For the last 10 years of their life, my grandparents ate at the same restaurant nearly every night. It was located across the street from their apartment building and served as the de facto dining room for many of their neighbors as well. My grandmother liked it because the waitresses all knew her by name and would bring her a glass of iced tea the moment she sat down. My grandfather kept going back because it appealed to his frugal side.
When you ordered off the dinner menu, in addition to being served your entrée, you also got bread, a cup of soup, a salad, two sides, dessert and coffee. All told, it was enough food for two or even three meals and Grandpa Sid saw that as a great bargain.
Each night, they’d eat their soups and salads, poke at the entrée and sides a bit and then move on to the real showpiece of the meal: dessert. Little Pete’s always had at least a dozen pies, cakes, custards and pastries on offer, along with four flavors of ice cream. When I was young, I thought it was paradise.
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My sister and I were quite young when our parents decided we were old enough to join them in having artichokes for dinner. An enthusiastic eater from an early age (my first sentence was, “More mayonnaise, please”), I was always happy to try a new food. My sister wasn’t quite so eager, but since there was melted butter involved, she was willing to play along.
The table was set with plates, napkins and the biggest mixing bowl we had, empty in the middle of the table. A steaming artichoke was placed on each plate. They taught us how to pull the leaves off (always taking care to avoid the thorns), dip them in the butter and then scrape the edible flesh off each leaf with our bottom teeth.
Thanks to that early training, I have spent my life as an exuberant artichoke booster. I still like eating them just like we did that first time (though a dish of homemade aioli is also good for dipping), but truly, I can’t think of a time when I’ve turned down any artichoke preparation.
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My mother hates barbecue sauce. She won’t touch it on ribs, chicken or burgers, and can’t bear even the faintest whiff of barbecue potato chips. Her dislike is actually a point of contention in my parents’ marriage, since my father adores the stuff and once even went so far as to invest in a friend’s sauce company.
Ever the peacemaker, I’ve spent my adulthood searching out ways to create tasty grilled chicken that makes my entire family happy (in recent years, I’ve also had to work my husband’s distaste for dark meat into the chicken equation). It has to be entirely unrelated to a traditional ‘cue sauce while still being flavorful enough to turn my dad’s head away from his beloved Mr. Brown’s.
To that end, I’ve made batches of yogurt-marinated chicken breasts, a mountain of teriyaki chicken legs and even whole birds bathed in olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary and cooked under a clean cast-iron skillet.
Always on the lookout for ways to keep our summer cookouts interesting, when I spotted Bobby Flay’s recipe for Red Chile Buttermilk Chicken, I had a feeling it would be another variation that could potentially please the hearts and minds of my many persnickety family members. He has you whisk a number of spices into four cups of buttermilk, pour it over a bunch of chicken pieces and then let it sit for a while in the fridge. Once on the grill, the chicken pieces are cooked indirectly until just cooked through. The finished chicken is intensely moist and tender, nicely flavorful and shockingly easy. Plan a cookout and make it your Weekender soon.
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When I was 7 years old, my parents’ best friends opened a frozen yogurt business. Their store took plain yogurt and swirled in different fruits, bits of candy and sauces to make your ideal frozen treat. To a kid, having this kind of access to dessert was magical, and my sister and I would regularly beg to be taken to the shop on weekends and summer evenings (where they’d give us extra toppings and overflowing cups of yogurt).
Sadly, the flow of frozen yogurt soon ended when my family moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore. Not only did we leave our friends’ shop behind, the cooler climate of the Pacific Northwest wasn’t nearly as welcoming to frozen yogurt as Southern California; frozen yogurt suddenly became quite hard to come by.
Still, thanks to that early conditioning, I’ve had a lifelong affinity for frozen yogurt. I’ve enjoyed the recent resurgence of shops selling the stuff in six or eight flavors, but I always wonder exactly what they’re putting in there to make it taste just like white chocolate or strawberries and cream.
Recently, with these concerns about what I was eating, I decided to try my hand at making my own frozen yogurt. I dug around for a recipe that used simple ingredients and found this one for Blueberry Frozen Yogurt from the Neelys. It features Greek yogurt, blueberries, lemon juice and just enough sugar to cut the tartness. It’s so tasty, it takes me right back to the frozen yogurt of my childhood and is perfect for The Weekender.
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My parents are avid vegetable and herb gardeners. My dad is responsible for digging, planting and watering, while my mom tackles the harvesting, cooking and preserving. It’s a fairly equitable division of labor for most of the season. The only time my mom complains about her end of the bargain is when the garden begins belching forth many pounds of zucchini, yellow crookneck squash and flying saucer-shaped pattypans.
Whether you’re a home gardener, CSA member or a regular farmers’ market shopper, keeping up with the flow of summer squash during its high season can easily become a full-time cooking job. I find that I am constantly looking for ways to cook it down, use it up and transform it from a rapidly reproducing raw ingredient into breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
To that end, I grate it into baked goods, cook it down into sandwich spreads and puree it into soup with tomatoes, eggplant, onions and plenty of Parmesan cheese. I also like to grill or roast it into submission and then toss it into pasta salads. Topped with a bit of cold chicken or crumbled feta, it makes for an easy dinner or potluck contribution.
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I am the designated breakfast maker in my household. On weekdays, this means I make toast and coffee for myself and scramble a couple of eggs for my husband before he rushes off to work. On weekends, I try to do something a bit more leisurely. I often opt for waffles or pancakes (always made with my dad’s mix), but Scott has more of a savory tooth than a sweet one, so he regularly petitions for omelets and frittatas.
Lately, one of our favorite things to eat for breakfast while we read the newspapers (or, more often these days, our laptops) are breakfast burritos. I like that I can tuck some veggies into them and Scott likes the fact that he can sneak a bit more cheese into his when he thinks I’m not looking.
Though I often make our breakfast burritos without consulting a recipe, I do like to check out the versions that other people make in order to keep things interesting. Lately, I’ve been borrowing inspiration from this Pioneer Woman version that includes potatoes, sausage and peppers (I will confess that I sometimes tuck a little sautéed kale under the eggs, for a hit of leafy greens). A tasty Weekender, indeed!
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The first time I made risotto was with a friend. She pulled out her heaviest cast-iron pot and unearthed a well-worn wooden spoon that was bent ever so slightly. Its curve had developed over many years of use and it fit her hand perfectly. In order to preserve its form, she kept it hidden away so that well-meaning family members wouldn’t accidentally run it through the dishwasher or use it to encourage the blender to blend.
We started by chopping onions and sweating them in a puddle of melted butter until they were translucent. Then the rice went in and the heat went up, so that the individual grains would become slick with the butter and begin to toast. Just when the room began to smell impossibly fragrant, she poured in white wine, causing a puff of boozy steam to hover over the stove for a moment.
Then we started the process of stirring and adding hot chicken stock. The time went quickly because we were together, catching up and taking turns minding the pot. However, even in the joy of that moment, I could see how some people might find the necessary stirring a tedious act. That night, we finished our risotto with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, peas (from the freezer but still tender and sweet) and cubes of salty ham. With a salad, it was a complete meal and one we both enjoyed.
A few weeks back, my husband and I were having friends over for dinner. I was making grilled salmon and a chilled asparagus salad and needed one more thing to serve. Awash in deadlines and errands, I needed to find something easier than a classic risotto, but more refined than a simple pot of rice. Internet searches led me to Ina Garten’s recipe for Easy Parmesan “Risotto.”
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Every year when summer rolls around, I find myself on the hunt for a fresh, seasonal potluck dish. The requirements for the winning dish are that it needs to travel well, taste good whether warm or at room temperature and must not require immediate refrigeration upon arrival at said potluck destination.
Several years ago, I made many batches of a barley salad that included chunks of feta cheese and chopped cucumber. Through summer 2010, I fixated on a dish of made from chickpeas marinated in a vinaigrette made from olive oil, lemon juice and minced rosemary. Last summer, I opted for halved grape tomatoes, red onion and basil dressed lightly with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
Each of these salads did an excellent job throughout their particular season, but by the time the cooler weather rolled around, I was ready for something more autumnal.
Happily, I think I stumbled across this summer’s salad just this last weekend, and with the hot weather we’ve been having, its arrival couldn’t be timelier. It’s Rachael Ray’s recipe for Tuscan Pesto-Dressed Penne With Crispy Kale. It’s light and tastes terrific freshly made or after a night in the fridge (I’ve tried it both ways and it’s a winner). The next time you have a summer potluck to attend, stir up this Weekender.
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So often, when I think back to the food of my childhood, all I remember is the seriously healthy stuff. Dark brown whole-wheat bread, carob chips and apple slices dominate my memories of what we ate during those years. However, a recent conversation with my sister brought up a whole other set of food memories.
She remembers the toasted cheese on white sourdough, fruit snacks in our lunches and the fact that just about every Saturday, we ate hot dogs and baked beans for lunch. I don’t know if our parents relaxed their food standards when my sister came along or if my memory is deeply selective. I do know that once prompted, I vividly recalled that baked beans were one of our pantry staples.
Part of the reason my mom was so willing to keep baked beans in the pantry and hot dogs in the freezer was that they were things we could easily help prepare. Opening the beans taught can opener dexterity and the frozen hot dogs could easily be wrapped in a paper towel and microwaved until warmed through. Plus, I’m sure she figured it was a meal that offered plenty of protein for our growing bodies (my mother is a big believer in the power of protein).
With this memory fresh in my mind and Memorial Day looming, it seemed the perfect time to try my hand at a batch of from-scratch baked beans. As is so often the case, a little digging led to a recipe from culinary mastermind Alton Brown. His recipe for The Once and Future Beans helped me nail it on the first try. The active work is fairly minimal, but the beans do need a solid eight hours in the oven, which makes them perfect for a lazy weekend supper and a definite candidate for The Weekender.
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My maternal grandmother, Della, wasn’t much of a cook. Forever dieting, she invested far more time into maintaining her dress size than she did perfecting her brisket recipe. However, when pressed into kitchen service, there were a few dishes that she could make tolerably well. She knew how to cook a pot of oatmeal so that it was thick and creamy, had long ago mastered the art of broiling a steak and made the best bread pudding around.
Bread pudding was a staple during Della’s childhood. After being orphaned, she and her siblings were raised by an aunt and uncle. The pressures of feeding three growing children meant that food had to be inexpensive and filling. Stale bread cooked in custard and sweetened with dried fruit checked both boxes and tasted good to boot.
Throughout her later years, bread pudding was the one thing that my grandmother just couldn’t resist. Any time my grandparents would eat out and it was on the menu, my grandfather would order it as his dessert. When it arrived, he’d nudge the dish my grandmother’s way. She’d insist that she was entirely satisfied with black coffee and then proceed to eat half the serving in small bites.
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