A month or two ago, I noticed someone named @TheRealJimParsons following me on Instagram. Since the internet is a strange place, I figured, “that can’t really be the real Jim Parsons, three-time Emmy winner, it must be a fake Real Jim Parsons.” But then I noticed that all of the pictures @TheRealJimParsons posted were pictures of the real Jim Parsons in the morning holding a coffee mug; not the kind of thing you can really fake, even with Photoshop. So I left a comment to the effect of: “Are you really the real Jim Parsons? And are you really following me?” Sure enough, he wrote me back and said that yes he was the real Jim Parsons and he’s been reading my blog for years, ever since he did a search for roasted broccoli (on my grave it’s going to say “The Broccoli Guy.”) A few weeks later, I got an e-mail from him saying “Look What You’ve Done” and there was a picture of my Rainbow Cookie Cake in progress. That night, he posted the picture you see above: there’s Jim with the cake, his partner Todd, Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family (!!) and Jesse’s partner Justin Mikita. Turns out that the internet is, indeed, a strange place; but a pretty wonderful place too.
Monday night is healthy dinner night. I don’t drink wine, even if Craig makes a stink and opens a bottle in protest. I don’t make dessert, even if he begs for my famous chocolate chip cookies. What I do, on Monday night, is penance for all of the ridiculous things I ate over the weekend and, also, I set the tone for the upcoming week: if I eat healthy on Monday night, it’ll make the fact that I went to the gym earlier in the day seem worthwhile. Also, it’ll keep me in the zone for going to the gym next day. The trick, though, is to make the dinner just healthy enough; meaning, it shouldn’t be punishing. It should still be good. Which is how I came up with the dinner I’m about to tell you about.
Let me begin by saying that anyone who invites you over for dinner is doing you a favor. Without question, hosting dinner is hard work–the shopping, the prepping, the actual cooking, plus the cleaning–and anyone who takes it upon themselves to do all of that for you deserves your gratitude. That said, sometimes somebody invites you over for dinner and then serves a meal that feels a bit, well, punishing. Often it has nothing to do with the cooking skills involved; usually it has a lot more to do with the recipe choice. Which is why I’ve decided to compile a list of ten things you should never serve at a dinner party. Avoid these ten dishes like the plague and not only will your dinner guests swoon, they’ll even help you do the dishes.
Looks can be deceiving. For example, the picture you see above probably looks pretty good, but not the kind of thing you’re going to e-mail to all of your friends with the subject “!!!!” and the message, “OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS.”
That’s a shame because, the thing is, if you could taste a bite of the picture above, fresh out of the pan, exploding with sweet corn flavor, given depth by nicely browned squash, married all together with a pat of butter, you’d be doing cartwheels down the street, eager to get all of the ingredients to make this yourself. It’s the best bite of summer I’ve had so far, and it’s a surprising way to use ingredients that normally wind up on the grill or in a salad.
My mom knows the key to my heart and every time I come home to visit her in Boca it’s waiting there in the refrigerator; a plastic container of my favorite cookies of all time, rainbow cookies, purchased from Bagels With just down the street. They’re not really cookies, more like squares of almond-flavored sheet cake with multi-colored layers, slathered with jam, the whole thing covered in chocolate. I’ve blogged about rainbow cookies before (here and here) but weirdly, I’d never made them. Then, this past weekend, I was having some friends over for their birthdays (four friends, three birthdays) and figured it was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at rainbow confectionary. Only, instead of cakey cookies, I made a cakey cake.
If you were to do a graph–and I’m not a graph person, so you’d have to help me out here–measuring the effort you put into a dinner vs. the pleasure you get from eating it, chances are there’d be a real corollary between the work put it in and the pleasure received (see, for example, lamb merguez with eggplant jam). Every so often, though, there’s an outlier: a recipe that’s so incredibly easy, so simple to put together, it doesn’t make sense that the results should taste as good as they do, but they do. And I’d wager that of all the recipes that fit into this tiny category, the ones at the very apex of “easy to do” and “good to eat” are recipes involving mussels and clams.
For the past few months, I’ve been buying kosher chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s not because I prefer kosher chicken breasts but because Trader Joe’s is underneath my gym and it’s way easier to grab chicken there than to make an extra stop on my way home. The problem with this is that kosher chicken breasts are brined in salt water and, as a result, they’ve spoiled Craig for more ethical, more sustainable chicken from our local butchers. I know this because I recently bought chicken from one of them, sprinkled it with salt, and cooked it and though Craig enjoyed it–he enjoys all of my cooking–he didn’t like it as much as the brined stuff I get much more cheaply after jogging for 60 minutes to the Footloose soundtrack. Brining, it turns out, is a powerful technique.