Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Fun Food: Ants on a Log

During the past week, I have been oozing with creative juices. I embraced several tactics to release my artistic energy, and one such way has been to construct different variations of my favorite childhood snack, Ants on a Log.

I understand everyone may need a refresher on what constitutes a genuine Ants on a Log, so here is a general definition:

Ants on a Log (noun): a delicious and healthful snack made by spreading peanut butter on a crisp celery stick, the Log, and subsequently embellishing the Log with Ants, which typically are plump juicy raisins.

Here are several steps I have taken to enhance my Ants on a Log experience, in terms of both compilation and consumption:

  1. While creamy peanut butter is delicious, I encourage creamy peanut butter enthusiasts to escape their comfort zones and use crunchy peanut butter the next time they make Ants on a Log. The texture of the chopped peanuts adds just the right amount of pizzazz to the typical Log.
  2. Furthermore, if one truly wishes to explore all Ants on a Log varieties, I recommend using Ocean Spray craisins instead of raisins. This substitution gives the Ants on a Log an extra zing while adding just the right amount of extra sweetness. Please note, in addition to plain dried cranberries, Ocean Spray now produces three flavors of juice infused dried cranberries: blueberry, cherry and pomegranate.
  3. For those who desire to completely shatter traditional molds regarding the original Ants on a Log, I suggest lathering the Log with cream cheese rather than peanut butter. While raisins pair nicely with this combination, I recommend using craisins because the craisin-cream cheese combination is exquisite.

Not only is Ants on a Log a scrumptious and healthy snack, but it also is one that inspires innovation. Above all, Ants on a Log exemplifies Fun Food. I truly hope this leaves the reader curious and eager to explore the many innovative approaches to constructing an Ants on a Log!

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Red Apple Delicious

Madison’s recent detour into the dreary weather not only soaks my shoes, but also wets my appetite for warm comfort food.  I want that soul-soothing food to emanate the flavor of fall so I can at least be reminded of those wonderfully rustic autumn days I’ve been missing.  The following recipes combine seasonal favorites like fresh apples and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to give you at least the illusion of sunshine, crisp air and crunchy red leaves.

Caramelized Apple Melt with Aged Cheddar and Arugula
Makes 2 sandwiches

This first recipe comes to us from Vegetable Matters blog, which utilizes homegrown food in a unique way.   My coworker raved about this dish she tested out at home with her boyfriend.  After reading the description, I recognized a perfectly festive fall sandwich that incorporates a Wisconsin favorite—cheddar cheese!  And you don’t have to be a vegetarian to find this melt juicy and satisfying.

Ingredients

1 medium red delicious apple
6 Tbs unsalted butter
1/3-cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2   tsp nutmeg
6 thick slices extra sharp white cheddar
8 big arugula leaves
4 slices pumpernickel bread*

*I am personally not a pumpernickel fan, so I plan to take advantage of our Dane County Farmers’ Market bread stands to pick up a dark wheat loaf Saturday.

Procedure

  1. Peel and dice apples into 1/2″ cubes.
  2. Melt butter in large skillet over medium.
  3. Add sugar and stir until sugar begins to melt, about 1 minute.
  4. Add apples and sauté until brown and tender, and juices form, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving juices in the pan.
  6. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to juices in pan and mix well.
  7. Return pan to medium heat, then add bread slices.  Brown well, then flip and repeat.
  8. While second side of bread is toasting in pan, place cheddar slices on two of the bread slices so the cheese will melt.
  9. When bread is browned, removed from pan.  Add caramelized apples and arugula (3-4 per sandwich depending on how strong your arugula is), and assemble sandwiches.  Eat while still warm.

Macintosh Rice ‘N’ Beans
Serves about 4

Recipe #2 comes to us from a Wisconsin Badger living in Tampa, FL.  Nostalgic of the changing seasons from her alma mater, my sister added unexpected flavors to her meal staple to bring the harvest to her new home.   Like us, she’s been missing the wonder of fall.

*Note: Must prepare ahead of time.  Beans take 6-8 hours to soak.


Ingredients (best to use a “little of this, little of that” mentality)

Beans:
2 cups dry black beans
Olive oil
1 to 2 jalapenos
1 green pepper (diced)
1 small Macintosh apple (chunks)
Handful of shredded carrots
Onion (small) chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Salt/pepper (to taste)
Crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
Dash of onion powder
Dash of cayenne red pepper

Rice:
Brown rice
Balsamic vinegar to lightly coat the rice
Cilantro (to taste)
Salt/pepper (to taste)

Procedure

  1. Rinse dried beans
  2. Place beans in pot with 6-8 cups (?) of water (when you periodically check on the beans ensure that they are covered fully in H2O)
  3. When beans have been soaking 6-8 hours, place on stove and begin to heat at low temp
  4. Add olive oil (maybe a TBS), grated jalapeno, diced green pepper, chunks of apple, 2 bay leaves, carrots, onion
  5. Bring beans to a boil*
  6. Reduce heat to simmer
  7. Add spices
  8. Continue to heat until beans are tender and have the flavor you desire
  9.  Cook brown rice as directed.
  10.  When cooked, add balsamic vinegar to lightly coat the rice and cilantro to taste with salt/pepper
  11.  Before serving remember to remove the bay leaves (I removed the apple too).  Place rice in a bowl and pour beans over.  Remember to include some of the liquid!  Snuggle up and stay warm as you enjoy the food!
*It’s a great time to do homework while beans cook!
With these recipes, at least your Dish will reflect the flavors of fall!  Happy eating!

Bluephies Downtown Deli Deals with Blue Customer

Melissa Grau

I am in the process of applying to study abroad in London next semester, and while I’m eager to test my palate with the cliché British teas, fish and chips, and salty beef sandwiches, I detest the planning phases of this anticipated adventure with surprising vigor.

The most nail biting and road rage-inducing challenge so far has been applying for my passport.  Combining downtown parking, construction, faulty website information and limited business hours with my chronic forgetfulness resulted in more than one failed attempt at this endeavor.  Once I finally succeeded in turning in all forms to the proper location, it was 9:00 a.m. on a Wednesday and I was starving, caffeine-deprived, and manic.

Since I was already downtown and inevitably going to miss my first class, I decided to finally visit Bluephies Downtown Deli, the Food Fight extension of my favorite lunch locale that opened in April.

Walking into the little storefront on 222 W. Washington Ave., I felt comforted by the unique atmosphere that was oddly edgy and modern, laidback and comfortable all at the same time.  Similar to their parent restaurant on Monroe St., I noticed the Deli’s menu included creative and mouth-watering sandwiches and salads. Popular menu items for lunch include the famous chicken apple walnut salad sandwich, grilled lemon herb chicken sandwich, roasted portobello mushroom sandwich, and the chop, cobb and birkydorf salads.

But it was still early in the morning and I needed coffee and a hot breakfast.

Off the small breakfast menu, I chose the craziest sounding item, knowing from experience that Bluephies specializes in creative pairings and unique twists on classic dishes.  I ordered the breakfast quesadilla, consisting of two fried eggs, chorizo sausage, cheddar jack cheese and black beans in a crispy tortilla.

Not only was I not further disappointed with my morning; my palate was extremely pleased and my mind satiated.   The deli workers seemed unaffected by my salty demeanor and gave me friendly service and my strong iced coffee immediately. Despite needing plenty of napkins for the mess I created, the quesadilla proved to be an excellent breakfast combination.

 The relationship between affecting moods and going out to eat is curious. 

Like my Bluephies experience, dining out can help you regain emotional balance and put you in a particular mood.  I stormed into Bluephies with a spicy spirit and left feeling quenched.  At other times, you decide to go out because of a mood you might be in.  You might choose to go to a high-end restaurant to honor a particular achievement if you’re feeling celebratory.

So was it the customer service?  Was it the bold coffee?  Was it the décor?  Or was it the warm breakfast with unexpected tastes?  Any way you slice it, Bluephies Downtown Deli saved pedestrians, bikers and squirrels from being victims of my road rage.

Food Challenge

Eric Lynne

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been much closer to carnivore than the normal human being should be.  When other kids were eating fruit rollups, I’d roll up slices of salami.  When my friend would offer me some string cheese, I would decline and gnaw on my beef jerky.  Steak was my best friend, and salad was my sworn enemy.

So earlier this summer, in an attempt to rid myself of my meat addiction, I decided to try being vegetarian for a week.  And (I know I sound way too whiney when I say this) it was hard!  At the beginning of the week, I always felt hungry.  In the past, if a meal did not have meat, it wasn’t a meal—it was a snack.  I constantly had cravings for burgers, pizza, and brats, and living on the top of State Street sure didn’t help.  Quitting cold turkey (literally and figuratively) was not the most enjoyable experience.

However, as the week went on, I discovered that I was getting better and better at overcoming my meat craving.  Though I would have preferred eating a burger, substituting for a portabella sandwich didn’t seem like such a chore anymore.  To my surprise, I started feeling full after meals (you can eat a lot more salad than you can steak!), and it was even kind of fun, challenging myself to eat different types of foods, ordering things off of menus I’d never even thought of ordering before, and discovering that hummus tastes good on almost anything.  Feeling healthier was pretty awesome, too.

After the week was over, I was not slow in getting back to my meat-eating ways; I still eat way more meat than I probably should.  Since that week though, I find that a meal without meat is still a meal.  I don’t feel stranded at home when I don’t have meat in the fridge, and when I go out now I willingly glance over the vegetarian section of the menu before I order.

I’m not saying that my one vegetarian week changed the way I view the world, but it did make me a little more conscious of my food options.  If you are a carnivore like I am (or, was), try it out.  Or, if pasta is your go-to food, try a pasta-free week just to explore what else is out there.  Whatever is your weakness, try living without it for just a week and see what it does for you.  You might be surprised at what you find!

Where you eat matters

Eric Lynne

It’s pretty common knowledge that taste is very much dependent on another sense: smell.

My dad's cute tomato garden in Rochester, MN

Makes enough sense (no pun intended) when you think about it.  As animals, I would guess it’s to our evolutionary advantage that we be able to smell our food before we eat it.  First of all, rotten foods are better to be smelled than actually ingested.  Smell can also draw us to food, as shown in the cartoons where the drooling dog’s nose literally follows the scent—usually represented by a snaking cloud—to the source of a just-out-of-the-oven pastry they aren’t supposed to eat (and then, of course, they do).  Finally, smell enhances the taste, making those flavors from that hot curry dish travel beyond your taste buds, up into your sinuses, and then into your watering eyes with a “Wow, that’s spicy!”

However, as I was reading for a class this week, a passage came up that made me think about the relationship between taste and smell beyond evolutionary means.  The passage comes from the book Driftless by David Rhodes:

“Ever notice how food tastes different outdoors?” asked Rusty.

“It’s because of the smells,” said Maxine.  “Most of the taste comes from smell.”

As this simple exchange points out, taste goes beyond the relationship of the smell and taste of the particular food in question; it also takes into account the smell (and I’d argue taste) of the environment as well.

Earlier this week, my dad sent me homegrown tomatoes, which, if I may say so myself, are the best tomatoes in the world. There are only a few foods that really bring me back to home, and my dad’s tomatoes are one of them.  Never have there been redder, juicier, and tastier tomatoes (ignore the green ones in the picture). However, upon eating the first red giant (which are too good not to eat raw), I did notice it tasted different somehow.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but after reading those lines from that book, I think I can.

The taste of the tomato was like home, but minus the smells of our family’s freshly mown grass, my mom’s flower garden, and the wood-stained deck.  I hadn’t accounted for the missing smell of the special floor cleaner we use, the traces of last night’s burnt dessert, or the leather couches.  There was no answer for the missing smell of our over-the-hill dryer, the taste of the Minnesotan air, or the first crunchy leaves of fall.  By the end of it, I realized that this tomato, though it brought me closer to home, was hardly the same tomato I would get at home.

Though I bet someone could probably make a good evolutionary argument as to why food tastes different depending on the location of the meal, I’m going to choose to believe otherwise.  I think that this may be some sort of evolutionary side effect that has implications beyond the ambiance of a fancy restaurant.  Food is the great connector—and it not only connects us to other people, but it connects us to places and different environments.

So, as a challenge this week, take note of where you are eating your meals.  How would it taste different if you were outside?  How would that brat from Camp Randall taste if you ate it in the comfort of your own home?  Where would be the ideal place to eat that food?

Just something to think about.

Good eating!