Saturday, February 27, 2010

Root Vegetable "Smashies"

Root Vegetable "Smashies"

I found my new love. It reminds me a bit of those "bad boy" relationships from my distant past. You know the ones, right? Those love affairs where you obsess about someone, but know that if you see too much of each other it will most likely end badly. My new "bad boy"? Puff pastry.

The idea came to me after I saw mashed potato and cheese turnovers in the deli case at our local food co-op. I have tried my hand at pastry dough, and can turn out a decent crust, but honestly, I don't enjoy it. I know, puff pastry isn't a novelty, but I have actually never cooked with it before. It's too easy, I always thought; pre-rolled and ready to entice you with that beautiful golden crust. And way too fattening. But I wanted to present a delicious mash of local root veggies (about the only local produce available right now) and cheese to my family (particularly my kids) and knew that encasing them in a tasty, butter-and carb-laden shell would do the trick. The flaky, puffy outside delicately embraced the roughly mashed turnips, parsnips and potatoes inside. I seasoned the mashed veggies with a hint of garlic, onion, some tarragon, salt and pepper, and the other bad boy in my life--finishing butter. Of course butter in any form is great, but I am particularly smitten with Epicurean finishing butters (in this case Tuscan Herb butter). A small garnish of grated cheddar and I had the perfect meal in a pocket.

I call them "smashies", which is my pet name for this new love of mine. And even though my husband actually likes my heartthrob as much as I do, I don't think we'll be seeing each other that often. But you can bet when we do, I'll enjoy every moment.

Root Vegetable Smashies

w/finishing butter in puff pastry

1 large turnip
2 medium parsnips
2-4 medium potatoes
**try any combination of root veggies you like! (try sweet potato, rutabaga, carrots and celeriac)
1 small shallot, finely
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper
Herbed butter
Pinch of herbs (try tarragon, marjoram, thyme or rosemary)
Olive oil
1 cup grated or soft cheese (try aged cheddar, goat cheese or cream cheese)

To make:

Thaw puff pastry about 45 minutes at room temperature.

Pre heat oven to 375 (or according to puff pastry package).

Peel, cube and boil the root vegetables until tender (about 15 minutes)

Heat skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil after heated and swirl.

Saute shallot until tender, about 3 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup water, root vegetables, herbs and garlic and simmer until flavors meld, about 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and finishing butter (or butter mixed with herbs.) Remove from heat.

Open sheet of puff pastry, cut into 3 sections (about 4 x 8 inches).

Place a heaping tablespoon or two of mashed veggies onto pastry, top with a sprinkle or dollop of cheese and fold pastry over.

Bake 20 minutes, or until pastry is golden and puffy on top.

Enjoy with homemade ketchup.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sprouting Ideas

Where have I been? Under a mountain of sprouts. Delicious and tasty sunflower sprouts and pea shoot sprouts presented to me by our neighbors and owners of SuperCharge! Foods, PT and TJ. My task? To come up with interesting and tasty recipes using the fresh sprouts. I happen to enjoy the flavor of the young stems and cotyledons by themselves, and they also make tasty additions to many dishes. Sprouts a perfect substitute for fresh tender greens such as baby spinach, but knowing these particular sprouts’ freshness and the love with which they were raised, I was also inspired to use them in more creative ways.

The first recipe I made with the sprouts was a Whisker Sandwich. For lunch the next day, I continued with the sandwich theme and made a delicious Smoked Turkey Bagel with Chipotle Cream Cheese and Sprouts. I bought fresh Gotham bagels from the Willy Street Coop, spread on cream cheese mixed with adobo sauce from canned chipotles. Next I added sliced turkey, a thin slice of cheese and—you guessed it—sprouts. I topped it off with a tomato slice and the other bagel half which was spread with mustard and mayo. Yum! Fresh bagels are a must.

Next I decided to highlight the fresh pea flavor of the pea shoot sprouts by cooking them up in a Pea Shoot Sprout Soup. I made a light vegetable stock in a stock pot. In another stock pot I sautéed 1/2 cup chopped onion, then added about 2 cups of cubed potatoes and boiled them until soft. I added some salt, and pepper to taste and added a large handful of pea shoot sprouts right before turning the heat off. After the soup cooled, I blended it until it had a creamy consistency. I served it with a dollop of curry yogurt (plain yogurt mixed with curry powder and a touch of honey). This soup would also be good with some cream or half and half added when reheating. I added red for photographing, but to be honest, am not sure I liked the taste of paprika.

Finally, I wanted to feature the sprouts in a salad. How about a Tender Sprout Salad with Potato Croquettes, Bacon Bits and Balsamic Vinaigrette. I had cooked up some bacon at breakfast and decided that nothing goes better with bacon than potatoes, cheese and eggs. So I made potato-cheese croquettes. I chopped up the bacon, sprinkled that over a bed of sprouts, placed a couple of croquettes on the plate and then dressed it with the homemade ketchup (from whisker sandwiches) and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!
I made croquettes by simply mashing potatoes with grated cheese, adding a pinch of salt and pepper, and a touch of cream. Form the mash into balls, dip in egg, then roll in breadcrumbs. Fry in a shallow layer of veggie oil until golden.

Oh, I also included them in lots of my kids' snacks. Sprout and marshmallow forest anyone?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Weekend, Wisconsin Style

I like to think that there is more to Valentine’s Day than chocolate. There is! There’s also beer and dairy products (and a few other sweet options). We are in Wisconsin after all. Check out some of the following tastiness around Madison, WI this weekend.

Check out more listings in the Daily Page here.


1. Free frozen yogurt?? Yep, Saturday only from 11 a.m. -2 p.m at the new Red Mango frozen yogurt outlet on State Street. The heart healthy yogurt comes in four flavors including—you got it—cocoa. But Tangomonium (“a proprietary citrus blend”) sounds intriguing. 627 State St., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., free. Call 260-0070 for more info.

2. A Valentine’s Farm Dinner sounds delicious! No, make that incredibly tantalizing. Oh my goodness, I wish I were going! Chef Earl Gesling and Chef Richard Sweed are preparing a six-course tasting menu featuring Prarie Farm Organic meats. Their menu includes Adobo pork belly braised with hickory smoke on grand queso polenta; a winter mix salad tossed in a maple vinaigrette with apple, bacon and goat cheese; poached trout with spinach, winter vegetables, couscous and lemon chive buerre blanc; pheasant breast and morel mushrooms with pheasant confit, foie gras and a risotto cake; herb-crusted rack of veal chop, whole grain mustard roasted potatoes with wilted spinach; and, Door County cherry crème brulee with a chocolate soup shooter. Guests are asked to bring a favorite wine (or beer?) to pair with the meal. Fountain Prairie Inn & Farms, W1901 Highway 16, Fall River, 6:30 p.m., $75. Call 920-988-8597 to RSVP.

SUNDAY 2/14 Dexter’s Beer tasting 1-4 pm. Dexter's Pub, featuring beer from 10 breweries and a contest featuring chocolate creations. $20 donation ($15 if bringing chocolate dish for the contest). 661-4178

Or get your beer and chocolate in one fell swoop. Take home some Down 'N Dirty Chocolate Oatmeal Stout from Tyranena Brewing Company. Robin Shepard of the Daily Page describes it, "Rich in chocolate malt, firm roasted aroma and the accent of sweetness from the cocoa nibs -- these characteristics make Down 'N Dirty a great winter beer. It might look thick and heavy, but it's lighter than it appears.” Check out her full review here.

Happy Valentine's Day Madison!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Whisker Sandwich

Around this time of year I start looking for signs of spring anywhere and everywhere. It is to no avail, but I am always hopeful, trying to cheer myself with mantras such as: The days are longer! The snow melted on our sidewalk! The sun is brighter! My violets are blooming (inside)! The truth is, February shoves its way in between a month of winter fun, and the beginning of spring; 28 or 29 long days during which the snow turns a dull gray, hiding icy layers beneath. The gray sky lingers, offering snow, rain, sleet and ice—often simultaneously. Stalwart buds protrude from tree branches, like impatient shoppers waiting for door-buster sales. In their eagerness to burst out of hiding, the buds are often munched by hungry rabbits.

In fact, February was referred to as the “hungry month,” by some Native Americans, as Barbara Kingsolver notes in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Shopping for local foods at the grocery reveals root vegetables, and some cabbage and apples that were stored away at the end of summer. Buds start to seem pretty appetizing, even to me.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when PT from SuperCharge! Foods offered me fresh sprouts. A whole pound and a half of fresh sunflower and peas shoot sprouts bursting with life! Sprouts are highly nutritious and surprisingly versatile. The sprouts arrived, tender and delicate. I already knew what my first sprout meal would be--Whisker Sandwiches. This favorite childhood comfort food of mine is a take on a grilled cheese sandwich. My mom layered cheese, sprouts and fresh tomato between two slices of bread and then grilled it until the cheese melted and the bread was golden. Dunk it in ketchup, and it's a perfect meal. Oh, the name? As you bite into the sandwich, the sprouts pull out of the gooey cheese, and hang out of your mouth like an untrimmed mustache. Fun for kids of all ages!

As I pulled together the ingredients for the Whisker Sandwich, I realized that we were out of ketchup and bread. Perfect excuse to make a more refined version of this sandwich (which my kids loved, too).

I baked crusty homemade bread, layered it with cheddar cheese, sprouts and tomato. The final touch? Homemade ketchup from a wonderful blog, "Chiot's Run." A delicious, comforting meal on a cold February night.

Now what to do with the other pound and a quarter of sprouts....

Whisker Sandwich

(Makes 1 sandwich)

2 slices bread
cheese (try cheddar, mozarella or gouda)
sprouts (soft sprouts work best, I used sunflower and pea shoot)
fresh tomato (omit if tomato is shipped out of season from CA and mushy, like mine was)
butter for grilling

Layer bread with cheese, sprouts, tomato.

Top with second slice of bread.

Butter one side and heat over medium low until golden. Turn over and grill other side.

Serve with ketchup. Enjoy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mango Cafe-Isla Mujeres, Mexico

If someone asked me what gift I would cherish most, I would probably say time--time with my husband, or for myself. As a mostly stay-at-home mom with two kids, balancing time seems to be the hardest thing to do.

I felt so lucky that I had a chance to indulge in time for myself when I traveled to Mexico recently with a friend (thanks, husband!!) to scout my culinary tour. But what I found that I cherished most was actually being served delicious food and drinks daily. I didn't have to cook for 4 days! I love cooking, don't get me wrong, but I have to say, having someone else do it for me was truly a treat.

I ate (and drank-- coffee, and spiked lemonades) mostly at my friend's restaurant, Mango Cafe and her new deli, the Blue Iguana. Lori, owner and chef, has an amazing ability to blend flavors in unexpected but effective ways.

The first morning I indulged in the Eggs Benedict with a Curry-Hollandiase Sauce. The eggs rested on moist blue corn cakes and were garnished with bacon pieces. I'm not normally a runny egg person, but these were delicious.

For lighter fare, Lori serves up a simple bowl of yogurt, granola and berries, and highlights the flavors with herb-infused honey.

The Concha Bread French Toast is soaked in eggs and milk, then perfectly cooked, topped with almonds and served with a side of orange-rosemary syrup.

By day four I was feeling pretty bold. I tried the Chile Relleno, stuffed with eggs, two cheeses and bacon. For breakfast. The poblanos are lightly fried in Panko bread crumbs and served with tomatillo salsa. All the egg meals are served with cheesy potatoes (a mixture of potatoes and different veggies, such as onions, peppers, corn and beans, topped with cheese).

Friday night is fajita night, and I ordered the Steak Arrachera Fajitas. Flank steak is marinated in
lime, onion and other spices, then sauteed. It was served with green and red peppers, beans, sour cream, salsa and guacamole.

I ate the Smoked Turkey Bagel with Chipotle Cream Cheese at her newly opened deli, and tried to find room for the Korean pork barbeque sandwich with jicama slaw and picked jalapenos, but couldn't.

I returned home to my family inspired to create amazing Mexican food for them. Visions of omelets and enchiladas with daring fillings filled my head. The reality has mostly been scrambled eggs, grilled cheese and oatmeal. If only I had a little more time....