Thursday, March 26, 2009


I love waffles. That is, I love good waffles which exclude ones that come frozen, are made from a mix or taste like cleated pancakes. Waffles should be light, golden brown and crispy. Waffles are easy to make so I’m not sure why the alternatives to homemade have become so universal. Perhaps it’s for the lack of a waffle iron. This must have been one of the first electric appliances, though waffles were around long before it advent. Its origins go back to the Middle Ages. In fact, they were universally sold outside of churches on saint's days and at other special religious celebrations. Competition among the waffle sellers became so fierce that King Charles IX of France had to rule that waffle vendors stay at least six feet from one another at all times.

The first hinged waffle iron for use on top of a stove was patented in the U.S. in 1869. But waffles didn’t really become popular until the invention of the electric waffle maker in 1926 by Charles M. Cole. In the decade that followed, waffles became the rage, diners specializing in the delicacy sprung up everywhere and almost no home was without a waffle iron. What we now call the Belgian waffle—a thicker variety with deeper indentations—was introduced at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Covered with fresh strawberries and mounds of whipped cream it was an instant hit.
Most of the waffle irons sold today are of the Belgian type, many with a nonstick surface but it’s still possible to find the older, traditional waffle maker (both new and used) which produce a larger and thinner waffle.

In the United States, waffles are most often eaten warm at breakfast or brunch. Many soul food restaurants—especially in the Harlem are of New York—serve waffles with fried chicken. The Pennsylvania Dutch commonly used a plain waffle as the base for stewed chicken. In the Netherland, Belgium Sweden and Italy variations of the waffle are popular as a dessert or confection.

The Waffle House chain has more than 1,000 restaurants in 24 states and claims to have sold more than 500 million waffles. Several restaurants in Madison still do waffles right.

Here is my list of “Best of Madison” waffles, all are the Belgian variety. If you like old style, you’re stuck making them at home and I’ve included my two favorite recipes at the end.

The Old Fashioned serves your basic waffles but it comes with pure Wisconsin maple syrup, Grand Marnier-flavored whipped cream and powdered sugar. You can also add a fresh fruit topping (extra) if you like.

Café Continental makes malted waffles with a choice of several toppings including a New Orleansesque bananas Foster variety.

Sardine has two different waffles, one is topped with an apple compote and crème fraiche. The other is an unusual buckwheat waffle that comes with whipped orange-cinnamon butter and, sliced banana. Both come with maple syrup.

BrasserieV has a waffle topped with blueberries, bananas, whipped cream and real maple syrup.

Pancake Café offers several waffles served with syrup, fruit toppings or pecans but the most unique is the one with bacon baked inside. This is the only place on the list where you can get your waffle fix every day of the week (the other restaurants only serve brunch on the weekend).

Buttermilk Waffles

Classic waffles and easy to make the recipe comes from Tennessee. You can cut in half if you want to make a smaller portion and leftover batter will keep covered in the refrigerator for a week (it may discolor but just stir well before cooking).

1½ cups flour (preferably, pastry flour but all-purpose will work)
½ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2/3 cup corn oil
2 eggs
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple syrup

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; mix well. Add the milk, vegetable oil, egg, sugar and vanilla and mix well. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat a waffle iron.

Do not use non-stick spray on the waffle iron; the oil in the batter will allow the waffle to release easily. Follow the directions on your waffle iron to cook the waffles. Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

Makes 8 large waffles.

Raised Waffles

These waffles are the best. They require a little extra effort (you have to start the night before) but are well worth it. Light and crispy, they are better made in a traditional waffle iron rather than the Belgian style.

½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups whole milk
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Dissolve the ½ teaspoon sugar in the warm water; add yeast, dissolve and let proof for 8 to 10 minutes.

Heat the milk and butter over low heat until the butter melts. Cool to lukewarm.

Combine milk butter mixture with salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, flour and proofed yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed to combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover bowl and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Preheat a waffle iron.

Add eggs and baking soda to batter and combine well using a whisk. Batter may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for several days.

Use about ½ cup batter (it will be thin). Let the batter set up (about 30 seconds) before lowering the waffle iron lid. Cook until golden brown (about 5 minutes).

Makes 8 large waffles.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


CLOUD 9 GRILLE is CLOSED as of today ... they "hope" to reopen in early summer. I just dined there last night to write a piece on them for the June issue. Food was good and the place was packed.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Say Cheese

A new organization—Wisconsin Cheese Originals—has been formed to promote farmstead, artisan and specialty cheesemakers in the state. During the past decade, Wisconsin has become home to more than 60 of these new cheesemakers who have chosen to start or move their business here because of our reputation in the industry. Many have gone on to win national and international awards for their products. The organization plans to host an annual Wisconsin Originals Cheese Festival, this year to be held November 6 – 7 at Monona Terrace in Madison

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bandung Bargun

I love Bandung. Despite its strip mall location, stepping through the door is like a quick trip to Amsterdam. Despite being Madison’s only Indonesian restaurant, the food is always fresh and way out shines much of the genre, too often heavy on meat and over cooked.

For 5 bucks, tax included, they are featuring a pad Thai dinner special with you choice of tofu, chicken or beef ($2 more for shrimp). I always opt for the tofu since it more traditional. Bandung's preparation of the classic rice noodle dish is a little sweeter than the Thai version—more like a barbecue sauce. For $1 extra you can add an order (2) lumpia, Indonesian-style egg rolls.

There are some restrictions. This special price (a $4.95 savings) is only available on Thursday and you need to preorder by 2 p.m. that day—either call 255-6910 or email Cash or check only and pick-up or delivery between 5 and 6 p.m. I can live with that.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Muffuletta on My Mind

A week ago I was in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras. Any time I go to New Orleans I have to have a muffuletta, preferably from the Mecca for all aficionados of this sandwich, Central Grocery. If you don’t know what it is, it is a round sandwich of ham, salami, Provolone and Swiss cheese with olive salad. The olive salad is what sets it apart from a submarine or hoagie.

Its roots are in the large Italian-American community that inhabited the French Quarter in the early part of the 20th Century. What makes it special is you really can’t get a real muffuletta outside of New Orleans. Why is that? The distinctive flat, round bread the sandwich is made on, not surprisingly called a muffuletta loaf. Unlike traditional Italian or French bread, it’s more chewy than crispy. Inevitably when you find a muffuletta elsewhere it’s made on French Bread, and more often than not, will break your jaw when you bite into it.

Sometimes I just gotta have one and have experimented with a lot of substitutes for the bread. The best I’ve come up with is focaccia—texture’s better but the shape is all wrong. Or, I will use what they call a “rustic loaf” of French breach—thinner and flatter. I also use Kaiser rolls to make mini muffies, cutting them into quarters for finger food. Regardless, the finished sandwich needs to be wrapped in foil, a weight put on top and allowed to stand for a couple of hours before serving

In New Orleans the muffuletta is made with “Italian ham”—not prosciutto but a local product of boiled ham with a spice rub. If you make your own, boiled ham will work just fine. And, don’t go upscale with imported, expensive salami. The muffuletta is simple fare at its best.

You can buy olive salad in N.O. but not here so I’ve included a recipe. Traditionally, the sandwich is served cold but there are a handful of restaurants including the Napoleon House that serve a toasted version: unorthodox but not heresy.

The combination of flavors is a classic and Emeril has a great recipe for a muffuletta salad and Jim Schiavo of The Continental and I came up with our own recipe for a muffuletta pizza which is on the menu there.

What to eat with a muffuletta? Zapp’s Potato Chips (preferably the jalapeño flavored variety), of course (which they often have at Jenifer Street Market).

BTW Central Grocery ships their sandwiches via FedEx.

Central Grocery Olive Salad Recipe

1 gallon large pimento stuffed green olives, slightly crushed, well drained and chopped
1 quart jar pickled cauliflower, drained and sliced
2 small jars capers, drained
1 whole stalk celery, sliced diagonally
4 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced diagonally
1 small jar celery seeds
1 small jar oregano
1 large head fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 jar pepperoncini, drained (small salad peppers) left whole
1 pound large Greek black olives, chopped
1 jar cocktail onions, drained

Combine all the ingredients.

Makes a lot.

Olive Salad (Smaller Recipe)

1¼-inch slice of medium red onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup picked Italian vegetables
¼ cup green pimento-stuffed olives
¼ cup pitted Calamata olives
¼ cup pitted Greek olives
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
6 sprigs Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the onion in the food processor and turn the machine on and off until it is evenly chopped. With the motor running, drop the garlic through the feed tube and process until finely chopped.

Add the pickled vegetables, olives, olive oil, oregano, parsley and black pepper to the food processor. Turn the machine on and off just until the mixture is nicely chopped.

Transfer to a covered container and chill overnight. The olive salad will keep several weeks covered in the refrigerator.
Makes a reasonable amount.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Special Meals & Deals at The Chophouse

Capitol Chophouse Chef Tony Lemens now offers a nightly set menu of three courses. These dinners highlight fine, locally produced meats, dairy products and vegetables. Last week’s menu began with a frisseé salad with country pâté, pickled shallots and crostini. The entrée was seared duck breast in a bourbon au jus served with sweet potatoes and bacon. For dessert, profiteroles filled with espresso ice cream; slathered with dark chocolates sauce. The cost was $45. Not cheap but a good value—you could easily pay more for a lot less.

A real deal is “Wine Not Wednesday” when on Wednesday all bottles of wine are 25% off. Returning with the Farmer’s Market will be the “Saturday Amuse” when all entrees come with a taste of the Dane County Farmer’s Market, depending upon what’s in season.

I have to say, Capitol Chophouse seems to only improve with age and seems to have found its groove.