Entries Tagged as 'Dinner'

Chaos Theory

August 25th, 2014 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Dinner: The Playbook, Rituals, Seafood

So back-to-school. The week that rivals New Years for clean-slating more than any other. You’re making plans, you’re making resolutions, you’re waking up at 3:00 in the morning saying “I am not going to allow math homework be my undoing this year. I’m not I’m not.” Perhaps you’re also resolving that it’s finally time to get on track with family dinner, to impose some structure into your mealtime, but then you talk yourself out of it again…maybe next month….there’s too much going on right now for all of us. I’ll start later, another week, when things calm down. I want a week when there’s no lunch-packing routine to deal with, no kid’s-been-placed-in-the-wrong-class stress, no brand-new-school drama, no soccer tournament to coordinate, no presentation for work that you’re going to be obsessing over, no activities that are going to disrupt and distract from all the planning and cooking. (more…)

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No-Stress Vacation Dinner

August 18th, 2014 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Travel, Uncategorized

On Saturday we found ourselves in an unusual predicament: It was 4:00 and we hadn’t decided what was for dinner yet. Oddly, if it were a normal weekday at home, this wouldn’t be an issue. But we were on vacation, and as anyone who has read my first book (or read the post “My Drill Sergeant of Leisure“) might recall, on vacation, we like to lock down the dinner plan over morning coffee. This way we don’t steal away a single unit of psychic energy from what should be the only order of business: kayaking, swimming, pretending-to-read-but-really-napping. (OK, so that’s a few orders of business.) Andy’s idea of hell is wandering a packed grocery store with other sunburned dinner-makers at 5:30, the time he should be mixing up an icy, limey Gin and Tonic on the porch.

But this is where we found ourselves nonetheless. We knew we wanted to grill — that was a given. But what? A family meeting on the pool chairs didn’t yield any obvious candidates: One kid wanted burgers, the other wanted fish. I suggested the old healthy stand-by, yogurt-marianted chicken, but Andy wasn’t in the mood. (I think we’ve made that twice a week all summer long.) And plus, we didn’t have time for any marinating.

I should’ve known that we’d wind up anchoring the plate to grilled sausages. No matter where we are in the world, there is a variety to choose from (pork, chicken, lamb, veggie) to suit different tastes, they can be grilled (we’re at the beach so there is a moratorium on oven use) and they don’t require a single second of prep-work, a crucial quality when there is a bike begging to be ridden. To round out the ideal vacation dinner formula (grilled something + fresh something + something the kids go crazy for) we added cucumber raita and a puffy, salty grilled flatbread, which Phoebe said tasted like a doughnut. Done and done.

Grilled Sausages with Cucumber Raita and Grilled Flatbread*

Raita
1/2 cup plain yogurt (if you have time to strain the yogurt, add yogurt into a strainer lined with a coffee filter and let sit over a glass in the sink for a half hour)
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic (or garlic powder)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
handful fresh mint, chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped into bite size pieces

Sausages
2- 2 1/2 pounds good-quality sausages (extra credit for merguez, but can be hard to find, we did a mix of sweet and hot Italian)

Grilled Bread
1 16-ounce ball pizza dough, divided into four pieces and placed on a cookie sheet
olive oil
sea salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, garlic cumin, olive oil, salt, pepper, and mint. Toss with chopped cucumbers and chill until ready to serve, so flavors meld.

Meanwhile, heat your grill. When coals are medium-hot, add sausages and grill and turn until cooked through, about 5-10 minutes depending on thickness. Remove from grill and cover with foil to stay hot.

Meanwhile, brush each ball of dough with olive oil, then using your hand and fingers, flatten and press into pita-size pieces. Flip the dough as you shape it, so oil is covering the entire ball of dough. Sprinkle with salt. When the sausages come off the grill, add the dough to the bread and flip a few times, making sure they don’t burn, until cooked through and puffy, about 5 minutes total.

Vacation dessert is never hard to figure out when you have access to Good Humor Bars. (The only dilemma: Toasted Almond or Chocolate Eclair?)

P.S. As for styling the photo with starfish: Guilty as charged.

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Addicted: Vegetable Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

August 7th, 2014 · 31 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I had such buyer’s remorse the other day. But sometimes, that’s a good thing.

I’ll start at the beginning. Instead of writing from home last week, I decided to set up shop at the Starbucks that was down the block from my daughter’s camp. That way, I wasn’t wasting any time in the car, I was maximizing my time working, and I was only ever ten feet away from re-caffeinating, should it come to that. (Note: It often comes to that.)

The only problem? I was also ten feet away from those delicious coffee cakes, the ones they offer to heat up for you? (Yes, please.) And the egg biscuit sandwiches. You know, those things are not awful. Neither are the blueberry lemon scones. I bought one to bring to Abby after camp, but ended up eating it myself as I cranked away at the laptop, too productive to leave, too lazy to walk outside to get something a little healthier. (Not to mention, too greedy to risk giving up my table near the coveted computer outlet.)

By Day 3, I had had it with the baked good bacchanalia. I needed something for lunch that included a vegetable. As usual, though, I was pressed for time, and starving, and the only thing I could find nearby was a Whole Foods in a strip mall. Against my better judgement, I headed to the prepared food department to see what I could grab quickly. Hmmm. Salad bar? Too complicated. Tandoori potato flatbread sandwiches? Too carby. Sushi? Too expensive. But next to the chopstick display (more…)

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Three Tips for the Fish-spicious

July 30th, 2014 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Seafood

As children of the 80s, we didn’t have the most ideal exposure to seafood. It consisted mostly of Martini glasses filled with flaccid shrimp at our parents’ cocktail parties, Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, which our dads ordered from McDonald’s when they were trying to be “healthy”; and dreaded trips to the fish market, which smelled an awful lot like low tide. There, our mothers would order frozen flounder while we’d pinch our noses: People actually eat this stuff? Now, thanks to better access to fresh fish and a few clever maneuvers, our children are more evolved about seafood than we were. Meaning: They actually like it. Here, our strategies for getting our kids (and yours) to appreciate fish.

Work Fish into Vacation
We always have better luck introducing the girls to new things when we’re on vacation and the vibes are trending positive. In South Carolina a few summers ago, the kids caught a bunch of sea trout on a half-day fishing excursion; we later grilled and ate them on sandwiches with slaw. On a trip to Block Island, we celebrated our arrival by going straight to our favorite lunch joint and ordering lobster rolls, thereby establishing the pattern for the next summer we visited, and the summer after that. We work the food-vacation connection hard so that when we served grilled sea trout at home, it’s seen as a reminder of good times. Instead of, you know, an affront to their very existence.

Fry, Fry Again
Okay, fine. Maybe our fathers were on to something with their Filet-o-Fishes. Pan-frying is never a bad move when you’re trying to optimize a kid’s eating experience. We’ve had excellent luck serving breaded flounder and gray sole with homemade tartar sauce, or yes, ketchup. Master this and you can 2.0 the technique with fish cakes (shown above), which stretch a small amount of fish into a solid dinner when shaped into patties with corn and herbs, and then fried to golden bliss.

East Them Into It
Once or twice a month in the summer, we’ll steam a couple dozen littlenecks  in some white wine with olive oil, shallots, and Sun Gold tomatoes — and then toss it all with spaghetti and fresh herbs. The first time we presented this to our daughters, we did not expect them to eat the clams. (That’s a big ask of a little kid.) They merely got acquainted with the broth that was crazy good when doped up with a slab of crusty bread. Eventually, the girls grew curious about the source of all that salty, meaty flavor — and victory was ours. –Andy and Jenny

This is our August 2014 “Providers” column for Bon Appetit. Head over to there for Fish-and-Corn Cake recipe or to check out the entire Providers archive. Photo by Alex Lau for Bon Appetit.

Fish Cakes from Dinner: A Love Story. See the book for recipe.

P.S. My go-to resource for choosing fish responsibly.

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As Usual: Less is More

July 28th, 2014 · 11 Comments · Grilling, Seafood

You know what’s so funny? Sometimes I can spend an entire day thinking about or preparing or shopping for dinner (especially if we are having a bunch of people over) and not be nearly as happy with what ends up on the table as I am when the kitchen is all tumbleweeds, and I spend about thirty seconds scrambling for a plan.

We have been on the move this summer — traveling to Alaska, as you know, Seattle, Chicago, Virginia, and Quogue. And it’s been awesome. The girls have sailed on wooden boats in Seattle lakes, and cheered on the Cubs at Wrigley. (I’m extremely lucky to have college roommates who chose really cool places to live.) They have eaten halibut, salmon, oysters, fried chicken, coconut cream pie, triple berry cobblers, and have done a summer’s worth of s’moring already. There has been a week or two of camp squeezed in, too, but for the most part, we haven’t bothered to put the luggage away — last weekend, actually, we didn’t even bother to unpack. Other than the fact that I haven’t had a whole lot of time to work (hence the gaps in posting, forgive me!) it’s been nice to have so little structure, to wake up in a new place and not have to be dressed and out the door by 8:00, shoes on, lunches packed!

The thing about this no structure month, though? Generally, I find myself returning home to a fridge that resembles a bachelor’s. (I know, cry me a river.) Last week, we walked in the door from Chicago close to dinnertime and found the wilting remains of a Savoy cabbage from the week-old CSA bag, two shriveled avocados in the fruit bowl — one barely usable — and my sourdough starter that some of you more careful readers might remember I made in a fit of DIY Excitement two weeks ago upon my return from Alaska. I wasn’t about to (finally) make those (long-promised) sourdough pancakes (soon!), but the sight of the starter reminded me of our Alaskan Seafood Stash in the freezer. Before we left Homer, we had all the halibut Phoebe caught vacuum-packed, frozen, and shipped to us — along with some salmon and something called Alaskan Sweet Shrimp that we couldn’t resist. And there it all was, in our freezer begging to be put to use. (more…)

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All Salmon All the Time

July 17th, 2014 · 11 Comments · Seafood

So if it’s all right with you, I’m just going to use this blog to pretend that we’re still on vacation in Alaska — which is another way of saying that we are all going to be eating salmon every day, three times a day.

And if you follow our lead, you will NEVER tire of it either. It helps, of course, to have access to crazy-fresh wild Alaskan salmon. And it also helps to be staying with friends who know how to expertly fillet that salmon, then proceed to spend the next few days showing us how to smoke it, harvest its eggs, pickle it, cure, grill, roast, and mix it into untold numbers of spreads and salads.

We still have a ways to go with our Sockeye skillz — until now, my greatest talent in that department was choosing the right filet at the Whole Foods seafood counter — but we did manage to pick up few special techniques and bring them home with us. Lest you think this blog, founded on the principle of get-it-on-the-table-and-get-it-on-the-table-fast, is going all DIY on you, I’m presenting the easiest one first: Gravlax. I had always heard that curing fish on your own was a fairly straightforward process, but not until I witnessed Andy make his own did I really believe it. The whole thing takes about 10 minutes of hands-on time  and then a few days of doing absolutely nothing but waiting. Which was definitely the hardest part.

Gravlax
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons salt, 4 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Rub this mixture into all sides (skin, too) of skin-on salmon filets (bones, removed, about 1 1/2 pounds). Place a large handful of dill in the bottom of a shallow glass baking dish. Put one piece of fish, skin side down, on the dill, top with another bunch of dill, add another piece of fish, skin side up, and top with one last bunch of dill. Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Set a plate (larger than the salmon) on top. Place 2 heavy cans of food on top of the plate and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. When it’s ready, separate filets, then slice thin pieces on an angle. Eat however you love to eat gravlax, but my preferred way is shown above, on top of a Finn Crisp, with cream cheese, dill, and capers if you have them. It’s been my breakfast every day this week.

This post was made possible by our masterful fishmonger and host, Dan Coyle.

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Not Your Mother’s Tuna Sandwich

June 17th, 2014 · 14 Comments · Grilling, Quick, Seafood

One summer vacation during my elementary school years, I went on an overnight boating trip across the Long Island Sound with my friend, Andrea and her family. Three decades later, what I remember most about the trip was not the exhilaration of being on the open water for the first time — man vs. sea and all that. What I remember was eating pasta with jarred tomato sauce (my first time ever; SEE: Italian Mother) while bobbing below deck, then feeling seasick until setting foot on land the next day. Andrea’s parents dropped me off at home, where I made a beeline for the fridge — you know that special kind of ravenous you get when you come home from the beach? That was me, and I hunted around for something to wolf down even though it was close to dinnertime, the gold summer sun sinking on the horizon, filtering light through the elm tree in our backyard. My mom told me there was some leftover tuna, so I grabbed the foil-topped bowl, mom handed me a fork, and I ate it in about two minutes while sitting at the kitchen table with her.

To this day, that right there is the gold standard that every tuna experience has to live up to.

My mom’s tuna salad was pretty straightforward as tuna salads go. I’m sure that particular one was like every other batch she whipped up for a brown-bag or quick weekend lunch — Bumble Bee Chunk Light Tuna in Water mixed with Hellmann’s. (And no, this post is NOT sponsored by EITHER.) There might have been salt, but there was definitely not black pepper — she isn’t a big fan of black pepper — and the ratio of mayo to tuna was probably on the high side. But what made it special, somehow, was the temperature. The tuna was cold — like really cold — and somehow two ingredients melded together to impart a third, mysterious flavor (childhood fridge? Mom umami?) that is impossible to achieve when I try to recreate it thirty years later in my own kitchen. I love tuna salad sandwiches, Andy and Phoebe love tuna salad sandwiches, we make tuna salad sandwiches all the time. But as good as they are — they always fall short. Always. (I keep making them, though, because I have to assume that I’m adding the same mystery mom ingredient to Phoebe’s lunch.)

That’s a long way of saying: the way I see it — if I’m going to make a tuna sandwich, the only way to avoid disappointment is to go in a complete and totally opposite direction. This past weekend, our friends Anne and Todd came over post-piano recital to celebrate our children’s most excellent interpretations of Mozart and Schumann. We all picked up some good tuna from the fish guy at our farmer’s market (and some hot dogs for the kids who wouldn’t go near the good tuna) and even though I had visions of going wild to celebrate summer, Andy convinced me otherwise (“this is not a performance!”), so we settled on an easy grilled tuna sandwich with salsa fresca and spicy mayo. Just because it was simple, though, and just because technically it was just a plain old “tuna sandwich,” does not mean it wasn’t the best thing I think I’ve eaten all year. Andy sliced the tuna horizontally so it was easier to eat on an open-face baguette, and we topped it with a cilantro-heavy salsa. It wasn’t my mother’s tuna, no. But why even try?

Grilled Tuna Sandwiches with Salsa Fresca
(Makes 4 Sandwiches)
The Oyster Bar in Grand Central makes a version of this sandwich which I highly recommend eating at the snaky counter with a  Coke on a summer day. We served ours with really fresh greens from the market that had been tossed with a rice-wine-vinegar based vinaigrette, and topped with peppery, edible nasturtiums from Anne’s garden. Andy made a farro salad and mixed in chives, feta, dried cherries, and a basic mustard vinaigrette. Todd made this crazy good smashed beet salad with yogurt. All in all, a perfect summer dinner.

1 1/2 pounds tuna, sliced in half horizontally (see: Seafood Watch for Buying Guidelines)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper
juice from half a lime
1 long, skinny baguette
salsa fresca
spicy mayo

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, dark sesame oil, and pepper. Place tuna on a large dinner plate and pour marinade on top. Marinate about 15 minutes. Five minutes before you grill, squeeze lime juice over fish, flipping to fully coat. Grill over medium-hot coals for 1-2 minutes a side. (It’s cooks fast when it’s this thin, and we like it on the rare side.)

While fish marinates, make your spicy mayo and salsa fresca.

Slice baguette in half lengthwise, then into four sandwich-size pieces as shown. Spread mayo on each half, then top each half with tuna and salsa fresca. Serve open-face unless you like your sandwiches on the bready-ier end. (We do not.)

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Chill, Mom. I Got Dinner

June 12th, 2014 · 58 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Yes, that beautiful sight is exactly what you think it is: My twelve-year-old is making dinner. For the family. A stack of pan-fried gray sole with a green salad and ginger-miso dressing to be exact. What you don’t see, out of frame, are her parents, having some chips and salsa at the kitchen table, catching up on the day’s events, and doing their best not to tell their twelve-year-old to turn up the heat or turn down the heat, or salt the bread crumbs, or use a fork and not your fingers to put the fish in the (omg very hot) pan, or maybe set up your dredging station next the stovetop instead of a half mile away.

Like all major milestones in life, the genesis of this particular one began at the hair salon.

My mom has been trying to get me to see her colorist for years now and so finally, a few weeks ago, I conceded. Her name was Gisele and having only met her for about two hours, I can say with confidence that she’s my friend for life. As well as learning that the look for prom this year is the low, loose bun, I learned that she adds breaded chicken cutlets to her baked ziti, that she came to the US from Lebanon 44 years ago, that she’d had many jobs in her life (realtor, executive assistant) but hair had always been her true passion. You can learn a lot about someone when they are inches from your ears for two straight hours.

When Gisele found out that I wrote about food for a living, she was amazed. “How wonderful!” she said. And then,”Your kids must be excellent cooks!”

I thought she was heading in the direction parents normally head which is: “How wonderful! Your kids must be excellent eaters.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “They can make a few dishes.” In my mind, though, I had a hard time coming up with something that involved a technique more complicated than spreading hummus on pita. “But they eat pretty much anything.”

And that was that. Until the very next morning when my newly highlighted self went to the coffee shop and ran into Phoebe’s friend, Lauren, and her mom.

“I love your cookbook,” Lauren said. “I cook from it all the time!”

Here again, I thought she was heading in the direction kids normally head, which is: “I love your cookbook! My parents cook from it all the time.” (more…)

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Cedar Plank Salmon

June 9th, 2014 · 10 Comments · Grilling, Seafood


You should see our basement. No, actually, you shouldn’t. It’s not the face we’re interested in presenting to the world. It’s not even a face we’re comfortable presenting to ourselves. In fact, I think of it as the darkest corner of our psyche come to life. You never know what you will find down there. Yesterday evening, for example, our smoke detector started beeping — the dreaded low battery alert — so I went downstairs to find a replacement battery. In the course of about three minutes of searching, I found: a sad cache of 9 volt batteries (all corroded), some butcher’s twine, a roll of neon green duct tape I’d been looking for a few months ago, a stack of bills and bank statements from 2011, about 7 single socks, an ice cream maker, a child’s purple rain boot, an empty can of La Croix seltzer, a wad of yellowing paper towels that we had jammed into a corner when our washing machine flooded about a year ago and, next to the old leather club chair we used to have in our living room and now serves as our thing-to-pile-other-things-on, three rectangular cedar planks, the kind you use to grill salmon.

Back in the day, pre-kids, Jenny and I used to make cedar-plank salmon on our roofdeck all the time, but somewhere along the line, it fell — like square-toed shoes and Everybody Loves Raymond — by the wayside. We moved on. We evolved. Why, though? What’s not to like about cedar plank salmon? (A) It’s easy, and (B) It’s a really flavorful, tender, smoky twist on a dinner staple we have grown a little sick of over the years. So, after ripping our smoke detector out of the wall, I dusted off one of those planks — literally dusted it off — and fired up the grill. It was as good as we remembered, so good that we resolved not to wait another decade before doing it again. It almost made us feel okay about the cry-for-help that is our basement. There’s good stuff down there, if you know where to look. – Andy

This piece of salmon was 1.5 pounds and I rubbed it, about 15 minutes before cooking, with a mixture of brown mustard, a handful of chopped dill, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger, and lots of kosher salt and pepper. We served with grilled asparagus and scallions, and roasted potatoes. Note Part 1: Before you cook with a cedar plank, you need to soak the plank in water — like, totally submerged — for about 30 minutes, which helps get the steam going and keeps the wood from burning to a crisp.

Once your fish is on the plank (skin-side down) and placed over medium-high heat, cover (with lid vents open) and cook for 12-15 minutes. It’s ready when salmon is cooked through, and slightly brown and bubbly at the edges. Note Part 2: The consistency of cedar plank salmon is not the same as grilled salmon. It’s closer to steamed — softer, more tender, less flaky. So don’t necessarily go by firmness; go by color.

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Rut-Busting Pulled Pork Sandwiches

May 22nd, 2014 · 17 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef

Let’s talk about ruts. Specifically the rut I’m in right now, which involves waking up committed to getting some good writing done, and then going to bed twelve hours later with almost nothing to show for it. (Unless you count a few facebook and instagram posts, a lot of soccer-related emails, and a screentime-overload-induced headache “something to show.”) Ruts, no matter what form they take, can be soul-crushing, but I have to believe a writer’s rut is a special kind of torture, because if I sit in front of a computer all day in a small, dark office, and get nothing done, I am haunted by all the other healthy-minded, Vitamin-D-absorbing ways I could have been spending my spring day. I could’ve planted some flowers in the backyard, or gone for a run, or taken my poor ignored dog, Iris to the park. In under 20 minutes, I could’ve been wandering the Garden Court at the Frick**, a quick shot down the West Side Highway. But instead, Iris and I sit there at the end of the day, two lumps, as uncultured and dull-witted as we were when we woke up that morning. (I will also add that all this non-productivity doesn’t exactly make me Mother of the Year. I notice my capacity for yelling is absolutely in converse correlation to the day’s wordcount. Sad, but true.)

I have been at this long enough to realize that I’ll come out of it (and as soon as I get something down on paper, I’ll write off the whole rut as “process”) but until then, I’ve discovered a neat trick that goes a little ways towards making myself feel better. Last week, after re-writing my next book’s introduction for the fourth time (Note to my editor: JT! Still isn’t quite working!), I was seriously craving progress that was measurable. So I browned a pork loin, adding some garlic and onions to the pot, then braised the sucker low and slow all afternoon in some barbecue sauce. (There you have it: my BBQ nod to Memorial Day.) That way, while I was upstairs in the office, deleting and writing, writing and deleting, and burning my eyeballs out all the while, at least I could say something was getting done somewhere else in the house.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

2 1/2 pounds pork loin roast (or shoulder if you want it fattier, meltier, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did), patted dry with paper towel
1 teaspoon-ish dried thyme
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup barbecue sauce (homemade would be lovely, but no pressure; see page 238, Dinner: A Love Story)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
bay leaf
2 dried guajillo chiles (if you don’t have, just add a few drops of hot sauce)

Heat oven to 325°F.

Rub pork all over with thyme, salt, and pepper. Place a large Dutch Oven or deep ovenproof pot on medium-high heat and add oil. Brown pork on all sides (about 5 minutes a side) and remove.

Turn heat to medium/medium-low and add onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Add barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, bay leaf, and chiles and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add pork. The liquid should come about 1/3 of the way up the pork. If it doesn’t whisk in a little water.

Place the pot in your oven and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Keep it in there for 3 to 4 hours, flipping every 30-45 minutes.* When you’re ready to eat, remove pork from pot. Discard bay leaf and chiles. Shred pork with a fork and place back into the pot. Toss with sauce, which should now be thick and glazey. (See above photo.)

Serve shredded pork on potato rolls with slaw or pickles.

*At one point, I left the house for an hour and a half, turned off the oven, came back, turned it on again. I’m telling you this not because I think you should do the same, but to make the point that when the heat is low and you have a nice block of time, it’s really hard to mess up.

**Weekday museum visits have been on the agenda for roughly four years, ever since I lost my 9-to-5 office job and made a vow that I would see more movies and more exhibits. The movie part of the pact is alive and well (Who wants to talk Godzilla???) but the other part…well, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.

Poor Iris.

In a dinner rut?? Behold your almost-published solution, available for pre-order.

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Grilled Steak Tacos: Just Plain Good

May 15th, 2014 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Quick

I have been looking for the right angle to write about these steak tacos for a few weeks now, which I’ve decided is just plain unfair. Why deny you guys a solid recipe just in the name of story-telling?  As I’m sure you know by now, my goal with this blog and my next book, is not just to chronicle what to eat for dinner, but to put that dinner into context — to give you the how of dinner, i.e. how we here in the DALS house organize, cook, and (most of the time) consume a meal together at the end of a long, chaotic day. (This is reason why you will see “Last Night’s Dinner” posts every so often, showing the exact timing of how and when everything happened, and why I talk about deconstructing dinners ad nauseum.) I hope this comes through, and, more important, I hope it helps. But anyway, sometimes, the day is neither long nor chaotic. Sometimes, I have before me a simple, regular old weeknight, i.e. a simple, regular old angle: These steak tacos with pickled onions and a cilantro-yogurt sauce were delicious and the kids loved it. So there you have it. I will let this recipe tell its own story. The End.

Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce
By this point in our relationship you probably know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: Too many ingredients? Too many steps? Just skip what looks dealbreaker-y to you. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking out the blender for the cilantro sauce, just skip the sauce altogether and top with chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream. Kids don’t like pickled onions? (You don’t like pickled onions?) Lose ‘em. Don’t have time to marinate? Use whatever time you’ve got. Just get something on the table.

Marinade
1 1/2-2 pounds flank or skirt steaks
1/3 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
squeeze of lime
salt and pepper

Pickled Onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced crosswise (optional if you want to avoid heat)

Cilantro Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup cilantro (stems and all)
juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste  

Everything Else
4-6 large whole wheat tortillas (or regular ones)
a few torn lettuce leaves (we like butter or Bibb)
queso fresco or avocado (optional)
lime wedges

Marinate steaks in olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper for about 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before you plan to grill.

While steaks marinate, do your quick-pickling and sauce making: Bring red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water to a boil, add onions and jalapeños and reduce to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes then drain, add to a bowl and set on table. In a blender or a small food processor, whirl together all cilantro sauce ingredients. Pour into a bowl and place on table.

Heat your grill (or stovetop grill — as you can see we were still indoors a few weeks ago when we made ours) to medium high and cook about 4 minutes a side. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing on the bias and placing on the table. (For little kids, please cut steak into teeny tiny pieces.) While meat is resting, add tortillas to the hot grill, flipping frequently until they bubble a little, about 1 minute each. (I like a little char on there.)

Set tortillas and remaining toppings on the table and have everyone assemble his or her own tacos. Squeeze with a little lime and serve with rice.

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A Vegetarian at the Table

May 5th, 2014 · 61 Comments · Vegetarian

Dear Jenny,
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Last winter, my 10-year-old, who is a voracious and wonderfully appreciative eater, started making noises about becoming a vegetarian. We engaged the conversation, of course, which then piqued the interest of my 8-year-old. They both decided that, because of their feelings about animals, they wanted to become vegetarians.  My husband and I totally supported this, but told her that we wouldn’t have the family go full vegetarian because a) our 4-year-old loves meat and b) we like meat.  But we agreed that all meals would have a vegetarian base and possibly some meat on the side, which they could choose to eat or not.  They both felt comfortable with this.
So, here’s my question. I have really tried to expand my beans and lentils repertoire but I feel like I’m running out of new and exciting ideas for vegetarian meals.  I feel slightly overwhelmed by tofu and frankly grossed out by tempeh. So, any good dishes that we could all eat would be a life saver.
Love,
Kate
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Dear Kate, (more…)

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He’s Sweet, She’s Savory

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

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

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Ode to an Italian Market

April 24th, 2014 · 13 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick

Oh market of ancestral pleasures,
A carnival of old-school treasures,
Your homemade fare, it lifts, amazes,
I think it’s time I sing your praises.

Behold those days my tired body’s
so grateful for your manicottis.
The workday hard, the lunchroom cruel,
No prob when we have your fa-jool* 

On nights I’m out and can’t cook dinner,
I always have a pinch-hit winner,
I’m late, not dressed, oh holy moly!
The sitter boils ravioli.

“From scratch” can be so overrated.
When those meatballs can be plated
From the freezer, quick and thrifty,
Just flip the oven to three-fifty.

So here’s to every gift Italian,
To ziti baked and veal medallion,
Sending thanks that’s good and loud,
Grandma Catrino would be proud.

Seven bucks for fifty fresh, authentic, restaurant-quality, cheese-filled ravioli. What rhymes with “bargain of the century?”

*Note actual spelling of Fa-jool on third shelf from bottom right in top picture. Photo taken via my instagram (dinneralovestory) at Mercurio’s Italian Market on Mamaroneck Avenue, Mamaroneck, NY.

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Relentless

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

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

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

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

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Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage Bolognese

April 10th, 2014 · 18 Comments · Pork and Beef

I’m a little obsessed with this dinner — even though I haven’t really eaten a legitimate bowl of it yet.

It started at the farmer’s market on Saturday — right now is slim pickins there in terms of greens and produce (see: Winter, Brutal) but I was still able to pick up a few old friends that I had been missing these past few months: Some good eggs (as you know) a mini blueberry and a mini lemon pie for Andy’s birthday (as of this tenth day of April, breakfast pie has officially eclipsed the birthday biscuit), and some sweet Italian pork sausages from Kings Roaming Angus Farm. Having a coil of these sausages in the freezer is Money in the Bank, as far as dinner is concerned. I usually don’t do anything with them except broil or grill as is, then serve with a shredded kale salad and a can of baked beans — a rich man’s franks and beans. But when I got home, I happened to place the shrink-wrapped pork next to a can of tomatoes, and just like that they spoke to me. “Sausage bolognese,” they said. “We dare you not to make it.” (more…)

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Eggs: A Love Story

April 7th, 2014 · 29 Comments · Dinner, Entertaining, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

There are four cartons of eggs in my refrigerator right now, which might sound strange considering my childrens’ well-chronicled antipathy towards all things orb-shaped and yolk-filled, but as far as I’m concerned, it might not be nearly enough. The first carton, our standard Trader Joe’s Large Brown Organic, is almost depleted so that hardly counts. The second is one I picked up at our farmer’s market this past Saturday (Hallelujah! It’s open!), and the last two dozen I bought at Stone Barns where we went for lunch a few hours later, because I couldn’t help it. Eating an egg from Stone Barns after a winter of Trader Joe’s eggs is like picking up Anna Karenina after a year of flipping through Archie comics. I needed to stock up. (more…)

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This Week in Salmon

March 27th, 2014 · 15 Comments · Quick, Seafood


I know this is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway. Ready for it?? Here we go: Weeknight Entertaining is the New Dinner Party.

You heard it here first, don’t forget that.

So, um, why? Why would any of us want to throw one more variable into the dinnertime scramble? One more variable who actually needs to be fed? Simple: Because the bar is so much lower. As much as I love to have people over on a weekend night, it’s a production. And that’s good. I like some theatrics on a Saturday night. That’s what Saturday night is about when you are over 40 and your idea of excitement includes a Baltimore Oriole sighting during your morning run. (Forreal!! Right at the bottom of my street!)

But the other night, our friend Kendra came over for dinner. It was Monday, kind of a last-minute plan, and since we had already decided on Salmon Salad for dinner — I’m telling you, the recipe is MVP in our house — that was going to be the meal. No special cocktail, no special meat and cheese starter, or homemade dessert. (At least no homemade dessert homemade by us; Kendra rocked our world with this little number.) Starters would be chips and salsa; the milk glasses would be set on the kitchen table (not the dining room table) by Phoebe; and Kendra would essentially be folded into family dinner. When expectations are low, you can only be a hero.

Anyway, igniting dinner party trends (just watch!) was not supposed to be point of today’s post. What I really wanted to remind you about was how amazingly easy salmon is for weeknight cooking, dinner guest or not. That Salmon Salad (page 62 of DALS) is so clutch. This time, I tweaked the technique a bit — I used yellow potatoes and tossed them in the dressing before tossing the rest of the salad, so they were like silky German-Potato-Salad potatoes. It’s the only way I’m going to make it from now on.

I’ve also been looking for an excuse to really sing the praises of this Salmon with Mustard-Brown-Sugar Glaze over at Martha. I’ve linked to this before, but I just need to say again how genius it is. With red wine vinegar and sugar in the glaze, it has the sweet-and-sour thing going, and it could not be easier to whip together. The first time I made the recipe, Abby declared it the best salmon she’d ever eaten, and seven or eight times later, she still stands by that claim.

Lastly, there’s this basic salmon teriyaki recipe that is a good compromise to have in your back-pocket when, say, the kids are begging to go to the local Japanese place for dinner instead of Not another boring chicken, pleeeease? With a side of sushi rice and some magic teriyaki onions, it tastes like the version they order in the restaurant, only it’s a heck of a lot cheaper.

Salmon Teriyaki

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 sake
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pound salmon filet

Preheat broiler. In a small saucepan, whisk together everything except the fish. Let it simmer about 10 minutes until reduced and slightly syrupy. Brush sauce on top a salmon and broil for 10-12 minutes (depending on thickness of salmon), brushing sauce on every four or five minutes to get a nice caramel-y color. Serve with sushi rice and teriyaki onions.

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