Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eat Food, Know Your Fats

Bryan found this on Facebook, and I just had to post it.

There is some truth to it.  We, as a culture, vilify fats to a dangerous extent.  Fats are required for us to live healthy lives.  It is all about the right fats, in the right amounts.

Read Know Your Fats by Mary Enig.  This book explains the science behind fats, and is truly relevatory.

Nigella is on to something.  And I'm going to keep my bacon, thank you very much.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wisconsin treasure: Door County Cherries

Oh, my.  I have really been looking forward to this post.

Wisconsin is home to many local treasures (food treasures, of course, what else would I be thinking of?), but one of everyone's favorites is Door County cherries.  Shoppers pounce when they cherries come into the market mid-summer. Cherries are one of my favorite fruits - something about a ruby red cherry, not overly sweet, makes my tummy very happy.

So when Paul and Lori over at the Burp! blog put out the call to local food bloggers that they could hook us up with 27 pound buckets of fresh Door County cherries from Cherryland's Best, we jumped on it.  Some might be intimidated, nay, scared, at the sight of a 27 lb. bucket of cherries.  Some may wonder what in the world one could do with so many cherries.

Not us.

We know exactly what to do with so much fruit.  Last year we preserved 60 lbs of strawberries, 100 pounds of apples, 16 quarts of blueberries, and untold quantities of peaches and pears, not to mention quite a few pounds of cherries and raspberries.  And some nectarines.  And rhubarb.  And apricots.  So 27 pounds of cherries?  Not only is this not a problem, this is in fact quite exciting.

The cherries themselves were picked on Wednesday, pitted on Thursday, and delivered to us on Friday.  It's hard to get fresher!  Since I am lacking much brain power at the moment, here's some more information direct from Cherryland's Best, the producer who supplied the fruit:

Founded in 1994, CherryLand’s Best produces tasty and healthy dried tart cherries, tart cherry products and cherry juices, exclusively from one of the Midwest’s most beloved vacation spots, Door County, Wisconsin.    Door County, located in Northeast Wisconsin has become well known for it’s unique shops and quaint towns such as Egg Harbor, Ephraim and Fish Creek. This gorgeous peninsula is home to bike trails, parks and stunning outdoor beauty. Incredible restaurants and wineries make Door County a Foodie’s paradise! Probably the most well-known feature of Door County is it’s landscape dotted with family-owned and operated Cherry orchards.

For years, CherryLand’s Best has used the finest Montmorency Cherries from these orchards to create our dried fruit treats. Supporting these local farmers has helped sustain this very special crop. We hope you enjoy this truly “something special from Wisconsin” product. Check this link: to learn more about the great health benefits of Tart Cherries and Cherry Juices.

Founded by Brian Joosten, CherryLand’s Best’s facility is located in Appleton, Wisconsin. Brian and his amazing crew of Cherry specialists take great pride in producing both dried Cherries and Juices... delivering a healthy treat that is truly a ‘taste of Door County.’

Montmorency Cherries are only grown in a few places on earth. That’s why we’re honored to be members of the Door County Tart Cherry Growers Association, a group of family-owned farmers that are dedicated to keeping Tart Cherries a sustainable and locally-grown effort.

Of course, we froze quite a few cherries.  We're looking forward to using them over the next year. 

But we had to use as many fresh as we could - and enjoy them while we can!

The first application was a simple Cherry Clafoutis.  A classic dessert, a clafoutis is appealing to me due to it's simplicity (so very easy to make) and it's low sugar content (great for Bryan's diabetes).  I also used a coconut palm sugar, which has a lower glycemic index.  An egg and milk custard is poured over fruit (usually stone fruits) and baked.  It's truly that simple.

weighing out the cherries
blending up the custard
adding the cherries to the hot baking dish
adding the custard
the finished dish

happy helpers

The next order of business was cherry freezer jam.  I've been into the freezer jams this year, as they are far quicker than the cooked and canned kind, and I have far less time this summer (the full time job and two small children thing really cramps my style sometimes).  I've been trying to find the right no/low sugar pection to use, and this time around, the Sure-Jel No Sugar Needed Premium Fruit Pectin worked for me. 

Freezer jam is pretty darn simple.  You essentially mash your fruit, add your pectin, sugar/water/juice/whatever it is you are using, and put into containers.  Viola!  Jam!  The Sure-Jel had me mixing the pectin into sugar, adding water, and bringing to a boil, then stirring the hot pectin mix into the fruit, and letting the containers of jam set overnight on the counter.  It definitely came out the jammiest of all my recent attempts, so I'm pretty happy with it.

mashed fruit
heating the pectin and sugar with water
mixing the hot pectin mixture into the mashed fruit

And, it's rather delicious.  Especially on a bagel.  With cream cheese, too.

Or perhaps a biscuit.

Let's just say I haven't had too much trouble polishing off the first container of the jam... by myself.

Oh, and this brings us to the third and final recipe.  And my favorite.

Homemade Cherry Limeade.

Holy mackerel, this is good stuff.  I've always had a bit of a crush on cherry limeade soda, but never gave much thought to making my own.  However, we had a lot of cherry juice from the cherries being packed in that bucket, and no way were were going to let it go to waste.  A little simple syrup, fresh squeezed lime juice, and club soda, and I will never go back to buying the soda again.  Oh, my.

cherry juice
lime juice
with club soda and simple syrup, on ice

We froze the rest of the cherry juice so that we can continue to enjoy this treat.  With a Smashed White Bean and Avocado Club sandwich and some fresh corn on the cob, you have a pretty stellar dinner.  I speak from experience.

So that, my friends, is what you do with 27 lbs. of cherries.  And since we have more than a few pounds in the freezer, expect to see more recipes as we eat our way through our freezers this winter.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One Little Mushroom

Morels are perhaps the most prized mushroom.  Unable to be grown in captivity, they can only be found through foraging.  Which also means they are only available for a short, seasonal period.  You can buy them in the stores, when the season comes, but with these factors, they carry quite a hefty price tag - usually $25/lb, though this year they were coming in at $30/lb.  Unfortunately, too rich for our blood.

Morels grow wonderfully in Wisconsin, so morel hunting is big business.  Bryan attended a lecture at the library presented by the Wisconsin Mycological Society, followed a few days later by a foraging outing in the Kettle Moraine Forest (North).  We were hoping he would get a few, so we could have a few tastes this spring, at least, but we didn't get our hopes up too much.

Well, you'd never have known Bryan was a novice, because he got a TON!  12 oz. in total, which is no small take.

With so many morels at our fingertips, we were excited to find the perfect recipe to showcase them.  Some quick research yielded two common tips: less is more, and cream tastes good with morels.  We settled on a Lasagna with Asparagus, Leeks and Morels.

Oh, it was good.  So, so good.

And we even had enough mushrooms leftover to have some with our eggs for breakfast.  Not bad for a first time out!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Crunchy Mama: Homemade Squash

With Oliver, I didn't attempt home made baby food.  I thought about it, but was too scared to try it.  I felt like I had my hands full with the whole First Time Mom thing, and I was getting quite literally no sleep.  This time, I was determined to make it for Rosie.  There was no reason I should be spending money on baby food (even organic baby food) when we have access to some of the best organic produce around.  I wanted to be able to control exactly what my baby was eating, and I wanted it to be as fresh as possible.

As part of my crazy canning kick last summer, I canned some pureed fruits in anticipation of Rosie's arrival.  Yes, I was indeed barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.  Canning my own baby food.  With organic fruit.  If you're crunchy and you know it . . .

While the canning was a lot of work, the fresh stuff is a breeze.  Turns out, it's so easy I probably could have handled it even with the amazing lack of sleep I got when Ollie was a baby.

We started with squash.  Bryan picked up a squash at the Outpost, and roasted it.

I scooped out the flesh, and put it through the food mill.

It seemed a little dry and still a little chunky, so I put it through the food processor along with a little water.

I packed it away in ice cube trays, and now we have squash for (hopefully) some time!

Of course, Rosie had to try some fresh for dinner, and she loved it.  I'm sure it was quite exciting after having just rice cereal with milk for so long.

She also got to try some of my homemade canned pear baby food Saturday, and LOVED that.  (I tasted some myself, and have to say, it was pretty tasty - think smooth applesauce, but with a fresh, bright pear taste!)  Next up: I've already got pureed peas in the freezer.  I bought a big bunch of carrots to process those as well.  Then we'll try some more fruit - bananas, peaches (homemade and already canned), applesauce (also homemade and already canned), and plums (homemade and already canned!).  Sweet potatoes and green beans in there some time too.  Baby's first foods are much fun to explore!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chicken Foot Chili

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking this is one of those recipes with a crazy name but is actually a very tame recipe, and doesn't actually contain what the name alludes to.  This time, you'd be wrong.  This is actually chicken foot chili.

But don't run away yet.

Bryan has been trying to get me to eat chicken feet for some time now.  JenEhr began offering them, and course Bryan couldn't pass anything like that up.  I, however, was scared, seeing as how they are chicken feet.  The feet of chickenFeet.  But the more he persisted, the less scared I got.  After all, we knew these chickens.  These were happy, healthy, clean chickens raised on organic pastures.  These were chickens we knew to be raised with love.  And using the chickens' feet embraces the kind of whole animal eating we think is important (even if there are many edible parts of animals that completely freak me out when it comes to actually eating them).

A few Sundays ago, as I was making chili for lunch, Bryan was making chicken stock.  He pulled out some chicken feet to add to the stock.  The feet have extra gelatin and thus would lend to an extraordinarily rich stock.  The recipe I was basing my chili on called for chicken stock; I didn't have any defrosted (because we only use homemade, holla!), and Bryan suggested I just throw some chicken feet in instead.  I couldn't argue that it wasn't a good idea, because it made perfect sense.  I needed chicken stock, and I needed something to help thicken the chili.  Two birds feet, one stone, you know.  So I poured in some water, tossed in the chicken feet, and off it went.

It worked perfectly.  Not only was it a perfect substitution for chicken stock, but the feet helped thicken the chili nicely, eliminating the need for masa (which I'm not a huge fan of in my chili).  And the chili was downright delicious.  The beer, the combination of beans, and the chicken lent it a deeper flavor than my standard chili.  So while the sight of raw chicken feet may continue to tell me to run away screaming, I'll have to get over it, because they are the new secret ingredient in my chili.

Chicken Foot Chili

2 lbs beef (ground or cubed)
2 tbs bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs ground cumin
1 - 12 oz bottle beer
1 - 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with chiles
1 - 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tbs chili powder
1 tbs dried oregano
1/2 tsp toasted garlic powder
1 - 14.5 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 - 14.5 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
2 chicken feet

Brown beef over medium high heat in large, heavy bottomed pot.  When no longer pink, remove with slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.  To the fat in the pot, add bacon fat.  Cook onions until barely golden, then add garlic and cumin.  Let cook until fragrant, 1 - 2 minutes, then add beer.  Reduce almost completely.  Add beef back to pot, along with tomatoes, spices, and beans, and mix thoroughly.  Add water and chicken feet; stir to combine.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 2 hours (or more).

Serve with desired toppings (such as cheese, sour cream, diced onion, cilantro, avocado) and cornbread.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pork Cheek Ragù

I have a little love affair with cheeks.  Pork cheeks, veal cheeks - these are the smallish bits of the animal that are oh so melt in your mouth tender.  While I have problems adapting to the more unusual pieces of the animal, the cheeks don't bother me.  They are, after all, just more meat.  If I don't have a problem with pork belly (bacon!), cheeks shouldn't be so hard either.

We've had some pork cheeks hanging out on the freezer from our pigs as well as some from Dominion Valley Farm (which I'd been wanting to use to cure my own guanciale, but have not yet had the proper opportunity to set up a curing space for myself), so we decided we needed to use them.  I found this delicious looking recipe for Pork Cheek Ragù, which would also let me use the pasta maker for homemade pasta, and we were set.

This recipe is deceptively simple.  It sounds like something that will take you all day to prepare and cook, and while it's on the stove for hours, you need less than 30 minutes to actually work on it.  You essentially brown the meat, add everything else for the sauce, and braise the meat in the sauce for 3 hours or so.  And that's it.  It's literally so quick and simple I found myself re-reading the recipe a few times after everything was simmering to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.  After 3 hours, the sauce has reduced and the cheeks are tender enough to be shredded with a fork.

some of the main players
trimmed pork cheeks
browning the meat
onions, celery, and garlic
wine, tomatoes, and herbs
the finished product

I lacked the powdered shiitake mushroom the original recipe calls for, so I just omitted it, but I could see how it would be delicious, so I left it in my adapted recipe.  I also about doubled the sauce recipe, since I felt we'd need more sauce, and we could have even had more.  (Bryan really, really likes sauce.)

Between the fantastic ragù and the homemade pasta, everyone at the table, including Oliver, could not stop commenting on how delicious a meal this was.  Oliver especially was shoveling food in his mouth at a near alarming rate.

So please, please, please - make this meal.  If you don't make homemade pasta, be sure to buy some papparedelle - the broader pasta is the only kind that can stand up to the thick, rich ragù properly.  (Trader Joes sells some nice ones.)  If you don't have pork cheeks, you can use something else - any cut of pork that has some fat, such as pork shoulder - just don't use something too lean.  Heck, you could even use beef (just use red wine instead of white).  I'll definitely be keeping this recipe on hand for quick meals, as well as dinner parties.  This recipe is perfect to impress your guests - and reduce stress at the same time.  Not only is it easy to make, but it can be made a day in advance, and only tastes better the next day.

Pork Cheek Ragù
(Recipe adapted from

2 lbs pork cheek
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups stewed or crushed tomatoes
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs powdered shiitake mushroom

Trim excess fat off the pork. Season the cheeks with salt and pepper.  Heat a heavy bottomed pot over high heat. Add the pork, fat side down, and cook until well browned. Turn to brown the other side.  Remove pork to plate.

Lower the heat and add the onions, celery, and garlic. Cook until soft. Deglaze the pan with the wine, increasing the heat and and reducing.

Add the tomatoes, thyme, marjoram, and bay leaf, stirring to combine. Add dried shiitake mushroom. Add the pork and juices to the pot, turning the heat to low.  Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until the pork can easily be shredded with a fork.

Serve over fresh pasta.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Italian Grandma

Meet my Italitan Grandma.

Pretty, no?

She is a Viante Cucina Pasta Maker, and she is quite amazing.

I've made pasta for years.  I started out rolling the dough out by hand with a wooden rolling pin, a crazy endeavor that took nearly all day, and thus happened rather infrequently.  My Mom gave us an Imperia Pasta Maker years ago to help with the task.  This hand crank machine certainly spread up the process, but still, making pasta at home took a few hours.  Roll, fold, roll, fold, roll, fold, roll, fold, roll, fold, roll... change the pasta maker setting to a smaller opening, and repeat.  Five times.  Once Oliver was born, homemade pasta making dropped off to roughly none in our house.  A sad but rather unavoidable truth.

Last fall, Mom and I were pursuing a Chef's Catalog when I happened upon the Viante Cucina Pasta Maker, and I daresay she took my breath away.  Put the ingredients in, push a button, and it makes the pasta for you?  How much simpler could it be?  I commented on it, and little did I know, but the wheels started turning in Mom's head.  She surprised us this Christmas with the machine as our gift.

I've made fresh pasta about every other every weekend since.  This machine makes it truly easy, and fast.  The process takes 30 - 40 minutes from start to finish, depending on the type of pasta you are extruding.  The machine comes with 10 pasta plates of different shape and size - linguine, fettuccini, spaghetti, rigatoni, vermicelli, ziti, tagliatelle, pappardelle, spaghettini, and biscotti.  The machine is fairly easy to assemble.  Once each part is in place, you add the ingredients, snap the lid on, and let the machine mix and knead the dough.

Once the dough is the correct consistency (this takes all of 3 minutes), you pull a tab out the side, allowing the dough to drop into the extruding chamber, and stand ready to catch the homemade pasta.

The dough will began to extrude through your chosen plate rather quickly.  Your only job is to stand guard, cutting the pasta at the appropriate length and watching the dough through the clear top of the mixing chamber to make sure it is neither too wet nor too try.  (The lid has a removable spoon covering a slot through which you can add more flour or water as necessary).  And that's it.  In 20 - 30 minutes, you'll have a pound or so of fresh pasta.  Delicious, soft, silky fresh pasta.  It's so easy, I feel almost ridiculous even thinking about using store bought, dried pasta.


My only complaints about the machine are that it is very, very loud, and it can be a bit messy on the top (where the hole in the lid is, because of adding additional flour).

But considering how messy and time consuming the alternative is, this is a small price to pay.  The machine itself is very easy to disassemble and clean; though, it is advisable to do so immediately after use, so that you can soak the parts in hot, soapy water for quicker clean up.  Cleaning up dried, cakey pasta dough is no fun.

The machine "only" does extruded varieties of pasta, so for anything large and flat (lasagna, ravioli, tortellini), I'll still need to use the Imperia machine to roll out sheets.  I have a Ravioli Rolling Pin (also from Mom), so hopefully that helps with the ravioli rather than stuffing each by hand.

I just realized I might be slightly obsessed with fresh pasta.

And that my mother might be trying to send me a hint about what she wants for dinner.

But if you've ever had it, you'll understand why.