-Easter cobb salad. This year, it’s a killer side — chilled asparagus salad with chopped up eggs and drizzled with mustardy vinaigrette. It’s the kind of side dish that elevates any old boring chicken dish. Remember the Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories Theory? Add this one to the list.

Asparagus with Chopped Egg and Onion

Add 1 bunch asparagus (trimmed) to boiling water and cook three minutes. Drain and immediately plunge spears in ice water to stop cooking and preserve their bright green color. Meanwhile, chop 2 hard-boiled eggs into small pieces as shown and sprinkle over chilled asparagus (or over half the asparagus if you have egg haters in the house) along with 1 tablespoon finely minced red onion (I used scallions in the photo above) and drizzle with a mustardy vinaigrette. Serve with creamy baked chicken or buttermilk oven-fried chicken.

I’m taking my spring break a little late this year, so see you guys in about a week!

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What Your Drink Says About You

April 22nd, 2011 · 33 Comments · Drinks, Posts by Andy

During the day, you’re a minivan-driving, soccer game-refereeing, steak pre-cutting, hair-detangling, Wiggles-listening, Wubzy-watching, spit-up-wearing, school lunch-preparing, diaper genie-cursing, mac-and-cheese-making shell of your former self. After the kids go to bed, though, when it’s time to relax on the couch with a box of Mallomars, and watch some 30 Rock on DVR…who are you, exactly? Sometimes it’s hard to remember. Herewith, a brief attempt to parse it out, based on your chosen mode of self-medication.

Can of inexpensive, retro-y beer (such as PBR, Schaefer, Bud, etc.)
How to make it: Hit up any 7-11 outside of the wealthy enclaves of the Northeast, and hand over four bucks for six col’beers. Or go to any bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where facial hair and APC jeans are in abundance.
What it says about you (unironic version): I can pound this s@!t fer days, son!
What it says about you (ironic version): Yes, actually, I am the bassist in LCD Soundsystem.
Crunk Factor: Low and slow.

Gin and Tonic
How to make it: 1 part gin, 2 parts tonic water (if you feel like splurging, this stuff — which you can find at Whole Foods — is real good). Garnish with a wedge of lime (no lemon!). Serve in tall glass, over plenty of ice.
What it says about you: I am civilized. Also somewhat risk averse, politically moderate, and did I tell you I went to college in New Haven?
Crunk factor: Moderate to high.

The Vodka Soda
How to make it: 2 oz vodka, topped with soda water. Garnish with wedge of lime. Serve in tall glass over ice.
What it says about you: Whoa, check this out: I think I’ve found a way to get drunk without really having to taste the alcohol.
Crunk factor: Sneaky high. (more…)

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Strawberry Pie

April 20th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Travel

How great is vacation? How great is the idea of having an entire afternoon dedicated to tracking down shrimp in a 200-year-old Spanish-moss draped Lowcountry town on the Edisto River? Only to discover that the dock is closed for business on Mondays so could you come back tomorrow? The thing is, we can! (What else is there to do?) And Monday’s pursuit of shrimp ended up detouring left, down a dirt road, around the rickety fence, following hand-written U-Pick signs to 10 acres and seemingly millions of strawberry bushes begging to be harvested. So what was going to be shrimp and grits or easy shrimp tacos with some lime and jalapeno ended up here, at strawberry pie. And I can’t say that anyone complained.

Jackpot! Would you look at this place. An entire farm to ourselves.

Now that’s a strawberry. (more…)

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Road Tripping

April 18th, 2011 · 14 Comments · Kitchenlightenment, Rituals, Travel

Now that the girls are getting older and relatively self-sufficient (minus the shoe-tying! Kills me!) it’s easy for me to romanticize the early years. I got a little teary the other day when Andy erased all 3,000 Backyardigans episodes on the DVR to make room for iCarly and American Idol. And carrying Phoebe’s little art table and chairs to the curb outside my house nearly brought me to my knees. But I can tell you one thing I’ll never be sentimental about – traveling with them as babies when they required bottles and pack-n-plays, and snap-n-gos , and breast pumps, and carseats, and crayons and pacifiers that would inevitably get lost or dropped on the airport’s bathroom floor. Traveling has gotten so much easier with the girls — even our bi-annual 13-hour road trip to South Carolina. Thirteen hours! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but packing the car has actually become fun. Here’s what we lined up for the trip. (more…)

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Here’s the Plan

April 15th, 2011 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup

Two things happen to me when the weather starts getting nice: First, I don’t have the primal urge to cook up a bolognese for the freezer in the middle of a sunny day. Second, I want my dinner cold. This shrimp and avocado salad is a riff on a ceviche I had at Los Gemelos (website is somewhat bizarre, but attn: Westchester bretheren, food is real-deal amazing) that was so fresh and flavorful I had to attempt replication for dinner. You can of course make it when you walk in the door after work, but if you make it ahead of time, the flavors have some time to mingle together and you get the satisfaction of going to work on Monday knowing that family dinner is chilling in the fridge waiting for you at home. Is there a better way to start the week than that?

Sunday morning
When you go shopping pick up the following ingredients: 1 1/4 pounds shelled shrimp, 1 avocado, 1 jalapeno pepper, 2 limes, 1 small container grape tomatoes, 1 small red onion, 1 bag corn tortillas or tostadas.

Sunday afternoon
Boil your shrimp for three minutes. Drain and let cool. Chop your tomatoes, mince 1/3 onion and 1/2 the jalapeno (remove pith and seeds if you don’t want the heat). Mix with the shrimp and squeeze juice from the two limes over everything. Add a little olive oil, salt, pepper. Chill and let flavors mingle.

Monday night
Walk in door, heat tostadas as directed, chop your avocado and mix into the shrimp salad. Pile your salad on top of the tostada and serve with a squeeze of lime. Summon the troops for dinner.

Note: If you can’t find tostadas, fry corn tortillas in a healthy glug of vegetable oil over medium-high for about 2 minutes a side until crispy. Drain on paper towels.

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Tricks of the Trade

April 13th, 2011 · 28 Comments · Dinner

Over the years, I’m sure my mother has told me a lot of stories about Joan, her best friend from college – who I’ve only met a handful of times – but there’s only one that has stuck with me and that I think about almost on a nightly basis. It’s the onion trick story.

When Joan first got married she was expected to cook. Which would’ve been fine except for one problem – she hated to cook. And because this was forty-five years ago, before women actively, purposefully embraced the role of not cooking, she was routinely figuring out ways to pretend she was cooking so her husband wouldn’t be disappointed by her complete apathy (antipathy?) towards the kitchen. This is why she started chucking an onion in a 350°F oven an hour before he came home from work. Even if she had no use for that onion in the meal she would ultimately make and eat, she felt better knowing her husband was walking into a house permeated by the smell that signaled stews and soups, roasts and braises — meals that require clocking some serious hours in the kitchen. I never did find out what happened at dinnertime, when she’d serve him something that was more likely inspired by Peg Bracken or a pouch of Lipton Onion Soup mix.

I love this story so much and have been known to employ Joan’s onion trick at holiday parties that are 100% outsourced. (Is there anything more depressing than showing up to a party and not smelling the food?) I’m also proud to say that I’ve also come up with my very own onion trick over the years, albeit one a little more practical. It goes like this:

When I have no idea what to make for dinner, I start caramelizing an onion and then assume a plan is going to fall into place.

Cause when you cook onion slices over low heat in olive oil for even just 15 minutes, you not only have a delicious, happy aroma wafting through the house, you have the start of something special for dinner. The onions, which get all silky and candy-sweet, can be shoved inside an omelet, heaped on top of pasta with cheese, sandwiched inside a California-style turkey burger.  And they can be just the thing to prevent a baked potato dinner from feeling like a trip to the Roy Roger’s fixin’s bar, as outlined in the latest issue of Bon Appetit.

About that Bon Appetit! If you follow the food world at all — you know, in all your spare time — you might know that there’s all kinds of exciting things happening at the storied magazine for food lovers. There’s a new editor, a new look, and a new column called “The Providers” (!!!) written by Andy and me. I love a lot of things about the direction Bon App is headed, but what I love most is the re-commitment to helping home cooks like me and you figure out how to do everything a little better. In this new issue you will learn lots of new tricks: how to make perfect pasta (who knew how many things I was doing wrong??), how to make Eric Ripert’s hollandaise sauce in a blender, and how to master those caramelized onions. (Check out page 79!) I hope you — and my pal Joan — will pick up a copy today.

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The Quinoa Solution

April 11th, 2011 · 23 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

We usually do our food shopping once a week, on Sunday afternoons, bolting to Trader Joe’s as soon as the final whistle on the final soccer event of the weekend finally blows. It’s our secular pilgrimage. We genuflect at the altar of dried fruits and granola bars, we load up the cart, we drive home, the kids go upstairs to animate some plastic stuff, and Jenny and I begin the never-gets-less-brutal process of unpacking the groceries… at which point, we realize, as we put the fresh crop of vegetables into the refrigerator, that we haven’t made use of half of what we bought last week. There’s a sad fennel bulb, once crisp and fresh, now yellowish and funky. (A pity, too: I had big plans for that. Look for a roasted fennel recipe one of these days.) There’s a quart of now-slimy mushrooms, and an exhausted hunk of red cabbage. There’s an ominous cluster of tupperware containers, each holding part of an onion, lemon, or red pepper, all of uncertain vintage, all well past their prime. And way in the back, by the sour cream, there’s always a tub of grape tomatoes, now a week old and only 1/3 eaten, and we really want to make use of them, but they’re just this side of too-far-gone to put on our salad.

We’re not proud to admit this, but we often end up throwing too much of this stuff away. It’s a lot of food, and a lot of money, to go to waste.

Last weekend, though, we may have solved the grape tomato problem. Since they were already starting to turn, we embraced the shrivel. We doubled down on the decay. We slow-roasted them, until they were all wrinkly and intense and sweet, and then we tossed them into a quinoa salad. Roasted tomatoes are so easy, very hard to mess up, and versatile as they wanna be: you can put these over pasta with olive oil and cheese, on bruschetta with garlic and basil, on top of fish or chicken. Or, as we ended up doing, you can use them to add a whole new hearty dimension to a salad. Tomato problem: solved. I don’t know why it took us so long.* – Andy

* Very important note: I highly recommend listening to this while you cook. And maybe follow it up with this. Or this. Or just buy the whole album. It’s in heavy DALS rotation. (more…)

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Breakfast Burritos: In it to Win it

April 8th, 2011 · 7 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Rituals

Ever since we started tuning in to American Idol with the girls, I have caught myself saying something I don’t think I’ve ever said before: TGIF. Sometimes in the elevator out loud to a coworker, sometimes in my own head as I’m pulling into my driveway dreaming up quick dinner options. Cause even though the show is on Wednesdays and Thursdays, we invariably have a conflict on at least one of those nights and by the time we’ve queued up J.Lo and friends on the DVR, it’s Friday, when the rest of the world already knows Naima has been booted, Pia (the girls’ favorite) has finally tried something up-tempo, and sparks are flying between Haley and Casey. (Has this been confirmed? Do we know yet?) Other than the fact that we often miss the chance to text in our vote, our Idol delinquency doesn’t seem to detract from the drama in the slightest. (Especially for Abby and Phoebe who still don’t understand why you can’t fast forward live TV.) And so as soon as we walk in the door, the girls are telling us to hurry up mom, hurry up dad, American Idol’s on! Which means we need to do some serious short-order cooking. Fifteen minutes later we’re sitting down on the couch with a breakfast burrito and a glass of chardonnay, flanked by two wide-eyed kids who are in it to win it. Thank God It’s Idol!

Breakfast Burritos for Dinner

Warm four large whole wheat tortillas in a 300°F oven. As they warm, prepare your favorite fillings: scrambled eggs (I like adding a few dots of cream cheese to make them fluffy), black beans, avocado chunks (or guacamole), shredded jack or cheddar, salsa, sour cream, cilantro. Customize each burrito to each diner, wrap up and serve with lots of napkins.

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The Ten-Minute, Super-Amazing, Magic Guilt Eraser

April 6th, 2011 · 28 Comments · Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I know. Bummer. An entire post devoted to salad. Not a BLT salad or a wedge of iceberg with thousand island dripping in and around the crevices. But a yawn-inducing, omega-3-rich, good-for-you, raw bowl of nutrients that falls into the “leafy green” category. Thanks, Jenny! Thanks for the big bowl of homework!

Go ahead, leave the page. Go lose yourself in some duck confit fried in lard. Cause then the secret of the salad’s hidden superpowers is still somewhat secure. You see, this concoction above may look like a dutiful mound of kale with grated ricotta salata and thinly shaved red onions, but it’s actually more than that. A lot more. I’m telling you, if you can get your kids to eat it, all kinds of amazingly freaky things start to happen. Like for starters, I think I can actually see Abby growing before my eyes, her shirt bursting at the buttons, Lou Ferrigno-style, right at the dinner table. And about three minutes after Phoebe inhaled her salty ribboned kale last Sunday, she had a sudden impulse to recite the quadratic formula, even though, as far as I know, trigonometry is not part of New York State’s third grade curriculum. (Yet.)

But the real magic is a little more subtle. When you — as in you mom and dad! — get up from the table you’ll suddenly notice that the guilt you have been carrying around with you all day about missing “parent observation day” at tennis has been replaced by a rush of happiness endorphins. And you know how you’ve been beating yourself up over the fact that your eight-year-old still can’t tell time? For at least a few days after you have served your children this salad, that hardly seems to register on the guilt-o-meter either. The remorse over the fried-in-butter beef-veal-pork double hot dog with spicy curly fries from Walter’s*? Gone. Completely cancelled out.

I’m telling you, this stuff is powerful. And, sadly, its applications of guilt-erasing possibilities: endless.

*Whattup MHS Tigers?!

Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata
The credit for this salad goes to my superhero friend Naria, who first made it for me for lunch last summer, then again last week at a delicious dinner party.

Wash and trim the stems off two large handfuls of kale. Chop into confetti-like strands as shown. Shred a boatload of ricotta salata on top, add about 1 tablespoon of red onion that has been sliced to the point of transparency. Add a few glugs of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and freshly ground pepper.

To feel really virtuous, serve with fish presents.

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Roald Dahl, Deep Tracks

April 4th, 2011 · 31 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy

I am so sick of Roald Dahl. It’s not that he isn’t great, or that the depth of his imagination isn’t enough to shame 99% of other novelists that have walked the earth, or that he’s not a first-ballot, absolute lock of a Kid Author Hall of Famer. But enough is enough. For much of the past two years, Abby and I have been reading Roald Dahl books, and nothing else. We started with my old copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, and then we moved on to The Witches and The BFG, which were similarly twisted and inspired, and then we… just… kept… going. (You’re welcome for the extra-sweet royalty checks, Roald Dahl Estate.) We drilled down, never relenting, never coming up for air, journeying deeper and deeper into the warped, kind of misanthropic worldview that our youngest daughter seems to relate to on some primal level. (I’m choosing not to ask why this is.) To mix kid book author metaphors, we fell headlong down the ol’ rabbit hole.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? I don’t mean to. I’m sick of Roald Dahl, but I also love Roald Dahl. I love his sense of humor and the way his plots unfold in such loose, spontaneous, strange ways — exactly the way a plot would unfold if you were just making up a story on the spot — and I love that he wrote so much, as if writing were a switch that, once flipped on, could never ever be turned off, no matter how old he got or how much money, or acclaim, he earned. I love the names Veruca Salt and Fleshlumpeater, Trunchbull and Bloodbottler, Sponge and Spiker. My only quibble is that, when you read nothing but for two years, some of the seams start to show. You can see him, every so often, reaching into his bag of writerly tricks. Some patterns reveal themselves. Seven-year-old girls, though: they adore those patterns and tricks, adore those sputtering grown-ups and invented words and hairy, disgusting moles on wrinkly, disgusting faces and grumpy rhyming poems and the ominousness that always seems to hang over everything, but that never, in the end, completely descends. It’s been quite a run, this Roald Dahl run that Abby and I have been on. I’m glad we did it, but I don’t want to do it again, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Here: the Dahl Canon, as presented by Dahl’s number one fan, Abby. – Andy

Matilda

“Matilda’s a little girl who loves to read books, but her father and mother don’t want her to read books. They want her to watch TV allllllllll the time. But one day, she feels like, ‘I want to go to school.’ So her mom drops her off at this school, and then she meets a girl who tells her about the principal [scary voice] Mrs. Trunchbull! She’s a really really mean person, and she talks in a really mean way. I can’t describe it. Mrs. Trunchbull’s daughter is Mrs. Honey, but you only find that out at the end. Don’t write that, daddy! You’ll ruin it! This book is about how Matilda has a hard life, but is an amazingly smart girl. It’s for people who are interested in reading. I don’t even want to talk about the movie.”

Grade: 9 (out of 10)

Fantastic Mr. Fox

“This is gonna be hard. I love this book so much. It’s about a fox. A fox who promised his wife he would never steal a chicken or whatever, what was it called? Yeah, a chicken. No no no no no. It’s like a bird? Never mind. But then he secretly goes on a mission to steal chickens with a mole, Kylie, and they have to avoid these three mean farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. One day, the farmers figure out that the fox is trying to steal their food, so they decide to (more…)

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One Meal Fits All (Or: Whatever You Gotta Tell Yourself)

April 1st, 2011 · 27 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

I think the surest way to ring the death knell on family dinner is to cook something different for every party present. It’s hard enough to get one dinner on the table let alone four, each of which may be greeted with groans or, worse, no comment at all. But considering that children (green-fearing, sauce-o-phobic, generally annoying children) are often the defining variable in the term “family dinner,” this can be a hard thing to get around. Luckily you are here, in the care of a family dinner expert, the author of not one, but (almost) two family dinner cookbooks, so pay careful attention to the hard-won, time-honored advice you are about to receive. The trick, I’ve decided, is to lock yourself into a state of extreme denial and then psyche yourself out with careful inner rationalizing every step of the cooking process in order to convince yourself that you are making one thing when in fact you are doing nothing of the sort. Behold last night’s dinner. I wanted — no, needed — my favorite ace-in-the-hole pasta: Whole wheat spaghetti with caramelized onions, spinach, and Parmesan. Even though Phoebe won’t touch pasta. Even though Abby loves pasta, but generally won’t eat this pasta unless it has a hint of sauce on it. (“Pink!” she commands.) But I plowed ahead anyway. Let me show you how it’s done.

Psyche-out Moment 1: I set four identical plates in a grid. This immediately creates the promise (illusion?) of uniformity and order.

Psyche-out Moment 2: I earmark the lower right bowl as Abby’s and spoon in just the right amount of spaghetti sauce — and a couple hunks of butter. This can barely be called “customizing” since it takes under 10 seconds.

Psyche-out Moment 3: I earmark the lower left bowl as Phoebe’s. And while, yes, the baked potato is not exactly the same thing as whole wheat spaghetti, it’s not like it took sooo much extra effort for me to chuck the thing in the oven at 400°F as soon as I walked in the door from work at 6:00. If I was editing this recipe for a magazine, I told myself rather convincingly, I would’ve just have to replace one word: “Pasta with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Parmesan” would be “Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Parmesan.” And Sour Cream.

Psyche-out Moment 4: Pasta is done and plated in three out of four bowls. Onions and spinach are done and plated in three out of four bowls. Three out of four! Even though the two kids’ bowls are barely related to each other, each can lay claim to having one major component in common with the grown-up version. Right? Right? Right? Who’s the April Fool? Not me! (more…)

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