Entries from May 2011

How to Blow a Small Person’s Mind

May 31st, 2011 · 13 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Abby: Mom, what’s for dinner?
Me: Grilled cheese!
Abby: For dinner????
Me: Yes! On the grill!
Abby: What? The grill?
Me: Yes! And without bread!
Abby: What the…let me get this straight. Grilled cheese made
outside on the grill with no bread? For…dinner?
Me: You got it. And we’ll have some chicken and vegetables on the side. (more…)

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The What’s-For-Dinner Worksheet

May 27th, 2011 · 14 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Quick, Seafood

Fried Shrimp Rolls

Add vegetable oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. In a bowl mix together 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup club soda or seltzer, salt, and pepper. On a plate, mix about 1 cup bread crumbs or panko with a few tablespoons of fresh oregano. Dredge 1 pound shrimp in the flour mixture, then the bread crumbs. Fry them in a pan until cooked through, about 2 minutes a side. Drain on paper towels and stuff into split hot dog buns with tartar sauce. (Sometimes I hollow out the buns a bit with my fingers so they’re not too bready.)

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You Know it’s Summer When…

May 25th, 2011 · 41 Comments · Pork and Beef

As part of the research for that Summer Cooking Manifesto I worked on for the June 2011 issue of Bon Appetit — yes, the one with Gwyneth on the cover – I asked a bunch of editors the question you see up there in the title of this post: You Know it’s Summer When _______ is in the Fridge. There were basil-infused simple syrups (mixed into my Gin & Tonic, this has the potential to be my signature summer cocktail), there were chili oils amd chimichurris, and there was a sunny yellow ladolemeno vinaigrette that you pour over grilled fish (Holy. Freaking. Cow.) which tastes as bright and summery as it looks.  But the most special of all, I think, was this special sauce. Not only because it elevates any burger (we used it on our rolled-out California-style turkey burgers the other night) but because it elevates any cookout. Think what a rock star you will be if you show up to the burger-and-dog barbecue with a jar of this in your hand.

Special Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit

In a small jar, mix together:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon finely grated onion
1 tablespoon sweet relish or 1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
salt and pepper to taste

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Forget the Wine, This is What Your Host Wants

May 23rd, 2011 · 13 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Dinner, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

Almost always, when we have friends for dinner, there comes a point when Andy turns to me or vice versa and says “Should we check on her?” And by that we mean, should we try to lure back whatever guest has walked in our front door only to be whisked upstairs to Abby’s lair for a “tour” of her room. It’s not that we don’t think our seven-year-old is doing anything but charming the pants off  her, but receiving a personal introduction to all 8,000 of her Littlest Pet Shop Pets is a task I believe only a mother could love — scratch that — I mean, a task only a father could endure, and definitely not in the job description of “dinner guest.” Unless you are my friend Lia that is, who, oddly, seems to like my children as much as I do. Last Friday, she came over for some minted pea dip (with potato chips…mmmm) and tagliatelle, but spent the first half hour locked into conversation with the girls as they all crafted Papertoy Monsters together from the book she bought them. To the point where I felt bad interrupting them to, you know, catch up with my friend. I should’ve known Lia would show up with a gift that killed. When Abby was at the height of her Hello Kitty obsession, she came with a fleet of Hello Kitty books, calendars, and magnetic dolls. Last year, she arrived with two kids’ umbrellas from Pylones. And as if this isn’t enough, she is almost always armed with Magnolia cupcakes, chocolate chocolate for Phoebe, and assorted for the rest of us. Believe me, this is all any guest ever needs to do to a) win my friendship forever  b) warm my heart  or c) be invited back. (more…)

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Breakfast of Champions: French Toast Sticks

May 20th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals

In the very early days of DALS, I wrote a short post about my Aunt Patty, who introduced us to the life-altering pleasures of (a) Marcella Hazan, and (b) Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork loin. Patty did a lot of things well in the kitchen, that rare person whose talents matched her ambitions. Porchettas; marinated, butterflied, grilled legs of lamb; real tiramisu with real, espresso-soaked lady fingers and hand-whipped cream; lemon-zested ricotta cheesecakes in spring-form pans: the woman could flat-out bring it in the food department. But like any artist, no matter how inspired, she had things she was good at, and things she was great at.

She was great at breakfast. (more…)

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How Lucky Are We?

May 18th, 2011 · 18 Comments · Grilling, Quick, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup

Have you ever stopped to think about how lucky we all are to be parents in 2011? Not just because DVD players are built into back seats or that iTunes offers a staggering selection of white-noise-for-baby songs (including vacuum!), but because cooking for our children is overlapping with the here-to-stay movement of cooking simple, fresh, food. I don’t know about you, but when I first decided I was going to teach myself to cook, I was picturing fancy and dreaming big. The recipes I gravitated towards involved lots of steps and artery-clogging ingredients. (I’m talking to you Silver Palate Tortellini with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce!*) Those were the meals that professional cooks made, right? I realize that Chez Panisse had been open for a full 20 years by that point in my life, but if you asked me who Alice Waters was when I was 22, there’s a 100% chance I would have told you she was the author of The Color Purple. The point is, we are so lucky that simple food equals good food, and that you can brush a little smoked paprika butter* on a piece of just-off-the-boat super-mild tilefish and have a sophisticated dinner that doesn’t necessarily alienate the kids. And that’s just what we did last weekend.

**Yes, I debuted it for Andy on July 16, 1993 and took notes.

*I loved every page of Blood, Bones, and Butter, but I think every page I dogeared mentioned smoked-paprika butter.

You can find smoked paprika in the spice section of most ethnic markets or at Penzeys.com.

To make the smoked paprika butter: Beat together 1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick) with 1 tablespoon smoked paprika and a large pinch of kosher or sea salt until it’s blended together.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt your smoked paprika butter and pour into a heatproof bowl.

Grilled Fish with Smoked Paprika Butter
This is the second Sunday in a row that we’ve started off on a healthy note and I’m hoping to keep it up through summer. The formula is pretty simple: grilled seafood +  healthy grain + anything with kale.

Prepare Your Grill. Marinate a 1-pound piece of firm white fish (such as tilefish, swordfish, mahi mahi) in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. (Add the lemon only about five minutes before you grill.) Once grill is hot, grill filet about 4-5 minutes a side depending on thickness brushing smoked paprika butter as you go. (Fish is done when it’s firm to the touch with out being rock hard.) Remove fish from grill and brush one more time with butter. Serve with braised kale salad and herby barley salad (simple!) below.

Simple Barley Salad

Bring 1 cup pearl barley, (rinsed and picked over), a teaspoon salt, and 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Cover and simmer for 50 minutes until barley is firm but cooked through. Toss with a few tablespoons chopped herbs (I used parsely, thyme), olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped scallions, and a squeeze of lemon (or tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar).

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Pretzel Chicken: Weeknight Keeper

May 16th, 2011 · 45 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Picky Eating, Quick

I’m guessing most of you out there don’t regularly get emails from friends with the subject line: “Pretzel Chicken.” And I’m also guessing that if you did, your heart wouldn’t jump when it showed up in your inbox. But that was the somewhat sad state of affairs last week when my friend Jodi sent me the email, saying she was going to debut the dish for Shabbat dinner, a ritual with her husband and six-year-old daughter that she is trying to make more regular. The launch of the ritual, of course, warmed my heart, but what really grabbed me was the recipe. It was the famous City Bakery pretzel chicken that I have been lunching on for the past five years. It’s all mustardy and zesty and dredged in crushed sourdough pretzels — I don’t think I’ve ever taken a bite of it without announcing to whatever poor soul is sitting across from me I must replicate this at home. The kids will freak! (more…)

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Life in the Slightly Less Fast Lane

May 13th, 2011 · 21 Comments · Baking and Sweets

Just about a year ago, my neighbor Helene walked into her midtown office at Bloomberg LP, where she was employed as in-house counsel, and told her boss she was quitting. She had two teen-agers at home and was tired of the grind, tired of her son’s friends asking him “So where does your mom live?” She wanted to be around more. To slow down. I’m sure her boss was shocked, but he couldn’t have been more shocked than I was. Because as long as I’ve known Helene, she’s been on the move. Seven years ago, during those magical moments nursing Abby at 5:30 in the freaking morning, I’d look out the window across the street and see Helene’s bedroom light on. What could she be doing at this hour…voluntarily??? A few months later, during our first winter on the block, there was a huge snowstorm that kept us all holed up in our houses —  but instead of bunkering up and breaking out the boxed mac & cheese like I had planned, she and her husband Seth invited half the neighbors to a multi-course dinner featuring a spicy Thai-style squid salad. (Did I mention they are also world-class cooks?) I got used to seeing Helene zipping around town in her pumpkin-colored mini-Cooper convertible, which, during the week, was always parked in the first spot at the train station. She got in early and worked hard and was always home for dinner. Long before DALS existed, I asked her what the secret was to raising such smart kids and — I’m not making this up! — her answer was: “We eat together every night.”

No, I couldn’t imagine her slowing down. I couldn’t even imagine her sitting down.

But we sat down for morning coffee soon after she left her job. “What do I do all day?” she asked, still sweating from the 8AM spin class she had come from. “I’m so confused!”

“Helene, it’s Tuesday, ” I told her. “You’ve only been home since Friday.”

I should’ve known better than to think that she was going to “take a breather” or devote her summer to, say, working out the kinks in her backhand. Before June was over she had signed up for a vegan baking class at ICE and started talking about opening up a gluten-free, dairy-free bakery. By July she had transformed her oven into her home office, churning out lemony pound cakes, sugar-topped raspberry muffins, fudgey brownies, gooey chocolate chip cookies, orange-almond cakes, coconut macaroons, vanilla and chocolate cupcakes (the girls’ favorite) then dropping them at our house for a taste-test with the command: “Be brutal! I can take it!” By September, I could barely walk the dog without seeing one of my other neighbors shuffling up the block cradling some delicious cellophane-wrapped, raffia-tied baked good. (“Good morning Eileen! Coconut Layer Cake today?”) By February, Helene had perfected her recipes, designed an awesome logo, signed a lease on her storefront, and by May, i.e. last weekend, she opened the doors to  By The Way Bakery.  As in, “This is delicious! Oh, and by the way, it’s also gluten-free and dairy-free.” You’d really never know the difference.

On opening day, she was working harder and moving faster than ever, but this time she was flanked by her two sons, who were manning the register and taking orders. A lot of orders. If you’re local, please stop by and see what the fuss is about. If for some criminal reason you do not walk out of there with a bag of chocolate-dipped macaroons (my favorite), I guarantee you’ll walk out of there with some inspiration. (more…)

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Two-Minute Dinner

May 11th, 2011 · 12 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Grilling, Quick

I had the world’s greatest assignment for the June issue of Bon Appetit. I can’t tell you all the details because it hasn’t hit newsstands yet, but it involves summer and it involves rules and it involves cooking. I was putting the story together in the middle of February — during one of those stretches of bean-soup-making snow days — so I’m warning you in advance that you may pick up a strong undertone of dreaminess. (Does anything seem more romantic than summer cooking and al fresco dining when you are sitting in your kitchen wearing Uggs?) Anyway, today I want to talk about one particular nugget of dinner wisdom in the story. It went like this: “Always grill twice as much protein as you need. You’ll never regret having leftover chicken or steak when dinner rolls around the next night.” You know I’ve never met an advance-planning strategy I didn’t love, so that stuck with me all the way to the first night of grilling — a rainy April night when we actually had no business grilling, we were just so sick of the cold spring and just really really wanted grilling season to be…NOW. And so we christened the patio with our grilled chicken for people who hate grilled chicken (coming soon: a knock-out variation on it) and, of course, made twice as much. And on Day Two had all the makings of a delicious, healthy two-minute dinner.

Abby’s version of the dinner: Most likely the first Mediterranean platter in the history of the world served with Trader Joe’s Soyaki.

Grilled Chicken Mediterranean Plate

Place 4 whole wheat pocketless pita rounds on four separate plates. (Or tear pitas into pieces if you don’t think your kid wants the fully assembled sandwich.) Spread a generous layer of hummus (I like original creamy — none of that jalapeno or sundried tomato business) on each plate. Top with leftover pieces grilled chicken (about 3-4 pieces, sliced should be enough; or some shreds of storebought rotisserie if you didn’t grill last night), crumbled feta, salted cucumber (chopped), a little fresh thyme or oregano, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground pepper.

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For a Limited Time Only

May 9th, 2011 · 7 Comments · Grilling, Pasta, Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

It’s Mother’s Day morning, and Jenny is standing over me with her iPhone, timing me as I type this. The goal is to write this post in seven and a half minutes or less, which is exactly how long it took us to get this dinner going the other night. So: have you had ramps before? We hadn’t either, as of three or four years ago. Were they the same thing as garlic scapes? Were they spring onions? Did you have to cook them first? All we knew was, they were one of those slightly mysterious things we’d heard serious food types talk about rapturously every spring, but we’d never willingly eaten one, let alone cooked one in the comfort of our own home. Thanks to some generous friends upstate, who happen to have them growing all over their yard, all that has now changed, and we’re here to say: ramps freakin’ rule. They’re a fleeting, fragrant, oniony-garlicky vegetable, also known as the wild leek, that pop ups every spring for a few weeks (if you’re lucky) and then disappears. They look kind of delicate, like green feathers, but don’t be fooled; these things announce themselves, flavor-wise. We’re now among the geeks who look forward to their arrival, spend time tracking them down, and then eat as much of them as humanly possible over their limited engagement in our lives. (Jenny just announced that I am about to pass the five-minute mark. “Hurry,” she says.) Anyway, ramps: They’re embarrassingly (more…)

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The Promise of the Unexpected

May 6th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Uncategorized

I once read an Q&A with Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) where the interviewer asked something to the effect of “What’s your secret? How do you know how to relate to kids so well?” This was a while ago – probably 2006ish – so I may not remember his answer word for word, but I remember the gist of it. He said he had just come from the grocery store where he was bored in line at the register so he started making gum packages talk to each other while a five-year-old standing in line in front of him looked on – utterly captivated. “Kids love it when they are in on something that doesn’t seem quite right,” Handler said in the interview. “They love the promise of the unexpected.”

I was thinking of this the other night when Andy and I decided to make Hawaiian Pizzas for the girls. Is Lemony Snicket’s theory the reason why they didn’t instantly turn up their nose at the idea of ham and pineapple on their beloved cheese pizza? Was it that ham and pineapple is an unexpected combination (and kinda wacky if you really think about it) whereas, say, mushroom and onion is just too straightforwardly gross for them to handle? Is Lemony Snicket’s theory why iCarly’s silly spaghetti tacos took the world by storm a few months ago? Is it why Abby, who won’t touch an avocado, seems so intrigued by those cooked grasshoppers that her friend Ellie ate in Mexico? Why she shoveled David Chang’s Rice Krispie-flecked brussels sprouts in her mouth like popcorn? I’m willing to believe it, especially if it means we might have luck taking the kids to Momofuku.

PS: By the way, how excited are we about Lemony Snicket’s next series, which, if you are to believe Google, is due out one of these days…

PPS: If you have a sec, head over to the always hilarious relationship blog Spousonomics today — I guest-posted about family dinner incentives.

Hawaiian Pizza

Preheat oven to 500°F. Using your fingers stretch and push out one ball of pizza dough (homemade or storebought) on an olive-oiled cookie sheet. Top with pizza sauce (homemade or storebought), 1 ball of fresh mozzarella (in thin slices), 4 slices Canadian bacon (minced finely as shown) and about 2 cups pineapple chunks. Brush the exposed crust with a little more olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is bubbly and crust looks golden and crisp.

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Tonight’s Dinner Table Topic: Osama bin Laden

May 4th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Kitchenlightenment

“Who?” Phoebe asked when she heard her parents talking (rather animatedly) about the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Osama bin Laden,” Andy said. “You know? The guy who made those two buildings come down? He’s dead.”

To hear Andy oversimplify the most harrowing day in both of our lives like that made me think that maybe by now we should’ve talked about it with our kids a little more comprehensively. Because to express someone’s death, out-of-context, with even the slightest hint of satisfaction has got to be confusing for a nine-year-old. I was four months pregnant with Phoebe when the towers came down. I spent the day tracking the news of my best friend’s husband Michael, who worked on the 81st floor of the first tower to be struck. He survived by picturing his wife and six-month-old son living their lives without him, as he clawed around in darkness and rubble trying to escape.*  How could we expect anyone (let alone a kid) to wrap their head around that one — or any of the other far more traumatic details of the day for that matter? But at the same time, how can it possibly be that neither of my children have any visceral reaction when they walk by our favorite 1997 wedding photograph: Andy and me and all 142 attendees standing on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the towers gleaming in the sun behind us like two honored guests themselves.

In other words, I was grateful when I saw my friend Claudia’s facebook status update announcing that she had just posted about OBL on her news website for kids Here There Everywhere. Claudia isn’t just someone with a passing interest in the news — she was a producer for the Today show until she became a mom seven years ago (on 9/11, while I was watching the news, she was in a gas mask at Ground Zero helping report the news) but in some ways never left the job. She’d read the headlines to her kids when they were in the bath (calling this “The Bathtub Report”) and later started discussing current events in her son’s second grade class. On the site, Claudia writes to elementary-school-aged students without talking down to them (“The world’s number one bad guy was killed yesterday”) and gives just enough information to spark a kid’s interest. So now, when I’m making dinner and Phoebe asks if she can play on the computer, lately I’ve been going all Joe Kennedy on her (official Kennedy family dinner table policy: If you didn’t talk world affairs, you didn’t talk) and tell her to pick a topic of conversation for the table from HTE. That way, even if we don’t figure out how to explain all the answers, at least we can say we’ve started the conversation.

Illustration is by Catherine Ormaeche and is from the book The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11 (Abrams).

*Andy, who was working at Esquire at the time, somehow convinced Michael to tell his amazing story to the world two months after the attack.

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What’s Your Page Turner?

May 2nd, 2011 · 66 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

A few weeks ago our friends Kate and Joel and their three girls came over for dinner. We were all vacationing on the same island together so the menu was as simple and fresh and kid-friendly as we could manage: asparagus salad (without eggs for the kids), campfire potatoes, and grilled chicken sandwiches with homemade slaw. Kate took one bite of her sandwich and, because she is a good guest, immediately started oohing and ahhing and inquiring about how we put the whole thing together. “This is perfect,” she said. “Just what I am in the mood for. Man!! And the slaw!  Mmmm! How did you make it?”

I told her slaw is one of those things I don’t really have a recipe for. I just start whisking things together and keep adding more shredded cabbage and carrots until it looks about right.

“OK, fine, but what exactly are you whisking together?”

“It’s like I’m making any salad dressing. I’ll add a dollop of mayo to the bottom of a large bowl, then add some celery seed, some cider vinegar—-”

She crossed her arms in front of her face and looked away as though I had shined a bright light in her eyes. “OK, stop right there,” she said. “Page turner!”

“What…?” I was confused. (Were we talking about the can’t-put-it-down book Blood, Bones, and Butter again??)

Cider vinegar?!?” She said. “I don’t know from cider vinegar. As soon as I see it in a recipe I’m turning the page.” Kate is a psychologist, but she has also has a side career as a Second City comedian, so sometimes it can be hard to tell when she’s kidding.

“That’s ridiculous,” I told her. “It’s cider vinegar. It’s right next to the balsamic vinegar in any supermarket.”

“I don’t care. The whole idea of it scares me. The whole idea of someone who knows how to use cider vinegar scares me. It’s like cream of tartar. I mean, what is that? What do you use it for? What kind of people buy cream of tartar?” (more…)

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