Friday, July 30, 2010

Fair Food

You know those moments where all feels right with the world? I had one of those moments, days actually, at the Kickapoo Country Fair last weekend.

My kids played in dirt and sand, my daughter mostly parked on a pile of sand, and my son—who knows? I saw him briefly as he ran through the crowd, chased by and chasing another boy as they played tag, or spies. They played outside all day in the bosom of Mother Nature.

The fair was nestled in the lush, green hills of Wisconsin's Driftless region, at the headquarters of Organic Valley near La Farge. What better place to gain inspiration for producing great food than that? And nothing but amazing, beautiful food was to be had at the fair.

When my son came running to ask for cotton candy, I wasn't worried about the food dyes, or processed sugar. Nope, this was organic, maple cotton candy. Smoothies, wraps, and of course dairy products, all organic, abound.

I was there with my West African dance group, WADOMA, performing on the acoustic stage. After teaching and performing during the day, I was more than excited to find so many great food vendors there. My favorite was Asase Yaa. African food at the Kickapoo Fair? Yes!! I was in heaven. The food was delicious, ranging from vegetarian curries, to grilled tilapia with a tomato sauce, to Ghanaian spiced chicken. All served with love on a compostable bed of banana leaves, and a reusable plate-basket, featuring mostly organic and locally grown ingredients.

Food that is delicious, healthy and treats the world kindly? That is more than fair.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CSA Week 6 - Pesto Pasta with Green Beans, Walnuts, Sungold Tomatoes and SarVecchio Parmesan

You might think by the lack of posts for CSA Week 6 that I have not been cooking. Quite the contrary. This week's meals included quiche, brocolli salad, pasta with pesto and veggies, and grilled fish.

It's the mess of a garden that has been keeping me away. Sometimes I just walk out to the garden and stand there, unsure about where to begin. Should I pull weeds? Harvest and freeze veggies? Try to find the chard plants that are now buried under the entwined bean, pea and tomato vines? Ouch! Mosquitos rudely tear me away from my decision-making process. I head to the sunny or windy part of the yard, skin burning, hair clinging to my face with sweat, to work without the interference of mosquitos. Too hot! I need some iced tea.

You see? I'm really busy.

This week I made another batch of pickled onions (the first recipe was from Marcus Samuelsson), this time from a recipe from a favorite Madison restaurant, L'Etoile. I love them. The onions and the restaurant (though I have only been once). I used white pearl onions from my Vermont Valley CSA this time, though the recipe calls for red onions. The red onions are much prettier, and slightly sweeter, but these still turned out delicious. Find the recipe here. I use these on almost every sandwich I make. Yum!

My favorite CSA meal from this week was a simple pasta, with fresh green beans, zucchini, walnuts, red onions, sungold tomatoes and homemade pesto. Oh yeah, and topped with lots of my favorite Sartori Reserve SarVecchio parmesan. This recipe made a dent in about, oh, 1/8 of the CSA bag. Enjoy!

Pesto Pasta with Green Beans, Red Onions, Walnuts and Parmesan

1 lb pasta (4 large servings)

olive oil

½ lb green beans, washed, cut into 1-inch pieces and boiled for about 5 minutes.

¼ large red onion, sliced thin

½ cup walnuts, chopped coarsely

1 cup chopped zuchinni

6-7 sungold tomatoes, halved

salt and pepper

pesto (recipe here)

  1. Bring salted water to a boil for pasta.

  2. In another pan, bring water to a boil to cook green beans. When water comes to a boil, drop in bean pieces and boil about 4-5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.

  3. Sautee onion over medium heat until soft.

  4. Add zucchini and pinch of salt and pepper to taste and sautee until soft. Add green beans, and cook until zucchini begin to brown slightly.

  1. Add in walnuts, sungold tomatoes and cook another minute. Remove from heat.

  2. Cook pasta according to directions.

  3. Heap veggies on pasta, top with pesto and parmesan. Eat!!

CSA Week 6 - Pickled Onions a la L'Etoile

This super-easy recipe comes from L'Etoile, one of Madison's finest and awesome-est (is that a word?) restaurants.

Pickled Onions (a la L'Etoile)

1 cup cider vinegar
4 allspice berries
2 whole cloves
2 Tbs sugar
1 large red onion, sliced thin

Boil vinegar, spices and sugar in small sauce pan fro 2 minutes. Add onions and return to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Kickapoo Country Fair

I know there will be good, local food at the Kickapoo Country Fair, but this is an invitation to local foodies to come experience my other passion--African Dance. My group, WADOMA, performs at 3 p.m. July 24. Dance class at 10:30 am!

Eat well, dance often.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

CSA Week 5-Zucchini Takedown Bread

It's that time of summer when the zucchini start to proliferate. When my neighbor brought the CSA bag over last week, we both looked at the zucchini and quickly withdrew our arms. “I got one last week,” she said, implying that it was my turn. But this pepo was twice the size of the previous one. I realized that the summer squash were secretly plotting a take over, and they were infiltrating my house via the CSA bag.

I quickly subdued the zucchini, first brandishing it above my head to show it's size and fortitude to anyone who might care (no one seemed to but me), and then proceeded to grate it, knowing that if the squash were going to take over my house, it would be in the form of a baked good.

I looked online for a zucchini bread recipe and found one at 101 Cookbooks, one of my favorite food blogs. Author Heidi Swanson is right on in saying that “You'll no doubt notice that most zucchini bread recipes you come across yield two loaves. Why? Because if you were to only make one, you wouldn't put a respectable dent in the zucchini supply.” She's right. This monstrosity made two beautiful and delicious loaves of bread. The addition of Garam Masala (original recipe called for curry powder) gave it a special aroma that perfectly complimented the squash. Zucchini, 0: Otehlia, 1.

Ingredients (other than a few minor changes, I followed her recipe)

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
zest of two lemons
1/3 cup poppy seeds (optional)
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (optional)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fine grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar, lightly packed
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups grated zucchini (about 3 medium, or 1 extra large), skins on, squeeze some of the moisture out and then fluff it up again before using

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon curry powder or Garam Masala (optional)

Special equipment: two 1 pound loaf pans (5 x 9 inches)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter the two loaf pans, dust them with a bit of flour and set aside. Alternately, you can line the pans with a sheet of parchment. If you leave a couple inches hanging over the pan, it makes for easy removal after baking. Just grab the parchment "handles" and lift the zucchini bread right out.

In a small bowl combine the walnuts, poppy seeds, lemon zest, and ginger. Set aside.

In a mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat again until mixture comes together and is no longer crumbly. Add the eggs one at a time mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and then the zucchini (low speed if you are using a mixer).

In a separate bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and curry powder. Add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring between each addition.

By hand, fold in the walnut, poppy seed, lemon zest, and crystallized ginger mixture. Save a bit of this to sprinkle on the tops of the zucchini loaves before baking for a bit of texture. Avoid over mixing the batter, it should be thick and moist, not unlike a butter cream frosting.

Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans. Make sure it is level in the pans, by running a spatula over the top of each loaf. Bake for about 40-45 minutes on a middle oven rack. I like to under bake my zucchini bread ever so slightly to ensure it stays moist. Keep in mind it will continue to cook even after it is removed from the oven as it is cooling. Remove from the oven and cool the zucchini bread in pan for about ten minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling - if you leave them in their pans, they will get sweaty and moist (not in a good way) as they cool.

Makes 2 loaves.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CSA Week 5-Gujarati-style Green Beans

My aunt's fingers deftly measured the spices, fresh grated ginger, fenugreek, cardamon, cumin, black and red pepper. The spices sizzled in the hot oil as she stirred quickly. The fragrance hit my nose, sharp and sweet at once. She added diced vegetables and tomatos, and some liquid, stirring until the curry began to simmer and blend. While the sauce simmered, she cooked the rice; rinse rice in saucepan, then fill with water one knuckle above rice, bring to a boil, then cover and simmmer on very low. Perfect every time.

Those savory meals at my cousins' house often began with a thwack—the sound of an axe hitting wood. Though I don't remember details of the slaughter, I do remember the chicken running frantically, headless, before finally laying to rest on the grass. After a brief moment when all life seemed to stop, we were back to playing on their vast farm, only to meet the chicken again at mealtime.

My Uncle Sailen, who passed away a number of years ago, came from India. My aunt, who is of Swedish descent, learned to cook delicious Indian food to keep him close to home. I don't remember a lot of the specific recipes that she made, but I do remember that I learned to love Indian food early on during these family visits. And to this day I still love it!

When we recently received a bounty of green beans in our CSA share, I decided to make Gujarati Green Beans. It is a simple and delicious way to prepare beans. This is a vegetarian dish. My chickens remain safely in their coop—for now.

Gujarati Green Beans (from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian cooking)

1 lb fresh green beans

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp whole black mustart seed

4 cloves garlic—peeled and crushed

1 tsp salt

½ tsp sugar

ground black pepper

crushed red pepper, to taste


Clean and trim beans.

Parboil beans in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Rinse under cold water and drain.

Set aside.

Heat oil in skillet

When hot, heat mustard seeds until they pop, then add in garlic.

Stir quickly for a minute or less.

Add chili, then green beans, salt and sugar.

Stir to mix.

Cook for 7-8 minutes, then season with black pepper.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

CSA Week 4-Pickled Onions

The first time I fell in love with pickled onions was at Rick Bayless' restaurant XOCO. I pretty much fell in love with any food he cooked at that point, too. But honestly, I never thought pickled onions were much good for anything.

I first tasted pickled onions as a kid growing up in a family with both Swedish and German ancestry. My dad had a thing for canned and pickled fish, and I do remember that onions provided a nice crunch to counter the somewhat mushy flesh of pickled herring. I can't say that I fell in love with pickled onions at that time.

I'm sure I must have had a pickled onion in a cocktail at some point in my life, but again, those small, white sour onions seemed hardly worth the effort.

But the onions I had on the chicken sandwich at XOCO were different. Delicate strands of pink onion, packed a punch—first sour, then sweet, culminating with a slight hint of heat. They were flavorful and robust, yet delicate and yeilding. They let the heat of the spicy marinated chicken shine through, then offered a sweet reprieve, a refreshing crunch, and a palate-cleansing zing before the spice of the salsa kicked in. I fell in love. Honestly, the onions stand out as thegreatest memory from that meal. No lie. Along with the chicken, the soup, the salsa and the pasilla brownie.

I've been dreaming about those onions ever since. Finally when last week's CSA arrived and included pearl onions, I decided to make my own. I searched my cookbooks and found a recipe in Marcus Samuelsson's The Soul of a New Cuisine. I love that cookbook, and this recipe didn't let me down. I adapted a few things (I used jalapenos which are growing in my garden, instead of habaneros) and omitted a few things, too. The onions turned out great and are good with just about everything.

Pickled Onions

2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced ¼ inch rings or less
2 chiles (habaneros or jalapenos), seeded and diced
2 small shallots, chopped
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp onion seed
1 bay leaf
zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
¾ cup white wine
2 cup water
2 garlic cloves, sliced
tarragon sprig (I used dry)

1. Heat olive oil in a pan.
2. Saute onions and peppers 2 minutes. Add shallots, herbs, lime zest, vinegar, salt, sugar and water and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer 10 minutes.
4. Add lime juice, garlic, and tarragon and boil 3 more minutes.
5. Cool and jar.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CSA Week 4-Cheesy Chard Pie

I am way ahead this week. I have been enjoying my “take it easy approach” and have in general made meal time a bit simpler. Just wait Thursday's CSA delivery-I'm ready for you! I know, I still haven't posted my meal from my class last week, but that may have to wait a while, until I am in “all or nothing” mode.

That crisp beautiful bunch of rainbow chard stared up at me from the fridge, just begging to be made into something other than steamed greens. In truth, I wanted the chard to be incorporated into something my children would like. So I decided to make a cheesy chard pie. I have made one in the past (whoa, get this--I posted the other chard pie exactly 2 years ago today! I just found it online. Weird.). It was a crustless pie, topped with breadcrumbs. This time, on a whim I decided to use flaky phyllo dough. It turned out delicious!

“Pie?” my children said excitedly. “Yep, we're having pie.” A cheater pie, I guess. I layered flaky phyllo dough into the bottom of a 9x 13 inch pan, brushing with butter. Then I mixed some cheeses together—cottage, feta, parmesan and tofu. I sauted the chard salt, pepper and pearl onions from the CSA and added fresh basil leaves just at the end. Layered the cheese mixture onto phyllo dough, layered chard onto that. More phyllo brushed with butter, and bake at 350 until it's golden. A delicious one-dish meal that is easy, delicious, healthy and cooks up in less than an hour. And my kids loved it! All that's left this week is pickled onions (my favorite topping for tacos!). Might even have time for a nap.

Cheesy Chard Pie


1 package phyllo dough

¼ cup melted butter

1 bunch chard, stem removed and chopped roughly

2 pearl onions, chopped

3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

olive oil

16 oz cottage cheese

1/3 cup feta cheese (or to taste)

1/3 cup tofu

2 eggs

¼ cup fresh grated parmesan


1.Preheat oven to 350.

2.Heat olive oil over medium heat.

3.Add onions and saute for about 4 minutes, or until beginning to soften.

4.Add chard and saute, covered for another 6-7 minutes until soft. Add salt and pepper and basil leaves.

5.Set aside.

6.Mix cheeses, tofu and eggs in a bowl, set aside.

7.Brush butter on the bottom of the pan.

8.Layer a few sheets of phyllo on the bottom, then brush with butter. (This is the cheater method!)

9.Continue until you have done that 4 or so times, and have a nice crust.

10. Spread cheese mixture over phyllo, then spread chard mixture over that.

11. Layer more phyllo, brushed with melted butter.

12. Bake at 350 until golden, about 40 minutes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

CSA Week 4-'Try Easy' Pizzas

Have you ever heard the phrase “try easier”? It sounds a little floofy, but is packed with wisdom.

I had been waiting until after my cooking class last night to post my recipes for Pasilla-Blackbottom Cheesecake with Door County Cherries and Ancho Sauce, and Tamarind-Glazed Pork Shoulder.

But guess what? As soon as the class was over, I gobbled down the last of the pork and cheesecake and then realized that I forgot to take pictures. And what is a post about food without pictures to drool over?

Yep, two days of marinating, blending, cooking, processing, squeezing, and I forgot to snap the photo before I chowed down. Whoops. And just the thought of making it all over again is enough to make me swear off cherries for life.

After that intensive, and very fun, night of cooking and teaching, I decided to make homemade pizza. This evening, I plopped the dough ingredients in the bread machine, and pulled out some leftovers and voila, pizza is served. An easy, and well-loved, meal for the first dinner I have eaten with my family in 2 days.

The leftovers consisted of taco meat (Black Earth Farm grass-fed beef and taco seasoning mix), so I decided to make a taco pizza. Salsa mixed with pizza sauce formed the base, over which I crumbled cream cheese, taco meat and shredded cheese.

But wait, it's also Thursday, and that means....CSA day!! In case you didn't notice, I did not post a CSA menu for last week. I was so exhausted from preparing meals with garlic scapes and lettuce that I had to leave town. So last Thursday, we headed out to go camping. Whew! After three nights in a tent, almost a full recovery--and very few vegetables--were had.

Anyway, today the CSA (is it week #4?) basket arrives. What's in it? Garlic scapes and lettuce (Oh, I missed you so). Also pearl onions, more lettuce, broccoli and chard (my neighbor took the kohlrabi and zucchini.)

Perfect for pizza toppings! So I made two pizzas. The non-taco pizza consisted of thin-sliced pearl onions, sauteed with mushrooms, peppers and garlic scapes, sprinkled over red sauce and topped with fresh basil, mozarella and pepperoni.

Two delicious pizzas (the taco pizza won the taste test), and one CSA meal down. I love what happens when I try easier.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Out to Lunch - Vientiane and El Dorado Grill

My family rarely eats out. I think we stopped eating out after the birth of our son. Wiping splatters of food off of the top of his nursing head, or shoveling crayons in his direction with one hand while trying to spoon dessert into my mouth with the other, just didn't seem fun. Now our daughter is three, and eating at a restaurant mostly involves breaking up under-the-table kicking matches between the kids.

Eating out has never really been part of my family life. As a kid, we rarely ate out. Once in a while we stopped for Chinese food or pizza when we went shopping at the mall. And every Thanksgiving we stopped at McDonald's—twice--while traveling from our small town in Ohio to my grandma's house in Pennsylvania.

I love to eat out now—at the right place. I want our rare outing to be outstanding, and affordable, and I often feel disappointed. Since I enjoy cooking, I usually come away feeling that the food was a waste of money. “I could have made that for way less.” I know, I know, part of the pleasure of eating out is just a chance to enjoy being cooked for, and hanging with friends or family. (See first paragraph).

For some reason, we ate out a lot this month. And some of those experiences were more enjoyable than others.

My husband met myself and the kids for lunch at Vientiane's new location on Sherman Ave. They moved from their Park Street location only a few months agao. We ordered an assortment of dishes, including spring rolls, my favorite soup Pho, Pad Thai and a curried chicken.

Overall it was delicious, but I found a lot of the entrees very greasy. The Pho was also a little too sweet. My son loved the Pad Thai, much to my husband's chagrin. I tried to enjoy the spring roll and it's delicate sauce, but my daughter was very fussy and pretty much ran around the restaurant (which was thankfully empty). It was a bit close to my daughter's naptime, and she was not interested in eating, or sitting, or letting us enjoy our meal.

My husband and I recovered not long after by heading to El Dorado Grill on Willy St. I had never eaten there before, but recently learned that they serve local chicken and pork on their menu. My husband chose the pork burrito which was stuffed with shredded meat, beans and veggies, and I got the mango BBQ chicken. The burrito was delicious, presented in a bed of salsa verde. The mango chicken was served with an overwhelming portion of collard greens, and some delicious garlic mashed potatoes and a slightly sweet corn pancake. The margarita was amazing!

It's back to my kitchen for a while, since we totally blew out eating out budget (which by the way is about $0). Not to mention it's better to stop on a good note.