Friday, April 30, 2010

Fried Friday

Rachel here: This past Christmas, my mom gave John a subscription to the Food Network's magazine. While I try to let John read it first when it arrives in the mail, I'd be lying if I said that I don't also read it cover to cover each month. There's always a huge mix of recipes, some of which get my mouth watering and others which don't. In the most recent issue, though, there was something that I just knew I had to make and pronto: fried pickles.

Ok, so all pregnant women like pickles, or so the folk lore seems to go. I, however, have always loved pickles. Growing up we each had a special Christmas ornament; mine was a pickle. On my birthday? Yup, more years than not I receive a card that is in the shape of a pickle. Pickles, I guess you could say, are kind of my thing. Throw pregnancy into the mix and, well, you get the picture. I had never had a fried pickle before I made these and I will definitely be having them again. In case you're not a pickle fanatic, I'll let you know that John isn't either and he devoured these.

1 egg
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. cornstarch, divided
1/2 c. corn meal
2 T. chopped fresh dill
2 tspn. paprika
salt and pepper
3 dozen pickle slices (I bought really good pickles and sliced them myself, though certainly pre-sliced would work)

In a bowl, beat the egg. Add the milk and a hearty dash of cayenne. In a separate bowl, place 1/4 c. of cornstarch. In a third bowl, mix the remaining cornstarch, cornmeal, dill, paprika, salt and pepper. Dip the pickle slices in the plain cornstarch, then the egg mix, and finally into the cornmeal mixture. Fry in 2 inches of canola oil until golden brown. Drain on a towel.
*The magazine suggests serving with ranch dressing to dip in. I sliced a baguette, toasted the slices, smeared cream cheese on them and then topped with the fried pickles. It was super yummy.

Janet here: While I, too, was intrigued by the idea of fried pickles, I thought it was best to leave this for the pregnant part of this duo. Instead I decided to make my own fries, something I've thought about but never actually done. While the result was not quite as crispy as I would like, I was pretty pleased with this first attempt and think there are going to be a lot more homemade fries on our family's dinner table.

French Fries
serve 3 or 4

2 teaspoons canola oil
3 large potatoes, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch strips
salt to taste
Mrs. Dash's seasoning blend or whatever seasoning you want to taste. I used the Southwest Chipotle but the possibilities are endless of your own variation: garlic, red peppers, whatever.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Wash and cut the potatoes. I did mine by slicing the potato in half lengthwise and then slicing each half into slabs that I then cut into 1/4 inch strips. Some of the longer strips I cut in half, but it all depends on how you like your fries.

Place the potato, oil, salt and seasoning in a big bowl and mix well. Spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray. (I use Pam organic canola oil.) Place the mixture on the sheet in one layer. Bake for 35 minutes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Sloooowwww Down

Janet here: For someone who pays so much attention to putting a meal on the table and nourishing people — physically and emotionally and spiritually — with food, you'd think I'd take more time to eat. But I don't: I wolf my food down and am usually fiddling with my utensils while everyone else is just getting down to it.

I also recently noticed — thanks in part to this blog and how it has me thinking about food and eating all the time — that I eat breakfast standing up most days of the week or while driving in my car to work, and that I eat all my weekday lunches working in front of the computer or, on weekends, standing up at the kitchen counter. In other words, while I want everyone I cook for to sit back, relax and enjoy every bite, I don't actually allow myself to do the same.

It was kind of a big epiphany, especially since a lot of what I've been working on personally in the past few years has been self-care and love. It was one of those moments when you stop and think Really? This is what I'm doing?

Of course, in some ways I'm not surprised that food would be one of the last frontiers of self-discovery. Eating has always been fraught with emotional issues, starting with the days when I was called Janet the Planet in elementary school. But I thought I was "fixed," that everything was "fine" now.

Instead, I realized that my speed eating is just another way to not really allow myself to fully nourish myself, to really enjoy the food as it's meant to be enjoyed. It's time for a change, one bite at a time. I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ma's Greek Pizza

Rachel here: The other night I made, for the very first time, my favorite childhood meal: my mom's Greek pizza. Growing up, this was what I asked for for my birthday dinners and the leftover I hoped would be mine when my brothers and I ate leftovers for dinner. I remember feeling like I had sophisticated taste buds because I was eating spinach and feta cheese, foods that weren't staples per se due to the fact that I shared meals with G and S who, as has been mentioned before, weren't always game for eating food that didn't come in cute shapes. Anyway, since my mom did a post featuring this dish a few months ago, I've been craving it. The day that I was going to make it I felt a little bit excited all day. I don't think I'd eaten this meal since I lived with my parents and I was nearly giddy by dinner time at the prospect of revisiting my favorite childhood food. If you haven't made your favorite meal from growing up in a long time, I highly recommend that you do so. Cooking and eating this Greek pizza left me feeling all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for dinners in my parents' kitchen, talking with my brothers and my mom about our days. It was fun to share it with John, too, since he had never had it. He dutifully ate seconds and totally understood why I was so excited to make this meal. This is a recipe, for sure, that I can't wait to make for our kid in a few years. After all of these years of missing this meal, I'm glad I finally incorporated it into my kitchen. I didn't make it quite as well as my mom, but I still felt like she was there by the stove with me and that, in and of itself, is just the kind of nourishment we all need sometimes.

Janet here: It's funny to read Rachel's post because I really didn't realize as she was growing up, that this was such a big deal meal for her. I knew she liked it, of course, but I had no idea it was infused with so much emotion.

We really are so clueless aren't we? We work so hard to make a moment special — cooking a special meal with all the right ingredients and candlelight, say, for a significant other — and yet so often it's the little every day moments that actually make it all matter. While cooking with phyllo dough, a major ingredient in Greek pizza, was not something I did every day, I certainly never thought the nights I served it were "special," and yet those moments apparently were. I guess the message is we should try to remember it's all special because you never know the moment that's going to "count" in someone else's memory. Good to be reminded of that, I think, don't you?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Books That Make Us Hungry: The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

Rachel here: Ok, so I have to start with a confession: I haven't actually read The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in its entirety. I desperately want to, though, and am crossing my fingers that I can squeeze it in once school is out (there are simply too many pages to read when you are a rhetoric major). What I have read, though, delights me to no end. Here is an example from the first few pages of the chapter entitled "Murder in the Kitchen."

The first victim was a lively carp brought to the kitchen in a covered basket from which nothing could escape. The fish man who sold me the carp said he had no time to kill, scale or clean it, nor would he tell me with which of these horrible necessities one began. It wasn't difficult to know which was the most repellent. So quickly to the murder and have it over with. On the docks of the Puget Sound I had seen fishermen grasp the tail of a huge salmon and lifting it high bring it down on the dock with enough force to kill it. Obviously I was not a fisherman nor was the kitchen table a dock. Should I not dispatch my first victim with a blow on the head from a heavy mallet? After an appraising glance at the lively fish it was evident he would escape attempts aimed at his head. A heavy sharp knife came to my mind as the classic, the perfect choice, so grasping, with my left hand well covered with a dishcloth, for the teeth might be sharp, the lower jaw of the carp, and the knife in my right, I carefully, deliberately found the base of its vertebral column and plunged the knife in. I let go my grasp and looked to see what had happened. Horror of horrors. The carp was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree. Limp, I fell into a chair, with my hands still unwashed reached for a cigarette, lighted it, and waited for the police to come and take me into custody.

From here, Toklas effortlessly segues into a recipe for carp stuffed with chestnuts. Are you kidding me? This woman was amazing. It almost seems like she could single-handedly be credited with laying the foundation for Amy Sedaris and Martha Stewart's culinary and hostessing careers. Toklas is in turns funny, insightful, focused and irreverent and, thankfully, unlike her partner Gertrude Stein, she believes in the use of punctuation. I don't know which I'm looking forward to most when I finally dig into this book, the commentary or the recipes. Both, to my taste, seem scrumptious.

Have any of you read this book?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Cookie Competition

Rachel here: I have made these cookies a million times. They are my go-to "Oops! We're supposed to bring dessert tonight" recipe, both for their ease and their reliably awesome turn-out. This time, however, I made them for our birthing class. For some reason, bringing food for this bevy of pregnant ladies over the past three weekends has left me feeling a bit more pressure than I usually do when I cook. I think, perhaps, it's an underlying fear of somehow exposing myself as a bad mom or something by not bringing an appropriate food item. When I was assigned to bring dessert for our final class, I didn't think twice about what I would make. I knew I would make this foolproof recipe from "The Best Recipe" by Cook's Illustrated.

During our lunch break, I had one of the most satisfying cooking related experiences of my entire life. While John and I sat and ate, multiple people bit into their chocolate chip walnut cookies and announced that these cookies were amazing. The woman sitting next to me and her husband said that they think these are the best homemade chocolate chip cookies they've ever had. Now all I did was follow a darn good recipe, but it still felt super good. It felt so good, in fact, that I felt a little bit bad for the other woman who brought cookies. Don't worry, though, ever the altruistic eater, I dutifully ate her (quite yummy) ginger cookies.

Anyway, seriously: make these cookies. Though certain people that I blog with bake in whatever order they please, I can only assume that the success behind these cookies lies in following the various steps and combinations as they are detailed in the recipe. I have adapted the recipe ever so slightly and share my version below. I should warn you, though. If, as I did, you are going to bake these cookies for an event, leave a few at home. There won't be any leftover for you to enjoy late night if you don't and, trust me, this is tragic.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies
makes 2-3 dozen

2 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 tspn. baking soda
1/2 tspn. salt
12 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm
1 c. brown sugar, packed (*TIP: Pour out 1 1/2 times the amount of brown sugar that you need--in this case that would be 1 1/2 c.--and this should get you very close to the right amount once it's packed*)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tspn. vanilla extract
1+ c. bittersweet chocolate chips
1 c. toasted walnuts, broken/chopped

preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Mix the melted butter with the two sugars until thoroughly blended (make sure to break down all sugar lumps at this point). Add the egg, the extra yolk and the vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in chips and walnuts. Pull 1 to 2 T. chunks off and place on cookie sheet, leaving in rough ball form. Bake--rotating half way--for roughly 15 minutes, until cookies are a light golden brown. Cool and enjoy.

Janet here:
Yeah, so apparently this week's decision to make cookies wasn't about merely making cookies; it was about "winning" the cookie bake-off. Guess I didn't get that memo.

Anyway, while I can't claim that my cookies are THE.BEST.COOKIES.EVER. the way some people are, I can tell you that these, which were adapted from Salty Sweets, are mighty fine and that people will enjoy them. Christie Matheson includes coconut, but I hate coconut so it's not in my version. So without further ado....the completely adequate "other" cookie recipe.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulatedsugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
grinder sea salt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the flour, coca powder, baking soda and fine sea salt in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs until creamy. Add the flour mixture a little at a time, mixing thoroughly each time. After this is all mixed up, add the oats and chips.

Spoon onto a baking pan. Add a few sprinkles of salt to each scoop on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Casseroles, Anyone?

Janet here: As a working and cooking mother, I am a big casserole fan. Not only is it easy to pull together a dinner quickly, but the possibilities are really endless for combinations. Seriously, all you need are the pasta of your choice, a sauce of some kind (whether it's cheese based or not), and the goodies you want to put together plus spices. And you can make it all ahead and just plop it in the oven when you crawl through the door at the end of the work day.

Casseroles can also be a great way to hide certain ingredients that you might be trying to get past certain children who shall remain nameless. While parenting magazines always suggest ploys like cutting the food into shapes like clown faces, etc as a way to get a picky eater to eat, that never worked for me. I had to be a lot more devious...not that I was particularly successful. My middle son, G, basically lived on cans of Dinty Moore for about five years while the rest of my family ate real food. I took solace in the idea that those cans contained at least a version of something that once resembled a vegetable.

But I digress. Here's my variation on tuna casserole. I hate mushrooms so you won't find one anywhere near this, although you should feel free to add if you wish. What combinations do you like to put together for casseroles? Dish it up. We all want to know.

Tuna Casserole
serves 6 or more

3/4 pound pasta--I use whatever I want but penne is particularly good
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, finely diced
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups low fat milk
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 6-ounce cans tuna in water, drained
1 10-ounce box frozen peas
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped broccoli
1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil and add the onions and celery. Saute until the onion is translucent, about five minutes or so. Add the flour and stir until the vegetables are well covered. Pour in the milk and broth stir over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Take it off the stove.

Mix the pasta, tuna, peas, broccoli and sauce in a large bowl. Pour into a casserole dish. Spread the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for about 35 minutes until the top is brown and the whole delicious concoction is bubbling slightly. Add some salad and French bread, and you are good to go.

Rachel here: I have never made a casserole. Seriously, not once. I'm not really sure why, although I suppose the fact that I don't own a casserole dish probably has something to do with this fact. Casseroles seem so warm and hearty, though, and so classically domestic that I guess I'm going to have to acquire the appropriate cookware and remedy this oversight in my cooking repertoire. Plus, with a kid on the horizon, I'm imagining easy dinners are about to become even more appealing than they currently are (and trust me, with John and I both on the move most of the time, easy dinners are already pretty darn appealing). And so, though I know my mom already said this, what do you put in your casserole? Whoever presents the most alluring combination will provide the recipe for my very first casserole, complete with a shout-out on the blog and everything...once I buy the freaking casserole dish, that is.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Our Illustrator Can Cook!

John here: Before Rachel got pregnant, I knew two truths about pregnant women: they are hormonal and they are picky eaters. Rachel’s always been hormonal, I have tools for navigating that, but the food issue had me nervous. I can’t eat pickle sandwiches for dinner, I just can’t. Rachel did have a pickle phase but it was short lived and stayed mostly to eating them out of the jar and not in weird combinations like with ice cream or something else ridiculous. I could deal with that and I did. While I was expecting the worst from my beloved pregnant wife, sneaking yummy snacks so as to not be too hungry when her urge for okra or uncooked rolled oats kicked in, she was busy building a formidable hunger and unending desire for the staple food of her pregnancy: Hot Wings. Whoa…. Am I the luckiest man alive or what? Not only is my beautiful partner emotionally consistent with her roller coaster hormones, but also she craves my favorite food! HA to all of you other schleps running to grocery stores in the middle of the night for a jar of pickled beets! We live within walking distance of a great wing spot that has done the brunt of the work feeding Rachel, but last night I made her hot wings as a labor of love and joy and to show her my undying gratitude for carrying and supporting our child through the last seven months. She is the best partner I could ask for, and I really can ask a lot sometimes.

Creamy Orange and Chipotle Hot Wings
serves 2

10 whole chicken wings (makes 20 hot wings)
1 12-oz, bottle of Frank's Red Hot hot sauce
1/4 stick of butter
1/2 an orange
1/3 7-oz. can chipotle peppers (about 4 peppers plus juice), chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 pint buttermilk
salt and pepper
olive oil
celery, cut into sticks
blue cheese dressing (or dipping sauce of your choice)
Up to 1 T. brown sugar (or more, if you like sweet sauce)

Wash chicken wings. Divide each wing into two pieces (this is easy to do at the joint). Steam wings for 30 minutes. Lay flat in a baking pan and chill until cooled (roughly 30 minutes). While cooling, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Season wings with salt and pepper before tossing with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until skin is crisp. Immediately start on your sauce. Pour the Frank's into a sauce pan with the chipotles and their juice. Grate in the zest of your 1/2 orange and squeeze in its juice. Add garlic, butter and brown sugar. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly. When ready to serve, stir in buttermilk. Add wings to the sauce and toss before serving.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You Say Shortcake; I Say Cheesecake

Rachel here: Before I go any further, I just have to say that while I'm quite pleased with my shortcake, when my mom said she was going to make my Grandy's cheesecake, I instantly shifted cravings towards her recipe. When I want cheesecake, THIS is what I want (as opposed to what I usually end up trying to satisfy the craving with...not to knock everybody else in the entire world's cheesecake...but seriously, this stuff is to die for) and, though I obviously could've gotten the recipe at any point during the last several years, I got really excited to finally lay my hands on it. I feel like I'm going to have to make it myself asap to deal with the nagging hankering I've developed.

But anyway, back to my recipe. John and I can do some serious damage to shortcake. One of the perks of living in California--and the Bay Area in particular--is that there are berries here virtually year round. When you combine this with a local grocery store (I know I've told you all about the Berkeley Bowl before...) that stocks locally-made baked goods, we could probably eat shortcake until we burst. It's almost cruel that Berkeley Bowl stocks freshly made shortcakes next to the berries. But I digress...

From time to time (when I'm trying to stave off a dessert deluge), I make the shortcakes myself. Per usual, I use a recipe from The Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated (I adapted it ever so slightly) and, per usual, it doesn't disappoint. You could use any type of fruit you wanted following the recipe for the fruit topping and, of course, a dollop of whipped cream never hurt anybody either.

serves 6

2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for work space
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tspn. salt
5 T. sugar
8 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. plus 1 T. half-and-half or milk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

With rack on lower-middle position, preheat oven to 425 degrees. In your food processor (or not...I made this recipe pre-owning a food processor without any issue), mix flour, baking powder, salt and 3 T. of sugar. Scatter butter pieces over the mixture, tossing to coat. Cut butter into dry ingredients (if making by hand use a pastry cutter or two knives) and continue cutting until the butter bits are no longer than small peas. In a medium bowl, combine your beaten egg and milk. Add the flour mixture and combine with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Turn onto floured work surface and knead just until it all comes together. Pat the dough with your fingertips into a 9" by 16" rectangle (about 3/4-inch thick). Be sure not to overwork the dough. Using a cutter about 2 3/4 ", cut into 6 biscuits (I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter instead of the traditional biscuit cutter). Place on cookie tray 1 inch apart and brush tops with egg white. Sprinkle with sugar (I used demarara). Bake until golden brown, roughly 13 minutes.

Fruit Mash

3 c. raspberries
5 c. strawberries, sliced
3-6 T. demarara sugar

In a medium bowl, mash the raspberries. Add the strawberries and mix. Add sugar to taste. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes, although the longer the better.

Janet here: I have been jonesing for cheesecake. I had dinner with a friend last week and all I was hoping/thinking was that the restaurant had cheesecake for dessert. They didn't. I had to settle for key lime pie — which was tasty but not the same thing.

Not surprisingly, then, when Rachel said she was making strawberry shortcake for this week's blog dessert, I ignored the whole concept and said I was going to make this cream cheese pie that my mom used to make. Who cares if they're not tied together by a fruit theme or whatever? I had a food itch and I had to satisfy it. Trust me: If you want/need a cheesecake fix, this recipe, which is way faster, will satisfy you in spades. Enjoy.

Cream Cheese Pie

Main Pie
1 1/4 cup graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cups melted butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, used 1/2 teaspoon at a time
2 eggs

1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix the graham cracker bits and butter together until blended. Pat into an 8-9 inch pie crust.

Mix the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and eggs together with an electric beater. Pour into the crust.

Bake for 30 minutes. While baking mix together the sour cream, 4 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Spread over the top of the pie and cook an additional 10 minutes. Let cool.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry: Table for Five

Janet here: I first met Caroline, the author behind Table for Five, when I wrote about her family business, Our Daily Nuts, in my other job as a magazine editor. In a word, these nuts are fabulous and completely addictive with lots of creative flavors and always very very fresh. If you like nuts, you will want to check out these for sure.

Caroline's blog, Table for Five, which I discovered while trolling on the Times Union website for local food ideas for my magazine, is as lovely as the nuts she helps to produce. A working mom, Caroline is interested in fresh, local food and feeding her family of three young children and husband Paul as well as she can. In other words, she's just folks, which makes her recipes simple too. You read them and immediately think "I could make that." In a world that's increasingly complicated and where so many are trying to impress, I like that simplicity.

Rachel here: Ok, so I love Caroline. She and I grocery shop the same way. I, too, find myself reading every ingredient on a label, wary of purchasing anything that I don't 100% understand the make-up of. The byproduct of this, of course, is a kitchen that often has random bits to cook with in it. When I read Caroline's recipe for and rationale behind making lemon bars, it was like I was reading my own blog post. Why did she make them? Because she loves them and she always has too many lemons at her house because she can never remember if she has any when she goes to the store. For those of you who have read a lot of my recipes, my base ingredients are often in my house for similar reasons. Plus, Caroline makes cooking with what you have around seem so doable and, these days, we could all benefit from this lesson and inspiration.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Quick and Easy Quiche

Rachel here: I suppose it's a little redundant to call quiche "quick and easy". The reason I call the recipe I'm sharing today quick and easy, though, is because in my house we simply don't do store-bought pie crusts. One has never entered our home and it seems quite likely one never will (unless, of course, somebody other than John or I brings it through the doors). We are each competent pie crust makers in our own right and this is a source of culinary pride. The only problem, of course, is that we don't always feel like making pie crust from scratch. When it comes to quiche, this left me in a pickle the first time I made it. Unwilling to use a store-bought crust and completely uninterested in generating my own, I pondered and pondered an alternative way to get a bit of crusty texture into my quiche without spending way more time in the kitchen than I wanted to or succumbing to the grocery store option. What I arrived at was a layer of breadcrumbs on the bottom of the pie plate and, seriously, I have never looked back. Nobody's uttered a complaint (which isn't to say that they aren't secretly missing the true pie crust, just that their longing is satisfactorily abated by the bread crumbs) so far and I'm cautiously optimistic that they won't. The other perk to using bread crumbs, of course, is that you can make them if you don't have them already (since most of us have bread on hand), meaning you can make quiche almost anytime you have bread and eggs and some miscellaneous filling options in your refrigerator. I, personally, love food like this.

So, I have to make a confession before I share my recipe: I actually made two quiches. John and I are taking a fantastic birth class right now at Birthways in Berkeley and each Saturday there is a potluck lunch during class (this lunch may be part of why I love the class so much...there is so much yummy food that the next day I find myself longing for this smorgasbord come noontime). Each week each birthing team brings something different and our assignment for this past Saturday was quiche. Friday night I dutifully made quiche for the class; Saturday morning I woke up at 6 am in a panic that there would be something wrong with it. I hauled myself out of bed (hauling is the only word for getting out of bed these days with this belly), stumbled into the kitchen and made a second quiche just so I could cut into the first one and serve the second one with confidence to my pregnant cohorts and their birth partners. Yup, this is how my life gets told in recipes sometimes: neurosis worked out in the kitchen.

And now for the recipe, which you should make with GREAT confidence, since after making it twice in a row I can say that it is quick, easy and delicious (oh yeah, and truly pretty foolproof).

Quick and Easy Quiche

7 eggs
1 c. milk
4 large basil leaves, torn into bits
1 c. scallions, chopped
1 c. tomatoes, diced
1 c. smoked gouda, shredded
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9" pie plate with bread crumbs so the bottom is completely covered and can't be seen (about a 1/2 inch). In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork (DO NOT use a whisk because later on everything that you mix into the eggs will get stuck in it). Mix in the milk. Add the basil, scallions, tomatoes and cheese along with salt and pepper to taste (a dash of cayenne will add a little pop, too), stirring in well. Pour into your pie plate and place in oven. Bake until the quiche is completely set, around 30 minutes (it's done when the inside is as set as the outside). Remove, cool and serve either slightly warm or at room temperature. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Janet here: It's hard to know where to begin with this post after all Rachel's admissions. A counselor would be having a field day here is all I can say. But let me just say this:

I use store-bought pie crust all the time for quiche and it's just fine thank you very much. So any of you readers who are feeling a little intimidated by this whole only-homemade-pie-crust-will-count thing should just relax and do what works best for you. I will add, however, that the bread crumbs concept is brilliant (oh and yes I use premade store-bought bread crumbs too rather than whipping up my own from bread--presumably homemade bread). I will absolutely try this down the road.

Crust aside, I agree quiche is an easy dinner. Add a little salad and maybe soup and bread, and you've got a complete happy meal. What I love about quiche is that it's a food free-for-all. You can add whatever you want to the mix and it's generally just fine.

My most recent quiche was about 3/4 pounds cooked turkey bacon and about 1 1/2 cups of grated gruyere. Just delicious.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Rachel here: So, my mom and S are off on a college visit and though she was supposed to be tending to the blog this week, she sent me a text message at 4 o'clock this morning saying that she'd forgotten to finish and set live the post she prepared for today. It's on tuna casserole and, since she only got through the ingredients segment of the post, tune in next week for her whole approach (since I've never made tuna casserole).

I've been largely missing from the blog this week and I've found myself, in turn, missing the blog. It's such a nice outlet for engagement with my mom and all of you and it's a good balancer to all of my school work. While there hasn't been a whole lot of cooking done in my kitchen this week, John and I did venture out last evening for a birthday dinner with our dear, dear friend Carl. We went to Venus where we had a delicious dinner and a fabulous time. Back when John and I lived in Berkeley, we were in walking distance from Venus and we found ourselves there pretty regularly. Since moving to Oakland, we haven't gotten back with the same consistency. We were both promptly reminded, though, of why it had been such a staple in our going-out repertoire when it was just up the street. John and Carl both had the lamb, our friend Mikee had the steak and I had the polenta. Each of the dishes were packed with flavor (my polenta sat on a hearty drizzle of balsamic reduction...yummy), as were the flatbread and ricotta appetizers and the desserts we all dutifully shared. The staff was wonderfully friendly and it was a great evening of conversation and celebration. I would definitely recommend stopping in (they serve food all day and, yes, it's all delicious) if you haven't or if you find yourself in Berkeley, though for dinner reservations would be wise (unless you go early).

Anyway, sorry for straying from our regular broadcast today. Tune in next week when we feature quiche, tuna casserole, John (our illustrator and my man) on Food for Thought Thursdays and other food adventures. Until then, stay well, eat well, and have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Better Late Than Never

We are very happy to have a guest blog today from Tom Bradley, a freelance writer, blog fan, new cook and friend. As his story shows, cooking does more than simply nourish your body.

Tom here: For the first 48 years of my life I rarely cooked. I grew up in a home where my mother did all the cooking, and I had no interest in learning how the food found its way to the plate. I was satisfied that it was there. I made the usual bachelor survival foods in college — mac and cheese, grilled steaks and burgers – in the days before Hot Pockets and microwave burritos. And then I married young, and happily returned to the days of enjoying the food that appeared on my plate every night. I was always grateful, mind you. And I did pitch in during the baby years, cheerfully, but unenthusiastically.

I enjoyed good cooking, and loved a well-made, creative meal, but like a theater aficionado who never trod the boards, I didn’t really appreciate the effort behind the production.

Then four years ago my wife became seriously ill. For two years she struggled simply to stay alive, and spent the third year recovering from a heart transplant. She has recovered fully, for which I will be forever grateful. But that doesn’t mean she’s getting her kitchen back.

See, in those four years, I had to pick up the responsibility for pretty much everything around the house – including the cooking. And what I took up out of necessity, I learned to love passionately. I’m only sad I let those first 48 years go by without realizing – dare I say it without copyright infringement? – the joy of cooking.

I realized early on that I couldn’t limp through with the meager menus of my college days. My wife needed to eat well to keep her spirits and weight up. Offering her the same old bland recipes every three days wouldn’t do it. And my children wouldn’t have been too happy, either.

I started by mining the Food Network website, which is an extraordinary and limitless resource for the recipe-deprived. Then I found the book that changed my life: The Best Light Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

Cook’s Illustrated operated America’s Test Kitchen in Brookline, Massachusetts, which is exactly what it sounds like: a kitchen where they test recipes, products, and cooking equipment. They approach cooking like engineering, and as a former technical writer, their book hit me with a resounding “click.” Not only did they provide me with a solid foundation of yummy, heart-healthy recipes, but they explained every step, every decision, and every option clearly and concisely. It took the fear out of my cooking, and I was launched.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a gourmet cook. I still lean toward the 30-minute recipes, with maybe a weekly excursion into the tougher challenges. But I love trying new things now. I love the complexity of balancing flavors, of choosing spices, of integrating textures and colors on the plate. I make a huge mess when I cook, and don’t mind cleaning up when I’m done because the emotional reward is so worthwhile.

To return to the theatrical metaphor, cooking is like performing. There’s preparation, and physical effort. You make artistic choices and take risks, you juggle and you pray. And in the end, if you’ve done well, you get applause. Well, you don’t really get applause, but you get the emotional reward of hearing the satisfied sounds of people enjoying a meal. If you’ve done really well, you get the cook’s equivalent of a standing ovation: a cleaned plate.

In honor of my cooking bible, here’s a recipe from The Best Light Recipes – simple, and so tasty:

Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with a White Wine and Herb Pan Sauce
(serves 4)

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat, tenderloins removed, and sliced into cutlets
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium shallot, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
Ground black pepper

1. For the cutlets: Spread the flour in a shallow dish. Pat the cutlets dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the cutlets in the flour and shake off the excess; set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Lay half of the cutlets in the skillet and cook until lighly golden, about 3 minutes. Flip the cutlets over and continue to cook until the meat is no longer pink in the center and feels firm when pressed with a finger, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cutlets to a plate and cover with foil; set aside. Repeat with the remaining oil and cutlets.
3. For the sauce: Add the shallot and ¼ teaspoon salt to the oil left in the skillet, return to medium-low heat, and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the wine, scraping up the browned bits. Add the broth, bring to a simmer, and cook until the mixture measures ¾ cup, about 5 minutes.
4. Pour any accumulated chicken juices into the simmering sauce. Whisk the milk and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then whisk into the simmering sauce. Continue to simmer the sauce until it has thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the parsley and tarragon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the cutlets before serving.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chicken = Easy, Tasty Dinner

Janet still flying solo: I haven't cooked or eaten red meat in 30 years. (Okay okay so the occasional piece of bacon has crossed my lips, but we're all weak sometimes aren't we?) Anyway, BK (Before Kids) I only really ate fish and veggies. PK (Post Kids) I was blessed with one child who was seriously culinarily challenged — he was five before he would even allow a piece of watermelon to cross his lips; ALL food decisions were visual rather than by tasting — so I relied on chicken way more than I do when just cooking for my husband and the one child still left at home, who is a fairly adventurous eater.

We were having Peter's sister for dinner the other night and I needed something fast and tasty to whip up. This chicken paella did the trick. I revised it from Ellie Krieger's So Easy (which really should be called So Tasty because everything I have made from this book has been delicious). I put my amendments in parentheses so carnivores and white-meat-only eaters alike can enjoy this tasty dinner. Hope you like it!

Chicken Paella with Sausage and Onions

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
3 ounces chorizo sausage, casing removed, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds (I used jalopeno-spiaced chicken sausage and that was just fine)
1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch pieces (I used chicken breasts and it was fine)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 10-ounce package frozen peas
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1/4 cup sliced green Spanish pimento-stuffed olives
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground tumeric
small pinch of saffron threads

Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. (Use a skillet with a cover and one that can go into the oven.) Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally until browned, about 5 minutes. (I did them both together.) Transfer both to a plate.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in the skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring until softened and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 1 additional minute. Return the chicken and sausage to the skillet and add the chicken broth, peas, rice, tomato, olives, salt, pepper, tumeric ans saffron. Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to the oven.

Cook until the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed, 25-20 minutes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry: the Passion Fruits

Rachel here: Ok, so assuming that you can judge people by their blogs, Luke and Joe of The Passion Fruits are nothing short of fabulous. When I read their blog I am so busy salivating that I forget to feel completely and utterly inferior in the kitchen. I mean, these two can cook. And by cook I don't mean they occasionally go all out in the kitchen, but rather that these two seem to give thought and energy to every meal, be it scrambled eggs (which, to my taste, they seem to make to perfection) or a cake. Like my mom and I, Luke and Joe often embark on little challenges/duels to incorporate the same ingredient into a meal and there is certainly plenty of banter and commentary on their fellow cooking buddy along the way. They can write as well and the end result of perusing their blog for me is usually both a sudden increase in appetite along with a desire to figure out a way to get invited over for one of their fantastic looking and sounding dinner menus.

Janet here: Rachel pretty much summed it up except I will add this: Their Easter cook-off is hysterical, complete with bunny peeps. I wish these guys lived near me. I would want to eat with them all the time.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Janet here: I'm flying mostly solo this week as Rachel juggles something like three papers and a test or something crazy like that. She'll weigh in if she's got time. That means I could pick whatever I wanted to focus on so I decided to kick it all off with dessert. There's nothing like a good dose of sugar to kick off the cooking week, don't you think?

I made these very tasty cupcakes for a dinner party after a friend's art opening. They're from Christie Matheson's Salty Sweets, a book dedicated to the delicious culinary magic that occurs when salty and sweet things meet. I went high end on the chocolate, eschewing my usual Toll House chocolate chips for Ghiradelli bittersweet. It was soooo worth it. The frosting was killer, as were the few chips that found their way to my mouth while baking. Hope you like these!

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting
makes about 12 regular size cupcakes

cupcake ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk (I used skim and it was fine)

cupcake method

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a bowl (or be like me, someone who has never sifted something in her life and it all still tastes just fine)

In a mixing bowl mix the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium speed until light-colored and creamy, about one minute. Beat in the egg for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix in the vanilla and beat on medium spped for one minute. Scrape down the bowl sides again.

Add in the flour mixture in three increments, alternating with the milk, ending with the flour. Mix until just combined each time.

Fill each cupcake liner 3/4 full with bater. Bake for about 20 minutes until the tops are golden brown and a cake taster comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. When cool, frost each cupcake with chocolate frosting. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel or chopped salted peanuts or...., especially for kids, chopped up Reese's Peanut Butter cups or Reese's Pieces.

Chocolate Frosting


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon fine seat salt

Put the chocolate in a medium-size heatproof bowl.

Combine the cream, butter, corn syrup and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until very hot but not boiling, about 4 minutes. Quickly pour the hot cream mixture over the chopped chocolate. Let it stand 5-7 minutes to melt the chocolate. Then whisk until smooth. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes and then beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. The frosting will keep for up to 3 days, refrigerated, in an an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before using.

Friday, April 9, 2010

tomato sauce

Rachel here: For those who've been following, you know I've been meaning to get around to making a big batch of pasta sauce to freeze. I have this idea that somehow between now and when the baby comes (at the end of June) I will not only baby-fy my house, get straight As in school, spend lots of quality time with John and make sure to do some stuff just for myself, but that I will also somehow prepare and freeze months worth of food so that we can be well-fed during those early sleepless months. It's a great idea, sure, but I am increasingly aware that there is no way this entire dream to-do list is going to get done. I'm trying, instead, to focus on the little victories, to incorporate a little of each of these things into the coming days and weeks and to figure that, though the baby isn't here yet, this is just a glimpse of the impending upheaval in our home. But anyway, I now have two large jars of frozen pasta sauce that, some summer evening, I am sure I'll be glad I took the time to make last night.

I should say that I love making pasta sauce. I've only done it twice, but there's something so liberating about cooking without a recipe. Pasta sauce is up there with making soups for me, both leisurely and informal with lots of stirring (I think stirring calms my brain down). Plus, the end result is a hearty and simple meal that is virtually guaranteed to put a smile on the faces I'm feeding, along with my own. What do you like in your pasta sauce?

Mushroom and Olive Pasta Sauce
makes approximately 12 cups

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 lg. white onion, diced
1 c. brown mushrooms, sliced
2 lg. cloves garlic, minced
56 oz. whole peeled tomatoes (nope, I didn't mill my own...someday)
15 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 c. olives, chopped (I used kalamata and green italian)
4-6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
fresh thyme, stripped from stems and to taste
3/4 c. red wine
salt and pepper

In a pan, reduce the balsamic vinegar until thick and sweet. In a large pot, saute the onion. Add the mushrooms once the onion has started to brown, and then add the garlic. Add all of your tomatoes. Add olives, basil and thyme. Add the balsamic reduction a few tablespoons at a time, to taste. If you use up all of the balsamic reduction and you want a sweeter sauce, feel free to add a bit of brown sugar. Add salt and paper to taste before pouring in the wine and bringing sauce to a simmer. Simmer until sauce thickens, around 1 hour, checking periodically. Adjust seasonings as needed. Yum!

Janet here: So, yeah, I used to do homemade tomato sauce back in the day when I was childless and an afternoon puttering around the kitchen making up a huge batch of tomato sauce for freezing was something I had the time and inclination to do. And then the children arrived, and between that and the full-time job, something, as they say, had to give. So my tomato sauce looks like this:

And it is still pretty damn tasty.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Three Generations of Oatmeal Cookies

Rachel here: For this week's FFTT installment, we are delighted to feature my two lovely and amazing cousins, Emma and Sage (their mom, Kaja, posted a few weeks back). They've written their own fabulous pieces about themselves and the recipe they're sharing, so I won't say too much here other than that these two are just as vibrant, thoughtful, and generally fantastic as they seem. Thanks for sharing, girlies!

Emma here: I’m Jake’s niece and Rachel’s cousin and I live in Colorado. I just made these cookies with help from my little sister Sage- and they’re gone already. My Oma didn’t like chocolate- the only time she would eat it was when we were hiking- so when she made these cookies they were simply oatmeal cookies. But my mom added the chocolate chips and they now rule over all other cookies- they are my absolute favorite. I have to say, that as a growing high school student, I tend to eat some dough- and if you eat dough too- the best time to eat it (or simply lick the spoon) is right after you added the oatmeal and chocolate chips and you are slowly stirring the mixture. It was a Saturday afternoon and I had been dreaming about eating these cookies and my mom had finally bought some Quaker Oats (those are the best kind to use) and 2 bags of chocolate chips- no you only use about one bag- the other was simply for us. I never measure the oats though. My Oma was that way too. She never knew exactly how much to put in; it was always what looked and tasted good. So I’m actually not sure if the above amounts of oats and chocolate chips are correct- they are simply what taste good to me. I get the huge cylinder of oats and just begin sprinkling them in. Then I dump a fair amount of chocolate chips and just stir and taste and add some more. It is a wonderful process.

I actually don’t remember my Mom’s mom cooking these cookies all that much- what I remember was the simple stuff. Not the long process things- because I would soon disappear with my cousins into our boutique in the back yard. But she had a garden and I remember one morning she took me out- just me- and we picked some fresh blueberries. And then we came back inside and mixed them with freshly cut melon to make our own fruit salad. Then Oma went back into her kitchen and brought out the bag of sugar. She had a spoon and just sprinkled the smallest bits of sweetness onto the fruit. And then so did I, with maybe 2 spoonfuls. Then we ate breakfast just Oma and me and our blueberries. But it was the simple act of adding the sugar that enticed me and, to tie back into our cookie recipe, the sugar and butter are the absolute base of the cookie. And now, this recipe seems simple to me. I guess as you continue to make something, especially something so good, it tends to stick with you, and become a part of you.

Sage here: I am Sage Reynolds and I am 10 years old and I am Rachel’s (favorite) cousin. And I want to be a chef when I grow up. Whenever I bake oatmeal cookies, I will always ask my mom, “How much of this?” or “How much of that?”, and all she’ll say is, “Oh, however much you want.” When we bake the cookies, I will come running up to help cook them because, to tell you the truth, that is my favorite thing to cook. The recipe is different almost every time we cook these delicious treats.
Also, when Oma used to come over for holidays, she would always cook. And when Emma and I asked her, “Do you need any help?” she would just say, “No, no, no, I am cooking for you guys, you don’t need to help.”
I love baking these cookies, but I hate it when my sister eats all of the dough!

Our Oma’s (Chocolate Chip) Oatmeal Cookies
First bowl:
2 sticks sweet butter- soft
2/3 cups sugar- white
1 cup sugar- brown
3 eggs
In other bowl:
1 1/2 cups flour- add some for high altitude
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups of oatmeal (ish)
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Almost a full bag of chocolate chips (about 3/4 of a bag)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the butter and sugar together until combined and then add the eggs. In the other bowl, stir the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and then add the salt if you want to (we never do and it seems to be fine.) Then combine dry mixture into the butter mixture. Add the vanilla and thoroughly combine and then stir in the oats. Add in however many chocolate chips you desire and mix everything completely so that the oats and chocolate chips are evenly distributed. Spoon dough onto a greased baking tray and put in the oven for about 9 minutes. (Varying the size of each cookie is a wonderful idea- big cookies for Dad and smaller ones for Sage.) Then let them cool for about 3 minutes on the pan before removing them and placing on a cooling rack. Start next batch.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fruit Bread Frenzy

Janet here: I remember very little of my father's grandmother, Nana, who died when I was in elementary school except this: she made outstanding date bread that I loved to eat smothered in cream cheese. Her recipe died with her and I've been on the lookout ever since for that exact date bread. This one is one I've come up with that is pretty darn close. Do you have a favorite date bread recipe? Share it up! In the meantime, find some cream cheese after you make this version.

Date Nut Bread

8 ounces chopped dates
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cups chopped nuts--I used pecans and walnuts this time

Combine all the dry ingredients together. Then add the egg, sugar, butter, vanilla and dates. Stir. Add nuts.
Pour into baking pan. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Delicious with cream cheese....

Rachel here: Banana bread, I think, is what I make best. It's certainly the only thing of any complexity that I have made over and over again without a single mishap and, if I do say so myself, the recipe I use is just perfection (it's from "The Best Recipe" by Cook's Illustrated and after I made it for the first time I wrote "perfect" next to the recipe, so...). I am so pleased with this banana bread, in fact, that I have overnighted it across the country to two of my nearest and dearest friends, Jessica (my bff since high school) and G (my brother who is closest to me in age). I'm pretty sure that Jessica and G will agree: this banana bread has straight-up healing powers, be it a broken heart or a head wound (I just realized that this could serve as incentive for people I know to feign ailments in the name of getting their own fresh-from-the-oven loaf from California...uh-oh). Anyway, I love making it and I've loved sending it to people I love when they're down for the count (I should confess that I love my ma's date bread, too...a certain somebody I co-habitate with doesn't "do" dates, though, so I haven't made it in years). Oh, and I love making it for myself, as well, including the challenge of trying not to consume the entire loaf before the sun has set. While it's no aphrodisiac, clearly for me banana bread is a food of you have one?

2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 tspn. baking soda
1/2 tspn. salt
1 1/4 c. toasted walnuts, chopped coarse (I use closer to 1 1/2 c. because I love nuts)
3 very ripe, speckled bananas, mashed well (approximately 1 1/2 c.)
1/4 c. plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 T. butter, melted and cooled
1 tspn. vanilla extract

With rack on lower-middle position, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. If you're using a non-stick loaf pan, grease and flour the bottom and side. If you're using a regular loaf pan, grease and flour only the bottom. Combine dry ingredients (flour through walnuts) in a large bowl, whisk, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients (bananas through vanilla) using a wooden spoon or spatula. Fold the wet ingredients into the dries using a rubber spatula until just combined. Batter should be thick and very lumpy. Pour batter into loaf pan and place pan in oven. Cook until a toothpick comes out of the center clean, approximately 55 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before removing to finish cooling on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Books That Make Us Hungry: Kitchen Confidential

Janet here:
I have had Anthony Bourdain's bestseller Kitchen Confidential on my bookshelf for a few years, but for some reason I just never got around to opening it up until a few months ago. This was a mistake.

This is a wonderful no-holds-barred Hunter Thompsonesque romp through the kitchens Bourdain inhabited before he became famous as a host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel. That Bourdain was around long enough to write this lively tale, much less become an acclaimed chef, is incredible given that he drank, coked and heroined his way through much of the early years of his chef life. Nor is he apparently alone. Any illusion that the restaurant business is glamorous or even sane goes up in smoke as Bourdain dishes on the back-room machinations in the many kitchens he's worked in. The writing is vibrant (if you are averse to swearing, don't get this book; Bourdain peppers his sentences with the F word as liberally as he seasons his food), the stories often hilarious and the look into restaurant life fascinating. Like a good meal, you'll savor it and be left wanting more. You'll also learn why you should never, and I mean never, order fish on a Monday.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Egg-cellent Eggs

Rachel here: I hadn't dyed eggs since I lived with my parents, I don't think, and though there is absolutely zero recognition of Easter in my house, it just seemed like so much fun that I called John at work and asked him if he'd join me in dyeing them when he got home. He was game, as he usually is for art projects/things that involve making messes. Anyway, figuring there was no way in hell I'd find Easter egg dye kits at this late date, I decided to employ food coloring for our dyeing experience. There are directions on the back of all food coloring packages and it was really quite simple. We used brown eggs because that was what was in the refrigerator and though this affected the end color, neither of us felt it was a problem. We had fun and, though I had intended to use the eggs to make egg salad, we ended up eating all of them (I only boiled six) promptly. Oops! Hard-boiled eggs are such a good snack and dyeing them is so satisfying that I'm considering extracting this tradition from the confines of Easter and dyeing eggs year round. They're so bright and pretty on the refrigerator shelf!

Janet here: In contrast to Rachel, who dyed her first Easter eggs, it's very possible I just dyed my last batch with our youngest heading off to college next year. Maybe we'll do it with the grandchild, although it's just as possible it won't happen. Anyway, the main reason to dye all these hard-boiled eggs is to make delicious deviled eggs and egg salad. I remember the first time I had deviled eggs. It was at my grandmother's house and I was amazed a hard-boiled egg could taste so good. Instead of sticking to the roof of my mouth the way plain old hard-boiled eggs do, these little wonders featured mayonnaise and dill. Delicious!

hard-boiled eggs
dill weed

Boil the eggs. Once the eggs are cooled, cut them in half and scoop out the yolk. Put the white halves aside. Mash the yolks and add 1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, about 1 tablespoon catsup and dill weed/salt/pepper to taste. The amounts are an approximation, depending on how mushy you want your innards. Mash it all together some more and then scoop back into the eggs. Voila!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The I-Don't-Want-to-Cook-But-I-Have-to Dinner

Janet here: Much as I enjoy cooking, there are certainly days when I walk in the house, exhausted, and all I want is for dinner to magically appear. And while I love, love, love my man, Peter, with the exception of going out to dinner (we don't live in a take-out or deliver-in area, sadly), if I don't cook it, we don't eat. It's one reason why I find a man who cooks so hot — only in my mind of course.

Anyway, it's good to have a couple of go-to, fast recipes for days like these. This one from Ellie Krieger's So Easy is just that. If you have pasta and frozen shrimp on hand, all you've got to do is add a little basil and a tomato and you are good to go.

What's your I-Don't-Want-to-Cook-But-I-Have-To dinner?

Garlic-basil Shrimp
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds large shrimp (20-25 per pound) peeled and deveined (I keep a pound frozen in my freezer all the time just for nights like this.)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
3/4 cup dry white whine
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup finely-chopped fresh basil (I used dried and it was fine)
3 cups cooked orzo pasta

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet until not but not smoking. Add the shrimp and cook, turning once, until just cooked, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stire in the tomatoes and basil and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the shrimp to the pan and cook until just heated through. Serve with the orzo.

Added idea: a little crumbled feta works very well with this combination.

Rachel here: Oh, fast dinner. On those days that feel interminable, dinner can feel like the last great mountain to climb before release. As I head into my last few weeks of school, I anticipate more and more of those (in addition to feeling more and more exhausted as this baby grows). Anyway, I keep vowing to make a big batch of pasta sauce (because homemade pasta sauce is far superior to store-bought) to have on hand for evenings such as this but, alas, it hasn't happened yet. And so, this week I've turned to my tried-and-true friend, the quesadilla. See my take on this quick and easy staple here. How do you navigate this type of evening?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Cookie Comfort

Janet here: While therapists and studies regularly point out how emotional eating is bad for you, it seems pretty clear to me that eating and emotions are inextricably and impossibly intermixed. Starting with a mother breastfeeding her baby, whose only needs initially are to be fed and held and protected — all of which are satisfied with the food she is sucking down — food not only nourishes us physically but emotionally as well.

Of course, we all get off the path of that original purity pretty quickly. Our parents withhold dessert for "bad" behavior, we give ourselves a "treat" to make us feel better when something bad (or good) happens — the list is endless and makes our relationships with food almost universally complicated, and that's without adding social stuff like stick-thin models and movies extolling only young thin bodies, etc.

But it was interesting to me and Rachel that two weeks ago we both literally woke up and said, "Today I want to make cookies." I know that baking cookies is something I regularly turn to when I need a little comfort. The kitchen immediately becomes a cozy haven from life's nuttiness as I blend the batter, methodically line up the dough, and pull the pans in and out of the oven. I love the smell in the house as cookies bake. And of course, I love how happy everyone is when they discover cookies are in the works and/or that a batch has just come out of the oven. Oh, yes, and I also like to eat them. One of the few (and I mean few) things I don't like about summer is that it's usually too warm to bake cookies so I'm usually on hiatus until the fall. But come that first cool day, there's nothing better than baking up a new batch. Everything feels good.

Rachel here: I love that my mom and I both woke up with cookies on the brain on the same morning 3000 miles apart from each other. I wonder how much of my love of baking cookies is tied to the feelings I associated with baking with my mom when I was growing up. I remember feeling special when we baked together, like I had been invited into this cozy little kitchen bubble and been made privy to an arena that I otherwise viewed as hers (since she did all of the cooking). My brother G helped sometimes (S was too little or not even born during this era), but mostly I recall getting to spend time with my mom that felt like it was ours. Plus, there were the cookies and the sitting at the kitchen table together to nibble from the first batch just as soon as they were cool enough while the second batch baked. My mother seemed so competent to me, absent measuring accoutrements for the most part and with the strength to cream butter and sugar that far surpassed my childish arms'. I figured I would never know how much salt was called for, or vanilla, the way my mom just knew. I would dutifully read from the recipe while she dutifully ignored it, a feat which always felt a little dangerous to me and which left me feeling a little bit like I was scrambling to keep up. I loved everything about those weekend afternoons baking cookies with my mom, though. I loved the mess inevitably made with the pouring of flour and sugar; I loved the wooden mixing bowl the dough would come together in; I loved the nearly sick feeling in my stomach when we were done from having tasted the batter, the chocolate chips AND the cookies. When I bake cookies now, these feelings and sensations are conjured vividly for me and, without fail, I am left feeling a whole lot of love for my mom, even if its from 3000 miles away.