Entries Tagged as 'Baking and Sweets'

10 Things I’d Love to Do for Halloween (But Probably Won’t)

October 18th, 2012 · 30 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I tend to be very ambitious for Halloween — thinking about Halloween that is…two months before it’s an actual reality. But because the holiday falls so close to Abby’s birthday, I end up having very little energy left in the inspiration bank once its time to dig out the hanging ghost for the front door. To look at my facebook feed and Pinterest page, however, this does not seem to be a problem for the rest of the world — or at least the virtual world that I travel in. So in order to not leave you completely in the (creepy, scary) dark, I thought I’d present a quick Halloween inspiration hit list (what to read, bake, dress up as, play on the iPod) based mostly on other people’s ambitious ideas.

1) One thing I know for sure I won’t have to do this year is scramble to find treat bags, because the personalized ones you see above, which I ordered for each of the girls on their first Halloweens, are still going strong. Crushing to think that they’ve been around for nine and ten years respectively.

2) I found these Owl Cupcakes via Pinterest, traced it back to a site called Kara’s Party Ideas, but couldn’t find the specific post itself. No matter, the reason I love it so much is because looks like the baking-challenged among us (me) would figure it out without written instructions. Looks like all you need is your favorite cupcake mix, chocolate icing, M&Ms and Oreos.

3) How funny is this Awkward School Photo costume? (Via Cup of Jo.) My kids are going as Medusa (any leads on a snake headdress that doesn’t cost $35 are welcome) and a Detective (badge, hat, magnifying glass, my old trench coat, done). I really love seeing creative kids’ costumes, so please send them my way or share them on the DALS facebook page. You never know, I might be in my random-prize-awarding mood when I see something I go crazy for.

4) Costume ideas for Siblings (photo credit: imgur) I can’t imagine my two hyper individualistic little monsters agreeing on a theme costume idea (they each eat different salsas, for crying out loud), but you might have better luck. (more…)

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Small Triumphs

September 24th, 2012 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets

There’s this meal — it comes every single day whether I like it or not and it is a continuing source of stress for me. At this meal, my kids turn their noses up at anything new; we’re always in a rush because we are pressed for time, and I am perenially un-inspired to come up with new things to make for them. The meal? Breakfast. Both Andy and I have gone on record declaring it the Hate Story to our house’s Dinner’s Love Story. Somehow, when the girls show up at the evening table, they show up with minds open, tastebuds flexing. They will eat oysters and duck curry and on occasion have been known to fight me for the last piece of Hamachi crudo. But at breakfast? Forget it. If it’s not one of the SuperStarches of the Morning Table (French Toast, Pancakes, Bagels) they’re not interested.

Until now. I’m almost afraid to type this for fear of jinxing things, but we seem to be in a good place — thanks to Abby’s sudden affection for the overpriced, oversweetened Starbucks parfaits, and Mom’s polite suggestion to maybe just maybe have one at a different time of day? Like say…Breakfast? Phoebe got on board as soon as I told her we could make the granola and she could customize the batch however she liked it.

And we were off.

The backbone: I start with a simplified version of the one I loved in the Times last yearOats, brown sugar, coconut, syrup, oil, salt, and cinnamon.

Then we add the Variables: Pistachios, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, raisins, dried cherries, cardamom. Not shown: pepitas, hazelnuts, chopped walnuts, flaxseed, sesame, millet, dried pineapple, apricots, or apples.

Basic Granola

In a large bowl, mix together:

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey (have not tried agave, but I will very soon)
1/2 cup oil (I like olive oil, but anything works)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Then mix in your pre-bake extras (any or all of the following):

1 1/2 cups nuts (such as pistachios, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, pepitas, hazelnuts, chopped walnuts)
1/2 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1/4 cup of variables (such as millet, sesame seeds)

Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake at 300°F for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer granola to a large bowl and let cool.

Finish by tossing in some post-bake extras.
handful of M&Ms, chocolate chips, carobs
handful of dried fruit such as: dried cherries, apricots, raisins, pineapples, apples.

Store in an easily accessible jar. To make parfaits, layer plain yogurt, granola, honey, and fresh fruit (such as jarred Morello cherries from Trader Joe’s — pictured — or pomegranate seeds, strawberries, blueberries) in the most fun glass you can find.

Note: Phoebe picked the basic formula plus coconut flakes plus pistachios and almonds. She likes hers with no fresh fruit. Abby takes hers with cherries and pomegranate seeds.

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Bringing Home the Bread

September 14th, 2012 · 21 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

The First Best Thing my father ever came home with after work was, by far, a Ford Granada. It was powder blue, four doors, with a white vinyl top, and when I hopped on the kitchen counter to peek out the window that overlooked our driveway, I remember saying to myself, Is this real? Did my father just pull into our home with a new car? No matter that the Granada epitomized the darkest days of late-70s American car design. This sedan was ours, it was new, it beat the hell out of our rickety old white Pontiac wagon, and in the big huge world of two siblings, two parents, and my kindergarten class, news didn’t get much more monumental than that.

The Second Best Thing that my father ever came home with after work was the soundtrack to Grease. My sister and I were playing in a back room with some of the neighborhood kids and I knew we were in for a treat when I saw the Sam Goody bag tucked under his arm. We had already seen the movie and knew the words to all the songs but there was jumping and shrieking when he made the dramatic reveal.  The fact that I was seven years old and obsessed with a movie where pregnancy and sex are routinely discussed, and that now, as a mom, I can’t imagine screening it for my 8- and 10-year-old, well, see above re: late 70s.

The Third Best Thing that my father came home with after work (which is another way of saying “for dinner” because he was always home in time to eat) was a freshly baked challah. Unlike the First and Second Best Thing, this was a gift I could look forward to fairly regularly. On his one-mile walk home from the Larchmont train station, Dad would swing by our local bakery – the one with the display case of chocolate éclairs and Napoleons and a roll of baker’s twine hanging from the ceiling –  and pick up a loaf. On most nights the challah was of the plain braided variety. But on special nights, it was a challah that had been studded with plump golden raisins. As soon as Dad handed me the loaf in the waxy bag, I’d slice up a still-slightly-warm piece, spread a schmear of Breakstone’s whipped salted butter on top, and let the happiness wash over me. Life was about as good as it could get for a girl wearing a velour warm-up suit.

Much as I like to think my delight was the main reason he brought home the bread every night (remember: my Dad was the philosopher who coined the famous food-happiness concept of “Absolute Value”) the ritual had actually been in place long before John Travolta was in style. Every Sunday morning as a teenager, my dad and his father, Phillip (who is pictured above with his brothers at his family table and who, like all my grandparents, died before I was born), would walk north from their 165th Street apartment in the Bronx to their local bakery on 167th Street. During the week, my grandfather was up and out the door before anyone was awake – he worked as a furrier in the Garment District – but on Sundays, he and my Dad would head out to do the Crucial Sunday Morning Job of selecting breads and danishes for the family breakfast. They’d talk about the normal stuff — school, my grandfather’s job — but the one-on-one bread-gathering mission was a reason to look forward to Sunday. As my dad recalls, it was the first time he felt like a grown-up.

The story of this ritual has taken on a misti-ness over the years, especially as I grow older and realize how valuable these select memories are and how crucial it is to keep the rituals associated with them alive. We do not have regular Friday night Shabbat dinner in my house like my father did, and in truth, if my sister didn’t organize Rosh Hashana (and Yom Kippur and Passover and Channukah) dinners every year, I’m not so sure I’d get them in the calendar myself. But on the days of the year that do not qualify as High Holy Ones, I somehow manage to feel connected to something bigger than myself. Like when I braid my first homemade challah with Abby using my second cousin Ronnie’s recipe (that’s my maiden attempt up there); or when I use a knife to peel an apple in one long strip, just like my mom told me her father used to do. Or when I secure the recipe to my Aunt Selma’s famous sweet-and-sour meatballs that she served at every family gathering growing up. Or back in 1994 when Andy and I had just moved to New York, and we’d meet after work at the corner of Smith and President Street in his up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. I can still see him walking up the block wearing his pleated khakis and Joseph Aboud tie, carrying his messenger bag and, yes, a loaf of crusty Italian bread from Caputo’s on Court Street. We’d head another two blocks west to Andy’s Hoyt street rental – a four-story brownstone with full garden, eat-in kitchen, all of which cost him and each of his three roommates $400 a month — and that bread would be the start of dinner.

Please head over to my second cousin Ronnie Fein’s website for the incredibly clear Challah recipe as well as a photograph of the challah without a weird bulge in the middle. It was my first attempt — cut me some slack! If I had read her braiding tips first, perhaps this wouldn’t have been a problem. (Also: forgive me that my bread is not round for the holidays.) Ronnie is also the author of Hip Kosher: 175 Easy Recipes to Prepare for Today’s Kosher Cook. Happy New Year everyone.

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Book Club: What to Discuss, What to Eat

July 25th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Baking and Sweets

One of the age-old literary conflicts: What food to serve at book club? Naturally, since the book you will be reading and discussing is Dinner: A Love Story, it stands to reason that you should make a DALS recipe, am I right? And I don’t know about your book clubs, but mine generally meets after dinner which means that the host is responsible for providing a simple spread: some kind of treat, maybe a little cheese, and, of course, wine. Though I haven’t tried this one out on my group, I’m guessing that the above ginger-peach galette, when served with a nice dry German Riesling, will hit the mark.

Now, more important, what to discuss! Before I answer this, I just want to thank the almost one thousand people who entered the Mega Giveaway last month. (All the winners have been alerted, so if you haven’t heard from me, thank you for playing and look out for another biggie coming up in the fall.) Not only was I honored by how many of you read Dinner: A Love Story and took time to enter the contest, but I loved your personal responses to my ridiculously broad question, “What was your favorite part of the book?” Below are the themes that came up again and again:

  • You loved “The Acknowledgments.” Apparently, there were many many tears when I thanked Andy and the girls. As any writer will tell you: Tears=major victory!
  • You loved how I gave you “permission” to not attempt family dinner until your youngest is at least 3 years old. Though a reviewer on amazon vehemently disagreed with this sentiment. (All I’d like to say in response to her review — you’ll find it — is: And you wonder why people are overwhelmed by the idea of family dinner?)
  • You loved “Two Under Two,” and the section on New Parenthood which made you feel, as many of you wrote, “not so alone” and “not so crazy.”
  • You loved that potholder! Oh man, so do I. I wish I could remember which of the girls made it for us, but instead I’ll just give  them both credit.

My favorite of your favorites was, obviously:

  • “We bought the book as an ebook and hard copy since my husband and I have both been enjoying it so much.”

In all seriousness, thank you for the feedback. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling some additional common themes into a discussion guide for your book group. And also, if your group is more than five people and has any interest in me calling in during the discussion, I’d love to say hi. (Email jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com with the subject “Book Club.”) In fact, if you decide to make the galette, I might not have any other choice but to invite myself over.

Click here to download the Dinner: A Love Story Reading Guide (+ Menu)

Click here to buy Dinner: A Love Story.

The pre-bake. Yum.

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The Summer of Self-Sufficiency

July 16th, 2012 · 44 Comments · Baking and Sweets

I know I’m susceptible to these kinds of stories, but there’s no getting around it: I’ve been haunted by a six-year-old for weeks now. Did you guys read the Elizabeth Kolbert article in The New Yorker last month — the one about how spoiled American children are, especially when we compare them to children in other cultures? I was only two paragraphs in before I was reading about a girl from a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon who tagged along on a leaf-gathering trip and pretty soon figured out a way to make herself useful to everyone…by fishing for crustaceans, then cleaning and cooking for everyone in the group. Did you hear me tell you that she is six years old?  By paragraph six, the one describing an American kid’s refusal to untie his own shoes, I had to take a few Lamaze breaths to calm myself down.

I’m exaggerating a little — but not by much. A few weeks ago, a mother-of-two at one of my readings asked me how much I let my kids help out in the kitchen. I answered the way I always do: “I let them make a salad or set the table. Occasionally they’ll make pancakes…but I need to be better about not hovering…It’s a problem I have in general.” Andy, who was sitting in the front row turned around and asked the questioner, “How deep do you want to go?”

If the mark of successful parenting is, as Michael Thompson wrote in his convincing manifesto about sending kids to sleepaway camp Homesick and Happy, “to raise our kids to not need us,” then sometimes I think we may be getting Fs. Well, in the kitchen at least. Soon after I read Kolbert and Thompson I realized that when I was my oldest daughter’s age (10), I was baking from box mixes on my own whenever I wanted to. I was cracking eggs and picking out the shards that inevitably resulted from my shoddy technique; I was scraping the “butter flavor packet” from the Duncan Hines box into the batter all by myself; I was operating an electric mixer and cleaning up the explosion of batter all over the counter; I was even reaching into a hot oven with nary a grown-up in sight.

So I stocked up on box mixes of muffins, breads, cookies and brownies, and issued a mandate to the girls. This is the Summer of Self-Sufficiency, I decreed. From here on out, you may bake any of these desserts whenever the spirit moves you. You are not required to ask my permission. I do not even need to be in the kitchen when you do it. The only rule was that they try to figure out everything on their own. Pretend I’m not here, I told them. Before you ask me where the measuring cups are, try to find them yourself. I trust you, I told them. And I convinced myself this was true.

Needless to say, they immediately embraced the challenge and Abby dived right in with a batch of Arrowhead Mills Bake-With-Me Brownies. I was working at the kitchen table doing my best to ignore her as she cracked her eggs, spilled the powdery batter all over the dog, pulled her little stool all around the kitchen to reach measuring cups and mixers and set timers. I wasn’t even looking when she reached into the 350° oven to pull out the pan of brownies and realized that only one of her hands was covered with an oven mitt.


Her shriek was Bugs Bunny with an unmistakable hint of fright. I filled a plastic bag with ice and gave it to her.

Guess what? She burned her finger. Just like I did the week before when I reached for the baking dish that I didn’t realize was still hot. Just like I’ve done a million times in my life beginning when I was a kid teaching myself how to bake. True, if I had been supervising, it wouldn’t have happened. But if this little experiment is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, my guess is that next time she reaches into an oven, she won’t make the mistake again.

The Mixes

So far they’ve tried Arrowhead Mills Brownie Mix, two from Dr. Oetker (apple cinnamon muffins which I’d give a B+ and their chocolate chip cookies, which was more like a C+), and the cornbread from Trader Joe’s (not my fave, sorry TJoe). I like the Arrowhead Mills Bake-With-Me line because they are designed for kids (as opposed to Dr. Oetker which instructed my 1o-year-old to “mix together butter and sugar” without going into any details about creaming. Hence the C+). Have you guys had good luck with baking mixes that are kid-friendly? Let me know so I can stock up.


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Tried-and-True Cobbler

June 27th, 2012 · 34 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Quick

I knew it was a good sign when my mother-in-law, Emily, started rattling off the ingredients for her go-to berry cobbler over the phone, then interrupted herself to say, This index card is so stained and old, who knows where on earth I got it from? Those of you who have read my book know about Emily’s Index Card Cache (a.k.a The Recipe Starter Kit) we inherited from her a few months after we were married. And those of you who have made her Meatloaf know that those index cards rarely disappoint. This cobbler — a flexible, non-fussy, absolutely-screams-summer kind of dessert — follows suit. My favorite thing about the recipe (besides the crunchy crumbling topping that somehow weaves all the way into the filling)  is that it doesn’t involve getting butter to the right temperature, then smushing it into the sugar and flour, which I always find to be a somewhat perilous (and messy) proposition. You simply drizzle the melted butter on top at the end, which means the whole thing comes together fast and with minimal fuss.

My other favorite thing about it? The original recipe called for that butter to be margarine.

Summer Cobbler
I assembled this particular cobbler (made with peaches and blueberries) in about 10 minutes, shoved it into the oven, drove across town for a playdate pick-up, and was back in time to pull out the bubbly goodness just about a half hour later.

3-5 cups fruit (Any combo: peeled, sliced peaches or nectarines, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries; for this one I used 8 medium peaches, peeled and sliced, and 1 1/2 pints blueberries) enough to mostly fill a 13-by-nine inch baking dish.
juice from half a lemon
1 cup flour, whisked
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 beaten egg
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Place fruit in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle on lemon juice and toss. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add egg, tossing with fork until mixture is crumbly. (It should not be mushy.) Sprinkle flour-egg mixture over fruit then drizzle as evenly as possible with melted butter.

Bake at 375°F for 35-40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Emily’s Index Cards. See page 15 of Dinner: A Love Story.


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And the Winner Is…

May 24th, 2012 · 26 Comments · Baking and Sweets

A couple of weeks ago, back when we proposed this guest post contest, I made reference to the fact that writing — for most of us, at least — is hard. It takes time, of which most of us do not have an abundance. It takes an idea, which is the most elusive thing of all, the thing you try to write your way toward, only to realize — 500 words in — that it’s not so much of an idea at all. But, more than anything, it takes guts. Writing something and sending it to someone else is a lot like taking your clothes off and walking down the street — maybe not the most apt metaphor for a family blog, but I really believe it to be true. All of which is to say, Jenny and I weren’t sure what we were going to get when we proposed the contest. We knew it was a lot to ask and, if the shoe were on the other foot, we would probably not have taken the time, or mustered the nerve, to try. Would anyone submit anything? Would we have much to choose from? And the answer to both of those questions is: yes. We received over 40 entries, with recipes and photos, and every one of them was full of feeling and heart. So many good recipes, so many personal stories and careful turns of phrase. I want to list of a few of my favorites. Janet: “Also, I am all about quinoa.” Kathryn: “Margaret’s new skirt is missing a button, and if you give them hem the gentlest tug, it is likely to slip right down off her hips.” Lisa: “So far, my son has proved to be a man of diverse tastes.” Marcus: “You can’t throw around a term like ‘Texas Chili’ lightly.” Sarah: “My mother had an unexplainable penchant for pickled beets.” Tara: “The son of an Irish longshoreman, Dad grew up on simple, inexpensive fare. He made beef stew with a thick, flavorful broth and big wedges of floury-textured potato that I’m still trying to recreate.” Courtney: “I knew this was something I had to try, and hopefully my confidence in the kitchen would outshine any hesitation I have when it comes to my writing. But I have planned and made dinner for my family every night of the week for eight years and there is something to be said for that. So, let’s do this.”

You all did this, and we can’t thank you enough. Jenny compiled all the entries in a downloadable pdf — a mini-cookbook from the readers of DALS. And Molly, I can’t wait to try the sweet potato-and-chard gratin.

And now… [doing my best game show host voice]… the envelope please…

The winner of the Dinner: A Love Story Guest Post Contest is [dramatic pause]….. (more…)

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Res Ipsa: Nutella Pizza

May 21st, 2012 · 11 Comments · Baking and Sweets

My mother, an attorney, was the first person to teach me about res ipsa loquitur, a legal term that translates to “The Thing Speaks for Itself.” I will leave it to the lawyers out there to explain the finer points of how it’s used to prove negligence in the courtroom, but as long as I can remember, my mom and I have been translating it in a way that I feel certain it was meant to be translated. That is: If you are good enough, strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, nice enough, you don’t have to spend any time convincing people you are good enough, strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, nice enough. Those qualities should hopefully speak for themselves.

The exception to this rule, as my kids know, is when you are my child and when you are home in your own house, at your own dinner table, or anywhere else for that matter, there is no such thing as too much speaking about yourself. You should feel free to tell your parents every single wonderful thing you think about yourself at all hours of the day. But everywhere else, you try to check the bravado at the door.

My loose interpretation of this term has proven to be very convenient beyond the realm of parenting. Take the above 5-minute dessert you see above. My feeling is that you don’t need to hear 500 words from me about how delicious it is. Just look at the freaking thing! It’s a Nutella Pizza! And as such, res ipsa loquitur.

Nutella Pizza
I feel like I can’t walk two feet without seeing this offered on a menu. The lastest place I’ve spied it: The Cookery.

Using a rolling pin, roll storebought pizza dough as flat as you can roll it. In a cast iron pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and a drizzle of canola oil over medium heat. Add dough and fry until it bubbles on top and looks golden and crispy underneath. Lift dough with spatula, add another pat of butter to the pan and allow to melt before cooking the other side of the dough. When it’s cooked through — another 2 to 3 minutes — remove from pan onto a large plate. Once it has cooled slightly, spread a generous amount of nutella on top and add sliced bananas or strawberries (we didn’t have them on this particular night) or bothSprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into wedges to serve. You could also do this on the grill. Just make sure you brush the grates with plenty of oil.

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The Homemade Pantry Solution

April 20th, 2012 · 28 Comments · Baking and Sweets

The subject of the email was “High Levels of Arsenic…” and the first sentence, written by Ali, my babysitter, was “Did you see this?” (Never a good sign.)  Attached was a link to an ABC News story telling us to watch out for elevated levels of aresenic in organic powdered formula, cereal bars, energy bars, or anything that listed “organic brown rice syrup” as the first ingredient — like, for instance, the granola bars from Trader Joe’s that our children had been consuming five days a week for three years now.


I googled a bit more to see what else I could find  – for whatever reason, it makes me feel better in these situations when an alarmist title like “Arsenic in Baby Formula” doesn’t spread like wildfire. I like to convince myself that the media is more savvy about these things, so they don’t fall for sensational health (more…)

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I Got This

April 16th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Domestic Affairs, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

We have a bowl on our counter. It’s a wooden salad bowl that we have turned into a fruit bowl. I’m not a chemist, so I can’t tell you why this is, but this bowl has a strange and unpleasant effect on the produce we (stupidly) put inside it: it accelerates the ripening process. It possesses mysterious transformative properties. It’s like some kind of primitive oxygen deprivation chamber, a Destroyer of Life. Put a plum in there and, two days later, it’s a prune. Put a potato in it and, one week later, it has been colonized by these creepy, blooming nodules. It turns limes yellow, and lemons brown. Put a bunch of green bananas in it, blink three times, and they’ve been turned into the wizened, leathery fingers of a prehistoric animal. We end up throwing most of this stuff away. You’d think, given all this, we’d figure out a solution to the problem – like, I don’t know, use a different bowl? – but we’re people who have had a broken, leaning lamppost in our front yard for eight years, and have never quite mustered the energy to get it fixed. We’re people who bought four huge plastic storage bins to organize our family shame basement a few months ago, and have yet to move them the ten feet from the garage into the basement, let alone fill them. It can take me weeks to change a light bulb – to the point that the act of finally replacing them feels like a victory. Inertia is our default mode – or, at least, it sure can feel that way sometimes.

The bowl, though: God, it bums me out. I resent it for reminding me of my powerlessness. So, last Saturday morning, when I looked over and saw three blackened, old-before-their-time bananas sitting there, on the cusp of total putrefaction, I decided to act. I would save them from the trash.

“I’m making banana bread,” I said.

Jenny was at the table, reading. “You’re weird,” she said.

I went over to the shelf and pulled a few stalwart cookbooks down – Bittman, Gourmet, New York Times, Ina Garten — and starting scanning indexes.

“I have a banana bread recipe,” Jenny said. “It’s in the blue binder, under desserts.” I knew the one she was referring to: it was from her friend Elizabeth, handwritten on a Real Simple notecard, and we’d been eating it for years.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m good. I think I’m gonna try the Bittman.”

“Why? You love that recipe.”

“Do we have any coconut?” I asked.


“Yeah, Bittman calls for shredded coconut. Do we have any?”

“You’re really annoying.”

Jenny was all uppity about it, too. She couldn’t believe I was stepping out like this, looking elsewhere for inspiration. Was this a referendum on her banana bread? No, it was not. Did this mean I loved her any less? No, it did not. The truth is, she does the same thing to me all the time. I have a perfectly good stir-fry recipe, one we’d made happily together for ten years, but she had to go and improve it by adding rice wine vinegar and hoisin sauce. Partly, this constant off-roading and experimenting is due to having a food blog and always needing new things to write about; but partly, it’s about, well, you know what it’s about. It’s about showing your spouse that you are still capable of discovering something new, all by yourself. It’s about keeping that (flickering) flame of your old identity — the one that exists outside of the “we” of marriage, the one with free will – alive in some small way. So, with Phoebe’s help, I put our stand-by aside and tried a new banana bread. Was it better? Who’s to say? But was it mine? Yes.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
This is great for school lunches and, toasted, for breakfast. I added a handful of chocolate chips, and subbed out some white sugar for brown, but otherwise, this is the Bittman recipe from the original How to Cook Everything.

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups flour (any combination of whole wheat and all-purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a loaf pan.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and beat in the eggs. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Stir in vanilla, nuts, coconut, and chocolate.

Pour the batter into your greased pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.

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Melt the Bunny

April 10th, 2012 · 17 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

I’m beginning to think that parenting is just a lifelong excuse to turn anything into a celebration. Because if you really think about it, there is always something to celebrate.  The problem with this of course, is…there’s always something to celebrate, i.e. there’s always some kind of treat that — in our house at least — seems to be central to the celebrating. It’s the last day of school before spring break: By The Way Bakery cupcakes! You just rode your bike four miles: Mint chip ice cream! It’s Daddy’s birthday: Cherry pie! No cavities at the dentist: Pain au chocolat! It’s Passover: Matzoh brittle! It’s Easter….oh dear Lord, Easter. I think this holiday — which we technically don’t even celebrate — might have officially eclipsed Halloween as the biggest treat-o-thon in our family. It begins with the obligatory air-dried Peeps, then the neighbor’s Easter Egg hunt where we are lucky to come home with only a few chocolate eggs. (Woe is the poor soul who wins the 1000 Jelly Bean Jar contest!) And then there is the long-awaited treat-filled basket from Grandma, which, to the girls delight, always includes a ginormous chocolate bunny. A ginormous chocolate bunny that ends up sitting in his plastic case in the corner of the kitchen like a museum piece: So fun to look at, yet never consumed. This year, we decided to change that — instead of letting him get all dusty and sad, we melted him down to make the healthy-ish chocolate covered banana pops that you see below. They are easy, delicious, and just the thing to cap off our dinner on Thursday, when we plan to celebrate the dog’s third birthday.

Chocolate Covered Banana Pops

There is a recipe for these in my first cookbook, but you don’t really need official instructions. Before you begin, cut your bananas in half, insert popsicle sticks or halved wooden skewers (as shown below) and freeze for about 15 minutes on a flat surface. While bananas are freezing, melt down your bunny over low heat (removing all bowties and styrofoam accessories, please), whisking as the bunny shrinks*. (You can also do this in the microwave in a Pyrex for about a minute, depending on the size of the bunny.) When your chocolate has melted, pour into a deep measuring cup or a cereal bowl. Dip your now semi-frozen bananas into the chocolate and place pops down on a wax-paper covered surface. Quickly sprinkle oats, sprinkles, or chopped nuts on top before the chocolate hardens. Freeze until ready to eat, at least a half hour.

*I added water as mine melted to get to the right consistency, but usually even a drop of water or hint of steam puts the chocolate at risk of seizing, so only do this if absolutely necessary. My friend who works in a test kitchen surmises that the reason mine didn’t seize and get grainy was because the chocolate in the bunny was not, in fact, real chocolate.

The chocolate hardens fast, so add your toppings quick like a bunny.

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From Scratch

March 21st, 2012 · 28 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

“She really is,” said Midge.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of family archivists Earl Johnson and Douglas Ward.

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Kicking the Dessert Habit

March 6th, 2012 · 114 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Cameos, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

That isn’t good.

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

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

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Ice Cream Cake that Gets the Job Done

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

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

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

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How I Became a Valentine’s Day Cynic

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Dollhouse Galette

January 19th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Baking and Sweets

These are the kinds of ideas that I really think twice about posting for all the world to see. Because pretty much nothing good can come of telling the world at large that I have home-baked an apple galette for my daughter’s doll. (Meet Esme, the luckiest Plan toy in the world!) I will say, however, that it is not as bad as it sounds — I was making a life-size galette as well and, as it happened, Abby hopped up on the counter to eat the sugar covered apples. (“Cooks privilege!” she is fond of saying, even when she is not the cook.) When I started rolling out the crust, there just so happened to be the perfect little bite-size scrap sticking out of the dough like Spain from Europe. What choice did we have but to lop that part off, mince a couple apples and make a mini pie? It was Abby who suggested serving it on Esme’s dining set — the latest acquisition in her diy dollhouse. Go ahead and call me crazy — my husband has already beaten you to it — all I can say is that for about 5 minutes (which is about how long the baby galette lasted before Abby gobbled it in one bite) I felt like mother of the year.

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Cookies for Breakfast

January 6th, 2012 · 49 Comments · Baking and Sweets

I’m already over Andy’s goals for me and onto better things — namely, Bon Appetit‘s list of  25 Things to Eat, Drink, and Cook in 2012. In particular, please check out #24, a quinoa breakfast cookie I developed for them a few months back. I wouldn’t exactly call one of these lo-cal, but I can at least call it the healthiest possible cookie you can get away with still calling a cookie. I’m certain that if I added one more flax seed, the kids would sniff out something suspicious. (And btw: No need to tell anyone about the quinoa — you can’t see it once the cookies are baked.)

P.S. A cool little fact that I’m proud of: This is the 400th post on Dinner: A Love Story. Four hundred! Crazy right? OK, that’s it. I said it. In lieu of flowers and congratulations, you can just tell me what your favorite DALS recipe is — or even better, you can just follow me on Twitter! (Four hundred posts ago, I wouldn’t have ever believed those words would shoot so effortlessly out of my fingertips.)

Thanks to everyone out there for keeping this blog alive. I really mean that — we are so lucky to have such nice, thoughtful, well-read readers.

And now back to the cookies… (more…)

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Now Accepting Applications

November 18th, 2011 · 40 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Proposed Chocolate Pudding Pie (From Scratch)*

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 packages honey graham crackers (total: 2 1/4 cups) until they resemble fine crumbs. Add 5 tablespoons sugar and 10 tablespoons melted butter (unsalted) and pulse to combine. Using your fingers, press the mixture into a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Make this chocolate pudding, then pour into prepared crust. Chill for at least 3 hours (and up to 24) and top with freshly whipped cream.

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