Monday, January 31, 2011

A Researcher, an Engineer, and a Blind Russian Walk Into a Bar...

Actually, the researcher is me. The engineer is Jerry Hartley. And the bar is Jerry's:

And the Blind Russian? Actually, Russians. Imperial Stouts, specifically.

The award-winning restaurant/pub The J Clyde regularly hosts beer dinners, complete with a different beer to match each of the 5 meal courses. If you've never been to one you're missing out!

They also host beer tastings. They're sort of like this...

Except we all kept on our shirts (well, for most of the night. kidding.), and we taste tested Russian Imperial Stouts.

You can read the guidelines for the tasting here. We rated the beers on a 1 to 5 scale (1 = worst; 5 = best). Aroma accounted for 10% of the total score; Appearance (20%); Flavor (60%); and Mouthfeel (10%).

The beers were blinded, meaning each person was given only the number of the beer they were tasting and no other information. The beers came out in a different order for each person at the table.

The first two beers that I tasted were Avery the Czar and Great Divide Yeti (of course I didn't know that at the time).

I have to say, I was underwhelmed by the Czar. But perhaps it was a victim of order effect:

"The relative position of an item may uniquely influence the way in which a person reacts to the item."

(Hey, I warned you I was a researcher! If you really want to geek out on this order effect thing, click here.)

I tried the Czar a couple nights before the tasting and thought it was very good. But compared to the Yeti -- side by side, without knowing what beer was in front of me -- I liked the Yeti much better. In fact, when all was said and done I rated the Yeti #2 overall, giving it mostly 4 out of 5 in most categories.

The second group included Bell’s Expedition, Good People Fatso, and Good People Fatso brewed with the wrong yeast (aged one year).

I was blown away with the Expedition. I scored it mostly 4’s and 5’s. In fact, it was my favorite beer of the night. The GP Fatso rated 3’s and 4’s, but the Fatso brewed with the wrong yeast wasn't even in the same league.

The third group included Moylan Ryan Sullivan, Left Hand Imperial Stout, and Sweetwater Happy Ending.

I wasn’t blown away by any of these beers. The Happy Ending made me happiest, I suppose. But it still only ranked 5th overall (tied with GP Fatso).

The last group included Sam Adams Imperial Stout and Straight to Ale Laika.

I thought both were very good.

When all was said and done my ratings looked like this:

1. Bell’s Expedition
2. Great Divide Yeti
3. Straight to Ale Laika
4. Sweetwater Happy Ending
5. (tie) Good People Fatso and Sam Adams Imperial Stout
7. Left Hand Imperial Stout
8. (tie) Avery The Czar, Moylan Ryan Sullivan, and GP Fatso (wrong yeast)

The official scoring for 25 or so tasters (Fisher -- who Tanya has now knicknamed the "King of Sample Sizes" -- would not approve of such a small N):

Good People Fatso 3.93
Bell's Expedition Stout 3.78
Samuel Adams Imperial Stout 3.73
Great Divide Yeti 3.50
Avery The Czar 3.49
Straight To Ale Laika 3.47
Moylan's Ryan Sullivan's 3.42
Left Hand Imperial Stout 3.27
1 Yr Old Fatso (wrong yeast) 3.25
Sweetwater Happy Ending 3.04

I think I personally lowered Fatso because it came out with the Expedition (which I loved) -- again, that "order effect" thing.

It would have been nice to taste a few others (i.e. Old Rasputin or Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout) to see how they would fair against the competition. But 10 was probably the right amount with the small pours of each we were given. Of course, there is this new research that suggests "a pint a day keeps the doc away". With that in mind, you might want to know that the next J. Clyde tasting should be Double IPAs in April.

P.S. I'm a glutton for punishment, so if you have suggestions for any other Imperial Stouts I should try, please let me know. All in the interest of scientific research, of course!

We're Gonna Be Farmers!! (and the kids are mortified)

We have a problem and it looks like this.

We religiously save our food scraps and add them to the backyard compost bin. There's just no sense letting all that "fuel" go to waste when compost is one of the best things you can do for your garden.

But the bin is stuffed to the gills and we need another option. That got us thinking about these guys...

Now, full disclosure. Tanya brought up the idea of vermicomposting several years ago but was roundly poo-pooed. We were living in a townhouse and didn't have a designated space for a worm bin. Sure, lots of people raise worms in a small bucket under the kitchen sink. But that totally grossed out the kids. So we tabled the idea.

But now we live in a house that boasts the world's largest laundry room (seriously, it's bigger than our first apartment!), so there's no excuse.

We did a little Googling and found this guy (and his incredibly cute little girl)...

He's Bentley "The Compost Guy" Christie, a self-professed "vermiholic wormhead". His website is chock full of great info. Especially his Getting Started Page, which is sort of our bible for getting started:

Step 1 -- Get your hands on an opaque container that's large enough, but not too large. You want opaque so the light doesn't mess with the worms. Oh, and if you can, get yourself a trusty sidekick like Ruby to keep you company.

Step 2-- Drill 20 holes in the lid.

Step 3 -- Drill a total of 20 holes around the sides of the bucket. We did 7 on each long side and 3 on each short side.

Step 4 -- You'll need bedding for your wormies. Bentley "The Compost Guy" says they prefer cardboard.

(Who knew Girl Scout Cookie boxes could be so useful? Just another reason to buy some extra cookies this season!)

Cut up the boxes into small pieces, then layer the pieces in the bottom of the bucket.

Step 5: Add food scraps.

Now, a couple of tips on food scraps from Bentley "Our Compost Guy" (yes, we've spent so much time on his website lately he's starting to feel like family!):


* Vegetable & fruit waste (citrus fruit should be added in moderation when using smaller bins)

* Starchy materials – bread, pasta, rice, potatoes – all in moderation (beginners may want to avoid these altogether initially)

* Aged animal manures (careful with rabbit and poultry – need lots of bedding to balance)

* Shredded newspaper, used paper towels (common sense applies here), cardboard (great idea to add these carbon rich materials at the same time you add any wet food waste)

* Egg shells (best if ground up and in moderation)

* Coffee grounds

* Tea bags


* Human/pet waste

* Non biodegradable materials

* Dairy/meat

* Oils/grease

* Harsh chemicals

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 & 5 at least three times -- creating a layered lasagna of bedding and food scraps -- and allow the mixture to stew for 1 to 2 weeks before adding worms.

So, that's where we are right now. We're stewing. In the laundry room. And the kids are not totally grossed out, but they have asked us not to mention our new farming venture to any of their friends ... or their friends' parents ... or anyone who might possibly know their friends' parents.

So, yeah, basically - we're covert worm farmers and we're loving it!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When I think of Swedish Meatballs, I think of ...

When I think of Swedish Meatballs, I think of the Fellowship Hall in the basement of my grandmother's church and this guy...

So when Olivia announced that the next meal she'd cook -- Swedish Meatballs and Roasted Asparagus -- I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Turns out, it was great! Here's her commentary (with some additional notes):

(For the recipe, go here. If you're not sure how to clarify butter, check out this tutorial with pictures.)

Olivia, with all the ingredients...

Chopping onions... (hint: put onion in the freezer for about 15 minutes before chopping. Will decrease the tears.)

Learning how to separate yolks ... (hint: don't take out all of your aggression on the egg shells)

Ruby, the trusty sous chef ... (she smells meat!!)

Making the meatballs...

(Don't forget about the asparagus. We like to cover ours with a light coating of olive oil, some sea salt and a little pepper. Bake at 400 for roughly 20 minutes.)


Chef Olivia -- It's incredible!

Jason -- The meatballs were very tasty. The sauce was a little runny, but in all I thought Olivia did a fine job.

Tanya -- These are the best meatballs I've ever tasted. Don't know if it's the pork/beef mixture or the nutmeg or the allspice, but this recipe is fantabulous! I usually torture my parents, brothers, sisters and their families with veggie recipes during our annual summer vacations (who could forget South Indian Stuffed Peppers??), but I think I'll have Olivia surprise those meat-a-tarians with this dish this year.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Homemade Mac 'n Cheese (the Microwave Version)

Earlier this week we wrote about how Hannah found her love of cooking through a Homemade Mac 'n Cheese recipe on the back of a pasta box.

Our friend Kathy shared on Facebook that she uses a similar recipe that can be whipped up in the microwave. Homemade goodness in the microwave?!? We're all over that! We haven't tried this recipe yet, but wanted to offer it up to you guys:

FYI - Kathy says it's a "make-it-up-as-you-go-along" kinda thing so feel free to customize as you'd like. Here's her recipe:

2 c. uncooked pasta of your choice (Whole Foods has a good vegetable rotini that we like - can't remember the brand)

2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, cubed

1 egg, beaten

1/4 to 1/3 c. milk (enough to cover the bottom of the casserole dish)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. While it's cooking, combine milk, egg, cheese, salt and pepper in a medium-sized casserole dish. Add pasta, cover, and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir and serve. If you have a newer microwave, you may be able to reduce the cooking time. Ours is old. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Thanks Kathy!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

20 Minute Thai Chicken Whatchamacallit

There's this guy named Gal Josefsberg who writes a blog about healthy eating and how he's lost nearly a hundred pounds by experimenting with various diets and following some simple rules. His 5 Rules of Eating Healthy make a lot of sense:

#1 Variety Counts
#2 The 100 Year Test
#3 Think 1/2, 1/4, 1/4
#4 The 20 Minute Rule

According to Josefsberg, the 20 Minute Rule is based on research that shows ...

"eating fast is one of the worst mistakes you can make. It’s right up there with not getting enough sleep or not eating a healthy breakfast. So now I follow a different rule. I try to eat a bit of food and make it last at least 20 minutes. If it didn’t last 20 minutes then I make myself wait until the whole 20 minutes are up before I even think about taking seconds. I also eat slower, trying to savor the sensation and the flavors a bit more."

Of course this all sounds familiar, right? It's one of the tenets of the Slow Food movement. Slow Food is an international non-profit founded ...

"to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world."

It's a philosophy we embrace. But let's face it. There are days it just doesn't work in our life!

Today was cuh-RAZY! Started with the alarm clock at 6 a.m., dropping kids at school by 7:45, to work by 8:15 with then too many deadlines and too little time. Left work at 2:50. Pick up first kid from school at 3:25 and second kid at 3:35 (Hannah's still home sick).

Had to run a quick errand and knew we wouldn't be home till 4:15. Faced with the knowledge that we'd have to leave the house by 5:00 to get the theatre, there were two choices: more fast food (ugh!) or Fast Family Food. The latter, it is:

01:00 -- fill pot with water, add rice and boil
02:00 -- take Publix Greenwise chicken cutlets out of package and put in pan w/a bit of olive oil

05:00 -- slice red pepper, onions, mushrooms. Add to pan.

07:00 -- add Whole Foods Spicy Thai marinade (free when we bought that pound of fish for Tilapia Pitas earlier in the week)

09:00 -- reduce temperature and simmer the stir fry.

20:00 -- plate the "20 Minute Thai Chicken Whatchamacallit"

Scarf, Scarf, Scarf. Yes, we had to down the dinner in 10 minutes. But, hey... it was better for us and better tasting than this!


Chef Tanya -- (see above)

Jason -- It was a little greasy, but serviceable.

Olivia -- I thought it was really good!

Hannah -- Is this is same rice as in the bucket in the pantry? Because this rice is a different color. Why does the sauce have to get all over everything?!?

By the way, you might be saying 'bout now, "Wait! Gal's 5 Rules of Eating Healthy must have five rules. What's number 5?"

It's a simple, but good one: "Am I Hungry?" Are we eating because we're hungry or because we're stressed? Tired? Bored? Often (for us, at least) it's yes... yes... yes...

An important thing to remember in our Adventure in Mindful Living.

Tilapia Pitas

After a whole bunch of this

and lots of rest, Miranda is back in the land of the living

and that means back to cooking!

Last night we finally made the Tilapia Pitas.

We leave out the anchovies and substitute romaine for the iceberg lettuce. Seriously, folks, what's the point of iceberg lettuce? It doesn't offer much in the way of nutrition or taste! And there are so many better alternatives.

So, back to the pitas..

* 1/2 cup mayonnaise
* 1/4 cup Italian salad dressing
* 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
* 2 anchovy fillets, drained
* 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
* 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
* 1 pinch salt
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 pound tilapia fillets
* 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
* salt and cayenne pepper to taste
* 4 cups iceberg lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
* 1 small red onion, chopped
* 6 pita breads, cut in half

1. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, Italian dressing, feta cheese and anchovies. Season with cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. Mix until well blended, then set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the tilapia fillets in the skillet, and season with lemon pepper, salt and cayenne. Fry until browned on each side, and fish flakes easily with a fork, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Warm pita breads in the toaster or in the microwave to soften. Open from the cut side to make pockets. Fill pita bread halves with lettuce, onion, and tilapia fillets, then spoon in some of the feta cheese sauce. Serve and enjoy!

How easy is that!? It takes less than 20 minutes and is quite delish.


Chefs Tanya & Jason -- It's a go-to workhorse meal for busy nights, but is unique enough to serve to guests.

Miranda -- I'm just glad to be able to eat again!

Olivia - It's good. I love feta cheese.

Hannah - I eat my tilapia in the pita, but I don't like the cheese sauce (even though I love cheese. Feta. Yuck!) or the lettuce. The fish is spicy, but it's okay. I think the potatoes Dad cooked aren't quite done. But I'll eat them anyway.

Now, if we could only get Hannah healthy again. 102 fever for three days. No fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sweet Home Alabama

(posted by Jason)

Snow is beginning to engulf the northeastern United States, so needless to say I'm thrilled (THRILLED!) to be back home from a business trip to Washington D.C.

Travel always presents a number of challenges for us. Probably the toughest is holding true to our food values (eating locally, organically, and humanely). We usually opt for vegetarian, but will shove philosophy aside for the right temptation (how virtuous are we?!?). And while I was in D.C. this is all it took (photo credit):

Dr. Granville Moore’s has a fascinating history , but it was the many excellent Belgian beers and the moules that sold me and my friends Jerry and Rachel, who know a thing or two about beer and good food. Jerry sampled the Bleu moules, and we had to practically rip the bowl from his hands at the end of the meal.

"Moules?", you say. What the heck is a moule? Check it out... you can make them yourself at home! Just be sure you know how to buy them.

Now, on to the beers we tried:

2008 Schlafly Biere De Garde (as described by the brewery) is a bottle-conditioned, French farmhouse-style ale. The name refers to the beer's ability to improve with age and if you choose to age this ale, the tart fruitiness from the yeast and the sweet maltiness from the grains will meld together nicely for several years at cellar temperatures.

Schlafly Grand Cru (again, described by the brewery) has fruity, spicy aromas and flavors that contribute to the complexity of this golden-colored Belgian ale. Medium body and effervescence contribute to a light, dry impression, despite its strength and sweet, smooth finish.

Duchesse De Bourgogne is brewed by Verhaeghe, which was established in 1875 in a castle-farm in Vichte, West Flanders. Today it's still a family owned & run company. This traditional Flemish red ail is fermented in oak barrels for 18 months and blended with 8 months old ale before being bottled.

Each was extremely good and paired nicely with the food. My personal favorite was the Biere De Garde – it was vey smooth and went well with the flank steak and frites I had for dinner.

Okay, I may be happy to come home... but I certainly wouldn't turn up my nose at another trip to Dr. Granville Moore's!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Possible Cure for What Ails Us (... or at least a little gross entertainment)

So, our friend Elizabeth

(love that photo!)

saw our plea for culinary help in dealing with the flu-like junk that's affecting 2/5 of our house right now. She suggested a four prong strategy that looks somewhat promising. I say "somewhat" because I don't think there's any chance of getting the munchkins to try prong #1 even though Jason and I do it and Elizabeth's come up with a catchy sales pitch:

"The grossest possible activity you could ever watch, but that is creepily satisfying."

Suppose I could substitute the leftover galangal from this for the brew?!?

I'm gonna try both the gargle and the tea and will report back the reviews.


From Facebook (and IRL public radio) friend Sarah McCammon:

When I'm sick (like now) I can't get enough chilled fruit, salad - light, nutritious things like that. Anything watery - maybe it's just the body's way of staying extra-hydrated. Oranges and grapefruits are my favorite.

From WBHM colleague Michael Krall:

The single dad's chicken soup. Saute onions and garlic in a little olive oil. Cook noodles of your choice in chicken stock for 1/2 the time the noodles call for. Add the onions, garlic, and some shredded rotisserie chicken from the deli. Heat thoroughly, until noodles cooked. It's hardly any work at all and you get lots of credit with the kids!

Best Laid (pre-bug) Plans

We were supposed to have this

for dinner tonight. We love us some Tilapia Pitas (minus the anchovies).

But with 2 out of 3 kids sacked on the couch with fever, chills, and headaches ... that's not happening.

So, my question for you: What's your favorite Make Me Healthy food? Do you have a Chicken Soup recipes that works wonders? Perhaps some other family tradition?

Please share in the comments box!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Talk About Breaking All the Rules...

Okay, they're not really 'rules' so much as principles we try to live (and eat) by:

#1 Eat Local
For cooking at home we buy local produce and meat much as possible. This means watching the "origin" signs at Whole Foods, buying at the Farmer's Market, and when possible, growing it ourselves (though our newish house isn't cooperating with that!)

When eating out we try to eat only at locally-owned restaurants. Favorites include this for beer, this for fish tacos, this for midmorning meetings and this for anytime. Oh, and let's not forget this recent discovery. Quite frankly, there's not enough space to list all the great, locally-owned restaurants here in Birmingham. We can't remember the last time we ate at Chili's or TGIFridays or Olive Garden.

#2 Eat Humanely Produced Food
You may notice we mention Whole Foods quite often. It's our main source for meat because of its 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating System and its new Wild-Caught Seafood Sustainability Rating System.

We try to extend this philosophy when eating out, but boy is it hard! Mostly we have to eat vegetarian because there are very few restaurants that use organically-grown, humanely produced meat. There are some local eateries that do and so does our new favorite chain restaurant.

You can learn a lot more about Humane Certification here.

#3 Eat Healthy Food
Fresh vegetables, grilled meats instead of fried, fruit, whole grains. That's the goal, at least.

SOOOOOO... back to that rule breaking thing already!

It's a chaotic week at work (5-part series called "Stuff" kicked off today), school (Are You Smarter Than a 4th Grader Alabama History presentation tonight), theatre rehearsals and more. So tonight we ended up here

Yup. Neither local, nor humane, nor healthy.

A total strike out. Oh well, there's always


Tanya -- quick, easy, greasy

Miranda -- Yum!! Thank you so much. You're the best Mom ever!

Hannah -- Yes! (said with a fist pump action)

Olivia -- Okay. Where's my straw?

R.I.P Jack LaLanne

If you're under 40 chances are you've never heard of Jack LaLanne. But you can bet your parents and grandparents knew him. LaLanne is the grandfather of America's fitness obsession. He preached healthy eating, rigorous exercise and a mindful life. He died this weekend at the age of 96.

Six years ago NPR's Tom Goldman produced a radio feature on La Lanne that I still use in workshops with station journalists. Worth a listen to mark the passing of a man who touched so many lives.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Homemade Mac 'n Cheese

So, the traditional gift for the 1st anniversary is paper. The 5th is wood. And the 10th is tin (tin?!?).

But what do you give a blog that's celebrating its one week anniversary? I know, how about giving Tanya the day off from cooking!

Why thank you very much...

Jason for cooking up a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs and homemade hashbrowns (in the new cast iron skillet - Thanks Mom!)

and Hannah for taking charge of dinner and dessert.

(okay, Olivia's in the photo too... but she was just lurking to help out with bowl licking duties. She's in charge of dinner on Wednesday night.)

For her menu, Hannah chose Homemade Mac 'n Cheese with a side of fruit (diner's choice), topped off with a Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese frosting. Because we still haven't mastered baking, we're working from the box...

with regionally-produced organic eggs from Latta's Egg Ranch

Here's the play-by-play:

and the action shot:

(yup, Olivia's working hard!)

While the cake baked, Hannah prepped the main course. Now a word about Mac 'n Cheese. For many, many years the only mac 'n cheese that made it to our table was

But two years ago when the girls started taking over some cooking duties (Hannah was 8, Olivia was 9 and Miranda was 14) we told Hannah that Easy Mac wasn't going to cut it for family dinner. So she found this recipe and it's been a mainstay ever since.

We use whole wheat macaroni (it's healthier -- but seriously, it's drenched in cheese so this recipe isn't going to win any health awards!) and top it with croutons. You can also use crushed up potato chips ... or if you want to pretend this is a healthy dish (2 cups of cheese, folks!) you might use crushed, baked pita bread. Anything to add a little crunch.

25 minutes in the oven and voila!

Followed by

We didn't get an "after" picture of the cake because we were too anxious to dig in. Sorry! But it was pretty (red and green sprinkles) and yummy. Trust us!

Reviews on the dinner:

Chef Hannah -- I liked the dinner, but it kind of tasted funny (not like normal). That may be because we let the butter boil too much (Mom got a phone call and I was left on my own). The cake was too short because he made it into two cakes like the box said but there really wasn't enough batter. That was a downer!!!!!!

Olivia -- I'm not a big fan of Mac 'n Cheese, but this one is okay. The cake was good, but not as good as Buddy's cake. I like buddy's cakes because they're decorative and they taste good and they're baked right. One that I really liked is the one that he made for Dylan's Candy Bar. The figurines were exquisite and even though it fell apart in the car, he remade it and everything was okay in the end. Did you know you can see and rate Buddy's cakes online???

(full disclosure: Olivia is a huge Cake Boss fan. I don't think anyone could make a cake that would come close to Buddy's in her eyes. For her 13th birthday she's already asked for a trip to Hoboken, New Jersey, to buy a cupcake from Carlos Bakery.)

Tanya - The Mac 'n Cheese is good, but I'd love to experiment a bit. Perhaps adding some veggies or a different kind of grain (Peruvian Baked Quinoa and Cheese sound intriguing). But seriously, what am I doing suggesting changes when my 10 year old gets really jazzed about the chance to cook for the family?