29 April 2014

Asparagus-Asiago Ravioli with Chicken and Caramelized Shallots

Asparagus-Asiago Ravioli with Chicken and Caramelized Shallots

Life does not always go as planned when you are the decision-maker for an Alzheimers' Disease patient. From time to time you receive calls from the patient's caregivers, and you put your other plans on hold and attend to more important matters. It it simply one of the things you live with; you have no other choice.

So when I finally got around to preparing the fresh-frozen Asparagus-Asiago ravioli I bought from RP's Pasta Co. at the Dane County Farm Market, time was tight. The pasta had thawed and it wasn't supposed to; my fault completely for not packing it in ice for the more-than-three-hour drive from Madison to the northern hinterlands.

Moreover, the light was fading. I prefer to photograph my food in natural light; since my kitchen has only one north-facing window, I am forced to shoot my food in the dining room or TV room. But we've had nothing but gray days lately and the golden hour I was hoping for was non-existent.

But anyway...

I cooked the pasta according to package directions. While it was cooking I caramelized three large sliced shallots in olive oil with a space of balsamic vinegar and added some cooked chicken medallions. tossing in fresh thyme as an afterthought. I needed a quick "sauce" and did not want to hide the flavor of artisan-made ravioli with a bottled sauce.

I sprinkled grated Parmesan on top to marry the pasta and its partner; it was a throughly delicious supper, and I can't wait to try more offerings from RP's Pasta.

According to the RPs Pasta Web site, products are "made in small batches on Italian machines, hand-rolled and extruded through brass dies to produce an al dente texture." The company motto is "Farm to Fork with a Conscience."

I can't argue with that: In fact, I'm delighted to know it's made in my second home town, Madison, Wisconsin.

The ravioli was exceedingly fresh smelling. When I opened the packet, it smelled of lemon. While cooking, the pasta maintained its asparagus-green color. It cooked evenly, although I should have chosen a larger pan for cooking it. The pasta paired well with the sweetness of my caramelized shallots. I almost think raisins would have been good here; and I'll try them next time.

This is not a sponsored post. I liked the product and wanted to share it with you.

28 April 2014

Stir Fried Cabbage with Chicken and Cashews

Stir Fried Cabbage with Chicken and Cashews

During the cold weather months (most of the year in northern Wisconsin), there is always a bag of shredded cabbage in my refrigerator. Yes, the kind you buy to make cole slaw in a hurry.

During the short window of time cabbage is available from local growers, I make it the old-fashioned way, but when it's not, the bag comes in handy. Only trouble is, the bag seldom includes enough carrots, so I almost always add some to my final product.

I eat so much cole slaw, I often get tired of it. That's when it's time to (A) try a different cole slaw recipe, or (B) do something else with the cabbage.

If you are making sausage-cabbage soup or this recipe, a bag or two of pre-shredded cabbage is a godsend. I often toss small quantities that are left over into vegetable or chicken soup as well.

Shredded cabbage is also a great base for an Asian salad. I usually add almonds, cooked chicken or shrimp, soy sauce and maybe red peppers and peas or edamame. A dash of vinegar, maybe some chow mien noodles or even ramen noodles and you've got a pretty decent salad. Chinese Five-Spice is something I always keep on hand for stir fries.

I've also used leftover cabbage in skillet dish with potatoes, onions and kielbasa.

My favorite way to use up shredded cabbage is in a stir fry itself. Nothing could be easier.

Coming home from our quick and unexpected trip to Madison the other day, I found myself pondering how best to use up some leftovers: Chicken, bagged cole slaw mix, and green onions. A trip to the grocery store seemed like an unnecessary luxury.

Stir Fried Cabbage with Chicken and Cashews

  • 1 cup rice, uncooked*
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, leftover or cooked fresh with salt and pepper
  • 1/2 bag cole slaw mix
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • dash rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice 

Optional additions: Edamame, carrots, peas, water chestnuts, sweet peppers, broccoli, celery, Brussels sprouts.

Note: My cooked chicken breast, which was frozen, had been baked a week ago with salt and pepper and no additional seasonings.

Prepare rice according to package directions. Set aside.

Chop onion and mince garlic; brown in a large skillet over medium heat. Once they begin to turn golden, add the cole slaw mix, soy sauce, vinegar and Chinese Five Spice. Toss frequently, add the cooked rice and lower the heat. Taste, so you can adjust seasonings. Add the cashews (or almonds) last.

If you are adding other vegetables: Peas and edamame should be cooked and added with the rice. Broccoli, carrots, celery, red or green pepper, and Brussels sprouts can be added raw, as long as they are finely chopped.

I have substituted shrimp or leftover pork for chicken. Chopped green onion is a great topping.

It is a humble dish, to be sure, but a way of making use of everything on hand. And that always makes me feel virtuous.

*Since I freeze 1/2 cup portions of unused, cooked rice, I usually end up with a blend of brown and white long-grain rice when I make this and similar dishes.

26 April 2014

Madison, Wisconsin: A Haven for Food Lovers and Locavores

Radishes at a Wisconsin farm market
I missed my local farm market Saturday, but I had the chance to visit the market that started it all for me: the legendary Dane County Farm Market on Madison, Wisconsin's busy capital square.

Madison shares a huge hunk of my heart with Paris, France. I like cities, especially cities that have an enlightened and progressive populace. Madison and Paris meet that criterium.

During my 10 years as a Madisonian, I had easy access to the Saturday market: I lived five blocks away. I'd get up early, grab my string bag - which I still have - and head down Carroll Street for the best fresh vegetables as well as baked goods. I'd go back to my studio apartment, eat my breakfast tartine or muffin, and head back to the market for more produce. I probably spent less than $25 a week and always had organic produce on hand.

My Saturday lunch was always a fresh vegetable salad with sourdough bread. On Saturday night, I usually often cooked dinner for a friend, ate leftovers on Sunday, and made soup on Tuesday or Wednesday.

It was a thrill to be back on Saturday.

It's early in the season yet, but I found tomatoes, shallots, carrots, lettuce, meat, eggs, cheese, baked goods, flowers and vegetable plants and much more at the market. The vendors were as friendly as usual, though this is likely a new generation of growers.

Madison, always in the vanguard, has become a leader in Wisconsin's Eat Local movement. It's only been three years - too long! - since my last visit, but I found many more restaurants promoting locally sourced food, more than I noticed on my last visit.

I discovered an exquisite publication from Edible Madison. Check the link to learn more about the locavore movement in the Madison area.

Certainly one of the pioneers of the eat-local movement in Madison is Odessa Piper. She's no longer in Madison, as far as I know, but it's no stretch of the imagination to credit her with the thriving eat local movement in Wisconsin's capital city: Piper's restaurant, L'Etoile, now under new ownership, promoted use of local produce, dairy foods and meat in a time when imported food carried a good deal of prestige.

Thank goodness for Piper. May her lessons be long remembered here in Wisconsin.

25 April 2014

Fast and Frugal: Mediterranean Vegetable Soup with Lentils

I had the most incredible soup tonight at a restaurant that was new to me.

I won't say too much here, because I don't have the recipe. I will have to invent something similar. A challenge like that os often what I need to keep this blog going.

I'm tied up with another project this week, but I offer you this excellent soup from 2008:

Easy Mediterranean Vegetable Soup with Lentils

  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, Italian style
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel

Place olive oil, butter and onion in skillet; brown slightly. Add chicken stock, water and lentils. Bring to a boil and lower heat, simmering for about 30 minutes. Add tomatoes and carrots. Cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, adding zucchini as carrots begin to soften. Simmer at least 20 minutes longer, adding salt and pepper.

I paired it with goat cheese and roasted pepper on crusty rolls.

24 April 2014

Red Celery Salad with Bacon, Apples and Cranberries

Red celery salad with bacon, apples, cranberries.

From 2012: New produces comes slowly to the Northern Hinterlands. It was only six years ago that I bought golden beets for the first time. Red celery, which made a splash in 2010, is now available locally. 

Red celery is crunchier and more flavorful than its common green counterpart, at least to my taste buds. I immediately began thinking of crunchy pairings: A tart apple, some roasted pecans. Next came contrast - chewiness - in the form of dried cranberries (although cherries would work just as well).

Something was still missing: Some additional chewy ingredient that would add salt and sweet. I think I found it in bacon. Try it, and tell me what you think.

Red Celery Salad
  • 1 bunch red celery, washed and chopped
  • 1 small tart or sweet apple, chopped (I used Jazz, but what about Granny Smith?)
  • 1/3 cup roasted pecans, sugared
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/5 cup bacon bits (best if fresh, but packaged will do)
  • Dash sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar

for the dressing:
  • One half cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
  • Dash cinnamon
Toss celery with apple, nuts, cranberries and bacon. Season with enough salt to provide contrast to the sweetness of the brown sugar.

I'd serve this with pork or turkey. It could easily become a Thanksgiving side dish.

Postscript: Today I'd probably serve this with the pomegranate balsamic vinegar that I love so much.

22 April 2014

Fire-King Tulip Pattern Oven Ware

The smallest mixing bowl from my four-bowl set.

When I was a toddler, our kitchen was small and sunny, located in a second-floor apartment in a late 19th century house near the harbor. It had only one west-facing window, but the walls were painted yellow and the room was radiant in late afternoon.

The spice drawer smelled of what I now recognize to be cinnamon and cardamon. The bread box was tin with a yellow top. My mother used Fire-King Tulip bowls to mix cake and cookie batter. The bowls, eventually replaced by Pyrex, survived many decades without nicks or chips.

When my sister and I cleaned out Mum's still-yellow kitchen cupboards - no longer in an apartment but in my father's family home - we found two sets. One belonged to my late Aunt Dorothy, her older sister and my godmother. My sister and I each took a set of four nesting bowls.

Fire-King oven ware, an Anchor Hocking line, originated in the 1940s. Much like Pyrex, it was ideal for everyday kitchen use. Housewives acquired it piece by piece in bags of flour, or as weekly promotional items at stores. It was also sold, much as Pyrex is today, at hardware and grocery stores.

You may be familiar with Fire-King's Jadeite line, which Martha Stewart collects. I'm sorry I never acquired any of this lovely light-green glassware; it it pretty pricey stuff these days.

In the 1940s, Fire-King oven ware was commonplace. The primary-colored tulip design was the prettiest pattern. Today, it's a collectors' item.  I've seen a four-bowl set like mine offered for $225. The asking price for individual bowls is $20-$50, depending on size.

Fire-King's tulip line included other items, like salt and pepper shakers, but mixing bowls are popular in online searches.

Online sales descriptions usually spotlight the bowls' excellent condition. The ivory-colored sets are also described as splash-proof, likely because they are deeper than most mixing bowls.

But beware before you buy a set. There are impostors, according to this blogger who loves and collects Fire-King.

I probably won't use mine. But I like looking at them inside my pie safe, along with cake pans and pie plates from various family kitchens. They add character and the patina of age to my favorite room in the house.