The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And no, I’m not talking about the song or saying this because it’s the holidays. I realize it might make me a bit grinchy, but I don’t like Christmas music. The one and only time I will permit Christmas music to be played in the house is during the decorating of the Christmas tree. I got my three hours of Christmas music in two weeks ago. And the Christmas tree looks beautiful. And yes, it’s real, so I won’t have any more people calling me bah-humbug.

For me, it’s the most wonderful time of the year because it’s roast season. It’s cold outside and cozy inside when you’ve got beef slowly cooking in the oven. I once told Jan that my favorite meal growing up was the beef stew my mom made with carrots and potatoes. That the beef fell apart with a fork and it was amazing. And I didn’t have to describe any more before he got to planning his own roast beef dishes. Continue reading

Lessons in Indian

Since my friend Anjali visited last year and Jan and I got our first lesson on cooking Indian food (see Indian Feast Masala), we were not very good students. Jan made one other dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking (Stir-Fried Green Cabbage with Fennel Seeds, or bhuni bahdh gobi) for me to bring to my book club when the food theme for that night was Indian (we were discussing The White Tiger), and then, we made nothing else for a while.

And then, in typical fashion for us, suddenly it was all about Indian food. Though I’ve never been a fan of curry, dinners out and about (at North India Bar and Grill and Malabar Restaurant in Santa Cruz) convinced me that there was so much more than curry to get me excited about Indian. I learned early on that I love naan, and also all the different pickles and chutneys that go along with them. Continue reading

Black Forest Cupcakes & Oktoberfest

Last year, Jan and I couldn’t get our act together in time for an Oktoberfest party in October, so we hosted one in November and called it “Noktoberfest” (see Lederhosen and Lebkuchen). Continuing the tardy tradition, we managed to host an Oktoberfest celebration this October, but it’s taken me until November to write about it.  Maybe next year I’ll get them both done in October!  And a few years down the line, I might actually be on schedule with Munich, which begins the 16-18 day beer festival in late September. Continue reading

Baby Got Baklava

When I told a few people my plans for Sunday, everyone seemed worried.  “Isn’t that really hard to make?” they’d ask, referring to the baklava I said I would spend the morning making. I’d been tasked with making baklava—the Mediterranean dessert made of layered phyllo dough and nuts—for my dad’s wedding reception, to go along with the Armenian food that would be catered for the event.  Though I’d warned that I’d only made baklava one time before with not-so-great results, I welcomed the challenge, and hoped I’d have better luck and be able to positively contribute to the celebratory meal. Continue reading

Swedish Meatballs

It hasn’t been dinner as usual at the Our Life in Meals household recently. During the past few weeks, Jan sent me updates (and photos) of various barbecue eaten across the Southwestern United States as he fought forest fires in Texas and Arkansas (driving there and back and seeming to stop at every barbecue joint along the way). Needless to say, I’ve gone through a few rotisserie chickens and boxes of cereal (not for the same meal, of course) while he was gone.

And because I’d let several weeks go by without posting to Our Life in Meals, the harder it became to begin again. Even once Jan returned home, I felt that we had to prepare some amazing meal for me to break the ice.

But it turned out that a seemingly standard dinner might do the trick when Jan and I combined our heritage to prepare one of the best meals we’ve had in months. Continue reading

Beef Jerky

I’ve been letting my harsh stance on kitchen gadgets slide in recent months, and before I knew it, we had another acquisition.  I will admit that I was fearful when Jan excitedly reported that he’d ordered a dehydrator and it would only be a matter of days before it arrived from Amazon onto our doorstep. He told me I should be relieved that he’d bought the Nesco FD-80, as he was tempted to buy the Excalibur (which we got a sneak peek at during our raw foods class: Going raw), but that it was three times the price and didn’t seem worth it. As Jan says, a dehydrator is not a complicated thing; it’s essentially a box with trays and a regulated heating element and a fan, and since the Nesco had adjustable temperature settings, it fit all the requirements.

When the dehydrator arrived, Jan was like a giddy child with a new toy. Continue reading

The Fifteen Minute French Dip

I’ve been craving a French dip sandwich ever since I tasted the original at Philippe’s in Los Angeles (The original French dip) and the Italian beef Sandwich at Taste Chicago, all on the same night.

When Jan barbecued tri-tip for dinner and we had lots of leftovers, I knew I finally had my chance to have this delicious sandwich again. I put away the slices of tri-tip, which Jan had already thinly sliced, and added a French baguette to our shopping list for the next day. Continue reading

More S’mores: Going Gourmet

I’ve written about s’mores before (Girls gone camping, Getting scientific about s’mores, One year ago: reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage), and thought I’d said just about everything that could be said about them. But, when it comes to the things you love, maybe that isn’t true—there’s always more to be said.  So here goes.

Jan and I spent last weekend camping with a group of friends at Huntington Lake, which meant in addition to the “regular” food we were bringing, we also brought plenty of s’mores supplies to go around. Jan did our shopping and bought the ingredients for the classic American s’mores: Honey-Maid graham crackers, Jet-Puffed marshmallows, and Hershey’s milk chocolate and Special Dark bars.

When we got to camp, we learned that we weren’t the only ones thinking about making s’mores.   Continue reading

Barbecue Sauce Taste Test: Chicken

What to do with a pantry full of barbecue sauce and a refrigerator full of chicken? Conduct a barbecue-chicken taste test, of course. The other night, I came home to find Jan in the midst of executing long-considered plan. Over the course of a few shopping trips, he had gathered the “original” flavors of a handful of barbecue sauces, all the while considering what he would do with them. And after reading a recent Consumer Reports article on the best barbecue sauces, it was finally time for him to conduct a taste test of his own.

When I got home, Jan already had a few guy friends over mixing drinks and snacking on appetizers. He had laid out the barbecue sauces in a row, and poured a small amount of each into a bowl. The sauce lineup of original flavor in no particular order: Stubb’s, Jack Daniel’s, Famous Dave’s, KC Masterpiece, and Sweet Baby Ray’s. Continue reading

Battle of the Birthday Cakes

It seems that everyone has a cake they prefer to get on their birthday, and in our family, it’s come down to two frontrunners, one a flashy store-bought treat, the other a homemade favorite. In one corner, we’ve got what we call the “choo-choo-train cake” from Baskin Robbins. Many of you might remember this cake from your childhood: chocolate cake and ice-cream (usually strawberry or vanilla flavor) rolled into a cylinder and decorated to look like a train. Large cookies form the wheels, an upside-down cone forms the smoke stack, and the rest of the details are created with large quantities of frosting. Continue reading