Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Farm-to-table Saturday

The farmers market bounty yielded a delicious meal today. The menu covered several savory bases and even included elements of dessert. Skirt steak, fresh corn, eggs, onions, and berries came together in homage to midsummer's bounty.

The menu was simple: cajun-spiced skirt steak, creamed corn, and broccoli for the main course. Dessert was homemade ricotta cheesecake with a berry coulis and fresh whipped cream. The steak was sprinkled with blackening spice, then broiled. Even slightly overdone, it remained juicy and tender (somewhat unusual for skirt steak). The corn was a simple preparation of sauteed Texas 1015 onion, corn off the cob, half-and-half, and butter. The simple flavors were a showcase for the sweet corn. The broccoli was the only main ingredient not purchased at the market. I did a quick prep by cooking in some salted water, then sauteeing with a little butter and garlic. That preserved the flavor and color of the broccoli, while adding in the garlicky goodness.

Dessert was borne of the necessity to use up some homemade ricotta. I did a search on Epicurious and came up with a recipe from Gourmet Magazine (rest in peace Gourmet!). Honestly, it's not the rich cheesecake you get by using cream cheese, but it has way more texture. I think it's really a matter of personal preference. This recipe came close to one I enjoyed years ago at a restaurant in San Antonio called the Vienna Wein Stube. Homemade fresh ricotta cheesecake was on the menu and that texture was something I won't soon forget.

I'm thinking that for the rest of the summer one meal per week will be specifically devoted to summer's bounty. What do you think dear readers?

My cats love porky goodness

If you follow food trends, pork is perhaps one of the most popular products in the last several years. In that spirit, I purchased some heirloom pork today - a pork loin to be specific. The recipe I'm making later this week calls for pork tenderloin, so I trimmed up half the pork loin into a tenderloin and put the scraps in the slow cooker to make shredded pork.

It just finished up cooking, so as I'm shredding the pork, the kitties were underfoot and desperate for a bite (or 10). I guess they are girls after my heart. After about biting my ankles off, I gave them the plate to lick clean. Maybe Purina needs to create a pork flavored wet cat food.... Judging by my cats' reactions, I'd say they may be onto something!

The girls pretty much never met people food they didn't like. We found out the hard way about Kites's love of spaghetti (she stole noodles from the colander as a kitten), and of chicken tenders (she stole one off of the counter and then growled at us when we tried to take it away!). Now, they tend toward pretty much anything on our plates, but their latest crave is for buffalo steaks. We almost had to lock them in another room when we cooked some!

Do your pets eat anything unusual?

Going back to the farm

Do you ever think about where you have your roots? For some, it resides in a different country. For others, though born and raised in the US, they associate to their original heritage. If you're from Texas, then you think you are already in your own country... kidding! Well, okay maybe not totally kidding. My roots lie in Wisconsin. I was born there, and though I've lived many years elsewhere, I associate a trip to Wisconsin with going home.

My cultural heritage and food heritage are inexorably linked - one is absent without the other. The other weekend, IceDaddy and I had the opportunity to go back to Wisconsin for my brother's wedding reception. Leading up to the event, I really looked forward to foods that I associate to Milwaukee, my hometown - cheese and beer. Very long story short, during our trip, we made a pilgrimmage up to my aunt's dairy farm, Lawn View in Norwalk, Wisconsin. It was homesteaded in 1854 by my uncle's family, the Menns. Today, my aunt and uncle preserve traditions of family farming with the "modern" methods of organic milk production, and the raising of chickens, goats, and bunnies.

After driving 4 hours North, (traffic caused a bit of a delay), we entered the rolling green hills of farm country. The countryside is amazingly picturesque and absolutely what you would picture dairy country to be. The most pleasant surprise was a meal prepared by my mother (also visiting the farm) of homemade bratwurst cooked in beer with onions made from jersey cows butchered from their own herd. After tasting the bounty of sausage, served with fresh steamed corn and juicy watermelon, Ice commented, "you just can't find that flavor in a packaged bratwurst!" Amen!! While I can't give you the sausage recipe, I can tell you how the corn was prepped. My Uncle Scott, who lives in Tahuya, WA, taught us this method:

Micro-steamed Corn
1 ear corn, shucked
1 - 2 paper towels, moistened
Butter, salt, and pepper (Preferably fresh-churned dairy butter)

Shuck the corn. Moisten 1 - 2 paper towels and wrap corn. Microwave on high 3 - 4 minutes or until corn is cooked through. Caution - it will be hot! Unwrap and spread with butter, salt, and pepper to taste.

Those simple ingredients explode with flavor when at the peak of freshness. That is what summer food is really about. But wait, there's more! My sister-in-law, native to Slovakia, has never known the joys of fresh cheese curds. One of the most fascinating tidbits about travel in farm country is that you can literally walk into any gas station and you will find freshly made cheese curds right on the counter by the register. I know that may sound faintly unappetizing. For the uninitiated, a cheese curd is simply the solid cheese pieces after the whey is drained off. Typically, the cheese you see in the store is pressed together into blocks or circles. The curds are the loose pieces of cheese before pressing. When you bite into a fresh room temperature curd, they squeak! Please - if EVER you find yourself in Northern Wisconsin and happen to see some cheese curds by a cash register, ask where they are from (most likely they are made within 50 miles of the store) and TRY THEM! Any time I'm in that area, I am compelled to buy them.

Visiting the farm inspired me to pick up the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book details one family's efforts to grow their own food and eat locally for an entire year. While there is a lack of practicality for Ice and I to pursue growing our own food completely, it did inspire me to visit our local farmers' market, Frisco Farmers Market. I am ashamed that I was not already a frequent visitor, but better late than never, right!? My plan was to build my meals around the bounty of the market. That way, not only was I supporting local agriculture, but we would be eating the freshest seasonal ingredients (one of the main principles in the book). And boy! Did I ever find some bounty. I found cheese curds (!) made locally in Yantis, TX 90 miles from Frisco, homemade sausage, heritage pork ribs, heritage skirt steak, fresh eggs, local tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, and new potatoes.

We decided to make a meal of spiedini - chicken thigh pieces and homemade sausage basted in a rosemary and garlic-infused oil, maple-chipotle glazed pork ribs, fresh corn on the cob, and potatoes and green beans with bacon. The green beans and potatoes were so simple and delish - I cooked up two slices of thick-cut bacon and crumbled, then used the bacon fat to saute the potatoes and some pre-blanched green beans.

I have to say, our unbiased taste-tester, Sam (my sis-in-law) absolutely raved about the meal. The meal did perhaps come across as a hodgepodge of food, but we embraced the bounty of the market and in doing so, experienced an explosion of taste. Sorry to say, no pics (I promise to make more effort there!), but the food was tasty!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I may need more shelving in my pantry...

because I just added two new cookbooks! One of the best ways I know to relax and spend time is in the cookbook section of Half Price Books. I love finding treasures or even economical cookbooks that have a few good recipes. I had two such experiences in the past weeks. The first was to find a first edition translation of the Escoffier cookbook, "Le Guide Culinaire." It's a translation of the original French, of course, but is a great view on continental cuisine. At this point, I don't feel my everyday cooking is sophisticated enough to really try and cook many of the recipes (and frankly since the original book was written in the 1800's, I don't find there to always be an easy translation of the recipe to modern ingredients). That said, it helps me understand this type of cuisine better, and I can't wait to delve into this further!

The second fed my Tex-Mex/Mexican food addiction head on. On the Food Network Facebook blog, there was discussion on knowledgeable cooks of traditional Mexican food (NOT Tex-Mex). Now, I love good Tex-Mex, but I can understand and respect that the cuisines of the regions of Mexico are vastly different than what we know Mexican to be in many cases. I was thrilled to find the Diana Kennedy book, "The Art of Mexican Cooking" on one such trip.

Diana Kennedy, along with Rick Bayless, are perhaps two of the foremost experts on the traditional Mexican cookery. Kennedy is a longtime resident of Mexico (originally from the UK), who has traveled extensively throughout the country and continues to research and understand the cuisine of each region. Bayless was actually training to become an anthropologist, and continues to bring that approach to his modern Mexican cuisine.

While I realize that I will likely come nowhere near making every recipe in her cookbook, I view having the book and reading it as a lesson in what Mexican cooking really should be, and what I would expect in Mexico proper. I will take some recipes and lessons from that, but more importantly learn to distinguish the more authentic interpretations of Mexican food from more Americanized Tex-Mex. And maybe, just maybe, I'll learn to make the perfect Spanish rice in the process!