ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


The best pie… EVER

Strawberry Icebox Pie from Cooks Illustrated is the best pie I have ever eaten. Icebox pie is a gelatin-based pie with fresh fruit in a pie shell, topped with strawberry whipped cream. It has all of the qualities of a perfect dessert:

  • Ripe strawberry flavor really shines through
  • Pieces of real fruit
  • Cold, refreshing and you eat it when its hot outside.
  • A positive uplifting note at the end of the meal.

I do one minor variation. I substitute goat cheese for cream cheese in the whipped topping. The slightly goaty and tangy flavor is unexpected in the topping and is a wonderful complement to the fresh strawberries.

My mom used to make these pies when she worked at Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant in Dayton, OH. Seems like it’s still on the menu. No way it can be this good.


  • 2016-07-02 18.35.142016-07-02 18.35.50

Leave a comment

Massaging vegetables: Cucumber Sunomono

Cooks Illustrated suggests massaging kale. “Kneading and squeezing” will break down cell walls. They recommend 5 minutes for standard kale and 1-2 minutes for lacinato and red Russian kale.

Here’s the thing… the Japanese technique of sunomono also uses massage to break down cell walls and make vegetables softer and more tender. The difference is the Japanese method includes salt, which helps break down cell walls and extract moisture, but then rinses the vegetables to remove the excess saltiness.

I think this calls for Sunomono, or Japanese cucumber salad! This dish is great on a hot summer day, served with cold soba noodles and iced dipping sauce.


Serves 2 generously.

  1. Peel, cut in half the long way and seed one cucumber. Cut into thin slices on the mandoline.
  2. Mix cucumber and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Gently rub the cucumbers with salt until they become tender, but not limp, and give away lots of liquid. Gently squeeze the cucumbers to remove any excess liquid. Save the liquid to make a dressing in step 3.
  3. In a microwave-safe glass measuring cup, measure out the cucumber liquid to get 1/4 cup. If theres too much, pour out excess. If there’s not enough, add water. Mix a pinch of dashi granules, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp soy sauce and a big pinch of sugar in with the cucumber water. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir to dissolve the dashi and sugar.
  4. Arrange half of cucumber slices in the center of a bowl. Pour over a generous amount of dressing, leaving a puddle in the bottom of the bowl. If time allows, chill to be ice-cold.


Leave a comment

Christmas Cookbooks: from Cooks Illustrated…

An illustration of pig anatomy and pork primals from the Science of Good Cooking from Cooks Illustrated Press, 2012.

An illustration of pig anatomy and pork primals from the Science of Good Cooking from Cooks Illustrated Press, 2012.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I got a lot of cookbooks for Christmas. Today, I’m going to review the three cookbooks that I got from Cooks Illustrated. Two books are hardbound annuals, and the other is a new cookbook based on techniques.

The hard bound annual editions are like the hard bound journals in academic libraries… Take all of the paper monthly journals for the year and slap them between two hard covers. I have been amassing these annual editions since I became a Cooks Illustrated subscriber in 2005. This year, Sam gave me the 2001 and 2009 editions. 2001 was working back in the timeline, and for some reason, I never got the 2009 edition.

Illustration of moisture expelled from roasts after variable minutes of resting.

Illustration of moisture expelled from roasts after variable minutes of resting.

The cookbook The Science of Good Cooking is a collection of recipes and techniques arranged around a common scientific/cooking/chemistry concept. Each section describes the science behind the concept, illustrates how the concept works in cooking using laboratory-like experiments, and then presents recipes that utilize the concept. For example, concept #3 is “Resting Meat Maximizes Juiciness.” In this chapter, the concept is presented as resting meat reabsorbs expelled water back into muscle fibers. Then they test the concept by resting equal-weight roasts for different amounts of time (0 to 40 minutes) then measuring the amount of liquid expelled after slicing. Then they include a table summarizing the amount of time to rest meats, based on similar tests. Then there are recipes using the resting technique to increase moistness: grilled flank steak and pork roast.


The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen and Crosby, G. The Science of Good Cooking. 1st ed. Brookline, MA: America’s Test Kitchen; 2012. ISBN: 978-1-933615-98-1. Details at

The Editors of Cooks Illustrated. Cooks Illustrated. 2001 Bound Annual Ed. Brookline, MA: Boston Common Press LLP; 2001. ISBN: 0-936184-56-6. Details at

The Editors of Cooks Illustrated. Cooks Illustrated. 2009 Bound Annual Ed. Brookline, MA: America’s Test Kitchen Press; 2009. ISBN: 1-933615-49-4. Details at

1 Comment

Mushroom Week Day 4: Mushroom Burgers

Mise En Place... with a bit of tea and snacking along...

Mise En Place… with a bit of tea and snacking along… Annotations made with Skitch.

EDIT: There’s pictures now… Now I can only apologize for  the lack of a final picture of a cooked burger. 

So, I’ve found there’s two types of “mushroom burger” – the first is a portobello cap between a bun – a grilled mushroom cap sandwich, as it were. The other is macerated mushrooms with other stuff, made into a patty, and eaten between a bun. This recipe the latter type. But, since it’s a Cooks Illustrated recipe (yet again!) there’s a LOT more to it.

Disclaimer: I didn’t do much of the cooking tonight. Sam had the day off, so he did 95% of the cooking. My contributions were: microwaving frozen peas, opening a can of corn, microwaving said corn, and toasting burger buns. So much of this post is based on Sam’s narrative of making of mushroom burgers.

As an aside, all Cooks Illustrated recipes are sometimes more complex than they need to be… This is the extra work the writers at Cooks put into developing recipes that are reliable, not simple. Cooks is NOT concerned with novice  chefs that can’t read a recipe. They expect you to know your way around your well-equipped kitchen. That being said, all of the reliability of their recipes comes with a trade off. Sometimes the steps seem completely unnecessary and pointless. (note my discussion about rehydrating porcini mushrooms from Tuesday) But, when I’m cooking one of their recipes, I follow their instructions religiously.

Onto the mushroom burgers (So says Sam)… Sam doesn’t think this recipe made a “mushroom burger,” just a really good “veggie burger.” There wasn’t enough mushroomyness for him. In the recipe, the mushrooms were only one of four main components. The recipe called for  lentils, bulgur wheat, and pakno breadcrumbs, with mayonnaise to bind it together. So the overall impression was not “mushrooms” it was “patty of stuff.” We brainstormed how to make the whole thing more “mushroomy” and the only good idea we could come up with was to use dried shiitake mushrooms ground to a powder as a binder and a way to absorb more moisture. I also though about a “stuffed mushroom burger” where a portobello cap was grilled, then stuffed with mushroom filling and finished under indirect heat, and served on a bun. It would be a hybrid of the mushroom cap sandwich and the veggie burger.

So they’re a time-consuming but tasty substitute to Gardenburgers. We’ll have to do some tests to see how well the formed patties can freeze. Having these on hand in the freezer would make me more likely to cook them again. I’ve come to expect veggie burgers to be a quick dinner, not a 45-minute prep that required the food processor.

Sorry for the lack of pictures – I didn’t take any since I wasn’t cooking. There’s a few pictures hiding on the actual digital camera (I take all my photos on my iPhone), but I don’t know how to get to them…

Leave a comment

Mushroom Week Day 3: Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto (Cooks Illustrated Sept/Oct 2003)

Mushroom Risotto. Tastes better than it looks. Srsly. (Cooks Illustrated Sept/Oct 2003)
Arborio rice on the bottom. Japonica rice on the top. The arborio is whiter because it has more starch and less protein. Note that the shape is even stumpier than Japonica. (Japonica or "sushi rice" is basic Japanese short-grain rice.) Arborio rice on the bottom. Japonica rice on the top. The arborio is whiter because it has more starch and less protein. Note that the shape is even stumpier than Japonica. (Japonica or “sushi rice” is basic Japanese short-grain rice.)

Risotto is fancy Italian garbage rice. In general, risotto is made by toasting rice in butter, then cooking the rice slowly with little infusions of flavorful liquid while stirring, and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring, then add butter or cheese. Voila!

The key to risotto is the special arborio rice. The grains have two unique characteristics: they’re high in starch and shaped more like a football than a sausage. Because the arborio rice grains are stumpy, football-shapes, they are less likely to break while stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring. Since the grains have lots of starch, all of that stirring rubs the starch grains against each other, sloughing off starch on the outer layer of the cooking grain and mixing it into the interstitial cooking space, making the risotto creamy.

We didn’t just have risotto for dinner, we had mushroom risotto. Again, this is a Cooks Illustrated Recipe (Sept/Oct 2003). To get lots of mushroom flavor the recipe has two important elements. One, like yesterday’s mushroom ragu, the recipe uses rehydrated porcini mushrooms and their broth. Second, the recipe adds soy sauce, which has lots of “brown” or umami flavors. So, in the risotto is 1 oz reconstituted porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup when rehydrated and minced) plus the caps of crimini mushrooms, cut into quarters instead of slices, so they hold together during cooking. The dish is finished with salty parmesan cheese, some parsley for color, and a bit of butter. Took about an hour to prep and cook.