You know what's even more adorable than teenage boys? Pretty much anything.
Also, the teenage girls who insist on cooking for them. As a role model for these young women, I can't really say that I approve.
As the mother running Camp Eat-Around-the-Clock for Teenage Boys, it is going to the top of my list of Things to Love About 17-Year-Old Boys.
Best Chocolate Chip Pancake Recipe Ever:
1 17-year-old girl from across the street
1 bag of chocolate chips
Send bag of chocolate chips across the street with teenage boy. Wait approximately half an hour.
Open door to teenage girl bearing giant plate of chocolate chip pancakes, which you will not even have to wash.
from the archives:
from the cooking archives: Nothing. It's What's for Dinner.
"Sex and lingerie?" he asks.
Sex and laundry, I repeat.
Which brings up a funny sex toy blog we both visit. For the articles. "Like that?" he asks.
Not exactly, I say.
At Suburban Kamikaze, I explain, we are more likely to recommend something like stain remover as a marital aid.
"Wouldn't that burn?" he asks.
Not if you do it right, I say. By which we mean, using it on the laundry. There is nothing sexier than a man who can wield a stain stick.
Please accept our sincere apologies for any misunderstanding and/or rashes.
from the Sex and Laundry Archives: Fresh Towels
Wednesday night New York Times dinners began, as so many traditions in our family, as an exercise in aspiration.
Why shouldn't my family be capable of one meal a week in which our tastes were challenged, our horizons broadened, our palates exposed to the style and sophistication I once believed were synonymous with family life? There are too many reasons to list here.
The sheer hostility with which my efforts were greeted on what came to be known as "Goat Cheese and Radicchio Night" came to be a source of great satisfaction in my week.
I had no idea it would annoy them so much, which of course, is what gives any good family tradition its longevity.
Some weeks it is enough to taunt them by reading recipes aloud, randomly substituting "radicchio" and "goat cheese" for other ingredients.
Other Wednesdays are given over to vicarious cooking, in which I devour the French method of making eggplant stew while sipping Bordeaux on the back deck in my toile de Jouy apron.
But one way or another, the tradition has persisted with all of the joy and spirit of such Midwestern conventions as Enforced Family Board Game Night.
Today, however, it seems the New York Times has turned the dining tables on me. The front of the Dining section features an entree so vile it could only have been popularized by middle schoolers.
I didn't know the spaghetti taco had its origins in a television show, but this dish has been showing up in my kitchen since 12-year-old girls started making their home there last year. Apparently it's not just happening in my kitchen; it's now a staple of pre-teen cuisine.
It's a safe bet that the 7th grader will hold me to tradition tonight.
The only question is, how is goat cheese and radicchio going to taste on a spaghetti-filled taco?
From the passive-aggressive cookbook archives: The Secret Ingredient is Spite
It was a recipe for disaster: a reporter pining for the food she grew up with in Ohio goes looking for "grown-up" macaroni and cheese in Chicago.
You can see where this is going: Macaroni and cheese pizza. Yeah. I said it.
If there is any doubt that the bar has been raised in our ongoing search for the coveted Appalling Regional Delicacies Champion, I offer you you this excerpt from Tribune reporter Lauren R. Harrison's review:
"In most situations, I would have taken a napkin and dabbed the puddles of fat that bled through my paper plate. But, hey, I thought, it's pizza."
No, Lauren. It's a threat to sea life off the coast of Louisiana, but it's going in our cookbook.
Just when we thought we couldn't possibly love them one tiny bit more, despite their long history of misadventures, the girls took over the kitchen and learned to make sushi.
It was their most successful culinary project to date, thanks in no small part to their lovely assistant, Suburban Overachiever, who supplied the nori, the rice, the rolling mat and authentic Japanese know-how.
Ordinarily the girls refuse all offers of adult assistance, but they made an exception when they learned that Suburban Overachiever keeps a supply of imported Japanese seaweed sheets in her freezer (naturally) and had wasabi in her purse (for reasons which were never made entirely clear).
The results were impressive. And I am not just talking about the fact that no hamsters were harmed, no flooding occurred, nothing was left coated with vaseline, paint or beauty products and no search parties were involved. Maybe that is all behind us now?
We were served Japanese style, on the low table in the living room, which the girls had converted to candlelit elegance. There was salad and wine and fried ice cream for dessert, a menu the girls put together by watching Food Network how-to videos and calculating the maximum number of dishes they could put to use, which as it turns out, was pretty much all of them. Actual clean-up time may vary.
1 medium avocado, sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
4 sheets nori
1/2 batch sushi rice
1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into matchstick-size pieces
4 crabsticks, torn into pieces
wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger for serving
1. Cover a bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap.
2. Cut nori sheets in half crosswise.
3. Lay one sheet, shiny side down on plastic-covered mat. Wet your fingers and spread 1/2 cup of rice evenly onto nori.
4. Fling sesame seeds around the kitchen, attempting to sprinkle most of them onto rice.
5. Turn the sheet over so that rice side is down.
6. Place 1/8 of the cucumber, avocado and crab sticks in the center.
7. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping fillings in place with your fingers and roll into a tight cylinder.
8. Pull away the mat and set aside, Cover with a damp cloth.
9. Repeat until all of the rice has been used.
10.Cut each roll into 6 pieces.
Sushi Rice Ingredients
2 cups sushi or short-grain rice
2 cups water, plus extra for rinsing rice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1. Place rice into mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Swirl rice in the water, pour off and repeat until water is clear.
2. Place the rice and water into saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered.
3. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cover, cooking for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, and let stand covered for 10 minutes
5. Combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt in small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30-45 seconds.
6. Transfer to large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons each, olive oil, butter
1/4 teaspoon course salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup each, wild rice, orzo
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup each: dried cranberries (I used Trader Joe's orange-flavored cranberries), coursely chopped toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons each, chopped: fresh sage, fresh basil
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread sweet potatoes in a single layer on a foil-lined pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake until softened, about 35 minutes.
2. Cook rice and orzo according to package directions. (We used the whole box of orzo because we don't follow directions.)
3. Cook garlic, rice and orzo in butter about 1 minute. Add cranberries and walnuts. Remove from heat, fold in sage and basil.
*Adapted slightly from recipe of Chicago personal chef Ron Bilaro.
1 red onion cut into thin rings
extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 inch ginger root, peeled, minced
1/2 teaspoon course salt
fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup toasted pecan halves, choppped
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place Brussels sprouts and onion in a 13 x 9 inch baking pan; drizzle with olive oil. Add garlic, thyme, minced ginger, salt and pepper and toss.
2. Roast until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with pecans.
Adapted from a Chicago Tribune recipe published Nov. 7, 2007
Good red wine, supplied by guests
Cheap red wine you bought yourself
Assorted crackers, Trader Joe's goat's milk brie and herb-crusted chevre
1. Drift through kitchen at regular intervals, alternating between glasses of good and cheap red wine.
2. Supplement with cheese and crackers, while offering unsolicited advice to flour-caked husband.
Sample dialogue: "That's an awful lot of butter."
His: Butter basted turkey with butter soaked cornbread dressing and buttermilk cream cake, plus Sweet Potatoes cooked in butter and marshamallows.
sugar, eggs, sweet pototoes, marshmallows
1. Clatter pans dramatically to signify seriousness of undertaking.
2. Dust entire kitchen with a thin coat of flour.
3. Remove Brussels sprouts from food preparation area.
4. Crack a lot of eggs on one side of kitchen. Transfer to mixing bowls on opposite side of kitchen.
5. Butter, baste, repeat.
6. Remove spouse from food preparation area.
7. Finish in secret. Bask in undeserved praise for preparing entire meal.
After my Iowan sister-in-law introduced me to the "walking taco," I was prepared to believe anything.
If someone had told me that fried Cheez Whiz on a stick was a staple of the Midwestern wedding buffet, I would not have questioned it.
Once you have accepted the fact that people will eat ground beef out of a Doritos bag, what is left to doubt?
Even so, the ham ball had me grabbing for my notebook in disbelief.
We were sitting around the kitchen table drinking wine in one of those far-flung Midwestern suburbs few outsiders will ever visit, when our hostess threw out a strange warning.
"Don't make me get the ham ball," she called to her husband, whose unfinished workday was keeping us from our dinner reservations.
Her husband came soon enough and we were spared whatever danger the ham ball posed.
But I had to know. Ham ball??
"The ham ball," she repeated, looking to the two other Midwesterners at the table, who nodded in recognition of what is apparently both a popular hors d'oeuvre and a threat in these parts.
"Okay," I said, flipping open my notebook. "I have to know."
"How much of the Buddig?" our hostess asked her friend. They debated, then settled on an amount.
"The Buddig" it turns out, is a package of Carl Buddig ham, which according to its label, has been "smoked, sliced, chopped pressed and cooked." When I was growing up, we called this stuff lunchmeat. It was piled artlessly between slices of bread and eaten with mustard, or perhaps mayonnaise. The aesthetic possibilities went undeveloped.
But when chopped into bits, mixed with 8 ounces of slightly softened cream cheese, a couple of chopped green onions and a little bit of Worcestershire, the Buddig is transformed into edible clay from which the "ball" or any number of other shapes can be molded. Footballs (with processed cheese spread laces) are popular and there is one reported case of a ham ball sculpted into a bust of someone's mother. This is accepted as an unironic tribute in the heartland.
It is a staple of the buffet and the block party, where I am told, the baked Brie goes untouched in favor of the ham ball.
"Cream cheese," our hostess confided, "is what holds Midwestern housewives together."
She added: "If you want to get really fancy, you chop up some more of the Buddig and you roll it in."
"We don't do that," said the other woman. "We're riffraff."
I may be getting in touch with my inner Midwesterner. I so want to make a ham ball. But this recipe is not going to cut it for me. Any suggestions? Wine pairings? Party invitations? I'm bringing the ham ball.
Photo: Midwestern party starter.