Essay: Healthy Food, Healthy Planet

While so far, Dinners With Dan has been recipe-heavy, food isn’t always just about recipes.  There’s a lot more to the culinary world than simply combining ingredients and making tasty dishes: where does the food you’re buying come from?  How was it grown or raised?  How do our food choices affect the environment?  The economy?  When it comes to eating, I feel there is a time for recipes, and also a place for reflection.

It’s with this in mind that I am excited to welcome you to a new aspect of Dinners With Dan.  Today’s blog post is brought to you by Molly, one of Dinners With Dan‘s new featured contributors and short essayists.  Molly will be contributing short essays to Dinners With Dan and I leave it to her to introduce herself and give you a preview of things to come.  I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I do.


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The First Dinners With Dan Dinner Party!

Dinners With Dan Dinner Party!

Last Thursday was the first Dinners With Dan Dinner Party, and it was a great success!  I’m already looking forward to the next dinner party this month!  (And I learned a lot from this first one, like make sure to get recipes the day of or right after so I’m not posting this a week late =).)

My friend Simmy hosted the evening and it ended up being a small and intimate gathering as my friends Meg, Ashley, and Kristen also joined in the festivities.  The recipe for the evening was simple: bring a dish to share (anything was fair game!) so we could all enjoy a great dinner and I would post pictures and the recipes after!

I made my All-Vegetable Lasagna for the dinner party, but read on to find out about the other amazing dishes we all enjoyed!

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Recipe: James’ Junk Salad

Today’s recipe is brought to you by James, one of Dinners With Dan‘s new featured contributors!  He is sharing one of his go-to meals and it looks absolutely delicious, so keep reading!

James' Junk Salad

The following recipe is my twist on a pasta salad resulting from far too many leftovers, a desire for something simple yet delicious and a love of pasta. It’s a recipe that came from my own taste buds and those of my friends and family.

This recipe originally came about from my need of a food source that would get me through engineering exams I had 24 hours to complete and that usually took between 12 and 18 hours of solid work. There were therefore a few requirements that had to be met:

1)    It had to be something simple, containable and not messy. I wanted something I could snack on without it getting all over my books, notes or computer, yet was easy to make and versatile enough that I could substitute a variety of ingredients, without compromising taste. I was terrified I would finish a design, only to see it covered with pasta sauce, so I had to think of an alternative.

2)    There had to be a steady supply. Although taking a break during a long exam period is highly suggested, you don’t want to be forced to take a break and perhaps spend 20-30 minutes cooking a meal. You should have the flexibility to take a break when your BRAIN needs one, not when your stomach needs filling!

3)    It had to be something I wouldn’t tire of. Obviously I would have other snacks and meals planned, but when I got a hankering for food, I wanted to be able to turn to something that I knew I would enjoy time in and time out. As you will find out, I am a huge fan of pasta.

In the end pasta salad seemed like the only reasonable choice.

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Recipe: All-Vegetable Lasagna


This past Thursday I got together with a few friends for the first Dinners With Dan Dinner Party.  It was an absolute blast!  I will post about all of the dishes in a little bit, but I wanted to at least share with you the dish I made for the evening, and that I think turned out extraordinarily well: an all-vegetable lasagna.  I had never made the recipe before, and I’ve adjusted it below to how I made it, but I definitely recommend this!


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Recipe: Mushroom and Parmesan Chicken

Mushroom and Parmesan Chicken

The initial recipe I made and shared for Dinners With Dan was a chicken dish close to my heart as it was the first recipe I made when I had a kitchen of my own, and it was a recipe I got from my late Aunt.  The recipe was also a nice, easy, and simple dish which was perfect to start with on this blog.  Tonight I’m going to expand on the foundation I laid in that recipe by adding an additional step to the process, and hopefully take you to the next level of baking chicken with my Mushroom and Parmesan Chicken.

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Recipe: Garlic & Tomato Spaghetti

Garlic Tomato Spaghetti

When I got off work today, I felt like coming home and having something fairly light and fresh.  I had a craving for tomatoes, but I didn’t know quite what I wanted to make.  I started looking around to see what I had available.  Garlic? Ok, that’s always a good start.  Pasta? Now we’re getting somewhere…  An idea hit me and after a quick run to the store, I came back and made a Garlic & Tomato Spaghetti.

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Review: Scarpetta

“If you are what you eat, I only want to eat the good stuff.” – Remy, Ratatouille

Last Sunday I took the bus up to New York City to meet two very close friends, Vik and Christina, for dinner at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta.
  I’ve known both of them for over seven years now, and I hold our friendship very dear to my heart.  Vik is one of my mentors, was the professor most directly connected to igniting my interest in sociology and criminology during college, and was the most instrumental person in encouraging me to follow a passion and go to graduate school.  He and Christina, like me, are also driven by a deep desire to not just eat or make good food, but to experience food.  Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see them – and going to a really nice New York City Italian restaurant for dinner with them was the icing on the cake.

What does all of this have to do with a review of a restaurant?  Well, for me, it has everything to do with it.  This is something you should probably know about me going forward: to me, eating is not just about the act of having and enjoying food, it’s about sharing an experience.  At a restaurant, the quality of service, the ambiance of the location, and, of course, the food all combine to create an experience, but it is the people you share the meal with that cement the memories.  This is not to say one cannot enjoy a meal alone, I have done so many times, but it is to say that when reviewing a restaurant or describing a meal, the company I share that meal with is often just as important, if not more important, than the meal itself.  Last Sunday I spent over three hours enjoying not only one of the most wonderful meals of my life, but I spent those three hours with two of my favorite people – and, at the end of the day, that time is just as valuable to me as the memories of the food I consumed.  With that said, let’s dive in and I will do my best to re-create our evening so you can share our experience too.

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Recipe: Aunt Jo’s Cheesy Italian Chicken

A few months ago, when I began seriously considering starting Dinners with Dan, I talked with many friends and asked what kind of content they would most want to see in a food blog.  I’ve already begun to incorporate many of these suggestions, and I will continue to integrate more as time goes on, but the most common response I received was quite simple: Easy, quick, and delicious meals that anyone can make regardless of culinary skill.

So, with that in mind, I thought I would start Dinners with Dan with the very first dish I made from a recipe when I moved into an apartment with a kitchen for the first time.  I got this recipe from my late Aunt and it quickly became a go-to.  There is nothing fancy about this, and there are many many ways you can make this recipe more decadent (and I’ve noted just a couple things I’ve done in the past below), but for tonight, for my first time sharing with you, I made it just like I did when I first made it over 6 years ago.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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Start with Fresh Ingredients

Starting a blog is always an exciting venture.  It’s a foray into the unknown.  An unknown with so many questions: Who will read this?  Why will they read?  Is what I write going to be worth my readers’ time?  Can writing something on a page really capture the essence of what is trying to be conveyed?  And, as with all food blogs, will the recipes I make in my kitchen work when others try them?  Will my readers enjoy my thoughts and critiques on food, restaurants, and experiences?  Hopefully all of these questions will be answered with time, but another fundamental question must be answered first: Why am I (finally?) starting a food blog?

Put most simply, I enjoy food and cooking too much not to share my love with others.

At its core, Dinners with Dan will be a culinary blog.  I plan on sharing recipes I make in my own kitchen as well as food I enjoy (or don’t) at restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and elsewhere.  At the same time, I will be sharing tips and tricks to make cooking more fun and enjoyable, and it is my hope that Dinners with Dan provides something everyone can incorporate into their own cooking at home.

I plan on covering the entire spectrum of food: from cooking meat over a fire all the way to completely vegan meals, I want everyone to be able to enjoy, learn new recipes, and take something away from Dinners with Dan.  Some recipes will be easy, and others a little more labor intensive, but I hope all will be worthwhile.  It is my goal to share at least one recipe a week, if not many more, and depending on how successful this venture is, guest posts will certainly be more than welcome!

At the same time, as the name might suggest, this will not be a blog entirely about food.  Food (and drink) brings people together.  And what is a great meal without conversation?  When looking back at meals shared with family and friends, while the food is often amazing and astoundingly delicious, it is frequently the discussion I remember most.  I feel food is best enjoyed with stories, anecdotes, thought-provoking questions and comments, and most importantly laughs.  While Dinners with Dan will always be culinary-centered, from reflections on interesting articles about things that interest me to capturing on a page the meandering thoughts of a 20-something reflecting on life, it is my hope this blog begins to capture the essence of my experiences: the food, the people, the places, and the things that make my life, well, my life.  I invite you to join me on this journey, and thank you for wanting to see life through my eyes.

Look for a new recipe later as well as my review of Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in New York City over the next couple days.

Until next time, cheers!