Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Morel Files: Manicotti with Mushroom Ragu

... if you were wondering what we did with the two pounds of morels we won from Marx Foods (and you might be, because we've been neglectful in our blogging on that topic), I'm pleased to tell you that we savored every last bit of them.
There was a pizza topped with morels and manchego, a steak with a side of sauteed morels, and lovely homemade pasta with morel cream sauce. And then, there was the manicotti.

I should begin by telling you that Peef has fond memories of manicotti. It was the meal he requested for his birthday every year during his childhood. It was the meal that allowed me to feed him tofu for the first time (tofu ricotta is really fantastic, for those of you who've never tried it). And it's been an occasional staple at our house for years. Now, we love classic Italian dishes as much as anyone. But, we also love giving beloved recipes a bit of a spin. Needless to say, we'd never made manicotti like this. Until now.

It all started, of course, with a nice pile of those morel mushrooms. LOVE those 'shrooms. Nutty and slightly smokey, I'm convinced that a morel makes everything better. But, that doesn't mean that there's not a dark side to these friendly fungi. There's ALWAYS a dark side.
Despite my love affair with morels, I do get a bit grossed out by the creatures that live within them. So, I'm in the camp of people who like to soak the morels in a bit of salted water before slicing and dicing them. You still have to see the little beasties that float out of the mushrooms, but it's easy enough to just pour them off the top of the water and get on with your life. Oh, yes, and -- as Peef is kind enough to remind me -- there's a lot less screaming that takes place when I don't come across creepy crawlies while slicing my mushrooms.

We also picked up a package of dried shiitakes -- which we reconstituted in hot water while the morels were soaking. And we reserved that precious mushroom "stock".
We chopped the shiitakes nicely, and added them to a bowl of fresh ricotta cheese.
In a large saute pan, we sauteed about 1/2 pound of morels along with another 1/2 pound of creminis, a Vidalia onion, some garlic, and a tablespoon or two of freshly chopped rosemary. We added the mushroom "stock" and reduced it by about half. When the mushroom stock was reduced, we added a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and allowed the sauce to simmer for 15-20 more minutes.In the meantime, we cooked up our pasta and got to work on the filling. To the ricotta mixture containing the shiitake mushrooms, we added a generous handful of Parmesan, Romano, and some Asiago cheese.
Once the pasta was ready, and the filling was thoroughly mixed, we poured a bit of the mushroom ragu into the bottom of a large ceramic baking dish and got to work filling the manicotti.

An easy way to fill manicotti shells is to "pipe" the cheese mixture into the pasta shells. To do this, put mixture into a heavy-duty plastic food storage bag. Seal it and cut off a 1-2 inch opening in one corner of the bag. Then gently squeeze the bag to fill the pasta with the cheese mixture.

Of course, I opted for a more challenging route... and filled the manicotti shells with a small spoon.
I managed to do a rather decent job, but I'd still recommend the plastic bag approach -- which WILL take years off of your life.
Lay the filled manicotti onto mushroom sauce in the pan... and keep on going until all of the manicotti are filled.
Then cover everything with the remaining mushroom sauce...
... and a generous sprinkling of cheese (more of that Parmesan, Romano, Asiago mixture does just wonderfully).
Cover the manicotti pan with aluminum foil and bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes. At that point, remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes (until the cheese is lightly browned).
We adored this "mushroom lover's" manicotti. The filling was creamy and cheesy and the shiitakes added some depth and tied it in nicely with the mushrom ragu. The ragu was nutty and earthy. The subtle pine-like flavor of the rosemary balanced the sweetness of the tomato sauce and brought out the best in the savory flavor of the mushrooms. And then there was the cheese... ah, the cheese!
The mushroom ragu was fantastic for the manicotti, but it would also be great served with a bit of roasted lamb or baked cod. It would make a great sauce served over a simple bowl pasta -- or baked into a cheesy pan of ziti.

If you're interested in the stats, check out the recipe.
Mushroom Ragu with Morels

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spring Grill: Baby Bok Choy and Spring Radish Salad

We enjoyed quite the long holiday weekend of grilled foods.
There was an evening of grilled jalapeno bratwurst with naturally fermented sauerkraut... an evening with friends and a bit of (heavenly) jerk marinated grilled pork... and we also served up some exceedingly delicious BBQ grilled chicken.

Interestingly enough, one of the most rewarding dishes of the weekend was a salad.

We were thrilled on Saturday when we visited the farmer's market and found that our favorite farmers from JenEhr Family Farm were back in action. We were also lucky enough to find that they were hocking some painfully fresh baby bok choy and some nearly perfect spring radishes. Rather than settling for an ordinary stir fry, we decided upon something a bit more unusual. You've heard of grilled Caesar salad, no? Seems to be a trend these days... and it inspired us to do a bit MORE with our bok choy.

We took those gorgeous green, tightly grown, stalks... and tossed them with a bit of our favorite everday olive oil.
We also took the radishes and gave them a similar treatment. They look so pretty... all shiney and pink, and just raring to be tossed onto the grill. Don't they?
Well, that's exactly what we did. We heated up our trusty old Weber with some natural charcoal. And we hauled all the greased up veggie goods outside.
We laid everything gently on the cleaned grates, and let them char for a bit.
After a nice quick flip, we saw the caramelization developing on those delicious little radishes.
And we watched as the tender leaves of the bok choy wrinkled and browned -- and the more resistant white flesh grew suspiciously tender (and fabulously sweet).
Once inside, we plated up the bok choy with its little radish buddies -- and drizzled the whole bit with a bit of balsamic vinegar dressing (a simple mix of olive oil, 3-year balsamic, and a bit of dijon mustard).
Honestly -- it was the most heavenly spring salad. The previously sharp radishes took on a more gentle personality. The caramelization gave everything a sweeter, more succulent flavor. And the balsamic brought everything back into focus -- marrying the still-crisp salad with a bit of sweet & sour romance.

This was the perfect accompaniment to a bit of grilled chicken. But, it would also be quite at home next to a bit of barbequed tempeh. Or some lovely barbequed tofu.

I only kicked myself a little bit for not trying a more Asian-inspired dressing. Something with a bit of ginger, maybe. Or some nice roasted sesame. That would have been close to perfect.

Oh, YUM.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Spinach Stuffed Portabella Mushroom Burgers

We certainly eat our share of burgers around here during the summer months -- beef burgers, bison burgers, turkey burgers... you name the burger, and we eat it. But, believe it or not, one of our favorite burgers is actually not made of ground meat. It's made of mushroom. Stuffed mushroom.

Portabella burgers are nothing new. People have been grilling up savory mushroom burgers for years. People have also been stuffing mushrooms for a very long time. And stuffed mushrooms aren't exactly original either. They usually appear as part of an appetizer menu. But, if you ask us, they also make a very fine burger.

So, get out your charcoal grill, and give these a try.

First, take a few nice portabella mushroom caps and give them a good 20 minutes to marinate. Our favorite marinade is comprised of a few tablespoons of good quality balsamic vinegar, some red wine, a bit of tomato juice (spicy is nice), a few teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and a tablespoon (or so) cajun seasoning. You can also use your favorite Italian (or other spice) blend. We like to remove the gills from our ports before marinating; not only does this preserve the color of the mushroom, but it also keeps the 'shrooms from getting too soggy during the marination.
While the mushrooms are getting their marinade on, gather up a few cloves of garlic and a nice pile of fresh spinach leaves.
Saute the chopped spinach and minced garlic in a bit of olive oil, and then toss with a liberal handful of breadcrumbs (we make our own, but you can also purchase dried breadcrumbs in the supermarket).
When your filling is ready, retrieve your portabella mushroom caps and take them out to your preheated grill. Place the mushrooms cap-side-up on the grill, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, or until the caps are nicely browned.Flip the mushroom caps over, fill with the spinach filling, and grill for another 3-4 minutes -- until they're browned on the other side and the filling is heated through.
Now, if you're like us, you'll agree that any burger is better with a bit of cheese. You can add a bit of feta cheese to the top of your burger for a Greek-inspired burger... a bit of bleu if you're feeling like a steakhouse burger. Or you can do as we did, and cover your port burgers with a slice of Swiss or cheddar cheese.
Cover the grill and allow the cheese to melt. When everything is lovely and melty, remove your portabella burger from the grill and place on a nice crusty bun. We grilled our sprouted grain buns over the fire for a moment or two to give them a bit of crusty appeal.
These burgers are juicy enough that they don't even need that spot of ketchup you're just dying to add to the mix.

Spinach Stuffed Portabella Mushroom Burgers

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Fight Back Fridays: Let's Go Fair Trade

If you've been reading our blog for any length of time, you probably already know that we're huge supporters of "buying local". We love to see local businesses thrive -- and we also love to see our money funneled right back into our local economy. But, we must also admit that we buy some things (quite a number of things, actually) that aren't local.

In those cases, we try our best to support Fair Trade products. We buy fair trade coffee, chocolate, olive oil, palm & coconut oil, sugar, and bananas. We support businesses, like Dr. Bronner's and Jungle Products, in addition to a host of local perveyors that support fair trade practices (see below).

Some people think this effort is nothing more than touchy-feely-mumbo-jumbo (and others argue that Fair Trade practices are silly, at best, and harmful, at worst). I'd like to challenge that way of thinking by asking you to contemplate what Fair Trade is really all about.

Free trade around the globe is a great concept. International trade engenders continual innovation. It enables healthy competition and enables the creation of better products, better-paying jobs, new markets, and increased savings and investment. And what better way is there to share goods & services while maintaining a competitive advantage?

Well, the fact of the matter is the unregulated free trade in which we've been participating for years has actually caused numerous problems for both the United States and other nations. Companies have begun to move their operations overseas to minimize cost and maximize profits. Sweatshop labor has increased. Americans have lost jobs. Unregulated imported products (like toys, tuna, and dog food) have become unsafe. Just check out this article on Trade Deficit in Food Safety put out by the Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Fair trade, on the other hand, is a system of exchange created to regulate the free trade system. Fair trade is a social movement that creates partnerships between nations, ensures fair wages, and promotes decent working conditions.

A couple of common myths about Fair Trade include:
  • Fair trade results in sub-standard products (variation among artisan products is common, but fair trade products are consistently of high quality)
  • Fair trade products are more expensive (simply not true -- most products are competitively priced, if not cheaper, since no money goes to a "middle man")
Fair Trade promotes REAL systemic change -- by changing the way trade operates, and rewarding the workers who actually produce the goods we import. Fair trade promotes fair prices for high quality artisan goods.

Among the local (Milwaukee) businesses who offer fair trade products, here are a few of our favorite places to get fair trade foodstuffs:

Alterra Coffee
Beans & Barley Market, Deli, and Cafe
Omanhene Chocolate
Outpost Natural Foods Coop
Rishi Tea
Stone Creek Coffee

For those of you within throwing distance, I'd encourage you to check out the 2nd Annual Milwaukee Fair Trade Crawl, which takes place tomorrow, Saturday May 9th. The crawl includes more than 30 shops offering discounts, tastings, educational events and other specials. Organizers are actually hoping to set the record for the world's largest fair trade break. So JOIN US if you can!

Do you support Fair Trade? If so, what are some of your favorite Fair Trade products?

This post is submitted as part of Fight Back Fridays, a weekly event hosted by Food Renegade featuring great, educational blog posts from those of us who opt out of the industrialized food system, distrust standard nutritional advice, and embrace Real Food. There are some great posts going on this week... check them out!

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wisconsin Food Blog Love

It's always great when we can give a big shout-out to people, locally, who are doing what we do and loving it. There aren't many of us blogging about food in Wisconsin -- or at least that's what I've gathered so far -- so we thought we'd give my own shout-out to all the Wisconsin bloggers we know!

NOTE: 10/10 The List has grown.  LOOK UP!  Fully Updated Blogroll has moved to the Header of the blog!!

If you think Wisconsin Foodies only talk about beer and cheese, you've got to think again.
Start by checking out these sites:
  • Andrea's Easy Vegan Cooking Andrea is an extraordinarily creative local vegan presence (yay!) and a woman after my own heart (she cooks without recipes!)
  • Anna's Recipe Box Anna is an adventurous cook with a pork allergy and a penchant for Uzbek food
  • Between the Bars - Milwaukee, WI is a blog about east-side living in Milwaukee, written by Karen, a Wisconsin native who brings a sense of place to everything she writes (and sometimes she even writes about food).
  • Cheese Underground is THE place to find out about great Wisconsin artisan cheese.
  • Driftless Appetite Leslie and Keith live in the "Driftless Zone" of southwestern Wisconsin, and they believe there is not a better place to live on earth if you want fresh, diverse, locally produced food. We tend to agree!
  • A Duo of Chefs is a SOLE-ful blog (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) from SE Wisconsin that reflects an emphasis on low-fat and vegetarian dishes.
  • Eat Wisconsin is a site does an upstanding job showcasing the food and drink of Wisconsin.
  • French Kitchen in America Mimi grew up with food and understands the important connection between food, love, family and connecting with our roots.
  • Fussy Foodies Williamina and dc are a couple of professionals with a penchant for cooking, eating, and critiquing. Great place to go for local restaurant reviews.
  • Gimme Something to Eat Three (boy) eaters from Wisconsin with much time on our hands due to the long winters. They will eat whatever you send them...
  • Haverchuk - sadly defunct, but this Milwaukee blog comes highly recommended. Check the archives for the goods! You can also follow Michael on Twitter!
  • Healthy Living, One Day at a Time Kristi shares her weight loss secrets online!
  • Milwaukee Specialty Coffee serves up all the best fresh brewed coffee news & reviews! (Thanks for the rec, Yulinka)
  • No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner Milwaukee's own self-declared cupcake queen! (home of the Iron Cupcake)
  • Outpost Natural Foods - Food Video on YouTube
  • Post-College Kitchen A JSOnline blog by Alison Sherwood, who shares her struggles and triumphs while learning to cook
  • A Serving of Life is a fellow Foodbuzz Publisher who lives in Oshkosh, WI
  • Simple Comfort Food Dax Phillips is a food blogger from New Berlin, WI. He believes that life is too short to count calories, so everyone should enjoy all sorts of great food in moderation! A-MEN, Dax!
  • Stuff We Eat (A Lot!) is Mom's Recipe Blog -- a collection of family favorites, staples & special treats that Mom wrote down for her fam!
  • A Taste of Life Melissa is a full-time student at UW-Milwaukee who shares hints, tips, and recipes for living a healthy lifestyle
  • What Geeks Eat Vanessa is a freelance writer, cook, gadgethead, and advocate for locally grown food.
  • Wisconsin Foodie Don't miss the video of us at the Pinehold Gardens Pig Roast!
  • Yulinka Cooks Go here for great Russian-inspired fare!

Wisconsin foodies gots to stick together, you know?
Know of any others? Let me know! I'll add them to our list.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sammiches: Bourbon Chicken with Pears & Brie

Wow! Has it really been a week since my last post?
Life here at Burp! has been pretty hectic lately. Peef started a new job last week (yay for Peef!) and we've been doing some serious juggling to make sure that our schedules convene at all the proper moments. What that means is, we've not been reading (or writing) quite as much online.

That said, I do have a great recipe to share with you today.
If you think bourbon chicken should be relegated to the fast food court at the mall, I'm going to challenge you to change your tune.

This bourbon chicken recipe has been a staple in our kitchen for years. It makes a great stir-fry... but we think it really shines when used in a sammich.

You want to start off with some good quality split chicken breasts. Take each breast and place it between two sheets of waxed paper... then pound it with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until it is fairly thin.
Then, you'll want to take some brown sugar (or Sucanat), some bourbon, dark soy sauce, a bit of Dijon mustard, and some Worcestershire sauce - and mix it all together until well combined.
Lay the chicken breasts (the marinade will nicely accommodate 4-6 breasts) in a shallow container, season with salt and pepper, and then top with some sliced green onions.
Pour the marinade over the top and place in the fridge for a few hours. The chicken tastes best if you can marinate it overnight, but 4-6 hours also does nicely.
When the chicken has absorbed the flavors of the marinade, grill each breast 4-5 minutes per side on a grill pan (or outdoor grill) on medium-high heat. Admire the gorgeous grill marks.

You can eat the chicken as-is -- OR you can do as we we do and get to work on the fixins for a delicious sammich. First, thinly slice a Bosc pear (or two). Lay the slices on a section of French bread and top with a bit of brie and a chicken breast.
Then, take your sammiches and place them on a preheated panini press and grill them until they're warm and crips (you can also accomplish the same effect by placing the sammiches on a preheated grill pan and grilling them under the weight of a cast iron pan).
Top each sammich with a bit of watercress and get ready to drool.
You really can't beat this combination. The fresh spicy flavor of the watercress pairs nicely with the sweetness of the pear. It cuts the richness of the brie, and really complements the salty-sweet flavor of the bourbon marinade.

You can't beat this sammich paired up with a side of roasted asparagus for a great spring dinner.


Bourbon Chicken Breasts

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