Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010 Chili Bowl

This afternoon, Nate and I went to the Fourth Annual Milwaukee Chili Bowl. We went to the bowl a couple years ago with some friends and had a really fun time, so we were looking forward to it.

For the bowl, about 25 or so restaurants bring out their best chilis in four categories: traditional, vegetarian, spicy and unique. $11 in advance got you six samples (in something like 3 to 4 oz. cups) and bringing two cans for the Hunger Task Force (the event is a benefit for the nonprofit)got you two more samples. Plus, someone handed Nate and I some extra tickets on our way in.

Our favorites
-Durango--this one had whiskey and Guinness and a good amount of heat. It was the first one we tried and by the time we went back for seconds (about an hour later) it was all gone.
-Motor (at the Harley Davidson Museum)--for some reason, I can't remember what this one all had, but I know it was good!
-Hinterland's elk chili--I had never had elk before, but this had a really nice taste and they put some great, crunchy crackers on top.

The good ones
All of these were really pretty good, but nothing about them really stood out to us. Some were better than others--I liked the shredded beef in the Bistro Bar chili and the Baja Grill's had a nice, little bit different flavor.
-The Soup House
-Hooter's (yes, they were there. The only chain, thankfully)
-Rip Tide's seafood white chili (more like a chowder, but it was really good)
-Cafe Tarragon's veggie chili
-Baja Grill/Karma's chili
-Hyatt's Bistro Bar 333

The OK ones
These all seems to be pretty standard chilis (besides the one from Iron Horse). I didn't really like the Hofbrauhaus one, but it was better than the not-so-great ones.
-Brocach's meaty and veggie chilis
-The Iron Horse Hotel's red deer and blueberry chili (yes, you read that correctly)
-Brat House's brat chili
-Solly's chili (I said it tasted like the chili you would get at George Webb's)
-Hofbrauhaus' brat chili

The not-so-good ones
-Molly Cool's seafood chili--it was very thin, way too fishy tasting and had chunks of burnt somethingorother
-Sake Tumi's seafood or something chili--there was way too much going on in here: squid, octopus, scallops, tofu .... it was really not good
-John's Sandwich Shop's fennel and barley chili (I would not call this chili--I'm not sure what it was)

This year's bowl was at a room at the Harley Davidson Museum. It was a nice location to have it, but the room was pretty small and crowded when we arrived. There weren't many tables, and it's hard to eat and drink while standing. All in all, we had a great time, and we waddled out of there about an hour later.

Sweet & Spicy Nuts

For an appetizer for another recent get-together, I turned, once again, to one of my favorites: Betty Crocker Cookbook. I wanted to bring something that wasn't too heavy and filling and was easy for snacking.

I picked Southwestern Spiced Party Nuts. I really, really think they're tasty. And I like that you can make them as spicy or sweet as you want. Nate didn't seem to think they were quite as great as I kept saying they were, but then again, he's a little less vocal than me about food. :)

Southwestern Spiced Party Nuts

1 can (9.5 to 11.5 oz.) salted mixed nuts (I grabbed a 12-oz. can of Roundy's mixed nuts)
1 tbs. butter or margarine, melted (I've become a big fan of using real butter for recipes. Have you looked at what margarine is made of? It's pretty gross.)
2 teas. chili powder
1/2 teas. garlic powder
1/2 teas. onion powder
1/4 teas. ground cinnamon
1/4 teas. ground red pepper/cayenne
2 tbs. sugar

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.

2. In medium bowl, mix nuts and butter until nuts are coated. In small bowl, mix remaining ingredients except sugar; sprinkle over nuts. Stir until nuts are completely coated. Spread in single layer in 15x10x1-inch pan.

3. Bake uncovered about 10 minutes or until nuts are roasted. Return to medium bowl.

4. While nuts are still hot, sprinkle with sugar and toss to coat. Serve warm, or cool completely about 1 hour. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 weeks.

Greek Spinach-Cheese Rolls

I recently re-discovered a cookbook that had been stashed away in the cookbook cabinet:
America's Favorite Brand Name Light Cooking. Not long ago, Nate and I made Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Green Chili Swirl from it and it turned out really well. I decided to tackle one of the appetizers for a recent get-together. This recipe combines bread, feta cheese and spinach--some of my favorite things. It turned out well for the appetizer, and even worked well as leftovers this morning with scrambled eggs.

Greek Spinach-Cheese Rolls
1 loaf (1 lb.) frozen bread dough
1 package (10 oz.) frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup (3 oz.) crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup (2 oz.) shredded reduced-fat Monterery Jack cheese (I didn't use reduced fat ...)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teas. dried dill weed
1/2 teas. garlic powder
1/2 teas. black pepper

1. Thaw bread dough according to package directions. Spray 15 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray; set aside (I just realized now, reading this, that I only used 12 muffin cups! Oh well--it turned out fine!). Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 15x9-inch rectangle (if dough is springy and difficult to roll, cover with plastic wrap and let rest 5 minutes to relax (I had to do this)). Position dough so long edge runs parallel to edge of work surface.

2. Combine all other ingredients in large bowl and mix well.

3. Sprinkle spinach mixture evenly over dough within 1 inch of long edges. Starting at long edge, roll up snugly, pinching seam closed. Place seam side down; cut with serrated knife into 1-inch-wide slices.

4. Place slices cut sides up in prepared muffin cups. Cover with plastic wrap; let stand 30 minutes in warm place until rolls are slightly puffy.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Rolls can be stored in fridge in airtight container up to 2 days.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Bit 'o Irish for Dinner

It's both good and bad that I work about 300 feet from a Borders book store--and I don't even have to go outside! Since I love reading (and coffee and music) it's nice to have one so close. But that also means I come home with a lot of books I may or may not need (right, Nate?). One thing I can't help but buy when I see a good deal is an ethnic cookbook. Lucky for me, they're usually on clearance. My collection from Borders includes Indian, Thai and Irish (plus we have Chinese, Greek, Austrian and Czech from elsewhere) cookbooks.

Irish food holds a special place in our hearts (sounds cheesy, but it's true!). We spent 10 days in Ireland in April 2008. Most of the food we had was fantastic--and we had a lot. Huge, traditional Irish breakfasts, pub grub or surprisingly good gas station sandwiches and "crisps" and all sorts of great stuff for dinner--fish and chips, Irish stew, bangers and mash, soups, etc. One of my favorite Irish foods is potato leek soup. The first time I made it was for dinner Monday night.

I combined two recipes from the Irish cookbook. Here's what I did.

Potato and Leek Soup
1/4 cup butter plus about a tablespoon
1.5 pounds potatoes
2 large onions, finely chopped
7 cups hot combination of chicken stock and broth
3 large leeks
salt, pepper
chopped, fresh chives for garnish.

Melt butter in a heavy pan and add onions, turning them in the butter until well coated. cover and leave to sweat over low heat. Heat tablespoon of butter in skillet; slice the leeks very thin and cook over melted butter for about 15 minutes. Add potatoes to large pan and mix well with butter and onions. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook without coloring over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Add the stock/broth and leeks, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. Reheat over a lot heat and adjust seasoning. Add a little milk or stock if too thick. Sprinkle with chives.

I thought it turned out very well! It was creamy and rich, although there wasn't any actual cream in it. It made 6-7 servings.

And, of course, with the soup, we had to have soda bread! We bought this mix a while ago so I thought this was a good opportunity to try it. It turned out well, and it's great to have with the soup.

And for the heck of it, a picture from Ireland! The Cliffs of Moher:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fake Falafel

Falafel has to be one of my top 5 favorite foods. My two favorite places in Milwaukee for falafel are Aladdin at the Milwaukee Public Market and Casablanca.

Nate and I tried to make it once from a box of Fareast falafel mix. I had high hopes, but we pan fried it in too much oil so the patties were soggy.

This time, I found a Cooking Light recipe for baked falafel with a yogurt sauce. It turned out pretty well. The patties certainly didn't look like typical falafel patties or balls. But the flavor was pretty good. They reminded a bit more of a veggie burgers rather than typical falafel.

Here is the recipe from Cooking Light. I didn't make any adjustments to the recipe, other than for platting. We used some pita bread I got at a Greek grocery store. And we topped the sandwiches with shredded lettuce and some feta. We had to eat ours with a knife and fork. They were too top-heavy to roll up and eat!

We made one of my favorite side dishes with the sandwiches--homemade sweet potato fries.

The fries were a little bigger than I usually cut them, so they weren't as crispy. But they were still good! I mix them with olive oil, garlic powder, pepper and spicy curry powder, and bake them for 20-30 minutes (depending on how big they are) at about 375.

In the future, I think I'll try pan frying falafel patties again. And if it doesn't work, I'll stick with Aladdin and Casablanca. Sometimes (OK, often) fried is just that much better!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mom's "Easy" Lasagna

Lasagna is nothing ground-breaking, but everyone seems to have their favorite recipes. This recipe was the first I made on my own (that I can remember anyway). I remember e-mailing my mom and asking her for the recipe when I was in school at UW-La Crosse.

Lasagna is definitely a comfort food for me. And I like that you can make it your own by changing things up, adding different ingredients or leaving something out. I made it Saturday night when I had a hankerin' for something warm and cheesy.

Easy Lasagna

2 lbs. ground beef (I used 1.75 lbs. ground turkey seasoned with lots of spices and herbs like oregano, parsley, ground red pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, salt, pepper, ground fennel seed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 can mushrooms (I used a bunch of fresh, sliced)
1 32 oz. gar spaghetti sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. oregano
2 eggs
1 cup cottage cheese
8 lasagna noodles (I'm a big fan of whole wheat noodles)
1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
1 pkg. shredded mozzarella (I'm not sure exactly what size this is supposed to be, but I used a 2-cup bag with some extra we had)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Brown onion in 1 tbsp. oil; add beef/turkey. Cook and drain. Stir in mushrooms, sauce, 1 tsp. sugar and 1 tbsp. oregano. Simmer for 15 minutes. Cook noodles per box. Drain. Beat 1 egg and pour over cooked noodles to keep from sticking. Beat second egg and add spinach, 1 tbsp. oil, cottage cheese and Parmesan cheese. Mix well.

Pour half meat in 13x9 inch pan. Layer 1/2 noodles and spinach mix. Sprinkle 1/2 package mozzarella cheese. Repeat layering noodles and meat. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove foil. Add 1/2 package mozzarella. Bake for additional 5 minutes. Let sit a few minutes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Lunchtime Favorite

A while ago, Nate and I, somehow, came up with a tasty sandwich we often make for lunch on the weekends. It's simple, but satisfying and fairly healthy.
Start with 1-2 tbs. of mayo, a drained can of salmon (tuna would work, too, but I like changing it up with the salmon and some shakes of garlic powder, dill and pepper. Mix so it sticks together pretty well. Spread on English muffin halves. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Toast in a toaster oven (or regular oven, if you don't have a toaster oven) until the cheese melts and bread is toasty. Enjoy!

Tres Leches Torta es Muy Deliciosa

I first discovered tres leches (three milks) cake at a great Milwaukee restaurant, La Merenda, about a year ago. Since then, I've had it a few more times. It's really a good cake, and it's very different from typical chocolate or yellow cakes.

For a recent girlfriend get-together, I decided to make my own tres leches from a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, an old standby, Betty Crocker Cookbook.

This recipe is more or less what my cookbook says. There are a few differences: I made the yellow cake from scratch (also a Betty Crocker recipe) and, as my recipe calls for, I added rum (Barcardi Gold)--add a 1/3 cup when you mix the milks together and pour it over the cake (you can also use rum extract plus enough water to measure 1/3 cup, but what fun is that?).

Also, I made my frosting from scratch: In a chilled large bowl, beat 1 cup whipping cream, 2 tbs. rum and 1/2 teas. vanilla extract with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Frost cake with whipped cream mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans. Store covered in fridge.

I wish I had a photo to share, but this was eaten pretty fast!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vietnamese + Anthony Bourdain

Last night, Nate and I went out for a Vietnamese meal and saw one of our favorite chefs and authors, Anthony Bourdain--both great experiences!

Let's start with the food. We wanted to try Noodle House on 35th and National Avenue, but it turns out it's no longer in business (or maybe it moved? I didn't see a sign, though). So we tried Phan's Garden on 19th and National. It was fantastic. I can't wait to go back and try something else on the extensive menu.

We started with summer rolls, which are served cold, and they came with pork, shrimp, herbs and "bĂșn" (rice vermicelli) in rice paper with a really good peanut sauce. We also had some Vietnamese beer--33 and Saigon. I'm pretty sure what Nate had was banh xeo, which looked like an omelette with shrimp and herbs. I had something I've been wanting to try for a long time: pho, which is a soup made with rice noodles, beef broth, beef and lots of great seasoning and spices. It comes with lots of garnishes you can add as you want, such as cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos and lime. And of course, there was Sriracha sauce to add to it. I ordered the large bowl, and I didn't realize just how large it would be. Nate and I both ate a lot of it, and we probably brought three or four servings home.

Afterward, we went to see Bourdain at the Riverside. We had a great time. The theater was packed, and we lucked out with pretty good seats--first row of the balcony, the first seats in the row. (My pictures didn't turn out too well--I had to turn the flash off and he kept moving so it's blurry.) He was on stage for about two hours.

The first hour, he talked about other chefs (those he respects and those he really doesn't like), food and traveling. The second hour, he took questions from the audience. Some of the questions were good, but other people were obviously very drunk and some just told pointless stories. I think I would have preferred to have him just talk for the entire time. But, I'm definitely glad we went.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First recipe post!

Here's my first recipe post--something we made just tonight. It turned out well, so I wanted to share.

The recipe is Chipotle Meatballs with Cilantro from the cookbook The Good, the Bad & the Yummy.

There is some crazy-good sounding stuff in this cookbook, like Tater Tot Bake with Mozzarella and Spicy Marinara. How fantastic does that sound?!

Anyway, so the meatballs. The recipe calls for store-bought regular or mini meatballs, but I figured making turkey meatballs from scratch would be a better bet. The recipe had a nice amount of heat and lots of great flavor from the cumin and cilantro. We had Mexican rice with pinto beans on the side.

Here's the recipe, along with how we made the meatballs:

Chipotle Meatballs with Cilantro

makes 3 to 4 servings

1 tbsp. vegetable oil (we used olive--I usually use olive or canola)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 28. oz can whole Italian tomatoes, drained
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 to 3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded (I rarely seed peppers) and finely chopped
1 lb. store-bought meatballs (we made meatballs with 1 1b. turkey, mixed with 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1 egg, some chopped cilantro and a couple shakes of garlic powder and chili powder. Mix all together, make into whatever size meatballs you want. Heat oil in a skillet, cook meatballs for about 10 minutes, flipping continuously, or until done.)
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until just golden, then quickly stir in the cumin and oregano and cook for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes, salt and chipotles, and crush tomatoes with a spatula. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the sauce is reduced. Top with cilantro before devouring (yes, the recipe says "devouring." I like that!).

The basics

Here's what I have to work with. Below, my kitchen, with my helpers--hubby Nate and pup April. It's not a huge kitchen, but it does the trick.

Above, my collection of cookbooks, printed-off recipes and pages from magazines. Sadly, there are some cookbooks in there I have never used. But I will ... someday. We've been trying to use a different cookbook each week, but that doesn't always happen, and we often go back to our stand-bys, like Cooking Light.

And of course, the fridge. There's nothing too exciting in there right now, but there are some of my favorite staples: hummus, English muffins, Sriracha and, of course, beer.

And to the right, the spice and baking cabinet. There's lots of good stuff on there--especially the stuff from the Spice House.

Let's get this started

I've been thinking about creating a blog for a while. Until now, however, I didn't really know what I should--or could--write about. I thought to myself, what is it that I really love to do, love to talk about, love to think about? I can't believe it took me as long as it did to realize what that was--food, of course!

Through this blog, I hope to share what I cook at home--often with the help of my husband, Nate, and my essential kitchen fixture, my dog, April--as well as thoughts on restaurants I try and the foods I sample. Every now and then I'll likely share cooking ideas, pose questions and ask for feedback.

As long as I can remember, I've loved to cook--and loved to eat (my baby pictures can prove this). I used to help my parents--both excellent cooks--when I was younger. My mom even trusted me to cook dinner once a week during my formative years. Growing up, I was a pretty picky eater. The list of things I wouldn't eat--wouldn't even try--was pretty long. I used to have to sit at the dinner table until I finished my meal--this meant I was at the dinner table, picking at my food, until a good hour after my parents finished their meals. Luckily, we had a dog that would eat almost anything.

Sometime, between then and now, things changed. I started liking those foods I used to hate (still don't like pickles though, although I do try now and then). I also started getting a little more adventurous, trying new and different foods like Indian, Thai, Ethiopian and sushi. Not only did I try tasting these new and different foods, but I tried making them, too.

Here, with this blog, I hope to share the recipes and experiences of trying these new foods, mixed in, of course, with some classic comfort foods. And there will be photos. I love food photos, and I hope you will, too.

Please feel free to comment at any time, share suggestions or give me your honest opinion on something I post. I hope you enjoy my blog!