It’s not that I’m not an autumn girl. I do love how the backyard Japanese maple turns canary yellow and my kitchen window frames it like a painting. I love the crisp air thing. And even though I complain about the weekend-eating game schedule to anyone who will listen, I love the return to soccer. Not a whole lot thrills me more than watching pony-tailed girls sprinting down a field in uniforms.
It’s more that, at heart, I’m a summer girl. And so for me, fall means the end of summer. The end of evening swims, sundresses and flip-flops, lazy nights drinking Dark & Stormies by the grill, tomato sandwiches. The end of coming home from work and feeling like there are still hours and hours left in the day to actually see the kids, make a nice healthy dinner, and in general, have a life.
Not Andy, though. He practically sprints to the calendar on the day he gets to flip the page from August to September. Back when we were in Brooklyn, he used to make a point of cranking up the volume when he sat down to his first football game of the season. (I always wanted to answer “No” when Hank Williams Jr. screamed “Are you ready for some footbaaalll?”) For Andy, if he can get through the first week back after Labor Day, September marks the beginning of a beautiful stretch of bourbon, baseball playoffs, and, of course, braising. I think it was in the middle of this past July — you know the month where New York had 15 straight days of 90-degree days — when he started talking about braising meatballs. When the weather turns, he’d say, I’m going to make pork and sage meatballs. Through August, his vision gained momentum, as though thinking about how to make them (lemon zest! he said driving north on the Saw Mill River Parkway one day) might will the weather into dropping 30 degrees, and he could be back where he belonged: Calling the lines of a soccer game in the late-afternoon autumn light; walking around in fleece; being surrounded by Cortlands and Honeycrisps at the farmer’s market. The market was where he had the final epiphany about his meatball magnum opus. (Apple-cider braised pork meatballs!) And last night when we finally ate them, even a summer girl like me had to admit he was onto something.
Pork Meatballs Braised in Wine and Cider
Using your hands, mix together all the following ingredients and form into golf-ball size meatballs.
1 1/4 pounds ground pork
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
Set a medium saucepan or Dutch Oven over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Brown meatballs on all sides (in batches if necessary) and remove to a plate. They do not have to be cooked through.
Add 1 large shallot (chopped) to the pot and cook 1 minute. Add 2/3 cup white wine, 1/2 cup apple cider, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, a little salt, and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, add meatballs back to the pot. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.
Remove balls from pot, whisk 1 tablespoon heavy cream into the braising liquid. Serve meatballs with sauce spooned on top.
We served them with “confetti” brussels sprouts.
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On Saturday afternoon — a gorgeous, unseasonably warm one in New York — I was sitting with some moms on the sideline of Phoebe’s last soccer game of the season. In a conversation interrupted every two minutes with a cheer for whichever formidable 8-year-old was rocketing down the field with the ball, we discussed the merits of our coach’s European-style alignment (only one forward!), we discussed grand plans for our soon-to-be soccer-free weekends, and, of course, we discussed Thanksgiving sides. Technically I had been having the Thanksgiving-side conversation with one of the moms for three straight weeks. It seemed like every time we ran into each other –at the farmer’s market, at the away game in Chappaqua (where we crushed, btw), and on the night she and her husband cooked the happiest, market-freshy-est dinner for my family — she was plotting a dish that would be substantial enough for her vegetarian Thanksgiving guests. The pressure was on because she had gone ahead and killed the year before — some sort of baked polenta with mushrooms — a fatal error because now that she realized she had to top herself. It was so delicious, she kept telling me. So special!
“So why not just make it again?” I asked her the night at their house.
“Yeah,” she said. “I guess I could.” But I could tell she thought this idea was uninspired. Lazy. Total loser move.
Here’s the thing: Repeat dishes are only uninspired and lazy if they’re not good. Repeat dishes that are so memorable you’re still talking about them a year later in a tone usually reserved for George Clooney, are the opposite of that: They are Signature Dishes. This is what the holiday family table is about. I don’t know about you, but in 10 years I want to get that call from Phoebe when she’s in college (playing midfield for UNC, natch) begging me to make her favorite confetti brussels sprout dish when she returns home for break…because what kind of Thanksgiving would it be without that on the table?
Anyway, I think I convinced my friend while we cheered on our girls. (Final Score: 3-0; the good guys.) I’ll find out for sure and report back to you — and try to nail down the polenta recipe for you, too.
Confetti Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves about 8
To make this vegetarian, just skip the bacon and add a few more more glugs of olive oil before you saute the brussels.
Using a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, slice 1 1/2 pounds of brussels sprouts. Meanwhile, fry 3 pieces of thick-cut bacon in a large skillet. Remove bacon and chop into small pieces. Using a paper towel, soak up some of the bacon fat from the pan and add a little olive oil. Add 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/2 medium onion or 1 small shallot (chopped), salt and pepper. Add brussels sprouts and saute about 1 minute until coated with oil and slightly wilted. Add 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth and cook another 5 minutes. Remove brussels to serving platter and sprinkle with bacon pieces.
What to do ahead of time: Shred brussels (up to one day in advance)
Arugula Salad with Butternut Squash, Lentils, Candied Pecans, & Feta
Serves about 8
On a cookie sheet, toss 1 small butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and chopped into small pieces as shown below) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of fresh thyme leaves. Roast at 425°F for 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss about 8 cups baby arugula, 1 cup cooked beluga lentils (you can buy these precooked at Trader Joe’s), a handful of crumbled feta, and a handful of storebought candied pecans. Make dressing: Whisk together 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, snipped chives. When squash is ready and has cooled, add to the salad and toss with vinaigrette right before serving.
What to do ahead of time: Make dressing, wash greens, chop up squash.
More adventurous than my family? Here’s what I’d check out:
Brussels Sprouts with Thai Chili Pepper Sauce (The New York Times)
David Chang’s Crazy Delicious Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens (101cookbooks)
Bright, Beautiful Creamy Shredded Beet-Carrot-Celeriac Salad (devil & egg)
Beet and Orange Barley Salad (p. 53, Time for Dinner)
Raw Lemony Brussels Sprout Slaw (The New York Times)
Beets in Lime Cream (food52)
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If you’re going to have a site devoted to family dinner, you gotta walk the walk, right? So when I asked Jenny where she wanted to eat for her birthday dinner last week, I should have known what the answer would be: home. I huddled with the kids and asked for some help: what should we make? The only requirement was that it be something everybody in the house eats, and it couldn’t be chicken or pizza. Phoebe wanted steak, Abby didn’t. (“It’s not fair!” she claimed. “Phoebe always gets steak!”) Abby, aiming high, suggested something called macaroni and cheese, but Phoebe doesn’t eat pasta. (“Too slimy,” she said.) So we settled on salmon. The question was, how to make this feel more festive than your normal Thursday night dinner? We needed some good sides. We wanted to make something we’d never made before. I had an idea.
Momofuku Brussels Sprouts
We might not have been going out to a restaurant for a dinner, but what if we had one of our most favoritest restaurant dishes at home? We don’t get out too much these days — i.e., ever — but we did manage a meal at David Chang’s Momofuku about six months ago, and Jenny still talked about his brussels sprouts. They were crazily flavorful, charred to a crunch, salty, cilantro-y, and… didn’t they have, like, Rice Krispies sprinkled on top? I wondered if they were hard to make. Turns out, they’re not. (And because we had a good-looking head of cauliflower in the refrigerator, I decided to use that, too.) When Abby found out that her vegetables on this night would include fried Rice Krispies — not to mention sugar — she shifted, like that, from ambivalent skeptic to unblinking believer.
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