Monday, March 28, 2011

Saying Happy Birthday with Yogurt

(Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos when I was making these cupcakes, so you'll just have to imagine them!) (Also, I wrote this post about two weeks ago ...) I try to take in a birthday treat to work every year (last year I made Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes), mostly because I like cooking and baking. This year, it kind of snuck up on me and it doesn't help that my mind is mentally, already, in Mexico (we leave for vacation on my actual birthday, March 30). That said, I started thinking today that I should take something to work tomorrow. I put out a call on Twitter to see if anyone had any suggestions. Rachel (aka @Magrick) gave me a good idea: she remembered back to our conversation yesterday at Paul and Lori's soup night about us needing to use up all our yogurt before leaving for the week. I did some Googling, and came across this recipe for "Wonderful Yogurt Cake." I knew I didn't want to make an entire cake (plus, I don't have a bundt pan (Gasp! I know ... ), so luckily I came across one of the comments left below the recipe about making cupcakes instead. I was pretty intrigued by the thought of using yogurt in baking, PLUS I was super excited to use some of the yogurt up, so I don't end up having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow. Anyhoo, you can follow along with the actual recipe. Otherwise, here is what I ended up doing. I've never really experimented with baking, so this was kind of fun! Wonderful Yogurt Cupcakes makes 12

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup sugar (I mixed brown and white sugar)

  • 1 teas. vanilla extract

  • about 1/8 teas. almond extract

  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt

  • 1/2 cup vanilla nonfat yogurt

  • 2 cups AP flour

  • 1 egg

  • 1 teas. baking soda

  • 1/2 teas. baking powder

  • jam (I used a three-berry jam)

  • powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin/cupcake tins with nonstick spray.

In a bowl, cream butter, sugar and extracts. Beat in egg until smooth. In another bowl, mix flour, baking soda and baking powder. Stir into the sugar mixture, alternating with yogurt.

Scoop half the mixture into the muffin tins. Using a 1/2 teaspoon, drop a dollop of jam on top of each bit of batter. Put the rest of the mixture on top of each cupcake.

Bake for 350 for 30 minutes or until tooth pick comes out clean. Using a shaker or sifter, sprinkle powdered sugar on top.

Nate and I split one after dinner tonight (I didn't want to take something horrible into work!). They're really quite good--they're not dry at all and the jam gives it a nice kick. They aren't too sweet either, which I really like. I'm sure they'd be good with frosting, but they're just as good with just the powdered sugar.

Beer Tasting in Sheboygan

Sometime last week, Nate noticed a tweet about an upcoming beer event about an hour north of us, called Sipping on Sheboygan's Shores at Blue Harbor Resort (we really were sipping on the shores!).

We didn't have plans for Saturday afternoon into evening, and because we love beer, we thought it would be a good idea to sign up for it. There wasn't a ton of information for us to read before the event, but we figured it would be a pretty good deal--it was $40 a person or $75 for two, which included beer, wine and food, so we went for it. yes, we drank beer from wine glasses. I liked that the beer didn't get too warm.

The event was a fun time, and we definitely got our money's worth. It's always fun to go and try new beers and even some favorites. Most of the beers were local, while there were a few nationwide distributors there with familiar brews. We each sampled at least one beer from each of the stands. Those breweries included:

  • Ale Asylum

  • Capital

  • Dogfish Head

  • Grumpy Troll

  • Hinterland

  • Leinenkugel

  • New Belgium

  • New Glarus

  • Sprecher

  • Silver Creek

Some beers were better than others (we tried Young's Double Chocolate Stout mixed with Raspberry Lambic--yuck! I actually had to throw it out. Waaay too sweet).

It was nice that there was food available--always an important thing when you're drinking for three hours in the afternoon. There were a few local restaurants that had food available. One of our favorites were these open-faced Reuben sandwiches and chocolate cupcakes. There was also ravioli, which I thought was weird. It was probably more for the wine drinkers, but it's not the easiest thing to eat when you're sipping. Also, the resort's restaurant had some food available. It, too, wasn't all that easy to eat for a tasting event, but it was good--beer cheese soup, pork tacos, cured meats and pickled vegetables.

All in all, it was a nice event, and I'm glad we made the trip up there. It wasn't too crowded, or it was spread out enough, that made it manageable and enjoyable.

Restaurant Review: Wasabi

Last week, Nate and I went out for sushi with our friends Craig and Margo. We've been trying to plan a sushi night for months, and it finally worked out last week. We thought we would try something different and go somewhere none of us had been: Wasabi, in Brookfield. I had heard from many people that the food was good and fresh. I was excited to check it out.

Since we were there on a Sunday evening, it wasn't too crowded so we got seated right away. For some reason they sat us at a table that needed clearing and cleaning, but since we preferred a booth over a table, we didn't mind. The place is nice--chic and sophisticated, but not cold.

We started with a bowl of salty edamame--you can't go wrong there. It was good, but a bit overcooked. I had a cup of tea to start with. I think I just ordered "tea," and I'm pretty sure, after some Wikipedia-ing after our dinner, I got a cup of genmaicha, which is green tea with brown rice. It was good, but kind of surprised me at first!

For our main meal, we decided to split four types of rolls (much to Craig's chagrin--he's not much of a sushi fan, but he was a sport and tried everything). Here are the four rolls we had were, and our overall impressions:

  • Alaskan (below, right): Fresh salmon, crab meat, avocado and lettuce. This was one of our favorites, and it happened to be the most simple and cheapest (by $4!). I don't think I've ever had lettuce in a roll, and it gave it a really nice crunch.

  • Miller (bottom picture): Tuna, salmon, yellow tail and red snapper, rolled with cucumber sheet and ponzu sauce. The cucumber sheet threw me--I don't think any of us noticed this on the menu. So instead of the roll being wrapped in nori, it was wrapped in cucumber. I really didn't like the cucumber--since it's such a watery vegetable, you couldn't taste the flavors of the fish (and with three types of fish, you should be able to taste the fish).

  • Crunch (below, middle): Shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, crunch powder and BBQ sauce. This one was good, but none of us thought it was great. We all enjoyed eating the bits of "crunch" covered with sweet BBQ sauce that fell off the rolls, though!

  • Las Vegas (below, left): Salmon and creamy sauce over spicy crab, crunch and avocado. This was the other favorite. The cream sauce was a nice addition and the "crunch" gave it nice texture. While some of them say they are spicy, none of them were at all.

So it sounds like that is a lot of food, but we probably would have been OK ordering one or two more rolls--we all left hungry! (Luckily, Kopp's is pretty close, so we filled up on custard).

Overall, we had a good experience, but I probably wouldn't rush back. I'd try a new place or go back to one of my favorite's, Takara. Our server was neither good nor bad--just kind of "blah."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irish Cheeseburgers with Whiskey Onions

I found this recipe for Irish Burgers and Whiskey-Caramelized Onions posted over on our friends' and local food bloggers' site Burp! Where Food Happens blog, and I knew immediately we had to make it sooner than later. I knew Nate would be in with the mere mention of "burger," and not to mention "Irish" and "whiskey."

So we decided to go ahead and make them for dinner Saturday night, which was a nice enough nice that we could bust out the grill for the first time in 2011.

We followed the recipe exactly (much to Nate's dismay, I put the kibosh on adding whiskey to the beef, saying we needed to follow the recipe closely for the first time). Everything was incredibly easy and amazingly delicious. I'm still thinking about those burgers a day later--I'm also relishing in the fact that we're having the other two burgers for Monday night's dinner.

Some plugs for where to purchase some of the items:
  • I stopped at the Spice House in Wauwatosa to pick up dried juniper berries. When I asked them how to best grind the berries, because I don't have a spice grinder (yet ...), they offered to grind them for me. How nice! I love this place.
  • My mom and I were running errands Saturday afternoon, so we took a trip to the West Allis Cheese and Sausage Shoppe. I've never been to their location in West Allis (only the stand at the Milwaukee Public Market). what a great place! Plenty of fantastic cheese, meats, beer and local products. I found Dubliner cheese there.

The burgers were fantastic, and as I said to Nate a few times, I would be happy just eating forkfuls of the delicious caramelized onions on their own! When--not if--we make these again, I would do two things differently:

1. I would make the sourdough rye focaccia Paul and Lori made with their burgers. We pulled some plain hamburger buns out of the freezer to have with ours, and they weren't that tasty anymore.

2. I can't believe I'm saying this (I'm not usually a fan of having any sort of rare or medium beef), but I would ask Nate to grill the burgers for a little less, so they're still a bit pink in the middle. I think these might have been cooked just a wee bit too long.

With the burgers, we made asparagus and one of our favorites, sweet potato fries (we seasoned them a bit differently this time--we sprinkled them with chipotle power and smokey paprika. Delicious!).

Crockpot Oatmeal

I came across this recipe for making oatmeal in the crockpot in a somewhat recent Outpost newsletter. I love oatmeal and eat a lot of it, but I usually stick to the same ol' bowl of oatmeal. I thought this might be a nice change of pace, and the thought of throwing everything in the crockpot Sunday night to have this ready for Monday's breakfast sounded great.

I followed the recipe exactly, except for one thing--I used raisins (since I had them) instead of dried cranberries or dates.

The oatmeal turned out well and the house smelled amazing in the morning. One thing Nate and I both agreed on, though, was that it really didn't taste like oatmeal--you couldn't quite taste the oatmeals and tasted more like raisins and apples than anything else.

If I made it again--and I probably will--I'd definitely use less brown sugar (I usually don't add any sugar to my oatmeal, just a bit of honey and raisins), because it was a little too sweet for me. I'd probably try a different type of dried fruit, too, because I have raisins quite a bit. I think you could do a lot of different things with this recipe to really make it your own.

Restaurant Review: Cosmos Cafe

Last Sunday, I wanted to use one of my Groupons for lunch somewhere. We decided to go to Cosmos Cafe in Wauwatosa because it was close and we had been there once before, and it was delicious.

We got there about 12:30 and the place was packed--it's not a very big place (there are about six tables and some counter seating), but the line to order at the counter was almost out the door. It's a really cute place with a family-diner atmosphere. The menu isn't extensive, but that's OK--everything they do is really good. Most of the menu items are Greek (Greek salad, gyros, souvlaki, spinach pie), with a few other items thrown in (like cheeseburgers, BLTs, BBQ pork).

We had a great meal and a great time at Cosmos. I ordered the Mediterranean salad, which was a huge plate of mixed greens, onions, feta, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, red and green bell peppers and Greek dressing. It came with a slice of bread that I kept dipping in tzatziki sauce (each table has a squirt bottle of the stuff--I want one!).

Nate ordered the gyro souvlaki--it had two big pieces of seasoned lamb wrapped in a pita with onions, some French fries (!), tzatziki and mustard. He also got a side of the Greek fries, which, of course, I had to help him eat. The fries were super fresh, warm and crisp, with feta crumbled on top (it was only after we finished most of them that I realized I didn't take a picture). These, too, were good dipped in tzatziki.

If you haven't been to Cosmos Cafe yet, and are looking for a cozy place for a great meal, check it out!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Restaurant Review: Quiote

You may have never heard of Quiote. It hasn't been open too long, and it's kind of tucked away in an unnoticeable spot--it's on Hawley Road and Bluemound Road, down the block from Barbiere's, on Milwaukee's westside. The building has changed hands a couple of times over the last few years, and Quiote opened there in late 2010 (check out a brief article about the restaurant on JSOnline).

I drive past Quiote on my way home from work, and I'm always curious what's going on in the building. My parents had just heard about it, too, so the three of us plus Nate headed there Saturday night.

For starters, it's a really small place--really small. There are only about five tables, and only one fits four people (and we were the only people in there at about 8:30 on a Saturday night). Second, they don't serve alcohol, which could be a deterrent, but I took it as a good opportunity to have a bottle of Jarritos, a Mexican soda. I opted for the pineapple one and Nate got strawberry. Yum!

The food, however, makes up for any lack of space and lack of alcohol. It was outstanding--almost unexpected.

We started with some guacamole (delicious, fresh and nice and chunky) and chips (not homemade--they don't have a fryer--but fresh and tasty) and I ordered a bowl of the tortilla soup for everyone to try. There wasn't much to the soup--just a broth with some chips, cheese and avocado--but it had wonderful flavors.

For meals, my mom ordered the enchiladas with the green tomatillo sauce, and Nate ordered the pollo con mole, with the Coloradito mole sauce. Both were served with the house rice and black beans (I love getting black beans on the side other than refried beans) and both were really good.

My dad and I ordered the same thing, and both of us were trying it for the first time: a hurache. The corn masa tortilla was topped with pork al pastor, salsa, onions, queso fresco, lettuce, tomato and avocado. It almost reminded me of a Mexican pizza. It was delicious! I've never had anything like it, and would gladly try one of the other versions sometime.

Overall, we had a great meal and I can't wait to get back and try more. I highly recommend it--it's a small business I'd like to support and get everyone to try it.

Restaurant Review: Maharaja

I've been to Maharaja, an Indian restaurant on Milwaukee's eastside a few times now. I'd say it's one of the best Indian restaurants in Milwaukee. The food is always good and fresh, and there's so much to choose from. And you get hot washcloths at the end of your meal!

Last Friday, we were looking for a place to go with our friends Amanda and Jon before seeing a play at the Milwaukee Rep. I had a gift certificate for Maharaja ($25 off!) and they had never been, so we headed there.

As we munched on papadum, we opted to make an easy decision as far as our meal went--we ordered two combination dinners: the "non-vegetable meal for two" and the "vegetable meal for two." Both combinations came with tons of great food:

Non-vegetable meal:
  • Chicken pakora.
  • Chicken and mushrooms.
  • Lamb masala.
  • Dal makhni.
  • Basmati rice.
  • Naan.
  • Choice of dessert (more on that later!).

Vegetable meal:

Everything was really, really tasty--and filling! I think my favorites were the dal, saag paneer and vegetable korma. I usually order vegetarian main dishes in Indian restaurants, and I think I really prefer the vegetarian ones. Just a personal preference. And next time I eat there, I'll ask for the meals to be spicy--we asked for medium heat, and there was no spice to it at all.

These two combinations were definitely enough for four people--plus, we each took leftovers home, giving us an additional meal.

For dessert, we each got to choose a dessert, so we opted for four different things and tried them all. We had mango ice cream, kheer, gulab jamun and kulfi. Everything was really tasty and very different from desserts you normally order (be sure to click on the descriptions to see just what I'm talking about).

Overall, our meal was great, but I have to say the service was very slow--the restaurant wasn't too crowded, and our meal took about 1.5 hours. Normally, it wouldn't have been too big of a deal, but we had to get to the theater!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Creamy Curried Pea Soup

I wanted to make a meatless meal for dinner Monday (ever hear of "Meatless Monday?" If you're on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen mention of it. Check out this website for more information). So I decided to look through our Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health cookbook, because all the recipes are vegetarian.

When I found this recipe, I knew this is what I would make: Creamy Curried Pea Soup. YUM! who doesn't like curry, peas, neufachetel cheese and more? The soup turned out really well, and it was easy to make, although I had a few issues with it. I'll post the recipe and exact instructions, and then I'll tell you how I made it.

Creamy Curried Pea Soup
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1.5 cups chopped onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teas. salt
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 Tbs. curry powder (I used hot curry powder)
  • 1/2 teas. ground turmeric
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas
  • 3 cups fresh spinach (about 5 oz.)
  • 1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro, large stems removed
  • 1/8 teas. ground black pepper
  • 4 oz. neufchatel cheese

In a soup pot on medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onions, garlic and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and turmeric. Add the broth and 1 cup of peas, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach, cilantro, black pepper and neufchatel. In a blender in batches, puree the soup until very smooth. Stir in the remaining cup of peas and add salt to taste. Reheat gently on low heat--don't let boil.

So it sounds really easy, right? And it would have been, but I think I read the directions too many times and confused myself. At first, I thought you were supposed to add all the vegetables except the last cup of peas and puree it then. So I added the vegetables, but then I got confused, and thought no, you add everything but the spinach and then puree. So I used tongs to get most of the spinach out and pureed the soup then. But then I realized the spinach was supposed to be pureed, too! (I think I had been in the kitchen too long at this point!)

Long story short, I don't think it matters too much what veggies you puree or what you leave whole. However ours turned out was really good--great flavors and a bit of heat. I really liked it; Nate said it could use some protein, whether it be chicken, tofu or something like chickpeas. It's not a bad idea, and something I would consider next time. We served the soup with some naan, which really hit the spot.

Crab and Shrimp Étouffée, S'il Vous Plaît!

In honor of Mardi Gras, I wanted to make a traditional Cajun or New Orelans-style dish. I've never made, or even eaten, etouffee, so I thought this would be a good time to do so.
(Yes, that is a straw in Nate's beer--he needed a way to drink it while cleaning and cutting the shrimp!)
I found a recipe for Crab and Shrimp Etouffee recipe on that looked really good. And it ended up tasting even better!

We followed the recipe pretty closely, except for a few changes:
  • If I would have bought the exact amount of shrimp and crab the recipe calls for, it would have been really expensive (it was fairly expensive as it was!). So I elected to use about 1.65 pounds of fresh, raw shrimp, and a 7.5 oz. (I think that was the size) can of crab meat, because I couldn't find fresh crab (other than crab legs) at Outpost. This turned out to be a perfect amount of seafood for the dish. The shrimp we had were huge, so we cut them into thirds.
  • Instead of chicken broth, I used veggie broth.
  • Instead of Creole seasoning, I used Cajun seasoning, just because I had some on hand and hadn't used it yet.

  • I used 1 teas. of hot sauce (garlic Cholula) instead of 1/2 teas.
  • We made brown rice with the dish.

The etouffee was really pretty easy to prep and make. The total time wasn't too bad--probably about half an hour--but for Nate to clean and devein the shrimp, it took quite a while.

The dish was awesome, and it was one of the meals that every few minutes I would remark "Man, this is good!" I can't wait to have the leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Restaurant Review: Sobelman's Tallgrass Grill

I've been wanting to try Sobelman's Tallgrass Grill for sometime now. I really like that all of the burgers are made from grass-fed, humanely raised beef and that the restaurant uses as many local products as it can. I've had a Groupon for a while, too, and it was set to expire in a few weeks, so Nate and I checked it out Saturday night.

I wanted to enjoy the place, I really did (I like the other Sobelman's burgers, so I had high hopes for the experience and flavors), but unfortunately, neither Nate nor I really enjoyed our burgers. The restaurant itself is nice--it's a really casual, order-at-the-counter kind of place with lots of condiments (including jalapeno ketchup!) on each table, making for easy access. They have a few beers on tap, including a special Sprecher beer brewed for Tallgrass Grill.

I ordered the Fresco Burger, which came with chipotle jack cheese, tomato, avocado and raw red onion. It sounded good when I was contemplating what to get, but the flavors just didn't work. I'm definitely one to order burgers--or any kind of beef, really--well done, but when you have a lean, grass-fed burger, you usually want it a little more on the medium side. These burgers were pretty well done. The flavors of everything else just weren't very good or prominent--the tomato was either not ripe or old, giving it an odd flavor. The cheese didn't have much flavor either, which really surprised me. I like red onion, but this was too much--all I could taste was the onion. The sweet potato fries I elected to get for an extra $1 were good--they tasted fresh and crispy. The bun was also good. They're the same buns they use at the Sobelman's on St. Paul.

Nate ordered the Jalapeno Bacon Cheese Burger, which came with the chipotle jack cheese as well and jalapeno-flavored bacon. He was a bit disappointed in the size of the burgers--they're supposed to be 1/3 pound burgers, but looked more like 1/4 pound burgers. He said the bacon was good, nice and smokey, but there wasn't much on it. He said he could taste the pepper in the cheese, which was good. He had the regular fries with his burger, which were OK, but nothing special. He said the sweet potato frieds were much better.

Overall, we had a bit of a disappointing experience. Like I said, the place is nice, but I wouldn't rush back for a burger. There are much better places in Milwaukee--including the original Sobelman's.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

For Monday's dinner, I picked a recipe out of the Hot Dish Heaven cookbook I wrote about after Christmas. Lots of the recipes look good, but when I came across the one for Shepherd's Pie, I knew that was the one. I've been craving Shepherd's Pie for a while, now, so this worked out perfectly.

I've always loved Shepherd's Pie--I like that everything you need for dinner is all in one--protein, carbs and veggies. When you make it on your own, too, you can really add what you want and flavor it the way you like it.

This recipe was good--and fairly traditional--but it needed a little something extra. Next time I make it, I think I'll flavor the meat a bit more (more garlic, more Worcestershire sauce, some salt, maybe some spice). It was good, though, and very satisfying on a cold, winter night.

Shepherd's Pie (4 servings)

  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or finely chopped (I used two cloves)
  • 1 lb. regular or lean ground beef
  • 1 large carrot, grated (or a 15-oz. can of sliced carrots or mixed peas and carrots, drained
  • 1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves or 1 teas. dried thyme
  • 1.5-2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • Few grinds black pepper
  • I also added 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes (leftover homemade, thawed frozen or prepared instant potatoes) (I made homemade mashed--boil chunks of potatoes for about 20 minutes, then add in milk, butter, garlic, salt and pepper and beat with electric beaters)
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion and garlic; stir fry until onion is translucent. Add ground beef, breaking it into chunks. Brown beef for a few minutes, then add carrots and thyme. Cook 5 minutes more. Stir in Worcestershire and pepper.
Spoon meat mixture into a 10-inch pie plate or 8-inch round baking dish. Soon mashed potatoes on top of meat mixture, making an even layer. Use the back of a tablespoon to make swirls in the potatoes.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until meat mixture bubbles and potatoes are golden.

This recipe was really easy, and I made everything Sunday afternoon and then just put it all together before baking it on Monday.
We served the pie with my favorite Brussels sprouts. Yum!