Entries Tagged as 'Vegetarian'

Anatomy of a Thursday Night Dinner

October 20th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Anatomy of a Weeknight Dinner, Dinner, Vegetarian

6:30 Walk in the door to an empty house. Andy is traveling. Girls have gotten rides to practice. Scan fridge. Some leftover bagged greens, a head of cauliflower, a vinaigrette I made on the weekend. The only meat we have is frozen. Not enough time to thaw. Scan the pantry. Jackpot: Two cans of chickpeas. Center-of-the-plate problem: Solved.

7:20 Pick up Daughter 1 at soccer.

7:40 Return home. Daughter 1 takes a shower. I chop cauliflower, add to a baking dish, and toss with olive oil, dash red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes at 425°F, along with some foil-wrapped Trader Joe’s Naan that’s been in the freezer for who knows how long. While this is happening, I drain and dump chickpeas into a hot frying pan with olive oil, some chopped onions, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika. (I always think of my friend Todd’s advice when making these: “Cook them longer than you think you should.”) I let them get nice and crispy while I toss the leftover greens with vinaigrette and make a quick yogurt sauce for the chickpeas.

8:15 Daughter 2 returns from soccer practice in her carpool.

8:20 Cleats off, hands washed. (I think?) Dinner.

8:22 Daughter 1: “Do I have to eat chickpeas?”

8:23 Peanut butter jar is procured and spread across pita. More chickpeas for the rest of us.

The End.

Fried Chickpea Sandwiches with Yogurt Sauce

Add a generous amount of oil to a cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Drain, rinse and dry two 14-ounce cans of garbanzo beans. When pan is hot but not smoking, add beans (in batches, if necessary, or two pans — you want a single layer of beans on the pan’s surface). Fry about 15 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes or so. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel-lined bowl. Once all chickpeas are fried and drained, add salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne, a 1/2 teaspoon of both garlic salt, and paprika.

While the chickpeas fried, whisk together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and/or mint. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast Naan and serve with yogurt sauce and chickpeas. Or peanut butter if that’s the way it has to be.

P.S. What are the girls eating after school, but before practice? A Sneal, naturally.

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Top 10 Fall Favorites

September 23rd, 2014 · 14 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Seafood, Vegetarian

All right, guys, the open-toed shoes are getting packed away, the leaves are going all gold on us, and soccer season is starting to actually feel like soccer season. In other words, fall is here, which means we can justify a dive back into the archive to find some of my heartier favorites.

1. Pomegranate-Braised Pork Loin with Cabbage (pictured)
Good for: Entertaining (as long as it’s not Rosh Hashana dinner) and weeknights if you are working from home and the smell of pork wafting through the air increases your productivity the way it increases mine.

2.  Dinner: Red-Wine Braised Short Ribs
Good for: 
Rosh Hashana dinner (pair with this killer kale-apple-walnut salad, plus Ronnie’s challah and pomegranate molasses-glazed carrots) or entertaining families.

3. Roast Salmon with Brussels Sprouts and Ginger-Scallion Sauce
Good for: Fast weeknight dinner when you just. can’t. handle. another. big. clean-up.

4. Dinner: Spaghetti Carbonara
Good for:  Nights when you are thisclose to ordering take-out — it’s a five-star recipe that will save you bucks and taste better than anything you’ll order in a restaurant.

5. Dinner: Bittman’s Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken with Soy & Lime
Good for: Weeknights when you are staring at your raw chicken breasts for the hundredth time this week thinking “If only there was something new to do to these that doesn’t involve a lot of brainpower.”

6. Dinner: Butternut Squash Soup
Good for: Weeknights. Serve with a big chunk of crusty bread and topped with chopped walnuts, sour cream, and chives. (By the way, I think it’s illegal to do a fall food round-up and not include some version of this soup.)

7. Dinner: Arroz con Pollo (page 52 Dinner: A Love Story)
Good for: Friday or Saturday night family dinner, when the clock isn’t ticking. Book owners: This recipe has no photograph and is somewhat lost among its other much-regaled neighbors (it’s right next to Black Bean Burritos and Salmon Salad), but please do yourself a favor and make it soon. It’s one of my all-time favorites — the kind of meal I eat and think “Why don’t I make this once a week” — and it kills me to think it’s not getting the love it deserves.

8. Dinner: Soba Noodles with Greens and Crispy Tofu (page 186, Dinner: The Playbook)
Good for: Nights when you want substance without the meat.

9. Dinner: Minestrone
Good for: 
Sunday Dinner — I take the extra and freeze in single-serve portions to thaw as I need for late-coming soccer players, or mix into pasta for Ribollita.

10. Dinner: Cider-Braised Pork Meatballs
Good for: Putting your farmer’s market apple cider to good use.

Dinner #4, Carbonara, in all it’s artery-clogging glory.

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Addicted: Vegetable Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

August 7th, 2014 · 33 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I had such buyer’s remorse the other day. But sometimes, that’s a good thing.

I’ll start at the beginning. Instead of writing from home last week, I decided to set up shop at the Starbucks that was down the block from my daughter’s camp. That way, I wasn’t wasting any time in the car, I was maximizing my time working, and I was only ever ten feet away from re-caffeinating, should it come to that. (Note: It often comes to that.)

The only problem? I was also ten feet away from those delicious coffee cakes, the ones they offer to heat up for you? (Yes, please.) And the egg biscuit sandwiches. You know, those things are not awful. Neither are the blueberry lemon scones. I bought one to bring to Abby after camp, but ended up eating it myself as I cranked away at the laptop, too productive to leave, too lazy to walk outside to get something a little healthier. (Not to mention, too greedy to risk giving up my table near the coveted computer outlet.)

By Day 3, I had had it with the baked good bacchanalia. I needed something for lunch that included a vegetable. As usual, though, I was pressed for time, and starving, and the only thing I could find nearby was a Whole Foods in a strip mall. Against my better judgement, I headed to the prepared food department to see what I could grab quickly. Hmmm. Salad bar? Too complicated. Tandoori potato flatbread sandwiches? Too carby. Sushi? Too expensive. But next to the chopstick display (more…)

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A Vegetarian at the Table

May 5th, 2014 · 61 Comments · Vegetarian

Dear Jenny,
Last winter, my 10-year-old, who is a voracious and wonderfully appreciative eater, started making noises about becoming a vegetarian. We engaged the conversation, of course, which then piqued the interest of my 8-year-old. They both decided that, because of their feelings about animals, they wanted to become vegetarians.  My husband and I totally supported this, but told her that we wouldn’t have the family go full vegetarian because a) our 4-year-old loves meat and b) we like meat.  But we agreed that all meals would have a vegetarian base and possibly some meat on the side, which they could choose to eat or not.  They both felt comfortable with this.
So, here’s my question. I have really tried to expand my beans and lentils repertoire but I feel like I’m running out of new and exciting ideas for vegetarian meals.  I feel slightly overwhelmed by tofu and frankly grossed out by tempeh. So, any good dishes that we could all eat would be a life saver.
Dear Kate, (more…)

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Eggs: A Love Story

April 7th, 2014 · 29 Comments · Dinner, Entertaining, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

There are four cartons of eggs in my refrigerator right now, which might sound strange considering my childrens’ well-chronicled antipathy towards all things orb-shaped and yolk-filled, but as far as I’m concerned, it might not be nearly enough. The first carton, our standard Trader Joe’s Large Brown Organic, is almost depleted so that hardly counts. The second is one I picked up at our farmer’s market this past Saturday (Hallelujah! It’s open!), and the last two dozen I bought at Stone Barns where we went for lunch a few hours later, because I couldn’t help it. Eating an egg from Stone Barns after a winter of Trader Joe’s eggs is like picking up Anna Karenina after a year of flipping through Archie comics. I needed to stock up. (more…)

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I’ll Let You Handle That

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

Jenny called me at work a couple of weeks ago, on one of those gray afternoons when the temperature never rises much above 10 degrees and the dog refuses to go outside.

“I’m freezing,” she said. “How do I turn up the heat?”

“In the house, you mean?”

We’d lived in this house for ten years. This was not our first winter there.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Okay, do you see that box on the wall? The one in the living room, near the fireplace? It has digital numbers on it. That’s the thermostat.”

“I see it,” she said. “Now what?”

I’ll spare you the rest, but let me ask: Does this seem weird to you?

I could tell you how weird it seemed to me, too — how do you not know where the thermostat is?! – but I’d be lying. The truth is, it wasn’t that weird at all. I have to believe that most families have these random-seeming divisions of labor which, if you really step back and look at them — or write about them publicly on a blog — do seem pretty weird. Our house, and our marriage, is full of them. It’s practically built on them. Some of this is probably evolutionary (we have only so much bandwith, so we pool resources to survive, etc.), and some of it is probably just being happy to let someone else deal. Here are some other things that Jenny never does in our house: Replace light bulbs, pay bills, sweep the kitchen floor, cut the kids’ toenails, change the filters on our air conditioner, realize that our air conditioner has filters (and that they need changing), clean the tank of Abby’s beta fish. And here are some things I never do: Braid hair, iron anything, realize that anything needs ironing, organize closets, manage our calendar, feed the dog, sort the recycling on Wednesday mornings, hang up coats that get piled on the chair next to our front door, turn on the dreaded Sonos system.

This ad-hoc division of labor applies to our lives in the kitchen, as well. There are certain things we just close our eyes and rely on the other person to execute. (Q: And what if that other person isn’t around to execute it? A: We buy it.) For me, the idea of making, baking, and frosting a cake: unh-uh. Same goes for latkes — and for deep frying, in general. Have never done it, don’t know how to do it, don’t intend to learn. Jenny, on the other hand? She doesn’t make coffee. “Can you make some of your coffee?” she ask me on Sunday morning, as though “my coffee” is some rare, magical potion and not a matter of pouring some hot water over ground beans. How strange does all this get? Consider this: Jenny’s favorite breakfast of all time is a bowl of steel-cut McCann’s oatmeal with a little cream and fruit, AND SHE HAS NEVER MADE IT IN HER LIFE. Or, she tried once and wasn’t happy with the result and gave up forever, ceding all future oatmeal duties to me. Oatmeal is not hard to make. There is no real art to it. I am pretty sure she could (a) figure it out in about five seconds, if she tried, and (b) become a thousand times better at it than I am. But that’s not how it works, when it comes to the division of labor. Oatmeal is my thing. Mud cake is her thing. And as long as we stay in our lanes, we keep moving forward. – Andy

Andy’s Oatmeal Instructions
The only downside of steel-cut, real deal oatmeal is that it takes a while. If you’re trying to get it on the table on a Tuesday morning, as the kids are packing their backpacks and the dog needs to go out and orchestra practice starts in 25 minutes, this will not make you happy. On a Saturday morning, however, with the kids watching some SpongeBob and a cup of good coffee in your hand, and a rare “nothing day” stretching out in front of you: Yes. This humble little grain will do you right. Note: As much as I love oatmeal, I also believe that it’s all about the toppings. There must always be fruit — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas — or, if you’re in a pinch, dried cherries or cranberries work well, too. There must always be something sweet, as well, and here are my go-tos, in descending order of favoriteness: Maple cream, maple sugar, high-test maple syrup, dark brown sugar, agave. Jenny likes a few chopped almonds or pecans. Some people like a sprinkle of cinnamon. I am not one of those people.

1 cup steel cut McCann’s Irish oatmeal
3 cups water, plus another cup in reserve
1 pinch salt

In a medium saucepan, add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. When water is boiling, add 1 cup of oatmeal and stir. Reduce heat to the lowest simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping along the sides of the pot with a rubber spatula, for 25-30 minutes. If it looks like the oatmeal is getting too thick, add a little more water and stir. I like it to be almost like porridge: thick but not too thick. Top with a drizzle of milk or cream, and the toppings of your choice.

Related: You Make it, You Own it.

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Family-Friendly Apres-Ski Meals

January 21st, 2014 · 19 Comments · Vegetarian

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

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

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

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

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Officially Addicted

October 23rd, 2013 · 41 Comments · Vegetarian

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

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

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

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Fend-for-Yourself Night

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

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

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

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Cauliflower with Magical Powers

October 10th, 2013 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Some days I look at this screen and wonder how on earth I can spin a story out of thin air about a pork chop or a kabocha squash. And then some days, like today, I can’t believe how much I have to say about a head of cauliflower. So many different roads I can go with this, I’m not sure which one to take.

I could tell you about my brother-in-law, Nick, who is famous in our family for his habit of eating an entire head of cauliflower (raw, unadorned, stem and all) as soon as he walks in from work. But the guy deserves an entire post (character study?) all his own, so look for that one soon.

I could also tell you about my dinner last week downtown, and how I almost didn’t go because the day had been long and there was some babysitting drama and instead of getting on a train and a subway, then back home again, what I really wanted to do was just pick up the girls at soccer and not have to worry about someone else finding or not finding the field in the dark. Well, guess what? It turns out you do not need an advanced degree in astrophysics to drive at night and follow directions (insane, handwritten directions with lots of maps) and I was worried for no real reason. The little snag reminded me of a rule I used to live by, but haven’t been so great about following: When I have the chance of doing something or not doing something, I’m rarely going to regret getting my butt in gear and doing it…in partaking.

Especially when, on this particular evening, the partaking was happening with one of my more favorite dinner dates, Lia, at one of the more exciting restaurants in New York, Einat Admony’s Balaboosta on Mulberry Street. The name is Yiddish for “perfect housewife, wonderful mother” and also serves as the title for Einat’s gorgeous new cookbook geared towards home chefs…who aren’t necessarily perfect housewives or wonderful mothers. Her food is what I would call modern Mediterranean (Harissa-spiked hot wings anyone?) and I swear I could’ve eaten everything on the menu (and everything in the book). But Lia and I managed to narrow it down to six or seven small plates — including shrimp kataif, shredded kale and brussels sprouts, burrata, and a crispy cauliflower dish that was topped with pine nuts and currants and was, to be honest, mind-blowing, worth the commute in and of itself.

Lastly, what I could also tell you is that the following week when I pulled a head of cauliflower out of the CSA box, I found myself standing next to my daughter, who I felt like I hadn’t heard from in a while. I mean, I had heard about the math test, and I could see her working on her soccer juggling in the backyard, and I knew she was thinking about being a vampire for Halloween. But I hadn’t really heard from her, if you know what I mean. And it just seemed to be the exact right time for me to hand her the recipe for the Balaboosta cauliflower, teach her how to cut off the florets with a paring knife, shake up the vinagrette in a jam jar, and talk about some real stuff. On principle, I can’t get into the details on what the real stuff is these days, but let me just say that because of Einat’s beautiful little recipe — simple enough for a tween to help with, but complicated enough to keep her talking and standing next to me for a good 20 minutes — I’ll probably be relying on this recipe a lot in the next few years.

Cauliflower Everyone Loves 
I’m not the only one who finds this dish magical. Apparently, it’s one of Einat’s most-requested items on the menu. I cut back on the amount of oil called for (5 cups) in the book, but trust me the dish still lived up to its name. I served with a simple roast salmon and green salad. Serves 4 to 6; recipe from the beautiful Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love.

White Wine Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper


Canola oil, poured to about a half an inch high in a large, straight-sided skillet or (better) a Dutch oven
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
1 cup all purpose flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Dried currants (optional)
Toasted pine nuts (optional)
Coarsely chopped parsley (optional)

1. Whisk together the vinegar, honey, and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk to emulsify. Add salt and pepper and set aside. (Or add all ingredients to a jam jar, seal tightly, hand to your kid, and have him or her shake it like crazy.)

2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add cauliflower and boil for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into an ice bath to stop the cooking. (Or just put it on a paper-towel lined plate, like I did.)

3. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large resealable bag. Throw in the florets, seal, and shake until thoroughly coated.

4. Heat the oil in you large skillet or a Dutch Oven to medium-high. Working in small batches, carefully drop florets into the oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel-lined serving bowl.

5. Remove paper towel and toss cauliflower with vinaigrette, currants, pine nuts, and parsley.

Excerpted from Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2013. Photographs by Quentin Bacon.


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How to Shortcut a Recipe

September 23rd, 2013 · 21 Comments · Vegetarian

When I was first learning how to cook — which is another way of saying “When I was first plowing my way through The Silver Palate Cookbook in 1994″ — I remember coming across a recipe for an Avocado Dip that called for a cup of homemade mayonnaise. Homemade mayonnaise? Did such a thing even exist? Apparently it did — the ingredient list bumped me to page 339 where I could whirl a few eggs with oil and come up with something that promised to be both “luscious and versatile.” Maybe for other people. For me, a beginner, it just promised to be intimidating. I skipped the homemade mayonnaise. And, get this, I also skipped the Avocado dip. Obviously I couldn’t make the dip if I was only using regular old Hellmann’s. Recipes were recipes and you didn’t f#@k with them.

Fast forward twenty years (are you freaking kidding me by the way? 20 years!) to last Friday. I found myself in the possession of two beautiful eggplants, which, being married to Andy, was a surprising place to find myself. For him (OK for me, too, I’ll admit it) an eggplant falls into the category of Thing That I Would Probably Not Choose to Cook, but Would Eat if it’s in Front of Me. Well, on Friday, they were in front of me — right there in the CSA box nestled in with the corn, tomatoes, sage, carrots, and beets.

So what to do first? I did what any self-respecting CSA member would do — I pulled Plenty from my cookbook shelves, possibly the most inspirational vegetarian cookbook that exists in the world. The cover featured eggplants drizzled with a buttermilk dressing and bejeweled with pomegranates. I knew my kids wouldn’t go for that, but maybe Ottolenghi had some other ideas for me? Something where maybe I didn’t have to tell my kids that they were actually eating eggplant? I flipped to “The Mighty Eggplant” section…there was the cover recipe, then Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant, then Lentils with Broiled Eggplant, then Eggplant Tricolore, then…oh my God, jackpot:


Other than turning something into pizza, there is no more foolproof strategy for marketing a potentially offensive food to kid than turning it into a golden-fried, handheld, dip-able, glorified mozzarella stick. (At least none that I can think of.) I scanned the recipe…hmmm, russet potatoes, don’t have those. Feta, darn, just ran out yesterday. Tarragon aioli? Homemade? (1994 flashback!) That was not going to happen.  Neither was the chilling in the fridge for “at least 20 minutes.”

In other words, the recipe was perfect!

I had some Yukon golds, which are generally not as fluffy as russets — I knew that — and I had Parm, which wouldn’t quite be feta, and, just by dumb luck, Blue Hill Farm had sent me a sampler of their brand new savory yogurts* (tomato, squash, carrot, and beet), one of which (tomato) I figured would be an excellent stand-in for the aioli. Other adjustments I made along the way: Instead of shaping the mixture into sticks, I shaped them into patties — a decision that was validated when Abby spied them frying in the pan and cheered “Are we having latkes tonight???” (Um, yeah, totally.) I was not in the possession of sunflower oil for the deep frying — pretty sure I never have been in my entire life — and so I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil for regular old pan-frying.

And the result? They were kind of genius. Not Ottolenghi genius, but On-the-Fly genius. Vegetarian, nothing wasted, kids ate it up, and, when served with roasted carrots tossed with sage and carrot yogurt and a classic tomato-corn salad the whole thing was the perfect Friday night dinner. I think my 1994 self would have been impressed.

Clockwise from top left: The eggplant fritters with tomato-yogurt dip; tomato-corn salad with cilantro and tomato yogurt; a photo of the Eggplant Croquettes in Plenty the way they were supposed to look before I decimated the poor recipe; savory yogurts (squash, carrot, beet, tomato) new from Blue Hill Farm.

*Editorial disclaimer: Samples get sent to me all the time, but that does not mean I always write about them. I only ever write about products that have a real use in my kitchen.

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Dinner and a Movie

September 10th, 2013 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Rituals, Vegetarian

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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Only on Vacation: Salsa Fresca

August 14th, 2013 · 20 Comments · Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

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.

Salsa Fresca

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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Do-Nothing Dinner

August 8th, 2013 · 98 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Vegetarian

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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I Could Eat Like This Every Night

July 29th, 2013 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized, Vegetarian

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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So Simple a Kid Can Make It

July 8th, 2013 · 10 Comments · Vegetarian

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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Five Summer Salads

June 25th, 2013 · 16 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

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.

Toasted Quinoa:

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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RE: What’s for Dinner?

June 19th, 2013 · 24 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

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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