Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pacific Salmon with Wild Ramp Pesto

Spring has finally sprung here in southeastern Wisconsin. We've had gorgeously mild weather for the past few days, and it's given me a craving for deliciously fresh spring fare.

Seasonal local produce is still somewhat scarce. But, there are a few delicacies available to satiate my cravings. One is the delicious spring ramp. 

Resembling scallions, ramps begin at their base as lovely white bulbs whose gorgeous reddish-purple stalks rise upward into a plume of elegantly silky green leaves. With a mild flavor poised deliciously between that of leeks and garlic, they make a delicious addition to pasta dishes and pestos. And they marry particularly well with farm fresh spring eggs.

Many supermarkets carry ramps when in season. However, they can also be foraged*. We were lucky to have a friend who shared his favorite foraging spot with us this year, so we were able to head out today to pick up a few handfuls of this favorite spring delicacy.

The question, once we got them home was, of course, what to make?

Why, a simple pan seared salmon recipe, of course.
This uber-easy recipe makes full use of the flavor of the mild tops of spring ramps, in full complement to the rich, silky flavor of seasonal salmon.

Best thing is, there's very little effort involved. You just need a few simple ingredients, a food processor, and a nice heavy cast iron skillet for cooking your salmon.

If you've never seared salmon in cast iron before, you're in for a treat. It's quick, easy, and delicious.

Heat your cast iron skillet over medium heat until it's so hot it's almost beginning to smoke (5-7 minutes). Add a tablespoon or two of butter, and allow it to melt, covering the entire cooking surface. Place salmon filets in the pan and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes or until the filet begins to brown. Flip the filet, cover the skillet, and continue cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes -- or until the dark/under cooked middle portion of the filet comprises slightly less than a quarter of the total filet thickness.

Top salmon with ramp pesto before serving.

Spring Ramp Pesto

For those of you who love ramps as much as we do, stay tuned. We'll have a couple more recipe ideas for you coming up!

NOTE: *If you are lucky enough to know of a place to forage for wild ramps,take care to keep sustainability in mind. Harvest only from large, healthy beds and take, at most, a fraction of what is there (no more than 5-10% of a bed). Concern about over-harvesting has everything to do with the fact that wild ramps do not seed themselves; once you pick a ramp it does not grow back. And over-harvesting can easily decimate a ramp population. 


Monday, April 22, 2013

From Milwaukee with Love: Mother's Day Cookie Giveaway

One of the things we love best about blogging are the great people we meet along the way.

Lately, we've been meeting some pretty awesome local artisans whose food products deserve some serious attention.  Our latest find is Patricia O'Brien & Company, a decorated sugar cookie company located right here  in Milwaukee.

And if you love classic sugar cookies, you'll want to keep reading.

Patricia O'Brien is a great example of someone we've made acquaintance with recently, who has used her skills in the kitchen to create an artisan food business.

Patricia had been a home baker for years before starting a cookie decorating business.

"I saw an article in an obscure magazine several years ago which described how to ice a cookie with royal icing, and after it dries, how to paint on that surface with food coloring," she told me. "I love to paint--on canvas, wood, and just about anything--so the thought of painting cookies was very exciting to me. I experimented with several different types of pigment and found a combination of brush and paint that produced the desired effect. Many of my cookies are decorated with a combination of techniques, and just about all of the assortments have some painted cookies."

Spurred on by a friend, Patricia agreed to test out her product at a cookie sale at her friend's home.

She brought over nearly 1000 Christmas cookies, and displayed them on platters on her friend's dining room table. Each platter contained cookies of a different design.

"My friend had purchased large white pizza boxes and, as the guests went around the table, they picked out the cookies they wanted and placed them in the pizza box, then paid for them at a check out table," she recalls. "We sold all 1000 cookies in 45 minutes. My friend turned to me and said 'Now do you believe me that you should sell these cookies?'"

Patricia sent us a box of her cookies to try out for ourselves. The box was beautifully tied with a cheerful bow, and each pair of cookies was carefully packed in their own paper bag, and cushioned with bubble wrap.

And the cookies themselves? They're just what you'd expect -- crisp, buttery, and only slightly sweet, with the firm frosting I remember from my grandmother's holiday cookies.  Best of all, the cookies are decorated with care using attractive painting techniques and 3-D frosting details.

Patricia O'Brien & Company was founded in 2006. Patricia bakes cookies full time, sharing a commercial kitchen with Karen Smith, The Cake Lady, a notable wedding cake business in the area. She uses an old family recipe for her cookies that contains only butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. Her icing is made from meringue powder and powdered sugar.

"I can still remember the red plastic cookie cutters my mother used with us when we were children and the  tin shapes I used with my children," Patricia tells me. "I have a snow globe cookie cutter that has become a signature cookie, and there is one in most of my assortments. I have painted these for my sons with campus scenes when they went away to college and with seasonal landscapes for the holidays – that is the cookie that is probably the one most people remark about."

Patricia makes her cookies in hundreds of shapes, customizing them for any number of occasions -- from baptisms, to birthdays, to gifts for tennis, golf, and basketball lovers. Head over to her web site and check her out!

Even better, Patricia O'Brien is offering one lucky reader a box of Mother's Day themed cookies -- shipped right to your door in time for Mother's Day!

Just take a look on Patricia's web site and link back to one of your favorite designs (we're partial to the Sock Monkeys!). You have until NOON on Saturday, April 27, 2013 when we'll randomly choose a winner. If you are chosen, you will be notified by email, so please leave your email addy with your comment if it's not included with your Blogger profile. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Full Disclosure: This giveaway is sponsored by Patricia O'Brien & Company, who provided us with product samples, as well as the box of Mother's Day Cookies for the giveaway. However, all opinions expressed in this post are our own.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Slow Cooker Bolognese: For those busier than average weeknights

Despite the supposed arrival of spring, it's been rainy and cool here in Wisconsin.  And we've been busier than ever.

In addition to the food and dining writing I've been doing for, I also recently took a spot on the editorial panel for Edible Milwaukee magazine, which is launching here in Milwaukee in May. So, we've volunteered to spearhead the planning for a fund-raising gala to celebrate the release of the first issue of the magazine.  Needless to say, we've been up to our elbows making requests for silent auction donations and working with the chefs from Milwaukee Food for Thought, an amazing group of community-minded chefs, to make sure the event is as awesome as we envision it will be in our heads.

We've also been busy with our MKEfoodies group, which has really taken off in the past year. We just pulled together our first ever Milwaukee Food Swap, which took place on April 14th (and was an amazing amount of fun).  And we're currently planning our second annual Walker's Point Food Crawl, which will take place on June 1, 2013. So, we've been writing up press releases, chatting up area restaurants, and trying to think of ways to make this year's event even bigger and better than ever.

So, we haven't had much time for cooking. What that means is, we've had to get kind of clever about our planning to ensure that we're still eating as healthfully as possible. In part, that means we've been relying on our trusty crockpot to do some of the work for us.

Fortunately, some recipes are just MADE for the crockpot. And this is one of them: old fashioned long-simmering bolognese sauce. 

You’ve heard the legends of long-simmered Bolognese made by Italian grandmothers of old. And you've probably also seen the recipes that claim to give you a quick alternative to this classic sauce.

Well, the quick recipes are a joke.  And the legends are true. Slow cooking makes any Bolognese better. Fortunately, this version makes use of the crockpot so you needn’t sit home all day waiting for your sauce to reduce.

But, don’t scrimp on the details. A half-hour of prep work gives you at least ten hours to take it easy as your sauce cooks. And it makes enough for multiple meals or one feast for a small army... oh, and it freezes well, to boot!
You will need at least a 6 1/2 quart sized crockpot for this recipe (alternatively, split up the amount between two smaller crockpots). Because steam rises from the sauce as it cooks, it’s best to place the slow cooker on a counter with no cabinetry overhead.  

Rustic Crockpot Bolognese Sauce


Monday, April 15, 2013

Spinach Artichoke Melts for Grilled Cheese Month

You know it's grilled cheese month, right?
It's the perfect time to take a moment of silence and truly appreciate the miracle that happens when you put great bread and delicious cheese together.

Living in Wisconsin, we're surrounded by mounds and mounds of delectable artisan cheese. And yet, sometimes we forget how lucky we really are. Grilled cheese month is a nice reminder that living in one of the cheesiest states in the union has its advantages.

This year, when we thought about concocting a sandwich to celebrate GC Month, we were looking to create something a little bit outside of the box. Two of our favorite things just happen to be grilled cheese sandwiches and spinach artichoke dip. So, as we puttered in the kitchen one day we thought, why not combine the two?

These delicious melts are the result of our experimentation. 

Deliciously cheesy, with all the flavor of a great spinach artichoke dip and the gooey cheesiness of the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever made, they’re made even better by a crisp exterior created by grilling the sandwiches with real butter -- also a hot commodity here in the Dairy State :)


Monday, April 1, 2013

Beer Bacon Brittle and a Delicious Giveaway

We met Sarah Marx Feldner, owner of Treat Bake Shop, over a year ago. It was before her delicious candied spiced pecans were featured in "Martha Stewart Living" magazine... or named among the "10 locally made products every cream city household should have on hand" by M Magazine.  In fact, when we met her, she was nonchalantly doing a tasting at our local food coop.

Even though we're the type of people who would ordinarily make our own spiced pecans, we had to admit that Sarah's recipe was pretty amazing.

Crispy, sugary, spicy... they're everything you'd want and more.

In fact, we kept finding ourselves picking up a jar here and there -- for that impromptu cheese plate at the holidays, to add to our next batch of brownies... Honestly, we bought at least a jar or two just for snacking.

As our esteem for her product grew, we got more and more excited about the prospect of show-casing it on the blog. But how?  We wanted to create something fun and tasty that really show-cased the great flavor of the pecans...

So, we started thinking about some of our favorite ingredients. What's more classic than the combination of beer and nuts?  And isn't it true that bacon makes everything better?

We made up a batch of this brittle, and it completely blew us away. It also won over the hearts of the readers over at Go Bold with Butter, our latest freelancing project.

This brittle brings together the flavors of game day staples like beer, spiced pecans, and bacon into a crunchy, salty-sweet snack that your guests will find as delicious as it is addictive.

Quite frankly, melted butter and sugar never tasted so good.

Of course, it's not really fair to talk about Sarah and her awesome pecans without offering you a chance to try them out for yourself.  So, get your commenting fingers ready.

Leave a comment telling us how you would use a jar of Treat Spiced Pecans. You have until NOON on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 when we'll randomly choose three (3) of you to receive a jar for your very own. Winners will be notified by email, so please leave your email addy with your comment if it's not included with your Blogger profile. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Make bacon beer brittle... or simply eat them out of hand. Whatever you decide to do, it will be fabulous.

Full Disclosure: This giveaway is sponsored by Treat Bake Shop, who provided us with the product to us free of charge. However, all opinions expressed in this post are our own.