Entries Tagged as 'Favorites'
This is probably not the smartest business move for a cookbook author who writes books with 100+ recipes…or for a food blogger who wants readers to, you know, come back tomorrow — but I am going to say it anyway: In spite of everything you’ve read (on this blog and elsewhere), you really only need a handful of culinary moves in your back pocket to survive as a parent. Here’s the indisputably comprehensive, 100% definitive, not-at-all-subjective repertoire Andy and I came up with for your reading and cooking pleasure.
Chicken Orzo Soup (page 290, Dinner: A Love Story)
Why: Because there’s no problem that can’t be hashed out over a bowl of this stuff.
Best When: It’s soccer or football season; you want to make a deposit in the freezer bank; your best friend and her kids are coming for a weekend lunch; your son is under the weather; your daughter is stressed about the algebra test.
Why: Because it’s easier than you think.
Best When: You want to go under-the-radar meatless with the kids; you’re trying to clear out an end-of-the-week refrigerator; lots of people with lots of kids and lots of different tastes are coming for dinner; you add up how much you spent on take-out last month and have a sad, empty feeling deep down inside.
The New Staple
Why: Why not? Seriously, though. Because kale has so much more earthy flavor, more nutritional punch, more oomph and body than regular lettuce (no offense, regular lettuce), and because even the smallest portion feels like it has the magical power of canceling out that cider donut you ate this morning.
Best When: Your kids are too young to understand that people might make fun of them (and their parents) for eating kale. If you can hook ‘em young, you’re golden. And if you don’t wan’t to call it kale, lie and call it “salad.” How’s that for ethical parenting?
The Ol’ Reliable
Why: Because I guarantee you have all the ingredients in your house at all times.
Best When: You forgot to make something for the bake sale and the bake sale is tomorrow; you are charged with bring the classroom peanut-free treat; you are in the mood to blow big and small minds alike.
Chicken and Rice
Why: Because it’s not just learning a recipe, it’s learning a technique.
Best When: You are transitioning the baby to real food; you are learning how to cook; the kids are on a Sendak bender.
The Holiday Hallmark
Homemade Franks & Beans
Why: Because it’s important to get kids associating certain holidays with certain dishes (and because, forreal, when else can you justify it?)
Best When: A fire is blazing in the hearth; you have the whole day to do nothing but bake beans and carve pumpkins; you’ve invited every witch, ghost, princess, and Ironman (and their parents) for a trick-or-treat launch party. (more…)
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It’s too embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve picked up a block of extra firm tofu at The Trader Joe’s Sunday Shop, only to have it end up, four weeks later, in the garbage can of good intentions. Nonetheless, this past weekend, I tossed one into the cart, avoiding eye contact with my husband who would no doubt be happy to point out my current 0-and-5 bean curd record. Why does it go to waste every time? Why do I have such a hard time figuring out what to do with it? Well, in addition to the big huge minus of the kids not fully embracing tofu (“It’s like a wet flavorless marshmallow,” Phoebe once said), I’m just not confident cooking and experimenting with it, and I don’t feel like I have an archive of inspiring recipes. Once, I confessed all this insecurity to a blogger whose posts led me to believe she had an advanced degree in Tofu, and begged her to be my Tofu Tutor. I think I scared her off, because I never heard from her again.
But this past Monday, I wasn’t messing around. In order for Tofu Family Dinner to happen, clearly I had to get out of my own way. So I made a plan. First, on facebook I asked you guys for suggestions. Wowowowow! Why don’t I do this more? Three hours and over 70 ideas later, I whittled the choices down to five, with the finalists mostly being chosen for simplicity, pantry overlap (no way was I hitting the store the day after our weekly shop), and how golden and shiny the tofu looked. (I did not want anything remotely resembling a marshmallow.) Next, I sent this email to Andy.
From: Jenny Rosenstrach [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 2:10 PM
To: W, Andy
Subject: Tofu Multiple Choice
Which one do you want for dinner:
I’m not holding my breath that girls will eat. we have leftover chicken for them.
Can you tell I’m procrastinating my real work in a major way? I hyperlinked the recipes for him and everything. This was his response:
From: Andy [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 2:10 PM
To: R, Jenny
Subject: Tofu Multiple Choice
B! But without that much garlic.
So that’s what you’re looking at below. Did the girls like it? No, but they each tried a bite before digging into their auxiliary proteins (leftover chicken sandwiches). For Andy and me, though, it was one of those dinners that ended up pre-empting all other conversation at the table. (“We need to make this again.” and “Damn!” and “So healthy!” and “How can you guys not like this?”) Thanks to all my facebook friends who shared their recipes, particularly Libby, Andrea, Mary, and Miller for providing the finalists above — and big thanks to Jessica who has officially introduced a keeper to the DALS rotation.
Adapted from The Jey of Cooking
I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter, but, per Andy’s request, limited the garlic, used less sugar, and added some vinegar and fresh squeezed lime to cut the salty-sweetness. FYI: To press tofu, place your tofu block on a plate, cover with a few paper towels, then place a heavy pan on top for at least 30 minutes.
1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sesame oil (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 scallion chopped (for garnish)
fresh lime juice
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cornstarch to the tofu in a small bowl and toss to coat.
Add the tofu to the skillet and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes.
While the tofu is cooking, combine the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, 1/2 cup water and brown sugar. Mix well.
When tofu has browned, add the sauce, stir, then bring to a simmer before reducing heat to low. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened and reduced.
Serve with brown rice, soba noodles, or green beans, and garnish with green onion and a squeeze of lime.
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Tags:quick tofu dinner·quick tofu stir fry·tofu for kids·vegetarian family dinner
I am so happy that Nicholas Day is guest-posting for DALS today. For starters, he has written some of my most favorite family food posts over at Food52. (His yes-we-can-have-sweet-potatoes-for-dinner story comes to mind right away.) Next, he’s feeding a four- and one-year-old, and I love to offer a perspective from the toddler-baby trenches whenever I can, since I can only remember that phase on the most intellectual level. (Who are those strange people in the above photo?) Which brings me to Day’s new book Baby Meets World, a completely fresh, often hilarious examination of exactly that ephemeral period of infancy. As he writes: “This book solves no problem that has to be solved this instant: if your child is screaming
right now I cannot help you. Try the next book over. What this book does do is step back from the problems so they appear in perspective — perspective being that rarest commodity in parenting.” Here, he writes about how that perspective changed the way he approached feeding a baby. It’s a goodie.
When our son Isaiah was a baby, we paid a lot of attention to family dinner: we were careful never to have it. Isaiah ate his premasticated mush early; we ate our toothsome food late. We got to complete our sentences, if we still knew how.
It was because we almost never ate dinner with Isaiah that we decided, someday when he was not yet a year old, that we should eat down and eat together as a family. With impeccable new parent logic, we made Actual Dinner for the occasion. (Leg of lamb: I am not joking.) You know how this ends. At some point during the aborted dinner, I vaguely remember looking at Isaiah and thinking, But this is Special Time! Why are you ruining Special Time?
We went back to not having family dinner.
Isaiah is now four and some. His brother, Samuel, or Mila, is the baby who’s almost a year old. And our life is very different: because Isaiah now always eats with us, we eat early, which means that Mila eats with us too. He doesn’t eat premasticated mush. He eats whatever we eat. (It is never leg of lamb.) We don’t road-test each ingredient first. We don’t even cut it up, really.
This sounds like a disastrous plan. It works brilliantly. We have a solid fifteen minutes of family dinner, before Mila, in some preverbal pagan ritual, starts systemically slaughtering everything on his tray and disposing of the carcasses over the side.
Every baby is different, and aside from Mila’s blood-lust, we got lucky. But I have learned a few things about eating with small humans that I did not know when Isaiah was a baby, and I wish I had. They are:
1) Babies eat food.
This fact is curiously hidden in the literature, which always makes babies sound like very complicated consumers of food-like substances. There is talk of introducing new ingredients in stages, and the phasing-in of difficult tastes, and the super food must-haves with mega-antis and hyper-pros.
In response to the literature, I have devised a single rule for making baby food: at all costs, avoid making baby food. Feel free to write it down for handy reference.
My thinking is basically: Making food for everyone else is hard enough. As I have explained to Mila numerous times, just because he’s an infant doesn’t mean he gets to be infantilized.
The best argument for being Very Cautious and Complicated was always the allergy argument. So it helped that since Isaiah was a baby, the American Association of Pediatrics decided the no-nonsense advice they’d given parents about how to prevent allergies was—and this is a technical medical term—ass-backwards. The old advice, of course, was to postpone introducing potential allergens until later in infancy; the new advice is more or less the opposite. (This month the AAP published a new report about when parents were feeding their babies solid food—and the authors seemed shocked, shocked, that parents were not following the medical advice — waiting until after six months. I am sure the current advice is correct, just as the previous advice was also correct; I am also sure the AAP has forfeited the right to be shocked. The authors were very gently skewered by Perri Klass, a pediatrician herself, in the Times.)
As far as I can tell, the state of the science on allergies is: We’re still figuring it out! We’ll be right with you!
So Mila eats whatever we eat, except when we’re truly desperate and have dinner entirely composed of Isaiah’s leftover Halloween candy. I’m kidding, of course. That rarely happens.
2) Babies eat food the way it looks on your plate.
I was very attentive and semi-paranoid about what I fed Isaiah. For better or worse, I am neither with Mila. It helped that in between their babyhoods, I wrote a book on the history and science of infancy, Baby Meets World, and I learned that babies have survived a lot worse than not having their broccoli pureed. I am not suggesting we revive any of these ancient (and not so ancient) wrongheaded feeding practices. (Dried cow teats for bottles: probably not those either.) But babies are far more flexible and resilient than we think: they can handle a few chickpeas.
This was a major revelation. Cutting up food into neutrino-sized pieces is a hedge against everything else you will do wrong as a parent: at least, you think, at least I never gave you a whole grape. That’s how I felt about feeding Isaiah: I could control very little about the world, but I could control the size of the pear slices on his plate. And I would!
There was a problem, though: after months of feeding Isaiah specks of solid food, he was not especially skilled at eating food that was larger than speck-size. Back when he was about a year old, I still remember my amazement seeing another baby who put O’s in his mouth and then—wait for it—swallowed the O’s. It felt like a magic trick.
I am not the brightest bulb in the pencil case. But eventually I realized that Isaiah was bad at eating food with texture because we gave him so little of it. By the time Mila arrived, we’d seen a primer on baby-led weaning. It has a complicated name to hide the fact that it is extremely simple: It means you pay less attention to what you feed your baby. You let the baby eat big people food in big people sizes. Yes, he did gag occasionally: The first couple times we were apoplectic. Then we calmed down. He did fine.
I still occasionally puree food for Mila; he eats faster than way. But he mostly eats food he can pick up. And it seems emblematic of parenting today that I needed something that looked like a system—that looked like the new way of feeding babies—in order to give myself permission to do this.
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Tags:feeding babies·nicholas day baby meets world
Want to learn how to cook but don’t know where to start? Miss the last 600 posts on Dinner: A Love Story and don’t know how to catch up? Looking for something to read while anxiously awaiting dispatches from the Supreme Court? Look no further. Herewith, a list of one hundred definitively DALSian (which is to say totally unofficial, ridiculously subjective) rules of dinner.
1. “Acid” is usually the answer when you taste a dish and wonder “What’s missing?”
2. Always cook more spinach than you think you’ll need.
3. The quickest way to enrage me is to start eating before the cook has sat down. Even if I’m not the one cooking.
4. The juiciest limes are the small ones with thin, smooth skin.
5. Being cooked for in someone’s home is one of the finer pleasures in life.
6. But I’m pretty sure I’d skip that invitation if someone offered to take me to ABC Kitchen instead.
7. There is nothing sadder than a piece of warm pie without ice cream.
8. Improvising with herbs or vinegars? Yes. Improvising with baking soda or baking powder? No.
9. There are very few problems in a kid’s life that aren’t momentarily solved by a stack of chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday morning.
10. There are very few problems in my life that I can’t momentarily forget about when I’m cooking dinner with Andy.
11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.
12. Herbs in the salad.
13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.
14. Cinnamon in the chili.
15. Resist the urge to apologize when you’re cooking for people. Most of the time your dinner guests won’t notice anything is wrong until you bring it up.
16. There is no more fun question to put forth at the dinner table than “What would you do if you won this week’s Powerball?”
17. Dessert should be cake.
18. Kitchen chairs should be red. Or at least fun.
19. The term “100% All-Natural” when it appears on food packages: 100% meaningless.
20. If you have to unwrap it, it’s not going to be good for you.
21. It’s not wise to store your drinking glasses in the shelf above the dishwasher, the shelf that won’t be accessible until you shut the dishwasher.
22. Two words for those of you who haven’t switched from (iodized, metallic-tasting) table salt to (easy-to-handle, clean-tasting) kosher salt: Why the f not?
23. If my house were burning down and I could only save one thing from the kitchen, it would be my Master Copy of Dinner: A Love Story that I’ve had event planners, bookstore owners, morning show hosts, party guests, guest-posters, and family members sign as if it’s my high school yearbook.
24. Or maybe my Dutch Oven.
25. Slice a baguette on its side instead of right side up. That way you don’t end up smushing the loaf with your hand and knife.
26. Freeze soups and stews in flat bags so they thaw more quickly under running water. I know I’ve told you this one a thousand times, but it bears repeating.
27. The best way to seed a cucumber: Peel, halve horizontally, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.
28. The best way to get the conversation going at the table is by saying “Which kid got in trouble at school today?”
29. The best way to prepare scrambled eggs is with freshly grated Parm and snipped chives.
30. The best way to prevent tearing when chopping an onion is to wear contact lenses.
31. As far as I can tell, instructing your children to “please, dear Lord, please use your napkins” every night for ten straight years is not the best way to get your children to use napkins.
32. Learning how to Deconstruct my family dinners saved my family dinners.
33. It’s counterintuitive, but the sharpest knife is the safest knife.
34. When entertaining: Bo Ssam for the Boss; Short Ribs for the Neighbors; Minestrone for the Vegetarians.
35. When entertaining: Chicken is kind of a bummer.
36. When you use a knife to scrape food off a cutting board, use the dull side so you don’t ruin your blade.
37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.
38. If you have to ask “lime or lemon?” when making me a gin and tonic…I’ll make my own gin and tonic.
39. My new Holy Trinity: Rice Wine Vinegar, Fish Sauce, Grapeseed Oil.
40. When you throw shrimp into lightly boiling water, it takes exactly three minutes to cook.
41. If you’re gonna use storebought pizza sauce, Don Pepino is the one to buy.
42. There is no such thing as owning too many little bowls.
43. Without some crunch (nuts, celery, snap peas, radishes), salads can only reach half their potential.
44. An immersion blender is just not as life-changing as everyone promises it will be.
45. Everybody should know how to properly chop an onion.
46. Most everybody should know how to roast a chicken.
47. Establishing a post-dinner alternating lunch-packing schedule goes down as the smartest thing we’ve ever done as parents.
48. Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs are better the next day.
49. It’s not chaos. It’s richness.
50. You end the day with family dinner.
51. When making pasta, be sure to salt the water.
52. The proper cocktail construction: First ice, then booze, then mixer.
53. Nobody uses enough ice.
54. You very rarely feel worse about yourself after cooking dinner.
55. You very often feel worse about yourself after going out and spending $68 for four soggy pepper jack quesadillas, some rice and beans, and a couple of Shirley Temples.
56. The simpler the recipe, the more likely I am to cook it.
57. People who say bribery is not a good way to get kids to eat have never had kids.
58. When eating grilled stuff outside in the summer, there is no shame in cold, pink wine.
59. When cooking steak on the grill, get a nice char over hot coals and then move it to a less hot part of the grill — i.e. over indirect heat. Test for doneness by pressing down on the meat with your finger. When it’s ready, it will have the consistency of the flesh at the base of your thumb. Once it’s firm, you have overcooked it.
60. The best grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye.
61. The least healthy grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye, which tells you something re the relationship between fat and flavor.
62. As Julia Child once said, “There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables.”
63. Clean as you go. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough.
64. Eggs can become difficult to eat if you think too hard about them.
65. We never invested in a decent blender, and I rue that sh*t to this day.
66. We did invest in a big, expensive Le Creuset Dutch Oven and, 300 pork ragus later, I am so happy we did.
67. When roasting potatoes – or any vegetable, really – cook five minutes longer than the recipe says. And then cook five minutes more.
68. If you want to get something crispy, the pan needs to be hot. And so does the oil.
69. The ideal weeknight side: Baby carrots simmered for 15-20 minutes in a little water, a squeeze of honey, a couple of sprigs of thyme, salt, and curry powder.
70. Let us stop for a minute and consider the taste of a fresh ear of corn, rolled in butter, sprinkled with salt.
71. Performance enhancing drugs are to sports as butter is to cooking. Which is not to say that butter is evil. But it is cheating.
72. I can’t think of a single meat or fish that does not taste better on the grill.
73. Salt the water again.
74. Raw spinach does nothing for me.
75. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is delicious, and you enjoy eating it, say so. Say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”
76. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is maybe not the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life, but still, it clearly required thought and time and work and, yes, love, say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”
77. If you cook dinner for someone, and that person is not super forthcoming with his or her expressions of happiness or gratitude, you must (a) fight every urge to ask them if they like it, and (b) think twice about cooking for that person again.
78. Cooking is to baking as pleasure reading is to chemistry homework.
79. Salted butter for toast and bagels, unsalted butter for everything else.
80. Season your meat generously before you cook it, and then season it again while it’s cooking.
81. Everything in moderation, but particularly garlic.
82. I have a lot of regrets, but one of them is not substituting boneless chicken thighs for boneless chicken breasts in a recipe.
83. Three secret weapons of salad dressing: Teaspoon of sugar, dash of Sriracha, chives.
84. When making a hamburger, pack it loosely, and use lots of salt and pepper. And never ever ever ever press down on it with your spatula, for crying out loud. That is, unless your goal is to make it taste less good.
85. I serve turkey burgers. I know turkey burgers. Turkey burgers are a friend of mine. Turkey burgers, on your best day, you are no hamburgers.
86. Anything + Broccoli = A meal you can feel pretty good about.
87. If you care about what other people think about you and your parenting abilities, it is important that your kids only ask for their water “on the rocks” at home.
88. My ideal summer lunch: An open-faced heirloom tomato sandwich, on white toast smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with sea salt.
89. If I could keep only one cookbook, it would be Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Italian Cooking, followed by How to Cook Everything.
90. After Dinner: A Love Story, I mean.
91. The only acceptable mayonnaise brands are Hellman’s and Duke’s. It is a testament to how much I love my father that I can still accept him even though he puts LOW FAT MIRACLE WHIP on his sandwiches.
92. When I was a kid, my favorite meal was breaded pork chops that had been marinated in white vinegar. My mom would make them for my birthday, when the report cards arrived, and when I came home – with forty pounds of dirty laundry (and a gold hoop earring!) — from college. That smell, of the vinegary pork chops coated in Progresso Italian breadcrumbs, browning in olive oil in the Sunbeam electric frying pan, is burned so deep into my brain that, if you did the deathbed montage of my life, it’d be in there, right near the beginning. Not sure what that says about me, but it’s true.
93. More vinegar, less oil.
94. The ideal summer dinner: Fresh clams with pasta and a raw kale salad with pecorino romano and red onion.
95. Egg salad is a perfect food that is made even more perfect by the addition of dill, a handful of chopped pickles, and a dash of Dijon mustard.
96. The older I get, the less I like beer.
97. My ideal dessert: Jenny’s Mexican chocolate icebox cookies with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream. Or a fresh Mallomar, eaten in total quietude, so as to fully appreciate the sound of teeth cracking pristine chocolate shell.
98. Dredging the chicken or flounder before frying is an excellent task for a kid who is eager to help. Peeling a beet with a sharp knife is not.
99. Make friends with the fish guy at your farmer’s market.
100. Salt the water again.
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Probably when most people spy a book like Jeanne Kelley’s Salad for Dinner at the bookstore or in their library they pick it up and think Mmmm, this looks nice and healthy. Or: I could afford to shake up the Romaine routine. My first thought? A veritable treasure trove of potentially deconstructable dinners. True, I can look at almost any meal and envision how it can break down into child-friendly, nothing-touching, no-green-speck meals to please the sauce-o-thropes at the table. (Soup works, so does a pot roast.) But salads have got to be the most conducive. And if ever there were a cure for the parents who cannot seem to find common ground between their craving for The Way They Used to Eat and their toddler’s Craving for White Pasta…it’s this book. Kelley’s recipes take you far beyond the barren world of tomato-and-bagged-lettuce salads into the promised land of hearty, healthy, grain-rich, colorful, incredibly flavorful masterpieces you’d serve to any dinner guest — Seared Salmon with Quinoa, Asparagus, and Spinach; Thai Style Grilled Beef Salad; Toasted Barley, Long Bean, and Shitake Mushroom Salad with Tofu. And yet, very few of them seem out of reach. I opened the book during breakfast, found this jackpot Indonesian Chicken Salad recipe below and realized I had every single thing I needed to get it together for that night. Maybe you do, too.
Indonesian Pineapple, Chicken and Spicy Peanut Salad
Adapted from Salad for Dinner, by Jeanne Kelley
The peanut dressing is what ups the wow factor here, but it’s definitely spicy, so if you are worried about that with the kids, I’d limit the Sriracha to about a teaspoon. Also, Kelley instructs roasting the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet along with 1/4 cup of water then tented with foil. (About 40 minutes at 375°F.) I usually poach, but was curious about her method and found it to be much easier. The chicken (bone-in breasts) ended up incredibly tender and shred-friendly.
Spicy Peanut Dressing
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 large garlic clove, pressed
8 cups thinly sliced cabbage (from about 1 medium head)
1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into strips as shown above
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 pound shredded cooked chicken breast (see note above)
1/2 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts
In a large bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Add the cabbage, pineapple, carrots, red pepper, scallions, cilantro, and chicken and toss to combine. Serve sprinkled with peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice.
If you are deconstructing this salad for kids: Whisk dressing in a separate small bowl and serve separately from salad. (Or in a little dipping bowl, as shown above.) Instead of tossing all the salad ingredients together, place each one in its own clump in a wide shallow bowl, have the kids pick what they want, then proceed to toss for the normal people.
Last year, I couldn’t walk into a food editor’s office without seeing Jeanne Kelley’s book right on the very top of their cookbook pile with post-its sticking out of every side. I don’t know what took me so long to get my own copy, but I have a feeling I’m going to be using it a LOT.
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Tags:Deconstructed Dinner·Healthy dinners for kids·indonesian chicken salad with spicy peanut sauce·jeanne kelley salad for dinner
I hear from a lot of you that what you like the most about our site is that you never know what you’re going to find from one post to the next. I love getting this note — because it confirms that a) you guys are paying attention, and b) because it allows me to write inside-baseball posts like this one and know that you will still come back tomorrow in search of the perfect tandoori burger. Correct?
Today I want to answer a question I’ve been asked a lot: How do you write this blog? Which I’m also going to interpret as How do you write and How did you start? It’s an involved question, one I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to answer yet, and one that, you’ll see, sends me in several different directions below. (To give you an idea, the working title of this post for the past few months had been “Everything I Learned About Blogging I Learned in Magazines” before I realized I had so much more to say.) The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing when, three years ago, GoDaddy told me that Yes! The URL dinneralovestory.com is available! But I’ve figured a few things out along the way and thought it might help those of you thinking of starting your own blog. (As for starting a career in food writing, you cannot get any better than this post by Amanda Hesser.) What I wrote below should not be mistaken for The Definitive Rules of Blogging 101. There are about eight million people out there generating eight million hits a day and maybe even making money from it — and if that’s what you are after, you should skip this post and seek their advice. I’ve accepted now that this site will most likely never be the source of a down payment on that house in Block Island overlooking Mohegan Bluffs. (Why God, Why?) But for a satisfying job that has led to unexpected places, these are the rules I’ve lived by.
Lesson 1: Shorter Isn’t Necessarily Better. Better is Better
My crash-course in blogging lasted about two weeks. I had just lost my job at Cookie, the parenting magazine where I was editing features, and a website called to see if I could help out launching a few blogs on their lifestyle vertical. I was feeling a little lost — not to mention there was not one more corner of the house to organize, which seemed to be my way of dealing with my sudden daily aimlessness — so I said yes and pretty soon was on the 8:43 commuter train again, headed to a downtown office where the staffers seemed to check every box for website start-up. (Skull caps: Check; Bright Eyes station playing on Pandora: Check; Enrollment in artisanal, fetish-y food project: Check.) Everything happens faster online (first lesson) so my supervisor did not waste anytime laying down a few crucial rules about blogging to his seemingly prehistoric new freelancer. Don’t write in long paragraphs. Don’t write long at all. Online readers like quick hits. They like lists and bullet points whenever possible! Say things that will start a conversation in the comment field. (Or better yet, incite a riot in the comment field!) Tweet everything! Post everything on facebook! And my favorite, which I think about every single day: Remember: Producing content is 10% of the job; Promoting it is 90%. Ay yi yi.
For week one I just followed orders and repeated to myself “Don’t be old.” But by week two, I was done. Here’s the thing. My supervisor was right about every single thing above. If you want more visitors (and any blogger who tells you he or she doesn’t is lying) you can get there more readily by following all of his rules. But you could also assume a certain amount of intelligence from your reader and write the way you want to write, the way most readers want you to write, that is, honestly. The masses might not come right away, but if you take time to write something that is pure and resonant and comes with no behind-the-scenes agenda, people will respond. And you will respond to their response. I remember early on in my DALS life when my ambitions were a little grander, I called my VC friend Roger in Palo Alto for a counseling session on building the “business.” He gave me the best piece of advice — or at least the best piece of advice that I felt most comfortable with. Don’t think about anything but the content for the first year. You need to earn the trust of readers and you need to distinguish yourself. The only way to do that is by paying close attention to what you are producing every day. Roger flip-flopped the formula for me and set me back on the path I knew so well from magazines, and that had never really led me wrong before: 90% of your time should be spent thinking about content, fresh new ideas, and presenting those ideas from a fresh perspective. Your perspective. Everything else? 10%.
Lesson 2: Define Your Mission
One of my earliest magazine jobs was at a major women’s lifestyle title. The editor at the time was a veteran magazine editor named Carrie — she had been in the industry for 25 years, wore all black along with trademark black-framed editor glasses. I didn’t know a whole lot, but I knew enough to know that I should write down every single thing she said and commit it to memory. At our Tuesday line-up meetings, she’d hold up some new book that we should be paying attention to (I one-clicked Botany of Desire as soon as she held it up saying less as a suggestion than an absolute command, “Pay attention to this guy. His name is Michael Pollan”); or of a magazine that was doing something new and exciting visually (Everyday Food! RIP! ); or simply what her latest fashion philosophy was. (“Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories!“) On the Tuesday meeting after September 11th, she told us that she had thought long and hard about our magazine and its place in the new world and decided there was going to be a revamped mission. “We are not a magazine people come to for the news” she told us. “We are a magazine that tells people how to handle the news.” She went on to say that from that point forward the mission of the magazine could be pared down to three simple words: Comfort, Community, and Control. They became known as the three C’s, and if we had an idea we wanted to assign for the magazine, it had better fit into that description. Boy did we roll our eyes at the Three C’s! But boy did they ever work. Having a mission sharpened our focus. It helped us define who we were and why people came to us. When I moved on to my next job and oversaw a large section of the magazine, the first thing I tortured my team with was defining its mission. I also spent about six months writing the mission for this blog. I knew it would be as important for me to lay a blueprint as it would be for anyone who happened to drop by to see what the heck I was up to. This page is one of the most visited of the site. Which is another way of saying This is where I reel them in.
Lesson 3: No Harm in Making Things Pretty
If you spend a little money on a good designer, you will be ahead of 99% of the websites out there. It can take a lifetime to articulate to a designer the look you are after (I was lucky to earn my Masters in this at Conde Nast) but it helps to “pull scrap” as Carrie used to say. Bookmark anything online that you respond to — not just blogs, but websites, textures, colors. Create an inspiration board on Pinterest to stay organized. Or do it the old fashioned way, cut layouts out of magazines and pin it on an actual physical bulletin board. Fonts are incredibly important. Colors are incredibly important. I knew I didn’t have have a lot of time with online readers so I knew the visual first impression would be crucial. When I was working with my very gifted designer, Ava, I sent her photos of baby birds with their mouths wide open. (Because my dad used to say that his three kids asking to be fed and clothed and, you know, parented, conjured up this image.) (more…)
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Tags:how to blog·how to start a blog·how to write·jenny rosenstrach
Our friends Kendra and Mike are what Abby would call “good cookers.” Mike’s a legit restaurant guy, and Kendra is an all-around enthusiast, with excellent taste, who happens to know her way around a kitchen. In other words, they can be trusted. A couple of weeks ago, Kendra poked her head into my office and said, “You know what you gotta make for the girls?”
“Laser-cut paper doll dioramas of unicorns frolicking in shimmering fields of goldenrod?” I said.
“No, dude. Stromboli. Mike and I made one this weekend, and it was insane.”
Stromboli? Here’s what I knew about Stromboli: Nothing. Or, that’s not quite true. I had a vague sense it was something I shoveled into my mouth, wolverine-like, a few times in college, at 2am, after several bottles of Golden Anniversary beer. I think. The point is, it was not what some food types today would call a “mindful” eating experience. (I think I also remember tipping my head back and drinking the cup of marinara dipping sauce it came with; hey, I was hungry!) But last week, Stromboli and I got to know each other a little more deeply. I made one to eat — at halftime; that’s how quick and easy it is — while we sat on the couch and watched the NFL playoffs. The kids, as per usual, could not have cared less about the game, but the Stromboli won in a rout. After cleaning her plate, Abby declared: “That’s the best thing you’ve ever made all year.” If I were a betting man, I’d put a lot of money on this happening again for the Super Bowl. – Andy
Step One: Spread dough (we used pre-made from T. Joe’s, and left it out on the counter for an hour, to make it easier to work with; you can also, obviously, use homemade) on cookie sheet rubbed with olive oil; get it as far into the corners as possible.
Step Two: Sauce it up, almost to the edges. If you have homemade pizza sauce, awesome. But honestly, a good storebought, like Don Pepino or Rao’s Marinara, is fine, too.
Step Three: Sprinkle some fresh basil and dried oregano on this bad boy.
Step Four: Add your meat (if you like that sort of thing; we used pepperoni), and onions. At this point, I threatened to add roasted red peppers, but Jenny shot my sh*t down.
Step Five: Add spinach (thawed, squeezed, no trace of liquid) or kale and shredded mozz.
Step Six: Add some fresh ricotta (and some grated parm, if you want) and red pepper flakes.
Step Seven: Very carefully (so as not to tear the dough), roll the dough up like a giant joint. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
Step Eight: Put into 350°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until golden brown. Brush again with oil in the last five min. Slice into 1 1/2 inch thick pieces and serve.
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Unless I’m out to dinner, or unless there’s a birthday to celebrate, there’s not much room in my life right now for high-concept food. I love the idea of mashed potato ghosts for Halloween, and the artisanal Mallomars that came with the check at last weekend’s anniversary dinner was definitely good for a giggle. Even if it hadn’t been recorded in my dinner diary, the “ice cream cone” starter I had at the French Laundry in 1998 — a masterfully tiny homemade wafer cone filled with creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare “sprinkles” — will stay with me for a long time. But you guys know us by now. You know that, for the most part, our default mode is simple, un-fussy meals that are fresh, can be put together fast, and don’t require any winking when served. (Any one getting flashbacks here of Charles Grodin and his “honest” dinner in The Heartbreak Kid?) But every now and then, an idea presents itself that I’d be crazy not to try. Last week Phoebe reminded me that I had been promising meatballs on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. At the same time, in the same breath, Abby reminded me that I had been promising Chicken Parm (page 148 in my book) on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. In an attempt to remedy my staggeringly deprived children as well as cut off any sibling tussling at the pass, I decided to please them both with a single high-concept, low-maintenance meatball meal. “It’s like Chicken Parm married Meatballs and had a baby,” I told them, before wondering why on earth I would ever open up such a weird concept with an 8- and 10-year-old. Well, either way, King Solomon would’ve been proud.
Chicken Parm Meatballs
This makes 12 large-ish meatballs. My best self would’ve let the meatballs freeze at this point you see above (after initial 15-minute bake) then frozen them for future Tumultuous Tuesday use, on which day, my best self would’ve transferred the frozen meatballs to the fridge in the morning, then heated them up in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes (before proceeding with broiling) upon her return later that night. While she was at it, my best self would’ve also ordered all the Halloween costumes and thrown away the sad, dried-out mums in the backyard that have been there since last fall and that perennially remind her of her worst self.
1 1/4 pounds ground chicken
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup Pecorino (or Parm)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 egg, whisked
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-ounce can storebought pizza sauce (such as Don Pepino’s)
about 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (a dozen thin slices; to pile on the cheese would be to cancel out the fact that you were virtuous enough to replace fatty beef with lean chicken)
Preheat oven to 400°F, setting rack to upper third part of oven. In a large bowl, using your hands, gently mix together first 11 ingredients. Shape into lacrosse-ball size balls (that would be somewhere between golf and tennis) and place a few inches from each other on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix one spoonful of your pizza sauce with olive oil. Brush this mixture on top of each meatball. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove meatballs from oven, spoon some sauce on top of each meatball, and cover each with a slice of cheese. Broil another 3 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. Heat remaining sauce in a small saucepan. Serve meatballs with a dollop of sauce and a raw Tuscan kale salad that has been shredded and tossed with shallots, Pecornio, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Meanwhile, how much do I love this review of Dinner: A Love Story from Food52? My favorite quote: “Rosenstrach’s book and blog are something very rare in the genre of family dinner: they inspire neither homicidal nor suicidal impulses.”
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Tags:chicken parm meatballs·chicken parmesan meatballs·dinner a love story·jenny rosenstrach
Part of the joy of working with writers who are smarter and more knowledgable than you is that you learn stuff. They do the research and make sense of the material and then you get to absorb it, process it, and then go to dinner parties and act like you know what you’re talking about. I’ve just finished editing a book about bullying by the amazing journalist and Slate gabfest fixture Emily Bazelon – and, obviously, being the parents of two girls, this is a topic Jenny and I spend time thinking about. Emily’s book – Sticks and Stones, out in February — is about the phenomenon in general, how it works and why it happens and what can be done to alleviate it. One of the words that comes up in the book over and over again is empathy, in that it is a crucial trait for kids to possess – or learn, as the case may be – if we are to make strides in making kids less mean, and more forgiving. Since October is officially “Bullying Prevention Month,” and since our kids, for some reason, have been reading in and around this subject area a lot lately, I thought we’d highilght three books that help instill some empathy and might lead to some fruitful dinner table discussions on the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes — always a good thing to think about. Apart from the subject matter, they also happen to be really excellent books. I now hand the mic to Abby and Phoebe. — Andy
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
What it’s about: ”A boy named August (they call him Auggie) who has a deformity on his face. I know that doesn’t sound nice, but his ears look like tiny fists and his eyes are too low and he has no eyebrows or eyelashes. I don’t know how to explain him. Auggie has been home-schooled until his parents decide that it’s time to send him to a real school, Beecher Prep, and Auggie is resistant at first. He’s afraid. But when his parents tell him that the principal’s name is Mr. Tushman, Auggie laughs and decides to go. The rest of the book is about his year at school and how he manages to survive bullies, ‘the plague’ — which is a mean game, kind of like cooties — and a jerk named Julian.”
The moment that hurts the heart: “When Auggie overhears his friend Jack saying bad things about him. Jack tells Julian that he had pretended to be friends with Auggie, and Auggie didn’t know that. Auggie overhears this and goes on the staircase and just starts crying. He trusted Jack and thought that he didn’t care about how he looked. When you read it, you can feel how sad he must be.”
The lesson it teaches: “Looks can be deceiving.”
Phoebe score: 10. “One of the best books I’ve ever read.”
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
What it’s about: “A girl named Melody who has cerebral palsy and is incredibly smart. I think she’s twelve. The thing is, she can’t speak because of the cerebral palsy, and so people misjudge her. A lot. She has one friend, beside her aide, named Rose. Rose believes in her and one day, Melody gets a special computer that allows her to finally communicate. When she types in a word, the computer says it out loud, so it’s like she can talk. This helps her prove that may be different, but she’s not stupid. This book is enough to make people cry.”
The moment that hurts the heart: “Melody’s school has a team of these super smart kids who go to compete against other schools in a trivia game that is on tv. Melody is on this team. One time, the team had to go to Washington to compete and Melody was a little bit late and they left her behind. One student thought that she wasn’t as important as the others. This made her realize again that, no matter what, people would always think of her as different.”
The lesson it teaches: After Phoebe read this book, she sent Sharon Draper an email. This is what it said:
I read Out Of My Mind on Thanksgiving weekend. I think that if everybody had a copy of that book, it would change the world. It completely changed the way I looked at people that have cerebral palsy and autism. Do you know any body with cerebral palsy? Did you write the book to make people look at people with cerebral palsy and autism differently?
That night, Sharon wrote back, and this is what she said:
Thanks so much for your kind letter. I’m so glad you enjoyed Out of my Mind. That book is very special to me. I tried very hard to capture the essence of what it means to be different. Melody is a song to me that will forever sing. Yes, I know lots of people with disabilities, and I hope the book helps people see them as real people.
Phoebe score: 9. “Soooo close to a 10, but not quite as good as Wonder. Still, a great book for people who want to look inside somebody’s mind.”
The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff
What it’s about: ”It’s about a boy named Georgie who has something called dwarfism, and what happens in his life. It’s not a book that has a lot of action, but it still makes you want to read on and read on and read on. A lot of the chapters end on cliffhangers and it makes you really think about how different people are in this world. This book is about friendship, too — and how it’s hard for kids like Georgie to find friends because people make fun of him for his height and the way he looks.”
The moment that hurts the heart: ”When you hear about all the times people stare at Georgie and make fun of him just because of how he looks. One time, he’s knocking on a door and a car drives past and the man in the car stares — like, eyes wide open — and I can imagine how hard it would be to deal with that every single day.”
The lesson it teaches: ”Everyone, no matter how they look or how they act, is always the same as you on the inside.”
Abby score: 10. “Ten. Ten!”
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Tags:bullying prevention awareness month·national bullying prevention center·out of my mind sharon draper·the thing about georgie lisa graff·wonder rj palacio
Now that we are three weeks into the school year, I am assuming you have all mastered School Year’s Resolution 1 (More Freezer Meals) and we are free to move on to a very popular cry for help among the DALS readership: I don’t know how to shop efficiently for dinner. This is a little tricky because how and what you pick up at the grocery store is inextricably linked to how you eat, so no two shopping lists for the Piggly Wiggly or Wegman’s or your local Farmer’s Market or Trader Joe’s (where we go) are ever going to look the same. So what I’ve tried to do here is outline a few rules and strategies that we shop by that can hopefully be universally applied. This list also assumes we all want to at least try to have a sit-down dinner at least four times between Sunday and Friday.
Rule 1: Put it in Writing Those of you who have read my book, know that I began this whole dinner ritual by sitting down on Sunday with my dinner diary, writing down the meals I wanted to make in the upcoming week, then shopping for everything we needed to make that happen. This strategy helped kickstart the ritual in a few ways: It got the momentum going; it eliminated those odious late-afternoon back-and-forths (What do you want to eat tonight? I don’t know, what do you want? I don’t know what do you?); and later, when we had school-aged kids, it helped lessen, if only a little bit, the existential dread of lunch-packing. (It’s so much easier to do the first pack of the week with a full fridge than with a fridge that’s been run dry.) Ultimately, the goal here is to take the daily thinkwork out of dinner. If you come up with a plan for the week, you just freed up all that psychic energy to direct towards more exciting pursuits, like watching, dissecting, and ruminating over all four seasons of Breaking Bad.
Rule 2: Squeeze in a Sexy Shop Another reason we hit Trader Joe’s on Sunday is because our farmer’s market is open on Saturdays. Unlike the dutiful, checklisty supermarket shop, this is where we can let the food (as opposed to the list) inform the shop. So we pick up what looks good — almost always fish that was swimming off Hampton Bays just hours earlier and a bundle of Tuscan kale, sorrel, summer spinach, or any other beautiful greens that last us the week and allow us to skip their mediocre bagged counterparts at Trader Joe’s. And there we have Meal 1: Grilled Fish with some kind of greens. I’m not saying your Meal One has to be this. It might be a bolognese made from some good grass-fed beef, or pasta with fresh butternut squash or a kale and feta quiche made with the eggs from your favorite farmstand. The point is: We almost always earmark our Sunday dinners to be market-inspired. (And please don’t tell anyone I just called kale-shopping sexy.)
Rule 3: Make a Realistic Line-up Now, for that dutiful, checklisty shop. It’s crucial to keep it simple — save the Nathan Myrhvold Foamy Broth Number for Saturday night. The loose formula that I sometimes use when dreaming up my line-up is the following: (more…)
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Tags:how to grocery shop·Trader Joe's·trader joes shopping list
You know that feeling you carried around with you all day yesterday? As you shepherded one kid back and forth to the doctor, the other to camp, then back to the library to accomplish ten hours of work in a very crunched three, then back to camp? You know how all day long you felt like you had things together even though you were up the whole night before ruminating over the latest worries playing on your insomnia plex? It was like your brain had just done that 30-minute Metamorphasis workout from Tracy Anderson — its core strong and capable. And this was why? Because you finally did what you’ve been wanting to do for months now — you took a few minutes over the weekend to boil some whole grains so they’d be pret-a-manger for dinner all week long. If I may be so bold, I think you might call the feeling…euphoria. (Or…psychosis? Two sides of the same coin?) Don’t you know yourself by now? Don’t you know how irrationally happy you feel when you are in control of some corner of your life? Even if it’s just one small corner of your plate? Because when you have a tupperware filled with wheat berries and barley (as you do right now, Praise Be!!) you can do anything! You can even somehow resist the decidedly not whole grain dinner rolls from Trader Joe’s that the kids pick out and that lately Andy has been baking on the grill so they are all smoky and irresistible, especially when smeared with a nice pat of creamy butter. With a stash of cooked whole grains in the fridge, you may not be able to cross off those tasks that always make their way back on the to-do list (just call your d@#% accountant) but you sure can check off tonight’s starch! Which might even look like this:
And true, the kids will probably just try a bite or two, but who cares — they have the simple tomato-corn-red onion salad you made before mixing in the wheat berries and the feta. All you have to do is grill a piece of fish or pan-fry some chicken and you have the makings of the perfect summer dinner: fast, easy, fresh, and enough left over for tomorrow. When you can feel good about yourself all over again.
Big Feel-Good Batch of Barley
Rinse 1 cup of barley under cold water. Bring 3 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil and add barley. Bring to a low boil (not quite as roiling as you would for potatoes), then cover and simmer for 50 minutes. Check after about 40. The grains should be slightly al dente because they’ll cook a little more when they sit in a bowl. Yields about 4 cups cooked barley.
Big Feel-Good Batch of Wheat Berries
Combine 3 cups wheat berries, 4 1/2 cups water, and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy about 45 minutes to an hour. The berries should be slightly firm. Drain and set aside. Yields about 4 cups cooked wheat berries.
Big Feel-Good Batch of Quinoa
Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup of quinoa and simmer, covered, until tender, fluffy, and water is absorbed — about 15 minutes. Let stand, covered, off the heat for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Yields about 4 cups cooked quinoa.
-Chopped tomatoes, red onion, fresh corn, feta (or smoked mozzarella), vinaigrette
-Dried cherries, scallions, walnuts, mint, a little blue cheese, plus a mild vinaigrette.
-Chives, mint, parsley, cilantro, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper
-Arugula, pesto, a squeeze of lemon
-Charred kale and onions (for wheat berries)
-Black beans and cilantro (for quinoa)
Who needs yoga when I can just look at my cooked, tupperware’d, stored, refrigerated wheat berries and feel at peace?
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So I went on the Today Show yesterday to talk about some themes you know well by now — deconstructing meals, picky eaters, my Trickle-Down Theory of Dinner (see page 10!) and of course, the book itself. I’ve known about this segment for about three months now — my publisher called me with the news while I was watching soccer practice — and if I were a certain kind of person I suppose I would have been broadcasting this news all over the world, posting it on my events page and facebook, tweeting from the green room and all that, but the truth is: I was kinda terrified about the whole Live TV thing. To the point where over the past few months I’ve been dividing my life into two distinct eras: (more…)
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Tags:dinner a love story salmon salad·dinner a love story today show·today show jenny rosenstrach·today show salmon salad
Two weeks ago, Jenny emailed me this iPhone photo of three boxes on our doorstep, with no further message. She didn’t need to tell me: these boxes contained 25 copies of her book, Dinner: A Love Story, the book she had spent an ungodly portion of the last year and a half mapping out, writing, rewriting, testing, retesting, and obsessing over. This emailed photo is as close to overt pride as Jenny gets. Which is why I want to take this opportunity, a few days before publication, to tell you a few things about her book that she will never tell you herself. –Andy
1. She cares a lot. This is probably not a newsflash if you’re a regular reader of this blog, but Jenny does not toss sh*t off or take even the quickest Friday Reading round-up lightly. She actually pays attention to/wakes up at 4:30 am thinking about the “mix” of posts on the home page at any given time — do we have too much chicken? are people getting sick of our kid books posts? do we need a strategy post, maybe, or a hit or humor? should I swtich that photo? – and plans her future lineup out, on paper, in a dedicated moleskine notebook. Now, take that baseline commitment to quality and thoughtfulness and times it, as Abby would say, by fifty hundred. DALS: The Book is beautiful and it embodies that thing that I, as an editor, have come to appreciate more than anything else: carefulness. Every word, every sentence, every photo, every caption, every hand-drawn border in this book, was placed there, by Jenny, for a reason. This thing was put together with love.
2. She still doesn’t grill. She claims she does, she even wrote a piece for Bon Appetit about “taking back the grill” and etc., but since that piece ran? She has not grilled once.
3. Relatedly, she still feels like a fraud in the kitchen. Every time Jenny burns a pizza crust or fails to poach an egg correctly or overcooks a pork tenderloin, she puts her hands on the counter, looks at me, and says, with dead seriousness: ”Am I a total fraud? How is it possible that I wrote a cookbook and can’t even ____________?” I love this about her. Very high level of skill, ambition and creativity, endearingly low level of patience with self/awareness of own excellence.
4. She is funny. Samantha Bee, highly credible in matters such as these, says so. Look: “Dinner: A Love Story gives me hope that one day my family will also assemble around an actual table and eat an actual meal that was actually cooked by me; a meal not solely comprised of animal shaped cheese crackers dipped in hummus. Although those are good too.” Well-written books that also make you laugh = books that are worth reading.
5. She is not only funny. The heart of this whole project has a beautiful kind of earnestness at its core: Jenny does this — the book, the blog, the hundreds of thousands of words she has produced about family dinner – because she believes in it, not because she believed it would lead to a book deal. I still remember the day when she committed to family dinner, every night, back when Abby was not yet three and we were both working full-time and we’d grown a little too used to eating frozen pizza at 9:30 at night, after the kids had gone to bed. And the thing is, it’s one thing to talk about making family dinner happen; it’s another thing to do it. When Jenny lost her job and started this blog, the idea of a book wasn’t even on her mind. She wanted to work for herself for a while, and devote herself to something she cared about. When you start from a place of relative purity like that, good things happen.
6. She’s hearing so many good things already. I’ve read this book about seventeen times and I love it, but I’m biased, so you probably shouldn’t trust me on this. AND YET: You can trust some of the people who got advance copies of the book and have been sending Jenny, unbidden, some of the nicest freaking emails I have ever seen about how much they’re enjoying it and how much they love not being judged and how good that salmon salad looks. Here’s one, from Jen: “I have to tell you that I did not TOUCH any of my work after the kids went to bed that night (and am now in trouble as a result) because all I wanted to do was read Dinner: A Love Story. I love it. I would have loved reading it even if I wasn’t going to cook with it because you are such a good writer about family and food, but I will also definitely also be cooking from it constantly. (Especially the section about picky eaters.) I hope you are incredibly proud and I hope it sells a massive number of copies!” And from Melissa: “I wanted to write to you on a personal level to say thanks. I feel like you’re talking directly to me in this book and it helps to not feel so alone. I have started reading your blog and going back to look for recipes and tips, notes, advice, etc….but the book form is perfect. My kids are 2.5 yrs old and 5 months, so I’m deep in the ‘New Parenthood: Bomb exploded in my kitchen….’ phase. I jumped right to Part 2 and can totally sympathize with your thoughts and feelings about your work and career after having a baby. I am a working mom who is not ashamed to admit I love my job, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t crushing to leave those little faces every day.” I could keep going. Do not make me keep going, people!
7. Her book is filled with lies. For instance, there is quinoa in the book, but Jenny doesn’t even like quinoa anymore. The other night, as we were trying to figure out what to eat with our grilled sausages, I suggested quinoa, and Jenny said, “Nah, I’m sick of quinoa.” Boom. Just like that, a door slams shut.
8. BEWARE the serving sizes when making these recipes. As quickly as humanly possible, I will tell you a story that will tell you everything you need to know about Jenny’s checkered history with portion sizes. Last weekend, we were in Upstate New York with the kids, when we came upon a cool little local specialty food store. Jenny ran in to get some stuff for dinner. She came out carrying a small white paper bag. “Whad’ja get?” I asked. “Some lamb sausages,” she said. Only later, after we’d returned home and I went to take the bag out of the refrigerator did I realize she bought four dainty links of sausage…which weighed about as much as a bowl of (popped) popcorn…and was enough to feed a family of four…hummingbirds. (The photo of this dinner above was fudged, by the way. We each got one link.) This is a pattern that has repeated itself throughout our lives together, Jenny coming home from Whole Foods with 3/4 pound of salmon for the entire family (“That’s a lot, right?”), Jenny cooking one bag of spinach for a dinner party with six adults (“I always forget how much it shrinks!”), Jenny defrosting two chicken breasts for four of us (“I supplmented with broccoli.”). It’s not her fault, really. This problem has deep genetic roots. (God, this is so hard to do quickly, but: Jenny’s parents are famous for having once served a pint — one single pint – of ice cream at a dinner party for 11 grown humans, and for having offered up one bottle of wine at Thanksgiving for 15. Seriously, I am fighting every urge right now to launch into a list of the truly classic Tiny Portion Moments from the Rosenstrach household…though the time six of us shared a quarter pound of potato salad is a particular favorite. Jenny’s dad: “You don’t want too much of this stuff. It’s rich.”) All I’m saying is, keep the portion problem in mind as you use this book. Be wary.
9. She is not shameless (but maybe I am?). Even though the act of blogging and talking about your work and linking to your book is inherently (and, she tells me, crushingly) self-promotional, none of this comes easily to Jenny. Which means that she will go to great lengths and expend enormous amounts of energy to make the promotional stuff not only about her (guest post contest!) and creative (121 Books!) while, yes, asking you to please buy her book. (Stay tuned FREE STUFF for an amazing giveaway she’s got FREE STUFF in the works FREE STUFF for next week, by the way. FREE STUFF FREE STUFF FREE STUFF!)
10. The photos in the book are way better than the photos on the blog. As our friend and stalwart DALS supporter Kendra said, upon receiving her copy of the book last week, “Oh my god, it’s like the blog, but on steroids!” And that’s all due to the talents of Jennifer Causey, the photgrapher who spent four days in our house, downloading the DALS vibe, applying her own vision, and making all this stuff come to life.
11. A reader of this site, who goes by the name of Keenan, posted a comment last week that said: “Jenny, you are the best. I hope that husband of yours appreciates how lucky he has it.” Memo to Keenan: Yeah, that husband of hers does appreciate how lucky he has it. But also: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE, BRO.
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I can tell from newsletter subscriptions and my email inbox (please don’t ever stop writing me) that there are a lot of new faces stopping by DALS to check out what we’ve been doing here for the past two and a half years. So longtime loyal readers, please forgive me while I indulge the urge to do a little summary for our first-time visitors. First-time visitors: Welcome! Your pop quiz on skillet meals will not be administered until next week, but today I’d like to present to you the most fundamental of DALS Strategies for Family Dinners. It’s known around these parts as The Principle of Deconstruction and — are you paying attention, because it’s complicated – it goes like this: If you are tired of being a short-order cook for your daughter who hates chicken but likes avocado and your son who hates avocado but likes chicken, and your toddler who only eats olives and cheese and caviar, you do not have to make three separate dinners. The key is to pick one meal that can be broken down into its individual ingredients (aka deconstructed) and reassembled the way your diners like it. That way, even though everyone is eating something different, you have only made one meal and, more important, you do not have the urge to politely excuse yourself then scream at the top of your lungs into the clothes dryer. I’ve gone on and on about deconstructing, I know, and there is a huge section in my book devoted to recipes that are conducive to this strategy, but lately I’ve been applying the Theory of Deconstruction to soups with much success. Look how I turned my 15-minute Tortilla Soup into for my soup-hating 8-year-old?
Nice right? The broth becomes a dip, and all the ingredients that she prefers…you know, dry…get placed on her plate before any offensive simmering begins. Tortilla Soup is made with shredded chicken, avocado, and hominy among other things and is insanely easy to put together.
2 chicken boneless breasts (about 3/4 pound) rinsed and patted dry (or, you can use a storebought rotisserie chicken like I did above)
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1 dried chile pepper
1 15-ounce can hominy (found in international sections of supermarkets; look for Goya)
juice from 1 lime
various toppings: tortilla chips, avocado chunks, shredded cheddar cheese
Brown the chicken in a medium saucepan, about 2 minutes on each side. (It does not have to be cooked through. If using rotisserie chicken, shred it and continue to next step.) To the same pan, add oil and saute the onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and salt and pepper over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
Add the broth, chile pepper, and hominy and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred using two forks. Add the shreds back to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes.
If your kids will only eat the components of this soup and not the soup, lay out the components (chicken, cheese, avocado, etc) on a plate the way they’d find it least offensive. Then ladle the soup servings into bowls, you know, the way it was meant to be served, squeeze lime into each bowl and add the toppings.
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Tags:Deconstructed Dinner·how to have family dinner
Day Before the Eighth Birthday
Abby: Mom, I don’t want it to be my birthday.
Mom: What? Why not?
Abby: Because then it will be over and I’ll have to wait a whole ‘nother year for it to come again.
We have this same conversation every year — which is amazing to me, because between the classroom doughnuts, the annual restaurant-picking ritual, the party with friends, and the cousins-and-grandparents get-together, we seem to be celebrating Abby’s birthday all year long. All year long, it’s on her mind. “Where should my party be this year?” she’ll ask on New Year’s. “What restaurant are we going to on the night of my birthday?” she’ll ask in the middle of her sister’s February birthday dinner. “What should the theme of my party be?” She asked when I picked her up from camp one day in July.
I don’t want to pretend that this is hard work. All of us got into picking the theme this time, submitting our best proposals to the Birthday Boss.
How about an “almost-sleepover” party?
An upside down party?
A British tea party?
A soccer party?
Not all my friends play soccer.
A secret agent party, like Phoebe’s 9th?
We did that already.
A Drive-by Truckers party?
We wracked our brains. What did Abby love more than anything else in the world. More than her LaLaLoopsy dolls, more than Lemony Snicket, more than flying down a soccer sideline?
Once Andy threw out Japan as a theme we wondered what took us so long to get there. Abby’s idea of happiness has always been miso soup, shrimp shumai, and chicken teriyaki, followed by a private screening of Totoro.
Here’s what we ended up doing…
Candy Sushi! For twelve girls I made two sheets of Rice Krispie Treats, cutting them into round and square sushi-size pieces. Then I proceeded to load two trays (one for each side of the table) with some world-class junk: Swedish fish, gummy worms, jelly beans, Airhead Extremes (the rainbows), Dots, chewy Now-and-Laters, green Fruit-by-the-Foot (which stood in for the seaweed and is truly, hideously repulsive), and sour peach strips that were a dead ringer for ginger. (I think as I type this a week and a half later, the girls are just now coming off their sugar rush.) To make things a little easier for everyone — I chopped up a bunch of the candy into bite size pieces so they’d fit nicely on or around the rice patties. (more…)
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Tags:chalkboard decals·japan theme birthday party·kid birthday party ideas·kitchen chalkboard·special birthdays for kids
I spent fifteen years after high school pretending Led Zeppelin sucked. I was apparently too cool for Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Something happened to me when I went off to college – well, a lot of things happened to me when I went off to college, but the most egregious was that I stopped rocking my a*s off. Not that I was ever in a band or anything. The closest I came to actual shredding was air-guitaring to “Whole Lotta Rosie” with my Arthur Ashe tennis racket in the paneled family room of our house in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. But college messed me up. Suddenly, music, like the books I pretended to read (waddup, Günter Grass?!) under trees on the quad, had become social currency, a signifier of intellectual heft. Suddenly, I was into the Cure and the Cocteau Twins, 10,000 Maniacs, and a moody Scottish troubador who called himself Lloyd Cole. I took long hangover naps to the gentle strains of Talk Talk. I DJ’d a radio show and inflicted Jesus Jones on the poor souls of Western Massachusetts, whose only crime was turning on their radios on Saturday morning, hoping to hear music. By the time I graduated, I was afloat in a warm bath of ambience and interesting lyrics.
A brief history of my descent, from there: In the late nineties, Jenny and I got married, and in the inevitable process of accommodation and compromise, my musical tastes changed again — Lucinda Williams, Matthew Sweet, Norah (gulp) Jones, Sheryl (double gulp) Crow, Ryan Adams, and many others I’ve no doubt repressed – and the soundtrack of my life down-shifted into what I call Music Couples Can Cook To. Then came kids, and I’ll spare you the grisly account of how my iPod was violated over the five year period that my kids were becoming sentient beings, but let’s just say that I know a few songs by Laurie Berkner. If we ventured outside of kid music during these years, it was into territory that felt family-friendly and safe yet still adult, that – if deployed in a car traveling at 60 mph – could lull a cranky child to sleep. In other words, we’d moved into the Music That Won’t Ruin Dinner Parties phase of life. This was thoughtful, smart stuff, sung by dudes in skinny jeans; this was literature set to music. And I participated, suffering through Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Jeff Tweedy (solo), Neko Case, Elvis Perkins, and…holy crap, I nearly fell asleep just typing that list.
Then, in 2006, I was saved.
One day at work, a friend handed me a copy of the newly-remastered Live at the Fillmore East by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I put it on at my desk, and in the course of the COMPLETELY BRAIN-MELTING SIXTEEN MINUTE AND NINE SECOND VERSION of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that ensued, something powerful rose up from the depths. It was like having spent ten years watching decent high schoolers play pepper, and then going to batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Oh, right. So THIS is how it’s done. The shock of recognition, the glimpse of your old, pre-kid, pre-married, less Starbucks-y self: that stuff is for real. I don’t want to overstate things, but something awoke within me that day, some long-lost part of the old me who enjoyed a gratuitous guitar solo and didn’t feel like wearing a scarf or being bummed out. Interesting lyrics are interesting, but I’m borderline middle-aged, with a full-time job and two daughters and a gray crossover vehicle, and I could use something more than interesting. Down the rabbit hole I went, digging up old CDs, trolling youtube for jams, burning tons of Stones and James Brown and Led Zeppelin , ditching the singer-songwriters and diving deep into anything that sounded good loud, from the three-guitar onslaught of The Drive-By Truckers to Jack White to “Check Your Head”-era Beasties to My Morning Jacket to The Jam to, yes, Duane F’ing Allman. And here’s the thing: For the most part, the kids came right along with me. I started playing this stuff in the car, on the way to soccer games and playdates – and with rare exceptions (see: Burma, Mission Of), I heard very few complaints. Instead, I heard, when the song ended: “Again.” Instead, I saw, in the rear view mirror, during those first thirty seconds of “Custard Pie”: Abby, her window down and her hair blowing back, doing her guitar face. She couldn’t have looked happier. Because kids, instinctively, know what feels good. Don’t believe me? Put on some Mason Jennings, and then put on “Hotel Yorba,” and turn it up. See what sticks. – Andy
Rock & Roll Illustration by Phoebe.
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If I didn’t know that September was here by the first-day-of-school butterflies, the sudden, almost primal urge to re-organize my bulletin board, or the to-do list spinning through my brain like a slot machine at 3am, I’d know it by looking at my DALS email inbox. Help! You all write. I need quick dinner ideas for the back-to-school scramble. I started replying one by one, but then I thought almost everyone out there would be interested in my suggestions. So here they are, in no particular order.
1. Pretzel Chicken Courtesy of City Bakery (pictured Below).
2. Chicken and Rice for Beginners. You’ll never go back.
3. Pork Chops with Kale A Bugiali favorite.
4. Angel Hair with Corn and Bacon Your window for sweet summer corn is about to shut — take advantage of the fresh ears as much as possible!
5. Sausage Stew with Kale and White Beans I’m making this tonight.
6. Avgolemeno Insane how creamy this lemony Greek soup tastes — without using any cream at all.
7. Salmon with Brussels Sprouts and Ginger-Scallion Sauce Superfast, superhealthy.
8. Quick and Easy Pork Fried Rice Easily made veg by omitting the pork. It’s almost too easy!
9. Turkey Sloppy Joes with Melted Cheddar For nostalgia night.
10. Chicken with Artichokes in a Creamy Mustard Sauce This is in danger of becoming my new “Stairway to Heaven” of Dinners. It always makes whatever list I’m compiling. But I promise it’s more satisfying.
Quick Dinner #2.
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Tags:easy dinner recipes·Fast dinner·quick dinner·quick dinner recipe
Spoiler alert: If you come over to our house for dinner any time between now and the first day of spring, there’s about a 90% chance we’re going to cook this for you. The pork shoulder ragu you see above is our new obsession. It’s the ideal dish for Sunday dinner, or even better, an informal winter dinner party: It’s warm, it’s hearty, it smells insanely good, it goes well with red wine, and my God, is it tasty. But none of those are the main reason we’re so obsessed with this right now — no, the best part of this one is that, once the guests arrive, your work is already done. All the prep — what little of it there was — is four hours ago, a distant memory. Which is increasingly the way we like it. It seems like the older we get, and the more cooking we do, the simpler we want our entertaining to be. For sure, there was a day when we would have spent the afternoon, Martha-style, frantically scooping out little cucumber cups with a mellon-baller and filling them with creme fraiche and topping them with smoked salmon and dainty sprigs of dill, when we would have been stirring (and stirring) risotto and mandolining three different kinds of potatoes and being distracted, instead of hanging out with our guests. But then kids happened, and our tastes changed, and those days are gone. These days, I love nothing more than a one-pot meal — I am a braising machine! — and this really basic pork ragu over pasta is where our heads are at right now. It’s an instant party: you just take it out of the oven, shred the pork, boil some pasta, and you’re done. If the kids don’t like pork, they can eat the pasta; if they do like pork, then I love them, and there’s still plenty for everybody. Though I should add that, as good as this is on a cold winter night, it’s even better for lunch the next day. If it weren’t for a little thing known as coronary heart disease, I would eat this every day for the rest of my life. –Andy (more…)
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Tags:entertaining families·family entertaining ideas·one dish dinner·pasta for family dinner·pork shoulder ragu