Entries Tagged as 'Entertaining'

Sir Yes Sir!

August 14th, 2014 · 19 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Entertaining, Rituals, Uncategorized

You know when you go to someone’s house for dinner and you walk out of the house three hours later thinking, We might have some room for improvement, parenting-wise? That’s what happened last summer when we went to visit our friends, Will and Alaina, and their excellent kids, Eli and Bee. Will is a freshly-retired 20 year veteran of the US Navy who spent several years deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a forward air controller, and man: to borrow a vaguely military-sounding phrase I heard once, that family had their sh*t locked down tight. Their kids greeted us, smiling, at the door. Eye contact was unwavering. Conversation: superb. Engagement: total. And the most impressive thing of all? When dinner was over, the kids rose from their chairs, cleared the table, and — it never gets old — cleaned up the entire kitchen without being asked. It’s been exactly one year since that night, and Jenny and I are still talking about it, still marveling at the precision and can-do spirit of the whole operation. So we asked Cmdr. Mackin, who in addition to his military career, happens to be a supremely talented writer of fiction, to let us in on his secret. He went deep. — Andy

As I transition from a Navy career to life as a full-time writer, I’m lucky to have Andy as an editor and friend. As the editor of my forthcoming collection of short stories, he’s helped me find direction in jumbled piles of miscellaneous thoughts. As a friend, he’s imparted essential knowledge regarding the publishing world (e.g. former editors at fancy men’s magazines do not necessarily have organized closets full of beautiful Italian shoes) that would’ve otherwise taken me years to gain. I like to think I’ve returned the favor, in part, by disabusing him of certain notions regarding the military.

One of those notions is this: Andy is under the impression that my two teenage kids do the dishes because I’ve subjected them to military-style discipline. But the fact is, I’ve rarely exercised military-style discipline in the Navy, let alone at home.

Like other branches of service, the Navy is made up of people from all over the country, each of whom has his or her own ideas about right and wrong, good and evil, not to mention the best way to go about “training and equipping combat-ready maritime forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas,” as the Navy’s official mission statement goes. To that end, the establishment of a baseline of acceptable behavior among individuals who must learn to trust each other with their lives strikes me as a good idea.

My first exposure to military discipline came at the hands of Gunnery Sergeant Wise, who, back in 1988, indoctrinated me into the Navy. The first thing he taught me, as I climbed off the bus from Slimesville, was how to stand at the position of attention. Next, he explained that in moving forward, one must step off with the left foot and never the right. I screwed this up over and over, not only because I was nervous, but because I never thought it made any difference. Wise corrected me: left is left, and right is right. Take your first step with one and you begin a journey of a thousand miles. Take your first step with the other, and while you suffer the pain of push-ups, mountain-climbers, and eight-counts, you cover no ground.

As a parent, whose mission statement might read “to produce good human beings,” I want my kids to do the right thing, and to do it well, and for the right reasons. Ideally, they’d have their own motivations to do so beyond fear of reprisal. As it turns out, though, self-motivation is not innate. In order to encourage its development, my wife Alaina and I have enforced time-outs and longer periods of house arrest. We’ve taken away iBots, PS720’s, and Bedazzlers. We’ve made our children scrub toilets, pull weeds, and chisel the sludge from the dark corners of the litter box. But our forays into coercion are often born of frustration. As such, they tend to be subjective, unmeasured, and worst of all, inconsistent.


Saturday, July 13th, 2013. 5:20 p.m. I’d been telling the kids over and over, but it hadn’t sunk in. So ten minutes before our guests were scheduled to arrive, we reviewed who they were and why they were coming: My recent story in The New Yorker had won me an agent. My agent had landed me a book contract. Andy was the editor of that book. Jenny was his wife (and also — as I’d soon find out from Jenny herself, as she stood in my kitchen, while the appetizers that my wife had left me in charge of while she showered burned on the grill — the person behind this blog).

“And writing the book is going to be your job after your retire from the Navy, right?” asked my daughter, Bee.

“Right,” I said. (more…)

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How to Be a Good Dinner Guest: 41 Rules

August 4th, 2014 · 48 Comments · Entertaining, Rules

We entertain a lot. For us, it’s the best way to combine two things that we love to do: See friends and cook food. Hardly a weekend goes by when we don’t have someone over, whether its our parents (grilled yogurt-marinated chicken), our daughter’s piano teacher and her husband (grilled fish tacos with pineapple salsa), or our favorite babysitter (Korean pancakes). This past weekend, we had a dinner party for eight, and, to lessen the host’s load a bit, everybody came with something delicious, which was lovely: Prosecco and cured meats, ingredients for a special cocktail, and best of all, Sara’s homemade graham crackers and homemade marshmallows for homemade s’mores, which — as we were eating them outside under the patio lights, dyyhhing of happiness and gratitude – really reminded us about all the things that make a dinner guest a good dinner guest. Forty-one things to be exact. Here goes:

1. Don’t start eating before the host sits down. Even when the host says, “The steak is getting cold! Don’t wait for me to sit down!”

2. If the host doesn’t remember to raise a glass before eating, there should be nothing stopping you from doing it yourself. It doesn’t have to be clever or profound. A simple “Cheers, thanks, it’s so great to see you guys” will do.

3. “Cheers to you guys, we honestly never thought you’d make it this long” will not.

4. Try not to come empty-handed. A small host gift is always appreciated, especially when that small host gift is a 90-year-old, leather bound, playing-card size book of English poetry from something called the “Little Leather Library” that happens to contain the very poem your host’s father read to her on her wedding day. (Linda and Hubert, you guys win Dinner Guests of the Year.)

5. A tiny Weck jar filled with homemade purple-basil infused simple syrup that, drizzled over some gin and ice, upgrades the evening’s cocktail hour exponentially? Yeah, that works, too. (Simone, a very close second.)

6. We are big fans of giving farm market host gifts — a dozen fresh eggs, good bacon from that upstate farm, the pomegranate chutney we can only get a few times a year — but there is nothing wrong with a bottle of wine, ever.

7. Sick of bringing wine? Good news: Olive Oil is the New Wine. (more…)

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Four Summer Starters

June 26th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Entertaining, Uncategorized

We have been entertaining machines lately — I think partly because it’s June (so many things to celebrate), but mostly because we bought some new furniture for the patio, and we are looking for any excuse to sit outside with one of these in hand, and hang with friends. Dinners have been your typical DALS summer standbys (grilled fish, baby back ribs, yogurt-marinated everything) but lately, we’ve gotten kind of creative with the starters. I thought I’d share a few with you.

Deviled Eggs with The Works (above) This one is ripped right from the pages of Canal House Cooks Everyday, a book that should be front and center on your cookbook shelf. (Unless you have something against simple, elegant food.) They’re deviled eggs, topped with various trimmings: roasted red peppers, smoked salmon, pickled onions, snipped chives, and bacon. (Leave a few unadorned for the kids.) You can make them ahead of time and chill in the fridge. Always key.

Potato Chips with Caviar and Creme Fraiche Now, just to be clear, caviar is not something that happens every day in our house. (We had some very special guests and the mandate going in was “We Are Leaving it All On The Field.”) But every time we eat this little starter, I start figuring out ways to justify the expense. We picked up American Caviar at Whole Foods (about $18 for a small tin — I know, ridiculous, but when you think about a hunk of Parm costing upwards of $15…well you see what I mean re: Justifying) and served them on top of plain old Kettle Chips for some high-brow/low-brow action. (more…)

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He’s Sweet, She’s Savory

April 30th, 2014 · 18 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Entertaining, Seafood

There are many reasons why I love going to Naria’s and Peter’s house for dinner. For starters, they live in my town, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that one of the great pleasures in life is having neighbors cook for you. This is especially true when those neighbors really know how to bring it in the dinner party department. Unlike in our house where having more than two or three guests feels like we’re running a restaurant, Naria and Peter seem to revel in the large, well-considered guest list. There are usually at least eight of us, the official invitation comes a few weeks ahead of time, there is a properly set dining room table, and I always wake up with a sore throat the next morning, because it’s non-stop talking from the moment we sit down to cocktails until we leave. (Again, SEE: well-considered guest list). (more…)

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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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Clear the Afternoon, Kids! We’re Making Mole

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

In my next book — which you’ll be hearing about shortly — there’s a whole section on recipes I call “Keep the Spark Alive” dinners. These meals are the opposite of what we make on, say, a Tuesday night, when efficiency and convenience are the most important ingredients. In some ways, they are the opposite of the DALS mission in general. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as important, especially when we are talking about the psychological health of a family cook. Think of it this way: If Pretzel Chicken and Beef and Broccoli stir-fries are the workhorse recipes, the ones that get me through the week day in and day out, “Spark” meals are the ones that remind me why I love to cook in the first place. They call for ingredients I’ve never used before and usually require a big chunk of luxurious time. Marcella’s Bolognese is a good example of a Spark dinner, so is Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai. And on this dreary New York morning, I’m pleased to announce, I have a new one to add to the list.

It started with Uncle Mike. At our annual Christmas Eve dinner at his house this past year, he served, among a dozen other things, the most amazing Chicken Mole.

The chicken was tender and stewy, the sauce was rich and deep, but not overpowering like some versions I’ve tasted in the past. The kids, skeptical at first, cleaned their plates. It was December, which meant by that point in the winter, I had eaten my fair share of braised short ribs at dinner parties, so part of the novelty of this meal was the fact that I was I dining on a hearty, warm-your-bones chicken-based main. Except for maybe Julia Child’s Coq au Vin, I don’t have a whole lot of those in my repertoire that would earn their keep on a holiday spread.

“How’d you make your mole?” I asked Mike. Only someone who has never made mole would broach the subject so innocently.

He gave a little knowing “Ha” before replying. Mike, an ambitious home cook who grows a dozen varieties of chile peppers in his backyard, and sends us a care package of home-dried Persimmons every November, is not one to shy away from an recipe that might call for pasillos, mulattos, piloncillo, and bolillo.  ”It’s a Diana Kennedy recipe, and it’s been days in the making.”

When I hear the name Diana Kennedy, I mentally turn the page. Diana Kennedy, as I’m sure you know, is one of our country’s foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. Because everyone has told me as much, I have a bunch of her books, and yet, whenever I crack the spine on one, determined this time to conquer at least a simple recipe, I remember: There is no such thing — and as with anything authentic and memorable, there probably shouldn’t be. The recipe Mike used was from Kennedy’s definitive Oaxacan cookbook, but a few days later, he emailed me another, slightly simpler Mole Negro, that looked similar. Mole Negro is one of dozens of versions — it’s the darker kind that incorporates chocolate — and he described it as “traditionally the most difficult.”

I looked at the recipe. Twenty-nine ingredients, half of which would require some scavenger hunting in Mexican markets around the county.  I filed it under “Another recipe, for another kind of cook.”

But damn that mole was good! It stayed with me all winter, and last week, when I was calendarizing (defined as The act of staring at your family’s schedule to see how you can squeeze some real life in between all the activities) I noticed a nice long empty weekend afternoon and evening. It was going to be our last Saturday without soccer until July, no one was coming over, and just by chance, that morning Abby had an orchestra concert a short drive away from a stretch of awesome Mexican grocers.

Mole was calling, and I needed to answer. (more…)

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What Kind of Entertainer Are You?

March 6th, 2014 · 21 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Entertaining, Uncategorized

Do you ever wonder what your dinner guests say about you when they walk out your door? Do they marvel at your hosting abilities and wonder when they’ll get invited back? Do they praise the food but slag the company? Do they praise the company but slag the food? Do they judge your glassware? Do they climb into their car, sit for a second in the darkness, and say, Never again? That depends on what kind of entertainer you are. Take this quiz to find out… — Jenny and Andy

Your friends are coming over for dinner and you’ve made a (pretty tasting looking, if you don’t say so yourself) frittata with feta cheese, leeks, and baby asparagus. When your the guests arrive, the husband tells you he doesn’t eat feta. He’s not allergic, he just has a “thing” about it. In response, you:

a) Apologize profusely and, in a show of solidarity, toss the frittata into the garbage and start over using some good cheddar.
b) Wag your finger and say, “I guess Mr. Picky over here won’t be getting any dessert tonight!”
c) Roll your eyes, sigh audibly, and say, “Oh god, let me guess: you’re an only child?”
d) Say, “No problem! Which would you prefer: Honey Nut Cheerios or Peanut Butter and Jelly?”
e) Say: “No problem. I’ll just make you an omelet.” Think: “You are so incredibly dead to me.”

It’s 6:45 and your guests are due to arrive in 15 minutes. You hop on your computer to make a playlist, which consists of:

a) Whatever they play between those segments on that NPR show.
b) “Losing My Religion,” and the exact same thirty-seven songs you put on the mixed tape you made for your girlfriend in college.
c)  Haim, Haim, and more Haim.
d) Whatever comes up when you type “cool dinner party playlists” into the Google machine.
e) I don’t have time to make a playlist – isn’t there a Bland White Guy Pandora station on here somewhere?

You would describe your approach to menu planning as:

a) Buy fresh ingredients, and prepare them simply.
b) Three words: Short Ribs, bros!
c) Ramen. Or whatever rapo4 is hashtagging on his instagram feed.
d) Food’s not as important as the company — and besides, have you tried Trader Joes pot pies? They’re actually pretty good.
e) If it can be grilled, then I shall grill it.

Your default conversation starter when the silence borders on awkward is:

a) Okay. Edward Snowden: good guy or bad guy?
b) So, how’s your kitchen renovation going? Wolf or Viking?
c) What year is your Passat?
d) Who’s watching House of Cards?
e) What’s it all about? Life, I mean.

Your guests are raving about the braised pork, a recipe your friend Cindy made for you a few weeks ago. You: (more…)

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On the Plus Side of Winter

February 24th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Entertaining, Uncategorized

Two Thursdays ago, my friend Sonya emailed me:

Hey! You guys around this weekend? We have the urge to make a big pot of stew and drink wine with someone.  Please say yes!!!

I could not have replied fast enough. Yes! Yes! Yes! Is tomorrow too soon? Or how about now? Can I come over right now? It was another single-digit temperature week up here in New York and most of my day was spent holed up in my (old, drafty) house, dressed like Shaun White, and listening to 1010 WINS for any breaking news on the next storm rolling in.

I know what you’re thinking right now — another winter whinefest from Jenny, right? Right about now, the entire population Minnesota is rolling their eyes at me.

Not so fast. Believe it or not, today I’d like to focus on the upshot to the cold weather snap in New York (though it seems to have tapered off for the time being) namely the dinner invitations coming in left and right from people like Sonya — people who want to make a big pot of stew and drink wine. With us!

I’ll tell you something else about these people: They know their way around a kitchen. To determine this, one need look no further than the cast iron pans and Dutch Ovens sitting atop their stoves. Each one seemed to boast the kind of patina that you just can’t fake, as though it has been handed down by the cook’s great-grandmother. Inside the pot? These days, there’s a 99% chance it’s some kind of stewy beef. Not just something like our back-pocket Belgian Beef Stew that we are used to scaring up in under an hour on a weeknight. I’m talking meat that has spent some quality time in the oven, braising and reducing to deep concentrated deliciousness, making the house smell like the only place you want to be. Check these out…

Braisy Beefy Stewy Dinners Fit for Cold-Weather Entertaining

Carbonnade of Beef with Prunes served with big fat noodles, simple roast carrots, crusty bread. Perfect. Cooked for us by Sonya and Pierre.

Beef Bourguignon (above, photo credit: Food Network) at Todd and Anne’s house. Should also be noted that they served the kids homemade mac and cheese, too, which ended up being decimated by the grown-ups.

Braised Short Ribs with Dijon at our friends Reagan and Scott’s house. The beef literally melted off the bones.

Moroccan Beef Stew (shown way up top, photo by Brian Leatart for Bon Appetit) made with golden raisins and served with couscous by our neighbors Rebecca and David, who have two kids under two. (A better person might have felt more guilty about this. Like maybe I should’ve been the one cooking for them?)

Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Noodles OK fine, no one has actually made this for us yet, but how good does that look? Currently accepting invitations….

Stay warm!

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A Nice Problem

August 1st, 2013 · 13 Comments · Drinks, Entertaining

I live in the suburbs — land of the two-car garage, of strip malls, and of people walking around saying things like “Here take this bushel of cucumbers! They are overtaking my backyard and I don’t know what to do with them!” (This kind of complaint, of course, is filed right alongside the one about that Spicy Shrimp dish that comes together so fast that I don’t have time to enjoy a glass of wine while I make it, i.e. a very nice problem.) Well, here’s what I say to that. You could peel and slice up those cucumbers real thin, mix them with seasoned rice wine vinegar, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and tons of dill, which we’ve been doing a lot of lately. Or you could puree those suckers in a blender, strain the pulp and drink up the bounty. Cucumber juice is August-y and crazy refreshing on its own, but this cocktail, created for DALS by the Blue Hill Stone Barns Beverage Team (I’m so glad they don’t call themselves “mixologists”) is currently my favorite solution to the cucumber overload issue. It’s light, summery, easy going down (uh, maybe a little too easy)…and would you look at that beautiful color? That in itself is worth the price of admission. Problem solved.

Cucalytus Punch
Makes one drink.

2 ounces dry gin (we use Greylock)
2 ounces cucumber juice (made my blending peeled, seeded cucumbers with a little water, then strained; it works out to about 1 medium size cucumber per cocktail)
1/2 ounces eucalyptus ginger syrup (I just made plain ginger syrup which they said was fine)
1/2 0unces lime juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake, and serve over ice with a thin slice of cucumber as a garnish.

Thanks BHSB Beverage Team!

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A Father’s Day Gift (for the Whole Family)

June 5th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Dinner, Entertaining, Grilling

You could get him a robe. Or another something-or-other that could be categorized as a “gadget.” Or a bottle of gin for his gin & tonics. You could get him a charcoal chimney or grilling tongs monogrammed with his nickname. You could get him any number of things that would make him happy…OR…you could give him something that will directly, immediately, deliciously benefit you and the kids all summer long and for many summers to come. You could give him The Grilling Book, edited by Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appetit and longtime Friend of DALS.  I dare you — and I dare you to dare him — to look at these photos and not want to fire up the grill immediately. The book will be your family’s summer bible — and for anyone who can’t seem to break through the hot-dog-and-burger firewall, you’ll find over 400 pages of gorgeously-photographed inspiration; primers for every stage of the grilling process; salads, slaws, cocktails and sauces that pull it all together; and recipes from all over the world, for all kinds of family dinners. Not convinced? How about a little teaser…to start wouldja look at that Cedar Plank Salmon above?

Skirt Steak with “ridiculously addictive” bright green Chimichurri Sauce.

Lamb Burgers with Moroccan Spices and Orange Salsa made from beets, cumin, jalapeno, and cilantro.

Chicken Yakatori, made with ground chicken, scallions, miso, and soy basting sauce. I am so tracking down all the ingredients for it as soon as this post goes live.

Grilled Haloumi with Watermelon, Tomatoes Basil & Mint. We’ve discussed Grilled Haloumi before, but I don’t know if it’s ever looked this good. It’s a sheep-goat milk blend, that’s firm enough to retain its shape over hot coals, but soft enough to ooze a little inside.

Check it out. Or check out Adam grill four fish recipes from the book on the Today Show. Happy Father’s Day!

All food photographs above by Peden + Munk.

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21 Rules of Entertaining

May 16th, 2013 · 369 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Entertaining, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rules

One of the more fun parts of my “job” is that I have an excuse to reach out to people I’ve been secretly stalking for decades.  Take last month, for instance, when I met Susan Spungen for breakfast at a Union Square coffee shop. Spungen spearheaded the food section at Martha Stewart Living twenty years ago. We have her to thank for leading the team that put together the Hors D’oeuvres Handbook, which is not only my finger food bible, but the bible of caterers across America. When I heard she was coming out with a book on Entertaining – What’s a Hostess to Do? – I set up a date, and over poached eggs and shaved asparagus, downloaded her hard-won wisdom.

21 Rules for Entertaining
Culled from What’s a Hostess to Do, by Susan Spungen (and so many thousands more where these came from)

1. Less can be more. Focus on a few beautiful well-conceived, well-prepared dishes.

2. Unless it’s the holiday, in which case the key word is “bounty.” (See above.)

3. The language you use for your invitation should focus on who you do want at the party (“Join us for a grown-up dinner”) not who you don’t want (“No kids please.”)

4. For the kids — When in doubt: “Bambini Pasta,” i.e. noodles, spaghetti, penne, whatever you got — with butter and Parm.

5. Some handy math: On average, assume your guests will have 2 drinks per hour (10 guests x 2 drinks x 2 hours = 40 drinks). There are approximately 5 wine glasses per bottle. A 1-liter bottle of liquor contains enough for 32 mixed drinks. One liter of mixer will make 8 drinks.

6. The Paloma is The New Margarita.

7. [OK, disclaimer: Susan didn't exactly say that, but I did, and will continue to all summer. To make: 1/2 cup grapefruit soda (such as Mexican Jarritos or Jamaican Ting), the juice of half a lime, and 2 ounces tequila. Serve over ice with lime wedge.]

8. Centerpieces: DO use short candles, DON’T use tall or overly fragrant flowers or plants; DO decorate with short flowers or potted plants, DON’T crowd the table.

9. Scented candles? Yes, for sure, in the bathroom. On the table? Never.

10. All will be fine if Nutella is on the menu. Nutella Dessert Sandwiches: Toast thinly sliced brioche bread, spread with Nutella and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

11. Three Four-Syllable Laws of Sanity Preservation when entertaining: Make it Ahead, Cook What You Know, Think Mise en Place.

12. A multitude of sins can be easily overlooked when people are basking in a warm glow: Lighting should be soft.

13. Bathroom checklist: Close the shower curtain, empty the trash. If there is no lock, make an “occupied” sign to hang on the knob. Better yet, have the kids do it.

14. Invest in a collapsible metal coatrack and never dive through a mountain of identical black wool overcoats heaped on a bed ever again.

15. Winning Cheese and Fruit Pairs for a Starter Spread: Apples + Cheddar, Quince Paste + Manchego, Figs + Gorgonzola

16. Good salumi needs little accompaniment. But no one will object if it’s next to some good bread, olives, and crisp fennel slices.

17. To make after-party cleanup less soul-crushing, always start the evening with an empty dishwasher, dish rack, trash can, and sink.

19. Yes, you can bring wine = The answer when your friends ask What Can I Bring?

20. A good party is much more than the sum of its parts. The gathering takes on a life of its own, and it almost always works out, even when it doesn’t.

21. The no-fail menu for entertaining kids and adults: Ribs, Slaw (lose the brussels in the summer), and make-ahead Ice Cream Sandwiches.

To make: For each sandwich, place a scoop of ice cream on a chocolate chip cookie (try Tate’s brand or another thin crisp cookie). Top with another cookie and press down gently. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set in the freezer. Wrap individually after they’ve hardened, and freeze until ready to serve. (more…)

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A Vegetarian Comes to Dinner

March 20th, 2013 · 34 Comments · Entertaining, Vegetarian

I am always stumped when a vegetarian comes to dinner. It’s not that we don’t have a whole archive of family-friendly vegetarian meals (ok maybe flexitarian meals would be more accurate) in the DALS rotation. Or that I’m in any way annoyed that there won’t be meat on the evening line-up. Quite the opposite actually — I feel like I’ve been heavily leaning towards more plant-and-whole-grain based dishes at our everyday dinner table. But on a weekend night when a guest is at that table — a guest who has sometimes traveled from the far corners of Brooklyn — the 15-minute black bean and goat cheese quesadillas that get the job done on a Tuesday night after soccer is just not going to cut it. I don’t think it’s going overboard to want to present something a bit more elevated than your everyday fare when you’re entertaining — whether your guest is a carnivore, herbivore, locavore, or whatevervore. Do you? (Maybe don’t answer that.)

Anyway, this is why twice a month I seem to issue a plea on facebook begging you for your most show-stopping vegetable main dishes. (One out of three of you seem to point me towards Smitten Kitchen’s Mushroom Bourgignon.) And why one of my resolutions this year was to come up with a meat-free meal that someone might describe as “enticing.” There are way too many vegetarians in this world now for me to NOT have expanded my horizons beyond my comfort zone of minestrone and Amanda Hesser’s tangy-sweet Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onion. (I’ll never forget my friend Laurie taking a bite of that one back in the 90s and saying, “This is, like, a whole different flavor that I’ve just…never….experienced before.”)

But the comfort zone still tastes so damn delicious! And so a few weeks ago, when a vegetarian came to dinner, I stuck with my tried-and-true pasta, but changed up the starters and the sweets. But for some reason it was one of the more successful menu line-ups I can remember. You know how when you buy a new sweater it somehow makes an old top feel fresh? I guess that’s what happened, because it just… worked. And it was incredibly easy, too. Anyway, I thought you guys might like to hear what I did:

To start: blistered peppers. Ratio of Time Spent Making to Wow Factor: obscenely unbalanced. Easiest thing ever. I used shishitos, which you can usually find at better supermarkets. (I found mine at Tarry Market.) I served these alongside burrata (that really soft, creamy mozzarella) and drizzled it heavily with good olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt alongside slices of a crusty baguette. [Careful readers might notice that there's salumi (salumi=pig) scribbled into my diary. Careful readers might also point out that pig is not vegetarian. I have no excuse that would hold up in court other than my kids go crazy for it and I wanted them to have a moment of happiness during the starter portion of the evening.]

DinnerPasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions and Shredded Kale Salad with Lemon & Ricotta Salata (I added a teaspoon of lemon zest and Andy made a very subtly balsamic vinaigrette. Also: You don’t need a lot of ricotta salata because the pasta is already creamy and yogurt-y.)

Dessert: Just-out-of-the-Oven Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Cinnamon Ice Cream (Book owners: Page 72)

Related: A Stress-Free Gluten-Free Menu

Photo of peppers: Ditte Isager for Bon Appetit

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The Little Things

October 1st, 2012 · 8 Comments · Entertaining, Quick, Seafood

One of the first things I learned about food when I started caring about food was that smaller usually translated to better. As in, a golf-ball-size lime is going to be juicier than a steroided-up one. As in, the meat from a 1 1/4 pound lobster is going be sweeter than meat from his 4-pound older brother. As in, those two-carat-size spring strawberries are going to taste more like strawberries than the strawberries that resemble McIntosh apples. And after writing a story about hors d’oeuvres for the current issue of Bon Appetit I remembered another one: Hors d’oeuvres for dinner are so much more fun than dinner for dinner. (See: Small Bites Phenomenon sweeping New York City Restaurant Scene) Why did it take writing this story to remind me that those shrimp rolls I’ve been making since my 1999 visit to Nova Scotia would be so much more appealing for the kids if I miniaturized them? How had I forgotten Cardinal Rule #2 of Family Sandwiches: Minimizing Size = Maximizing Appeal. (Cardinal Rule #1: Anything Tastes Better in Slider Form.) Well, either way, the little rolls were on the dinner table last week (it’s a good make-ahead if you can swing it) and will likely show up there again very soon.

Perhaps my most favorite magazine opener ever. (“Opener” = Old-school parlance for the image that opens the story.) Alex Grossman, the creative director, actually had this invitation letter-pressed before it was shot.  Credit: Kallemeyn Press.

This Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage, developed by the BA test kitchen, was in the star-studded line-up, too. Instead of a assembling a platter of fussy finger food for your party, each puff pastry square requiring it’s own individual piping of spicy mayo, this is just one big tart that you bake and cut up like a pizza before your guests arrive. It’s called Economy of Scale and it is up next on my Hors d’oeuvres-Turned-Dinner menu

Check out this month’s issue of Bon Appetit (The Entertaining Issue) to read the story and the entire issue. They’ve also put together an appetizer slide show which party-throwers would be wise to bookmark as the calendar inches its way towards the holidays. Two words: Queso Fundido.

Photos by Romulo Yanes for Bon Appetit. 

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A Make-Ahead, Room-Temp Menu for Entertaining

August 16th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Entertaining, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Uncategorized

I had such fantasies when we invited our friends Todd and Anne for dinner. It wasn’t a special occasion dinner — only a sort of a “last gasp of summer” kind of night since both our families are going our separate ways for the rest of the month and the next time we see them we’ll be all busy with things like teacher conferences and homework supervising. I thought the occasion offered the perfect excuse to experiment with all those recipes I had been dog-earring and bookmarking for the past few weeks. Plus, The Sprouted Kitchen had just landed on my doorstep and I loved what I saw — whole grains and the most inspiring vegetable-heavy dinners that take advantage of beautiful, gem-like, peak-season summer produce. (These three weeks are the ones I look forward to all year long and to waste a single August eating opportunity is a crime!) I drew up a menu for Tuesday night, the night they were coming over. There were beet slaws and buttermilk dressings. Exotic grains and chilled soups. Yes, this would be one to remember.

But there I was on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours from dinner with no time to shop, still looking at the line-up which was not so much inspiring as it was taunting. Various assignments and appointments had conspired against my Fantasy Summer Menu and so instead of sniffing melons at the market (as I had imagined I would be doing), I found myself in what is increasingly becoming my default position: Standing in front of refrigerator scratching my head. Luckily it was only Tuesday so we still had a lot of food from our weekend shop. And luckily I had my Big Feel-Good Batch of Barley that I could transform to something nice in minutes. The rest of the menu holes I filled in with dishes that were the opposite of brand new, i.e. dishes I had been making for the past fifteen summers. But as soon as Todd and Anne and their kids arrived and sat down to the meal,  I was reminded why the dishes have lasted fifteen summers — because they work! And they’re delicious! I totally forgot — when produce is this good, you don’t have to perform any culinary acrobatics to make a successful meal. You don’t have to outshine yourself just for the sake of it! You just keep it simple and let the food do the talking.

A Summer Menu
It worked out well because Grandma Jody’s Chicken is just as good at room temperature as it is hot from the skillet so I could make it an hour or so ahead of time and leave on the counter tented with foil. When the doorbell rang, everything on the menu was ready to go — except the gin and tonics.

Starters: Baguette slices, figs, parmesan, ricotta mixed with lemon zest, thyme, and honey. Gin and Tonics.

Dinner: Grandma Jody’s Chicken with Arugula and Heirloom Tomatoes (page 13, Dinner: A Love Story), Bacon-Corn Hash (page 29), Herbed Barley Salad (page 245)

Wine: A beautiful Italian Sauvignon Blanc, a gift from my babysitter Ali who had just spent the month in Florence.

Dessert: Emily’s Peach-Blueberry Cobbler and Cold Watermelon

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Ham for the Holidays

December 19th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Entertaining, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

Do you have certain meals that you make rarely, on special occasions, and then, as soon as you’re done eating them, you say to yourself, Damn, that was good. Why don’t we eat this once a week? I do. Roast turkey with stuffing and gravy is one of those meals — so deeply satisfying, and come on, would it be any less satisfying on a Sunday night in January? Pasta with fresh clams and basil is one of those meals: why do we only make it in the summer, when we love it so much? Our New Year’s lobster is one of those meals and so, I’m not afraid to admit, is the twice-a-year kid birthday staple, Hebrew National pigs-in-blankets, with which I shall never ever dream of arguing. But the biggest heartbreaker for me is our beloved yet marginalized friend, the glazed ham. Why is it that we only eat glazed ham in mid-to-late December, at holiday-themed dinner parties? Who made up that rule? No disrespect to our entertaining stand-bys — short ribs, ragu, pork loin braised in milk — but is there really anything tastier or more dramatic looking or, honestly, easier to pull off than a crispy, sweet, salty, diamond-scored, slightly caramelized, fat-marbled, relatively inexpensive, even-better-the-next-day ham sliced up tableside (more…)

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No Kids Allowed (sort of)

September 30th, 2011 · 26 Comments · Dinner, Domestic Affairs, Entertaining, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

If you come to our house for a grown-up dinner party, there’s a good chance it’ll be just after 8:00, and our two kids will greet you at the door. If all has gone according to plan, they’ll be bathed and pajama’d, their teeth will be brushed, and with a little luck they’ll be in bed, out of sight, 30 minutes later.

It’s not that we worry about the girls being un-presentable or that we fear they’ll pillage the crostini plate before our guests have taken their coats off. (OK, maybe we do worry about the crostini thing. It’s a problem.) It’s that usually the people we have over for dinner are parents, too. Parents who have already spent the waking part of their day doing what parents do – suffering through another Wa Wa Wubbzy marathon, doling out snacks, pretending to lose at Uno – and probably, if they’re being honest, don’t feel a real powerful need to spend valuable babysitting hours doing the same with someone else’s kids.

In our experience, what our guests are looking for is a cocktail with plenty of ice, some tasty food, and a conversation that does not begin with the words, “I am counting to three…” So usually, after our kids make their Dinner Party Cameo – the key with kids, like food, is to leave your guests wanting more — one of us will take them upstairs and shepherd them through their bedtime paces, while the other sets the table and puts the finishing touch on whatever has been braising away all afternoon in the Dutch Oven.

Very often in our house, it’s short ribs. We love braised short ribs for three reasons: one, they’re unstoppably, almost obscenely good; two, they’re impossible to screw up; and three, they require no hands-on time once the guests arrive. Entertaining, for us, is all about not having to start from zero once the kids are in bed, chopping and blanching and reducing – and sweating — while our guests stand in the kitchen, hungry, with one eye on the clock. It’s about having a glass of Barbera and diving into a dinner that is ready to go, but that also feels simultaneously casual and special. And when everything goes right, you can almost forget — for a few hours, at least — that there’s a Thomas the Train track running through the living room, and that you have to be awake at 5:30 the next morning to perform a sock puppet show. – Jenny & Andy

This story appears in the current issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their website for the Short Ribs recipe, which is a simplified version of an old Balthazar favorite. Photo by Christopher Testani for Bon Appetit.

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September 13th, 2011 · 11 Comments · Entertaining, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Rituals

At what point do I stop feeling that pit in my stomach, that gnawing sense of dread, when summer ends? Is it me, or was last week officially the longest four-day week in history? Okay, maybe that’s overstating things, but still: I was hurting, in a real back-to-school way, and I’m a grown-ass man. Back behind my desk, staring at the screen. School lunches to be packed. Bills to be paid, rising anxieties to be tamped down, alarm clocks to be set, soggy basements to be dried, soccer and piano schedules to coordinate, times tables to be memorized, reality to be reckoned with and, most crushing of all, vacation officially over. We did a little posting from our trip in August, but in case it didn’t come across: we had fun, and were extremely fortunate to have had it, and were unbelievably bummed to be back. We had so much fun, we kept looking for ways to relive our trip once we were home — inflicting our pictures on polite friends (“hold on, you gotta see the sandwiches we made for that picnic in Place des Vosges”), making epic photo albums, leaving our souvenirs around, in prominent places, to remind us of where we’d been, replaying our favorite moments (walking up the Eiffel Tower, hiking the South Downs, napping on trains, watching a clueless, jet-lagged dad try to pay for a crepe in Paris with a ten dollar bill) with the kids around the dinner table.

If you were to call this a form of denial, you wouldn’t be wrong. Two weeks after coming home, we’re still denying, still holding on. This weekend, in homage to the few days we spent in England on the way home from Paris, we had a fry up — cardiologists and vegetarians, avert your eyes — and kicked off our Sunday with an absurd plate of runny eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, baked beans, and toast. Of all the unhealthy things we ate in England — to name a few: rock cake, apple tart, banoffee pie, Cadbury bars, clotted cream, rose and chocolate eclairs, scones, currant scones, cheese scones, lamb shoulder, beef roasts, fish and chips, Victoria sponge cake, summer pudding, maple pecan ice cream, etc etc etc — none was more bald in its unhealthiness, or more satisfying, than the fry-up. It’s one unapologetic, greasy, bursting plate of deliciousness. We’d like to live long enough to see our kids reach their teenage years, so we’re not making a habit of this, but man (blimey?): the Brits know from breakfast. I love this, particularly with the beans. I love vacation, particularly with the kids. Can it be summer again? – Andy (more…)

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Finger Food For Grown-Ups

July 13th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Entertaining, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood, Uncategorized

Let me put your minds at ease, right here at the top: No, our kids do not love clams. They’re kids, first of all, and clams are kind of freaky. The most I can say, while maintaining journalistic integrity, is that our kids and clams are in the process of learning to coexist. They’re getting to know one another. They’ll eat one or two, at most — warily, and with some prodding — before they move on to the safety of chips and guac. But learning to coexist is important, and exposure, as we have argued here before, is half the battle. And, this summer, we’re not having any trouble in the exposure department. This summer, we are all about clams.

At the risk of sounding predictable, Jenny and I are sticking to a script these days when it comes to entertaining – and, more specifically, when it comes to appetizers. There will be no elaborate cheese platters, no overly-produced dips, no bruschetta. (Okay, maybe some bruschetta.) Whenever we have people over, and even when we don’t, we do up a bowl of littlenecks from The Fish Guy at the farmer’s market, slice a fresh, crusty loaf of bread, set out some napkins and forks, and let that be our appetizer plate. We find that even if the kids won’t touch the clams, they’ll gladly take a hunk of that bread and dip it into that deep, salty broth. Which, as my parents always used to say, just means more good stuff for us grown-ups. There are endless variations to this dish — spicy, not spicy; garlicky, not garlicky; wine, no wine; basil, or tarragon — but it’s easy and fast, it only dirties up one pot, and clams are, on the farmer’s market spectrum, a relative bargain. Plus, there’s just something festive (and yes, I just used the word festive) about sitting outside with some friends on a summer night, as dinner sizzles on the grill, burning through a bowl of clams and a loaf of bread and tossing the shells — clank, clank, clank — back into the bowl. That’s living. – Andy

Steamed Little Necks
Maybe the best part: there’s no stress about overcooking or undercooking when it comes to clams; these things literally open their mouths and tell you when they’re done. (more…)

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