Sunday, September 27, 2009

Roasted Chicken with Provencale Pistou

I don't know about you, but the smell of fresh lavender always makes me a little bit pensive.
*sigh* What I wouldn't give (at almost any given moment) to be wandering about in the lavender cloaked hills of Provence... exploring enchanting villages, lush vineyards, and vibrant Provencale markets. Tasting wine and eating tantalizing food...

Considering my actual physical proximity to the hills of France, I usually have to settle for something a bit less fabulous -- a meandering jaunt, perhaps, out the back door and into our little urban green space where I have a few delightful mounds of hardy lavender growing. On rare occasions (when I'm really lucky), I have a bit of time to lounge in the grass with the crown of my head right up against the garden where the smell of the lavender flowers is really intoxicating.

Better yet, I can snip a few sprigs of lavender and bring them in the house for later.
On this particular occasion, I was having a hankering for roasted chicken. I'd been toying with the idea of "psycho-ing" the bird (see recipe for Psycho Chicken) and seasoning it with some pesto and lemon. But, I saw the lavendar, and I got to thinking. How about a Provencale Pesto?
I grabbed little whisps of herbs -- rosemary, thyme, summer savory, tarragon, marjoram, oregano, and parsley. And I added it to my sprigs of lavendar. Then, I came into the house, pulled all the tender leaves from the woody stems, and threw everything into the food processor with a few cloves of garlic.
A few whirs and a whorl of olive oil later... and I had some seriously fabulous stuff. The herbal aroma was completely intoxicating.
I saw the pretty little pastured chicken sitting there in the roasting pan, and I thought to myself "Gosh, that poor thing doesn't want to be poked and prodded with a knife."So, we opted for another great flavor-imparting technique. We stuffed the pistou underneath the chicken's skin -- and well into the cavity.
We left just enough of the pistou so that we could rub a final round of it into the skin. Finally, we placed a quartered lemon into the cavity.
And then, we tossed it into the oven. Well -- I use the term "tossed" fairly loosely here. I may have placed it in the oven somewhat quickly, but I didn't do so in a completely willy-nilly fashion. But, you can treat your chicken as you will. Rest assured, it will come out of the oven looking beautiful and brown and succulent.You'll cut it open and you'll gasp -- as we did -- to smell all the herbalicious deliciousness. The tender breast will be redolent with the fragrance of the pistou. Just garlicky enough to be wonderful, but not so much that you wake up the next day wishing you hadn't eaten it. And so wonderfully balanced by the flavors of the other herbs that you just wish you could eat and eat and eat some more...

You don't, of course. But, you definitely think about making this again.

Roasted Chicken with Provencale Pistou

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Sinful Dish: Baked Cucumbers with Creamed Mushrooms

It's confession time.
I'm late to the game on something I promised you. And I hope you'll forgive me.

We got quite a number of requests for the baked cucumber recipe after we completed our Julie/Julia Challenge in August. Unfortunately, I hadn't taken many photos of the dish the first time we made it, so I didn't really have anything worthy of a blog post. Since the dish was so delicious, and we had fresh cucumbers in the garden, I figured we'd simply give it another try.
Well, guess what? I forgot all about my promise.
Fortunately, as of last week, we still had cucumbers in the garden. I also happened to have a pint of fresh cream on hand. I was roasting a chicken for dinner, and I figured the baked cucumbers would be the perfect side dish. Since there were only the two of us, I cut the recipe back by a bit and used only two cucumbers (I'm recording my halved recipe here; the recipe can be doubled). On the up side, that means the full dish is worth quite a few less calories. On the downside, it still ends up to be pretty sinful. And, if you're anything like me, you'll compound the problem with sins of omission and revision.

Sin #1: Technically, the recipe calls for English cucumbers, but I believe firmly in using what's on hand, so we settled for your typical garden variety cucs. I also took some other liberties with the recipe (which I'll divulge). Sacrilige? Maybe -- but it's the nature of my cooking beast. I can't seem to follow a recipe to save my life.

First -- you'll need two cucumbers. The original recipe called for six. That'a alotta cucumbers.

Julia Child's recipe requires peeled cucumbers.
Sin #2: If disobeying the recipe early on makes my sin even greater, I'll take the stripes for it. The truth is, I very seldom peel anything. But, I wasn't a complete heretic: I met her halfway on this one. I do think that peeled cucumbers tend to drain more efficiently -- and they also make for a more tender bite overall. But, I think the bit of peel left on the cucumbers adds a pleasant bit of color. And I really don't think it impacts the finished product in a negative way.
I did manage to follow some of the instructions. I de-seeded the cucumbers with a spoon, and then proceeded to cut them up into 3/8 inch thick matchsticks.
Of course, shortly thereafter sin #3 ensued. The recipe calls for green onions. I didn't have any on hand, so I substituted 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions (and added them a step earlier). I realize the flavor isn't quite the same (and 1/4 cup is quite a bit more onion flavor than the original recipe calls for); but, I promise you it wasn't a disaster. And again -- a splash of color never hurts.
I salted the cucumbers and onions with just over 1/2 tsp of salt, sprinkled them with 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar and 1/16 tsp sugar, and left them to drain for about an hour or so in a colander. When the time was up, I painstakingly dried them on paper towels.

Sin #4: Yeah, I was bad to the environment. Paper towels do a great job, but I should have used one of my white flour sack towels. Ah, well, you live and learn.
Sin #5: Sheer laziness.
Rather than melting my butter the old fashioned way, I decided to cheat a bit. I put two pats of butter (about 1 1/2 T) into my glass baking dish and placed it into the oven as it preheated to 375ºF.
By the time the oven was preheated... voila! I had my melted butter. I'd like to think that Julia would be proud of my resourcefulness. But, one never really knows.
I tossed the dried cucumbers in the butter and then added about a tablespoon of freshly chopped basil to the mix. Julia calls for 1/2 tsp of basil (or dill) for her entire recipe. Since I wouldn't consider overseasoning anything with basil to be a sin, I'm not counting this among my transgressions.

I placed the baking dish in the preheated oven, and let it go for about an hour, tossing the cucumbers a couple of times during the baking process -- just like the recipe said. See! I'm really a very good girl at heart!
Meanwhile, I gently sauteed about 6 oz of mushrooms in a dry skillet. I did it for a skoche longer than Julia said I should, but I'm not sure that really mattered a whole lot. After all, caramelization is flavor, right?

When the mushrooms were sufficiently cooked (by my standards) I added a mixture of 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1/2 tsp cornstarch (which I mixed first with 1/2 tsp of water). I let it come to a bubble, and then simmered it for about 5 minutes, until it was perfectly thickened.
When the cucumbers came out of the oven, I folded the creamed mushrooms into the cucumbers. And that was that!
I can't say this is the most attractive dish I've ever made. But, it's definitely got things going for it in the flavor department. Both the cucumbers and mushrooms are quite concentrated in their flavor -- and they really complement one another. The cucumbers have, somehow, remained crisp while the onions have wilted and begun to break down. Everything is accented nicely by the suggestion of white wine vinegar, which also serves to cut the richness of the cream. And, of course, there's the basil... which really makes almost anything better.

We were surprised by the dish the first time. And equally pleased with it on the second (and significanly revised) go-round. It made a great side dish for chicken -- and I could also see it performing nicely alongside a roast or some wine braised tempeh.


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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Full-On Beet Risotto with Toasted Pecans

It's that time again -- the point in the year when you can saunter through the farmer's market and find absolutely perfect beets.
You know the ones -- the deeply colored purples, reds, pinks, and golds. Candy cane, bull's blood, Chioggas, and goldens. Not only are the roots flawless and plump -- but the greens are crisp and well formed.

I don't know about you, but I insist upon buying beets with the greens still attached. Not only are they lovely (and tasty -- similar to the flavor of Swiss Chard) -- but they really pack a nutritional punch. They're rich in chlorophyll and can actually possess a higher overall nutritional value than the beet root itself.

On this particular day, the red beets were calling my name. The wind was feeling a bit cool, and I was craving some serious comfort food. Beet risotto anyone?
Whenever I make beet risotto, I always go back to the same recipe -- brilliant beet risotto, which was inspired by an article from Food & Wine magazine a number of years ago). Like many great recipes, it's really more about technique than ingredients, and you can make all sorts of modifications to the ingredients of the recipe to suit your own tastes.

The first step is to chop the beets finely in your food processor. You'll do the same to the beet greens as well.
You saute onion and garlic, toast your arborio rice, and then add the raw beets and greens to the risotto pot. Add your stock, stir, and repeat. By the time your rice is al dente it's also deliciously pink. The beets are cooked and the kitchen smells great.
At this point, you can add your favorite cheese and any number of delicious add-ins.

In our case, we opted for a bit of Wisconsin parmesan and a dab of local buttermilk bleu cheese. I also stirred in some toasted pecans -- which added great flavor, a bit of protein, and a little bit of toothiness.
We've also tried other awesome combinations: cheddar cheese with a spoonful of horseradish, sour cream with chopped fresh dill weed, goat cheese and toasted walnuts... the possibilities are endless.

Brilliant Beet Risotto

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Foodbuzz Food Blog Awards: Nominate Your Favorites!

I'm stoked... I just read today that Foodbuzz is sponsoring The 1st Annual Foodbuzz Blog Awards!

What's Foodbuzz, you ask?
Well -- it's just one of the best food communities available online. It's a great place to find recipes, peruse blogs, and commune with other like-minded folks. But, don't take my word for it, check it out yourself!

Now, you and I both know that there is scads of creativity and talent out there in the food blogging world. Lots of unsung heroes who spend their days toiling and their nights cooking up great food in the kitchen. Plenty of great folks who share themselves with us online -- and invite us into their homes to see what's cooking.

Give your favorite blogs a shout-out. Nominate them for a Foodbuzz Award!
And, I should add, we wouldn't try to stop you if you wanted to nominate Burp!

The nomination process began on Monday (and it closes on 9/30/09).
ANYONE can nominate a blog. If you read blogs regularly, consider nominating a few of your favorites. If you read less often, consider which ones you do read, and why. Nominate them! Got a friend who blogs?? Show your support through a nomination.

Five bloggers will be chosen in each category.

Categories for nominations include:

  • Best Overall Blog
  • Best New Blog
  • Best Wine Blog
  • Best Cocktail/Spirits Blog
  • Best Baking Blog
  • Best Food Photography Blog
  • Best Visual Blog (graphic design)
  • Best Writing Voice
  • Best Healthy Living Blog
  • Best Green/Sustainable blog
  • Best Family Blog
  • Best Recipe Blog
  • Best Blogger Humanitarian Effort
  • Best Community Blog Effort (recognizing blogging groups/challenges/etc)
  • Most Humorous Food Blog

Blogger you’d most want to:

  • Take to dinner
  • Cook a meal for you
  • Be your personal Sommelier
  • Create you a cocktail
  • Watch on Food Network
  • Watch on Iron Chef
  • See open up their own restaurant
  • See their blog made into a movie
Click here to nominate your favorites!
I'm heading over right now to nominate a few of my own.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Newsy Bits: Save the Date! October Eat Local Challenge

I was Very Pleased to go online today and find that the Eat Local Challenge site is back up and running. And they'll be sponsoring the 5th annual nationwide eat local challenge this October!

I can't tell you how amazed we were the first time we participated in an eat local challenge. We expected to experience LOTS of hardship and very little success. But, we were pleasantly surprised by all the great products we found locally -- with just a little bit of digging. The Eat Local Challenge also opened us up to the idea of getting to know some of our best local farmers, artisans, and business owners.

Five easy ways to start eating local:

  1. Shop your local farmer's market.
  2. Buy that bushel of corn and freeze it for winter eating.
  3. Travel to a local farm on the weekend and take advantage of their U-pick offerings.
  4. Grow a few pots of your own (very local) herbs.
  5. Support independent restaurants -- give up Starbucks for Chuck's and McDonald's for that locally owned diner you've driven past for the last couple of years

    Find your Farmers Market

You can participate at any level. Every single purchase makes a difference!
For any of you interested in joining in for the October Challenge, more info here.
We've signed on!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

I Scream for More: Fresh Mint Ice Cream

At this point, some of you might be wondering if we've given up on our Perfect Scoop ice cream making project.
Despite our unseasonably cool August, a really full schedule, and the fact that our thighs are already bulging from blog-food-induced weight gain, you'll be happy to know we've still persisted in the ice cream arena. We've been tackling recipes based on what's available locally -- so we've skipped around a bit.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the chocolate mint out in the garden was looking like it needed a bit of a hair cut (I love growing mint in the garden -- but it can get a little bit crazy -- so it helps to have a stash of ideas on hand so that you can use your harvest every now and again).

If you've never tried it, chocolate mint is a real pleasure. Not only is it a lovely plant with deep green, prettily serrated leaves, but it has lovely dark stems and relatively pretty flowers (for a mint plant). The mint flavor is strong -- and reminiscent of chocolate. Makes great tea, and is lovely added to iced tea or sprinkled OVER ice cream.

So, why not make it INTO ice cream?
I flipped through David Lebovitz's book and found his recipe, which conveniently calls for 2 cups of tightly packed fresh mint leaves. Perfect.
We clipped a seriously huge pile of the mint and shaved the lovely leaves from the woody stems.
Once we had an overflowing two cups of leaves, we went about gathering up the other four ingredients -- egg yolks (5), whole milk (1 cup), cream (2 cups), and sugar (3/4 cup) to start. (Häagen-Dazs prides itself on five ingredients -- but we'll do them one better... how about five lovely, fresh, local ingredients?)
First, you heat 1 cup of cream with the milk and sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, you'll steep the mint leaves in the hot mixture for about an hour.
During the steeping process, the "tea" turns a lovely minty green color (and begins to smell like a peppermint patty!). You'll rewarm it, incorporate the egg yolks, and cook it into the custard base for your ice cream. You'll know it's ready when it coats the back of a spoon.
At that point, you can take the the mint custard base and strain it into the remaining 1 cup heavy cream.
Mix everything altogether... appreciating the way the earthy green color melds with not-quite-whiteness of the cream.
Give the mixture a good chill over the top of an ice bath to give it a head start on the cooling process, and then toss it into the fridge for a couple of hours.
Once the mixture is really cold, you can pour it into your ice cream maker and let it work its magic.

The result?
The creamiest, mintiest ice cream you've ever tasted.

Using fresh mint gives this treat a fantastic herbal quality that you just don't get from recipes that use extracts. When Peef insisted we serve the ice cream with a little bit of chocolate syrup... well, I just couldn't complain.
This ice cream would be perfect in a mint-chocolate ice cream sammich. Or served alongside a decadent slice of flourless chocolate torte.

Or how about something a little bit different, and undeniably adult? ... a delightfully decadent mint julep shake??

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Inspiration Sandwich: Tomato with Provolone & Hot Peppers

It was 9pm on a Friday evening (almost every Friday evening, in fact), circa 1992.

We were sitting in a grimey booth at Fuel Café -- a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that made it to Milwaukee just in time to take advantage of a dying coffee culture. The floors bore red, white, and black checkered tile. The walls sagged heavy with local art, hung in the hopes of a fortuitous sale... plopped between dirty posters advertising the latest concerts by the strangest local bands. The bathroom walls told tall tales -- painted and markered up with pop-philosophy, written daily by free spirited patrons inspired by 25 cent refills of piping hot joe.

Peef and I sat there, smoking cigarettes, and sipping the strongest coffee in the universe. It was at one of those tables that we discovered mancala. Ourselves. Poetry. And sometimes a really great sammich. We weren't married. Gosh, we weren't even dating at that point. We were just hangin' out, being friends.

And we were seriously cool.

Gosh, how things have changed.
We didn't start dating until 1996, but we've been happily hitched since 1998. Most nights, these days, we're more likely to be found in our 10x10 foot kitchen than a coffee shop. Cigarette smoking has gone by the wayside, replaced by (hopefully) better habits. Same thing goes for the late-night coffee swilling, which has been replaced (more recently) by things like... sleep.

Fuel went non-smoking in October of 2007.
They cleaned up their grimey booths and put in a new counter. And the owners started building an awesome restaurant empire -- with the likes of Comet Café, Balzac, Palomino, Hi-Hat, and (the newest addition) HoneyPie Café .

Fortunately, some of the good stuff remains. Fuel still has great coffee. And the menus at both Fuel and Comet still feature two of my favorite sammiches:
Toasted Cheesy Tomato
Fuel’s famous gooey sub. The best mozz & provolone, fresh tomato & onion melted with Italian herbs & olive oil on a toasted sub roll.

The Buttafucco
Add hot Italian giardiniera peppers from Glorioso’s to the Cheesy Tom.
Both Fuel and Comet pride themselves in obtaining as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, which is awesome. But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we could try our hand at making these sammiches ourselves. And you can't get much more local than that!

Inspired by a handful of Jen Ehr tomatoes from the West Allis farmer's market, we set out to do some damage.
In addition to the tomatoes, we gathered up a few slices of local provolone, some farm fresh red onions, a demi-baguette from the bakery, a handful of herbs from the garden, a spread of mayo, a few shreds of crisp lettuce, and a jar of hot pepper giardiniera... and we were set.
The sammiches were assembled in a matter of moments.
They just needed to be placed under the broiler for a few minutes to make sure the cheese got all nice and melty.
Ah, the memories. So much tied up in a few simple ingredients -- put together in just the right way.
As we opened the oven door, our eyes feasted on the sight. The cheese was melted, the bread perfectly crusty. The smell of fresh tomatoes and herbs hovered right up top, just beneath the briny heat of the hot peppers. We were thrilled. Stomachs growling, we grabbed our sammiches, a couple of glasses of nice red wine, and sat down to dinner.

Taking that first bite was somewhat of a revelation. Somehow, I was transported back to a more innocent time and place -- when all we needed was $5, a good cup of coffee, and some great conversation.

It was a bit like going home.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Joy in Repitition: The Amazing Three Layer Blueberry Buckle

Maybe you were wondering what we did with all that vanilla ice cream we made the other day. The truth is, we made pretty short work of it. But not before pairing it with one of my favorite summer desserts, blueberry buckle.
"How BORING," I hear you thinking, "no wonder you're in a cooking slump."

But, I promise you, it's not true. Although I've made this recipe (at least once each summer since 2004... ever since I spied it in Gourmet Magazine), it's definitely not ordinary. And certainly not boring. I've made it so many times that it feels like my own; my experimental modifications have become the norm. And people have begun to make requests that I bring this buckle (er... Burple??) to mid-summer functions.

This year's buckle was one of the best yet. And it had everything to do with the quality of the blueberries. Although they're the last of the season (and more regional than local -- hailing from MI), these berries tasted like I'd picked them myself. Unlike most commercial varieties, they were tiny. And sweet. And they held the Very Essence of blueberry-ness. Just like the wild blueberries I remember picking with my parents when we stayed at my great grandparents' cabin way up north when I was a kid.
What I will confess to you is that this is NOT a quick recipe. The buckle has three layers -- a pastry crust, a cakey layer (surrounded by two layers of blueberries), and a streusel topping. There is a deadly amount of butter, a copious amount of pastry blending, and a whole lot of "make this and refrigerate it for a while" instructions. But, it's seriously good.

You start off with the pastry crust. Roll it thin between two pieces of waxed paper.
You place the finished crust into your baking dish and put it in the fridge for a while (I warned you). Fortunately, you can occupy yourself with other parts of the recipe while it's chilling.
You can wash your blueberries. And zest a lemon.
And make the streusel topping.
And whip together the eggs, buttermilk, flour, and butter the compose the cakey layer.
Then you can begin to layer the ingredients in the baking pan -- first the blueberries, which have been mixed with the lemon zest.

Then the cake batter.
After that, another layer of blueberries.
Finally, you can add your streusel topping. The original recipe makes more than I need, but I happily make the entire batch and stow some of it away (in the fridge or freezer) for use on some other impromptu fruit cobbler.
The baked cobbler browns up nicely. The edges bubble, and the topping gets a sugar-topped --almost creme-brulee-like--crunch.
A bit of the buckle would be just fine scooped out, warm, onto a plate.
But, it's definitely better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Triple Layer Blueberry Buckle

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