Monday, December 31, 2007

Off the Wagon

I haven't felt like cooking much in the last two weeks.

Maybe it's the holidays. Or that I've eaten more potatoes in the last month and a half than I thought possible.

Instead I've been snacking on the vegetables of summer, ordering takeout, and eating my way through holiday gatherings and sugary sweets at work.

But now that I've had some time off from the kitchen, I am gearing up to get back to it after the new year. I have some recipes waiting in the wings, like parsnip potato curry and pumpkin walnut risotto.

I do want to give a shout out to the popcorn again, though. With minimal prep required, this is the perfect snack. I finally figured out how to make popcorn in my pot without it burning or flying across my kitchen (keep the lid on, shake every few seconds, and remove from heat while you still hear popping). I popped two cobs of it last night while I watched my favorite movie The Sound of Music. And yes, popcorn is one of my favorite things.

Happy new year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Last night we popped some popcorn, fresh off the cob. There's no story to tell. Just some pictures of the three different stages of popping corn.

In three different bowls.


I wanted to eat the acorn squash right away to avoid a repeat of the unfortunate rotting incident from last month.

On Friday night, I made acorn squash with chile vinaigrette, a very simple recipe that turned out quite well. I have to admit that we unknowingly made some variations because we failed to realize at first that the recipe called for two squashes (we only used one).

The recipe is below with the variations in parentheses.

The photo, artfully arranged by my boyfriend, shows the letter U inside quote marks.

It's hard to tell from the picture how good it tasted, so you'll have to try it for yourself.

Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette [From]
2 (1 1/2 - to 1 3/4-lb) acorn squash {1 acorn squash}
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons olive oil {3 tablespoons}
1 garlic clove {2 cloves, chopped instead of minced}
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot red chile, including seeds {poblano chile, no seeds}
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Halve squash lengthwise, then cut off and discard stem ends. Scoop out seeds and cut squash lengthwise into 3/4-inch-wide wedges. Toss squash with black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl, then arrange, cut sides down, in 2 large shallow baking pans. Roast squash, switching position of pans halfway through roasting, until squash is tender and undersides of wedges are golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes.While squash roasts, mince garlic and mash to a paste with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer paste to a small bowl and whisk in lime juice, chile (to taste), cilantro, and remaining 1/4 cup oil until combined. Transfer squash, browned sides up, to a platter and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cutting too much cheese

It happened again.

Last night I picked up my December CSA delivery with grand plans for my meal - acorn squash with chile vinaigrette and spinach and pear salad with mustard vinaigrette dressing.

I already knew this delivery would have many of the same items as last month: sweet potatoes; red, white, and gold potatoes; yellow onions; acorn squash; carrots; apples; and popcorn. It would also contain a few new treats: parsnips, mushrooms, and cheese.

Organic raw milk cheese.

Delicious organic raw milk cheddar cheese.

I had bought some crackers in anticipation, and we had half a bottle of wine from the night before.

We started cutting ourselves little slivers of cheese and within a half hour, had polished off the entire wedge. Just like the first night of my November CSA delivery - when I made popcorn with my nephews while preparing a lavish meal that I never ate - I completely killed my appetite for the rest of the night.

My CSA had included the item to promote a new cheese share offering next summer. So in addition to the produce, I can pay extra and get some Wisconsin cheese with each delivery. While it tasted so good - as did the cheese we bought and finished during our weekend trip to Wisconsin a few weeks earlier - I realized that I would cut way too much cheese next summer. No thanks.

But back to this cheese from last night. According to the label, all the cows used to make the milk were grass fed. All I know about raw milk cheese is that it's unpasteurized and must age for at least 60 days in order to be sold legally.

That may have been why this cheese tasted so good, but I think the fact that these cows were grass fed had something to do with it too.

I've been reading a little about feedlots lately. In fact, I just finished Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, in which he sets out to eat four different meals (fast food, organic, farm grown, and hunted/gathered) while tracing the food chain that leads up to each one.

While following his meal from McDonalds came from, he visits a feedlot in Kansas, where the cows there (and most everywhere in this country) are fed corn - a surplus crop that is subsidized by our government.

Although nature intended for cows to eat grass, the corn fattens them up, creating more meat to sell. He writes about how the corn wreaks havoc on these cows, who are so crammed together in their own waste that they must take antibiotics to minimize the spread of illness.

While I could go on and on about this book, the simple point I am trying to make is this: cows that eat what they are supposed to eat (grass) in an environment where they are supposed to eat (pasture) will produce milk that tastes better.

Okay, stepping off the soapbox now. But if you like fast food or store-bought meat, reading this book may seriously change the way you buy, eat, and think about food.

And if you ever have the opportunity to travel to Argentina, where grass-fed beef is plentiful and inexpensive (at least for now), you will see what I mean about the taste. Hands down, grass-fed beef tastes so much better. Why would the milk from grass-fed cows be any different?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Home Alone

It's often a big reason that I won't cook.

If I have no one to cook with or for, I'll just scrounge in the fridge or get takeout. It's a bad habit that I've been hoping to break with the CSA.

Aside from the roasted potatoes, my boyfriend has helped prepare and eat everything so far. A few nights ago he was going to come by for some curried lentils with sweet potatoes and swiss chard but decided to go home instead when an after-work event went late.

I had already started chopping, so there was no turning back.

Plus I knew this recipe would help me use up the rest of the sweet potatoes and finish off a few remaining onions, which was basically all I had left from the November delivery.

So I was motivated but daunted by all chopping and peeling I had to do. There were onions! Garlic! Sweet potatoes! Ginger root! Chard! It was endless and already after 8 p.m. when I started.

Opening a bottle of wine helped. So did a little snack, since I wouldn't eat until about 10 p.m.

As I began to put it all together, the smell was amazing. The curry and garam masala mixed with the onions, garlic, ginger, and vegetable broth made my kitchen smell like an Indian restaurant.

I was also excited to use my new wooden spoon, which I had bought at a store that sells hand-carved wooden items in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin (down the street from the Mustard Museum).

It tasted damn good, and I had something that never happens. Leftovers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And the winner is...

This time of year is filled with lists. Shopping lists. Wish lists. What's hot and not lists. What's in and out lists. Lists of New Year's resolutions.

I typically don't make those kinds of lists.

But I'm proud to say that with a week to go until my next CSA delivery, I'm nearly finished with my first bushel of produce. So while I wait for the next one, I thought I would put together a few lists from the past month: dishes I made, biggest lesson learned, my favorite meal, plus more completely useless information in list format. Enjoy!

What I Made/Ate
Cranberry Vinaigrette
Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Ginger Bisque
Cranberry Relish
Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage
2 Pumpkin Pies
Potato and Leek Soup
Roasted Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Apples and Honey
Raw Carrots
* Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Swiss Chard (possibly substituted with mustard greens)

What Didn't Make It
Acorn Squash

Biggest Letdown: Potato and Leek Soup

Best Dish I Didn't Have to Shop for: Roasted potatoes

Most Useful Kitchen Item: Cutting board

Biggest Lesson Learned: Follow storage instructions more carefully!

1st Runner Up Favorite Dish: Popcorn

And my favorite dish was.....

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage (thanks for the recipe, Home Grown Wisconsin!)

[Added 12/13] At Ali's request, here's the recipe!

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage (serves 4)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
¾ C. water
1 tsp. chopped fresh Sage
1 lb. penne pasta
2 Tbls. chopped fresh parsley
1 C. grated parmesan
2 Tbls. butter (optional)

Cook onion in oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Finely chop squash in food processor and add to onion with water and salt. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until squash is tender. Add sage and simmer 1 minute. Cook pasta in boiling salt water until al dente. Drain. Return pasta to pot and add squash mixture, parsley, parmesan, butter and black pepper, stirring until butter is melted. Season to taste and serve with a little parmesan on top.

* I plan to make this tomorrow night, which should knock off the rest of the sweet potatoes and a few more onions. Gotta eat the onions!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

R.I.P. Acorn Squash

Oh, acorn squash

I never ate you.

You waited patiently on my kitchen table

shriveling up as I

made the butternut squash

made the sweet potatoes

made the pumpkins.

With guilt I looked at you

before I went out to dinner

wondering when I might slice you in half and

bake you and fill you with brown sugar and raisins and walnuts.

Instead you rotted

and I realized

that I should have

followed instructions

and put you in my cool and dry and dark pantry.

You were my first casualty.

You may not be the last.

The next box comes on Thursday

and I have lots of onions left.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Rhymes With Nasty

My boyfriend and I spent a stormy weekend in Mineral Point, a quaint historic town located amidst dairy farms and cheese factories in southwestern Wisconsin.

This town has all sorts of charm.

Historically preserved sandstone buildings from the 1840s and 1850s (including our little cottage!), a thriving artist enclave, several art galleries and antique stores, and colorful locals - mainly chatty gallery owners and fun drunks.

Lest you get the impression that everyone gets smashed all the time (although our B&B was called Brewery Creek), we found a closeknit community of friends who knew each other by name and gathered in large groups over coffee each morning.

We stumbled into one of the coffee shops on Saturday morning as a big winter storm rolled in. Snow was already falling rapidly and horizontally, but we were interested in making fresh tracks. The owners recommended a short hiking trail down the street from our cottage called, no joke, the Merry Christmas Mine Hill.

This place has a proud, well-documented history as a mining town. My companion, who read Mineral Point: A History from cover to cover over the weekend, could tell you more. But as I understand it, the discovery of lead brought a number of immigrants from Cornwall, England, to settle in the area. The Cornish influenced the architecture, culture, and particularly, the food.

So after our hike, and shortly before the snow turned to hail, then sleet, then freezing rain, we wandered into the Red Rooster Cafe to get ourselves some Cornish treats - pasty and figgyhobbin.

Pasty, which rhymes with nasty - as a newspaper headline screamed from the wall of the restaurant - is basically meatloaf with rutabega and onions wrapped up tight in a pastry crust.

The miners used to take pasty for lunch. The idea, as I learned from reading the menu, was that pasty could withstand a fall in case it was accidentally dropped into the mines.


It was actually quite good. With ketchup or chili sauce it made a nice meatloaf sandwich.

Next we ate figgyhobbin.

We had been fantasizing about figgyhobbin for days. What was figgyhobbin? And why could we not stop giggling everytime we said it?

Figgyhobbin turned out to be a sweet dessert with raisins, nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon wrapped inside a pastry crust and bathed in caramel with whipped cream on top.

Double yum.

The town has such a strong sense of history with old buildings and photos everywhere that I almost felt transported back in time as I ate that food. I easily shy away from food that isn't familiar to me, but this meal reminded me how much you can learn about another culture or place by eating its traditional cuisine.

The next day we dug out the car and hit the road to explore the kitsch that is southwestern Wisconsin. If you don't believe me, click here to see one of the highlights.


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