November 2010 Archives

Great Minds Eat Alike: An Interview With Laurie David

The holiday season, kicked off this past week with Thanksgiving, is as good a time as any to discuss family dinners—the ubiquitous, but often unrecognized tradition that doesn’t exactly necessitate that a big old turkey be placed in the center of the table in order for people to gather around it.

Laurie David’s new cookbook, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time, sheds new light on the importance of family meals—of turning off cell phones, computers, and televisions, slowing down, and feasting on good food and conversation. (If you replace Family Dinner with “Family” Dinner and Your Kids with Your Friends, you’ll start to see how this book is as applicable to us quarter-lifers as it is to those cooks with families of their own.)

In addition to a being an environmental advocate, Oscar-winning producer, and full-time mom, Laurie David knows how make her dinner table a place that everyone wants to be, ourselves included. As the second featured interview of our new blog category, Great Minds Eat Alike, Laurie answers some of our questions about how she made family dinner a non-negotiable routine in her household, as well as some lessons that we can take away to share at the table with our friends.

One of the many memorable quotes scattered throughout The Family Dinner comes from Nora Ephron. “A family is a group of people who eat the same thing for dinner,” Laurie quotes her saying. We couldn’t agree more; as 20-somethings, our family is often each other.

We certainly share the philosophy that the most intimate, special moments are those spent enjoying a meal. Perhaps above all other messages in the book, we were thrilled to hear that Laurie, like us, thinks that potlucks are awesome. In her family, nothing gets everyone in a great mood than feeling like they’re contributing. To drive that message home, she asked Phoebe to write a short piece for the sidebar of the book on the 20-something family dinner ritual, where the creation of the meal is shared.

Read on for some of Laurie’s wisdom. For the rest of the tips, including Phoebe’s, on how to make your kitchen a greener place, your table full of engaging conversation, and your platters covered with delicious delicious food, we urge you to pick up a copy of The Family Dinner and explore it for yourself.

From our kitchens, albeit small, to yours,



BGSK. In your intro you mention that your family dinners growing up weren’t always the best experiences. What were the failures with those dinners and what have you tried to do differently with your own family?

L.D. The reason that those dinners didn’t work—the food was always good, and we had sit-down dinners Monday through Friday—was the atmosphere at the table. Someone was always getting mad, someone was always getting into a fight or leaving the table crying. As a parent I really didn’t want to repeat that. It made me realize that dinner is more than just about the food-it’s also about the conversation, and I always put a lot of focus on that—there’s a lot of great conversation tips in the book. For some people, figuring out what to talk about is just as hard as figuring out what to cook.

BGSK. Was there an age range for your girls that was particularly hard to tackle family dinners?

L.D. When your kids are really young, you’re really just starting to teach them how to sit at the table, and they have short attention spans. Those early years are challenging, but I think that meal after meal after meal after meal, you realize, they sat for 20, 30 minutes, and everyone gets used to it. Now I can’t get my kids away from the table! Dinner is almost always over, dessert over, conversation continues, and then at some point I say doesn’t anyone have homework? It just shows what happens if you’re consistent. When kids get older they get their own lives, they’re not home as much, swamped with activities and homework, or they don’t really want to be with you, and that’s when a lot of people drop these rituals. But I think this period is when people need rituals the most.

BGSK. Do you always serve dessert?

L.D. Always. It’s one of my rules. Dessert is incredibly important because it gives you a chance, if dinner doesn’t go well or someone gets into a fight, to get back on track. I think also what happens is that if everyone clears the table and helps clean up and then comes back to the table, you’re not eating your main course thinking what you’re doing next. You know you’re there for the duration. I think it slows the dinner down, and I think we all need to slow down.

Dessert can be a cup of tea, or an apple sliced up, or a square of chocolate. It’s not always about homemade cheesecake or apple pie. It’s really about something very simple—the prolonging of the meal.

BGSK. Were there any early pointers that you learned from your mother when it comes to family dinner?

L.D. There’s a little story at the end of the book called “The Hostess with the Mostest”. My mother loves to entertain. I have such clear memories of lying on her bed, watching her get dressed for Saturday night, putting the earrings and the makeup on, and I loved the whole process leading up to the time when people actually showed up. Putting the bridge mix into the bowls, the hors d’oeuvres out onto the coffee table, getting the bar ready, and getting dressed—all the things that lead up to entertaining. She definitely passed on the love for the whole entertaining process onto me. It’s one of the reasons I always have so many people at my dinner table, because I just love the celebration of sharing a meal together. I definitely got that from her.

BGSK. For us, the people who are at our table are really more friends than family at the moment. How do your ideas stretch to fit that?

L.D. It’s totally relatable. There’s a great quote from Nora Ephron in the book—your family is whoever you sit down to eat with. If you’re in college, it’s your college friends, if you’re out in the workforce, it’s probably your coworkers and your girlfriends. And if you’re a couple, your family’s each other. In some ways, the tagline of the book should have been “great ways to connect with each other, one meal at a time.”

Family dinners are equally important for people without families nearby–they should have a ritual with their friends. They should be doing potluck meals and doing all the games in this book. They should be having friends invite friends so they’re always widening their circle.

BGSK. Do you have any rituals these days with just your girlfriends?

L.D. I always include a lot of people when I can, and I have a lot of family that lives nearby. There’s rarely a night when my daughter doesn’t say “who’s coming for dinner tonight?” and I love that she’s connecting dinner with both guests and family members. When you’re doing these things with your kids, you’re setting up the ritual for the next generation. When my kids are your age, they’re going to be having friends over and throwing dinner parties.

Cara. You’ll have to get them our book.

BGSK. On the issue of takeout, you have your Sunday night Chinese food tradition…

L.D. I love that I now get Larry to pick up the food. I put the order in, but he’ll go out and pick up the food and bring it home.

Phoebe. So I was going to ask, how do you turn down the allure of getting takeout seven nights a week? But maybe it’s because Larry David can’t pick it up seven nights a week.

L.D. You know what, take-out is fine when you can’t cook. But the truth is, when you’re eating takeout, you don’t know what you are eating. And it’s almost always higher in salt, sugar, and fat. This concept of “convenience”—I put that in quotes—bothers me. It’s not convenient that there are so many people with diabetes in this country. But, on nights when you don’t have time, you can get healthy takeout, have a picnic on the floor, and that will be a memorable dinner.

BGSK. How did the process of becoming an environmental advocate change your family dinners–how did those values get integrated?

L.D. Every single issue I care about crosses the dinner plate, including the issue of global warming. When I was writing the book, there had to be a chapter about how the kitchen is the greenest room in the house. It’s the best place to teach those values.

What you’re buying, how much you’re buying, what you’re wasting—it all has to do with how you’re making dinner. I’m like a composting maniac—I can’t tell you the joy I get from knowing that things are going into my compost instead of into a landfill.

How can we use less plastic? What kinds of pots are we cooking from? How much meat are we eating? Pick your issue. Your personal health and the health of your kids, or the health of the planet. It’s all connected.

Something very simple that we can do tomorrow: start eating less meat. If you eat less of it, you’re going to enjoy it more, and you’ll be able to afford the stuff that’s better. You can buy organic vegetables or grass-fed beef when it’s time to serve meat for dinner.

BGSK. Do you have any tips for composting when you live in a small New York City apartment?

L.D. There are these great small composters—something that sits out on your balcony. It’s just so emotionally rewarding. You’d be surprised how compost doesn’t have a smell to it. It really doesn’t smell. I don’t know why that is.

Phoebe. As part of our new year’s resolutions, we’ll have to figure out how to do it.

L.D. One way is to find a local restaurant that’s doing it or wants to do it, and get involved with that.

BGSK. In keeping food waste to a minimum, do you have any recommendations for making leftovers seem more appealing?

L.D. My first recommendation: let’s come up with a new word for leftovers. It’s such a bad term. I love leftovers! Let’s start a contest to come up with a better word for leftovers.

I have some amazing recipes in the book, where I suggest one or two spices to add to a dish that will change the flavor just enough that you can serve it the next day and people will think you made it from scratch. Good luck finding leftovers in my house—they get devoured the next day.

BGSK. For couples that live together, looking back on your early years of marriage, are there things you would do differently?

L.D. Avoid the pitfalls. For young couples, your family is each other. But it’s become so difficult with computers and the cell phones, for people to connect to with each other. People need to look at meals as the perfect time to do it. We have to recapture this ritual and hold onto it for dear life.

Also, everyone needs a break. Meals are a time to refuel not just your body, but your energy and your spirit. Dinnertime is a gift that the day’s bringing you. If you can’t do dinner, then find another time for this ritual. Have it be breakfast. Or do a before-bed teatime ritual. Or use your weekends—use Sundays to cook together and bond while making food for the week.

The mealtime ritual is about adding joy to your life. This isn’t the idea that dinner is some terrible chore. I love the interview with the Neelys in the book. They talk about how when they’re cooking together, it’s their sexiest time. They pour a glass of wine, light a candle, have fun. This is my idea exactly; to give yourself some really good memorable moments with the person you love.

BGSK. I know a lot of the recipes in the book have ways you can get the kids involved, and we’re always having friends arrive early and ask how to help…do you have any recommendations for good ways to delegate things to adults?

L.D. I think that’s the best thing you can do for your dinner party is to have everyone help. Nothing gets you in a better mood than feeling like you’re contributing. When everyone participates, that’s when you get some ownership over the meal, rather than just serving the food. When my kids contribute and they do two or three things, they basically feel like they’ve made dinner. They come to the table and say, “I made dinner tonight.” If everyone feels they’ve contributed they’re going to enjoy it more. That’s why I love the potluck too. It’s the best way for single people who don’t have a lot of time to get together.

BGSK. Jonathan Safran Foer wrote a beautiful afterword in the book about Thanksgiving. What are your Thanksgiving traditions, and have they changed at all as you’ve honed your methods for family dinners?

L.D. I have the same traditions as everybody else does, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving. You know, Thanksgiving was this tradition that was started to express thanks for the harvest, the seasonal harvest–unbelievable gratitude for what the earth was delivering to the table. We are so far removed from that–the fact that our food is available all year long, we’re not connected any more to how food even grows. We’re hardly growing any of it ourselves. All the ideas of what Thanksgiving is about are being lost. And the idea that we should eat way too much on that day is insane—we eat way too much every day! Again, I think we have to slow down and go back to the original intent of this holiday.

BGSK. What can we put on our table that will help us get there?

L.D. I think that if we think about what is seasonal and local and fresh in your community, that would be a start right there. Maybe don’t have strawberries for dessert. Maybe don’t make a casserole with a vegetable that’s not in season. Really think about what grows in the fall and embrace those foods.

BGSK. Is there anything—even after going through the process of modernizing what we’re eating—that is so memorable from your childhood that you make it for your children now?

L.D. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top of it. That is something we have on Thanksgiving, and they associate Thanksgiving with it. As Alice Waters says, “food is love memories.” So I guess I’ll keep serving those sweet potatoes.

Giveaway: Giving Back With Baking For Good

Though we both spent the holidays with our extended families, we were curious about what any quarter-lifers stuck in New York would up to this Thanksgiving. We thought the answer would be cooking with friends, in their small kitchens, perhaps with a budget-friendly bird like Cara’s boyfriend Alex’s Roast Chicken in the oven. But an overwhelming number of people we talked to were choosing to volunteer instead, and we think that’s pretty great.

Last year around Thanksgiving, we featured a post on Phoebe’s experience cooking at a shelter on the Upper West Side. Though the occasion didn’t actually coincide with a real holiday, we recognize that part of the spirit of Thanksgiving is giving back. And that’s what this giveaway is all about.

Though admittedly Thursday found us both soaking up much needed family time and sucking in way too many portions of stuffing this past Thursday, we do still want to express our thanks to you for sticking with us for these last few years. As it so happens, Thanksgiving also brings us near to the 2-year anniversary of BGSK.

We wanted to give back to you in the best way we know possible, with cookies. But in the true spirit of Thanksgiving, we are doing so by partnering again with our friends at Baking For Good. Emily Dubner has made a business out of baking and sending tins of treats for charity. In September 2009, she started Baking For Good, a gifting site for sweet treats that donates 15% of every purchase to a cause of the customer’s choosing.

Today, we are giving away a gift box of her delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. The winner will not only get whoopie pies, though. Whoever wins will also get to pick the charity that Baking For Good will donate the 15% to. What’s more, we’ll be giving 50 cents for every comment placed below to the winner’s charity of choice from the BFG website.

To enter the Baking For Good Giveaway That Gives Back, you must:

  • Be a subscriber to our newsletter. (we’ll check!!)
  • Become a fan on Facebook. (We recently moved to a new page. Make sure you join this one for all the latest news!)
  • Leave a comment below and tell us about a food-related community organization, charity, or nonprofit that’s important to you, OR something that you are thankful for this year.
  • (Optional) Tweet about this contest @BGSK and receive an extra entry!
We’ll announce the randomly selected winner next week!

Good luck :)

From our kitchen, albeit small, to yours,



Emily Dubner, Founder, Baking For Good

**Emily has also offered a $10 discount to BGSK readers valid until the end of 2010. Enter BGSK10 at checkout to receive this very sweet deal!**

Recipe Flash: Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving, readers, one day early!

In the last week or two, we’ve written about Thanksgiving pretty intensely. We shared Cara’s Mom’s Apple Pie, Alex’s Roasted Chicken (which, we pointed out, would make a fine substitute for a turkey if you’re only hosting a few people), Portobello Mushrooms with Parmesan-Herb Stuffing, and Garlic-Rosemary Mashed Potatoes. On Serious Eats, we shared recipes for Farro and Cauliflower Salad with Currants, Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes, and Turkey Picatta.

But we haven’t yet talked about stuffing. At Cara’s, the stuffing is traditionally a chestnut dressing cooking beside the turkey. It’s Cara’s grandma’s recipe, and it gets no updating because it needs none.

At Phoebe’s, on the other hand, the stuffing falls under her domain, and no matter how perfect the stuffing was one year, the next year she gives it a nice big tweak. For 2009’s Thanksgiving, she made a Pumpkin-Leek Stuffing with Turkey Sausage (which Cara had the good fortune to eat, leftover, beneath an olive-oil fried egg). This year, she’s working on something inspired by the above-mentioned roasted chicken, made with good chicken broth, lemon juice and zest, and loads of fresh herbs. We’ll have that recipe up here soon; read below for last year’s version.

We want to know what goes on your Thanksgiving table every year–no question–and what you’re making in 2010 that you’ve never served before. Tell us all about it in the comments.

With that we’re taking a break almost til Monday to cook, eat, and spend time with our families. We’ll be hosting a cool, charitable giveaway on Saturday though–so come check in then, when, perhaps, you’re tired of cooking, eating, and your family.

Happy Turkey Day!

From our kitchen, albeit small, to yours,




Pumpkin Leek Stuffing with Turkey Sausage
Makes 30 servings

3 ½-2lb pumpkins, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
1 stick butter
½ cup of water or stock
2 ½ lbs hot or sweet Italian sausage (I used hot turkey), removed from the casing
3 sweet onions, chopped
3 fennel bulbs, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
¼ cup dry white wine
4 loaves ciabatta, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup sage leaves, coarsely chopped
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the pumpkin with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous amount of salt on several rimmed cookie sheets. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes, redistributing occasionally, until tender and beginning to brown. Remove and set aside in a large casserole (what you will use for the whole stuffing).

In a large Dutch oven or casserole, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté for 5-10 minutes until the butter is incorporated and they begin to wilt. Add the water or stock, turn the flame to low, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally. Cook slowly until the leeks are completely soft and beginning to turn to mush. Take the lid off and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and add to the pumpkin mixture.

In the same pot or pan, add a little olive oil, turn the heat to high, and brown the sausage. Break it apart with your spatula as you go so the sausage crumbled into very small chunks. When properly browned, add to the pumpkin-leek mixture.

Add the onion, fennel, and thyme to the pot and sauté for 10 minutes, making sure to scrape up any brown bits from the sausage. When tender, but not caramelized, add the white wine and season with salt and pepper. Continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or so until the vegetables are very tender and the alcohol in the wine has burned off. Add to the pumpkin-leek mixture.

NOTE: everything up to this point can be done 1-2 days before.

The day of, combine the garlic and sage with ½ cup of olive oil. Heat in the microwave until the oil is fragrant and infused, about 1-2 minutes. Toss the cubed ciabatta with the oil and a generous amount of salt and turn out onto several rimmed cookie sheets. Toast in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes—until the bread is crisp, but not completely browned.

Toss the bread together with the vegetable mixture, the eggs, stock, and parsley. Make sure it is well combined, and add any stock as necessary to make sure the bread is moist. Let stand for at least an hour so the flavors absorb. Then return to the oven and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the top is crusty and brown.


Baking For Others: Mom’s Famous Apple Pie

FAVORITE THANKSGIVING DESSERTS: Chocolate Mousse with Gingerbread Cream; Pound Cake; Apple Walnut Cake; Praline Pumpkin Pie; Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chip Bread; Pear Almond Tart

The desserts on our Thanksgiving table are assorted and not always that traditional. We make them in abundance. Though Thanksgiving attendance has ranged from twelve to thirty over the years, we like to make sure that there’s at least one dessert for every two to three people–way, way too many.

There’s the Frozen Chocolate Marquise with Mocha Cream, essentially a log of cold chocolate mousse. It’s rich, refreshing, and irresistible. My little sister Kate makes it, though I had to step in one year when she was studying abroad in Turkey.

Then there’s the Pound Cake. At times, it has played host to a lemon glaze, but at the moment, we serve it plain. It’s the cake from The Silver Palate, and in my mind it’s the best pound cake there is–it’s simply sugar, butter, eggs, and flour, and it’s beaten for a long, long time. Still, not much of it gets eaten after dinner on Thanksgiving. I for one never really want something remotely bread-like after a dinner that includes both stuffing and braided biscuits. Of course that’s not really why we make the pound cake. The whole point of it is to have toasted leftover pound cake to eat the next day.

For some years, we made a bread pudding with chocolate chips in it, but that was discontinued. It was just too heavy in the end.

Aunt Cindy usually brings plates of brownies and cookies. So those go out. And then we move to more traditional fare. There’s a pecan pie, which really no one eats but me. Pecan pie is my absolute favorite, and I will not give it up. Some years, we’ve made pumpkin pie, but even when it’s there, it doesn’t feel like a tradition–I don’t think I even tried pumpkin pie until I was about 16.

the pumpkin pie

Last but not least, there’s my mom’s apple pie, which we all know and love, and which I hope doesn’t get completely eaten on Thanksgiving. I never have room for it after the chocolate marquise and the pecan pie, but I like to eat a slice next to my pound cake the following morning.

I suppose in the end, Mom’s recipe makes what you’d call an apple tart. There’s certainly no top crust (that’s really not our style), and there aren’t layers upon layers of apples, which get gluey and soggy–also not our style. In our pie, you get firm, sweet apples and a cookie-like tart dough simply covered in a layer of jam. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t love this tart. Best of all, it’s as suited to be dessert during any of the fall months–no need to limit it to Thanksgiving. But you should add it to your Thanksgiving menu as soon as you can, whether you’re feeding forty people or two.
From my kitchen, filled with Thanksgiving-y (and not so Thanksgiving-y) desserts, to yours,



Mom’s Apple Pie
Serves 8-10

I’ve never spent much time concentrating on which type of apple is the best to bake. Use what you like or what you have. In the past, my mom has made pear pies and mixed pear-apple pies, and I recommend those as well.

1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
5-6 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into slices
1 tablespoon jam–strawberry, raspberry, or apricot preferred
1 batch tart dough (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the orange juice, sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl and mix. Add the apple slices and toss to distribute the liquid evenly among them.

Roll out the dough and drape it over a tart pan with removable bottom. Press it in, and double the sides of the tart with extra dough. Use a fork to prick holes in the bottom of the pie shell. Brush the bottom with the jam.

Arrange the apples in overlapping concentric circles, starting at the outside. You want to squeeze them in, as they shrink during baking. When you get to the center, you may have to lose the circle pattern, but just try to make the apples look attractive. Discard any remaining juice/cornstarch mixture.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden and cooked through and the apples are brown on top. Cool to room temperature, remove the sides of the tart pan, and serve. If crust appears to be cooking too quickly, cover loosely with foil

Tart Dough

1 2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick + 1 tablespoon butter, cut into chunks
1 egg yolk beaten with 3-4 tablespoons of the coldest ice water you can get your hands on

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture looks like crumbs. Add about 2 tablespoons of the water and pulse again. Continue adding water just until the dough comes together into a ball.

Flatten the ball into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out.

How To: Know Your Winter Squash

At the farmers’ markets, gourds and winter squashes abound come October—suddenly and a little bit terrifyingly. They roll off the tables, weigh down our baskets, poke holes in our shopping bags, and shrivel the skin on our hands (see Butternut Squash for more on this). As if that weren’t dynamic enough, winter squash come in a bazillion varieties, so many as to make lesser cooks run for the hills, where the vegetable identification is easy.

The good news is that, in the end, most varieties of winter squash are interchangeable in terms of taste and cooking method. We’ve reverted to choosing one by size. Feeding one? That translates to a delicata. More like a hundred? An enormous butternut. Spaghetti squash is the exception; its stringy interior makes it a better sub for pasta than pumpkin.

To make matters more complicated, some of the squash varieties on that overloaded farmers’ market folding table are really only posing as vegetables. Certain varieties of decorative gourds have evolved to be totally inedible. If you cut one open, you’d find it contains oh so little meat. In elementary school, we made instruments with such gourds. Likewise, the perfectly round, enormous pumpkin you’re planning to carve for Halloween may not be your best bet for pastas and cake. Mammoth pumpkins—the ones we love for Jack O’Lanterns—are stringy and not very sweet.

As for the squashes we do love, read on to discover delicata, kabocha, Hubbord, and more. Then, salivate over what we do with our cooked squashes—quesadillas to risotto, chili to pasta. To us, squash screams “fall cooking” and that’s what we plan to do.

**Tips and Tricks**

Our Favorite Squash Varieties

Delicata: Small, sweet, and not too starchy, the delicata has a thin, ridged skin, pale yellow with lines and speckles of green. It’s an heirloom variety, which means it’s among the tastiest squash out there. What’s more, if you roast the delicata, you can even eat the skin.

Pumpkin: We all know the face of this guy. He’s got a jagged smile that’s lit from within, and big triangular eyes. But let’s not anthropomorphize: pumpkins are for eating, too. The best are sugar, pie, and baby pam pumpkins, which have smooth skin and flesh that’s not too stringy. Hack off the skin with a large knife, then quarter the pumpkin and cook as you would any old squash.

Kabocha: These squat squashes look like pumpkins dyed an earthy forest green. Kabochas are actually also known as Japanese pumpkins, as they’re both enjoyed and grown in Japan, as well as in other countries with a growing season of at least 100 days. Kabochas last a long time on the counter, actually becoming sweeter the longer they sit out (to a point).

Butternut: The little black dress of squash, what you should grab when you’re unsure of what you want (or when you’re at the crappy grocery store and not the glorious farmers’ market). Butternuts have smooth skin that makes them easy to peel with a sturdy grater. But beware! Wear gloves when peeling butternuts, as the just-peeled flesh emits a liquid that can cause contact dermatitis. Uncovered hands will become uber-dry and bright orange, then begin to peel.

Best Methods For Cooking

Steam: Steaming might be the most reliable way to get beautiful, orange, uniform cubes. It’s also the best method if you’re planning to mash your squash into puree—for baby food, perhaps, or from-scratch pumpkin pie. To steam, halve the squash and scoop out the seeds, the peel, and cube it. Set the squash in a steamer basket over an inch or two of boiling water. Cover and cook until the squash is easily pierced with a knife. You’ll want it slightly firmer for salads, softer for mashing.
Recipe: Inside-Out Ravioli Pasta

Roast: Roasting brings out a tremendous amount of flavor and sweetness. To roast, peel, seed, and cube a squash, then toss it with olive oil, salt, and perhaps a drizzle of maple syrup or sugar to bring out the sweetness. Cook on a baking sheet in one layer at 400°F for about 45 minutes, until the squash is golden and shrunken. Roasting is also a good method for squash that are tough to peel; you can halve and seed a squash, brush it with some olive oil, then roast it til it’s soft. When it cools, simply scoop the flesh out.
Recipe: Parmesan-Roasted Potatoes and Squash

Shred & Sauté: When you shred your squash into tiny little shards—which is, admittedly, a labor of love—you wind up with pieces small enough to sauté. Melt butter in a large pan, then add the shredded squash and minced garlic or thinly sliced shallots if you’d like. Slowly sauté the shreds until they’ve softened, then add salt and any other seasonings to taste. Shredded squash is divine, and, once finished cooking, ready for a variety of savory uses.
Recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Pecorino and Pancetta

Blanch: Boiling cubes of squash is a simple approach, not unlike steaming. With blanched squash, you can easily make a mash—as for the croquettes—and you can also add blanched cubes to almost anything: stews, pastas, grain salads, and more. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the cubes, and cook until they’re as soft as you’d like. Drain, then shock with cold water.
Recipe: Squash and Sweet Potato Croquettes

Braise: If squash is to be part of a slow-cooked dish, like a chili, you can easily add cleaned, cubed squash to the pot and merely cook your chili/stew til it’s done. You just want to make sure not to add the squash so early as to overcook the rest of your ingredients, and yet not so late as to leave the squash itself raw. Braising is great for infusing squash with the flavor of the dish.
Recipe: Autumn Pumpkin-Brisket Chili

Cooking For Others: Alex’s Roasted Chicken

EVENT: Sunday Night Dinner
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Prospect Heights
OCCASION: Homey Supper
MENU: Greek-Style Roasted Chicken with Potatoes

During our interview with Ina Garten about her new book, How Easy Is That?, I mentioned how Alex and I rarely had leftovers when he roasted me a chicken (we were talking about how to cook for two most simply, and Ina had suggested roasting a whole chicken early in the week and then repurposing the leftovers). All talk of practicality and leftovers ceased immediately. Ina laughed and said, “I’d say you have a good boyfriend if he makes you roasted chicken.”

I think I do too. But like any curious chef, I wasn’t content to let Alex keep the secrets of his chicken to himself. He taught me how to make it last spring, and since then it’s become my way of roasting chicken, too. I’ve done it with both whole chickens and chicken leg and thigh pieces, which are super economical.

Part of Alex’s heritage is Greek, and his chicken is flavored with Mediterranean accents: garlic, olive oil, lemon, oregano, and thyme. It’s different from the roasted chicken I grew up with, which my mom always rubbed with a mixture of paprika, salt, and minced garlic. I have to learn how to make that chicken too–I haven’t yet. So I’ll tell you more about Alex’s.

First, a disclaimer. What’s so great about this chicken is not its crispy skin. Because Alex cooks it at a slightly lower temperature for a bit longer, the meat–even the white meat–stays incredibly tender and juicy, but what’s sacrificed is that perfect, brittle, fatty skin. It’s not soft or mushy or anything, just not like what you’d get on a rotisserie chicken (on a rotisserie chicken, you can have it all–it’s just with home cooking that you have to choose). I know people rave about the Zuni Cafe chicken, and I’ll get to that sometime I’m sure. Right now, let’s go back to Alex’s Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Potatoes.

There are a few elements that make this chicken fantastic, borderline addictive. First, the meat. As I said, it’s juicy. Extraordinarily so. Alex also wedges thin slices of garlic into the into the meat before the bird goes into the oven, and these flavor the chicken as it cooks. He has also pioneered the upside-down method of chicken roasting. Most cooks, I think, bake the chicken breast side up, which inevitably dries out the meat in the time it takes to cook through. By flipping the chicken, and cooking it breast-side down, the meat gets both wet and dry heat, and it stays moist. Second, the lemon. The lemon browns the skin and adds a delightful tang, which cuts through the slightly murky flavor of cooked chicken–you know, that sort of fatty aftertaste you sometimes get. And third, the potatoes.

The potatoes that get cooked beneath the chicken are so good. I joke that I can imagine Chicken-Roasted Potatoes on a restaurant menu without the chicken–the chicken would just be a byproduct. There’s an alchemy somewhere in the mixture of lemon, olive oil, and the chicken’s juices that makes the potatoes tender and silken in the inside, crispy on the outside. After we finish eating dinner, we go at the baking dish with forks, scraping up every last morsel of the potatoes.

That’s really all there is to it in the end. Simple ingredients–a chicken, potatoes, lemon, herbs, and olive oil. A not-too-hot oven. And potatoes. But the taste is transcendant, and the smell makes the apartment feel like the warmest, homiest place on earth.

Which is why, when blogs and magazines everywhere are writing about turkeys, we’ve decided to feature this chicken. I go to my mom’s for Thanksgiving, but I imagine there are some quarter-lifers out there who, for whatever reason, can’t make it home next Thursday. If that’s the case, of course our advice is: invite some friends, buy some wine, and host a party at your place. For us, turkey still seems a bit daunting. But unless you go vegetarian (which is not a terrible option) roasted chicken fills the void. Just call it a Quarter-Life Turkey.

From my kitchen, warning you that this chicken is addictive, to yours,



Greek-Style Roasted Chicken with Potatoes
Serves 4

I have to admit, I don’t know that much about carving chickens. We kind of hack at it. But if you know better, carve neatly. And, if you want to share your carving wisdom with me, I’d be so appreciative–leave us a comment!

1 3-4 lb whole chicken, preferably organic
1 ½ pounds small waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold
2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slices
1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the potatoes into 2-inch pieces and place them in a 9 by 13-inch baking pan (or thereabouts–something that is big enough for the chicken to rest on. Toss them with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and the oregano, and squeeze just a bit of half the lemon on top. Push the potatoes towards the edges, making a space in the center fort the chicken.

Rinse the chicken and remove the livers. Pat the chicken dry and put it, breast side up, on the baking dish that’s holding the potatoes. Using a paring knife, pierce it about three times in each half of the breast. Wedge a slice of garlic into each piercing. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Flip the chicken. Repeat on the other side, piercing the thigh and leg meat, and wedging in slices of garlic. Sprinkle with the remaining salt. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and squeeze the rest of the first half of the lemon on top of the chicken. Cut a piece of foil so that it fits around the chicken, and place it on top like a hat.

Bake the chicken for about 45 minutes, basting occasionally with its juices, until the chicken is cooked through–you’ll know it’s cooked when the juices run clear. It may take longer than this, depending on the size of your chicken, but you’ll just have to check. You’ll also have to check on the potatoes–if they’re not close to done, cook a bit longer before proceeding to the next step.

Take the chicken out of the oven. Toss the potatoes and remove the foil hat. Turn the chicken over so it’s breast-side up and squeeze the second half of the lemon over it. Drizzle on a little more olive oil. Raise the heat to 425°F and cook for about 10-15 more minutes, until the skin browns a bit and the potatoes are done.

Remove and let rest about 5 minutes before carving up the chicken and plating each portion with a generous serving of potatoes.