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  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    by Deb Perelman
  • Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito
  • Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    by Alice Currah
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    by Ree Drummond
  • Bouchon Bakery
    Bouchon Bakery
    by Thomas Keller, Sebastien Rouxel


A Forever House. And a Cookbook Giveaway.

By December 15, 2012, we will have moved our family four times in 18 months. From New Jersey to Atlanta and back home. But when we move to our house in New Providence, New Jersey, we’re done.

We’re done moving.

It’s the promise we’ve made to ourselves and to our kids. We simply can’t do it anymore, Karen and I. And our kids can’t do it either. They’re done. And so are we.

We’ve taken to calling the new house our “forever house.” Where we will live forever. This has to be true for us. We have to tell ourselves this is true. Mostly because we feel so fragile that we just might break for good if we have to move again. And if we were really honest with ourselves, which we certainly are not, we’re afraid our kids will break. Yes, kids are flexible. Yes, they bounce back. But a rubber band stretched too many times loses its ability to bounce back. Or worse, it becomes thin and worn and snaps. And all of us are feeling a little thin and worn, not just by the moving but also by life.

2012 was a lot.  Among the many things...the death of a father at the beginning of the year.  And a hurricane at the end of October that wiped out our second car and destroyed too many belongings in storage, flooding them with river+sewage water that came rushing back from the ocean.

But. This is the best we’ve been in a long time. We’re home, almost. Almost. And we’re almost feeling happy.

We’re staying in a temporary apartment while we wait to close on our house. Five people in a very small two-bedroom apartment. Three kids in two beds. It’s tight. Incredibly so. But we’re OK.  

There is an empty apartment down the hallway from us. But two nights after the hurricane, we saw two Weimaraners poke their noses around the corner, dragging their owner, Amy, down the hallway. She and her niece were refugees from Hoboken, New Jersey. Their condo had flooded, water at least four feet high. Nearly all their belongings destroyed, they had grabbed clothes and the dogs and found themselves in our apartment building, dragging giant trash bags full of their wet clothes into their temporary home.

I had spent the day cleaning out our storage space after Karen took the kids to stay with her mom and stepfather in Pennsylvania, in an attempt to bring some sort of normalcy from a time filled with not-normal. I stayed in New Jersey, trying to save thousands of pictures in albums, throwing away mattresses and furniture. I got the easier of the two responsibilities.

Walking into our apartment building, there sat Amy and her niece and their dogs, waiting for the building custodian to unlock their apartment. I was covered in the remnants of river water that had flaked off our belongings. When she saw me, Amy said, “I bet I had a worse day than you did, and you look pretty bad.” I told her to try me.

“I lost my car,” she said.

“Nice. So did I. Try again,” I said.

A smile on her face. “I lost my home. And everything in it.”

We both started laughing, because if you don’t...well.

The next morning, we baked our new neighbors a loaf of Alice Currah’s Sour Cream Chocolate Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. Because when the chocolate chips are still warm and melty, there’s nothing more comforting to eat, especially when you need some energy to just keep going.

We’ve made a lot of Alice’s food this year, ever since we received a copy of her new cookbook, Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion. It’s joined the ranks of The Pioneer Woman's and Melissa Clark’s cookbooks in our house. That means we really cook from it. Every week. Because the food is good and reliable and comforting and filling. And honestly, we don’t have time to fuck around with food lately. It needs to be good so we can get on with life.

One of the most filling soups we’ve ever had is Alice’s Smoky Corn Chowder. Usually, it takes hours to get any depth of flavor. Quick soups usually taste like water and shortcuts. But this chowder is quick and memorable and terribly comforting. You'll have to buy the book to get that recipe. Money well spent. We depend on this book. And so will you.

Two of you are going to win a copy of it just by leaving a comment below. Tell us what you’re thankful for. That’s it. And thanks to William Morrow for making these two copies available for the giveaways and for our review copy.

We’ll go first. We’re thankful for our forever house. And for being a family. No matter what.


Congratulations to Jen Caplet and Betty Ann Besa-Quirino who each won a copy of Alice's book! 


Grilled Korean Barbecue Shredded Short Ribs and Pimento Cheese Sandwich on Brioche

Sweet baby j, this sandwich is good.

We could write something here about our childhood, or how our kids did something that made us realize something profound, or how I’ve gained 15 pounds in 16 weeks (true).

Or we could just tell you about the new sandwich we crave deep in our bones.

(And if you make a comment about my weight gain and connect it to this sandwich, I’ll probably bring my pasty white gut to your house for a little chit chat.)

A friend was in town a few weeks ago, attending a conference at the Four Seasons here in Atlanta. She wanted to meet for dinner and catch up.

Would I mind coming to the Four Seasons for dinner? Her treat.

I’ll be right there.

I’m not sure what I expected of the Four Season, but it wasn’t what I got. What awaited us on our table was a jar of pickled okra.

That’s a sure sign of a fine establishment.

Chef Rober Gerstenecker at Park 75, the restaurant inside the Four Seasons, is doing some very special bits of perfection. At the top of the list, even better than the pickled okra, was a grilled pimento cheese and short rib sandwich.

Moving to the South, we’ve had to reckon with pimento cheese. A far cry from the terrifying slop I dished out at the Indiana grocery store deli I worked in during high school. Pimento cheese has integrity and depth and a sliver of something special.

Short ribs are never a wrong answer in our lives, but Chef Gerstenecker took these in a different direction than our favorite Mario Batali recipe. These short ribs, shredded, were tangy and bright, a fine companion to the weighty pimento cheese.

Layered between two slices of what I’m going to say was brioche, but under all the golden butter crust, it’s impossible to know and entirely irrelevant.

One bite. I knew I had to recreate it.

Click to read more ...


Knife & Fork - Spruce Pine, NC [Wordless Wednesday]

From Karen

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to go to my grandfather's hometown of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. This past weekend (after saying good-bye to Chris and the kids as they headed off to Indiana), I ventured on my own to the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

I found a restaurant online last year called Knife & Fork that intrigued me. Finally, I had the opportunity to go, and it was so, so worth it. The dishes were superb. The ingredients were local and magnificent (like warm bread served with butter made from local honey, fresh thyme, and rendered pork fat). 

Go out of your way to get to Knife & Fork. Take the time to savor the mountains and the food. You will not be disappointed.   


Honey chevre pancake with candied hog jowl and kimchi

Braised chicken leg & thigh with lacinato kale and mashed potatoes

Coffee ice cream over a warm doughnut


Crawfish Étouffée

When we go to the grocery store as a family, we always have a game plan. I take one of our three-year-old twins, and Karen takes the other twin and our son. We do this as a simple act of survival. Move quickly, divide the store into the dairy side and the vegetable side, meet in the middle and get the hell out of there as fast as we can. The potential for meltdowns, whether from the kids or me, is excessively likely. So we move. With intention and desperation.

Karen and I use a grocery shopping app on our phones (GroceryIQ, if you care to know), so we can see what the other person has already found and what remains. We each get a set of aisles in the store, and we check off the items as they go into our respective carts. Add in a quick text message as needed, and we can fly through the store with a manic efficiency.

Except. Sometimes.

Sometimes, you get a call from your wife saying, “We’re in the seafood section. Get over here. Now.”

I spun the cart around with one of the girls in it, her Hello Kitty sandals barely holding on to her feet, and we found them all peering at a steel table as Karen wielded a set of long tongs.

“Get it, mom!”

She plunged her hand down, carefully squeezing the tongs. After a minor struggle, she lifted her tongs, just as she saw me approaching. She lifted her catch high in the air as I came closer and triumphantly called out, “They’ve got crawfish!”

Some of the best things going here in Atlanta are the farmers markets. Except, they're not farmers markets at all. Your DeKalb Farmers Market is Karen’s favorite (I prefer Buford Highway for the tortillas and Korean produce). Your DeKalb is more like a crazed import/grocery store hopped up on a fresh batch of meth after a three-day bender that involved a few crates of persimmons, a barrel of olive oil and a half-dozen smoked pig feet (if you follow me). It’s part bulk produce and spice shop, part bakery, part specialty cheese shop, and part butcher. Now take what you have in mind and triple the chaos and volume and you’re somewhere closer to an accurate view of Your DeKalb. So, it's pretty great. But do not, under any circumstances, go there on a Sunday afternoon around 1:00. Because this is when churchgoers pull into the parking lot by the hundreds, and shit gets real.

Karen happened to be in the seafood section showing two of our kids the giant trout swimming around in clear plastic tanks above their heads when a worker came up and dumped out a large bucket of crawfish. Karen said grown men dove for the tongs. The kids shouted that they “MUST SEE THE BABY LOBSTERS, NOW!” And that’s when she called me.

As I pulled up with the cart and the third child, we immediately lost control of the situation. That’s when one of the girls, with the Hello Kitty sandals, nearly climbed in with the crawfish.

Here’s the thing about our kids...they are a lot. They are amazing. They are funny and exasperating and just as prone to make each other laugh as they are to make each other cry. But god love them for having no fear, or almost none, in situations where I would expect them to freak out and cower. Instead, our kids dive face first into a mess of what they call baby lobsters.

We took turns with the kids, helping them use the tongs to grab a crawfish gently enough to not crush it and then place it in a plastic bag to take home. Then each of them wanted to hold a crawfish by its back. Which we helped them do in spite of the sign in front of us that clearly said children were not allowed to handle the seafood because they will probably get hurt and bleed on the floor and don’t sue us for your bad parenting choices, thank you.

We got a ridiculous amount of crawfish. For less than $8.00. And our kids got to be brave and grab on to the backs of baby lobsters.

And then we headed home. With absolutely no clue what we were going to cook.

Some quick searching for crawfish étouffée recipes led us to Saveur. With some adjustments, we made it our own, playing up the heat and black pepper and downplaying the amount of oil in the roux. The heat hits hard, but in the best way possible, demanding you eat faster.

One bite and Karen declared it the best she had ever tasted.

And by the end of our bowls, we were a little sad we hadn’t let the kids put even more crawfish in the bag to bring home.


Recipe | Crawfish (or Crayfish, whatever) Étouffée , adapted from Saveur

  • 2 pounds, live crawfish
  • 2 tblsp. + 2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or a little more)
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1⁄4 c. canola oil
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1⁄4 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1⁄4 c. finely chopped celery
  • 1⁄4 c. finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 3 c. chicken broth
  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 c. finely chopped scallions
  • Cooked white rice, for serving

Prepare the Crawfish

Please note that we realize that people get very passionate (read that as "crazy") about their crawfish/crayfish. As Karen says, "We didn't use spices while cooking the crawfish because we did all the spicing up in the étouffée. Make some kind of statement that we're not from Louisiana and there are many ways to boil and spice crawfish. We did it the Protestant way." I think that says it all.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 

Meanwhile, get another large pot and dump the crawfish into it. Crawfish are filthy and angry creatures, so get ready. Start filling the pot with water until the crawfish are completely covered. Let them hang for a few minutes and then dump the mothers into a colander. Repeat this two more times or until you no longer see sediment in the bottom of the pot. 

Once the water is boiling, add two tablespoons of salt (Kosher? Yes) to the water and then add in the crawfish. Congratulations, you just murdered your dinner.

Boil the crawfish for two minutes. Then put the lid on the pot and move it off of the burner. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then dump the crawfish into a colander and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process. Let them cool until you're ready to rip apart their bodies.

Yank the tails of the crawfish by holding on to their backs with one hand and then tug/twist their tails off of them. You are a monster. Now get the funk off of it. Karen yelled at me not to wash off the funk because it rinses off the flavor. So be strong and get the funk off as best you can. Also, grow up. You just murdered your food. Let's not get all delicate now, sweetheart.

You can get the tail exoskeleton off by squeezing the sides firmly until you feel it give away, and then peel it off from the tail meat.

Now go drink some wine or gin. You just turned your kitchen into a slaughterhouse. Wash away your sins with something stronger than a diet soda. Unless it is Tab. Tab is the best and goes well with any situation, including mass murder of small creatures. Everyone knows this is true.

Call your mom and apologize for all the shitty things you did growing up. Cry.

Better? Great. Now let's get our roux on.

Make the Étouffée

Combine the remaining two teaspoons of salt, cayenne, black pepper, basil, and thyme in a little bowl. Set the bowl aside.

If you have an enameled pot, get it out and heat it up. If you, like us, buy cheap enameled pots at Marshall's that chip easily and you shouldn't be using that thing anymore, then get a large, heavy-bottomed pot heating on high.

Add the oil. Once it starts smoking, add in the flour evenly across the oil and whisk like crazy, for a minute or so.

Now, ideally you're going to turn down the heat to medium low, and stirring frequently with a big wooden spoon, you'll brown the roux you just made for 30 minutes until it's looking like dark chocolate. Or, if like me, you forget you're cooking with an electric stove that retains the burner heat, this will happen in 7 minutes.

Add the onion and cook until softish, around 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and add in the bell pepper and celery along with one tablespoon of the spice mixture. Stir until combined.

In a saucepan, heat up the chicken broth until it boils. Once it's boiling, get the roux mixture back on medium heat and slowly whisk in the broth until combined, about two minutes. Move the pan off the heat. I know, it's a lot of moving it on and off, but buck up, you murderer.

In another saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter. Add in the crawfish tails and scallions. Stir. Cook for a minute and then add in the remaining spice mixutre. Stir and then add it all into the roux, stirring until mostly combined. Add in the remaining butter and stir until shiny and glossy.

Serve the étouffée in a shallow bowl (or eat directly out of the pan) and top with rice and the chopped scallions. We made yellow rice by adding tumeric and a pinch each of cinnamon and cloves while the rice cooked.


Coconut Southern Comfort Layer Cake from Bon Appétit

I forget how old I am.

It started when I turned 36. Someone asks me how old I am, and I have no response. I stare at them blankly and have to reply...

I forget.

That reply usually gets an uncomfortable laugh from the person who is waiting for my response. They don’t know if I’m joking. Or being a jerk. Or being coy about my age (I’m 29. Again. For the fifth time. Heh.) (Gross.)

I know what year I was born. 1973. 

But somehow I’ve lost the ability, on command, to have an immediate response to the simple question of “How old are you?”

Even when I began typing this, I had to force a number to appear in my brain. It always appears in the area above my eyes. In sadly dim, yellowish lights. 


And then I get a feeling that my brain has lost its place, as the brut force of all these years come pushing forward from somewhere in the back of my memory. Rushing forward against the 39, which elongates and explodes from the pressure of it all. Too many memories that seem timeless and immediate and unearthed from a completely forgotten part of my past, mixed tightly with bedtime stories that I just read to our kids.

Click to read more ...