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To Vegan or Not to Vegan?

Before I delve into this story, it is important that you know my background. I was raised on the classic Wisconsinite diet, consisting of meat, potatoes, and a ridiculous amount of cheese. Because of this, I never thought that veganism was a sustainable diet for my way of life. But last week, that changed.

I picked up the book, The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell. It reviews how certain diets can affect your health, not only how it affects you on a molecular level, but also how it affects the chances of experiencing heart disease and different kinds of cancers. The main line of thought throughout this book is that eating a clean, plant based diet can not only help you prevent any serious ailments in the future, but could potentially reverse some current ailments, such as heart disease and diabetes.

I wanted to try this “perfect diet” and decided to take the leap into veganism. Would I like it enough to make it a lifestyle? Would it just be a fad diet? I was determined to try being vegan for one week, eating at least 3 meals a day that didn’t contain any meat, eggs, dairy, or other animal proteins. I also wanted to take it a step further and add the stipulation that every meal I had needed at least one serving of raw fruits or vegetables. At the end of the week, I would see if I felt any better than I did on my usual, omnivorous diet.

The first day, I was very ready for the experiment. I went to the grocery store and bought loads of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as some meat alternatives and some whole grains. I looked up some vegan recipes and made some really delicious meals, and I was feeling very optimistic about my diet change.

The next few days were harder.

I was getting tired of eating the same oatmeal and salads every day, and needed a change. I felt like I had energy and wasn’t lethargic, and I had even gone more than 24 hours without heartburn, but I was just unenthusiastic about my options for food. I needed something hearty to fill me up. I would usually gravitate towards some mashed potatoes and gravy with some sort of meat, but the veganism really threw a wrench in those plans. I decided it was time to try going out to eat. I discovered a vegan Salisbury steak from Comet Café, and OH MY GOD, it was exactly what I needed. I had to check multiple times and make sure I wasn’t eating real meat! The way it tasted wasn’t even the best part. I didn’t feel sluggish after eating that heavy meal. Usually I would want to go right to sleep, but I felt full, but not disgusting and tired.

Near the end of the week, I was sleeping better, my acne was clearing up, I felt energized, and I even think I was in a better mood, but I just couldn’t kick my craving for meat. As soon as my week was up, I got a chicken and bacon sandwich and took a huge bite…

And it wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be.

I was honestly disappointed with the flavors, and the texture, and even the grease I used to love. Not to mention, I got instant heartburn and a stomachache for the rest of the night.

Now, it’s been almost one week of going back to my regular diet habits, and I still feel pretty crappy. I know going vegan is a process, and it’s almost inconceivable to be a perfect vegan right out the get go. This experiment did open my eyes though, and I want to try to weave more raw and vegan options into my diet. Maybe I will adopt a vegan lifestyle someday, but I have a lot of things to learn and try before I dedicate myself to a strict lifestyle change.

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Recipe: Thanksgiving Turkey

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and this year I am thankful for perfecting my turkey recipe.

In my eyes, the turkey is usually never the star of Thanksgiving, because I am very partial to the mountains of sides. This year, however, I decided to do my research. I wanted my turkey to have crispy skin, a juicy breast, and meat flavored throughout, and not just on the edges. What’s the secret? Brining.

There are two ways to brine your turkey: wet brining or dry brining. To wet brine a turkey, you have to have a giant pot or bucket with a base of water and seasonings. The turkey marinates in this brine for over 24 hours, and helps ensure that the meat is thoroughly flavored.

I decided to dry brine my turkey, because of the importance of the crispy skin. I took a completely thawed turkey and patted it completely dry with paper towels. Then, I made a spice mixture of around 4 Tbsp of salt, and 1 Tbsp each of black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, sage and thyme. I rubbed the inside cavity with the mixture until it was thoroughly seasoned, and rubbed the skin of the entire bird with the mixture as well. Then, with my hands I carefully separated the membrane between the skin and the flesh on the breasts and on the meaty part of the legs and rubbed the remaining mixture in those cavities. I then placed my seasoned turkey on a pan with a roasting rack in the fridge uncovered for 24 hours. Also, the night before I cooked my bird, I make an herb butter to rub under the skin before cooking. I started by melting one stick of butter in the microwave, stirring every 45 seconds until completely melted. Then, I put in fresh thyme and sage and let the butter marinade in its liquid state for about an hour. Then, I took out the herbs and let it harden in the fridge.

The next day. I preheated my oven to 325°farenheight and moved the oven racks low enough to fit my turkey nicely. While the oven was preheating, I peeled and cut one white onion in half, and put it in the seasoned cavity of the bird. I also added one halved lemon, two whole cloves of garlic, and a bundle of fresh thyme and sage. Then, I took my herb butter and rubbed it under the skin all over the breasts and the legs. I flipped my wings under the bird, and filled the bottom of the roasting pan with about ¾ of an inch of chicken broth, so I could baste the turkey. I cooked my turkey according to the cook time calculator on the Butterball website and basted it every 15-20 minutes. I had an 18lb turkey and it took approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to cook thoroughly.

I ended up with the perfect turkey. It was juicy and tender, with crispy skin and flavorful meat. It was by far, the best turkey I have ever had, and it is now the star of my thanksgiving feast.

Recipe: Chicken Pot Pie

Well, it’s about time I put a recipe on this blog, huh? It’s finally starting to look like fall outside, which is my favorite season for cooking. I am a huge fan of stick-to-your-bones type meals, and one of my all time favorite meals is chicken pot pie.

Now, chicken pot pie can be really complicated, but I always tend to do things the easy way. Being a freshly graduated college student, I don’t want to spend over $30 making a single pot pie, so I spend about $15 and make two gigantic pies.

To make my easy and cheap pot pie recipe you will need:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables (about 4 cups)
  • 4 frozen pie crusts (usually comes in packs of 2)
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1tsp sage
  • 1tbsp garlic powder
  • 1tbsp black pepper
  • 1tbsp salt

Assuming you already have the spices at home, this lot should cost you around $15.

 

I like to start my pies the night before. I take the rotisserie chicken and shred it with a fork, making sure to get every bit of meat off the bones. I seal that in a container and place it in the fridge. I also move my frozen pie crusts to the fridge to thaw out overnight. This extra prep before the actual assembly of the pies will make your life so much easier, I promise.

 

 

Now, the day has arrived to make the pot pies! I start by preheating my oven to 425°F. We will only be baking one of the pies, so that will be a sufficient temperature. While the oven is preheating, take a large mixing bowl and add together the shredded chicken, the whole bag of frozen veggies (I prefer mixed peas, carrots and corn), both cans of soup and the spices. Mix them until all the veggies and chicken are evenly coated with the soup.

Next, fill two of the pie tins with the mixture. Make sure there are even amounts in both tins. Then, take the remaining crusts and layer them over the filled tins to make two sealed pies. Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork to prevent any gravy spillage. Take one of the pies and cover it with aluminum foil and place it in the freezer. It will keep fresh for 2 weeks. When ready to eat, thaw in the fridge for at least 24 hours before baking.           

Take tonight’s pie and put it on a baking sheet lined with tin foil to catch any drippings. Cut some slits at the top of the pie for ventilation, and then put in the oven for 35 minutes. After the 35 minutes is up, take the pie out and wrap foil around the edges of the crust to prevent burning. Put the pie back in the oven for another 20 minutes. After the pie is done, remove the foil from the crusts and allow the pie to sit for 10-15 minutes, or else it will be too hot and liquid to get an even slice.This is a super easy meal that doesn’t require much preparation, and is a one of my go to meals in the fall and winter. Be sure to comment and tell me how your pies turned out!

On The Road: Atlas BBQ Review

Hang on to your hats, ladies and gents! It’s time for an out of town special! Now, I get that this blog is Miss MKE, but let’s be honest; we’re just here for the good food. And man, did I find some good food last night in Grafton, WI at Atlas BBQ. I had been there before, but thought it would be a great opportunity to write a review.

Atlas is your typical barbeque joint. It carries everything from ribs to pulled pork to crispy ends, with a variety of classic sides like macaroni and cheese, cornbread and fries. As an added bonus, Atlas has five different barbeque sauces at every table, so you can choose whichever you would like. On their website they show the heat index of each sauce, ranging from “fun for everyone” to just an ominous picture of a skull and crossbones.

First as an appetizer, we ordered the fried pickles. They were long thin slices and beer battered. They were served with a chipotle ranch sauce and were $6.25. The pickles were still crisp even after being cooked, and I attribute that to the batter. The beer batter was light and buttery, and didn’t overwhelm the pickle flavor. The chipotle ranch complimented the tanginess of the pickle and created the perfect creaminess the pickles needed. Unfortunately, they were so good that we ate them all before I could even get a picture.

For my main course I ordered the pulled pork sandwich with a side of Brussels sprouts. The sandwich was served on a pretzel bun and topped with a tangy vinegar based coleslaw, which was a nice crisp texture to compliment the tender pork. Wait… the tender MOUNTAIN of pork! There was so much pork on this sandwich that I couldn’t even take a bite without half of it falling out! For $10.25, this sandwich was definitely worth it.

The Brussels sprouts were the perfect side to this sandwich. Because of the vinegar in the barbeque sauce and the coleslaw on the sandwich, I was craving something sweet. The Brussels sprouts were cooked with bacon and honey, and every bite carried the smokiness of the bacon, while the honey caramelized the outside of each sprout. I know many people don’t like Brussels sprouts, but these sprouts could change minds and end wars.

I will definitely go back to Atlas BBQ again, because not only is it delicious barbeque, but also it isn’t outrageously priced.

 

North Star American Bistro Review

Recently, my mom and I decided to go on a fun night out. I was trying to think of a good spot to take her, because my mom is a pretty elegant lady (and I’m sure she will appreciate me saying that), but she doesn’t exactly treat herself often enough. I thought it would be nice to find a spot where we could sit outside with some drinks and appetizers while catching up. The North Star American Bistro was the perfect place for our mother/daughter bonding time.

 

I had never been to North Star before, and I was pleasantly surprised with my experience. Our server was very friendly and understood when we spent an obscenely long time looking at the menu. After a lengthy deliberation, we decided to split the crab cake appetizer. For $11.95, we were served two crab cakes over a bed of greens, with a tarragon aioli and horseradish dressing. The crab cakes were a decent size, and were mild in flavor. They were cooked nicely and had a crispy outside and an almost fluffy inside. There weren’t very many big chunks of crab in the cakes, but it was still good without them. The dressing was the star of the dish for me. It added the creaminess that the cakes needed, and the flavor was fantastic. Every component of the dish seemed well thought out and was well executed, and I would definitely order it again.

 

We were still hungry, so we ordered the margherita pizza. It was $12.95 and was about a 12” pie. The crust had good flavor, but it was a bit soft on the bottom. A few more minutes in the oven would have crisped it up. Other than that, the flavor was good. The sauce was sweet but zesty, and the toppings were fresh. The problems I find most often with margherita pizzas are that the tomatoes are too soggy and that the basil is burned. This pizza didn’t have these problems, and I was very happy with it. There was a lot of cheese. When I say a lot of cheese, I mean a LOT of cheese, which is definitely not a problem. It was gooey and stringy like good pizza cheese should be, but it had an amazing quality of freshness. It didn’t have that overpowering packaged cheese taste. It was very mild and almost scentless, which are key qualities of a fresh mozzarella.

North Star American Bistro was a great spot to have some good quality food and a good quality experience. I hope to dine there again, and it would be a great contender for date night!

 

Jalisco’s Review

I love Mexican food. Authentic Mexican restaurants not only give you huge portions of food, but they also do it for cheap! One of my favorite Mexican places on the East side is Jalisco’s. They have delicious and strong margaritas and mojitos, which is an added bonus to the great food.

When we sat down to eat at Jalisco’s, they served us a basket of chips and salsa. The chips were still warm and not overly oily. The salsa was a tomato based salsa with cilantro, and has a good kick of spice. I ordered the Burrito con Chorizo dinner, which came with a burrito the size of my arm, a side of rice and beans, lettuce, sour cream, and guacamole, all for $9.25.

The rice was mild and cooked well, and the only problem was that I wished there was more of it! The beans were creamy and flavorful, and they were covered in gooey cheese, which made them even better. When I was given my burrito, I spread the guacamole over the top, put some lettuce over that, and drizzled it with the house made hot sauce. The burrito was stuffed to the brim with chorizo, lettuce and tomatoes. The chorizo wasn’t that spicy at all, but had all the good flavors of cumin and peppers. I would say even if you don’t like spicy food, you would be able to eat this burrito and be just fine. I was only able to eat half of my meal, because it was gigantic. It did hold up in the fridge just fine, and was still good to eat later in the day.

I will definitely go back and try something new, like their tacos or tostadas. Jalisco’s offers “taco Tuesdays and Thursdays”, so if you are looking for a deal, they’re the place to go.

 

The Ruckus Review

It’s time I reviewed what “all the ruckus” is about. The Ruckus is a new burger shop, owned by Collectivo. They specialize in burgers, fries, sundaes (or ‘saturdaes’ as they call them) and churros. The Ruckus prides itself on using fresh and local ingredients, and the walls boast signage showing where they get their ingredients. They have about six different kinds of burgers, but you can also specify each one to your own personal preference. I decided to get the Rizo, which is $6.50, without any add-ons.

The Rizo comes with a beef and pork chorizo patty, red cabbage slaw, lettuce, tomato, salsa and house sauce, all topped with a sesame seed bun. The patty was cooked medium rare, which in my opinion, is the best way to order a burger. The patty was juicy with crispy edges, and slightly spicy from the chorizo. Atop the patty was the slaw, which was crunchy and sour. It wasn’t over pickled and added a kick of freshness to the burger. The only downfall to the slaw was that the juice soaked into the bun and made it soggy, but at least it was a tasty sogginess. The tomato and lettuce were fresh, which is always a bonus. The house sauce was kind of like a paprika mayonnaise, which helped add a creamy element, because the burger didn’t come with cheese. I couldn’t really identify the salsa in the burger, but it did have the heat that I was looking for.

The fries were $3.00, which was a deal for how many they give you. They are made from thick cut Yukon gold potatoes, and have remnants of crispy skin as well. The fries are lightly salted, and pair very well with the burger.

The Ruckus offers a vegetarian black bean burger and chicken options as well, and I will definitely be back to try those soon.

 

The Garage Review

Last night, a friend and I went out for appetizers and drinks on Brady Street. We decided to go to The Garage. The Garage is the literal garage of the Hi Hat, turned into an extension of the already existing bar.

Now, this wasn’t my first time at The Garage, but it was my first time having food there. Because we were in an establishment dedicated to alcohol, I started off with a gin and tonic, which I knew would be good from my previous experiences. We talked to the bartender and asked what the best appetizers were, and he suggested the Art Dip.

 

 

The Art Dip is a spinach and artichoke dip, loaded with cheese. It came out from the kitchen hot and gooey, and smelled fantastic. The dish was supposed to come with some garlic crostini, but we were served a small loaf of bread. The dip was creamy and salty, with good chunks of spinach and artichoke. There were a couple of things that could have made this dish better, one being the presence of crostini. The dip needed a crunchier counterpart, because the lack of a side with a crisper texture gave everything a kind of squishy feel. The second thing would be a better ratio of dip to bread. When we finished the loaf of bread, we still had over half of the dip still left in the crock, which felt like a waste. In spite of these things, the dip was still very flavorful and was made very well.

We also decided to try a more traditional bar food: fries. We ordered the Oilcan Fries, which were served to us on a big plate, sky-high with toppings. The base of the dish was a bed of seasoned waffle fries, which were crisp, and perfectly soft in the middle. On top of that was a layer of smoky pulled pork. I was pleasantly surprised with the pork, because it was still juicy and tender, but didn’t leak any juice that would make the fries soggy. There was then a layer of provolone cheese, charred onion, a fried egg, and a drizzle of horseradish sauce. The provolone cheese wasn’t dispersed very well, and ended up creating big gluey blob in the middle of the plate that we couldn’t break apart with the fries alone. The cheese did add another good component of saltiness to the dish, but I wouldn’t have been upset if it wasn’t there in the first place. I had no complaints about the onions or the horseradish sauce, but the egg was a different story. I thought the fried egg would be the perfect addition to the fries, and I couldn’t wait to break the yolk and have delicious golden goodness on every bite, but the way this egg was cooked was borderline sinful. It was cooked over-hard, and whatever yolk had existed was cooked into a chewy thick paste. It was like the consistency of play dough, and the white of the egg was not much better. It was rubbery and hard to cut through with a fork. Needless to say, I was disappointed. There were many components of this dish that worked, and the overall taste was really good, but the cheese and egg both left me wanting something more.

As for the price, it wasn’t the cheapest meal, but it didn’t break the bank either. My drink was $5.00, the dip $7.00 and the fries were $9.00. I have been told that the burgers at The Garage are very good, so I will probably give them a chance to redeem themselves some other time.

 

Beans and Barley Review

This morning I had company flying in to Milwaukee. As soon as they touched down at General Mitchell Airport, they knew where we should eat: Beans and Barley. My guests are from Florida and Rhode Island, and every time they fly out, they have to go to Beans because it is their favorite restaurant in Milwaukee. It is a great spot to have a meal, and it is also friendly to vegan and vegetarian customers. They use a wide range of fresh ingredients, and also house a mini-grocery store filled with food, drinks, and crafts. Beans and Barley has a different menu for every meal of the day, and there are specials each day as well. Today, we had the lunch menu. I decided to have the grilled chicken sandwich and a cup of corn chowder, because we all know how much I love sandwiches.

The soup came out first. Originally, I was skeptical because it had a much whiter and creamier base than I am usually used to in corn chowder. Despite this, I was not disappointed. The creaminess of the soup was very comforting, and the sweet corn kernels really lightened up each bite. It also had a good kick of spice that I was hoping for, but wasn’t expecting because of the lack of diced peppers. Along with the soup came a soft roll, which was slightly sweet and helped make the dish even heartier.

The grilled chicken sandwich was set before me and it surprised me. Usually, Beans and Barley has smaller portion sizes, but this was a colossal meal. The grilled chicken was sliced and laid on a fresh pretzel bun, and decorated with lettuce, tomato, scallions and a chipotle aioli. Most of the time, I like raw red onions on my sandwiches, but the scallions were a perfect amount of kick and weren’t overpowered by the aioli. The aioli, in my opinion, was the shining star of the sandwich. There wasn’t very much of it, but it had a very robust flavor. It was sweet and spicy, which was the perfect flavor combination for the sandwich. My meal also came with a pickle spear and some potato chips.

All in all, my meal was not too expensive. The soup was $3.50 for a cup, and the sandwich was $8.00. Beans and Barley gave me a fresh and affordable meal, as well as a fun and friendly shopping experience. I will definitely go back again.

 

My Memory of Smyth

When I was on Facebook yesterday, I had a “memory” at the top of my news feed. One year ago, I splurged and had the most luxurious meal of my life.

Now, normally I am pretty frugal when it comes to eating, but I was lucky and won a $100 gift card to Smyth, the restaurant in the Light Horse Hotel. Smyth’s menu regularly changes, because they only use the best ingredients they can find, so when I went back to the menu to find out the names of what I had eaten there, I came to a dead end. Luckily, that meal is one I will never forget, so I can probably recount the courses, save the names.

My boyfriend and I were freshly 21 years old when we went to Smyth, and as soon as we walked in, we felt like we were not fancy enough to be there. It was dimly lit and had a beautiful dining room. All the tables were wood and iron and even the ceiling had interesting metalwork. A long bar sat in the corner with a gigantic man making the drinks. We sat down and our server acted like he knew us, and made for a very pleasant experience. First we ordered drinks. My drink was kind of like a hot toddy. It tasted of cinnamon and cloves and whiskey, with a roasted orange peel floating in it. We started with a cheese curd appetizer. This was anything but your classic idea of cheese curds. We were served a small cast iron skillet filled with dark gravy, hearty chunks of bacon, Dijon mustard and perfect nuggets of Wisconsin cheese. The table was also served a breadbasket, of a freshly baked loaf of bread. I can’t exactly remember what kind of bread it was, but if my memory serves me correctly, it was some soft of seeded loaf, and we used it to sop up all the extra gravy in the pan. Next came our main courses. My boyfriend got a steak with sautéed baby potatoes and mushrooms. It was served on a slate board, and was garnished with dandelion sprouts. At first, I was skeptical of this steak, seeing as it was around $50, but one bite proved me wrong. It was so tender and bursting with flavor. I remember we both laughed that they gave him a steak knife, because we could literally cut through it with a fork. I ordered the chicken entrée, which was an on the bone brined thigh served over a bed of faro and covered with gravy and sautéed chanterelles. I never knew chicken could be that tender, and I almost had to check if it was raw, because of the silky texture. I had never had faro before, but it was instantly one of my favorite grains. For dessert, we shared a slice of gâteau chocolat, which was very rich and smooth. It was the kind of cake that sticks to the roof of your mouth from being so fudgy.

Even though we had the $100 gift card, we wanted to full experience and ended up playing an extra $30 or so. I would love to go back, maybe for some special occasion, because the freshness of the ingredients, the complexity of the flavors, and the restaurant ambiance made it one of the best meals I have ever had.