Entries Tagged as 'Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations'

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?


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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Last-Minute Gift Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the cookbook collector: Dinner: A Love Story.

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

For the outdoorsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the indoorsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the ombudsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

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

For the amateur sleuth: Dinner: A Love Story.

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

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

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

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

For our slightly less ridiculous Gift Guide, click here.

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Not Chaos. Richness.

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

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

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

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

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

Half-Finished Gingerbread Men
adapted from Martha Stewart

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ali Libfeld

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The Family Recipe Contract

December 10th, 2012 · 8 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos, Chicken and Turkey, Rituals

Once I was half way through Alex Witchel’s All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments I stopped underlining passages and moments that I wanted to remember. There were just too many. Witchel’s mother, a college professor and one of the few working moms in their 1960s suburban New Jersey neighborhood, cooked more out of obligation than joy (“Del Montes was her farmer’s market. Everything was in season, and syrup, all the time.”) but it didn’t matter. The aromas of her mom’s cooking signaled a “safe harbor” for Witchel and once she began losing her bright, spirited mother to dementia, she looked to the kitchen to reclaim her. As Witchel asks, “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?” We are lucky to have Witchel, a longtime repoter at The New York Times, guest-post for us today about Hanukkah memories with her mother. – Jenny

When I was growing up, I realized early that Hanukkah was a raw deal. No tree, no stocking, no cookies, no carols – and school was open, at least every weekday. Eight nights of presents were little consolation. The first and last nights were for the good ones like Candyland, or the plush, cuddly stuffed animal I had spent weeks coveting. The nights in between fizzled with unloved items like Pez dispensers or calendars for the coming year emblazoned with the name of my parents’ bank. The Hanukkah gelt, those gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins were okay, though they never lasted long enough to make much of an impression. Certainly not as long as that spinning dreydl which was such a bore it made jacks seem like an Olympic sport.

Yes, we always had latkes and they were always great. It’s hard to fry potatoes and lose.

Dinner on the first festive night was built around them; my mom usually made her brisket, which for me was the side dish to the latkes.

By the last night of Hanukkah, after a full week surveying our long faces, she rallied. Now there was sufficient distance from Thanksgiving, so she (more…)

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Holiday Gift Guide 2012

December 5th, 2012 · 90 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Welcome to Our Second Annual Family Holiday Gift Guide. And by that, we of course mean gifts for New Moms, New Dads, Seasoned Moms, Seasoned Dads, Little Ones, Big Ones, Babysitters, Carpool Helpers, School Teachers, Cello Teachers, Art Teachers, the Nice Guy Who Brews You a Badass Cup of Coffee Every Morning…and even YOU! Read carefully and you’ll see what we mean.

English Premier League Christmas Ornaments ($10 for 3-pack). You could never accuse this family of rooting for the underdog. Last year, after Chelsea won the UEFA championship — establishing it as the best club team in Europe — our resident diehard Manchester United fans began to… waver. Phoebe started wearing her Wayne Rooney jersey a little less proudly, Abby started asking to watch Drogba highlights on YouTube, and six months later, I guess you could say we’re a full-on Chelsea household now. (Like the weather, this will change again soon.) We’re making the most of it while it lasts, though, and even bought a set of these for our pals Mike and Sara up in Portland, Maine, whose three kids are true blue Chelsea fans, through-and-through. Hang these with pride, my friends. — Andy

French Press (Le Creuset, $60). When I showed this to Jenny the other day, she said, “Do you want one?” And the answer was, “Yes and no.” Yes, I want one because it’s so cool looking and I love Le Creuset and am an inveterate coffee addict; and no, I don’t want one, because we have a French press already and I can’t really justify spending money for another one. But I am going to buy it for a friend or relative who loves coffee and I am going to secretly look forward to the day when our current, perfectly functional — functional: therein lies the problem — french press, I don’t know, maybe falls off the counter and shatters or is gravely wounded in the dishwasher. At which point: Yes. I want one. In cherry (pictured above). – Andy

Animal Stacking Game (Haba, $20). When the girls were little, playing board games with them was always one of those milestones I was excited to hit. Until we hit it…and I found myself spending long swaths of winter afternoons wandering through Gumdrop Mountains and Peppermint Forest, dying the slow painful death that is CandyLand. (Let’s not even discuss Pretty Pretty Princess.) But when this stacking game came into my life, things changed. Though still simple enough for 3-year-olds (you take turns stacking animals until it tumbles over), I found it to be actually calming, plus it didn’t take up an entire shelf in the toy “closet” (read: floor), it exercised my kids’ (and my) as-yet-developed patience muscles, and was the game that promised brighter skies of Monopoly, Mancala, and Apples to Apples ahead. (PS: And this was a major hit with my puzzle-minded 5-year-old nephew.) –Jenny

McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil ($24 for 375 ml — about 12 ounces) When I strike it rich with this blog that I write for free, no Porsches for me. Just garages filled with cases and cases of this olive oil, made in Petaluma, California and renowned for its bright, peppery finish. There is olive oil for browning your chicken breasts and tossing with your potatoes before roasting; there is olive oil that you use sparingly, to whisk into vinaigrettes or drizzle atop soups and pastas. And then there is McEvoy Ranch. Which is not only all that, but also the perfect  gift for your party host or daughter’s piano teacher or friend or person you like very much, who knows a little something about the finer things. I’ve only ever used the traditional blend, but I can’t imagine you could go wrong with their Olio Nuovo, made from just-harvested olives, or anything else they sell for that matter. –Jenny

Pure Komachi Chef’s Knife ($10). We own a fleet of Wusthof knives that have served us well since we registered for them fifteen years ago. We have some wood-handled Forschners that our Uncle Mike gave us which, in a matter of seconds, can render a head of cabbage helpless. Last year, for Christmas I bought Andy a New West Knifeworks Fusionwood 8-incher, and when he first removed the thing from its red leather sheath, he looked like a Samurai warrior. In other words, we are pretty well-endowed in the blade department. Which is why it’s all the more strange that when I’m about to embark on chop-heavy meal prep, I get thoroughly depressed if my six-and-a-half-inch Pure Komachi carbon stainless steel chef’s knife, which we picked up a year ago as an impulse buy for TEN BUCKS, is in the dishwasher — or, more likely, has been co-opted by Andy. The Komachi — light, sharp, and seemingly molded to the exact specifications of my right hand — came in fun colors like pink, (more…)

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A Holiday Gift For You

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

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

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

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

*Cover and interior design by Chelsea Cardinal.

Happy Holidays from the DALS team.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving from Team DALS!

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Thanksgiving Eve

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


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

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

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Three Things to Do Now to Make Thanksgiving Easier

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

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

Make Cranberry Sauce.

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

Try a Brine.

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

Make Some Pies.

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

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Halloween Candy, A Second Life

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

Wow. So many options for titles today!

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

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

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A Few Thanksgiving Questions for Sam Sifton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner

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

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

10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner
by Sam Sifton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrations by Sarah Rutherford.


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Birthday Pie

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

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

Cranberry-Apple Birthday Pie

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

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

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

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

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