Entries Tagged as 'Dinner'
“Make Dinner Not War,” huh? The pacifist ethos may look good on a bumper sticker, and it may reign supreme at our family dinner table, but when it comes to, say, girls’ soccer or beach-kadima-fer-chrisskes or routinely kicking her husband’s arse in a “friendly” game of Clue? Jenny is not to be trifled with. It’s why I hesitate to tell her my top score in Ruzzle, because I know it’s only a matter of time before she borrows my phone — and then hands it back fifteen minutes later, having destroyed my record. It’s why I stopped playing tennis with her, lo these many years ago. We’d be hitting the ball around like normal husbands and wives and the moment would come when she’d walk up to the net and ask, casually tucking a ball into the pocket of her shorts, “Wanna play a few games?” Like an idiot, I’d say yes. And suddenly, she couldn’t miss. Every shot: in. Every impossible angle: not impossible, apparently! I’d hit the ball as hard as I could, and it would come back harder. I’m worried, as I write this, that Jenny is going to come off as too Tiger Mom-ish, that she only cares about winning, which is not really true. So I’ll put it this way: Jenny would rather win than lose. And she usually does, too.
The key word here is usually.
Last Saturday, we picked up some fresh striped bass from our fish guy at the farmer’s market. I drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and as I was going outside to fire up the grill, Jenny said she’d be in charge of making a blender sauce for the fish. A blender sauce with roasted red peppers and walnuts and something else I can’t quite remember, because the truth is, I stopped listening as soon I heard roasted red peppers and walnuts. I must have made an expression that gave me away.
“What?” she said. “You don’t think that sounds good?”
“No, no,” I said. “It sounds really good. It’s just that this fish is so fresh, I don’t know if we need it. I was thinking of something a little lighter and cleaner-tasting.”
“Like, with those tomatoes we got today or something. A tomato coulis. Is that the right word? Tomato coulis?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “How about I make mine and you make yours, and we’ll have a taste -off.”
Dinner as competitive sport: This is what passes for fun in the DALS house on a Saturday night. We retreated to our respective corners — Jenny with the blender, me with the mini-Cuisinart — and worked in silence, as serious as monks. We roped the kids in at some point, too — appointing them as the official arbiters, a role they naturally cherish — and put a dollop of both sauces on every plate. After a few bites and some mindful chewing, everybody weighed in. The results, I do not regret to say, were clear: The tomato sauce. In a walk. Even Jenny conceded it was better, and you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that doesn’t happen much around here. Victory at last!
The truth is, Jenny’s sauce was better than mine, more sophisticated, more interesting. Add some feta and it’d be an amazing dip, served with pita chips and some gherkins. It would also have been fantastic with grilled chicken. But with fish this fresh, just off the grill, on a beautiful late summer night? Nuh-uh. Not in my house. – Andy
In a blender, whirl together:
2 roasted red peppers (halve, brush with olive oil, and broil for 20 minutes; then remove pith and peel off skin. I used the ones from our CSA, which aren’t too big — medium-size, I’d say)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon balsamic (wished we had red wine vinegar)
Small handful walnuts
Salt & pepper
Squeeze of Sriracha
In a food processor, whirl together until emulsified:
Couple of handfuls fresh grape tomatoes (I used red and yellow)
Few generous glugs of olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lime OR 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Two basil leaves
Squeeze of Sriracha
Salt & pepper, to taste
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I’m pretty sure I’ve overused the phrase “I’m a purist” when it comes to burgers. That’s because Andy is in charge of them in our house and I’d go so far as to say “grills perfect burger” is right up there on the “Reasons to Keep Him Around” list with “can do ponytails” and “knows how to set the DVR to X Factor.” His burgers — juicy, salty, loosely packed, and cooked to perfect medium-rare doneness — never need more than ketchup, mustard, a slice of cheese, and a pickle to be my idea of heaven. I mean, really, if there is a meal out there that does not need to be improved upon, it is the American Hamburger. Right?
And yet. Last week, Andy was away on business, and after going on a vegetarian dinner tear for four straight nights, I was hit hard by a burger craving. A beef burger craving. Not a turkey burger, not a salmon burger, not a tandoori chicken burger. A burger burger. I had some ground beef in the freezer, but no charcoals (not that I would’ve fired them up anyway, it was a late soccer night and there was to be no messing around with charcoal chimneys at 8:00) and, more to the point, no Andy.
So I went my own way: I pan-fried some patties and did what I’ve been meaning to do ever since pulling up a stool all by myself at Umami Burger in Santa Monica last year: I made my own version of their popular Hatch Burger. (“No ketchup? No mustard?” I remember asking the bartender/server, who gave me a look that seemed to say “You’re from out of town, aren’t you?”) Rachel, one of my nicer readers who knew of my fondness for the meal, sent along what looked like an official recipe a few months ago, but in the interest of time (picking up a theme here?) I disregarded half of the ingredients and stuck to the three main components: beef, American cheese, roasted green “Hatch” chiles, a jar of which I had picked up in Santa Fe earlier this summer.
When I say this was the best burger I’ve ever made, I’m not lying. (Note the phrasing: best I’ve ever made.) The whole thing came together in about 12 minutes, which would’ve been enough to convert me, but the girls loved them too. I was fully expecting them to opt for the ketchup instead of the chiles, but neither did. I texted a picture of the dinner to Andy, who immediately texted back “That’s just mean.”
Next time it’s burger night, I’m cooking.
Inspired by Umami Burger
4 loosely packed burger patties, about 1/4 – 1/3 pound each, and mixed with a few drops of soy sauce
4 slices American cheese
4 hamburger buns (we used whole wheat, but I think potato rolls are probably a better move; there’s a time for health and this wasn’t one of them)
4 heaping tablespoons roasted green “hatch” chiles (We used Santa Fe Ole; but you can find green chiles in the Mexican aisle of most supermarkets)
In a large deep skillet, fry patties over medium heat, until cooked rare or medium-rare, about 3 minutes a side. During last minute of cooking, top each with a slice of cheese, cover skillet and cook until cheese melts. Slide burgers onto hamburger buns, and top with chiles.
P.S. I’m sorry about the kale overload these days. It really has become the default vegetable in our house and I promise to shake things up on the side dish front as soon as the godd@#m farmer’s market stops selling such good-looking bunches.
PPS: Thank you Rachel!
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Tags:burger·umami burger·umami hatch burger recipe
The night: Friday
The scene: Two friends, ages 9 and 11, coming over for dinner and a movie.
The movie: Forrest Gump
The issue: Very little in the fridge — except the most beautiful CSA Tuscan kale and peak-season tomatoes — but not ordering in and not going shopping again, no way, no how.
The other issue: Is it point-blank unfair to serve kale to kids who were just hoping for pizza and popcorn?
The other other issue: Will 9- and 11-year-olds understand any historical references in Gump?
The kale solution: Add some avocado to the kale. Maybe a little pickled something if I can get away with it.
The main course solution: Pizza. Always pizza! Homemade whole wheat crust, homemade pizza sauce, last strands of shredded mozzarella (including a few wayward string cheeses), fresh tomato slices, basil.
The review: Could’ve done without a few inappropriate scenes in Gump (and should’ve checked Kids-in-Mind!) but with a little help from the fast-forward button: it worked.
The menu review: Kale: Let’s just say it might’ve been the Ishtar of side dishes for kids. The pizza? Four thumbs up.
Dinner and a Movie Menu
Whole Wheat Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes
Kale & Avocado Salad
Pizza Crust (adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread)
2 3⁄4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1⁄2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/3 cups water, room temperature
Olive oil, for greasing
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add water and mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Divide the dough in two and shape each section into flattened balls. If you are only making one pizza, freeze the other ball in a freezer storage bag. (If you rub a little olive oil on your fingers and on the ball of dough before bagging, it will be less sticky to negotiate when you need it later.) Now, make the sauce… (more…)
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The day after we had our first baby, a friend with kids visited us in the hospital to meet the new addition. He held Phoebe, we took some pictures, and before he left, he delivered some advice: “Make sure to get a date night every once in a while,” he said. “Alone time is important, and it can get lost.”
Lost? On us? Never!
As if to prove our point, we headed out for our first post-kid dinner six weeks later—an early-bird special in downtown Manhattan. We put our daughter to bed, handed the babysitter many pages of insane instructions, and ran out the door. But the alone time we’d carved out didn’t feel so…alone. We checked our phones. We called the sitter. We ate like cavemen and skipped dessert, telling ourselves we were too full (we weren’t). When we got home, it was still light out. Was this how it was gonna be? Like, forever?
For a while, yes. Forever, no. At some point, the clouds parted. Our one kid turned into two kids, who miraculously learned to place food into their own mouths and go to sleep without us. And so we embraced dinner out in a big, existential way. Even when the girls were finally old enough to tag along, we kept the reservation capped at two. Going to a good restaurant became the easiest way to remind us that there was a world out there beyond Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and “Kidz” menus.
Nowadays, we do not mess around with these nights. We book the sitter within minutes of booking the reservation. We hand the girls their favorite take-out menus and tell them to make a night of it themselves. We meet at a bar for a cocktail. We wear shoes that are not waterproof. We order dessert.
Last month, we hit Lafayette, Andrew Carmellini’s new downtown brasserie, a leather-boothed place that felt like a New York institution the minute it opened its doors. We sat down for dinner at 8:30—when we used to aim to be home by—and
started to feast: leaves of butter lettuce served with Roquefort and country ham; short-rib ravioli; market-fresh peas tossed with mint pesto and ricotta salata. We took particular pleasure in ordering things the kids would never allow in their airspace: buttery, sweet scallops, a pickled-blueberry sorbet. The stars of the night? Moroccan-spiced lamb chops that we could have eaten by the dozen. “Man, the kids would love these,” we said as we ate them. “We should bring them here.” On second thought, no, we shouldn’t. But if they’re lucky, we might make them at home.
This is our “Providers” column for the September issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for Lafayette’s Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Chops recipe. Photo by Christopher Testani for Bon Appetit.
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Tags:bon appetit providers·date night·lafayette restaurant nyc·lamb chops
Keeper. It’s one of the more beautiful words in the language of Dinner. (As in “Yes, dear, this pretzel chicken? It’s a keeper.”) But for anyone who’s cooking for a family, it’s also one of the more elusive words. Because families are usually made up of kids, and kids are usually made up of really weird genetic coding that makes them say things like “I don’t like pasta” or “the chicken has too much crust” or “I’ve decided I like cows too much so no more beef for me.” And we love them for it. We just don’t love how complicated it makes things at 7:00 on a weeknight.
So how do we optimize our chances of amassing a rotation of Keepers? Well, for starters, we can look to two ex-Saveur editors for advice. Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (of one of the best food blogs out there, Devil & Egg) have just published a book called — you got it — Keepers. I love that title, but I love the subtitle even more: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen. The book is filled with my favorite kind of recipe: simple and straightforward, with just a little twist that elevates a meal from everyday to special — Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso Mayo, Greek Style Fish with Yogurt and Lemon, Skillet Lasagna, Sauteed Tilapia with Citrus-Soy Marinade, Japanese Style Meat and Potatoes that’s made with soy sauce and brown sugar and that is first in line to be cooked when the weather turns a little colder. Kathy and Caroline were nice enough to share a little Keeper Wisdom with us today. Thanks guys — take it away!
The Five Hallmarks of a Keeper
by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion
Here are the 5 things that we think make a weeknight dinner a KEEPER, and by weeknight dinner we mean that, not only is the dish itself is brag-worthy and tasty, but also all the effort and time that you put into it (including the shopping, prepping, cooking, plating) was minimal, fuss-free, and dare we say, enjoyable. So here goes:
Accessible You can find all of the ingredients at your local supermarket (no ordering a custom blend of za’tar from a rare spice catalog or sourcing white truffle oil). Simple things from your grocery aisle like toasted seeds, lemons, and maple syrup, can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary, without breaking the bank (or forcing you to spend your weekend preserving lemons).
Low Impact After you’re done cooking, your kitchen won’t look like it was hit by a typhoon. Meaning, you didn’t have to use every bowl, pot, and utensil you own to make it, and your family doesn’t silently loathe you when they have to spend an hour doing the dishes.
Flexible It’s fine, actually encouraged, to incorporate leftovers whenever possible: A carton of rice from last’s night’s Chinese take-out, half a rotisserie chicken from the market, odds-and-ends from the vegetable drawer, a stale loaf of bread…all of these things can be transformed into something Keeper-worthy with ingredients like oyster sauce, a tangy homemade chimichurri sauce or carrot-and-ginger dressing, and the toaster.
Make-Ahead There’s always a good chance a recipe will stay in regular rotation if there is some part of it that can be done ahead of time. Take these Asian Sliders below. It’s a good example of how a few minutes at the start of your day can lead to an extra-tasty dish in the evening. Marinating the tenderloin in a pineapple juice and garlic mixture tenderizes it and imparts a savory-sweet flavor. And then come dinnertime, it’s simple enough to make on autopilot while drinking a glass of wine. That’s a pretty essential hallmark, too: Easy. (Come to think of it, so is the word “Sliders” in any recipe title.)
Homemade The dish is a crowd-pleaser, one that your family and friends ask for time and again. How does this happen? Because you’ve used good ingredients, seasoned it well, and put love into it. Yes, we know that you can’t always please everyone. Chances are that there’s someone in your family who’s gluten-free, leaning towards vegan, will only eat food that’s beige, or a raging carnivore. But putting something in front of them that you made yourself is a good start.
Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo
We coat the marinated meat with hoisin sauce, roast it, slice it, then put it on light, fluffy potato rolls with extra hoisin and sliced scallions. Some Magic Miso-Mayo and/or hot sauce are really good, too. You can also serve the pork and fixings in lettuce leaves or on bowls of steamed white or brown rice. If you can’t spare any time in the morning, marinate the pork for as long as you can before cooking (up to an hour at room temperature; any longer and it should be refrigerated). (more…)
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Tags:asian pork sliders·keepers caroline campion kathleen brennan·magic miso mayo·sliders
Do you guys have that list? The I’ll-Deal-With-it-After-Vacation List? Earlier in August while scrambling to get everything organized before we dropped off the face of the earth for a while (real earth, not blog earth) I found myself keeping a mental list of all the things I’d just figure out once I got home. Taken on their own, in the rosy glow of pre-vacation denial, all those tasks seemed so infintisemally minor — a magazine deadline, a bunch of volunteer obligations, afterschool activity scheduling, a 300-page manuscript to read through. (More on that soon.) And yet, like clockwork, the night before re-entry to reality, each one of those items on my list team up — I picture them rubbing their palms together and laughing an evil laugh — to form one really not-min0r-at-all get-organized list. This usually happens somewhere around three o’clock in the morning. That was last night for me, so I’m going to make this post short.
But even as summer vacation winds down, summer itself is still in full throttle. Which is another way of saying, the cooking is still as simple to deal with as ever. So for this week, at least, come dinnertime, I’m pretending we’re still on holiday. This grilled steak with salsa verde was our last meal in South Carolina and was good enough to deserve a reprise. As soon as I get through my list.
Grilled Steak with Salsa Verde
We served this with the most basic sides: Vinaigrette-tossed chopped kale and Chopped tomatoes and avocados with red onion, avocado, a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, s&p, and cilantro. On the screened porch overlooking an egret-speckled lagoon. I can’t promise you it will taste as good if you’re not on vacation.
1 scallion, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh parsley or cilantro or mint or a combination of all three
10-12 large capers
generous amount of salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 punds boneless ribeye steaks, heavily salted & peppered
Process all salsa verde ingredients except oil in a mini food processor or blender. Then, slowly add olive oil as you whirl and the sauce emulsifies. Remove to a small dish.
Grill steaks over medium-hot coals 3 to 4 minutes a side. Remove from grill and and let sit five minutes before slicing on the bias. Serve with salsa verde spooned on top.
Oh sweetie! No scraps tonight, Iris. (It’s steak for crying out loud.) But if you hang out with us for a bit, you might get a piece of kale.
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Tags:vacation dinner ideas
I can’t promise you this will be a very usable guide to exciting eating. As you know, on vacation, you can toast a pop tart for dinner and it will make you as happy as a four-course meal at Cafe Boulud. (In fact, maybe we’ll try that tonight.) But, as you can imagine, we are getting seriously into our South Carolina vacation dining, doing our best to adhere to the 50 Rules, outlined so dutifully last week so we don’t lose total control. Herewith our top six dinner moments this side of the Mason-Dixon line…
1. Shrimp Cocktail. I once read that if you’re not going to eat shrimp right off the boat in Southeastern US, you might as well always buy it in the freezer aisle — there’s pretty much no such thing as fresh, flavorful shrimp outside of this region. I think that’s why whenever we are down here, we eat shrimp like we’re never going to eat shrimp again. The run-up so far: Shrimp cocktail before dinner as often as possible (chilled with cocktail sauce, natch), grilled shrimp in salads at lunch; shrimp salad rolls for dinner.
2. Oyster Sliders at The Ordinary. We’ve gone out to dinner a few nice places, but so far the winner has been The Ordinary — perhaps a tip-off was the fact that Bon Appetit nominated it for one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants this year. Or perhaps it was the oyster sliders with the crazy coconut action that Abby ordered and which put the rest of our meal to shame. And that’s saying something because the rest of the meal — lobster rolls, pickled shrimp, John Dory schnitzel — was pretty damn tasty.
3. Beet & Carrot Slaw Our CSA pick-up was the day before driving from New York to South Carolina, so what were we going to do, give our neighbor that week’s share? I don’t think so. Not when, among other things, heirloom tomatoes and cylindra beets were in the box. We packed all our produce in a cooler and tended to the bundle like it was a third child. The love and care paid off because on our first night cooking we made some flounder and, not wanting to turn on the oven (Rule 45!), I shredded those beets on a box grater with some carrots, tossed in rice wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and mint. (Full disclosure: There was no mint, but there should’ve been.)
4. Phoebe’s Crostini You’re looking at grilled tuna (that Andy had spackled in mayo before throwing on the Weber) a very JV succotash made with butter beans, corn, red peppers, onion, sauteed in a little bacon fat (apologies to real southerners) and Phoebe’s crostini. At camp, Phoebe learned that if you toss chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh peaches, corn kernels, a drizzle of balsamic and some Parm, and put the whole thing on baguette toasts, then very delicious things ensue. “It’s like summer in a bowl,” she announced when she put together the topping. I’ll take it!
4. Roast Carrots with Garam-Masala Yogurt Sauce. OK, so fine, I confess: we turned on the oven once. Or twice. But the cause was a noble one — carrots, cut on the bias, tossed with a little chopped onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 425°F for about 30 minutes (keep an eye on them). While they roasted, I whisked together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and mint. I’m not going to go so far to say it was the best thing on the plate — that’s an impossible honor when a grilled burger with special sauce is in the mix — but it was a clear leader in the side dish department this summer.
6. Beach Picnic The homemade pizza with fresh tomatoes was pretty good. So was the asparagus that Andy quickly sauteed in olive oil, salt, and pepper during the 30 minute stretch that the girls were totally, absolutely, relentlessly begging for a beach picnic. You promised! It’s so easy! I’ll help pack everything! Come on it’s vacation! Be fun! What parents know but kids don’t yet is that beach picnics are one of those things that always sound really fun, but are actually kind of a nightmare. Especially if you don’t have any of the right gear (see baking pan cum nonbreakable tray above) and especially if you try to take photos showing how ideal the night is (full moon, clear sky, silky calm ocean, etc), then get sand in your fancy camera making things a thousand times more stressful. So why is this even on my highlight reel? Because after dinner was over, we all jumped in the ocean. And there’s very little that beats a post-dinner sunset swim.
For more real-time dinner highlights, follow us on instagram: andyward15 and dinneralovestory.
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Tags:vacation dinner ideas
Far and away, the most beloved pre-dinner snack in our house is chips-and-salsa. Every night, while the grown-ups are do-si-do-ing around each other assembling something that resembles a meal, the kids are generally popping into the kitchen to dunk a chip into a bowl of decanted Trader Joe’s salsa (and ask, yet again, dinner almost ready? Mom? Dinner almost ready? Dad?) It would never occur to me to make that salsa from scratch. Even if the tomatoes were in season all year long, even if I had more time than the usual turbo-charged weeknight affords.
But when I’m on vacation, as I am now, it’s a different story. For as long as I can remember — pre-book, pre-blog, maybe even pre-diary — one of the first things we ever started experimenting with was fresh salsa. Even when the tomatoes weren’t perfect like they are right now, even when we had a perfectly acceptable jar of prepared stuff in the fridge, we’d make a point to chop up a few heirlooms, toss in some onion, play around with hot sauce and tomato paste and cilantro before striking the right formula. It’s so easy, in fact, that every time we make it, as we did last night, we wonder why we never make it back home. Of course as soon as we ask the question, we answer it immediately: Some things just belong on vacation.
There’s definitely no official recipe for this, which is another way of saying that you should have some spare chips by your side so you can taste and correct as you concoct. (Chef’s privilege!) But the basic idea is this: Chop up 1 or 2 of the freshest tomatoes you can find — heirlooms are best, but really any good summer tomatoes will do. (And chop them into smaller pieces than you see above.) For every cup of chopped tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon finely diced red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, dash of hot sauce, salt and pepper. That’s your baseline salsa fresca, but even that is flexible depending on how juicy the tomatoes are (and how juicy you like your salsa). Once you have your base, you can add whatever you’d like: corn, chopped yellow peppers, chopped peaches, pineapple. If your tomatoes aren’t quite as flavorful as you’d like them to be, whisk a little tomato paste into the red wine vinegar before tossing with tomatoes. Serve with chips.
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Tags:tomato recipes for kids
A few Augusts ago, my friends Jeni and Ben and their three kids came to visit us. They live on the Upper West Side, which is only about a 20-minute drive from my house, and yet, with full-time jobs and full-time families (their oldest daughter was about 4 which would make her twins 2, and my kids were 6 and 4), we had the hardest time coordinating get-togethers. (You know that famous New Yorker cartoon, “How about never — does never work for you?” That was us.) Well, on this particular occasion, we had by some miracle figured out a time that worked for a drive-by. It was a Saturday — couldn’t do lunch (soccer practice, naps) couldn’t do dinner (twins’ bedtime looming) so we settled on the somewhat odd, not-quite-cocktail-hour of 5:00.
“Just stay for dinner,” I told her when she called that morning.
“No no no,” she said .”Please don’t do anything.”
“But it’s no trouble.”
“Just trust me. It’s more stressful if I try to feed the kids there. Please don’t worry!”
I agreed begrudgingly. But then I hit the farmer’s market where, of course I was bamboozled by my daughters into buying a container of BuddhaPesto. The stuff is so good. I mean, so so good and leprechaun green and fresh you just can’t believe it. (The Times‘ Jeff Gordinier was similarly smitten last summer.) And, since it was August, there were tomatoes. The kind of tomatoes you dream of all year long. Striped, heirloom, green, gold, cherry, plum, little, big, blistered, exploding. The kind of tomatoes you slice at dinnertime, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, and then back away from. Because to do anything more, to add anything else, would be to incur the wrath of the tomato gods…or me, for that matter.
The thing is, I never promised Jeni and Ben I wouldn’t cook for them. Just the kids. So at some point during the course of the family’s two-hour cameo — at which point I think every single toy in the toy box had been removed and discarded on the floor by five gleeful children – I plopped two dinner plates on the table for the grown-ups. Spaghetti tossed with that BuddhaPesto, and slices of heirloom tomatoes (salted, oil-drizzled) that looked like they should’ve been painted by Cezanne. (I can brag about that because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. They came that way.)
You know the Virginia Lee Burton book The Little House about the cottage that stands peacefully still as construction and skyscrapers and general chaos looms all around. That’s how I picture Jeni and Ben eating that dinner. I will never forget how grateful two people could look eating the world’s simplest summer meal, as five screeching kids launched into their fifteenth game of Elefun in the living room.
Jeni tried to fight it, but was powerless in the face of the tomatoes.
“I told you not to do anything,” she attempted weakly.
“I didn’t. I boiled a pot of water. That was the extent of my cooking.”
“But you did! Look at this.”
I guess. But, I reminded her, it doesn’t take much.
Spaghetti with Pesto and Summer Tomatoes
Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with a little olive oil while it sits in the colander. Add prepared pesto (the freshest you can find, such as BuddhaPesto) to the same pot you boiled spaghetti in and whisk in a drizzle of pasta water until it’s saucy, but not watery. Add pasta back to the pot and toss. Serve garnished with freshly grated Parmesan.
While spaghetti cooks, slice summer tomatoes onto a plate. Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of the best olive oil you’ve got, sprinkle with sea salt (and pepper, if you must) and serve alongside pasta.
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Tags:buddha pesto·quick family dinner·tomato recipes for kids
I think by now I’ve made it clear how much of an inspiration Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book has been in my life. Not because the recipes are good — quite the contrary, in fact. With brilliantly nostalgic (but not-so-appealing) names like Ham Lime Supper and Fast Cheese Scallop, I’ve never been tempted to cook even one. The writing, on the other hand, holds up remarkably well. A former ad copywriter, Bracken is the master of the zinger, and sets up a chapter like nobody’s business. Whenever I’m in a rut (writing, cooking, or both) I find myself breaking open my way-yellowed, barely-bound paperback copy, then inevitably following Andy around the house reading entire paragraphs to him (“..And now listen to this one!”) Like this intro to her chapter about entertaining.
“When you hate to cook, you should never accept an invitation to dinner. The reason is plain: Sooner or later, unless you have luckily disgraced yourself at their home, or unless they get transferred to Weehawken, you will have to return the invitation.”
Last year, while I was at an impasse writing my own book, I remember reading Andy the first page of IHTCB, then him replying, “I know what you mean. Every sentence is perfect.”
Well, this morning I started flipping through it again and came upon the section where she compiles seventy-five of her most favorite household hints. (But not before she ridicules the whole concept of household hints up and down and all around, God love her.) And then I saw this one:
“You can get a small sick youngster to eat more food, more happily, if you serve him an eight-course meal in a muffin tin. Many little bits of things — a spoonful of applesauce, a few green beans, a few little candies, etc — are more appetizing than three items in quantity.”
I’m not sure what age she was talking about when she refers to a “small sick youngster” but I’d be willing to bet that this trick might work nicely for small youngsters who aren’t sick…for small youngsters whose parents would do just about anything — including make muffin-tin tapas (with cupcake papers!) after clocking nine hours at the office — to get their finicky eater excited about trying something new. When Abby was a toddler suffering from her own bout of ingestus particulare, I know she would’ve been all over it. Above, I put together a sample selection of what might work in our house: cheddar cubes, broccoli, turkey meatballs, yellow peppers, baby ravioli, apricot halves. But I’m willing to bet you know better than me what should be in yours. Let me know how it goes.
My battered, but well-loved I Hate to Cook Book (open to the tip section), given to me by my Uncle Mike, and, incidentally, winner of a 2011 Dolly Award.
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Tags:peg bracken·picky eating
I’m a *little* worried this is going to sound like a wedding toast.
I have basically been following Mike Paterniti around for the past twelve years. When I worked at Esquire — as a kid, practically — Mike was the star writer who would come into town, from Portland, Maine, with his Patagonia backpack and his good vibes, and be nice to all the peons, and then fly off to crazy places and bring back stories like this and this, stories that would make 25 year-old assistant editors like me say, Damn, it would be nice to work with a writer like that someday. Then, when I went to GQ in 2002, I went — in large part — because Mike was there and, by taking the job, I would finally become his full-time editor and have the chance to work on stories like this. Then, a few years ago, I moved on to Random House — in large part — to work with Mike again, on a book he’d been obsessing over for the better part of a decade. That book, The Telling Room, was published yesterday, and the easy thing to say about it is that it’s a slow food fable about a cheesemaker, named — proof that there is a god? — Ambrosio, who lives in a tiny village (pop. 80) in Spain and makes his cheese, according to an ancient family recipe, from the milk of sheep that graze on chamomile and sage. But that’s not really what the book is about. This book is about the heartbreaking story of Ambrosio’s world-class cheese, yes, but it’s also about Spain and the ghosts of Civil War, about friendship and betrayal, about love and memory and forgiveness, and, most important, about stories. The stories we tell ourselves in order to live.
Do I love this book? Yes.
Did I warn you this was going to sound like a wedding toast? Yes.
In the course of writing and reporting his book, Mike spent a lot of time in Spain. He estimates he made 15 to 20 trips to Guzman, in fact, during which he learned a lot about Ambrosio and his magical cheese (it was said to conjure memories), but also about family dinner. Given that this is a blog dedicated to that very subject, we asked Mike to tell us how they do in the Castilian highlands. He did, and we’re glad. Congrats, Mike! — Andy
Of all Spanish institutions, family dinner ranks as one of my favorites. Why? Because it happens to be Spanish chaos theory at its best—and the Spaniards are good at chaos. After all, what other nation runs with its bulls… or holds a massive tomato-pelting event, in which citizens throw over 90,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other… or has an annual, mandatory, four-day, wine-soaked party—known as the fiesta—in every village of its great, sun-scorched land?
In classic Spanish fashion, then, family dinner is a microcosm of this craziness and big joy. And of course, there’s a fair amount of confusion about when dinner really is. Is it the big meal in the middle of the day, known as the comida? Or is it the late-evening, smaller meal known as cena? (The Spaniards love their food so much they have five designated grazing times a day: desayuno, or breakfast; almuerzo, the late-morning snack; comida in the early afternoon; and then the latter meals of the day: merienda, or late afternoon snack; and cena, dinner.)
Cena is the best—and in summer begins anywhere between 10 and midnight. In the plazas of the cities, you’ll see families seated at outdoor restaurant tables, telling animated stories, wine, chorizo, and grilled pimientos on the table, a simple green salad and some lomo on the way, the kids sprinting madly over cobblestones, playing soccer, chasing birds, when suddenly someone walks by on stilts, or an orchestra begins to play, or some impromptu marching band comes banging through the square. The voices get louder. Now the gambas sizzling in olive oil are put on the table, the laughter echoes, the kids shriek with joy as they come and go, grabbing tidbits from the table.
In the little Castilian village of Guzmán, where I moved my family one summer as I wrote my book, we often found ourselves with an invite to my friend Ambrosio’s telling room for cena. A telling room is a little hobbit hole dug into the hill on the north boundary of town, most of them equipped with a simple wood-plank table, a fireplace full of dried grapevines, which gives the grilled lamb a sweet taste, and a porron—a glass, decanter-like vessel with a spout—sloshing with homemade red wine. In Ambrosio’s telling room, the shutters were thrown open so we could look out over the picturesque village with its palacio and impressive church as we ate and drank. In fact, I’d often look up from the table, tricked by the illusion that I was gazing upon some ever-changing painting on the wall that just happened to be the village of Guzmán itself. (more…)
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Tags:michael paterniti·spain·the telling room
When you live with someone like Andy, it can be hard to know when he likes something and when he really likes something at the table. This is because his policy is to express how good dinner is if someone else has made it for him — I mean really express it — even if it’s maybe just mediocre. He’ll drop his fork. He’ll “Oh-My-God” a few times. He’ll mmmm through the entire first minute of eating. If it sounds disingenuous to indiscriminately dispense this kind of flattery, he might indulge that accusation for a second before saying that he’d rather err on the side of being overly gracious. As he’s fond of pointing out: “There’s nothing weirder than cooking for someone who doesn’t mention the food they’re eating while they’re eating it.” I love this about him.
Unless, of course I’m the one cooking for him, in which case it drives me batsh*t crazy.
Though it’s weird to even put this in writing, you might say that cooking dinner has sorta kinda become my livelihood. And in that way, it does me no good to be serenaded with “Wows” when I’ve just cooked something that may or may not be book- or blog-worthy. When I need an honest-to-god, incisive breakdown of whether a recipe works or not, the guy is utterly useless. (The kids on the other hand? You might say they are gifted in the Critiquing Department.)
I have noticed, however, that there is a subtle hierarchy to Andy’s compliments. It’s always a good sign when he asks “What’s in here?” after the first bite. It’s even better when the word “keeper” is thrown around at some point during the meal. But I think the compliment that registers highest on the truth-o-meter for me is what he said last Thursday night, after eating nothing but a tiny portion of leftover macaroni and cheese along with three or four salads made right from the CSA box.
“Wow,” he said. “I could eat like this every night.”
There’s a theme to the dinners that earn this compliment. The meals are almost always healthy. They generally involve fish, really fresh, in-season vegetables, and very little intervention on the part of the cook. The compliment is apparently so rare, that I can recite every single meal I’ve made him in 15 years that has earned the honor:
1. Asian Cabbage Salad with Shrimp or Chicken. The classic.
2. Grilled Black Sea Bass with Market Vegetables Pretty much the formula for Sunday Dinner from April through November, when our farmer’s market is open.
3. Sweet-and-Sour “Mongolian” Tofu We are newly obsessed with tofu. More to come on that front soon.
4. Fried Flounder with pretty much anything on the side. Must be the freshest flounder we can find.
5. Spaghetti with Clams (page 56 of Dinner: A Love Story) He is actually the one that always makes this.
6. Detox Soup With or without shrimp
7. Last Week’s Salad Bar Dinner
We had leftover Mac & Cheese, but you could also just serve salads and vegetables with good warm baguette toasts. Slice one baguette in half lengthwise, ten brush with olive oil (or spread with a little butter) and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and heat in 350°F oven for 15 minutes. While it warms, make:
- Any of these Summer Salads (from 2013 round-up), which includes the cilantro-napa cabbage salad you see above
- or these Summer Salads (from 2012)
- or these Summer Salads (from 2011), which includes the tomato-corn salad you see above
- or chopped tomatoes with basil and bocconcini
- lightly cooked carrots with honey, thyme, and butter
- or shredded zucchini sauteed in garlic and olive oil, aka Zucchini Butter via Food52 (not that Andy would ever touch that.)
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Tags:stone barns csa
If we were playing word association (since we just got back from vacay, there has been a lot of this game going on in our house) and we started with say, short ribs…Where would you go from there?
“Winter?” “Braise?” “Dutch Oven?” “Anna?”
I’ll tell you where I wouldn’t have gone:
Call me naive, but it never would’ve occurred to me to associate short ribs with backyard barbecuing — until a week or two ago, when our friends Todd and Anne had our family over for some dinner. Now, as you well know by now, dinner at their house in the summer is not your run-of-the-mill burgers-and-dogs-and-corn-on-the-cob kind of event. (Not that I would EVER turn down ANY of those things EVER!) But every time I walk in to Todd and Anne’s homey kitchen overlooking the Hudson River — whether it’s winter, spring, summer, or fall — Todd is busy concocting something curious. This time, he was mad-geniusing a cocktail: Lord only knows what the thing was — something that involved beer, cider vinegar, fresh lemons, bourbon, maybe even a small animal, can’t be sure, but whatever it was, it totally got the job done. Next to him was a platter of short ribs that Anne had dropped into a marinade a few hours earlier, getting ready to be tossed onto the grill. “It’s basically Tony’s Steak,” Todd told me, simultaneously working on a pot of quinoa and drizzling rice wine vinegar into some wilted spinach. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. This is so my kind of eatin’.
And I haven’t even gotten to the part in the story where the sun sinks into the horizon, casting a golden glow over the Hudson, the treetops, and the dinner table. So yeah, today, if you asked me to play word association with “short ribs” I’d have no choice but to say one thing: Summer.
Grilled Short Ribs with Scallions
Todd & Anne served this with an herby quinoa dish and wilted spinach that had been tossed with a drizzle of rice wine vinegar, a drop or two of sesame oil, salt, pepper, sesame seeds. Oh and also a nice cold glass of Ramey Chardonnay.
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Juice from one lime
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs
1 bunch scallions, trimmed (as shown above) and tossed in a little olive oil with salt
Add all the marinade ingredients to a large ziploc bag. Add ribs, seal it, and marinate in the refrigerator for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. Heat grill to high and add ribs and scallions as shown above. Cook ribs about 3 to 4 minutes a side, about 10-12 minutes total, browning all sides. Flesh should feel tender, but not smushy. Scallions are ready when they are slightly charred and wilted.
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Tags:grilled short ribs
When we were kids, summer camp taught us a couple of basic life lessons: (1) Kool-Aid stains do not come out easily, while Cheetos stains somehow do; and (2) on overnight trips, when the counselors “hang out” by the campfire at night, they are not just “hanging out” by the campfire.
Things are a little different with our girls, who came home from day camp last summer, walked into the kitchen with a bunch of recipes, and asked, “Can we make dinner tonight?” The menu: squash fritters with Korean dipping sauce and apricot crumble for dessert. Who were these kids, and what the heck had happened? Well, they’d been lucky enough to attend Farm Camp, run by the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York. You might know it as our CSA resource, or maybe as the place that provides much of the food served at chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, possibly the most celebrated farm-to-table destination restaurant in the country. If all this sounds absurd, it is–but in the best way.
At camp, our daughters spent their mornings feeding hazelnuts to pigs and their afternoons “in the field,” which is a nice way of saying that we paid good money to have them weed someone else’s garden. At pickup, they didn’t hand us spray-painted macaroni art that we’d have to figure out how to “misplace” at home, but rather the delicious things they’d made in the camp’s kitchen: a batch of 30-second hummus, a mason jar filled with real buttermilk ranch dressing, a still-warm doughnut. What we came to love most about their experience, though, was that the camp reflected the mission of our family table as well. Behind it all was a desire to instill some love for great ingredients prepared as simply as possible. “Look at the colors,” one counselor would say after helping campers prepare a stack of those tasty fritters. “Look at the texture. How beautiful is that?” Pretty beautiful, if you ask us.
This is our “Providers” column for the July issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their website for the recipe. Photo by Christina Holmes for Bon Appetit.
Related…Zucchini: A Hate Story.
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Tags:csa zucchini·zucchini fritters
I think once a week since the Atkins craze seized us in the 90s, I’ve told myself that I’m going to try to limit the carbs — and at dinner have two vegetable sides instead of one vegetable and one bready-ricey-potatoey thing. Problem is, I like those bready-ricey-potatoey things a lot. And so do the kids. So I barely make it through one meal before I’ve fallen off the strach wagon. But if ever there was a time of year that I had a shot of making this happen, it’s summer, when our farmer’s market opens for the season and the fridge is overflowing with fresh vegetables. We’ve been rockin’ the summer salads for the past few weeks and thought I’d share a few of my favorites.
1. Market Greens with Beets, Sugar Snaps, Candied Walnuts, and Toasted Quinoa (Above) Wrap beets in foil and cook at 400°F for 40 minutes until a knife slips easily through them. Let cool, then peel and chop. Toss into market greens with chopped sugar snap peas, candied walnuts, scallions, and toasted quinoa. (See bottom of post for instructions.) Toss with your favorite vinaigrette, but nothing too overwhelming. (I’d stay away from one that’s balsamic-based.)
2. Sugar Snaps with Cilantro, Pickled Cabbage. Trim peas and chop into bite size pieces. Add handful of cilantro, finely diced red onion, few tablespoons pickled cabbage (here’s a quick pickle recipe if you want; just replace carrots with red cabbage). Drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Chilled Napa Cabbage with Cilantro and Shallots I know you’re going to think this is overstating things, but I dreamed of this salad all night long after making it last week. I had a head of Napa cabbage and wasn’t in the mood for a mayo-heavy slaw, so I did what any self-respecting farmer’s market-frequenter would do: I referred to Alice Waters’ bible, Vegetables. (You’ll be hearing more from me about this book very soon.) Waters suggested macerating (i.e. soaking) shallots in white wine vinegar for 15 minutes then tossing with shredded cabbage, cilantro, and really good olive oil, salt, and pepper. I’m telling you — it sounds boring, but when the cabbage is fresh, you won’t believe how perfectly the whole thing cuts the char of a grilled steak.
4. Market Greens with Homemade Ranch Dressing The thing is, when the greens are this good, you don’t need to do a lot. A simple homemade ranch dressing does the job just fine. See recipe at the bottom of this post.
5. Mustardy Potato Salad See what I mean! I can’t ever resist the potato-starchy component. We’ve been making some version of this classic for years now — originally a Mark Bittman recipe. Basically, you peel then boil red or Yukon gold potatoes (about as many as you see above) for 15 minutes — until a knife slips through potatoes with no resistance whatsoever. You don’t want to undercook potatoes, but they also need a little structure. While potatoes are cooking, to a large bowl add a heaping tablespoon whole grain mustard, a heaping tablespoon Dijon, then whisk in about 1/3 cup of olive oil and a splash of a mild vinegar (champagne or white wine or red wine). If you have time to fry a few red onion slices or shallots in bacon fat (from one slice bacon) go for it, otherwise just add a handful of them chopped to the dressing. (Crumble cooked bacon in there, too.) Toss in potatoes while still warm and add fresh herbs, like fresh oregano which we had in our CSA box.
I stole both the toasted-quinoa technique and the buttermilk-ranch recipe from my friend Shaina at Stone Barns, who you might have gathered, is a genius.
Add a handful of uncooked quinoa to a pan set over medium-high heat and toast until aromatic and nutty smelling, about 3 mintues. Shake pan so the quinoa rotates and doesn’t burn.
Homemade Ranch dressing:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic salt
salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped shallot or red onion
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
Add lemon juice, mustard, garlic salt, salt, pepper, onions and herbs to a jar. Cover and shake until ingredients come together. Add olive oil and buttermilk and shake again. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.
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Tags:homemade ranch dressing·stone barns csa·summer salads·toasted quinoa recipe
Every year, right around this time, Jenny and I have the same conversation. We will have just finished dinner, and the kids will have disappeared upstairs to take baths or be mad because we are forcing them to take baths even though just they took baths last night, and Jenny will turn to me and say, “I think I could be a vegetarian.” And I am right there with her. Because (a) I like vegetables*, and (b) when this conversation takes place, we are inevitably transitioning from the gray of winter to the technicolor of prime produce season, when the carrots taste like carrots and the beets are like dessert and the kids can easily snack their way through a pint of snap peas, sitting in a bowl on the counter, in the course of a single afternoon.
It’s kind of crazy how a giant box of fresh produce — from the farmer’s market, a CSA or, if we were better people, from our backyard — in the refrigerator can reset your magnetic north (chicken, must have chicken, what can we do with chicken, remember to defrost chicken) when it comes to family dinner and just, in general, get the inspiration juices flowing again. The other day, as I was sitting at my desk, Jenny texted me a photo of some sick-a#s produce, along with a challenge: “What’s for dinner?” Not to go all Alice Waters on you here, but I let the green stuff be my guide. The truth is, you could throw any of this stuff in a bowl with a light dressing, some salt and pepper, and it would taste good. Apart from the roasting of the beets, nothing we did took longer than 15 minutes, start to finish — and the beets, if I’d been smart enough to plan ahead, could easily have been prepared the day before. Which is what I will do next time, because they were the best thing on the plate by far.
“The beets were the star,” Jenny said.
“Phoebe, what’d you think?” I asked.
“Yeah, good,” she said. “Can I have Oreos on my sundae?”
It was after this meal, as we were cleaning up, that Jenny turned to me and said she thought she could be a vegetarian. Will we ever do it? Who knows. It’s possible. That’s a conversation that, for now, gets derailed by Abby’s love of bacon… and Phoebe’s attachment to cheeseburgers… and that also might ultimately be contingent on fish also being in the mix, given our attachments. But what would definitely help speed our conversion along is if I inherited a fertile plot of land in, say, Northern California that would supply us with fresh produce all year round, or at the very least, if this CSA deal could be extended, ad infinitum, until I am old and sick to death of beets. Short of that, we’ll have to see. – Andy
*Except for zucchini.
This is the photo Jenny emailed me: A sampling of our idiot-proof raw materials — tiny Napoli carrots, dragon radishes, kohlrabi, Oregon giant snow peas, super sugar snap peas, red ace beets, and an herb called winter savory. And this is what we ended up having for dinner… (more…)
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The Order of Events
5:30 About to leave for Phoebe’s last lacrosse game of the season; realize I have not thought about dinner for one second. Do quick scan of fridge, see big bouquet of wilting CSA mint sitting in cup of water, screaming “Now or never!” It’s summer and summer + mint immediately sends me in the direction of peas. Yes! A bag of Trader Joe’s peas in the freezer. Leave on counter to thaw. Head out the door.
6:30-7:30 Game a total nail-biter. Would’ve loved to end season on a win — instead added a notch in the “L” column. Whole team fought so hard. 8 to 7. So close!
7:45 Walk in the door. Water goes on stovetop for boiling. Andy adds thawed peas and mint and everything else into blender. I assemble a turkey-and-cheese sandwich for the resident pasta hater. My sweaty, battered Left Attack takes a shower.
8:05 Milk poured. Pasta twirled. Picture snapped. Dinner served.
Spaghetti with Mint-Pea Pesto
This is a feel-your-way kind of recipe. We agreed after the fact that we should’ve used a food processor instead of a blender — because it helps to have the pulse option to control the consistency. Also: If you don’t want to serve this with pasta, just skip the thinning out part and spread on a baguette, Todd-style.
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (I used 3/4 of the bag you see above)
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parm, plus more for serving
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste
1 pound spaghetti
Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Whirl remaining ingredients (except spaghetti) in a food processor. Taste and adjust as you go. (Don’t overprocess or it will be too emulsified.) Consistency should be somewhere in between smooth and chunky guacamole.
Add pasta to the pot and about half way through cooking it, scoop out about a cup of hot water. Set aside. Drain pasta once cooked. Scrape pea mixture into the empty hot pot, then start drizzling reserved pasta water into the dip, whisking until it has the consistency of a creamy sauce. Toss pasta in sauce and serve with freshly grated Parm and some torn mint leaves if you’re feeling fancy.
Note: This was written on Thursday so “last night” in the title refers to Wednesday. In case anyone out there is fact-checking.
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Tags:mint pea pesto·quick summer meals·spaghetti with mint pea pesto·summer pasta·what to do with mint
I have a confession to make. My heart sank a little when I saw escarole in my CSA box for the second week in a row. I know I’m supposed to be so game for the challenge, so excited to explore what kind of gold I can spin from these Vegetables I’d Never Pick Out Myself. But last week, week #1 — and I’m sorry to be all blasphemous about this — I wasn’t so crazy about that escarole. I should’ve probably wilted it into soup with white beans, but it was hot in New York, and I didn’t want soup. I craved fresh, bright, light salads. I chopped up the escarole and dressed it with my new favorite vinaigrette. But it turns out escarole is bitter. Too bitter for me — or any of the nose-wrinklers at my table — to enjoy raw. This, you’d think I’d know by now. I don’t. No amount of pomegranate seeds tossed in with the leaves, no amount of sugar added to the vinaigrette seemed to help the situation. But I ate the whole stinkin’ head. (Kids: Another story.) I was not going to throw it away.
This week, when confronted with escarole for a second week in a row, I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to cook it. And if I wanted my kids to eat it, I knew I’d have to do something drastic that maybe even involved covert operations. With Deb’s pot stickers still fresh in my memory, I decided on dumplings.
Now be warned: Dumplings are not the kind of dinner you’re gonna be glad you have in your back-pocket to whip together at a moment’s notice. Oh no, they most certainly are not. I, in fact, made this batch you see above in the middle of the day, when the kids were still in school, as a reward for finishing up a project that took a lot out of me. (Nothing like pressing ‘pulse’ on the Cuisinart to build oneself back up again.) I had five kitchen stations going simultaneously: the cutting board, a skillet for cooking the vegetables, the food processor, the wrapping area, and a second skillet for frying the dumplings. This meal is not what one might call a No Brainer.
But it is kind of genius. Because that huge mop of escarole that was mocking me from the CSA box? Transformed into a crispy, greens-and-tofu-packed vegetarian entree. And even better, when the kids finally got home they couldn’t help but say as soon as they walked in the door “What smells so good?” (I know, frying wontons is kind of totally cheating) and then gravitated to the kitchen, playdates in tow, where the dumplings were laid out on a platter, and began shoveling them down their collective hatches. “Mom! These are good! What’s in here? Is that cheese?” asked Abby.
“Um, no. I mean, yes it’s cheese. Totally cheese,” I told her, remembering that tofu was on her black list as recently as one month ago.
“And spinach?” asked her friend.
“Yup. Spinach and Cheese.”
And pretty soon, all gone. Every last leaf.
Fried Vegetable Dumplings
Instead of wincing at this long ingredient list think about it this way: Dumplings are what you might call a back-pocket, end-of-the-week meal. As long as you have your basic aromatics (garlic, ginger, onions) and some pantry staples (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, veg oil) then you can pretty much fold up any about-to-rot vegetable inside the wonton wrappers (which keep in the freezer forever, by the way). Also: I highly recommend making them as a weekend project with the kids.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Dash of sesame oil
1 small shallot or 4 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
shake red pepper flakes
1 bunch fresh greens that you don’t want to eat raw, but don’t want to throw away (such as escarole, radish greens, turnip greens, or even fresh spinach), roughly torn
2/3 block extra firm tofu (pressed and drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, and sliced into rectangles)
handful chives, roughly chopped
handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
Squeeze of lime
1 12-ounce pack of wonton wrappers
Add the oils to a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the scallions, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Chinese Five Spice for about 2 minutes. Add greens and cook another minute until slightly wilted.
Transfer the filling to the bowl of a large food processor. Add remaining ingredients (except wrappers) and pulse until everything is roughly chopped, but not a big pile of mush.
Set up your dumpling-assembling station: A small bowl of water, the filling, and your wontons.
Dip your fingers in the water and dot or “paint” around the edges of a wonton. (This is an excellent task for the kids.)
Spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of each wonton. (Ignore the one on the upper right, it was my first one and it was waaay too much.)
Fold one corner over the opposite corner to make a triangle shape. Pinch all sides together; smush their centers slightly (so they’ll lay flat in the frying pan) and set aside.
Once all the dumplings are assembled, add a tablespoon vegetable oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Fry in batches adding more oil as needed, until dumplings are crispy and golden, about 2 minutes on each side.
Serve the dumplings with soy sauce. To make it an official dinner, round out with a fresh sugar snap peas salad.
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Tags:csa recipes·escarole·escarole recipes·stone barns csa·vegetable pot stickers