Sunday, August 30, 2009

Plain Jane Vanilla Ice Cream Days

I'm in a serious slump.
Despite all the bounty at the farmer's market (and the great food we seem to bring home each week), we've both been working pretty hard and haven't had a whole lot of time for cooking. When we do cook, it's been "nothing to blog about"... or at least that's what I've been telling myself. We throw together salads. And sammiches. And odd assortments of veggies. And we call them dinner.

I haven't even been all that inspired to take pictures of what's out in the garden... although I did get a great shot of this lovely mutant cherry tomato. He's a twin... but (as you can see) he's also not very modest.
Fortunately, David Lebovitz knows just what I'm talking about.
And I know this because he included a recipe just for me in The Perfect Scoop.
Now, I'm from Milwaukee, so I'm a custard girl.
Lebovitz would probably say that I'm really a French custard girl, but I'm going to be true to my local side and stand on principle here. I'm a Milwaukee Custard Girl. And that's final.

If you've never been to Kopp's Frozen Custard (home of the most heavenly frozen treats imaginable), then you might not know what I mean. But, I'll be the first to tell you that you've really been depriving yourself... and it's such a shame... and that you really ought to come out here for a visit... and soon.

Considering all that, I could be a complete snob about things and claim that there's simply NOTHING LIKE a good custard. At that point, I could stand on principle (again) and refuse to make things like Philidelphia style ice cream. But, that would be downright silly. Because, my friends, there is a place and a time for Plain Jane Vanilla Ice Cream that doesn't take hours of effort or complicated recipes. And that time is now.

You will need a bit of stove time for this recipe - but I promise you the effort will be minimal. Just a bit of cream, some sugar, and a split and scraped vanilla bean and you're good to go. Warm the mixture just until the sugar is melted.
Then add some additional cream, a splash of vanilla, and a bit of whole milk.
Technically, that cools things down almost to the point where you could toss the mixture right into your ice cream maker. But, leaving it in the fridge for a while is a good thing. First -- it gives that vanilla bean a bit more time to swim around in the cream and impart his delicious goodness. Secondly, it gives you time for an afternoon nap -- which, as far as I'm concerned, is never a bad thing.
So, pour it into a bowl (with a cover), give it a good stir, and leave it sit in the fridge for a while. We forgot about ours for two whole days (that's how inspired we were) before it ever saw the inside of our ice cream maker.
It could be that the extra-long brew time was the secret to this creamy, dreamy, ultra-vanilla ice cream. But, I doubt it. I'm pretty sure that a couple of hours would do. So, you needn't make up excuses for not trying this.

After all, it makes an excellent root beer float (especially with a locally brewed rootbeer, like the one from Sprecher Brewing Company).
Vanilla Ice Cream, Philadelphia Style
adapted from David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Place cream, sugar, and salt into a medium saucepan. Carefully scrape seeds from the vanilla bean into the saucepan and add the pod to the pot. Warm over medium heat, stirring, until the cream is warm and the sugar is dissolved.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining cream, milk, and vanilla extract.

Chill the ice cream base thoroughly. Before churning, remove the vanilla bean (you can rinse it and reserve it for another use, if desired) and then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hansel & Gretel Pasta: Orecchiette with Roasted Eggplant & Ricotta

Cinnamon and cocoa powder.
Reminiscent of a decadent dessert, no?
Well, what if I told you that these two flavors could form the incredible basis for one of the best savory summer dishes you'd tasted yet? Would you believe me?

I promise you I'm not blowing smoke.
The truth is, when I came back from a week's vacation in Wisconsin's North Woods on Saturday, the last thing I expected was to be making a dish with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and eggplant. But, life is an unexpected thing. And sometimes it surprises you.

The fairytale begins... once upon a time, with a few pounds of "Hansel & Gretel" eggplants from the West Allis farmer's market (stereotypically, the "Gretel" eggplants are smaller and white; "Hansels" are slightly larger and black).
I'd always been inspired by Greek dishes (like moussaka) that combine cinnamon and eggplant. And I'd recently read something about Sicilian caponanta made with a pinch of cocoa powder -- meant to tame the bitterness in eggplant. So, the concept really wasn't at outlandish as it seemed.

I chopped up the eggplant, along with a couple of sweet Wisconsin-grown Walla Walla onions. And I tossed them with a bit of cinnamon and cocoa powder. I arranged them on a baking sheet and Peef drizzed them with a bit of olive oil. Then we tossed them into a 425ºF oven to roast.
While the eggplant was roasting, I chopped up some raw walnuts -- which we'd add to the roasting eggplant about 10-15 minutes before it was finished roasting.
Peef stepped outside to pick a handful of fresh Italian parsley from the herb garden.I chopped the parsley and added it, along with about a cup of grated pecorino romano, to a tub of whole milk ricotta cheese.
We whipped the cheese and parsley together and set it aside for a bit while we cooked up some orecchiette pasta.When the pasta was finished cooking, we added it to the ricotta cheese mixture, along with some of the pasta water.
About the same time, we noticed an incredible aroma emanating from the oven and wafting throughout the kitchen. It was sweet -- and yet, somehow, not sugary. The odor of the cinnamon was unmistakeable, but the cocoa powder was... less obvious. It melded strangely (yet solidly) with the scent of the rapidly caramelizing onions. And, somehow, the whole entourage married itself to the roasting eggplant, forming a complex union. When we took the steaming pans from the oven, we couldn't resist sneaking a taste.
OhMY! It was positively fabulous.
We mixed the eggplant and onions with the creamy ricotta cheese and we held our heads over the top of the serving bowl to take in the full aroma.
Creamy, but not heavy. Sweet and caramelized, but definitely savory. The walnuts not only brought forward a distinct nuttiness, but they added a nice bit of texture to an otherwise smooth dish. A bit of crusty garlic bread, and we were all set.
I love it when dinner turns out with a fairytale ending.

Hansel & Gretel Pasta: Orecchiette with Roasted Eggplant & Ricotta

The End.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Four Chefs & A Pig: Braise on the Go Pig Roast at Pinehold Gardens

Summer in Wisconsin is often gone before it begins.
Or at least that's the way it feels sometimes.

By this time of the year, we often find ourselves hurrying to take advantage of all the warm weather activities -- the gardening, the State Fair, the farmer's markets and art fairs. After all, autumn is approaching. And soon, we'll be trading in our shorts for sweaters. And our garden trowels for snow shovels.

Milwaukee may not have the sunniest beaches... or the longest growing season... but, her brief summer bears some beautiful fruit. One of the most delicious of these is the annual Braise on the Go pig roast, which was held at Pinehold Gardens.

We thought that last year's pig roast couldn't be beat. That is, of course, until we experienced this year's feast.
The day couldn't have been more perfect -- warm and breezy, with just a few clouds in the sky. When we arrived on the farm, we were greeted by Aran Madden from Furthermore, who gave us an introductory pour of Proper Ale... which is, in our humble opinions, one of the best all-purpose brews out there. Light, toasty, and a bit sweet, it was just the thing to whet our palates for the feast ahead.
Of course the Proper Ale was just the first of four brews that we'd be sampling throughout the evening. The others included Knot Stock (a hoppy, peppery pale ale), Fatty Boombalatty (one of the best -- and most different -- Belgian wheats we've ever tried), and Oscura (a Mexican lager augmented with the flavor -- and killer aroma-- of freshly ground coffee).The tables were set in full view of Sandra and Dave's gorgeous Pinehold Gardens farm. We took our seats and waited patiently for the first course to arrive.
The first delicacy to make its way around the table was a delicious appetizer -- delicate pastry topped with goat cheese, chives, pork confit, and caramelized onions. If the satisfied groans escaping our mouths after nibbling these delicious bits were any indication, we were in for some serious treats.
The first course was the brainchild of Adam Lucks, the powerhouse behind our favorite local hang-out, Comet Cafe -- home of Lo's favorite artichoke melt sammich and Peef's dream come true, a bloody mary served with a slice of perfectly fried bacon.The art of charcuterie really shone in this dish -- a pork paté en croute. The bright pickled beets and kohlrabi kept this rich dish from becoming too overwhelming. And the addition of a few cooked fresh cherries lent the perfect fruity touch.
A surprise palate-cleanser followed the charcuterie -- a delightful carrot slaw with just a hint of cilantro. Crisp and refreshing -- this is definitely a dish we'll be thinking about recreating here at Burp!, as it would make the perfect side dish for all sorts of delicious summer fare.
Next up, we sampled some of the best satay we'd ever eaten -- thanks to our new friend, Peter Sandroni from La Merenda (a great little spot in Walker's Point where you can get some of the best global tapas fare around).
If it weren't tempting enough watching them prepare the tapas...
We couldn't wait to sample the first round as it got to our table -- delicious, Thai marinated pork accompanied by a spicy peanut sauce.
The pork was perfectly done... and it was a fantastic accompaniment for the peppery Knot Stock that was served alongside.
Chile-heads that we are, we reveled in the amazingly zippy cucumber relish that followed... although the Thai chiles made it a little bit too spicy for some at our table.
Our tongues had barely cooled when they passed around the next batch of satay -- Jamaican inspired pork with fresh mango salsa.
By this point in the evening, we could have hopped back into the car -- happy and perfectly satisfied. But, the third course took us for yet another delicious whorl.
The unforgettably tender fresh ham, plated with (delicious) nasturtium and accompanied by a rich, velvety barbeque sauce (made with a hint of coffee), took every single one of us over the edge with delight.
The corn pudding couldn't have been better. It was light and sweet -- made with fresh Wisconsin eggs and sugary August corn (which tasted as if it had been plucked straight from the field).
And, just as we thought it couldn't GET any better, we bit into the juicy delight of this fresh watermelon and cherry tomato salad. With melon so luscious it could have been a dessert in and of itself, this side was brought down to earth with the brilliant addition of savory goat cheese and fresh herbs. Sheer bliss!
By this point, we were seriously wondering if we'd ever be able to get up out of our chairs. But who can resist the promise of chocolate? (and, Peef would add, BACON)??!!
Chef Dave Swanson from Braise quite nearly outdid himself with this dish. Dark chocolate, freshly cured bacon, whole wheat shortbread, and a pinch of sea salt... it could only be made better with a swirl of dark caramel sauce and a dollop of fresh cream.

By the glow of candlelight, we relished every single bite. And yes -- we swooned a bit. I might have spotted a tear of delight rolling down Peef's right cheek. And Rebecca declared that she might just "have to hug Dave" (matter of fact, I think she actually did!)
A night so perfect. Really doesn't happen every day.
It was difficult, but we bid the evening adieu... walking through the grass, until only the faint glow of candles could be seen in the distance.

We thought last year's pig roast was a masterpiece. But, this year was absolute inspiration.

How can we help but give some serious kudos to everyone who made this event possible? Here's the list. Now, give 'em some love! Better yet, sign up for next year's pig roast and join in on the fun!!

Event Sponsorship:
Braise on the Go
Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast
Pinehold Gardens

Food Provided By:
Large Black Pig by Dominion Valley Farm
Beets: JenEhr Farm
Butter, Cream: Sassy Cow Creamery
Cherry Tomatoes, Watermelon: Tipi Produce
Cilantro: Afterglow Farm (
Cipollini Onions, Scallions: Springdale Farm
Chocolate: Omanhene Chocolate
Cucumbers: Piper Farm
Eggs: Jeff-Leen Farm
Greens: LotFotL
Kohlrabi: Wellspring Farm
Whole Wheat Flour: Jesse Lambright (Pristine View Farm)

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wisconsin State Fair: FOOD

Some people go to the state fair for the animals...
Some people go to the fair to ride the ferris wheel...
But, we like to go to the Wisconsin State Fair for the food...

When you're from Wisconsin, you've got to start things off right.
Once that first beer is gone, you're ready to tackle the rest of the fair.
Then it's time for breakfast. How about some nice, tender buttermilk pancakes with Wisconsin butter and fresh maple syrup??And how about some dark chocolate covered bacon on the side??
Peef was seriously enamoured with that bacon.
On the other hand, it was pretty difficult to resist the deep fried cheese curds.
Yeah -- I'm a fried cheese kindofa gal myself. And some of these curds were HUGE!

The sweet potato fries were pretty good.And so were the deep fried peanut butter and jelly sammiches (on a stick!)They were sweet and gooey...
And they tasted an awful lot like a peanut butter & jelly donut.
When we thought we couldn't eat another bite, we made friends with some pastry guys who were wearing funny hats.
Wisconsin State Fair is known for its cream puffs, made with Wisconsin cream.
YUM.After all that food, who could resist a nice cold glass of flavored milk?
Thanks Ms. Happy Cow!!*burp!*

Get a glimpse of last year's Wisconsin State Fair Finds.

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