I wanted to share a link to this story I heard this morning on NPR about a man who’s created the National Mustard Museum (The National Mustard Museum: Passion for a Condiment) in Wisconsin that had me laughing in the car. He’s so passionate about mustard his mustard-jar collecting hobby quickly turned into an obsession.

While it’s taken me a few years to embrace mustard, (I never ate it as a kid and was a strictly mayo kind of girl), thanks to Jan’s influence, I’ve come to appreciate the value of this condiment. I also wanted to share my new favorite: Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard, which I’ve been using in just about everything from potato salad to deviled eggs.

I’ve come a long way, and while the five different types of mustard in my refrigerator right now can’t come close to the collection at the mustard museum, at least I can now appreciate the mustard-loving sentiment.

Mustard Madness

One step closer to a pasta machine

Jan is always looking for the next gadget to assist him in making the perfect meal. I, however, am perpetually concerned about the increasing amount of small, countertop kitchen appliances we accumulate in our linen closet/overflow pantry. It’s not exactly a good combination. It’s the same battle we experience with the condiments (An abundance of condiments, May 2010), but on a larger scale, as appliances are a bigger investment, both in money and space.

I hate being a spoil-sport who always says no, but regardless of what Jan will tell you, I do compromise. I still don’t think we need a pizza oven or a Margaritaville triple Frozen Concoction Maker. But, I’ll admit that the immersion blender is definitely a keeper as is the Williams-Sonoma Vegetable Chop & Measure we’ve recently been using to make quick and easy Pico de Gallo.

We recently made stuffed pasta shells and I realized, in making this meal, we were getting dangerously close to another kitchen gadget I have been putting off — the dreaded pasta maker. After the success of the stuffed shells, Jan’s thinking big: ravioli, tortellini, and–I know it’s coming. But, as we’ve yet to try the ravioli or tortellini with prepared dough, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Stuffed pasta shells

print recipe

  • 1 23 oz. container of ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 1 egg
  • Shredded mozarella or Italian-blend cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Homemade or jar of favorite pasta sauce
Stuffing shells with cheese mixture


  • Boil the shells according to package directions, about 4-5 shells per serving
  • While the pasta is cooking, wash the spinach and chop roughly
  • Saute spinach in a pan with olive oil until just wilted
  • In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, egg, parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • After draining pasta shells, stuff them with the cheese mixture and place in a baking dish filled about 1/4 inch high with pasta sauce
  • Cover shells with the remaining pasta sauce and sprinkle with mozarella or Italian-blend cheese
  • Bake in oven at 350 degrees F for 45-60 minutes, until cheese is beginning to set
Ready to eat

All Problems Solved with a Bit of Fried Cheese

Smažený sýr (I attempt to pronounce it like the Czechs as smah-jeh-knee seer) is a dish that Jan and I ate every day that we were in the Czech Republic. This probably doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that it is basically a steak-sized portion of breaded and deep-fried cheese, often served with french fries, braised cabbage, and a tartar-type sauce. I had never experienced this cheesy goodness until visiting the Czech Republic, and it didn’t sound appealing to me when Jan described it to me beforehand. But, it was so amazing, whenever we sat down at a restaurant to eat there, that had to be one of the dishes we ordered.

Upon our return, Jan assured me that we were safe from continuing our overindulgence in smažený sýr at home, since he’d tried multiple times to make it and it never turned out right.

Well, we were safe for a while. Some time later we ate at San Francisco’s Cafe Prague, and Jan got to talking to one of the chefs there. The two began speaking in Czech so rapidly that I couldn’t even pick out the five Czech words I knew (which include the essentials: beer, ice cream, good, bad, and cheese = syr). Later, Jan reported to me the most important part of their conversation: the secret to making smažený sýr, or fried cheese. Continue reading

Super Sushi Love Boat

Hosting friends for dinner at our home is a regular occurrence and one of my favorite pastimes. I also enjoy being a dinner guest. I love when our friend Nevin has us for dinner, as it often involves sampling many Trader Joe’s appetizers at her house, or her taking us out. Nevin’s philosophy is, if she bought it, that means she cooked it, and that works for us. This time, it was the Sushi love boat for two, which we realized, after the three of us devoured the whole thing, probably should feed about four. At Japanese Kitchen in Clovis.

Ribs and Champagne

Ribs and Champagne might not be a traditional combination, but it ought to be. When paired with Jan’s version of brussels sprouts and Czech potato salad, all the components came together surprisingly well. I found brussels sprouts too bitter before I tried Jan’s take on them, which he sautéd in chicken broth and bacon.

Bacon Brussels Sprouts

print recipe

1 lb Brussels sprouts

2-3 slices of bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chicken broth

Salt and pepper, to taste


Wash Brussels sprouts, trim the ends, cut them in half, and set aside. Cut bacon into 1/2 inch strips and saute over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove bacon and the fat from the pan, leaving about 1 teaspoon worth of bacon fat. Add olive oil to pan and add the Brussells sprouts to begin cooking. (Option to keep all the bacon fat and use instead of the olive oil, or remove all the bacon fat and use only olive oil). Add chicken broth, and cover pan with lid. Let cook until Brussels sprouts are tender and the broth is mostly absorbed. Uncover, add bacon, salt and pepper, and stir together for another few minutes.

For a bacon-free version, simply sauté the Brussels sprouts in the olive oil, then add the chicken broth.

Getting scientific about s’mores

I can and will use any excuse to make s’mores. It’s winter time? Well, I should sit by a nice fire and roast some marshmallows. It’s summer? The perfect time for camping, campfires, and making s’mores outdoors. I adore chocolate in any form, but the funny thing is, I’ve never been crazy about graham crackers or marshmallows on their own. But when it all comes together in melty, messy gooeyness, there’s no comparison to anything else. 

Roasting technique

 Jan and I recently camped with our friends Ken and Amy at the Dorabelle campground in Shaver Lake. While Jan was busy putting together all the ingredients for our feast of steak tacos, Spanish rice, and refried beans, I was doing my part: getting out the two-pronged skewers reserved specifically for the task of roasting marshmallows over a fire. 

Now, I had to endure a bit of teasing for the degree of seriousness of which I took the s’more-making, and luckily Ken appreciated my scientific approach. Everyone laughed as I demonstrated my technique. I got out two graham cracker squares, placed two squares of Hershey’s Special Dark on top of one, and placed the graham crackers over the bbq grate part of the fire pit. While my chocolate was melting, two marshmallows were skewered and slowly roasted. Just before the marshmallows were so hot inside they were ready to melt off the skewers, I placed them on top of my graham cracker with melting chocolate, covered with the other graham cracker, and removed the skewer. 

Ken still needs some practice

 Of course I got chocolate and marshmallow everywhere in the process, but my s’more was amazing. Everybody else joined in making s’mores, but they went more for the set-the-marshmallow-on-fire and char the graham cracker approach. My method took a bit more patience and wasn’t so satisfying for pyromanics, but either way, I’m dreaming about the next campfire.

Indian feast Masala

Rough translation: spiced Indian feast. Since Laura gave me Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking and a large bag full of Indian spices and ingredients, I’ve been excited for my first foray into Indian cooking. A weekend visit from my friend Anjali was the perfect time: I would have a well-practiced coach to guide me. 

Our list of items to make from the cookbook: onion fritters, yogurt sauce with tomato and cucumber, and rice with mushrooms and mustard seed. Anjali used her own recipe for Chana Masala, which translates to spiced chickpeas. I knew it wasn’t Indian, but I included a toned-down version of the Lebanese Fattoush salad with Romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato, green onion, radish, and the Sumac salad dressing. 

The spices bring the scent of Indian cuisine into the kitchen

We made a list of things we needed from the store, including the spices nutmeg and cardamom, chickpea flour, and vegetables. We already had many of the spices, including whole and ground cumin, whole cloves, and whole coriander seeds, and even though the recipes called for ground versions of those, I was confident we could use the mini food processor to grind the spices.

India Sweets and Spices on Cedar and Herndon (in the same shopping center as Tahoe Joe’s and Casa Corona) provided us with chickpea flour, which was called Besan or Chana flour. Anjali also recommended an Indian trail mix of sorts called Kaju mixture, which was a spicy blend of nuts, puffed rice, potato sticks, chickpeas and spices. 

Turning whole cloves into ground

At home, as soon as we began grinding the spices, the kitchen smelled fragrantly warm and rich. The food processor, however, couldn’t get the spices ground fine enough, and the volcanic mortar and pestle wasn’t cutting it either.

Through a combination of the mortar and pestle, as well as putting the spices in a zip-top bag and hitting them with the smooth side of the meat grinder, we managed to grind them sufficiently. Next time, I’ll buy the spices pre-ground or figure out a better solution. 

Onion fritters

We made the yogurt sauce first, which combined plain yogurt with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, diced tomato, and diced cucumber. I often make a similar yogurt sauce to serve with grilled salmon, but this version kicked it up a notch with the spices.

Anjali began prepping the ingredients for the rice and Chana Masala, and quoted her mom, saying the beginning to a great Indian feast starts with oil, cumin, and onions. Soon after, she added the mustard seeds, and waited for them to start popping in the oil. The kitchen began to smell better and better. 

Fireworks on our plates and for the Fourth of July

While the rice and chickpeas cooked, we got to work on the onion fritters, which combined onions, yellow mustard seed, chickpea flour, chopped jalapeno, and spices.

We sat outside in the front courtyard and watched Jan and our neighbors set off fireworks for the Fourth of July. Our Indian feast was definitely a success and the onion fritters were the biggest hit of the night. The yogurt sauce offered a light and tangy flavor that complimented the fried bites. I also found the combination of the mushroom rice and Chana Masala to be surprisingly good. With a full stomach, a new confidence and sense of adventure, I was ready to tackle more recipes in the book.

Pizza perfected

We ate the most amazing pizza the other night thanks to our friends Russell and Amy. Russell, who just happens to be a professional baker, just had a massive pizza oven installed at his home, and we were lucky enough to get to try it out.

The bacon and red onions on the deep-dish pizza made an excellent combination

While Russell perfected his dough, letting it sit for 3 days (I’ve still so much to learn about making bread), some of the fun was left for us: topping the pizzas, which I can definitely do. On top of a deep dish crust, I added pepperoni, bacon, red onion, red, yellow, and green peppers, mushrooms, and artichokes. Jan’s thin-crust pizza was a monster with double cheese, tomatoes, basil, and artichoke hearts so high that Russell wasn’t sure he’d be able to slide the pizza off the wooden cutting board and into the oven. Our friends Kristi and Ferol also got into the action, making a thin-crust margarita pizza, and another combination deep-dish.

Margarita pizza and Patron margaritas were another good pair

While Russell insisted his dough recipe needed perfecting, we all had to disagree. It was amazing! The thin crust was crunchy and light, and the deep-dish was the first time I’d had that style pizza without it being a soggy, greasy mess.

Amy and Russell sent us home with some dough for another pizza and I’ve now got my work cut out for me: trying to convince Jan a pizza oven shouldn’t be our next big investment.

Lessons in fattoush

I love the fattoush salad served in Mediterranean restaurants, but have never been able to perfect the combination of ingredients to get the right flavor at home. My dad recommended this recipe to me and sent me home with the ingredients I was missing. He really wanted me to try it.

I tried it that night, and followed the recipe pretty much exactly, except I added Feta cheese (the recipe didn’t call for cheese of any kind). When I was putting in the mint, Jan looked over my shoulder and said, “that’s a lot of mint,” to which I repied, “It’s in the recipe!”

Well, when it was time to eat the salad, he was right. The salad probably would have been much better with less mint, or, without any of it, which I think I’ll probably do next time.

The dressing, however, was amazing, and I had never used Sumac before (Dad sent me home with a little bag of it). I’m now convinced it must be the secret ingredient to get the authentic taste I was missing in earlier attempts.

Here’s the recipe for the dressing:

Sumac salad dressing

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Sumac

1/4 cup olive oil


Use a garlic press or finely chop the garlic, then mash with the salt in a bowl with the back of a spoon. Add the lemon juice, Sumac, and olive oil and whisk together. Store until ready to serve.