Memorial Day weekend

What can I say? There was pasta, salad, fresh-caught bluefish, home-grown asparagus, flowers, martinis, a birthday and breakfast-painting. Oh, and hard work and togetherness. Welcome summer 2014.


Salad_IMG_0826When Shane isn’t around for dinner, I sometimes like to indulge my inner hippie by eating something really earthy-crunchy and totally healthful. Tonight was one of those nights.

I toasted up a quesadilla for Rose, defrosted some baby cubes for Sid, and made myself a big salad of dark greens, avocado, asparagus and brown rice with miso dressing. Roasted sweet potato would have been a good addition, but we’re out.

• Simple Miso Dressing •
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Bucatini with spinach and mascarpone

Pasta_Mascarpone_Spinach_IMG_0823This is a Jamie Oliver dish which we hadn’t had in years. I was googling around, wondering what to do with left over mascarpone, when I happened upon it again.

Jamie’s version calls for tagliatelle or spaghetti. We’ve made it with fresh linguini, which is a real treat. Tonight, being a weeknight and all, we used bucatini because that’s what there was in the long pasta department.

If you use pre-washed spinach, the dish takes only as long as it takes you to boil up a pot of water and cook the pasta.

• Tagliatelle with Spinach and Mascarpone •
Original recipe from Jamie Oliver here
translated from metric measurements below

1 lb tagliatelle or spaghetti
olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
½ nutmeg, freshly grated (or 1/4 tsp ground)
14 oz fresh spinach, washed thoroughly and finely sliced (or pre-washed baby spinach, not chopped or anything)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 oz mascarpone cheese
2 handfuls Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile get a frying pan or wok warm, add a drizzle of olive oil, the butter, garlic and nutmeg. When the butter melts, add the spinach. After 5 minutes it will have wilted down and will be nice and dark. If using baby spinach, cook for only 2-3 minutes, until just wilted, you don’t want it to overcook. A lot of the liquid will have cooked away and you’ll have wonderful intensely flavored spinach. At this point season with salt and pepper until it tastes good, then add the cream, mascarpone and a little ladle of cooking water from the pasta. Let this come to a simmer and then season again.

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water, then stir it into the spinach sauce. Add the Parmesan and toss everything together. Loosen to a nice silky consistency with some of the reserved cooking water, so it doesn’t become too claggy*. Check once more for seasoning and serve straight away.

*Claggy is a funny British word, just mix it till it’s smooth and creamy and not too thick or pasty.


Dinners, lately

Steak_IMG_0776Here are some of the things (besides Penne alla Vodka) that we’ve been having for dinner lately. Above: Grilled shell steak, zucchini with butter and fresh basil, Shane’s Easy Oven Fries and “baby sauce.”

Below: Pork that was not all dry and leathery, an ad-hoc lentil dish (with spinach, peppers, onions & feta) that I will never be able to replicate, and yellow rice (not pictured).

Since we’re sleep training at the moment, breakfast for dinner seems appropriate. A basil and mozzarella omelet, toast, bacon, and a salad with golden beets:

And for him?

Well, he’s into apples and butternut squash at the moment:

What was I just saying?

PenneAllaVodka_BeetSalad_IMG_0772What was I just saying about Penne alla Vodka? Yup. Here it is again.

I have a feeling I’m pushing the envelope with this one. One day this dish will be greeted with either: “Hey Nina, would you mind if I made the pasta tonight?” or the less subtle “Mom, why we always have the same pasta every single time!!!???”

But until then, I will continue to serve Penne (or Fusili) alla Vodka, at least weekly. My usual recipe makes enough sauce for two dinners. Considering that the sauce only takes a few minutes to make, this is a win-win in my book.

Also. Roasted golden beets with fresh cilantro is heavenly.

Freestyle quesadillas

Freestyle_Quesadillas_IMG_1130It’s been hard to find time to post lately, but you haven’t missed much. Things have been a bit repetitive (dinner-wise) around here. If you stopped by our apartment around 7:30 on any given night, you’d likely find us eating either Penne alla Vodka or Freestyle Quesadillas (pictured above).

Freestyle Quesadillas, you say? Is that some kind of newfangled X-Games event?

No, it’s simply quesadillas with whatever toppings I can scrape together with a baby in one arm, and a 6 year old talking to me non-stop from two rooms away.

We call it “Freestyle” because Rose seems to embrace any meal with a DIY aspect. Essentially, you put a bunch of stuff in little bowls with spoons and she eats it up, literally.

Speaking of making dinner with a baby in one arm. Here’s an invaluable trick: Buy sliced cheese for quesadillas.* We usually have a bunch of leftover sliced mozzarella in the fridge, from when Shane makes pizza. That works great, so does sliced cheddar. Just bung a few slices between your tortillas and you’re golden. One-handed quesadillas!

*I’m not a fan of packaged grated cheese. It seems to have too much surface area to remain fresh for any length of time.


Mother’s Day

Mother'sDay_IMG_0766I don’t have any pictures of Mother’s Day dinner, because I was too tired to take them, or to remember to take them, or even to remember to bring my camera to dinner. But that’s okay, because I try to have low expectations.

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of Mother’s Day. Like New Year’s Eve it’s a holiday so rife with pressure to be wonderful, that it seems like you’re just courting disappointment all day long. Maybe they should call it Try To Have A Nice Time With Your Family (And If It Doesn’t Work Out, That’s OK Too) Day.

I’m not saying this because I had a terrible Mother’s Day. I didn’t. But there’s something wrong with this picture, no? We’re supposed to be appreciating mothers, not raising their expectations to an unattainable level.

These days, you’re headed for a let-down from the moment you open your eyes on Mother’s Day morning. If you don’t get the biggest bunch of flowers, if you’re not totally pampered and relaxed, if your husband isn’t the most conscientious, selfless, forward-thinking 21st century man who never pisses you off, if your kids aren’t angels who sleep in and then bring you coffee in your nice, recently-laundered, white bed. That’s it. Mother’s Day Fail!

When Sid woke me up at 6:30am—after having woken up at 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 already—and somehow Shane managed to remain asleep beside me, I knew it was going to be a rough day. That was okay, because I’d already dodged my first Mother’s Day bullet the night before.

My in-laws are in town, and on Saturday night, we made plans for Shane to meet them in Manhattan for brunch on Sunday, while I stayed back with the kids. A few hours after we made these plans, my old wheels started churning: Mother’s day… brunch… me alone with kids… not having brunch… not showering… probably not managing to feed myself at all… on Mother’s Day… Hmm.

I told Shane that even though I don’t really care about Mother’s Day, I suspected I was going to end up feeling bad if he left me alone with the kids on this particular Sunday. He suggested we all go out to brunch together, and why don’t we bring my parents too? Bullet dodged, but shouldn’t a mom not have to dodge bullets on Mom’s Day?

This reminds me of a few years ago when I requested no flowers or special treatment on Mother’s Day, because it’s clichéd. Halfway through my totally normal just like any other nothing-special-about-it Sunday, it became clear via facebook, that I was seemingly the only mom on the planet who didn’t get flowers, or something. I changed my mind about the flowers. My beloved willingly obliged, and ran out to the store to get some.

Again, something’s wrong here. How is a holiday with this much pressure, which you can’t escape even if you want to, supposed to benefit mom? I don’t get it.

What I get is this: Being greeted by my two super-smily kids and a couple of rainbow-loom bracelets in the morning. Watching Rose ride the Le Carousel at Bryant Park, over and over again, while sitting in the dappled-shade with my husband, baby, parents and in-laws on a gorgeously under-populated spring day in the city. Swinging from the monkey bars with Rose. Her insistence on buying me a pink, heart-shaped cheese cake with a plastic flower in it, for me to keep. My own mom. Shane cutting my food because Sid was too tired and fussy to be put down at dinner time. The quiet walk home, alone, with my sleepy baby who couldn’t last till desert. Rose tucked into bed for the night saying “Mom, I just have to cry because when I wake up tomorrow it won’t be Mother’s Day anymore.”

I’d much rather have these deliciously real mom moments—and all that goes with them—all of the time, than a mixed bouquet and brunch once a year. Wouldn’t you?


Lentils_IMG_0638My aunt Dot made truly delicious lentils with cabbage and cumin, when she had us over for dinner recently. They were so good that making and posting about them went right to the top of my Steady Table to do list.

The recipe is originally from Madhur Jaffrey but my aunt found it via Smitten Kitchen, when she was looking for a way to use up her supply of CSA cabbage.

A couple of notes on the recipe. I purchased red lentils that appeared to be split, but I don’t think they’re the right kind because mine were totally cooked—to the point of being mushy, which was fine because I started dinner way late—in less than 30 minutes (the recipe says to cook for 1 1/4 hours). Also, I think the recipe needs a hell of a lot more salt than called for, just keep adding salt till it tastes good to you.

• Red Split Lentils With Cabbage •
from Madhur Jaffrey, Indian Cooking via Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/4 cups red split lentils (masoor dal), picked over, washed and drained*
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into fine slices
1/2 pound cored and finely shredded cabbage
1 to 2 fresh, hot green chilies, finely sliced (jalapeños work fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

Put the lentils and water into a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that collects at the top. Add the turmeric and stir to mix. Cover, leaving the lid very slightly ajar, turn heat down to low, and simmer gently for 1 1/4 hours, or until cooked through and no longer watery. Stir a few times during the last 30 minutes. (See notes before recipe)

When the lentils cook, heat the oil in an 8 to 9 inch frying pan over medium heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 3 to 4 seconds. Now put in the garlic. As soon as the garlic pieces begin to brown, put in the onion, cabbage and green chilies. Stir and fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes or until it begins to brown and turn slightly crisp. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat under the frying pan.

When the lentils have cooked for 1 1/4 hours (or until done, see notes above recipe), add the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, the tomato and ginger to the pot. Stir to mix. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Add the cabbage mixture and any remaining oil in the frying pan. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer.

Simmer uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cabbage is heated through.