What is Easy? (Illusions, Part 2)

November 15th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

“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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Anything Plus Broccoli

March 11th, 2011 · 25 Comments · Picky Eating, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick

There’s a formula we deploy, in our heads at least, whenever we feed our kids something that isn’t exactly homemade, DALS-approved, crafted by the kindly elves who affix those green-and-white organic labels to everything — or, more to the point, good for them. Think of it as the The Tranformative (and Self-Justifying) Law of Retroactive Nutritiousness.

____________ + Side of Broccoli = Healthy Enough.

Convenient, right? Go ahead, and fill in that blank. Mac and cheese. Panko-encased shrimp tempura from T Joe’s. Grilled (yellow American) cheese and bacon. Strawberry jam sandwich on soft white bread. See how good that feels? How strangely virtuous? Do you see how the broccoli, by some metaphysical trick, just erases guilt? As Abby would say, it’s very magic! I often hear laws of science described by smart people as “immutable” and I’m never sure what that means, exactly, but I’m pretty sure this broccoli law is immutable, too. There’s danger in it, of course, and it should be applied with moderation, but it does make us feel a little better — or maybe a little less guilty — about ourselves when we, say, fry up an entire package of hot dogs in butter and serve them on toast with ketchup.

Ah, the hot dog sandwich. Please don’t think less of us because we serve these, somewhat regularly, to our kids. The hot dog sandwich was one of the first things — along with Steak-Umms, Beefaroni, and Toll House cookies — that I learned to make for myself. Growing up, my parents both worked which, in those regrettable early eighties days, when mulleted, unsupervised tweens roamed the earth, made me a full-fledged latch-key kid. Get home from school, knock off the homework, make a hot dog sandwich, watch The Jeffersons. That was the routine. I’ve kept at least one part of that past alive and, I know this won’t come as a surprise, but the kids really seem to enjoy it, if clean plates are any indication. Try them on a Saturday afternoon, after soccer practice. Or  on vacation, after a long morning on the beach. Or — and I apologize for this, as I know this is a family website — at 1 am after a few beers. Am I proud of this? Not particularly. But the broccoli has set me free. Now, if I could only figure out how to get it to work its guilt-erasing magic in other parts of my life, because I still have nightmares about missing that ballet recital. – Andy (more…)

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Birthday Dinner

May 11th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup

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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Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories

April 15th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

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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