Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving: A Whole Lotta Dessert

For the past few years, I've been in charge of dessert for Thanksgiving at my parents' house. I always make the tradition pumpkin pie--never any other type of pies, for whatever reason. Also, for these last few years, I've been making another pumpkin dessert from a recipe my mother-in-law gave me for pumpkin pie crunch. It's been a hit at Thanksgiving, so I keep bringing it.

For the pies, my uncle's partner Roger sent me this recipe, from NPR, for crust, which includes vodka! (The crust ingredients are on the upper left-hand side, and the instruction are below.) According to the recipe/article, the vodka does two things: 1. It does not react with the proteins in the flour to form gluten, and 2. Because the alcohol evaporates, you can add more liquid, which makes the dough light and flaky.

I gotta say, as much as I love making things from scratch--and the crust does turn out pretty tasty--it is sure a pain in the butt! It's a long, tedious process. Like I said, it's worth it in the end, but boy oh boy ... getting there is another thing! Luckily, I mixed the dough together (for two pies!) on Wednesday and finished everything off on Thursday.
My makeshift pie weights:

For the pie filling, I've been using a different recipe. I'm not sure how I came across this one, but it seems standard and always turns out tasty.

For both recipes, I follow everything exactly. I don't want to do anything wrong and mess the whole thing up!

The pumpkin pie crunch is really, really tasty--and really easy. Here's the recipe:
-15 oz. can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
-12 oz. can evaporated milk
-3 eggs
-1.5 cup sugar
-4 teas. pumpkin pie spice
-1/2 teas. salt
-1 box yellow cake mix
-1 stick butter, melted (I just realized the recipe calls for two sticks (!) of butter, and I only used one! Whoops! I think 1.5 sticks would work best.)

Blend together all ingredients except for cake mix and butter. Pour into cake pan (I use a 9x13 pan), and sprinkle cake mix on top.
Pour butter on top. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Since I didn't use enough butter, there were parts of the "crunch" part that were still powder cake mix. Using 1.5 sticks would definitely work best. It's a really tasty dessert--the bottom tastes just like pumpkin pie, and then the buttery, crunchy top gives it a unique flavor.

Of course, serve both desserts with real whipped cream--just beat a small carton of heavy whipping cream with about 1 tbs. sugar and a dash of vanilla extract. YUM!

Before we had dessert, we, of course, and the traditional Thanksgiving meal: turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, my new favorite Brussels sprouts, cranberries and salad.
As always, it was a delicious meal. And, as always, I stuffed myself silly!

Restaurant Review: Tulip

November's ethnic dining night out took me and my girlfriends to Tulip, Milwaukee's only (?) Turkish restaurant last week.

I was the only one who had been before--I had been for dinner a few years ago and for lunch with some work people about a year ago. While the food has always been good, the service has been a little shaky, ranging from slow (think 1.5 hour-lunch. On a weekday) to pretty rude. Luckily, the latter was years ago, and we didn't experience anything like that. While the service was fairly slow again--especially there were only about five tables on this Tuesday night--the food made up for it.

Since it was a chilly night, I ordered some tea. There is only one kind--black tea served in a pretty glass (sorry for the stupid picture, but the cup is too pretty not to post!).

To begin with, we ordered the Turkish empanadas with beef and herbs. There were two per order. They were tasty, and hit the spot. We also had warm, fresh bread and herbed olive oil.

For meals, Leah had the boneless chicken breast with crushed pistachio and apricot. Sun had a bowl of the lentil soup and a salad (unfortunately, I can't remember which one and nothing is jumping out at me on the menu). Lisa also got a salad, and added chicken to it (and, again, I can't remember which one!). I didn't try anyone else's meals--other than snagging a few olives from the salads--so I can't comment on them. All three ladies, though, said they liked their food.

I ordered something a bit different for myself: grilled meat patties, made with beef and lamb. I don't normally order lamb (actually, I'm not sure I ever have), but there was a lot of lamb on the menu, and I know it's a big part of Turkish cuisine. The patties came with grilled eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and pepper, plus bulgar pilaf and yogurt sauce. The plate wasn't huge--I even thought it might not be enough--but it ended up being a perfect amount of food.

All in all, we had a good time. The restaurant is beautiful and cozy with a fireplace. Like I said, the service was a bit slow, but the waiter was nice and personable.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Quick and Easy" Potato Soup

I used the quotation marks because for some reason, while I like to think I'm at least a decent cook, this supposedly quick and easy potato soup from Cooking Light took me forever, and I had a few setbacks. But, luckily, the soup tasted pretty good.

The recipe is for Loaded Baked Potato Soup. A lot of the directions involve the microwave, which you think would make things easier, but I guess I rarely cook with the microwave and don't really know what I'm doing.

First of all, I followed the recipe pretty closely, except for a few things:
-I forgot the green onions (I used them all up when making the baos).
-We forgot to buy cheddar cheese, so we used the pepper jack we had. (Pepper jack and bacon for toppings:)

-I didn't have red potatoes, so I used a random combination of the potatoes I did have (including one purple/blue one, which looked kind of odd).

-I used skim milk rather than 1%.

Here's what I did wrong, and some words of wisdom:
-The worst thing I did was severely overcook the potatoes. The recipe calls for cooking the potatoes for 13 minutes on high. That was a mistake. I should have just used the microwave's potato setting. The potatoes were pretty dry, but at least workable. If you can, peel the potatoes before cooking them. I ended up with quite a bit of potato peel in the soup, which was OK. I'm not sure what was with the potato with the weird middle--I'm not sure if it was a dud potato or if I dried it out so much. The rest of the potato was fine.

-I didn't think there were enough potatoes--the soup seems rather liquidy--so I cooked two more potatoes. Well, I REALLY overcooked these two potatoes (below). I ended up having to throw them away.
-Once you put the milk in the saucepan, be sure to watch the soup VERY closely--it doesn't take much for the milk to boil over! This didn't happen to me, but it almost did.
-With cooking all those potatoes, the 20-minute recipe ended up taking me about an hour! I think it's for the better though--the soup had lots of flavor and thickened nicely.

Like I said, despite all this, the soup was really pretty tasty. It thickened up quite a bit as it sat on the stove. I think it would be even better with the green onions (and make for a better picture).

Bao Wow! Take Two

In March, I blogged about heating up the bao (steamed buns) we had made a few months before. The bao are so good, and we were waiting for an opportunity to make them again. It's quite the process, so you need a lot of time. A lazy Saturday at home with no plans for the night was the perfect opportunity.

We followed the same Cooking Light recipe as before, and did everything the same--except for one important thing. instead of making up our own Chinese five-spice, we purchased a container of it from the Spice House (if you have not been to the Spice House, please go there. IMMEDIATELY. It's fantastic!). This mix is much better and more pungent than whatever we used last time.

And just like last time, everything turned out wonderfully. The pork mixture has such great flavor, and steaming the buns gives the breading a great texture. But, like I said, the whole process takes quite a while, so be prepared to carve out some time.

Here's the play-by-play of what we did:

Made the dough, and let it rise, covered with a towel, in the bathroom (it really warms up in the bathroom when the heating vent is open). Takes about an hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling--cook the pork on the stove and mix the rest of the ingredients (green onions, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and more).

When dough is ready, divide into 12 equal pieces and roll out each piece. Fill with 1/4 cup of filling.

Twist ends together so bao closes up.

Place in bamboo steamer (be sure to use parchment paper--we didn't the first itme, and they stuck REALLY bad). I took the picture after the baos had been in the steamer for a few minutes. They were already getting big!

Steam about 15 minutes--they'll get REALLY big!

And enjoy!
We stir fried some veggies (box choy, mushrooms and onions) to have on the side. The baos are great dipped in hoisin sauce. Next time, I'd like to try a different filling. I think tofu would be good, or ground chicken, pork or beef with some different sauces.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chocolate Walnut Tart

Nate and I were invited to a Packer party last Sunday, and we thought we'd bring some type of dessert. While I was gone Saturday morning, Nate flipped through some issues of Cooking Light, and found a few options that looked good. Out of the two options he chose, I picked the Chocolate Walnut Tart, which looked really tasty and pretty easy.

The recipe was super easy and didn't take much time at all. Having to let the chocolate mixture sit and cool to room temperature took the longest time, and that wasn't bad at all. I opted to use a pie crust I had in the freezer, leftover from making the pumpkin pie cupcakes. Also, since I don't have a tart pan, I just used a pie plate, which worked just fine.

The tart came out really good. It was chocolaty and rich, but not overly so. Just a small slice of it suffices. It was a hit at the party.

Restaurant Review: Irie Palace

We celebrated my dad's birthday (a bit late, but a celebration is a celebration!) last Friday with dinner at Irie Palace, a Jamaican restaurant on the north side of Milwaukee. I wanted to take my parents in particular here--over the years, we spent a few family vacations in Jamaica, and I knew they would enjoy the food, atmosphere and Red Stripe. I knew Nate would be up for it, too, as he'll give any place a try. (We also had a gift certificate to use--score!) I had been to Irie Palace last summer with my ethnic dining group of girlfriends. The food was fabulous--huge portions and good and spicy.

The menu is rather small, and some of the items are just served on certain days of the week. But sometimes a smaller menu makes decision making easier. We quenched our thirst with some Red Stripes, and for me, a bottle of Ting. Ting is a delicious grapefruit-flavored soda from Jamaica. I consumed MANY bottles of it while we vacationed in Jamaica, so it brought back good memories. (No matter what I do, I can't flip the pictures from my point-and-shoot camera!)

For appetizers, we each had one meat patty (the only appetizer on the menu). The menu says they have beef, chicken and vegetable patties, but on Friday they only had beef. There were no complaints for us, though--they were big, pipping hot, and had a good blend of meat and spices.

My mom, who asked the waitress for something that wouldn't be spicy, got the brown stew chicken. For whatever reason, I didn't think to take a picture of it or try a bite of it. She really liked it though, and said it was not spicy, which she appreciated.

My dad and I both ordered the same combo platter: jerk chicken and curry chicken. However, we ended up getting what Nate ordered: the combo platter of jerk chicken and oxtail.

We told the waitress about the mistake, and we said it wasn't a problem, we'd eat what we were served. Just a short time later, she brought us a plate of curry chicken (no picture, unfortunately) to try, which was must appreciated.

The jerk chicken, which I had had last time I was at Irie Palace, was as good as I remembered--lots of chicken (although there were lots of bones and sometimes a bit gristly) and nice and spicy. The sauce that came on the side made it extra spicy. The oxtail--which I had never had before--was pleasantly delicious. It, too, was bony and fatty, but the taste was great. It reminded me of one of my favorites, sauerbraten.

Each meal came with two sides--a bowl of white rice and beans (or just plain white rice) and cooked cabbage and carrots. Both sides were a nice complement to the spicy chicken. I'm not exactly sure what was all mixed with the vegetables (butter, maybe?), but it was a wonderful flavor. I remember having plantains with the vegetables last time I was at Irie Palace. I absolutely love plantains, so it's too bad they were missing this time.

After dinner, we sat at the bar and had some more Red Stripe. We talked with the bartender, J.D. ("Jamaican Dude"), who is a regular at Irie Palace and who is also the lead singer with a local reggae band, King Solomon. We had a great time talking to him. We talked to him about our travels to Ocho Rios--his hometown--and the hotel we used to stay at, which he, ironically, used to work for!

We had a great time, and my parents really enjoyed themselves as I knew they would. We'll definitely be back. if nothing else, I'll need another Ting fix at some point!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Chef, a Lunch and a Recipe

A few weeks ago, I got a tweet from Paul at Burp! Blog asking if I wanted to participate in a blogger junket--Chef David Tanis was going to be in town to promote his new cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys. I didn't have to give it too much thought. I said yes, and received details not long after that.

We gathered Roots, a fantastic restaurant in Milwaukee's Brewers Hill neighborhood. I've been a few times before, for a drink and for dinner in their cellar. Roots strives to cook with local, in-season ingredients and does a great job doing that.
In addition to Paul and I, there were three other local (between the Milwaukee and Madison areas): Othelia, who writes A World of Flavor; Anna, who writes Tallgrass Kitchen; and Neil, who writes Stream of Consciousness. I was at least a little familiar with each blogger's work, so it was fun to finally meet them in person.

To put it simply, meeting a chef who has done amazing work and who has worked with amazing people was pretty darn cool. Chef Tanis is co-chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. When he's not working at the restaurant (which he does for six months out of the year), he's at his Paris apartment. There, he and his partner host dinner parties for random groups of people: tourists, locals, celebrities ... you name it. In addition to his newest cookbook, Chef Tanis wrote A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes.

Over the course of the lunch hour (a long lunch hour--about 2.5 hours!) the group talked about a lot of things, mostly food related of course! We talked about Milwaukee restaurants and options, local food, simple cooking, food photography, blogging, our day jobs, about Chef Tanis' experiences and his time in Paris and more. It was a wonderful conversation--it was great to not only talk to a real chef about these things, but also to other local people like myself who enjoy doing and eating the same things I do.

I took some notes while Chef Tanis was talking, and a few statements really stood out:
-When asked about his favorite recipe in the Artichoke cookbook, he said, "How can I pick just one? They're all my children." (I can't imagine picking just one favorite recipe; nonetheless one from my own cookbook!)

-"I don't cook so much with recipes, but go on instinct."

-About the cookbook: "I wanted this to be less than a manual of how to cook, but more of an inspirational book and have people think, 'I can cook that.'"

-"Seasonal cooking is the most normal thing in the world. When someone cooks something in season, it just tastes really good."

-The five (or so) cooking items he'd take to a deserted island: salt, pepper, garlic, lime, chile, olive oil, wine and tequila.

I think what stood out most for me throughout our conversation was just how important and easy it is to make delicious food when you use local and in-season products, and cook and bake them simply. I recently noticed this while making those Brussels sprouts for the first time. There's not much to them--just the sprouts (from a local farm), olive oil and salt--but that's why they're so good. Their natural flavors come out when made simply.

Of course, in between all the talking, there was eating! And I made sure to bring my camera to capture everything--I figured the other guests wouldn't mind.

While Roots isn't normally open for lunch during the week, they put a special menu together for us. I had a hard time deciding among all the excellent-sounding choices, but I eventually settled on a salad and a grilled cheese. Only this wasn't your traditional salad and grilled cheese. The salad was made from frisse greens, and included brandied cranberries, warm cheddar and filberts.

The grilled cheese contained three cheeses (sadly, I'm not sure which cheeses), a pear pickle, arugula and mushroom pate. And it came with homemade potato chips. I ate the whole darn thing it was so good!

After our lunch, I had to go shopping to get ingredients to make a dessert for a get-together I had the next night. Earlier in the day, I was tempted to just pick up a pre-made dessert from Outpost for the event. But, with a copy of the Artichoke cookbook in hand, I knew I couldn't do that, and I was inspired to make something from scratch.

I discovered the Artichoke cookbook contains a wonderful recipe for molasses pecan squares. Again, the recipe is so easy and straightforward, and the squares turned out wonderfully. Here is the recipe:

Molasses Pecan Squares
-8 tbs. (1 stick) butter, softened, plus more for buttering dish (I used cooking spray for this ... )
-1 cup packed dark brown sugar
-2 eggs separated
-2 tbs. molasses
-1/2 teas. vanilla extract
-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-1 teas. baking powder
-1/2 teas. salt
-1/2 cup chopped pecans, plus a handful of whole pecans for topping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour 9-inch square baking dish. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, molasses and vanilla and beat well.

Sift flour with the baking powder and salt, and add to the mixing bowl, stirring well. Stir in the chopped pecans.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold them into the batter.

Spread batter in the dish, and sprinkle the whole pecans over the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Check for doneness with a kitchen knife. Cool in pan and cut into 3-inch squares.

All in all, it was a fantastic, delicious and inspiring day!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Making it Up as I Go: Pot Roast

I was out of town last weekend, and Nate had to come up with some dinner ideas on his own. For Monday night dinner, he took a pork pot roast out of the freezer. We had bought it at the West Allis Farmer's Market a while ago from one of our favorite local, free-range meat vendors. We didn't follow a recipe--we just used what vegetables we had leftover from CSA boxes.

Here's what we did:
Crockpot Pot Roast and Vegetables
-1 pot roast (maybe three pounds? I forgot to look ...)
-1 potato, cubed
-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
-2 leeks, sliced
-3 beets, peeled and cubed
-3 small parsnips, peeled and cubed
-3 cloves garlic, sliced
-salt and pepper to taste
-1 bottle beer

Place pork at bottom of crockpot. Cover with veggies. Pour bottle of beer over everything.
Pour in enough water to cover much of the vegetables. Season to taste. Cook all day on low.

That's it! It was very easy. It was pretty tasty--very hearty, filling and healthy. When it was done cooking, we took out the vegetables, put them in a separate bowl, and took the meat and separated it. This was, we got all of the flavors combined. We also scooped out some of the liquid and served it over the meat and veggies.

It's a nice way to use up any vegetables you need/want to get rid of. Next time, I would season it more--add some garlic powder, some more salt and pepper and maybe thyme, oregano and/or sage. We served it with some made-up Parmesan garlic bread on the side.

Spinach Pie a la Trader Joe's

A few months ago, my friend Ann and I made a trip to Trader Joe's at Bayshore. She picked up a big, frozen spinach pie to make some day. Well, she moved out of state a few weeks ago and was cleaning out her fridge. I scored some drinks and food, including the spinach pie.

We made the pie last week. I've had a lot of spinach pie in my day (see this blog post and this one), and compared to others I've had, it was really pretty good.

Making it was really easy--just bake for about 40 minutes, take the wax paper cover off of it and bake for about 10 more minutes to brown it.

We served the spinach pie with a side salad and some leftover pita bread and tzatziki.