Entries Tagged as 'Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations'

Beautiful Buvette

April 22nd, 2014 · 215 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

On a rainy Monday night in midtown a few weeks ago, I found myself faced with classic New York dilemma. I was running late to meet Andy for his birthday dinner downtown and needed to make a decision: Should I try to catch a cab (always a risky proposition on a rainy night) or just get on the subway, which involved a transfer (always a time-eater)? At the same time, I was also asking myself Why didn’t we just stay home for his birthday? The girls could’ve been part of it and I certainly wouldn’t be standing on a corner soaking wet, nervous about being late. To add to my decidedly First World anxiety, we were going to Buvette, a jewel box of a restaurant on Grove Street in the West Village, run by Jody Williams, who has become something of a cult hero to food insiders and bon vivants everywhere. In other words, it’s popular. Every minute I was late felt like an hour I’d have to queue up for an open table.

I took the subway to Christopher Street, sprinting a block in the rain, by then coming down sideways. When I finally bulldozed into the gastrotheque, feeling very much like a wet dog, I made my way back to Andy seated at a small table tucked into a corner. “Happy Birthday, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Happy Birthday,” I said, but less sorry than relieved that we still had a table.

“What’s the stress?” he said, taking a sip of his Manhattan and leaning back. “You’re here. Look at this place.” He opened his arms wide, as if personally presenting Buvette to me.

He loved Buvette — which is why we picked it for his birthday. I looked around at the intimate, brick-exposed space, at the regulars reading books and drinking cocktails at the marble-topped bar, at the chandelier made from old cooking equipment hanging like a piece of modern art in the back room. For all the trendy chatter about this place, it felt neighborly and warm, as if it had been here forever. Within minutes, I was sipping my own Manhattan, overtaken by the warmth, the cold rainy streets fading away like a jet trail.

I’ve only been to Buvette for dinner, but I’ve heard it has this escapist effect on diners no matter what the meal, and no matter what state of harriedness the diner might arrive in. Like the corner we were tucked into, everything about the place is small: The table, the menu, the plates, the portions, the covered ramekins holding little cassoulets, confits, rabbit stews, and coq au vins. We started with two toasts: Fava and Ricotta and Anchovies with Butter, then moved on to beets with horseradish creme fraiche (coming soon to a dinner table near me) and rabbit moutarde before finishing with a chocolate mousse, so densely chocolate that the two forks planted like flagpoles in the dessert stood upright until we removed them and mauled what sat before us.

I’m not writing this to a) make you jealous or b) gloat (though I will say, I nailed the birthday dinner.) I’m writing because as of this week, even people who don’t live within a subway transfer of Buvette can still have the experience at home (minus the sprinting and the raining hopefully). Recipes for everything we ate that night are in Williams’ new book Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food: The toasts, the moutarde, the mousse, the creme fraiche — not to mention everything else we want to go back to eat including the Roast Chicken Salad (above, left) Braised Leeks with Shallot Vinaigrette (above, right), Oatmeal Brulee (below), Duck Confit, Warm Potato Salad with Anchovies, and an Apple and Cheese Fricos that my kids would go crazy for. And the book itself, with its cloth spine and poetic photography (by Gentl & Hyers) is one of the more stunning objects I’ve seen. I know what I’m giving hosts and Mother’s Day celebrants this year.

Soft-boiled egg with prosciutto-wrapped Parmesan-spiked soldiers.

Toasted Oatmeal Brûlée that can be made up to a week in advance — should you be doing some breakfast or brunch entertaining.

Apple and Cheese Fricos
Makes 4 fricos

Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups coarsely grated Montasio cheese (or other aged cow’s-milk cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 Gala apple, stemmed, cored, and thinly sliced
4 fresh sage leaves

Set a heavy medium skillet over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to thinly coat the entire surface of the pan. Sprinkle a quarter of the cheese evenly over the surface of the pan and scatter over a quarter of the apple slices and a sage leaf. Cook until the cheese has completely melted, is bubbling, and is golden brown on its underside. Using a spatula, carefully fold half the cheese over to form a half-moon shape (like an omelette) and transfer the frico to a square of parchment paper.

Continue to make fricos with the remaining cheese and apples, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Serve warm.

Here’s some great news: Grand Central Publishing is offering a free copy of Buvette to a commenter chosen at random below. Contest ends 4/24 at 5 PM ET and winners must live in the US. Good luck!

 Best logo ever.

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Spring Holiday Round-Up

April 11th, 2014 · 6 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

In season: Peas, Ramps, Asparagus and…Peeps! No shortage of ways to use ‘em up on the Interweb: Peep S’mores, Peep Sunflower Cake, Peep-Wreaths, Peep-infused Vodka. (Yes, it exists, but some things are just too weird to link to.)

Easter Main Option 1: Andy’s super-easy Apricot-glazed Ham (and my super-easy day-after-ham split pea soup)

Easter Main Option 2: Slow-cooked Lamb with Lemon and Oregano

Francois Payard’s Chocolate-Walnut Flourless Cookies (Thanks Jodi!)

Kosher for Passover: Cult Foods

If there was a single dish that could capture my religious background, it would probably be Bacon Matzoh-Brei.

Next week’s vacation reading: Delancey and Creativity Inc

Next week’s vacation eating: Two Boroughs Larder (if I can get a table!)

Vegetarian Cookbooks for Carnivores (ok fine, not holiday, per se, but spring…vegetables…close enough)

My sister’s go-to brisket

My mom’s go-to brisket

My go-to strawberry shortcake

Got some long school-less days ahead of you next week? This should help occupy the kids.

Turn those leftover Easter Eggs into Dinner.

Whatever feast you are cooking next week, wouldn’t you look great wearing this around the kitchen?

Have a great holiday!

Peeps photo: eac5 on flickr

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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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Where to Eat in NYC: A Family Guide

December 23rd, 2013 · 15 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Travel

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It occurred to me a few weeks ago that every time we go on a trip — whether it’s Santa Fe, Austin, San Francisco, Paris — we tell you what we’ve done, where we’ve eaten, what our kids loved the most. And yet, in the four years we’ve been writing this blog, we’ve given you hints and peeks into Our New York, but have yet to deliver a family dining guide to the city that never fails to surprise, enrage, delight, and charm us on an hourly basis…especially during the holidays. So what follows is just that: Where to Eat in New York with the Kids. But because it’s NYC, we didn’t want to just write a few bullet points. We wanted to go big. So we enlisted the help of some of our favorite parents-about-town for their favorites spots, too. I’m glad it’s almost vacation — you’ll need a little time for this one. Happy Holidays everyone!

Our Distguished Panel: Deb Perelman, blogger, cookbook author, Smitten KitchenSam Sifton, editor, columnist, former restaurant critic New York Times; Caroline Campion, cookbook author, Devil and EggJoanna Goddard, lifestyle blogger Cup of Jo; husband-and-wife team Devin Friedman, director editorial projects GQ & Danielle Pergament, frequent contributor to Travel section of New York Times; Yolanda Edwards, deputy editor Conde Nast Traveler;  Christine Muhlke, deputy editor, Bon AppetitCarla Lalli Music, food and features editor Bon AppetitJenny Rosenstrach, blogger, DALS; Andy Ward, intern, Dinner: A Love Story

Favorite Pizza

Arturos on West Houston Street in Manhattan. Old-school coal oven pizza, dense and chewy and saucy with a crust that bears a light sheen of olive oil. There are many delicious newfangled fetishistic pizza places (Co. is great). But the pizza here is insanely good and it’s extremely laid back and it still attracts the kinds of pasty, grumpy Village characters that can’t afford to live here any more. (The awesome bartender looks like Columbo). –Devin Friedman & Danielle Pergament

Patsy’s Pizzeria BUT it has to be the original one in East Harlem on First Avenue, not one of the other ones downtown. Hands-down the best slice in NYC. Maybe go in the daytime if you’re a tourist. — Caroline Campion

Otto We celebrated Abby’s eighth birthday here (Otto? Eight? Get it?) but the truth is, I can’t think of any scenario when it wouldn’t be a good choice for families. It’s loud enough (read: huge enough) to absorb even the most maniacal toddler, and the Batali-Bastianich menu is appealing to all ages. — Jenny R

Co. Pizza (shown above) My husband always argues that NYC pizza is overrated and tastes like cardboard. But! Jim Lahey’s pizza spot in Chelsea creates airy, chewy crusts that taste like olive oil and butter and all things good and true. Our favorite pie is the Popeye, which is basically a warm spinach salad on a pizza. The communal tables are friendly and boisterous, and they have high chairs for little dudes. — Joanna Goddard

What Joanna said. — Andy Ward

Favorite Burgers, Fries, Steaks

When Phoebe was five hours old and Jenny was deep in a Percocet haze, I left the hospital and walked over J.G. Melon for some dinner. I remember that weird mixture of total euphoria and total exhaustion, of not knowing what day it was or how long ago we’d arrived at the hospital, or even knowing if any of this was real. I was also starving. It was about 7pm, and I ordered a couple of Tanqueray and tonics and savored every bit of that burger, and the old-school, tin-ceilinged atmosphere of the place, one of the great underrated burger joints in the city. Is it the best burger in New York? Who knows. It’s arguable. Have I ever had a better burger in my life? No. – Andy

If we go looking for a Miracle on 34th Street moment and take in the Macy’s windows, we end up with a cozy dinner at Keen’s (it’s just a block away!) and sit in the pub area up front. — Yolanda Edwards

A cheeseburger with everything and fries at the Burger Joint inside the lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel on West 56th. (Part of the pleasure is actually finding it…look for the curtain). — Caroline Campion

Favorite Caffeine Hit

Smith Canteen, Yes, they have Counter Culture coffee and skilled esspressonators to brew it up (plus awesome muffins and sandwiches and salads by the geniuses who also own Seersucker down the street). But it’s more about it being a neighborhood place you want to hang out. Because for me, the coffee shop is as much a refuge as it is a place to take the most important drug of the day. –  Devin Friedman

When people ask me how long commute is, I tell them an hour and ten minutes. Which is a lie. In fact, it’s an hour. But I walk ten minutes in the wrong direction every morning just to get my medium house blend from Joe the Art of Coffee. The 45 productive and hope-filled minutes between taking that first sip (more…)

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Olive Oil: The New Wine?

December 16th, 2013 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

You will never get me to say on the record that I don’t love a nice bottle of wine wrapped up in foil and presented to me by dinner guests. I mean, come on, that’s just crazy. But I am going on the record to say something that has never been said before. (Except maybe by me, I think, six years ago in Real Simple…wish I could find that link.) Here goes: When it comes to host gifts Olive Oil should be the New Wine. I mean, think about it: When you get a bottle of wine as a host, generally, you drink it that night or at some point within the week and generally, you sort of forget who gave it to you. The gift of wine is a wonderful gesture — I’m not saying it’s not — it’s just that olive oil can sometimes be more wonderful. Because it usually catches you by surprise and because it can be stretched out for weeks, forcing you to remember the giver’s generosity every time you make a homemade vinaigrette or a eat a bowl of Sunday Minestrone, which demands a high-quality drizzle upon serving.

A few of my favorites to give and get: Grove (shown above, $32-$45); McEvoy Ranch (from $23); Frankie’s Spuntino ($18); Pasolivo (From $24) and Volpaia ($28). You could also just take a stroll through your favorite market and see what looks good. (Whole Foods has tons of options.) A few things to look for before you purchase: You want the words “extra virgin” on the label, but don’t worry about “cold pressed” which nowadays means next to nothing; Dark, opaque bottles generally signify quality. (The good ones know that light and heat can be damaging.) Look for a date stamp — you don’t want to buy oil that’s more than a year old. Also, it doesn’t hurt to buy something pretty. It is a gift after all.

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Holiday Gift Guide 2013

December 9th, 2013 · 82 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Welcome to our annual guide for everything we want, covet, crave, and, yes need this holiday. (I don’t know about you, but in my world, coffee qualifies as an essential.)  As always, the round-up was compiled with cooks, kids, and parents in mind (again, coffee), as well as for those of you who have already bought Dinner: A Love Story for everyone on your list. For those of you who have not: here’s the guide for you. Happy Holidays!

Dansk Kobenstyle Casserole ($120) In the 70s, my mom had it in mustard yellow. Thirty-five years later, I bought it in green. Forty years later, I think you should own the classic in striking, festive red. Warning: Do not purchase this if you have something against kitchen workhorses that you will use every night (as we speak, some veggies are simmering in mine in for chicken pot pie) and that looks beautiful living permanently on your stovetop. –JR

Playmobil Dolls & Sets ($5-$30) We are pretty good about giving away toys to Good Will and friends with younger kids, but I’ll tell you one thing we never hand down — anything labeled “Playmobil.” Nope. All of those German-made cup-handed dolls and perfectly-snapped-together playsets go right into a box in our (otherwise unorganized) basement labeled “SPECIAL.” If your kids are into make-believe (or your husband derives an irrational happiness from putting together a Grand Mansion Dollhouse on Christmas morning), you cannot go wrong with these. The level of loose-part detail should be maddening (tiny leaves to snap into trees, decorative flowers to snap onto birthday cakes, teeny tiny bunny rabbits with the sweetest little faces) but instead inspires you to say things like “Wow, a lot of thought went into this little chimney sweep.” The possibilities are as varied as your childrens’ interests, and so are the prices. If you are in the market for the Big Ticket Item, there are plenty: Pirate Ships, CastlesFarms, and Zoos. (Btw, I’m weeping thinking of Abby’s beloved zoo sitting in a shoebox right now.) But honestly, it’s almost more fun to explore the wide world of mini environs and figures, some of which come with travel cases. A few favorites: A very DALSian Grand Kitchen ($25, pictured above); Doghouse ($11); Horse with Groomer and Stable ($11); Cop & Robber ($11, plus carrying case); Vet Clinic ($11, includes carrying case); Royal Dressing Room ($15); Outlaw Hideout ($18); Comfortable Living Room ($18). Man, I could go on forever. -JR

Blue Picardie Glasses ($26, set of six) I really have no business putting another set of drinking glasses in another gift guide, and yet…How fun is this blue twist on the bistro picardie glass? I first saw them at The Ordinary in Charleston, and have since been hinting in many not-so-subtle ways how cool they’d look with milk (or wine) and how psyched I’d be to unwrap a set of six someday soon. –JR

Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic ($16 a bottle) Also in the category of “first experienced at The Ordinary:” This tonic, a concentrated quinine, mixed into a memorable Gin & Tonic during a memorable summer night. But trust me, the stuff is good all year long. -JR

Galaxy CR7s ($50). I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that our family seems set on making Phil Knight richer, but I am sure how I feel about this Hubble Telescope-y, Buck Rogers-y iteration of the Nike indoor soccer shoe: good. I can’t imagine where the people who designed these go from here (“I know, let’s put photographs of Canis Majoris on a pair of cleats!”) but I’m sure we’ll be buying. — Andy

KitchenSurfing Gift Card (Any amount, but I’d recommend a minimum of $100) Do you guys know about KitchenSurfing? I’m a little obsessed with it ever since our friends Liz and Charlie hosted a dinner party for twelve catered by an Indian chef they found on the site. If the word “cater” sounds a little stodgy and prosciutto-wrapped-melon-ish to you, trust me, this site is the opposite of that. It matches your dinner party needs (Cocktail party? Kid’s Birthday Party? Dinner for vegans or sushi lovers?) with a network of local chefs  (right now that means NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, the Hamptons, and…Berlin!) who bid on your job and send you menus with their thoughts. Everything is negotiable and customizable which makes for a far more reasonably cost evening than you might expect. (Especially factoring in the babysitter you won’t have to hire.) All I know is that if I were a new parent too exhausted to entertain, I’d be psyched to be cooked for and waited on in my own home for an evening. (Photo credit: Brooklyn Industrialist) -JR

PokPok Cookbook (by Andy Ricker and JJ Goode, $22) You might be familiar with the PokPok restaurant empire because you’ve been lucky enough to frequent one of Andy Ricker’s Brooklyn or Portland, Oregon Thai hotspots. Or you might just remember that I made his Pad Thai last year and it was off the chain. Either way, the experience is now available in cookbook form. Warning: This is not a book for people who shy away from mail-ordering or pavement-pounding in search of ingredients you don’t generally find at the A&P. But for major enthusiasts, that friend who has everything, or for someone who wants to learn about Thai cuisine (technique, ingredients, recipes, regional breakdowns) inside and out? This is the one. –JR

Jane’s Granola ($14) Our breakfast rut has, by now, been well documented. There have been exceptions, but for the most part, our kids always seem to come back to the Trifecta of Starches: Bagel, toast, pancakes. It’s hard to watch. But in September, I was out in San Francisco for work and brought home a bag of this almondy-y, cinammon-y granola from Jane (above), which is one of our favorite breakfast spots on earth. I bought it as an anniversary present for Jenny, actually, but she never even got a taste. Phoebe gave it a shot — over Greek yogurt, with a drizzle of honey — and that was all she wrote. Not that we’re complaining. — Andy

The Giant Book of Strange But True Sports Stories (by Howard Liss, Illustrations by Joe Mathieu; Used paperback copies starting at 1 cent) Goofy, old-school illustrations paired with stories that stay with you for decades. (Remember the one about Johnny Heisman scoring a touchdown by hiding the football in his jersey? Or the one where the umpires got lost on the way to a Dodgers-Braves game, so the players made the calls themselves? Or the one where the outfielder’s belt got stuck on the fence when he jumped to catch a fly ball? And he just hung there waiting to be rescued?) Andy spent every Saturday and Sunday morning reading this book in bed waiting for his brother to wake up so he could watch TV. I remember my own brother obsessing over it, too. (Age 6 +)  –JR

 

Rittenhouse Rye Because dark spirits season is upon us, once again. (Only $24 a bottle – if you can find it, that is.) — Andy

Anomia ($13) I first read about this game on Catherine’s blog, and since I will essentially do anything Catherine tells me to do, I bought it before summer vacation, thinking we might need a post-s’more activity every now and then. This was just the ticket. It’s best played with kids who are at least 7 or 8, and is one of those games where even adults find themselves standing and screaming out answers with their hearts racing, reminding themselves every few minutes to Calm Down It’s Just a Game. Bonus: It takes up no room in a suitcase. -JR

Nike GPS Watch ($169) There’s nothing quite like seeing how slow you are running to make you run a little faster. I am generally not a Gadget Guy at all — I still read physical books and need Jenny to program numbers into my phone — but this thing has changed my running life. (If only it could change the fact that I am old.) — Andy

A Very un-Christmasy Moleskine Notebook ($10). My pal Kendra gave this to me last year (along with one that said “Epic Sh#t,” of course) and I love it so much, I’ve been unable to write in it. It just sits on my desk, untouched, and I wait for people who come into my office to notice it, and when they do, they all say the same thing: “Oh my god, where did you get that?” Here. — Andy

Paul Smith Socks for dudes. Fashion-wise, J Crew is generally as crazy as I get, but I own two pairs of these, and they make me happy every time I put them on. And no one has to know. — Andy

Digital Speed Sensing Baseball ($20) I like to think that my two girls are not the girly lip-gloss-and-eyelash-batting types. (Exhibit A: While watching The Sound of Music last week, during the part where Rolf sang to Liesl that she needed someone “older and wiser telling her what to do,” Phoebe turned to me and said, “She can do better.”) But still, when it comes to buying gifts for boys — specifically my nephews — my girls never have any good ideas for me. This year I seem to have hit a home run, though, with these speed-sensing baseballs, recommended by my friend Jennie, mother of a middle school baseball star. As soon as my nephews opened them, they were outside (it’s winter here in New York, remember) testing out their cannons.

 

Matt’s Wood Roasted Coffee. Every time we visit our friends Mike and Sara in Portland, Maine, I spend much of the five-hour drive home asking Jenny variations on the following two questions: (1) what are we doing with our lives, and (2) why aren’t we doing it in Portland, Maine? The water, the healthy-looking people, the tight-knit feel of the community, the lobster rolls, the bread at Fore Street Grill (worth a trip in its own right), the food in general, and finally, the coffee. Man, the coffee! Last time we were there, we stopped in at a place called the Speckled Ax, and picked up a couple of pounds of the good stuff to go. Whatever alchemy happens when you wood roast coffee beans, it’s genius. We don’t drink it every morning because then it wouldn’t be special. A bag of this in the ol’ stocking, and I’m happy. – Andy

The Wire Complete series DVD. I wish I could promise that this is the last thing I’m going to say about this show on this blog, but I will not rest until every last one of you has seen this show. (Jenny finally watched all five seasons this fall, after years of my hectoring, and her review, which I am writing down as she says it, is as follows: “It’s ruined all television for me. I’m retiring from TV now, because I can’t imagine anything better.”) — Andy

Holidays Rule If you’re sick of the Phil Spector, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra Christmas jams, this album — featuring a bunch of cool, more contemporary bands, from Fun. to Holly Golightly, from the Heartless Bastards to Calexico — is a pretty excellent change of pace. If nothing else, give this tune a listen and see for yourself. Well worth $1.29. Also goes well with Rittenhouse Rye and a fire in the fireplace. – Andy

Other inspiring gift guides: The Wednesday Chef, Bon Appetit, The New York Times Dining Section, Cup of Jo for Babies and Toddlers.

 

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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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Our Thanksgiving Secretary

November 12th, 2013 · 37 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, we got an email from a local farm saying they were now taking Thanksgiving orders for heritage turkeys. “That is awesome. Let’s do it!” Andy said. For about a millisecond, I was on board, until I remembered that when it comes to the turkey, it’s not my call to make. Andy and I have free rein to go all rogue (within reason) on the sides — adding anchovies to roasted cauliflower or oranges and mint to the cranberry sauce — but my Mom owns the turkey and gravy. If it’s going to be anything other than a 14 1/2 pound Bell & Evans bird, it’s Mom who has to sign off on it. And let’s be honest, if you own the turkey, you own the holiday. My sister hosts, my brother brings snacks and pies, my father is on wine patrol, but my mom is President and CEO.

And also Secretary. I like to think that the reason why Thanksgiving teeters on the happy side of the chaos spectrum in our house is because of my mother’s Post Feast Analysis System. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she grabs her legal pads (she’s an attorney and I don’t think she ever leaves home without them) and starts taking detailed notes on the holiday: Date, menu, number and names of attendees, temperature, who cooked what, who bought what and where, what she needs more of next year, what she needs less of, what worked, what didn’t. Naturally, I’m not nearly as fascinated by the menu as I am by the details that surround the menu. What makes her system awesome is not just that it reminds us that we ate sweet potato casserole in 2011 and 2012 — it’s the little detail that my then 9-year-old niece requested fewer pecans in the casserole next time around. It’s not just that we auditioned a new cranberry sauce last year — it’s that my then 11-year-old niece was the one in charge of spearheading it with me. (Mom was also sure to note she’s not willing to give up on her old-school sauce just yet.) Of course, I look to the notes to see how I can improve my performance next time. Last year I did a couple things right (I provided “superb” homemade stock for the gravy — which was like getting a gold star) and also a few things wrong (in the mashed potatoes department: a simple “too much”). But at least I didn’t mess up the turkey.

Here’s a sneak peak of my mom’s post-game report. Is there any question who I inherited the recording gene from?

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The Only Thanksgiving Guide You Need

November 5th, 2013 · 814 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Last year, we devoted a lot of blog space to Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton. And since we’re editors and writers, supposedly on the pulse of what the lastest, greatest, trendiest everything is, we should probably be featuring this year’s of-the-moment holiday cookbook. But here’s the thing: “trendy” and “of-the-moment” are not words that should EVER EVER EVER be in the same sentence as “Thanksgiving,” and we stand by our claim that Sam Sifton’s timeless, authoritative, delicious guide to our country’s greatest holiday is The Only Thanksgiving Recipe Collection You Will Ever Need. (Outside of your grandmother’s recipe box, of course — we don’t want to get anyone in trouble here). As such, we launch our “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” with a bountiful giveaway: In the next 48 hours, five readers are eligible to win a free copy of Sifton’s Thanksgiving, and five more are eligible to have a free copy sent to whoever is cooking/hosting the feast… as a little pre-holiday pump-up and thank-you-in-advance. That’s TEN COPIES WE ARE GIVING AWAY. All you have to do is leave a comment below (we wouldn’t complain if this comment included a Thanksgiving tip) and tell me which one you are: #Host or #Guest.

Update: All winners have been notified. Congrats Josh, Betsy, Candice, Eva, Molly, Susan, Colleen F, L, Divya, Memegirl and to everyone else thanks for playing!

Related: Sam Sifton’s 1o Laws of Thanksgiving.

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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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Happy New Year

September 4th, 2013 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Under the category of “Better Late than Never,” I thought I’d share our family’s Rosh Hashana menu for the evening. Quickly. So you can go get your shopping done, like, now.

As usual, it’s a group effort — I am on Salad and Side patrol. Here’s how it breaks down:

My parents: A few bottles Pinot, Challah, and Dessert which has yet to be determined, but I am pulling for Helene’s Orange-Almond Cake (which, by the way, is gluten-free)
My brother: Assorted goodies for a Cheese Plate & Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Kids
My sister: Brisket, the main event.
Me: These Fork-Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes*; a simple barley salad (like the one on page 245 of my book, maybe with feta); and the Kale and Apple salad you are looking at above. I’ve eaten this salad exactly twice: Once at my kids’ camp, which is where the recipe comes from, and once with my cousin Sicily, who liked it so much she asked me to send along the how-to soon after she left. Always a good sign.

Now, to figure out who takes care of the dog.

Kale & Apple Salad

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey

Salad
2 bunches raw kale (preferably Tuscan/lacinato), shredded
1/2 cup celery, sliced thin
2 tart apples, cored and chopped small
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1 shallot, chopped

In a measuring cup or small jar, whisk together (or shake together) all dressing ingredients. Add remaining ingredients to a large salad bowl and toss with dressing.

PS: When I titled this “Happy New Year,” did you think I was talking about the start of the school year, which always feels more like the new year than the real new year? More posts on back-to-school very soon.)

*Update on these potatoes: What a pain to make! I pissed and moaned the whole time — smoking hot oil, fussy fork-tined ridging, etc — but they were a hit. The recipe is not for the faint-of-heart, though, be warned!

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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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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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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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Easter Ham, Lee Bros. Style

March 22nd, 2013 · 8 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos

There are a few boxes that have to be checked upon my family’s arrival at Andy’s parents’ beach house outside Charleston, South Carolina, and only when those boxes are checked do I feel like vacation has officially begun: I have to dig out my faded, 20-year-old floppy sunhat from the closet; I have to make sure there is vodka in the freezer, and I have to page through The Lee Bros Southern Cookbook to see what south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line specialty might grace our table that week. (Hoppin John? Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie? Butter Bean Pate? ) You’ve likely heard of the book which  won every award there is to win in this business. It seemed like it would be the only cookbook we’d ever need in our South Carolina kitchen — until now. This month Matt Lee and Ted Lee have published The Lee Bros Charleston Kitchen. In it, the brothers drill down deep on personal and culinary histories the city that is garnering some major ink for its rock star food scene, and the city where Matt and Ted grew up. The book also, of course, contains 100 extremely special recipes. Here, Ted, one half of the team (the half that I happened to go to college with) was nice enough to share one of those recipes with the DALS community: A fresh ham for Easter. –Jenny

There’s so much talk of pork in the South these days, particularly concerning parts long considered “low-on-the-hog” that are now fashionable in restaurants: bellies, ears, trotters. These can be delicious, certainly, but here’s the challenge: you’ve got 14 people coming over for a festive Easter party. There’ll be kids, grandparents, your squeamish sister-in-law. Are you going to rock some pig’s feet? Serve hunks of quivery pork belly? Pig-ear sliders?

No.

Let restaurants mess with the odd bits. For home cooks like us, few cuts of pork yield more deliciousness, more bang for the buck—and frankly more majesty!—than the gargantuan roast fresh ham, with its burnished cape of crisp fat and pork with the variety of doneness you need for a big party—well-done white meat, pink slices for the medium-rare crowd, and darker bits from the shank for those who like to snack.

In Charleston, where we grew up, pork of any kind was relatively scarce on dinner tables until late in the 20th century. A cured country ham might be brought back from the mountains of North Carolina (where pork was more common) on a rare occasion, but according to many Charlestonians we’ve interviewed over the years, the love for pork chops is a post-Vietnam-era thing.

The “fresh” in fresh ham simply means it’s uncured, and we’re fortunate to be able to find fresh hams in meat markets of quality (If you shop at a supermarket, you’ll be able to get fresh hams, but usually only by special order). They’ve been crucial to our eating lives in lean years (in the banker’s not the butcher’s sense of the word), and they’re so easy to make. You just cut off the skin, preserving the layer of fat, which you then score and which will render and baste the meat as the ham roasts (Your butcher can skin and score the ham for you to save time). Then you pat the ham all over with a simple seasoning blend—use your favorite; ours is a mix of thyme, rosemary, salt and black pepper. Then you roast, basting every hour, for about 3 1/2 hours (depending on the size of the ham). You’ll need to calculate resting time into your serving plans, but take care to watch over the ham as it rests—it is nigh impossible for anyone in the kitchen to resist picking off bits of crispy fat. (more…)

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Birthday Brownies

February 25th, 2013 · 14 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

A few Octobers ago, I signed up to bring two treats to the annual Halloween bake sale at school instead of one. My ambition was fueled by irrational optimism (three weeks from now will somehow be the first stretch in history that is calm and orderly) and guilt. (Usually I volunteer to bring something and to work behind the table, but the soccer schedule was not going to let that happen.) Of course, in the days leading up to the bake sale, I hadn’t given too much thought to what I was going to make, nor to where I was going to find the time to make two separate items. I knew I had ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, but what about the other item? I happened to be walking by a bakery at the time of my head-scratching, and five minutes, six dollars, and a dozen cupcakes later, I had my solution all boxed up and tied with baker’s twine.

Andy was incredulous when I got home. “You bought something for the bake sale?” he asked, not because he was some kind of from-scratch baked good Nazi, but because he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t have just bought both of my items and called it a day. Or why I didn’t just skip the storebought and only make one item. Who would care? (more…)

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Easiest Homemade-ish Valentines

February 8th, 2013 · 11 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

This might come as a surprise to you, but even though I am fully ensconced in my digital domain, and can, under pressure, define various website-wonky terms like “widgets” and “bounce rates” — I really know close to nothing about this world. Beyond following the #1 Law of Food Pictures (shoot in natural light), I really know nothing about photography either. I often click on the FAQ section of my favorite bloggers and tell myself This time I’m really going to pay attention to which lens they use in which scenario. I’m going to remember if my Automatic White Balance should be ON or OFF. But I never do. I’m telling you, I think I have been able to jerry-rig together a decent enough experience for readers, but in relative terms, I am a total technological cretin. Until last week, I didn’t even know how to overlay text on top of a photograph. Seriously, I had NO idea!

But a month or two ago, after someone on facebook linked to a free Photo Editing site called picmonkey, my life has totally changed. (The way I just wrote that entire set-up sounds like I am shilling for them, doesn’t it? I swear I’m not!) All those things that normal people know how to do — make photo collages, design fun invitations for birthday parties, add graphics and borders and thought bubbles — I figured out in about 30 seconds. Me. The Cretin. And pretty soon the kids were all over it, too dreaming up any excuse to upload a picture of our dog Iris and make her talk. So naturally, when it came time to think about Valentines, we spent way too much time exploring the hearts and doilies and filters you can use to make what I believe to be the world’s easiest customized cards. Especially on a day when you are SNOWED-IN and there’s not much else to do while the short ribs are bubbling down.

There are a coupla directions you could go with this. You could overlay your Valentine message on the photo like we did way up top (others in the running: “They Call it Puppy Love,” “I drool over you,” “Will someone be my Valentine? Anyone? Anyone?”), print up as many as you need, and be done with it. Or you could print a blank thought bubble and have the kids fill in personalized messages to each friend. (To print, I inserted the image in a Word Doc, copied it four times, printed, then had the kids cut them out.) You could also just download the blank-message PDFs featuring Iris that I uploaded here. It’s time Iris had her day anyway.

Click here to download a PDF of this four-Valentine template. (If people have suggestions for what Iris should be saying or thinking, feel free to enlighten. My daughter can’t get enough of them.) Warning about this Valentine you see above — the thought bubble is small so it works better for short messages. If you have a longer message, click here for the 2-Valentine PDF. To download the Valentine with the “rolled up sock” message, way up top, click here.

P.S: Last year, a bunch of you asked for a PDF of the Mad Lib Love Letters Andy and I used in our post last year. Last year, when I was still a cretin. Here you go.

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Charcuterie Pizza

December 18th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Pork and Beef

I realize I’m not going to win any awards from the American Heart Association with this statement, but you pretty much can’t go wrong when you make a pizza from a leftover charcuterie plate. You know — the cured meat and cheese platter you put together for your holiday party that you kept buying more for because you were positive you hadn’t ordered enough? That’s me every year for every party and last time it happened I kept picking at the leftovers whenever I opened the refrigerator (willpower in the face of charcuterie: not my strong suit), which left me feeling like the glutton of the century. This time, I wised up and made use of the treasure in one fell swoop: I chopped all my meat and cheese, dumped it on a pizza crust and served it for dinner with massive tangle of greens, which, naturally, canceled out any residual guilt.

What to do with Other Holiday-ish Leftovers:

Making a Ham for Christmas? Turn leftovers into World’s Best Pea Soup.
Making Andy’s World Famous Pork Ragu? If there’s any meat leftover, make 10-Minute Tortellini. (Could also do this with Short Ribs.)
Making a spaghetti dinner ? Be sure to make extra pasta, leave it unsauced, then go for the Spaghetti Omelet.
Leftover chicken of any kind? Shred it and add to Creamy Lemony Avgolemeno. OhBoyOhBoyOhBoy.
Leftover filet of beef? (Yeah right.) Steak Sandwiches with Gruyere, Caramelized Onions and Pickles.

Charcuterie Pizza
There are surely some combinations of cheese and meat that work better than others, but chances are if the cheese is firm and you have some bocconcini (little mozzarella balls) in the mix, you’ll be good to go.

Olive oil, for greasing
1 16-ounce ball homemade pizza dough (or your favorite storebought) I replaced a cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat for the one you see above.
1 1/2 cups homemade pizza sauce (or your favorite storebought)
Leftover cured meats, such as salami or prosciutto, chopped
Leftover firm cheese such as Manchego, Parmesan (grated) and or Bocconcini balls (halved)

Preheat oven to 500°F. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, grease a 17-by-12-inch  rimmed baking sheet with the oil. Drop your pizza dough into the center of the baking sheet, and using your fingers, press out and flatten the dough so it spreads as close as possible to all four corners. This might seem difficult, but persist — the thin crust will be worth it.

Add the sauce to dough, spreading with a spoon. Sprinkle meat on top and cover with cheese. Sprinkle meat only on one half if you want to keep part of it vegetarian-friendly. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly. If the crust is browning faster than the toppings are cooking, cover with foil and continue to bake.

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