Be Nice

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Nice kids from SF’s Mission H.S., eating at T-lish

Tacolicious, our kids’ restaurant, has a new company mission statement – which has been enhanced in a way that only Joe, our son-in-law, could do it.  But I can restate it simply – and family-friendly – as “Be Nice.”

“Nice” is such a plain word.  I’m sure my CC English professors would have winced if we’d used it in our writing.  But I’m thinking that simple – or plain – or basic – is sometimes all we need.   For example, “You can do it!”  Those were words of encouragement shouted to the bicyclists at the beginning of Andy’s famous Tour de Friends bicycle ride.  Even better for this blog, one of the cyclists reminded everyone to “Be nice” (see today’s Andy’s Corner for more).

One simple line that gets me teary every time I read it is the dedication in our daughter Sara’s first cookbook,  Asian Vegetables.


“to Mom, of course”

Or maybe it’s ending each phone conversation with “love you.”  Our grandsons routinely say it as they hang up (obviously from their cell phones), and I love it.  I’ve read that the Scandinavians are famous for being uneffusive, so that may explain why my Swedish mother was not known for lots of “I love you’s,” though those were the final words we exchanged when I visited her the last time at the Fort Collins hospital.

“Peace” is another beautiful word, considerably more eloquent in its monosyllable-ism than “nice.”  Go in peace, my friend.

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But back to “nice.”   When Andy and I are eating out,  we’re total suckers if the waitstaff is attentive, happy, polite, kind, considerate – i.e. nice (NICE!).  Even if the food is just good, we’re still happy campers.

Want to have a nice dinner party?  Of course you’ll be nice to your guests, so I want to focus on how you can entertain – and be nice to yourself.  Sure you can bring food in, but guests really love home-cooking (it’s so “yesterday!”)

Give up the notion that you have to always prepare an appetizer and a salad and a vegetable and a main dish and a dessert, if company’s coming.  And by all means, avoid picking a menu which requires you to do a lot of stuff at the last minute.  Most of us will be so worn out at the mere thought of all that work that we’ll forgo entertaining altogether – or be too frazzled to enjoy the occasion.

Here’s what I recommend for a height-of-the-summer super simple dinner party:

#1: buy good cheese – and delicious crackers.  That’s your appetizer.

#2: make the main dish a one-dish stand and something that can be done hours ahead of time.

#3: bake a really simple summery dessert (recipe follows) and buy the most wonderful gelato or ice cream you can find to go with it (here in Sonoma County I’d pick Fiorello’s).  It’s all so do-able – and so so SO nice.  Have a good one.

My quick and easy summer meal for 4:

Appetizer – Simple Feta Cheese: about a 7 oz block of feta cheese (enough for 4-6) cut into bite-size cubes, drizzled with lemon juice, then olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of dried oregano and a pinch of red chile flakes – if you like spice.  Serve it with lentil or pita chips – and maybe some Greek olives along side.  This simply-marinated feta will improve in flavor if it sits for a while before serving; what more could you want – and easy peasy!

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Feta cheese appetizer

One-dish main dish – Easy Lamb and Lentils with Pita Bread

Dessert – Marion Cunningham’s Fruit Crisp – with ice cream or gelato, optional but delicious

(another meal idea could be something retro and fun – and very very easy:  Triscuits with Yellow Cheddar Cheese,  Sloppy Joes served with iceberg lettuce topped with Blue Cheese Dressing  and Katharine Hepburn Brownies – and ice cream – for dessert.)

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Easy Lamb and Lentils

Easy Lamb and Lentils

Ground turkey may be substituted for the lamb. For an easy, stress-free dinner, chop up the cucumber and parsley and cook the lentils and lamb early in the day; refrigerate; then just prior to serving heat a large skillet to medium high, add 1 T oil then add the lentils and lamb and quickly stir and fry until both are heated through – no more than 3 minutes.  Add a little water or broth if it seems a bit dry. 

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 – 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (1 tsp will make it pretty spicy but good!)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds or 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander (optional)
  • 1½ cups cooked brown or French green lentils (from 1 cup dried)
  • 2 medium cucumbers, chopped
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh parsley, – or 1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro (or both!) – plus leaves for serving
  • ¾ c plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • Pita bread and lemon wedges (for serving)
  • sliced tomatoes on the side (optional but delicious)

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat.  Add the lamb and fry, stirring, until it’s nicely browned and cooked through.  Leave the lamb in big chunky pieces, as you fry it.  Add salt, pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin seeds, and coriander and mix, then lower the heat and cook another minute or two.  Stir in the lentils and cook, stirring, until the lentils are warm.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cucumber and parsley.

Serve by putting about 3 tablespoons of yogurt on each plate and then salt the yogurt lightly on top.  Dish up the lentils and lamb along side the yogurt, add a lemon wedge, and then sprinkle the additional parsley leaves over it all.  Serve with pita bread.

You might need to add a little water or broth when warming up the leftovers.  Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

This fruit crisp recipe comes from Marion Cunningham, who did two highly-regarded revisions of the great Fannie Farmer Cookbook, as well as write about food for The SF Chronicle, the LA Times, and all the famous food magazines.  I love it because I always have issues with soggy crusts, and this recipe not only eliminates that but eliminates the need to make and roll out a pie crust. And it’s so simple.

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Marion Cunningham’s Fruit Crisp – just out of the oven

Marion Cunningham's Fruit Crisp

If you pop this in the oven to bake just a few hours before serving, it will be at its prime.  If there’s more time than that out of the oven, the abundant fruit juices will begin to seep into the crust, making it less crisp but still delicious.  Berries can be put in whole; big strawberries and stone fruits should be sliced.  Also note that another Cunningham crisp recipe calls for 2 T flour and 1/2 c sugar being added to the fruit.  I prefer the recipe we’ve provided.  It’s not quite as sweet and the fruit juices remain beautifully clear, since there’s no flour.

For the crisp topping:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 12 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 stick (1⁄4 pound) butter, melted (note: this is not added to the topping mix but poured over the top just before baking!)

For the fruit filling:

  • 5 cups fruit, cleaned and stemmed; slice large fruits (mixing the fruit is even more fun than using just one; use blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, peaches (peeled), nectarines, and/or plums)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Generously butter an oval or square baking dish, about 8″ × 8″× 2″.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork until it gets crumbly, the consistency of cornmeal.
Place the fruit in the buttered baking dish and spread evenly.
Sprinkle the crumbly flour mixture evenly over the top of the fruit. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over it; don’t worry if the butter doesn’t cover the entire crumble – but do the best you can. Place in the oven and bake about 35-40 minutes, or until the topping is golden.
Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream. Or serve at room temperature, and the crust will have absorbed even more of the berries’ juices.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


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