Tator Tot Casserole!

>
Last week I decided that because it was fall and cold I wanted to make a casserole. I started looking through my recipe books and then realized something…my favorite childhood recipe is a casserole! One of the best memories I have of going to daycare when I was younger was the days we get to eat tator tot casserole for lunch! At my daycare, everyone was asked one question before they got lunch: ‘Do you want a lot, a little, or a dot?” On tator tot casserole day everyone always said ‘a lot!’

When I decided to make tator tot casserole I knew I had all of the ingredients because it is a very simple recipe. I just ran to the grocery store to get some ground beef. The rest of the recipe calls for cream of mushroom soup, frozen green beans, onions, and frozen tator tots! I leave out the onions because they never seem to cook up enough to take the really oniony taste out. All you do is layer all of the ingredients: ground beef, soup, beans, tator tots, and bake for an hour and it comes out hot and bubbly!

There’s nothing like your favorite childhood recipe on a cold, windy, fall day! And I had leftovers to live off of for a week!

Advertisements

I’m out of pickles

>I have always been a big fan of combining foods that sound gross when combined but are actually really tasty! Before the double-Lindsay Lohan in Parent Trap told the world about oreos and peanut butter I loved that combination. It is the perfect combination of chocolate, peanut butter, and cookie crunch! However, don’t be fooled by peanut butter oreos in the package. The peanut butter frosting is terrible and the fact that the white frosting isn’t there, I think, is one of the main reasons the weird peanut butter frosting oreos are terrible. I also like to use crunchy peanut butter…it adds some great texture!

The first combination I remember eating was my mother’s doing. She’s not much of a cook so she would use mac and cheese as a means to get me to eat vegetables. Now, I love vegetables but still make boxed mac and cheese with canned peas. It doesn’t sound terrible but it doesn’t seem to be a common combination either. I think the reason I really like it is nostalgia but it is a really good way to get kids to eat vegetables!

I have always been a big fan of my family’s traditional ham-pickle roll-ups. You take a slice of sandwich meat ham, spread cream cheese on it, roll a pickle up in it, and cut it into medallions. I know, it sounds terrible but when the right pickles are used they are epic! Because of the combination I recently tried a new one…pickle slices with cheddar cheese on top. It is really simple and very good, especially when you use sharp cheddar!

I have always liked the traditional combination of bananas and peanut butter but I have never been able to try peaches and cottage cheese, or pickles and peanut butter. Do you have a food combination you think I should try, or do you like one of the combinations I mentioned? Let me know!

Farmers’ Markets

>I absolutely love fall and there’s nothing more fall to me than the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Don’t get me wrong, I am an equal opportunity Farmers’ Market lover but the Dane County market has a special place in my heart. This morning I got up before the rest of campus just to go to the market. I love buying fresh vegetables in the crisp fall weather! I bought two jars of natural jam (stocking up for the winter!), four heirloom tomatoes, an eggplant, a huge onion, a butternut squash, a flowering cabbage and a green pepper. I plan to make a lovely stir fry and a casserole tomorrow to eat off of this week, both including all of the produce I bought this morning! I was a little sad that the cucumber season seemed to be over and I hope next week vendors will still have lettuce, carrots and tomatoes!

I also love that I can go to the market looking for cucumbers but when I’m told the season is over I can find a new ingredient! I have never seen or eaten a flowering cabbage but it is beautiful and has a peppery flavor! I am very excited to make a salad with it!

Happy farmers’ marketing…there are only a couple weeks left in the growing and harvesting season!

Restaurants

>I have been in Madison almost four years now and there are still quite a few restaurants that I haven’t been to and really want to. Below is a list of restaurants I want to go to and why I want to go (the reasons do traverse a wide range of points). Disclaimer: this is a pretty limited list because I have a list of 50 or so restaurants I want to go to in Madison or its surrounding areas but that would be a really long blog post!

  1. The Old Fashioned: This restaurant has received accolades from foodies for years as a quintessential Wisconsin restaurant and well….I’m from Wisconsin but the daunting 45 minute wait every night of the week has kept this restaurant on my list.
  2. Harvest: local, organic food from the Dane County Farmer’s Market…enough said!
  3. Marigold Kitchen: I’ve heard the food is exceptionally good for the price, and breakfast is my favorite meal of the day!
  4. Ocean Grill: The extent of my seafood-eating experience is very limited, mostly because I don’t want to be scared away from seafood by badly prepared dishes. So I am saving lobster, crab and scallops for this place right off the square!
  5. Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery: I love cupcakes…point blank!
  6. Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry: It has won best campus burger for many years in different publications. Plus, I love a block away and probably should just stop by one day!
  7. Lombardino’s: I love authentic Italian food and this place always wins that category. The sketchy building, weird mural, and high prices have kept me out of this place.
  8. Green Owl Cafe: I love Owls and vegetarian food. This place is Owl themed and all vegetarian! For the longest time I would drive over by the Atwood neighborhood looking to stop here and couldn’t find it. I ran across it over the summer and now that I know where it is I can’t seem to make time to go!

If you’ve been to one of these restaurants and have comments or menu recommendations, or think my list is missing a restaurant…let me know!

Hunger

>As a college student who really enjoys to eat…I always make time for a meal. But at last week’s Badger Homecoming game the excitement of keeping the axe kept me from eating lunch at the stadium and the heat overwhelmed my oatmeal and banana breakfast. So, right after I jumped around, I felt quite a bit light headed and had to get some water and hot dog. Now, nothing tastes better than when your hunger is overwhelming to the point of fainting (it was probably a combination of heat, hunger, and lack of sleep too!). That lukewarm hot dog, soggy bun, ketchup and spicy mustard tasted better than anything I had had in quite a while. So when I got home I decided I wanted hot dogs for dinner.

After walking to the grocery store to buy hot dogs, spicy brown mustard, and hot dog buns I sat about making my meal. I understand why some people choose to not eat hot dogs but they are pretty darn delicious with the right toppings. My first hot dog was too hot and the bun was too sturdy. I let my second hot dog sit in the bun for about 15 minutes before I ate it and it was too cold. Halfway through my third failed hot dog I was not only full, but frustrated at the fact that I couldn’t recreate the magnificent hot dog.

Conclusion: 1) There is no way to make something taste as good as it did when you were so hungry you couldn’t stand in the student section of Camp Randall for the rest of 4th quarter unless you had something to eat. 2) There is no way to make hot dogs taste as good at home as they do at a stadium (any type of stadium usually has good hot dogs!).

Moral of the story: Spend the $4 at Camp Randall to get the stadium hot dog experience and don’t wait till it is absolutely needed just to make it t0 5th Quarter!

Deciphering Recipes

>One of the most fun things about eating at a restaurant is trying to figure out how to make some of the dishes. For the past year or two I have been going to the Ethiopian restaurant on State Street, Baraka. They serve stews with potatoes, lentils, chicken, carrots, and beef. I usually get the combination platter that has a stew with chicken, carrots, and a savory red sauce and a stew with lentils, potatoes, and a spicy brown sauce. I am not a very big fan of the Ethiopian sour bread so I usually get my stews over rice. But the showcase reason I keep returning to Baraka (even their lunch cart on Library Mall!) is the cold lentil salad that comes with entrees on the lunch menu. Dinner entrees come with a generic dinner salad so whenever I go I always ask to substitute the salad for the lentils!

I have been trying to figure out what is in the lentil salad for quite a while and recently got some help from one of the servers who gave up some of the secrets. It is made with brown lentils that are not cooked to mush (which is like a lot), chopped onions, chopped green peppers, and is marinated in olive oil and apple cider vinegar. The only thing missing are the spices. I have decided it is probably salt, pepper, lemon juice, garlic (a lot of it!), and cumin.

I just purchased all of the ingredients and am looking forward to figuring out if my recipe tastes like the original Buraka salad! If you’ve had the Buraka lentil salad and have suggestions for my recipe let me know!

What’s your guilty food pleasure?

>Most people have some type of food or specific food that they know is bad for them or too expensive but they eat it anyway because they love it too much! I agree with this philosophy…you have to live your life the way you want and eat what you want because if food can’t be enjoyable then that would really put a damper on my day!

Other than Dr. Pepper (I know, it’s not a food but in my mind it is still a guilty pleasure) and red velvet cupcakes, my guilty pleasure is an entire grocery store. I am secretly addicted to Whole Foods. I have heard they have bad policies and are a not-s0-good corporation but I just don’t care! If you can make organic spinach and black beans look good I give you props! Just walking into Whole Foods I am taken aback by how nice everything is displayed and everything looks good…even some of the more questionably “fancy” organic food that shall go unmentioned.

My guilty pleasures are specifically in four sections of the store. I wish I had the type of money to spend $11.99 per pound on chicken and buy the really prettily displayed seafood but I am a college student with a budget! My first guilty pleasure are the free samples in the produce department! You have to go between 11am and 12:30ish (or until they run out) and usually only on weekends. They give you whole strawberries, half of a banana, chunks of mango, different prepared dips and salsas, and if you really look…there are free cheese samples in the back by the cheese counter. The other secret is that if you really look like your trying to decide between different deli-counter options they will inevitably offer you a sample! LOVE IT!

My second guilty pleasure is the olive bar. At $12 a pound…I usually get 8 or 9 dollars worth and absolutely love it! They have traditional green and black olives but they also have marinated artichoke hearts, marinated feta cheese, spicy green olives, blue cheese stuffed olives (these are kind of nasty!), garlic stuffed olives, and (my favorite) marinated mega white beans! Sometimes you can go on a lucky day and they have toothpicks to try everything…that’s the best! Everything is pretty good on the olive bar even though I stick to the marinated feta, marinated artichokes, spicy and garlic stuffed olives, and the white beans! However, beware of the wrinkly black olive…my mom and I were trying everything when we first went to Whole Foods and I asked her to try that one…she said it tasted like vomit…BEWARE!

My third guilty pleasure is the cheese counter. I (being a true Sconnie!) love the artisan Wisconsin cheese they feature at their cheese counter. I don’t like mushy cheese or goat cheese but for less than $10 I can usually get a pretty decent sized wedge of fancy cheese! There’s nothing better than a fancy cheese to spice up a can of soup or a generic salad!

My fourth guilty pleasure is the deli counter…not only do they give you free samples like I mentioned but they will also give you the recipe if you ask. I don’t like asking for recipes unless I have bought something so after I’ve sample something and I decide I really like it I buy a small container of it and ask for the recipe. I have gotten some of my favorite cold salad recipes from them! It is great to be able to get the recipes off of them because I can make a full batch for the price of 6 ounces at the store! My favorite salad from them has corn, asparagus, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and random other vegetables if you have them. Then you just toss it in a dressing made from cider vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper…it is so refreshing!

So my guilty food pleasure is definitely the expensive guilty part but it is totally worth it! Do you have a guilty pleasure?