Tag Archives: food

No Heat Required: Summer Ceviche

26 Jul

Does any dish embody refreshing, tropical, and summer-friendly much more than ceviche? If you’re a follower of Bravo’s Top Chef (and what self-respecting foodie/TV-addict isn’t?), you know how trendy ceviche has become of late.  Just try and make it through a Quickfire challenge without some variation on the simple citrus-marinated raw seafood dish.

Despite its simplicity (no stove required – a knife and a pair of hands will do), I had never attempted a ceviche at home until this week.  Color me a convert after my rookie effort.  While I chose shrimp and tuna as my frutti de mare, just about anything that calls the sea home will do (calamari, octopus, clams, scallops to name a few).  Toss with any vegetation you might also put in a salsa (tomato, onion, hot peppers, cilantro, corn, jicama, tomatillo, avocado) and douse with plenty of fresh citrus juice (lemon and lime are traditional, orange and grapefruit will obviously add some nice sweetness).

That’s it.  No cooking necessary.  Thanks to the extreme acidity of the citrus, the seafood takes on a “cooked” texture and appearance as its proteins are denatured similarly to when they are cooked with heat.  Make no mistake, however – the seafood will, in fact, remain “raw”, so you want to obtain your protein fresh from a trusted source.

A recent late-night trip to the grocery netted me a wealth of summertime fruit, namely watermelon and pineapple (other tropical fruits like mango or papaya would be easy substitutions).  Both seemed like fun and utterly appropriate additions that would bring a touch of seasonal character and a welcomed sweetness to the dish.

Summer Ceviche

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • Raw shrimp, peeled
  • Raw tuna steak, cut to 1/2 inch cube
  • Roma tomato, small dice
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Poblano pepper, thinly sliced
  • Watermelon, small dice
  • Pineapple, small dice
  • Fresh squeezed lime, lemon, orange juice
  • Fresh cilantro and mint, minced
  • Shot of tequila (optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt to taste

How I did it:

  1. Place shrimp and tuna in a bowl and and enough of the citrus juice to cover.  Add a pinch of salt, stir, and place in fridge, covered, for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Seafood should be taking on a whitish, cooked appearance.
  3. Uncover and add tomato, onion, poblano, cilantro, mint, tequila and olive oil.  Re-cover and place back in fridge for another 15-30 minutes.
  4. To serve, place some of the diced watermelon and pineapple in the bottom of small bowls.  Top with the marinated seafood and vegetables and a few teaspoons of the marinade.
  5. Save a shot of the remaining marinade for the morning after.  Referred to as leche de tigre (‘tiger’s milk’) by Peruvians and Ecuadorians, this intensely flavorful liquid is rumored to be the best hangover cure around.  You were enjoying this ceviche with a delicious beverage or three, weren’t you?

Gyros Welcome: Everyone’s Favorite Open-Faced Sandwich Made Easy

16 Jun

Who doesn’t love gyros?  Delicious lamb, tangy tzatziki, fresh tomatoes and onions on a chewy pita.  Few things take hold of me harder than a gyro craving.  Unfortunately, Madison’s pickings are slim (one feather in the caps of Milwaukee and Chicago is an abundance of great gyros shops).  Especially in the greater Southwest/Fitchburg area.  In lieu of a trip downtown for an overpriced, overcooked disappointment from Parthenon (though my last trip rebuilt some hope that their turning things back around) or a journey all the way across town to Poppa Coronofoulos ‘, I decided I was going to take the lamb by the ears and make gyros at home.  How hard could it be?

Obviously, I don’t have a large spit and broiler, nor the appetite to take down a hundred pound log of gyroloaf before it turns, so I would have to improvise.  Nothing new for 43N/89W.  The main tasks here are preparing the lamb (marinating) and whipping up the tzatziki (some of you might call it cucumber sauce.  I call it the highlight of the sandwich).  The rest is piling ingredients into a pita.  I’ll trust you with that bit.

Lamb Marinade

  • 1 tbsp Penzey’s Greek Seasoning (coarse salt, garlic, lemon, black pepper, Turkish oregano, marjoram)
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1tbsp water

Mix above ingredients and combine with cubed lamb meat in a zip-top bag for a couple of hours, or better, overnight.


(from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition)

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 1 cup greek-style yogurt
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and minced or grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill (I used a few shakes of dried)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt

How it’s done:

  • Stir those things together.  Refrigerate.  That’s it.  Eat it with a spoon if you like.  I do…


Ingredient Rundown:

  • lamb meat, cubed (I used lamb stew meat cuz it was cheap at ~$5/lb and I was going to skewer it anyway.  Knock yourself out and use nicer lamb steaks if you’d like, but you know we here at 43N/89W are scraping through the recession.)
  • tzatziki
  • sliced tomato and onion
  • pita bread, lightly oiled and grilled until soft and lightly browned on flat side
  • large romaine lettuce leaves (VERY optional and not very traditional, bu it helped hold the ingredients together in the pita and lent a nice crunch to the sandwich)

How it’s done:

  1. Marinate lamb meat for several hours or overnight.
  2. Prepare tzatziki, as above.
  3. Cook lamb meat, either sauteed in olive oil until medium or skewered, on the grill.  I tried both over the course of my two-day gryos binge and honestly preferred the pan-cooked version better as it just tasted more like the meat I’m used to in gyros and wasn’t overpowered by that grilled character).
  4. Let meat rest for a few minutes and slice thin.
  5. Lightly grill pita until pliable.  Assemble sliced lamb, tzatziki (LOTS), sliced tomato and onion and lettuce (optional) on pita.  Dig in.  It will be messy.  It’s worth it.  You will have onion breath.  It’s worth it.

Obsession: Chicken with Tomatillo-Poblano-Cilantro Sauce

1 Jun

Chicken with tomatillo-poblano-cilantro sauce

Some foods have a way of slipping under your radar, despite rocking your world every time you revisit them.  Tomatillos are firmly in that category for me.  Tart, tangy and refreshing as they are, tomatillos can be tough to wrangle up in Madison outside of their main growing season (May-October) and are often tucked away in ethnic or specialty sections of the produce department.  As such, they’re regretfully out-of-sight, out-of-mind on many of my grocery runs.  Thankfully, warm weather means my fridge has a steady supply of fresh salsa for snacking and salsa verde is one of my favorites so this illusive green-husked fruit is back in my life again.

Mexican food is so great because of the fresh, bold flavors and often simple preparations.  If you know my style in the kitchen, you know that’s precisely how I operate.  While this isn’t the quickest dish to whip up with the roasting and simmering involved, the crisp waves of flavor from the tangy tomatillos, spicy peppers and fresh cilantro make the effort well worth it.

Tomatillo-Poblano-Cilantro Sauce

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 8-12 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper
  • 1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock (or water)
  • generous pinches of dried Mexican oregano and epazote
  • juice of 1 large or several key limes
  • salt to taste.

How I do it:

  1. Place prepared tomatillos and poblano pepper on a baking sheet and roast under your broiler for 6-8 minutes or until the skin begins to blacken in spots.  Flip and repeat.
  2. Place roasted tomatillos and poblano pepper in a blender or food processor along with chipotle pepper, cilantro, garlic, stock or water, lime juice and seasoning.  Blend until well-incorporated into a smooth sauce.

Veg rainbow

Chicken and Peppers

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 3-4 chicken thighs, de-boned and rubbed with salt and Penzeys Northwoods Fire or other spicy blend
  • 1/2  each of poblano, green, yellow, orange and red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil

Chicken simmering

How I do it:

  1. Add vegetable oil to cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Sear chicken thighs for 3-4 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Set aside.
  2. Sauté peppers and onion in reserved oil and chicken drippings for 6-8 minutes, or until softened yet still firm.
  3. Add prepared tomatillo-poblano-cilantro sauce to pan along with seared chicken thighs.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-25 minutes until sauce has thickened and chicken in tender.

Serve on a warm tortilla, preferably with some delicious accoutrement like sour cream, guacamole, and fresh salsa.  I happened to have some pineapple-roasted corn salsa and fresh guac on hand, which added cool, refreshing counterpoints to the warm, tangy sauce.  If you’re not on the tomatillo bandwagon yet, you should be.  This platypus of the tomato family has a lot going for it if you can track it down.

For Deer ol’ Mom: Venison Fajitas

10 May

The great thing about having parents who are avid hunters is the endless stream of delicious venison that I get sent home with just about every time I visit.  Dad recently returned from an excursion in Colorado with some great mule deer meat that we also happened to grill for his 50th birthday on Friday.  An extra thawed package remained in the fridge, just begging to treat mom to a great Summer-y meal on Mother’s Day.  I was happy to oblige on a beautiful day like today.  And wouldn’t you know it, I drove home with a passenger seat full of venison, a big potted mint plant for my porch (ahem, mojitos), and money for a haircut (clearly, I need some work :/).  I love Mother’s Day!

Venison Fajitas

Ingredient Rundown (serves 2-3):

  • 1lb venison steak (Colorado mule deer backstrap steak in this case)
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
  • spicy rub for venison ( if you don’t have any Penzeys Northwoods Fire yet, fix that)
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • plenty of chopped cilantro
  • ~1/3 cup of grapefruit juice (optional, happened to be in my parents’ fridge and seemed like a fun way to add some sweetness and acidity in a quick marinade)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • tortillas (flour or corn – I ended up using some foo-foo cilantro-jalepeno-flavored, fajita-sized flour ones)
  • sour cream and/or fresh pico to garnish

How I do it:

  1. Rub venison with spices, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper.  Add lime juice and grapefruit juice and allow to marinate, stirring occasionally, for at least half an hour but up to several hours in refrigerator.
  2. Slice bell peppers and onions, sprinkle with rub, salt, pepper, cilantro and citrus and allow to marinate along with venison.
  3. Fire up that grill.  Cook over high heat for 3-5 per side or until cooked medium.  You could pan sear the steak as well, but what fun is that?  It’s grilling season, damn it, despite the occasional 35 degree May hiccup.  Let meat rest for 5-10 minutes then slice thin.
  4. Saute the veggies with a tablespoon of vegetable oil over high heat until translucent 8-10 minutes.
  5. Heat the tortillas (a few seconds in the microwave brings them to life) and assemble with condiments of choice.
  6. Take a shot of premium tequila with your mom.  She deserves it for being your mom and you deserve it for whipping up a quick and tasty meal.  Dig in.

Obsession: Three Cup Chicken

5 May

As I mentioned in my early piece on Natt Spil, their Three Cup Chicken (or San bei ji) is one of those dishes that worms its way into your head and demands being sated several times a year.  There’s nothing shy about this traditional South China/Taiwanese dish – obscene amounts of minced garlic and ginger, sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce with a heavy-handed dose of fresh basil, paired with a spicy-sour salad of sliced cucumber and tomato.  Too much of a good thing means nothing in my book, so this dish is right in my wheelhouse.  And should be in yours.

Three Cup Chicken (San bei ji)

Ingredient Rundown:


  • Chicken thighs, de-boned and roughly chopped (3 healthy-sized thighs yielded 2 healthy-sized servings)
  • 1/3 cup sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)
  • 1/3 cup rice wine (I’ve used Dry White Sherry to fine results)
  • 1 large thumb-sized lobe of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Fresh basil chiffonade, to taste
  • 1 heaping tsp corn starch
  • 1 cup dry Jasmine rice

Pickled Cucumber/Tomato Salad

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into sticks
  • 2 roma tomatoes, sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • basil chiffonade, to taste
  • dash of garlic powder, powdered ginger
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • juice of 1 lime (or several small key limes in my case)
  • squirt of Sriracha
  • splash of soy sauce
  • pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

How I do it:

  1. Prepare pickled salad by marinating sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions in rice vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce, Sriracha, soy sauce, basil, and spices.  Gets better with time, but give it at least an hour or two.
  2. Add sesame oil to large skillet or cast iron frying pan and saute minced garlic and ginger over medium heat for 5-8 minutes
  3. Add chopped chicken thighs, seasoned with kosher salt and saute with garlic and ginger for about 10 minutes until lightly browned
  4. Prepare 1 cup of jasmine rice, as directed on package (in general the rice should take 20-25 minutes to cook, so now would be a good time to start it so it finishes with the chicken)
  5. Add rice wine, soy sauce, most of the basil and corn starch (I made a slurry by mixing corn starch with an equal amount of soy sauce – this prevents lumps and allows it to incorporate better to thicken sauce) and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by 80-90% and a thick sauce remains.
  6. Serve with jasmine rice and pickled salad.  Garnish liberally with more fresh basil.  Bask in its effervescence.  Life is good.

I enjoyed this batch of three cup chicken with some delicious La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2009 that I just picked up at Barriques Wine and Spirits. I really enjoyed the previous vintage this fall and the fresh stuff really went well with this dish.  Heavily acidic with the first glass I sampled the night before, the wine really opened up with a night under its belt and the fresh notes of lime and ginger shined through, highlighting those aspects of the food nicely.  A pretty nice way to spend an 70 degree evening in early May, I must say.

Recipe Re(redux): Chicken and Waffles – Indian Style

31 Mar

If you didn’t get the memo yet – I love me some chicken and waffles.  After sampling straight from the source at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood (verdict: good, in that traditional way that is well-executed but lacks a certain panache.  The fried chicken was very tasty but the waffle was somewhat reminiscent of a soggy scouring sponge – I prefer a little crispness) and experimenting a little at home, I consider my chops pretty solid.  Loyal reader will also be aware of my affinity for all things curried.  Combine those with a hungry Travis at midnight and you have yourself a recipe for a comfort food classic with a twist.

I stuck with the same base waffle recipe from my first crack at the dish (minus the pecans and brown sugar), but added about 3/4 of a teaspoon of Penzeys Sweet Curry Powder and a dash of Garam Masala. They turned out lightly crisped on the outside and wonderfully steamed and fluffy on the inside in a way that mimicked grilled naan bread in a serendipitously appropriate way.

For the chicken (this time boneless, skinless thighs), I went with a simple double dredging method (egg wash – flour – egg wash – flour) with the flour seasoned with salt, pepper, curry, garam masala, and garlic powder and pan fried them for a few minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy.

I couldn’t quite decide on salty or sweet for a syrup/sauce/gravy and ended up fudging a sweet and savory gravy from chicken stock thickened with roux, apricot preserves, sweet curry, cracked pepper and a dash of salt.  I managed meld the best of syrup and gravy to find a great balance that satisfied both ends of the flavor and texture spectra.

For a chicken and waffles and curry-head like myself – a pretty damn tasty meal thrown together in about 45 minutes on a whim.  A tasty second act awaits for lunch tomorrow as well.

Operation Too Much Ham: Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

10 Mar

OK, so there really is no such thing as too much ham, but 11 pounds of ham don’t eat themselves.  And they take up half of my fridge.  In my quest to find new ways of putting lipstick on this pig, I found a pretty delicious-looking recipe in my boy Mario Batali’s book Molto Italiano.  I am often convinced that I was Italian in another life because I always come back to Italian food for its flavorful simplicity.  While I’m jumping the gun on “Easter” food again, this pasticcio di maccheroni or “pasta pie” is the kind of comforting goodness that needs no special occasion.

Dish: Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

recipe courtesy of Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano

Ingredient rundown:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 rib celery, thinly sliced
  • (I also tossed in a few diced mushrooms)
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 pounds ziti
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta
  • 8 ounces caciotta or hard provolone, cut into small dice
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • (I also sprinkled some breadcrumbs on top for a little crunch.  Entirely optional of course)

*I ended up making roughly 2/3 of a batch and adjusted my measurements accordingly

How it’s done:

  1. In a Dutch oven (I used my trusty cast iron skillet), heat the oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the carrot, onion and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
  4. Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minutes less than the package directions, until still very al dente. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.
  5. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta and caciotta and stir to combine.
  6. Grease a 9-by-12-inch baking dish with extra-virgin olive oil. Place a ladleful of sauce in the bottom of the casserole, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the parmigiano-reggiano over, then repeat with another layer of sauce, then pasta and meat, and parmigiano. Continue until all ingredients are used up.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.

Is turning 1 pound of ham into 3 or 4 pounds of pasta productive from a fridge-clearing standpoint?  Perhaps not, but hot damn if it wasn’t tasty.  Hard to go wrong with ham, Italian cheeses and wine.  Mario knows things, despite his affinity for tech vests and orange foam footwear.

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