the 2013 cicada invasion hits our backyard

If you live on the Eastern seaboard, you’ve heard about the impending cicada invasion. Supposedly there are about a billion of these little red-eyed buggers emerging from the ground every square mile. They start their rise to the surface, after being dormant for 16 years once the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees. That must have been what happened on Wednesday evening, because we went out into our backyard and found them everywhere. While not exactly biblical in numbers, they are bountiful and easy to spot. They especially seem to enjoy parking themselves on our daughter’s swingset. They come out of the earth small and brown nymphs, and then crawl onto to something where they can “hatch” out of their exoskeletons. It’s pretty trippy to discover them mid-hatched. They come out looking like white albino bugs, but then turn dark and almost, dare I say, beautiful. Their wings are iridescent and their eyes are indeed beady and red. Our girl has been having great fun corralling them for my photog husband, who is documenting them in all their glory. We’re currently investigating cicada recipes — apparently they taste a bit like corn and are high in protein. We’ll do some experiments and report back here.

Is your yard being overrun by cicada’s yet? Would you eat them? Share your tales here!

Photo by Chad Hunt Photography.

s’wonderful s’more maker

We’re not easily seduced by gadgets, but this nifty contraption speaks directly to some cravings we’ve had lately. Cravings for melted chocolate, gooey marshmallows and graham crackers. True, our traditional way of heating up some s’mores works perfectly well: It’s hard to beat aluminum foil. But this S’more to Love S’more Maker is pretty ingenious. It lets you stack up six ready-to-roll treats, and holds them securely in place while cooking. Best of all, you can use indoors (like in a toaster oven) or out (like on your grill). No need for sticks and ticks and campfires! Available at Amazon for about $15. (via Uncrate.com)

real life test kitchen: white macaroni & cheese

A couple of months ago, Melissa Clark wrote a fantastic column for the NYTimes Dining section that helps thousands of moms (me included) feel better better about their finicky kids. If a foodie like Clark has trouble getting her daughter to consume anything that isn’t beige, what help do the rest of us have? Her answer: Embrace the beige. And she does so with gusto, sharing three sumptuous recipes, including one for a decadent macaroni and cheese that I just had to try. Even though it has four kinds of cheese, you don’t need cream or milk. This is pasta and cheese at its purist. I love that it mixes marscapone with Brie and good old cream cheese. I admit it’s a combo I wouldn’t have tried myself, but am glad to have given a go. Honestly, my resulting casserole was a touch on the dry side. I think a bit of reserved pasta water would do the trick next time. Here’s my take on White Macaroni & Cheese — pair it with a salad of spring greens and you won’t feel so guilty!

White Macaroni & Cheese

What You Need:

1 pound pasta, I used farfalle
6 ounces Brie, rind removed and cheese cut into chunks
4 ounces cream cheese, softened and cubed
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup mascarpone
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (optional)

How To Make:
1. Heat oven to 375. Butter sides and bottom of a large casserole dish.
2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente; reserve some pasta water while draining
3. Transfer hot pasta to a large bowl and toss immediately with Brie and cream cheese until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, mascarpone and parmigiano. Stir egg mixture into pasta. Season with pepper and nutmeg.
4. Add a few splashes of pasta water and make sure it is very wet.
5. Pour pasta into the pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs
6. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 30 minutes.

real life test kitchen: julia child’s garlic soup

I never thought that garlic soup sounded too exciting. Boiled garlic? How is that satisfying? Give it to me roasted, or sauteed with some olive oil and red pepper flakes. At least, that is what I used to think! The other night, my friend Jenn said she wanted to make Julia Child‘s garlic soup (Aigo Bouido) from one of her classic cookbooks. With two preschoolers and a toddler running around the house, I can safely that say that two cooks are better than one, so I rolled up my sleeves and started peeling garlic cloves. Making the soup is incredibly easy, and the ingredients are things you probably have on hand. The result was far more complex and satisfying than I ever imagined. It hits all your senses — starting with your nose! Imagine a brothy scampy, minus the shrimp. A bowl of this paired with a loaf of crusty bread and a chilled white wine is about as perfect as any meal could get. Here’s our take:

Julia Child’s Garlic Soup

What You Need:

1 head of garlic — each clove separated and peeled. (about 16 cloves)
2 quarts of water
1/4 tsp of sage
1/4 tsp of thyme
1/2 bay leaf
4 parsley sprigs
3 tbl olive oil +
3 egg yolks
an additional 4 tbls olive oil

How You Make
1. Peel the garlic. Julia recommends boiling them for a second and then removing peels. I just flattened with a knife.
2. Add all ingredients up to egg yolks in the water, and boil for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Beat egg yolks in the serving bowl and slowly add in the additional 4 tablespoons, beating with whisk the whole time. It’s like you’re making mayonnaise.
4. Just before serving, add one ladleful of the hot soup to the egg mixture, slowly. Beat some more. Pour the rest of the soup broth into a the bowl, through a strainer. Smush the garlic gloves through strainer to squeeze out extra juice at the end.
5. Serve immediately and don’t worry about how much bread you are eating!

real life test kitchen: beef and scallion stir-fry

Asian food is a cuisine I have yet to master. Though I dip my toe into Thai, Indian and Korean, Chinese has been off the books so far. This insanely easy beef and scallion stir-fry recipe from Everyday Food a few years back reminds me of the takeaway dinners I used to have delivered to my door in Manhattan — minus the MSG of course. It only takes 25 minutes to make, and the ingredients are common for most pantries. We were pleased enough with the results that I am going to add it my rotation. Now, all I need is a recipe for cashew chicken, and our palettes will be complete! Here’s my take on the recipe, below.

Beef and Scallion Stir-Fry


2 tbls hoisin sauce
2 tbls rice vinegar
1 tbl cornstarch
1/2 tsp red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving (optional)
1 tbl plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 lb flank steak, cut diagonally across the grain into bite-size thin strips
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 scallions, sliced crosswise into 1 1/2 inch long pieces, white and green parts kept separate
Cooked white rice, for serving


1.In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup water, hoisin sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp dash of red-pepper flakes; set aside.
2. Heat 1 tbl oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. In two batches, cook steak until lightly browned, turning once, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate.
3. Add remaining oil to pan along with garlic and whites of scallions. Cook, tossing often, until fragrant, about a minute. Add to pan along with scallion greens.
4. Return meat to pan; cook, tossing to coat steak with sauce, for another minute. Remove from heat.
5. Serve immediately, over rice and sprinkled with red-pepper flakes, if desired.