Wednesday, December 30, 2009

XOCO for lunch

The holidays are busy, whether you are baking, organizing a party, or shopping for those last minute gifts. Which makes it a perfect time to relax, head out and grab a bite to eat.

My husband and I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to eat lunch out last weekend, sans children. We stopped in XOCO, Rick Bayless' newest Mexican restaurant in downtown Chicago. I heard about it recently on Twitter, and have always been a Bayless fan, though I have never eaten in his restaurants. XOCO is a "quick-service cafe," as opposed to his fancier restaurants Frontera and Topolobampo, but there is nothing compromised about the food or atmosphere. In fact, it was one of the most amazing lunches I have eaten in a cafe.

The warm atmosphere created by the bold yellow and blue walls, and modern wooden tables and chairs enveloped us as we stepped in out of the snow. The line was long, as promised, but the service was efficient. We waited about fifteen minutes to order, but once we ordered we were seated right away and served within 5 minutes.

We had a hard time choosing our lunch. The menu features oven-warmed sandwiches, grilled tortas, soups and a few sides. Homemade ice cream and a slew of house-ground cocoa beverages complete the menu. (Breakfast looks great, too!). Everything sounded delicious, from the chicken and posole soup to the prosciutto, cheddar, avocado and chipotle-mustard torta.

We started with a smoky chicken-apple chile soup. It was the daily special, and I honestly can't remember the name, but it was divine! The red broth perfectly combined sweet, smoky and spicy. Chunks of chicken and a crunch of roasted pepitas topped it off. We also ordered a side of chips and guac, and I am pleased to say that the guac didn't run out before the chips!

Our main course, sandwiches from the woodburning oven, were unbelievable. Both sandwiches started with fresh, crusty bread and were filled with savory combinations of meat, cheese and vegetables. I ordered the Gunthorp Chicken, featuring marinated chicken, with back beans, pickled onions, avocado, and a red chile salsa. My husband indulged in the Choriqueso, a sandwich of homemade chorizo sausage, roasted poblanos, jack cheese and Rick's famous tomatillo salsa.
The flavors were bright, but balanced. A bold combination of heat, sweet, pickled and sour. More amazing? The sandwiches tasted just as good heated up two days later. Yep, the servings are ample, and affordable. For all of our food, plus a beer, we spent about $35.00. Not bad.

There's more to love about XOCO. They use lots of local veggies, meats and cheeses (many from Wisconsin, too!), and organic milk. And the cooks taste the food as they make it (with a clean spoon)!

My husband and I left XOCO happy to have had time to taste our food, and happy that the food was well worth tasting. And with a renewed holiday spirit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Swedish Meatballs-A Holiday Tradition (Sort of)

As the holiday season approaches I find myself thinking about family traditions. As my children get bigger, I feel like I owe it to them to create memories that they can pass on.

I don’t remember any really solid holiday traditions as a child in my family. We were dabblers (and still are!). Of course we had a tree, and certain ornaments that we loved, and my dad always brought out the angel chimes that spin from the heat of candles.

What I remember most about “our” traditions is trying out other people’s instead; some years I went to midnight mass with a friend (hey, I got to stay out late) and sometimes we went caroling with neighbors. Some years we opened gifts on Christmas eve (like our German and Swedish relatives) and sometimes we waited until Christmas morning. Sometimes, as we got older, the gifts didn’t even arrive wrapped.

As far as food traditions, we didn’t have any that stand out to me. Which is probably why, when I traveled to Sweden after high school to live with my relatives, I became fixated on their traditions. Learning about my own heritage, and searching for my identity meant that I could claim gingerbread cookies, whisked whipped cream, rice pudding and Swedish meatballs as my own. And, yes, lutefisk, too.

This year I made those Swedish meatballs, though I don’t have a personal favorite recipe. I turned to my handy Joy of Cooking cookbook, and found a recipe that sounded good. I mixed the meat, breadcrumbs and typically Scandinavian spices, nutmeg and allspice, and cooked them up.

After the first batch I decided they need some garlic. So I added in garlic. Then I decided they needed an accompaniment of some sort. So I boiled water for noodles. I stuck some garlic bread in the oven, heated some tomato sauce, and voilà, spaghetti and meatballs.

So much for tradition.

Swedish Meatballs

1 tbsp butter
4 tbsp chopped onions
1/3 cup (plus or minus) bread crumbs (can substitute mashed potato)
1/2 (plus or minus) cup water
1 pound ground beef, or beef and pork
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each allspice and nutmeg
2 tbsp heavy cream
garlic (optional)

1.Saute onions in butter until soft.

2.Meanwhile put bread crumbs and water into a mixing bowl and let sit one minute.

3.Add in onions and remaining ingredients and mix vigorously (kneading or with mixer attachment) until meat balls are well mixed, and light.

4.Form small balls and cook in buttered skillet until browned and cooked through.

5.Enjoy plain or however else you like. Hey, it's your holiday!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tortilla Soup

I know winter is here, because I have had soup about five out of the last seven meals.

Oh, and Mother Nature dumped 18 inches of snow outside our front door.

It seems like there is some internal clock that craves warm liquids as soon as the weather turns from that pleasant fall chill (when I crave baked goods) to downright cold.

I had intended to use the leftover Thanksgiving turkey to make a turkey soup, but just couldn’t bring myself to face the leftovers (I have become a meat snob of sorts, and the cheap turkey that contained about five ingredients did not sound good). So instead I scrounged the freezer for chicken breasts that I stored away after cutting off most of the meat.

I spotted some tomatoes that I froze and blanched during those warm summer months (when I crave fruit and grilled veggies) and immediately thought of Mexico. Well, partly I thought about it because I am going there in a month!!! But that is another story. As soon as I thought of Mexico, I grabbed Rick Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time, and searched for tortilla soup—a deliciously light soup, with a flavorful, lime-tomato broth.

With Mother Nature just getting started playing with the snow, we will likely have cabin fever for a few weeks (wishful thinking) to come. It’s nothing a bowl of soup, and a couple of shovels, can’t cure.

Tortilla Soup (w/ chicken)


6 corn tortillas
vegetable oil for frying
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed
1 small onion, died
2 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed seeded and torn into flat pieces
1 15 oz. can tomatoes, or 2 large tomatoes, blanched and peeled
6 cups chicken broth
1 large sprig fresh epazote (I used dried)
6 oz Mexican queso fresco, or grated Monterey Jack cheese
I large ripe avocado
1 lime cut into wedges
cilantro (optional)
shredded chicken (optional)

1.Heat oil in skillet, about ¼ inch deep. Cut tortillas into strips and fry in hot oil. Oil should not be smoking, but hot enough to sizzle right away. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden. Drain on paper towels.

2.Pour all but a thin layer of oil from skillet, and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat.

3.Puree onion garlic mixture with tomatoes in blender. Heat in soup pot about 10 minutes until it thickens slightly. Add in stock and epazote and simmer 30 minutes.

4.Season with salt.

5.To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with a few tortilla strips, a little crumbled, toasted chile, cheese, some avocado chunks and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge.

Tip: if adding chicken, boil chicken on bone until cooked through. Use broth from cooking chicken in soup. To remove fat, chill broth first and skim solidified fat off of top.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Heart Coffee--Barriques Market

I love coffee. I would say that I am addicted to it, but I am not sure if that is the case. I have gone without coffee for days, even weeks sometimes, without any physical side effects. I think I hold more of an emotional bond with that earthy, bitter drink.

As the mornings start later and grow colder, the warmth of that first sip helps me ease into the day. For the most part I make coffee at home, smoothing out the rough edges with some cream and a bit of sugar. Sometimes, however, I like to enjoy my coffee with friends at any one of Madison’s great coffee houses. I usually just get a regular cup o’ joe, but once in a while I splurge on a whole milk latte--I like to see the fun designs that the barista swirls into the froth.

Recently I have been enjoying my coffee at Barriques Market on Monroe Street in Madison, WI. The back of Barriques is filled with a great selection of wines (they even offer weekly tastings). An eclectic assortment of tables are set up in the front, where you can people watch out the large front windows, chat, or bury yourself in your computer. A few large wooden tables reflect the warmth of the wood floors, while smaller blue tables echo the colorful and funky gift shelf.

Aside from coffee and other standard beverages, Barriques offers house made scones, pastries from Madison Sourdough and very reasonably priced breakfasts. The breakfast sandwich, which includes eggs and local Hook’s cheddar on a French roll is only $2.50! Add local bacon or ham for another $1.25. The Hash Wrap looked superb, featuring a mixture eggs, potatoes and Hook’s cheddar all wrapped in a fresh tortilla, all for $5.65. Again, add meat for a small price.

Seasonal drink specials include a Pumpkin spice latte or Gingerbread man latte, with two shots of espresso and whipped cream.

I think I’m in love….

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekend Food Round-up

Wisconsinites pride themselves on the state's beer and cheese, with good reason. We (ahem) produce some of the best of both (in my non-biased opinion).

But Wisconsin also produces some wonderful wines. And we all know that there's nothing better than wine and cheese pairings (except perhaps beer and cheese pairings.)

This weekend you can sample delicious local wine and cheese at two separate events(as listed on The Daily Page)

Friday (today!) November 20
, from 5-7 p.m. James Norton and Becca Dilley will be at Fromagination to celebrate their book Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin with a reading and cheese tasting that’s doubling as a launch party. Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., 5 p.m., free. Call 263-0734 for more info.

Saturday, Nov. 21, Wollersheim Winery
of Prairie du Sac is throwing a tasting party marking the release of Ruby Nouveau 2009 in its annual Beaujolais nouveau celebration. This latest vintage and other Wollersheim wines will be paired with various specialty Wisconsin cheeses provided by Roth Käse at the tasting, which will also include a self-guided “wine journey” detailing the creation of the Nouveau. Wollersheim Winery, 7876 Hwy. 188, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free. Call 608-643-6515 for more info.

Take a sip for me!

Hint-of-Mango Applesauce (for grownups, too)

What is so great about mashed up apples, except that it is an easy way to get kids to eat fruit, and an easy food to digest after getting the flu?

That's how I have felt about applesauce—until I made it myself.

I recently scrounged the seconds produce bin at our local food Coop (yep-budget shopping!) and ended up with a bag full of locally grown apples, including some Macintosh, Ida Reds, and Honeycrisp.

On a whim, I stewed some up to top over waffles on a Sunday morning. The result? Amazingly delicious applesauce. In fact, it is so good, I am now officially an applesauce addict, along with the rest of my family.

I ended up canning five quarts of applesauce last week. Three are gone. This is not just for kids!

Now, if only I had bought that second bag of apples.

Easy and Delicious Hint-of-Mango Applesauce

A lot of apples (I had a 13 quart stock pot heaped with apple pieces), peeled, cored and diced

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp sugar

3 Tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp cinnamon

½ cup mango nectar or puree

These are starting amounts. I tasted it and added more honey, mango, and cinnamon until it had a flavor I liked.

1. Place peeled, diced apple pieces in stock pot. They will cook dpown, so don’t worry if it looks like there isn’t enough room.

2. Cook over medium heat until they are simmering. Stir occasionally so all of the pieces start to cook.

3. Add the sugar and cinnamon, and continue to cook until the apple pieces are soft. Some pieces might still be chunky depending on the type of apple you have.

4. When the consistency seems right, add the mango nectar, lemon and honey, continue stirring until the mixture starts to simmer again.

5. Taste and adjust flavors or sweetness to your liking.

Store in clean glass jars. Keeps in fridge for one week.

I used this link for canning instructions. Super easy!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mexican Jicama-Cabbage Slaw

I made this slaw to top steak tacos the other night. It has a nice balance of tart, creamy and sweet, and adds a delightful crunch. A nice substitute for the same old salsa--or in addition to it.


1 small head napa cabbage, shredded or thinly chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced finely
1/2 medium jicama, sliced thin or grated
1/2 cup chopped cilantro


1/4 cup each olive and canola oil
Juice of 2 limes (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1 orange
1 tsp lime zest
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp honey or sugar
1/2 tsp salt
hot sauce-optional

Put vegetables in a bowl. Mix dressing and pour over slaw just before serving.
Great by itself or as a topping to sandwiches and tacos.

Monday, November 9, 2009

And the Envelope Please....

Tilapia and Potatoes
En Papillote

I love getting mail the old fashioned way—in envelopes. Our predilection for email and other online forms of communication has left “snail mail” by the wayside.

I’m as guilty as anyone; I rarely send letters through the mail anymore, though I used to have pen pals all over the world.

Nowadays, I mostly receive bills and advertisements, but once in a while I get an envelope, hand addressed to me. It’s usually from my mom, but what she sends is always a sweet surprise—photos from recent visits (real photos on paper!), a clipped article (with titles like “Storing Your Wedding Dress” or “Easy Crafts for Kids”), a fun recipe or just bits of news about her garden or latest house remodeling project.

Maybe that’s what makes opening an envelope so divine—the mystery of what awaits inside never grows old. For a recent dinner I decided to stuff some envelopes and surprise my family. Not with letters or photos, but with dinner—fish and potatoes. Tilapia and a mix of potatoes and sweet potatoes en papillote.

Ah, a good ol’ fashioned family meal! I hope that never goes by the wayside.

Tilapia En Papillote

1 fillet of tilapia, or other fish
Juice of ½ lemon
Some fresh or dried herbs
Olive oil
4 tbsp dry white wine
1 clove garlic

(serves 2)
Lay fish on a large square of parchment paper. Squeeze lemon juice over the fillet, add oil and wine, season with salt, pepper and fresh herbs (I used thyme, oregano and parsley), and clove of garlic cut in half. Wrap parchment paper so that no steam can escape. Bake or grill at 350 for about 15 minutes, until tilapia is cooked through. Thicker fish may take a bit longer.
Open paper and serve on a plate. Enjoy!

Potato Medley En Papillote

2 sweet potatoes
3 regular yellow potatoes
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, left whole
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp crushed sage
1 tsp rosemary
¼ to ½ tsp cayenne powder (or to taste)

(serves 4-6)
Peel and thinly slice potatoes (about 1/8 inch by 1 inch pieces). Place on a large sheet of parchment. Add other ingredients and lightly toss. Feel free to adjust seasonings to taste. Cover with another large piece of parchment and fold under until sealed. Place on grill or in 350 degree oven and cook for about 30 until potatoes are tender and pieces along edge of paper are just beginning to brown. Try not to check too often—trust you nose and gut!
Take out of paper and serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dobrá Tea

We all have weaknesses. It’s only human, right?

Weaknesses often connote food-related indulgences—from fine wine, to fresh cheese bread to simply delicious apple pie. Mine is chocolate. I know I am not alone; Aztec gods, plenty of my friends, and I admit to a daily indulgence.

I have tried chocolate in many forms: bars, drops, truffles, cocoa, brownies, cakes and even in chili (my secret ingredient is out!). But until I went to Dobrá Tea in Madison, WI, I had never had chocolate in my tea.

Dobrá Tea has become my favorite place to relax and unwind on State Street. Among the myriad restaurants and packed bars, Dobrá Tea sits on an unimpressive corner, indicated by a small sign hanging near the door to alert passersby. Stepping inside, however, the colorful decor of this “Bohemian” tea house exudes warmth and a hip vibe.

Small, raised platforms are tucked throughout the café, creating intimate tea-drinking nooks. As you take off your shoes, and step up onto a carpeted platform floor, Indian fabric cushions welcome you. A low table holds a single candle, while beaded curtains and plants create some privacy.

Dobrá Tea is designed after Czech tea houses that grew out of a Communist-era, tea-loving culture. The original Dobrá Tea (Dobrá Cajovna) opened in the Czech Republic in 1993; Madison’s own Dobrá Tea opened its doors in 2008.

The hefty menu at Madison’s Dobrá Tea offers over 60 fine teas from 11 countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, South American and India. They offer the familiar Darjeeling, Rooibos, and Bancha, but also feature dozens of lesser known black, white and green teas such as ‘Liu’An Guapian’ and ‘Huang Shan Mao Feng.’ And chocolate-infused black tea.

Once I navigated the tea novella/menu—the staff will help if you need it—I decided on the ‘Memories of Prague.’ This gentle blend of black Assam tea and bittersweet chocolate, served with milk and honey, sounded perfect for a chocolate lover like me. The chocolate is very subtle, providing just a hint of deep flavor that complements the rich and “sparkling” Assam tea. The milk and honey make it dessert-worthy, and the two small “spice nuggets” served alongside quiet a hungry stomach.

The actual food menu is small, featuring mostly Mediterranean inspired snacks such as hummus and pita. But when chocolate is a part of the drink menu, who needs food?

Even if you weakness isn’t tea, or chocolate, Dobrá Tea is a great spot to relax with friends.

449 State St. Madison, WI. Open 11-11 everyday.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Curried Pumpkin-Apple Soup

Flesh is where it's at. At least when it comes to winter squash.

Something about those tough-bodied yet soft-insides fruits makes me feel instantly warm and cozy.

Maybe it’s the burst of orange, green and yellow color among the graying landscape. Or maybe it’s knowing that I get to turn the oven on for a good part of the day, cooking the flesh, baking the seeds, and making something yummy.

I love going to the farmer’s market and looking at all of the squash, deciding which one to pick for that night’s meal. It’s sort of like choosing wine; I set my price range, and choose a label that strikes my mood that day. Do I want grey, bumpy skin, or a burnt-orange skin? Inside, they vary a bit. Some have sweeter flesh, some are smoother. A few are stringy and some have better seeds for roasting. Regardless of their tenderness on the inside, they are all tough enough to stand up to a pie or some soup. Or both.
'Pile of Squash' photo credit: Fran Boness

Curried Pumpkin-Apple Soup

1 onion or 2 shallots

1 clove garlic

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp curry powder

2-3 cups pumpkin flesh

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 apple peeled and diced

cinnamon (optional)



1. Cut squash in half and de-seed. Clean seeds for roasting if desired.

2. Bake squash pieces at 350 for about 45 minutes or until soft, and starting to brown on edges.

3. Cut onion/shallots and sauté until translucent.

4. Add in garlic and curry powder, maybe a touch of cinnamon, and sauté quickly.

5. Add stock, squash, apple pieces, and honey and simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Taste for salt. Thin with stock or water if desired.

I just mashed my soup up with a potato masher, but you could use an immersion blender if you have one.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall Apple Cobbler

I knew hearing Michael Pollan (author of Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) speak at the 2009 Food for Thought Festival would be inspiring and eye-opening. I just didn’t realize how it might actually motivate me to make a few changes in my own kitchen.

Something resonated in me when Pollan asserted that cooking should be considered a life skill, and taught to kids. I have always believed this, but in the hurry to get dinner ready for a hungry family, it is often easier for me to efficiently pull a meal together than to include my kids in the process. I have had my son help me on occasion, and certainly given him a job if he expressed interest, but never made it a regular part of our schedule.

I know that if I want my children to make healthy food choices as a grown up, I have to give them the tools to do that now. My son and I have started incorporating cooking into our Monday afternoon mom-and-son time. We make omelets, pizza, dipping sauces and marinades—he loves to create “potions.” My two year old is a fairly reliable egg scrambler.

Today we embraced fall with apple cobbler. It is such an easy and delicious way to use the plethora of local apples that are literally falling from the sky right now. Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is my go-to cookbook for cobblers—and many other things! I love her fruit combinations and the buttermilk topping was perfectly sweet and tangy. We added a touch of rhubarb and strawberries to highlight the flavor and texture of the apples. This desert will undoubtedly serve as tomorrow’s breakfast. I taste a bright and delicious future!

Apple Cobbler (w/ mix ins)

6-8 cups, peeled, cored apples, sliced
½ cup each strawberries, rhubarb (optional)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg

Cobbler Topping

11/2 cup all purpose or pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda (I omitted)
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbsp cold butter
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, beaten (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Peel and slice apples into small pieces. Toss in bowl with zest, sugar, flour and spices.
3. Make cobbler topping by mixing dry ingredients in food processor or bowl. Cut in butter with pasty blender, or pulse in food processor until coarse.
4. Mix vanilla and buttermilk. Mix into flour-butter mixture until just moistened. You might need to add a bit more buttermilk.
5. Place apple mixture in bottom of skillet or 8 x 10 inch baking pan. Spoon cobbler topping over the fruit. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes until bubbly. Serve warm as is, or with yogurt or ice cream. Guten Appetit!

Photo Credit (apples in boxes): Fran Boness

October Food Round Up

The 8th annual Madison Food and Wine Show takes place October 20-22, 2009 at the Alliant Energy Center. This is one of Madison’s premier tasting events, showcasing food and wine from all over the area. One of the most popular events at the show is the Dueling Chefs Competition, Madison’s own live, cooking reality show. Reigning champion Charles Lazzereschi of Dayton Street Grille will try to retain his winning title, but will face stiff competition from other renowned local chefs, including Barbara Wright of Dardanelles and Rob Grisham of Brasserie V.

The sampling, tasting and flying knives will be well worth the $37 and up daily ticket price. Tickets are available online.

If $37 seems like more than you can spare, head to a free wine tasting every Wednesday and Saturday at Savoir-Faire at 5 N. Pickney St. on the Capitol Square. Wednesdays’ tastings start at 6 p.m., and Saturdays’ start at 2 p.m.

Pair your free wine sampling with a delicious meal at one of 10 restaurants participating in REAP’s Local Harvest: A Taste of the Town. The 3-day event, October 13-15, 2009, is a seasonal celebration of local food and a salute to restaurants that are committed to supporting local farmers. Participating restaurants include: Greenbush Bar, Beans 'n Cream Coffeehouse, L'Etoile, The Washington Hotel Coffee Room, The Weary Traveler, Crema Cafe, Dayton Street Grille, Lombardino's, Sardine and The Dardanelles Restaurant.

If all you can manage is a trip to the store to stock up on milk and eggs, then head to Willy Street Coop, and become a member if you are not already! Willy Street is celebrating its birthday, and showing their appreciation to members every day this week by offering free samplings from various vendors, from Sassy Cow Creamery to Gail Ambrosius chocolate. Be sure to stop in for birthday cake on Saturday October 17. Check out the complete schedule here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sauce, Salsa, Spread


The word ‘salsa’ ignites deep feelings of joy and passion in me. I love salsa—the steady beat of the conga drums, the horn solos and the flying freedom of well-executed spins and turns.

Salsas--the edible kind--incite as much excitement in me as the dance. The flavors twist and turn, opening with a hint of sweet before the peppers’ sting. The heat might be followed by the high notes of a fruit, balanced by the low noted of grilled onions, or embraced by a burst of citrus.

I am particularly obsessed with my three latest spicy concoctions, though not all of them are traditional “salsas.” In the past week I have made tomatillo salsa, red pepper dip, and pizza sauce. Part of my contentment comes from the deep satisfaction of knowing that I grew many of the ingredients for the salsas in my garden, from the tomatillos and tomatoes to the onions.

The other part is purely physical attraction. The tomatillo salsa is the perfect fusion of tangy, spicy and fire-roasted. The red pepper spread highlights the sweetness of the red and yellow peppers by cutting it with a touch of vinegar. The sunset-orange color of the pizza sauce reflects the garden-fresh tomato flavor.

A chilly October night is perfect for salsa—regardless of which kind you prefer.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

This recipe is from Rick Bayless (online, not in person). The only thing I adjusted were the peppers and the cooking method. I used a mix of Serrano, aji and jalapeno peppers which were available at the farmer’s market. Rick’s recipe calls for broiling the tomatillos and peppers, but I roasted everything on the grill as I invariably burn anything I broil. A crowd favorite!

(Makes 4 cups)
14 medium tomatillos
5-10 hot peppers depending on your taste
1 large onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves
1 cup water
2/3 cup cilantro
2-3 tsp salt
1-2 tsp sugar

lemon juice (for canning)

1. Heat the grill. Lay the whole tomatillos and peppers grill. Let roast until the tomatillos are softened and splotchy black in places (the skins will split), about 5 minutes; your goal is to cook the tomatillos through while they roast, which means they'll transition from light bright green to olive color on the top side. The skin of the chile peppers should blacken and bubble. With a pair of tongs, flip over the tomatillos and chiles and roast the other side for another 4 or 5 minutes or so. Set tomatillos in a bowl, and put peppers in a plastic bag, sealed, to “sweat.”

2. Lay onion rings and unpeeled garlic cloves directly on grill, over cooler part of grill. Turn once when slightly brown.

3. Seed and peel the peppers. Peel the garlic cloves. In a food processor, pulse the peppers with the roasted onions and garlic until moderately finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed to keep it all moving. Scoop into a big bowl, then, without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatillos and their juice. Stir them into the bowl. Stir in some water to give the salsa a spoonable consistency. Stir in the cilantro.

4. Taste and season highly with salt. Taste again and add just enough sugar to take the edge off the tomatillos' bright tanginess. If you're planning to use your salsa right away, simply pour it into a bowl and it's ready, or refrigerate it and use within 5 days. If canning, add about ½ cup lemon juice and can according to directions for water bath.

Red Pepper Spread

This spread, based on a Turkish recipe, is so easy and very delicious! It really lets the flavor of the peppers shine.

3 bell peppers, a mix of red and yellow
1 handful of walnuts
2 tsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
6 tbsp bread crumbs (or more to thicken)

1. Roast bell peppers on grill, turning to blacken skin evenly. When skin has blistered, place peppers in a plastic bag and seal for about 20 minutes.

2. In a food processor pulse seeded, peeled peppers. Add walnuts and mix thoroughly. Drizzle in oil and vinegar and mix. Add in vinegar and bread crumbs. Add salt to taste.

3. Use within 3 to 5 days, or freeze.

Sunset Pizza Sauce

6 quarts of tomatoes--mixture of yellow and red tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp fresh chopped basil
3 tsp fresh chopped oregano
dash hot sauce (optional)

1. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until skins split. Set aside to cool in a stock pot.

2. Peel skins off of tomatoes and discard skins. Simmer tomatoes, including seeds and juices, in stock pot over medium heat.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet. Chop onion and garlic. Gently sauté onion in olive oil until softened. Add in garlic and stir, being careful not to let it brown. Quickly transfer onion and garlic to tomato mixture and continue simmering.

4. Add in herbs, some salt and sugar (I started with about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar, and then adjusted to my taste.) As the sauce cooks down, the natural sugars will concentrates, so do not add additional sugar until end.

5. Add a drizzle more olive oil and simmer on low heat until sauce has thickened.

6. Add a dash of hot sauce if you like.

7. Use or freeze within 5 days.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Good Scone is Hard to Find

I admit that sometimes I am judgmental.

Especially when it comes to baked goods.

I don’t think you have to be the world’s best baker or foodie to appreciate a fresh, made-from-scratch bakery item. The difference between a muffin made from a mix, or made by hand from fresh ingredients is palpable.

I’ve been disappointed many times going into a café that serves great coffee, but mediocre baked goods. Typically, the muffins and breads are a bit too sweet and cake-like, and the scones are either tough and doughy, or too dry and flavorless.

Good scones seem particularly hard to find. However, today I hit upon one of the best scones I have had in Madison, at a café that is arguably one of Madison’s hidden treasures.

Ironworks Café, in the Goodman Neighborhood Center, is a testament to excellent business practices and a successful community enrichment program. The café, which is tucked into a sunny corner of the building, serves up delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. All of the food is cooked from scratch. The meals feature local and seasonal ingredients and are served up by students enrolled in East High School’s alternative education program. As a matter of fact, the students, under professional direction, are responsible for all of the café's operations.

And they serve incredible scones. The scones are buttery and crisp on the outside, yet flakey and tender, but not doughy, on the inside. A cup of dark roast Just Coffee with brown sugar cubes provided the perfect compliment to the dried cherry scone I devoured today. Judging by my plate of crumbs, I will be back!

Goodman Community Center

149 Waubesa Street
Madison, WI 53704
Phone 608.241.1574

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pinkoko Chocolates

What perfect timing. My husband and I celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary this weekend, and I wanted to bring something extra special along for our getaway. Got it! Two gleaming, delectable, mouth-watering Pinkoko Confection chocolates named 'Glitter Mint.'

Yeah, the name is kind of girly, but then again, that's the point. Pinkoko Confection owner and chocolatier, Kelly Kuran, wants to celebrate chocolate's flirty sexiness, along with its elegance.

And these are definitely fun and elegant chocolates with uncompromised taste and quality. Glitter Mint chocolates contain pure Valrhona chocolate, organic cream, subtle mint flavor and a touch of glitz (her other top-shelf chocolates include ‘Bare,’ which showcases unadulterated ganache, ‘Whiskey a Ko Ko,’ infused with Knob Creek whiskey, and ‘Little Black Dress’ decorated with edible pearls). I think my husband will get over it. In fact, I think he'll love them as much as I do. Here's to a year!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sassy Cow Creamery

Sometimes the best things are hard to find. Take Sassy Cow Creamery, for example. This new dairy opened just over a year ago, bringing farmstead milk and ice cream to very happy Southern Wisconsin residents.

Getting to there proves to be a worthwhile challenge. Google directions send you about 15 miles out of the way, or 20 if you are like me and turn the wrong way on Bristol Rd. Let’s just say that Bristol Road offers lots of options, starting, stopping and turning many times throughout the farmland. It reminded me of my favorite childhood book series, Choose Your Own Adventure. Except that only one option has a really fun outcome. That option is left.

Once you get to the dairy, prepare for a relaxing ice-cream eating experience. The view is beautiful, and the ice cream is delicious. Stop in for farm-fresh milk, or locally produced cheeses, jams and meats. Despite that fact that we live in dairy country, it is hard to find a dairy farm that still produces AND bottles milk on-site.

Not All Milk is Created On-farm

Unless you have a dairy farm, you probably don’t think about which particular cow or cows your milk comes from. In most cases it would be impossible; milk is usually shipped from dozens of dairies to a central processing facility before it ever reaches the grocery store. Luckily, a resurgence of farmstead milk and on-farm bottling gives us an opportunity to make fresh and healthy choices.

Sassy Cow Creamery, located in Columbus, WI, is one of a growing number of local dairies that are producing farmstead milk. James and Robert Baerwolf, the brothers who own and operate the creamery, offer both traditional and organic rBGH-free milk and milk products (a.k.a. ‘delicious ice cream’) from their two herds. By tagging each bottle of milk with the name and photo of the wide-eyed, fuzzy-nosed supplier, they have ensured a personal connection between their farm and your stomach. Thanks, Tessa, for this week’s milk!

Knowing where our food comes from, specifically the energy, chemicals and labor that go into producing and transporting it, allows us to make choices that support sustainable agriculture, healthy food and our local economy. Sassy Cow milk is one such product that deserves our support. The beauty of Sassy Cow milk is that you don’t have to go to the creamery to enjoy it, though I recommend it as a fun (and adventurous) family outing. Local and regional stores and restaurants have been quick to pick up their fresh milk and scrumptious ice cream. With flavors like Dark Cherry Chocolate and Caramel Brownie, it’s hard to go wrong.

Getting There/Events

By the way, the better way to get to the dairy, in terms of time and gas mileage, is Highway N, straight off of 151. Follow it until you see the bright red dairy store. You can’t -- and don’t want -- to miss it!

Visit Sept. 20th at Sassy Cow Creamery for South Central WI's Home Grown Food Festival – hay rides to the dairy farm as well as a market, and of course ice cream. Also SSC will be at the Food For Thought Festival Sept 26 on Capitol Square.

W4192 Bristol Rd.

Columbus, WI 53925

608-837-7766 / 608-445-2010

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eat Your Way Through September

September Southern Wisconsin Food Event Round-up

It’s all about storing up for winter. Storing up good times, fun events and good food. Here are a few options for food-loving Wisconsinites for the month of September. Get out while you can!

Saturday, Sept 12, 2009

1. Hold your horses, or at least your bike. MACSAC’s (Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition) Bike the Barns tour promises to be a wonderful and fulfilling event. Fully filling! This fundraiser/bike ride covers 52 miles of beautiful Wisconsin countryside with the aim of…eating for a cause. All proceeds, including pledges collected by bike riders, will support MACSAC's Partner Shares Program, which aims to increase low-income households’ access to fresh, local vegetables in southern Wisconsin. This is one bike ride that is not only worth taking, it will earn you serious karma credits.

Registration may be full, but you can enjoy the benefits of this event even if you can’t make this year’s ride. Enjoy Café Soleil’s amazing pastries and breakfasts all year on Capitol Square in Madison, WI. Or enjoy catering by Underground Food Collective at your next event. If farm-fresh food is your thing, check out the large selection of CSA options on MACSAC’s website. Remember, CSAs are not just for vegetables; enjoy egg, milk, flower and meat shares, too!

2. If you’d rather bike, or drive, to a single destination, head to Vermont Valley Community Farm for the Pesto Fest. Vermont Valley Community Farm, located not too far west of Madison in Blue Mounds, is a Wisconsin organic farm mainstay. The Pesto Fest is a great opportunity to try your hand at farming, meet some other foodie friends and eat pesto. Yum! The farm supplies basil, parsley (U-pick) and garlic, and you bring anything else you might need. Enjoy it over some fresh boiled pasta (VV provides the pasta), or with other picnic items that you bring, before you leave. Arrive between 12-3 p.m. and start picking!

Vermont Valley Community Farm
4628 County Hwy FF, Blue Mounds, WI 53517
(608) 767-3860

3. Truly the heartland of the heartland, Stoughton, WI offers a hearty sampling of local food during Local-motion: An Eat Local Crawl. This Saturday’s event features ten locally owned food spots that will be serving everything from snacks to meals, made with locally grown ingredients.

The walkable (though aptly named “Crawl” might hint at other modes of locomotion) includes the following stops:
*Cheesers (cheese) at 186 E. Main
*Montage (ice cream) 217 S. 4th St.
*Page Street Pizza (pizza) 971 N. Page St.
*The Yahara River Grocery Co-op
* Main Street Kitchen, 334 E. Main St.
* Sonny's Bar & Grill, 151 E. Main St.
* All Through the House, a cooking specialties store at 160 E. Main St.,
* Bella Roma Italian Bistro
*Fosdal Home Bakery
*Main Street Pour House

All crawl spots are within a three-block area on Main Street.

The crawl takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on September 12. Each restaurant will charge $2 to $5 for its menu items. Detailed information at the Daily Page.

Monday, Sept. 14, 2009

If the weekend left you in a food coma, then you are in perfect shape for sitting back and enjoying Slow Food UW’s first Family Dinner Night of the fall semester.
This week’s dinner will feature Moroccan/Israeli dish called shakshuka. Shakshuka is a rustic tomato-based dish eaten directly out of the pan using bread as the main utensil. Leading the dinner will be Dani Rozman, a new member of Slow Food UW and world traveler.

Cooking workshop begins at 4 p.m. (for the first 12 people to volunteer). Dinner is served family style around 6:30. Dinner is served in the kitchen at The Crossing (in the basement). The dinner costs $5 for members or $7 for non-members. A home-cooked meal deal!

The Crossing
1127 University Ave. at Charter St.
Madison, WI

Saturday, September 20, 2009

Knowing the name of the cow that gave you milk puts a new twist on the concept of knowing where your food comes from. That is exactly what Sassy Cow Creamery wants its customers to know. This small dairy, which opened just a year ago in Columbus, WI, produces both organic and conventional milk which it bottles and sells. Head out to Sept 20 from 1-4 p.m. for South Central WI's Home Grown Food Festival for a farmer's market, local food tasting, ice cream social, cooking demonstration, creamery tour, education programs on growing and preserving produce, and more. Meet Maisy and Clover while you’re at it. Fun for the whole family!

Sassy Cow Creamery
W4192 Bristol Rd.
Columbus, WI 53925
608-837-7766 / 608-445-2010

Saturday, Sept 26 2009

It's time again for the annual Food for Thought Festival, with keynote speaker Michael Pollan. This event explores and celebrates our many opportunities to eat more pleasurably, healthfully and sustainably. Enjoy thought-provoking activities including kids activities, food sampling, music, food sampling, cooking demonstrations, food sampling, and more (food sampling). Just to whet your appetit, check out demonstrations by local chefs from Weary Traveler and Crema Cafe. Sample milk from Organic Valley and chocolates from Pinkoko confections. I'll welcome samples at the kid's activity tent in the morning.

Festival runs from 8 am-1:30 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (off Capitol Square Madison, WI).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

End-of-Summer Habanero-Pineapple Salsa

My favorite way to enjoy tomatoes as a kid was simple. Sliced, on bread with mayonnaise. I still enjoy the taste of sliced, fresh tomatoes, but tend to dress them up a bit more. Tomato-cucumber salad, or insalata caprese are two of my favorite summer tomato dishes.

When the tomatoes start coming on in full force, as they are now, I start figuring ways to preserve them for the months ahead. The instinct to store food for the long, bleak winter appears to be engrained in my DNA. As I rummage around in the tomato bed grabbing whatever is ripe or near ripe, I find myself wondering how closely related to those nut-grabbing squirrels we are, or rather “I am.”

Not only are tomatoes in full force in my garden, but I also noticed that the leaves are dying on the plants. Blight, or possibly end-of-summer decay, has left me wondering how many more of the tomatoes will ripen before the frost hits.

In my state of morose expectation, I had to do something radical. I decided to make a fruit salsa. I combined perfectly ripe pineapple, roasted red peppers and an assortment of tomatoes and hot peppers. No small mammal could come up with something this good. This cheery, sweet and hot salsa should keep me remembering the good ol’ days of summer well into fall--if it lasts that long.

End-of-Summer Habanero-Pineapple Salsa

1 red bell pepper, roasted

1 serrano, roasted

1/2 poblano, roasted

1-2 habanero peppers, not roasted (though you could try it)

1/4 pineapple, de-cored and skinned, roasted

2 large red tomatoes

1 handful of sweet cherry tomatoes (Sungold are my favorites)

1 Green Zebra tomato

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

3 tsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp lime juice

1 large clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1. Preheat grill to about 350 or 400 to roast peppers and pineapple. I would like to say you can also do this under a broiler or on a stovetop, but it never works for me. Inevitably I burn them, or they don’t blacken evenly. Anyway, grill the peppers except habanero (or feel free to experiment) until skin is evenly blackened and blistered. Immediately put them in a plastic bag and close. Let the peppers “sweat” for 15 minutes or so. The skin should peel right off. Slit peppers, remove seeds.

2. Stick roasted Serrano and poblano in a blender. Don’t blend yet!

3. Add half of roasted red pepper to blender. Chop other half into small pieces and put in bowl.

4. Cut pineapple by cutting off the top and bottom. Stand pineapple up and slice off outer green “skin.” Cut lengthwise down middle and then cut out core in a triangular shape. Eat the core. Do this to both sides. You should have 4 lengths of pineapple. To get my exact measurements, you have to eat 2 chunks of pineapple. Stick the rest on the grill and grill about 5 minutes on each side until just browned.

5. Slice three large chunks (about 1 cup?) from 1 piece and set in blender. Chop another 2 chunks or so into small pieces and place in bowl with red pepper pieces. I have about 1 and a half pieces left for breakfast!

6. Place 1 large tomato, roughly cut, 1 Zebra or other smallish yellow tomato, and a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes in blender.

7. Blend away. Set aside.

8. Put gloves or plastic bags over hands. Cut habanero in half and remove seeds. Finely chop pepper and put into bowl. Discard pepper pieces and gloves. Wash hands. This stuff can hurt!

9. Chop 1 red tomato and cilantro and put into bowl.

10. Add the blended mixture to bowl of chunky pieces and stir.

11. Now comes the fun part. Add a touch of salt, a squeeze of lemon and lime, crushed or chopped garlic, vinegar, and anything else you think I missed.

12. Enjoy with chips, on fish, or any other way you deem delicious. Photo shows Trader Joe's plantain chips.Yum!

P.S. Since this is not canned, it need to be refrigerated and used within a week or so, or can be frozen, though it will lose texture. You could blend it before or after freezing to avoid mushiness or freeze parboiled tomatoes and diced peppers and get other ingredients as needed. Let me know how it works for you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pesto Pasta Genovese

Ivy Manning’s Farm to Table Cookbook is due back to the library soon. I love this book! I am frantically looking through the recipes trying to decide what to make before I return it (I already renewed it twice). Last night I needed a quick dish to feed my family, and found the perfect thing: Pesto Pasta Genovese.

I know, pesto is probably coming out of you ears, along with the zucchini, but I can’t get enough. What I love about Ivy Manning’s take is that she recommends making it in a mortar. It seems like I have been hearing that a lot lately: Grind your pesto by hand. I learned that the word “pesto” comes from the Italian word for “pound,” so that makes sense. And cooks swear that it tastes better. I pulled out a stone mortar that until now has served as a decorative piece and went to work.

It is, without a doubt, the best pesto I have ever made. It took longer than in a processor, and left me with a stiff forearm, but was worth it. There is nothing like working for your food to really appreciate it! The pesto was a bit “chunkier” than normal, and the flavor just burst forth. The addition of green beans and potatoes (both of which are in season now) was the perfect touch.
I served this with Insalata Caprese with fresh garden tomatoes. Even my meat-loving husband loved this vegetarian meal (hence his inclusion of a photo of the well-cleaned plates.)

Here’s her recipe, my additions in parenthesis.

Pesto Pasta Genovese

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 pinch sea salt
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled
(1/4 cup toasted pine nuts)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper
1 pound Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
8 ounces dried fusilli or trofie pasta
½ pound thin green beans, stem ends snapped off.

1. Remove basil leaves from stems, do not wash.

2. Place small handfuls of leaves in stone mortar with salt and lemon juice. Smash and grind the leaves against the bottom of the mortar, gradually adding more leaves.

3. When all the leaves are smashed, slice the garlic in half and remove green shoot tip. Add to mortar and smash. When the mixture is smooth, add the pine nuts (if you are using them).

4. Add oil gradually. Then stir in cheeses salt and pepper. Set aside.

5. Put potatoes, 2 pinches of slat and enough cold water to cover potatoes by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender. Drain and set aside.

6. Bring another pot of water to a boil. Stir in pasta and cook until it’s almost done, about 7.5 minutes. Add the green beans and cook another minute. Drain. Gently toss pasta, potatoes, and beans with pesto. Serve hot or room temperature.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tomatillo-Aji-Avocado Salsa Fresca

I moved to Madison, WI from Tucson, AZ over 10 years ago with just a few possessions. A cupboard (that functioned as a dresser), some clothes and two bikes, which I considered moderately important, I shoved in a small trailer and towed behind my car. My most prized possessions I packed carefully, protected from the baking sun and placed in the front seat next to me. I’m not talking about my pet cat, though he was up there, too. I am referring to two other items that I grew to love while living in Arizona - chile powder and beans.

I was leaving the beautiful Sonoran Desert and my job at Native Seeds/SEARCH in pursuit of higher education. I had worked at the small non-profit for a number of years, helping to clean and store seeds from the myriad heirloom crops that they grew and collected. I also worked in the storefront, which sold all sorts of native foods and collectibles. Some of the products I used often were the multi-colored beans, the sweet corn chicos, dried cholla buds and mesquite meal. But my two favorite items were the Aji Amarillo chile powder and the white tepary beans.

Tepary beans are native to the Desert Southwest and grow under extreme drought – the bean matures on one single irrigation or thunderstorm! The indigenous people near Tucson, the Tohono O’odham, have cultivated and eaten tepary beans for centuries. Aji Amarillo peppers are native to Peru, imparting a hot but delicately fruity flavor. The saffron gold color of the powder reflects its robust flavor.

Pairing beans with chiles is like partnering wine with cheese (or beer and cheese in Wisconsin). The combination is always a winner. As a matter of fact, a friend and I won first place at an informal chili cook-off my first year in grad school in Wisconsin. We combined the teparies and the Aji powder, with many other top-secret ingredients (winter squash and cocoa powder were two of them) and the result was unbelievable, but that’s another story.

I forgot about Aji Amarillo powder after I had used most of it up and given the rest away. It became a heart-warming memory of my former life in the Southwest. I settled for regular, red chile powder for a while, moping about that these northerners knew nothing about chiles. Going to the store I could choose from about three different types, varying from medium to hot. It worked fine, but I always longed for the full flavor of the Aji chile.

Recently at the Saturday farmer’s market I came across a pile of fresh Aji chiles. I was so excited that I bought a bunch. They were not Aji Amarillo peppers, but an Aji with a delicate green-yellow color. The medium hot peppers impart the same citrus-y flavor as I remembered the Aji Amarillo having. With no teparies in sight, I wondered what to do. With a tip of my hat to my desert past, I embraced my Upper-Midwestern life and all that it has to offer. I chopped a bunch of the tomatillos that are growing rampant in my garden, and some of the chiles. Adding a smooth bite of avocado to balance the crispness of the tomatillos and peppers, and some herbs and spices, I made a Tomatillo-Aji-Avocado Salsa Fresca. Perfect to conjure sweet memories, and create spicy new ones.

Tomatillo-Aji-Avocado Salsa Fresca

Please use quantities that taste good to you! This is an approximation.

2 cups of fresh tomatillos, de-skinned, rinsed and chopped (1-1.5 cup chopped)

1 avocado, pitted and chopped

½ -1 Aji pepper, seeded, chopped (use gloves!)

1 tsp salt

1.5 tsp sugar

juice of 1 lime

½ cup cilantro chopped

Mix it all and adjust ingredients until it tastes delicious!Eat.