Entries from February 2012

The Search is Over

February 28th, 2012 · 83 Comments · Quick

Besides the meaning of life, there are three things that I am forever in search of: An affordable, authentic spindle bed for my 8-year-old; dining room chairs that I love as much as our kitchen chairs; and an easy-to-clean, nontoxic skillet in which I can fry or scramble my beloved morning eggs. Thanks to the cookware sleuths at Bon Appetit, I’m delighted to say that I can check this last obsession off my list. You are looking at my brand new Bialetti Aeternum 10-inch nonstick saute pan, which is 100% Teflon-free and which only set me back thirty bucks! A very small price to pay for the happiness it brings me every time I clean it with a little water and a single swipe of a dishtowel. Even my egg-hating kids peered over the edge of the pan, noses wrinkled, to steal a peek of the action.

PS: In other egg news, per Andy’s request, I have mastered poaching thanks to SmittenKitchen’s masterful tutorial. What was I so afraid of?

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A Stress-free, Gluten-free Menu

February 27th, 2012 · 35 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup

Remember when a dietary restriction was the exception rather than the norm? A decade ago, having a vegetarian over for dinner was a panic-inducing proposition in our house, but now, given that we are eating plant-based meals so much more regularly, it hardly even registers as an issue. These days it seems to be all about the gluten-free guest. And by that I mean, the unnecessarily apologetic gluten-free guest who says at some point before he or she comes over: Please don’t think about it — just cook the way you normally do. I can always find something on the table to eat. I pretend to honor this request, but if you looked at my Google history over the past six months you’d probably find a whole mess of search terms that reveal exactly how clueless I am (“Who is Emma Stone?” is the latest example I feel comfortable sharing) intermingled with this daily query: “Is Fill-in-The-Blank gluten free?” This dinner I cooked a few weeks ago for my in-laws (Grandma “Hubba” is GF) was a good one and I thought I’d share it with you guys from soup to nuts.

(PS: Other recipes referenced in my diary above (which aren’t gluten-free): Black Bean Burritos, Cold Sesame Noodles, Scalloped Potatoes and Kale SaladCooked Carrots.)

This menu serves four. Bonus: Every bit of it can be done in advance including the quinoa. (Just don’t toss your greens with the vinaigrette until it’s time to eat.)  If you want a starter, go with the always-reliable Chips and Guac. I never have to worry about dessert since I have a world-class gluten-free bakery in my neighborhood. But I’m interested in hearing from you guys about sweet notes to end on.

MAIN: Sweet and Sticky Chicken Pieces
This recipe started out as the chicken wings I shared last year — but turned into something else entirely on the night I realized I had no wine in the house. I used pomegranate juice instead and now that’s the only way I prepare it. It could not be easier and it makes the house smell so good. Note of warning: DEFINITELY line your baking dish with a layer of foil — maybe even two layers. The sauce gets sticky and makes for a dish-washing nightmare.

2 pounds chicken pieces (we do thighs and drumsticks)
1 cup gluten-free soy sauce or Tamari
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange chicken in one layer in a foil-lined large baking dish or roasting pan. Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour this mix evenly over chicken pieces. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake until sauce is thick and sticky, about 1 hour more. They are supposed to be dark and gooey, but keep an eye on them in this second round of baking so they don’t get more charred than you prefer.

SALAD 1: Quinoa with Feta and Herbs

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup of quinoa and simmer, covered, until tender, fluffy, and water is absorbed — about 15 minutes. Let stand, covered, off the heat for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. (This yields about 4 cups cooked quinoa.) Add 1 bunch scallions (chopped), a handful of chopped parsley or mint or both, and a handful of crumbled feta to taste.

SALAD 2: Greens with Fennel and Blood Oranges

In a large bowl, add the following: Fresh greens (or as fresh as you can find in the winter), 1/2 bulb fennel, shaved superthin (preferably with a mandoline), 2 small blood oranges (outer layer of pith removed, sliced horizontally), and a handful of chopped mixed herbs such as cilantro, chives, parsley. Toss with cider vinaigrette below.

Cider Vinaigrette

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup good quality olive oil

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Dear American Idol

February 21st, 2012 · 34 Comments · Dinner

Dear American Idol,

First just let me say how happy I am that you’re back. We love writing you into the family schedule with extra exclamation points and stars; already, we’ve spent way too many family dinners in heated discussions about prospective winners. (Phil Phillips: You heard it here first!) We love being part of the national conversation and the fact that we can go almost anywhere — from the soccer sidelines to the conference room to the birthday party  – and have a common currency among adults and kids alike. (“Do you speak American Idol?”) I’m not the first one to say it — but I like you guys a lot! WOW is it a fun show to watch!

But now that you have been around eleven years and now that you’ve made a mockery of all other shows in terms of what counts as ratings, and now that, as 30 Rock once pointed out, you are arguably as powerful as the U.S. government… how about doing something good with all that muscle? Cause you guys can do anything! You had Hulk Hogan stop by the show just because James Durbin happened to mention he liked pro wrestling. Lady GaGa, Beyonce. Josh Turner showed up to sing “I’m Your Man” with a shocked and delighted Scotty McCreery! You can call Carole King and she’ll be there. (Yes she will!) And I don’t even want to talk about what you pull off in the finale.

So my question is: What’s up with Coke as a sponsor? I know they’ve been your advertising bro from the beginning, but don’t you have your (more…)

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Sunday Dinner

February 16th, 2012 · 14 Comments · Posts by Andy, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup

“What’s my angle on this post?”

I don’t want to pull back the curtain on this whole DALS thing too far, but that’s a question you hear a little too often around our house, at about 10:00 at night, when the kids are in bed and one of us is sitting at the kitchen table, trying to write 400 words about baked potatoes or 7,000,000 words on, gulp, a freakin’ chicken salad sandwich. (Not that we’re complaining.) What’s my angle? What’s my point? What, exactly, am I saying about this plate of food or that pile of children’s books? This is what I asked Jenny last Sunday night when she informed me I would be posting, in the coming week, about the meal we’d just eaten.

“Sunday dinner,” she said. “That’s your angle. You don’t need anything more than that.”

And, as usual, she was right. Sunday dinner conjures certain feelings and carries certain expectations and I suppose we’d met most of them that night. It was cold that day — or, at least, what passes for cold now — and we’d bunkered down most of the afternoon, reading Anne Frank (school project) and playing Apples to Apples (dying, truly dying) and getting antsy (very antsy), and I craved something basic and warm and tasty. You could say I was craving comfort food, but comfort food is a phrase that gives me the willies and I swore I would never use it, in earnest, on this blog. And yet: I needed something that went well with bourbon. I needed me some meatloaf! Not only that, I needed the meatloaf I grew up eating. (You will find this recipe in Jenny’s forthcoming book. Have you heard about her book? I’ve read it and it is GOOD.). Anyway, to go with that meatloaf, we needed potatoes, but I wasn’t totally feeling the roasted kind, so Phoebe and I went retro and made a cheesy gratin — I did the slicing, she did the arranging — and just so there was one indisputably healthy, green thing on the plate, we made our favorite raw kale salad. All of this, working in concert, made the house smell so good. At one point, Abby actually took a break from her doll playing, appeared at the top of the stairs, and shouted: “Dad! What smells so good?!” That’s what you want to hear on Sunday night. And that’s my angle. – Andy

Potatoes au Gratin

We used to make this all the time before we had kids. You can do it with red potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes — we even used to mix in some sweet potatoes, too. Hard to go wrong. If you have a mandoline, you can use it to slice your potatoes nice and thin, about the thickness of a quarter. If not, a sharp knife will do just fine. If you want the full treatment, use cream instead of milk.

1 tbsp flour
1/4  to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, depending on your tolerance for heat
1 cup 2% milk
4 to 5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, skin on, sliced thin
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup shredded cheddar

Grease 9″ pie dish or casserole with olive oil or butter, and set aside. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together flour, cayenne and milk, and set aside. Arrange sliced potatoes neatly on bottom of dish, then a few onions, in one layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a handful of each cheese. Repeat three times: potatoes, onions, cheese, reserving a little cheese for final layer. Pour milk mixture evenly over the potatoes. Top with shredded cheese and salt and pepper, and cover with foil. Bake at 425° for 40 minutes. Remove foil, and broil for 5 minutes, or until cheese gets slightly brown and bubbly.

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The Little Cabbage that Could

February 14th, 2012 · 14 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup

It pains us to even admit this, but it took us a long time to come around to Brussels sprouts. They didn’t crack the dinner rotation until we were well into our 30s, with two kids, a mortgage, a dog, and a creeping difficulty reading the fine print on aspirin bottles. In other words, until we were full-fledged adults. But in our defense: When we were kids, way back in the 80s, Brussels sprouts, like liverwurst and canned sardines and that weird gelatinous pate you’d see at our parents’ dinner parties – was a grown-up food, a punch line food, the kind of thing you associated only with thinly veiled threats. “OK, guys, if you don’t eat your Brussels sprouts…”

From an early age, then, it was drilled into our heads: Brussels sprouts were something to be choked down. They were what had to be endured if you wanted your bowl of Rocky Road. One thing you learn as a parent, though, is that you are not necessarily doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. With our kids, we could start over. We could change the narrative. We could, if we went about it the right way, get them to like Brussels sprouts. So a few years ago, we set out to try. We spied a billy-club-size stalk of fresh-looking sprouts at the farmer’s market, brought it home, and began experimenting. And by experimenting, we mean spinning. “Baby lettuces,” we began calling them.Hey kids, aren’t they cute? We shredded and sautéed them (“Look kids, it’s like confetti!”), then tossed with fettuccini and Parmesan; we blasted them at high heat in the oven, and dressed them up with mint, cilantro, fish sauce, and Rice Krispies. (“Can you say Mo-mo-fu-ku, kids?”) But it was, of course, bacon that took us to the Promised Land. We fried some Brussels in bacon fat, drizzled them with cider vinegar (they love a little sweetness), then watched as our daughters popped “baby lettuce” after “baby lettuce” into their hungry little mouths. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to like what accompanied (and elevated) our boring old chicken that night. All they knew was that they wanted seconds of this magical vegetable that – bonus! – came with bacon bits on top. And we were only too happy to oblige. – Jenny & Andy

This is our “Providers” column from the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit — on newsstands today. Please head over to their site for the brussels sprouts recipe. Photo by Romulo Yanes for BonApp.

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Semi-Homemade Valentines

February 13th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Those of you who follow me on Twitter knew we were up to this yesterday — semi-homemade Valentine’s Day cards. Last year, the gifted and talented Brooke Reynolds of inchmark, provided a PDF for templates of half-drawn portraits — the kids color in details, such as eyes, freckles, glasses, hair — and I’ve been looking forward to handing them off to the girls ever since. (You may remember Brooke — she was the design genius behind the supremely popular DALS post “Rules of Dinner.”) If you’re scrambling to put together the classroom cards tonight, I promise you this will take you less time than it would to get in the car, drive to CVS, then address and stuff the storebought cards. And the kids will have fun doing it. We even made one for the dog.

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Convincing the Kids to Eat: A Recap

February 13th, 2012 · 23 Comments · Picky Eating

Last week, my editor sent me the index section of my book to look over. I thought it was going to be some straight stuff, but there were a couple moments when I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud (then found myself crossing those moments right out with my red pen). Such as, under C, “cocktails, enthusiasm for.” And under J, Just Married, “worshipping talented cooks.” And, under A, “Awkward Silence Strategy.” (I had to look that one up myself.) But then there was one I came across that actually made me angry. Again, under C, the indexer had listed beside the word Children, “See also Picky Eating.” I like to think things are not so bad at our collective family tables that we need to assume, as this note did, that all children fall under the category of picky eaters. We all have our handicaps (in our house, they are eggs and pasta  – think about that! Two of the most fall-back-plan-y foods that exist in this world!) but if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, hopefully you’ve picked up a few strategies beyond the heart-shaped cookie cutter to help things along. Here’s a recap.

Invest them Up-Front in the shopping part of the process. I’m all for having them cook with you, too, but convincing them to pick things out with you at the ground level — the supermarket, the farmer’s market —  is a much lower maintenance (and a much less messy) proposition than having them stir the spaghetti sauce all over the stovetop.

Make Sure There’s Always Something Familiar on the Plate. I call this “psychological latch” food, like tater tots or one of those par-baked Trader Joe’s dinner rolls. Or if you are going to make pizza with clams or poached eggs, make sure at least one half of the pie is a classic marinara and mozzarella (above). It’s just not fair to spring something like Pork Scallopini on them without an anchor.

But Pork Milanese that’s another story. Anything Milanese is likely to knock their socks off.

Point and Cook If you are cooking from cookbooks or blogs, have the kids flip through the pages or scroll through the slideshows, and tell them to point to what looks good. Of course you run the risk of it not looking exactly like the picture, but at least their heads are in the right place when they sit down.

Never Answer a Kid When He or She Asks “What’s For Dinner?” Especially if it’s something new. Just repeat these words: “I Don’t Know Yet.” Giving a kid some time to think about a dish that they potentially hate or that is just downright mysterious gives them a window to formulate an argument against the food — and also gives them time to convince you to make them something else. Repeat: I Don’t Know Yet.

Re-Package, Re-Spin, Re-Brand. Name dishes after people. Replicate favorite restaurant dishes. When it’s time for sandwiches, use your waffle iron. We’ve turned grilled cheeses and regular old bologna sandwiches into edible masterpieces that way.

Apply Broccoli Logic. If all else fails and the only thing you can get your kid to eat is a hot dog, remember Andy’s Broccoli theory? No matter what broccoli (or kale or quinoa) is sitting next to, it will magically transform the dinner into something you can feel good about feeding your children. You might have a hard time finding this concept in most indexes.

Photo by Jennifer Causey for Dinner: A Love Story, the book.

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How I Became a Valentine’s Day Cynic

February 10th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

My first boyfriend in high school was so dreamy. He made me mixed tapes that introduced me to exotic artists like Steve Miller Band and Crosby Stills and Nash and Dan Fogelberg. When he wrote me letters, they were in all upper case — BECAUSE EVERYTHING I SAY IS IMPORTANT! he explained. He was different from the quarterbacks my friends crushed on, seemingly hailing from another, cooler era — wearing plaid pants to the prom, calling hot dogs “scorched poochies,” and saying over and over in between drags of his Marlboros that he was “mad about me.” He called me “Rosie” and, in writing, addressed me as his “Brown-Eyed Girl.” I was so crazy about him, and subsequently that song, that I recorded it on one side of a tape six times in a row so I could stare dreamily at my bedroom ceiling without having to get up to press rewind on the cassette player I shared with my sister. (You can imagine how my sister felt about him and his Van Morrison.)

Then Valentine’s Day arrived. Or, I should say, the day before Valentine’s Day arrived. We were on the phone, the cord coiled around my fingers, talking about the Dead coming to town that summer, when he said he had to go. “Oh, Rosie? One more thing.”


“I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day…Cool?”

Oh yes. Cool. Of course, Cool. Yes. Yes.

We hung up, I pressed play on my Peter Cetera compilation, crawled into bed and wept. (more…)

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Sense Memories

February 8th, 2012 · 28 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

There’s a photo we have, in our album from 2002, that captures the exact moment my parents and Jenny’s parents saw Phoebe for the first time. Jenny’s in the hospital bed, all wired up and groggy from surgery, head slightly elevated, and she’s holding Phoebe in her arms. Phoebe is swaddled, purple-faced, about thirty minutes old. Thirty minutes old. All four of our parents are lined up on one side of the bed, leaning in, as though peering off the edge of a cliff. The expression on Jenny’s mom’s face is one of those amazing, ecstatic expressions you see in life’s happiest moments – such as the birth of your daughter’s first child – or on the front page of the New York Times, in the grief-stricken face of the person who has just walked away from some kind of life-altering natural disaster. For real, her expression has that kind of emotional weight to it. Stripped of context, it could be an illustration of the most sublime kind of joy, or the most warping kind of pain. In this case, thank god, it was joy. I remember taking that picture — standing off to the side in my scrubs with my old-fashioned film (!) camera — and the one that came a few seconds after it (above) when all four parents had moved one step closer to Jenny and that primal expression had morphed into something more closely resembling tears of joy. When I think of Phoebe’s birth, I think of that moment, and how little we really understood about, you know, what it all meant.

I have a bunch of these kinds of memories from the day Phoebe was born, flash-frozen moments floating through my head, mostly intact, ten years later – writing a rambling journal entry, as Jenny was in labor, on the Esquire notepad I’d stolen from my place of work, though God, I could never ever bring myself to read it now; standing in the waiting room in my white sterile booties, waiting to be reunited with Jenny as she was being prepped for surgery; being so incredibly confused when we realized Phoebe was a girl because we’d been so firmly convinced that Phoebe was a boy (something about the angle of the bump); I even think I remember what it felt like to hold Phoebe for the first time, though if I really focus on it now and try to conjure it up, I can’t be sure.

If it sounds like I’m protesting too much, that’s probably because I feel some weirdness around the fact that so much of what I remember about those four days in the hospital has to do with food. It’s bizarre – and might point to a larger problem — but I can remember pretty much everything I ate, and how I felt when I ate it. The hamburger and Tanqueray-and-tonic I devoured at the legendary JG Melon’s with my in-laws, six hours after Phoebe’s birth. The bagel (plain, with scallion cream cheese) and coffee I bought at Eli’s, and ate on a bench on Madison Avenue the morning after: the bagel and coffee were average, and I hadn’t slept a wink, what with the baby in the room and my rolled-up jacket as a pillow, but the sky was so incredibly blue and I’d never felt that kind of euphoria before in my life. If someone could bottle that feeling, I would eat it, inject it, and snort it. I would snuggle it to death. I would be king of the… that was a heartbreakingly good morning. The turkey ragu I made when I raced back to our apartment the next afternoon, and froze in batches, to be eaten when we returned home. The O’Henry bar I bought in the gift shop. The bottle of Bordeaux my brother-in-law brought over, and which we took down in short order, with a corkscrew I ran out to buy at a wine store down the block. The chicken consommé and lime jell-o I plucked from Jenny’s hospital tray as the Percocets worked their magic. The dinner we had, on the third night, when my aunt Patty – whom we’ve written about on this blog before – dropped by to see the baby. She brought a white paper bag with her.

“What’s in the bag?” I asked.

“William Poll,” she said.

“What’s William Poll?” I asked.

“Jesus, nephew,” she said. “It’s only the best deli ON THE PLANET.”

Out of the bag came two neatly-wrapped sandwiches: chicken salad with bacon on pumpernickel bread that had been sliced about ¼ inch thick. “These things cost a fortune,” Patty said.

“How much?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know,” she said.

We sat there in the hospital room, by flourescent light, and ate. I’d had a lot of chicken salad in my life, but this was insane.  I was in a heightened state (more…)

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My New Favorite Dinner

February 6th, 2012 · 39 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Do you guys know that story about Robert Rauschenberg? The one where the interviewer asked him “How do you know when you are finished with a painting?”  and he responded “When I sell it.” Meaning, he’s never finished, and as long as the work is in his possession he will keep reworking it forever. This is what came into mind the other night as I stared at the galley of my book, which, in one form or another, has been sitting on my dining room table for the past six months, as I go back and forth from the kitchen tweaking and replacing and reworking and driving my editor and designer crazy. But I had just made this dinner — salmon and brussels sprouts, a combination which I had spied in both Martha Stewart and Real Simple in the same week, then married that with a Momofuku-inspired ginger scallion sauce — and I began to leaf through the pages looking for a place to squeeze it in. It’s so quintessentially DALS — simple, weeknight-friendly, tasty — how could it not be in the book?!! And not that I’m in any way comparing my writing to a Rauschenberg Combine painting, but I do believe it’s just the element that would turn my book from cookbook to masterpiece. It’s so good! It’s so easy! But alas, my deadline was for real this time (I said goodbye to the galley forever — terrifying) so I have no choice but to give you the recipe here and now. (more…)

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Game Plan

February 3rd, 2012 · 13 Comments · Uncategorized

Here’s mine for Super Bowl Sunday:

Chili Nachos with Guacamole

Hot Cheesy Artichoke Dip

Sweet and Sticky Chicken pieces (I’m doing drumsticks and thighs — I made this last week and forgot how tasty it was!) or Chicken Pot Pie (shown above)

Homemade Mac & Cheese (I might waive this if I go with Pot Pie)

Greens with Apple and Fennel.


I’m hoping someone else can come up with a winning dessert idea.

Enjoy the game.

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The Importance of Routine

February 1st, 2012 · 24 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals

I was having drinks with a few local friends last year when one of them, the mother of a newborn (her first), leaned across the martinis and whispered to me “How come everyone says it goes so fast? I just find it to be the EXACT opposite.” Her face was awash in guilt as soon as she sent these words out there, and quickly hedged. “Oh my God! Is that a horrible thing to think? It’s not like I feel that way all the time.” I was shocked by the statement too — not because she was confessing to what every parent thinks at one point or another, especially during the particular points when the baby is not sleeping — but because she was asking me for advice. How was I suddenly the veteran with a third and fourth grader who had advice to dispense on parenting? What the…? Damn, that went fast!

I told her what I believe to be 100% true: Everything changes when the baby, and therefore the baby’s parents are sleeping. Until then, you can’t be expected to remember where you put your car keys, let alone think straight about the great cosmic meaning of children and happiness. Then I told her my theory about sleeping which I also believe to be 100% true, but might have a harder time backing up with, you know, JAMA studies: Every parent has to deal with one of three sleep handicaps:

  • Handicap 1: The baby/toddler will torture you for hours at bedtime before finally shutting his or her eyes.
  • Handicap 2: The baby/toddler wakes up in the middle of the night for long stretches, during which time you feel like the loneliest person on earth.
  • Handicap 3: The baby/toddler rises before the sun and you are forced to function before you’ve had a cup of coffee.

Each handicap carries its own particular set of tortures, but in my experience, it seems rare that a parent has to deal with two or three at once. (I can already hear the emails of dissent pinging in my inbox.) As we’ve mentioned several million times on this blog, our sleep handicap was always the morning. No matter what we did, for the longest time, we could not figure out a way to get Abby to sleep past 5:30. (How I dreamed of the sevens!) But then we’d go to a friend’s house for dinner and we’d all be eating dessert at 10:00 while their 3-year-old would dart in and of the bedroom every 15 minutes, burying his sleepy bedhead in mom’s lap, until finally his parents, through gritted teeth, would just give up and invite him to join us for a piece of pie.

Our first pediatrician told me that kids crave routines. I like to think this is a fact that one might even find in JAMA. I also like to think that we were so Draconian about our evening routine early on that this is what made it impossible for our daughters to suffer from handicap number 1. Even though we weren’t necessarily eating dinner with them when they were that little, we were always sitting with them. There was always some form of after-dinner event (as full-time working parents, this was the half hour when we attempted to cram in all the “quality time” we felt we missed during the day), then bath, bedtime story, and finally, lights out. On the weekends, we’d let them “watch a movie” (a 10-minute Pixar short; today it’s more like The Danish Poet*, above) because what’s the point of having a routine if you can’t break it every now and then?

As for how to solve handicaps 2 and 3? What do you think I’m some sort of veteran? How should I know?

*Which contains the immortal line: “Kaspar became living proof that some poets are better off happy than sad.”

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