Shiitaki Heaven

Wow, can that mushroom log produce! We had an abundance of shitaki mushrooms this week cooking a Mushroom Risotto followed by Mushroom Stroganoff. We should definately try this again; I didn't know growing our own mushrooms could be so easy. And the smell wasn't that bad, really, which was my biggest fear.

The mushroom log was so prolific, we had many to give away to Burr and Natalie, who stopped by to pick up Laura's keyboard. Burr's been building his recording studio for FAWM, the February Album Writing Month project he's started. Check out some of his songs, they're writing 14 in 28 days.

Posted by Mark @ 3:46 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Fastnacht Day

It's been about 6 years since I last made Doughnuts on Fastnacht Day, or as we called it, Doughnut Day), and acutally it was the recipe that sparked my interest in collecting recipes on-line. Six years later, we're updating recipes each month and keeping the blog up to date, wow. So today was the time to pull out the Sour Cream Crullers recipe from my mom, and they sure are tasty. It works really well to let the powdered sugar soak into the doughnuts. This will definately be a yearly treat.

Posted by Mark @ 2:13 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Gaming with Gamers

Last night, we were introduced to Game Night at Matt's. Matt invites many friends over about once a year for the celebration of Board Games. Matt has quite an extensive collection, with many Spiel Des Jahres winners included, so it made for a very fun evening.

We started off playing a game of Ultra Violets, a game I'm working on based on Laura's hobby of growing African Violets. It's very rough still, and needs some work, this is the first playtest with 4 people, but I like how things are going with it. We'll see where it ends up. Burr and Natalie seemed to enjoy it, and asked for a copy when it's finished, so that's a good sign.

Other games we enjoyed were Fluxx, a game where the rules change as you play cards, making for a very chaotic and funny time, and Lord of the Fries, where you're a zombie at a fast-food restaurant trying to fill orders. With 10 people it was a little slow, but looks interesting for less people. Matt provided some nice Chilean salsas, a ham salad, and some very fulfilling burritos, so both our brains and bodies were happily satisfied at the end of the night.

Posted by Mark @ 2:00 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Vodka Sauce II: The return of Newman

Another fun spaghetti week. Now I know why I grew up on spaghetti :) it is convenient and delicious! I especially like the thinner angel hair pasta which cooks-up fast and doesn't leave you with a mouthful of chewy spaghetti with a bit of sauce.

To spice up a spaghetti week we tried a classic, the Classico Mushroom Olive. I thing I still prefer my own mushroom and olive mixture, just because the pieces in the sauce are larger, but we did enjoy the meaty sauce greatly.

Lastly we thought we would make our own vodka sauce with some ground turkey. We relied on our Cook's Bible and some personal modificaitons for the recipe. The result was a creamy vodka sauce with a bit of bite. We still like the smoothness of Newman's Vodka Sauce, but for our first time, the sauce turned out quite well.

Posted by Laura @ 2:51 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Valentines Day

It was nice to have Valentine's day fall on a Saturday this year, so we can really relax and enjoy it. Laura picked up a new game for us, Lost Cities, by Reiner Knizia. It's a really neat two-person card game where you explore different regions of the world using numbered cards to denote your progress, a constant battle of luck versus strategy, and a great addition to our growing game collection. Along with the mushroom log, I took Laura to Home Depot for some plant shopping, where we picked up a Kalanchoe and a Kangaroo Fern to add to Laura's fern collection.

For dinner, we'd made reservations at the Dardanelles, a Turkish restaurant on Monroe Street. We started out with shrimp appetizers, cream of shrimp soup and some shrimp/beets/goat cheese mixture. The meals, served with rice and couscous, were a vegetable tagine and chicken marinated with blood oranges. Everything confirmed that we should learn to cook Turkish food, as the meals were extraordinary.

The day wrapped up by making cookies with Burr and Natalie at their annual St Valentine's Day Cookie Massacre, with one of the favorites being Choco Lots. We also experimented with making Stained-Glass cookies, which are standard sugar cookied dough formed into hollow shaped and then filled with crushed hard candy (like Jolly Ranchers). Make sure you put them on aluminum foil before cooking, or they'll be impossible to remove from the pan.

Posted by Mark @ 2:49 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Spaghetti and Pork Chops

As school is getting busier, we decided to have an easier week with spaghetti, and more spaghetti, and more spaghetti :) This time we did not get a pasta sauce extravaganza at the market, but stretched a nice jar of prego with mushrooms and ground turkey. To mix up the week a bit, we cooked some pork chops on the stove top. The meat at our local stores has always been top quality (but we pay for it :) so we don't have it that often). This week pork chops were on sale, and I just couldn't pass up the taste of a nice cooked chop; they go well with anything :) The fun thing about shoping the sales is that you get the chance to get out of a cooking rut and try something new or something old again.

Posted by Laura @ 2:48 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Braised Fennel is Fantastic!

For side dishes this week, we decided on a dish submitted by our friend Teena, Braised Fennel. They found this recipe when loads of fennel showed up in a co-op veggie box, and it's been a hit with them ever since. It surprizingly tastes nothing like the licorice flavor of its seeds, instead more like a sweet artichoke heart. It went excellently with our chicken dishes, and we'll definately try it again.

And, as a comparison taste test, as we like to do here, we tried out La Choy's canned Sweet and Sour Chicken. It comes in two connected cans, one with chicken and sauce, the other with all the vegetables. For speed, it could not be beat; open each can with a can opener, drain vegetables, combine on stove and heat until warm, about 5 minutes. Taste on the other hand was as expected: processed, preservative filled, and too many bean curds, making the whole dish taste rather bland and earthy. The flavors of the vegetables, usually distinct with Chinese food, were mushy and bland, and even the sauce didn't have the fresh punch of our own. And we couldn't find many pineapples! So, if you're tempted to take the short cut, spare your taste buds and cook the authentic, that or order Chinese take-out.

Posted by Mark @ 10:57 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Growing our own Mushrooms

I love mushrooms! It is the wierdest thing when I really think about it, liking a fungus, but I definately enjoy their unique flavor, texture, and the best if finding them in nature. Talking with my mom the other night, I discovered my interest started in undergrad - it seems like just yesterday I was hiking around Lake Georgetown with my mushroom field guide in tow scouting for the elusive mushroom...

Now I am not a mycologist, but last year Mark and I attended our first meeting of the Madison Mushroom society and loved it! Mark even got an awsome wall calendar with a feature fungus every month! And we found out that there are a large body of people that enjoy hunting and learning about mushrooms here in little Madison.

Tonight we enjoyed a mycological presentation by a local mushroom grower in Northern Wisconsin called Field and Forest Products, Inc. We got loads of tips and laughed a wonderful mushroom jokes! Best of all, we got the inspiration to grow mushrooms at home! Now I know what you are thinking, but you really can do it and enjoy the "fruit" year round. We are going to start with a Shiitake table top log - my amazing Valentines day present from Mark! We expect to get about three months of lovely shiitake of which we plan to be able to give oodles away to friends. Right now we are eagerly looking for lovely mushroom recipes to enjoy our future fruit!

Posted by Laura @ 10:02 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Chickety China, the Chinese Chicken

I've been wanting to cook chinese buffet style chicken for a while now, and finally found a pair of recipes to make it worth-while. We've noticed that unlike other asian restaurants, the chicken is mostly fried independent of the sauces, only combined right before serving, possibly because of the breading on the chicken. First, we made Sweet and Sour Chicken, adapted from the New Classic Chinese Cookbook. The author takes the approach of teaching Americans how to cook Chinese food, so there's recommendations like "don't use double black soy sauce, it's too strong for you." The recipes use widely available ingredients, although a trip to an asian food store wouldn't hurt. The sweet and sour chicken turned out very well, with the flavors mixing into a light syrupy sauce; I can't get enough warm pineapples.

The second variety was Spicy Honey Chicken (General Style), an excellent recipe from suburblicious.com, one of our neighbors in the Foodbloggers webring. She writes mostly in French, and luckily translated this recipe to English. I'd been looking for a good General's chicken recipe, and this is perfect. We decided to use her method of frying chicken for the whole batch, only adding sherry to the milk marinade. And for the peppers, we used Ground Chipotle Pepper from Penzeys, and the flavor is not searing hot but builds flavor as you go. The honey in the sauce is a great tangy taste instead of sugar. Both were served over a bed of jasmine rice, and we'll be enjoying it all week long.

Posted by Mark @ 9:42 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Groundhog Day!

Today, we celebrate Groundhog Day, my favorite holiday of the year, in which we worship the lowly groundhog and listen to their predictions about the weather. This year, Punxsutawney Phil, the pope of groundhogs, once again saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. Grrr, just what we need. I'd like to find a traditional food to have each year for groundhog day, perhaps potatoes and other root vegetables in a warm winter stew.

Posted by Mark @ 1:14 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Robin and Meg's Wedding

It's the start of wedding season 2004; I think we have 4 weddings on the schedule for this summer. So, this weekend we flew to Wayne, PA for the wedding of my old college roommate Robin to his fiance Meg, a wonderful couple. Our flight was rescheduled for us, diverting us on train from Newark to Philadelphia, which worked out perfect as we then took the train from Philly to Wayne, and the hotel and church were a block away from the station. If we get the opportunity again, we'd choose the train; there's so much more leg room, less engine noise, and altogether a calmer experience.

Once there, we caught up with the old gang pretty quickly, spliting a pizza with Eliz Friday night, then seeing everyone else come the wedding on Saturday. It was a beautiful service -- it's our first post-wedding wedding, and it brought back lots of good memories. We loved the stained glass in the church and listening to the music, especially the postlude of Toccata by C.M. Widor, a song I've always wanted to play on the organ.

The food all weekend was wonderful! The reception was filled with mouth-watering h'orderves, like carmelized onions and goat cheese on a puff pastry, duck and apple in phylo dough, and basil and cucumber on wheat bread. Who knew I liked goat cheese so much? And Laura enjoyed their decadent chocolate chocolate wedding cake. The evening brought more pizza and "dead fish" beer, and we heard about Karina's most recent trip to Antarctica to work with radio telescopes, a facinating place to live for a whole year.

It all went by so fast, and it's hard to believe we've been out of college for six years; there's never enough time to see everyone. It's the same with family; we wish we lived much closer to all of our friends and could have them over for dinners on the weekends. On the train trip back, we bought Girl Scout Cookies, the coconut Samoa and the classic Thin Mint varieties; we were suprized we still had some left when we returned home.

Posted by Mark @ 11:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]