As Usual: Less is More

July 28th, 2014 · Grilling, Seafood

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

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

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

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Neat Trick

July 21st, 2014 · Picky Eating, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Edible Cape Cod

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All Salmon All the Time

July 17th, 2014 · Seafood

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

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

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

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

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

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Bringing Vacation Home

July 15th, 2014 · Travel, Uncategorized

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

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

21 Things We Loved and Learned in Alaska:

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


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

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

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Summer Round-up

July 2nd, 2014 · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose Sangria!

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

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

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

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Kid Classics for Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Four Summer Starters

June 26th, 2014 · Entertaining, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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Cook One New Thing This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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Picnic Chicken

June 23rd, 2014 · Uncategorized

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

They are so good, so good you see!

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

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

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

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One Thing We Did Right

June 19th, 2014 · Rituals

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow’s Post: Ten Thousand Things We Did Wrong

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Not Your Mother’s Tuna Sandwich

June 17th, 2014 · Grilling, Quick, Seafood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday Round-Up: World Cup Edition

June 13th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Any soccer fans out there?

Any (American) people who secretly wish they could call it football instead of soccer without sounding like a weenie?

Any weeneies out there who have more than one pair of Sambas in their closet, even though they haven’t played a game of soccer in 25 years?

Any parents who spend more time than they care to admit showing their daughter youtube clips of the “25 Trickiest Goals in History” (which, unfortunately, also means spending more time than they care to admit listening to the terrible Euro dance music that always seems to accompany these highlights) when you are supposed to be helping her study for a vocab test?

Any (other) grown person out there who has watched this video more than 50 times, and still can’t believe it’s real?

Any dads who have a crush on Neymar?

Any moms who don’t have a crush on Ronaldo?

Any mom, dad, son, or daughter who intends to spend an ungodly portion of the few weeks sitting on the couch and watching the World Cup?

If you answered yes to any of the above, [Read more →]

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Chill, Mom. I Got Dinner

June 12th, 2014 · Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Yes, that beautiful sight is exactly what you think it is: My twelve-year-old is making dinner. For the family. A stack of pan-fried gray sole with a green salad and ginger-miso dressing to be exact. What you don’t see, out of frame, are her parents, having some chips and salsa at the kitchen table, catching up on the day’s events, and doing their best not to tell their twelve-year-old to turn up the heat or turn down the heat, or salt the bread crumbs, or use a fork and not your fingers to put the fish in the (omg very hot) pan, or maybe set up your dredging station next the stovetop instead of a half mile away.

Like all major milestones in life, the genesis of this particular one began at the hair salon.

My mom has been trying to get me to see her colorist for years now and so finally, a few weeks ago, I conceded. Her name was Gisele and having only met her for about two hours, I can say with confidence that she’s my friend for life. As well as learning that the look for prom this year is the low, loose bun, I learned that she adds breaded chicken cutlets to her baked ziti, that she came to the US from Lebanon 44 years ago, that she’d had many jobs in her life (realtor, executive assistant) but hair had always been her true passion. You can learn a lot about someone when they are inches from your ears for two straight hours.

When Gisele found out that I wrote about food for a living, she was amazed. “How wonderful!” she said. And then,”Your kids must be excellent cooks!”

I thought she was heading in the direction parents normally head which is: “How wonderful! Your kids must be excellent eaters.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “They can make a few dishes.” In my mind, though, I had a hard time coming up with something that involved a technique more complicated than spreading hummus on pita. “But they eat pretty much anything.”

And that was that. Until the very next morning when my newly highlighted self went to the coffee shop and ran into Phoebe’s friend, Lauren, and her mom.

“I love your cookbook,” Lauren said. “I cook from it all the time!”

Here again, I thought she was heading in the direction kids normally head, which is: “I love your cookbook! My parents cook from it all the time.” [Read more →]

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Cedar Plank Salmon

June 9th, 2014 · Grilling, Seafood


You should see our basement. No, actually, you shouldn’t. It’s not the face we’re interested in presenting to the world. It’s not even a face we’re comfortable presenting to ourselves. In fact, I think of it as the darkest corner of our psyche come to life. You never know what you will find down there. Yesterday evening, for example, our smoke detector started beeping — the dreaded low battery alert — so I went downstairs to find a replacement battery. In the course of about three minutes of searching, I found: a sad cache of 9 volt batteries (all corroded), some butcher’s twine, a roll of neon green duct tape I’d been looking for a few months ago, a stack of bills and bank statements from 2011, about 7 single socks, an ice cream maker, a child’s purple rain boot, an empty can of La Croix seltzer, a wad of yellowing paper towels that we had jammed into a corner when our washing machine flooded about a year ago and, next to the old leather club chair we used to have in our living room and now serves as our thing-to-pile-other-things-on, three rectangular cedar planks, the kind you use to grill salmon.

Back in the day, pre-kids, Jenny and I used to make cedar-plank salmon on our roofdeck all the time, but somewhere along the line, it fell — like square-toed shoes and Everybody Loves Raymond — by the wayside. We moved on. We evolved. Why, though? What’s not to like about cedar plank salmon? (A) It’s easy, and (B) It’s a really flavorful, tender, smoky twist on a dinner staple we have grown a little sick of over the years. So, after ripping our smoke detector out of the wall, I dusted off one of those planks — literally dusted it off — and fired up the grill. It was as good as we remembered, so good that we resolved not to wait another decade before doing it again. It almost made us feel okay about the cry-for-help that is our basement. There’s good stuff down there, if you know where to look. – Andy

This piece of salmon was 1.5 pounds and I rubbed it, about 15 minutes before cooking, with a mixture of brown mustard, a handful of chopped dill, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger, and lots of kosher salt and pepper. We served with grilled asparagus and scallions, and roasted potatoes. Note Part 1: Before you cook with a cedar plank, you need to soak the plank in water — like, totally submerged — for about 30 minutes, which helps get the steam going and keeps the wood from burning to a crisp.

Once your fish is on the plank (skin-side down) and placed over medium-high heat, cover (with lid vents open) and cook for 12-15 minutes. It’s ready when salmon is cooked through, and slightly brown and bubbly at the edges. Note Part 2: The consistency of cedar plank salmon is not the same as grilled salmon. It’s closer to steamed — softer, more tender, less flaky. So don’t necessarily go by firmness; go by color.

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The Third Piece of the Puzzle

June 5th, 2014 · Sides, Salads, Soup

I know it’s all about The Third Plate these days, but I have another dilemma in my house, namely the Third Piece issue. That is, in the meat-veg-starch triumvirate, I usually have the meat and vegetable down, but lately I’ve been stumped by what else goes on the plate that my brown-rice and bean-hating kids will be excited about, but that isn’t a big pile of potatoes. (I know, everyone should have my problems.) Sometimes I just go with meat and a double vegetable, but the other night I decided to grab two of the seventy-five cans of garbanzo beans I’ve collected in the pantry (How? Why?), then drained, rinsed, dried, and fried them up in some oil before adding a few spices. And I think I might have found my answer. They were (somewhat) healthy, golden and crispy (read: appealing to the kids — probably because they didn’t recognize them as beans), flexible and can always be in the pantry, loyally awaiting dinner duty. Highly recommend if you have a few dozen cans in the pantry yourself.

Crispy Chickpeas
The other night I served these with a cucumber-yogurt-mint salad and cold picnic chicken. (Recipe for that one on the way.)

Add a generous amount of canola oil to a cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Drain, rinse and dry two 14-ounce cans of garbanzo beans. When pan is hot but not smoking, add beans (in batches, if necessary, you want a single layer of beans on the pan’s surface) and fry about 15 minutes per batch, tossing every 5 minutes or so. Remove with a slotted spoon into a paper-towel-lined bowl. Once all chickpeas are fried and drained, add salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne, a 1/2 teaspoon of both garlic salt, and paprika, or (Bon Appetit-style) just smoked paprika and cayenne. You can also top with yogurt that has been mixed with a squeeze of lime juice and some freshly chopped mint or cilantro. Or you can stir in some chutney. Or you can offset the spiciness with a cool yogurty-cucumber salad. In short, go crazy.

Speaking of chickpeas, I remember these Crispy Cinnamon Garbanzo Beans being the most addictive after school snack ever.

And apropos of nothing: How good is The Third Man? I just added it to my Netflix queue — I don’t think I’ve seen it since the Orson Welles unit in college. The zither!

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Birthday Party Burrito Bar

June 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Is it just me, or is it impossible to open a newspaper these days without reading about Chipotle? I know they’ve had a few setbacks lately — there was that whole executive excessive salary issue last week; and then last month when they decided to print inspirational quotes from the country’s literary lights on takeout bags and cups and didn’t include any Latino voices in there…well, that was not the best thing ever. But there’s no question they’re shaking things up a bit and challenging the status quo –I mean, think how crazy it is that your adobo-marinated chicken tacos come with a side of Malcolm Gladwell or George Saunders reading? And how about that whole “Farmed and Dangerous” series they did for Hulu earlier this year — the four-part mini series eviscerating industrial agriculture? (“It’s not about product integration it’s about values integration,” said the campaign’s producer.) It’s also no small thing that whenever we finish a soccer game out in Jersey or Long Island, the first thing my kids ask me to do from shotgun is launch my chipotle app and find the closest location, so we can celebrate their victories (or soothe their defeats) with a big-a$$ burrito bowl. In other words, I’m willing to give Chipotle a pass on their most recent troubles. I’m also crossing my fingers that no one posts a link in the comment field telling me they’re hiring two-year-olds in Bangladesh to do their sustainable farming or something like that.

OK now that all the wonky stuff is out of the way — here’s the real point of this post: Have any of you thought about a Chipotle-catered birthday party for your kids? Because until last month, it never occurred to me, even though all I do is whine about never finding any takeout party food that is as big a crowd-pleaser as pizza. (Remember that dark moment in birthday history when I served California rolls at Abby’s Japanese-themed party? And one of the poor little unsuspecting seven-year-olds actually cried?) Anyway, Phoebe went to a 12th birthday party a few weeks ago where all the celebrants got to make their own burritos, courtesy of the local Chipotle. I thought that was such cool idea. There was shredded pork, chicken, and then beans for the vegetarians. And of course, all the toppings and the cilantro-spiked rice that we love so much in our house and replicate often, along with the rest of it. The order comes with sternos, trays, serving utensils, too. It’s totally my new party move.

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A Challenge

May 28th, 2014 · Uncategorized

You guys know the story about how family dinner got majorly kick-started in our house…way back yonder when the girls had to stand on stools to reach the stove…right? For those of you who don’t, a superquick refresher: To bust out of a pizza-pasta-nugget rut, we challenged ourselves to cook 30 brand new meals over the course of 30 days. It was like dinner bootcamp — we thought it might get the kids to try a few new foods, as well as re-ignite our fast-waning love of cooking. (Which is what happens when you eat pasta with butter sauce five nights a week.) It worked on both fronts, and Dinner: The Playbook out in August, will tell the long version of the story, but for now, I want to issue forth a mini challenge. A dinner bootcamp lite.

So who’s ready to bust out of a recipe rut? Or who just wants to inject a little sumpin sumpin into dinnertime again?

If that’s you, pay attention! We will be picking 50 readers and bloggers to partake in a challenge. NO! NOT A THIRTY DAY CHALLENGE! All you have to do is cook at least three meals from Dinner: The Playbook over the course of ONE week (June 22 – June 29) and share the results on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr page. (Or just call up a friend on the phone and tell her about it. I’d like that very much, too.) Whether you think the meals were successes or failures, I want to hear about them all.

Participants will receive an advance copy of Dinner: The Playbook, a coupon for Applegate products, and a $50 Target gift card to help buy groceries for a week of cooking.
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Are you man enough? Woman enough? Cook enough? (If I was, anyone is!) If so, join me!
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Update: The deadline for applying has now passed. Those selected to participate will be notified the week of June 16.

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Trend Alert: The Sneal

May 27th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Toasts might be all the rage right now in cities across America (in my world it begins and ends with the salted butter and anchovy tartinette at Buvette, thanks for asking) but I can say with confidence that I’m pretty sure the whole trend actually originated in my house last spring. Yes, it’s true! For skeptics out there, I can even pinpoint the month — it was April 2013, a full month into a jam-packed spring sports schedule when practices and games began taking place exactly during the hours when we’d normally be eating dinner. I’ve weighed in with many dinner ideas for dealing with this decidedly happy problem, but after my most recent, two readers asked an excellent question that I have never addressed, namely: “Any ideas on snacks/tie- overs so [the kids] have enough energy to make through sports until the late dinner is ready?” (Thanks Melissa and Cynthia!)

The answer, Things on Toast!

Because they are not quite a snack and not quite a meal, we have lately taken to calling these toasts “sneals.” (You heard it here first!) Sneals tend to be healthy but substantial, usually vegetarian, but not always, and are generally consumed between 5:00 and 6:00. Anything after 6:00 is officially dinner. Anything before 5:00 is officially snack.

A few sneals that you might consider if you don’t think your athlete will be begging for anchovies at 5:00 on a weeknight (or, um, ever):

Avocado on Toast: Smash up a half an avocado with salt and a squeeze of lime. Spread on crusty bread and stud with grape tomatoes; Hummus on Pita: Sometimes we have homemade lying around, but that is beyond the call of duty. Hummus on Trader Joe’s whole wheat naan is Phoebe’s favorite. Add some greens and feta, and that’s my favorite; Minty Peas: Whirl a handful of thawed frozen peas with Parmesan, olive oil, mint, salt and lemon juice (note: also makes a good breakfast, I just ate the one you see on the bottom left, which I made specifically to shoot for this post); Smoked Trout and Pickled Anything: You could go crusty bread for this or you could just take two Finn Crisps, smear with a thin layer of mayo, and top with smoked trout (I get this at TJoes) and pickled cabbage (Note: MVP of my weekday lunch rotation); Peanut Butter: With bananas, with raisins, drizzled with honey, and even, to hear Bon Appetit tell it, with Sriracha. Photo on top left by Danny Kim.)

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