Entries Tagged as 'Organizing, Strategizing, Planning'

Pick a Chair, Any Chair

August 20th, 2014 · 473 Comments · Kitchenlightenment, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

So I need your help: After seven years of garden variety family wear and tear, our red dining chairs are just about on their last legs. I get so many comments about them on this blog that I thought you might have some strong opinions about what the next ones should be. We’re not exactly sure what we want yet, but we know we want them to be red, comfortable, on the modern side…and available in knock-off form (!). Based on this criteria, we’ve narrowed it down to the nine you see above. Vote for your favorite in the comment field below and I’ll choose one reader at random to receive a copy of both Dinner: A Love Story and, almost hot off the presses: Dinner: The Playbook. (When I hit the bigtime, maybe then I’ll be able to offer a full dining set as the giveaway — and maybe not even the knock-offs.) Your choices:

1. Tolix Chair 2. Globus Chair 3. Salt Chair 4. Thonet Vienna Chair 5. Wishbone Chair 6. Thonet Era Chair 7. Navy Chair 8. Saarinen Tulip Chair 9. Eames Molded Chair. 

Contest ends Thursday, 8/21 at noon ET. Good luck! UPDATE: The winner (Rosie: #384) has been notified. Thanks for playing everyone!

RIP my beautiful red chairs that are no longer available on the interweb (as far as I can tell).

Related: Click here for a massive modern chair resource.

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Notes from The Dinner Playbook

March 3rd, 2014 · 15 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

There was a time, when the girls were two and three, that we dreamed of the day when they’d be 10 and 11, able to sit at the table and place food in their own mouths while filling us in on their days. Now that we’re finally here—avert your eyes, new parents—we realize that our dream was a mirage, that life finds a way of constantly moving the goalposts on you. Family dinner is still chaotic, only the challenges have shifted from the physical to the logistical. And March and April, for us—with the girls deeply entrenched in two spring sports—is the most chaotic time of year. As we’ve detailed more than once on this blog, practices don’t end until 7:30, which means that, most nights, dinner doesn’t happen until the (very European) hour of 8:30. When you’re dealing with an overstuffed activities schedule, it’s crucial to have a few strategies that make a solid dinner possible. Here are three we will be relying on all season long:

Strategy 1: The Before-Work Play
When the cook is on carpool duty—i.e., it’s not just the athlete coming home late—the key is to prepare something in that 15-minute window before you head to work in the morning. We love soba noodle salad with a simple rice vinegar dressing and greens—spinach, kale, chard—tossed right into the pasta water in the last minute of cooking. Refrigerate till you get home, toss on the dressing, and, if you have time, add some shredded chicken for the win.

Strategy 2: The Pan-Fried Pizza Move
By the time our li’l midfielders stagger through the door, they’re like a couple of feral dogs: They don’t even bother to take off their shin guards before inhaling whatever is put in front of them. A piece of fish on a night like this? Ain’t. Gonna. Cut. It. Individual pan-fried pizzas with whole wheat crust? That’s more like it. Just brown your rolled-out dough in a cast-iron pan with some olive oil, flip, add sauce and toppings, then finish under the broiler. Abby likes a classic Margherita; Phoebe goes for ham and pineapple. (Book owners: Please see page 281 for the official recipe.)

Strategy 3: The Freezer Plan
When there’s so little time on the clock, it’s tempting to fall back on takeout or frozen pot pies. But we’d rather walk through the door, reach into our freezer, and pull out something homemade—like a batch of bake-ahead turkey and spinach meatballs. Think of it as the utility man of the family dinner: ever reliable, can play both protein and vegetable, goes on a bun (meatball subs!) or over pasta, and will crush its store-bought competition any night of the week. Pro tip: Freeze them in single-serving batches, so you can thaw and deploy as needed. Victory.

This is our “Providers” column for the March 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the spinach-and-turkey meatball recipe. Photo by Matt Duckor (meatballs) for Bon Appetit.

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Soccer Nights

January 15th, 2014 · 19 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick

Last Thursday night I called Andy from the parking lot of a school. It was 7:45 PM.  I was waiting for my 10-year-old to get out of soccer practice, held in the school’s gym. It was frigid. I was starving.

“What’s for dinner?”

I heard Keith Richards’ guitar in the background and some ice clinking in what I rightly guessed was a Manhattan.

“Some chicken with lemon, wine…” Clink, clink. “…Capers. Goin’ old School.” Clink. “Barley salad. Slaw.”

He was alone in the house cooking. Our 11-year-old wasn’t coming home until 8:15.

“I am so f-ing starving.”

What I love: That my daughters play sports. That they play soccer. That they have great coaches and great teammates. That I can watch them get stronger, better, faster almost before my eyes. That they play year-round. That they play year-round in freezing-cold bubbled domes, and public-school no-frills gyms and, unlike their mother, it doesn’t occur to them to complain. Ever.

What I don’t love: That practice times are creeping later and later. That, in fact, the other night we reached a milestone in our house: The dinner table had been cleared, the tomato-sauce-smeared plates loaded into the dishwasher, the dog walked, the lights (mostly) turned off while we headed upstairs to read in bed — and Phoebe was still not home from soccer practice. She was dropped off at 9:40 by the sainted parent of a teammate. Her dinner, a bowl of pea soup with crusty bread, had been consumed at 6:30, before practice, which started at 7:30 across the county.

I am not complaining. Nor will I tolerate a single person who tells me that we are idiots for getting ourselves into this predicament. I firmly believe that what my kids are learning being part of a team is every bit as valuable as what they are learning at our dinner table. And I firmly reserve the right to change my mind when it starts happening more than once a week. (Hello lacrosse season!)

So like every dinner obstacle before this one, we are adjusting. But if I was competing against extracurriculars for victory over weeknight dinnertime, the score right now would be Dinner: 4, Activities: 1. In my book — in any book — that’s a Win.

Plus, Andy got an hour to cook dinner while savoring a drink, without feeling like the game clock was ticking the whole time. And we all got to come home to Old School Chicken.

Old School Chicken with Lemon and Capers

4 medium chicken breasts, pounded, salted and peppered
few glugs of olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 pats butter
juice from 1 lemon
handful capers

Brown chicken in olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Remove chicken, add a little more olive oil to the pan and turn down heat to medium-low. And add onions and cook until slightly softened.  Add wine, broth, and lemon juice to the pan, and then chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover until chicken is cooked through and liquid is slightly thicker. Swirl in butter, add capers and serve.

Andy served with barley salad that had been tossed with arugula, grape tomatoes, feta, and vinaigrette.


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America’s Next Top Family Dinner

January 6th, 2014 · 66 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

I just did a run-down of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions and — shocker — I barely batted 200. Still don’t drink enough water, still eat too many “incidental” French Fries off the girls’ plates, haven’t gotten any better at forcing myself to call friends instead of text them, never read The Hobbit, which was going to earn me big fun Mom points with Phoebe, which at the time was her favorite book. (I did, however, manage to see the movie — part 2 — last week, so I might just have to put that in the W column.)

It seems that the only thing I manage to accomplish every year, without even resolving to do it, is finding new healthy, one-size-fits-all recipes for the dinner rotation. In 2013, there was the ever-popular Burrito Bowl. There was the Indonesian Chicken Salad. (Which has the added bonus of being just luxurious enough for entertaining.) There was that Mongolian Tofu Stir-fry that falls into the category of Kids Won’t Touch, But I Don’t Care, It’s Just Too Good to Banish.

So the question is: Where should my 2014 Healthy Family Dinner experimenting begin? I’ve been eyeballing that Slow-Roasted Salmon with Citrus, Fennel, and Chiles in the current issue of Bon App, and I’ve been flipping (and flipping) through my go-to Feel Virtuous cookbooks shown above, but I want you guys to weigh in. I mean, it’s January after all and I know I’m not the only one attempting to lighten things up for a little while. So what’s on the menu for your family this month? What’s your favorite go-to easy family dinner that you know will be loved in the DALS house (and in the DALS community)? What’s America’s Next Top Family Dinner? Please swap thoughts in the comment field below and then…let’s all get cooking.

And since it’s not fair to just ask for your help without returning the favor, I thought I’d just share this week’s menu plan with you. I haven’t been in the habit of writing out the week in my Dinner Diary for a while, but for some reason, I’m anticipating post-vacation re-entry to be harder than usual this year (thanks to single-digit temps up here in the Northeast) and simply making a dinner road map for the week already makes me feel a little more in control. Which, of course, is all one big farce.

Anyway, the line-up: (more…)

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From the Dinner Files: Case Study #231

December 2nd, 2013 · 22 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

Who: Frank T.
Age: 44
Lives in: New York, NY
Kids: Daughter Julia, Age 7
Marital Status: Divorced
Custody Situation: Joint; Weekends + 1 Weeknight
Dinner Dilemma: In Frank’s words: “My daughter is finally starting to expand her repertoire — it’s not only Mac ‘n Cheese and nuggets anymore. On the nights she’s with me, I want to stop relying on takeout and learn how to make a few really basic healthy dinners for her.”
Also: ”I wouldn’t mind eating healthier myself.”
Dinner Dilemma #2: “I’m basically cooking in a bachelor’s kitchen. When it comes to equipment, I have nothing. Like nothing. I need to know where to begin.”
Revealing Detail #1: ”I live in a small apartment and I hate waste or having anything extra lying around. I want bare minimum when it comes to both cookware and food.”
The DALS Prescription: Don’t be overly ambitious. It’s like deciding to get in shape — if you decide to run six miles seven nights a week, you’ll burn out after two weeks. Pick five easy recipes that you know Julia will like, buy only the equipment that those dishes require, and report back in a month.

Five Starter Recipes (+ Equipment You’ll Need to Make Them)

1. Roast Chicken with Vegetables
Nothing could be easier, or more delicious, as long as you remember to remove the giblets from the cavity before roasting. This takes about an hour and 15 minutes, so probably better for a weekend dinner. Equipment: Pyrex Roasting PanOxo Silicone brush (to brush melted butter on chicken), Peeler for Carrots, Pure Komachi Knives (Set of Six) for Chopping Vegetables.

2. Grilled Fish with Steamed Vegetables and Rice
I know you love a simple fresh grilled fish — even in the winter — so here’s one recipe that fits all: Take 1/2-3/4 pound of your favorite grilling fish (halibut, tuna, salmon, mahi mahi, please check Seafood Watch for responsible buying guidelines), cut in two pieces and marinate flesh-side down in 3 tablespoons olive oil, about a tablespoon soy sauce, salt and pepper. About five minutes before you cook fish, squeeze some fresh lime on its flesh. Heat grill pan to medium-high, and using your silicone brush, coat with a little olive oil. Grill fish about 3 minutes a side (no poking and prodding while it sears) until it feels firm to the touch (but not rock hard).  Equipment: 9 1/2 inch Pyrex Dish for marinating; Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Grill PanCalphalon Slotted SpatulaChef’n Veggie Steam Silicone Steamer for vegetables; Cuisinart 3-quart pot for rice. (You already have knives for chopping)

3. Angel Hair with Shrimp and Steamed Vegetables
This is perfect for a weeknight with Julia — it comes together superfast. Just be sure to pick up the shrimp the night before she comes over if you don’t have time the night you plan to cook it . You don’t want seafood to sit around for more than a day. Equipment:  Cuisinart 12-inch Skillet for shrimp and onions; ExcelSteel 3.5 quart colander; Cuisinart 1 1/2-quart pot for steaming. (You already have knives for chopping and 3-quart pot for boiling pasta.)

4. Breaded Chicken Cutlets (page 11 Dinner: A Love Story) with Roast Potatoes
The classic. The important part to remember here is to make sure you pound your chicken breasts (between saran wrap or wax paper) to even thickness. Equipment: Other than the skillet, steamer, Pyrex 9-incher (for potatoes), chef’s knife, and saucepan mentioned above, you’ll need a meat pounder and three dinner plates for your egg-flour-bread-crumb dredging, and saran wrap or wax paper.

5. Fish “Presents”
This is so up your alley. Everything — protein, starch, veggie — is cooked at the same time in the same way. (And if you call them “presents” Julia will love them, too.) The trick is to make sure all your vegetables are sliced very thin, especially the potatoes, so everything cooks through. Equipment: You have all the cookware you need for it, but make sure you have some foil or parchment paper lying around for the giftwrap. (I know you hate creamy sauces, but Julia might like to dip her fish in a mixture of yogurt-mustard-and-dill — see the bottom of this recipe for instructions.)

The Result: Keep us posted Frank!

Pure Komachi Knives. Their Six-Pack is one of the best deals out there. (Not to mention, the coolest looking.)

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Our Thanksgiving Secretary

November 12th, 2013 · 37 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, we got an email from a local farm saying they were now taking Thanksgiving orders for heritage turkeys. “That is awesome. Let’s do it!” Andy said. For about a millisecond, I was on board, until I remembered that when it comes to the turkey, it’s not my call to make. Andy and I have free rein to go all rogue (within reason) on the sides — adding anchovies to roasted cauliflower or oranges and mint to the cranberry sauce — but my Mom owns the turkey and gravy. If it’s going to be anything other than a 14 1/2 pound Bell & Evans bird, it’s Mom who has to sign off on it. And let’s be honest, if you own the turkey, you own the holiday. My sister hosts, my brother brings snacks and pies, my father is on wine patrol, but my mom is President and CEO.

And also Secretary. I like to think that the reason why Thanksgiving teeters on the happy side of the chaos spectrum in our house is because of my mother’s Post Feast Analysis System. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she grabs her legal pads (she’s an attorney and I don’t think she ever leaves home without them) and starts taking detailed notes on the holiday: Date, menu, number and names of attendees, temperature, who cooked what, who bought what and where, what she needs more of next year, what she needs less of, what worked, what didn’t. Naturally, I’m not nearly as fascinated by the menu as I am by the details that surround the menu. What makes her system awesome is not just that it reminds us that we ate sweet potato casserole in 2011 and 2012 — it’s the little detail that my then 9-year-old niece requested fewer pecans in the casserole next time around. It’s not just that we auditioned a new cranberry sauce last year — it’s that my then 11-year-old niece was the one in charge of spearheading it with me. (Mom was also sure to note she’s not willing to give up on her old-school sauce just yet.) Of course, I look to the notes to see how I can improve my performance next time. Last year I did a couple things right (I provided “superb” homemade stock for the gravy — which was like getting a gold star) and also a few things wrong (in the mashed potatoes department: a simple “too much”). But at least I didn’t mess up the turkey.

Here’s a sneak peak of my mom’s post-game report. Is there any question who I inherited the recording gene from?

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What Level Are You?

October 7th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

One of the emails I get all the time is pretty basic: “If I want to make family dinner happen regularly, where do I start?” And in spite of 650 blog posts, my next book coming out on that very topic, and, oh, roughly 5000 family dinners logged in my own house at my own kitchen table, it’s still one of the harder questions to answer. I like to think this is not because I am incompetent (though the jury is still out on that one) but because I am a realist. The truth is, family dinner is not an easy thing to make happen, and any blogger or magazine article or cookbook author who claims otherwise (“Family Dinner in Five Easy Steps!”) should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The way I see it, like anything, there are different levels of the game, and if you concentrate on mastering one level at a time, and building from there, it’s a lot easier (and more long-lasting) than just assuming your family of athletes and picky eaters and late workers and on-again, off-again vegetarians is going resemble a Norman Rockwell painting on the very first time you try. (And by the way: Is there anyone left who believes that a Norman-Rockwell-imagined world still exists?) Here’s the way I see it progressing, with the subtext being that EVERY LEVEL QUALIFIES as family dinner.

Level 1: Sitting Down Together
This is where you start. Forget about the food and just focus on logistics. Get everyone sitting around the table at the same time. Try to make the event last more than six minutes. If you can pick three or four days during the week to make this happen, you can consider yourself ready for Level 2. Level 1 menu ideas: storebought Rotisserie Chicken with a basic salad;  packaged dinners you feel good about, or something from the freezer like Meatballs.

Level 2: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade
So you’ve mastered the logistics. Now it’s time to focus on the food. Don’t panic and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make something overly complicated. (This is supposed to be fun, remember?) Take a step up from storebought foods and prepare something homemade that’s simple enough to make on autopilot (spaghetti with marinara? Omelet? Your grandmother’s famous curry?) Don’t feel bad about supplementing with a peanut butter sandwich if someone at the table protests.  Just try to make that peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat toast and good-quality peanut butter. In our house, dinners that qualify for Level 2 are:  Pizza, a Baked Potato bar; or a Roast Salmon with mustardy-dill yogurt sauce.

Level 3: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade That Everyone Likes
OK, if we were talking college sports here, I’d say you’re getting into Division 1 territory here. If you feel like you’ve sufficiently nailed down Levels 1 and 2, you can start to think about cooking one thing that everyone will eat. This is, of course, where Deconstructed Dinners come into play:  Indonesian Chicken Salad, Tortilla Soup, Salmon Salad (page 62, Dinner: A Love Story) are all great choices, but if you have meals that fall into this category I’m always interested in hearing about them. Always!

Level 4: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade That Everyone Likes and that You Can Feel Good About on a Cosmic Level
This level is actually the whole reason I wrote this post. In fact it was supposed to be the whole point of the post — the idea that we have been going all flexitarian lately, eating less meat, following the philosophy of “meat as condiment,” and really paying attention to where our pork, beef, and chicken is coming from when we do eat it. I don’t know a lot, but I know enough to realize that being able to philosophize about what’s on your table (as opposed to just, you know, getting something–anything! — on your table) is a very luxurious way to think about dinner — especially when you factor in the costs of high-quality meat. If I had to categorize this level of thinking, I’d call it Premier League Family Dinner. And though I can’t play at that level all the time, I aspire to it almost every night. Most recently with this recipe which taps into the idea that a little bit of really good sausage goes a loooong way.

Lentils with Crispy Sausages
Pictured above

1 1/4 cup brown lentils
2 1/2 – 3 cups liquid (chicken stock, water) or enough to cover lentils by about an inch
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vinegar (I used white balsamic, but you can use tarragon, red wine, regular balsamic)
1/3 cup olive oil (plus more for frying)
salt and pepper
1/2 pound good-quality sausage (sweet or spicy Italian work well), removed from their casings
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
3 tablespoons chopped bell pepper
leaves from two sprigs of fresh thyme (or finely chopped parsley)

In a medium pot, boil lentils in broth-water combo, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until they are tender, but firm enough to still hold their shape. Drain.

While lentils are cooking, make your dressing by whisking together mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, fry sausage in a little olive oil, breaking up with a fork, until cooked through and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.

Toss lentils with scallions, pepper, thyme, sausage bits, and vinaigrette. (You may not need all the vinaigrette — so drizzle it in instead of dumping it until it looks right.) Serve with crusty bread.

Other meat-as-condiment options: Hawaiian PizzaShredded Asian Cabbage with Chicken or ShrimpSoba Noodles with Chicken


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Serves One

September 16th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick

It will not come as a surprise to anyone out there that I love my freezer. There is no greater mom-porn moment for me than transferring a big batch frozen pork ragu to the fridge before work, knowing that by the time I walk in the door at dinnertime, it will be thawed, and all I have to do is boil some rigatoni to make dinner happen.

But recently, I’ve started to do things a little differently, and I know this might be a hard concept to get your head around, but it has made me love my freezer even more. Why? Because I’ve started to freeze in single-serving batches.

Now, you might be wondering, this is a blog devoted to family dinner. In theory, the four of us are always sitting around the table at the same time eating the exact same thing. When on earth would we have any use for a single-serving meal?

I am so glad you asked! Three scenarios come to mind immediately:

Scenario 1: Babysitter Night
The grown-ups are going out to dinner, the kids are staying home. Having single-serve homemade meal at-the-ready makes it much easier to not reach for the Trader Joe’s frozen chicken pot pies, which are ridiculously addictive (read: salty), but let’s face it, not exactly healthy. As for cooking a fresh meal for them before I go out to dinner? Nuh-uh. That’s the whole point of going out — so I have a night off
What to have at the ready
: Four or five turkey Meatballs (frozen in a little sauce) and a baguette that’s been sliced up into sandwich-size pieces. Both in BPA-free ziptop bags. Combine for Turkey Meatball Sandwiches (pictured above).
To reheat meatballs: Run bag under slightly warm water to get started on thawing, then dump into medium pot over low heat with a little water, covered. Usually ready in about 15 minutes.

Scenario 2: Entertaining Families
When we’re having people over, we do our best to find out ahead of time who’s kosher, who’s Paleo, who skips gluten, whose vegan, which kid has sworn off pig this week — but it’s hard to keep up with all the dietary restrictions these days. It’s nice to be able to pull something homemade out of the freezer and tell the guest “It’s no problem at all! Now go have another glass of wine.”
What to have at the ready: Minestrone, frozen in single-serve batches in BPA-free ziptop bags. If you skip the bacon, it’s the most indulgent vegetarian (vegan actually) meal I know.  The only problem is that it might end up showing up the main event.
To reheat: Run bag under slightly warm water to thaw, dump into medium pot over low heat with a little water, breaking up as much as you can. Cover. Usually ready in about 15 minutes.

Scenario 3: Protester at the Table
As you know, I’ve never been much of a stickler for the rule that everyone has to eat the exact same thing at dinner. I’ve served Abby a peanut butter sandwich while the rest of us eat steak (she no longer eats beef), I’ve served Phoebe a PJ Frozen Burrito while the rest of us eat pasta (she has never eaten pasta). I’ve heated up a Trader Joe’s frozen pizza for the girls when it’s late and all I want in the world is fast, farm-fresh omelet with good cheddar (neither of them will touch eggs). My philosophy, which you will not find validated in any picky eater expert book (nor by any parents of 3+ kids), is basically “If it means the dinner table is a pleasant place, and you’re not short-order cooking every night, well then who the heck cares if you have to spread some PB&J on bread?” Having a serves-one dinner in the freezer just lets you upgrade that PB&J a bit.
What to have at the ready: Chili and Cornbread Freeze single serve batches of chili in individual BPA-free ziptop bags. For the cornbread, cut into squares and store all of them in one large ziptop freezer bag.
To reheat: Run bag of chili under slightly warm water to thaw a bit, dump into medium pot over low heat with a little water, breaking up as much as possible. Cover. Usually ready in about 15 minutes. To reheat cornbread, wrap in foil and heat in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes.

I am your loyal freezer meatballs, ready to serve when you need me.

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Vacation Dinner Highlight Reel

August 21st, 2013 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Travel

I can’t promise you this will be a very usable guide to exciting eating. As you know, on vacation, you can toast a pop tart for dinner and it will make you as happy as a four-course meal at Cafe Boulud. (In fact, maybe we’ll try that tonight.) But, as you can imagine, we are getting seriously into our South Carolina vacation dining, doing our best to adhere to the 50 Rules, outlined so dutifully last week so we don’t lose total control. Herewith our top six dinner moments this side of the Mason-Dixon line…

1. Shrimp Cocktail. I once read that if you’re not going to eat shrimp right off the boat in Southeastern US, you might as well always buy it in the freezer aisle — there’s pretty much no such thing as fresh, flavorful shrimp outside of this region. I think that’s why whenever we are down here, we eat shrimp like we’re never going to eat shrimp again. The run-up so far: Shrimp cocktail before dinner as often as possible (chilled with cocktail sauce, natch), grilled shrimp in salads at lunch; shrimp salad rolls for dinner.

2. Oyster Sliders at The Ordinary. We’ve gone out to dinner a few nice places, but so far the winner has been The Ordinary — perhaps a tip-off was the fact that Bon Appetit nominated it for one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants this year. Or perhaps it was the oyster sliders with the crazy coconut action that Abby ordered and which put the rest of our meal to shame. And that’s saying something because the rest of the meal — lobster rolls, pickled shrimp, John Dory schnitzel — was pretty damn tasty.

3. Beet & Carrot Slaw Our CSA pick-up was the day before driving from New York to South Carolina, so what were we going to do, give our neighbor that week’s share? I don’t think so. Not when, among other things, heirloom tomatoes and cylindra beets were in the box. We packed all our produce in a cooler and tended to the bundle like it was a third child. The love and care paid off because on our first night cooking we made some flounder and, not wanting to turn on the oven (Rule 45!), I shredded those beets on a box grater with some carrots, tossed in rice wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and mint. (Full disclosure: There was no mint, but there should’ve been.)

4. Phoebe’s Crostini You’re looking at grilled tuna (that Andy had spackled in mayo before throwing on the Weber) a very JV succotash made with butter beans, corn, red peppers, onion, sauteed in a little bacon fat (apologies to real southerners) and Phoebe’s crostini. At camp, Phoebe learned that if you toss chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh peaches, corn kernels, a drizzle of balsamic and some Parm, and put the whole thing on baguette toasts, then very delicious things ensue. “It’s like summer in a bowl,” she announced when she put together the topping. I’ll take it!

4. Roast Carrots with Garam-Masala Yogurt Sauce. OK, so fine, I confess: we turned on the oven once. Or twice. But the cause was a noble one — carrots, cut on the bias, tossed with a little chopped onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 425°F for about 30 minutes (keep an eye on them). While they roasted, I whisked together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and mint. I’m not going to go so far to say it was the best thing on the plate — that’s an impossible honor when a grilled burger with special sauce is in the mix — but it was a clear leader in the side dish department this summer.

6. Beach Picnic The homemade pizza with fresh tomatoes was pretty good. So was the asparagus that Andy quickly sauteed in olive oil, salt, and pepper during the 30 minute stretch that the girls were totally, absolutely, relentlessly begging for a beach picnic. You promised! It’s so easy! I’ll help pack everything! Come on it’s vacation! Be fun! What parents know but kids don’t yet is that beach picnics are one of those things that always sound really fun, but are actually kind of a nightmare. Especially if you don’t have any of the right gear (see baking pan cum nonbreakable tray above) and especially if you try to take photos showing how ideal the night is (full moon, clear sky, silky calm ocean, etc), then get sand in your fancy camera making things a thousand times more stressful. So why is this even on my highlight reel? Because after dinner was over, we all jumped in the ocean. And there’s very little that beats a post-dinner sunset swim.

For more real-time dinner highlights, follow us on instagram: andyward15 and dinneralovestory.

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Two Things to Do on the Weekend to Make Your Week Easier

May 30th, 2013 · 27 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

This salad saved me last week. I’m not sure I really need to go into detail about how many miles we put on the Mazda getting kids to their various weeknight commitments, but put it this way: If our night was an instagram it would’ve read #uniforminwrongcar #again #firstgoalever! #ittakesavillage  #i’msorryenvironment

And finally:


Ever since discovering this chicken-based salad, I’ve gotten in the habit of roasting chicken on the weekend to have as a dinner insurance plan for nights that spiral into chaos. (Beautiful, messy, chaos-I’ll-someday-miss, but chaos nonetheless.) Prepping chicken this way takes about sixty seconds of hands-on time (45 minutes hands-off) and once I have a few breasts sitting in the fridge, I find all kinds of possibilities open up. (And not necessarily just for dinner, but for lunch boxes, too. Lately, Abby has been into chicken wraps — chicken rolled in a tortilla with a smear of mayo, a piece of lettuce, and a strip of bacon if I’m feeling big-hearted.) You can add your cooked chicken to soups and pot pies or chop up for Andy’s chicken salad, but my favorite use this time of year has to be the way you see above: Tossed with fresh greens, dried cherries, blue cheese, candied walnuts and a homemade vinaigrette that was also prepped on the weekend, so all I had to at 8:00 (8:00!) when we all collapsed into our dinner chairs was toss and serve. #genius

Step No. 1: On the weekend, make this vinaigrette.

In an old jam jar shake the following ingredients:

heaping 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
salt & pepper
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Now add:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Shake again. If you are using this entire bottle of vinaigrette that night add herbs, like chives, parsley, or thyme. Otherwise, save the herbs to toss directly into your salad. That way they don’t get all wilty and black and depressing a few days later.

Step No. 2: On the weekend, roast some chicken.

Roast 2-3 split chicken breasts or boneless chicken breasts at 375°F  on a rimmed baking sheet along with 1/4 cup of water and tent with foil for 40 minutes. The bone-in split breasts are good for shredding, the breasts are good for slicing on the bias. (That’s what I did above.)

Step No. 3: On your busiest weeknight, make this: Greens with Chicken, Cherries, Blue Cheese & Candied Walnuts

In a large bowl, toss all of the following:

3 medium sized cooked chicken breasts (see above), sliced as shown
Four generous handfuls fresh greens
handful of tart dried cherries
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (or to taste)
handful candied walnuts*
snipped chives (or scallions)
cider vinaigrette (above, or your favorite mild vinaigrette)

*You can use storebought or homemade if you’re man enough. I was not.

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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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Anatomy of a Week

April 29th, 2013 · 19 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick

I’m going to try not to turn this blog into The Sporting Life, but — what can I say? It’s where I’m at right now. The girls’ spring games and practices are threatening to take over dinner. Now, I’m not in any way shape or form complaining about this (Rule #49 always and 4-ever!), but it occurred to me that even though my work life ends at 3:00 on many days, I’m not coming home to dinner until about the same time that many of you are coming home from the office. Sports or no sports. So I thought it might be helpful to see how the upcoming week of family dinners might play out.

Monday: Chicken Chili
There’s a game tonight that ends at 7:30, which means we will all walk in the door at 7:45. I think the girls could probably wait a half hour while I put a quick dinner together, but since I’m working from home today I’m going to do my best to cook something later this afternoon. Reheating it will take just about as long as it takes the girls to untie their cleats, remove all their gear, and then not put any of it away in their bags meant solely for this purpose. The plan is to sit down before 8:00.

Tuesday: Burgers with Bulghur Salad and Roasted Ramps (above)
I’ll walk in the door around 6:45 which means I’ll have a good 45 minutes to get something together. I’m thinking it will be basic burgers with caramelized onions, some kind of salad made with the batch of bulghur made on the weekend, and roasted ramps that Andy picked up at the farmer’s market yesterday. Andy has been lobbying to toss those roasted ramps into a pile of spaghetti with Parm, toasted bread crumbs (and perhaps an egg stirred in at the end) but I’m a little pasta’d out these days. Plus, going that direction means making something separate for Phoebe since she doesn’t like pasta, so I think I know who’s gonna win this one. But ramps will be on the menu no matter what because they’ll be wilted if we wait one more day.

Wednesday: Black Bean Tacos
Another game. Dinner won’t be until 7:45, but I’ll be home from work around 5:30, so will try to prepare the bean filling for this one before I have to drop off Abby at her field at 6:00. The good thing about beans is that you can cook them, turn off the stove, then let them sit until the post-game reheat. As anyone who has been following this blog (or who has a pulse for that matter) knows, there is no easier meal than a black bean quesadilla or taco. My friend Elena brought me a big hunk of tangy Queso Fresco from a Mexican market last week and it was just the kind of ingredient that instantly upgrades the entire meal. (Unless you are Abby and consider it blasphemy to add any cheese to a taco that’s not Cabot’s Extra Sharp Cheddar.) For filling: I’ll cook some garlic in olive oil in a skillet then add two cans of (drained) beans, chopped scallions, a teaspoon of cumin, a little water, and smush it with my fork until it looks about right. When it’s time to sit, add the filling to corn tortillas with some radishes, sliced avocado, sour cream, crumbled queso fresco (if you have it) and you are set. In less than 20 minutes, no less! Five minutes if you’ve already made the filling.

Thursday: Meatballs from the Freezer/Eggs for Mom and Dad
Abby and I will be home from soccer at 6:45, but Andy will pick up Phoebe at her practice so they won’t be home til 7:30. I’ll aim to have dinner ready when they come home — not because Phoebe will be starving, but because we will be dealing with deadline pressure on the other end of the meal: American Idol. (Elimination night is a big deal for the girls and it has become increasingly crucial that they watch it live.) So what’s for dinner? Last week I made a big batch of Great Grandma Turano’s Meatballs for a friend dealing with a sick kid (he’s going to be OK, don’t worry) and I set aside about a dozen of them for my freezer. Even though that’s not enough to feed the four of us, it’s enough for two little people which is better: Having their dinner already solved gives me permission to cook the grown-ups something else entirely — something the girls would never allow in the airspace on or around their dinner plates. Which is to say, we can make ourselves eggs. I love an omelet for dinner — especially for an end-of-the-week dinner because it’s one of those excellent repository recipes for wilting vegetables on their last legs. I’ll post an omelet recipe soon, but for those of you afraid of the flipping and breaking, I’d like to remind you that scrambled eggs serve the same purpose without the same pressure. (FYI, book owners: My favorite omelet recipe is on page 114. There’s a good frittata recipe on page 117, too.) Anyway, to summarize: Girls will get freezer meatballs, grown-ups will get omelets. Two totally different dinners, but only one is actually being cooked that night for those of you keeping score. (I always am.)

No activities. Dinner with my friend Liz’s family. We have no idea what the plan is, and after a week of nothing but planning, I really like it that way.

PS: Today, my friend Shauna Ahern, aka the sensational Gluten-Free Girl, and her husband Danny are coming out with their latest book Gluten Free Every Day and would like for it to spark a national conversation about Family Dinner. Naturally, we here at DALS are down with that — check it out if you get a chance.

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Pizza on the Clock

April 10th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick, Vegetarian

A few weeks ago, I gave one of my little PowerPoints to some parents at a community center. It was the usual 30-minute presentation, “Eight Rules for Family Dinner,” distilling all the usual DALSian principles (Deconstruct, Shop Once a Week, Plead Ignorance, etc) alongside colorful photos of meatballs and detox soups. As I wrapped up, a woman in the second row who had been nodding and smiling during my talk, raised her hand.

“Have your kids started travel sports yet?”

Was I imagining that her eyes squinted as she asked? Was it weird that I felt like the swordsman in Indiana Jones, the one who confronts Indie with his fancy sword moves, only to be dispatched by Indie with a single gunshot?  Here at this talk, I had the distinct feeling that I was staring at a veteran who knew something I didn’t know, and was thinking to herself “Wow, this woman has no idea what she’s in for.”

The good news is that I could at least answer that my daughters had indeed started travel sports — in fact we were about two years into it. The bad news was that I had just started receiving the schedules for spring activities and it seemed as though every single one of them was conspiring to blow up family dinner as we knew it. It’s true what those parental sages warned: the older your kids get, the later their practices finish. It’s also true that more and more parenting seems to be happening in the Mazda in between ballet and lacrosse.

This spring, except for Fridays, we are not home from sports activities any earlier than 7:0o. Three nights a week, the girls are not home until 7:30. So in other words: Every day is now Tumultuous Tuesday, which means that if I want dinner to keep happening as religiously as it has been all these years, I have to be super-organized about things.

Or! If I have a pizza dough in the fridge,  I don’t have to think about dinner at all until the minute I walk in the house.

At 6:00 the other night, I dropped the girls off at a field that was 10 minutes away from my house. Once home, I spied the pizza dough then started weeding through the disparate ingredients populating our unorganized fridge. I laid everything out (see below) and made my decision: Half the pie would be Asparagus and Leek, Half the pie would be Tomato & Cheese, which was probably the side the girls would favor. I’d pile on the entire bunch of asparagus (even if the spears never became gooey-ed up in cheese) so they could have their asparagus on the side.

By the time the pizza was assembled, it had been decided over a flurry of texts that Andy would pick up the girls at 7:15, on his way home from work. But because part of me has never quite graduated from competitive sports myself, I looked at the clock: 6:30. I would’ve totally been able to bake that pizza (another 15-20 minutes), pull it out of the oven, pick up the girls in time, drop off their friend who needed a ride home, then arrive home with dinner ready to rock.

Only three more months of this to go.

Pizza: 1/2 Asparagus & Leek, 1/2 Tomato Cheese

1 22-ounce storebought pizza dough
olive oil
1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup pizza sauce (I used 1/2 can of Don Pepino; if you have homemade, congrats!)
1 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed of woody ends
1/2 leek, trimmed (see photo for reference) and chopped
salt and pepper
few shakes red pepper flakes, to taste
1-2 kumato tomato* (totally optional!), chopped
Freshly grated Parm to taste
chives, snipped

Preheat oven to 500°F. Press dough out to all corners of a large baking sheet that has been lightly brushed with olive oil. (FYI: It’s easier to stretch the dough when it’s room temperature, if at all possible.) Top one side with fresh mozzarella. Top the other half with pizza sauce under the mozzarella. In a medium bowl, toss asparagus and leeks with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Pile vegetables on the side of pizza with the cheese only. (Again, I don’t mind asparagus overflow here because I just pick off those roasted spears and give them to the kids as a vegetable side.) Add fresh tomatoes wherever you think it won’t offend people. (I went right down the middle.)

Top the entire thing with freshly grated Parm.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly. Garnish with chives. Unless you aren’t crazy about chives on top of leeks. (I personally love the double onion effect.)

*I am too lazy to look up what this thing actually is, but Andy always throws them into the cart at Trader Joe’s and they taste really good for out-of-season tomatoes.

A note about pizza for kids: While I love a good fresh round of melted mozzarella on my pie, I find it’s easier for young kids to eat melted cheese when it’s been sliced and chopped into smaller pieces. That way, when it melts, it doesn’t slide off the pizza in one large piece, taking all the sauce with it. (Fascinating, right? What would you ever do without me?)

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Three Steps to Healthier Days

April 3rd, 2013 · 34 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Working from home, while wonderful in many ways, has its perils. On some days, for instance, it’s tempting to answer “Leonard Lopate” or “Terry Gross” when your daughter asks you who your best friend is. If I’m not actively fighting the urge, it’s also incredibly easy to get sucked into what I’ve been calling the Double F Vortex, i.e. the condition where you find your house default position to be in front of the Fridge or Facebook. Even worse, I’ll get locked into some work project in my upstairs office, look at the clock, realize that I haven’t eaten in six hours and that the girls have to be picked up from school in mere minutes, which means I rush to the kitchen to start inhaling whatever is grabbable: a piece of string cheese, a handful of grapes, the last few roasted pepitas in the plastic pouch which I throw back like a funneling fratboy. A few buttery crackers, a sea salt potato chip or two or eight. Oh, and look at those Easter baskets just begging to be raided! Two bright purple Peeps later I’m hating myself. And by the time I pick up the girls, all I want to do is take a nap.

So lately, I’ve been making a real effort to control the Fridge part of the Vortex and have come up with a few rules for myself:

1) Eliminate All Triggers. I haven’t read Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, but I’ve read enough interviews with Brian Wansink to know that if I’m working on my laptop at the kitchen table, a mere four feet away from the foil-covered cherry pie, it’s going to be a lot harder to get that perfect balance of tart and sweet and buttery pate brisee out of my mind than it would be if I were upstairs or at the local library. (It’s like my kids, who, upon seeing a commercial for potato chips during Sponge Bob instantly shout from the couch “Mom! I’m hungry!”)

2)  Snack Once Mid-Morning. If I have a glass of Pomegranate kefir, a crisp Bosc pear, or a Finn Crisp schmeared with a thin layer of peanut butter at 11:00, I am much less likely to transform into a wild animal come lunch time.

3) Eat Healthy Proper, Sit-Down Lunches. This is hard, because I’m always on the clock — rushing to get something done before the school bell rings — but I’m using my Culinary Intelligence and following Peter Kaminsky’s lead to make this meal as satisfying as possible. Kaminsky’s theory makes a lot of sense to me: If you load up on healthy foods that are high in flavor, you won’t be tempted to polish off that meal with, say, a Cadbury Cream Egg. This one above fits the bill. It’s two Finn Crisps topped with smoked trout (look for the blue tins near the tuna and anchovies at Trader Joe’s) and pickled cabbage. If you are not lucky enough to have a batch of Andy’s Mind. Blowing. Pickled Cabbage lying around, cornichons or regular old pickles will do just fine.

Other lunch ideas: Ever since getting an advance copy of Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6:00 (I feel certain you’ll be hearing more about this one) I’ve become quite fond of a leftover grain salad that’s been loaded with vegetables. This one was barley, chopped peppers, red onion, pomegranates, grape tomatoes, cukes, olive oil, lemon, salt & pepper. (Now you know why you made that big batch of feel-good barley over the weekend.)

Or simply, a smashed avocado and sea salt on sprout bread or whole wheat toast. (I usually only need about 3/4 of the avocado for this; I tightly wrap what’s leftover in plastic wrap and hand guacamole-mad Phoebe a spoon when she comes home from school.)

On Monday, all it took was a big bowl of leftover steamed broccoli and a bag of pre-cooked Trader Joe’s Brown Rice to get me rolling on a vegetable-loaded fried rice. Since I’m not generally in the habit of mincing and whisking and turning on the stove for lunch, I made a double batch so Tuesday’s lunch would be taken care of. It was delicious and can definitely be doubled to feed four for dinner.

Vegetable-Loaded Fried Rice (Pictured Way Up Top)
Serves 2

1 tablespoon neutral oil like canola or vegetable
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 heaping tablespoons onions, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced (optional if you just can’t justify getting this fussy about lunch…but so good)
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 eggs, whisked
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)
1 to 2 cups vegetables (such as: shredded red cabbage, chopped bell peppers, peas, pre-cooked broccoli, shelled edamame, chopped snap peas)

Add oil to a large skillet set over heat to medium heat. Add onions and ginger and cook until onions are slightly softened, about one minute. Turn heat to medium-high and add rice in one layer so as many of the grains are crisping on the hot pan as possible. Cook about a minute stirring once half way. Push rice to edges of pan and add egg to the center, scrambling with your spoon and gradually pulling in rice as it cooks. Stir in soy sauce and cook another minute until everything is integrated.

Add vegetables and cook until everything is heated through, another minute.

Drizzle with Sriracha if desired.

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Burrito Bowl

March 13th, 2013 · 46 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

If you had to use one word to describe a Dinner: A Love Story recipe, what would it be?

A reporter asked me this last year when my book came out. Is there a harder question to answer in the world than one that begins “If you had to use one word…”? I mulled it over for a little bit.  I thought about “real,” (there’s my dinner diary and all); I thought about “nostalgic” (porcupine meatballs!); I thought about my friend Sally, who, when asked by a younger, cherubic coworker “If you had to use one word to describe your newborn what would it be?” replied: “Annoying.”

Over the years, the one word I’d use to describe a DALS dinner has evolved right along with the family and the family’s dinnertime needs. Early on, pre-kids, it might have been “ambitious.” With new babies around, probably “Quick” or “Easy.” With toddlers: “White.” But these days, for a recipe to earn a spot in the family dinner rotation, above all it has to be flexible. And by that I mean not only flexible because of how beautifully it can be deconstructed for picky eaters and flexitarians, but because of how you, the cook, are able to prepare it.

Take these burrito bowls, which I have been meaning to make ever since the girls walked into Chipotle for the first time and declared it the best restaurant in New York City. I knew the burritos-without-tortillas would become a major player in our family dinner lives because I could make the meal as simple or as complicated as my time and energy allowed. In other words: Every component in a burrito bowl can be either storebought or made-from-scratch (or some combination of the two) and still yield a healthy dinner. The black beans can be just black beans — or they can be black beans simmered with a bay leaf and some onions. The avocado can be chopped avocado, or it can be avocado mashed with cumin and red onion and salt. As I was making simple white rice — one of the few things I thought was a pretty straightforward task — Andy wandered by the stove and said, “You’re gonna add cilantro, lime and a ton of salt in there like Chipotle rice, right?”

Uh, right.

On a weeknight, you’d probably want more of the components to be simplified. On the weekend, it would serve you well to go all out because, obviously, if you put that much work into it, it’s gonna be badass. Come to think of it, maybe that would be a better word that flexible.

Burrito Bowl
I gave two versions of each component below: the “weeknight” (quick) and the “weekend” (less quick). Take a look, then expend energy building flavor on the things you like the most — or whatever the clock allows. (The only thing I insist you don’t shortcut is the chicken.) To serve: Present fixins on the table or counter, serve everyone a half cup of rice, then let them top as they please.

I like this meal to be more veg-heavy, so I only cooked two (boneless, skinnless) chicken breasts. You can add another if you think your family will eat more than shown in the above bowl. To make: Cube two medium-size chicken breasts into pieces as shown above. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 onion (chopped finely), then the chicken. Sprinkle everything with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and more salt & pepper. Let chicken brown a little before tossing around in pan. When chicken is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes total), remove to a bowl. Squeeze a little lime juice on top.

Weeknight version: Heat a 14-ounce can of black beans in a small saucepan until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Weekend version: Heat 1/4 onion (sliced) in a small saucepan with a little vegetable oil. Add a 14-ounce container of black beans, a bay leaf, and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Weeknight: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. (This is based on a 1/2 cup rice per diner — you know your family better than I do, so make more if you think you’ll need it.)
Weekend: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. When rice is finished, toss in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, the juice from 1/2 lime, and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt.

Weeknight: Use your favorite storebought salsa. (We like Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica or Roasted Tomatillo.)
Weekend: Finely chop 2 cups grape tomatoes (or any tomato if it’s summer) with 2 tablespoons chopped red onion, handful cilantro, splash of red wine vinegar,  salt, pepper, 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper.

Quick Guacamole
Weeknight: Slice an avocado into chunks
Weekend: Using a fork, mash one avocado with 1/4 teaspoon cumin, salt to taste, and a heavy squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Other components
Sharp cheddar (sliced or grated), fresh cilantro, sour cream, shredded lettuce. (Me: “What do you think about using shredded kale instead of romaine?” Andy: “Sounds great as long as I don’t have to have it.”)

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The Refrigerator Dump

March 8th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

Last year, “Tony’s Steak” Tony came through our house on his way from Hong Kong to SXSW in Austin and one of the first things he did after his trans-global traveling was open the refrigerator for a snack. In the life of a refrigerator, it was the optimum time to be opened: Sunday afternoon, aka post-Trader Joe’s Shop. All our sliced fruit sliced, stacked and glistening in their containers. Egg cartons at right angles, supporting bagged stalks of vibrant lacinato kale. Bottles of kefir and honey tangerine juice that had yet to be decimated by sweaty grabby hands of thirsty girls. Tony stood for a second in front of my kitchen shrine and said to no one in particular, “Now that’s a stocked refrigerator.”

I’m not sure how readily I’d admit this to Sheryl Sandberg, but I derive a ridiculous amount of happiness from that moment. And from a full fridge in general. At the risk of sounding like a bad hotel commercial, it’s true: When I’m prepared, I believe I can do anything.

But it’s not always a pretty path to get to that point. Some Sundays, like this past one, we come home to unpack the groceries and upon opening the fridge, realize we never used that stalk of broccoli or an entire bag of Cara Cara oranges is still sitting there wrapped in its charming netting. Half a container of grape tomatoes sits on the shelf — just enough to make you feel guilty about throwing them away. This is when I perform a Refrigerator Dump. I take out everything that’s on its last legs and see what can be salvaged. Or I see what I can put together for the week that might clear up some space for the new refrigerator residents. Or I just get in the zone and go All freaking Out. Here’s a peak:

1. I sliced all remaining whole fruit into grabbable (or spoon-able pieces) like the cara cara oranges above. Shriveled berries all went into freezer bags (stems cut off in the case of strawberries) for use in smoothies.

2. How annoying is ONE EGG left in the egg carton? Really annoying. I turned it into lunch only so I could justify throwing the carton away. I had an egg salad sandwich, made with drop of dijon, mayo, and the few strands of chives in the pack that hadn’t liquefied yet.

3. I blanched broccoli, sliced up the three separate bell pepper halves (why? how?) and packed them in little containers to throw into lunch boxes.

4. Tomatoes: Andy solved that one last year.

5. Ever since making that Indonesian Chicken Salad a few weeks ago, I’ve been in the habit of throwing a few salted and peppered split chicken breasts into the oven at 375°F for 45 minutes. When they’re done, I shred up the meat, store, and then all kinds of possibilities suddenly present themselves to me during the week: barley salads, chicken salad, avgolemono, and, of course, that Indonesian chicken salad.

Have a great weekend.

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Where Do I Begin?

February 21st, 2013 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

This is how a conversation went with my new friend Sarah, the first time I met her a few months ago:

Sarah: I really love your blog, it gives me hope.
Me: Hey, thanks. I’m so glad.
Sarah: But I don’t cook from it.
Me: Oh…you don’t?
Sarah: No, I don’t cook. I can’t do anything in the kitchen.
Me: Yes you can.
Sarah: No I can’t. I. Really. Can’t.

That week, I had just read a profile of Stacy London and it crossed my mind that Sarah felt the way about cooking the way I felt reading that story — the way I felt trying to figure out what I was going to wear to a fancy holiday party later that month: Intimidated. A little lost.

Me: It’s not hard. You just need a little confidence and one or two solid recipes in your rotation.
Sarah: Well, what are those recipes? I have no idea where to start.
Me: I have almost 500 recipes on my blog, start there!
Sarah: That doesn’t help.

She was totally right! Someone might as well have told me “How do you not have something to wear to that party? There are 500 stores in New York City that sell perfect party dresses.”

On this blog, sometimes we get so bogged down in the (admittedly plentiful) minutae of family dinner — from the benefits of cooking for your kids to how to stay on top of Meatless Mondays to what freaking books to discuss at the dinner table — that we can forget to dial back and address the most elemental of issues: Where Do I Begin?  It’s why I recently introduced the “First Time Here” button up there on the right. And it’s also why Andy and I wrote a feature for Bon Appetit this month called  A Family Dinner Primer. Besides telling you what to make for family dinner (including this rockin’ steakhouse steak salad pictured above), we hope it goes back to the basics and tells you how to make family dinner.

As for what to wear to family dinner? I’m open to suggestions.

Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing
If you want to do this on a weeknight, I highly recommend making the dressing and the pickled onions ahead of time. They are minor tasks, but just the kind of thing you’ll be glad you don’t have to do after a day wearing heels that were supposed to be more comfortable.
For the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk the following. Can be made in advance and stored for up to a week:
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
For the salad:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1-pound rib-eye, flank, or skirt steak
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
12 ounces fingerling potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
6 radishes, cut into thin wedges
2 cups greens (such as arugula or torn Bibb lettuce leaves)
Pickled Red Onions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Season steak with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until cooked to desired doneness, 5-8 minutes per side for medium-rare rib eye, about 4 minutes per side for flank steak, or 3 minutes per side for skirt steak. Transfer meat to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.
While steak rests, wipe out skillet and heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender, 8-10 minutes.
Slice steak and serve with horseradish dressing, potatoes, cucumber, radishes, greens, and Pickled Onions.
Photo by Gentl & Hyers.

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Easiest Homemade-ish Valentines

February 8th, 2013 · 11 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

This might come as a surprise to you, but even though I am fully ensconced in my digital domain, and can, under pressure, define various website-wonky terms like “widgets” and “bounce rates” — I really know close to nothing about this world. Beyond following the #1 Law of Food Pictures (shoot in natural light), I really know nothing about photography either. I often click on the FAQ section of my favorite bloggers and tell myself This time I’m really going to pay attention to which lens they use in which scenario. I’m going to remember if my Automatic White Balance should be ON or OFF. But I never do. I’m telling you, I think I have been able to jerry-rig together a decent enough experience for readers, but in relative terms, I am a total technological cretin. Until last week, I didn’t even know how to overlay text on top of a photograph. Seriously, I had NO idea!

But a month or two ago, after someone on facebook linked to a free Photo Editing site called picmonkey, my life has totally changed. (The way I just wrote that entire set-up sounds like I am shilling for them, doesn’t it? I swear I’m not!) All those things that normal people know how to do — make photo collages, design fun invitations for birthday parties, add graphics and borders and thought bubbles — I figured out in about 30 seconds. Me. The Cretin. And pretty soon the kids were all over it, too dreaming up any excuse to upload a picture of our dog Iris and make her talk. So naturally, when it came time to think about Valentines, we spent way too much time exploring the hearts and doilies and filters you can use to make what I believe to be the world’s easiest customized cards. Especially on a day when you are SNOWED-IN and there’s not much else to do while the short ribs are bubbling down.

There are a coupla directions you could go with this. You could overlay your Valentine message on the photo like we did way up top (others in the running: “They Call it Puppy Love,” “I drool over you,” “Will someone be my Valentine? Anyone? Anyone?”), print up as many as you need, and be done with it. Or you could print a blank thought bubble and have the kids fill in personalized messages to each friend. (To print, I inserted the image in a Word Doc, copied it four times, printed, then had the kids cut them out.) You could also just download the blank-message PDFs featuring Iris that I uploaded here. It’s time Iris had her day anyway.

Click here to download a PDF of this four-Valentine template. (If people have suggestions for what Iris should be saying or thinking, feel free to enlighten. My daughter can’t get enough of them.) Warning about this Valentine you see above — the thought bubble is small so it works better for short messages. If you have a longer message, click here for the 2-Valentine PDF. To download the Valentine with the “rolled up sock” message, way up top, click here.

P.S: Last year, a bunch of you asked for a PDF of the Mad Lib Love Letters Andy and I used in our post last year. Last year, when I was still a cretin. Here you go.

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