Book Review: On A Stick!

Kabobs. Skewers. Cocktail picks. Toothpicks. Pops. Food On A Stick! is fun to make, fun to share and fun to eat, and that is what Matt Armendariz's new book, On A Stick! is all about. Matt is a photographer and author of Matt Bites, a popular food blog, and when he (and his publisher, Quirk Books) offered us a review copy of his book, we bought some bamboo skewers and jumped* at the opportunity.

After a brief introduction consisting of descriptions of various stick-ware, dips and sauce ideas, the book is organized into two parts: "Savory Foods on a Stick" and "Sweet Foods on a Stick." The total recipe count is 80, and they are, as promised, "party perfect." There are a few we've seen before (think beef teriyaki, chicken satay and frozen bananas), but these are vastly outnumbered by unique and creative ideas one could barely imagine possible (spaghetti and meatballs, fish and chips, chocolate-covered cheesecake...all On A Stick!). The past weekend brought with it a toddler's birthday party, to which we brought our own version of Matt's "fruit salad skewers with sweet and fluffy sauce;" they were gone in about 10 minutes.

The author's straightforward and personal writing style, easy-to-read recipes, and fun tips and tricks all make this book a must-have for every cook who loves to entertain. The photographs are excellent - eye-catching, mouth-watering, and reminiscent of all things summer. There are great ideas for kid-friendly foods and even a few adult-only recipes (red and white sangria pops you say? We say heck yeah!). Suffice it to say, if you love to throw parties, or your favorite thing to eat at the fair is a corn dog, this book is for you.

*Okay, we jumped a little slowly... the book is available now at Amazon.com (luckier for you, dear reader, as you won't have to wait!).


Blogger Award!

Thank you to Jess at Hungry Harps for awarding us with The Versatile Blogger Award! It is always exciting to have people stop by and not only read our blog but let us know how much they love reading it! So, thank you!!!


Meatless Monday: Vanilla-Scented Sweet Corn Chowder

On the last shopping trip to our favorite grocery store we found an amazing bargain - a dozen ears of corn for only 99 cents! Sure, that's a lot of corn for only two people, but the great buy inspired this week's Meatless Monday recipe, Vanilla-Scented Sweet Corn Chowder.

This delightfully simple chowder gets plenty of natural sweetness from the fresh corn, but adding the seeds from a vanilla bean enhances that sweetness and gives the dish an amazing scent. Using 2% milk makes it a lighter, healthier meal. Since it's Meatless Monday, we didn't use any meat, but we can imagine adding some crab, lobster, or even a little bit of bacon in future incarnations of this luscious soup. This dish is sure to become a summer staple as the native corn comes in.


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small leek, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 cups 2% milk
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 vanilla bean
4 cups fresh sweet corn kernels (about 4 ears' worth)*

Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leek, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and cook for five minutes, until leek starts to soften. Stir in the milk. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and, with the tip of the knife, scrape the seeds from the bean into the soup; discard the pod. Add the diced potatoes and simmer about 20 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender. Take one cup of the corn kernels and puree them in a food processor; add the puree to the soup to thicken it. Add the remaining three cups of corn and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.

*If fresh corn is unavailable, substitute thawed frozen corn.

Our Recipe Featured on Meatless Monday Website

This week's featured lunch recipe on the Meatless Monday website is A Couple in the Kitchen's own Spicy Carrot and Chickpea Tagine. Check it out here then come back to our blog later tonight for this week's Meatless Monday recipe.


Foodie Book Friday: The Various Flavors of Coffee

If one could sum up how a typical foodie feels about food and wine, I think a good word would be “passion,” and passion is what Anthony Capella’s novel The Various Flavors of Coffee is about. This, and the fact that coffee is at the center of everything that occurs in the story, is what makes this novel our choice for today’s Foodie Book Friday.

The central character is Robert Wallis, a struggling poet and man-about-town in turn-of-the-century London. A chance encounter at a café brings him much needed employment but also changes the entire course of his life. His new employer is Samuel Pinker - coffee distributor, entrepreneur, visionarynd father. Pinker’s passion is his business, and he wants to create a tasting guide for coffee that will help him buy and sell it more effectively. He thinks Wallis’s writing skills and distinguished tastes make him the man for the job.

But this is only the beginning. A hesitant yet loyal relationship between Wallis and Pinker’s eldest, Emily, develops as they work on the tasting guide together. When Wallis is sent to Africa to oversee the development of a coffee plantation for Pinker, he is seduced into a passionate love affair by a defiant slave who changes his outlook on life and love. Upon his return to England, he finds it is not only he who has changed – Emily is in a dispassionate marriage to a government official, Pinker’s business ambitions have become much more grandiose, and the suffragist movement (Emily’s true passion) is in full swing.

Although it is tempting to focus only on the intriguing characters of this novel, the historical events happening behind the scenes are also enthralling. Capella offers up the tale of coffee – from plant to pour – which is interesting in itself. Yet he also teaches lessons in the economics of the industrial revolution, the abolitionist and early feminist movements, and the colonization of Africa, all the while showing how each of these affects not only those very characters but also the society at large.

Now, to the foodie part. This is the third of Capella’s novels to feature food, making him an appealing author for lovers of fiction and flavor alike. His descriptions of “the various flavors of coffee” and other foods are skillful and mouth-watering. As if brewing a cup of the title’s elixir, the author craftily blends story with history, violence with romance, sweetness with bitterness, all of which only serve to make the reader thirst for another. Grind some freshly roasted beans, make a big pot, and dig into this passion-filled novel.


Honey-Soy Chicken with Asian Spices

When we went to Chinatown in Boston over spring break, we picked up a few spices that are (unbelievably, and unfortunately) not easily found in our local supermarkets. Whole star anise and dehydrated galangal were among them, and we've been trying to incorporate these, and other, Asian flavors into our dishes lately. For instance, we used the galagal in last week's Spicy Chickpea and Carrot Tagine, and the star anise will be replacing the pinch of anise seed next time we make our version of Pho. As Chris put it, "I really like this spice set." Indeed. We love the musky, cedar taste of the galangal; the star anise is both sweet and aromatic, imparting an intriguing hint of licorice.

With the hopes of (literally) spicing up some Sunday chicken, we decided to marinate our chicken pieces in honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil with spices including the star anise and galangal. Garlic seemed to be necessary, and then, instead of onion, we chopped fresh chives from our garden, and used the lavender-colored chive flowers for our garnish. After marinating for 40 minutes or so, we roasted the chicken, basting every fifteen minutes or so. The flavors were excellent - sweetness from the honey, saltiness from the soy, bitterness from the garlic and chives, earthiness from the galangal, and that interesting aromatic flavor from the star anise - it was all there. The skin just didn't crisp up the way we would have liked. We think this was because we had the oven on 400 for the first half of the cooking time. Next time we'll marinate longer to really infuse the flavors into the meat, and we'll put the oven temperature a bit higher. Our recipe below reflects those changes.

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1 large piece dehydrated galangal
4 whole star anise
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
8 pieces chicken (we mixed drumsticks and thighs)
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

In a small saucepan, combine the water, soy sauce, honey, sherry, chives, galangal, star anise and garlic. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Whisk in the sesame oil and set aside. Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish and pat them dry. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Pour 1/2 of the marinade over the chicken and allow to marinate 45 minutes to an hour. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place pan in oven and roast chicken, turning and basting with the additional marinade occasionally, until cooked, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.


Mexican Spring Dinner (Including Recipe for Rum Baked Black Beans)

To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, we took a cooking class at our local community college (Manchester Community College, Manchester, CT). The class was called "Mexican Spring Dinner" and it was such a fun time! A chef, an assistant chef and five students (including us) all spent a warm spring evening cooking, sharing tips and stories, and of course, breaking bread (well, nachos) together - what's not to love?

We paired off and split up the recipes so that our many hands could make lighter work. Chris and I started the Rum Baked Black Beans - aromatics, mustard, spices and rum mixed in with black beans, topped with crumbled bacon and baked for an hour - these were delicious, and the recipe is below. Our second task was to make the Lime Tortilla Soup, a fresh and healthy medley of vegetables and chicken with a tangy hint of lime and crunchy tortilla chips. A great tip from the chef - place fresh corn on the cob (still in its husk) in the microwave for four minutes and the corn steams itself, then you can eat it or remove it from the cob, depending on your needs!

Meanwhile, another pair of students worked on the Grilled Shrimp Nachos with Orange Salsa Fresca and Guacamole. The shrimp were marinated in a garlic/lime juice mixture then grilled and placed on a nacho with a cool, citrusy, tangy salsa made from herbs, honey, oranges and jicama; these also received a small dollop of guacamole. I can't wait to try the salsa with other things!

The final student worked twice as hard as the rest of us on the Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce (Forgot to take a photo! Darn!), a sweet challah-bread concoction covered with a silky, boozy, caramel-colored topping that was a wonderful end to our convivial feast and learning experience.

Here are some photos from the class, and a recipe for that tipsy take on baked beans (yum!). Special thanks to Lisa Montag Weikert for a great class and for permission to take photos and share her recipe for Rum Baked Black Beans.

8 strips bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon gground giner
fresh black pepper (approximately 1/2 teaspoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 15-ounce cans black beans total - Use 3 cans black beans drained and rinsed plus 1 can black beans not rinsed or drained
1/3 cup dark rum

Preheat oven to 325. In a large saucepan, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the drippings. Place saucepan containing the reserved drippings over medium heat, and cook onions and garlic in it for about five minutes. Add chicken stock, vinegar, ginger, pepper, mustard, honey, brown sugar, allspice and cinnamon. Heat to boiling while stirring. Add the beans and mix well. Remove from heat and add the rum. Transfer to a baking dish and crumble bacon over the top. Cover and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour; remove cover and continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!


Meatless Monday: Spicy Chickpea and Carrot Tagine

We've had a tagine for a few months now and had yet to use it. Until today. While browsing various vegetarian-themed recipe sites, the word "tagine" kept popping up, and it was a welcome reminder of that cone-shaped earthen-ware vessel atop our cabinets. What a perfect tool for Meatless Monday, especially with some spicy ingredients to give our boring, stressed-out weeknight some pizzazz!

Although only told politely asked to bring some carrots home for our tagine, being the good husband that he is, Chris also bought some fluffy naan and a pair of pretty tongs etched with flowers to go with our Middle-Eastern meal. We cooked everything inside the tagine on the stovetop. It was very easy and quick - even the cleanup! The aromatic spices we chose gave the dish a lot of warmth and layers of flavor, and perfumed our kitchen with an enticing scent. A touch of honey at the very end played up the natural sweetness in the raisins and carrots. It was a deliciously exotic experiment, and we would definitely make it again, perhaps over some couscous or basmati rice.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 star anise pods
2 piece dehydrated galangal* (see note)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon zataar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup raisins
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
2/3 cup water
salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon honey

*note: we used the galangal because we didn't have any ginger...otherwise we would have used a teaspoon of fresh chopped ginger

In your tagine (or if you don't have a tagine, you could just make this in a large saucepan) heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic until they are soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in all the spices and continue to cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes to allow the spices to open up. Add the chickpeas, raisins and carrots, stirring gently to incorporate all the ingredients. Pour in the water and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the honey a couple of minutes before it is ready to be served.

Sauteing the onions, garlic and spices in the base of the tagine

After adding the carrots, raisins, chickpeas and water,
it's ready to be covered and cooked over medium-low heat


Pizza Night with Chef Elizabeth

We don't have kids. We're both teachers, which means we actually do have kids (teenagers, in fact) - about 100 (each) for seven hours a day. On Chris's side we have eight nieces, four nephews and one great-nephew; on mine we have one niece. Almost all of our married friends have kids too, and the neighborhood is full of 'em. All of which is to say, we have plenty of kids in our lives, so we'll stick with having kitties instead of kiddies.

But this post is about our beautiful niece on Amy's side, Elizabeth, who is turning five. Auntie Amy is trying her best to make Elizabeth a chef-in-training, so the other night we had a pizza party!!! Although Uncle Chris had to toss the dough in the air (only because he's so good at it), Elizabeth put on the sauce, cheese and lots of pepperoni (keeping her hands very clean all the while). While the pizza was baking, Elizabeth very intently stirred up a quick batch of cupcakes for dessert (after making a handprint in the dry batter first, of course). Here are some photos of Chef Elizabeth at work. We hope enjoy your weekend and get to spend some time cooking with the ones you love!!!

Putting on the sauce while singing "Pizza is the sauciest"

Can't have dirty hands when you're cooking!

Handprint in the sand cupcake mix

Mixing up the batter


A Day at Farming Turtles Farm

Amy writes: A few weeks ago, Chef Lise asked me to take a field trip with her to Farming Turtles farm in Exeter, Rhode Island. The goal was work: to take some pictures of their products, both individually and within a variety of dishes made by Lise that day. Cameras, ingredients and chef-knives at the ready, off we went.

Lauri, CEO of the farm, greeted us with warmth and hospitality. She gave us the "lay of the land," offered us coffee, and introduced us to Myrtle the Turtle, the farm's mascot. Then the three of us sat to talk. We needed to know what sort of photographs Lauri was looking for (close-ups of each green, cut), and how she planned to use them (sales sheets, a catalog, and a new website). Once we had a plan, Lauri set off to gather greens while we set up.


Six hours, a few cups of coffee, a bottle of wine and about a dozen dishes later, we were ready to leave. We had countless photos of cut micro-greens and baby greens, greens growing in the greenhouse, lettuce, edible flowers and mushrooms growing on a sawdust log (which Lauri graciously offered to me to bring home to Chris). Lise created several dishes incorporating various farm products that we photographed as well. Myrtle even made it into a shot or two. We had tasted each green, each flower, each dish, and we were both satisfied and exhausted.

The Mushroom Log

It was a wonderful day, working with my favorite chef, working with food, working for people as cool as Lauri and everyone else we met at Farming Turtles. I can't wait to see what they do with the photos, but better yet, I got a taste of a different kind of life, one that more and more is calling my name. The question is, will I answer? That, I suppose, is for another time. Meanwhile, here are just a few of my favorite photos from the day at Farming Turtles.

Cut Microgreens

Edible Flowers

Baby Lettuces

In the Greenhouse

A Few of Lise's Plates


We Got Some Press!

Our dry-rubbed ribs are being featured on the Red Monkey Foods website and newsletter this month. Check it out!


Meatless Monday: A Fresh Take on Pasta Primavera

There's something about the old Pasta Primavera that is unappealing. Perhaps it's all the banquets where it sits in a hotel pan over sterno so long that it ends up as overcooked pasta slathered in separating butter and heavy cream. Or maybe it's all the weddings, where it's offered as The Vegetarian Option, in which said vegetables are sad, brown, withered and mushy like the so-called "green" beans in the school cafeteria. This evening we wanted to take another look at the pasta named after springtime and see if we could give it a freshness worthy of its name. Here's what resulted in a bright dish that had lots healthy goodness (thanks for all those spring vegetables), a good variety of textures (al dente pasta, crisp veggies and creamy ricotta), and a little bit of a kick (hello garlic and red pepper!).


1/2 pound penne pasta
1 cup fresh peas
1/4 pound green beans, cut in half
1/4 pound sugar snap peas
3 small carrots, cut into small rounds
1 small yellow squash, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
kosher salt
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped mint
Vegetables and herbs are prepped and ready to go

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta three minutes less than package directs. Add the peas, green beans, snap peas, carrots and squash in with the pasta and cook for the remaining time (3-4 minutes), until pasta and vegetables are to desired tenderness. In a large saute pan, add the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Put the heat on medium and begin to cook the garlic and pepper in the oil, taking care not to burn it. Drain the pasta and vegetables and add them to the saute pan; toss well. Stir in the parmesan and ricotta and salt to taste. Toss with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and serve into pasta dishes. Sprinkle each dish with some chopped chives and mint.

Pasta and vegetables boiling together for three to four minutes

Garlic and red pepper flakes heating up with some olive oil

Add some cheese, please!