Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Saturday Morning at the Market

Thanks so much to every one who stopped by to visit me this past Saturday at the South Shore Farmer's Market.  We had a beautiful (albeit) early morning in the park.  I am not a morning person, so the fact that I got there before some of the farmers were done setting up is something I am equal parts proud of and depressed by.

Having been an avid farmer's market shopper for three years now, I'm starting to get into the hang of what is going to be there when.  It's also helpful that I get an email from my CSA farmers around Tuesday of the week, and what they've got is a good indication of what's going to be available at the market.  Of course, none of that can account for the fact that - I suspect just to throw me off my game - nobody had garlic at the market this past Saturday.

I think that cooking at the farmer's market really exemplifies what's at the heart of locavore cooking.  It's nothing fancy, nothing flashy, nothing rehearsed.  I like to think of my cooking a lot like I think of my dancing.  For those of you who only know me from my blogging, I am also an American Tribal Style Belly Dancer (South Shore Market regulars: those are the belly dancers you see a few times a year!).  The thing that drew me to ATS Belly Dance was the fact that it is improvisational group dancing.  We always dance in groups, and nothing is choreographed.  You practice a lot with the women you dance with, you know your music well, and you learn the "vocabulary" of the dance, but when push comes to shove you just don't know what exactly is going to go down.  This, to me, is the joy of the dance.  You are in the moment, and 90% of the time you need to give that control away.  You know what should happen, and you can even influence it a little, but in the end you need to give that control away.  You are not in charge.  You have to trust those around you to take care of you, and you are responsible for taking care of them.  And when something goes wrong, you smile, forgive, and move on.  And you learn something new for next time.  And maybe, if you're really lucky, you get to create a new move!

This is how I feel about locavore cooking.  You learn the ingredients.  You learn how they should work.  You learn when they should be there.  But in the end, you need to work with what you have.  And maybe things don't turn out exactly how you want, but maybe they turn out better.  And maybe you end up with something even better than what you had intended.  In the end, that is what locavore cooking is about.  You need to let go and work with whatever is at the market.  In today's well stocked grocery store, you can get whatever you want whenever you want it.  That's great, but there's nothing to push you outside of your bubble.

I'm not saying I necessarily got pushed outside of my comfort zone at the market this past weekend.  While not having garlic is fairly traumatic to anyone of marginally Italian descent, "just leaving it out" probably isn't getting pushed outside of your bubble.  But I'm not talking about me right now, am I?  No.  I'm talking about you.  I'm saying that you should allow yourself to get pushed out of your bubble.  Because it's fun.  Because I promise that the bag of weird looking mushrooms that you pick up at the market is going to taste way better than whatever you "just have" to run to the grocery store for.  Because I bet you wouldn't have believed me before that peaches and corn make a good salad.  And because cooking (like dancing) should be fun.  

The recipes came out well.  My helpers Denise and Missie were amazing.  The plants that I strategically placed throughout the audience asked all the right questions at all the right times.  Okay, the gazpacho was a bit spicy, but I cooled everyone down with a little maple bacon ice cream so they have to forgive me, right?  Right.

Thanks again for coming out to see me.  And if you didn't, you can make it up to me next time!  I'll be dancing at the market this coming Saturday...

Corn and Peach Salad

  • 4 cobs corn
  • 1 lb peaches
  • 1 small red onion
  • mixed greens (preferably with edible flowers for decoration)
  • 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 jalapeno? 
Grill the corn for about 5 minutes on each side.  You're looking to get it charred and a little smokey, but you don't want to overcook the corn.  Meanwhile, slice or cube the peaches into bite sized chunks, and finely dice the red onion.  Once the corn is grilled, cut it off of the cob and combine with the peaches, onion, and mixed greens in a large bowl.  (Larger than the one I used!)  In a separate bowl, whisk together the juice of one lime, the olive oil,  and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  (You can also add a minced jalapeno into the dressing, but I accidentally threw this into the gazpacho - making it extra spicy!)  Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss gently again to combine.

This is a light, refreshing salad that would go well with any grilled meat in the summer.  You could also add some avocado, feta, or nuts (if you're into that sort of thing).  Another thing I thought of while walking the market after the demo was to flake some of the Rushing Waters smoked trout on top and make an entree salad. 

Grilled Vegetable "Gazpacho"

Yes, I know that gazpacho is made with raw vegetables.  Yes, I know gazpacho is traditionally thickened with bread.  This has neither of those things.  That's why it's "gazpacho."  Missie (who took the last of it home) named it "Ka-spacho." I don't care what you want to call it.  It's a refreshing summer meal or side, a good way to use up whatever vegetables you have lying around the house, and would make a damn fine Bloody Mary base.  

This is what I did at the market, but you can really feel free to throw in whatever other ingredients you have, or omit any that you don't.  (Garlic anyone?)

  • 1 large zucchini (about 1 to 1.5 lbs), cut into large cubes
  • 1 red onion,  quartered
  • 1 jalapeno (or two depending on how you're feeling)
  • 2 bell peppers - whatever color you're feeling
  • A large handful of fresh herbs (if you find yourself thinking - wait, I didn't notice this at the market, you are very perceptive.  And also shhh!)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 (ish) lbs tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on the size
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
Combine first five ingredients, along with any additional vegetables you may have lying around your kitchen.   Toss with a drizzling of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Grill until just charred, but not soft or mushy.  If you want, at this point, you can remove the skins from the peppers, and the seeds from the jalapenos.  If the peppers are nicely charred, the skins should slip right off, but this step is not necessary.

While the first set of veggies is grilling, blend the cucumber until it is fully liquified.  Add the grilled vegetables, and blend again until thick.  The zucchini has a nice viscosity to it, and will thicken up the soup nicely, while the cucumber and the tomato thin it out.  In this case, the zucchini takes the place of the bread.

Toss the tomatoes in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Grill for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.  You want the tomatoes to start to dry up slightly, and get a little charred on the outside, without drying up.

Once the tomatoes are warm and getting a little caramelized,  transfer them into the blender and puree. 

At this point, I like to combine the green portion and the tomato portion artistically.  You can stir them together, but I like how the layers look.  Depends on how fancy you're feeling that day.

Quark and Beet Dip

Easiest. Recipe. Ever.

Roast off 1.5 lbs of beets (the color's up to you) and allow to cool.  Put into a food processor, and process until smooth.  Combine with 1 8 oz container of quark from the Clock Shadow Creamery (your choice of flavor... try the maple, it's award winning!)  Add a dash of any spices you feel appropriate (cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne...?  Preferably not all four.), or maybe a bit of lemon zest, and stir to combine.  Serve as a dip with crusty bread, carrot or celery sticks, or crackers.

Maple Bacon Ice Cream
(Hahahahaha.  Nope.)

Send me a message to place your order ;)

Next up - what to do with the pile of zucchini and cherry tomatoes building up on my kitchen counter.  Got any tips for me, or anything you'd like to see me try?  Leave them in the comments.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Jam! Rhymes with D@!n

Or something like that...  I figure that the title of my post shouldn't be cursy.

So I would like to send a thanks and shout out to all the handsome young men at the Hack Family Farm stand at the South Shore Farmer's Market.  They saved eight quarts of strawberries for me last.  And saved is really an understatement.  I mean, between the time they gave them to me, and the time that I spent jibber-jaberring about Star Trek or Wars or Gate or something related - FOUR PEOPLE TRIED TO BUY MY STRAWBERRIES OUT FROM UNDER ME.  I only got to the market an hour and a half late, which is pretty late for me, but I'm fairly certain they were the last strawberries at the market.  Possibly for the whole year.  I probably should have sold them.  Instead, I tried to make jam.

I suck at jam.

I don't think that I have ever successfully made a batch of jam.  I follow the directions exactly.  I have tried multiple recipes from multiple books, and NEVER do I ever get jam.  I get ice cream topping.  Seriously.  The recipe says to cook for 30 minutes or until it sets - I cook it for two hours and it never sets.  If I based my self esteem on my ability to make jam, I would be in a lot of trouble right now.

Anyway, I ended up with 6 half pints each of strawberry and strawberry rhubarb ice cream topping. I also like to use it with some Greek yogurt.  If anyone wants to teach me how to make jam, I would pay you back with pickles.  I'm really good at pickles!

If you are interested in shopping where I shop, and hanging out with my farmers, please come check me out at the South Shore Farmer's Market on Saturday, August 17th.  I will be giving a cooking demo at 9:00 am.  I don't know what I'm going to make (it depends on what will be there that day), but there will be samples!  The after party, like last year, will be at the the Great Lakes Distillery.  The Tasting Room opens at 11:00, and the first tour is at 1:00.

Kate's Strawberry Ice Cream Topping:
(This recipe originally comes from my Put 'em Up book where it is called Classic Strawberry Jam.  Which I guess I'm assuming means it's really safe for canning - even if it isn't safe for jam.)

(Makes about 3 pints)

  • 3 cups strawberries, hulled and halved if large
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
Toss the strawberries and sugar in a large bowl and macerate overnight.

Transfer the mixture to a large nonreactive saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring and crushing the fruit regularly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the jam reaches the desired gel, about 20 minutes.  (Alternately, cook for 2 hours while cursing at it to be jam already, then give up, can as is, and tell your friends and blog readers that it's ice cream topping and that you meant it to be that way.)

If you are canning using the boiling water method, process in half pint jars for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat, remove the cover, and allow the jars to sit in the water for 10 minutes.  And, while you may hope it does, this process does not make the contents of your jars any jammier. 

Strawberry Rhubarb "Jam" like liquid
(Originally called Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, from The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves)

(Makes about 3 pints)

  • 1 large lemon
  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled
  • 3/4 lbs rhubarb stalks, cut into approximately 3/8 inch cubes
  • 4 1/4 cups sugar
 Squeeze the juice from the lemon.  Put the seeds into a spice bag, and put the bag and juice into a preserving pan (looked this up on the internet.  It's basically what we common folk call a "pan.")  Add the strawberries, and slice or mash them if they are large and firm.  Add the rhubarb.  Over low heat, simmer the contents until the rhubarb is tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar.  Stir the mixture over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Raise the heat to medium-high and boil the jam, stirring and skimming off the foam, until a drop mounds on a chilled dish, or until you are crazy tired and can't remember why you even bothered to do this.  It's not like you like jam that much anyway!

Fish the bag of seeds out of the sticky mess, and wonder why the F you put them in there.  They clearly didn't do anything.  This would also be a good time to reflect on the wisdom of choosing these two recipes that didn't have any store-bought pectin in them, when you've never had a jam or jelly set in your life.

Ladle the jam into pint or half pint mason jars.  Add lids and rings and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Diets are Stupid

Diets are stupid.  That's pretty much all I have to say on that.

When I turned on the TV this morning, the news reporters were all up in my face about some new diet study that said eating two meals per day was better for you could lead to more weight loss than eating six meals per day, even if your total food intake under both plans was the same.  I find this instantly annoying, because I can promise you that the people telling me to eat two meals were the same people who told me to eat six meals a day, or nothing but grapefruits or whatever.  I did a Google search on "Popular Diets" and got the following results:

  • Atkins: no carbs, all the fat you want, and lose weight.  Anyone who has read more than a few posts of this blog knows how I feel about carbs (I like potatoes in my pasta), so this ain't happening for me.  Also Mr. Atkins died of a heart attack, so...
  • The Zone: 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates.  Because the only thing I love more than dieting is math.  Also you're not supposed to have cheese with The Zone diet, so clearly it was invented by a jack ass.
  • Vegetarian: Eat vegetables.  That's fine.  To each their own.  But I like meat.  Also, most of the vegetarians I know get their protein through soy, and I'd rather eat food with a face than GMO soy.
  • Vegan: My concerns are similar to Vegetarian.  Also I don't understand the honey part.
  • Weight Watchers: From what I understand of Weight Watchers, it might actually be a good thing; teach people how to eat well by assigning each food a point value.  But, similar to The Zone, I'd rather not confuse my eating habits with basic math (or counting.  Whatever).
  • South Beach: Like Atkins but different?  Honestly, I'm confused on this one.  No carbs, good fats, eat small portions.  But get this: "The 14 day induction phase bans bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, baked goods, and fruit.  And you can't have even a drop of beer, wine, or other alcohol.  The diet promises that after a couple of days, you won't really miss the stuff."  My ass I won't.  You can have my carbs and booze over my dead, well fed body!
  • Raw Food: As the name would imply, you eat only raw food - meaning uncooked and unprocessed.  I could rant about this for a while.  There are many types of food by which cooking releases the nutritional value, and cooked meat provided the energy that early humans needed to develop the big brains that we have (true story... or actual scientific theory, more appropriately).  I feel the same way here that I feel about vegan/vegetarian diets.  Humans were made to eat meat (our teeth tell us we are omnivores), and our bodies want that meat to be cooked.  Raw food provides less caloric energy, and our bodies need that energy.  Studies on modern women on raw diets show that they often miss their menstrual periods because of lack of energy (per Scientific America)
  • Mediterranean: Eat like the Mediterraneans do - specifically a diet rich in plant foods and healthy fats.  Fruits and vegetables should be seasonal, unprocessed, and simply prepared.  Meats are minimal.  But, this isn't just a diet.  It's a lifestyle.  You also have to eat slowly, exercise regularly, and possibly have good Mediterranean genes.  I would say this is the closest to what I try to do, and I'm part Italian so I guess I've got that going for me too.
  • The Biggest Looser: For those of us who like our diets "As Seen on TV."  I'm opposed to The Biggest Looser on principle.  That show does not promote good body image or healthy lifestyle changes.  It promotes watching a bunch of fat people fall off treadmills and cry.  I also don't plan on getting my singing lessons from the American Idol judges anytime soon.
Web MD (which is my third biggest source of information on all things medical - right behind my best friend who is a veterinarian and Gray's Anatomy) gives a list of 100 diets for you to chose from.  My favorites included:
  • The Baby Food Diet: You get to eat 14 jars of baby food throughout the day, with an option to have a healthy adult meal at dinner.  I happen to have had major reconstructive jaw surgery a few years back, and I was required to be on this diet for about two months.  You lose weight.  You also loose the ability to have a good morning poop.  Not a good trade.
  • The Carb Lovers Diet: YES!  This one is for me, right?  According to the diet, carbs are the preferred choice of fuel for our body, and "adding the right carbs back into your diet may be exactly what you need to feel full, increase energy, and lose weight."  Sweet!  But what's this?  "About a quarter of each meal should come from a carb star.  The rest should be lean meat, low fat dairy, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables."  Okay... I can deal with that.  But they go on: "Once weekly, you can have a treat of chocolate, apple pie, two light beers, or two glasses of wine."  OR?  ONCE WEEKLY?  F you, Carb Lovers Diet.  
  • The Cookie Diet: Buy their cookies.  Eat their cookies.  For breakfast and lunch.  Then buy and eat one of their frozen meals for dinner.  Follow it strictly and you will lose weight - because you only get 800-1200 calories per day.  You will also loose weight in your wallet.
  • The Hormone Diet: Start with a two week detox where you are only allowed to eat gluten-free grains, whole raw vegetables (excluding corn), whole raw fruits (except citrus), nuts, seeds, fish, feta and goat cheese, olive, avocado, flaxseed and canola oils, eggs, nondairy milk, and soy products.  Which confuses me because it started out by saying "in step one the highest allergenic, inflammatory, or migraine causing foods are removed from the diet."  I would have assumed that "highest allergenic foods" would include nuts, soy, and dairy...  Anyway, I'm basically pissed that the hormone diet says anything other than: Eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's, and cry.
  • This Is Why You're Fat: No, really, that's the name of this diet.  In addition to having the best name ever, this diet also allows me to quote Admiral Ackbar: 

You start out eating normal PLUS 2-3 cups vegetables, 1 cup oatmeal, two whole fruits, 8 oz whey protein shake, 2-3 liters lemon water, and 2 cups herbal tea.  But then, after two weeks, they take everything else away from you, and you JUST get those things, plus two eggs, 8 oz lean meat, and 1 cup whole grains.  And alcohol is 100% off the menu.  Bastards.

Anyway, my point is, it's not about some fancy diet with a fancy name.  Like everything, eating is about moderation.  Here's the Kate Diet:  "Don't Eat Crap."  I like to pair it with my exercise plan: "Go Do Something." 

Oh!  I'm going to be presenting at the South Shore Farmer's Market on August 18th.  I'm going to have to promote that better than at the bottom of a very long post about nothing.  Come check me out!

Also, I was just texting a friend, and my phone (multiple times) tried to autocorrect "beer" to "beet."  I might be the worst Sconnie ever.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Return... Not Necessarily Triumphant

I've been absent for awhile.  And I don't just mean since my last blog post, but since I was really here, engaged, inspired.  There have been a lot of things going on: busyness at work, school taking my time, and a little bit of soul crushing depression.  But I would be passing the buck if I blamed my absence on any of those things.  No, none of that is the problem.  Something has been missing.  Inspiration.  What am I here to say?

I watch a lot of Food Network, and right now the big show is Next Food Network Star.  Each time I sit down to write, I hear Alton Brown's voice in my head asking "What is your POV?"

Great question, voices inside my head.  What is my Point of View?  What makes me special?  What do I have to offer?  Why should you read my blog over any of the other thousands of food blog choices that you have available to you?  Yeah, I'm a locavore, but frankly that's less interesting to me than those people who make everything out of bacon.  I mean, being a locavore is awesome, but I can't keep saying it over and over without getting preachy and/or boring.  I thought, for a few weeks there, that I was going to buy a farm.  That would have been fun.  Then "Home Grown, Home Made" could have been more than just a good tag line.  But, after a faulty basement to snap me back into reality, and some serious conversation, I think I've got other things I need to do before a farm can happen.

So, what do I have?  What is my Point of View?

The answer actually came to me in my other, other job.  When I'm not here, and when I'm not at my "real" job, and when I'm not in school, I'm a teacher.  And I'm a really good teacher.  But that's not my POV either.  Here's what happened:

I was teaching a class on how to be a successful college student, and it was made very clear to me that I couldn't let the students go early because they needed so many hours in the classrom for accreditation.  This was my first time teaching the course, and I guess I underestimated how long things would take, because, on the last day, there were two full hours and absolutely no content left.

And that was when it hit me: I'm a good teacher, I'm a good cook, I'm a good gardener, I'm a good advocate.

But I'm an excellent bull-shitter.

You want to talk about nothing?  I'll talk to you about nothing.  You want to talk about something I know nothing about?  I'll talk to you about that too.  One thing that annoys my husband about me is that I will answer questions that I don't know the answer to.  Not big important questions, not meaning of life questions, or which exit do I take, or is this fish still good questions, but the type of question that you can usually just reason your way through:

Him: Where did you learn that?
Me: I didn't.  But it makes sense, right?

He's actually taking to asking me: "Is that true, or are you just assuming?"  9 out of 10 times I'm assuming, but 7 of those 9 times I'm also right.

Bullshitting, and being able to make (marginally accurate) shit up, is a fairly useful skill to have.  Not all the time, of course, and I hope that I'm not coming off as an enormous d-bag right now.  I'm not talking about the kind of BSing that belittles people, hurts their feelings, or gets someone hurt.  I'm just talking about a little mental improvisation.  For instance, back to my classroom example, I played Joss Whedon's Weslean University commencement address and, in the 13 minutes that it played, I figured out how it related to the class.

BSing is also a very important skill to have in the kitchen.

When people tell me that they don't cook, it's often because it's too expensive.  This makes almost no sense to me - eating out is what's expensive.  It was this Oatmeal comic that helped push me, again, towards finding this particular POV.  If you're not reading The Oatmeal, you probably should be.

Cooking is absolutely expensive if that's how you do it - if you  go out and buy the  ten or more expensive ingredients you need for that one recipe, in much greater quantities than you need, and then let the remainder sit in your refrigerator or on your shelf until they rot. Statistics say that Americans throw out half of the food they come in contact with, and that the average family of four throws away $2275 each year in wasted food. 

So you've basically got three choices: eat out every meal, figure out how to use up what you've got left after making your recipe, or figure out how to make that recipe with what you've already got. 

And that, my friends, is my new POV.  Not the first, the second two!  How to BS your refrigerator to make what you want and use what you've got.  Because, if you can do that, cooking becomes a lot easier, a lot cheaper, and eating locally is just a matter of where you shop. 

Here's a recipe that I BSed a few months ago, and that I promised a friend I would post for him. I had three goals in this recipe:

-use up as much in my freezer as possible,
- get as many vegetables on the dinner table as possible (which, honestly, is the hardest part of being a WI locavore in the winter and early spring), and 
-serve beets to people who I suspected didn't eat beets because I'm kind of an ass like that; I think making people eat and like a stereotypically hated food is fun. 

My favorite part about this was that it died the pasta pink.
And everything is better pink!
Super Beet Pasta

  • 1 lb pasta (your choice of what kind. Preferably something textured like rotini or bow-tie, but a spaghetti, fettuccine, etc would also work.)
  • 2 lb beets, roasted (I used beets that I had roasted and frozen in the fall. You could really use any kind of vegetable you wanted here, or a combination I vegetables, but that would mean changing the name. Cook the vegetables first to your preferred doneness. You'll be cooking the final pasta just briefly, so of it's something you don't want to overcook you may want to under-cook it slightly. )
  • 8 oz beet greens (I again used frozen greens here. You could really use any type of hardy green here, but I was going for a theme with the original recipe.)
  • 1/2 cup beet green pesto (or any kind of pesto you want. If you want to make beet green pesto, use my base pesto recipe here and substitute beet greens for the basil. 
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese (or whatever kind of cheese you like in your pasta)
  • Salt and pepper as needed

Cook the pasta according to package directions until it is just under-done. Drain and rinse.

While the pasta is cooking, thinly slice the beet greens and then drop them in boiling water for about a minute. Drain, then transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. (Because I was using frozen greens, which were already cooked, I skipped this step and just sliced the greens thinly.). Cut the beets into bite sized cubes. Combine pasta, beets, greens, pesto, and 1/2 of cheese and toss until well combined. Top with remaining cheese and bake in a 375 degree oven until heated through and cheese is melty. 

There's not a lot to this dish, so it's flavor really depends on what you're putting into it. Make sure the pasta water is well salted, and that the pesto is flavorful and well balanced. Taste it before it goes into the oven, and add salt and pepper as needed. Make sure you're taking the saltiness of your cheese into account when you're tasting. 

As with most pasta, you can really add anything you want to this. Mushrooms would be a nice addition if you had some. You could also add a splash of heavy cream, or some tomato sauce. 

So that's it. Pasta is pretty easy to BS, which is why you'll see it so often on chopped. I love comments, so if you have any questions please ask them below. 

Monday, April 29, 2013


This is, in all honesty, the fifth "spring has finally arrived in Wisconsin" post that I have attempted.  I'm a little hesitant to try writing one again.  The last four were typed, ready to go, just needing a few finishing touches in the morning...  and in the morning it was snowing.  Snowing a lot.  Not just in the air snowing, either.  Actual sticking to the ground snowing.

And I just don't have time for that shit.

But, I think we might finally be safe.  It was nice all weekend, and the 10 day forecast doesn't show it dropping any lower than 40 at night.  I'm actually letting the seeds sit out overnight tonight.  I spent all day Sunday in the garden, and I've got most of my seeds planted.

There is something about planting seeds that speaks to me like very little else.  They're like magic.  Seeds, compost, maybe making bread...  All three feel a little bit like making something about what appears to be almost nothing.  (In reality, though, I recognize that it's not almost nothing, mostly because I have a compulsive seed buying problem.  I tried really hard not to spend any money on seeds this year, and I bought at least 15 packages.  I don't have room for 15 kinds of produce in my garden...  I did a Google search on "seed buying compulsion" and there's no official term that I can find in the first page of results, but I did learn that brain scans on squirrels show activity in the same areas of the brain as human hoarders... so there's that.)  I've got my balcony mostly planned out, although there's probably more planned to go out there than can fit.  I'm thinking this year I will plant my squashes and pumpkins on the balcony and let them vine onto the railings.  Last year they went up and over the fence into the neighbor's yard and I had to climb up and over to get them.  I got bruises on my arms and ribs, and scrapes up and down my arms, and this year they have a new rottweiler puppy over there, so I'm pretty sure that's a terrible plan.  We'll see if pumpkins story high fair any better.

We are currently in the final week of the worst three weeks in the WI locavore year, and my mind has turned very strongly to fresh food.  We are in the weeks after the Winter Farmer's Market ends, and before the West Allis Farmer's Market begins, where I'm left with what I've got canned and frozen, and the lettuce and celery root that they're selling at Outpost.  I suppose if you lived in Madison you'd be fine... their farmer's market started last week.  Stupid jerks in Madison thinking they're so fancy.

Let me take a quick digression to say that most of my interest in growing food (and slight but certainly not TV show worthy compulsive seed buying tendencies...) comes from being scarred as a child by The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  For those of you who memorize kids books, that's the one where it snows for like five years and Laura and Mary almost walk out into the prairie because they can't see, and everyone almost starves to death before Pa goes and steals the seed wheat from in between Almanzon Wilder's walls, where he hid it, so Ma can make some super crappy bread out of it.

Moral of the story - hide some damn seed in between your walls or you will starve to death!!!

Now, I have heard some question about whether or not all the stories in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books are true.  I will acknowledge, perhaps, that this may have not actually happened, and, perhaps, that I will not starve to death if I don't hide seed between my walls.  I don't think you can prove it didn't happen, and the number one thing keeping me from hiding seeds in my walls is the fact that I'm pretty sure squirrels already live in there - and any type of grain would probably increase that problem.  But I can imagine, at this time of year, when nothing has started to grow and the canned foods are starting to run low, being in a situation where one could eat just about anything.  If there was no grocery store, today would be the day that I would start looking longingly about the yard for anything I could possibly put into my belly.

And there we have it, my friends, is how this random nonsense will transition into my annual "eat dandelions" post.  

I've said it before, dandelions are delicious.  They are just starting to come up in my yard, so I have not had the opportunity to make any recipes with them.  This is a good thing, because the dandelion season is very short!  I'm giving you the recipes now, so you can start planning your meals ahead of time.  In a week or so, the dandelions will be up and leafy, but not yet blooming.  That's when you want to get them.  Once they start to bloom, the leafs get bitter and far less delicious.  You can, of course, eat the flowers as well.

I hear too many complaints from my friends that eating locally/organic/healthy is too expensive.  To that I say, make some dandelions or don't talk to me about it anymore.  You want to complain about the prices of organic food, then eat the free stuff.  It doesn't even take that much energy.  Go out to your yard, and pull up some weeds.  You're probably going to do it anyway, so you might as well eat them.  (Okay, if you don't have a yard, you're off the hook.  I don't want you eating any lawn that you don't know what kind of pesticides have been sprayed on.  If you would like to come over to my yard and weed/eat, you are more than welcome!)  I saw dandelion greens at Whole Foods this weekend for $5.99 a bunch. That's expensive.  We're in a recession here, people... I think.  Is that over yet?  Anyway, times are tough, and I'm sure each person reading this has, at one point in the past week, thought "gee, I should probably save some money somehow."  Well save money by not buying food and eating the food that's there and has always been there.  Try it this year.  I dare you!  I think you might actually like it.  Let me know!

You can use dandelion leaves anywhere you would use any other bitter green - in place of kale, or maybe spinach (especially if the greens are very young.)  They're great in a salad or on a sandwich in place of salad.  

Here are a few of my previous dandelion recipes.

This year, I'm thinking about making dandelion jelly.  I'll report back on that one.

Happy spring!  Enjoy it while it lasts.  Spring is very short lived in Wisconsin!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Live Worms and Tube Grubs

I turned 31 two weeks ago.  That's right, I'm old.  I'm absolutely not one of those people who is ashamed of admitting their age.  It's probably because, for most of my life, people have basically thought I was 5+ younger than I actually was.  It's a blessing, or so I've been told, but up until two years ago I was still getting carded at our local mall.  You have to be 17 to be there without adult supervision.  It's cool when your 30 and people think your 25.  It's not cool when your 30 and people think your 13.

(Sidebar: my dad is one of those people who is ashamed of telling his real age - although I'm sure those aren't the words he'd use.  If you know him, ask him.  He'll tell you he's 39.  From my perspective, if I'm 31 and he's 39, it's starting to get awkward. 

So to celebrate my 31st birthday, and to celebrate this summer's upcoming blockbuster release, I sat down and watched all eleven Star Trek movies.  I promise you, people think I'm five years younger than I am because of my youthful good looks - not because of my maturity level. 

I could go into my opinion of all the movies (Search for Spock and Insurrection are underrated.  Nemesis is overrated - which is hard, because I'm pretty sure it's been described as the worst movie of all time... by me... just a few weekends ago) but I am not a movie reviewer.  If you'd like to read a good movie review, please check out The Mundane Adventures of a Fan Girl.  It's worth your attention.  Seriously, I know you're just wasting time at work anyway.

I'm good at a few things: making pasta, gardening, talking myself into an extra dessert... and theme parties.

Theme parties are my jam.

So, as a huge nerd throwing a big nerdy party, you'd better believe that I made some nerdy food to go along with it.  I have been watching Star Trek since as long as I can remember, and while I never directly thought "hmm... that gagh looks delicious," once I realized this was going to be a themed food party, my mind started racing.

 (For those of you who don't know, Gagh: 

For those of you who do know, I apologize for the fact that Dr. Pulaski was in that video, and for the fact that the Gagh in this video does not appear to be fresh.)

I do actually own the official Star Trek Cookbook, and that is where I went first, but as is the case all too often with my extensive collection of cookbooks, I just couldn't find what I was looking for.  Honestly, I'm pretty sure the Star Trek Cookbook was written by TV Producers and not chefs.

Here's what I ended up with:

  • Gagh (Beet Risotto with Squid)
  • Klingon Blood Wine (Cranberry and Blood Orange Sangria) and Romulan Ale (It's illegal - thanks Chris!)

  • Klingon Blood Pie (Cherry Pie - Thanks D!)

  • Ferengi Tube Grubs (Cheesy Orzo with tomatoes and zucchini)

  • Cardassian Vole Belly Sandwiches (Italian Beef Sandwiches)
  • Build your own Bajoran Hasparat (Veggie Wraps)
  • Vulcan Plomeek Soup (Veggie Soup)

Everything turned out pretty well.  The tube grubs were probably my least favorite (Orzo is  not a good vessel for mac and cheese) but it looked right so that's important.  The gagh was my most favorite.  It looked right and tasted great.  Okay, so it didn't move... but I think it was the next best thing.

Here are my recipes.  Feel free to use them the next time YOU sit down to watch all the Star Trek movies in order.  Into Darkness comes out on May 17th, and I will be there at the Midnight showing!  In costume?  Who knows...

Thanks to everyone who came over to celebrate with me.  It really meant a lot!  To those of you who had something better to do, I totally get it.  To those of you who RSVP'd yes but didn't show, remember - revenge is a dish best served cold!!


  • 1 lb cleaned squid - as many legs as possible
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Pinch of dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup minced onions or shallots
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large beets, fully cooked and cut into small cubes
  • 5 1/2 cups fish or vegetable stock
  • 1 1/4 cups Arborio rice (8 oz)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Wash squid and pat it dry.  If you purchased any bodies (why?) cut them lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips and quarter tentacles lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook oregano, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squid strips and tentacles and sauté, stirring constantly, until opaque and curled, about 1 minute. (Do not overcook, or squid will toughen.) Transfer to a sieve set over a bowl to catch juices squid releases. 

Combine squid juices from bowl with fish stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and keep at a bare simmer. 

Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onions and remaining garlic, stirring frequently, until pale golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add wine and beets and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Stir in 1 cup simmering broth mixture and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue cooking at a strong simmer and adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender but still al dente and creamy looking, 18 to 20 minutes total. (There may be broth left over.)
Stir in squid and parsley and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Ferengi Tube Grubs
  • 1/2 pound orzo (about 1 1/8 cups)
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium zucchini, grated (about 3 cups)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 pint jar diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 or 2 large garlic cloves (to taste), minced
  • 2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil, and add the orzo. Cook eight minutes, or until it is cooked through but still firm to the bite. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with the diced roasted pepper and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking dish. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, wide skillet. Add the zucchini and cook until the water evaporates and the zucchini starts to brown slightly.

Add the final tablespoon of oil and the garlic. Cook just until fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds, and add the tomatoes and salt to taste. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and smell fragrant. Taste and adjust seasoning. Scrape into the bowl with the orzo, add the Parmesan or goat cheese, and mix everything together. Add freshly ground pepper to taste, and adjust salt. Transfer to the baking dish.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is just beginning to color. Serve hot or warm.
Vulcan Plomeek Soup
This, by the way, was about 100 times better than a regular butternut squash soup, or a regular tomato soup.  Not sure why the combination worked out to be so very good, but it was just absolutely amazing.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 head garlic 
  • 2 cups butternut squash puree (or any other winter squash)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger (I'm far too lazy to ever peel ginger, and I have no idea why recipes call for that!)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 quart jar whole peeled tomatoes and juice
  • 1 1/2 cups cups vegetable broth
  • 1 large bunch kale 
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°.  Cut the top off of the garlic, and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil.  Drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over the top and season with salt and pepper.  Tightly close the aluminum around the garlic, and bake until soft.  Allow to cool.  Once cool, you can pinch the base of each clove, and the roasted garlic will pop right out.

Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, 2 tsp. salt, and turmeric. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squash puree and garlic cloves and stir to coat. Add tomatoes and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to allow flavors to meld, about 20 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, purée soup until smooth.   Add Kale, and cook an additional 20 minutes, or until kale is soft.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy Spring!

And she's back!

Okay, so maybe I've been gone for two plus months...

No, I haven't starved to death...

There have been a few things going on.  I've been busy.  Work has been rough.  It's been winter.  There was probably some SADD going on.

But mostly, I was uninspired.  Frankly, I've been uninspired for a while.  I eat local.  I love it and I want to share. But I don't have an exciting story and an exciting recipe for every day of the week.  Or sometimes even every day of the month.  And, frankly, I have a hard time believing that anyone really wants to read my recipes every day.  Maybe that's the low self esteem/SADD taking over, but at the best it seems pretentious, and at the worst it seems boring as hell.  Maybe I'm wrong, but if I'm being completely honest here, I hardly ever follow a recipe anyway.  And then I'm left two days later, writing my blog, and trying to piece together what I made from the picture.  If I remembered to take a picture.  And how much garlic did I put in those potatoes?

But that's not the main reason that I'm uninspired, either.  I want to write an interesting blog that people want to read.  One of my many degrees is in Advertising/PR.  I want to be marketable.  But in an attempt to be marketable, I feel like I have backed myself into a corner that I just don't want to be in.

See, the one thing I keep hearing from my friends is that eating local - or even just eating healthy - is too hard.  It takes too much time.  It's inconvenient.  And I don't agree.  I want to show people that it's not hard, and that it doesn't take to much time, and that it's not inconvenient.  Because I'm a teacher, and I want to teach people to be able to cook for themselves.  Because when you cook for yourself, it's better.

But here's the thing:  It is hard.  It does take time.  And it is inconvenient.

Food should be inconvenient.  

If it's not inconvenient, I would argue that it's probably not food.  It might be edible, but it's probably not food.

Food shouldn't be convenient.  Think about it historically.  Just over 100 years ago, pretty much everyone was working hard just to get enough food to live.  All day.  Every day.  That was your job.  Find food.

Think about all the health issues this country suffers from: high blood pressure, hypertension, obesity, diabetes... Why?  Because food is too convenient.  Or more specifically, because edible non-food is so convenient.

I can hear the outrage already - you know who you are and frankly I don't care.  Who the hell am I to say that food is convenient when there are so many people in our country and in our world who don't have enough food?  When have I ever been hungry?  You're right.  I haven't.  I don't know.  Sure, there were those two years when I chose to be hungry - but that just adds insult to injury, doesn't it?  I mean, there aren't a lot of eating disorders when food is really scarce, are there?

But when we talk about food deserts (those places in the city where grocery stores have been replaced by "foods" stores and other small corner markets), we're talking about grocery stores.  "Food deserts" generally are full of fast food restaurant and processed foods, and, really, what is more convenient than that.  Poverty is a terrible issue, and it definitely affects eating habits in our country and beyond, but it is not the issue I'm going to talk about here.  It doesn't mean that I don't care.  It doesn't mean that I don't recognize that some people simply cannot afford to eat in the way I recommend.  But, when that person does get something to eat, what is it?  Is it healthy selection of food?  Or is it a selection of processed, canned, or "instant" non food?  Whether or not a person can afford it, food desert or organic grocery store, the convenient, edible non-food items are there.  They're everywhere, they're far easier to find than food, and they're NOT food.  And you shouldn't be eating something that's not food.

And, I guess, that's what I want to talk about.  I don't want to tell you why it's easy.  I want to tell you why it shouldn't be.

So it's spring, and it's my birthday.  And spring is the season of re-birth.  Two springs ago, I became a locavore.  Last spring, I wondered what that meant in a sustainable sense, and I floundered.  I couldn't answer that question.  This spring, I say I don't care.  I say this blog is for me, and maybe I don't care if that means it's not marketable, and if that means I'm never going to get my own movie, TV, or cookbook deal.  Maybe I just got a bit more ranty, but that's okay.  I want to talk about healthy, delicious, happy, wonderful, INCONVENIENT food.

And I feel a bit more inspired about it.

Happy Spring!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Cold Morning

January is National Oatmeal Month, which is nice for a few reasons:

Oatmeal is hot, and January is cold.  Fact.

Oatmeal is cheap, and December is expensive.  I bought a 5 lb bag of organic steel cut oats from Outpost for $4.95.  I'm going to round that up to $5 for the sake of math.  A cup of oatmeal weighs 6.5 oz.  I'm going to round that up to 8 oz for the sake of math, and for the sake of "A Pint's a pound the world around!"  A cup of oatmeal makes enough to feed Jeff and me for 4 days.  So that means... crap... word problem...

Not kidding. I don't do
mental math...
(...just a few minutes and one scribbled notepad later...)

40 days.  Two people, 40 days of oatmeal, $5.  Which is 6 cents per person per serving.  I think.  Someone should probably check that, though.

Eating oatmeal is good for you.  It may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, it may reduce the risk of diabetes, and the soluble fiber helps you feel full longer, which can help you lose weight.  (All from a "reliable" source, of course!)  January, for many people, is about setting resolutions to be healthy.

So I'm ready to celebrate National Oatmeal Month.  Which I'm sure my mom is very secretly (or possibly not secretly - she's fairly good at gloating) pleased about.  You see, I've spent about the past 31 years actively fighting eating oatmeal that didn't come in a single serve package with a terrifying white powder.  (The second ingredient in that stuff is sugar...)  And here's why:

Oatmeal is hot and January is cold.  Fact.  But bacon is hot too.

Oatmeal is cheap, which is generally food code for "nasty."

Oatmeal is good for you, which is also generally food code for "nasty.

But I made a discovery about oatmeal, which I believe I've discussed previously, in that I like steel cut oats, slow cooked overnight in the crock pot.  This is a great speed meal, because it takes just a few minutes to assemble the ingredients before bed, and then it's ready when you wake up in the morning.  It's also a good budget meal, because (see above on oatmeal math) you can just throw in whatever fruit you have around in the house.  Especially if it's a little bit past it's eating point.

This week, Applesauce Oatmeal

Before bed.
  • 1 cup steel cut oats (they have to be steel cut for this to work.  Rolled oats will not be okay!)
  • 3 apples, diced
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg 
  • 1 pinch orange zest (dried or fresh)
  • drizzle molasses 
  •  1 pint applesauce
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
Combine all ingredients in a crock pot. Stir to combine.  Cook on low for 9 hours.

So the applesauce here was actually a last minute addition.  I had it going for about an hour, and as I was going to bed I walked past my pantry where last year's canning jars are still sitting and remembered that I still had a jar of applesauce.  Why not throw that it, I thought?

You probably could do without all the additional spices, if you were using a well spiced applesauce.  Or you could leave the recipe just the way it is, because it was pretty fantastic!  It was a little bit loser than my oatmeal usually comes out, because of the extra liquid of the applesauce, which I didn't mind at all.  I also liked that it was extra apple-y throughout, not just in the bites that had chunks of apples.  You might not think it, but the apples do actually keep their shape and a little bit of crunch, even after being cooked for nine hours.  I believe that the apples I had were good baking apples, which I'm sure made a difference.

In the morning.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

So my New Year's Resolution is to remove Genetically Modified foods from my household pantry.  So far, I am off to a TERRIBLE start.  I started off 2013 with some sort of stomach bug, and all I could handle were GMO filled Saltine Crackers and GMO packed Popsicles.  But that's the good thing about New Years Resolutions, right?  You've got a full year to work on them!

(Other resolutions include waking up earlier, and fitting into a dress I found in the attic that I'm pretty sure was my grandma's - although that second one is going to be achieved by altering the dress, not altering me!)

I also recently heard a few rounds on Facebook of "eating healthily/locally/organically/sustainably/etc (not saying those are all the same thing) is just too hard/too expensive/takes too much time.  I am reinvigorated about proving that to be false! 

So, tonight's dinner, while not fancy, will fit those needs.

I do need to say that this is not Rachel's 30 minute meals (but to be fair, those aren't really 30 minute meals either!)  To me, "fast" doesn't necessarily refer to the cooking time - just to the prep time.  This one took me 16 minutes to peel and cut the vegetables, and in the 60 minutes it took to cook after that, I did a load of laundry, straightened the house and (how bout that!) typed the first half of this blog post.  You could even chop all the vegetables in the morning (if you're the kind of person who has that kind of time in the morning) so all you had to do was put them in the oven once you got home.

If you are afraid of beets, please don't be.  This was sweet and earthy, and would be a great dinner even if you weren't a little bit afraid of solid food.  Carrots and beets are still available at the farmer's market, and are generally pretty cheap.  I served this with a salad of winter greens and some leftover rice and vegetables from New Years Eve.

Roasted Beet, Carrot, and Ginger Soup
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and diced into about 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lb beets, peeled and diced into about 1 inch pieces
  • 2 large shallots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 or more cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 inch ginger root, cut into thin slices
  • 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or water
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • sour cream
Toss first eight ingredients, and bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes, until golden and caramelized.

Transfer the caramelized vegetables to a soup pan and pour in the stock or water, Worcestershire, and allspice .  Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then puree using an immersion blender or by transferring in small batches to a blender or food processor.  Taste, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Now, normally when reading this recipe, I would think "what poor sap is using water instead of stock?"  But today, I was that poor sap.  I messed up my last batch of chicken stock and don't have any currently (by messed up, I mean left on the stove waiting for it to cool enough to go into the fridge - overnight.  Gross.)  It still had a lot of flavor, but I do feel that it missed something in the mouth-feel department without the silkiness of chicken stock.  Do wait until after you have pureed the vegetables to adjust the seasoning, because adding the vegetables in adds so much flavor.

I thought this was perfect with just a dollop of sour cream, but Jeff felt in needed a little meat and added three leftover shrimp from New Years Eve.  If you were in a meat mood, I think that you could really use anything in this.  Some spicy shrimp or crab, or a little bit of peppered steak.  When you're working with a budget, it's not about cutting out the expensive ingredients, it's about using them sparingly and in the right places.