Entries from November 2012

A Holiday Gift For You

November 30th, 2012 · 11 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

You guys have been very good to us this year. You’ve read my book, you’ve written the most thoughtful letters, you’ve spread the DALS word to your friends, you’ve trusted me with your own treasured family recipes. As a token of our gratitude, and in honor of the holidays, we are happy to re-offer a free copy of 121 Books to the DALS community. For those of you who weren’t able to download this back in the spring, 121 Books is a stunningly designed* collection of special children’s books that have seen us through the first decade of bedtime-storying, road-tripping, read-to-the-class-ing, and beyond. It features book recommendations from Daniel Handler, David Sedaris, John J. Sullivan, Pseudonymous Bosch, and George Saunders among many other literary lights, and all you have to do to own it is click on the link below. Please, for full glorious effect, try to print it out in color. And also, please please spread joy! Send this link to anyone you know who might need some help picking good books for holiday gifts this year. The offer is good for all of December.

Fine print? There is none! Though, OK, we do have to admit that this is a naked attempt to convince you to buy books for your kids and friends and, in general, to support the book industry, which is, of course, the industry that supports us. And hey! As long as you are browsing the shelves? I have a book you might like to grab on your way out. But no pressure. Or at least very little pressure.

Click here to download your free copy of “121 Books”

*Cover and interior design by Chelsea Cardinal.

Happy Holidays from the DALS team.

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Lookin’ Good

November 28th, 2012 · 295 Comments · Uncategorized

As excited as I was by the arrival of my Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, I immediately handed it over to Abby. “Pick what looks good,” I told her. The book was written by Deb Perelman, grande dame of food bloggers, Olympian baker, DALS honorary guest, and shutterbug extraordinaire. This last part of her bio was crucial for me. If I’ve learned anything from this whole cooking-for-kids thing, it’s that the easiest way to convince someone under four feet tall that something is delicious is to show them a photograph of that something looking delicious. And when there are pages and pages of photographs showing things like Tomato Shortcakes with Whipped Goat Cheese and Balsamic and Beer-braised Short Ribs with Parsnip Puree and Apple Cider Caramels? Well, I know I’ve hit the jackpot. Almost an hour after giving Abby the book — an hour filled with ohmygodMOMs and wows – she handed it back to me the way you see above. It shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise that the pages she tagged were Gooey Cinnamon Squares and Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach and Peach Dumplings With Bourbon and Hard Sauce and Deepest Dish Apple Pie. Perelman’s famous for her baked goods, each one of which just feels definitive — either the only one you’ll ever need or the only one that actually exists in the world (Buttered Popcorn Cookies!). Her recipes are not always easy, but they deliver in a big showstopping way, which is why she’s my go-to for holiday entertaining. As she says in the introduction,  ”I don’t really care if a meal is going to take more than thirty minutes to cook or if I’ll have to chop three different vegetables. All I need to know is that a soup that may take a little longer and may be a little more involved will actually taste better than what I’m used to.”

Of all recipes tagged with Abby’s post-its, naturally, I honed in on what looks the most manageable for a weeknight dinner. It’s pork, it’s apples, and you know it’s going to be good. Deb was nice enough to let us run it below.

PS: I’m giving away one free copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook to a commenter selected at random. Winner announced Thursday morning (and must live in the 48 contiguous states). Good luck!

Update: Megan (#26) is the lucky winner. Thanks everyone and look out for some more giveaways as we head into the holidays.

Pork Chops with Cider, Horseradish, and Dill
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman
Serves 2 to 4 

glaze
1/2 cup (120 ml) cider vinegar
1/2 cup (120 ml) hard or pressed apple cider
2 tablespoons (30 grams) freshly grated horseradish
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

chops
4 bone-in loin pork chops, 1/2 inch thick (1 1/2 pounds/680 grams total), room temperature
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Whisk the glaze ingredients together in a small dish, and set aside.

Trim any excess fat around chops until it is but a thin ribbon, no more than 1/8 inch thick. Pat chops dry with a paper towel, and generously season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until the oil starts to smoke. Add the pork chops to the skillet, and cook them until they are well browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the chops, and cook 1 minute longer; then transfer chops to a plate and pour off any fat in skillet.

Pour glaze mixture into the emptied skillet. Bring it to a simmer, and cook until mixture thickens enough so your spatula leaves a trail when scraped across the pan, about 2 to 4 minutes. Return the chops and any accumulated juices from their plate to skillet; turn to coat both sides with glaze. Cook them over medium heat in the glaze until the center of the chops registers 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer the chops to a serving platter and pour the glaze from the pan over them. Sprinkle with dill, and eat immediately. (more…)

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50 Products You Can’t Live Without

November 26th, 2012 · 19 Comments · Uncategorized

Imagine your average everyday office cubicle space. But instead of an inbox, you have a 4-burner gas range and a 2-compartment sink. And instead of a cup of ballpoints, you have a crock filled with wooden spoons. And instead of bearing down on P&L statements from 9 to 5, it is your job to make sure the Rib-Eye Roast recipe that landed on your desk this morning (plus up to five more dishes that day, and twenty each week) tastes about as good as any Rib-Eye Roast recipe that has ever existed. This is the life of a staffer in the Bon Appetit test kitchen. As a contributor to BA, I am lucky enough to have access to them, which comes in very handy when I’m in the office working on a story, but even more so when I’m home in my own kitchen only an email away from figuring out why my barley is turning out gummy (“Never skip the rinsing!”), or what I should do with fish sauce (“Use it like soy sauce”) or what to add to my chicken meatballs to make them taste flavorful (“Beef!”) If I could just move in with them, I think I would.

This is all a long way of saying, I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun working on a story as I had working on The BA Seal of Approval, which is an award the magazine is giving to products that the test kitchen stocks on their shelves because they rely on them day in and day out to make the flakiest pie crusts, the butteriest shortbread, the tomatoey-est marinaras the smokiest Sunday bacon. I got to sit down with each staffer — Mary-Frances, Alison, Chris, Brad, Allie, Janet — and download why they loved these ingredients so much. You can pick up the issue on the newsstand for more details, but let me just say, they know from whence they speak.

When the award for Best Product in Category wasn’t such a no-brainer, there were throwdowns (who knew people felt so strongly about frozen peas?) and so the staff went round after round to taste all the competitors side by side to see which brand tasted freshest, offered the most bang for the buck, and was most deserving of the Bon Appetit Seal of Approval. The result? This list of 50 Products We Can’t Live Without  and I’m dying to hear what you guys think of the picks. The eight you see here are a sneak peak, but there are 42 more that we guarantee will upgrade every aspect of your everyday cooking life.

 

There’s an entire section devoted to The Baking Arsenal (shown here, Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Cocoa; King Arthur All-Purpose Flour), just in time for yule logs and Chanukah doughnuts, and this brownie recipe, which yielded maybe the best batch I’ve ever eaten. The woman who developed the recipe is Alison Roman, below. I’m on the left.

Product photos by Tom Schierlitz; bottom photo by Matt Duckor.

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Happy Thanksgiving

November 21st, 2012 · 1 Comment · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Chicken and Turkey, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

Wherever you are, however you celebrate, be safe, give thanks, and don’t forget the leftover sandwich.

Happy Thanksgiving from Team DALS!

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Thanksgiving Eve

November 19th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

 

My mother owns Thanksgiving. Which is another way of saying that she is in charge of the turkey. We are, of course, with her in my sister’s kitchen every step of the way, mincing onions for stuffing, browning anchovy-studded breadcrumbs for the cauliflower, shredding Brussels sprouts, rolling out our pate brisee, whisking Scharffen Berger into chocolate pie filling, and providing moral support (and sometimes actual muscular support) when the bird makes its dramatic entrance into the 400°F oven. Because I don’t get to cook side by side with my mom and my sister very often, Thanksgiving Dinner is like the World Series for people like me — a heavily choreographed effort that I have always felt is just as fun to assemble as it is to actually consume.

The night before Thanksgiving? Another story altogether. We are all arriving at my sister’s house at different times with different levels of hunger and desires. (Read: We are all arriving with our children.) And in situations like these I’m not sure which is worse: Cooking up a “quick meal,” which before you know it fills the sink with a truly soul-crushing pile of ketchup-streaked dishes….or ordering a sad-sack pizza because in all the pre-game hype leading up to the big day no one even gave Thanksgiving Eve a thought until the moment we arrived. No one owned it. (more…)

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LA Recap

November 16th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Dinner: A Love Story, the Book, Travel

What is my statute of limitations on blaming Sandy, the Election, Halloween, and Thanksgiving coverage for my delinquency on…everything? I am a terrible person for not expressing sufficient gratitude to my LA Team on the Ground until now. If you recall, I was heading out West for some business and decided to use it as an excuse to try to connect with my California readers. When I asked you guys here on DALS what to do and where I should go, I received some of the most generous invitations — even to people’s homes and book club meetings — and wound up having a little coffee talk at Thyme Cafe & Market in Santa Monica. (It’s shown above and is the kind of warm, bustling center-of-the-neighborhood place I walk into and think “Why can’t I have one of these on my block?”) A big thanks to Maire Byrne, the owner, who provided muffins and long tables, and especially Clare, my conduit who put the whole thing together. I handed Maire a stack of “Make Dinner Not War” bumper stickers and signed bookplates, so if you live in the area, and are looking for a place to buy Dinner: A Love Story for your two dozen (three dozen?) best friends this holiday, I’d head over there. Bumper stickers are free with purchase.

Also thanks to Courtney and Elizabeth who pointed me in the direction of Chevalier’s, where I signed later on the afternoon. That charming little bookstore in the middle of the very Mayberry-ish Larchmont village, is also in possession of a stack of autographed copies. Please support them!

While I was in LA, I was lucky enough to stay with my childhood friend Laurie (for book owners, this is Chicken-Pot-Pie Laurie) who, among other things, outfitted me with her clothes for all my various meetings and appearances, treated me to what I think may be Breakfast of the Year (Farmshop at the Brentwood Country Mart), and let me crash her insanely rad Santa Monica bungalow for three days. If that wasn’t enough, each morning, she revved up the Hurom and made me one of these….

…which was comprised of ALL of this…

!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know what I liked better — the green drink or the idea of the green drink — but I do know that as soon as I had one sip, my trip to California felt complete. (For juicer owners, Laurie basically just added what you see above: one apple, one carrot, one stalk of celery, 1/2 lemon, one bunch kale, a 1-inch-ish piece of peeled ginger, one banana.) Another benefit? When I started the day with a green drink, I had no guilt at all when I finished the day with an Umami Burger.

Have a good weekend.

 

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So That’s Why They Call it Comfort Food

November 14th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Pork and Beef

 

Five days after Hurricane Sandy pillaged the Eastern Seaboard, I was on the phone with my Dad. Neither of us had our power or heat back yet, so we were both trying to wrap up the conversation quickly to conserve our cellphone batteries. The sun was going down and I was running down a mental list of which friend’s house we should invite ourselves to for dinner next. My father was doing the same, then added “All I want is a slice of meatloaf.”

When it comes to food, my dad has always been an enthusiast (see: dessert), but I can’t ever remember him talking about meatloaf with such reverence. I never have, either. I mean I’m never going to turn it down, but it’s not something I wake up craving either. Needless to say, as soon as we hung up, meatloaf was all I could think about. Specifically my mother-in-law’s meatloaf, the one that’s baked smeared with ketchup and two strips of bacon laid across the top. I mentioned this to the girls, who were underneath seventeen blankets in front of the fire. “Mmmm,” said Phoebe with a dreamy look in her eyes, “That sounds really good. Can we have it with mashed potatoes and butter?”

When we got our power back two nights later, we knew exactly what we’d eat to celebrate.

Classic Meatloaf
See: “A Recipe Starter Kit” Page 20, Dinner: A Love Story. (I went with all ground turkey.)

It would be wise to make enough to ensure for meatloaf sandwiches later in the week. Freeze whatever is leftover, but make sure you slice it before doing so. Then reheat in a baking dish covered with foil at 350°F for about 20 minutes. Or if you transfer the slices to the fridge on the morning of the night you’d like to eat them, Andy would like you to know that they’ll taste just fine cold, on good bread, slathered with ketchup and mayo.

Classic Mashed Potatoes

4 baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into thirds or quarters
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup cream, half & half, or milk
salt and pepper

In a large pot, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until a knife can slip through the biggest one with no resistance. It usually takes about 15 minutes. Drain and return pot to stove.

Add butter and about 1/2 cup of milk (or cream) and heat until warm and butter has melted. Heat remaining milk in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Add potatoes back to pot, and using a hand mixer, whip until smooth, adding more liquid until you reach desired consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve each dollop with another pat of butter so it creates the necessary little pool of melted fat on top.

To help support victims of Hurricane Sandy, please consider donating to the Mayor’s Fund of NYC. One hundred percent of your contribution will go towards immediate relief efforts and organizations.

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Three Things to Do Now to Make Thanksgiving Easier

November 12th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Given that I woke up yesterday at 3am worrying about how early I need to leave work on the day before Thanksgiving to make sure I get my pumpkin pie made in time for a seamless departure the next morning, now seems like the perfect time for the last installment of our series featuring Sam Sifton and his new book, Thanksgiving. As we head into the final weekend before the feast, we asked him for advice on planning ahead — more specifically, we asked him what three things he takes care of in advance to make the big day a little less stressful. In his (elegant, reassuring) words: 

Make Cranberry Sauce.

I do this on the weekend in front of Thanksgiving, usually on Saturday night, as a way to say to myself: This thing is starting now. I dump a bag of berries into a pot with some sugar and orange juice. I get that cooking and wait for the berries to start to pop and bubble. It’s the culinary equivalent of priming a pump. It gets me started. As the sauce cooks, I sit in the kitchen and make lists I should have made days and days before. I make lists of dishes, ingredients, guests, needs, wants and, crucially, jobs. By the time the sauce is done — and that, by the way, is when a goodly portion of the berries have popped and released the pectin that binds the dish together — I have a pretty good idea of what I need to get done in the next couple of days. I dump the sauce into a serving bowl, let it cool off and put it in the fridge under some aluminum foil. There’s that job, DONE. I cross cranberry sauce off my list.

Try a Brine.

Too many people come to the idea that they’re going to brine their turkey on Wednesday morning (even Thursday morning!) and that is a little late in the game. Better to make the brine on Monday night, tip the bird into it when it’s good and cool, and then remove it on Wednesday morning so you can dry it, first with paper towel and then in the cool air of the refrigerator. That way, when you do cook it on Thursday the skin of the bird is really and truly *dry*, important because then the heat of the oven won’t have to evaporate anything before it gets to work tanning and crisping the bird. Science! It’s a Thanksgiving secret weapon.

Make Some Pies.

Or ensure that someone is making them. It’s hard enough dealing with all the stress of cooking the savory side of the meal on Thursday when you’re also trying to bake sweets. That’s why pastry chefs get to work at three in the morning. The kitchen isn’t as hot as it is when the line cooks are in there, and the butter and lard in their dough doesn’t melt until it should. Make pies on Tuesday night. Make them on Wednesday. They’ll be better for your thinking ahead, and you’ll have more things crossed off your list on Thursday morning besides.

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Halloween Candy, A Second Life

November 9th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Wow. So many options for titles today!

  • What to Do With Leftover Halloween Candy
  • A Problem I Did Not Know I Had
  • Tips and Tricks for Making Candy Even More Unhealthy!
  • Why Talk Presidents When You Can Talk Peppermints?

Well, you get the idea. Yesterday I packed up whatever spooky outdoor decorations had not been destroyed by the hurricane and rooted around the girls’ treat bags to see what was left: Some Crunch bars, an orange Tootsie Roll, peanut M&Ms, a bag of pretzels, and about 20 Peppermint Patties. So I did what any self-respecting mother would do: I broke out one of the girls’ brownie mixes (in this case Ghirardelli), nestled in some patties before baking (submerging them in the batter completely is key), then turned my enterprising eyes toward the rest of the loot. (more…)

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Vote for The Year’s Best Cookbook

November 9th, 2012 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

In other news, I’m so freaking psyched to announce that GoodReads, the ever-reliable social network for book lovers has nominated Dinner: A Love Story for a 2012 GoodReads Choice Award in the Food and Cooking category (and it’s in excellent company with books by Alana and Luisa). I’m a big fan of this one because there are no politics involved — the winners are decided by readers (you guys!) — which makes it all the more meaningful. If you have a sec to vote, make sure you check out the rest of the categories, too. There are many, many solid recommendations for what to read and what to give this holiday season.

As always, thanks for the support.

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A Few Thanksgiving Questions for Sam Sifton

November 8th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

As you might have gathered from Monday’s post, Sam Sifton is a man with opinions. (If you couldn’t already tell that from the subtitle of his book.) When it comes to food, opinions are good — but smart opinions are even better. We think Sam has smart opinions, and he was kind enough to take some time to share some of them with us. Here is Part One of his interview. (Part Two will appear next week: Three things you can do ahead of time to make the big day a lot less stressful.)

Andy: What is your policy on appetizers before the big meal? Do they belong, and if so, when should they appear?

Sam: I did not sit in my kitchen on Saturday night making lists, and deal with brining a bird on Monday night, and bake pies on Tuesday night, and spend all of Thursday cooking turkey, sides and gravy, then set a table appropriate to presidents and kings, so that you could come into my house and eat a pound and a half of nuts and guacamole before sitting down for the Thanksgiving feast.

I am an absolutist on this front. There is no place for an appetizer course in a proper Thanksgiving meal. You can serve oysters, because as Liebling knew, oysters don’t take up any space in the stomach. And you can serve a bisque because my father did, or you can serve whatever dish it is that you have always served in your family in advance of the meal. I am not here to tell you your traditions are wrong. They are never wrong. But really there is no need to serve an appetizer course. The scent of a roasting turkey is a good appetizer. On Thanksgiving, it is the best appetizer of all. But nuts? Cheese? A wee salad with dried cranberries and goat cheese? No. These waste valuable stomach space, not to mention forks and plates. They should be avoided.

What’s the single most important culinary element of the meal?

Bounty. That bird should be bigger than you need. There should be at least three, and ideally five, side dishes. There should be rivers of gravy and mountains of dressing. Pies should be visible in the distance, on sideboards, many of them. Bounty is at the essence of of cooking Thanksgiving well.

How do you add soul, or meaning, to the meal? I often find that, by the time we all sit down, with the kids and the dogs and all the chaos, with the food going cold, we never find that moment to stop and give thanks. How do you make that happen?

You stop the meal. You can’t surrender to chaos. You have to punch up through it and settle everyone down. Soul won’t just show up, after all. Meaning is not inherent to turkey, or yams. It needs to be summoned. Just wait for the moment when everyone, finally, is settling into their seats, and the dogs finding their place under the table. Stand up and tap a glass with a knife or simply raise a glass in your hand and keep it up there until everyone notices and stops talking. And then say, simply and with no apology, that you would like to give thanks.

I’ve been at Thanksgivings where everyone at the table has to stand and offer thanks for something that has happened over the course of the year. You do not need to do that. (In fact, please don’t.) But the host — or the person who has brought you all together — really should acknowledge, however briefly, the real purpose of the day. It is why you are here.

To whom or to what you give thanks is a personal choice. It might be a higher power, or the fact of the harvest. It could be simply the presence of your family and friends. It could be health or safety in the wake of this horrifying storm the east coast has just been through. It could be to those who made you, or made you possible. But to whomever or whatever, give thanks. Simply by its utterance, Thanksgiving provides the meal with a moment of grace. Look around the table now, into the eyes of everyone assembled. You see? That is what we’re looking for in this feast, ultimately: A moment of grace, born of Thanksgiving. Don’t forget that. It matters.

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For Me to Know and You to Find Out

November 6th, 2012 · 35 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving, after much reply-all-ing — and many quality hours spent with Sam Sifton’s manuscript for Thanksgiving, How to Cook it Well – the menu my mom, dad, sister, brother, Andy, and I came up with for the big feast was the following:

Mom’s Classic Herb-Roasted Turkey
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
Three-Pepper Sausage Cornbread Stuffing  (from Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton)
Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Breadcrumbs (ibid)
Butternut Squash with Sage Butter (ibid)
Mashed Potatoes (ibid)
Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans and Mandarin Oranges
Chocolate Pudding Pie with Whipped Cream
Hominy Grill’s Buttermilk Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Maple-Bourbon Pecan Pie 

As usual, my brother would bring the snacks — some goodies from Zabar’s — and my father would be in charge of the wine.  I emailed the finalized line-up to everyone for official sign-off. Except I left out one very important word in the cauliflower dish.

I left out the word “anchovy.”

Why? I find there are two kinds of people in this world: People who understand the kind of umami blast an anchovy imparts to a dish, and people who see the word “anchovy” and think only of greasy, smelly, peel-back tins of castor-oil fishiness. (Put it this way: It’s the kind of ingredient my mother might call… interesting.) I sat squarely in camp two until about a decade ago when my friend and coworker Pilar pitched a three-page story to our editor about how anchovies are the secret to making everything taste better. (The response: “I think we better write the garlic story first.”)

In any event, I was happy to have Sifton validate my covert anchovy operation in the headnote of the cauliflower recipe. This is what he wrote:

“It is important to note that this dish does not have an anchovy flavor. Indeed, there is no reason ever to tell anyone who eats this dish that there are anchovies in it. The taste is merely salty and rich — and reflects beautifully off the sweet, creamy taste of the cauliflower beneath its slightly crunchy breadcrumb topping.”

To which I will add that the dish was a true showstopper…amidst a bounty of showstoppers. After one forkful I decided this was the recipe that was most deserving of side dish stomach real estate. My brother-in-law Nick — some day we will write about his great, if bizarre, love of cauliflower — looked up mid-bite and asked “What is in this?” (We didn’t answer.) At least four-sixths of the under-10 set around the table had a helping without a complaint. Yes, this one was destined to be a keeper. The only downside of no one being turned off by the anchovies was that no one was turned off by the anchovies…so I couldn’t go back for seconds.

Roasted Cauliflower with Breadcrumbs that May or May Not Contain Anchovies
From Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton

2 heads cauliflower
8 to 10 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
Zest of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

For the anchovy breadcrumbs:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Break cauliflower into florets and toss in a bowl with sage, lemon zest, sugar, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread out on a large baking sheet. Place in oven and cook until tender and golden, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare breadcrumbs. Heat olive oil in a saute pan set over medium heat. When oil shimmers add the anchovies, garlic, shallot, and breadcrumbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until golden.

3. In a large bowl, toss together cauliflower and breadcrumbs and serve on a warmed platter.

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10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner

November 5th, 2012 · 31 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos, Thanksgiving

This has already been quite a month for Sam Sifton. In addition to being the national editor of The New York Times – and helping run the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy, and the presidential election, and whatever other ever-changing, constantly-unfolding news story that pops up in the meantime – he is also a food columnist for the Sunday Magazine, the newspaper’s former restaurant critic, a recovered short-order cook, a husband, a father of two young girls… and, luckily for us, the author of a just-published book, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of editing this book, which means I had the pleasure of reading it several times and, best of all, cooking from it last year, as it was taking shape. Jenny and I love this book (in Jenny’s words – and you can trust her on this stuff – “This feels like the only Thanksgiving book I’ll ever need.”). We love the simplicity of it (130 pages, 50 traditional recipes), the authority of it (do this, not that), the timelessness of it (real cornbread stuffing, butternut squash with sage). It’s so beautifully written, too. If I lived in Glasgow, had never laid eyes on a turkey, and cared not two whits about Thanksgiving, I could pick this up and enjoy myself. Most of all, we love the message buried within: Thanksgiving does not have to be a source of stress. We should cherish it, and aim to make it great. There aren’t many national secular holidays, after all, so let’s get a big group together and dig in, American-style. In Sam’s honor, DALS hereby dedicates this week to his book, beginning here with ten inviolable rules for the big day. We’ll follow it with more advice and a recipe or two, so stay tuned. And give thanks! – Andy

10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner
by Sam Sifton

1. Let me speak plainly: you are going to need a lot of butter. Thanksgiving is not a day for diets, or for worrying about your cholesterol. It is a day on which we celebrate the delicious. And there is precious little on a Thanksgiving menu that is not made more delicious by butter. (Note: It should be unsalted butter. There is something magical about a piece of toast with salted butter. But for Thanksgiving, you want the unsalted variety, so that it is you, and not the butter maker, who is in control of the saltiness of your cooking. Figure at least two pounds for the day.)

2. Thanksgiving is a holiday that anchors itself in tradition. Which means: You should make turkey. Turkey is why you are here.

3. I’ll risk starting a brushfire by saying with great confidence that the two most important factors in any credible Thanksgiving feast are the cranberry sauce and the gravy. Debate that all you like. But they tie every element on the plate together, acting as frame and foundation alike. Cranberry sauce only enhances what is already excellent, and good gravy can cure almost any Thanksgiving ill.

4. You can make mashed potatoes lumpy with a fork or a masher device, or smooth with a food mill or stand mixer. And of course you can make them without peeling the potatoes, if your scrub the skins well. This makes for an attractive, rustic-looking dish. Indeed, the only trouble that should ever present itself when the subject comes to mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving is should someone demand that garlic or basil be added to the mix. Your response to this heresy should be brief and unequivocal: No. There is no place in the holiday for a mixture of garlic and potatoes, much less basil and potatoes. The flavors clash with the turkey and other sides. No.

5. Start serving drinks the minutes your guests arrive, no matter the hour. Thanksgiving is not a time to judge.

6. When hosting, do not be afraid to delegate.

7. Dessert need not be extravagant. It absolutely should not be experimental or overly cute. It must not involve individual tartlets or parfaits, nor marshmallows in any form. Save the chocolate for nights of depression and anxiety. Instead, focus on the proper execution of the American classics: apple pie, for instance, with a mound of whipped cream, or pumpkin pie with same. These represent Thanksgiving’s highest achievement. They are an explanation of American exceptionalism, in pastry form.

8. There is no “right” wine for Thanksgiving, no must-have grape or vintage, cocktail or spirit. Nor is there a “wrong” one, though I’d stay away from the low-end fortified stuff unless you are in a boxcar, hurtling west. What you want is a variety of grapes and vintages. Encourage guests to bring wines that interest them, wines that they would like others to try. Additionally, lay in some specialty items: beer for your uncle who only drinks Bud; nonalcoholic sparkling cider for the children; and plenty of Diet Cokes and ashtrays for those who no longer drink.

9. If you find yourself as a guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving, there is no finer gift to bring than a pie and a bottle of brown liquor.

10. As everyone takes a seat and prepares to eat, there is the delicate moment where you or someone at the table should ask for everyone’s attention, and offer thanks to one and all for being present, and for helping out. This is extraordinarily important. It is the point of the entire exercise. William Jennings Bryan wrote, “On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge our dependence.” I think that’s just about right.

Illustrations by Sarah Rutherford.

 

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Homemade Franks & Beans

November 1st, 2012 · 33 Comments · Dinner

Full disclosure: What you are looking at was supposed to be what I’ve been calling in my head “Highbrow Franks & Beans.” A few weeks ago, when I asked Andy what we should have simmering on the self-serve stovetop for Halloween night, he said, “Remember you made those baked beans one year while we carved pumpkins? Why don’t you do that again, and then get some really good hot dogs and call it franks and beans?” And so for weeks I’ve been picturing those sweet and bubbly beans inside the oven in our well-worn Le Creuset, while Andy wielded a carving knife and did his best to make the girls’ visions of toothy jack-0-lanterns come to life. Last Sunday, while everyone else was stocking up on bottled water and batteries for the storm, I was tracking down molasses and Niman Ranch franks. I had enough canned food in the pantry anyway — including a nice stash of Trader Joe’s organic baked beans that never allow a turkey burger to feel lonely in our house.

Well, Halloween was canceled. Instead of cozying up in our oven-warmed house, we were sleeping at my parents’ house across town — a house that does not have two sixty-foot oak and locust trees hovering over it — keeping watch on Hurricane Sandy. When we returned, we had no power or heat. And we had a fridge filled with things that had to be cooked or tossed –like, for instance, those hot dogs. But we were grateful for so many things, like our operational gas stove… and the fact that our house was still standing. So when what little daylight there was that afternoon vanished, we sat around the candle-lit dinner table, and pigged out on our fancy franks and those sweet, delicious beans — straight from the can.

Highbrow Franks & Beans
No reason for you guys to go without this just because my oven is down for the count. This is based on a Victoria Granof recipe from Time for Dinner and what I loved so much about working with Victoria (master food stylist and recipe developer) is that she considered it her life’s mission to dream up shortcuts wherever possible. That’s why you don’t see any soaking overnight here. She does the quick boil an hour ahead of time. Also, here is a link to some high-brow hot dogs that might be useful.

1 pound dried navy or great northern beans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 thick strips bacon
3 hot dogs, sliced into rounds as shown

In a large pan, cover the beans with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Drain.

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a bowl, combine everything else except the bacon. Stir in the beans.

Place 1 bacon strip at the bottom of a large ovenproof dish or Dutch oven. Pour the bean mixture over it, then push the other strip in.

Add just enough boiling water to the pot to cover everything. Cover the pot with aluminum foil, then a lid. Bake for 5 hours, checking hourly to make sure the beans aren’t drying out. (Add more water as necessary to keep them submerged.) Uncover for the last half hour to brown the top, if desired. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, stir in hot dog slices until warmed through.

To help support victims of Hurricane Sandy, please consider donating to the Mayor’s Fund of NYC. One hundred percent of your contribution will go towards immediate relief efforts and organizations.

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