Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reuben Pizza

My favorite sandwich in the entire world is probably the Reuben, followed closely by the Cuban sandwich. Reubens are found on many, many menus and range from the totally divine, like from The Coopers Tavern in Madison, to almost unpalatable, like the one I had at Central Express in Westby last weekend (to be fair, the visit to Central Express was redeemed by the sumptuous deep-fried cheese curds from the Westby Creamery we had as an appetizer). After I made Chorizo Pizza last week, I was in need of another creative pizza recipe to use up the remaining pizza crust. And yes, I do feel bad about not making my own pizza crust, but I'm a working woman who just doesn't have time on weeknights. I let the idea float around in my head for a bit and suddenly it came to me-Reuben pizza.

This pizza is only going to be as good as your ingredients, particularly the meat and cheese, both of which I picked up at the Dane County Farmers' Market. It is definitely worth your while to invest a bit in the dressing, kraut, meat, and cheese if you want this pizza to be a success. Just as with the Reuben sandwich, this pizza can be delicious or disappointing.

Reuben Pizza

1 12-inch whole wheat pizza crust
1/2 c. Thousand Island dressing (homemade or store-bought, I used Whole Foods 365 dressing)
3/4 c. sauerkraut, drained
2 oz. corned beef (I used smoked, cured beef from D&G Custom Meat Processing), cut into small pieces
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese (I used baby Swiss from Forgotten Valley Cheese)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread dressing on crust and sprinkle sauerkraut evenly over crust. Distribute corned beef evenly on pizza and top with shredded Swiss.

2. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown. Cut into 8 pieces.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Penne with Zucchini Pistou

Pistou is a typical condiment of the Provencal region of France, traditionally a cold sauce made from garlic cloves, olive oil, and basil, although more recently it has often included hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Classically made with a mortar and pestle, the word pistou means pounded in the Provencal language. If you enjoy pesto, this dish is for you. I'm constantly looking for vegetarian dishes to incorporate into my diet for both the health and environmental benefits. With zucchini recently appearing at the farmer's market, I was instantly drawn to this recipe and was also thrilled to be able to use some of basil I'm currently growing in my apartment. Overall, this is a nice vegetarian dish, just make sure to cook the onion long enough to get rid of the sharp raw onion flavor which could otherwise dominate the dish; rinsing the chopped raw onion can also help.

Penne with Zucchini Pistou
from Cooking Light, July 2010

4 t. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2.5 c. (1/4-inch-thick) slices small zucchini (about 3/4 lb.)
1 c. packed basil leaves
1/2 c. (2 oz.) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
2 T. pine nuts, toasted
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 c. chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (about 1 large)
6 qts. water
1.75 t. kosher salt, divided
8 oz. uncooked penne pasta
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1.  Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender and golden. Remove from pan; cool.

2. Place 1/4 cup cooked zucchini, basil, 1/4 cup cheese, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor; process until finely chopped. (Keep mixture in processor.)

3. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 10 minutes or until golden. Return remaining cooked zucchini to pan. Remove from heat.

4. Combine 6 quarts water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Drain in a sieve over a bowl, reserving 1/3 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta to vegetables.

5. With processor on, add reserved liquid to basil mixture; process until smooth. Add basil mixture to pasta. Add cream, remaining salt, and pepper; stir. Top with remaining cheese.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I won't have an opportunity to cook this weekend as I will be out of town most of Saturday and Sunday, but I did get to start my weekend with a fabulous meal, which makes me a little less sad about the recipes I've had to put on the back burner for the time being. I've been craving sushi for a while so I was thrilled when my husband was up for a visit to Takara. Takara was voted Madison's favorite Japanese restaurant by Isthmus readers in 2008, so I knew we were in for a treat. I look through the Eats section on the Isthmus website multiple times a week looking for new restaurants to try and have great faith in the reviews that Isthmus staff and readers provide.

And I was not disappointed! To drink I chose the Okunomatsu sake, one of the many sakes on the extensive drink menu. The sake was just as the menu described "Fruity and light with a deep richness and mild aroma" and paired well with sushi. Takara has a large selection of sake accompanied by great descriptions to help sake novices, such as myself, select a sake to go with their meal.

We started the meal with pork gyoza, pan-fried dumplings. The dumplings were a nice start to the meal, but nothing particularly extraordinary. My favorite, and quite unhealthy, Japanese appetizer is shrimp and vegetable tempura, but I wanted to try something different this time. I'm certainly not sorry I had the gyoza, but I'll try another appetizer next time I visit.

But the sushi was amazing. My husband and I got two rolls to share-the Rainbow Roll, a California roll wrapped with tuna, salmon, white fish, shrimp and tobiko in a jumbo roll, and the Iso Fantastic, Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado, cucumber, tobiko wrapped with white seaweed. Despite the ridiculous name, the Iso Fantastic roll was quite good, but the Rainbow Roll was even better. Both rolls rely on the quality of the ingredients for flavor instead of sauces, seasonings, or condiments and taste like the ocean (not fishy) and pure freshness. Although I'm no sushi expert, it isn't hard to identify a difference in the quality of the fish between restaurants and Takara uses high-quality, extremely fresh seafood. It was almost as good as Sushi Muramoto, my favorite sushi place, and better than Ginza, who seems to be a step below on the freshness/quality scale, although still provides a great meal. If you like sushi, you won't be disappointed by Takara. If you're new to sushi, Takara is great place to start-the menu has a page with pictures of many common sushi ingredients that novices may not be familiar with. For those who don't like sushi, there is an extensive menu of hibachi, teriyaki, and bento combination boxes.

Takara is located at 315 State Street and 696 W. Whitney Way in Madison, WI. Hours are 11:00am-10:30 pm Monday-Saturday (closed 2:30-4:30) and 1:00-10:30pm Sunday. Visit the Takara website for more information and menus.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Progressive Nut Chopper

I use nuts quite a bit in baking and cooking and usually purchase them in whole in multi-pound bags. While economical, this can lead to a large time investment chopping them for individual recipes. I recently picked up a gadget that significantly cuts down on prep time, the Progressive Nut Chopper.
I picked this gadget up quite a few weeks ago at Orange Tree Imports, but didn't get around to using it until I made Zucchini Bread, which required 1/2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts. (It also came in quite handy for Sugar Snap Peas with Walnuts and Feta). It took less than a minute to chop the nuts I needed for the recipe. Just drop the nuts in the top and turn the handle clockwise or counterclockwise (depending on if you want a fine or coarse chop) until you have the desired amount in the measuring cup reservoir. The grinder top unscrews from the measuring cup reservoir to remove add the chopped nuts to your recipe. I only wish I had bought this much sooner! I can't speak to it's durability yet, but for only $7.56 on Amazon (I paid a bit more at Orange Tree Imports), it will pay for itself quickly considering the significant difference between the price of chopped and whole nuts in the baking aisle.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stuffed Turkey Burgers

 I'm currently working on cleaning out my freezer and had one pound of ground turkey left to use up. My thoughts immediately went to turkey burgers since it's too hot for meatballs, meatloaf, or spaghetti. I searched around a bit and found this recipe from Ellie Krieger, which I adapted to the ingredients I already had on hand. This recipe was perfect as I already had roasted red peppers left over from Chorizo Pizza earlier in the week.

Stuffed Turkey Burgers
adapted from Ellie Krieger

1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 c. chopped roasted red peppers
3 T. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Freshly ground salt and pepper
Whole wheat hamburger buns
Lettuce, tomatoes and onions (optional)
Ketchup, mustard, relish, etc. (optional)

1. Divide turkey into 6 equal pieces and shape into patties. Sprinkle 3 of the patties with 1/3 of the chopped red peppers and 1 T. cheese. Top with the remaining patties and seal the edges together. Season each side with salt and pepper.

2. Grill or broil until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Place on toasted buns and top with desired condiments and vegetables.

Sugar Snap Peas with Walnuts and Feta

This is so simple it almost isn't a recipe, but I wanted to share the latest way I came up with to enjoy the delicious snap peas at the farmer's market. I have a hard time even keeping the peas around long enough to make something with them since they're so delicious raw.

Sugar Snap Peas with Walnuts and Feta

makes 4 to 6 side-dish servings

1 T. roasted walnut oil
1 t. rice vinegar1 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 c. walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese

1. In a small bowl combine oil and vinegar and whisk to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add peas and cook for 2 minutes until peas are bright green and crisp tender. Drain.

3. Add cheese, walnuts, and vinaigrette to warm peas and toss well to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Penne with Broccoli and Peppers

It's a miserably hot and humid day, and a quick and easy dinner that doesn't require heating up the oven is nice on days like this. I did have to use the stove, but this dish came together quickly and was a nice light meal that didn't weigh me down. My inspiration for this dish was the appearance of broccoli at the farmer's market just a week or two ago.

Penne with Broccoli and Peppers

serves 4

8 oz. whole wheat penne
1 T. unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 lb. broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1/4 c. freshly grated Romano cheese (or Parmesan, in a pinch)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.

2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and saute until golden, about 2 minutes. Add broccoli, peppers, and pasta water and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender and broccoli is bright green, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add pasta to pan and stir to combine thoroughly, heating through for a minute or two if necessary. Top with grated cheese and toss to combine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chorizo Pizza

I was inspired to make a "Mexican" pizza by this recipe in July issue Food and Wine. I almost called this Mexican pizza too, but I just couldn't bring myself to put that name on something so not Mexican, even if it does use ingredients common in Mexican cooking. My pizza is a bit reminiscent of a the black bean and chorizo tortas I made a while back. Chorizo is as prevalent in Mexico as bacon is here, and like bacon, it makes everything better.

Pizza is one of the best ways to get creative in the kitchen, especially if you're not particularly culinarily-inclined. I've had big success with nontraditional pizzas like this one and Smoked Salmon and Asparagus pizza. Pizzas are a great weeknight dinner which can be healthy or indulgent, traditional or adventurous, simple or labor-intensive, and are infinitely customizable to individual taste.

Chorizo Pizza

1 c. canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. roughly chopped roasted red pepper
2 cloves garlic
2-3 t. chili powder, depending on personal taste
One 12-inch whole wheat pizza crust
One 4- to 5-ounce piece chorizo
1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn or canned corn, rinsed and drained
1/4 c. chopped white onion
3/4 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salsa, sour cream, and hot sauce (such as Tapatio), for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (or as directed on pizza crust package). Place black beans, roasted red peppers, garlic, and chili powder in a food processor and process to desired consistency, depending on how you like your pizza sauce. Add salt to taste. Spread evenly over crust.

 2. Slice chorizo into approx. 1/2-inch thick slices (or thicker, if you want). Cook in a skillet over medium heat until both sides are seared and chorizo is cooked through. Drain on paper towels and blot away excess grease. Cut larger slices in half, if desired. Distribute evenly over pizza.

3. Sprinkle corn and chopped onion evenly over pizza. Top with shredded cheese.

4. Bake pizza for 12 to 14 minutes, or as directed on crust package, until cheese is melted and starting to brown. Top with salsa, sour cream, or hot sauce if desired. Cut into 8 slices.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Green Bean and Potato Salad

Green bean and potato salad is a very common dish this time of the year. Green beans are making their first appearance at the farmer's market, as are tiny new potatoes. There are a lot of recipes out there, but I couldn't find one I particularly liked so I went ahead and created by own with ingredients I had on hand. I served this alongside Great Lakes Links smoked whitefish sausage I cooked on the grill.

Green Bean and Potato Salad

2 lbs. small red potatoes
1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
1/2 c. light mayonnaise (I use Whole Foods 365 brand)
2 T. Dijon mustard
2 T.  rice vinegar
1/4 c. chopped white onion
1/2 c. packed finely chopped parsley
Freshly ground salt and black pepper

1. Place potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by at least a couple of inches. Bring the water to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes and your personal preference. Drain and rinse under cold water. Cut potatoes into quarters (or more pieces if you used large potatoes) and place in a large bowl.

2. Bring another pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until beans are bright green and crisp-tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Add to bowl with potatoes.

3. Add mayo, mustard, vinegar, and onion to a bowl and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Pour dressing over potatoes and green beans and stir thoroughly to coat. Top with fresh parsley and toss to combine.

Currant Scones

You might be sick of recipes from Good to the Grain, but I most definitely am not. I had a froze the extra Strawberry Barley Scones I made last Sunday and had one for breakfast every day this past week, with the exception of Saturday morning at the farmer's market where I bought a whole grain carrot-raisin scone from Chris and Lori's Bakehouse. I indulge in a pastry every Saturday morning at the farmer's market; it's been a scone from Chris and Lori's Bakehouse every week for the past few months. As for the strawberry barley scones, I took one out of the freezer every morning after I finished my yoga and let it thaw while I took a shower, got dressed, and walked the dog (about an hour). I then heated them for about 5 minutes or so in a toaster oven preheated to 350 degrees. Although scones are best fresh from the oven, the scones reheat remarkably well, maintaining their flavor and texture. I plan to do the same with the extras from this week.

Spelt flour is not likely to be at your average supermarket. I found my Arrowhead Mills spelt flour at Whole Foods. Currants, on the other hand, are pretty likely to be available at most grocery stores; I got mine from the bulk bin at Whole Foods.

While they are certainly not savory scones, these scones are not terribly sweet, and that is by no means a bad thing. Spelt flour is mild with a slight hint of sweetness which pairs well with the tiny, sweet currants and adding a lot of sugar would only bury the delicious spelt and currant flavors. I think the American diet has become all too acclimated to sweetness since high fructose corn syrup is added to seemingly nearly every processed food out there.

Currant Scones
from yet again, Good to the Grain

When I was student, for a time, in Cambridge, England, I ate a currant scone every day of the semester. They were rough-dropped mounds, with crisp edges and studded with currants. When trying to recreate these scones in my kitchen, I reached for spelt flour. Its underlying hint of ripe fruit complements the sweetness of the currants. If you want more dried fruit, sprinkle a larger handful into the batter.

Butter for the baking sheets

Dry Mix:
1.25 c. spelt flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. kosher salt

Wet Mix:
2 ounces (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 c. currants
1.5 c. heavy cream

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Rub two baking sheets with butter. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any grains or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.

2. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. With your hands, work the butter, pinching it until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal. Add the currants and stir to combine. Pour the cream into the bowl and stir the ingredients just until the flour is moistened throughout.

3. Separate the dough into 9 mounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 4 inches between the mounds. Use your hands to break up any large heaps of dough and to tuck in the crumbs.

4. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. You'll know these scones  are done when the tops and bottoms turn golden brown. The scones are best eaten warm from the oven or later the same day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cafe Porta Alba

Most people have a very strong opinion on what makes a perfect pizza. Thin crust, thick crust, no cheese, extra cheese, meat lover's, veggie lover's...the iterations are endless. For fans of Neapolitan pizza, Cafe Porta Alba has a lot to offer.

After moving from its former home on Butler St., Hilldale Mall's Cafe Porta Alba features an imported Italian wood-fired pizza oven built from Mount Vesuvius lava stone that cooks pizza in only 90 seconds at 900 degrees F. Neapolitan pizza has a thin crust and fewer toppings than the pizzas that many Americans are used to after a diet of Pizza Hut behemoths and may not appeal to those who prefer thick, doughy crust and mounds of toppings. I generally prefer thin crust, so Neapolitan-style pizza was made for me. I opted for the Salsiccia-Italian sausage, mushrooms, tomato, garlic, and fresh mozzarella.

I also tried a slice of my husband's choice: Capricciosa-mushrooms, olives, fresh mozzarella, tomato,
Parmacotto, and artichokes.
We both agreed the the Salsiccia was the better of the two pizzas. Although the Capricciosa was good, the well-seasoned sausage on the Salsiccia gave it a superior flavor and was well-complemented by the earthy mushrooms and standard fresh mozzarella. I'd highly recommend eating with a large group of friends and sampling a number of pizzas. If you're not in the mood for pizza, there are a number of paninis and pasta dishes to choose from as well as appetizers and salads that could be paired together for meal.

To drink, I drank Peroni beer with my pizza. I wasn't trying to pair my beer and pizza flavors perfectly together, but just wanted to sample an Italian beer I hadn't had before. It's a pretty average lager, but was a nice accompaniment to pizza, as beer usually is. On my next visit I'll probably opt for a glass of wine or one of the New Glarus brews available.

Although both of us were had leftovers to bring home, I couldn't resist trying the tiramisu, one of my favorite desserts in the world. It was exquisite. The light sponge biscuits soaked in espresso, topped with a creamy marscapone mixture and dusted with cocoa are a perfect finish to evening and well worth saving room for.
My one complaint is that the service was a bit slow. Even though the restaurant was almost empty when we arrived, it still took a while to place our order and to get our check and to-go boxes once we were finished eating. It wasn't horrible service, but I expected it to be a bit faster since the restaurant wasn't very busy.

Cafe Porta Alba is located at 558 N. Midvale Blvd., across the street from Sundance Cinema in Hilldale Mall. The restaurant is open Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Visit their website for more information.

Zucchini Bread

Just this week at work a coworker and I were discussing zucchini bread and serendipitously, it showed up for the first time at the farmer's market this week. I'd has zucchini bread in the back of mind for a few days, so I couldn't resist picking up a few even though they weren't on my shopping list for this week.

I reported the America's Test Kitchen recipe as a written, but made a few substitutions. I used white whole wheat flour in place of the all-purpose flour and used ground nutmeg in place of the allspice. I chose pecans instead of walnuts, although walnuts are also excellent in zucchini bread.

I also found that when I used the 8x4x2-inch loaf pan listed in the recipe that the batter overflowed. Luckily I checked on it early in the baking time and saw that it looked like it was going to overflow and put a piece of aluminum foil on the oven rack below to catch any spills. The bread also browned quite quickly and after 15 minutes I had to put an aluminum foil tent over the top to avoid burning the top. If I make this again, I think I'll try a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and just keep a close eye on it, as I do anyway. Technical difficulties aside, this bread is sweet, moist, and delicious and well worth the trouble it took to make it.

Zucchini Bread
from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

2 small zucchini (1 pound), ends trimmed
2 c. (10 oz.) all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. salt
1.5 c. sugar
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1/4 c. whole or low-fat plain yogurt
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. (2 oz.) pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8.5 by 4.5-inch loaf pan. Shred the zucchini using the large holes of a box grater. Squeeze the shredded zucchini between several layers of paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, melted butter, eggs, yogurt, and lemon juice together until smooth. Gently fold the shredded zucchini and yogurt mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined (do not overmix). Gently fold in the pecans.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
 4. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving.