Saturday, April 29, 2006

We have a long way to go...

I was at the farmer's market this morning picking up potatoes from the Engel Bros.when a customer stopped, picked up a potato and said, "Is this a "new" potato?" Noah said, "No, it's from last season". "Yeah, I know that but there's this kind of potato called a New potato."
We tried to explain to him that new potatoes are just the first harvested potatoes of the year but he walked away still insisting that a new potato is a variety of potato. Please don't argue with the potato grower! He and his brother have been growing potatoes since they were 9 and 11. They are younger than I am but I'm sure they know more about potatoes than you and I ever will!
It always catches me off guard when I am outside my small circle of foodie friends, restaurant cronies, and food bloggers how little general food knowledge there is out there. It's getting worse all the time. So keep cooking- or better yet, show someone else how to cook!
Since I have no other picture, here is the view from the food cart this morning at the farmer's market. Okay, so I was actually standing on the hood of my truck that was parked on the sidewalk next to the food cart, but you get the idea. Today was the Crazylegs 5 Mile Run and this is only a small section of the 13,000 runners. It was COLD today and even though I have run this race before I was very happy I wasn't running today. Check out the reflection of the capitol in the glass building.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I love the perks.

One of the things I like about working in fine dining restaurants is that you get to try foods, often for free, that you might not otherwise have access to like foie gras, truffles, grains of paradise, etc. If you're willing to spend some of your hard earned cash you can also purchase all kinds of things (quinces, cassis vinegar, etc.) that you'd be hard pressed to find in your local supermarket. They may be available online, but I usually find shipping is prohibitive. For example, I was once a click away from signing Sam up for the Bacon of the Month Club until I noticed that the shipping cost more than the bacon!
This week, I received an unexpected perk from my obsession with food. I have written a few short food related articles for the Isthmus, Madison's free weekly newspaper, and I received an email asking if I'd be a judge at the Big Eat. Now, even without knowing anything else about it, doesn't that sound like fun?
The Big Eat is a benefit put on by the Isthmus to raise money for Family Centers. Local restaurants donate food and people pay to come and sample their wares. I've been to the Big Eat once but tickets are fairly spendy so I was thrilled to get to attend for free (and I got to bring Sam). Here's a picture of only part of my haul:That's Island Wheat beer from Capitol Brewery, part of a chicken burrito from Pasqual's, a cassis truffle from Monona Catering, and a huge serving of ice cream from the Chocolate Shoppe.
There were also tastes from Bandung, Casbah, Curry in the Box, Fyfe's, Java Cat, Marigold, New Orleans Take Out, Pedro's, Quaker Steak and Lube (surprisingly good chicken wings), Starbucks (bad green tea concoctions-just stick with the coffee please!), Willy St. Co-op, Wisconsin Cheesecakery, and Wollershiem Winery. Of course, as a judge, I had to try everything.
Thanks for the invite, Isthmus!

Monday, April 24, 2006

All this and a social life too...

The first week starting up the food cart again was crazy hectic but I can tell already that this year is going to be much smoother than the last two. Much of this has to do with the kitchen I use. See, I am not allowed to actually prepare food in the food cart. Funny, huh? I can assemble pre-cooked items like burritos, but the prep has to be done in a certified kitchen, i.e. a restaurant kitchen or any other facility that serves food to the public and is inspected by the health department. I know people will wonder so I'll answer up front. Yes, you can have a certified kitchen in your house but then you can't cook food for yourself in the certified kitchen so you'd have to have 2 kitchens. This is only one of the many, many rules that rule my life.
This is my third year in business (2nd full-time) and I have changed kitchens every year. This entails paying the health dept. $450 everytime they need to check out a new kitchen for you. I mistakenly thought that since I had worked in restaurants in Madison for quite a few years that it would be no problem finding kitchen space to rent. Ha! That's before I knew all the regulations. If the kitchen doesn't have a diswasher, they need a seperate prep sink, handwashing sink, mop sink and three basin sink for dishwashing. This is a fairly new regulation and some older restaurants have been grandfathered in and do not need to upgrade. Unfortunately, If I want to come in and use their facilities, I would have to upgrade because I am NOT grandfathered.
The point of this diatribe is that I think I have finally found a good fit as far as kitchens are concerned. In the new kitchen, I can get things delivered, they do my dishes for me sometimes, parking is not an issue, they make really fabulous food and it's nice to be around good cooks, I can prep before and after I am out selling my food so I don't have to get up ridiculously early, the list goes on and on...
So Saturday morning was the first day that I had to let myself in before anyone else was there. Farmer's market starts at 6 AM and I try to be in my spot on Capitol Square as early as possible. I went in and started my blueberry sauce for crepes and went out to the storage room to grab my spice mix for potatoes. Click. The door latched behind me. I reach for my pocket and knew instantly that my keys were in on the prep table. I was locked out. With something cooking on the stove. And the only person who's full name that I knew was the one who had given me his key. Gaaahhh!!!!! I won't bore you with the details but it was 45 minutes before I got back in and the bluberries were cinders and the kitchen was completely filled with smoke. Not the best way to pay someone back for graciously allowing you to use their kitchen! Hopefully the summer can only get better from here.
I went to bed on Saturday at 7 PM and slept for 12 hours but it's a good sign that I felt like hanging out on Sunday night. We went to a cookout with the Sunday Night Club. (Hi guys!) Here's some pictures of the grub.

Vietnamese Lemongrass Shrimp and Grilled AsparagusCorn Salad with pepper, garlic and jalapenos
Lime meringues with Mango Passionfruit Gelato and Blueberry Sauce (Luckily all the bluberries didn't go into the pan the first time!)

I promise to tell you more about the food cart logistics and further thoughts on mahlab, ect. so please be patient and check back...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Caramel Delight

The food cart season starts for me today and I literally feel like I'm getting on a roller coaster and I won't be able to get off until October. I am hopeful that things will be a little easier this year (knock on wood) since it is my second full season. I'm going to try to keep up with the food blogging but I can't make any promises. There will definitely be some posts about the cart.
For now, here's a little blurb about the ice cream I made with my new KitchenAid attachment. I used a recipe from Dana at Phat Duck but I chickened out. You are supposed to caramelize your sugar almost to the point of scorching blackness. This is a hard spot to reach and I have had many caramel disasters in my time, including burning parts of my own flesh, so I backed off too soon and my ice cream is only lightly caramelized. It was still delicious, though, and made perfect ice cream sandwiches on triple-chip cookies.And what to have with these treats? Hotdogs with cheddar, white onions, beer mustard and homemade corn relish and sandwich-sliced dill pickles on the side. Now I just want the 2 qts. to disappear quick so I can make more flavors. Who wants to come over for ice cream?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Greek Easter Spiral

I have a bad habit of collecting exotic ingredients. I don't mean to do it. It's just that I read about food all the time and I think "Hmm...that sounds good. If only I had blank, I would make it." Then sometime later I will come across that ingredient and buy it. Unfortunately, by that time, I have no idea where I saw the recipe that inspired the purchase of the ingredient in the first place. Months, or even years, can go by before I run into a recipe that calls for the ingredient again. This is why my pantry contains such things as pomegranate molasses, Chinese rock candy, three sizes of tapioca balls, szechuan peppercorns and mahlab.
Mahlab is the pit of a sour cherry tree found in the Mediterranean. It is used in Greece and Armenia as a spice in baked goods and imparts a mild bitter almond flavor. This bottle of Penzey's mahlab has been in my cupboard for about a year so I was happy to find a recipe for Greek Easter bread that called for it.
Mine isn't as pretty as the one in the book because I was lazy and did not use an egg wash. (The random sprinkles of sesame seeds aren't very attractive either!) This bread smelled so divine when baking that I didn't want to leave the house to work outside in the sunshine. The taste of mahlab in the finished product is subtle but you can definitely tell there's something special about the bread. I may increase the amount next time. This made delicious french toast on Easter morning. I think it'd be fun to use this dough for Hot Cross Buns too.

Greek Easter Spiral from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Starter Dough
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. milk
2 c. flour

2 Tbsp. dried orange peel or 1 Tbsp. minced candied orange peel
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. yeast
1 1/2 c to 2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. mahlab
pinch of mastic powder ( I didn't have any and by the time I acquire it, I will have forgotten about this recipe!)
1 egg mixed with one Tbsp. milk
sesame seeds for garnish

Make the starter 12 to 24 hours before you plan on making the bread. Put starter ingredients in a bowl and mix to form a smooth dough. Loosely cover and let sit overnight or for up to 24 hours.
If using dried orange peel, boil for 20 minutes, drain and repeat. If using candied peel, rinse with warm water and finely chop.
Put the starter in the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the butter, eggs, sugar and yeast. Mix until ingredients are incorporated into the starter dough. Add the peel, 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and spices. With the mixer on low speed, mix for 5 minutes. The dough should be firm but slightly sticky. Add more flour if needed to achieve this consistency. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and let rise for 2 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a 20 inch cylinder, slightly tapered at one end. Starting with the fatter end, coil loosely 1 1/2 turns. It is supposed to have a hole in the middle but mine dissapeared during the second rise.
Transfer dough to a floured baking sheet or pizza peel. Cover loosely and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the risen dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

This is my entry for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge- Easter edition. My thanks to Sara and Alicat for hosting! Maybe I should start the Exotic Ingredient Challenge?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

What to do with all the egg whites...

I made the first batch of ice cream and I will post about that soon but for now I wanted to write about a favorite cookie of mine. Most restaurants have a glut of egg whites lying around from ice cream making, creme brulees and custard sauces. Despite our best intentions, they often sit in the walk-in fridge until their time is up and we throw them out. Such a waste.
Instead, you could make lots of cake with Italian meringue buttercream but if you're looking for something a little bit lighter, these cookies are the way to go. We made these at a restaurant that had a cookie plate as one of the dessert options but I don't think these every made it onto the plate because we ate them all as soon as they were made. Walnuts are not my favorite nut but they really are the best for these- something about the amount of oil in them. Other nuts do work, though, as you'll see in this pistachio version.

Walnut (or pistachio) and Chocolate Chip Meringues

4 lg. egg whites, at room temperature
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
6oz. toasted walnuts (or pistachios), chopped fine
8 oz. mini chocolate chips
large pinch Maldon sea salt (optional)*

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Whip egg whites until they begin to froth. Slowly add the powdered sugar on low speed. When all the sugar is added, beat on high until thick and shiny. Stir in the vanilla, nuts and chips. Scoop heaping tablespoons (I used a small ice cream scoop) of batter onto cookie sheets and bake for approximately 20 mins. The point here is for them to be crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside and not really brown at all. Keep in mind that they become crispier after they sit out of the oven for awhile. You may have to mess with your oven temp. and baking time to get it right. But you'll know when you get it right!
*I added the salt because after trying this chocolate bar, I am in love with what the crunch of salt can do to sweets.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Look what the UPS man brought for me!

Do you like how I made that sound like it was a complete surprise? As if I have a secret admirer out there who knows my desire for an ice cream maker and bought it for me?
I wasn't aware that KitchenAid had an ice cream attachment until Sam sent me a link about it. He claims it was just a joke but he knows me well enough to know that I wouldn't pass this up. Of course, it's not my dream machine. There are some things that are spoiled for you after working in a restaurant kitchen, like the fact that someone else does all the dishes. I once worked at a place where they had a $5000 ice cream machine that could crank out 4 qts. in 12 minutes. That is a little excessive for home use but if I had the money I'd surely buy a Musso.
The thing is, I did my research and even though I haven't used my new toy yet, (it needs to freeze for 15 hours first so I'll be up at 6 AM tomorrow making the first batch) I am happy with my choice. Stephen Metcalf from Slate recommends the KitchenAid over other gel-type makers and only gives higher ratings to significantly more expensive ice cream makers (including the Musso).
Amazon was kind enough to give me $30 off for signing up for their credit card (which I will never use again) so the attachment was only $50. The other night we went out for ice cream and it cost $8. How could I NOT buy my own ice cream maker? It's going to save me money in the long run.
Actually, the real reason I've held out so long is that I don't need to eat any more ice cream than I already do, even though it really isn't that much. However, I think I'll be just as happy with homemade low-cal lemon verbena sorbet as I would with ice cream so I may end up saving some calories too. Ha! You can only fool yourself for so long...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

For years i have read about the fabulous flavor of lemon verbena but had never seen even a sprig in person. You can understand why I jumped for joy when I discovered an entire verbena bush at the farmer's market last summer. I snapped it up but didn't manage to carve time out of my schedule to use it except for crushing a random leaf between my wrists for natural perfume. The verbena lady had warned me that my bush needed to come in for the winter and that it would lose most of it's leaves by Thanksgiving. It did lose all the big leaves but until about January it had numerous small green leaves. Even though I managed to kill many vintage houseplants (some I bought as babies at a Brooklyn supermarket in 2000) this winter, I had hopes for the verbena. Then, toward the end of January, it became all brown. I refused to give up though. I left it in my living room and continued to water it. Today I decided the weather was nice enough to move it outside and when I picked it up, I noticed a new green sprout toward the bottom. Yeeeeehawwww! I promise not to take my verbena (quick tangent-am I wrong for wanting a daughter named Verbena and a son named Basil?) for granted this year. So far, nothing has made me feel quite as springy as moving this dead looking tree out of my living room!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Winter Market

Would you believe that Madison, in the heart of the frigid Midwest, has a year round farmer's market? It does seem improbable but around here, we love our farmer's market so much that we just couldn't bear for it to go away for 6 months. The winter market is now in it's 3rd year and it just keeps getting better. You can get cheese, cider, apples, whole-grain breads, seasoned salts, honey, maple syrup, wool, eggs and all manner of meats (bison anyone?). As the market becomes more successful, the farmer's have stepped up and now produce things you would not expect to buy locally when the landscape is blanketed with snow and summer is a distant memory.
The leader on this front is Snug Haven Farm and their spinach. They grow it all winter long in hoop houses (like greenhouses but you actually plant in the ground under them) that are generally unheated. Spinach actually improves in quality if it is allowed to freeze and thaw. It is thick and sweet and altogether irresistable. You can have your whimpy baby spinach, I'll take Snug Haven's winter spinach any day.(Please ignore the Cal-Organic box in the background. Everything at this market is locally grown or produced and the grower/producer is required to be there to sell it to you.)
This winter I was able to buy fresh arugula and salad mix most Saturdays and now we are barely into April but Blue Skies Berry Farm has an impressive array of fresh vegies available.The thing that makes this market special, though, is the breakfast. The market is held in the Madison Senior Center which is not the most attractive locale but it does have a full, cafeteria- style kitchen and for three years now The Friends of the Dane Counnty Farmer's Market have served breakfast at the market with the help of volunteers and donations of locally grown food to raise funds for their educational programs. Their mission is to "encourage children and adults to think about how the food they eat got to their fork." I think that would be part of my mission, too, if I had one! This week's breakfast was hearty and delicious, as always, and a bargain at $6.50!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I got to this food blog party a little late and sometimes I wonder what I am contributing. Hasn't it all been said before? It reminds me of a time when I was visiting my friend Ali in NYC. It was one of those rare days where the temperature was perfect. We picked up picnic supplies from a few fancy gourmet stores including a little chocolate cake for two. We got to Central Park ready for a relaxing afternoon and were amazed to find that it was hard to find spot to put our blanket. Seemingly everybody in NY had decided to picnic in Central Park that day!
So I was amused to find this post about making limoncello and Meyer Lemon Marmelade by Lindy over at Toast. I recently made Limoncello and this weekend I made Meyer Lemon Marmelade. It's hard to be original. In my post about canneles, I sited three other blogs and read at least three others who had tried them too. The thing is, I guess that's not why I am blogging. I've always wanted to teach people to cook (if only I could overcome my terror of public speaking!) but that's not it either.
I think what it is for me is just being part of the community. I used to shop at farmer's market, come home and make elaborate feasts and invite whoever could come on such short notice. I'd often proclaim "No one's eating like us today!" Ha! Through food blogs, I have found my people. People who are crazy about food and can't wait to tell everybody about what they made for dinner or the great new restaurant down the street.
I still make feasts for friends but I also look forward to future trips to Seattle, San Fransisco, and beyond because I know I could meet up with people who share my passion and can lead to me to the good stuff. Until then, I will continue to invite you to pull up a chair at my table even if it's only virtually. And if you're ever in Madison, let me know.For my marmelade, I used a recipe from from Mrs. B at Eating Suburbia. She's another Meyer Lemon lover who even has her own trees! I tried adding some lemon grass but you couldn't detect it in the finished product. I also put in a ruby grapefruit because I was short on Meyers and I love how this affected the color and the flavor- a surprise burst of grapefruit every once in awhile.
To go with the marmelade, you've got to have good bread. Hazelnut-Currant Boule from Homebaking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

2 C. lukewarm water
1 tsp. yeast
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. light rye flour
2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 c. toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped (I left mine whole)
1/2 c. dried currants
2 to 3 c. all- purpose flour, preferably unbleached

Sprinkle yeast in the water. Stir in the whole wheat flour. Cover and let stand for 2 hours.
In a medium bowl mix together rye flour and salt. Rub the butter in with your fingers. Add the yeast batter to the rye mix and mix thouroughly (this can be done in a mixer or a wooden spoon until the batter is thick enough to turn out and knead by hand). Stir in the hazelnuts and currants. Add 2 c. of flour, one cup at a time and mix until you have a stiff dough. Knead for 8 minutes, incorporating only as much flour as needed to prevent sticking.
Put dough in a large bowl and allow to rise for 2 hours, until doubled in volume. Form dough into a round loaf and let rise on a baking sheet or in a floured dough-rising basket, (right side down). If you have a pizza stone but not the basket, flour a linen kitchen towel and lay it in a big bowl to imitate the shape of the basket. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 50 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
When the dough is ready, put the baking pan in the oven or turn the dough out onto the baking stone. Quickly slash the bread with a razor blade. Spritz bread several times in the first 5 minutes. Bake for a total of 5o minutes. Cool on a rack before slicing. For breakfast, toast the bread and slather with marmalade. Serve with strong coffee.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ice Cream Innovation

Originally uploaded by Somewhat Frank.
Holy Crap! Have you heard about MooBella? On demand ice cream with 96 different options made to your specifications and in 45 seconds you have freshly made ice cream in your hand. And it's NOT soft-serve.
There's probably not an organic option (though they do have low-fat and low-carb) but it does fit into the buy local philosophy in a strange way. Think of all the fuel we'd save if we weren't shipping already frozen ice cream everywhere. I'll reserve final judgement until I get to taste it but in the meantime I remain excited to try it. It's got to be better than the last ice cream innovation.

Photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Frank Gruber.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Home Alone on a Saturday Night

I could be in Chicago. Sam and I have been talking about going for awhile now. I have a seasonal business which kicks into high gear in two weeks (more on this in a later post). This was pretty much the last chance to get away and there won't be another until October. On days like this I question my sanity over picking a business that takes up my entire summer. I guess that's the way it has to be when you work with local/seasonal food.
But I'm not in Chicago. I couldn't find someone to cover my shift at work. Sam went by himself. I could have called up some friends as I won't be seeing as much of them this summer either but instead I chose to sit home and drown my sorrow in a bowl of noodles.
That's right- Lindy over at Toast is hoasting a one-shot blog event. The challenge is to create something out of nothing. Lacking funds or the will to go to the store is not an excuse for eating poorly. (Okay, sometimes it is but not when you have a blog challenge!)
I decided to make an old favorite that I haven't had in a long time. It's basically an adaptation of pasta with garlic and oil. I'm not going to post an actual recipe because this is something you should make with what's around, just like I did today.
I had no garlic (horrors, a cook without garlic!) so I used the last few shallots that had not succumbed to the Spring sunlight and sent out shoots. I also like to throw in some preserved lemon. This may not be a staple for everyone but these have been resting in the far recesses of my fridge for about two years and still give up their special lemony bite when needed. This is my favorite kind of condiment- one that lasts forever and never goes bad!I don't eat much pasta these days. I'm trying to stick with whole grain options and while I usually prefer brown rice to it's pale cousin, I'd rather eat no pasta at all than to suffer through the whole wheat stuff. Since I can never throw food out, though, I still had this in my pantry.While the pasta boiled I fried the shallots, threw in the preserved lemon and grated copious amounts of cheese. This is my favorite (and it's local).I also threw in an artichoke heart that was leftover from a feast earlier this week. When the pasta was done, I threw it in with the shallots added the cheese and a bit more oil. Toss until mixed and serve it in your favorite bowl with a grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of pepper flakes. Cheap comfort in a bowl. Thanks for the inspiration Lindy!