Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Small Dishes
Sauce à la Américain

05/18/11

Sauce à la Américain

 Let’s face it, whether you barbecue or grill, there’s only so many ways you can cook it. The heat source—charcoal, gas or wood—may vary, but whether it’s slowly smoked pork shoulder or beef brisket, grilled spare ribs or chicken, the goal is to give the meat that much coveted smoky flavor. You might add a rub or marinade before cooking, but what really sets one recipe apart from another is the sauce.  Properly speaking, a sauce is a condiment and usually applied near the end of cooking as a glaze or served on the side with the finished product. (A mop is the term for a basting liquid applied during cooking—usually made with less sugar so it won’t burn so easily.) Mention “barbecue sauce” and that tomato-based stuff...

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Change You Can Believe In

05/11/11

Change You Can Believe In

 Sometime in Wisconsin the change of seasons is more a state of mind than a date on the calendar. Spring this year has been disappointing; wet and wishy-washy; big on hope but short on substance. Harbingers of warmer weather can be misleading:  I’ve seen robins in the snow and shorts on State Street when it’s barely above freezing.  So, what are the sure signs that warmer weather is truly here to stay…at least until October (or hopefully, September)? Sorrel.  Most likely found in the backyard, I’ve spotted this spring herb at Metcalfe’s Market and occasionally at the Farmers’ Market.  Finding it is well worth the effort. Sorrel has a flavor similar to spinach but much sharper.  Like rhubarb leaves, it contains...

Posted at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments

Dining Detour

04/23/11

Dining Detour

 There hasn’t been such commotion on Willy Street since 1976. That’s the year when a prefabricated box was dropped at the corner of Brearly Street, flaunting the Taco John logo. Public sentiment soon led to its removal and a reflection about any future development. Much has changed since then, but the neighborhood hasn’t lost any of its quirkiness or charm.   In the intervening years, though, it has rightly earned a reputation for being the city’s Restaurant Row … and now … Bakery Boulevard might be appropriate as well.   This year the upheaval is the result of our annual summer reparation, road construction.  I hope this inconvenience will deter few from enjoying some of the city’s most interesting and...

Posted at 01:32 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1

That's Eye-talian!

04/17/11

That's Eye-talian!

I love modern Italian cooking—Lombardino’s and Nostrano are two of my favorite restaurants. But just like sometimes I’d rather have a burger than a steak, sometimes I can’t face another pizza with arugula and truffle oil or pasta whose name I can’t pronounce.  When that happens it’s time to return to the red sauce circuit.  Italian-American food is a cuisine in itself—not just in Madison, but around the country. All Italians that came here brought with them a rich tradition of food and eating—but not always the same tradition since they came from numerous regions with remarkably different tastes and cooking styles. Over time, traditional recipes changed, as an accommodation to both the availability of ingredients and local...

Posted at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments

Spring Cleaning

04/10/11

Spring Cleaning

Since I’ve been writing this blog—since June, 2008—I’ve received many requests for recipes for dishes I’ve written about or mentioned.  So, I thought now was a good time to share a few of them. Overwhelmingly, the most requested recipe is for jambalaya. There really isn’t a “best” recipe since it can be made several ways and I do and love them all.  What follows is probably my day in, day out favorite. The original version served a church basement so I’ve scaled it down for home consumption.  To make really good jambalaya requires really good andouille—and in this case, tasso.  Both can be difficult to find in this neck of the woods.  Both can be ordered from the Cajun Grocer. Seafood...

Posted at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments

Green Eggs and Ham

04/05/11

Green Eggs and Ham

It’s obvious that pastel colored eggs and chocolate bunnies at Easter are pagan symbols, long part of the celebration of spring.  Like many holiday icons—including the Christmas tree—they predate Christianity. How the ham got to be popular at Easter is a little less clear, at least for many of us today who think of it as that pink stuff sold refrigerated at the supermarket. First of all, a ham is the thigh (upper portion) of the hind leg of a pig.  Today, most are cured with brine injected into the meat.  Sugar or honey is usually added along with nitrites to produce the nice Porky Pig color.  Better quality hams are smoked over hardwood—hickory and cherry being the most popular—but sometime just sprayed or injected with liquid...

Posted at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments

Missing New Orleans

03/06/11

Missing New Orleans

To paraphrase Creighton Bernette in the TV series Treme, it may be just another gray, sorry-assed Tuesday where you are, but it’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And, on most Fat Tuesdays I’d be there, but not this year. I’m not sure what I’ll do on March 8, other than try not to think about what I’m missing and missing it I will. Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans is the unofficial anthem of New Orleans and the lyrics suggest that the only thing one can miss more than the city is one’s true love. Unfortunately, my true love is New Orleans at Mardi Gras. As so often is the case with what we treasure most, it’s something I stumbled upon serendipitously. The first time I saw New Orleans was more than thirty-six years...

Posted at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments

Dipping and Grilling

02/20/11

Dipping and Grilling

 Most of us have enjoyed fondue at one time or another. It originated in the French-speaking region of Switzerland as a cheese dish eaten from a communal pot. In various forms it had long been popular there when in the 1930s the Swiss Cheese Union promoted it as the national dish.  Traditionally, fondue is made from Gruyère, Emmental or a blend of cheeses, white wine and kirsch.  Usually a small amount of cornstarch is added to prevent separation. It’s made in a small pot set over a flame and eaten by dipping cubes of bread on long forks directly into the pot. The specialty made its way here in the 1960s, soon reaching the fad status of the hula hoop. As its popularity spread, many variations like chocolate fondue soon followed. Much less known in the...

Posted at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments

A Red Letter Drink

02/13/11

A Red Letter Drink

 Red is always a popular color … and nowhere more so than in Badgerland and at no time more so than on Valentine’s Day.  Red is the color of blood and hearts and denotes love and passion, but also anger—as in "seeing red". I’m always looking for new red food and drinks to make for the holiday.  After all there are only three things people do to celebrate and two of them are eating and drinking. Not being able to resist anything new, I purchased a bottle of Absolut Wild Tea vodka.  It’s actually a tweaking of one of their limited editions venerating American cities—Absolut Boston.   The prominent flavors are tea and elderflowers.  I previously had bought a bottle of the Absolut Boston and liked...

Posted at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments

Smoke and Mirrors

02/05/11

Smoke and Mirrors

Recently a friend who had just lunched at Bonfyre commented about how good the place smelled.  Having been there myself, I knew what she meant:  The tantalizing aroma of food grilling over a wood fire was my first impression when I walked through the door.  I knew it would be a lasting one as well. It’s like magic how just the smell of food can send me off on—like the old song says—“…a sentimental journey to renew old memories.”  For example, the smell of hot dogs—the kind that spin around on a carousel in a glass case—and chopped onion and pickle relish always remind me of dime stores—S.S. Kresge and F.W. Woolworth. I picture myself sitting at the serpentine lunch counter with my chubby legs and shiny new...

Posted at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments

About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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