The Game Changer

December 6th, 2011 · 68 Comments · Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

The pork loin I braised in red wine last Tuesday night was pretty freaking delicious. I can say this because most of the credit goes to my coworker — remember the one who was plotting her own pork and lentil stew in the slow-cooker while I was plotting drumsticks? After she told me that one, it was on the brain for 24 hours and I knew the only way to get it off the brain would be to try out a version of the pork stew for myself. The problem? I didn’t own a slow cooker. (Well, not true. I own one, but it is in a box deep in the bowels of our basement, and last time I remember using it, I think it was missing a crucial piece, like a lid.) I was working from home the day I decided to tackle the recipe in my Dutch Oven and began cooking just as the girls were scattering their math workbooks on the kitchen table to start homework.

What’s for dinner? asked Abby as soon as she heard the loin hit in the oil.

This can be such a loaded question. When I’m making something new for the girls — which is fairly often — and there’s a good chance that the unfamiliar name of this dinner will set off some whining, sometimes I just lie and say I don’t know yet. But other times, when dinner is simmering away on the stovetop, and an oniony aroma is in the air, I opt for the truth.

Some sort of pork with beans…and maybe kale, I told her.

I don’t like beans! And then, for the next two hours, it was all Do we have to have pork with beans? and Can’t you make those chicken wings again? and Can you make me something else if I don’t like it?

I hate this scenario. The whole point of dinner — the whole point of this site actually — is to get people excited about sitting down to eat. And what killed me is that I knew Abby would love this meal if she had the right attitude. But she couldn’t picture it, so it scared her. I get it  – for the longest time, that’s exactly how I felt about J.Lo on American Idol.

I needed a game changer. I needed Tater Tots.

Abby had hand-selected a bag of them from Whole Foods a few weekends earlier and hardly a day had gone by when she hadn’t begged to have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was just the psychological latch she needed on the plate to adjust the way she was approaching the table. I piled a mountain of them next to her pork, which she ate absent-mindedly, and which, when deconstructed and cut into pieces, was not all that much different looking than the Pork braised in Pomegranate Juice and Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork she’s had (and loved) a hundred times before.

And I know this is not exactly breaking news, but Holy Christ Tater Tots taste good! The rest of us were pretty excited about dinner that night, too.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

December 7th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

We’re not a winter family. Certain families, when the temperature drops below zero and the sky goes gray, just know how to get it done. They bundle properly. They have gear. They layer well, and have Thules on their cars and, in general, seem to be impervious to the elements. But us? We don’t do well in the cold. We’ve only gone skiing once, our ice-skating skills fall short of limited, and we’ve yet to find the magical combination of coat, gloves, and hats that will keep our less-than-hardy kids from whining about, as they like to say between (what I suspect are hammy) shivers, “turning into ice cubes.” Jenny wears my ratty old fleece and wool scarf inside the house pretty much from November through April, and not a day goes by when she doesn’t come down in the morning and announce — as though our house, on that particular morning, is any colder than any other winter morning in the last seven years – that, “Oh my god, it’s FREEZING IN HERE. Is the heat on?” So we tend to be inside a lot during the winter – loooooong days reading or puttering around, making fires, playing Monopoly, drinking hot chocolate, making strange things from clay, writing blog posts, and cooking. I love the summer, and I love the grill, but winter cooking has its own rewards, too – namely, lots of braising meats, one-pot meals, slow-cooking ragus, and, my personal favorite, Belgian beef stew. We adapted this one from a Mark Bittman recipe about ten years ago, and we’ve been wearing it out ever since. Phoebe enjoys the whole package, Abby just the meat and potatoes. The best part, for the grown-ups, is the Dijon mustard you drizzle on at the end, and the tangy, beery broth you can drink with your spoon. It’s very basic, very tasty, and it’s warm. Until we learn to ski, it will have to do. –Andy (more…)

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