Friday Round-Up

March 15th, 2013 · 219 Comments · Uncategorized

What’s happening in Family Dinner-Ville this week:

*Have you read Lean In yet? What do you think? I found myself skimming over all the studies reminding me of what I already know (women make less money than men; women do more housework even when they work full-time; leaving your kids to go to work is harder for moms than kids, etc.) and absolutely devouring the (somewhat measured) glimpses into her high-power life — like how she forgets to put her kid in green on St. Patrick’s Day and how her kids came down with lice while flying on the private jet of eBay’s CEO. Also: I don’t know if this is just a case of me wearing my family dinner goggles, but there are countless references to getting home in time to eat with her kids and how good it makes her feel. How centered.

*Due to popular demand – Deconstructed Dinner on DALS now has it’s own category. If you click on it (right over there in the right margin under “Categories”) you can get a list of dinners that are more conducive to separating into individual components (for kids) while not messing with the integrity of the whole (for parents).

*Every time I head to Stone Barns I think a) How lucky am I that this farm is right here in my neighborhood? then b) What can I buy at their gift shop? Locals know what I’m talking about — the mix of cookware, cookbooks (you’ll recognize at least one), tableware, kids toys, canning jars, and way more is one of the most beautifully curated gift collections anywhere. Some good news for non-locals: I had no idea until a few weeks ago that they have an online store as well. Head over there and check out my current obsessions: Lidded “working glasses,” a classic market tote, and a table runner that I bought for my mom’s birthday last year and liked so much I went back to pick one up for myself.

*I know, at this point you probably think that I’m a publicist for “Here’s the Thing,” but Alec Baldwin’s interview with NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams made me run a mile longer than I wanted to so I could hear the entire thing. (Ask Andy, this was an unprecedented event.) Favorite moment: Williams recallling his mother showing young Brian a photograph of a famous broadcast journalist, then telling Brian, “You can do better than him.”)

*Apropos of nothing, I just bought this fabric to cover a bulletin board in my home office.

*Apropos of all niece and nephew and “special” birthdays coming up this year, here’s my new favorite gift. (I love my childrens’ friends, but I ain’t spending $40 on them.)

*I’ve loved every essay I’ve read so far in The Cassoulet Saved My Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eatand based on the luminaries that editors Caroline Grant and Lisa Catherine Harper lined up for the anthology, I’m guessing this will continue. The last paragraph of Catherine Newman‘s essay “Talk With Your Mouth Full,” about the evolution of her family’s dinner table conversations, has been haunting me for days — even if the entire essay leading up to it had me in stitches. Here it is:

There are doubtless measurable benefits to dinner-table conversation. It’s a natural check on overeating, for example. Even if you’re talking and eating at the same time, you simply can’t generate the same food-shoveling velocity that you could if you were eating silently. Plus, I’m sure it’s good for mental health, for social health, for learning how to become a good date — although, my god, I’ll miss them when there’s someone they’re dating besides us. Bust mostly the benefits are immeasurable. What dinner table conversation gives us is time to stop and appreciate how much we have, right now, even as we imagine, deliriously, that it could go on forever.

To celebrate this quote specifically and the book’s publication generally, I’m giving away one copy of Cassoulet to a random commenter below. Good luck and have a great weekend. Update: Chris (#194) is the winner. Congrats! (more…)

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Burrito Bowl

March 13th, 2013 · 45 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

If you had to use one word to describe a Dinner: A Love Story recipe, what would it be?

A reporter asked me this last year when my book came out. Is there a harder question to answer in the world than one that begins “If you had to use one word…”? I mulled it over for a little bit.  I thought about “real,” (there’s my dinner diary and all); I thought about “nostalgic” (porcupine meatballs!); I thought about my friend Sally, who, when asked by a younger, cherubic coworker “If you had to use one word to describe your newborn what would it be?” replied: “Annoying.”

Over the years, the one word I’d use to describe a DALS dinner has evolved right along with the family and the family’s dinnertime needs. Early on, pre-kids, it might have been “ambitious.” With new babies around, probably “Quick” or “Easy.” With toddlers: “White.” But these days, for a recipe to earn a spot in the family dinner rotation, above all it has to be flexible. And by that I mean not only flexible because of how beautifully it can be deconstructed for picky eaters and flexitarians, but because of how you, the cook, are able to prepare it.

Take these burrito bowls, which I have been meaning to make ever since the girls walked into Chipotle for the first time and declared it the best restaurant in New York City. I knew the burritos-without-tortillas would become a major player in our family dinner lives because I could make the meal as simple or as complicated as my time and energy allowed. In other words: Every component in a burrito bowl can be either storebought or made-from-scratch (or some combination of the two) and still yield a healthy dinner. The black beans can be just black beans — or they can be black beans simmered with a bay leaf and some onions. The avocado can be chopped avocado, or it can be avocado mashed with cumin and red onion and salt. As I was making simple white rice — one of the few things I thought was a pretty straightforward task — Andy wandered by the stove and said, “You’re gonna add cilantro, lime and a ton of salt in there like Chipotle rice, right?”

Uh, right.

On a weeknight, you’d probably want more of the components to be simplified. On the weekend, it would serve you well to go all out because, obviously, if you put that much work into it, it’s gonna be badass. Come to think of it, maybe that would be a better word that flexible.

Burrito Bowl
I gave two versions of each component below: the “weeknight” (quick) and the “weekend” (less quick). Take a look, then expend energy building flavor on the things you like the most — or whatever the clock allows. (The only thing I insist you don’t shortcut is the chicken.) To serve: Present fixins on the table or counter, serve everyone a half cup of rice, then let them top as they please.

Chicken
I like this meal to be more veg-heavy, so I only cooked two (boneless, skinnless) chicken breasts. You can add another if you think your family will eat more than shown in the above bowl. To make: Cube two medium-size chicken breasts into pieces as shown above. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 onion (chopped finely), then the chicken. Sprinkle everything with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and more salt & pepper. Let chicken brown a little before tossing around in pan. When chicken is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes total), remove to a bowl. Squeeze a little lime juice on top.

Beans
Weeknight version: Heat a 14-ounce can of black beans in a small saucepan until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Weekend version: Heat 1/4 onion (sliced) in a small saucepan with a little vegetable oil. Add a 14-ounce container of black beans, a bay leaf, and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Rice
Weeknight: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. (This is based on a 1/2 cup rice per diner — you know your family better than I do, so make more if you think you’ll need it.)
Weekend: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. When rice is finished, toss in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, the juice from 1/2 lime, and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt.

Salsa
Weeknight: Use your favorite storebought salsa. (We like Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica or Roasted Tomatillo.)
Weekend: Finely chop 2 cups grape tomatoes (or any tomato if it’s summer) with 2 tablespoons chopped red onion, handful cilantro, splash of red wine vinegar,  salt, pepper, 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper.

Quick Guacamole
Weeknight: Slice an avocado into chunks
Weekend: Using a fork, mash one avocado with 1/4 teaspoon cumin, salt to taste, and a heavy squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Other components
Sharp cheddar (sliced or grated), fresh cilantro, sour cream, shredded lettuce. (Me: “What do you think about using shredded kale instead of romaine?” Andy: “Sounds great as long as I don’t have to have it.”)

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Where Do I Begin?

February 21st, 2013 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

This is how a conversation went with my new friend Sarah, the first time I met her a few months ago:

Sarah: I really love your blog, it gives me hope.
Me: Hey, thanks. I’m so glad.
Sarah: But I don’t cook from it.
Me: Oh…you don’t?
Sarah: No, I don’t cook. I can’t do anything in the kitchen.
Me: Yes you can.
Sarah: No I can’t. I. Really. Can’t.

That week, I had just read a profile of Stacy London and it crossed my mind that Sarah felt the way about cooking the way I felt reading that story — the way I felt trying to figure out what I was going to wear to a fancy holiday party later that month: Intimidated. A little lost.

Me: It’s not hard. You just need a little confidence and one or two solid recipes in your rotation.
Sarah: Well, what are those recipes? I have no idea where to start.
Me: I have almost 500 recipes on my blog, start there!
Sarah: That doesn’t help.

She was totally right! Someone might as well have told me “How do you not have something to wear to that party? There are 500 stores in New York City that sell perfect party dresses.”

On this blog, sometimes we get so bogged down in the (admittedly plentiful) minutae of family dinner — from the benefits of cooking for your kids to how to stay on top of Meatless Mondays to what freaking books to discuss at the dinner table — that we can forget to dial back and address the most elemental of issues: Where Do I Begin?  It’s why I recently introduced the “First Time Here” button up there on the right. And it’s also why Andy and I wrote a feature for Bon Appetit this month called  A Family Dinner Primer. Besides telling you what to make for family dinner (including this rockin’ steakhouse steak salad pictured above), we hope it goes back to the basics and tells you how to make family dinner.

As for what to wear to family dinner? I’m open to suggestions.

Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing
If you want to do this on a weeknight, I highly recommend making the dressing and the pickled onions ahead of time. They are minor tasks, but just the kind of thing you’ll be glad you don’t have to do after a day wearing heels that were supposed to be more comfortable.
For the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk the following. Can be made in advance and stored for up to a week:
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
For the salad:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1-pound rib-eye, flank, or skirt steak
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
12 ounces fingerling potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
6 radishes, cut into thin wedges
2 cups greens (such as arugula or torn Bibb lettuce leaves)
Pickled Red Onions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Season steak with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until cooked to desired doneness, 5-8 minutes per side for medium-rare rib eye, about 4 minutes per side for flank steak, or 3 minutes per side for skirt steak. Transfer meat to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.
While steak rests, wipe out skillet and heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender, 8-10 minutes.
Slice steak and serve with horseradish dressing, potatoes, cucumber, radishes, greens, and Pickled Onions.
Photo by Gentl & Hyers.

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This Week in Deconstructing Dinners

February 13th, 2013 · 33 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Favorites, Sides, Salads, Soup

Probably when most people spy a book like Jeanne Kelley’s Salad for Dinner at the bookstore or in their library they pick it up and think Mmmm, this looks nice and healthy. Or: I could afford to shake up the Romaine routine. My first thought? A veritable treasure trove of potentially deconstructable dinners. True, I can look at almost any meal and envision how it can break down into child-friendly, nothing-touching, no-green-speck meals to please the sauce-o-thropes at the table. (Soup works, so does a pot roast.) But salads have got to be the most conducive. And if ever there were a cure for the parents who cannot seem to find common ground between their craving for The Way They Used to Eat and their toddler’s Craving for White Pasta…it’s this book. Kelley’s recipes take you far beyond the barren world of tomato-and-bagged-lettuce salads into the promised land of hearty, healthy, grain-rich, colorful, incredibly flavorful masterpieces you’d serve to any dinner guest — Seared Salmon with Quinoa, Asparagus, and Spinach; Thai Style Grilled Beef Salad; Toasted Barley, Long Bean, and Shitake Mushroom Salad with Tofu. And yet, very few of them seem out of reach. I opened the book during breakfast, found this jackpot Indonesian Chicken Salad recipe below and realized I had every single thing I needed to get it together for that night. Maybe you do, too.

 

Indonesian Pineapple, Chicken and Spicy Peanut Salad
Adapted from Salad for Dinnerby Jeanne Kelley

The peanut dressing is what ups the wow factor here, but it’s definitely spicy, so if you are worried about that with the kids, I’d limit the Sriracha to about a teaspoon. Also, Kelley instructs roasting the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet along with 1/4 cup of water then tented with foil. (About 40 minutes at 375°F.) I usually poach, but was curious about her method and found it to be much easier. The chicken (bone-in breasts) ended up incredibly tender and shred-friendly.

Spicy Peanut Dressing
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 large garlic clove, pressed

Salad
8 cups thinly sliced cabbage (from about 1 medium head)
1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into strips as shown above
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 pound shredded cooked chicken breast (see note above)
1/2 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts
lime wedges

In a large bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Add the cabbage, pineapple, carrots, red pepper, scallions, cilantro, and chicken and toss to combine. Serve sprinkled with peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice.

If you are deconstructing this salad for kids: Whisk dressing in a separate small bowl and serve separately from salad. (Or in a little dipping bowl, as shown above.) Instead of tossing all the salad ingredients together, place each one in its own clump in a wide shallow bowl, have the kids pick what they want, then proceed to toss for the normal people.

Last year, I couldn’t walk into a food editor’s office without seeing Jeanne Kelley’s book right on the very top of their cookbook pile with post-its sticking out of every side. I don’t know what took me so long to get my own copy, but I have a feeling I’m going to be using it a LOT.

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Summer Stew

July 18th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

I should probably be stripped of my food blogging rights for telling you to do anything with summer corn besides eat it on the cob with a little salt and butter, but you know I can’t resist the urge to share the discovery of a new deconstructible dinner. Last week was not the first time we’ve eaten this corn, chicken and sausage stew — not by a longshot, we ate a version of it almost every August weekend one summer in the 90s. But since then, we’ve had to think a bit more strategically about dinner, which, of course, is another way of saying, we’ve become parents. I was happy to discover last week, that the family classic joins the ranks of the tortilla soup, the salmon salad, and the other dinners on page 158-163 of my book that can be broken down into their individual components so that they can be more palatable to the kids, and less headache-inducing for the cook. It’s a goodie.

Summer Stew with Chicken, Corn, and Sausage
Adapted from Gourmet

3 links chorizo sausage (I used chicken), sliced into coins
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 or 7 boneless chicken thighs, salted and peppered
1/2 medium onion, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)
2 to 3 cups corn, cut off the cob
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
basil, chopped

In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown sausage in olive oil over medium heat until crispy. Remove.  Raise heat to medium-high and brown chicken (in batches if necessary) on both sides until mostly cooked through. Remove. Turn down heat to medium-low, add onion, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, and a little more oil if necessary. Stir until slightly wilted. Add corn and tomatoes and stir until vegetables release their juices.

Nestle chicken and sausage back in the vegetables, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Serve with basil and crusty bread in bowls, or separate into individual components for the kid who doesn’t like things “mixed” and serve on a plate.

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Tortilla Soup: Delicious & Deconstructable

May 30th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Favorites

 

I can tell from newsletter subscriptions and my email inbox (please don’t ever stop writing me) that there are a lot of new faces stopping by DALS to check out what we’ve been doing here for the past two and a half years. So longtime loyal readers, please forgive me while I indulge the urge to do a little summary for our first-time visitors. First-time visitors: Welcome! Your pop quiz on skillet meals will not be administered until next week, but today I’d like to present to you the most fundamental of DALS Strategies for Family Dinners. It’s known around these parts as The Principle of Deconstruction and — are you paying attention, because it’s complicated – it goes like this:  If you are tired of being a short-order cook for your daughter who hates chicken but likes avocado and your son who hates avocado but likes chicken, and your toddler who only eats olives and cheese and caviar, you do not have to make three separate dinners. The key is to pick one meal that can be broken down into its individual ingredients (aka deconstructed) and reassembled the way your diners like it. That way, even though everyone is eating something different, you have only made one meal and, more important, you do not have the urge to politely excuse yourself then scream at the top of your lungs into the clothes dryer. I’ve gone on and on about deconstructing, I know, and there is a huge section in my book devoted to recipes that are conducive to this strategy, but lately I’ve been applying the Theory of Deconstruction to soups with much success. Look how I turned my 15-minute Tortilla Soup into for my soup-hating 8-year-old?

Nice right? The broth becomes a dip, and all the ingredients that she prefers…you know, dry…get placed on her plate before any offensive simmering begins. Tortilla Soup is made with shredded chicken, avocado, and hominy among other things and is insanely easy to put together.

Tortilla Soup

2 chicken boneless breasts (about 3/4 pound) rinsed and patted dry (or, you can use a storebought rotisserie chicken like I did above)
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1 dried chile pepper
1 15-ounce can hominy (found in international sections of supermarkets; look for Goya)
juice from 1 lime
various toppings: tortilla chips, avocado chunks, shredded cheddar cheese

Brown the chicken in a medium saucepan, about 2 minutes on each side. (It does not have to be cooked through. If using rotisserie chicken, shred it and continue to next step.) To the same pan, add oil and saute the onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and salt and pepper over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add the broth, chile pepper, and hominy and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred using two forks. Add the shreds back to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes.

If your kids will only eat the components of this soup and not the soup, lay out the components (chicken, cheese, avocado, etc) on a plate the way they’d find it least offensive. Then ladle the soup servings into bowls, you know, the way it was meant to be served, squeeze lime into each bowl and add the toppings.

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15 Sorta Kinda Truths About Dinner

May 16th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Chicken and Turkey

Those of you who have your Ph.D in D.A.L.S. are already aware of the groundbreaking scientific work we’ve done proving various theories about dinner — the preparing of it, the consumption of it, the enjoyment of it. For instance, this well-worn favorite: When you take three measly minutes in the morning to do something that helps you get the momentum going on dinner prep — chopping vegetables, marinating meat, placing a pot of water on the stovetop  – you will end up saving up to 15 minutes on the other end of the day when you arrive home from work. I can’t pretend to know why this is the case — as backing up our dinner theories with real data tends to take more time than we actually have. Time we would rather spend coming up with more impossible-to-prove wrong theories. Such as:

  1. Shredding bagged lettuce makes it taste fresher and better. It doesn’t matter what kind of lettuce — romaine, iceberg, endive — Last night I made some chili-rubbed chicken and placed it on a bed of shredded spinach (pictured above; recipe below), which I usually find chewy in its whole raw form. Not the case with the shred. Along the same lines, the fine chop of anything as it pertains to a saladex summerus will almost always upgrade it.
  2. When it comes to entertaining: Each kid under eight years old is the equivalent of five grown-ups in terms of volume and space and mess generating.
  3. Heat is the great equalizer when it comes to bagels. I’ll take a just-out-of-the-oven bagel from Missoula over a cold outer-borough bagel any day. (Please do not forward this to my Bronx-born Jewish father.)
  4. Dinner will taste twice as good when it’s eaten outside. It will taste three times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights. Four times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights and with a view of any body of water.
  5. Magic Formulas Worth Committing to Memory: Melon + Salt; Mint + Peas; Peanut Butter + Fudge Brownies; Bacon + Brussels Sprouts; Bacon + Eggs; Bacon + Maple; Bacon + Bacon; Bacon + Shoe Leather
  6. The quality of dinner at a restaurant is in converse proportion to the number of words on that restaurant’s menu. For instance, Tom Colicchio’s menu at Craft. This is how it reads: Mushrooms. Potatoes. Braised Short Ribs. A menu like that is always going to win out over the one listing Pork chops marinated in brandy and pomegranate juice with sweet potatoes and miso-mango chutney on a bed of shaved salsify and butter lettuces. (Another red flag: the pluralization of lettuce.)
  7. Kids are able to tap into deep wells of resourcefulness with remarkable efficiency when it comes to assembling the ice cream, the peanuts, and the chocolate sauce for sundaes.
  8. You won’t find a single parenting expert who endorses using bribery to convince a kid to eat.
  9. You won’t find a single parenting expert, who is a parent, who hasn’t used bribery to convince her kid to eat.
  10. Food eaten on sticks has a 40% higher rate of consumption with kids. Food served in conjunction with dips: 20%.
  11. Pop Tarts, Apple Jacks, Toast-R-Cakes, and other usually verboten breakfast foods possess nutritional merits when consumed on vacation.
  12. Everything tastes better on vacation. It just does.
  13. Anything braised tastes better the next day cold, eaten right out of its leftover dish with a fork, while standing in front of the refrigerator.
  14. Be wary of people who say they enjoy radishes dipped in salt.
  15. It’s practically the law that the phone call from the client  – the one you’ve been dying to check off your list all day — always comes five minutes before you are leaving the office to make it home in time for dinner. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to control this phenomenon or — worse — allow it to control you.

 

Chili-rubbbed Chicken with Shredded Spinach (Rule 1) and Dip (Rule 10)
I generally go with about one medium size chicken breast per diner. You don’t need a lot of chicken if there is enough salad to stretch it. Best part about this meal: totally deconstructible for the kid who doesn’t want anything touching.

For rub: In a small bowl, mix together the following:
1 tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne (1/8 tsp)
pinch garlic salt (1/8 tsp)
2 generous pinches salt (1/2 tsp total)
shake or two of dried oregano

For dressing: In a measuring cup, mix together the following:
juice from 1 lime
3 heaping tablespoons sour cream
3 heaping tablespoons salsa
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar (to taste)

Pound 3 to 4 chicken breasts until about 1/4 inch thick. (As always, the most important thing is that the breasts are of even thickness.) Sprinkle a teaspoon of spice rub on top of each breast and, using your fingers, spread and press into the meat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet set over medium heat. Add chicken, spice-side down and cook 3-5 minutes until chicken looks cooked around the edges. While chicken is cooking, sprinkle and rub spice mixture into the other side of chicken. (Do not outsource this step to your children; there will be spitting oil.) Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes until cooked through. Slice as shown above — or actually however you want.

In a bowl, toss together a few handfuls of baby spinach (shredded with a chef’s knife into confetti), thawed frozen corn, 1/2 can black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 avocado (chopped), grape tomatoes (chopped), 1 bunch scallions (chopped), 1/4 cup cilantro (chopped). Top with chicken and drizzle with dressing.

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Chicken and Arugula Epiphany

July 12th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

I have been trying to make this dinner since July 1993. I know that sounds ridiculous — chicken with arugula and tomatoes seems almost too basic to be named something let alone to have been stuck in my brain for that long, especially since my brain has seen stickier days. (I forgot to photocopy the immunization forms for camp, again!…Again!) The thing about this dish is that the first and only time I had ever eaten it happened to have been in Florence on my first and only trip to Italy. I shared it with Andy, who was studying art there for the (very hot) summer, and it was seminal in its simplicity. Not a single extraneous anything — just the highest quality chicken, arugula, and tomatoes and some sort of bright dressing that enhanced instead of distracted from the main event. Even though I was (am) half Italian, it was probably the first time the most fundamental rule of cooking hit me: The best shortcut in the kitchen is to start with ingredients that need no help from the cook.

Of course, I was 22 in 1993 — I had no real use for shortcuts in the kitchen. Fast forward seventeen Julys — it’s 93° at 6:30, I have two hungry kids and no plan for dinner. What I do have is a bag of beautiful, fresh arugula that instantly pulls up my Florentine epiphany. And 20 minutes later, I have dinner.

Warm Chicken and Arugula Salad

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, saute 1/2 medium onion (chopped) and 1 clove garlic (minced) in olive oil about 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium, add 2 boneless chicken breasts (cut into 1-inch pieces as shown) and cook through about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, clean one large bunch arugula and the freshest tomatoes (chopped) you can find, and toss with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt and freshly ground pepper. Add chicken to salad and toss allowing arugula to wilt slightly.

Serve warm with freshly grated Parmesan. Deconstruct it for the kids and add a dollop of ketchup if you think it will make it an easier sell. (The Italians may not approve, but this Half-Italian one certainly does.)

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Something For Everyone: Grilled Summer Salad

July 1st, 2010 · 9 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Grilling, Picky Eating

There was a photo in one of the last issues of Gourmet that haunts me to this day. In a good way. (What is the word for haunting in a good way? Word people…help, please.) You know how much I love the concept of Deconstructed Dinner? The idea of leveraging the “no-touching!” decree regularly issued by toddlers into a beautiful salad where everything is separated into individually delicious elements? Well the Gourmet photo showed a rustic platter holding about eight or nine different “stripes” of food — grilled chicken, grilled mushrooms, chick peas, radishes, greens. In other words, the most glorious Deconstructed Dinner ever constructed. I lost the issue and have had no luck finding the recipe on epicurious, but finally, a year later, Andy and I replicated the platter in our kitchen. That’s it up there. A veritable celebration of farmer’s market fabulousness. Shredded romaine, “campfire potatoes”, fresh garden peas, tiny spring onions, asparagus, chicken, and some homemade pesto drizzled on top. (Storebought will do, too.)

The only “stripe” on the platter that wasn’t prepared on the grill was the one made of orange-thyme roasted carrots — which is a big fave with the girls. I think this is probably because the recipe only really works with the small, tender, sweet carrots from the farmer’s market that resemble the kind Bugs Bunny walks around with. (Try saying “What’s up Doc?” while holding a nubby little baby carrot. So incredibly depressing.) To make: Chop off most of the carrot stems, rinse slightly (no need to peel if you rinse well), and slice them horizontally as shown. Toss with olive oil and some fresh thyme leaves and roast in a baking dish in a 425°F oven for about 15-20 minutes until tender. Halve an orange and roast alongside the carrots. (This concentrates its juices.) When the carrots are finished, squeeze about a tablespoon of orange juice all over them. (more…)

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Venn Diagram Dinner

April 29th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Pork and Beef

OK, so remember that dinner I wanted us all to make together this week? This is it above: Orechiette with Sausage and Broccoli. You’ll notice that no plate looks the same. Abby had the pasta and broccoli, Phoebe had the broccoli and sausage. Mom and Dad had it all mixed together. (Cool that broccoli was the common thread, no?) Anyway, when I put the bowls up against each other, it reminded me so much of living, breathing Venn Diagram that I couldn’t resist the urge to sketch up an actual one:

What does this teach us exactly? (Besides the fact that I have serious problems?) Hopefully it reminds us that family dinner is a constantly evolving algorithm of taste and logistics. That the overlapping rings will spin around and reposition based on factors that are beyond our control. All you can do is put the same delicious meal in front of them and assume that somehow everyone will still get exactly what they want.

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Lettuce Hand Rolls

April 8th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Time for Dinner: The Cookbook

I find it almost impossible to think creatively about ground meat. When it’s in the fridge staring back at my weeknight-at-six-o-clock face (not a pretty sight I can imagine) my brain only goes in two directions: chili or burgers. Yaaawwwn. So when my former colleague, the genius food stylist Victoria Granof developed this recipe for Cookie (look for it in the Time for Dinner Cookbook, too) it was huge. The recipe calls for ground pork, but it’s honestly just as delicious with ground turkey, and makes good use of sweet, kid-friendly Chinese five-spice, which every family kitchen should stock in its arsenal. It’s also a very forgiving meal: last time I served the rolls (above) I was working with a picked-over pantry (no peanuts, no carrots) and — can you believe? — we all lived to tell. Click to the jump for the recipe.

The spread: sturdy romaine leaves, chopped peanuts, cukes, shredded carrots

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