Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cooking for Carolena

In my "free time," (sarcastic quotes), when I am not working full time or sharing my culinary adventures with you, I am a member of a professional belly dance troupe: Tamarind Tribal.  This past weekend was our big show, Tribal Union.  The show featured our teacher, Carolena Nericcio, and her troupe, FatChanceBellyDance.  It was quite an awesome show, if I do say so myself.

In addition to the actual show, we also had workshops with Carolena and FatChance.  Which meant they stayed in Milwaukee with us over the weekend.  Which meant we had to feed them.

I am a feeder, so this makes me happy.  On the other hand, they are all vegetarians, and most of them are vegans, which just makes me terrified.

If you have read my blog previously, you may have noticed that I am not a vegetarian.  Like, at all.  I don't know anything about cooking vegetarian.  I have been told that I make a mean salad, but that's really just a matter of using quality ingredients so... yeah.  Something exciting, something local, something that can keep a body going all day... and no meat.  And it should be easy to snack on.

I unfortunately did not get a picture of my favorite part of the weekend, which was setting up the big buffet line table that the food was set on.  It was kind of hillarious.  Just call me Kate, Director of Craft Services.

Anyway, here is a selection of my favorite vegan recipes of the weekend.  There were additional items, but these are the ones I stand behind, and the ones that I think are worth eating, even if they don't have any meat!

Vegan Zucchini Cookies: Two Ways

These were actually my favorite thing that I made all weekend.  It was kind of depressing, actually, the vegan cookies were about 100 times better than the "regular" ones.  And they get rid of zucchini, which is always a bonus!

I learned something really interesting from this cookie adventure, which I will use in future cookie making.  This first recipe tells you to put the cookies onto parchment lined baking pans - not greased or ungreased as I am used to.  I actually followed this direction, and, in the end, it saved me a lot of time.  The cookies popped right off, and there was no need to wipe down the pan in between batches.  I have to remember this the next time I am mass producing cookies - like Christmas.

"Plain" Zucchini Cookies
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (L*)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (L)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • Cookies Cooling
  • 1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl and stir until combined.  Then, add the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. 

Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes.  Remove to wire racks to cool.

Chocolate Mint Zucchini Cookies
  • 3 cups flour (L)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup coco powder
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups grated zucchini (L*)
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar, zucchini, and peppermint.  Add the dry ingredients, and stir to combine. 

Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes.  Remove to wire racks to cool.

Rosemary Focaccia

*NOTE!  This recipe is deceptively simple.  Please do not be like me and think, wow, that has almost no ingredients.  It will be super easy!  It is "super easy," but it takes FOREVER.  Seriously.  Forever.  Notice that it has a minimum of 10.5 hours of resting.  Don't plan to make it in a few hours.  You will be angry, and also might end up not being able to go to your Mother-in-Law's birthday dinner because you've got this damn focaccia going and you can't leave the house.

Or maybe that's just me.

  • 1/2 cup flour (L)
  • 1/3 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees) (L) (Is labeling water local cheating?)
  • 1/4 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (L)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees) (L)
  • 1 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast
  • Kosher or Sea Salt
  • Vegetable or olive oil
  • Additional flour for shaping (L)
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (L*)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
For the Biga:

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until a uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains: about 1 minute.  Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours).  Use immediately or store in refrigerator up to 3 days (allow to stand at room temperature 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe).

For the Dough:

Add flour, water, and yeast to biga and stir with a wooden spoon until a uniform mass forms and no flour remains, about 1 minute.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 2 tsps kosher or sea salt over the dough; stir into dough until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute.  cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

This was taken right after sprinkling the rosemary/salt/pepper
onto the bread.  Unfortunately, I don't have a finished product
Coat a rubber spatula with vegetable or olive oil.  Fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding the edges of the dough toward the middle, repeating around the dough in the bowl.  You should need about 8 folds.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.

Repeat the above step 2 more times, for a total of 3 fold/rest periods.

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.

Gently transfer dough to a lightly floured surface.  Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and divide in half.  Gently shape each piece of dough into a round.

Coat two 9 inch round pans (I used pie pans) with 2 tbsps olive oil each.  Sprinkle each pan with 1/4 tsp sea or kosher salt.  Place 1 round of dough into each pan, slide dough around in pan to coat, then flip over and repeat on the other side.  Cover pans with plastic wrap and let rest 5-10 minutes.

Using fingertips, press dough out towards edges of the pan.  Using a dinner fork, poke surface of dough 25 to 30 times, popping any large bubbles.  Sprinkle rosemary and pepper evenly over the top of the dough.  Let rest 10 to 15 more minutes.

Place pans on baking stone and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees.  bake until tops are golden brown, 25 to 28 minutes, switching placement of pans half way through cooking.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before removing bread from pans.  Brush with any olive oil remaining in the pan and allow to cool before serving.


I made this before.  You can find the recipe here. But I thought I would provide my own picture, since last time I cheated and just stole the picture from the Aarti Party website.  I'm no food photographer, but I'd say my picture looks pretty good when I compare them side by side!

Last but not least is the recipe I am most likely to make again.  The cookies may have been my favorite, but this was a quality side dish.  And, it was crazy easy.  AND, it used things from my garden.  Which makes me happy.

One thing I should comment on, is that this recipe calls for 1 cup minced leeks.  If you have cooked with leeks from the grocery store before, you should know that your farmer's market leeks are going to have a lot more flavor and cost a lot less money.  On the other hand, they are going to be CRAZY DIRTY.  Leeks are, in my opinion, one of the dirtiest foods I've seen.  (I think, actually, that the dirtiest food is supposed to be a peach, but I try not to think to hard about that).  Anyway, they get dirt all up in the spaces between each layer, so you can't just wash it off and expect to be done.  You have to peel each segment back until the point where it is clean, and wash all the dirt off from there.  You don't just want to throw out the top part, either, because the light green parts taste the best.  When your leek is properly washed, it should look like this:
Once it's clean, you can fold all the leaves back up and cut it like a normal green onion.

Grocery store leeks do not appear to be so dirty, but I can only assume there are invisible pesticides hiding in all the places that would normally hide normal old dirt, which in my opinion is a lot grosser.

The other really exciting part about this recipe is that it's tabbouleh, which means you can sing the tabbouleh song.  You might just want to use the recipe at that link.  It's better than mine :)

Garden Fresh Tabbouleh:

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water (L)
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup minced leeks (L)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (L*)
  • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (L*) (Get it from your sister!  Seriously, listen to the tabbouleh song.)
  • 1 cucumber, with peel, diced (L*)
  • 2 cups low seed tomatoes, halved.  I used roma and pineapple heirloom (L*)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place bulgur in large bowl and pour in boiling water. Add lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about an hour.

Add green onions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and black pepper. Mix well. Stir in additional salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least a couple of hours before serving.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grilled Beets and Other Things

This is a side dish that was almost perfect.  Almost.

I always look at the pretty piles of beets at the farmer's market and wonder what in the heck to do with them.  They are pretty, but "beet" is not a thing that I immediately think I want to eat.  There are just words that have automatic negative food connotations in my mind.

But, after all, I am trying to overcome those negative impressions here, right?  I mean, if I can be a champion for the deliciousness of dandelions, I certainly should be able to eat a beet!

By the way, I totally want to have a dandelion dinner next spring.  In my food related fantasies, it will be top chef style, with 5 courses, all of them featuring dandelion.  For dessert I am thinking about a dandelion and creeping charlie sorbet with candied dandelions on top.  Whatta ya think?  If I was a famous (or even just actual) chef, I could charge for the meals and give all the proceeds to a good cause.  Maybe Growing Power.  I'm not a famous (or even just actual) chef, so what I will probably do is just make some more soup and salad for myself and call it a night, but it would totally be fun.  If anyone wants to come to my dandelion themed charity dinner, let me know!
Raw veggies

Anyway, beets.  They're pretty.  They have a terrible name.  It's time to try them.

I got a variety pack of beets - some pink, some red, and some striped.  The first thing I learned is that beet juice stains.  A lot.  Not just your clothes, but your cutting board and your hands.  I kind of looked like I murdered someone.  I am not a huge fan of wearing gloves while handling food (I tend to cut of the tip of the finger of my glove off, and then have to throw out whatever I'm working on because there's a tiny tip of plastic glove hiding somewhere in it) but this might be the right time to wear them.  Unless you want to go to work the next day and have to defend the beet blood on your hands...

I couldn't find much on the good old interwebs about cooking beets. I really wanted to grill them, and all I could really find was that it could be done, and they didn't take that long. Unfortunately, I mixed the all up with zucchini and yellow squash, which really don't take that long, and the beets ended up a little on the under cooked side.  Like raw.

Now, again according to the interwebs, the best way to eat a beet is raw.  Apparently they help fight cancer.  But the thing is, they're really hard.  So... yeah.  If you're going to eat them raw, cut them small.  These needed to be cooked more.  They hurt my teeth.  But even still, they tasted delicious.  For looking like dirty little potatoes, beets are very sweet.  Almost apple like, but maybe even sweeter.  And more colorful!  I feel like a beet and pork recipe would work exactly in the way an apple and pork recipe works. 

So this recipe is right in terms of content.  In terms of directions, this is what I should have done, not what I actually did.  Also, beets give you less than what you think they will, so buy more than one bunch!

Grilled Beets and Summer Squash

  • 5 or so medium beets, cut into bite sized chunks (L)
  • 1 small zucchini, cut into bite sized chunks (L*)
  • 1 small summer squash, cut into bite sized chunks (L*)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced mint (L*)
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cooked (mostly) veggies.  So pretty!
Place cut beets and cut squash into two separate small bowls.  In a third bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk together well.  Pour over the beets and the squash and stir each to coat.

Heat a grill to medium high.  In a wire grill rack, cook beets for about 8 minutes, or until beets start to get soft, stirring twice to flip.  After beets start to soften, add squash and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until beets and squash are cooked through.

This was very cool, and a little sweet from the beets.  It went perfectly with Jamaican Jerk chicken - and would have gone even better if the chicken had been hotter!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who you calling a jerk?!

Oh, my chicken?  Okay, that's fair.

Two successful attempts at Chicken in a row!  I better be careful not to start getting cocky, as we all know what that leads to...

Anyway, this is also another example of things that I learned by going to the Milwaukee Public Market cooking classes.  Which reminds me, I need to check out the September schedule and find out what to register for!

I've actually found the cooking classes to be a great date for my husband and me.  I recommend this for anyone who is mildly interested in cooking.  Don't take them at the Milwaukee Public Market, though, because that's my secret and I don't want to have to start signing up for them way in advance :)

Anyway, I'm sure you can find some local cooking classes somewhere near you.  For about $25, they give a demo, and then you get to eat the food.  The public market allows you to purchase wine or beer (or a margarita!) from any of the local vendors, and then bring it up with you - in theory to drink with your food but, if you are anything like me, more likely to drink while you are watching the demo!  It's a good date, you get fed, you feel like you learned something, and you don't spend that much money.  It's a nice change from dinner and a movie.
I look so fancy and I am so easy!
(That's what she said...)

Anyway, about a month ago, we attended the Jamaican cooking class, so I decided to make jerked chicken. Also, it's another excuse to butterfly a chicken, which is my new skill that I am very proud of even though it is not hard at all.  I feel like I've talked about butterflying a chicken before, but I can't find it in any of my previous posts, so maybe I didn't. Butterflying a chicken is impressive.  It makes people think you are fancy.  And it is really, really, REALLY easy.  You can find a great tutorial at this website.

What I learned at my Jamaican cooking class is that jerked whatever is really easy.  And because of that, it combines four of my favorite food related things:

1. Chicken
2. Things that are really easy
3. Things that most people can't make (or more specifically don't know that they can make) and are therefore impressive
4. Spicy things

The thing that I liked best about the jerk sauce was that it required almost no work: Take ingredients, place in food processor or blender, blend to liquid, pour over chicken.  Excellent.

Jerk Sauce
*a note on habanero chilis.  These mothers are hot.  Seriously.  If you are going to cut them up, wear a glove.  Put them on a piece of wax paper before you cut them or the hotness will juice onto your cutting board and soak in.  The next time you cut bread, the bread will be crazy spicy.  Seriously.  Maybe not if you have a plastic cutting board, but all of mine are wood and once I had to throw one out because it was just infused with spiciness.  Even though you are wearing a glove, still wash your hands after cutting the habaneros.  Don't touch your eyes.  DON'T try to put in contacts.  You will go blind (I did this once.  It was bad.)  My preferred method for handing habaneros is to freeze them, and then to cut them up as quickly as possible, whilst touching them as little as possible.  The fact that they are frozen helps the hot parts not to get all over everything.  Oh, and if you want to make them less hot, knock out the seeds.  But don't scoop the seeds out with your finger because you don't want to touch all the seeds!

I am always pro fresh spices, but I did learn at this event that there is a time and place for dried spices too.  Specifically if you want them to soak into the meat.  That is why they are featured prominently here.

All my spices, as always, are from our local spice house, "The Spice House." 

Jerk ingredients in food processor
  • 1 large red onion, roughly chopped (L)
  • 5 large heads garlic, peeled (L)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp Jamaican allspice
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 habanaro chile (L*)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (L) (Really.  Kikkoman Soy Sauce is made in Lake Geneva, WI.)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole chicken, butterflied (L)

Chicken in pan
Add ingredients to a food processor and blend.  Place chicken in a glass baking dish, just big enough to fit it, skin side up.  Pour sauce over chicken.  Allow to sit for at least 1 hour, refrigerated, then for 30 minutes more at room temperature.

Actually, this recipe made about twice as much jerk marinade as I needed for one full chicken.  Which brings us to the other awesome thing I learned at this class.  Jerk marinade can be frozen. So my recipe for my husband making this would be:

Remove jerk marinade from freezer.  Allow to thaw.  Pour over meat.  Apply heat.  Feed me.
Chicken in pan with jerk marinade

This marinade can certainly be used on meat other than chicken.  According to Wikipedia, Jerk spice mixes can be applied to pork, chicken, fish, shrimp, shellfish, beef, sausage, and tofu.  Mmmm.  That's what I want for dinner.  Some jerked tofu.  No.

Once you are ready to eat, grill the chicken just as you would normally grill chicken - about 30 to 35 minutes, over a medium grill.  I like to start with a higher heat on the skin side to get it extra crispy, and then turn the heat down a little when I flip the chicken over to allow it extra time to cook through without getting burnt.

Chicken on the Grill
I learned (don't ask me where, I don't know.  Perhaps I made it up...) that you are supposed to avoid flipping meat as much as possible.  Give it as few flips as you can.  However, in doing my research for this blog (extensive research is put into all of my blogs, I promise), I learned that there are several possible reasons for the name "Jerked."  The first explanation I found is that it refers to the process of cooking: during the cooking, the meat is turned over again and again (jerked over) until it is fully cooked.  Hmmm...  Other suggestions: the term "jerk" comes from the Spanish "Charqui" (yes, those words clearly look and sound the same... No).  which means dried meat.  It has the same root as the word "jerky" as in beef jerky (because Jerked Chicken and Beef Jerky have so very much in common.  I don't buy that one much at all).  OR... the word "jerk" applies to the reaction your mouth has to the spices.  OR... the word jerk applies to the the fact that you are supposed to jerk and poke the meat with sharp objects to produce holes which are filled with the spices (I didn't do this, so I hope that's not the reason).  OR... (according to Ask.com, and by far my favorite answer) "Because your mama is a jerk and she smells like chicken."  Done and done.

This is not terribly spicy.  In fact, I might add more spice when making it in the future. But I really like spice, so you might want to try it this way first!

One Jerked Chicken.  
A lovely dinner.  For information on the pretty bowl to the right of the shot, tune in tomorrow!

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Delicious Ice Cream

This recipe again came from having too much of something - in this case sour cream.  In trying to keep my food budget as manageable as possible,  I try as hard as possible to stay on top of the contents of my refrigerator and not let things go bad.  So what do you do when you have a full pint of sour cream that's going to expire in a week?

Probably make a chocolate cake.

The number one rule of ice cream, according to Alton Brown, is to only use the best, freshest ingredients.  I can't find that on the interwebs anywhere, but I'm confident I heard him say it one time.  The theory is, if I remember correctly, that the ice cream is just going to intensify the flavor of whatever you have, so it is not the time to use less than fresh eggs or heavy cream.  Also you don't really cook the custard that much when you make it, so if there were something funky going on, you wouldn't really be giving it the opportunity to cook out.

But sour cream...?  I've always wondered what to say is wrong with my old sour cream.  Is it too sour?  I mean, sour cream is just cream that has gone bad, right?  (I Googled a recipe for sour cream and came up with this.  Basically, you just mix some heavy cream with a little bit of sour cream or buttermilk and let it sit out for 24 hours.  Gross, but pretty much what I figured.)  Shouldn't old sour cream just be "sharp"?  Sour cream, cheddar, same difference right?

Anyway, this sour cream was not bad.  It was totally unopened, foil top still in place.  It smelt and tasted fine.  So I used it.  And the ice cream turned out fine.

Great, actually.  I was really surprised.  I kind of expected the ice cream to be thicker or creamier, but it was basically a normal ice cream.

Except it tasted like cream cheese frosting.

No idea why.  I didn't put any cream cheese in it - although now I'm thinking I could and that would be really good too...  But I love cream cheese frosting, so this was an awesome discovery for me.  This is a very easy ice cream recipe:

Sour Cream Ice Cream
  • 2 cups half-and-half (L)
  • 1 cup honey (L)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 8 large egg yolks (L)
  • 2 cups (1 pint) sour cream (L)
Fill a large bowl half full with an ice bath.  Place a smaller, non-reactive, heat proof bowl into the first bowl, and set a fine mesh strainer on top.  You will want to have this ready at the end of these directions, and you will be busy up until that point, so just do it right away.

In a saucepan, combine half and half, 3/4 cup honey, and vanilla bean.  Heat over medium low heat until bubbles just start to form around the sides of the pan.  Remove the vanilla bean, and scrape the seeds into the half and half.  Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup honey.  Whisk about 1/4 of the warm milk into the eggs then add this mixture into the pan with the rest of the warm milk, whisking constantly.  Return to the heat and cook over moderately low heat until the custard coats the back of a spoon, again stirring constantly and making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan.
Remove from heat and pour through the strainer into the non-reactive, heat proof bowl, resting in the ice bath.  Add the sour cream, and stir continuously until cooled.  Then, place plastic wrap directly on the top of the custard, and put into the refrigerator.  Chill at least several hours, preferably overnight, before freezing in your ice cream machine according to the machine's directions.

I made served this in two different ways.  The first was with a sour cream and rhubarb upside down cake.

Frankly, this cake pissed me off.  I made it because it used rhubarb and sour cream, which I seem to have a ton of.  And I found the same recipe in several places on the internet.  I'm pretty sure no one actually made the recipe before posting it, though, because it took TWICE AS LONG to cook than what the recipe said.  I don't have time for that.  My husband and I eat late as it is is, I don't have time to wait for cake to cool when it hasn't even come out of the oven by the time we're done with dinner!

And, as you can see from the picture, we didn't wait.  The cake was still hot, it fell apart when I tried to cut it, and it melted the heck out of my ice cream.

And it didn't even taste that great.  I am not going to post a recipe here.   I will come up with my own recipe for upside down rhubarb cake, and, once I have mastered it, I will share it with you and it will be awesome.
The second way I served the ice cream was with peaches.  I actually had intended to grill the peaches, but then it started to pour so I cooked them in a pan instead.  It actually worked out better, because I used maple syrup, and when the maple syrup poured over the ice cream it hardened and turned into delicious sticky candy.  I will be making that again and eating the crap out of it as soon as I get my braces off!

Maple Syrup Peaches
Serves 2 or 3
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup - do NOT use the fake stuff.  Seriously.  Just make a different recipe (L)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp minced candied ginger
  • 3 peaches
Combine all ingredients except peaches in a small glass baking dish.  Cut peaches in half and remove the pit.  Place cut side down into pan, and refrigerate for an hour (or longer.  We just let them sit while we were eating dinner.)

Remove peaches from the pan, and pour syrup and all spices into a small frying pan, over medium low heat, and heat gently until bubbles just start to form, stirring with a rubber spatula.  Add the peaches, cut side down.  Cook, spooning the hot syrup over the tops of the peaches until the peaches are soft and warm throughout. 

Scoop two bowls of sour cream ice cream, place three peach halves on top of ice cream in each bowl, and pour remaining syrup over the top.  


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Deep Fried X on a Stick

This is what all the food looked like
before biting into it.

There is a stereotype of Midwesterners as being fat and not very culinarily advanced.  You can see this, for example, in the SHOCK of Michael Symon opening his Lola in Cleveland.  Cleveland!  No, the culinary meccas are on the coasts.  Even Chicago is a red-headed step child.  Midwesterner's do not want fancy food.  They want a well done burger, cheese curds, and an Olive Garden.
Obviously, that stereotype is not 100% accurate.  No stereotypes are 100% accurate.  I would go so far as to say it's not even 50% accurate.  I know people like that, but I know more people who are willing an excited to spend money on fancy food and try new things.  Maybe it's the circles I run in.  Who knows.

My point is, I'm not here to address that stereotype.  That is not the point of this blog.  I don't want to fight that battle.

But, if you've been happy thus far to read a blog that actively combats this stereotype, and if you want to see a tradition of culinary excellence upheld, you might want to stop reading.


Seriously, you've been warned.

So, the Wisconsin State Fair just ended.  It ran from August 4th to 14th.  There were farm animals, and 4-H kids getting ribbons, and deep fried food on a stick.  And, while all the food wasn't necessarily locally grown, there is nothing more local than the State Fair.

So I ate it all - for you.  Or, at least, I ate as much of it as I could without actually getting physically ill.  I felt ill.  I didn't eat dinner for the next two days.  I think I put on five pounds.  I did not eat the deep fried butter (you read that right), because, frankly, I have my standards.

Deep Fried Cream Cheese with Bacon.  This was awful.
Maybe if it was smaller, or you got a few bite sized bits,
but as it was, it was a giant ball of hot cream cheese that
made my stomach hurt.
And I love cream cheese...

Deep Fried Mashed Potatoes.  I thought that
they were wrapped in a wanton, but it turns out
they actually spread the potatoes super thin and
fry them that way - so the wanton is potatoes

Inside of the mashed potatoes.  I think there
may have been veggies in there too.  At least
some onions.  It's a nice touch. Keep us all
healthy!  Also, I would like to present my
mom's hand as proof that I did not eat all
this by myself.
Deep Fried PB&J. This was quite possibly
the best thing I ate at the fair.  I checked
afterward, and they used local raspberry
jam.  Not too sweet.  Not to heavy.  The
peanut butter was warm and gooey, and the
jam was not to runny.  So good!
Deep Fried Bacon Wrapped Shrimp Tempura.
Need I say more?

Deep fried bacon wrapped hot dog.  Both my
mom and I expected it to be breaded like a
corn dog, and were happy to see it was not!

"Deep Fried Elvis."  A chocolate peanut butter
cup, deep fried in banana batter.  I couldn't
taste the banana, but to be fair, I don't think
I cared...

Crullers on a stick.  All doughnuts are naturally deep fried,
right?  I didn't feel the need to try these, since I've had (and love!)
a cruller, and could take a picture through the display case.

This is why I am not a locavore of wine.  Every single one was tried.  One was drinkable as a wine, and one was drinkable as a juice.  None were what I would call "good..."

This is a pig.

This is a goat.  For the record, going to the
fair does not make me hungry in the same
way that going to the Aquarium does...
These cows were fuzzier than I would have
expected.  I don't know a lot about cows,
but I have never seen one that was this
fuzzy.  I couldn't find a 4-H kid to ask about
it in the 5 seconds I spent looking for one...

The Piece de Resistance of the Wisconsin
State Fair... Behold the mighty Cream Puff.
Deep fried whatever you want is always
good, but the cream puff is what people
line up for.
Deep fried spaghetti and meatballs on a stick.  They actually
put the noodles into the meatball.  This was probably the
best thing I ate at the fair!

Bwahahah!  From the meatball place.
Deep fried oysters on a stick.  Not good.
So not good.
Cheese curds.  Gotta eat 'em
Boneless Honey BBQ Wings.  With local
honey.  Yum!
And that was my trip to the fair.  Salads for the next week!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Potato Salad

This one is for my vegetarian friends out there!

Vegetables are good.  I like vegetables.  They're even better when served next to a side of delicious, delicious meat, but they're good on their own too.

My biggest problem, really, is that I don't like a lot of vegetables cooked.  I shouldn't say I don't like them.  They're fine, and I'll eat them, but 9 times out of 10 I would prefer them raw.  Even fancy applications.  I have had fancy vegetables every which way you can imagine them and, while delicious, I'm almost always thinking "this would be better if it were raw.  And if it were the middle of summer.  And if I were eating it outside.  With my hands."

Which creates a problem.  You see, one would probably categorize this as a cooking blog.  I personally would categorize it as Kate talking a bunch of nonsense blog, but I've never seen that as a category, so we'll go with the next best option: cooking blog.  In fact, I have totally used this blog as a reference to make things I made previously!  Which is good, because half the time when I make something really delicious, I can never make it again because I have no clue what I put into it...

(That's another good cooking tip, people.  Keep track of what you're putting into your food.  If it's really good, you want to be able to make it again exactly the same way so you know you can impress your friends.   If it's horrible, you want to know what you did so you can never do it again!)

So, since this is a cooking blog, I feel like my recipes should not read like this:

Go into back yard.  Pick tomato.  Eat like apple while leaning over the sink so as to not get floors dirty.  Add salt if desired.

That is, perhaps, the most delicious summer recipe I know.  I personally feel that eating it over the sink helps the taste.  It's like how eating food that is bad for you makes you feel good in a guilty way.  There is nothing more "guilty" then eating food over the sink instead of using a plate.  If you don't believe me, just keep trying it until someone walks in and catches you.  See how guilty you feel!

Anyway, perhaps a good life tip, but not really a good recipe - especially for a cooking blog.  Which is why I don't post many veggie recipes, even though we are eating a lot of veggies.  I just don't want to mess with the flavor of the vegetable.

I thought this was a good compromise.  It involved some sort of skill, but not a lot of "cooking."  It is tasty, and seems fancy, but doesn't involve a lot of work.  Plus, it's a good and different way to use up zucchini, which it is totally time for!  I cut my potatoes too big.  It was annoying.  Don't do that.

Potato Salad with Zucchini and Green Beans
(makes 6-8 side dish servings)

  • 1 lb new potatoes, red or otherwise, cut into bite sized pieces (L)
  • 1 medium sized zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin (L*)
  • about 2 cups green beans, broken into bite sized pieces (L*)
  • about 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (L)
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill (L*)
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic scapes (L)
  • 2 tbsp small red onions, minced (L*)
  • 3 tbsp basil chiffonade (L*)
  • 1 tbsp mayo
  • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place potatoes into a medium pot, and cover with water.  Salt water well.  Bring to a boil, and cook potatoes until soft, but not falling apart.  Drain, reserving the cooking water, and put potatoes in a bowl in the fridge to cool quickly.

Put the potato water back into the pot, and return to a boil.  Using a steamer basket (or, if you're short on kitchen tools like me, a mesh colander strategically placed over the pot), steam the beans until just tender - about 2 or 3 minutes.  They should still be crisp.  I like to sprinkle the beans with coarse salt while they are steaming.  Cool down beans quickly by placing them in the fridge as well.

Once potatoes and beans are cool, combine all ingredients up to mayo.  In a small bowl, whisk together mayo and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add to vegetables and stir to combine.  Keep in mind you might not need as much salt, because of the cheese and because the potatoes and beans should be salty as well!

This was best on day 2, after all of the flavors have melded.  It was good on days 1, 3, and 4, but by day 5 it was done.  I may have made too much...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Take that Gordon Ramsay!

So, yesterday, I wrote about things that you can do to become a better cook that won't actually teach you how to cook.  Specifically, for the purpose of today's post, watch TV.   No, I am not referring to watching Star Trek, or whatever nonsense you have on in the background for mindless distraction, while you cook - I've generally found that makes me forget to add the baking soda or some other very important ingredient which you can't tell that you've forgotten until your food turns out weird.  I mean watching cooking TV shows to get ideas for things to try.  Or reading cook books if you're classier than I am.

I LOVE cooking TV.  My DVR is often clogged with Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Iron Chef, Chopped, and many others.

The one I'm digging on right now - Master Chef.  I like it because, for once, these people actually COULD be me.  Granted, I would never apply to be on the show because I have no desire for the nation to see Chef Gordon Ramsay make me cry, but it's a great show.

Anyway, regardless of what I'm watching, I always play the "what would I make" game.  Then I can be proud of myself when one of the "real" chefs makes what I would have made.

So, imagine my disappointment, when on the last episode I watched of Master Chef (no clue if it was the last episode on, because I really do stockpile these things on my DVR), they had an updated grilled cheese and tomato soup challenge, and no one made gazpacho.  What is a better updated tomato soup than gazpacho?!?  Plus, tomato soup = gross.  Gazpacho = delicious.

My gazpacho, like most things I make, is probably wrong.  In fact, I'm almost 99% certain that it's wrong.  I'm fairly certain one of the cardinal rules of gazpacho is that it's raw.  It shouldn't be cooked.  That's it's deal.  And, while I wouldn't go so far as to say that I "cook" mine, I do apply heat.  I feel like it makes the tomatoes and the onions taste better.  So sue me.  If you want to do it "right," follow Alton's recipe.  That's where I started anyway.  To be fair, that is almost always where I start.

I thought this was awesome.  Jeff thought it was awesome. No, it probably wouldn't have won due to the cardinal sin of applying heat to the gazpacho, but I don't think it would have gotten me sent home either.  And it looked pretty.  And, best of all, blended gazpacho can be frozen to eat later!  What a perfect hot summer dinner - with almost no effort.

Smooth Gazpacho with Zucchini "Noodles"
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion (L)
  • 1 half garlic bulb, minced (L)
  • 1 small Serrano chili, seeded and minced (L)
  • 1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, roughly chopped (L)
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped (L)
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (L)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Tomato Juice if necessary (I didn't use any)
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, and chili and saute briefly.  Add tomatoes and turn heat down to low.  Allow tomatoes to steam until they have released a good deal of liquid.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Add remaining ingredients, and stir well to combine.   If there is not enough liquid from the tomatoes to cover everything else, add tomato juice.  Allow to chill until flavors are well combined, preferably over night.

I actually like a smooth gazpacho, so at this point I would put it in the blender and puree it, but you can leave it chunky and eat it right at this point if you want!


Zucchini Noodles

Take one zucchini and grate on the large holes of a cheese grater so it forms noodle like strands.  I avoid the inside where all the seeds are.

Place a small pile of "noodles" into the bottom of a shallow soup bowl.  Spoon the gazpacho around the noodles.

    I feel like grilled cheese is one of those recipes that you really should use whatever you have lying around, and not rely on a recipe to tell you what to do.  I used a combination of sharp goat cheddar, Romano, and a washed rind cheese from a local cheese maker that was kind of nutty and reminded me of a manchego.  I paired this with a chorizo sausage made by a local sausage place.  I found both the sausage and the washed rind cheese at the farmer's market, and the other two cheeses were at my grocery store, but were still local.  One good thing about WI: no shortage of local cheese!

    My personal trick to making grilled cheese sandwiches is that you want everything to be really small, so it all heats through and the cheese gets all melty before the bread gets burned.  I don't do slices of cheese; instead I grate the cheese because I feel like it melts faster and I can put more on the sandwich and still have it be gooey and melty.  You also want to heavily butter all four sides of your bread!  Buttering the outsides allow the bread to toast evenly in the pan, as opposed to just melting the butter in the pan which could cause some parts of the bread to have more butter, and some to have no butter!  Buttering the inside helps stick all the ingredients where you want them to be before they start to melt.  More butter on the outside + a hot pan = better cooking, more browning of your bread, and less chance of burning.  More butter on the inside helps everything meld together.  Plus butter = yum.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Fish Pasta

    Recently, I've been preaching a lot about simple food that lets the taste of summer come through.  I don't want anyone to think, for a second, that I cook that way all the time, that I have always cooked that way, or that I think that is the only way to cook.  Much to the contrary, in fact.  I happen to have a specialty which I refer to as "Pasta ala Whatever the Heck I Have in the Fridge."  This is usually a garbled mess of - literally - whatever the heck I have in the fridge that could conceivably go on pasta.  Not so much a clean taste of summer - more a good way to get rid of food before it goes bad.  I would love to be fancier than I am, but let's be clear on one thing: I am not a chef.  I am just some girl who likes to cook.  And, lots of times, I make mistakes.

    Ive been cooking for myself for a long time now, and I'm starting to be successful more often than not - but there is still plenty of "not."  Cooking isn't a science, it's an art.  And it's not something you're born knowing how to do... unless you're a cooking genius savant... which I am not.

    You can try to learn how to cook by reading cookbooks and watching TV.  I do this.  Okay, I do the TV part.  This is helpful, but it's not enough.  It gets you good ideas and makes you want to try new things.  It helps get you excited and makes you more excited, but it won't actually teach you how to cook. 

    You can try to learn how to cook through eating.  I recommend this.  Highly.  Try new restaurants in your area.  Try new foods.  One thing I like to do is get the weirdest sounding appetizer.  That way, if it's gross, I'm probably out less than $10, and I still have a meal coming.  If you order something great, and it's not too busy, ask to talk to the chef. What did they do?  What spices are in there?  Fresh or dried?  In my experience, chefs wont give you all the information.  They have their secrets, and they aren't too quick to part with them.  After all, if everyone could cook as well as they could, they wouldn't have a job.  But most of the time they will answer questions.  Especially smart questions.  Especially ESPECIALLY smart questions surrounded by flattery.  Chefs are, as a general rule, pompous, arrogant d-bags who think they are better than they are, and who loved to have their bread buttered by the customers (figuratively, not literally,because they probably didn't make the bread and if you eat too much bread you won't have room for dessert.)

    What was my point?  Oh, yeah.  Eat out.  Try new food.  Ask questions.  It will help you conceptualize food and open your palate to new experiences.

    But it won't teach you how to cook.

    Nope.  The only way to learn how to cook is also the only way to learn how to walk.  You just have to try.  You will fall down.  But you have to get up and keep trying.

    After you read that awesome recipe in the newspaper, or see it on TV, try to make it.  Try to find two or three or more recipes and blend them together into one recipe.  Try to cook without any recipe at all.  See what works.  See what doesn't.  Sometimes things won't work.  Most of the time it will still be edible.  Sometimes you will have to order pizza.  Or Chinese.  Or sushi.  Mmmm.... now I want sushi....

    My long winded point is this - you have to try.  If you don't try something new, you won't learn anything new.  And you can't expect to try new things and never expect to fail.  Failure isn't bad.  Failure is good.  Failure means you're growing as a person.  Failure can be fun.  "Happy Accidents" often create the most exciting results.  I'm no food historian, but I would like to believe the invention of wine went something like this: "La la la... Oh my!  What happened to my grape juice that I stored in this oak barrel?!  This is delicious!  Let's have a party!!"

    Today's recipe wasn't a happy accident, but it was a result of many years of learning.  I have learned, although still make this mistake, that more things in my pasta doesn't always equal better pasta.  And I have learned that too much dill wrecks everything - even fish which is supposed to go great with dill!

    This week was also a learning experience - specifically in the form of my spinach pasta, which did not turn out great.  It's delicious, but the pasta is really stuck together in big clumps.  I'm not sure why that happened.  My theories are:

    1. I rolled it to thin.
    2. I didn't let it dry long enough before freezing it.
    3. I packed it too tightly into the bags before putting them into the freezer.
    4. Something else.
    5. Some combination of the above.

    There's only one way to solve this mystery - keep making pasta until I can store it perfectly.  From my experience, that should be in about 30 years.  But, on the plus side, I get to keep eating fresh pasta until that point.

    I did get more fish from Sweet Water Organics, who now have a booth at the South Shore Farmer's Market.  I am a lot better at cleaning them than I was the first time.

    It's all about practice.

    Spinach Pasta with Dill Cream Sauce, Zucchini, and Fish
     (serves 2)
    Prep time: About 15 minutes, not counting cleaning the fish
    • 2 servings of fresh spinach pasta (about 8 oz) (L*)
    •   3 tbsp butter, divided (L)
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream (L)
      Tiny Fillets....
    • 1 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped (L*)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced (L)
    • 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced (L)
    • 8 small lake perch fillets, or the equivalent to be enough to serve two people (L), (when I say small, these things are tiny, as you can see in the picture)
    • Salt and pepper
    Cook the pasta in well salted water until about about two minutes before it is done. 

    Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp of the butter in a large pan.  Add the cream, dill, and salt to taste.  Bring to a gentle simmer.

    The goal is to have the pasta be done right around the same time that the sauce comes to a simmer.  Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and allow it to finish cooking as the sauce thickens up slightly.

    Meanwhile part 2, heat 1 tbsp of the butter in a second smaller pan over medium heat.  Saute the garlic until it is lightly golden and scented, then add the zucchini and increase the heat to high.  Saute quickly, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

    Add to pasta and sauce.  Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining one tablespoon butter, and quick fry the fish.  If it is as tiny as mine was, it should take about two minutes on each side. Dish the pasta into large bowls, and top with the fillets. 

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Elk Burgers

    I am sometimes jealous of San Francisco locavores.  Okay, I am ALWAYS jealous of San Francisco locavores.  OKAY, I am ALWAYS VERY jealous of San Francisco locavores.  How hard is it to be a locavore when your local diet can include oysters, crab, Atlantic salmon, and Napa Valley wine?  And your growing season is all year round?  It's not fair!

    On the other hand, living in WI isn't all that bad.  WI has cheese, and beer (if you're into that), and sausage.  California has cheese too, though... so they probably will win this fight.

    But it's not a blood bath.  WI loses on seafood and wine, which are both very important my personal happiness, and on length of growing season... but we can hold our own on almost every other kind of meat.  Within 100 miles of my house, I can find beef, pork, and chicken, obviously, but also ducks, quail, pheasants, lamb, goat, elk, buffalo, emu and ostrich.  I haven't tried all of these yet, but I intend to.  Some are easier to find, since they're at my local market, but my goal is to get a chest freezer so I can order larger quantities of meat directly from the farmer.  I also hope, as this blog continues, to actually get out to some of these farms.  I need to figure out a way to be just a little less busy.

    Today's meat of choice was elk.  Actually, I had just intended to have regular burgers, but the ground elk was less at the farmer's market than the ground beef.  My husband and I had recently gone to a local burger bar, Stack'd, and I had gourmet burgers on the brain.  I'm just recently learning that I like burgers, and I wanted to see what kind of gourmet burger I could come up with.  Also, I recently bought a bunch of hamburger buns (local of course) for a party I went to, and the leftovers are taking up way too much room in my freezer.  If only I had that chest freezer!

    Mushrooms with secret cheese melting
    on the grill.
    Like everything else, this burger was a compilation of what I had on hand, but it was really good.  At first, my husband wasn't sure about the cheese, which I melted into the hole left by removing the stems of the portabella mushroom - like a stuffed mushroom.  When I then flipped it onto the burger, you could just see the mushroom, and the cheese was completely hidden.  I'm sure that doesn't make it taste any better, but it was fun to have the cheese be a surprise.

    One problem I've always had with burgers is that they are either tough, dry, unevenly cooked, or some combination of the three.  I started some research on this, and learned that a burger needs to be made in the exact opposite way of everything I've learned about cooking meat.

    Hours of Food Network watching has taught me that you want your meat room temperature before you cook it.  Put cold meat into a hot pan and it will drop the temperature of the pan and your meat won't sear properly.  You will be left with gray, steamed meat.  Same thing with the grill.  Everything I read says don't throw cold meat on the grill.

    Unless it's a burger. 

    Burger meat should be as cold as possible.  It should be as cold as possible while you're mixing it, and your hands should be as cold as possible.  This makes sense to me.  You don't want the fat to start melting until it gets on the grill.  Kind of like pie crust, the more you handle the crust dough, the more the fat melts, and the more you work the dough, the tougher your crust will be.  Many recipes then recommend putting the formed patties into the freezer before cooking.

    I've tried to do research, and I don't really understand this step.  Why is a burger so different than a steak?  Throw a cold steak on the grill and it steams, doesn't caramelize properly, and turns grey.  But throw a nearly frozen hamburger patty on the grill and it cooks perfectly.

    The patties above were my first attempt, and if you look closely (my camera kicked the big one, so I'm stuck using just my iPhone camera, which doesn't have the best resolution), you can see I didn't follow my own advice.  These patties are starting to turn grey around the edges - meaning they're starting to cook.  This was my first sign that something was wrong, and it is what encouraged me to start my burger cooking research.  This first batch was good - moist and tender - but they were not evenly cooked.  My second batch, made of the exact same meat but kept cold and mixed with ice cold hands, were way better, although still not perfect.  I'll keep working on it!

    Elk Burgers with Portabella Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Goat Milk Brie.
    (makes 3 burgers)
    • 1 lb very cold ground elk meat (L)
    • 1 1/2 tbsp minced garlic scapes, divided (L)
    • 1 tbsp minced red onion (L*)
    • 1/2 small zucchini, thinly sliced (12 slices) (L*)
    • 3 portabella mushrooms, stems removed (L)
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 3 1 oz. chunks of goat milk brie (L)
    • 3 burger buns (L)
    • butter (L)
    In a large, cold bowl, combine ground meat, 1 tbsp garlic scapes, and minced onions.  Mix until just combined, form into three patties, and return to the fridge.

    In a second bowl, combine mushrooms and zucchini.  Drizzle with olive oil, and mix with remaining 1/2 tbsp garlic scapes, salt, and pepper until well coated.  Allow to marinate for up to one hour.

    Depending on how well you like your burgers done, you might want to start putting things on the grill in a different order.  The mushrooms should take about 15 minutes total.  The instructions below are for a medium burger.

    Once you are ready to cook, heat a grill to medium high.  Place mushrooms, former stem side down, on grill, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they start to get soft.

    At the same time you place the mushrooms on, season the burger patties well on both sides with salt and pepper, and add to the grill.

    After about 5 minutes total, flip the burgers and the mushrooms.  Add the cheese to the indentation in the mushroom where the stem used to be.  Cook for about 5 more minutes, then remove the burgers to a plate to rest.

    In the next five minutes, while the cheese finishes melting, grill the zucchini (I recommend using a grill basket since they are sliced so thin), and toast the buns.  Spread butter on the buns, then layer burger patty, zucchini, and mushroom - cheese side down.  Top with the top bun, and eat!