I may be biased, but the guy interviewed for this week’s Longform podcast sounded particularly smart and handsome.
If someone had handed me GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design when I was 10 years old, I can’t help but think my life would’ve gone in a different direction. It’s written and designed by the legendary Chip Kidd and it has the power to make a kid (and a grown-up) see the world with completely new eyes. (For starters, you will never look at a FedEx truck the same way again. Who out there knows what I’m referring to??) Too many gem-like moments to touch on here, but how about this sentence: “You should definitely recognize the alphabet as a miraculous thing, and not take it for granted.”
Did you read Unbroken? Or Tears in the Darkness? Or any other WWII-related book by a writer with chops? Well, if so, you will probably love Wil S. Hylton’s Vanished, published next month, which tells the story of a special unit in the military charged with recovering lost bodies of American soldiers from various wars — and the WWII pilot they return to his family, 70 years later.
Astute readers will remember a plug for Cricket Magazines a year or two ago, but as my daughters have graduated from Ladybug and Click to the more science- and literary-minded Ask, Muse, and Odyssey — and as I watch my 11-year-old literally sprint to the mail-slot when she sees that her magazines have been delivered — I feel the need to endorse the whole publishing operation again. Cricket has a magazine for any kid of any age with any interest — and a one-year subscription makes a supercool birthday gift.
If I was getting married again, I’d register for this.
If I was feeding toddlers again, I’d hit up John Derian for these.
Attention Philadelphia Metr0 Types: My cousin started an interior design company. Check out her just-launched website…then call her for a consultation!
Speaking of which, now that Halloween is over, we can get down to the business of my favorite holiday on earth: Thanksgiving. Starting next week, look for a “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” on DALS — everything from sides to pies to a genius trick for staying organized from my very own Thanksgiving matriarch, aka my mom.
Have a great weekend.
Photo credit: Hirsheimer/Hamilton for Bon Appetit.
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!
A few weeks ago, my friend Christy, mother of four, sent me a link to a pork chop recipe she was thinking about for dinner. “So I am going to make this tonight, but what bothers me is that two of my kids will put A-1 on it no matter what.” I felt her pain — soy sauce and ketchup have both been A-1 equivalents in our house — and I wanted to help her. So I looped in none other than Homemade Pantry author Alana Chernila. (Subtitle: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making) for the rescue effort. My feeling was, if they’re going to slather the stuff on, might as well feel good about what’s in the bottle. Alana was nice enough to address the condiment quandry below. — JR
Every family has those condiments.
You probably already know what I’m talking about. What was the first jar that popped into your head? But if we are to get into specifics, those condiments can be characterized by the following:
1. There is at least one member of your family who pours/ spreads/ scoops it over everything, even as you tell them that you just spent two hours in the kitchen trying to get the flavor right, and maybe just this once, they could taste what you made first?
2. Even though it is constantly in use, the jar seems to mysteriously last forever.
3. Whatever it is, it’s excellent on eggs.
We’ve certainly been through our fair share of bottles that meet the criteria. We’re a condiment-loving family, and we’ve covered our meals with Sriracha, Thai peanut sauce, that strange squishy Japanese mayonnaise in the bottle with the baby on it, kimchi, ketchup, Tabasco, fancy mustard, and of course, steak sauce.
What makes these condiments so delicious? Usually, it’s some sort of magical alchemy of tomato, sugar, vinegar and six or seven ingredients I don’t even want to think about. But all that sweetness and acid and salt—those are the ingredients of memory. I think that what comes out of the bottle creates sensations in the mouth way before they actually register as flavor. And those feelings–the burn, the funny feeling in the nose, the wonderful and off-putting way that mayonnaise coats every other taste—they bring us back to all the other tables we’ve felt that way over the course of our lives.
My main goal with homemade steak sauce was to find that strange kick in the back of the throat. When I finally felt it, I offered a little spoon from the unmarked jar to my friend, Molly.
“What’s it taste like?”
Her eyes got wide. “It tastes like a restaurant my mom used to take me on birthdays. It was one of those big places with animal heads mounted on the wall, where you could order any size steak you wanted.”
Homemade Steak Sauce, aka “A-2″ Recipe by Alana Chernila, author of The Homemade Pantry. Makes 1 cup.
Most homemade steak sauce recipes call for a mixing of a bunch of other condiments, and honestly if you throw together some ketchup, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, and sugar, you’ll get pretty close. But starting a bit more from scratch is easy, and then you can control all the flavors and know just what’s in there. Feel free to adjust just about any of these ingredients. Taste as you go. And if you want to leave out the anchovies for a vegetarian version, just substitute in a bit of something smoky like smoked salt or miso paste. Note: For those who prefer a thinner sauce (like A-1) push the final product through a strainer.
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (from 1/2 medium onion)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovy (from about 2 filets)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pulpy lemon juice (from1 lemon)
1/2 cup pulpy orange juice (from 2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
1. Combine the raisins and the apple cider vinegar, and let soak for 20 minutes.
2. Heat the olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and shiny, about five minutes. Add the garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium low and add the raisins and apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, celery salt, hot sauce, white vinegar, tamari, and molasses. Cook, uncovered, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth. Taste for heat, salt and sweetness. Adjust if necessary, and decant into a jar. Store covered in the refrigerator indefinitely.
The other day my mom was telling me how much she loved the Balaboosta cauliflower story I posted last week. “I’m going to make that recipe,” she said, determined. “But I hate printing from the blog. It always prints out so many pages and I don’t know how to stop it.” It occurred to me that if my mother (aka, my biggest fan) did not know that there was an easy way to print out a DALS recipe, then probably a lot of you guys don’t either. In fact, there are probably a lot of things I assume you know, but don’t. So here’s a quick review.
Did you know….
…There’s a Print Function at the bottom left of each post, under the facebook “Like” icon. If you click it, the post turns into a pdf that you can print without the huge ink-depeleting photos. There are some thumbnail photos at the bottom, but they are small and will be gone soon. (Working on it!)
…There’s a Book Club Discussion Guide for those of you who have been nice enough to select Dinner: A Love Story as your book club selection? Click that yellow box in the right margin or just click here.
…There’s a Huge Archive of every single recipe published on this blog since March 2010. Scroll to the tippy tippy top of the home page and you’ll see a “Recipe Index” link in the chalkboard.
…You Can Be Eligiblefor Giveaways if you subscribe to my newsletter by clicking the “subscribe to my newsletter” box in the right margin, or just click here.
…That There’s a whole Dinner: A Love Story community you can tap into on facebook? If you ever find yourself in a quandry (cooking, parenting, or otherwise), send me an email and if it’s relevant enough, I can post immediately on the page. (This week, I posted for reader Andrea who was on the hunt for good pre-school potluck ideas.)
…that “Roar” might be the best pre-game pump-up song for 10-year-old girls ever in the history of pre-game pump-up songs for 10-year-old girls?
Thanks to Linda for sending in the above photo of beautiful little Addie. “Thought you’d get a kick out of this picture,” she wrote over the summer. “As you can see I travel with your book everywhere!”
Quick post today to let you in on some breaking news: I am officially addicted to Trader Joe’s frozen Vegetable Masala burger. How do I know it’s official? I bought a 4-pack on Saturday and they were all gone by Monday. The count: One for Andy in between soccer games on Sunday; one for me for a quick work-from-home vegetarian lunch on Monday; one for Phoebe’s afterschool snack a few hours later; and one last night, for a standing-at-the-counter dinner after coming home late from Luisa’s panel with Deb and Amanda. (Can you say Dream Team?) I bought a pack on a whim a few weeks ago after tasting a sample — I’m such a sucker for those samples — expecting the usual over-spiced, mysteriously textured veggie burger. Instead, I couldn’t believe how subtle and natural the flavor was — and how small (and recognizable) the ingredient list was. Did you guys know about these? And if so, pray tell, WHY didn’t you enlighten?
I like to eat my Masala burger in a pita topped with a mixture of plain yogurt and coriander chutney (Swad brand, found at any Indian grocer).
As parents — and English majors — we take a great deal of pleasure in introducing our kids to the Good Books. In a way, I feel like we’ve got all of our favorites just cued up, waiting to roll ‘em out when the kids are ready: The Catcher in the Rye (we handed this one to Phoebe last summer), Tess of the D’urbervilles, Pride and Prejudice, The Tempest, Watchmen, Crime and Punishment, To the Lighthouse, US Weekly. We’re constantly asking ourselves, as we hurry-up-and wait: Are they ready yet? Is it too soon? And the answer, usually, is: No, they’re not ready yet, and yeah, it’s too early. But there’s something cool going on in the book world lately, and it is happening — no surprise — in the world of graphic novels. In the past year, our shelves have been filling with graphic adaptations of classic — or at least really really good — books that might not be quite the same as the real deal, but are pretty damned close. And a perfect, friendly introduction to the things that will sustain and inspire them, when they’re just a little older. Here, Phoebe (11-year-old, Nerd Alert blogger) describes a few of her recent favorites. — Andy
Moby Dick (Herman Melville) adapted by Lance Stahlberg, illustrated by Lalit Kumar
Who Would Love It: People who can handle stuff that’s a little hard to understand. They basically take the words from the real book, which can be old-fashioned, and they put them in speech bubbles and add drawings around them. If you took away the pictures, it would basically be the grown-up book. But the art is so awesome. It’s definitely adventure-y.
The blurb I’d put on the back of the book: “The fascinating story of the search for a famous white whale — the perfect book for any kid who likes it when climaxes come at the very end of the book. Which, who doesn’t?”
Who Would Love It: People who like Greek mythology and people who like to read simplified versions of big, complicated stories. Here, you’ll meet Athena, Hermes, Zeus, Poseidon, all that jazz. It’s also really cool-looking, too — I love the artwork. It helps to understand it.
The blurb I’d put on the back of the book: “A mystical adventure in graphic novel form. That sounds cheesy — but, you know. It’s true!”
Who Would Love It: The first time I tried to read the actual, real book, I could barely get past the first chapter. It was so boring and confusing. I was in third grade, so I had trouble understanding any of it. But then, last year, I got the graphic novel version and it was just way more interesting. It all made sense. It seemed like the plot was more interesting, more exciting. This is for people who are science-y and also into fantasy. Those of you who like physics will like this, too.
The blurb I would put on the back of the book: “An interesting book, in the best way. The art makes this an even more bold version of the original – it’s, like, BOOM.”
Please head over to my favorite style blog, Cup of Jo, for today’s post on Fend-for-Yourself Night (also known as F@#k Family Dinner.) Pictured above: My Egg and Cheese Tortilla; Below: Andy’s Cacio e Pepe.
This is probably not the smartest business move for a cookbook author who writes books with 100+ recipes…or for a food blogger who wants readers to, you know, come back tomorrow — but I am going to say it anyway: In spite of everything you’ve read (on this blog and elsewhere), you really only need a handful of culinary moves in your back pocket to survive as a parent. Here’s the indisputably comprehensive, 100% definitive, not-at-all-subjective repertoire Andy and I came up with for your reading and cooking pleasure.
Chicken Orzo Soup (page 290, Dinner: A Love Story) Why: Because there’s no problem that can’t be hashed out over a bowl of this stuff. Best When: It’s soccer or football season; you want to make a deposit in the freezer bank; your best friend and her kids are coming for a weekend lunch; your son is under the weather; your daughter is stressed about the algebra test.
The Stalwart Homemade Pizza Why: Because it’s easier than you think. Best When: You want to go under-the-radar meatless with the kids; you’re trying to clear out an end-of-the-week refrigerator; lots of people with lots of kids and lots of different tastes are coming for dinner; you add up how much you spent on take-out last month and have a sad, empty feeling deep down inside.
The New Staple Kale Salad Why: Why not? Seriously, though. Because kale has so much more earthy flavor, more nutritional punch, more oomph and body than regular lettuce (no offense, regular lettuce), and because even the smallest portion feels like it has the magical power of canceling out that cider donut you ate this morning. Best When:Your kids are too young to understand that people might make fun of them (and their parents) for eating kale. If you can hook ‘em young, you’re golden. And if you don’t wan’t to call it kale, lie and call it “salad.” How’s that for ethical parenting?
The Ol’ Reliable Snickerdoodles Why: Because I guarantee you have all the ingredients in your house at all times. Best When: You forgot to make something for the bake sale and the bake sale is tomorrow; you are charged with bring the classroom peanut-free treat; you are in the mood to blow big and small minds alike.
The Template Chicken and Rice Why: Because it’s not just learning a recipe, it’s learning a technique. Best When: You are transitioning the baby to real food; you are learning how to cook; the kids are on a Sendak bender.
The Holiday Hallmark Homemade Franks & Beans Why: Because it’s important to get kids associating certain holidays with certain dishes (and because, forreal, when else can you justify it?) Best When: A fire is blazing in the hearth; you have the whole day to do nothing but bake beans and carve pumpkins; you’ve invited every witch, ghost, princess, and Ironman (and their parents) for a trick-or-treat launch party. [Read more →]
Does ethical parenting exist? Even if this is the quintessential New York story, it’s still an irresistible read. (And as a soccer mom, the annotation all the way to the right of the opening image made me laugh out loud.)
Last night, Jenny agreed to watch The Wire, breaking a five-year stalemate, which is both thrilling (like sharing the best book ever with someone) and also scary (what if she hates it?). I’m gonna do the whole series again, right along with her. Join us!
Some days I look at this screen and wonder how on earth I can spin a story out of thin air about a pork chop or a kabocha squash. And then some days, like today, I can’t believe how much I have to say about a head of cauliflower. So many different roads I can go with this, I’m not sure which one to take.
I could tell you about my brother-in-law, Nick, who is famous in our family for his habit of eating an entire head of cauliflower (raw, unadorned, stem and all) as soon as he walks in from work. But the guy deserves an entire post (character study?) all his own, so look for that one soon.
I could also tell you about my dinner last week downtown, and how I almost didn’t go because the day had been long and there was some babysitting drama and instead of getting on a train and a subway, then back home again, what I really wanted to do was just pick up the girls at soccer and not have to worry about someone else finding or not finding the field in the dark. Well, guess what? It turns out you do not need an advanced degree in astrophysics to drive at night and follow directions (insane, handwritten directions with lots of maps) and I was worried for no real reason. The little snag reminded me of a rule I used to live by, but haven’t been so great about following: When I have the chance of doing something or not doing something, I’m rarely going to regret getting my butt in gear and doing it…in partaking.
Especially when, on this particular evening, the partaking was happening with one of my more favorite dinner dates, Lia, at one of the more exciting restaurants in New York, Einat Admony’s Balaboosta on Mulberry Street. The name is Yiddish for “perfect housewife, wonderful mother” and also serves as the title for Einat’s gorgeous new cookbook geared towards home chefs…who aren’t necessarily perfect housewives or wonderful mothers. Her food is what I would call modern Mediterranean (Harissa-spiked hot wings anyone?) and I swear I could’ve eaten everything on the menu (and everything in the book). But Lia and I managed to narrow it down to six or seven small plates — including shrimp kataif, shredded kale and brussels sprouts, burrata, and a crispy cauliflower dish that was topped with pine nuts and currants and was, to be honest, mind-blowing, worth the commute in and of itself.
Lastly, what I could also tell you is that the following week when I pulled a head of cauliflower out of the CSA box, I found myself standing next to my daughter, who I felt like I hadn’t heard from in a while. I mean, I had heard about the math test, and I could see her working on her soccer juggling in the backyard, and I knew she was thinking about being a vampire for Halloween. But I hadn’t really heard from her, if you know what I mean. And it just seemed to be the exact right time for me to hand her the recipe for the Balaboosta cauliflower, teach her how to cut off the florets with a paring knife, shake up the vinagrette in a jam jar, and talk about some real stuff. On principle, I can’t get into the details on what the real stuff is these days, but let me just say that because of Einat’s beautiful little recipe — simple enough for a tween to help with, but complicated enough to keep her talking and standing next to me for a good 20 minutes — I’ll probably be relying on this recipe a lot in the next few years.
Cauliflower Everyone Loves
I’m not the only one who finds this dish magical. Apparently, it’s one of Einat’s most-requested items on the menu. I cut back on the amount of oil called for (5 cups) in the book, but trust me the dish still lived up to its name. I served with a simple roast salmon and green salad. Serves 4 to 6; recipe from the beautiful Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love.
White Wine Vinaigrette
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
Canola oil, poured to about a half an inch high in a large, straight-sided skillet or (better) a Dutch oven
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
1 cup all purpose flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Dried currants (optional)
Toasted pine nuts (optional)
Coarsely chopped parsley (optional)
1. Whisk together the vinegar, honey, and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk to emulsify. Add salt and pepper and set aside. (Or add all ingredients to a jam jar, seal tightly, hand to your kid, and have him or her shake it like crazy.)
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add cauliflower and boil for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into an ice bath to stop the cooking. (Or just put it on a paper-towel lined plate, like I did.)
3. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large resealable bag. Throw in the florets, seal, and shake until thoroughly coated.
4. Heat the oil in you large skillet or a Dutch Oven to medium-high. Working in small batches, carefully drop florets into the oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel-lined serving bowl.
5. Remove paper towel and toss cauliflower with vinaigrette, currants, pine nuts, and parsley.
Excerpted from Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2013. Photographs by Quentin Bacon.
One of the emails I get all the time is pretty basic: “If I want to make family dinner happen regularly, where do I start?” And in spite of 650 blog posts, my next book coming out on that very topic, and, oh, roughly 5000 family dinners logged in my own house at my own kitchen table, it’s still one of the harder questions to answer. I like to think this is not because I am incompetent (though the jury is still out on that one) but because I am a realist. The truth is, family dinner is not an easy thing to make happen, and any blogger or magazine article or cookbook author who claims otherwise (“Family Dinner in Five Easy Steps!”) should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The way I see it, like anything, there are different levels of the game, and if you concentrate on mastering one level at a time, and building from there, it’s a lot easier (and more long-lasting) than just assuming your family of athletes and picky eaters and late workers and on-again, off-again vegetarians is going resemble a Norman Rockwell painting on the very first time you try. (And by the way: Is there anyone left who believes that a Norman-Rockwell-imagined world still exists?) Here’s the way I see it progressing, with the subtext being that EVERY LEVEL QUALIFIES as family dinner.
Level 1: Sitting Down Together
This is where you start. Forget about the food and just focus on logistics. Get everyone sitting around the table at the same time. Try to make the event last more than six minutes. If you can pick three or four days during the week to make this happen, you can consider yourself ready for Level 2. Level 1 menu ideas: storebought Rotisserie Chicken with a basic salad; packaged dinners you feel good about, or something from the freezer like Meatballs.
Level 2: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade
So you’ve mastered the logistics. Now it’s time to focus on the food. Don’t panic and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make something overly complicated. (This is supposed to be fun, remember?) Take a step up from storebought foods and prepare something homemade that’s simple enough to make on autopilot (spaghetti with marinara? Omelet? Your grandmother’s famous curry?) Don’t feel bad about supplementing with a peanut butter sandwich if someone at the table protests. Just try to make that peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat toast and good-quality peanut butter. In our house, dinners that qualify for Level 2 are: Pizza, a Baked Potato bar; or a Roast Salmon with mustardy-dill yogurt sauce.
Level 3: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade That Everyone Likes
OK, if we were talking college sports here, I’d say you’re getting into Division 1 territory here. If you feel like you’ve sufficiently nailed down Levels 1 and 2, you can start to think about cooking one thing that everyone will eat. This is, of course, where Deconstructed Dinners come into play: Indonesian Chicken Salad, Tortilla Soup, Salmon Salad (page 62, Dinner: A Love Story) are all great choices, but if you have meals that fall into this category I’m always interested in hearing about them. Always!
Level 4: Sitting Down Together to Something Homemade That Everyone Likes and that You Can Feel Good About on a Cosmic Level
This level is actually the whole reason I wrote this post. In fact it was supposed to be the whole point of the post — the idea that we have been going all flexitarian lately, eating less meat, following the philosophy of “meat as condiment,” and really paying attention to where our pork, beef, and chicken is coming from when we do eat it. I don’t know a lot, but I know enough to realize that being able to philosophize about what’s on your table (as opposed to just, you know, getting something–anything! — on your table) is a very luxurious way to think about dinner — especially when you factor in the costs of high-quality meat. If I had to categorize this level of thinking, I’d call it Premier League Family Dinner. And though I can’t play at that level all the time, I aspire to it almost every night. Most recently with this recipe which taps into the idea that a little bit of really good sausage goes a loooong way.
Lentils with Crispy Sausages Pictured above
1 1/4 cup brown lentils
2 1/2 – 3 cups liquid (chicken stock, water) or enough to cover lentils by about an inch
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vinegar (I used white balsamic, but you can use tarragon, red wine, regular balsamic)
1/3 cup olive oil (plus more for frying)
salt and pepper
1/2 pound good-quality sausage (sweet or spicy Italian work well), removed from their casings
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
3 tablespoons chopped bell pepper
leaves from two sprigs of fresh thyme (or finely chopped parsley)
In a medium pot, boil lentils in broth-water combo, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until they are tender, but firm enough to still hold their shape. Drain.
While lentils are cooking, make your dressing by whisking together mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, fry sausage in a little olive oil, breaking up with a fork, until cooked through and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
Toss lentils with scallions, pepper, thyme, sausage bits, and vinaigrette. (You may not need all the vinaigrette — so drizzle it in instead of dumping it until it looks right.) Serve with crusty bread.
Just a reminder that time is running out! October 7 October 8 is your last chance to buy the Kindle version of Dinner: A Love Story for $2.99. You read that right. Two Freaking Ninety Nine. I’m guessing you spent at least that on your venti half-caf this morning, and five times the amount on dinner last night. Not to mention, it’s $274 less than Modernist Cuisine. By any standard, a bargain.
There was a drawer in my childhood kitchen. If it wasn’t made of actual walnut, it was definitely made of walnut-veneered wood, and sat beneath the silverware drawer, which sat beneath the mustard-colored formica countertop. The drawer had no heft and seemed to always be falling off its tracking likely due to the many dozens of times a day we’d open and close it.
My mom kept a strange array of items in the drawer — there was a basket where she stored her onions and garlic. In the corner, wrapped in the coil of its wire, was the electric hand-mixer that matched the countertop and that I still use every Thanksgiving to whip warm milk into mashed potatoes. (Unlike me, my mom does not update for the sake of updating. She uses something until it’s broken.) And on top of all these items were any number of boxes from Grand Union’s baked good aisle. Which shouldn’t be confused with the actual bakery, which would indicate that something fresh was involved — not that the term “fresh” meant anything to me in 1983. Entenmann’s was, of course, king of the drawer, with its sour cream chocolate chip nut loaf, buttery pound cake, thick, fudge-frosting-spackled sheet cake, and chocolate-frosted doughnuts that remained slightly crunchy in all the right places even after a generous dunk in milk. Nine times out of ten, if you opened The Drawer, you’d find one of these products. But, depending on who accompanied Mom to “The Grand,” as she called it, you might also find Freihofer’s cupcakes, glazed pop ‘ems, a box of Drake’s Yodels or Ring Dings, Nabisco Nutter Butters and Fudge Stripes, Fudge Sticks, and Vanilla Cream wafers, or my favorite, Thomas’s Toast-R-Cakes in Blueberry or Corn. Still to this day, on the rare (read: glorious) occasion I find myself eating a Nutter Butter, I somehow taste an infusion of onion and old wood. There was never any talk of calories or trans fats or additives or chemicals or dieting. Why would there be? If it was USDA-approved it couldn’t be that bad, right? Plus my brother, sister, and I were all two- and three-sport athletes. I could eat anything I wanted and still barely hold down a movie theater flip seat with my own body weight.
The Drawer in my house today is not so much a drawer as it is a ceramic bread crock, and one look at its contents would be enough to measure how much times have changed since we were kids. Right now, inside the crock, there’s a single bag of Trader Joe’s mini-bagels. But this doesn’t mean we don’t give in to baked-good temptation every now and then. (Here is where I will also conveniently glaze over the chocolate-covered everything syndrome in our pantry.) Lately, I’ve been into making blueberry-corn muffins, which is not only a more wholesome update of those heavenly Toast-R-Cakes I loved so much as a kid, they also happen to be a hybrid of the two muffins my daughters love and gobble up for breakfast or after-school snack. And by adding a handful of fresh blueberries (right after the stick of butter and half cup of sugar) I have no problem whatsoever convincing myself that they’re healthy.
This is only just barely adapted from Ina Garten’s original Barefoot Contessa, a cookbook that no family kitchen should be without. I halved her recipe and replaced raspberry preserves with fresh blueberries. I like it because I almost always have what I need to make a batch. (No newfangled ingredients like buttermilk.) This recipe makes about six muffins — a week’s worth of breakfasts and snacks.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 6-8 muffin cups with paper liners. To a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl combine the milk, melted butter, and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, whisking until just blended. (You can also use a blender for this.) Mix in blueberries. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake for 30 minutes until the tops are crisp and slightly golden brown.
Cannot for the life of me remember how we ended up with bandana-patterned muffin papers, but if for some reason you are in the market for them, I found them here and also here (as part of a Cowboy-themed baking kit). And in case you were wondering: navy nail polish pictured in photo up top: Essie’s Midnight Cami. .
I don’t know about you but the DALS house is pumped for this premiere. (“The contestants may be small, but the challenges are huuuuge….”) Add some homemade Stromboli and we’ve got ourselves a Friday night.
PS: For no good reason, I’m giving away a copy of Dinner: A Love Storytoday. Leave a comment before tonight (Friday, September 27) at 8:00 ET, and you are eligible to win. Update: Keely (#9) is our winner. Thanks for playing everyone!
Time for another round of crowd-sourced inspiration! Here’s the question I posed to you all via facebook the other day: ”I have at least half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge at home that I have to use tonight or forever regret tossing it. How would you stretch it into dinner?” A few hours later I was faced with an embarrassment of riches — There were almost 150 directions I could’ve taken. My faves:
1. Pot Pies, Tacos, and Enchiladas seemed to be the default direction for 50% of you.
2. From Sally: “Lettuce Wraps: Shred, layer with cilantro, pickled onions, cucumber, and hot chilis on a lettuce leaf. Wrap in rice paper wrapper that has been dunked in warm water for a second. Wrap, roll, and dip in a garlic chili lime sauce. Easy, engages the whole table, and super fresh.”
4. From Naria: “Curry Chicken Salad, crunchy bread, hearty green salad.”
5. From Cheryl: “My favorite Chicken Salad. So nice to have a simple cook night. Chicken with a light coating of mayonnaise, halved red grapes, salt & pepper to taste, and roasted cashew halves served on top so they keep their crunch. Eat with lettuce as wraps or on a nice rosemary bread.”
6. From Ada-Marie “Orzo cooked in chicken broth and a little butter; mix in chicken, frozen peas, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, shake of oregano. We call this Easy Peasey Cheesey Chicken Orzo.”
10. From Alex: “Cold Ginger Peanut Noodles with sliced cucumber, green onions, and chicken.”
That last one from Alex was exactly what I was in the mood for. But instead of making a peanut sauce, like I usually do (See page 261, Dinner: A Love Story) I decided to put my ponzu to use:
Ponzu Noodles with Chicken
1) I whisked together about 1/3 cup ponzu sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, a dash of fish sauce, a teaspoon of Sriracha, a squeeze of lime, few drops of sesame oil.
2) Boiled 3/4 pound of soba noodles, drained, then (in same pot) sauteed minced scallions, garlic, and ginger in a little grapeseed oil (you can use vegetable oil) before tossing the noodles back in to the pot with chopped up CSA green beans, chicken, chopped cilantro and mint, and the ponzu dressing. I really wished I had cukes or chopped peanuts — that would’ve been killer. It was missing the crunch factor.
3) I reserved a little of the chicken for Phoebe, who doesn’t like noodles in any form, and made a quick chicken salad for her with mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and a little curry powder (thanks Naria!) Green beans on the side.
And that was dinner. Thanks for the help everyone!
When I was first learning how to cook — which is another way of saying “When I was first plowing my way through The Silver Palate Cookbook in 1994″ — I remember coming across a recipe for an Avocado Dip that called for a cup of homemade mayonnaise. Homemade mayonnaise? Did such a thing even exist? Apparently it did — the ingredient list bumped me to page 339 where I could whirl a few eggs with oil and come up with something that promised to be both “luscious and versatile.” Maybe for other people. For me, a beginner, it just promised to be intimidating. I skipped the homemade mayonnaise. And, get this, I also skipped the Avocado dip. Obviously I couldn’t make the dip if I was only using regular old Hellmann’s. Recipes were recipes and you didn’t f#@k with them.
Fast forward twenty years (are you freaking kidding me by the way? 20 years!) to last Friday. I found myself in the possession of two beautiful eggplants, which, being married to Andy, was a surprising place to find myself. For him (OK for me, too, I’ll admit it) an eggplant falls into the category of Thing That I Would Probably Not Choose to Cook, but Would Eat if it’s in Front of Me. Well, on Friday, they were in front of me — right there in the CSA box nestled in with the corn, tomatoes, sage, carrots, and beets.
So what to do first? I did what any self-respecting CSA member would do — I pulled Plenty from my cookbook shelves, possibly the most inspirational vegetarian cookbook that exists in the world. The cover featured eggplants drizzled with a buttermilk dressing and bejeweled with pomegranates. I knew my kids wouldn’t go for that, but maybe Ottolenghi had some other ideas for me? Something where maybe I didn’t have to tell my kids that they were actually eating eggplant? I flipped to “The Mighty Eggplant” section…there was the cover recipe, then Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant, then Lentils with Broiled Eggplant, then Eggplant Tricolore, then…oh my God, jackpot:
Other than turning something into pizza, there is no more foolproof strategy for marketing a potentially offensive food to kid than turning it into a golden-fried, handheld, dip-able, glorified mozzarella stick. (At least none that I can think of.) I scanned the recipe…hmmm, russet potatoes, don’t have those. Feta, darn, just ran out yesterday. Tarragon aioli? Homemade? (1994 flashback!) That was not going to happen. Neither was the chilling in the fridge for “at least 20 minutes.”
In other words, the recipe was perfect!
I had some Yukon golds, which are generally not as fluffy as russets — I knew that — and I had Parm, which wouldn’t quite be feta, and, just by dumb luck, Blue Hill Farm had sent me a sampler of their brand new savory yogurts* (tomato, squash, carrot, and beet), one of which (tomato) I figured would be an excellent stand-in for the aioli. Other adjustments I made along the way: Instead of shaping the mixture into sticks, I shaped them into patties — a decision that was validated when Abby spied them frying in the pan and cheered “Are we having latkes tonight???” (Um, yeah, totally.) I was not in the possession of sunflower oil for the deep frying — pretty sure I never have been in my entire life — and so I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil for regular old pan-frying.
And the result? They were kind of genius. Not Ottolenghi genius, but On-the-Fly genius. Vegetarian, nothing wasted, kids ate it up, and, when served with roasted carrots tossed with sage and carrot yogurt and a classic tomato-corn salad the whole thing was the perfect Friday night dinner. I think my 1994 self would have been impressed.
Clockwise from top left: The eggplant fritters with tomato-yogurt dip; tomato-corn salad with cilantro and tomato yogurt; a photo of the Eggplant Croquettes in Plenty the way they were supposed to look before I decimated the poor recipe; savory yogurts (squash, carrot, beet, tomato) new from Blue Hill Farm.
*Editorial disclaimer: Samples get sent to me all the time, but that does not mean I always write about them. I only ever write about products that have a real use in my kitchen.
I was reading the New York Times Magazine‘s profile of Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday (in advance of her new novel), when it occurred to me that Gilbert has been just one of the many literary (and culinary) lights that have graced the pages of Dinner: A Love Story in the past few years. In the name of good reading — and in the name of giving you a break from hearing us babble on and on about chicken — I wanted to take this Friday to remind you of a few of their guest-posts. Among them, we have Oscar winners, James Beard Award Winners, National Book Award nominees, a coupla Pulitzer winners, a MacArthur genius, and, most important, writers and artists who have inspired us at the supermarket, the playing field, the dinner table and beyond. Okay, start reading!