Feeding a lot of people is something we do often here, so I’m always excited about recipes that make entertaining easy. My friend Brooke sent me this truly outstanding carnitas recipe last fall, and it’s quickly become a favorite for family gatherings or potlucks.

In wintertime especially, it’s hard to go wrong with a big pot of tender shredded meat. Even if you’re not cooking for a crowd, pulled pork can be used all week for the best tacos ever, followed by pulled pork sandwiches, followed by a pork-and-bean soup. Or even just piled on top of some salad or roasted vegetables.

And if you’re having people over for Super Bowl Sunday, this is a really easy way to do it. Cook the meat all day in a slow cooker, and put it out with warm tortillas and taco fixings. Your guests will love it, and you’ll be free to watch the game (or visit with friends).

This recipe makes a lot, but don’t worry about having too much – you can always freeze leftovers in small ziploc bags as a gift to your hungry self in the future. read on…

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soy glazed fish

Simplest soy-glazed fish

23 January 2018

My favorite easy fish preparation is also a perfect January recipe. It ticks all the new years resolution boxes: Cook at home! Be healthier! Eat more fish! Lose weight! My husband swears he always loses weight after we have fish for dinner, even if he’s stuffed after the meal.

We all know fish is great for us – omega-3 fatty acids are excellent for brain and heart health. But it can be intimidating to think of making fish at home. What to buy? How to prepare it?

Here’s the thing: if you want to eat fish at home, start by buying fish. For me, cooking doesn’t start with a trip to the store, it starts with whatever I can put together at home. If I have vegetables, I make vegetables. If I have fish, I’ll make fish. If I’ve already spent money on good ingredients, I won’t waste it.

And then all you need is a go-to recipe that makes cooking fish at home a no-brainer. This brilliantly minimal one is my go-to.

I get a pound of fish a week from a local community sponsored fishery, but the easiest way to have fish on hand is to be like my mom, who keeps a bag of her favorite black cod from Costco in her freezer and defrosts one at a time as needed.

My mom came up with this genius preparation, even easier than Mark Bittman’s wonderful soy sauce poached fish that I featured here a couple years ago. Bittman’s Asian-inspired recipe is a dream over rice, with plenty of poaching liquid to spoon over the flaky fish.

But this soy-glazed fish is even simpler. It can be Asian, but it doesn’t have to be.

Soy sauce and a just touch of sugar makes a light, intensely flavored glaze that coats the fish, with a bit left for sopping up. The glazed fish is perfectly at home over rice. But it’s just as good – and maybe better – over mashed potatoes, with veggies or a salad on the side.

The mom in me loves the brain food nutrition of fish; the cook in me loves that it cooks in no time at all. And this recipe takes hardly any prep. read on…

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When it comes to gifting, adults are often a weary afterthought tacked on after the kids on the list. It’s okay – adults more often than not have much of what they need already. But Santa Claus doesn’t come for grown-ups, so we have to look out for one another.

I really love giving gifts, but I’m extra picky about gifts for adults. Kids grow and outgrow and move on, but adults – more locked in size, tastes and preferences – simply accumulate. I don’t want to give people more junk to store. I want to give them something that will bring a little ray of delight into their lives.

I’m later than I wanted to be getting these gift ideas out. But I hope I’m just in time to help with some of those hard-to-buy-for loved ones on your list.

Chatterblocks

My friend Katie gave me this set of 16 wood blocks for my birthday this year. Crafted in Vermont with an ingenious mix of letters and punctuation, Chatterblocks can spell out useful greetings, like “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” or “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY.” But they can also spell impish messages, like “MATH REALLY STINKS” (hey, who wrote that? I’m a math major!) or “RESIST AUTHORITY” (our friend Brian’s message to our kids – thanks Bri).

A playful presence in our entryway, the blocks are half word puzzle, half anonymous bulletin board. When I pass by and see a new message, I snap a photo to remember the mood of the moment. read on…

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My annual gift guide is in two parts this year. Kids first! Hope you find it useful.

Note that my kids are growing up – I’m now in the 3rd to 10th grade window – so if you’re looking for littler ones, please check out my gift ideas from previous years, which have tons of fun presents and stocking stuffers for younger children.

Toroflux

Fidgets are all the rage these days with kids, maybe because they are a school-sanctioned toy. Now that science suggests that children with attention issues may focus better in class if they can keep their hands occupied, all the kids want in. Stress balls are still around, but now there’s also putty, or homemade slime, or fidget spinners.

The Toroflux is in the fidget family, but it’s much cooler. It’s a sweet science toy, part Slinky, part magic trick. Made from one coiled thin, flat wire, it comes out of its bag looking like a loose stack of metal rings. But it immediately pops open into a springy, shimmery coil that you can roll up and down an arm, from one arm to another or pass it between friends. You can dance with it and do tricks with it. It’s mesmerizing. And when you’re done, it folds up into nothing again.

This isn’t a fidget for school – it’s way too much fun for that. read on…

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maple glazed sweet potatoes

Maple glazed sweet potatoes

16 November 2017

In the Thanksgiving show, turkey is the golden, handsome, boring star. The character actors have my heart: sturdy stuffing, comforting mashed potatoes, snappy green beans, sweet-tart cranberries.

And the candy of the stage: perfectly soft wedges of sweet potato with a buttery, caramelized glaze of sweetness. Sweet potatoes for purists; compelling enough to convert skeptics.

This is the last of my can’t-live-without Thanksgiving side dishes. I would have shared it earlier, but it’s so easy we never use a recipe. In its basic form all you need is sweet potatoes brushed with butter and maple syrup. But for you guys I tested a few tweaks, and my happy tasters found that a little brown sugar in the mix makes the greatest Thanksgiving sweet potatoes even a bit better.

Thanksgiving can be as easy or elaborate as you like. I always choose easy. I’ve tried more elaborate sides that I have absolutely loved – cornbread stuffing with sausage, apples, cranberries and nuts, or deep fried brussels sprouts – but they end up being too many flavors, or too filling, or just too time consuming.

The magic of Thanksgiving is in the mix of sides on the plate. Potatoes provide a cushion for gravy. Stuffing is the match for cranberry sauce’s sweet. Greens provide a light crunch to lighten the heavy. Every side does its job.

To me, the Thanksgiving mix is most harmonious when each side is its simplest best. And everyone at the Thanksgiving table gets to customize their own perfect mix plate. read on…

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I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every morning of my school years, packing it up with a squat blue juice box of Hawaiian Punch and the little bundle of carrot sticks my mom would cut for me, rolled into a wax paper bundle with ends twisted. Now I make sandwiches for my kids, never much thinking about my technique until my friend Brooke visited from Colorado, chatting with my daughter and I as I made a PBJ for her lunch.

“I don’t think everyone does it that way,” she said.

“No?” I said, surprised. “How do you do it?”

“Peanut butter on one side. Jelly on the other.”

I looked down at my two slices of bread, both spread with peanut butter. “But then you get soggy bread from the jelly. You need peanut butter on both sides to keep the jelly from soaking into the bread.”

I must have figured this out in grade school, after one too many jam-soaked sandwiches. My dad, an electrical engineer, had a method at home for everything from dishwasher loading to water conservation to trash recycling/reduction. Optimization gave him a sense of order and satisfaction. I got that from him.

You don’t need PBJ system if you’re going to eat your sandwich right away. But if you’re going to pack it up, haul it to school in a jiggly backpack and eat four hours later, you’ll be glad to have a sandwich that doesn’t get soggier with time.

Funny that I spent my childhood thinking about PBJ methodology. But even then I would have seen jam-soaked sandwiches as a problem worth fixing. read on…

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Grilled flank steak with soy-honey marinade

6 October 2017
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Fall may be here, but October is still a pretty great month for grilling. It’s cooler out, so the heat of the grill actually feels nice, and for now we can enjoy a few more weeks of evening light before we turn the clocks back. For me the best cooking is when a few uncomplicated […]

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Back-to-school buttermilk pancakes

14 September 2017
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I’ve always wanted to like pancakes. As a kid obsessed with Little House on the Prairie, every time I read Laura Ingalls Wilder describe Farmer Boy‘s lavishly buttered stacks of golden pancakes, I could smell the hot griddle, see the bubbling pancakes, hear the soft squish of Almanzo’s fork as it cut into the tall […]

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Potato salad with lemon and fresh herbs

3 July 2017
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For the last five years, the brightest week of our year is the week we spend with our friends from Germany. They live outside Munich with their four kids; we live outside San Francisco with our four matching kids. They’ve come to visit us in Ohio and in California, and once we met them in […]

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Grilled pineapple

25 May 2017
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At its best, pineapple is a euphorically transporting fruit, flooding one’s senses with sweet tropical juice and seductive fantasies of blindingly bright sand beaches and sparkling blue seas. But unless you live in Hawaii or other tropics, a more typical pineapple impression is tart and stringy, pale and dry. On the mainland, buying a whole […]

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