it's better in the burbs?

Well, I don't know about that yet but I'm trying to be optimistic and focus on the positives of our new life. Like, for example, more counter space! On which I can safely perch my instant pot and plug it in without moving ten other things. As a result, I’m using it more. For example, I figured out how to make ricotta cheese after many failed tries.

It's super easy— just pour a half gallon of milk (at Costco they comes in threes) and 1.5 teaspoons of salt in the IP and choose the "yogurt" function. When the IP beeps, add 1/3 cup lemon juice, stir and let it sit for 10 minutes. Finally, strain with cheesecloth for anywhere from 10-30 minutes until it's to your liking. It makes a nice gift if you put it in a jar with a ribbon.

I’ve also used the IP to steam veggies and it made the best chili we’ve ever had.

Another positive happening: I met a friend —one of my few neighbors who have not already covered their houses in inflatable spiders and faux tombstones. She told me about a peaceful shady pond within walking distance, which I found to be desolate and beautiful. As I looped around it, I even started to appreciate this quieter life. (I apparently got so dreamy though that I took the wrong path and had to use Google Maps to get home.) Still, I was pretty proud of my nature walk, and shared it with the kids when they got home from school, along with my pictures of floating geese. Or were they ducks? Wait, what’s the difference? 

magic mac

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For anyone who has followed my multi-year search for the perfect mac and cheese recipe, I'm sorry. It's not exactly the cause I thought I'd champion when I finished grad school. The good news is that I found finally it: an easy, no-powder mac and cheese (slightly tweaked from Dad Cooks Dinner) that both boys loved on two separate occasions. I can make in the Instantpot—it's even easier than a stovetop version, And I can pack it in thermoses for their lunch boxes. And here it is:

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Magic 

Mac 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

    Directions
  1. Stir the macaroni, butter, mustard, hot pepper sauce, salt, and 4 cups water in the pressure cooker pot. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure and remove the lid.
  2. Stir in the evaporated milk and the cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly.

    ***This makes a ton so feel free to half it or store it in the fridge for a week or two and scoop out as needed. Heat up with a splash of milk or water.

 

 

action in the burbs

I didn’t really miss Brooklyn until I went back to Brooklyn. Driving into our old hood felt surreal, as if we had been staying at an airbnb all summer. Like now we were home.

The kids and I went to our regular movie theater and ate chips from the bodega as we walked down the sidewalk, talking to each other, holding hands at the corner. I miss that. Also: friends, bars without televisions and non-white people. (My kids apparently miss trash because they begged to bring home their playground collection for the playroom:

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I also miss driving over 25 miles an hour. The slogan of this town is: Slow Down. At stop signs, people stop, wait, make sure it is their turn and that everyone else is okay with that. The town mascot is Rip Van Winkle—the guy who slept too long.

Last week however was action packed. First, on Friday, we woke to a recorded phone call that school was canceled because of “police activity.” Rumors started flying: a robbery. A gunman. A hunter shooting at squirrels. Something about Ardsley country club? On the Facebook discussion, several locals asked if it was safe to walk the dog. Finally, the real news came in. A man, with a paintball gun, was spotted. Thankfully he was successfully captured and the locals could take to the streets again. Do I sound jaded? Maybe. I’m just pissed the kids were home all day.

Anyway, just three days later I woke to a loud sound. The kids were sleeping and Michael was out. I immediately thought someone was in the house (actually, I think this all the time.) But then I saw a car parked outside with its headlights on and a man got out carrying a flashlight. The police?! I crept around to the front of the house. Across the street our neighbor was frantically pacing with his cellphone, while Mr. Flashlight waited.

I felt I had a right to know if my children were in danger so I marched outside, still half asleep, in my black nightgown and white socks (the floors are really cold in this house.)

Our neighbor, Larry, came rushing over. "I’m so sorry," he said still on the phone. "My brother in law backed up onto your lawn.” I looked and it was true. A non-police car was halfway up our front lawn. “And then he got stuck. I’m calling the towing company right now." 

Then he looked at me and said very gently, “So how are you doing?” I thought about my outfit. "Fine," I said. "Well thanks for taking care of this. I’m going back inside. Michael will be home soon.” And then I said, because it was true, “Michael is bowling. In Yonkers.” Larry nodded as if he already knew that and I went back inside and locked all the doors and thought, wait did that just happen?

Despite all this excitement I did manage to make a few good meals this week, including this easy new salad dressing I invented while trying to use up a few things in the fridge, like this giant jar of pesto (which is excellent by the way) that I bought at Costco on the advice of a chef friend.

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So I mixed a big spoonful of this pesto with a cup of buttermilk, a little white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and 1 tsp of sugar. It was like instant (healthier) ranch dressing that Mack asked if he could drink from the bottle. It was good. You could also add fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil to give it more zing.

I hate the word “zing.” I never used the word “zing” in Brooklyn.

Save me.

waking up in the 'burbs

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Another sign that you’re an urban girl in a suburban world? When the timer for the muffins goes off and you think it's a car alarm and let it go on for 10 minutes before realizing it's coming from the kitchen.

That happened. But the great thing about these muffins is that, apparently, you can’t really cook them too long or mess them up too badly. Believe me, I’m not a baker. The reason I made these is because of yet another Suburban Catch 22: The bus takes the kids to school (whoopee) but it picks them up at 7:15am (whatttt?)

So our leisurely two-pan breakfasts are about to end and I am trying to think of ways to get food in their bodies before they leap into this new world. We're not a cereal family and Mack turns into Darth Vader without some protein. So I found a recipe from Tory Avey and made it simpler and more kid friendly.

These are light and airy but definitely sweet and they have a little protein from Greek yogurt and a little fruit from applesauce. The best part is they only take about 10 minutes to make and only one bowl. And like I mentioned earlier, you can cook the hell out of them when you mistake the timer for a car alarm.  

Feel free to freeze them too and then you can defrost them in the microwave while yelling "STOP FIGHTING, GET DRESSED, YOU'RE LATE!"

Banana Muffins

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1/4 cup applesauce
3 ripe bananas mashed
1 cup Greek yogurt (whole, 2% or nonfat)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cut the butter into small chunks and place in a large mixing bowl along with the sugar and brown sugar. Use an electric mixer (or standing mixer) to beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes. 

Add the eggs and applesauce and mix till smooth. Add the mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, and vanilla. Stir, then slowly add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg while mixing. Scoop into greased muffin tins and place a chocolate chip on top because kids fall for that sort of thing.

Bake the muffins for 25 minutes. Makes about 24 muffins.

 

pickling in the 'burbs

So it finally happened. Urban Girl wound up in the suburbs.

A little background: I was always Urban Girl. And then I fell in love with Suburban Guy who was transforming himself into Urban Guy (because who wants to be Suburban Guy or Sub-anything Guy?) and we lived an urban life. Even after we had a child, we were profiled in the New York Times as Brooklyn pioneers, cool kids with a kid.

Then we had two. And all of a sudden there was dog poop everywhere and we had to shout over construction noises as 20-year-olds in hip "office clothes" brushed past our kids on their scooters. Only our richest friends were living well. And half of the good ones had already fled to LA or San Francisco or DC.

Soon the extra 700 square feet with a patch of grass bigger than a salad seemed not so bad. So and so had moved to Westchester and they were happy. The schools were good. The kids could have their own rooms. Urban Girl could have a little quiet because maybe she wasn’t so urban after all. In fact, all she wanted was a little goddamn peace.

And then the moving trucks came and we genuinely felt like the world was ending and then there we were or rather here we are: the burbs.  

About three days after we moved, my beautiful Brooklyn friend Lisa asked the obvious question: have you started pickling yet? Which got me thinking. I had space in the giant fridge (and another fridge in the garage because that's what suburban people do) so why wasn’t I making pickles?! Duh.

I first turned to the Mile End cookbook thinking Canadian Jews know pickles and made my first batch, which were good but a little sweet. So I tried Tasting Table’s recipe which was simpler (only 48 hours compared to Mile End's two-week picking time) but still a touch sweet. Along the way I stuck random things in the pickling liquid like celery and squash. Our fancy fridge now looks like a science fair but check out my new marble countertops (above) ... and Michael's hedger. Take that Brooklyn!

Gringo Tacos

Put this one in the category of articles I wish I’d written it before Sam Sifton did.

Hard-shell Tacos: What’s so wrong with them?

They get a bad rap (wrap?) as Sifton points on in his recent NYT article. The gringo taco, the Tex-Mex appropriation. The middle school cafeteria lunch.

And just back from a trip to Mexico where I spent a whole day learning Mayan and traditional Mexican cooking techniques, then ate tacos for 5 days, I feel sheepish even addressing this. But the nostalgia factor is high. My mom made theis pass-the-toppings meal at least once a week and I remember it fondly. The shredded cheddar and cubed tomato, iceberg lettuce and canned black olives. The beef juice that ran down your arm as your bit into the crunchy shell. As Sifton says, they still have their place at the family table.

Recently we stopped by a friend’s apartment to deliver their 6 pounds of frozen salmon from an Alaskan share that I introduced them to. They are both new to the country—she is from Hungary and he is an ambassador to the Netherlands. They entertain high-profile people all the time, sometimes without warning

Come in, she said, have some wine.

We sat at her counter as she poured wine and retrieved huge chunks of cheese brought back from their last trip abroad. Then he came home like the Dutch do—full of energy and cheer and without even taking off his jacket, joined us for wine. The kids were playing elsewhere and he invited us to join him later at a little-known outdoor bar run by Monks where a local musician from his country was having a show—that started at 11pm.

But first he would have some dinner, and we would join him. Oh no, I said we should get back….it’s late. We are intruding. I already made dinner at home. What are you talking about? He glared at me. Why wouldn’t you stay?

All of a sudden his wife started making tacos—hard shell American tacos with the little packet of taco seasoning that my mom used to use. She set up little bowls of lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes, shredded cheese around their too-large dinner table and told us (and the kids) to dig in. It was casual and delicious and revelatory. A piece of cheesy American nostalgia that I’ve secretly cherished for decades reignited by a family who had only been in the States for a year.

Of course, I had to make my own at home and of course, there were mixed reactions from the peanut gallery. Nate liked the shell that was like a chip and ate one with just cheese. Mack tried it but his eyes didn’t open as wide as his head, which is what he does when he loves.

Today on the heels of our trip, I stopped at the store to buy some chile peppers and stumbled on an aisle of hard shells and bottle sauces. Nope, I thought, I’m too good for that. Then I got home and read Sam Sifton’s ode—his recipe is just a slightly glorified adaption of the recipe on the back of the taco seasoning packet. Now I’m craving crunchy gringo tacos that fall apart in your hand and I don’t care if they’re fakes. Sifton eats them and so will I. 

fish tacos

I finally tricked my kids into watching "Top Chef" with me and they were surprisingly engaged. The competition aspect and the fact that there is a clear winner and loser really appeals to them. The "Quickfire" that they watched was from season 13, where the chefs make fish tacos in San Diego. Every taco looked so delicious that I ran out and bought cod and tortillas. 

I wanted something between deep fried and grilled--with some crust but not heavy and not to light and flaky either so that the fish just falls apart immediately. I made up the following recipe and it was really good after a couple tweaks. I didn't force the tacos on the kids but at some point during dinner, Mack pushed his pasta away and decided he'd like to be the taco judge. I made him one without the hot sauce and he took thoughtful bites just like Padma does on "Top Chef" and declared it a winner. There was no competition but I'll take it. 

Crispy Cod Tacos

Cut 1 pound of cod into 2 inch pieces and soak in milk for 10-20 minutes. Drain and blot with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. In a plastic Ziploc, combine the 1 cup rice flour, cayenne, cumin, cilantro, salt and white pepper. Toss the fish.

In a large nonstick skillet over high, heat canola oil. Cook the fish in batches, turning heat down to medium high, until the bottom side is crispy and golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook until crispy, another 2 to 4 minutes.

Serve immediately with warm tortillas, creamy slaw, limes and hot sauce. 

instant pot: breakfast

So far there has only been one Instant Pot failure—steel cut oatmeal, from a recipe I found on a random blog. That's one of the problems with the IP--there just aren't that many trustworthy recipes yet. With a lot of ad-libbing I finally got the oatmeal to be oatmeal and with a better recipe, it can be done.

Unfortunately just the idea of tasting the somewhat unusual looking oatmeal sent Nate running into the other room. "You win some you lose some" I said aloud which Mack and Michael turned into a song about tornados and dragons called "The worst hike ever." So at least the creative juices were flowing and eventually Nate came out and joined us. 

A better turnout (not that Nate ate it but the rest of us loved it) were these egg muffins which were softly steamed and juicy. 

instant pot

 

 

 

 

 

I don't usually follow the gadget of the month trends but the Instant Pot? It's f-ing amazing. Here's why you might want one: perfect easy hard boiled eggs; dried to soft beans in 30 minutes; seriously melt in your mouth beef stew:

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There are other functions--you can even make yogurt in it but I'm probably never going to do that. The point is, for me at least, it practically ensures a soft tender quality that might take hours of hard work otherwise. Last night-I bought a small piece of pork butt and chopped it in large pieces. Then I tossed it with some olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika and chile powder and threw it in the instant pot, along with a chopped onion, a garlic clove and a 1/2 cup of Tropicana orange juice. After 50 minutes the meat was falling apart--I needed a spoon to take it out of the pot. It was the easiest "slow roasted" meat I've ever made. The tender shreds were perfect for tacos—or alone on a plate, maybe with some soft polenta or slaw. 

mac and cheese update!

Just when I thought I'd exhausted the subject, Epicurious comes in with this: powdered cheese. Apparently you can buy real cheese that's been made into a powder (more molecular gastronomy stuff) and then use it in an Annie's-like recipe (butter, milk, powder) for a yummy cheese sauce. An angle I never considered! Unfortunately the brand of cheese powder recommended is no longer available on Amazon. Hmm...but hold tight. I am on it. The investigation will continue....

annie's ruined us

After years of eating Annie's boxed Macaroni and Cheese, my kids won't touch the homemade stuff.

So last week I set out to find a mac and cheese recipe that would rival Annie's—that my kids would eat. My first attempt was a stovetop cheese sauce with this easy (no roux) method. The sauce was tasty but too clumpy, a dead giveaway. Let's face it, much of feeding kids is tricking their senses into familiarity. 

Next I reached out to an Alton Brown recipe which called for evaporated milk (that stuff in a can), egg yolks and cornstarch which I thought made an excellent cheese sauce that held up well to pasta but the boys found it "too cheesy." I know. And it's ok to wonder at times like these: why did I have children?

Finally I went all out. I ordered some sodium citrate from Amazon which according to the molecular gastronomy world can make cheese sauce out of water and it's true. It's magic! You take the tiniest bit of water and add a pinch of the powder, bring to a boil and then start adding shredded cheese and you get cheese sauce. We played it like a science experiment (again) which got Mack's attention just long enough to take this iphone shot.

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The result was superb., A thick gooey cheese sauce that actually tastes like cheese. I was most proud of this one but before I got the chance to use it for mac and cheese, the Superbowl came along so I used it for some kick ass nachos. Check these out:

Unfortunately, the cheese ended up kind of hard, dry and almost invisible as it cooled. I'm going to try this magic sauce with the macaroni because it's just so cool and easy, why wouldn't I? But you can probably predict the dinner table results. 

Anyway, Annie's is now banned from my house. Too bad for my kids they will never enjoy mac and cheese for dinner again. 

slow cooker chicken breasts

This is one to add to the "it's actually worth it and not too much work" slow cooker recipe pile. Basically you brine the breasts (this is easy--add salt and sugar to water and stir.) Then you put oil, garlic, lemons and salt in the slow cooker and heat on low for an hour. The breasts come out of the brine and into the warm oil and cook for only 40 more minutes on low. And they are perfect-- soft, flavorful and tender, like sous vide or how I imagine sous vide should taste if I had a machine or still ate at fancy restaurants. 

homemade cheese?

Yesterday the boys and I did a science experiment: making cheese. We added white vinegar to hot milk and watched it curdle. Then strained it in cheesecloth. Although it was a recipe for ricotta, it turned into more of a farmer's cheese. Nate loved it and was very proud of his creation. He couldn't wait for Michael to get home and then ran toward him with a plastic bowl of hard curds. 

Today I tried a few different things like making the milk hotter, adding vinegar at the end and letting it sit before straining. The results were definitely improved but still not as creamy as I'd like so I cheated and mixed in a little sour cream, flavored it and topped with a drizzle of olive oil. It was pretty yummy and made the whole experimenting worth it, especially if you have kids who like cheese and magic potions.  

CHEATER RICOTTA

4 cups milk
1/4 c white vinegar
sour cream

  1. Pour 4 cups of milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, stirring occasionally and monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer. Remove it from heat and slowly add 1/4 cup white vinegar. then let it sit for 10 minutes. You'll see curds start to form. 
  2. Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. Let the ricotta drain for 10 minutes. Combine drained curds with 1/4 cup sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Add lemon zest and olive oil. Serve with the following homemade crackers. 

 

oh joy a holiday potluck

I am usually the mom making the "healthy" snack that walks the fine line between nutritious and yummy and is always the one left over at the end. So this year for the school potlucks, I asked the kids what we should make. Nate, as always, said "pancakes." But it got us thinking along the lines of chocolate chips and breakfast foods. Nothing flax-seedy here but nothing too artificial either. These easy muffins were so good that few were left over which to the kids felt like an accomplishment and maybe, maybe made them want to cook with me again. 

CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS
 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 & ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk (whole or buttermilk is preferred)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 & ½ cups chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a 12 cup muffin tray with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla. Slowly add to the dry ingredients. Gently fold together until JUST combined.
  4. Divide the batter into the 12 muffin cups (or 24 mini cups) and bake at 425°F for 5 minutes, then turn the oven heat down to 375°F and bake for another 13-15 minutes. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes and enjoy warm. (Muffins taste best the day of, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.)

adapted from Lily Ernst of Little Sweet Baker



 

kimchi chicken

A couple of months ago I published this story in Mosaic magazine called Hurry Up and Wait. It was about how millennials are bringing back the slow cooker because it fits their busier and more tech-savvy lifestyle. It was an idea I conjured in my head long ago but never really based it in anything real. When my editor greenlit the pitch I was kind of shocked. Now what? So I turned to my new friend, Reddit and found hundreds of millennials obsessed with their slow cookers who were happy to tell me why. Somehow it all came together

And what everyone wants--millennials, baby boomers, parents—is a slow cooker recipe that begins "Combine everything in the slow cooker...." They want to just throw it in, turn it on and not look back. This is the golden ticket to slow cooking and after much trial and error I have started to compile a list of super simple slow-cooker recipes. 

My all-time favorite of these type of recipes are these ribs but another one I also love is Kimchi Chicken. The bottled kimchi is added near the end of the cooking to prevent total mush while still imparting some complicated flavors--spicy, sweet, umami. Here's the recipe I use:

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 scallions sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 tbsp Minute instant tapioca (optional)*
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger or 1/4 tsp high-quality ground ginger
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 jar of cabbage kimchi

    * Instant tapioca found here or in stores like Walmart is a Cook's Illustrated favorite ingredient for the slow cooker but I'm not sure it's worth tracking down, unless you're kind of obsessive like me. 

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients except for the scallion greens, chicken, and kimchi in the slow cooker.
  2. Nestle the chicken thighs in the sauce, spooning some over the top.
  3. Cover and cook for 4-5 hours on low 
  4. When ready to serve, turn heat to high, add the kimchi, and cook for about 20 more minutes. Serve sprinkled with the scallion greens.

 

 

pre-turkey lineup

Rosemary roasted nuts

Rosemary roasted nuts

For the last few years I have been making this dry brined turkey which always turns out perfect. And this year I added a vegetarian stuffing from Food52 which is a keeper. But since those standards were in place, I spent a little more time on these pre-gamers, aka special hors d'ouerves which I have to say probably got the most respect: rosemary roasted nuts, shots of butternut squash bisque, a NYT recipes for broiled feta with honey, and (below) olive rosemary crackers from Purplefoodie.com, which are incredibly easy to make and look super impressive.

OLIVE ROSEMARY CRACKERS

1 cup all-purpose flour, more as needed
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp parmigiano reggiano cheese, finely grated
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp black olives, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half, more as needed
1 Tablespoon milk, if required
Pink Himalayan salt or your favorite topping – coarsely ground pepper, sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Put flour, salt, cheese, rosemary, olives, garlic and olive oil in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until flour and olive oil create little crumbs. In case you don’t have a food processor, simply whisk all the dry ingredients together first. Then add the oil and using a fork or a pastry blender mix till they look like coarse crumbs.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit. If the dough is still a little dry after pouring in the cream, add a little milk. Alternatively (without the food processor), pour the cream into the dough mixture and combine it into the dough with your hands..
  4. Roll out dough until 1/4-inch thick or even thinner, adding flour as needed. Lay on pan and score lightly with a sharp knife or pizza cutter to break crackers into squares or rectangles later on. Sprinkle with the salt or topping of your choice.
  5. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

adobo

This is one of those recipes that I've tried before and failed before but for some reason, this time it clicked. And it's super easy, that's the weird part. Why I couldn't make it happen before is a mystery. 

The basis of the Filipino dish is a mixture of coconut milk and soy sauce that cooks down (along with some chicken thighs) to become a salty/sweet/sticky coating for the chicken. Really good. I didn't even have coconut milk so used some evaporated milk instead. You can use bone-in or boneless chicken (or even pork) but stick with dark meat only. 


Easy Chicken Adobo

2-3 pounds chicken thighs
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup coconut milk
2 bay leaves
Steamed rice, for serving

Directions
Combine the chicken thighs, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and bay leaves in a large pot. Cover and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours.
Bring the chicken to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickened and the chicken is tender, about 20 more minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

o'banana bread

“What’s Oh Henry, “Nate asked from the couch.

“O’Henry? The book awards?” I asked without looking up but silently congratulating myself on my literary 7 year old and giddily imagining long afternoons reading together.

What?

What?

The candy! He yelled over to me. He was holding one of the mini candy bars from his giant bucket of Halloween candy that suddenly appeared in our lives on October 31. Not only is the giant bucket full of yumminess, it’s also a collection of shapes, colors, words, flavors, sizes that seemed to intrigue both kids almost as much as the sugary goodness.

Last night Nate made me rank my top 6 candy bare (Milky Way, KitKat, Three Musketeers, Reese's, Hershey bar). He laid the mini bars in the order I chose and came back to the lineup from time to time throughout the evening.“ Are you sure that Milky Way should win?” It took considerable time and consideration on both our parts. 

Mack is a little more reckless with it all. (This is the boy who ran in from trick or treating, took off his costume and all his clothes and announced in backwards-facing briefs “Let’s start this party!”) He fumbles through various lollipops and chewies, pausing sporadically to ask “is this one the poison?” (Yes I did tell them about that because I can’t help it.)

Michael and I have become the house experts on all things candy. We know which ones have nuts, which are too sweet, too sticky. Tootsie Rolls for example are a waste of tooth-time. Nerds are intriguing—so tiny and brightly colored — but without substance. Michael likes anything gummy and I prefer anything not gummy (aka chocolate.) But we are the ones who can show these naïve boys the way through their candy bucket.

And suddenly candy is forefront and center of almost all of our interactions. It’s the first thing they ask about when they get home from school. In the morning it’s a grueling decision making process to determine which piece goes in the lunchbox and then the runner-up, the one for after school. We seemed to have moved on at least temporarily from the car races and fantasy baseball games of yore to the inevitable candy wars.

So in order to add some conflict, I thought I'd bring something else sweet into the daily mix. (Also because no one is going to eat those withering bananas lying hopeful near the candy center.) But I needed a kick-ass Banana Bread, one of that could stand up to a Hershey's.

Who better to ask than the grumpy queen of making it right whatever it takes (here mainly a lot of butter)—Gabrielle Hamilton whose book "Prune" is genius. And whose banana bread recipe is so thoroughly realized and explained, down to how long to cream the butter and sugar and what shade the combination should achieve by the end of mixing. It would be impossible to let her down. The cake is rich and dense but not too sweet—moistened by buttermilk and pierced by soft walnuts. It's really delicious and gave the candy a good run. 

 

Prune's Banana Bread

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cups (2 sticks) butter softened
  • 1.5 cups bananas, mashed (from about 5 bananas)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of two 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a stand mixer, cream eggs and butter until light yellow. Alternate adding 1/2 banana mush and 1/2 buttermilk. Then slowly add flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans. Bake until loaves are golden brown, about 55-65 minutes. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes and then remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Recipe adapted from Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton

 

group gumbo, and scary masks

What's funny is that the idea for gumbo started with a movie about a really poor family in New Orleans who, in one minor scene, gathered together at Grandma's for gumbo. Everyone grabbed a bowl and lined up at the stove for a big serving then found a seat to share the meal. 

Something about that big pot simmering on the stove and large casual serving style appealed to Michael's family fantasy (lots of kids and multiple generations under one roof, sharing, caring and talking very loudly.)

Anyway, last year the scene inspired us to make gumbo (recipe below) and we made it again this weekend. But it wasn't until after we made a giant batch and even froze half of it, that we realized it might be the perfect party food for our impromptu Halloween party. So when four families came by after a stressful trick or treating (blood, sweat, tears and two families almost lost their second born), we reheated the giant pot and filled up 13 bowls and sat around to eat gumbo together. It was by far the best part of Halloween. Well, that and these two:

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Group Gumbo (adapted from Shrimp, Chicken and Andouille Gumbo)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 large onions, chopped (about 12 cups)
3 red bell peppers, seeded, chopped (about 7 cups)
4 celery stalks, chopped (about 3 cups)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
2 8-ounce bottles clam juice
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 pounds andouille sausage, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds peeled deveined medium shrimp

Heat oil in heavy pot over medium-high heat until very hot—about 5 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly until mixture is dark reddish brown, about 5 minutes.

(Note: For the veggie chopping, I used a food processor to pulse large chunks into small pieces—which I recommend if you have one. )

Add chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, and chopped celery and cook until onions are soft and brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cayenne and stir 2 minutes. Add wine, thyme, and bay leaves; bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes with juice, clam juice, broth, sausage, and chicken; simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add shrimp to pot and cook stirring often, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 

Serve with chopped scallions and steamed rice and hot sauce. Also freezes beautifully and keeps for days in the fridge.

Tucci Love

We met a lovely woman named Janelle in Fire Island this summer who invited us to lunch at her house. As we sat on the deck eating grilled chicken and drinking wine, she told me about her favorite whole fish recipe. "You'll remember this," she said. "It's from Stanley Tucci." Last week I ordered two whole branzinos from Fresh Direct (they were on sale and seemed summery) and then remembered the recipe. I googled Stanley Tucci Fish and sure enough found it. I've grilled a whole fish before but never tried the roasting thing. It's super easy and yummy, and if you're okay with occasional bones, a beautiful presentation and meal. 

Stanley Tucci's Whole Roasted Branzino

1 (1 ½ pound) whole branzino, cleaned, gutted, and scales removed
Fine sea salt
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 lemons, thinly sliced, plus additional for serving
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
20 cherry tomatoes
¾ cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 500˚F. Season both sides and the cavity of fish with salt. Arrange the 3 cloves garlic, lemon slices, rosemary, thyme, and parsley inside cavity.

In a large roasting pan, add olive oil. Transfer fish to pan. Toss in cherry tomatoes and remaining garlic in pan. Add ½ cup wine. Place pan in oven and cook, turning once and adding remaining wine, until skin becomes crispy, about 10 minutes. (To test for doneness, insert a metal skewer into the middle of fish for 5 seconds. Remove the skewer and if warm, then fish is cooked).

Transfer fish to serving plate. Arrange roasted tomatoes and lemon slices alongside fish, and drizzle with pan juices. Serve immediately.