Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweet Potato Cookies?! Oh Yes!

I know, I know--I say it all the time: I love this type of food, I love that type of food. But I really do love sweet potatoes. We actually just had sweet potato fries with dinner tonight! So when I stumbled across an opportunity to make cookies using sweet potatoes, I jumped on it.

Perusing Twitter last week, I found a tweet from Allens Veggies about a recipe using their sweet potatoes in a cookie recipe. So over the weekend I made them. The recipe is so simple (here it is) and uses only four ingredients: a box of cake mix (I used spice cake), 2 eggs, 1/3 cup chopped pecans and sweet potatoes. I decided to not use canned sweet potato, and instead used two whole sweet potatoes that totaled about 1.25 pounds before cooking.

For the sweet potatoes, I peeled them, wrapped them in plastic wrap and microwaved them on the potato setting for about 8 minutes, or until tender. I mashed them and let them cool, and then followed the recipe to combine ingredients.

I decided to make them tablespoon-sized rather than teaspoon-sized, mostly because it was easiest to use the tablespoon-sized ice-cream scoop thing I have.

I ended up baking the cookies for about 15, rather than 10, minutes since they didn't quite seem done.

After they cooled, I drizzled on homemade icing, made the way my mom showed me many, many years ago:
-Melt about 1 tbs. butter in microwave.
-In a bowl, combine butter, a few drops of vanilla, some powered sugar and some milk to the consistency you want. I wanted to be able to drizzle the icing, so it was a bit soupy.

The cookies are fantastic. The spice cake taste is really nice, and you'd really have no idea you're eating, essentially, vegetable cookies. Yum!

Best-Ever Pulled Pork Sandwiches

I could swear I've blogged about this recipe before--we really, really love this dish--but I couldn't seem to find it in the list. So, here goes!

Nate and I have made this Betty Crocker recipe many times, often for a big group of people. Last weekend, we had some friends over, and it was the perfect opportunity to make it.

Here is the recipe. We usually follow it pretty closely, but make a few adjustments depending on who is dining with us. If it's just us, we'll make it spicier by added some more jerk, cayenne or hot peppers.

This time, we stuck with the recipe, but Nate--who was in charge of putting it all together--didn't exactly follow the directions correctly. It turned out great nonetheless. Instead of waiting until the pork was almost done cooking and then adding the BBQ sauce, he added it right away. After it cooked for the 10 or so hours, it was pretty liquidy. We took out some liquid and added more BBQ sauce.

We served the sandwiches on buns with broccoli slaw--a bag of shredded broccoli and carrots, mixed with a coleslaw dressing.

For a side dish, I made another Betty Crocker recipe: Potato Casserole Supreme. Here is the recipe (warning: there is a little dude in the corner of the screen talking about the website!). I did a few things differently:
-Instead of using shredded hash browns, I used the cubed (is that the right word?) hash browns.
-Instead of cream of chicken soup (I thought that sounded a bit odd), I used cream of celery.
The potato casserole was pretty good. It might even be good to make an entire meal out of it by adding some more veggies and maybe some chicken or ham.

In addition to the meals I made, our guests brought a lovely cheese ball--shaped like a pumpkin!--and pumpkin cheesecake cupcakes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Veggie and Tofu Stir Fry

It probably seems like we're always making stir fry. I think we have been making it every few weeks. It's always a tasty meal, pretty healthy (with all those fresh veggies, brown rice and what not) and super easy and quick. It's definitely a nice dish to make with all the veggies we get in our CSA box.

We usually try to mix it up a bit with our stir frys and use different proteins, veggies and sauce mixtures.

For this stir fry, we used tofu, tons of fresh veggies and a made-up sauce. Here's what we used and what we did.
Veggie and tofu stir fry
-One package of savory tofu from Trader Joe's
-Half a crown of broccoli
-Red frying pepper
-About half a green pepper
-About one cup of mushrooms
-Two stalks (is that the right word?) of bok choy
-1 yellow onion
-4 cloves garlic
-soy sauce
-fish sauce
-sesame sauce
-hoisin sauce
-Sriracha sauce
-red pepper flakes
-garlic powder

Chop all veggies and tofu, and put in bunches according to how long you'll need to cook them.
Put the peppers, onion and broccoli together, and put the bok choy, mushrooms and tofu together.

Cook in batches in a wok (no oil or anything necessary), first the pepper batch and then add the mushroom batch.
Whisk together all sauces, herbs and about 2 teas. corn starch. Pour over veggies and cook for a while longer.

Serve with rice or noodles (we usually make rice in our rice steamer, since we are terrible at making rice on the stove top).

MKE's Food Truck Friday

For the last few months, on Fridays, the food trucks of Milwaukee have gathered downtown in Cathedral Square for Food Truck Friday. So, a few Fridays ago, my friends Leah, Jessie and I went to check it out for lunch.

Unfortunately, the day we chose to go, there were only three trucks: Satellite Crepes, Tigerbite and Pita Brothers. But, while there wasn't a whole lot to choose from, it definitely made our decision making easier!

I had had a pita sandwich from Pita Brothers before, and I'm always craving crepes, so I went with that. I had a vegetarian one, the Capricorn, that featured fresh mozzarella, basil, tomatoes
and garlic oil. Yum! It was very tasty, and the perfect size.

Jessie went with another one of the crepes, the Fresh Orb: shredded cheese, basil, tomatoes and lemon truffle oil.

Leah went with a sandwich from pita brothers (I'm sorry--it's been too long. I can't remember what she ordered!)

Additionally, we shared an order of sweet potato fries from Tiger Bite.

It was a great meal, and nice to sit outside for lunch in the park. I believe Food Truck Friday goes through September, and maybe longer if the weather holds out.

Restaurant Review: Coa

(First off, sorry for the delay in posts--I can't believe I haven't blogged since Sept. 8! It seems I have been busy with being out of town (camping and up north) and lots of leftovers and dinners from the salad bar and boxes of mac and cheese. I hope to be back at it from here on out!)

A few weeks ago, on a Thursday after work, my friend Ann and I went to Coa, at Bayshore, for dinner. I had heard good things about it, and had been over the menu a few times. After Ann took one look at the menu, she was in for checking it out!

We started with the complimentary chips and salsa, which were both very good. The chips tasted very fresh and the salsa had just at ting of heat and was also fresh. Ann had a Mexican beer and I had the light margarita, which was really good. I believe it was made with white wine and wasn't nearly as sweet as a regular margarita.

We decided to each get one taco and then split two of the hot small plates. Ann ordered the chorizo taco, which, unfortunately, wasn't that great. It didn't have the great flavor chorizo normally has and wasn't the least bit spicy. The meat in the taco tasted more like ground beef. It just didn't stand out. She also got an order of the coa beans: pinto beans, chorizo, Dos Equis beer and bacon. They were tasty!

I had the barbacoa taco, something I'd never had. The taco came with marinated beef brisket, orange chipotle hot sauce and chayote relish.

For the hot small plates, we shared two great ones. The first was queso fundido: hot melted cheese with peppers, tomatoes and onions served with warm tacos. It was delicious. It was also tasty with the tortilla chips. We also had the spinach empanadas with cheese and sauces.

Overall, we had a good experience. the food was really tasty, and there is plenty more on the menu we'd go back for. We'd probably sit at the bar next time, too (if we went early enough) to take advantage of the happy hour specials: selected half-price appetizers and drinks.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Autumn Harvest Soup and Green Beans

We got a bunch of kale in our latest CSA box. I thought about making the recipe my friend Lisa used a few weeks ago for a cookout. But, I thought I'd see what the vegan cookbook (Clean Food) I have had as far as kale dishes. I found a few recipes, but this one sounded tasty.

Here is the recipe for Autumn Harvest Soup
-4 dried shiitake mushrooms (I couldn't find shiitake mushrooms, so I used crimini mushrooms and just used the entire package)
-6 cups water
-2 tbs. olive oil
-1 large onion, diced
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tbs. fresh ginger, grated
-3 carrots, diced
-4 cups chopped kale or collard greens (I probably had 2 cups kale, and it was more than enough)
-2 cups cooked cannellini beans
-1/4 cup mirin (the bottle of mirin we got at Outpost for $10 was worth it. The flavor is outstanding!)
-splash of tamari
-splash of apple cider vinegar
-4-5 dashes toasted sesame oil
-freshly ground black pepper

Place dried mushrooms in medium pot with 6 cups water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. When mushrooms are soft, remove from broth and cut off and discard stems. Dice mushrooms and place back in pot with broth.

In large pot over medium heat, saute onion, garlic and ginger in oil 3 minutes. Add carrots and saute 3 minutes. Add kale or collard greens, beans and mirin and saute until greens are deep green and tender.
Pour broth and mushrooms into pot with kale, add tamari and vinegar and simmer 5-7 minutes. Season to taste with sesame oil and pepper.

The little story at the top of the page suggests serving the soup with brown rice or soba noodles for "those with a bigger appetite," which is obviously Nate and me! We had some soba noodles in the cupboard so I just made those We put the noodles at the bottom of the bowl and topped with soup.

The soup was OK, but needed something extra. I hadn't put in any salt while I was cooking, and I should have. So we both added some salt to ours, plus a few dashes of soy sauce and Sriracha.

Now, on the other hand, the green beans we made for a side dish were delicious! I had seen a recipe in a New York Times food article earlier this week, and printed it off knowing we had some beans from our CSA box to use up.

Here is that recipe. We followed the recipe pretty much exactly, except that we used 1/2 teas. of each garlic powder and ginger, since we didn't have fresh ginger, and, frankly, I didn't feel like chopping more garlic!

The beans were outstanding. We were thinking of what else we could make with the sauce. Any kind of stir fry would be good with the sauce.

Making It Up As I Go: Taco Casserole

We have a ton of chili peppers to use up, so we wanted to make something spicy and Mexican. We decided to change up our normal go-to Mexican dishes (quesadillas, tacos, fajitas, etc.) and make a taco casserole.

I based what I did off a recipe my mother-in-law jotted down for me a few years ago. I used the same elements (other than adding a can of cream of chicken soup to the browned meat) but added some extra layers for flavor and to get some extra nutrients.

It's a good thing to make when you have a lot of things you want to use up and are craving Mexican flavors. Here's what I did:

Taco Casserole
-1 lb. ground chicken
-16 oz. jar of salsa
-3 tomatoes, chopped
-1 corn on the cob, cooked in microwave for 2 minutes then cut off the cob
-1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
-1 yellow onion, chopped
-1 red pepper, chopped
-a couple cloves of garlic
-1 habanero and 1 chili pepper, chopped
-spices and herbs, including chili powder, coriander, cumin, salt, pepper
-crushed tortilla chips, plus more for topping
-about 1 cup shredded cheese (I used sharp white cheddar)

Brown chicken with onion, garlic, peppers and spices. I added a bit of salsa at this step.

In a greased 9x13 pan, place crushed tortilla chips so there aren't any open spots. Layer half of chicken and top with half of the salsa. Spread black beans and corn on top. Layer rest of chicken and salsa. Blend tomatoes in with the salsa. Top with cheese.

Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes. Take out and added remainder of crushed chips to top. Bake 5 minutes longer.

We cut our casserole into 6 pieces. Don't even bother trying to make it look pretty on the plate. It's impossible! The first few bites were pretty spicy, but it cooled down after that, and was delicious. We had it with some watermelon on the side--perfect for cutting the heat.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nate's Granola Bars

We've been trying to make more and more foods from scratch that we love and eat often (hummus, granola, sometimes yogurt, etc.). One of those items is granola bars. I don't eat them often, but Nate has one just about every weekday for a snack. He found a recipe from Alton Brown that he uses as his base, and then adds what he likes.

Here is the recipe. And now here is what Nate does (I'm simply transcribing a note he gave me about what he does):
-Toast about 1/2 the oats (in a toaster oven or oven) to avoid the burnt flavor of the toasted oats.
-Instead of 1/2 cup wheat germ, use 1/4 cup wheat germ and 1/4 cup ground flax seed.
-Add three dried figs (sooo good, by the way--that was from me, not Nate) finely chopped (hard to do because they stick together, but just separate with fingers).
-Add 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips for extra flavor.
-Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl, then pour liquid mixture over the top and mix! (He included the exclamation point.)
-Pour into 9x13 (rather than 9x9) baking dish and press firmly with smaller dish to make more compact.
It was the first time we did this step, and it's a good idea--otherwise, they crumble too easily.
And enjoy!

Cookout Side Dishes

On Sunday, we went to my parents' house for a cookout with some other family members. I was instructed to bring a potato salad, which I did. I also made a cucumber salad from two huge cucumbers my mother-in-law brought over about two weeks ago that I had to use up.

The summer potato salad was one I made before, quite a while ago, that I had found online. I had remembered it being good, but very lemony. I included a note on the recipe to tone down the lemon a bit.

Here is the recipe. If you like really lemony potato salads, then I suppose it's OK to keep the 1/3 cup. I used about a 1/4 cup (1 whole lemon) of freshly squeezed lemon. Also, I didn't add the hard-boiled eggs, just because I didn't really want to. I also didn't add parsley, mostly because I didn't have fresh and I forgot to defrost one of the frozen parsley cubes I had.

The potato salad was really pretty good, even though I cooked the potatoes a little too long.

It didn't really look like it made a lot, but it was the perfect amount for the eight of us, plus some leftovers.

The cucumber salad recipe I found in my Betty Crocker Cookbook. It's probably one you've seen or had before. It's really easy, I had all the ingredients on hand and it's low fat. My mom liked it so much, she kept all the leftovers!

I followed everything exactly, except that I don't really know how much cucumber I used! It's a nice way to change up eating cucumbers (we usually just put them in salads, or I have them with hummus).

A Mexican Meal from a German-Austrian Guy

I'm not quite sure how he does it (years of practice, I suppose, as well as spending quite a bit of time in Mexico), but my dad--whose ancestry is half German, half Austrian--makes a fantastic Mexican meal.

While I was growing up, we had Mexican night at our house a lot. This was usually done on the weekends, when there was plenty of time to prepare everything and let flavors simmer. My dad's specialities have always been tacos, burritos and guacamole. This is what we were treated to Saturday night at their house.
I don't have the recipes or even all of the ingredients of what my dad does and uses, so here's just a brief synopsis--and some pictures.

He always starts off with some guacamole, and the way I make guac is based off watching him for years and years (hence, the recipe and play-by-play for "Adrian guacamole"). We added some shakes of hot sauce to heat it up as we ate through the bowl. Guac is always the best with El Rey's plain tortilla chips.

For the taco and burrito meat, my dad mostly uses ground beef, and cooks it with onions, salsa, taco sauce and spices, like garlic powder and salt, chili powder, cumin and coriander. There are probably others, but I can't remember.

The tacos are pretty straight forward--take a warmed tortilla (in this case, we tried El Rey's whole wheat tortillas for the first time. They were very good and pretty pliable, which I haven't found with other wheat tortillas)--and fill with some meat, chopped tomato and lettuce and some shredded cheese. I think the cheese was a shredded blend of white Mexican cheeses.

For the burritos, in addition to the taco meat described above, my dad takes a tortilla (just a plain flour one this time) and added pinto beans he simmered on the stove top with spices and salsa and bits of cheese.
He usually uses Velveeta in the burrito, which might sound kind of weird, but it gives it a good, creamy, cheesy flavor. This time, however, he used a spicy chipotle white cheddar cheese.
He rolls everything up, places in a baking dish, tops with some extra taco sauce and cheese and bakes for probably 20 minutes on 350.

We had the tacos and burritos with some boxed Spanish rice on the side. Everything is so tasty, and even though he usually makes the same Mexican dishes, it never gets old!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Restaurant Review: Red Accordion

On Friday, Nate and I and six other friends went to the Red Accordion, a newish restaurant on Old World Third Street. They have all small plates/tapas, so we ordered a bunch of stuff and passed everything around.

We first started by having each girl order two plates. Here's what we got (check out the restaurant's menu for full descriptions) and what we thought of them:

-Cajun chicken sliders (hello, pretzel rolls!)--really good. We even ordered a second round.

-Spicy bean sliders (each of the slider plates came with home-cut fries, too)--I thought they were good, but they were one of the slowest plates to empty.

-Calamari--unfortunately, it wasn't good. The calamari didn't have any flavor and neither did the chipotle aioli (actually, until I looked at the menu again (two days later) I didn't realize it was supposed to be chipotle ...).

-Vegetable spring rolls--they were just OK. They seemed to have pickled red cabbage in them, which is a bit strange.

-Reuben rolls--really good. Lots of good flavor. Tasted just like a reuben sandwich.

-Thai tilapia wings--also really good. One of our favorites. They pretty much tasted like chicken wings
-Braised short ribs--another really good one we ordered a second batch of. the ribs were made with a Lakefront Eastside Dark beer BBQ sauce and served over tortellini with a beer cheese sauce.

-Lamb lettuce wraps--really good and refreshing with the lettuce, tomatoes and feta.

After all that, we thought we needed more ... which was tasty, but turned out to be a bit too much. As I said before, we ordered two plates of two things we already tried and then two more:

-Mini baked meatloaf--it was pretty good, but it didn't taste anything like meatloaf. We thought it was more like shepherd's pie. The taste was pretty good, but I thought it had a bit of a bitter aftertaste.

-Grilled skewered chicken--unfortunately, it didn't have much taste and was fairly dry.

As far the restaurant atmosphere and service, the place was nice and a bit more casual than I thought it would be. I didn't see all of it, as there is a big, private room in the back we didn't go in.
We hit a bit of a snafu when we walked through the doors. Turns out the reservation I made a few days ago didn't really work out--whoever took my reservation, didn't realize there was a private party in the room she put us in. But, the staff was more than accommodating to hook us up with two tables pushed together in the front of the restaurant. The bar has a great beer selection, and those drinking mixed drinks seemed to enjoy them.

Also, the owner came around at one point and thanked us for stopping in. He later sent us dessert--four each of white-chocolate covered and milk-chocolate covered cheesecake bites. I thought the white chocolate one was tasty, but couldn't eat too much because I was bursting at the seams.

All in all, we had a great experience, and would definitely go back. Some of us agreed that it's a good restaurant for a large group of people. Otherwise, it could be a bit overwhelming with all the small plates.

Homemade Marinara Sauce with Ravioli

I needed to do something with all the tomatoes we had (probably about 15 of them). I had read this New York Times article about grating tomatoes rather than peeling them, so I thought I'd grate tomatoes and make marinara sauce.

The technique worked really well, although I first started by using the second smallest grater holes, rather than the biggest one. The bigger ones work MUCH better, and you don't have to worry about scraping your fingers.
Before grating tomatoes, cut in half ("along the equator") and scrape out as many seeds as possible.
I made up the marinara sauce recipe as a I went. Here's what I did and what we did with the first batch of sauce.

-About 15 tomatoes (I didn't count before I started), grated.
-1 yellow onion, chopped
-A couple cloves of garlic, minced
-About a teaspoon of sugar
-About 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
-Couple shakes of oregano, fennel, pepper, salt, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper
-Olive oil
Heat oil in a saute pan. Saute onion and garlic until fragrant.

Add tomatoes and rest of ingredients.

Simmer on low for about an hour. The sauce should reduce and not be as watery.

It made about three batches that fit in three Tupperware containers. We put two in the freezer and used one for ravioli the next night.

For the ravioli, we used a container of frozen Rising Moon creamy artichoke and olive ravioli. You just low boil it for a few minutes until the ravioli floats and is pillowy.

With the sauce, we had eggplant and yellow summer squash to use up. So we sauteed the chopped vegetables with some olive oil and a bit of garlic powder, salt and pepper. After it was tender, we added the sauce to it and heated everything up.

The sauce turned out really good. It's a bit more watery than jarred sauce, but still was delicious!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Check Out the New Blog Feature!

You may have noticed there is something new at the bottom of each blog post: reaction buttons.

Instead of commenting on the blog (which I encourage!), feel free to check what you think of the blog post and the food I feature. The three options are "Looks Good!", "No Thank You" and "I'm Going to Try It."

In addition to that, there are buttons available to share blog posts through Facebook, Twitter and more.

Check it out!

Stir Fry by the Seat of My Pants

Tonight for dinner we made one of our old stand-bys: stir fry. It's simple, easy, tasty and healthy.

As an appetizer, we had edamame, which we got in the CSA box. I've never made it in the shell like this. But it was tasty and easy. I boiled the pods for about 10 minutes, drained them, and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

They were good, but should have only been cooked for about 7 minutes.

For stir fry, we usually follow a recipe--at least for the sauce, if nothing else--but this time we just made it up as we went. Here's what we did (sorry, I didn't really measure anything, so just put in what you want/like!):

Beefy Veggie Stir Fry
-Flank steak
-Red bell pepper
-Red onion
-Green onion
-1 jalapeno plus another long, skinny chili

For the sauce:
-Soy sauce
-Hoisin sauce
-Fish sauce
-Sesame oil

-Ginger powder
-Garlic powder
-Garlic salt
-salt and pepper

In the wok, we cooked the veggies, minus the mushrooms, for about 5 minutes, and then added the sauce. Then we added the beef and cooked for about another 5 minutes. Then we added the mushrooms, and cooked everything for a few more minutes.
We served the stir fry on top of brown jasmine rice we cooked it in the rice steamer.
We also had some yellow watermelon I picked up at Outpost that comes from our CSA, Tipi Produce. It's unbelievably good. It's not seedless (even though it looks like it here), but doesn't have a lot of seeds (and a watermelon should have seeds, right?).

Great meal!