Entries Tagged as 'Quick'

Today’s Lunch, Tomorrow’s Dinner

October 14th, 2014 · 24 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

“Wait you just made that now?”

That’s what Abby said about this soup when she came in from the backyard, and it was exactly what I was thinking as I ladled the noodley broth into a bowl for her lunch. Wow, that was fast. This was yesterday — a holiday — and we had been on the road at various soccer tournaments throughout the DC area for three straight days. I don’t know how much time I logged in the car, but let’s just say I’m not going to be on the receiving end of a Friend of the Environment award any time soon, and the idea of getting in the Mazda even to go grocery shopping was more than I could handle.

Instead, I did what I do best: I procrastinated. If I could just scrape something together for lunch, I could maybe buy myself another few hours watching Glee re-runs before hitting Trader Joe’s.

The fridge was looking bleak — even the peanut butter jar was scraped clean — but I found an onion, a handful of dusty looking baby carrots, and about 30 ounces of a 32-ounce chicken broth container, which was about five minutes away from expiring. There was a single fat chicken breast. Maybe it was the ingredients speaking to me, or maybe it was something more primal (with chicken noodle soup moments, you can never be so sure), but I needed soup. That was as big and obvious to me as anything.

I’m not in the habit of whipping up homemade soup for lunch – or dinner for that matter — but now I’m wondering why that is. My friend Pilar used to give me soup recipes in pictures, drawing a cross-section of the stockpot to show me each layer of flavor: aromatics, seasoning, broth, fillings. And that’s really all the instruction I needed to turn a tumbleweedy, end-of-week fridge into something pretty damn comforting. Is it going to yield a flavor that is deep and multi-dimensional and Ivan-Ramen-worthy? Uh, no. But did it get the job done? Yes. And then some: There’s a batch of it in the freezer waiting for me for tomorrow’s dinner.

Noodle-Loaded Chicken Soup
I don’t love soups that are overly brothy, but if you do, no need to include as many noodles as I did. No set rules here.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot (or a handful of baby carrots) chopped
salt and pepper
1 32-ounce container chicken broth (about 4 cups)
1 large chicken breast, cut into thirds
angel hair, to taste (I used about a third of a 1-pound package), broken half with your hands

Add olive oil to a medium pot set over medium heat and add onions, celery, carrot, salt and pepper. Saute about 2 minutes until vegetables have slightly softened.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, and simmer for about 12 minutes. Remove chicken from soup and shred with two forks. (The less artful you are the better.) Bring soup back to a boil and add pasta. When angel hair is cooked through — about two minutes — add chicken back to the post. Season to taste and serve.

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Not Your Mother’s Tuna Sandwich

June 17th, 2014 · 14 Comments · Grilling, Quick, Seafood

One summer vacation during my elementary school years, I went on an overnight boating trip across the Long Island Sound with my friend, Andrea and her family. Three decades later, what I remember most about the trip was not the exhilaration of being on the open water for the first time — man vs. sea and all that. What I remember was eating pasta with jarred tomato sauce (my first time ever; SEE: Italian Mother) while bobbing below deck, then feeling seasick until setting foot on land the next day. Andrea’s parents dropped me off at home, where I made a beeline for the fridge — you know that special kind of ravenous you get when you come home from the beach? That was me, and I hunted around for something to wolf down even though it was close to dinnertime, the gold summer sun sinking on the horizon, filtering light through the elm tree in our backyard. My mom told me there was some leftover tuna, so I grabbed the foil-topped bowl, mom handed me a fork, and I ate it in about two minutes while sitting at the kitchen table with her.

To this day, that right there is the gold standard that every tuna experience has to live up to.

My mom’s tuna salad was pretty straightforward as tuna salads go. I’m sure that particular one was like every other batch she whipped up for a brown-bag or quick weekend lunch — Bumble Bee Chunk Light Tuna in Water mixed with Hellmann’s. (And no, this post is NOT sponsored by EITHER.) There might have been salt, but there was definitely not black pepper — she isn’t a big fan of black pepper — and the ratio of mayo to tuna was probably on the high side. But what made it special, somehow, was the temperature. The tuna was cold — like really cold — and somehow two ingredients melded together to impart a third, mysterious flavor (childhood fridge? Mom umami?) that is impossible to achieve when I try to recreate it thirty years later in my own kitchen. I love tuna salad sandwiches, Andy and Phoebe love tuna salad sandwiches, we make tuna salad sandwiches all the time. But as good as they are — they always fall short. Always. (I keep making them, though, because I have to assume that I’m adding the same mystery mom ingredient to Phoebe’s lunch.)

That’s a long way of saying: the way I see it — if I’m going to make a tuna sandwich, the only way to avoid disappointment is to go in a complete and totally opposite direction. This past weekend, our friends Anne and Todd came over post-piano recital to celebrate our children’s most excellent interpretations of Mozart and Schumann. We all picked up some good tuna from the fish guy at our farmer’s market (and some hot dogs for the kids who wouldn’t go near the good tuna) and even though I had visions of going wild to celebrate summer, Andy convinced me otherwise (“this is not a performance!”), so we settled on an easy grilled tuna sandwich with salsa fresca and spicy mayo. Just because it was simple, though, and just because technically it was just a plain old “tuna sandwich,” does not mean it wasn’t the best thing I think I’ve eaten all year. Andy sliced the tuna horizontally so it was easier to eat on an open-face baguette, and we topped it with a cilantro-heavy salsa. It wasn’t my mother’s tuna, no. But why even try?

Grilled Tuna Sandwiches with Salsa Fresca
(Makes 4 Sandwiches)
The Oyster Bar in Grand Central makes a version of this sandwich which I highly recommend eating at the snaky counter with a  Coke on a summer day. We served ours with really fresh greens from the market that had been tossed with a rice-wine-vinegar based vinaigrette, and topped with peppery, edible nasturtiums from Anne’s garden. Andy made a farro salad and mixed in chives, feta, dried cherries, and a basic mustard vinaigrette. Todd made this crazy good smashed beet salad with yogurt. All in all, a perfect summer dinner.

1 1/2 pounds tuna, sliced in half horizontally (see: Seafood Watch for Buying Guidelines)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper
juice from half a lime
1 long, skinny baguette
salsa fresca
spicy mayo

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, dark sesame oil, and pepper. Place tuna on a large dinner plate and pour marinade on top. Marinate about 15 minutes. Five minutes before you grill, squeeze lime juice over fish, flipping to fully coat. Grill over medium-hot coals for 1-2 minutes a side. (It’s cooks fast when it’s this thin, and we like it on the rare side.)

While fish marinates, make your spicy mayo and salsa fresca.

Slice baguette in half lengthwise, then into four sandwich-size pieces as shown. Spread mayo on each half, then top each half with tuna and salsa fresca. Serve open-face unless you like your sandwiches on the bready-ier end. (We do not.)

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Chill, Mom. I Got Dinner

June 12th, 2014 · 58 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Yes, that beautiful sight is exactly what you think it is: My twelve-year-old is making dinner. For the family. A stack of pan-fried gray sole with a green salad and ginger-miso dressing to be exact. What you don’t see, out of frame, are her parents, having some chips and salsa at the kitchen table, catching up on the day’s events, and doing their best not to tell their twelve-year-old to turn up the heat or turn down the heat, or salt the bread crumbs, or use a fork and not your fingers to put the fish in the (omg very hot) pan, or maybe set up your dredging station next the stovetop instead of a half mile away.

Like all major milestones in life, the genesis of this particular one began at the hair salon.

My mom has been trying to get me to see her colorist for years now and so finally, a few weeks ago, I conceded. Her name was Gisele and having only met her for about two hours, I can say with confidence that she’s my friend for life. As well as learning that the look for prom this year is the low, loose bun, I learned that she adds breaded chicken cutlets to her baked ziti, that she came to the US from Lebanon 44 years ago, that she’d had many jobs in her life (realtor, executive assistant) but hair had always been her true passion. You can learn a lot about someone when they are inches from your ears for two straight hours.

When Gisele found out that I wrote about food for a living, she was amazed. “How wonderful!” she said. And then,”Your kids must be excellent cooks!”

I thought she was heading in the direction parents normally head which is: “How wonderful! Your kids must be excellent eaters.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “They can make a few dishes.” In my mind, though, I had a hard time coming up with something that involved a technique more complicated than spreading hummus on pita. “But they eat pretty much anything.”

And that was that. Until the very next morning when my newly highlighted self went to the coffee shop and ran into Phoebe’s friend, Lauren, and her mom.

“I love your cookbook,” Lauren said. “I cook from it all the time!”

Here again, I thought she was heading in the direction kids normally head, which is: “I love your cookbook! My parents cook from it all the time.” (more…)

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Grilled Steak Tacos: Just Plain Good

May 15th, 2014 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Quick

I have been looking for the right angle to write about these steak tacos for a few weeks now, which I’ve decided is just plain unfair. Why deny you guys a solid recipe just in the name of story-telling?  As I’m sure you know by now, my goal with this blog and my next book, is not just to chronicle what to eat for dinner, but to put that dinner into context — to give you the how of dinner, i.e. how we here in the DALS house organize, cook, and (most of the time) consume a meal together at the end of a long, chaotic day. (This is reason why you will see “Last Night’s Dinner” posts every so often, showing the exact timing of how and when everything happened, and why I talk about deconstructing dinners ad nauseum.) I hope this comes through, and, more important, I hope it helps. But anyway, sometimes, the day is neither long nor chaotic. Sometimes, I have before me a simple, regular old weeknight, i.e. a simple, regular old angle: These steak tacos with pickled onions and a cilantro-yogurt sauce were delicious and the kids loved it. So there you have it. I will let this recipe tell its own story. The End.

Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce
By this point in our relationship you probably know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: Too many ingredients? Too many steps? Just skip what looks dealbreaker-y to you. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking out the blender for the cilantro sauce, just skip the sauce altogether and top with chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream. Kids don’t like pickled onions? (You don’t like pickled onions?) Lose ‘em. Don’t have time to marinate? Use whatever time you’ve got. Just get something on the table.

Marinade
1 1/2-2 pounds flank or skirt steaks
1/3 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
squeeze of lime
salt and pepper

Pickled Onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced crosswise (optional if you want to avoid heat)

Cilantro Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup cilantro (stems and all)
juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste  

Everything Else
4-6 large whole wheat tortillas (or regular ones)
a few torn lettuce leaves (we like butter or Bibb)
queso fresco or avocado (optional)
lime wedges

Marinate steaks in olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper for about 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before you plan to grill.

While steaks marinate, do your quick-pickling and sauce making: Bring red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water to a boil, add onions and jalapeños and reduce to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes then drain, add to a bowl and set on table. In a blender or a small food processor, whirl together all cilantro sauce ingredients. Pour into a bowl and place on table.

Heat your grill (or stovetop grill — as you can see we were still indoors a few weeks ago when we made ours) to medium high and cook about 4 minutes a side. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing on the bias and placing on the table. (For little kids, please cut steak into teeny tiny pieces.) While meat is resting, add tortillas to the hot grill, flipping frequently until they bubble a little, about 1 minute each. (I like a little char on there.)

Set tortillas and remaining toppings on the table and have everyone assemble his or her own tacos. Squeeze with a little lime and serve with rice.

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Last Night’s Dinner

May 8th, 2014 · 13 Comments · Last Night's Dinner, Quick

7:30 AM During breakfast (yes, dinner starts at breakfast in my house), I transfer frozen chicken thighs from freezer to fridge and watch in awe as Phoebe prepares her own lunch for the first time. (Andy and I have sworn to each other that the enabling is over, but ask me about this again in a week.) Pride fades to annoyance as girls argue again over a pair of neon green socks.

8:00 Buses, trains, drop-offs, kisses. See you tonight!

~ Ten hours later ~

6:45 Late start to the girls’ home (Bless you, O God of Sports Scheduling) lacrosse game. Eagles vs. Garnets tie 10-10. (At least we think that was the score — at this age, even the ref loses track after a certain point.)

7:45 Do our best to divert daughters from the fund-raising bake sale and ice cream truck strategically positioned right at the field exit. Fail. Two brownies (baked by me, by the way, and then purchased by Andy for a dollar each) will apparently be tonight’s appetizer.

7:50 Pile into car. Immediately start fending off requests to go out for pizza. It’s late. I’m starving. Please! We are just tired enough to concede, until the backseat becomes a warzone, the girls can’t agree on which pizza place to patronize — old-school vs. “artisanal” — and within minutes, we are headed home in the direction of my thawing chicken.

8:10 Andy pan-fries that chicken, noting that, as usual, I’ve thawed about enough to feed two squirrels. He pops a few of those Trader Joe’s Pastry Pups into the oven for the girls. (OK, who are we kidding, we stole at least four when girls weren’t looking — those things are sick). I boil some fat asparagus (four minutes, then shock in ice water) picked up at Union Square’s Greenmarket earlier that afternoon, top with one avocado (sliced), a mustardy vinaigrette, and a pile of crispy shallots (aka rich man’s French’s fried onions; aka fairy dust, etc.) that, frankly, were better than any artisanal pizza. Both girls, miraculously, agree. (To make: Using your fingers, toss thin shallot slices with flour and salt, then fry in canola oil over medium-low heat until crispy — about 8-10 minutes — before removing with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel.)

8:40 Dinner.

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Ode to an Italian Market

April 24th, 2014 · 13 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Quick

Oh market of ancestral pleasures,
A carnival of old-school treasures,
Your homemade fare, it lifts, amazes,
I think it’s time I sing your praises.

Behold those days my tired body’s
so grateful for your manicottis.
The workday hard, the lunchroom cruel,
No prob when we have your fa-jool* 

On nights I’m out and can’t cook dinner,
I always have a pinch-hit winner,
I’m late, not dressed, oh holy moly!
The sitter boils ravioli.

“From scratch” can be so overrated.
When those meatballs can be plated
From the freezer, quick and thrifty,
Just flip the oven to three-fifty.

So here’s to every gift Italian,
To ziti baked and veal medallion,
Sending thanks that’s good and loud,
Grandma Catrino would be proud.

Seven bucks for fifty fresh, authentic, restaurant-quality, cheese-filled ravioli. What rhymes with “bargain of the century?”

*Note actual spelling of Fa-jool on third shelf from bottom right in top picture. Photo taken via my instagram (dinneralovestory) at Mercurio’s Italian Market on Mamaroneck Avenue, Mamaroneck, NY.

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Beautiful Buvette

April 22nd, 2014 · 302 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

On a rainy Monday night in midtown a few weeks ago, I found myself faced with classic New York dilemma. I was running late to meet Andy for his birthday dinner downtown and needed to make a decision: Should I try to catch a cab (always a risky proposition on a rainy night) or just get on the subway, which involved a transfer (always a time-eater)? At the same time, I was also asking myself Why didn’t we just stay home for his birthday? The girls could’ve been part of it and I certainly wouldn’t be standing on a corner soaking wet, nervous about being late. To add to my decidedly First World anxiety, we were going to Buvette, a jewel box of a restaurant on Grove Street in the West Village, run by Jody Williams, who has become something of a cult hero to food insiders and bon vivants everywhere. In other words, it’s popular. Every minute I was late felt like an hour I’d have to queue up for an open table.

I took the subway to Christopher Street, sprinting a block in the rain, by then coming down sideways. When I finally bulldozed into the gastrotheque, feeling very much like a wet dog, I made my way back to Andy seated at a small table tucked into a corner. “Happy Birthday, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Happy Birthday,” I said, but less sorry than relieved that we still had a table.

“What’s the stress?” he said, taking a sip of his Manhattan and leaning back. “You’re here. Look at this place.” He opened his arms wide, as if personally presenting Buvette to me.

He loved Buvette — which is why we picked it for his birthday. I looked around at the intimate, brick-exposed space, at the regulars reading books and drinking cocktails at the marble-topped bar, at the chandelier made from old cooking equipment hanging like a piece of modern art in the back room. For all the trendy chatter about this place, it felt neighborly and warm, as if it had been here forever. Within minutes, I was sipping my own Manhattan, overtaken by the warmth, the cold rainy streets fading away like a jet trail. (more…)

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Relentless

April 19th, 2014 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood

Jenny begged me to write this post. She begged me to write it because we have spent most of the last week on spring break and she has spent much of that time feeling guilty about not having posted. She keeps circling the laptop, turning to me and saying, “Should I post? Just something quick? Is it bad that we haven’t done anything all week?” (This is what it’s like being a food blogger. And, I want to clarify: She is not being lazy. She is writing another book, working on a site redesign, we just handed in a Bon App column, and she is mapping out a whole bunch of new posts, which she’ll be rolling out in the next couple of weeks, for real. The point is: She likes you guys. She really likes you guys!*) So: I’m going to keep this short because my feelings of guilt re posting are not quite as debilitating, and because this vacation ends tomorrow, and because a bike ride with the kids — followed by an Easter egg salad sandwich with sweet relish — awaits.

Last Saturday evening, we fired up the Weber for the first time this year — always a cause for celebration in our house. We’d been kind of going off lately, food-wise, and wanted to keep things healthy. We decided on fish (Phoebe requested salmon, as per usual), a grilled vegetable (the asparagus at the farmer’s market was lookin’ good), and the kind of grainy, superfood salad that the kids would not touch if you paid them in unicorn sightings (we did quinoa with feta, tomatoes, and scallions). Jenny is standing over my shoulder right now, as I type this, and she approves, so consider this POSTED. – Andy

* Dear very nice commenters who write in to say you miss it when Jenny doesn’t post as much: I love you, but you’re KILLING ME! (more…)

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This Week in Salmon

March 27th, 2014 · 15 Comments · Quick, Seafood


I know this is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway. Ready for it?? Here we go: Weeknight Entertaining is the New Dinner Party.

You heard it here first, don’t forget that.

So, um, why? Why would any of us want to throw one more variable into the dinnertime scramble? One more variable who actually needs to be fed? Simple: Because the bar is so much lower. As much as I love to have people over on a weekend night, it’s a production. And that’s good. I like some theatrics on a Saturday night. That’s what Saturday night is about when you are over 40 and your idea of excitement includes a Baltimore Oriole sighting during your morning run. (Forreal!! Right at the bottom of my street!)

But the other night, our friend Kendra came over for dinner. It was Monday, kind of a last-minute plan, and since we had already decided on Salmon Salad for dinner — I’m telling you, the recipe is MVP in our house — that was going to be the meal. No special cocktail, no special meat and cheese starter, or homemade dessert. (At least no homemade dessert homemade by us; Kendra rocked our world with this little number.) Starters would be chips and salsa; the milk glasses would be set on the kitchen table (not the dining room table) by Phoebe; and Kendra would essentially be folded into family dinner. When expectations are low, you can only be a hero.

Anyway, igniting dinner party trends (just watch!) was not supposed to be point of today’s post. What I really wanted to remind you about was how amazingly easy salmon is for weeknight cooking, dinner guest or not. That Salmon Salad (page 62 of DALS) is so clutch. This time, I tweaked the technique a bit — I used yellow potatoes and tossed them in the dressing before tossing the rest of the salad, so they were like silky German-Potato-Salad potatoes. It’s the only way I’m going to make it from now on.

I’ve also been looking for an excuse to really sing the praises of this Salmon with Mustard-Brown-Sugar Glaze over at Martha. I’ve linked to this before, but I just need to say again how genius it is. With red wine vinegar and sugar in the glaze, it has the sweet-and-sour thing going, and it could not be easier to whip together. The first time I made the recipe, Abby declared it the best salmon she’d ever eaten, and seven or eight times later, she still stands by that claim.

Lastly, there’s this basic salmon teriyaki recipe that is a good compromise to have in your back-pocket when, say, the kids are begging to go to the local Japanese place for dinner instead of Not another boring chicken, pleeeease? With a side of sushi rice and some magic teriyaki onions, it tastes like the version they order in the restaurant, only it’s a heck of a lot cheaper.

Salmon Teriyaki

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 sake
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pound salmon filet

Preheat broiler. In a small saucepan, whisk together everything except the fish. Let it simmer about 10 minutes until reduced and slightly syrupy. Brush sauce on top a salmon and broil for 10-12 minutes (depending on thickness of salmon), brushing sauce on every four or five minutes to get a nice caramel-y color. Serve with sushi rice and teriyaki onions.

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Abby’s Famous Swiss Chard (with a Side of Steak)

March 24th, 2014 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

Guest-post from 10-year-old Abby:

I am so sick of kale. Good thing I taught my family to like chard with this world famous dish. Well not world famous, but famous in my house.

I love chard. The second I saw the rainbow-colored stems at farm camp growing in a garden with beautiful fluffy green leaves I knew that they would taste good. One morning I bought then at the farmers market. Later though, when we brought it home, I had no idea how to cook it. My dad started cooking the chard in a pan and putting red pepper on it. I took a taste, but it was a bit spicy, so I added some soy sauce to make it salty and to balance the spicy-ness. Then I tried it again, and it tasted really good, but it needed some sweetness. Finally I thought of the perfect solution: Rice Wine vinegar! (Mom’s note: seasoned rice wine vinegar!) I drizzled it on and sampled the chard. It was delicious! I put the whole thing into a bowl and honestly could not stop eating it. By the time it was dinnertime there was only half the amount I had cooked left in the bowl. Since that dinner, I make the recipe very often and every time it tastes even better.

And my mother (now typing) would like to add that it’s very delicious with a quick broiled (or grilled) marinated skirt steak. Here are both recipes:

Quick Broiled Skirt Steak with Abby’s Chard
Her mother would also like to let you know that this entire dinner can be made in 2o minutes, 15 if you have a 10-year-old sous chef taking over the chard. (more…)

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How to Get (a Rockin’) Dinner on the Table in 20 Minutes

March 13th, 2014 · 8 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Tuesday night:

5:30 Wrap up work in my home office — even though I meant to wrap up work before kids got home from school two hours earlier. Oh well.

5:40 Realize that Andy is out tonight and it’s Tuesday, which means everyone has their various extracurricular pursuits until almost 9:00. Make radical decision: Let’s eat dinner before practice tonight instead of after.

5:41 Realize this means I have to get dinner on the table immediately if my midfielders stand a chance at digesting in time to run around like maniacs. Remove flounder from fridge.

5:45 Place large skillet on stovetop, add a few glugs olive oil, turn heat to medium-high, set up dredging station (whisked egg, flour, panko crumbs) for flounder.

5:52 While four flounder filets brown in olive oil, slice half head of Napa Cabbage very finely, drizzle in a dressing (mayo, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, olive oil, salt, black pepper, sugar whisked in a measuring cup) and toss.

5:59 Remove four cooked flounders, tent with foil; add another two to the pan. Meanwhile, open a can of Trader Joe’s organic baked beans and dump into a small pot. Much like a cat who can recognize the sound of a tuna can opening from two rooms away, Abby arrives within seconds. “Are we having baked beans?” Got her.

6:05 Dinner. Game over.

Related:

Basic Everyday Fried Fish; Cole Slaw, Trader Joes Hit List.

Last Night’s Dinner: Pasta with Mint Pea Pesto;

Anatomy of a Monday Night Dinner: Baked Mustardy Chicken Drumsticks with Brussels Sprouts.

 

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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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Top 10 Ways to Use a Rotisserie Chicken

September 25th, 2013 · 18 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

Time for another round of crowd-sourced inspiration! Here’s the question I posed to you all via facebook the other day:  ”I have at least half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge at home that I have to use tonight or forever regret tossing it. How would you stretch it into dinner?” A few hours later I was faced with an embarrassment of riches — There were almost 150 directions I could’ve taken. My faves:

1. Pot Pies, Tacos, and Enchiladas seemed to be the default direction for 50% of you.

2. From Sally: “Lettuce Wraps: Shred, layer with cilantro, pickled onions, cucumber, and hot chilis on a lettuce leaf. Wrap in rice paper wrapper that has been dunked in warm water for a second. Wrap, roll, and dip in a garlic chili lime sauce. Easy, engages the whole table, and super fresh.”

3. From Adina: “Burrito Bowls, every time!”

4. From Naria: “Curry Chicken Salad, crunchy bread, hearty green salad.”

5. From Cheryl: “My favorite Chicken Salad. So nice to have a simple cook night. Chicken with a light coating of mayonnaise, halved red grapes, salt & pepper to taste, and roasted cashew halves served on top so they keep their crunch. Eat with lettuce as wraps or on a nice rosemary bread.”

6. From Ada-Marie “Orzo cooked in chicken broth and a little butter; mix in chicken, frozen peas, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, shake of oregano. We call this Easy Peasey Cheesey Chicken Orzo.”

7. From A Bowl Full of SimpleSummer Rolls

8. From Molly: “Obviously, you have to make Indonesian Chicken Salad.”

9. From Jorena: “Avgolemeno.”

10. From Alex: “Cold Ginger Peanut Noodles with sliced cucumber, green onions, and chicken.”

That last one from Alex was exactly what I was in the mood for. But instead of making a peanut sauce, like I usually do (See page 261, Dinner: A Love Story) I decided to put my ponzu to use:

Ponzu Noodles with Chicken

1) I whisked together about 1/3 cup ponzu sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, a dash of fish sauce, a teaspoon of Sriracha, a squeeze of lime, few drops of sesame oil.

2) Boiled 3/4 pound of soba noodles, drained, then (in same pot) sauteed minced scallions, garlic, and ginger in a little grapeseed oil (you can use vegetable oil) before tossing the noodles back in to the pot with chopped up CSA green beans, chicken, chopped cilantro and mint, and the ponzu dressing. I really wished I had cukes or chopped peanuts — that would’ve been killer. It was missing the crunch factor.

3) I reserved a little of the chicken for Phoebe, who doesn’t like noodles in any form, and made a quick chicken salad for her with mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and a little curry powder (thanks Naria!) Green beans on the side.

And that was dinner. Thanks for the help everyone!

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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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What Passes for Fun on a Saturday Night

September 16th, 2013 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood, Uncategorized

“Make Dinner Not War,” huh? The pacifist ethos may look good on a bumper sticker, and it may reign supreme at our family dinner table, but when it comes to, say, girls’ soccer or beach-kadima-fer-chrisskes or routinely kicking her husband’s arse in a “friendly” game of Clue? Jenny is not to be trifled with. It’s why I hesitate to tell her my top score in Ruzzle, because I know it’s only a matter of time before she borrows my phone — and then hands it back fifteen minutes later, having destroyed my record. It’s why I stopped playing tennis with her, lo these many years ago. We’d be hitting the ball around like normal husbands and wives and the moment would come when she’d walk up to the net and ask, casually tucking a ball into the pocket of her shorts, “Wanna play a few games?” Like an idiot, I’d say yes. And suddenly, she couldn’t miss. Every shot: in. Every impossible angle: not impossible, apparently! I’d hit the ball as hard as I could, and it would come back harder. I’m worried, as I write this, that Jenny is going to come off as too Tiger Mom-ish, that she only cares about winning, which is not really true. So I’ll put it this way: Jenny would rather win than lose. And she usually does, too.

The key word here is usually.

Last Saturday, we picked up some fresh striped bass from our fish guy at the farmer’s market. I drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and as I was going outside to fire up the grill, Jenny said she’d be in charge of making a blender sauce for the fish. A blender sauce with roasted red peppers and walnuts and something else I can’t quite remember, because the truth is, I stopped listening as soon I heard roasted red peppers and walnuts. I must have made an expression that gave me away.

“What?” she said. “You don’t think that sounds good?”

“No, no,” I said. “It sounds really good. It’s just that this fish is so  fresh, I don’t know if we need it. I was thinking of something a little lighter and cleaner-tasting.”

“Like what?”

“Like, with those tomatoes we got today or something. A tomato coulis. Is that the right word? Tomato coulis?”

“I have no idea,” she said. “How about I make mine and you make yours, and we’ll have a taste -off.”

Christ.

Dinner as competitive sport: This is what passes for fun in the DALS house on a Saturday night. We retreated to our respective corners — Jenny with the blender, me with the mini-Cuisinart — and worked in silence, as serious as monks. We roped the kids in at some point, too — appointing them as the official arbiters, a role they naturally cherish — and put a dollop of both sauces on every plate. After a few bites and some mindful chewing, everybody weighed in. The results, I do not regret to say, were clear: The tomato sauce. In a walk. Even Jenny conceded it was better, and you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that doesn’t happen much around here. Victory at last!

The truth is, Jenny’s sauce was better than mine, more sophisticated, more interesting. Add some feta and it’d be an amazing dip, served with pita chips and some gherkins. It would also have been fantastic with grilled chicken. But with fish this fresh, just off the grill, on a beautiful late summer night? Nuh-uh. Not in my house. – Andy

Jenny’s Sauce

In a blender, whirl together:

2 roasted red peppers (halve, brush with olive oil, and broil for 20 minutes; then remove pith and peel off skin. I used the ones from our CSA, which aren’t too big — medium-size, I’d say)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon balsamic (wished we had red wine vinegar)
Small handful walnuts
Salt & pepper
Squeeze of Sriracha

Andy’s Sauce

In a food processor, whirl together until emulsified:

Couple of handfuls fresh grape tomatoes (I used red and yellow)
Few generous glugs of olive oil
Juice from 1/2  lime OR 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Two basil leaves
One scallion
Squeeze of Sriracha
Salt & pepper, to taste

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Do-Nothing Dinner

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

A few Augusts ago, my friends Jeni and Ben and their three kids came to visit us. They live on the Upper West Side, which is only about a 20-minute drive from my house, and yet, with full-time jobs and full-time families (their oldest daughter was about 4 which would make her twins 2, and my kids were 6 and 4), we had the hardest time coordinating get-togethers. (You know that famous New Yorker cartoon, “How about never — does never work for you?” That was us.) Well, on this particular occasion, we had by some miracle figured out a time that worked for a drive-by. It was a Saturday — couldn’t do lunch (soccer practice, naps) couldn’t do dinner (twins’ bedtime looming) so we settled on the somewhat odd, not-quite-cocktail-hour of 5:00.

“Just stay for dinner,” I told her when she called that morning.

“No no no,” she said .”Please don’t do anything.”

“But it’s no trouble.”

“Just trust me. It’s more stressful if I try to feed the kids there. Please don’t worry!”

I agreed begrudgingly. But then I hit the farmer’s market where, of course I was bamboozled by my daughters into buying a container of BuddhaPesto. The stuff is so good. I mean, so so good and leprechaun green and fresh you just can’t believe it. (The Times‘ Jeff Gordinier was similarly smitten last summer.) And, since it was August, there were tomatoes. The kind of tomatoes you dream of all year long. Striped, heirloom, green, gold, cherry, plum, little, big, blistered, exploding. The kind of tomatoes you slice at dinnertime, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, and then back away from. Because to do anything more, to add anything else, would be to incur the wrath of the tomato gods…or me, for that matter.

The thing is, I never promised Jeni and Ben I wouldn’t cook for them. Just the kids. So at some point during the course of the family’s two-hour cameo — at which point I think every single toy in the toy box had been removed and discarded on the floor by five gleeful children  – I plopped two dinner plates on the table for the grown-ups. Spaghetti tossed with that BuddhaPesto, and slices of heirloom tomatoes (salted, oil-drizzled) that looked like they should’ve been painted by Cezanne. (I can brag about that because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. They came that way.)

You know the Virginia Lee Burton book The Little House about the cottage that stands peacefully still as construction and skyscrapers and general chaos looms all around. That’s how I picture Jeni and Ben eating that dinner. I will never forget how grateful two people could look eating the world’s simplest summer meal, as five screeching kids launched into their fifteenth game of Elefun in the living room.

Jeni tried to fight it, but was powerless in the face of the tomatoes.

“I told you not to do anything,” she attempted weakly.

“I didn’t. I boiled a pot of water. That was the extent of my cooking.”

“But you did! Look at this.”

I guess. But, I reminded her, it doesn’t take much.

Spaghetti with Pesto and Summer Tomatoes

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with a little olive oil while it sits in the colander. Add prepared pesto (the freshest you can find, such as BuddhaPesto) to the same pot you boiled spaghetti in and whisk in a drizzle of pasta water until it’s saucy, but not watery. Add pasta back to the pot and toss. Serve garnished with freshly grated Parmesan.

While spaghetti cooks, slice summer tomatoes onto a plate. Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of the best olive oil you’ve got, sprinkle with sea salt (and pepper, if you must) and serve alongside pasta.

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RE: What’s for Dinner?

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

Every year, right around this time, Jenny and I have the same conversation. We will have just finished dinner, and the kids will have disappeared upstairs to take baths or be mad because we are forcing them to take baths even though just they took baths last night, and Jenny will turn to me and say, “I think I could be a vegetarian.” And I am right there with her. Because (a) I like vegetables*, and (b) when this conversation takes place, we are inevitably transitioning from the gray of winter to the technicolor of prime produce season, when the carrots taste like carrots and the beets are like dessert and the kids can easily snack their way through a pint of snap peas, sitting in a bowl on the counter, in the course of a single afternoon.

It’s kind of crazy how a giant box of fresh produce — from the farmer’s market, a CSA or, if we were better people, from our backyard — in the refrigerator can reset your magnetic north (chicken, must have chicken, what can we do with chicken, remember to defrost chicken) when it comes to family dinner and just, in general, get the inspiration juices flowing again. The other day, as I was sitting at my desk, Jenny texted me a photo of some sick-a#s produce, along with a challenge: “What’s for dinner?” Not to go all Alice Waters on you here, but I let the green stuff be my guide. The truth is, you could throw any of this stuff in a bowl with a light dressing, some salt and pepper, and it would taste good. Apart from the roasting of the beets, nothing we did took longer than 15 minutes, start to finish — and the beets, if I’d been smart enough to plan ahead, could easily have been prepared the day before. Which is what I will do next time, because they were the best thing on the plate by far.

“The beets were the star,” Jenny said.

“Phoebe, what’d you think?” I asked.

“Yeah, good,” she said. “Can I have Oreos on my sundae?”

It was after this meal, as we were cleaning up, that Jenny turned to me and said she thought she could be a vegetarian. Will we ever do it? Who knows. It’s possible. That’s a conversation that, for now, gets derailed by Abby’s love of bacon… and Phoebe’s attachment to cheeseburgers… and that also might ultimately be contingent on fish also being in the mix, given our attachments. But what would definitely help speed our conversion along is if I inherited a fertile plot of land in, say, Northern California that would supply us with fresh produce all year round, or at the very least, if this CSA deal could be extended, ad infinitum, until I am old and sick to death of beets. Short of that, we’ll have to see. – Andy 

*Except for zucchini.

This is the photo Jenny emailed me: A sampling of our idiot-proof raw materials — tiny Napoli carrots, dragon radishes, kohlrabi, Oregon giant snow peas, super sugar snap peas, red ace beets, and an herb called winter savory. And this is what we ended up having for dinner… (more…)

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Last Night’s Dinner

June 14th, 2013 · 18 Comments · Last Night's Dinner, Pasta, Quick, Vegetarian

The Order of Events

5:30 About to leave for Phoebe’s last lacrosse game of the season; realize I have not thought about dinner for one second. Do quick scan of fridge, see big bouquet of wilting CSA mint sitting in cup of water, screaming “Now or never!” It’s summer and summer + mint immediately sends me in the direction of peas. Yes! A bag of Trader Joe’s peas in the freezer. Leave on counter to thaw. Head out the door.

6:30-7:30 Game a total nail-biter. Would’ve loved to end season on a win — instead added a notch in the “L” column. Whole team fought so hard. 8 to 7. So close!

7:45 Walk in the door. Water goes on stovetop for boiling. Andy adds thawed peas and mint and everything else into blender. I assemble a turkey-and-cheese sandwich for the resident pasta hater. My sweaty, battered Left Attack takes a shower.

8:05 Milk poured. Pasta twirled. Picture snapped. Dinner served.

Spaghetti with Mint-Pea Pesto
This is a feel-your-way kind of recipe. We agreed after the fact that we should’ve used a food processor instead of a blender — because it helps to have the pulse option to control the consistency. Also: If you don’t want to serve this with pasta, just skip the thinning out part and spread on a baguette, Todd-style.

1 1/2 cups frozen peas (I used 3/4 of the bag you see above)
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parm, plus more for serving
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste
1 pound spaghetti

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Whirl remaining ingredients (except spaghetti) in a food processor. Taste and adjust as you go. (Don’t overprocess or it will be too emulsified.) Consistency should be somewhere in between smooth and chunky guacamole.

Add pasta to the pot and about half way through cooking it, scoop out about a cup of hot water. Set aside. Drain pasta once cooked. Scrape pea mixture into the empty hot pot, then start drizzling reserved pasta water into the dip, whisking until it has the consistency of a creamy sauce. Toss pasta in sauce and serve with freshly grated Parm and some torn mint leaves if you’re feeling fancy.

Note: This was written on Thursday so “last night” in the title refers to Wednesday. In case anyone out there is fact-checking.

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