Friday, March 26, 2010

In Which I Speak of Maple Syrup, Custard, and Little Baby Pancakes

I haven't been as good as I'd hoped in celebrating Wisconsin Maple Syrup month. However, I hope to make up for it by sharing our latest exciting experiment -- maple syrup & pancakes custard.
 Now, like many of the foods made at our house, this particular treat has a bit of a story.
When I was a young girl, I always looked forward to Easter. Every year my cousins and I would spend our "spring break" with my grandparents, who lived about an hour north of the city.  The week was always filled with the usual adolescent high jinks -- traipsing through the woods, wading our bare toes in too-cold marsh water that was left behind by the rapidly melting snow, and playing lots and lots of Canasta (a card game I learned early and played often throughout my childhood). 

My grandmother was never what I would call a "gourmet" cook. So, meal time was always an adventure.  Some things, like the casserole made from hamburger meat and cream of mushroom soup, weren't anything to write home about. But, the week did have its highlights. At breakfast, we'd indulge in fantastic slices of perfectly toasted wheat bread (I am still convinced that vintage toaster made the best toast EVER) mounded with crunchy peanut butter.  Post-breakfast, during moments when Grandma wasn't paying attention, we'd also sneak spoons full of that peanut butter and stuff them into our eager little mouths -- and then hope that she didn't ask us any questions while we were trying to swallow that sticky mess (do you remember that old classic song, Peanut Butter, by the Marathons? yeah -- kinda like that).  At lunch, we feasted on good old-fashioned hard rolls spread generously with butter and topped with garlicky cured summer sausage. 

But, one of my favorite indulgences came after dinner time when Grandpa would spoon up heaping bowls of vanilla ice cream, which were promptly drizzled with maple syrup.

There was really nothing like it.  It was so simple. And yet -- so Incredible. Sweet... ice creamy... mapley... slurpilicious.  I don't know what else to say except -- it's a must-try.  And I really have to congratulate my grandparents for their Depression-inspired ingenuity.

Interestingly enough, the good people at Kopp's Frozen Custard here in Milwaukee must have grown up with grandparents who were similarly inspired.  Because recently, they decided to roll out a new custard flavor called "Maple Syrup and Pancakes".  What could be better?  Even Peef was swooning wth delight.

But, why should we have to wait for Kopp's to make up another batch (the next time it appears on the Flavor Forecast is on April 25th -- a whole month away!)?  We could make it for ourselves, right?

Of course, we'd need to differentiate our version somehow. So, rather than just tossing a bunch of chopped up pancakes in our custard, we decided to take the whole game one step further. We'd make cute little baby pancakes to throw into our custard.

Aren't they totally super cute?   Why are little binky things always so gosh-darned adorable?
(I secretly thought that, if maybe I left a few of these out on the table, we might attract some fantastic tiny little people -- fairies, maybe -- to gobble them up.  But, alas, none showed up. *sad*)

Once we had the pancakes in hand, we mixed up a batch of maple syrup custard (many thanks to David Lebovitz for his constant guidance in our quest for delicious ice cream).

The churned custard was deliciously creamy -- and Very Mapley.  "Just perfect," Peef declared upon a first tasting.  And so we mixed all those delicious little pancakes into the custard, and threw everything into the deep freeze.
Now, I must warn you.  As much as we enjoyed that first taste of custard, the finished product wasn't QUITE what we anticipated.  After spending a bit of time in the freezer, the pancakes in the custard got a little... well, frozen.  So, they weren't quite as texturally pleasing as the ones in the Kopp's version (darn those professional custard places for their secret recipes!).
That said, thanks to the time it takes to shoot the photographs for the blog, we found that the pancakes actually became quite a bit more pliable if they're allowed to sit out for a bit.  So, the custard was definitely edible.  Just not quite perfect.

Despite all the hype (and hope),  I think it's back to the drawing board with this one.  Maybe I can sweet talk those folks over at Kopp's into telling me their secret for keeping the pancakes soft.  In the meantime, if you have any crazy ideas, you let me know!   Peef has already requested that we put a little bit of bacon in the next batch.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

When I Turn Ninety, Give Me Cake

It all started while I was contemplating what to buy for Grandma for her 90th birthday. What sortofa thing do you buy for a woman whose wants are little, but whose experiences are so great? What can you purchase in this world that doesn't end up being just another trinket?

Grandma was 54 years old when I was born.
And she turned 74 the same year I flippantly turned 20.
More than fifty years have separated us for my entire life.
And yet, there had to be something.

Weeks before, we spent some time with Grandma -- taking photos with her for the Family Recipe Revival.  As we glanced through some of her old cookbooks, she told us stories about the foods she's made, and the special occasions that certain dishes marked.  She also informed us that she thought she'd "done everything worth doing" in her almost-ninety years.

*pffft*  I scoffed.  But, I found myself thinking about what it must be like to turn 90.   What would it be like to outlive most of your dear friends?  To watch your children grow up, get married, have children and make their own homes? To greet your first grandchild... and then a second, third...and numerous great grand-children? What must it be like to turn 70... and 80... and then, to reach the next milestone of life and wonder where all that time had gone?

And so, I did something that I often do when I'm deep in contemplation.  I baked a cake.

I started the process on Friday afternoon, and finished everything sometime Saturday evening.  After agonizing for weeks over what kind of cake to make, I'd finally decided upon "freckled mocha cake".  It's one of my favorite recipes from the Whimsical Bakehouse cookbook.  And it's one for which my grandmother has a particular fondness.  It would be filled with a thick layer of Bailey's Irish Cream flavored whipping cream. And frosted with Italian buttercream.  To top everything off, we would scribble up a nice message in melted white chocolate and add a few edible orchids for color.
Grandma's birthday party was a splendid little affair. We held it at her church -- a place that holds particular meaning for her. Plenty of relatives came to give their regards. Members of her church paid their respects, and members of the Ladies' Guild showed up to wish Gladys well... and then they kindly spent the afternoon washing up all the dirty dishes.
Grandma spent the afternoon eating and drinking and visiting. She tolerated the thousands of family pictures that were taken in her honor. And she managed to eat a particularly lovely slice of that freckled mocha cake.
 She even ate the flower.

Oh -- and that gift for Granny?

Well, as much as I contemplated buying her this t-shirt (I was amazed at the number of t-shirts there are out there for 90-year-olds), she's not really a t-shirt kindofa gal (probably another thing she needs to do in the next 10 years is to start dressing more comfortably!).  Instead, we decided we'd challenge that notion she has that she's done "everything worth doing" and give her a day out on the town.  We'll spend a bit of time at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  And then we'll grab some Grandmother-worthy lunch at the Watts Tea Shop... after all, they've been around for almost 50 years longer than she has!

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Stendler: Leftover Corned Beef to the Rescue

Do you still have a bit of leftover corned beef from St. Patrick's Day?  Wondering how to use it up?
Well, if you're not in the mood for a sandwich, or some delicious Reuben risotto, why not try making up a delicious breakfast burrito?

Cuz that's what we did with some of ours.  This beauty happens to be fashioned after a particularly delicious brunch option served over at The Comet Cafe here in Milwaukee.  It's called "The Stendler" and it features a grande flour tortilla packed full of hashed brown potatoes, corned beef, swiss cheese, creamy scrambled eggs, and a drizzle of Siracha.
Seems we're oft-inspired by the folks over at Comet. But, really, can you blame us? After all, they serve up some of the best comfort food and diner fare in the city, including that oh-so-inspiring Buttafuoco -- that delicious broiled tomato sammich with hot peppers, provolone, and plenty of crisp lettuce.  And, they rely on local ingredients whenever possible.  I call that a win-win!

Although we love to patronize local establishments whenever possible, sometimes we also love to enjoy a cozy weekend brunch at home.  And this dish, combined with the option of being able to sit around all morning sipping coffee in your warm cozy pj's, makes the whole notion of sticking around the house pretty appealing. 

Of course, we just HAVE to make a few tweeks. Rather than taking the time to grate up potatoes and fry up hashbrowns, we actually prefer a more rustic and flavorful option: roasted potatoes.   On a normal day, I'd add rosemary to these potatoes for an added flavor punch. But, today, we'll just keep them simple so that the other flavors in the Stendler can shine through.

First, you'll want to chop up a potato or two, toss them with olive oil, and throw them in a 425º oven for 20-25 minutes until they're crisped and golden on the outside and super creamy on the inside.

When the hot potatoes come out of the oven, I like to toss them with a bit of salt and some nice, freshly ground pepper.  To be honest, this is probably my favorite part of the whole dish. In fact, even if you don't have any corned beef on hand, I'd recommend you make up a batch of these for breakfast some Saturday morning, just for the heckofit.

You'll also need to whip up some scrambled eggs.  I like to melt a bit of butter in a nonstick pan and cook the eggs slowly over medium-low heat so that they cook through, but don't become dry. If you do it right, the eggs take on a custard-like consistency that's just perfect for breakfast burritos.
Layer some grated cheese (we like plain old Swiss, but Irish Dubliner is a real treat here), the roasted potatoes, some leftover corned beef, and your scrambled eggs into a nice big (warmed) flour tortilla.  If you like a bit of heat, you can also also drizzle a bit of extra Siracha inside the burrito before rolling it up.

What you end up with is another fusion dish that really brings new meaning to the idea of corned beef hash.
If you like a crispy tortilla, you can rub the finished burrito with a little bit of olive oil and place it into a 375º oven for 15-20 minutes.  But, you can also sprinkle on the Sirach and dig right in.

See all those layers of corned beef and potato goodness?

I'm a big fan of the Reuben sandwich, but the Stendler probably comes in at a close second.  And it definitely ranks right up there when it comes to fantastic weekend breakfasts.


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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daring Cooks March: Reuben Risotto

It's dreary and drippy outside. The winter chill has subsided, but the rising temperatures, paired with the remaining snow, have given way to lingering fog.  With the sun hiding behind persistent clouds, it's downright murky out there.  But, it's perfect weather for one-dish comfort foods like creamy risotto. So, this month's Daring Cooks challenge was a fitting project.
Since we've made risotto before, we figured we had to find a way to bring new life to an old favorite.  But how?

Fortunately, with St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, Peef was starting to get his annual craving for corned beef. And, along with that craving, he was starting to think about all the delicious dishes we'd enjoy in the aftermath of our St. Patty's Day feast.  How about... a reuben risotto?

At first the idea seemed a little bit wacky. But, the more we thought about it, the more interesting it seemed -- a bit of corned beef, some saurkraut, a bit of cheese, some beer... cooked together with onions and rice in a flavorful stock . We decided to give it a try.

First, we prepared our corned beef.  We used our favorite crock-pot recipe in which a corned beef brisket is cooked with carrots, onions, and celery in a delicious broth made from dark beer, tomato paste, water, browned sugar, freshly ground pepper, cloves, and lots of dill weed.  In addition to making a tasty brisket, the recipe results in a plethora of deliciously unctuous corned beef stock -- just perfect for risotto.  Since one of the specifications of this month's challenge was that we had to make our own stock, the idea was downright perfect.

We placed everything in the crockpot the night before we intended to make the risotto and let it cook slowly on low heat for about 12 hours.

We removed the corned beef,and then strained out the vegetables.

We were left with a richly colored corned beef stock that smelled positively fantastic.

I skimmed as much fat as I could from the surface of the broth, and placed it into a saucepan to keep it warm -- and then we prepped everything to begin the risotto.

We chopped the corned beef into bite-sized pieces.

And drained about a cup of saurkraut.
Peef grated about a cup and a half of gruyere cheese.
Then we set to work on the actual risotto.  We sauteed one chopped onion in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the onion had turned transluscent, we added a cup and a half of arborio rice.
We stirred the rice to coat it with the oil and allow it to toast briefly in the hot pan.  Then, we added a couple of teaspoons of whole caraway seeds.  The idea here was to pull in a flavor reminiscent of the rye bread used for a reuben sandwich.
When the caraway seeds began to bloom -- giving off their incredible fragrance -- we pulled out the big guns, a bit of stout beer.  The idea here is to infuse the grains of rice (and, frankly, the onions too) with some of the beer's flavor.  It would offer up a subtle bitterness, a bit of sweetness, and a depth that you just wouldn't get from adding white wine.  It would also complement the corned beef stock we'd be using.
We stirred the rice until the foam had subsided and the beer had absorbed fully into the grains of arborio.  Then, we began adding our stock.  When I make risotto, I like to set a timer for about 20 minutes right around the time I add the first ladle-full of stock.  That gives me a gauge of when the risotto should be done.
We continued to add stock until there was about a cupful left in the sauce pan.  At this point, the timer had gone off, and the grains of rice were still al dente. But, they had expanded to almost twice their size and were swollen with the flavor of the stock.  At this point, we added the corned beef and the sauerkraut.
We also added the last of the stock.  We gave everything a good stir, and then added the grated Gruyere cheese.

After stirring, we noted that the risotto was quite creamy and luscious.  It definitely didn't need to be finished with any additional cream or butter.  So, we spooned it up into bowls.

Even the smell of the risotto was intoxicating -- meaty and hearty, with the perfume of caraway seed, the sweetness of the stout, and the slightly sour overtones of the saurkraut.  One bite told us that reuben risotto was a pretty fantastic idea.

Corned Beef Brisket

Reuben Risotto

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

And don't forget to check out all the other great Daring Cooks Risotto challenges at Daring Cooks’ blogs!  

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eat Down the Street

Hey guys! Hope everyone is having a splendid week. Have you heard of the 3/50 Project?   If not, you should make a trip over to their Web site. It's a really cool group of like-minded individuals that think shopping local is pretty much the bees knees (and we would tend to agree)

3/50 started out with a single blog post asking consumers to commit to spending at least $50/month supporting three of their favorite local businesses.  The post had 7600 unique readers in the first seven days; since then the 3/50 project has become  an International movement to save brick and mortar businesses. Just goes to show the impact one person can have on the world...

Of course, a few more people on board is NEVER a bad thing. So, we're asking you to consider spreading the word. Right now 3/50 has started a new campaign to support locally owned, independent restaurants. Every town has them, and every town needs them to stick around.

I'm not the first to tell you that businesses are in tough shape right now. Most people (especially business owners) are cautiously optimistic about the economy and how to spend any extra cash. It's not as easy to get money from banks anymore, which is maybe a good thing. But it tends to be bad for those companies that need funds to make legitimate investments in their business. Recently, we've had a number of restaurant closings in the Milwaukee area that really hit home -- great independent places with amazing food and good service that just didn't have the capital to make it through the past few tough months.

One of those places is Izzy's on State St. in Milwaukee. They opened in July 2009. By September, State Street was completely under construction (thanks to stimulus funds). Good news in the long haul, but tough for any new business. Ultimately, they chose to discontinue the dining side of their business and are currently operating strictly as a caterer.  This article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shortly after they opened.

This past fall, Good Life, a Caribbean inspired bar and restaurant whose business was severely impacted by the construction project which closed the Humboldt Avenue bridge (slated to persist through June 2010), taped a sign to its door reading, "Effective 11/03/09 Good Life restaurant is closed to the public and will no longer be open for business."  

And there are others -- Heinnemann'sFratello's, Pandl's - Bayside, and The Rusty Skillet, to name a few.

Anyhow -- you can do your part to ensure that your favorite little eatery doesn't meet the same demise. It's all pretty easy. Just commit yourself to going to an area restaurant (not a chain or national brand) once a week and spread the love. Take a look at the places where there is road construction. Sure it might not be as convenient, but when there's a will, there's a way! It's a great way to ensure that the places you love are going to stick around for the long haul... and not fade into the background. It's also a good way to keep the economy healthy and not so dependent upon big chains and conglomerates.

Go here for more details about the 3/50 Project. You can buy cool t-shirts to support the campaign. And you can print out cool flyers to share with your friends and neighbors... of course, the important thing is that you get out there and eat local!

If you're in the Milwaukee area, here are a few places I would recommend visiting (in no particular order -- and absolutely NOT comprehensive):
  • Bayou - Another restaurant struggling due to the Humboldt bridge construction. Take the detour and give this cajun/creole restaurant some lovin'!
  • Brocach Irish Pub - Two locations (one in Milwaukee, another in Madison).  Irish pub fare at its finest.
  • The Comet Cafe and Honeypie Cafe - Two favorites we're tempted to keep all to ourselves (but that would be counter-productive, now wouldn't it?)  Opt for one of the specials and you can't go wrong.  Gotta add Palomino here too (thanks to @Mike_Thiel. Awesome tofu options. Great mac & cheese).
  • La Reve Patisserie and Cafe - Super great French Bistro in the heart of Wauwatosa. Head West young man!
  • Cafe Lulu or Juniper 61 - Bayview for you, Tosa for me. We're all happy.
  • MeeKong Cafe - Asian gem. Great dishes from Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Love the spicy drunken man noodles!
  • Il Mito Enoteca -Italian with a Mediterranean twist. Incidentally, they featured an amazing chocolate hazelnut schaum torte on their dessert menu last week. Hope you had a chance to give it a try. ;)
  • Alem Ethiopian Village - Went here the other night for the first time, and it won't be the last.
  • Transfer Pizzaria Cafe - Recently featured in Milwaukee Magazine's "Best Pizza"
  • The National -  A breakfast & lunch place. Good food. Coffee. And art galore.
Come to think of it, we've got to get out to some of these places ourselves!

What are your favorite local places?

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

How We Spent Our Sunday: Rockabilly Chili Cookoff

Most Sunday afternoons around the Burp! household are pretty uneventful.  Usually you'll find us hanging out at home -- reading, catching up on laundry, watching a movie, flipping through the cooking shows on PBS. Every now and then, you'll find us working on a particularly lengthy cooking project (or hosting a soup night) -- but that's about as exciting as it gets.

This Sunday was another story.  While others enjoyed a leisurely brunch or busily prepared for their Oscar parties, we decided to venture out of our Sunday cave and take in some of the local sights.  More specifically, we decided to join the masses at the WMSE Rockabilly Chili Contest.

This annual event brings together myriad Milwaukee area restaurants, who cook up their best tasting chili and bring it out for the world to sample.  This year, over 3000 people joined in the fun, raising lots of great funds for one of the best radio stations in Milwaukee, 91.7 WMSE. Among the throngs was my dear friend R. from the Cakewalk blog -- so we had great fun walking the event and comparing foodie notes on the different chilis.

I had every intention to rush right home and publish something brilliant about the event.  But, as it turns out, I'm thinking the pictures speak for themselves.  I'd advise listening to a bit of official Rockabilly Chili music while you're looking them over.

First, let's warm you up with a big VAT o' chili goodness.

If you can elbow your way through the hungry crowd, you'll find a pretty wide variety of chilis -- something to suit every palate.
 We started off with three great ones -- starting on the left with a delightful veggie chili from Beans & Barley, working our way over to the flamin' hot tomatillo based chili from Ball 'n Biscuit catering, and ending up with the awesomly hot "Burn Your Face Off" Pepperoni Pizza chili from Streetza Pizza, featuring the infamous ghost chiles (hottest chiles on earth, weighing in at 855,000 Scoville units).
 There's that happy chap from Streetza Pizza luring us in with the smell of pepperoni...
  While Streetza pulled out the Big Guns with the heat factor, Hinterland Gastropub really pulled out all the stops when it came to flavor.  Their braised beef shortrib chili carried a seriously complex flavor enhanced by cinnamon and a host of Indian spices.  R. and I decided that this chili was the best of the bunch, by far!
 Of course, don't tell that to the Riverwest Co-op, who declared their vegan masterpiece to be "untouchable"...
 It was seriously good chili -- enhanced with Berber-style spices and topped with flavorful pineapple chutney. Definitely worth a roar!
 Another vegan delight came from The National.  Their sweet potato black bean chili was topped with an awesome apple chutney...
 Palomino's vegan selection was nothing to sneeze at either... chock full of TVP, zucchini, eggplant, "love," and "babies" (the girl serving the chili said it, not me!)... but suspiciously free of horses.
 Maxie's Southern Comfort served up a tomatillo chili with smoky bacon, lots of beans, and pulled pork.
Eventually, we ran out of chili. And beer. And tickets for more chili and beer. 
But, that's OK.  By then, we were stuffed to the gills.  
So, unlike these guys, we just decided to give up and go home.

And, if you're curious -- here's a listing of the Winners

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Making Soup and Adopting Trees

The week here in Milwaukee has been warm and sunny, so my mind has drifted pretty far from thoughts of hot, nourishing soup.  But, I did promise you guys that I'd post recipes for the split pea soup and the clam chowder we served for February Soup Night.  So, I'm going to be true to my word.

But first, let's talk maple syrup. Are you a fan?
For years, I didn't think much of the amber colored sweetener. Sure, I learned in school that the sugar maple is Wisconsin's state tree, but despite the fact that it's sweet and sugary, I probably wouldn't have named maple syrup among my favorite foods. It was something I ate on my pancakes in the morning, and occasionally drizzled over the top of vanilla ice cream.  It wasn't until much later, when I realized that maple syrup is actually a fairly rare commodity in some places, that I really started paying attention.

I'm no expert on maple sugaring. That said, I do know that the weather we've been having lately is actually pretty perfect for tapping maple trees. Maple sap starts running when the weather is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night -- so conditions couldn't be more perfect.  Probably why March 15-April 15th has been declared "Maple Syrup Month" in Wisconsin.

A friend of my grandparents tapped maple trees on their property when I was child, so I've seen the process in action. I remember walking through the woods and poking my fingers into the buckets hanging on the trees and tasting the flavor of that pure, clear syrup. And I'll admit that, as an adult, it's occasionally crossed my mind that it might be a fun project to tap a few trees out on my parents' property and see if I could make a little syrup of my own.  But, that idea has never really gotten past the contemplation stage.

So, when I saw Nancy Stohs article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week, I paid attention. Apparently, Steven Anderson, a maple sugarer in northern Wisconsin has decided that it's high time someone recognized Wisconsin for its maple syrup production.  And he's launched a maple tree adoption program to rally support for his craft.

Adopt A Maple is a year-long opportunity for maple syrup lovers to connect with a real, live Sugar Maple tree in the Northwoods sugarbush of Anderson's Maple Syrup in Cumberland, WI.  Adoptees get an official certificate of adoption, and they have year-round visiting rights. In addition, part of their donation goes to support American Forests, a group that helps to plant trees to restore areas damaged by wildfire. Even cooler than that, some 7th and 8th grade science students in Cumberland are plotting out the GPS coordinates and uploading photos of the trees so that people can view their adoptive maples through Google Earth.  Pretty fun.  If you're curious, check out the details at .

And now, it's time for that soup.
These are two of our favorite soups.  The split pea can be made in the crockpot, so it makes a great meal for busy weeknights.  The barley makes the soup extra hearty and adds a bit of texture while the chicken-apple sausages add a nice sweet-salty flavor.

Split Pea Soup with Barley & Chicken Sausage

The clam chowder, on the other hand, is simply decadent.  Smoky bacon adds a great deal of flavor, and a combination of whole milk and heavy cream lend the soup a seriously luxurious mouthfeel.  You could definitely make this with fresh clams, but good quality canned clams work splendidly -- and cut out a bit of the grunt work.

New England Style Clam Chowder

Maybe now I'll see if I can dig up some favorite recipes using maple syrup...

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