family dinner

Pasta Factory

By Lisa

Some people eat long noodles, other families eat blackeyed peas, but we have a pasta-making tradition on New Years Day.   Actually, the tradition has been that I make the pasta and everyone else eats it.  Mostly, I don’t mind. Mostly, I love making pasta the way other people love meditating, or running, or taking a nap.  There are few other tasks in the kitchen that I find more therapeutic, and even fewer that have a better reward.  But this year, I just didn’t want to make all that pasta only to have it disappear a few hours later, nor did I want  to make the extra batches all by myself.  Plus, there’s no kitchen gadget my kids love more than the pasta roller. So I decided: It was about time the kids and Kory learned how to make pasta.

First, you clear the table and dump 2 1/4 cups “OO” type flour into a small hill at each work space.

Next: you make a pit in the center of your flour mountain, volcano style.  Crack 3 eggs into your crater.

(Even Finn could do this–mostly.)

With a fork, puncture the yolks, then scrambled the eggs.  Slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs.

When the dough begins to comes together, you drop the fork and begin to knead, incorporating flour bit by bit until the dough is no longer sticky. Eventually, it will be smooth and elastic and will spring back when you poke it.

It’s messy teaching kids how to knead, so I couldn’t take pictures. But you’ll trust me when I say we ended up with 4 beautiful batches of pasta.

3 batches were packed away, unrolled and uncut in ziplock bags and stored in the freezer for another day.

The last batch, we rolled into fettucine.  Actually, Ella and Finn rolled it,with some help, then cut it on their own. Teamwork. We don’t have it every day, nor did we even have it all day on New Years Day, but we had it in this moment.  This is one of my goals for this year: remembering that harmony, in small ways, matters.

Horseradish Cheddar Fondue

By Lisa

If you ask my kids, they will tell you their favorite restaurant is the Melting Pot, a chain of fondue restaurants.  Everything I wrote almost exactly one year ago remains true.  Yet in spite of the price, we have eaten there three times this year.  We didn’t anticipate that our promise to celebrate certain accomplishments would become  such an expensive one.

So, Santa thought it was time to leave a fondue pot for the family, which we used almost immediately to inaugurate a new tradition:  New Years Eve Fondue.

We all helped prep: cutting bread and dipping vegetables and apples and setting them on the table on small bowls. grating cheese in the food processor; chopping and measuring the aromatics and liquid; covering the table in butcher paper and then setting it.

Everything ready to go

We have the Cuisnart electric fondue pot, so when everything was prepped, we brought the ingredients right to the table to cook.  The pot gets up to temperature almost immediately, so if you have your prep under control, this is a very fast dinner, one you could even do on a busy weeknight. The fondue comes together in less than ten minutes, even if you make, like we did, enough fondue to feed a small regiment of Swiss gendarmes.

We took turns with the cooking: I sauteed the garlic, kids added the beer, then we all  added handfuls of cheese, the aromatics, and stirred until the fondue came together.

Then we ate.

It was one of the most pleasant, easy meals we’ve had this season. I reckon we’ll save about $600 a year in restaurant bills. There’s something about cooking together over a single pot, then eating out of a communal bowl that brings our family together in the way no other meal can. (True, the sticks help.)  I think the next time an ugly conflict rears it’s head, or I need a good bribe reward, I might suggest fondue for dinner and all will be well.  Really, it’s like family therapy.

Horseradish Cheddar Fondue

Makes enough for at least 8 hungry people, so adjust accordingly. Follow the directions on your fondue pot for cooking and warming.

  • 1 1/2 lbs mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups beer (we like Stella Artois)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish mustard
  • 1-2 dashes tabasco

Ideas for dipping:

  • bread cubes
  • carrots
  • broccoli (lightly steamed if you prefer)
  • mild pre-cooked sausage
  • fennel and/or celery
  • apple wedges, cut in half
  1. Toss shredded cheese with corn starch and set aside.
  2. Saute garlic quickly in melted butter.
  3. Add beer and bring to a gentle simmer.
  4. Slowly add in cheese, stirring to melt evenly.
  5. Add mustard and tabasco.
  6. Serve immediately.

Bucatini with pork and fennel ragu

by Lisa

One thing Caroline & I are discovering as we are doing the final pass on the edits for our book, is just how important mothers are when it comes to the food we eat as children.  It seems there is a mother, somewhere, for better and for worse, at heart of all the ways we learn to eat.  No two stories in our book are the same, but one of the clear common threads is just how much influence a mother can have.  On the one hand, this is some cause for chagrin: it’s our fault? Again? Really? On the other hand, it’s forcing us to clearly recognize just how much power is in the hands of the person who feeds us first and how important food can be–in ways that go far, far beyond the table.

This lesson has come home for me this week. My parents are visiting from the east coast, and my mother, who is full of energy in every way, generously stepped into my kitchen to cook for my family on the night I had to teach.  It was a huge relief not to have plan, cook, and leave this meal behind for them, which is what I do every other week. Even better, she had spied a new recipe from my favorite food magazine, La Cucina Italiana and decided to try it.  I sort of marveled at her willingness to experiment in the middle of the week, but she took it all in stride, as she does many things.

The result was a meal the kids raved about.  I was lucky enough to be able to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, and I have to agree. It’s delicious. So, with gratitude for my mom, who taught me to try new things, who is an inspiration to me, and a unflagging companion for my kids, and, basically, a joy to be around, here is the recipe just as she made it, straight from the magazine.

Bucatini with pork and fennel ragu

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground pork shoulder
  • 3 leafy sage sprigs
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds and tender stems
  • 1/2  cup dry red wine
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add pork, sage and rosemary; cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up meat, 4 minutes. Add onion, carrot and celery; reduce heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour into pan and stir to combine, then add broth, fennel, wine and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to cook ragù at a gentle simmer until sauce is flavorful, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
When ragù is ready, remove from heat and cover to keep warm. Cook pasta until al dente, drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add ragù and toss to combine, then add half of the cheese and toss once more. Add remaining cheese and parsley, toss together to combine, then adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately

The clothes made the food

By Lisa

Last night, we came home from Ella’s soccer practice at about 5:15 pm, and I set to preparing dinner.  Ella and I had about 45 minutes before Finn and his dad returned from their soccer practice. Plenty of time for me to get dinner done and Ella to finish her homework and shower and have a little pre-dinner snack.  Since Kory has been coaching Finn’s rec-league team, Mondays are the only weeknight we eat together. So I set the table, lit the spooky house candle, and we were all set up to go when Kory and Finn walked in the door at 6:02 pm.

And then, as dads are known to do, Kory hijacked the orderly schedule. He ducked into the office and pulled out a tall box that had been delivered while Ella and I were at her practice. “The HALLOWEEN COSTUMES!” Ella screamed. Then Finn began screaming. Then they both began jumping up and down. And screaming.

“After dinner,” Kory said.

Before the kids could bellow, “NO. FAIR.” (which they did) I gave him a look  and said, “No way.”  These costumes have been anticipated since August.  Family dinner–and my sanity–depended on immediate access.

So the box was slit open, and in less than three minutes, we had a sort of scary ninja and a super cute witch leaping around the living room. I cannot show you the pictures because that would ruin the fun. And the kids would kill me.  There was much talk of accessories. Knives and ravens and stuff.

The costumes came off for dinner, but the magic prevailed.  The food was nothing special, but it did include a bunch a family favorites; picadillo, warm tortillas, a big pile of padrones, a bowl of really fresh raw carrots, a can of cuban black beans. It was delicious. But what was even better was the family harmony. We talked and talked about halloween, and costume ideas for me and Kory (rejected by the kids:  Phineas and Isabella, anything Star Wars, Leonardo and Mona Lisa, Mr. & Mrs. Dursley, The Weasleys), chatted about Finn’s birthday, and soccer, and a whole lot of other things.  We ate and ate and talked and talked, and just were. And I was grateful for them all. And Halloween.

A really casual dinner

Pumpkin Coconut Milk Curry

by Caroline

My parents are visiting this week (on the California leg of my Dad’s book tour) — and that means I am experimenting with recipes I wouldn’t make for just the four of us.

My parents (unlike my children) are eager and adventurous eaters, and while the food here ultimately matters less to them, I think, than the company (grandchildren!), they’re happy to eat just about whatever Tony or I feels like cooking. They like to cook, but I know it’s a nice break for them to be catered to; they have a great store of homegrown produce in their root cellar and freezer, but I know that what looked like an appealing bounty in August can start to feel a tiresome burden in October. Because everyone, not just the parents of young and picky eaters, gets into food ruts. Whatever breaks you out of a routine — houseguests, the change in seasons, a new recipe — is a blessing. Right now, we’ve got all three working for us, and I’m grateful.

I spotted this curry recipe a couple weeks ago, just before the first pumpkin arrived in our CSA, and have been saving it for my parents, though it’s a mild enough curry that your kids may like it, too (mine tasted it, and then ate rice with plain tofu). I’ve linked to the original and will paste in the recipe as I made it.

1 1/2 quarts peeled pumpkin or other orange-fleshed squash, chopped into 1 1/2″ chunks (from a 3-lb. squash)
About 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 onion, halved and cut into half-moons
1 or 2 red or green serrano chiles, minced (adjust to taste)
1 cinnamon stick
20 fresh curry leaves (the original recipe suggests you can substitue bay leaves but I wouldn’t recommend it; just leave the curry leaves out if you can’t find them)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 can (14.5 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 lb tofu, cut into chunks (not in the original recipe, but added for extra protein)
1 cup salted roasted cashews (I happened only to have peanuts, which were fine; toasted pumpkin seeds would be nice, too)
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice (or, in my case, as much juice as you can squeeze from half a lime)

Preparation

1. Sprinkle pumpkin chunks with 1/2 tsp. salt. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown half the pumpkin in oil, turning once, 6 to 8 minutes; reduce heat if pumpkin starts getting dark. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with 1 tbsp. oil and remaining pumpkin. Set all the pumpkin aside in a bowl.

2. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil in another large frying pan over medium heat. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until deep golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer half to the pumpkin- frying pan and reserve other half in a bowl.

3. Add chiles, cinnamon, and curry leaves to onion in pan. Cook, stirring often, until curry leaves are very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add turmeric, cumin, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring, until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute.

4. Return pumpkin to the pan with the onion and spices and add the coconut milk and tofu. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer until pumpkin is tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in lemon or lime juice, and add more salt to taste. Top curry with nuts and reserved onion and serve over rice.