In the past entries, Ben and I have mentioned our brunch club, where a small group of our friends will meet at a restaurant and catch up on what’s new and old in our lives. We like to try new places and on a couple of rare occasions we’ve gathered at one of our homes to enjoy brunch in. One of those times, I made an “egg bake” that combined several of my favorite foods into wonderful little individual servings. Modify it as you wish, but it’s definitely a tasty treat that is perfect for a brunch of one to one dozen….depending on how many ramekins you have in your kitchen.
When Natasha and I were discussing how we wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day we both liked the idea of performing random acts of kindness. Why not? Instead of only showing love and affection to each other, we should spread the love. There are many types, love between friends, the love of a parent, and even love shown to a perfect stranger- that is what makes the world go round. Sing it with me now: “All you need is love!”
On a day that traditionally celebrates romantic love, we agreed that we wanted to celebrate all forms and colors of love. But what did that look like? Handing out roses on the street corner? Free kid-sitting for parents without a sitter on date night? Buying dinner for the couple at the next table? Our hearts were in the right place, however, we knew that we wanted something a little more touching.
It wasn’t long before the idea of hug coupons came up (some people find the idea of being hugged by a complete stranger creepy) and with that, a cookie pairing was inevitable. 20 heart shaped sugar cookies with “hug me” pressed into them along with 2 kisses were packaged and tied with care. Our precious cargo was delivered to a community resource center where we knew the visitors could use some extra love. With it, we offered instructions that each package is redeemable for one hug and 2 kisses (one for each check). At that point, the cookie could be eaten or maybe even continued to be circulated for more hugs and kisses!
We knew that these cookies would put a smile in someone’s heart on Valentine’s Day and that was our main goal, but creating from our hearts together was an experience that made this day very special for us. Successful love spreading had been achieved!!
Story,Photo’s, and food styling by Dan Trefz
One of the books that I had the honor of shooting last year was for The Food Network’s Robin Miller. In her latest book, Robin Takes 5, she shows you how to use 5 ingredients to make a healthy meal for you and your family. The book is full of many great, quick and easy recipes- 500 to be exact. I can’t thank her and Andrews McMeel enough for the opportunity to be apart of this project. I hope everyone picks up a copy, and I can’t wait to see Robin’s next book.
I also have to thank my dream team Trina Kahl and Dan Trefz for their amazing food styling on this project. I’ve been fortunate to work with them- each bringing their own talents and enthusiasm to the projects that we’ve worked on since Robin Takes 5. I am also excited to announce that Dan and Trina will be joining Kim and I on the blog sharing their own personal food stories, recipes, and tips, so look forward to the change up in format and addition of these two Foodies.
This past year was a very exciting year for Ben as he had the opportunity to shoot several cookbooks. These books are not small projects. It’s easy to pick up a cookbook and take for granted how much work goes into the production of them- from the writing and editing, to the layout and design, to the styling of props, and the creation of the food, not to mention the lighting and capturing of each image- it’s meticulous work. Ben’s been fortunate to work on these projects with a strong team of artists, editors, creative directors, and wanted to celebrate the success of one these books by giving back by way of food on plate. We hosted a cocktail party at the studio, and Ben created a menu with 8, yes 8 different small plates for everyone to try. The mushroom flatbread was such a hit that we figured, if it’s good enough for our party, we think it might be good enough for yours.
This past fall Ben and I took a long overdue trip/honeymoon/holiday and found ourselves in Spain. It was a weeklong gastronomical adventure tapas hopping from one restaurant to the next. We did our best to eat and try as much food as humanly possible dining on octopus, iberico ham, prosciutto, ham croquettes (FYI, in Spain, the pig reigns supreme), salted cod, fine olive oils, cured tuna, foi gras prepared different ways, paella and the freshest seafood you could imagine. Amazingly, we did not gain the 5-10 lbs that we’d banked on bringing home with us due to all of the walking, sightseeing, and exploring that Barcelona and Valencia had to offer.
We had a recurring trend throughout our meals, and it began the first day at our first official Spanish tapas restaurant. We’d just unloaded our luggage at the flat that we’d rented, and wondered through the Born district in search of a bite to eat. We sat down to a meal of shrimp, tomatoes and goat cheese, foi gras with ginger bread, potato and ham croquettes, and a wonderful tomato bread that became our Spanish staple that we’re sharing with you here.
My dad has a green thumb, and so does Ben’s dad. The fall is the best time to go home to visit the parents in Iowa and score fresh, organic, home grown with love produce which can be anything from peppers, tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, to apples. My parents are will grown enough vegetables that will last them through the winter by storing potatoes and onions in a cool dry spot, and freezing chopped peppers that will be ready to go for one of my dad’s homemade pizzas- which you can’t beat. One of our last visits we brought home what seemed like a bushel and a big peck of Yukon potatoes, so we put them to work in pot with some leeks, some sausage, and some other ingredients and came up with a winner that I can guarantee will warm your belly and make your taste buds dance in the cold months to come.
Last weekend, Ben and I had the distinct pleasure of cooking with two up and coming foodies- brother and sister- Jack (10) & Lorelei (5). Jack had expressed an interest in learning how to cook to his parents. In turn, we were contacted to see if we’d be up for the task of cooking a gourmet meal with them, and our answer was an enthusiastic yes. We arrived at the home of Jack & Lo ready to discuss the menu, and Jack knew exactly what he wanted to create- mini beef ravioli. We bulked up the menu with two bruschettas- our take on caprese and another with prosciutto, and for dessert fresh fruit kabobs with romanoff sauce. Jack and Lo proved to be worthy sous chefs in the making kneading and rolling out pasta dough, stirring, tossing, seasoning, and tasting- quality control. The young duo gave Ben and me the best compliment that we’d ever received in the kitchen. Jack said that Ben and I would be “great lunch ladies”- just as good as a James Beard award. We had such a good time and the reviews for the mini beef ravioli received so many thumbs up that we just had to share. So, without further ado.the mini, the beefy, the ravioli.
I had the honor of traveling to Minnesota to go fishing with my father, 3 older brothers, and close friends. It is quite a trek considering that Lake Saganaga borders Canada. The trip provided many highlights and some well deserved down time with friends and family. We had 2 guides and 3 boats that took us The 3rd and final day of fishing I spent on a canoe. Although it was more work, and you end up with a sore back, I think that this is a true way catching these amazing creatures swimming in our beautiful boundary waters.
I brought back some walleye and created a healthy and delicious salad to compliment the fish. This salad can be made with any flaky white fish (assuming that you don’t have access to fresh lake walleye
We hope that everyone had a great weekend. We did celebrating our good friends’ weddings (Abby + Jason and Tim + Emily), the 4th of July, parents’ anniversary (congrats Judy & Steve to 40+ yrs of wedded bliss), and a sister’s birthday (Kari- happy birfday!), and we topped it all off with a trip to the emergency room. There was an incident in the kitchen, involving a Wustof, a bundle of cilantro and my left index finger. The good news is that the dish was saved and the finger was salvaged- thank you very much Resident, soon to be full-fledged Dr. Rassman. Hopefully you all were able to remain unscathed in your Independence Day festivities. I’m sure that you all had many BBQ’s and cookouts and more of those to come with the remaining month(s) of summer. So with that in mind if you do find yourself as a guest or host and can’t think of something light, summery, salady, and tasty, give this couscous salad a go because it fulfills all of thee above requirements.
As you may have noticed some time has passed since our last post… I want to apologize for that. Our business has grown and it has been a bit of a challenge keeping up with all aspects of life, work, family, friends, etc. I’m excited to say that one of the many great projects that I have been involved with this past year has gone to print and is on the shelves of your local bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Amazon…pretty much anywhere you can purchase books. The Heartland by Judith Fertig, is the first cookbook that I have been a part of and I couldn’t be more proud.
Judith, a local author, is an wonderful person. She has an amazing presence on set and stories that will make any foodie green with envy. It was an honor to be given the task of photographing her recipes. I want to say what a pleasure it was working with the Andrews McMeel Universal team. It was a true learning experience, and I’m glad that it was with this publishing company. I can’t not mention the incredible photography and food styling team that worked with me on this project. It’s been exciting working and growing with these talented people, and I really can’t say enough about them other than that they are awesome.
So that’s that. If you have the opportunity, pick up a copy and visit my work and create some of the delicious recipes by Judith, because they are as good as they look.
You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatillo
Forever now, anytime that I ever cooked anything that was of Mexican or Tex-Mex nature, I would jazz it up with a homemade pico de gallo that I learned at a restaurant (which will remain nameless) that I waited tables at years and years ago. I clearly remember that first time tossing fresh tomato, onion, lime, cilantro and jalepanos with naked hands. The memory of it still burns a little. You may be wondering why- that’s how they did it in the kitchen…while wearing latex gloves. Anyway, lesson learned, and it became my stand by- fresh, citrusy with just a hint of heat. Recently Ben and I have developed a new love for tomatillos and the wonderful verde sauce that I have been making. It all started with a trip to the grocery store shopping for the week’s menu, and there they were on sale 1 pound for a mere $1. Tomato. Tomatillo. I thought that I’d give it a whirl, and I’m so glad that I did.
Taking simple ingredients and turning them into unique treats is the goal of any cook. With a sweet potato, there are so many different ways to prepare this modest vegetable- baked, candied, mashed, pied, casseroled, pureed, roasted. I feel one of the best way to enjoy sweet potatoes is when they are cut into wedges and fried into a crispy wonderful finger food. The sweetness of this simple rustic treat pairs nicely with this easy to make dipping sauce.
Wait! It’s not what you’re thinking – Chinese takeout with white steamed rice and egg rolls and egg drop soup. Nope. Not even close. Two weeks ago, we got what could be considered a light dusting of snow (compared to the snowmagedon that’s happening outside now) that drove those with sleds and snowboards to Suicide Hill and Westwood park to take advantage of the fresh snow and left those without 4 wheel or all wheel drive stranded at home. Our good friends Joe & Teri fell into the latter category. Ben decided that we could not & would not have dinner alone while leaving Teri & Joe at home to fend for themselves. So, with the power of Pepe (our beloved Jeep) Ben went to rescue them while I roasted a beautiful whole chicken with, you guessed it, an orange marinade. I have to be honest, I had my doubts when Ben told me to “Get the bird. Juice the Cuties (oranges) with some herbs & stuff.” Little did I know that this was going to be a blog worthy recipe that I’d be sharing with you now.
*Please note that this meal transpired several weeks ago, and we have since dug ourselves out of the snow. Happy Roasting.
Cooking is a simple yet complex process. The final dish is so much more then the sum of its ingredient. The use of the correct seasoning or the appropriate herbs can make a dish taste complete. Cooking throughout the country has opened my eyes to the beautiful subtleties each place carries. Baking a cake or soufflé in Denver is slightly different than in Portland, or in the midwest where I reside now. Moisture and humidity are factors that one naturally adapts to. Ovens and cookware are not created equally. This can change a recipe as well. One should view a recipe as a guideline or a set of parameters that can be followed, but can always be adapted to fit one’s taste or convenience of their pantry. This is when you begin to “make a dish your own” and when the fun really begins. For this dish we are cooking potato gnocchi. This is a classic dish that can be made relatively quickly, and will bring a real wow factor to a dinner party or a Tuesday night. It is a small list of simple ingredients that everyone has fof hand. Combined with patience and a little technique it is a wonderful thing.
One of my favorite memories from my childhood is my mother making noodles from scratch. I can recall many times when coming home from school and my mother would have noodles hanging and drying all over the kitchen. I thought it might be fun to recreate a memory from her past. When I asked my mother what food takes her back to her childhood, her response was rice pudding. She described it as having a creamy texture with a sweet finish and has tried to recreate this dish with little success. I thought that we would try of honor her memory with my version of rice pudding.
Ben and I aren’t ones to shy away from carbs. We love our pastas. We love our breads. We love potatoes, and we eat our fair share of all of the above. We also like to change things up. Now I know that the Atkins Diet has been a very big deal in the past 5 plus years, and it provided lots of alternatives for your typical favorite carbs, one of those being cauliflower in lieu of potatoes. With that said, I have to say that we do not count calories. We do not count carbohydrates. We do not count fat grams. We do gauge the “healthiness” of our meals by the amount of different colors that make up a dish and whether or not we added indulgent butter or sour cream. On occasion, Ben will make a great cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes, because honestly, we don’t eat enough of it and this is a really good way to have it. This recipe is truly delicious full of flavor and as an added bonus- a little friendlier to the waistline.
We love the versatility of carrots. They’re great in soups, stews, stir-fry, cakes, and salads. For our Thanksgiving dinner we gave them a holiday touch to accentuate its natural sweetness that would fit in nicely to your upcoming holiday dinner. This simple cooking process will add depth and body to a often overlooked vegetable. You know how carrots go with peas, so we decided to pair them with some lovely pearl onions, an homage to my late Grandma Ida Mae who loved pearl onions, and created a keeper that we think you’ll enjoy.
A few years ago, Ben and I were introduced to a great couple whose lives are food- Tom & Shelly. We obviously we clicked right away with our love of good food, good wine, and family. They own & operate the Louisburg Cider Mill, located about 45 minutes south of Kansas City. Over the course of the past few years we heard about their operation. During the fall they cater to those from near and far with a pumpkin patch, a hay ride, and a corn maze while continuing their production of the many products that they sell year round including their apple cider and Lost Trail Soda- both products have been featured on The Food Network. When Oliver, Ben and I finally made it out to the Cider Mill our trip coincided with CiderFest. It was an overwhelming experience considering we didn’t realize the magnitude of the operation that Tom & Shelly have. The only disappointment was not getting to sample their famed doughnuts that bring locals to the Mill weekly. We didn’t walk away empty handed though. We took with us a bag of apples that create their famed products to make an apple tart that we feel is worthy of the Cider Mill apple.
It’s getting to be that time of year- the season of sides. Yes, the holidays generally bring on the turkey birds and the honey hams, but those show pieces are nothing without the sides. Ben and I are pretty much in agreement that we generally get more excited about the sides during holiday dinners and get togethers, so we’re going to try to help revamp, introduce, or maybe just reintroduce some ideas that would be great additions to your holiday spread.
So, today I Googled “Most Disliked Vegetable,” and the worldwide web revealed a resounding dislike for brussel sprouts. As a child, my only recollection of brussel sprouts was lived through Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years growing up in the turbulent social times of the 60’s sitting at the kitchen table proclaiming his disgust for the mini cabbages. I was never forced to eat brussel sprouts (actually I was never forced to eat anything- I just had a robust appetite for whatever was put in front of me). Actually, Ben introduced me to brussel sprouts just a few years ago. I have to say that I do enjoy them and feel so strongly about this easy recipe that we will change your opinion of the brussel sprout so much so that you may move this vegetable up to your top 10 vegetable list. It’s quick & easy, and it’ll look great dished next to the cranberries on your holiday plate.
When I think of comfort food, soup is one of the first things that come to mind. This ginger squash soup is as wholesome as it comes. By roasting the squash, onion, and garlic, a sweetness is achieved that gives this soup a unique flavor. The cinnamon gives a nice fall touch and the ginger adds a complimentary contrast in flavor that gives the soup a subtle kick.
Kim and I fall in a routine like most of making the same ten different dishes for our weeknight dinners, but this soup is a nice affordable addition to any meal.
Everyone has that one weekend that will live in their minds as a moment that he or she is proud to apart of that is larger than themselves. Kim and I have been blessed in many ways, and we are starting to give back to organizations that we believe in. This past October, Kim participated in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. Kim trained with Team In Training and helped raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. The race as a whole raised over $13 million to help research a cure for blood cancers. The weekend was full of emotional moments, and we were proud to contribute in a small way, and yes Kim survived the hills of this amazing city.
We have been to visit San Francisco before and were told to go to The Slanted Door. It was an amazing dinning experience. We decided to sneak away for a date night be fore the big event and revisited The Slanted Door again hoping to be impressed by their talented staff. We were not disappointed. Our server , Moses, made our night one to remember. He brought us samples and made us feel special on a very special weekend. So, if you make out to San Francisco, you must try Phan family’s twist on traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
We developed this recipe of a dry rub for baby back ribs. It is quick, and has a few spices that you may not have in the pantry, but will be worth the purchase.
This past spring Ben and I were asked to participate in a silent auction with the proceeds benefitting the Kansas City Arts Community. We jumped at the opportunity to be a part of such a great cause and donated a private Four course meal for Four in the comfort of the highest bidder’s own home. The winners of the meal cashed in a few weeks ago, and Connie & Tina opened their kitchen and home to us where we prepared some creations from our blog and some new flavors including a sweet corn shooter that kicked off the evening.
For this special evening, Ben used the very last of his father’s last sweet corn that he harvested upon retiring. As a member of the Pieper family, it was almost like a right of passage or initiation by participating in the sweet corn harvest. The corn would be boiled, shocked in ice water, and then moved to the kitchen table where it would be cut off the cob and then portioned out into freezer bags. This process ensured that the Pieper sweet corn could be enjoyed year round by the family and allowed us to create a new recipe to share with you.
It’s hard to believe that fall is already upon us. Football season has officially started- thanks Chiefs for giving Kansas City a “W”. We’ve been able to turn off our a/c on occasion. Oliver’s shedding has reduced significantly. Friends are lighting up their fire pits. The Halloween paraphernalia is hitting the store shelves. The new fall prime-time television season is about to start which means new premieres and the final season of The Office with the beloved Steve Carrell. Just as life changes with the season, so does the local produce. One of our family favorites that gets worked into our fall/winter food rotation are our Acorn Squash Potatoes. It’s quick, easy, tasty, and good for you. Not only that, but it’s the type of dish that will turn squash skeptics into fans of this affordable and healthy produce. It’s packed with nutrients, and when cooked well, gives a sweet, earthy flavor that is wonderfully rich. This squash potato combination is great because you can dress it up or dress it down. We had it for dinner last night with chicken sandwiches, and we don’t have a holiday dinner without it. Hope you enjoy.