Settler's Beans

A few years ago, at a school potluck, a coworker named Jan made these beans and gave us the recipe. She called them "Settler's Beans" and when we looked this up online, there are quite a few versions of a recipe called "Old Settler's Beans." We aren't sure why they are called this. What we are sure of, however, is that they were a big hit at our Christmas Eve party and we promised to share our version, so here it is. They are more like chili than baked beans, with sweet, spicy and smoky flavors. This recipe makes about 14 one-cup servings.

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, diced
1 28-ounce can country style baked beans
1 15.5-ounce can light red beans
1 15.5-ounce can dark red beans
1 15.5-ounce can black beans
1 15.5-ounce can canellini beans
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, bacon and onion together. Drain the fat. In a large oven-proof baking dish (we used our beanpot), combine all the beans including the liquid. Stir the meat mixture into the beans. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover the baking dish and bake at 350 for one hour.

Note: To make ahead, do not bake. Instead, allow the mixture to cool, then refrigerate overnight. Bake when ready to serve.



Christmas Candy #7 - Snickers Bar Fudge

Besides truffles, fudge is another "must do" Christmas candy. A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen found a recipe for "candy bar fudge," made with Snickers Bars. We made a couple of minor adaptations and were quite pleased with the result: smooth, chocolatey fudge with a nutty nougat center, much like the Snickers Bar itself. You can find the original here, while ours is below.


1 bag (11.18-ounces) of Snickers Fun-Size Snacks
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks salted butter, plus enough to butter the pan
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a 9X13 rectangular cake pan with foil. Butter the foil and set pan aside. Cut candy bars into 1/2-inch slices and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, bring sugar, butter and evaporated milk to a boil over medium heat. Insert a candy thermometer into the pan and stir mixture until thermometer reaches 234 degrees F. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips, marshmallow creme and vanilla until smooth. Pour half of the mixture into prepared pan. Cover with a layer of Snickers Bar slices. Top with remaining chocolate mixture and spread evenly. Let stand at room temperature to cool. Lift out of pan and remove foil. Cut into squares of desired size. Makes about 7 dozen pieces, depending on cut size.

Christmas Candy #6 - Earl Grey Truffles

Truffles: the ultimate chocolate treat. A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen had to make truffles, and since we love the idea of cooking with tea and have many tea aficionados in our lives, we created the Earl Grey Truffle. Earl Grey is a black tea infused with the flavor and aroma of bergamot, a citrus fruit, one of Amy's favorite scents. This is a tea lover's dream - smooth, creamy chocolate with just a hint of Earl Grey.

2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 teaspoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

In a small heavy saucepan, bring cream and butter just to boil. Stir in tea leaves, then remove from heat. Allow the tea to steep in the cream for at least five minutes, up to ten minutes. Place the chocolate chips in a separate heavy saucepan. Pour the cream through a fine-mesh sieve onto the chocolate chips. Whisk until mixture is a smooth ganache. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour. Mix the cocoa and confectioner's sugar together in a small bowl. Dust palms lightly with cocoa/sugar mixture and roll teaspoon-sized balls of ganache in your hards, washing and re-coating hands as needed. Dust with additional cocoa/sugar as desired. Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 3 dozen truffles.


Christmas Candy #5 - Chocolate-Dipped Fleur de Sel Caramels

Wondering what to do with the leftover chocolate you had after making those Buckeyes? Can't let good chocolate go to waste! Our suggestion is the latest in A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen's holiday recipes. However, #5 isn't a recipe at all, just a suggestion. We bought Trader Joe's Fleur de Sel Caramels and they are delicious. But aren't most things even more delicious when they are dipped in chocolate? We dipped only half and loved how they look. What do you think?

Christmas Candy #4 - Buckeyes

Buckeyes, aka Peanut Butter Balls are the fourth candy recipe from A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen. They are known as "buckeyes" because when finished, they resemble the nut of a buckeye tree. We love this recipe because there isn't a lot of measuring involved. Also they're smooth and creamy, and, well...peanut butter and chocolate. Enough said.

Note: don't throw away that leftover melted chocolate! Dip something in it! Check later for one suggestion...

1 28-ounce jar creamy peanut butter
1/2 stick salted butter, softened
1 16-ounce box powdered sugar
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Line baking sheets with wax paper. In standing mixer, beat peanut butter and butter until creamy. Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until mixture is moist and holds together. Using your hands, roll into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheets. Freeze for one hour until hardened. Place the chocolate chips and shortening in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until melted. Using a toothpick, dip the peanut butter balls into the melted chocolate leaving the top center uncovered. Return to lined baking sheets and refrigerate until set. Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Christmas Candy #3 - Burnt Molasses Candy

The third offering from A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen comes from a booklet by Bear Wallow Books called Old-Fashioned Candy Recipes. They call it Molasses Skillet Taffy, but Burnt Molasses Candy might be a better name. This is not for everyone - the flavor is strong and distinct. If you like the taste of burnt sugar, you may like this, but in very small doses. The color makes it a good "coal for the naughty" gift.

2 cups molasses
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon salted butter

Combine ingredients in a large cast iron skillet. Bring to a boil. Continue cooking (stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon) until mixture reaches 310 F on a candy thermometer. Pour mixture into a greased cake pan and refrigerate. When hardened, break into very small pieces.


Christmas Candy #2 - Rum Balls

A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen's second Christmas candy is a favorite with coworkers, neighbors and friends who request it every year - it's Rum Balls. (And right now, we're giggling thinking of the "Schwetty Balls" Saturday Night Live skit, and we hope you are too). It's very easy and makes about six dozen candies. We usually use regular white rum, but spiced or dark rum, or even bourbon offer a darker, deeper flavor that we've enjoyed in the past. A dusting of confectionary sugar over the top offers the illusion of newly fallen snow.

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup rum
2 1/2 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
confectionary sugar for dusting

In a heavy saucepan, melt chocolate chips over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and corn syrup. Stir in rum, then add vanilla wafer crumbs and mix well. Cover and cool in refrigerator until mixture is hard enough to roll into balls. Line a baking sheet with wax paper, and using your hands, roll into 1/2-inch balls and place onto wax paper. Dust with confectionary sugar. Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Christmas Candy #1 - Holiday Divinity

It's the weekend before Christmas and all through the house, every creature is stirring...the skillet, that is! It was the weekend of A Couple in the Christmas Candy Kitchen. We're not great bakers, so we rely on the kindness of friends, relatives, neighbors and students for our supply of Christmas cookies. In return, we made a Christmas Candy variety, which we'll also share with you.

Other than some minor adjustments and adaptations, we can't take credit for any of these recipes ourselves. In fact, we don't know where some of them came from - they are just tradition. But we'll share nonetheless in the hopes that people will be forgiving ('tis the season, after all). Special thanks to our weekend visitors Pat and Becky for taste-testing and nut-cracking.

Our first recipe is for Holiday Divinity, which we found in The Christmas Candy Book by Lou Seibert Pappas. Divinity is a sweet, airy egg-white-based candy made with fruit and nuts (we chose Craisins and pistachios for a seasonal color scheme). This (slightly adapted) recipe makes about 4 dozen candies and is a wonderful choice for Christmas sharing.

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup roasted pistachio nutmeats, chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries (Craisins), chopped

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup, and stir to blend. Place over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil. Cover and boil 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and insert a candy thermometer ni the pan. Cook, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 256 F. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat the whites until they hold firm, upright peaks. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites, continuing to beat until the mixture cools to room temperature and is very stiff, 7-10 minutes. Blend in the vanilla extract, then fold in the nuts and craisins. Drop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet using a melon baller. Let stand until set, about one hour. Carefully remove the candies from the paper. Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Mom's Chuck Roast

While it's true that there isn't much "gourmet" about mom's chuck roast, it's also true that on long, cold wintery weekdays when we just want to get something in the oven to make the house smell good, this is a go-to dish. With a prep time of, oh, about two minutes, this roast is an easy, delicious, belly-warming meal that reminds us of home. Perfect for a stress-filled workday or a Sunday dinner. Could we fancy it up a bit? We're sure...but we choose not to mess with the original, which is wonderfully comforting. We like it best with mashed potatoes and canned (that's right) baby peas. Judge us all you want.

1 2-to-3-pound boneless chuck roast
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can water

Place the roast in a foil-lined roasting pan. Sprinkle the meat with the onion soup mix. Pour in the cream of mushroom soup. Fill the can with water and pour that in as well. Seal the meat inside the foil and roast at 325 for 2-2 1/2 hours. Remove from pan and allow to rest. Pour the remaining liquid into a gravy bowl and serve with mashed potatoes.


Trot Trot to Boston: Lineage and Eastern Standard

Amy writes:

Last weekend, my fellow foodie friend Joanne and I took our annual overnight trip to Boston. Every year around the holidays, we put in for our single personal day of the year, attach it to a weekend, and enjoy two glorious days in Beantown. We shop, we drink, and of course, we eat. In fact, eating is usually the whole point of our jaunt, and this year, we happened to visit two restaurants that share one executive chef, Jeremy Sewall. 

We enjoyed Sunday brunch at Lineage in Coolidge Corner, Brookline. Lineage is owned by Chef Sewall and his pastry chef wife, Lisa. While sparsely decorated with a sophisticated and modern feel, the restaurant is warm and welcoming. The menu is printed daily and the focus is on seasonality. Here are some photos from our fabulous brunch which was accompanied by screwdrivers made with freshly squeezed orange juice and (relatively) local Ice Glen vodka from Berkshire Mountain Distillers. It was the perfect start to our trip.

Fish and chips made with halibut

Poached egg over Anson Mills polenta with spinach and bacon lardons

We chose Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square for a late lunch the following day. By chance, Chef Jeremy Sewall is the "Colaborating Executive Chef" at this gorgeous, high-ceilinged, spacious restaurant. The menu is a tribute to New England with plenty of seafood, comfort foods, and seasonal items. The food was as elegant as the space, and certainly deserving of all the accolades it has been getting. Again, let's allow the photos to do the talking.

Beet salad with bleu cheese souffle appetizer
(photo courtesy of Joanne)

Gouda mac-n-cheese with guanciale appetizer
(photo courtesy of Joanne)

Cavatelli with braised lamb and pecorino cheese

Beef brisket with mashed potatoes and green beans

Both Joanne and I agree that both of these restaurants are worthy of further exploration and we'd highly recommend either of them to friends and family (and readers!) alike. The food at both is spectacular, and had us talking (and thinking) about it for days on end. A trip to Boston could only be enhanced by a stop to one of talented Chef Sewall's eateries.
Lineage on Urbanspoon Eastern Standard on Urbanspoon


Holiday Recipe Recollections

Another busy week has prevented us from doing what we love to do...cook! So, as the cookie swaps and soirees begin, we thought we'd take a moment to recall two of our favorite recipes-for-holiday-sharing from years past. One is an appetizer, and the other is a dessert, but both result in delectable tidbits that are easy to make and well-suited to disaster-free transport.

We came up with "Spruced-Up Sugar Cookies" last year when we had a bumper crop of rosemary. We use refrigerated cookie dough to make them quick and easy to make, but the more ambitious cook with the time could use their favorite sugar cookie recipe. To the cookie dough, we add some lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped rosemary for a seasonal, "spruced-up" symphony of flavors - sweet sugar cookies with citrus and herb notes. Cookie cutters we'd suggest? Stars or Christmas trees! Go here for the recipe.

We also cheat a little with our appetizer idea - using a cream cheese spread from Denmark called "Puck" to fill pre-made mini-phyllo cups. Warmed in the oven, and topped with a pinch of chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios - all would work!) and a drizzle of honey and you have a bite-sized snack that is simply elegant. Perfect for that cocktail party! Go here for more information.


Apple Cider, Pancetta and Onion Risotto with Seared Sea Scallops

This meal is one we made from several different pairings of four basic ingredients. Those ingredients are: sea scallops, pancetta (Italian bacon), onion and apple cider. Each ingredient can easily be paired with another for a perfect, common, flavor combination: scallops and bacon; bacon and onions; apple and onions; you get the idea. So how can a cook go wrong by putting them all together?

We seared the scallops (perfectly, if we say so ourselves) by drying them well on a paper towel and putting them in a non-stick pan that has been pre-heated to super-hot (no oil!). The trick is to be patient and NOT to flip them until the pan is letting go. In other words, don't force the flip! If they are sticking, they are not perfectly seared. We sprinkled them with a pinch of pink salt and served them with this risotto that was seasonal and delicious.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ounces diced pancetta
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups apple cider
2 cups water
salt to taste

Pour the apple cider and water into medium saucepan and set over medium-low heat. In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the onion and pancetta together until they start to caramelize. Add the rice and stir until it begins to toast. Slowly add the cider/water liquid to the rice mixture, one ladle at a time, stirring well and adding more liquid only when the rice soaks up most of what is already in the skillet. Continue this process, stirring constantly, until the apple cider/water mixture is gone and rice is tender. Serve with seared scallops or your choice of protein.


Coconut Curry Chicken Soup

Did we not get enough roasted poultry last week? Apparently not, because Tuesday night came and we found ourselves picking up a rotisserie chicken at our local supermarket. It was a "Superbird" which meant plenty of leftovers, and since we already did the pot pie thing with the turkey, it was time for something new and different. A recent purchase of the never-before-seen College Inn Culinary Broth Thai Coconut Curry was inspiration, and basis, for this colorful and delicious soup. The warm spiciness of the curry makes it the perfect soup for a cold winter's night, and an excellent use of leftover chicken!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, cut into thin one-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 32-ounce container College Inn Culinary Broth Thai Coconut Curry
2 cups chicken broth
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
1/2 tablespoon salt
4 ounces thin rice noodles, broken in half
1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast meat
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, curry paste and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the broth and coconut milk, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and add the noodles and chicken. Simmer over low heat 5-6 minutes until chicken is warmed through and noodles are tender. Turn off heat, then add the lime juice and cilantro.


Chex Mix = The Holidays

Amy writes:
When I was a kid, one sure sign it was the holidays was the large tin of homemade Chex Mix on the counter. It didn't stay on the counter long, however, but once that tin was close to empty, you could count on smelling Chex, butter and various seasonings baking in the oven at any minute. We were in need of a constant supply.

Over the years, I have refined my taste for Chex Mix and thus, the family recipe has slightly changed to meet these preferences (or, what my friend Joanne calls, Amy-Approved Ingredients). No nuts or pretzels in my mix! (I like them, just not mixed in with my Chex). It's cereal only, specifically Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Corn Chex and Cheerios in equal amounts. The seasonings are also very specific and no substitutes are allowed. To me, and other members of my family (who will remain nameless to protect their identities), Chex Mix is Christmas crack. Each batch (which is actually a double-batch) contains three sticks of butter. Yes, you read that right. Therefore, finally realizing admitting that my favorite holiday snack is probably accounting for any holiday weight gain I might incur, this year, I've made some rules regarding my own personal Chex Mix production and consumption.

Rule One: The earliest that Chex Mix can be made is the day after Thanksgiving.
Rule Two: After New Year's Day, any remaining Chex Mix must be tossed.
Rule Three: Not more than one (double) batch can be made in any given week.
Rule Four: Chex Mix must be eaten in a little bowl rather than directly from the tin.
Rule Five: Whenever possible, gallon-sized bags of Chex Mix must be offered as gifts to friends and aforementioned family members.

Ah...Chex Mix. Salty. Crunchy. Garlicky. Full of that savory, almost meaty, flavor that is known as umami. Licking fingers coated in butter and bits of cereal. Chewing on Cheerios that are dark brown, shrunken little circles of deliciousness. Ah, heck. It's the holidays! I deserve a treat! Besides, it's just cereal, and cereal is healthy - whole grains and all that! Note to self: must get to nearest grocery store, buy more cereal. And butter! Need butter! Bring over that tin! Hey...hands off my Chex Mix!!!

Note: I credit my mother for the original recipe from which I adapted this, and have no idea where she got it from. Also, remember, this makes a double batch, so make it in a large roasting pan. And, finally, no substitutions. And no, I haven't been paid by any of these companies.

3 sticks salted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons Lawry's Seasoned Salt
1 teaspoon McCormick's Season-All Seasoned Salt
1/4 teaspoon McCormick's Garlic Powder
4 1/2 tablespoons Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 box Wheat Chex
1/2 box Rice Chex
1/2 box Corn Chex
1/2 box Cheerios

Heat oven to 250 degrees. In a large roasting pan, melt the butter. Mix in seasonings and worcestershire sauce. Fold in cereal slowly until all of it is coated with the seasoned butter. Bake at 250 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes. Increase oven temperature to 275 and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Try to share.

Disclaimer: Through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, Lea & Perrins sent us a coupon for a free bottle of their Worcestershire sauce which we used in this recipe. 


Grown-Up Lunch at ON20

The day before Thanksgiving is a half day for both of us, and we celebrate by going on a grown-up lunch date. It is a far cry from our usual 23-minute daily lunches in the cafeteria of our respective high schools, and we love to do it right. This year, our destination was ON20, an upscale restaurant on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler Building. As always, the food was outstanding and the service impeccable. Add in the beautiful views of Hartford (including the Traveler's Tower, left) and it was the perfect choice to kick off our holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Amuse Bouche:
sweet potato soup with crab and vanilla saffron foam

The Starter Course:
sunchoke bisque with roasted chestnuts

The Appetizers:
Nantucket Bay scallops with cranberry beans (left) and
Braised Spanish octopus (right)

View of the Connecticut River from ON20

The Entrees:

Grilled sirloin with crispy snow peas and five spiced pommes puree (top), and
Grilled hake over vegetables in a citrus aioli

  Dessert Amuse Bouche:
Plum and armagnac sorbet atop almond cake

  The Dessert:
Chocolate Trio of flourless cake, spicy hot chocolate and chocolate ice cream (top), and
Deconstructed Key Lime "Pie" with coconut sorbet and vanilla bean milk jam (bottom)

A fabulous lunch comes to an end



Caribbean Coconut Shrimp

Sure, Thanksgiving is only two one day away, but it feels like spring, with temperatures in the low 60s. That means it's a good night for something summery, something exotic, something with coconut. Thus it was the weather, and a single stalk of lemongrass given to us by Chef Lise at a recent cooking class, that inspired our newest shrimp creation we're calling "Caribbean Coconut Shrimp."

Sweating the onion, garlic and lemongrass

Tomato sauce is mixed in.

Add in the coconut milk and allow the lemongrass some time to infuse the sauce.

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 stalks lemongrass, quartered
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Place the shrimp in one layer inside a baking dish and place aside in refrigerator. Take the bottom end of one of the stalks of lemongrass and peel it to get to the inside core; mince the core finely to equal about a teaspoon or so. Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet and add the chopped onion, minced garlic and minced lemongrass. Saute for five minutes, stirring often, until onions are translucent. Add the tomato sauce and cook another three to five minutes. Stir in coconut milk, cilantro and lemongrass stalks, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and allow the lemongrass to infuse the sauce, about a half hour. When ready to serve, pour sauce over shrimp. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove aluminum foil and continue to bake uncovered for 10 more minutes, until shrimp are pink. Delicious with saffron or jasmine rice!


Italian Cheese and Pancetta Mini-Muffins

With the recent success of making gougeres, we made another attempt at creating a savory baking recipe. Once again, we used cheese (we love cheese in case you haven't noticed) and for added flavor, pancetta (just Italian bacon, and everything is better with bacon). We've been noshing on these mini-muffins ever since. They are definitely better warm, so eat them (almost) straight out of the oven and/or heat them up.

Browning the pancetta.

Dry ingredients.

Cheese mixed in.

Thick, sticky batter.

About to go into the oven.

A look inside...somehow both fluffy and dense, with cheese and pancetta.

Note: We did not intend to use heavy cream, but we only had 1/2 cup of milk left and happened to have about the same amount of heavy cream in the refrigerator. Nonetheless, we were so pleased with the results, that we modified our recipe. They're muffins with cheese and bacon - a little more fat isn't going to make much difference.

Yields 24 mini-muffins.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces pancetta, finely diced
1/2 cup milk (we used 1%)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter at room temperature
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brown the diced pancetta in a small skillet then set aside atop a paper towel to absorb the grease. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the cheese and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and butter. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, add the pancetta, and stir until well combined. The resulting batter will be thick and sticky. Spray two mini-muffin pans with baking spray and fill each cup with the muffin batter (a melon baller does the job nicely). Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Remove immediately and serve warm.


Foodie Book Friday: Good Enough to Eat

At the very beginning of Stacey Ballis's latest novel, Good Enough to Eat, the reader learns that main character Melanie Hoffman has recently lost half her body weight as well as her husband, who has left her for someone her former size. She has also spent the last year or so of her life leaving her law career to open a cafe devoted to healthy-but-tasty foods, the descriptions of which are why we've added this book to our "Foodie Book Friday" collection.

Each chapter begins with the story of a comforting dish from Melanie's youth (think macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and chocolate chip cookies) that will tease your tastebuds and make your stomach growl. Throughout the book are glimpses of dinner parties, cafe offerings, and food-focused scenes that make the reader want to jump into the pages and dig in. Thankfully, at the end of the book are 40 pages' worth of recipes - most of them in the original and health-conscious versions to pay homage to Melanie's struggle to maintain her weight. So, after reading a particularly delicious description, a reader could actually whip up that exact dish.

Food aside, this is a light-hearted but satisfying story. Melanie has taken many risks, and this book is about seeing how those risks transform her whole life.  But mostly, this is a book about relationships, Melanie's support system as she traverses through those risks. Melanie is a wife, then an ex-wife, a sister, a friend, an employer, a roommate and a lover. There are healthy relationships and abusive relationships, heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships, love relationships and even hate relationships. And all of these relationships are explored, quite literally, at the table, over food, a common denominator for us all.

In Good Enough to Eat, Ballis has created real, authentic characters whom the reader can relate to, care about, and root for. Witty, contemporary, and sumptously written, this great story is one for foodies and non-foodies alike.