Tis the season for waterlogged soccer fields, hoops madness, the dreaded state tests… and, let’s not forget, awards! Yes, there are the James Beard Awards, the National Magazine Awards, the Saveur Food Blog Awards (love those nominees!) but anyone who’s anyone knows that the most coveted prize of all is right here on Dinner: A Love Story. Presenting the Fourth Annual Dolly Awards, brought to you by the highly subjective, way-to0-excitable, two-person panel of DALS.
Best Jarred Sauce: Marcella Hazan’s
Given how simple it is to make, no house should ever be without a jar of Marcella Hazan’s famous three-ingredient tomato sauce (butter + tomatoes + whole onion) in the fridge. Especially my house, considering that Abby, connoisseur of all pasta with tomato sauce, would award it the hands-down Grand Prize Winner, if not a Nobel Peace Prize. The sauce is silky, luxurious, and clings to the pasta the way sauce should cling to pasta, which is I guess what happens when one of the three main ingredients is an enormous chunk of butter. Best of all, the entire recipe is basically one step: Dump everything in a pot and simmer. -Jenny
Best Kids’ Cookbook of the Moment: Fanny at Chez Panisse
It was a long winter. I’ve made a vow not to complain about it anymore. (See?) What I am going to do, though, is mention how many cold mornings I have woken up these past few weeks to the smell of something baking or frying, thanks to Phoebe’s discovery of Fanny at Chez Panisse. We’ve had this book on the shelves forever, but Phoebe has only recently discovered how simple and perfect each recipe is — not surprising given that it was written by Alice Waters’ daughter Fanny back in 1992. Among the many things Phoebe (and Fanny) have treated us to: Pooris with cucumber raita, corn bread, the buttery biscuits that you see above. Next up: 1-2-3-4 cake, so named because people used to remember the first few ingredients without writing it down (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, etc.). Note: It makes a great birthday gift for a six-, seven-, eight-year-old junior chef.
Best Host Gift: Jacques Torres Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies
When our friends John and Shiv came to visit us over the holidays last year, they brought their two kids, a lot of luggage, and a cooler filled with road trip snacks, wine, and — much to my curiosity — a foil-wrapped log of…what? “Dessert,” John said. He proceeded to unwrap the foil to reveal pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough from a Jacques Torres recipe that he claimed was the best out there. I wasn’t going to argue with him. During dinner, John excused himself, sliced up the dough, baked the cookies, and we all finished the meal with a warm, gooey, perfect-cakey-to-crispy-ratioed chocolate chip cookie and milk. They will be invited back. (Photo: Crepes of Wrath.) -Jenny
Best Leftover Trick: Put an Egg on It
Last year, I heard Amanda Hesser speak on a panel with Deb Perelman and Luisa Weiss (#dreamteam) and when someone in the audience asked each for their go-to dinner, Hesser’s answer was “Whatever’s leftover with an egg on it.” Sadly, I can’t fall back on this move for dinner (egg-haters, etc etc), but it’s my go-to move on for lunch at least a few times a week. Above is some leftover farro with steamed asparagus, Sriracha, and a poached egg. -Jenny
Most Revolutionary Shopping Tip if You Are Crazy Enough to Care: Packing by Category
This might reveal how truly insane we are about the weekly grocery shop — one day, when we know each other better, I will tell you about Andy and the stopwatch — but this past weekend, I made a happy discovery. We always pack our own grocery bags at Trader Joe’s, and this time instead of just randomly stuffing everything into a bag, I mentally earmarked each bag for a separate part of the kitchen: pantry, fridge, freezer, fruit bowl. That way, when it came time to unpack, we went with zone defense, and shaved at least three minutes off our time. -Jenny
Best Waiting for Spring Salad: Fennel & Blood Orange Salad
It won’t be long before the farmer’s market is exploding with greens that will actually allow our salads to taste like something other than water-flavored leaves. But until then, we are happy to have shaved fennel and oranges stand in. It seems that everyone has some version of this combo, but lately my favorite is one from the New York Times Cookbook, which last week, had us tossing the shavings with toasted walnuts, a citrusy dressing, and lots of mint. Note: Pair this with a roast leg of lamb and some polenta and you’ve got yourself a meal. -Jenny
Best Dinner Party Starter: Dips!
Part of the fun of entertaining people is that it gives us an excuse to cook something a little indulgent — much as we love our rib-sticking pork ragu and braised short ribs, we’re not generally eating like that seven nights a week. So when something rich and hearty is on the menu, the last thing I want to start everyone off with is a big plate of sausage and cheese. (No offense big plate of sausage and cheese.) So lately, I’ve been into crudite with dips. There’s the always popular (and very springy I might add) minty-pea dip (page 230, DALS). But two close contenders these days, both from Bon Appetit, are this caramelized onion and shallot dip and this miso-tofu number, which is like a rich man’s ranch dressing that can be made ahead of time. Always the holy grail. (Photo: Zach DeSart) -Jenny
Most Anticipated Book of the Year in Our House: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast
We thought that life got about as good as it gets few weeks ago when we opened up the New Yorker and saw thirteen pages devoted to a Roz Chast cartoon. (Maybe better described as a graphic article?) Until we read further to discover it was an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, due out in June and then a full-on celebration ensued. Chast is the master of zeroing in on our most acute anxieties and finding the humor in them (who remembers Middle Age: The Magazine For You? The Insomniaplex? The Obituary Pages where everyone’s age of death is written in relation to yours, i.e. “Five years younger than you”) and here she takes on the story of her aging parents. If the excerpt was any indication, it promises to be both poignant and hilarious, and one young fan has already got it on pre-order. -Jenny
Most Commented-Upon Serving Pieces: Isabel Halley Ceramics
These little bowls were a holiday gift from a friend-with-good-taste a couple of years ago, one of those things that, when you first open it, you’re not exactly sure what it is. Is it a… salt cellar? A soy sauce dish? A little bowl for olive pits and cherry stems? A place to soak your retainer? There is one thing we are sure about when it comes to this beautiful little handmade thing with the elegant gold rim and the almost paper-like delicacy: It always gets a reaction. Everyone who comes over, at some point, picks it up, turns it over, and says, “Oh my god, where did you GET this?” Answer: Here. –Andy
Best Drink a Warm Spring Night: Rye & Soda
As soon as the weather starts getting warm — one can dream — we tend to move to the clear spirits come cocktail time. What to do with all that rye you have left over from the long winter? Try it with a bunch of ice, a healthy splash of club soda, a few dashes of bitters, and a slice of orange. -Andy
Best Bitters for Your Rye, Soda, and Orange cocktail: Fee Brothers Orange Bitters, naturally. -Andy
Best accompaniment to the Fish Tacos You Will Be Grilling This Spring and Summer: Mexi-Slaw.
I am a huge slaw guy — I think it’s an inherited thing; there wasn’t a trip to the Safeway as a kid where my dad wouldn’t stop by the prepared food counter, order a half pound of the good stuff, and eat it with his turkey sandwich in front of the Redskins game. We have a bunch of different varieties we make in our house — fennel, apple and sunflower seed; straight-up picnic slaw, with celery seeds; asian slaw (with rice wine vinegar and a little fish sauce and sirracha) — but the one I’m into lately has a slight Mexican flavor and is righteous when paired with grilled fish on warm tortillas. To make: Finely shred 2 cups of red cabbage, using a sharp knife or mandolin, and set aside. In a small bowl, mix 4 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise, sour cream, or crema (which you can find in the refrigerated section at any Mexican grocery store, and which has an awesome consistency), 1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin, 2 diced jalapeño peppers, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, juice from one lime, salt, and pepper. Whisk until emulsified, and mix in with the cabbage just before eating. Top with cilantro. –Andy
Most Fun Path to Enlightenment: A Cartoon History of the Universe
I went to one of those colleges that did not have a core curriculum. The administration put its full trust in its students to push themselves academically, to follow their passions while also making sure to tend to their well-rounded edges. For me, though, as someone who was terrible in math and science and spent a lot of high school asking his parents, “Seriously, when am I ever gonna need to know this stuff in real life?” — answer: like, every time you calculate a tip or your kid asks you why batteries don’t just last forever, genius — I used the freedom as an excuse to stick to what was comfortable. As a result, there’s an embarrassing amount I do not know. Phoebe, who is 12, knows far more about science and history, for example, than I do. Why? Simple: A Cartoon History of the Universe, a massive, pretty damn genius three volume — and counting — series by Larry Gonick. She discovered these at the public library about a year ago and has been poring over them ever since. They go from, as Phoebe says, “way way way way back, even before there was life in the universe” up through “like Christopher Columbus time, but I haven’t gotten there yet.” Why does she recommend them? “Because they are super-duper scientific and you learn a lot, but also just because the author is so funny. It’s not boring. They’re a little hard, so not for little kids, but I think anybody 12 or older will love them. At least, anyone who loves science and history and comics will love them.” Something tells me she’ll be posting about this over at NerdAlert soon.-Andy
Best Solution to the Nightmare That is Our Breakfast Situation: Avocado Sandwich
We’ve written/whined about this extensively on the blog over the years, but our breakfast situation stinks. Hate is not a strong enough word for how our kids feel about eggs. They won’t touch hot cereals. They’re weird about yogurt — like, they’ll choke it down if we insist, but it makes me feel bad about myself, as a parent, to see them do this just to please us. I worry it’s one of the things they’ll tell their future therapists about. They like bread. They like bagels. They like pancakes (well, Phoebe does). They like waffles (well, Abby does). They like croissants. None of it is healthy, though. That’s why we were so thrilled when Phoebe came up with the idea of an avocado smashed on a piece of wheat toast — a morning meal we can get behind. Halve the avocado, spoon it into a bowl, add a touch of salt, smash it with a fork, spread it on toast, and stud it with tomatoes. Top with a drizzle of salsa, if you lean that way. I do. –Andy