Entries Tagged as 'Chicken and Turkey'

So That’s Why They Call it Comfort Food

November 14th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Pork and Beef

 

Five days after Hurricane Sandy pillaged the Eastern Seaboard, I was on the phone with my Dad. Neither of us had our power or heat back yet, so we were both trying to wrap up the conversation quickly to conserve our cellphone batteries. The sun was going down and I was running down a mental list of which friend’s house we should invite ourselves to for dinner next. My father was doing the same, then added “All I want is a slice of meatloaf.”

When it comes to food, my dad has always been an enthusiast (see: dessert), but I can’t ever remember him talking about meatloaf with such reverence. I never have, either. I mean I’m never going to turn it down, but it’s not something I wake up craving either. Needless to say, as soon as we hung up, meatloaf was all I could think about. Specifically my mother-in-law’s meatloaf, the one that’s baked smeared with ketchup and two strips of bacon laid across the top. I mentioned this to the girls, who were underneath seventeen blankets in front of the fire. “Mmmm,” said Phoebe with a dreamy look in her eyes, “That sounds really good. Can we have it with mashed potatoes and butter?”

When we got our power back two nights later, we knew exactly what we’d eat to celebrate.

Classic Meatloaf
See: “A Recipe Starter Kit” Page 20, Dinner: A Love Story. (I went with all ground turkey.)

It would be wise to make enough to ensure for meatloaf sandwiches later in the week. Freeze whatever is leftover, but make sure you slice it before doing so. Then reheat in a baking dish covered with foil at 350°F for about 20 minutes. Or if you transfer the slices to the fridge on the morning of the night you’d like to eat them, Andy would like you to know that they’ll taste just fine cold, on good bread, slathered with ketchup and mayo.

Classic Mashed Potatoes

4 baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into thirds or quarters
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup cream, half & half, or milk
salt and pepper

In a large pot, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until a knife can slip through the biggest one with no resistance. It usually takes about 15 minutes. Drain and return pot to stove.

Add butter and about 1/2 cup of milk (or cream) and heat until warm and butter has melted. Heat remaining milk in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Add potatoes back to pot, and using a hand mixer, whip until smooth, adding more liquid until you reach desired consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve each dollop with another pat of butter so it creates the necessary little pool of melted fat on top.

To help support victims of Hurricane Sandy, please consider donating to the Mayor’s Fund of NYC. One hundred percent of your contribution will go towards immediate relief efforts and organizations.

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Chicken Parm Meatballs

October 10th, 2012 · 87 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Favorites

Unless I’m out to dinner, or unless there’s a birthday to celebrate, there’s not much room in my life right now for high-concept food. I love the idea of mashed potato ghosts for Halloween, and the artisanal Mallomars that came with the check at last weekend’s anniversary dinner was definitely good for a giggle. Even if it hadn’t been recorded in my dinner diary, the “ice cream cone” starter I had at the French Laundry in 1998 — a masterfully tiny homemade wafer cone filled with creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare “sprinkles” — will stay with me for a long time. But you guys know us by now. You know that, for the most part, our default mode is simple, un-fussy meals that are fresh, can be put together fast, and don’t require any winking when served. (Any one getting flashbacks here of Charles Grodin and his “honest” dinner in The Heartbreak Kid?) But every now and then, an idea presents itself that I’d be crazy not to try. Last week Phoebe reminded me that I had been promising meatballs on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. At the same time, in the same breath, Abby reminded me that I had been promising Chicken Parm (page 148 in my book) on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. In an attempt to remedy my staggeringly deprived children as well as cut off any sibling tussling at the pass, I decided to please them both with a single high-concept, low-maintenance meatball meal. “It’s like Chicken Parm married Meatballs and had a baby,” I told them, before wondering why on earth I would ever open up such a weird concept with an 8- and 10-year-old. Well, either way, King Solomon would’ve been proud.

Chicken Parm Meatballs

This makes 12 large-ish meatballs. My best self would’ve let the meatballs freeze at this point you see above (after initial 15-minute bake) then frozen them for future Tumultuous Tuesday use, on which day, my best self would’ve transferred the frozen meatballs to the fridge in the morning, then heated them up in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes (before proceeding with broiling) upon her return later that night. While she was at it, my best self would’ve also ordered all the Halloween costumes and thrown away the sad, dried-out mums in the backyard that have been there since last fall and that perennially remind her of her worst self.

1 1/4 pounds ground chicken
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup Pecorino (or Parm)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 egg, whisked
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-ounce can storebought pizza sauce (such as Don Pepino’s)
about 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (a dozen thin slices; to pile on the cheese would be to cancel out the fact that you were virtuous enough to replace fatty beef with lean chicken)

Preheat oven to 400°F, setting rack to upper third part of oven. In a large bowl, using your hands, gently mix together first 11 ingredients. Shape into lacrosse-ball size balls (that would be somewhere between golf and tennis) and place a few inches from each other on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix one spoonful of your pizza sauce with olive oil. Brush this mixture on top of each meatball. Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove meatballs from oven, spoon some sauce on top of each meatball, and cover each with a slice of cheese. Broil another 3 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden.  Heat remaining sauce in a small saucepan. Serve meatballs with a dollop of sauce and a raw Tuscan kale salad that has been shredded and tossed with shallots, Pecornio, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Meanwhile, how much do I love this review of Dinner: A Love Story from Food52? My favorite quote: “Rosenstrach’s book and blog are something very rare in the genre of family dinner: they inspire neither homicidal nor suicidal impulses.”

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Interesting

September 26th, 2012 · 16 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

Jenny’s mom is an extremely nice person. She was raised right, is how I think about it: quick with a smile, asks questions about you and compliments you on your mashed potatoes, stops and chats with virtual strangers at the stationery store in town, and most impressive of all, consistently chooses not to say anything if she has nothing nice to say at all. She was elected May Queen in college, for crying out loud — and that doesn’t happen if you’re unkind to people. Which is not to say she is not discerning or without opinions, and strong ones, of her own; it’s just that she’s monk-like in her discipline and is somehow able, when called for, to keep these opinions to herself. She’d rather know how you are than tell you how she’s feeling; seriously, the woman is incapable of complaint.

If you know her, though, and listen carefully, there are ways to determine where she really stands on things. There is a word she uses that seems innocuous, but is, in fact, devastating. It is a hammer wrapped in velvet. When you hear it, you know you’re a goner. Interesting. As in:

When opening the box containing her birthday present, a sweater-dress you sensed was a little risky, fashion-wise, but went ahead and bought for her anyway because, hey, it’s cashmere and how could someone not love a cashmere sweater-dress: “Oh, it’s a sweater. Thank you. What a lovely color.”

But do you like it?

“Well,” folding it neatly back into the box, “it’s…innnteresting.”

After watching you toss a handful of red pepper flakes into the pot that will soon hold the sauce for the pasta: ”What is that you’re adding there?”

Red pepper flakes. Just a few.

Innnteresting.”

After going to see Pulp Fiction, which you’d just seen and had been kind of blown away by and talked about to the point that she finally decided to go see it for herself: “I found the director’s style very…innnteresting.”

Her use of interesting had achieved the level of Family Lore long before I entered the picture. It was, apparently, a cherished Christmas morning ritual, the response to every new bathrobe or attempted slipper upgrade. Say it out loud at any family gathering, even today, and everyone cracks up: it has achieved that kind of shorthand power. Jenny had warned me about it before our first holiday we spent together, telling me to keep an eye on her mom as she unwrapped the latest set of pajamas her dad had picked out at Lord and Taylor, thinking that maybe, somehow, this would be the year when he would succeed, when his gift would not be deemed…innnnteresting.

The first time I encountered it for myself, though, was in 1994, in the kitchen of the brick row house I shared with three roommates in Brooklyn. I was a 22 year-old editorial assistant who wore pleated pants and spent a shameful amount of time watching the Yankees and drinking Heineken. Thinking maybe it was time to act like a grown-up, I invited Jenny and her parents to dine one Saturday night in my grime-encrusted living room as a thank you, I suppose, for being nice to me. Looking back on it now, this must have been the first time I’d ever entertained. I mopped and Dust-Bustered and lit candles, but when it came to planning a meal, my cupboard was pretty bare. I knew what my own mom did in these situations, and I had a shaky grasp on three or four meals, so I decided to approximate a dinner she might have put together at home: I’d start with cheese and some fancy water crackers, maybe a bunch of green grapes. For the main course, I decided to do a chicken barley soup, a salad dressed by Paul Newman, and a loaf of bread from the local Italian bakery. For dessert: rice pudding (with raisins) from The New York Times Cookbook.

We were sitting on the cratered couch, eating the cheese and crackers, when Jenny’s mom asked me what was on the menu.

“Chicken barley soup,” I said.

“Soup for dinner,” she said. “Innnteresting.”

Oooooof, that hurt. And, okay, so she was right. Soup at a dinner party is maybe not the best call, but I was 22 and it was either that or chili, so I went with what seemed the more sophisticated option. Plus, in my defense: the presence of barley raises this, Chunky-style, from a soup to a meal — or, at least that’s what I told myself. I ended up marrying Jenny, of course, so it couldn’t have been that bad. – Andy

Please see Dinner: The Playbook for Andy’s Chicken and Barley Soup recipe.

 

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Tumultuous Tuesdays

September 12th, 2012 · 21 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

If you opened my refrigerator on a Tuesday afternoon, there’s a good chance you’d find my green Dansk pot sitting on the bottom shelf filled with dinner. I try to limit any scheduled work events that day because the way after-school activities have shaken down for the past year, is that from 2:45 until almost 7:30, the house is pulled in 40 different directions. So much so that we’ve taken to calling it “Tumultuous Tuesdays.” I’ve come to believe that complicated family activity logistics are the very definition of First World Pain (and sort of resemble dreams – they’re boring to everyone except the people directly involved in them) so I won’t say more than this: Boy do I appreciate a meal ready-to-go when we all walk in the door. I’ve called the dinner table many things in my career as a blogger (“magic guilt eraser”, “7:00 magnetic north,” “a god@#m% freaking warzone”) but on these kinds of nights there’s one word that’s top of brain: recalibration. It goes against reason (and sanity) that on the busiest days, during the busiest times of the year, I crave a sit-down session with the family the most.

That’s why the pot is in the fridge. At some point during the day, I try to carve out a half hour from my 8:00 to 2:30 workday to get dinner ready. It can be a pot of turkey chili. Or a quick bolognese. Or this chicken stew.  Anything that looks good in my green Dansk which fits neatly on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. (Skillet meals need not apply.) If I were more organized, or someone without the flexibility to cook dinner during lunchtime, I might put it together on the weekend and freeze in a flat bag. (And, yes, Slow-Cooker Evangelists, I think you know what to get me for my birthday.) But there’s something extremely satisfying about walking in the door, opening the fridge, transferring the pot to the burner and serving up dinner 10 minutes later. Almost as though I’ve convinced myself that no way, dude, my children are not over-scheduled. I have it all under control. Recalibration? Self-Delusion? All I know is that next Tuesday feels like a lifetime away.

Chicken Stew and Biscuits
This recipe is based on my normal chicken pot pie filling, but for this version, I prefer it stewier so there’s plenty of juice to sop up with the biscuits. When you don’t have leftover cooked chicken on hand, poach 2 chicken breasts in simmering salted water for 15 minutes, while the vegetables are simmering the other pot.

storebought buttermilk biscuits (we like Trader Joe’s frozen)
1 to 1 1 /2 cups chicken broth (cookbook owners, I had some homemade stock, page 289 in the freezer which elevated this to pretty insane levels of deliciousness.)
2 red or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
handful chopped carrots
1/2 medium onion, chopped
leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup milk whisked with 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cooked chicken (shredded or cubed; storebought rotisserie is ideal)
handful of asparagus or peas or green beans or all three
Parmesan to taste (I add about 1/4 cup; sharp cheddar or Jack would be good, too)

If you are baking biscuits, preheat oven and follow package instructions. Bring broth to a boil in a medium-size pot like the one shown above. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions, thyme, and bay leaf, and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Drizzle the milk-flour mixture slowly into the vegetables and simmer, stirring until it is slightly thickened. (Or to taste. Remember: you want some sopping liquid for the biscuits.) Remove the pan from heat, stir in chicken and asparagus and cheese. (If making this ahead of time, allow to cool, cover, and place in fridge*. When ready to serve, reheat uncovered over low heat.) Place a biscuit on each plate and top with stew as shown.

*Note: I’m sure there’s some rule for how long you’re allowed to keep a pot in the refrigerator before its contents start to take on a metallic taste. I’ve never done it for more than a 6 to 8 hour stretch, though, and it’s worked out just fine.

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School Year’s Resolution 1: More Freezer Dinners

September 5th, 2012 · 38 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

You should see The List right now. In addition to the usual suspects (book doctor appointments, contact accountant, hire business partner!!!, “garage sale!!!!!”) there are all those tasks that have the distinct whiff of self-betterment, the kinds of things usually reserved for New Years. Does this happen to you? Do you get the Clean Slate feeling every September? Do you find yourself making silent resolutions to yourself in the Starbucks line like “Make More Freezable Dinners” or “Eliminate All White Foods” or “Call More, Text Less” or “Stop giving so much money to Starbucks.” Well, apparently a good number of you do, because upon my return from vacation, my DALS inbox was filled with requests for posts like these: (I’m paraphrasing)

How do I shop more efficiently?
How do I squeeze in exercise when I have kids, a job, and the need to sit down at some point during the course of my 18-hour day?
How do I cook with sustainable fish without mortgaging my life?
How do I serve more vegetable-based dinners without alienating the meat-eaters at my table?
How can I help you sell as many Dinner: A Love Story books as possible?

OK, so maybe that last request I might have made up. But the other issues are very very real so in the next week or so I’ll be addressing them and any other back-to-school resolutions you may want to discuss here on DALS. Well, except for resolutions about fondant. I will not be able to provide any assistance with fondant.

You can either email me those requests directly or comment below. In the meantime, here’s one answer to my Make-More-Freezer-Dinners Resolution. I made a big old pot of this pulled BBQ chicken for Andy’s birthday dinner party last spring (alongside some pulled pork, quick-pickled onions and jalapenos, and lots of slaws). In addition to being an excellent Make-Ahead Menu, I happened to notice that the pulled chicken froze exceptionally well. So my resolution this week is to make a pot of it on Saturday, freeze in small, thawable stashes (flat ziplocs!), and then be prepared for any dinner situation this school year decides to throw my way — late trains, babysitter cancellations, ridiculous amounts of extracurriculars and all! Warning: Freezer Dinner Ambition Subject to Waning.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

1 cup barbecue sauce (bonus points for homemade, which takes 15-20 minutes, page 238 Dinner: A Love Story)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (not adobo sauce, just a single saucy pepper)
6 to 8 boneless chicken breasts (2 pounds-ish), halved if they are large, salted and peppered
Potato Rolls (slider or sandwich)
pickled onions and jalapenos (optional)

In a large heavy pot, mix together barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and chipotle. Add chicken and enough water to cover (about 2 cups), whisking water with barbecue mixture until it’s blended. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred with two forks. Bring the sauce to a boil until it thickens and reduces, another 10 minutes. Once it reaches desired consistency (should not be as liquidy as show in photo above — I was losing my light! I had to act fast!) stir in chicken. (If you want to freeze for a later use, allow to cool at this point, then spoon into zip-top bags and flatten slightly so they are easier to thaw.) Otherwise, serve chicken on potato rolls (sliders are always fun) with pickled vegetables (or jarred pickles), your favorite slaw, or shredded sharp cheddar.

For the super-ambitious, here’s how to quick-pickle some onions with jalapenos: Bring 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, and a heavy pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add red onion slices and cross-sectioned jalapenos and simmer, uncovered about 3 minutes. Drain and cool to room temp. Serve on top of pulled chicken sandwiches. I don’t want to overstate things, but…Killer.

And Just for the Heck of it…A Basic Cole Slaw

In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup cider vinegar, dash of Sriracha, 3 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise, ½ teaspoon celery seed, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Shred half a head of green or red cabbage (5 cups) as thinly as possible. (With a mandoline or the shredding disk of a food processor.) Add to the dressing and toss to combine. Toss in a little chopped cilantro. Serve right away.

PS: If I knew anything about slow-cookers, I might suggest adapting the chicken for that use, too.

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That Chicken You’re All Asking About

August 13th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

A lot of you have been asking about Mark Bittman’s cornmeal-crusted chicken with soy-lime sauce that I mentioned in the “You Make it, You Own it” section of my book. That chapter, as most of you know, was all about the practically signed-in-blood rule of law in our kitchen, wherein if one person in the couple cooks something new and it’s a keeper, then that person own’s it — i.e. it’s his or her job to prepare this recipe from then on out, ad infinitum. Well a funny thing happened. So many of you wrote to me requesting the page number for the recipe in How to Cook Everything that I was forced to look it up for the first time (remember: it’s an “Andy-owned” dish) and was subsequently reminded of how freaking good it was. Why did this recipe follow the similar trajectory of Alanis Morrisette and Snackwells, and fall out of favor in our house by the end of the 90s? Why had it been so long? It’s so easy and calls for soy sauce which is almost better than saying “it’s covered with a chocolate shell” in my house. Of course this meant I needed to breach our contract and make it immediately. So I guess this now means we share ownership? Uncharted territory here, so not sure how to proceed.

Chicken with Soy-Lime Sauce
For those of you who have How to Cook Everything, it’s on page 391 (I have the first edition, with the yellow cover; For those of you who have other editions it’s called “Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Lime Sauce” and I’m sure you could look it up in the index.) For those of you who do not have HtCE, first why don’t you? And second, here is a slightly adapted version of Bittman’s so you can try it out for yourself.

oil (olive or vegetable)
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 pounds chicken (breasts or thighs) pounded thin, salted and peppered
1 garlic clove, minced
3 to 4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
juice of one lime
cilantro, chopped for garnish

Add oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Pour cornmeal onto a dinner plate and dredge chicken pieces so they are completely covered, then drop into hot skillet. Try not to crowd the pan. (I always do, but this is because of a deep behavioral flaw. Please don’t follow suit.) Rotate and flip for a total of about 8 minutes until chicken is firm to the touch but not rock hard. As you cook your chicken, remove to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Add a little more oil with each new batch.

When all your pieces have been cooked, add a little more oil, then cook garlic and scallions, about one minute. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, and lime juice, turn heat up and cook until it reduces slightly, about 30 seconds. Drizzle pan sauce over platter of chicken. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

I served with snow peas that had been quickly sauteed in olive oil, then sprinkled with salt, pepper, lemon, and feta.

Note: How to Cook Everything is one of the dozen or so cookbooks I consistently rely on to get dinner on the table. Please see pages 45-59 of my book (the chapter called “Starter Cookbooks”) for the others.

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Summer Stew

July 18th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

I should probably be stripped of my food blogging rights for telling you to do anything with summer corn besides eat it on the cob with a little salt and butter, but you know I can’t resist the urge to share the discovery of a new deconstructible dinner. Last week was not the first time we’ve eaten this corn, chicken and sausage stew — not by a longshot, we ate a version of it almost every August weekend one summer in the 90s. But since then, we’ve had to think a bit more strategically about dinner, which, of course, is another way of saying, we’ve become parents. I was happy to discover last week, that the family classic joins the ranks of the tortilla soup, the salmon salad, and the other dinners on page 158-163 of my book that can be broken down into their individual components so that they can be more palatable to the kids, and less headache-inducing for the cook. It’s a goodie.

Summer Stew with Chicken, Corn, and Sausage
Adapted from Gourmet

3 links chorizo sausage (I used chicken), sliced into coins
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 or 7 boneless chicken thighs, salted and peppered
1/2 medium onion, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)
2 to 3 cups corn, cut off the cob
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
basil, chopped

In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown sausage in olive oil over medium heat until crispy. Remove.  Raise heat to medium-high and brown chicken (in batches if necessary) on both sides until mostly cooked through. Remove. Turn down heat to medium-low, add onion, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, and a little more oil if necessary. Stir until slightly wilted. Add corn and tomatoes and stir until vegetables release their juices.

Nestle chicken and sausage back in the vegetables, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Serve with basil and crusty bread in bowls, or separate into individual components for the kid who doesn’t like things “mixed” and serve on a plate.

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Eating Chicken, Solving Problems

July 12th, 2012 · 24 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Grilling, Kitchenlightenment

After a rambling conversation this morning on the way to camp that began with how digital media is taking over print, and how — according to Abby — maybe this means that trees are being saved, but how — according to Phoebe — discarded electronics account for a massive percentage of the waste in landfills, and then, naturally, to Wall-E, there was a pause. I knew the wheels were turning.

Then, from Abby, heavy with the weight of realization: “There’s so much in this world that needs to be fixed.”

You don’t have to be an 8-year-old to be overwhelmed by all that needs fixing or to be weighed down by the guilt of not doing enough to help with the fixing. And I think that’s why I was so happy with the interview I did on Wired’s Superbug with Maryn McKenna. Not the part where I’m talking, which is the same old stuff you hear me mouth off about all the time, but the introduction where McKenna unloads this theory:

I have a small private belief — for which, despite being a science writer, I can produce no data — that much of the complex difficulty of the American food system would vanish if people knew how to cook…If people trusted they could feed themselves, without much effort or advance planning, they wouldn’t be so vulnerable to the lure of fast and processed food. And if sales of those diminished, the market for the cheap products of industrial agriculture would diminish too. This I believe.

To this theory I will add my own small private beliefs: If you know how to cook, or even if you just decide to sit down to dinner regularly, you might just wind up fixing these things, too:

The Budget Problem Cooking for yourself is a lot cheaper than ordering in or going out. Especially once you get into the rhythm of doing it regularly and building from leftovers, instead of starting from scratch every single night.

The Working Late Problem If you know you have to get home to cook (or even if you know you just have to be home to eat), you will work more efficiently to get out of the office at a decent hour. I also believe that you will be twice as efficient if, before you left the house in the morning, you had the good sense to get the momentum going on dinner by marinating a pork loin in rice wine vinegar, ginger, and soy sauce. (See: How to Plan Family Dinner which includes a weekly meal plan to help with this.)

The Obesity Problem It’s not breaking news that a third of children in this country are clinically obese and that this number is expected to rise. To cook your own food is to know what’s going into your own food, and to have control over your food instead of the other way around. Not to mention dinner provides an organic opportunity to actually talk about what’s on your plate, which ingredients were combined to make what’s on your plate, and where those ingredients came from. This will hopefully lead to healthy eating outside our sheltered little world when the girls are charged with making their own choices.

The Connection Problem I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can spend all day with my kids and yet not have one meaningful interaction with them until I sit down at the dinner table. (On the other hand, I can spend half a day ignoring them as I experiment with an Asian barbecue sauce, only to watch them scarf down the sweet-and-sour chicken at the table in two minutes before asking Can we go back to playing lacrosse now?)

The Parental Guilt Problem I used to call family dinner “My Magic Guilt Eraser” because being able to make a meal for them every night went a long way towards making me feel better about being away from them all day. But more recently I’ve also discovered that dinner also has the power to erase the guilt that naturally builds due to any of the following reasons: Forgot Crazy Hat Day; Missed the baseball game when (of course) your kid scored winning run; Kept promising kids to see PiratesBand of Misfits in the theater yet never quite got around to it; Can’t quite get your 8-year-old to love Holes as much as you do, so stopped reading it halfway through, and now can’t bring oneself to either continue book or start on new one, resulting in no bedtime reading for waaaay too long a stretch of time.

Seriously, can you name any other scenario where an Asian-Style Barbecue Chicken is working that hard for you…solving all these problems for your family and (bonus!) the world? I’m telling you, it’s not an accident that the subtitle of my book is what it is: It all begins at the family table. This I believe.

Asian-Style Barbecue Chicken
Adapted from about five different recipes. I just threw a bunch of sh*t in there and, lo and behold, it worked.

6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, halved
1/2 medium onion, in large chunks
2 tablespoons rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 dried chile pepper
hot pepper paste or a squeeze of Sriracha (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
4-5 lime wedges

In a small saucepan, whisk all ingredients, except for chicken and lime, over low heat and heat until everything has dissolved, about 10 minutes. Remove from stovetop and let cool. (You can keep the onions and garlic in there.) Once it’s cool, pour into a small bowl. (Any extra keeps for up to a week in the refrigerator.)

Prepare grill. Drizzle chicken pieces with a little oil (canola is fine) salt, and pepper. When the grill is hot, grill the chicken (no sauce yet) for a total of 8 to 10 minutes, turning all the while. Brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce and cook another 3 minutes, basting with the sauce the entire time, and turning pieces frequently so they don’t burn. Serve with lime wedges.

We served this with basic sushi rice and a shredded kale salad that had been tossed with tarragon vinegar, olive oil, avocado, and scallions.

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Not My Thing

June 18th, 2012 · 16 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup

When the Lego sets arrived by mail — gifts from the grandparents — the girls ripped open their boxes right on the doorstep and immediately ran inside to start examining the plastic packages that held the magical little blocks that would eventually turn into Harry Potter’s bus (Phoebe’s) and a summery little log cabin (Abby’s). It was a rainy weekday — a rainy weekday in June at that — and with homework and cello and piano and ballet winding down, they found themselves in the long-forgotten position of having a long stretch of hours seemingly made for perfecting their pitched roof technique. And I found myself in the long-forgotton position of wanting to maybe get down on the floor with them like the old days and help out.

“Whaddaya say, guys? How about we work on these together?”

Two little blank faces looked at me, then at each other, then back at me.

“No offense, Mom,” said my little one, “but Legos aren’t really your thing.”

(Truth: “No offense” is always followed by something offensive.)

But she so nailed me. Legos are like some kind of nightmare for me — not the free-form ones I grew up with, but the sets that come with weird diagrams, zillions of teeny tiny pieces, and (here’s the real death knell) the expectation of a precise outcome. Any project that relies on proper technique or requires reserves of patience is, in general, “not my thing.” I can’t tell you how many times this phrase has come up during my various baking misadventures.

“Guess I shouldn’t've cut corners with butter there,” I’ll say as I slice into a sawdusty cornbread.

“Hmmm,” says my patient husband, washing down a bite with some aggressive swigs of coffee. “Maybe baking’s not really your thing.”

Neither is something like homemade mayonnaise, which, with its drip-by-drip oil-whisking technique, requires the patience of a kindergarten teacher, and which I need to be in the perfect mindset to execute correctly. You’d think being on vacation in Paris, preparing a market-fresh sole in a picture-perfect St. Germaine apartment, might be conducive to that mindset, but there’s a reason why you don’t see it anywhere in those vacation photos. My thought process: It stands to reason that if eventually all the oil is going to be whisked into the egg, why not just dump it in all at once? Again, this kind of kitchen task: Not my thing.

Nor was that backyard soccer goal. In spite of (because of) objections from the girls (“Mom, just wait until Dad gets home!”) I put the thing together in a fit of steely resolve…only to find myself sweaty and finished (yes!), but with about 25 nuts and bolts and washers orphaned on the patio. But the goal’s ensuing wobbliness wasn’t anything a little duct tape couldn’t address.

Then there’s that Perfect Pan-Roasted Chicken Thigh recipe from Bon Appetit that we make all the time. What sold me on it initially was that a) it required three ingredients: chicken, salt, oil and b) the head note said if you followed the simple but incredibly specific (uh oh) technique it miraculously ended up tasting like bacon. Well, you know where this one ends up. Here’s the thing: I almost always need the oven to be making something else — in this case, some oven fries — and so even though Bon App was very clear about the 475°F thing I thought, Well let’s bring that heat down a little to make sure the fries don’t burn at the same time. And maybe we can just keep them in a little longer than the exact 13 minutes it spells out in the recipe. You know, let’s just duct tape this sucker a little.

So the results? Perfect Good-Enough Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs. But, in my book, still kind of a perfect family dinner.

Fries and Thighs
When you break the rules on this one, it comes together so fast. We are big Oven Fries people in our house (see page 210-212 of cookbook), but the addition of oregano and Parm was inspired by Lucinda Scala Quinn’s awesome Mad Hungry

Preheat oven to 450°F.

3 baking potatoes, cut into wedges (I get 12 wedges per potato)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parm (or to taste)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1⁄4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons water (For whatever reason, I find the steam this water generates in the oven makes fries crisp and fluffy.)

In a medium bowl, toss together all the ingredients.  Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it with cooking spray (crucial—fries will be hard to remove otherwise). Line up your fries in rows and bake for 25 minutes, or until they are crispy and golden. If they are burning, toss them around a bit with a spatula, and cover with foil.

Follow Bon App‘s instructions for Perfect Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs, placing them in the oven with the fries and keeping oven temp at 450°F (even though the chicken recipe says 475°F). While you wait for everything to finish, assemble your salad. The one above is Bibb lettuce, leftover haricot verts, scallions, tomatoes, and a creamy dressing. Why does it just feel wrong not to have a Bibb lettuce salad without a creamy dressing? I usually just dollop a tablespoon of mayo into my all-purpose vinaigrette.

FYI: To My Boston Bretheren — I’ll be reading at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard St, Brookline, MA) tonight. Come say hi if you are in the neighborhood. Click here for upcoming events.

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15 Sorta Kinda Truths About Dinner

May 16th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey

Those of you who have your Ph.D in D.A.L.S. are already aware of the groundbreaking scientific work we’ve done proving various theories about dinner — the preparing of it, the consumption of it, the enjoyment of it. For instance, this well-worn favorite: When you take three measly minutes in the morning to do something that helps you get the momentum going on dinner prep — chopping vegetables, marinating meat, placing a pot of water on the stovetop  – you will end up saving up to 15 minutes on the other end of the day when you arrive home from work. I can’t pretend to know why this is the case — as backing up our dinner theories with real data tends to take more time than we actually have. Time we would rather spend coming up with more impossible-to-prove wrong theories. Such as:

  1. Shredding bagged lettuce makes it taste fresher and better. It doesn’t matter what kind of lettuce — romaine, iceberg, endive — Last night I made some chili-rubbed chicken and placed it on a bed of shredded spinach (pictured above; recipe below), which I usually find chewy in its whole raw form. Not the case with the shred. Along the same lines, the fine chop of anything as it pertains to a saladex summerus will almost always upgrade it.
  2. When it comes to entertaining: Each kid under eight years old is the equivalent of five grown-ups in terms of volume and space and mess generating.
  3. Heat is the great equalizer when it comes to bagels. I’ll take a just-out-of-the-oven bagel from Missoula over a cold outer-borough bagel any day. (Please do not forward this to my Bronx-born Jewish father.)
  4. Dinner will taste twice as good when it’s eaten outside. It will taste three times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights. Four times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights and with a view of any body of water.
  5. Magic Formulas Worth Committing to Memory: Melon + Salt; Mint + Peas; Peanut Butter + Fudge Brownies; Bacon + Brussels Sprouts; Bacon + Eggs; Bacon + Maple; Bacon + Bacon; Bacon + Shoe Leather
  6. The quality of dinner at a restaurant is in converse proportion to the number of words on that restaurant’s menu. For instance, Tom Colicchio’s menu at Craft. This is how it reads: Mushrooms. Potatoes. Braised Short Ribs. A menu like that is always going to win out over the one listing Pork chops marinated in brandy and pomegranate juice with sweet potatoes and miso-mango chutney on a bed of shaved salsify and butter lettuces. (Another red flag: the pluralization of lettuce.)
  7. Kids are able to tap into deep wells of resourcefulness with remarkable efficiency when it comes to assembling the ice cream, the peanuts, and the chocolate sauce for sundaes.
  8. You won’t find a single parenting expert who endorses using bribery to convince a kid to eat.
  9. You won’t find a single parenting expert, who is a parent, who hasn’t used bribery to convince her kid to eat.
  10. Food eaten on sticks has a 40% higher rate of consumption with kids. Food served in conjunction with dips: 20%.
  11. Pop Tarts, Apple Jacks, Toast-R-Cakes, and other usually verboten breakfast foods possess nutritional merits when consumed on vacation.
  12. Everything tastes better on vacation. It just does.
  13. Anything braised tastes better the next day cold, eaten right out of its leftover dish with a fork, while standing in front of the refrigerator.
  14. Be wary of people who say they enjoy radishes dipped in salt.
  15. It’s practically the law that the phone call from the client  – the one you’ve been dying to check off your list all day — always comes five minutes before you are leaving the office to make it home in time for dinner. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to control this phenomenon or — worse — allow it to control you.

 

Chili-rubbbed Chicken with Shredded Spinach (Rule 1) and Dip (Rule 10)
I generally go with about one medium size chicken breast per diner. You don’t need a lot of chicken if there is enough salad to stretch it. Best part about this meal: totally deconstructible for the kid who doesn’t want anything touching.

For rub: In a small bowl, mix together the following:
1 tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne (1/8 tsp)
pinch garlic salt (1/8 tsp)
2 generous pinches salt (1/2 tsp total)
shake or two of dried oregano

For dressing: In a measuring cup, mix together the following:
juice from 1 lime
3 heaping tablespoons sour cream
3 heaping tablespoons salsa
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar (to taste)

Pound 3 to 4 chicken breasts until about 1/4 inch thick. (As always, the most important thing is that the breasts are of even thickness.) Sprinkle a teaspoon of spice rub on top of each breast and, using your fingers, spread and press into the meat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet set over medium heat. Add chicken, spice-side down and cook 3-5 minutes until chicken looks cooked around the edges. While chicken is cooking, sprinkle and rub spice mixture into the other side of chicken. (Do not outsource this step to your children; there will be spitting oil.) Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes until cooked through. Slice as shown above — or actually however you want.

In a bowl, toss together a few handfuls of baby spinach (shredded with a chef’s knife into confetti), thawed frozen corn, 1/2 can black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 avocado (chopped), grape tomatoes (chopped), 1 bunch scallions (chopped), 1/4 cup cilantro (chopped). Top with chicken and drizzle with dressing.

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Anatomy of a Friday Night Dinner

March 26th, 2012 · 16 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Uncategorized


Friday Night Spicy Chicken Sausages with Baked Beans and Kale Salad

1. Procure 6-8 good quality Italian-spiced chicken sausages.

2. Fry in a skillet for 10-12 minutes until brown and cooked through.

3. Pour wine.

4. While sausages are frying, chop up some kale into shreds. Toss with olive oil, tablespoon or two of chopped shallots, handful grated Pecorino, squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper.

5. Heat up some canned baked beans, preferably Bush’s original.

6. Serve everything with a dollop of whole grain mustard.


*PS: Iris is our dog. She’s not Hasidic. That was iphone’s autocorrect for “has gone.” Obviously.

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Life with a Food Mom

March 19th, 2012 · 33 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

 

Do you know how annoying it is every night to have to wait another five hours for Mom to finish taking pictures of her food? If you are wondering why she has to take pictures of food, well, you’re looking at it. Take for instance a black bean burrito! Shrimp rolls! And this chicken with artichokes that you are looking at right now. I think that all of you — well most of you — are sitting at the table and having your parents sit right down and eating a delicious dinner. It’s different in my house. I have to wait, as I told you, for fiiiive hours for ONE picture to be tooken of SHRIMP SALAD!!! That seems psychotic to me. I’m an innocent child! All I want to do is sit down at the table and enjoy my dinner. Imagine if you were me, sitting at the table with a warm ficelle right in front of you without EATING IT! It’s TORTURE! All of you out there are LUCKY. You sit at the table with your family, pick up your fork, and eat. My life would change if my mom wasn’t a blogger! I do have one positive reason why being a food blogger’s daughter is fun. It is fun because every night we get to have a different dinner that some families might never have. We have interesting dinners and basically I have not had one dinner that was made by Mom or Dad that was not fantabulous. Except the egg dinners that are all mushy and slimy and D-I-S-G-U-S-T-I-N-G in my opinion. – ABBY, 8   :evil: :roll: :mrgreen:

 

Chicken with Artichokes in Creamy Mustard Sauce

1 1/3 pounds chicken thighs, salted and peppered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes, or to taste
8 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) thawed frozen artichokes canned artichokes (drained) or to taste
zest from 1 lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 – 1/3 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
chopped parsley or thyme

In a large skillet, brown chicken pieces in olive oil over medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, about 2-3 minutes a side. (They do not have to cook through.) Remove, decrease heat to medium, and add onion. Cook a minute or two, scraping brown bits leftover from chicken. Add tomatoes, artichokes, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Nestle chicken thighs in the vegetables then add wine and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook another 8 to 10 minutes.

While it’s simmering, whisk together cream and mustard. Remove skillet from heat and stir in creamy mustard mixture.

Garnish with parsley or thyme. Serve with rice. Or ficelle — the par-baked loaf from Trader Joe’s. The kids will sit through any food photography nonsense if they have one of these waiting for them at the other end.

 

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Quick-ish Coq au Vin

March 12th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

There are times that call for Julia Child’s Coq au Vin: Holidays. Birthdays. Someone special coming over. (I always knew my mom liked her dinner guests when I saw Mastering the Art of French Cooking splayed on our mustard-colored formica counter.) And there are times that call for the abbreviated version. Like two weeks after coming home from the hospital with our firstborn. Thanks to casserole-bearing well-wishers, we hadn’t cooked for ourselves for what seemed like years, but it was a cold Sunday night and we had some red wine begging to be put to use, and so we did what we’d do about eight thousand times in the next ten years: We took some shortcuts. We used chicken thighs instead of hacking up a whole chicken. We skipped the igniting of the cognac (and the cognac itself); Instead of making separate recipes for brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms, we just threw both into the pot with the chicken. The recipe we came up with and still make ten years later — unless someone special is coming over, in which case we stick with Julia’s — isn’t quite fast enough for a weeknight meal. But it’s just right for an easy Sunday family dinner. Especially the kind of Sunday family dinner when you forgot that soccer practice ends at 6:00 so you won’t be able to start browning or simmering anything until 6:30. The kind of Sunday dinner where you have to go back and forth from the stovetop to your eight-year-old’s bedroom in 10-minute stints because all day you promised you’d play school with her but never got around to it. In other words, the normal kinds of Sunday dinner. (more…)

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A Stress-free, Gluten-free Menu

February 27th, 2012 · 34 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup

Remember when a dietary restriction was the exception rather than the norm? A decade ago, having a vegetarian over for dinner was a panic-inducing proposition in our house, but now, given that we are eating plant-based meals so much more regularly, it hardly even registers as an issue. These days it seems to be all about the gluten-free guest. And by that I mean, the unnecessarily apologetic gluten-free guest who says at some point before he or she comes over: Please don’t think about it — just cook the way you normally do. I can always find something on the table to eat. I pretend to honor this request, but if you looked at my Google history over the past six months you’d probably find a whole mess of search terms that reveal exactly how clueless I am (“Who is Emma Stone?” is the latest example I feel comfortable sharing) intermingled with this daily query: “Is Fill-in-The-Blank gluten free?” This dinner I cooked a few weeks ago for my in-laws (Grandma “Hubba” is GF) was a good one and I thought I’d share it with you guys from soup to nuts.

(PS: Other recipes referenced in my diary above (which aren’t gluten-free): Black Bean Burritos, Cold Sesame Noodles, Scalloped Potatoes and Kale SaladCooked Carrots.)

This menu serves four. Bonus: Every bit of it can be done in advance including the quinoa. (Just don’t toss your greens with the vinaigrette until it’s time to eat.)  If you want a starter, go with the always-reliable Chips and Guac. I never have to worry about dessert since I have a world-class gluten-free bakery in my neighborhood. But I’m interested in hearing from you guys about sweet notes to end on.

MAIN: Sweet and Sticky Chicken Pieces
This recipe started out as the chicken wings I shared last year — but turned into something else entirely on the night I realized I had no wine in the house. I used pomegranate juice instead and now that’s the only way I prepare it. It could not be easier and it makes the house smell so good. Note of warning: DEFINITELY line your baking dish with a layer of foil — maybe even two layers. The sauce gets sticky and makes for a dish-washing nightmare.

2 pounds chicken pieces (we do thighs and drumsticks)
1 cup gluten-free soy sauce or Tamari
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange chicken in one layer in a foil-lined large baking dish or roasting pan. Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour this mix evenly over chicken pieces. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake until sauce is thick and sticky, about 1 hour more. They are supposed to be dark and gooey, but keep an eye on them in this second round of baking so they don’t get more charred than you prefer.

SALAD 1: Quinoa with Feta and Herbs

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup of quinoa and simmer, covered, until tender, fluffy, and water is absorbed — about 15 minutes. Let stand, covered, off the heat for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. (This yields about 4 cups cooked quinoa.) Add 1 bunch scallions (chopped), a handful of chopped parsley or mint or both, and a handful of crumbled feta to taste.

SALAD 2: Greens with Fennel and Blood Oranges

In a large bowl, add the following: Fresh greens (or as fresh as you can find in the winter), 1/2 bulb fennel, shaved superthin (preferably with a mandoline), 2 small blood oranges (outer layer of pith removed, sliced horizontally), and a handful of chopped mixed herbs such as cilantro, chives, parsley. Toss with cider vinaigrette below.

Cider Vinaigrette

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup good quality olive oil

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Sense Memories

February 8th, 2012 · 28 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

There’s a photo we have, in our album from 2002, that captures the exact moment my parents and Jenny’s parents saw Phoebe for the first time. Jenny’s in the hospital bed, all wired up and groggy from surgery, head slightly elevated, and she’s holding Phoebe in her arms. Phoebe is swaddled, purple-faced, about thirty minutes old. Thirty minutes old. All four of our parents are lined up on one side of the bed, leaning in, as though peering off the edge of a cliff. The expression on Jenny’s mom’s face is one of those amazing, ecstatic expressions you see in life’s happiest moments – such as the birth of your daughter’s first child – or on the front page of the New York Times, in the grief-stricken face of the person who has just walked away from some kind of life-altering natural disaster. For real, her expression has that kind of emotional weight to it. Stripped of context, it could be an illustration of the most sublime kind of joy, or the most warping kind of pain. In this case, thank god, it was joy. I remember taking that picture — standing off to the side in my scrubs with my old-fashioned film (!) camera — and the one that came a few seconds after it (above) when all four parents had moved one step closer to Jenny and that primal expression had morphed into something more closely resembling tears of joy. When I think of Phoebe’s birth, I think of that moment, and how little we really understood about, you know, what it all meant.

I have a bunch of these kinds of memories from the day Phoebe was born, flash-frozen moments floating through my head, mostly intact, ten years later – writing a rambling journal entry, as Jenny was in labor, on the Esquire notepad I’d stolen from my place of work, though God, I could never ever bring myself to read it now; standing in the waiting room in my white sterile booties, waiting to be reunited with Jenny as she was being prepped for surgery; being so incredibly confused when we realized Phoebe was a girl because we’d been so firmly convinced that Phoebe was a boy (something about the angle of the bump); I even think I remember what it felt like to hold Phoebe for the first time, though if I really focus on it now and try to conjure it up, I can’t be sure.

If it sounds like I’m protesting too much, that’s probably because I feel some weirdness around the fact that so much of what I remember about those four days in the hospital has to do with food. It’s bizarre – and might point to a larger problem — but I can remember pretty much everything I ate, and how I felt when I ate it. The hamburger and Tanqueray-and-tonic I devoured at the legendary JG Melon’s with my in-laws, six hours after Phoebe’s birth. The bagel (plain, with scallion cream cheese) and coffee I bought at Eli’s, and ate on a bench on Madison Avenue the morning after: the bagel and coffee were average, and I hadn’t slept a wink, what with the baby in the room and my rolled-up jacket as a pillow, but the sky was so incredibly blue and I’d never felt that kind of euphoria before in my life. If someone could bottle that feeling, I would eat it, inject it, and snort it. I would snuggle it to death. I would be king of the… that was a heartbreakingly good morning. The turkey ragu I made when I raced back to our apartment the next afternoon, and froze in batches, to be eaten when we returned home. The O’Henry bar I bought in the gift shop. The bottle of Bordeaux my brother-in-law brought over, and which we took down in short order, with a corkscrew I ran out to buy at a wine store down the block. The chicken consommé and lime jell-o I plucked from Jenny’s hospital tray as the Percocets worked their magic. The dinner we had, on the third night, when my aunt Patty – whom we’ve written about on this blog before – dropped by to see the baby. She brought a white paper bag with her.

“What’s in the bag?” I asked.

“William Poll,” she said.

“What’s William Poll?” I asked.

“Jesus, nephew,” she said. “It’s only the best deli ON THE PLANET.”

Out of the bag came two neatly-wrapped sandwiches: chicken salad with bacon on pumpernickel bread that had been sliced about ¼ inch thick. “These things cost a fortune,” Patty said.

“How much?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know,” she said.

We sat there in the hospital room, by flourescent light, and ate. I’d had a lot of chicken salad in my life, but this was insane.  I was in a heightened state (more…)

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Oldie But Quickie

January 30th, 2012 · 11 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

Recipe writing can be such a buzzkill sometimes. Last week, as I was making this classic skillet meal — Chicken with Spinach and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette — I was, as always, amazed by how fast it came together.  While I was whisking in the wine, I was mulling over the angle I wanted to take when I would eventually write it up for DALS. (I make a lot of things that never end up on this site, but there wasn’t even a question about this one.) The angle could be about bacon being the magic ingredient — a little goes a long way, especially with kids.  It could be a “quick classic” — who doesn’t love a quick classic? It could be a five-ingredient dinner, i.e. “money in the bank” for working parents. The only problem was — it’s not a five ingredient dinner. But it was so easy and fast that I didn’t even realize that until I started writing the recipe. Suddenly I’m noticing that there was some flour in there for the dredge and that there was not only vinegar, but wine and also — I forgot — there was olive oil after the bacon fat got used up. When I described the recipe to my friend Todd on the train the other day it took about 10 seconds. (“Fry some chicken in a little bacon fat, then add shallots, wine and vinegar and toss in spinach until it’s slightly wilted.”) But when I wrote it out below, it suddenly seemed so much more involved. Trust me, though. It’s not. It’s quick and easy and even if there are eight ingredients in it (as opposed to the magic five), it’s likely you have all of them in your pantry or fridge right now.

Chicken with Spinach and Warm Bacon and Shallot Vinaigrette

2 slices thick-cut bacon
4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin (and halved if they are large and unwieldy)
3/4 cup flour, salted and peppered
olive oil, as necessary
1 small shallot, chopped (I know, that’s an onion up there, it’s all I had, so I used about 1/4 cup chopped onion)
2 tablespoons-ish vinegar (I used tarragon vinegar, but red wine or white wine would be fine, too)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 large bunch or bag of baby spinach

In a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crispy. Remove, cool, and crumble.

Turn up heat slightly to medium-high. Dredge chicken breasts in flour, then add to bacon fat, frying on both sides until cooked through. Cook in batches, tenting finished chicken with foil on a separate plate. If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pan before adding more chicken.

Once all chicken has cooked, add a bit more olive oil, then shallots and cook about one minute. Add vinegar and wine, whisking gently until warmed through. Add spinach and toss until it wilts slightly. (You do not want it to shrivel to nothing.) Toss in bacon crumbles.

Add warm spinach to four plates along with chicken, drizzling any sauce that remains in pan on top of each. Serve with rice or those cool par-baked Trader Joe’s dinner rolls that my children are officially addicted to.

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Four Strategies for Nervous Nellies

January 9th, 2012 · 7 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pork and Beef

I was at a dinner party with two other couples last year when the host approached me discreetly in the living room. “Can you come here?” she whispered, motioning towards the kitchen. She led me to the oven, pulled out a roasting pan filled with eight split chicken breasts whose skin were all a nice caramel-ly brown. “They’re ready, right?” she asked. I always get nervous with thick chicken breasts, too, so I asked her how long they’d been in. “About an hour,” she told me. I had a feeling they weren’t done yet. “Can I touch one?” I asked. I poked one of them in the thickest part. It felt too soft. The rule for doneness with chicken, I told her, is that it should feel firm to the touch but not rock hard. “It needs more time.” Andy walked in and I pulled him over for his opinion. Along with his tight spiral and his general kindness towards humanity, gauging meat doneness is one of his greatest qualities. He poked the chicken once, and with a conviction I envied, declared, “Five more minutes.”

Five minutes later we were sitting down to a delicious, well-cooked herby chicken with market-fresh greens.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been in the same situation as my chicken-roasting host. Or I should say, how many times I used to be in that situation. It’s not that I’ve become so confident when face-to-face with, say, a lamb shoulder, or a $20/pound Christmas filet mignon or a bacon-spinach-stuffed ribeye, but I don’t stress about cooking meat to proper doneness nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason for this — OK most of the reason for this — is that Andy is so preternaturally gifted with meat that it just makes sense to cede the floor to him when a Porterhouse or a flank steak is on the menu. But the other reason is that I’ve discovered a whole bunch of ways to prepare meaty main dishes that involve absolutely no stressing about doneness at all. These are the strategies I tend to fall back on when I’m having people over for dinner and there’s a 100% chance that I would be filling a sippy cup at the exact moment a meat thermometer would hit the point of no return.

1. Put Away the Meat Thermometer and Braise. Large hunks of meat become much more friendly when you braise them. This basically means you are cooking a loin or a shoulder in liquid in the oven or on the stovetop for a few hours at a low temperature. Beyond the fact that this technique makes it impossible to overcook or undercook, it magically transforms cheap cuts of meat into melty tenderness and is almost always just the thing for a warm-your-bones winter meal. See: Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork Loin; Braised Short Ribs; Pork Ragu; Baked Chicken with Mascarpone. (That last one is less braising than submerging, but it’s equally effective and takes much less time.)

2. Think Small. It’s much easier to gauge the doneness of small pieces of meat and fish than it is to make the call on larger pieces. Just think — if you’re not sure, you can break open a small piece of chicken in a stir-fry to check for the telltale shiny pink and the dish won’t be any worse for the wear. You can’t really do this with a whole roast chicken without releasing the trapped juices that make a perfectly roasted chicken so tasty. See: Chicken with Broccoli; Pan-seared Scallops; Beef with Broccoli.

3. Hack! One of the reasons I fell in love with salmon salad was because after a fillet was roasted or grilled you had to shred it into pieces and toss it with the vegetables and vinaigrette.  This meant that if you weren’t sure the salmon was cooked to proper doneness you could definitely take a peak in the middle with a knife or a fork or a pick axe — and if it wasn’t ready, just send it back for another few. Who cares what the thing looked like if you were going to eventually hack it all up, right? See: Salmon Salad.

4. Make Clams. Every time I prepare Andy’s clams — which, as you can gather by the name, is not that often — I am amazed at how easy they are. This meal is a bonanza for people who fret about whether something has cooked through or not. Think about how beautifully unequivocal it is that clams, when cooked properly, will open up their shells to tell you that they are done. It’s like they have little mouths. I’m done! Take me out! Eat me! To me this is as much of a miracle of nature as the Blue Footed Booby. See: Spaghetti and Clams; Steamed Little Necks (more…)

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Redemption Salad

January 5th, 2012 · 23 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

I’ve been so good. Seriously. On Friday I took one last bite of an oatmeal-brownie-butterscotch sundae (true story) and vowed That’s it. That was the last piece of junk that was going down the hatch until…when? That’s always the question, isn’t it? Does it speak to my pathological optimism or my deep-seeded denial that every year I vow to tweak my dietary habits — not the kind that involve a piece of homemade apple pie with the family; the really bad kind that involve shaking the kids’ carseat to unleash the last few nickels I need in order to uncoil the Milky Way Midnight from the vending machine. And every year, I come up short. As in, after few short days, I am right back to my I-hate-myself habits. I mean, how is it that I am already a little less excited by the whole-grain-packed cookbook that arrived on my doorstep today, which I one-clicked in a fit of steely resolve only five days ago. I was going to do it this time! I really really was! (Charlie Duhigg! Where are you when I need you?) This is not to say I have given up…entirely. All of this is merely an attempt to stay one step ahead of my worst self. This year, I’m embracing her instead of pretending she doesn’t exist — keeping my enemy close and all that. In the meantime, my best self has been enjoying some majorly healthy dinners — like this incredibly flavorful shredded salad with chicken that was spiked with a clean Asian-ish vinaigrette. I thought your pathologically optimistic selves might appreciate too. At least for the next few days. (more…)

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