Entries from March 2012

Just a Little Friday Reading

March 30th, 2012 · 22 Comments · Uncategorized

Easter entertaining advice from Ruth Reichl, plus an easy blueberry crisp that I am making as soon as I hit “publish” on this post.

I’m liking this trend! Especially when someone notes that Andy and I are part of the evidence that proves it’s a trend.

I don’t know why I didn’t own happy vintage juice glasses before this week.

I think we’ll go with the Yardbird when we’re here for dinner next week.

Raising girls who love butter (and themselves).

How did I forget how much fun a kid can have with a spy pen?

Yesterday I was staring at an onion and a pack of chicken and asked you guys what you’d make. (Should we bring back Food Network’s Ready, Set, Cook?) The ideas were inspired! (Andy, who didn’t know I was taking menu nominations, ended up home before me and made chicken tacos with a black bean salad.)

How do you take your eggs? However you do, Bon Appetit‘s Egg Primer shows you how to nail the technique in your own kitchen. (Seriously, have you ever seen a story this beautiful?)

Of course, Jon Stewart’s take on Pink Slime.

Joan Nathan’s Countdown to an Easy Passover.

PS: I found the above photo in Saveur about five years ago and it’s been pinned on the bulletin board of every office I’ve worked in since. The credit says Time-Life, and I’m guessing it was taken in the 60s. Here’s a Where’s Waldo-esque challenge for you: Can you find one of my all-time most favorite cookbooks in that pile? First one to guess right gets a free galley of my own book and a bumper sticker.

Have a good weekend.

 

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What Can I Bring? How About an App?

March 28th, 2012 · 7 Comments · Kitchenlightenment

Before I was a mother, I remember being completely tongue-tied when my colleagues would bring their kids to work and swing by my office for an introduction.  How do I engage a toddler? I always wondered. What do I say to a kindergartener?  Is it sending the wrong message to tell a six-year-old that I like the head-to-toe hot pink ensemble she’s got going on? My default line ended up being something like “What are you going to be for Halloween?” Even if it was the middle of spring, this usually proved to be endless fodder for conversation. Imagine how much easier it would’ve been if I could’ve just opened up my Action Hero app! Not that he wasn’t already their friend for life, but when our pal Jim showed the girls how to make their own movies with blockbuster effects — see Abby’s directorial debut above, missle-ing her parents while they innocently hang out in Grandma’s kitchen — he instantly became their favorite friend for life. And that’s tough, because a lot of our dinner guests lately have been coming over not with wine or dessert, but with some exciting new iTunes discovery, which I’m embarrassed to say, was way more appreciated than the Sancerre. Here are the latest:

Action Hero According to Apple it’s the number one downloaded free entertainment app on iTunes right now, so you probably already own it. (Begging the question: Why didn’t you guys tell me about it???) It was created by J.J. Abrams of “Lost” fame and you get to overlay selected special effects — missiles, falling cars, tornados, choppers, demolition rocks — on your home videos. All weekend long, wherever we went — my parents’ house, restaurants, Dick’s Sporting Goods – we couldn’t help create catastrophic scenarios. PS: Obviously, please use your judgment on age here. Probably a little too much for kids under 5 or 6 who are just now getting used to the big scary shark in Nemo.

La Di Da My friend Kate introduced this one to us. You make up a song — literally any kind of song, the sillier the words the better — then punch a bunch of buttons and you have all the makings of a hit single. (Which, according to John Seabrook, is apparently not that much different from how they make Top 40 songs these days.)

Morfo Kids get to take pictures of themselves or their friends then morph the image with crazy eyes, lips, hairdos. I like to use it to imagine myself with shorter or longer hair, but, of course, the girls just add as many crazy features — nose rings, pink wigs, huge freaky eyes, disco moves — as they possibly can.

Rising Card Magic Trick By far my favorite of the group. Our neighbor Seth first performed the trick in front of the girls resulting in all four of us — not just the kids — screaming What The…How The…?? Like a true magician, he didn’t reveal the way it works (so I won’t here), but as soon as he left we downloaded the app and committed the act to memory. It’s so satisfying to get the exact same astonished reaction from whatever poor soul has agreed to participate. I’m not going to say anymore except that I promise you, it will be your new favorite party trick.

I’m almost afraid to ask, but if you have any good suggestions, I — I mean my kids — would love to hear about them.

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Anatomy of a Friday Night Dinner

March 26th, 2012 · 16 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Uncategorized


Friday Night Spicy Chicken Sausages with Baked Beans and Kale Salad

1. Procure 6-8 good quality Italian-spiced chicken sausages.

2. Fry in a skillet for 10-12 minutes until brown and cooked through.

3. Pour wine.

4. While sausages are frying, chop up some kale into shreds. Toss with olive oil, tablespoon or two of chopped shallots, handful grated Pecorino, squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper.

5. Heat up some canned baked beans, preferably Bush’s original.

6. Serve everything with a dollop of whole grain mustard.


*PS: Iris is our dog. She’s not Hasidic. That was iphone’s autocorrect for “has gone.” Obviously.

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How to Plan Family Dinner

March 22nd, 2012 · 33 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick, Rituals

Last weekend I was in my friend Nina’s bright, airy kitchen, taking in the expansive view of the Hudson River out the back window, when she motioned me over to the kitchen table.  ”Please sit down,” she said. In front of me, there was a small pile of cookbooks, some old Gourmet magazines, and a well-loved, yellowed recipe booklet that once belonged to her grandmother. Nina handed me a pad of paper and a pencil. She took a seat next to me and said, “I feel like maybe I should be lying on a couch.”

Her 9-year-old came bounding into the kitchen and thanked me — unprompted! — for the meal Andy cooked for him at our house the night before. We laughed. We talked about last night. He left and she turned to me again, a serious look on her face.

“OK, Nina,” I said. ” What seems to be the problem?”

She took a deep breath. “I just can’t get organized when it comes to grocery shopping” she said. “I really need help.”

Because of my line of “work,” I seem to land myself in these kinds of dinner heart-to-hearts all the time. I imagine my friend Kate, a psychologist and the world’s best listener, helping her friends through stress and anxiety and deeply personal issues, offering them comforting advice with phrases like “That’s normalizing.” Not me. My patients’ issues — at least as they present themselves to me — tend to center more on pork chops and grocery lists. Last year, at pick-up, a mother of three approached me and said “I get angry – really angry, when my kids say they don’t like the food I’ve spent time cooking for them.” She paused then added, “Sometimes I have to get up and walk away from the table.” About a gazillion times a month I hear this complaint: “We eat the same things week after week. I can’t seem to break out of the rut!” Last year, after a book talk I gave at a local school, a mother asked me: “What do you do if you don’t know how to make sauce?”

But of all the issues that can face a dinner-maker — no time, no skills, no inspiration, no help with the cooking — Nina has the big one down: Family dinner is the house default mode. She and her husband (who both work from home) and their two kids sit down to a meal together every night.

“What are you so worried about?!” I told her. “That’s the hardest part to nail!”

She didn’t quite see it that way. “I guess. But I never have a plan when I go shopping,” she told me. “I never seem to have what I need to improvise.” She led me to her pantry and, Vanna-White-style, swept her arm across the shelves. There were three full bags of panko breadcrumbs, about a dozen bags of pecans. Nina told me she hits the supermarket  once a week for the kids’ school lunch and breakfast staples, but on that shop doesn’t ever think about dinner ingredients. “Honestly,” she told me, “I don’t really think about dinner until the moment I’m standing in front of my refrigerator at 6:00.”

I had a sudden urge to rewrite the first line of Anna Karenina: Every unhappy family dinner-maker is unhappy in his or her own way. But instead I started scribbling some strategies that I wanted her to put into play immediately.

Strategy 1: Think about dinner before you have to make it. It’s not exactly breaking news, but if the goal is to make dinner something to look forward to — as opposed to one more task in between “pay taxes” and “schedule root canal” on the to-do list — you need to plan ahead. And planning ahead comes in all shapes and sizes. It means on Sunday, you look at the schedule for the upcoming week to determine which nights are going to be home-cooked meal nights and which ones are going to be storebought dinner nights. (And which ones are going to be Moo Shu pork in front of American Idol.) It means on a Monday or Tuesday morning taking two minutes to ask yourself: What can my 8:00am self do to help my 6:00pm self? Marinate something. Chop something. At the very least, decide on something. Get the momentum going.

Strategy 2: Try something new once a week. Nina’s kids eat almost any meat and love salmon, but they don’t love things mixed together, and could use some help expanding their vegetable repertoires. We looked in my upcoming book for some salmon recipes that were familiar to the boys, but different enough to feel like she was busting a rut. We also looked for interesting ways to upgrade the vegetables so the grown-ups could get a little more joy out of the steamed broccoli. I always feel like the trick to trying something new is to introduce it gradually — and preferably when there’s something else on the plate that is universally loved and embraced.

Strategy 3: Give yourself at least one From-the-Freezer night. Whether it’s thawing something homemade or chucking in the storebought default dinner you picked up at Trader Joe’s. Nina’s go-to in this situation is Trader Joe’s Mandarin Chicken. (Note to self: That stuff looks goood.) Don’t put pressure on yourself to cook something from scratch every night of the week. I don’t have to remind Nina, a sustainability consultant, that the name of the game is to create a sustainable dinner system.

Strategy 4: Be your own sous chef. Make something on the weekend (or at least a Sunday dinner) that can carry over to one meal during the week. It doesn’t even have to be a bolognese — though that would be nice. Even a five-minute homemade salad dressing will end up yielding some seriously happy dividends.

Strategy 5: Go out on Thursday or Friday night.  No matter what your dinner issues are, you’ve earned it.

Click here to download a PDF of Nina’s weekly meal plan (plus shopping list!) and also to see how we applied each of the above strategies.

 Above photos shot by Jennifer Livingston.

 

 

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From Scratch

March 21st, 2012 · 26 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, her best and oldest friend in the world, Midge — fellow bridge clubber, golf partner, drinking buddy, all-around Golden Girl — hosted a dinner party, on the Wedgwood china, in her big brick house on Forest Avenue. Jenny and I were in attendance, as were my father, two widows — Mary and Shep, both in their mid-eighties — and a couple of cranky daschunds named Maxi and Mini. These ladies were as old-school as they come, and though the most basic motions of life had grown difficult and their social universe had pretty much been reduced to the people at this table, they all had that twinkle in their eyes that said: We might be past our prime, but don’t be fooled, sonny. We could crush you in our day. Every woman there had raised kids, spoiled grandchildren, and all but one had lost husbands; all, including my grandmother, have since passed away. But that night, Midge turned back the clock. At 5 pm sharp, out came the Scotch. (These women couldn’t be bothered with wine — unless the Scotch ran dry, at which point: watch the f*ck out.) Then came the little bowls of mixed nuts, cheese waffles, and Bugles. By 6, we were feeling good, seated at the long, formal dining room table, and my dad was toasting my grandmother, whose chair was decorated with balloons. I don’t remember exactly what Midge made for the main course, but let’s say it was a foil-tipped crown roast with cooked-to-oblivion asparagus and instant mashed potatoes — and if it wasn’t, it might as well have been. For dessert, one of my grandmother’s all-time favorites: angel food cake.

My grandmother, it should be noted, was the daughter of German bakers. The woman knew from dessert. I don’t think she had a tooth in her head that hadn’t been violated by a dentist over the years, but that didn’t hold her back. She actually had a little silver dish by her front door that was filled, year round, as if by a benevolent god — I never did figure out where she kept her stash — with York mints and peanut M&Ms, jelly beans and mini-Almond Joys. When I think of her kitchen in the house my dad grew up in on Lincoln Street — before she moved into a one-story place later in life, as my grandfather grew frail — I picture two things clearly: the side-by-side freezer with two or three white-and-blue gallons of Schrafft’s ice cream, and an angel food cake, cooling upside down in its pan on the counter, impaled on the neck of a Dewar’s bottle. She’d serve this to me with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Hershey’s chocolate sauce, and god, the way that slab of cake absorbed the ice cream, and held it there until fully saturated, kind of like a sponge? Please. Let me rephrase that: Please.

It made sense, then, that we’d have angel food cake for her 80th. The cake, this night, had been supplied by Mary who, at 84 or 85, still knew how to make some noise in the baking department, still knew the value of cake and ice cream on a birthday. This had just the right amount of toasty crunch on the outside, and just the right fluffiness on the inside. Jenny, who also loves a dessert, was impressed.

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmm,” she said. Maybe this was just the Scotch talking. “Oh my god, Mary. This cake is a-mazing.”

“Isn’t she just the best cook?” my grandmother said.

“She really is,” said Midge.

“Truly,” said Shep, who was wearing an awful lot of gold. “Always was.”

“Oh, stop,” said Mary, waving them away. These women were not limelight-seekers. “But Jenny, if you give me your address, I’d be happy to send you my recipe.”

About a week later, a letter from Mary arrived at our apartment in Brooklyn, addressed — of course — not to Jenny, but to Mrs. Andrew Ward. Inside was written, in slightly shaky hand, the secret recipe for this angel food cake. “Take one box Duncan Hines angel food cake mix,” it began…

For women of my grandmother’s generation — or, I should say, the women of my grandmother’s generation that hung around with my grandmother — from scratch meant something very different from what it means today. It meant: I didn’t buy this in a store. It meant: I cooked this in my own oven. It did not mean: I defied convenience and combined several real ingredients together to make this cake. Was it worse? Better? They didn’t care. To be honest, I didn’t get any of this “from scratch” stuff until pretty late in life, either, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend Duncan Hines doesn’t make a solid angel food cake mix. But there is a from-scratch version of this that we make for the kids that even I — a terrible baker — can pull off. It, too, goes great with ice cream. We never tried it out on Doris, Mary, or Shep, but something tells me they would have been impressed. – Andy

 

Angel Food Cake, from Scratch
From Cakewalk, by Kate Moses

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’s sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (about 12 large egg whites)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar

Move the oven rack to the lowest setting, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring the egg whites to room temperature about an hour before baking.

Combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar and flour and sift three times. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on low until foamy, then add the cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla and increase the speed to medium. Whip just until soft peaks form, then, beating on medium speed, gradually add the granulated sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating until the whites form soft peaks but are not stiff.

Sift one quarter of the flour mixture over the whites and fold in lightly by hand using a rubber spatula, and repeat with the remaining flour in quarters. Turn the batter gently into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

Bake about 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean and the top springs back when touched lightly. Invert the cake onto the neck of a bottle of Dewar’s (or a wine bottle) and allow to cool completely, 2 or 3 hours, before moving from the pan.

Serve with spring strawberries or with chocolate sauce and ice cream.

Photos courtesy of family archivists Earl Johnson and Douglas Ward.

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Life with a Food Mom

March 19th, 2012 · 33 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

 

Do you know how annoying it is every night to have to wait another five hours for Mom to finish taking pictures of her food? If you are wondering why she has to take pictures of food, well, you’re looking at it. Take for instance a black bean burrito! Shrimp rolls! And this chicken with artichokes that you are looking at right now. I think that all of you — well most of you — are sitting at the table and having your parents sit right down and eating a delicious dinner. It’s different in my house. I have to wait, as I told you, for fiiiive hours for ONE picture to be tooken of SHRIMP SALAD!!! That seems psychotic to me. I’m an innocent child! All I want to do is sit down at the table and enjoy my dinner. Imagine if you were me, sitting at the table with a warm ficelle right in front of you without EATING IT! It’s TORTURE! All of you out there are LUCKY. You sit at the table with your family, pick up your fork, and eat. My life would change if my mom wasn’t a blogger! I do have one positive reason why being a food blogger’s daughter is fun. It is fun because every night we get to have a different dinner that some families might never have. We have interesting dinners and basically I have not had one dinner that was made by Mom or Dad that was not fantabulous. Except the egg dinners that are all mushy and slimy and D-I-S-G-U-S-T-I-N-G in my opinion. – ABBY, 8   :evil: :roll: :mrgreen:

 

Chicken with Artichokes in Creamy Mustard Sauce

1 1/3 pounds chicken thighs, salted and peppered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes, or to taste
8 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) thawed frozen artichokes canned artichokes (drained) or to taste
zest from 1 lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 – 1/3 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
chopped parsley or thyme

In a large skillet, brown chicken pieces in olive oil over medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, about 2-3 minutes a side. (They do not have to cook through.) Remove, decrease heat to medium, and add onion. Cook a minute or two, scraping brown bits leftover from chicken. Add tomatoes, artichokes, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Nestle chicken thighs in the vegetables then add wine and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook another 8 to 10 minutes.

While it’s simmering, whisk together cream and mustard. Remove skillet from heat and stir in creamy mustard mixture.

Garnish with parsley or thyme. Serve with rice. Or ficelle — the par-baked loaf from Trader Joe’s. The kids will sit through any food photography nonsense if they have one of these waiting for them at the other end.

 

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My How We’ve Grown!

March 16th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

Related posts: Pork RaguGeorge Saunders Kid Book PicksAndy’s First Cocktail PostSchool Lunch-Packing Contract (our first post to go viral),  Salmon Teriyaki, Quinoa, NY Times Puts DALS on the Map.

And if you are looking for a way to say Happy Birthday, a pre-order would definitely do the trick.

Have a good weekend.

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Winner

March 16th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I’m pleased to announce that Amanda is the winner of last week’s Baked Better giveaway. Baked Better is a Brooklyn-based company that makes a line of delicious organic bread mixes — all you have to do is add water. (No long rising times or bread maker is necessary! How great is that?) A big thank-you to the folks at BBB for sponsoring the newsletter and for throwing in the Cuisinart Bakeware as a bonus. If you are a vendor interested in sponsoring a newsletter, please contact Jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com. If you are a reader interested in winning some really awesome gifts (lots more coming up), please follow me on facebook, twitter, or subscribe to our newsletter.

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Packaged Dinners You Can Feel Good About

March 14th, 2012 · 24 Comments · Dinner, Quick

It’s not that I don’t inhale what’s left of the frozen shrimp tempura from my daughters’ plates. Or that I didn’t grow up eating Stouffer’s creamy chicken pot pie once a week. Or that I have anything against a slice or two of Trader Joe’s quattro formaggio frozen pizza. My feeling is…if you can’t break out a good junky frozen dinner every now and then, well, I have to ask: Where is the joy in life? But for the most part, we like to stock our family freezer and pantry with quick-and-dirty packaged foods that a) we feel good about feeding our children and b) that we would eat ourselves. Here is a list of what we fall back on when we are going out (and s#*t! The babysitter is coming in 5!) or when we have nothing in the fridge. Or when the work day has been loooong and the evening with the kids seems soooo tragically short.

PJ’s Organic Chicken Burrito These are a recent discovery. They’re not cheap — I think each goes for about $7 — but you get what you pay for. Good quality ingredients, fresh flavor, and a variety to choose from. I find them at Whole Foods but website says you can find them in the freezer section at national supermarkets and natural food stores.

Black Bean Soup This is our go-to meal for Phoebe when she doesn’t like what everyone else is eating. A quick heat on the stovetop and a dollop of sour cream and it barely feels like I’m doing anything extra. She likes Latin Style from Trader Joe’s that comes in the carton, but we’ve also given her 365 brand from Whole Foods and Amy’s Black Bean Vegetable.

Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza Dumplings We steam these or saute them in a little oil and serve with broccoli. I once made a recipe from the Cooking with Trader Joe’s cookbook which called for tossing the dumplings into chicken broth with some frozen vegetables and a dash of soy sauce. It took about 10 minutes. I’m not sure why I haven’t reprised that one.

Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegetarian Chili Organic and affordable. It’s Phoebe’s favorite, but I often open a can for lunch and top it with a chopped avocado and a little sour cream.

Naked Nuggets  These are the un-breaded (so gluten-free) real white meat chicken pieces from the guys behind Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York. I think the genius of them is that you heat them in a little olive oil on the stovetop instead of in the oven. The only problem is that they can be a little hard to find — though their site lists availability at ShopRite and Food Lion among others. My 8-year-old literally gasps when she spies them in the freezer section.

Beans on Toast Let’s not forget this classic.

Hoffman’s Hot Dogs OK, I’ve never actually tried these, but Yolanda’s franks-n-beans dinner over on Momfilter sounds so good that I’m determined to remedy this culinary void immediately and stock up. (Slow-cooker owners encouraged to follow entire recipe.)

Spinach Pizza Snacks Back when Abby was little, the spinach tucked into these little bitesize pockets were the only green vegetable Abby would consume. So there was a stretch there when these graced the table way more often than they probably should have. For reasons I can’t remember, we called them “Fun Pies” and have had luck with other flavors, too — like southwest and  spinach and cheese.

Saffron Road Chicken Tikka Masala There is a whole line of these Indian freezer dinners and so far I haven’t tasted one I don’t like. Most take about three minutes in the microwave and come with rice. Add some grape tomatoes or a handful of baby carrots and pat yourself on the back.

PS: Giveaway happening on my Facebook page today!

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Quick-ish Coq au Vin

March 12th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

There are times that call for Julia Child’s Coq au Vin: Holidays. Birthdays. Someone special coming over. (I always knew my mom liked her dinner guests when I saw Mastering the Art of French Cooking splayed on our mustard-colored formica counter.) And there are times that call for the abbreviated version. Like two weeks after coming home from the hospital with our firstborn. Thanks to casserole-bearing well-wishers, we hadn’t cooked for ourselves for what seemed like years, but it was a cold Sunday night and we had some red wine begging to be put to use, and so we did what we’d do about eight thousand times in the next ten years: We took some shortcuts. We used chicken thighs instead of hacking up a whole chicken. We skipped the igniting of the cognac (and the cognac itself); Instead of making separate recipes for brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms, we just threw both into the pot with the chicken. The recipe we came up with and still make ten years later — unless someone special is coming over, in which case we stick with Julia’s — isn’t quite fast enough for a weeknight meal. But it’s just right for an easy Sunday family dinner. Especially the kind of Sunday family dinner when you forgot that soccer practice ends at 6:00 so you won’t be able to start browning or simmering anything until 6:30. The kind of Sunday dinner where you have to go back and forth from the stovetop to your eight-year-old’s bedroom in 10-minute stints because all day you promised you’d play school with her but never got around to it. In other words, the normal kinds of Sunday dinner. (more…)

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Friday Reading

March 9th, 2012 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick

Are you guys following Joanna’s cooking series over at Cup of Jo? She’s 33, mother to a 1-year-old, and sick of not knowing how to cook. So in her words, her plan is “to try to master–really master–the classic recipes: scrambled eggs, mac n’ cheese, tomato soup, chocolate chip cookies, that kind of thing.”  Each week she’s highlighting a new recipe courtesy of her favorite food bloggers. This week The Wednesday Chef weighed in with ”the best tomato sauce you’ll ever have“ which does indeed look as though it lives up to its name.

Here are a few other things I’m excited about this week.

The new Everyday Food video series on youtube. Editor Sarah Carey makes dinners in (almost) real time. How easy does this this one look?

Jennifer Steinhauer’s ambitious attempt at recreating hostess cupcakes, Twinkies, and ho-hos in “It’s Not Junk if I Made it.

How many times have I announced to the girls that we are embarking on a baking project only to find myself abandoned in the kitchen as soon as something more interesting comes along? The upside, as Melissa Clark points out in her Hamantaschen story, is that when you’re in charge, at least “the cookies turn out very very good.”

Am I the last to know about this super simple starter? I think I’ll make it for my friends coming over for dinner tomorrow.

Caroline’s perfect avocado and celeriac sandwich.

Those of you following DALS on twitter know this already, but Bon App’s hoisin meatloaf was every bit as satisfying for last week’s Sunday dinner as I had hoped it would be.

I’m going to leave you with a few quotes I read in The Corrections last night. And then re-read and re-read and re-read until I came to terms with how good they were:

“Whether anybody was home meant everything to a house. It was more than a major fact. It was the only fact.”

And, on the next page: ”And if you sat at the dinner table long enough, whether in punishment or in refusal or simply in boredom, you never stopped sitting there. Some part of you sat there all your life.”

Have a good weekend.

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Is the Breastpump Room the New Watercooler?

March 8th, 2012 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

I don’t even know where to begin on this one. Below is an actual exchange between two working moms (who I don’t know! And who aren’t related to me!) coordinating their visits to the designated office breast-pumping room. My editor forwarded it to me with the instruction that I was only allowed to post it here word-for-word if I promised not to reveal their real names or place of business. (All I can tell you is that their place of business had an advance copy of Dinner: A Love Story.) What do I like more? Their enviable working-mom camaraderie (my coworkers and I all had post-its on our doors like the one you see above, which I found in one of the girls’ baby books); or that one of their kids is “so into cooking with her” (jealous!); or the cereal-for-dinner bit (hilarious); or the fact that two moms found the book helpful enough to discuss while coordinating breast-pumping for their newborns???? It’s a tough one.

From: Lisa
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 3:48 PM
To: Andrea
Subject: RE:

Shoot I %#ed up. Youre going in at 4 right? Will you let me know when youre all done? Thank you. . .

From: Andrea
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 3:49 PM
To: Lisa

You want to go now? As long as I’m in by 4:15 im still good.

From: Lisa
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 03:49 PM
To: Andrea

Bless you! Ill be faster than that—ill email you.

From: Lisa
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 4:08 PM
To: Andrea

Go!

From: Andrea
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 4:10 PM
To: Lisa

Boo ya! Thanks! P.S. I made the bolognese sauce and apricot mustard baked chicken from the DALS cookbook. AMAZING. Also my daughter and I had a great time making the galette. She’s so into cooking with me now. She helps me every night. (Even last night when we had cereal with strawberries.)

If you are interested in receiving an advance reader’s copy of the book, please Like DALS on facebook. I’ll be giving one away over there in the next few days.

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Kicking the Dessert Habit

March 6th, 2012 · 113 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Cameos, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

You want to know what’s fun about being an editor? You get to live vicariously through people who are smarter, better traveled, and more interesting than you. Charles Duhigg is one of those people. Charles is an investigative reporter at The New York Times — if you haven’t been following his series on Apple, it’s really worth your time — as well as the author of a book I worked on, just published last week by Random House, called The Power of Habit. I know I’m not an objective source on this — I’m probably closer to a cheerleader — but the book was a total blast to work on and is full of ideas and stories and case studies that make you think about your life — including the way you eat, exercise, shop — in a different way. More than 40% of what we do in the course of any given day, it turns out, is not the product of rational decision-making; it’s habit. And that’s scary. Charles was kind enough to take a moment from his all-out media blitz to guest-post for us today about a particular DALS weakness, dessert. Tell us how to be better, Charles…

Let me be completely honest with you: I like dessert.

Not just a little bit. A lot. Basically, I would rather eat dessert than dinner. In fact, I have often had dessert for dinner. I’ve become accustomed — scarily so — to dessert every night. And it turns out I’m not alone.

This wasn’t a big problem before I had kids. Now, however, I have a 3-year-old (or, as he points out, a three-and-three-quarters-year-old). And guess what? He loves dessert, too! And not just a little bit. A lot. What a coincidence! We once went to Costa Rica so that he could see some monkeys and a white sand beach, and all he remembers is the chocolate I let him have after dinner each night. I am not kidding: if you ask him about Costa Rica today, he will tell you it’s a place where you can eat chocolate every night.

That isn’t good.

So, a few years ago when I started researching the science of habits for my book, one of my goals was to figure out how get a handle on my dessert habit (and my son’s). Not to go all Official Book Summary on you here, but in the last decade, our understanding of the neurology of habit formation has been transformed. In particular, we’ve learned that every habit has three components: a cue, which is like a trigger for an automatic behavior; a routine, which is the behavior itself; and a reward. Scientists refer to this as the “habit loop.”

When we’re talking about dessert, the habit is pretty obvious: There’s a cue (“dinner is over!”) a routine (“ice cream time!”) and a reward (“oh my god, this chocolate chip crunch tastes good, oh my oh my god”). What neurologists have learned is that habits are powered by cravings. In fact, if we could stick electrodes in my brain (which I wouldn’t recommend – very messy), we would see that as soon as dinner is over, my brain starts anticipating – which is another way of saying craving - that chocolate chip crunch. And if the ice cream doesn’t arrive? My brain gets unhappy, and starts giving off patterns that look a lot like anger — or even depression. (more…)

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When the Pasta-Hater is Away…

March 5th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Pasta, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

God knows, it’s not that I don’t love the kid. I have pledged my undying devotion to her here — she’s our firstborn, is kind to animals, has the soul of a poet, and is generally an all-around solid performer at the table. But Phoebe does not eat pasta. Phoebe, in fact, actively dislikes pasta. She hasn’t touched the stuff in five years. She wrinkles up her nose at the sight of it, says it’s slimy, boring, without flavor. I don’t know where she comes from, when she says things like this. The girl has not one but  two Italian grandmothers and she doesn’t like pasta? As they say in the Old Country, WHAT THE? To each her own and te gustibus and etc. — we all have our food bugaboos, and there’s no accounting for them – but the upshot of Phoebe’s pasta aversion is that Jenny and I, two lifelong pasta lovers, have basically given it up in the interest of family dinner harmony. (Hence the minimal pasta entries on the ol’ DALS recipe index. Apologies!) But then, last Saturday morning, Phoebe woke up with some kind of virus. “Churny,” is how she described the feeling in her stomach. She didn’t have a bite of food all day, and spent much of the afternoon in bed. You know it’s for real when Phoebe says dinner doesn’t appeal to her.

Again: I love her dearly and I evinced real sympathy for her plight, but I also chose to see this as a rare opportunity. Jenny was out with friends, so it was just Abby, me, and a bag of good linguine. Phoebe, nursing her mild fever, was fully laid out — a sad-eyed Lady with the vapors — on the kitchen counter, a couch cushion under her head, watching us as we cooked. As Jenny has noted here before, the recipe we settled on (below) looks so much more daunting, when you write it all out, than it actually was to pull off. This was a pure and simple pantry meal: we did no pre-planning, and no shopping. Everything we needed was already in the house — and most of it was frozen. When it came time to eat, Phoebe couldn’t bear to sit with us at the table: the sight of food, she said, would put her over the edge. So she sat in the TV room, reading Garfield under a blanket, as Abby and I tucked in. “How good is pasta?” I said to her, but she didn’t answer back. Her mouth was full. – Andy

Pasta with Vegetables and Pecorino

We used frozen corn and peas here, but you can use anything, really: broccoli would be good, as would spinach. You can also skip the pork at the beginning, but adding bacon in our house is like baiting a hook, and Abby can’t resist. So we went with the pork. Which doesn’t seem to gratuitous, as the chicken broth base makes this feel somewhat light, and a little bit healthy.

1 pound linguine
1/4 cup bacon, pancetta, or good country ham, chopped
1 shake red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon salted butter
Pecorino Romano, grated, in great quantities

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, over medium-low heat, cook bacon in olive oil with red pepper flakes, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and turn heat to medium. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping any brown bits on bottom of pan as it cooks. Dump in peas, corn, scallions, salt and pepper. Stir and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Add lemon and butter, and stir until it’s silky and emulsified. Dump cooked pasta into skillet and toss with tongs. Serve topped with plenty of Pecorino Romano.

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Ice Cream Cake that Gets the Job Done

March 1st, 2012 · 25 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher handing me a notebook. Its cover was made of brown craft paper, and a piece of black fabric wrapped around the stitched spine. She distributed one to every student in class saying something about how we could use it as a journal or a workbook — whatever we wanted! This was about as exciting as it got for me, and almost instantly I had a creative vision. I am going to draw a sabre tooth tiger on the first page of this beautiful blank notebook. I don’t know why it called to me like that — why do any of these ideas ever call to us? — but I could picture it exactly, right down to the green eyes and sinister curly fangs. I grabbed some black and orange markers and began outlining my creation with the confidence of Henri Matisse. By the time I had finished, it resembled a forest fire way more than a mammal. It looked nothing like what I had pictured in my head.

This wasn’t the last time I’d be disappointed by the poor execution of what I felt was clearly a brilliant idea. As an editor often responsible for both conceptualizing a story idea and then figuring out the best way to tell that story, it took me a long time to learn how to prevent the inevitable letdown. But as a baker, I have yet to figure out how to reconcile the two processes. This past weekend, when my newly turned ten-year-old begged and begged me to make a homemade ice cream cake for her birthday, I pictured this in my head. And at some point I think I called up this beauty, too. But there were so many steps and instructions! And they both seemed so complicated and intimidating! They involved baking cakes the night before. Freezing. Thawing ice cream to an exact spreadable consistency. Freezing again. Thawing before serving. I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to follow their recipes by the letter, so after a feeble attempt at convincing her to order something from Carvel, I decided to just wing it and follow Phoebe’s vision. She would like five layers: one layer mint chip ice cream, one layer chocolate ice cream, a layer of crushed Oreos, and two layers of frozen chocolate cake in there somewhere. I followed her orders to the best of my abilities, but the cake broke into a million pieces before I could even start layering. And I didn’t have enough ice cream. And then the five layers of cake and ice cream sorta ended up mushing together to make one. That is why you are only looking at only the top — which, I thought came out kinda nice. Is it going to cause a pinning frenzy on Pinterest or garner a tweet from Joy the Baker? (Whose book is out, btw.) No chance. But after the celebration, Phoebe said her birthday cake was exactly what she had pictured in her head…and that it was the best cake she’d ever had. (more…)

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