#DinnerGenius

December 18th, 2013 · Dinner

I figured out why I am so addicted to instagram. Contrary to what you might be thinking, it is not so I can live vicariously through that friend who always seems to find herself gazing at a palm-tree framed infinity pool in Phuket. Nor is it so I can be on top of whoever is consuming the #fluke @Marea. (Oh wait, #pinchme, he’s on to the #seaurchin.) N0, I love it because I follow some serious cooks in my feed  – test kitchen directors, cookbook authors, editors — and despite their fat-cat pedigree in the food world, it’s what they’re making for the kids at home that hooks me. Their meals are so simple you can just look at the photo and caption to figure out how to prepare. No recipe required. Check these out:

Who: Phyllis Grant Instagram handle: dashandbella Why: Not that I really need to answer that with a photo like this, but let me just say that I want to cook everything the Bouley-trained, Berkeley-based blogger is dreaming up for her two young kids. PS: Her love of kale is matched only by her affinity for F-bombs.

Who: Carla Lalli Music Handle: lallimusic Why: Because the Bon App Food & Features editor (and restaurant-trained vet) is a serious cook, but never takes food too seriously. Plus, she can write a caption.

Who: Sarah Carey handle: sarahcarey1 Why: She’s editor of Everyday Food, aka the epicenter of quick-and-easy cooking.


Who: Caroline Campion handle: devilandegg Why: Everything the onetime Saveur editor (+ co-author of Keepers) cooks and shoots seems to be assembled on-the-fly — which for the rest of us, translates to #confidence and #Hey!IcanDoThat.

Who: Jennifer Aaronson handle: giofrankie Why: The mother-of-two is a decade-long veteran of Martha Stewart Living’s kitchen (official title: Editorial Director) and her behind-the-scenes posts of cover shoots (like the current December one featuring insanely rendered little Alpine cookie characters) often prompt followers to say things like “How can this even be possible?” (OK, fine, that commenter was andyward15.) But mixed in to all this inspiration are weeknight MVPs like the one-pan pasta you see above. Also, apropos of nothing, she could not be nicer.

Who: Luisa Weiss Handle: wednesdaychef Why: Because she’s not only posting grown-up dishes like the one above — she’s also chronicling what’s cooking for her toddler, Hugo. Plus: A recent post of him playing at the crack of dawn was captioned, “Hugo is back to waking up at 5am and is sort of crushing my will to live.” #itgetseasier Luisa!

Who: Allie Lewis Clapp Handle: allielewisclapp Why: Because the Bon Appetit Food Editor is the master at elevating something simple to something special (See: Za’atar; Labneh) without scaring anyone off.

Oh look, it’s Phyllis Grant again!

Jenny

Who: Me Handle: dinneralovestory Why: See previous 686 posts on this blog and decide for yourself.

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Olive Oil: The New Wine?

December 16th, 2013 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

You will never get me to say on the record that I don’t love a nice bottle of wine wrapped up in foil and presented to me by dinner guests. I mean, come on, that’s just crazy. But I am going on the record to say something that has never been said before. (Except maybe by me, I think, six years ago in Real Simple…wish I could find that link.) Here goes: When it comes to host gifts Olive Oil should be the New Wine. I mean, think about it: When you get a bottle of wine as a host, generally, you drink it that night or at some point within the week and generally, you sort of forget who gave it to you. The gift of wine is a wonderful gesture — I’m not saying it’s not — it’s just that olive oil can sometimes be more wonderful. Because it usually catches you by surprise and because it can be stretched out for weeks, forcing you to remember the giver’s generosity every time you make a homemade vinaigrette or a eat a bowl of Sunday Minestrone, which demands a high-quality drizzle upon serving.

A few of my favorites to give and get: Grove (shown above, $32-$45); McEvoy Ranch (from $23); Frankie’s Spuntino ($18); Pasolivo (From $24) and Volpaia ($28). You could also just take a stroll through your favorite market and see what looks good. (Whole Foods has tons of options.) A few things to look for before you purchase: You want the words “extra virgin” on the label, but don’t worry about “cold pressed” which nowadays means next to nothing; Dark, opaque bottles generally signify quality. (The good ones know that light and heat can be damaging.) Look for a date stamp — you don’t want to buy oil that’s more than a year old. Also, it doesn’t hurt to buy something pretty. It is a gift after all.

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Archaeological Dig Turns Up Old Favorite

December 12th, 2013 · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

Way back in the 90s, when Oprah ruled the land, just before she single-handedly transformed the publishing industry with her Midas-touch book club, she featured a cookbook on her show, written by her private chef Rosie Daley. The recipe collection was called In the Kitchen with Rosie and was filled with low-fat, low-carb meals that Oprah credited with her dramatic weight loss. Rosie, as I’m sure you recall, sold like gangbusters, but, as with most of my circa-90 cookbooks (what’s up David Rosengarten!?) ended up in a dark, moldy corner of my jam-packed basement, coated in a grimy dust that gives you a small window into the dungeon-esque conditions on the bottom level of our house. (As one dinner guest said as he walked through it to get to our garage, “I like your basement. It’s very…humanizing.”)

Anyway, if you are thinking that the reason I came upon my Rosie relic was because I had finally decided to organize the chaos, you have way more faith in me than I do. No, I was merely digging up spare forks for a birthday party, and happened to see its spine in a leaning tower of hardcovers perched beside a dismantled crib. I should’ve known better, because the last time I did a drive-by grab from this tower it was Drinking: A Love Story (no relation) and wound up reading 200 pages of the memoir standing up right where I found it. (Wowowow, was that a wrenching read.)

But this was not going to happen with Rosie because as soon as I grabbed it, I knew what I was looking for: My favorite recipe in the collection. Maybe even my most favorite recipe from the 90s: The curried chicken salad spiked with crunchy apple, which we used to make for ourselves whenever we had leftover chicken in the fridge, or whenever we felt overly hedonistic and in need of a healthy recalibration. Like during holiday season, when every other night is spent stuffing our faces with cocktail-party gougeres and Chewy Molasses Cookies. Like right exactly now.

Curried Chicken Salad
The idea that you could replace most of the mayonnaise with plain yogurt rocked my world back then. Now, we use that healthy shortcut all the time.
From In the Kitchen with Rosie, by Rosie Daley.

Whisk together the following dressing ingredients:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 teaspoons curry powder
3 tablespoons lemon juice
black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons shallots, minced

Toss dressing with:
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken breasts, cubed
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup shredded carrots
small handful golden raisins
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1/4 cup green apple, chopped
1/4 cup scallion, chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon parsley
handful arugula or greens

Serve on toasted pitas or nan (as shown above) or on top of salad greens. 

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Holiday Gift Guide 2013

December 9th, 2013 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Welcome to our annual guide for everything we want, covet, crave, and, yes need this holiday. (I don’t know about you, but in my world, coffee qualifies as an essential.)  As always, the round-up was compiled with cooks, kids, and parents in mind (again, coffee), as well as for those of you who have already bought Dinner: A Love Story for everyone on your list. For those of you who have not: here’s the guide for you. Happy Holidays!

Dansk Kobenstyle Casserole ($120) In the 70s, my mom had it in mustard yellow. Thirty-five years later, I bought it in green. Forty years later, I think you should own the classic in striking, festive red. Warning: Do not purchase this if you have something against kitchen workhorses that you will use every night (as we speak, some veggies are simmering in mine in for chicken pot pie) and that looks beautiful living permanently on your stovetop. –JR

Playmobil Dolls & Sets ($5-$30) We are pretty good about giving away toys to Good Will and friends with younger kids, but I’ll tell you one thing we never hand down — anything labeled “Playmobil.” Nope. All of those German-made cup-handed dolls and perfectly-snapped-together playsets go right into a box in our (otherwise unorganized) basement labeled “SPECIAL.” If your kids are into make-believe (or your husband derives an irrational happiness from putting together a Grand Mansion Dollhouse on Christmas morning), you cannot go wrong with these. The level of loose-part detail should be maddening (tiny leaves to snap into trees, decorative flowers to snap onto birthday cakes, teeny tiny bunny rabbits with the sweetest little faces) but instead inspires you to say things like “Wow, a lot of thought went into this little chimney sweep.” The possibilities are as varied as your childrens’ interests, and so are the prices. If you are in the market for the Big Ticket Item, there are plenty: Pirate Ships, CastlesFarms, and Zoos. (Btw, I’m weeping thinking of Abby’s beloved zoo sitting in a shoebox right now.) But honestly, it’s almost more fun to explore the wide world of mini environs and figures, some of which come with travel cases. A few favorites: A very DALSian Grand Kitchen ($25, pictured above); Doghouse ($11); Horse with Groomer and Stable ($11); Cop & Robber ($11, plus carrying case); Vet Clinic ($11, includes carrying case); Royal Dressing Room ($15); Outlaw Hideout ($18); Comfortable Living Room ($18). Man, I could go on forever. -JR

Blue Picardie Glasses ($26, set of six) I really have no business putting another set of drinking glasses in another gift guide, and yet…How fun is this blue twist on the bistro picardie glass? I first saw them at The Ordinary in Charleston, and have since been hinting in many not-so-subtle ways how cool they’d look with milk (or wine) and how psyched I’d be to unwrap a set of six someday soon. –JR

Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic ($16 a bottle) Also in the category of “first experienced at The Ordinary:” This tonic, a concentrated quinine, mixed into a memorable Gin & Tonic during a memorable summer night. But trust me, the stuff is good all year long. -JR

Galaxy CR7s ($50). I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that our family seems set on making Phil Knight richer, but I am sure how I feel about this Hubble Telescope-y, Buck Rogers-y iteration of the Nike indoor soccer shoe: good. I can’t imagine where the people who designed these go from here (“I know, let’s put photographs of Canis Majoris on a pair of cleats!”) but I’m sure we’ll be buying. — Andy

KitchenSurfing Gift Card (Any amount, but I’d recommend a minimum of $100) Do you guys know about KitchenSurfing? I’m a little obsessed with it ever since our friends Liz and Charlie hosted a dinner party for twelve catered by an Indian chef they found on the site. If the word “cater” sounds a little stodgy and prosciutto-wrapped-melon-ish to you, trust me, this site is the opposite of that. It matches your dinner party needs (Cocktail party? Kid’s Birthday Party? Dinner for vegans or sushi lovers?) with a network of local chefs  (right now that means NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, the Hamptons, and…Berlin!) who bid on your job and send you menus with their thoughts. Everything is negotiable and customizable which makes for a far more reasonably cost evening than you might expect. (Especially factoring in the babysitter you won’t have to hire.) All I know is that if I were a new parent too exhausted to entertain, I’d be psyched to be cooked for and waited on in my own home for an evening. (Photo credit: Brooklyn Industrialist) -JR

PokPok Cookbook (by Andy Ricker and JJ Goode, $22) You might be familiar with the PokPok restaurant empire because you’ve been lucky enough to frequent one of Andy Ricker’s Brooklyn or Portland, Oregon Thai hotspots. Or you might just remember that I made his Pad Thai last year and it was off the chain. Either way, the experience is now available in cookbook form. Warning: This is not a book for people who shy away from mail-ordering or pavement-pounding in search of ingredients you don’t generally find at the A&P. But for major enthusiasts, that friend who has everything, or for someone who wants to learn about Thai cuisine (technique, ingredients, recipes, regional breakdowns) inside and out? This is the one. –JR

Jane’s Granola ($14) Our breakfast rut has, by now, been well documented. There have been exceptions, but for the most part, our kids always seem to come back to the Trifecta of Starches: Bagel, toast, pancakes. It’s hard to watch. But in September, I was out in San Francisco for work and brought home a bag of this almondy-y, cinammon-y granola from Jane (above), which is one of our favorite breakfast spots on earth. I bought it as an anniversary present for Jenny, actually, but she never even got a taste. Phoebe gave it a shot — over Greek yogurt, with a drizzle of honey — and that was all she wrote. Not that we’re complaining. — Andy

The Giant Book of Strange But True Sports Stories (by Howard Liss, Illustrations by Joe Mathieu; Used paperback copies starting at 1 cent) Goofy, old-school illustrations paired with stories that stay with you for decades. (Remember the one about Johnny Heisman scoring a touchdown by hiding the football in his jersey? Or the one where the umpires got lost on the way to a Dodgers-Braves game, so the players made the calls themselves? Or the one where the outfielder’s belt got stuck on the fence when he jumped to catch a fly ball? And he just hung there waiting to be rescued?) Andy spent every Saturday and Sunday morning reading this book in bed waiting for his brother to wake up so he could watch TV. I remember my own brother obsessing over it, too. (Age 6 +)  –JR

 

Rittenhouse Rye Because dark spirits season is upon us, once again. (Only $24 a bottle – if you can find it, that is.) — Andy

Anomia ($13) I first read about this game on Catherine’s blog, and since I will essentially do anything Catherine tells me to do, I bought it before summer vacation, thinking we might need a post-s’more activity every now and then. This was just the ticket. It’s best played with kids who are at least 7 or 8, and is one of those games where even adults find themselves standing and screaming out answers with their hearts racing, reminding themselves every few minutes to Calm Down It’s Just a Game. Bonus: It takes up no room in a suitcase. -JR

Nike GPS Watch ($169) There’s nothing quite like seeing how slow you are running to make you run a little faster. I am generally not a Gadget Guy at all — I still read physical books and need Jenny to program numbers into my phone — but this thing has changed my running life. (If only it could change the fact that I am old.) — Andy

A Very un-Christmasy Moleskine Notebook ($10). My pal Kendra gave this to me last year (along with one that said “Epic Sh#t,” of course) and I love it so much, I’ve been unable to write in it. It just sits on my desk, untouched, and I wait for people who come into my office to notice it, and when they do, they all say the same thing: “Oh my god, where did you get that?” Here. — Andy

Paul Smith Socks for dudes. Fashion-wise, J Crew is generally as crazy as I get, but I own two pairs of these, and they make me happy every time I put them on. And no one has to know. — Andy

Digital Speed Sensing Baseball ($20) I like to think that my two girls are not the girly lip-gloss-and-eyelash-batting types. (Exhibit A: While watching The Sound of Music last week, during the part where Rolf sang to Liesl that she needed someone “older and wiser telling her what to do,” Phoebe turned to me and said, “She can do better.”) But still, when it comes to buying gifts for boys — specifically my nephews — my girls never have any good ideas for me. This year I seem to have hit a home run, though, with these speed-sensing baseballs, recommended by my friend Jennie, mother of a middle school baseball star. As soon as my nephews opened them, they were outside (it’s winter here in New York, remember) testing out their cannons.

 

Matt’s Wood Roasted Coffee. Every time we visit our friends Mike and Sara in Portland, Maine, I spend much of the five-hour drive home asking Jenny variations on the following two questions: (1) what are we doing with our lives, and (2) why aren’t we doing it in Portland, Maine? The water, the healthy-looking people, the tight-knit feel of the community, the lobster rolls, the bread at Fore Street Grill (worth a trip in its own right), the food in general, and finally, the coffee. Man, the coffee! Last time we were there, we stopped in at a place called the Speckled Ax, and picked up a couple of pounds of the good stuff to go. Whatever alchemy happens when you wood roast coffee beans, it’s genius. We don’t drink it every morning because then it wouldn’t be special. A bag of this in the ol’ stocking, and I’m happy. – Andy

The Wire Complete series DVD. I wish I could promise that this is the last thing I’m going to say about this show on this blog, but I will not rest until every last one of you has seen this show. (Jenny finally watched all five seasons this fall, after years of my hectoring, and her review, which I am writing down as she says it, is as follows: “It’s ruined all television for me. I’m retiring from TV now, because I can’t imagine anything better.”) — Andy

Holidays Rule If you’re sick of the Phil Spector, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra Christmas jams, this album — featuring a bunch of cool, more contemporary bands, from Fun. to Holly Golightly, from the Heartless Bastards to Calexico — is a pretty excellent change of pace. If nothing else, give this tune a listen and see for yourself. Well worth $1.29. Also goes well with Rittenhouse Rye and a fire in the fireplace. – Andy

Other inspiring gift guides: The Wednesday Chef, Bon Appetit, The New York Times Dining Section, Cup of Jo for Babies and Toddlers.

 

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Other Mother’s Recipes

December 5th, 2013 · Cameos, Picky Eating, Uncategorized

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.”

Mmmmm.  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[1] 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.


[1] 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.

Thanks Dahlia! 

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From the Dinner Files: Case Study #231

December 2nd, 2013 · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

Who: Frank T.
Age: 44
Lives in: New York, NY
Kids: Daughter Julia, Age 7
Marital Status: Divorced
Custody Situation: Joint; Weekends + 1 Weeknight
Dinner Dilemma: In Frank’s words: “My daughter is finally starting to expand her repertoire — it’s not only Mac ‘n Cheese and nuggets anymore. On the nights she’s with me, I want to stop relying on takeout and learn how to make a few really basic healthy dinners for her.”
Also: ”I wouldn’t mind eating healthier myself.”
Dinner Dilemma #2: “I’m basically cooking in a bachelor’s kitchen. When it comes to equipment, I have nothing. Like nothing. I need to know where to begin.”
Revealing Detail #1: ”I live in a small apartment and I hate waste or having anything extra lying around. I want bare minimum when it comes to both cookware and food.”
The DALS Prescription: Don’t be overly ambitious. It’s like deciding to get in shape — if you decide to run six miles seven nights a week, you’ll burn out after two weeks. Pick five easy recipes that you know Julia will like, buy only the equipment that those dishes require, and report back in a month.

Five Starter Recipes (+ Equipment You’ll Need to Make Them)

1. Roast Chicken with Vegetables
Nothing could be easier, or more delicious, as long as you remember to remove the giblets from the cavity before roasting. This takes about an hour and 15 minutes, so probably better for a weekend dinner. Equipment: Pyrex Roasting PanOxo Silicone brush (to brush melted butter on chicken), Peeler for Carrots, Pure Komachi Knives (Set of Six) for Chopping Vegetables.

2. Grilled Fish with Steamed Vegetables and Rice
I know you love a simple fresh grilled fish — even in the winter — so here’s one recipe that fits all: Take 1/2-3/4 pound of your favorite grilling fish (halibut, tuna, salmon, mahi mahi, please check Seafood Watch for responsible buying guidelines), cut in two pieces and marinate flesh-side down in 3 tablespoons olive oil, about a tablespoon soy sauce, salt and pepper. About five minutes before you cook fish, squeeze some fresh lime on its flesh. Heat grill pan to medium-high, and using your silicone brush, coat with a little olive oil. Grill fish about 3 minutes a side (no poking and prodding while it sears) until it feels firm to the touch (but not rock hard).  Equipment: 9 1/2 inch Pyrex Dish for marinating; Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Grill PanCalphalon Slotted SpatulaChef’n Veggie Steam Silicone Steamer for vegetables; Cuisinart 3-quart pot for rice. (You already have knives for chopping)

3. Angel Hair with Shrimp and Steamed Vegetables
This is perfect for a weeknight with Julia — it comes together superfast. Just be sure to pick up the shrimp the night before she comes over if you don’t have time the night you plan to cook it . You don’t want seafood to sit around for more than a day. Equipment:  Cuisinart 12-inch Skillet for shrimp and onions; ExcelSteel 3.5 quart colander; Cuisinart 1 1/2-quart pot for steaming. (You already have knives for chopping and 3-quart pot for boiling pasta.)

4. Breaded Chicken Cutlets (page 11 Dinner: A Love Story) with Roast Potatoes
The classic. The important part to remember here is to make sure you pound your chicken breasts (between saran wrap or wax paper) to even thickness. Equipment: Other than the skillet, steamer, Pyrex 9-incher (for potatoes), chef’s knife, and saucepan mentioned above, you’ll need a meat pounder and three dinner plates for your egg-flour-bread-crumb dredging, and saran wrap or wax paper.

5. Fish “Presents”
This is so up your alley. Everything — protein, starch, veggie — is cooked at the same time in the same way. (And if you call them “presents” Julia will love them, too.) The trick is to make sure all your vegetables are sliced very thin, especially the potatoes, so everything cooks through. Equipment: You have all the cookware you need for it, but make sure you have some foil or parchment paper lying around for the giftwrap. (I know you hate creamy sauces, but Julia might like to dip her fish in a mixture of yogurt-mustard-and-dill — see the bottom of this recipe for instructions.)

The Result: Keep us posted Frank!

Pure Komachi Knives. Their Six-Pack is one of the best deals out there. (Not to mention, the coolest looking.)

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Friday Round-up: Thanksgiving Edition!

November 22nd, 2013 · Uncategorized

How to make your pies prettier, circa 1959. (Finding this story is so Victoria Granof. And so awesome.)

If I get wind of any of you bolting from your family’s Thanksgiving table to go shopping, you are hereby firewalled from DALS.

A Thanksgivukkah take on the Leftover Sandwich.

Roast Cauliflower (or any Thanksgiving vegetable) would look so pretty on this stunning serving platter.

{Related: I finally upgraded my pie dishes from Pyrex to Emile Henry.}

Not that I’ll ever do this with my Thanksgiving leftovers, but all you ambitious arty types probably will.

A sweet tablecloth I’m bringing for my sister the host (Lynn: Don’t look!), one of Bon App‘s 27 Best.

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!)

{PS: Phoebe felt that Boxers & Saints, another nominee, wuz robbed.}

A dying woman’s cooking instructions to her husband: “Knives sharp. Ingredients out. Read the damn recipe.” (But so much more.)

I’m a purist when it comes to mashed potatoes (milk, butter, maybe Parm) but if I wasn’t, I might go in the casserole direction.

Big road trip? Little kids? Music that will keep everyone sane.

The five most delicious food moments in children’s literature.

Polenta-Sausage Wedges – for next Thursday and every Thursday following it.

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!

Jenny

PS: Need a speaker for your next school/holiday/community event? I’m officially here for you. Let’s talk!

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The Morning After

November 21st, 2013 · Thanksgiving

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Today’s guest poster is Maria Braeckel, an excellent colleague of mine in the book world, and a true walker-of-the-walk when it comes to Sam Sifton’s Thanksgiving. For the past couple of years, Maria has cooked her through (and sent me photographs of) a large portion of the recipes in this book. Now, with an assist from Sam, she tells us how to handle the morning after — and to start chipping away at that mountain of leftovers. Beats the heck out of Honey Nut Cheerios, I’ll say that much. Tell it, Maria! — Andy
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Last year, I spent Thanksgiving at the home of my boyfriend’s second-cousin-once-removed – yes, I know that sounds crazily distant, but his family is close like that — in Newport, Rhode Island. Conor had always wanted me to visit Little Rhodie, partially because he spent a lot of time there when he was younger and partially because, as a native Kansas Citian, I thought for an embarrassingly long time that Rhode Island was actually an island. (I’d feel worse about this if I’ve heard enough snark about the Midwest from Northeasterners to know ignorance is a two-way street.)

We arrived Thursday afternoon and, after a quick driving tour of Newport’s famed mansions, showed up at Cousin Kira’s for the big meal. Kira brought it, big time: magazine-cover-perfection turkey, endless trays of stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, rich, salty pan gravy, and, best of all, Conor’s mom’s Italian sausage bread. After dessert, instead of lowering ourselves into bed like we should have, we went out to grab “a beer or two” on Thames Street and watch the Jets play the Patriots. (We were promptly greeted at the bar by endless replays of the infamous “Mark Sanchez butt fumble” and relentless ribbing from the Patriots fans lining the bar.) Several Guinnesses later, we crashed at Kira’s, but not before treating ourselves to some leftover turkey, straight from the Ziploc. [Read more →]

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Rock-Your-World Cranberries

November 20th, 2013 · Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

I feel like I’ve been dancing around this one for a few posts now — I keep alluding to the mysteriously adventurous cranberry sauce that includes ingredients some Thanksgiving traditionalists (read: My Mom) might categorize under “newfangled:” Ginger, mint, raw, fresh cranberries. (We’ve never been a molded-from-a-can family, but we have definitely been in the boil-them-down-to-jelly camp.) The recipe, Cranberry-Orange Relish, is from Bon Appetit‘s Andrew Knowlton, and offers the perfect fresh-and-bright hit on a plate piled with rich, buttery, beige-y starches. (And hopefully piled high.) Last Thanksgiving, it was so good, so necessary, that I found myself not just tolerating it for the sake of tradition, as I usually do, but actually loving it, going back for seconds, and all year long dreaming of making it again.

Related: The Official Application for Submitting a New Dish to the Thanksgiving Table.

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Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

November 18th, 2013 · Posts by Andy, Rituals, Thanksgiving

We put a lot of stock in the idea that families — whatever form “family” might take — create meaning, and identity, through ritual. When the kids are little, that might mean reading to them in bed every night for twenty minutes, or going for long bike rides on Saturday afternoons and talking about life its ownself. It can be something as simple cranking some AC/DC (aka “pump-up” music) on our way to a soccer game, or, in what seems to be our most sacred ritual of the moment, having the exact same argument with our oldest daughter, when she comes down for breakfast in the morning, about the wisdom of wearing a short-sleeve t-shirt when it’s 38 freaking degrees outside. But the king of all rituals for us are the holidays — and in particular, that great secular celebration known as Thanksgiving.

We love Thanksgiving, and have done our best to pass that love on to our kids. Everything about the day gives comfort, a series of rituals so well-worn that the kids could probably recite the day’s slate of activities by heart: Roll out of bed. Watch some Sponge Bob. Eat Nana’s French Toast (and eat well, because there will NOT BE ANOTHER BITE OF FOOD until show time). Sit around in PJs with their cousins. As the grown-ups trim the Brussels sprouts and peel the potatoes, the kids go off and begin preparing a one-act play they will perform after dinner — one that, while often thin on plot, never fails to do an excellent job of skewering the parents in the room. Around 3:00, go for a long family walk. As final prep takes place and the grown-ups fret about whether the turkey is cooked, the kids gather upstairs and rehearse their play. When the serving plates have been warmed and all the food is laid out on the buffet, we grab our plates and pile it on, uniting the whole mess with a thick coat of gravy, and then we sit down and eat until we’re comatose. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Except for one thing: We could never figure out a way to say thanks.

It wasn’t that we didn’t try. One of the adults would usually raise a glass and express how lucky and grateful he or she felt to be here, in this room, with this group of people — but the problem was, the kids were starving and talking (ages 5-11, remember) and everyone was slightly distracted and Grandma, as per usual, was telling everyone to hurry before it gets cold, and so it never really ended up feeling like we had that moment. I know this is gonna sound a little righteous, but that moment — along with the 20-pound turkey — is what makes Thanksgiving different from any other Thursday night dinner, or any other holiday for that matter. That moment is what this is all about! I describe it to the kids as the difference between saying thank you and being thankful.

So last year, we decided to institutionalize — okay, enforce — the giving of thanks. The goal was to make this something the kids would actually consent to doing, i.e. to make it a little fun, to keep it from feeling solemn or dutiful. We made a Thanksgiving Mad-Libs, printed one out for everyone, kids and adults, and handed them out before dinner with a stipulation: Everyone had to go off by themselves and fill them out, and not only that, they had to put some thought into it. They had to care. When we sat down, obscenely full plates before us, we took turns reading them aloud. And just because this was largely done with kids in mind does not mean that grown-ups got away with sitting by and watching: Everyone filled one out, and everyone gave thanks. Even Papa Ivan, the chocolate-loving patriarch, whose love for his children and grandchildren (see above), was plain for all to see — and for which we are thankful. — Andy

Click here to download a copy of a 2013 Mad Lib for your own table.

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Thanksgiving Eve 2013

November 15th, 2013 · Rituals, Seafood, Thanksgiving

By the time Thanksgiving week rolls around, the game plan, for the most part will be fully mapped out. The menu will have been tweaked and retweaked to reflect just the right amount of tradition (Grandma Jody’s herb-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes) and adventure (maple buttermilk custard pie!); the duties will have been divvied up among aunts and uncles. Anything that can be done in advance—grocery shopping, pie crust making, bourbon stocking—will be done in advance. When we wake up on the last Thursday in November, we will be totally, 100 percent ready to rock.

And then we remember the last Wednesday in November—also known as Thanksgiving Eve, also known as Oh, Sh-t, We Have 14 People Standing Around the Kitchen, Half of Them Starving Kids, and We Forgot We’re Responsible for Feeding Them.

On Thanksgiving Eve, we at least know what we don’t want to make. We don’t want to make poultry. We don’t want to make anything that requires a bunch of pots and pans or taps into the precious reserve of psychic energy we need for Thanksgiving. We don’t want to order pizza, which just feels wrong. And above all, we don’t want something heavy. That’s what the next day is all about.

It’s like this: On the night before a championship bout, did Muhammad Ali go out and pick a bar fight? The night before performing in The Marriage of Figaro, does the diva practice her primal screams? The night before the food-lover’s Olympics, do we make a 20-ingredient paella? No. We rest, we get our heads together, we create optimum conditions for the main event.

So this year we’re doing salmon en papillote, which only sounds complicated. Here, everyone can customize what vegetables go into her parchment paper–wrapped fish packet (Kale? Spinach? Thinly sliced potatoes?) before drizzling (or not) the horseradish dill sauce on top after the whole thing has cooked. It’s fresh and light, and best of all, there is minimal cleanup—only a baking sheet or two. For that, we give thanks.

This is our “Providers” column for the November issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the salmon in parchment paper recipe.

Related: Thanksgiving Eve 2012

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Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie (And Then Some)

November 14th, 2013 · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Sometimes I think the most necessary characteristic a cook should possess is restraint — in other words, the ability to stay out of the way of something delicious. (Think summer corn, a farm-fresh egg, homemade pasta.) In this case, that rule happens to apply to food blogging as well, and the something delicious happens to be the most beautiful book I’ve seen all winter: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book from Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, sisters and proprietors of the celebrated Brooklyn pie shop. You might’ve heard about their award-winning signature Salted Caramel Apple Pie? (I was the dummy who suggested to my daughter last weekend “Let’s order one slice and share it.”)

So that you may never find yourself without the perfect pie to bake, the Elsen sisters’ book is organized seasonally — think Strawberry Balsamic or Pistachio Coconut Cream for spring, a Stone Fruit Streusel pie for summer. But naturally the most interesting recipes to me right now are those beauties in the fall and winter category: Salted Caramel Apple, Bourbon Pear Crumble, Brown Butter Pumpkin, Malted Chocolate Pecan, Salty Honey, and a Maple Buttermilk Custard (recipe below) that looks like it would take top honors on any Thanksgiving dessert spread. And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’m gunning for this year.

I promised to stay out of the way of these beautiful pies and pictures! (So much for that.) Here you go: A little photographic tease… [Read more →]

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Our Thanksgiving Secretary

November 12th, 2013 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, we got an email from a local farm saying they were now taking Thanksgiving orders for heritage turkeys. “That is awesome. Let’s do it!” Andy said. For about a millisecond, I was on board, until I remembered that when it comes to the turkey, it’s not my call to make. Andy and I have free rein to go all rogue (within reason) on the sides — adding anchovies to roasted cauliflower or oranges and mint to the cranberry sauce — but my Mom owns the turkey and gravy. If it’s going to be anything other than a 14 1/2 pound Bell & Evans bird, it’s Mom who has to sign off on it. And let’s be honest, if you own the turkey, you own the holiday. My sister hosts, my brother brings snacks and pies, my father is on wine patrol, but my mom is President and CEO.

And also Secretary. I like to think that the reason why Thanksgiving teeters on the happy side of the chaos spectrum in our house is because of my mother’s Post Feast Analysis System. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she grabs her legal pads (she’s an attorney and I don’t think she ever leaves home without them) and starts taking detailed notes on the holiday: Date, menu, number and names of attendees, temperature, who cooked what, who bought what and where, what she needs more of next year, what she needs less of, what worked, what didn’t. Naturally, I’m not nearly as fascinated by the menu as I am by the details that surround the menu. What makes her system awesome is not just that it reminds us that we ate sweet potato casserole in 2011 and 2012 — it’s the little detail that my then 9-year-old niece requested fewer pecans in the casserole next time around. It’s not just that we auditioned a new cranberry sauce last year — it’s that my then 11-year-old niece was the one in charge of spearheading it with me. (Mom was also sure to note she’s not willing to give up on her old-school sauce just yet.) Of course, I look to the notes to see how I can improve my performance next time. Last year I did a couple things right (I provided “superb” homemade stock for the gravy — which was like getting a gold star) and also a few things wrong (in the mashed potatoes department: a simple “too much”). But at least I didn’t mess up the turkey.

Here’s a sneak peak of my mom’s post-game report. Is there any question who I inherited the recording gene from?

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How Young is Too Young?

November 8th, 2013 · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment

If you’ve been watching MasterChef Junior with your kids these past few weeks, I’ll bet two thoughts have crossed your mind. The first: Wow, my kid is probably a lot more capable than I give her credit for. The second: Who is that adorable nine-year-old preparing Beef Wellington and molten lava cakes, and who seems to have little to no fear of anything, including Gordon Ramsay?

Her name is Sarah Lane, and I’m happy to report that today’s post on DALS is a conversation between Sarah’s mom, Stephanie, and Times columnist, Ron Lieber. Ron is father of a 7-year-old daughter, and working on a book called The Opposite of Spoiled, about parenting, money and values. Like most of us, he was captivated by Sarah’s savvy with a chef’s knife, but his curiosity went deeper. As Ron reports his book, he couldn’t help but wonder What’s her story? What kind of parents turned a kid that young loose with live fire and sharp knives? And perhaps more to the point, Should we be doing the same? He goes straight to the source for the answers…

Ron: Can you fill us in on some of the back story? Where did Sarah grow up?

Stephanie: We moved to Los Angeles three-and-a-half years ago but we’re from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  It’s always been just the two of us. I’ve been a single parent since Sarah was born and I put her to work as early as I could. She would help with dishes, pulling out knives and spoons.

And where did she learn to really cook?

I grew up and lived in Lancaster until Sarah was in kindergarten. Lancaster was a place where lots of kids worked with their families. My mom owns a restaurant, so I waitressed there, and Sarah came to work with me every day, starting from when she was 2 weeks old. She always wanted to be part of the action. She was in Lancaster just this past summer to visit her grandparents by herself and spent a good bit of time helping at the restaurant and waiting on tables. She really knows what a restaurant looks like from the inside.

Most of us worry about letting our kids use knives. How old was Sarah the first time she used one?
She was probably four or five. We started with a peeler, then moved up. I’m still a bit scared of the knife thing and will often turn my head. But I think there are people who live happy and full lives with nine fingers or less, so I’m not that concerned. [Read more →]

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The Only Thanksgiving Guide You Need

November 5th, 2013 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Last year, we devoted a lot of blog space to Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton. And since we’re editors and writers, supposedly on the pulse of what the lastest, greatest, trendiest everything is, we should probably be featuring this year’s of-the-moment holiday cookbook. But here’s the thing: “trendy” and “of-the-moment” are not words that should EVER EVER EVER be in the same sentence as “Thanksgiving,” and we stand by our claim that Sam Sifton’s timeless, authoritative, delicious guide to our country’s greatest holiday is The Only Thanksgiving Recipe Collection You Will Ever Need. (Outside of your grandmother’s recipe box, of course — we don’t want to get anyone in trouble here). As such, we launch our “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” with a bountiful giveaway: In the next 48 hours, five readers are eligible to win a free copy of Sifton’s Thanksgiving, and five more are eligible to have a free copy sent to whoever is cooking/hosting the feast… as a little pre-holiday pump-up and thank-you-in-advance. That’s TEN COPIES WE ARE GIVING AWAY. All you have to do is leave a comment below (we wouldn’t complain if this comment included a Thanksgiving tip) and tell me which one you are: #Host or #Guest.

Update: All winners have been notified. Congrats Josh, Betsy, Candice, Eva, Molly, Susan, Colleen F, L, Divya, Memegirl and to everyone else thanks for playing!

Related: Sam Sifton’s 1o Laws of Thanksgiving.

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21 Questions for…Matt Hranek

November 4th, 2013 · Uncategorized

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 wish I drove a...1962 Land Rover defender.

Gluten-free eating…is off when in Italy!

A cookbook that changed me is… [Read more →]

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Friday Round-up

November 1st, 2013 · Uncategorized

These 30-minute fish sticks are going on next week’s dinner line-up. Only dilemma to be reconciled: Yogurt-Dill or Pickle Juice dipping sauce?

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.”

Perfect Pasta for a Crowd from Catherine Newman.

Writers: Here’s this month’s must-read.

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.

Print this out and take some time with it: David Sedaris on his sister’s suicide.

Is family dinner one of the hidden costs of suburban commuting? (Doesn’t have to be, says one commuting, suburban family dinner blogger.)

RIP Lou.

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!

I know, love, and trust half the staff who put together this special holiday issue. Look for it on the newsstand today!

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.

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Graveyard Cake

October 30th, 2013 · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Along with the block I live on, my memory has been getting a little cobwebby lately. Can it possibly be that I’ve written this blog for three and a half years, aka four Halloweens, and not told you about my all-time favorite tricky treat? Every year I try and fail to come up with something as simple and clever as this graveyard cake, which I first learned about from the lovably loony Clare Crespo way back when I was a magazine editor. Clare used cupcakes, but you can pull it together with any basic storebought or homemade sheet cake (Rosa’s does the trick), a dozen and a half crushed chocolate wafers (or Oreo tops and bottoms), and chocolate sprinkles. (As you can see, this project favors the artless.) Then, for the limbs, if you live in a house like mine, all it takes is one scrounge around the bottom of the toy box to uncover a treasure trove of dismembered Barbies. Happy Halloween!

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