Friday, December 23, 2011

Rachel here.

So, we're taking a break. Not a long one, but one long enough to nap after we eat holiday meals and long enough to allow time for the bloody mary's to wear off before we write to you again. We'll be back in 2012 with bells on (and a new fangled look, so get excited!) and we can't wait to see you all here then.

In the meantime, here's wishing you all a holiday season filled with love and happiness. Whether on the grandest of scales or tucked into the quietest of moments, we hope you find a little bit of sparkle to pocket away and carry forward into the new year with you.

There's a video on our Facebook page (ok, there will be...there should be...I'm trying to show technology who's boss and post it...I might which case, apologies in advance) that we'd love to share with you all (I couldn't figure out how to load it onto here...oh, technology you are a difficult mistress). It's our dear friend Caitlin being surprised by her parents (her mother is our occasional guest blogger, Susan...or, Our Lady of Fake It 'Til You Make It). I won't tell you any more. Click on over there and I dare you not to grin ear to ear or get a little misty eyed. I did both.

We send you love and full bellies, laughter and bear hugs. And we thank you--for gathering around this big blog table with us and sharing.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jammin' Jambalaya

Need to cook for a crowd and want to make something ahead of time? That's the way I prefer to cook when I have people over. That way I can actually enjoy my own gathering. I visit so many homes where the woman (because let's face it that is more often the case than not) disappears into the kitchen so much it's as if she's not there.

Not fair, say I. So cook ahead and sit right down to enjoy a festive holiday drink. (And if you're still seeking a special drink for this time of year, do check out our post last year on my husband's Cranberry Corker. It is killer good.)

On to the jambalaya

serves 6

1 onion, diced
4 slices bacon, diced (I used turkey bacon but I'm sure the real thing is even lovelier)
1 pound shrimp, deveined and tails removed
hot pepper flakes and jalapeno flakes to taste. Start with 1/4 teaspoon and move from there
salt and pepper to taste
1 14-ounce can artichokes, drained and cut into quarters
3/4 cups large black olives, cut in half
1 cup rice
1 28-can diced tomatoes with juices
about 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

In a large Dutch oven (large being at least 3 1/2 quarts, which I don't actually own so I had to start here and then transfer to a regular casserole dish later when I realized my miscalculation) heat a little olive oil and saute the onions and bacon together. (Is there a better smell in the universe?)

After about 6-8 minutes, when the bacon is getting crispy and the onions nice and translucent, add the pepper flakes. If you're a real heat fiend you could add a few splashes of hot sauce. Saute a few more minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. The remove from heat, cover, and place in the oven. Bake, covered, for about 35-45 minutes. The timing is based on when the rice is nice and cooked. Serve with crusty bread and you are good to go.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Comfort Food

I really miss my mother. And I'm surprised. She's been dead, after all, for 11 years, and our relationship was a complicated one for sure. So I've been touching this rediscovered scab, thinking about how it feel when I scratch certain parts, and I think I've figured out where it's coming from: This is the first Christmas where Peter and I will not see two of our three children. At all. And for the first time, I understand and feel in my very core my mother. I get why she was so (often annoyingly to me) needy at different points — "What do you mean you're not going to spend Mother's Day with me, Janet?" — and why she seemed so desperate at others. She saw the clock ticking and like that Salvador Dali clock knew her time was melting, ever so quickly.

It's not a comfortable place. While I intellectually understand the passing of the baton to the next generation — embrace it even in my most independent moments – around the holidays I want to be surrounded by my children. I don't have taken care of aging adults, I am acutely aware of the few years (God willing) we will all have in this new realm as equals on some level, a time to discover and enjoy new relationships as our parent/child paradigm shifts into something else. As a new grandmother, I am aware as well of the snap-your-fingers-and-it's-gone time to share in our little M's life.

So I think of my mother. I want to tell her "I get it." But I can't of course. Instead, I decided to make a favorite meal of hers and mine. While it's not complicated — what was in the suburban cooking of the '60s? — it does requiring thinking ahead because the chicken marinates overnight. I've served this meal to my children a few times, always thinking of my mother and how happy I was whenever she announced that sour cream chicken was for dinner. For now, that will have to do.

Sour Cream Chicken
serves 4

Cover and marinate the chicken overnight in the refrigerator.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover and bake for about an hour until the chicken is done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ode to a Spatula

For years (or at least the two we've been writing this blog) I've lorded my lack of bona fide cooking equipment over Rachel. Yes, she of the gigantic, semi-professional KitchenAid stand mixer can make good pie crust, etc. but is she really sure it's not at least somewhat related to the equipment? I mean, could she really make tasty pie crust using a fork the way I do (badly I admit)? HA!

But since writing this blog and reading a ton of other cooking blogs and interviewing cookbook authors and reading more cookbooks than is probably normal (not to mention foodie magazines), I've got to admit I've been wondering if maybe, just maybe, having some equipment might be okay. I mean, do I really have to recreate the 19th century when I cook?

So last Christmas I asked Santa for — and received! — my little Cuisinart and I have been an electrical chopping wizard ever since. It is simply one of the best devices ever.

Which leads to my spatula ode. For decades, I stirred, sauteed, and scraped bowls with this spoon or one of its 5 siblings.

I didn't realize what I was missing until the day I decided to buy this little Sur La Table spatula last year. (Yes, last year. I bought my first spatula when I was 56.)

It was a life changer. Suddenly I could actually scrape a bowl clean. It was a minor miracle.

Until my birthday this year when I received THE spatula.

It is aptly called Spatulart because it really is a thing of beauty. Not having a handle means it's easier to manipulate, making scraping a bowl even easier. I could probably use this baby and make it look like the bowl hadn't even been used yet, it scrapes it so well. Added benefit? One side helpfully lists liquid measure equivalents while the other side lists dry. Can't remember (or more likely never knew) how many tablespoons are in an 1/8 cup? Not to worry. Spatulart has the answer. (two).

I am in love.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Great Great Aunt Eurania's Snowball Cookies

Rachel here.

So, Monday I promised you all the easiest cookie recipe of all time. Tucked among these...

And these...

Is this!

And no, it's not an address book. Or, you know, it IS, but it doesn't contain addresses. Instead, it contains recipes recorded by my great great aunt Eurania and given to my grandmother. My parents brought it out for me the last time they visited and I was ecstatic. Nothing quite says I-lived-through-the-depression like an address turned into a recipe book, does it?

It's a fascinating read, too. Filled with anecdotes (such as, This recipe has been Methodist tested and repeatedly approved...because, you know, Methodists are the measure of deliciousness or something like that) and jello salads, my southern great great auntie was a missionary on a mission to convince my grandmother of the wonders of the pecan. There are pecans in EVERYTHING, and pages of lists of other foods that would be well served by the addition of pecans. There's even a recipe from Eurania's grandmother (that would be my great great great grandmother...come on, how cool is that that I can cook something my great great great grandmother cooked? I'm totally geeking out over this) that I'm fixing to try just as soon as I recover from the amount of lard it requires.

But anyway, tucked among these pages of tidy script is a recipe for Snowball Cookies. I'm sure you've eaten these--they're round and rolled in powdered sugar and essentially are simple shortbread cookies with pecans added to them. Sometimes they're called Mexican Wedding Cookies. I'd probably call them that instead of Snowballs if my great great aunt didn't have such an awesomely unusual name. Mexican Wedding Cookie definitely sounds more exciting than Snowball Cookie, but nothing sounds more exciting than Great Great Aunt Eurania's Snowball Cookies. In fact, I think there should probably be an exclamation mark added at the end.

So now, without further ado, I present to you Great Great Aunt Eurania's Snowball Cookies!

Sorry I don't have a picture to offer of the cookie proper. They're umm...all gone.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Buckeyes And Other Baking

Rachel here.

So, we spent the better part of the weekend in the kitchen here in California. As you know, I've had some serious baking lurking in my to-do list. So, John and I rolled up our sleeves and set to work.

The first thing in the oven was Mjuk Pepparkakor. I accidentally put 5 tablespoons of cinnamon in instead of 5 teaspoons. Of course, I did this into a bowl that contained the final contents of our flour jar and, of course, I did this immediately after returning home from the grocery store.

Ummm...I burst into tears. And called my mom. And announced that Christmas was ruined. It was all totally prepubescent. It was also awesomely cathartic. I can't remember the last time I cried. Forget spilt milk--too much cinnamon is my undoing.

Things dramatically improved after that, though. We made fabulous snowball cookies (I'll post about those later this week, so stay tuned if you're even remotely interested in a cookie that's insanely easy to generate, isn't super sweet, and makes 4 dozen cookies that you can fit in your oven all at once...really, tune in; you'll thank me) and we adapted our own buckeyes recipe after reading 9000 others online that all seemed outlandishly sweet and completely un-mailable.

Evidently recipes that yield 4 dozen of something are my culinary rabbit's foot, because this buckeyes recipe did just that and so did the snowballs recipe and, just like that, I had boxes and tins and jars filled with treats for our friends and family, all brimming with things I think are completely and utterly delicious.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Leeks and Leaks

Janet here: No this isn't a homonym lesson. I'm just noting an interesting concurrence: the week in which I make a fantastic leek dish was also the week the light fixture in the bathroom at Casa de Roomie (I live in two places if you're not a regular reader) decided to become an unofficial shower as water streamed out of it one day just as I was about to head out the door to work. It was, obviously, an awesome moment.

But first some housekeeping. We are happy to announce the winners of our Blissful Bites cookbook giveaway: Carje, Vegan Wheekers and VegAn are going to be cooking up a vegan holiday storm, thanks to Christy Morgan and BenBella Books' generosity. We hope to get these in the mail ASAP but only Vegan Wheekers followed directions and left her email address so you other two need to contact us ASAP at lifetoldinrecipesatgmaildotcom so you can have an early Christmas present.

Anyway back to the leeks, which have become a bit of a vegetable fetish for me. First a confession: Until I started this blog with Rachel nearly 3 (!) years ago, I had never cooked a leek. Ever. It fell somewhere in with the thought process I had about shallots (also wildly wrong and uninformed), which goes like this: They're in the onion family, right, so really how different can they be in taste? I'll just use an onion.

That was a stupid thought process and when I think of how many years I missed eating leeks and (shallots), it makes me just a titch sad. It may also explain my using them, oh, at least once a week ever since and why I was inspired by a recipe from Not My Mother's Casseroles.

You might think a casserole made almost entirely of leeks would be boring or too much of a good thing. You would be wrong. This is savory and a wonderful side. And tonight the leftovers are going to be added to a little pasta with maybe a bit of sauteed broccoli and some grated Parmesan and I'm already salivating typing this. So make the casserole and then be happy you'll have some terrific leftovers too.

Lovely Leek Bake
serves 6-8


6 large leeks
6 tablespoons butter
6 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 cup broth
juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used premade, but if you make your own, add some spices of your choice: garlic? a little more thyme?, more cheese?)

Grease 5-6 quart Dutch oven
Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim the ends off the leeks and cut each in half lengthwise. Wash well. Pat dry. Cut into half-moons about 1/2-inch wide.

Melt the butter in the Dutch oven. Cook the garlic for a few minutes until soft. Then add the leeks and stir/cook for about 10 minutes until they begin to get golden brown and soft. Add the wine and broth. Bring to a simmer.

Then take off the heat and squeeze in the lemon juice. Stir in one cup of the Parmesan.

Sprinkle the bread crumb topping over the leeks. If you're making your own, pulse all the ingredients in the food processor first before spreading. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup Parmesan over the top and drizzle a little olive oil over it all.

Bake for 25 minutes uncovered until the topping is golden brown.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vegan Cookbooks, Roast Pigs, And A Whole Lot of Sugar

Rachel here.

Ok, so first off, is it noon yet? Because if it isn't, and if you haven't already entered yourself in our giveaway, then click here and go get that done before reading any further. If it's after noon, then just keep reading while relishing the fact that you entered with time to spare, or while kicking yourself for missing the deadline.

I don't have a recipe to offer today. I've had a sick kid and we've been eating pizza and crackers and other conveniences instead of cooking. M's dinner tonight is, no joke, a sweet potato. Maybe we'll throw some beans on that plate for our own self-esteems.

This doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about cooking, though, because I am. There are two things on my mind specifically right now: Christmas dinner and Christmas baking. And yes, in that order. Which is definitely problematic. The baking should be first--it will be wrapped up and delivered to neighbors and friends in the brisk evenings between now and Christmas. The dinner dominates, though, because this year we just might make a whole pig for the very first time (and yes, I bring this up on the day that our vegan cookbook giveaway wraps up...).

I sat down the other day and started writing out a few names of people to give baked goods to. There are our generous neighbors to the left and the right, neighbors who have shared food with us throughout the year (including freshly snipped kale, still-warm cupcakes, and hot-from-the-oven spring still my beating heart), appearing suddenly in the yard with a smile on their faces. There are our upstairs neighbors, our new landlords who are lovely and deeply considerate of us and who happen to also be funny and share our politics and who have never--NOT ONCE--said a word about the middle-of-the-night, teething-induced sob fests that have been known to crop up in our house like impromptu 3 am dance parties in a sorority (minus all the fun and booze). There are our friends near and far, our therapist who sees us at the drop of a hat for virtually no pay (obviously a plate of cookies will make up for years of pay-what-we-can therapy...right? right...I mean, they'll be REALLY good), our mechanic who time and again shows us that he is honest and reliable and refuses to suck. The list started going and then got completely out of hand. Which I responded to by not baking a thing yet because, I mean REALLY--where do you even start? But when I do start baking (tomorrow, I swear!), I will be making only food from my family, recipes passed down to me from my mom, from my maternal grandfather, from my paternal grandmother and her great-aunt's grandmother (I tried to follow that crooked family tree line and just umm...couldn't). And I really like this idea. And I love that this year M will be involved.

But back to the pig (my pig, as I've come to think of it). We are currently sorting out Christmas dinner plans and just might be sharing it with our dear friends Em and Phoebe. They like to cook, we like to cook, and we all enjoy a good adventure, so Phoebe's started sourcing sucking pigs, holding in her mind the criteria that it has to be roughly M's size in order to fit in the oven (I'm going to have to put some extra cookies on our therapist's plate...clearly M will be visiting her someday since her mother tells her friends to look for pigs that are the same size as her baby). I've done some looking online and my brain seems to refuse to hold onto the before images of a pig roast, instead filling the expanse behind my closed eyes with the perfectly crisp, reddish-brown end product. Some folks count sheep, but I prefer baby pigs with apples in their mouths.

How are your holidays shaping up?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Brunch Munch

Janet here: I love brunch. It just seems so decadent to eat a nice meal in the middle of the day, maybe with a mimosa or Bloody Mary, and relax around the table. As someone who wakes up each morning with an agenda (yes, even on the weekends), I need the excuse of being invited to or hosting a brunch to allow myself the time. Revealing I know.

Anyway we had a little family gathering over the weekend and I whipped up this little hash wonder, which was inspired by my favorite cookbook of 2011, Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand. The beauty here is using sweet potatoes instead of regular poatoes. It's add a little sweetness and give the hash depth it normally doesn't have.

Sweet Potato Hash
serves 6-8

4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
5 slices turkey bacon (obviously you can use real bacon too), diced
1 large red pepper, cored and diced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
enough eggs to have one or two per person, depending on who's eating around your table

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease the baking dish with olive oil.

In a bowl, add the sweet potato cubes, onion, bacon, bell pepper, red pepper flakes and thyme. Add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss until well coated. Spread in a 9X13 baking dish. Roast on the top oven rack until soft and beginning to brown. 30 minutes should do it.

Turn the oven down to 375. Take out the pan and crack an egg on top of the sweet potato mix. Add a little more salt and pepper on top. Then bake for about 15-20 minutes until the egg whites are set.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Walking with a Winter Weizenbock

Time for our monthly post from Mike the Gay Beer Guy...

Dear Friends: Happy Thanksgiving! I know by the time you read this, it’ll be slightly belated, but you get the idea. T and I have never been traditional in anything we do. To celebrate before going out for crazy-midwestern-Walmart-Black-Friday shopping, we of course make a special meal like most out there. Turkey? No. Braised Beef Short Ribs - well yes please!! This simple, yet fantastic, main dish goes with almost anything else you wish to prepare; we had a soup from roasted squash, roasted asparagus, and garlic new potatoes. To go along with the meal, I had planned a nice Weiznbock; well I got to it a little late and it’s still in the fermenter... c’est la vie. It smells good, though! Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year... see you in 2012.

Thanksgiving Braised Beef Short Ribs
(Feeds two with leftovers)
The less you have to do after cooking for a crowd at Thanksgiving, the better, right? Do this the night before a few hours before you go to bed. Turn the flame off, and just keep it on the stove overnight. The pan will last without having to go into the fridge, and you can skim off some of the fat the next day! Reheat right where the pan is as everything else you’re preparing cooks.

6 Beef Short Ribs
Parnsips, Carrots, Celery, Beets, Onion — all rough chopped
Garlic, 3 or 4 cloves
Red Wine

Wash/trim your short ribs and pat them dry with paper towels; season appropriately. Prepare a big pan (preferably not non-stick) on medium/high heat with enough EVOO to cover the bottom but not be overwhelming. Brown the short ribs on each side, without trying to move them around the pan. Once the ribs have developed color, move them to a plate. Add more oil if necessary, and brown the veggies and garlic with seasoning. The veggies should develop color without burning.

Once everything is nice and happy, add the wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the ribs to the pan, moving the veggies out of the way, and add any juices that have accumulated from the plate the ribs were on. Cover, bring the pan to a simmer. When the pan is at a simmer, reduce the flame to low and let it be for 2 or 3 hours. When you’re ready for bed, turn off the flame and let it sit until the next day. Skim the fat, reheat, and serve with your favorite traditional or non-traditional Thanksgiving goodness!

Winter Weizenbock

In my mind, this is another perfect fall or winter beer. Weizenbock, which as you can tell from the stereotypical German compound word, is the intermarriage between a wheat beer and a bock... flavor with a punch. Imagine a German-style wheat beer (not one of those watered down American versions) with bready, banana, and clove overtones, add some dark toasty character and caramel flavors, and then kick it up a notch.

I try and follow all Reinheitsgebot rules up until carbonation...for those who don’t know, this is the German Purity Law. Yes, the Germans have a law dating back to the 1500s. To oversimplify things, basically three things could go into beer: water, barley, and hops. The law had to be amended to accommodate the discovery of yeast as a microorganism essential to the process. The law dating from way-back-when has been repealed, and there is a current and updated version in its place. The recipe I use is right out of Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer’s book, Brewing Classic Styles. I switch out the yeast strain Jamil recommends for another which works well in my system; experiment and make this beer your own!

OG - 1.081
FG - 1.020
ABV - 8%
IBUs - 23

10 lbs Wheat Malt (dark is prefered)
5 lbs Pilsner Malt
2 lbs Munich Malt
½ lb Special B
½ lb Crystal 40
¼ lb Pale Chocolate

1 ½ oz Hallertau Hops for 60 minutes

WLP 380 - Hefeweizen IV Yeast

Mash at 152*, sparge and lauter as usual. Make sure to increase your initial wort amount to accommodate for a 90 minute boil. Boil, adding your hops as indicated... there’s only one addition, you’ll be fine. Jamil says you should ferment at 62* for WLP 300 to reduce the banana flavors and encourage more clove and spicy flavors... for the WLP 380, I have found that 66* gives me a balance I look for in German wheat beers. This yeast also throws out a LOT of sulfur... don’t be discouraged, just let it be and the sulfur will dissipate.

Cheers - Since I won’t be in touch until AFTER January 1st, I want to wish everyone out there a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. If you’re interested in getting into homebrewing (or possibly encouraging a family member or significant other), please feel free to ask me any questions you might have... brewing kits make EXCELLENT gifts!

- Mike TGBG

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Blissful Bites" Giveaway!

Rachel here.

So, it's that time of the year when two of our favorite things come together: gift giving and meal sharing. These aren't wholly separate entities either. Preparing a meal for people you love is nothing if not a gift and so, too, is receiving their satisfaction as they scrape their plates clean. The generosity of spirit that seeps through food--whether taking the time to nourish yourself, spending the weekend in the kitchen baking cookies for neighbors, or sitting down at a meal lovingly prepared by another for you--comes to the fore in the holiday season as we remember to pause and take stock of our good fortune which can be so easily obscured during the daily grind of the rest of the year.

With that said, there are certainly many strong and compelling arguments for the virtues of following a vegan lifestyle. It is responsible on so many levels, including environmental and social. It is a way of eating and living bolstered by a strong ethical spine and, though neither my mom nor I partakes, it is certainly a commitment we both admire in others. And so, today we offer a giveaway. Enter for yourself, enter for a friend. Adding "Blissful Bites" by Christy Morgan to your own cookbook inventory will help you create meals that are friendly to all of the people you feed, and giving it as a gift to somebody who is already following or interested in following a vegan lifestyle would be a lovely way to show them that you support their endeavor. With everything from breakfast staples to dessert delicacies (and organized seasonally to boot!), no matter who ends up with this cookbook in their hands, it's sure to be a hit. And did I mention that every recipe takes 45 minutes or less? Because it does, and as a mom that MATTERS to me.

So here's the deal, folks. Using the random number generator at we will select a winner to receive "Blissful Bites" exactly one week from today (that would be Wednesday December 6th). You have until noon that day to leave a comment below. Tell us how you feel about veganism, how you love it or how you tried it for 45 minutes one time in college; tell us that nothing makes you happier than rare beef; tell us we're pretty (it won't help you win but, you know, it never hurts either); tell us ANYTHING and make sure to include an email address that we can contact you at should you win. From first to last comment, you'll be assigned a number in chronological order and then the random number generator will work its random magic and we'll have our winner. Easy as pie, right? WRONG--it's even easier.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Who Needs Pie When You Have Tortillas?

Janet here: So you don't know what to make for dinner and can't imagine making another burrito or quiche? Take a deep breath and realize you have the makings of a great (easy) dinner within your grasp. I'm talking something I generally call tortilla pies.

Here's the general idea: You saute up some veggies, maybe take some chicken you've got in the fridge and saute that up, grate some cheese of your liking, add some spices and then build a tortilla tower. Bake it and you are in business about 30 minutes later. It's that simple.

You could take some leftover veggies too for one of the layers....or saute them fresh in whatever combination you want. Interested in Mexican? Use chilies and south of the border spices. Got a yen for something Indian? Add in cumin and curries and you've got something that works there too. The point is it's as versatile as you want it to be. The only limitation is your imagination.

Here's a recipe to get you started.

Tortilla Pie
serves 4-6

12 6-inch corn tortillas
about 3 cups assorted diced veggies such as onion, garlic, zucchini, peppers, whatever your heart desires
about 1 cup of diced chicken
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheese
1 cup or so salsa OR
2 tablespoons butter, about 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup diced green chilies and about 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9X13 inch baking pan with canola oil.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute the veggies/chicken of your choice for about 5-7 minutes until just cooked. If you're doing veggies alone, start with onions and then add garlic and the denser veggies, ending with zucchini, which cooks quickly and you don't want it to be overcooked. If you're doing chicken add it after the onions but before the garlic. It can all be sauteed together.

If you're using salsa, move to the next step. If you're making this roux version (pictured here), melt the butter, stir in the flour to make a roux and then add the broth and stir frequently until it thickens. Take it off the heat and add the chilies.

Place 4 tortillas (they will overlap a bit) in the bottom of the baking pan. Add half the sauteed goodies. Spread cheese on top and whatever sauce you're using. Then add another layer of four overlapping tortillas. Spread your veggie/chicken/salsa/roux/cheese mixture on top. End with four more tortillas and a little salsa/roux/cheese. Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes until bubbling and lightly browned on top.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We Give Thanks

As the holiday season kicks off tomorrow with a turkey-induced food coma, we thought we'd take a moment to sit back and count our blessings. When we started LTIR almost two years ago (!), we weren't sure anyone other than our family and friends would read Rachel's and my individual and collective journies through food and life. Turns out people actually will and do, and we thank you. It is wonderful to have someone else respond to something we've written with a memory or recipe tip of their own, or to just say that what we wrote resonated somehow.

On a personal note, I remain awestruck by the wonder of the divine Miss M and how this newest addition to the clan continues to rock my world (even from a ridiculous 3,000 miles away, something I am decidedly NOT thankful for, but I will leave that for another post). She has centered me in ways I never even imagined possible and has helped provide me with a compass for further directing my life and that of my family's. And she did all of this before she even began to talk one word. Amazing.

I am thankful for my absolutely wonderful husband, Peter, who continues to surprise me even after 30 years and who makes me laugh more than anyone I know. He gives me space to grow and continually tries to grow with me. It is a full life of wonder with him.

And my children are on their own now. I marvel at who they are and who they are becoming, and feel thankful I can hang onto the coattails for the ride. In some ways they are exactly who I thought they'd be and yet completely different in ways I would never have imagined. I love that.

I am a lucky woman for my many friends, and feel especially thankful for the tribe of women I've met in my landing in Albany. (You know who you are.) The growth I've experienced with them has been a happy, happy serendipitous (fateful?) plus to a job that I generally love.

Family, friends, health — on the one hand, it's a thankful list that seems cliched, and yet it is really what life boils down to at the end. So thank you all.


So, last year my mom and I endeavored a joint post of thanks, too. I kicked it off last year and she ended up chiming in and saying she had nothing to add. And now here I am with the exact same sentiments. Lovely, lovely words, Ma.

May you all have full bellies and hearts.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Butternut Squash Gratin Goodness

Janet here: First THANK YOU Alecia for passing on this fabulous squash dish that can stand alone (I'm adding couscous to the leftovers to make a veggie meal) or act as a side dish. If you're still looking for something for Thanksgiving, look no further. This one is a keeper.

Butternut Squash Gratin
serves at 6-9

1/2 cup olive oil
4 cups sliced onions
4 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
6 cups squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated gruyere (or so — I probably did closer to a cup)
1/2 cup milk plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup breadcrumbs (or in my case, panko because I didn't have breadcrumbs or bread to make them from scratch)

Heat 1/2 the olive oil and saute the onion, sage, thyme with salt and pepper to taste. Saute until the onions are carmelized into deliciousness.

Spread this in the bottom of a gratin dish.

Place the remaining oil in the pan to heat it up. Toss the squash in the flour and cook in the pan, stirring occasionally, until brown on all sides, about 7 minutes. Add the parsley and cook for one minute.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Layer squash over the onion mix. Cover the mixture with the cheese and then breadcrumbs. Add the milk.

Bake covered for 25 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional 25 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Some Turkey Day Sides

Rachel here.

Did anybody else have that oh-shit-Thanksgiving's-next-week moment in the last few days? Because I definitely did. And while I love any day devoted to eating, my teeth clenched a little as my head began to swarm with all of the things we need to do in order to make that magical feast appear. Lobbying to host this year instead of visit our friend's house like we've done in the past, John as signed up for the bird (but we haven't signed up for our bird at the grocery store yet...oh good). When he does that, he lays claim to the stuffing and gravy, too. Some year I'd like to commandeer the turkey project (or so I think, having never had to navigate a whole turkey), but currently I love watching the glimmer in John's eye as he ponders different methods and ingredients. I might be delusional, but I'm pretty sure John wouldn't mind being given a turkey to cook--and all the time and ingredients and equipment needed to do so exactly as he'd like--for his birthday.

Anyway, whether you've got a hot date with the turkey or you're doing the whole affair or you're bringing sides to a friends house, today we offer up a round-up of side dishes we've cooked and loved. We can't step into the kitchen to offer another set of hands (although I just pictured spending an afternoon in the kitchen with a mystery reader and I got like, really, really excited), but we can help free up a little brain space for whatever else you need to coordinate between now and Thanksgiving, even if it's just an outfit.

Apple-Ginger Carrots
Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Casserole
Acorn Squash With Wild Mushroom Cranberry Stuffing
Broccoli, Cauliflower And Onion Casserole

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Holy Growing Scallions!

Rachel here.

Ok, so sometimes it's the little things that blow my mind the most. Like, the really, really little things.

While trolling the internet last week, somewhere (maybe a lot of somewheres? That seems to happen on the internet...) I saw a kitchen tip. Instead of tossing the white bases from your scallions, stick them in a glass of water on a sunny windowsill. They grow new scallions! Like, really. Ours are probably six inches long after less than a week.

I love scallions but I don't buy them often because we always end up throwing most of them away. Now I'm never buying them again because we are always going to have them growing on our windowsill.

It's easy. And fresh. And that's just awesome.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pesto and More Casserole

Janet here:

We had friends visiting Saturday night who we hadn't seen in a number of years. In other words, the premium was on catching up, not cooking. Which doesn't mean I didn't want to serve something tasty. (In fact, I think the bar gets even higher when you're cooking for someone you haven't seen in a while don't you? Kind of a culinary version of dress to impress...)

Anyway, this casserole features orzo, which is a pasta I only discovered a few years ago but fell in love with. I'm not sure if it's the shape or size but orzo just tastes better than a lot of other pastas. And I think it also allows other flavors to come out more fully. It doesn't overwhelm.

The casserole also features pesto, which is one of my favorite sauces ever. Again, not overwhelming but totally flavorful. You can make it yourself, using Rachel's recipe) or buy some (which, I'm not gonna lie, is what I did this time).

You're going to have to trust me on how marvelous this casserole looks. By the time it came out of the oven, just a little alcohol had been consumed....and taking a photo was no longer on my to-do list.

Pesto Casserole
serves 6, more if a side dish

1 pound orzo
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange bell pepper, cored and diced
1 onion, minced
2/3 cup pesto
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9X13 baking pan.

Boil some water and cook the orzo until al dente. Drain. Put back in the large pot.

While the orzo is cooking, saute the onion, garlic and pepper in some olive oil until the vegetables start to get soft. Add to the orzo in the pot.

Stir in the pesto and mozzarella into the pot. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread into the baking pan, sprinkle the Parmesan on top and baked for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the orzo is done. Serve it up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Caramel Cheesecake Bars

Janet here: I wanted to make these cheesecake bars the second I saw their picture in the new cookbook by Alice Medrich called Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy (Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies). And that was before I learned that the crust was made of shortbread! After that, I was a woman on a mission.

These are seriously unbelievably good. I'd write more about this but that would mean you'd be further away from eating these...and that would be a mistake. Get baking now.

Caramel Cheesecake Bars

for the shortbread crust
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/8 teaspoons salt
2 cups (9 ounces) flour

for the cheesecake part
1/2 cup (6 ounces) caramel sauce, purchased (that's what I did) or homemade
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature


for the crust:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put the rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a 9X13-inch pan with foil.

In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugard, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Press and smooth the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crut is a gold brown with well-browned darker edges. Let cool before adding the rest of the recipe.

for the bars:
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Stir the caramel sauce together with the salt and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until just smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add one egg and beat until just incorporate. Add the second egg and mix. Stir two tablespoons of the batter into the caramel sauce.

Pour the remaining batter over the prepared crust and smooth. Spoon pools of the caramel mixture over the filing, leaving plenty of plain filling showing. Jiggle a bit to smooth things out if the caramel doesn't immediately incorporate into the cream cheese filling. Take a toothpick and swirl it around to make pretty designs and marbelize the top of the cream cheese filling.

Bake 2--25 minutes until the filling is puffed at the edges but still jiggles in the center when the pan is nudged.

Put the pan on a cooling rack. When totally cool, cover and refrigerate at last four hours but preferably overnight (yeah, that was not possible in my case and it was just fine). Cut into pieces and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 4 days — as if that's going to happen. HA!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese

Rachel here.

So while my parents were relishing the power in my mom's New York apartment this past weekend, in my house we were spending the days in our pajamas while blowing our noses. For some reason these family-wide colds make me highly effective in the kitchen. This weekend I made a batch of pumpkin muffins with cream cheese and a streusel topping. They were delicious. Thank god I made them, too, because they're the only thing sick little M has wanted to eat for days.

I found the recipe at There were several delicious looking alternatives I might just have to try soon.

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brown sugar

4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped pecans

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups canned pumpkin
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease and flour 18 muffin cups, or use paper liners.
To make the filling: In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until soft. Add egg, vanilla and brown sugar. Beat until smooth, then set aside.
For the streusel topping: In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Add butter and cut it in with a fork until crumbly. Set aside.
For the muffin batter: In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and add eggs, pumpkin, olive oil and vanilla. Beat together until smooth.
Place pumpkin mixture in muffin cups about 1/2 full. Then add one tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture right in the middle of the batter. Try to keep cream cheese from touching the paper cup. Sprinkle on the streusel topping.
Bake at 375 degrees F (195 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Super Veggie(ish) Shepherd's Pie

Janet here:

I just want to say for the record that Thomas Edison is a god and that I will never take electricity for granted ever again. While I only had to live without power for 36 hours (thanks to the freak snowstorm that dumped 18 inches of ridiculously wet snow on Connecticut and broke just about every tree, landing most of them on power lines) before high-tailing it to my job in New York (with power! heat! running water! flushable toilets!), Peter stuck it out in Connecticut until Thursday (he is also a god-like) before joining me. When he left the state, there were still hundreds of thousands of people without power. Our power finally came back on Friday night after a week, but as I write this, 40 percent of the people in our town still don't have power, and statewide about 125,000 people are still powerless.

It's a long way of saying not a whole lot of cooking was going on at East Coast Casa Reynolds last weekend. I brought a cooler of whatever food I could grab on my way to work Monday AM since our freezer at that point was beginning to drip and it was clear Connecticut was not going to have power for at least a week. (I hate it when my most dire predictions are proved true.) I figured I'd do something with them sometime this week.

Which I did on Thursday when Peter was en route. Clearly some serious comfort food was in order, and what better place to start than with mashed potatoes. I mean, really, does anything matter after that?

I consider shepherd's pie an excuse to serve mashed potatoes as the main course of a meal. While it's typically made with meat (and I made a ground turkey version of this for years when our children were young and without adventurous tastebuds), I've gone back to my real vegetarian roots now that our household is sans children and haven't cooked chicken in ages. This shepherd's pie is a great vegetarian version that allows for a lot of flexibility and is a great way to use up veggies you've got hanging around or perhaps in quantities that aren't enough for a meal or side on their own but mixed together help to create wonderfulness.

It's also a chance to experiment with mashed potatoes: I've added everything from scallions to horseradish to gruyere to leeks and/or garlic to mashed potatoes, to name just a very few. This particular version included parmesan cheese, some half-and-half and yes some bacon my NY roomie had cooked up for something else. Regular readers know I'm weak for bacon and as I said earlier, this was a week for comfort food.

On to the recipe!

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

Serves a small army

vegetables cut up into bite sized pieces: I used broccoli, cauliflower, an onion, and 1 zucchini
16 ounces diced tomatoes: we also had some roasted tomatoes leftover from another recipe so I tossed that in as well
spices: I used oregano, a little basil, some chili powder, salt and pepper, but again this is a chance to season it as you wish
6 potatoes, washed and cut up into pieces
about 1/2 cup half-and-half OR about the same amount of broth (which is what I normally use as a lower fat version)
1 stick of butter
mashed potato fixin's such as various grated cheeses, chives, onion bits, etc in the amount you like

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put some water in a large pot and cook the potatoes until just done. When done, strain, add the butter, liquid of choice and mash. Then add seasonings and mash a bit more. Set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, cut up the vegetables. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and garlic if using. Saute for a few minutes. Then add the veggies, starting with the ones that need a bit longer to cook first. I put in the broccoli and cauliflower first this time and then added the zucchini at the end because I don't like it mushy. After the veggies are semi-cooked take off the heat.

Place the veggies in a large pan or casserole dish. Schmear the mashed potatoes on top. Place in the oven (maybe add a little grated cheese on top for good measure) and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until bubbling and a little brown on top.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pizza and — What Else? — Beer

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, Christmas is just a stone’s throw beyond that. Nothing screams fall in New England more than pizza.

Ok, you got me... pizza screams nothing of fall in New England. But hey, this is a great recipe and I even remembered to take pictures!

Fresh Pizza Dough
This recipe is from a book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, given to me by my very good friend and second-mother, Julie “Miss Sunshine” Wallace. Her son and I were great friends in college, often finding ourselves at the Wallace house on the weekends to get away from the evil dorm food. Miss Sunshine always had homemade meals, fantastic cookies, and of course fresh bread! She still makes recipes from this book and I’m so glad she passed the good word onto me... this recipe is directly from the pages, even though I make a half batch rather than the full amount listed. Enjoy!

(this is the half-batch version)
1 ⅓ cups lukewarm Water
2 ¼ teaspoons Granulated Yeast (we buy one of those jars in the bread aisle
2 ¼ teaspoons Salt
1 ½ teaspoons Sugar
2 tablespoons EVOO
3 ¼ cup all purpose Flour


Combine all the ingredients except for the flour; you can use a bowl or a plastic container with lid. Mix in the flour, one cup at a time... you can use a stand mixer, but a spoon in the plastic container works just as well (oh you may need to add more water or flour depending on how the dough feels in the moment). Cover your dough (but not air tight) and allow to rest for about 2 hours. You can certainly use the dough immediately after the rise, but it works better if you chill it down in the fridge.

When you’re ready to use the dough, preheat your oven to 525* F (You just keep your pizza stone in the oven ALL the time, right? I mean for just might as well, because you should be using it all the time... RIGHT?!?!?!). Prepare all of your toppings... for our pizza we had green peppers, garlic, and chorizo sausage in addition to the “normal” marinara and cheese.

Pull off half of the dough and shape it into a ball by pulling on the top of the round and tucking it under to the bottom, turning the round 90 degrees after each pull and tuck (no this isn’t plastic surgery). Roll the dough onto a floured flat surface... in order to get the pizza onto the pizza stone, you’ll need to then get the dough to a pizza peel covered with corn meal (you can use the underside of a flat sheet pan as well). Move quickly so the dough doesn’t get stuck to the pizza peel... sauce, toppings, cheese, and GO! Shake the pizza onto the pizza stone in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Check and continue baking if required. Let the pizza cool for a bit and serve...preferably with a fantastic this one.

Brown Porter
The city where I work is right next to a military base, which serves as a teaching college for American officers, as well as for officers from our allied countries. We are very good friends with the British family, who traded some of my IIPA beers (from my last post) for some English bottles... I think I made out the best of the deal! The Fuller’s Porter, pictured, was among the bottles I received, which according to the officer and his wife, was special ordered from the UK. I may have shared my Brown Porter recipe before, but it’s something I make time and time again, and continually improve in every new brewing experience. This really does remind my of New England Fall, so I think it’s time for another round -

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.013
IBUs: between 25-30
ABV: 5%

9 ½ lbs base malt, preferably British Continental (Marris Otter, for example)
1 lb Brown Malt
1 lb Crystal 40
½ lb Chocolate Malt
East Kent Golding hops - 25 IBUs at 60 min, and then a little flavor around 5 or 10 min
I use WLP013 or WY1028, but any British yeast will do depending on your tastes

Mash at 154*, sparge and lauter per the norm, boil, cool, ferment at 67*, keg and condition. I’m a big fan of little to no additional carbonation for these types of beers... 1 to 1 ½ volumes of CO2 at most for my tastes!

Some variations ideas (because you shouldn’t just do my recipe... make it your own!!):
Play with the amount of Chocolate Malt; I like to taste the Brown malt, so I use less Choc! Maybe substitute Fuggles for the EKG hops. Try adding a bit of Cocoa Powder, making a Chocolate Porter. Or try adding Pumpkin Spice mix

If you sub a yeast strain (which I highly recommend trying), make sure to compensate the attenuation rate of the yeast with the mash temperature. For example, if your yeast doesn’t attenuate as much, you need to make a more fermentable wort (mash temp needs to be lower).



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's Autumn, Damnit.

Rachel here.

So, my mom's stuck living in the part of the country that is freezing and living in darkness without flushable toilets or showers. Though I've been given a good deal of grief over living where I do over the years, I think it's pretty clear that I officially live in the right place. I mean, otherwise there'd be no blog posts until my mom's part of the grid turns back on (current forecast for that is next week...yup...NEXT WEEK) and then clearly you all would starve...or, at least die of boredom.

But anyway.

The mornings have turned cooler here, crisp and nipping and lingering longer over the days than they did a few weeks back. And though it's really not particularly fall-like here (we took M trick-or-treating in a sleeveless dress, for instance), I find myself craving the crackle of leaves beneath my feet and the pop pop pop of a wood fire.

So, I'm making fall happen.

I'm spending this afternoon (after I finish my grant know, in case my boss is reading this) roasting butternut squash and white onions to puree them into soup. I'm peeling a million apples to fill the kitchen with a sweet cinnamon-y aroma while they macerate and turn into sauce. And then, time allowing, I'm going to whip up a batch of pumpkin muffins (I haven't chosen a recipe yet for these, though...suggestions anyone?).

And while it all roasts and simmers and whatnot, I'll step outside into the sunshine and savor these last few warm days before the rain comes and soaks us through and makes me start to hate soup all over again.

What's happening in your kitchen lately?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oh Duh! Playdough!

Rachel here.

Have I mentioned that we have a toddler on our hands? Because we do. And by on our hands I, of course, mean overflowing from our hands.

M is on the go. She is up and down and twirling around from the moment she hollers to let us know she's awake to a few minutes after her exhausted parents tuck her into bed at night. She wants to do, too. She wants to tap, smell, twist and pinch. She wants to listen and examine and high-five everything and anything. And this means that we are on an endless quest for activities to do with her.

Enter playdough.

The last time we made the stuff was several years ago now with our other favorite kid, Sister Frances the Jedi Princess. Needless to say, we needed a brush-up on the recipe.

Umm...there are a LOT of recipes online.

I landed on and clicked through to the edible playdough recipe. It called for a package of kool-aid which, much to my surprise and horror, existed in our house. So I embarked on the recipe and ten minutes later we were all rolling bright red doughy balls in our hands.

And here's the thing: kool-aid doesn't stain your hands nearly as much as food coloring.

Here's the other thing: it smells really good.

And a few days later? Our playdough is going strong. It isn't dried out one bit. And that's just awesome.

3 tspn. cream of tartar
1 c. flour
1 c. water
1 package of kool-aid
1 tblspn. cooking oil
1/2 c. salt

Mix dry ingredients in a medium pan. Add water and oil. Stir over medium heat until doughy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Couscous Casserole, Anyone?

Janet here: On Monday it was 80 in California where we were visiting the Divine Miss M and her caretakers (aka Rachel and John). Today I drove home through the first snow of the season, a disgusting combination of slush and slop. I was not pleased.

So it goes in the Northeast this time of year. The leaves drop, the weather cools and I begin to think of serious comfort food to get me through winter. Thick hearty soups top my list but so do casseroles. This one from Not Your Mother's Casseroles — yes, I know I'm obviously a food stalker of Faith Durand since I've touted at least nine of her damn fine casseroles — had my husband raving something about how this was one of the best things I've ever made. Now to give you some perspective, I should note that Peter is one of the best people to cook for in the world. For 30 years (!) he has praised every single thing I've made — one notable exception but I'll be writing about that in an upcoming post — and thanked me for the meal. And it's been genuine (trust me, I can smell a food brown-noser a mile away).

I've also made some damn tasty meals over the years. So to hear him repeatedly rave about this every time he's warmed up the leftovers and say this is one of his favorite things ever — well, it's impressive.

So what are you waiting for? Get cooking! And let us know what you think.

Pearl Couscous Gratin with Goat Cheese and Spinach
serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
juice and zest of one lemon
1 shallot, minced
2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach, cut into ribbons
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until the couscous is a light brown. Add the broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat to low and cook for 14 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Uncover, fluff with a fork, and take off the heat.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous with the lemon zest, shallot, spinach and almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Then stir in the cottage cheese and about 3/4 of the goat cheese. Add this cheese and egg mix to the couscous mix and mix well. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the couscous mixture in the baking dish. Crumble the rest of the goat cheese on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Back for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What We've Been Up To....

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you can see why Rachel and I have been otherwise engaged for the past week. We were too busy actually talking to each other — and cooking in real time together! — to post. I would apologize but you've now seen Miss M and obviously will totally understand why we haven't written.

We also did a little Halloween project that takes about 3 minutes and will make your table/hallway/whatever instantly festive (or in our case Miss M's room for cute nightlights).

clean jars of various sizes
white tissue paper
black tissue paper
LED tea lights or regular tea lights
Modge Podge
small foam paint brushes

Rip pieces of white tissue paper and Modge Podge it onto the outside of the lights with your brush. Cut out faces in black tissue paper and Modge Podge onto the white tissue paper. Stick the candles inside. Light. Voila! Instant Halloween!

Stay tuned for tomorrow...some exciting news to share.....

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roasted Vegetable and Quinoa Salad With Pistachios

Rachel here.

A few nights ago, I made this recipe from an old "Real Simple" magazine. It was insanely easy and we've been eating leftovers for days (I love to cook once, eat thrice). Is it the tastiest meal in town? Nope. But it actually improved as it sat in the refrigerator after our initial dinner and, last night, when John and I finished the leftovers off, and added some cannellini beans, the dish was in its prime. Oh--and it's super healthy. If you're looking for meal that will make you pat yourself on the back for taking good care of your body, this is the perfect option.

Ok, so now is the time in the post where you all bear with me. I'm writing this on my smart phone and struggling a bit with the whole formatting thing. Apologies for any and all wonkiness.


1 lb carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 lb shitake or cremini mushrooms
2 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 T fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1 T fresh thyme (I used dried. Everyone survived.)
1 c quinoa
5 c baby spinach
1/4 c. chopped salted, roasted pistachios


Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss carrots and mushrooms with oil, salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until tender (15-20 minutes). Transfer vegetables to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and thyme.
Meanwhile, cook the quinoa (takes roughly 15 minutes). Divide spinach amongst the plates and top with the warm quinoa and veggies before sprinkling with pistachios and drizzling with oil.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make These Now Enchiladas

Janet here

I know I may seem just a little bit like a stalker of Faith Durand's new cookbook Not Your Mother's Cassroles. But I have to tell you that if I was going to buy one cookbook this year for someone I love, this would be the cookbook. I have now made about 9 recipes from this book and they've all been complete, total hits AND easy to make. Could you ask for a better combination?

Anyway, part of the love fest I have for this particular recipe is that you can make it ahead and then enjoy your company...which is precisely what I did on Friday night when we invited over some of our favorite people, Karen and Pete, for dinner. We haven't seen them in a while and I wanted to be able to enjoy the visit as opposed to spend most of it in the kitchen while everyone else was talking and having fun.

Mission accomplished: I spent with our friends and we had a good diner. The proverbial win-win.....What I did not do was take a photo. Actually I thought I had taken a photo but I can't find it on my phone. I suspect the gin and tonics have something to do with my memory here — another reason to make the meal ahead :)

Turkey Enchiladas with Spinach and Cheese

serves 6


olive oil
8 cloves of garlic, sliced in half
1 1/4 pounds fresh baby spinach
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste

for the enchilads

12 6-inch corn tortillas
4 cups choppped roasted turkey
2 cups shredded cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease the baking pan with olive oil.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cooks just until wilted. Then added the broth and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and then add the scallions, cilantro, and jalapeno. Cool slightly. then blend in a food processor until smooth. Add the lime juice and season to taste.

Overlap half the tortillas in the baking pan. Sprinkle half of the turkey over the tortillas. Then pour in half of hte spinach mixture

Friday, October 14, 2011

Talk Does Not Cook Rice

Rachel here.

This is a tiny post, rendered by tiny toddler hands and mine, come together in the kitchen for the first time.

This is my blog with my mom; this is my first post about cooking with my own daughter.

Maxine is interested these days. She's interested in everything--what's behind doors and under pillows, how things come together and fall apart. She wants to partake, to join, to share in everything. If I open the dishwasher, she closes it. When she comes into our room in the morning after having breakfast with her dad on our days off, she lies down next to me and pretends to sleep. Her fine motor skills are growing stronger by the second. She gets more spoonfuls of food into her mouth now than she misses; she can poke her finger up her nose on her first try.

So, last night, we made rice together. I filled measuring cups and she dutifully poured their contents into the pot. She stirred everything up and then hung out on my hip declaring hot hot hot as I set the burner to its proper heat. When the rice was done, and came out perfectly (not always the case when I'm at the helm), we high-fived and she clapped.

It was a tiny moment. But, as we separate physically more and more, as she ceases to viscerally carry the days when we were bound, here was a tiny reconnection, a new site of unity.

And I thought of the many afternoons I spent in the kitchen with my own mother as a girl, and of our coming together in this space across time zones and kitchen tables, and I smiled.

Someday I will pass down to her the recipes I have from my grandmothers and my mother. Maybe Max will love cooking; maybe she'll be the take-out queen. There's a Chinese proverb that says something to the effect of talk does not cook rice. Whether she seeks the kitchen as much as her dad and I do or not, I hope she knows that she is always welcome alongside me there, that we can come together silently in the simple act of cooking rice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Life Gives You Sushi-Grade Tuna...

Rachel here.

You know our friends Em and Phoebe? The super awesome ones we hosted that party with a week or so ago? Well, this past week they swung by to deliver us fresh-from-the-Atlantic sushi-grade tuna that Em's dad caught.


Completely out of my culinary comfort zone, John dutifully took the reigns and whipped up rare sesame-encrusted steaks with a soy, ginger and flax dipping sauce one night only to weasel his way deeper into my heart the next night by presenting me with ceviche accompanied by homemade corn tortilla chips.

Be still my beating heart.

I have no recipes to offer because John doesn't use them much and I didn't cook a thing. I do, however, have some crappy photos make you all jealous with.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Roasted What?

Janet here:

My father-in-law was coming for dinner and I wanted to make an appetizer that wouldn't ruin his appetite. He's tended to overindulge on the appetizers in recent months and then not eat much of his dinner, which is actually the part that gives him the most nutrition.

So, inspired by something I'd seen in a magazine, I decided to try roasting some chick peas. You seriously couldn't ask for an easier recipe, and it's light and good for you — the winning combination. I used a Southwestern rub from Penzey's Spices this time around, but I absolutely will be experimenting with other flavors down the road. You can use whatever rub or spices you want to create your own concoction. Let us know what you come up with!

Roasted Spicy Chick Peas

1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained, rinsed and then dried (pat them with a towel after they drain)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) barbecue rub or chili powder or whatever you want for spices, salt, pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning mid-way. Be careful not to over-cook. Let cool. Eat.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chili and Beer Nights

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel -

I’m a big fan of stews, soups and chili because no two batches ever turn out the same! I was recently out to dinner with a friend, and he had just started his life-long journey into the art of chili making, which he described to me in as much detail as the recipe he received. He started his adventure by asking his mother for a recipe. As we all know, mothers’ recipes are often not as precise as what we’d like to see in cookbooks. The conversation went something like this:

“What ingredients do you use?”
“Well, whatever I have on hand... but I try to include some meat, and some beans, and I guess some veggies”
“What kinds of spices do you use?”
“Whatever I feel like... chili powder, maybe some sugar, definitely cumin”
“Cumin - how much?”
“Maybe 2 or 4”
“Well is it 2 or 4? And 2 or 4 what?”
“I don’t know”
“Ok... well how long do you cook your chili for?”
“A while”

While I respect my friend for trying to recreate his mother’s recipe, I’m surprised by how many folks are afraid to work without a recipe. For me, the obvious allure of chili is the improvisation. Every batch I make is different, with a few of these important “truths”:

1.) I always include some sort of ground meat. Not growing up with pork, I generally use beef or turkey. If you use beef, don’t get anything that is too lean; you need the fat for flavor (there are exceptions of course!). Also consider lamb, bison or even venison.
2.) Although canned beans are easier, I try to use dried. A little planning is involved, but you just soak overnight and you’re good to go. Try two different types of beans instead of just kidney beans, for example!
3.) Spices should always include chili powder, garlic and cumin. Experiment with some cinnamon, maybe some sugar, and chipotle seasoning. Also try fresh chillies, dried chillies, and even canned peppers in Adobo sauce.
4.) Veggies can include onions, green peppers, tomatoes, maybe some corn (Trader Joe’s sells frozen sweet corn that is flavorful if you can’t get fresh ears.)
5.) Bacon. I don’t use it in every batch, but everything tastes better with bacon! Get some flavorful thick-cut bacon, cut it into smaller pieces, cook the bacon, render the fat and then use it. If you need ideas on what to use the bacon fat for, then maybe improvisation chili isn’t for you! (Just a hint, if you’re using bacon, maybe try lean beef... no need to have more grease in your dinner!)
6.) Try cooking in a slow cooker... and on the stove top... and even in the oven, if you have a casserole dish

And that’s where I’ll leave it! Chili is really such a versatile meal: It can be vegetarian, made in advance in the slow cooker for busy days, and is perfect for cooler evenings (and especially fall football). AND it can be relatively healthy, too (I am preparing for my second marathon, and it’s a staple in our house!)

Batch o’ the Moment Chili
¼ pound kidney beans
¼ pound black beans
¼ pound bacon (I like Applewood smoked) cut into 1-inch pieces
½ pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper or 2 jalapenos if you like
2 or 3 cloves garlic
Hard cider or non-fermented cider (I use my own!)
Chili powder, start with 1 tablespoon and go from there
Cumin, start with 1 tablespoon and go from there
Hot sauce to taste

Soak beans in water for 6-8 hours. Drain the beans and rinse with cool water, drain again, and set aside until ready to use. Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until browned and the fat is rendered; remove bacon from pot and set aside.

Brown the beef in the bacon fat; remove with a slotted spoon when nicely cooked and set aside. In the remaining fat in the pan, saute your veggies, starting with the onion and then adding the pepper and finally the garlic. Season along the way. Deglaze the pan with some cider — this will enhance the flavor from the Applewood smoked bacon — and then add the meats and beans. Cover and cook slowly for at least an hour or until the beans are tender. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and any other of the traditional accompaniments!

Hopburst IIPA
We’ve talked about this before... IPAs (and IIPAs, aka “Double IPAs” or “Imperial IPAs”) are a versatile style. I can go into my ingredient supply, grab some grain, grab some hops, and make an IPA almost any time. Building an IPA is much like building chili... a little of this, a little of that. In my mind, a pale ale is a baby version of the IPA while the IIPA is the grand-daddy version: more malt, more hops, and of course more alcohol. By sticking within a few vague guidelines, we can create a great beer experience depending on our moods, the seasons, and of course the ingredients on hand!

I currently have two versions of the following recipe on tap. I brewed this beer for a beer tasting we do at work as a fundraiser, and it was a great success. I employed a technique known as “hopbursting” where the majority of the hops are added later in the boil (rather than spaced throughout), resulting in smooth bitterness and tons of hoppy aroma and flavor! While the recipe is based on a kit by Northern Brewer (a huge brewing supply company out of St. Paul Minnesota), I have certainly put my own twists on these beers... And it’s my belief that IPAs and IIPAs do NOT get better with age, so drink these fresh (at least within the next 6 months!)

16 ½ lbs 2-Row Base Malt
2 lbs Corn Sugar (you can use Cane Sugar as well)
1 lb Crystal 60
2 oz Cluster Hops at 60 minutes
2 oz Cluster Hops at 30 minutes
12 oz total of Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe & Warrior Hops blended in a bowl resulting in 3 oz added at 15, 10, & 5 minutes, and then flameout - version 1
12 oz total of Crystal, Cascade, East Kent Goldings & Summit Hops blended in a bowl resulting in 3 oz added at 15, 10, & 5 minutes, and then flameout - version 2
House American Yeast

Mash at 155* and sparge as usual (I go with a relatively high mash temperature because of all the simple sugar added...There needs to be some long-chain dextrins in order to provide some body, which will counteract the dryness the sugar will impart). Plan to run out an extra ½ gallon of wort to compensate for what the hops will soak up. Boil and add your hops according to the schedule listed above. You can either add the sugar towards the end of the boil, or leave it out of the boil altogether; if you leave the sugar out of the boil, you should plan to add it when about ⅔ of the fermentation has completed (begin fermentation, when the airlock begins to slow, boil about ½ gallon of water with ½ cup of DME and the 2 lbs of sugar and pour it into your fermentation. The idea is that the yeast consume the maltose before turning to the easier-to-process glucose, resulting in complete fermentation and a drier beer. I used this technique in my first batch).

I ferment this beer with my house American yeast, which is the Pacman strain. Pacman is known for being highly attenuative (completes fermentation) and I easily ferment with it at 60-62*. You can use almost any American strain, such as California Ale from White Labs or American Ale from WYeast. I suggest nothing lower than 65* or you might get too dry a beer. Because hot alcohols are created during the first phase of fermentation (as the yeast are replicating), I make sure my beer is at fermentation temperature BEFORE pitching my yeast (I get the beer into the carboy, and then into the fridge which has already been set to 62*... from there it only takes a few hours to get to the right temperature. If your wort chiller is good enough to chill all the way to pitching temp, feel free to pitch right away of course!). Once you feel fermentation is about ⅔ finished, even after adding your corn sugar, raise the temp to 65-68* to ensure complete fermentation. Carbonate as you would any American beer, roughly 2 ½ volumes of CO2.

As many of you remember, I made my Life Told in Recipes debut with my beer dinner last December. I will not be ready to host another dinner until March, but I’m beginning my planning now! The beers are pretty much set, but I’m open to suggestions for my food pairings... any ideas? I have decided to follow a course of the Abbey Ales: Single (also called Belgian Blond Ale... this would have been the Monks’ table beer, like Leffe Blond), Dubbel (similar to Chimay Red or Westmalle Dubbel), Tripel (Chimay White or La fin du Monde), and Quad (also called Belgian Strong Dark, Rochefort 10 Blue or Chimay Blue). I would also include as a bonus beer the Quad fermented on sour cherries, which is a traditional Belgian fruit. My Belgian yeast strain is rather spicy/peppery, so that needs to be taken into consideration when pairing with food... so thoughts? Any help us greatly appreciated!


- Mike TGBG