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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Dinner: A Traditional Thanksgiving Feast?

If you've read any of our recent holiday entries, you will have noticed that we partake in a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving and then a vegetarian feast the day after. So, on Christmas Day, Andy doesn't miss the annual opportunity to make a sustainable Thanksgiving dinner. This year, we threw the cookbooks out, called family members to get recipes, and opened our refrigerator and cupboard in a vow to try to buy very little but the actual turkey itself.

After our "research," our menu consisted of the following:

  • Cheese from our CSA box and crackers
  • Canned Pepper Jelly, cream cheese, and crackers
  • Irish cream/mimosas/red wine

  • Turkey
  • Mashed Roots
  • Mushroom Gravy
  • Stuffing
  • Buttered Beets
  • Cranberry Relish
  • A bottle of a big hearty Zinfandel (or two!)
  • Andy's dad's peanut clusters and coffee
Preparing this year's dinner made me truly thankful for our CSA. Having prepaid for our CSA box, we had to spend very little money other than for our turkey, crackers, some of the ingredients for drinks and the actual alcohol itself. We bought our turkey from a local farm, which helped the screaming, animal rights vegetarian within me to find a bit of peace with the soon-to-be cooking bird inside my home. Buying our food from local sources insures our money is going into the hands of the farmer and his workers. Plus the animals are allowed to walk and frolic for much of their lives as animals should, no matter what the end result. What a great holiday feeling for all involved!

Now for the recipes:

To make the turkey, Andy used the Poquette Thanksgiving turkey as a model. The night before, he soaked the turkey in the following brine:

2 cups salt
2 cups sugar
various herbs and spices (typically sage, thyme, oregano, pepper, etc.)
enough water to cover the bird

He submersed the bird in the brine inside of a cooler for 10 hours. The recommended time frame is 8-12 hours.

The next day, he stuffed our 12 lb. bird and put it in the oven for roughly 3.5 hours at 350 degrees. Obviously depending on the size of your bird, that might change. To check if the bird is done, either use a meat thermometer to be sure the coldest part of the turkey is at a minimum of 165 degrees and/or (Andy and my mom's favorite method) lift and twist a leg ~ if it pulls away from the bird with ease, it's done.

And now for everyone's favorite: the stuffing! Andy L.O.V.E.S. his dad's traditional stuffing, so there was no question as to where we'd get the recipe. Now this recipe might take some interpretation based on your culinary abilities, but who am I to alter the words of a family tradition? Here is the recipe, word-for-word as given to us, and I quote:

Simmer giblets in crock pot overnight with onion, celery, garlic, whatever-
Peel off neck meat. Put in processor with other giblet stuff and chop.
Sage and Onion
bread cubes



apple-slice beer

Andy took the liberty of adding some leftover, stale cornbread, but other than that, pretty much followed the recipe "step-by-step." To make both vegetarian and regular stuffing, he simply combined all ingredients first and then added the turkey parts to just a portion, which later was stuffed into the turkey.

We didn't have any potatoes left in the house, so we decided to botch the myth that potatoes are necessary for a holiday feast and made mashed roots instead. They were so delicious!!!

Mashed Roots
cream cheese
Any amount of any of the following roots will suffice:

Peel and chop roots. Boil until tender. Drain water. Mash roots with cream cheese, milk, butter, and salt until desired consistency. We topped this off with gravy, but it was magnificently delicious on its own as well.

Buttered Beets
salt and pepper

Scrub beets clean. Boil beets until tender. Then slice off the ends and discard. Cut beets into bite-sized pieces. Serve with butter, salt and pepper. So simple, yet so very good!

Finally, the cranberry relish. My intention was to mimic the yummy raw cranberry salad from our Thanksgiving dinner at the Poquettes, but unfortunately, I didn't read Uncle Jim's recipe until Christmas Day... I was supposed to have made it the night before and refrigerated it. Oops! Next year, I guess. So, I threw together what I could. It turned out sweetly tart and tasty.

Cranberry Relish
1 pint cranberries
1 cup of orange juice
1.5 cups sugar
1 two-inch pieced of thinly sliced ginger
1 cup water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice and ginger. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes. Add the cranberries, cinnamon, and cloves and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool. Serve.

What a feast!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Spirits

Each year, our contribution to the Christmas Eve dinner at the Poquettes is traditional Irish Cream. We usually double the recipe in order to have some left for our own Christmas Day feast with my parents, the Lapps.

The recipe for this creamy concoction was handed down to me from my mom. She used to bring it to the dreaded holiday party in Illinois! I remember soaking down a few glasses to take the "edge off" along with my dad way back when. Now, there's no need to "take the edge off" as both of our current family parties are enjoyable. Now, the drink is simply for added pleasure!

We buy the following ingredients as locally as we can. Obviously the milk and eggs are from local farmers. The rest is purchased from our co-op. Next year, we're hoping to provide our own eggs with the chickens we WILL get in 2010 (New Year's Resolution #276).

3 eggs (from local, free-range chickens please!)
1 Tbs. chocolate syrup
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 pint whipping cream (from happy, small-farm Wisconsin cows!)
1.5 pints of milk (happy Wisco cows once again!)
14 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (organic versions of this exist)
2 cups (or to your liking) Irish whiskey

1. Mix eggs, chocolate syrup, instant coffee, and coconut extract together.
2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.
3. Refrigerate and serve over ice.

Christmas Day wouldn't be complete without Mimosas. Luckily, our freezer is stocked with orange juice from oranges this past summer found in our CSA fruit box! Simply fill a glass three-quarters way with champagne or sparkling wine, and then fill up the flute with orange juice (or for fun, another juice of your liking!).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thanksgiving, Day Two: A Vegetarian Feast

We spend the day after Thanksgiving with my parents, the Lapps. It has become our tradition to make a modified version of Vegetarian Times' holiday menu of the year. This year, the theme was Soul Celebration, which featured: Butternut Squash-Bartlett Pear Soup; Citrus Collards with Raisins; Smothered Seitan Medallions in Mixed Mushroom Gravy, Cumin-Cayenne Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, and our personal addition: squash pie with freshly-whipped heavy cream. Vegetarian Times' menu also included Carrot-Cranberry Salad and a Chocolate-Pecan Pie, but we opted to skip those.

We began the day by making the mushroom broth needed for the gravy. The recipe made way more than we needed, so we now have lots of broth frozen for future use. Quite yummy! Even all alone.

'Shroom Stock (makes six cups)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 lb. portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 large onion, diced (including skin)
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
2 oz. dried-shitake mushrooms
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled (I think we used more!)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme (still picking from the herb garden...amazing!)
1/2 ts. coarse sea salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Saute all ingredients in pot for 5 minutes. Add 9 cups of water; simmer 1 hour. Strain.


Next, we made the Butternut-Squash Bartlett Pear Soup. We've made plenty of different squash/pear soup combinations in the past, but this is the first one which called for coconut milk. We felt a bit guilty buying a product that is so obviously not local, but we decided to indulge on such a product anyway. The coconut milk added a nice creamy texture and sweet flavor to the soup that we haven't had in our other recipes.

We had so much of this that we were able to get through the whole next week of work with this soup as our lunch.

Butternut Squash-Bartlett Pear Soup (makes six cups)
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts finally chopped (3 cups) ~ from our box!
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces (2 lbs) ~ from our freezer!
3 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces (1 1/2 lb) ~ from our box!
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth ~ from our freezer!
1 14-oz can light coconut milk ~ eeks! from the Caribbean!
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme ~ from our garden!
Pumpkin seeds for garnish, optional ~ we didn't do this!

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks, and cook 10 minutes, or until soft. Stir often.
2. Add squash and pears, and saute 5 minutes. Stir in vegetable broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add salt, if desired. Simmer 20 minutes, or until squash if fork-tender. (We didn't add our squash here because we used pureed squash from our freezer; you'd only add it here if you were using fresh squash.)
3. Remove from heat, and stir in coconut milk (this is where we added our squash). Puree soup in batches in blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan, and stir in thyme. Reheat over medium-low heat 2 to 3 minutes, or until warmed through. Season with salt and white pepper, if desired. Serve with pumpkin seeds, if using.


While Andy got the soup finished, I began the Mixed Mushroom Gravy.

Mixed Mushroom Gravy (makes 2 cups)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 lb. button mushrooms
1/4 b. baby bella mushrooms
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 cup unflavored rice milk (we used cow's milk)
1 cup 'Shroom Stock (made earlier)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper (we used black pepper)
1. Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add all mushrooms, and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in flour and remaining 1 Tbs. oil. Reduce heat to low, and cook 10 minutes, or until flour begins to brown, whisking constantly.
2. Whisk in milk, 'Shroom Stock, salt, and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes, or until thickened, whisking often.


Once finished with the gravy, I began the Smothered Seitan Medallions in Mixed Mushroom Gravy.

Smothered Seiten Medallions in Mixed Mushroom Gravy (inspired by smothered pork chops) ~ makes 9 cups

lb. seitan, cut into medallions
5 Tbs. arrowroot powder
1 cup pus 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 large onion ~ from our box!
5 cloves of garlic
2 cups Mixed Mushroom Gravy (made earlier)
2 cups 'Shroom Stock (made earlier)
cup finely chopped green cabbage ~ from our box!
jalapeno chiles, minced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 Tbs. chopped parsley ~ from our herb garden!

1. Coat seiten pieces with arrowroot.
2. Heat 1/2 cup oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Fry half of seitan in oil 3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper-towel-lined plate. Discard oil, wipe out skillet, and repeat with 1/2 cup oil and remaining seiten. Discard.
3. Add remaining 2 Tbs. oil and onion in hot skillet. Increase heat to high, and saute 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and saute 3 minutes. Stir in Mixed Mushroom Gravy, 'Shroom Stock, and seiten. Cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Add cabbage, and cook 3 minutes. Stir in jalapenos, green onions, and parsley.


Next on the agenda was to get the potatoes ready! These potatoes were truly magnificent! I imagine that I will whip these up again, with or without the gravy. These would go perfectly with a piece of Willy Street Co-op's Southern Fried Tofu, or for you omnivores out there, I would guess that these potatoes would go well with any type of meat.

Cumin-Cayenne Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions (makes 4.5 cups)
2 lb Potatoes, peeled and cubed ~ from our garden!
1 large onion ~ from our box!
5 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup unflavored rice milk (we used cow's milk)
2 Tbs. thyme ~ from our herb garden
1. Boil potatoes in enough water to cover 25 minutes, or until soft.
2. Meanwhile, saute onion, oil, cumin, salt, and cayenne in skillet over low heat 30 minutes, or until browned. Stir in rice milk and thyme.
3. Drain potatoes, and mash. Whisk onion mixture into potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.


Right before serving up dinner, we made the personal highlight for my taste buds ~ Citrus Collards with Raisins! Even writing this right now, my mouth is watering! This dish was perfectly sweet, bitter, and citrusy. The raisins added a nice texture, and the orange juice lightened up the taste of the greens. This is a keeper!

Citrus Collards with Raisins (makes 3 cups)
1 1/2 lb collard greens, tough stems trimmed
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice ~ oranges from our fruit box!

. Stack several collard greens atop one another, and roll into a tight cylinder. Slice crosswise into strips.
2. Cooks greens in a large pot of boiling, salted water 8 to 10 minutes, or until softened. Drain, and plunge into large bowl of cold water to stop cooking.
3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and saute 1 minute. Add drained collards, raisins, and salt, and saute 3 minutes. Stir in orange juice, and cook 15 seconds more. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.


etting all of this on the table at the same time was a trick and was not successfully done! We haven't cooked this many dishes at once for quite a while, and we underestimated the time it would take to make the seiten medallions. Luckily, my parents are very flexible. We ended up having the soup early to tide us over. Hours later, we had the rest of dinner. We paired this all with a nice, robust, and fruity Zinfandel.

We ended the feast with homemade squash pie. Earlier this year, we pureed and froze several bags of squash. Our Thanksgiving would have been much more stressful had it not been for those bags of orange goodness waiting for us in the freezer. Our pies were among the easiest of the dishes for this party because of that advance preparation. The addition of freshly whipped cream was splendid!

Squash Pie
3 cups roasted, pureed squash
1 c sugar
1.5 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt, optional
4 large eggs
1.5 cans of evaporated milk

1. Strain the squash puree to rid excess water. This can be done the night before; it should typically strain for four hours or more.
2. Once the squash is strained, mix all ingredients together and put into a pie crust. We got a yummy "from scratch" pre-made pie crust from the Willy Street Co-op.
3. Bake at 425 F for the first 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake another 45 to 60 minutes, until a clean knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
4. Whip up some heavy whipping cream, sweetened with sugar and vanilla, and garnish pie! Yum!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving Traditions, Day One

During the holiday season, Andy and I continue to make it a priority to live both sustainably and compassionately. Each year, for Andy's side of the family, we provide the bird. I am a vegetarian, but I realize that at this time of the year, there will be meat on virtually every table in America, so we do our best to assure that the bird Andy and the rest of the family is eating has been treated kindly, with respect, and is antibiotic- and hormone-free. In early November, Andy orders the family bird from a local farm.

Andy's dad treated this turkey with a brine this year, which Andy tells me made it super moist and delicious. The majority of the guests commented that it was the tastiest turkey ever! Way to go, Mike! Alongside the turkey were plenty of yummy vegetarian sides. Andy's mom made her "famous" baked beans ~ sweet and slightly spicy (I had to go back for seconds!); Andy's dad prepared a batch of local and organic pureed squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes from their CSA farm (Primrose Farms) This blended Vitamin A Extravaganza (as named by Mike) of Butternut, Acorn and Delicata squash with the carrots and sweet potatoes was silky, smooth, and perfectly buttered and seasoned. The cranberries were also a very special treat this year: Andy's Uncle Jim made an organic, raw cranberry relish, which was honestly (this dish calls for a cliche) out-of-this-world! So delicious!

Andy made his signature Thanksgiving dish: Fresh Green Bean Casserole (no canned or processed food here!). As always, the combination of "fresh veggies", homemade cream sauce, and crispy made-from-scratch onion rings tantalized our taste buds!

Fresh Green Bean Casserole (adapted from Harmony Valley Farm's 09/10/05 Newsletter)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus more to spread on dish
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4" dice
1 red bell pepper (We used frozen, roasted red peppers from this summer's harvest!)
1/2 lb. mushrooms, stems trimmed and mushrooms quartered
1 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 lbs. frozen (or fresh) green beans, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
1/4 pound frozen (or fresh) sweet corn kernels
3 T all-purpose flour
1 C milk
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 C grated Parmesan
1/4 C breadcrumbs
1/4 C canola oil
2-3 onions and/or shallots, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch sections

1. In a large skillet over med. heat, melt 2 T butter. Add onion & sauté about 4 minutes. Add bell pepper (we used frozen roasted peppers) & mushrooms, & cook about 8 minutes. Season with 1/2 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper. Let cool.
2. Toss thawed beans & sweet corn with mushroom mixture; set aside.
3. Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan over med-low heat. Add 3 T flour, whisk constantly until mixture begins to turn golden, about 2 min. Pour in milk, & continue whisking until mixture has thickened, about 3 min. Stir in cayenne, nutmeg, & the remaining tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper. Remove from heat, & let cool to room temp, stirring occasionally. Pour over beans; toss to combine.
4. Butter a 9"-by-9" glass or ceramic baking pan. Spread half the green-bean mixture over the bottom. Sprinkle on half the grated Parmesan, & spread with the remaining green beans. Combine the remaining Parmesan & the breadcrumbs, & sprinkle over casserole. Cover with foil, & refrigerate until just before serving.
5. Heat canola oil in a medium skillet over med-high heat. Toss shallot rings with the remaining 2 T flour. Fry the shallots in batches, turning frequently, until golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Place in an airtight container, & set aside until ready to serve.
6. Heat broiler, positioning rack about 8" from heat. Cook casserole, covered, until bubbly & heated through, about 10 min. Uncover; cook until top is golden brown, about 30 sec. Sprinkle fried shallots over top; serve immediately.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beet Salad

We love beets! Oddly, when we first started getting our CSA box, Andy was not a fan. Since then, he has learned to love their earthy, dark flavor. Every year, we pickle, juice, and roast them. This year, we've been using them quite often in salads. Below is the recipe for one that we found especially scrumptious!

Fall Beet Saladleaf lettuce
baby beets, steamed and sliced
blue cheese, crumbled
balsamic vinaigrette (homemade or store-bought)

Toss all to your liking. Enjoy with Chardonnay!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Planting in the Dark: Garlic

As the days get shorter and work gets more demanding, finding time to live sustainably undoubtedly becomes more challenging. However, one must fight on and prevail. The rewards are just that much sweeter.

Because only Monday and Tuesday of this week were forecast without rain, we needed to use any spare time possible to get next spring's garlic in the ground. Getting cloves planted before the soil freezes is imperative, so we knew it was now or never. As much as our lazy tendencies screamed at us to stay inside enjoying the warmth of the house, we knew we'd be disappointed if we missed the window to plant the garlic and were left to survive on the few cloves per week we get in our CSA box next spring.

Garlic planted in the fall produces much larger heads then garlic planted in the early spring, and when Andy and I think of the perfect garlic head, we think of gigantic heads with cloves the size of silver dollars! So, Andy canceled after-work plans yesterday to till up the garden, and then plant 26 organic, locally-grown cloves. He spaced them 4" to 6" apart with 1" to 2" of soil covering the cloves. We planted our garlic in a very sunny part of the garden, in soil that is well-draining and not stony ~ all important ingredients for big, robust heads of spicy goodness next spring!

Tonight, not getting home until after dark, we had quite a riot insulating and covering our garlic in the dark. We live in a climate where winter temperatures frequently drop below 0 degrees, so we always mulch 3-4 inches. Last year, we used dried leaves, but this year, we were fortunate enough to stumble upon enough free straw. The cool breeze outside and the satisfaction that our little bulbs of perfection were safe from the deep freeze of winter inspired a bit of our own warmth inside: a cup of the chamomile tea which we harvested this summer! Yum!

Spring seems so far off right now, but when the time comes, there is nothing quite like seeing those first little bursts of green, reaching towards the sun, letting you know fresh garden eating and days soaking up the sun are right around the corner. These nights in the dark planting with flashlights, jackets, and the need for a warm cup of tea are no price for the feeling of cutting the first garlic scapes of the season or slicing the spring's first fresh garlic cloves!
All planted and waiting for insulation.
Mulching in the dark!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Working with Live Cultures: Homemade Yogurt

Two years ago, while exploring the Viroqua Co-op's amazing book section, we stumbled upon a gem: Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation. Since then, both Andy and I have read it cover to cover, enjoying the exciting philosophical food discussions and the innovative and classic fermentation recipes.

Among the sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi recipes is the classic yogurt recipe. We experimented with the book's directions, but over time, have come to develop our own methods to achieving super creamy, fabulously delicious, and perfectly smooth homemade yogurt.

So what is yogurt anyway?

Yogurt is milk or cream that has been fermented with a good, live bacteria at a consistently warm temperature. Yogurt is a nourishing food with many health benefits: it provides calcium which makes bones stronger, prevents both yeast infections and urinary tract infections, and it provides the body with vitamin B2, which can be somewhat difficult for vegetarians to obtain.

And why make your own yogurt?

Well, for one, making anything by yourself makes you more self-sufficient and is more sustainable. And two, by making your own yogurt, you're able to control how much fat the yogurt contains and you're able to support local dairy farms by purchasing their milk or cream. We use Blue Marble Farm's Milk (Barneveld, WI) or Sassy Cow Creamery's Milk (Columbus, WI). Depending on our mood and for what we will use our yogurt, we use 2%, whole milk, or sometimes a combination of the two.

Homemade Yogurt

1 quart of milk
1 Tbs. of yogurt starter (take a Tbs of your favorite plain yogurt: be sure it contains live cultures)

1. Heat a quart of milk in a heavy pot until it starts to foam, but not boil (180 degrees F). Use gentle heat, and stir frequently to avoid burning the milk.
2. Remove from heat. Cool to 110 degrees F.
3. Mix in starter yogurt.
4. Pour into sterilized jar(s), and cap it/them.
5. Place jars in an insulated container, filled with water. We like to use an old fish aquarium with insulation wrapped around the outside. To heat our tank, we use hot water and a submersible heater. Other people we know use a cooler. No matter what you use, the water must be consistently around 100 degrees.
6. Check yogurt after 8 to 12 hours. It should have a tangy flavor and some thickness.
7. Refrigerate when done.

Heating up the milk.
Cooling it off.
Yogurt Starter
Our insulated contraption.
Keeping them consistently warm.

Morning Breakfast with Homemade Yogurt

1/3 cup Nature's Bakery Peanut Butter Granola (or granola of your choice!)
1/4 cup of yogurt
1/2 cup of plain, unsweetened hemp milk
seasonal, fresh fruit (or frozen and thawed in the winter!)

Mix yogurt and hemp milk until the consistency is completely smooth. Add the granola. Chop in the fresh fruit, and voila ~ the best breakfast around!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Weekend of Affirmation

This weekend, Andy and I took a much-needed break from the steam of the pressure cooker and ventured to the Food for Thought Festival in Madison on Saturday and then to the Harvest Party at Harmony Valley in Viroqua on Sunday. Both days were reaffirming, exciting, and inspirational to both of us as we continue forth in our quest to eat more locally and sustainably.

On Saturday, the highlight of the Food for Thought Festival was hearing Michael Pollan speak. Andy and I have both read The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and in turn, hold Mr. Pollan in high regard. His work and appearances in Food, Inc. solidified our admiration. At the festival he gave a very inspiring speech, describing ways in which consumers can work to make real change happen in food politics.

Among all the facts and inspiration, there were a few tidbits which we found especially striking:
1. Three companies in the United States are producing 85% of the country's beef. Wow.
2. It used to be that it took 1 calorie to produce 2 calories of food; today, it takes 10 calories to produce 1 calorie of food. In Michael Pollan's words, "We are eating oil and spewing green house gas."
3. School lunches need to change. Michael Pollan pointed out that the current lunch program is teaching kids how to eat when it offers them chicken nuggets, tator tots, and juice for lunch with only ten to twenty minutes allowed to consume that lunch. He somewhat comically suggested that kids should earn credit for learning how to eat properly, just like they earn credit for Physical Education.
4. Pollan also joked that the cows in California are happy because they're high on drugs. As a Wisconsin couple who hates the "Happy cows come from California" commercials and all of their hypocrisy, we really appreciated that one.
5. Pollan also pointed out that the food industry has created two problems by taking cows off of the farm and putting them onto feedlots: (1)manure has become toxic with no place to go, and (2) chemical fertilizers are now needed on fields. It used to be that the manure could be used as the fertilizer.
6. It takes 28 ounces of petroleum to produce one Big Mac meal ~ talk about guzzling fuel!
7. Research shows that for every 60 dollars put into a garden, 200 dollars worth of produce is harvested.

The speech was amazing, we felt moved to act, and we even got our books signed!

On Sunday, we drove over to Viroqua, WI to attend Harmony Valley Farm's Harvest Party of 2009. Once there, we hopped on the wagon for a hayride around the fields. Andy and I picked pounds of UW-Roaster peppers to roast and freeze for the winter and an equal amount of jalapenos to be made into hot pepper jelly (very yummy served over cream cheese on a cracker!). Of course, no Harvest Party would be complete without the hunt for the perfect carving pumpkins.

Once back, members enjoyed a pig roast with a potluck of delicious salads, desserts, and cheeses. Harmony Valley also provided Maple Iced Lattes. Wow~ that hit the spot on a crisp fall day!

Hot Peppers!
UW-Roaster Peppers and Sweet Peppers
Can you believe these are Sunchock (Jerusalem Artichoke) plants?
They're over 10 feet tall!
Grazier's Angus Beef (or cute cows for vegetarians!)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fettuccine Alfredo with a Summer Twist

A few summers ago, when we had an abundance of fresh veggies and were particularly into grilling them, Andy concocted this Roasted Red Pepper Fettuccine Alfredo recipe. It has become a late summer favorite, which we look forward to all year long! We serve it with another of Andy's creations, Butter-Parsley Bread.

Roasted Red Pepper Fettuccine Alfredo
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs. butter
1-2 Tbs. flour
4 cups of 2% or whole milk
4-6 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. shredded Romano cheese
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
2 red bell peppers

Other Ingredients:
-various in-season veggies, such as cherry tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, etc.
-fresh fettuccine noodles, if possible (We enjoy Madison's RP's Pasta's.)

  • To roast the red peppers, grill over an open fire until pepper skins are black. Put the peppers in a paper bag for 10 minutes. Remove peppers from bag and remove skins. Running them under cold water can aid in this process. Puree roasted red peppers and set aside.

  • Melt butter in saute pan. Add garlic, and saute for about one minute. Add flour. Cook until golden. This is called a roux.
  • Slowly mix in the milk. Heat on medium-high heat until milk begins to boil. Reduce heat. Add cream cheese in cubes. Continue stirring until cream cheese is combined thoroughly. Gradually reduce the heat as you add in the Parmesan and Romano cheese. Once the sauce is of desired thickness, add pureed red pepper.
  • Cover and keep warm while you prepare noodles and roasted veggies.
  • To roast veggies, use a grill pan over an open fire. Shake and drizzle with olive oil. Alternately, saute on stove in a saute pan.
  • To serve, put noodles on plates, followed by sauce, and then top with roasted veggies. Sprinkle parsley and/or Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Butter-Parsley Bread
a loaf of sourdough bread
1 c. parsley (approximate)
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan or Romano
4 Tbs. butter (or more, depending on size of loaf)
3 cloves of garlic (minimum)

  • Cut the bread down the middle, but do not cut all the way through. Then, cut cross ways, making cuts every 1-2 inches.
  • Fill the crevices with butter, garlic, shredded cheese, and parsley.
  • Wrap in foil and bake at 350 until cheese is melted and bread is golden-brown (approximately 30 minutes).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Slicer Tomatoes: A Slice of Heaven

Despite the cool weather and gossip of a tomato blight this summer , we have had much success with our heirloom slicer tomatoes. We've been juicing them, eating them as appetizers, putting them in salad, and giving them away like hotcakes to keep up. However, we're not looking forward to this stopping; we are quite enjoying ourselves. Moments of quiet and calm are few and far between as the school years picks up. Our tomatoes force us to take a step back and enjoy the outdoors and the remainder of summer.

When we choose tomato seeds, there are a few staples, including Aunt Ruby's German Green Tomato. These are large, beefsteak tomatoes. When they are soft to the touch, they're ready to be picked. We find the taste to be mellow and smooth with sweet accents.

Aunt Ruby's German Green Tomato

Another beefsteak staple is the Brandywine Tomato. Like the name implies, these are rose-colored. Also very large, these make a great slicer to be eaten alone. When we taste-tested all of our tomatoes to compare them last evening, we thought this one had the most intense tomato flavor.

Brandywine Tomato

A new variety that we tried this year, but will definitely become a staple is the Nyagous Tomato. These tomatoes have been blemish-free and perfectly round. They are a deep wine-red color and are very sweet, maybe even a bit smokey, in flavor. Yum!

Nyagous Tomato

Along the same lines as the Nyagous, is the Black from Tula Tomato. These tomatoes look very similar to the Nyagous, and if they were any smaller, they might be confused with the Nyagous. They're a Russian heirloom, meaning that they produce earlier because they have been bred to have a shorter growing season. Very complex flavor. It reminded us of a good wine!

Black from Tula Tomato

Our next tomato variety, we have nicknamed the Packer Tomato. It is the Green Zebra ~ green and yellow, this slightly smaller tomato packs a nice tangy punch! Very refreshing, especially on a hot summer day with a glass of white wine.

Green Zebra Tomato (aka Packer Tomato)

Our last variety, sure to become a staple in our garden, is the Striped Cavern. We bought this variety on a limb, but are so happy that we did. This tomato is perfect for stuffing. We've had quite an adventurous summer, stuffing these with whatever cheeses and herbs we have had available.

Striped Cavern

Cheese- Stuffed Striped Caverns

All of them!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Who is in the Mood for Bloody Marys?

Over the years, we have tried perfecting our Bloody Mary mix, both fresh and canned. Today, I believe we've made our best! We used a juicer to juice the ingredients. Then, we processed 2 quart jars in a water canner for 40 minutes to seal. Before we purchased a juicer, we followed the directions listed below the ingredients.

We had a cup more than two quarts, so we were forced to have a Bloody Mary today (darn!). It was wonderfully creamy and perfectly spicy! We hope we can keep our hands off of the jars until fall!

Pokey's Bloody
30 medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded.
2 green peppers
4-5 large carrots
1 small bunch of celery
1 small onion
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup parsley
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1.5 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
hot sauce to taste

Chop all vegetables. Cook peppers, carrots, celery, onion, garlic cloves, parsley, and bay leaf in a large pot until veggies are soft, approximately 40 minutes. Take out the bay leaf. In batches, blend vegetable mixture in a food processor or blender. Strain to get out any seeds. Put all of the mixture back into the pot and add the sugar, lemon juice, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil. Pack and seal in jars (40 minutes in a water canner).

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

If you've been following our blog, you know that we ended up planting 30 tomato plants this year due to my new found plant empathy. Among the 30 tomato plants were 6 cherry tomato plants. Andy, of course, nearly had a nervous breakdown when he realized I intended to plant all 6 of them. As many people know, cherry tomato plants typically produce so many little red/yellow/orange bursts of heaven that their gardeners end up feeling as if they are in a multi-colored hell by the end of the season, trying to figure out what to do with the little buggers.

So far, this hasn't happened to us! Granted, we've gotten the suspected amount, but we've been keeping up with them quite well. Mostly, we've been eating them fresh as snacks, but a few days ago we collected quite a haul, so we decided canning was in order.

Among the cherry tomato plants that we planted is a tiny breed, smartly named the Gold Rush Currant Tomato. The fruit grows to a 1/4 to a 1/2-inch diameter. They have been especially plentiful and seemed the perfect fruit for pickling! We also canned one quart of the Riesentraube Tomato, which has also been a bountiful producer.

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes (makes about 2 quarts)
1 quart water
2 Tbs. kosher salt
1 lb. cherry tomatoes (firm, even a little under-ripe)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
dill or herb of choice (to taste)
dried hot pepper (to taste ~ we used 1/2 of one large for each pint)
garlic cloves (to taste)
approx. 12 peppercorns

2 cups white vinegar

Sterilize 2 pint jars or 1 quart jar. In a pot, bring water, salt, vinegar, and sugar to a boil. Meanwhile, prick each cherry tomato with a pin so that it can absorb the pickling mixture. Put dill, dried hot pepper, peppercorns, and garlic into jars. Fill jars with cherry tomatoes. Once the pickling mixture is boiling rapidly, pour over the cherry tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Process in boiling water canner.

Ready for the brine.

Am I in Spain? ... Yummy Gazpacho!

On a hot August day, in the midst of summer heat and Wisconsin humidity (yes, it does get hot here!), there is nothing like a cold, fresh bowl of gazpacho, a piece of crusty cheese bread, and a nice glass of wine!

The following recipe is the combination of a collection of gazpacho recipes we've collected over time. Whenever we attempt to follow a gazpacho recipe, we fail because we're usually missing something. We try to use as many ingredients from our CSA box or garden as possible. It seems counterproductive to run out to the store to get a missing veggie when we have so many to choose from in the fridge or garden. Gazpacho is one of those dishes where freedom is everything!

Here is how we made ours last night!

August Gazpacho
Makes approx. 6 cups
2 cups of chopped tomatoes
1 cup of chopped pepper
1 cup green beans, chopped
1 jalapeno
1 med. onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 cucumber, chopped
2 pieces of crusty bread (we used sourdough)
24 ounces of fresh tomato juice
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup olive oil (or more to taste)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbs. Worcestershire
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste

Combine everything except bread, jalapeno, garlic, and tomato juice. In a food processor, combine bread, jalapeno, garlic and tomato juice. Puree until everything is combined. Pour over veggie mixture. Mix to combine. Eat fresh, or refrigerate for one hour before serving (depending on your will power and appetite!).

We like ours with a nice, crisp white wine and some crusty bread!

Based on one-cup servings:
Nutrition Facts
Gazpacho 8/16
Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat9g
Saturated Fat1.2g
Trans Fat0g
Dietary Fiber3g
Vitamin A 39%Vitamin C 174%
Calcium 4%Iron 8%
(courtesy of