We know what we’re having for Christmas dinner: The same exact thing we have every Christmas dinner, right down to the salad dressing and the sides. The trouble comes on the nights before and after, when we’ve got family over, friends stopping by, or a bunch of hungry kids sitting around the condo after a day of skiing. On these nights, we’re looking for a one-pot special, something easy to make (and easy to clean up) that everyone will eat. This year, we’ll be busting out some Texas-style chili. If you’ve been reading this blog over the years, you probably know we eat our share of chili, and we have a recipe we like that goes back a couple of generations. But sometimes you need to shake up the ol’ routine. Recently, I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues recently, Kaela, who is the daughter of a man from Texas who takes his chili very seriously, and this is what she told me: Her dad has the best chili recipe. It calls for sirloin instead of ground beef, bacon drippings instead of oil, and no beans. We did a trial batch, and Kaela just might be right. This chili is good. It’s smoky and dark and concentrated and UH-MAZING when eaten on a corn chip, with a little sour cream. They should sell air fresheners that smell like this chili. And make extra, as it’s twice as tasty the next day. — Andy
Entries Tagged as 'Uncategorized'
December 17th, 2014 · 10 Comments · Uncategorized
December 15th, 2014 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized
It’s been well documented that I’m not the most accomplished in the holiday crafts department. The most ambitious I’ll get is affixing graham crackers to a little milk carton with store-bought icing. And only then if a kindergarten teacher is supervising. But this little gumdrop menorah? This is exciting. It’s another entry from Jodi Levine’s Candy Aisle Crafts, which I just bought for my nieces, and which has a project like this for just about every holiday throughout the year. Everything you need for it — gumdrops, toothpicks, nonpareils, M&Ms — available in the supermarket candy aisle. As my 11-year-old would say, it’s the bomb dot com.
December 8th, 2014 · 14 Comments · Uncategorized
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — at least it would be if you could check a few things off that massive list of yours. DALS is here to help! Need a holiday ham? Check. A classic Christmas cookie recipe? Here you go. And because we love you so much, herewith, our annual collection of gift ideas for friends and family, lovers and fighters, readers and eaters. Enjoy. -The Family DALS
Magna-Tiles ($52 for a 32-piece set.) The day after Thanksgiving, we stopped off at a friend’s house on our way back home. It was a kind of bleak, chilly day — Alanna, our host, made us a lunch of pasta with kale and lamb sausage, which fit the weather perfectly — and I spent most of the two hours we were there, on the floor, playing Magna-Tiles with their two sons. Their sons are a little younger than I am. Like, 35 years younger than I am. And yet! I could have stayed there all day, building stuff, feeling that slight pull-then-click of the magnets as the pieces locked together. If they had had these when I was a kid, I would have grown up to be an architect. Maybe it’s not too late. — Andy
Booze ($30-60) I haven’t bought a serious bottle of booze in a few years. And that’s not because I haven’t had any serious booze in the past few years. It’s because our friends buy all the good stuff for us. Thank you presents, holiday presents, birthday presents, anniversary presents — every occasion, it seems, warrants an insane bottle of bourbon, wine, or gin. I’m not complaining (though I do worry a liiiiiittle about the signals we’re sending re: our priorities in life). Our two favorites lately are Widow Jane 8-year bourbon (which is made in Brooklyn, NY), and Cold River Gin (which is from Maine, and which makes a martini that will bring tears to your eyes). Both do the job, in style. – Andy
Cozy Earwarmer/Headband ($28) From 11-year-old Abby: “Recently, I got a chance to see this awesome headband. It was the softest, snuggest, coziest thing ever! That is why it’s #1 on my Christmas list. I would wear it to winter soccer, tennis and even under my ski helmet! I love the bright colors, but mostly it is about the fur lining… It is sooooo plush, and it looks like it could definitely keep me warm.” –Abby
Jacques Torres “Wicked” Hot Chocolate ($18) Decadent hot chocolate from the master of decadent chocolate, this (or maybe Frankie’s Olive Oil) will be what I give teachers, coaches, hosts or anyone else who makes me happy. The kick of cinnamon and cayenne is what makes it “wicked” and wicked special. –Jenny
Dinner Plates ($13 each) Anyone who has spent even a minute on this blog will know all about my obsession with Heath Ceramics, artisanal designers of dishes and dreams. I have a few pieces (this and these) and fantasize about replacing every mismatched, chipped Ikea plate in my kitchen with one of their tableware lines. Only hitch in the plan? Um, it’s a little pricey. So until then, I’m going with these “18th Street” stoneware plates from Crate & Barrel, which hit the similar modern-but-rustic notes I’m so into these days. If all goes according to plan (are you listening friends and family?) you’ll be seeing them photographed underneath chicken and pork chop recipes on this blog very soon. –Jenny
Vintage Board Games from eBay Have you played Monopoly lately? Or Sorry? Or Life? Or Battleship? Or any other nostalgic, old school board game that you played as a kid? We have a closet full of them upstairs, and every single one of them makes my eyes hurt. So many of these games have undergone merch-y makeovers since we were kids — I love Nemo and Buzz Lightyear, but they have no business near Park Place — and I haven’t seen one yet that I approve of. And since we get roped into these games every time our kids want to play — usually, like Tuesday night at 8:45 pm, when all you want to do is climb into bed — it’s way more fun to play with the real thing. Easy to find (start with ebay), inexpensive (less than the new ones), and aesthetically pleasing (come on, you could frame that Sorry board)! – Andy
Marcel the Shell ($10) My boss, who does not have kids, called me into her office a couple of months ago. “You have got to see this video,” she said. I stood there, looking over her shoulder, as she cued up a clip on Youtube, and a tiny, one-eyed, sneaker-wearing snail named Marcel the Shell took the stage. I don’t know how to describe it other than: absolutely friggin’ delightful. So I went back to my desk and did some googling. Turns out, this was kind of a thing! (It’s a common theme in my life. This internet thing is amazing!) There were more videos, which I watched and loved. And better yet, there were books. Which would make a good Christmas present of the kids. And for me. – Andy
Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell ($20) People always ask me to recommend a good starter cookbook for kids, and I almost always tell them Kids Cook 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold (master of simple cooking) and Fanny at Chez Panisse, which is the book my daughters reach for every time they decide they want to cook their parents dinner. (Every time = precisely once, for our anniversary this past October.) I’m officially adding Cal Peternell’s to the list. Peternell, chef at (where else?) Chez Panisse, wrote this for a kid considerably older than mine — his college-bound son — upon realizing that he was heading out into the world without having learned the most basic kitchen skills and recipes. When I say basic, I mean basic: toasts, vinaigrettes, risottos, beans, roast vegetables. But really, what else does anyone even need in this world? (PS: There’s also this line: “A crash course in cooking for yourself and others also goes by another name: it’s called dinner.”)
Ceci N’est Past Une Pipe Poster ($13) If you have a young TFIOS fan in the house — and if you need me to spell out what that stands for, you probably don’t — then you will no doubt impress him or her with this subtle nod to the Magritte T-shirt Hazel wears on her visit to Amsterdam with Augustus. If you have no idea what language I’m speaking, how’s this pitch: Also great for young fans of surrealism. –Jenny
Platter by Sophie Conran ($35) Perfectly round serving dishes are so…predictable. This porcelain one, with its charmingly misshapen perimeter, is more like a piece of art than something you’d use to serve spaghetti — or vegetables or salads or short ribs or Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork loin….or….anything. PS: The salad bowl looks lovely too. -Jenny
TracBall ($15) Summer evenings, when I was a kid, I would wait for my dad to come home and, once he’d changed out of his suit and poured two vodka tonics — one for him and one for my mom; I can still hear the ice clinking in the glass — I’d beg him to go outside and play. Overall, my first choice was to “chuck the apple,” as he referred to playing catch, but there was a two or three year stretch in there — probably around 4th and 5th grade — when TracBall was our game. It’s a kind of weird, 80s-ish hybrid between lacrosse and Frisbee, and we got pretty good at it — able to curve it both ways, fire hard, rising fastballs, run deep fly routes down the side of the yard and pull in over-the-shoulder catches. I can still see him out there, in his shorts and black dress socks, sweaty drink in hand, and I can see hear the zzzzzing sound of that ball as it lifted into the summer night. – Andy
Vera Bradley Phone Wristlet ($24) Too young for a bona fide purse, too old to be forgetting their phone and cash. Tweens seem to be into these colorful phone-wallet combos that come in over a dozen patters. (Shown above: Bittersweet) When your parents call and ask “What on earth do we get the granddaughters?” send them this link. -Jenny
Metallic Tattoos ($12 for five sheets with about two dozen tattoos per sheet) My nieces, age 11 and 13, deserve all the credit for these temporary tattoos, which wind up looking more like jewelry if you slap a few on at a time. Great for stocking stuffers or for wrapping around a wine bottle when a family is having you for dinner. -Jenny
Lunar Calendar (About $13) Last year, when I told Jenny that I had bought Phoebe a lunar calendar for the holidays, she responded like this: “Wow, that’s random.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was random. But it was also (a) kind of beautiful to have on the wall, no matter its utility, and (b) actually useful! Phoebe checks it every morning, along with the weather, before coming down for breakfast. I asked her what she liked about it. She said, “I’m a science person. Do you ask a person who likes to play with dolls why they like playing with dolls?” To which I say: Exactly! – Andy
Beginner MicroScope ($80) Speaking of science, this microscope shall be the new obsession. – Andy
Kids’ Books We asked 12-year-old Phoebe, our resident book expert, for three solid recommendations for kids this holiday season. Here is what she said: “The first one is Ares: Bringer of War by George O’Connor. I never really knew much about Ares, other than he was the god of chaos and bloodshed. Besides that, he had no significance whatsoever in any of the mythology books I’d read before. But George O’Connor has shown me a side of Ares that I’d never seen before — his softer side, his role in the Trojan War, etc. Graphic novel lovers will be into this. The art is awesome. The second book is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Now, this one just won the National Book Award, so it’s obviously going to to good. It is an autobiography by a woman who grew up in the South in the civil rights era. It’s about her becoming a writer, and it’s done in a very poetic style. Once you get into it, it’s awesome. The last book is The Shadow Hero, which I already wrote about on my blog. Let’s just say it’s heaven for nerds.” — Andy
Subscription to People Magazine (About $110 for 52 issues) My friend Liz had the best argument for buying herself a subscription when she first became a mother 13 years ago. “I was determined not to be one of those moms who has no idea who George Clooney is, then pleads parenthood as the excuse.” Sure, you can just go to People.com everyday, but some magazines are meant to be consumed in print, preferably on a snowy day with a big ole glass of red wine. –Jenny
Dinner: A Love Story, the Complete Collection ($12-30) I once read that in order to convince someone to get into a good habit, first, you have to provide the inspiration. Then, you need to provide the tools to make it happen. That’s how I’ve always thought of my duo of family-meal-making books. So if you have a friend who’d like to get into the dinner habit — or someone who is just in the market for some solid family recipes – Love Story provides the inspiration and Playbook provides the strategy. Plus: I’ll send personalized bookplates to the first 25 who email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please provide address and message!) Thanks, as always for your support. -Jenny
December 4th, 2014 · 35 Comments · Uncategorized
NOTE TO UNCLE MIKE: PLEASE DON’T READ!
Every Christmas when I was growing up, my mom would select a wrinkly wrapped gift from under the tree, shake it a bit, and say “Hmmmm, I wonder what this could be?” She knew what it was, of course. We all did. It was the annual bottle of Vitabath, the bath bubbles that came in the green and white ridged bottle that my dad gave to her every year. (Only my mother could stretch out an 8-ounce supply of bubble bath for 12 months.) I am such a sucker for the Annual Gift Tradition — not only because those gifts tell stories and connect us to holidays past and all that good stuff, but because they save a ton of think work if you’re on the giving end. It’s thoughtful giving on autopilot.
Some annual gifts can be downright inspired. Andy’s Uncle Julian used to give Aunt Patty a vintage cordial glass every year — none of them were the same, but he had an eye for that stuff, and when he broke out a bottle of Chateau D’yquem, it was always amazing to see how well each tiny glass of Sauternes looked next to the other. Then there’s Uncle Mike (yes, it’s practically law that uncles are the best gift-givers) who buys a few cases of wine every year, then divvies them all up for his brothers and nephews. In exchange for that wine, we have our own mini annual gift ritual — we give Uncle Mike whatever cookbook seems to be the cookbook of the moment. In the past we’ve presented him with Canal House Cooks Everyday, Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Jerusalem, and Amanda Hesser’s updated version of the classic The New York Times Cookbook, to name a few.
So here’s a dilemma that can be filed under “Cup Runneth Over” category: What cookbook do I get Uncle Mike for Christmas this year? Though the holidays are always blockbuster season for cookbooks, 2014′s offerings seems to be particularly awesome and I’m genuinely stumped. Uncle Mike is an adventurous cook, not afraid of an obscure ingredient, and happy to spend a whole day working through a seemingly impenetrable Diana Kennedy recipe, or hunting down dried guajillo chili peppers, or picking persimmons from the tree in his backyard. Not kidding. Here are a few options out there — what do you think? (more…)
December 2nd, 2014 · 6 Comments · Uncategorized
Sometimes I worry about my recipes the way I worry about my kids. As in, is this one getting enough attention? Does that one need a little extra love this week? I think it’s safe to say that Andy’s Pork Ragu is the Marcia Brady of dinners here on DALS (Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!) followed closely by Salmon Salad, Braised Short Ribs, and maybe those shrimp rolls from Playbook. In my defense, there’s a good reason for the repetition: they’re favorites in our house and grace the table over and over, year in and year out. But that’s my house and I was thinking: Just because my daughters won’t go near the Mongolian Stir-fry Tofu (still!) doesn’t mean that your kid won’t beg for it every night. So herewith, a Redemption for the Forgotten: 10 recipes — all quick, all tasty — that deserve a little love.
1. Squash Toasts with Butternut Squash and Ricotta I could eat everything listed under “toasts” on the ABC Kitchen menu, but this one would be right at the top.
2. Orecchiette with Peas, Country Ham, and Mint – The orecchiettes work like little baseball mitts catching the peas. The country ham works cause…it’s country ham.
3. Pork Chops in Tomato Juice with Kale – It’s really amazing that this isn’t on my table twice a week given how much my kids like both pork and kale. Here, the chops are pounded super thin and braised in a delicate tomatoey broth.
4. Sticky Pomegranate Chicken (page 174, Playbook) Four ingredients, 90% of cooking time is hands-off.
5. Steak Tacos with Quick Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce Good for leftover steak or anytime you want a little meat to go a long way.
6. Lamb Sliders with Yogurt Sauce Slider always sounds way more fun than sandwich.
7. Fried Fish Nuggets with Bacony Greens This seems to be gaining traction with families dealing with egg allergies. (The dredge is sour cream, not a whisked egg.)
8. Lettuce Hand Rolls (with ground pork or turkey) The photo may be a little JV, but the dinner is decidedly varsity. I remember tasting a forkful of the 5-spiced ground meat straight out of the skillet at a photo shoot and knowing instantly that it would work at the family table.
9. Chickpea Fries I used to make these for the kids with ketchup (we called them “fancy fries”) but now I think I’d make them with a little yogurty-dill sauce and lemon. Maybe even as a starter next time someone comes over for dinner. Such a crowd-pleaser.
10. Pan-roasted Chicken Thighs with Leeks (page 282 Dinner: A Love Story) Chicken, leeks, mustard and the dashiest dash of cream to make it feel indulgent. Plus: Leeks. And P.S. Leeks!
November 20th, 2014 · 20 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized
Of all the things that taste better the next day — Grandma Jody’s chicken, pasta with Bolognese — I think maybe Shepherd’s Pie is right up there on my list. At least part of the reason for this is because some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing in front of my best friend’s fridge, eating forkfuls of the pie’s spice-spiked meat straight from the dish. But most of the reason? Well, what’s there not to love about something smothered in a crust of mashed potatoes? (Boy I’m picking up a theme this week.) I’ve never actually made a real Shepherd’s Pie — the closest I’ve come are these miniature cheater’s version, cobbled together from everything left over on Thanksgiving. (Of course Shepherd’s Pie was invented to use up leftovers, like all the best recipes, so technically it’s in fact the opposite of cheating.) I heat up a little shallot in olive oil then add whatever I’ve got stored the tupperware bins (including those bacon bits hangin’ around the brussels sprouts). Once the filling is heated through, I spoon it into ramekins and spread reheated mashed potatoes on top. I don’t even bother baking the pies, but if you’re after a more crusty topping, skip the reheating of the potatoes and bake at 375° for about 20 minutes, sprinkled with some shredded cheese if you’re feeling decadent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Needless to say, it’s a big hit with the kids for Friday lunch.
Is there anything better than leftovers? Man, I could eat this screen right now. What leftover moves do you have in your Thanksgiving arsenals? Would love to know.
November 18th, 2014 · 27 Comments · Posts by Andy, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized
One night last week, Jenny and I were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, and Phoebe was sitting at the table, finishing her homework, surrounded by the contents of her scoliosis-inducing backpack. As Jenny checked Instagram and I scrubbed a pan of rice, talk turned to Thanksgiving — and our total lack of planning for it thus far. The way it usually works around here, Thanksgiving-wise, is that Jenny’s mom provides the turkey and the Jell-O chocolate pudding pie, and we are (happily) responsible for everything else: i.e., pan-roasted Brussels, cauliflower with anchovy breadcrumbs, three pepper cornbread stuffing, and mashed potatoes. “I assume we’re just making the usual?” I said.
“Actually,” Jenny said, “I was kind of thinking we should try scalloped potatoes this year instead of mashed.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s radical.”
“I’ve had a total craving ever since Todd mentioned that he made them recently. How good are scalloped potatoes?”
At this point, Phoebe’s pencil stopped moving. You should have seen the look on her face. It was like she’d just overheard us say we we’re going to give the dog away. “Wait, wait, wait,” she said. “You guys are joking, right?”
Phoebe, it should be noted, is a true creature of comfort. The stuff she likes, she really likes. Her bed, for instance, with its disintegrating quilt. Her house. Her little chair in her reading nook. Her Tintin collection. Her water-damaged Timex watch. Her pair of jeggings with the hole in the right knee. Her mashed potatoes. God, the kid loves mashed potatoes.
“Please,” she said. “It’s Thanksgiving. How can we not have mashed potatoes?”
Fast forward to the next day. I am at work and, in my building, there is an hour-long panel talk going on between Sam Sifton (author of Thanksgving: How to Cook it Well) and Gabrielle Hamilton, superstar chef and author of Prune. They talk about the beauty (and difficulty) of the three-ingredient recipe, the perfect temperature of butter when smeared on fresh radishes (waxy, never oily, and sprinkled with sea salt), and how they feed their kids (at this stage, Gabrielle says, her goal is simply caloric intake), and when they’re done, they take questions from the audience. First question: How do you guys feel about a traditional Thanksgiving? Pro or con?
Sam, after pointing out that felt obligated to answer first since, as he noted, he “literally wrote the book on Thanksgiving,” said he believed in tradition, and in Thanksgiving as the Great American Secular Holiday — it was pretty stirring, I have to say — and one that should be properly celebrated as such. How many times a year, he asked, do you eat a turkey? Are you sick of turkey or something? Gabrielle agreed, and launched into this beautiful paean to the familiar smells and tastes of the Thanksgiving table, and talked about how there is no night she looks forward to more at the restaurant — where, after the place clears out and the customers have all gone home, the staff gathers for their “family meal,” with all the fixings. The point was, however you celebrate it, and whoever you celebrate it with, tradition matters.
So it was decided. We would make the scalloped potatoes this weekend, when the stakes were low, and Phoebe would make the call: yea or nay. And this is what she sent me, via text, upon being asked her where she stood, when all was said and done: “Though your new potato dish is good,” she wrote, “in no way does it live up to the greatness of mashed potatoes, and I DO NOT permit you to serve these potatoes in mashed potatoes’ stead. The end.” So we’ll be eating these again soon, but not for Thanksgiving. At least not this year. – Andy
Scalloped Potatoes for Thanksgiving or Otherwise
From Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton
Note: I baked them in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, so upped the quantity on the milk/cream mixture a bit. The important thing is the instruction to make sure the milk comes “almost to the top” of the layered potatoes.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 large garlic clove, peeled, smashed, and minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and ground white pepper, or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, sliced thin, and kept in a bowl of cold water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 425. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan and bring to almost a boil. Remove from heat and add garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking dish or a 9-inch casserole with half the butter. Drain the potatoes and dry them lightly, then layer half of them in the dish so that they overlap slightly. Add half the milk, pouring it all over the potatoes. Layer the remainder of the potatoes in the dish, then add the rest of the milk so that it comes almost to their top.
Top with dots of the rest of the butter and place in the upper third of the oven until the potatoes are browned and the milk has been absorbed, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve in its container.
November 4th, 2014 · 3 Comments · Uncategorized
Restaurant takeovers, mystery boxes, some pate looking thing garnished with an apple slice by a girl named Oona? It can only be one thing: Masterchef Junior time. The kids loved Season 1 in our house. OK fine, we did, too — how cool to introduce the idea early that cooking can be fun.
Season 2 premieres tonight, November 4, 8PM.
October 31st, 2014 · 15 Comments · Uncategorized
What I’m reading and eating this week:
I finally watched Chef last night. A lot of solid food-nerd moments in there, but my favorite was when the Jon Favreau character showed me exactly how chefs (and food stylists) make pasta look so pretty. (Like what you’re looking at above.) You wind the noodles around one of those long two-tine forks while it’s still in the pan, then tip it perpendicularly on to your plate.
Genius or a Cry for Help? Place cards made out of stenciled butternut squash. (Verdict: genius.)
My 12-year-old is addicted to Serial, the new podcast series from This American Life — think true crime meets documentary meets Ira Glass. (Note: I recommend parents listen to the first episode to determine if it’s appropriate for your kids.)
I’m coming back as Mimi Thorisson in my next life.
Enough with the food fetishizing? (Boy, someone’s cranky)
Speaking of which, we can all relax now that Crinkle Cuts are back.
This pie dish is perfect.
Leftover Candy Cookies Thin, chewy, crispy “galley” cookies with chocolate, pretzels, and then some.
Does calling someone a “mommy blogger” delegitimize her? One badass Mommy Blogger weighs in.
Gochujang Pork Shoulder Steaks: OhBoyOhBoyOhBoyOhBoyOhBoy
Baking Nerds rejoice: Dorie Greenspan’s latest is finally here.
Lastly, Mazel Tov to my beautiful chocolate-loving niece who will become a bat mitzvah tomorrow. We are all so proud of you Alison! xoxoxo
Photo by Dana Gallagher for Kitchen Repertoire.
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.
October 10th, 2014 · 136 Comments · Uncategorized
What I’m reading this week:
What if You Just Hate to Cook Dinner? Virginia Heffernan, mother of two, poses the question “Why is food such a big part of raising children?” then proceeds to discuss the condescending language in family cookbooks, including mine. I have a fair amount I’d like to say about this essay, but for now, I’m going to do my mom proud and save it for the burn book I keep in the back of my sock drawer. I do feel the need, however, to address two things that I simply can not let pass. FIRST: The suggestion that I have ever implied, in my books or on this blog, that family dinner should fall entirely on moms. Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Maybe with the 100+ posts my husband has written for this blog, all of which address his day-to-day dinner-making for our daughters, from the post-soccer-practice scramble, to Friday-night Stromboli to his Pork Ragu recipe that people bring up with me over and over again, including, last month, someone sitting next to me on a plane who I had never met before. (People, it’s that good.) I guess I could also point to the “Family Dinner Boot Camp” series I did for Motherlode, the theme of which could be summarized as: “All in.” From the beginning, this blog has been about a return to the kitchen that involves everyone, including the kids who may or may not remember to set the table. If you find joy in making dinner, then you should make it yourself. If you need help from others, then you should include others. If others need help from you, then you should help. If you hate cooking, then dump a can of beans on toast (Andy’s post, btw), serve with some baby carrots and call it a day. There is no one way to do this – every family is different, every situation is different, and I try my best to recognize and respect that. SECOND: I believe deeply in the idea that nobody should be made to feel bad about the way he or she approaches family dinner — or whether they can pull it off at all. I do this blog because I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy helping people who want to make it happen. If my tone here ever makes anyone feel anxious or guilty or less-than, if I ever sound condescending, then I’m failing in what I’m trying to accomplish, and you guys need to let me know about it. I take this kind of criticism seriously, and I rely on you to keep me honest. Anyway, give it a read and let me know what you think.
Onward! What else:
Abby, my almost 11-year-old, is absolutely tearing through this book right now.
100 Rules of Dinner Re-posting. Just cause.
Is there anything better than when Catherine Newman “thinks out loud?”
“Inside the Biggest Ever Hedge Fund Scandal” A profile of Steven A. Cohen that reads like a John Grisham novel.
Locals: Stone Barns Center still has a few slots open in their Little Cooks and Gardener’s Program. My girls did one of these a while ago and we’ve been dining out on the buttermilk ranch dressing they learned to make there ever since.
Masterchef Junior Season 2 The DVR is already set.
Grain Bowls: I could eat like this every day.
How do you raise kids who are The Opposite of Spoiled? I intend to find out.
Cooking Fast and Slow: A conversation between Mark Bittman and Mario Batali at the 92nd St Y this Sunday. Tickets are still available.
Another smart birthday party idea.
I’m a year late on this one, but these Fashion Icon Halloween costumes for kids cracked me up. (Anna Wintour!)
Lastly, I had the great pleasure of hearing Lena Dunham read from her new book Not That Kind of Girl in Boston last week. At the end, when she and Mary Karr, who was interviewing her, took questions from the audience, someone asked, “I’m a second grade teacher and was wondering if you had any advice for inspiring girls, and for teaching them to be confident.” I can’t remember the first part of her answer, but eventually Dunham emphasized the need for girls, and women, to have each other’s backs, and demanded we go home and google “Shine Theory.” I did what I was told. Please read it if you haven’t already. It’s a good reminder for everyone, not just second-grade girls.
October 2nd, 2014 · 17 Comments · Uncategorized
A guest post by 10-year-old Abby:
Unlike most people, lunch and breakfast is not when I really feel a need to eat desperately. The part of the day when I am ready to feast is after school. I know that sounds weird, but it is 100% true. (You can ask my mom). After school is when I like to have a big bowl of pasta, leftover chicken pot pie, or even a slice of pizza. The best after school snacks are by far when my mom has been testing a recipe during the day, and is using me as her little tester. She likes this testing system and so do I. An example was a nice bowl of vanilla pudding sitting at the table waiting for me recently. I had never tried vanilla pudding before (trust me, I had DEFINITELY tried chocolate pudding and loved it) but it was soooooooooo good!!! It might have been even better than chocolate pudding if you can imagine. (!) I highly recommend this recipe, but there is only one catch. If you make a batch, eat it quickly because, trust me, if other people discover the pudding it will be gone in less than a second. That means you, Phoebe!!
And now for the boring part:
Easy Vanilla Pudding
Based on a recipe my mom edited at Real Simple.
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Pour 1/4 cup of the milk into the sugar mixture, stirring to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and the egg yolks. Cook the pudding mixture over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until thickened, about 15 minutes. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Scrape the pudding into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the surface to make an airtight seal. Refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour, or less if your after-schooler is starving.
September 22nd, 2014 · 24 Comments · Uncategorized
The week before last, I must’ve gotten a hundred emails about the “Joy of Cooking?” study that was making its way around the news last week. (Thanks, guys!) In the study, for those of you who missed it, sociologists challenged Michael Pollan’s theory that reforming the food system starts with the home cook, concluding that it’s an elitist concept that disregards financial realities and time pressures, and places unrealistic demands on parents, particularly women. I encourage you to read the study, then head over to the Room for Debate page at the New York Times to hear a bunch of us weigh in on one of the issues raised, namely: Are we glorifying the home-cooked meal? What do you think?
September 15th, 2014 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized
A few months ago, at dinner, I told the kids about a book I was working on by Benedict Carey, a science reporter at The New York Times. The book is called How We Learn, and it’s about all the sneaky, counterintuitive ways we learn — in other words, the ways we learn outside of the school environment. I told Phoebe about one section of the book that takes on — and takes down — the idea of the dedicated study environment. That one place you go to study every night, at a certain time, with no distractions. (That was me, in college.) In fact, I told her, studies show that something as simple as changing where you study can lead to a 20% improvement in retention. Why? Because doing so increases the number of environmental cues the brain attaches to each piece of information being studied — each passage of writing, each problem set — making it easier to call it up when the time comes. Different desks, different songs playing in the background (yes, music is good), different times of day: All evidence shows that variation deepens and strengthens memory and retention. One thing about Phoebe: the girl takes things to heart. Ever since that conversation, she has been our little homework vagabond. She’s upstairs, doing math at her desk, with her headphones on. She’s reclined on the couch, reading The Westing Game, with the Premier League droning on in the background. She’s downstairs at the kitchen table, head down, working on some fractions. She’s standing at the kitchen counter, poring over a French vocab list. Will it work? We’ll report back. But Ben’s book is full of these kinds of ideas — how sleep factors into learning, why flunking tests can be good for you, why distraction is not always a bad thing. It’s a message that lowers the blood pressure a bit, and it happens to be backed up by science. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his research here. — Andy
Q: So, how important is routine when it comes to learning? For example, is it important to have a dedicated study area at home? A dedicated time of day?
Ben Carey: Not at all. Most people do better over time by varying their study or practice locations. The more environments in which you rehearse, the sharper and more lasting the memory of that material becomes – and less strongly linked to one “comfort zone.” That is, knowledge becomes increasingly independent of surroundings the more changes you make – taking your laptop onto the porch, to a café, on the plane. The goal, after all, is to be able to perform well in any conditions. Changing locations is not the only way to take advantage of the so-called context effect on learning, however. Altering the time of day you study also helps, as does changing how you engage the material, by reading or discussing, typing or writing by hand, sitting or standing up, studying in silence or while listening to music: each counts as a different learning “environment” in which you store the material in a different way.
Q: Is there an optimal amount of time to study or practice?
BC: More important than how long you study is how you distribute the study time you have. Breaking up study time – dividing it into two or three sessions, instead of one – is far more effective than concentrating it. If you’ve allotted two hours total to mastering some Spanish vocabulary, for example, you’ll remember more if you do an hour today and an hour tomorrow, or – even better – an hour today and an hour two days from now. That split forces you to re-engage the material, dig up what you already know, and then re-store it – an active mental step that reliably improves memory. Three sessions is better still, as long as you’re giving yourself enough time to dive into the material or the skills each time.
Q: Is cramming a bad idea?
BC: Not always, no. Cramming works fine as a last resort, a way to ramp up for an exam if you’re behind and have no choice. The downside is that, after the test, you won’t remember much of what you “learned” – if you remember any at all. That reason is that the brain, ironically, can sharpen a memory only after some forgetting has occurred. In this way, memory is like a muscle: a little “breakdown” allows it to subsequently build greater strength. Cramming, by definition, prevents this from happening.
Q: How much does quizzing oneself, like with flashcards, help?
BC: A lot, actually. Self-testing is one of strongest study techniques there is. Old-fashioned flash cards work fine; so does a friend, colleague, or classmate putting you through the paces. The best self-quizzes do two things: (more…)
September 12th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized
Those of you who know me, know that if I had to tell you the most important things in my life after my family and my PicMonkey ”Royale” membership, high up on the list would most likely be my 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven, presented to us as a wedding gift 17 years ago this month. So given our anniversary, given that we’re closing in on braising season, and given that a few of my favorite meals in Playbook involve a Dutch Oven, I’m offering that giveaway I promised way back in the decidedly non-braising season of August. One lucky Playbook reader will be the recipient of a free 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven (your choice of color). All you have to do to be eligible to win is answer this question: What’s your favorite recipe, trick, tip, detail, or piece of advice in the book? Whatever your answer is, head to the Playbook page, and hashtag it #DinnerPlaybookLC so I can find you. Good luck! (One commenter will be chosen at random; Contest ends Friday, September 19, 12:00 ET.)
September 10th, 2014 · 46 Comments · Posts by Andy, Uncategorized
We have no one to blame but ourselves, but Tuesday nights are hell. I’ll spare you the numbing logistical details, but all that’s relevant here is that a few times a month, by the time I pull into the driveway with the girls in the backseat, it’s almost 8:30 at night. We stagger through the door, shedding soccer bags, shin guards and rancid socks, the girls head upstairs to shower… and we start dinner. It’s late on a school night, and everyone is starving. The goal here, to be clear, is not a Michelin star. The goal is to get something on the table in 25 minutes, and then get the kids to bed. This means a no-fuss main (say, sweet Italian chicken sausage fried with some roughly sliced onions), a starch that will satisfy the hunger of a post-soccer-practicing
hyena tween (bread fried in olive oil, or some quick potatoes), and a vegetable that does not require any washing, chopping, peeling, mandolin-ing, or de-stemming. One recent Tuesday night, I went with broccoli. I tossed it in the baking dish with a bunch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, cranked the oven to 450, and threw it in.
Fifteen minutes later, Abby came downstairs. She’s always the first to come down, dressed in her white nightgown with the little green flowers on it, running a brush through her still-wet hair. She walked into the kitchen, and stopped. She crinkled up her nose.
“What’s that smell?” she said.
“Really, Abby? Is that a nice thing to say to the person who’s making your dinner?”
“No,” she said. “I think something’s burning.”
Oh, right. The broccoli. The broccoli was burning! I opened the oven door to find a baking dish filled with a tangle of smoldering black twigs, what looked to be evidence from a forest fire investigation. But it was late, and we were hungry, so sucked it up and we went to town on that burned broccoli. I don’t know what it says about our vegetable-preparing skills in general, but something happened that night that has never happened before in all the dinners we have eaten together as a family over the last ten years: The kids went nuts over broccoli. It’s not like they are broccoli haters. They’ve always eaten it without complaint, but it’s not like they go out of their way to eat it. This was different. This was crispy and salty and way more flavorful and intense than the soggy, steamed stuff they were used to, the stuff Abby would unapologetically DIP IN KETCHUP before placing in her mouth.
I wish we could say we meant to do it. — Andy
1 bunch broccoli (about 4 cups), cut into small florets. (the smaller the florets, the crispier the experience)
1/4 olive oil, maybe a little more
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450°F. In a baking dish, toss the broccoli with olive oil and salt. The goal is for every little mini broccoli bud to be glistening but not drenched, so monitor the oil drizzling process carefully. Roast for 15 minutes, tossing if you think to, until broccoli is slightly sizzling and the tips are browned, but not black. (It can be a fine line between crispy and charred to the core.) It would definitely not be the worst thing to toss with a drop or two of Sriracha, or the dressing from David Chang’s famous brussels sprouts recipe*, but you’ll see, each broccoli stalk is like a little piece of salty popcorn. They’ll be gone before you can do any dressing up at all.
*other suggestions from Facebook commenters that sound reaaaally good: finish with a squeeze of lemon or grated Parmesan; toss in a little sugar before roasting for extra caramelizing. (Thanks Andrea, Krista Anne, Johanna)
September 5th, 2014 · 16 Comments · Uncategorized
Seems like everyone’s in meal-planning mode this week!
- Head over to Motherlode today to hear about the Goldsteins, a family of four, who are in need of a little dinner boot camp. Using recipes from Playbook, Bon Appetit, and DALS, I’ll be coaching her through a week of family meals all week long, starting this Sunday, September 7. (The plan includes a shopping list — woo hoo!)
- I also put together a super-delicous, super-easy, one-size-fits-all* weekly game plan for you over at Bon Appetit – the companion to our “Providers” column this month. In addition to telling you what to cook, it also attempts to explain why you should pick certain meals on certain nights of the week. It’s a good line-up.
- And I just found this meal plan (plus shopping list) that I put together for you guys last September — during this same last-chance-for-corn-and-tomatoes time of year. Shall we call it the Last Gasp of Summer Plan?
*I admit it, this was cheap — there ain’t no such thing.
September 4th, 2014 · 28 Comments · Uncategorized
I should probably say that I am “deeply humbled” to announce this — but it’s more like I am freaking PSYCHED beyond beyond: Dinner: The Playbook comes in at #17 on next week’s New York Times Bestseller List. Big props to the whole village that made it possible: Jennie Tung, Sharon Propson, Gina Centrello, Elyse Cheney, Maggie Oberrender, Kristina DiMatteo, Carole Lowenstein, Evan Camfield, Richard Callison, Mark McGuire, Andy, Phoebe, Abby, Iris, Mom, Dad, Emily, Steve, and every single DALS reader who has ever cooked one of my recipes, shared one of my posts with a friend, tagged me on one of your ever expanding social media platforms, blogged about DALS, bought one of my books, commented on a post, sent me a personal note telling me exactly how you feel — you can’t imagine the gratitude. I could not have done it without you guys — thank you so much. Now get back to cooking.