family dinner

Salad on a Stick

by Lisa

With summer fair season coming up, and  barbecues and neighborly dinners, I thought this would be a good time to share our latest favorite thing: salad on a stick.  Another recipe straight out of last month’s Food and Wine, this one is endlessly adaptable, and it’s going to be a regular on our summer table. I served this first for dinner with the Pickled Shrimp, then brought another batch to book club. Both times it was a huge hit, probably because the only thing better than something on a stick is something on a stick with bacon. My kids would eat bacon everyday if they could.

The original recipe is a take on a classic wedge salad:  iceberg, bacon, blue cheese.  The technique is this: spear alternating bites of romaine lettuce and bacon onto a bamboo spear. Serve with homemade blue cheese dressing.  These disappear fast–neither kids nor adult can’t resist. The only note of caution: don’t overcook the bacon. It needs to be slightly tender so it doesn’t crumble on the spear.  I’ve learned to cook bacon in my oven:  put cold bacon on a foil lined try into a cold oven. Turn to 350 degrees and bake for 12-17 minutes, until ends start to curl and bacon reaches desired cripsness.

Not surprsingly, blue cheese is not a big hit with the kids. So they used ranch dressing instead of blue cheese.  But if you like blue cheese, try this recipe. It’s pretty great. Try it.

Also exciting: you can vary this recipe endlessly: use fresh Thousand Island dressing, cherry tomatoes, mini cucumber spears, green onions, mushrooms, peppers–anything you can put in a salad that you can spear is fair game for the skewer.  Plus: these spears keep and travel beautifully, and there’s no need for forks.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • romaine,+ provolone + pepperoni + pepperoccini+ red pepper + red wine vinaigrette=classic Italian-American antipasto on a stick
  • Cherry tomatoes + mini-mozzerella balls + fresh basil leaves + balsamic vinagrette=Caprese on a stick
  • Celery + carrot + romaine or iceberg leaves +  Thousand Island=crudite on a stick
  • Mozzarella +roasted red peppers + marinated artichokes
  • Tomato + Watermelon + feta + red wine vinagrette
  • shrimp + romaine + green goddess dressing

Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe is here.
We’d love to hear your ideas below! Happy grilling!

Pickled Shrimp

By Lisa

It’s no secret to readers here that I’ve been in a bit of a cooking slump.  But as the weather changes, and my event schedule slows down a little, and the end of the school year approaching, things are getting a little jolt of renewed energy. I am still not over the loss of Gourmet, but I read the recent issue of Food and Wine with interest for the first time in months and months. And in it, I found this recipe for pickled shrimp, which called to me for some reason. I had a good bag of shrimp from Pietro, and all the ingredients, and took a deep breath, and made the new dish later that week.


I forgot the part about it needing to chill for 8-10 hours, so I pulled together the Sundried Tomato Gnocchi, and we ate these shrimp the following night, as we watched Harry Potter, The Prisoner of Azkaban.  So, while I had to make 2 things one night, I had nothing to do the following night, which was Friday, and who doesn’t want a no-cook dinner on Friday night? Also, once the shrimp are cleaned and peeled, this comes together in minutes. It’s really fast.

So, for lots of reasons, including how they taste, these are one of the best new things I’ve made in a long time.  Ella liked them, Finn liked them less (a little too much heat) and they made the kitchen smell really delicious, tart and pickle-y. A lot like summer. I used a premade spinach dip, which sounds strange, but it cuts the heat, so I’d make sure to buy a good one or make the one in the recipe.  If there are any leftover, I’m sure they’d be great on Day 2. Or for a picnic. Or an appetizer.  However you use them, you won’t be sorry.

The recipe is here: Pickled Shrimp with Creamy Spinach Dip.

Salad “Nicoise” for Kids

by Lisa

This dinner began with a piece of albacore, which we eat with some regularity.  We can buy it fresh at our farmers market and it’s a favorite with everyone.  I’m not sure what sent me down the composed salad path, but it might have had something to do with the week of composed salads we ate after Easter and something to do with the fact that I’m tired of the Korean style tuna we’ve been eating–delicious as it is. And it definitely had something to do with the fact that Finn doesn’t often like his foods all mixed up. So if I can separate ingredients without trouble, sometimes I do. For this salad, I made this easy dressing with what I had on hand.  I didn’t have a lot of traditional Nicoise ingredients (potatoes, olives) but I had other things: a tender Boston bibb lettuce and some baby Romaine, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, white beans, artichokes.  I did a quick pan sear of the tuna, roasted the baby artichokes, steamed the green beans. I topped the tuna with the dressing and set out the other ingredients out on the counter with the dressing.

Here’s the very best part: kids get to choose what goes on their plates.  I dressed each ingredient individually in the glass bowl, which is the traditional way to prepare a Nicoise in any case, and then set it on their plates.  Caroline & I are together on this: when you can give kids choice and control, that’s always a good thing. This was Finn’s custom plate: tuna, white beans, green beans, lettuce. He came back for seconds.  I think we also had some fresh bread.

The second best part: everything can stay at room temperature so it was ready to go for my husband and I later that evening. In one of those great moments when what makes the kids happy makes the grown up happy, we had a win/win kind of night. And: you can endlessly adapt this: substitute canned tuna or salmon, fresh snap peas or carrots….whatever you have on hand.

The Spirit of Food

by Caroline

I’m on vacation with my family this week before Easter, traveling around New England visiting my niece, various cousins, my parents and brothers. I’ll have some food to write about soon enough, but in the meantime, I want to offer a very short post, a passage from an essay by Nancy Nordenson, “Things that Fall and Things that Stand.” The essay is in Leslie Leyland Fields’ wonderful anthology, The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, and later this spring I’ll post a full review of the book, but for now here is a passage that speaks to me as I start planning the many meals for this week with my family.

“The pancake stack disappears. The last of the coffee sits in the mugs. A few drips of syrup and lingonberries glisten on the wood’s surface. We are happy about each other and we are full. …

“I know not to waste suffering and fear. I know to use them as hard lessons, to extract the nugget of what I have yet to learn or what I need to learn yet again or what I can only hope to someday learn. But how not to waste these moments?

“We’ll soon get up from the table and do who knows what and drive who knows where for all the rest of our lives. But here, now, the wholeness of this moment, dense and round as a concrete piling driven deep into bedrock, anchors our paths. This is what it feels like when all is well. A mnemonic of experience as real as any. Might not a person just tip right over from the weight of fear or angst without this ballast at the other end?”

Pasta with Bacon & Yellow Chard

By Lisa

Yesterday, the day got away from me, and even though it was Sunday, I hadn’t gotten the pot of black beans to simmer before the soccer game, as I had imagined I would, and 5:15 rolled around and even though I had a house full of food, I had no idea what to cook.

So, I took a page from Ben’s book, and I foraged.  Meaning, I started pulling things out of my refrigerator one at a time, in this order:

  • green olives with herbs, newly purchased from a new vendor at our farmers market (this suggested pasta)
  • mini baguettes (another nudge in the direction of pasta)
  • bacon (bought for the beans but I figured I might as well find a way to use some of it)
  • yellow chard (because it’s a little more work to clean and chop than spinach, so better for a Sunday than a weekday…)

And then I pulled a little suburban iron chef action and did this:

Pasta with Bacon and Yellow Chard

  1. Cook 5 slices bacon until tender crisp. Set aside to drain, then chop into 1 inch pieces.
  2. Drain off most of bacon fat and reserve for another use.
  3. Rinse and chop stems, then leaves of 1 bunch yellow chard into 1 inch slices/strips.
  4. Saute chard stems in bacon fat until they begin to soften.
  5. Add chard leaves and sautee about 4 minutes.  Add about 1/4 cup vegetable broth and simmer until liquid is mostly reduced and chard is tender but not too soft. Turn off heat. Return bacon to pan.
  6. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  7. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water, and add pasta to bacon and chard mixture along with 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or romano cheese. Toss quickly to coat. Add a bit pasta water if it seems too dry.
  8. Serve immediately.

The olives & bread made nice sides.

The dish was a huge hit, especially with the kids, who seem to have turned into little bacon monsters over night, and really, who can blame them? It’s fast, not too messy, and one dish meal.