April 30, 2013

Thoughts from Michael Pollan

Hearing Michael Pollan speak last night at the Oriental Theatre was an amazing experience!  He has so much wisdom to share and helps shed light on what's truly important in today's food environment.  I'll give you a hint, it's not GMOs nor removing gluten from everything.

I sat between Shelby and Lisa who were just as excited as I was to hear Pollan.  In fact, Shelby was going straight home to read Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which is Pollan's latest book and one that we each received a signed copy of.

This is Pollan's seventh book and from the excerpt he read last night, it sounds like a great one!  I've read Food Rules and In Defense of Food, both of which I've loved.  I started reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, but couldn't get through it.

 To give you an idea of what Pollan spoke about, here are a few notes I took...
  • Americans spend more time watching cooking shows than they do cooking (27 minutes on average per day).  Why would we be obsessed with an activity we're not doing?
  • How much time do you save with frozen foods?  Often you can cook food from scratch in the same amount of time.  Also, frozen food is more expensive, tastes like airline food and has a salty generic fast food flavor.  After bite three, the taste quickly deteriorates.
  • Lack of cooking is due to a lack of skills and confidence not a lack of time.
  • "Eat anything you want as long as you cook it" is wisdom that came from deep in the belly of the big Ag beast.

  • Cooked is sunnier than anything he's ever written, with a much more positive outlook.
  • We make time for the things we know our important, such as going to the gym, cooking should be the same way.
  • Better for you processed food is a trap - remember Snackwells?  We got fat on low-fat food.
  • Food is a generational issue for people in their 20s and there is now a proliferation of cooking classes.  YouTube videos are a great source.
  • Amount of time cooking declined steadily since 1965 but we finally saw an uptick recently, which means we may have bottomed-out.
  • We need to bring back Home-Ec.  Teaching children how to cook is one of the most important things we can do and it would be great if schools could help out.
  • Those who can cook should show others, invite them into your kitchen.

  • The dairy industry has done a great job of convincing you that your kids won't have bones without milk.  Spinach is a better source of calcium.
  • It's hard to believe that our biology is changing as fast as the marketing for gluten-free has. 
  • Processed vs ultra-processed.  Canned tomatoes are a great product, however jarred tomato sauce has tremendous amounts of salt and sugar.  Flash-frozen vegetables are often more nutritious.
  • We have a right to know if we're eating genetically modified food, but there are bigger, more important issues.

April 27, 2013

Vegetarian Cooking Class at The American Club

The demonstration kitchen at The American Club is a great location for cooking classes.  Kohler is about an hour north of Milwaukee and a setting that is worth the drive.
Today's class topic was vegetarian cooking which Lisa and I eagerly signed up for, as vegetarian classes seem to be few and far between.  It turns out that Chef Mark Tennie is not vegetarian, but chose a vegetarian menu for the class because he wanted to highlight spring vegetables such as asparagus and ramps.

There were four courses made during today's class, including asparagus soup, pickled vegetables on a pine nut purée, polenta cake with a spinach leek purée and banana beignets for dessert.  Everything was delicious, especially the asparagus soup which I plan to make soon.

After class, Lisa and I drove around The American Club complex to check out Riverbend where Chef Tennie works.  Driving past is as close as we could get because it's a private club with a membership fee that exceeds $100k!

So we headed to a place where all are welcome, Stefano Viglietti's restaurants :)  Unfortunately, we were too full from class to try Il Ritrovo's famous pizza, which marks the second time I've been to Sheboygan now without trying it.

Instead Lisa got a juice (they have a great juice bar!) and I got cookies from Field to Fork, which is one of the four restaurants.  I loved the marzipan cookie I got and really wish I could get the recipe.

I would definitely return to Kohler for another cooking class, and no matter what, I will try Il Ritrovo's pizza that next time I'm in the Sheboygan area!

April 26, 2013

Friday Five

1. Quick Asparagus Pasta

I love asparagus season and have already cooked three pounds this week.  One of my favorite ways to have it is with pasta and a creamy, cheesy sauce.  I bought three packs of RP's pasta at the Dane County Farmer's Market last weekend (RP's Pasta Company is in Madison), which is my favorite fresh pasta.

I made two variations this week and my favorite combination was peas, edamame and blanched asparagus.  I added the peas and edamame to the pasta water toward the end of the cook time and drained them all together.  I also cooked the pasta in the same water that I blanched the asparagus in...no sense in tossing that nutritious water nor dirtying another pot.

The sauce that I added was a mixture of melted butter, a little whipping cream (half and half also works), vegetable broth and shredded Parmesan cheese.  The sauce recipe I followed comes from Simply Recipes' pasta primavera recipe.

2. Raspberry Red Wine Parfaits

I was scrolling through my Pinterest dessert boards recently looking for a recipe that used fresh raspberries and decided on raspberry red wine parfaits, a recipe from The Fresh Fridge.

I love raspberries and Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt for breakfast and it turns out that the raspberry and red wine mixture turns it into a nice dessert. My only recipe complaint is that the red wine mixture ends up being nearly 4 cups, but only a 1/2 cup total is needed for the parfaits.

3.  Vermont Road Trip: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream

It's almost time for our road trip to Vermont!  It'll be our first time visiting the state, so I've been reading up on what to see and do.  One frequently mentioned tourist attraction is the Ben & Jerry's factory tour, so I decided I needed to try their ice cream this week.

Pistachio is one of my favorite ice cream flavors and Ben & Jerry's does it oh so well, which makes me look forward to the tour even more.  If anyone has Vermont advice, please let me know.  We're also stopping at Niagara Falls on the way, so recommendations for there would also be appreciated!

4. Milwaukee: Apple Trees, Compost Bins & Rain Barrels

Chris thinks I've lost my mind because I bought two apple trees from Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast today.  Granted our 0.17 acre lot doesn't exactly scream "perfect for fruit trees," but I'm hopeful it'll work. 

On a side note, I submitted a Diggers Hotline request shortly after ordering the trees and was shocked when I got a same day confirmation with a phone call at 9pm tonight to confirm the location of my house.  That's great customer service!

A JSOnline article has more information about how the Milwaukee apple is making a comeback.  I ordered a Milwaukee tree and Pewaukee tree since two are needed for pollination. 

Did you see that Milwaukee Recycles is hosting a truckload sale for compost bins and rain barrels on May 4th?  Chris and I are buying a SYSTERN Rain Barrel and would like to get a compost bin too, but we figured one new thing at a time.

I'm curious how many blog readers are currently using compost bins and/or rain barrels.  Please leave a comment if you do, especially if you have any advice for me!

5. More Seeds: Fordhook Giant Chard

I planted another packet of seeds today, filling every spare container I could find.  This time, I'm trying chard that I was given at the Wellspring gardening class I attended.  The weather on both Monday and Friday this week felt like summer, and it was so nice to be outside planting both days after work.

April 25, 2013

Noodles & Company Spring Menu

Have you checked out Noodles & Company new spring menu yet?  I've been to Noodles three times since the menu was introduced two weeks ago, trying both the springtime flatbread and garden pesto sauté. 

My friend Jacquie and I split the flatbread...the two sans bacon pieces on the left were mine :)  We both really liked it, however a noodle bowl always stuffs me unless I get the small size, so it's tough to have room for flatbread too.

I have been ordering buttered noodles and broccoli since I first visited Noodles in 1996, which my co-workers make fun of because it's considered a kid dish.  I do mix it up occasionally, but typically fall back on my favorite.

However, the garden pesto sauté was so good that I'll definitely be ordering that until it's off the menu in early June, when asparagus is no longer available.  Jacquie took one look at the pecans in my noodle bowl and commented that she'd need a side of EpiPen to eat it :)  The thing is that Noodles is great about omissions and substitutions, so she could definitely order the same dish sans nuts and still be breathing at the end of the meal. 

How cute are the vases of asparagus flanking the sign for the new spring menu?  I've mentioned it before when I created buttered noodles at home, Noodles is by far my favorite quick dining place.  Mr Anti-Carb will even go there with me occasionally, and he always orders Japanese Pan Noodles.

I highly recommend trying one of the new spring menu items, or adding asparagus to your favorite noodle bowl.  This past weekend I picked up buttered noodles & asparagus to-go and it was amazing.  I love asparagus season and only wish it lasted longer.

Disclaimer: I was given coupons for two free noodle bowls by Noodles & Company. 

April 24, 2013

Spring Gardening

If you want to attract attention to yourself in a garden center, go straight from work wearing your most professional clothes, with bonus points if you're also wearing high heels. 

That describes my look as I walked around a couple local garden centers recently...and I'm fairly certain the employees were thinking "this chick doesn't know anything about gardening."  It worked to my advantage though because they offered to load my potting soil, compost and sphagnum moss into my car for me :)

I was inspired to go straight from work to the garden center after hearing John Raymond speak at an Earth Day event.  He's the former owner of Roots Restaurant and owns a 2-acre farm.  To give you an idea as to how much he grows, he currently has 780 plants in his basement!

Monday's class was the first in a three-part series, which takes you through the gardening process from planting seeds to getting fresh produce on your plate.  The first class focused on garden development, which I definitely need help with.  One of the first tips he mentioned was soil composition, which should be 50% potting soil, 25% compost and 25% sphagnum moss.

I didn't plan to grow anything from seed this year, so I've been waiting until after May 20th (the average last frost date in Wisconsin) to plant, but after hearing John say that lettuces should be outside now because they're very cold tolerant I picked up some seeds and cell planting trays.

John's gardening tips included (some specific to Wisconsin)...
  • Space plants properly, you should only have one tomato plant in a 10 gallon container.
  • Plants need southern exposure, very little can grow on a north facing balcony.
  • The use of Osmocote (a slow release fertilizer) is recommended, which is not organic.
  • Don't plant more than you need, 6-8 tomato plants and 8-10 pepper plants are recommended for a family of 4.
  • Raised beds and fences are important for keeping critters out of your garden.
  • Apply copper sulfate spray at the first sight of blight, do not wait.
  • Heirlooms don't have the same yield as hybrids, buy both.
  • Buy seeds for zones 4 & 5, Johnny's from Maine and Jung's from Wisconsin are recommended.
  • Kids should learn how to plant seeds, get children involved in your garden.  Buy raspberry and/or blueberry plants for kids.
  • Cucumbers should not be planted in a container, and containers should be light in color to keep the roots cool.

We received a little planter in the class along with some parsley seeds, however we could also select other seeds, so I chose Brandywine Tomato.   I have the lettuce outside because supposedly it's ok 4 weeks prior to the last frost and the parsley and tomato seeds are inside.

I received an email from Organic Valley yesterday with tips on starting on herb garden, which is a great way to get started with gardening.  My first year gardening, I only planted herbs and have since added many other edible plants to the mix.

I saw some cute containers for herbs (grown indoors) at Isthmus Green Day in Madison this past weekend.  They were being given away by Goodwill who was there to promote reusing items, and it's an idea they found on Pinterest from A Beautiful Mess who got the idea from Martha Stewart.  

I also picked up two gardening books at Isthmus Green Day.  How to Grow More Vegetables, which was recommended by Wellspring at the gardening class I attended earlier this month, and The Kitchen Gardener's Handbook, which includes recipes, plant profiles & growing tips and seasonal gardening checklists.

I really like both and have been reading them with rapt attention.  It's hard not to devise grandiose plans of a backyard filled with raised beds, but then reality sets in when it comes to the expense and the fact that I will soon be getting a weekly vegetable box from HighCross Farm.  I love gardening but have no desire to give up my CSA membership.

April 16, 2013

MKEfoodies at Wolf Peach {Milwaukee}

Tonight's MKEfoodies event was at Wolf Peach, the former Roots restaurant, which sits atop Brewer's Hill and provides an excellent view of Milwaukee.

I've only been to the restaurant once before and that's before it changed to Wolf Peach.  Do you know the history behind the name?  According to the website Tomatoes Are Evil, German folklore claims that witches used nightshade plants to summon werewolves.  In the 18th century, the tomato species was named lycopersicon esculentum, which literally means edible wolf peach.

I love all the windows in the main upstairs dining room and am looking forward to dining in that space the next time I visit, since I'd only been in the cellar (downstairs) portion of Roots.

90% of the staff stayed on during the transition from Roots to Wolf Peach, including Chef Dan Jacobs who spoke with us tonight.  For more information on both Wolf Peach and Dan Jacobs, check out this episode of Chef Talk.

The wood-fired pizzas at Wolf Peach are fantastic.  Pictured below a vegetarian version of their lamb sausage pizza which had mushrooms, leeks, chili oil and goat cheese.  Their margherita pizza was also perfect.

After stuffing ourselves with pizza we headed outside to enjoy the sunset and snap a few photos.  This is a photo of my friend Ernesto who is quite quickly becoming an excellent photographer. 

MKEfoodie events sell out quickly, with the proceeds benefiting a different charity each month.  Tonight's event raised money for The Gathering of Southeast Wisconsin.  Mark your calendars for the next event which is at Bourbon & Tunns in the Third Ward on May 23

photo by Ernesto Di Luccia
Molly, Lisa and Abby were all at the event tonight, which was fun.  Friends who love food and blogging combine two of my favorite types of friends :)

April 14, 2013

Gardening Class at Wellspring Organic Farm

My first visit to Wellspring was yesterday for a gardening class.  I drove through snow to get there but by the time the indoor portion of the class had ended, the sun had come out and it was a little warmer for the farm tour.  Can you tell that it rained for five days straight here?

Inside we learned about the importance of soil, how to deter rabbits, the benefits of raised beds, why you shouldn't dig in wet soil, why it's beneficial to add compost (organic matter) and mulch (straw, paper, cardboard) to the soil and finally how to get seeds started.

Outside we toured a greenhouse and hoop houses.  You can see abandoned cold frames on the left in the photo below, which are no longer necessary due to the addition of hoop houses.

Love seeing all the seeds coming to life in the greenhouse!

It was a chilly 38 degrees when we were doing our farm tour and I was amazed at how much warmer the greenhouse and hoop houses were.  I can definitely see why plants thrive in there and why they're critical in Wisconsin's climate.

Over the winter, one of the hoop houses was filled with greens.  We were encouraged to taste the spinach, which was sweet and delicious.

Mary Ann Ihm founded Wellspring 30 years ago and she co-taught the class along with Francie Szostak.  Mary Ann is pictured below holding her favorite garden tool.  Everyone was amazed when she said that she does all the soil work needed with a garden fork.

For more information about Wellspring, there's a great blog post on Farm to Table Wisconsin.  I've heard people complain that Wellspring is too far away to visit and while it is quite far, especially from the south side of Milwaukee, I think it's worth the trip.

I listened to a Betty White audiobook for my 1 1/2 hour round-trip drive, which made time pass very quickly.  I highly recommend the book and the audiobook is even better because it's read by the author.

Two great resources were mentioned in the class, the book How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons and Purple Cow Organics for both soil and compost, which is based in Middleton, Wisconsin but sold at many places in the Milwaukee area.

I came back from the class inspired and ready to start my garden!  So the timing of a Facebook post last night from Slow Food WiSE regarding a Vegetable Plant Kit with Ark of Taste heirloom vegetables was perfect.

I immediately ordered a kit which is available for pickup at the Village Green Street Fair on June 1st in Wauwatosa.  The kit includes 6 organic heirloom vegetable plants:
  • Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry
  • Aunt Ruby's Green Tomato
  • Amish Paste Tomato
  • Beave Dam Pepper
  • Sheepnoe Pimento Pepper
  • Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
Do you plan to garden this year?  I haven't decided if I'm going to do containers again or attempt raised beds for the first time.  I won't be starting from seeds this year, but next year I definitely plan to.

CityTins - Le Rêve & Blue's Egg {Milwaukee}

I've written about Le Rêve Patisserie & Café before and it's still one of my favorite places to dine.  We recently had lunch there, starting with a bowl roasted red pepper, served with a baguette slice.  Next, Chris opted for the salmon salad, while I had my favorite beet salad, or salade de bettrave as they call it :)

We almost always skip dessert and especially at lunch, but it's hard to resist the gorgeous pastry case you pass while being led to your table.  Since we were saving $10 on our meal thanks to CityTins, I selected a fresh fruit tart for us to share.  I had sampled it at Feasting for Fido last summer and loved it just as much this time.

Le Rêve was recently closed for renovations and I really like the interior changes they've made.  The restaurant was closed for several weeks and Chris found out the hard way that you can't rely on websites for current information when making lunch plans with co-workers.  Luckily I saw the closure information on Facebook before they left that day and I re-routed them to Juniper 61 instead.

Chris is anti-Facebook, but it's seriously a great way to keep up with what's going on.  Both Cafe Hollander and Le Rêve were closed at the same time, which was obvious on Facebook yet neither had updated their websites to reflect that fact.  I can't tell you how many conversations between Chris and I end with the question "How did you know that?" and the answer "Facebook."

25% of my City Tin is now empty, so I'm feeling good about my chances of redeeming all 20 coupons in 2013.  Chris is loving it because he's gotten to try new-to-him places like Blue's Egg where we had breakfast last Sunday.
The only negative thing about Blue's is the wait time for a table.  We were told 45 minutes when we arrived at 9:40, but by 10:00 we were seated and had placed our drinks order.  Chris was going to work afterward so he stuck with coffee but I tried the waiter-recommended JP's OJ.  A delicious mix of 44 North Huckleberry vodka, blood orange liqueur and fresh squeezed orange juice.
There are so many great CityTin choices, it's hard to decide where we should go next but it really should be Crazy Water.  Hands down that is the number one place that people keep recommending to us.

April 11, 2013

The Stir-Fry Dilemma

I really like the idea of stir-fry because it's versatile and easy to make.  The problem is that I have a hard time making great tasting stir-fry.  I've made some good recipes in the past, but definitely none that have become my go-to recipe.

This week I tried marinated tempeh in stir-fry for the first time and that will be my last experiment with tempeh.  It didn't taste bad, in fact it tasted quite good after soaking in soy sauce, fresh ginger, garlic and rice vinegar, it's the texture that gets me...sort of like eating a sponge.

Until my CSA boxes start coming, I'm relying on Trader Joe's for vegetables.  This was my first time trying haricots verts, which I really liked but then again I love green beans, so that wasn't surprising.

I had never heard of haricots verts until reading Amanda Hesser's book, Cooking for Mr Latte, and Trader Joe's is the first place I've seen them sold in Wisconsin.

I also picked up a package of tempeh at Trader Joe's because I sometimes worry that I'm not getting enough protein.  I think back to the days when I couldn't give blood because my iron level was too low and how my test results immediately improved after I started eating meat cooked by Chris. 

That was back in 2004 just after we started dating, and today I don't know if I could give blood because after being hassled about living in England and being told I couldn't donate because of mad cow disease I gave up.

The big winner of this recent stir-fry experiment was Trader Joe's frozen brown rice.  I can't believe how beautifully it cooks up in only 3 minutes! 

I hesitated buying it because uncooked brown rice is certainly cheaper and freezer space is at a premium, however there have been so many times that our stir-fry is nearly done and we've forgotten to cook rice, that I figured it would be handy to have on-hand in those instances.

I'm not giving up on stir-fry and would love to find a great recipe before my CSA boxes start arriving.  If anyone has a suggestion, please let me know!

April 04, 2013

Moscato Cocktail

Each cooking class at Braise begins with a cocktail and appetizer.  I recently attended a pastry class and I loved the cocktail that was served, which was a combination of Rehorst vodka, peach liqueur and moscato.

I tried various combinations of those ingredients until I found the perfect proportions, while also discovering that the addition of lime juice is fantastic.

Once I had the right ratio, I combined all the ingredients, then poured the mixture into a glass bottle and waited for Chris to get home, so we could enjoy cocktail hour together :)

I think cocktails served in glass bottles would be ideal for a party, and this particular cocktail is light and refreshing which is perfect for spring!

In addition to getting glass bottles, I also recommend a silicone ice cube tray to make large ice cubes which won't water down cocktails as quickly...or maybe your party guests drink alcohol full tilt so that's not an issue :)

My cocktail making kit includes -
  • Tovolo Ice Cube Trays - love these because it's really easy to get the large square ice cubes out.
  • Double Jigger - recently picked one up at Target for a $1 on clearance and it's super handy when making a cocktail with multiple ingredients.
  • Sonoma Horizon Old-Fashioned Glasses - perfect for cocktails and a great price thanks to my Kohl's discount :)
  • Amco Lemon Squeezer - made lime squeezing for the recipe really easy and I now prefer using a citrus press instead of my little juicer from Pampered Chef.
  • Tablecraft Zester/Peeler - I was shocked at how easy it is to peel lemons with this tool and it worked really well on oranges too.  Round #2 of drinks this week were garnished with twists of lemon peels.
Moscato Cocktail

Ingredients (1 cocktail)
  • 3 oz moscato
  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz peach liqueur
  • juice from half of a lime
  • Fill cocktail glass with ice, then add all ingredients, stir and serve.
  • Add a garnish, if desired.
Recipe adapted from: Braise Restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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