Fancy Fruit Plates

I love getting together with friends when everyone literally brings something to the table. That kind of pot luck teamwork really makes any gathering more special and interesting because everyone brings something different. I’ve had birthday parties where five or so guests all bring a bag of the same kind of corn chips—and I love me a corn chip, but where’s the creativity? The personal touch? However, I’ve since learned that assigning food and drinks really is the best way to go so it’s clear that there won’t be any food overlap. Also, anyone with allergies or dietary restrictions can make sure that there’s something at the party for them to eat and enjoy too.

In the past, I’ve always been the first to volunteer a killer cheese plate with crackers, hummus-pita-veggie combos, mixing up sweets, and designing a spread for holiday parties, girls’ nights at my apartment, and end of the semester celebrations at work where everyone can relax and munch on plenty of good eats. Around the food is where most of any good party happens anyway, so it’s important to make that food great. With all of these experiences, I’ve amassed an impressive amount of pretty serving platters, trays, and travel-ready containers, which only excites me more to show up with something I’ve prepared.

Just this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my good friend’s bachelorette party. Although I was unable to join in most of the daytime festivities (work, work, work), the evening portion included a bunch of girlfriends hanging out in another friend’s backyard under a brilliant August night sky. We laughed and cackled the night away, catching up on how our summers were going, and getting the details on the bride’s exciting and creative wedding preparations. My role for this part of the night was to not only provide all the paper and plastic wares for our snackfest, but I volunteered to bring some sort of fruit to accompany the other dessert treats. It is summer, after all, and fruit always makes for a refreshing bite.

Alissa & Chris about to leave for vacation in June 2017, in Deer Park, NY.

Since I’m writing about a bachelorette party that I attended this weekend, you might wonder what this has to do with Kissing Cooks, but Chris certainly had plenty of helpful input that inspired my final fruit product. For the last few weeks, he’d been hearing me debate about what fruit to bring, especially since my spending habits have been seriously budgeted and I knew that some of my fellow partygoers had allergies or dietary preferences. I didn’t want to just bring a bowl of watermelon. Not that there’s anything wrong with watermelon. I wanted something fancy (hence my affinity for pretty napkins from Sur La Table) and something very specific to me. I’m almost always looking for some whimsical or glamorous option that best represents who I am as a party participant and friend.

Since I was working most of the day and only had about two hours to prepare a fruit option, I didn’t want to rush cutting into a melon, not knowing until the last minute if the fruit was ripe enough (because that happened recently for a breakfast that Chris and I shared). I’m also not very handy when it comes to cutting on the large-scale. Give me an eggplant, cucumber, or apple, and I’ll happily chop away, but for some reason, the idea of anything the size of a football or larger gives me nightmares of a knife falling out of my hand and chopping off my toes. Yes, that was a real dream. I like my toes, so I wasn’t about to set up a situation where that could come true.

Anyway… Chris suggested chocolate covered strawberries because who doesn’t love chocolate covered strawberries? He’s knows my penchant for the more decadent things in life, so this was a great idea. Also, strawberries are relatively inexpensive if you catch the right sale because they’re very much in season right now. I was trying to build from Chris’ idea, but I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go from there.

After work that Sunday, I hurried to the local Dollar Tree for my paper and plastic supplies, which was perfect for a party of about eight guests, so I didn’t need to buy much in bulk. With the bride’s gothic / punk wedding theme in mind, I grabbed cups, plates, flatware, and napkins in purple and red to create a luxurious and appropriate color scheme to celebrate my friend’s exciting journey to the altar. I grabbed four Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, which I knew were perfectly sized for melting in a double boiler since the bars can be broken into smaller pieces, thus melting faster. Then, among the clear plastic serving items, I found small square mini dishes, perfect for portioning out a variety of fruit to each party guest. A 12-pack was only $1, but just in case, I put two packages in my basket and headed to the register.

All of a sudden, my mind raced with inspiration (thank you, Chris) and I knew what I wanted to make. I headed to Stop & Shop, where strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries were all on sale, and as per my usual groceries, I also picked up some mandarin oranges and bananas. I pictured it perfectly in my head that I’d put a little of each fruit on each of the serving dishes, drizzle half of them with chocolate (since I was using milk chocolate, I still wanted my vegan friends to enjoy the fruit too). This would create a special little sample of everything for everyone to indulge in among the other homemade dessert varieties others were providing.

When I arrived home, I washed and divided all the berries into plastic containers, setting up an assembly line of ingredients. Following that, I cut two bananas in long diagonal slices and peeled two oranges, which I then segmented as well. I lined a long shallow rectangular container (perfect for serving and traveling) with damask print black and white napkins and set up each of the mini plates inside. Then, as my double boiler was warming and the chocolate was melting, I distributed a slice of banana on each of the mini plates, followed by a segment of orange, one whole strawberry (with the leaf still attached because I thought the green added a beautiful pop of color among the other bright fruit hues), about four or five blueberries, and a raspberry on top. Each plate looked like a lavish bite of summer. My plastic container held 15 of the plates, so I decided to make just a little more than half of each serving with the drizzled chocolate. I had a lot more cut fruit leftover, which I set up in a smaller container to give some to my parents (who always love and encourage my colorful and pretty food creations) and also for Chris to enjoy when he came over to my apartment the next night.

Once the chocolate was drizzled, I stored everything away in the fridge to give the chocolate time to harden. I only had about 20 minutes before my half hour drive to the party, so I wanted to make sure all was complete and ready for eating. I’m so pleased with how these mini plates came out. I love chocolate with fruit, especially oranges, which I thought really brought all the flavors together nicely.

Perhaps next time, I can drizzle dark or white chocolate, or even add some sugar crystal sprinkles or shredded coconut for additional texture and sweetness. Also, if I was looking to keep the calories down, I could avoid the chocolate all together and then the dessert wouldn’t require any cooking at all, which is perfect when on a time crunch before a party. Creating these mini fruit plates was not difficult at all, but it did take some time to set everything up just as symmetrically and picturesque as I wanted. My friend, the bride, deserved all the attention and care that preparing this dessert required.

Luckily, I ended up with some extra mini plates at the end of the night because there were just so many yummy food options during the party—we all left feeling so full and satisfied. Also, I had plenty of extra strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries to enjoy for breakfast the next morning, creating a healthy and refreshing parfait of fruit flavors atop my vanilla yogurt.

Thank you so much to Chris who always offers quick-fix tips any time I’m stuck trying to figure something out. I don’t mean that for just fruit either. It’s a wonderful thing when your partner can not only help you when you’re in need, but inspire you to be creative, especially when it’s for such an important occasion as my good friend’s bachelorette party. Chris gets one big smooch for this!

Alissa & Chris at Arooga’s in Patchogue, NY in May 2017.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking!

Kissing Cooks: The Summer Edition

Alissa & Chris in Lake Grove, NY for 4th of July 2017.

It’s been a while since Kissing Cooks last posted, but if you’ve been following us on Instagram (@kissingcooks) or Facebook, then you know that it’s not for lack of kissing or cooking (or eating or smiling or movie watching or having a ton of fun). It’s summer! Chris and I have been having quite the culinary and romantic adventure with plenty of good eats and even better smooches. Let’s play some ketchup (…or catch up)!

Since last we posted, we’ve enjoyed plenty of delicious brunches (at Toast Coffeehouse and Main Street Bistro), home cooked dinners (of chicken tacos, eggplant parmesan, cheeseburgers, and steak wraps), fabulous date nights out (including Café Formaggio, Butera’s, Wahlburgers, Crazy Crepe Café, The Gilded Otter, Arooga’s, The Cheesecake Factory (which serves gluten-free cheesecake!), and Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices, to name a few), as well as one delightful campfire meal (that Chris obviously made!) and a fireside s’mores party of two (with Pamela’s gluten-free graham crackers) during our mini vacation to the New Paltz-Newburgh area in early June. Not only did we share an amazing weekend together staying on the KOA Campgrounds (yes, I camped—in a cabin!), we took in the beautiful countryside, visited the Yankee Folly Cidery (that we discovered at The Chocolate Expo), checked out some antique shops and the Woodbury Commons, experienced our first drive-in movie (we saw Tom Cruise in The Mummy in Hyde Park), had a meat and cheese picnic at Bear Mountain, and most importantly, we ate all the best of everything that the area had to offer (with plenty of gluten free options too), including crepes and gelato (both at Sweet Bunny)!

Alissa & Chris at the St. Philip & St. James Church carnival.

Not to mention, it’s festival season too, which means that we’ll be hitting up as many local events on Long Island as we can possibly stand. We recently made an impromptu and quick stop at the St. Philip & St. James Church carnival, where we shared our very first authentic amusement park ride (Nunley’s Carousel aside). I’ll never forget Pharaoh’s Fury and the ginger ale I tearfully demanded afterward, especially since Chris took such good care of me (since I’m a frequent victim of motion sickness). We’re having the summer of our lives so far, adding new memories and building a stronger bond in our relationship. Taking risks (like a super fast and nauseating ride at a carnival) and trying new things is what makes every day so exciting to share with each other.

In May, we had the most jam-packed and perhaps busiest day of our lives by attending a taping of The Chew, walking through Central Park, visiting Hunter College (Chris is a former student), exploring some exciting fashion by Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ate dinner at Carmine’s, and saw the phenomenal Sara Bareilles in Waitress on Broadway. Weeks later, we’re still listening to and singing along with the unforgettable songs from the sweet, sweet play. Sugar… butter… flour…

Alissa & Chris at Saint James Summer Nights in July 2017.

The whirlwind epic that is our first summer together doesn’t stop there either! We’ve walked on Short Beach on a hand-holding sort of rainy evening, explored Port Jefferson and Stony Brook village (stopping in Robinson’s Tea Room), had a late night chips-hummus-orange-Italian-ice picnic during a Fourth of July fireworks show, participated in a game of trivia with TriviaNYC at Hinterlands in Brooklyn, and attended Saint James Summer Nights where we had a food truck dinner from Eat Me Drink Me, the mobile epicurean, followed by some fair favorites, churros and Mister Softee, for dessert.

Also, we’re getting super inspired to make better eating, cooking, and food shopping decisions through lengthy jaunts to Whole Foods, Uncle Giuseppe’s, Trader Joe’s, as well as Sur La Table, IKEA, and The Container Store (holy storage space ideas!). Oh and we binged the entire six seasons of Downton Abbey! That’s the real cherry on the cake that is Summer 2017 (so far).

Just last Friday, we decided to use our grocery resources wisely by defrosting some drumsticks, preparing frozen sweet potato fries (Alexia), and roasting some cauliflower for a filling and savory summer dinner before doing some mall shopping. I was given a full, ready-to-eat head of cauliflower by my parents (who recently went on vacation, fearing the cauliflower would meet a moldy fate). Without ever really preparing a cauliflower side before, I did a little Pinterest reading and set forth by chopping it all up.

I love me some cauliflower. Taking cheese out of the equation (I know it seems cruel), vegetables make me so happy. I’m a girl whose eyes widen at the mere mention of eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, and artichokes. Some of these veggies haven’t been high on Chris’ must-eat list, but I’ve been plotting to change his mind with flavorful methods of veggie preparation that will make his palate sing. He’ll be the first one to tell you how sweet potatoes have changed the way he meal preps. I did that!

Anyway, when Chris arrived at my apartment, our kitchen waltz was soon underway. Chris deskinned the drumsticks, seasoning them with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder. While cleaning up between tasks, we both prepared the cauliflower similar to the chicken, also coating the florets with gluten free Italian breadcrumbs (Aleia’s) for a little extra kick and crunch.

Alissa of years’ past was not such a hands-on eater. That is to say that I hated (loathed, abhorred, was repulsed by, you get it) ever eating with my hands. What’s ironic is that two of my all-time favorite snacks / lunches are hand-eating foods: grilled cheese and quesadillas. This might have also been because I worked at a bank for so many years, handling cash and coins on a daily basis. Wet wipes were just as present as dollar signs filled the day because a major pet peeve of mine is having sticky or dirty hands. I’ve become less uptight about how my food gets into my mouth because I know that there are always napkins around that will do the job of cleaning my hands and face after a hearty meal, especially pretty ones with designs and phrases (in my apartment, at least). Although I confess, I still use a knife and fork with my pizza.

However, this past middle school-aged Alissa also detested the “barbaric” experience of eating some sort of chicken-on-the-bone part during a family trip to Medieval Times in Florida. For our dinner, with a jousting tournament as entertainment, large portions of chicken were distributed and ne’ery a fork and knife were in sight. Perhaps it was my immaturity that also hindered the overall experience of escape ad fantasy, but now, I’m a big fan of drumsticks. I’m much more informed and excited about food, which is why having a drumsticks dinner (after buying the package with a BOGO Free sale) was such a feasible and welcomed idea.

Alissa & Chris at Bear Mountain State Park.

Now we’re all caught up and you see that Chris and I really are still cooking at home. Promise! Since we are the Kissing Cooks, it will always be the hallmark of our relationship because we love to eat! Cooking is perhaps when we learn most about each other and work best as a team (except for when we’re quizzing each other on movie trivia during long drives all over Long Island). We already have plenty more upcoming events on our calendars, including Alive by the Bay in Bay Shore this week, Alive After Five in Patchogue next week, and the Food Truck Fest in Deer Park next weekend. In addition, Chris and I will be attending the Secaucus Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo in October, an event that I learned about on my very important and useful Find Me Gluten Free app.

You know what we’ve been up to so far. What about you? Where are you having the best food experiences of the summer? Where do you recommend the Kissing Cooks to eat? What are some of your favorite summer foods?

As always… stays kissing and stay cooking.

Let’s Talk Turkey Tacos!

There are so many exciting and nerve-wracking stages of relationships. Chris and I have been lucky that the early milestones of ours have been nothing short of successful and charming, and some form of food talk appears in almost every conversation we’ve had. With Kissing Cooks, it’s been quite the pleasure to discuss our inspiration and experiences with loved ones as we grow in readership through social media.

When Chris agreed to meet and have dinner with some of my closest gal pals and their families, it was a great night where the laughs were just as abundant as the yummy tacos. He won them over and I couldn’t have been happier since he’d basically won me on our first date months ago! Our hostess of the night, my friend Nichole, prepared ground turkey with a homemade taco seasoning. Chris and I were immediately intrigued by this prospect, especially since we frequently talk about the ideal ways to organize spices and herbs in one’s cabinet (mine, more specifically). Not to mention, this method allowed for us to save some cash on the sometimes sodium-heavy packet varieties on store shelves, so that we may rely on our own flavor preferences to dictate heat levels and what we’re putting into our bodies. Kissing Cooks is not just about the kissing or the cooking; it’s also about building up our repertoires as home cooks, and with that, we hope to do our very best to learn how dishes are made from scratch (in most cases, at least).

Alissa & Chris at the New Amsterdam Theater in NYC in January 2017, seeing Aladdin on Broadway. No human brains are actually harmed over the course of our relationship.

A week after our friend fest, Chris and I set out to establish our very own taco tradition by making turkey tacos. It should be said that we both have very different work schedules, and often, I have a little bit of prep time for sides and vegetables (really where my forte thrives) before Chris gets to my apartment. I confess: I usually nosh a bit here and there on a cucumber or cheese during the process just to hold me over.

When Chris called me on his way from work, he suggested an appetizer since it usually takes some time after he arrives to finally sit down to eat together and he was hungry. I was at a loss for a light, gluten free starter to have ready for him after his long day at the office (a lovely addition that I will always keep in mind for us to whet our palettes with in the future). Most of our meals at home together have included some sort of a salad that served just this purpose in the time before dinner was served. I’m only recently transforming my kitchen into a full-time gluten free zone, so I suggested to him that, along with a few other necessities, he pick up something festive, which turned out to be corn chip scoops and mild chunky salsa (both Tostitos), a more than appropriate choice for our south-of-the-border-inspired dinner.

Once the cooking was underway, Chris and I put to good use some of the thawed ground turkey I’d bought in bulk (and on sale). I had some extra corn shells (Ortega—of course gluten free), which made it feel like dinner was halfway ready for us that Friday night. When I researched the necessary ingredients for homemade taco seasoning (here), I was pleased to find that I already had most (garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, paprika, and sea salt) on hand, although Chris made the investment in the more potent and bolder flavors (chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes, and cumin) to keep for himself. These spices haven’t previously found a home in my pantry because, well, spicy + Alissa = no bueno. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a little kick on my tongue—the kick does not enjoy me; therefore, I’ve had to make healthier food choices to avoid a nasty monster that I’ve been facing for years now, better known as, acid reflux. In an effort to meet Chris’ spicy preferences and my own milder health needs, we adjusted portions and added the final product to our ground turkey, which was browning away in the pan within minutes of his arrival.

In addition, our meal included some favorite taco accessories, including light sour cream (Daisy), chopped iceberg lettuce and plum tomato, a finely shredded Mexican blend of four cheeses (Monterey Jack, cheddar, quesadilla, and asadero), salsa, spicy taco sauce (Ortega), as well as brown rice (Uncle Ben’s). Chris had the idea to season the rice with some dried cilantro, though we probably could’ve used a small squeeze of lime juice and zest (everything should have some zest) over it for a little extra authenticity.

I was also pretty happy to use many of my cute and mismatched mini bowls so that assembling our tacos with our favored accoutrements was easy to do and aesthetically pleasing for our carefully set and colorful table. Since I’d been feeling a little under the weather (darn allergies, or something like that), I opted to pair my delicious dinner with a tall glass of cold, filtered water, and Chris followed suit.

As always, there were plenty of leftovers to be saved for one more satisfying dinner. Ingredients like sour cream and the four-cheese blend would not go to waste either since these are essentials to my go-to anytime favorite dinner, cheese quesadillas (the first home-cooked meal I treated Chris to on our fifth date). Cleanup was a cinch, which only made it more obvious that turkey tacos will definitely be happening again for the Kissing Cooks in the future.

For dessert, Chris and I indulged in his homemade gluten free glazed brownies (Duncan Hines) that he very generously brought over to share with me. He knows all too well about my sweetest sweet tooth. We both highly recommend this amazing boxed mix, if you’re seeking gluten free alternatives to quell your baking needs, because it’s possibly the best gluten free brownie option I’ve tasted so far! With it, I enjoyed a hot cup of Throat Coat tea (Traditional Medicinals) with honey, as we watched the latest hilarious episode of New Girl and talked about our busy weekend plans of banana pancakes for Saturday brunch and attending The Chocolate Expo in Garden City on Sunday (which Chris will be writing about next!).

Maybe next time, our taco night will fall on a Tuesday for punny alliterative purposes, but really, aren’t tacos perfect for any night of the week? How do you like to prepare your tacos? What are your favorite taco toppings? We’d love to hear from our readers and fellow foodies about what inspires you to kiss and cook in the kitchen!

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

How Do I Loaf Thee?

Deciding that the Kissing Cooks should take on a meatloaf recipe isn’t particularly novel, especially in the grand scheme of dinner planning for any American twosome. A home-cooked meatloaf is as standard a meal as hot dogs and apple pie are representative of this melting pot country of ours. Growing up, there was plenty of beefy meatloaf served, but I’ll admit, I didn’t love much of it. There always needed to be a little extra Parmesan cheese on it for me to come to terms that the meaty slice on my plate was to be eaten—no argument. That’s not to say that the meatloaf my parents made was inedible—they still make it to this day and rigorously enjoy second portions. It’s just that my palette has always swayed away from carnivorous, save for fowl, for no reason more than I just don’t often have the taste for it. Give me cheese, pasta, bread, veggies, and other leafy goodies, and I am pretty darn happy. It’s as simple as that. However, in my childhood, most foods leaned Italian in flavor (with cheese galore), which I never complained about, thus creating an enduring memory of meatloaf. Once I had my own kitchen, and cooking was up to me, interpreting my own meatloaf concoction just never occurred to me.

Now, I’m so much more aware of the groceries that I buy and how to stretch their value to get my money’s worth, especially since Chris and I are having so much fun in the kitchen. After every meal, Chris and I divide up leftovers so he can bring some to work for lunch and I can relive the previous night’s adventure for another dinner. This was definitely the case when turkey meatloaf became the star of this past Tuesday night.

You might ask, how did turkey meatloaf come to be? Well, something essential to know about Chris is that he’s somewhat of a meatball scientist (completely and unofficially unaccredited by any legitimate academic or culinary institution—I am totally granting him this title!). He’s experimented with different recipe combinations at length, combining breadcrumbs with doughnuts and adding hot sauce or brown sugar just to see what would happen. These experiences have extended to our very enjoyable turkey burger dinner from last week (see what those “Smoochburgers” are all about here). So, it was only natural to progress from meatball to burger to grand meatloaf status. I was tickled at the thought of this because as Chris and I grow as home cooks, so do our ideas.

I searched Pinterest for several different turkey meatloaf recipes, since turkey is the official meat of choice for the Kissing Cooks, and I even consulted my mother about the challenge. I already had a loaf pan for future gluten free bread baking aspirations, so step one was covered. After some clicking around, Chris and I agreed that this recipe would work best for our needs—and also, it seemed the simplest, without having to buy too many extra ingredients.

Before I get to the nitty gritty of meatloaf preparation (if there is such a thing), I wanted to share that when I first sat to write this post, I had a mild case of writer’s block. I usually have a cute, punny idea of how to kick things off. My brain was all “Loaf Birds,” because Chris and I are a couple, playing on the cliché of being love birds, and that our main ingredient is turkey. Then there was the “Birds of a Feather, Loaf Together” angle, but I don’t think I could say that title with a straight face and without Chris rolling his eyes. All was blank… until I remembered that lovely Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem (homaged above) and my writing wheels began to turn. Then, I did what any 21st century writer would do when not knowing how to start writing about the glory and pride that comes with making meatloaf. I typed into Google: “the origins of meatloaf” because I knew there had to have been some sort of beginning to the meatloaf mainstay—I just didn’t know what it was. Here’s what I found:

Wowie! Thanks, Wikipedia (a source I seldom encourage my students to use for their research papers)! Meatloaf is tried and true for more than 16 centuries, so how could Chris and I go wrong? The website goes on to list all the different ways how various parts of the world prepare a meatloaf, spanning continents where I’d never dream of eating meatloaf, such as Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, and Vietnam, to name a few. After all of these interpretations have been logged in the history books of cuisine, the thought of Chris and me embarking on our very own version, á la Long Island, felt all right and warm and fuzzy on the inside.

As usual we used ground turkey (Jennie-O), followed by an egg, half a yellow onion (which Chris valiantly prepared since my sensitive eyes teared up after one measly chop) (and a whole onion seemed much too much), gluten free Italian bread crumbs (Aleia’s), 1% milk, and salt and pepper. I whipped up the topping sauce, including ketchup (Heinz), honey mustard (Boar’s Head) for extra sweetness instead of the suggested standard mustard, and light brown sugar (Domino) because that’s what I had on hand. As instructed, we poured the tangy and sweet glaze over the top of the loaf, leaving some extra on the side for dipping. During bake time, we cleaned up and prepared the sides: steamed broccoli and gluten free macaroni and cheese, keeping in theme, we thought, with a hearty and classic dinner. That’s when the Riesling (RELAX) was poured and place settings were thus placed.

When we finally sat down, all was perfectly tasty and filling. There were certainly more servings (and onions in the loaf itself) than we could consume in one sitting. Chris was so excited at the prospect of meal prepping the same recipe for an upcoming work week’s worth of lunches. We then stored our leftovers in some containers, plopped down on the couch for a New Girl viewing, and enjoyed a mixture of sugar free white chocolate and milk chocolate pudding (an easy solution for when that gallon of milk is about to expire) topped with fat free whipped cream.

Thank you so much for your loyal support, taking the time to read what we’ve prepared, and following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Alissa & Chris on the LIRR in January 2017.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo

Alissa & Chris for Oscar night in Saint James, NY in February 2017.

Inspiration comes in so many forms, especially when considering what to write. For Kissing Cooks, my mind (and heart, of course) is surging with ideas about how Chris and I can spend our time together—mostly for when we’re in the kitchen right now because it’s still winter here on Long Island and outdoor activities are a bit limited (though hopefully not for long). For us, the cooking routine and dynamics are interesting and new to explore because neither of us have ever had such kitchen chemistry with past partners, nor was the frequency and desire as excitedly present as we’re discovering. This is only further driving how we swap our inspirations, especially about all things creative, beyond shared cuisine too.

Alissa & Chris meeting Clinton Kelly at the Book Revue in Huntington, NY in January 2017.

Let’s get back to the food… Last week, I was watching an episode of The Chew, absorbing all the food information I could (like a student who dutifully attends a lecture—I’m no longer in school, which prompts me to seek education in any form I possibly can. My mind is always hungry for knowledge.). This is when I came across a seemingly straightforward and fast recipe for arugula pesto farfalle with chicken, presented by cohost Clinton Kelly (someone with whom I have greatly admired for a long time when it comes to fashion, food, and words). Clinton Kelly has already had somewhat of an influence on my relationship with Chris (see our About page for those adorable details), which made me all the more eager to explore how Chris and I could adopt this recipe as our own gluten free version.

Before I get into the who-did-whats of our food preparation, I’d like to address the fact that the title of this post is “A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo.” I pride myself as someone who appreciates language, both foreign and domestic. This title is not only a mix of French and Italian (two languages that have largely impacted my life in how I look at the world, write, dress, and decorate my apartment), but also admittedly, it’s misleading. An “amuse bouche” literally translates in French as a “mouth amuser” (as per Wikipedia), which is typically served in bite-sized form, like an hors d’oeuvre. While our mouths are thoroughly amused by everything having to do with kissing, food, and conversation, there’s nothing about this particular pesto-centric meal that qualifies it as a true amuse bouche. I’m clarifying to ward off anyone reading who has identified any misrepresentation of this appetizer course, which dates back to the 1960s. If further argument is needed, may I refer you to the first paragraph about how Chris and I are each other’s muses. And yes, wordplay is always invited to dinner!

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Secondly, “festivo” is Italian for “holiday.” My relationship with Chris began right smack in the middle of the end-of-the-year holiday season, and this has only been amplified by the fact that the decadence of awards season (movies, television, and music) also feels like a celebration. We’re such movie nerds that preparing for Oscar night felt like getting ready for a holiday in itself. In total, we saw three of the Best Picture nominees together (La La Land, Arrival, and Lion), and two individually (Chris: Hell or High Water and Alissa: Hidden Figures).

Alissa & Chris with Mr. Oscar himself (in mere poster form) while at the movies in Stony Brook, NY in February 2017.

So… Chris and I made plans to watch the Academy Awards together, as a time-friendly meal was on the horizon for last Sunday night, especially since I’d be at work for most of the day and couldn’t meal prep like I usually preferred to do. That, in combination with the fact that I love pesto (a consequence of savoring much of it in many different green forms during my time studying and writing in Florence), readied me for the challenge to switch farfalle out for brown rice fusilli (Tinkyada—I couldn’t find any gluten free farfalle at my local Stop and Shop), chicken thighs for grilled chicken strips (Perdue Short Cuts), and leave out the golden raisins all together (though I’m not opposed to using them in the future).

When I moved into my first apartment, my parents very generously gifted me tons of used and small kitchen necessities and appliances that were perfect for just such a bachelorette who wasn’t always so food-savvy (not that I really am now, but I’ve come a long way, if I may say so myself). Among these appreciated donations was a small 1.5 cup-size food processor (Kitchen Gourmet) that was stored and ignored for well over three years in my cabinet. Whenever I looked at it, I heard the whispered word “pesto” in the air, like the ghost of Christmas past was lurking in the shadows of my stacks of Cheerios boxes, haunting and taunting me to take on the challenge. Making fresh pesto never really seemed impossible; it was just never terribly urgent for me to explore, what with balancing two jobs, grad school, finances, an ever-changing personal life, and the need for sleep. That is, until now.

When Clinton Kelly (yes, I’m always going to use his first and last name, though we’ve met and hugged and shared some memorable laughs) whipped up his meal in mere minutes, I was determined to produce just such an effortless dinner for Chris and I to enjoy before the big night. Because my food processor is so small, it took a few more steps than I anticipated for the arugula pesto to come together. This entailed emptying out the grated Parmesan, walnuts (Diamond), garlic, and arugula from the bowl and refilling it with another round of the same unpulsed ingredients. Then I emptied that second mixture into the first batch so that the pesto could form with extra virgin olive oil in all of its gastronomic green glory.

Chris kept a watchful eye on the fusilli as we microwaved the chicken (time was an issue since there was also some red carpet watching and cleaning up to do before the ceremony started), while serving up some Riesling (RELAX, a new favorite of ours). Once all was ready, I spooned some pesto into our bowls first (as per Clinton Kelly’s instructions), followed by our pasta. We mixed the multi colored fusilli until all of its corners and curls were covered in the peppery arugula mixture, followed by the strips of hot chicken and topping it all off with dollops of part skim ricotta. There’s no such thing as too much cheese for the Kissing Cooks.

I needn’t capture how the rest of the night went. If you saw the Oscars, then you know. However, our pesto dish was a tasty success. No envelope mix up could deny that victory. Congratulations to all the nominees who worked so hard to present relevant and moving stories on the silver screen to audiences across the world, and inspiring Chris and I to learn more movie trivia along the way. The highly praised modern-day musical La La Land is a particularly special film for us; it was the first movie we saw in theaters (on our 15th date—who’s counting?—just two days after attending a meet and greet with Clinton Kelly who was promoting his essay collection, I Hate Everyone Except You). In addition, the film’s signature love ballad “City of Stars” performed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was the first song we slow danced to (actually in the movie theater during the end credits—Chris’ idea!). The soundtrack and score to the movie is also often playing during our at-home meals, lending its magical musing to every step of our romance.

Alissa & Chris rehearsing their Kissing Cooks ways before seeing La La Land in Farmingdale, NY in January 2017.

For dessert, we each indulged in some vanilla frozen yogurt (Target’s ever-reliable Market Pantry brand) topped with chocolate syrup, dark chocolate sprinkles, mini chocolate chips (Nestlé), whipped cream, and maraschino cherries. Overall, it was an utterly enjoyable night of cooking, cleaning, couture, cuddling, commentary, and cinema. We couldn’t ask for more!

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

Zuppa di Amore

Indulgent.

Comforting.

Soothing.

Satisfying.

Healthy.

Delicious.

Joyful.

These are just some of the words that describe all the feels of food. Wouldn’t you know… the same adjectives apply to love too! Yeah, the love stuff is still on the brain—we are the Kissing Cooks, after all—so, it’s pretty important (and totes obvs) for us to share that every kitchen encounter (whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, or dessert) derives from a place of love. That’s perhaps the most precious ingredient that makes the process and finale all the more valuable with loved ones.

After last week’s adventure in gluten free lasagna, Chris and I decided to kick off our romantic Valentine’s weekend with what’s definitely the ultimate winter go-to meal: soup. Even though the weather here on Long Island has been more like spring in February than actual winter in February, after a long week of work and life, some soup making was definitely in order. Not only did we simmer up a creamy chicken and vegetable soup, but we paired the creation with soup’s best partner in culinary crime: grilled cheese.

However, when I write “Chris and I” regarding the let’s-make-soup idea, I should clarify that it was my stubborn determination that decided the fate of his leftover rotisserie lunch chicken that was stowed away in my fridge for a few days. When I get an idea in my head, especially when it comes to food, I must see it through. The same applies for an outfit combination too, but that belongs in a totally different blog (like Style Darling Daily).

I previously bought a bag of carrots, which came in very useful for a variety of past dinners, including side salads that Chris and I shared prior to the birth of Kissing Cooks. I was beginning to suspect that the fresh carrots were approaching their expiration, so I knew they’d be essential, and we’d be oh-so responsible grocery shopping adults, for this particular dish. It was a most exciting prospect at effective decision making (for me at least).

Alissa & Chris at Ragazzi in Lake Grove, NY in February 2017.

When all of our delicious ingredients were finally on hand (and the “hello” and “I’m so happy to see you” kisses were emphatically exchanged), the cooking began. Chris and I referenced this recipe, reducing our serving size in half, although we also omitted peas (Chris doesn’t like them—sad face) and noodles since our dish was accompanied by grilled cheese (Did you know that angels sing every time a grilled cheese is made?). This included our favorite whole grain gluten free bread (Udi’s) with thin-sliced Swiss cheese (Sargento) and turkey bacon (Oscar Mayer). For the bolder grilled cheese lovers, it should be noted that my sandwich included a slice of tomato and a dash of oregano because that’s how grilled cheese consumption was taught to me when I was growing up (it must be a north shore thing). For the soup, we used the entire container of mirepoix (that’s a fancy way of referring to carrots, onions, and celery) with plenty more carrots since I had the aforementioned extras available. Chris handled shredding the chicken, separating every last flavorful strip of protein to our already simmering, aromatic mixture of low-sodium chicken broth (College Inn), vegetables, freshly minced garlic (I even watched a YouTube video on how to do this because it was my first time not using the jar stuff), gluten free flour (Pillsbury), 1% milk, unsalted butter, and spices.

The warm soupy goodness thickened beautifully, especially as we giggled between more kisses and gasped at the sight of the melting Swiss cheese (and blackened-ish bread—sorry honey, I had to be truthful). Making the soup alone was a pretty efficient task though, only using a few handy pots and pans—that is, until the grilled cheese part happened and the cleanup seemed almost never ending (to no one’s fault, really). I’m certainly not going to crank on about doing the dishes (because nobody likes a whiner—though everybody likes a wino—wink wink) when a delightfully nourishing meal was the cause. Oh hello there segue… I should add that no meal is complete without a companion beverage, and this night was made all the more decadent and tasty with a bottle of crisp, sweet Riesling (Relax), a brand name true to its end-of-the-night-yielding state of mind.

One of my favorite parts of the night (as usual), and most cooking nights with Chris, is the charmingly pleasant conversation that we shared, dually feeding our hearts and minds. We discussed our brunch and shopping plans for the next two days, as well as times to see Lion (so many tears and sniffles, but worth the mascara streams down my face) and reservations for our fancy post-Valentine’s Day dinner out (at Ragazzi in Lake Grove [an Italian kitchen and bar], where there’s an abundance of gluten free menu items served daily).

Following our washing-drying duet at the sink, we contained the two generous leftover servings of soup for further consumption later in the week and finished off the rest of the wine, all before cuddling up on the couch and calling it a night of soup success. We definitely learned a lot about the balancing act that is cooking, relishing in every moment of its gluten free ecstasy.

As for next time, we have big turkey burger plans that’ll certainly make the cut of posts on Kissing Cooks. Thank you so much for taking the time to support our latest installment.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

A Night of Firsts

It was a night of firsts. 

I have to start this post out with that absolute and ominous line because it sounds very Dickensian. When fashion and food aren’t on my mind, it’s all about the books. After all, Charlie is my literary boss hero, and I’m in the middle of reading (or rather, lavishing in) David Copperfield. That’s just a little bit about me as we get to know each other! However, I digress… I don’t want readers to be mistaken that this is a nerdy literary blog, especially when our name is Kissing Cooks. This is a nerdy cooking blog, we promise. Keep reading for some food dish. (Warning #1: Puns exist here.)

So, it was a night of firsts. Tuesday, February 14, 2017 was the first night that Chris and I made lasagna together and ever; individually, it just never happened for either of us, though we can easily lose count at the number of homemade lasagna dinners that we’ve had with family and other fine dining companions over the course of our thirty plus years on Long Island, where the notions of making and having lasagna are as present as our accents. 

Additionally, this post marks the first written installment on Kissing Cooks, which is the first joint project Chris and I are sharing in our young, exciting relationship. Also, we’ve celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together this week, which was every bit the romantic and fun experience any couple could hope for. (Warning #2 [specifically to anyone whose appetite for sentimental borders on barely minimal]: We’re a mushy twosome who really dig each other, as evidenced by this inspired social media milestone in our courtship. Please don’t let that deter you from continuing with us on our yummy journey.) 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this kitchen-centric experience is the fact that we are a gluten-free couple. Though, I’m a part-time anti-gluten glutton in supportive solidarity with Chris’ healthier dietary needs. However, this first for me is anything but limited when my favorite guy is by my side and we’re going at it, and by that, I mean clanging those pots and pans in cabinets and drawers, preparing as a pair for perfect eats on a somewhat regular basis now. If we weren’t already, we’re totally domesticating each other, what with discussions of kitchen utensil trips to IKEA (handy lists in tow) and how we can incorporate other ingredients into future meals we ogled during our first afternoon browse date through the local Whole Foods Market recently.

Chris & Alissa enjoying brunch at Maureen’s Kitchen in Smithtown, NY in January 2017.

Let’s clear a few things up first. We’re not likely to post actual recipes on here. As much as I love writing about food and feasting my eyes on beautifully photographed, glossy-paged cook books by professional celebrity chefs (Hey Giada de Laurentiis, if you’re reading!), Kissing Cooks is more about inspiring others with our takes on the experience of cooking together, and less about exact formulas for how what we’ve created said dishes. As (let’s be honest) beginner-level home cooks, we love to use recipes found on Pinterest as a reference for whatever our latest meal plan includes. It’s important to mention that Chris and I are not cooking rebels or defying what it takes to create a well-intentioned and delicious recipe, nor do we think that we’re experts in anything involving food. We just love to eat. We love to kiss. And we love food memories. So in order to marry those pleasurable activities, a wordy and picture-heavyish log of our cooking concoctions shall thrive here. What happens in the kitchen certainly won’t stay in the kitchen, at least in our case.

In my own gastronomic quests (specifically baking from the box), I intently read the cardboard container from favorites like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Duncan Hines. Then, after a few trials of chocolate, I’ve tinkered here and there to discover the necessary tweaks for optimal flavor indulgence and well-accessorized presentation, honing my kitchen instincts. Like an outfit a person wears, how one dresses their food and home (like at the kitchen table) help to create more texture and delight for the whole darn memory. Aside from box baking and pantry scavenging, my only other qualifications for just such a project as Kissing Cooks is binging superfluous hours of cooking shows (for example: The Chew, anything Giada does [are you out there, girl?], and more). I’ve studied a wee bit in the world of food (see our About page to get hella jealous of my festive Florentine feats). Most significantly, I have been actually eating food ALL OF MY LIFE (Chris too!)! Not to mention that said lifetime of eating also includes inspiration from my parents whose time in the kitchen while I was growing up has not only taught me the foundations of food preparation and the importance of time spent together at the dinner table, but a lot about how to manage “adulting,” because such a word is a commonplace verb nowadays.

Let’s get back to the lasagna, shall we? As usual, Chris and I co-piloted: he multitasked, managing the foundation to any delectable lasagna dish comprised of pasta (Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles), sauce (Prego traditional), and ground turkey (Jennie-O) browning in some extra virgin olive oil. Whereas I prepared a luscious mixture of (the following store brand, budget-friendly ingredients, including) ricotta and mozzarella cheese (both part skim), two large eggs, and all the appropriate seasonings we love like garlic powder, oregano, and parsley (also, this was my first time actually preparing ricotta with a dash of nutmeg—and it was totally worth it, flavor-wise). In between, we maintained with the cleaning-washing-drying dynamic to stay one step ahead when different kitchenware items were no longer needed (a task I take very seriously since my little one-bedroom apartment doesn’t include a dishwasher, aside from my left and right hands). We referenced a helpful recipe from McCormick for bake time and temperature specifics, which worked out perfectly for a hot minute (not literarlly) to clean up a bit more, set the table accordingly, and watch the latest cackle-inducing episode of New Girl, our go-to what-to-do-during-cook-time show.

Once all was baked and rested, we dug into that sucker like pigs searching for truffles… and man, was it good! We didn’t need to prepare any garlic bread or side salad because we just wanted that lasagna—and seconds of that lasagna, to boot! The best part (for me, at least—Chris wasn’t asked his opinion here) is a tie between the actual preparation of the meal and finally getting our butts seated to enjoy it with each other. While he and I could never run out of goofy, thoughtful, or sweet things to say to each other, the precious silence in between each bite and sip of Pinot Grigio (Cupcake Vineyards) meant more to me than any twelve-hundred-plus-word blog could express.

What’s better is that the icing on the cake (or equivalent silver-lining cheesy topping on the dish, again strictly for me) was that there were plenty of leftovers for Chris and me to relive the gorgeousness of flavor and affection for at least two-to-three more meals the following day or so.

We had such a blast. We’re still talking about it, even a day after the fact. We plan on making some version of this meal again for family and friends in the future. I can’t wait to make more lasagna memories with Chris. Also, I’d like to thank our readers (probably close friends and immediate family) for taking the time to share in the development of Kissing Cooks.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.