Butcher Block: Unexpected Beauty for Your Whole Home

Butcher Block: Unexpected Beauty for Your Whole Home

Butcher Block is an expected material for cutting boards, island tops, and chopping blocks, but did you know it’s good for so much more? I have the extreme pleasure of working on our custom projects daily, and let me tell you, some of my favorites have started with a customer saying, “This idea is going to sound a little crazy, but…” But nothing! Let’s do it! Besides the amazing kitchen makeovers we’ve done, we also do quite a few non-conventional projects like bathrooms, garages, and even closets. One time I even got to help design a shuffle board table!

Butcher Block makes for an extremely versatile, durable, and beautiful surface for just about any room in the house!

We’ll ease our way out of the kitchen with this gorgeous handcrafted bar one of our talented customers built. He made everything by hand except the butcher block top, which is 12 feet of beautiful Maple.

Butcher Block

Kitchens are, of course, the most common projects I work on, but gaining speed in second place is the home office. You could have a beautifully warm desktop custom made to your specifications to create the perfect workspace. We can even drill the holes for cables and wires to keep your work area sleek and uncluttered. The John Boos Varnique semi-gloss finish creates the perfect surface for an office; it’s polished-looking without being glaringly shiny, holds up well to daily tasks, and cleans up like a breeze. The desktops for the office pictured below are custom Walnut Edge Grain from John Boos & Co. The shape of the top was perfectly and precisely designed to accommodate the computer station, and Boos even custom cut a piece to be used as a leg. It turned out beautifully and is still just as attractive more than two years later.

Butcher Block

We work with quite a few restaurants as well, providing work tables for the kitchen and dining tables for the guests. We have some crossover with the work tables for residential customers, but the John Boos dining tops have really gained in popularity for household use. They are beautiful, durable, and affordable, making them the perfect solution for just about anyone! While there are the traditional restaurant-style black metal bases available, most of our customers are looking to add a custom top to a preexisting base, whether it’s something they found at a flea market, or the legs from the antique dining table passed down by Grandma. These unique dining tops are available in Maple, Cherry, and Walnut.

Butcher Block

Stepping out of the living space, we find ourselves in the garage. You may be wondering what on earth a butcher block would be doing out in a garage, but this is actually quite common. We’ve done some gorgeous Walnut tops to outfit a collector’s garage, Commercial style Maple to accommodate the everyday workbench, and Industrial Maple for those who really get down to business! No matter the purpose, butcher block can add unexpected character and warmth to this often forgotten room. Here you see one customer’s (almost finished!) laundry center in their garage. The sleek Varnique finish makes for an excellent folding and sorting station!

Butcher Block

To a lesser degree, we have also outfitted bathrooms and closets. Can you imagine having a huge walk-in closet with an island for accessories right in the middle? Now picture a gleaming Cherry block atop that island…ahhh, heaven! Something like that would have never occurred to me if I hadn’t had a customer ask for just that. Add a gorgeous Roman Ogee edge, and you’ve got swank to the nth degree! One of my favorite bathroom projects was for a man who was re-figuring the room for his new wife. He had a custom Walnut top made with a curved edge (like a half moon) to expand on the vanity space so she had room for her perfumes, makeup, and hair toys without getting bogged down with “boy stuff” (his words). Because he designed and installed it himself, it was a lovely personal touch and I consider his wife a very lucky lady.

The downside to all of this design fun is that I don’t always get to see the finished product. We LOVE when our customers send photos of their projects so that we can ogle and share. There’s a lot of inspiration out there, and we want to spread it around! So, if you’re planning a butcher block project, take pictures along the way and when you’re done and send them on over to us. You may even end up featured on our blog!

Winter Warmth – Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Winter Warmth – Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup is pretty much a standard in our households throughout the winter. This winter has been brutal for many across the country, and I imagine a lot of you are getting tired of the snow and the boring soup. As a Phoenician, I am not allowed to talk about winter, but I can speak with some authority about food. Sarah W. is back with a killer Chicken Soup recipe that gets its punch from cooking the onions in whiskey. While I haven’t had the honor of trying her “Midnight Whiskey” Chicken Soup, I did use her technique to make an onion and mushroom topping for crostini the other night, and WOW. I can’t wait to make the soup! Sarah is here to commiserate with her fellow snow-bound citizens and provide some much needed warmth. Take it away, Sarah!

April may be the cruelest month, but February sure has to be a close second. New England is in a state of emergency with record snowfalls, and the Midwest is seeing historically low temperatures. Records are being shattered. It really just makes you want to stay holed up inside for days. It’s too cold to play; the roads are too dangerous to navigate.

Being a Clevelander, growing up in the heart of the Snowbelt, I understand the snow gods. Every childhood Halloween costume was loose enough to fit over a snowsuit if the occasion called. After a record snowfall in elementary school, I remember watching the National Guard trucks drive past my house, ready to help dig out the schools and city buildings. I grew up with a big black dog who loved to play in the snow – some winters you could only see the tip of her nose and tail as she cavorted in the drifts. Snow will most likely be a factor in life as early as (late) October through possibly (early) April.

The lesson from this constant threat is to keep your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator well-stocked. All autumn, I buy extra everything and throw it in my freezer like a squirrel hiding nuts for the spring. The goal is to be ahead of the emergency announcements so that you’re not at the grocery store at 6pm on a Friday trying to stock up on necessities. No one wants to wait in line for an hour at the grocery store for canned soup, frozen dinners, and ramen. Nor should those foods be your sole emergency rations. By keeping a few basics on-hand, you can make something really tasty, bust out the candles when the power goes out, and build a pillow fort to occupy yourself when disaster strikes. That sounds more like a fun date night than an emergency, no?

The best food in this kind of weather is chicken soup. There can be no argument – it’s easy to prepare, doesn’t need your constant attention, fills you up, and leaves you noticeably warmer.

This chicken soup has a whiskey onion base, which adds a lot of depth of flavor, even if you shortcut by using boxed stock and pre-cooked chicken. Honestly, I use these shortcuts even when not in a state of emergency. With clever seasoning and a whiskey base, you can build a lot of complexity, and the goal when cooking should be to make something that is impressively good; it doesn’t have to be impressively hard to make or use impressive ingredients.

This soup is easy to throw together after a long day, it’s perfect to prepare early in the day to let simmer while you shovel, and it’s heaven in a bowl when you’re frozen to your core.

Notes on whiskey – I would recommend using a brand you’d enjoy drinking in a cocktail, but wouldn’t prefer to drink straight. In other words, use the whiskey you’d drink at midnight, rather than your first choice.

Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup


  • 1 roasted chicken (or a few chicken breasts, really whatever chicken you have on-hand)
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 4 large carrots
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 1 ½ cups whiskey
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

Throw your onions in a stockpot Chicken Soupover medium heat, then cover with a few splashes of whiskey and a drizzle of olive oil. Leave this uncovered as you prep the rest of your ingredients, adding more whiskey as it cooks off. This is going to imbue your onions with a lot of really good, deep flavor and add richness to your soup’s broth.


My friend Claire recently showed me this method, and I thought I’d try it out on my carrots. I tried to do quarter-to-half inch pieces. I ended up with something a bit bigger than expected, which is ok. New techniques often seem awkward until you’ve tried them enough times to really get them right.

Set your carrots aside, and get to your chicken. My favorite trick is to use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. If you have frozen chicken in your freezer, fantastic! Thaw them and dice them up. If you have leftover chicken from a previous meal, dice it up. If you have a whole chicken, strip the skin, remove the bones, and dice the meat up.

Chicken Soup

Throw your carrots and chicken into your stockpot, add about half your broth, and season. I am really loving Penzeys French Thyme in everything I make right now, and rosemary is a great poultry herb, so start from there. If your chicken was already cooked, feel free to taste your soup – add salt and pepper, maybe a drizzle of olive oil, maybe some ground chipotle pepper for some kick. If your chicken is raw, let your soup cook at least an hour before you taste (and check the chicken before you taste – raw chicken is the most terrifying kitchen thing).

Chicken Soup

Cover your pot and leave it at a simmer or slow boil for an hour or so, then add the rest of your broth and continue to taste and season. Let that simmer awhile, and voila! Soup!

And if you need a serving suggestion for a cozy evening, may I suggest…

Chicken Soup


What’s your favorite deceptively easy delicious dish for a snowed-in night? What are your best kitchen shortcuts and tricks?

Printer friendly recipe: Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Thanksgiving Traditions – Make Them, Don’t Break Them!

Thanksgiving Traditions – Make Them, Don’t Break Them!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. My family is lucky enough to have two chefs in it, so we are always treated to some delicious fare this time of year. Thanksgiving traditions are important, though, and sometimes the creativity gets a little out of hand. One year, my younger brother volunteered to make the dinner rolls for our Thanksgiving feast, so Mom didn’t whip up her usual fluffy white rolls. Well, little bro’s rolls were delicious, but they were weird! We don’t eat whole wheat on Thanksgiving! What was this sacrilege? This simple Thanksgiving tradition is one we didn’t realize we hold so dearly, but let me tell you, this will NOT be happening again.

We have pretty gourmet taste in this family, but Thanksgiving is sacred. Over the years our mom has announced on various occasions that she will not be making cranberry-marshmallow salad or candied yams, and we predictably throw mini fits until she agrees to do the whole spread. Hopefully things are a little easier on Mom now that we are all grown and capable of helping out with these demands. We’re all fine with having some super-gourmet non-traditional treats on Thanksgiving, we just plead with you, dear creative chef brothers, make them in addition to our traditional Thanksgiving dishes, not as replacements.

So, if you are not looking forward to bringing just the same boring mashed potatoes this year, Chef J has an easy and delicious dish that you can bring as well. You’re going to be in trouble if you don’t bring the potatoes, but this is simple enough that you can make both. And it’s tasty enough that it might become a new Thanksgiving tradition.

This year, let’s focus on making new Thanksgiving traditions without breaking the old ones.

Chef J, show the people how it’s done!

Fall is in full swing! The leaves are turning yellow and the noses are running so it’s time to start planning what will be on the table for that big meal before the onslaught of Christmas shopping. To brave the swell of holiday shoppers that you will have to wade through next Friday (unless you’re going with the highly-recommended trend of online shopping), you will need the strength and stamina that only a hearty meal of turkey and pie can provide. This Thanksgiving, or “Gray Thursday” as I like to call it, will surely host the reliable classics: mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing, and of course, the bird of honor. With that in mind, I decided to bring something new for my contribution to the family feast this season; a simple but delicious side that can be made in advance. Mind you, this won’t be replacing any of the family’s traditional Thanksgiving flavors, but will complement them beautifully.

Caramelized Onion and Apple TartThanksgiving Tradition

  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 green apples, thinly sliced
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • 10 x 10” sheet of puff pastry

Preheat your oven to 375°F.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and throw in the onions. Cook over low heat until they begin to brown.
Add the apples and herbs and stir to coat everything with butter.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Spread out the puff pastry and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Pile the apples and onion onto the pastry, leaving about 1 inch of space around the edges.
Fold the edges up over the apples and onion, pinching the pastry together as you go.
Sprinkle the whole thing with the pecans and cheese.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow the tart to cool a bit before slicing.

If you want to save time, you can get everything made and assembled the day before and bake it when you need it.

Printer friendly recipe: Onion and Apple Tart

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Every Day.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Every Day.

I have always been passionate about recycling. As I get older I find it plays a more important role in my day and I try to live by the “reduce, reuse, and recycle ” mentality. I have found that with very little extra effort, “reduce, reuse, and recycle” can become part of your life. Not only do I feel good about the positive impact it can have on our earth, I have seen my habits rub off on my kids, too. I do believe they will be conscientious consumers when they are heads of their households.

I was inspired when I was about 10 years old, when my sister lead a local Green Earth recycling campaign out of the basement of our home. I remember answering phone calls and collecting recycled materials and taking it to the local recycling center. This was well before recycling was a household word. Fast forward 40 years… Recently, I spent a week in Spain and was once again reminded how the Europeans are minimalists in their consumption of packaged goods. And in the large cities it is common place for multiple, huge recycling bins to be on street corners. Again, for them, it is just a way of life.

It is easy to become a better consumer. Simply Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

America Recycles Day is November 15th, a good time to raise awareness and share tips for becoming a better, responsible consumer. I am fortunate to live in a city that makes recycling very easy. The City of Phoenix provides us with large blue trash bins and allows ALL recyclables to co-mingle into one bin. No sorting. And they recycle nearly all streams: All plastic bottles, plastic jugs, clear and colored glass bottles, cardboard and food boxes, aluminum and metal cans, newspaper, catalogs, and junk mail! My goal every week is to have my blue recycle bin filled twice as high as my green compost bin by being the best recycler I can be. I did a bit of internet research on tips to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” and then evaluated what I am doing well, and where I can improve:

What I do well:

  • Designate a space and a couple bins for recyclables in the laundry room closet. Plus, I have a hanging bag for storing plastic bags.
  • Locate a bin in the garage for more hazardous materials like light bulbs, electronics, batteries, aerosol containers, paints.
  • Recycle glass containers and always clean them out well before I put in the bin.
  • Recycle newspapers. Recycle magazines or give them to a friend.
  • Recycle all plastic containers. Clean them well and remove their caps.
  • Recycle steel cans.
  • Collect aluminum cans and take them to a local scrap metal facility. My son helps with this and gets the cash as a little bonus.
  • Buy products made from recycled content.
  • Repurpose stuff: I find value in so many things and find alternative uses.
  • But when there is no longer a purpose, we collect scrap metal and get cash for it.
  • Someone’s trash is another man’s treasure – I was reminded again this week when we placed an old garden hose in the quarterly trash pickup pile. Someone came by and cut off the brass ends of our worn out hose. I forgot about that, but was pretty happy someone else remembered. And the next day someone found value in our old garden hose and took that.
  • Use reusable grocery bags and have numerous ones in both cars. We have significantly reduced the amount of plastic and paper bags we bring home.
  • Write on both sides of printed scrap paper.

What I can do better:

  • Reduce and recycle junk mail. I have removed myself from many mailing lists, but it is the endless solicitations, coupons, and election material that is so frustrating. I will commit to placing 2 bins in my office and separate immediately to capture recyclable materials.
  • Recycle plastic over-wraps. I just learned that the plastic around cases of water bottles, and outer wrap of paper towels and toilet paper can be recycled with plastic bags at many grocery stores.
  • Reduce the amount of plastic water bottles I buy.
  • Buy paper towels and toilet paper made of recycled materials rather than virgin paper towels. I have not noticed if I am buying these with recycled materials or not, but I will look now.
  • I will take plastic bags back to the grocery store. While I reuse many of them, the ones I use do ultimately go into landfills which is discouraging.
  • Buy fewer single serve containers. Soda in 2 liter bottles versus a 12 pack of cans.

I encourage you to view this video https://www.phoenix.gov/publicworks/education on what happens to the recycled materials when they are picked up from your curb. This informative video explains the “Materials Recovery Facility” process in Phoenix. Pretty neat how they separate everything.

Also check out this great site from Waste Management http://www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp to help give you guidelines for recycling.
And see how some creative folks have “repurposed” plastic bags and plastic bottles into forms of art at our Pinterest board: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I challenge you to at least make 1 change in your household to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
And honor America Recycles Day: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Every day.

Cans 975

Image credit: Phoenix Public Works Video https://www.phoenix.gov/publicworks/education


Plastics 975

Image credit: Phoenix Public Works Video https://www.phoenix.gov/publicworks/education















Food Superstitions – Just in Time for Halloween!

Food Superstitions – Just in Time for Halloween!

With Halloween celebrations in full swing, we’ve been thinking about the creepy and supernatural (and candy; mostly about candy). Ghosts and goblins don’t really fit into our narrative around here, though, so we thought we’d talk about food!

This is a great time of year to freak yourself out by reading into food superstitions!

We’re all aware of some of the common food superstitions like throwing salt over your left shoulder (you know – to blind the devil), or using garlic to ward off vampires, but I’ve come across a few that I had never heard before, and now I’m a little worried!

Have you ever just handed a friend a knife while cooking together? I bet you’re no longer on speaking terms, right? Same with hot peppers! It’s no wonder I don’t have any friends left…and here I thought it was my personality. So if you want to keep your relationships intact, make sure you set the pepper or the knife on the table and let your friend pick it up on their own. Gifting knives is also a no-no, which is why a coin is often included when a knife is given; the recipient offers the coin to the giver as “payment” so as to avoid any friendship ruining.

Food Superstitions

Don’t hand this to anyone!

I’m not terribly concerned about my past knife and pepper indiscretions, but were you aware that cutting long noodles could shorten your life? I spent a solid year cutting up my son’s Chow Mein from our favorite Chinese restaurant so he wouldn’t make as big of a mess. I don’t know if that puts my life at risk or his, but we will now be a strictly long-noodled household.

And there is NO TELLING how many terrible storms at sea I have caused by not crushing up my eggshells before tossing them!

Food Superstitions

How much are these bubbles worth?

Or the untold riches I could have amassed by simply using a spoon to catch and eat the bubbles in my coffee. I drink coffee every day! Thankfully I have never taken bananas onto a ship, so I’m not responsible for any terrible fishing days (probably worth noting that the only ship I’ve been on is a cruise ship, so fishing wasn’t exactly a priority).

Have you broken the rules of any of these food superstitions? Will you be tempting the fates this Halloween by breaking them on purpose? I think I’m going to stay home, turn off the lights, and eat some super garlicky pasta just in case the vampires come for me.

Do you know of any food superstitions besides these? We would love to hear from you!

Stone Soup: Community Comfort Food

Stone Soup: Community Comfort Food

Are you familiar with Stone Soup? I had never heard of it, but when I asked Sarah B. if she was interested in blogging about it, of course she knew just what to do! Sarah wrote about some of her favorite football foods last month, but she’s not just about appetizers! Stone Soup is a great way to bring friends and family together, and Sarah’s got all the answers as to what Stone Soup is and how you can go about making it. Take it away, Sarah!

You’ve heard the Stone Soup story, right? Some travelers carrying a pot happen upon a village, and they ask the villagers for some food. The residents say they don’t have anything to spare, so the travelers tell the people that they’re going to make a delicious soup out of water and a single stone. They mention throughout the “cooking” process that it would be just wonderful if they had an onion, and maybe a potato to add, and the villagers all come up with bits and pieces to add to the soup and, in the end, everyone comes together to make a delicious soup for everyone to share.

I’m under the impression that Stone Soup would be an excellent theme for a dinner party – assign everyone an ingredient, throw everything in a pot, and let it cook while you have some drinks and swap some stories. Also, though, it’s a great mentality to have when you want to make something great for dinner, and don’t have an actual plan, but you do have some beef. And some beef stock. And maybe an onion or two.

For me, my Stone Soup moment didn’t come from all my neighbors rallying together to make dinner or even from a dig through the cabinets. Instead, it came from my step-daughter, Kelly, who wanted to make soup, and who had a list of ingredients she thought maybe should go in it…but that was about it.

She handed me a list that said: Onions, carrots, cabbage, beef, celery, potatoes, salt, lemon pepper, beef stock. OK, cool. We were going to Stone Soup this thing. Gather a bunch of stuff. Throw it in a pot. Cross our fingers and let it all boil.

The soup turned out really, really well, and we had enough to eat for a few days, since it was just the three of us.

When you’re making this, against all cooking advice ever given, don’t chop or dice everything ahead of time. Do each after you put the previous ingredient in. If you decide to have people over for this soup and they bring ingredients, have them chop up their own contribution! The point of Stone Soup is that it’s a community effort, so why not bring that into your own kitchen?

Beef and Vegetable “Stone” Soup

  • 50 oz. beef broth or stockSoup meat 300
  • 2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 lbs. stew beef
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 celery stalks
  • ½ head of cabbage
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Stone Soup 4Place a large stock pot on a burner on high. Add your beef stock and diced tomatoes with juice.
Cut up your beef and add it to the pot.
Dice your potatoes, onion, and celery and add those to the pot. If at this point your mixture is boiling rapidly, turn the heat down a little, to medium-high.
Chop your cabbage and add to the pot.
Add your lemon pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Simmer for 15 minutes, then check the doneness of the meat. (It should be at least 160°F.) If it’s cooked through, move on to the next step. If not, continue to simmer until the meat is done.
Taste your soup and add additional spices if desired.
Chop your green onions and add them to the pot. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot (with crusty bread, if you’ve got it!).

Bowl of Soup 300

Sarah Buchanan is a cookbook addict and Riesling aficionado living in Southern California. Even though it’s on hiatus at the moment, her blog, www.sarahcooksthebooks.com, tells the story of her attempts to cook out of every cookbook in her massive collection.

Printer friendly recipe: Stone Soup

Friendship Week – Transform Dinner Parties into Brunch Parties

Friendship Week – Transform Dinner Parties into Brunch Parties

 In honor of Friendship Week, we have my friend Sarah Weber here as a guest blogger to talk to us about throwing parties! Sarah and her book club friends come up with some really clever themes and the photos are always inspiring! This week Sarah will be sharing an awesome brunch party with some great ideas to spice up your next get-together. We can always use more ideas for feeding friendships. Take it away, Sarah!

Transform Dinner Parties into Brunch Parties

by Sarah Weber

Dinner parties are one of my favorite reasons for existing. They’re a great excuse to drink copious amounts of wine, build up friendships, and taste the kind of food that’s too much trouble to make for myself on a regular basis.That being said… when you’re having and attending the same dinner party over and over, things get a little stale. Enter brunch.

A themed brunch party is a great way to strengthen friendships and let everyone show off their creativity!


I have a wonderful group of friends who get togetherfriendship every month or so for a fancy dinner party — we formed a book club. So we decide on a book, read the book, and bring food and drink related to or themed around the book we read. We’ve been doing this for about a year, and those parties are among my favorite memories with friends.

My good friend Amy is a high school English teacher who blogs over at The Wordy Teacher. She hosted our most recent party. We read a book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio,which her entire school is reading as a One School One Book project. The book itself, I would highly recommend — it’s a quick read, and has overarching themes of “Be a little kinder than you need to be” and “Everyone deserves a standing ovation,” which I think are great principles to live by whether you’re a high school student or an adult.



We were all feeling a little bit of the dinner party blues, so decided to mix it up by making our party a brunch. We had mimosas spiked liberally with peach-mango juice, which is a great twist.


Our kind hostess made each of us coasters featuringfriendship our own faces drawn in the style of the book’s artwork. Cute favors are a great way to make a party more interesting and personal. Coasters are easy to make cheaply, too. Pick up tiles at the hardware store along with some felt to line the bottoms, and then decorate with scrapbook paper, paint, printed photos, whatever you fancy. Don’t forget to seal them (most hardware stores also carry spray sealant) to make them waterproof.

Amy made the most adorable mini quiches using a cupcake pan and Wonder-ful blue lemonade, a friend made cupcakes decorated with elements from the book art, and I made one of my favorite easy recipes to date — a sparkling champagne jello mold studded with fresh raspberries. Isn’t friendship great?friendship

Sparkling Jello Mold

Recipe slightly modified from seriouseats.

  • 3 TBS (3 envelopes) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 1 cup cold white cranberry juice
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 2 cups cold champagne (I used pink champagne — it turned out a pretty pale pinkish color)
  • 6 oz. (one little clamshell) fresh raspberries

Sprinkle gelatin over cold juice in a large bowl and let stand until gelatin is hydrated, about 1 minute. Use a slightly bigger bowl than you think you’ll need if you’ve never bloomed gelatin before.

Add boiling water and stir until gelatin completely dissolves. Stir in the sugar, then slowly stir in champagne. Carefully skim any foam off the top with a large spoon and discard.

Transfer to refrigerator. Chill until thickened but not set (the gelatin should still be jiggly, not entirely firm), 1 to 2 hours. I didn’t have two full hours because I am impatient, but after about 45 minutes (up to an hour and fifteen minutes), this is pseudo-set enough to try the next part.

Spoon in enough of the gelatin mixture to just cover the bottom of a 7 cup mold.

Add more than half of your raspberries, then pour in the rest of your jello mixture slowly. This will make the berries you’ve added move around a little bit. Add the rest of your raspberries to any spots that look sparse. Make sure your raspberries are completely submerged in jello.

Chill for several hours (overnight is good).

Before serving, dip the mold into warm water for no more than 10 seconds to help release. If you’re feeling brave, run warm water on the sides of the mold while you’re holding it, being careful not to get water in the jello mold.

Place a large serving platter upside-down over the mold. Holding both the mold and the platter firmly, invert. Gently shake mold to release Jell-O. Serve immediately.

This is a grown-up jello shot that you won’t even feel bad about bringing to a fancy grown-up party. It’s crisp and bubbly-tasting from the champagne, while the raspberries and cranberry juice give it a sweet and slightly tart flavor that is very refreshing in between mini quiches and hummus. The six of us easily ate an entire jello mold, with no leftovers.

Simplify Your Life Week: Smoothie Edition

Simplify Your Life Week: Smoothie Edition

National Simplify Your Life Week is August 1st through the 7th. I am all about simplifying my life (because I’m lazy, not because I’m organized…), and I want to share a couple of tips with you about one of my favorite things: SMOOTHIES! I love smoothies and so does my son, so we go through a lot of fruit and yogurt. Unfortunately, I was finding that we didn’t go through it quickly enough to use it all up before it went bad, so we were also throwing away quite a bit. I would justify this to myself with the fact that I had saved money by buying in bulk (so it was still cheaper than it would have been in an appropriate quantity from the grocery store), but wasting food just doesn’t feel good. So I started playing around with different ways to freeze and store my ingredients, and I think I have a pretty solid system working here. What’s more, I am now able to easily sneak vegetables into my son’s smoothies without him having a clue. Every time in the past that I tried to get him to eat a smoothie containing a handful of spinach, he would take one sip and act like I had given him poison. Now he doesn’t have a clue it’s in there and happily gulps down his healthy smoothie as a treat every day!

Simplify YOUR smoothie game with these tips!

Shopping Tips:

  • Purchase in bulk only items that can be easily frozen and stored or that you know you will be able to use in about a week.
  • Avoid buying pre-frozen fruits that contain added sugars. You want to be able to control the sweetness level and the types of sugars you are eating.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. One of my favorite finds recently was juicy black cherries. Cherries are usually on the pricy side, but I found some fresh ones on sale and brought home a couple pounds, and I am so glad!

Spinach and other leafy greens:

  • Wash fresh greens thoroughly.
  • Add 1-2 cups of your preferred liquid (I use water, but coconut water is a good way to sneak in some extra nutrients) to your blender and top with a couple handfuls of greens.Simplify your Life
  • Blend on high and continue adding greens in small handfuls until your blender can’t handle any more. You don’t need this to be super watery, but it needs to be thin enough to pour. If you have a monster blender like I do, you’re going to basically be dealing with straight up liquid anyway. Working in smallish batches will simplify this process.
  • Pour your liquid greens into ice cube trays and freeze solid.
  • Empty your beautiful emerald cubes into airtight containers or zipper bags and store in the freezer.
  • Sneak one or two cubes into your kid’s smoothie when he’s not looking and laugh maniacally (on the inside) at your devious ways.

Fresh Fruits:

  • Wash/dry/peel as appropriate.
  • Cut into small chunks.
  • Line a tray with parchment paper and spread fruit pieces in a single layer.
  • Freeze solid.
  • Transfer to airtight containers or zipper bags and store in freezer.


  • Some liquids, like carrot juice, you just won’t go through fast enough to keep in the fridge. I buy the case of 3 bottles of organic carrot juice from Costco, and each one is supposed to be used within 7 days of opening. That’s not happening here. There are only a couple different smoothies I even like it in, and I am certainly not drinking them every day.
  • Freeze some or all in ice cube trays and then store in zipper bags or airtight containers. Most ice cube trays hold ¾ to 1 oz. per cube, so keep that in mind when you go to use them.
  • Some liquids are best left in their liquid state, such as almond and soy milks. Also, you’re going to need something in liquid form to even make your smoothie, so pick the ones that you will be able to go through before expiration. I like the cartons of almond milk because I use it in my coffee as well as smoothies, so I can easily use it up before it goes bad. Other things, like regular fruit juice, I have in the fridge anyway because my son drinks it.

Miscellaneous Tips:

  • Always put your liquids in first. I do: liquid, yogurt (silken tofu is good for a protein boost, too), spices/seeds/sticky stuff (like cinnamon, flax seed, honey or peanut butter), frozen fruits/vegetables, fresh leafy greens if I’m using them. Add more liquid in small amounts if your blender locks up.
  • Start out on a medium low setting and work your way up to full power. In the Vita-Mix, I can knock out a smoothie in about 30 seconds, but experiment slowly with your blender so you don’t burn out the motor.
  • To clean your blender, rinse it out thoroughly, add a drop of dish soap and a cup or two of hot water, then blend (with the lid on!) for 30-45 seconds on high. Rinse again with hot water and you’re all set for next time!
  • Designate a specific ice cube tray to carrot juice if you plan on freezing it. That stuff remains a sticky, staining mess even after it is frozen!
  • Simplify your life even more by portioning out ingredients for single smoothies into small zipper bags. Include everything but the liquids and fresh ingredients and you’ll be start to finish in about one minute!

This is how I make the sneaky smoothie for my son:

Berry Sneaky SmoothieSimplify your lIfe

  • 1 cup juice (usually grape)
  • ½ cup yogurt (plain, honey, or whatever is in the fridge)
  • 1 tsp. flax seeds
  • 1-2 spinach ice cubes
  • ½ of one banana, in frozen chunks
  • ½ cup frozen mixed berries
  • ½ of one apple, fresh or frozen

Add ingredients to blender in order listed. This is important because you need to hide the spinach in case your kid walks in on you. Starting on medium low and working up to high power, blend until you can’t tell there is spinach in there, 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on blender strength.


Father’s Day Celebration – Sliders and Appreciation

Father’s Day Celebration – Sliders and Appreciation

Father’s Day is this weekend and we’ll all be taking time to celebrate the great dads in our lives. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Chef J is my brother, so I am the lucky lady who gets to sample all of the delicious recipes he shares with us here. Regardless of the great food, though, J is an awesome guy to have around. He was the father figure in my life from a very young age and shared that role when our amazing step-dad came into the picture (J will expand on this awesome dude in a moment). Older brothers don’t often get recognized on Father’s Day, so I’d like to take a moment to give J a little shout out. Thanks for always being there and taking care of me. You have a huge heart and have helped me in more ways than I can count. Double thanks for being such a fantastic uncle. You’re always up for babysitting and cooking lessons, comic books and video games — you’re just pretty super all around!

Before I start crying (ha! you know I’m already crying…), let’s have Chef J share some Father’s Day goodness! The floor is yours, Chef J!

This Sunday is Father’s Day, as the third Sunday of June always is. The origin and history of this holiday is a story with murky details, contentious claims, and the occasional absurd political rant — like any good patriarchal tale. Though there have been numerous claims made about who originally thought of the idea of setting aside a special day to give dads ugly ties, the holiday that we celebrate today is the result of the work of a plucky young lady by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd. She was the daughter of William Smart, a Civil War veteran, widower, and father of six. Dodd rallied support for a celebration of dads, much like the established Mother’s Day. The idea took root in her town of Spokane, Washington, and in 1910 on June 19th, the first Father’s Day as we (kind of) know it was celebrated. Though there was some initial opposition for the first, oh, fifty or sixty years, it was eventually signed into national law in 1972. Many who did not support the holiday spoke out in fear of the impending commercialization they assumed would surely follow. But those naysayers were quieted by the focused promotion of gift-giving by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers in the ’30s. So…

So, this Father’s Day, make sure to get dad that terrible tie he’s been wanting. Or a new grill utensil set! How about some slippers? What do you do for the guy that devoted his life to raising you? I posit appreciation is the greatest gift you could give the old man. My biological father took off after realizing that a wife and four kids cramped his style. So it goes. But my step-dad is the best. Not only is he the wise, strong, supportive guy you would imagine the classic super-dad to be, he stepped into a role that he had no obligation to fill. He took on four kids that, frankly, were kind of terrible at times. He chose to be the father that we needed; he stuck around because he wanted to, not because he had to. So this Father’s Day I will be celebrating the hard work, love, and patience that my old man has given over the years. What’s more, my brother-in-law has recently become a father! Candi has already mentioned the sweet little Piper in her Mother’s Day article; she is a precious little goober, and her parents couldn’t be happier.

So how do I show the fathers in my life how much they mean to me on Father’s Day? With tiny hamburgers, of course!

SlidersFather's Day Sliders

  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • ½ white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 12 small buns or soft dinner rolls, sliced
  • 3 slices of American cheese, cut into quarters
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Dill pickles, sliced
  • Salt & Pepper

Roll the beef flat until it is about 1/4” thick. Cut into 12 squares and season with salt & pepper.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan.
Add the onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent.
Place the beef patties on top of the onions, place a slice of cheese on each one and cover.
Cook for 4-5 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan; if you need to cook the burgers in batches you can reuse the onions a couple times.
Sprinkle the onions over the buns. Place a patty on the onions, top with condiments and pickles, put the other half of the bun on last. You know, build a burger!
You can get away with a pound and a half of beef for really thin burgers.
You can double them up, add jalapeno, bacon, etc. Whatever Dad likes!
These also go really well with fries and milkshakes!

Printer friendly recipe: Fathers Day Sliders

How Butcher Block Is Made

How Butcher Block Is Made

A few years ago, when I started working for ButcherBlockCo., I had the privilege of touring the John Boos & Co. butcher block manufacturing facility in Effingham, Illinois. Seeing the process of how butcher block is made from start to finish was enlightening.  It felt a lot like making furniture by hand in a workshop, but on a much larger scale.

The process seems to be a wonderful balance of technology and science with craftsmanship and artistry, all working together to make these beautiful pieces of butcher block furniture come to life.

Here is my summary of How Butcher Block Is Made:

Harvesting Wood
Before the wood ever arrives at the manufacturing plant, individual trees are selected for harvest, encouraging forests to renew and regenerate themselves naturally. At the lumber mill, trees are cut into lumber for purchase and distribution. John Boos only buys wood from suppliers who are members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, guaranteeing they practice responsible reforestation.
Drying Wood
When lumber arrives at the John Boos facility it is staged in their lumber yard.  Lumber is sorted, piece by piece, to gauge its grade using a “grader’s stick” to approve each board for processing. After lumber is inspected and graded it “rests” in an outdoor staging area for a few weeks as part of the first steps in the drying process.  Step two of the drying process is to transfer the lumber to gigantic, wood-fired kilns where it is dried for 18 to 28 days. The enormous kilns used to dry the lumber are heated by a boiler, which is fueled by sawdust and wood scraps generated during the process of making butcher block. After nearly a month of drying in the kiln, the cured lumber enters the start of the production process.
Production Process
All the lumber coming into the manufacturing plant is first planed and sanded to get a very flat and smooth work surface. Then it is immediately run through a glue line rip saw cutting the wood into 1.75 inch rails. Each wood rail is inspected and marked for defects using fluorescent markers, which are read by a computer to eliminate defective sections. Final rails are then sorted by grade, separating the premium rails to be used for kitchen countertops and high quality butcher block surfaces from the lower grade rails to be used for industrial countertops.
To make blended-grain butcher blocks, rails of varying length are finger jointed together, then laminated and glued side by side, hiding all finger joints. To make edge-grain butcher blocks, rails of the same length are laminated and glued together side by side, forming what then looks like a solid piece of butcher block wood. End-grain butcher block is characterized by its checkerboard appearance. This block starts with laminated edge-grain boards, that are glued and stacked on top of each other, then placed in a gigantic vice called a screw press, squeezing the wood and glue together. After drying, the block is set on end and the “ends” of the rails become the butcher block cutting surface, hence the term “end-grain.”
All butcher block, be it blended, edge or end-grain, is then sanded down with 200 grit to provide a silky smooth cutting surface. It is then made into Boos Blocks, cutting boards, butcher block table tops, standard and custom countertops, etc.  Finally, all butcher block is finished with a treatment of food-safe mineral oil or board cream before it is allowed to leave the plant. It is packaged with care and shipped to consumers, restaurants and retailers all across the US.
Having seen how butcher block is made makes me appreciate all of the effort that has gone into what appears to be a relatively simple piece of wood.  I know I take great pride in displaying and using my John Boos butcher block every day!