If you’ve been hanging out here for a while, then you already know how dearly I love Sarah of Well Dined.
She is one of my favorite people on the planet! Sarah has been unspeakably kind and generous to me in the seven years (!) we’ve known each other. She is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and hilarious. She is bold—and I don’t just mean her hair—and she pursues life fully. I am grateful to Sarah for stretching me as a cook, for her encouragement and patience through all of my motherhood woes, and for being the best friend a girl could ask for.
Which is why I am so excited to be cooking from Well Dined for the September Secret Recipe Club challenge!
Months ago, when Sarah joined the SRC, I mentally earmarked this spinach and gruyère strata to make whenever I got assigned to cook from her blog. But…surprise! During one of our subsequent lunches, she mentioned this amazing caramelized French toast she makes, and I knew my life would not be complete without it, so I decided to make that instead. And then, when the assignment actually happened, I got so excited about making some kind of ravioli, which Sarah makes all the time—and we talk about endlessly—that I threw out all my breakfast plans entirely. This somehow turned into the joy of hiding vegetables inside of pasta sauce.
I was a ripe 13-year-old when I first took a formal German class. Middle schoolers are delighted by the idea of pretending to be someone they are not, so it probably comes as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed picking out a German name to go by. (I’m still a little sad that this tradition is falling by the wayside. P.S., my “German” name was Andrea.)
Before I share the next tidbit from my early German career, let me first apologize to everyone named Günter, and all German women and German people in general. Because, you see, as my equally pimpled friends and I perused the list of German names in our textbooks, we were struck by how funny they sounded. For some reason, our mirth centered on the name Günter, as we pictured a ruddy and rotund, aproned German mother calling for her son out the front door while stirring a very large bowl of dough.
We, unfortunately, spent the rest of the year pretending to stir invisible bowls of dough and giggling.
This image popped back into my head as Sarah and I were wrestling with the bowl of spaetzle dough.
And, by the way: it’s pronounced “sh-paytes-luh.” Don’t let me hear you calling it “spatsl.”
The summer after I graduated from high school, my best friend and I started a weekly ritual we called “wife practice.”
We decided to learn how to cook, something our mothers had been trying to teach us for years. We spent hours making peanut pork with cellophane noodles and potato crust quiche and French silk pie. (Only the most practical dishes for our future husbands, let me tell you.)
I thought Debby walked on air because she had this brash disrespect for the recipes we were preparing. Unlike me, she had already mastered putting her own spin on a dish as she cooked. She knew when a coarse chop would do the trick, she didn’t measure her salt, she irreverently used ingredients that were less expensive, she had favorite chefs and favorite cheeses, she knew what a tomatillo was…
When I first ventured out on my own and began putting together a collection of meals I could make, 50% of them were Debby’s. Debby’s spindiforous chicken bundles, Debby’s verde burritos, Debby’s Mediterranean orzo, Debby’s focaccia bread. All these years later, I still leave her house thinking, “I have to go home and make that right away!” every time I eat with her.
When my mom comes to visit, I get kind of excited.
For obvious reasons! She’s the best!
But also because her visits pull me out of my dinner ruts. She doesn’t eat wheat or dairy, so sometimes I have to get really creative to make meals that we can all enjoy! (We eat a lot of Asian cuisines.)
I was a little skeptical about this pasta at first, because I don’t typically love savory coconut without its best friends chili and curry. When I tasted the broth halfway through, I heaved a great sigh of disappointment that it was weird and bland despite its bursting tomatoes and lemongrass.
But dinner must go on (the natives were hungry), and so must I. And much to my surprise, after I added in a generous splash of lime juice and fish sauce, the boring and vaguely sweet coconut sauce turned into this amazing, tangy, practically drinkable concoction.
A symphony of flavors.
I’m having a problem. Maybe I can blame this on motherhood (is mommy-brain a real thing?), or maybe old age (eek! turning 30 in 3 weeks!), maybe on the plethora of technologies ever at my fingertips…
I can’t ever remember where anything is anymore. That used to be my superpower. I always knew where everything was! I could always remember where I saw something first, where I left it, where Dave left it, how to find it again.
But now? I keep finding recipes in magazines and cookbooks and dog-earing them to make later, and then never seeing them again.
To be honest, I am really not sure how this recipe escaped that fate. It’s such an odd choice for my family, as Dave hates both gnocchi and cooked squash. Gnocchi is the opposite of a quick and easy meal, so it’s really not what I need in my life right now. And yet, from the instant I saw it, I was smitten.
Dave walked in the door exclaiming how good dinner smelled (good start), enthused about eating it (even better), and ended the meal with a clean plate, saying the flavors and textures were perfect and we should eat this again soon.
Guess it was fate that I remembered this recipe!
I can’t believe my beautiful girl is 4 weeks old! But it was a long road in getting there (and I’m not just talking about sleepless nights)…did you know she was a week overdue?
I spent a lot of time during the last few weeks of my pregnancy doing one “last” adventure with Jake, one “last” trip to the store, one “last” load of laundry/other heinous cleaning chore… I sure was ready to meet my girl and stop being pregnant! But she was pretty cozy and reluctant to make her entrance. Finally, I decided to try smoking her out.
This meal was one of many versions of what I called “Get-Out-Of-Me-Baby” food: simple, spicy dishes that I hoped would somehow convince Caitlin that the outside world would be a welcome change.
(In case you wondered…the spicy foods didn’t faze her. But this was still a delicious meal!)
I am so excited about Spring, aren’t you? Spring flowers and warm weather and kicking a soccer ball around with my son in our backyard…
But sometimes I just have a hard time saying goodbye to Winter. Especially this year, when I basically avoided my kitchen all Winter unless company came over or I had a hankering for dessert.
So today, on the very last day of Winter, I just can’t resist sharing one final amazing dish with you: butternut squash lasagna.
This baby is so delicious, and so worth the effort! And because it is full of sweet squash instead of greasy meat and spicy tomato sauce, you could even get away with eating it in Spring. I’m just saying.
The weather is finally cool. Every time I look out the window, I can see a light drizzle of leaves falling from the maple in my front yard.
Which, of course, means it’s finally time for heartier, creamier food. It’s time for mac and cheese.
And what could be better than topping our platter of cheesy pasta with darkly caramelized onions and crunchy breadcrumbs? Nothing, I think.
Every time I hear the word puttanesca I think of Lemony Snicket.
There is a rather fantastic scene in the first book of the series (okay, and also in the movie) in which the three Baudelaire orphans must make a meal for a horrible uncle whose kitchen is mainly full of old tools, dust, and bugs. The resourceful kids manage to gather just enough actual food to cobble together a pasta dish—puttanesca, which apparently means “very few ingredients.” (Okay, it doesn’t really mean that. But it sounds better than the real meaning, so I am running with it.)
I had never had pasta puttanesca before. I had never heard of it before. And after reading the ingredients Lemony Snicket listed out, I pretty much vowed I would never try it. College me…not such a big fan of anchovies and olives.
But look! I have grown! As have my taste buds! Which is why I was so excited to come across a recipe for puttanesca on Mostly Food and Crafts, my Secret Recipe Club blog for May. I haven’t made pasta in a looong time. But since Dave asks for spaghetti almost every time I consult him on what to eat for dinner, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to tune in to his suggestion!
This year I got to host my mom’s birthday celebration again.
Of course, the most important part of any real birthday celebration is the cake. But the meal is also a big deal, especially for someone who can’t eat dairy or wheat but still wants to share something special.
My mom pretty much gives me free reign to try new foods when she comes to visit, but for this particular meal with all its importance, I was just stumped. Then, my darling husband suggested Vietnamese, and I instantly conjured up a mental mouthful of rice noodles, grilled shrimp, and crushed peanuts, accented by a mouthwatering sour-spicy sauce.
So we had noodle bowls. And they were delicious!
You should have noodle bowls, too. This is like a great, big, noodle salad. It involves very little cooking (except, of course, the shrimp and the noodles), and you can serve everything warm or cold, which is perfect for unpredictable situations like having company! And, bonus, each eater can customize their bowl to their liking. A perfect, simple meal for guests!