Husbands That Cook
Can you tell me more about you?
Ryan Alvarez here, writing to you from Eagle Rock, just north of downtown Los Angeles. Since graduating from USC with a degree in classical voice (I’m a baritone, or possibly a lyric bass. Still figuring that out), I have been acting in TV shows and commercials. You may have seen me as a speedo-wearing demon slave on “Angel," a cult-member burglar on “CSI" or a dirt-phobic potential murderer on “Bones," among other shows. I promise that I am nothing like any of those characters in real life.
Adam: Hello, Boxy! My name is Adam Merrin, and I am very happy to be talking with you right now. I am relaxing in our cozy home in Eagle Rock, California with a glass of red wine, some candles burning and my husband by my side. I couldn’t ask for anything else this very moment. For the past 13 years, I have been the keyboardist in The 88. Some people may know us from our theme song on the NBC show “Community." Our music has also been featured in a bunch of other TV shows, movies and commercials. It has been an exciting career that has taken me all around the United States, Canada, Japan and England. This has been my main job since about 2003. We are touring less these days, so in between practicing and recording, I have been enjoying spending time on "Husbands That Cook" with Ryan.
How did you start "Husbands That Cook"?
Ryan: I have loved cooking ever since I was a little kid. My mom says that even as an infant, I was most calm and happy in the kitchen watching her work. I enrolled in my first cooking class at age 5. And, actually, that was the last one I ever took. I am very much a home cook, with no formal training. I just love doing it. Over the years I have collected a huge folder of recipes, gathering ideas from cookbooks, newspaper clippings and blogs, and put my own spin on them. This folder contains 204 entries (I just counted), and almost every page is filled with scribbled notes and changes. Back in January 2015, I began thinking about starting a blog because I love sharing recipes with my friends and family. I mentioned my idea to Adam, and he immediately said he wanted to do it together. We came up with the name, and Husbands that Cook was born! January 7th is HTC’s birthday (It’s a Capricorn).
Adam: In January 2015, Ryan brought up the idea of starting a cooking blog. I thought it sounded fun, and told him that I wanted to do it too. So we sat on the couch and started thinking of names for the site. One of the first things Ryan thought of was "Husbands That Cook." It happened so effortlessly, and we both liked it right away. The only thing we were deciding after that was whether to call it "Husbands That Cook" or "Husbands Who Cook." The latter is actually grammatically correct, but we thought that "Husbands That Cook" sounded better, so we stuck with it. We both knew nothing about photography, and our first few test shoots for the blog were absolutely terrible. The food looked disgusting and completely unappetizing. We shot about ten different recipes before they were presentable. The first few months, we were shooting with an iPhone, until upgrading to a Nikon D3300. Neither of us had used a professional camera like this before, so we had to learn all the basics as we went along, and we are still learning something every day! Ryan and I also both enjoy writing. In fact, we started a private travel blog for ourselves and our families back in 2009. Having a cooking blog is definitely a lot more involved than we thought when we started, but we have fallen in love with the process. I love the challenges, and we are meeting so many nice people along the way. Maybe only use the text in red so as to repeat less of what Ryan has already said.
What is your first food memory?
Ryan: I am half-Cuban, and many of my early memories around food came from my abuelita. She was an amazing woman who would make the most delicious Cuban and Spanish food you can imagine. Black beans and rice, Spanish tortilla, arroz con pollo, ropa vieja, croquetas, yuca con mojo… Okay I’m getting hungry just thinking about them. To this day, black beans and rice is one of our go-to dinners, and her Flan recipe is still the best in the world. I have been a vegetarian since 2000, so I don’t eat the meat dishes anymore, but I still have fond memories of them, and I can remember exactly how good they tasted.
Adam: Unfortunately, it is sand. Does that count? When I was in nursery school, I have this awful memory of another kid stuffing sand in my mouth and getting sick from it. Sorry if that wasn’t as glamorous as you hoped, but this was the first thing that came to mind. On a happier note, my fondest food memories are of my grandma’s cooking. I’m a vegetarian now, but as a child, I adored her chicken cacciatore. It would melt in your mouth. She also made the best matzo ball soup in the world. Your question just made me realize that I need to come up with a vegetarian version for our website. Growing up I owned an activity book called Kids’ America, and in it was a recipe for molasses taffy. That is my first cooking memory, but I have always loved experimenting in the kitchen.
Who are your favorite chefs?
Ryan: I started following Deb Perelman’s "Smitten Kitchen" site back in 2007, and she has always been one of my favorite bloggers. Her recipes are accessible for the home cook and clearly written, and her writing is endearing, funny, and charmingly self-effacing. Plus, the food is consistently delicious, and mostly vegetarian! I’m a big fan of Alice Waters, both for her simple and seasonal style of cooking, but also for her advocacy for community gardening and childhood nutrition. My other favorite chef—please don’t hate me for being sentimental—is my mother. She taught me everything I know in the kitchen, and is an incredible home cook. I still get a lot of my best ideas from her: if I receive an envelope in the mail, and there is a recipe cut from a newspaper or magazine inside, I know it’s going to be a good one!
Adam: I am not too familiar with the chefs on TV, as we don’t have cable. We love movies and watch Netflix, but I haven’t paid for TV in over twenty years. I follow a lot of other cooking bloggers online, and am totally inspired by Deb Perelman at "Smitten Kitchen," and there are bunch of others. Brett Braley at "Fig+Bleu" is one of the best writers out there. Paola from "Cravings In Amsterdam" has some of the most beautiful food photography I’ve ever seen. Also Sarah Phillips (@food on Instagram) designs the most gorgeous art using colorful fruits and vegetables. Her work belongs in a museum.
Are there any culinary trends you are wild about right now?
Ryan: One of my favorite flavor combinations is salty and sweet, so I’m a huge fan of salted caramel anything. I feel like that qualifies as a trend, right? Salted desserts are everywhere now, and I’m loving it.
Adam: I don’t know if this is a trend, but if it’s not it really should be: Toasting pasta. We have a recipe with toasted orzo, kale, basil, and pecorino romano that we just can’t get enough of. It has an unbelievably delicious nutty flavor and adds so much character. It is easy to prepare, too!
What's your worst kitchen nightmare?
Adam: There have been a few for sure. I remember one time Ryan was cooking a very complicated pasta dish, and was in the kitchen for hours chopping vegetables, and simmering a ragout sauce that was making the entire house smell so good. We were both in the kitchen taking turns stirring the pot and trying a sample here and there, and it was turning out perfectly. For the last step, Ryan was grinding up some pepper over the sauce and the grinder broke, plastic pieces spilling into the beautiful, colorful sauce that we had been so excited to try. It was unusable and we had to throw it out. We learned a good lesson though: Either use a better grinder, or grind your pepper into a small dish first.
Ryan: I believe we went out for burritos that night.
What's your last meal on earth?
Ryan: For my last meal on earth, I would drive out to Santa Monica and go to Bay Cities Italian Deli. I would get their pepper jack cheese sandwich with spicy peppers and the works on a crisp Italian roll, and I would die a happy, happy man.
Adam: My last meal would be the green bean casserole that my mom has been making for Thanksgiving ever since I was a kid. And actually, I just had some tonight! I know this dish from the 1960’s is not the most popular, but there is just something so comforting about it.
What's your favorite restaurant?
Ryan: The restaurant we probably visit more than any other is Taco Spot here in Eagle Rock (www.tacospot.com). They have multiple vegetarian burritos, all of which are consistently delicious, and a fantastic salsa bar. Plus, they have really cool artwork on the walls!
Adam: I have two! Tacos Villa Corona (www.yelp.com/biz/tacos-villa-corona-los-angeles) doesn’t even have a website, but we have been going there for years. It’s the tiniest family-owned Mexican food joint in Atwater Village, and they have the best breakfast burritos with potatoes and spinach. Their homemade hot sauce is so good that one of our friends drinks it straight from the plastic container. The next place that comes to mind is Terre à Terre, an upscale vegetarian restaurant that we were so lucky to visit in Brighton England with our dear friend Ellie who lives there. Everything they had was so unique and outstanding. (www.terreaterre.co.uk)