Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turkey, Pie, And Tables Of Tradition

JESSICA: An overflowing Thanksgiving table reflects decades of tradition—turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, veggies, pies. And, when families blend and lifestyles shift, traditions face culinary adaptation. In my family, most changes have been subtle: homemade mushroom soup and crispy shallots take the place of Campbell’s soup and french-fried onions in green bean casserole, and bourbon and maple syrup replace corn syrup in pecan pie. The stuffing, well, that’s another story...

GREGG: A favorite of mine, as for many people, is Thanksgiving dressing. I’ve never found a clear answer to the difference between dressing and stuffing, but I look forward to my parents’ dressing every year. Theirs is meat-based, with seasoned pork sausage and ground beef, plus all the turkey giblets ground up and combined with herb-seasoned bread crumbs and celery and onion. Upon arrival at their house, I remove the Nesco cover and see the delectable creation, complete with the slightly crusty edges everyone fights over. I know it’s Thanksgiving.

JESSICA: My mom makes four different stuffings: one for my dad, a sausage-studded creation like his mom makes; a cornbread and white bread offering that mixes my mom’s Southern roots with Yankee flavors; an onion-less version for my brother; and a vegetarian dish for me. Whew!

GREGG: To solidify my status as the non-foodie of this pair, I’ll admit that another item I crave on Thanksgiving Day is a turkey sandwich in the evening when we pull all the leftovers out of the fridge. Simple, fresh, perfect. White meat on a twin roll, slathered with too much Miracle Whip and sprinkled with more salt than I ever use might be my favorite sandwich of the year, and I make sure to enjoy three or four of these undersized gems before Turkey Day officially ends.

JESSICA: Every Thanksgiving, I crave dessert. Some years, when it’s just my parents, grandparents, brother and me gathered around the table, people barely outnumber pies: apple, chocolate, pecan and pumpkin. My mom’s flaky crust overflows with tender apple slices, and my buttery tart glistens with large pecans, maple syrup, and a generous hit of Maker’s Mark bourbon. On Friday morning, Mom and I eat a decadent breakfast of pie and drink mugs of strong coffee.

GREGG: I enjoy Thanksgiving desserts as well, but usually don’t have room for them after our main meal early in the afternoon. The pies and tortes and bars are often first sampled in the evening…after my turkey sandwiches.

JESSICA: Since Gregg and I will spend Thanksgiving with our respective families this year, I suggested that we cook and eat our own feast together before the holiday. We decided to deviate from all traditions and prepare new dishes. Poring over my many foodie magazines, I turned down pages with promising recipes. Butternut squash bread pudding? Green beans with lemon and walnut? Mmm. One selection was a raw carrot, scallion, and cranberry salad. I imagined vivid colors and vibrant flavors. This could be our signature dish!

GREGG: I was a bit leery of how the cranberries would mix with onion and vinegar, but a Thanksgiving table isn’t complete without great side dishes to complement the staples of the holiday, and this one sounded interesting.

JESSICA: Gregg took the lead preparing the dish, as I assembled a root vegetable gratin. When dinner time arrived, I admired the bright dish. After several bites, I declared it fresh, cleansing. Fun.

GREGG: The aroma of the dish fooled me, as the vinegar was a bit overpowering to the nose, even to someone who loves sour foods. The taste was vastly different…the fresh flavors mixing well, and the sourness much more subdued to the taste buds than it was to the nose.

JESSICA: The heady dose of stomach-settling ginger and astringent vinegar in this salad may be just the tonic you need after overindulging during a Thanksgiving feast.

GREGG: Our experiment may have suffered from too much ginger for my taste, but overall, it was a tasty combination of flavors. The sweetness of the carrot and cranberry blended well with the strong taste of vinegar and onion. And the word “bright” from the magazine is well-chosen for this dish. This one is worth another attempt, perhaps with less ginger and maybe less onion.

Happy Thanksgiving (or Turkey Day, or Pie Day) from our corner table to your dinner table!


Pull up a chair and dish:
Do you call it dressing?...or stuffing? And if that isn't your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, what is?

—— • —— • ——

Carrot and Cranberry Salad With Fresh Ginger Dressing
(The bright flavors are a nice counterpoint to rich foods.) 8 servings.

7 large green onions
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 level tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
4 cups coarsely grated peeled carrots
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Cut tops off onions. Cut tops lengthwise into thin strips; cut strips into 2-inch pieces. Chop half of onion bottoms. Place remaining bottoms in blender; add vinegar and ginger. Puree, occasionally scraping down sides of blender jar. Strain puree into measuring cup, pressing enough solids through to yield 1/2 cup dressing; season with pepper.

Place carrots and cranberries in large bowl. Add onion tops and bottoms. Toss with enough dressing to coat.

(Recipe from November 2009 issue of Bon Appétit.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This Entry Is About Cupcakes. Period.

GREGG: ... ; ? [ ] : — ( ) !

Last week, Jessica suggested we make punctuation cupcakes to celebrate National Punctuation Day. Because I'd written a column about that particular holiday last year, I immediately jumped on board the punctuation band wagon.

And when I learned that the cupcakes would have a ganache frosting, I may have even climbed into the driver's seat of said wagon.

Although I'm still a passenger in the kitchen, I was assured that this was a one-bowl cupcake recipe.

JESSICA: If Gregg's the passenger, I suppose that makes me the driver...

We were going to make the Moosewood Six-Minute Chocolate Cake, a recipe so familiar to me it's like driving the roads I've always known, the roads that wind through blueberry fields and along the lakeshore in the little corner of Michigan where I grew up...

Anyway, enough with the driving analogy.

I asked Gregg to fill the muffin pan with twelve papers, and he laughed when they bounced as they're a little bigger than the wells in the pan.

I confidently and quickly measured flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda into one of my big pink Pyrex bowls. As I mixed up the wet ingredients...water, oil, vanilla, and espresso another container and added them to the big bowl, mixing all together, I asked Gregg if he was ready to see some true kitchen magic.

GREGG: You mean, like...pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Or making the Statue of Liberty disappear? Or the fact that I'm actually in a kitchen...baking?? The third is probably more magical than the second.

JESSICA: I added two tablespoons of cider vinegar as Gregg stirred until the pale brown swirls disappeared and tiny bubbles appeared. Magic!

GREGG: I filled the muffin papers about two-thirds full of batter, eliminating their bounce, and put them in the oven for about 18 minutes.

Then, to create the ganache, I chopped four ounces of Lindt 70 percent chocolate (wondering what the other 30 percent was made of......asparagus?!?), and once again manned the whisk while Jessica poured hot heavy cream over the chocolate.

JESSICA: While the cupcakes cooled, I melted a bar of Ghiradelli white chocolate to use for the punctuation decoration. I wasn't exactly sure how well it would work, but I thought we could freehand our favorite marks on parchment paper using spoons and/or toothpicks as our writing implements.

GREGG: Jessica tackled the more difficult punctuation, forming a semicolon, comma, question mark, and quotation marks with precision, while I made a daringly oversized period with a generous dab of white chocolate, along with a dash and a hyphen (which prompted questions of usage concerning each from those who ate them), and my favorite punctuation...the ellipsis.

JESSICA: Hey, that's my favorite punctuation too...

We placed the punctuation in the freezer and frosted the cupcakes using the glossy...

GREGG: Ganache!

JESSICA: As I frosted my fifth cupcake, Gregg meticulously finished frosting his...second.

GREGG: It's like peaches all over again, except this time it's with cupcakes! (I learned earlier this summer that I'm not the world's fastest peach peeler.)

JESSICA: That's only because you're so detail-oriented...

As the time on the clock ticked away and wine club awaited, we carefully placed the frozen punctuation atop the cupcakes before the white chocolate warmed to room temperature.


Pull up a chair and dish:
What's your favorite punctuation...and why?!?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Foodies and Farmers Meet Around Capitol

JESSICA: When I moved to Manitowoc two years ago, one of my first loves was the local farmers’ market. I eagerly anticipated Saturday mornings spent socializing with vendors and friends along the lakeshore. Fellow foodies told me that I needed to make the trek to Madison one Saturday to see the majestic Dane County Farmers' Market around the Capitol square.

GREGG: Family members raved about the impressive Madison market, and Jessica’s always enthused about her mornings at the market. I spent a morning at the Manitowoc market recently in order to make a comparison when we traveled to Madison. Kohlrabi as big as my head and tasty cheese samples wowed me.

While the Manitowoc market fills half of the large parking lot across from the public library, the one in Madison sprawls around all four sides of Capitol square, and according to one venison jerky vendor we spoke to, is among the biggest in the country.

“If you take the average from April to November, we have 20,000 people coming through here every Saturday,” he said of the market that runs from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Those numbers are easy to believe as we merged into pedestrian traffic and began our slow shuffle around the Capitol at about 10 a.m.

JESSICA: As I sipped a steaming café au lait, my eyes surveyed the gorgeous displays at every vendor stand. Bright bouquets of early fall flowers–zinnias, dahlias, and mums–vied for space with stacks of summer squash and boxes of multi-colored tomatoes. Piles of pie pumpkins and braids of garlic hinted at the seasonal transition. Photos of happy cows grazing in grassy fields graced the tents of sustainable meat vendors, and words like “all natural,” “sustainable,” and “organic” filled the air.

GREGG: Creative vendor names such as Merry’s Garden of Eatin’, Sprouting Acres and Yesteryear Farms were proudly displayed on vendors’ tents. Many touted their organically grown fruits, vegetables and meats.

My sister recommended the hot and spicy cheese bread from Stella’s Bakery. With no signs on display, I asked the vendor for “some” cheese bread, and instead of offering a slice or two, she handed me a bag with a football-sized loaf.Hot…soft…fresh…delicious! We pulled pieces off of the loaf as we strolled among the crowd.

JESSICA: As we perused the displays, I searched for new, unusual and hard-to-find vegetables that I couldn’t find at my home market in Manitowoc. I giddily bought a selection of beans–cranberry beans and soy beans still in the pods, and dried pinto and black beans. I imagined the stir fries and soups to come as summer slips irrevocably into fall. As I stuffed my purchases into my new canvas market bag, purchased from the artist herself, I longed to be back at home in my kitchen, cooking.

GREGG: One vendor offered free pesto samples, and as a lady politely refused as she walked past, he summed up the object of farmers’ markets everywhere as he jokingly chided her: “Now is that any way to be? It’s the farmers’ market! It’s about food! It’s about having fun with food!”

JESSICA: Such comments mingled with the strains of street musicians, ranging from a bagpiper, to a singing drummer, to my favorite, a bearded man wearing bright orange playing classical Bach tunes on a flute-like instrument.

GREGG: For foodies and non-foodies alike, farmers offered unexpected selections like Turkish orange eggplant, elephant garlic, peacock broccoli, ostrich and emu steaks and burgers and wide variety of squashes such as opo, which is comparable to zucchini in size and taste. One herb vendor’s stall boasted more than 30 different herbs.

JESSICA: Midway through our second promenade around the square, we deviated for a quick cheese tasting and refreshment break at Fromagination. There, a helpful employee provided tastes of artisanal Wisconsin cheeses. We purchased carbonated water and juice and a handful of French pastries, and sat on a park bench until we regained stamina to complete the tour around the market.

The Dane County Farmers’ Market, which runs year-round, did not disappoint me. The selection of foods was wide and varied, and the prices surprisingly reasonable.And yet, for all that Madison offers, I’ll happily stroll the Manitowoc parking lot next weekend, chatting with my favorite vendors, many of whom I now count as friends.

GREGG: And I can’t wait to sample…

JESSICA: …and help cook!...

GREGG: …the soups Jessica makes with her Madison market haul.

Pull up a chair and dish! 
Tell us about your favorite farmers' market find!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dine-In Beats Domino's

JESSICA: Last year I developed a Thursday night pizza ritual. With dough and sauce prepared ahead of time, I was able to arrive home from class and create a delicious, nutritious pie just in time to watch The Office.

GREGG: Much of my previous pizza experience included the line, "Thank you for calling Domino's, how may I help you?" Or Rocky's. Or Pizza Hut. get the idea.

JESSICA: Not wanting to deprive Gregg of the full pizza-making experience, I waited until he arrived to start the dough and the sauce.

Not to mention that I had sliced my finger while cooking the night before, and didn't want to sink my hands into the dough...

"Will you knead the dough?!?"

GREGG: "Do you need me to knead the dough?"

JESSICA: "Hee. Yes, I very much need you to knead the dough," I said, gesturing with my bandaged finger, which just so happened to be...the middle one.

GREGG: After I carried on with the "need to knead" banter for several minutes longer than I should have, which we'll spare you in these paragraphs, I began to knead the dough, with very little direction from my mentor, except the occasional line: "You can really beat the crap out of it if you want to. Mix those ingredients well to develop the gluten."

I kneaded for about 10 to 15 minutes, as the dough transformed from a gloppy, gooey mess to...well, a slightly more organized gooey mess, with the consistency of something resembling dough. The dough was placed in a large bowl with a thin layer of olive oil in the bottom to prevent the ball from sticking...and then the bowl was covered with a clean kitchen cloth and I cleaned the remaining dough from my hands and fingers with cold tap water.

JESSICA: We set the bowl aside to allow the dough to rise, and I set about making a simple red sauce using a can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes. I sautéed garlic, whirled the tomatoes in my mini-prep before adding them to the pan with a few red pepper flakes, a handful of Penzey's Italian herb seasoning, some whole fresh basil leaves, and a glug of the pinot noir we were fixin to drink with the finished pie.

Then it was time to prep the toppings: roasting peppers, caramelizing onions, sautéing yellow squash, slicing fresh mozzarella.

By the time the sauce was thick and bubbling and the veggies pre-cooked the dough had miraculously doubled!!!

GREGG: I tore about a third of the ball away from the rest...with the remaining dough separated into two pieces to be frozen for future pies...and began to pull and stretch and flatten the dough to fit the size of a 12-inch pizza pan. My inexperience led to a few rips and holes in the dough, which were easily mended with patches from the edges.

Once we had most of the pizza pan covered with dough, we added the layers—sauce, veggies, mozzarella cheese, and grated parmesan—in artistic concentric circles.

JESSICA: While the pie baked in a blazin' 475 degree oven, we sampled Jargon Pinot Noir, a favorite wine of mine, and noshed on roasted chickpeas, since the pizza-making lesson was taking an eternity, and some of us tend to get crabby when we're starving...

About fourteen minutes later, when the mozzarella formed a golden crust, and the piquant scent wafted through the house, we removed the pie from the oven and stared.

GREGG: I think I busted out a very non-Domino's phrase, and said something like, "That looks really fresh!"

JESSICA: "We made that!"

GREGG: I'm not a big fan of crispy, crunchy crust, and this pizza definitely has a crunch, aided by a thin layer of cornmeal spread on the pizza pan before baking.

But my favorite part of this recipe was the sauce. It had such a different flavor from so many restaurant sauces. Simple, tangy, fresh, tomato-y. While I love squashes in many shapes and sizes, the sauce definitely outdid the toppings on this pizza. Delicious!

JESSICA: While I make tasty homemade pizzas often, this one was especially scrumptious because...wait for the sappy sweetness...we crafted it together.


Pull up a chair and dish: What's your favorite homemade pizza ingredient?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guac, Guac, annnd...Guac

Instead of jumping right into a five-course meal in our first post, we thought we'd feature a few guacamoles we made to take to a recent wine-tasting party.

GREGG: Uncertain as to what ingredients go into a good guacamole, and wanting one of our three varieties to have a kick, I googled the term "hot guac" before we began, and shielded my eyes in case the interwebs treated that term as a bit risque.

Not to worry...the search returned with a PG rating. It provided many links to several different guacamole recipes, including one that used a dollop of mayonnaise as a secret ingredient for extra creaminess.

JESSICA: Ewwww, mayonnaise. No. Never.

GREGG: In the end, we decided to go with a very simple variety for two of them: avocado, roasted garlic, fresh cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice. And in the one that I was hoping would have a bit of shock and awe, I added crushed red pepper, chipotle powder, and about 10 drops of Tabasco.

The hot one delivered a bit of a slow burn, but I think for my next effort, I need to add some finely diced jalapeño, and maybe 30(ish) drops of hot sauce to tickle the palate.

My proudest moment of this lesson was learning how to efficiently pit an avocado. I'd heard of the method of thwapping it with a knife and twisting, but had never tried it.

After slicing all three avocados lengthwise, I aimed for my first thwap. If the thwap was too weak, the knife would just twist in the pit, and the pit wouldn't move.

If the thwap was off center by too much...well, we don't want to think about that. (I'm happy to say I still have all of my digits, and none of them have bandaged slices.)

My thwaps were dead-on, and hard enough, and soon the avocados were pitted, and we were left with six halves.

My next question revealed my rookie status in the kitchen, when I asked the Head Chef how we should peel them, and she answered...

JESSICA: "Or you could scoop them."

GREGG: Amateur foodie question No. 74 asked, and answered. She handed me a spoon and I transferred the avocado innards to a plate.

JESSICA: Meanwhile, I gathered ingredients for the third offering, a chunky guacamole laden with veggies I picked from the T's garden. I roasted glossy poblano peppers, diced sweet orange tomatoes, sawed sugary corn off the cob, and diced the avocado that Gregg had so nicely—and expertly—halved. A ladleful of black beans, handful of minced cilantro, small clove of smashed garlic, generous squeeze of lime juice, and salt and pepper rounded out the dish.

GREGG: I've tasted bad guacamole in restaurants before, and didn't know what exactly made a good or bad guac when beginning this simple venture. I think what saved mine was mashing it with the back of a fork until it had the creamy consistency I was seeking, and then...mashing it even more.

JESSICA: Just mash it, Gregg, maaaash it (said in my best I-lived-in-the-South for seven years accent).

GREGG: The hot guac was a fun experiment, and I'll aim to improve it in the future, but Jessica's chunky guacamole mixture earns my vote for best tasting of the three.

JESSICA: Awww, that's sweet. But your two mashed concoctions were very popular with the wine club gang, and looked appealing with the garnish of cilantro and lime. And they were just so...smoooooth. All that mashing worked wonders.

~~ • ~~ • ~~

READER INPUT: What's your secret for a hot and sassy guacamole?!?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Table Is Set

The idea for this blog grew from a discussion about the possibility of writing a monthly food column for the newspaper for which Gregg works.

We thought since people think about, talk about, prepare, and consume food more frequently than on a monthly basis, a blog might be a swell sideline for extra foodie adventures throughout the month, be they making new recipes or old standbys, noshing fantastical meals at restaurants, and/or embarking on cooking adventures shared by the experienced and the neophyte.

GREGG: One of us has years of experience in the kitchen, cooking and baking thousands of recipes and dishes.

JESSICA: One of us is a rookie with a sharp knife.

GREGG: One of us prepares meals using local, seasonal, sustainably grown produce and high-quality ingredients whenever possible.

JESSICA: One of us has never been one to shy away from Totino's Pizza Rolls, Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, and Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks.

GREGG: One of us has lived a healthy, vegetarian lifestyle for the past 11 years.

JESSICA: And one of us knows the personalities at every fast food drive-thru within a 20-mile radius.

We're confident that, after reading only a few entries, you'll deduce who's who. And we hope you'll partake in our foodie blog adventures, to see what we're serving.

We'll be most pleased if you return for seconds.