Thursday, December 30, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is a Black Forest Cherry Torte

My parents host Christmas dinner, and I promised my Mom I would bring dessert.  While I like pie better than cake, I find I am far better at baking cakes than pies.  Since Mom was making Roast Pork Loin with Sour Cherries for dinner, I thought this Black Forest Cherry Torte would compliment dinner nicely.

I made a few minor modifications to the recipe.  I omitted the almond extract, since I'm not a fan.  Also, Bryan didn't find kirschwasser at the liquor, so brought home a cherry flavored brandy instead.

The torte itself is a rather involved process, though not overly difficult.  Step 1 had me baking 3 layers of chocolate cake.  One of the most time consuming parts of the entire process was finely grating 9 oz. of semisweet chocolate.  I grated three 3 oz. bars using the fine side of my box grater, which took roughly forever.  Surely there is a better way, one which I am not aware of.  Since the chocolate is not melted, but is rather folded into the cake batter, this was a necessary evil.  The perk was my fingers being covered in melting chocolate.

The cake batter also had me wishing I had an extra bowl for my mixer, as I first needed to cream the butter and sugar, and then beat egg whites.  I got by just fine without it, but my lazy self would have liked to have an extra bowl.

Since I made the cakes on Friday, I decided I would wait until Saturday to assemble the torte itself.  I was worried that the brandy would make the cakes soggy, and the whipped cream would begin to break down if I let it sit overnight.

Saturday morning, I assembled the cake: brandy, cherry preserves, and whipped cream in the middle.

And whipped cream frosting with chocolate shavings on top.

The cake was a huge hit. I have to admit, it was insanely delicious.  And, it turned out, even better the next day.  The brandy had some time to mellow out, and the cakes did not get soggy as I had feared, nor did the cream start to melt.  Next time, I'll definitely make the entire thing the day before.

Oh yes, I said next time.  This cake was definitely worth the effort.

Lamb Tagine

For one of our Christmas gifts, my very talented mother in law, Linda, made us a tagine.  Yep, made us one.  This is something we've been wanting to get for awhile, so we were very excited about the gift.

I did a little research, and seasoned the tagine before use.  Our first attempt was Lamb Tagine with Dates and Chickpeas.  We placed the tagine on the top of the stove, on top the cast iron griddle to accomplish the need for indirect heat (inside the oven would be fine as well).  We had the heat too low, so a little more heat would have been better, but overall the dish turned out delicious - and beautiful.

We're looking forward to trying out more recipes:

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Spiced Pine Nuts

Beef-Short Ribs Tagine with Honey-Glazed Butternut Squash

Fresh Nectarine and Plum Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Lamb, Quince, and Okra Tagine

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Thanksgiving went off without a hitch here.  We host each year, it being the holiday we feel best suits our cooking style.  Our goal was A Local Thanksgiving.  And we did pretty good - almost everything we prepared was sourced locally.

We invested in an American Bronze Heritage turkey from JenEhr farms.  Far different from your supermarket turkey, which have been bred for giant breasts and little flavor, heritage turkeys offer a variety of benefits.  For one, like many traditional foods, they are healthier:

They have reduced fat and cholesterol because they are adhering to a regimen that physicians usually recommend to their patients, i.e., to eat more greens and fiber, exercise daily and reduce stress levels. Meats, eggs and poultry from grass fed animals have a better balance of health-promoting essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, and have more vitamin E and beta carotene. Recent studies indicate that “grass-grown” meats are the richest source of good fats called CLA (conjugated linoleic acids), which may be linked to reducing the growth of tumors.  (JenEhr  Farms, Pasture Raised is Healthier).

Of course, raising meat on pasture has huge environmental benefits, as well. From requiring less fossil fuel to produce, to reducing greenhouse gasses, to less erosion, to healthier soil - there is an unending list of reasons why raising meat on pasture is better for the environment.

And they taste darn good, too.  They taste like turkey.

Our preference is to brine the bird.  After some research, Bryan used Alton Brown's highly recommended brine recipe.  Bryan used the caul fat from our pig (from Otter Creek Organic Farm) to cover the bird.

To go with the fantastic turkey, Bryan made gravy and I made Cranberries with Port, our version of cranberry sauce.

We planned a good number of side dishes because, well, that's what you do on Thanksgiving.

For the dressing, Bryan made a Pecan and Apricot Stuffing.  A fairly standard base of bread, onions, and celery, seasoned with sage, with toasted pecans and dried apricots added in.  Definitely a favorite around the table.  I had an entire second helping after the kids were in bed.

Bryan traditionally makes Diana Kennedy's corn budin (Budin de Elote), which is one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes.  However, he decided to shake things up this year and make Alton Brown's Sweet Corn Bread Pudding.  I was skeptical, but I may actually like that recipe better.

Bryan also creamed some kale from JenEhr, and Shannon brought some polish sausage from a Polish deli in Chicago.  (My paternal grandmother being 100% Polish, every holiday comes with a side of polish sausage!)

We had some of the standards as well: brussel sprouts with bacon, Mom's homemade wheat rolls, Aunt Debbie's cheesy potatoes, and a potato gratin from my cousin (a Pioneer Woman recipe), as well as a green bean casserole.  We had just enough food, me thinks.

For dessert, Shannon made a Gluten Free Pecan Pie, and I made my Apple and Fennel Pie.  Instead of your standard pie crust, this year I made a biscuit topping based off Martha Stewart's Quince Biscuit Pie.  Definitely easier to make, and easier to make a large one, as well.  Also, I found the pie to be a lot less wet, which was a good thing.  My cousin brought Candied Bacon Ice Cream as well.  There were no complaints at dessert.

Good food and good company.  That's what the holidays are about!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Menu Planning: 9/23/10 CSA

These are in no particular order, as I'm still trying to catch up with life, but at least I planned ahead this time around.  I will consider that alone a win at this point.

Spiced Kuri Squash and Chicken Stew
Cook's notes: Serve over rice (instead of including in soup).
CSA ingredients: red kuri squash, sweet onion
Market ingredients: chicken, garlic, cilantro

Delmonico steak, Celeriac Gratin
Cook's notes: Pan grill and slice steak, serve with pan sauce.
CSA ingredients: celeriac

Rick's Tacos with Garlicky Mexican Greens, beans
Cook's notes: Make homemade queso fresco.
CSA ingredients: swiss chard
Market ingredients: garlic
Garden ingredients: tomatillos (from Paul and Lori's garden)

Blackened Steak Salad, frites
Cook's notes: Don't include potatoes in salad - make frites instead.  Use sweet red pepper instead of green bell.  Add raw black turnips and winter radish to salad.
CSA ingredients: lettuce, Italian red frying pepper, potatoes (leftover from last CSA), winter radish, black turnips
Garden ingredients: tomatoes

Honey Garlic BBQ Spare Ribs, summer squash, wheat berries
CSA ingredients: summer squashes
Market ingredients: garlic, honey

Beef Stir Fry with Cabbage, rice
Cook's notes: Use cube steak.
CSA ingredients: green cabbage, hakuri turnips
Market ingredients: garlic

That will leave us with some hakuri turnips, winter radishes, and basil, which I am sure we will find a good use for - probably salads for the turnips and radishes (they store well so we can keep them in the fridge a bit), and pesto with the basil.  We have a good amount of basil in our garden as well, so it would appear we need to make some pesto for freezing.  And to give to Shannon so she can make us her fabulous pesto lasagna (hint, hint).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Farmer's Markets

Farmer's markets have always been a part of my life.  My mom used to take us to the West Allis Farmer's Market. I can remember the bustling aisles, and especially buying bags of apples from Weston's Orchard and frozen cider pops from Nieman Orchards.  There is no where like a farmer's market to get excited about vegetables, at least in my family.

When Bryan and I were dating, we began doing the majority of our shopping at the Dekalb Farmer's Market.  The YDFM isn't your normal farmer's market, however.  It is a vast warehouse filled with every dry good, produce, meat, seafood, dairy, wine, and beer item imaginable, from all over the world.  Their produce section alone is bigger than most grocery stores in their entirety.  Truly an amazing resource, this was hard to leave behind when moving away from Atlanta.

Once we moved to Milwaukee, we knew we wanted to find local markets to shop at.  Of course we began visiting the West Allis market, since we live close, and I spent some mornings at the smaller New Berlin Farmer's Market with Mom.  Smaller, with more ready made items, it is a pleasant way to spend the morning.  We visited the Dane Country Market, around Capitol Square in Madison.  The largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country, it is a sight to behold.  However, as large and popular as it is, it is impossible to navigate with a stroller, and no place to let a toddler roam free.  I'm not a big fan of crowds, so while a great market and all, not the place for me.  The new Tosa Farmer's Market has become one of our favorite places to spend our Saturday mornings.   To me, this market has the perfect blend of direct producers, offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and finished goods, such as coffee, breads, jams, and soups.  The market is new, and small, so it allows us to let Oliver run free without worry. 

For me, there is something perfect about wandering along the stalls of a market, inspecting produce, discovering new foods, talking with the smiling vendors.  Open air markets have been a part of human history ever since we had food to sell.  Continuing this tradition keeps us connected to our food in a way we cannot afford to lose.

One of the greatest draws of farmer's markets for me, other than the obvious bounty of food which appeals to my stomach, is the ability to buy food which is as fresh as you can get, not having grown it yourself.  The produce is generally less than 24 hours from the field.  Buying something so fresh obviously means it's local, and supporting my local economy, especially my farmers, is something I find extremely important.

Not all produce at a market is Certified Organic.  But as certification is an onerous and expensive title to take on, many smaller produces employ organic (or beyond organic) practices.  Another great thing about farmer's markets is that you, the consumer, have the ability to interact directly with the producer of your foods.  Ask how the food is produced.  There may not be a "Certified Organic" sign, but you may find that the food fits your needs just the same.

Shopping directly from farmers benefits both me as the consumer as well as the farmer.  Without the "middle man", all profits go directly to the farmer, and there is no additional markup to pay that additional middle man (or two).  To make things even better, more and more farmer's markets have vendors who accept food stamps, through the EBT program, and/or WIC, as part of the USDA's Nutrition Assistance Programs.  The USDA also offers a program for Seniors.
More personally, we have had the opportunity to become connected to our food by direct work with a farm.  As Bryan works from home, and is a social being, he needed an outlet away from home.  When JenEhr Family Farms, through whom we've gotten our CSA these past few years, sent out a request asking for help at the markets, we knew this would be a perfect fit for Bryan.  Getting outdoors, talking to people, and food - all for the win.  Little did we know how we would become so closely connected to the farm, and our food, nor did we understand how this opportunity would provide us the ability to become connected with other farms, expanding our direct connection to more of the foods we eat.  Going beyond the produce, chickens, and rabbits we source from JenEhr, we love our mushrooms from River Valley Kitchens, some of the best breads imaginable from Wild Flour Bakery, the irresistible cider and free apples Oliver's cute face manages to elicit from Nieman Orchards, the fantastic cheeses from Saxon Creamery, the tantalizing dry cured meats from Bolzano, the fresh pastas from Mia Famiglia - the list goes on and on.  It's more than just vegetables.
You can find nearly everything you need at many markets these days.  Going far beyond just fruits and vegetables, most markets now boast vendors carrying meats, eggs, dairy products, breads and other baked goods, mushrooms, handmade pastas, jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, flowers - nearly every essential (and quite a few non-essentials!) you can think of.  If visiting a market and seeing all these beautiful things doesn't get you excited about food, I am not sure much will.

And it's more than just the food, too.  Learning about these products, sharing tips and tricks, hearing the story of these producers - this is a good thing.

This is why I cannot withstand the allure of a farmer's market.  While I menu plan, and do purchase items from the market to fulfill that plan, I also will not hesitate to supplant items on my menu with something that looks better, or to add to my plans when I find something additional to compliment a dish.  It took me awhile to feel comfortable in doing so, but now, it is second nature.  This is why the Tosa market is becoming our Saturday morning tradition:  Grab a cup of coffee from Anodyne or a fruit smoothie from First Fruits (Oliver's preference), and a baked good from any number of vendors, and meander around slowly.  Even Oliver seems to understand this concept (it probably helps that he knows exactly where to go to get his smoothie, or find the apple cider).  Find something new, pick up some things needed, and generally enjoy family and nature.  This, to me, is pretty close to heaven.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to CSA: 9/23/10

Yes, I slacked and missed an installment of How to CSA and Menu planning.  Really, I haven't been slacking, but rather trying to prepare for the baby, and control my near 3 year old.  We have indeed been eating, though have kept it pretty low key: chili (though it was some pretty awesome chili, with gorgeous tomatoes from our garden, carrots, onions, garlic, Italian red frying peppers, ground beef, and kidney beans, and topped with sour cream, jalapenos, Japanese onions, and your choice of cheese: cheddar, muenster, and/or buffalo jack), spaghetti (made with lots of roma tomatoes and garlic from the CSA), a fennel and potato soup (that we also added leeks to) with yeast rolls, asian short ribs, and paprika chicken (which we served over home fries rather than the recommended dumplings).  The next week's meal plan include cube steaks parmesan (we had an inordinate number of cube steaks from last year's cow), carbonara, and breakfast for dinner.

Our goodies this week include:

summer squashes


swiss chard


hakuri turnips

black turnips

red kuri squash

Italian red frying peppers (2 of which were used in the paprika chicken)

winter radishes

sweet onion


green cabbage

jalapenos (of which we received extras in order to make some candied jalapenos for our dear Miss Kay and family)

and roma tomatoes (which were used in the aforementioned paprika chicken)

Stay tuned for the meal plan!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Bryan's first physical in years has brought to our attention that he has diabetes.  Luckily, the doctor thinks we caught it very early, as Bryan doesn't exhibit any symptoms.  Also, the doctor is happy that we already have a good diet, so making changes there will be relatively simply.  He thinks that through diet and exercise alone, the diabetes will be totally manageable.

In terms of diet, the biggest changes Bryan will have to make are to cut out soda, and ice cream.  He's switching to sparkling water, and I am going to find and perfect a sugar free/substitute ice cream (somehow, Bryan is getting homemade ice cream out of this!).  Carbs and white flour are the next demons we'll have to battle.  And we do love our carbs.  Luckily, whole grains are OK, and something Bryan generally prefers.  We usually buy whole or sprouted grain bread, so that's not a problem.  And I've finally found a reason to lug out the bread machine - and it turns out I love to use it.  Bryan prefers whole wheat pastas, so we'll have to make the switch there.  Same for things like tortillas.  He'll have to watch his fruit intake as well.  And the doctor said that the less refined the sugar the better - so he can continue to use sucanat for his coffee, and I can continue to buy the more unrefined bulk sugars from the Outpost for general use (while continuing to look for a good source of raw(er) sugar), while also trying out some sugar substitutes like stevia, Truvia, and xylitol.

So we have a few changes to make, but I think we can take them all in stride.  It will be interesting to see how it affects our menu planning.  So far, it's prompted me to think about more varied grains, and more beans, which is something I want to do but am usually too lazy to.  So from that perspective, it's been a good thing. 

I did attempt a sugar substitute ice cream, using Truvia.  Based on a Gale Gand recipe, my goal was to attempt to substitute the Truvia in place of the sugar.  Since Truvia is stevia based, and stevia is sweeter than sugar, I used less Truvia than I would have sugar (3/4 tsp Truvia to 2 tsps sugar).

Everything else was about the same...

Mix Truvia and egg yolks:

Cook your creams with vanilla bean seeds (insanely plump vanilla beans courtesy of the Spice House):

Temper your eggs and sugar into your creams and return to heat:

And process in your ice cream maker:

The ice cream did not set in the ice cream maker - normally, ice cream will set pretty well within 30 minutes in my maker, but this ran for nearly and hour and was still soup.  I stuck it in the freezer, where thankfully it did set into normal ice cream consistency.

The ice cream itself did have a bit of a nutrasweet type flavor (more so in smaller licks rather than big bites, though), and a sort of odd aftertaste, but Bryan doesn't mind.  And I figure a little homemade strawberry preserves on top help matters some.

I did some research and there are better recipes out there - next time I'll try Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Ice Cream.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to CSA: 8/26/10 + Menu Planning

Better late than never, right?  I swear, I had every intention of posting this last Thursday night, but something or another distracted me.  Probably severe exhaustion (I'm pretty sure the baby had a growth spurt last week, causing me to eat everything in sight, feel constantly over tired, as well as overly stupid).

Delicious looking, no?


haruki turnips

lots of roma tomatoes (all of which, along with another entire case of romas, have already been processed into puree for freezing) and one yellow tomato (which has already been used in another round of Stuffed Bell Peppers, which I froze in preparation for new baby hell)
we filled 4 of these giant food service bowls with quartered romas
using the old Victorio to puree - LOVE this thing too!

stock pot full of puree (brought to a boil)

a white onion (little helper had to get his hands in at least one shot)

red bell peppers


red creamers (and one lonely yukon gold)


romano beans

Due to time constraints, this CSA's meal plan will come in 2 parts: one for this week and one for next.

Monday 8/30: Columbia “1905″ Salad, bread
Yeah, we didn't get around to making this last week.
Market ingredients: bread
Garden ingredients: tomato, oregano

Tuesday 8/31: Hot dogs, leftover corn on the cobb, cauliflower
Um, I need to grocery shop.
Cook's notes: Use first batch of homemade pickles?
CSA ingredients: onion, cauliflower
Market ingredients: corn

Wednesday 9/1: Farmer's casserole, romano beans
Cook's notes: Use leftover baked ham, add tomatoes, some kale, and red bell pepper.
CSA ingredients: red creamer potatoes, kale, red bell pepper, romano beans
Market ingredients: green onions
Garden ingredients: tomatoes

Thursday 9/2: Shake n Bake Style Chicken, yellow wax beans, wild rice
Market ingredients: chicken, yellow wax beans
Garden ingredients: herbs

Friday 9/3: Unknown
Possibly homemade hummus, salad, and the like... otherwise, it's Take Your Family Out For Tacos or Sushi Night.  The baby craves sushi.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to CSA: Wrapping up Installment #1

Just in time (actually, making late) installment #2!

Monday 8/23: Fried Green Tomato Grilled Cheese, salad

On homemade wheat bread.  I finally started using my inherited bread machine, and I LOVE that freakin' thing.  Beyond easy, and voila!  Bread!  We used cheddar and muenster, because that's the way I roll.  Bryan did a cornmeal breading on the tomatoes.  And the sandwiches rocked.  Oliver suddenly discovered he loves salads (previously, he'd eat the raw veggies but wouldn't touch the lettuce), and ate three bowls.
CSA ingredients: radishes, tomatoes, kohlrabi
Market ingredients: cucumber
Garden ingredients: green tomato

Tuesday 8/24: Grilled Ground Lamb Kebabs with Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste, couscous with herbs and butter, white eggplant

We deviated from the recipe in order to accommodate Oliver, so it wasn't as spicy as the last time we made it.  I didn't like it as much - too lamb-y.
CSA ingredients: onion, garlic
Market ingredients: cilantro, white eggplant
Garden ingredients: herbs

Wednesday 8/25: Stuffed Peppers with Ground Pork and brown rice 
The original plan was to stuff tomatoes, but Bryan thought peppers would go better.  They were so very delicious, I forgot to take a picture.
CSA ingredients: onions, garlic
Market ingredients: green bell peppers
Garden ingredients: herbs, tomatoes



Thursday 8/26: Breakfast-for-Supper Tofu Burritos

I am not sure we stuck to the inspiration recipe at all.  We did use tofu, but we also used egg and cheese because, you know, it was a breakfast burrito.  The filling made great leftovers, too.
CSA ingredients: tomatoes, onions, summer squash
Market ingredients: bell peppers, cilantro
Garden ingredients: tomatoes

Friday 8/27: Sweet n Sour Pork Balls, rice

Yummy, yummy, yummy.  The pork meat balls may be on the less gourmet side, but I'm trying to get us through the rest of our pig before the next one takes up residence in the freezer.  Still, very good.  And of course we used fresh pineapple, not canned.
CSA ingredients: garlic, onions, red bell pepper, romano beans
Market ingredients: bell pepper

Saturday 8/28: Fish with honey curry glaze, yellow rice, cauliflower

I didn't make the Indian inspired stuffed potatoes I had planned on doing, since I was doing a million other things that day and could find neither the time nor the energy (which is a shame, since those potatoes are scrumptious).
CSA ingredients: onion, red bell pepper, summer squash
Market ingredients: cauliflower

Sunday 8/29: Baked ham, romano beans, corn on the cobb, roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary

This was an unplanned meal.  Did I mention I wet cure hams?  I just did three, so we had one for dinner.
CSA ingredients: romano beans, potatoes
Market ingredients: corn
Garden ingredients: rosemary