Entries from December 2011

Making a List

December 22nd, 2011 · 18 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

A few months ago, when we took the girls to see Rango, we settled back in our seats with some popcorn to watch the movie preview marathon. (They’ve gotten  longer, haven’t they?) It was all the usual stuff — Chipmunks and Gnomes, nothing terribly exciting — and then, suddenly, a huge ship plowing through a dark sea. On the side of the ship was written the word UNICORN and I heard Phoebe gasp. TINTIN! She screamed, then shrank back down in her seat when she saw that it wasn’t coming out until December 2011 — an eternity from then. I don’t know how I’m going to wait that long, she kept saying after the movie and seemingly every night at the dinner table since. It’s going to be torture. Phoebe has had a love affair with the adventure stories of the Belgian boy-sleuth, and his sidekick wire fox terrier, Snowy, since we handed her all eighteen volumes back in 2008. For her, waiting for this movie to come out has been much harder than waiting for Christmas morning. (But it’s been great fun for us — nothing makes me happier than watching kids build up their patience muscles, since it seems there are so few opportunities left to do so.) But now she only has to wait a few more days — it’s Number One on our Holiday Break To-Do, To-See, To-Read, To-Cook List. In case we don’t have time to weigh in next week, we thought we’d share the rest of the list, too. (more…)

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Split Pea Soup with Ham

December 20th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Pork and Beef, Sides, Salads, Soup

I don’t want to be mean about it or anything, but if you don’t make this soup the day after you make a holiday ham, something is wrong with you.

P.S. Tonight’s dinner of atonement: my favorite latkes topped with sour cream and smoked salmon. And for dessert: gelt!

Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham

In a large stockpot, over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add one onion (chopped), 2 stalks celery (chopped), 3-4 carrots (chopped, about 1 cup). Cook about 8 minutes until vegetables are soft.

Add leftover ham hock (with or without meat still on it), 1 3/4 cup split peas, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour 10 minutes.

Remove ham hock. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the stock pot until it’s mostly smooth. Add a little more water if it seems too thick. If there was meat on the hock, pull it off the bone and add back to the soup. Serve with croutons or baguette toasts.

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Ham for the Holidays

December 19th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Entertaining, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

Do you have certain meals that you make rarely, on special occasions, and then, as soon as you’re done eating them, you say to yourself, Damn, that was good. Why don’t we eat this once a week? I do. Roast turkey with stuffing and gravy is one of those meals — so deeply satisfying, and come on, would it be any less satisfying on a Sunday night in January? Pasta with fresh clams and basil is one of those meals: why do we only make it in the summer, when we love it so much? Our New Year’s lobster is one of those meals and so, I’m not afraid to admit, is the twice-a-year kid birthday staple, Hebrew National pigs-in-blankets, with which I shall never ever dream of arguing. But the biggest heartbreaker for me is our beloved yet marginalized friend, the glazed ham. Why is it that we only eat glazed ham in mid-to-late December, at holiday-themed dinner parties? Who made up that rule? No disrespect to our entertaining stand-bys — short ribs, ragu, pork loin braised in milk — but is there really anything tastier or more dramatic looking or, honestly, easier to pull off than a crispy, sweet, salty, diamond-scored, slightly caramelized, fat-marbled, relatively inexpensive, even-better-the-next-day ham sliced up tableside (more…)

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The Table is Set

December 16th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals

No matter how early I got out of bed when I was a kid, I would come down to a set breakfast table. Even during the school week. Even in the winter when my alarm (“You’re listening to 95.5, WP…..L….J”) would go off in the pitch black. Even when I was the first one up on Christmas morning, I could expect to flip on the kitchen light and see five plates, five place-mats, five juice glasses, five forks, knives, and spoons. This was not Santa or Santa’s elves at work. It was my dad, who had set the breakfast table the night before, after dinner, after the dishwasher cycle. After we had all retired to our bedrooms to do whatever it was we did before teenagers holed up in the dark texting their friends. When my friend Jenny would call me at night the first thing she’d always ask was, “Did Ivan set the table yet?”

We made endless fun of him for his obsessive advanced planning  – and yet, there I was, two years ago, with our holiday table all ready to go (sans the fresh flowers) a full week and a half before any guest would walk through my white-Christmas-light-framed doorway. The truth is, that dinner was the first Christmas dinner Andy and I had ever hosted (usually it was at my parents’ or Andy’s parents’ house), and I was overwhelmed by all that had to go into feeding ten adults and six children. I found that hosting the holiday dinner wasn’t like the rest of the season’s chaos — much of which could be done in advance and usually one-clicked while waiting for the chicken to finish roasting. When I sat down and looked at my dinner to-do list, it was a lot of last minute shopping and stressing and the only thing I could think of to do to feel more in control was…set the table.

It felt so good to have that part of the event under control that now I do it before almost any occasion that merits the Dining Room Table treatment. Phoebe’s Secret Agent Party birthday table was set at least three days ahead of time and when Andy came home from work that night and saw it, he looked at me like I had nine heads. Just like we all used to look at Dad. But Dad gets it. I know he’s running around the county right now picking out gifts for his six grandchildren, and I’m sure he’s overwhelmed by the chaos, too, but I’m guessing that wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, his table is set.

PS: Andy made an apricot-bourbon glazed ham for that holiday dinner and it rocked. Look for that post in the next week.

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Top Ten Side Dishes

December 14th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Our poor side dishes. Always getting buried at the bottom of a post that stars some showstopping piece of meat. But as anyone who is putting together her holiday party outfit knows, it’s all in the accessories, and so herewith, a round-up of some of our favorite unsung sidedish heroes.

1. Gingered Green Beans Add a couple handfuls of green beans (about 2 cups or what’s shown above) to boiling water that has been salted. Cook 2 minutes then immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and preserve the beans’ bright green color. After a minute, drain and pat dry with a paper towel. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil with a drop or two of sesame oil. Add 1 tablespoon minced, peeled, fresh ginger, 1 large garlic clove (minced), and cook 1 minute. Add beans, a little kosher salt, and toss everything until beans are coated. Raise heat a bit and stir in a teaspoon of rice wine vinegar and a teaspoon and a half soy sauce. Cook another minute then serve.

Roast Potatoes with Chutney and Yogurt Chop 6 to 8 red or Yukon gold potatoes a few handfuls of fingerlings and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 30-35 minutes until potatoes are golden and crispy. Toss in a dollop of fruity chutney (increasingly the only ones I ever use are Pomegranate or Plum from Bombay Emerald) a few chopped chives, and serve topped with another dollop of plain yogurt.

Roasted Beets with Honey, Feta, and Thyme Wrap 4 to 5 beets in foil and Roast at 425°F for 40 minutes. Remove and cool. Peel and chop them into a fine dice then toss with a squeeze of honey, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and some fresh thyme. (more…)

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Holiday Round-up: 24 Things We Love (+ a gift for you!)

December 12th, 2011 · 167 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Dinner

So we may not be the only ones posting a Holiday Gift Guide this week, but we’d like to argue that DALS is probably going to be the only place you can stop by for a Family Dinner Holiday Gift Guide. Which is another way of saying that every gift, recipe, ritual, moment you see here is either family-related, dinner-related, family-dinner related, or, in keeping with the spirit of the blog, s#$t we like so much we just needed to tell you about it. (See #1 above, Pantone Ornaments from Seletti — for all your design geek friends!) Be sure to read carefully — there’s something in it for you, too. — Happy Holidays from The DALS Team!

2Mauviel Copper Roasting Pan ($280, 11 3/4″ x 8 5/8″) A Big Ticket Item for Big Ticket Home Cooks. Copper pots — any size or shape or model — are the gold standard for cookware. This was a present for Jenny last year; amazing what passes for romance in this house. But roasted chicken thighs have never looked so good. – Andy

3A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. Let’s put aside the fact that he’s doing life in prison right now: Phil Spector could make music sound good. We pretty much put this album on repeat  for the entire month of December. Even when we’re eating Latkes (see #6). You can hate Christmas records and love (more…)

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A Little Something Special

December 8th, 2011 · 14 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Rituals, Seafood

New Year’s Eve is so overrated. I realize I’m not breaking any ground with this statement — which became a mantra in our house long before we even had kids who would’ve insisted on playing Dora dollhouse at 5:30 AM with no regard for how much champagne was consumed the night before. All it took was one aggressively mediocre $100 prix fix dinner out — which offered nothing more special than what you’d find on the menu on a Tuesday night in March — to convince us that we’d be much less resentful of the New Year and way better fed if we just stayed home for the night and watched Larry Sanders re-runs.

That doesn’t mean we don’t properly recognize New Year’s Eve. (As my friend Rory noted the other day, my family has never met a ritual or an opportunity to celebrate that we haven’t seized upon.) Before the kids came along and before Andy’s brother, Tony, and his wife Trish had to go and move across the world to Hong Kong, we used to dress up in our holiday best (for me: black velvet Ann Taylor pants, chunky-heeled Nine West loafers, something shiny on top from Banana) and make multi-course dinners in each other’s Brooklyn apartments that almost always included something worth a splurge. Something special.

Something Special could mean just about anything: a bottle of Champagne that was not procured from the sale bin (1995); a tin of beluga caviar that one of us had received as a corporate gift, served on blinis with creme fraiche (1996); a bottle of 1963 Port that Andy’s dad had been saving for a big night (1999!). But if I am to believe my Dinner Diary — and why wouldn’t I? — the “something special” that, as of 2002, began dominating our New Year’s Eve celebrations was… is lobster.

It might be dipped in Champagne butter. It might be part of a paella or served alongside a wild mushroom risotto or a citrusy salad or horseradish mashed potatoes. Early on in our parenting career, it was usually just the two of us feasting on 1 1/4 pounders after the girls went to sleep; later the lobster dinner became a family affair that would splinter into two teams: The Tail is Better Team (me and Abby) and the Claws are Better Team (Andy and Phoebe). No matter how the lobsters are prepared or who is eating them, there is a 100% chance that they’ll wind up in the family photo album, with Andy or me doing our obligatory imitations of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.

And that’s the plan for this year, too. (more…)

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The Game Changer

December 6th, 2011 · 68 Comments · Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

The pork loin I braised in red wine last Tuesday night was pretty freaking delicious. I can say this because most of the credit goes to my coworker — remember the one who was plotting her own pork and lentil stew in the slow-cooker while I was plotting drumsticks? After she told me that one, it was on the brain for 24 hours and I knew the only way to get it off the brain would be to try out a version of the pork stew for myself. The problem? I didn’t own a slow cooker. (Well, not true. I own one, but it is in a box deep in the bowels of our basement, and last time I remember using it, I think it was missing a crucial piece, like a lid.) I was working from home the day I decided to tackle the recipe in my Dutch Oven and began cooking just as the girls were scattering their math workbooks on the kitchen table to start homework.

What’s for dinner? asked Abby as soon as she heard the loin hit in the oil.

This can be such a loaded question. When I’m making something new for the girls — which is fairly often — and there’s a good chance that the unfamiliar name of this dinner will set off some whining, sometimes I just lie and say I don’t know yet. But other times, when dinner is simmering away on the stovetop, and an oniony aroma is in the air, I opt for the truth.

Some sort of pork with beans…and maybe kale, I told her.

I don’t like beans! And then, for the next two hours, it was all Do we have to have pork with beans? and Can’t you make those chicken wings again? and Can you make me something else if I don’t like it?

I hate this scenario. The whole point of dinner — the whole point of this site actually — is to get people excited about sitting down to eat. And what killed me is that I knew Abby would love this meal if she had the right attitude. But she couldn’t picture it, so it scared her. I get it  – for the longest time, that’s exactly how I felt about J.Lo on American Idol.

I needed a game changer. I needed Tater Tots.

Abby had hand-selected a bag of them from Whole Foods a few weekends earlier and hardly a day had gone by when she hadn’t begged to have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was just the psychological latch she needed on the plate to adjust the way she was approaching the table. I piled a mountain of them next to her pork, which she ate absent-mindedly, and which, when deconstructed and cut into pieces, was not all that much different looking than the Pork braised in Pomegranate Juice and Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork she’s had (and loved) a hundred times before.

And I know this is not exactly breaking news, but Holy Christ Tater Tots taste good! The rest of us were pretty excited about dinner that night, too.

REMINDER: Advanced Recipe Search is now up and running.


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Advanced Recipe Search Debuts!

December 5th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Uncategorized

I’m so happy to tell you that the Advanced Recipe Search is finally up and running. It’s not all there yet, but it’s definitely an improvement over what you were working with before. (Which would be nothing.) You’ll see that it’s exactly what you’ve been asking for — a straight list of every recipe to appear on DALS since March 2010, broken down by category.  This should come in handy when for some bizarre reason you forgot that the Baked Chicken with Tomatoes and Mascarpone was called “The Six-Kid Crowdpleaser.” Or that the recipe for Sausages with Warm Mustardy Potatoes was called “Better on Vacation.” Sometimes you will still have to scroll to the very bottom of a very long wind-up to get to the actual recipe — sorry! — but I do hope that this feature will at least cut back on some of the search time when you are in a rush. Anything else I can do for you? (And don’t say alphabetize the list. I’m working on it.)

Eventually this feature will be listed on the top of the page along with Home/Favorites/About/Contact, but for now, just click on the photo of the Baked Sausage with Mustardy Potatoes in the sidebar — right below Fave Five, which I hope you are also enjoying.

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8 Questions For: David Sedaris

December 1st, 2011 · 22 Comments · Cameos, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

For a bunch of years when I worked in magazines, I was lucky enough to have the chance to work with David Sedaris. For an editor, this was like being a baseball-loving kid and having had the chance to be the bat boy for Lou Gehrig. (Or maybe that’s not the best example here, but you get the idea. It was, as Abby would say, a priv-uh-lege.) Anyway, those years were some of the best and most fun I ever had, professionally — and personally, too, as David proved as kind and generous a person as he was talented as a writer. A few months ago, we had him over for some dinner (we made a version of our yogurt-marinated chicken) and he arrived with gifts for the kids: bottle-shaped candles, magnets that looked like leaves, chocolates, Japanese note cards, and two books: Strange Stories for Strange Kids and It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. They’re two parts of a remarkable three-part series, called Little Lit, which was edited by the great Art Spiegelman (of Maus fame) and his equally talented wife, Francoise Mouly. As much as the kids (more…)

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