Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crockpost Chicken and Veggie Tikka Masala

I read this recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala in Outpost's e-newsletter a few weeks ago (it's housed on their recipes page) and thought it looked great. For whatever reason, however, I didn't save it and forgot all about it. Last week, a co-worker was talking about a crockpot Indian recipe she came across and sent it out--turns out it was the same one! (Fun fact: surveys have found that chicken tikka masala is the most popular dish in British restaurants. Another fun fact: I spent a semester in London when I was in college and never had Indian food. I'm ashamed of it now!)

The recipe calls for a lot of stuff, but it's really easy--and turns out splendidly. We did just a few things differently to work with what we had:

-Instead of 2 lbs. of chicken thighs, I used 1 chicken breast, 1 drained can of chickpeas and 4 small potatoes, peeled and cubed.
-I didn't use cilantro (didn't want to buy a huge bunch just for garnish).

-Instead of stringing the cardamom pods together or using cheesecloth, we used the tea infuser I have. (By the way, you can buy them at Spice House if you're looking for them!)

-We served the masala with naan instead of rice. Rice would have been good, but we didn't have enough time to make it and the naan only took about five minutes.

The only drawback to the whole thing is that I think it cooked a bit too long. I cooked it on low for 8 hours, but then it was on keep warm for almost another five hours (Monday was a late night for both of us!). It didn't have a burned flavor, but you could tell it had been cooking quite a while. Nonetheless, it was amazing and I can't wait to make it again. You can do a lot of different things with it--use all chicken, make it all vegetarian, or combine the both in a different way.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mac and (Pepper Jack) Cheese

Last week, my friend Jessie gave me a copy of the December/January issue of Simple & Delicious Magazine. She had made a chicken, hash and egg recipe the night before and thought I might be interested in trying it. She was right--I definitely want to try it. I also flipped through the rest of the magazine and found a few others I want to try.

Pepper Jack Mac was one of those recipes. I'm always a sucker for mac and cheese, and I'm always looking for good homemade recipes. I was intrigued by the pepper jack aspect of this one.
The recipe was really easy, and I think the timing (25 minutes) was spot on. And I finally timed a recipe right--the noodles were done boiling just as the sauce was ready. This recipe was nice because it was meant to make just two servings. I love leftovers, but I've felt a little overwhelmed lately with all the leftovers we've had!

Here's the recipe
Pepper Jack Mac
-1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat noodles)
-2 bacon strips, chopped (cook them first! I found out the hard way that cutting raw bacon isn't easy)
-1/4 cup chopped onion
-1/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
-1 1/2 tsp. butter
-1 tbs. all-purpose flour
-1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. chicken broth (I used veggie broth because my chicken broth looked and smelled a little funky)
-1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. 2% milk (I used skim)
-3/4 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese (I probably used a little extra :))
-1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning (I used a mix of garlic powder, basil and oregano)
-salt and pepper to taste
Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisps. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon; drain, reserving 3/4 teaspoon of drippings.

In the same skillet, saute onions and mushrooms in drippings and butter until tender. Stir in flour until blended; gradually stir in broth and milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook and stir over medium heat until the cheese is melted.

Drain macaroni; stir macaroni and bacon into saute mixture.

Overall, it was pretty good. I would have preferred it to be a little spicier, so next time I would add some cayenne or Sriracha to it (I'm really surprised I didn't add any!). It wasn't quite as flavorful as I would have hoped. I'm not sure what would have made it better--using whole wheat rather than regular noodles may have contributed to it. I really think, though, that mac and cheese with cheddar or sharp cheddar is really the way to go. You can't go wrong with a classic!

Restaurant Review: Cafe Manna

A few months ago, I bought a Groupon for Cafe Manna, an all-vegetarian restaurant in Brookfield. I had been for dinner a few times before and have always had great experiences. The Groupon expired at the end of the month, so Nate and I went for dinner last Saturday. I knew he'd like it, but thought he might be just a bit apprehensive with it being an all-vegetarian restaurant.

We made a reservation through Open Table (which I had never done before--it worked out great!) for 7:30. It's good we did--it was a full house and there was another party of two waiting when we got there.

We weren't hungry enough for an appetizer, but we nibbled on the pita chips and some kind of dip (it tasted like hummus, but maybe make with walnuts?), which was really good.
It took us a while to figure out what we wanted--everything looked so good! I finally settled on the roasted vegetable crustada--a flaky pastry shell filled with seasonal roasted vegetables in a silky herbed sauce. It was topped with crispy onions and sat on top of a roasted red pepper coulis. It was almost like a pot pie, but without a top and a flakier, thinner shell. it was fantastic.

Nate settled on the Caribbean potato cakes--savory and sweet, lightly spiced cakes made of vegetables, sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes. They were served with a tomato mint chutney and drizzled with spinach and avocado coulis. They were excellent. They really did have a spice to them, and even just a few bites was very filling.

Both of the meals were so huge and hearty that we took half the dishes home. Cafe Manna is really a great place--it's all sustainable, with recycled and compostable to-go boxes and bags. The wine they serve is organic and they have only local beer (Lakefront and Capital).

The meal was great as usual, and I'll know we'll be back to try other menu options. Our waitress was pretty good, although it took her a while to come back to get our order and for her to clear our plates and box up our food.

Brunch Review: Chili Lili's

Last Sunday, Nate and I met fellow Milwaukee foodies Lori and Paul, of Burp! Where Food Happens blog. We were supposed to go to County Clare at 11 a.m.--I had heard they had a great Irish breakfast, and Nate and I loved the Irish breakfasts we had in Ireland a few years ago. But when we got there, I noticed a sign by the door said they open at noon and then someone in the bar area informed me they did in fact not open until noon. The website says 11:00, so that was a bummer.

But have no fear--you put four foodie, hungry and in-the-know people together, and you figure it out. After going over our options, we elected to go to Chili Lili's--the restaurant was debuting its brunch menu that day.

We got there about 11:30, and got a seat right away and ordered four spicy bloody Marys. The bloodies were good--a good amount of spice, and they came with a pickle, green olive, mushroom and huge piece of celery. The only downside was that they were in tall hurricane glasses, and toward the end of the drink--even with a straw--it was hard to drink.

We each ordered something different. Paul got the Menomonee Street Magma Chili with habanero cheese omlette, which is pretty much what it sounds like--a plain egg omlette with chili inside. The omlettes came with hash browns, too.

Lori opted for the Texas steak chili and grits, which I thought Nate would order (he's a sucker for grits!). It looked really good, and seemed like something different than you would find on a lot of brunch menus.

Nate ordered the breakfast burrito. He originally wanted the southwest roasted corn chicken chili, but they didn't have it. So he got the buffalo chicken chili instead (think classic chicken wing flavor). The chili was wrapped in a huge tortilla with eggs, habanero cheese, onions and a trio of peppers, and came with hash browns. The burrito was really good (I think I liked this a bit better than what I ordered). I think the type of chili he ended up with really made it.

I ordered the omlette with vegetarian chili, goat cheese (like Nate is a sucker for grits, I'm a sucker for goat cheese) and tomatoes. It was good, but it definitely needed some hot sauce to kick it up a bit (luckily, each table has a few bottles of different hot sauces). I wish it had had some more goat cheese, but there was just a bit crumbled at the top. I, too, had hash browns, which were nice and brown but a bit greasy.

All in all, our experience was good. If it sounds weird to you--chili for breakfast--it's really not. If you like breakfast burritos and Mexican-like flavors for breakfast, you'll like this a lot. I also liked the portion size--they plates were huge and overwhelming. I ate everything and felt comfortably full (important in my book!) And if you can't get there for brunch, get there for lunch or dinner--the chili is really good, and you can get it served over great cornbread.

Restaurant Review: Botanas

After an event last Friday night, my FUEL Milwaukee team went to dinner at Botanas. I haven't been to Botanas all that much, and not as much as some other southside restaurants (like Conejitos and La Fuente).

There were originally eight of us (there ended up only being seven when it was all said and done) and they told us it would be about a 25 minute wait and they couldn't guarantee we would be at the same table. Well, within 10 minutes they sat all seven of us at a table.

We started with the usual chips and salsa. The salsa was pretty good--it had a bit of spice and was flavorful. We didn't order any appetizers--we had been snacking on some stuff at the event we had been at, so I don't think any of us were starving.

I definitely didn't want to have any typical Mexican-restaurant type food that I've had before, and I knew I wanted to try something new. So on the house specialities page, I decided to try the chile en nogada--a poblano pepper stuffed with ground sirloin, nuts and raisins, covered with a chilled, creamy pecan sauce. It was served a choice of tortillas to make tacos, I guess you could call it. It also came with rice and beans, along with a small pile of lettuce, tomatoes and some cheese. It was really good--unlike anything I had ever had before. The flavors were great, even though they sound like they wouldn't go together. You almost don't even need the tortillas--it'd be good to have on its own.

Nate ordered the Oaxaca tamales--pork and corn dough wrapped in banana leaves. They were supposed to be spicy, but they really weren't. The taste was really good, though. I'm not sure what affect the banana leaves are supposed to have on the tamales, rather than the more typical (at least it seems that way) corn husks. In any event, they were good! His meal also came with beans and rice.

Also, the service was good. Our server was really friendly and present without being at our table all the time. I'm not a huge fan of the big, southside Mexican restaurants, as I feel like their meals are often all the same--rather bland, greasy, overly cheese concoctions of the same stuff over and over. I think the trick is ordering the specialities or more unusual items to really get the best flavors the restaurants can offer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Year in Review

A couple weeks ago, quite a few of the food bloggers I follow did year-in-review posts (I love those, by the way!). I thought about doing one, but I wanted to save mine for a different occasion--on the date that marked my year of blogging.

I started blogging Jan. 21, 2010 (so I'm a little late on this post), and it all began with this post, "Let's Get This Started" (I see my title capitalization was different at that time (I'm such an editor nerd)). I thought after a year of blogging, I could look back at the year, and think about my favorite posts, meals I made, restaurants I visited and what was most popular.
I think most of my favorite posts are focused on foods we really, really liked, or foods we've been making for ages and are some of my favorites. It's definitely more difficult to blog about foods that were just so so or ones I labeled "dud." Some of the favorites are veggie and bean burritos, pizza on the grill, spicy beef and pepper stir fry, BBQ chicken sliders, our recipe for quesadillas, Korean beef with rice noodles and pasta with grapes.

It's been fun doing restaurant reviews, too. I've gotten over feeling uncomfortable with taking pictures in restaurants. Some favorite restaurant reviews include Irie Palace, Seoul Korean Restaurant, Hue, Painted Parrot and Christie's.

I started using Google Analytics a bit too late into the year, but I'm glad I started it, no matter what. Through Google Analytics, I can see how many people visited the blog on a given day, the average time they spend on the website and, my favorite, the most popular posts. The top five posts of the last year (well, really, since I started using Google Analytics, which looks like it was Aug. 5) were:

It's very cool to see what people really like reading, and it's interesting for me to try to figure out why people like certain things so much (the Asian slaw blog post is one of them!).

Overall, it's been a great year and I've really enjoyed blogging. There have been moments when I've contemplated stopping or slowing down and wondered if anyone really reads it. It's encouraging when people talk to me in real life about the blog or when strangers leave comments--I very much appreciate it! I've also had some cool opportunities come my way because of the blog: I've done some guest blogging for Your Milwaukee Dining and Milwaukee Brunch Reviews, I was featured in M magazine and I've met a lot of great other local foodies through the blog, Twitter, a blogger junket and tweet-ups. One of the most exciting opportunities is coming up on Feb. 10--I'll be doing a cooking demonstration in front of lots of people (!) at the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Show.
I very much appreciate you reading this blog, taking the time to leave comments or talk to me in person about the blog and, maybe most important, using the recipes or restaurant reviews for yourselves! :) (For more, follow me on Twitter, @OnMyTableBlog, and become a fan of the blog on Facebook, search "On My Table."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: Senor Sol

I'd been curious about Senor Sol in West Allis for a while. I've driven by it a lot, it's near my house and I had purchased a $25 not too long ago, so I had been wanting to try it, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought the food would be overly Americanized and just not good. Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by our experience and meals.

Nate and I visited a couple Saturdays ago for dinner. The place is nice inside--small and rather cozy, but nice. It wasn't busy at all--it was about 7:00 on a Saturday and we got a booth right away. We, of course, got chips and salsa right away. Three salsas came with the chips: a mild red salsa, a rather spicy and green salsa and a chunky salsa-like mix of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and herbs. All three were very good.

Knowing we had to spend at least $35, we ordered some Mexican beer and started with an appetizer--shrimp cocktail. We didn't quite know how to eat the shrimp cocktail. I was expecting it to be somewhat chunky so that we could dip the shrimp in the "cocktail" part. But this was almost like a soup. We ended up eating most of the dish with tortilla chips and some of the Saltine crackers the dish came with. The waitress didn't bring us individual plates either, so it was rather a messy process (I don't recommend it for a first date!!). The flavor was really good; it was just difficult to eat.

We both opted for meals from the specialities page of the menu, which turned out to be a good idea, because both dishes were delicious! I ordered cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish with achiote. The pork came with red cabbage and avocado on top of it, along with a pile of lettuce, tomatoes and some shredded cheese. I opted for corn tortillas to roll it all up with. It was really, really good. I enjoyed it a lot. I also have to say I think I impressed (or surprised might be a better word) the waitress when I asked her for a bottle of hot sauce. She asked if the green salsa was hot enough, and I said yeah, but do you have something more? So she brought out a bottle of habanero hot sauce. A couple dabs of that was great on the pork!

I can't remember the exact name of the dish Nate ordered, but it was essentially a chile relleno with chicken, peppers, onions and cheese on top. He got flour tortillas to go with the chicken. His dish was really good too--great flavors and something really different from what he usually orders (did someone say chimichanga??).
Overall, we had a good experience at Senor Sol, and I'd like to go back sometime. Our waitress and the service was good, although when we couldn't make up our mind about the menu right away, she disappeared for a while.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Light" Lasagna

I'd been craving a baked pasta dish and wanted something easy to prepare on Sunday to have Monday night. I found this lasagna recipe in our Favorite Brand Name Light Cooking book.

The recipe seemed easy enough and fairly different from other lasagna recipes. I have to give Nate all the credit for this--he spent about an hour putting it together Sunday night, as I was laying on the couch with back pain. He even took all the pictures!

Here's the recipe:
"Light Lasagna"
-1 teas. olive oil
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-2 cans (14 oz. each) no-salt-added Italian-style tomatoes, undrained (we didn't use the no-salt kind)
-1/2 teas. dried Italian seasoning (we used a mix of oregano and basil)
-8 oz. lean ground beef (we used about 12 oz. ground turkey)
-1 large onion, chopped
-8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
-2 zucchini, shredded
-8 oz. uncooked lasagna noodles
-1 cup 1% low-fat cottage cheese
-1 cup nonfat ricotta cheese (I used low-fat)
-1 cup (4 oz.) shredded mozzarella
-2 egg whites
-2 tbs. Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic. Cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add beef and onion; cook and stir until beef is browned and onion is tender. Drain. Stir in mushrooms and zucchini; cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes or until tender.

Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt. Drain. Rinse under cold water; drain well. Combine cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and egg whites in medium bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13x9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place layer of noodles in bottom of pan. Spread half of beef mixture over noodles. top with half of cheese mixture and noodles. Repeat layering process, ending with noodles. Pour tomato mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover; bake 30 minutes. Uncover, bake 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. (Makes 8 servings)

The lasagna was pretty tasty and a nice change from the super heavy and cheesy lasagna I'm used to. It was a bit watery, though--I'm not sure if that was from the zucchini or what. But all in all, it was quite good!

Sloppy Lentils in the Crockpot

I have my foodie friends over at Burp! blog to thank for this recipe. They wrote a blog post about it in early December, and from the moment I read it, I've been thinking about it ever since. Really, I have.

So, last Sunday, the opportunity to make a great crockpot recipe presented itself. We had plans to go to a local bar and watch the Packers game, so we put the recipe together and left it to cook all day (and it's a good thing we did--I ended up throwing my back out at the gym and was unable to be upright for the better part of the day).

It was excellent. The flavors were great, and it had just the right amount of spice. Here is the recipe. Even Nate, who always prefers meaty meals as opposed to these vegetarian meals, said he really liked it.

We followed the recipe exactly, except that I didn't read--until about two hours before we planned eat--that after cooking, I was supposed to let it cool, sit in the fridge overnight and then reheat the next day. Oops! I think it tasted great as it was.

We served the sloppy lentil sandwiches with one of our favorites, baked sweet potato fries. Everything was delicious!

U.P. Pasties

I had been eyeing up some U.P. pasties for a while in Outpost's freezer section. Last Friday, without real dinner plans, I decided to pick some up. I've always loved pasties--my mom used to get the U.P. ones for dinner sometimes when I was growing up. And during the semester I spent in London, I had many Cornish pasties--there was a great little place in Covent Garden. You could even buy tasty frozen ones at the local Safeway.

Of course, I threw away the wrappers before I wrote down the brand. But they were super tasty, and you can find them in the freezers at Outpost! I got the beef and veggie one for Nate, and I got a veggie and cheese one for myself.

All I had to do was bake them for about an hour at 350 degrees. That was it! We had them with the leftover root vegetable hash (well, I did--Nate tried but couldn't finish his!).

Root Vegetable Hash

We had a ton of root veggies to use up from our very last CSA box. I wasn't quite sure what to do with all of them, and they had been sitting in the fridge for quite some time. So, I found a root vegetable hash recipe in my Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health cookbook. I figured I would substitute in the root vegetables we have and just follow the recipe from there.

Here's the recipe and here's what we did
Root Vegetable Hash
Seasoning mixture:
-2 teas. dried marjoram
-2 teas. dried oregano
-2 teas. dried thyme
-1 1/2 teas. salt
-1/2 teas. ground black pepper

-3 tbs. olive oil
-2 1/2 cups chopped onions
-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
-2 cups carrots cut into 1/2-inch dice (we didn't use carrots)
-2 cups sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (we didn't use sweet potatoes)
-2 cups beets peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
-2 cups turnips and/or rutabaga peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (we used one of these--they look similar!)
-3 tbs. water (can use sherry in place of water)
-We also used about 4 parsnips, cut into 1/2-inch dice

Stir together all of the seasoning ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet on medium-high heat, warm oil. Cook the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add all of the vegetables and stir well. Sprinkle with the seasoning mixture and water and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

We served the hash with a simple baked chicken, sprinkled with salt, pepper and paprika. We did something a little different, in that we put about 1/4 cup water in the baking dish when baking it. It was good and flavorful.

I liked the hash, but was a bit overwhelmed by how much it made. Nate, on the other hand, didn't like it so much--too much of a beet flavor for him. He says "beets taste like dirt." I think if we made it again, we'd leave out the beets, and throw in some sweet potatoes and carrots--I think the sweetness would produce a really good flavor.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Boston Eats

Last week, I spent about three days in Boston and the surrounding area while visiting my friend Ann. We saw lots of great famous and historical sights, but, maybe most importantly, we had lots of good food and drinks! Here's a recap of the food and beer from my trip:

My first day in Massachusetts, we stopped for lunch at Tanner Tavern in Woburn. I had the slider trio, which came with a beef slider, a crab cake slider and a lobster slide (and lots of thick-cut fries, too). It was really good--the crab cake and lobster were especially good.

That night for dinner, we went to a place in Burlington: Ginger Pad. They serve lots of different Asian foods: sushi, stir frys, Thai-inspired dishes and more. We started with a bowl of edamame, and then Ann had spicy tuna rolls and avocado rolls, I had the massamum curry with tofu. My curry was good, although not the best I've had. Unfortunately, the service was really pretty bad--took forever for the hostess to get to us, forever to be served and the appetizer came out within seconds of the rest of our meal.
The next day, we went on the Sam Adams Brewery tour, which was lots of fun, and the tasting room was a great experience. At the end of the tour, we heard about a "party trolley" that takes brewery tourists to a local Irish pub, where there is good food and plenty of Sam Adams on tap. So, of course, we elected to do that.

It's good we did! The beer was great (plus we got to keep our glasses!) and the food was excellent--Ann ordered a reuben, and said it was one of the best she's ever had. I ordered something I've never ordered before: corned beef sandwich on rye. It was fantastic. The meat was thinly sliced and incredibly tender. We both got the sweet potato fries, too. It was a great meal!

The next day, we met up with my friend Margaret, whom I went to college with and studied abroad with, and had lunch in Cambridge at Border Cafe, a Tex-Mex place. The margaritas were good, the chips and salsa tasty, and my meal was fantastic: black bean and corn empanadas (four of them!) with a roasted red pepper sauce and a side of jambalaya.

Later that night, for New Year's Eve, we made a tasty quiche for dinner. It included spinach, mushrooms, onions and gruyere. We had it with a side salad and I had a tasty local beer: Winter Ale from Wachusett Brewery. Before all that, we had a good chunk of brie with crackers. :)

Then, lastly, not long before Ann took me to the airport, we stopped for one meal I wanted to be sure I had: clam chowder. So we stopped at the Legal Sea Foods in Burlington. Legal Sea Foods is a pretty well-known East Coast restaurant chain that started in the Boston area. We each had a bowl of the clam chowder (it was awesome!) and we split the coconut shrimp with marmalade sauce.

All in all, it was a great trip and included lots of great food and drinks!