Friday, September 27, 2013

more gifts

hoody, American Apparel
necklace, Mark Poulin (Seasons on St. Croix Gallery, Hudson, WI)

Lovely gifts from my parents (the necklace) and Matt's parents (the hoody).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

friday night pizza

I'm on spring break for the next week, so my goal is to blog every day--I definitely have plenty of pictures backed up.

On Friday nights I often feel like "junk food" to wind down the week and kick off the weekend.  Sometimes it's a burger or nachos.  Last week it was pizza.  As spring creeps out of hiding more and more, I find myself wanting to eat more fruits and vegetables.  On the other hand, it's still chilly at night and I want something hearty.  So, I made a vegetarian pizza, but one with enough heft to fill me up.  Meaty veggies like zucchini, eggplant, roasted peppers, or mushrooms are a must.  This one involves roasted marinated mushrooms and zucchini.  The marinade with its soy sauce for salt and maple syrup for sweetening may sound a little crunchy-granola, but trust me, it gives the whole thing a lot of depth.  The recipe is from a whole foods (and I think vegan?) cookbook, so the original recipe didn't include cheese, but--hey--this is Wisconsin.

I am typically not ambitious enough to make my own pizza dough on any night of the week, but I am certainly not in the mood on Friday nights.  I'd tried various flatbreads and pre-made crusts with some success, but I really liked the pita-marketed-as-pizza-crust from Kontos that I tried this time. The chewy, crispy crust was topped with the rich and tangy roasted and marinated veggies, a smoky and garlicky sauce, and melty fresh mozzarella.  It was a hit and will certainly reappear in the summer when the vegetables are available locally.

My only complaint is that the zucchini left a bit of unwanted liquid behind under the cheese, so next time I would squeeze out some of the excess water before placing it on the pizza.

Rustic Tomato Thin Crust Pizza with Roasted Zucchini, Portobello Mushroom, and Red Onion
slightly adapted from The Balanced Plate by Renee Loux

Try this with a sprinkle of aleppo pepper or some peperoncini and a nice beer like New Glarus apple ale!

3 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried (optional)
1 large portobello mushroom or 5 baby bella (crimini) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 round flatbreads (6"), 2 tortillas (9"), or 1 large flatbread (9'-12')
1/2 c tomato sauce, purchased or homemade (see below for recipe)
2-4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/2 c thinly sliced red onion
6 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the broiler.  In a small bowl, mix together 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, the garlic, balsamic, soy sauce, maple syrup, and thyme (if using).  Pour over the mushroom and toss to coat evenly.  Let stand for 10 minutes or more to absorb and develop flavor.

In a separate bowl, toss the zucchini with 2 tsp of olive oil.   Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Place both the mushroom and zucchini on a baking sheet under the broiler until browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  When cool enough to handle, gently press on the zucchini with a paper towel until the vegetable has released most of its excess water.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brush one side of the bread or tortillas with the remaining 1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.  Place the oiled side face down on a baking sheet or pizza stone.  This will make it crisp nicely.  Spread the sauce evenly over the bread or tortillas, leaving just a 1/4" border at the edge.  Distribute the mushroom and zucchini evenly.  Cover with the mozzarella slices, then sprinkle the red onion slices and cherry tomato halves over the top of the cheese.

Bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  Let cool enough to cut and serve.

Quick Tomato Sauce

28-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil

Drizzle about 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan.  Heat on medium heat, then add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, until beginning to brown.  Add can of tomatoes with juices and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is mostly cooked off and the sauce is thickened.  Add salt if you like.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

best dessert invention yet

We've always enjoyed the pies, cakes, and shakes at Monty's Blue Plate Diner in Madison. This time they've outdone themselves.

donut sundae

Take two cake donuts. Slice them in half and then slap them on a griddle. Sandwich creamy custard between the double-fried donuts. Add a drizzle of maple syrup and a mountain of whipped cream. I want to eat this again soon.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

oh, lawrence

So this will be old news to Lawrence, Kansas residents. And it might be old news if you've been reading my blog for awhile, since I've posted about Dempsey's before. In any case, The Burger Stand at Dempsey's makes a great burger and fries.

Dempsey's was just a bar when we moved away from Kansas. Not a bad place to get a drink, but just a bar. When we went back for a visit last year, Dempsey's had brought in a chef to develop a menu and started getting what seems to be a lot more business. There are standards on the menu like the Kobe Burger (Matt's favorite), plus new selections occasionally (seasonally, maybe?). Matt got the Kobe again and I had a new one, the Fire Burger. Covered with habanero- cactus jam, my burger was surprising sweet and predictably spicy. Very good, but I'd try something new next time we go.

fire burger with habanero-cactus jam, avocado, & microgreens
poutine: fries with chunks of cheese & brown gravy

Yes, that is poutine in that basket. Dempsey's knows how to make some incredible sides as well as burgers, but the gravy on the poutine was overwhelmingly salty. Because of the gravy, the poutine didn't quite stand up to classics like the duck fat fries or truffle fries. It would be hard to choose between those two for my favorite fries there. Unfortunately, I neglected to photograph any other fries but my own. But take my word--they're amazing.

steak taco with chimichurri sauce & veggies
chicken taco with salsa verde, tomatillo sauce, & almonds
pork taco with mole rojo & pineapple pumpkin-seed salsa
(from left to right)

The crew that runs Dempsey's also opened a new Mexican place in Lawrence called Esquina. We ordered three tacos, all of which were creative and tasty, but none were standout. I preferred the chilaquiles (a favorite dish of mine anyway), which were topped with a fried egg instead of the scrambled that I'm used to. It also featured a thick white queso fundido plus queso fresco, which I thought was a very tasty addition. I also really enjoyed my taste of my friend's chicken enchiladas.

chilaquiles con huevos

chicken enchilada platter

Esquina has a considerably larger menu than what is posted online, including many special meat or enchilada platters. There were also some impressive-looking cocktails sitting at the bar when we walked in. I would definitely like to try Esquina again the next time we head south.

Friday, September 13, 2013

japanese food: donuts

We headed to Japan with many things that we wanted to eat. Among our culinary priorities loomed Japan's gourmet donuts. Donuts were everywhere in Tokyo; it seemed as though a Mister Donut chain was on every corner. We never did get around to eating at Mister Donut, but we were not disappointed by the smaller donut shops that we patronized.

First we searched for (and found) Hara Donuts in Shimokitazawa. Like most shops in this area, it was tiny and super cute.

We opted for three varieties: plain, tomato, and grapefruit. None of them were overly oily or too dense. Similar to a cake donut but lighter, Hara's donuts were subtly sweet and a bit chewy. The grapefruit, with its citrus-y glaze, was my favorite by far. The tomato was not as weird or as interesting as we had hoped as it was somewhat bland and also tougher than the other two.

hara donuts: grapefruit, plain, and tomato

When visiting Yamanashi Prefecture, we had hoped to visit Sendaiya Donuts, whose claim to fame is making treats out of ground natto flour. Using natto, a fermented soybean product, is apparently an attempt to make the sweets more healthy.

When our hosts took us to their friends' house, we were offered two unexpected items to sample: Sendaiya's donuts and natto.


Natto smells like a strong cheese and tastes (to our American palates) somewhat like coffee. The texture is unlike anything I'd ever had before: think baked beans suspended in phlegm. Matt was not a fan to say the least, while I thought it paired nicely with some kimchi or spicy mustard. I've also seen it served with rice, which I would definitely try.

I will not be eating natto every morning for breakfast as does one person we met, but I will certainly gobble up some natto donuts from Sendaiya at any chance I get.

sendaiya donuts: sesame, plain

These donuts were dense and moist, much like a pound cake (which we saw on many menus). Like Hara donuts, Sendaiya's are also lightly sweetened and fried compared to American donuts.

We saved the best for last...drumroll, please!

In the last few days of our trip, we headed to Yoyogi-Uehara in the rain, specifically to try Harrits Donuts.

harrit's donuts: milk tea & precious little packages

Staying with the trend of the donuts we tried, these were subtle, light, and tended toward being a healthier breakfast treat. The texture was somewhere between a cake and raised donut and even resembled a pastry somewhat.

cinnamon cranberry donut

kinako (soybean flour) donut

cream-cheese-filled donut...ichiban!

Along with the flavors we tasted in the store, we also took some home in our carry-on to share with family. Those included carrot-honey, kiwi, green tea with Azuki bean paste, and more of our favorites, kinako and cream cheese.

I would recommend any of these donut shops without reservation. If you're ever in the area, it's worth seeking them out!

If you have tried Mister Donut, I'm curious: did we miss out?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

happy mother's day

Today on Mother's Day I'm thinking about how much of my cooking abilities and interests are because my mom also loved to cook.  I have often observed that I was never taught to do things like cut fruits and vegetables--I just sat and watched my mom.  I know how to make basic meals without a recipe the same way my mom did, which oftentimes I think she learned from her mom.  I hope I can pass that knowledge along someday.  I also give her credit for helping me develop my tastes in food.  She introduced me to different flavors from early on and set the ball rolling for me to expand my tastes more and more.   Cooking and eating are such a big part of my life and I enjoy sharing it with my mom still.  Thanks, Mom!


Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Goat Cheese
from Serious Eats (I think there's a missing step in their recipe, so I've filled in the blanks below with what I did.)

1 lb broccoli rabe, chopped
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes
12 oz orecchiette (I can never find orecchiette at my grocery store, so I used a short-cut pasta that looked close enough.)
2 tbsp lemon zest
4 oz goat cheese, sliced 

Pour about 8 quarts of water into a large pot, add a few tablespoons of salt, and bring it to a boil. Toss in the broccoli rabe and cook for 4 minutes. Remove it with a pair of tongs and immediately toss it in some ice water. Chill for a few minutes then drain and pat dry.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute 1-2 minutes until garlic is just golden.  Add the broccoli rabe and cook 3-5 minutes until stalks are tender and the leaves wilted.

Meanwhile, bring the pot of water back to a boil and cook the orecchiette according to the directions on the box. Taste the pasta with a minute left on the timer. If al dente, turn off the heat, drain the pasta, and transfer it to the skillet. Turn the heat to high, add the lemon zest, and season with salt. Cook for a minute, stirring constantly.

Transfer the pasta to bowls or plates. Add a bit of goat cheese to each one. Serve.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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