Oliva Italian and Mediterranean Cuisine

The restaurant space now occupied by Oliva used to be a peruvian restaurant that I really wanted to go to a couple weeks before it closed. Thank goodness they didn’t have any vegetarian items on the menu preventing me from going with a vegetarian friend because that place got closed down for health reasons. Since then I have wanted to give Oliva a try but it has gotten mixed reviews. I have had a couple friends go there and have mediocre experiences. So when I went I didn’t have high expectations.

The decor is interesting considering it is a Mediterranean and Italian restaurant. Bunky’s does this combo really well and has very eclectic decor. Oliva is an odd combination of modern and floral patterns, and muted tones throughout. It felt more like a funky coffee shop than a restaurant. I was really unimpressed by the plastic glasses that my water came in but the steamy hot bread was amazing.

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Spinach and ricotta cannelloni at Oliva

The menu is mega long and complex with way too many options that lack in diversity. They offer pizzas, pasta, salads, entrees, and calzones. I got the cannelloni which was supposed to have ground beef in it but I couldn’t see or taste any in mine. The dish came out piping hot and the marinara sauce had a really great flavor. I was a little disappointed in the size of the dish and the lack of beef for the price. Everything on the menu could be about $4-$6 less and then this place would be a great deal. The prices were also disappointing considering the plastic glasses.

The dessert options are pretty general with tiramisu, baklava, cheese cake, and rice pudding as options. I got the baklava which was a good size for the price but the usually honey-like sauce had been replaced with a thin sugary sauce. I liked the ratio of nuts to phyllo dough but I missed the traditional thick sauce of other baklava’s I’ve had.

Bottom Line: It was a good meal but a little disappointing for the price. The decor was off-putting and the plastic glasses bothered me (they felt cheap). After looking at the menu again I don’t think there’s anything on the menu that would bring me back.

Garlic kale mashed potatoes

Garlic kale mashed potatoes and carrots

I don’t care what anyone says…kale does not taste good. It is one of the healthiest vegetables I know about but have yet to find a recipe that makes me want to actually eat it. I have tried cooking it down into soup but always end up picking it out. I have tried kale chips but these lose their novelty pretty fast. I have tried shredding it into pasta sauces and stews but nothing works. I can always taste the heavy flavor of the kale that I can only describe as GREEN. However, whenever I go to the grocery store or a famers’ market I always walk away with a huge beautiful bunch of kale. When I’m picking out the kale I am always excited about how healthy I am being and the exciting food I will make with it. When I get home, however, I remember that I don’t like kale and haven’t had good luck with cooking it.

So when I got home from the grocery store on Sunday and realized I once again bought kale I started thinking about how to use it. When I hadn’t come up with something by the time I decided to start cooking today I just started throwing stuff into a pot. I cooked some potatoes, onions and garlic in oil and red wine. By the time the carrots I wanted to use were cleaned and cut up the potatoes were cooked. I tossed in the carrots and started cleaning the kale. By the time the kale was ready to go in the potatoes were basically like mashed potatoes with cooked carrots in it. I added the kale and created this very awesome side dish. Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite sides and I also really like cooked carrots. So I am very likely to make those two items again. But by combining them with some butter, salt, garlic, and kale I have now found the best way to eat one of the healthiest veggies that I don’t like! Try it!

Souper Tuesday!

Fresh veggies I added to the recipes

While people in 10 states were voting in presidential primaries I tweaked two magazine recipes to make two super healthy and tasty soups! Both recipes were pretty lacking in veggies when I found them so I definitely used them as a starting point. I added carrots and swiss chard to both recipes and broccoli to the chili. I really like ground turkey breast but my grocery store was out of it when I went shopping so I decided to try crumbling tofu into the turkey chili recipe instead.

For the lentil and chickpea stew I cooked the carrots, onion, swiss chard and broccoli for a couple minutes until soft. Then I added the veggie broth, tomatoes and lentils to the mixture. I let it simmer for a bit to combine the ingredients and added a bunch of spices. Then the entire mixture went into my slow cooker for four hours. The one thing I did really different than the recipe is I soaked my lentils in water overnight to cut the cooking time in half…it’s a very simple trick to really save some time on cooking day!

lentil/chickpea stew in the slow cooker!

Towards the end of the four hours I added the chickpeas and some more seasonings to taste! The dish turned out really well and with the addition of the broccoli and swiss chard it will be a great lunch option for the week!

The ingredients for this recipe cost a little more than ten dollars and I will be getting at least six meals out of it! I’m very excited for lunch this week!

For the chili recipe I was very excited to replace the ground turkey with crumbled tofu and it turned out really well! I also added the carrots, swiss chard and broccoli, which really adds to the flavor and heartiness of the recipe! The flavors are so good in this recipe that I’m looking forward to trying it with the turkey instead of the tofu.

tofu and chickpea chili

Original Recipes:

Curried Lentil and Chickpea Stew

Turkey Chili

 

 

 

 

 

Bonus Tip:

broccoli prep

When prepping broccoli the best tool to use is your kitchen shears. It is really easy to slip and cut yourself because of the odd angles you have to cut at when trying to chop up a head of broccoli. I usually buy my broccoli from the bulk bin to get exactly the amount I need and not a full head of broccoli. The smaller chunks are also easier to prep. The kitchen shears give you a lot of control and they make it easier to cut the broccoli into really tiny chunks or bigger pieces.

When prepping broccoli don’t throw away the stalks. The stalks have a really great broccoli flavor and awesome crunch which makes them a perfect addition to any salad. Most grocery stores sell “broccoli slaw,” which is basically shredded pieces of the stalk. So save your broccoli stalks and make your own slaw!

homemade broccoli slaw

You could shred the stalks to make actual slaw but I just chopped it up into pieces and dropped it on to my salad! The stalks stay fresh a lot longer than the florets so save them for when your a little low on fresh veggies. These tips can also be used for cauliflower!

Eldorado Grill might be the first Food Fight restaurant I don’t like

When deciding on a place to go for dinner a friend and I referenced the restaurant list I’ve compiled of places around Madison I want to try out. They consist of personal recommendations, restaurants that have had good reviews, and traditional Madison favorites. The list started off pretty large about 5 years ago and has dwindled to 11 places. One of those places was Eldorado Grill. I’m a huge fan of Food Fight restaurants which is why this one has been on the list for awhile. My favorite restaurant in Madison is Monty’s Blueplate Diner, which is owned by Food Fight. Other favorites include Bluephies, Hubbard Avenue Diner, Fresco, Bluephies Downtown Deli, Tex Tubb’s and Ocean Grille (even though the decor is this odd Las Vegas style nautical look). So when we decided to go I was pretty excited because it is one of the last Food Fight restaurants I haven’t been to.

The menu looked pretty promising with a mixture of tex-mex favorites and traditional steakhouse options. When we got there I was very impressed with the location. It is nestled next to Ground Zero coffee at the tip of Willy Street in the old Madison Candy Company building. The restaurant was a lot smaller than I was expecting but the decor was fun with tequila bottles lining the ceiling and horseshoes on the walls.

We decided to start with the chips and salsa because in my opinion you can tell the quality of a tex-mex restaurant based on the quality of their chips and the flavor of their salsa. The waiter brought over a very large portion of chips and salsa but to my dismay the salsa was slightly acidic and heavily seasoned with cumin. I didn’t get any of the flavors I would normally like to taste in salsa like garlic, tomato, onion, or jalapeno. The chips were hot and crunchy but lacked any hint of salt.

After our fair share of chips and salsa both of us decided to order an appetizer because the entrees that were coming out of the kitchen door looked enormous. I got the tamales and my dinner companion got chiles con queso. I also got a cup of the house chili, which was a very heavy texas chili that could have used some sour cream to cut through the smokey pepper flavor. I couldn’t taste anything but the smoke which was disappointing because the rest of the ingredients (beef tips and an array of peppers) sounded promising. The highlight of the chili was the small half circle piece of corn cake I got. It was a delicious little pancake with the traditional sweet and savory flavors of really good corn bread that I can never seem to replicate at home!

Eldorado Grill tamales and black beans

My entree came out on a huge plate and was beautifully arranged but that was the end of good news for my entree. The tamales consisted of an inch of corn masa and a couple slivers of pork. The pork that I could find was very moist but didn’t have any flavor. The black beans were also flavorless other than the very small dollop of roasted corn that was very tasty. The salsa verde was vinegary and I was hoping for some spice and garlic but all I got was cilantro. The food was by no means bad, I was just expecting more flavor and spice. It really needed some flavor on the black beans, some spice in the salsa verde, and more pork in the tamales. I would have also liked something cool to balance out the temperature from the steaming tamales. Some sour cream or fresh avocado would have cut through the heaviness of the corn masa very nicely.

My friend got the chiles con queso which came in a little cast iron pan and was bubbling with cheesy goodness. She also got a little bowl of flour tortillas to presumably make her own tacos. However, the cheese was so thick that the making of the tacos was almost impossible. I tried a bit of her chiles con queso with some of my leftover corn masa and it was very good. The smokiness of the peppers were just right and the cheese cut through the dry corn masa very well! So basically my appetizer combined with hers would have been a good dinner to share because both of our meals were missing components that would have really added to the dishes.

Bottom line: This is the first Food Fight restaurant that has disappointed me but because it is a Food Fight restaurant I will definitely be going back to give it another try. My meal was alright but could have been a lot better with a couple very simple changes like garlic, avocado and a little bit of jalapeno. I loved the atmosphere and am going to give one of their entrees a try next time!

Summer veggie bake first cooking adventure since move

I have been remiss with my blogging recently and I am glad to be back! I moved and started a new job so not only have I been really busy but for a decent part of my absence my cooking utensils were wrapped in newspaper and boxed away. So now that I am almost fully moved into my new apartment, my kitchen is fully unpacked and I have found time to start cooking again I am happy to be back blogging about my food finds, formulas and faux pas.

Farmers' Market Veggies

Tuesday is my normal day off so I will probably be cooking and blogging that day from now on and this past Tuesday I decided to make a run to TJMaxx and found an amazing orange Le Creuset baking dish and was really excited to use it. So I went to the Farmers’ Market and bought some squash, zucchini, green peppers and tomatoes to make a veggie bake.

Veggie lentil bake

I’ve never roasted a conglomeration of veggies before so this was a definite learning experience. I basically layered the zucchini, yellow squash, green peppers and tomatoes with garlic powder, onions and olive oil between all layers. I also added some dried basil to the top of the entire dish because basil goes really well with tomatoes! I wanted to add some substance to a completely veggie dish so I put some lentils in. This was almost a mistake because I forgot to soak them overnight so they wouldn’t have to cook so long but it ended up working out in the end.

Zucchini layer
Zucchini layer

 

Yellow squash layer
Yellow squash layer

 

Lentil layer
Lentil layer

 

Green pepper layer
Green pepper layer

After about an hour in a 350 degree oven I took the dish out, added some water and garlic vinegar, covered it with aluminum foil, dropped the oven down to 250 degrees and baked it for another 2 hours so the lentils would cook up.

Finished veggie lentil bake!

Since I had forgotten to soak the lentils the dish didn’t finish cooking until around 10pm so I put it in the refrigerator to eat another day. Then tonight I heated up some of the veggies, make a salmon fillet (just cooked it up in a saute pan with some olive oil) and added some aged cheddar cheese from Nasonville Dairy (back home in Central Wisconsin!) to the top for some real Wisconsin flavor!

The dish: The veggies cooked up very nicely and in the end, the lentils added a nice texture to the whole thing! Plus, lentils are an easy and healthy addition to most veggie dishes. I am also excited to use my Le Creuset for some more yummy oven-cooked meals!

Lesson learned: remember to soak any dried bean or grain before adding it to most dishes with a cook time of less than 3 hours!

Disappointing 2nd meal at Green Owl Cafe

Finals, graduation festivities and finding a big-person job have kept me from posting for a while but I am going to job back in with a second review of the Green Owl Cafe. The first time I went to The Green Owl I was a little disappointed in the quality of ingredients but the flavor of the dish was decent. This time we went for dinner so the bill was a little pricier and we got to sit outside but I still didn’t get the ingredients and flavor I was expecting.

Garlic tomato soup at The Green Owl Cafe

All dinners come with either a salad or cup of soup so I decided to get their soup because one of their soups of the day was garlic tomato. The soup was fine, a lot less garlic than I was expecting for a recipe with garlic in the name.

"Un-chicken parmesan" from The Green Owl Cafe

I ordered the “un-chicken Parmesan” that was supposed to be their version of chicken Parmesan. The “chicken” part of the dish was a breaded soy patty that was chewy and tasted sort of like new plastic containers smell. The breading was tasteless and just fell off the soy patty when I tried cutting it. The spaghetti sauce was fine, nothing exceptional and it was served on white noodles. The noodles really baffle me because whole wheat noodles would be both healthier and more filling, which I think vegetarians/vegans probably want! The highlight of the meal were the four little garlic toast pieces. They were the perfect balance of garlic, butter, salt, crunch and soft bread on the inside.

Bottom Line: Neither the lunch or dinner options impressed me. I expect more flavor and healthier ingredients from a vegetarian/began restaurant, especially for the prices.

Go to Daisy’s for the cupcakes and stay for dinner

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Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery on Atwood Avenue

Designer cupcakes are always an interesting conversation for me because I really enjoy cupcakes but get annoyed when I pay $2+ for a cupcake that doesn’t end up impressing me.

Keys to a successful fancy cupcake:

  1. Cake part has to AT LEAST as moist as something I can make out of a box
  2. Frost to cake ratio needs to be even (I am not the biggest fan of frosting but if fancy cupcake-frosting is done well I am a huge fan of it. So the frosting needs to flavorful and not over-the-top sugary).
  3. There should be a good mix of classic flavor choices and interesting options (I usually get a classic red velvet and something new and interesting!). 
  4. The cupcakes NEED to be fresh.
Daisy’s

 I have not been to too many cupcakeries or fancy bakeries but the few that I have been to seem to follow these guidelines pretty well. Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery on Atwood Avenue is very good about the guidelines! Their cake is always moist, fresh and usually an interesting flavor instead of just vanilla or chocolate. All of the frosting I have had from there is light and flavorful unless it is the cream cheese frosting which is amazingly rich and heavy (which cream cheese frosting needs to be to be good)! And their cupcake display case always (unless you’re too late and they already sold out!) has classics like red velvet and a traditional butter cream options.

Cupcakes to go!

Their red velvet is fantastically traditional and well-done but I keep going back to try their new flavors. The first time I went I got a chocolate cupcake with mocha butter cream frosting. The cake was good but mixed with the delicately flavored mocha butter cream was exceptional (mind you, this was the only option left when we got there for dinner!). The second time I went I got a red velvet and cupcake made with a banana/pecan cake and topped with a chocolate/peanut butter butter cream frosting. This cupcake takes cupcake eating to another level. The cake is dense and moist with the pecans adding great texture. The frosting is light in texture but amazingly dense in flavor! The third time I went back for the banana/pecan/chocolate/peanut butter cupcake but they had already sold out of them so I got a more traditional vanilla cupcake with vanilla butter cream frosting, which was very flavorful and fresh but not as amazing as the specialty cupcake I went back for!

Daisy’s server more than just cupcakes.

Now on to dinner. I haven’t had a chance to eat here for breakfast but plan to in the very near future because Daisy Cafe has been serving breakfast a lot longer than dinner and probably has it perfected! I went to dinner with a friend a little less than a year after they started serving dinner and we were shocked to be the only ones in the dining room at 5:30pm on a Thursday. But despite being the only diners we both really enjoyed our meal. I got traditional meatloaf and my friend got the chicken and bacon pasta. Both of us were pleasantly surprised with the amount of food we got for the prices and really enjoyed our dinners. My meatloaf was very flavorful and came with the traditional mashed potatoes and vegetables. The mashed potatoes went really well with the meatloaf just as tradition says but the vegetables were a surprising respite from the heaviness of the meal. My vegetables were perfectly sauteed and seasoned perfectly. And even though both of us had to take part of our meal home we got a cupcake to go (the mocha one!).

Bottom Line: the cupcakes are worth the $2.50 you pay for them, I will keep going back to see what new flavor they are making, their dinner menu offers a full range of options and I will be going back to try the multigrain pancakes or huevos rancheros de la Daisy.

Frida’s

>This week I went to dinner with a bunch of friends from work. We went to Frida’s. I’ve never been to Frida’s, mostly because my freshman year everyone said the only reason to go to Frida’s was the fact that they have good, cheap margaritas and don’t card. So basically I never wanted to go based on the fact that I had never heard anything too positive about the actual food. So when I got the invite I was excited because I always wanted a reason to go other than the half-priced margaritas!

My first impression was that it was a lot bigger than I had pictured because when you walk by all you see is the bar area. But the entire restaurant opens up in the back to a big open space and second floor in the back. We were seated on the second floor which was pretty cool! The menu is pretty typical Mexican-American food with an entire page dedicated to tequila! I ordered a chicken fajita burrito (the only one at the table to order something other than a quesadilla). I always appreciate free chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants and Frida’s did not disappoint. The chips were really good but the salsa was a little lacking in spice for my taste and had a bit too much cilantro in it. My burrito was good…the chicken was grilled and the vegetables inside were very well seasoned. The sauce on top of the burritos was, again, lacking in spice but the refried beans were very good and it came with a good helping of rice, lettuce and sour cream.

The prices are a little high for traditional tex-mex food which made it absolutely necessary to fill up on chips and save the second half of my burrito for lunch the next day. All in all, it was good dinner and a great night out with the girls!

Pizza

>Most college students live off of pizza. When I tell my friends I don’t like pizza they look at me like I just told them ‘I’m an alien.’ Generally, they can’t believe it when I say I don’t like pizza. However, saying I don’t like pizza is a little bit of an overstatement. I cannot eat thick crust pizza that is mushy and greasy and all you can taste is the dough. I do like really thin, crispy crust pizza with interesting ingredients on it.

Tonight, I went to Roman Candle pizza with a friend and got one of those pizzas! Also, on our way we found a really cute organic bakery in Middleton…great find! I recommend the banana bread whoopie pie with cream cheese frosting! As for Roman Candle, the pizza was exactly what I was looking for. Although the prices were a little high for my liking, when we were seated by the succulent lined front window I was excited for people watching and to order their most popular pizza, the pestoral. The pestoral comes with pesto, feta cheese, kalamata olives, roma tomatoes, roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts. It was very good! I little greasy and I would have appreciated the addition of chicken for the $17 price tag but it was definitely better than the sauce-covered lump of dough I could have gotten from numerous campus pizzerias. The one thing I wanted to try but my wallet and stomach wouldn’t hear of it…the roasted asparagus appetizer. I’ve never heard of such a think and wonder what it consists of!