Entries Tagged as 'Dinner'

This Week in Salmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salmon Teriyaki

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

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

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Abby’s Famous Swiss Chard (with a Side of Steak)

March 24th, 2014 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

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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Friday Round-Up

March 14th, 2014 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Uncategorized

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?

From Andy:

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.

This, because because.

Have a great weekend.

Photo credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times.


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How to Get (a Rockin’) Dinner on the Table in 20 Minutes

March 13th, 2014 · 8 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Tuesday night:

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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Clear the Afternoon, Kids! We’re Making Mole

March 10th, 2014 · 18 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Entertaining, Rituals

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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Notes from The Dinner Playbook

March 3rd, 2014 · 15 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

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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I’ll Let You Handle That

February 13th, 2014 · 37 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Vegetarian

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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That Chicken

February 10th, 2014 · 36 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Grilling

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.”

“What 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.

Kale-Brussels Hash

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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Top 10 Deconstructed Dinners

February 4th, 2014 · 25 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner

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 MealsTop 10 Side DishesTop 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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Family-Friendly Apres-Ski Meals

January 21st, 2014 · 19 Comments · Vegetarian

For a lot of people, the phrase “Apres Ski” conjures a certain image — a group of  ruddy-faced J. Crew models wearing Uggs and sipping red wine around a rough-hewn coffee table; a cold beer soothing burning muscles in front of a roaring fire; and (for Phoebe) reading a comic book under a blanket in her pajamas. For me, it means one thing: Skiing is over. I survived another day and — knock on wood — didn’t hurt myself.

It’s not that I don’t like skiing. When all the stars align — rental gear fits right, slopes aren’t too icy, there’s feeling in all twenty fingers and toes — I totally get the exhilaration thing. But the problem is, I learned in my thirties, the decade I had kids, the decade when my mantra became “Why have fun when I can be safe instead?” This past weekend, we rented a house in the Adirondacks with our friends Todd and Anne (book owners might remember them), whose mantra, I’m guessing, would probably be the reverse. I was so grateful that my kids could look to them (and Andy) as examples of grace and confidence on the slopes, instead of to their mother, who, upon completing her first run, had to kick off her boot and fall sideways into the snow because her foot fell asleep. True story.

I was also grateful that when we returned home to the rental, there was bourbon. Which we sipped as Todd fired up the oven and baked two pizzas for the eight of us — four adults and four kids, one who doesn’t eat beef, one who doesn’t eat pork, one who likes his pizza as straightforward as possible. The first pizza was a tomato-and-mozzarella, the second, a riff on Jim Lahey’s Potato-and-Leek (from the amazing My Pizza), which was just about as good a family-friendly apres-ski meal as you can find out there. Maybe it was the bourbon talking, but the meal — eaten at a long table with wind-chapped kids — was enough to erase whatever anxiety I had on the slopes that day, and get me pumped up to do it all again the next.

Potato and Leek Pizza
The other reason why this works is because, unlike a lot of wintery comfort food dishes, it doesn’t require a whole day of braising or planning. It can be on the table within an hour or two of returning from the mountain.
Recipe only very slightly adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Pizza (more…)

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Soccer Nights

January 15th, 2014 · 19 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick

Last Thursday night I called Andy from the parking lot of a school. It was 7:45 PM.  I was waiting for my 10-year-old to get out of soccer practice, held in the school’s gym. It was frigid. I was starving.

“What’s for dinner?”

I heard Keith Richards’ guitar in the background and some ice clinking in what I rightly guessed was a Manhattan.

“Some chicken with lemon, wine…” Clink, clink. “…Capers. Goin’ old School.” Clink. “Barley salad. Slaw.”

He was alone in the house cooking. Our 11-year-old wasn’t coming home until 8:15.

“I am so f-ing starving.”

What I love: That my daughters play sports. That they play soccer. That they have great coaches and great teammates. That I can watch them get stronger, better, faster almost before my eyes. That they play year-round. That they play year-round in freezing-cold bubbled domes, and public-school no-frills gyms and, unlike their mother, it doesn’t occur to them to complain. Ever.

What I don’t love: That practice times are creeping later and later. That, in fact, the other night we reached a milestone in our house: The dinner table had been cleared, the tomato-sauce-smeared plates loaded into the dishwasher, the dog walked, the lights (mostly) turned off while we headed upstairs to read in bed — and Phoebe was still not home from soccer practice. She was dropped off at 9:40 by the sainted parent of a teammate. Her dinner, a bowl of pea soup with crusty bread, had been consumed at 6:30, before practice, which started at 7:30 across the county.

I am not complaining. Nor will I tolerate a single person who tells me that we are idiots for getting ourselves into this predicament. I firmly believe that what my kids are learning being part of a team is every bit as valuable as what they are learning at our dinner table. And I firmly reserve the right to change my mind when it starts happening more than once a week. (Hello lacrosse season!)

So like every dinner obstacle before this one, we are adjusting. But if I was competing against extracurriculars for victory over weeknight dinnertime, the score right now would be Dinner: 4, Activities: 1. In my book — in any book — that’s a Win.

Plus, Andy got an hour to cook dinner while savoring a drink, without feeling like the game clock was ticking the whole time. And we all got to come home to Old School Chicken.

Old School Chicken with Lemon and Capers

4 medium chicken breasts, pounded, salted and peppered
few glugs of olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 pats butter
juice from 1 lemon
handful capers

Brown chicken in olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Remove chicken, add a little more olive oil to the pan and turn down heat to medium-low. And add onions and cook until slightly softened.  Add wine, broth, and lemon juice to the pan, and then chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover until chicken is cooked through and liquid is slightly thicker. Swirl in butter, add capers and serve.

Andy served with barley salad that had been tossed with arugula, grape tomatoes, feta, and vinaigrette.


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Restaurant-Worthy Carbonara

January 13th, 2014 · 29 Comments · Pasta

“Okay, I think we have a plan,” my friend Jeff said. “Why don’t you and Jenny come over on Friday at six, we’ll have a quick drink at our house, and then head out to dinner. Sound good?”

Given that Jeff and his wife, Kirsten, live in Washington, DC, which is only 20 miles from my parents’ house, and given that we’d been trying in vain to set up a dinner together for two years now, yeah, this plan sounded good. It sounded perfect.

Except Jenny and I got stuck in traffic and showed up half an hour late. And then, it was a beautiful spring night, so we sat out on the stoop at dusk and drank some wine, and that one drink turned into a couple of drinks, and Kirsten was newly pregnant with their second kid, so we heard all about the pregnancy and their plans for moving into a bigger place, and before we knew it, our quick drink had turned into a bottle of wine.* Jeff looked at his watch.

“We’d better go,” he said. “None of these places take reservations and it’s kind of late, so we might be screwed.”

We were screwed.

By the time we’d walked over to 14th Street, that much was clear. We checked a tapas place: hour to an hour and a half wait, crowd spilling into the street, no chorizo for you. We checked an extremely fun-looking oyster bar: yeah right, was basically the message. We checked another place that was so full, they suggested we put our names on the list and go to the bar next door, where they’d come find us when they had a table. We went to that bar, only to realize we were too old (and pregnant) to be hanging out in bars. Were we going to have to stand up the whole time? My back was killing me. And boy, was it dark in there! And was the music ever loud. Did the speakers have to be so big? Jeez. Isn’t that bad for your hearing? I had a sudden flash of how my dad must have felt when I dragged him to my first concert – Judas Priest, Capital Center, 1984 – and he spent the whole time, wedged between a group of biker dudes with long yellow beards, inhaling enormous clouds of second-hand weed smoke and leaning forward every few minutes to shout, ARE YOUR EARS RINGING, TOO and DO YOU THINK WE NEED TO STAY FOR THE WHOLE THING?

We lasted about five minutes. Back on the street, we huddled up to think. I felt bad for Jeff. The pressure was on. “I know,” he said. “There’s a place a few blocks down that Kirsten and I went to for our anniversary,” and when we got there, we poked our heads in and yes, thank god, we were in luck: they had a table! It was a perfectly nice restaurant, but it was also the kind of place with starched white tablecloths and those Reidel glasses that can hold like two bottles of wine, entrees that start at $30 and a kind of hushed, West Elm, serioso vibe. The maitre d grabbed four menus and started to lead us to our table.

“Do we want to do this,” Jeff said, verbalizing what we were all secretly thinking, “or do we wanna just go back to the house and cook in? We can make some pasta and drink wine and hang out.”

The man was speaking our language. “Let’s go home,” we all said.

And so we did. We walked home, cut the babysitter loose, and cranked up some music. As always, we all ended up in the little kitchen, watching as Jeff made his moves behind the stove, and their two-year-old, Billie, slept soundly upstairs. He grabbed some Pecorino and bacon and eggs and whipped up a Carbonara – he’d experimented with many artery-wrecking versions over the years, but the one he made that night, and the one he liked best, was one he found on youtube and had adapted to his specifications. Instead of straight Pecorino, he did half Pecorino and half Parm. Instead of pancetta, he went with cubes of good bacon. Instead of three eggs, he used four – and we showed him how to temper the eggs before adding, which made the whole oh-God-will-they-scramble-or-will-they-not part of the meal much less stressful. Instead of dropping 250 bucks on dinner, we had something that was every bit as good for about ten bucks. It was also a hell of a lot more fun. – Andy

* Chardonnay, actually. Jeff did this to f*ck with me. He thinks it’s hilarious that I enjoy a good glass of chardonnay. He can’t get over it. Like the guy is a Navy SEAL or something. Like he owns power tools. Plus, I don’t like Chardonnay. I like French Chardonnay. Which is even worse.

Restaurant Worthy Carbonara
As simple as this recipe is, it can go to the scrambled-eggs place fast if you’re not careful. As far as we can tell, there are two important steps to take to avoid this. First, the pasta water. Adding a little of it to the eggs is called tempering, and it helps get the eggs used to the idea of heat slowly rather than all at once (which usually results in scrambling). The other crucial step is to remove the pan from the heat completely before adding the eggs. We set the skillet down on a cutting board before adding them. (Some cooks like to do the egg-tossing in the pasta’s serving dish.) If you are cooking this for guests for the first time, we recommend a dry run so you’re not in panic mode. On the other hand, even if the eggs do scramble, it will still taste delicious.

1 pound spaghetti
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 thick slices pancetta or bacon, chopped into lardons, or cubes
4 eggs
3/4 cup Pecornio, shredded, plus more for serving
freshly ground pepper

Prepare spaghetti according to package directions — don’t forget to salt the water. While spaghetti cooks, fry pancetta in a large deep-sided skillet set over medium heat until crisp. Lower heat and add garlic towards the last minute of bacon-crisping. While everything is crisping, whisk your eggs in a medium bowl.

Drain pasta, reserving about a half cup of pasta water. Add spaghetti to the skillet while it’s still a little wet and, using tongs, toss with garlic and bacon fat, adding a drizzle of pasta water to keep it loose, and to prevent spaghetti from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove pan from heat completely. (We set the skillet down on a cutting board on the counter.)

Vigorously whisk in about a tablespoon or two of hot pasta water to your eggs — this is the tempering. Add eggs to the pasta slowly, tossing until pasta looks silky and coated, but not drippy and wet. Toss in cheese. Serve immediately with more cheese and freshly ground pepper.


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America’s Next Top Family Dinner

January 6th, 2014 · 66 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

I just did a run-down of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions and — shocker — I barely batted 200. Still don’t drink enough water, still eat too many “incidental” French Fries off the girls’ plates, haven’t gotten any better at forcing myself to call friends instead of text them, never read The Hobbit, which was going to earn me big fun Mom points with Phoebe, which at the time was her favorite book. (I did, however, manage to see the movie — part 2 — last week, so I might just have to put that in the W column.)

It seems that the only thing I manage to accomplish every year, without even resolving to do it, is finding new healthy, one-size-fits-all recipes for the dinner rotation. In 2013, there was the ever-popular Burrito Bowl. There was the Indonesian Chicken Salad. (Which has the added bonus of being just luxurious enough for entertaining.) There was that Mongolian Tofu Stir-fry that falls into the category of Kids Won’t Touch, But I Don’t Care, It’s Just Too Good to Banish.

So the question is: Where should my 2014 Healthy Family Dinner experimenting begin? I’ve been eyeballing that Slow-Roasted Salmon with Citrus, Fennel, and Chiles in the current issue of Bon App, and I’ve been flipping (and flipping) through my go-to Feel Virtuous cookbooks shown above, but I want you guys to weigh in. I mean, it’s January after all and I know I’m not the only one attempting to lighten things up for a little while. So what’s on the menu for your family this month? What’s your favorite go-to easy family dinner that you know will be loved in the DALS house (and in the DALS community)? What’s America’s Next Top Family Dinner? Please swap thoughts in the comment field below and then…let’s all get cooking.

And since it’s not fair to just ask for your help without returning the favor, I thought I’d just share this week’s menu plan with you. I haven’t been in the habit of writing out the week in my Dinner Diary for a while, but for some reason, I’m anticipating post-vacation re-entry to be harder than usual this year (thanks to single-digit temps up here in the Northeast) and simply making a dinner road map for the week already makes me feel a little more in control. Which, of course, is all one big farce.

Anyway, the line-up: (more…)

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December 18th, 2013 · 13 Comments · Dinner

I figured out why I am so addicted to instagram. Contrary to what you might be thinking, it is not so I can live vicariously through that friend who always seems to find herself gazing at a palm-tree framed infinity pool in Phuket. Nor is it so I can be on top of whoever is consuming the #fluke @Marea. (Oh wait, #pinchme, he’s on to the #seaurchin.) N0, I love it because I follow some serious cooks in my feed  – test kitchen directors, cookbook authors, editors — and despite their fat-cat pedigree in the food world, it’s what they’re making for the kids at home that hooks me. Their meals are so simple you can just look at the photo and caption to figure out how to prepare. No recipe required. Check these out:

Who: Phyllis Grant Instagram handle: dashandbella Why: Not that I really need to answer that with a photo like this, but let me just say that I want to cook everything the Bouley-trained, Berkeley-based blogger is dreaming up for her two young kids. PS: Her love of kale is matched only by her affinity for F-bombs.

Who: Carla Lalli Music Handle: lallimusic Why: Because the Bon App Food & Features editor (and restaurant-trained vet) is a serious cook, but never takes food too seriously. Plus, she can write a caption.

Who: Sarah Carey handle: sarahcarey1 Why: She’s editor of Everyday Food, aka the epicenter of quick-and-easy cooking.

Who: Caroline Campion handle: devilandegg Why: Everything the onetime Saveur editor (+ co-author of Keepers) cooks and shoots seems to be assembled on-the-fly — which for the rest of us, translates to #confidence and #Hey!IcanDoThat.

Who: Jennifer Aaronson handle: giofrankie Why: The mother-of-two is a decade-long veteran of Martha Stewart Living’s kitchen (official title: Editorial Director) and her behind-the-scenes posts of cover shoots (like the current December one featuring insanely rendered little Alpine cookie characters) often prompt followers to say things like “How can this even be possible?” (OK, fine, that commenter was andyward15.) But mixed in to all this inspiration are weeknight MVPs like the one-pan pasta you see above. Also, apropos of nothing, she could not be nicer.

Who: Luisa Weiss Handle: wednesdaychef Why: Because she’s not only posting grown-up dishes like the one above — she’s also chronicling what’s cooking for her toddler, Hugo. Plus: A recent post of him playing at the crack of dawn was captioned, “Hugo is back to waking up at 5am and is sort of crushing my will to live.” #itgetseasier Luisa!

Who: Allie Lewis Clapp Handle: allielewisclapp Why: Because the Bon Appetit Food Editor is the master at elevating something simple to something special (See: Za’atar; Labneh) without scaring anyone off.

Oh look, it’s Phyllis Grant again!


Who: Me Handle: dinneralovestory Why: See previous 686 posts on this blog and decide for yourself.

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Archaeological Dig Turns Up Old Favorite

December 12th, 2013 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

Way back in the 90s, when Oprah ruled the land, just before she single-handedly transformed the publishing industry with her Midas-touch book club, she featured a cookbook on her show, written by her private chef Rosie Daley. The recipe collection was called In the Kitchen with Rosie and was filled with low-fat, low-carb meals that Oprah credited with her dramatic weight loss. Rosie, as I’m sure you recall, sold like gangbusters, but, as with most of my circa-90 cookbooks (what’s up David Rosengarten!?) ended up in a dark, moldy corner of my jam-packed basement, coated in a grimy dust that gives you a small window into the dungeon-esque conditions on the bottom level of our house. (As one dinner guest said as he walked through it to get to our garage, “I like your basement. It’s very…humanizing.”)

Anyway, if you are thinking that the reason I came upon my Rosie relic was because I had finally decided to organize the chaos, you have way more faith in me than I do. No, I was merely digging up spare forks for a birthday party, and happened to see its spine in a leaning tower of hardcovers perched beside a dismantled crib. I should’ve known better, because the last time I did a drive-by grab from this tower it was Drinking: A Love Story (no relation) and wound up reading 200 pages of the memoir standing up right where I found it. (Wowowow, was that a wrenching read.)

But this was not going to happen with Rosie because as soon as I grabbed it, I knew what I was looking for: My favorite recipe in the collection. Maybe even my most favorite recipe from the 90s: The curried chicken salad spiked with crunchy apple, which we used to make for ourselves whenever we had leftover chicken in the fridge, or whenever we felt overly hedonistic and in need of a healthy recalibration. Like during holiday season, when every other night is spent stuffing our faces with cocktail-party gougeres and Chewy Molasses Cookies. Like right exactly now.

Curried Chicken Salad
The idea that you could replace most of the mayonnaise with plain yogurt rocked my world back then. Now, we use that healthy shortcut all the time.
From In the Kitchen with Rosie, by Rosie Daley.

Whisk together the following dressing ingredients:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 teaspoons curry powder
3 tablespoons lemon juice
black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons shallots, minced

Toss dressing with:
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken breasts, cubed
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup shredded carrots
small handful golden raisins
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1/4 cup green apple, chopped
1/4 cup scallion, chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon parsley
handful arugula or greens

Serve on toasted pitas or nan (as shown above) or on top of salad greens. 

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Thanksgiving Eve 2013

November 15th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Rituals, Seafood, Thanksgiving

By the time Thanksgiving week rolls around, the game plan, for the most part will be fully mapped out. The menu will have been tweaked and retweaked to reflect just the right amount of tradition (Grandma Jody’s herb-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes) and adventure (maple buttermilk custard pie!); the duties will have been divvied up among aunts and uncles. Anything that can be done in advance—grocery shopping, pie crust making, bourbon stocking—will be done in advance. When we wake up on the last Thursday in November, we will be totally, 100 percent ready to rock.

And then we remember the last Wednesday in November—also known as Thanksgiving Eve, also known as Oh, Sh-t, We Have 14 People Standing Around the Kitchen, Half of Them Starving Kids, and We Forgot We’re Responsible for Feeding Them.

On Thanksgiving Eve, we at least know what we don’t want to make. We don’t want to make poultry. We don’t want to make anything that requires a bunch of pots and pans or taps into the precious reserve of psychic energy we need for Thanksgiving. We don’t want to order pizza, which just feels wrong. And above all, we don’t want something heavy. That’s what the next day is all about.

It’s like this: On the night before a championship bout, did Muhammad Ali go out and pick a bar fight? The night before performing in The Marriage of Figaro, does the diva practice her primal screams? The night before the food-lover’s Olympics, do we make a 20-ingredient paella? No. We rest, we get our heads together, we create optimum conditions for the main event.

So this year we’re doing salmon en papillote, which only sounds complicated. Here, everyone can customize what vegetables go into her parchment paper–wrapped fish packet (Kale? Spinach? Thinly sliced potatoes?) before drizzling (or not) the horseradish dill sauce on top after the whole thing has cooked. It’s fresh and light, and best of all, there is minimal cleanup—only a baking sheet or two. For that, we give thanks.

This is our “Providers” column for the November issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the salmon in parchment paper recipe.

Related: Thanksgiving Eve 2012

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Officially Addicted

October 23rd, 2013 · 41 Comments · Vegetarian

Quick post today to let you in on some breaking news: I am officially addicted to Trader Joe’s frozen Vegetable Masala burger. How do I know it’s official? I bought a 4-pack on Saturday and they were all gone by Monday. The count: One for Andy in between soccer games on Sunday; one for me for a quick work-from-home vegetarian lunch on Monday; one for Phoebe’s afterschool snack a few hours later; and one last night, for a standing-at-the-counter dinner after coming home late from Luisa’s panel with Deb and Amanda. (Can you say Dream Team?) I bought a pack on a whim a few weeks ago after tasting a sample — I’m such a sucker for those samples — expecting the usual over-spiced, mysteriously textured veggie burger. Instead, I couldn’t believe how subtle and natural the flavor was — and how small (and recognizable) the ingredient list was. Did you guys know about these? And if so, pray tell, WHY didn’t you enlighten?

I like to eat my Masala burger in a pita topped with a mixture of plain yogurt and coriander chutney (Swad brand, found at any Indian grocer).

Related: Mastering the Weekly Shop; My Trader Joe’s Hit List; Packaged Dinners You Can Feel Good About

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Fend-for-Yourself Night

October 17th, 2013 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Vegetarian

Please head over to my favorite style blog, Cup of Jo, for today’s post on Fend-for-Yourself Night (also known as F@#k Family Dinner.) Pictured above: My Egg and Cheese Tortilla; Below: Andy’s Cacio e Pepe.

While you’re there, check out the rest of Joanna’s gorgeous food coverage including, but most definitely not limited to: banana-chocolate chip muffins, olive oil cake, coconut hot chocolate, and veggie burgers.  (#One of these things is not like the others.)

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