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November 2011

Progressive Diner and "Man with a Pan" Giveaway

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When I was in my twenties, before marriage and before kids, I thought it would be great fun to gather a bunch of friends for a dinner out, and have the appetizer at one restaurant, the main course at another, and the dessert at yet a third.  I thought it was a brilliant idea and I commended myself on my originality. Yet, as it so happens with one's youthful ideas, I never acted on it, and it wasn’t all that original.

There is name for this kind of activity. It is called a progressive dinner, and I participated in one for the first time over the weekend. It was organized as a fundraiser for our local school, and it was more fun than I could have imagined.

We started off with cocktails at one couple’s apartment where picture windows framed New York Harbor and homemade sangria and gruyère fondue were served. I’ll never forget those views, nor the mouthwatering scent of the simmering gruyère. After the appetizers, we went on another home, where we sipped lemongrass infused vodka, listened to gamelon recordings, and ate an amazing Thai dinner. Most of the cooking that night seemed to have been done by dads, and I was very impressed. I'll get some recipes and post them here during the week.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear if you have ever been a part of a progressive dinner. Write a comment or shoot me an email, and tell me your story. At the end of the week, I'll give the author of  the most interesting tale a copy of my book, "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families." Bonus points for recipes.


The Magic of Blue Cheese and Spotify

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One of my favorite sayings about parenting and running a home kitchen is: “Amateurs talk strategy and professionals talk logistics.” The line comes from the military (it is often attributed to the U. S. Second World War field commander Omar Bradley), and to me, it means that getting food into the kitchen and keeping the supply lines running is the central thing to achieving victory at dinnertime. I’ve long been obsessive about keeping a shopping list, and making a weekly pilgrimage to the store to make sure we have milk, bread, chicken, eggs, and other staples on hand.

Occasionally, the advance shop pays off in unexpected ways. Over the weekend, Santa Maria picked up a few things up at Brooklyn Larder, including a wonderfully stinky cheese, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen, a raw cow's milk blue, from Greensboro, Vermont. On Wednesday, it transformed a rather dull weeknight dinner of pasta, jar sauce, and mozzarella, into savory treat when, much to my delight, I remembered that it was in the refrigerator. I sprinkled it over a salad of hearts of romaine and arugula, and suddenly I was transported. I felt like I was sitting on a sunny hillside eating lunch while on vacation in France.

Of course, you need to like blue cheese for this sort of thing to work, and I know it’s not the most advanced bit of culinary advice to tell you to shop ahead of time for things you like, so I’ll leave you with something more.

Just as stocking your larder can lead to joy in the kitchen, having a good collection of music can do the same for your soul. In the past, this meant going out and buying a bunch of LPs or CDs, but now you can just go to the Internet. A few months ago I started using Spotify, and it has about 85% of any music I might want to listen to, ever.

Beirut, Raul Malo, Devotchka, the Cowboy Junkies, and other artists I’ve mentioned before are all available (as are thousand and thousands of other, including the great flamenco singer Diego El Cigala, who I saw perform the other night; if you’re on Spotify already, click here for my favorite album of his, “Dos Lágrimas”). The best thing is that it’s free, easy, and legit. I’m as excited about it as I am about blue cheese. Go and get thee Spotify.


More on Homemade French Fries

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The night of Halloween, I felt it was important to feed Nina and Pinta a healthy dinner before they headed out into Candy Land. So I gave them hot dogs and homemade French fries. Okay, I'm not going to win the Nutritious Dad of the Year award on account of that meal, but I needed something quick and easy (and when Nina said "woof, woof" is what I want for dinner, I found it impossible to resist such a cute clue).

Because I was in a hurry, I cut the potatoes very thinly, and set the oven for 425 degrees. I dried the cut potatoes on a dishtowel and then roasted them for about twenty minutes. They were magnificent, I have to say; the best ever.

I'm going to stick to making them in the oven, but since my original post, it has come to my attention that there is more than one way to make a homemade French fry. Two readers commented with very interesting ideas.

Stan Harrison suggested trying things the Belgian way. "If you use a reasonably sized pot filled two thirds with oil the results are fantastic. Fry once at 250, let the potatoes cool, then fry again at 350 to crisp the outside. Sorry for not providing the particulars but they can be found online. If you let the fries sit on a paper towel you can remove much of the oil. As you'll see, most of the oil remains in the pot." I looked online, and found a site that promises "Real Belgian Fries."

Bob del Grosso provided an even niftier solution. He said, "Baking maybe healthier but the easiest, safest and most delicious way to make "fried" French fries at home is to start them cold. This method was described in enough detail for anyone nail it in a NYT diner's journal post in 19 Mar 2010. I've made thousands of pounds of fries over the course of my career and am still amazed by how well this works." He thoughtfully provided a link.

If you make French fries at home, how do you do it? What kind of oil do you use? What kind of potatoes? How did you learn?