Entries Tagged as 'Posts by Andy'

The Accidental Broccoli

September 10th, 2014 · 43 Comments · Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

We have no one to blame but ourselves, but Tuesday nights are hell. I’ll spare you the numbing logistical details, but all that’s relevant here is that a few times a month, by the time I pull into the driveway with the girls in the backseat, it’s almost 8:30 at night. We stagger through the door, shedding soccer bags, shin guards and rancid socks, the girls head upstairs to shower… and we start dinner. It’s late on a school night, and everyone is starving. The goal here, to be clear, is not a Michelin star. The goal is to get something on the table in 25 minutes, and then get the kids to bed. This means a no-fuss main (say, sweet Italian chicken sausage fried with some roughly sliced onions), a starch that will satisfy the hunger of a post-soccer-practicing hyena tween (bread fried in olive oil, or some quick potatoes), and a vegetable that does not require any washing, chopping, peeling, mandolin-ing, or de-stemming. One recent Tuesday night, I went with broccoli. I tossed it in the baking dish with a bunch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, cranked the oven to 450, and threw it in.

Fifteen minutes later, Abby came downstairs. She’s always the first to come down, dressed in her white nightgown with the little green flowers on it, running a brush through her still-wet hair. She walked into the kitchen, and stopped. She crinkled up her nose.

“What’s that smell?” she said.

“Really, Abby? Is that a nice thing to say to the person who’s making your dinner?”

“No,” she said. “I think something’s burning.”

Oh, right. The broccoli. The broccoli was burning! I opened the oven door to find a baking dish filled with a tangle of smoldering black twigs, what looked to be evidence from a forest fire investigation. But it was late, and we were hungry, so sucked it up and we went to town on that burned broccoli. I don’t know what it says about our vegetable-preparing skills in general, but something happened that night that has never happened before in all the dinners we have eaten together as a family over the last ten years: The kids went nuts over broccoli. It’s not like they are broccoli haters. They’ve always eaten it without complaint, but it’s not like they go out of their way to eat it. This was different. This was crispy and salty and way more flavorful and intense than the soggy, steamed stuff they were used to, the stuff Abby would unapologetically DIP IN KETCHUP before placing in her mouth.

I wish we could say we meant to do it. — Andy

Accidental Broccoli 

1 bunch broccoli (about 4 cups), cut into small florets. (the smaller the florets, the crispier the experience)
1/4 olive oil, maybe a little more
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. In a baking dish, toss the broccoli with olive oil and salt. The goal is for every little mini broccoli bud to be glistening but not drenched, so monitor the oil drizzling process carefully. Roast for 15 minutes, tossing if you think to, until broccoli is slightly sizzling and the tips are browned, but not black. (It can be a fine line between crispy and charred to the core.) It would definitely not be the worst thing to toss with a drop or two of Sriracha, or the dressing from David Chang’s famous brussels sprouts recipe*, but you’ll see, each broccoli stalk is like a little piece of salty popcorn. They’ll be gone before you can do any dressing up at all.

*other suggestions from Facebook commenters that sound reaaaally good: finish with a squeeze of lemon or grated Parmesan; toss in a little sugar before roasting for extra caramelizing. (Thanks Andrea, Krista Anne, Johanna)

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Relentless

April 19th, 2014 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood

Jenny begged me to write this post. She begged me to write it because we have spent most of the last week on spring break and she has spent much of that time feeling guilty about not having posted. She keeps circling the laptop, turning to me and saying, “Should I post? Just something quick? Is it bad that we haven’t done anything all week?” (This is what it’s like being a food blogger. And, I want to clarify: She is not being lazy. She is writing another book, working on a site redesign, we just handed in a Bon App column, and she is mapping out a whole bunch of new posts, which she’ll be rolling out in the next couple of weeks, for real. The point is: She likes you guys. She really likes you guys!*) So: I’m going to keep this short because my feelings of guilt re posting are not quite as debilitating, and because this vacation ends tomorrow, and because a bike ride with the kids — followed by an Easter egg salad sandwich with sweet relish — awaits.

Last Saturday evening, we fired up the Weber for the first time this year — always a cause for celebration in our house. We’d been kind of going off lately, food-wise, and wanted to keep things healthy. We decided on fish (Phoebe requested salmon, as per usual), a grilled vegetable (the asparagus at the farmer’s market was lookin’ good), and the kind of grainy, superfood salad that the kids would not touch if you paid them in unicorn sightings (we did quinoa with feta, tomatoes, and scallions). Jenny is standing over my shoulder right now, as I type this, and she approves, so consider this POSTED. – Andy

* Dear very nice commenters who write in to say you miss it when Jenny doesn’t post as much: I love you, but you’re KILLING ME! (more…)

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Hurry Up and Fail Already: Lessons in Creativity

April 15th, 2014 · 8 Comments · Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

Jenny and I have written a lot about books on this blog — and more specifically, about the role books have played in our kids’ lives, the highlight reel they will summon when they’re old like us and thinking back on the things, beyond family, that added meaning to their lives. What we’ve never really talked (much) about is another part of the kid experience that would also factor into that discussion pretty prominently: Pixar movies. I can’t tell you how many times Phoebe has watched The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, and Abby has watched Toy Story 3 and Monsters Inc. — and, by extension, how many times Jenny and I have sat on the couch or in the backseat of the car, watching right along with them.

So many of our dinner conversations, over the past ten years, have centered around the question: What is your favorite Pixar movie, and why? I love these conversations because, while we’re talking about the movies themselves, we also end up talking about stuff that gets us fired up in a more cosmic way: Originality, artistic ambition, the difference between mediocre product and stuff that lasts, the fact that nobody speaks for the first 30 minutes of Wall-E, the importance of a strong central idea in any creative project, etc. The question of how people make great things — or, how art happens — is an endlessly chewy one, and it’s one that I had the good fortune to explore recently, while working on Creativity, Inc., by Pixar Co-Founder and President Ed Catmull, and Amy Wallace. In the book, Catmull mines his legendary staff for lessons about creativity — the inherent difficulty of it, the need for perseverance, the upside of fear and failure. I thought it would be fun to share a few excerpts we found inspiring, helpful reminders that anything worthwhile is hard. – Andy

Lesson 1: Fail As Fast As You Can
From: Andrew Stanton, Director, A Bug’s LifeFinding Nemo, and Wall-E

Andrew likes to say that we would all be a lot happier and more productive if we just hurried up and failed already. For him, moving quickly is a plus because it prevents him from getting stuck worrying about whether his chosen course of action is the wrong one. Instead, he favors being decisive, then forgiving yourself if your initial decision proves misguided. He likens the director’s job to that of a ship captain, out in the middle of the ocean, with a crew that’s depending on him to make land. The director’s job is to say, “Land is that way.” Maybe land actually is that way and maybe it isn’t, but if you don’t have somebody choosing a course—pointing their finger toward that spot there, on the horizon— then the ship goes nowhere. It’s not a tragedy if the leader changes her mind later and says, “Okay, it’s actually not that way, it’s this way. I was wrong. As long as you commit to a destination and drive toward it with all your might, people will accept when you correct course. People want decisiveness, but they also want honesty about when you’ve effed up. It’s a huge lesson: Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.” Other people are your allies, in other words, but that alliance takes sustained effort to build. And you should be prepared for that, not irritated by it. As Andrew says, continuing his nautical metaphor, “If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing? You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat.”

Lesson 2: Embrace Fear
From: Brad Bird, Director, The Incredibles and Ratatouille

There are moments, in any creative endeavor, where there is so much work to do and so little time to do it that you can’t help but feel fear. Brad knows that if he lingers too long in that frightened place, he will freak out. (more…)

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Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

November 18th, 2013 · 15 Comments · Posts by Andy, Rituals, Thanksgiving

We put a lot of stock in the idea that families — whatever form “family” might take — create meaning, and identity, through ritual. When the kids are little, that might mean reading to them in bed every night for twenty minutes, or going for long bike rides on Saturday afternoons and talking about life its ownself. It can be something as simple cranking some AC/DC (aka “pump-up” music) on our way to a soccer game, or, in what seems to be our most sacred ritual of the moment, having the exact same argument with our oldest daughter, when she comes down for breakfast in the morning, about the wisdom of wearing a short-sleeve t-shirt when it’s 38 freaking degrees outside. But the king of all rituals for us are the holidays — and in particular, that great secular celebration known as Thanksgiving.

We love Thanksgiving, and have done our best to pass that love on to our kids. Everything about the day gives comfort, a series of rituals so well-worn that the kids could probably recite the day’s slate of activities by heart: Roll out of bed. Watch some Sponge Bob. Eat Nana’s French Toast (and eat well, because there will NOT BE ANOTHER BITE OF FOOD until show time). Sit around in PJs with their cousins. As the grown-ups trim the Brussels sprouts and peel the potatoes, the kids go off and begin preparing a one-act play they will perform after dinner — one that, while often thin on plot, never fails to do an excellent job of skewering the parents in the room. Around 3:00, go for a long family walk. As final prep takes place and the grown-ups fret about whether the turkey is cooked, the kids gather upstairs and rehearse their play. When the serving plates have been warmed and all the food is laid out on the buffet, we grab our plates and pile it on, uniting the whole mess with a thick coat of gravy, and then we sit down and eat until we’re comatose. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Except for one thing: We could never figure out a way to say thanks.

It wasn’t that we didn’t try. One of the adults would usually raise a glass and express how lucky and grateful he or she felt to be here, in this room, with this group of people — but the problem was, the kids were starving and talking (ages 5-11, remember) and everyone was slightly distracted and Grandma, as per usual, was telling everyone to hurry before it gets cold, and so it never really ended up feeling like we had that moment. I know this is gonna sound a little righteous, but that moment — along with the 20-pound turkey — is what makes Thanksgiving different from any other Thursday night dinner, or any other holiday for that matter. That moment is what this is all about! I describe it to the kids as the difference between saying thank you and being thankful.

So last year, we decided to institutionalize — okay, enforce — the giving of thanks. The goal was to make this something the kids would actually consent to doing, i.e. to make it a little fun, to keep it from feeling solemn or dutiful. We made a Thanksgiving Mad-Libs, printed one out for everyone, kids and adults, and handed them out before dinner with a stipulation: Everyone had to go off by themselves and fill them out, and not only that, they had to put some thought into it. They had to care. When we sat down, obscenely full plates before us, we took turns reading them aloud. And just because this was largely done with kids in mind does not mean that grown-ups got away with sitting by and watching: Everyone filled one out, and everyone gave thanks. Even Papa Ivan, the chocolate-loving patriarch, whose love for his children and grandchildren (see above), was plain for all to see — and for which we are thankful. — Andy

Click here to download a copy of a 2013 Mad Lib for your own table.

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What Passes for Fun on a Saturday Night

September 16th, 2013 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood, Uncategorized

“Make Dinner Not War,” huh? The pacifist ethos may look good on a bumper sticker, and it may reign supreme at our family dinner table, but when it comes to, say, girls’ soccer or beach-kadima-fer-chrisskes or routinely kicking her husband’s arse in a “friendly” game of Clue? Jenny is not to be trifled with. It’s why I hesitate to tell her my top score in Ruzzle, because I know it’s only a matter of time before she borrows my phone — and then hands it back fifteen minutes later, having destroyed my record. It’s why I stopped playing tennis with her, lo these many years ago. We’d be hitting the ball around like normal husbands and wives and the moment would come when she’d walk up to the net and ask, casually tucking a ball into the pocket of her shorts, “Wanna play a few games?” Like an idiot, I’d say yes. And suddenly, she couldn’t miss. Every shot: in. Every impossible angle: not impossible, apparently! I’d hit the ball as hard as I could, and it would come back harder. I’m worried, as I write this, that Jenny is going to come off as too Tiger Mom-ish, that she only cares about winning, which is not really true. So I’ll put it this way: Jenny would rather win than lose. And she usually does, too.

The key word here is usually.

Last Saturday, we picked up some fresh striped bass from our fish guy at the farmer’s market. I drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and as I was going outside to fire up the grill, Jenny said she’d be in charge of making a blender sauce for the fish. A blender sauce with roasted red peppers and walnuts and something else I can’t quite remember, because the truth is, I stopped listening as soon I heard roasted red peppers and walnuts. I must have made an expression that gave me away.

“What?” she said. “You don’t think that sounds good?”

“No, no,” I said. “It sounds really good. It’s just that this fish is so  fresh, I don’t know if we need it. I was thinking of something a little lighter and cleaner-tasting.”

“Like what?”

“Like, with those tomatoes we got today or something. A tomato coulis. Is that the right word? Tomato coulis?”

“I have no idea,” she said. “How about I make mine and you make yours, and we’ll have a taste -off.”

Christ.

Dinner as competitive sport: This is what passes for fun in the DALS house on a Saturday night. We retreated to our respective corners — Jenny with the blender, me with the mini-Cuisinart — and worked in silence, as serious as monks. We roped the kids in at some point, too — appointing them as the official arbiters, a role they naturally cherish — and put a dollop of both sauces on every plate. After a few bites and some mindful chewing, everybody weighed in. The results, I do not regret to say, were clear: The tomato sauce. In a walk. Even Jenny conceded it was better, and you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that doesn’t happen much around here. Victory at last!

The truth is, Jenny’s sauce was better than mine, more sophisticated, more interesting. Add some feta and it’d be an amazing dip, served with pita chips and some gherkins. It would also have been fantastic with grilled chicken. But with fish this fresh, just off the grill, on a beautiful late summer night? Nuh-uh. Not in my house. – Andy

Jenny’s Sauce

In a blender, whirl together:

2 roasted red peppers (halve, brush with olive oil, and broil for 20 minutes; then remove pith and peel off skin. I used the ones from our CSA, which aren’t too big — medium-size, I’d say)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon balsamic (wished we had red wine vinegar)
Small handful walnuts
Salt & pepper
Squeeze of Sriracha

Andy’s Sauce

In a food processor, whirl together until emulsified:

Couple of handfuls fresh grape tomatoes (I used red and yellow)
Few generous glugs of olive oil
Juice from 1/2  lime OR 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Two basil leaves
One scallion
Squeeze of Sriracha
Salt & pepper, to taste

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¡Viva Family Dinner!

July 31st, 2013 · 7 Comments · Cameos, Dinner, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

I’m a *little* worried this is going to sound like a wedding toast.

I have basically been following Mike Paterniti around for the past twelve years. When I worked at Esquire — as a kid, practically — Mike was the star writer who would come into town, from Portland, Maine, with his Patagonia backpack and his good vibes, and be nice to all the peons, and then fly off to crazy places and bring back stories like this and this, stories that would make 25 year-old assistant editors like me say, Damn, it would be nice to work with a writer like that someday. Then, when I went to GQ in 2002, I went — in large part — because Mike was there and, by taking the job, I would finally become his full-time editor and have the chance to work on stories like this. Then, a few years ago, I moved on to Random House — in large part — to work with Mike again, on a book he’d been obsessing over for the better part of a decade. That book, The Telling Room, was published yesterday, and the easy thing to say about it is that it’s a slow food fable about a cheesemaker, named — proof that there is a god? — Ambrosio, who lives in a tiny village (pop. 80) in Spain and makes his cheese, according to an ancient family recipe, from the milk of sheep that graze on chamomile and sage. But that’s not really what the book is about. This book is about the heartbreaking story of Ambrosio’s world-class cheese, yes, but it’s also about Spain and the ghosts of Civil War, about friendship and betrayal, about love and memory and forgiveness, and, most important, about stories. The stories we tell ourselves in order to live.

Do I love this book? Yes.

Did I warn you this was going to sound like a wedding toast? Yes.

In the course of writing and reporting his book, Mike spent a lot of time in Spain. He estimates he made 15 to 20 trips to Guzman, in fact, during which he learned a lot about Ambrosio and his magical cheese (it was said to conjure memories), but also about family dinner. Given that this is a blog dedicated to that very subject, we asked Mike to tell us how they do in the Castilian highlands. He did, and we’re glad. Congrats, Mike! — Andy

Of all Spanish institutions, family dinner ranks as one of my favorites. Why? Because it happens to be Spanish chaos theory at its best—and the Spaniards are good at chaos. After all, what other nation runs with its bulls… or holds a massive tomato-pelting event, in which citizens throw over 90,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other… or has an annual, mandatory, four-day, wine-soaked party—known as the fiesta—in every village of its great, sun-scorched land?

In classic Spanish fashion, then, family dinner is a microcosm of this craziness and big joy. And of course, there’s a fair amount of confusion about when dinner really is. Is it the big meal in the middle of the day, known as the comida? Or is it the late-evening, smaller meal known as cena? (The Spaniards love their food so much they have five designated grazing times a day: desayuno, or breakfast; almuerzo, the late-morning snack; comida in the early afternoon; and then the latter meals of the day: merienda, or late afternoon snack; and cena, dinner.)

Cena is the best—and in summer begins anywhere between 10 and midnight. In the plazas of the cities, you’ll see families seated at outdoor restaurant tables, telling animated stories, wine, chorizo, and grilled pimientos on the table, a simple green salad and some lomo on the way, the kids sprinting madly over cobblestones, playing soccer, chasing birds, when suddenly someone walks by on stilts, or an orchestra begins to play, or some impromptu marching band comes banging through the square. The voices get louder. Now the gambas sizzling in olive oil are put on the table, the laughter echoes, the kids shriek with joy as they come and go, grabbing tidbits from the table.

In the little Castilian village of Guzmán, where I moved my family one summer as I wrote my book, we often found ourselves with an invite to my friend Ambrosio’s telling room for cena. A telling room is a little hobbit hole dug into the hill on the north boundary of town, most of them equipped with a simple wood-plank table, a fireplace full of dried grapevines, which gives the grilled lamb a sweet taste, and a porron—a glass, decanter-like vessel with a spout—sloshing with homemade red wine. In Ambrosio’s telling room, the shutters were thrown open so we could look out over the picturesque village with its palacio and impressive church as we ate and drank. In fact, I’d often look up from the table, tricked by the illusion that I was gazing upon some ever-changing painting on the wall that just happened to be the village of Guzmán itself. (more…)

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Banned For Life

July 30th, 2013 · 41 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

There are certain food items that Jenny has banned from the house forever. Most are desserts. Actually, all are desserts. There were the Mallomars when we were first married, which we stashed in the refrigerator and ate by the box until she turned, viper-like, upon them. There were those sugar-coated, citrus-y gum drops from T Joe’s, which she loved dearly for many months, right up to the day when, in the middle of eating a few of them after dinner, she turned to me and said, “Ugh, god, why am I eating these? What is my problem? I think we need to do ‘Turn Over a New Leaf’ month on the blog.” There was the bag of peanut butter chips that she ate by the handful — paired with alternating handfuls of dark chocolate chips — and that she loved so much that she had to throw them away, or risk eating every one of them. (It was hard to watch, as if the chips, by merely existing, had done her wrong.) There my personal favorite, the batch of snickerdoodles that she first saw as a revelation but then grew so disgusted by that she actually poured water over them before throwing them away to ensure that she wouldn’t, upon reflection, dive back into the garbage for more.

And then there was the tres leches cake that Abby and I made last week.

My struggles with baking have been well-chronicled on this particuar weblog — Jenny loves to say that baking is not my “thing” and she’s right — but Abby had been after me for a month to make this with her, ever since she’d tried it in school on some kind of end-of-year, Spanish celebration day. Abby is nothing if not determined, and had been dying to recreate it for us at home. So I finally relented, busted out the dreaded mixer, and pulled a recipe from Bon Appetit. To my amazement, what we made resembled a cake and tasted… boy, did it ever taste good. Like, seriously, seriously good, and I am not a huge lover of cake. The best part of the process came at the end, after the cake was cooked, when we put it on a baking sheet and Abby poked tiny holes all over the top of it, and then slowly, over the course of several minutes, drizzled seemingly endless quantities of various milk products over the top of it. “Where does all that milk go?” Abby asked, as the liquid disappeared. Then she tried to lift it off the counter, and understood.

Baking may not be my thing, but Jenny didn’t exactly turn up her nose at this creation. She loaded a canister of Reddi Whip and downed two slices, and then cursed her powers of self-restraint, and then had another piece, and then got angry and threatened to throw the rest away. Good sense prevailed, however, and the cake lived to see another day. But that was all. After night two, with about a quarter of it left, Jenny dumped it into the trash and banned it for life. “Don’t bring that into the house again,” she said. “It’s too good.” – Andy

Tres Leches Cake
Adapted only very slightly from Bon Appetit 

1 tablespon unsalted butter (for pan)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup evaporated skim milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon good dark rum

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter bottom and sides of cake pan (I used a spring-form pan, but not sure that was necessary). Set aside. In large bowl, whisk your flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until firm peaks form, about 7-8 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in 2 tsp. of the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into pan; smooth top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 325° and continue baking until cake is golden brown and middle springs back when pressed, 20-25 minutes more. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk 1/2 tsp. vanilla, evaporated milk, and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Poke holes all over top of cake (we used a wooden skewer). Drizzle half of sauce over cake, letting liquid soak in before adding more. Let cake sit for 10 minutes.

Invert a plate on top of cake. Lift rack and gently invert cake onto plate. Drizzle remaining sauce over. Dust with powdered sugar.

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Ode to the New Mexico Breakfast

July 15th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Posts by Andy, Travel

We went to Santa Fe last week, thinking we would enjoy some clear blue skies and some beautiful hikes and some of those 20-mile vistas you just can’t get on the East Coast. What we didn’t bargain for is that the highlight of our trip would be the breakfast table. It was like our world had suddenly flipped and — what the? — the morning meal became the thing we looked forward to. I realize a statement like this is going to make some people upset, but I think New Mexico might be — apologies to San Francisco, Austin, Portland, etc. — the Greatest Breakfast Place on Earth. (Also, relatedly, Home to the Greatest Hangover Food on Earth.) Every morning, we’d go out hard and ingest a terrifying amount of food — enough food to power us through the day and make lunch a moot point. Enough eggs and cheese to make my arteries groan. Enough green chiles to make me wonder why we don’t have green chiles every morning.  The winner of the week? A very close call, but if we had to pick, we’ll go with this griddled polenta with fresh corn, crumbled chorizo, scrambled eggs, cilantro, and red chiles, from Pasqual’s on Water Street. (The closest thing we could find to a recipe was here.) Santa Fe, we miss you already. – Andy

Always a good sign when you see Tapatio on the breakfast table. (Yellow mustard, though? That’s a real puzzler.) This was at the Tune-up Cafe on Hickox, owned, we were told, by someone from El Salvador. We ate their twice, and would have eaten there every morning if there weren’t SO DAMNED MANY GOOD BREAKFAST OPTIONS IN THIS CITY.

Tecolote (on Cerrillos Rd.) was strenuously recommended to us by a New Mexican friend and, boy, did it ever deliver. A little outside of town, almost diner-style, with a world-class slogan: Great Breakfast, No Toast. I mean, come on! That alone would have been enough. What you’re looking at here is Jenny’s breakfast burrito, topped with cheddar and green chiles, with a side of beans. Looking at this now, I am weeping. We also ordered the Carne y Huevos, which consisted of two eggs, over easy, served on pork that had been cooked for hours (days?) in red chiles — spicy and incredibly delicious.

Our second morning at Pasqual’s, we decided to try something different. I got the smoked trout on a gruyere potato pancake with two poached eggs and a side of tomatillo salsa. Jenny got the homemade granola. The kids each got papas fritas — spicy, roasted, cripsy potatoes, garnished with jack cheese, sour cream, and chives, and served with two warm tortillas and some green chiles on the side. Nobody said we ate healthy. But if this meal took a day off my life, I am good with that.

Our last breakfast, we went back to the Tune Up Cafe, which was walking distance from where we were staying. (A huge thank you to our spirit guides, Toni and David.) You can sit outside, and eat on picnic tables covered with bright, floral-printed oilcloth. Seriously could not be better. Second time, I ordered the Huevos Salvadorenos, which I’d never heard of before, and which is always a reason to give something a shot. Eggs with scallions and tomatoes, fried bananas — not plantains — with crema, a warm flour tortilla, and the creamiest refried beans in human history. Coffee and watermelon agua fresca. And we’re still standing.

P.S. Not pictured here: SO MUCH STUFF.

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RE: What’s for Dinner?

June 19th, 2013 · 24 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Every year, right around this time, Jenny and I have the same conversation. We will have just finished dinner, and the kids will have disappeared upstairs to take baths or be mad because we are forcing them to take baths even though just they took baths last night, and Jenny will turn to me and say, “I think I could be a vegetarian.” And I am right there with her. Because (a) I like vegetables*, and (b) when this conversation takes place, we are inevitably transitioning from the gray of winter to the technicolor of prime produce season, when the carrots taste like carrots and the beets are like dessert and the kids can easily snack their way through a pint of snap peas, sitting in a bowl on the counter, in the course of a single afternoon.

It’s kind of crazy how a giant box of fresh produce — from the farmer’s market, a CSA or, if we were better people, from our backyard — in the refrigerator can reset your magnetic north (chicken, must have chicken, what can we do with chicken, remember to defrost chicken) when it comes to family dinner and just, in general, get the inspiration juices flowing again. The other day, as I was sitting at my desk, Jenny texted me a photo of some sick-a#s produce, along with a challenge: “What’s for dinner?” Not to go all Alice Waters on you here, but I let the green stuff be my guide. The truth is, you could throw any of this stuff in a bowl with a light dressing, some salt and pepper, and it would taste good. Apart from the roasting of the beets, nothing we did took longer than 15 minutes, start to finish — and the beets, if I’d been smart enough to plan ahead, could easily have been prepared the day before. Which is what I will do next time, because they were the best thing on the plate by far.

“The beets were the star,” Jenny said.

“Phoebe, what’d you think?” I asked.

“Yeah, good,” she said. “Can I have Oreos on my sundae?”

It was after this meal, as we were cleaning up, that Jenny turned to me and said she thought she could be a vegetarian. Will we ever do it? Who knows. It’s possible. That’s a conversation that, for now, gets derailed by Abby’s love of bacon… and Phoebe’s attachment to cheeseburgers… and that also might ultimately be contingent on fish also being in the mix, given our attachments. But what would definitely help speed our conversion along is if I inherited a fertile plot of land in, say, Northern California that would supply us with fresh produce all year round, or at the very least, if this CSA deal could be extended, ad infinitum, until I am old and sick to death of beets. Short of that, we’ll have to see. – Andy 

*Except for zucchini.

This is the photo Jenny emailed me: A sampling of our idiot-proof raw materials — tiny Napoli carrots, dragon radishes, kohlrabi, Oregon giant snow peas, super sugar snap peas, red ace beets, and an herb called winter savory. And this is what we ended up having for dinner… (more…)

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How to Eat Leftovers

May 28th, 2013 · 8 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals

We’re not a camping family. Or maybe, to be fair, we’re not camping parents. We’ve done it a couple of times, for one night, and I wouldn’t say we excelled at it. I’d say we survived it. The ground was too hard. The birds were chirping too loudly. Our sleeping bags were too hot, but our ears were too cold. The bugs were bad and refused to keep a respectful distance. We went to bed smelling like lakewater and campfire, and woke up smelling like lakewater and campfire — and we would have done something about this had there been a shower within a mile of our campsite. Also, the bottom of our tent was sandy.

Camping may not be our thing, but we do love to be outside, and to hike, and there’s no day trip our kids love more than the walk up Anthony’s Nose, about an hour north of our house. We started doing this hike when the kids were in backpacks, unable to make it up themselves, and ten years later, here we are — the parents — calling for water breaks and bringing up the rear. You can have your dafodils and your exploding magnolia trees and your thick golden blankets of pollen: In our house, nothing says spring has sprung like a trip up Anthony’s Nose on a beautiful warm day, the sky so blue it looks pixellated and the river, muddied from spring storms, churning its way south to New York City. After admiring the view, we sit and have a picnic on the summit, perched on a giant, sloping slab of granite, overlooking the Bear Mountain Bridge with what seems like the entire Hudson Valley sprawled out before us. Yesterday, we sat out there for an hour and had sandwiches made from weekend leftovers — breaded chicken breasts, sliced on the bias, with Duke’s mayo; grilled leg of lamb, sliced thin, with a little dijon; some bulgur salad with feta, tomatoes, and mint — as a DIY American flag, which was tied to a fallen tree limb, hung with what looked like Buddhist prayer flags, and held upright by a pile of rocks, flapped in the breeze. Memorial Day! We picked out some landmarks, including the nuclear plant at Indian Point and the ice rink down below us, at Bear Mountain, that we go to during the winter, and from which we always stop and look up and say, “Look, there’s Anthony’s Nose. See it? Those rocks up there?” And as we say that, we’re usually freezing our butts off, longing for that first warm day when we can get up there and have our picnic and feel the sun and watch the summer roll in. – Andy 

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You Say Potato, I Say Greek Potato

May 6th, 2013 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Posts by Andy, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

When Jenny and I were in our mid-twenties, we both had jobs in publishing – she at Real Simple, me at Esquire – and worked a few blocks apart, in midtown Manhattan. Sounds pretty glamorous, doesn’t it? It wasn’t, not really. But it was fun. For Jenny, who had spent two decidedly unfulfilling years, post-college, at a financial consulting firm in suburban Connecticut, it was a chance to flex those creative muscles, to unleash that side of her that can make a dollhouse out of a pile of clip-art and a cabinet door. For me, it was a chance to work with a bunch of writers I’d long admired and, in the process, come to understand just how little I really understood about writing. Work-wise, everything felt new and different back then, if that makes sense; when each day presents you with something you’ve never done before, you are constantly learning and constantly being challenged and, as a result, constantly feeling like a screaming fraud on the cusp of being found out. This was both motivating and, in hindsight, good for the soul. I can remember telling an older co-worker and mentor, when he asked me how I was holding up during a particularly tough week — one with a lot of late nights — that I was doing GREAT, thank you for asking. I told him, with total sincerity, that in the two years I had been at Esquire, there had not been a single morning when I dreaded coming to work! And I remember the look on his face when I said it, too: a kind of tight smile that said, Ahhh, yes. I remember being twenty-five and naive once, as well, my son. And I am smiling somewhat inscrutably like this right now because it is the only way I can keep myself from informing you that there will come a day when the prospect of editing your 43rd “Women We Love” cover package will make getting out of bed in the morning seem very, very hard.

But in the meantime, Jenny and I were happy just living in the moment. We had no kids yet, no mortgage, no boxes of baby pictures accumulating in the basement, no ballet shoes, lacrosse sticks, soccer bags, emergency granola bar stashes, or Taylor Swift CDs rattling around in the back of our car. (Actually, we didn’t have a car.) Working in the same business, and the same neighborhood, we had so much to talk and commiserate about. (I’d always send her a list of possible titles for a story I was working on before running them by my boss, for example; she was my insurance against public humiliation.) Every couple of weeks, we’d meet for lunch – usually at the local Au Bon Pain or the dreary, sneeze-guarded salad bar at the deli on 54th Street – but once in a while, we’d splurge and walk over to Uncle Nick’s on 9th Avenue. Uncle Nick’s was a cramped and busy Greek place with exposed brick and a sweaty, open kitchen populated by people who yelled a lot. It had too many tables, chairs so heavy you could barely push them back, and excellent souvlaki. An Uncle Nick’s lunch was what I call a “day-ender” – absurd portions of food that is simultaneously so flavorful that you can’t stop eating it and so filling that you immediately resign yourself, upon eating it, to an afternoon spent mourning the decisions you have made in life, and yearning for sleep. We’d get the tzatziki and a salad with blocks of fresh feta, a kebab or souvlaki platter, a side of Greek potatoes and, of course, rice pudding. None of it was what I would call light, but it was the potatoes that dealt the most crushing, and pleasurable, blow. They were roasted, but not crispy, oily but not greasy, crack-like in their addictive qualities.

I haven’t been to Uncle Nick’s in ten years, easy. I don’t even know if it’s still there, and am too lazy at the moment to google it. But in our house, at least, it lives on: I made Greek potatoes to go with a leg of lamb we’d grilled on Jenny’s birthday last weekend and boy, did it ever take us back. There it was, exactly. That fantastic texture, that deep yellow color, those hints of lemon and oregano. Damn! And oddly, given my sappy tendencies, the only thought after eating them was not, Wow, where did all the time go? It was, Why the heck do we ever eat potatoes any other way? – Andy

Greek Potatoes

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1  garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup good olive oil
Juice from one lemon
1 tablespoon oregano
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 500°F. Place cut, peeled potatoes into a baking dish large enough for each potato to rest on the bottom. In a bowl (I used a large measuring cup), combine water, olive oil, garlic lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper. Mix and pour over potatoes. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly brown on the edged and most of the olive oil has been absorbed. Finish with some sea salt.

The main course: a leg of lamb, grilled for about 15 minutes, until medium rare.

Side #2: Arugula salad with radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and mint. (We added the bulghur later, after we’d served the kids. Kids no like bulghur.)

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Bro-Down

March 11th, 2013 · 23 Comments · Dinner, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

Two weeks ago, I flew down to Fort Myers, Florida to spend a couple of days with five college friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a decade, maybe more. It hurts my heart to type this, but it’d been nineteen years since we’d graduated. Nineteen years since we’d borrowed each other’s toothpaste on the way to the bathroom before class, nineteen years since we ate almost every meal together in the dining hall — a big, smelly-footed family — and did the stupid things that, as long as we survived them, would provide us with the stories we would sit around and laugh about nineteen years later, when we were middle-aged men at bro-downs in Florida. In the intervening years, we’d scattered across the country — Utah, Chicago, Baltimore, Vermont, New York, Florida — and had twelve kids between us, more than a few recessed hairlines, and the requisite number of cranky shoulders, bad backs, and surgically repaired stuff. (I had my old roommate Buck, now an accomplished orthopedic surgeon in Salt Lake City, examine my shoulder as soon as we got there. “Torn labrum,” he told me. “I’ll email you some PT exercises.”) We were not what we used to be, but come on, who is?

We met up at a half-empty hotel with mile-long hallways in Cape Coral, where we’d rented two sprawling, chandeliered suites with water views. We’d spend a couple of days going to spring training games, and maybe even drinking a beer or two before the sun went down. It’d be like The Hangover! We were free! No school lunches to be made. No one shaking you awake at 6:45 to ask if you’d like a tour of her dollhouse. No shuttle service to soccer practice in the freezing, indoor bubble. No one to ask — true story — if “tickling is allowed in boxing.” Our nights would undoubtedly be spent eating 48 dollar ribeyes, drinking martinis, and playing card games into the wee hours. (Only problem there: I don’t know how to play any card games and I go to bed at 11.) We would, in short, turn back the clock. We would party like it was 1999.

Only we didn’t.

On Saturday, after an afternoon game (Sox-Twins), we huddled up to discuss the plan for dinner. The choices, it dawned on us, were grim. I wasn’t strong enough for the hotel bar, which had a sad, swinger-y vibe that depressed the living sh*t out of me. Locally, there was a Chik-Fil-A and a Hardee’s and not much else that we could see — well, beyond a massage parlor, which probably didn’t serve dinner.

“Our room has a kitchen,” Billy said.

“Why don’t we get some groceries on the way back from the game,” said Dave.

“And cook in?” I said.

“Yeah,” said Brian, “you’re the family dinner guy.”

I wish I could say I was bummed or horrified or annoyed at the prospect of staying home, in my shorts and socks, and cooking for six grown dudes. But at this point in my life, why even pretend? The truth is, I loved the idea. It was a relief. So we stopped at the Publix supermarket and loaded up on ingredients for chiliturkey chili, no less — and, lock up the womenfolk… a spinach salad. Oh, it got crazy! We went off! We put on some music and hung out in the kitchen, just like at home, Brian helping with the meat-browning duties, me showing Dave how to chop an onion, Buck loitering in the living room to check the scores on SportsCenter, Dave — who was keeping me company by the stove — peeking over my shoulder to see how much chili powder went into the pot (eight tablespoons; I doubled our usual recipe), Brian making a fresh round of gin and tonics, Billy saying, Huh, he’d never seen anyone put sausage in chili before, but I told him to trust me on this, and he did. All the familiar rhythms reasserted themselves. I was at home. It’d been nineteen years, but these guys were like family. And what do you do for family? You cook for them. And then you sit down and eat. – Andy

The Menu

Chili
Served with bowls of the usual trimmings: avocado, sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheddar, tortilla chips.

Spinach Salad with Almonds and Cranberries (Florida Supermarket Version)

Two bags fresh baby spinach, shredded
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Couple handfuls of dried cranberries
1 tbsp finely minced red onion or scallion
1/4 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese

Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette (Hotel Kitchen Version)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Few healthy pinches of kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne or hot sauce

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How to Read a Label

February 26th, 2013 · 36 Comments · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

If you’ve picked up a newspaper in the past decade, you might be aware of a few basic strategies for shopping smarter in the grocery store. Most of us, for instance, likely know that:

♦ It’s wise to stick to the perimeter of the store — produce, dairy, meat — where the fresh products are sold. (Interior aisles are filled, floor-to-ceiling, with processed foods.)

♦ Everything is positioned where it is for a reason — i.e., the most alluring items didn’t end up directly in your line of vision (and, more diabolically, your kids’ line of vision) by accident. To find the healthy stuff, you need to look up high and down low. (To see what we mean, check out the photo above.)

♦ It pays to read the label. I know that a quick scan of the nutrition facts panel will give me a sense of when something is high in fat or calories. And thanks to recent campaigns waged largely by enraged parents, I know to avoid trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, horse meat, pink slime, etc. I also know that it’s not a good sign when an ingredient list is so long, you need a magnifying glass to read it. (Unless it’s a birthday party or a barbecue; in our house, it’s never a birthday or a barbecue without the Reddi Whip or some S’Mores made from Hershey bars.)

But what I didn’t know until I had the opportunity to work with Michael Moss on his book, Salt Sugar Fat, was the degree to which processed food companies have formulated their products to not only get us to eat them, but to eat more and more of them. I didn’t know about the “bliss point,” or “mouthfeel,” or the high-stakes race for “stomach share.” I didn’t know that sodium was not the same thing as salt. I didn’t know that the average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese a year, that the most die-hard Coke drinkers — known within Coca-Cola as “heavy users” — drink up to 1,000 cans a year, or that the processed food industry accounts for $1 trillion dollars a year. Michael is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, and it shows: If you’re interested in the inside story of how the food giants have hooked a nation, if you believe that knowledge is power, if you want to know the marketing strategies that are behind those “convenient” items so many of us are feeding our children, this book might be a life-changer — or at the very least, a family dinner-changer. (You may have seen Moss’s book excerpted in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday.) We asked Michael to annotate the labels of a few of the country’s most popular, kid-friendly supermarket items to illustrate just how bad it is, and what we’re up against. He was kind enough to oblige. – Andy

  1. Hot Pockets is owned by Nestle, the Swiss-based food giant. In 2002, it paid $2.6 billion for this microwavable snack, and now counts it among its “billionaire brands” — with annual sales in excesses of $1,000,000,000.
  2. At a mere 4.5 ounces per sandwich, who wouldn’t be tempted to eat them both? But doing so could get you up to 12 grams of saturated fat (3/4 of a day’s max for most adults), 1,180 milligrams sodium (more than 2/3 of a day’s max), 5 teaspoons of sugar, and 700 calories.
  3. No trans fats? Well, yes, thanks largely to the fierce pressure consumers put on the manufacturers when the deleterious health effects of these fats became more widely known. But beware of any brag like this on the front of processed food labels. The fine print on the back usually reveals a host of items just as problematic for one’s health.

 

  1. Nutrition advocates have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to ingredients: avoid anything you can’t pronounce. Laden with chemical preservatives, emulsions and conditioners, this would not be a label for them. (Seriously, try counting the number of ingredients in there — if you can even read the microscopic type.)
  2. This label is actually a fascinating study on food processing. Consider the chicken alone, represented here as both “ground and formed,” whatever that means. And note the numerous mentions of salt, sugar, and cheese, including imitation.

  1. The FDA bears responsibility for failing to update its serving sizes, which grossly underestimates the power of salt/sugar/fat-heavy processed foods to compel overeating. But the food giants reap the benefit. A “serving” of these gushers weighs less than an ounce, which helps keep the numbers in the nutrition facts panel from looking too scary – 3 teaspoons of sugar per tiny pouch, versus 17 teaspoons per box. The problem is, lots of kids can’t stop at one pouch.
  2. First launched by General Mills, these “fruit” snacks have exploded in popularity and now have their own stretch of the grocery store, a million miles from the real fruit aisle. The reason for the growth: a huge, fruit-centered marketing ploy is driving sales. These sugar-bombs convey the illusion of health.
  3. Real Fruit? Not really. In truth, real processed fruit. Companies add these fruit derivatives to foods and drinks, sometimes in miniscule amounts, which allows them to splash the word fruit on the front of the label.

  1. Is table sugar worse than corn syrup? Nutritionists say they are indistinguishable, bearing the same number of empty calories.
  2. Pears and grapes are the most commonly used fruits in processed foods because they are cheapest to buy. The processing typically “strips” them of the fiber and the filling water that makes fresh fruit so wholesome. The result is just another form of sugar (often known as fruit sugar or stripped fruit).
  3. In this small of an amount, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil likely has negligible effects on your health. But nutritionists say there are far better choices to look for, like canola.

  1. Each year, the dairy industry spends tens of millions of dollars trying to get Americans to eat more cheese through a marketing scheme overseen by none other than the USDA, and it’s a boon for the food giants. Average consumption has tripled to 33 pounds a person a year, thanks to new products like this all over the grocery store that use cheese as an alluring, fattening ingredient. Cheese used to be something we ate on occasion, when friends were over, before dinner. Now it’s in everything.
  2. The more cheese, the better: it’s an industry mantra. And companies are vying to outdo one another with the types of cheese they can pack into one can or box.

  1. With more than half of the calories coming from fat, it’s no surprise that oil is the largest ingredient after potatoes. Companies use these four oils — corn, cottonseed, soybean, and sunflower — and others interchangeably, depending on market supply and cost. Oil and fat are what give processed foods their sought-after “mouthfeel,” as industry types call it, which is a crucial part of a product’s allure.
  2. These Pringles have moderate loads for salty snacks… if you stick to a single, one-ounce serving. But let your child eat the whole can over two days, and they’ll get more than a full day’s max of saturated fat, two-thirds a day’s sodium, and a teaspoon of sugar thrown in for good measure. (Not to mention 2,000 calories.)
  3. People trying to limit their sodium have a lot to worry about when it comes to processed foods. These Pringles have four sodium compounds, including MSG, along with salt (added by itself and in each of the four cheeses).

Tune in to Fresh Air today, Tuesday, February 26, to hear Michael Moss talk more about Salt, Sugar, Fat

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Let’s Talk About Bullying

February 19th, 2013 · 15 Comments · Cameos, Domestic Affairs, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

I first met with Emily Bazelon to discuss the idea that became her book, Sticks and Stones, two and a half years ago, when my kids were six and eight. As we sat in a conference room and talked, I remember two things going through my mind: (a) Wow, this person is way more smarter than I am, so please let me get through this meeting without humiliating myself, and (b) the topic of bullying is fascinating, complex, and (dreaded word) important, but God, am I glad my kids are still too young to be dealing with it. Much has changed in those two and half years. Mainly, our kids went ahead and got older. They’re 9 and 11 now, and while they enjoy school and — knock on wood — have yet to experience the problems that Emily explores in her new book, the social dynamics, not to mention the world they’re living in, are growing ever-more complicated. I didn’t know it then, but this book – and the lessons to be taken from it, from the danger of the rush to judgment to the absolute importance of empathy – has been a fertile and valuable source of conversation at our dinner table. It has helped Jenny and me talk about these issues, while sounding like we know what we’re talking about. And that’s all thanks to Emily. Emily is an incredibly reassuring presence, somebody who actually bothers to do the research before opining. She’s an editor at Slate, a beloved fixture of their political Gabfest, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and – see point (a) above – a fellow at Yale Law School. Knowing that we have a lot of parents who read this site, Jenny and I thought it might be helpful to have Emily answer a few of our more pressing questions. – Andy

What’s step number one if my kid is being bullied at school? 

First, make sure you have all the facts. Sometimes an accusation of bullying can seem straightforward, but then turns out to be more multidimensional once you understand the full context. Your job, of course, is to support your child. Sometimes it will be clear that he or she is the victim and needs your protection. Other times, however, you will learn that she is caught up in “drama” and has played an active role, rather than being simply at the mercy of bullies. Job number one, then, is to make sure that you have as thorough an understanding of the situation as possible. It’s important to protect your child but it’s also important not to cry wolf. If what’s happening really is bullying, the more specific examples you can cite, the better for making your case.

Even legitimate complaints can boomerang in bad ways if not carefully framed. If school officials are not responding the way you think they should, you may have to keep pushing by going up the chain of command. But remember: school officials are people, too, with a heaping plate of responsibilities and limited time, and the more you respect the role they play, the more likely they will be to sympathize. What I mean is, give them the benefit of the doubt and save the frontal attack for when you feel you have no other choice.

A lot of bullying doesn’t happen at school these days, though, right? So what do I do if my kid is being bullied on line?

You can ask a social network site to take down any content that violates its rules, as many harassing posts clearly do. At Facebook, for example: When the target of an abusive post reports it himself, they will generally take his word for it. So your child should report the abuse immediately. You should also keep a record of the cruel content—even if it’s painful and you just feel like deleting it forever. It’s almost never a good idea to reply to a harassing post. If your child is having continuing trouble, I’d advise taking a break from social networking for a while (though I know that can be a hard sell!). Kids can always go back on when things have calmed down. Finally, police have the authority to address cyberbullying under the harassment laws of most states. But calling in the cops should be a thought-through decision rather than a knee-jerk reaction because it often triggers a response that’s more heavy-handed than called for.

A possibly stupid question, but: What’s the difference between general meanness between kids and true bullying — and is this a distinction that matters?

There is a difference and it does matter. Yes, absolutely. The best definition of bullying, which psychologists who do research use, is verbal or physical aggression that occurs repeatedly and involves a power differential—one (more…)

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The Magic Onion Effect

February 4th, 2013 · 17 Comments · Picky Eating, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup

A cherished ritual seems to have sprung up in this house, without us ever consciously putting it into effect: we go out to a local restaurant, just the four of us, every Friday night for dinner. The culinary options in our neighborhood being somewhat…limited, we usually end up at a sushi place run by a super friendly Japanese man who I will call Bob. Bob works as hard as is humanly possible. Bob cares. He is the great patriarch of the place, demanding and loving, standing by the door in sushi chef garb, directing traffic, taking pickup orders by phone, making the rounds to check on general levels of satisfaction. He has a photographic memory, as well, which manifests itself in a remarkable ability to remember every customer’s name, which I know because he shouts every customer’s name the second they walk in the door. ANDY! TODD! JENNIFER! EMILY! HELLOHOWAREYOUUUUUUUU! There’s a big, well-tended fish tank by the door, and some mermaid murals on the walls, and the fish is good and fresh; the kids love it here. We always order family style, and we’ve got it down to a science: yellow tail scallion roll, eight pieces of salmon sushi, spicy shrimp tempura roll, a few pieces of tuna, coupla orders of shumai, coupla bowls of miso, and most important, one chicken teriyaki dinner, which is served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet. The chicken is tender, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cut into strips, but it’s the onions that we end up fighting over. They’re sweet and still slightly crunchy, caramelized in the pan and doused in teriyaki sauce. Abby drizzles them over her rice and goes to town; Phoebe just takes her chopsticks and shovels them in until the pan is picked clean. Without fail, they are the highlight of the meal.

We’ve chronicled our caramelized onion obsession here before — and in Jenny’s book — but a little homemade teriyaki sauce takes things to another level. The first time I made these, I spooned them over some fresh tuna, which I seared in a grill pan on the stovetop. The next time, we served them with roasted salmon. They go with almost everything, is the thing: steak, chicken, fish, tofu, they’d even be good on a burger (with some hoisin instead of ketchup, mmmmmm). The downside is, we never have enough. My hard-won advice: use more onions than you think you’ll need, because you’ll need them. — Andy

Teriyaki Onions

Teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp chicken broth
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
3 scallions minced
2 tsp sesame oil

Add all of the ingredients above to a bowl or large measuring cup, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Thinly slice two or three large yellow onions and sautee in cast iron skillet (with one tbsp canola or grapeseed oil) over medium heat until they soften slightly, about five minutes. Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of the teriyaki sauce, to coat the onions, and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, until sauce is absorbed. Then, do it again: drizzle some of the sauce over the onions — but don’t let it get soupy, you don’t want to boil these things — and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with chicken, fish, or rice.

Speaking of cast iron skillets, the newsletter giveaway winner of the super-awesome Lodge Cast Iron Skillet that we use daily is Sarah L . Thanks to everyone who participated! 

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Stromboli!

January 17th, 2013 · 68 Comments · Dinner, Favorites, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

Our friends Kendra and Mike are what Abby would call “good cookers.” Mike’s a legit restaurant guy, and Kendra is an all-around enthusiast, with excellent taste, who happens to know her way around a kitchen. In other words, they can be trusted. A couple of weeks ago, Kendra poked her head into my office and said, “You know what you gotta make for the girls?”

“Laser-cut paper doll dioramas of unicorns frolicking in shimmering fields of goldenrod?” I said.

“No, dude. Stromboli. Mike and I made one this weekend, and it was insane.”

Stromboli? Here’s what I knew about Stromboli: Nothing. Or, that’s not quite true. I had a vague sense it was something I shoveled into my mouth, wolverine-like, a few times in college, at 2am, after several bottles of Golden Anniversary beer. I think. The point is, it was not what some food types today would call a “mindful” eating experience. (I think I also remember tipping my head back and drinking the cup of marinara dipping sauce it came with; hey, I was hungry!) But last week, Stromboli and I got to know each other a little more deeply. I made one to eat — at halftime; that’s how quick and easy it is — while we sat on the couch and watched the NFL playoffs. The kids, as per usual, could not have cared less about the game, but the Stromboli won in a rout. After cleaning her plate, Abby declared: “That’s the best thing you’ve ever made all year.” If I were a betting man, I’d put a lot of money on this happening again for the Super Bowl. – Andy

Step One: Spread dough (we used pre-made from T. Joe’s, and left it out on the counter for an hour, to make it easier to  work with; you can also, obviously, use homemade) on cookie sheet rubbed with olive oil; get it as far into the corners as possible.

Step Two: Sauce it up, almost to the edges. If you have homemade pizza sauce, awesome. But honestly, a good storebought, like Don Pepino or Rao’s Marinara, is fine, too.

Step Three: Sprinkle some fresh basil and dried oregano on this bad boy.

Step Four: Add your meat (if you like that sort of thing; we used pepperoni), and onions. At this point, I threatened to add roasted red peppers, but Jenny shot my sh*t down.

Step Five: Add spinach (thawed, squeezed, no trace of liquid) or kale and shredded mozz.

Step Six: Add some fresh ricotta (and some grated parm, if you want) and red pepper flakes.

Step Seven: Very carefully (so as not to tear the dough), roll the dough up like a giant joint. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

Step Eight: Put into 350°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until golden brown. Brush again with oil in the last five min. Slice into 1 1/2 inch thick pieces and serve.

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Last-Minute Gift Guide

December 17th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

I don’t know about you, but this is the time when I suddenly look at the calendar, and then at the list of things I’ve bought for family and friends so far, and then at the list of things I still have to buy, and think, “Rut-roh.” How’s it all gonna get done? And how did I let this happen? In an effort to help make things a little easier, I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions for last-minute gifts here. Satisfaction guaranteed! – Andy

For the teacher who is dedicating him/herself, day in and day out, to the betterment of your child: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the patient cello teacher who — in just three months — has already made your life, and your ear drums, so much happier: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the soccer coach who not only volunteers her time three times a week to guru your kid, but also — true miracle — teaches her what off-sides means: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the mother-in-law who you love dearly but who could also use a little help in the expansion of repertoire department: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the 23-year-old niece, who was weaned on The Food Network and can tell her rutabaga from her kohlrabi: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the 23-year-old nephew, who still claims to hate tomatoes, prompting you to remind him — a 23 year old, grown-ass man — that pizza sauce CONTAINS TOMATOES: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the newlyweds, who want to learn how to make breaded pork chops together: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the lover of long walks, double rainbows, and three-alarm chili: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the guy who doesn’t know what else to get his girlfriend: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the wife, who is an amazing, loving mother and who works full-time and has recently begun talking about starting her own food blog: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the husband, who’s man enough to own a book called Dinner: A Love Story and who would appreciate knowing how to make a proper Manhattan: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the clueless bachelor guy, who should know better by now: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the new mom, who will relate to the chapter on new motherhood and then feel empowered and then just go off and make the Lazy Bolognese, only to be empowered further: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the desperate parents of picky eaters, who are secretly googling “can you survive on pasta alone” after the kids go to bed: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the holiday party host, who would appreciate how much cooler a present this book is when compared to another bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz in a velvet bag: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the dog lovers, who whose faces will melt upon seeing the picture on page 51: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who has twenty bucks positively burning a hole in her pocket: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the Powerball winner who is looking to fill some shelf space in the new, 53-room mansion she just bought: 20 copies of Dinner: A Love Story.

For the committed Buddhist who, while not needing much in the way of material possessions, could still use a copy of this book, for real: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the new homeowner who’s definitely not a Buddhist and is looking for an excuse to fire up her huge, practically virgin, seventeen burner Viking: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the lover of fine food photography: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the cookbook collector: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the principled supporter of the book industry, who holds a special place in our hearts: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the outdoorsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the indoorsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the ombudsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who has resolved to stop stuffing face with jalapeno poppers when drunk: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the amateur sleuth: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the tool-and-die man, whatever that is: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who, as our 9-year-old just said, “draws pictures of turtles eating tomatoes”: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who reads the following sentence — “This book is for anyone interested in learning how to execute a meal to be shared with someone they love and discovering how so many good, happy things can trickle down from doing so” — and thinks, Dang, dogg, that hits me right where I live: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the thoughtful gift-giver who wants to buy a book and then have the author — like, I don’t know, Jenny Rosenstrach — sign a bookplate for said book and then give it to a good friend or relative and say, “Look, I got you a signed book for Christmas!”: Dinner: A Love Story. (Email her TODAY jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com with subject line “Bookplate Request”; after 12/20, she can’t guarantee they’ll be sent in time for Christmas.)

For our slightly less ridiculous Gift Guide, click here.


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Pass it On

December 11th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

Like Santa Claus, my mom never shows up empty-handed. When she visits, the kids gather at the door, waiting to see how lucky they’ll be this time. Will it be the new Lemony Snicket book? That turtleneck Abby had circled — hint, hint — in the Land’s End catalog a few months ago? A pair of earrings for Phoebe’s recently pierced ears? If a grandmother’s job is to shower love and affection (and presents), my mom is in the running for Awesomest Grandmother of All Time. She also brings things for me, however. Not presents, exactly. Things she has saved. Things that have lived in the boxes that sit in her compulsively incredibly well-curated basement for thirty years — her version of what Jenny and I call “the treasure chest,” the stuff from your life that you can’t bear to picture in a landfill somewhere — which she is now parceling out, bit by bit. Little dolls from her childhood, my old soccer jacket with all the patches sewn on the back, the mimeographed newspaper from my elementary school containing a story I wrote, in second grade, about Arbor Day, the light blue cable-knit outfit I wore on my first birthday, photos of my eighth grade dinner dance (I wore my dad’s tie and WHITE PLEATED PANTS), my old Looney Tunes T-shirt with Tweety Bird on the back and “Rent-a-Kid-Cheap” on the front, an old Wilson A2000 baseball mitt, my freshman course guide and assorted college detritus, and once, I crap you not, an Easter bonnet I made in pre-school out of a paper plate, some plastic flowers, and a light blue ribbon. (Me: “Mom, come on, what am I going to do with this thing?” Mom, actually attempting to tie the bonnet on my head while simultaneously applying the guilt: “But you… made it.”)

As you see, there are upsides and downsides to her role as family archivist.

Not too long ago, though, she showed up at our door carrying an old cardboard box, and when I say “old,” I don’t mean, like, six months old. I don’t even mean thirty years old. I mean, the cardboard on this box had that kind of waxy sheen that truly old cardboard gets, as if it has been holding fried dough and candles for a few thousand years. Stuck to the top of it was a mailing label that had my mom’s maiden name on it, and the mailing address of the house she moved out of more than fifty years ago. And inside, she announced, was a special present for Phoebe. Inside, as Phoebe soon discovered, was my mother’s comic book collection from her childhood, preserved here, as if in amber. Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Kit Carson, Hiawatha, all in various states of parchmenty disrepair, motes of dust rising from the box, the pages literally falling apart as Phoebe turned them. Our oldest daughter is a well-documented comic book enthusiast, but man, I haven’t seen her sucked in so completely, so deeply in a long time. (“Sometimes when I’m reading them, I imagine that I’m grandma, sitting in her room when she was little,” is how she put it.) She spent a couple weeks reading and rereading them, and I joined in, too. The slightly fuzzy, saturated colors of that old ink are so satisfying and the writing — and yes, I realize I am talking about Donald Duck comic books here — is kind of amazing. Scrooge McDuck: Wait, that guy is a metaphor! There’s stuff going on here! These comics are saying something!

Given that they were written in the 40s and 50s, they occasionally veer into uncomfortable, not-very-sensitive cultural observations, but as with TinTin, you can turn that to your advantage. Think of it as an opportunity to talk about how dumb we used to be and how much we have learned and how times have changed, mostly, and for the better. Phoebe loved them so much, we secured another, more pristine shipment, each copy wrapped in plastic, and she currently keeps them all under her bed, stacked nearly in that old cardboard box. Sometimes I’ll be upstairs, on a quiet weekend afternoon, and I’ll peek in and see her there, laying on her floor, propped up on her elbows, reading them. Get to the end, put it back neatly, reach in and pick up the next one. The good news is, you don’t need to have a gift-dispensing mom who doubles as an obsessive family archivist to give this stuff a shot; old comics are practically what ebay was made for. They’re not hard to find — but even if they were, they’d be worth it. – Andy

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