Mad-as-hell puttanesca

After three weeks of feeling the love and staying optimistic about winning the fight against the soulless tyrant now ‘leading’ my state, Tuesday night I finally gave in to the anger and was mad as hell. I needed to bang some pots around, wield knives and curse in the kitchen. I needed a recipe to match my fiery mood. I present to you, ‘Mad-as-hell puttanesca.’ It’s salty, spicy, tangy and impossible to screw up too badly (this part is key, considering I was cooking with blind rage and not paying much attention to what I threw in the skillet).

Fiery pepper flakes and garlic burning in the oil

I was first introduced to puttanesca by my friend Derek (the Packer owner). Derek told me that legend has it that Italian ‘women of the night’ would make a batch of spaghetti alla puttanesca to put on their windowsills to beckon suitors. I love to picture the open windows and curtains wafting in the breeze while a pot of spaghetti sits steaming on a dark Italian night. Derek makes a more traditional puttanesca sauce with anchovies and herbs (I always forget about those pesky herbs). I never follow a recipe when I make it, but always include a few essential ingredients: olives, capers, and tomatoes.

Muir Glen tomatoes, salty olives and capers

Between tirades delivered to Dan and the stove, a captive audience, this is what I cooked up the other night:

__________________________________________

Mad-as-hell Puttanesca

Ingredients:

tomatoes (crushed, diced or whole)- I like Muir Glen organic

tomato sauce

olives- cured black olives work well

capers

garlic

olive oil

kale

red pepper flakes

wine (red or white)

whole wheat pasta (spaghetti or penne)

parmesan cheese

Directions:

Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. Add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes- I like a lot of heat, so I add a lot. Depending on how many you are serving, add some canned tomatoes and the juice (I added half a can for the two of us). I had some leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, so I added some of that, too. Pour in some wine- red or white works fine. To add a little color and up the health ante I added some kale that I tore into bite-sized pieces. Let this simmer and bubble for a while over low-medium heat. Boil water for the pasta. Rant and rave. Cry. Take a sip of beer. Chop olives, wave knife in air, curse. Heat oven for bread. Salt the boiling water. Add pasta. Take a breath. Add the olives and capers to the simmering sauce. Put bread in oven. Dress the salad. Stir pasta into the sauce. Take bread out of the oven. Serve the pasta in bowls with freshly shredded parmesan cheese from the state that is boiling with turmoil. Serve and attempt to enjoy.

_________________________________________________

The reason for my anger? After days and days of peaceful protests the governor illegally shutdown the Capitol to prepare for his budget address. For the first time there was an orange fence keeping protestors away from the state building in an attempt to keep the noise out of his lethal budget speech.

While we stood outside in the cold, the heartless and cowardly governor told a crowd of supporters (ushered secretly into the Captiol) inside that he plans to cut nearly $900 million dollars from Wisconsin’s public education system. He wants to take this money and give it to the people who fix roads. The same people who donated to his campaign and got him elected. On Tuesday I just couldn’t take it anymore and I erupted with sadness and rage. But now I’m back to feeling optimistic because, in retrospect, the governor is scared. I’m still mad as hell, but I also realize that the governor is working so hard to silence the voices of dissent because he knows that he is doing something wrong. I will continue to fight. And I hope you will join me.

The whole world better be watching

Extraordinary.

ex·traor·di·nar·y/ikˈstrôrdnˌerē/Adjective

1. Very unusual or remarkable.
2. Unusually great.

This week has been extraordinary.

I have stood one foot away from Reverend Jesse Jackson and heard him tell a crowd of 20,000 that “the ground is no place for champions- we must rise.” I have woken up each day with a purpose- to get to the Capitol. I have watched my boyfriend, who usually can’t drive five feet into his hometown without getting pulled over (he has long hair and a van) run laps around the Capitol to find a pizza to offer to the hungry sheriffs watching over the peaceful crowd. While one power-hungry and confused man is trying to take away our rights, I have never felt more empowered or inspired. I want to be a better teacher, activist and friend. I have smiled more, cheered more, hugged more. I will hold on hope. Together we must rise.

Saucepans and the single girl

With Dan on the road with Clovis Mann this weekend, I found myself cooking for one. When this happens I always think about my mom’s cookbook from the 1960s entitled, ‘Saucepans and the Single Girl.’ I have always thought that this is one of the all-time greatest cookbook titles. While the inspiration for the book was to bait bachelors with downhome cooking (think beef stroganoff), I just wanted to make myself a healthy and delicious meal that would go well with the bottle of red wine (“Wisconsites love Malbec,” I was told) that I had just picked up at Star Liquor. Not able to get enough of roasted cauliflower lately, I whipped a pasta dish that featured this delicious vegetable, along with my old favorite, kale. Addicted to olives, I added those, too. Here is my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Pasta:

___________________________________________

Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Pasta

serves 1-2

The triumverate of ingredients

Ingredients:

A couple handfuls of cauliflower

olive oil

5 stalks kale

black olives

red pepper flakes

coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

whole wheat pasta

freshly shredded parmesan cheese

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss cauliflower with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower until it starts to brown (about 15-20 minutes).

Roasted cauliflower

While the cauliflower is roasting, boil a pot of water. Wash the kale and rip it into bite-sized pieces and when the water is boiling, steam the kale until tender (about 2-3 minutes).

Steamed kale

Place kale aside, salt the boiling water and add the whole wheat pasta (I like to use penne but only had linguine the other night, so I used that in a pinch.) When using straight pasta I have heard that a general rule is to use about a quarter-sized handful per person. While the pasta is cooking, place the roasted cauliflower (along with the olive oil from the baking sheet) in a skillet, turn the heat on medium-low and season with red pepper flakes, freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.

Cauliflower eagerly awaiting some salt and pepper

Add the kale to the pan and give it a stir. After eating about 17 olives and taking a sip of wine, slice up a few olives (I like to use the ‘whiskey’ olives from the Willy Street co-op olive bar- I don’t know the official name) and throw those into the skillet. After the pasta has cooked a few minutes, drain it and add it to the skillet. Give the pasta another stir and adjust any seasonings. Serve the pasta with some freshly shredded parmesan cheese on top.

Yum

_________________________________________

I recommend serving this meal with a glass (or two) of wine, a crusty piece of bread and a few squares of this candy bar for dessert:

Super yum

A meal fit for a single girl.

P.S. If you need a movie suggestion, I think this winter meal goes great with ‘Beautiful Girls.’ If you haven’t seen this movie in awhile (or never) it is one of my all-time favorites. With Matt Dillon and Michael Rapaport as snowplow drivers, this movie features ice shanties, whiskey drinking, a great soundtrack (including ‘Will it Go Round in Circles,’ by Billy Preston) and a bar scene where Uma Thurman mentions one of my favorite holidays which happens to be coming up this week (hint: it’s not Valentine’s Day). Speaking of Valentine’s Day, I’m off to Monroe Street to buy a heart-shaped cookie cutter and a sifter. I’m making cookies and this time I’m going to do it right… Happy Sunday.

Love letter to Wisconsin, Part 3

Good morning, Wisconsin.

Without getting too political here, this is a scary time for our state. Our rights are under attack and just sitting down and taking it is not an option. I’m not sure quite yet what my plan is for taking action, but this morning I am thinking about all of the good things about Wisconsin and trying to send all positive vibes our states’ way. Here is the start of a list, in no particular order:

1. The Green Bay Packers

The Packers, owned by thousands of Wisconsinites, just showed THIS MUCH HEART and won a little football match called the Super Bowl.

2. The University of Wisconsin System

The Memorial Union Terrace

From world-class professors, stem cell research, and ‘Varsity’, to ice cream, beer and popcorn at the terrace and the Rathskellar, I love the UW.

3. The Wisconsin Film Festival

After working in the box office for the festival two years ago, this event has become one of my favorite things about Wisconsin. It’s where I first saw ‘Food, Inc.’ (which completely changed my way of thinking about food and the environment) and a charming film called ‘The Beetle,’ a documentary about a man living in Jerusalem who decided to trace the history of his VW Beetle. Seeing an email about this event in my inbox last night made me infinitely happy.

I’m off to go cross-country skiing, so this list is to be continued….

Lasagna Mia!

This past Saturday at 12:01 a.m. I sat staring at these letters during a tight Scrabble match at the Weary Traveler:

Yijuxy?

On their own those letters have a lot of scoring potential- but having them all at once, not so much. I came in last. But that’s okay, I was too busy enjoying my Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, the banter with Dan and Dr. Hotbody and eavesdropping on the guy behind us who had a completely backwards and twisted definition for karma (No, I don’t think you acquire good karma by getting drunk before asking your co-workers to cover your shift for ‘personal reasons’ so that you can continue drinking.) After the tavern Dan and I listened to his Rick Danko record and then it was off to bed.

The next morning unable to sleep I grabbed the closest book to me which happened to be Eat, Pray, Love. I read this book a few summers ago and found the India praying section to be a bit long-winded, but I love reading about food so I opened up to Italy. I read about gelato, olives, asparagus, pasta, pastries and pizza and repressed Americans and before long I had to wake up Dan for a walk down to Batch Bakehouse where we purchased 12 dollars worth of baked goods, including a gruyre-filled croissant and one of the best scones that I have ever had in my life (it had walnuts, raisins and cinnamon glaze). From there we walked to the Willy Street Co-op to pick up ingredients for dinner- I had a hankering for lasagna. We bought whole milk ricotta! And 2% milk! And Nutella (still unopened and sitting on the shelf)! No repressed American here!

After a run, (do Italians believe in exercise?) I started dinner. I had intended to follow a recipe from my January issue of Bon Appetit. When I glanced at it I noticed that it was vegetarian and had swiss chard and mushrooms. When I sat down to read the actual entire recipe it lost me at ‘Turkish bay leaf.’ It might be time for me to admit that I don’t have a lot of patience for following recipes- this is always true for baking and sometimes true for cooking. I also realized that the recipe didn’t call for tomato sauce. What?! And they wanted me to blanch the swiss chard before sauteing it. I’m out. Let the creative process begin.

This is my adaptation of a recipe for lasagna loosely based on a recipe from Bon Appetit that wanted me to travel to Turkey in order to obtain a bay leaf. I call  it, ‘Lasagna Pile,’ in honor of the fact that I have no clue how to evenly spread ricotta over the rough terrain that is all of the other ingredients (why don’t they keep lasagna noodles in 9′ by 13′ sheets?) and as an homage to the great song, ‘Dutch Pile’ by the Happy Schnapps Combo.

_______________________________________________

Lasagna Pile

serves 1-6, depending on if you plan on entertaining Clay Matthews

Béchamel sauce:

 2 cups 2% milk

4 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Swiss chard, spinach and mushroom layers:

 1 bunch Swiss chard

handful spinach

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, chopped, divided

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Coarse kosher salt

1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced

Lasagna:

8-10 whole wheat lasagna noodles

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably organic),

8 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)

For béchamel sauce:
Bring milk to simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (do not let roux brown). Gradually whisk milk with bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and nutmeg and bring to simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes.

For swiss chard and mushroom layers:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, half of garlic, and crushed red pepper. Sauté until onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in chard and spinach and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium- high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

For lasagna:
Cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Brush 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel sauce thinly over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spoon some tomato sauce over the noodles. Spread half of chard mixture over pasta and sauce, then half of mushrooms. Drop half of ricotta over in dollops and spread in even layer (good luck with this). Sprinkle with half of Parmesan cheese; spread 3/4 cup béchamel over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, sauce, remaining chard, mushrooms, ricotta, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup béchamel. Cover with 3 noodles and remaining béchamel. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil. Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake lasagna covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

_______________________________________________

For photos of this recipe, please see Wordless Wednesday: Lasagna pile. I served the lasagna with a baguette from Batch Bakehouse, steamed  kale, and red wine.

Bon appetit! And don’t forget to do something unrepressed this weekend!

You know it’s the Packers

Somewhere in the middle of all of this I realized that I have fallen in love with you, Green Bay Packers.

I grew up a sports fan, but I was more concerned with baseball and soccer. I distinctly remember listening at a young age to Robin Yount batting while Uecker called the game on the radio on a Easter Sunday as I sat eating pastel-colored candy corn. I remember the Brewers no-hitter in ’87 and my dad taking me for walks in ’84 while the beloved Chicago Cubs tried to make it to the World Series (he believed he was a jinx if he watched the games). But I don’t remember anything about the Packers. Growing up in Madison you can feel isolated from the rest of the state… Needless to say my first vivid memory of the Packers was when I was studying for an Algebra test in high school with my friend Adam, a giant Packer fan. I’m not sure of the circumstances (regular or post-season) but the Packers lost and Adam proceeced to jump up and run outside and moan defeatedly while rolling around in a snowbank. At that point I realized that this team must be worth caring about. Two years later came a Super Bowl victory and more rolling around in the snow by boys- but this time it was the thrill of victory that led them to the drifts. I watched the next year as the Packers lost the Super Bowl, and I’m pretty sure I was bummed. The next few years are hazy… Fast forward to 2003. The Packers were making a run for the playoffs but it was a longshot and depended on a number or factors. In the last game of the season the Packers had to win and the Vikings had to lose. It wasn’t looking good. I remember sitting on the couch unable to breath. The Packers won their game, but the Vikings were rolling against the Cardinals. My dad was on the computer with a slow internet connection trying to get the latest on the Vikings game- suddenly the t.v. came back from commercials and in some miraculous turn of events, the Cardinals had come back to win. The Packers were going to the playoffs. The phone rang. I knew it was going to be Dan (we were still just friends at the time) and all I could do was scream into the phone. No hello. No hi. No doubt. Just screaming. I knew it was over- there was no turning back- I had become as crazy as the rest of them. I was also moving to Wyoming in a few days.

The next few years I celebrated the victories and felt sorrow at the losses. I bragged about the loyalty of Packer fans to all of my new Patriot fans that I met while living in Wyoming. I sat in my loft on New Year’s Eve 2006 crying when Favre cried at the end of what I thought would be his last game. Back living in Wisconsin I cried my eyes out again when Favre retired the first time. You know what happened next. And now here we are. The Packers are in the Super Bowl in less than two hours. Rational or not, I will sit captivated on my couch watching the game. I will scream. I will pull my shirt over eyes, unable to watch. I will trip myself running around the house like a maniac. I might cry. My neighbor might think again that Dan and I are domestically abusing each other until he realizes that we are actually yelling about a Tramon Williams interception. It’s all fair game. And no matter what happens, you know it’s the Packers. And Packer fans, you know it’s us.

Danger in his favorite Packer outfit

Laramie Peak, Wyoming- where Meagan, Dan and I screamed 'Go Pack Go' at the top of our lungs and wondered if Bengal fans would ever climb a mountain and yell 'Go Bengals'

Meagan and Derek's dogs with their Packer-colored casts

A magical evening at Lambeau Field when the Packers beat the Seahawks in the playoffs in a snowstorm

Dan and Clay Packer-Owl doing the Packer March, invented by Derek, a Packer owner, after a Packer victory at Bronco Stadium

Go Pack Go

Taco Friday: Roasted cauliflower and black beans

I have fallen in love with cauliflower.

Cauliflower is the new kale

Lately I have been putting it on a baking sheet, drizzling it with olive oil and roasting it in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or so. Right before serving I shake on sea salt and a couple of turns of freshly ground pepper. Yum.

Last Sunday night after the Packers won the NFC Championship, Dan and I took our now traditional ‘Packer March’ to the Laurel Tavern for a quick victory celebration. Upon returning home famished, we ordered my favorite take-out in town, Burrito Drive. I always get the same order (they even have it in the computer): Build your own tacos- flour tortillas, black beans, asadero cheese, red pickled onions, romaine lettuce, green salsa, and seasonal vegetable. When the delivery man arrived with our food, I squealed with delight to discover that the ‘seasonal vegetable’ was cauliflower.

After a Thursday night out at Alchemy for dinner and a couple of acoustic sets by Dan and Pat (Clovis Mann duo), Dan and I decided to have a mellow Friday evening at home. Inspired by my tacos from Burrito Drive, we made roasted cauliflower and black bean tacos. I can’t quite call this a recipe, more of an assembling of ingredients- just in case you want some suggestions, these are my favorite tortillas, fillings and toppings:

Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Tortillas, Eden Black Beans and cheese

Red cabbage, avocado, onions, and yellow bell peppers

Roasted cauliflower

Sour cream, fresh Willy Street Co-op salsa and sriracha

I like to mash up the avocado with chopped onions and fill the tortilla with the veggies, shredded cheese, black beans (that have been heated up), and avocado mixture. On Friday we decided to assemble the tacos and then grill them in a non-stick pan:

Right before eating, pile on the sour cream and salsa (and hot sauce- if you are into the heat- which I am). Enjoy.

Happy Sunday.

You light up my life, B.J. Raji

Yesterday this happened… and the heaviest man in the history of the NFL to score a touchdown in the playoffs was described as “prancing” around in the endzone. B.J. Raji, watching you run the football for a touchdown like a giant baby keeping candy away from a pesty kid on your block was one of the best moments of the season. And then you put your hands on your hips and shook your behind. And now the Packers are going to the Super Bowl. B.J. Raji, you light up my life.

In addition to lighting up my life, you and your ball club have been dominating my weekends lately, not that I’m complaining. But who’s got time to worry about a week’s worth of lunches when the Packers are playing in the NFC Championship? Not this fan. And so this is how I found myself in the predicament that I did today- no lunch for school and famished by the time I got home at 5:30. A stroke of desperation/ genius led me to a jar of peanut butter, a banana and a honey bear. I love this sandwich so much, but I often forget to make it for myself. In case you have forgotten how delicious it is, I wanted to remind you, too.

I bet B.J. Raji likes this sandwich

Take a couple of pieces of whole wheat bread, spread on some all-natural peanut butter, slice up half a banana and pour on the honey. Mmmmmm.

Luckily I had some leftover lentil soup in the fridge that Dan and I heated up for dinner that was made all the better by grating (Wisconsin) parmesan cheese on top. I served it with steamed kale that I doused in lemon juice and sriracha- this was a revelation. And a delicious loaf of country bread from the Madison Sourdough Company. Basking in the afterglow of the Packers’ victory, it was a fine winter dinner.

Go Pack Go.