Potty Training and a Tapas Party

This was a big weekend for the Hearne household. Feeling ambitious, we attempted potty training and hosting a multi-course Spanish meal in the same weekend. The only casualties were a batch of overcooked garlic and a few pairs of underwear.

Yes, Sam took the plunge and wore big boy briefs for the first time. I’d call it a moderate success – there were lots of celebratory, proud moments along with a handful of accidents. The main piece of wisdom I have to impart as it relates to this rite of passage: Don’t pretend to be a grizzly bear on the first day of potty training.

One of Sam’s favorite games is to hide in a room or closet while Mike or I come in and pretend to be a big bad wolf, or monster, or grizzly bear. Per usual, Sam, Hannah and I huddled together in the dark closet while Mike came in roaring and bellowing in his best grizzly bear voice. Apparently it was a little too convincing because Sam got scared and it didn’t end well for that particular pair of undies.

It happens to the best of us.

In spite of potty breaks every 20 minutes, we also somehow managed to host Mike’s parents and brother for a tapas party in honor of Mike’s mom Leanne’s birthday. This was an especially fun meal to make as Mike and I relived our semester abroad in Barcelona. I was reminded that all things Spanish are doused in olive oil and garlic. And, I learned that Smoked Paprika is a magical elixir that makes everything deeply smoky, sweet and enticing.

Without further ado… El Menu:

Apps: Manchego, Olives, Cured Meat (to our dismay, Jamon Iberico was nowhere to be found near Plymouth, MN)

Tapas: Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp); Pinxtos Marunos (Pork Tenderloin Bites); Patatas Bravas (‘Fierce’ Potatoes), Ensalada Mixta courtesy of Leanne

Dessert: It was Leanne’s birthday, after all, and birthdays require cake. So, we deviated from the Spanish theme and made Amy Sedaris’s Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting and homemade vanilla ice cream on the Chef’N Sweet Spot instant ice cream maker. I’d tell you that the ice cream was delicious and fun to make, but the portions were small and not fully frozen.

All in all, I feel like we really achieved something and leveled up on both parenting and hosting by attempting and not totally failing at both of these endeavors in the same weekend. I’ll count it as a win on both accounts.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Big Weekend in the Mini Donut

This weekend, my Mom and Dad visited from Kansas City and we lived the Bold North Minnesotan dream. On Saturday, we ventured out in below zero temperatures for a visit to the St. Paul Children’s Museum and the legendary Cecil’s deli. Not to be deterred by the snow, we piled in the car in search of lunch and shopping on Sunday. And, we watched the Vikings come back against all odds to beat the Saints in the game that for one shining moment, made everyone (even me!) into a football fan.

I’m always looking for an excuse to bake, and I wanted to make a Minnesota-inspired treat for the family to enjoy this weekend. I settled on mini donuts for reasons that are obvious to no one.

On our way home from Florida this Christmas, Mike and I pulled out our best Mom and Dad jokes and told Sam we were heading to home to Minnesnowta. Sam added his own twist and decided we live in the “mini donut.” From then on, Sam has continued to refer to Minnesota as the mini donut.

One of my most memorable mini donut experiences was at Cafe Lurcat on my General Mills recruitment trip to Minneapolis before I moved here. I remember thinking… mini donuts? For dessert? Turns out they knew what they were doing. Ten years later, hot mini donuts are an annual state fair favorite for me and many others, and in my opinion, a true Minnesotan experience.

And so, I invested in a pair of mini donut pans. I researched recipes and toppings. And Saturday at 7:30 AM after watching the entire Lion King movie for the 5th time in five days, Sam and I whipped up a batch of these baked mini donuts from Baker Bettie

These donuts were perfection and made us all very happy. They’re mini. They’re soft and cake-y. And they’re covered in cinnamon sugar or sprinkles… what’s not to like?

In celebration of all things Minnesotan, maybe I’ll remake these with yellow and purple sprinkles if the Vikings defy all odds and go to to the Superbowl. But even if not, these little guys will be making many appearances at brunches in the next year. 

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks 

Homemade S’more Bar

Happy 2018, friends! We rang in the new year Sunday at 4:30 PM with close friends, a throng of toddlers and the output of a 24-hour baking frenzy.

Say hello to the Homemade S’more Bar.

The Graham

Approximately 50% of Sam’s diet consists of graham crackers. And what is a graham cracker, exactly? Best as I can tell it’s a cookie that includes just enough whole wheat Graham flour to allow it to pass as a “cracker.” I was thrilled to receive the Dori’s Cookies cookbook from the revered Dori Greenspan as a gift from the Hearnes. I was even more excited to see the recipe for graham crackers and to finally make them for myself.

The hardest part of making graham crackers was assembling the food processor. They turned out slightly thicker and less sweet than the store-bought kind. Ultimately, we liked them and I’m glad I made them. Given the massive quantity of graham crackers we consume, we’ll be sticking to Costco for the bulk of our graham cracker supply.

The Mallow

The next component of homemade s’mores were Ina Garten’s Homemade Marshmallows. These. Were. Epic. And totally worth the time and effort – they took 20 minutes and required no baking. A homemade marshmallow doesn’t even compare to store bought – these were so much more flavorful and delicious. I made vanilla but next time want to experiment with other flavors like caramel, Kaluha, Bourbon, Crème de Menthe, and whatever else I dream up.

As any S’more maker knows, the marshmallows are significantly better warmed up. Pop your s’more in the microwave until the marshmallow just starts to puff up and you will be rewarded.

The Extras

I felt the need to make additional s’more components, and what better than chocolate chip cookies as an alternative to graham crackers. I made half with chocolate and half with white chocolate chips. Key learnings – you can’t go wrong with a chocolate chip cookie as part of a s’more, and toddlers love white chocolate chips.

I didn’t tackle making my own chocolate for this project… maybe next time. Instead, we bought a variety of chocolate bars, and some Nutella and Biscoff Cookie Spread to slather on the grahams.

All in all, I would call the S’more bar a success. I think it works well for parties of any sort, summer or winter.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

The Great Big Challah Bake

Last night, I was one of 400 lucky ladies who gathered for Minneapolis’s Great Big Challah Bake.

For starters, I think we broke a record for the most Jewish people ever to assemble in Medina, Minn. Yes, 400 women arrived at the Medina Ballroom around 7:00 and each one walked out two hours later with two ready-to-bake, beautifully braided challahs. The logistics of this alone are mind boggling – the ingredients were meticulously pre-measured, the tables were set and the event organizers anticipated every possible baking need. A demonstrator showed each step on stage but “challah doctors” roamed the scene to help with any dough maladies that arose. Pun intended.

What struck me most about the event was the incredible diversity of women present. It was mostly a Jewish event, but I was reminded that this can mean so many things. There were girls as young as ten, grandmothers, and everyone in between. Some women were raised in other religions, while others wore wigs and skirts in keeping with Orthodox Jewish law. Over the course of the event, I heard women speaking in Spanish, Russian and Hebrew.

The Great Big Challah Event is part of an international movement called The Shabbos Project. Their mission is to inspire people around the world to celebrate a compete Shabbat, or sabbath, and connect with their families, communities and themselves. In 2016, people in 85 countries and more than 1,000 cities participated in Shabbos project events and I’ve seen Challah Bake pictures this year from Silicon Valley, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Paris and more.

What I loved about this event was a) delicious challah, b) spending time with friends new and old, and c) feeling part of something bigger. I believe that people have more similarities than differences, and I loved getting together with a diverse group of people around a common purpose.

Footnote – my challah braids looked pretty great when I left the event, but between the car ride, Saran Wrap and a night in the fridge, they came out looking a little like Jabba the Hut. They are truly delicious though – better tasting than my first challah attempt last month.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks 

Challah Flow

Challah is a special, magical bread. It’s soft, sweet, golden and eggy… completely addictive and drop dead gorgeous. I’ve witnessed, participated in and enjoyed the benefits of others’ challah making in the past, but never attempted do it beginning to end all by myself. This weekend, that changed, and I think I fell in love.

Have you ever heard of Flow – the state of being totally engrossed in and energized by something? Apparently that’s me when I’m making challah. 

Round braided challahs started silently invading my carb-heavy Instagram feed last week, and I could not get them out of my head. The circular variety is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, which is coming up this Wednesday. That seemed like a great excuse to give it a go.

Bread making and anything yeast-related typically intimidates me, but this time, I decided, would be different. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and meticulously measured the water temperature and weighed all of my ingredients out on the scale. I let the dough rise in our garage, much warmer than our over air conditioned house. And best of all, I braided. 

I found this whole process to be deeply satisfying.

The challahs turned out pretty great… but I want to raise the bar. I want them to be sweeter and eggier. I want to try new types of braids. And I want to try to make challah baking into something of a ritual. Weekly is aggressive, but even every couple of months might be a good place to start. 

Have any good tips or recipes? Send them my way!

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

The World Series of BBQ

This weekend, Mike, my brother Jeff and the rest of the Smokin’ Bunz BBQ team competed in the American Royal in Kansas City.

They don’t call it The World Series of BBQ for nothing… the American Royal surpassed all my expectations about what a BBQ competition would be like. Think of it as tailgating on steroids minus the sports. It’s held over three days inside the track at the Kansas Speedway; you could not have found a more appropriate venue than this 75,000-capacity NASCAR stadium for an event filled with other great American dude pastimes like meat, smoke and booze. And apparently bacon pants.

More than 400 teams from near and far competed for ultimate BBQ glory. Near the Smokin’ Bunz tent alone, we met the Japan BBQ Shogun Society, Craft & Cleaver from the UK, as well as teams from Germany, South Korea, Quebec and more. There were plenty of local entries with magnificent names and logos I could devote an entire post to like Overland Pork BBQ, Redneck Scientific, Inhognito, Grills Gone Wild, Pork Illustrated, Pig Newton and the Dead Poultry Society.

The Smokin’ Bunz team moved into their tent at the Speedway around dawn on Saturday and began smoking the first round of meat for the party Saturday night. I don’t know if it was the intense smell of smoke, crowding around standing tables with the whole family or just darn good food, but this was a spectacular meal. We feasted on brisket, chicken wings, ribs and assorted other pork parts complemented by a massive tray of coleslaw my mom whipped up. Because, vegetables.

When we left around 9:30 Saturday evening, the Smokin’ Bunz team was just getting started. They spent Saturday night at the Speedway prepping for their Sunday “Turn In,” or official entry of chicken, ribs, pork, brisket and sausage. Mike and Jeff came back home Sunday late afternoon exhausted, smelling of smoke and anxious to hear their scores.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the results.

Smokin’ Bunz came in #247 out of 407 teams overall for the open competition. They ranked 53rd for chicken, 250th for ribs, 249th for pork, 341st for brisket and 189th out of 197 for sausage. I am super impressed and am grateful to have gotten to help consume some of that sweet, sweet meat.

Having only experienced this as a guest and not a competitor, I think I learned that the beauty of the American Royal and BBQ in general is about slowing down. In a world where faster is better, smoking meat is a process that cannot be rushed. We should all be so lucky as to have such a passion for something and people we like enough that we want to spend two days with them just chewing the fat. So to speak.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Gift Card Weekend 2017

If you’re like us, you have a drawer where gift cards go to die.

Enter Gift Card Weekend 2017. The goal: Fight back against the unused gift card epidemic and spend as many as possible in one rainy weekend. The results: There were some wins, some fails and some surprises. Here’s how Gift Card Weekend 2017 went down:


  • Two Mystery Gift Cards to Lunds & Byerly’s: I picked up a few necessities like gelato, fresh flowers and bacon. Gift Card #1 had a $0 balance. Gift card #2 had a $5.00 balance. #GiftCardFail. Bought it all anyway.
  • $25 to Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants: Big Bowl Express inside Lunds & Byerly’s is a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. I planned to get the Friday Family Dinner deal for $22. The gift card did not work at the register. #GiftCardFail, again! Bought it anyway, again.


We regained some confidence after Mike successfully bought two BBQ sauces with a $10 Kitchen Window gift card. Feeling ambitious, we arrived at the Mall of America with a stack of gift cards in hand and nothing to lose:

  1. $10 to Jamba Juice: Mike got a $5 Mango A-Go Go Smoothie. I detest smoothies. We gave the remaining $5 to the people behind us in line. Gift Card Weekend is about giving, too.
  2. $10.71 to Barnes & Noble: Sam walked out with Dinosaur Dance and the Animal Alphabet
  3. $25 to Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants: We were so excited for crepes at the Magic Pan Crepe Stand and to redeem ourselves from the Friday Lettuce Entertain You gift card fail. At the last moment, I realized we forgot to bring it. We were too excited about crepes. Bought them anyway without the gift card. #GiftCardFail number three.
  4. $100 to Macy’s: I’m way more excited than Sam about his first dress pants, vest and tie for my cousin Avery’s Bat Mitzvah. Only managed to spend $34 at Macy’s, will save the rest for the next Gift Card Weekend…
  5. $50 to Creative Kidstuff: Sam picked out a birthday present for his friend Ross and of course, a car for himself.
  6. $136 to Anthropologie: My most anticipated gift card. Found a new dress. Was feeling pressured to leave by some nameless members of our family who were more than done shopping at this point. Bought the dress. Have since decided the dress isn’t quite right. Taking the dress back.
  7. $100 to D’Amico: Enjoyed some killer braised short ribs, scallops and an amazing Butterscotch Budino at Campiello in Eden Prairie. We blew through the gift card and then some after Mike ordered a glass of 40-year old port. You only live once.


  • $100 to Target: Sam scored again with some new bacon & egg-themed PJs. We used the rest to restock our medicine cabinet and cleaning supplies. Super glamorous lives we lead.

The Bottom Line: Gift card shopping bonanzas aren’t as easy as you’d think. I think we may need to practice our technique again soon…

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks