The recent cold and snowy weather has brought back memories of days spent playing in the snow.
In that spirit, I wanted to share again some thoughts first published here January 19, 1994.
If you never spent an evening tobogganing at Olbrich Park in January when the temperature was well below zero and the wind shipped up chill factors off Lake Monona, you don’t know what you missed.
Tobogganing within thick blocks of ice the width of a standard toboggan, and side ice curbs to prevent straying off course and into people or trees, brought screams of laughter and nightmarish pleasures Southerners would never understand. Toboggan slides were one of the joys of many Madison winters that ended after an episode of unseasonal February thaws.
Our toboggan was an eight-seater with a khaki-colored canvas cushion, padded just enough to prevent tailbone crush when we hit the ice from an airborne position. It was daring and exciting and required a warm snowsuit, boots, heavy mittens, a wool cap and a scarf that wrapped around the face to allow just a squint of sight and nothing more. It also required double joints, or something pretty close, to achieve what you might call leg-wrapping.
My father always opted for the front seat to protect the rest of us from frost-bite. That meant he would climb the ladder first to reach the top of the toboggan slide, pulling the sled on a snowy flatbed adjacent to the steep stairs to the roofless room at the top. Two park employees waiting for the next thrill-seeker would place the toboggan high on the wooden platform, then help each one of us take our positions. The person in front crossed his or her legs, tucking feet under the curl of the toboggan. The next person sat snugly behind, wrapping his or her legs over the front rider’s legs, and so on. Once we were in place, looking like some kind of a season insect, we’d hang on tightly as the back of the platform was lifted, jettisoning the front of the toboggan, and us, through the air and downward to the ice path that sent us merrily on our way.
The further we went, the longer the trek back up to Oakridge Avenue, but before we knew it we were back on the toboggan platform ready for another flight through winter. Bitter cold and tobogganing always meant cocoa when we arrived home. Sipping on cocoa was like the calm after a storm and necessary to thaw us before bedtime.
Bitter cold is conducive to baking, too, and spending the day making bread seemed to poke fun at the thermometer that hung by the window near the sink. I never paid much attention to the preparation of homemade bread, but I did know that bread hot from the oven didn’t rest on a rack to cool in our house. As soon as it was removed from the oven, it was thickly sliced, then drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. It was a nostalgic reminder of how bread was eaten in the Old Country and was savored with eyes closed.
Recipes featured during that month in January included some favorites you might enjoy being reminded of, the first one was from the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Brennan’s onion soup au gratin
8 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups thinly sliced white onions
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 cans (13 ounces each) beef broth
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Dash of cayenne
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons light cream
4 thin slices French bread
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute onions in butter until very soft. Blend in flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, salt and cayenne. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Lower heat; simmer for 15 minutes. Beat egg yolk and cream in a small bowl; blending in about 1 cup of the hot soup. Stir mixture into saucepan. Ladle soup into 4 individual heatproof bowls. Float a slice of French bread on each and top with Parmesan cheese. Broil, watching carefully, 4 inches from heat, just until cheese turns golden.
Yield 4 servings.
New Orleans brings to mind a column a few weeks later that featured a recipe shared by New Orleans Take-out owner John Roussos, who recently closed shop, left Madison, and will be missed forever.
Sweet potato pie-pecan pie
9-inch pie crust
Sweet potato filling:
1 cup sweet potatoes or yams
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon cream
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
¾ cup pecans, whole or pieces (more if desired)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake sweet potato or yam, cool, skin and mash. Mix with brown sugar, white sugar, egg, cream, melted butter and vanilla. Sprinkle cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt over sweet potato mixture and blend thoroughly. Spread with spatula into bottom of 9-inch pie crust, smooth evenly.
Beat 3 eggs. Add 1 cup sugar and beat together. Add ½ cup dark corn syrup and beat. Add 1 tablespoon melted butter and 2 teaspoons vanilla and blend. Add a pinch each of cinnamon and salt. Add pecans. Pour mixture over sweet potato filling. Cover surface with more pecans, if desired.
Bake 50 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees. If pie browns too rapidly, then reduce heat to 325 degrees. Center should be firm when pie is shaken.
Two more recipes that will warm your heart have appeared here before and are from beloved local restaurants no longer in business. Shared by the Schiavo family, here is a favorite from Antonio’s when it was on S. Park Street.
Chicken scaloppine piccata
2 6-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces dry white wine
4 ounces low-salt chicken broth
Wedge of fresh lemon
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Lightly pound chicken breasts between two sheets of waxed paper. Dip in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and shake off excess flour. Heat oil and saute chicken until lightly browned. Remove to heated plate. Add garlic to pan and saute 1 minute. Add wine, chicken broth and juice from lemon wedge and cook on medium-high flame to reduce liquid to about one-third, or until a glazelike consistency to coat a spoon. Return chicken to pan with capers and heat through.
Another unforgettable favorite restaurant was Ross Parisi’s Rossario’s on Monona Drive.
Rossario’s artichokes and tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup clam stock or chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes, or 1 15-ounce can of Italian-style tomatoes, chopped and undrained
1 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained and cut into halves
Tomato paste, optional
Using a 19-inch skillet, saute onions in oil and remove. To same pan, add walnuts, cheese, salt and pepper and stir over medium heat until nuts are coated and golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add wine, clam stock, parsley and basil and simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Return onions to skillet and add tomatoes and cook about 3 to 4 minutes. Add artichokes and continue cooking for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. This should be the consistency to toss with heavier type pastas such as penne or fusilli. If you prefer a thicker sauce, a tiny amount of tomato paste can be added
Yield: 4 servings