labor day lamb ragù

My definition of what makes a good dinner has changed dramatically in the past year. The other night we had avocado toast and I felt accomplished for putting dinner on the table. Last night I was pleased to make spinach and gruyère quesadillas without burning myself as Willa clung to my legs.

Despite resigning myself to slightly simpler (yet hopefully still delicious) meals, I make sure to get a bit more extravagant from time to time. And if having friends in town for Labor Day weekend isn’t a reason to make a fancy meal, I’m not sure what is! So, Sunday night, after the littles were asleep, we sat outside and enjoyed Strozzapreti with Lamb Ragù.

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This was my first ragù. Dan regularly makes a spectacular red sauce, but I have not dabbled much in the meat sauces myself. I tend to be pretty scared of meat in the kitchen, but I can manage ground meat. And this recipe was not really that hard, but it did have me try some new techniques. For example, a spice packet. I’d never made a spice packet! (Obviously, since it required an extra trip to the store when I realized I didn’t have any cheesecloth.) And it held together through the entire simmering, which was the key to the flavorful sauce.

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It was a great dish to make with friends over, because after the inital prep, the sauce has to simmer for 2 hours, giving you plenty of time to drink, socialize, and set the table. Above all else, it was just nice to try a new recipe and enjoy it with good friends, wine, and adult conversation. (I did of course make sure Willa got to enjoy some leftovers for lunch the next day!)

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I was tempted to make this pasta dish too. Next time! What are your favorite “take more effort” meals?

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happy birthday, mom!

Today is my Mom’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom! Yay!

So, obviously, this post is in honor of her. There are so many things I love about my Mom, but one of them is her skill in the kitchen. I’m sure I’m not alone; so many of us grow up learning to cook from and with our parents. I, too, hope W will someday have lovely memories of her time with me in the kitchen.

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{Sesame-Spiced Lamb Meatballs and Smashed Chickpea Salad, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook}

Growing up, we always had a homecooked meal on the table at dinnertime. Family dinner happened almost every night, and my sister and I were responsible for setting and clearing the table. Some people remember specific dishes their parents made when they were kids, and return home as adults to again enjoy those meals. This isn’t really the case for me. I cherish moments with my Mom in the kitchen; just being in the kitchen with her. Helping her prep. Talking. Getting out ingredients or dishes. Setting the table. And, of course, trying different creations.

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{Harissa Ravioli, adapted from Heidi Swason‘s Super Natural Every Day}

My mom’s cooking has evolved a lot over the years. She’s much more adventurous than she once was. (She used to claim she hated curry. We’ve brought her around!) She now makes so many different dishes. She follows recipes. She improvises meals from the fridge.  She now orders specialty ingredients off the internet, and knows the pros and cons of every single one of our small town grocery stores. She does it all, really.

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{Sesame Seared Tuna with a Soy Dipping Sauce}

W and I made a trip east at the end of May, and spent a week at my parents’ house. Every night but one, we were in the kitchen, drinking a delicious libation; making a new dish. Mom is great about picking out and putting aside recipes she wants to try with me. She picks things she’ll know I’ll like, and dishes she wants me to help her make. She saves special bottles of wine for us, or makes special cocktails. My dad puts aside good beers for us to share. We always eat and drink well, and this trip was no exception.

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{dessert wine from eleven winery on Bainbridge Island // Lug-Tread from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company}

So much deliciousness. So much wonderful time spent with family. It was a great week. Thanks, Mom (and Dad)! I love you.

recipe list for molly wizenberg’s “a homemade life”

Have you read “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg (aka Orangette)? It’s a lovely book about Molly’s life experiences and how they relate to food and eating. I bought it a few years back at her book signing at the University of Washington. I’ve slowly read through it, chapter by chapter, each one ending with a recipe. I’ve added a few post-its on things I want to make, but for the most part I forget what recipes are in the book. She includes an index in the back of the book, but I find it hard to navigate. So I finally took the time to compile a recipe index. It’s been useful for me, so I thought I’d share, in case someone else might be having the same frustration with her book.

All of the recipes I’ve made so far from the book are fantastic. I wholeheartedly recommend you try the Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon (page 49). I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “prunes? ewwwww.” But honestly. They’re just dried plums. And once softened, they’re so good atop yogurt. Try them.

Recipes from “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg

Breakfast
Burg’s French Toast 39
Buckwheat Pancakes 68
Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar 131
Italian Grotto Eggs 140
Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon 49

Salads
Burg’s Potato Salad 14
Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula, and Goat Cheese 115
Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan 238
Spring Salad with Avocado and Feta 246
Frisee with Ham, Eggs, and Mustard Vinaigrette 264
Arugula Salad with Pistachios and Chocolate 296

Soups
Ed Fretwell Soup 156
Tomato Soup with Two Fennels 256
Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla 226

Mains
Bouchons au Thon 101
Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille 124
Doron’s Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro, and Golden Raisins 168
Cider-Glazed Salmon 181
Chana Masala 233
Little Corn Cakes with Bacon, Tomato, and Avocado 304

Vegetables
Cream-Braised Green Cabbage 186
Red Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper 222
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Coriander 192
Slow-Roasted Tomato Pesto 193
Cranberry Chutney with Ginger and Dried Cherries 210
Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde 271
Zucchini Noodles with Pesto 273
Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme 290
Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper 291

Sweets
Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake 20
Banana Bread with Chocolate + Crystallized Ginger 26
Coeur a la Creme with Raspberry Puree 33
Chocolate Cupcakes with Bittersweet Glaze 44
Hoosier Pie 55
Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears 75
Fruit-Nut Balls 80
Espresso-Walnut Toffee 83
Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges 88
Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache 94
Tarte Tatin 108
Jimmy’s Pink Cookies 132
Dried Fruit Pie 147
Rum Cream Pie with Graham Cracker Crust 150
Scottish Scones with Lemon and Ginger 174
French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon 204
Custard-Filled Cornbread 251
Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots 278
Vanilla-Black Pepper Ice Cream 285
“Our Wedding Cake” 312

vietnamese sandwiches

Um, have you ever had a bánh mì sandwich made with sausage? Because I hadn’t. Until this past weekend. And let me tell you, they’re on to something. The first time I made bánh mì with pork meatballs I thought it was genius. But those meatballs have nothing on sausage. Homemade handmade housemade sausage.

Let me back up a bit. Last Sunday, Dan and I headed out on our bikes for what I was calling “date day.” We’ve been out on a handful of “date nights” in recent months, but we felt like getting out in the sunshine and enjoying the city just the two of us. I planned a little bike excursion for us since we haven’t been able to bike together since W was born. We crusied along the bike trail alongside the Platte River, and our first stop was for some smoothies at Parsley. I’d heard they were the leaders in juicing in Denver, and some healthy drinks mid bike ride seemed like a good idea. Their smoothies were good, but they were nearly out of blueberries. So, they subbed in half raspberries for the “blueberry bliss” I ordered. It didn’t work out well. You can’t just mess up the integrity of your concoction, can you? I mean, I’m not in the juice business. But it seemed flawed.

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Anyway. Post smoothies and a stop in the park to play some catch, we ended our ride at the new Über Sausage in Lohi. They’d just opend a few days prior (no alcohol yet), but the place was shiny and new and the staff was über friendly. Ordering “The Vietnam” was a no brainer, and we also got “The Club” (rosemary chicken sausage with swiss, bacon, avacado, and tarragon aïoli). They let you pick if you want your sausage on a baguette, pita, or salad. I like the choice, but it also seems like your choice could mess up the overall taste. I mean obviously “The Greek” should be on a pita, but why would you get “The Vietnam” on a pita? We got the “The Cobb” as well, and ponied up $1.25 extra to have siracha mayo on our tater tots (um, how on earth can a little mayo and siracha cost $1.25!?).

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Both sausages were fantastic. The best part about The Vietnam was that the baguette was the perfect thickness and consistency. There’s nothing worse than a baguette that overwhelms the rest of the sandwich.

Moral of this story: if you’re in Denver, go to Über Sausage. If you don’t, buy yourself some appropriately flavored sausages and make your own bánh mì. Stat. Oh and get out on your bike this spring. Biking is fun.

GOOD LOOKIN’ VIETNAMESE SANDWICHES
Pork Meatball Bánh Mì
Saveur’s Banh Mi
Master Banh Mi Sandwich
Banh Mi with Lemongrass Pork
Vegetarian Spicy Banh Mi

great recipes. that your baby will like too.

Before having a baby, I hadn’t thought about many of the challenges that would come along with a little one. (The crying, for example. Oh my gosh the crying. I naïvely thought that babies only cried when they needed something and if their needs were met they didn’t cry much. Maybe this is the case for some magical babies out there, but not mine. I was not prepared for the crying.) One thing I did think a lot about, unsurprisingly, was food. I was barely pregnant when I was thinking daily about how my little one would not EVER be ordering off the “kids menu.” I read Hungry Monkey and French Kids Eat Everything, and formed a lot of strong opinions about how kids should be eating and what is wrong with how a lot of kids in our country are fed. Now, who knows what will actually happen…I’m sure there will unfortunately be quite a few chicken tenders in our future. But nevertheless, I set some mental goals for how I want to feed W, and how I hope she’ll eat. My main principle has been to try my  best to feed her whatever we’re eating, as early as possible.

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Since she started solids at 6 months, she’s tried quite a few new foods. I started off making purées of mostly vegetables (didn’t have her try fruits until after 7 months) but by 8 months she was pretty much done with purées. Despite not having any teeth, she wanted to eat whatever we were eating. Fantastic! Since this is what I wanted anyway. However, there are still some considerations that must be made when planning meals. I tend to make a lot of salads, and salad greens aren’t really something a toothless 10-month old can manage without gagging. But I’ve found a good number of meals that satisfy all members of the table. Including our dog, who gets lots of scraps these days.

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{enjoying some cantaloupe // we love her phil + ted’s high chair! it attachs anywhere so she’s part of the fun}

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bakedpolenta{whole wheat coconut waffles // baked polenta with tomato basil sauce}

FAVORITE RECIPES.
Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas
(Cookie + Kate)
This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I’ve written about it before. It’s just so easy. So healthy. So delicious. And on top of all that, it’s great for little ones. The sweet potatoes are so soft that they’re easy for little gums to chew, and the black beans with cheese make for yummy and nutritious bites as well.

Baked Polenta with Tomato Basil Sauce (Joy the Baker)
This is a delightful comfort dish. Lacking a bit on the nutrition side, but it’s still a good introduction to the taste of tomatoes and basil. I’d leave out some of the hot pepper flakes, or portion out some polenta before adding the pepper, depending how your kids feel about spicy. I figure kids all around the world are eating spicy food, so you might as well try giving it to them! Also note that this dish gets really hot. Make sure to let it cool before feeding your little one. (Yep, I maybe made that mistake. Felt like a terrible mother…)

Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup (The Kitchn)
So good! So easy! Delicious for all members of the family. Also freezes well.

Market Fritatta (Lottie + Doof)
This is one of my favorite fritatta recipes. Easy and delicious. And eggs are great for little mouths. (I know some parents prefer to wait until a certain age to give eggs…I subscribe to the research that indicates there’s little evidence that waiting to give children certain food will prevent allergies and in fact being exposed to foods earlier rather than later may prevent some allergies. But of course do whatever you’re comfortable with!)

Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus (Food + Wine)
I make a lot of lentil/dal dishes for W. They’re easy to eat since they breakdown so much, and are also a good source of protien and fiber. I really liked this recipe though, because it introduces some new flavors – tamarind and asparagus. Asparagus tips are easily chewed. W wasn’t sure what to make of them at first, but started to like them after a few tries.

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I could go on an on…so many great recipes! Check out my pinterest pages for more ideas!

brunch

When we were packing up to move from Seattle to Denver, we, like most moving are apt to do, tried to streamline our belongings. For a variety of reasons, I really wanted to get rid of our Sausalito dinnerware from Pottery Barn. (I couldn’t recommend it less. Chips! Scratches! Too big!) I was able to restrain myself enough that we didn’t end up plateless upon arrival in Colorado, but I did get rid of several plates and mugs. For our wedding, I registered for 12 place settings, which was all well and good, but who the heck needs 12 mugs? I mean, seriously? Since we of course have plenty of other mugs from colleges, jobs, and all those other random places you pick up free mugs. In a moment of frustration, packing up our 20th “kitchen” box, I proclaimed, “the only reason you need this many matching mugs is if you host a lot of brunches, and we never have any one over for brunch!” In that moment of decisiveness, I threw out most of our mugs. (Er, I put them on the side of our busy 4-lane road under a “free” sign, and they were gone in less than 5 minutes.)

The past two weekends, we’ve hosted brunch. Apparently, when you have kids, brunch is great. The little ones are rested. Smiley! (And also, Denver seems to be all about brunching. Every restaurant serves brunch. Reservations are accepted!) Thankfully, I was able to pull together 4 Sausilito mugs so we could all enjoy coffee in a mature, matching fashion. But if we have more than 4 coffee drinkers over, I may be doomed. Or it might just be time to spring for the white dinnerware after which I’ve been lusting for years.

No matter what your mug situation, I recommend hosting a brunch sometime. There’s no better way to start a weekend morning than by enjoying coffee and breakfast treats with friends. And smiley kids.

MY GO-TO BRUNCH DISHES:
Boozy Bake French Toast | Smitten Kitchen
Orzo Scramble | Giada de Laurentiis
Banana Oat Pancakes | Cookie + Kate
Frittata Bites | epicurious
Vegan Waffles with Oat Flour | Basic Taste
Baked Blueberry Whole Grain French Toast with Streusel Topping | The Yummy Life

sweet potatoes

Fall has arrived. Well, actually, the weather got a bit carried away and skipped fall pretty much altogether and jumped to winter. And then it jumped back to summer. It was 28 degrees two weekends ago and yesterday it was almost 80. Whatever the temperature, the leaves are changing and I’m finally able to feel excited about fall flavors in a way I couldn’t a few weeks ago. I haven’t dove in on the squash yet, but I have been enjoying a lot of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes certainly aren’t just a fall food. I am known to enjoy a sweet potato fry any month of the year, but the do lend themselves well to heartier fall dishes. And word on the street is they’re pretty darn good for you too.

{colorado aspens}

Before I go any farther, we must address the nomenclature of the sweet potato. In most grocery stores I’ve shopped in, I see the “sweet potatoes” sitting next to the “garnet yams.” For the longest time I had no idea what the difference was, and when I was shopping for a recipe that called for “sweet potatoes,” I’d buy either one. Usually I’d go with the ones labeled “sweet potatoes” (obviously), but if all they had were “yams” (or if the “yams” were on sale!), I’d go with those.

Turns out, there are many varieties of sweet potatoes. Check out this Saveur slideshow of 16 types! I think the “sweet potatoes” you see most often in stores are Beauregards or jewels. And those “yams” are usually garnets. Because, get ready for this, yams are actually nothing like sweet potatoes! They’re a different food altogether. Huffington Post gets to the bottom of it, if you’re curious. I was.

Anyway. The point is you can buy whichever type of sweet potato your store happens to carry, and maybe if you’re lucky you’ll be able to find an heirloom variety. My hands-down favorite thing to do with sweet potatoes is to roast them. With some ancho chili powder. Or whatever seasoning you like. Smoked paprika works well. Or regular paprika and a little bit of cayenne. Once roasted, I love to eat them plain, or eat them on an arugula salad with a bit of crumbled goat cheese or feta. Here’s what you do:

Ancho Chili Roasted Sweet Potatoes
2 medium sweet potatoes, any variety
2T olive oil
2-3t ancho chili powder
1T coarse salt

1. Cut sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch rounds. (You can peel the potatoes if you hate the skin, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The skin is completely edible and contains lots of nutrients.)
2. Preheat oven to 450.
3. Mix olive oil, salt, and spices in a large bowl.
4. Add the sweet potatoes and stir or toss until most potatoes are coated in oil and spices.
5. Arrange rounds on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. I like to baste the rounds with more seasoning, using a pastry brush.
6. Bake for ~40 minutes, flipping potatoes rounds over (and adding more seasoning if desired) over after 20.

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{sloan’s lake, denver | photo courtesy of my mom}

OTHER FANTASTIC WAYS TO USE SWEET POTATOES
Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas

SWEET POTATO RECIPES I WANT TO TRY
Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie
Sweet Potato Falafel