Sunday, September 30, 2012

highly recommended

A few weeks ago, Matt and I met with our friend, Mary for dinner at Cafe Montmarte in Madison. Everything was delicious. The goat cheese nachos were what drew us into the restaurant, so we had to start with those. The nachos consisted of crispy fresh chips drizzled with creamy goat cheese and topped with cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. The red and green salsas on the side were also very nice. We were so hungry and they were so good, they were gone before we could get a picture.

The three of us also shared a lamb sausage pizza with pesto and pine nuts on a thin crackery crust. The crust was tasty as were the toppings. (Yes, it was as dark there as it seems in the photo.)

The sandwich that we shared was also excellent. Perfectly cooked, tender steak was layered with bleu cheese and tomatoes. Try this place if you get a chance.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

odds and ends/bits and bobs/odds and sods

Angel Hair with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

I used up some random ingredients today to make one of my favorite, simple pasta dishes. You can find it here. You'll notice that I use the Food Network site a lot, because it's an easy (and free) way to get typically reliable recipes. I love that I can enter an ingredient that I need to use up and quickly find a great recipe for it.

A couple notes:
* For the goat cheese, I used a garlic & herb chevre from nearby Belmont, Wisconsin. Mmmmmm.
*I cut way back on the sun-dried tomatoes, because I find their flavor can be overwhelming. Also, I used dried tomatoes rather than oil-packed, and just used a bit of plain olive oil for the pan.

Finally, my absolute favorite snack right now. Bars made with just shredded coconut and rice syrup. The almond-flavored ones are nice too.

photo from

Saturday, September 22, 2012

old school wisconsin

On our way to Iowa and Kansas visiting over spring break, Matt and I stopped in Monroe, Wisconsin. On our first trip to the Mustard Museum (when it was still in Mount Horeb), we heard about the world-famous cheese sandwiches at Baumgartner's Cheese Store. I had envisioned drippy, toasty grilled cheese sandwiches featuring all manner of cheeses and dipped in the horseradish mustard that was sold at the Museum. In reality, the cheese sandwiches at Baumgartner's are...cheese...sandwiches. Rye bread. Cheese. Piece of butcher paper. Could any sandwich be more old school?

I ordered the Swiss sandwich and enjoyed the thick slice of locally-made cheese in the middle. I slathered half of the sandwich with the house horseradish mustard and the other half with a spicy honey mustard. I highly recommend the horseradish mustard--it takes the sandwich to a different level. The cup of chili was hearty and well-seasoned. Although we did not partake, the shop has a nice assortment of beers on tap and in bottles.

The decor in Baumgartner's added to the old Wisconsin flair. Crests hung prominently from the ceiling, representing Switzerland's counties. Apparently, employees at the shop toss a tack and a dollar at the (very high!) ceiling and get it to stick! There had to have been hundreds already. Every two years, they remove the dollars and donate them to a charity.

On our way back from our spring break trip, we stopped again to buy a couple of cheeses. We purchased an aged brick for Matt's grandpa and a piece of Hook's 5-year cheddar. Best sharp cheddar ever. This is a great little quaint stop if you're near Monroe!

Monday, September 17, 2012

highly recommended

We had brunch at Marigold Kitchen (right off the Capitol square in Madison) for a second time a couple weekends ago, and it was just as good as we had remembered. It tends to be extremely busy, so you may end up waiting 30-60 minutes for a table. Stick it out. It's worth it. Also, the congestion may be cleared up a bit due to the restaurant now serving brunch on Sundays in addition to Saturdays.

mine: breakfast sandwich with fried egg, cheddar-spiked boursin cheese, bacon, tomato, and scallions on ciabatta

Matt's: duck confit hash with eggs over medium and a side salad

Both of our entrees were delightful. My sandwich is something we had ordered before and would order again. However, you would have to be in the mood for something quite rich when ordering the hash. Nevertheless, it was delicious. My parents and I had also previously ordered omelets there, which were very nice as well.

Let me forewarn you: the process of ordering can be tricky on your first visit. I appreciated advice that I received in an online review, so I will pass it along to you. Be sure to get in line to order your food first--apparently people get a little testy if you grab a table first. Once you've ordered, they'll give you a number, then call your number to seat you when a table is clear. The place actually has a pleasantly cozy and bustling atmosphere once you've been seated. Give it a try!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

breakfast of champions

You know how you buy an ingredient for a recipe, use the tiniest scoop, then have the majority of it left to deal with?  How sometimes those things go bad before you can find a use for them?  With the recipe I found, a leftover container of mascarpone is not a problem. 

strawberry mascarpone grilled cheese

 This sandwich was inspired by a recipe for a mascarpone and Nutella grilled cheese topped with strawberries, but if I bought a jar of Nutella, I'd be in the same mess all over again.  And as good as Nutella is, I didn't want it around to chocolify every breakfast.  So, I cut the Nutella and put the strawberries inside the sandwich.  Also, the recipe called for brioche, which I couldn't find at my local grocery store, so I went with challah.  I was pleasantly surprised that the challah I got happened to be orange-flavored.  That meant the bread was the sweetest part of the sandwich, with the cheese mild and creamy and the strawberries a welcome tartness.

Tomorrow, I might put bananas with the strawberries.  Or maybe I could top the strawberries with some fresh basil and make a sweet, syrupy balsamic reduction to dip the sandwich in.  I was just telling my friend that my incredibly technical grad courses this semester are killing my creative brain.  I hope today a little of that brain came back!

In my tweens, I developed a fail-proof system for making grilled cheese (since that was basically all I could cook).  Butter both pieces of bread, then place them buttered sides together on the cutting board, so as not to get butter everywhere.  Ingenious, right?  I thought so.  Anyway, then put your cheese and whatever else on top of the bread stack you made, then when you're ready to cook them, separate the buttered pieces and assemble the sandwich in the pan.  This worked well for me today, since I could add one more smear of mascarpone to the top piece of bread before closing the sandwich.

Strawberry Mascarpone Grilled Cheese
adapted from Sweet & Saucy (be forewarned--the blog plays music)

4 slices brioche or challah bread
2 tbsp butter
2-4 tbsp mascarpone, as much as your heart desires
6 strawberries, rinsed and sliced

Butter one side of each slice of bread.  Then smear 1-2 tbsp mascarpone on the other side of each slice.  Place strawberry slices, overlapping, on top of mascarpone.

Heat cast iron skillet to medium heat.  Cook sandwiches until browned on each side.  Attend to the pan carefully, since these went from golden to black for me very quickly.  Also, turn with care since the mascarpone doesn't really stick the slices together like a slice of American cheese would.

Friday, September 7, 2012

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

1 chicken 4 ways: numbers 2 and 3

In the last several years, I have endeavored to make a few meals a week meatless and to make the most of our meat. Think Michael Pollan's mantra: eat meat, not too much, mostly plants. When I buy a piece or package of meat, I want it to make several meals, complementing the vegetables and starches, but not dominating the meal. It has also been important to me that the meat we do eat comes from local and humane sources. I've been heading out to a nearby butcher to get pork and whole fresh chickens. That's where I got the meat for our beer-can chicken.

A few days later, the rest of the chicken became a lunch and a dinner. Sorry about the dark photos. We've been eating really late for the last few weeks, so my natural lighting for photos has been nearly gone.

Curry Yogurt Salad
from Serious Eats

2 to 3 ounces of boneless, skinless shredded turkey or chicken or 1 shredded Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlet
1 squeeze of lemon juice
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons of curry powder
7 ounce container of single-serve Fage 2% yogurt, or other Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of cashews
2 tablespoons of golden raisins (sultanas)
1 pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Mix the curry powder into the Fage, add a pinch of salt or pepper to taste. Add the raisins and cashews. Add a pinch of nutmeg if desired. Squeeze lemon on the cooked, shredded Quorn or poultry. Stir into the yogurt mixture. Add more curry powder, salt, pepper, or lemon to taste. Serve on shredded lettuce or on a slice of warm cinnamon raisin bread, whole wheat bread, or Naan bread.

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups
from Serious Eats

I had less chicken and more mushrooms than were called for, but everything still balanced well.

2 pounds chicken, skin removed and bones removed (in my case, precooked chicken)
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 cup water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
2 scallions, white part diced and green part chopped
1 cup cremini mushroom, chopped
8 leaves Boston, bibb, or iceberg lettuce
Salt and pepper

Finely dice the chicken. Pour the oil into a work or large iron skillet set over high heat. Add the ginger and scallion whites and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Dump in the chicken and mushrooms. Continue stirring, breaking up the chicken pieces, and cook for about a minute, or until the chicken is white and no longer raw (if using precooked chicken, just stir-fry until the chicken is warmed). Pour in the oyster sauce and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from the heat and add the scallion greens and chopped water chestnuts. Stir until everything is combined. Season with salt if necessary. Fill each lettuce cup with a little bit of the mixture and serve.

I felt like this could have used some kind of soy-based sauce to top the lettuce cups. I liked a bit of okonomiyaki sauce and Matt used some Sichuan black bean paste. I thought something like a ponzu might be nice too. Any ideas?