Entries Tagged as 'Baking and Sweets'

He’s Sweet, She’s Savory

April 30th, 2014 · 18 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Entertaining, Seafood

There are many reasons why I love going to Naria’s and Peter’s house for dinner. For starters, they live in my town, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that one of the great pleasures in life is having neighbors cook for you. This is especially true when those neighbors really know how to bring it in the dinner party department. Unlike in our house where having more than two or three guests feels like we’re running a restaurant, Naria and Peter seem to revel in the large, well-considered guest list. There are usually at least eight of us, the official invitation comes a few weeks ahead of time, there is a properly set dining room table, and I always wake up with a sore throat the next morning, because it’s non-stop talking from the moment we sit down to cocktails until we leave. (Again, SEE: well-considered guest list). (more…)

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Never Fail Banana Bread

March 17th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Baking and Sweets

Yesterday, Phoebe came home from school with her aspiring-baker friend Abby (different Abby) and declared “We want to make bread.”

“How long is this playdate exactly?” I asked.

“Abby’s mom is picking her up at 5:30.”

“Hmmm.” I was a little concerned about their plan.

“Aw c’mon…We can make that easy bread you always make?” She was, of course, referring to Jim Lahey’s world-famous No-Knead bread, the only bread I’ve ever dared bake. (And to be honest, it works so well, I don’t really know why I’d try any other.)

“Well you’re right, that one is easy,” I said. “But it still takes time.” I thought for a second.

“How about banana bread? That’s quick and we have a bunch of bananas that are not looking so hot.” Of course, it’s a total farce that something made with that much sugar and butter is called “bread” and not “cake,” but it was Friday, and why shouldn’t there be a little banana cake lying around over the weekend? Plus, I had the world’s most surefire recipe, which I knew two 12-year-olds could handle without parental supervision.

It was decided. I opened my old recipe binder….an actual honest-to-god BINDER with tabs that look like this:

And recipes that look like this:

The whole binder system seems so quaint now, in spite of the fact that I only started it about a decade ago. But I still reach for it all the time  – even though most of my tried-and-true recipes are digitized on this blog or immortalized in my cookbook. I think that’s because a lot of the recipes in the binder are handwritten…and we all remember the rule about handwritten recipes, right? How they’re the least likely of all recipes to let you down??  

The other thing about handwritten recipes? They are way off the Google grid…and how often can you say that in this day and age?

I sifted through recipes from my mother’s mother who I never met, recipes from old co-workers, Aunt Patty-anotated New York Times recipes from 1982 until I found what I was looking for: Elizabeth Mayhew’s banana bread recipe you see above. About ten years ago Elizabeth, then an editor at Real Simple with me, now a Today Show and Washington Post contributorcame in to my office to talk about recipes for a story loosely called “One-Bowl Breads.”  This was not an unusual scene — no matter what I was working on, food stories or otherwise, my first conversation was always Elizabeth, an idea-machine who came up with some of the more memorable tips the magazine is so famous for. Thanks to Elizabeth I never feel bad about serving dinner guests meatloaf on china platters which “elevate the everyday”; and I can always easily find my bed sheet sets (they are tucked into their matching pillow case like a little kit); and, as you have gathered by now, thanks to Elizabeth I have a killer one-bowl banana bread, the recipe for which she scrawled out in my office from memory. (“It’s my mother’s and I’ve made it too many times to count.”)

Elizabeth could be ruthless, too, which I loved. Once, in my office, she asked me why I had an ugly dried-out bouquet of flowers on my desk. I told her Andy bought them to congratulate me for an Times Op-Ed I had just written. “It reminds me of my potential,” I told her, somewhat pathetically. In one swift movement, she plucked out a tiny dried rose from the bouquet, placed it in a tiny box she found on my desk, shut the top, and handed the whole thing back to me. “Here’s your potential,” she said. “Now throw out those depressing flowers.” (Kids are not the only ones who appreciate a bit of authority.)

I still have that little box. And I still have her banana bread recipe, which is what I handed Phoebe and her friend for their baking date, and which the whole family moaned and groaned over all weekend. (Not surprisingly, they opted for the “optional” chocolate chips.)

I’m not going to rekey the recipe for you like I usually do. Instead, here is a link where you can download a PDF. (Or just drag the above photo to your desktop and print.) Baking time (in a loaf pan) is 50 minutes to an hour, or whenever a knife in the center comes out clean. Let’s see how long we can keep it from Mr. Google.

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Heart Cake

January 29th, 2014 · 15 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

It’s been well documented on this site that whatever limited talent I have for say, spinning a lone onion into dinner, that this talent has somehow never translated to the baking side of my brain. The most recent evidence to support this being that cornbread I baked for our friends John and Shiv over the holidays — the one that was going to be served alongside Andy’s chili, until I tasted it and realized that I had forgotten the cornmeal. The sad thing is, it doesn’t mean I don’t like baking. I actually love it. I’m just no good at it.

But anyway, there was this cake I used to make Phoebe when she was little. Her birthday is right around Valentine’s Day so her parties were always heart-themed. For this particular birthday — held at a local dance studio — I planned the entire thing from my office at Real Simple, where I was working full-time. I booked the space, organized the pizza delivery, ordered various pink and red heart-shaped off-gassing plastic junk from the Evil but Life-Saving Oriental Trading. We liked to have birthday parties at home (or maybe I should say, we liked having parties at home after they were over) but it had been a crazy month. I was transitioning into a new role at the magazine, Andy was starting a new job, and Abby seemed to be sick the entire winter. It seemed absurd to take on a home party when outsourcing it at the local gym was going to save precious sanity reserves.

But I wanted something to be homemade — See: Birthday Parties and Maternal Self-Worth: Case Study 1 and Case Study 2 – and all that was left for me to do was the cake. I had it in my head that I would do something really fabulous — maybe in the shape of a shark or something because that was one thing about four-year-0ld Nemo-loving Phoebe…she knew her Sand Tigers from her Black Tips. But of course, it was the day before and I didn’t have any idea how to make a shark cake or anything fun for that matter. Or, at least fun in a way that was doable, given my limited chops. If I had thought ahead and bought a heart mold, I could just do a heart cake, I thought. But I hadn’t thought ahead and so instead found myself at the office googling “heart cake.” What came up was a sketch that looked a lot like this:

It turns out, if you have a standard 9-inch square baking pan (I did!) and a standard 9-inch circle baking pan (I had that, too!), you can very easily make a cake in the shape of a heart. You just slice the round one in half, and affix each of those halves to two adjacent sides of the square cake. Easy! Even for beginners. After baking (I used Rosa’s Mud Cake, naturally, but you can use your own favorite recipe) and frosting everything, Phoebe decided she wanted to stud the rim with pink and red M&Ms…so who was I to stop her? And nine years later, even though I’ve had plenty of time to order that mold, I still consider my jerry-rigged method the only way to make a real heart cake.

P.S. Speaking of hearts and birthdays — today Dinner: A  Story turns 700 posts old!

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Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie (And Then Some)

November 14th, 2013 · 27 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Sometimes I think the most necessary characteristic a cook should possess is restraint — in other words, the ability to stay out of the way of something delicious. (Think summer corn, a farm-fresh egg, homemade pasta.) In this case, that rule happens to apply to food blogging as well, and the something delicious happens to be the most beautiful book I’ve seen all winter: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book from Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, sisters and proprietors of the celebrated Brooklyn pie shop. You might’ve heard about their award-winning signature Salted Caramel Apple Pie? (I was the dummy who suggested to my daughter last weekend “Let’s order one slice and share it.”)

So that you may never find yourself without the perfect pie to bake, the Elsen sisters’ book is organized seasonally — think Strawberry Balsamic or Pistachio Coconut Cream for spring, a Stone Fruit Streusel pie for summer. But naturally the most interesting recipes to me right now are those beauties in the fall and winter category: Salted Caramel Apple, Bourbon Pear Crumble, Brown Butter Pumpkin, Malted Chocolate Pecan, Salty Honey, and a Maple Buttermilk Custard (recipe below) that looks like it would take top honors on any Thanksgiving dessert spread. And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’m gunning for this year.

I promised to stay out of the way of these beautiful pies and pictures! (So much for that.) Here you go: A little photographic tease… (more…)

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Graveyard Cake

October 30th, 2013 · 10 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Along with the block I live on, my memory has been getting a little cobwebby lately. Can it possibly be that I’ve written this blog for three and a half years, aka four Halloweens, and not told you about my all-time favorite tricky treat? Every year I try and fail to come up with something as simple and clever as this graveyard cake, which I first learned about from the lovably loony Clare Crespo way back when I was a magazine editor. Clare used cupcakes, but you can pull it together with any basic storebought or homemade sheet cake (Rosa’s does the trick), a dozen and a half crushed chocolate wafers (or Oreo tops and bottoms), and chocolate sprinkles. (As you can see, this project favors the artless.) Then, for the limbs, if you live in a house like mine, all it takes is one scrounge around the bottom of the toy box to uncover a treasure trove of dismembered Barbies. Happy Halloween!

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The Drawer

October 2nd, 2013 · 16 Comments · Baking and Sweets

There was a drawer in my childhood kitchen. If it wasn’t made of actual walnut, it was definitely made of walnut-veneered wood, and sat beneath the silverware drawer, which sat beneath the mustard-colored formica countertop. The drawer had no heft and seemed to always be falling off its tracking likely due to the many dozens of times a day we’d open and close it.

My mom kept a strange array of items in the drawer — there was a basket where she stored her onions and garlic. In the corner, wrapped in the coil of its wire, was the electric hand-mixer that matched the countertop and that I still use every Thanksgiving to whip warm milk into mashed potatoes. (Unlike me, my mom does not update for the sake of updating. She uses something until it’s broken.) And on top of all these items were any number of boxes from Grand Union’s baked good aisle. Which shouldn’t be confused with the actual bakery, which would indicate that something fresh was involved — not that the term “fresh” meant anything to me in 1983. Entenmann’s was, of course, king of the drawer, with its sour cream chocolate chip nut loaf, buttery pound cake, thick, fudge-frosting-spackled sheet cake, and chocolate-frosted doughnuts that remained slightly crunchy in all the right places even after a generous dunk in milk. Nine times out of ten, if you opened The Drawer, you’d find one of these products. But, depending on who accompanied Mom to “The Grand,” as she called it, you might also find Freihofer’s cupcakes, glazed pop ‘ems, a box of Drake’s Yodels or Ring Dings, Nabisco Nutter Butters and Fudge Stripes, Fudge Sticks, and Vanilla Cream wafers, or my favorite, Thomas’s Toast-R-Cakes in Blueberry or Corn. Still to this day, on the rare (read: glorious) occasion I find myself eating a Nutter Butter, I somehow taste an infusion of onion and old wood. There was never any talk of calories or trans fats or additives or chemicals or dieting. Why would there be? If it was USDA-approved it couldn’t be that bad, right? Plus my brother, sister, and I were all two- and three-sport athletes. I could eat anything I wanted and still barely hold down a movie theater flip seat with my own body weight.

The Drawer in my house today is not so much a drawer as it is a ceramic bread crock, and one look at its contents would be enough to measure how much times have changed since we were kids. Right now, inside the crock, there’s a single bag of Trader Joe’s mini-bagels. But this doesn’t mean we don’t give in to baked-good temptation every now and then. (Here is where I will also conveniently glaze over the chocolate-covered everything syndrome in our pantry.) Lately, I’ve been into making blueberry-corn muffins, which is not only a more wholesome update of those heavenly Toast-R-Cakes I loved so much as a kid, they also happen to be a hybrid of the two muffins my daughters love and gobble up for breakfast or after-school snack. And by adding a handful of fresh blueberries (right after the stick of butter and half cup of sugar) I have no problem whatsoever convincing myself that they’re healthy.

Blueberry-Corn Muffins
This is only just barely adapted from Ina Garten’s original Barefoot Contessa, a cookbook that no family kitchen should be withoutI halved her recipe and replaced raspberry preserves with fresh blueberries. I like it because I almost always have what I need to make a batch. (No newfangled ingredients like buttermilk.) This recipe makes about six muffins — a week’s worth of breakfasts and snacks.
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1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
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Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 6-8 muffin cups with paper liners. To a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl combine the milk, melted butter, and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, whisking until just blended. (You can also use a blender for this.) Mix in blueberries. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake for 30 minutes until the tops are crisp and slightly golden brown.
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Cannot for the life of me remember how we ended up with bandana-patterned muffin papers, but if for some reason you are in the market for them, I found them here and also here (as part of a Cowboy-themed baking kit). And in case you were wondering: navy nail polish pictured in photo up top: Essie’s Midnight Cami.
Related: How to Read a Label, by Michael Moss and The Homemade Pantry Solution, featuring Alana Chernila.

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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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I Was a Soda Jerk

July 21st, 2013 · 27 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Cameos, Drinks

We are honored to present a very special guest poster today on DALS — my dad, Steve Ward. As I have noted here before, my dad did not have the deepest (and that’s putting it kindly) repertoire when it came to dinner, but man, could he do a good, no-bake dessert. Sundaes (topped with crushed, roasted peanuts), ice cream sodas (he was partial to ginger ale and vanilla), spoonfuls of Cool Whip straight from the tub (and delivered when my mom wasn’t looking) and, of course, milk shakes. The guy loved a milk shake. His love of them is still evident today, in the collection of vintage blenders and mixers he has on a shelf of honor in his office. We asked him to sing its virtues for Dinner: A Love Story, and he was kind enough to oblige. Here is proof that you’re never too old to start blogging.  – Andy
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Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of Bay Head, New Jersey last fall opened a floodgate of packed-away memories for me, stretching back 57 years. It made an old man remember barefoot summers, crabbing, fishing with a bamboo pole for snapper blues, sailing a sneak box with my dad, tossing horseshoes with Gramps and – perhaps most notable of all– my very first paid job as the Milk Shake Man.

For one glorious summer in the early fifties, I led the life of an Archie Comics character, working for 38 cents an hour (plus tips) as a soda jerk behind the lunch counter of a general store on Bay Head’s main drag. It was in this beachside emporium that I learned the dark magic of the chocolate malted milk and the raucous, roaring machines that make them. Even with its meager wages, my job was a match made in heaven. I would have gladly have worked for free, because one stipulation of my employment was that I could consume unlimited malted milks, milk shakes, lime rickeys and other fountain concoctions free of charge.

The malted milk incentive quickly became an integral part of my summer strategy. As a rising high school freshman, I desperately wanted to try out for the football team, but my mother was of the opinion that 135 pound boys do not play football. When pressed, she grudgingly offered to reconsider if I made it to 150. So I embraced the challenge and fired up my battery of blenders. My rule of the thumb was that I would consume one malted milk for every ice cream drink I served a customer. The malted quickly became my signature dish and my blender talents were recognized up and down the beach, especially among the high school girls who stopped by to sit and chat at the counter.

Chocolate malteds were by far the most popular. My favorite, though, was vanilla, which was unusual. Strawberry was rarely ordered and no one ever thought of asking for whipped cream.

In the heyday of my Bay Head bacchanal, I can’t remember ever taking an order for skim milk; I’m not sure if reduced fat ice cream even existed, though I highly doubt it. One of the cardinal rules of healthy eating back then was that every child should consume a quart of whole milk every day – and, hey, that malt was good for you too.

Did I gain weight?  Indeed I did (and I made the football team, too) but I’m not sure my coronary arteries have ever recovered. The Malted Milk Man – along with his wife of 50 years — has cursed the weight and treasured the memories for almost six decades since.  The memories, of course, weigh nothing and they are sweeter than a Zagnut Bar.

An afternoon at the beach, slathered in oil specifically designed to make you burn… body surfing on a leaky air mattress … searching for beach glass… flirting with the girl in the rental next door. Then — baked, burned and exhausted — top it all off with a stroll to the soda fountain for a rich, creamy, icy-cold malted milk created by a real, live soda jerk and poured from the glistening, frosted aluminum tumbler of a laboring Cecilware blender. Summer at the shore.

The Malted Milkshake

One of the (many) great things about a malted milk is than anyone can make one, and you hardly need a recipe. But a true fifties chocolate malted wants whole milk (about a cup), full-strength ice cream (try two generous scoops – don’t lose your nerve), several robust squeezes of chocolate syrup and, of course, 2-3 tablespoons of malted milk  — season to taste.

For those adventuresome enough to “make mine vanilla,” vanilla syrup (Starbucks sells one) works best, but a dash of pure vanilla extract will also get the job done nicely. So: milk, ice cream, vanilla syrup, malted milk.

Chocolate, vanilla (or, if you insist, strawberry): throw it all in a blender*, fire it up, blend until cold and frothy, and prepare to be amazed.

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*Author’s note: For the true aficionado, old time blenders are often available at flea markets and antique stores, and most have aluminum cups which tend to frost up enticingly as the malted blends. It’s fun to sample the full fifties experience, but be sure to check the wiring first. They’re good, but not worth-burning-your-house-down-good.

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21 Rules of Entertaining

May 16th, 2013 · 369 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Entertaining, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

One of the more fun parts of my “job” is that I have an excuse to reach out to people I’ve been secretly stalking for decades.  Take last month, for instance, when I met Susan Spungen for breakfast at a Union Square coffee shop. Spungen spearheaded the food section at Martha Stewart Living twenty years ago. We have her to thank for leading the team that put together the Hors D’oeuvres Handbook, which is not only my finger food bible, but the bible of caterers across America. When I heard she was coming out with a book on Entertaining – What’s a Hostess to Do? – I set up a date, and over poached eggs and shaved asparagus, downloaded her hard-won wisdom.

21 Rules for Entertaining
Culled from What’s a Hostess to Do, by Susan Spungen (and so many thousands more where these came from)

1. Less can be more. Focus on a few beautiful well-conceived, well-prepared dishes.

2. Unless it’s the holiday, in which case the key word is “bounty.” (See above.)

3. The language you use for your invitation should focus on who you do want at the party (“Join us for a grown-up dinner”) not who you don’t want (“No kids please.”)

4. For the kids — When in doubt: “Bambini Pasta,” i.e. noodles, spaghetti, penne, whatever you got — with butter and Parm.

5. Some handy math: On average, assume your guests will have 2 drinks per hour (10 guests x 2 drinks x 2 hours = 40 drinks). There are approximately 5 wine glasses per bottle. A 1-liter bottle of liquor contains enough for 32 mixed drinks. One liter of mixer will make 8 drinks.

6. The Paloma is The New Margarita.

7. [OK, disclaimer: Susan didn't exactly say that, but I did, and will continue to all summer. To make: 1/2 cup grapefruit soda (such as Mexican Jarritos or Jamaican Ting), the juice of half a lime, and 2 ounces tequila. Serve over ice with lime wedge.]

8. Centerpieces: DO use short candles, DON’T use tall or overly fragrant flowers or plants; DO decorate with short flowers or potted plants, DON’T crowd the table.

9. Scented candles? Yes, for sure, in the bathroom. On the table? Never.

10. All will be fine if Nutella is on the menu. Nutella Dessert Sandwiches: Toast thinly sliced brioche bread, spread with Nutella and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

11. Three Four-Syllable Laws of Sanity Preservation when entertaining: Make it Ahead, Cook What You Know, Think Mise en Place.

12. A multitude of sins can be easily overlooked when people are basking in a warm glow: Lighting should be soft.

13. Bathroom checklist: Close the shower curtain, empty the trash. If there is no lock, make an “occupied” sign to hang on the knob. Better yet, have the kids do it.

14. Invest in a collapsible metal coatrack and never dive through a mountain of identical black wool overcoats heaped on a bed ever again.

15. Winning Cheese and Fruit Pairs for a Starter Spread: Apples + Cheddar, Quince Paste + Manchego, Figs + Gorgonzola

16. Good salumi needs little accompaniment. But no one will object if it’s next to some good bread, olives, and crisp fennel slices.

17. To make after-party cleanup less soul-crushing, always start the evening with an empty dishwasher, dish rack, trash can, and sink.

19. Yes, you can bring wine = The answer when your friends ask What Can I Bring?

20. A good party is much more than the sum of its parts. The gathering takes on a life of its own, and it almost always works out, even when it doesn’t.

21. The no-fail menu for entertaining kids and adults: Ribs, Slaw (lose the brussels in the summer), and make-ahead Ice Cream Sandwiches.

To make: For each sandwich, place a scoop of ice cream on a chocolate chip cookie (try Tate’s brand or another thin crisp cookie). Top with another cookie and press down gently. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set in the freezer. Wrap individually after they’ve hardened, and freeze until ready to serve. (more…)

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Sundae on a Spoon

May 15th, 2013 · 13 Comments · Baking and Sweets

Newest delusional tactic to keep the dessert madness in check: One spoonful of something with a LOT going on, including, but not limited to Strawberry Sundaes, Rich Man’s Reese’s (with sea salt), Banana Split, Brownie Sundae, Chipwich.

One spoonful. Just one.

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Birthday Biscuits

April 17th, 2013 · 24 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I do not want another second to go by without letting you know that after years of major hint-dropping on Andy’s part — much of it public (see #65) — you’ll be happy to hear that the DALShouse is finally home to a brand new 2-speed TurboBlend Vitamix 1782. I’ll let my husband go deep on this in a few days, but I will say that every morning since unwrapping the blender for his birthday last week, Andy has entered the kitchen, assembled his fruit, yogurt, ice, and exotic juices, then flipped the switch while summoning all of us to stop what we are doing. “LISTEN TO THAT!” he’ll shout, as if we would be able to listen to anything BUT the Vitamix whinnying at full tilt. On another afternoon while Andy was at work, I texted him a picture of the apple-papaya-pineapple-ginger juice I made in the Vitamix, noting to my astonishment that it absolutely pulverized a 1-inch knob of ginger beyond recognition. His response? “Tell me more.” The point is: I nailed the birthday present this year. Not even Abby calling from upstairs “Mom! Help me bring down the blender so Daddy can open it!” could have detracted from this long-awaited moment of smoothie-phile euphoria.

Compelling though it may be, the Vitamix was not supposed to be the story here. (How did that just happen?) The story is supposed to be what we had alongside the Vitamix-engineered smoothie that morning: The beautiful sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit you’re looking at up top. Somewhere along the way, gift opening (which is every bit as exciting for the kids when they’re not even doing the opening) started to take place during breakfast hour in our house. It’s almost like Christmas — as though they just can’t fathom waiting until the afternoon or dinner…or even til their parents are officially caffeinated to tear into the loot. Which is all fine, but it just felt wrong not to connect all this flying giftwrap and screaming to some kind of food ritual. For a weekday birthday that usually means chocolate chips tucked into toaster waffle divets, a candle sticking out of a pancake, a piece of heart-shaped toast – but God help us if the birthday falls on a weekend.  The celebration automatically escalates to a bonafide sit-down affair  with things like French toast and almond-spiked freshly whipped cream. Or, in last week’s case, these sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits, which we didn’t mean to make entirely from scratch (including the sausages!) but…well, did we tell you how we feel about birthdays? (Why wouldn’t we go all out?) The best thing about the sandwich, besides how buttery and delicious it is, and besides the fact that it’s one of Andy’s most favorite morning treats? We woke up to Phoebe forming and frying the sausage patties with her own two hands. At 7:00 AM, she was already way ahead of us.

Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit
I didn’t initially set out to make my own biscuits, but when I opened the freezer and realized those Trader Joe’s frozen heat-n-serve numbers were gone, I had no choice but to search for a quick recipe. Which is tougher than it sounds when you don’t have buttermilk (and when you short-circuit at the sight of the word “knead”). The sausage recipe is adapted from one in Rozanne Gold’s Kids Cook 1-2-3 which remains our favorite children’s cookbook ever.  And regarding the cheese: only drippy, fakey American will do.

For Biscuits [OR just pick up some storebought biscuits]

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a baking sheet or line with a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a fork, combine the butter and flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Slowly add the milk, stirring with a fork, to the desired consistency.

Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and gently knead just to bring the dough together. Roll out the dough about 3/4 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or sturdy glass, cut about 12 biscuits, rerolling any scraps or just smushing a few flat with your hands as I did. Place on the baking sheet. Bake the biscuits for 13 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.

For Sausage Patties:

1/2 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 small garlic clove, pressed or very finely minced

Add all ingredients to a medium bowl and mix using a fork. Using your hands, form 6 flat patties. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes. Repeat on the flip side. (If patties are too thick, slice horizontally.) Freeze any leftovers.

For Egg

Add butter or olive oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. Whisk together 3 eggs with a little salt and black pepper and pour into heated pan like a very large pancake. Heat until underside is cooked, about 1 minute. Try to flip all in one piece (you may need two spatulas for this) and cook the other side for an additional minute. Turn egg pancake onto a clean surface and, using the top of a glass (similar in size to the one you used for your biscuits), cut out three or four “egg discs.”

For sandwich:

Place one sausage patty and one egg disk on a biscuit and drape a slice of American cheese on top. (You might want to trim the slice slightly.) Heat under the broiler for one minute, or until the cheese melts. Top with another biscuit.

OK, here’s a quick shot of the Vitamix in action. (“Now that’s what a smoothie should look like!”) More on this later — you can be sure of it.

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Do As We Say, Not As We Eat

April 1st, 2013 · 13 Comments · Baking and Sweets

We wish we could tell you we raised our kids to think of dessert the way one is supposed to think of dessert: as a “treat” in the true definition of the word; as something you get rarely, if you’re lucky; as part of a celebration – say, an ice cream cone after a hard-fought soccer game, a slice of cake at a birthday party, or some cookies, dipped in milk, on a Friday night. But the sad truth is, our kids consider dessert – like water, shelter, allowance — their birthright. It’s gotten to the point where Phoebe, will finish her dinner, rise from her chair, and begin plunking packages down on the table: Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, a box of shortbread cookies, a bowl of leftover Easter or Halloween or Christmas candy. The question she asks is not: “Can I have dessert?” It’s: “How many can I have tonight?”

We tell ourselves we’re only partly to blame. Back when the girls were toddlers and we were mired in an extended picky eating phase, we had no choice but to ignore all the expert advice and go primal. We were desperate, don’t you see, forced to leverage dinner with something sweet – If you don’t eat that chicken, no dessert tonight. If we’re honest, though, the more likely root of the problem is the fact that we, the supposed grown-ups, are chronic violators of the cardinal rule of parenting: Do as I do, not as I say. The only reason the kids think it’s normal to celebrate “No Cavities!” with a bowl of pudding or finish lunch with a chocolate chip cookie is because we — the Providers, the champions of kale, quinoa and omega-three-rich fish — are guilty of the exact same behavior.

We want to stop eating so much dessert, but those chocolate-covered almonds from Trader Joes are so good. You know the ones with the fleur de sel? We would stop, if we could. And these slice-and-bake oatmeal raisin cookies are our first attempt to establish some limits. The idea is to control the portion size on the front end — to slice and bake only as many cookies as there are mouths to feed – then into the toaster oven they go. As soon as dinner is over, four cookies are warm and ready to be savored with a cold glass of milk. Or crumbled atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But that’s all. We swear.

This is our Provider’s column for the April issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the Slice-and-bake Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie recipe. Photo by Brian W. Ferry for Bon Appetit.

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Lotsa Matzoh

March 22nd, 2013 · 12 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

 

I know this might sound strange, but there are few things I enjoy more than matzoh with a schmear of butter. Not just any butter. Breakstone’s Whipped Salted Butter, the brand of choice in my childhood kitchen, which may not be the best out there, but, well…that’s not quite what it’s about with this one.  My daughters get equally excited about Matzoh season — Abby likes it with a hunk of cheddar, and Phoebe takes her matzoh with cream cheese and smoked trout. (Kvelling!) Anyway, for those of you planning and prepping for your Monday night Seder (or for those who are just showing up and looking for something to bring), I thought you might like a quick hit list of matzoh (and matzoh-meal) desserts for Passover:

Matzoh Almond Croccante (pictured above) an Italian take on brittle, from Bon Appetit (photo by Marcus Nilsson).

Chocolate Caramel Matzoh (aka “Matzoh Crack”) from Smitten Kitchen.

Almond Thumbprint Cookies from Gourmet

Flourless Pistachio Cake from Marcus Samuelsson. If only because it’s not flourless chocolate cake, which I’d happily retire from the Passover table for the rest of my days.

Chocolate Passover Cookies from Martha Stewart, if you want the kids to greet you like Moses.

Lastly, a DALS original: Matzoh Fritters, brought to you by my second cousin a few times removed Ronnie Fein, who is always good for a family recipe and a story. (I might also add that her latest book Hip Kosher would make a lovely host gift.) I’ll let Ronnie give you the background on these delicious fritters herself…

The best family matzo recipe was originally Lily Siegal’s chremslich (or maybe it was my grandma’s or your great grandma’s — it’s all in dispute), which are matzo fritters, made with matzo meal. And because I tinker with recipes and also because my daughter is allergic to walnuts (which were in the original recipe) I have several variations. If there is one constant dish I always make at Passover, it is this one.

Thanks, Ronnie! Happy Holidays everyone.

Ronnie’s Chremslich with Raisins and Nuts (aka Matzoh Fritters)
These can be served right from the saucepan, but they’re better if they stand for several hours or 1 to 2 days and reheated. Makes 10-12 servings.

3 large eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh orange or lemon peel
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup matzo meal
vegetable oil for frying
1 pound honey (approximately  1 1/3 cups)
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup nuts (pignoli or walnuts)

Beat the egg yolks, salt and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil together. Stir in the citrus peel and set aside. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites and sugar until they are glossy and stand in stiff peaks.

Fold into the yolk mixture. Fold in the matzo meal. Let stand for 30 minutes.

With wet hands, shape a walnut size ball of dough into a round about 1/2” thick.

Heat some vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the rounds on both sides for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown. Place in a saucepan. Pour honey over the cooked rounds (to taste). Add the raisins and nuts. Cook over low heat for 5-6 minutes. Serve warm. (more…)

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Eat Your Pudding

March 6th, 2013 · 22 Comments · Baking and Sweets

Abby: Is there any other way I can drink milk besides…drinking it?

Me: If by “drinking milk,” you mean “consuming an adequate amount of calcium so that your bones and muscles grow big and strong” then yes. To get the same amount of calcium you’d normally get in one cup of milk (300 grams), you can also have:

  • 1 9-ounce piece of baked perch
  • 15 cups of broccoli
  • 3 cups of raw kale
  • 3 ounces of canned sardines with bones
  • 1 cup yogurt  parfait
  • 2 slices cheddar OR…
  • 1 large bowl of chocolate pudding

Abby: Got it. One more question: Does whipped cream have calcium?

Basic Chocolate Pudding
Every time I make pudding I think the same thing. That’s it? It might even take more time to make Jell-O’s pudding from the box. Or put it this way: I don’t know how Jell-O’s could be faster than homemadeMakes 4 cups.

2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk together milk and yolks. (I do this in a measuring cup to save a dish.) In a heavy medium saucepan, whisk sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk mixture and turn heat to medium. Whisk until pudding thickens and comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Continue boiling one more minute, whisking constantly so it stays smooth. (I wasn’t so great at that part, but whatever.) Remove pudding from heat and add vanilla extract. Divide pudding into bowls or containers and chill for a half hour and up to a week. Top with whipped cream, bananas, or graham cracker crumbles.

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Not Chaos. Richness.

December 14th, 2012 · 7 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

When you edit the essay section of a parenting magazine like I did for four years, you get used to reading a lot of stories that start with what I liked to call the “breathless” paragraph. They usually go something like this:

It’s 7:00 am and I just realized I forgot to pick up the juice boxes for my son’s classroom party, which is a problem because I need to get to work in an hour because there are 176 unanswered emails on my Blackberry, 30 of which are probably from my boss, and I haven’t even showered yet which wouldn’t be such a big deal but I haven’t washed my hair in four days because I’ve been so preoccupied with the presentation I have to give next week, and don’t even get me started on my daughter’s birthday party on Saturday which I’m pretending isn’t happening even though every single one of the 22 kindergarteners we invited is coming and…why is my cell phone in my six-year-old’s lunchbox?

You get the point, right? I understand the impulse. It’s resonant and relatable and I have written some version of that paragraph dozens of times — on this blog and elsewhere. In fact, when I logged on this morning to write this post, that’s how I wanted to frame the fact that it’s the holidays and yet somehow have not sat down for a family dinner once in six nights. (And the next few nights don’t look so promising either.) I was going to talk all about my 36-hour whirlwind business trip to Austin; about the panel discussion I needed to prepare for which translated to dinner-from-the-freezer two nights in a row; about how I promised the girls I’d make them gingerbread cookies, so made the dough on Saturday, placed it in the freezer to chill for an hour, and, yet seven days later, there it sits, still chilling. You promised! One of my daughters shouted into the phone on Wednesday night, as I worked through my missed train home. “I’m sorry. We’ll do it later this week, I promise.” When I get home, the vintage gingerbread man cookie cutter I picked up in Austin in a fit of optimism sits on the counter taunting me. My life! So messy and chaotic! So incredibly rich with mess and chaos.

The news from Newtown redefines breathless. If I learn anything from it, I hope it’s to remember what matters.

Half-Finished Gingerbread Men
adapted from Martha Stewart

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark-brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1 cup molasses

Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, blend butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses.  Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour. (If you are a better person than me, you will not interpret this to mean “Refrigerate until cold, about seven days later, after national news event puts things in perspective.”)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into gingerbread men with gingerbread-shaped cookie cutter. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Bake cookies 12 to 14 minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.

Photo credit: Ali Libfeld

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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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A DALS Honeymoon

October 26th, 2012 · 4 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

From the Mailbox:

Hi Jenny,
I just wanted to let you know that I loved your book so much that I brought it with us on our honeymoon. (I put the DALS cookbook on my registry, hoping that someone would have the good sense to buy it for me, but when I didn’t get it at my shower, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and ordered it myself.) We rented a little house in Bar Harbor, so we had a kitchen and cooked from the book several times. The recipes that we’ve tried have all been amazing (cinnamon in the chili = life changing), but what I’ve loved the most is reading about how your family has grown and changed, and how its made me think about what my own family might look like down the road. Thanks so much for the inspiration and the good food.

Love,
Jen

PS. This photo taken on our first morning in Maine, just as we were about to sit down and enjoy our (snickerdoodle) wedding cake for breakfast. (Seriously, who wants to wait a year to eat cake that good? Not me.) You can see the DALS book hanging out on the table.

Thanks, Jen!  And lucky lucky us: Jen has been nice enough to post the Snickerdoodle wedding cake recipe on her website.

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Birthday Pie

October 24th, 2012 · 58 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

How a girl like me — a girl whose idea of the perfect food is a chocolate buttercream layered sponge cake, a girl whose childhood dinners were considered incomplete without a slice of fudge-frosted Entenman’s tacked on to the end of them, a girl who could eat this morning, noon, and night — ended up being the mother of a cake-hater like my 9-year-old? I’ll never know. What I do know is that on the big day, birthday pie works fine, too.

Cranberry-Apple Birthday Pie

2 9-inch frozen pie crusts, such as Pillsbury or Trader Joe’s (or if you have Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée in the freezer, lucky you!)
5 to 6 apples, peeled and sliced (about 5 cups)
1/4 cup fresh cranberries (or to taste)
1⁄3 cup sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Juice from 1⁄2 lemon
6 to 8 dots of butter
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Lay the first piece of dough inside a pie dish. Toss the apples and cranberries in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Toss, then dump into prepared pie dish. Dot the fruit with butter, cover with second pie dough, using your fingers to seal it around the edges. Using a knife, cut a few ventilation slits in the top. Brush the crust with egg wash.

Bake for 40 minutes. If the crust is looking too brown before the fruit is bubbling out the side, cover with foil. Once the pie is cool, add candles. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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