Packer Playoff Loss Dinner: from Cooking Light magazine

Quick weekend-closing post.

During halftime of a fairly exciting, but ultimately somewhat heartbreaking, Packer playoff loss, we whipped together a recipe from this month’s Cooking Light magazine.

The Menu (as suggested in the magazine – follow that link for a great picture)

Seared Lamb with Balsamic Sauce

Cracked Wheat–Currant Pilaf: Sauté 1½ cups quick-cooking bulgur in 2 teaspoons butter over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add 1½ cups water and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in 3 tablespoons dried currants and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

Spicy Chard: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper and 2 minced garlic cloves; sauté 30 seconds. Add 8 cups chopped Swiss chard and ¼ cup chicken broth; cover and cook 8 minutes.

The Verdict

This is probably only the third or fourth time that I’ve even cooked lamb chops, but given their ease of cooking and their great flavor (even without the sauce), I won’t hesitate to make them again. I will, however, wait until they’re on sale since this is not a cheap meat.

As for the side dishes, the cracked wheat-currant pilaf had a nice flavor, but it was definitely the base in this meal. The spicy chard, on the other hand, had a really nice kick to it.

Cranberry Pancakes

I’m guessing this was caused by our currently over-stuffed refrigerator and the half bag of cranberries sitting in it, but I woke up this morning wondering how cranberry pancakes would taste. I did a quick iPhone google (apologies to Molly for my use of those terms as adjective and verb) and found a tasty sounding recipe on the Too Many Chefs website.

They turned out great, albeit a little more tart than the usual fruity pancake.

Like the author of the post, I never really did get around to actually taking a picture.

Saturday Night Calzone

What we ate: Spinach & Cheese Calzone from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

How it looked:

This is the calzone right out of the oven. It was huge! A look inside.

Thoughts:

  • This recipe was EASY! Assuming you have some dough in the refrigerator, you can have this on the table in under an hour (roughly 15 minutes to prep, 25 minutes to cook, 10 minutes to cool)
  • While mixing the filling, I kept thinking, “There’s no way this is going to be enough to serve 2-4 people” – mainly because it only called for 1/2 cup of spinach
  • On the other hand, when it came out of the oven, I was stunned at how large it was. My first fear was that it was going to be too “bready,” and while the edges were maybe a little thicker than they needed to be, it certainly wasn’t the case flavor wise.
  • Our main comment after dinner: “It would be interesting to make this with some other ingredients.”

Links:

The companion website for the book has this post from almost two years ago featuring a discussion about packing slices of these calzones in school lunches.

Would we make it again? Absolutely!

Il Mito – Trattoria e Enoteca

We went on a date tonight. Like, to a real restaurant and everything.

We had originally planned to head to La Merenda, but discovered that they were on winter break at the moment. After a throwing a few options around, we decided to head to Il Mito, which is roughly 30 blocks from our house. We had both dined at Il Mito years ago when it was closer to downtown, but neither of has been to their new Wauwatosa location before.

A quick recap of our meals (and boy, the iPhone camera does not do these dishes justice at all)

I had the Filet di Maiale alla Tuscana, basically pork medallions with a white bean/sun-dried tomato sauce, accompanied by a sage and spinach gnocchi. Everything about this was delicious, from the tender sage-ey gnocchi to the moist bean-coverd pork. This plate ended up completely clean by the end of dinner.

Kelley went with one of tonight’s specials, basically a salad-stuffed ravioli served with shrimp and chicken sausage. There were no complaints from her side of the table either. The ravioli was perfect, and had Kelley itching for another crack at making some homemade ravioli. This plate was akready pretty clean when it made it’s way back to be washed.

And, to wash everything down, we split a bottle of Chianti.

Overall, we had a great time. The food was great, the wine was really nice, the service was perfect, the atmosphere was very comfortable, and Chef Feker even stopped by our table to joke with our server at one point.

We’ll be back.

Snowy Dinner – Cauliflower, Bacon & Parmesan Frittata

It’s been snowing all day in Milwaukee, so it seemed silly to make a trip to the grocery store for the final ingredients for the Cauliflower Soup we’ve been meaning to try. But, it also meant coming up with a dinner from random stuff in our refrigerator. The cauliflower was still there, and we had some eggs. Time for a frittata.

Based on our on-hand ingredients, I adjusted the recipe I found on MyRecipes.com. The key substitutions: turkey bacon for the bacon (beware, you won’t get much fat to cook the rest of the frittata in this way) and fat-free milk for the light cream.

It was a surprisingly tasty dinner. The cauliflower was nice and soft, more chewy than crunchy, and a slice of homemade bread made a fine side item.

Cauliflour, Bacon and Parmesan Frittata

Adapted from Food & Wine (via myRecipes.com)

Serves: 2

Ingredients

2.5 oz turkey bacon
5 large eggs
1/4 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
pinch freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 small head cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced

Instructions

  1. Cook bacon in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, until cooked. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to cool. Pour off any grease in the pan (with turkey bacon, there may not be any grease to pour off, normal bacon would definitely be fattier)
  2. In a medium bowl, stir the eggs, milk, Parmesan, parsley and pepper with a whisk. Add the cooled bacon.
  3. In the same skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat.
  4. Add the cauliflower and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until cauliflower is golden and softened.
  5. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute longer.
  6. Spread the cauliflower evenly across the pan and pour the egg mixture over the top. Tilt the pan to spread the egg mixture to all sides.
  7. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes, until bottom of frittata is golden brown and top is almost set.
  8. Heat broiler. Broil the frittata 6 inches from the heat, if possible, until eggs are set and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
  9. Lift up the edge of the frittata with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Three Loaves

I’m new to the whole breadmaking thing, but near as I can tell, the last couple years have featured a big uptick in the market for books about making “artisan” bread at home.

What is “artisan bread?”

Artisan bread is exactly what its name suggests: bread that is crafted, rather than mass produced. Baked in small batches rather than on a vast assembly line, artisan bread differs from prepackaged supermarket loaves in a number of ways. Special attention to ingredients, process, and a return to the fundamentals of the age-old bread-making tradition set artisan bread apart from soft, preservative-laden commercial breads.

(from wisegeek.com)

Anyway, my exposure started with a gift from my now sister-in-law’s boyfriend and discussions with my now father-in-law. That was back around Christmastime 2008. We had this little wedding thing in the Spring that replaced a lot of kitchen time with planning time, then it was summer and who wants to heat up a kitchen in summer? In late 2009, I made an attempt to build a sourdough starter from the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Likely more to my lack of skill than anything else, it failed, never rising. I didn’t know if it was the cool temperature in the house, or what it was, but I just couldn’t get that dough to rise at room temperature. The frustrating thing at that point was just how much flour had been pumped into that starter.

Discouraged, I gave up on the artisan bread idea for a bit and then noticed bread books popping up on my sister’s birthday wishlists. A few birthday gifts later, along with some newer artisan book browsing at the in-laws over Thanksgiving and I was motivated to try again. The big change? It looks like the thought process around making artisan breads at home has evolved quite a bit during the last 2-3 years.

In books alone, I’ve been exposed to:

Equipped with a simpler recipe, I was re-energized to make some homemade loaves. As one final preparation step, I bought a 6-qt Camwear Food Storage container to hold the dough in the refrigerator. Then it was time to whip up some dough, which was crazy simple. Some yeast, some hot water, a little salt, and some flour. That’s it. And it looked like this:

No way was that going to result in multiple loaves said the cynic who failed to make a sourdough starter. However, after two hours of rise time and a night in the refrigerator, it looked like this (which is actually a little bit down from its peak height while on the counter):

Goodness. Now I understand the “don’t store dough in a mason jar because it could explode” warning.

It was then time to bake the first loaf. I went with the Boule style to start, since it seemed pretty easy. Make a ball and plop it down on a corn mealed pizza peel. Which, thanks to my brother-in-law, I have the top-rated (by Cooks Illustrated) and fairly magical Super Peel (picture below, holding said Boule dough).

A hot oven filled with some quick broiler pan steam and 40 minutes or so of baking time later, and the finished product came out looking like this:

That really does look like “real” bread, doesn’t it? I was so excited by the result, and the awesome house-filling smell that I ignored the advice to let it completely cool and cut off two warm pieces, one for me, and one for my still-in-bed wife. It was really really delicious (although still a little moist in the middle due to that whole cooling-advice-ignoring thing). That loaf was gone in two days.

Next up, I made the batard shape:

It was also quite tasty. My goals going forward? A more uniform width and some more attractive cuts across the top. That one also got eaten quickly, so with the final amount of dough in the refrigerator, I decided to try the sandwich loaf version:

It’s not as big as one would really want for sandwiches, and again, but it did introduce me to the different requirements of using a bread pan. I ate some of this this morning.

With the emptied container, I took the book’s assurances that not cleaning it is a good idea (helping the sourdough-ish process along) and made a whole new batch in the same container. That’s in the refrigerator now awaiting some baking time. What loaves will come out of that one? I’m thinking another boule if we’re just eating it for a meal or two, a couple of baguette shaped loaves if we serve lasagna for our friends next week, and/or some fresh pizza dough.

If you’ve been intrigued by this artisan concept like I was, but you’ve been skeptical (really? 5 minutes a day?), I can assure you that this is one of the simplest things I’ve ever baked. Honestly, it might even be easier than a packaged brownie mix. My suggested starting point is the Hertzberg/Francois book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking