VR birthday!

amongst all of the wondrous holiday bustle, we just want to take a moment to wish the blog a happy birthday!

our very first post was on december 25 of 2008, 1 year and 1 day ago...since then we've written nearly 140 posts about our culinary adventures and our daily lives.

so we hope to continue into this new decade! writing for the blog has given us a new sense of purpose and mindfulness about the steps we take while we're food shopping/menu planning/cooking, and has really just been a lot of fun.

thanks so much to our followers and commenters, and to our family and friends who are so supportive and encouraging.

more to come!

emily & lauren


it's simple

since the summer, i have been experimenting with simple syrups (aka sugar dissolved in water), and their many manifestations. it's just a matter of picking an herb, fruit, spice, or other natural flavor you can think and steeping it in hot sugar-water. then, you can add your sugar brew to any manner of drink or libation (hot or cold! no need to worry about sugar dissolving in a cold beverage once it's already well pre-dissolved). the possibilities are almost too endless to approach: plucked from your garden, scavenged from your fridge, or grabbed from your spice rack, anything edible is up for consideration. please believe it - every drink can be elevated to new gourmet heights with even a tiny splash of homemade infused simple syrup.

among my many batches, i've tried mint, rosemary, citrus, cinnamon, and most recently, ginger simple syrups. ginger has so far been my favorite. now and forever, i love ginger, any way you slice it (NO PUN INTENDED). ginger beer, tea, and those chewy little candies, i just can't get enough of the sweet/spicy/brainy buzz of real ginger. and the best part of ginger simple syrup is that it's simple as shit. seriously, even a complete kitchen amateur can rock this out.

props to our bro karina for the heads up on this recipe concept!

ginger simple syrup

i'm not even going to list ingredients or whatever, k? it's too silly to even bother.

- just put 1 cup of sugar and 1.5 cups of water into a small saucepan over high heat. bring it to a boil, and stir for a few seconds to ensure that the sugar has dissolved. once it seems good and incorporated, throw 4 or so fat slices of fresh ginger into the pot. you don't even need to peel 'em! 4 slices = about 1 inch of ginger root. then let it just sit and steep, without heat, for 20 - 30 minutes.

- then, check it out - it's done. that's it! fish the ginger slices out with a spoon and you've got potent, perfect ginger simple syrup all ready to go.

- once it's cooled, carefully use a small funnel and transfer it into a cute bottle that will live happily in the refrigerator:

then, please dear friends, try this drink i may have invented:

the cold toddy

- pour plain seltzer/soda water over a few ice cubes in a rocks glass. leave a bit of room. add 1 or 2 ounces of whiskey (don't be finicky - any kind will do), then squeeze in the juice of half a fresh lemon. top with a healthy splash of ginger simple syrup (to taste) and mix well. drink, slowly. 3 or 4 of these babies go down faster than you think.

in the words of our dear friend karina (via wayne & garth)..."zang!"



winter light & dark

when it comes to food and drink, as well as films, books, music, art, fashion, bicycles, and almost anything else you can think of - i am no snob. truth be told, i tend to like almost everything, in one way or another. i don't feel that i can rightfully call myself a connoisseur of any of these categories (though i do love them all), and thus give up the right to feign disgust or disinterest in "lower forms" of things.

i can, of course, observe and point out the differences between, say, the 400 blows and the 2000 remake of charlie's angels. sure, both are "movies" in the vaguest sense of the word, but that's about where the similarities end. instead of praising one as true cinema, and panning the other as pure schlock, i'd tend to base their value on context. which am i more likely to watch on an airplane, if i just need to give my brain a rest? on any given day, am i more likely to thumb through a worn copy of anna karenina or a comic book about zombies? in this day and age, with infinite cultural products at our fingertips, it's more important to know what you want and why, than to be a self-proclaimed expert, who dismisses all things "low" just cuz.

and generally speaking, when even the bad stuff is still pretty good, the good stuff is transcendent. that has always been my attitude, especially when it comes to booze & beer. completely without shame, i'll slam a PBR or a schlitz - hell, even some malt liquor - if the occasion calls for it. on other occasions, you'll find me experimenting with liqueurs, fresh fruit juices and herbal simple syrups, creating funny, delicious little cocktails. i've swilled both libations, the 22 oz. high life can & the rosemary grapefruit gimlet, in my very kitchen, just based on my mood. i guess i'm a relativist when it comes to this stuff.

but i DO like good beer, i like it a lot indeed. and sometimes, there is no greater occasion than a very simple meal (juxtaposition of simple and heady is an art unto itself) to pop the tops of some special brews.

lucky for us, there are two excellent craft beer stores, the foodery and hawthorne's, both just a few minutes from our home. and so, while the tomato sauce is simmering, i can call lauren and ask her to grab a 6er on her way home from work. and instead of showing up bearing yuengling or the like, she just come bearing a few thrilling and delightful bottles to pair with dinner.

a few nights ago, two such bottles were from two of my favorite active craft breweries, avery (out of boulder, colorado) and bell's (from kalamazoo, michigan). both beers were decidedly seasonal "winter" brews, but as different as can be:

opposite ends of the spectrum!

the bell's winter white ale (the blondie on the left) is made with american wheat and belgian-style yeast. light and crisp, with just a hint of sweet, this was a delight. i love wheat beers, but sometimes they're too sugary for me. this ale was just right. i'm a bit unclear what makes this a winter beer (for it could be a total life saver on a muggy summer afternoon), but it was nice to know that "winter beer" isn't synonymous with rich and heavy.

the avery old jubilation (brunette on the right) is an english strong ale, that is more along the lines of a classic holiday beer. it was super flavorful but managed to not be cloying or overbearing. especially after sips of the avery winter hefe, you could really taste the hazelnutty, toffee-y notes, and the complex, deep maltiness that characterize this beer. unlike most other christmas ales, this beer doesn't contain any spices, so at no point does it have that mulled wine taste. i like when breweries show some restraint in their recipes! because, though a baking spice mix does signify the season, that aroma is often best left for fresh gingerbread and pretty wreaths on the front door. one more reason to love this beer is that it weighs in at 8%, nice and hefty, so that you can be less self conscious as you belt out your favorite holiday song while doing the dishes.

there is no reason write about mediocre beer (or food) unless to criticize it. so while there is room in my heart and belly for the highs and the lows that the world has to offer, i'm thankful for thoughtfully crafted, well made things that inspire poetry among those who experience them.



truffle shuffle

always the stuff of epicurean lore, i've only ever seen fresh truffles from afar, sitting preciously under glass in a fancy market. the price tag made me gasp for air and i assumed the closest i would ever really get was the lovely bottle of truffle-infused oil that my friend larissa gave me for my last birthday. i will admit - a bit of the stuff drizzled upon some soup or to finish a risotto adds a wondrous, luxurious earthy flavor that's made a believer of me. ryan claims that truffles don't really have much flavor, and are just ghastly expensive hype restaurants use to wow their jaded customers. it is hard to tell with rare things sometimes if they truly are special and worth their exorbitant prices to attain. is it all just a matter of suspended belief on the part of consumers and the crafty marketing of retailers who pander to foodies? or is it real?

despite this philosophical quandary, it is true that a small container of real black truffles (1 oz, to be exact) lives in the bottom of our fridge as i write this. they are nesting in arborio rice, like three wrinkly turds. see?

this way, the rice absorbs some of the flavor for future use!

sis lauren brought some home from her new gig at one of philadelphia's finest food retailers, an extraordinary splurge, even with a 20% discount. so, like true kitchen royalty, for the past week we've been sprinkling and shaving truffles, like so many flakes of gold, on all kinds of unsuspecting and humble dishes: root vegetable soup, pizzas and pastas. and here goes nothing: the hype is real. these bizarre hunks of fungus make shit taste just amazing.

truffles work well, apparently, with simple clean flavors and only the smallest amount of truffle is needed to impart a whopping amount of its flavor. so we've truffed and truffed, and still have so much left. anyone have ideas about how to best use the remainder?

and, as a quick aside, i must attend to one important matter: it is widely known that the majority of wild truffles are sniffed out by trained dogs and pigs. to some very strict animal righters, this might not make them really vegan because of the animal labor involved. while i respect that take on things, it is not the one i subscribe to right now. i'm ok with the truffles labor industry, or at least, i can let it go. in fact, one of the articles i was reading earlier about truffles mentioned that many times, when the pigs find the truffles, they immediately eat them! oh, just imagine a disgruntled frenchmen throwing his cap to the ground and cursing "merde!" at the deliriously happy pig, chomping on its prize.

and finally, if you ever find yourself with your own little truffle cache, you simply must use some in this very seasonal soup, from my girl sally schneider's comfort repertoire.

Root Vegetable Crema
adapted from a new way to cook by sally schneider (adapted from a chef at chez panisse)


2 teaspoons fat (oil, margarine, butter)
1 medium potato, i just can't get enough yukon gold
1 small celery root, peeled and finely diced (3/4 cup)
1 medium leek, or one small onion, sliced (just the white part if using a leek)
2 small parsnips, finely sliced (1/2 - 2/3 cup)
2 - 4 garlic cloves
1 sprig fresh thyme, or a healthy pinch of dried thyme
a pinch salt (about 1/4 tsp)
a pinch sugar
2/3 cup water
3 cups broth, preferably homemade vegetable stock
freshly ground pepper, white pepper if you have it
tiny pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup soy creamer, or real cream if you cook with dairy (optional)
part or all of a fresh black truffle, pounded into a paste with a mortar & pestle, or a drizzle of truffle oil

- heat the fat in a medium or large saucepan over medium heat. add all the ingredients down to water (not the broth) and bring to a simmer.

- cover and cook for 15 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated.

- add the stock, bring back to a simmer, re-cover and cover for another 15 minutes, until all the veggies are soft.

- puree with your immersion blender. don't stop until it's really, really smooth. or, if you are without, carefully puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. if you want to go the extra mile, you can strain the soup back into the pot for a more dramatically creamy texture.

- season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. careful with the nutmeg - too much will really overpower the soup. add the soy creamer, and then the pounded truffle paste and stir until completely mixed into the soup.

- finito! a perfect winter soup in, like, 40 minutes.