The Little Things

October 1st, 2012 · 8 Comments · Entertaining, Quick, Seafood

One of the first things I learned about food when I started caring about food was that smaller usually translated to better. As in, a golf-ball-size lime is going to be juicier than a steroided-up one. As in, the meat from a 1 1/4 pound lobster is going be sweeter than meat from his 4-pound older brother. As in, those two-carat-size spring strawberries are going to taste more like strawberries than the strawberries that resemble McIntosh apples. And after writing a story about hors d’oeuvres for the current issue of Bon Appetit I remembered another one: Hors d’oeuvres for dinner are so much more fun than dinner for dinner. (See: Small Bites Phenomenon sweeping New York City Restaurant Scene) Why did it take writing this story to remind me that those shrimp rolls I’ve been making since my 1999 visit to Nova Scotia would be so much more appealing for the kids if I miniaturized them? How had I forgotten Cardinal Rule #2 of Family Sandwiches: Minimizing Size = Maximizing Appeal. (Cardinal Rule #1: Anything Tastes Better in Slider Form.) Well, either way, the little rolls were on the dinner table last week (it’s a good make-ahead if you can swing it) and will likely show up there again very soon.

Perhaps my most favorite magazine opener ever. (“Opener” = Old-school parlance for the image that opens the story.) Alex Grossman, the creative director, actually had this invitation letter-pressed before it was shot.  Credit: Kallemeyn Press.

This Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage, developed by the BA test kitchen, was in the star-studded line-up, too. Instead of a assembling a platter of fussy finger food for your party, each puff pastry square requiring it’s own individual piping of spicy mayo, this is just one big tart that you bake and cut up like a pizza before your guests arrive. It’s called Economy of Scale and it is up next on my Hors d’oeuvres-Turned-Dinner menu

Check out this month’s issue of Bon Appetit (The Entertaining Issue) to read the story and the entire issue. They’ve also put together an appetizer slide show which party-throwers would be wise to bookmark as the calendar inches its way towards the holidays. Two words: Queso Fundido.

Photos by Romulo Yanes for Bon Appetit. 

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School Year’s Resolution 1: More Freezer Dinners

September 5th, 2012 · 38 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

You should see The List right now. In addition to the usual suspects (book doctor appointments, contact accountant, hire business partner!!!, “garage sale!!!!!”) there are all those tasks that have the distinct whiff of self-betterment, the kinds of things usually reserved for New Years. Does this happen to you? Do you get the Clean Slate feeling every September? Do you find yourself making silent resolutions to yourself in the Starbucks line like “Make More Freezable Dinners” or “Eliminate All White Foods” or “Call More, Text Less” or “Stop giving so much money to Starbucks.” Well, apparently a good number of you do, because upon my return from vacation, my DALS inbox was filled with requests for posts like these: (I’m paraphrasing)

How do I shop more efficiently?
How do I squeeze in exercise when I have kids, a job, and the need to sit down at some point during the course of my 18-hour day?
How do I cook with sustainable fish without mortgaging my life?
How do I serve more vegetable-based dinners without alienating the meat-eaters at my table?
How can I help you sell as many Dinner: A Love Story books as possible?

OK, so maybe that last request I might have made up. But the other issues are very very real so in the next week or so I’ll be addressing them and any other back-to-school resolutions you may want to discuss here on DALS. Well, except for resolutions about fondant. I will not be able to provide any assistance with fondant.

You can either email me those requests directly or comment below. In the meantime, here’s one answer to my Make-More-Freezer-Dinners Resolution. I made a big old pot of this pulled BBQ chicken for Andy’s birthday dinner party last spring (alongside some pulled pork, quick-pickled onions and jalapenos, and lots of slaws). In addition to being an excellent Make-Ahead Menu, I happened to notice that the pulled chicken froze exceptionally well. So my resolution this week is to make a pot of it on Saturday, freeze in small, thawable stashes (flat ziplocs!), and then be prepared for any dinner situation this school year decides to throw my way — late trains, babysitter cancellations, ridiculous amounts of extracurriculars and all! Warning: Freezer Dinner Ambition Subject to Waning.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

1 cup barbecue sauce (bonus points for homemade, which takes 15-20 minutes, page 238 Dinner: A Love Story)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (not adobo sauce, just a single saucy pepper)
6 to 8 boneless chicken breasts (2 pounds-ish), halved if they are large, salted and peppered
Potato Rolls (slider or sandwich)
pickled onions and jalapenos (optional)

In a large heavy pot, mix together barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and chipotle. Add chicken and enough water to cover (about 2 cups), whisking water with barbecue mixture until it’s blended. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred with two forks. Bring the sauce to a boil until it thickens and reduces, another 10 minutes. Once it reaches desired consistency (should not be as liquidy as show in photo above — I was losing my light! I had to act fast!) stir in chicken. (If you want to freeze for a later use, allow to cool at this point, then spoon into zip-top bags and flatten slightly so they are easier to thaw.) Otherwise, serve chicken on potato rolls (sliders are always fun) with pickled vegetables (or jarred pickles), your favorite slaw, or shredded sharp cheddar.

For the super-ambitious, here’s how to quick-pickle some onions with jalapenos: Bring 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, and a heavy pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add red onion slices and cross-sectioned jalapenos and simmer, uncovered about 3 minutes. Drain and cool to room temp. Serve on top of pulled chicken sandwiches. I don’t want to overstate things, but…Killer.

And Just for the Heck of it…A Basic Cole Slaw

In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup cider vinegar, dash of Sriracha, 3 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise, ½ teaspoon celery seed, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Shred half a head of green or red cabbage (5 cups) as thinly as possible. (With a mandoline or the shredding disk of a food processor.) Add to the dressing and toss to combine. Toss in a little chopped cilantro. Serve right away.

PS: If I knew anything about slow-cookers, I might suggest adapting the chicken for that use, too.

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Lunch at the Beach: BLT Sliders

July 12th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

Why is it that if you put anything into slider form, it tastes better. I put a tray of these BLT sliders on the table for lunch at my sister’s beach house and they disappeared fast. Too fast. The person I actually invited for lunch at the beach only got one.

BLT Sliders (Like you really need a recipe?)

Assemble bacon (the best quality you can find), lettuce, and tomato on slider rolls. If you have a child like Abby in the house, be sure to assemble at least one BBB.) Spread Hellmann’s mayo on one bun. (Make at least two per person.) Serve with potato chips and,  if you are feeling ambitious, chilled avocado-cucmber soup.

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What’s Your Page Turner?

May 2nd, 2011 · 66 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

A few weeks ago our friends Kate and Joel and their three girls came over for dinner. We were all vacationing on the same island together so the menu was as simple and fresh and kid-friendly as we could manage: asparagus salad (without eggs for the kids), campfire potatoes, and grilled chicken sandwiches with homemade slaw. Kate took one bite of her sandwich and, because she is a good guest, immediately started oohing and ahhing and inquiring about how we put the whole thing together. “This is perfect,” she said. “Just what I am in the mood for. Man!! And the slaw!  Mmmm! How did you make it?”

I told her slaw is one of those things I don’t really have a recipe for. I just start whisking things together and keep adding more shredded cabbage and carrots until it looks about right.

“OK, fine, but what exactly are you whisking together?”

“It’s like I’m making any salad dressing. I’ll add a dollop of mayo to the bottom of a large bowl, then add some celery seed, some cider vinegar—-”

She crossed her arms in front of her face and looked away as though I had shined a bright light in her eyes. “OK, stop right there,” she said. “Page turner!”

“What…?” I was confused. (Were we talking about the can’t-put-it-down book Blood, Bones, and Butter again??)

Cider vinegar?!?” She said. “I don’t know from cider vinegar. As soon as I see it in a recipe I’m turning the page.” Kate is a psychologist, but she has also has a side career as a Second City comedian, so sometimes it can be hard to tell when she’s kidding.

“That’s ridiculous,” I told her. “It’s cider vinegar. It’s right next to the balsamic vinegar in any supermarket.”

“I don’t care. The whole idea of it scares me. The whole idea of someone who knows how to use cider vinegar scares me. It’s like cream of tartar. I mean, what is that? What do you use it for? What kind of people buy cream of tartar?” (more…)

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10 Reasons to Go Open-Face for Dinner

July 19th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Quick, Rituals, Vegetarian

1. Because it’s arguably easier and faster than cooking up another pot of Annie’s Mac & Cheese.

2. Because the afternoon birthday party served pizza at 4:00. (What is up with these parties? Will someone please enlighten?)

3. Because the clock is ticking and the kids won’t be awake by the time your dreamy white wine sauce has reduced.

4. Because you live in Dallas, I mean New York, where the hot-and-humid and over-90 degree heat has been oppressive for two weeks straight. Nothing appeals to you – least of all the act of turning on an oven.

5. Because you’re going away for the weekend, there are only scraps in the fridge, and you can’t deal with breaking out pots and pans and baking dishes.

6. Because you’re back from your weekend away, there are only scraps in the fridge, and you can’t deal with breaking out pots and pans and baking dishes.

7. Because you have lettuce that is about to liquefy, beautiful fresh summer zucchini that sits there taunting your lack of culinary imagination, and a loaf of bread that will be mistaken for your son’s baseball bat if you don’t rescue it soon.

8. Because the house was just cleaned and you would like to freeze the kitchen in its rare state of cleanliness for as long as possible.

9. Because it’s an easy-to-assemble, legitimate dinner that can be customized for a wide range of picky palates and a wide range of unpredictable schedules, i.e. if one parent is coming home later than the kid’s dinnertime, the serve-yourself toppings will save the cook from another round of cooking.

10. Because it’s Monday…Why the hell not? (more…)

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Tea Party Dinner

June 24th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Quick, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup

This is not exactly a traditional tea party spread, I realize. What you’re looking at is all the makings of one of my daughters’ favorite dinners: The BLT with Avocado on whole wheat toast. The girls get to assemble right at the table and it’s almost always good for a giggle: Sandwiches for dinner? Mom, you’re craaazy!

On this particular night, they turned into quartered tea party sandwiches because Andy had plans and wasn’t home for dinner. When Andy is out, I can go one of two ways. I can go Maverick where we barely sit down at the same time let alone eat the same thing. (This is the usual direction I head.) Or I can go Supergirl where we break out one tea cup from my wedding set (for me) and a few tea cups from their Ikea tea set (for them) and I announce that we’re having a juicy-meaty girl talk over our meal. So far, juicy-meaty girl talk amounts to the exact same thing as regular old dinner table talk, but my plan is to start getting them used to telling me those awful Queen-Bee-and-Wannabe friend stories now so they don’t shut me out down the road. I think I already hear mothers of teen-age girls laughing at me. (And this post isn’t even live as I type? how does that work?)

No mother-daughter Life Lessons were imparted over the Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked bacon that night. No therapeutic confessions or burning questions that required the wise counsel from someone who not only made it through second grade, but actually went on to survive middle school (me). Instead, my eldest decided to unload later that night — telling a dramatic story involving a lunchroom bully — while she was lying in bed with the lights out. With Andy. (more…)

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