Laissez les bons temps rouler

January 6 officially kicks off King Cake season in New Orleans. What a better time than New Year’s Day to get a head start and embrace the Cajun spirit of “laissez les bons temps rouler”- let the good times roll.

Our good friends the Zhangs joined us for New Years brunch today, and I was pumped to make a King Cake for the occasion. King Cakes are a Mardi Gras staple, and because nothing could be more logical, each one contains a plastic baby. The lucky cake eater whose slice contains the baby is responsible for providing the next cake. The Zhang’s 3-year-old was the big winner… he better deliver the goods next time.

We were fresh out of plastic babies, but luckily Sam’s in the thick of a major farm phase right now. His plastic pig toy was the perfect stand in. The recipe came from my new favorite cookbook, American Cake. The book tells the story of how many of our favorite cakes started, along with providing recipes and gorgeous photos. I can’t way to bake my way through it.

But enough about cake… luckily we have Mike to balance things out with some bacon. Mike made the most incredible shrimp and grits, you must give this Saveur recipe a try. If you like extra sharp cheddar cheese, bacon bits, garlic and shrimp, you’re in for a treat.

It’s going to be a good year. Among our resolutions: More vegetables. More time with our favorite people. More making things that make us happy.

I hope that 2017 really does let the good times roll for all of you.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Feast of the Nine Fishes

I’ve heard tales of a mythical Italian Christmas meal called “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.” In my mind, I picture Giada bring platter after perfect platter of crazy crustaceans, mollusks and fish to a table of adoring family members. Each dish is probably accompanied by lots of wine, and stories, and laugher.

Sounds like heaven.

If the Feast of the Seven Fishes lasted an entire week, it would be the week we just had in Florida visiting Mike’s parents. Like my imaginary Feast of the Seven Fishes, our week was glorious in many ways. We enjoyed built-in babysitters, lots of naps and time outside. In between trips to the beach, pool and swamp, we managed to eat no less than nine types of fish. Many of them were prepared by Mike’s mom Leanne, with your truly as the occasional sous chef.

In addition to Sam’s Goldfish, here are some of the other fishes we enjoyed this year:

Crab Cakes with Pepper Aioli: I made crab cakes! Had never done it before. This recipe calls for blending up 2 scallops to put into the mixture to help everything stay together. Leanne tip: get the lump crab meat from Costco. Another Leanne tip: Get a nutribullet to help blend up the red peppers for the delish aioli.

Firecracker Shrimp: This is a Hearne classic. Super simple shrimp wrapped in pancetta and grilled. Perfection.

Scoma’s Cioppino: Like many foods, I had never heard of cioppino until I met the Hearnes. It is a tomatoey seafood stew of the gods – you can put whatever type of seafood is freshest. Ours included shrimp, turbot and clams.

The USS Nemo: This Naples restaurant has a cult following on Yelp for their Miso-Glazed Seabass. It lives up to the hype… we also had delicious grouper and Salmon/Tuna Poke.

So there you have it… our very own Feast of the Nine Fishes.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Thanksgiving in the Heartland: Plan B

Honestly, our Thanksgiving week did not begin how we had imagined. Sam infected myself, Mike, my dad, my brother Jeff, my aunt Trish and uncle Andy with a stomach bug. Plan B consisted of my mom’s homemade chicken soup and lots of naps, which ended up being pretty wonderful. We all rebounded quickly, and whether by force of luck or Clorox, my mom and sister in law Lisa managed to stay healthy.

And so, we ventured to Tulsa later than planned but just in time for our annual Stolperfest Thanksgiving.

Aunt Susie’s Famous Relish Tray

The Newest Ping Pong Spectator

This Year’s Ping Pong Champions – Jeff and Stephen

We made a special excursion on our way back to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to see Ree Drummond’s Mercantile.  The Pioneer Woman opened a restaurant, bakery and shop in her hometown. The line to get in was far longer than our patience would allow, so we only saw it from the outside.

What I can tell you from our visit is that there’s a stark difference between the Pioneer Woman’s lifestyle as portrayed on the show and the real Pawhuska. Ree married into a very wealthy family who is near the top of the list of top 100 land owners in the US, so her life is different than many others in the town. We enjoyed wandering around the historic downtown and exploring a different side of the local culture.

Instead of the Mercantile, we went to Braum’s. As a religious bowl-a-night ice cream enthusiast, my grandpa Phil used to say that his car would automatically turn into Braum’s whenever he drove by. Grandpa Phil knew his stuff – I’m quite sure our meal at the Mercantile couldn’t have been better than a bag of burgers, crinkle cut fries and plain old delicious ice cream.

Sometimes, Plan B ends up working out better, anyway.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

A Very Hearne Halloween 2016

Last weekend, we hung out with the likes of Corduroy the bear, an astronaut, a sailor, a pig, a ghost, Marshall from Paw Patrol, a lion, two princesses, and our own Uncle Sam. We fed a monster, decorated cookies, and ate generous amounts of spooky treats. All in all, a pretty nice little Sunday.

Halloween is magical, if you think about it. It’s the only holiday I can think of where the whole point is to eat candy and not take yourself too seriously. Having a kid has taught me that we could all use a little more Halloween in our lives.

In this election year, we decided to go patriotic for our family Halloween costume theme. Knowing that our years of picking Sam’s Halloween costume are numbered, we made him into Uncle Sam before he is old enough to protest. Mike and I joined in the fun as Ken Bone (check out that ‘stache!) and Rosie the Riveter.

One thing I admittedly did take too seriously was the quantity of dessert needed for our little Halloween party. I got excited, one thing led to another and pretty soon I had made five desserts. Note to future self – you do not need to make five desserts. For real. After a full week of pawning the desserts off on neighbors and coworkers, we’re almost down to a reasonable level of daily sugar intake.

Nonetheless, here are the culinary highlights of this year’s Hearne Halloween:

Mummified Brie (thanks Laura!)

Hot Apple Cider: Simple and delicious Bobby Flay recipe

Halloween Bark: There are no rules. All you do is make this stupid simple Trisha Yearwood Sweet and Saltines recipe and throw whatever Halloween-themed goodies you want on top.

Dirt Graveyard: Mike’s only request… how could I say no?

Monster Cookies and Mummy Brownie Bites: Inspired by a post I had seen on Pillsbury’s website, I loved these quirky monsters from the moment I laid eyes on them and knew I had to make them myself.

Bundt Cakes: Mini bundts by the lovely Erica, Pumpkin Bundt by the lovely Marni, and Boozy Spice Cake by yours truly.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Banana Bread Confessions

Confession: I am impatient. The good news is there are some definite perks to being impatient, like today when I discovered how to transform bananas from yellow to black in 20 minutes. Because when you want banana bread, who wants to wait four days for the bananas to ripen?

I’ve had banana bread on my mind since I saw on Sam’s daycare menu that he and his friends enjoyed it for their mid-morning snack. It’s such a genius toddler food idea – it’s soft, it’s sweet and we often have extra bananas on hand. And while it’s basically cake, it’s called “banana bread” so maybe people won’t judge me for serving it to my toddler. His life is a constant meal so I’m always looking for new ideas and willing to try just about anything.

 With only 4 yellow bananas on hand, I turned to Epicurious for a hack. Low and behold, all you have to do is bake your bananas at 250 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes and they will turn from yellow to banana bread-perfect. While the black peel may look alarming, the insides turned out to be soft, sweet and ready to be baked.

I once learned that banana bread is one of the most searched-for recipes because everyone wants a use for their overripe bananas. As a result, there are approximately one zillion banana bread recipes in the world and everyone is partial to their own. Epicurious’s Favorite Banana Bread is pretty great – it calls for dark brown sugar and sour cream to give it a little extra depth of flavor. With regard to banana bread, I am firmly on team No Nuts, so I left those out.

My parents, Mike, Sam and I impatiently ate the banana bread warm soon after it came out of the oven, and it was everything I hoped it would be.

What’s your banana bread confession?

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Labor Day Feast

There’s a micro-season I had never experienced before I moved to Minnesota. The ten days ending with Labor Day are special here, filled with State Fair visits, family outings and festivities all with a single purpose: making the most of every last moment of summer. This year I’m feeling it even more as Sam gets ready to start his new school tomorrow. Wow, we already have a 16-month old kid! Unbelievable.

And so, to do our part for the cause, and because we love this stuff, we hosted a Labor Day Feast.

For some unknown reason, both Mike and I have recurring fantasies about feeding people abundant amounts of mind-blowing food. For Mike, it comes in the form of meat. Mike fires up our smoker nearly every weekend in the summer, so he’s been training for an occasion such as this for quite some time. Mike’s BBQ was seriously brilliant, and there was a lot of it: a 17-pound brisket, 3 racks of ribs and a whole mess of chicken wings. Bravo, Mike!
For me, it’s all about dessert.  A. I love sweets and B. Baking makes me feel like I’ve created a mini work of art that people get to enjoy. Day dreaming about dessert, as I often do, I had an idea to make a Pie Bar with one pie for each color of the rainbow: Cherry, Peach, Lemon Meringue, Key Lime, Blueberry and Blackberry. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it seemed like an appropriately awesome way to close out the summer. Henceforth, we will affectionately refer to this incident as Piemageddon. Peach and Key Lime were the crowd favorites.

Our amazing friends brought their adorable kiddos, incredible side dishes and even helped with the cleanup. How did we get so lucky?

The Labor Day Feast was a great excuse to get together with our good friends and squeeze just a few more delicious moments out of summer.

For all you Minnesotans, good luck with the first day of school tomorrow!

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Cuba Part VI: Richy

If you’d thought you’d made it through our entire 2,000+ word dissertation on Cuba without a post dedicated to food, you’d be wrong.  This is Two Happy Cooks. It’s time to get down to business.

We had heard mixed things about Cuban food – some said it’s bad, some said it’s so-so. Some said that’s baloney and that Cuba is experiencing a culinary revolution. We found all three of these to be true. Knowing that any place has good food if you learn from a good cook, we signed up for a cooking class to see for ourselves how it’s done.

Meet Richy, traditional Cuban food whisperer.

 Our taxi driver stopped to ask four different people for directions before we arrived at Ajiaco Café in Cojimar, a peaceful fishing village 15 minutes east of Havana that inspired Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At the Café, Richy guided us through a three-hour, hands-on experience where we cooked and ate our way through the cuisine of Cuba.

It was epic.

 Richy took us on a walk around Cojimar where we saw the ocean, listened to some street performers and visited the massive and abundant garden of his friend who supplies fresh herbs and produce to Ajiaco Café. We chatted with the restaurant’s chef and bartender, threw on our Ajiaco Café aprons and headed into the kitchen. Here’s what was on the menu:

Enchilada de Langosta y Camarones al Ron: Seafood in tomato sauce with rum. It is Cuban kitchen tradition to spill a little rum onto the floor for the spirits, and also tradition to taste a bit of rum from the cap. How could we not?

Ropa Vieja: Shredded beef, the most famous of Cuban dishes and basis for the American Sloppy Joe.  The linked recipe calls for a slow cooker, which we did not use at the restaurant but would definitely use if we were making this at home.

 Mojitos: The signature Ajiaco mojito has a bit of a twist on tradition, substituting honey for sugar and using aged rum. Pro tip – muddle the stem of the mint… that’s where the flavor is!

 It’s also Cuban tradition to serve So. Much. Food. In addition to the dishes we prepared, they also served us fresh-baked bread, croquettes and mini empanadas, root veggie-based Ajiaco soup, rice and beans. We felt better knowing that the staff eats the leftovers, or they get donated to a church.

Along with dessert, Richy made us more mind blowing Cuban coffee the traditional way.

We’ve come to the end of our Cuban adventure. In case you couldn’t tell, we’re pretty big fans of the place. We saw and experienced beautiful things and learned a ton, but the people we met were the true heart of our Cuban experience. But don’t take our word for it.  Go check it out for yourself, and bring us back some more Cuban coffee.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks