Rachel here: This past Christmas, my mom gave John a subscription to the Food Network’s magazine. While I try to let John read it first when it arrives in the mail, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t also read it cover to cover each month. There’s always a huge mix of recipes, some of which get my mouth watering and others which don’t. In the most recent issue, though, there was something that I just knew I had to make and pronto: fried pickles.
Ok, so all pregnant women like pickles, or so the folk lore seems to go. I, however, have always loved pickles. Growing up we each had a special Christmas ornament; mine was a pickle. On my birthday? Yup, more years than not I receive a card that is in the shape of a pickle. Pickles, I guess you could say, are kind of my thing. Throw pregnancy into the mix and, well, you get the picture. I had never had a fried pickle before I made these and I will definitely be having them again. In case you’re not a pickle fanatic, I’ll let you know that John isn’t either and he devoured these.
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. cornstarch, divided
1/2 c. corn meal
2 T. chopped fresh dill
2 tspn. paprika
salt and pepper
3 dozen pickle slices (I bought really good pickles and sliced them myself, though certainly pre-sliced would work)
In a bowl, beat the egg. Add the milk and a hearty dash of cayenne. In a separate bowl, place 1/4 c. of cornstarch. In a third bowl, mix the remaining cornstarch, cornmeal, dill, paprika, salt and pepper. Dip the pickle slices in the plain cornstarch, then the egg mix, and finally into the cornmeal mixture. Fry in 2 inches of canola oil until golden brown. Drain on a towel.
*The magazine suggests serving with ranch dressing to dip in. I sliced a baguette, toasted the slices, smeared cream cheese on them and then topped with the fried pickles. It was super yummy.
Janet here: While I, too, was intrigued by the idea of fried pickles, I thought it was best to leave this for the pregnant part of this duo. Instead I decided to make my own fries, something I’ve thought about but never actually done. While the result was not quite as crispy as I would like, I was pretty pleased with this first attempt and think there are going to be a lot more homemade fries on our family’s dinner table.
serve 3 or 4
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 large potatoes, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch strips
salt to taste
Mrs. Dash’s seasoning blend or whatever seasoning you want to taste. I used the Southwest Chipotle but the possibilities are endless of your own variation: garlic, red peppers, whatever.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Wash and cut the potatoes. I did mine by slicing the potato in half lengthwise and then slicing each half into slabs that I then cut into 1/4 inch strips. Some of the longer strips I cut in half, but it all depends on how you like your fries.
Place the potato, oil, salt and seasoning in a big bowl and mix well. Spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray. (I use Pam organic canola oil.) Place the mixture on the sheet in one layer. Bake for 35 minutes.
Janet here: For someone who pays so much attention to putting a meal on the table and nourishing people — physically and emotionally and spiritually — with food, you’d think I’d take more time to eat. But I don’t: I wolf my food down and am usually fiddling with my utensils while everyone else is just getting down to it.
I also recently noticed — thanks in part to this blog and how it has me thinking about food and eating all the time — that I eat breakfast standing up most days of the week or while driving in my car to work, and that I eat all my weekday lunches working in front of the computer or, on weekends, standing up at the kitchen counter. In other words, while I want everyone I cook for to sit back, relax and enjoy every bite, I don’t actually allow myself to do the same.
It was kind of a big epiphany, especially since a lot of what I’ve been working on personally in the past few years has been self-care and love. It was one of those moments when you stop and think Really? This is what I’m doing?
Of course, in some ways I’m not surprised that food would be one of the last frontiers of self-discovery. Eating has always been fraught with emotional issues, starting with the days when I was called Janet the Planet in elementary school. But I thought I was “fixed,” that everything was “fine” now.
Instead, I realized that my speed eating is just another way to not really allow myself to fully nourish myself, to really enjoy the food as it’s meant to be enjoyed. It’s time for a change, one bite at a time. I can’t wait.
Rachel here: The other night I made, for the very first time, my favorite childhood meal: my mom’s Greek pizza. Growing up, this was what I asked for for my birthday dinners and the leftover I hoped would be mine when my brothers and I ate leftovers for dinner. I remember feeling like I had sophisticated taste buds because I was eating spinach and feta cheese, foods that weren’t staples per se due to the fact that I shared meals with G and S who, as has been mentioned before, weren’t always game for eating food that didn’t come in cute shapes. Anyway, since my mom did a post featuring this dish a few months ago, I’ve been craving it. The day that I was going to make it I felt a little bit excited all day. I don’t think I’d eaten this meal since I lived with my parents and I was nearly giddy by dinner time at the prospect of revisiting my favorite childhood food. If you haven’t made your favorite meal from growing up in a long time, I highly recommend that you do so. Cooking and eating this Greek pizza left me feeling all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for dinners in my parents’ kitchen, talking with my brothers and my mom about our days. It was fun to share it with John, too, since he had never had it. He dutifully ate seconds and totally understood why I was so excited to make this meal. This is a recipe, for sure, that I can’t wait to make for our kid in a few years. After all of these years of missing this meal, I’m glad I finally incorporated it into my kitchen. I didn’t make it quite as well as my mom, but I still felt like she was there by the stove with me and that, in and of itself, is just the kind of nourishment we all need sometimes.
Janet here: It’s funny to read Rachel’s post because I really didn’t realize as she was growing up, that this was such a big deal meal for her. I knew she liked it, of course, but I had no idea it was infused with so much emotion.
We really are so clueless aren’t we? We work so hard to make a moment special — cooking a special meal with all the right ingredients and candlelight, say, for a significant other — and yet so often it’s the little every day moments that actually make it all matter. While cooking with phyllo dough, a major ingredient in Greek pizza, was not something I did every day, I certainly never thought the nights I served it were “special,” and yet those moments apparently were. I guess the message is we should try to remember it’s all special because you never know the moment that’s going to “count” in someone else’s memory. Good to be reminded of that, I think, don’t you?
Rachel here: Ok, so I have to start with a confession: I haven’t actually read The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in its entirety. I desperately want to, though, and am crossing my fingers that I can squeeze it in once school is out (there are simply too many pages to read when you are a rhetoric major). What I have read, though, delights me to no end. Here is an example from the first few pages of the chapter entitled “Murder in the Kitchen.”
The first victim was a lively carp brought to the kitchen in a covered basket from which nothing could escape. The fish man who sold me the carp said he had no time to kill, scale or clean it, nor would he tell me with which of these horrible necessities one began. It wasn’t difficult to know which was the most repellent. So quickly to the murder and have it over with. On the docks of the Puget Sound I had seen fishermen grasp the tail of a huge salmon and lifting it high bring it down on the dock with enough force to kill it. Obviously I was not a fisherman nor was the kitchen table a dock. Should I not dispatch my first victim with a blow on the head from a heavy mallet? After an appraising glance at the lively fish it was evident he would escape attempts aimed at his head. A heavy sharp knife came to my mind as the classic, the perfect choice, so grasping, with my left hand well covered with a dishcloth, for the teeth might be sharp, the lower jaw of the carp, and the knife in my right, I carefully, deliberately found the base of its vertebral column and plunged the knife in. I let go my grasp and looked to see what had happened. Horror of horrors. The carp was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree. Limp, I fell into a chair, with my hands still unwashed reached for a cigarette, lighted it, and waited for the police to come and take me into custody.
From here, Toklas effortlessly segues into a recipe for carp stuffed with chestnuts. Are you kidding me? This woman was amazing. It almost seems like she could single-handedly be credited with laying the foundation for Amy Sedaris and Martha Stewart’s culinary and hostessing careers. Toklas is in turns funny, insightful, focused and irreverent and, thankfully, unlike her partner Gertrude Stein, she believes in the use of punctuation. I don’t know which I’m looking forward to most when I finally dig into this book, the commentary or the recipes. Both, to my taste, seem scrumptious.
Have any of you read this book?
Janet here: As a working and cooking mother, I am a big casserole fan. Not only is it easy to pull together a dinner quickly, but the possibilities are really endless for combinations. Seriously, all you need are the pasta of your choice, a sauce of some kind (whether it’s cheese based or not), and the goodies you want to put together plus spices. And you can make it all ahead and just plop it in the oven when you crawl through the door at the end of the work day.
Casseroles can also be a great way to hide certain ingredients that you might be trying to get past certain children who shall remain nameless. While parenting magazines always suggest ploys like cutting the food into shapes like clown faces, etc as a way to get a picky eater to eat, that never worked for me. I had to be a lot more devious…not that I was particularly successful. My middle son, G, basically lived on cans of Dinty Moore for about five years while the rest of my family ate real food. I took solace in the idea that those cans contained at least a version of something that once resembled a vegetable.
But I digress. Here’s my variation on tuna casserole. I hate mushrooms so you won’t find one anywhere near this, although you should feel free to add if you wish. What combinations do you like to put together for casseroles? Dish it up. We all want to know.
serves 6 or more
3/4 pound pasta–I use whatever I want but penne is particularly good
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, finely diced
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups low fat milk
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 6-ounce cans tuna in water, drained
1 10-ounce box frozen peas
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped broccoli
1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil and add the onions and celery. Saute until the onion is translucent, about five minutes or so. Add the flour and stir until the vegetables are well covered. Pour in the milk and broth stir over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Take it off the stove.
Mix the pasta, tuna, peas, broccoli and sauce in a large bowl. Pour into a casserole dish. Spread the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for about 35 minutes until the top is brown and the whole delicious concoction is bubbling slightly. Add some salad and French bread, and you are good to go.
Rachel here: I have never made a casserole. Seriously, not once. I’m not really sure why, although I suppose the fact that I don’t own a casserole dish probably has something to do with this fact. Casseroles seem so warm and hearty, though, and so classically domestic that I guess I’m going to have to acquire the appropriate cookware and remedy this oversight in my cooking repertoire. Plus, with a kid on the horizon, I’m imagining easy dinners are about to become even more appealing than they currently are (and trust me, with John and I both on the move most of the time, easy dinners are already pretty darn appealing). And so, though I know my mom already said this, what do you put in your casserole? Whoever presents the most alluring combination will provide the recipe for my very first casserole, complete with a shout-out on the blog and everything…once I buy the freaking casserole dish, that is.
John here: Before Rachel got pregnant, I knew two truths about pregnant women: they are hormonal and they are picky eaters. Rachel’s always been hormonal, I have tools for navigating that, but the food issue had me nervous. I can’t eat pickle sandwiches for dinner, I just can’t. Rachel did have a pickle phase but it was short lived and stayed mostly to eating them out of the jar and not in weird combinations like with ice cream or something else ridiculous. I could deal with that and I did. While I was expecting the worst from my beloved pregnant wife, sneaking yummy snacks so as to not be too hungry when her urge for okra or uncooked rolled oats kicked in, she was busy building a formidable hunger and unending desire for the staple food of her pregnancy: Hot Wings. Whoa…. Am I the luckiest man alive or what?
Rachel here: Before I go any further, I just have to say that while I’m quite pleased with my shortcake, when my mom said she was going to make my Grandy’s cheesecake, I instantly shifted cravings towards her recipe. When I want cheesecake, THIS is what I want (as opposed to what I usually end up trying to satisfy the craving with…not to knock everybody else in the entire world’s cheesecake…but seriously, this stuff is to die for) and, though I obviously could’ve gotten the recipe at any point during the last several years, I got really excited to finally lay my hands on it. I feel like I’m going to have to make it myself asap to deal with the nagging hankering I’ve developed.
But anyway, back to my recipe. John and I can do some serious damage to shortcake. One of the perks of living in California–and the Bay Area in particular–is that there are berries here virtually year round. When you combine this with a local grocery store (I know I’ve told you all about the Berkeley Bowl before…) that stocks locally-made baked goods, we could probably eat shortcake until we burst. It’s almost cruel that Berkeley Bowl stocks freshly made shortcakes next to the berries. But I digress…
From time to time (when I’m trying to stave off a dessert deluge), I make the shortcakes myself. Per usual, I use a recipe from The Best Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated (I adapted it ever so slightly) and, per usual, it doesn’t disappoint. You could use any type of fruit you wanted following the recipe for the fruit topping and, of course, a dollop of whipped cream never hurt anybody either.
2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for work space
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tspn. salt
5 T. sugar
8 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. plus 1 T. half-and-half or milk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
With rack on lower-middle position, preheat oven to 425 degrees. In your food processor (or not…I made this recipe pre-owning a food processor without any issue), mix flour, baking powder, salt and 3 T. of sugar. Scatter butter pieces over the mixture, tossing to coat. Cut butter into dry ingredients (if making by hand use a pastry cutter or two knives) and continue cutting until the butter bits are no longer than small peas. In a medium bowl, combine your beaten egg and milk. Add the flour mixture and combine with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Turn onto floured work surface and knead just until it all comes together. Pat the dough with your fingertips into a 9″ by 16″ rectangle (about 3/4-inch thick). Be sure not to overwork the dough. Using a cutter about 2 3/4 “, cut into 6 biscuits (I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter instead of the traditional biscuit cutter). Place on cookie tray 1 inch apart and brush tops with egg white. Sprinkle with sugar (I used demarara). Bake until golden brown, roughly 13 minutes.
3 c. raspberries
5 c. strawberries, sliced
3-6 T. demarara sugar
In a medium bowl, mash the raspberries. Add the strawberries and mix. Add sugar to taste. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes, although the longer the better.
Janet here: I have been jonesing for cheesecake. I had dinner with a friend last week and all I was hoping/thinking was that the restaurant had cheesecake for dessert. They didn’t. I had to settle for key lime pie — which was tasty but not the same thing.
Not surprisingly, then, when Rachel said she was making strawberry shortcake for this week’s blog dessert, I ignored the whole concept and said I was going to make this cream cheese pie that my mom used to make. Who cares if they’re not tied together by a fruit theme or whatever? I had a food itch and I had to satisfy it. Trust me: If you want/need a cheesecake fix, this recipe, which is way faster, will satisfy you in spades. Enjoy.
Cream Cheese Pie
1 1/4 cup graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cups melted butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, used 1/2 teaspoon at a time
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix the graham cracker bits and butter together until blended. Pat into an 8-9 inch pie crust.
Mix the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and eggs together with an electric beater. Pour into the crust.
Bake for 30 minutes. While baking mix together the sour cream, 4 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Spread over the top of the pie and cook an additional 10 minutes. Let cool.
Janet here: I first met Caroline, the author behind Table for Five, when I wrote about her family business, Our Daily Nuts, in my other job as a magazine editor. In a word, these nuts are fabulous and completely addictive with lots of creative flavors and always very very fresh. If you like nuts, you will want to check out these for sure.
Caroline’s blog, Table for Five, which I discovered while trolling on the Times Union website for local food ideas for my magazine, is as lovely as the nuts she helps to produce. A working mom, Caroline is interested in fresh, local food and feeding her family of three young children and husband Paul as well as she can. In other words, she’s just folks, which makes her recipes simple too. You read them and immediately think “I could make that.” In a world that’s increasingly complicated and where so many are trying to impress, I like that simplicity.
Rachel here: Ok, so I love Caroline. She and I grocery shop the same way. I, too, find myself reading every ingredient on a label, wary of purchasing anything that I don’t 100% understand the make-up of. The byproduct of this, of course, is a kitchen that often has random bits to cook with in it. When I read Caroline’s recipe for and rationale behind making lemon bars, it was like I was reading my own blog post. Why did she make them? Because she loves them and she always has too many lemons at her house because she can never remember if she has any when she goes to the store. For those of you who have read a lot of my recipes, my base ingredients are often in my house for similar reasons. Plus, Caroline makes cooking with what you have around seem so doable and, these days, we could all benefit from this lesson and inspiration.