Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fairytale Parmesan

I have a love affair going with fairy tale eggplant.
Of all the late summer delights, they are by far one of my favorites.

These miniature beauties harbor all the big flavors of their larger aubergine counterparts, without any of the bitterness. In fact, they bake up tender, buttery, and delicious. As if that weren't enough, there's at least one local farmer who has decided to grow scads of these babies, and make them available to me every week at the farmer's market. So, I've been buying them up 2-3 pounds at a time.
Of course, what this means is that I have to think of all sorts of ways to use up the little suckers!

Fortunately, they're a breeze to prepare.
They don't require peeling or salting. So, one of our favorite things to do is to toss them with a bit of olive oil and put them on the grill for a while. In fact, that's exactly what we did with the first few batches of them.

But, lately, I've found myself searching for something new.

After having so much success oven frying zucchini for zucchini fries, I decided to try the same technique on eggplant. Why not, right?

I sliced the fairytales in half lengthwise, dredged them, and placed them in the oven. Most of the way through the cooking time, I placed a thin slice of parmesan on top and returned them to the oven until the parmesan was melted.
After that, I threw the crispy, cheesy eggplants over the top of a pan of pasta with marinara sauce... and placed the entire pan back in the oven, just to heat everything through.
Neither of us could complain about the results. In fact, these miniature eggplants offered up BIG flavor. The fairytales were crisp on the outside, but creamy on the inside. The cheese was melted, and slightly browned, dairy-sweet, with just the right hint of saltiness. And the pasta and sauce gave the dish that classic eggplant parmesan flavor.

Not bad for a weeknight...

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Scenes from the Pig Roast

It's difficult to know where to start in describing the fantastic time we had at the Spanish pig roast on Saturday. But, you know what they say about photos...

We arrived a bit early to snap a few photos of the farm.
They were still setting up the tables and making last minute preparations.So, we walked around and took in the sights.
And checked out the menu.
The tables flanked the autumn fields -- just waiting for the guests to arrive.
The pig was smoking away in the background -- the scent of hickory smoke wafting pleasantly through the air.
As we sat down at the table, we were greeted by the smell of freshly fried chick peas -- fragrantly dressed in crisp sage and orange peel.
The buffet line presented us with far too many choices...
Otherworldly gazpacho, paired with a glass of Lakefront's Klisch.Spanish tortilla with Romesco sauce...

Roasted cauliflower with red pepper aioli...

The last of the late summer tomatoes, sliced and drizzled with olive oil and basil...
And, finally, the highlight of the feast...
Salsa verde with hickory smoked pork...
Peef piled his plate full of the myriad of delights...
And grabbed a beer...We feasted and visited until the light grew faint...And finally, we faced one another in the dim glow of candlelight...
We were full and happy. But, more delights were to come!
Freshly fried churros, with roasted apples and caramel...
Paired with hot coffee and a bit of locally distilled pumpkin spirits... we were warm and satiated.

In summary:
Perfect weather.
Delightful agricultural surroundings.
Crispy Pig.
Cold Beer.
Seasonal pumpkin schnapps/spirits.

What could be better?

Many thanks to Pinehold Gardens, Braise on the Go, and Slow Food/SE Wisconsin for putting on such a fantastic event. We're already looking forward to next year!

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Off to the Pig Roast!

First, I'd like to raise my glass to all the State Fair award winning swine (like Fred, below) who have sacrificed their cracklings for my dining enjoyment.

We're heading off to a Spanish pig roast this evening. And we are pretty excited about it. I can't think of a better thing to do on a lovely, (almost) fall day! The menu was released, and it looks like a doozy.
Blood Sausage
Potato, Crispy Garlic and Spinach Tortilla
Roasted Cauliflower with Red Pepper Aioli
Roasted Pig with Romesco Sauce and Salsa Verde
Roasted Apples with Churros and Dulce de Leche

The event was a Braise on the Go event, sponsored by Slow Food (Wisconsin SE) and held at Pinehold Gardens and Farm. Pinehold is a 21-acre farm just south of Milwaukee (in Oak Creek) that is owned and operated by David Kozlowski and Sandra Raduenz. Though not certified organic, the farm uses sustainable agricultural practices, and places an emphasis on education. They run a fabulous CSA, and supply lots of great foods to families in the Milwaukee area.

We're doubly excited because the pig roast features delicious libations from our friends at Lakefront Brewery. Lakefront not only brews up some of the best beer around, but they have THE best brewery tour available in Milwaukee (sorry Miller-Coors!).

As the advertisement for the event stated: Nothing says lovin' like crispy pig and a cold beer.

We'll be dining alfresco, so pray for fantastic weather!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

I've got to admit, all of my defenses really break down when it comes to potatoes. I begin to LONG for the sweet earthiness of a gratin. The sexiness of a fresh pile of mashed spuds. The crispifried crunch of a nice, hot French fry.
Suddenly, all my rational thinking goes out the window, and I just want to mash them up, slather them in butter, and swath them in cream.

So, it helps when I have the ability to reel in all my crazy thoughts and settle into a slightly more realistic plan of action. One way to quell the insanity is to compromise.

How about roasting instead of frying?
Why not throw a few herbs into the mix to lend flavor without fat?
How about a bit of olive oil, rather than all that delicious butter?

Sometimes it works. And I end up with something that's really greater than the sum of its parts. And THAT is an extraordinarily splendiforous thing.

Just take a look at these puppies...
In classic fashion, Peef wanted to name these little beauties "Rosemary's Baby Potatoes" (sister of "Rosemary's Smoky Baby Cheesy Mac")... but, that's really a little much. Isn't it?

The lesson:
Rosemary potatoes are a lovely way to tame the wild potato beast without totally throwing caution to the wind. And they're BEYOND easy.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes (or, if you prefer, Rosemary's Baby Potatoes)

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Mushroom Philly Cheese "Steak" Panini

When I saw the bounty of red and green peppers that we'd plucked from the garden this week, the wheels in my head began turning. Visions of chicken cacciatore, sweet pepper relish, and roasted red peppers danced in my head. And then I thought: What about a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich? I happened to have a few portabella mushroom caps in the fridge, which could stand in for the steak. And we always keep provolone cheese on hand. So, we were pretty set.

Peef, who has actually sampled an official Philly Cheesesteak, was a little bit disturbed by my methods. But, he seemed to think that the sammich had a chance of being decent. So, we proceeded with the plan.

First, we spread a nice Italian roll with a bit of seasoned mayo (Peef threw a bit of the new BBQ3000 seasoning we'd picked up from Penzey's in the mix). We added a few nice slices of portabella mushroom, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and a sprinkling of Worcestershire. Then, we loaded it up with lots of sauteed peppers and onions.
We added a few slices of delicious, Wisconsin provolone cheese...
And then threw the whole sammich onto the panini press for a few minutes.
The cheese got melty. The mushrooms remained tender, while the peppers and onions retained a slight hint of crispness. The bun got crisped and slightly browned. And most of the ingredients managed to stay inside, despite their slipperiness.
The final verdict?
Peef admitted that the panino version of this classic sandwich was different. The crispness of the roll was a departure from the usual feel of a soft Italian roll. And the mushrooms, though they lent a meaty flavor to the sandwich, didn't quite replace steak in his mind. But, he was quick to admit that the sandwich was incredibly delicious in its own right. "Can we have these again?" was his response when he finished his last bite.
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Holy Mole, Batman!

When we bought our pepper plants this spring, we didn't know a THING about the Holy Molé peppers we bought. we really just chose them for their name.

As it turns out, however, we happened upon a real winner. Literally.
Turns out the Holy Molé is one of the the first hybrid pasilla peppers -- and the 2007 All-American Selection. And it's known for its unusually high yield. Which explains the armloads of peppers we've been hauling in from our two measley plants!!

We let our Molés ripen up to a nice chocolate brown color before harvesting -- which means that they were absolutely lovely when sliced.
And the flavor is quite unique -- sweet, with a bit of a peppery tang. Even a bit nutty, perhaps... So far, we've given a few away to friends. And we threw some into those fabulous seafood enchiladas we made last week.

Not sure exactly what we'll do with the rest of our bounty, though they are probably screaming to be dehydrated for future use in a molé sauce.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Results: Eat Local Challenge

So, I finally had a few moments to sit down and tally the results of our Eat Local Challenge. And I have to admit, I'm pretty excited to share the results.

We went into the challenge pretty confident of the fact that we could make local eating work for two short weeks (You can do anything for a limited period of time, right?). But, we came out realizing that eating locally is WAY more possible than we'd first realized (Hurrah!).
We'll be honest, part of what made eating locally so effortless during the month of September was the vast amount of produce we could obtain from both our backyard garden, our CSA (LotFotL Community Farm), and the Wisconsin farmers at the farmer's markets.

Making it to the market DID require a bit of sacrifice on our part. Rather than shopping when we liked, and making impulse purchases, we had to be diligent about getting up early on Saturdays so that we didn't miss out on the market's best produce. We also had to pay attention to what was coming out of our backyard garden (and be dedicated to daily harvesting) so that we didn't end up with an overabundance of any one type of produce. But, we also had a blast doing it!

  • When we got to have a conversation with the Amish farmer from whom we bought a package of goat cheese, he got nearly giddy when he told us about how he hand-milked his small herd of goats and produced the cheese with his own two hands. We got giddy about the fact that we actually got to MEET the man who was producing our food!

  • The Challenge inspired us to turn an overabundance of garden produce into yummy dehydrated delights that will serve us the whole winter through!

  • We even found Happy Chickens!!
Eating locally also required us to do some serious menu planning. Rather than eating "on a whim," we based our daily meals on what was fresh, what needed to be used up, and what we could actually obtain from a local source. Admittedly, we had moments of weakness. When Peef got a craving for seafood enchiladas (which required imitation crab -- something we could NOT find locally), we kept the rest of the meal as local as possible by obtaining local tortillas, milk, flour, mushrooms, peppers, kale, and corn.

While some things we eat simply can NOT be obtained locally, I was genuinely surprised by all the products we found we could obtain locally when we really started paying attention to the products we were buying.

I found a local source for soy milk and canned beans (Eden Products in Clinton, Michigan). I discovered that the bulk pasta that Outpost Natural Foods carries is made in Chicago, Illinois. I also renewed my committment to local, organic, and UNhomogenized milk after taking one swig of the delicious, frothy dairy produced by Crystal Ball Farms in Osceola, WI.

I shouldn't forget something that might surprise a few of you. We have a really great local tortilla factory (El Rey) that makes both flour and corn tortillas -- right here in Milwaukee.
And the best part of it is, you can pick them up right from the local retailer when they're still hot and steaming up their packaging!
While we won't be able to sustain the same level of local eating during the months of January, February, and March, I feel more confident now than ever before, that we can dedicate a serious percentage of our purchasing dollars to local business. And the best part is, we don't have to sacrifice quality to do so!


The total amount we spent on groceries during the challenge: $281.70
The total amount we spent on local food during the challenge: $207.56 (74%)

Cereal, local fruit, locally produced soy milk and/or kefir


Leftovers from dinners


  1. Eggplant lasagnette

  2. Vegetable burritos with cilantro rice

  3. Eggplant, goat cheese, and pepper panini

  4. Rosemary's Smoky Baby Cheezy Mac

  5. Eggplant pie

  6. Chicken cacciatouille

  7. Seafood enchiladas, local greens

  8. Crisp Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Tofu

  9. Mexican "home fries" (made with potatoes, poblanos, black beans, corn, cheese)

  10. Lamb kebabs with green beans

  11. Perogies with red cabbage

  12. Mushroom Philly cheese "steak" panini with rosemary roasted potatoes

  13. Take-out Pizza

  14. Jerk chicken with Caribbean rice & beans and garlicky sauteed greens

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seafood Enchiladas

I started cooking seriously while I was in college. Sure, I did my share of playing with ramen noodles and making boxed macaroni and cheese... but, most of the time I was trying to come up with good food that met a couple of basic criteria:
  1. It was something I could afford.
  2. It didn't take too terribly long to make.
If I could accomplish both of the above, and make something that was also a bit inventive, I felt like I'd really accomplished something. So, I made that a primary goal.

Some of the staples I always seemed to keep around my tiny apartment kitchen were milk, tortillas, and mushrooms (I happened to really LIKE mushrooms. They were relatively affordable, and they subbed in for meat fairly easily in most recipes.) I also kept a bag of flour around, just in case I had the urge to bake cookies or brownies or something. But, I also had a tendency to keep a box of imitation crab meat around.

I'm not really sure where I acquired my affinity for imitation crab. But, it seemed to elevate my cooking (at the time) to a level not previously achieved. So, I started to stockpile packages of it when it went on sale. Suddenly, I had a box of "crab" in the freezer at almost any given moment... and it led me to a bit of new-found inspiration.

Combining a bit of the "crab" meat with a few mushrooms, some corn, and a few select seasonings, I found that it made a decent filling for enchiladas.
So, I started wrapping a bit of the filling in flour tortillas.
Cloaking the delicious bundles in a bit of spicy bechemel sauce seemed intuitive, so I tried that.
And adding a bit of cheese (and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper) as a topping, and baking the whole mess in the oven for 20-25 minutes granted me a dish that was rich, creamy, and satisfying.
I started making my "seafood" enchiladas on a fairly regular basis. They were a dish that "christened" every new apartment into which I moved... and I started making them regularly for friends when they moved into THEIR apartments. And soon, the dish caught on and became a bit like a signature dish.
These days, making seafood enchiladas is a practice that not only takes me WAY back... but it also fulfills one of my most basic comfort food cravings as the autumn weather begins to encroach. I've started adding embellishments here and there -- a bit of cilantro, a few salad shrimp, and often some sweet bell peppers to add a bit of additional flavor and some color. This particular version happened to contain a couple of Holy Mole peppers from the garden, which added a nice bit of depth. But, no matter how much the dish evolves, it always carries with it a bit of that original inventive spirit.

I can't possibly package up all the good memories that this dish brings with it. But, I am more than willing to share the recipe that made them all possible. So, here goes.

Seafood Enchiladas

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