Entries Tagged as 'Uncategorized'

Today’s Lunch, Tomorrow’s Dinner

October 14th, 2014 · 23 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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Friday Round-up

October 10th, 2014 · 131 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.

The bottom line is, you can assume I agree with Luisa and Katie.

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.

Ice Cream Hacks I can’t believe how much I love this. (Meanwhile: The ice cream sandwich cake reminded me of another classic cheat: ravioli lasagna.)

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!)

OMG, Malala!

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.

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Easy Vanilla Pudding

October 2nd, 2014 · 16 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!!

-Abby ♥

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
pinch salt

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.

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Are We Glorifying the Home-Cooked Meal?

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?

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The Best Way to Study (It’s Not What 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…)

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In Celebration

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.)

Recipes shown are all my old friends: Sunday Minestrone, Braised Short Ribs, Pork Ragu with Pappardelle, Pulled BBQ Chicken.

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The Accidental Broccoli

September 10th, 2014 · 43 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

Accidental Broccoli 

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)

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Next Week’s Meal Plan: Done

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?

Enjoy!

*I admit it, this was cheap — there ain’t no such thing.

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Dinner: The Playbook is a Bestseller!

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.

{Check out Playbook at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebooks, or Ballantine.}

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Cabinet Worthy Dinners

September 2nd, 2014 · 21 Comments · Uncategorized

Does this look familiar? It’s my friend Annie’s answer to the Tabula Rasa Dinner Dilemma, also known as The Moment You Walk in From Work, Look in Your Completely Full Fridge, but Still Draw a Total Blank on Dinner Ideas Even Though You’ve Made Dinner Roughly Thousands of Times Before This Night. (It’s an affliction most acute during the first week of school.) Annie looks at this evolving cheat sheet of a dozen or go-tos dinners to remind her what to make for her family of four. There are three categories: “Easy,” “Soups,” and “Sundays.” What qualifies? From the look of it, meals that are simple, straightforward, real — meals that everyone will eat, that don’t set off any Richter-scale-level eruptions with the kids. I’m happy to see a bunch of DALS dinners made the cut: Quinoa with Fried Eggs and Soy Sauce, Yogurt Chicken, Sesame Noodles, Dumplings, fried chickpeas.

I used to have a similar system on the inside of my cabinet door. I taped recipe clippings from newspapers and magazines, and posted stickies with ideas all over the place, until, as you know, I permanently memorialized some favorites in actual paint (see below). I’m willing to bet — even when there are approximately three zillion recipes available to us with the swipe of a touchscreen — that you have some low-tech version of this cabinet door, as well.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because when Annie was flipping through The Playbook, she awarded me one of the highest honors a family dinner blogger can receive: She said she couldn’t believe how many recipes in my book were Cabinet Worthy.

Cabinet Worthy! Is it too late to to change the name of my book? (And does Seinfeld have a patent on this phrase already?) I would like to retroactively assert that this was the litmus test every recipe in Playbook had to pass: Would it be posted inside the cabinet? Yep? Ok, it’s in.

On this first week back to school I ask: What’s Cabinet Worthy in your house?

Incidentally, Gina Triplett, who painted these recipes inside my cabinet, is the illustrator who designed the beautiful spine on PlaybookI like to keep things all in the family. Speaking of which: Great Grandma Turano’s Meatballs.

PS: Locals! Next Tuesday, September 9, I’ll be speaking/reading from Dinner: The Playbook at the fabulous “story salon” Spoken Interludes in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. Hope you can come by to say hello. It’s quite a line-up! Click here for more details.

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Friday Round-up

August 29th, 2014 · 8 Comments · Uncategorized

A family-friendly Labor Day menu, including these ridiculously delicious spare ribs. (Warning: I’m going to make you read through an interview with Yours Truly in order to get there. #nofreelunch)

The whole CiCi Bellis circus has everyone talking about kid prodigies — but what about adult prodigies? (There’s hope for us yet!)

Six Easy Weeknight Meals that great chefs like to cook. (That marinated tofu dish is officially on the DALS line-up.)

Sam Kass: Foodmaster General, Policy Shaper, and Assistant Chef in Charge of Family Meals.

A hero for the Anti-GMO movement.

This is the coolest Friday night family ritual ever – and proves my theory that meatballs can solve almost anything. (Thanks Jenna G!)

zillion school lunch ideas from the always inspiring Weelicious.

America Needs Playtime Intervention.

Yes, Luisa, I would definitely say those fritters are family dinner material!

Attn: Greek Myth Nerds! A new post on Phoebe’s book blog. (Warning: The girl is enraged!)

Fiesta Kale Wraps: Might be my new favorite lunch.

Sure, their mother’s book was published this week, but my girls were waaaaaaaay more excited about Raina Telgemeier’s latest.

Sometimes I go back to the DALS archive and rediscover a mind-blowing gem by Andy all over again.

I’m declaring this the official Song of Summer. (In our house, at least.)

Lastly, thank you to everyone for all the Playbook love this week through instagramFacebook and my regular old email, which has been buzzing with messages from friends olds and new. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my most favorite parts of the whole book-writing enterprise. Another favorite part? When someone really gets what I am trying to achieve with a book. I don’t know who E. Johnson is, but here’s an excerpt from a review she wrote on Amazon a few days ago:

The most valuable evidence for feeding a family does not come out of test kitchens and recipes by committee. They come from actual practice and valuing that time around the table with quality food preparation and ingredients…Knowledge lessens anxiety. Having Jenny Rosenstrach’s 30 day plan can be a life-saver, and the kids will feel that and know…that it’s not been a drive by dinner….Because I am calmer, the kids may wonder what’s going on and seeing some ‘Joy’ in cooking and less of the Ordeal of the Evening Meal. [edited for clarity]

Thank you for getting it, E. Johnson. Enjoy!

Have a great holiday.
Jenny

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On Comfort Food

August 28th, 2014 · 22 Comments · Uncategorized

Twelve years into this whole parenting thing, I know a few things for sure: The baby will need your attention at the exact moment the garlic in the pan goes from golden to blackened; bribery is a necessary evil; and—perhaps most relevant for the phase I’m in right now—mashed potatoes are crucial for surviving the middle-school years. I’m not talking about the kids’ survival here. I’m talking about my own.

Let me back up a bit. In the spring of 1983, I was probably the happiest 12-year-old who ever lived. I had the starring role of Adelaide in my elementary school’s production of Guys and Dolls; I was on the travel soccer team; I never lacked for lunchroom companions. I had my own CB windbreaker, which wasn’t a hand-me-down from my sister (a first), and I even had a requited crush (another first) on a kid named Mike, who was cool enough to pull off a shell necklace.

By the fall it was all gone. My small grade of 100 kids matriculated to the much larger middle school, where my lunchroom companions found new lunchroom companions, who were interested in makeup (I was not); snapped each other’s bras at gym (I was years away from wearing one); and made fun of me when I asked them to “play.” (“We say ‘hang out’ now, Jenny.”) Even when I said it the right way, though…

This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for September’s Real Simple. Head over to their site for the continuation.

PS: First Time Here?

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Dinner: The Playbook ON SALE TODAY!

August 26th, 2014 · 52 Comments · Dinner: The Playbook, Uncategorized

We’ve been on vacation for the past week, a sort of calm-before-the-storm deal. From the moment we made our reservations a few months ago, I began thinking of it as our “Week Before” vacation: The week before school starts, the week before reality descends again, before work gets crazy again, before life morphs, as it seems to do every September, into a series of carpools and soccer practices and cello lessons, and — most important, at least in this house — the week before Jenny’s new book, Dinner: The Playbook, comes out. Today is the big day, in fact, and as much as Jenny loves writing about family dinner and doing this blog and spreading the word about the transformative powers of chicken parm meatballs, she still worries about wearing out her welcome, book-wise, with you guys. Which is why I want to take this opportunity, on the day of publication, to tell you a few things about her book that she isn’t going to tell you herself. –Andy

1. Dinner: The Playbook is the physical manifestation of her list-making, organizing, lift-you-up-and-get-it-done personality. If Jenny’s first book was part cookbook, part memoir, this book is straight-up battle plan: If you want to turn family dinner into a regular — and edifying — part of your day, The Playbook will show you how. I am here to tell you that it works, and that I am grateful for it every day of my life.

2. The recipes are all good, and I can say this because we eat them ALL THE TIME. These are not recipes that Jenny dreamed up for some book about family dinner. These are our go-to meals, they are simple and tasty and time-tested, and except for the Crispy Rice Omelet (our kids still loathe eggs with a scary intensity) and the Zucchini Fritters (you know how I feel about zucchini), we stand behind all of them, 100%.

3. The recipes are all good, but the shrimp rolls are the best. Sweet Jesu Christo, are they good. (And even better when you butter the rolls.)

4. It’s a deal. Twenty bucks (sometimes less) for 80 recipes, 60 color photos, 220 pages, countless tips and fun little hand-drawn design-y things throughout? Considering that I dropped 30 bucks yesterday at lunch on a basket of mini corn-dogs, two Shirley Temples, and a flaccid chicken wrap, I consider this money well spent.

5. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen, who knows a thing or two about food: “This book is for anyone who loves the promise of a home-cooked dinner but gets bogged down by the day-to-day reality of it. Which is to say that this book is for me, me, me. And I bet it’s for you, too.” Or no less than Ruth Reichl, who stares hyperbole square in the eyes and says, “This is the most sensible advice on cooking for kids I’ve ever seen.” Ever, people! Ever!!!

6. It’s lovable. That’s not my word, in case you were wondering. A friend of ours who had just opened an advance copy described it that way — “OH EM GEE, it’s so lovable!!!!!!!!!” was her actual quote — and I have to say, she’s right. I know I’m biased, but it’s a freakin’ delight: pint-sized and warm and colorful and beautifully designed. We’ve been living with a copy of it on our counter for a solid month now, and — in what I take as a very good sign — I feel happy every time I see it. (See above, re: bias, but still.)

6.  Lovable does not mean cheesy. I spend a scary amount of my life staring at books, and I just love the way this one looks, love how much care and thought and quality-control went into its creation. Over the course of the past year, Jenny enlisted a bunch of talented friends to help make this book true to the DALS brand, from the illustration on the spine by the awesome Gina Triplett, to the cover and unusual and inspired interior design by Kristina DiMatteo, to the editing by longtime colleague Jennifer Tung, to the interior photos by, yes, Jenny Rosenstrach. Every word, every sentence, every picture, every Weekly Meal Plan, every Dinner Report Card waiting to be filled out by you, every hand-drawn border and color choice in this book, was made, by Jenny, for a reason.

7. It’s dedicated to YOU. This book, this blog, would simply not exist were it not for you — as readers, commenters, supporters, book-buyers, word-spreaders, recipe testers, dinner cookers, and friends. So, a million times: thank you.

Don’t you already feel more organized and prepared just looking at this grid of ridiculously easy dinners? I have eaten them all, and they are good.

And aren’t you dying to know what the heck this means?

Dinner: The Playbook is available from AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebooks, and Ballantine.

P.S. First Time Here? Come on in!

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Seven Summer Favorites

August 22nd, 2014 · 10 Comments · Uncategorized

There’s still a week left to go before school starts, but already the back-t0-the-grind jitters are creeping into our last few vacations days at the beach. The girls’ class schedules arrived yesterday by email — this is when I long for the days of snail mail notification — and now, when I close my eyes, all I seem to see on the back of my eyelids are calendars and meetings, sports schedules and to-do lists. It’s all good — there’s richness in the chaos, etc etc — but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t all sleeping a little more restlessly. As usual, to deal with this, I turn to the age-old “Distract-Don’t-React” strategy (also known as denial): We asked the girls to pick their most favorite dinners to ride out the rest of the season. Here’s what we’ll be weeping into/dining on as we head into the final week of summer.

Saturday: Salad Pizza (or Taco Pizza, which is in the new book — stay tuned!) Why? “It’s fun because it’s a mix of two things that normally don’t go together — salad and pizza and tacos and pizza.” –Abby. (Plus, you can grill the dough on the Weber — just grill one side, flip over, add toppings and cover with the grill lid.)

Sunday: Tomato Sandwiches on Grilled Bread with Fennel & Apple Slaw Why? “It’s August and we need to eat as many tomatoes as possible before they run out.” -Phoebe

Monday: Shrimp Rolls (in the new book — my pick as well) “It’s my favorite. Plus, we always have it in South Carolina because the shrimp is really fresh down here.” -Abby

Tuesday: Tony’s Steak with Double Mustard Potato Salad and Something with Beets Why? In Abby’s words ‘I don’t even need to give you a quote.’” (I think she means that steak speaks for itself; see my instagram feed last night.)

Wednesday: Picnic Chicken with Crispy Chick Peas Why? “They are so much more appetizing than regular chick peas. And the chicken is soooo good for lunch the next day.” -Phoebe

Thursday: Grilled Tuna Sandwiches with Salsa Fresca (or, for Abby, with a side of sushi rice) “I like it because it’s not fully cooked so it reminds me of going out for sushi.”

Friday: Salmon Salad WhyMe: “We have this one so much, though.” Phoebe: “Well, do it again.” (This is in my first book, but there’s a version here.)

SaturdayGrilled Duck with Macerated Cherries (What can I say, the girl has taste — and she’s lucky we have a farmer’s market that sells the good stuff.) Why: “Just kind of melts in your mouth.”

PS: **CASTING CALL*** Who needs a little hand-holding when it comes to back-to-school dinners?? I’m teaming up with K.J. Dell’Antonia over at New York Times’ excellent Motherlode blog to help a family through a week of new meals using recipes from Dinner: The Playbook, the Times, and Bon Appetit. Head over there to read my piece and enter.

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No-Stress Vacation Dinner

August 18th, 2014 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Travel, Uncategorized

On Saturday we found ourselves in an unusual predicament: It was 4:00 and we hadn’t decided what was for dinner yet. Oddly, if it were a normal weekday at home, this wouldn’t be an issue. But we were on vacation, and as anyone who has read my first book (or read the post “My Drill Sergeant of Leisure“) might recall, on vacation, we like to lock down the dinner plan over morning coffee. This way we don’t steal away a single unit of psychic energy from what should be the only order of business: kayaking, swimming, pretending-to-read-but-really-napping. (OK, so that’s a few orders of business.) Andy’s idea of hell is wandering a packed grocery store with other sunburned dinner-makers at 5:30, the time he should be mixing up an icy, limey Gin and Tonic on the porch.

But this is where we found ourselves nonetheless. We knew we wanted to grill — that was a given. But what? A family meeting on the pool chairs didn’t yield any obvious candidates: One kid wanted burgers, the other wanted fish. I suggested the old healthy stand-by, yogurt-marianted chicken, but Andy wasn’t in the mood. (I think we’ve made that twice a week all summer long.) And plus, we didn’t have time for any marinating.

I should’ve known that we’d wind up anchoring the plate to grilled sausages. No matter where we are in the world, there is a variety to choose from (pork, chicken, lamb, veggie) to suit different tastes, they can be grilled (we’re at the beach so there is a moratorium on oven use) and they don’t require a single second of prep-work, a crucial quality when there is a bike begging to be ridden. To round out the ideal vacation dinner formula (grilled something + fresh something + something the kids go crazy for) we added cucumber raita and a puffy, salty grilled flatbread, which Phoebe said tasted like a doughnut. Done and done.

Grilled Sausages with Cucumber Raita and Grilled Flatbread*

Raita
1/2 cup plain yogurt (if you have time to strain the yogurt, add yogurt into a strainer lined with a coffee filter and let sit over a glass in the sink for a half hour)
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic (or garlic powder)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
handful fresh mint, chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped into bite size pieces

Sausages
2- 2 1/2 pounds good-quality sausages (extra credit for merguez, but can be hard to find, we did a mix of sweet and hot Italian)

Grilled Bread
1 16-ounce ball pizza dough, divided into four pieces and placed on a cookie sheet
olive oil
sea salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, garlic cumin, olive oil, salt, pepper, and mint. Toss with chopped cucumbers and chill until ready to serve, so flavors meld.

Meanwhile, heat your grill. When coals are medium-hot, add sausages and grill and turn until cooked through, about 5-10 minutes depending on thickness. Remove from grill and cover with foil to stay hot.

Meanwhile, brush each ball of dough with olive oil, then using your hand and fingers, flatten and press into pita-size pieces. Flip the dough as you shape it, so oil is covering the entire ball of dough. Sprinkle with salt. When the sausages come off the grill, add the dough to the bread and flip a few times, making sure they don’t burn, until cooked through and puffy, about 5 minutes total.

Vacation dessert is never hard to figure out when you have access to Good Humor Bars. (The only dilemma: Toasted Almond or Chocolate Eclair?)

P.S. As for styling the photo with starfish: Guilty as charged.

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Friday Round-up

August 15th, 2014 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

When I have a bag of pre-mixed cobbler topping ready to go, I am always a half hour away from the best summer dessert. (Also nice if you’re traveling somewhere and don’t want to buy or schlep all your baking supplies.)

Is it November 4 yet? Just pre-ordered what is sure to be the cookbook of fall 2014.

Super-cool trick for cutting small tomatoes.

The Lost Art of Conversation. The link is old, but the topic will never be.

Beastie-fans-turned-parents will freaking love this.

Hooray! Bon Appetit‘s Best New Restaurant nominees are out.

I’ve always been impressed by Times reporter C.J. Chivers, but I think I’m more impressed with his 12-year-old, striped-bass-filleting son.

Speaking of kids in the kitchen: I had a quart of buttermilk in danger of going bad, so yesterday I handed my girls two recipes: Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins (winner; bookmark it!) and Buttermilk Ranch salad dressing. (We’ll get to striped bass ceviche some day.)

This might be one of Roz Chast’s all-time greatest cartoons. Maybe because it describes the exact the way I get things done.

Still a few weeks of summer left to squeeze in a seafood boil.

Why sales of packaged, processed foods are declining. 

In my fantasy of fantasies, my walk-in pantry will one day look like this. (But first: a house with a walk-in pantry!)

Book Update. Look what landed on my doorstep this week! Publication is two weeks away, but I have a few readings/events lined up that I wanted you to know about: September 9Spoken Interludes (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY); September 13 Powerhouse on 8th (Brooklyn); September 21  “A Barn Raising Brunch” (Great Barrington, MA); October date TBD: Mom2Mom (Chicago). Hope to see you on the road!

You can pre-order Dinner: The Playbook from all the usual suspects: AmazonBarnes & Noble, & Indiebound.

Have a great weekend.

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Sir Yes Sir!

August 14th, 2014 · 19 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Entertaining, Rituals, Uncategorized

You know when you go to someone’s house for dinner and you walk out of the house three hours later thinking, We might have some room for improvement, parenting-wise? That’s what happened last summer when we went to visit our friends, Will and Alaina, and their excellent kids, Eli and Bee. Will is a freshly-retired 20 year veteran of the US Navy who spent several years deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a forward air controller, and man: to borrow a vaguely military-sounding phrase I heard once, that family had their sh*t locked down tight. Their kids greeted us, smiling, at the door. Eye contact was unwavering. Conversation: superb. Engagement: total. And the most impressive thing of all? When dinner was over, the kids rose from their chairs, cleared the table, and — it never gets old — cleaned up the entire kitchen without being asked. It’s been exactly one year since that night, and Jenny and I are still talking about it, still marveling at the precision and can-do spirit of the whole operation. So we asked Cmdr. Mackin, who in addition to his military career, happens to be a supremely talented writer of fiction, to let us in on his secret. He went deep. — Andy

As I transition from a Navy career to life as a full-time writer, I’m lucky to have Andy as an editor and friend. As the editor of my forthcoming collection of short stories, he’s helped me find direction in jumbled piles of miscellaneous thoughts. As a friend, he’s imparted essential knowledge regarding the publishing world (e.g. former editors at fancy men’s magazines do not necessarily have organized closets full of beautiful Italian shoes) that would’ve otherwise taken me years to gain. I like to think I’ve returned the favor, in part, by disabusing him of certain notions regarding the military.

One of those notions is this: Andy is under the impression that my two teenage kids do the dishes because I’ve subjected them to military-style discipline. But the fact is, I’ve rarely exercised military-style discipline in the Navy, let alone at home.

Like other branches of service, the Navy is made up of people from all over the country, each of whom has his or her own ideas about right and wrong, good and evil, not to mention the best way to go about “training and equipping combat-ready maritime forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas,” as the Navy’s official mission statement goes. To that end, the establishment of a baseline of acceptable behavior among individuals who must learn to trust each other with their lives strikes me as a good idea.

My first exposure to military discipline came at the hands of Gunnery Sergeant Wise, who, back in 1988, indoctrinated me into the Navy. The first thing he taught me, as I climbed off the bus from Slimesville, was how to stand at the position of attention. Next, he explained that in moving forward, one must step off with the left foot and never the right. I screwed this up over and over, not only because I was nervous, but because I never thought it made any difference. Wise corrected me: left is left, and right is right. Take your first step with one and you begin a journey of a thousand miles. Take your first step with the other, and while you suffer the pain of push-ups, mountain-climbers, and eight-counts, you cover no ground.

As a parent, whose mission statement might read “to produce good human beings,” I want my kids to do the right thing, and to do it well, and for the right reasons. Ideally, they’d have their own motivations to do so beyond fear of reprisal. As it turns out, though, self-motivation is not innate. In order to encourage its development, my wife Alaina and I have enforced time-outs and longer periods of house arrest. We’ve taken away iBots, PS720’s, and Bedazzlers. We’ve made our children scrub toilets, pull weeds, and chisel the sludge from the dark corners of the litter box. But our forays into coercion are often born of frustration. As such, they tend to be subjective, unmeasured, and worst of all, inconsistent.

***

Saturday, July 13th, 2013. 5:20 p.m. I’d been telling the kids over and over, but it hadn’t sunk in. So ten minutes before our guests were scheduled to arrive, we reviewed who they were and why they were coming: My recent story in The New Yorker had won me an agent. My agent had landed me a book contract. Andy was the editor of that book. Jenny was his wife (and also — as I’d soon find out from Jenny herself, as she stood in my kitchen, while the appetizers that my wife had left me in charge of while she showered burned on the grill — the person behind this blog).

“And writing the book is going to be your job after your retire from the Navy, right?” asked my daughter, Bee.

“Right,” I said. (more…)

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This Week in Insta-Inspiration

August 13th, 2014 · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Tomatoes, basil, corn, stone fruits, lobster, berries, al fresco dining! It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Sure, I could throw you to the DALS archives for a little tableside inspiration (our summer salad series comes to mind at once) but instead, I thought I’d show how a few of my favorite instagrammers are celebrating the bounty.

I’m pretty sure everyone I know has made his or her own version of Vongole in the past week — including us. (For proof, see mine and @andyward15‘s feed.) But I’m certain only @wednesdaychef‘s sweet little Hugo was cute enough to get away with eating it shirtless.

Heirlooms, basil, burrata, and olive oil — nothing we haven’t seen before, and yet…it never. gets. old. Especially when it’s composed like this on a plate like that, @taradonnephoto

It’s pretty hard to convince me to do anything with an apricot besides eat it out-of-hand and whole, but this treatment? Roasted with ricotta and honey? Yeah, this might be the exception. Nice, @kitchenrepertoire. (more…)

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