I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t call up about a line that Lisa Belkin wrote in the New York Times two or three years ago. In an article about overparenting and the self-esteem generation used to getting praise at every turn, she asked Are we raising kids who are prepared for college, but not for life? I think about it when my 8-year-old refuses to tie her cleats by herself because she likes the way her parents tie them tighter. I think about it when I read about Ramona walking to kindergarten by herself (or maybe with Henry) while we have a really hard time letting our 10-year-old walk home from a friend’s house around the corner. I think about it when I’m reading about 11-year-old Laura Ingalls helping Pa turn straw bundles into kindling in sub-zero blizzard conditions during The Long Winter. I think about it when I see my daughters’ ballerina classmates twisting up their own buns (complete with hair net and bobby pins), when I am picking up their rooms, and hanging their wet towels, and reminding them to pack their homework, and on “Steakhouse Night” when I’m cutting their filets into teeny tiny pieces because if left to their own devices they’d probably shove Buick-sized chunks into their mouths. Or at least that’s what I think they’d do. Since I’ve never trusted them to cut their own steak, I don’t really know what they’d do. And even though I wish I was a different kind of parent, the way things are going, I don’t think I’m going to find out any time soon.
“Steakhouse Night” includes about 2 pounds of filet, Andy’s no-cream creamed spinach, and pretty much always takes place on a Saturday night. The only variable is the potato dish. This past weekend we did a rosti (or, as Abby calls it “the hugest potato pancake ever”) but nothing should stop you from switching it up with twice-baked potatoes or oven fries.
Generously salt and pepper four steak filets. Grill over medium-high heat about 5-6 minutes a side (depending on thickness) until meat is firm but not rock hard. Cut into microscopic pieces if serving to a child under 21.
Potato Rosti (or “Hugest Potato Pancake Ever” as Abby calls it)
This is the kind of thing you don’t really need a recipe for. If you have two or three baking potatoes you can make a thicker rosti; if you only have one, it will work fine, too. Just be sure to add the potatoes to the pan as quickly as possible after shredding to prevent the potatoes from turning brown. But if it does turn brown, fear not, they’ll still taste as good. They just won’t look as golden.
1 to 2 baking potatoes, peeled
1/4 to a 1/3 small onion
salt and pepper
vegetable oil and butter
Using a grater or the shredding attachment on a food processor, shred your potatoes and onion into a large bowl. If you have time, take a paper towel or dishtowel and pat the potatoes to soak up as much moisture as you can. Add salt and pepper and toss. (You can also get creative with add-ins here — herbs, shredded cheese, etc.)
In a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a tablespoon of butter. Add potatoes to the pan, spreading and pressing flat so it looks like a large pancake. Let sit for 8 to 10 minutes until the edges look golden and crispy.
Place a large plate on top of the skillet and, working carefully, invert pan so cake flips onto plate. Add a little more butter and oil to skillet and slide the cake back into pan, uncooked side down. Cook another 8-10 minutes until cooked through. Cut into wedges and serve.
Thaw a box or a bag of frozen spinach by placing it in a colander and running warm water over it for a few minutes. Press down on the spinach to squeeze out all the liquid. In a small frying pan over medium heat, add olive oil and a half a large onion (chopped), salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes (optional, as always). After about 5 minutes, add spinach and toss with onions until spinach is heated through. Sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons of flour (this will prevent curdling of milk in next step) and stir. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of milk (lowfat, 1%, whole…any kind but chocolate!) depending on how creamy you like your creamed spinach, and a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg. Stir until heated through and serve.
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Tags:creamed spinach·easy side dishes for kids·potato rosti·self-sufficiency·steakhouse side dishes·teaching kids self-sufficiency
If I had a nickel for every email in my inbox saying I’m making Andy’s Pork Ragu this weekend for guests. What should I serve with it?…I would’ve shut down this site by now and built my dream house in Block Island overlooking Mohegan Bluffs. But since I seem to have mastered the art of working my tail off for no money*, I will just give you the quick answer: This salad. Herby, easy, wintery-not-pretending-to-be-summery. You can shave an apple in here, too, but the sweetness in the vinaigrette will suffice as a counterpoint to the pork.
Herby Greens with Fennel and Cider Vinaigrette
In a large bowl, add the following:
Fresh greens (or as fresh as you can find in the winter)
1/2 bulb fennel, shaved into slices with a mandoline
handful of chopped mixed herbs such as cilantro, chives, parsley
Make this vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
Toss vinaigrette into salad.
*shameless, thinly-veiled attempt to guilt you into pre-ordering my book.
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Tags:creative salads·easy side dishes for kids
“This looks amazing,” my friend Mike said, as we sat down to dinner. He was in town on business, and Jenny was at a work event, so it was just me, Mike, and the kids, rocking out on a Wednesday night. On the table: chicken tandoori burgers with a yogurt-mint sauce, sauteed spinach, curried carrots, and the remnants of some math homework. “Man, if we could eat like this every night…”
Mike’s one of my best friends. He’s a smart guy. He’s also an extremely talented writer with some serious — and rare — powers of observation. He’s crazy insightful. His stories, as they say, get at the deeper truths. He’d just spent the last 30 minutes, standing in our kitchen, getting his gin-and-tonic on and watching me put this dinner together. How had he not seen how unmagical this really was? What had I done that could have possibly suggested this was hard, or complicated, or beyond his skillset? In some ways, this was like watching a friend back his car out of his driveway and saying, “Holy sh*t, dude, you are amazing! How did you do that?” It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good, undeserved compliment — and oh, how we love a gracious guest — but I can’t, in good conscience, let this perception stand. I can’t let Mike get away with acting like what we’re doing is hard. The big secret here is that most of the stuff we make on any given night is simple, requires very few ingredients, very little prep time, and no expertise (which I don’t have, anyway, at least not in any real sense of the word). All it takes is will, and a little planning ahead. This was no exception.
“God, these carrots,” he said, taking a bite.
The tandoori burgers take all of 20 minutes. The yogurt sauce is plain yogurt spiked with a handful of chopped mint. The spinach is sauteed in olive oil for three minutes, with a clove of garlic, and then topped with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt. And the carrots he was talking about? Our Boston Terrier, God love her peanut brain, could make them with one paw tied behind her back. Here’s how I did it: I peeled four carrots and cut them into quarter-inch rounds, and tossed them in a pot. I added 1/2 cup of water, 2 tsp of curry powder, a small pat of butter, some kosher salt, and a squeeze of honey. I simmered, covered, for 15 minutes. That’s it.
“That’s it?” M. said.
Illusion shattered. – Andy
Iris takes notes on preparation. “Yeah, I got this,” she says.
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Tags:curried cooked carrots·easy side dish·easy side dishes for kids·vegetables for kids
My old boss Carrie had a formula for the way she approached fashion. It went like this: Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories. It’s still a favorite expression in our house — not because we are regularly buying Italian handbags, but because the philosophy is remarkably applicable to home design (Ikea cabinets, Waterworks hardware), summer plans (town camp, vacation rental with pool and ocean view) and — you guessed it — to Family Dinner. My feeling is: If you have extra fresh vegetables or extra special side dishes like these accessorizing your main, you can go super basic with that main – Lemony Potato Smash, Grilled Chicken! — and still feel like you’re pretty stylin’.
Roast Spring Asparagus. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss asparagus in a few glugs of olive oil, add salt, and roast for about 10 minutes. This dish is unbelievably superior to regular old steamed asparagus.
Lemony Potato Smash. Toss your potatoes (red, fingerling, or yukon) in olive oil and salt and roast at 425°F for about 35 minutes. Remove from oven, smash with a whisk or a fork. Drizzle with olive oil, squeeze a lemon over it, add sour cream, and snipped chives.
Broccoli Slaw. In a medium bowl whisk together 1/3 cup mayo, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, and 1/2 teaspoon celery seed (crucial). Toss with a bag of the shredded broccoli from, of course, Trader Joe’s.
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Tags:broccoli slaw recipe·easy side dishes for kids·roast asparagus recipe·trader joe's broccoli slaw·vegetables for kids