Who Killed Laura Palmer?

We don't know, and probably never will, but Twin Peaks is cool. We rented the Series Pilot and started watching from the beginning; for some reason, they can't include the pilot with the regular series, because it was turned into a feature-length movie for Europe. This has a tacked-on ending, which we were advised not to watch or it would spoil some big elements later. It's very quirky, great acting, and it has an almost soap-opera like quality, and now we're hooked. We made it to the end of season one this weekend, and there are about five different cliff-hangers. Maybe they'll be resolved next season . . .

Posted by Mark @ 10:33 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Mushroom Week

We noticed a trend in our recent recipes: we just love mushrooms! We signed up for the Wisconsin Mycological Society newsletter and mailing list after seeing a lecture on the wide variety of mushrooms here in Wisconsin, and look forward to joining one of their "forays" soon. So for our cooking this week, we thought we'd dedicate it to these delicious, edible fungi.

Our first recipe is modified from Mushroom Cookery by Rosetta Reitz. You can also find her book at various used bookstores online; we found ours at an antique store in Mount Horeb a while ago. Published in 1945, this book covers just about every way you can think of to cook mushrooms. With winter approaching, we thought it would be nice to make some soup, and selected Mushroom Potato Soup. We left out the onions for Laura's allergies, only used the blender on half of the soup, since we enjoy chunky mushrooms, and added a few common soup spices, like thyme and garlic powder. What we ended up with was much better than any canned Cream of Mushroom soup from the store. The leeks were hidden, so that might be something to change for next time.

Next on our list was a Pork Chops with Porcini Mushrooms recipe from my Uncle Ernie. (I also found the recipe online at, a maker of whipping cream). We followed this one to the letter, and it's worth it! Make sure you have a huge saute pan to fit the whole meal. You can generally find dried porcini mushrooms at your local Whole Foods or upscale grocery store. They're a little expensive, but well worth the taste.

Besides just eating, we try to learn something about what we cook, and this week we found some good facts on mushrooms. Stay tuned for more 'shroom receipies of Stuffed Mushrooms, Chicken with Mushrooms and Olives!

Posted by Mark @ 7:13 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Making Ravioli

Last night we had great fun and a great meal over at our friends Irene and Ian's apartment. They are excellent cooks, and we learn so much just by watching them; I would pay to see them on a Saturday Afternoon Cooking Show. They're the ones who gave us the idea for a recipe-centered blog.

Our goal for the evening was ravioli. Laura and I had never made it from scratch, and the process was a lot of fun. We had a nice assembly line, with pasta-dough-maker, ravoili-filler, and finished extractor. Ian made two mixtures with goat cheese fillings, one with roasted peppers, the other with sun-dried tomatoes. It was fun to pick out the tang of the tomato-filled raviolis versus the smoothness of the red pepper ones, all covered with a mushroom marinara sauce. There's nothing like enjoying fresh pasta with friends. :)

To round out the meal, Irene made a pesto appetizer (no pine nuts, yay!), a fresh apple and gouda salad (an Irene special), with an apple crisp for desert; everything was excellent! Ian shared with us one of his many cooking secrets, how to make a salad dressing emulsion last the whole meal. He uses one part vinegar, one part oil, one part water, and a dollop of mustard to act as the binding agent. This is definately something to remember.

Posted by Mark @ 2:23 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Twin Peaks . . . what was that?

DVDs are cool, especially for TV shows. We watched the first season of the Sopranos this spring; it was cool to see them all at once, but the violence and language eventually made us tune out. And later we rented a few episodes of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City. Not our cup of tea either, but still a nice way to watch HBO without cable.

So yesterday, we saw Twin Peaks: First Season on the DVD shelves, and thought we'd try it out. I remember being back in junior high when it was on TV, my art teacher was obsessed, and was really trying to figure out the secrets. I've always wanted to see it and know what the hype was about. To make sure we started at the beginning, we checked out episodes 1 and 2 . . . and boy are we lost.

Nothing makes any sense; the first episode has a "previously on twin peaks" intro section, and we found out later that we totally missed the pilot! Apparently it's about two hours long, issued separately, and not part of this edition. We'll see if we can find the pilot, and maybe things will make more sense . . .

Posted by Mark @ 1:32 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Homestyle Cooking

This week we decided to revisit good homestyle family recipies. Since I was rather protein hungry, I started off the week with a nice and healthy Steak and Potato meal. We used our beautiful blue potatoes from our bountiful summer garden for a twist on traditional mashed potatoes. The steak turned out juicy and delicious. Any meal wouldn't be complete unless I could add some mushrooms and where better to have mushrooms then with steak and potatoes ;) One cool thing about this meal is that I got to make a gravy - actually this was my pride and joy since I have never gotten a gravy to be thick enough or tasty enough (I think that the magic was the worcester sauce).

We also enjoyed a recipe for Soy-Garlic Chicken from Sarah Rich, Mark's sister-in-law. It is such a wonderful treat to have so many great recipies from our family and friends online. Mark had a great time making this juicy and flavorful chicken. It takes a couple of hours of marinating (we shortened the marinating time a bit and cooked the chicken in some of the juice to make sure that we got all of the flavor). He served it on a bed of jasmine rice and a side a corn. The nice bit about this dish was the color contrasts; it is always fun to have a variety of color on the plates.

The last meal of the week comes from my Mom, American Chinese food. I have always enjoyed this meal and with the option of beef, tofu or chicken, it is a flexible meal for anyone to eat. This time we tried it with some cabbage and bright orange carrots from our garden. The one thing I have learned cooking this meal is not to skimp on the ginger and soy sauce. It is really important to have a mouth of flavor (not a mouth of cabbage) when you are enjoying this treat. And the fun thing about this meal is you don't need to prepare any sides,since they are included in the mix.

That wrapped up our week of good down-home cooking. It is always a treat to remember meals from when we were younger.

Posted by Laura @ 7:09 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Meatballs and Ice Cream

This weekend, we had the pleasure of entertaining my Uncle Ernie. It was great to see him again and hear about his recent boating adventures and learn more about his heart surgery. For the meal, we made turkey meatballs over angel hair pasta, a salad with fresh garden carrots, garlic bread, and broccoli and cheese.

For dessert, we mixed up some blackberry sorbet with our new ice cream maker, using a recipe book from William Sonoma. We got to talking about the old fashioned way of making ice-cream (our machine has a space-age cooling liquid canister), and the question came up of why you always had to add rock salt to the ice. Laura found a great reference at

Rock salt forces the ice surrounding the can of ice cream mix to melt. The "brine solution" or liquid that forms in the wooden bucket absorbs heat from the mix and gradually lowers the temperature of the mix until it begins to freeze. If there were no salt added to the ice, it would melt at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and eventually the ice water and mix would come to equilibrium at 32 degrees. The ice cream mix, however, does not begin to freeze until its temperature falls below 27 degrees. Therefore, in order to freeze the mix, we need a salt concentration, or a ratio of 5 cups of ice to 1 cups of salt. At this concentration, our brine temperature should remain constant at 8 to 12 degrees F. This will give the rapid cooling and freezing that is essential to making smooth creamy ice cream.

That's cool!. For more info, check out this after-school science experiment. I like the final comment in the instructions for adult helpers:
If any of the student pairs do not get solid ice cream, take their ziplock bag and place in the Dry Ice container for a few minutes.

So even if science fails, those kids are getting ice cream. :)
Posted by Mark @ 12:57 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Eating Macaroni in Style

What better way to top off "Pasta Week" than to visit Romano's Macaroni Grill. This nationwide chain just opened up a store here in Middleton at the Greenway Station open-air mall. Laura and I remembered this chain from Texas, and it's good to see them make it all the way to Wisconsin.

We had a table right next to the kitchen; nice to watch the food being cooked, but very loud. Then we discovered the crayons on the table, and had fun writing upside down and playing tic-tac-toe (Laura won ... again ...). Weird thing: I couldn't find macaroni on the menu. I tried the Chicken Marsala, and Laura picked the Eggplant Parmesan. Both were excellent and served with buttered angel hair pasta. The best part was the loaf of bread, with a hint of rosemary and basil baked in. Yum.

Next week, family recipes from our recipe collection.

Posted by Mark @ 11:07 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Sauce Tasting

With the week wrapping up, I wanted to update our taste tests for the sauces. Get ready for some "saucy" commentary...

Our favorite for the week was the Mushroom and Olive sauce, from Classico. There's just something about olives that brings out the tomato flavor. (Note: we are fans of the black olives that come in a can, not the fancy gourmet olives from Whole Foods.) We don't usually add them to sauce, only pasta salad. And mushrooms are always at home in a tomato sauce.

The Roasted Garlic sauce from Classico was much stronger garlic than we had expected, almost raw instead of roasted. We're used to adding a little garlic powder to our Prego, and this was potent garlic. Our second try, we added in some mushrooms and leeks, as well as simmered the sauce, producing a much milder garlic flavor. The sauce was thick and chunky, working well with all kinds of pasta. I think we might stick with garlic powder for now, and leave the roasting for a future project.

Finally, we found a Chianti Mushroom sauce from Bove's of Vermont (fava beans not included ...). I found it rather spicy, while Laura was perfectly pleased. Both of us had a hard time finding the mushrooms; we suspect they were finely diced white buttons, as the more distinct cremini or porta bella flavors were absent. We're not sure if we'll try this one again, but maybe some other flavors from Bove's will work. They have a nice basic website for ordering if you can't find it near you; be sure to read their story about peppers and vodka sauce. :)

Although we didn't set out with this in mind, we ended up with mushrooms in all of our sauces. Hmmm....

Posted by Mark @ 10:44 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Pasta Week

For a simpler week of cooking, we're exploring pasta and sauces this week. We're sampling a variety of sauces and pastas in preparation for making our own.

Our first choice was Newman's Own Vodka Sauce, purchased for the Kenyon connection, among other reasons. Wow! Yeah, it looks orange, but the cream and cheese really add to the flavor. We'll need to try and make this one ourselves and mix it with some meatballs.

We have a few more, from Classico and Bove's of Vermont, that we'll update later in the week.

And, lest we forget, some pasta trivia!

Posted by Mark @ 9:48 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Autumn leaves are falling

What a weekend for leaf-hunting! The trees in Madison are at their peak this weekend, so we explored the side streets and found some really beautiful trees and captured some great snapshots.

To cap off Indian Week, we had lunch at the Maharaja on Odana Rd. It was a buffet, so we sampled many curries and chicken. Mark tried some goat curry, and I had the Tandoori Chicken. We both found out we are not fans of lentils. Definately a place to return for dinner.

Posted by Laura @ 9:47 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Indian Week begins!

We love to cook, and to make sure we have enough time to enjoy it, we have developed the plan of cooking two or three meals on Sunday, and then reheating and spacing them out throughout the week. This week, we chose to make Indian recipes and go a little exotic.

For recipes, we turned to The Indian Spice Kitchen, by Monisha Bharadwaj. We found this book at Bookworks on State Street a while ago, and finally cracked it open. It's a neat book, organized not by type of meal, but by spice and flavor. There are so many spices that we'll be sure to use it again. One thing I liked was the spice mixtures, or "masala"s as they're called.

We made the garam masala mixture for use in our two recipes. One was Kolhapuri Rassa, a Lamb and Coconut Curry mixture. You can definately taste the coconut flakes. And our second meal was Lucknow Murgi Biryani, a Chicken Curry with similar spices, but no fennel or coconut. They were both great, and fun to cook! I like the use of yogurt in the sauce, and the roasting of the spices in oil to release the flavors. Oh, and we also made Chicken Curry Salad for snacking and luches.

Also, we thought it would be fun to learn about some Indian Trivia. Enjoy!

Posted by Mark @ 9:46 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Making soap the old-fashioned way

I've decided to make soap from scratch. I've made soap using this "cold batch process" twice- the first time a complete disaster and the second a wonderful success with the help of Melzie. From the first batch I learned the importance of watching the temperatures of both the lye and fats solution. If this doesn't make any sense let me explain some of the details...

Soap that we use every day is created with an amazing chemical reaction. For the details, check out a description by the Soap and Detergent Association. On the one part you have a lye/water solution and the other component is a combination of fats. The important thing is to get these two combinations to approximately 100 degrees F (I got this tid bit from Susan Miller Cavitch's book). At that point you take the two liquids and combine them in one large stainless steel bowl.

Now the next tip is to use a hand blender- they are useful ;) (I got this tip from Al). This tool is essential for two reasons: you have to get the mixture combined before it cools and it is much safer to use then hand mixing and splashing the caustic lye solution all over your work area. You know you have soap when you get a trace - when the soap gets a consistency such that the ingredients are combined together and you can see patterns on the top of the surface (again for more information look at walton). I think that the mixing is the best - it is when you get to visualize the chemical reaction and have successfully made soap.

There is an easier way to make soap. This weekend I had Ina and Maleeha over and we happily created translucent soap creations. To get the equipment requires a trip to your local Hobby Lobby or craft store. There you can find a block of translucent soap without scent or color- your "blank canvas" There are also scents, but don't get the colors there - regular food coloring works just fine! The only other required item is some type of mold. For these, candy molds, styrafoam egg containers, etc will work just fine. Again, the local craft store will have some cute molds to choose amongst.

With translucent soap, just add a bit to a microwaveable container and melt in the microwave. A little time goes a long way here. I'd say for about 1/2 cup soap give it 20 to 25 seconds. Try not to make it boil too much ;) Now add scents and small amounts of coloring- again a little goes a long way :) and stir with a metal spoon- pour in molds and wait until the molds are cool to touch. If you are making a big mold, to save time, you might want to put the mold in the freezer temporarily (or here in winter, just place it outside for a bit ;) )- just make sure that the mold is not brittle when you try to remove your soap from the mold- you might let it warm to room temperature.

So that is how you make soap. There are three books that I use (two mainly: The Soapmaker's Companion and The Complete Soapmaker) and a fountain of online resources with good recipies, recomendations and tips.

Posted by Laura @ 9:43 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Starting our family weblog

We've been wanting a way to keep track of our activities and share them with family and friends, so today we're starting our blog. They seem to be popular with the kids these days. Come follow us as we explore foods, books, hobbies and life. See you in the comments section!

Posted by Mark @ 9:42 PM CDT [Permanent URL]