Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oh Duh! Playdough!

Rachel here.

Have I mentioned that we have a toddler on our hands? Because we do. And by on our hands I, of course, mean overflowing from our hands.

M is on the go. She is up and down and twirling around from the moment she hollers to let us know she's awake to a few minutes after her exhausted parents tuck her into bed at night. She wants to do, too. She wants to tap, smell, twist and pinch. She wants to listen and examine and high-five everything and anything. And this means that we are on an endless quest for activities to do with her.

Enter playdough.

The last time we made the stuff was several years ago now with our other favorite kid, Sister Frances the Jedi Princess. Needless to say, we needed a brush-up on the recipe.

Umm...there are a LOT of recipes online.

I landed on and clicked through to the edible playdough recipe. It called for a package of kool-aid which, much to my surprise and horror, existed in our house. So I embarked on the recipe and ten minutes later we were all rolling bright red doughy balls in our hands.

And here's the thing: kool-aid doesn't stain your hands nearly as much as food coloring.

Here's the other thing: it smells really good.

And a few days later? Our playdough is going strong. It isn't dried out one bit. And that's just awesome.

3 tspn. cream of tartar
1 c. flour
1 c. water
1 package of kool-aid
1 tblspn. cooking oil
1/2 c. salt

Mix dry ingredients in a medium pan. Add water and oil. Stir over medium heat until doughy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Couscous Casserole, Anyone?

Janet here: On Monday it was 80 in California where we were visiting the Divine Miss M and her caretakers (aka Rachel and John). Today I drove home through the first snow of the season, a disgusting combination of slush and slop. I was not pleased.

So it goes in the Northeast this time of year. The leaves drop, the weather cools and I begin to think of serious comfort food to get me through winter. Thick hearty soups top my list but so do casseroles. This one from Not Your Mother's Casseroles — yes, I know I'm obviously a food stalker of Faith Durand since I've touted at least nine of her damn fine casseroles — had my husband raving something about how this was one of the best things I've ever made. Now to give you some perspective, I should note that Peter is one of the best people to cook for in the world. For 30 years (!) he has praised every single thing I've made — one notable exception but I'll be writing about that in an upcoming post — and thanked me for the meal. And it's been genuine (trust me, I can smell a food brown-noser a mile away).

I've also made some damn tasty meals over the years. So to hear him repeatedly rave about this every time he's warmed up the leftovers and say this is one of his favorite things ever — well, it's impressive.

So what are you waiting for? Get cooking! And let us know what you think.

Pearl Couscous Gratin with Goat Cheese and Spinach
serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
juice and zest of one lemon
1 shallot, minced
2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach, cut into ribbons
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until the couscous is a light brown. Add the broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat to low and cook for 14 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Uncover, fluff with a fork, and take off the heat.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous with the lemon zest, shallot, spinach and almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Then stir in the cottage cheese and about 3/4 of the goat cheese. Add this cheese and egg mix to the couscous mix and mix well. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the couscous mixture in the baking dish. Crumble the rest of the goat cheese on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Back for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What We've Been Up To....

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you can see why Rachel and I have been otherwise engaged for the past week. We were too busy actually talking to each other — and cooking in real time together! — to post. I would apologize but you've now seen Miss M and obviously will totally understand why we haven't written.

We also did a little Halloween project that takes about 3 minutes and will make your table/hallway/whatever instantly festive (or in our case Miss M's room for cute nightlights).

clean jars of various sizes
white tissue paper
black tissue paper
LED tea lights or regular tea lights
Modge Podge
small foam paint brushes

Rip pieces of white tissue paper and Modge Podge it onto the outside of the lights with your brush. Cut out faces in black tissue paper and Modge Podge onto the white tissue paper. Stick the candles inside. Light. Voila! Instant Halloween!

Stay tuned for tomorrow...some exciting news to share.....

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roasted Vegetable and Quinoa Salad With Pistachios

Rachel here.

A few nights ago, I made this recipe from an old "Real Simple" magazine. It was insanely easy and we've been eating leftovers for days (I love to cook once, eat thrice). Is it the tastiest meal in town? Nope. But it actually improved as it sat in the refrigerator after our initial dinner and, last night, when John and I finished the leftovers off, and added some cannellini beans, the dish was in its prime. Oh--and it's super healthy. If you're looking for meal that will make you pat yourself on the back for taking good care of your body, this is the perfect option.

Ok, so now is the time in the post where you all bear with me. I'm writing this on my smart phone and struggling a bit with the whole formatting thing. Apologies for any and all wonkiness.


1 lb carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 lb shitake or cremini mushrooms
2 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 T fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1 T fresh thyme (I used dried. Everyone survived.)
1 c quinoa
5 c baby spinach
1/4 c. chopped salted, roasted pistachios


Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss carrots and mushrooms with oil, salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until tender (15-20 minutes). Transfer vegetables to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and thyme.
Meanwhile, cook the quinoa (takes roughly 15 minutes). Divide spinach amongst the plates and top with the warm quinoa and veggies before sprinkling with pistachios and drizzling with oil.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make These Now Enchiladas

Janet here

I know I may seem just a little bit like a stalker of Faith Durand's new cookbook Not Your Mother's Cassroles. But I have to tell you that if I was going to buy one cookbook this year for someone I love, this would be the cookbook. I have now made about 9 recipes from this book and they've all been complete, total hits AND easy to make. Could you ask for a better combination?

Anyway, part of the love fest I have for this particular recipe is that you can make it ahead and then enjoy your company...which is precisely what I did on Friday night when we invited over some of our favorite people, Karen and Pete, for dinner. We haven't seen them in a while and I wanted to be able to enjoy the visit as opposed to spend most of it in the kitchen while everyone else was talking and having fun.

Mission accomplished: I spent with our friends and we had a good diner. The proverbial win-win.....What I did not do was take a photo. Actually I thought I had taken a photo but I can't find it on my phone. I suspect the gin and tonics have something to do with my memory here — another reason to make the meal ahead :)

Turkey Enchiladas with Spinach and Cheese

serves 6


olive oil
8 cloves of garlic, sliced in half
1 1/4 pounds fresh baby spinach
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste

for the enchilads

12 6-inch corn tortillas
4 cups choppped roasted turkey
2 cups shredded cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease the baking pan with olive oil.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cooks just until wilted. Then added the broth and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and then add the scallions, cilantro, and jalapeno. Cool slightly. then blend in a food processor until smooth. Add the lime juice and season to taste.

Overlap half the tortillas in the baking pan. Sprinkle half of the turkey over the tortillas. Then pour in half of hte spinach mixture

Friday, October 14, 2011

Talk Does Not Cook Rice

Rachel here.

This is a tiny post, rendered by tiny toddler hands and mine, come together in the kitchen for the first time.

This is my blog with my mom; this is my first post about cooking with my own daughter.

Maxine is interested these days. She's interested in everything--what's behind doors and under pillows, how things come together and fall apart. She wants to partake, to join, to share in everything. If I open the dishwasher, she closes it. When she comes into our room in the morning after having breakfast with her dad on our days off, she lies down next to me and pretends to sleep. Her fine motor skills are growing stronger by the second. She gets more spoonfuls of food into her mouth now than she misses; she can poke her finger up her nose on her first try.

So, last night, we made rice together. I filled measuring cups and she dutifully poured their contents into the pot. She stirred everything up and then hung out on my hip declaring hot hot hot as I set the burner to its proper heat. When the rice was done, and came out perfectly (not always the case when I'm at the helm), we high-fived and she clapped.

It was a tiny moment. But, as we separate physically more and more, as she ceases to viscerally carry the days when we were bound, here was a tiny reconnection, a new site of unity.

And I thought of the many afternoons I spent in the kitchen with my own mother as a girl, and of our coming together in this space across time zones and kitchen tables, and I smiled.

Someday I will pass down to her the recipes I have from my grandmothers and my mother. Maybe Max will love cooking; maybe she'll be the take-out queen. There's a Chinese proverb that says something to the effect of talk does not cook rice. Whether she seeks the kitchen as much as her dad and I do or not, I hope she knows that she is always welcome alongside me there, that we can come together silently in the simple act of cooking rice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Life Gives You Sushi-Grade Tuna...

Rachel here.

You know our friends Em and Phoebe? The super awesome ones we hosted that party with a week or so ago? Well, this past week they swung by to deliver us fresh-from-the-Atlantic sushi-grade tuna that Em's dad caught.


Completely out of my culinary comfort zone, John dutifully took the reigns and whipped up rare sesame-encrusted steaks with a soy, ginger and flax dipping sauce one night only to weasel his way deeper into my heart the next night by presenting me with ceviche accompanied by homemade corn tortilla chips.

Be still my beating heart.

I have no recipes to offer because John doesn't use them much and I didn't cook a thing. I do, however, have some crappy photos make you all jealous with.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Roasted What?

Janet here:

My father-in-law was coming for dinner and I wanted to make an appetizer that wouldn't ruin his appetite. He's tended to overindulge on the appetizers in recent months and then not eat much of his dinner, which is actually the part that gives him the most nutrition.

So, inspired by something I'd seen in a magazine, I decided to try roasting some chick peas. You seriously couldn't ask for an easier recipe, and it's light and good for you — the winning combination. I used a Southwestern rub from Penzey's Spices this time around, but I absolutely will be experimenting with other flavors down the road. You can use whatever rub or spices you want to create your own concoction. Let us know what you come up with!

Roasted Spicy Chick Peas

1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained, rinsed and then dried (pat them with a towel after they drain)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) barbecue rub or chili powder or whatever you want for spices, salt, pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning mid-way. Be careful not to over-cook. Let cool. Eat.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chili and Beer Nights

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel -

I’m a big fan of stews, soups and chili because no two batches ever turn out the same! I was recently out to dinner with a friend, and he had just started his life-long journey into the art of chili making, which he described to me in as much detail as the recipe he received. He started his adventure by asking his mother for a recipe. As we all know, mothers’ recipes are often not as precise as what we’d like to see in cookbooks. The conversation went something like this:

“What ingredients do you use?”
“Well, whatever I have on hand... but I try to include some meat, and some beans, and I guess some veggies”
“What kinds of spices do you use?”
“Whatever I feel like... chili powder, maybe some sugar, definitely cumin”
“Cumin - how much?”
“Maybe 2 or 4”
“Well is it 2 or 4? And 2 or 4 what?”
“I don’t know”
“Ok... well how long do you cook your chili for?”
“A while”

While I respect my friend for trying to recreate his mother’s recipe, I’m surprised by how many folks are afraid to work without a recipe. For me, the obvious allure of chili is the improvisation. Every batch I make is different, with a few of these important “truths”:

1.) I always include some sort of ground meat. Not growing up with pork, I generally use beef or turkey. If you use beef, don’t get anything that is too lean; you need the fat for flavor (there are exceptions of course!). Also consider lamb, bison or even venison.
2.) Although canned beans are easier, I try to use dried. A little planning is involved, but you just soak overnight and you’re good to go. Try two different types of beans instead of just kidney beans, for example!
3.) Spices should always include chili powder, garlic and cumin. Experiment with some cinnamon, maybe some sugar, and chipotle seasoning. Also try fresh chillies, dried chillies, and even canned peppers in Adobo sauce.
4.) Veggies can include onions, green peppers, tomatoes, maybe some corn (Trader Joe’s sells frozen sweet corn that is flavorful if you can’t get fresh ears.)
5.) Bacon. I don’t use it in every batch, but everything tastes better with bacon! Get some flavorful thick-cut bacon, cut it into smaller pieces, cook the bacon, render the fat and then use it. If you need ideas on what to use the bacon fat for, then maybe improvisation chili isn’t for you! (Just a hint, if you’re using bacon, maybe try lean beef... no need to have more grease in your dinner!)
6.) Try cooking in a slow cooker... and on the stove top... and even in the oven, if you have a casserole dish

And that’s where I’ll leave it! Chili is really such a versatile meal: It can be vegetarian, made in advance in the slow cooker for busy days, and is perfect for cooler evenings (and especially fall football). AND it can be relatively healthy, too (I am preparing for my second marathon, and it’s a staple in our house!)

Batch o’ the Moment Chili
¼ pound kidney beans
¼ pound black beans
¼ pound bacon (I like Applewood smoked) cut into 1-inch pieces
½ pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper or 2 jalapenos if you like
2 or 3 cloves garlic
Hard cider or non-fermented cider (I use my own!)
Chili powder, start with 1 tablespoon and go from there
Cumin, start with 1 tablespoon and go from there
Hot sauce to taste

Soak beans in water for 6-8 hours. Drain the beans and rinse with cool water, drain again, and set aside until ready to use. Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until browned and the fat is rendered; remove bacon from pot and set aside.

Brown the beef in the bacon fat; remove with a slotted spoon when nicely cooked and set aside. In the remaining fat in the pan, saute your veggies, starting with the onion and then adding the pepper and finally the garlic. Season along the way. Deglaze the pan with some cider — this will enhance the flavor from the Applewood smoked bacon — and then add the meats and beans. Cover and cook slowly for at least an hour or until the beans are tender. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and any other of the traditional accompaniments!

Hopburst IIPA
We’ve talked about this before... IPAs (and IIPAs, aka “Double IPAs” or “Imperial IPAs”) are a versatile style. I can go into my ingredient supply, grab some grain, grab some hops, and make an IPA almost any time. Building an IPA is much like building chili... a little of this, a little of that. In my mind, a pale ale is a baby version of the IPA while the IIPA is the grand-daddy version: more malt, more hops, and of course more alcohol. By sticking within a few vague guidelines, we can create a great beer experience depending on our moods, the seasons, and of course the ingredients on hand!

I currently have two versions of the following recipe on tap. I brewed this beer for a beer tasting we do at work as a fundraiser, and it was a great success. I employed a technique known as “hopbursting” where the majority of the hops are added later in the boil (rather than spaced throughout), resulting in smooth bitterness and tons of hoppy aroma and flavor! While the recipe is based on a kit by Northern Brewer (a huge brewing supply company out of St. Paul Minnesota), I have certainly put my own twists on these beers... And it’s my belief that IPAs and IIPAs do NOT get better with age, so drink these fresh (at least within the next 6 months!)

16 ½ lbs 2-Row Base Malt
2 lbs Corn Sugar (you can use Cane Sugar as well)
1 lb Crystal 60
2 oz Cluster Hops at 60 minutes
2 oz Cluster Hops at 30 minutes
12 oz total of Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe & Warrior Hops blended in a bowl resulting in 3 oz added at 15, 10, & 5 minutes, and then flameout - version 1
12 oz total of Crystal, Cascade, East Kent Goldings & Summit Hops blended in a bowl resulting in 3 oz added at 15, 10, & 5 minutes, and then flameout - version 2
House American Yeast

Mash at 155* and sparge as usual (I go with a relatively high mash temperature because of all the simple sugar added...There needs to be some long-chain dextrins in order to provide some body, which will counteract the dryness the sugar will impart). Plan to run out an extra ½ gallon of wort to compensate for what the hops will soak up. Boil and add your hops according to the schedule listed above. You can either add the sugar towards the end of the boil, or leave it out of the boil altogether; if you leave the sugar out of the boil, you should plan to add it when about ⅔ of the fermentation has completed (begin fermentation, when the airlock begins to slow, boil about ½ gallon of water with ½ cup of DME and the 2 lbs of sugar and pour it into your fermentation. The idea is that the yeast consume the maltose before turning to the easier-to-process glucose, resulting in complete fermentation and a drier beer. I used this technique in my first batch).

I ferment this beer with my house American yeast, which is the Pacman strain. Pacman is known for being highly attenuative (completes fermentation) and I easily ferment with it at 60-62*. You can use almost any American strain, such as California Ale from White Labs or American Ale from WYeast. I suggest nothing lower than 65* or you might get too dry a beer. Because hot alcohols are created during the first phase of fermentation (as the yeast are replicating), I make sure my beer is at fermentation temperature BEFORE pitching my yeast (I get the beer into the carboy, and then into the fridge which has already been set to 62*... from there it only takes a few hours to get to the right temperature. If your wort chiller is good enough to chill all the way to pitching temp, feel free to pitch right away of course!). Once you feel fermentation is about ⅔ finished, even after adding your corn sugar, raise the temp to 65-68* to ensure complete fermentation. Carbonate as you would any American beer, roughly 2 ½ volumes of CO2.

As many of you remember, I made my Life Told in Recipes debut with my beer dinner last December. I will not be ready to host another dinner until March, but I’m beginning my planning now! The beers are pretty much set, but I’m open to suggestions for my food pairings... any ideas? I have decided to follow a course of the Abbey Ales: Single (also called Belgian Blond Ale... this would have been the Monks’ table beer, like Leffe Blond), Dubbel (similar to Chimay Red or Westmalle Dubbel), Tripel (Chimay White or La fin du Monde), and Quad (also called Belgian Strong Dark, Rochefort 10 Blue or Chimay Blue). I would also include as a bonus beer the Quad fermented on sour cherries, which is a traditional Belgian fruit. My Belgian yeast strain is rather spicy/peppery, so that needs to be taken into consideration when pairing with food... so thoughts? Any help us greatly appreciated!


- Mike TGBG

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tabbouleh and Friends

Rachel here.

This past weekend, John and I hosted a get together with two of our dearest friends, Em and Phoebe. The idea was to throw a party for our co-workers so we could all enjoy good food and each other's company. It's so easy to get caught up in the daily grind at work and lose sight of the good fortune we all share in working with people that we really, truly like and love.

We all handled the staples (and Em and Phoebe put together an absolutely outstanding bar and beverages table). Phoebe grilled pineapple, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions and served up fantastically flavorful chicken (she brined it and it was so tender and tasty). Our friends and coworkers brought a bounty of food as well, including a lovely salad with pecans and blue cheese, fruit salad brimming with raspberries and blueberries, one of the best bundt cakes I've ever had the pleasure of eating (I mean, was moist and fluffy and lemony and virtually disappeared from the table as soon as it was cut into), pork buns and little cakes, potato salad with deviled eggs on top (oh my!)...I'm sure I'm forgetting at least a few items.

Needless to say, we ate really well. Really, really, really well. And with Em and Phoebe's bar nearly filling an entire table, we drank really, really well, too. You'd be hard-pressed to think of a drink you wanted and NOT be able to make it with the fixings they assembled.

I baked chocolate chip cookies and whipped up tabbouleh for like, I don't know, a million people. I'm going to halve the recipe to share with you all today so that you'll only end up with tabbouleh for 8-10 instead of 16-20 (but double it if you need to--it worked perfectly; you could probably cut it in half, too, for 4-5 eaters). After making it, I have to say that I'm never cooking couscous in water again. From here on out, I'm making it with lemon juice and chicken stock. Delicious!


1 c. chicken stock
1 c. water
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c.+2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 c. couscous
1 cucumber, diced
8 plum tomatoes, deseeded and diced
3/4 c. scallions, chopped fine
2 c. flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 c. mint, minced

Combine the water, chicken stock, 1/4 cup of the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let the couscous stand for a few minutes before fluffing it with a fork (or, you know, whatever's handy for fluffing). In a very large bowl (no, really...get your biggest bowl), combine the cucumber, tomatoes and scallions. Add the remaining 1/3 cup of oil, the remaining 1/4 cup of lemon juice and salt to taste. Let this mixture rest of 15 minutes so it can get all good and flavorful. Add the couscous, parsley and mint. Stir well, cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving. Enjoy!