Monday, August 30, 2010

Get Yourself Some Booch: Brewing Kombucha at Home

You’ve probably heard of Kombucha -- a fermented beverage made from sweetened tea. Effervescent, refreshing, and virtually caffeine-free, kombucha has a vinegar-like flavor that some compare to hard apple cider.

Although kombucha is often referred to as “mushroom tea,” it has little to do with fungus. In fact, the fermentation process actually originates from a gelatinous pancake of bacteria and yeast called a SCOBY.

What on earth is a SCOBY?
Well… SCOBY is actually an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts. I like to think of it as a little community of "good guys". Together, the bacteria and yeasts work synergistically, and the colonies help to ferment various foods and beverages. In the case of kombucha, the SCOBY feeds on a mixture of sugar and tea, improving the tea’s nutrient profile by increasing B vitamins and food enzymes. The resulting beverage is a pro-biotic beverage believed to contain any number of health-producing compounds. It also contains a little bit of alcohol.
Which, of course, is where all the “trouble” begins.
A raw kombucha brew begins with a very minimal alcohol content (a bi-product of the fermentation process). However, over time, the drink’s yeast continues to convert sugars to alcohol, nudging the content higher and higher. Among bottled kombucha, at least one brand was determined to have reached 2.4% alcohol content according to a study cited in Good Magazine’s initial report on the Kombucha shortage. And this raised some eyebrows. In late June, kombucha producers were forced to pull their product from shelves at Whole Foods due to elevated alcohol levels. And kombucha lovers everywhere have been in withdrawl ever since.

Unless, of course, they’re like us.
We’ve been brewing our own kombucha at home for the past four months. And it’s been quite gratifying. Unlike the home-brewing of beer, in which even the tiniest microbe of bacteria can influence flavor and brewing success, kombucha is a pretty easy (and painless) process. You just need a few basic pieces of equipment, a few tablespoons of tea, some sugar, and a bit of old fashioned patience. And you have the opportunity to adjust the brew to your own particular tastes.

I received my initial SCOBY from my lovely and generous aunt, who has a virtual kombucha LABORATORY going over at her health food store in Hartland, Wisconsin. She’s been brewing kombucha from a wide variety of teas, including green, black, oolong, smoked oolong, and even… yes… Earl Grey tea.

Now, Earl Grey is generally is considered a poor choice for growing a SCOBY since there is some evidence that the bergamot added to the tea is harmful to the culture. However, she’s been brewing delicious Earl Grey kombucha without incident for some time – and I absolutely loved the flavor. So, I decided to take home one of her Early Grey SCOBY.

We made our first few batches of kombucha using an Earl Grey tea from a Milwaukee-owned company called Rishi Tea. We’ve since switched to their China Breakfast Tea, which has a more neutral flavor – the perfect palate for some of our more recent experiments with fruit-infused kombucha.  Some flavors we've brewed up include sweet cherry, raspberry, raspberry peach, watermelon, and blueberry ginger. Most recently, we made up batches of cherry vanilla and peach spice kombucha -- both of which ended up slightly "over" spiced -- but which we'll definitely try again, with slightly different proportions of fruit to spice.

Where can I get a Kombucha SCOBY?
You can buy a SCOBY online. Or, you can simply ask a Kombucha-brewing friend or community member if they’d be willing to share the wealth. Every batch of Kombucha results in the formation of an additional SCOBY, so regular kombucha brewers will usually have extras. I shared one of my first SCOBY with Rebecca from Cakewalk. In fact, she was so excited that she wrote her kombucha brewing adventures back in June, shortly after receiving her SCOBY.

In fact, if you happen to be in the Milwaukee area, email us! We can probably work out a deal ;)

Instructions: Making Kombucha Tea

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Using and Preserving Summer Herbs: Drying Herbs

And now a bit of wisdom from Melissa, the divinely inspired mistress of the blog Gluten Free for Good.
I’ve followed Peef and Lo’s quirky, well-written, informative and spirited blog for years now. With a name like BURP, you'd better be entertaining – and they deliver in fine form. When Lo asked me to guest-post during their “preserving summer herbs” series, I jumped (okay, crawled reluctantly) at the chance. Summer is a crazy time for me, but I like their style and felt honored to be asked. As a compromise to my work schedule, I dug around in my composter and pulled out an old post I did on drying herbs. Please forgive me if you’ve read it before, but I do think (especially with fall around the corner), it’s a good idea to rethink saving herbs for the long, cold winter. Whether you’re in Wisconsin or Colorado, it’s nice to pull out a jar of your very own dried herbs to throw in soups or stews on those snowy winter days.

Here’s my version of drying herbs, with a short preamble to go with the quirky ambiance of BURP.

Herbs and spices have been used for medicinal purposes throughout history. I often mention specific health-promoting properties when describing an herb or spice in a recipe. Aside from their appetizing flavors and aromas, most are filled with various beneficial vitamins and minerals.

And wasn’t it Cleopatra who used herbs to seduce men? Or was it incense she used? Milk baths? Probably all of the above. Or, maybe it was this lounging-around-topless look. Whatever it was, she went down in history as being quite the shrewd temptress. (But I digress.)

How to dry rosemary, marjoram and dill

What you do 

  1. Snip herbs, leaving them with long stems. Tie the herbs together and hang them in a dry, dark and well-ventilated area. Hanging them from cabinets in the kitchen is a nice look, but you do want to keep them dry and clean. I moved these from my pantry to a well-lit area to take the photo. You can also put a paper lunch sack around them (poke a few air holes in the sack). That way they’re in the dark and protected from dust.
  2. Leave for 2 to 4 weeks, checking occasionally to see if they are adequately dry. Some take longer than others. If they crumble and fall apart when you rub them between your fingers, they’re ready to store.
  3. Store them in clean glass jars. I like to keep them intact in relatively long pieces until I want to use them, then I take a piece out and remove the dried leaves. Label, date them and store them away from heat and light. They last six months to a year.

Go forth and dry your herbs. Doing it Cleopatra style is an option. 

We've loved Melissa ever since the first day we stepped foot onto her blog, Gluten Free for Good. Both Melissa and her daughter have been diagnosed with celiac disease, so her mission is to "increase awareness of celiac disease and help people navigate the gluten-free lifestyle with confidence, strength, optimal nutrition, and renewed vitality."  And she does a mighty fine job, if we do say so ourselves. Her site is filled with delicious recipes including spinach pesto (with oregano & dill), basil, mint, and walnut pesto, and quinoa and corn salad (with that powerhouse herb, cilantro). 

This guest post is part of our Summer 2010 Herb Series: Using and Preserving Herbs. Stay tuned every Friday for more hints, tips and tricks on how to use summer's bounty!

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Using and Preserving Herbs: Herbal Salt

It’s far too simple, really – an herbal salt.
Some might say it almost doesn’t warrant a blog post.
And yet… for me, herbed salt was somewhat of a life-changing discovery.

A sprinkling of rosemary salt transformed a simple plate of grilled spring asparagus into something quite remarkable. It elevated a humble piece of white fish to an entirely new level. It made roasted breakfast potatoes into a treat. And it promoted a humble roasted green bean into something else entirely.

And rosemary salt was only the beginning. There was also the basil salt which brought new life to the last of the summer tomatoes, the mint salt that paired so swimmingly with slices of vodka-soaked watermelon. And the lavender and thyme salt that seasoned many a roasted chicken during the darkest months of winter.

The best part is how easy herbed salt is to make.
It takes virtually no preparation, aside from carefully washing and drying your herbs. And the only equipment you need is an ordinary coffee grinder... or a mortar and pestle, if you're willing to put a little bit of muscle into the process.

We like to use a coarse-grained sea salt -- which contains less sodium than refined table salt, as well as a plethora of trace minerals, including iron, sulfur, and magnesium.  Our favorite brand happens to be coarse-ground Real Salt -- which is made from mined rock salt, which means it hasn't been exposed to a kiln-drying process that robs salt of its beneficial properties.

We usually make our herbal salt as needed, but even the freshly ground salt keeps for a few days if stored in an airtight jar.  That said, you can also prepare herbal salt for extended storage by drying it in the oven (see instructions below).

If you're particularly inspired, we suggest making large batches of dried herbal salt, packaging them in attractive bottles (you can buy bottles here), tying them with a bit of ribbon, and giving them as gifts. Pair a few bottles of herbal salt with a jar of mixed peppercorns or a selection of recipes using herbal salts.

Herbal Salt
Crispy roasted green beans with rosemary salt 

Alright – your turn.
How will you use your next batch of herbed salt?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer 2010: It's All About the Pig

What do you like best about summer?
If you'd have asked me that question a number of years ago, my answer may have been "not much."

I'm not a fan of the heat. Or the humidity. Or the mosquitoes. I have a tendency to be light sensitive, so exposure to too much sun generally results in a monster of a headache. And the notion of running around in a bikini (or being scantily clad in any way) is as scary for me as it would be for everyone else if I actually made a habit of it.

Nah... I live for the crisp autumn days when I can throw on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I long for deceptively sunny days. And chilly nights. For crisp leaves and apple pie.  It's the one time of the year when yard work doesn't make me sweat. And I can think of nothing more exciting than putting something into the oven for a nice slow braise while I sit with a cup of tea and catch up on my reading.

That said, I will concede that I've grown increasingly fond of summer as I grow older -- in part because I've grown to more closely appreciate my food and where it comes from.  Eating more locally has given me an uncanny affection for blisteringly hot summer days and humid evenings because I know that they will beget me plenty of delicious produce to get me through the long, cold Wisconsin winter.

Of course, it helps that I also get to look forward to events like the Braise on the Go annual pig roast (see footage from past roasts in 2008 and 2009).  This year, the event was held at LOTFOTL, a certified organic community farm in East Troy, WI.  We've gotten to know Farmer Tim Huth over the years (in fact, he's the one who generously bestowed us with those fantastic rat tail radishes -- and seeds to grow our own -- two years ago when we belonged to his CSA), and he's a great guy.  In his own words, the philosophy on his farm can be summed up this way:
To “live off the fat of the land” [...] is to bask in your role in a system which feeds you so long as you feed it. It is the celebration, and the recognition that you cannot be you without these systems, without other beings, sentient and otherwise. Farming practices that are land abusive will inevitably lead to land that is lifeless, just as a household filled with anger and violence will cease to feel like a home.
We strive to apply systematic thinking to the farm, treating the land like the vast and complex space that it is. In building our relationship to the soil  we are placing our bets that if we fulfill the role of stewards and caretakers of this supercomplex set of interactions, this system will reciprocate and care for us. But even if it doesn't, even if waves someday wash over our fields, or the sun bakes Earth's flesh to a crusty and crumbly and lifeless space, we will have acted from this place of intention, and will be better for it. To Live off the fat of the land, then, is simply to live.  -- LOTFOTL Community Farm

Unlike years past, the weather this year was pretty sticky. Rain was in the forecast, but the humidity hadn't quite broken.  So, we were relieved to see that our dinner this year would sheltered from both the heat of the sun and the threat of rain. The mosquitoes were also pretty nasty, thanks to all that rain we got in July; but the Braise folks managed to cover that base as well, passing out bug spray to anyone who needed it.  They also set a mighty pretty table.
Before they seated us, we were encouraged to take a trek around the farm. To sustain us, they supplied us with a bit of wine (there was also the option of chocolate milk from Sassy Cow Creamery for anyone who felt the desire to turn down a bit of locally produced wine from Stone's Throw Winery)
And delicious bite of pork confit on a whole grain cracker with Wisconsin cherry (Many thanks to Adam Lucks).
And before we knew it, it was time for dinner.  There were four delectable courses in store for us -- each one containing some form of pork (including dessert).  The porky bits were all derived from a 200lb Berkshire pig from Golden Bear Farm, an organic farm in Kiel, WI owned and operated by by Steve and Marie Deibele.  We couldn't wait to dig in!

By this point, we couldn't wait to see what we were having for dessert. Fortunately, the chefs were kind enough to let us take a peek at the delicious things they were prepping.  And once we found out there would be PIG FAT CARAMEL involved, we became seriously drool-laden.
Mosquitoes?  Humidity? Bah!
Give me food like this -- in the company of good friends -- and I'll put up with quite a bit.  It might even make me like summer :)  Cheers!

Sorry you missed the pig roast?  Why not sign up for the Braise Tour de Farms event coming up on Sunday, September 12, 2010.  Looks like it's gonna be a blast!

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Using and Preserving Summer Herbs: Herby Baked Eggs

And now for a bit of herbalicious conversation from Rebecca over at CakeWalk...

I was really excited when I heard that Burp! was doing a Summer Herb Series, and even more flattered that they asked me to write something about one of my favorite herby things.  I like to garden in the broadest sense of the word.  I may not find the time to tend to as large a garden as I'd like, but no matter what, I always plant many types of herbs.  They seem to take to whatever conditions I subject them to, they seem to thrive on a bit of neglect, and the reward for such little effort is astounding.  Summer herbs are one of lifes most affordable luxuries, and I think one of my favorite ways to enjoy them is by using different combinations in baked eggs.

I first saw the original recipe when Ina Garten made it on Barefoot Contessa.  Ina is rather famous for her Hamptons-ish lifestyle, and her gardens that are regularly featured on her show and in her cookbooks are truly worthy of envy.  In fact, I used to love watching her show just to see glimpses of her hedges of rosemary!  I guess I like to imagine myself able to have an enormous garden, and maybe even a private gardener to make it all thrive... weed-free and well designed, like I can never seem to manage myself.

To bake her eggs, she used her beautiful Apilco gratin dishes, and  a mixture of different herbs with Parmesan cheese and baked the eggs under a broiler.  It was such an easy thing, and yet seemed so sophisticated - at least to me:  a home cook as far from Ina's Hamptons living as she is to say the Kendall Corn and Beer Bust (...yes, that is an actual event in rural Kendall, WI, and yes, I have attended.)
The greatest thing about this recipe is that it is so adaptable in summer.  To make it in the winter, you would need to find small amounts of several types of herbs.  Not only that, but it allows for several egg eaters to dine at once, allowing a hostess to eat with her guest(s), which is always a good thing.

My only oven to table dishes aren't as elegant as Ina's, but really you only need something that is oven safe not to crack under high heat.  I have some shallow, porcelain dishes that I like to use, and have even cooked up to 4 eggs at once (to serve 2 of us) in one of my 6 inch square ones.  Ina's original recipe calls for 3 eggs per person, but I rarely break the 2 egg limit myself.  I also like to load up on the herbs, and use a bit more than she calls for.  After all, fresh herb season is fleeting, and I like to indulge where I can.
You can easily adapt the herbs to the varieties that you have growing, or that you prefer.  I let my parsley go to seed, and decided to chop up some of the bolted fronds after tasting their "parsley-ness".  I think a Mexican version would be good, using cilantro, oregano (or Mexican oregano if you have it) and using cotija cheese instead of parmesan.  I may try this soon myself, since I grew a new Mexican herb this summer that I never tried before: papalo.  I'd bet it would be really good with eggs.
Knowing, and agreeing, with Peef and Lo's commitment to local and organic ingredients, I used a Parmesan cheese made in Wisconsin, rendering this dish 100% from our state.  Country Connection makes a variety of cheese that is a bit softer than it's imported cousin, but still has the trace of granulated saline bite that I love about Parmesan.  It's easy to find locally at Outpost, and I've been enjoying it in all sorts of things.

I use the recipe amounts per ramekin, but you can use more or less to your tastes.  You can also bake the dish for less time if you prefer runnier egg yolks.  I let mine get pretty well done this time, and part of the yolks were cooked hard, part were runny.  Exactly what I was aiming for!
Herby Baked Eggs (adapted from Ina Garten)
1 serving
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 t. garlic, minced
  • 1/4 t. thyme, minced (I used lemon thyme)
  • 1/4 t. rosemary, minced
  • 1 T. minced parsley
  • 1 T. grated Parmesan cheese (Country Connection, available at Outpost)
  • 1 T. half and half (Crystal Ball Farms, also available at Outpost), I eyeball this, just a splash in the bottom of the ramekin.
  • 1 T. butter
  • salt
  • pepper
Preheat broiler to high for 5 minutes and place oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine garlic, herbs, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.  Crack eggs into another waiting cup or small dish.  (Ina notes that it is important to have everything ready to go before you begin to cook.)

Put the gratin or ramekin you are using as a baking dish on a sheet pan.  Add butter and cream to ramekin and place under the broiler until butter melts and gets bubbly, about 3 minutes.  Remove from oven, and quickly and carefully add the eggs.  Sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, and put back under the broiler.  Bake for 5-6 minutes until eggs are cooked to your preference.  Watch carefully towards the end of the time so that they don't brown too much.  The eggs will also continue to cook for a minute or so after you remove them from the oven.
Serve with bread or toast, I used the Lahey Bacon Bread, which made this just about perfect as far as breakfasts go - not that it wouldn't make a perfectly delectable lunch or dinner as well.

It's difficult to know where to start describing the wonder that is CakeWalk, the brain child of my own personal friend, Rebecca Gagnon. She started her Milwaukee area food blog in 2009 -- and hasn't looked back. Whether she's baking up incredible breads as part of her Lahey Project or cooking up Vegan delights, she manages to bring plenty of wisdom and whimsy to everything she's cooking up in the kitchen.  Rebecca claims she has no idea where CakeWalk is heading. But, what I do know is that I'm eager to follow wherever she leads! 

This guest post is part of our Summer 2010 Herb Series: Using and Preserving Herbs. Stay tuned every Friday for more hints, tips, and tricks on how to use summer's bounty!

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Using and Preserving Summer Herbs: Parsley

This week's herb post is brought to you by Tina -- half of the duo over at Choosy Beggars!

I was delighted when Lo asked me to do a post using summer herbs. After all, it's only the end of July and already my herb garden looks like the Sinharajah forest. I consider this to be nature's way of trying to appease my suffering after long winter months of muttering and moaning, forced to pull dried basil off the spice rack (horrors!!) or substitute dried oregano in my tomato sauce. I love having an abundance of fresh herbs around the house, and find that I'm always looking for new ways to use the summer's bounty.

I will freely admit that sometimes I'm ambivalent to the dried versus fresh controversy that surrounds many herbs, but there is one where I absolutely, positively, no question about it, will NOT use dried, and that is my good friend and favorite herb: parsley. Of course that would be the herb that I begged, pleaded and cajoled to talk about today.

Yes, parsley. That's my go-to herb. I know, right? What good has parsley ever done for you, other than providing a limp garnish on the side of your lasagna at the Olive Garden, or being sprinkled in a lackluster way around a suspicious looking entree at Applebys? At best, parsley is widely known as a garnish with dubious aesthetic potential. However, I know that we can challenge that notion. Poor ol' parsley is always getting passed over on our lists of "Top 10", but truth be told it is one of the most underrated herbs in your garden. Parsley may be modest, frequently content adding naught but a faint aroma to your stock through a bouquet garni, or used to finish and brighten a potato salad, but there's so much more to the herb than that! We're talking salads, folks. We're talking soups, seasonings, dressings and the elusive scent in a perfectly juicy roasted chicken. By the end of this article, I hope that you'll agree; parsley is where it's at.
Come with me, won't you? Let's explore the wonders that this humble herb has to offer....

Varieties of Parsley
There are two common varieties of parsley that you'll see in the average market. "Curly parsley" is characterized by tall stems with densely packed bouquets of curling leaves. The second variety, "Flat leaf" or "Italian parsley" looks similar to cilantro, with long elegant stems branching out into broad, flat leaves. Flat leaf parsley is more likely to be the cook's choice because the flavor is slightly sweeter than curly parsley, but at the same time it has more of a peppery, robust flavor. As for me, I don't play favorites. I'll take them both, and at once given half a chance.

The third widespread variety of parsley is grown not for it's leaves, which may surprise you, but for it's roots. More common in Europe than North America, parsley root looks similar to a nice fat parsnip, but the flavor is worlds away. Slightly sweet but bright, fresh and green, parsley root tastes like a delicate cross between celery root and, well, parsley. If you have seen this root vegetable around but were hesitant to try it, don't be. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Beyond Culinary Usage
Discussion about the medicinal uses of parsley is varied. Most of us have heard about chewing parsley to combat some of the symptoms of halitosis, particularly after a decidedly delicious second helping of garlic bread, but there is a lot of other speculation on this fine herb's benefits. Some herbologists will recommend parsley tea to help control high blood pressure, while others use it as a "tonic to strengthen the bladder" (read: questionable diuretic). Some studies suggest that parsley can be a kideny stimulant that increases diruesis, while others suggest that parsley aids in the body's ability to uptake manganese which builds strong bones.

Folk lore even indicates that rubbing crushed parsley on the skin will reduce the itching of mosquito bites, but as a happy cottage dweller in Northern Ontario I can tell you that I find that one to be a load of malarkey that was probably started by the peppermint patch.

We've heard a lot about "super foods" lately, and more often than not you'll see parsley up there bumping elbows with the blueberries, flax seeds and walnut pieces at the front of the class. Many proponents of a "super foods diet" encourage increased consumption of parsley to act as a stress buster, get you "moving" (with the dietary fiber), keep your eyes bright and your bones strong. If that weren’t enough, it’s also thought to reduce depression, lower cholesterol and strengthen your kidneys. What a super food, indeed!

Parsley as a Garnish
When we talk about using parsley as a garnish, I can assure you that I am NOT referring to the feeble sprig plopped on top of your spaghetti bolognese. I'm a proponent of the classically gastronomic definition of a garnish, which basically states that a garnish is something that enhances a dish before serving using an edible decoration or accompaniment, which is both appealing to the eye and complimentary to the flavor of the dish.
One of my favorite examples would be gremolata. Classic gremolata is a bright and pungent mixture of finely minced parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. Sprinkled over a deep and luscious slow braised Osso Bucco or beef shank, gremolata cuts through the richness of the meat to brighten and excite the palate. Equally good on chicken, steak, or even sweet and fatty seafood, gremolata is equal parts aesthete and flavor enhancer. Better yet, you can play with the flavors as you see fit. One of my favorites is a preserved lemon and parsley gremolata to serve on top of a cheap surf'n'turf (flank steak and shrimp kebabs).

Variations of a pungent and fresh parsley garnish are abundant across the globe. For example, the French equivalent of gremolata would be persillade, with vampire thwarting amounts of chopped garlic tempered by parsley's delicate charm.
As you travel south and temperatures start to heat up, the parsley garnish gets a little bit pluckier. By the time you hit Argentina, Chile and Brazil, our garnish has transformed into a cross between a sauce and an acidic vinaigrette, always used more as a condiment than a garnish. Such is the beauty of chimichurri sauce, which has as many variations as it has cooks to make it. The quintessential condiment on many Latin American tables, chimichurri is a blend of parsley, garlic and acid. Sometimes there might be a smidge of onion, other green herbs like cilantro or thyme, and maybe even a little heat to spice things up with dried chili. There is really no way to go wrong with chimichurri, but after trying chimichurri on steak, grilled fish, pork kebabs and as a sandwich spread, you will find yourself thinking that the ways to go right are endless. Chimichurri speaks to our experimental instincts, and if you want some good guidance on how to make a basic sauce you can find it at Eating Club Vancouver. If you're a recipe person, however, I'm more than happy to share what I put in mine.

Parsley as a Salad
Confession: I am half Lebanese. This fact, in and of itself, explains my affection for gold painted floor lamps in the shape of exotic birds, showing my affection by YELLING REALLY LOUD ON THE PHONE, and having a bunch of parsley in my fridge at all times. You might have grown up with Caesar or House, but I grew up with tabouli salad, a Middle Eastern side dish of very finely minced parsley with a smattering of bulghar (cracked wheat), tomatoes, and just a hint of onion. No Lebanese meal is complete without a bowl of tabouli on the table, and my father's tabouli is so legendary among my peer group that friends would actually say (to my face, no less), "Yeah, let's get together this weekend! Maybe we can, you know, I dunno, go see your parents or something? For dinner? Is your dad home?" That's the kind of fealty that a good tabouli salad can inspire, taming teenagers and tasteful eaters alike.
If you were looking for a more urbane and modern approach to parsley salad, an emerging trend in some finer restaurants is a spin off on the Thai tradition of mixed herb bundles dipped in a tart vinaigrette. There is a fabulous French restaurant in my home town which serves a little amuse bouche before the meal, comprised of a sprig of parsley and mint tied with chives and dipped into a light white wine and shallot vinaigrette. So simple, but packed with flavor and utterly able to entice your taste-buds, fresh parsley can be a small salad and appetite stimulant rolled into one neat, little pouch.

Parsley Soup
One of my best friends likes to tell the story of the time she went in for super-secret-day-surgery and, of course, being the nosy Nelly that I am, I somehow found out. I promptly mobilized into action, determined to lift her spirits and soothe her soul through the auspices of soup. Two hours later I was at her doorstep with fresh bread, a creamy (but lactose free) parsley root soup, and a chicken soup with plenty of parsley and fresh marjoram. I'm telling you -- parsley is the salve for an aching body and mind. If parsley root soup doesn't tweak your imagination, why not try a traditional Irish parsley & potato soup with some fresh brown bread? Or, if you're not quite confident enough to use parsley as the winning flavor, it makes a fabulous and flavorlicious garnish for rich and creamy soups, such as our fine host lo's hearty potato soup.

Dressing Things Up
Dress me up and tie me down! The most common way for parsley to find it's way to your table is through a dressing. Whether it is on the side of a simple grilled salmon, a slow cooked beef pot roast, or even an Irish corned beef and cabbage, buttered parsley potatoes are always in style.

Parsley and potatoes are a match made in heaven. Warm or cold, a parsley rich potato salad is sure to be a hit on the potluck table. You could go for a classic, like a bacon laden parsley and potato salad, or this version which is rich with garlic and olives. All you need is a light vinaigrette, a smattering of salt, and a bunch or fresh parsley and you're bound to find a winner.

Parsley is just as good on a dressing for greens, and a classic Eastern salad is simply chopped watery lettuce, tomato and onion with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, and plenty of finely chopped fresh parsley. Simple but beautiful, it makes up in flavor what it lacks in sophistication. Or, if you were looking for a spin, nothing says freshness quite like a preserved lemon vinaigrette with parsley and mint.
I spoke a bit about "super foods" earlier, and now that we're on the topic of salads I just can't help coming back. I love salads made from whole grains or heart healthy ingredients, and being a bit of a keener I like to pack all of my favorite ingredients into one dish. One rule the world!! At least, I certainly feel like I could rule the world after eating a big bowl of parsley rich quinoa superfoods salad, packed with walnuts, goji berries, soy beans and chili powder, as well as a great big bunch of fresh parsley.

Season To Taste
What is the difference between an Argentinian meatloaf and just....meatloaf? PARSLEY.

Why is kafta more like a religion than just meat on a stick? PARSLEY.

When it acts more like a seasoning than a garnish, parsley teases the best out of rich, moist meats like ground beef which can sometimes be rather bland. Even a sub-par package of ground beef can still get the allstar treatment when it is mixed with finely chopped parsley and onion, a hint of cinnamon and a wee dash of red chili. Grilled over a hot flame, kafta is the thing that exotic BBQ dreams are made of.

There are many ways to incorporate parsley into your dish as a seasoning rather than just a fluttering garnish, and the key is to remember that the flavor of parsley really does add to the overall dish. For example, what would Burp Blog's Orechiette with roasted eggplant and ricotta be without the parsley? Well, probably a titillating pasta scented with exotic cinnamon and cocoa, languidly wrapping around earthy rich toasted walnuts with a sexy shower of salty pecorino romano. Oh hell, I've been drooling ever since I first saw that recipe and evidently I haven't stopped. Go. Make it. Make their pasta, but be sure to add the parsley while you're at it.

The Final Flavor Enhancer
One of the reasons that parsley is so often an unsung hero is that it often plays a supporting role in our cast of culinary characters. Bundled up with stage stealers like rosemary and thyme, or the deep dark mutterings of black peppercorn, parsley often just quietly hums along in the background, enriching our stocks with an earthy green flair. A classic and indispensable ingredient of the bouquet garni, which is an exclusive assortment of herbs selected for their flavoring potential and all tied up with a neat little bow, parsley is in it for the long haul and deserves to be treated with the respect owed to classic French cuisine.

As a final homage to the flavor enhancing properties of parsley, think of the enthusiasm you feel as you cram them up the sun-don't-shine end of your fresh plucked poultry, before stuffing in half a lemon and calling it a day. Nothing says comfort like a nice roast chicken, and nothing says delicious like a roast chicken stuffed with aromatic parsley, garlic and lemon as it cooks.

Alright, so we've been through soups and salads, dressings and seasonings, and the multitude of ways that you can use parsley in everything from your morning cuppa to your Sunday night dinner. I hope that you're starting to see why parsley is my favorite fresh herb, and why I would go to the ends of the earth to encourage you to nurture it, cultivate it, and eat it every chance you get. This herb is so much more than just a bit of dried greenery feathered along the edge of your plate. There is absolutely a world of fun and flavor to explore with parsley, and the ship sets sail tonight. Or tomorrow. Well, or whenever you realize what you've been missing out on all this time, and decide that parsley is the way to go, y'all. I'll see you at the Farmer's Market this Sunday!

The Choosy Beggars are Tina and Mike, a pair of life-loving amateur chefs and mixologists, just trying to get by on mortal salaries. At least that's how they describe themselves.  I'll add that they tell a good story, and their blog is as much a great place to find a good hearty laugh as it is to find a great meal. We'd encourage you to saunter on over and check out what they've got to offer -- we're absolutely positive you're going to love them. And, just in case they didn't entice you enough with all the recipe suggestions in the above post, there are plenty of other herbilicious delights over on the Choosy Beggars site, including Lemony Orechiette with Fresh Fava, Feta and Dill and Herb Marinated Bocconcini Balls .

This guest post is part of our Summer 2010 Herb Series: Using and Preserving Herbs. Stay tuned every Friday for more hints, tips, and tricks on how to use summer's bounty!

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wisconsin Cheese Goes Upscale: Our Cheese Dinner at Bacchus Milwaukee

Did you know that Wisconsin produces more cheese than all of Italy?

And that it takes nearly 10 pounds of milk (just over a gallon) to make 1 pound of cheese?

It's true. Wisconsin dairy farms produce more than 23 billion pounds of milk every year. That's about 14% of the country's total milk supply.As the nation's leading producer of cheese, Wisconsin has a long and productive history, which hearkens back to the mid-1800s.

We were fortunate to have been invited to a special tasting of some delicious Wisconsin cheeses at Bacchus restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. With an emphasis on fresh seafood, exquisite handmade pastas, and perfectly grilled meats, Bacchus serves up some of the best in high end dining in Milwaukee. They also happen to serve an amazing selection of Wisconsin Cheeses.

Among the cheeses we sampled were:
Dunbarton Blue, Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, WI
Four-Year Aged Cheddar, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Theresa, WI
Gran Canaria, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, WI
Marieke’s Raw Milk Gouda, Holland’s Family Cheese, Thorp, WI
Shaft Bleu Cheese, Emmi-Roth Käse, Monroe, WI
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, WI
Ahh, cheese...
Our cheese plate was served with fabulous acacia honey, imported from Germany, and a delicious fig preserves -- both of which were perfect when served with the creamy blue cheese.
As we noshed on each delicious variety of cheese, we chatted with one of the dinners hosts, Heather Porter Engwall of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. She had plenty of great stories to share -- both about the history of Wisconsin cheeses, and about the phenomenal cheese-makers whose ingenuity has helped Wisconsin to become the overwhelming leader in artisan cheese. She pretty much has the coolest gig in the world.

One of our favorite cheeses,
Bandaged Cheddar, hails from Bleu Mont Dairy, where Willi Lehner, a Swiss-American cheesemaker brings astounding creativity to the art of cheese.
His modest farm operates solely on solar- and wind-power. His bandaged cheddar, which as the name suggests, is wrapped in bandages, then spritzed with a mixture of water and previous rinds before being aged on special spruce boards in an aging cave. The cheese is unlike many other cheddars you've probably tasted. The flavor is curiously gamey -- and yet it offers up plenty of welcome buttery nuttiness and a very clean finish.

In addition to our cheese plate, we were delighted to sample a selection of tapas, including a delicious toasted brioche with maple braised pork belly.
We sampled a delightful veal ravioli with spinach, toasted pine nuts, and buerre fondue.
A chilled corn soup was garnished with Maine lobster, creamy avocado, and sweet piquillo peppers.
There was also beet and watermelon salad with crisp proscuitto, arugula, Marcona almonds, and a delicious sampling of Hidden Springs goat cheese.
And we both delighted in a farm-fresh string bean salad featuring Salemville blue cheese, frisee, radishes, and toasted hazelnuts.
For dinner, I ordered the Strauss free-raised veal chop, which came with a baby potato salad dressed in a rustic mustard vinaigrette and served with veal jus.
Lo was delighted with her seared sea scallops, which were served on a bed of caramelized fennel and sauteed spinach, and dressed with a honey-red wine sauce and red grapes.
It's difficult enough to describe the incredible satiety one feels after imbibing in such a delicious array of food and drink, but we were also privileged to enjoy great conversation with a wide array of great people.

We had the incredible good fortune of being joined by a variety of other Milwaukee foodies -- including Mel from A Taste of Life, Stef and Katie from Haute Apple Pie, and the crew from Eating Milwaukee. We were able to chat briefly with Executive Chef, Adam Siegel, who spoke honestly about both the wonders and limitations of his efforts to source as many local foods as possible to accommodate his dinner guests at Bacchus.

Thank you, thank you to Adam Siegel, Chef de Cuisine Andrew Ruiz and all the others on staff at Bacchus who made our dinner truly memorable. And we send a very special thanks to everyone at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board who made this dinner possible. Heather and Megan -- it was great to meet you both! And we look forward to many more years of supporting (and eating) delicious Wisconsin cheese.

Full Disclosure: Although we received our meal and drinks free of charge, we were not paid to advertise for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board or any businesses mentioned in this article. All opinions expressed in this blog entry are our own and are reflective of our experience.

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