Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chocolate-Pistachio Apricots

Chocolate-Pistachio Apricots

10-20 Dried, unsulphered apricots (purchase at your local natural food store)
8 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate (see Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier entry)
½ cup pistachios, shelled, roasted and chopped

Place wax or parchment paper on cookie sheet.
Heat the chocolate in a microwave safe container for 1 minute at a time, stirring in between until all chocolate is just melted.
Dip apricots, one at a time, halfway into chocolate and then into chopped pistachios.
Lay on cookie sheet. When done, refrigerate apricots for about 20 minutes until chocolate hardens. Remove from wax paper. Eat. (Can be stored up to 2 weeks in airtight container.)

Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier

Gail Ambrosius Chocolate: Simply Divine

As the economy continues to take turns for the worse, it becomes harder to decide where to cut personal expenses. Hair cut? Next month. Sushi dinner? After tax returns. Shopping spree? Next summer. Family vacation? Next year. New car? Next decade. Chocolate? Wait a minute, I’m not giving that up! Market research shows that premium chocolate sales actually do well in a depressed economy. Not surprising given that even a small morsel of chocolate can coax you out of many otherwise dark moments. No wonder botanists named the cacao plant Theobroma cacao, literally meaning “food of the gods.” In my opinion, chocolate is food fit for both gods, and mere mortals.

There is something about chocolate that most people find hard to resist. For me, it is the smooth, sweet, yet slightly bitter taste of the processed cocoa beans that keeps me going back for more. That “something” that makes chocolate seemingly addictive has names: phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan, for example. These chemicals actually function as mood enhancers, though there is no hard evidence that they are addictive, or that there is enough of them in a normal serving of chocolate to really create a “high.” Though the chemical constituents might be the same, all chocolates are not created equal. Artisan chocolate has become more popular as people demand better taste and attention to quality. Here in Madison, WI we are lucky to have a few local chocolatiers, including Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier.

When I stepped inside Gail’s store on Atwood Avenue, I immediately felt like I had walked into a small European bakery. Natural light pours through the large windows that face the street, and makes it easy to get a look at the truffles and chocolates in the glass display case. Though the store is small, the atmosphere is lively and welcoming. You can see into the kitchen through a hole cut in the back wall, and watch Gail and her employees mixing, dipping and pouring chocolate.

Gail has an obvious talent for both the art of making chocolate and running a small business, though she has admittedly studied hard as well. Before she opened her store in 2004, Gail spent time in Paris studying chocolate making with the renowned Valrhona and Cluizel families of chocolatiers—and “unabashedly sampled lots of world-class chocolates” while there. Tough trip! Kidding aside, Gail’s hard work has paid off. Gail won the top spot in Make Mine a $ Million Business program, which helps women grow their businesses by providing financing, marketing and educational support. Recently, she won an award for her “three hot nuts” bar at the prestigious Next Generation Chocolatier Competition in New York City. Gail has also won local favor, earning Silver Medal Award in the Best Candy/Chocolate Store category of Madison Magazine's annual Best of Madison awards.

Simply put, her chocolate is divine, and her commitment to supporting women in business, farmers in Central America and creating a quality product keep her business flourishing. Gail uses the finest ingredients, such as single-origin cacao. She also avoids preservatives and waxy stabilizers. Gail puts her talents to work creating exquisite truffles such as maharajah curry with saffron and white chocolate shavings, and cardamom with orange blossom. I recently tasted her baby seas turtles, gold-bellied buddha, and peppermint truffle. The turtles were exquisite. The caramel was not too sweet, with a subtle roasted quality. The nuts perfectly complemented the caramel and bittersweet chocolate. The peppermint truffle provided a perfect crunch of mint countered by a smooth chocolate center. Fittingly, the buddhas looked unpretentious from the outside, but presented a divine inside of rich dark truffle.

I certainly recommend eating her chocolates and truffles “as is.” But if you are feeling adventurous, I enjoyed using her chocolate to complement the chewy tanginess of dried apricots and the sweet crunchiness of pistachios. I call these Mediterranean-influenced creations Chocolate-Pistachio Apricots. There is just something about this nutritious chocolate treat that I think you will find hard to resist. Guten Appetit!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best-ever Banana Bread

Though solstice was only last weekend, I already feel as though I am in the heart of winter. Snow has fallen and keeps coming, giving me just enough time to soak my weary back before I have to shovel again. Hunkering down in the kitchen to put together a warm meal, or to bake seems to help ease some of that back pain, too. I am particularly into baking right now and make banana bread on a regular basis. I have become known for this banana bread, which is adapted from Sundays at Moosewood by Molly Katzen. It is hands down the best I have ever tasted and can be amended in so many ways.

Basic Banana Bread Recipe
Preheat oven to 350.

1/2 cup butter softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, whisked
3 tbsp yogurt or milk
3 ripe bananas, smashed (about 1 cup)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

add ins: nuts, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, dried fruit (strawberries, raisins, candied ginger are all good). You can also experiment with using a little bit of rice or whole grain flour for part of the flour.

Mix wet ingredients until well blended. Then mix dry ingredients separately. Add dry ingredients to wet until just blended. Add nuts or chips if using. Pour in greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about 50-60 minutes, or until knife inserted into center comes clean. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting! Guten Appetit!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Apple Berry Crisp

Apple season! This crisp is soooo good, and is easy to make. It can be made with a variety of fruits. I like apples with cherries, blueberries or strawberries. Warms the heart and home!

Preheat oven to 375.

Crisp Topping:
6 tbsp butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup brown sugar (you could try a bit less as I sometimes find this too sweet)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (can use chopped almonds instead)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg, cinnamon

Work the butter into other ingredients with hands or pastry blender until crumbly (this is a great job for kids. They can use their hands to mix it.)

2 pounds apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup blueberries or other red berries
toss with 1 tsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp lemon zest

put apple mixture in bottom of a gratin dish or high-sided skillet.
Pile crisp topping on top of apples and bake at 375 for about 50-60 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool a bit and eat! Can serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Awesome Brownies with Jarra's Cinnamint Frosting


1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
½ c. dark chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

2 oz semi sweet or very dark chocolate.

Mix sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread in greased 8x8x2 inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Bake brownies and cool. Mix frosting ingredients. Spread over cooled brownies. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Melt chocolate over low heat. Drizzle over frosting. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut into bars.

Another of my son's kitchen creations.
The measurements are approximate—blend with a beater until frosting reaches a thick, but spreadable consistency.

1-1.5 cup of powdered sugar, maybe a bit more, but add slowly
3 tbsp milk
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp mint flavor
1 tsp cinnamon
green food coloring

Sesame Soy Vinaigrette

Jarra has begun experimenting in the kitchen. He has a great sense of flavor and created this vinaigrette that has become a house favorite. Who knows, the next Paul Newman?
These measurements are approximate!

Jarra's Sesame Soy Vinaigrette

about 1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 tbsp corn syrup, or other sweetener
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp malt vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2-1 tsp sesame oil
1 small clove garlic, crushed

mix all ingredients together and spoon over salad greens....

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wedding menu

My kitchen has not been a bastion of creative cookery it used to be. At the moment there are a couple dirty coffee cups in it, and a saucepan with some fruit that topped our pancakes this morning. I quickly gave up on the wedding cake idea. Well, not that quickly actually. I tried about 3 cakes (the birthday cake, a chocolate sour cream cake and a key lime cheesecake) and finally stopped when a friend called me and left a desperate message on my phone saying, "are you crazy? don't try to make your cake. the wedding will be stressful enough." She wasn't the only one raising eyebrows, but it was enough to dissuade me.

Though I haven't compiled many wedding-worthy recipes recently, I have managed to come up with is a list of great local resources for our wedding. As are many families, we are on a tight wedding budget. By being creative about our spending, we have managed to seek out some great local talent, and that is a cause for celebration. Here's a list so far:

1.The dress--My friend Thuy Nguyen of Madison, WI is a talented seamstress and is making a one-of-a-kind dress. The pattern is Badgley Mischka, with embellishments.

2.The fabric--dupioni silk and silk organza bought at a local fabric store Gayfeather Fabrics.

3. The food--African food from Africana, Madison's new restaurant/lounge. The food is great. they will make vegetarian mafe, jollof rice with beef, and grilled chicken and plantain. South African wines and New Glarus beer will quench our thirst!

4. The music--DJ Laurie will be spinning music from the African diaspora!

5. The Cake-- Carl's cakes.

Alright, expect some pictures soon!
That's all for now folks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fiona's Birthday Cake

Well, after 3 days of cooking I finally finished the cake. Okay, it wasn't really 3 days TOTAL, but with 2 small kids, I had to pace myself. Lets just say that I will certainly be bride-zilla if I try this for our wedding. It was good however and got rave reviews from the friends who came over.
I will post the recipe here (adapted from this recipe). I did not use the lemon filling, but made a raspberry mousse instead. YUM! (There's still some cake left and it keeps well...Guten Appetit!)
NOTE: I HALVED the recipe (the numbers you see here are for 2 cakes to serve 44 people) and cooked the batter in a 9 inch springform pan. It was very full and took a while to cook and slightly burned, so I recommend using less batter and well, maybe following their instructions? Also, I did not really use the lemon syrup, seemed to wet and sweet.
All in all delicious, but very time consuming. And I can't cut a layer cake very well.

Lemon Berry Wedding Cake

For cake
13 large eggs
5 1/2 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups vegetable oil
2 2/3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese (about 21 ounces)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup grated lemon peel (from about 8 lemons)
3 tablespoons orange liqueur
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

For frosting
11 large egg yolks
3 1/4 cups plus 7 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 pounds unsalted butter, cut into large pieces, room temperature
3/4 cup water

7 large egg whites

For mousse:

2 cups fresh raspberries or frozen
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups whipped cream
1/4 cup sugar

Make cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter bottom of 12-inch-diameter cheesecake pan(not springform) with 3-inch-high sides and removable bottom. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper.

Beat eggs, sugar, and oil in large bowl of heavy-duty mixer and medium-low speed 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium and beat until mixture is very thick and falls in heavy ribbon when beater is lifted, about 5 minutes. Whisk cheese, orange juice, lemon peel, liqueur, lemon juice, and vanilla in medium bowl until well blended. Add cheese mixture to egg mixture; beat at low speed until just blended. Transfer to extra-large bowl (at least 6-quart capacity). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into large bowl. Sift dry ingredients over batter in 5 additions, whisking to blend after each addition. Transfer about 11 cups batter to 12-inch prepared pan and about 5 cups batter to 8-inch prepared pan (batter should be of equal depth in both pans).

Bake cakes until golden brown in firm (tops may crack) and tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating pans occasionally for even baking and covering loosely with foil if browning too quickly; about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer to racks; cool completely.

Make preliminary assembly:
Cut around sides of cakes to loosen. Push up pan bottoms, releasing cakes from pan. If necessary, cut between parchment and pan bottoms to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto surface. Peel off parchment. Wash and dry pans and reassemble.

Using long serrated knife, cut off doomed top of 8-inch cake to level. Cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place bottom cake layer, cut side up, on 8-inch cardboard. Place cake on cardboard back into pan. Brush bottom layer with 1/4 cup lemon syrup. Spread with 1 1/2 cups lemon filling. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups raspberries. Place top cake layer atop raspberries; press cake lightly to compact. Brush with 1/4 cup syrup. (Assembled cake may be higher than pan sides.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Using long serrated knife, cut off doomed top of 12-inch cake to level. Cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place bottom layer, cut side up, on 12-inch cardboard. Place cake on cardboard back into pan. Brush with 1/2 cup lemon syrup. Spread with 3 cups lemon filling. Sprinkle with 2 cups raspberries. Using 10- or 11-inch diameter tart pan as aid, slide top layer onto raspberries. Press cake lightly to compact. Brush with 1/2 cup syrup. (Assembled cake may be higher than pan sides.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate both cakes overnight.

Make mousse:

In a saucepan combine raspberries and sugar. Heat and stir over medium heat until turn to liquid. Stir in gelatin. Remove from heat and scrape into a large bowl. Let cool for 5 minutes. Remove chilled whipped cream from refrigerator. Mix 1 cup of whipped cream into raspberry mixture until well combined. Fold in remaining whipped cream. Store in fridge until ready to use.

Make frosting:
Whisk yolks and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl to blend. Bring milk and lemon peel just to boil in heavy large saucepan. Gradually whisk hot milk into yolk mixture. Return to same saucepan. Stir custard over medium heat until thick, about 3 minutes ( do not allow custard to boil). Strain custard into extra-large (6-quart) metal bowl; add vanilla extract. Using handheld electric mixer, beat custard until custard lightens and custard cools to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Gradually add butter; beat until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl often. (If buttercream appears curdled at any time, place bowl directly over heat for several seconds. Remove from heat and beat well; repeat warming and beating as necessary to achieve smooth texture). Set buttercream aside at room temperature.

Stir 2 1/4 cups sugar and 3/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Attach clip-on candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and boil syrup without stirring until thermometer registers 240°F, occasionally brushing down sugar crystals from sides of pan with wet pastry brush, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat egg whites in large bowl of heavy-duty mixer until stiff but not dry. Gradually add 5 tablespoons sugar and beat until firm glossy peaks form. Gradually beat hot sugar syrup into egg whites. Continue to beat 2 minutes longer. Place bowl of meringue into larger bowl filled with ice and water. Using handheld electric mixer with clean beaters, continue to beat until meringue cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Gradually add meringue to buttercream, beating until well blended.

Cut around all sides of 8-inch cake. Push up pan bottom, releasing cake from pan. Remove pan bottom, leaving cake on cardboard base. If desired, place cake on revolving cake stand. Using offset spatula, spread thin layer of frosting (about 2 1/3 cups) over top and sides of cake to anchor crumbs. Refrigerate cakes on their cardboard bases until frosting is firm, about 1 hour.

Spread enough frosting (about 1 1/2 cups) over top and sides of 8-inch cake to coat. Spread enough frosting (about 3 cups) over tops and sides of 12-inch cake to coat. Dip large offset spatula into very hot water to warm blade; wipe dry. Run spatula over sides and tops of cakes, warming spatula repeatedly as necessary, until frosting is smooth. Using pastry bag fitted with small plain round tip, pipe border of small frosting dots around top edge of each cake. Refrigerate both cakes uncovered on their cardboard bases until frosting hardens, about 4 hours. (Once frosting is hardened, cakes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to two days or double-wrapped with plastic and frozen up to two weeks. Before continuing with recipe, thaw wrapped frozen cakes overnight in refrigerator.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Testing, testing (cakes that is)

I am getting married in about 5 weeks (coming up fast!) and have this crazy idea that I should make my own wedding cake. I have been testing recipes, or I should say I tested one recipe so far. I made a banana cake with a chocolate mousse layer and a chocolate ganache. The mousse turned out great, the gananche tasted a bit like cheap chocolate (it was) and the never-fail banana bread recipe I used was a bit heavy for a cake. I will try it again with a lighter cake recipe. Any recipe suggestions?

Tomorrow I am going to make a lemon cake with a raspberry mousse and a lemon butter cream frosting. I will write more about the frosting later, let's just say it was WAY more complicated than any frosting I have ever made. Basically it entailed making a custard and adding butter. Then making a merengue, then mixing them together. I am not sure if I did it right, but it tastes great! The raspberry mousse is made with gelatin and whipped cream and tastes good, but is not so spreadable. So we will see. I will try to remember to post pictures before it is assembled and devoured.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

I have lived in Madison for over 10 years and frequent about 3 grocery stores. The Willy Street Coop is the place where I shop the most. It is conveniently located, I am a member and the organic produce selection is affordable, and local when available. I also go to Whole Foods for a few key items and now that Trader Joe's has arrived, well, I have to make a run there every once in a while, too. Both of those stores are on the west side, so I don't get there very often. I also love the Jenifer Street Market on Madison's east side, but did not include it in this survey as I do not frequent there enough. This is my compiled "dream" grocery list. The following items have the best quality and taste for cost (according to me:). I would love your feedback!

Willy Street Coop:
*fresh, organic and local produce--fruit: right now I'm buying apples, oranges and bananas. Very non-local, but what other options are there this time of year? The citrus is good, I have to say....
Vegetables: I am sorely missing the bounty of the summer farmers' markets, full of greens, squash, herbs, locally made soaps, honey, fresh flowers, etc. Should I stop reminding you? But luckily many local items are still available including garlic, potatoes, and winter squash. Even sprouts and some greens. My staples right now include potatoes, carrots and celery. Soup anyone?
* Bagels Forever (7-grain) I get a couple packages and freeze- .99 for 5 bagels made here in Madison.
* Yuppie Hill Farm eggs-about 2.50/dozen. Free range, local. Can't get 'em much cheaper, even at the farmer's markets.
* Bulk Coffee-My favorite these days is Just Coffee Electric Monkey Espresso. About $8.00/lb.
* Bulk Water
* Bulk Dry goods. Flour (unbleached white, buckwheat, spelt and rice flour are among my staples), beans, grains, oatmeal and sugar. Willy Street's bulk goods are plentiful and usually cheaper than Whole foods.
* Organic local Beef, and local bison. Organic ground beef/bison starts at about $5.50/lb.
* Fresh Fish (though Whole Foods also as a great selection). We usually choose salmon and tilapia. From $8 to $$$ per pound.
* Deli Meats (Turkey and ham)
* Lots of local cheeses and good prices (cheddar starting at about $4.00/lb).
* Sparkling water
* The Willy Street bakery also makes some decent baked goods including a few gluten free options. I especially like their gluten free brownies for $1.49 (our babysitter's favorite!) and their GF pumpkin apple muffins. YUM!
* Natural Ovens bread. If I don't make my own, then I buy this. Made in Wisconsin, about $3.50/loaf.

Whole Foods:
Sometimes called Whole Paycheck! Yeah-the food is good! I don't get a lot here, but these items are essentials:) The prices listed are very approximate as I have not been there in a while.
* Whole Foods frozen sausage links-any flavor. The best precooked sausages I have ever had.
* Usually they have some fresh meat on sale. Since it is not prepackaged it definitely is healthier! Ground beef, fresh sausages, ground bison, chicken, all reasonable priced. Some of the cuts of meat get expensive, but excellent quality. I have bought the beef stew meat to use for , well, stews and stir fry. It is under $5/lb and very tender.
* Whole food handmade tortillas. about $2.50/dozen.
* The samples. Can I include the samples? YUM!
* The fruit quality is the best. You will not find a dry orange here! But you pay for that quality. I have found that most stores will let you sample the produce if you ask nicely.

Trader Joe's:
I just returned from a trip to Trader Joe's. I usually stock up on packaged good here and srteet clear of the produce. It traveled way too far to get here and is wrapped in Saran wrap on styrofoam. Yuck! The staples are:
* Pasta sauce. Basic marinara, very good flavor, $1.69/jar.
* Eggs. Cage free, raised in WI $1.69 dz
* Frozen fruit and veggies. Organic blueberries for $2.69? Can't beat that! I also get frozen spinach which I put in everything.
* Frozen waffles $1.99 a box.
* Snacks such as fruit leather, cheese puffs, chips are all reasonably priced.
* Salsa. Their basic salsa is under $2.jar and very tasty. Not too hot, either. Want a not too basic salsa? My favorite is their habanero-lime salsa.
* Pasta. You can get whole wheat, rice or white pasta for very, very good prices (starting at under $1/bag). Rice pasta here is the cheapest I have found.
* Cereal. Hard to believe how much cereal costs, but you can still get a box here for under $3.
* Dairy, such as butter, yogurt and milk are also good deals here. There are organic options, and they do carry local brands.

Winner-Child-friendly shopping--1st place goes to...Willy Street Coop. Fun play area, nearby seating so you can sip coffee while your kids play. Kid sized carts--so they can race around the store? 2nd place...Trader Joe's. Find the hidden stuffed animal and win a prize. Keeps the kids busy. Plus great samples for kids and kid sized carts.

Alright, well that may or may not be of use to anyone, but it is always fun to think about food! I would love to hear any other opinions or ideas about places to shop in Madison, or where you think the best deals are. Especially for local and organic foods. Anyone frequent the Jennifer Street market? I love it because it is locally owned an operated and has a great wine and meat selection. What do you like to get there?

Enjoy your holidays. Happy shopping and happy cooking....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chard Cheese Pie

This year, I planted a deckside garden, tired of dragging the hose across the yard to water a small bed in the back. It is wonderful and bountiful, and the vegetable plants fit in well with the shrubs and flowers that define the space. The bed is not huge, but I managed to plant peas, chard, beets, lettuce, spinach (already pulled out as it was going to flower) and carrots (I haven't actually seen a carrot yet--I think they did not make it.) In addition, I planted calendula and zinnia from seed, while the resident shrub rose, day lilies as well as barberry and yarrow create some permanent structure and color in the bed.

I am still harvesting lettuce. It is protected from the sun by the day lily leaves, and I think that has prevented it from going to seed early. The chard and beet greens have really taken off with the recent rains and hot sun, and I thinned them the other day. It so happened that our local paper, the Isthmus, printed a recipe for Chard Cheese Pie and I thought I would give it a try. Mmmmm...Delicious! It is adapted from The New Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson.

Chard Cheese Pie

Serves 4-6

2 cups cottage cheese (I used 1.5 cups cottage cheese and 1.2 cup grated provolone)
2 eggs beaten
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cup lightly cooked chard, or other greens (I used chard and beet tops)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350. Beat together cottage cheese, eggs, lemon and salt. Stir 1 cup of this mixture into the chard and pres into 8 x 8 baking dish. Spread remaining cottage cheese mixture on top of and sprinkle with bread crumbs and paprika. Bake until set, about 1/2 hour. Let stand to cool for several minutes before serving. Guten appetit!

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Best Tilapia

My son made the best fish tonight. He beats me hands down as a cook!

Jarra's Tilapia

Make a paste with:
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
ground black pepper
a pinch each of coriander, saffron, chile powder
2-3 tbsp olive oil

mix together and pour over a tilapia filet.

Grill on both sides until flaky and white inside.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Yogurt Culture

I think my mom invented the first frozen yogurt. Yep, she used to just put a small container of Dannon Fruit-on-the-Bottom yogurt in the freezer and then hand it to us when we asked for a treat. It was pretty good, though I do remember that it was hard to eat until it thawed a little. Her other favorite yogurt treat was to plop a little jelly in with plain yogurt to make our own fruit yogurt.

Yogurt is still a popular food in our house. My fiancee and son prefer the sweet ones--now you can get chocolate, mocha, maple, and caramel! If we had had those flavors as kids I would have been more excited about yogurt! Now I am a fan of whole milk plain yogurt, or greek style yogurt, though I do indulge in the occasional Yoplait Key Lime Pie. I love Trader Joe's pomegranate and blueberry yogurts. I find that a good quality organic plain yogurt actually tastes sweet to me. And I just recently discovered soy yogurt. Since it has so little sugar and is non dairy, I have been slowly introducing it into my daughter's diet as a first food. I have tried both brands sold at the local Coop (Willy Street coop)-Whole Soy and Co. and Silk Live--and like them both, though Whole Soy and Co has the least sugar.

Yogurt is great in dressings and smoothies!

Favorite Smoothie Recipe

1 banana frozen
1 cup frozen fruit
2 tbsp frozen chopped spinach
2/3 - 1 cup milk
1/3 cup juice
1/2 cup yogurt

blend away! yum.

Yogurt Dressing

1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp salt

blend away! Guten apetit!
pepper to taste

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spring Glory Salad

The first pick of the year! Guten appetit!

Salad Ingredients:
Any greens that need thinning
(I used chard, beets and lettuce, as well as a few tender pea shoots)
Violets and pansy flowers
Honey-roasted walnuts (see recipe below)
Crumbled feta or gorgonzola cheese
Pears might be nice, too, but we didn't have any...

Honey-roasted walnuts:
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add a tbsp butter and melt. Add a cup of walnuts and stir constantly for about 2 or 3 minutes. Add a tbsp of honey and stir another minute. Remove from heat immediately and sprinkle with a little salt. Let cool and add to salads or just eat them!

I like a light vinaigrette with a salad this fresh.
Try 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. (Dressing recipe courtesy of Nan and Jim Cassidy)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I started cooking Ethiopian food recently. I was intimidated a bit by the spice mixture and preparation of the bread, but making the stew is surprisingly easy, once the spices are mixed. I still haven’t found an easy injera recipe, though I keep trying.

This stew is a favorite in our house now. I also like it made with beef (sik sik wat). This recipe is adapted from http://www.globalgourmet.com/destinations/ethiopia/dorowat.html with my changes made in italics.


One 2-1/2 lb. chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (I used 1.5 pounds chicken thigh and breast)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
2 onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup Niter Kebbeh (Spiced Butter)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger root
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup Red Pepper Paste (aka Spice Paste, Berbere) (My berbere is sooo hot that I use only a heaping tablespoon or two)
2 tablespoons paprika (I use 1 tbsp as I discovered that I don’t like that heavy paprika taste)
1/4 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup water
4 hard-boiled eggs
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and dry the chicken pieces. Rub them with lemon juice and salt. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a heavy enamel stewpot, cook the onions over moderate heat for about 5 minutes. Do not let brown or burn. Stir in the niter kebbeh. Then add the garlic and spices. Stir well. Add the berbere and paprika, and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Pour in the wine and water and bring to a boil. Cook briskly, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.

SPICED BUTTER (Niter Kebbeh)

2 lb. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cinnamon stick (approximately 1" long)
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan, melt the butter slowly over medium heat; do not let it brown. Then bring butter to a boil. Stir in the onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for 45 minutes. Milk solids on the bottom of the pan should be golden brown, and the butter on top will be transparent.

Slowly pour the clear liquid into a bowl, straining through cheesecloth. It is important that no solids are left in the niter kebbeh.

Transfer the kebbeh into a jar. Cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator.
Pat the chicken dry and drop it into the simmering sauce, turning the pieces about until coated on all sides. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, piece the hard-boiled eggs with the tines of a fork, piercing approximately 1/4" into the egg all over the surface. After the chicken has cooked, add the eggs and turn them gently in the sauce. Cover and cook the doro wat for 15 more minutes. Add pepper to taste.

Makes about 1 cup

Chef Marcus Samuelsson has simplified the recipe for this spice blend, which he also recommends using as a rub for beef and lamb. Adapted from his "The Soul of a New Cuisine" (Wiley, 2006).

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup ground dried serrano chili peppers or other ground dried chili peppers
1/2 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Finely grind the fenugreek seeds with a mortar and pestle or in an electric spice or coffee grinder. Combine the remaining ingredients and add the ground fenugreek seeds, mixing well. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 months.


The day I hauled that $4 bread machine home from a yard sale on the back of my bike, I though for sure I would never again buy a loaf of bread. Though we are still buying loaves of bread from the store, the machine has certainly paid itself off in pizza dough. Pizza is a weekly menu item in our house, and we have lots of fun selecting toppings (see Pesto pizza blog). I always make a pepperoni or sausage and cheese pizza, and then a vegetable combo of some sort. I have been playing around with dough recipes, too, and tonight's crust was a definite hit.

Bread Machine Pizza Crust
adapted from the Joy of Cooking.

Makes 2 small pizzas (about 12-14" each)

1 1/2 cup warm water (or use 1/3 cup beer and 1 c. water)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar or honey
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cup flour (I mixed 3 cups regular bread flour and 3/4 cup whole grain)
1/2 tsp each oregano and basil
1 1/2 tsp yeast

add ingredients to bread machine in the order listed above
and put bread machine on "pizza dough" cycle. Sit back, open a bottle of wine or beer and have a glass!

When dough is ready, preheat oven to 425. Divide dough in half and press into desired shape on two oiled cookie sheets. Sprinkle with grated cheese and prebake crust for about 5 minutes in hot oven. Remove and top with your favorite toppings. Bake pizzas for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden on top!


*Roasted red pepper, carmelized onion and portabella mushroom
(Sautee thinly sliced onions on low heat. Grill mushrooms and peppers. Put veggies on top of sauce, along with artichoke hearts and top with smoked provolone and goat cheese).

*White pizza with sauteed summer squash, caramelized onions and goat cheese and mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil.

*pesto and sun dried tomatoes, of course.

*I'd love to hear other ideas out there!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cheesy Tomato Noodle Bake

This recipe was VERY easy, tasty and not too cheesy! I made it ahead and refrigerated it until ready to bake.

Cheesy Tomato Noodle Bake

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb can of chopped tomatoes
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped basil
salt and pepper

2 cups elbow noodles, cooked

1.5 cups grated soft cheese (mozarella, cheddar, gruyere, etc)
1 cup grated parmesan

1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350.
To make sauce:
Saute shallots in hot oil, quickly press garlic in and sautee about 30 seconds stirring constantly. Add canned tomatoes, basil and salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile cook noodles until al dente (5-8 minutes) and drain.

Combine cheeses in a bowl.

To assemble the bake, put 1/3 of the sauce in a deep baking dish (8x8 would work best. I used 9x13 and it was too big and flat.) then a layer of noodles then 1/3 of cheese. Repeat two more times, ending with layer of cheese. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and chopped fresh basil, and dot with butter. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, until golden. EAT!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dad's Salmon Cakes-with a twist

My dad didn't cook. He was an incredible gardener, and appreciated home cooked food, but the cooking was done by my mother. Of course, he made sandwiches or salad, but only on a couple occasions do I remember him making "real food." One particular occasion sticks out in my mind, though I am not even sure that I have the memory pieced together correctly. What I do remember is being sick as a child, in the hospital, and my dad brought the most delicious salmon cakes for me to eat, with ketchup, of course.

Years later I asked him to make those salmon cakes for me and he did. To this day, salmon cakes with ketchup can still heal wounds both big and small. Here's his recipe, with a twist. Guten appetit.

Dad's Salmon Cakes

1 7 oz can pink salmon
1 7 oz can red salmon
1 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 plus 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/4 tsp wasabi or dash of hot sauce (the twist)
2 tsp dijon mustard
ground black pepper
4 buns

3 tbsp mayonnaise mixed with wasabi or hot sauce to taste
lettuce and grilled onion

1. Heat about 1/8 inch canola oil in skillet.

2. Mix salmon (can pick out bones or leave in) with mayo, sour cream (can use tofu instead), chives, 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, egg, hot sauce/wasabi, mustard and pepper. Form into four patties. Coat patties with breadcrumbs using remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs and fry in hot canola oil until cakes are golden on both sides. Sometimes I add onions to skillet to cook along with patties.

3. Meanwhile mix mayo with wasabi or hot sauce. Toast buns. Wash lettuce. Put a salmon cake on a bun, add toppings, and eat!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Breakfast Burritos with Chorizo

Apart from the spectacular sunsets and dramatic mountains, the one thing I miss the most about living in the desert Southwest is the flour tortillas. Fresh from a tortillaria, the buttery, flaky dough seems to just melt in your mouth, and needs only a simple filling. When my friend Kate recently came to visit me, top on my list of things to bring for me was fresh tortillas. I was hesitant to plop canned beans in them, or load them up with the usual variety of fillings you get in a Mexican restaurant here in Wisconsin. I wanted to cook a something worthy of the tortillas 2000 mile journey from AZ to WI. What I came up with has been a favorite in our house. It is not for the faint of heart and might do well paired with a green salad--and a light dinner.

2 whole chorizo sausage links (we got ours from Whole Foods)
1 small onion, chopped
1 fresh fgreen pepper
1 medium potato, peeled, cubed and boiled til soft
1 clove garlic

4 eggs
1 cup grated cheese (try a sharp cheddar or mild mexican)
4 flour tortillas (if you don't have fresh tortillas from AZ, try Whole Foods homestyle torillas or Trader Joe's Handmade tortillas. They come closest to texture and flavor of New Mexico tortillas. I have yet to find the thinner, more oily torillas like you find in Tucson.)
sour cream
salt and pepper

How to:
Heat a small amount of oil in a pan.
Add onion and sautee 3-4 minutes until it starts to soften.
Remove sausage from casing and add to pan, chopping with back of a spoon. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Add green pepper and cooked potato and cook 5 or 10 more minutes, until green pepper is soft. Add crushed garlic and salt to taste. Cook another minute.

Meanwhile heat a skillet with a bit of oil for eggs. If you have another cast iron skillet, heat it dry for tortillas. Otherwise you can heat the tortillas first in the skillet, then put on warm plate and wrap in cloth.
Anyway, cook those eggs--We had them scrambled, but sometimes I like them fried with yolk a bit wet.

Put sausage mixture and some eggs in a torilla. Garnish with fresh cilantro and grated cheese, sour cream and salsa if you like.
Roll up and eat.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

My mind continually wanders back to the mountains that surround Tucson, AZ where I spent about seven years working for various conservation organizations, including Native Seeds/SEARCH and Conservation International. From the center of the city, the mountains seem drab and uninviting; jagged, beige slopes appear to have muscled up from the earth, only to stop half way upon meeting the parched air and relentless sun. But upon closer inspection, they are full of life--green acacia and mesquite trees line the valleys, providing shade for myriad wildlife; bursts of poppies and penstemon provide welcome color after the refreshing winter rains.

Some traces of my life in Tucson, AZ and the southwest are superficial: If you look close enough, or lately not even that close, you will see the sunbaked lines that are etched on my face. Other aspects of my life there have remained embedded deeply in my core, not immediately visible to the outsider--I possess almost a vital need for mountain solitude, I speak conversational Spanish, and I have become a professional African dance instructor (a long story for another blog entry). One of the biggest influences the southwest had on me is the cuisine, the best of which melds both native foods and Latin American flavors. I have yet to meet a person who can travel to the southwest and Mexico and not be deeply transformed by the flavors of the local food--from the smoky flavor of fire roasted chiles, to the flaky, thin tortillas of southern Arizona and Sonora, to the green chili of New Mexico. The variety of native foods in southern Arizona alone is incredible and adds distinctive flavors and textures to the dishes-- including the small but flavorful tepary beans, grown originally by the Tohono O'odham tribe, the blueberry sized chiltepins--among the hottest peppers on earth--which grow wild just south of Tucson, and the fig-like saguaro fruit which fall from the tops of the cacti late in the summer. (read more about the wild chiltepin here.)

The food, like the landscape, can seem basic at first--what can you make with corn, chiles, cactus fruit and beans? (Okay, you foodies are saying "a lot!", but many people wouldn't go beyond the basic tostada). Just as the intermittent rains bring an assortment of plants out of hiding, creating life in the desert, the bursts of flavor provided by new and old world herbs and spices, combined with the distinct flavors of native southwest ingredients, bring the cuisine of the southwest to life.

Here is my favorite rendition of the staple Mexican dish, enchiladas.

Chicken Enchiladas Verde

2 tbsp canola oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1.5 pounds boneless chicken thigh
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2- 1 tsp oregano
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup plus 1/4 chicken stock
two 12 oz cans green enchilada sauce (I use Preferida brand)
1 small can diced green chiles
2-4 tbsp salsa verde (to taste)-I used Frontera brand)
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 cups grated cheese (try monterey jack, gruyere, meunster, colby or queso fresco)
12 corn tortillas (Whole Foods brand 365 organic corn tortillas hold up best)

1. Preheat oven to 350.
Put chicken thighs in large sauce pan with water to cover and boil for about 30 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Take out chicken thighs to cool. Reserve water.

2. In skillet, heat about 2 tbsp canola oil and sautee shallots over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Shred chicken meat and add to skillet. Add in cumin, coriander, oregano and sautee for about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken stock (water reserved from cooking thighs works great!), cilantro, mushrooms, green chiles and about 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce, salsa verde and garlic. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes, then remove cover and simmer for another 20 minutes or so until most of the moisture has cooked off, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Heat 1 tbsp canola oil in a clean cast iron skillet. Heat each tortilla on skillet, then fill with about 1/4 cup filling, 2 tbsp spinach and a bit of grated cheese. Place in a casserole dish making one layer of enchiladas. When the casserole dish is filled, pour remaining green enchilada sauce, mixed with about 1/4 cup chicken stock over enchiladas and top with grated cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, then uncover and bake another 15 minutes until cheese is slightly golden and bubbly.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bacon Bison Chili

This chili is so great--especially on the second day when the flavors have time to blend. It is delicious!! Changes I made are in italics. Try with Buttermilk cornbread. Original recipe from here.


For Chili Puree:
6 Dried Ancho Chilies
5 Dried Guajillo Chilies
13 Dried Arbol Chilies
6 Cups of Water

I used 6 anchos, 6 anaheim and 3 pasilla instead- I used about 5 heaping tablespoons of the paste in chili. It does make a nice paste, not too hot.

De-stem and seed the dried chilies
Add water and dried chilies to sauce pan
Boil mixture for 5 minutes then turn off heat and cover for 30 minutes or until chilies are tender. Puree mixture with a blender until smooth then strain mixture. (I did not strain the mixture, and I might try draining water off after boiling to reduce bitterness.)

Ingredients for Chili:
Chili Puree(See Recipe above)
3 pounds bison chuck roast (I used 1 pound course ground bison meat)
1/4 pounds of pork fat (raw pork belly works well)
(I used about 5 oz uncured bacon, cooked it and used some of the bacon drippings to cook onions. I added bacon pieces to stew)

1 12 oz IPA beer (I used about 10 oz and drank the other 2:)
2 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes
5 cloves garlic (I used 3)
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds (I used ground for all spices)
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
(I added 1 tsp chili powder and 1 tsp oregano)
1 diced large onion
1 large can (1lb,13 oz) of pinto beans
1 large can (1lb,13 oz) of black beans
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
juice of 1/2 lime
(I added about 1 cup of frozen corn kernels for a sweet crunch)
1 1/2 oz of Dark Chocolate (I used about 1 tbsp cocoa powder)

Trim bison chuck roast of fat and retain fat. Cut bison into 1/2 inch cubes. Cut bison fat and pork fat into 1/4 inch cubes. In a heavy dutch oven, add vegetable oil and heat to medium high heat. Add pork fat and bison to pot until they have given up all their fat or about 20 minutes. Remove the meat solids from the pan and throw away. Heat rendered fat to high heat. Brown each side of the bison cubes in the pan. After meat is browned, remove from the pan and save for later. Reduce heat to medium. Add diced onions and sautee until soft. Meanwhile, add coriander, cinnamon and cumin to a mortar and pestle and grind into a cohesive mixture. After the onions are soft, add diced garlic and spice mixture to the pan and sautee over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Increase temperature to high heat and add beer. Reduce by half. Meanwhile, puree one can of tomatoes until smooth. Puree the other can of tomatoes until chunky. Add the bison cubes(and liquid), honey, tomatoes, lime juice and chili puree to the pot. Simmer for 3 hours or until meat is tender. After 3 hours, add the beans and stir in dark chocolate. Simmer for another 10 minutes and then serve.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Parmesan-Turkey Meatballs

This recipe is one of the BEST I've tasted. Thanks Maggie!!

Parmesan-Turkey Meatballs (or meatloaf!)

1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 Tablespoons ketchup
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
(sometimes I shake a little worcestershire sauce to spice things up a bit)
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce (I think I used Newman's or Classico 4 cheese marinara sauce, or something like that)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray aluminum cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

In medium bowl, combine onion, turkey, bread crumbs, milk, egg, ketchup, cheese, garlic, basil, rosemary, and pepper. Blend well.

Form meatballs to desired size, and put on cookie sheet. Bake until browned and cooked through (it always seems to be different--20-30 minutes or so?)

If you do want to make meatloaf, put into loaf pan instead, and bake until browned and cooked through, 50-60 minutes.

After cooled a bit, add the pasta sauce and stir gently. ENJOY!

Cole Slaw Three Ways

These first two are from my sister:

1) Ranch-style Cole Slaw.

Thinly slice or grate (use the wide slicer on the grater if possible,
as it mangles the cabbage less) 1 small head of cabbage. Purple
cabbage makes a really pretty cole slaw. You can also grate in a
carrot for color.

In a separate bowl stir the following until smooth:

1/2 tsp tabasco sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
1 minced shallot
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

If possible, let sauce sit, covered, in fridge until just before the
meal, then mix into cabbage and serve. This lets the flavors mingle
without wilting the cabbage too much.

This also works as a Ranch dressing for regular green salads or as a
dip for fresh vegetables or potato chips!

2) Southwestern-style Cole Slaw

This is a non-creamy cole slaw.

Prepare cabbage as above.

In a separate bowl or blender mix the following well:

1/4 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 minced jalapeño
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch of chile pepper to taste

Serve the same way as above. Also good on three-bean salad or green

3) Fennel and Carrot Slaw

This version has a Mediterranean twist. The olives and sundried tomato
add nice accents. Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, Feb '08.
It serves more than 4!
(Find original recipe here.)

2 medium fennel bulbs with fronds
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated (original recipe calls for 5)
1/4 cup spanish olives, pitted and chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped flat leafed parsley
6 sundried tomatoes sliced thin

Chop about 3 tbsp fronds from ends of fennel bulb and set aside.
Discard remaining stem and fronds. Chop bulb into thin pieces and
place in bowl along with grated carrot. Mix remaining ingredients
in separate bowl, except tomatoes and parsley. Add to carrot/fennel
mixture and chill for about 30 minutes. Top with remaining fennel
frond, tomatoes and parsley. Serve.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Schmarrn (Tyrolean Pancake)

Isn't it amazing how a seeming eternity of memories are built on the slightest sound or smallest taste? Maybe for my mom and sister the clank of cast iron skillets on the stove, or a gulp of orange juice made from frozen concentrate takes them back to Sunday mornings at our house. This may sound odd, but for me, the NPR Weekend Edition theme song brings back those endless Sundays. Just those few bold notes conjure up memories of my mom whisking batter in a stainless steel bowl as the heavy iron skillet heated on our electric stove. My sister and I set the table that butted up against the breakfast bar, while my dad lay on the old army cot in the living area with his legs propped up, reading the paper. After breakfast and clean up, my sister and I would lay belly-down on padded exercise mats, reading the comics and Dear Abby before our weekly walk in the neighboring glen.

Sunday brunches are among my favorite memories and continue to be one of my favorite meals. We couldn't always eat dinner together as my mom worked an evening shift at the local public library, but we were always together for Sunday brunch. In an article by Barbara Kingsolver (Good Housekeeping Jan 2008), she notes," Kitchen-based family gatherings are cooperative, and, in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful." I couldn't agree more. Family meal times are the foundational plate onto which all of the spices and flavors of each family member blend, and sometimes compete! Though the meals varied--you might find our plates loaded with cream of chipped beef on toast, fried Spam and eggs, pancakes with honey and berries, or omelets--our routine never varied, giving me a profound sense of comfort.

One of my favorite dishes was schmarrn, a Tyrolean egg-laden pancake, topped with honey and cheddar cheese, that honored my maternal grandfather's heritage. I have yet to cook it myself. I think in part I am afraid that it will not live up to the memories I have of it. In a sense, I want that morsel of food to bring back those Sundays that are no longer possible. I also miss the comfort of having my mother cook for me. If I cook it myself, will it nourish me in the same way? My mom visited recently after the birth of my now 5 month-old daughter. I requested schmarrn. As I closed my eyes to take that first bite, the warmth of the rich and egg-y dough, mixed with the sweetness of honey and the sharp salty bite of cheddar cheese greeted me. I wondered if my fiance and son felt the same sense of satisfaction that I did. I suppose we are building our own memories now--ours include pumpkin waffles, whole grain pancakes, or sausage and eggs. But maybe it's time I include schmarrn in the repertoire. It may not take me physically back to those Sundays, but someday my children will hear the scraping of a spatula on the skillet, or taste a drop of honey on their tongues and will have memories of their own, and a taste of their family history. Guten appetit!


5-6 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. white flour
Mix ingredients together whisking well to make a smooth batter, the consistency of a thin cake batter or heavy cream.

Heat a heavy, 12" skillet with 1/8th inch canola oil, or oil/butter mix.
When oil is hot pour in batter. Fry for a minute or 2 then lift frequently with a spatula to allow wet batter to run under. When there is no wet batter left on top, cut cake into 2 or 4 pieces and flip over. Brown lightly and then chop into small pieces, like scrambled eggs. Brown lightly all over. Serve hot with honey or sugar or syrup and swiss or cheddar cheese if desired.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pumpkin-flax waffles

Today is the coldest day of the year so far. -8 degrees. Without the wind chill. I remember that in my high school year book, one of the notable things about me, according to my fellow high schoolers, was that I "loved winter." I was not winter that I loved, but the biting crispness of January air. The snow on the ground that gave way to the long blades of my cross-country skis. The flush of blood to my cheeks that warmed me for the rest of the day. That was winter in Ohio. This is Wisconsin. Winter is different here. The bite of cold does more than bring blood to your cheeks, but robs it from your hands and toes, leaving them senseless. The snow falls then freezes leaving you sliding and crunching through the thick crust. Some days are better left alone, viewed from a fogged up kitchen window where the smell of waffles and coffee envelope you and keep you warm for the rest of the day.
My favorite variation is Pumpkin-flax waffles. My son loves the golden color and doesn't mind the hidden nutrients. Guten appetit!


2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 3/4 cup flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp flaxseed meal
1/4 tsp salt

Mix egg yolks with other wet ingredients in medium bowl, set aside. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl and add wet ingredients to dry. Stir until large lumps disappear. Beat in egg whites. Cook according to your waffle iron directions.
Favorite toppings--blueberries, syrup, yogurt and whipped cream.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mom's yeast-based pie crust

Best for a shell to be baked WITH the filling in it.
(makes one generous bottom shell for 9-10 in pan
with some left over for decoration or cinnamon and
sugar cookies.)

1/4 C. warm (85F) milk or water
1.5 tsp granular yeast; or one packet of yeast
Dissolve yeast in milk, covered in a large bowl for about 5 minutes

Then, mix in :
1 beaten egg
TBS. canola or other unflav. oil

Then add and mix in :
1/4 C. sugar
1.5 C. regular flour; plus more as needed.

Stir and mix all together lightly to form a soft ball.
Should not be wet or sticky. Add little flour if needed to 'gather' ball into nice
soft,mass. Knead for about 15 seconds in bowl(do not over knead or it will get tough.) and...

Place ball in an oiled bowl.
Let raise for 1 hour; or double in bulk, in warm place.

Punch down on floured rolling surface. Roll to 1/8 inch thick.

Place rolled shell in pie pan and let raise for 30 mins BEFORE putting in fillings.
Use scraps as desired to add a rim or make cookies.
(I found this puffs up good in baking , so a smaller 'rim' is fine, depending on
how much filling you put in.)

Bake pie at 425F for 10 mins., then 350 for 45 mins.if using fresh fruit
(like uncooked berries) or as your recipe suggests for various fillings. ENJOY !!

Ona's Chocolate Chip Cookies

My sister's awesome chocolate chip cookies!
Never out of season..

In advance: set out 2 sticks (1 cup) butter - left at room
temperature until soft.

Set oven to 375 degrees.

Get two bowls - a large one for wet ingredients, a medium one for
dry ingredients.

In the large bowl mix 1 cup butter with 1 1/2 cups sugar - use
approx. 1/2 brown sugar and 1/2 white sugar to make the total
amount of 1 1/2 cups, or adjust as you like. More brown sugar makes
the cookies chewier. You can do 1 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup
white sugar, even.

Mash the sugar and butter together until it is a smooth paste.

Beat two eggs, add to butter/sugar mixture. Stir until smooth.

Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. Set this bowl

In the medium bowl (for dry ingredients) gently mix:
1 3/4 to 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour. If you are using the oatmeal
(which you will add later), use the smaller amount of flour so the
dough doesn't get too dry.
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 to 1 teaspoon baking soda

Now gradually stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Stir
gently, until mostly mixed. Then add chips, nuts and oatmeal:
2 cups chocolate chips (I only use dark chocolate chips, not milk
chocolate ones)
2 cups rolled oats (the kind that cook quickly, not the thick hard
ones. Quaker and McCann's make good ones)
1 cup nuts (walnuts are best, but I also like pecans or hazelnuts,
and you can experiment with others)

When evenly mixed, gently roll dough into walnut-sized balls and
set on a cookie sheet a few inches apart (they spread a little,
depending on wetness of dough). Bake 10-15 minutes per batch, until
the edges and bottom are golden brown.

Enjoy! Let me know if you make any interesting variations!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chile rellenos

My sister sent me this--

I just made chiles rellenos from scratch! Never-before attempted, and
they were amazing! Better than restaurant ones, I swear. And so much
easier than I expected (lots of prep though). Have you made them?

I did it this way:

6 fresh ancho chiles - charred to remove skins (this took forever. I
broiled them about 10 minutes each side, then wrapped them in a dish
towel and put them on the screen porch to cool. Then used a serrated
knife to mostly scrape the skin off (I think I should have broiled
them a bit longer). Then split them and removed the seeds (I had to
run them under the tap to get the seeds out - they were sticking to
my fingers). Try not to mangle them too badly.

Then make batter: 3 eggs whipped, then whip in some flour - I think I
used 1/4 cup - to make batter runny like pancake batter (maybe not
quite so thick). I would salt and pepper the batter next time.

Then make sauce - I used two cans of Old El Paso Enchilada sauce to
save time. It was spicy and pretty good. I added extra garlic and salt.

Then put a nice piece of Monterey Jack cheese inside each pepper.
Heat a large enough skillet with 1/2 inch corn/canola type oil. When
perfectly hot, dip each pepper carefully in batter, getting it all
over, and lay in skillet. LAY THEM WITH THE SPLIT SIDE UP FIRST, and
try to arrange them so the split is closed, not gaping open. Cook til
good and golden on the bottom, then carefully flip each one and fry
the other side. I thought the cheese was going to run out all over
and there was going to be a mess, but they fried up very neatly.

Serve 1 or 2 each onto each plate and spoon enchilada sauce on top. I
would warm our plates next time, as they got cold really fast, and
they are better piping hot.

We had some black beans on the side, too.

It was tummy heaven.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chocolate Guinness Cake

There's been a lot of Guinness in my life lately. That flavorful foamy drink makes regular appearances in our house, though recently wheat beer has been making appearances in its stead. My fiance is a Cassidy. Though his family has been in the US for many generations, they celebrate their Irish heritage with great enthusiasm. Last summer we joined 30 of his closest relatives (hey--they're Irish!) to return to the "old sod" for a family vacation. We stayed in a town called Clifden, nestled snuggly in rolling coastal hills. By day we visited the luscious green countryside, and masterfully built abbeys, and by night we visited the local pubs to check out the "craic" (live music).
Ireland is not heralded for its culinary prowess. The food is often bland, featuring meat, potatoes and a vegetable. However, the addition of Guinness can turn even a basic stew into a flavorful experience. Relying on the robust taste of stout is not limited to main dishes. In the following recipe, the flavor of Guinness stout peeks out from behind the rich chocolate cake, complementing it with a slightly bitter note. This cake is very moist and is super-easy to make.
The original recipe is from Feast by Nigella Lawson. I copied this rendition from here.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Cake Ingredients

  • butter for pan
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups superfine sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking soda

Topping Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
  3. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.
  4. Topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix icing sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.
  5. Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.

Makes one 9-inch cake, 12 servings.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Peanut sauce/Groundnut stew

We waited impatiently for lunch, trying to keep cool. Some of us sat on the hard tile floor of the large front room fanning ourselves, while others tried to catch a breeze on the wrap around porch. Our bodies shined with sweat that seemed to only vary from slight to prolific rather than disappear all together. When the breeze did provide sweet relief, it came with a price; the putrid smell of exhaust and fish permeated the air, followed closely by a handful of red dirt. We knew that our wait would be rewarded; we were having peanut sauce, or kansi as it is called in Guinea, for lunch.

Just a year ago my partner, son and myself traveled to this coastal West African nation along with about 20 other drum and dance enthusiasts. We stayed in the capital city, Conakry, in a three-story house that towered above the other structures in the neighborhood. This was my 4th trip to West Africa, where the food had ranged from incredible to nauseating. In Cameroon, the Ndole, a green leafy stew, and Bongo Chobi, a delicious fish in basil sauce, stood out, while the Ba Kungolo-fermented goat head- that I tried in Mali didn’t make it past my lips. This time around, in Guinea, our hosts had regularly dished out a thin, salty fish sauce flavored with palm oil and tomatoes, and fish bones. Well, most of us survived. A variety of stomach ailments were cropping up and my son pronounced himself allergic to Guinea fish. By this time we were begging for something else, and frequenting neighborhood restaurants. Those of us who had been to West Africa before craved peanut sauce. We craved vegetables and ice cream, too, but that’s another story.

Peanut sauce usually induces love-at-first-taste, a rich broth of ground peanuts and spices, surrounding some kind of meat—fish in Guinea, beef or lamb in Mali. Peanut sauce can be bought on the cheap—about .25 cents per plate from a street vendor, but you will taste the most basic version—thin sauce with a very tough chunk of meat (for .25 cents extra). The addition of vegetables, such as spinach, eggplant or pumpkin, and tender cuts of meat results in a much tastier, but more expensive, meal. The best peanut sauce I ate was in Mali where the tigedigena included tender lamb, pumpkin and bitter eggplant simmered in a sauce of ground peanuts, tomatoes and spices, served on a bed of hot rice.

Peanut sauce has become a staple in our house. My permutation varies a bit from the recipe I learned in Mali, but still evokes wonderful memories of West Africa. Feel free to experiment with different vegetables and meat, such as okra, carrots sweet potatoes, beef or lamb. I make this household favorite about every 2 weeks, and here, as in Guinea, it is well worth the wait. Guten appetit!

Peanut sauce/Groundnut stew

1.5-2 lbs chicken breast or thighs, chopped into 1”pieces
2 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger
1-2 clove garlic
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp tomato paste
8 oz peanut butter (unsweetened. salted is okay, just reduce salt elsewhere)
6-8 cups chicken stock, (or water with bouillon)
1 large yellow potato peeled and cubed
½ pound broccoli cut small
2-3 WHOLE habanero peppers
salt and papper to taste
1 tbsp hot sauce, or to taste

Heat oil in large cooking pot. Sautee onions and chicken over medium heat until chicken is mostly cooked. Press garlic clove, stir, and quickly add can of diced tomatoes. Add tomato paste, habaneros*, stock or water, peanut butter and stir. Let simmer for a few minutes (10-12) until peanut butter disperses evenly. Add potatoes other vegetables that need longer cooking times, and broccoli if you like it well-cooked (my son will eat it if it disintegrates into the sauce), otherwise add it later. Add other ingredients except for salt. Simmer on low with lid mostly on. Stir occasionally. Cook sauce for a total of about 45-60 minutes, adding water/stock if it becomes too thick. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. Add salt to taste. Serve over hot rice. Enjoy!

* Do not chop or cut habaneros. Cook them whole in the sauce--they do not add significant spice. If you like your food hot, remove one pepper from the pot when the sauce is cooked and pass it around on a plate. You just tap the side of the pepper with your spoon and then take a bite of your food. Habaneros are VERY hot, so only a drop of juice is needed, unless you like it HOT!

Chicken Peanut Stew on FoodistaChicken Peanut Stew

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pesto Pizza

It’s one of those embarrassing family traits. The kind my partner and I joke about, but a therapist might link to a long-forgotten wound inflicted on my inner child. Take a peek in my freezer, fridge or cupboards and you will find bags and containers encasing tiny portions of food. Some are leftover, some not yet tasted. I assure myself that these bites will be part of a perfect meal someday. You might find the spoonful of curried chicken, and a half of a yogurt in the fridge. A few remaining tortilla chips in a bag in the pantry. Most of the time those bits get thrown out, rotten or stale, the perfect moment to indulge never seized. Or they remain unused, the perfect meal never realized. In tonight’s case I reluctantly pulled out a frozen Ziplock bag of pesto, the last of three small bags that I filled this summer as basil soared skyward in my garden, and overtook tabletops at the farmer’s market. It’s January, and my craving for summer is stronger than my desire to save a piece of it in my freezer.

Frankly it’s no wonder I want to save the pesto—ration it throughout the long Wisconsin winter. Winter has hit hard this year, dreams of a white Christmas fulfilled long before the holiday itself. The joy of batting eyelashes bejeweled with glimmering snowflakes has dwindled as we watched snowplows push mounds of snow up into our freshly shoveled driveway, our backs aching, through those now tired eyes.

What food is deserving of this fleeting taste of summer? Organic penne pasta? No, too boring. Lasagne? How unfair to hide pesto in all those layers. Eggs and toast? Again, not quite special enough, though spinach, pesto and asiago omelets were a postpartum staple of mine. Pesto pizza? Yes, that’s it! The bold flavors of garlic, basil and cheese perfectly complement fresh baked crust. The toasted pine nuts exude a smooth, and slightly sweet oil that blends perfectly with olive oil, coating the crust. I considered what ingredients might top this pizza. Red or white sauce would certainly diminish the exquisite taste of the pesto. Olives would add too much salt, as would artichokes. I finally settled on sauteed mushrooms and sweet onions with small hunks of goat cheese nestled throughout, adding an earthy and salty bite now and then. Top with mozzarella and fresh parmesan and bake. Nothing beats a warm slice of summer. Sound good? There’s a small piece left over in my fridge. I was saving it for the perfect moment. Guten appetit, let’s eat.

Pesto Pizza (all measurements approximate)

1 recipe crust (I used pre-made dough from Trader Joes)
2-3 Tbsp basil pesto
½ sweet onion, sliced about ¼ inch thick, then sliced in half
½ cup sliced mushroom
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp goat cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Preheat a skillet on stove, medium heat, and put about 1 tbsp olive oil in it. Make crust and roll or press out to about 12-14 inch diameter. Don’t worry about circles or squares, pizza tastes best when irregularly shaped! Sautee onion and mushroom slices in heated skillet until soft. You can flavor with a pinch of salt if desired.
Sprinkle about ¼ cup mozzarella over crust and stick in oven for about 4 minutes until cheese melted. Spoon pesto onto crust and spread somewhat evenly over warm crust. Scatter sautéed veggies over pesto layer. Place small chunks of goat cheese around pizza. Top with remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Bake at 425 for 12-14 minutes until cheese is golden around edges. EAT!