Monday, December 21, 2009

restaurant review: Maxie's Southern Comfort

dad took me to Maxie's Southern Comfort for my birthday dinner. this is another place bryan and i have been wanting to try, but never got around to.

the first thing to know about this place is that they don't accept reservations for parties under 8 people. they do, however, have a "wait list" - you can call up to 30 minutes in advance to put your name in. if you're old like me, that's not a problem when eating dinner before 6:30pm, though. i had called around 6 and arrived shortly before 6:30 and were seated immediately. most tables were empty. it did fill up by the time we left around 8pm, however.

dad and i both had the bbq beef brisket special. smoked beef brisket with bbq sauce; french fries (which i dipped in cajun mayo); baked beans (which i sub'd out for their white cheddar mac n cheese); and a winter greens salad with fresh corn, tomatoes, and red onions. holy lord. i don't know if the brisket was just that good, or if i just miss Rolling Bones that much, but i almost cried with that first bite of brisket. tender, smokey, covered in sauce as tangy as i like it - it was perfect. i subsequently ate way too much of it. the fries were great too - quite obviously real potatoes, and so nice dipped into the spicy cajun mayo. the mac n cheese was probably the only disappointing part of the meal. i like my cheddar to have a bit of a bite, and this had none. the sauce was a little gloppy as well - a bit too heavy on the roux. the salad was fine; nothing special, and it felt a little disconnected from the meal flavor wise. for dessert i had the marquis cake, which is chocolate cake with chocolate mousse layers and chocolate ganache frosting. sadly, it sounds a lot better than it was - in reality, it was pretty flavorless.

bryan was lucky enough that i had *plenty* of leftovers, even after stuffing myself silly. i can't wait to go back here with bryan.

restaurant review: Ristorante Bartolotta

bryan took me to Ristorante Bartolotta for my birthday. we had been wanting to go for some time, so we were thrilled to finally do so. we've been to Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro in the past, so we had high expectations. for the most part, they did not disappoint.

we started with the Carpaccio di Manzo alla Veneta (Hand-sliced beef tenderloin with arugula, shaved red onion,curls of Grana Padano, capers and Venetian aioli). since it is raw beef, i had a few moments where i had a hard time with the texture, but the flavors were great, and the beef was very tender.

i then had the Misticanza di Campo salad (Chef mix of bitter sweet field greens and seasonal vegetables with a light drizzle of vinegar, olive oil and Sicilian sea salt from Trapani), which was simple but a nice salad.

we shared an order of the Ravioli di Magro al Burro Nociola Tartufato (House made ravioli filled with truffled-ricotta and spinach, topped with Grana and brown butter). this was absolutely the star of the meal for me. so good in every way. i want more.

bryan had the Grigliata Mista di Mare (A seaside style assortment of grilled seafood; shrimp, scallops, baby octopus, mussels and our fish of the day, with spinach, lemon and olive oil). it was a massive amount of seafood! bryan liked it very much.

i had the Braciola di Maiale al Marsala (Grilled bone-in pork chop with sauteed mushrooms, roasted potatoes and Marsala wine pan sauce). i was a little disappointed in this. the sauce was over salted, so was unpleasant because of the saltiness, but it also over powered the mushrooms because of it. i think the pork chop could have been a little more rare for me, but it wasn't bad. the potatoes were a little underdone for my tastes. not horrible overall, but disappointing to me.

we managed to squeeze in tiramisu for dessert before heading over to Cafe Hollander for some belgian beers.

of course, the service was excellent.

we'll definitely be back. i'd like to try another meal before passing final judgment on the place. i'd like to take hannah in the summer for a pasta course. i think she'd very much enjoy that.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

shout out: booze and chocolate from the burp blog

big thanks to the fredrichs for the delicious brandy soaked chocolate covered cherries. angels sang and time stopped, so they were a perfect interlude to a lovely saturday afternoon! bryan will bring you some special treats at the next market on the 9th. :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

food project: homemade marshmallows

one thing bryan and i like to do each year is food gifts for christmas, so i decided to make marshmallows. hannah and i had made some last year, and they were freakin' phenomenal - rich, creamy, fluffy - 10,000x better than store bought.

this year, i used this recipe (and for those of you without a candy thermometer, look at the 2nd recipe on the page, near the bottom, on the right).

the basic concept is unflavored gelatin and water:

mixed with a cooked mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and water:

and beaten until hugely fluffy (my only real advice to you during this process is do not smell the mixture until it is white and fluffy. trust me.). you can add vanilla (i upped the amount called for in the recipe to 2 1/2 tsp). spread it in a prepared pan (lined with oiled foil or plastic wrap).

once they've had a few hours to set, dump them out onto powdered sugar and cut; roll each one in powdered sugar. this is very sticky business (literally - these things are insanely sticky). my recommendation is to use kitchen shears to snip them into strips, then roll the strips in powdered sugar, then cut them into cubes. it took me about 90 minutes of painfully tedious cutting before i figured out rolling the whole strips in the sugar made things go way faster.

i also made peppermint ones, with peppermint extract (i used 1 tsp vanilla and 1 - 1/2 tsp peppermint). oh yeah, i know that sounds good in hot chocolate, right?! i wanted them to not be plain white like the others, so i mixed red food coloring into a small bit of the marshmallows, then swirled that into the white.

and that's it! it's really simple. and so delicious. so all you lucky folks out there who are receiving a package in the mail from us - open it, quickly. there are marshmallows in there!

Friday, December 11, 2009

she's crafty

my super friend danielle found this super cool menu magnet project, and me being me, said, "oooo, crafts AND food? awesome!" and of course, me being me, decided to make it way more complex than the original.

the gist of the project is to print out meal/food names and stick them onto magnets, so you can do a menu on your fridge. i thought to myself, wouldn't this be a perfect opportunity to create a learning tool for oliver? and thus decided to add pictures of each food item. and since our family cooks many and varied offerings, i had to print out roughly 200 different things. which meant buying magnets (instead of using extra ones, like the original project suggests). and i thought, well, printed paper glued onto craft paper won't possibly be strong enough to hold up... i better glue it onto foam board and then exacto knife all 200 pieces out.

yea, what was i thinking?!

it took me roughly forever to complete the project. but it turned out really cute, and oliver is pretty intrigued. mom had suggested she let me laminate my print outs, and while i initially thought they still wouldn't be strong enough, in retrospect, it probably would have been perfect. yet another lesson that one should always listen to their mothers. if you do this project, skip my steps 6, 7, & 8 and get thee to a laminating machine!

so here's what i did:
1) made a table in Word and typed out a bajillion food items
2) added pictures from the interwebz
3) printed and cut them out
4) glued them onto scrapbook paper
5) cut them out
6) glued them to foam board
7) cut them out, a la exacto knife
8) covered them in contact paper
9) glued a magnet on the back
10) had a beer

the result? a big mess of cute little food cards.

yea, i really wasn't exaggerating when i said 200. this basket is about 8" deep.

i also made a cute "what's for dinner?" header and the days of the week, so that you can organize and display on your fridge like so:

cute, right? now i just have to find the time to change them up every week. hmmm, i'm starting to think i didn't think this project through completely.

and to be completely honest, i'm still not 100% done. i have about 5 more cards i need to get onto foam board, but i ran out. and i also bought some neat white board paper, so i want to make some large magnets with that, so we can write our actual menus on them. but i'm going to take this time to revel in completing this much of the project, and it being actually usable.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the $84 turkey (or: peters family thanksgiving)

nope, that is not a typo. this year, i got my american bronze heritage turkey, from the always wonderful JenEhr Family Farm. i had wanted one last year, which bryan quickly vetoed. this year i hadn't even asked before he told me no. but one magical saturday, kay spoke to him at the market and somehow managed to convince bryan that we just had to have one. have i mentioned that kay is my hero?

so, i got my turkey. and no, they're not cheap. but it's definitely worth it, for a multitude of reasons - helping to preserve a heritage breed, protecting the environment, and our health, and supporting a local farm. not to mention it has actual flavor. today, commercial turkeys are bred for their breasts - their legs are tiny, and their breasts are huge (and neither tastes like much). their breasts are so huge, in fact, that they can't fly - and real turkeys can actually fly. our 24 lb bird was a sight to behold - huge legs and a proportionate breast.

our initial plan had been to wrap the bird in the caul fat from our pig (think of a bacon wrapped bird... minus the bacon meat), which we had specifically ordered. the butcher that did our pig, however, was less than wonderful, and after defrosting two giant bags of fat, we were incredibly disappointed to find that there was no caul fat. bryan was, in his words, devastated. he spent the sunday before thanksgiving calling around town trying to find replacement caul fat. he was able to locate some, but at $60, i said no. maybe next year.

instead, bryan brined the bird, and rubbed a compound butter beneath the skin. he roasted it, and that was it. what resulted was a gorgeous bird.

dad carved the turkey, which we then served with gravy (which bryan of course made using the pan drippings), cranberries with port, roasted squash, stuffing with homemade sausage, bryan's corn budin, aunt debbie's mashed potatoes, mom's whole wheat rolls as well as rosemary garlic knots (which were promptly scarfed up by all in attendance), and marissa's green beans almondine.

the meal was all sorts of delicious. it was hard to stop eating and save room for pie, of which there were two, both made by me:

apple & fennel pie -

and a gluten free pecan pie -

bryan and i both agreed dinner was a complete success. i was very happy to have planned a much simpler menu than last year. we had plenty of time and oven space to make everything, and were even able to keep up with the dishes (a first, i'm pretty sure).

in a moment of clarity, i realized that the kids (oliver and my cousin's two kids) would pull out every single toy to make the biggest mess possible. since the toys currently live in our living room, i figured it would be better to put them all in oliver's room instead. i was very glad i did, as it turns out i was fairly clairvoyant about the course of events.

all of my sisters were in town, so of course we had way too much fun seeing them. oliver loved having a new audience to perform for and charm. he especially made a new friend in uncle kevin, who not only was a boy and thus automatically cool, but also always had m's (m&m's) on his personage, and didn't mind sharing.

more pictures from the week here and here.

a very happy turkey day indeed. and a great weekend filled with family, all of whom i am so incredibly thankful for.

Monday, November 23, 2009

food project: ham

so here i am changing the rules yet again. what? it's my blog.

as has been in evidence, um, all year, i don't get much time to come here and post much. something about having a crazy job and a crazy two year old. so i'm going back to something bryan and i used to do in our early days - food projects.

when bryan and i were first dating, i was far more meek in my food choices. i had grown up with a huge organic garden, so i was already familiar with and a champion of that whole concept. mom cooked home cooked meals every night, made killer baked goods (and still does), and i enjoyed cooking and baking as well. but i had never been exposed to the professional side of cooking, or anything necessarily gourmet. bryan changed that, a change i rather welcomed.

however, that also meant stepping out of my comfort zone some, trying new things. so to keep from overwhelming me, we'd select a food project, something particular for me to tackle, be it eggplant or tofu. this worked very well. now that i'm past most of my food phobias, we've gone on to do food projects together - experimenting with intermediate and advanced techniques. i'm modifying my format here to do that with you, dear reader.

so here's your first food project: wet cured ham, 2 varieties: baked, and smoked.

the first step in making your own ham it to get your hands on a fresh ham steak. a real butcher will have this. you could also cure a whole shoulder. again, this is something a butcher will have. it is possible you can ask for it at your super market as well; if they carry any large cut of meat and have an actual bandsaw in the back (something you'd expect but is a lot less likely than you'd think), they'll have it. i used 3 fresh ham steaks, about 2 inches thick, and roughly 7 or 8 inches long by 4 or 5 inches wide. so, not your normal giant christmas ham, but with a family of 3, i don't want to have huge hams that take a week for us to finish.

next, find a brine recipe you'd like to use. i used a very simple one from Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which can also be found online, here. in the past, i've also done hams in a brine with garlic, juniper berries, allspice, cloves, and bay leaves. a brine is essentially water and salt, and usually sugar. the recipe i used also called for pink salt (not hawaiian pink salt, but a specialty curing salt), which i didn't have, so i omitted it and added a small amount of potassium nitrate (also known as saltpeter) instead, which i have on hand for curing corned beef.

submerge the fresh pork in the brine. i have some cambro food storage bins i like to use (you can get them at a restaurant supply store). i did also have to use my giant roasting pan since i needed more space than i had (which is ok - since the brine didn't contain acid of any sort, it's safe to use metal pans). it's important to fully submerge the meat, which generally means weighing it down. i covered the containers with plastic wrap, then put bowls on top of the hams with cans inside of them. the containers then go into a fridge. the recipe suggests 1 day per 2 pounds of ham in terms of curing time - about a week for a large ham. i left my hams in for a day short of 2 weeks, knowing it wouldn't hurt anyone.

after 2 weeks, we smoked 2 of them, and baked 1 of them. the plan was to eat the baked one for dinner, but we ended up having one of the smoked ones. and it was so good. rich, salty, caramelized sweetness. mom and dad joined us, and we ate nearly the entire ham. dad loves ham, and i think this made him a convert.

baked ham

smoked ham

we sliced off some of the baked ham for croque monsiuers, and froze the rest of the baked ham and the remaining whole smoked ham for later use.

so there you have it! a big success. i urge you to try this. it's really simple - make the brine, put in the meat, and forget about it. even if you don't have a smoker, you can bake it, so you have no excuse not to. and it's far, far superior to supermarket ham, which is one dimensional flavorless meat that tastes of salt and not much else. home cured ham has a depth you can't match elsewhere. and you get to impress your family and friends, who'll think you're a magical genius with super powers. go forth and CURE!

Friday, November 20, 2009

2 years and counting

oliver turned 2 on october 31st (yes, i know that was nearly a month ago; i'm a horrid mom, k?!). hard to believe he is 2 already!

we started off the day with chocolate chip pancakes and presents. he finally got a boots to go with his dora, a mailbox (just ask him to wail about mail), a robot, paint with water, and his very own dora toothbrush with toothpaste (very exciting).

after all that, we geared up and headed to the zoo for trick or treat. i had made oliver his costume - a robot! i used a box, cut out the bottom as well as holes for his head and arms, covered in silver fabric, some old computer parts, and fun things ollie and i found at home depot (including a switch on the back!). it was so cute!! i was worried he wouldn't want to wear it, but he loved it. he was chilly so i bundled him up in long underwear and a fleece sweatsuit, a knit hat (which i had attached an antenna to), and gloves, and he was perfectly fine. everyone at the zoo loved his costume. too bad we didn't do the costume contest, because i'm pretty confident he would have won by a mile. we only saw one other homemade costume there, and ours was definitely the best regardless. it was his first trick or treat experience, and it took him longer to catch on to the candy part than i thought it would (probably a good thing).

after lunch, shannon and i took him to a few houses in the neighborhood, more so that the folks we know could see him in his costume. it was then he started to catch on to the candy thing. he helped hand out candy once we got home, and was very good at it, except he thought he deserved a piece every time he gave some out.

mom, dad, and shannon came over for birthday dinner and cake. we had tacos, one of oliver's favorites, and peanut butter cupcakes with chocolate fudge frosting and dirt (crumbled chocolate fudge cookies) and (gummi) worms. he got to open some more presents and play. all in all, i think he had a pretty awesome day.

more pictures from the day in the gallery.

my 2 year old is a wonder and a challenge. it is amazing to watch him learn, and grow. he is truly a little person now. his unique and charming personality in still firmly in place, and he now has the ability to communicate with more words. he's speaking in sentences, something i love and am still getting used to. he's incredibly silly. he's a pretty typical 2 year old - throwing tantrums and testing his limits. but he's incredibly intelligent (of course!), sweet, and fun. he brings joy to our every day.

i love you super oliver!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

by popular demand

whilst in atlanta, i had a number of people request i post links to the food i talk about in my facebook statuses. today's list is too long for a facebook status, so - egads! - i'm updating my blog. and i completely admit i am taking the easy way out by only posting in regards to today's projects, entirely ignoring the past 2 months of food, events, and the atlanta trip. deal with it.

bryan started the day by making one of his lovely chicken stocks. for those not in the know, we almost exclusively use homemade chicken stock. because it is so easy. after we have a roast chicken, we toss the carcass in a freezer bag, along with vegetable scraps - the ends of onions, carrots, celery, whatever. after we have a few carcasses, we make stock. which consists of peeling the frozen hunks of chicken and veg bits out of their bags, covering with water, and slowly simmering for a few hours. once the mix has reduced nicely, we cool, strain, and freeze off in 1, 2, and 4 cup measurements. couldn't be easier. and it tastes roughly 400 million times better than store bought. cooking all day, leaching the bones of all nutrients leads to an incredibly rich stock - at room temperature, it is solid, like jelly. i call it chicken jello. appetizing, no?

i finally decided to tackle some of the giant cuts of pork we have in our freezer from our whole pig. i started with the easy route - wet curing 3 huge ham steaks. after a week or 2 in the brine, i will bake one as is, and slow smoke the other 2. i was reading my Charcuterie book, which started getting me very, very excited for doing more. i plan on doing a dry cured (salted and hung) ham, as well as a blackstrap molasses country ham. this excites me. it's practically naughty.

i also prepared a sirloin tip roast for roast beef with yorkshire pudding, which we'll have monday or tuesday. i seasoned the roast with salt and pepper, and rubbed it with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. it smelled heavenly. i am planning rocky road bars for dessert, because only chocolate and red wine can follow beef like that.

bryan is working on a potato and leek soup for consumption and freezing sometime this week.

and we're not even eating any of that today.

tonight we're having chicken fried steak and celery root and squash gratin with walnut-thyme streusel, a dish which sounds fancy and time consuming, but is a breeze to make.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

robot corn

Greenpeace protests genetically modified corn in Mexico

"Mexico saw the first public protests this weekend over the government's decision to allow cultivation of the first genetically modified corn, which environmentalists and others say could ruin the nation's native crop."

i'll admit, i am at once thrilled, jealous, perplexed, amused, and saddened by this article.

i am thrilled that someone, somewhere cares to this extent, even if it's not here in the u.s. and i'm jealous for the same reason. i desperately wish we had this level of education, passion, and involvement regarding these issues here in our country.

i'm perplexed, amused, and saddened as well. the u.s. has been using genetically engineered corn for nearly 20 years. no where does this article mention this, however. and we haven't heard this kind of outcry yet here.

this is especially bad for mexico, where the majority of the diet is based on unrefined corn (we beat them in the consumption of refined corn products, however, but that's an entirely different debate), and where there are, essentially, heirloom varieties of corn that have been around for centuries, if not longer. replacing these varieties with genetically engineered ones impact not only the environment and the health of mexico's people, but also erases an important part of their culture.

read more:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

eat food. not too much. mostly plants.

thursday before last, i traveled to madison to see michael pollan speak. he was giving a lecture as part of uw-madison's go big read program, for which they are doing in defense of food this year.

i've read that book, and others of his, and of course the topic is a passionate one for me, so i was really excited to see him speak. i thought his lecture was very good, and his response during the q&a very thoughtful.

there were others there, though, who are not as enamored with pollan as i am. there was some controversy, and even some protesters there (very peaceful though). the protesters were farmers, and were speaking to people about how their animals/crops are raised, and even invited people to come see their farms.

the point i think they miss is not that pollan believes all farmers are irresponsible, but that the great number of them supplying the main food supply are. and he is not against these farmers - he is for them. he wants them to sell directly to the consumers, thus earning 100% of their profits (as opposed to the 10% they get now).

and i think the invitation to visit the farms is hollow proof - corn raised with fertilizer and pesticides, and cows raised with antibiotics, hormones, and indigestible corn don't look sickly, or evil. they look like corn, and cows. but that doesn't mean they're good for us, or the earth.

overall, i was very pleased i had the opportunity to hear him speak, and i hope the 7000 other people there were as well. i strongly recommend picking up one of his books and learning more.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

down on the farm

today was the day: we drove out to solar harvest farm and picked up our whole pig and half cow.

after overshooting our destination some (what is it with wisconsin and not properly marking street names?!), we made it. we parked in a field near the house and barn, and the first thing we saw were the chickens grazing in the pasture. oh, the joy and happiness of things done right. bryan went to check in and pay and get things figured out while oliver and i waded through the grass to check out the chickens.

of course, he wanted to pet them, but being the nervous city girl i am (not to mention mean mommy), i wouldn't let him. we watched them peck happily for a bit, then made our way back across the pasture to see how daddy was doing. i noticed there were pigs penned by the barn, so we asked if we could look at them, and the farmers told us "of course!"

as we were approaching the barn, 5 tiny, tiny kittens came running up! the look of sheer joy on oliver's face was priceless. one ran right up to him and without a moment's hesitation, he scooped it up in his arms! absolutely precious. except he was holding it upside down. though the cat didn't seem to mind, i asked him to put it down, thinking, of course, that he would set it on the ground. silly me. he opened his arms and let it fall - but the cat proved the old adage to be true, and landed gracefully on it's feet.

oliver was telling me he wanted to touch the pigs, though when we got close enough, i think he was a little too scared (they were rather large). he did enjoy standing about 18 inches from their pen and just gazing at them in awe, though the kittens were far more entertaining. oliver had fun chasing the kittens around and petting them nicely until bryan came to round us up.

the jeep was neatly packed with meat (and bones, fat, and organs). i was surprised at how compact it all was - though it was neatly packed into boxes, so that made sense. we jetted home, all the while discussing our freezer organization ideas.

once home, bryan unloaded the truck, and began loading up the freezers while i took an inventory. at the end, bryan remarked how it seemed like we got more pig than cow, which was odd, considering there should have been about 60 more pounds cow than pig. we had 3 boxes of pork and 2 of cow. then we realized we were missing cow parts we had been expecting: cheeks, sweet breads, liver, heart, tongue, oxtail, rib steaks, sirloin tip, cube steaks, and tenderloin. the cut sheet had also marked that there should be been 3 boxes. i went to call the farm, and they had already left me a message, having realized the mistake. they have promised to deliver the missing box, which is great! good thing we have roughly a BILLION pounds of meat to get us through until it arrives.

more pictures in the gallery.

tonight, in honor of the delicious livestock, we'll be having steak au poivre. i'm not 100% sure what we'll be serving with it; i can't seem to think past the delicious, freshly cut steaks.

tomorrow's plan was tongue tacos, but as the tongue is in the missing box, i'm not confident that will happen. perhaps we'll have one of the 24 or so pork steaks we have.

i'm really quite interested to sort through the bags of pork fat to find the caul fat, which i'll be using to wrap around our american bronze heritage turkey for thanksgiving this year. me thinks with that kind of application on that fine a turkey, and the bird will need little else. i plan on keeping the rest of the menu rather simplistic as well: diana kennedy's corn budin (a fixure on our thanksgivings, no matter what), a traditional stuffing (more than likely with sausage i will make using the new pork), green beans (with garlic?), baked sweet potatoes, my apple & fennel pie (using an antique variety of apple from weston's apples). maybe some tart cranberry bread (and seeing that cranberries are native to wisconsin, i wonder if i can find some nice local ones??). mom's yeast rolls, of course. maybe shannon will do her gluten free pecan pie again. i do owe bryan homemade ice cream, so i'll do my vanilla bean ice cream to go with dessert.

dinner's at 6.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

featured recipe: dirty rice

so this is new: the featured recipe. this will allow me to go into a little more detail on a meal, without overwhelming you, dear reader, with the many details of all our fabulous meals. in the future, i'd like to include multiple pictures of the meal prep, but for this one, you are lucky to be left with only the finished product. bet you didn't know i could make a short post?

why do this now? bryan and i saw julie & julia last week (cute movie!), and i've found myself reading the original julie/julia blog. besides making me want to eat things in butter and cream and wondering if i've been using far too little vermouth all my life, it's made me want to cook from our cookbooks more, and share it. no one may care, but i'll have fun.

i haven't quite decided on the rules of engagement yet. i'm not sure how often a featured recipe will appear here. but i do know that i am going to strive to only cook from our massive collection of cookbooks. oh, and while i'm at it, i suppose i should give a little review/note on the book itself. we've made quite an investment in them, and i usually find myself using recipes online. not that that's a bad thing - there are plenty good ones out there - and i'm sure i'll use some occasionally, when i come across one too good to pass up. oh, and i'll probably allow recipes from our magazine subscriptions (saveur and martha stewart living). but i'm going to try really hard to actually use all those books. there is something very satisfying to me about poring through the pages of a pile of cookbooks.

today's featured recipe is dirty rice, a cajun delight whose name derives from the dirty look the chicken livers give the rice (shannon, you did know you were eating chicken liver, right??).

the recipe i decided to use is one from marvin wood's cookbook The New Low-Country Cooking: 125 Recipes for Coastal Southern Cooking with Innovative Style, of which we own an autographed copy (he gave a cooking demonstration at a festival in decatur one year). the recipe itself is very simple, and i made a few liberal changes, namely including andouille and shrimp.

we've found this cookbook to be rather basic. which isn't all bad - if you've never cooked cajun before or don't plan to a lot, this is a great book for you. it is a little simple for us, but, as evidenced below, gives us a good base to build on. we'd like to pick up a more thorough, involved cajun cookbook at some point, so this isn't our end all, be all, but it doesn't suck either.

the andouille is where the recipe started. while shopping at the outpost, we asked our super awesome butcher (i think i'm going to get him a christmas gift, is that weird?) what was fresh and good. he offered up the andouille he had just made. oh hello, dirty rice with andouille.

below is the recipe from the cookbook, annotated with my changes in italics.

Dirty Rice

2 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups long-grain white rice - i used medium grain, as that's what we had
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped red onion - i used yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken or turkey livers - i used closer to 1 cup, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Marv Spice (see below)
2 1/4 cups Chicken Stock
1 bay leaf
2 small green bell peppers, chopped (the original recipe didn't call for bell peppers - but i'm smart and know this is part of the cajun trinity so made a trip out to our garden to 'fix' the recipe)
2 andouille sausage, diced
1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned and deveined
4 tablespoons butter
4 - 5 cloves garlic, crushed

Marv Spice
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper - i omitted this in order to make it toddler friendly
1 tablespoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
i also added some crushed dried thyme

In a large saucepan, combine the water, salt, and rice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender, 10 - 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under hot running water to remove the excess starch. Place the rice back in the pan, off the heat, and cover to keep warm.

here, i deviated from the recipe by cooking the sausage in a large saute pan. i removed the sausage, leaving the rendered fat in the pan, and added a small amount of vegetable oil before proceeding.

Heat oil in a large heavy-bottom skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and bell pepper and cook, stirring continuously, until softened but not colored, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken livers and Marv Spice, and cook, stirring frequently, until the livers turn brown, about 8 minutes.

Pour the stock over the rice, set the pan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and stir in the chicken liver mixture and bay leaf. here, i returned the sausage to the pan as well. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until the rice is soft and tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

for the shrimp, i slow melted butter in a sauce pan, and added 4 or 5 crushed garlic cloves, and just let that sit over very low heat until i was ready to use it (30 minutes or so). the result was an intensely garlicky butter that i very nearly just sopped up with bread and ate right then. instead, selfless as i am, i turned up the heat a little and popped in the shrimps, turning once, until just done, and served them on top of the rice.

the finished product?

it was quite good. i should have served it with a little louisiana hot sauce, though the anouille had a little spice to it. the shrimp had sucked in that garlic flavor, and were good enough shannon had one and didn't hate it, and she hates shrimp. the rice could have been a little less sticky (i think this was mostly due to using medium grain instead of long grain rice), but tasted very good.

i hope it would have made my new orleans friend mandy proud!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

you asked for it

so, i do have to finally do this post, which i have been dreading, due to the sheer volume of STUFF to write about. no one to blame but myself, though.

we've had a very busy summer, as usual. it has been going well, albeit cold. once again, wisconsin missed the memo about the change in weather, so we haven't had a lot of summery days. lots of gorgeous autumn days, but not much summer heat. which, surprisingly, has been very disappointing to me. i generally am not a lover of the heat, but i guess my 8 or so years in atlanta tempered me some. and, really, the summer is all of 2 1/2 months here, then after a brief and usually perfectly gorgeous fall, it's back to 7 straight months of cold. so i can handle a month or so of heat. the sad part is, part of me is still really, really excited for fall. i LOVE fall - the gorgeous weather, the turning of the trees, the smell of the air. and, while i'm not sick of fresh vegetables, i am also looking forward to the change of pace in cooking - braised dishes, stewed meats, squashes and red wines and ciders. and i hate that, because we hardly had a summer - but i just love fall so much.

we've had father's day, hannah's visit, the 4th of july, family and friends visiting, bryan's birthday, a family reunion, and, of course, running all over town to see the sights. so let's just dive in, shall we?

betty brinn children's museum
we became members of the betty brinn children's museum, an absolute wonderland of music, science, and imagination. oliver loves it there. they have tons of hands on activities for kids of all ages. it's a great place to bring oliver and let him expend some energy and exercise his mind. it's right down on the lakefront, and i keep wanting to stay downtown for awhile to walk along the lake, but it just doesn't seem to work out with our schedule. i guess that's what happens when you're a total nazi about naps.

hannah's visit

hannah arrived at the end of june, and stayed through the end of july. we had a blast, as usual, and though we tried to take it relatively easy, it was still a very tiring month. some highlights:

oliver appropriated hannah's gameboy the moment she arrived. it ended up being quite useful, though now we're not sure where it is. (6/26/09)

my dad built a playset in his backyard, complete with climbing wall, tire swing, and bumpy slide. hannah and oliver had a blast playing there every time we went! (6/27/09)

greek fest (6/28/09)
greek fest is held at the state fair park by our house. it's always been one of our favorites, and the weather was beautiful, so we headed out.
the spit roasted chickens were a sight to behold, but between the food lines and the $$$, we decided in the end to skip eating there.
instead, we hit up the rides. bryan and hannah braved the zipper, which seems to be bryan's favorite ride, and hannah's worst nightmare - but every time we're at a festival, she rides it with him. will the girl ever learn? oliver was desperate to join them. being the mean mommy that i am, i would not let him, and so he cried. he actually kept pointing to all the rides and saying "THAT!" but i didn't let him go on any of the big kid ones, much to his (loud) disatisfaction.
after bryan and hannah survived flying and flipping through the air on that contraption, hannah talked me into riding some flying ride with her. it wasn't scary, and could even be considered fun, but being strapped into a mock hang glider was not exactly comfortable.
oliver finally got his turn, and i took him on the kiddie train, which apparently was exciting enough that he forgot all about the other rides. he does love trains, so i guess that's why. he was pretty upset when the train stopped, though (gosh, i just love being that mother with the full on yelling/crying child!). i guess we owe him a train ride at the zoo.

after the rides, we decided to get the heck outta dodge. hannah would have been content to ride rides all day, but unless she was paying, the fun was over.

fourth of july parade (7/2/09)
i presume west allis has problems getting people to come to their 4th of july parade on a weekend, so instead they have it on a thursday evening. bryan was out with his friend dirk, so hannah, oliver, and i were on our own.
holy cow, we had a good time.
to start, the weather was fantastic. a perfect evening - not too warm, not too cool. we were able to park close to the block the parade was on, so didn't have far to walk. we sat in front of city hall, so hannah and oliver ran around while we waited for the parade to begin. and oliver only fell once.
before the parade started, there were lots of interesting characters walking around.

one group (i don't even recall who; i think maybe a church?) was walking around giving out free ice pops. i don't usually allow oliver to have sweets, but since it was a special occasion and i wanted him to sit nicely in his stroller for a bit, i let him have one. oh boy, that was one happy kid. "popsicle" is now a permanent part of his lexicon (though, at home, i make homemade popsicles with just blended fruit - so he only thinks he's getting a treat, when in reality he's getting a serving of fruit! score 1 for mom!).
one of the first things in the parade was a firetruck, which delighted oliver beyond words. the kid loves trucks! i thought perhaps the siren and horn would be too loud for him, but he didn't have any problem with it (nor with any other loud noise, including a pack of harley davidsons).
oliver also loved the marching bands - he was dancing to every single one of them, having hannah and i in stitches watching him.
hannah managed to amass a good collection of candy from the floats, and we worked hard to keep it hidden from oliver (though i did let him have a sucker, i'm such a softie!).
we had *such* a great time - i couldn't have asked for better weather, or better behaved kids. and we were even home in time for bedtime.

fourth of july
then there was the actual 4th of july! the weather turned out to be kind of horrible - not quite 80 degrees, and overcast most of the day. JULY, WISCONSIN, IT WAS JULY. my aunt and uncle had a pool party. they cranked the heat up on the pool to about 89 degrees, so we were actually able to swim a little bit.
hannah is a fish, so of course loved it, and oliver did as well, though it took him a minute to get comfortable in the water and feel safe. then he proceeded to run up
the ladder and launch himself off the deck to jump into the water, always with me waiting to catch him (though, a few times, it was close, as he was so excited he'd run right from the top of the ladder over the edge of the pool and there was barely enough time for me to get from the ladder to the side of the pool!).

the zoo (7/5/09)
of course, we dragged hannah and oliver to the zoo. actually, it's more like we went, and dragged oliver out of the zoo - he really loves the zoo. we let him pet the goats for the first time, and after the initial shock of being so close to the animals wore off, he was chasing them all around, just like the dogs at home.
we also ran around the playgrounds for awhile, something i think hannah is finding less enjoyable the older she gets (stop growing up, hannah).

camping (7/10/09 - 7/11/09)
we had unanimously decided that our family summer vacation this year would be camping. i was feeling nostalgic for the camping trips of my childhood. bryan used to camp often, as well. and hannah had never been camping, so was completely excited to go. oliver had no say, but i figured a weekend in the woods with dirt and bugs? score! mom and dad sold their camper, and gave us a bunch of their gear, and we borrowed some more. we bought a tent, sleeping bags, and a few other essentials. i settled on a campground at richard bong recreation area, as it had wooded sites, kids' activities (including a nature center, guided nature hikes, playgrounds, and the like), swimming, AND flush toilets and showers. our plans had us driving out on a friday after oliver's nap, and returning sunday morning before naptime. with the car packed to the gills, we picked oliver up from day care and hit the road. we made it there just fine, and before we even got out of the car, the death squad of mosquitoes attached us. lesson # 1: pack the bug spray within easy reach. in fact, don't pack it at all - have it in the car console, ready for action. hannah and
bryan got the tent set up, while oliver helped me unpack the car, and i chased him around. he had a blast. it took him a few hours, but he finally figured out we were outside to stay, and there was no need to rush around like a madman, and that he could touch all the trees he wanted without having to ask. he then happily played in the dirt with one of his trucks and some rocks.
hannah posted a lovely sign she made at the entrance to our campsite.
sadly, the mosquitoes were ungodly - even coated in bug spray, they were trying to attack us. trying to sweep them away with your hand earned you a handful of bugs. ew. oliver and i used an organic, deet free bug spray, while hannah and bryan opted for the strong stuff (deep woods off). the bugs didn't seem to be bothering oliver too badly, but maybe that was because they were all on me. the campfire helped a little, but not much.

luckily, oliver went to sleep without as much of a fuss as i was expecting. after he fell asleep, hannah, bryan, and i relaxed around the fire (much to hannah's disappointment, that's all you do at camp at night!). we had a small scare with a rather courageous racoon, but after locking up the trash and flashing lights in his eyes multiple times, he went away.

shortly after we went to bed, oliver woke up and was more than a little freaked out - i think he had no idea where he was. after some time, a few songs, and a cup of milk, he managed to calm down - but then wasn't all that tired. and he was convinced there was a monkey outside of our tent. i spent about 20 minutes convincing there there was NO monkey outside the tent. then he happily conked out between bryan and i (coincidentally taking up most of my mat).

not too long after that, a major thunderstorm moved through. oliver managed to sleep through that, but it scared hannah pretty good. being outside during a thunderstorm can be pretty crazy - the wind and rain shaking the tent, the thunder and lightening RIGHT THERE. that finally ended, and i was finally able to get a few hours of sleep before oliver woke up.

of course, due to the rain, our campsite was a right mud pit the next morning, and the mosquitoes multiplied 10 fold. oliver and i stepped outside of the tent to begin on breakfast, and quickly changed our minds. bryan and i briefly debated sticking it out, and leaving camp until, hopefully, things dried out and the mosquitoes died down, but decided it wasn't worth it, at least not with an un-deet-able toddler in tow, and our only other options being finding the lake (mosquitoes), the playground by the lake (mosquitoes), or hiking (more mosquitoes). we did our best to pack up camp as quickly as possible, attempting to placate oliver with a pop tart and promises of fun at home, and tore the heck outta there.

we made it one night, so that was something, at least. bryan and i may attempt another night yet this year. i'd like to get oliver broken in to the idea of camping.

i think hannah was most disappointed that we didn't get to go hiking or have pudgy pies for dinner, so on sunday we went out to minooka park to hike (where i still feel like i could run a 5k with my eyes shut), and cooked pudgy pies for dinner at mom and dads.

camping trip COMPLETE.

the park
of course we spent lots of time playing at the park while hannah was here. have i mentioned how much i love having a park around the corner?

the big bike ride (7/14/09)

cat & the kids come to visit (7/15/09 - 7/18/09)
our friend cat from atlanta, and her two kids, tyler and madison, came to visit us for a few days. we hadn't seen them since our spring trip to atlanta last year, so we were very excited to finally see them again! sadly, the weather sucked (coldest july on record), but we managed to have fun anyways.

hannah and madison made us
breakfast - bacon, eggs, and toast. this put them into a cooking mood, and they made us some really awesome homemade soft pretzels to snack on as well.

they were so good, hannah had to make more a few days later.

we took them to the betty brinn children's museum, where even the mature kids (hannah and madison, in case you didn't know), had fun.

we also took them to the zoo, cold weather be damned.

hannah and oliver were NOT impressed with the smell in the bird house. oliver did want to run around and chase the birds, though.

cat and i took the kids (minus oliver) to sprecher brewery for their tour. sprecher makes both beer and soda, including hannah's most favorite root beer of all time, so she was pretty excited about the tour. tyler took an immediate liking to our tour guide (i think he was mostly happy about the male companionship, after being trapped in our house with lots of girls for a few days). the tour was fun, and the tasting was even more fun.

hannah sitting atop a pallet of root beer.

the "cold room" was no joke.

cute girls drinking beer!

the bartenders told our little soda tasters that some kids like to mix all the sodas together at once. you can imagine how that turned out.

we of course hit up the domes. although this place is oh so old and hasn't been updated much since it was built (except for the lobby, which has had quite a makeover; sadly the fountain is gone), everyone loved it. and oliver even got to run around willy nilly without a stroller, which is one of his favorite things to do.

hannah took some really cool, artsy photos while we were there. this one is my favorite.

and with that, their visit was over. they headed up to the dells, waterpark capital of the world, where sadly it was too cold to actually swim. we had a great time with them, and can't wait to see them again!

the boys get mohawks (7/19/09)
bryan had been after me to let him and oliver get matching mohawks, so finally we went to have it done. we settled on faux hawks, since there was no way i was taking oliver in weekly to have his head shaved. when his stylist was finishing up, and putting junk in his hair to make it stand up, he got the HUGEST grin - he loves the hawk!

bryan's 40th birthday!
(zomg, he's old, i know, right?!)
bryan's dad flew in to spend bryan's birthday weekend with us, and hannah and i planned a birthday luau. since there were various other extended family activities that weekend, we decided to have his party on a friday. fridays being days i generally work. i woke up that morning, and thought to myself, "self, what the HECK were you thinking?!" i did go into work, which i immediately regretted. i left early, swung home to pick up hannah, and away we went to find luau party supplies. first we hit up the dollar store and - score! - got a bunch of stuff for $12. we were very impressed with ourselves. we headed over to factory card outlet, and spend $45 on more stuff. we were a lot less impressed with ourselves at this point. a quick run through the grocery store for soda and beer, and it was back home to decorate. meanwhile, the poor birthday boy was slaving over dinner: guava glazed ribs, a jicama slaw, and corn on the cob. i made cornbread, and mom brought fruit salad. hannah made a pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting, which was supposed to be a carrot pineapple cake with pineapple orange cream cheese frosting, but neither she nor bryan looked at my email, and thus plans changed. but pineapple still went with the theme, of course, and the cake was good, so all was forgiven.

among the supplies purchased by hannah and i were party poppers - those thingys that make noise and shoot ribbons of paper around. the kids had a blast playing with those! oliver desperately wanted to do one on his own, but alas, did not have the strength. he had to settle with pretending.

madison farmer's market
hannah, bryan, and bill made a trip out to the madison farmer's market on capitol square. oliver and i stayed home, because i'm not crazy. i love the market, but trying to keep a near two year old who wants nothing more than to run and explore happy in his stroller instead while trying to navigate a sea of people AND enjoy looking at the booths is not exactly high on my list. but the trip afforded hannah a chance to see the capitol, which she found rather impressive. and they brought me delicious veggies.

instead, oliver and i hit up toys r us, as i decided he needed some new toys. he's a growing boy, after all. he was fairly overwhelmed with joy that i would let him run around the store. he was actually very well behaved - presumably because no matter where i told him to go, there were toys.

the final days
the last few days of hannah's visit, we mainly stayed close to home. shannon and david were in town, so we met out for a sunday breakfast at the original pancake house. my spinach crepes left plenty to be desired, but the dutch babies were SPOT ON.

we made one final family outing to the park, and aside from a bumped flight (for bill), our july came to a breathless close.

state fair

hannah missed the state fair by a mere day, but bryan, oliver, and i attended and had a blast! due to very poor set up at the ticket counters, it took some doing to get in, but once we were in, our little wide eyed munchkin was swinging his head from side to side as fast as he could, trying to take it all in.

our first item on the agenda was finding food. bryan had been talking about corn dogs for days, so we got one for him and another for oliver. then we stopped at the lion's club for my favorite - roasted corn. i almost didn't get oliver his own, but man am i glad he did - he gobbled it right up!! everyone thought he was just the cutest thing in the world eating that ear of corn (and who would we be to argue?).

next on the list were the cows, one of oliver's very favorite animals. rows upon rows of cows, much to oliver's delight.

oliver also had the opportunity to pet a rabbit, and pet and feed a horse. i thought he'd just about die from pure happiness.

he also got to see ducks, geese, pigs, sheep, a crocodile, a snake, and a robot up close - but he didn't get to pet any of them. it was a lot of fun, and i can't wait to take oliver again next year. then again, i'll probably need to take out a small loan to feed him - he ate: 1 whole corn dog, 1 whole ear of corn, some beef jerky, a fruit snack... and then when we got home, he was also eating MY pasta dinner. apparently we brought a little piggie home with us.

cream city music fest
the first annual cream city music festival was this month. i had really wanted to catch sam roberts band, but alas we did not. still, we had fun. the fest was downtown in the 3rd ward at a little park. oliver had a blast running all over the place and flirting with everyone. we only caught one band before bryan and i were tired out from chasing oliver around, but it was a nice afternoon distraction.

date night
yes, bryan and i went on an actual date. point brewery hosts fish fry & a flick downtown on the waterfront at discovery world. we headed down, got our fish fry from paul bartolotta's catering, and found a perfect (if uncomfortable) spot on the wooden bleacher type area, to watch pulp fiction. it was a late night (the movie didn't even start until almost 9pm and let's face it - that's my bedtime), but man, it was fun! absolutely the kind of thing we love to do. the food, sadly, left something to be desired. but, now we know to bring a picnic next time. we plan on returning for night of the living dead - IN 3-D.

the zoo train experience
weekend before last (see, i'm almost caught up!), we took oliver to the zoo and hit up the zoo train. he hasn't been on the train in quite some time, and loves trains, so this was tantamount to mecca for him. he would get all excited, and settle himself into the "ready" position - hands in lap and all. then, about 2 seconds later, unable to contain his excitement, he'd start flapping his hands, looking out the window, and telling us all about the train. every time they would blow the whistle or the steam, he would freak out. it was just about the cutest thing we've ever seen.

hot weather, hallelujah!
the weather FINALLY got hot for a bit this month. we swam in the pool in the backyard some, and hit up the wading pool over at the park too, which oliver LOVES. he was a little unsure of the water the first time, but in shortly he was running straight into the "deep" end (which comes about up to his waist), laying and "swimming", jumping off the ledge into the water, and even dipping his face some. talk about cheap entertainment!

we also set up the sprinkler in the yard one evening, and hilarity ensued. once he got over the wetness in the face, he was running, jumping, and drinking.

holy crap, i *think* that's all we did.

a special shout out to carrie - thanks for the roller skates! oliver loves them, just as you predicted. the kid wouldn't take them off his feet. (i have since gotten them off, and they are now hidden.) i am sure they will bring much fun in the years to come! hilarious video of oliver in skates: HERE (warning - may not play in i.e.).

and, of course, there's my cute children

like father, like son (6/7/09)

eating green strawberries off my plant (6/7/09)

um, why can't i play with the hose, mom? (6/7/09)

reading bedtime stories (6/20/09)

superstah! (6/28/09)

laugh all you want, but this is probably the best picture i have of oliver and hannah together from this summer. he's actually sitting relatively still. all the others are hannah smiling beautifully while oliver attempts to escape her death grip. i still have no idea what he saw to be making a face like that. (6/30/09)

oliver *loves* corn (7/3/09)

watermelon/strawberry popsicles as a pre-walk snack (7/3/09)

oliver enjoying pancakes with strawberry sauce for breakfast (and wishing i'd get out of the way of the darn t.v.!) (7/5/09)

oliver thoroughly enjoys bbq (7/10/09)

biker boy (7/11/09)

chapless cowboy (7/17/09)

a new meaning to ride 'em cowboy! (7/18/09)

enjoying some peanut butter (7/25/09)

happiness is... a homemade pretzel, a helium balloon, and sitting on the couch with dad (7/25/09)

i swear i won't fall, ma (7/25/09)

look what i did! (8/1/09)

helping mama make doughnuts (8/2/09)

bond, james bond (8/2/09)

blowing wishies at the park with mom (8/2/09)

rockin' out with grandpa and nana! (8/2/09)

right click on 'my computer' . . . (8/20/09)

playing hide & seek (8/20/09)

protection from the alien mind meld (8/21/09)

do i leave you wanting more? (i'm sure you're asking me to please stop posting at this point.) lots more pictures be be found in the june, july, and august galleries. there's also the video gallery. be sure to check out this one of oliver giving his monkey a piggy back ride!