by Holly Madrigal
Photos by Ree Slocum
“I have coined a new field of sociology” says Sulin Bell, who has a Masters in the subject. “Culinary Therapy,” she laughs.
She discovered this new field when researching and writing “Two Hearts, Four Hands,” a unique, fun cookbook for two. The first book of its kind, multiple publishing houses expressed interest in it, but Sulin says they ran into challenges when they sought to put the book in a single category. “It really is unique,” says Sulin. “It is a cookbook but it is also a way to learn to cook with another person and to create healthy, delicious food together.”
Sulin crafted the recipes and set up the book so that each cook has their own set of instructions. You can choose between recipe categories: ‘romantic,’, ‘wild side’ or ‘feeling cozy.’ I was drawn to the Scallops in Chili Butter Sauce and the Rose Petal Chicken. There are full meals with suggestions for musical accompaniment.
“It is a fun way to get to know each other in a different way,” says Sulin. “One way to think of it is an edible path to better relationships” she adds.
The success stories, it seems, are multiplying. One couple designated Tuesday as date night and worked their way through every recipe. They had such fun they bought the book as gifts for all of their kids and friends. In another case, a newlywed couple is enthusiastically using the book to learn to cook together.
And romantic partners are not required; roommates that are on their own for the first time at college, or friends that want to learn something new in the kitchen can also benefit. As people cook together, this book can teach a whole new way of relating to food. Sulin mentions that we are now through two generations of young people where many do not know what it is like to sit around a dinner table for meals; in our current fast paced world the traditional “family dinner” has gone by the wayside.
When it came time to experiment in my own home, my husband and I dove in and tried the Mediterranean Phyllo Strudel and cous-cous with lemon, apricot and pistachios. Normally we are quite compatible in the kitchen, with the exception of when I go rogue and change ingredients or alter the recipe, which drives my detail-focused spouse crazy. Overall, the menu came together easily, though we did have some confusion when we reached the phyllo pastry construction: What pan are we using? How is this going to look when we’re done? Are we doing this right?
Admittedly, it was handy having four hands to layer and butter the phyllo dough. We negotiated through it and when done, we had a beautiful pastry crescent. Realizing how key communication was – and how much we would have benefitted from reading through the entire recipe together before starting – the end result seemed like an edible metaphor for the joy of a successful relationship. The finished product was delicious, impressive, and generous enough to share.
When asked how she came up with the idea for this book, Sulin remembers, “A good friend and I were cooking, dancing around the kitchen, when my partner passed through and said, ‘Hey, two hearts four hands’ which is when the idea came to me. There are a ton of cookbooks about cooking, even cooking for two, but nothing had ever been created for two people to cook together.”
“People are hungry for a way to access good food,” she explained. “At the same time, they are hungry for connection. These are parts of the same thing.”
Indeed they are; my husband and I are already strategizing about how to improve our phyllo technique the next time around. I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out.
MEDITERRANEAN STRUDEL AND COUSCOUS
This savory vegetarian dish is both impressive and delicious. Pair with Fry Pinot Noir or a Cranberry Spritzer. Musical suggestion Yehuda Poliker.
1/2 a 16oz. package of frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1 bunch swiss chard
1 bunch spinach
4oz. feta cheese crumbled
1/4 c. fresh basil chopped
1 onion or 2-4 shallots
5-6 sundried tomatoes
1/4 c. Kalamata olives
2-4 garlic cloves
1-2 Tbs. soy sauce or tamari
1/4 lb. sweet butter
4 Tbs. olive oil separated in two halves
1 c. whole wheat couscous or bulgar
2 scallions sliced thin
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
2 Tbs. fresh mint leaves
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/3 c. raw pistachio meats, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. dried apricots chopped
salt and pepper to taste
S 1. Rinse chard, remove large center stems and cut into medium large pieces. Place in colander.
S 2. Rinse the spinach. Cut off the thick ends if in a bunch.
S 3. Put 2 Tbs. olive oil in a sauté pan and heat to medium. Add the onion or shallots from Cook Two. Press in the garlic cloves, 1 Tbs. soy sauce and mix well. Add the chard leaves and cover to wilt. Mix occasionally.
S 4. After about 5 minutes – once wilted, add spinach.
S. 5 When both are wilted, mix in tomatoes, basil, and olives from Cook Two. Sauté 1 minute more and remove ingredients to the colander to drain and cool. Rinse and dry skillet for use by Cook Two.
C 6. Roughly chop apricots to make 1/4 cup.
C 7. Rinse, pat dry and chop 2 Tbs. of parsley. Set aside.
S 8. Clear a space to lay out phyllo dough.
C 9. Combine 1 . cup water, 1 Tbs. olive oil and 1 tsp. salt in a saucepan. Bring to boil. Check with Cook Two to see when to add this to Couscous.
S 10. Open phyllo dough package, remove half the sheets and lay unfolded on flat clean surface. Place a rimmed baking sheet near the work surface.
S 11. When Cook Two is ready with melted butter/oil mix, carefully remove two sheets of phyllo dough from the pile and place on the baking sheet. (its handy to lift the phyllo sheets together) Cook Two will brush the entire sheet with the butter mixture.
S 12. Repeat this process each time Cook Two finishes oiling (3-4 more times)until you have only two sheets of dry phyllo dough left.
S 13. Add the crumbled feta to the colander and mix well. Remove batches of this filling, squeezing out the liquid with your hands and place on the oiled phyllo leaving 2” from the edges.
S 14. When Cook Two finishes rolling up the strudel, oil the outside of this log and carefully lift it onto the remaining two sheets of phyllo. Roll it all up and use butter on the edge to seal it. Then oil the entire log.
C. 15 Thinly slice 2 scallions and set aside. Rinse, dry and chop mint leaves.
S 16. When strudel is browned and ready to remove from the oven by Cook Two, fluff the couscous thoroughly with a fork. Gently mix in the pistachios and lemon juice from Cook Two. Add your scallions, parsley and mint.
C 17. Consult with Cook Two to season the couscous with salt and pepper to taste.
S 1. Peel and dice the onion or shallots.
S 2. Peel the garlic cloves
S 3. If the tomatoes are dried and not in oil, soak in some warm water for a few minutes to soften. Drain and chop.
S 4. Coarsely chop 1/4 cup of olives.
S 5. Rinse, dry and coarsely chop 1/4 cup of basil leaves.
S 6. Give the onion, garlic, drained tomatoes, olives and basil to Cook One.
C 7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
C 8. Coarsely chop 1/3 cup of pistachios. Toast them in a dry skillet until fragrant, about 2 minutes, remove to a bowl.
C 9. In the same pan, toast couscous until it just begins to brown (3-4 minutes).
C 10. Place in large bowl and ask Cook One to add the apricots and boiled water. Cover.
S 11. Juice 2 Tbs. of lemon juice – set aside.
S 12. In a small saucepan, melt 1 cube of butter (4oz.) with 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium-low heat.
S 13. When this mix is melted, bring it over to the phyllo area.
S 14. When Cook One removes 2 sheets of phyllo from the pile gently brush the entire surface with the butter/oil mixture. Offer to assist Cook One with removing phyllo sheets as it is often easier with four hands.
S 15. Repeat this buttering process for 3-4 more rounds until only 2 unbuttered sheets remain.
S 16. After the filling has been spread out by Cook One, fold the two shorter edges of the filling (like a hem) and begin to roll up the longer edge to make a log.
S 17. While Cook One is oiling the log, assist in wrapping the entire log in the unoiled sheets.
S 18. Lift the finished strudel onto the baking sheet and curve slightly to make a crescent shape Brush oil onto the outside of the crescent.
S 19. Place the strudel in the top third of the preheated oven. Cook for 35-40 minutes until browned.
S 20. When ready to serve carefully cut the strudel into generous portions with a sharp knife.