Friday, December 26, 2008

Soup’s On

After the holidays, I crave food not so fuzzy but it’s still winter and I want something hearty … preferably something that will perk up my jaded palate. ‘Tis the season for soup. Lots of places make a good soup of the day to be sure—both Café Soleil and Marigold Kitchen immediately come to mine—but sometime I’m not in the mood to take potluck … certainly not up for a bowl of cream of tomato. Fortunately, there are restaurants in Madison that have soup specialties of the house—so good they’re on the menu every day or at least on a regular basis. Here are my top 10, Best of Madison Soups.

Africana Restaurant: Egusi
This is about as exotic as it gets. Egusi are fat- and protein-rich seeds used to thicken soup in Africa. Africana’s recipe comes from Nigeria and is a pleasantly hot beef and tomato stock with spinach, smoked fish and all kinds of mysterious seasonings. It’s served with a choice of meat and rice or fufu (pounded yams or plantain).

Bandung: Sayur Lodeh
My vegetarian friends—especially those new to town—are always asking me where they should eat. Bandung is definitely at the top of my list. Sayur Lodeh is an improbable combination of ingredients—tempe, tofu, napa cabbage, baby corn, bamboo shoots and jalapeno—all successfully coming together in coconut milk broth. It’s so sublime that even carnivores (like me) will be contemplating seconds. Fortunately, it’s available in dinner-size portion.

Capitol Chophouse: Brown Ale Onion Soup
Nothing is more enticing than a bowl of French onion soup with its raft of melting Swiss cheese floating in a bowl of robust beef stock and aromatic onions. At the Chophouse, the marriage of brown ale with an excellent onion soup is a match made in heaven.

Eldorado Grill: KW’s Texas Chile
Not to be confused with its wimpy Midwestern cousin, this is the real deal made with chunks of beef rather than hamburger. It packs a punch, zipped up with a happy consortium of New Mexican, ancho, pasilla and Oaxacan chile peppers. Chili (the soup) actually originated more than 100 years ago in San Antonio (not Mexico) where women known as Chili Queens sold the spicy stew from carts on the street.

Lombardino’s: Ribollita (Winter menu)
Ribollita means “twice cooked” in Italian and this bean soup is a traditional Tuscan dish. When I had the pleasure of discovering this soup at Lombardino’s, it was so wonderful that I begged co-owner Marcia O’Halloran for the recipe. (Okay, I didn’t have to beg but would have gladly done so and more.) White beans are slowly cooked with smoked pork and bacon. Then chicken stock, onions, lacinato kale, Roma tomatoes, carrots, zucchini and fresh herbs go in the pot. The end result is slightly thickened bean soup with a rich smoky flavor which is served over crisp crotons and finished with a drizzle of fine olive oil.

Restaurant Magnus: Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup
This soup, like its setting is sophisticated, stylish and smooth. The stick-to-your-ribs qualities of butternut squash and sweet potatoes are pure comfort food, but the addition of a fennel apple relish and pasilla pepper oil is what gives it personality. The soup is available on the restaurant’s Tapas Menu.

La Mestiza: Sopa Azteca
Tortilla soup includes just about everything I like about Mexican food. La Mestiza’s version is a rich chicken broth spiced with smoky pasilla chile and comes with all the prerequisite garnishes: crunchy tortilla strips, crumbled queso fresco, chopped avocado and cream aria. ¡Muy bueno!

The Old Fashioned: Green Bay Chili
This beloved Wisconsin specialty is actually a thick sauce made from beef and beans, distinctively spiced and served over spaghetti on a plate rather than in a bowl. You then add your choice of toppings—grated cheese, chopped onions and/or sour cream. The concept came to Green Bay from Cincinnati where chili parlors that specialize in this peculiar product proliferate. The photo is of a “Four-Way”—chili with the works—at Cincy’s Skyline Chili.

Sa-Bai Thong Thai Cuisine: Tom Ka (Gai)
I fell in love with Thai food in Los Angeles and immediately fell in love with this wonderfully complex concoction. For the first time, I could really appreciate tofu. With a base of coconut milk, Tom Ka Gai is seasoned with chili paste, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galanga (blue ginger) and other herbs and spices. You add your choice of chicken, shrimp, squid or tofu.

Wah Kee Chinese Noodle Restaurant: Hot and Sour Tong Mein
This first time I tasted this classic Chinese potage was the first time I had a kind of soup not made by Campbell. Forget chicken soup, this is the perfect remedy to cure a cold and literally sensational. Like most of their noodle dishes, Wah Kee’s Hot and Sour Tong Mein is exemplarily.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 Restaurant Obits

Cleveland’s Diner
Café Zoma

Caspian Cafe
Fork & Spoon Café
James Street Dining Co

Mad Dog's Chicago-style Eatery
Mystic Grill
Papa Phil’s
Peppermill Grill
State Bar & Grill

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The View from My Window

July ...

... December

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All I Want (and Don’t Want) for Christmas

I feel a little bit like Maria Von Trapp because I’m going to write about a few of my favorite (and least favorite) things. That is, what I like and I don’t like to eat and drink around the Christmas holiday. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and any similarity to conventional wisdom is purely coincidental.


1. Standing Rib Roast. I can’t imagine having anything else for Christmas dinner; nothing is more magnificent or delicious. I know a lot of people like to have the ribs removed from their roast but don’t. Sure, it will make it easier to carve but the ribs form a natural cooking rack, lend flavor to the meat and make for a spectacular presentation. The only downside is expense, and because of the waste (bone and fat), you’ll need to figure about a pound per person. Personally, I like my rib roast sliced into neat, relatively thin slices—sometime called an English cut—rather than big slabs as it’s most often served in American restaurants. Everything you need to know about cooking perfect roast beef the first time and every time can be found in Julia Child & Company (Alfred A. Knopf, 1978). The only other thing you’ll need is a good instant-read or digital meat thermometer.

2. Yorkshire Pudding. It’s the perfect side with roast beef since it soaks up all the juices. This beloved English specialty is similar to an American popover but flavored with the drippings from the beef. Traditionally it’s baked in the roasting pan but some prefer using individual round molds. It couldn’t be easier to whip up ahead of time and bakes while the roast sits. The secret is to blend the batter in a blender or food processor, let it stand for 30 minutes or so, and then pour the batter into a hot pan: it will rise dramatically, be crispy brown on the outside and moist on the inside with a hollow center. A contemporary variation of sorts is a savory bread pudding like Emeril Lagasse’s Exotic Mushroom Bread Pudding, a personal favorite.

3. Country Ham. If you don’t already know what it is, forget all your preconceived notions about ham. Country ham’s only similarity to that wet, pink stuff they sell at the grocery store is both start out as a hog. These hams are dry cured, sometime smoked and then hung to age for one to two years. The end product is akin to prosciutto. A difference is that prosciutto is served raw. Country ham is soaked, then boiled and/or baked, trimmed of skin and fat and finally glazed or covered in bread crumbs. Like prosciutto, country ham is served sliced paper thin, either chilled or at room temperature. These types of hams are made throughout the southern states with various nuances in taste depending on the breed of the pig, what it is fed and how it is cured. Virginia and Kentucky are probably best known for their country hams. By the 1960s the making of this American specialty had become almost a lost art because of the time, labor and expertise involved. Discovered by some of the country’s best chefs, there is now a renaissance of production. Whole ham’s are expensive and a lot of work to prepare. If you do decide to try your hand, they nearly always come with good directions for preparation. If you’ve never tried country ham before, I would suggest you start by ordering some already cooked and sliced ham. My favorite country ham comes from Finchville Farms in Finchville, Kentucky. They offer an extensive selection of quality country ham and ham products for sale on their website and shipped to your door.

4. Roast Goose. I know … you’re expecting a Christmas goose joke … but seriously, it’s delicious and something different. It’s the Christmas dinner entrée of choice among Europeans and they’re no slackers when it comes to appreciating good food. If you’ve never cooked a goose before and try to cook it as you would a turkey or roasting chicken, the end result will be tough and greasy. The secret is to add liquid, or in other words, technically braise the goose rather than roast it. The result will be an attractive crispy skin with juicy and succulent dark meat. Julia Childs outlines the basic technique in The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989). Almost as good as the goose is potatoes cooked in its fat.

5. Plum Pudding. Today this dessert conjures up images of Ye Olde England and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Plum pudding was once popular in this country, before the advent of reliable ovens and home baking since it was steamed on top of the stove. Actually, in England it’s usually called “Christmas pudding” and is an indispensable part of celebrating the holiday. It’s easy to make but takes a long time to cook—about 8 hours—and really needs to be made months in advance so it can mellow, regularly doused with a heavy pour of good spirits. Brought to the table flamed with cognac or rum, all round and rolly-poly and topped with its traditional decoration of a sprig of holly, it epitomizes everything that is magic about Christmas. “God bless us everyone!”

6. Scottish Smoked Salmon. Forget about lox and that stuff they sell at the supermarket, this is the real deal. The secret is cold smoking at about 80 degrees which does not cook the fish, resulting in a delicate texture and buttery taste. (In Great Britain, salmon and other fish that are smoked by the more conventional hot fire method are referred to as “kippered”). In all fairness, similar excellent smoked salmon is also produced by the same technique in Ireland and Norway. It can be difficult to find authentic Scottish smoked salmon but you can order it, shipped by air.

7. Champagne. It’s not just for New Years any more. Besides, I’m just looking for an excuse to bring out the bubbly. Cheers!

8. Rosettes. Think Norwegian food and I think lutefisk and lefsa and I say ‘No thanks.’ But rosettes are dispensation for any of the country’s culinary sins. More a pastry than a cookie this fried and sugared confection is ethereally intoxicating. They do require some special equipment to make: a rosette iron (available at Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street) and a deep fryer. A fall back is Schubert's Cafe Bakery, 128 E. Main Street in Mount Horeb.

9. Tamales. My first encounter with this Mexican Christmas Eve tradition was in San Diego. I love homemade tamales and good ones can be hard to come by in this neck of the woods. They are easy to make and my favorite filling is a combination of pork and potatoes served with salsa verde.
10. Artillery Punch. I’ve made it but never tasted it; therein is the attraction ... and it’s such a wonderfully bizarre potion. It comes to mind each holiday season because in the 1950s when I was in the 3rd grade my parents mixed up a big batch in a wash tub in the basement—and I helped. (It would be the highlight of their Pink and Chartreuse Christmas Party that year.) Unfortunately, I went to school and during show and tell shared both the recipe and how I got to stir in the gin—unfortunately, since my teacher was a teetotaler and henceforth branded me a delinquent and my parents degenerate. Fortunately, we moved out of state shortly thereafter. Recipe follows.


1. Eggnog. If the raw eggs won’t kill you, the fat and cholesterol will. I’d rather eat my dessert than drink it any day. Most of all, eggnog is a waste of good liquor—leave it out and it’s insipid … and, all that nutmeg? Nutmeg poisoning can cause disorientation, a sense of impending doom and hyperactivity.

2. Candy Canes. They're okay as Christmas decorations but lousy candy. For anyone beyond the age of 10, peppermint is only suited as a flavor for toothpaste or mouthwash. Not to mention, after a kid has sucked on one of these things all day, it’s got a point sharp enough to poke your eye out.

3. Pumpkin Pie. I love pumpkin pie … at Thanksgiving. Less homespun and more bling is the order of the day for Christmas.

4. Buffets. Contrary to popular belief the word is not French for “all you can eat”. In France a buffet a can be a place where you purchase food of dubious quality. The difference between a buffet and a potluck is you not only have to serve yourself but furnish some of the food as well. I have to be honest: I never liked either but least of all at this time of year. I cannot pinpoint exactly when this hatred began. For some reason they always take me back to grade school, standing in line in front of a dour faced woman wearing a hairnet who is about to slop a large dollop of cream-style corn into my compartmentalized plate. A cocktail party is just dandy for grazing … picking and choosing tidbits from a big spread. Dinner, however, should have a coordinated menu; be served in courses; eaten seated in a chair at a table.

5. Fruit Cake. I actually like real fruit cake but it has to be homemade from quality ingredients and allowed to mellow for many months, regularly slathered with lots of top shelf booze. What you’re more likely to get is the deserved brunt of so many jokes: dried out pound cake full of colorful candied fruit that tastes like a cut-up garden hose. I have a friend who has been using a fruit cake as a doorstop ever since I can remember.

6. Christmas Cookies. As good as they can be in their own right, so many of so many different kinds arriving a time of year already saturated with glut is overkill. You can’t avoid them. They show up at work, at parties and as gifts from well-intentioned neighbors and friends. Plain or fancy, cut out in cute shapes or dropped as mysterious blobs, drenched in powdered sugar or sprinkled with dragees (those little silver and gold balls that break your teeth), the worse are those that have been stored together in the same container so that they all taste like tutti frutti.

7. Disposable Tableware. Granted you can’t eat them but a lot of stuff you do this time of year is served on or in disposables. Why not just dispose of them all together? Even before it was environmentally responsible, I have always loathed paper plates, plastic cutlery and acrylic “glassware.” Not only are they aesthetically insulting—even mores so adorned with snowmen and reindeers—they make everything taste worse. Furthermore, it’s a sure bet that anyone who cuts corners in the dining room will do the same in the kitchen. I don’t expect my argument to gain much traction, but my hat goes off to Al Gore!

8. White Zinfandel. Driving or not, friends don’t let friends drink this plonk. It’s been my experience, that those that fancy it would just as soon have pink lemonade anyway. For some reason this wine shows up a lot around the holidays, perhaps because of its merry rose hue but I think more likely the consequence of a re-gift.

9. Christmas Tree Peeps. Okay, the silly little yellow marshmallow chickens that have been around at Easter since who knows when are kind of cool just because they are so tacky. Capitalizing on their kitschy popularity by concocting a version for Christmas (and Halloween and every other holiday) is blatant commercialism at it crassest. Besides, what are you suppose to do with them? Put them in your Christmas basket?

10. Green Bean Casserole. Comfort food? Nursery food? I don’t think so. From the start this recipe was a devious conspiracy by corporate food giant Campbell’s to sell more of their products. I mean, really, who ever bought those canned French fried onion rings before? With no apologies to Paula Dean, any recipe that begins with “add a couple of cans of condensed soup,” is not for me, least of all to celebrate a special occasion.

1954 Artillery Punch

6 cups strong black tea
1 liter bourbon
1 750-ml bottle cabernet sauvignon
3 cups dark Jamaican rum
1½ cups gin
1½ cups brandy
3 ounces Benedictine
3 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup grenadine

Mix all the ingredients and let stand 2 hours or more to mellow. Pour over a block of ice in a large punch bowl.

Serves 12.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Nice Holiday Tradition

The Madison Concourse Hotel Holds 9th Annual Children's Holiday Party

Along with the NFL Alumi Madison Chapter they will hold their annual Children's Holiday Party on December 18 from 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. at the hotel, 1 W. Dayton Street in downtown Madison.

The hotel will invite over 300 Madison area children from the Boys and Girls Club, Bayview Neighborhood and other children's organizations to attend the private party.

Activities include cookie decorating, crafts, a visit from Bucky Badger, games, treats and a chance to have a photo taken with Santa and the Grinch. The Concourse hopes this is an opportunity for these children to experience traditional holiday activities that they would otherwise not be able to afford. For more information contact Anne Pond, Marketing Manger for The Madison Concourse Hotel, 608.294.3008 or

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tomato Sandwiches and Fried Pies

THIS PAST WEEK WAS FILLED WITH LOSS, leaving me feeling empty. My only sibling and older sister passed away. People seem to always ask if it was an unexpected death. I’m not sure if it matters. When anyone you have known all your life leaves you it’s difficult to comprehend. Sorrow aside, it’s always an occasion for remembering.

Obviously food is a big part of my life and much of my adulthood shared with my sister involved eating or cooking. Until she left home, her favorite food was a tomato sandwich with Miracle Whip and Velveeta. Even at age 8 Miracle Whip and Velveeta weren’t in my food pyramid.

As a child my sister’s taste in food was predictable for her age. However, her interest in fashion and style was another matter. She taught me the meaning of the word flair if not flamboyant. I remember in sixth grade when she colored her hair chartreuse using Rit fabric dye.

Her given name, Betty Curd, was embarrassing to her—suitable for a cocker spaniel but not for her. After moving to Madison in the late 50s, she attended Edgewood High School. One day, our dad doing his duty transported a couple of the nuns who were Betty’s teachers to the dentist. In the car, they kept espousing how much they enjoyed having Penelope in their classes. Our father assumed they had the wrong parent confused with the wrong student. But, when her first report card arrived, it was for Penelope Curd. This would not be the last time she would change her name. Several years ago, she finally settled on Chyrelle Chasen, suggested by a shaman in Sedona, Arizona. To her eternal chagrin, I will always remember her as Betty.

Growing up, we seldom agreed upon anything. She liked vanilla Cokes (gross) and I liked Grapette. She wanted to watch Dobby Gillis (boring) and I loved Lucy. She swooned over Elvis (weird) and I memorized lyrics from show tunes. She was her father’s girl and I was my mother’s boy.

Married, she and her husband bought an old farm house in Stoughton which they renovated, doing all the work themselves. I’m sure the first arrival of her family, especially our mother and her white gloves, was a traumatic event. Our mother had low expectations since her daughter had never demonstrated—to her disapproval— any interest or skills related to homemaking. Unfortunately, lack of expectations never quelled our mother’s propensity for criticism.

Our mother’s taste ran to split-level ranch complete with wall-to-wall carpet even in the bathroom, but she could not deny her daughter’s spectacular success in transforming this once disheveled hovel. Nor, when Betty served the first dinner, fondue—cheese, beef and chocolate. This was our first encounter with this dip-into-the-pot meal; its unfamiliarity seemed to make it all the more enjoyable. Ironically, fondue would become one of our mother’s favorites, long after Betty and I had forsaken it as passé.

This was an era when my sister made bread and wine, butchered meat and canned everything; when most yearned for one of the new microwave ovens. That’s not to imply she wasn’t interested in different ways of doing things. Her large vegetable garden evolved into one of the area’s first commercial organic farms. She gave me my first Cuisnart and my favorite cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs.

In 1972, I moved to Madison to attend graduate school. For a year or so I lived with my sister in Stoughton. I had always liked to eat, but when I spent my junior year of college in Europe, it inspired me to learn how to cook. Betty was more than willing to let me to show off what I had learned. From the beginning I was determined to be the world’s best pie maker. In my family, pies were ever present and the ability to make pastry the hallmark of a good cook. My sister liked pie as much as I did and encouraged me.

Our Kentucky grandmother was a fabulous cook and famous for her pies, biscuits and fried chicken. She also made fried pies—biscuit dough filled with cooked and pureed dried apricots, then pan fried. It sounds simple enough but biscuit dough properly made is hard to handle and frying … if the temperature isn’t just right the pies will turn out greasy and inedible. Betty loved fried pies and craved them: She hadn’t savored one since our grandmother had died.

Biscuit making was a new experience and fried pies a challenge especially since our grandmother left no written recipes. I cannot begin to tell you how many batches of fried pies I made, none just quite right, before my sister later confessed that in fact they had all been delicious.

About this same time, we decided we wanted to open a restaurant in a large Victorian house then for sale. We both were enticed by the restaurant business… something about the sparkle of glassware … the clink of cutlery … a room full of ohhing and ahhing happy diners. We would be the hosts of a glorious dinner party every night of the week! Well. In a rare moment of judiciousness we agreed we would both attend restaurant management classes at MATC before taking the plunge.

Disillusionment quickly followed. Accepting that running a restaurant was hard work and that we lacked the motive to be successful—knowing how to run a business and make a profit—was our damnation (or salvation, depending upon your point of view). Nonetheless, we turned to Plan B: Catering. Betty was much impressed and influenced by James Beard who began his career in food as a caterer with virtually no professional training or experience.

We started hosting afternoon teas … making miniature cream puffs stuffed with crabmeat, frilly sandwiches filled with smoked salmon and pretty petit fours. Oh, how we both loved to make petit fours! My sister had a talent for confectionary that I couldn’t and still can’t master. She could throw the ingredients for batch of candy into a saucepan and leave it unattended on the stove overnight. Next morning: Voilà! She would have a batch of perfect fudge. She especially liked to make fondant, the finicky icing used to cover petit fours that I couldn’t make if my life depended upon it. But, since I got to make the cake and do the decorating we were both very happy. Unfortunately, the demand for teas in Stoughton was limited to say the least.

Though we both went our separate ways, when we would get together food always dominated the conversation: restaurants, recipes and reminiscence. Our last happy time together was when we went to lunch at The Old Fashioned, enjoying a double order of nostalgia. It will be impossible to go there ever again and not think of her. Nor eat barbecue, fried chicken or country ham. Though I haven’t done so in many years, I think it might be time to make some fried pies.

Missing in New Orleans

Another shock and another loss came later in the week. My friend Mary Erpenbach sent me an email to let me know the Maison de Ville and Audubon Cottages—a boutique hotel in New Orleans—had closed on Monday. This was the perfect place to stay in the French Quarter, an historic hostelry where fittingly Tennessee Williams once lived. It’s where he completed A Streetcar Named Desire. Dick Cavett interviewed him for his TV show in its dreamy courtyard complete with gurgling fountain, lush foliage and lazy banana trees. Originally the place was built as a residence in the late 18th Century. It was the home of Amedée Peychaud, the pharmacist who concocted the bitters named after him, an essential ingredient in the Sazerac cocktail.

The hotel also nurtured a wonderful little restaurant called the Bistro at the Maison de Ville. The ambiance of this cozy room was as much Left Bank Paris as French Quarter New Orleans. The late John Neal and Susan Spicer, both acclaimed chefs , got their start in the kitchen here. Its amiable maitre d’ Patrick Van Hoornebeek made all his guests feel welcome and is a local legend. On a good night, the food here was second to none and that’s saying a lot in this town with so many great restaurants.

Most of all I loved the Audubon Cottages located a couple of blocks away from the main hotel. Seven sequestered cottages, each with its own private courtyard, encircle a central patio and swimming pool. Every time I came here I always anticipated opening the gate … walking down the long passage with its canopy of jacaranda trees … entering this hidden bijou of a place. It never lost its magic.

Most of all I loved the Audubon Cottages because they were the venue for my 50th birthday party, a grand celebration with more than 50 of my friends the weekend before Mardi Gras. I stayed in Cottage Number 1 that year with my friend Mike Verveer. It was where John James Audubon had lived in 1821 and 1822 while he worked on his Birds of America series. The cottages and courtyards were the epicenter of that weekend culminating in a jazz funeral parade from there to breakfast at Brennans.

I returned year after year—usually for Mardi Gras—so many times that it felt like coming home. It was an oasis from the frenzy of Carnival that is enticing but sometime overwhelming. I liked it because very little ever changed, least of all the kind people who worked there. In the aftermath of Katrina I was gladdened to learn all the employees had weathered the storm and happier still when the hotel finally reopened. Yet, It now appears Katrina has claimed yet another victim.

Whenever I think of “The City That Care Forgot” I cannot forget the Maison de Ville.
“In New Orleans I have noticed that people are happiest when they are going to funerals, making money, taking care of the dead, or putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are.” –Walker Percy, Lancelot

Friday, November 28, 2008

Absolut Madison!

Last year Absolut Vodka came out with a Limited Edition called Absolut New Orleans. Only 35,000 cases of the mango and black pepper flavored vodka were made and 100% of the sales were donated to charities associated with Katrina relief. Absolut New Orleans was a big hit, especially with me—I still have a couple of bottles squirreled away that I’m saving for a hurricane. I concocted my own cocktail with the addition of X-Rated Fusion and Cointreau and it was on the drink menu at the Capitol Chophouse for several months, "Dan's New Orleans."

This summer, Absolut came out with its second Limited Edition vodka honoring a city: Absolut Los Angeles. Flavored with acai, acerola cherry, pomegranate and blueberry and inspired by L.A.'s healthy lifestyles and fitness culture. A portion of the sales were donated to Green Way LA.

Now, Absolut wants you to nominate the next city to be honored with a Limited Edition Vodka … not only the city but what it should taste like it. I’m thinking, Absolut Madison! Very fruity, a few nuts, a hint of tofu and definitely served over ice? This is the beginning of my campaign to get them to pick Madison. Please go and vote for Madison and its flavor HERE. Also, become of member of Absolut Madison on Facebook.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Not Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not surprisingly since it’s the only holiday where the main focus is exclusively food. Most of us have our own traditions as to what we eat ... how and where we spend the day. Since many restaurants close for Thanksgiving, here is a list of places in Madison who will be open and serving traditional fare next Thursday.

Capitol Chophouse is serving a Thanksgiving Day Buffet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu is online. For reservations call 255-0165.

Dayton Street Grille (at the Concourse) will serve their Thanksgiving Buffet between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. The menu is online. Reservations can be made by calling 294-3031.

Orpheum Lobby Restaurant will be open Thursday, November 27th for a Thanksgiving Buffet from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dinner will include all the holiday classics: turkey, ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberries, salads and more. Call 255-6005 ext. 2 for a reservation.

Quivey’s Grove features a Special Holiday Menu, serve in the Stone House with a complimentary appetizer buffet in the Stable Grill. They are open Thanksgiving between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Please call 273-4900 to make your reservations.

Samba Brazilian Grill is featuring a Thanksgiving Feast, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., all you can eat for $25. Call 257-1111 for reservations.

The Edgewater features Twin Buffets on Thanksgiving, Breakfast 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. and Dinner noon until 8 p.m. More information is on their website. For reservations call 661-6582.

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin pie (it’s a whole lot better than the one on the can label). In the past, I have started with fresh pumpkin. If you do, it’s important that you use a pie pumpkin not a jack-o-lantern. It’s a messy process and a lot of work and I’ve found the end result no better than using what comes out of a can. In fact, sometime, the color of fresh pumpkin can be anemic, depending upon the variety You can substitute cream for the evaporated milk but I think the later makes for a better texture (cream can be too dense).

1 partially baked 10-inch pie shell

¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Steen’s syrup or molasses
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
16-ounce can pumpkin
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Gradually combine the brown sugar, sugar, flour, molasses and spices. Stir in the pumpkin. Combine the eggs, milk and brandy, rum or bourbon and fold into the pumpkin mixture.
Carefully pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and set in the preheated 375-degree oven.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center is just set. Cool on a rack.
Serve the pie at room temperature with whipped cream.

Serves 8.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Gumbo Wars

Several years ago a to-be-left-unnamed food critic for a to be-left-unnamed weekly publication oood and ahhhed over the gumbo at a local restaurant (now long closed). The problem wasn’t that I’d eaten this gumbo and thought it awful (they had burnt the roux) but rather the assertion in his review that “real gumbo contains okra.” Thus began a back and forth posturing in print about who knew what he was talking about. To the delight and entertainment of my friends, this exchange was more than a little snarky and became known as The Gumbo Wars.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the origin of the word gumbo comes from the Bantu (Angolan) word (ki)ngombo, meaning okra but all gumbo does not contain okra. Okra is used as a thickener but so is filé, also called gumbo filé, a spice made from dried and ground sassafras and thyme leaves. Rarely are the two used together in the same recipe, but many varieties contain neither. What all gumbo does have in common is a roux—flour browned in fat. Depending upon the type of gumbo, the roux can vary from the color of peanut butter to dark chocolate. This hearty more –stew-than-soup can and does contain just about anything—seafood, smoked sausage and ham, meat and game. Another common ingredient is what’s referred to as the Creole or Cajun trinity—chopped onions, green pepper and celery. A popular variation is called gumbo z’herbes (green gumbo) and traditionally served on Good Friday. Legend has it that you’ll make as many new friends as the number of different greens you use in your recipe. One thing that never goes in real gumbo is rice: it’s always served ladled over boiled rice

Gumbo is a staple along the Gulf Coast but prevalent throughout the South. Eating gumbo is popular all year long but especially during cold weather and in Louisiana a dish always served on Christmas Eve. African Americans, Native Americans, French and Spanish Creoles have added their influence to this meal in a pot.

Gumbo is slow food at its best. Around here, if you want a good bowl of the real thing you’ll have to make it yourself. Even at a restaurant in New Orleans finding good gumbo is not as easy as you might think. For a long time, it was something made and enjoyed at home so why order it when you went out? To be sure it might make the menu of a local diner or a venerable institution like Galatoire’s or Antoine’s. For a time, many of the newer, upscale restaurants looked upon it as too pedestrian. However, restaurateurs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse have helped make the dish more popular than ever. One of my favorite “new” gumbos is served at Mr. B’s Bistro, run by a branch of the renowned Brennan family. It’s called Gumbo Ya Ya (their recipe is on their web page)—“gumbo ya ya” is a Cajun expression that means everyone talking at once.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I like to cook, but I avoided making gumbo for a long time because it can be a very tedious process browning the roux. The procedure requires constant stirring and vigilance. If you burn the roux it will bitter and inedible and you have to start over. I’m not much for short cuts but a few years ago, reading Gourmet magazine (January, 1997) I came across how to make roux in the microwave. I was skeptical until I tried it—I’m skeptical about anything to do with the microwave—but it’s truly amazing! You really can teach old cooks new tricks.

Mr. B’s Gumbo Ya-Ya

Adapted from the recipe from B’s Bistro in New Orleans, my version serves 8 to 10 (the original recipe makes 24 cups). It also takes advantage of making the roux in the microwave.

1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use grapeseed or peanut oil)
½ cup bread flour
1 red bell peppers, chopped
1 green bell peppers, chopped
1 medium onions, chopped 1 celery stalk, chopped
8 cups rich chicken stock
8 cups water
1 tablespoons Creole seasoning
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 bay leave (preferably fresh)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 whole roasted chicken breast, skinned, boned and coarsely chopped
Tabasco to taste

Boiled rice

Chopped green onions

In a 1-quart microwave-safe measuring cup blend together well the oil and bread flour. Microwave uncovered at high power for 2-minutes. Remove and stir thoroughly. Repeat this procedure twice. This may require some experimentation at first, depending on the power of your microwave. It’s important to thoroughly stir the flour mixture until it’s absolutely smooth each time before returning to the microwave. Continue to microwave at 1 minute intervals, stirring well in between intervals, until you have a dark mahogany brown roux.

Transfer the roux to a stock pot set over low heat. Add the chopped bell peppers and stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped onions and celery and stir constantly for another 30 seconds or so until the vegetables have softened. Slowly add the stock and water to the roux and vegetables, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Add the Creole seasoning, black pepper, red pepper flakes, thyme, garlic, bay leaf, kosher salt and andouille and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer the gumbo, uncovered, for 45 minutes, skimming off any fat and stirring occasionally. Cool the gumbo to room temperature. The gumbo may be made several hours or the day before, but cover and refrigerate after two hours. Right before serving, make the rice. Add the chicken to the gumbo and reheat. Adjust seasoning with Tabasco or other hot sauce. Serve over rice garnished with green onions and hot sauce on the side.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Nouveau Next Thursday

Join Le Chardonnay next weekend to celebrate the release of the Nouveau Beaujolais 2008 with a wonderful five course dinner ...


First Course
Homemade petite French baguette with fleur du sel butter

Second Course
Grilled U-10 sea scallop with candied lemon and horseradish velouté
Ricotta cheese and asparagus quiche

Third Course
Steamed then chilled baby carrots, beets and potatoes dressed in lime and olive oil

Fourth Course
Roasted wild boar with braised cabbage and sweet potato chips
Ravioli of lobster and langoustine with a lemongrass and chervil velouté
Roasted duck with honey glazed onions and, minted peas and Madeira sauce
Risotto of cèpes with green onions, truffle oil and parmesan

Fifth Course
Red wine glazed pear with pumpkin custard and caramelized walnuts

Call 608.268.0372 or email your reservation to

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another Pizza

Isn’t there enough already? Thin crust, deep dish and stuffed. Believe it or not, there’s actually a pizza (to the best of my knowledge) you cannot get in Madison unless you make it yourself. It’s not something new, either, but has a long history in both this country and Italy. Pizza Rustic. Be forewarned. I’ve seen “pizza rustica” listed on many pizzeria menus but it was menuese for the toppings applied to a regular pizza.

So what is it? It a sort of deep dish, stuffed pizza to the extreme. A 3-inch or higher short pastry (no yeast) shell is filled with a combination of sausage, cured meats, cheese, eggs and sometimes spinach, then topped and sealed with more pastry. It’s the Italian cousin to the French pate en croute or English standing meat pie. It’s served at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Native to the Abruzzo region of Italy (just of east of Rome on the Adriatic), pizza rustica is especially popular at Easter. My first encounter came on Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy in the 1960s. I ordered it up sight unseen, thinking it was … pizza. Did I ever get a surprise but delicious one none the less. The most elaborate version I’ve ever seen was at a bakery in Bergamo, Italy—it had to be at least a foot high and beautifully layered with sliced meats and cheese.

Enough chatter. It’s off to the store to buy the ingredients.

Pizza Rustica

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 (12-ounce) bunches fresh spinach, stemmed, coarsely chopped (about 12 cups
1 tablespoons finely minced shallots
6 ounces brown mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and sliced
4 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seed and chopped
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped

Pastry Dough (recipe follows)
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Position the rack on the bottom of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the sausages and sauté until golden brown, breaking the sausage into pieces, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach wilts and the juices evaporate, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. Squeeze the spinach to drain as much liquid as possible.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the minced scallions and stir for a minute or so. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until brown. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

Into a large bowl, add egg yolks and beat lightly. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Add the sausage, the spinach, mushrooms, roasted red pepper and prosciutto to the mixture and stir to combine.

Roll out larger piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 17-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch spring form pan. Trim the dough overhang to 1 inch. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the dough-lined pan. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal, and then crimp the dough edges decoratively. Brush the beaten 1 large egg over the entire pastry top. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the top. Bake on the bottom shelf until the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.

Let stand 15 minutes. Release the pan sides and transfer the pizza to a platter. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.

Serves 8.

Pastry Dough:
3½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Blend the flour, the butter, the shortening and salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Blend in the eggs. With the machine running, add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough forms. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, with 1 piece twice as large as the second piece. Flatten the dough pieces into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm enough to roll out, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chicken Pie

This is an annual and delicious tradition at Madison's Glenwood Moravian Community Church. As a fundraiser for the church, members of the congregation make and sell chicken pies, not to be confused with chicken pot pies. The difference? These are all-meat chicken encased in a flaky homemade crust with gravy for topping on the side. If you'd like to try one, please call 238-8709 by Friday, November 14 to reserve your pie. Pies can be picked up at the church (725 Gilmore Street) on Wednesday, November 19 between 1 and 6 p.m. The pies are frozen, baking instructions are included and the cost is $12 per pie.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The O Word

No. I’m not going to voice my preference in the presidential race. As much as I am tempted to do so, this is a blog about food and I’m talking about oysters. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, few are indifferent about them. It’s that time of year that they become my personal obsession. There is an old maxim that you should only eat oysters during the “R” months—September through April. Probably the prohibition relates to the spawning season and the increased risk of bacteria during the summer months that poisons bivalves. Regardless, for me fall and winter is still the season to enjoy oysters.

There are basically five edible varieties. Belons originally came from Europe but are now farmed in North America. They are probably the most prized and expensive off all the varieties. Eastern oysters include Blue Points, Wellfleets and Malpaques and can be found all down the Eastern seaboard and in the Gulf of Mexico. There are many species native to the Pacific and they tend to be sweeter—and in my opinion—less complex in flavor than their Atlantic cousins. Kumamoto oysters originally came from Japan but are now commonly found up and down the West coast. They are very small and subtle in flavor. Olympic oysters are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Small but very prized, they’re rarely available in other parts of the country.

Oysters are both harvested in the wild and farmed but you will rarely see the difference noted on a menu. The quality of an oyster should never be judged by its size since it can vary enormously from species to species. However, size does matter when you’re purchasing shucked oysters, most commonly used for stews (smaller oysters) and frying (larger oysters). Shucked oysters are commonly labeled—from smallest to largest— “standards”, “selects” and “extra selects”. Whether in the shell or shucked, oysters have a relatively long shelf life—about two weeks refrigerated. They should never be frozen as this will have a disastrous affect on their texture.

I have some definite prejudices about oysters. My favorites are Belons and Wellfleets. I’m generally not a fan of Pacific oysters, Quilcines being my least favorite. I prefer oysters served on the half shell or fried. Raw oysters are most commonly served in this country with cocktail sauce, a combination of ketchup or chili sauce with horseradish. My preference is fresh lemon and a good hot sauce like Tabasco. My favorite, though, is Panola (available at Brennan’s) which doesn’t pack as much heat as Tabasco but has wonderful flavor. In France (and increasingly here as well), raw oysters are served with mignonette, a simple sauce of quality vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper. The traditional accompaniment for fried oysters is cocktail or tartar sauce. My favorite is New Orleans-style Remoulade Sauce.

Certainly the most famous preparation is Oyster Rockefeller, invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans in 1899. The inspiration for this dish was necessity. At the time there was a shortage of imported French snails, a popular menu item. Antoine’s proprietor Jules Alciatore reckoned that if escargot could be sauced and baked in their shells, so could the abundant local oysters. Jules named his creation Rockefeller in deference to the dish’s richness. Spinach is commonly listed as one of the essential ingredients of Oysters Rockefeller, however Antoine’s original recipe—a closely guarded secret to this day—contains no spinach.

Best of Madison for Oysters:

Liliana’s Restaurant in Fitchburg has a separate oyster menu, featuring a half-dozen or more varieties of freshly shucked oysters that change with availability.

Capitol Chophouse serves different varieties of raw oysters, shucked to order, as well as Oysters Rockefeller.

The Blue Marlin prepares both oysters on the half shell and Oysters Rockefeller.

Sardine’s oysters on the half shell come with a traditional French mignonette.

Fried Oysters

3 eggs
2 tablespoons cream
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
Fish-Fri (corn flour)
1 pint shucked oysters ("selects" or frying size)

Peanut oil for frying

Lemon wedges
Remoulade Sauce

In a small deep bowl beat together the eggs and cream to combine. Set aside. Combine the flour and Creole seasoning in a large plastic bag. Set aside. Put the Fish Fri in a large plastic bag. Set aside.

Drain the oysters. One at a time, shake the oysters in seasoned flour. Then dip in the egg wash, using a slotted spoon to make sure the entire surface of the oyster is covered. Draining off any excess egg, shake in the Fish Fri and transfer to a wax paper-lined baking sheet or platter.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 425 degrees (or the maximum temperature).

Add half the oysters to the fryer and immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Fry the oysters for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the fried oysters to a paper towel lined baking sheet and keep warm in the preheated 200-degree oven while frying the rest of the oysters.

Salt the oysters to taste and immediately serve with lemon wedges and Remoulade Sauce.

Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course.

Remoulade Sauce

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¾ cup light olive oil or other vegetable oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup chopped green onions
¼ cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 tablespoons Creole mustard
3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Use immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator (will keep for several days).

Makes about 3 cups.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fried Foods

Frying food has been around literally forever; it appears in almost every culture’s culinary history. However, the concept of deep frying—where the food is completely submersed in hot fat—is not a European invention, a source of much of our cooking tradition. Some credit the Chinese for inventing deep frying. Whatever its origin, this practice was introduced to the American colonies in the South by African slaves. It only became a popular American staple with the growth of the restaurant industry and the commercial deep fryer in the 20th century.

Why do we crave fried foods so much? The technique produces an attractive end result that is flavorful due to the quick cooking and an appealing juxtaposition of textures: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Just about anything and everything can be and is fried—from dill pickles to candy bars. You can find fried foods at most restaurants but here is my list of Best of Madison for Fried Foods:

French Fries: The Old Fashioned. They got their name because they really are popular and state-of-the-art there (and in Belgium), though accompanied with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. The perfect French fry has a golden brown, crispy crust with a baked-potato-like inside which they have definitely got down pat at the OF.

Home fries: Marigold Kitchen. What’s a real American breakfast without American fries or home fries or whatever you call them? The ones at Marigold Kitchen live up to expectation have lots of browny bits and most of all, flavor, flavor, flavor!

Hash Browns: Tornado Steak House. Good hash browns are simple and cooked on a griddle. Good ones have a crusty brown exterior but are not mushy when you sink your teeth into them. Tornado does hash browns right and they are simply delicious.

Onion Rings: Tornado Steak House has wonderful battered onion rings. Unfortunately, they only come as a garni on your steak at dinner but are available in a full-size serving on the late night menu. By definition onion rings are round, something you could play horseshoes with. The worse are heavily breaded and the onion comes out with your first bite. Personally, I prefer lightly breaded onion strings and the Haystack Onion Strings at the Old Fashioned are close to perfect.

Fried Calamari: Lombardino’s. I’ve squirmed over fried calamari at way too many places, here and in Italy. None is finer than the flawless fried calamari at Lombardino’s: tender, crunchy and s’amore.

Friday Fish Fry: Orpheum. Come Friday, you can have your fish almost anywhere in Wisconsin. I like the Orpheum because it keeps the spirit of the original Wisconsin fish fry alive: Lake fish that’s all you can eat (and they don’t even look at you funny when you order thirds). The fish is blue gill but what counts is that it’s beer battered and nicely fried.

Fried Sweet Potato Chips: The Continental. Something different—I love fried sweet potatoes—and served with panache, a dipping béarnaise sauce.

Fried Cheese Curds: The Old Fashioned. Only in Wisconsin would this make the list of revered fried foods. It’s no surprise that the Queen of the Deep Fryer, the Old Fashioned, would proffer a cheese curd that is way more scrumptious than most.

Chicken Fried Steak: El Dorado Grill. It you grew up in Texas (which I didn’t) this is at the top of the food pyramid. None the less, I love chicken fried streak and on a good night El Dorado’s can’t be beat.

Fried Chicken: Still waiting. Really good fried chicken is seasoned and lightly dusted with floured (never battered) and pan fried to a uniform crispy golden brown. Unfortunately, most of the restaurant fried chicken around here is deep fried and the white meat tends to be dry and the dark meat sometime slimy. So, if you don’t want to satisfy your craving at the Colonel or the Sailor Man, Kipp’s on Monroe Street is probably the best game in town right now.

Doughnuts: Greenbush Bakery. They make some really great cake donuts (so long as you don’t read the nutritional information) and they’re kosher to boot. Unfortunately, I love raised, glazed donuts and find all those sampled locally lacking. I’m not usually big on fast food but sometime I do wish we had a Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donut’. Supposedly after an absence of several years, Dunkin Donuts will soon return to Madtown. Rumors have been around so long about the coming of Krispy Kreme that they now qualify as an urban myth.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Food ... Good Cause

Lombardino's will donate 10% of their sales from Tuesday night, October 28 to Madison's AIDS Network, the HIV/AIDS service provider for South Central Wisconsin

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dueling Chefs 2008 Finals

Charles Lazzareschi of Dayton Street Grille vs. Andrew Lickel of Samba

As part of the Madison Food & Wine Show, pairs of chefs from some of the area’s leading restaurants go head-to-head, cooking in elimination heats. Patrick O’Halloran from Lombardino’s and Robert Von Rutenberg from the Nau-ti-Gal are emcees. Each chef has the same pantry of basic ingredients to work with and right before the competition begins the secret main ingredient is revealed. Each participant and his or her assistant then have 30 minutes to create two different dishes. Four judges then score the dishes on flavor, presentation and use of mystery ingredient. The winning chef proceeds to the next round.

The mystery ingredient for the championship round was American kobe flatiron streak. I was one of the judges along with Mayor Dave, Raphael Kadushin and someone selected from the audience. Here are the four dishes made for the final round of this culinary cookoff.

Robert and Patrick

Dish 1, Dayton Street Grille:

Dish 1, Samba:

Dish 2, Dayton Street Grille:

Dish 2, Samba:
And the winner is … Charles Lazzareschi of Datyon Street Grille.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Star Alumni

Writing about “Chef of the Year” Derek Rowe of Harvest, I mentioned that his first job in a restaurant kitchen was at L’Etoile. Harvest owner Tammy Lax also once worked there as chef de cuisine and chief forager. Since 1976, countless L’Etoile’s employees—chefs, cooks and servers—have moved on to become stars in their own right. Some have found fame in the big city like Elka Gilmore who opened acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Others stayed closer to home like Chef David Kasprzak and his wife Jane Sybers who run Dining Room 209 Main in Monticello. Eric Rupert now is corporate chef for the Sub-Zero Corporation here in Madison. Of course I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Madison’s favorite bartender, Mary Ward, who now presides as Queen of Libations at The Chophouse and once worked at L’Etoile as well. Seemingly, wishes made at L’Etoile can be dreams come true.

7th Annual Madison Food & Wine Show
October 17 – 19 at the Alliant Energy Center

It’s coming up this weekend (more information is on the website) and for the sixth year in a row, I’ll be one of the three judges for the final round of the Dueling Chef competition (Sunday, October 19 at 3 p.m.).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shoofly Pie and Apple Pandowdy

If you wanna do right by your appetite,
If you're fussy about your food,
Take a choo-choo today, head New England way,
And we'll put you in the happiest mood. with:
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy."
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff.
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy makes the sun come out
When Heavens are cloudy,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
Mama! When you bake,
Mama! I don't want cake;
Mama! For my sake
Go to the oven and make some ever lovin' Sh,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy,"
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
--Sammy Gallop

There aren’t a whole lot of love songs written about food but this is one of my favorites as well as the objects of its affection. Quite honestly, I wasn’t familiar with these lyrics popularized by Dinah Shore, Ella Fitgerald and Stan Kenton right after World War II … until the Two Fat Ladies came along,

This was one of the first shows I watched on the Cooking Channel and is still one of my favorites. Originally airing on the BBC (1996-1998) the Two Fat Ladies—Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, each eccentric and opinionated—had almost a cult-like following. It wasn’t just their acidic asides nor the recipes they gave out—often more suited to British tastes—that had me tuning in every week. The show had a Merchant-Ivory richness to it, filmed at many historic homes and sights around the U.K. The show was as much about how dishes came to be and evolved as much as how to properly prepare them.

I was use to the antics of these two big women, but thought it odd when Jennifer Patterson began one of the episode singing “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy.” She went on to comment “I remember, as a teenager, hearing the song on the American Forces Network and always thought it sounded very jolly.” Hence her fondness for this dish that is thoroughly American to the core. (If you want to check out her recipe for Apple Pandowdy, it’s included in the cookbook Two Fat Ladies Obessions (Clarkson/Potter Publishers in the U.S). I don’t remember her having anything to say about Shoofly Pie but they’re both favorites of mine. Neither of these sweets were part of my culinary upbringing.

Shoofly pie is a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dessert made from brown sugar, molasses, shortening, and spices. There are two versions: the more common "wet bottom"—a gooey molasses filling topped with a crumb layer, and the “dry bottom”—all mixed together and more cake-like. The pie supposedly got its name because when sat aside to cool the sweet ingredients attracted flies that the cook would diligently have to shoo away. I sampled my first piece at a truck stop near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and went home to find a recipe and have been making it ever since.

Apple pandowdy is an old and simple New England dessert of spiced apples sweetened with molasses and baked under a biscuit dough crust. One theory is it got its names because of it homely or dowdy appearance. Similar concoctions in other parts of the country are called cobblers, dumplings, duffs and grunts. What sets pandowdy apart is its broken-up crust. Traditionally, it is served crust down with apple mixture on top. I grew up with apple cobbler, crisp and brown Betty but discovered apple pandowdy only after whipping it up, inspired by Jennifer Paterson’s ditty.

Come fall, it’s time to make shoofly pie and apple pandowdy. What the two desserts have in common beside the song is molasses. Molasses is the byproduct of refining sugar, the syrupy liquid leftover. Depending on how many times it’s boiled, it’s marketed as mild, robust or blackstrap molasses. Mild molasses, the first boiling, is also marketed as refiner’s syrup or treacle. My favorite brand of robust molasses comes from a Louisiana company, Steen’s. They also make Steen’s Syrup (refiner’s syrup). Around here it’s hard to find but sometime shows up in gourmet food shops and you can order it directly from the company.

Shoofly Pie

This is a “Wet Bottom” version.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie pastry shell, chilled

Crumb Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar

Blend together the topping ingredients in a blender or food processor to form coarse crumbs and set aside.

1 cup Steen’s Syrup (or ¾ cup dark corn syrup plus ¼ cup molasses)
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, lightly beaten

Whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven 400 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the Steen’s Syrup, boiling water and making soda. Mix well. Beat a little of the molasses mixture into the beaten egg, then add to the molasses mixture combining well. Stir 1 cup of the crumb topping into the filling.

Pour the filling into the chilled pie shell and top with the remaining crumbs.

Bake in the preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes. Cool on a rack to room temperature before serving. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Serves 8.

Apple Pandowdy

Sweet Biscuit Dough (recipe follows)

4 large pie apples (russets, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, etc.) peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butterWhipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
A 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet (or nonstick ovenproof skillet) preheated in the oven for about 5 minutes.

Roll out the Sweet Biscuit Dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough circle to a pizza pan or large baking sheet lined with wax paper or baking parchment and chill while making the apple filling.

In a large mixing bowl combine the apples with the lemon juice and molasses; toss to combine.

In a small bowl mix together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Add to the apple mixture and mix well.

Add the butter to the hot skillet. Carefully, using an oven mitt or hot pad, swirl the butter around the bottom of pan until melted. Spread the apple filling evenly in the skillet.

Carefully drape the chilled dough over the apple mixture. Using a sharp knife, trim the dough edge and cut four small slits near the center so the steam can escape while baking. Bake in the lower third of a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Use the edge of a metal spatula or turner to score the top crust into 1-inch squares. With the spatula or turner, gently press the crust down into the filling. Return the skillet to the 350-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve crust side down (warm or a room temperature) with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

Serves 6 to 8.

Sweet Biscuit Dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to combine. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and work with your fingers until the water is incorporated and the dough comes together. Working as quickly and as little as possible, add just enough additional water if needed to form a smooth dough,. Shape the dough into a fat patty, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (Can be made up to 2 days prior.)

Makes 1 10-inch pie crust

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eating Around the World in 7 Days…

… Without Leaving Downtown Madison


Lunch, Costa Rica: Café Costa Rica
A Mango Man empañada (with Lizano salsa) and a mango smoothie.

Dinner, Japan: Kushi Bar Muramoto
Cosmos made with shochu, four assorted fried kushi (skip the quail egg) with the house hot sauce and a taco rice bowl.


Lunch, Nepal: Himal Chuli
Momocha (vegetarian dumplings) served with ginger-tomato chutney.

Dinner, Greece: Plaka Taverna and Ouzeria
Taramosalata with pita, moussaka, a side salad and a shot of ouzo for dessert. Stini yamas!


Lunch, Italy: Osteria, Papavero
Panzerotti (a fried calzone stuffed with tomato, fresh mozzarella and oregano) and a chinotto-flavored Pellegrino.

Dinner, Indonesia: Bandung
Rijsttafel for Two: Ten traditional dishes the likes of lumpia, gago gado and saté served with rice. Have a Heineken (since the “rice table” concept originated in Holland).


Lunch, Ethiopia: Buraka
Misirwot – lentils, split peas and potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce eaten with injera (a spongy, sourdough sort of pancake).

Dinner, Spain: Icon
Tapas: cured Spanish meats and sausage with olives and Manchego, artichoke and fennel salad, potato and wild mushroom tortilla, beef empeñada, fried calamari. To drink, a bottle of Baron de Lay, Finca Monasterio. Flan with fresh berries to finish and off to Overture.


Lunch, Afghanistan: Maza
An appetizer sampler plate – hummus, yogurt sauce, and cilantro chutney, pakowra (vegetable fritters) and bulani (fried potato dumplings). Maybe a bowl of soup, too.

Dinner, Ireland: Brocach
A Scotch egg and Guinness to start, then fish and chips … more Guinness (everything here is even better seated outside … or with more Guinness).


Lunch, China: Wah Kee
Pot stickers with Albert’s special hot sauce (it’s not on the menu you got to ask for it) and Szechuan dam dam noodles in broth.

Dinner, Brazil, Samba Brazilian Grill
Caipirinhas (of course) then a trip to the exotic Brazilian-style 40-item salad bar before a parade of grilled meats carved tableside by your friendly gaucho server.


Brunch, France: Sardine
Half a dozen oysters on the half shell followed by a warm duck confit salad with lardons and a poached egg, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and home for a nap.

Dinner, India: Maharani Indian Restaurant
A couple of samosas, lamb biryani, garlic naan and a Kingfisher. Tums perhaps?

Eat Your Way Through Sicily

Monday, November 10th 2008

6:00 pm

Sicilian Book Dinner

$5 off if you bring the book

Local writer Joan Peterson and her Sicilian co-author, Marcella Croce, have captured the essence of Sicilian cuisine to help travelers navigate this culinary landscape. We are celebrating their recently published culinary guidebook, "Eat Smart in Sicily" with a special 4-course Sicilian dinner paired with Sicilian wines.



Antipasti Misti Local lamb meatballs with lemon & rosemary, traditional eggplant caponata, & arancini


Pan Seared Sable Fish With Sicilian braised greens and saffron sauce


Filet of Beef alla Marsala With wild mushrooms & bufala mozzarella


Pine Nut Tart With marsala gelato & balsamic vinegar drizzle

Dinner is $55 and includes food, wine, tax and gratuity

Please contact us at 608.238.1922 for reservations (required)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Indian Adventure

Growing up, my experience with ethnic food was limited to say the least. There was the occasional trip to a Chinese restaurant for moo goo gai pan which despite its name was exceedingly bland. Pizza and tacos were becoming popular, too. But it wasn’t until 1969 when I was a college student in London that I walked into a restaurant and didn’t have a clue what anything on the menu was.

I wish I could take credit for this trip into the culinary twilight zone but cannot. It was an era of experimentation, psychedelic fashions and “anything goes” attitudes but when it came to food I was still digging PB and J. My roommate, who prior to our European semester abroad had never ventured far from the Indiana farm where he grew up, coerced me. Since arriving in London, we had all heard about how good, plentiful and cheap Indian food was. After a dreary winter in Germany and way too many schnitzels it wasn’t a hard sell.

We chose at random (and there were too many to choose from) a place around the corner on the High Street. At the last minute, we invited our other roommate. We had excluded him initially since he only ate steak and chips (in Germany he had only eaten only steak and spätzle). After a bout of lobbying on his part to get us to change our destination he tagged along whining all the way.

I have to admit, I had my own reservations after I entered a space more suited for an Amsterdam bordello than a London eatery. It was oddly decorated with red flocked wallpaper and there was an even more peculiar smell, not unpleasant but nevertheless aromatic and very foreign. Seated, we contemplated the extensive menu which for all practical purposes could have been written in Sanskrit. Once again my friend who had initiated our visit to the Indian restaurant took the lead and suggested that the waiter order for us … the two of us that is … my other friend ordered steak and chips. My first thought was a big bill and mentally begin to calculate the shillings and quid in my pocket.

The steak and chips arrived first: a charred little cinder along with a serving of greasy white fried potatoes and some radioactive green peas thrown on the plate. Accompanying this meager meal was his Coke served without ice in a glass half full and clouded by fingerprints.

Before I could form more prejudices a teaming platter of paper thin wafers made from lentil flour (papadums) were set before us along with sundry dishes of brightly colored condiments. One taste and I was a fan. But in their wake appeared samosas, pyramids of pastry filled with a savory potato mixture and deep fried to a golden brown. More and more small dishes gradually covered the table, each more exotic and engaging than the other. Just when I thought our banquet was complete out comes a whole chicken, bright red, cooked in a charcoal tandoor… and rice, basmati rice, fragrant and light. Then chunks of lamb braised in a satin-smooth sauce and flatbreads: garlic naan, chapatti and paratha … and more rice. Of course, at the end came the bill. Even though our friend’s steak and chips cost more than our Indian dinners, being satiated and happy generosity prevailed and we divided the check three ways.

Obviously many Indian meals followed in London and elsewhere. Out of college and living in Chicago I was surprised that at that time there were only two Indian restaurants in the entire city. One—Bengal Lancers—was in my neighborhood and not very good. I had come to realize that Indian food was part of English culture—a remnant of the Raj—and the chances of it becoming popular here seemed unlikely.

More than a decade later, now living in Madison, I heard an Indian restaurant was opening on Monroe Street—Mount Everest. I was excited and pleased by my initial visits. The place was a family affair and the kitchen bustled with skilled cooks and the dining room with amicable servers and happy guests. As too often is the case, it slowly declined. My last visit there a lone woman seemed to be staffing the cash register as well as preparing and serving the food. It mattered little since we were the only diners. I wondered if I had somehow imagined how good the food had been and why I had not noticed how tawdry the place was with its tacky Air India advertisements and photo murals of beaches and palm trees.

My, how things have changed. If my count is correct, our city now boasts 10 Indian restaurants, three Nepalese restaurants, an Indian grocery (many supermarkets and specialty foods stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Willy Street Co-op stock Indian food products as well) and a local weekly cooking show on NBC15, White Jasmine


Campus Biryani and Kebab
1437 Regent Street

Curry in the Box
3050 Cahill Main, Fitchburg

Flavor of India
14 W. Mifflin Street

India Darbar Restaurant
6119 Odana Road

Maharaja Restaurant
1707 Thierer Road

Maharaja West
6713 Odana Road

380 W. Washington Avenue

Swagat Indian
707 N. Highpoint Road

Taj Indian Restaurant
1256 S. Park Street

Taste of India
2623 Monroe Street


334 State Street

2110 Atwood Avenue

Himal Chuli
318 State Street


India House
805-B S. Gammon Road