Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tequila-Honey-Pineapple Chicken

Here's another Cooking Light recipe: Tequila-Glazed Grilled Chicken Thighs. This one was also really good, although we used a completely different type of chicken, which probably gave it a bit of a different flavor.

We decided to use the half a chicken we had in the basement freezer for this rather than buying the chicken thighs the recipe calls for. Nate cut the chicken apart and ended up with chicken breast strips, for a lack of a better term.

We followed the rest of the recipe exactly, even though I knew we'd end up with too much glaze/sauce, which we did. Nate glazed the chicken pretty good, and we used some reserved sauce for dipping.

This was really tasty--it was a great mix of sweet and spice. You could not taste the tequila at all (not sure if that's a good or bad thing!). I thought the sauce would be good in a stir fry, too. I had the two leftover pieces on my lunch salad today, which was also really tasty.

Sloppy Mushroom Joes

The June 2011 issue of Cooking Light is sure getting a workout! We made two recipes from it this week alone. The biggest reason for turning to Cooking Light this week was that I was making out the shopping list late Sunday afternoon, after our camping trip, and couldn't bear to put too much thought into meal planning this week--the June issue was out, so I went with that.

Lucky for us, the two meals we made were fabulous, and I've been telling lots of people about them. The first was Beef and Mushroom Sloppy Joes. Before I really got into the recipe, I figured they would be mostly beefy sloppy joes, with some mushrooms mixed in (which is just the way I like my sloppy joes). But, as I made the meal, I realized that they were made mostly of cremini mushrooms and just a small amount of beef--but they still taste really beefy.

The recipe was super easy, as it's one of the issues 20-minute-cooking meals. I find these meals always take a bit longer than those 20 minutes, though, when you have to chop vegetables and prepare things (granted, the recipe calls for pre-chopped onion and pre-sliced mushrooms, but those types of foods are often more expensive).

I followed the recipe just about exactly, except I subbed dried oregano for the fresh and added a bit more hot sauce (and, really, I should have added more!). The recipe says this makes four servings, but we got six out of it.

All in all, the sloppy joes were really, really good--Nate (Mr. Steak himself) took a bite before I even picked mine up, and he immediately said, "OH, this is good!" It's the type of meal in which you forget you're not really eating much meat.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Campfire Cooking

Nate and I went camping with some friends this past weekend. We always split up the cooking duties--one couple takes breakfast and one of the dinners, while the other couple takes lunch and the other dinner. We were in charge of lunch (just sandwiches, chips and salsa, veggies and fruit) and Saturday's dinner. We cook everything right on the campfire grate, so anything we can wrap in heavy duty foil is a good idea.

I found this recipe for Pesto Chicken Packets in my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook. It looked super easy (easy to prep while sitting at a picnic table in the middle of the woods) and delicious, too. The recipe only requires four things: chicken, tomatoes, zucchini and basil (I made my own pesto).

The chicken was super tasty and, like I thought it would be, easy to make. It took about 20 minutes over a pretty hot fire to cook. I think each packet could have used a bit more pesto (the recipe says it makes four servings; I made six by adding more chicken and a bit more zucchini and tomato).

I think it's a great starter recipe--you could add more vegetables, different vegetables or even put a different sauce on top. We served ours with a rice, black bean and corn salad. It was a hit! (And for the record, Betty Crocker is/was not a real person :)).

Edamame and Steak Salad

Nate found this recipe for Edamame Salad with Crisp Steak Bits while flipping through the June 2011 issue of Cooking Light (of course he did--it says "steak" so he was drawn to it!). We had been meaning to make it for a few weeks, and finally did so early last week.

The recipe was super easy, quite and delicious. The salad was really refreshing and great one a warm, summer night.

For our first night eating it, we stuck with the recipe exactly as it's stated. The recipe says to cut the steak into "small pieces," and I would recommend doing as we did--cut them into really small bits, so you can get a taste with each bite.

We had it for leftovers a few nights later, and it was still really good--I was a bit worried it would get a little soggy, but it was just fine. We added half a chopped avocado to it when we had it for leftovers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Potato & Pasta-less Side Salad

I love potato and pasta salads for cookouts or tailgates, but I was looking forward to trying this Cucumber, Tomato and Feta Salad. I thought it would nice to have something a little lighter.

We went to the Brewers game last Saturday with my parents, and I happened to come across the Epicurious salad recipe on Facebook (I believe it was). I thought it would be great with the chicken sandwiches we made for our dinner.

The recipe was super easy and straightforward. I didn't do anything differently other than halve the recipe, as I wasn't sure it would be too good leftover for too long.

The salad was very good, and I'll definitely be making it again. I threw a can of tuna in the last bit of leftovers for lunch tomorrow--we'll see how that goes, but I'm sure it will be good.

Restaurant Review: Ginza

I bought a Groupon for Ginza, a new sushi place in Tosa, a few months ago, because I know we always like going out for sushi. We finally decided to use it last Friday when we wanted to go out to dinner but didn't want to go too far from home. I had heard really good things about Ginza, so I was really lookin forward to it.

The restaurant is located in a newish strip mall-type of development on the corner of Center St. and Mayfair Rd. The decor is very modern, but comfortable, too. I really like the place, but I have one small complaint: the music was not very good and kind of distracting. While we were there, it ranged from Linkin Park to something similar to Boyz II Men.

Overall, though, we had a great experience and really enjoyed the food.

We started with the shrimp shumai, which came with a spicy, creamy sauce. It was really good, and the perfect amount for two of us.

We then split three of the rolls:

  • Alaskan roll: salmon, avocado and cucumber (bottom row of rolls).

  • Hot maki: shrimp tempura and avocado inside, topped with tuna, jalapeno and a special sauce (middle row).

  • White swan: spicy yellowtail, tempura flakes, caviar and white tuna (top row).

We agreed our favorite was the hot maki, but really, they were all quite good. We thought the rice was a little stickier or softer than it usually is and usually should be. The flavors of the rolls, however, outweighed the texture of the rice.

One thing I liked about Ginza is that you have a choice between regular soy sauce and lighter-sodium soy sauce. I hadn't seen that at other sushi restaurants. The service was very good, and the server came back often to check on us. The food seemed really reasonable, too--our total bill, before the Groupon, was $45 for the shumai, three rolls and two big Japanese beers. Not bad! I can't wait to go back and try more.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pork and Mango-Lime Salsa

As I've mentioned before, I have a huge binder filled with recipes I've cut out from magazines or the back of boxes of food, printed off websites or collected from other sources. One of those recipes was called Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mango-Lime Salsa. I've had it for years, but never made it. That changed last week when I finally made it.

A Google search for the recipe has led me to believe the recipe originally came from Real Food magazine. It can also be found on Recipe Girl blog.

The recipe was super easy and didn't take much time at all. I couldn't find pork tenderloin at outpost, so I used boneless shoulder instead. The pieces of pork were probably bigger than they would be if I had used tenderloin, but it worked fine and tasted great. The salsa would be good with chips or on tacos, too.

We served the pork with the Spicy Southwestern Tabbouleh I made earlier in the week and corn on the cob.

Spicy Southwestern Tabbouleh

While flipping through the July 2010 issue of Cooking Light, I found this recipe for Spicy Southwestern Tabbouleh. I thought the dish would work well as a side for a pork dish we would be making later in the week and also as a pre-workout snack (more bulgur!).

The ingredients list is very long--25 things go into it! And it takes a lot of chopping and prep work, but I think it's well worth it. The dish was delicious, and worked well as both a side dish and pre-workout snack.

If one of the ingredients isn't appealing or if you don't have it on hand (I forgot to buy queso fresco, so I used the feta I had), just sub in something else. You can also make it as spicy or not spicy as you want.

I had this in the fridge for about a week, and I would say that's just a little too long--by the end, it was pretty watery, but still pretty tasty.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Downtown Dining Week Review No. 3: Coquette Cafe

Tonight, I had dinner at Coquette Cafe with my friends Leah and Lisa. We've been talking about going for ages, and we figured it would be a good place to head to for downtown dining. I'm so glad we went--the food was fantastic and a great value. Lisa and I ordered from the $20 downtown dining menu. Leah opted for soup and salad off the regular menu.

I started with the field greens with a Dijon vinaigrette (actually, I really started with a glass of Beaujolais and some of their great French bread and fresh butter. YUM.). It was very simple, but the dressing was fantastic and everything was fresh.

For my main course, I ordered something I've always wanted to try but never had: coq au vin. I don't know why I've never had it before (like when I spent an entire summer in France ...). It was so delicious, with lots of great flavors. The chicken was served on top of some mashed potatoes. I dipped a few pieces of bread in the wine sauce. Delicious! It was a huge portion, too. I had enough leftover to bring an entire chicken breast plus some potato home with.

For dessert, I opted for the meringue snow eggs, mostly because I had had the chocolate mousse during my lunch at Molly Cool's. I expected the meringue to have a bit of a hard outside and a soft inside. These "eggs," however, were very soft--the texture was like a marshmallow. They were light and pretty tasty, although I'm not sure I would seek them out.

For her courses, Lisa ordered the watermelon gazpacho (which I was kind of weirded out by, but it was really good, especially on a super hot day), the coq au vin and the chocolate mousse (which was also really good, and better than the stuff at Molly Cool's).

Leah ordered a cup of the French onion soup (I had a bite of it--and made lots of groaning/yummy sounds afterwards. I would definitely go back for more of that!) and a salad with spinach, bleu cheese, grapes, pears and pecans.

All in all, we had a great experience--great wine, food and service. The only complaint we had, which had nothing to do with the meal, was that the restaurant was really, really warm--the air was definitely not on, nor were there any fans or anything going. But, still, the food outweighs everything!

Downtown Dining Week Review No. 2: Water Buffalo

On Monday, a small group of ladies from work went to Water Buffalo to celebrate Sandy's birthday. We scored a table on the Riverwalk on a very warm, sunny day. We all ordered from the Downtown Dining menu, which, somewhat surprisingly, didn't include a dessert course.

For the first course, I ordered something I usually get at Water Buffalo--their tortilla soup. It's always tasty, with huge chunks of chicken and a cream base.

For the second course, I ordered the green salad, which had fresh mozzarella in it--a definite plus in my book!

For the third course, I wavered between the two options--the black bean burger (which I've had a few times and always enjoy) and the barbecue pulled pork sandwich. Because I've had the black bean burger before (and because I had one at Cafe Hollander Saturday night), I opted for the pulled pork (I ordered it without bacon, though. I know, I know--who does that sort of thing?!). The sandwich was huge! It included a slice of Swiss cheese and the sauce was on the side. The pork was good--tasty and moist--but not really outstanding or anything spectacular.

The service was good and incredibly quick--we were barely through our soup and salad when the sandwiches came out. Normally, that's a bit annoying, but during a weekday lunch, I'd rather have it that way than waiting a long time.

Overall, it was a good experience. My only complaint, if you could call it that, was that I'd like to see one or two more unique or innovative items on the menu. It'd be nice to be able to try something that maybe isn't on the menu a lot of a spin on an old standby.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Downtown Dining Week Review No. 1: Molly Cool's

Milwaukee's Downtown Dining Week is one of my favorite times of the year. It's the time to visit places you've never been and to experience great food for a reasonable price. I love checking out new places--and even ones I've been--during this week. While some of the menus can be limited, there always seems to be something for everyone. Lucky for me, too, I work downtown so I can check out a few restaurants for lunches throughout that week.

My first 2011 Downtown Dining experience was last Friday, when my work department went out for a coworker's birthday. The birthday girl picked Molly Cool's on Old World Third Street. Our group had been once before--for a happy hour, with two-for-one drinks and half-priced appetizers--and our experience and food had been good.

Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the same experience we had last Friday. There were some ups and downs to the meal, but the downs are the ones that tend to stick out.

Five out of the six of us in our group opted for the Downtown Dining menu. We all had slightly different combinations, but among the five of us, we sampled everything. Here, in a nutshell, is how my food was:

For the appetizer, I ordered the crab cake, which was really good--not a lot of filler and a great, fresh crab taste with a reddish remoulade sauce. It also came with a small cup of coleslaw which was just OK--nothing special.

For the main course, I ordered the 1/2 a crab wrap with the seafood chowder and sweet Maui-onion potato chips. The wrap was just OK--it wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped and thought it would be. The chowder, however, was good, although I'm not sure what was all in it.

For the dessert course, I ordered the key lime pie, which I was really excited about. Just before bringing dessert, the server informed us that they had run out of key lime pie, which three of us ordered. This kind of surprised me, as we put in our order at about noon (or a bit before) on the second day of Downtown Dining. I can kind of understand if it's near the end of the week, but the second day? So instead I ordered chocolate mousse, which came in a wonton cup on top of whipped cream. The cream was good, the mousse was OK and I didn't care for the wonton cup (too greasy and not much flavor).

Service was fine until we got to the end of the meal and received our bill. Two people in our group ordered entree salads (one ordered the Caesar and the other the mixed greens). Both asked if anything with it (a type of protein) and the server said you can add shrimp, salad or chicken--so one ordered chicken and another salmon. Turns out, there was quite an extra charge for the protein: $5 for chicken and $9 for the salmon, which the server never specified.

I think we all understand extra charges and both the people in my group who had the salads said they understood, but when you order off a fixed price menu, it seems like it should be a given that add-ons like that are included--or at the very least the server should say something, especially if the add-on is almost the same price as the entire meal. Long story short, the manager came out and explained the situation (in a rather terse way) and took a few bucks off the bill. Eh. Personally, I just can't understand how a Caesar salad (no meat) or mixed green salad (no meat) can be offered alongside of a crab wrap and seafood soup or walleye fingers--it just doesn't add up.

All in all, it wasn't the greatest experience, and I can't say I'll rush back any time soon. I'm by no means an expert, but I think restaurants that participate in Downtown Dining Week really need to get these meals right and provide a good experience for guests so that they come back and order off regular menus throughout the rest of the year.

Homemade Pita Bread

I've been wanting to try making my own pita bread for some time. I find that the options available at the store (no matter a big grocery store, Outpost or our favorite Greek grocery store) are always a little too dry for me and don't taste as good as the fresh stuff you get at local Middle Eastern and Greek restaurants. Plus, I've been seeing lots of blog posts about it (including on my friend Debbie's blog, Le Food Snob), so I knew it was time.

Nate found a pita pocket dough recipe in the Corner Bakery Bread & Dessert Maker Cookbook that came with our Breadman bread machine, which made it easy enough to get started. The recipe was simple enough (and I liked that it included whole wheat flour--I'm not sure all pita pocket recipes do):

Pita Pocket Dough

  • 1 1/3 cups 80* water

  • 8 tsp. olive oil

  • 4 tsp. sugar

  • 1 1/4 tsp salt

  • 2 cups bread flour

  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Place all ingredients in that order in the bread machine. Set on "dough" cycle (it took my machine about 1 hour and 30 minutes to make the dough).

To bake:
When dough is ready, place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into 10 pieces (we weighed the entire thing and then divided by 10). Shape each piece into a smooth ball.

Place 5 balls on a large baking sheet. Place the remaining 5 balls on another sheet. Let rise about 20 minutes (we were away from the house when the dough was done, so we considered the extra time the dough spent in the bread machine the rising time). With fingertips, flatten each ball into a 6-inch circle.

Bake at 500* for 5 minutes, or until puffed and tops begin to brown (it took us about 8 minutes).

Cut each in half to form 2 pockets (depending on what you're using the pita for, this might not be necessary).

Nate formed five of the pita rounds and I did the other five. For some reason, his were much puffier than mine were00but mine got a little more brown. I'm not sure what that means, but in any event, both version of the pita tasted really, really good. Some of them weren't too easy to spit into pockets (one side always tended to be thinner than the other), but it might take some practice to get it right.

I think it's safe to say that like the corn tortillas we made, I'll never be buying pita again. The pita was great with the baba ghanoush I made as well as as sandwich bread. It was lighter, fresher and a bit chewier (which I like) than the store-bought stuff.

Baba Ghanoush (or Mashed Eggplant Dip)

I needed some kind of appetizer to take to my parents' house for a Memorial Day/Grandma's birthday cookout. I wanted something light and healthy (and--not going to lie--maybe something that would have enough leftover that I could bring home and eat during the week!), and I found this recipe for baba ghanoush in the June 2010 issue of Cooking Light. I've always wanted to try making baba ghanoush, too, so this worked out perfectly.

Baba ghanoush is an Arab dish made of grilled or roasted eggplant that is mashed and mixed with seasonings. It's often served as a dip with pita bread--which is exactly how I wanted to serve it.

This recipe was super easy (seriously, the hardest part was trying to find the right-sized eggplant!) and straightforward. The only thing I would do differently next time is either omit the mayo (kind of weird, if you ask me) or use plain Greek yogurt instead. The one thing I did differently was that instead of buying cumin seeds, I just used ground cumin. Also, lucky for me, it made a ton, so I was able to bring some home to use on sandwiches and use as a veggie dip.

I served it at my parents' house with homemade pita bread I had made earlier in the day. Yum! I could snack on this stuff every day.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

I decided to dive into an old Cooking Light to find some dinner recipes. I found this recipe for quick-roasted cherry tomato sauce with spaghetti in the June 2010 issue. It looked tasty, easy and included goat cheese--perfect!

The recipe was really quite easy and tasty. The only thing than threw it off a bit was that we didn't have regular (and whole wheat, which we usually use) spaghetti, but only angel-hair spaghetti. The dish was good, but it was a little noodle heavy, and I think it would have been much better with a thicker, wider noodle. But all in all it was tasty and very fresh. I'd definitely make it again.