This Week in Insta-Inspiration

August 13th, 2014 · 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. [Read more →]

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When the Cat’s Away, The Mice Will…Watch Movies The Cat Would Never Watch

August 11th, 2014 · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Rituals

Both of my kids did a week of sleep-away camp this summer, different camps, during different weeks, which was wonderful for many reasons: They made new friends, they ate new foods, they learned new skills (including sitting on one end of a raft while a counselor jumped on the other, launching her fifteen feet out into the lake). But the best part, at least for me, was the time spent with the sister left behind. I didn’t plan it this way, but giving each of them a week of only child-dom meant, obviously, that we only had to cater to the interests and tastes of a single kid all week long. When Abby wanted spaghetti with pesto, we didn’t have to make a separate baguette with pesto and mozzarella for pasta-hating Phoebe. When Phoebe requested Hatch Burgers, we didn’t have to ask Abby — who has been down on red meat lately — for permission. The novelty was just as exciting when trolling around Netflix and our library’s DVD section. The girls have similar tastes in movies — Ferris BuellerThe Devil Wears Prada, School of Rock, Catch Me If You Can, and Iron Mans 1, 2, and 3 have been hits lately — but there are whole genres that I knew my 12-year-old would like more than my 10-year-old (read: Hitchcock) as well as movies that maybe weren’t quite appropriate for an almost sixth grader. So I got super into lining up Movie Week, setting up the outdoor projector (both indoors and out) and screening a new one every night of Abby’s absence. Here’s what was on the marquee.

Breaking Away (1979)
I remember seeing this during the summer when I was a kid, and cheering out loud when Moocher got on the racing bike, his legs too short to reach the pedals. Phoebe did too, which warmed my heart, and luckily the rest of the movie held up just as beautifully. (Literally beautifully — every scene seems shrouded in a golden glow.) It’s about four working-class Bloomington, Indiana kids (known as “cutters”) floundering around after high school, trying to figure out what to do next, while navigating typical social tensions with the town’s wealthier university students. The Dennis Christopher character, a romantic, cycling-obsessed Italia-phile has got to be one of the greater characters in movies, and the scenes swimming at the quarry are summer exemplified. Bonus: Wow, Dennis Quaid. Wowowow. (Where is the emoticon for fanning my face as though I’m about to faint?) Note: There’s one moment in the beginning when the boys are cruising through campus and Daniel Stern inappropriately comments on some good looking co-eds, so keep your hand on the remote if your kids are little — but the rest of it is totally clean.) [Read more →]

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Couple Things

August 8th, 2014 · Uncategorized

OK, so I know it’s August, and that these last few weeks are probably a good time to relax, slow down, savor what remains of the summer. But the fact of the matter is, we here at DALS have a lot of exciting things going on so I just wanted to call your attention to two of  them.

For starters: My next book, Dinner: The Playbook is out in two short weeks — just in time for the back-to-school grind. As you hopefully know by now, this is my 80-recipe, 220-page response to the email I get more than any others: “I love family dinner. I want to have family dinner. But I don’t know how do family dinner. Where, pray tell, where do I begin?”

You begin with this book, which will be officially out on August 26. But you might want to think about pre-ordering today because I am lining up a pretty awesome giveaway during pub week that I need to keep mum about. All I’ll say is that it will help to have a copy of the book around in order to participate. (And big huge thanks to those of you who have already done so — I don’t want to go all NPR on you, but this blog could not exist without you.)

{You can pre-order from all the usual suspects: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.}

Next up: Did you see that delicious looking sandwich over there in my right margin? For the next few weeks, Mouth, the super-fun indie-food packager is offering 20% off to all Dinner: A Love Story readers on any of their products. All you have to do is type in the code DALS20 when you check out. I for one have my eye on that New Baby Taster.

Have a great weekend.

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Addicted: Vegetable Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

August 7th, 2014 · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I had such buyer’s remorse the other day. But sometimes, that’s a good thing.

I’ll start at the beginning. Instead of writing from home last week, I decided to set up shop at the Starbucks that was down the block from my daughter’s camp. That way, I wasn’t wasting any time in the car, I was maximizing my time working, and I was only ever ten feet away from re-caffeinating, should it come to that. (Note: It often comes to that.)

The only problem? I was also ten feet away from those delicious coffee cakes, the ones they offer to heat up for you? (Yes, please.) And the egg biscuit sandwiches. You know, those things are not awful. Neither are the blueberry lemon scones. I bought one to bring to Abby after camp, but ended up eating it myself as I cranked away at the laptop, too productive to leave, too lazy to walk outside to get something a little healthier. (Not to mention, too greedy to risk giving up my table near the coveted computer outlet.)

By Day 3, I had had it with the baked good bacchanalia. I needed something for lunch that included a vegetable. As usual, though, I was pressed for time, and starving, and the only thing I could find nearby was a Whole Foods in a strip mall. Against my better judgement, I headed to the prepared food department to see what I could grab quickly. Hmmm. Salad bar? Too complicated. Tandoori potato flatbread sandwiches? Too carby. Sushi? Too expensive. But next to the chopstick display [Read more →]

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Old Favorite

August 5th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Remember this one? I found myself re-reading it the other day — sniffling away again, as usual —  and thought it was high time I re-issued it — just in case there are any new readers here who have never had the chance to download a copy, or just in case you have kids who need to squeeze another book or two onto their summer reading logs. SO: For a LIMITED time only, I am unlocking the page where you can download our 2012 e-book 121 Books: A Very Subjective Guide to the Greatest Kid Books of All Time for FREE. Click here for more details, and please spread the word.

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How to Be a Good Dinner Guest: 41 Rules

August 4th, 2014 · Entertaining, Rules

We entertain a lot. For us, it’s the best way to combine two things that we love to do: See friends and cook food. Hardly a weekend goes by when we don’t have someone over, whether its our parents (grilled yogurt-marinated chicken), our daughter’s piano teacher and her husband (grilled fish tacos with pineapple salsa), or our favorite babysitter (Korean pancakes). This past weekend, we had a dinner party for eight, and, to lessen the host’s load a bit, everybody came with something delicious, which was lovely: Prosecco and cured meats, ingredients for a special cocktail, and best of all, Sara’s homemade graham crackers and homemade marshmallows for homemade s’mores, which — as we were eating them outside under the patio lights, dyyhhing of happiness and gratitude – really reminded us about all the things that make a dinner guest a good dinner guest. Forty-one things to be exact. Here goes:

1. Don’t start eating before the host sits down. Even when the host says, “The steak is getting cold! Don’t wait for me to sit down!”

2. If the host doesn’t remember to raise a glass before eating, there should be nothing stopping you from doing it yourself. It doesn’t have to be clever or profound. A simple “Cheers, thanks, it’s so great to see you guys” will do.

3. “Cheers to you guys, we honestly never thought you’d make it this long” will not.

4. Try not to come empty-handed. A small host gift is always appreciated, especially when that small host gift is a 90-year-old, leather bound, playing-card size book of English poetry from something called the “Little Leather Library” that happens to contain the very poem your host’s father read to her on her wedding day. (Linda and Hubert, you guys win Dinner Guests of the Year.)

5. A tiny Weck jar filled with homemade purple-basil infused simple syrup that, drizzled over some gin and ice, upgrades the evening’s cocktail hour exponentially? Yeah, that works, too. (Simone, a very close second.)

6. We are big fans of giving farm market host gifts — a dozen fresh eggs, good bacon from that upstate farm, the pomegranate chutney we can only get a few times a year — but there is nothing wrong with a bottle of wine, ever.

7. Sick of bringing wine? Good news: Olive Oil is the New Wine. [Read more →]

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Three Tips for the Fish-spicious

July 30th, 2014 · Dinner, Seafood

As children of the 80s, we didn’t have the most ideal exposure to seafood. It consisted mostly of Martini glasses filled with flaccid shrimp at our parents’ cocktail parties, Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, which our dads ordered from McDonald’s when they were trying to be “healthy”; and dreaded trips to the fish market, which smelled an awful lot like low tide. There, our mothers would order frozen flounder while we’d pinch our noses: People actually eat this stuff? Now, thanks to better access to fresh fish and a few clever maneuvers, our children are more evolved about seafood than we were. Meaning: They actually like it. Here, our strategies for getting our kids (and yours) to appreciate fish.

Work Fish into Vacation
We always have better luck introducing the girls to new things when we’re on vacation and the vibes are trending positive. In South Carolina a few summers ago, the kids caught a bunch of sea trout on a half-day fishing excursion; we later grilled and ate them on sandwiches with slaw. On a trip to Block Island, we celebrated our arrival by going straight to our favorite lunch joint and ordering lobster rolls, thereby establishing the pattern for the next summer we visited, and the summer after that. We work the food-vacation connection hard so that when we served grilled sea trout at home, it’s seen as a reminder of good times. Instead of, you know, an affront to their very existence.

Fry, Fry Again
Okay, fine. Maybe our fathers were on to something with their Filet-o-Fishes. Pan-frying is never a bad move when you’re trying to optimize a kid’s eating experience. We’ve had excellent luck serving breaded flounder and gray sole with homemade tartar sauce, or yes, ketchup. Master this and you can 2.0 the technique with fish cakes (shown above), which stretch a small amount of fish into a solid dinner when shaped into patties with corn and herbs, and then fried to golden bliss.

East Them Into It
Once or twice a month in the summer, we’ll steam a couple dozen littlenecks  in some white wine with olive oil, shallots, and Sun Gold tomatoes — and then toss it all with spaghetti and fresh herbs. The first time we presented this to our daughters, we did not expect them to eat the clams. (That’s a big ask of a little kid.) They merely got acquainted with the broth that was crazy good when doped up with a slab of crusty bread. Eventually, the girls grew curious about the source of all that salty, meaty flavor — and victory was ours. –Andy and Jenny

This is our August 2014 “Providers” column for Bon Appetit. Head over to there for Fish-and-Corn Cake recipe or to check out the entire Providers archive. Photo by Alex Lau for Bon Appetit.

Fish Cakes from Dinner: A Love Story. See the book for recipe.

P.S. My go-to resource for choosing fish responsibly.

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As Usual: Less is More

July 28th, 2014 · Grilling, Seafood

You know what’s so funny? Sometimes I can spend an entire day thinking about or preparing or shopping for dinner (especially if we are having a bunch of people over) and not be nearly as happy with what ends up on the table as I am when the kitchen is all tumbleweeds, and I spend about thirty seconds scrambling for a plan.

We have been on the move this summer — traveling to Alaska, as you know, Seattle, Chicago, Virginia, and Quogue. And it’s been awesome. The girls have sailed on wooden boats in Seattle lakes, and cheered on the Cubs at Wrigley. (I’m extremely lucky to have college roommates who chose really cool places to live.) They have eaten halibut, salmon, oysters, fried chicken, coconut cream pie, triple berry cobblers, and have done a summer’s worth of s’moring already. There has been a week or two of camp squeezed in, too, but for the most part, we haven’t bothered to put the luggage away — last weekend, actually, we didn’t even bother to unpack. Other than the fact that I haven’t had a whole lot of time to work (hence the gaps in posting, forgive me!) it’s been nice to have so little structure, to wake up in a new place and not have to be dressed and out the door by 8:00, shoes on, lunches packed!

The thing about this no structure month, though? Generally, I find myself returning home to a fridge that resembles a bachelor’s. (I know, cry me a river.) Last week, we walked in the door from Chicago close to dinnertime and found the wilting remains of a Savoy cabbage from the week-old CSA bag, two shriveled avocados in the fruit bowl — one barely usable — and my sourdough starter that some of you more careful readers might remember I made in a fit of DIY Excitement two weeks ago upon my return from Alaska. I wasn’t about to (finally) make those (long-promised) sourdough pancakes (soon!), but the sight of the starter reminded me of our Alaskan Seafood Stash in the freezer. Before we left Homer, we had all the halibut Phoebe caught vacuum-packed, frozen, and shipped to us — along with some salmon and something called Alaskan Sweet Shrimp that we couldn’t resist. And there it all was, in our freezer begging to be put to use. [Read more →]

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Neat Trick

July 21st, 2014 · Picky Eating, Uncategorized

Last week I was driving with my best friend — Leonard Lopate, obviously — whose guests were two parenting podcasters: Dan Pashman, host of “The Sporkful,” and Hillary Frank, host of “The Longest Shortest Time.” They were discussing “Raising Adventurous Eaters,” and had some good advice for parents of picky eaters — I’m happy to report that family dinner and the idea of repeated exposure came up a few times. But my favorite moment in the radio segment occurred at the end, when a listener called in to share how she raised her kids to love vegetables — specifically peppers. It sounds like her children are all grown now, but she still could not mask her delight when she told Lopate and his panel that the way she got her kids to eat bell peppers was by asking them to close their eyes before eating one, then seeing if they could correctly identify the color — red, green, or yellow? As her kids tested, they tasted, as they tasted they got their daily intake. I thought this was pretty hilarious — and I couldn’t help but think of endless options for riffing, especially now that the farmer’s market is exploding with crazy varieties of just about every vegetable. Carrots: Orange, red, or white? Tomatoes: yellow, red, green? Beans: purple or green? Eggplant: Purple or white? Beets: Red, orange, striped, golden? I could go on. I’m sure you could, too.

Anyway, thanks for the tip, Sidney* from New Jersey, whoever you are!

Related: 44 Things We’ve Told Our Kids to Get Them to Eat

Related, Oldie but Goodie: Can you tell the difference between white wine from red wine when blindfolded? Don’t be so sure. (And don’t do this one with the kids.)

*I think that was your name. Forgive me, I didn’t re-listen.

Photo: Edible Cape Cod

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All Salmon All the Time

July 17th, 2014 · Seafood

So if it’s all right with you, I’m just going to use this blog to pretend that we’re still on vacation in Alaska — which is another way of saying that we are all going to be eating salmon every day, three times a day.

And if you follow our lead, you will NEVER tire of it either. It helps, of course, to have access to crazy-fresh wild Alaskan salmon. And it also helps to be staying with friends who know how to expertly fillet that salmon, then proceed to spend the next few days showing us how to smoke it, harvest its eggs, pickle it, cure, grill, roast, and mix it into untold numbers of spreads and salads.

We still have a ways to go with our Sockeye skillz — until now, my greatest talent in that department was choosing the right filet at the Whole Foods seafood counter — but we did manage to pick up few special techniques and bring them home with us. Lest you think this blog, founded on the principle of get-it-on-the-table-and-get-it-on-the-table-fast, is going all DIY on you, I’m presenting the easiest one first: Gravlax. I had always heard that curing fish on your own was a fairly straightforward process, but not until I witnessed Andy make his own did I really believe it. The whole thing takes about 10 minutes of hands-on time  and then a few days of doing absolutely nothing but waiting. Which was definitely the hardest part.

Gravlax
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons salt, 4 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Rub this mixture into all sides (skin, too) of skin-on salmon filets (bones, removed, about 1 1/2 pounds). Place a large handful of dill in the bottom of a shallow glass baking dish. Put one piece of fish, skin side down, on the dill, top with another bunch of dill, add another piece of fish, skin side up, and top with one last bunch of dill. Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Set a plate (larger than the salmon) on top. Place 2 heavy cans of food on top of the plate and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. When it’s ready, separate filets, then slice thin pieces on an angle. Eat however you love to eat gravlax, but my preferred way is shown above, on top of a Finn Crisp, with cream cheese, dill, and capers if you have them. It’s been my breakfast every day this week.

This post was made possible by our masterful fishmonger and host, Dan Coyle.

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Bringing Vacation Home

July 15th, 2014 · Travel, Uncategorized

We don’t even know where to start with this one. We have just returned from a two-week vacation in Alaska, and the prospect of adequately capturing the magic of the experience seems about as overwhelming as the state itself. You know that feeling you get when you’re on vacation, the one where you just keep looking around and thinking “How can I get more of this into my life at home?” Well multiply that by a thousand and you’ll get a taste of what we’re dealing with. Even though Alaska is now 4500 miles away and almost a full week behind us, we are still living on (and, in the case of our gravlax and halibut) dining on the memories.

We were lucky enough to be staying with our friends Jenny and Dan in and around Homer, a five-hour drive from Anchorage. (Dan is the man behind The Talent Code blog and book empire, and a big DALS favorite, as longtime readers know.) They have four kids and roughly seventeen thousand friends, so visiting them was like being folded into a giant family reunion, complete with glacier hikes, midnight beach picnics (it never gets dark in a Homer summer), and a weekend at the family camp, which was a long boat ride away, and the scene of, among other things, an epic Fourth of July party worthy of an entire post — no, an entire blog – in its own right. Actually, it would be easy to devote every DALS post for the rest of 2014 to this trip — that’s how much fun we had — but we have somehow managed to whittle it down to 21 rules, recipes, and stories from the Last Frontier. And because we don’t see our post-vacation high waning any time soon, you can be sure there will be some Alaska-inspired recipes coming down the pike later on this week as well. Trust me, you’re all in for a treat. – Jenny & Andy

21 Things We Loved and Learned in Alaska:

1. We don’t know how to do anything. People in Alaska, on the other hand, know how to do everything. And by everything, we don’t mean, like, caulk their bathtubs and install new wiper blades. We mean, like, build their houses and find water sources and install sewage systems and mill their own lumber and navigate stuff without getting lost or dead and clean fish and roast whole pigs and read tidal charts and tell edible plants from ones that will kill you and drive boats and not just fly planes but BUILD planes. (Yes, we met a guy who builds his own freakin’ planes, and he was awesome.)


2. Frosted Cherry Pop-Tarts are the perfect snack for a hike, particularly when eaten on the deserted shore of a glacial lake with bald eagles and sea planes flying overhead, and SUV-sized chunks of blue ice out there, melting slowly in the sun.

3. “There is always a lucky spot on the boat.” This is what Capt. Dan told us as we headed out to spend the afternoon fishing in the cold blue waters of Kachemak Bay. Capt. Dan is as trustworthy as they come, but we had our doubts: When you’ve got five lines in the water, how could one really be any better than the others? But sure enough, Phoebe and her new pal and fellow 12 year-old, Zoe, proceeded to spend the next two hours hauling in fish after fish — three halibut, between 15 and 20 pounds each (shown above) along with a few black cod – as the rest of us looked on. Later on this week, we’ll show you what everyone made with the day’s catch. [Read more →]

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Summer Round-up

July 2nd, 2014 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

We here in the DALS house are going to be traveling a bit over the next week or so, and I’m not entirely sure how much I’ll be able to chime in while I’m away. (I reserve the right to change my mind.) So here is a little round-up to hold you over til we return. Have a great Fourth and Happy Summer!

A guide to 1600 swimmin’ holes (dropping the ‘g’ is required, says my husband) across the US and Canada.

I made this Strawberry Shortcake last weekend for guests and it rocked. (If you added some blueberries in there, it would be the perfect red, white, and blue Fourth dessert.)

Is this why I’ve never liked the word “foodie?”

With this news, Grand Central Terminal, perhaps my most favorite building on earth, just became my favorite-ist to the hundredth power.

Everything tastes better when these string lights light up the patio table.

Before I travel to any major city, I pretty much always check the BA Weekender Guides at Bon Appetit — where to eat, stay, visit — and they’ve never failed me yet.

We are not soda people in general, but if we were, our fridge would be stocked with this all summer long.

Andy has had this on repeat all week, and as far as I can tell, he shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

Can’t you see these make-ahead Chocolate Caramel Picnic Puddings being the perfect way to end your Fourth celebration? (And if you have time, check out the entire site, masterminded by two supremely talented food-world vets.)

Or as long as we’re on the subject of make-ahead treats: Molly’s Strawberry-Yogurt Pops. (Scroll down a few posts.)

No such thing as too young when it comes to reading aloud to your kids.

Rose Sangria!

Thanks to everyone who participated in my Dinner: The Playbook challenge. Random House helped me put together a mini-slideshow of some of our favorite pics (scroll over to see who submitted each one) but you can also just find them on instagram by searching the hashtag #dinnerplaybook. Hope you all had fun. (And thanks Max W. and Maggie O. for all your hard work on this!)

Two Oldies but Goodies for the Grill: Pork with Peaches and Tony’s Steak.

No doubt you’ll be throwing some dogs on the barbie this holiday weekend. To celebrate this decidedly happy occasion, and to call attention to their “What’s in Your Hot Dog” campaign, Applegate has offered to give away “Weinervention Kits” (hot dogs, buns, relish, grill tools, and everything else) to two lucky DALS readers. [Read more →]

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Kid Classics for Summer

June 30th, 2014 · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Just in time for summer reading, I’m delighted to present this guest-post by Catherine Hong, veteran magazine editor and writer, mother of two, and the Mrs. behind Mrs. Little, one of my most favorite book blogs for kids that you should be reading if you’re not already. Take it away Catherine! –JR

I know that plenty of great children’s books were published after my 1970s childhood. I’ve heard a lot about these so-called new classics, like The Giver, Holes, The Hunger Games and Harry something-or-other. Once in a while I even allow my kids to read them. But there is truly nothing more gratifying than seeing your kids fall for one of your favorite books from your youth. Can anything match the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you see your 10-year-old curled up with Harriet the Spy? (Bonus points if it’s your yellowed copy of Harriet with the original price of $1.50) It’s like a mother sheep recognizing her newborn by its smell — the feeling that says “this MUST be my child.” Sure, these old novels make references to telegrams and water closets, and fail almost every test of political correctness, but they’re so transporting they’ll keep your Clash of the Clans-obsessed offspring reading all summer.

ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (1960) By Scott O’Dell
When I re-read this recently it was as thrilling as I remembered it from fourth grade — but whoa! — much, much sadder. As you probably remember, the story is about a Native American girl, Karana, who finds herself alone on an island off the coast of California for many years after her people are forced to flee the island following a massacre. She has to figure out all the survival skills (hunting, spearmaking) that, as a female in the tribe, she was never taught. She battles hunger, weather, wild dogs, extreme loneliness and despair. O’Dell draws the landscape of the island so vividly you feel like you know every bluff and cove yourself.
What your kids will love: How Karana built a fence around her home using giant whale ribs tied with kelp to keep out the wild dogs.
What you only notice now: How crazy it is that Ramo (Karana’s little brother) is killed before they’ve been alone on the island a week. No kids’ book would let that happen today.

THE GREAT BRAIN (1967) By John D. Fitzgerald
My brother and I were crazy about this series, which is set in a Mormon town in Utah during the early 1900s. The main character is Tom, a precocious, money-loving 10-year-old who uses his “great brain” to swindle and con every kid in the neighborhood. Even when he does something heroic, like rescue two boys lost in a cave or help a crippled child to use his peg leg, he manages to come out with a silver dollar or two. (Some of the books in this series are now out of print — criminal!)
What your kids will love: How Tom masterminds his revenge on a schoolteacher by planting whiskey bottles in his bedroom and coat pocket.
What you only notice now: The boys were constantly whooping each other’s asses and the parents never once got involved. As the narrator, J.D. puts it, “It was just a question of us all learning how to fight good enough … After all, there is nothing as tolerant and understanding as a kid you can whip.”
Level: 4th & 5th graders

THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS (1947) By William Pène DuBois
Why has this incredible book not been made into a movie? It’s a fantasy-adventure about an explorer in the 1880s who stumbles onto the island of Krakatoa, where an ultra-civilized society of twenty families have invented their own calendar and government (a “restaurant government”) and live in unimaginable wealth, thanks to the island’s diamond mines. The book is wry, sophisticated [Read more →]

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Four Summer Starters

June 26th, 2014 · Entertaining, Uncategorized

We have been entertaining machines lately — I think partly because it’s June (so many things to celebrate), but mostly because we bought some new furniture for the patio, and we are looking for any excuse to sit outside with one of these in hand, and hang with friends. Dinners have been your typical DALS summer standbys (grilled fish, baby back ribs, yogurt-marinated everything) but lately, we’ve gotten kind of creative with the starters. I thought I’d share a few with you.

Deviled Eggs with The Works (above) This one is ripped right from the pages of Canal House Cooks Everyday, a book that should be front and center on your cookbook shelf. (Unless you have something against simple, elegant food.) They’re deviled eggs, topped with various trimmings: roasted red peppers, smoked salmon, pickled onions, snipped chives, and bacon. (Leave a few unadorned for the kids.) You can make them ahead of time and chill in the fridge. Always key.

Potato Chips with Caviar and Creme Fraiche Now, just to be clear, caviar is not something that happens every day in our house. (We had some very special guests and the mandate going in was “We Are Leaving it All On The Field.”) But every time we eat this little starter, I start figuring out ways to justify the expense. We picked up American Caviar at Whole Foods (about $18 for a small tin — I know, ridiculous, but when you think about a hunk of Parm costing upwards of $15…well you see what I mean re: Justifying) and served them on top of plain old Kettle Chips for some high-brow/low-brow action. [Read more →]

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Cook One New Thing This Week

June 24th, 2014 · Dinner: The Playbook, Uncategorized

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By now, everyone who officially entered the Dinner: The Playbook Challenge should have been notified about their status. Once again, thank you all for such a wonderful response. And if you weren’t one of the fifty selected, it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t play along. For those of you reading about the challenge for the first time, here is the summary, but the basic idea is to bust out of our collective dinner ruts, and cook at least three brand new meals this week. Brand new to you as a cook, and brand new to the kids as eaters.

Or, hey, just one new recipe is fine, too! Whatever you got in you!

So go ahead and pick something you’ve never tried before from my Recipe Index or my What to Cook Tonight page or just scroll down on this page for some super-summery, super-easy ideas. I’m guessing your kids are out of school (or maybe even away at camp?) so hopefully you have a little more time to get organized. (She says optimistically.) And definitely keep everyone posted with your progress on twitterinstagram and Facebook using the hashtag #DinnerPlaybook. We have quite a community out there sharing ideas already and it’s inspiring to say the least. Thanks everyone.

Dinner: The Playbook will be published in August and is available for pre-order from all the usual suspects: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

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Picnic Chicken

June 23rd, 2014 · Uncategorized

I know we are only a day or two into summer, but I can safely say that this chicken Abby is eating is going to be my go-to recipe of the season. In this particular photo, my midfielder is loving it a few hours after a 2-1 loss, but I am pretty sure she would be just as happy to maul it after a victory, or a tie, or for a quick bite before her graduation dance, or in her camp lunchbox, or for a grab-and-go snack out of the fridge after a swim, or with a group of friends for an end-of-the-year party, or in a box or with a fox, or in the dark, or in a tree…

They are so good, so good you see!

As anyone who’s read this blog knows already, we are big fans of Blue Hill Cafe at Stone Barns in Tarrytown. Any time there’s nothing to do on a weekend afternoon (or even when there are a million things to do), you will find us sitting in the courtyard there eating their homemade bologna sandwiches (topped with teeny-tiny pickled vegetables), or chopped egg salad on toast, or farro salad with vegetables, or still-warm scones and lattes and chocolate chip cookies. Everything they serve comes right from the surrounding fields, and is a study in simple, farm-fresh deliciousness. I could eat everything on the menu. And often do.

So I do not say it lightly when I say that this chicken is the main draw for us these days. It’s slightly sweet, slightly smoky, and it is perfect when served cold or room temp, which means it’s perfect for advance summer entertaining or barbecues when you’re not sure the kids are going to go for the grilled whole mackerel or duck with cherry compote that you really really want to serve the grown-ups.

The good news is that the nice folks at Blue Hill have shared the recipe with us and it looks like all that flavor comes from (surprise) a 24-hour marinade. The marinade originated and evolved with two guys from Blue Hill: Adam, the kitchen director, and Pedro, a longtime prep cook. Thanks guys! [Read more →]

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One Thing We Did Right

June 19th, 2014 · Rituals

Last year, we sent our then 11-year-old to sleepaway camp for two weeks, where she did all the things kids do at sleepaway camp — she paddle-surfed in the lake, slept in an open-air cabin, competed in color wars, roasted marshmallows in bonfires after dinner, complained about that dinner (and lunch and breakfast), and wrote her parents letters during her free time summarizing it all. Wow, were those some good letters! Though, as anyone who sends their kid away to camp knows, it doesn’t take much for a letter to qualify as “good” — regardless of the contents, it’s almost enough to just know that they are merely surviving without us, and have the wherewithal to put a pen to paper.

Anyway, as you know, I generally don’t share personal details about my kids — let alone personal letters from them — but Phoebe did grant me permission to publish one sentence, which I just re-read the other day, and which I thought you’d appreciate as much as I did:

“I eat fruit before breakfast. I seriously think that if I don’t, my brain will get confused.”

In the same letter, there were multiple tales of her overnight adventure, camping far into the woods (glad I didn’t know about that one til it was over) and swims in the lake at sunrise, but the fruit at breakfast, sadly, was what captivated me. Ever since she started eating solid food (when is that, New Parents?? Eight months, nine months? Can you believe I forget!) we would always start her day with peeled peach chunks, or a mashed banana, or, her favorite, strawberries, chopped up into little pincer-grabbing bites, just to ensure that she got the healthy stuff in before whatever followed. As she got older, and as she was joined by her sister, we just never stopped. To this day, every morning starts with fruit. It’s an honest-to-God healthy habit that stuck. Apparently, it’s so sticky that it happens when we’re not even around to enforce it. Amazing! Something we did actually worked!

I think because Abby’s elementary school graduation (sorry, “stepping up”) is next week, I’ve been more prone to nostalgia and regret — so these kinds of ridiculously small triumphs have been making my heart swell a bit more than is probably normal. But if you are lucky enough to have a baby starting on new foods, try it out. One day, they might even write home about it.

Tomorrow’s Post: Ten Thousand Things We Did Wrong

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Not Your Mother’s Tuna Sandwich

June 17th, 2014 · Grilling, Quick, Seafood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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