My ears always prick up when either of the girls request a dinner, and Willa surprised me recently when she asked for “fishy cakes” over a year after I first tried making them (a seemingly unsuccessful try at the time). I prefer to use salted cod rather than a fresh white fish when making fishcakes—the curing process for the fish brings out a concentrated fish flavor without being too “fishy” (as my mom would say, and contrary to Willa’s name for them). After rehydrating the fish for a few days, the saltiness disappears but that latent umami remains.
Broccoli. So much broccoli. I know I shouldn’t complain but broccoli is just about the only vegetable the girls will reliably eat. And when I say eat I mainly mean the “leaves” of the “broccoli trees.” The trunks? Nooooo, they won’t touch that part. This means there are an awful lot of stalks left over when we buy a bunch of broccoli. So, if Beyonce can make Lemonade out of lemons, Ima make some broccoli soup.
I’m a mutt, three-eighths Irish by blood but closer to 100% by temperament. I’ve always had mixed-feelings about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Aside from New Year’s Eve, it is my least favorite day to be in a bar (though if you must, The Scratcher in NYC is about the best you can do). Thankfully with kids in the picture now, heading out to a bar is not even on the table, but perfecting a corned beef and cabbage recipe has crept up the list of important goals in life. Yeah, yeah—it’s not even traditional Irish food. But it is Irish-American food, which gives me carte blanch to do whatever the hell I want.
There have got to be more than a million recipes for meatballs and spaghetti, but this one is near-and-dear to our hearts. Willa and Phoebe’s grandmother, their Nona, grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn; her father was off-the-boat from Italy as a young boy. Nona has passed this family recipe down to my wife and her sister, which we now follow as faithfully as possible every time we’re in the mood for the truest comfort food we know. This sauce is a good-old Brooklyn-style gravy, as they like to call it on our current neighborhood. My wife’s family just calls it “red gold.”
Aside from this dish being a sure-fire way to fill up Willa and Phoebe’s bellies (they know it as “ring pasta” and it often ties as a favorite along with Bucatini all’Amatriciana) , it also stirs up some strong memories for me. As a latchkey kid growing up on Long Island, I would try to help out by cooking dinner every once in a while. Before this sounds like a significant tooting of horn, let me clarify: I boiled some frozen tortellini. The exact recipe was cooking the tortellini in four cups of water with four chicken bouillon cubes. Mmmmm, salt.
Every fall the “boys” in the family, plus a few more, gather from all along the east coast and head to Lake George in upstate New York for a long weekend of golf, poker, and good times. My communal duty for the trip is to cook a special dinner on Friday, and each year I try to cook something new. The meal needs to satisfy a hungry crowd after a long, hard day on the golf course (queue violins), but simple enough to get on the table early in order to avoid interfering with the evening’s poker tourney. This year’s meal was such a winner that I cooked it again as soon as I got home to give it the Willa and Phoebe test!
We’ve always been a bacon-forward household but I find myself using it in places that even I wouldn’t have expected just a few years ago. That succulent, umami quality is basically irresistible to Willa and Phoebe, so it can really help them to at least try new things when it’s a part of the meal. Even bacon-like will do the job: from guanciale to pancetta, I’m about to have an autumnal run of blog posts that involve some fatty cured pork products.
Something about the end of summer makes me think of frying foods a little more often. Maybe I need a fix for the fried clams and french fries we eat during those trips to the beach (sadly, very under-represented these past few months). Maybe it’s some sort of reflexive reaction to the impending fall and winter, when eating lighter than beef or pork still requires a little something extra to stick to your ribs.
It’s been a stretch since my last post, due to typical August things: a vacation, family visits, and as much outside time as possible. We’ve also been preparing ourselves mentally and emotionally for Willa & Phoebe’s first day of pre-K in a real live public school. We’re feeling a lot of the feels around here as we hit this big milestone, so before we get too lost in our fall schedule I wanted to share a favorite dinner from our week at the beach.