The Shared Cheese Puffs by Cynthia Raub

I am a low-key Francophile. I chose French to learn in high school because I loved croissants. Don't get me wrong, I also looooove burritos, but I was feeling angsty and emotional and croissants just seemed more complex and romantic than burritos. (Side note: I've grown since then and now I can get very romantic and emotional about burritos.) But high school French class was the genesis of my love for everything French - from the language, history of art, food, culture and even SPORTS?!?! (Tour de France). I met my husband when we both worked in a French bistro, and it was love at first cornichon!

Gougeres, (also known as cheese puffs,) are SO French: sophisticated, technical but simple, and delicious with champagne. These have been in heavy rotation in my kitchen for the past two months since I first made gougere's sister, the profiterole, (which is a sweet version filled with pastry cream or split open with a scoop of ice cream). They are a breeze to make. They are impressive and are perfect for any occasion. I originally made the profiteroles for a bake sale. Since then, I have made savory and addictive gougeres with a friend for a pot luck, to accompany dinner in our bread basket, and even for a casual afternoon wine tasting with friends. See? Versatile, delicious, and addictive. I'm convinced that once anyone has this in their cooking repertoire, it will become an instant classic that will never fail you.

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Gougeres (Cheese Puffs)

In The Kitchen Now: Korean Stewed Tofu with Green Onion Salad and Crisp Bacon by Cynthia Raub

Subtle is rarely a word used to Korean food and this dish is no exception. I'm in a tofu phase right now and I want to eat it in every way possible: in soups, fried in squares with soy sauce, and baked and tossed in salads. Although I love tofu in all of the various preparations, this one is my favorite. I went back and forth between calling this a Korean style mapo tofu, but I decided against it. It's similar in that the tofu is stewed in a fermented chili sauce, but this version does not include the distinct Sichuan peppercorn. While the chili sauce makes the tofu piquant, pungent and dare I say, peppery- the green onions makes the dish... pervasive. In case it wasn't robust enough, the addition of bacon lardons for a crisp chew rounds out the texture and adds a deliciously fatty depth in every bite. 

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Korean Stewed Tofu with Green Onion Salad and Crisp Bacon

The Shared Bi Bim Bap by Cynthia Raub

Last week, I was out of town for four nights to celebrate a dear friend's wedding and to accompany my husband on a work-related trip. For two nights, we celebrated our friends in idyllic Tiburon. For another two nights, my kids and I relaxed and played (while my husband worked) in Monterey, California. It was such a fun-filled getaway (and dare I say), it was luxurious. For those five days and four nights, I didn't have to shop, prep, cook, serve or clean up any meals! We ate in restaurants and hotels for the entire trip, and I was the most relaxed I've been in a long, long time. But, I started feeling sluggish on the third day, and I knew I had overindulged one too many times. (My kids, however, were very content to eat cheesy pasta and pizza for nearly every meal.) The morning after we got home, I went into a cooking rampage and roasted every vegetable we had, and cooked off pounds of brown rice and wheat berries. I threw them together for every meal since, and it only took a couple days to feel back to normal.

As soon as I got back, Amy left for a long weekend to Nashville to reconnect with friends, visit the sites, and EAT. So, to continue my healthy gut week and to support my friend when she gets back from a long weekend of food destinations and cocktails, I decided to make us Bi Bim Bap. Bi Bim Bap is a Korean mixed rice and vegetable dish that is completed with beef, a fried egg, and a sweet and spicy sauce. I hope that this light and nutritive surprise aided in the recovery of her overindulged tummy.

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Bi Bim Bap with Beef and Spicy Sauce

The Shared Plenty (More) by Cynthia Raub

I was not familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi until a fateful trip to Costco. I normally don't tempt myself with Costco's dizzying array of seasonal items, clothes, and books, but I had half an hour to kill, and I needed to cool my nonchalant visits to the sample stations. Immediately upon flipping through the Plenty More cookbook, I was struck by the beautiful and mixed ingredient dishes that reminded me so much of the foods I love to eat. Ottolenghi elegantly includes grains, legumes, vegetables, and plentiful herbs in most of his dishes, which also lends to a complex variety of temperatures and textures. I immediately tossed the book into my cart and went home to indulge in the tasty photography and accessible recipes. After mentioning my new cookbook purchase to Amy, she divulged that she recently bought Plenty by Chef Ottolenghi. We agreed to try a recipe from each of our books and swap them. It was one of the most delicious decisions we have made!

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Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant

The Shared Pasta and Spring Vegetables by Cynthia Raub

I was probably about 10 years old when I first saw Mary Ann Esposito on PBS's Ciao Italia make fresh pasta. I was mesmerized as to how flour and egg transformed into a taut golden sphere, then rolled out into sheets and cut into elegant ribbons of pappardelle. Since then, I've watched countless cooks, in person and on television, roll pasta, but I've never felt confident enough to try it myself. When I told Amy I signed up to bring a spring vegetable side dish to a potluck, (Yep! Another one . . . ) she suggested fresh pasta to accompany it. Luckily, as the brave and confident cook that she is, she was eager to make it for us. As we rolled the pasta together, we were practically screaming and dancing around, saying how exciting it was and how it was actually . . . turning out! After we boiled our first batch and dressed it with butter and parmesan, we quickly dug into the bowl together. We danced, we high-fived, and in that euphoric moment, we might have vowed to never eat boxed pasta again.

It was very satisfying to make something so readily available, by hand and from scratch. The luscious, tender noodles were delicious - but the experience of creating it and enjoying it with a friend was delightful and just as memorable as seeing pasta rolled for the first time as a child.

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Asparagus, Peas and Fava Beans with Gremolata and Mozzarella

Fresh Egg Pasta

The Shared Brunch by Cynthia Raub

Parenthood is terrifying. It’s incredibly fun, fulfilling, exhausting, as well as physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. I have two children, and I was a much better parent before I had kids of my own! So having multiple children does not make you an expert. (I actually have less of a grip on parenting now, than when I had one newborn.) When someone has a baby, I like to bring them a meal to say: 1) I’m here to hold (and smell) your baby, 2) I’m sorry you will never sleep the same again, and 3) Welcome to the tribe. A new friend had her first baby, and I wanted to bring her and her husband some yummies that could be enjoyed at several different temperatures (hot coffee and warm meals are impossible with a newborn). I wasn’t sure if they had a meal train set up for them, so I decided to play it safe and bring them brunch foods instead of a dinner meal. I made an all-occasion Swiss Chard and Leek Crostata - one of my standards that is always appropriate, delicious, and fool-proof. As luck would have it, Amy was experimenting with making yogurt and granola and wanted to contribute to the meal too!

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Swiss Chard and Leek Crostata

Olive Oil Granola

Homemade Yogurt

In the Kitchen Now - Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice by Amy Cantu

mango and coconut sticky rice

There's nothing quite like watching a class of enthusiastic preschoolers gobbling up mango and sticky rice, which is exactly what happened today when Grandpa Audy made an appearance at school. I don't know why I was surprised - what's not to like about sweet and tangy mango with coconut-infused sweet rice? My 4-year-old is learning about Asia this month in school, so his teachers asked if we could bring something to share with the class. Grandpa Audy whipped up a batch of his Thai Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice and brought a picture book about fruits found in Thailand to share with the class! Lucky kids (and lucky me left with the extras)!

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Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice

The Shared Grilled Cheese Sandwiches by Cynthia Raub

bacon jam and roasted jalapeno grilled cheese

I was still going strong with my health kick that started in the New Year, so naturally, I was craving bacon jam. Making bacon jam can be a process, but it keeps incredibly well - so it's perfect to make in larger, sharable quantities. I didn't have a reason to make a batch of bacon jam, besides my daydreams that featured the sweet and salty condiment, until February. Every month, parents and staff from my children's preschool have a dinnertime meeting to discuss operations, events and issues that pertain to the school. Volunteers offer to bring a savory dish, sweets, or beverages (ahem, wine!) to the meeting. The parents and staff at our cooperative preschool are highly dedicated to maintaining a loving, safe and enriching community for our children. To show my appreciation for the work that these parents put into the school, the least I could do was to make myself, I mean them . . . some bacon jam! Now I had an excuse to spread it between slices of bread and call it a meal. I decided to bring two kinds of absurd grilled cheese sandwiches and a refreshingly simple salad (for balance!) to the meeting to share. What pairs better with wine and discussions about communicable diseases than decadent grilled cheese sandwiches?

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Bacon Jam and Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Roasted Jalapeno Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Beet and Cucumber Salad