The Family Food Blog


Category: Ingredients

Fall Vegetable Pastries

by thefamilyfoodblog

Last Saturday, for once, I woke up early enough to get myself to the local farmer’s market. Before starting to cook with my fall bounty, I took a moment to be artsy and take a little still life photo, adding in a pumpkin from pumpkin-picking earlier in the month and the plant that usually sits on our dining table.

Clearly I have a thing for multicolored vegetables. I bought honeycrisp apples, eggplant, a bell pepper, and the last of the heirloom tomatoes.

Cooking a variety of meals using these same ingredients made for an interesting experiment throughout the week. Thanks to sage, the standout was the vegetable puff pastries I made on Wednesday night to finish off the eggplant. The recipe below is double what I made – it makes the quantities a little more practical.

Ingredients (for 12 pastries)

  • two sheets (one package) frozen store-bought puff pastry
  • one medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • one medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • one small tomato, diced
  • 5 large leaves fresh sage, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste


Remove the puff pastry from the freezer to thaw. Preheat oven to 430 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add in the onion and eggplant, tossing to coat. Sprinkle with salt. Allow to cook for about two minutes. Add in zucchini, tomato, lemon juice, and black pepper and cook until vegetables are slightly softened (about five more minutes). Mix in sage and cook for one more minute.

Cook vegetables over medium heat until slightly softened. (Sorry for the blurry photo!)

Cut each sheet of puff pastry into six rectangles. Spoon 1 1/2-2 tbsp vegetable mixture into the center of each and fold over, pinching around edges to seal. Arrange pastries on a baking sheet and bake at 430 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.

I ate mine with ketchup, with a little hot sauce mixed in. Ranch dressing would be another good option, or perhaps an aioli.

P.S. They’re a lot more filling than you’d expect; I was pretty full after just two!


Making Use of the Balcony Garden: Macaroni and Cheese with Fresh Herbs

by thefamilyfoodblog

I grew up thinking I didn’t like cheese. My friends and I pretty much took that as fact during my childhood – one friend even theorized that I was borderline lactose intolerant. (We were both a little skeptical of “borderline lactose intolerance” actually being a thing, but how else would you explain that I didn’t like cheese but had to have my cereal and milk every day?)

Anyway. What I learned, one fine day in high school – when I tasted smoked gouda for the first time, on top of a water cracker, at a hotel in Monterey Bay – was that what I didn’t like was not in fact cheese, but cheese singles. Two very different things, as I came to find out. (Kraft, how you ruined me.) The same thing happened with macaroni and cheese a few years later: I learned that the real stuff was actually pretty delicious.

So when a recent trip to Costco left me with a brick-sized block of aged English cheddar, it was a no-brainer to make my own macaroni and cheese. I came across this recipe on the bus ride home from work yesterday and decided to adapt it to the ingredients we had and liked. I also cut down the butter and cheese a little to make it healthier.


  • 8 oz whole-wheat elbow macaroni (about half a box)
  • 6 medium Shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped with stems removed
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped herbs of your choice (I used oregano, lemon thyme, and rosemary)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • olive oil or cooking spray to grease the baking dish
  • salt and black pepper


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s melted, whisk in the flour and mix for several seconds until bubbly. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring often to avoid lumps.

When the mixture starts to thicken and form bubbles (about 5 minutes), add in the cheese, herbs, mustard, and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat down to low and continue stirring until the cheese melts. Remove from heat and toss with the macaroni and mushrooms.

Toss the pasta and mushrooms with the cheese sauce. (Taste this, too – it’s delicious!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease the baking dish and pour in the pasta mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Use more or less breadcrumbs to suit your taste. If you’d like, sprinkle more fresh herbs over the breadcrumb topping.

Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

We countered the richness of the macaroni and cheese with a simple salad of spinach leaves, walnuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Baguettes and a Trip to the Farmer’s Market

by thefamilyfoodblog

Yesterday, we started off the morning with a trip to the local farmer’s market. After seeing all the brightly colored heirloom tomatoes the vendors were selling, I decided that this weekend wouldn’t be complete without at least one serving of bruschetta. So, in addition to some deliciously strong blue cheese from the really friendly dad and daughter of Spring Gap Mountain Creamery (seriously, this cheese isn’t for the faint of heart) and a huge bunch of basil for just $2.50 (sadly, more leaves than Basily has ever produced in his lifetime), we picked up some red, yellow, and purple-green tomatoes.

That big red one was a monster, weighing in at 1.5 pounds on its own.

We followed this recipe for French baguettes, using the bread machine again for the kneading work. Wow, was the dough sticky. If this continues (and it might; the outcome was so tasty) I may have to invest in a dough scraper. How very fancy cooking store of me.

Two baguettes, ready to go into the oven.

We were out of eggs, so the baguettes didn’t get the nice glowy egg wash treatment. And for some reason (perhaps the low humidity in our air-conditioned apartment?) the dough didn’t rise as much as we hoped. The result was a baguette that looked and tasted a lot more like ciabatta. Not really cause for complaint in my book!

While the bread was baking, I got started on the topping for our bruschetta.

So colorful.


  • 3 cups tomatoes, chopped
  • 10 large leaves of basil, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste


Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Allow to sit for at least ten minutes for tomato juices to run and flavors to meld. Serve immediately, at room temperature, on top of fresh, hot, crusty bread such as ciabatta or a baguette.

If bread is not fresh, spoon tomato mixture on top of bread and place in a warm oven for 5 minutes. Then serve.

That’s one of our two baguettes, cut in half and then sliced lengthwise. The second will likely be tonight’s dinner.

Espresso and Ramekins: Exploring Sur la Table

by thefamilyfoodblog

One of my aims in starting this blog was to bring together aspects of food and eating that aren’t usually combined, to create a more complete picture that properly reflects real life. Hence the recipes, restaurant reviews, and exploration of ingredients. Most of the food-related blogs I’d seen focused on either recipes or restaurants, and when tossing around the idea of my own blog, I realized that that just isn’t how I – or most of you, I’m guessing – eat. Those bloggers who post new recipes every day impress me to no end and give me plenty of Pinterest fodder, but when reading their posts, I always wonder: do they ever get bored or tired or simply want to take a break from cooking?

And to the restaurant mavens, I ask: don’t you ever just want a PB&J or some cereal and milk?

So, in keeping with that idea of the “complete food experience,” I thought I’d write about a little shopping I did yesterday afternoon. I was in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of DC and had an hour to kill between my morning dance class and lunch with a friend. Since fancy cooking store* Sur la Table happened to be right between the class and our lunch spot, I decided to stop by. Soon after entering, a sales associate gave me a free cup of coffee in exchange for watching her demonstrate this Nespresso cappuccino maker. As my main purpose in being there was to use up some time, I was happy to oblige.

Um, the coffee was good. More importantly, though, it was HOT. Which meant I was going to stay put in that air-conditioned store for at least twenty minutes, switching that hot cup from hand to hand until it finally cooled enough to drink. And then drinking it.

I decided to spend that time browsing through their dishware and sale section. I’ve sort of been on the hunt for small bowls lately, something the right size for ice cream or dip or a bunch of grapes. Ramekins, I discovered while searching, are another nice option. The biggest difference is that unlike bowls, they don’t have rounded interiors. But in my opinion they more than made up for that in terms of sheer cuteness. Especially the tiny 1 oz ones, which would have made a great casserole dish for Barbie and Ken.

I seriously considered the Nantucket ice cream bowls, but wasn’t able to tell if they were microwave- and dishwasher-safe. By the time I had finished oohing and aahing over those and the adorable mini ramekins, my coffee had cooled to a drinkable temperature. I quickly perused their food offerings (this pancake and waffle mix was tempting) but ultimately didn’t buy anything.

* Technical term. According to popular use, Williams-Sonoma and the Corningware store also fall into this category.

The Magical Spicy Jar

by mukwritesbooks

Never underestimate the power of the spicy jar.

My birthday was on Sunday, and my friend EG gave me what I must deem one of the most creative gifts I have ever received: a jar of layered spices, labeled as “The Spicy Jar.” I’m still trying to figure out what some of the layers are, but there is definitely sea salt, oregano, curry powder, paprika, a couple sage leaves, a few dried red chili peppers, black pepper, and some type of chili powder.

Yes, here it is, just for your viewing pleasure: the one and only “Spicy Jar”

This past weekend was full of lots of eating on my part and little to no cooking <– the perks of being the birthday girl! So when I got home from work today, I was excited to get back into the swing of things and make a nice homemade dinner. I rediscovered a box of orzo in my cupboard and decided to make Orzo with Veggies & MorningStar sausage. Of course, the guest of honor was none other but the Spicy Jar! I doubled my spontaneous recipe to make enough to take to work for lunch the next day:

 (for 2 servings) 

1/2 cup (dry) orzo

1 tomato, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 onion, chopped

1 medium zucchini, chopped

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp “Spicy Jar” contents

3 MorningStar sausage links


Prepare the orzo, according to the directions on the box. (I let them cook for about 9 minutes before turning off the stove.) Set aside.

Coat the bottom of your pan (it’s convenient to make the orzo first so that you can use the same dish for the veggies – less to wash!) with the olive oil. Sautee the vegetables, starting with the onions on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes, and add in half your spices. Then add in the tomatoes and garlic and zucchini. Once the tomatoes have released some water, add in the other half of your spices. Let this mixture cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the Morningstar sausages – I cheated and used the microwave (covered, for 1 1/2 minutes…but I don’t have the most powerful microwave, so aim for about 1 minute and see from there). Chop and add to the mixture to soak up some of the spices/liquid. Once fully mixed, add the cooked orzo back in and stir to combine. Enjoy!

Despite the title of this post, don’t think that the “Spicy Jar” is beyond your reach. Yes, even mere mortals like yourself can gather the individual spices needed to create this yummy blend. And it makes a great gift…..



…hint: I’ll probably be done with this jar come June next year.

Can’t Get More “Local” than This: Balcony Garden

by thefamilyfoodblog

Last year, after spending $3 for a tiny package of fresh basil and not using it up one too many times, I decided to start growing my own. Basily, as I oh-so-creatively named my plant, became my equivalent of a pet. I got friends to babysit him when out of town and even took him to work with me once (not on Take Your Child to Work Day, unfortunately. Or maybe fortunately). He grew well and contributed to many a bowl of pasta.

So perhaps it’s surprising that it took me so long to expand upon the idea and plant a whole balcony garden. But now that I have some outdoor space, it finally happened. The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, when apparently all of DC had the same idea – Home Depot’s nursery was mobbed – we put our garden together.

Balcony Garden

From left to right, in a sunny corner of the balcony: thyme, cilantro, oregano, Roma tomatoes, cucumber, and strawberries.

Yes, that fuzzy thing in the lower left corner of the photo is my thumb.

In the week since they were planted, I’ve already seen some growth. Particularly the cilantro plant, which was unceremoniously dumped on its head during the planting process. Oops. We’ve also got five little strawberry blossoms, under which you can see tiny green fruits starting to grow. Still in the works is finding some rosemary. I guess all those other people at Home Depot beat me to the rosemary plants.

Somewhat unrelated: Anyone out there a fan of the Munch Bunch books? You know, Aubrey Aubergine, Olly Onion, Button and Tiny the mushrooms? I think they were the inspiration for my plant naming strategy (e.g. Basily Basil). Speaking of Basily, you’ll notice that the patriarch of this group is missing from the photo. Rest easy, he’s back now and holding down the fort in the corner between the two planters.