Entries Tagged as 'Dinner'

What’s Brewing in that Witches Pot?

October 27th, 2014 · 62 Comments · Dinner

So do you guys know about these things called slow-cookers? Get this: you throw a bunch of s#*t into a pot, press a button, and ten hours later, dinner is ready. It’s like magic!

I’m kidding of course. I think at least half of the nice people who read my blog have emailed me at some point in the past few years to ask  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT SLOW-COOKER DINNERS? WHY THE HECK DO YOU NOT OWN A SLOW COOKER?

Would you accept the answer: Because it’s too easy?

Last week, I finally bit the bullet and purchased one. When I turned to my all-knowing crockpot community on Facebook for advice (My request: “I don’t need the Cadillac of Slow-Cookers, a nice dependable Honda will do just fine”) I got a lot of suggestions, but ended up one-clicking The Original Crockpot. This one, you told me, is the one I want. It’s oval, so accommodates different cuts of meat; it’s durable, programmable, reasonably priced, and best of all, fits in a cabinet. I did consider the ones with browning capabilities, but eventually ruled them out for two reasons: 1) they tended to be more expensive and 2) I don’t see myself using a slow cooker for browning. I’m not after a hands-on technique-driven cooking experience here. (That’s what my Dutch Oven is for.)  All I want out of a slow-cooker is the permission to be artless and brain-dead about dinner when I know I’m headed for a hectic evening — or when the idea of cooking is about as appealing as an IRS audit.

I began my education in artlessness at 7:00 am, the morning after my crock pot landed on the doorstep. The goal? To not spend more than two minutes putting something together, and to use what I had in the fridge and pantry — no shopping allowed. It was a Thursday, so pickin’s were slim, but after scanning some of your recipe suggestions (thank you Facebook friends!) I decided to go with a version of this Santa Fe Chicken. I used onions instead of scallions, fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, a single dried guajillo pepper instead of cayenne, and, for good measure, threw in some chile powder, a pinch of cinnamon, and oregano. I didn’t measure a single thing and other than the onion, didn’t chop anything either. I pressed the 10-hour low function button and went about my day.

I wish I could say that was the last I thought about dinner until we sat down 10 hours later (to a delicious meal, btw). But it was quite the opposite actually: With dinner out of the way, and subsequently, with all my dinner-making psychic energy freed up, I found myself scrutinizing every meal I saw (on instagram, in magazines, on blogs and menus) wondering “Would this work in the slow cooker? Would that work in the slow-cooker?”

In other words I think I’m beginning to understand why you guys are so obsessed with this thing. I don’t know how often I’ll end up using it, but I’m certainly excited by the possibilities. And I’m particularly grateful that I caught on just as Halloween approaches — we usually make a big witch’s cauldron of something self-serve-y to keep on the stovetop, like Andy’s Second Place Chili or Rich Man’s Franks & Beans. Something quick and easy for the kids who want to be done with the business of real food so they can begin their pursuit of Supersize Milky Way Darks, and also something a weary grown-up chaperone might appreciate when they ring our doorbell. (That’s one of my most favorite things about Halloween — inviting parents in who I haven’t seen in a while.) I’m thinking this time I might go with one of these. As always, suggestions are welcome!

1) Chicken Tikka Masala Only problem here is that the recipe calls for cutting the chicken into pieces. But might be worth it because I know my eldest will flip over this recipe.

2) Korean Beef Tacos Or I might also just make Anna’s short ribs (which are so popular, they are also in Playbook.) Note: Anna posted Top 10 Slow Cooker Meals for Parents on her blog and I plan to work my way down that list as well. (Hello Indian Butter Chicken…)

3) Holiday Brisket So my sister makes this fantastic brisket every year for the High Holy Days that involves a can of Coke. The idea of pouring that into the pot is kinda great.

4) Barbecued Pull Pork Sandwiches My kids would freak.

5) Chicken Mole I’m going to avoid all the pre-pureeing and see what happens. I mean, how can it be bad.

6) Lentil Soup with Garlicky Vinaigrette From the always dependable Catherine Newman. Now if I could only figure out how to get my kids to like lentils. (Warning: It involves some sautéing in the prep work.)

7) Sweet-and-Sour Country Ribs This is one of the first up.

8) Thai Chicken Soup So up my alley.

9) Slow Cooker Cassoulet I’m not kidding, I remember Bittman writing this story (and this recipe) in 2003 — that’s how long I’ve put off this purchase. (The short rib pasta sauce looks pretty darn good, too.)

10) Lastly, not a full-on dinner recipe but…Chicken Stock! In the words of my friend Robin Z: “It’s not a sexy recipe, but let no organic chicken carcass go to waste! Immediately after roasting, put the bones, water, etc, in the pot & cook all night on low. Drain, refrigerate, skim fat, freeze or use as you go.” Love that idea. Thanks Robin! See you Saturday! :)

Because my daughter would never forgive me if I passed up a chance to use a Roz Chast cartoon.

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Anatomy of a Thursday Night Dinner

October 20th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Anatomy of a Weeknight Dinner, Dinner, Vegetarian

6:30 Walk in the door to an empty house. Andy is traveling. Girls have gotten rides to practice. Scan fridge. Some leftover bagged greens, a head of cauliflower, a vinaigrette I made on the weekend. The only meat we have is frozen. Not enough time to thaw. Scan the pantry. Jackpot: Two cans of chickpeas. Center-of-the-plate problem: Solved.

7:20 Pick up Daughter 1 at soccer.

7:40 Return home. Daughter 1 takes a shower. I chop cauliflower, add to a baking dish, and toss with olive oil, dash red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes at 425°F, along with some foil-wrapped Trader Joe’s Naan that’s been in the freezer for who knows how long. While this is happening, I drain and dump chickpeas into a hot frying pan with olive oil, some chopped onions, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika. (I always think of my friend Todd’s advice when making these: “Cook them longer than you think you should.”) I let them get nice and crispy while I toss the leftover greens with vinaigrette and make a quick yogurt sauce for the chickpeas.

8:15 Daughter 2 returns from soccer practice in her carpool.

8:20 Cleats off, hands washed. (I think?) Dinner.

8:22 Daughter 1: “Do I have to eat chickpeas?”

8:23 Peanut butter jar is procured and spread across pita. More chickpeas for the rest of us.

The End.

Fried Chickpea Sandwiches with Yogurt Sauce

Add a generous amount of oil to a cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Drain, rinse and dry two 14-ounce cans of garbanzo beans. When pan is hot but not smoking, add beans (in batches, if necessary, or two pans — you want a single layer of beans on the pan’s surface). Fry about 15 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes or so. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel-lined bowl. Once all chickpeas are fried and drained, add salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne, a 1/2 teaspoon of both garlic salt, and paprika.

While the chickpeas fried, whisk together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and/or mint. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast Naan and serve with yogurt sauce and chickpeas. Or peanut butter if that’s the way it has to be.

P.S. What are the girls eating after school, but before practice? A Sneal, naturally.

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The “Do You Know?” Scale

October 16th, 2014 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

I am embarrassingly late to the party on this one, but I finally got around to reading Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy FamiliesLet me amend that, I finally got around to reading the chapter in Secrets called “The Right Way to Have Family Dinner” that so many of you have told me about. There was a lot of good stuff in there — including a great story about how New Orleans chef John Besh and his wife abandoned the idea of a 6:00 family dinner in favor of family breakfast and a post-sports-activities family dessert — but what stuck with me the most, was the “Do You Know” Scale.

The scale refers to the twenty questions developed by psychologist Marshall Duke, his wife Sara, and a colleague Robyn Fivush to determine how well kids know their family history. Questions like “”Do you know where your grandfather grew up?” and “Do you know where your parents met?” According to their research, the more kids know about their family history, “the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

I know what you’re thinking: This is all great, but why is this in a chapter about Family Dinner? Apparently, the family histories we tell should be filled with moments of struggle and resilience, so sharing them at a dinner table while doing something reassuring, like eating, is a logical place to do it. Though the researchers emphasize that the important thing is that you share the stories, not where you share the stories. It’s all about the “child’s sense of being part of a larger family.”

I apologize if you all read this a year ago when the book came out, but I thought it might be helpful to see what the twenty questions were. Not so you can see if you pass or fail anything (I think my kids could maybe answer about half of them) but because they should trigger some pretty entertaining conversations at the table — or elsewhere.

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Today’s Lunch, Tomorrow’s Dinner

October 14th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

“Wait you just made that now?”

That’s what Abby said about this soup when she came in from the backyard, and it was exactly what I was thinking as I ladled the noodley broth into a bowl for her lunch. Wow, that was fast. This was yesterday — a holiday — and we had been on the road at various soccer tournaments throughout the DC area for three straight days. I don’t know how much time I logged in the car, but let’s just say I’m not going to be on the receiving end of a Friend of the Environment award any time soon, and the idea of getting in the Mazda even to go grocery shopping was more than I could handle.

Instead, I did what I do best: I procrastinated. If I could just scrape something together for lunch, I could maybe buy myself another few hours watching Glee re-runs before hitting Trader Joe’s.

The fridge was looking bleak — even the peanut butter jar was scraped clean — but I found an onion, a handful of dusty looking baby carrots, and about 30 ounces of a 32-ounce chicken broth container, which was about five minutes away from expiring. There was a single fat chicken breast. Maybe it was the ingredients speaking to me, or maybe it was something more primal (with chicken noodle soup moments, you can never be so sure), but I needed soup. That was as big and obvious to me as anything.

I’m not in the habit of whipping up homemade soup for lunch – or dinner for that matter — but now I’m wondering why that is. My friend Pilar used to give me soup recipes in pictures, drawing a cross-section of the stockpot to show me each layer of flavor: aromatics, seasoning, broth, fillings. And that’s really all the instruction I needed to turn a tumbleweedy, end-of-week fridge into something pretty damn comforting. Is it going to yield a flavor that is deep and multi-dimensional and Ivan-Ramen-worthy? Uh, no. But did it get the job done? Yes. And then some: There’s a batch of it in the freezer waiting for me for tomorrow’s dinner.

Noodle-Loaded Chicken Soup
I don’t love soups that are overly brothy, but if you do, no need to include as many noodles as I did. No set rules here.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot (or a handful of baby carrots) chopped
salt and pepper
1 32-ounce container chicken broth (about 4 cups)
1 large chicken breast, cut into thirds
angel hair, to taste (I used about a third of a 1-pound package), broken half with your hands

Add olive oil to a medium pot set over medium heat and add onions, celery, carrot, salt and pepper. Saute about 2 minutes until vegetables have slightly softened.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, and simmer for about 12 minutes. Remove chicken from soup and shred with two forks. (The less artful you are the better.) Bring soup back to a boil and add pasta. When angel hair is cooked through — about two minutes — add chicken back to the post. Season to taste and serve.

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“Chicken-Again?” Wraps

October 6th, 2014 · 12 Comments · Chicken and Turkey

Growing up, true to the cliche, you’d find my sister, my twin brother, and me whining “chicken again?” as soon as my mom walked in the door after work and unpacked her two pounds of shrink-wrapped breasts from the Grand Union bag. Dinner: A Love Story readers know all about Grandma Jody’s classic breaded cutlets, but my mother’s poultry repertoire ran deeper than that. There were her roasted game hens; her baked pieces dredged in flour and Parm then finished with lemon and a drizzle of cream; her “hot chicken sandwiches,” white meat slices laid on thick cut bread and smothered with gravy; her chicken pot pie…oh wait, maybe that was from Stouffer’s repertoire?

Anyway. Wouldn’t you think, based on the way I moaned and groaned about all this, that things in my house would be a little different?

Apparently not. Apparently, along with my mother’s inability to sit still and her affinity for minuscule portions, I also inherited whatever gene it is that sets “chicken” as the default mode for dinner. (Based on how many of you guys out there click on the Chicken category over there in the side rail, I know I’m not alone.) And as if that’s not enough, lately I’ve been into making extra, so we can build the girls’ school lunches on whatever’s left over — just one extra breast stretches into two basic wraps like the ones you see above. Phoebe likes hers with a smear of mustard, Abby prefers mayo. They both get a leaf or two from the CSA bag, tomatoes if we have them, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. I love a dinner that pays off in lunch dividends. No complaining here.

Archive Dig! A Few Chicken Dinners to mix things up (Clockwise from top left): Pretzel ChickenCurried Chicken with Apples on Pita; Indonesian Chicken Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce; Andy’s Homemade Shake n Bake Chicken (speaking of the 80s)

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Top 10 Fall Favorites

September 23rd, 2014 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Seafood, Vegetarian

All right, guys, the open-toed shoes are getting packed away, the leaves are going all gold on us, and soccer season is starting to actually feel like soccer season. In other words, fall is here, which means we can justify a dive back into the archive to find some of my heartier favorites.

1. Pomegranate-Braised Pork Loin with Cabbage (pictured)
Good for: Entertaining (as long as it’s not Rosh Hashana dinner) and weeknights if you are working from home and the smell of pork wafting through the air increases your productivity the way it increases mine.

2.  Dinner: Red-Wine Braised Short Ribs
Good for: 
Rosh Hashana dinner (pair with this killer kale-apple-walnut salad, plus Ronnie’s challah and pomegranate molasses-glazed carrots) or entertaining families.

3. Roast Salmon with Brussels Sprouts and Ginger-Scallion Sauce
Good for: Fast weeknight dinner when you just. can’t. handle. another. big. clean-up.

4. Dinner: Spaghetti Carbonara
Good for:  Nights when you are thisclose to ordering take-out — it’s a five-star recipe that will save you bucks and taste better than anything you’ll order in a restaurant.

5. Dinner: Bittman’s Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken with Soy & Lime
Good for: Weeknights when you are staring at your raw chicken breasts for the hundredth time this week thinking “If only there was something new to do to these that doesn’t involve a lot of brainpower.”

6. Dinner: Butternut Squash Soup
Good for: Weeknights. Serve with a big chunk of crusty bread and topped with chopped walnuts, sour cream, and chives. (By the way, I think it’s illegal to do a fall food round-up and not include some version of this soup.)

7. Dinner: Arroz con Pollo (page 52 Dinner: A Love Story)
Good for: Friday or Saturday night family dinner, when the clock isn’t ticking. Book owners: This recipe has no photograph and is somewhat lost among its other much-regaled neighbors (it’s right next to Black Bean Burritos and Salmon Salad), but please do yourself a favor and make it soon. It’s one of my all-time favorites — the kind of meal I eat and think “Why don’t I make this once a week” — and it kills me to think it’s not getting the love it deserves.

8. Dinner: Soba Noodles with Greens and Crispy Tofu (page 186, Dinner: The Playbook)
Good for: Nights when you want substance without the meat.

9. Dinner: Minestrone
Good for: 
Sunday Dinner — I take the extra and freeze in single-serve portions to thaw as I need for late-coming soccer players, or mix into pasta for Ribollita.

10. Dinner: Cider-Braised Pork Meatballs
Good for: Putting your farmer’s market apple cider to good use.

Dinner #4, Carbonara, in all it’s artery-clogging glory.

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Soy and Mirin Glazed Roast Chicken

September 18th, 2014 · 23 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Dinner: The Playbook

It took me a little while to find my go-to roast chicken, but once I did, there was no going back. Those of you who have happened upon the recipe (page 287, Dinner: A Love Story) know why: It’s low on ingredients, forgiving if you miss a few of those ingredients, and doesn’t require changing oven temps or flipping the bird over and back again. It’s about as straightforward as they come, which is probably — no definitely — the reason why I always go back to it. Every now and then, when I’m about to brush the melted butter on top, I’ll think to myself I should try something new here, before thinking, Nah. If it ain’t broke...

Then again, I just wrote an entire book on busting out of a dinner rut. A cornerstone of the book’s philosophy? If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway. I’ve always found that introducing new things  – new techniques, new ingredients – to my dinner routine as often as possible is the best way to keep things interesting. And when things stay interesting, I stay motivated. So I hunted around for some options and came up with just the slightest twist on my chicken, a salty, silky mirin glaze that stopped the conversation at the dinner table (always a good sign).  It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. (more…)

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Spicy Pork Tacos with Peach Salsa

September 3rd, 2014 · 20 Comments · Grilling, Pork and Beef

When you picture dinner in my house, do you imagine two starving little middle schoolers, banging utensils on the table with both hands, and rolling their eyes at their mother as she snaps photos and re-positions garnishes just so? Or me shouting “one more second” from the next room waiting for the sun to sink to just the right place, creating optimal lighting conditions? Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. That happens — but only selectively. To think that we are making something that needs to be photographed every single night is to assume two things: 1) That we are cooking something brand new every single night and 2) That what we are making is always fit for DALS. (Believe it or not, just because it was eaten in the DALS house doesn’t mean it’s a DALS-esque meal — the super-dry chicken burgers that went unfinished by even the grown-ups come to mind, as does the sushi take-out we ordered this past Saturday night.) The truth is, we have our weeknight family favorites — most of which are bundled up and memorialized in two books now — as well as our various permutations of those favorites, and in order for a meal to qualify as “blog-worthy” there has to be a little learning involved. If I’m writing a post where the recipe is the star, the answer to the question “Is there something new to write about here?” must always be “yes.”

So there I was on Labor Day, the night before school started, eating my grilled pork tacos with peach salsa (prepared by Andy) and not even thinking about taking a photo because hey, we’ve written up tons of tacos already…heck, we’ve even written up pork with peaches. But mid-way through my dinner I realized that something magical was going on with this taco, besides the fact that every diner at the table had stopped talking in order to focus and grunt a little — the cilantro-heavy, sweet-hot, more-peach-than-tomato salsa was a revelation. And when we drizzled some Mexican crema on top of the spice-rubbed pork, well…I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from eating long enough to take a photo, even if the sun had been in the right position. For the rest of the night I was following Andy around the house asking “Why didn’t you make me take a photo of that dinner? It would’ve been perfect for the blog…” (His response: “Wow, you really blew that one.”)

So I had no choice but to recreate it for lunch the next day. That’s how much I love you. And this dinner. Here you go:

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Pork Tacos with Peach Salsa
Makes about 6 tacos (2 for 2 grown-ups, one for each kid)… (more…)

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Chaos Theory

August 25th, 2014 · 13 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 · 33 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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