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Snowed-In? Bake Cookies!

November 9, 2011

This is what it looks like out my windows today:

Yep, that’s right.  First snow of the season folks! I celebrated by…

… staying in my favorite pajamas all day…

… reading the new Martha Stewart Living cover-to-cover and marking all the recipes and crafts I want to try…

… eating delicious Waldorf Chicken Salad I made last night (with pomegranate seeds – Mmm!)…

… and, so that AJ won’t think I’m a completely lazy freeloader when he gets home… baking COOKIES!

Maple-Glazed Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

(makes 36 very cake-like soft cookies)

Preheat oven to 350°

Combine dry ingredients in medium bowl:

  • 2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp each: allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt

In standing mixer bowl, or other large bowl, cream together:
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 c (2 sticks) butter room temperature
To butter-sugar mix, add:
  • 1 c canned pumpkin (Libby’s brand is obviously the best, what with my name on the label and all)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in stages.  Once combined, fold in:
  • 1 c chopped pecans

Drop by heaping tablespoonful onto cookie sheets.

I fit 9 per sheet.  Bake 1 sheet at a time f0r about 15-18 minutes.  Test with a toothpick – since these are very cake-y cookies, you really don’t want them underdone, so don’t be afraid to leave them in the oven if they are at all wet still.  I actually put some back in the oven after they had already cooled, as I realized they were still wet in the center.

Good thing I had supervision during the whole process:

For the glaze, whisk together:

  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 T canned pumpkin (you should have some leftover from cookies)
  • 2 T maple syrup (the real stuff folks, c’mon)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • a splash of orange juice (if you don’t have any, just forget it)
The glaze should be pretty thick, not too runny – feel free to add more sugar as needed.  Once cookies are completely cooled, pour a spoonful of glaze on each cookie.
Voila!
Not the prettiest cookies, but they taste damn good!
And now, I think I’ll engage in one of my other favorite snowed-in activities – it’s cocktail time!
What’s your favorite snowed-in activity?  It’s a long winter, I need ideas!
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Hello Fall! Wild Rice and Squash

November 3, 2011

Wow… first off, sorry for my very long unexpected hiatus.  I spent a couple weeks after our trip going through my typical post-travel “woe-is-me-why-can’t-I-just-sell-all-my-belongings-and-roam-the-world-for-a-living?” mourning period, daydreaming about Ligurian pesto, fresh Pecorino, Brunello di Montalcino, Amalfi coast seafood…  Since I promised you all I would avoid excessive posts about our Italy adventures, I refrained from writing anything.  Then, in recent weeks, blog life was put on hold in favor of real life, as I spent much-needed time with my family.

And now, suddenly, it is November.  November.  Seriously.  Wisconsinites know this as the time when you can no longer deny that winter is coming.  Put away the lawnmower and ready the snowblower (or buy new shovels if, like me, you’re too cheap to buy a snowblower – I mean $900!? Seriously?)

I deal with the depression of knowing I won’t see 60 degrees again for 6 months by embracing the little things that fall brings.

Out comes my overstocked scarf collection (somehow every year I convince myself there’s a color or pattern I don’t have, and desperately need – this year I’m seeking a brown and gold print…)

A new puffy vest+plaid shirt+scarf combo appears each day.  AJ starts to think he’s dating a lumberjack.  If you think I’m joking, here’s a little photographic evidence of my standard late-fall and early-spring uniform:

      

Obvious from half these pictures also is that I start consuming larger quantities of beer (helps with the winter insulation).

And, as far as food is concerned, like most folks, my tastes change.  Goodbye heirloom tomatoes and fresh raspberries.  Hello cranberries and all things pumpkin!

Two foods I pretty exclusively eat in fall are wild rice and squash, and in the past I’ve been pretty traditional – wild rice plain, with a little butter, and squash roasted with A LOT of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  But, this year, I’ve been a little more experimental.  It is WILD rice after all (eh, eh?  I’m so punny).  So, here’s wild rice – 1 batch, 2 ways:

Wild and Brown Rice “Risotto”

  • 1 T olive oil or butter
  • 1 small onion or a couple shallots, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c wild rice
  • 1/2 c brown rice
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper
Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil or butter in a medium saucepan or small pot.  Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer, and add to pan – let the rice toast for about a minute, and then add all the liquid.  Cover. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, and leave covered.  Don’t mess with it for at least 35 minutes.  At that point, you can periodically fluff it to check for doneness.  It can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour – just be patient.
 
Dinner #1: Scallops and Homemade Breadcrumbs on Wild Rice Risotto
Beyond easy.  All ya need is a little olive oil and butter, scallops, and whatever really stale bread you have.  I used a hunk of rock-hard Rosemary Olive Oil bread.  My bread crumbs didn’t get very fine, since my food processor sucks, so they didn’t stick to the scallops very well – no worries, I just sauteed them alongside the scallops (about 3-4 minutes per side) and they came out like yummy little buttered toasted croutons.    Place the scallops and breadcrumbs on top of a big pile of rice and Voila!  Mmmm…
 
Dinner #2: Wild Rice, Sausage, and Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash
I wanted to use the wild rice for something more exciting than standard leftover side dish, and the squash inspired me.  Preheat oven to 350.  Halve 1 small acorn squash and scrape out seeds.  Butter the cut edges of squash, and roast cut-side down in a dish for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, dice up 1 precooked sausage (I used an apple-smoked chicken sausage), and half an apple.  Mix up with the leftover rice.  When the squash looks almost done (fork-tender, but still a little tough in parts), cut a quarter-sized disc off the rounded side to make a base, flip them over onto the new flat base you made, and stuff with the rice mixture.  Put back in oven for another 10-15 minutes, then serve (I sauteed a little spinach on the side).  Yum!
      
We tried the new Cran-Bic Ale from New Glarus Brewery’s limited small-batch Thumbprint series with this.  I get excited anytime I see the characteristic red foil-topped limited edition bottles from New Glarus.  This one is definitely a fave for me, but not for AJ.  But, I love all their fruit beers, and AJ doesn’t like any of them, so go figure.  We both found it to be very woody, and overall the cranberry flavor is definitely bold.
Ok, I’m going to go have a caramel apple and leftover Halloween candy for lunch now – yay November!
What’s your favorite recipe that you only make in the fall?

Back from Italy (Fatter and Wine-soaked)

September 30, 2011
tags: ,

We have returned from our Italian escapade!  It was of course an amazing month, filled with new experiences, lots of relaxing, laughable attempts at speaking Italian, and, of course, excessive consumption of fantastic food and wine.

Rather than inundate you, my lovely readers, with post-upon-boring-post detailing our vacation (I like to call this “Grand Canyon Style,” after my grandfather’s infamous slideshows of his 1000+ Grand Canyon photos), I decided to just get it all out in one big list of highlights, with pictures for your drooling pleasure.  And, this way, you hopefully shouldn’t have to endure me bragging about spending a luxurious month in Italy in too many future posts.  So, our favorite food highlights:

  • Pizzeria Due Colonne (Campo Sant’Agostin, Venice) – a simple, no-frills place hidden from the tourist hordes, and packed with locals.  Really inexpensive but creative pizzas and salads, packed with fresh veggies.  Good quality, cheap liters of house wine.  A magical atmosphere outdoors in a residential square, surrounded by the sights and sounds of typical Venetian life.  We ate here 2 of our 3 nights in Venice (and should have just gone here the 3rd night too).
    
  • Trattoria Vecio Mulin (Via Sottoriva, Verona) – we loved pretty much everything about Verona, and this restaurant was definitely one of the highlights.  Again, a place loved by locals (and recommended by our B&B host, as her favorite place for a date with her husband).  It is situated at the end of a pedestrian walkway along the Adige River.  We had great service from the entire waitstaff, none of whome spoke English.  The prosciutto plate came with lovely jams and mascarpone cheese as condiments.  AJ’s seafood pasta in tomato sauce was incredible: a clay pot packed to the brim with fresh mussels, clams, octopus, shrimp, langoustine… mmmm.  The tiramisu sealed the deal – we love this place.
  • Inexpensive picnic dinners overlooking the sea in Portovenere, made up of amazing homemade pesto, raisin bread, cheese, prosciutto, heirloom tomatoes, and local white wine, bought from local shops in town.
    
  • Locanda Lorena (Isola Palmaria, Portovenere) – we splurged our last night in Portovenere here, the only restaurant on Palmaria Island (where we stayed).  The seafood appetizer consisted of about 8 different creative plates of local (a.k.a. caught that day directly outside the restaurant) seafood, and the unbelievable pasta dishes could have easily each fed a family of four.  Really, you can’t complain in any way about a restaurant where you can see both the basil plants used for homemade pesto and the mussel beds harvested daily directly from your table.  Really.
    
  • Grom Gelateria (next to the Duomo, Florence) – we ate gelato pretty much every night the entire month, and this was one of our favorites.  Plus, it’s a chain, so you can get it all over Italy too!  Our other favorite places for gelato were both in Rome – Flor, on Via Cavour, and San Crispino, near the Pantheon.  Mmmm…
  
  • The beautiful Val d’Orcia – we loved absolutely everything about this gorgeous region of Tuscany.  We stayed in the phenomenal villa Casa Moricciani, owned by Isabella and Carlo, who also run the renowned agriturismo Cretaiole. Everything about this week was wonderful, and we can’t wait to go back.  Just some foodie highlights from the week: sampling Pecorino and watching the cheese-rolling competition at the Pienza Cheese Festival; a wine tasting at the women-run winery Fattoria del Colle, near Trequanda; Pici pasta-making and olive oil tasting classes led by Isabella and Carlo at Cretaiole; a private dinner in the beautiful Sant’Anna Camprena monastery, near Castelmuzio; delicious sangiovese wine, grappa, vin santo, prosciutto, salami, and garden produce, all homemade and provided by the wonderful Moricciani family.  Fantastic.
    
    
  
  • Take-out pizza and beer on our balcony under a full moon overlooking the Mediterranean in Positano.  Need I say more?  Not quite sure what’s all going on with the lady on the pizza box though…
   
  • Next2 (Via Pasitea, Positano) – creative takes on classic Mediterranean food, with beautiful plating and incredibly kind and attentive service.  Stuffed squash blossoms, fresh mussels and clams done perfectly, beautiful seabass dressed tableside, candela pasta perfectly al dente, and unbelievable tiramisu and a peach millefuille for dessert.  A perfect meal.
    
  
  • The absolute best meal of our trip, on the very last night, at L’Asino d’Oro (Monti, Rome).  This local favorite just moved into the hip Monti neighborhood, where our hotel was.  The entire meal was incredible, and definitely was the closest in our whole trip to the inventive locavore food we expect from our favorite restaurants at home.  This restaurant is known for having a great selection of Italian craft beers as well, and we were very pleased to try the Re Ale from Birra del Borgo brewery.  The highlight for me was the incredible wild boar in a chocolate vinegar sauce – an entree that was more like dessert, but with giant hunks of dark meat.  Mmmmm
    
    
So, I think that’s about it!  It was an incredibly exciting and relaxing trip, and we’ll have lots of good food memories to reminisce about during the long Wisconsin winter.  Of course, because I’m me, I’m already brainstorming where our next foodie trip will be…
If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, based only on the food (or wine or beer), where would you go, and what would you order?

BBQ Chicken and Sweet Corn Pizza

August 17, 2011

Guess what? We’re going to Italy! For a month! And we leave this Sunday! Which means this week is consumed with packing, cleaning, and feeling intense guilt about leaving the kitties.  And all meals this week are centered around 2 goals:

#1 Eat our favorite foods that we know we won’t have in Italy – yesterday’s lunch: sushi for me, Indian for AJ.  And then there was a late night Taco Bell run… don’t judge.

#2 Clean out the fridge!

And my all time favorite clean-out-the-fridge meal is pizza.  Now, of course, we’ll have pizza in Italy, but probably not Barbecue Chicken and Sweet Corn pizza.  This is an awesome pizza to make with all the leftovers from a big grill-out with friends -we used leftover BBQ sauce as the base, then shredded up the leftover grilled chicken, and stripped the corn off a leftover cob.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – pizza starts with a good crust.  Homemade crust is really worth the effort if you don’t mind getting your hands (and counters) a little messy, and have some time to let it rise.  I got my recipe years ago from some magazine, and I like it because it’s thin, but not too thin, so you can load a lot of goodies on it.

Homemade Pizza Crust (makes 2 pizzas)
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Stir yeast and sugar into water and let sit for 5 minutes.  In the meantime, mix together flour and salt in a medium bowl.  Add the yeast water mix and oil, and mix until just combined.  Flip out of bowl, and knead by hand on a floured surface for 5 minutes (I set my kitchen timer to be precise), adding pinches of flour if it gets too sticky.  Put the dough into a lightly-oiled large bowl, and cover with a damp kitchen towel.  Let rise 1 hour, then punch dough down to deflate, re-cover, and let rise another 30 mins. Split dough in half, and roll out into 2 pizzas.  (You can also ball up half the dough, wrap it in saran wrap, and save it in the fridge for up to 2 days).

At this point, heat the oven to 500 degrees, put the dough on a large cookie sheet, and add your toppings

Toppings for BBQ Chicken and Sweet Corn Pizza
  • BBQ sauce – we had some leftover from this Dave Lieberman recipe, with Guinness beer
  • Leftover grilled chicken, shredded
  • Corn from 1 leftover cob
  • Sliced red onion
  • Pickled jalapeños and pepperoncini peppers, to your taste
  • Thin-sliced Muenster, Brick, or Smoked Gouda cheese – enough to cover ripped into big pieces, but let some toppings peek out
Put the toppings on in order listed, then put the pizza in the oven for 15 minutes – keep an eye on it, taking it out when it reaches the doneness you like.  I do it a little longer because I like the smoky slightly burnt flavor on the cheese.

Mmmm…

Then, of course, because I am a spaz, this happened

With leftover red cabbage coleslaw from our grill-out, we made a whole meal of it!

What are your favorite homemade pizza toppings?

Door County Cherry Bounce: Wisconsin Tradition

August 11, 2011

Sorry for the long-ish hiatus over the past few weeks.  My family recently lost a wonderful woman, my great-aunt.  I was named Elizabeth after her, but, like 99% of Elizabeths, we both have random nicknames – I’m Libby, and she was Betty, although far more people knew her by her childhood nickname: Pooch.  I headed north to Luxemburg, WI to spend the week with family, celebrating Poochie’s life and sharing lots of great stories.

Luxemburg is just south of Door County – for non-Wisconsinites, here’s a “hand”-y guide to where that is: look at your right hand, palm up.  This is basically Wisconsin.  The space between your index finger and thumb is Green Bay (Go Pack Go!) and your thumb is Door County.  Door County is famous for, among other things, tart cherries.  When the cherries are ready to pick, they’re pretty much the only thing anyone can talk about in this region of the state.  My aunt Pooch lived most of her life with a cherry orchard in her backyard, and she was famous for decorating her kitchen completely in a cherry motif, baking phenomenal cherry pies, and making a mean annual batch of cherry bounce.

Cherry bounce is a pretty simple thing – cherries, whisky, and sugar.  Add it all together when the cherries are at their peak, then seal it up and do your best not to touch it until Thanksgiving.  The result is a sweet (and pretty lethal) cherry-infused whisky that is perfect to drink on the rocks, or, in true Sconnie style, in an Old Fashioned

Cherry Bounce

  • 1 quart whole unpitted tart cherries
    • Door County cherries are Montmorency variety – just make sure what you use is tart, not your standard grocery store Bing cherries
  • 1 liter of whiskey
    • I definitely welcome experimentation, but the elders of my family all agree that the whisky should be Canadian, and it should be very cheap.  Ideally, the less flavor the whiskey has, the better the cherries will infuse.  Also though, we make a lot of this stuff, so it makes sense to get a good deal.  This year we used Barton’s Canadian, since there was a mail-in rebate, and I think we made about 10 liters total.  We’re damn classy.
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your tastes
Pour your whisky out of the bottle into a temporary container of any kind.  Rinse the cherries.  Using a toothpick, poke one or two holes in each cherry, dropping them into your empty whisky bottle as you go.  Using a funnel, add your sugar, and then pour whisky back into the bottle, so that the bottle is full again.  Seal the bottle up again and give it a few gentle turns upside-down, to mix everything up.  Make some pretty labels if you like.  You will have some leftover whisky, so if you have more cherries, make yourself another batch.  I made 3 liters of bounce with 2 liters of whisky and 3 quarts of cherries – I just used an empty juice bottle for the 3rd batch.

My family tradition is to open this together at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but this year I may host a holiday bounce party to share my batch with friends.  When your bounce is gone, you can do one more batch with the same cherries – it won’t be as intensely-flavored, but will still be good, and means you can have another round of bounce in February or March (when most snow-sick Sconnies especially need to hit the booze).

I feel like this is also the perfect post to add an awesome picture of my parents’ liquor cabinet to, to illustrate our dedication to some Wisconsin traditions:

If you’re in the Madison area and jonesing for some bounce come November, fear not if you didn’t make your own.  The much-loved Capitol Square restaurant The Old Fashioned makes their own bounce every year – but it goes fast!  They also make other bounce-like infusions, available at various times of the year – this past week I had a delicious blackberry brandy there.  Wherever you get your bounce, please raise your glass to my aunt Pooch and the many other Wisconsin cherry-lovers who have kept this tradition going for so long!

What are some of your favorite liquor-related Wisconsin traditions?

Muffins!

August 8, 2011

I’m going to start making healthy(ish) muffins more regularly, mostly so AJ will actually eat something with nutritional value in the morning – all he consumes at work all day, as far as I’m aware, is Mountain Dew.  I bought some zucchini on my farmer’s market trip this week, and on a very cheery blog called maya*made I found a recipe for Lemon Zucchini Berry muffins.  I especially like that she uses maple syrup as the sweetener, and you can pretty much use any kind of squash or berry in this.  I used blackberries and raspberries.  I didn’t make any other variations on the recipe this time – maybe next time I’ll add pecans or walnuts – I know, I’m one wild and crazy gal.

a couple notes if you’ve never baked with zucchini:

  1. 1 medium zucchini = about 1/2 cup grated zucchini.  So, for this recipe, I used 3 zucchini.
  2. don’t buy just 1 or 2 gigantic zucchini thinking you’re clever.  They usually just have more water content, and…
  3. …you need to strain all the water out.  I used a fine mesh strainer, straining half a zucchini at a time
On a final note, I really only blogged about these so I could post one of my all-time favorite youtube videos.  Muffins!
What’s your favorite muffin recipe (and don’t say glass or pencil please)?

Alcohol by AJ: Gin and Berries

July 27, 2011

Yeah I don’t have a fancy name for it but it is delicious. Gin and blackberries  = awesomeness. Libby had just returned from the Verona Farmers Market with excess blackberries and I was allowed to make a drink out of them!

Inspiration for this drink came from a new book that Libby got me for my birthday – Speakeasy. In the book they have a drink called Amelia which uses blackberries, but it calls for vodka – gross.

So what is better than vodka? Well pretty much any liquor but in this case some nice gin sounded perfect. Ok now that we have that settled on to the drink.

What you need: 

Gin 
Blackberries (1 Cup)
Sugar
Lemons

This drink requires you to prep some Blackberry Puree, you can make some ahead of time and it will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Blackberry Puree 

Puree Ingredients

 

 

Combine the following in a small blender:
1 cup blackberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice 
(pretty easy to remember huh?). 
Pulse the heck outta that mixture then strain the liquid to remove the pulp and seeds.

Blackberries ready to be liquified

 

 

 

 

After your puree is ready the rest is easy.

Save for later

Gin and Berries

Combine the following in a shaker with ice:
2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of your blackberry puree, 1 ounce of lemon juice
Shake vigorously in whatever position you like, I prefer waist high so I don't hit myself in the head. 
Serve in a martini glass and garnish with lemon and mint.

I made two drinks, one with Bombay Sapphire and one with Small’s Gin. Video of Ransom’s small gin distillery here.

Small's and Bombay

Bombay and Small's

The clear winner was the Small’s Gin and Berries (maybe I should change the blog title…) Libby and I both loved how the Small’s gin made the berries explode in your mouth. The Bombay just tasted very plain compared to the Small’s. If you haven’t had Small’s it is very strong and aromatic but not a lot of fruity or juniper taste like other gins. It has cardamom in it which gives it more of an aromatic spice. I was struggling to come up with a cocktail that would help tame the powerful Small’s gin and it turns out a few blackberries did the trick!

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