Thursday, March 25, 2010

Potluck 2/26: The Wine-al Countdown

Mike, the man who can always be counted on to bring a 12 pack of beer or an extra-large bottle of wine, hosted the last potluck in February. In typical Mike style, he came up with a potluck theme that combined scientific rigor with a love for wine: an old fashioned wine-tasting. We brought bottles of wine, put them in paper bags, and then numbered them, so we could taste unencumbered by the knowledge of the quality of the wine or who brought it.

There was also food, of course. A delicious lentil dish, a cheesy tuna bake, pasta with homemade pesto, spicy cheesy potatoes, and a bourbon apple cinnamon bundt cake (which was my contribution). My cake was tasty enough, but really nothing special. And I didn't adequately butter the bundt pan, and when I tried to un-bundt it, it broke apart. So we ate it from the bundt pan. I can assure you, it was much better that way. Did I mention the bourbon glaze that got poured over it? I guess it was a little special. I got my recipe from The Kitchen Sink, and you can go there if you want the cake recipe. But let me just give you the glaze recipe, for pouring over whatever you want to taste like bourbon. Mmm.

Bourbon Glaze
from The Kitchen Sink

Shake a scant 1 cup confectioners sugar and 2 Tbsp water in a mason jar to mix. Add 1 or 2 Tbsp good quality bourbon. Shake some more. Pour over cake, ice cream, poached fruit, or just into your mouth.

But back to the wine... here were the rules. Pour yourself a small (or large) cup of wine. Remember the number on the paper bag you poured from. Drink wine. If you are a true connoisseur, make mental notes on the flavor profile and think long and hard about what rating (between 0 and 10, with one decimal place allowed) you should give the wine. Write your rating in the row next to the wine number you drank. If you're just a regular person, sip wine, swish it around in your mouth, and pick a random number that may or may not correlate to the actual tastiness of the wine. Write said number in the correct row.
I personally only found a few wines that inspired either praise or serious dislike. Otherwise I went more with the "pick a number" method. There was plenty of good conversation, so it was also common for people to forget what number wine they just tried. What I'm saying is, that it wasn't a perfectly scientific study. But it sure was fun.
Near the end of the night, Gabriel took a calculator and tallied scores. Mike had provided prizes for the best wine, and for the best value wine (the wine with the highest score to price ratio). It should be noted that ratings of "i" and "pi" were disqualified for being imaginary and irrational, respectively. The rating, "ASS," was counted as a 0.

Katie and Kevin won the Best Value award, with their wine, Green Fin White Wine, at a price of $3.99 at Trader Joe's. Here is Katie accepting their prize, a princess bubble kit! (Yay!)

Gabriel's wine won the Best Overall award. He brought an Ulrich Langguth Riesling. Here we are accepting his prize of a scary inflatable pig punching balloon. It was truly scary, so I have spared you all by not posting pictures of it. It should be noted that Gabriel also brought the worst wine: Zarafa Sauvignon Blanc. Apparently, a giraffe on the bottle does not a good wine make. If you can decipher Gabriel's handwriting, here are the full results:

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

February Goal: Mussels for Valentine's

After having a delicious bowl of mussels with chorizo at The Blue Marlin during winter restaurant week, I decided I would recreate this dish for my February cooking goal.

Gabriel and I decided that instead of going out on Valentine's Day and facing overpriced meals and crowded dining rooms, I'd make dinner on the 14th, and we'd go out to our favorite restaurant, Sardine, later in the week. So mussels and chorizo went on the menu for v-day.

I don't often cook seafood, and when I do, it's usually fish from the freezer section. So even buying the mussels took me out of my comfort zone. I found a small seafood store in Madison, and ventured there on the 13th. I bought 2 lbs of fresh mussels, and stored them in the fridge in a bowl covered with a damp cloth. The next afternoon, I found one of the mussels had clamped on to the cloth. They were alive for sure!

To prepare the mussels, they first took a 30 minute soak in bowl of flour and water (so, in principle, they will disgorge sand and take in flour, making them plumper). Next I went over the shells with a wire scrubber and pulled out the stringy "beard" that helps them attach to rocks. I also discarded mussels that were open and didn't close after I tapped them. Finally, the mussels went into a hot pot of white wine, tomatoes, chorizo, shallots, garlic, and thyme. I was roughly following an Ina Garten recipe to make sure I had about the right proportions and for the method, but otherwise I was winging it. (My recipe appears at the end of this post.)

After a few minutes steaming in the wine, the mussels started to swing open. Gabriel and I peered in through the clear lid at the yawning shells. The smell of shallots cooked in chorizo fat was making our mouths water, and it was difficult to wait the 8 minutes it took for them to steam.

The rest of the menu was decided at the last minute. I was going to make short ribs, but I didn't have a great recipe for them. At the farmer's market, the vendor showed me a few different cuts of meat, and I finally decided on a large top sirloin that ended up providing 4 smaller steaks.

For dessert, Gabriel wanted something chocolate (maybe), and not fruit (probably). He's more of a milk chocolate guy, while I often find milk chocolate too one-note and sweet for my tastes. But I found a very interesting and not-at-all one-note recipe in Bon Appetit's February special on milk chocolate.

mussels steamed in white wine with chorizo
Dr. Beckermann Liebfraumilch (our favorite Trader Joe's wine)

top sirloin from Fountain Prairie Farms
butternut squash risotto

Les Jamelle Pinot Noir (a gift from Carlos and Lana)

Mussels Steamed in White Wine with Chorizo
Serves 2-3 as a large appetizer

2 lbs fresh mussels
1/4 cup flour
1/2 lb bulk chorizo
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
2 or 3 shallots, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 14oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme

1. To prepare the mussels, put them in a bowl with 2 quarts water and flour, and let sit for 30 minutes. Pull off the "beard," and scrub shells with a brush or metal scrubber if they are dirty. Discard shells that are open which do not close tightly soon after being tapped.
2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil at medium-high in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Break chorizo into small pieces and brown it in the olive oil.
3. Remove chorizo with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat. Add additional olive oil if needed. Saute shallots in the oil until they are tender. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes more, stirring, and making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Add tomatoes.
4. Pour in white wine, and let it boil down for a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the chick broth, reserved chorizo, and thyme. Bring to a boil.
5. Add the mussels. Cover the pot and steam for 8 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not opened after 8 minutes.
6. Serve mussels in bowls, and ladle cooking broth and chorizo over them. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pi Day

Sunday was Pi Day (March 14th...), and as a nerdy physicist/engineer and lover of pies, I had to make a Pi Pie. I chose a blackberry apple pie. Naturally, I inscribed the top with the Greek letter "pi" to let steam escape. The pie was extra juicy (despite corn starch in the filling), but it tasted great, especially topped with a mountain of whipped cream.

Blackberry Apple Pie
from The Kitchn

1 recipe for double pie crust (I used this one from Bon Appetit.)
3 cups frozen blackberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sweetened crystallized ginger (didn't have any - used a 1 in chunck of fresh ginger grated into the mix)
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 pinch salt
(1 egg beaten thoroughly - whoops! didn't do this!)

Mix blackberries, ginger, and apples with brown sugar and set aside. Roll out one half of the dough, and line a 9 inch pie plate with it. Mix nutmeg, cornstarch, and salt, and stir this mixture into the fruit filling. (Lightly brush the pie dough in the plate with the egg.) Pour the filling into the pie dough. Roll out the second half of the pie dough, and lay over the filling. Seal edges with a fork, and cut slashes into the top. (Brush top crust with beaten egg).
Bake at 375 degree F oven for 35-40 minutes, until filling is bubbly, and the crust is golden brown.

As you can see, it was runny and juicy, but it was (and still is) pretty delicious. I hope a lot of people tried to make some pie on Sunday. If you didn't, don't be intimidated, it's fun and delicous, even if it doesn't end up looking pretty. Yay Pie! (and pi)
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Potluck 2/4: Our cup runneth over

Oh my, have I been tardy with my updating. Sorry! Before I host potluck tonight, I figured I should at least get one February post in. So here goes - potluck night, February 4th.

The lovely Nicole hosted, in the house where Thursday potlucks began. And there was more food than I could begin to describe here. Nicole made biryani and tandoori chicken. Aditya contributed spicy, flavorful Indian potato cakes, the proper name of which I do not know. Carlos brought a chickpea curry, and Lana contributed chocolate-chip cookie bars. I am leaving out a lot of stuff, but I will blame that on putting off posting this, for which I have already apologized.

Where are the recipes for all these fabulous (and often Indian) dishes? Not here, unfortunately - although I love Indian food dearly, it is not my strong point in the kitchen. So let's get on to the desserts, shall we? I've already mentioned Lana's cookie bars, and I brought a simple chocolate bread pudding. I used Martha Stewart's recipe, and added some cardamom, because I wanted something a little more than the one-note chocolate taste. I was lucky enough to get to take a bit of it home, leftover, and it provided a few late night, and I'll admit, breakfast-time snacks.

But the killer dessert wasn't mine - it was Katie's (Nicole's undergraduate assistant). She made a dessert that combines two already wonderful things: sopapilla and cheesecake. You heard me right: sopapilla cheesecake (pictured above, on the left).

Sopapilla Cheesecake


1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 1/2 cup sugar (divided)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 (8 oz) packages refrigerated crescent rolls
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 9x13 in baking dish with cooking spray OR preheat to 375 degrees F and prepare 9 in springform pan with cooking spray.
2. Beat the cream cheese with 1 cup of the sugar and the vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
3. Unroll the cans of crescent roll dough, and use a rolling pin to shape each sheet into 9x13 inch rectangles and press one sheet into the bottom of the 9x13 baking dish OR place crescent triangles from one can into bottom of the springform pan so they cover the bottom and some of the sides.
4. Evenly spread the cream cheese mixture into the pan, then cover with the remaining crescent dough, and brush with melted butter.
5. Stir together 1/2 cup of sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the top of the cheesecake.
6. Bake until the crescent dough has puffed and turned golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.
7. Think it's the best cheesecake you've ever tasted.

Thanks for a good potluck, Nicole and company!
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