Do you ever wonder what your dinner guests say about you when they walk out your door? Do they marvel at your hosting abilities and wonder when they’ll get invited back? Do they praise the food but slag the company? Do they praise the company but slag the food? Do they judge your glassware? Do they climb into their car, sit for a second in the darkness, and say, Never again? That depends on what kind of entertainer you are. Take this quiz to find out… — Jenny and Andy
Your friends are coming over for dinner and you’ve made a (pretty tasting looking, if you don’t say so yourself) frittata with feta cheese, leeks, and baby asparagus. When your the guests arrive, the husband tells you he doesn’t eat feta. He’s not allergic, he just has a “thing” about it. In response, you:
a) Apologize profusely and, in a show of solidarity, toss the frittata into the garbage and start over using some good cheddar.
b) Wag your finger and say, “I guess Mr. Picky over here won’t be getting any dessert tonight!”
c) Roll your eyes, sigh audibly, and say, “Oh god, let me guess: you’re an only child?”
d) Say, “No problem! Which would you prefer: Honey Nut Cheerios or Peanut Butter and Jelly?”
e) Say: “No problem. I’ll just make you an omelet.” Think: “You are so incredibly dead to me.”
It’s 6:45 and your guests are due to arrive in 15 minutes. You hop on your computer to make a playlist, which consists of:
a) Whatever they play between those segments on that NPR show.
b) “Losing My Religion,” and the exact same thirty-seven songs you put on the mixed tape you made for your girlfriend in college.
c) Haim, Haim, and more Haim.
d) Whatever comes up when you type “cool dinner party playlists” into the Google machine.
e) I don’t have time to make a playlist – isn’t there a Bland White Guy Pandora station on here somewhere?
You would describe your approach to menu planning as:
a) Buy fresh ingredients, and prepare them simply.
b) Three words: Short Ribs, bros!
c) Ramen. Or whatever rapo4 is hashtagging on his instagram feed.
d) Food’s not as important as the company — and besides, have you tried Trader Joes pot pies? They’re actually pretty good.
e) If it can be grilled, then I shall grill it.
Your default conversation starter when the silence borders on awkward is:
a) Okay. Edward Snowden: good guy or bad guy?
b) So, how’s your kitchen renovation going? Wolf or Viking?
c) What year is your Passat?
d) Who’s watching House of Cards?
e) What’s it all about? Life, I mean.
Your guests are raving about the braised pork, a recipe your friend Cindy made for you a few weeks ago. You: (more…)
Hey! You guys around this weekend? We have the urge to make a big pot of stew and drink wine with someone. Please say yes!!!
I could not have replied fast enough. Yes! Yes! Yes! Is tomorrow too soon? Or how about now? Can I come over right now? It was another single-digit temperature week up here in New York and most of my day was spent holed up in my (old, drafty) house, dressed like Shaun White, and listening to 1010 WINS for any breaking news on the next storm rolling in.
I know what you’re thinking right now — another winter whinefest from Jenny, right? Right about now, the entire population Minnesota is rolling their eyes at me.
Not so fast. Believe it or not, today I’d like to focus on the upshot to the cold weather snap in New York (though it seems to have tapered off for the time being) namely the dinner invitations coming in left and right from people like Sonya — people who want to make a big pot of stew and drink wine. With us!
I’ll tell you something else about these people: They know their way around a kitchen. To determine this, one need look no further than the cast iron pans and Dutch Ovens sitting atop their stoves. Each one seemed to boast the kind of patina that you just can’t fake, as though it has been handed down by the cook’s great-grandmother. Inside the pot? These days, there’s a 99% chance it’s some kind of stewy beef. Not just something like our back-pocket Belgian Beef Stew that we are used to scaring up in under an hour on a weeknight. I’m talking meat that has spent some quality time in the oven, braising and reducing to deep concentrated deliciousness, making the house smell like the only place you want to be. Check these out…
Braisy Beefy Stewy Dinners Fit for Cold-Weather Entertaining
Beef Bourguignon (above, photo credit: Food Network) at Todd and Anne’s house. Should also be noted that they served the kids homemade mac and cheese, too, which ended up being decimated by the grown-ups.
Moroccan Beef Stew (shown way up top, photo by Brian Leatart for Bon Appetit) made with golden raisins and served with couscous by our neighbors Rebecca and David, who have two kids under two. (A better person might have felt more guilty about this. Like maybe I should’ve been the one cooking for them?)
Remember my neighbor who left her job as a high-power corporate attorney to open a gluten-free bakery? She just opened up her second By the Way Bakery on Broadway between 90th and 91st. New Yorkers, please stop by!
Marinara Worth Mastering. Which just reminds me that sometimes the simpler the recipe, the more detail-oriented you need to be.
OK so how’s this for awesome: Applegate, maker of high-quality natural and organic meats is offering Dinner: A Love Story readers an exclusive giveaway. And it’s not just because they got wind of the fact that my 10-year-old sausage lover and my 11-year-old roast turkey sandwich addict have, I’m pretty sure, kept them in business for the past decade. Turns out they’ve been doing a little family dinner research that you guys might not find too surprising — 89% of parents they surveyed felt it was important to share a meal together, but nearly half of those same parents cited lack of time, inspiration, and picky eating as major snags. Hence: their Take Back Meal Time mission, and hence a full-on Pizza Making Kit giveaway that dovetails nicely with my mission, aka There is No Dinner Dilemma That Can’t Be Solved By Pizza. The pizza kit includes Appletgate Mini Turkey Pepperoni, Applegate Provolone Cheese, a jar of Jersey-fresh tomato sauce, King Arthur Flour Pizza Crust Mix, a wood-handled pizza cutter, an illustrated pizza tea towel, and a sweet little recipe and information booklet that tells you all you need to know. Not bad, right? One commenter will be chosen at random and must live in the US. Contest ends on Tuesday, January 28 at 8pm ET. Good luck!
Toppings: tomatoes, red onions, peppers, mushrooms, black olives, basil, artichokes and turkey pepperoni.
I am totally feeling the turkey pepperoni.
Update: The winner is Anne (#386). Thank you to everyone who participated!
Is there anything more annoying than spending time and money on a recipe that falls short, or doesn’t brown right, or takes hours instead of minutes, or doesn’t look anywhere close to the freaking picture? Never again! Herewith eight questions to ask before you decide to make a new recipe for the family.
Is there a recipe buried within your recipe? If a recipe calls for an ingredient that in and of itself requires its own recipe on another page in the book — back away from the cookbook. This drives me crazy. It’s a technique commonly found in restaurant cookbooks — not to be confused with restaurant chef’s cook-at-home cookbooks — where they think nothing of calling for blood orange vinaigrette “(see page 220)” and homemade veal stock “(see page 130)” in the same ingredient list. The only time this is acceptable is if sufficient warning has been given in the recipe note or if there is a substitution option that doesn’t make you feel like some kind of failure for not having homemade parsley pesto on hand.
Did a robot write it or did a real person? Do you know what a recipe headnote is? It’s the industry term for the little introduction that precedes your recipe. You know, the kind that says “I love this dish. It’s a great thing to make ahead for entertaining, because it just tastes better on Day 2.” Now that? That’s a good headnote. It’s helpful, it’s specific. You get the feeling that the recipe writer has done it before and knows what she’s talking about. (That very instruction is in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, preceding her Balsamic-and Beer-Braised Short Rib.) But how about this one: “So delicious that everyone in your family will be begging for seconds.” Barf. Is this a cookbook or is it fiction? The person who wrote that is either a) Siri or b) someone who has never cooked for a kid who, this week, has decided to eat mashed potatoes and nothing but mashed potatoes.
Does it have a cutesy name? Like “Last-Minute Lasagna” or “Quickie Quesadillas?” These kinds of recipes might be perfectly fine, but I find it just too embarrassing to answer “Curry in a Hurry” when a family member asks me what’s for dinner. I don’t have any more scientific explanation than that. (Exception: Lazy Bolognese on page 98 of my book. Why an exception? Because I am a complete hypocrite.)
Does the timing seem right? Somewhere along the line — I’m tawlkin’ to you Rachael Ray — 30 minutes became the barometer for the hallowed “quick and easy meal.” As a result, it seems that everyone wants to deliver recipes that come in under the half-hour wire. And if they don’t? Eh? Let’s just say it anyway! This seems to happen all the time. How to avoid: Read the recipe all the way through — if the writer tells you that a soup which involves chopping a half dozen chopped vegetables takes five minutes prep time, you should think twice about trusting that recipe writer. (And if it happens again, I give you full on permission to un-follow him or her on instagram.)
Is the ingredient list longer than the recipe? That’s not a good sign. Save for the weekend, or when your kids are older — or hand to your butler and private chef to arrange themselves.
Are there too few ingredients? This sounds like a strange question to ask. Is there such a thing as a recipe that’s too easy? Not that often — but when a recipe calls for only two or three ingredients, you should probably make sure each one of those ingredients is pulling its weight if it’s going to turn out well. The other night I found myself explaining how to make polenta to my friend Naria. It’s so easy, you just whisk cornmeal into chicken broth and add some fat at the end like cheese. It’s a three-ingredient side dish (one that is excellent with those short ribs I might add) and it’s perfectly serviceable if you make it with cornmeal, chicken broth, and cheese. But if you take care to use homemade stock, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cornmeal from your local Italian market, it’s going to be more than serviceable, it’s going to be memorable, which means that most likely it will make it onto your table again. And that’s the mark of a success here.
Is the recipe handwritten? It’s gonna work.
Is the recipe handwritten by a family member? Recipe Gold. No further screening required.
PS: Recipe cards shown in photo are from Andy’s grandmother’s collection, courtesy of our Uncle Doug & Uncle Earl.
New Yorkers: Is one of this year’s resolutions “Cook More for Family?” I can help with that. Please come to a talk I’m giving this Tuesday, January 7 (12:00) at Asphalt Green in Battery Park City. It’s called Eight Steps to Better Family Dinners, and I’ll be discussing strategies, recipes, kitchen tricks and all that fun stuff I wrote about it my book, but really it’s just an excuse to meet you all. Hope to see you there.
There are two new posts on Nerd Alert, my daughter’s book blog: The Giver and, hot off the presses, George O’Connor’s Aphrodite. (By the way, O’Connor is half way through his Olympian series and a stack of those first six would probably make the right kid extremely happy on Christmas morning.)
My friends Sue and Alan are having their annual holiday open house this weekend and while I’m excited to hang out with them, I’m really excited to hang out with Sue’s Mocha Butter Balls.
It makes me so happy to introduce today’s guest-poster, Dahlia Lithwick. When she’s not cooking for her two boys, or writing about picky eaters for desperate food bloggers, she’s reporting on the law and the courts for Slate. You know, just that. Welcome! -JR
There is well-documented parental shame in having children who are known for being “picky eaters.” The implication is that had their grown-ups just introduced them to kimchee and pemmican as toddlers, they would be more adventurous today. But I have come to discover a deeper, more searing mortification than the having of a child who only eats food the color of his own inner wrist (pasta, white bread, and chicken). And that is the shame of the picky eater who has come to believe that the fault lies chiefly with his mother.
But allow me to start at the beginning: A few years ago, my then-six year old son came home from an overnight at my cousin’s house, raving about her couscous “recipe.”
“But I make couscous!” I yelped. “You won’t eat my couscous.”
“But Evelyn’s is better.” He explained, patiently.
So I dutifully called Evelyn to get her magical couscous recipe. And she said: “I add water.”
And thus began my longstanding fantasy of someday launching a major cookbook/website/cooking show empire entitled “Other Mommies Recipes.” The result would be a collection, nay, a curated and glossily illustrated array, of recipes, made exclusively by people whose main qualification is that they are not me. It would feature foods made precisely as they have always been made at home, frequently requiring two or fewer ingredients, that my kids eat willingly at Other Mommies houses, as they heap scorn upon me for not being a really good cook.
In addition to Elisha’s Mom’s Couscous (couscous, water) Other Mommies Recipes would feature Boaz’s Mom’s Mashed Potatoes (potatoes, butter) and also her roasted potatoes (also, potatoes, butter) and Roi’s Dad’s Famous Jam Sandwiches (jam, bread). It would have a section devoted to Auntie Carolyn’s scrambled eggs (eggs, butter) and Auntie Edwina’s hard boiled eggs (eggs, water) – a dish about which my younger son has waxed so rhapsodic, it would put Elizabeth Bartlett to shame. There could be a whole Chapter on Other Mommies Grilled Cheese (bread, cheese), but I probably couldn’t author it myself without having to be heavily medicated.
I don’t even attempt to make Other Mommies Recipes anymore because after a brief stint of pretending to call the other mommies, laboriously copy down their “recipes” and replicating them at home, I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never ever be able to make pasta the way Tanner’s Mom makes it (pasta, pesto) or the way Grandma makes it (penne, shredded parmesan) or the way my own mom makes it (pasta). And the truly insightful among you have doubtless noticed by now that Other Mommies Recipes have one other unifying feature in common: In addition to featuring two or fewer un-screw-up-able ingredients they also produce food that is somewhere between white and light beige. Because Other Mommies Vegetables is never going to happen.
 The fact that this was produced by a Daddy complicates the naming of my “Other Mommies” cooking empire but I thought in the interest of full disclosure and the Absence of the End of Men, I should explain that Other Daddies have recipes too.
I’ll also be bringing a few copies of The Thing About Luck (Grades 5-9) for my nieces and nephews, which just won a National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category. (Owen, Nathan, Alison and Amanda: Don’t look!)
This spicy, comfort-y Khao Soi soup is very much my speed. (Another story: Is it my childrens’ speed?) As is this Spicy Chicken weeknight number. Both look like they’d be great vehicles for leftover turkey.
Most likely I’ll be chronicling everything — from the make-ahead cornbread through the turkey to the leftovers — on instagram. Have a great holiday!
When I heard Matt Hranek — acclaimed photographer, William Brown Project blogger, Barbour-jacketed man-about-town — got his own TV show, my first thought was OK, so someone was smart enough to make that official. Because as long as I’ve known Matt (and his wife Yolanda), the guy has been a one man show, regaling us with tales of what he’s seen and tasted in his travels across the country on assignment. Just following him on instagram is enough to inspire (and exhaust) me — on any given day you’ll find him catching salmon in Alaska, scoring vintage military jackets at an upstate flea market, foraging chanterelles in Oregon, or concoting a mad-scientist rabbit rillette at home for Yolanda and their daughter, Clara. (Please watch the Alternate Route trailer to get a taste for what I’m talking about.) Matt stopped moving long enough to answer this month’s edition of 21 Questions. Thanks Matt!
21 Questions for Matthew Hranek Host of Alternate Route, premiering November 20, 10:30 ET, on the Esquire Network.
My life in three bullet points…Live. Laugh. Love. Just kidding. More like Drink. Eat. Sleep.
The kitchen I grew up eating in was…one of many first-generation immigrants — aunts and uncles and grandparents. My Mother’s Family is from Italy (Puglia) My father’s family is Czech. There were gallons of red sauce and meatballs were eaten with the Italians in a kitchen that always smelled of garlic. Then, with the Slovaks, there were piles of Perogies and Kielbasa, in a kitchen that always smelled of pan fried onions, butter, and dill.
When I was a child I wanted to be….a vet. But after one summer internship at the local vets office watching castration after castration and being bitten by way to many drugged up cats, I thought photography might be a better choice. It was.
If I was stuck on a desert island, the food I’d have with me is…the smoked Gaspe, white fish salad and French trout caviar from Russ & Daughters.
A great American is…Ben Franklin. He wanted the national bird to be the wild turkey. Enough said.
When I’m in the South I always…drink the cheapest canned beer (or draft) of the region, buy boiled peanuts from the side of the road and eat everything fried.
I never leave home for a trip without...a cooler. A Coleman cooler or a Trader Joe soft cooler bag is always in the back of our Rover. You never know when you will need to keep something fresh (greens on a hot day or cheese) or cold ( a bottle of wine or beer).
Secret weapon in the kitchen is… a sharp knife, good salt, and one nonstick pan
Turning point in my life was…meeting my wife Yolanda. (This is no bullshit.) She is my best friend, advisor, confidant, editor, navigator, partner, and critic. And a beauty.
I stay healthy by running a few miles almost everyday. I have also in my middle age cut out crappy no-good bread and bagels, and try to not polish off a whole six-pack and bag of chips in one sitting.
Favorite magazine: I read magazines the most when I am flying. The mags in my bag as I board the plane are most often Vanity Fair, The Economist (to look smart), Esquire, GQ, Field and Stream, and some food mag that I dig the monthly feature in like Bon App or Saveur.
Chefs doing something exciting right now… are the guys who are doing the Pubbelly restaurants in Miami (Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, Pub steak, Barcenoleta). Honest, clever, and great flavors touching on all the stuff and ethnicity I love to eat.
Without…my family, I’m…nothing.
You wouldn’t know it but I… have mad laundry skills! I can get pretty much get any stain out of any fabric and my whites are crazy white. Pretty handy with an iron and steamer too. Italian mother. Duh.
My weekend uniform….Denim, Oxford, wool of some form in the cold weather, wax cotton, loafers, wingtips, the occasional Vans.
My workday uniform…see above plus blazer and knit tie.
I drive a…Land Rover LR4, unapologetically. On the weekends a 1987 Porsche 911 Targa/Carrera. Again, unapologetically.
I may be biased, but the guy interviewed for this week’s Longform podcast sounded particularly smart and handsome.
If someone had handed me GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design when I was 10 years old, I can’t help but think my life would’ve gone in a different direction. It’s written and designed by the legendary Chip Kidd and it has the power to make a kid (and a grown-up) see the world with completely new eyes. (For starters, you will never look at a FedEx truck the same way again. Who out there knows what I’m referring to??) Too many gem-like moments to touch on here, but how about this sentence: “You should definitely recognize the alphabet as a miraculous thing, and not take it for granted.”
Did you read Unbroken? Or Tears in the Darkness? Or any other WWII-related book by a writer with chops? Well, if so, you will probably love Wil S. Hylton’s Vanished, published next month, which tells the story of a special unit in the military charged with recovering lost bodies of American soldiers from various wars — and the WWII pilot they return to his family, 70 years later.
Astute readers will remember a plug for Cricket Magazines a year or two ago, but as my daughters have graduated from Ladybug and Click to the more science- and literary-minded Ask, Muse, and Odyssey — and as I watch my 11-year-old literally sprint to the mail-slot when she sees that her magazines have been delivered — I feel the need to endorse the whole publishing operation again. Cricket has a magazine for any kid of any age with any interest — and a one-year subscription makes a supercool birthday gift.
If I was getting married again, I’d register for this.
If I was feeding toddlers again, I’d hit up John Derian for these.
Attention Philadelphia Metr0 Types: My cousin started an interior design company. Check out her just-launched website…then call her for a consultation!
Speaking of which, now that Halloween is over, we can get down to the business of my favorite holiday on earth: Thanksgiving. Starting next week, look for a “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” on DALS — everything from sides to pies to a genius trick for staying organized from my very own Thanksgiving matriarch, aka my mom.
Have a great weekend.
Photo credit: Hirsheimer/Hamilton for Bon Appetit.
The other day my mom was telling me how much she loved the Balaboosta cauliflower story I posted last week. “I’m going to make that recipe,” she said, determined. “But I hate printing from the blog. It always prints out so many pages and I don’t know how to stop it.” It occurred to me that if my mother (aka, my biggest fan) did not know that there was an easy way to print out a DALS recipe, then probably a lot of you guys don’t either. In fact, there are probably a lot of things I assume you know, but don’t. So here’s a quick review.
Did you know….
…There’s a Print Function at the bottom left of each post, under the facebook “Like” icon. If you click it, the post turns into a pdf that you can print without the huge ink-depeleting photos. There are some thumbnail photos at the bottom, but they are small and will be gone soon. (Working on it!)
…There’s a Book Club Discussion Guide for those of you who have been nice enough to select Dinner: A Love Story as your book club selection? Click that yellow box in the right margin or just click here.
…There’s a Huge Archive of every single recipe published on this blog since March 2010. Scroll to the tippy tippy top of the home page and you’ll see a “Recipe Index” link in the chalkboard.
…You Can Be Eligiblefor Giveaways if you subscribe to my newsletter by clicking the “subscribe to my newsletter” box in the right margin, or just click here.
…That There’s a whole Dinner: A Love Story community you can tap into on facebook? If you ever find yourself in a quandry (cooking, parenting, or otherwise), send me an email and if it’s relevant enough, I can post immediately on the page. (This week, I posted for reader Andrea who was on the hunt for good pre-school potluck ideas.)
…that “Roar” might be the best pre-game pump-up song for 10-year-old girls ever in the history of pre-game pump-up songs for 10-year-old girls?
Thanks to Linda for sending in the above photo of beautiful little Addie. “Thought you’d get a kick out of this picture,” she wrote over the summer. “As you can see I travel with your book everywhere!”
This is probably not the smartest business move for a cookbook author who writes books with 100+ recipes…or for a food blogger who wants readers to, you know, come back tomorrow — but I am going to say it anyway: In spite of everything you’ve read (on this blog and elsewhere), you really only need a handful of culinary moves in your back pocket to survive as a parent. Here’s the indisputably comprehensive, 100% definitive, not-at-all-subjective repertoire Andy and I came up with for your reading and cooking pleasure.
Chicken Orzo Soup (page 290, Dinner: A Love Story) Why: Because there’s no problem that can’t be hashed out over a bowl of this stuff. Best When: It’s soccer or football season; you want to make a deposit in the freezer bank; your best friend and her kids are coming for a weekend lunch; your son is under the weather; your daughter is stressed about the algebra test.
The Stalwart Homemade Pizza Why: Because it’s easier than you think. Best When: You want to go under-the-radar meatless with the kids; you’re trying to clear out an end-of-the-week refrigerator; lots of people with lots of kids and lots of different tastes are coming for dinner; you add up how much you spent on take-out last month and have a sad, empty feeling deep down inside.
The New Staple Kale Salad Why: Why not? Seriously, though. Because kale has so much more earthy flavor, more nutritional punch, more oomph and body than regular lettuce (no offense, regular lettuce), and because even the smallest portion feels like it has the magical power of canceling out that cider donut you ate this morning. Best When:Your kids are too young to understand that people might make fun of them (and their parents) for eating kale. If you can hook ‘em young, you’re golden. And if you don’t wan’t to call it kale, lie and call it “salad.” How’s that for ethical parenting?
The Ol’ Reliable Snickerdoodles Why: Because I guarantee you have all the ingredients in your house at all times. Best When: You forgot to make something for the bake sale and the bake sale is tomorrow; you are charged with bring the classroom peanut-free treat; you are in the mood to blow big and small minds alike.
The Template Chicken and Rice Why: Because it’s not just learning a recipe, it’s learning a technique. Best When: You are transitioning the baby to real food; you are learning how to cook; the kids are on a Sendak bender.
The Holiday Hallmark Homemade Franks & Beans Why: Because it’s important to get kids associating certain holidays with certain dishes (and because, forreal, when else can you justify it?) Best When: A fire is blazing in the hearth; you have the whole day to do nothing but bake beans and carve pumpkins; you’ve invited every witch, ghost, princess, and Ironman (and their parents) for a trick-or-treat launch party. (more…)
Does ethical parenting exist? Even if this is the quintessential New York story, it’s still an irresistible read. (And as a soccer mom, the annotation all the way to the right of the opening image made me laugh out loud.)
Last night, Jenny agreed to watch The Wire, breaking a five-year stalemate, which is both thrilling (like sharing the best book ever with someone) and also scary (what if she hates it?). I’m gonna do the whole series again, right along with her. Join us!
I don’t know about you but the DALS house is pumped for this premiere. (“The contestants may be small, but the challenges are huuuuge….”) Add some homemade Stromboli and we’ve got ourselves a Friday night.
PS: For no good reason, I’m giving away a copy of Dinner: A Love Storytoday. Leave a comment before tonight (Friday, September 27) at 8:00 ET, and you are eligible to win. Update: Keely (#9) is our winner. Thanks for playing everyone!
“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, 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.”
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
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
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
Squeeze of Sriracha
Salt & pepper, to taste
Did you know that all these dinners I write about…all those tips and tricks and weekly menu plans I dream up daily are really just a way to reel you in so I can discuss the real mission of DALS? i.e. the mission to support writers and artists doing cool things everywhere? The latest of the crop is my friend Kevin — illustrator, designer, father of two of the cutest boys you’ve ever seen — who has been working on an insanely gorgeous illustrated alphabet book called The Curious ABCs for seven years. SEVEN years. And now he’s launched a kickstarter campaign to get it published as a hardcover and an app. Granted, I am a sucker for a good line drawing, but the artwork is beautiful, and the book is designed to grow with your child. Each letter (like the A above) is comprised of things that start with the letter A — anchor, angel, apple, etc. and when you own the app, all kinds of cool things light up at your kids’ fingertips. I just pledged my support and I hope you can, too.
What else is going on? A quick-and-dirty round-up:
I work for Bon Appetit, so you can obviously take this with a grain of salt, but their take on things like the new iPhone launch reminds me why it’s the best food magazine out there. They’ve got every angle covered. Literally!
As long as you’re over there: What’s a Chegan? How sweet does victory taste? What’s Serena’s most favorite thing to eat in the world? The 2013 US Open Champ tells all.
Breakfast: The most important meal of the day. Or is it?
Phoebe handed me The Fault in Our Stars last month, and I have to say, it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year. Young Adult or otherwise. (My friend Laurie told me if I liked that, I would love this even more.)
What’s the new Braised Short Ribs? As in, what’s your default plan for fall entertaining these days? No link here just curious!
Lastly, another reminder: The Kindle version of Dinner: A Love Story is on sale for $2.99 right now. As my friend Christine said, you’ll earn that back the first time you cook from my book instead of ordering takeout.