“Husbands That Cook: 120 Irresistible Vegetarian Recipes and Tales from Our Tiny Kitchen,” written by Ryan Alvarez and Adam Merrin, showcases tasty vegetarian treats guaranteed to incite wanderlust, nostalgia, and good-for-the-soul kitchen therapy. Through quippy titles and vignettes that peek inside the couple’s love story, the reader comes to the conclusion that time in the kitchen is best spent enjoying the process. There is something for everyone in this cookbook, with over 120 recipes inspired by Ryan and Adam’s world travels.
After attending a recent kitchen even at Melissa’s Produce and tasting a few recipes from the couple’s newest cookbook, we had to find out more. Read the interview below to learn more beyond the cookbook, like how to wash dishes, how one’s relationship with the microwave develops, and go-to kitty snacks! Spending time with Ryan and Adam shed insight on how this duo has managed to become so successful in such a short amount of time. Not only is it their amazing recipes, but it’s also their eccentric charm that has viewers tuning in to Instagram every Saturday to watch them live in their tiny kitchen.
Ryan and Adam have only been blogging since 2015 but have hit the ground running, being nominated by Saveur Magazine for “Best How-To Food Blog” just a year after their debut, shortly followed by a book deal!
If you love cats, you’ll appreciate Ryan and Adam’s affection for their feline family member, Sylvia, who also inspires recipes. See The Cat’s Eye on Pg. 235. If this duo isn’t in their tiny kitchen using fresh Melissa’s produce, then they’re out traveling and discovering new recipes.
Q&A WITH RYAN ALVAREZ AND ADAM MERRIN
I love how your recipes connect with experiences; this reminded me of how Maya Angelou formatted her cookbooks. What inspired the narrative formatting of your cookbook? What greater story are you trying to tell beyond the vignettes?
Adam: Thank you! That’s a great question! When we were writing our cookbook, we wanted to keep it conversational, like we are right there cooking with you in the kitchen. It’s so important to us to that the recipe instructions are clear and easy to follow because it’s no fun being confused by a recipe that is difficult to understand. Cooking should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and we do everything we can to make it that way. All our recipe intros have stories and they are written in such a way that the words on the page are guaranteed to invoke smiles from the reader… and make them hungry at the same time!
I love that your cookbook is vegetarian. Since you were both formerly meat eaters, is it safe to assume that you treated protein-rich produce as meat substitutes? What point (if at all) did proteins take on their own identity in your cooking? Or if not, is it valuable to continue associating meat substitutes for the larger conversation of cooking?
Ryan: We have both followed a vegetarian diet for years—19 years for me, and 29 years for Adam—so at this point, it is second nature to us, and we never even consider eating meat. When cooking, we select ingredients that are delicious, healthy, and nourishing on their own, rather than thinking about “replacements” or substitutions. In terms of protein, we honestly don’t give it that much thought—as long as we’re eating a balanced diet that includes vegetables, grains, eggs, dairy, beans, and legumes, we naturally get enough protein. In our culture, the need for protein is actually overstated, so most people consume far more protein than they need. That said, all bodies are different, so people need to find a daily diet that works for them!
This question is for Adam: I loved reading in the ‘about’ section on your blog that your joy from cooking is new. I feel like your fresh perspective juxtaposed with Ryan’s experience creates a larger space for the reader. Can you talk about that sort of awakening you experienced in the kitchen? Can you walk us through your thought process when you were in the kitchen preparing a meal by yourself for the first time and you took joy from that moment?
Adam: I never liked cooking until about five or six years ago. I didn’t like having a messy kitchen, and I wasn’t very good at following instructions. The process of me falling in love with cooking happened quite naturally. For the first 11-12 years of our relationship, Ryan did most of the cooking, but after every meal, we would discuss how we could improve each dish. Over time, we collected a massive notebook containing all our favorite recipes with scribbled notes on every page. I became so involved with tweaking these recipes that instead of simply hovering over the stove and just tasting everything, we slowly began to cook side by side.
Eventually, we started preparing solo recipes for each other throughout the week. We would switch off cooking every night — I started by making simple meals, which turned into more complex ones. I was so proud the night that I made the Heart-Stuffed Shells in Lemon Ricotta Béchamel from Deb Perelman’s first cookbook all by myself. That was a turning point for me. I remember thinking, “I can do this!”
Ryan, I love that you enjoy doing dishes. Some would refer to it as cathartic while others like you find it therapeutic. What is your method for washing dishes?
Ryan: It’s true — I do enjoy it! We have a small kitchen and no dishwasher, so we spend a fair amount of time doing the dishes. The first step for me is putting on some music: anything from classical to jazz to pop — whatever fits the mood I’m in. I always wear gloves to protect my hands and turn the tap as hot as possible. I rinse all the dishes at once, then turn off the tap while I soap them up to save water. After a final rinse, I arrange them neatly — perhaps obsessively so — on our dish rack to dry. There’s just something so satisfying about taking a big messy pile of dishes and transforming them into a neat, clean, organized stack.
For being so meticulous and methodic in your cooking and creating process, I’d love to know what both of your thoughts are on cooking vs. baking. Do you have a preference? If so, what is it that drives you to one end of the spectrum?
Adam: Ryan has more experience baking than I do, and he’s better at it than I am. He likes cooking and baking equally, where I lean more towards cooking. I know I just need more practice in order to feel confident about baking, but that being said, I love making cookies, and we have really simple recipes in our cookbook that even a 5-year-old can bake — like our Gooey Butterscotch Blondies, which is an easy, one bowl recipe, that comes together in just minutes. We brought those to every book signing on our tour and they were always a hit. They just so happen to be vegan too, so everyone can enjoy them!
What’s your favorite staple spring produce to work with?
Ryan: That’s a tough question because I have two Spring favorites. Asparagus may be available year-round, but it peaks in the Spring when it’s tender, flavorful, and sweet. We like using it in recipes like the Date Night Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon from our book, but our go-to method is simply roasting the spears in a hot oven, tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper to let their natural flavor shine through. My other favorite in Springtime is artichokes. Sometimes we’ll pick up a pair of huge globe artichokes, steam them whole, and enjoy them leaf by leaf, dipping each one into a tangy aioli made with mayonnaise, garlic, and dill. They’re practically a meal in themselves!
What are some great produce tips that you’ve learned along the way i.e. storing, how to select, buying in season … What does your produce procurement process look like?
Adam: Using fresh, seasonal produce is one of the most important things to know. The flavor is incomparable and can turn a bland recipe into something special. When we first moved into our house nine years ago, there was a long, empty stretch of land on our property with no plants or trees, and we decided to turn that area into a fruit orchard. Now we have over a dozen trees including grapefruit, pomegranate, plum, loquat, lemon, orange, tangerine, lime, and avocado, and we also grow our own tomatoes and peppers every year. We love gardening, spending time outdoors, and taking care of the land. It’s so rewarding to grow your own fruit, but if you don’t have space, buying locally and in season can greatly improve the flavors and depth of your cooking.
Do you have a favorite fruit?
Ryan: There are very few fruits that I don’t like — although durian comes to mind — and almost any type of fruit, when picked at peak ripeness, can be spectacular. That said, if I had to pick a favorite, I would have to say mango. A perfectly ripe mango is a thing of beauty, and the flavor is so sweet, tropical, and enchanting.
What unique fruit is grabbing your attention the most right now?
Adam: Actually, Nick at Melissa’s introduced us to mangosteens, which I had never heard of before. Kind of like a cross between a mango and a peach, this was one of the tastiest fruits I’ve ever tried.
What’s something new that’s entered your kitchen this season (a trendy new item you’re playing around with)?
Ryan: We are both pasta lovers, and have been enjoying all the new gluten-free varieties made from beans and lentils. When paired with a hearty, delicious sauce, they are just as tasty as wheat-based pasta, with the added benefit of being higher in fiber, protein, and vitamins. We still enjoy traditional pasta all the time, but these new brands are a fun change of pace, and we almost always have a few boxes in the pantry, ready to go whenever the craving strikes.
I loved the fruit rose demo you two did during your Facebook Live at Melissa’s Kitchen. What are some other fun party tricks like that, that you could share with us?
Adam: We created a cocktail for MacKenzie-Childs that has a black and white checkerboard garnish. It looks a lot more complicated than it is to make. First, you make a checkerboard stencil, then you sprinkle activated charcoal over the stencil onto the drink. Once the stencil is removed, it reveals a striking garnish that is sure to impress all your friends. That recipe is on our blog at husbandsthatcook.com, and you can find it by searching for Aurora Spring.
A lot of the recipes in this book come from your hearts, they are family recipes or taken from your travels around the world … Aside from Communication Breakdown Carrot Cake, what other recipes, in particular, were harder to let out into the open?
Ryan: My grandmother’s flan recipe is spectacular. It’s the best flan I’ve ever tasted, and my mom continues to make it to this day. However, I was hesitant to share it at first, because they always prepared it in a very specific pan — a vintage double-boiler from the 1960’s that is no longer available — and I wanted to make sure that the recipe would turn out perfectly, no matter what kind of pan was used. We tested the recipe multiple times with various pans, and after several tries, finally perfected a method to share with the world. Drizzled with caramel, this is the smoothest and creamiest flan you’ll ever try — and it’s easy to make, as it contains just four ingredients.
Adam, how has your relationship changed with the microwave as your enthusiasm in the kitchen developed? A microwave is a powerful tool in the kitchen. It possesses the power to buoy the novice and the professional in the kitchen, much like your cookbook does with your two vastly different backgrounds!
Adam: Haha! For those of you that haven’t read our cookbook yet, I mention in the introduction that my friends used to tease me about opening up a restaurant dedicated to serving only microwaved cuisine since that’s pretty much all I cooked when I was in my early twenties — and I used to make a mean Top Ramen.
It’s funny, I always thought that microwaves were slightly dangerous and emitted radiation until just a few months ago when I learned from Neil deGrasse Tyson that it’s only a myth and that the energy waves are not harmful at all. These days, I mostly use the microwave to heat up leftovers rather than preparing main courses, and they do come in handy to quickly melt butter when a recipe requires it. I don’t think I’ll be opening up a restaurant dedicated to microwaveable cuisine anymore, but it does bring back fond memories when I think about those desperate times.
What are your favorite kitty snacks to make for Sylvia? Can we find those recipes in the book?
Ryan: While we do have a cocktail inspired by her in the book — The Cat’s Eye, made with gin, rosemary simple syrup, and green chartreuse liqueur — the only human food that Sylvia likes is canned pumpkin! We first gave it to her as a kitten, on the advice of our vet who recommended it to help digestive issues, and she absolutely loved it! Now she comes running when we say the word “pumpkin” so we have to be careful when we’re speaking, and spell out the word when she’s around. We use it in our Pumpkin Cupcakes with Chai Frosting, and of course, we give her a little spoonful to taste whenever we do some baking!
What’s the biggest lesson you both have learned while traveling that translated into the kitchen?
Adam: Enjoy your time in the kitchen and don’t rush the process just to make something quick. Of course, this is more of general practice. Sometimes you need a fast meal when you’re in a hurry, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we love being in the kitchen together, and it feels like an escape from our everyday life. It’s a break from rushing around, getting things done, and working hard throughout the day. The process is very relaxing, and it’s enjoyable to surround yourself with aromatic scents and the sounds of sizzling onions on the stove. We like to pour a glass of wine — or bourbon, depending on our mood — listen to music, and make the cooking experience one that we look forward to every day.
For more information, visit the blog at Husbands That Cook.
“Kitchen disasters can happen to anyone—even on your birthday. Every August, Ryan bakes me a cake (best husband ever), and one year, I requested a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. While he was busy baking, I stepped into the kitchen and it was like walking into a Jackson Pollock painting.
There were masses of grated carrots covering the walls, bits scattered over the floor, and even a few dangling from the ceiling. Since we didn’t have a food processor at the time, he had been strenuously grating carrots for the last half hour, and the first words out of my mouth were, “What did you do in here?!”
Tensions rose and words not worth repeating were exchanged, but the story gets worse. While Ryan continued mixing the batter, I thought it would be helpful to clean the kitchen, so I gathered up peels from every inch of the room, then stuffed them all down the disposal, which began producing terrifying murky sounds while water backed up and started filling the sink. Then, suddenly, the pipe under the cabinet exploded, sending a torrent of filthy water and carrot peels pouring onto the floor.
We laugh about it now, and thankfully, the cake—and our relationship—survived the Great Carrot Flood of 2005. This recipe is appropriately named after that chaotic day. We kissed and made up, and we learned two valuable lessons: don’t ever put carrot peels down the garbage disposal, and be nice to your significant other, especially when they are making you a birthday cake.” —Adam Merrin, Husbands That Cook
Communication Breakdown Carrot Cake With Whipped Goat Cheese Frosting
FOR THE CAKE
- 1 tbs unsalted butter for greasing the pans
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups Granulated Sugar
- 1 ½ cups toasted walnut oil
- 4 eggs large
- 3 cups grated carrots about 5 medium carrots
FOR FROSTING AND ASSEMBLY
- 6 oz goat cheese at room temperature
- 3 tbs unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- ⅓ cup finely chopped pecans for garnish
TO MAKE THE CAKE
- Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C. Grease two 8-inch cake pans with butter, line the bottoms with circles of parchment and grease the parchment. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to combine, and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and walnut oil, and whisk until smooth and blended. Add the eggs, and whisk until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Then fold in the carrots until blended. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cakes cool for a few minutes in the pans, then invert the cakes onto wire racks, remove the parchment paper, and cool completely. Use immediately, or wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
TO MAKE THE FROSTING
- Place the goat cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium until smooth and evenly combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and continue beating until smooth. Gradually sift the powdered sugar into the mixing bowl in several additions, stopping to mix between each one. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
- Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread half the frosting over the layer, all the way to the edge. Place the second cake layer on top of the first, then spread the remaining frosting over the top. Sprinkle the nuts over the frosting. Kiss and make up, serve, and enjoy!
- Toasted walnut oil adds a delicious nutty flavor and can be found in many supermarkets and online. If you can’t find it, any neutral vegetable oil can be used instead.
- Don’t ever throw carrot peels down the garbage disposal (see cautionary tale above).
- To make a 6-inch, 2-layer cake that serves 6 to 8 people, cut the cake recipe and frosting recipe in half. The layers will be slightly taller, so be sure the cake pans have sides at least 2 inches high.