Archive for November 2013

A Slice of Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2013 — 12:08pm

Today I celebrated Thanksgiving with co-workers over pizza. But not just any pizza—Ian’s “Thanksgiving on a Pizza” with turkey breast, stuffing, green beans, mushroom cream sauce, cranberries, and crispy fried onions. Beforehand, I was skeptical. For as much as I love food, I’ve never gotten much enjoyment from Thanksgiving foods. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, blah. And on a pizza? I wasn’t convinced. But one bite of Ian’s masterpiece, and I was instantly smitten. Somehow the jumble of toppings came together in an unexpectedly delicious way. Maybe I can love Thanksgiving foods after all.

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Butternut Squash Burritos

November 26th, 2013 — 12:18pm

burritoWhen I tore out this recipe from a recent issue of Food Network Magazine, I thought it looked like a nice weeknight option and a great way to use seasonal butternut squash. It probably took me longer than the advertised 30 minutes, especially because I cooked the brown rice. Dicing the squash was also time consuming, but you do save time by cooking the squash in the microwave. Although the rice and bean mixture could have used more flavor (perhaps more chili powder or other spices), it was still a solid meal. It’s also made a lot of leftovers. If you do medium-sized burritos, you can easily get 8 from this recipe. The pickled jalapenos are a must. I also really enjoyed mine with Sriracha sauce.  The other bonus is that this recipe gave me great practice at perfecting my burrito rolling technique. I’ve always admired the skill exhibited by employees at Chipotle and the like, and now I feel like I’ve got it down—fold up the bottom, fold up the sides, and roll up. Done.

Butternut Squash Burritos (from Food Network Magazine; makes 4-6 burritos)

3 cups precut peeled butternut squash (about 1 pound), diced
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen brown rice, thawed (or prepared brown rice)
8 large eggs
4 burrito-size flour tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 to 3 teaspoons chopped pickled jalapenos
Fresh salsa, for serving (optional)

Combine the squash, 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt in a large microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and pierce to vent. Microwave, stirring once, until just tender, 15 minutes; drain.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft, 5 minutes; stir in the chili powder. Add the beans, rice and 1/2 cup water and simmer, stirring, until the liquid evaporates, about10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Wipe out the skillet. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet over medium heat, then add the eggs and cook, stirring, until they start setting. Fold in the squash and cook until the eggs are set.

Warm the tortillas in a dry skillet or in the microwave. Divide the rice mixture, scrambled eggs, cheese and jalapenos among the tortillas. Fold up the bottoms, then fold in the sides and roll up. Serve with salsa.DSC00869


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A Night Out With My Girls

November 22nd, 2013 — 12:59pm

pic12When one of my friends first approached me about the idea of a bachelorette party, my response was more or less hell no. When I think of bachelorette parties, I immediately picture feather boas, tiny tees bejeweled with the word “bride,” and necklaces with plastic male appendages. Not my thing.

But eventually my friend convinced me that it would be different. And so I agreed. And over the course of a month or so, two of my friends put together plans for a post-wedding evening out with my closest friends. Aside from the date, they kept it all a secret from me. I was excited. DSC00806

Last Saturday was the big day. Earlier in the week, one of my  friends sent me a message letting me know that she’d pick me up at 3 p.m. She also provided vague instructions on how to dress. On Saturday, two friends picked me up at the appointed time and we drove downtown. Along the way, they presented me with a wine glass customized with my wedding date and a short poem on back. They told me that I might need the glass for the adventures ahead.pic10

It wasn’t until we arrived at the Monona Terrace that I finally learned the plan. My friends were there, along with a tour guide from Madison Food Explorers, a culinary walking tour that bills itself as a “sightseeing expedition for your taste buds.” I discovered that we’d be spending the next few hours together on the Downtown Lake to Lake Tour. I couldn’t believe how perfect that sounded. Friends, Madison, and good food—now that’s my idea of a bachelorette party.

Our tour included several stops as we made our way from downtown to the heart of campus. We enjoyed Cuban sandwiches and cocktails at The Merchant, a sampling of Wisconsin cheeses at Fromagination, an impromptu wine tasting at Square Wine Company, Mac and Cheese pizza at Ian’s, a Mango Lassi (a yogurt drink) at Himal Chuli, a grilled bratwurst and Spotted Cow at State Street Brats, a malt (actually I had two) from the UW Memorial Union, and a little Madison history and architecture thrown in along the way.pic14

It was such a fun and unique way to experience Madison. I loved the food. And most importantly, it was a great way  for all of my friends who hadn’t necessarily met before to interact and get to know each other better.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I found out we had dinner reservations (as if we hadn’t eaten enough) at Harvest, in a private dining room on the second floor overlooking the state capitol. It was a beautiful, intimate setting with incredible food and great conversation. And instead of fancy lingerie, my friends gifted me vinyl for my record collection—everything from 1969 by Pink Martini and Saori Yuki to Willy Nelson and Wynton Marsalis’ Two Men with the Blues. Our dinner went on for hours, and before we knew it, it was nearly 11 p.m.

I’m so thankful to all of my friends who put together and were a part of such a special evening. I felt so celebrated and loved.

1 comment » | Madtown Lovin', Restaurant Reviews

Iron Chef Sweet Potato Dinner

November 21st, 2013 — 5:33am

(Dishes left to right, top to bottom: shredded sweet potato salad, sweet potato and black bean empanadas, roasted sweet potatoes with prosciutto and chimichurri, sweet potato mac and cheese, sweet potato and black bean quesadillas with sweet potato and mango salsa, sweet potato cookies, sweet potato pie with gingersnap crust, sweet potato ice cream, and sweet potato turnovers with sweet kraut)

Last night Larry and I hosted the November edition of our Iron Chef Dinner series. The theme ingredient was sweet potatoes. Amazingly, it was the 40th ingredient/theme we’ve chosen since the near monthly dinner series began with a group of 8 friends in September 2009. Luckily, our impressively organized friend Jill keeps a Google spreadsheet with all of the ingredient/themes we’ve used over the years. It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to remember which ingredients we have and haven’t already done. For example, sweet potato sounded familiar, but that’s only because we’ve used similar ingredients like squash and pumpkin in the past.

The sweet potato theme was a winner. We had a wonderful spread of dishes—classics like sweet potato pie and intriguing new dishes like Matt’s sweet potato turnovers with sweet kraut. Brodie’s creamy and delicious mac and cheese seemed to be the biggest hit of the evening. I loved when Ryan remarked that in making his empanadas, it was his “first time making dough.” I always say this, but I love how the Iron Chef dinners often push us out of our comfort zones, which is the key to becoming a better cook and truly enjoying your time in the kitchen.

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Slow Food UW Cafe Lunch – 11/20

November 20th, 2013 — 9:00am

Slow Food CafeThe theme of this week’s Slow Food UW Cafe was “Red and White Pizza.” I opted for a slice of Italian sausage with mozzarella, ricotta and red sauce. I also ordered the spinach salad with cranberries and honey-mustard vinaigrette. And how could I refuse the black bean brownie with whipped cream and raspberry sauce for dessert?

It was a great, very filling lunch. I particularly enjoyed the brownie—it was rich, dense and wonderful, and not at all what I was expecting from black beans. It was also meaningful to enjoy the salad, made with frost sweetened spinach from Snug Haven Farm (my favorite). I know because I happened to be buying spinach from Bill at Snug Haven this past Saturday at the indoor Dane County Farmers’ Market when the students from the Cafe came by and purchased a huge quantity of spinach. It was great to see one element of the meal come together like that—purchased directly from the farmer on Saturday and served as part of a beautiful, seasonal salad for the campus community to enjoy on Wednesday. Slow Food Pizza

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Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

November 18th, 2013 — 9:46am


Yesterday was one of the most leisurely Sundays I’ve had in months. I had planned to do a cyclocross race in Milwaukee—and even drove part way there. But I promptly turned around when I heard radio reports of a tornado warning in the area. It sounded bad. I love CX—but not that much. And so suddenly, my busy Sunday was wide open. And there was no going outside.

Instead of racing my bike, I decided to make a butternut squash galette—which is like a free form pie. The recipe I used is from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and it’s one of those recipes that is ideal for a leisurely fall day, or best broken up into manageable pieces (like making the dough a day in advance). It’s not a difficult recipe, but it does take time. Thankfully, my time was well rewarded. This is easily one of the best recipes I’ve made in quite a while. The galette is beautiful, a complete show stopper, not to mention incredibly flavorful. It’s hard to get a sense of its size from the picture, but this galette is massive. We’ll easily have leftovers for a week. When you put that much effort into a dish, it sure is nice to have enough to enjoy for more than one meal. Or enough to feed a crowd.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook; makes one 12-inch galette, serves 8)

For the pastry:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/3 cup ice water

For the filling:
2 small or 1 large butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 large sweet onions, halved, thinly sliced in half-moons
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
2 cups grated Italian fontina cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage (I used sage)
1 egg yolk beated with 1 teaspoon water for glaze

Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the sticks of butter and, using a pastry blender or food processor, break up the bits of butter until the biggest pieces are the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir or pulse until a dough forms, use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into 1/2-to-3/4-inch chunks. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over two baking sheets. Lay the squash chunks on the baking sheet in one layer, toss to coat with oil, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown evenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

Caramelize onions: While the squash is roasting, melt the butter and the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet, and cook the onions over medium-low heat with the sugar and the remaining teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper.

Mix the squash, caramelized onions, cheese, and herbs together in a bowl.

Assemble the galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16-to-17-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the squash-and-cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 2-to-2 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash and cheese, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open. Brush the outside of crust with the egg-yolk wash.

Bake: Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

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Slow Food UW Cafe Lunch – 11/13

November 14th, 2013 — 5:31am

Slow Food LunchThis week’s Slow Food UW Cafe Lunch featured a menu focused on root vegetables like parsnips, beets, kholarabi, parsnips, and ginger. (correction: I’ve since learned that kholarbai and ginger are not root vegetables; they are stem vegetables). I chose the pickled beet sandwich with cream cheese and mixed greens on a house-made pesto bread with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts. I also tried the parsnip ginger soup and the rye chamomile cake with honey crisp. I liked the sandwich, although it could have used a bit more cream cheese. The Brussels sprouts were tasty, and the parsnip ginger soup had interesting flavor and a velvety texture. The cake was also solid—not too sweet, with a texture similar to cornbread. But the dish that everyone was ooing and awing over at my table is one I didn’t order—the Kohlrabi mash. Slow Food Plate

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Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos with Queso Fresco

November 13th, 2013 — 5:10am

DSC00796Last Saturday I made my way around the capitol square for the final outdoor farmers’ market of the season. It was a beautiful sunny fall day, and I savored every moment. Many of my favorite vendors will move over to the winter farmers’ market at the Monona Terrace, which runs through the end of the year. So thankfully I didn’t have to say too many goodbyes. But nothing beats the outdoor market, and April seems like an eternity from now.

I had a few recipes picked out and loaded up on ingredients at the market. Last night I made squash tacos with several of those ingredients using a recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It’s the first time in a while I’ve found the time to really cook—not that this recipe was all that difficult. I love how spaghetti squash takes the place of pulled pork, a fresh and veg-friendly take on a classic taco. Even the seeds from the spaghetti squash are turned into a delicious snack.

Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos with Queso Fresco (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook; makes sixteen 6-inch tacos)

3 pounds spaghetti squash (either 1 large or 2 small)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (1 lime)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Sixteen 6-inch corn tortillas
One 15-once can black beans, rinsed and drained very well
4 ounces crumbled queso fresco, feta, or Cotija cheese
1/4 cup finely diced red or white onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and roast the halves in an oiled baking pan for about 40 minutes.DSC00789

When the squash has finished cooking and cooled slightly, scrape the flesh from the skin with a fork into a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice with the chili powder, cumin, coriander and salt. Pour over the squash strands and gently toss together.

Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat and warm each tortilla, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer to a plate and load each tortilla with black beans, spiced squash, crumbled cheese, and a bit of onion and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce if you wish.DSC00785

You can use the seeds from the spaghetti squash to make a tasty snack. Rinse the seeds and spread them on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with chili powder and fine salt. Roast at 375 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes, tossing them halfway through.

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