Entries Tagged as 'Dinner'
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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Tags:cedar plank salmon
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
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.
In a dinner rut?? Behold your almost-published solution, available for pre-order.
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I have been looking for the right angle to write about these steak tacos for a few weeks now, which I’ve decided is just plain unfair. Why deny you guys a solid recipe just in the name of story-telling? As I’m sure you know by now, my goal with this blog and my next book, is not just to chronicle what to eat for dinner, but to put that dinner into context — to give you the how of dinner, i.e. how we here in the DALS house organize, cook, and (most of the time) consume a meal together at the end of a long, chaotic day. (This is reason why you will see “Last Night’s Dinner” posts every so often, showing the exact timing of how and when everything happened, and why I talk about deconstructing dinners ad nauseum.) I hope this comes through, and, more important, I hope it helps. But anyway, sometimes, the day is neither long nor chaotic. Sometimes, I have before me a simple, regular old weeknight, i.e. a simple, regular old angle: These steak tacos with pickled onions and a cilantro-yogurt sauce were delicious and the kids loved it. So there you have it. I will let this recipe tell its own story. The End.
Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce
By this point in our relationship you probably know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: Too many ingredients? Too many steps? Just skip what looks dealbreaker-y to you. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking out the blender for the cilantro sauce, just skip the sauce altogether and top with chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream. Kids don’t like pickled onions? (You don’t like pickled onions?) Lose ‘em. Don’t have time to marinate? Use whatever time you’ve got. Just get something on the table.
1 1/2-2 pounds flank or skirt steaks
1/3 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
squeeze of lime
salt and pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced crosswise (optional if you want to avoid heat)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup cilantro (stems and all)
juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
4-6 large whole wheat tortillas (or regular ones)
a few torn lettuce leaves (we like butter or Bibb)
queso fresco or avocado (optional)
Marinate steaks in olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper for about 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before you plan to grill.
While steaks marinate, do your quick-pickling and sauce making: Bring red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water to a boil, add onions and jalapeños and reduce to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes then drain, add to a bowl and set on table. In a blender or a small food processor, whirl together all cilantro sauce ingredients. Pour into a bowl and place on table.
Heat your grill (or stovetop grill — as you can see we were still indoors a few weeks ago when we made ours) to medium high and cook about 4 minutes a side. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing on the bias and placing on the table. (For little kids, please cut steak into teeny tiny pieces.) While meat is resting, add tortillas to the hot grill, flipping frequently until they bubble a little, about 1 minute each. (I like a little char on there.)
Set tortillas and remaining toppings on the table and have everyone assemble his or her own tacos. Squeeze with a little lime and serve with rice.
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Tags:grilled steak tacos
Last winter, my 10-year-old, who is a voracious and wonderfully appreciative eater, started making noises about becoming a vegetarian. We engaged the conversation, of course, which then piqued the interest of my 8-year-old. They both decided that, because of their feelings about animals, they wanted to become vegetarians. My husband and I totally supported this, but told her that we wouldn’t have the family go full vegetarian because a) our 4-year-old loves meat and b) we like meat. But we agreed that all meals would have a vegetarian base and possibly some meat on the side, which they could choose to eat or not. They both felt comfortable with this.
So, here’s my question. I have really tried to expand my beans and lentils repertoire but I feel like I’m running out of new and exciting ideas for vegetarian meals. I feel slightly overwhelmed by tofu and frankly grossed out by tempeh. So, any good dishes that we could all eat would be a life saver.
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There are many reasons why I love going to Naria’s and Peter’s house for dinner. For starters, they live in my town, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that one of the great pleasures in life is having neighbors cook for you. This is especially true when those neighbors really know how to bring it in the dinner party department. Unlike in our house where having more than two or three guests feels like we’re running a restaurant, Naria and Peter seem to revel in the large, well-considered guest list. There are usually at least eight of us, the official invitation comes a few weeks ahead of time, there is a properly set dining room table, and I always wake up with a sore throat the next morning, because it’s non-stop talking from the moment we sit down to cocktails until we leave. (Again, SEE: well-considered guest list). (more…)
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Oh market of ancestral pleasures,
A carnival of old-school treasures,
Your homemade fare, it lifts, amazes,
I think it’s time I sing your praises.
Behold those days my tired body’s
so grateful for your manicottis.
The workday hard, the lunchroom cruel,
No prob when we have your fa-jool*
On nights I’m out and can’t cook dinner,
I always have a pinch-hit winner,
I’m late, not dressed, oh holy moly!
The sitter boils ravioli.
“From scratch” can be so overrated.
When those meatballs can be plated
From the freezer, quick and thrifty,
Just flip the oven to three-fifty.
So here’s to every gift Italian,
To ziti baked and veal medallion,
Sending thanks that’s good and loud,
Grandma Catrino would be proud.
Seven bucks for fifty fresh, authentic, restaurant-quality, cheese-filled ravioli. What rhymes with “bargain of the century?”
*Note actual spelling of Fa-jool on third shelf from bottom right in top picture. Photo taken via my instagram (dinneralovestory) at Mercurio’s Italian Market on Mamaroneck Avenue, Mamaroneck, NY.
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Jenny begged me to write this post. She begged me to write it because we have spent most of the last week on spring break and she has spent much of that time feeling guilty about not having posted. She keeps circling the laptop, turning to me and saying, “Should I post? Just something quick? Is it bad that we haven’t done anything all week?” (This is what it’s like being a food blogger. And, I want to clarify: She is not being lazy. She is writing another book, working on a site redesign, we just handed in a Bon App column, and she is mapping out a whole bunch of new posts, which she’ll be rolling out in the next couple of weeks, for real. The point is: She likes you guys. She really likes you guys!*) So: I’m going to keep this short because my feelings of guilt re posting are not quite as debilitating, and because this vacation ends tomorrow, and because a bike ride with the kids — followed by an Easter egg salad sandwich with sweet relish — awaits.
Last Saturday evening, we fired up the Weber for the first time this year — always a cause for celebration in our house. We’d been kind of going off lately, food-wise, and wanted to keep things healthy. We decided on fish (Phoebe requested salmon, as per usual), a grilled vegetable (the asparagus at the farmer’s market was lookin’ good), and the kind of grainy, superfood salad that the kids would not touch if you paid them in unicorn sightings (we did quinoa with feta, tomatoes, and scallions). Jenny is standing over my shoulder right now, as I type this, and she approves, so consider this POSTED. – Andy
* Dear very nice commenters who write in to say you miss it when Jenny doesn’t post as much: I love you, but you’re KILLING ME! (more…)
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I’m a little obsessed with this dinner — even though I haven’t really eaten a legitimate bowl of it yet.
It started at the farmer’s market on Saturday — right now is slim pickins there in terms of greens and produce (see: Winter, Brutal) but I was still able to pick up a few old friends that I had been missing these past few months: Some good eggs (as you know) a mini blueberry and a mini lemon pie for Andy’s birthday (as of this tenth day of April, breakfast pie has officially eclipsed the birthday biscuit), and some sweet Italian pork sausages from Kings Roaming Angus Farm. Having a coil of these sausages in the freezer is Money in the Bank, as far as dinner is concerned. I usually don’t do anything with them except broil or grill as is, then serve with a shredded kale salad and a can of baked beans — a rich man’s franks and beans. But when I got home, I happened to place the shrink-wrapped pork next to a can of tomatoes, and just like that they spoke to me. “Sausage bolognese,” they said. “We dare you not to make it.” (more…)
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There are four cartons of eggs in my refrigerator right now, which might sound strange considering my childrens’ well-chronicled antipathy towards all things orb-shaped and yolk-filled, but as far as I’m concerned, it might not be nearly enough. The first carton, our standard Trader Joe’s Large Brown Organic, is almost depleted so that hardly counts. The second is one I picked up at our farmer’s market this past Saturday (Hallelujah! It’s open!), and the last two dozen I bought at Stone Barns where we went for lunch a few hours later, because I couldn’t help it. Eating an egg from Stone Barns after a winter of Trader Joe’s eggs is like picking up Anna Karenina after a year of flipping through Archie comics. I needed to stock up. (more…)
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Tags:deviled eggs·stone barns·stone barns eggs
I know this is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway. Ready for it?? Here we go: Weeknight Entertaining is the New Dinner Party.
You heard it here first, don’t forget that.
So, um, why? Why would any of us want to throw one more variable into the dinnertime scramble? One more variable who actually needs to be fed? Simple: Because the bar is so much lower. As much as I love to have people over on a weekend night, it’s a production. And that’s good. I like some theatrics on a Saturday night. That’s what Saturday night is about when you are over 40 and your idea of excitement includes a Baltimore Oriole sighting during your morning run. (Forreal!! Right at the bottom of my street!)
But the other night, our friend Kendra came over for dinner. It was Monday, kind of a last-minute plan, and since we had already decided on Salmon Salad for dinner — I’m telling you, the recipe is MVP in our house — that was going to be the meal. No special cocktail, no special meat and cheese starter, or homemade dessert. (At least no homemade dessert homemade by us; Kendra rocked our world with this little number.) Starters would be chips and salsa; the milk glasses would be set on the kitchen table (not the dining room table) by Phoebe; and Kendra would essentially be folded into family dinner. When expectations are low, you can only be a hero.
Anyway, igniting dinner party trends (just watch!) was not supposed to be point of today’s post. What I really wanted to remind you about was how amazingly easy salmon is for weeknight cooking, dinner guest or not. That Salmon Salad (page 62 of DALS) is so clutch. This time, I tweaked the technique a bit — I used yellow potatoes and tossed them in the dressing before tossing the rest of the salad, so they were like silky German-Potato-Salad potatoes. It’s the only way I’m going to make it from now on.
I’ve also been looking for an excuse to really sing the praises of this Salmon with Mustard-Brown-Sugar Glaze over at Martha. I’ve linked to this before, but I just need to say again how genius it is. With red wine vinegar and sugar in the glaze, it has the sweet-and-sour thing going, and it could not be easier to whip together. The first time I made the recipe, Abby declared it the best salmon she’d ever eaten, and seven or eight times later, she still stands by that claim.
Lastly, there’s this basic salmon teriyaki recipe that is a good compromise to have in your back-pocket when, say, the kids are begging to go to the local Japanese place for dinner instead of Not another boring chicken, pleeeease? With a side of sushi rice and some magic teriyaki onions, it tastes like the version they order in the restaurant, only it’s a heck of a lot cheaper.
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pound salmon filet
Preheat broiler. In a small saucepan, whisk together everything except the fish. Let it simmer about 10 minutes until reduced and slightly syrupy. Brush sauce on top a salmon and broil for 10-12 minutes (depending on thickness of salmon), brushing sauce on every four or five minutes to get a nice caramel-y color. Serve with sushi rice and teriyaki onions.
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Guest-post from 10-year-old Abby:
I am so sick of kale. Good thing I taught my family to like chard with this world famous dish. Well not world famous, but famous in my house.
I love chard. The second I saw the rainbow-colored stems at farm camp growing in a garden with beautiful fluffy green leaves I knew that they would taste good. One morning I bought then at the farmers market. Later though, when we brought it home, I had no idea how to cook it. My dad started cooking the chard in a pan and putting red pepper on it. I took a taste, but it was a bit spicy, so I added some soy sauce to make it salty and to balance the spicy-ness. Then I tried it again, and it tasted really good, but it needed some sweetness. Finally I thought of the perfect solution: Rice Wine vinegar! (Mom’s note: seasoned rice wine vinegar!) I drizzled it on and sampled the chard. It was delicious! I put the whole thing into a bowl and honestly could not stop eating it. By the time it was dinnertime there was only half the amount I had cooked left in the bowl. Since that dinner, I make the recipe very often and every time it tastes even better.
And my mother (now typing) would like to add that it’s very delicious with a quick broiled (or grilled) marinated skirt steak. Here are both recipes:
Quick Broiled Skirt Steak with Abby’s Chard
Her mother would also like to let you know that this entire dinner can be made in 2o minutes, 15 if you have a 10-year-old sous chef taking over the chard. (more…)
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If I can’t get to Tulum anytime soon, at least I can make Hartwood‘s skirt steak with roasted plantains. (You can just tell from the photo that it’s going to be easy, right?)
The Knork reminds me: it’s a fine line between ridiculous and genius.
Rebecca Lee should be more famous than Pharrell. (No offense to Pharrell.) Last week, I heard her read the title story from her short story collection Bobcat (all about a dinner party) and laughed my head off.
Adam Lanza’s father talks to Andrew Solomon.
Food Nerds Unite! Last week, I reviewed a novel for the Times.
I love Sara’s “pseudo mac and cheese situation” here.
On Wednesday, we screened the first two episodes of Eyes on the Prize – do you remember that epic 14-part series on the Civil Rights movement? The girls were as riveted as we were when we watched it back in the 80s. (Best for kids 10 and older — and even then, keep your hand on the remote, there are a few disturbing moments.)
My ten-year-old’s idea of the perfect birthday gift for her dad.
I only found out about this yesterday (thanks Momfilter!) but I’m already obsessed with Artifact Uprising, the app that lets you turn your iphone photos into beautiful little albums in minutes.
Our friends are coming over for dinner tomorrow and one of them, Jim, requested Milk-braised Pork for the main. How much do I love a guest who does the think-work for me?
This, because any new Truckers album is a reason to rejoice.
This, because it’s one of the best, most heartbreaking magazine stories ever written, and because it has extra poignancy this week, given recent events.
This, because we are unrepentant Pixar fans in this house, and Creativity Inc — by the founder of the company, aka hero to our children — takes you inside to tell you how they do what they do.
This, because it sounds absurdly good and, more important, practically fits into your pocket, allowing you to cook or entertain while SHREDDING HEAVILY, no matter where you are.
This, because Abby has decided white cleats are back, and I respect that.
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5:30 Wrap up work in my home office — even though I meant to wrap up work before kids got home from school two hours earlier. Oh well.
5:40 Realize that Andy is out tonight and it’s Tuesday, which means everyone has their various extracurricular pursuits until almost 9:00. Make radical decision: Let’s eat dinner before practice tonight instead of after.
5:41 Realize this means I have to get dinner on the table immediately if my midfielders stand a chance at digesting in time to run around like maniacs. Remove flounder from fridge.
5:45 Place large skillet on stovetop, add a few glugs olive oil, turn heat to medium-high, set up dredging station (whisked egg, flour, panko crumbs) for flounder.
5:52 While four flounder filets brown in olive oil, slice half head of Napa Cabbage very finely, drizzle in a dressing (mayo, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, olive oil, salt, black pepper, sugar whisked in a measuring cup) and toss.
5:59 Remove four cooked flounders, tent with foil; add another two to the pan. Meanwhile, open a can of Trader Joe’s organic baked beans and dump into a small pot. Much like a cat who can recognize the sound of a tuna can opening from two rooms away, Abby arrives within seconds. “Are we having baked beans?” Got her.
6:05 Dinner. Game over.
Basic Everyday Fried Fish; Cole Slaw, Trader Joes Hit List.
Last Night’s Dinner: Pasta with Mint Pea Pesto;
Anatomy of a Monday Night Dinner: Baked Mustardy Chicken Drumsticks with Brussels Sprouts.
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In my next book — which you’ll be hearing about shortly — there’s a whole section on recipes I call “Keep the Spark Alive” dinners. These meals are the opposite of what we make on, say, a Tuesday night, when efficiency and convenience are the most important ingredients. In some ways, they are the opposite of the DALS mission in general. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as important, especially when we are talking about the psychological health of a family cook. Think of it this way: If Pretzel Chicken and Beef and Broccoli stir-fries are the workhorse recipes, the ones that get me through the week day in and day out, “Spark” meals are the ones that remind me why I love to cook in the first place. They call for ingredients I’ve never used before and usually require a big chunk of luxurious time. Marcella’s Bolognese is a good example of a Spark dinner, so is Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai. And on this dreary New York morning, I’m pleased to announce, I have a new one to add to the list.
It started with Uncle Mike. At our annual Christmas Eve dinner at his house this past year, he served, among a dozen other things, the most amazing Chicken Mole.
The chicken was tender and stewy, the sauce was rich and deep, but not overpowering like some versions I’ve tasted in the past. The kids, skeptical at first, cleaned their plates. It was December, which meant by that point in the winter, I had eaten my fair share of braised short ribs at dinner parties, so part of the novelty of this meal was the fact that I was I dining on a hearty, warm-your-bones chicken-based main. Except for maybe Julia Child’s Coq au Vin, I don’t have a whole lot of those in my repertoire that would earn their keep on a holiday spread.
“How’d you make your mole?” I asked Mike. Only someone who has never made mole would broach the subject so innocently.
He gave a little knowing “Ha” before replying. Mike, an ambitious home cook who grows a dozen varieties of chile peppers in his backyard, and sends us a care package of home-dried Persimmons every November, is not one to shy away from an recipe that might call for pasillos, mulattos, piloncillo, and bolillo. ”It’s a Diana Kennedy recipe, and it’s been days in the making.”
When I hear the name Diana Kennedy, I mentally turn the page. Diana Kennedy, as I’m sure you know, is one of our country’s foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. Because everyone has told me as much, I have a bunch of her books, and yet, whenever I crack the spine on one, determined this time to conquer at least a simple recipe, I remember: There is no such thing — and as with anything authentic and memorable, there probably shouldn’t be. The recipe Mike used was from Kennedy’s definitive Oaxacan cookbook, but a few days later, he emailed me another, slightly simpler Mole Negro, that looked similar. Mole Negro is one of dozens of versions — it’s the darker kind that incorporates chocolate — and he described it as “traditionally the most difficult.”
I looked at the recipe. Twenty-nine ingredients, half of which would require some scavenger hunting in Mexican markets around the county. I filed it under “Another recipe, for another kind of cook.”
But damn that mole was good! It stayed with me all winter, and last week, when I was calendarizing (defined as The act of staring at your family’s schedule to see how you can squeeze some real life in between all the activities) I noticed a nice long empty weekend afternoon and evening. It was going to be our last Saturday without soccer until July, no one was coming over, and just by chance, that morning Abby had an orchestra concert a short drive away from a stretch of awesome Mexican grocers.
Mole was calling, and I needed to answer. (more…)
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There was a time, when the girls were two and three, that we dreamed of the day when they’d be 10 and 11, able to sit at the table and place food in their own mouths while filling us in on their days. Now that we’re finally here—avert your eyes, new parents—we realize that our dream was a mirage, that life finds a way of constantly moving the goalposts on you. Family dinner is still chaotic, only the challenges have shifted from the physical to the logistical. And March and April, for us—with the girls deeply entrenched in two spring sports—is the most chaotic time of year. As we’ve detailed more than once on this blog, practices don’t end until 7:30, which means that, most nights, dinner doesn’t happen until the (very European) hour of 8:30. When you’re dealing with an overstuffed activities schedule, it’s crucial to have a few strategies that make a solid dinner possible. Here are three we will be relying on all season long:
Strategy 1: The Before-Work Play
When the cook is on carpool duty—i.e., it’s not just the athlete coming home late—the key is to prepare something in that 15-minute window before you head to work in the morning. We love soba noodle salad with a simple rice vinegar dressing and greens—spinach, kale, chard—tossed right into the pasta water in the last minute of cooking. Refrigerate till you get home, toss on the dressing, and, if you have time, add some shredded chicken for the win.
Strategy 2: The Pan-Fried Pizza Move
By the time our li’l midfielders stagger through the door, they’re like a couple of feral dogs: They don’t even bother to take off their shin guards before inhaling whatever is put in front of them. A piece of fish on a night like this? Ain’t. Gonna. Cut. It. Individual pan-fried pizzas with whole wheat crust? That’s more like it. Just brown your rolled-out dough in a cast-iron pan with some olive oil, flip, add sauce and toppings, then finish under the broiler. Abby likes a classic Margherita; Phoebe goes for ham and pineapple. (Book owners: Please see page 281 for the official recipe.)
Strategy 3: The Freezer Plan
When there’s so little time on the clock, it’s tempting to fall back on takeout or frozen pot pies. But we’d rather walk through the door, reach into our freezer, and pull out something homemade—like a batch of bake-ahead turkey and spinach meatballs. Think of it as the utility man of the family dinner: ever reliable, can play both protein and vegetable, goes on a bun (meatball subs!) or over pasta, and will crush its store-bought competition any night of the week. Pro tip: Freeze them in single-serving batches, so you can thaw and deploy as needed. Victory.
This is our “Providers” column for the March 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the spinach-and-turkey meatball recipe. Photo by Matt Duckor (meatballs) for Bon Appetit.
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Tags:family dinner and sports·how to feed athletes·meatballs·providers bon appetit
Jenny called me at work a couple of weeks ago, on one of those gray afternoons when the temperature never rises much above 10 degrees and the dog refuses to go outside.
“I’m freezing,” she said. “How do I turn up the heat?”
“In the house, you mean?”
We’d lived in this house for ten years. This was not our first winter there.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Okay, do you see that box on the wall? The one in the living room, near the fireplace? It has digital numbers on it. That’s the thermostat.”
“I see it,” she said. “Now what?”
I’ll spare you the rest, but let me ask: Does this seem weird to you?
I could tell you how weird it seemed to me, too — how do you not know where the thermostat is?! – but I’d be lying. The truth is, it wasn’t that weird at all. I have to believe that most families have these random-seeming divisions of labor which, if you really step back and look at them — or write about them publicly on a blog — do seem pretty weird. Our house, and our marriage, is full of them. It’s practically built on them. Some of this is probably evolutionary (we have only so much bandwith, so we pool resources to survive, etc.), and some of it is probably just being happy to let someone else deal. Here are some other things that Jenny never does in our house: Replace light bulbs, pay bills, sweep the kitchen floor, cut the kids’ toenails, change the filters on our air conditioner, realize that our air conditioner has filters (and that they need changing), clean the tank of Abby’s beta fish. And here are some things I never do: Braid hair, iron anything, realize that anything needs ironing, organize closets, manage our calendar, feed the dog, sort the recycling on Wednesday mornings, hang up coats that get piled on the chair next to our front door, turn on the dreaded Sonos system.
This ad-hoc division of labor applies to our lives in the kitchen, as well. There are certain things we just close our eyes and rely on the other person to execute. (Q: And what if that other person isn’t around to execute it? A: We buy it.) For me, the idea of making, baking, and frosting a cake: unh-uh. Same goes for latkes — and for deep frying, in general. Have never done it, don’t know how to do it, don’t intend to learn. Jenny, on the other hand? She doesn’t make coffee. “Can you make some of your coffee?” she ask me on Sunday morning, as though “my coffee” is some rare, magical potion and not a matter of pouring some hot water over ground beans. How strange does all this get? Consider this: Jenny’s favorite breakfast of all time is a bowl of steel-cut McCann’s oatmeal with a little cream and fruit, AND SHE HAS NEVER MADE IT IN HER LIFE. Or, she tried once and wasn’t happy with the result and gave up forever, ceding all future oatmeal duties to me. Oatmeal is not hard to make. There is no real art to it. I am pretty sure she could (a) figure it out in about five seconds, if she tried, and (b) become a thousand times better at it than I am. But that’s not how it works, when it comes to the division of labor. Oatmeal is my thing. Mud cake is her thing. And as long as we stay in our lanes, we keep moving forward. – Andy
Andy’s Oatmeal Instructions
The only downside of steel-cut, real deal oatmeal is that it takes a while. If you’re trying to get it on the table on a Tuesday morning, as the kids are packing their backpacks and the dog needs to go out and orchestra practice starts in 25 minutes, this will not make you happy. On a Saturday morning, however, with the kids watching some SpongeBob and a cup of good coffee in your hand, and a rare “nothing day” stretching out in front of you: Yes. This humble little grain will do you right. Note: As much as I love oatmeal, I also believe that it’s all about the toppings. There must always be fruit — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas — or, if you’re in a pinch, dried cherries or cranberries work well, too. There must always be something sweet, as well, and here are my go-tos, in descending order of favoriteness: Maple cream, maple sugar, high-test maple syrup, dark brown sugar, agave. Jenny likes a few chopped almonds or pecans. Some people like a sprinkle of cinnamon. I am not one of those people.
1 cup steel cut McCann’s Irish oatmeal
3 cups water, plus another cup in reserve
1 pinch salt
In a medium saucepan, add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. When water is boiling, add 1 cup of oatmeal and stir. Reduce heat to the lowest simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping along the sides of the pot with a rubber spatula, for 25-30 minutes. If it looks like the oatmeal is getting too thick, add a little more water and stir. I like it to be almost like porridge: thick but not too thick. Top with a drizzle of milk or cream, and the toppings of your choice.
Related: You Make it, You Own it.
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Tags:healthy breakfast for kids·oatmeal·winter breakfast
My sister called me the other morning. We were both in our cars — bluetoothing and dropping off our various charges — and figuring out a possible cousin sleepover when she said, with some urgency, “Oh! Did you get my message?”
“No, what message.”
“I left you a voice-mail with a lot of questions, but I really want to tell you about the chicken.”
“My friend Trish had a bunch of moms over for lunch recently, and she served the most delicious chicken.”
Now this was unusual. I get a lot of post-game calls about recipes, but not many of them are about poultry.
“Tell me about it,” I told her, negotiating a huge snow bank so I could park the car in front of my coffee shop.
“Well, it was served on a large platter, kind of like one that you would have, and it was room-temperature, but she served it with tiny potatoes and green beans on top of lettuce, a ton of fresh vegetables, and a vinaigrette on the side.”
Deconstructed lunch! I thought to myself.
“Someone said, ‘Oh it’s a deconstructed lunch!’ She also had some salmon, but the chicken was the star. It was so healthy and flavorful, not bland like most chicken in salad is, and it was all ready to go when we got there because she made it ahead of time.”
Maybe it was just that the night before I had a ginormous bowl of Pappardelle with Pork Ragu, and the night before that, a hearty Moroccan beef stew…or maybe it was just that we were steeling ourselves for another snowstorm that would come with more buttery, stewy richness, but when she was describing this to me I was longing for a sign of spring, even if it was in dinner-form. And man, did something light surrounded by fresh vegetables sound like the ideal antidote to this relentless winter.
“How’d she make it?”
“She marinated some breasts overnight in mayo, a little olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and a little agave. Some fresh herbs I think. Then she grilled it.”
“On a real charcoal grill outside or in a grill pan on the stove?”
Wow! Who was this Trish woman? We’re not winter grillers, especially these days, when our Weber looks like this:
But I still had to make it. The next day was a school-day, which is another way of saying a snow day, and it was clear that no work was going to get done no matter how many Sam & Cat episodes I bribed the girls with. But that chicken would get done so help me! Before I was even out of my pajamas, there were four pounded breasts steeping in a some version of Trish’s marinade. And later that night I broke out my cast iron stovetop grill. No charcoal, no charcoal chimney, no char anywhere to be found. And I obviously served it hot instead of chilled or at room temperature like Trish did. And I went with the winter vegetables I had in my fridge. But the whole process managed to thaw a few dreams of spring nonetheless.
And the chicken! I understand why it merited a next-day call from my sister. (The true mark of a successful dish in my book.) Tender, flavorful, and the leftovers were even better the next day.
Trish’s Marinated Chicken
2 tablespoons mayo
1/4 cup olive oil
squeeze of agave (or honey)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
squeeze of lemon
fresh rosemary, thyme or torn basil leaves
Four medium size chicken breasts, pounded thin
In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients and, along with chicken, add to a ziploc. Marinade eight hours or overnight, flipping in the fridge at some point if you can. When you are ready to cook, heat a stovetop grill to medium-high, and brush with a tiny bit of olive oil. Grill chicken pieces about four minutes a side (let excess marinade drip off before you place on grill) or until chicken is firm but not rock hard. Serve with Kale-Brussel hash below.
Add a small piece of smoky bacon to a skillet set over medium heat. Once fat has rendered, add a little olive oil and cook a few tablespoons of onions or shallots (chopped) until soft. Add salt and pepper, maybe a few red pepper flakes if you are so inclined, then a few healthy handfuls of shredded kale and shaved brussels sprouts. Cook until just barely wilted (and still bright green) and add to a serving bowl. Drizzle with a little cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar) to taste. You can chop the bacon into small pieces if you feel like it, or just eat the chunk yourself before the kids fight over it.
I have one of those cast iron reversible grill pans that stretches across two burners. The flip side is a griddle, but I never use it.
Related: I Want to Marry Marinating.
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So I got this nice note from a reader the other day:
I have to tell you I did my first real deconstructed meal the other night where I was not catering to the kids. It was so easy, such an epiphany! My husband and I made Chicken Tikka Masala with browned cauliflower and frozen peas in it. Before adding the (jarred) sauce, I loaded up plates with juicy sauteed chicken chunks and browned cauliflower and added some grapes and they Gobbled. It. Up. I had hot dogs at the ready but was feeling very sad about it. So this was amazing!! Thank you! — Jennie T.
Chicken Tikka Masala! That is some brave new territory, and it made me think that we’ve covered the DALS Top 10 Quick Meals, Top 10 Side Dishes, Top 10 Ways to Use a Rotisserie Chicken, and even Abby’s Top 10 Reads last summer — so I think it’s high time we rounded up our favorite Deconstructed Dinners for the family table. Break it down now:
1. Tortilla Soup (Which also has a nice definition of Deconstructed Dinner for those of you completely in the dark here)
2. Chinese Chicken and Broccoli (like Jennie T., just save a few of the unsauced chicken chunks for kids who might object to the hoisin)
3. Chili-Rubbed Chicken with Mexican Salad, shown above (related: Burrito Bowl)
4. Steakhouse Steak Salad with (or without!) Horseradish Dressing
5. Fish in Parchment Paper (Part 1 and Part 2) to be filed under “Oldie but Goodie.”
6. Orrechiette with Sausage and Broccoli (the classic)
7. Kale Cobb Salad (hold the Easter egg dye)
8. Chicken Orzo Soup, shown above, page 290 Dinner: A Love Story (When Abby was a soup-o-thrope, I used to pluck the tender shredded chicken from this and lightly pat it with a paper towel before serving it to her with lightly dried carrots and a mound of orzo. What can I say? I really wanted her to like my favorite soup.)
9. Spicy Peanut Noodles (it’s just “plain pasta with a side of crispy snow peas” to the kids if you serve the peanut sauce on the side), page 261 Dinner: A Love Story
10. Quinoa with Spinach, Egg, & Sriracha (No matter how much I deconstruct and disguise this, my kids will not touch, but you might have better luck.)
Don’t see your favorite? What is it?
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