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