a good place to start

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prospectparkinthesnow

This week has been a doozy. We were able to take our very cooped-up kids out for a bit over the weekend, but the cold and snow came back with a vengeance Sunday night, and we’ve been fighting the bad weather blues ever since. My commutes have been long and frustrating, with truncated workdays and late returns home throwing us all off schedule, but the one thing we’ve been really grateful for is the promise of a good, hearty meal at the end of the day.

We were the lucky recipients of another delicious “meal train” dinner Monday night, and yesterday I put a new spin on an old favorite: Lemon Artichoke Chicken by our friend Liz. Liz’ original recipe is one of those wonderful dishes that is simple enough for a weeknight, but elegant enough for company. We usually love it served simply with salad and bread, but last night, craving something a little more rib-sticking, I decided to make a few modifications.

The first of them was unintentional, but a happy accident: instead of the skinless, boneless chicken breasts the recipe calls for, Mike had pulled some boned-out thighs from the freezer. They were thin enough that they didn’t need pounding, and in the end they lent a more robust flavor to the finished dish.

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After browning the chicken well on both sides, I removed it from the pan and added some sliced crimini mushrooms I needed to use up, as well as a good amount of thyme. I deglazed the pan with the juice of a lemon, and a hefty splash of vermouth in place of the sherry since it was what we had on hand, then I added a can of drained white beans along with the artichoke hearts. I put the browned chicken right back into the pan with the beans, artichokes, mushrooms and sauce, added the panko-parmesan topping, drizzled on some olive oil and then put the whole thing into a hot oven. I ended up baking this for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees, until it was bubbly and browned on top.

lemonartichokechicken

While my variation of this dish isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it hit all the right notes, with its creamy beans, tender chicken and artichokes, the crunch of the panko and the brightness of lemon. The fact that it all came together in one pan was a bonus. Thank you, Liz, for your recipe and for the inspiration – it was a very good place to start.

a bowl of goodness

beanandricebowls

A little rice left over from a previous night’s dinner, black beans spiked with cumin and Mexican oregano, a shower of sharp cheddar, a mix of peppers – sweet and hot – roasted on the weekend and packed in olive oil to deploy during the week, crisp lime-pickled radishes and red onion, some creamy avocado, a fresh chunky salsa, and a dollop of pureed chipotle in adobo made for a warming, hearty lunch to fortify us on a chilly day.

I’m really going to miss these Thursdays at home.

outside the box

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stovetopmac

One of the best decisions I’ve made recently is to use some unexpected vacation time to ease our transition from my maternity leave into our new routine. I was able to arrange for my first four weeks back on the job to be short weeks, scheduling a month of Thursdays off to spend at home with the kids. It has helped to break up the week for me as I get back in the swing of things at the office, and it allows Mike a bit more freedom to get the things done for his book and other writing projects that he needs to, as well.

Last week, Julian –out of the blue – asked me for mac and cheese, and since it was Thursday, and I was home, I figured why not? But with naptime approaching, I didn’t want to keep him waiting an hour or more for my regular skillet mac and cheese. Instead, I used that tried-and-true recipe as a jumping-off point, stripping down and changing up the proportions of my cheese sauce, and using a smaller (and quicker-cooking) pasta shape to produce a simple, super-creamy stove-top version for him.

julianmac

Three servings later, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands, and when Julian asked for it again yesterday, I figured I’d better write my recipe down for posterity. I hope Julian and his baby sister always push me to think outside the box, in the kitchen and elsewhere.

Simple Stove-top Mac & Cheese

1/2 lb. small pasta (we like Garofalo’s Lumachine, but any little tube or shell is fine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. grated extra-sharp cheddar
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1-2 dashes Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook it until tender. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and whisk in the flour until combined. Whisk in the milk and cream until smooth. Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring until they are well incorporated, and let cook over medium heat until the sauce is thickened and a bit reduced. Whisk in the Dijon, Worcestershire, and Tabasco (if using), then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the cheese mixture and stir gently until the pasta is thoroughly enveloped, and the cheese sauce gets into all of its little nooks and crannies. Serve immediately.

the swing

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sheetpandinner

I returned to work this week, just one day after Mira turned 10 weeks old. Mike is home with both kids now, trying to balance his writing projects with wrangling a newborn and an energetic toddler. Monday was rough all around, but each day has gotten a little bit better, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll soon be right back in the swing of things.

We have been helped immensely by parent-friends in our neighborhood, who have dropped off a series of delicious dinners, and also by a bit of planning ahead. I made sure that our fridge and freezer would be stocked with heat-and-eat options to help ease us through this first week post-maternity leave – a chicken and black bean chili I put together a couple of weeks ago, a couple of par-baked frozen pizzas, and the ingredients for this ingenious and really tasty sheet pan supper, which I spotted on Pinterest some recent sleepless night. Right now, easy is essential.

Our kielbasa came from Flying Pigs Farm, and instead of using bell peppers (as in Foodie With Family’s original dish), I added some well-drained sauerkraut to the mix. I also ended up baking it for closer to an hour, cranking the heat up to 500 for the last half of the cooking time to get everything nice and browned and crisp (our crappy apartment oven is likely to blame for that). Since I had started early, timing wasn’t a problem, and I’m never going to complain about the smell of garlicky sausage and onions wafting through the air as they cook. We all loved this dish, and it could not have been easier to assemble, or more fun to eat. This one is definitely going into the rotation.

The Best Thing We Ever Made – Second Course

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Things have been even quieter than usual around here, and with good reason. One month ago, we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Mirabelle Marlow Dietsch, into the world. Mira weighed in at 7 lbs. 5 oz. and was 19.5 inches long, and we’ve been slowly adjusting to life as a family of four.

Warm thanks to all of you who heard the news elsewhere and passed along your good wishes – they are so appreciated.

a little big news

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shrubs teaser

If you were around last Friday, you may have heard my husband‘s big announcement; and if you haven’t, well, I feel it is my duty to share some wonderful news with you.

While I’ve been spending the last few months not-so-much-cooking, and not-so-much-eating, and mostly putting all my energy into incubating Sprog 2.0, Mike has been pouring his heart and soul and considerable talents into a pretty major project of his own: a book. SHRUBS: AN OLD-FASHIONED DRINK FOR MODERN TIMES, is set for release in July of 2014. If you don’t yet know what a shrub is, well, my Dietsch is the guy to explain it to you.

shrubs cover 500sq

My own involvement with this project goes a little beyond taste tester and head cheerleader, as well: I shot the cover (!), and will be providing additional photos for the book (!!), which is exciting and surreal and more than a little nerve-wracking, since our deadline falls right around the time the new baby is due, but hey, an opportunity like this is a once in a lifetime thing. It’s a thrill to have some tiny part in helping Mike’s lifelong dream become a reality.

Big, big congrats, sweetie – I am so proud of you, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

tweaking taco night

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I’ve been gravitating toward far simpler food during this pregnancy. Though I’m in the home stretch now, my appetite still comes and goes, and the only dishes that reliably work for me these days are straight-up comfort food, meals that are strongly evocative of my youth: simple pastas, mac and cheese, and Mexican food by way of Eagle Pass, Texas and Detroit, Michigan.

I grew up with taco night – and I’m willing to bet many of you did, too. And despite my heritage, I’m also willing to bet our taco night looked pretty much the same as yours: that familiar cardboard box of crispy taco shells, the packet of dry seasonings to mix with ground beef, little bowls of crunchy lettuce and diced tomato alongside. It was an easy weeknight dinner, a meal we all loved, and while I haven’t bought a “taco kit” in years, I still find myself craving those flavors and that satisfying crunch.

But I’m trying to pack as many vegetables as possible into my meals, too, both for the nutrition they bring to the table, and because everything at the market is just so good right now – and that’s how a recent taco craving morphed into this salad. It’s got a little bit of everything I wanted – crisp and crunchy vegetables, savory meat and beans, sweet summer corn, and a creamy, smoky dressing, punctuated with salty strips of crackly baked tortillas. This is a late summer salad that combines some of the best tastes of childhood with the fresh, bright flavors of the season.

taco (salad) night

my favorite taco salad (serves 4 as a main dish)
several leaves crisp romaine or butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
seasoned ground beef (recipe below)
1.5 cups drained, cooked beans – black or red, just make sure they taste good
½ cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup fresh corn kernels – off the cob
1 cup zucchini – cut into matchstick slices
1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomato
½ c sliced scallions/green onions
½ c sliced black olives
crispy tortilla strips (recipe below)
creamy cotija dressing (recipe below)

Place a layer of lettuce leaves on a big platter (or on individual plates). Using a slotted spoon, add a layer of the seasoned ground beef, then the beans. Sprinkle grated cheese over. Layer on the remaining ingredients, drizzling a bit of the dressing on as you go, and finishing with the crispy tortilla strips. Serve with additional dressing alongside.

seasoned ground beef
1 T neutral oil (I like to use grapeseed)
½ cup finely grated white or yellow onion
kosher or sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 t ground cumin
1 t dried marjoram
½ t ground chipotle
½ t cayenne pepper
½ t smoked paprika
½ t sweet paprika
1 lb. lean ground beef (I use a locally-farmed Angus that is 90% lean)

Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened. Add the garlic and spices, and cook a few more minutes, until fragrant. Crumble the beef into the skillet and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Continue cooking until the meat is well-browned, adjusting the salt and other seasonings to taste. Set aside until ready to use.

crispy tortilla strips

crispy tortilla strips
6 corn tortillas
1-2 T neutral oil
kosher or sea salt

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Stack the tortillas and cut them into ¼-inch thick strips. Scatter strips on the baking sheet, and toss with oil. Toss again, then back, tossing occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and set aside until using.

creamy cotija dressing
juice of ½ lime
¼ t kosher or sea salt
⅓ cup prepared mayonnaise
⅓ cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
½ cup finely grated cotija (or pecorino) cheese
½ t smoked paprika

Combine the lime juice and salt in a small bowl, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Add the mayo, creme fraiche or sour cream, the grated cheese, and paprika, and whisk until well-combined. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Refrigerate until ready to use.

I’m an Olive Adventurer!

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spagh_caponata3

I don’t usually post about brand partnerships here, but I have a longstanding love for olives, and when I was asked earlier this year by the folks at Lindsay Olives to contribute a couple of my original recipes to their Olive Adventurer series, I was happy to oblige. (I’m in excellent company, as you can see!)

You can get my recipes for Braised Escarole with White Beans and Olives, and Spaghettini alla Caponata (pictured above) over at LindsayOlives.com. Enjoy!

feeding a family

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tomatoes at market

It seems like just yesterday that we were bleary-eyed parents of a newborn, struggling to figure out how to keep this tiny little dependent creature fed and clean and happy, while taking care of ourselves, too. We didn’t have family nearby, and we had a very limited amount of freezer space, so we ate a lot of sandwiches from the deli down the street, and a lot of what I call “stuff on toast” – sardines and avocado, ricotta and jam, pretty much anything we could prepare quickly and eat one-handed.

peppers, pickled

We’ll be in that situation again soon, this time with a hungry toddler to feed as well, and you’d better believe Mike and I are already talking strategy, testing out new one-dish meals, and planning a rotation of things we can have around to keep us all nourished and happy. Some local friends of ours, whose son is one of Julian’s buddies, are in the same boat, having just welcomed a new baby girl to the world. Some of the other neighborhood moms had the wonderful idea to organize a sort of “meal train”, with everyone signing up for a night and taking over a meal to the family, and of course we were happy to contribute.

pico de gallo

My original thought was to send over a roast chicken dinner, which is great hot or cold and is so versatile – but with temperatures on our selected day still in the 90s, something a bit fresher and brighter seemed more appropriate. And since our friends said they were pretty much game for anything, I thought a taco dinner would be fun.

whole lotta brisket

I picked up a 5 lb. slab of brisket and braised it low and slow in the oven for the better part of a day in a mix of mild chiles, smoky spices, and a splash of coffee, then I carved the super-tender meat into shreds and chunks. I reduced the braising liquid by about half on the stovetop, returning the meat to the sauce and finishing it with a good hit of fresh lime juice.

borrachos

I made a big pot of Borrachos with some Cayuga Farm pinto beans and home-pickled jalapenos, and a big pot of Mexican rice as well. We had a ton of juicy, ping pong ball-sized tomatoes from the farmers’ market that made a terrific pico de gallo, and a wee head of red cabbage that I shredded for a cilantro and lime-spiked slaw.

care package

I packaged everything up and packed it into a tote with some soft tortillas, fresh lime wedges, and some beer for the grown-ups.

brisket tacos

I set aside a little of everything for us, too. Quality control is important.

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Mike and Julian took our care package over early the next day, and Mike reports the food (and beer) were very much appreciated. I’m just happy we could make one of those early, bleary-eyed days with a new baby a little easier for our friends.

lean times

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Coney Island-bound.

It’s hard to believe it was just over a year ago that we returned to Brooklyn. So much has happened over the last 12 months, it often feels like we’ve been back here much longer. We’ve been settling in to our new neighborhood, slowly reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. There have been new professional opportunities to pursue, and on a personal level, we’ve had the joy of watching our little guy learn to walk and run and talk a blue streak. And before we know it, that little guy is going to be a big brother, and we’ll welcome a new little one into our family, into this big, shiny place we call home.

view from the B train

Looking at where we are now, how far we’ve come and what we have to look forward to in the year ahead, kind of takes my breath away.

tinned_fish

We’ve been so lucky – we’ve had a whole lot of good come our way in the last year, and more still to come, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve worked more hours in the last 12 months than I probably ever have before in my career, and that hasn’t left me a lot of time to spend with my guys, let alone to keep up with this blog. And we’re still recovering, in a lot of ways, from our big move. We spent everything we had and then some to get back here, and as anyone who has spent time here knows, New York is expensive. We’ve had to really simplify, and one way I’ve done so is by relying more heavily on our favorite pantry staples when planning meals for the week.

I came up with this dish a year ago, when we were still sleeping on air mattresses in our brand new Brooklyn apartment, living out of suitcases and a couple of Rubbermaid bins, trying to stretch the pantry items we were able to move with us from Providence and the few fresh foods we could afford until my first paycheck arrived. We liked it so well I’ve made it numerous times since then, sometimes adding peas or short lengths of asparagus, a little something fresh and green from the farmers’ market. Even at it’s simplest, it has always satisfied.

Pasta with Salmon in Creamy Lemon Sauce

Pasta with Salmon in Creamy Lemon Sauce

1 lb short, chunky dry pasta (I usually use farfalle, but any shape will do)
3 T unsalted butter
3 T unbleached all-purpose flour
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 6 oz. can salmon, drained, skin and bones removed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
snipped scallions or chives, about ½ cup
(Optional: 1 cup peas or short lengths of blanched asparagus)

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil for your pasta.

While the water heats, melt the butter in a wide, shallow pan over low-to-medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk it in to combine, letting it cook briefly but being careful not to brown it. Whisk in the lemon juice – it will probably seize up, but don’t panic! Whisk in the milk until the mixture smoothes out, then add the heavy cream. Heat for a minute, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon zest and the salmon, breaking it up as you go. (If you’re adding peas or asparagus, add them at this point.)

Once your pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, with a bit of the cooking liquid still clinging to it. Scatter the scallions or chives over the pasta and sauce in the pan, leaving a few aside for garnish, and stir until the pasta is coated with the sauce and the sauce is slightly reduced. Add more scallions or chives and another grinding of pepper, and serve.

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