Thursday, December 30, 2010

Retrospectacle: Random Things From Burp! 2010

Seems that, around this time of the year, people get obsessed with lists. Even those not usually prone to organization start creating them.

There are best lists ... and worst lists... to do lists... and lists of new year's resolutions.
There are awesome lists... mediocre lists... and some pretty bad lists...
And then there are the lists written by our friend Sonja, which are bound to make you laugh. Or at least smirk a little bit. 

The truth is, we were feeling the pressure to make up a little list of our own to bid farewell to the year 2010.  And so, here it is.  It's wacky. And random.  But, it pretty much sums things up.

Random Things From Burp! 2010

Most popular post in our 2010 Summer Herb SeriesDill (written by Amy from Very Culinary)
Most interesting burger of the year:  Teriyaki Chicken Burgers with Macadamia Nut Butter
Best New Ice Cream Recipe:  Malted Milk Ice Cream
Most Popular Post From our Summer Canning Adventures:  Candied Jalapeno Peppers
Recipe Most Likely to Make Us Fat: Pork Belly with Cracklings

And now... here's to a Very Happy 2011!

As we raise our glasses of champagne to ring in the New Year -- bellies full, and hearts overflowing with the emotion of starting anew -- we want you to know that we'll be thinking of you!  

Our year has been made more complete thanks to each one of you... your smiles, your well wishes, your laughter, your comments, and your emails made each and every day of 2010 truly special.  And, as we wrap up our year, we shall look forward with anticipation to 2011 -- and another great year of inspiration, celebration, and great eating.

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roasted Porcini Chicken: They Call Me Mimi

Lo: How about Porcini chicken for dinner tonight?
Peef: You want to make a Puccini chicken?
Lo: NO -- PORCINI chicken.
Peef: Oh, ok. Can we call the chicken Mimi?
Lo: What?! Um... no.  Besides, I don't like to name my food, remember?
Peef: Oh, yeah.

(After some time)

Peef: Is it ok if I call her Mimi?
Lo: Do what you must, just keep it to yourself.
Peef (Out loud): Come here, little Mimi, let me get my hands under your skin.
Lo (now disgusted): PEEF! Enough!

This scenerio may or may not have actually taken place in the Burp! kitchen.  Nonetheless, we like the idea of a little opera singing chicken named Mimi.

For those completely lacking in knowlege of opera trivia, Puccini (a pretty famous opera composer) just happened to have a little opera by the name of La Boheme.  It wasn't exactly about a chicken. But, well, you'll forgive us for our imagination, won't you?

The fact is, there is a character in La Boheme whose name is Mimi... well, Lucia, but people call her Mimi. And Mimi is just lovely (much like this chicken recipe).

If you're in the mood for a bit of culture while we're cooking, here's a snippet of the wonderful and talented Maria Callas singing Mi Chiamano Mimi.

 Italian not so good?
Well,  that's not a problem. The gist is that Mimi just met her neighbor, Rodolfo, who happens to be a writer. They are attracted to each other and she sings him this aria which mentions something about living alone and making these beautiful fake roses.  They don't smell pretty, but she likes them, and she adores April kisses and, conveniently, she also likes poetry. By the end of her aria, Mimi & Rodolfo end up being quite enamored of one another.

And that's your music lesson for the day. And it serves a dual purpose because you can totally picture Peef as Rodolfo -- thinking his chicken named Mimi is pretty innocent and cute, right?

The fact is, we love a good roasted chicken. This one happens to be full of flavor -- thanks to the simple magic of something called "porcini dust," which just happens to be dried porcini mushrooms ground into a fine powder with a coffee grinder.

The porcini powder is mixed with fresh garlic, white wine, salt, and a bit of olive oil, and then spread between the skin and the meat of the chicken. 

Earthy and garlicky, this chicken is completely & amazingly delicious.  And, although it makes wonderful use of the rich, deep flavor of porcini mushrooms, it does so judiciously, so it won't completely break the bank.
The recipe gets even better when you choose to cook the chicken in the same pan with halved new potatoes and quartered turnips.  The vegetables caramelize nicely and they absorb plenty of the earthy flavor from the porcini mushrooms, along with that deliciously savory chicken flavor.

Perfect for company.  Just pair with a green salad and a bit of crusty bread.

Porcini Roasted Chicken

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sloppy Lentils: Crockpot Staple

Is anyone else struggling to be inspired in the kitchen?

If not -- well, maybe you don't want to waste your time on this time-saving post.

If yes -- then please read on.

Seems to me that all of our energy during the month of December is sucked up by holiday preparations, decorating, and gift shopping.  If I spend any of my creative energies on cooking, it's pointed in the direction of our annual holiday feasting -- not everyday weeknight dinner fare.

But, I'm making peace with that reality.  

This week, life sent us -- not lemons -- but a bag of lentils from the Indian grocer. So with that, my friends, we made.... sloppy lentils.

A vegetarian riff on everyone's favorite comfort food sandwich, the sloppy joe, sloppy lentils is absolutely brimming with deliciously healthy vegetables (just look at all those delicious pieces of carrot and onion poking out from beneath the lentils).

Best of all, you can whip up this dish in the blink of an eyeball. Even on a weeknight.

You will really like this idea if you answer "TRUE" to two or more of the following statements:
1) You are preoccupied with more important activities than cooking (sad but true).
2) You own a crockpot.
3) You are not allergic to legumes.
4) It's cold outside and you're looking for something warm and filling to eat.

Even better than the fact that this can be made in a crockpot, it can also be made ahead.  Because it just so happens that this dish tastes even better the next day.  And even the next.  So, make up a whole vat of it.  You may not need to make dinner again for a whole week ;)

Sloppy Lentils

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Korean Pork Belly Fries: Crazy Delicious Fusion

I'm still musing about that lusciously tender pork belly, the last of which ended up in a batch of fried rice the other night for dinner. But, I also can't stop thinking about the Korean pork belly fries we made with that first round of succulent meat.
It started with an article I read about Chicago's Del Seoul restaurant, located in Lincoln Park, which presents a delicious jumble of Asian inspired fusion cuisine -- cross-cultural tacos, banh mi sandwiches, dumplings, and a variety of not-so-traditional riffs on traditional Asian fare.

One thing on their menu that caught our attention right away were the "Kimchi fries" -- thick hand-cut fries topped with sautéed kimchi and onions, kimchi salsa, thin slices of pork and topped with melted cheddar and Jack cheeses, sour cream, and scallions.

When I mentioned the idea of making these "meal worthy" fries for Thanksgiving, Peef looked at me earnestly, a small tear developing in the corner of his eye, and replied, "Yes, please."

From there, the game was ON.

We started a few days early to give ourselves time to put together a homemade batch of Korean kimchi. Following the wisdom of a variety of recipes, we decided upon a simple version of the classic -- featuring locally grown Napa cabbage and gorgeous fuschia-flecked Beauty Heart radishes.
By the time Thanksgiving arrived, our kimchi was bubbling along nicely and it was time to think about making up a kimchi salsa. We kept things simple by putting together a few diced Campari tomatoes (not local, but as good as we'll find this time of the year in Wisconsin), about 1/2 cup of finely diced kimchi, a small handful of chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. The salsa was fresh and spicy with a pleasantly vinegary/limey kick and a LOT of flavor. This salsa would be great with tortilla chips or on fish tacos.
We also sliced up an onion and sauteed it with about 1/2 cup of the kimchi. To that mixture, we added some of the roasted pork belly and set the mixture aside.
And then it was time to make fries. We cut our potatoes (skin-on) into medium sized fries, rinsed them and soaked them in ice water for a few hours, and then gave them a double fry at 375 F -- first for about 10 minutes, and then 2-3 minutes for the second phase.
And finally... we covered those steaming hot, crispy fries with the sauteed kimchi & onions and some shredded Monterey jack & cheddar cheeses. A few moments under the broiler made everything melty -- and then we piled on a dose of the kimchi salsa, some chopped scallions, and a drizzle of sour cream.
You'd think these fries might turn out to be kimchi overload - but they're really not. The vinegar makes a great foil for the richness of the pork belly and the fries. The cooked kimchi delivers a completely different (more subtle) flavor than the fresh, and the salsa really brings a freshness to the dish that made all the other flavors pop.

The verdict? Divine! And crazy delicious.

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roast Pork Belly: Burp! Gives Thanks

Yeah, we had pork for Thanksgiving.  But, before you start throwing your turkey carcasses at us, let me explain...

On November 27, 1998, Peef and Lo became one. That is to say, Peef and Lo got married. And if you look back, you will see that November 27, 1998 was a Friday. A Black Friday, in fact.

That's right, we got hitched the day after Thanksgiving.
So, suffice it to say, Thanksgiving has never really been an ordinary holiday for us.

In addition, you might have noticed that we have this little habit of cooking together, and we couldn't imagine any other way to celebrate our marriage than side by side in the kitchen. This results in rather non-traditional Thanksgiving feasts, and this year was by far one of the most inventive.

But more on that in a little bit...

A few months back, we were fortunate to benefit from an otherwise unfortunate event.
Our friend Scott from Bolzano Artisan Meats experienced the pangs of a busted appendix right after he'd received a hog fresh from the farm. During his recovery, he was unable to perform the work needed to transform a fresh pig into cured artisan charcuterie.  So, instead, he offered up a variety of freshly butchered pork cuts for sale to the general public.

When we got the email announcing the sale, I read through the list of available cuts. Pork belly... Picnic roast... Boston Butt...   Heh. I didn't even finish reading. The fact is, he had me at Pork Belly. Lo was excited about getting a picnic roast...but I was stuck on the Pork Belly.

"I needs one," I said to Lo (in a very whiny voice).

Fortunately, Lo loves me, and she agreed that a couple of picnic roasts and a Pork Belly would be a welcome addition to our freezer for future feasts.

One such future feast, as it happens, was Thanksgiving.

Our pork belly turned out to be a thing of beauty. Deliciously pink & beskinned, the belly had a delightful balance between fabulous meat and layers of beautiful white pork fat.  Although Lo decided it smelled a little bit like wet dog, I thought it looked pretty fabulous.

We'd chosen an Asian application from one of the latest issues of Saveur magazine -- mainly because it included step-by-step instructions for achieving a gloriously puffed and crispy layer of cracklin' pork skin -- a delicacy I've been waiting to experience for most of my adult life. 

Interestingly enough, we had most of the ingredients for the pork's marinade right in our cupboard.  All except the preserved red bean curd, which I easily procured from the Asian grocer down the street.

And then the fun began.

We poked the pork skin all over with a sharp knife (and yes, I am now coveting one of those official pork poking tools).  We scalded it with a baking soda and water mixture.  We mixed together the marinade (pausing a bit when we smelled the slighly funky odor of the red bean curd, but persisting nonetheless), and we let everything cure overnight.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, we removed our slightly funky-smelling pork belly from the fridge, placed it on a roasting rack, and set it in the oven.  About an hour later, we opened the oven door and were greeted by a sight for sore eyes.
That pork belly... well, it was positively stellar.

We broke off hunks of the crackled skin and nibbled like greedy little... pigs?   The puffed bits crackled and crunched and filled our mouths with enticingly porky flavor, while the deliciously tender meat, pleasantly caramelized and perfumed with the scent of five spice powder, melted in our mouths.

It was (dare I say it) quite nearly better than bacon.  And it was even better when paired with another of our holiday cooking projects...

...which we'll reveal to you on Friday.
Trust me when I say it's worth the wait. 

In the meantime, feel free to check out the recipe:  Crispy Pork Siew Yoke - Saveur Magazine

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cinnamon Plum Tea Ice Cream: Holiday Awesome

For those of you whose taste for ice cream bleeds over insatiably into the cooler months of the year, this post is for you.

Making tea into ice cream is nothing new.   Green tea ice cream seems to be making its way into just about every grocery store around the nation.  And plenty of food bloggers are experimenting with recipes for Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream (Mac & Cheese), Irish Breakfast Tea Ice Cream (Coconut & Lime), and even Thai Tea Ice Cream (The Ivory Hut).

So, I decided to try my hand at making some of my own. I chose one of my favorite local brews from Milwaukee's own Rishi Tea, a local company whose tea has been given a variety of top honors, including seven First Place Awards at the 2010 North American Tea Championship. 

Made with fresh local whole milk and cream, cinnamon plum tea, a bit of sugar and a dash of honey, this ice cream is not only stellar on its own, but it makes the perfect filling for ginger snap ice cream sandwiches & an awesome accompaniment to a slice of hot apple pie.

I wouldn't normally double post a recipe like this -- but I know that not everyone is reading my posts over at DEVOUR Milwaukee, and I didn't want anyone to miss this one.  Cuz yeah -- it's really THAT good.

Rishi Cinnamon Plum Tea Ice Cream:
Warming Tea Makes Delightfully Chilly Holiday Dessert

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Das Truthahn Ist Sehr Gut: Turkey with Riesling & Sauerkraut

Our last name being "Fredrich" and all, you may have already guessed that there's a bit of German heritage floating around in Peef's veins.  We probably pay homage to that heritage best in the summertime when drinking a nice dark brew & indulging in one of those awesome Wisconsin bratwurst with kraut.  However, this year's turkey feast makes me wonder if we should capitalize on that heritage a bit more often.

Peef first spied the recipe for Turkey with Sauerkraut, Riesling, and Pork Sausages in the latest issue of Saveur magazine.

"You've got to take a look at this,"  Peef said, with that tell-tale drooly look on his face that not-so-secretly declared that he'd experienced love at first sight.

I perused the recipe, first noticing that it called for four pounds of raw sauerkraut.  FOUR POUNDS.  I almost shut down right then and there. After all, four pounds of high quality raw kraut could run upwards of $50 in these parts... unless of course, you know someone who's brewing up a nice 5 gallon crock of fresh kraut made with local cabbage.  Heh. 

I immediately emailed my friend Steph to see if she could part with four pounds of her kraut. Upon her affirmative response, the challenge was ON.

Turkey. Check.
Onions. Check.
Bottles of Riesling. Check.
Locally grown Black Willow Twig apples. Check.

Once we had gathered all the ingredients and thawed the turkey, the process was simple.   There was no brine. No overnight marination. No puttering or futzing.  Just a few simple steps.

First, we chopped up 3-4 of the Black Willow Twig apples into julienned strips.  We mixed the apples with drained sauerkraut and set that mixture aside. We made a bouquet garni with garlic, juniper berries, cloves, thyme, and parsley and tossed it into a large roasting pan. After cleaning and seasoning it, the turkey was stuffed with the sauerkraut-apple mixture and laid atop a bed of Riesling-infused onions, slab bacon, and more sauerkraut. It was topped with more strips of bacon, tightly covered in a cloak of parchment paper and aluminum foil, and left to roast for 3 hours in a 350 degree oven.

We joked that our house was sure to smell like a nursing home with all that kraut cooking away in the oven.  But, the truth is, it wasn't until the last half-hour of baking that we began to smell the delicious odor of the roasted bird -- seeping quietly and subtly out from under the oven door.  It was like a perfume.  Barely sweet, scented with juniper and garlic, and not nearly as "cabbagey" as I'd expected.

It was the easiest turkey I've ever made. And quite possibly one of the most delicious.  The breast meat was meltingly tender, and the dark meat was succulent -- vaguely redolent of the sweetness of the apples, the savory notes of the saurkraut, and the perfume of those mysteriously piney juniper berries, it was a perfect match for the bottle of German Riesling we chose to serve with dinner.
Served here alongside a very delicious herbed stuffing (Peef declared it the "best stuffing ever") with mustard greens and some of that deliciously tender kraut.

Turkey with Riesling & Sauerkraut

Herbed Stuffing with Mustard Greens

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Char Crust: Product Review & Giveaway

I'll be frank. I'm a control freak.

This means I'm seldom a fan of things like spice blends. For, although they have the potential to make my life easier, they also require me to confine myself to the nuances of someone else's palate...

Maybe that makes me a food snob.  But, I hope I can redeem myself by admitting that -- although I don't regularly use pre-made spice blends -- I'm always a big fan of supporting local businesses.  And that's why, when one of the owners of Char Crust, a Chicago-based company, wrote to us and asked if we'd like to sample their seasoning blends, we decided to give them a try.

The flavors provided to us included:
All American Barbeque
Ginger Teriyaki
Original Hickory Grilled
Roasted Garlic Peppercorn
Smoky Spicy Southwest

Since 1998 Bernard Silver and his wife Susan Eriksen have marketed the Char Crust line -- a collection of dry spice rubs based on the classic flavors made popular by the legendary Al Farber's Steak Room in Chicago.  Farber's was famous for "Eye of Prime Rib" and unique charcrust steaks. The popular restaurant, which faced Lincoln Park, was the recipient of many top honors including The Perfect Steak Award, the Epicurean Award, and the Gourmet Society Merit Award. Although the restaurant closed in the 1977, the legacy of the famous steaks remained, embodied in Char Crust® and Roto Roast dry rub seasonings, which were marketed and sold to other restaurants in Chicago.  These days, the line has been expanded to include nine rubs which are available to consumers at a variety of small, independently-owned businesses: butcher shops, gourmet stores, grocers, and even hardware stores.   Read more at

I'll should admit to being quite curious about their products, which are marketed heavily for use with meat and fish -- and which promise to "seal in the juices". That said, I decided that, for the purpose of our review, we'd branch out a bit. So, we decided to try the rubs strictly on vegetables.  We tested out all but one of the seasonings (the Roasted Garlic Peppercorn), which we figured would be easy to pair with just about anything.

Overall, we were quite pleased with what we discovered. The blends, which are some of the few certified kosher spice blends on the market, were unique -- some delicate, some more assertive.  And every single variety surprised us with one stunning feature -- unlike many seasoning blends, they are remarkably low in sodium.  In fact, we found that every one benefited from the addition of a bit of salt to pull out some of the more subtle nuances of flavor.  So, the seasonings would be excellent options for anyone watching his/her sodium intake.

One caveat for our gluten free readers:  all the blends we tried did contain some element of wheat, and so they would not be safe for consumption among consumers suffering from gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.

That said, here's what we found during our weekend of recipe testing!  We tried out four vegetables/legumes: chickpeas, sweet potatoes, blue potatoes, and cauliflower.  And every single one turned out pretty darned good.

First up:  All American Barbeque Roasted Chickpeas
Technique:  Rinse & drain chickpeas. Dry them off and spread them on a baking pan.  Bake them at 350 F for 20 minutes, or until quite dry.  Toss hot chickpeas with a bit of olive oil and about a tablespoon of barbeque seasoning. Continue baking for 15-20 minutes or until crisp and browned (watch closely to prevent burning).

Our verdict:  TOTALLY addictive.  These chickpeas would make the perfect snack to serve to company during cocktail hour or at a casual gathering.  The seasoning is pleasantly sweet, with a hint of tomato and lots of great garlic & onion flavor.  In addition to using it for chickpeas, it would be great worked into meat for burgers, or slathered on ribs or barbequed chicken.

Next: Ginger Teriyaki Sweet Potato Fries
Technique:  Slice sweet potatoes lengthwise into 3/4 inch wide strips. Toss with olive oil and 1 T of Ginger Teriyaki seasoning.  Roast at 450 for 15-18 minutes, or until just tender.  Toss with salt, to taste.

Our verdict: These potatoes were genuinely delicious.  The spice blend is a nice balance of soy, ginger, and a hint of orange -- all of which really complement the sweetness of the potatoes. This would make an excellent seasoning for salmon, chicken, or even roasted broccoli.  Flavor might be overpowered if used for grilling.

Then:  Original Hickory Grilled Roasted Potatoes
Technique:  Slice potatoes in half, and then slice each half into three pieces.  Toss with olive oil and approximately 1 T of Hickory seasoning.  Roast at 425 F for 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes are crisp on the outside and fully cooked through.  Remove from oven and immediately toss with salt, to taste.

The verdict:   These potatoes had a delightfully subtle smoke flavor that made them taste as if they'd been grilled.  Great for the middle of winter when the snow is flying and you don't want to haul out the barbeque!  This seasoning would be awesome for making burgers or steak indoors.

And finally:  Smoky Spicy Southwest Roasted Cauliflower
Technique:  Cut small head of cauliflower into florets.  Toss with olive oil and approximately 1 1/2 T Southwest seasoning.  Roast at 425 F for 20-25 minutes or until florets are browned and crisp-tender. Toss with salt, to taste.  (Optional: Serve with chipotle mayo for dipping).

The verdict:  We really liked the smoky flavor of the chipotle in this Southwest inspired seasoning.  Not particularly spicy, this blend would appeal to a broad range of palates, including children.  Would be a nice seasoning for chicken, white fleshed fish, or pork.  I think we'd also like this added to roasted potatoes.


And now... the best part.

First, ALL of our readers qualify to receive FREE SHIPPING on all products ordered on the Char Crust site between November 19 - December 19, 2010 (savings of $7 or more).  To receive free shipping, simply use the code BURP!121910 at checkout. 

In addition, Char Crust gave us enough seasoning blends to share the wealth!  Enter to win and we'll send one lucky reader a package filled with FIVE full sized packages of Char Crust Seasonings.

For your chance to win, please read the instructions below. Be sure to leave a comment for each entry (and leave your email address if you don't have it listed on your blog/contact info).   Please note that this contest is limited to readers in the United States & Canada. Contest ends 12/1/10 at NOON (CST).

Mandatory entry (must be completed or no other entries will count):   
  • Tell me which of the Char Crust rubs you most want to try
Extra entries – please leave a comment for each additional entry, letting us know you completed it
  • Give us a "like" on Facebook!
  • Follow @Burp_blog on twitter
  • Use the following text to tweet about this giveaway (please leave a link to your tweet in the comments for credit):  
    • Char Crust Dry Rubs - #win five varieties @Burp_blog:  Ends 12/1 #giveaway

NOTE:  The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Facebook before the end of the week (12/3).  The winner will be emailed separately to arrange for mailing of the prize pack.

Full Disclosure:  Although we were given Char Crust products free of charge for the purpose of this review and giveaway, all opinions expressed in this review are our own.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sourdough Focaccia with Olives & Rosemary

I killed them both in one fell swoop.
Both were tragic deaths. Unfair. And sudden. And utterly inelegant. And I mourned them both privately and on Facebook.

I now maintain that it was a matter of simple cross-contamination -- yeast meets beast --but I spent weeks wondering about the untimely fate of both my sourdough starter (of 7+ years) and my kombucha scoby (which I'd maintained without fail since early last spring).  I also acted quickly to find replacements.

The scoby was easy enough to replace, since I've given out quite a number of baby scobies to friends & neighbors all over town (and I seem to have developed a waiting list of others who are still awaiting the chance to own a 'booch baby of their own).  But the sourdough...

Fortunately for me, R from Cakewalk was passionately working on one of her latest obsessions -- sourdough culture derived from the fermentation of grapes (a la Nancy Silverton). And she was kind enough to offer me a bit of her brand new starter.

It was gorgeous stuff -- smelling of yeast and ferment and the ever-so-slight perfume of grapes (or was that my consistently overactive imagination?). In any case, it was a wonder of a living food. And I couldn't wait to take it for a test drive.

Interestingly enough, Peef was craving foccacia.  So, we planned a lovely casual weekend dinner of cheese, wine, fruit... and a lovely sourdough experiment.

The dough mixed together beautifully.  I used a mixture of bread flour and a half and half blend of all purpose and white whole wheat flour.  And I gave the loaf a nice long rise (nearly 8 hours total) -- to ensure that the wild yeast had an opportunity to thoroughly develop.
When the dough was finished rising, I hand shaped it on a piece of parchment paper, allowed it to rest, and then put together the toppings. Olives... rosemary...thinly sliced garlic... I hoped that this would be the focaccia of my (sometimes easy to please of late) dreams.

I watched the loaf in the oven as it slowly lifted -- as if levitating -- air flowing through every bubbly crevice. And, as a crust formed along the outer edges of the dough, I saw the bread take form and color beautifully.
The final product was crisp & airy, with a beautifully tender exterior pleasantly dappled with air tunnels.  Although it would have been perfect for sandwiches, we sliced it simply and ate it in big, manly chunks -- spread with tomato basil jam and followed with sheep's milk cheese and a swig of wine.

It was love at first bite - which is exactly why I feel the need to share.  If you can manage to get your hands on a bit of sourdough starter, you must try this recipe.

Sourdough focaccia with olives & rosemary

Oh!  And before I forget -- stay tuned later this week as we write about our adventures with locally made spice blends... I don't think I'd be giving too much away if I suggested there might be a giveaway involved...

Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting to the Heart of the Artichoke: Conversations with Chef David Tanis

Early November in Milwaukee is usually cold. However, if we're experiencing a particularly lovely stint of Indian Summer, it can also be amazingly comfortable.

Tuesday was one of those beautiful autumn days that you wish would repeat itself every single day from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. Bright sun, cool breeze. Just Perfect.

You might be wondering why, on Tuesday of all days, I took particular notice of this nice weather. Well, to be honest, the weather here has been great the entire week. But Tuesday was special, because I had the unique opportunity to to enjoy lunch at Roots Restaurant with Chef David Tanis of Chez Panisse.

We were privileged to be contacted by his book publicist a few weeks ago, and she wondered if Burp! would be interested in conducting an interview with Tanis while he was in town for another event. Of COURSE we were interested -- and so we decided to gather up a few of our other blogger friends and invite them to participate in a blogger junket of sorts. We contacted Roots to see if they'd be interested in hosting the luncheon, since their menu (based on local, seasonal produce) seemed to really capture the best of Milwaukee dining.

Tanis has been working at the infamous Chez Panisse Restaurant on and off since the 1980s. These days he acts as co-Chef of the restaurant, splitting the year with his colleague Jean-Pierre Moulle. When he isn't cooking up wonderful things at Chez Panisse, he can be found in Paris, where he hosts a private dining club.

Chef David was in Milwaukee to promote his new book, Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys -- a lovely little tome, if I do say so myself. The book includes not only a collection of gorgeous photos and simple-but-delicious recipes, but it also contains memorable and entertaining anecdotes from Tanis' life & culinary adventures.

I arrived at Roots as the afternoon sun began to shine through the clear glass patio windows and glisten off of the bottles sitting along the bar on the back wall. I could hear the sounds of the meat grinder whirring in the background as the staff prepared for dinner service, and I wondered what Chef Paul had in mind for our lunch.

I needn't have worried -- the menu was brief, but fantastic.  It featured items like seasonal maple frisee salad, fried lake perch sandwiches, and a lovely grilled cheese with arugula, sliced pears and mushroom pate.
 As the bloggers wandered in -- first Otehlia from A World of Flavors, then Nicole from On My Table and Neil from Stream of Consciousness... and then Chef Tanis himself and Anna from Tallgrass Kitchen.

Tanis greeted each of us with jovial handshakes. He'd just spent his morning doing a cooking demonstration on Fox 6 News - making (of all things) a simple ham sandwich with a deliciously fresh baguette from La Reve. He mentioned that he was impressed by the high quality of the supermarkets in Milwaukee, and commented that we were fortunate to have access to such great produce & sundries.

We were seated along the southeastern windows of the restaurant -- a perfect place to catch a glance of the lovely Milwaukee city-scape while enjoying the warmth of the sun at our backs.

A few of us came prepared with questions to ask Chef David -- though the conversation flowed more naturally than I would have expected. Tanis seemed quite intrigued by the idea of food blogging, and the blogger culture as it has developed in Milwaukee, as well as across the country. And then, the food was delivered to our table... and everyone pulled out their cameras.
"What's with people taking pictures of their food?" Tanis laughed, "Everyone can't be blogging about their food all the time. Isn't there just a point where you want to unplug and enjoy the moment?"

It's difficult to capture the spirit of what happened at the table -- Our conversation was so casual -- and Chef Tanis so zen about the process of cooking -- we all felt as if we were among friends, rather than gleaning bits of wisdom from one of the great masters of seasonal cooking.

Here are a few highlights that really stuck with me:

"Dishes are public domain," Tanis said, "From there you simply extract the elements from the base and make it your own."

Seasonal cooking:
"It just makes sense. Why would you want asparagus from Peru in the middle of winter when it tastes so great in the early spring when grown locally?"

"There's good food to be found everywhere," Tanis commented. It just takes a bit of legwork to find the little shops -- the nooks and crannies that house local delicacies and homemade products.

The size of a kitchen:
"I like a small kitchen. Everything is within reach and you can't get lost." (Tanis' kitchen in Paris is a minute 6'x10')

Heart of the Artichoke

"The stories and the recipes are really inseparable. They're intertwined. The stories make the book less of a manual and more of an inspirational device for creative cooking."

Tanis also let on that he's contemplating the idea of starting his own blog -- possibly discussing the dinner parties he hosts at his home in France.

Wow. If he does, we're totally there.

Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys is available online through various retailers, though we'd encourage you to patronize your locally owned independent bookshop.

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