First Place Loser

October 19th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals, Uncategorized

There’s this thing Abby and I do, before every soccer game. She’s usually sitting on the wooden bench by our door, in her too-big uniform, and even though she’s in third grade, I’m enabling…I mean, tying her cleats. When I’m done, I give her a pat on the knee and look into her eyes.

“You ready?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. The affect couldn’t be more flat. She has heard this before.

“You gonna be tough out there today?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Good,” I say, “because if you lose, don’t bother coming home.”

She rolls her eyes.

So when I was loading my stock pot full of chili into the back of our car at 8:30 last Saturday morning, on my way to deliver it unto the judges of our town’s first annual Chili-Off, Abby saw her opening.

“Hey, Dad,” she said.

“Yeah, Abby?”

“If you lose today, don’t bother coming home.”

You know where this is going, right?

We’d signed up for this Chili-Off — which would take place at the Pumpkin Fair, which raises money for our town’s elementary school — a few weeks ago, and Abby wasn’t the only one having fun at my expense. Jenny, too, had been gleefully applying the pressure, getting all up in my mug about it. (“Remember that venison chili Francine made for us like ten years ago?” she asked a few days beforehand, out of nowhere, which I took as challenge — brazen in its passiveness — to my manhood. “Mmmm, that was so good.” Damn, I thought. Should I be using venison?). The night before the contest, she’d been watching me like a hawk as I got my mis en place going, hovering, looking skeptical, asking me if I was nervous, if I knew anything about “the competition,” if I had a secret ingredient up my sleeve (meaning: you might need one), if I’d be able to show my face at the coffee shop if we lost. But I had waited until 9:00 on the night before the contest to start cooking, and I didn’t have the time or bandwith for new recipes or special ingredients. Go with what you know, as they say, and so I did. I’m not about to abandon the chili I love because there might be someone out there building a better, prettier one. It’s called loyalty, people.

Besides, I only know how to make one chili by heart. It’s quick and easy, about thirty minutes of hands-on time, and is a regular in the family rotation. Every Halloween, actually, we make a batch of it for friends and neighbors, who stop in before they go trick or treating, or while they’re out trick or treating, sort an open house kind of deal. It’s a dinner party in a pot. We stick a ladle in the Le Creuset, put some paper bowls and fixings on the counter — sour cream, cheese, cilantro, avocado, chips — and everybody stands around with a glass of red wine and serves themselves. It’s become something of a tradition, and nobody has ever complained about the food. To my face, at least.

The chili itself is a pretty straightforward base with lots of possible variations, but for the First Annual Chili-Off, I decided to go classic (beef), with a slight twist (chorizo). The chorizo adds some subtle heat and smokiness and, in general, just really good depth of flavor. I mean, it’s sausage, for chrissakes; it’s not going to make it worse. By 10 pm, the stock pot was in the refrigerator, marking its time until Judgment Day.

We showed up at the fair at 12:30, having completely missed the Chili-Off, not to mention the panel of seven judges who apparently tasted all fourteen entries with the seriousness of the dead. The day was beautiful, sunny and windy, the leaves just beginning to turn. High clouds were blowing through in long formations. A soccer kind of day. One of Phoebe’s friends ran right up to us as we walked in. “You guys came in second place!” she said. “Phoebe, your dad almost won!”

Almost. Hey, I tried, right?

Jenny looked at me. She smiled. “Second place, wow,” she said, throwing an arm around my shoulder. “Not bad, not bad. But you know what George Steinbrenner said: Second place is really first place loser. I’m just saying.”

Ouch. I don’t the name of the guy who won first place, but I have two things to say to him: Congratulations, your chili rules. And: Stay away from my wife. – Andy

Second Place Chili
Serves 12 to 15 (more…)

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Oh This? Just Something I Threw Together…

July 15th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Quick, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

You know when you go to someone’s house for dinner and they seem to have it all together? One of the hosts is mixing you a drink and asking your children about camp while the other is sipping a glass of Prosecco, tossing some sort of delicious summery salad, listening intently to what you are saying, and showing no outward sign of doing what I often feel myself doing — which is pretend to listen intently to what you are saying while mostly worrying about the fact that — s#@t! – I forgot to make the g@#$*%n salad dressing! I should probably not admit this in a public space that is accessible by public…people, but I very much aspire to be the confident, nonchalant host who, when cooking for a large group of guests, can wing it without stressing. I’ve been aspiring for about fifteen years now.

But in those fifteen years, I’ve discovered something about myself. I am not a wing-it kind of person. I like to have a plan. This diagnosis probably gets to the root of my dinner diary pathology and my contract-drafting habit. And it is (more…)

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The First Annual Dolly Awards

March 4th, 2011 · 13 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

In case you haven’t noticed — it’s awards season! I’d like to thank the Academy for reminding me how remiss I’ve been at following my #1 Get-Fired Resolution. (“See more matinees.”) And to the folks who handed out Michelin stars in France earlier this week — thank you! I can now afford to dream about all the cafes in the Latin Quarter where I might someday dine with my children. I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to Babble who, through their Top 100 Mom Food Blogs Awards (Please See: #4!!!!) reminded me….there are a lot of Mom Food Bloggers out there. (Wow!) Anyway, all this blue-ribboning made me think — don’t you find it troubling that there’s no higher institution to turn to when, say, you are looking for The Best Movie to Put on For The Kids During a Dinner Party That Would Elicit a What a great choice! From The Parent Dinner Guests? Search no more, the First Annual DALS Awards are here! And are so prestigious that in certain circles — or around certain circular dinner tables — they have already garnered a cool little nickname: “The Dollys!” So with no further ado…

Best Kitchen-themed Coloring Book: Rosie Flo’s Kitchen Colouring Book I first held a Rosie Flo coloring book in my hands when I was an editor at Cookie — and back then, it seemed you could only find one if you were traveling to England during specific months of the year and had an appointment with the Queen herself. Now, thankfully, you can find them anywhere (translation: in Anthropologie or on amazon.) This one is food-themed  (can you see the dress made out of a cob of corn? The one made with ladyfingers and measuring cups?) but there are other themes — animals, garden, the original — that are decidedly less girly. The cool thing about them is that they provide sketches of the kooky clothes and accessories and it’s up to the artist to fill in everything else. My brother showed up with this batch of three for Abby’s birthday last year and was instantly anointed hero.


Best Cookbook for Kids That The Kid Actually Likes As Much As Mom: Kids Cook 1-2-3, by Rozanne Gold. If I was still working at Real Simple or Cookie, my normal reconnaissance to determine the winner of an award like this would include ordering in a ton of cookbooks from a ton of publishers, flipping through all of them, page by page, handing out the best of the first cut to staff members with kids who would be required to test and report back. Most of the (more…)

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Instant Dinner Party

January 24th, 2011 · 80 Comments · Dinner, Entertaining, Favorites, Pasta, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

Spoiler alert: If you come over to our house for dinner any time between now and the first day of spring, there’s about a 90% chance we’re going to cook this for you. The pork shoulder ragu you see above is our new obsession. It’s the ideal dish for Sunday dinner, or even better, an informal winter dinner party: It’s warm, it’s hearty, it smells insanely good, it goes well with red wine, and my God, is it tasty. But none of those are the main reason we’re so obsessed with this right now — no, the best part of this one is that, once the guests arrive, your work is already done. All the prep — what little of it there was — is four hours ago, a distant memory. Which is increasingly the way we like it. It seems like the older we get, and the more cooking we do, the simpler we want our entertaining to be. For sure, there was a day when we would have spent the afternoon, Martha-style, frantically scooping out little cucumber cups with a mellon-baller and filling them with creme fraiche and topping them with smoked salmon and dainty sprigs of dill, when we would have been stirring (and stirring) risotto and mandolining three different kinds of potatoes and being distracted, instead of hanging out with our guests. But then kids happened, and our tastes changed, and those days are gone. These days, I love nothing more than a one-pot meal — I am a braising machine! — and this really basic pork ragu over pasta is where our heads are at right now. It’s an instant party: you just take it out of the oven, shred the pork, boil some pasta, and you’re done. If the kids don’t like pork, they can eat the pasta; if they do like pork, then I love them, and there’s still plenty for everybody. Though I should add that, as good as this is on a cold winter night, it’s even better for lunch the next day. If it weren’t for a little thing known as coronary heart disease, I would eat this every day for the rest of my life. –Andy (more…)

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The Six-Kid Crowdpleaser

October 4th, 2010 · 48 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

A few weeks ago my friend Vanessa invited my family to her house for dinner. She and her husband cooked the most delicious meal — not to mention presented a perfect starter plate (prosciutto-wrapped bocconcini and halved fresh figs) that I’ve already stolen and passed off as mine in my own house. Twice. But the real highlight of the evening was watching my kids (and four others) devour her creamy-tomatoey baked chicken before they headed to the basement for a Scooby Doo screening. Because my kids had never eaten it before, I was all ready to give them the usual song-and-dance – It’s like Chicken Parm, but the cheese is in the sauce instead of on top of the chicken! But none was needed. They ate every last bite and I found myself sneaking a spoonful of what remained in the pot when Vanessa was in the other room setting the table for the “grown-up” meal. My favorite thing about the recipe, which of course I made Vanessa email me the next day, was that it reads like a tweet. It is that simple. It requires only six basic ingredients and (after some technique tweaking) only one pot. You’re welcome.

Baked Chicken in Creamy Tomato Sauce

In an ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven (sorry photo does not show either), brown 3 to 4 large boneless chicken breasts over high heat in olive oil, about 2 minutes a side. Remove breasts from pan. (They do not have to be cooked through.) Turn down heat to medium-low and add one onion (finely chopped) and 2 cloves garlic (minced). After about 2 minutes, stir in one 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in 3-4 tablespoons mascarpone and a handful of roughly chopped basil. Add chicken back to pan, immersing them in sauce. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.

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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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