Entries Tagged as 'Pasta'

If You Cook it, They Will Come

March 25th, 2011 · 24 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Kitchenlightenment, Pasta, Rituals

I’d like to interrupt the relentless roll-out of pizzas and stews for an important — maybe even obvious — message. A few nights ago I was reading yet another article regurgitating what we probably all know by now about family dinner. This just in: All kinds of great things will happen if you just sit down with your kids to eat dinner. They will bring home straight As, they will be less likely to suffer from depression or eating disorders. They will beg for second helpings of spinach. And, right on cue, the article ended with this line (I’m paraphrasing): “Don’t worry about making a homemade dinner. Have a bowl of healthy whole grain cereal if you have to. It’s not the food that’s important, it’s being together.”

Let me first just say that I of course totally agree with most of this statement. The being-together part, after all, is the whole reason I launched this site. DALS is as much a response to all of us wanting to connect more with our children as it is about those succulent, beautiful eight-minute lamb chops.  But if that is all it is about, then there would only be as many posts here as there are brands of nutritious cereal. (Or Trader Joe’s frozen pizzas!) And also, I’m pretty sure we would’ve stopped caring about dinner (cooking it and writing about it) a while ago since a bowl of cereal for dinner is kind of fun if it’s Cereal for Dinner Night. But after too many Cereal For Dinner Nights, it’s just…cereal.

The goal (at least in my house) is to make dinner a ritual, and putting together something that you want to eat — that you are excited to eat — is going to do more for establishing that ritual than just about anything else. If you cook good food, it will build on itself. Your family will look forward to it. You will look forward to it. You will get addicted to eating well and watching your family eat well. (Is it me or do I sound exactly like Amy Chua justifying the self-esteem cycle that results from making your children practice their instruments for three hours a day? You force them to practice, they get better. The better they get the more they want to practice…) Is it essential that you braise an Osso Bucco on a Tuesday night? Of course not! There are all kinds of quick easy recipes on this site that qualify as special. But my point is, I don’t want to dismiss the role of caring about what you cook in this whole equation. The more you care, the more you’ll cook, and the more you cook, the more firmly the family dinner ritual will take hold. It’s probably going to be a long time before my kids recognize in a conscious way that eating a meal with someone who loves them satisfies some deep psychological need. But for now I’m pretty sure they’re psyched to show up just for the noodles.  And I don’t have any problem with that.

Thai Chicken with Noodles from Martha Stewart: Killer. Illustration up top is by M. Hafner, from the March 1960 issue of Good Housekeeping.

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10-Minute Tortellini

March 9th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Pasta, Pork and Beef, Vegetarian

Since I think I’ve received a personal (practically perfumed) note from just about every DALS reader telling me how much you love Andy’s pork ragu, I assume you might be interested in some suggestions for how to stretch it out into two meals. Yes, this means that you’ll have to restrain yourself from eating the entire batch on Night One, but if you have the promise of enjoying it a second time around with a minimal amount of revival effort on a weeknight…wouldn’t that make it just a little easier to get through the week? You could do what my friend Todd suggests — dump your thawed ragu in a pie dish, cover with mashed potatoes, and bake (covered with foil) for…hmmm….20 minutes at 350° for a quick shepherd’s pie. Or you could do what I did last week: Make tortellini. I don’t think of tortellini as a vehicle for leftovers as often as I should.  Wonton wrappers make it so easy! And if you don’t have leftover ragu — or if you have kids who might turn their noses up at ragu tortellini — then you can always do a straight ricotta and top it with tomato sauce like the one I used for Chicken Parm the other day.

10-Minute Tortellini

Since you’ve been storing it in the freezer in a flattened ziploc (right?) first you thaw your frozen ragu under running water (since you’ve stored it in a flattened ziploc this should only take about 30 seconds). Stir your leftovers with a few dollops of fresh ricotta and freshly grated Parmesan in a small bowl. (You don’t want it to be very liquidy, so scooping ragu out of the ziploc with a slotted spoon might help.) If you are making ricotta ravioli, mix up another bowl with ricotta, Parmesan, and a few pinches of chopped spinach. Measurements are basically to taste.

Place a teaspoon of either mixture on top of a single wonton noodle. Fold into a triangle (you’ll need to paint the inside edges with a fingertip dipped in water to seal) and join bottom two corners to form tortellini shapes shown above. Repeat as many times as necessary. (I generally plan for 8 to 10 per grown-up, and 6 per kid.) For the ragu tortellini, you don’t need to do much else after you’ve boiled them for three minutes (your sauce is basically inside the pasta) so just swirl around in garlic and olive oil in the same pot they boiled in. But do this last step gently, wonton noodles are not as sturdy as traditional pasta. Serve ricotta tortellini with the sauce written up here.

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Instant Dinner Party

January 24th, 2011 · 80 Comments · Dinner, Entertaining, Favorites, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

Spoiler alert: If you come over to our house for dinner any time between now and the first day of spring, there’s about a 90% chance we’re going to cook this for you. The pork shoulder ragu you see above is our new obsession. It’s the ideal dish for Sunday dinner, or even better, an informal winter dinner party: It’s warm, it’s hearty, it smells insanely good, it goes well with red wine, and my God, is it tasty. But none of those are the main reason we’re so obsessed with this right now — no, the best part of this one is that, once the guests arrive, your work is already done. All the prep — what little of it there was — is four hours ago, a distant memory. Which is increasingly the way we like it. It seems like the older we get, and the more cooking we do, the simpler we want our entertaining to be. For sure, there was a day when we would have spent the afternoon, Martha-style, frantically scooping out little cucumber cups with a mellon-baller and filling them with creme fraiche and topping them with smoked salmon and dainty sprigs of dill, when we would have been stirring (and stirring) risotto and mandolining three different kinds of potatoes and being distracted, instead of hanging out with our guests. But then kids happened, and our tastes changed, and those days are gone. These days, I love nothing more than a one-pot meal — I am a braising machine! — and this really basic pork ragu over pasta is where our heads are at right now. It’s an instant party: you just take it out of the oven, shred the pork, boil some pasta, and you’re done. If the kids don’t like pork, they can eat the pasta; if they do like pork, then I love them, and there’s still plenty for everybody. Though I should add that, as good as this is on a cold winter night, it’s even better for lunch the next day. If it weren’t for a little thing known as coronary heart disease, I would eat this every day for the rest of my life. –Andy (more…)

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Twas the Week Before Christmas…

December 21st, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Vegetarian

…and neither you nor your spouse…can even think about getting dinner on the table. Especially if you are the one cooking the Big Dinner in a few short days for a few dozen guests. This easy pasta dish is a good fall-back plan for these kinds of nights, when all you want to do is pour a glass of milk over some Fruit Loops and call it a meal. It’s healthy, makes good use of last-legs grape tomatoes, and requires minimum hands-on time so you can go ahead and get something done — like wrap the karaoke machine or the Sambas or the new Amelia Rules book. Shhhhh!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roast Tomatoes and Mascarpone

Toss two small containers grape tomatoes and 1/2 red onion (roughly chopped) in olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 300°F for an hour or until tomatoes look shriveled and a little golden brown on top. (Watch them to make sure they don’t blacken.) During last 15 minutes of roasting, cook whole wheat penne according to package directions. After you drain penne, add olive oil and 1 clove garlic (minced) to the same pot and cook over low heat about a minute. Add pasta back to pot, then toss with tomatoes and onions. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone or ricotta and freshly grated Parmesan.

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Great Grandma Turano’s Meatballs

November 8th, 2010 · 30 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Rituals

Once upon a time, Brooklyn, New York was not a cool place to live. Back in those days – the late seventies, actually — in an unhip and unironically aluminum-sided neighborhood known as Borough Park, in the windowless basement of a plain row house with a concrete yard and a Madonna in the living room, a 95-year-old Sicilian woman named Vitina Turano toiled at a stove, four burners blazing. She was my great grandmother. Four and a half feet tall, clad in house dress, slippers, and homemade apron, bent of spine and hairy of chin, Great Grandma Turano was busy making meatballs.

A horde of us were gathered, as we did once or twice a year, at an enormous table covered in floral-print oilcloth that ran the length of an entire wall, a long wooden bench on one side, a humming furnace at the end. My parents and brother, my Aunt Patty and Uncle Julian, a few of my mom’s cousins and second cousins, none of whom I ever really got to know but all of whom had names like John and Sal and Paul and Mary and Anthony and Tony and… Anthony and Tony. (There was even a girl named Toni, no joke.) The men would all sit, drinking Gallo from a green jug, as the li’l matriarch did her thing, with an assist from the younger Turano women, until it was time to eat – at which point, steaming platters of food would magically appear before us, exist for a few perfect moments, and then be devoured.

Great Grandma Turano died when I was seven years old, so my memories of her, and of these epic dinners, live on now only in glimmers and shards: her heavily accented English, utterly baffling to my untrained ears; her basement lair; her folding lawn chair out back, where she would sit and motion for me to come over – “cuh me-uh,” she’d say, curling a crooked finger at me, “cuh me-uh” — so she could hug and kiss me, which in retrospect was a small thing I should have happily given in to, but in the moment felt kind of scary and to be resisted at all costs, despite my mother’s prodding.

And her meatballs. I do remember those meatballs. Though it’s hard, this far on, to say whether I remember the ones she made specifically, or the ones my mother made for us – using Great Grandma Turano’s recipe, of course, which she had been forced by her family to commit to paper before she passed away – pretty much once every couple weeks for the first eighteen years of my life. Talk about a staple of your youth: This was mine. Pasta and meatballs with a green salad and some crusty bread? Damn. I can picture those nights perfectly now, the pot of extras simmering on the stove, waiting to be pillaged for seconds. We’ve managed to keep the tradition going strong in our house, too, busting these badboys out on Sunday nights in the fall and winter for the past almost twenty years. Hell, they even made it onto our recipe door. The kids have gotten into the act lately, too — Phoebe performed half the work on the batch you see here, rolling the balls by hand, and helping to brown them. Five generations and counting…

Grandma Turano’s Meatballs Recipe (more…)

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Shrimp, Meet Angel Hair

October 26th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Seafood

My daughters are 20 months apart in age. When they were babies, people would take one look at the hollowed-out shells that once housed our functioning selves and say It’s tough now, but you’ll be so grateful later when they play together. I thought these people were lying just to make me feel better. We were so in the thicket of “now” that we couldn’t imagine a “later.” I could not fathom these helpless little things entertaining each other, or a time when we would trade in defensive parenting — hovering, watching, reacting — for active parenting. Nor could I imagine a time when they’d actually sit down to a real meal with us. The sitting part stymied me, as did the “real meal” part. Their plates held not so much dinner as a poor man’s tapas selection: cubes of raw red peppers, microscopic pieces of chicken or shrimp, a little bowl of noodles. But I turned a corner the day I decided to marry two of those foods to make one: Angel Hair with Shrimp. It’s so simple it seems almost stupid, but it worked as a perfect inaugural family dinner because the shrimp and pasta mix together without fully integrating. So if it flops, you can always send the ingredients back to their separate corners. And if it works, the kids get a real meal, and you get a glimpse of your future.

Angel Hair with Shrimp

In a medium pot, cook angel hair as directed on package. Drain and toss with olive oil in the colander to prevent noodles from sticking. Return the pot to the stovetop and turn heat to medium. Add more olive oil, one chopped shallot (or 1/2 onion), one clove of garlic (minced), a few red pepper flakes (optional), salt and pepper, and cook about one minute, nestling garlic amidst the onions to prevent it from burning. Push to the side, turn up heat slightly, and add 3/4 pound of cleaned shrimp. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes on one side, then when you flip them over, pull in the onions and toss until everything is cooked through. Squeeze a little lemon on the shrimp, then add the angel hair, tossing to combine. Add a handful of chopped parsley, unless you think it will render prospects of consumption null and void.

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Separate but Unequal

October 15th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Vegetarian

I knew what I wanted for dinner yesterday before I had even taken a sip of my morning coffee. It was going to be that beautiful fusilli with chard and crunchy breadcrumbs that accompanied Melissa Clark’s story in the Times about whole wheat pasta. I didn’t have any fusilli — but I had some whole wheat rigatoni, and chard, and onions and…hey look at that!…I had some thyme and goat cheese and mushrooms, too! With the addition of each new ingredient to the pot, though, I was not only getting further away from Melissa’s recipe, I was getting further away a meal I could expect my children to eat no-questions-asked*. So just before I dolloped a hunk of very un-extractable goat cheese into the hot pasta, a point-of-no-return move if there ever was one, I made a decision: The kids are eating something else tonight. Tonight, I just need to cook my dinner the way I want to cook my dinner, and I want to eat my dinner the way I want to eat my dinner. The family has sat down to roughly the same meal for, what, about four straight nights now? Plus, I volunteered at school today and sent out Abby’s birthday invitations! Surely these noble deeds qualified me for some kind of kickback? So Andy and I had our special earthy, herby pasta and the kids had their Trader Joe’s chicken taquitos from the freezer. And the sun still rose from the east in the morning.

*in my house, mushrooms + goat cheese is asking a lot


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Back-Pocket Bolognese

September 20th, 2010 · 21 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Quick

OK, Valerie….I mean Readers….Meet Turkey Bolognese. This recipe has been in the rotation in our house for almost two decades. It was the sauce we cooked together in Andy’s first apartment (in 1994, in Brooklyn, when the only restaurant on Smith Street was The Red Rose) and the same one he made when we first came home from the hospital with a new baby — which we then stored in freezer bags alongside bags of expressed breastmilk. It is not only forgiving with measurements, but with schedules, too. It’s workable on a weeknight if you have a 40-45 minute window (about half that is hands-on time) or, if you wake up on a Sunday feeling particularly SuperMommish, you can cook up a batch to freeze and cash in on later in the week. (more…)

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Spaghetti with (or without) Clams

September 15th, 2010 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Seafood

I love sharing these kinds of recipes with parents. Doesn’t it look like we cooked up two completely different meals: one for the grown-ups (left) and one for the kids (right)? We didn’t at all. The astute eye will notice that everything you see on the right makes up the meal on the left. It just took a little think-work for Andy to strategically reserve a few pre-approved components from the chopping board before they were tossed into the pot with the steamed deal-breakers, I mean Little Necks.

Spaghetti and Clams
This is so easy and so amazingly delicious. It takes 20 minutes. Twenty minutes!!! If you think your kids will like it without any editing, just pretend the green instructions below don’t exist.

Make spaghetti according to package directions, setting aside plain pasta tossed with olive oil or butter on the kids plates if that’s the way it has to be. In a large stock pot or Dutch Oven set over medium heat, saute 1 chopped shallot, 1 minced garlic clove, a few shakes of red pepper flakes and some freshly ground pepper in olive oil. (Not necessary to salt — the clams are naturally briny.) Add about a dozen and a half fresh clams, a 1/2 cup white wine, and a small bunch of whatever fresh herbs (chopped) you have lying around. (Andy used parsley and basil.) When the clams steam open, add a handful of chopped tomatoes (any shape or color, setting some aside on the kids’ plates if you’d like), some corn off the cob (again, setting some aside) and cook another two or three minutes. Discard any clams that haven’t opened, then toss the whole thing with pasta, making sure to scoop lots of the broth into the bowl. Serve with crusty bread for sopping.

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Back-Pocket Recipe: Rigatoni with Tomatoes

July 26th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Vegetarian

When I was in my twenties, I was obsessed with Gwyneth Paltrow. I was 25 and feeling lost career-wise when she had her first real star turn in Emma. I saw the movie opening weekend and read any profile of her that I could get my hands on. Every time I finished a story, I felt like I was in 6th grade all over again — eyeing the popular girl from afar consumed by an envy I couldn’t completely understand. If only I could find a career as creative and as fulfilling as Gwynnie’s! I still had that before-30 belief that if I just worked a little harder then maybe I’d still have a shot at being a movie star and going to the Oscars in a pink Ralph Lauren frock. (Any professional achievement that happened after 30 in my mind didn’t count. At that point it seemed expected, un-special.) The fact that I could barely give a wedding toast without panicking for weeks leading up to the big day, or that I hadn’t acted since I played Adelaide in my 6th-grade production of Guys & Dolls were small details to be worked out later. (more…)

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Corn for the Dentally Challenged

July 13th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Pasta, Pork and Beef

In my mind, it’s pretty much sacrilegious to suggest doing a single thing to sweet, fresh, summer corn besides enjoy it on the cob, slathered in butter with a little salt and pepper. But when one is sharing a house with a first and second grader whose grins periodically resemble Leon Spinks’, it can be challenging to be a purist on this point. Concessions must be made.

A tooth-fairy-approved fall-back plan (that is, if you want to do more than simply shave the kernels off the cob and hand the kid a spoon) is this simple dish, which calls for 3 to 4 pieces of bacon, but you could go with two and it will still be as delicious. The best part? You don’t need teeth to eat it.

Pasta with Corn and Bacon

Cook 1 pound of spaghetti, fettucini, or angel hair as directed. When drained, toss with a little bit of olive oil to prevent noodles from sticking. Meanwhile, in a deep skillet, fry 3 to 4 pieces of bacon (country ham is pictured) over medium heat. Remove when crisp and chop after they’ve cooled. Wipe up some of the bacon grease in the pan with a paper towel, then add 1/2 large onion (chopped) and the raw scraped-off kernels from 4 ears of fresh corn. Fry in the fat until onions are cooked through and corn is cooked and slightly crispy. Add a hefty dose of shredded Parmesan and stir again. Divide your cooked pasta between four bowls, add corn-onion mixture, bacon crumbles, more Parmesan, freshly ground pepper, and some chopped basil. Depending on the bacon you use, you might have to add some salt at the table.

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Quack & Cheese

June 21st, 2010 · 6 Comments · Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

Just want to clear one thing up: My family does not all sit down to the same dish every single night. We do most nights. But like every house that is inhabited by humans born in the 21st century, there is the constant chorus of requests (an awfully nice way to put it) from the royal diners. I want spaghetti not meatballs, I want meatballs not spaghetti. I want ketchup with my hamburger. I won’t eat my fish without soyaki. I don’t have to go on. I know you know.

There are also nights when it’s just not a realistic proposition for me to forego, say, the pasta with yogurt and caramelized onions that I’ve been craving all week…just because two of the four people at my table will wrinkle their noses in protest when they see it. On those nights, when we all eat together but eat wildly different things, I am not cooking elaborate Plan-B type meals.  I won’t make anything more complicated than peanut butter sandwiches and Annie’s Mac & Cheese if they’re not going along with what’s on the menu. I’ve never felt bad about the PB — it’s a wholesome meal as far as I’m concerned…all-natural peanuts on whole wheat bread. But the Mac & Cheese? Well, it’s organic, but is it nutritious? I stopped feeling guilty about it when my friend Claudia told me a trick she learned from her mother-in-law. Like all brilliant ideas, it’s so simple it’s genius.  She makes Annie’s Mac & Cheese with quinoa. Yes, quinoa, the complete protein that you usually see in the same sentence as the word “superfood.” She mixes an Annie’s cheese pack into a big batch of the stuff and her kids call it Quack and Cheese. My kids still won’t eat quinoa (I feel it, though, they’re getting close) so I thought I’d do a halfway-house version using elbow-shaped quinoa pasta, which you can find at most health and specialty stores. It’s appealingly yellow color made it an easy sell and even though Abby noticed its slightly chewier texture, this didn’t appear to be a deal-breaker.

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Rigatoni with Mushrooms I’d Never Heard Of

June 11th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Vegetarian

Last week, as you may have noticed on my visual market post-mortem, I came home with a pile of cool-looking maitake mushrooms from the farmer’s market. I probably sound like I know what I’m talking about, but in truth, I had never heard of maitakes before I spied them on a vendor’s table next to the Lion’s Manes (another new-to-me variety) seven days ago. Phoebe was with me and asked what they were. I told her I didn’t know but I was going to buy them anyway because they smelled so off-the-charts rich and earthy. She asked, You’re going to eat something you’ve never heard of? I told her yes — Isn’t that what I’ve been asking of you and you sister for the last eight years? I liked being able to impart that lesson to her — that just because I am a grown-up who gets more excited by a clean sink than a Bourne movie  – doesn’t mean I ever have to lose a sense of adventure at the table. I also liked being able to eat this particular adventure tossed with fresh eggy pasta and Parm.

Rigatoni with Maitake Mushrooms
Serves 4

1 pound fresh rigatoni (I used egg, but you can use regular or whole wheat and I’m sure no one will come knocking)
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little more for later)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
dash of red pepper flakes (optional if your kids don’t like heat; but they probably don’t like mushrooms either, so might as well throw it in)
1 to 2 cups maitake mushrooms (or whatever fresh mushrooms you foraged at the market today), cleaned and chopped into bite-size pieces.
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan
handful of fresh thyme or parsley

In a medium pot, boil water and prepare pasta as directed. Drain, place in a large bowl (separating out pasta portions for kids who won’t eat mushrooms) and toss with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, add olive oil and saute garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. (Garlic shouldn’t burn since it’s “embedded” in onions.) Turn up heat slightly and add mushrooms, cooking until they release their liquid, about 3-5 minutes and adding more oil if you feel the mixture is too dry. Stir in lemon zest, salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with pasta.

Turn up the heat to high and add another generous glug of olive oil. Add bread crumbs and cook until toasted and crispy, about 1 minute. Add to pasta bowl along with Parmesan and fresh herbs.

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Would Anybody Like to Play a Game?

June 10th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Seafood, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook, Vegetarian

Now, granted this might be hard because it involves some knowledge of my cookbook shelves pre-June 10, 2010. But the game is this: Can anyone guess what new cookbook has been added to my kitchen library? I’ll give you a hint. It’s wedged in between Ruth Reichl and Marcella Hazan, a few doors down from Martha Stewart and Bugialli and Bittman, underneath Julia Child and Mario Batali and Jim Lahey…? Give up?

It’s Time for Dinner, the cookbook I co-authored with Pilar Guzman and Alanna Stang while we were all still at Cookie. Although the book doesn’t officially publish until September, I received a real-life, I-can-hold-it-in-my-hands advance copy by FedEx this morning and it’s hard not to be Abby-ish and imagine myself (and my cowriters) on the same shelf as my food heroes. But the thing is — there I am. There we are. Next to Marcella Hazan!

I would love nothing more than to show you every single page in the 272-page playbook, but I’m going to restrain myself and just deliver some good news to all those former Cookie readers who have written to me telling me how much they miss the “So You Have A…” column. There is an entire chapter of SYHAs in the cookbook — 20 ingredients, 3 meal options for each, which means 60 total recipes. (Sixty recipes in just one chapter, btw.) For those of you new to SYHA, the column was one of Cookie‘s most popular pages. It charted recipes visually and the choose-your-own-adventure strategy (“head this way if you have pork; that way if you have pasta”)  is tailor-made for parents who come in the door at 6:30, see a big bunch of swiss chard (or sausage or frozen peas or miso paste) in the fridge and need quick inspiration for how they can turn it into dinner.  As addicted as I am to my digital recipe generating these days, seeing the flowcharted recipes spread across two pages reminded me how impossible it is to replicate the feeling of opening a book (see? It lies flat!) and getting inspired by lush photographs (thank you, Marcus Nilsson) and clean design (thank you, Number 17). Ok, I’m done now with the shameless self-promotion. Thanks for listening.

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Peanut Butter Logic

May 17th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

I know better than to apply logic to the process of feeding kids, but there I was doing exactly that a few weeks ago when I spied the perfect recipe for “peanut butter sauce” (aka satay, tahini, sesame sauce, etc.) by my friend and mother-of-two Melissa Roberts.  The logic went as follows:

If Peanut Butter = Surefire Consumption, and Noodles = Surefire Consumption, therefore Peanut Butter + Noodles = Mom Twice as Sure About Surefire Consumption

Jenny! Jenny! Jenny! How long have I been in this parenting business? Long enough to know that the surer you are about something, the greater the likelihood of failure.

I think my six-year-old, sensing my peanut butter-fueled swagger, figured out that she could really twist the knife if she rejected the sesame noodles (which, by the way, were delicious). And so I never really had a chance. Here’s what really kills me: She orders the dish at Chinese restaurants as a matter of course and this homemade version was infinitely better. Which she would have found out had she deigned to take a bite. My only consolation was that I was able to use the sauce to replicate an appetizer which I used to order at my favorite midtown sushi restaurant (RIP Expense Account)…a steamed spinach with sesame paste, also known as Goma Ae. My other daughter likes both peanut butter and spinach but, well, you can probably guess how that one turned out.


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We Have a Cover!

May 12th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef, Rituals, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

…And, perhaps even more exciting, we also finally have an amazon link where you can pre-order our Time for Dinner cookbook. OK…how cool is that cover? I can call my own number here because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Lia Ronnen at Melcher Media and Bonnie Siegler at Number 17 are the creative forces behind the design — as well as the 75 other cover tries that I am convinced, if decoupaged into shelf-liner, could make someone somewhere a million bucks. (Thanks, guys.)

In honor of this milestone, I’m giving you a recipe (tweaked a bit) that comes from one of my favorite chapters of the book. The chapter is a “starter kit” on feeding the baby called “What’s in it for me?”  where we show how to prepare basic fresh baby purees (avocado, sweet potato, bananas, etc.), then give instructions for how to take those purees and use them as the base for grown-up dishes. (So an avocado mash turns into taco topping, a peach puree is stirred into a Harry’s-style Bellini, you get the idea.) When we batted around ideas for grown-up-izing baby’s pureed sweet potato, Alanna, who wrote the section, suggested mixing in a miso butter with scallions. Apparently people knew about this combination? I did not, but let me just tell you, it’s a revelation — a revelation that my kids have come to like more than a plain sweet potato.

Sweet Potatoes with Miso Butter and Scallions (adapted from Time For Dinner)

2 whole sweet potatoes or yams
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons miso (white)
2 tablespoons chives or chopped scallions

Roast whole sweet potatoes at 450°F for 40 minutes. While they are roasting, mix together remaining ingredients. When potatoes are ready, slit them in half lengthwise, scoop out some flesh for the baby and mash with a fork.  Top the rest with miso butter. (For Abby, I scooped the flesh out of the skin and tossed it for her in a special bowl. Seemed to do the trick.)

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Spaghetti and Spring Vegetables

May 3rd, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Vegetarian

Until fairly recently, I had been an absolute slave to the written recipe, i.e.  it was a dealbreaker if the ingredient list called for shallots and all I had was an onion. If Everyday Food told me to serve the sausages with horseradish mustard and I only had grainy, then by God I went out and spent the $4.39 for the horseradish mustard. When I was 16 my neighbor hired me to help prepare and serve hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party, and not only did I incinerate the cheese puffs, but I stood there and watched them become more and more incinerated because the recipe said 15 minutes in the oven and it had only been 12.

If this sounds like you and you don’t like it, I have two pieces of advice for you. First: Have children. (What is parenting if not one long improv routine?) Second: Force yourself to cook only with what you have at the end of the week. Look in the fridge and the pantry. Then back in the pantry and the fridge…and see if anything comes to you. Pasta plus any vegetables (even those on their last legs) is the ideal default dinner. Last Friday I was fortunate to have a box of spaghetti, some asparagus, peas, and (yes!) even a shallot. And look, I managed to get it right.

Spaghetti with Spring Vegetables

1 pound spaghetti
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed at the bottom, and chopped into 1-inch pieces as shown above.
1 cup peas, preferably fresh organic (but thawed frozen will do just fine)
1 shallot, chopped
olive oil
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest
4-5 basil leaves, slivered
salt & pepper
freshly grated Parmesan

Prepare spaghetti according to package directions (make sure you salt the water). During last 2 minutes of cooking, throw asparagus and peas into the boiling water. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add shallots.

Before draining pasta, use a slotted spoon to scoop up as many of the vegetables from the pasta water as possible, and chuck them into the skillet to finish cooking.

Drain pasta and add back to pasta pot. Toss with a little more olive oil, vegetables, lemon zest, basil, salt, pepper, and Parm.

Another pasta-veg dinner that ignited a frenzy on DALS: Fettucini with Brussels.

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Venn Diagram Dinner

April 29th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Pork and Beef

OK, so remember that dinner I wanted us all to make together this week? This is it above: Orechiette with Sausage and Broccoli. You’ll notice that no plate looks the same. Abby had the pasta and broccoli, Phoebe had the broccoli and sausage. Mom and Dad had it all mixed together. (Cool that broccoli was the common thread, no?) Anyway, when I put the bowls up against each other, it reminded me so much of living, breathing Venn Diagram that I couldn’t resist the urge to sketch up an actual one:

What does this teach us exactly? (Besides the fact that I have serious problems?) Hopefully it reminds us that family dinner is a constantly evolving algorithm of taste and logistics. That the overlapping rings will spin around and reposition based on factors that are beyond our control. All you can do is put the same delicious meal in front of them and assume that somehow everyone will still get exactly what they want.

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