Thursday, October 30, 2008

Preserving the Harvest: Freezing Apples

In addition to the Ida Reds we gathered on our trip to Barthel's orchard, we were the recipients of a bag filled with apples that my parents gathered on their property.

The apple tree that bore the apples has been around for as long as I can remember. It grows alongside the drive that leads to my parents house, unincumbered in almost every way by humanity. Organic as can be, the apple harvest is entirely dependent upon the kindness of the weather and the serendipity of finding the apples before they're eaten by the deer.

Most years, the apples are small and severely marred. This year, while they weren't the prettiest, the apples were of a good size. Their flavor profile is sweet, and the flesh more firm than mealy. But, I knew they weren't built to be stored. So, I decided to freeze what I could. After all, this will extend our ability to eat locally grown apples into the winter months.

Peef set to work peeling and slicing the apples. When they were adequately trimmed, we sent them swimming in a bowl of salted water to inhibit the inevitable browning process.
After draining the apples, we tossed them with a bit of sugar (which extends the life of dry-packed apples in the freezer by a few months)...... and we packed them into bags.
If you think that's the end of the line, you're mistaken. In fact, the fun part still remains!
Peef is entreated to suck ALL the air out of the bags. Yeah, yeah -- we've tried the gadgets that profess to do this job more quickly and efficiently. But, we always seem to return to the basics. Plus, he's so CUTE!
Once all the air is sucked from the bags, we tuck the apples into our chest freezer for a long winter's nap. I'll retrieve them long after local apples have departed from the grocery shelves and the farmer's market has long since closed.

We're fans of cobblers and crisps, so we're likely to use these apples for that purpose. But, they'll also be fine candidates for pies, cakes, or apple sauce. YUM.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One of Our Favorite Things: Apple Picking in Autumn

Nothing says autumn like a trip to the apple orchard in October!
It's an annual tradition for us to go apple picking in mid-October, and this year was no exception.
We're particularly fond of our friends at Barthel Fruit Farm in Mequon, WI. While not an organic orchard, Barthel's practices integrated pest management (IPM), a growing technique that minimizes the impact on the environment by cutting pesticide use by 50-70%. More information on IPM.
On this particular day, they were picking Golden Delicious, Courtlands, and Ida Reds. We went for the Ida Reds -- which are great apples for storage. And they're good for both baking and eating out of hand.
First, we surveyed the rows and rows of apples.
The day was positively gorgeous -- mostly sunny with temperatures in the 60's. And the apples were ripe for the picking.Most were just within reach.
And some were still covered in the morning's dew.
Before we knew it, our bag was filling up.
Here's Peef bringing back a load from one of the trees.
Ultimately, we picked about a 1/2 bushel of apples, which could get us easily into January.

And, of course, everyone loves a happy ending!
Want more? See more (and sillier) photos over at News From Peef & Lo.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup with Beer and Cheese

It's only appropriate that bloggers from Wisconsin would eventually blog about beer cheese soup, right? But, you might not expect us to add butternut squash to the list of ingredients.
But, you know us. We like sneaking vegetables in anywhere we can. We also love a nice, hot bowl of soup on a chilly autumn evening... and everything is better with a bit of beer and cheese in it, right?

This particular soup is also easy enough to crank out on a weeknight. Doing a bit of chopping ahead of time could also speed up the process.

You start off by peeling and dicing a nice sized butternut squash.
And dicing a bit of cheese. In this particular case, we opted for a nice, aged gouda that we found at the farmer's market.
Sautee some onions and garlic in a bit of butter and olive oil.
Then, add the squash along with some chicken (or veggie) broth. And bring everything to a boil.
After simmering the soup until the squash is nice and tender, it's time to puree it. You can do this in batches in a blender. Or just get out your handy-dandy immersion blender (which is an indispensable tool in our kitchen).
Once everything is nicely homogenized, you can whisk in some of that gorgeous cheese... and then you'll pour in the beer (to taste).
Serve with a few chopped scallions.

You can bump things up a notch by plating the soup a bit better, and adding a whorl of cream.
But, we weren't being quite that fussy on this particular night.

We enjoyed this week's batch of soup with a side of apple-kraut quesadillas (actually minus the kraut, since we didn't have any local kraut on hand).

If you're an exacting sort, here are the proportions:
Butternut Squash Soup with Beer and Cheese

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something I read today: So Long Mystery Meat...

I love it.
I read today on SF Gate that UC-Berkley is taking steps to ensure that their students not only EAT better, but also experience new foods. And local foods!

Today, students and faculty on the university meal plan can enjoy, every day, a
regional Indian meal devised by Manhattan star chef Suvir Saran, Vietnamese pho
and noodle salads from recipes developed by Sacramento restaurateur Mai Pham,
and vegetarian dishes conceived by best-selling Bay Area cookbook author Mollie
Katzen. Deborah Madison, the former Greens chef and cookbook author, helps the
food service staff source produce from local farms.

And I couldn't be more excited.
I remember the days of eating at the college cafeteria. And I know the effect it had on my habits and my waistline. I was privileged to have attended an institution that did offer a variety of vegetarian/vegan options, so I found myself inclined toward vegetable options. But, I remember eating my share of french fries.

I would have relished the thought of na'an at lunch... so, I think this idea is beyond stellar.

Read more!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Happy Thing: Locally Milled Grains

**1/14/10 Update: Great River Organic Milling products now available at  (Keyword Great River Organic Milling) **

I have to admit, I entered the month-long local eating challenge with a bit of trepidation. Sure, we'd done great during the Milwaukee challenge... but, that challenge was only two weeks long. And there was at least one product that I was a bit concerned about -- flour. I didn't include flour (or cornmeal) among our exclusions for the challenge -- mainly because I was determined to find local sources for both products. But, I wasn't altogether certain that I'd meet with success. I cannot tell you how incredibly excited I was to happen upon two fantastic products from Great River Organic Milling in Fountain City, Wisconsin. Our local co-op carries both their whole wheat pastry flour as well as their stone-ground corn meal -- both items that I was running low on, and that I hoped to find a local source for. The first thing I noted about the flour when I opened the bag was the incredible smell that wafted out. Never before have I smelled flour that gave off such an essence of wheat. The same experience greeted me as I opened the bag of corn meal. This stone-ground meal was soft and fine -- which a distinctive corn aroma. The down side of the Great River products is that they cost at LEAST double the price that I'm used to shelling out for flour and cornmeal. But, it feels good to know that (right now at least) I have the money to put toward supporting a local milling company that seems to produce a great product. As I was packing the grains up into jars for storage in the fridge, I found myself getting oddly giddy over the idea of baking. And seriously encouraged about our local eating prospects.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pumpkin Pancakes with Crab Apple Compote

Full disclosure before I begin: A picture cannot lie. And we cannot claim to be perfect. This recipe utilised a can of pumpkin that has been hiding in my pantry since last winter. Since I doubt Libby's brand pumpkin is grown, pureed, or canned locally, we must disclose that this meal does not meet the qualifications for being entirely local. We apologise to the purists.

The truth is, it was a lovely autumn morning. And I was craving pumpkin pancakes. Since I didn't have a local pumpkin on hand to roast and puree, I scanned the pantry shelves for the next best thing. And I found it.

We mixed up a nice whole grain pancake batter -- and added a few scoops of the pumpkin puree.
When I poked around in the fridge to make sure we had syrup for the pancakes, I also came across a handful of heirloom apples (and crab apples) from one of our latest CSA boxes. So, I decided to make use of those as well. I set Peef to work chopping up the apples, while I put some butter on the stove to melt.
When the apples were chopped, we added them to the pan with the butter and a sprinkling of sugar and a bit of cinnamon. They caramelized nicely, and filled the room with the smell of a nice, tart, apple pie.While I fiddled with the apples, Peef was making up a whole batch of pumpkin pancakes.
When I saw that he was getting close to finishing up, I grabbed one of those steaming flap jacks and tossed it onto a warm plate with a pat of butter and a drizzle of pure maple syrup.
When the butter is getting melty, I added a bit of the apple compote...
On second thought, I added another pancake, and a dash of cinnamon.Now, that was more like it. We settled in happily with our pumpkin pancakes and freshly brewed cups of coffee. And suddenly it felt just the way autumn was supposed to feel. Warm. Snuggly. And just about perfect.

Make up some of those pumpkin pancakes for yourself (use local pumpkin, if you can):
Whole Grain Pumpkin Pancakes

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Our Latest Local Find: Scorzonera

I've been wanting to try black salsify (also called scorzonera) for quite a long time. I'd read about it; but, I could never seem to find it locally. Fortunately for me, the folks over at LotFotL decided to grow it and tuck it into our weekly CSA share. I really could have hugged them!

These long, black-skinned roots look like sticks. They don't look terribly edible. In fact, often they're slimy on the outside, with an only slightly more attractive creamy-colored interior. I've always heard that the name for scorzonera comes from the Italian words "scorza" (bark) and "nera" (black). But, I heard someone suggest recently that the name originates from the Spanish "scurzo," which is the term for a venomous toad or lizard. I won't argue with the latter since I know that, in ancient times, it was often known as "viper’s grass" for its supposed ability to fight venom.

Since this vegetable was new to the both of us, we decided on a simple preparation -- roasted with a bit of butter, and tossed with a local Wisconsin parmesan cheese. Seemed like it would showcase the roots nicely -- and it really did. I read somewhere that scorzonera has an affinity for mushrooms, so I also threw some sauteed shiitakes that we got from a local mushroom farm into the mix.

The verdict: We both loved the scorzonera. The flavor was subtle -- sweet and faintly reminiscent of artichokes. I didn't pick up on the oyster flavor that sometimes gets this plant the nickname "oyster plant," but it could have been that I was concentrating too intently on the lovely marriage between the earthy mushrooms and the delicious root vegetable. The veg also played nicely with the parmesan -- the saltiness of which brought out the sweetness of the dish even more.

Oh. One more thing. Like its distant relative, Jerusalem artichokes, scorzonera contains something called inulin. If you're familiar with inulin, you'll know that it's good for you (and it's popping up now in yogurt as a way to up your daily fiber content). But, you might also know that it has earned the Jerusalem artichoke the nickname "fartichokes". With the exception of stating that you've been warned, we have no comment.

Scorzonera and Shiitake Mushrooms

Thursday, October 16, 2008

End of Summer Corn and Arugula Salad

Just the other day, a friend of mine from Seattle commented on our participation in the local eating challenge. "You can do that in October?" she exclaimed, "In Wisconsin?!?"

I understood what she was getting at. The Wisconsin growing season is relatively short in comparison to some. But, here in Milwaukee we reap the benefits of being close to Lake Michigan, which offers the added advantage of a bit of insulation from frost. So, early October can bring a fairly wide array of garden delights. In fact, many of us are still reaping the harvest from our gardens into late October and early November. And many farmer's markets in our area are actually open and active well into November.

But, I was a bit surprised to find a farmer at the West Allis Farmer's Market this past Saturday who still had a nice, healthy batch of sweet corn to offer up. Not quite as eager as we were earlier in the season, we decided that it might not be a bad idea to buy up a bit of corn, grill it, and pack it away in the freezer. After all, grilled corn is a real treat when the bitter winds of February are blowing! So, we picked up an armload of corn.

We also grabbed a nice bunch of arugula from our friends at Jen Ehr Farm. We shouldn't pick favorites, but the good people at Jen Ehr are some of the best at the market. They're bright, and friendly, and their produce is simply top notch.
After making a quick dressing from a bit of mayonnaise, some Zemo garlic (which seems to be a nice, mild variety just right for eating raw), a bit of lemon, some buttermilk, some cayenne and black pepper... I stirred it together with a few chopped radishes, part of a red onion, and some of the corn.I tossed the arugula in -- and then plated everything up, tossing a bit of crumbled gorgonzola on top at the last minute.
Sweet, peppery, cruncy, and delicious. I couldn't be happier with how this concoction turned out. This really is the sort of salad that I want to eat on a cool, October day.
Looking back, I'm thinking this would make the perfect chopped salad to serve alongside a nice grass-fed steak. But, I could also see it paired with a bit of protein as something more akin to main dish fare.
Either way -- enjoy!
End of Summer Corn and Arugula Salad
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty and Local Eating

We've not participated in Blog Action Day before -- but this year, when I heard that the subject was going to be poverty, I decided that we might have something to say.

Participating in the Eat Local Challenge has been eye-opening to me in a number of ways. At its root, the point of local eating is to encourage sustainable agriculture by eating things that nearby friends and farmers grow or raise. This reduces the amount of products that need to be shipped halfway across the globe. It supports better air quality and prevents unnecessary pollution. I also think that local eating begets (though it doesn’t guarantee) produce of a better quality. Fruits and vegetables bred to be shipped long distance are genetically tough. Bred to be pretty and resilient, they’re not necessarily the best tasting produce around. But local foods… in the best possible world, they’re superior. Left on the vine until the last possible moment, they offer the highest level of nutrients, the best flavor, and the best guarantee of freshness.

When I think about my own utopian vision, it seems to me that eating locally should actually be part of the SOLUTION when it comes to poverty. A strong local economy should naturally provide affordable options for local citizens, right? ALL parents should have access to affordable, nourishing foods to feed their children. And every citizen should have access to healthful produce. Yes?

Well, as all too many of us know, that’s not always how it works. Farmer's markets, while prevalent and accessible in some communities, are sorely absent in others. Grocery stores in urban areas often fall short when it comes to the distribution of high quality produce. Community supported agriculture programs are often expensive and inaccessible to the families that need them most. In fact, many people have suggested that our emphasis on local (and organic) food is actually a new form of snobbery. A new yuppy trend that offers little to alleviate the world’s larger issues.

It’s true. There are actually some complicated issues surrounding local eating. And one of them is cost. Local eating can be expensive.

Expensive? you say.
Yes, that's exactly what I said. Eating locally can be surprisingly pricey.

There are reasons for this problem. For one, there is often a lack of urban garden space. As suburbanization has forced agriculture further and further away, food sources have moved out of the city. Technically, eating seasonably available local foods should be cheaper than eating food that’s been imported from a greater distance – and this used to be the case. However, in the 20th Century, the rules changed. Transportation became cheaper. The centralization of food manufacturing reduced costs even more. And industrial agriculture all but eliminated the family farm. When the connection disappeared between agricultural producers and the eaters of their foods, there was no infrastructure in place for the distribution of local foods. And that, my friends, was the beginning of the end.

These days, local farmers have to do a lot more of their own work to bring that food to market. Farmers are forced to transport their own agribusiness into the city (to retailers and farmer’s markets) – and that comes with a cost. Transportation isn’t as cheap when you’re operating on a smaller scale. Add to that the rising fuel costs of the 21st Century, and it’s no wonder the cost of a Michigan peach in the Midwest outweighs that of the commercially abundant varieties from Georgia.

So, if local eating isn’t going to solve poverty in the NOW, then why should we pursue it?
My answer is this: While the premise of only eating food produced within 100 miles of one’s home is an interesting and worthwhile endeavor, it is currently impossible for many. And yet, the demand for sustainable agriculture, and the production of nourishing food, is the demand of this century. We need to produce enough food to feed local populations. And, ultimately, we’ll have to focus locally because transportation costs are eventually going to become prohibitive. Therefore, it’s vital that we move in this direction.

On the bright side, organizations like Growing Power in Milwaukee, have made headway in the fight to bring fresh, local foods into urban environments where poverty is an issue. Will Allen pairs education with low-cost farming technologies to produce an earth-shattering amount of food on 2 acres of land -- YEAR ROUND, in Milwaukee, WI. Growing Power also supports other farm project sites in Wisconsin and Illinois. Will's mission is to use creativity to improve the diet and health of the urban poor, and he is living that mission on a daily basis. Will was chosen as a 2008 MacArthur Fellow. As a fellow, he will receive a $500,000 grant to advance his work.

I am privileged to be able to focus my food dollars NOW on creating local, sustainable choices for the future. Shopping locally (at the farmer's market, Outpost Natural Foods, and other local retailers) and supporting the work of Growing Power through their Market Basket program are two concrete ways that we attempt to make a difference. My hope is that the dollars spent now will make it possible for more people to afford the types of food.

We believe that we CAN change the world with our food choices. And we’re hoping you do too.
We’d like to challenge each of you to find out about community programs in your area that support sustainable agriculture, as well as education and accessibility for urban families in your area. Also -- consider a donation of local or regional non-perishable food items to your local food pantry. We’ll be giving our stash to Hunger Task Force here in Milwaukee.

It’s a start!

Check out the other buzz at Blog Action Day 08

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Potato Ho Down: Bosco Lei's Celeriac and Potato Gratin

Have you tried celeriac? Are you in love?
Cuz we think that everyone should be at least a little bit infatuated with this deliciously ugly root veggie.
Celeriac gets a bum rap for its looks. And most people assume (wrongly, I think) that it's simply a root veggie that is trying really hard to be celery. But, I'd beg to differ. In fact, I think it's a truly remarkable vegetable -- sweet and earthy (some say it's reminiscent of truffles), and capable of elevating a simple potato gratin into something just a bit heavenly. That's why I was thrilled when we got a hefty batch of it in our CSA box.

You've probably thrown celeriac in a pot of soup. Or pureed it up with some potatoes for a Thanksgiving side. But, how about a nice gratin?

I find myself really stoked about this celeriac and potato gratin ... not just because it's time for the next Potato Ho Down (or because I want to display the really cool Potato Ho Down logo), but because this recipe is truly remarkable.
If you would like to enter a dish into the Ho Down, you still have a day or so left, so please check the rules and regs here. This month's event will take place on October 15th and will be hosted by Hillary at Chew On That Blog.

Now, let's get cooking!
First, you chop all of your delicious celeriac into nice, thin slices. And you marvel about how lovely the inside of the veg is (compared to the outside)! You also chop up the potatoes... but, conveniently, you forget to take a photograph. You kick yourself (after all, potatoes are the point here); but, then you decide that forgiveness is the best policy, and you move along. Instead, you take a photo of the steamer -- in which you steamed both the celeriac (on the bottom) and the potatoes (top).
When the potatoes and celeriac are crisp tender (this takes 5-10 minutes, depending), you'll toss them with some of the steaming liquid, a few cloves of garlic, and a bit of cream (oh, yes -- real Wisconsin cream). Then, you can toss the whole mess into a buttered gratin dish in preparation for the pièce de résistance. Meaning, of course, the cheese. You grate up some lovely, local, aged gouda. The bonus here is that this particular block of gouda was made from grass fed cows -- and you can just imagine how delicious it tastes! You can opt for a nice gruyere here, but I like the nuttiness of the gouda, which I think goes quite well with the earthy celeriac.
Once you have the cheese in hand, you'll want to sprinkle it all over the top of that gratin. And then sprinkle the dish with a liberal dose of ground black pepper.Bake it in the oven for about an hour and 20 minutes, and you'll be greeted by a lovely sight. Crispy, browned, and incredibly fragrant, this gratin is the perfect side dish (although you may be tempted to throw caution to the wind and curl up with the whole dish at dinner time). It's true. This is one humble potato dish that is emphatically Ho Down Worthy.

And so I present to you:
Bosco Lei's Celeriac and Potato Gratin

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