MKEFoodies

I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post!  Wowza! Though I have some recipes on backlog, I thought it would be much more fun to out and meet some of the foodies of the Milwaukee food scene.  And I have to confess, I am really glad that I went.  Some of my friends tease me that I’m a recluse, but I can’t help it if I like my home and sometimes even my microscopic kitchen.  ;)

This tweetup was the second one organized by the wonderful people who write Burp! Where Food Happens.  Tuesday’s gathering was at Mason Street Grill and the turnout was much better than I’d have thought.  The food was simple and great (just how I like it), but the people were just awesome.  Yes, I’m gushing.  But that’s what happens when I meet wonderful people who are also into food.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much.  Joe, one of the writers for Eating Milwaukee is hilarious and his impersonation of East European immigrants is spot on.  I also spent quite a while chatting with Ken of Howling Wolf.  He’s lived and worked all over the place, including France, he’s a chef, and has his own line of BBQ sauces.  Gotta make it to the closest store so I can pick up a bottle or two.  They sounded mouthwatering.  I promise a recipe once I get a bottle and try it out.

But now for the fabulous food we were all too happy to taste. All pictures are courtesy of Eating Milwaukee (mine really didn’t turn out).  For additional pictures, check out this Picassa photo album.

Calamari

Calamari

The evening started out with these cute little cups of calamari.  It was crisp, it was tender, and the sauce was really good – not goopy.  The sauce was also at the bottom of the paper, which made it quite convenient to hold in one hand while holding a drink in another, or, if you’re like me and use your hand while talking, you can safely do that while clutching the little tasty morsels.

Caprese flatbreads - Margherita Pizza

Caprese flatbreads - Margherita Pizza

Caprese flatbreads - Margherita Pizza

Caprese flatbreads - Margherita Pizza

So simple…. So good.  These little flat breads, as the hostesses referred to them, were very good.  I’m not generally a fan of thin crusts like this, but this was really good.  The sauce was a great base and not overpowering.  Not heavy or acidic.  Tasted like it was freshly made from fresh ingredients.

Tuna Tartare Tacos

Tuna Tartare Tacos

The next appetizer to emerge from the kitchen was the Tuna Tartare tacos.  I’m not a fan of raw fish (and tartare means just that it was cooked in acid, like vinegar) and especially not a fan of avocados.  But this was really good.  It was rich and creamy but not in an off-putting or overpowering way.  Everything stood out on its own but played really well with the other ingredients.

Coconut Shrimp

Coconut Shrimp

People were raving about this Coconut Shrimp, eating it up each platter that escaped the kitchen.  But I really dislike coconut and trying to avoid as many bottom-feeders as I can (had to make an exception with the calamari) so I passed on this dish.  As you can see, the shrimp were of a generous size and liberally sprinkled with coconut, which was reason enough for me avoid this.

Steak Forks

Steak Forks

This… Was just awesome!  This steak was absolutely lipsmackingly good, cooked to perfection and served with a choice of three sauces.  I liked the peppercorn sauce the best (the one towards the bottom of the picture).  I also found this presentation to be a creative way to stretch your steak.  Great idea for a party, no mess on your hands, and you can feed a lot of people a great piece of steak for not a lot of money.  Fantastic.  It’s one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?”  I ate like a million of these… Ok, like a couple, but I can’t believe how one can fill up on appetizers!  I guess the concept of “tapas” does work.  I should try that for my next party.

Matzo Ball Soup

Chicken soup with matzo balls

Chicken soup with matzo balls

Turns out, I really, really like matzo ball soup. [Matzo balls (also known as kneidelach) are dumplings made of matzo meal (matzo flour).] I haven’t had it in ages (about a year, I think) and then, had it twice within the span of about a week. So I thought I’d give it a shot and learn how to make it myself, especially since I’ve been craving chicken soup (which is completely foreign for me). With that, I was off on the internet search for fluffy matzo balls and I settled on a recipe from Jewish Magazine. And of course, I made a couple substitutions: I used only 3 TB of oil instead of 4 that’s called for in the original recipe, and I let it sit in the fridge a little less than an hour because I’ve seen other recipes which call for only a half hour, and I used regular cold tap water instead of ice water (I don’t have ice). Maybe these changes resulted in not-quite-so-fluffy matzo balls. [If it looks complicated, let me assure you it's really simple and the results are definitely worth it.]

Ingredients for soup:
3 small carrots (cut in narrow quarter-moon shapes)
2 zucchini (cut in large chunks)
Chicken (2 legs and 2 thighs, or a whole chicken cut up)
1 parsnip (looks like a large white carrot; cut in narrow quarters)
10-12 cups of water
1 onion (diced)
mushrooms (a handful, optional)
2 scallions (for garnish, optional)
Salt, pepper, and any other spices you’d like, to taste.

Ingredients for Matzo Balls:
4 eggs, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons of oil
4 tablespoons of ice cold water
1 cup matza meal
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoons of pepper

Steps for Matzo Balls:
1. Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for an hour.
2. Shape into balls (it’s easier to wet your hands so the mixture doesn’t stick too much; you can use a small ice cream scoop to keep the uniform in size; I made mine fairly small because they really puff up while cooking).
3. Cook in the soup, for half an hour to about an hour.  Other cook them in salted water sometimes too.

Steps for the soup:
1. Saute onion, carrots, and parsnip until they get a little soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the water and the chicken. Let cook until the water boils.
3. Add the zucchini, mushrooms (if using) and matza balls and reduce the heat to about medium-low. The matza balls will expand (so that’s why I made them smaller than typical) so be sure to use a pot large enough.
4. Cook for about a half hour to an hour, on medium to low heat.

You can freeze the leftovers without any loss of texture of flavor.

Parsnip

Parsnip

A note about parsnips. I have not seen a lot of recipes using this root vegetable, and that’s regrettable. It’s a wonderful addition to soups and roasts and is pretty good roasted on its own. It has a light, delicate flavor that echoes parsley, only somehow fresher and brighter. When roasted, it’s rather sweet and goes great with beef and potatoes.  In soups, it’s hardly noticeable, except that it imparts this unmistakably fresh aroma and flavor. So delicate that you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know something great is there.  Hope you do give it a try.

Matzah Meal and Eggs

Matzah Meal and Eggs

Matzah and eggs mixed

Matzah and eggs mixed

Matzah Balls

Matzah Balls

Veggies sauteing for soup

Veggies sauteing for soup

Chicken added to soup

Chicken added to soup

 

 

Matzo Balls Cooking

Matzo Balls Cooking

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas

We’re in the grizly clutches of winter here, though, technically Winter hasn’t started yet.  But since it is so cold, it’s perfect weather for a stew.  And since I’ve been eating a lot of lamb lately (made Lagman, (an Uzbek soup) a few times), I thought it’s time to make something with chicken.  I also wanted to use up some of my pantry items.   So, I had chicken on hand, and I wanted to use Montreal Steak Seasoning (I read a great recipe by Sofya on her blog) but that was the end of my idea, until I started cooking. Initially, I considered making this with potatoes, something like the chahohbili-style stew I made last year. But then, I decided against the potatoes and thought I should use some of my red bell peppers, brown rice, and parsley.  Still, a rather scattered thought process, but it all comes together in the end.  Always.  As I started cooking, I decided to peak into the pantry to see what would work well with chicken and bell peppers.  Chickpeas seemed to be calling out to me that day, and they were on the shelf right next to the tomatoes.  So, both went into the dish.
Just between you and me, the sauce resulting in this meal is perfect all by itself, and I love it with a crusty bit of bread. Seriously finger-licking good.  And the best part is that for minimal work and ingredients you are likely to have on hand, you have an incredibly delicious one-pot meal.

Ingredients:
7-8 pieces of chicken (I used bone-in thighs and legs)
2 red bell peppers (roughly chopped; it’s a stew, so think “rustic”)
1 onion (diced)
1 15-oz can of chickpeas
1 15-oz can of crushed tomatoes
Spices (to taste): Montreal Steak Seasoning, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, black pepper, turmeric (a pinch, or it makes the dish bitter),
3 bay leaves
olive oil
Parsley (for a garnish, optional)

Steps:
1. Season the chicken liberally with Montreal Steak Seasoning. See the picture for how much I used. Notice that I also didn’t use any salt since this seasoning is pretty salty and I used it quite liberally (under the skin, as well as on top).
2. Brown the chicken. As you can see in the picture, I’m not really that good and frying things. I think I’m just afraid of using too much oil, so I probably don’t use enough. Once browned, take the chicken out of the pan.
3. Saute the diced onion. Add the spices to the onions and let cook for a few minutes.
4. Add the bell pepper and let cook till it gets a little soft.
5. Add the crushed tomatoes and add the chicken back into the pan.
6. Add the chickpeas and bay leaves. Let the tomato sauce come to a boil and then taste the spices. Adjust as you see fit.
7. Let cook over low heat for about 30-45 minutes. Serve over brown rice, or whatever you’d like.

N.B. about the spices: use as many or as few as you like and if you choose to omit some (like turmeric or bay leaf), it’s ok. You might not notice them at all, but I think it gives a warmth and depth to the dish.

Seasoned chicken for stew

Seasoned chicken for stew

Chicken with crushed tomatoes

Chicken with crushed tomatoes

Chicken with tomatoes and chickpeas

Chicken with tomatoes and chickpeas

Chicken stew with chickpeas in tomato sauce

Chicken stew with chickpeas in tomato sauce

Vika’s Pepper Salad

Bell pepper salad

Bell pepper salad

This is one of my absolute favorite salads! It’s great warm or cold, as a salad, a side to a meat or fish dish, or piled hungrily on a piece of toasted baguette as bruschetta. In addition to its versatility, this salad is very healthy and easy to prepare. You really can’t beat that.  You can also switch things up by adding other veggies, eggplant being my favorite add-in. But this time I went “traditional” since this is the first time I’ve ever made it (I’ve been after the recipe for a loooong time and finally got it). :)

Ingredients:
1 medium-large onion (diced)
2 medium-large bell peppers (sliced the long way; I used red and yellow, just ’cause I think that’s pretty and I don’t like green peppers)
1 large carrot (grated)
1/2 – 1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 – 1 TBSP maple syrup (use the real stuff, not the imitation, makes a HUGE difference)
Salt, black pepper, cumin, coriander to taste
Bay leaf (optional, and I forgot to use it)
Chicken bullion cube (optional, and I didn’t use it ’cause I don’t use those in general)

Steps:
1. Saute the diced onions till slightly golden in olive oil
2. Add the grated carrot and sliced peppers
3. Add the maple syrup
4. Add the spices and let saute until a little soft, or until your desired softness level. I let mine cook for about 20 minutes.

Sauted Onions

Sauteed Onions

Grated carrot

Grated carrot

Sliced Peppers

Sliced Peppers

Sauteed Peppers and Carrot

Sauteed Peppers and Carrot

Meringue and fruit trifles (Eaton Mess?)

Healthy Easy Dessert - Meringue and Berry Trifle

Healthy Easy Dessert - Meringue and Berry Trifle

[An alternate title for this post could have easily been "An ode to my KitchenAid"]

I thought I saw a similar dessert on some cooking show but couldn’t find it anywhere online. The basic premise was to have a healthier and lighter-feeling dessert that tasted great and was fairly easy to make and something I could make ahead. I also wanted something a little crunchy and something with fruit. So, I thought I’d make meringue for the crunchy part and stew some frozen fruit for the fruit part. But I wasn’t quite sure what the topping should be. I wanted something creamy and investigated zabaglione and decided it was too much work at this time and thus settled on whipped cream. I’ve never made whipped cream before, so it was good to learn to make it.
The best part is, you don’t have to have all these things home-made, you can assemble it from store-bought items if you’re in a pinch.  But if you choose to make these things from scratch, the recipes are below.

empty trifle glass

Dad approved!

I’ve never came up with a dessert before, and I’m not completely sure I did this time, but it was definitely a hit. Everyone cleaned their glasses, and dad even had seconds. You see, dad is really big into dessert, the Russian kind specifically (marmalade, “bird’s milk” which is marshmallow-y and typically covered in chocolate, Russian cakes, etc.). This trifle is quite far from a typical Russian dessert. So I was quite pleased that it was such a success.  Woohoo!

Ingredients for the trifle:
2 16oz. bags of frozen fruit (I had 1 bag of raspberries and 1 bag of mixed fruit with blackberries and strawberries).
1-1.5 cups of brown sugar
16-20 meringues (you can buy these or make them yourself)
splash of lemon juice
whipped cream (store-bought or your own, I used this recipe)

Steps for the trifle:
1. Saute the fruit with a splash of lemon juice and strain it (I didn’t want raspberry pits to get into people’s teeth).
2. Crumble about 2 meringues into each glass (I used martini glasses).
3. Add the fruit over the meringues.
4. Add some whipped cream.
5. Repeat for as much room as you have in the glass. I repeated it once, so had 2 layers of meringues, 2 layers of fruit, and 2 layers of whipped cream.

For Meringue (from the Low Fat Low Cholesterol cookbook):
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 egg whites

1. Whisk the egg whites in a bowl, adding the sifted brown sugar a little bit at a time, until the meringue is thick and glossy and you see stiff peaks on the whisk. I used my stand mixer for this because the one time I tried it before it took a long time and my arms grew tired. I know, I’m a wimp, but it was easier with a stand mixer because I could do other things and keep an eye on the mixture.
2. Spoon the mixture onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 325 for 30 minutes. Because it’s winter and I’ve had a lot of moisture in the air from other cooking endeavors, I just turned off the oven and left the meringue in the oven overnight. It helped it crisp up enough for my current purpose.

P.S. You might have noticed that the meringues in the glass are brown but in the picture above are white. They’re actually off-white because of brown sugar and after baking, they’re a sandy-brown color.

Sift brown sugar

Sift brown sugar

Egg whites whipping

Egg whites whipping

stiff-peaks-meringue

Stiff Peaks of the Meringue

Spooned Meringue

Spooned Meringue - not very pretty

Egg “Salad”

Egg Salad

Egg Salad

I call this egg “salad” because I don’t know what else to call it, and calling it egg “spread” just doesn’t sound appetizing, even though it’s great spread on bread as a snack or an appetizer.
But this recipe is just so simple and the results are disproportionately delicious. The most time-consuming part of this recipe is boiling eggs. Really. Just try it and you’ll see what I mean.  Use your favorite sharper cheese, but any cheese would probably work.

 

Ingredients:
6 eggs
1-1.5 TB of mayo
3 cloves of garlic (finely minced, less if you’re not a garlic enthusiast)
1/3 cup of grated cheese (any sharper cheese is great here, so mozzarella is out, but I used goat’s milk mozzarella and it worked well)

Steps:
1. Boil eggs and then smash them with a fork (or one of those egg slicer thingies).
2. Add finely minced garlic and mayo and mix to combine. You want it to just come together and not be goopy.
3. Add cheese and combine again.

Slicing Eggs

Slicing Eggs

Smashed Eggs

Smashed Eggs

Egg Salad

Egg Salad

A Healthier Thanksgiving

I absolutely love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. Not only do I get to cook up a feast, but people come and eat it and take food home too! But I also like the idea of having a day to get together with the family and count our blessings and all the positive and good things in our lives, no matter how small, for attitude is frequently half the battle.
And this year, I wanted to keep the dishes on the healthier side so we wouldn’t feel quite so guilty for indulging. Come to think of it, it was quite a vitamin C and veggie feast. I had lots of red bell peppers and other veggies, used mostly healthy fats (olive oil) and banished soda from the table. Though I don’t drink soda, it has been a tradition to have soda at any major get-together. But this year I insisted on seltzer water and fancied it up with some juices (the ones with no sugar added). The drinks were fizzy, which contributed to the celebratory feeling, but also much lighter and healthier than soda. So here is what we had:

Thanksgiving menu

Thanksgiving menu

Turkey
Mashed potatoes
Smoked mackerel (from the Russian store)
Roasted pepper salad
Vika’s sauteed pepper salad
Egg “salad”
Cabbage salad
Tabouleh
Cranberry sauce
Chocolate truffles with rum
Meringue and fruit individual trifles

Mushroom Sauce

Mushroom Sauce

Mushroom Sauce

Looks like I’ve been on a cooking binge lately. And I’m glad to say I like it. :) This recipe was came out of a conversation and was pretty much a necessity; you see, I bought about three pounds of mushrooms at Costco. I got two one-pound packages of baby portabella mushrooms and a one-pound package of chanterelles. Yeah, I know, I’m crazy. But mushrooms shrink when they cook. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. And I really, really like chanterelle mushrooms, as it turns out. Have you ever tried them pickled? If you haven’t, you really should seek them out (they’re frequently found in Russian/East European grocery stores, look for the non-jarred variety). But for this recipe, you can use any mushrooms you like, so experiment and enjoy.

If you’re entertaining, go ahead and use a pound of pasta since it’s easy to “stretch” pasta and make an economical, tasty dish. But if you’re cooking for yourself, consider using only half the pasta, especially if you like the mushrooms. For me, a pound of pasta is just too much and I wish I would have used only a half pound.

Ingredients:
1 small onion (diced)
2 cloves garlic (diced)
1 TB olive oil
2 pounds of mushrooms (1.5 LB portabella and .5 pound chanterelles)
1 pound linguine (but it turned out pasta-heavy, so next time I’ll use only a half pound of pasta)
1/2 cup white wine (I used Riesling, but this is optional)
1 – 1.5 cups of cheese (I used: mozzarella and fontina)
2 – 3 TB of mascarpone
Salt, pepper to taste.

Steps:
1. Saute the diced onion and garlic in olive oil for about 5-10 minutes, until the onion caramelizes slightly.
2. Clean and slice mushrooms. Add to the sauteed onion.
3. Add wine and let cook out for a few minutes, about 5.
4. Cook the mushrooms for about 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.
5. Cook pasta according to package directions.
6. Add half the cheese mixture and half the mascarpone; let cook for about 5 minutes.
7. Add pasta into the mushroom mixture. Combine thoroughly.
8. Add the rest of the cheese and mascarpone.

Onions and Garlic

Onions and Garlic

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Mushrooms cooking

Mushrooms cooking

Mushrooms with cheese

Mushrooms with cheese

Mushrooms with cheese and pasta

Mushrooms with cheese and pasta

Tabouleh

Tabouleh

Tabouleh

One of my currently favorite places has great Tabouleh.  I like how fresh and flavorful it is, not to mention how healthy it is.  So, I decided to try making it myself.  I looked online and all recipes were a little different; some had onions and some didn’t, some had more bulghur  (cracked wheat) some less, some some had mint, some didn’t.  But overall, a few things are consistent: bulgur, tomatoes, and cucumbers. And my goal was to try to replicate the tabouleh of the restaurant where I usually get it. That version doesn’t have mint or onions, so I omitted those ingredients.  Most versions have the cracked wheat soaking for a while (1-2 hours), but in the comments of one blog, someone suggested just rinsing it instead and letting it sit to absorb the tomato and lemon juice as well as olive oil.  This s the option I tried.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup bulgur
2 medium sized tomatoes
2 small cucumbers
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
lemon juice from half a lemon
Salt to taste

Steps:
1. Chop the vegetables and parsley finely. The restaurant version has the veggies diced fairly small and I wanted to stay true to that.
2. Rinse the cracked wheat in a fine mesh sieve and let drain.
3. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.

This amount can easily serve 4 as a side dish, or 6-8 as a salad.

Chopped cucumbers for tabouleh

Chopped cucumbers

Chopped tomatoes for tabouleh

Chopped tomatoes

Combined ingredients for tabouleh

Combined ingredients

Tabouleh

Tabouleh