Archive for the 'food' Category

Naughty, please

December 12, 2011

My sister visited for the weekend and we indulged in a holiday baking extravaganza making caramel blondies, eggnog muffins and coal cookies (the undisputed favorite).

These “lumps of coal” are simply delicious.  If you have to be naughty to get them … it’s well worth it.  The only difficulty is that they are so sinfully chocolaty that each one you eat earns you another.  A dangerous cycle.

Kids, DO try this one at home.  Recipe  after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

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Homemade Halloween

November 1, 2010

KJ was up to visit me this weekend and we celebrated Halloween in much the same way as last year … by making our own candy.  In this case we tried the recipe for Peanut Butter Cups provided on Have Cake, Will Travel and they couldn’t have been easier or more delicious.

I won’t bother to reprise the recipe (which basically calls for chocolate, peanut butter, salt and sugar) but we made it without the graham cracker crumbs but did add some flour to the peanut butter filling in our second batch to thicken it slightly. Since we were using very all natural peanut butter  it was a little soft.  We also learned that it was important to get the chocolate equally thick on top and bottom (and not too thick in either place) to prevent explosions on the first bite.

But basically they were AMAZING.  I didn’t think it was possible to make chocolate more delicious, but adding a pinch of salt … turned it into an unbeatable substance!

I should credit KJ for really ALL the work of making these.  I helped by making some of the real food we at at other points during the weekend, taking photos and being an enthusiastic tester.

Moral of the Story: Kids, do try this at home!

Milk on the Radio

May 25, 2010

I was on the radio today.  Why, you ask.  To tell Wisconsin what kind of milk I drink.  For those of you not following the Raw Milk legislation in Wisconsin, Governor Doyle vetoed the bill.  This is a bill that I’ve been watching closely since its inception.  After much advocacy and contacting of representatives and publicity in the news and general wringing of hands and devoting of time it passed the state senate 25 to 8 and the assembly by 60 to 35.  Then it sat (languished, really) on Governor Doyle’s desk for interminable days while he hemmed and hawed and generally dragged his feet.  He had said before it passed that he “assumed” he’d sign it, should it reach his desk which was not exactly an unequivocal yes to me all this reads like some fairly shady influence peddling on the part of the industrial ag lobby.  And now he’s vetoed it.  I’m super bummed, not least because my supply of raw milk may now be in jeopardy.  I think this is a huge step backwards and a slap in the fact to small farmers across the state.  Read the rest of this entry »

Canned Cupcakes

May 22, 2010

Well officially I suppose they are jarred cupcakes but they are in canning jars and I love alliteration.  These are the cupcakes I prepared and shipped to my dear friend Roshni for her birthday.  She’s been mourning her lack of proximity as I baked up a storm this spring so I decided to surprise her with with baked goods of her own for this occasion.  I was wondering if it was even possible to ship cupcakes without irreparable damage in transit when the internet gods suggested this solution.  I was instantly taken with the idea.  Cupcakes in a jar!  What a notion.   Here’s how theirs look.

Quite lovely.  I didn’t understand why they were splitting and frosting their cupcakes vertically until after I’d done all of mine but now I think I’ll do it their way in the future – it helps the cupcake spread and fill up the whole base of the jar better which will, I assume, keep them fresher.  It also looks better.  However I’m very pleased with my first attempt.  I don’t think it will be my last.  Even for short range transport – from my apartment to work or to a friends house – this is a great solution that will keep everything looking neat and be easy, fun and novel to consume as well.  Hooray.

I’ll photograph come of my own in a forthcoming post.

Can it!

May 13, 2010

Today I (somewhat) accidentally took my lunch to work in a tupperware container.  The container in question is the only one I still own – a relic of my college days and possessing some sentimental association as I carried it around the world with me in 2002-2003.  But as I borrowed a plate so that I could heat up my leftovers – calzones with tomato dipping sauce, I remembered again why I don’t like to use plastic anymore.  All this is by way of saying that I have a new love in my life.


I am rapidly falling head over heels for Ball canning jars.  I switched out my tupperware for pyrex a few years ago and I still use and like all of those pieces.  But my new love is definitely official canning jars.  I have so many in my life now.  I get two two-quart sized jars every week containing my weekly gallon of farm fresh milk.  Shortly after that began I borrowed three quart jars from my mother – for decanting extra milk from one week to another and for other useful refrigerator storage.  I was pleased that they took the same size lids as the larger ones.

I should mention that at this point I don’t even do any official canning.  I did put up several pounds of bell peppers and about 40 lb of tomatoes last fall but I did it all with freezer storage.  Nevertheless, they are infinitely useful.  And I’m eager to expand my range this summer.  Plus Ball is apparently a great company.*

And to top it all off – it was only a few days ago that I came across this little item on Young House Love‘s recent House Crashing post.  Oh yes.  Its a ball jar chandelier:

I‘m semi seriously considering making one!  The proud DIY home owner is Kara Paslay who details how she and her husband assembled the thing on her own home improvement blog.  Its actually an amazingly elegant look out of a really casual country set of items.  I’m very amused and I’d take it over my apartments oh-so-passe bronze four directional lights and a fan fixture any day.

However my main point is this: Ball canning jars are absolutely fabulous and can be used for nearly anything.  Hooray for them!

*As I was rhapsodizing to myself about how much I love them I said “I should buy stock in Ball Canning Jars.”  Then I went and looked up their website.  Apparently they were named the “100 Best Corporate Citizens” list in 2010 by Corporate Responsibility Magazine.  They’ve been working to improve their overall energy use, VOC releases, water uses, natural gas use etc over the last few years.  Apparently most of their revenue is actually in real cans – the steel ones you buy food in at the grocery store – which I’m not so wild about.  But as far as the glass jars arm of the company goes … they are all about making re-usable glass canning jars – to be used in lieu of disposable containers for prepared food.  So, two thumbs up there as well.

Happy Easter!

April 4, 2010

KJ was up for the weekend and our dear momma sent a little bag of easter candy along with her for old times sake.  We very maturely waited to crack it open until this morning and found these two chocolate bunnies.  Couldn’t help re-creating the funniest easter card I’ve ever seen with our own two bunnies.  Happy Candy Day!

Souffle!

March 11, 2010

This was my last night’s cooking adventure.  The story is a little round-about because I was planning to make potatoes and my mom’s delicious “yeasty gravy” recipe and wanted a center dish to go with them.  I was also very aware of the large bag of spinach in my fridge which KJ brought up from Madison’s farmers market last weekend that needed to be used.  Quickly poking around online I found a bunch of gross-looking options for creamed spinach and one which seemed more appealing that incorporated it into a bread crumbs and cheese bake.  That sounded hearty and center piece-ish but somehow by the time I got home after work and was actually flipping through Mark Bittman I was thinking egg and cheese dishes with spinach in them.  And I hit on soufflé.  I’ve never made one before and don’t even own a baking dish to accommodate one but he said the recipe could be split into individual ramekins and I thought “pyrex!”  and was off to the races.  It turned out great beyond my wildest hopes.  Read the rest of this entry »

Cupcake Heaven

February 11, 2010

I’ve been looking for an excuse to make something out of Sarah Magid’s new book Organic and Chic: Cakes, Cookies and other Sweets that Taste as Good as the Look.  I got it off the new book shelf at the library a couple months ago and keep renewing it because I just can’t let it go out of my life.  I’ve never been that much of a desert chef but … her cakes are just so beautiful I want to make them!  This weekend my aunt is going to bring my dear little grandma over to my parent’s house in Madison for a Valentine’s Day treat.  She hasn’t been to our house in nearly two years now because its hard for my grandfather to drive the two hours it takes to visit and also because he’s bah humbug homebody who doesn’t like to travel or really leave the house anymore.  That’s not true of her at all but as he’s her only sourse of wheels she’s pretty isolated these days.  This weekend we’re striking back and making her our collective valentines date for the weekend.  All grandma, all the time.  It should be very fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Ginger Moon Cookies

January 29, 2010

Tonight is Driftless Farm’s Pyrofest – a big party to celebrate all things fire appropriately situated on the Friday full moon closest to the winter cross quarter point (that’s Groundhogs Day this Tuesday if you didn’t know).  There is going to be a big bonfire, some talk of fire jumping, a lesson in starting fires by hand.  It should be quite the event.  Here’s my contribution: ginger moon cookies.  (Yes I just made up that name.)  Its basically just my attempt to spiff up normal boring sugar cookies.  I used an egg yolk glaze and then sprinkled part of them with chopped candied ginger and the other part with a large grain sugar.  The dividing line was created by “occluding” part of the cookie with the same round mold I used to cut them into circles.  They taste pretty interesting too – the ginger really punches up a standard cookie.  I’ll judge them by how fast they disappear at the event tonight.

A Follow Up, Agribusiness

January 6, 2010

So I’ve been fuming a lot since my raw milk rant in the last post and am reminded of a couple of more positive things on the subject I wanted to share.  Last summer I heard Anna Lappe speak at the Kickapoo County Fair at the Organic Valley Headquarters in La Farge, WI.  The setting couldn’t have been more picturesque – a little gathering of tents on a small flat lawn surrounded by stunning wooded hills and valleys.  Ms. Lappe was talking about Hopes Edge, the new book she has co-authored with her mother Francis Moore Lappe. In the course of promoting it she’s been traveling around to a bunch of conferences like the “American Grocery Chain Summit” and the “Factory Farming Conference.”  What she saw there was both alarming and hopeful.  The presentations at these conferences all seemed to be making claims about how biotech and big business farming are actually good for nature and biodiversity.  This is actually hopeful news.  The fact that big business is trying to call itself “green” means that they are aware that more and more people care.  The meta-myth that they are promoting is that the industrochemical path to agriculture is inevitable.  Proponents of organic farming know that we are not a fringe movement.

So now we need to go out and shout it from the rooftops that the local food movement is growing.

If we’ve got the attention (and the ire) of agribusiness then that has to be a good thing.  Now we need to make sure the general public is just as aware.  As much as we are food consumers we are also Food Citizens.  We need to accept that responsibility, go beyond the plate and advocate for ourselves.

Alice Waters, the mother of the local food movement, says we need everybody to deliver the message about organic local food.  We need to get involved.  With a garden you don’t need to say a single word and there is so much value in what she calls “feeding people the message.”  It says so much more than a lecture.  So I guess the thing to do is to keep supporting local farmers, talking about the issues and voting with our dollars to keep the kind of agriculture we want.  I’m not going to give up hope.

F**k you, too, Agribusiness.

January 5, 2010

I get a daily digest of news from google about a few topics that interest me, one of them being raw milk.  Today it turned up this depressing story from a website called agriview.com.  The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation held its 90th annual meeting recently and established some new policy directives.  In particular they “expressed support for Wisconsin’s prohibition on the direct sale of raw milk to consumers.”  Why?  Why would they support this?  What harm can it possibly do them?  Well their point of view is clarified by a later mention in the notice:

And in the wake of the controversy that surrounded the selection of author Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” for UW-Madison’s “Go Big Read” program, Farm Bureau members adopted policy that encourages the UW System to incorporate literature into its curriculum that reflects a balanced perspective based on sound science and technology when discussing food production systems.

Its funny.  I was speaking to a dairy farmer at a raw milk event in November and asked him what he thought the backstory was behind DATCP’s new crusade against raw milk was.  He told me that he thought it was big business and the conventional farmers it employs who were rattled by all the press local foods were getting here in Wisconsin all of a sudden, in large part due to Pollan’s visit to Madison this fall.  I smiled and nodded but I didn’t really believe him – it seemed to far fetched that they would even care let alone start pouring their money and influence into stomping out the tiny farmers who are involved in local milk operations.  But apparently its true.  I’m almost more surprised by the fact that they are being so ingenuous as to say so straight out in their own press information. Read the rest of this entry »

Put the Pumpkin back in Pumkin Pie

November 27, 2009

I’m snitching a post from my sister’s blog because it describes our Thanksgiving as well as I can and why should I duplicate her prose, pictures or research?  Thus I give you Guest Blogger, KJ:

Thanksgiving was a great success (my family and I even whipped together a repeat performance on Sunday for my grandparents in Racine). Farmers’ Market mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberries and our main course was polenta dome with yeasty gravy…so tasty. Dessert was my responsibility this year, and I created a hybrid of the traditional pumpkin pie in more ways than one.

Pumpkin praline pie…my sister made the crust from scratch too.

My first change was purely to satisfy my sweet tooth…I added a pecan prailine topping to the pie, which the family agreed takes the whole thing up a notch. But my second tweak was a little more experimental. My mom bought both a pie pumpkin and a pumpkin-like squash (apparently there was a shortage of pumpkins this year) Read the rest of this entry »

Mozzarella Adventures

November 17, 2009

The big excitement this past weekend (which is a bit of a sad commentary on my weekend but we’ll let that slide) was my first attempt at cheese making.  Since hooking myself up with a regular delivery of fresh milk, I’ve already experimented with separating cream from skim and with making my own yogurt and buttermilk.  The next step in the annals of dairy chemistry seems to be simple cheeses.  And since I’ve made panir in the past I decided to skip directly to cultured cheese.

The results were very satisfying.  Mozzarella is amazingly simple to concoct.  It seems to be much more a matter of having a few of the right ingredients on hand than skill (at least to get as far as a basic lump of cheese).  I’m sure that there is a lot of nuance possible and the right skills could vastly improve on the process but I found my amateur efforts well rewarded.  Its basically as easy as heating the milk up to specified temperatures, adding citric acid and then later vegetable rennet, cooling it down, pulling out the separated curds (from the whey) and then heating and kneading them until they turned, by some magical property, into fresh tasty mozzarella. Read the rest of this entry »

Milk Crusader

November 12, 2009

So yesterday I pulled kind of a ridiculous stunt.  I cut work and drove half way across the state to be present at the bi-monthly board meeting of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection or DATCP.  Why would I do such a thing?  Well … for raw milk.  The oddest thing is that I don’t even care that much about raw milk.  I’m not really sold on the health benefits, it may or may not be a miracle cure and panacea – I haven’t seen any evidence either way.  But I do care about small farmers.  And they are the ones who are getting stepped on in this whole Raw Milk crackdown.

This all started (for me) when about a month ago I heard that the farm where I recently started buying my milk (un-homogenized and in the most picturesque glass jars) had received a letter from DATCP telling them to cease and desist and threatening them with civil fines and a revoked milk license if they proceeded.  A couple weeks later the farm sent out an email asking us to advocate for them, call our representatives, make our love of the milk heard.  My first step was phone calls to Governor Doyle’s office.  Next I found myself at the meeting last Friday with Dan Kapanke (my republican representative) and this week its snowballed into an un-planned dash over to Madison to state my case. Read the rest of this entry »

Glorious Day, Frustrating Issue

November 8, 2009

st brigid's

This whole weekend has been spectacular weather – mid sixties and glowingly sunny with a good breeze for interest.  I took advantage of the weather and my relative lack of planned activities to go out and visit my local dairy farm.

I met the couple who operate the dairy side of the farm and got a tour of the operation which was almost to bucolically picturesque for reality.  We hopped a simple rope gate and stood next to the cows as I heard all about their extra stomachs and ruminant daily schedule.  They took a mild interest in our presence and seemed inclined to meander over to us but reluctant to be patted on the nose – which was all I dared attempt.  Then we called them all over to us and Gabe was able to rattle off the names of all the ones in the inner circle.  The picture above isn’t mine – I was too absorbed to take snaps but it is of the self-same cows, taken from their own website.

The reason I’m reluctant to include too many specifics about my lovely farm and the raw milk I may or may not be obtaining from it is all the hassling that small farms in this area have been getting lately from the state.  In fact I was at a meeting on the topic just this Friday.  I attended a hearing with Dan Kapanke in support of the raw milk issue.  Ridiculous as it may sound, here in the Dairy State, its not legal for farmers to sell milk directly to customers from their farms.  Well maybe it is and maybe it isn’t – the statues are frustratingly vague.  But whatever the intention of the law may have been its being prosecuted at the level of persecution by the state regulatory agency DATCAP.  In fact there is currently a law making its way through the state legislature to make sure that the sale of raw milk off farm is (once again) legal (as it is in 28 other states) but even as its being debated, DATCP is issuing cease and desist letters to small farmers throughout the region and threatening them with legal action.

Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween Magic

November 2, 2009

halloween magic

I managed to have a fun Halloween even though I was afflicted with a nasty flu bug due to the kind ministrations of my sister who visited for the weekend. (In case my dangling modifier made that confusing – my flu was nasty, but the weekend was saved by KJ’s presence.) We had resolved on a no-candy Halloween (who even knows what is in that crap) but by no means did we forswear sweets.  Instead we made our own.  Or actually, since I case a total germ ball and pretty low energy to boot, KJ made our own.  We hit Festival Foods and the Peoples Food Coop on Saturday afternoon and gathered our supplies.  Then we turned them into four types of Halloween themed cookies based on the King Arthur Baking Company recipe page – which KJ had scoped out earlier in the week.  We/she made mini pumpkin cheese cakes, brownies with mint icing and halloween sprinkles, and pumpkin cookie sandwiches.  By far the biggest success was the Magic in the Middle (stupid name, I know, but don’t be fooled) which is basically the cookie equivalent of a Reece’s Peanutbutter Cup.  They are AMAZING.  Try them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Melk; de witte motor*

October 16, 2009

milk

If you look closely at the top of the milk jug in this picture you’ll see that it has my name on it.  That is because it was delivered to me yesterday and left in the refrigerator in the farm kitchen at work as part of my new membership in a dairy.  Roald and Amelia (my employers) have been getting raw milk delivered for a while now and I just picked up on the notion a few weeks ago.  I looked up the website for the dairy and saw the picture of happy cows and my heart gave a thump.  Organic Valley may be a coop and Wisconsin based and those are both very good things but … how can it compare with un-homogenized milk delivered in a glass jar right to “my” refrigerator by a nice guy named John?  So … I signed myself right up and got my first delivery on Thursday.  What with the membership starting fee and buying four jars as well as the week’s gallon costs me $25 but I’m totally happy with the price.  Especially since I’ve already begun turning it into value added product.  I rushed home from work last night and tried making my own yogurt for the first time, with pretty reasonable success!  And after this my weekly rate will only be $7 a gallon.  Turning half of it into yogurt, separating off cream for quiche and baking, and having out-of-this-world hot cocoa all the time will make that seven dollars very well spent.  I want to try my hand at making buttermilk (which I use regularly in my pancakes) next but have thus far been foiled by the lack of active-culture buttermilk at the coop.  I need something to start with. Read the rest of this entry »

In Praise of Adventuresome Cooking

August 7, 2009

julie julia 2

Last week the New York Times Magazine published a long and delightful piece by Michael Pollan about American cooking.  Inspired in part by the new movie Julie/Julia, Pollan examines the question of why we seem to have neatly traded a culture of cooking for a culture of sitting in our living rooms watching other people cook on TV.

As for the film, I’m not in the business of writing movie reviews.  So I’ll just say that this one was great.  If you like cooking at all, or have every enjoyed watching Meryl Streep or Amy Adams in anything, you’ll enjoy this one.  Its gotten mixed reviews but the bad ones are mostly critical because it focuses too much time on the food and doesn’t have enough drama in the plot.  Nobody dies.  Nothing blows up.  Nobody cheats on their spouse.  But … that’s not what the movie is supposed to be about.  Didn’t they watch the preview?  In actual fact the movie was delightful, fabulous and buoyant.  I was hugging myself with delight and silently clapping my hands for joy every few scenes.  Streep and Adams were both fantastic.  Go see it immediately! Read the rest of this entry »

Breakfast of Champions

August 1, 2009

pancakes 4

Or at least … the breakfast of me, every day for the past week.  Its delicious.  Its easy.  Its totally amazing.

Here’s how it happened.  I’ve got to say, when my little sister told me that she’d started cooking herself pancakes for breakfast every morning, I shook my head.  She’s really gotten into the kitchen lately, making herself everything from veggie fried rice to veggie burgers (from scratch) on english muffin buns (also from scratch).  I attributed this new breakfast trend to a similarly crazy feat of derring do and also to the fact that she doesn’t have to be at work until 10 in the morning this summer and her commute is a 10 minute walk.  However, last Sunday I forgot to get milk from the grocery store and so on Monday morning I was confronted with a cupboard rather bare of breakfast options.  I did have, however, a nearly full container of buttermilk (purchased by KJ while she was here for the weekend – she uses it in fabulous scones).  It is my habit to let the containers of buttermilk she buys when she visits languish in the fridge until the next time she comes … and then throw them out because they’ve gone bad. On this occasion, as it was the only breakfast component in my fridge, I decide to throw caution to the winds and try it out in her much touted recipe.

Drumroll.

And it was fantastic.  It went together with ease and and cooked up into three cute as a button little cakes almost before I was ready for them.  I was nervous about flipping them at first but  I’m getting better at that part.  (In my household growing up, pancake flipping was the province of fathers and I’ve never actually made them for myself before.)  Here’s how I did it:

Read the rest of this entry »

Maybe the world isn’t coming to an end

February 10, 2009

Even though its 50 degrees in February and friday the thirteenth is staring us in the face I think that the world may, in fact, not be coming to an end. At least not right away.
Although our new secretary of agriculture isn’t the most green or organic friendly guy in the world I was incredibly heartened by the Obama’s decision to promote local foods dining by example. Their personal chef is going to be a local foods enthusiast. And I think that the idea being floated on the web of a first farmer is a terrific idea. The idea is to plow up the White House front lawn and replace it with a kitchen garden. Brilliant. Lets have a little more leadership by example. Check out this website for more information about it. Claire Strader, the woman who’s been selected for the job by popular opinion, is a Madisonian and the director of a really great CSA farm on the edge of town.
But, most of all, this article in todays New York Times editorial section which says that the 2007 Census of Agriculture found that the number of farmers in the state of Iowa has actually had an increase in the number of small farms since 2002. That is fantastic and surprising news. The numbers of farmers in this country have been in decline since the dawn of the green revolution and before – basically since we got big tractors to plow up the great plains. And now an increase. It seems most improbable but the numbers are telling. As the article says “These are very small farms, 9 acres or less, and they are producing a much wider array of crops than the rest of Iowa, which specializes in corn and soybeans.” My response is: Hooray! Now Iowa and I have our issues – like the fact that I’ve never driven through it without getting lost in a hail storm – but I am very happy about this news. Go, Iowa, go! Keep regaining your farm families and lets get the rest of the midwest on a roll too.
happy produce.JPG
[This photo isn’t current (if I had this much beautiful produce on my counter in february I’d be guilty of some serious food mileage accumulation. But it makes me happy to remember the bounty of the summer when my membership in a local CSA led me into crazy exploits like chlorophyll soup made from all those beet and turnip greens. Happy days will be here again soon.]