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.