Want to learn how to cook but don’t know where to start? Miss the last 600 posts on Dinner: A Love Story and don’t know how to catch up? Looking for something to read while anxiously awaiting dispatches from the Supreme Court? Look no further. Herewith, a list of one hundred definitively DALSian (which is to say totally unofficial, ridiculously subjective) rules of dinner.
1. “Acid” is usually the answer when you taste a dish and wonder “What’s missing?”
2. Always cook more spinach than you think you’ll need.
3. The quickest way to enrage me is to start eating before the cook has sat down. Even if I’m not the one cooking.
4. The juiciest limes are the small ones with thin, smooth skin.
5. Being cooked for in someone’s home is one of the finer pleasures in life.
6. But I’m pretty sure I’d skip that invitation if someone offered to take me to ABC Kitchen instead.
7. There is nothing sadder than a piece of warm pie without ice cream.
8. Improvising with herbs or vinegars? Yes. Improvising with baking soda or baking powder? No.
9. There are very few problems in a kid’s life that aren’t momentarily solved by a stack of chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday morning.
10. There are very few problems in my life that I can’t momentarily forget about when I’m cooking dinner with Andy.
11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.
12. Herbs in the salad.
13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.
14. Cinnamon in the chili.
15. Resist the urge to apologize when you’re cooking for people. Most of the time your dinner guests won’t notice anything is wrong until you bring it up.
16. There is no more fun question to put forth at the dinner table than “What would you do if you won this week’s Powerball?”
17. Dessert should be cake.
18. Kitchen chairs should be red. Or at least fun.
19. The term “100% All-Natural” when it appears on food packages: 100% meaningless.
20. If you have to unwrap it, it’s not going to be good for you.
21. It’s not wise to store your drinking glasses in the shelf above the dishwasher, the shelf that won’t be accessible until you shut the dishwasher.
22. Two words for those of you who haven’t switched from (iodized, metallic-tasting) table salt to (easy-to-handle, clean-tasting) kosher salt: Why the f not?
23. If my house were burning down and I could only save one thing from the kitchen, it would be my Master Copy of Dinner: A Love Story that I’ve had event planners, bookstore owners, morning show hosts, party guests, guest-posters, and family members sign as if it’s my high school yearbook.
24. Or maybe my Dutch Oven.
25. Slice a baguette on its side instead of right side up. That way you don’t end up smushing the loaf with your hand and knife.
26. Freeze soups and stews in flat bags so they thaw more quickly under running water. I know I’ve told you this one a thousand times, but it bears repeating.
27. The best way to seed a cucumber: Peel, halve horizontally, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.
28. The best way to get the conversation going at the table is by saying “Which kid got in trouble at school today?”
29. The best way to prepare scrambled eggs is with freshly grated Parm and snipped chives.
30. The best way to prevent tearing when chopping an onion is to wear contact lenses.
31. As far as I can tell, instructing your children to “please, dear Lord, please use your napkins” every night for ten straight years is not the best way to get your children to use napkins.
32. Learning how to Deconstruct my family dinners saved my family dinners.
33. It’s counterintuitive, but the sharpest knife is the safest knife.
35. When entertaining: Chicken is kind of a bummer.
36. When you use a knife to scrape food off a cutting board, use the dull side so you don’t ruin your blade.
37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.
38. If you have to ask “lime or lemon?” when making me a gin and tonic…I’ll make my own gin and tonic.
39. My new Holy Trinity: Rice Wine Vinegar, Fish Sauce, Grapeseed Oil.
40. When you throw shrimp into lightly boiling water, it takes exactly three minutes to cook.
41. If you’re gonna use storebought pizza sauce, Don Pepino is the one to buy.
42. There is no such thing as owning too many little bowls.
43. Without some crunch (nuts, celery, snap peas, radishes), salads can only reach half their potential.
44. An immersion blender is just not as life-changing as everyone promises it will be.
45. Everybody should know how to properly chop an onion.
46. Most everybody should know how to roast a chicken.
47. Establishing a post-dinner alternating lunch-packing schedule goes down as the smartest thing we’ve ever done as parents.
48. Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs are better the next day.
49. It’s not chaos. It’s richness.
50. You end the day with family dinner.
51. When making pasta, be sure to salt the water.
52. The proper cocktail construction: First ice, then booze, then mixer.
53. Nobody uses enough ice.
54. You very rarely feel worse about yourself after cooking dinner.
55. You very often feel worse about yourself after going out and spending $68 for four soggy pepper jack quesadillas, some rice and beans, and a couple of Shirley Temples.
56. The simpler the recipe, the more likely I am to cook it.
57. People who say bribery is not a good way to get kids to eat have never had kids.
58. When eating grilled stuff outside in the summer, there is no shame in cold, pink wine.
59. When cooking steak on the grill, get a nice char over hot coals and then move it to a less hot part of the grill — i.e. over indirect heat. Test for doneness by pressing down on the meat with your finger. When it’s ready, it will have the consistency of the flesh at the base of your thumb. Once it’s firm, you have overcooked it.
60. The best grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye.
61. The least healthy grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye, which tells you something re the relationship between fat and flavor.
62. As Julia Child once said, “There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables.”
63. Clean as you go. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough.
64. Eggs can become difficult to eat if you think too hard about them.
65. We never invested in a decent blender, and I rue that sh*t to this day.
66. We did invest in a big, expensive Le Creuset Dutch Oven and, 300 pork ragus later, I am so happy we did.
67. When roasting potatoes – or any vegetable, really – cook five minutes longer than the recipe says. And then cook five minutes more.
68. If you want to get something crispy, the pan needs to be hot. And so does the oil.
69. The ideal weeknight side: Baby carrots simmered for 15-20 minutes in a little water, a squeeze of honey, a couple of sprigs of thyme, salt, and curry powder.
70. Let us stop for a minute and consider the taste of a fresh ear of corn, rolled in butter, sprinkled with salt.
71. Performance enhancing drugs are to sports as butter is to cooking. Which is not to say that butter is evil. But it is cheating.
72. I can’t think of a single meat or fish that does not taste better on the grill.
73. Salt the water again.
74. Raw spinach does nothing for me.
75. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is delicious, and you enjoy eating it, say so. Say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”
76. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is maybe not the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life, but still, it clearly required thought and time and work and, yes, love, say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”
77. If you cook dinner for someone, and that person is not super forthcoming with his or her expressions of happiness or gratitude, you must (a) fight every urge to ask them if they like it, and (b) think twice about cooking for that person again.
78. Cooking is to baking as pleasure reading is to chemistry homework.
79. Salted butter for toast and bagels, unsalted butter for everything else.
80. Season your meat generously before you cook it, and then season it again while it’s cooking.
81. Everything in moderation, but particularly garlic.
82. I have a lot of regrets, but one of them is not substituting boneless chicken thighs for boneless chicken breasts in a recipe.
83. Three secret weapons of salad dressing: Teaspoon of sugar, dash of Sriracha, chives.
84. When making a hamburger, pack it loosely, and use lots of salt and pepper. And never ever ever ever press down on it with your spatula, for crying out loud. That is, unless your goal is to make it taste less good.
85. I serve turkey burgers. I know turkey burgers. Turkey burgers are a friend of mine. Turkey burgers, on your best day, you are no hamburgers.
86. Anything + Broccoli = A meal you can feel pretty good about.
87. If you care about what other people think about you and your parenting abilities, it is important that your kids only ask for their water “on the rocks” at home.
88. My ideal summer lunch: An open-faced heirloom tomato sandwich, on white toast smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with sea salt.
90. After Dinner: A Love Story, I mean.
91. The only acceptable mayonnaise brands are Hellman’s and Duke’s. It is a testament to how much I love my father that I can still accept him even though he puts LOW FAT MIRACLE WHIP on his sandwiches.
92. When I was a kid, my favorite meal was breaded pork chops that had been marinated in white vinegar. My mom would make them for my birthday, when the report cards arrived, and when I came home – with forty pounds of dirty laundry (and a gold hoop earring!) — from college. That smell, of the vinegary pork chops coated in Progresso Italian breadcrumbs, browning in olive oil in the Sunbeam electric frying pan, is burned so deep into my brain that, if you did the deathbed montage of my life, it’d be in there, right near the beginning. Not sure what that says about me, but it’s true.
93. More vinegar, less oil.
94. The ideal summer dinner: Fresh clams with pasta and a raw kale salad with pecorino romano and red onion.
95. Egg salad is a perfect food that is made even more perfect by the addition of dill, a handful of chopped pickles, and a dash of Dijon mustard.
96. The older I get, the less I like beer.
97. My ideal dessert: Jenny’s Mexican chocolate icebox cookies with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream. Or a fresh Mallomar, eaten in total quietude, so as to fully appreciate the sound of teeth cracking pristine chocolate shell.
98. Dredging the chicken or flounder before frying is an excellent task for a kid who is eager to help. Peeling a beet with a sharp knife is not.
99. Make friends with the fish guy at your farmer’s market.
100. Salt the water again.