Monday, June 29, 2009

While the Internet was down... Strawberries!

So, last week we got a brilliant idea.
How about we switch over our ISP? We could save a little money by bundling our plan. Maybe get new cell phones... it sounded like the perfect idea. Hundreds of dollars (and a few hours) later, we were all set up. Interestingly, not one of those three (3!) friendly service people we worked with told us that we'd have to live without the Internets for five (5!) days while they switched over our home internet service.

Nope, they didn't.
And five days (if you didn't know) is a VERY long time. I was completely unprepared for the toll it would take on my (already harried) blogging schedule. Needless to say, I'm feeling a bit behind and more than a little miffed about it.

On the very fortunate side, we had an absolutely STELLAR (if quite Internet-less) weekend.

Sunday was a positively gorgeous day, weather-wise. So, what did we do? We packed up and headed an hour or so west to JenEhr Family Farm in Sun Prairie, WI for some strawberry picking. Of course, half the state of Wisconsin had the same idea... so there was some competition in the strawberry fields (including a guy who seemed to corner the market on strawberries by straddling the rows in awkward--yet very effective--fashion. See him there on the left?)
We started off slowly... ... but eventually we found our own private stash of berries, hidden beneath the surface of the bushes.
And there was much rejoicing in the land!
And that's when Peef pulled out the camera and started taking really unflattering photographs of me and my hopelessly wind-blown hair. This was a particularly great one (my "punk look" as he smirkingly called it). I figured I'd just post it right here on the Internets so that you can all point and laugh. That's what the Internets are for anyway, right?
I didn't exactly get Peef back by taking photos of his berry stained hands. But, that's OK.
He made it up to me by taking me on a journey to the WONDROUS land of the Sassy Cow Creamery.
What could be inside?
The sassy little cow wouldn't say. So, we ventured through the front doors... where we found...
Between the fresh air and our brilliantly churned treats, we had just enough sustinance to get us back home again. To wait for our Internets to return.

Creative Commons License
©BURP! Where Food Happens
Strawberry on Foodista

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yay for Spring Veg: Vanilla Maple Rhubarb with Raspberries

I know. I know.
The equinox has come and gone, and it's "officially" summer. Heck, it's even gotten warm here in the Midwest. But... but... all the gorgeous spring veg are still lollygagging in the market. So, I'm going to keep writing about them. For maybe... another post or two.

I WILL spare you momentarily from ramblings about asparagus. But only because there is another spring vegetable that is NEVER neglected here at Burp! And that is the humble rhubarb.

I'll never forget the spring I discovered the joy of eating rhubarb stalks right from my mother's garden. The stalks themselves were almost intolerably sour -- but when bitten and dipped into a bowl of sweet sugar, I couldn't imagine anything better. The trick, of course, was talking my mother out of the bowl of sugar.

These days, we've cut back on processed sugars. But, that doesn't mean we don't enjoy our rhubarb in the springtime. In fact, it's one of our favorite sweet treats. Especially roasted.

Roasted, you say?
And I will confirm: yes, roasted.
If you ask me there's nary another way to prepare cooked rhubarb. And there are a number of reasons for that. For one, baking gets you a bit of caramelization. And we all know how a bit of caramelization really ups the flavor quotient. Secondly, roasting rhubarb is SUPER easy. You just throw it in a baking pan and let it bake.

Start off by preheating your oven to 350ºF. Save a few moments' time by putting two tablespoons of butter right into your roasting pan and putting it into the preheating oven. By the time the oven is preheated, your butter will be nice and melted. I told you this was easy!
Chop your rhubarb on the bias into 2 inch pieces. Toss them into a bowl with a split vanilla bean (or two).
Now pour some delicious maple syrup over the top -- somewhere between 1/3 - 1/2 cup.  There are no rules about grade here, but do use pure maple syrup, not one of its high fructose/corn syrup filled cousins.
Mix the rhubarb thoroughly to distribute the maple syrup and vanilla bean seeds. Then pour the mixture into your prepared pan.
Roast the rhubarb for 15-20 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just shy of being as tender as you'd like.

In addition to its other assets, roasting rhubarb also circumvents one of my primary complaints about cooked rhubarb -- mushiness. Roasted rhubarb is less apt to cook down into a puddle of rhubarb gush. It's toothier, and it holds a bit more shape. And how can you argue with that?
We think rhubarb and berries are a flavor combo made in heaven, so we like to add a few raspberries (or quartered strawberries) to the mix. Add them right when the rhubarb comes out of the oven.
Then, cover the rhubarb mixture with a piece of aluminum foil and allow everything to steep until it is cool. The delicate raspberries cook while the pan is covered -- but they don't turn to mush as they might if you included them in on the roasting time.
You can enjoy your maple vanilla rhubarb warm, at room temperature, or chilled. We served ours over a bit of locally churned sweet cream icecream with a sprinkling of vanilla granola.
Like a cobbler, but without all the fuss.

One of the best desserts ever. Seriously.

Creative Commons License
©BURP! Where Food Happens

Friday, June 19, 2009

Yay for Spring Veg: Tortellini with Asparagus & Olives

If any of you thought we were lying about eating asparagus until we couldn't handle another the thought of another spear, I just want to reassure you. Here at Burp! we don't play around.

The past couple of weeks have been utterly JAM PACKED with asparagus. We've eaten it raw. Steamed. Grilled. Plain. And buttered. We've dipped fresh spears in green garlic and basil cream cheese. And tucked them into grilled cheese sammiches. We've adorned grilled asparagus with rosemary salt (oooh! so fantastic) and roasted a pound or two with olive oil and "Sea Kelp Delight". We've thrown it on pizza. We even made lasagne with asparagus and morel/leek jack cheese sauce (which, regrettably, I didn't photograph...but it would have made a fantastic blog post).

Everything we've created has been delicious. But, there was one evening in particular when we roasted up some particularly succulent with lemon and sweet Vidalia onions -- and then tossed it with oil-cured olives and tortellini. And I can't get it out of my head. It was so very much worth the (minimal) effort.

First, you take your asparagus, and chop it into 2 inch lengths. Slice an onion in the same manner, and toss the two together.
Zest one of those lemons that's been sitting in your fridge just waiting to be used, and then juice the lemon. Toss the zest and juice with some olive oil and a bit of melted butter. Yes -- you really want the butter here. It adds SO much flavor, and it also ensures good caramelization on your roasted veg. Really fresh asparagus and sweet onions both contain a considerable amount of moisture, so you want to make sure you give them a bit of encouragement in the browning department.
Pour the lemony vinaigrette over your asparagus, and then add salt & pepper to taste.
Layer everything in a baking pan and throw it in the oven at 450º for about 15 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, cook up a bit of tortellini. I'm not normally a fan of dried tortellini, but recently I found a brand I really like. The trick, it seems, is to avoid overcooking the pasta at all costs -- while still getting the dried cheese filling to soften. My tips:
  1. Use a larger pot to boil the tortellini than you think you need. Plenty of water circulating around the pasta is key.
  2. Do NOT believe the package instructions. The pasta NEVER needs as long to cook as they recommend.
  3. Test, test, test. Begin testing those tortellini as soon as they begin to float. Continue testing them until the noodles are toothy-but-tender, and the cheese within the pasta is pleasantly cooked (but not mushy).
In between testing your tortellini, you'll want to slice up a few oil-cured olives. A handful will do. Their flavor can be pretty overpowering, so you don't want to over-do it. I like to cut mine into smaller pieces so that you get the salty perfume of the olives distributed throughout the pasta dish without completely obliterating all of the other flavors.
When your pasta is cooked, and your asparagus is pleasantly roasted (see what I mean about that caramelization?) you'll want to toss everything together.
And then let your eyes linger on the beauty in the bowl.
Bright and briny. Cheesy and filling. Oh, and did I mention how incredibly EASY it is to throw together on a busy weeknight?

On a cloudy late spring day, this recipe is enough to transport me directly to a sunny Mediterranean beach. And who can argue with that?

Lemony Roasted Asparagus and Sweet Onions

Creative Commons License
©BURP! Where Food Happens

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

YAY for Spring Veg: Balsamic Grilled Asparagus

Wedding cake is great fun, but my hips can't take any more sweets at this point. So, it's back to the veggie patch with us! And this week, it's ALL ABOUT the spring veg.

If you live on the West Coast you can laugh at us Midwesterners for being a bit late-on-the-draw with our asparagus recipes. But, the fact is, we're in the midst of Wisconsin asparagus season right now. In mid-June. And we couldn't be happier.

We've been loading up on fresh, local asparagus from JenEhr Family Farm at the farmer's market on Saturdays. And we'll keep on eating it until it's no longer available... by which point we'll be utterly sickened by the thought of eating any more. AH! The joys of seasonal produce!

Now, if you're a food geek (as I am), you might be interested in knowing that asparagus has a long, mysterious history. No one really knows its origins. However, we do know that it's been around for a VERY long time. The word asparagus originates from the Greek, asparagos – and the Greeks were known for their cultivation of the plant. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder speaks of their belief that if rams’ horns were pounded and buried, asparagus would grow in that place. Another famous Roman, Cato, wrote about his experiences cultivating asparagus from seed at the vernal equinox. The seeds should be sown, he wrote, in moist, dense soil and fertilized with sheep’s dung. Maybe a bit TMI -- but fascinating stuff, nonetheless.

That said, I won't hold you down for too long with the history of things. In fact, today I've got an easy-peasy grilled asparagus recipe that will have your tastebuds dancing. All you need (in addition to a pound or so of asparagus) are three ingredients that I'll bet you have lying around in your pantry -- a bit of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, and a bit of Dijon mustard.
Throw all three ingredients into a bowl. Almost any proportion works in this case, but I like equal parts vinegar/oil with a dollop of mustard.
Add a pinch of salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper... and then whisk them thoroughly. It's not the prettiest vinaigrette in the universe, but I promise you'll find it far more than satisfactory.
Toss it with your cleaned asparagus. You can let the veg marinate for a while, or you can throw them directly on the grill. Heck, you can even eat them just as they are, if you're so inclined (really fresh asparagus is outstanding raw).
Grill the spears over direct heat for 5-10 minutes -- or until they are just tender.
One of the great things about asparagus is the speed at which it can be cooked. It's the perfect vegetable to prep as a quick side dish. Which explains the legendary phrase often attributed to Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus (known to be quite the fan of asparagus): Velocius quam asparagi coquantur (Quicker than you can cook asparagus).

Yay for ancient spring foods!

This post has been submitted as part of Real Food Wednesdays. Great stuff over there; check it out!

Creative Commons License
©BURP! Where Food Happens

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pan Fried Mushroom Agnolotti

Sometimes, when you're nice, people send you cool stuff.
In this case, those Sweet Folks at Buitoni sent us a bit of their Riserva Wild Mushroom Agnolotti to try out. It's been a busy week, so I was actually pretty grateful for the opportunity to take advantage of a bit of convenience food.

Plus, you know what a love affair we've got going with pasta (and mushrooms!), so you can imagine we were pretty eager to give their fresh agnolotti a try... but how would we prepare it?
Rather than covering it with sauce, we decided that a nice, simple pan-fry would do the trick.

We melted a few tablespoons of butter in our trusty cast-iron skillet. We added a few bits of chopped fresh rosemary... and we let things bubble and brew for a bit, until the butter began to brown.
Then, we tossed in the fresh pasta. We sprinked a bit more rosemary over the top, and let the agnolotti fry for 3-4 minutes, until it was nicely browned on one side.
Then, we flipped each piece of pasta over.
After 3-4 more minutes, we had something delicious... and crisp... and incredibly earthy. We paired ours up with a bit of roasted asparagus.
The flavors of this simple dish just exploded in our mouths. The first thing that met our tongues was the crisp-fried exterior. The pasta browned up nicely, and absorbed just the right amount of the browned butter and rosemary flavors. The pasta was crisp -- yet chewy-- and the simple application let the flavors of the filling shine through. As we chewed, new character emerged. The aromas of the nutty butter bloomed, as our tongues encountered the delicious wild mushroom stuffing -- which nicely featured both the earthy mushrooms (portobello & cremini, in this case) and the Grana Padano & Parmesan cheeses. A hint of roasted garlic lingered on the end of the bite.

We couldn't complain about Buitoni's Agnolotti. This pasta was certainly good enough for a quick weeknight meal... and probably good enough to please company when prepared as a simple pasta course.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Creative Commons License
©BURP! Where Food Happens