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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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.

appetite

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So somehow in the middle of my recent spate of 50-hour work weeks, I managed to get pregnant again. No burying the lede this time, I’m just putting it right out here, and letting you all know that baby number two is set to join us in October, a month after Julian’s second birthday. We’re thrilled of course, though my tiredness has reached a whole new level, and my appetite, to my chagrin, is all but gone these days.

I had no such trouble eating throughout my first pregnancy. My first trimester nausea was just mildly bothersome, and I had no real morning sickness to speak of. I ate well and often: lots of fruit and fish, big salads and eggs and nuts by the handful. Indian food, Mexican food, any kind of spicy food – bring it on. Just about everything tasted great, and physically, I felt better than I had in years.

But things are different this time around – not drastically so, just enough to throw me for a loop. I feel a little bit queasier, a little more fatigued than I remember being last time, and I just don’t have much of an appetite. For anything. Frustrating for many, but downright maddening for a typically food-fixated sort like myself.

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It doesn’t help that I feel guilty about not eating. I’m building a baby, after all.

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I’m in a lull between trials right now, and my schedule has cleared up a bit. Mike has taken on the lion’s share of dinner prep in recent weeks, between my work commitments and lack of interest in eating, but I was eager to get back in the kitchen over the weekend, even though I had no clue what to make for us. Inspiration came, as it often does these days, via Pinterest, and a beautiful panade from Emily of Five and Spice. Since I’ve been able to reliably keep down bread and cheese, and we had a fresh batch of rich chicken stock in the fridge, it seemed like a good bet.

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So I headed into the kitchen yesterday afternoon while Julian napped and Mike took care of some things around the apartment, and I sliced onions and trimmed chard, grated cheese and massaged stale bread. I sauteed the greens and alliums in batches, built some layers and moistened them with stock, then I set my covered pan in a low oven to bake for a good long while.

And then I put my feet up.

The three of us sat down to eat together as the sun set, something I have missed more than anything else over the last few months, and as I watched the boys tucking into their respective portions, I was happy that at least they were enjoying their meal. I still wasn’t sure if I would. But I took a spoonful from my own bowl, satiny greens and wobbly bread, the aroma of stock and cheese and onions set aloft on a pocket of steam, and I closed my eyes as I took it into my mouth. I took another bite, and another, and another, and soon, my belly was as full as my heart felt.

Now We Are Six

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Homeward bound. #pretrial

Last Night’s Dinner turned six years old yesterday. I had entertained the idea of writing a special, celebratory post – six years does feel like something to celebrate, after all – but to be honest, I forgot until the evening, when the baby was finally down for the night, and I had a chance to sit and breathe and enjoy a little stillness.

The last few months have been a blur. We went right from the holidays (which for us, always extend into January, with birthdays and anniversaries and more), into a prolonged period of sickness, then straight into crazytime at my job. I’m preparing for two separate upcoming trials, which has meant long hours for me and even longer for Mike, at home with Julian. I’ve missed many bedtimes, and meals together have been scarce – home-cooked meals even moreso. And this busy period has only just begun.

In the middle of it all, my home life and and work life collided in a pretty unexpected way, and I found myself filing a trademark application related to my home here online. I never thought I’d have to do such a thing, but the whole process made me realize how much I appreciate this space, my own little space to talk about food and life and how they fit together, even if I haven’t had much time to do so lately. Looking back keeps me moving forward, as I know that just because I’m out of my kitchen now, and probably will be for some time, when I get back to it, it’ll be so sweet. Food is always best when it’s shared, I think.

So while I don’t have a new meal to share with you, I do want to say thank you to everyone who has stopped by over the last six years to talk about food and life with me, and to share a place at our table. I hope to have a lot more for you soon.

bouncing back

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toasts

We are finally… finally beginning to emerge from nearly two weeks of fierce battle against The Crud. Despite our best efforts at staying healthy, trying to strengthen our immunity by frequent hand-washing, liberal doses of homemade chicken stock, and, for two of the three of us anyway, getting flu shots, we were stricken, and hit hard. I suspect our recent trip to DC had something to do with it – it seems whenever we’ve traveled anywhere in the winter months, we always come down with something afterward.

cousins at play

As sick as we’ve been since, that trip was so worth it. We got to spend some long-overdue time with my parents, as well as my brother, his lovely wife, and their two adorable little ones. This was the first time Julian got to meet his cousins, and they got along famously.

escarole, wilted

On our first night in town, the entire clan ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant near our hotel, a mostly unremarkable place with checkered vinyl tablecloths and an encyclopedic menu. But one dish we ordered stood out in my memory – a side of white beans and escarole which we actually ordered for Julian, but which we adults ended up polishing off.

Dinner: January 23, 2013

White beans and escarole is a pretty classic combination, probably most familiar served in soup form, but this take was different: the escarole was braised with a bit of tomato, and the whole thing was studded with plump little black olives. They were an unexpected addition, and we loved how their brininess mellowed in the cooking, rendering them lush and fruity, a wonderful complement to the bitter greens and creamy beans.

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As soon as my appetite started coming back post-Crud, I began to crave this dish, and last night, I tried my hand at recreating it at home. With some toasted, crusty bread and a hearty red wine, this was a simple but satisfying meal I suspect we’ll come back to again and again.

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Braised Escarole with White Beans and Olives

one large head of escarole
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
Kosher or sea salt
one cup basic tomato sauce
two large cloves garlic
1.5 cups of cooked white beans
1/2 cup pitted black olives
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Trim the escarole, removing the stem end and any wilted outer leaves. Rinse it well and set aside. Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the escarole and a big pinch of salt (it’s fine if a bit of water is still clinging to its leaves), and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the pan and let cook over medium heat until the escarole is mostly wilted and a bit browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato and garlic, stir through, lower the heat, and continue cooking partially covered for another 10-15 minutes, until the liquid in the pan has reduced and thickened and the escarole is very soft. Stir in the beans and olives, add the red pepper flakes if using, and cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until everything is warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon into shallow bowls, with a generous drizzle of olive oil on top, and toasted bread alongside.

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