Thursday, October 30, 2008

Baked Butternut Squash With Sausage and Apples

While it seems that I've satisfied my recent obsession with cooking all things involving pumpkins, I've since replaced that obsession with squash. But as my friend Karen reasoned, they're both in the gourd family. Ever since squash started appearing at the farmers' market earlier this month, I've been attempting new squash recipes with hearty fillings that make a meal of themselves.

Recently, I attempted the following recipe, which I found in my Joy of Cooking cookbook--pretty much the bible of cookbooks. Luckily, I had some helpers for this recipe and plenty of time, because it was quite tedious and involved many ingredients and lots of chopping. I chose the recipe because it sounded delicious, but didn't realize at the time that it involved three separate recipes! The meal was fabulous, but I'm not going to lie, it was a pain. I was flipping between pages 309, 532, and 533, which were recipes for Baked Butternut Squash, Basic Bread Stuffing, and Bread Stuffing with Sausage and Apples, respectively. Of course you could buy pre-made stuffing and make things a whole lot easier, but I can't help myself, I'm a cooking purist.

I would definitely recommend this recipe for a hearty fall dinner. It also warmed up nicely as leftovers. I've taken the liberty of combining the three recipes into one, below. I think a single, complete recipe (although long) will make it much easier for anyone else who wants to take a stab at the meal. Enjoy!

Baked Butternut Squash Stuffed With Sausage and Apples
Joy of Cooking (75th anniversary edition), pg. 309
4 servings

2 butternut squash (about 1 pound each)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound sliced firm white sandwich, French, or Italian bread, including crusts, cut into ½-inch cubes (10 cups lightly packed)
¼ to ½ cup (1/2 to 1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup to ½ cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 to 1 cup chicken stock or broth, or as needed
1 pound bulk pork sausage
4 cups diced peeled green apples, such as Granny Smith
4 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a baking dish. Halve lengthwise and remove the seeds and strings. Arrange cut side up in the baking dish and brush lightly with oil. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake until almost tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the squash cool slightly. Keep the oven on.

Toast bread cubes on a large baking sheet at 400F, stirring several times, until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn bread cubes into a large bowl.

Heat a large skillet with butter over medium-high heat until the foam subsides. Then add the onions and celery and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley, sage, thyme, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. Add the bread cubes and toss until well combined. Stir in the chicken broth, a little at a time, until the stuffing is lightly moist but not packed together.

Cook pork sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Break up the meat with a spoon, until it is no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat and return the skillet to the heat. Add the apples and cook, stirring, until tender. Add the sausage and apples to the bread stuffing.

When the squash has cooled, scoop out most of the flesh, leaving 3/8-inch-thick shells. Lightly mix the squash pulp into the stuffing mixture, breaking up the squash as little as possible.

Pile the stuffing into the squash halves. Dot each half with 1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces, and 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar.

Bake, uncovered, until piping hot and brown and crusty on top, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for several minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

30th Wedding Anniversary!

Today is my parents' 30th Wedding Anniversary! That's a LONG time. I realize I'm very lucky to have parents who have been together so long and whose relationship only seems to grow stronger. Congratulations! I'm very happy and proud :) Have fun today!

The "Consummate" Chocolate Chip Cookie

A few months ago, the New York Times featured an article and recipe for the ideal chocolate chip cookie. The blogging world of cooks and bakers obsessed over the piece all summer, testing, refuting, and perfecting the article’s hypotheses. The recipe is based on Jaques Torres’ (a renowned chocolatier) classic recipe, but also relies on contributions from several other prominent bakers who are also featured in the article, including Mary Rubin of City Bakery in New York City, Herve Poussot of Almondine in Brooklyn, and Dorie Greenspan, the celebrated author of several baking books. Here’s a glimpse of the article:

Like the omelet, which many believe to be the true test of a chef, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the baker’s crucible. So few ingredients, so many possibilities for disaster. What other explanation can there be for the wan versions and unfortunate misinterpretations that have popped up everywhere — eggless and sugarless renditions; cookies studded with carob, tofu and marijuana; whole-wheat alternatives; and the terribly misguided bacon-topped variety.

All this crossbreeding begs the question: Has anyone trumped Mrs. Wakefield (former owner of the Toll House Inn, who is credited with creating the first chocolate chip cookie in 1930) ? To find out, a journey began that included stops at some of New York City’s best bakeries as well as conversations with some doyens of baking. The result was a recipe for a consummate cookie, if you will: one built upon decades of acquired knowledge, experience and secrets; one that, quite frankly, would have Mrs. Wakefield worshipping at its altar.

I’m clearly behind the rest of the blogosphere in my recent attempt to recreate these cookies, but that's largely because it took me so long to gather the necessary ingredients—particularly, the bittersweet chocolate discs (with at least 60% cacao content). Eventually, I found a variety of discs at a specialty grocer in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I’m yet to find them locally.

I finally made the cookies last week and released them for tasting and judgement at Thursday night's chili party. The process is unique and definitely requires patience, as the recipe recommends chilling the dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours prior to baking. After 72 hours, I sprinkled sea salt on the golf ball size dough balls, as the recipe suggested, and then baked them in the oven. The cookies definitely looked beautiful, very plump, evenly baked, and airy. Consensus seemed to be that they tasted great, too. I, however, thought they were a little dry. I prefer more of a chewy/gooey chocolate chip cookie. To each his own. But I definitely enjoyed this science experiment, and learned new tips that I can incorporate into my favorite cookie recipes.

Free Wilco Campaign Rally Concert

This just in from the Wisconsin State Journal, and forwarded to me by my friend favorite band Wilco announced that they will play a free concert as part of a campaign rally on Saturday afternoon. Here are the details...

A "stripped down" version of the rock band Wilco will perform a free concert at Union Theater as part of Campaign for Change, a Barack Obama rally featuring speakers Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. Tammy Baldwin on Saturday afternoon.

Three of Wilco's six members — frontman Jeff Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone — will perform at the event, which begins at noon, according to Wilco publicist Deb Bernardini.

Free tickets will be distributed on Wednesday at Campaign for Change's student office, 216 N. Henry St. and at the Wednesday Farmers' Market on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The Union Theater's capacity is 1,300.

In September 2007, Wilco's last show in Madison at the 2,200-seat Overture Hall sold out in one day.

Doors will open in Union Theater, 800 Langdon St., at 11 a.m. Saturday. After the concert, Baldwin will lead a march to the polls for voters to cast early votes before polls close at 3 p.m.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Full Puppet Nudity

I went to see the Tony award-winning musical Avenue Q on Sunday night at Madison’s Overture Center. It was entertaining, raunchy, and completely hilarious. The show is largely inspired by Sesame Street and most of the characters are puppets (operated by onstage actors). The story follows the lives of several 20-somethings who live in New York City as they attempt to navigate the unexpected life after college—“What Do You Do With a BA in English”—of shitty jobs, difficult relationships, and never-ending bills. The show includes full-on puppet sex, musical numbers entitled “The Internet is For Porn”, “It Sucks to Be Me,” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and a puppet named Lucy the Slut.

My favorite characters, however, are the Bad Idea Bears. The sweet sounding, colorful stuffed bears, reminiscent of Care Bears, continually taunt the main characters, Princeton and Kate, and talk them into several bad ideas like playing drinking games with Long Island Ice Teas the night before a very important day at work, taking a tipsy date home for sex (post Long Islands), and buying a case of beer despite being broke.

I definitely enjoyed the show and the parody of life after college. The actors/puppeteers/singers were phenomenally talented. I don’t know how they kept it all straight. I would definitely recommend this show for a great laugh.

Homecoming Parade

My student worker, Chloe, riding in the parade as a member of court!

Various alumni club representatives

Short bus

Fraternity/sorority float

Students for Obama

Students for McCain

The big bus

WSUM student radio station

Formula SAE cars

Wisconsin Band

I went to go see the Wisconsin Homecoming parade on Friday night. I was especially excited to see my student worker, Chloe, ride by as part of homecoming court. I haven't had the opportunity to see the parade in several years, so I was excited to experience it once again. I almost had tears in my eyes watching Chloe go by. I definitely got emotional because I was so damn proud of her and excited for her to experience the entire weekend.

The parade was pretty phenomenal and featured many, many student and alumni groups. I think it's the perfect showcase of diversity on campus and shows how there truly is a place for everyone at UW-Madison.

Award-Winning Chili Recipes

Scott's Drunk Turkey Chili

Notes from Scott: I can’t take full credit for this recipe. I found it on the Food Network’s website as a featured Super Bowl Chili a couple years ago and have made some adjustments to suit my liking.

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 med yellow onion (chopped)
5 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1-2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3 chipotle chilies en adobo (coarsely chopped), with 1.5 Tbsp of the adobo sauce (you can find this in the ethnic foods section at the grocery store in a little can. This gives the chili it’s heat and smoked flavor)
20 oz ground turkey
1 (12 oz) Mexican lager-style beer (I prefer Dos Equis)
2 (14 ½ oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 (15 ½ oz) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Heat olive oil over med-high heat.
Add the onion, garlic, salt, and chili powder and cook while stirring ~3 min
Stir in tomato paste and the chipotle chilies and adobo sauce, cook while stirring ~1 min
Add turkey and cook until it looses its raw color ~3 min
Add the beer and simmer until reduced by about half ~8 min
Wash hands
Add tomatoes—crushing them through your fingers into the skillet—along with the extra juice from one of the cans.
Add beans and bring to a boil.
Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until a good thickness ~10 min

I use an large electric skillet when cooking this chili. If you are using a saucepan, it will take longer than the suggested times for liquids to reduce. It’s ready to eat right away, but will continue to soak up flavor if you cover it or put in a crock pot. Delicious garnishes are: pepper jack cheese and avocado mixed with sour cream

Wed Wagon Wheel Chili

Notes from Jessica: Zeke found his culinary inspiration at: To make this recipe a little extra-tasty, we also added a few dashes of hot sauce, some ground up red pepper, a teaspoon or so of chili powder, and (of course, the secret ingredient) wagon wheel noodles.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
8 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds ground chuck
1 envelope taco seasoning or 1/4 cup taco seasoning
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 15oz can tomato sauce
3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 6oz can tomato paste
2 15 to 16oz cans of kidney beans (drained)

Heat oil in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic. Saute about 8 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add chuck and cook until brown, breaking up meat with a spatula as it cooks. Add taco seasoning, basil, oregano, and thyme. Stir 2 minutes. Mix in tomato sauce, chicken broth and tomato paste. Simmer until thickened to desired consistency, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, about 1 and a half hours. Mix in beans. Simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold then reheat over low when ready to serve.

Friday, October 24, 2008

2008 K&K Chili Cookoff

Kristin & Karen

Chili Row

Chili Entrants

Cornbread lineup

The 2008 K&K Chili Cookoff Winners

Last night’s chili cookoff was a tremendous success. Although I didn’t come away a winner in any of the four categories, everyone had a lot of fun and enjoyed great chili, cornbread, and company.

Karen and I didn’t start making our chili until just before the party started, which was probably a big mistake—especially when I realized that my recipe needed to simmer for an hour and Karen discovered she didn’t have the main ingredient (ground beef) for her recipe and needed to run to the grocery store. Needless to say, we were a bit frenzied as our first guests arrived. I also nearly started a grease fire while making my chili and didn’t realize until after the party that I had the remnants (grease stains) all over my shirt! Oops. But that was just part of my presentation, right?

I couldn’t believe how many people, crock pots of chili, and loafs of cornbread fit into our house. It was wall to wall chaos. Once the tasting began, there were people hopping from chili to chili sampling from Dixie cups, competitors lobbying on behalf of their chili, and a whole lot of trash talking.

Once the ballots were tabulated, the following results were announced. Each winner was awarded a prize and the opportunity to say a few words.

Best Chili: (TIE) Scott’s Drunk Turkey Chili (Scott) and Wed Wheel Wagon Chili (Jessica & Zeke)
Best Cornbread: Kim’s Pumpkin Kornbread (Kim)
Best Named Chili: Wed Wheel Wagon Chili (Jessica & Zeke)
Best Presentation: Gereau Family Heritage Chili (Karen & Kate)

The party was probably our best yet. Everyone seemed to have so much fun and I love how all of our friends get along so well and seem to know each other through random connections. I also love a great theme party, and it’s awesome when you have guests who truly embrace the theme. As the party winded down, there was much chatting and strategizing for next year’s event. I for one will be putting together a strategy to get myself back on the podium. Luckily, I have plenty of time to perfect my recipe. Until next year…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gonna Smoke You Out: K&K Chili Cookoff

Today is a very exciting day. At 6pm, all hell will break loose. And by hell, I mean chili. Tonight is the Second Annual K&K Chili Cookoff. Karen and I are hosting 29 of our friends and colleagues, which should be interesting since I don’t think we have room for all of them in our house! Apparently word has spread quickly about the annual cookoff and it’s become the “must attend” event of the season.

Last year was our first chili cookoff, and competition was intense. And this year we have many more entrants. We’ll be awarding prizes for the best chili, best cornbread, best presentation, and best named chili. Last year I was thrilled to have been awarded “best chili,” and my friend Kim came away with the “best cornbread.” Currently, there are ~10 chili division entrants and ~7 co-rec cornbread division entrants. The rest are celebrity judges (a.k.a slackers). The trash talking has been in full effect among competitors, as illustrated in the following e-mail exchange:

Hi Ladies
You better hold on to your taste buds, in preparation for the
It's not for the feint of heart or slight of tongue.
Only the strong will survive it.

Were you not able to work the words "organic" or "noncarcinogen" into the title?

Oh, my chili is carcinogenic. It will smoke you out.

I’ll be entering both the chili and corn-bread divisions. I’m hoping to come away with victories in both. I’m using last year’s chili recipe (clearly already a proven winner), as well as a new recipe for Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread that I found on the Food Network (picture above). Should be a great time! Of course I’ll be sharing lots of fun pictures, stories, and award-winning recipes in the next few days.

Wild Rice and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

I love squash. And so I've been loading up on many varieties at the farmers' market. Recently, I came across a great recipe for Wild Rice and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash. I found the recipe online at Lunds and Byerlys, a Minneapolis specialty gourmet grocery chain. I modified the recipe a bit since I didn't have the recommended Lunds and Byerlys special seasonings on hand. I think it still turned out great and the bowls looked beautiful. The meal was delicious, filling, and also seemed quite healthy. Always a bonus.

1 (1 lb.) acorn squash, halved, seeds removed
1 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. bulk Italian sausage
2 tsp. Italian herb seasoning
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 1/2 cups shredded provolone and mozzarella, divided

Arrange squash halves cut side down in 13X9 microwavable baking dish; add ¼ cup water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, using multiple sheets if necessary. With a knife, make 4 steam vents in plastic wrap. Microwave (HIGH) until tender (15-20 minutes).

While squash is cooking, heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Sauté sausage, Italian herb seasoning, red pepper, onion and garlic until sausage is no longer pink and onions are tender (8-10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in spinach, wild rice and 1 cup provolone/mozzarella.

When squash is tender, carefully remove plastic wrap, starting from side farthest from you. Using tongs, transfer cooked squash to cutting board; discard water.

Place a tablespoon of butter in bottoms of each squash half. Mound sausage mixture into halves. Return to 13X9 dish, cover with foil and bake in preheated 350F oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese over tops, return to oven and bake until cheese melts (5-8 minutes).

Amount: 4 servings

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Monroe Street Bistro

There’s a new kid on the block. The Monroe Street Bistro recently opened in late summer in the storefront formally occupied by Papa Phil’s, just west of Michael’s Frozen Custard. The Bistro has since drawn comparisons to Brasserie V, also a beer bar/European inspired restaurant located on Monroe Street, less than a mile away. The Monroe Street Bistro serves locally-sourced, European inspired cuisine paired with speciality beer, wine, and spirits. Since the Bistro is only a short walk from my house, it’s been at the top of my “must try restaurant” list since it first opened. From the beginning, the reviews have been stellar and there’s always a crowd. It seemed like the perfect choice for Saturday dinner with my parents.

When we arrived, shortly after 5pm, like eager senior citizens we found ourselves the only customers in the entire bar/restaurant. The staff was welcoming and attentive, but sort of had the “deer in the headlights for the first customers of the night” sort of look. Joseph, the gregarious and apparently well-known French bartender, took us under his wings and ensured that our beers were always filled and frothy. The bar has a great variety of unique beers on tap including Ale Asylum Hopalicious, Bell’s Two Hearted, Dlirium Tremens, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Gulden Draak, Hoegaarden, Kwak, Lagunitas IPA, Lake Louie Scotch Ale, Pilsner Urquell, Tripel Karmeliet, St. Bernardus ABT, Unibroue Maudite, Van-Dieu Grand Cru. Joseph provided us with many samples, always encouraging us to try before committing, and also filled us in on his educational, religious, and personal background. Joseph was indeed a character and very entertaining.

Before we knew it, and just as we started on our second beers, we realized the little bistro’s tables had quickly filled. We moved from the bar to a cozy table near the front window. So far, I was impressed. Great beers, friendly service, a quaint and charming atmosphere, locally sourced menu offerings, and a great neighborhood vibe. For dinner, I chose the Steak Et Frites (a 12oz CAB Flat Iron seared to medium rare, Cabernet pan sauce, grilled asparagus, & frites). At the last minute, I decided to order the steak medium, which ended up being a mistake. My mom opted for the Seasonal Quiche (filled with locally sourced seasonal vegetables) and my dad chose the MSB Burger (Fountain Prairie Farms ground beef, Hook’s white cheddar, fried onions, lettuce, tomato, bistro aioli, on ciabatta, with frites).

I must admit the food was good, but not great. My steak was a little overdone (partly my fault), but the frites with aioli were superb and enough to feed the family. My mom’s quiche was tiny, and next to a single leaf of spinach, seemed to drownd in a background of white china. My dad’s burger was interesting, to say the least. The taste of the beef was a little disconcerting. It was like a combination of a burger and a brat, which is not something you’re necessarily expecting/hoping for when biting into a juicy burger. It was a little disappointing, especially when it was my dad's first burger in over six months.

I’d definitely recommend Monroe Street Bistro, and plan to go back. I’d like to try a few other dishes on the menu, including the mussels and pesto grilled chicken. I’m also interested in a few of the small plates, namely the almond stuffed dates, spinach artichoke dip, crab cake, and cheese plate. The desserts also sound delightful and include cava poached pear, David Bacco truffles, cheesecake and brie and honey.

All in all, a fantastic addition to the neighborhood!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fall Weekend Continued

Teddywedgers. It sounds gross, but it's really good. Promise.

Myles Teddywedgers is a small corner pasty shop on State Street, just across from the State Capitol. A pasty (not to be confused with a pastie) is a traditional Cornish miner’s lunch, most popular in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and usually made with hearty beef, potatoes, onions, rutabaga and seasoning. Myles Teddywedgers offers a variety of pasties, including chicken, veggie, pizza, salmon, and breakfast pie.

After the farmers' market, my parents and I headed to Teddywedgers for a quick lunch. My parents chose the chicken, and I opted for the pizza pasty. Very good stuff—cheap, quick, and filling. And I think Teddywedgers is a great little Madisonian gem. It’s the perfect lunch stop after the farmers' market where you can bask in the sun on a cool day and take in all of the excitement that surrounds the market.

After lunch, my parents and I enjoyed a bike ride (~15 miles round trip) to the Epplegarden, which is a nice pumpkin farm and apple orchard, just outside Madison in the farmlands of Fitchburg. Although my mom complained about the challenging hills on the way there, she was a trooper and on the way back we enjoyed a great tail wind and nice descents. At the orchard we sipped apple cider and took a hike around the orchard. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was a pretty popular place on Saturday afternoon, with many funny families standing on each other’s shoulders attempting to pick apples from the highest branches.

As a perfect ending to our fall day, we headed to the new Monroe Street Bistro for drinks and dinner. It's a great new addition to the Monroe Street neighborhood, and I will be blogging about it separately next.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies

And so the pumpkin obsession continues...

This weekend I made a batch of Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies and a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Both turned out very good. I love the combination of pumpkin and chocolate, certainly a match made in heaven.

Today I randomly came across a recipe for Pumpkin Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins. The addition of peanut butter leaves me intrigued. Maybe I'll try that one later this week.

Following is Martha's recipe for pumpkin swirl brownies. Enjoy!

Makes 16
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining.

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don't set.

With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

The Colors of Fall Market

The Dane County Farmers’ Market season may be nearing the end, but it’s certainly not fading into the cold unnoticed. For the past two weeks, the market has been alive with vibrant colors and hearty produce. Pumpkins, squash, peppers, corn, carrots, onions, and cucumbers—glisten in the sunlight like precious jewels.

My parents came to town for the day on Saturday and our first stop was of course to the market. It was a beautiful fall morning, and the market was definitely busy and crowded as always. Before starting our first loop, my mom and I grabbed coffee and my dad, the ultimate sweet tooth, proceeded to stop at every single bakery vendor as we made our way around the capitol square. By the end, my dad had enjoyed a cider donut, a rhubarb breakfast bar, an oatmeal raisin cookie, and a large apple fritter (I helped, of course). But that’s my dad! The healthiest person alive, save a wicked sweet tooth.

My mom and I packed our bags with produce along the way. We ended up doing two loops of the market, so as to experience the full range of offerings and prices before “committing” to purchases. We came away with filled bags and stuggled to haul everything back to the car.

One of the most interesting events of the morning was that we happened to run into my brother, Kelly’s, roommate Ben’s family, who was in from New Hampshire to visit Ben’s younger sister, Cecilia, who is a student at UW. Ben is my brother’s best friend, college roommate, and current roommate and business partner in Austin, Texas. It was cool to chat with Ben’s family, and I couldn’t believe how much Cecilia reminded me of Ben! But they said the same thing about Kelly and me...

I have a few more weeks before the last market of the season on November 8, after which the market moves indoors to the Monona Terrace for the winter. It's nice to have the winter option, but of course it just doesn't compare to the outdoor market, which won't be back until April. And that just seems like an eternity from now.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pumpkin Ravioli

Last night I tried my hand at a recipe for pumpkin ravioli that I found in the latest issue of Ready Made Magazine.

I made the "pumpkin puree" ahead of time, which definitely quickened the process last night. It was exciting to make my very first batch of home-made ravioli. I though it would be complicated and time consuming, but who knew it was as easy as mixing together a filling, folding small amounts in won ton wrapper triangles, and then boiling in batches of 10-12 for 2 minutes?

The browned butter topping was awesome, and would definitely work as a great accompaniment to many other pasta dishes. It was a great meal, and home-made ravioli was a new and unique culinary experience for me!

Christian Lander

I loved the Christian Lander book reading the other night. It was definitely one of the most entertaining and least pretentious readings I've ever experienced. Lander was so chill, cool, and humble. He just kept repeating, I seriously can't believe this happened, and came across as a totally approachable every-day kind of guy. Which made me, and probably others, proud and happy for his recent and great success.

He spent most of the reading explaining where his idea for the blog Stuff White People Like originated, and the amazingly quick timeline of events that followed. Essentially, he started the blog in February, inspired by the TV series The Wire, and sent to 20 of his "only friends." By the end of the month the site was experiencing 30,000 hits a day and he had a book deal two months later. Since then, he's been on Conan, his book became a New York Times bestseller, and his site now experiences 300,000 hits a day. Not bad.

Lander did a few readings from the book that he figured were most appropriate for Madison. They were hilarious. Then Q&A, which was very interesting. He talked about how past generations competed in terms of material goods--who had the best cars, house, etc.--and how our generation has generally shunned capitalism, and instead of competing in material goods, we compete in terms of who has stayed in the most hostels, who has the best taste in indie music, etc. His ideas were so interesting and funny, probably because they were so true.

I will definitely be purchasing a copy of this book, and sharing it with my brother. Because I know he would find the entries hilarious, too. The book is just full of self-deprecating humor. My favorite entries are about the New Yorker Magazine and Marathons, both of which felt like they were written for me. I think my brother would most enjoy the entry on NPR's This American Life, which has been his recent obsession. Kelly explained to me the other day how he oftentimes weaves episodes into conversations with friends. Which is exactly what the entry in Stuff White People Like explains. Essentially you can have a conversation about anything (at a dinner party, with your boss, etc.), even those topics that are generally included on the list of unspeakables, such as STDs, and as long as you mention that you heard about it on an episode of This American Life, it's totally acceptable and you might even receive a raise in the morning.