very favorite chocolate cake

In 2010, I was without a romantic Valentine for the first time in 15 years (lest that sound like the worst ever humble brag, lit-rally all of those long ago Valentines make me look back and shake my head at my younger self, so, there’s that). And I was really feeling it; getting used to living by myself and fighting not very successfully to stay optimistic about whatever might be next. My lovely seester called me on VDay, and asked about my plans. I told her that I was going to keep it low key, maybe Thai and Netflix, but that first I was headed to Kitchenette for one of their awesome hot chocolates. She agreed that this was a solid plan, and we hung up. When I got to Kitchenette and placed my order, the gal behind the counter said, “Oh, Jessica?” and gave me not only my hot chocolate but also a cupcake. Joie, in her infinite wonderfulness, had looked up the restaurant’s info, called ahead, given them a description of me, and ordered me an extra treat. I was so touched, but not exactly surprised. My seester is incredibly thoughtful and kind hearted. And, she knows the power of a really great cupcake.
choc cupcakes-4
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pinterest cooking–chicken + spinach flautas

My wonderful sister, whose eye for a good recipe I trust completely, has two food related boards on pinterest: Food and Keeper Recipes. She also has a wonderful board titled Happy that has a picture of the world’s largest rubber ducky and one of my all time favorite Ron Swanson quotes. That has nothing to do with this recipe, but much to do with her general awesomeness. Anyway. I keep an eye out for her pins generally, but I seriously stalk her Keepers. It’s how I decided to try oven-fajitas, and has me thinking about jambalaya and Parmesan pork chops. Most recently, my sister’s clever pinning inspired me to make baked chicken and spinach flautas. And just as has been true so many times before in our shared life (other examples include buying the same skirt at Anthro and falling in love with new to me bands), following her example was a fabulous call.

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discovering new staples

So many of my weeknight meals revolve around pasta. Usually quick and not complicated to make, easy to adapt, and great for eating all week. As much as I like to experiment with new recipes, there are a few pastas I come back to again and again, especially when I want something simple, comforting, and (relatively) fool-proof. This linguine, with butternut squash, goat cheese, and bacon, is high on the list.

sauteing squash

sauteing squash

This is one of the very first recipes my sister made in her first post college grownup kitchen…which means it’s one of the first recipes she independently picked out and cooked. Unlike me, she didn’t have suites with kitchens in college, and neither of us cooked very much growing up (our mom is such a cooking rockstar that I think we were both content to just enjoy). Joie moved into her first solo apartment the weekend of Halloween in 2004, and this recipe is from that year’s December Real Simple. I love the idea of her doing some of her very first just for her grocery shopping (not counting college mini fridge friendly snacks…), treating herself to a Real Simple, and deciding to give this recipe a whirl. And I love that she shared her early kitchen success with me. Continue reading

podcast cooking–stuffed delicata squash

Last spring one of my awesome students, who knew I was food crazy and blog obsessed, asked me if I read Joy the Baker. I told her I didn’t and she said, “JESSICA. You have to read her blog–she reminds me of you, if you drank in the shower!” Little does she know, I thought to myself, that I consider drinking in the shower one of life’s greatest treats (seriously, try it! champagne will make you feel especially like you’re getting away with something). I started reading, and was quickly hooked. When I told my student, who has a fantastic blog of her own, she urged me to listen to Joy’s podcasts, too.

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sharing food while far away

Today is my little sister’s 30th birthday, which I can’t quite believe–she’s the baby! Tho, given that “the baby” is barely 20 months younger than me and I’m rounding 32…here we are. I wanted her to come to New York so I could throw her a fabulous party, but instead she had to go to Germany for a science conference. So I can’t do what I would like to do to celebrate her (see her in person, bake her a cake, chat all day) but I can send her emails and fbook messages, and I can make this recipe she taught me for eggplant parmesan.

Growing up together on our mother’s awesome home cooking and the special food we only had when our father was in charge of dinner (cut up hotdogs fried in butter spring to mind…), my sister and I have endless food associations and memories. I learned to love mushrooms when she was a vegetarian and wondered how on earth she could dislike coconut and peanut butter when we were kids. We twirl our forks in the same way when we’re fidgety at the table. And since we’ve gotten older, we’ve shared cooking successes and failures, talking on the phone while we grocery shop or make dinner. Our recipe repertoires overlap so much that we often find we’re making and craving the same thing–I remember visiting her in Alabama for the first time and realizing that, tho we’d never talked about it, we both kept our recipes in white three-ring binders on our counters, and that each of us had my friend Molly’s mother’s recipe for sausage and cream pasta on a handwritten card stuck into the cover of the binder.

And, we share new recipes. Whenever one of us makes something delicious for the first time we pass it on, as Joie did with this eggplant parm recipe she picked out of one of our mother’s healthy cooking magazines on a visit home. She’s a much more experimental and adaptive cook then I am (I stick like obsessive glue to recipes, but I’m working on it), so when I ask her to share a new favorite I know I’ll seldom get an exact copy of someone else’s recipe. And sometimes, she rewrites recipes in a way that is almost more fun than the food itself…as demonstrated by the recipe below that she emailed me several years ago. So tonight I made her eggplant parm, along with some kale (sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice), and toasted my sister who is far away in Germany, but also as close as the next thing I cook.

joie’s eggplant parm, in her own words

you take mr. eggplant-1 medium to large good lookin’ fella will do ya, and slice him up into about 1/4 inch thick rounds.

then you brush the slices w/ the olive oil, sprinkle them w/ the garlic salt and the pepper.

then you apply the storebought italian breadcrumbs to the slices via your own chosen method, i favor shaking a bunch of breadcrumbs out onto a plate and then pushing the eggplant slices into them.

do both of these steps on both sides.

thennnnn you wanna lay out all of your slices on a cookie sheet & place them under the broiler (i think the recipe says something like 5″ from it?) for about 5 minutes per side (you’ll need to watch them rather carefully because they do like to burn a little on top, but if they do, it’s not that big of a deal, you can’t taste it, really).

then you take about a fourth of a cup of storebought marinara sauce and spread it around on the bottom of your 9×13 glass baking dish.

then you layer your eggplant slices on top of that.
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then you toss on top as much of a jar of drained and chopped up roasted red pepper slices as you desire (I think they call for a full jar, and that is a LOT).
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then you sprinkle around 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes if you’re into that sort of thing.

then you spread around some more marinara then you top with about 2 cups shredded mozzarella and however much parm you desire for i cannot remember how much it is supposed to be.

and then bake him uncovered, at 325 until delicious, or somewhere around 40 minutes. mostly you just want the cheese good and melty.

et voila!!