Entries from June 2011

Grilled Pizza

June 30th, 2011 · 33 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Picky Eating, Vegetarian

When it comes to summer cooking, we have a pretty strict family policy: Do everything you can to avoid turning on an oven. Which is all well and good except that it clashes with our other family policy: Eat pizza once a week. By pizza, we don’t mean the takeout pie from Tony’s on Main Street or the personal pans the kids get on Fridays at the school cafeteria. We’re talking pizza – made, when possible, with a homemade crust — that may or may not include cheese, is topped with fresh ingredients (potatoes and bacon, arugula and ricotta), and can bring even the most reluctant eater (e.g., Abby) to her little knees with gratitude. In our minds, pizza is the ultimate family dinner – you can have three entirely separate meals on one crust and still, if you close your eyes, pretend that you’re all eating the same thing. But to keep our strict family pizza policy intact this summer, we had to learn how to do it without turning on the oven. We had to learn to cook it outside. This took some doing. We burned a lot of crusts, and yet, we fought on, grilling pizza after pizza after pizza until we got it right. Here is what we learned.

HOW TO GRILL PIZZA: SIX VERY IMPORTANT RULES

1. Oil Everything. If the crust sticks to the grate, you’re done. Avoid this by brushing the grate and both sides of the crust with olive oil. (more…)

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Grilling for Dummies

June 29th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Domestic Affairs, Grilling

I’m going to start this story with a personal note to my Women’s Studies professor from college: Please do not continue reading. OK are we good? Are we alone now? Because I’m about to venture into some serious damsel-in-distress territory here.

I can’t grill.

From May through September, I depend on Andy – my totally evolved, equality-minded husband – to be my dinner hero. I know I’m not alone – I know that this scenario plays out in backyards across the country and that the Weber remains a shady, unknowable realm to even my most kitchen-savvy women friends. But come on, this is 2011. How is this OK?

I know what you’re thinking – how exactly is it a bad thing that for four months out of the year, someone else is responsible for feeding Phoebe, Abby and me? (And feeding us well, I might add.)  I can only respond with this anecdote: Remember last year how I miraculously arranged my work schedule so I could take a two-week beach vacation? The girls and I headed out for the first week, then Andy joined us for week two. Fun, right? I thought so too until Night One, when I found myself setting the oven to 425° to prepare Abby’s favorite baked drumsticks. This is not the way to cook in the summer. On vacation. In South Carolina. In August. (more…)

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Holy Smokes

June 28th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Grilling, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

Beautiful, ain’t he?

I mean, if you can get past the dreary little jacket of rust, and the melted plastic handle, and the whipped-dog, eyes-averted, kind of sad posture of a guy that has been forced to spend his life outside, alone, on a patio. In the fall, he catches dying leaves and plays home to a colony of spiders. In the winter, he sits out in the snow, frozen at odd angles, working on his…patina. In the spring, he emerges again, only to spend the next few months as a makeshift goal post in backyard soccer games, or as a receptacle for garden shears, empty seed packets, and bug-hunting kits. But in the summer, this ugly little customer asserts his true greatness. He becomes the single most important piece of cooking equipment we own. And how I love him. (more…)

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A Fine Mess: Baby Back Ribs

June 27th, 2011 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Sides, Salads, Soup

I’ve gone on record saying that there is no such thing ever as a gimme meal when it comes to cooking for kids. But I’m just going to come right out and say this: If ever there was a gimme meal, these ribs are it.* Not only because they are so melty and gooey and quintessentially summer, but because they demand the complete abandonment of whatever table manners you have attempted to hammer into your children thus far. I think it’s the only time all year I encourage my girls to eat with their hands and get as messy as they want to. (It’s not like they’re ever more than 10 minutes away from washing up via pool/sprinkler/hose anyway.) (more…)

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Grill Week!

June 26th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Are you the lucky person in charge of figuring out dinner for the Fourth of July Celebration? (Yes, I meant “lucky!”) Check in with DALS this whole week for a line-up of crowd-pleasers and show-stoppers. Andy is even threatening to weigh in with a post titled: The One Object Every Serious Griller Should Own. Aren’t you curious? Come back and see us!

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A Question for You About Recipes

June 25th, 2011 · 122 Comments · Uncategorized

Which recipe style do you like better?

RECIPE STYLE 1: Conventional The style most magazines and cookbooks go with where all ingredients written in a list before the instructions. Like this delicious looking tagliatelle I will be making soon.

OR

RECIPE STYLE 2: Casual Ingredients are integrated with instruction using casual estimates for measurements (“a handful of walnuts” or “a few glugs of olive oil” or “a big heaping spoonful of Dijon”). Like this recipe for easy shrimp tacos (and like 95% of recipes that appear on DALS.)

I’m torn. The dinner diarist in me gets comfort from seeing a clear list and exact plan and everything in order. But sometimes, I feel like it can have the opposite effect. A long list of ingredients can scare me off. And I worry that being so exact about measurements makes readers less likely to improvise, i.e. less likely to learn and experiment and, ultimately, feel confident. That’s why I usually write in Recipe Style 2. But I could see that this might alienate people would rather be told exactly what to do and how to do it.

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts — beginning cooks are especially welcome — even if it’s just a quick comment below voting for “Casual” or “Conventional.”  Thanks!

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Not Our Finest Moments

June 24th, 2011 · 24 Comments · Dinner, Domestic Affairs

I’ve been feeling a little badly about something. I re-read my post about last weekend’s Grilled Lamb Feast and had the thought: I don’t know if I would like me if I didn’t know me. Who calls their own number on a dinner party? If Phoebe read it, she might have called me “braggy.” The truth is, I was thrilled about that meal because for a few weeks there, I was feeling like Chuck Knoblauch in the late 90s when he forgot how to throw from second base to first. Like totally forgot to the point where the ball would sail 10 feet over the first baseman’s head and into the crowd. He was the second baseman for the New York Yankees. The New York Yankees! This was his job. Sort of like how I write about dinner, so I’m expected to know how to execute a your basic everyday skillet meal. But I started to feel like I was suffering from a bad case of the yips. I could not turn out a decent coconut curry chicken even though I’ve been making a version of one for over a decade. One night, I thought I was a genius for conflating Phoebe’s request for meatballs and Abby’s request for chicken teriyaki into “chicken teriyaki meatballs” — until I actually tried one and realized they tasted like balls of styrofoam with a hint of sawdust. I couldn’t even get mad at Abby when I told her there’d be no dessert if she didn’t eat more, and she responded, “Fine. I’ll have one more bite of this disgusting meatball.” I think my lowest point, though, was last Wednesday when I broke out a nice bottle of Gruner from the fridge and sunk the corkscrew right into the….screwtop cork-less cap. My first thought: Is today the day my family and my DALS readers find out that I am a complete fraud? My second: Thank God, dinner report cards already went out. (more…)

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Something New

June 22nd, 2011 · 26 Comments · Picky Eating, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

Here’s a question: how do you get your kids to try something new? We’ve deployed various methods over the years, including but not limited to: bribery (eat this, get that), blackmail (you don’t eat this, you don’t get that), begging (dear god, I am begging you, just one bite), guilt (but poor mommy spent twenty minutes making these fava beans for you!), rebranding (well, yes, if you want to get all technical about it: white broccoli is cauliflower, happy now?), and camouflaging (what? the pancakes taste weird today? Hmmm. I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the flax seed we put in the batter). Each of these techniques has its place, depending on your level of existential dread and desperation, but each always tends to leave us feeling a little cheap or duplicitious (but only for a second). Which is why, these days, we’ve been so into the idea of getting the kids to invest in their own food, and their own choices: if you involve them in what they eat from the beginning, they’re a lot more willing — excited, even – to give it a shot. I think there’s a basic management principle in here somewhere, which I could articulate if I knew anything about basic management. My best attempt: if you give your li’l employees a seat at the table, they’re a lot more likely to care. (more…)

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We Went Off

June 20th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Dinner, Grilling

I was deep in dreamland on Saturday morning at 6:00 when the dog woke me up with her howling, but still, my first thought was Why am I so happy? And then: Holy s*%t did we rock dinner last night! Does that ever happen to you? When you are so pleased with the food you prepared for someone that the high lasts a solid weekend long? That’s what the past two days have been like for us — We grilled a feast for Andy’s parents on Friday and clearly, haven’t stopped patting ourselves on our backs for it yet. Andy was in charge of the leg of lamb (Abby: “It’s like steak, only better!”) which he cooked to perfection (not surprising, as you may remember, his report card indicated he aced Grilling) and I took care of the accessories: a wild rice salad, bright green fava beans smashed on crostinis, and a new take on Swiss chard. A chard that was so successful that the next day, Andy turned to me on the sidelines of Phoebe’s last soccer game and asked “Our defense is awesome today, no?” and then “What did you do to the chard last night?” I’m telling you, it will be hard to shake this one.

Grilled Leg of Lamb

In a small bowl, add 1/4 cup country style Dijon mustard, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, and 3 sprigs of rosemary, destemmed and roughly chopped. Whisk together and spread all over butterflied leg of lamb. (This one was 2 1/4 pounds.) Add salt and pepper and let sit for about an hour. Grill over medium-hot coals (Important: Do not put over high heat; mustard will get charred.) about 5 minutes a side for medium.

I could eat this entire platter.

Fava Bean Crostini

Remove fava beans from pods. (I had about four handfuls of pods.) Boil beans in water for about 2 minutes, then immediately plunge in ice bath. Remove each bean from its casing and add to a medium bowl. Add a tablespoon olive oil, frehsly grated Parm (wished I had Pecorino) a small squeeze of lemon, 1 sprig of mint (chopped) salt and pepper. Mash together until it’s the consistency you see above. You want it to be a little chunky. Spread on top of baguette toasts. (more…)

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Happy

June 15th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

Besides the fact that it’s Friday and that we have a grilled leg of lamb on the menu tonight, what else is making me happy today?

1. Finding a ridiculously easy way to frost the ridiculously easy mud cake I make for every birthday. The one above was for my dad’s 75th — don’t worry, I eventually added the “birthday,” part. (Scroll to bottom for recipe.)

2. Holding a first draft of Dinner: A Love Story, the book in my hands. A very positively extremely roughly rough first draft, but a draft nonetheless.

3. Conjuring up image from last weekend of daughter flying down sideline with soccer ball.

4. Holes, by Louis Sachar. Note: it makes me happy to read such a well-written book. The book itself, which I’m reading to both girls (ages 9 and 7), is actually creepy and cool and not happy at all. At least not yet.

5. The large batch of granola that is baking as I type, and that will be ladled into cellophane bags for school teachers, piano teachers, soccer coaches, and Father’s Day honorees.

6. Getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot. So freaking genius. (Thanks, Grid!)

7. This promising development out of Palo Alto.

And now a few from Andy:

8. This story on Disney World, where we have never been, which is totally my fault, but something about it just kind of scares me.

9. The latest, crazy good, crazy funny piece of fiction from George Saunders, in this week’s New Yorker.

10. The fact that Louis CK’s show is about to start again — which we liked okay the first time around, but which showed glimmers of greatness and we love him so much, we’re betting it’ll work out.

11. This song, because… just because. I mean, please.

12. More good kid books — 12 a year — coming down the pike from McSweeney’s. Soon to be reviewed on DALS!

(more…)

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Crank it Up

June 15th, 2011 · 14 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup

I have no problem cranking the oven to 425° in June if the dinner I’m cooking for the kids elicits a cheer. A cheer. Literally.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Bake Idaho potatoes in a 425°F oven for an hour. (We estimate 1 1/2 potatoes per grown-up; 1 per kid) Meanwhile, chop scallions and fry bacon. (We estimate about 2 slices bacon per person or about 4 per Abby.) When potatoes are finished, slice in half horizontally, scoop out the insides into a mixing bowl being careful not to tear skins. Mix potatoes with a whisk, adding salt, black or white pepper, warmed milk or cream (or anything in between) until you reach desired mashed-potato-like consistency. Restuff potato skins with mash-up and top with slices of sharp cheddar. Place restuffed potatoes on a cookie sheet and broil for another minute or two until cheese has melted. Top with scallions, bacon, sour cream.

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Report Card Time

June 14th, 2011 · 22 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Posts by Andy

And Jenny evaluates Andy… (more…)

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Market Planning

June 13th, 2011 · 13 Comments · Rituals

There was a time in my life when Sunday meant sitting down with my Dinner Diary and mapping out a meal plan for the week. Like this line-up from June 14-18, 2004:

Monday: Fried Sole with Green Beans
Tuesday: Ravioli with Green Salad
Wednesday: Fajitas with Black Beans and Cheddar
Thursday: Curried Chicken with Apples
Friday: OUT (always in caps, always!)

I remember telling a food editor friend about my meal-planning system and her response was not the usual “Why again do you record this stuff in a diary?” but this: “Well what happens if you see a big shiny eggplant at the market on Tuesday afternoon? Are you going to just pass that up if it’s not in the plan for Tuesday night?” She said the word “plan” like she was holding a dirty diaper. (more…)

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I Have a Question

June 9th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Rituals

Which is more exciting?

a) Eating dinner at Per Se, at a table overlooking Central Park, on a warm spring night, holding a tasting menu that looks like this (only five of about thirteen courses shown):

OR

b) returning home from that Per Se dinner and finding this note stuck to your front door…

Here’s a hint.

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Dad’s Chop House

June 8th, 2011 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Rituals

As a kid, the perfect ending to a good day was when I’d walk into the kitchen at about six o’clock, after a long afternoon of backyard pyromania and brain-melting Q*bert sessions, and see the big Pyrex baking dish on the counter. Inside that dish were four or five or six pork chops — bone in, sourced from our local Safeway — marinating in white vinegar. This meant one thing: breaded pork chops for dinner. My mom, who was usually in her room with her “feet up,” would let the chops soak for an hour or two. After my dad came home and poured himself some medicine, we’d get to work on what passed for mise en place in my house in 1983. My mom would fire up her ancient electric frying pan and pour in some olive oil, and I’d help her dredge, coating each chop with flour, egg, and — this is key — Italian bread crumbs. (more…)

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Chicken with Asparagus Ketchup

June 6th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

The first time I had “asparagus ketchup” I was sitting at a sidewalk table at Bar Pitti in the Village with my Time For Dinner co-authors Alanna and Pilar, and our editor, Lia. We had split a bottle of 2006 Toscana Castello di Ama rose, the name of which I remember only because I emailed myself a photo of the label so I’d be able to track it down later. It was that special.

Then again, just about anything seems special to me when I’m having it at Bar Pitti – and not just because the place is a New York institution. When I worked at Real Simple a thousand years ago I was one of five editors who had babies within a few months of each other, and at least once or twice a summer we’d make a point to take the subway out of midtown, out of our tightly packed worlds of meetings (and pumping) and deadlines (and pumping) to grab some polpettine and a glass of wine at Bar Pitti. One glass usually became two and sometimes more, and before we knew it, the afternoon was shot (as was the breast milk), and writing the “50 Gifts Under $50″ story was just going to have to wait til tomorrow. Since we were all new moms, we’d hit on the usual topics  – how long is too long to share a bed with the baby, how you know when it’s teething and when it’s worse, whatever Caitlin Flanagan was making people mad about…But I think what I loved most about these lunches was that it felt so good to be irresponsible for a few hours. There was not a whole lot of wiggle room in our schedules, so a midday glass of wine downtown was about as wild as things were going to get. For me, at least. In the next few years the five of us went our separate ways — some to different jobs, some to different coasts — but I’ve channeled the vibe of our lunches every time I’ve eaten at Bar Pitti since. Because of those moms, everything tastes good to me there. Every occasion seems sweeter than it probably is.

The second time I had asparagus ketchup was decidedly less romantic. It was last week, when I debuted it at my family table. Of course, “asparagus ketchup” is not what they called it at Bar Pitti. (This is what happens when babies move on from breast milk — you start sucking all the sentiment out of your favorite dishes if it means your kids might be more likely to take a bite.) Bar Pitti just called it cold asparagus sauce and poured it over a chilled pounded chicken breast like a glaze on a cake. It could not have been a more refreshing summer meal. When Alanna asked the waiter how the sauce was made we couldn’t believe it was just mustard, olive oil, and asparagus. Depending on the mood you’re in, we later found out, you could add water or broth to turn it into soup. (more…)

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My Life as a Man

June 3rd, 2011 · 37 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Domestic Affairs, Posts by Andy

It was late Saturday morning, Memorial Day weekend, and we were at all home, puttering. The kids were upstairs doing their thing, and Jenny was at the kitchen table, her face buried in her MacBook. I opened the refrigerator, and then the freezer.

“We have any butter?” I asked.

Jenny looked up. “Why?”

“I think I’m gonna make some snickerdoodles with the girls,” I said.

“No, you’re not,” she said.

“Why?”

“You can’t make snickerdoodles,” she said. She actually looked serious about this. ”And you definitely can’t write about it.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Snickerdoodles?” God, just the way she pronounced the word: chilling. “I just can’t let you do that. Too emasculating.”

I’m not going to get too deep into the subtext here, or any latent impressions Jenny may or may not have about men who bake — let alone bake snickerdoodles – but let’s just say it felt a little like the person I love very much and with whom I have had two children, was calling my sh#t out. Like, seriously? A guy wants to do something fun with the kids on a sleepy Saturday morning, and he gets hazed by his wife? The thing is, there’s a lot you do as a parent — or, okay, as a father of two daughters — that carries an unmistakable whiff of the surrender-monkey to it. Printing out and memorizing the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s new single: that would definitely be one of those things. Enduring Ryan Seacrest in silence: yup. Nursing a lifelong grudge against musical theater and yet pretending, without complaint, to be Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music when it is called for*. Getting a (small, cute) dog and naming it Iris. Applying toenail polish (no smudges!) in rainbow colors on one tiny foot, and then doing the other tiny foot in the opposite color progression. Over the past several years, I’ve done all those things and so, so much worse and — apologies in advance to all the bros out there who may be reading this — the truth is, I never really gave any of it a second thought. Don’t you kind of check your manly bona fides at the door when you have kids? I mean, isn’t that part of the point?

Given all this, was making a batch of cookies so bad?

“Yeah, I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think I can be married to a guy who makes snickerdoodles.”

She is now married to a guy who makes snickerdoodles. (more…)

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Easier than Any Freezer Dinner

June 2nd, 2011 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

Every time I make this roasted chicken with barbecue sauce I say to myself: Why don’t I do this meal on those nights I reach for the box mac & cheese or frozen pizza? It’s fresher and healthier than most things you’ll pull out of a box (Don’t worry, I still love you Trader Joe), but more to the point, it’s just as easy. In fact, I kind of can’t believe I didn’t include it in the six-week Dinner Doula plan I wrote up for parents who are paralyzed by the idea of cooking homemade food for their kids. If I had a do-over, this recipe would be Dinner Number One. Look how simple it is:

1) Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove drumsticks (or thighs) from package and place in a foil-lined roasting pan.
2)  Add a little salt and pepper and brush a thin layer of barbecue sauce on each. (If you are a beginner, I realize the likelihood of having a stash of homemade sauce lying around is slim; don’t worry, just use your favorite bottled kind.)
3) Every 10 minutes or so, flip and brush on another thin layer of sauce. After 30 minutes, they are done. That’s it.

I haven’t tuned in to the 2011 season of Food Revolution, but last year I remember Jamie Oliver served a chicken like this along with a shredded salad to tempt the West Virginia school kids away from the nuggets and fries. Sadly, hardly any of the kids were convinced, but I sure was. For a year I’ve wanted to make a salad that looked like that one. I guess technically you might call it a slaw. Whatever you call it, it rocked. (more…)

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