Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poetic Disappointment: Raspberry Chocolate Ice Cream

Really? How could ice cream be bad?
I'm still asking myself this very question. After all, it seemed to have everything going for it -- chocolate, cream, awesome raspberries. But, somehow, it just fell... well, flat.  I'm still perplexed.

The sad story began on a Saturday in August. The raspberries were as close to perfection as they come -- big, ripe, juicy and local. We'd just procured them from the market, and had nibbled a few out of hand just to be sure.  Sheer perfection so far as we could tell.
And we had a nice, fresh container of whipping cream, just begging to be made into something wonderful.
A bit of sugar, some cocoa powder -- the anticipation began to mount.

We cooked up all the good stuff on the stove until the sugar was fully dissolved, and then we took everything off of the heat and added those luscious raspberries to the mix.  The pan sat on the stove, covered, for a while -- giving the raspberries just a smidge of time to soften.

And then everything went into the blender...

... where it was whipped into an oblivion.

It was gorgeous stuff -- light, fluffy, silky.  It looked like a dream.  We scraped it into a bowl, chilled it, and then gave it over to the ice cream machine.

It looked pretty perfect when it came out. 
But the flavor?
Flat. Strange. Not-quite-right.

We tasted. And retasted.  And scooped. And licked.
It didn't really get better.

But, we really HATE wasting food. So we made the best of things. It took us a number of weeks -- but we ate every last bit of the ice cream. The second round was "enhanced" with a bit of chocolate syrup (which made it passable).  The third (and final) round accompanied a batch of seriously fudgy brownies (so good, we almost didn't notice the ice cream).

As you might have noticed, we were so disappointed, we didn't even take photos of the final product... but we did write a little bit of bad poetry.

Ode to Chocolate Raspberry Disappointment
Oh you --  brown creamy treat,
For which we had high hopes.
We sacrificed ripened fruit in your image.
We whipped you in our blender,
Praying for whirled peace.
In exchange, you gave us Brain Freeze.
And an appetite for disaster.

Cold and sweet, but not satisfying.
Like a winter day in August.
We masked you in chocolate syrup.
And still you would not satisfy.

Oh you --  brown creamy creamy treat, 
You are not worthy of our pleasure.
Your looks deceive and taunt us.
Chocolate Expectation flaunts
What it can never hope to deliver.
Your whipped creamy goodness
Is but a facade.

And so, we sing of your deceit.
And warn our neighbors.
We spare even the landfill your presence --
And eat what we cannot savor.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Winter Farmer's Market -- in Milwaukee!

Eating locally in Wisconsin can be a challenge -- particularly during the winter months. But, a new development will make it easier for a great many of us. Milwaukee has decided to sponsor a winter farmers' market!

I caught wind of the market a few weeks ago; but, at that point the listing of vendors had not yet been released. This morning, I was excited to find an announcement in my inbox indicating that the market will feature locally grown produce, meats, and other food products from a whole host of vendors that we absolutely LOVE.

Some of the familiar favorites include:
  • Bolzano Artisan Meats Wisconsin’s first (and only) purveyor of dry-cured meats (located right here in Milwaukee)
  • JenEhr Family Farm Our favorite organic farm, located in Sun Prairie, WI.
  • Jeff-Leen Farm Awesome fresh eggs and pastured beef from Random Lake, WI.
  • Oly’s Oats Wisconsin-milled oats and grains.
  • Pinehold Gardens Another lovely organic farm, located in Oak Creek, WI. These guys not only grow great veg, but they sponsor the annual pig roast we attend every year.
A couple of other vendors we're excited about include:
The market will be held on Saturday mornings from 8am-12pm from November 7, 2009 thru April 24, 2010 at the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Building at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.

More information available at MCWFM.org.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Frantic Food: Oven Roasted Rattatouille with Herbs de Provence

I positively ADORE autumn.
Normally, October is the time of year when I take stock of my life, get organized, and settle into the idea that winter is approaching. I make soup, take time to watch the leaves fall, and reminisce about autumns past. I don't even mind the fact that I have to put on a sweater -- the crisp air is somehow part of the experience. We take leisurely strolls through the woods, pick apples at the orchard, and spend our weekends clipping spent blooms and cleaning up the gardens.

NOT this year. October has been a BLUR.
So far, we've been out of town almost every weekend so far this month; when we're home, our weeknights have been flooded with late meetings and work events. On top of everything, my dear baby brother is getting married on Saturday -- so we have been enrapt in all the necessary pre-nuptual activities.

Needless to say, our cooking has suffered. And our blogging?... well, you've seen the blogging.
We were lucky that the Daring Cooks challenge was announced a month ahead of time so that we could make time to get that done at the end of September. Most other nights, we're throwing things together in a whirlwind. Eating leftovers from the freezer. Sticking to the standards. And trying to prevent our already curvaceous figures from becoming downright corpulent.

Thank goodness for the farmer's market!
It's been a few weeks already -- but one of the best dishes we've managed to scrounge up was a gorgeous roasted rattatouille. Delicious. Nutritious. And perfect not-so-frantic food for a fairly frantic weeknight. Fairy tale eggplant, ripe zucchini, cherry tomatoes... Delectable.
We chopped everything and coated it in a liberal wash of olive oil. In the spirit of ease, I also tossed in a small handful of my very favorite all-purpose seasoning, Herbs de Provence.

When it was all mixed, I tossed it into a fairly toasty oven (425ยบ if my memory doesn't fail me) and let everything roast up until it was perfectly tender. In the meantime, I sauteed an onion until it was nice and caramelized (truth was, I forgot to throw it in with the other ingredients).
When everything was cooked, I stirred it all together and scooped it into bowls. A chunk of crusty bread, and we were all set.

Have I shared with you that roasted veggies are just about my favorite thing in the world? Seems there's nothing better than a load of colorful produce that's been cooked until it's all caramelized and sweet. An ordinary zucchini takes on serious personality when it's kept the company of an ultra-sweet cherry tomato in the blaze of a hot oven. And you'd never accuse roasted eggplant of being slimey -- oh, no! It wouldn't win any beauty contests, but its flesh is positively silky and so very sweet... eggplant haters wouldn't recognize it if they didn't know better.

But, I digress. I've got to think of something quick to make for dinner.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks October: Vietnamese Pho Ga

It was our first assignment from the Daring Cooks, and we were pretty stoked. I'd always wanted to make Pho, but had never managed to get around to it. Not only that, there was a great little Vietnamese grocery story down the block from us that we'd been meaning to check out. So, it was the perfect "assignment" for us. Heck -- we even screwed it up (go ahead, laugh... ). How's that for starting things off with a bang??!!

Originally, our intent was to make beef pho -- but, when we found the perfect pasture-raised chicken at the market, we changed our tune. Neither of us had ever experienced the chicken rendition of this dish -- so it would be something completely new to us.

We sped off to Viet Ho (on 49th and North) and took our time perusing the aisles. We found a (huge) bag of mung bean sprouts, a bottle of high quality nam pla (fish sauce), and a package of rice noodles... among other things. We're planning a return trip one of these weeks to delve a bit more deeply into all the great Asian ingredients.

When we got home, the first thing we did was to char the onions and ginger root. The onions blackened up gorgeously -- and we were excited about the rich flavor they would impart to the broth. In retrospect, the ginger could have used a few more minutes of heat to really intensify its flavor, and the next time I try this I'll chop the root roughly to give it a bit more surface area for browning, but it wasn't a mistake I'd lose much sleep over.
While the onions were under the broiler, we chopped up our chicken (exposing plenty of delicious, nutritious, bone marrow) and put our chicken on to par-boil. This step is meant to allow many of the impurities to be flushed out of the chicken and ensure a broth with infinitely more clarity. It made sense, but we were eager to see how effective it would really be. The chicken boiled, and the foam rose. When it had boiled for 5 minutes on high, we drained the pot, rinsed the chicken, and started all over again with a clean pot and a fresh batch of water.
This time around, we added the power-packed flavor components -- the charred onion & ginger, 2 T coriander seeds, a couple of star anise, 4 cloves, and a healthy little bunch of cilantro stems. Based on what I read on the Daring Cooks' forum, I expected to have to toast the spices (a great idea, really)... but no such directions seemed to exist in the recipe. So, I threw everything in "as is". Big Mistake. As you'll find out, our soup turned out just fine -- but the depth of flavor was definitely missing.

Of course, this mistake simply served to confirm something I've always known, deep down. ALWAYS trust your instincts. Never follow directions exactly. Even when you're completing your first Daring Cooks Challenge :)
We brought everything back to a boil and began skimming the foam that rose to the top of the pot. The recipe suggests skimming every 20 minutes for the best clarity. Despite the recipe's instructions, I really only had to skim the broth once (albeit very thoroughly) in the beginning, but we kept watch for the full 1 1/2 hours just in case.
We had to admit it. The clarity of the broth was impressive -- so, I'm definitely tucking the par-boiled chicken trick into my pocket for future use. It came out perfectly -- gorgeous and golden, with only the slightest traces of debris in the final product (something that could have been easily remedied had I used cheesecloth to strain the broth a final time).

The process wasn't at all harrowing - although I did become a bit annoyed with the coriander and star anise. Originally, it floated freely in the broth -- but what that meant is that I was constantly fighting not to skim it out along with the foam. Fortunately, we happened upon a fairly easy solution -- a spice tea bag, tied with a bit of kitchen twine. Perfect.
Enhanced by bits of shaved red onion, sliced jalapeno pepper, cilantro, and bean sprouts, the soup really was quite lovely. We used a relatively light hand with the Siracha and hoisin sauce -- just to let the flavors of the broth shine through. The final product was definitely prettier than the simple golden chicken noodle soup of my youth. Everything tasted so... fresh. And the textural elements of the add-ins brought something truly special to this soup.That said, the flavor of the broth (the real measure of Pho, according to all I've read) simply wasn't quite up to the level I expected. Despite the fact that the spiciness of the star anise and coriander were fairly evident, the flavor was almost *too* delicate. I missed the flavor of the clove and cilantro almost entirely, and (even after adding additional fish sauce and a touch of sugar) I still wanted a little bit of something more. Adding a touch of salt helped -- but the next time I make this, I'll definitely be toasting those spices (heh -- I can't believe the recipe didn't mention anything about that step!). Heck, I might even add MORE of them. And yeah, I'll be adding an extra charred onion to the mix. I'm even thinking that the chicken could use a bit of roasting -- just to give it a little bit more oomph.
That said, we enjoyed ourselves a great deal. The soup was a nice departure from all the heavier foods we've been eating now that the weather has started to cool down. Enhanced with a more liberal dose of Siracha, I'm betting this soup would be an awesome antidote for a winter cold. Or a pleasant addition to a light spring spread. Would also be fun to make for guests. I'm already contemplating the myriad options for fresh veggie add-ins... thin, crisp French green beans, julienned radishes, shredded carrots... the possibilities are endless.

Pho Ga: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

Also submitted as part of Real Food Wednesdays -- where great people post about real nourishing grub.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Favorite Things: Beet Borscht

I keep telling you how awesome beets are. And you don't believe me yet, do you?

You have all sorts of excuses:
  1. You hate peeling them.
  2. Ew.
  3. They make your hands all dirty/red/purple.
  4. Gross.
  5. They taste like dirt.
Beet haters even have their own community online... which, if you ask me, just promotes myopia among the haters... But, GO! Go check it out if you must. And report back with your findings.

In the meantime, maybe some of you will stick around and enjoy a bit of borscht -- which (if you believe it) I'd actually categorize as one of my favorite things.
I promise you, it's not just because the beets are so positively gorgeous (these came from the Jen Ehr Family Farm in Sun Prairie, WI). Borscht can actually taste good.

I have fond memories of borscht. My aunt made it every spring, and once I was living on my own she taught me to use the stock left over from simmering beef brisket to make my borscht -- and I'm quite convinced this makes some of the best borscht around. We use the "stock" left from making Burp! corned beef -- which is enriched with a bit of stout beer, tomato paste, and a variety of herbs & spices. If you don't have anything of that sort on hand, you can use a good quality (preferably homemade) beef, pork, or chicken stock. Add a dab of tomato paste and a bit of beer and you're in business.

And don't be intimidated. Borscht is just the sort of rustic fare that BEGS to be ad-libbed. Taste and smell often -- and the dish comes together more-or-less on its own.

We chop our beets and set them aside. I saute up an onion and a few cloves of garlic in a stock pot -- and then add the stock, which I heat until it's close to a boil before adding the beets.
A bay leaf, some dried thyme, and a bit of dill... and we let everything come to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the beets are tender. Sometimes I add potatoes and chunks of carrot to the mix. A bit of cabbage isn't bad. And turnips or celery root (any root veggies, really) actually work well here too -- though keep in mind that whatever you add will turn a VIOLENT shade of purpley-red and be virtually indistinguishable from the beets.
Once the vegetables are tender, you'll see that the broth has taken on a new character; it colors beautifully and thickens up a bit. If you like a bit of "body" to your borscht, you can puree some of the vegetables and add them back to the soup. Or you can simply eat the dish "as is". Borscht is definitely one of those dishes that is better the following day -- so I often make mine ahead and reheat it for dinner the next day.
We like to garnish our borscht with more fresh dill -- and usually a dollop of sour cream. You could do the same. Then grab a hunk of crusty bread, maybe a salad, and you're all set.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Just Peachy: Fresh Peach Ice Cream

I'll eat just about anything. But, when it comes to fresh fruit, I definitely have my favorites. Usually it's berries -- raspberries, blueberries, blackberries... I could pretty much go for those anywhere at any given time. I'm a pretty big sucker for watermelon. And I adore a nice ripe pineapple.

Another one at the top of my list is the peach. I just love a good peach -- the gorgeous color, reminiscent of autumn sunsets, the miraculously fuzzy skin, the tender flesh. And that deliciously floral aroma -- oh, gosh, I could just faint with pleasure.

OK, so maybe I'm going a little bit overboard. But, the truth is, a good peach is a valuable commodity. And a good fresh peach icecream... well, that's just downright swoon-worthy. And it's so seriously simple that it doesn't even require a recipe.

Peach season comes a little late to us here in Wisconsin (and yes, we do grow peaches here, strange as that might seem). Door County peaches first started showing hints of ripeness in late August, and we picked up these dandies at the farmer's market in mid-September.
It was a fantastic, sunny Saturday morning and we decided to put together the ice cream base before heading off to do our weekend errands. We blanched and peeled the peaches -- four large ones that seemed to have particular potential.
And then we pitted them -- which took little effort at all, since they were so wonderfully ripe.
I really couldn't get over how gorgeous they were. Their perfume infiltrated the entire kitchen, and I was taken back -- back to the days when my mother would buy cases of peaches from one of the local markets, and bring them home for canning. She sat near the stove -- blanching and peeling and chopping for hours. She sterilized her glass jars, and cooked the peaches in their sugar syrup. Some she canned simply, in halves; we'd eat those for breakfast on Saturday mornings with our pancakes, or in the pies she baked especially for my father.

And others -- the extra-particularly-stellar ones, I'm quite sure -- she'd make into peach jam. Sugary sweet, their perfume redolent with cinnamon and nutmeg... that jam was my favorite. I ate it with relish on toast and English muffins, and prayed it would make an appearance in my lunch box on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Mmm.
Eventually I got back to the matter at hand -- which was the making of ice cream. I chopped the peaches, and cooked them with a splash of water and about 3/4 cup of sugar just until they were tender.
And then we whirred them up in the blender with a cup of cream, a dash of vanilla, and about 1/2 cup sour cream -- until the mixture was perfectly homogenized and, well, just peachy.
The mixture went back into the fridge for a few hours to chill, and we went about our errands. When we got back home, we fired up the ice cream maker and poured the peach cream inside. It whorled and whorled -- and the amount of air the machine was able to pump into the cream was simply incredible. The resulting ice cream was just fantastic -- light and airy and wonderful.

I got inspired to add a bit of maple cashew granola to the mix, so we layered it in between scoops of the peach ice cream.
It made gorgeous cones. The whipped peach ice cream was fresh and creamy. And the granola gave a toothy bite to things that made it feel, well... nourishing.
I could have eaten this ice cream for breakfast ... or lunch or dinner, really. But, who's keeping track??

This post is part of the Peaches & Cream Five Star Makeover Round-up.

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