Students Share Meaningful Recipes from Home

Flowers and a Recipe Contest sign

Wood is the traditional gift for a five-year anniversary, crystal is gifted at fifteen, diamonds are for a sixtieth anniversary, but sixty years is where the tradition stops. For a 175th anniversary, why not celebrate with delicious family recipes? On March 20, 2024, University Housing did just that and hosted a recipe contest for UW–Madison’s demisemiseptcentennial milestone. A few weeks ago, residents of University Housing had the opportunity to share the recipes that mean most to them, in hopes that their home recipe would be the tastiest. We received about 40 submissions, and the top five entries were judged at this event by a panel that included Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, University Housing director Jeff Novak, and a group of other Housing staff and residents. The panel scored each dish while the finalists shared some background about their home recipe with the attendees.

The five finalists’ recipes were recreated by the talented chefs in University Housing Dining & Culinary Services for the judges to sample, and these dishes will be served in the dining markets later this semester.

Picadillo — Andrew De Sevilla

“Picadillo is a traditional Cuban dish, which is popular in Puerto Rico as well. My family is Puerto Rican, and my father made this recipe for my family. This dish reminds me of home because of this.”

Three students pose for a group photo with Chancellor Mnookin
Andrew De Sevilla and two friends with Chancellor Mnookin — photo by Joel Ninmann

Chicken & Vegetables with Dijon Vinaigrette — Nicholas Hall

“I grew up eating this meal for dinner at least once a week. It was my mom’s special recipe, and the smell of the pungent Dijon vinaigrette reminds me of home. My mom is an advocate for healthy eating, and this dish uses whole, healthy ingredients to make a meal with delicious flavor. Because of the bright Dijon flavor of this wholesome salad, I never get tired of eating this meal.”

Grandma’s Runzas — Nicholas Hall

“My mom’s side of the family is 100% German, and this runza recipe was passed down from my German ancestors. My grandma introduced this recipe to me in order to embrace our German heritage. Whenever she visits my family, she always brings a bag of frozen runzas for us. Runzas are my favorite food because of the delicious flavor and because of the story they tell about my family’s ancestry!”

A student poses for a photo with family members in the Lake Mendota Room
Nicholas Hall and family — photo by Joel Ninmann

Salsa Chicken — Kathrine Curtis

“This dish was a staple in my home growing up (and still is today) and was the first dish I ever learned to cook myself. The recipe is incredibly adaptable which allows for quick modification. Rice can easily be made in a rice cooker and the chicken can be baked in a skillet, oven, pressure cooker, or another appliance. Changing the type of salsa can also impact the dish’s flavor. Use a pineapple salsa for a sweeter dish, or a spicy salsa for a hot dish. Even using a homemade salsa creates a fresh taste. This dish can easily be made in large portions to accommodate my large family and bring everyone together for a meal. Chicken is also a healthy lean meat that many enjoy and are able to eat. For me personally, this was a comfort food that my mom often made for us as kids after a long day at work, even if we were on a budget.”

Chancellor Mnookin posing with a student for a photo
Kathrine Curtis with Chancellor Mnookin — photo by Joel Ninmann

Tacos Dorados — José Gaytan

“It is a very simple home recipe my mother has made for me that I’ve been enjoying for years. I always admired its simplicity and its homy sensation.”

After tasting the five delicious dishes, including the ultra-savory picadillo, the bright, tangy flavor of the chicken and vegetables with Dijon vinaigrette, the soft crust and flavorful filling in the runzas, fresh and satisfying bites of salsa chicken, and the comfort of the simple, yet thoughtful, tacos dorados, the judges came to a conclusion. While four of the five judges each ranked a different dish as their favorite, José’s tacos dorados delighted the crowd the most. Congratulations to José on an exquisite dish — we cannot wait for the rest of campus to try it! As the winning entry, José and his friends will also receive a special catered meal from University Housing.

A Dining staff member serves guests food
Dining staff member Morgan B. serves guests at the 175th Anniversary Recipe Contest

If any of these recipes intrigue you, stop by a dining market when they are on the menu to try one for yourself. You won’t walk away hungry!

A heartfelt thank you goes to Chancellor Mnookin and all of the judges, the Dining & Culinary Services team for recreating and serving the delightful dishes, Housing’s Events and Marketing teams, the finalists and guests in attendance, and to all the students who submitted a recipe.




Adobo, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 tbsp minced garlic, 2 tbsp Recaito, 2 lbs ground beef, 2 cans tomato sauce (15 oz each), 2 tbsp oregano, 2 packets Sazon Goya, 4 bay leaves, salt to taste


  1. Season ground beef with Adobo (recommended) or seasoning salt. Leave the ground beef to season in a refrigerator for 30 minutes minimum — the longer the better.
  2. In a large frying pan, sautee oil, garlic and Recaito in high heat for 1–2 minutes.
  3. Add ground beef to the pan in high heat. Stir and break using a cooking spoon or fork. Cook the meat until thoroughly brown. Tip: cover the pan for 1–2 minutes at a time, uncover every couple of minutes to stir until meat is browned.
  4. Lower the heat to “Low” (setting #2 on most ranges works fine). Add tomato sauce, oregano, and Sazon. Break each bay leaf once and add bay leaves, too.
  5. Stir, cover, and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. After 15 minutes, taste test and add salt to taste. 1 tsp at most.
  7. Simmer for an additional 15–20 minutes. Serve with white rice.

Tip: If you start making the white rice when you start simmering the Picadillo (step 3), they will be ready at the same time.

Chicken & Vegetables with Dijon Vinaigrette



4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, 1 teaspoon salt, 4 medium red potatoes — quartered, 1/2 lb whole green beans,  1 medium bell pepper, cut into strips


1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons sugar


  1. Heat grill. Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Place chicken on grill and cook over medium heat. Cook 10–15 minutes, turning halfway, until the chicken is fork-tender.
  2. Meanwhile, place potatoes in a pot and cover with water, add the salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add green beans; cover and cook an additional 6–8 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add bell pepper and squash; cook 2–4 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. Drain.
  3. In a jar, combine all dressing ingredients; shake well. Dice chicken into 1-inch pieces. Combine chicken and vegetables and drizzle with the Dijon vinaigrette.

Grandma’s Runzas



2 cups warm water, 2 packages yeast, 1/2 cup sugar, 1.5 tsp salt, 1 egg, 1/4 cup melted butter, 6.5 cups flour


1.5 lb ground beef , 1/2 cup chopped onion, 3 cups shredded cabbage, 1/2 cup water, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, Dash of Tabasco sauce


  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water.
  2. Add sugar, salt, butter, and egg to the yeast and water mixture. Stir, and add the flour.
  3. Mix together and refrigerate 4 hours.
  1. Brown the onion and hamburger. Drain.
  2. Add cabbage, water, salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce. Mix.
  3. Cover and simmer 15–20 minutes. Cool.
Making the Runzas
  1. While the filling is cooling, roll the dough and cut into 16 squares.
  2. Evenly portion out the filling to the 16 squares of dough. Fold together the edges to completely surround the filling.
  3. Place the runzas sealed-side-down on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Salsa Chicken


1 cup rice, tablespoon olive/vegetable oil, 2 Garlic cloves, minced, 8 boneless chicken breasts, 1 cup of your favorite salsa (recommended Old El Paso brand or other homemade/favorite salsa), 2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional), 1 tablespoon honey, 3/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Cook rice in water as directed on packaging. Cover to keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add garlic to skillet; cook and stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Add chicken to skillet; cook for 4–5 minutes or until browned, turning once.
  4. In a bowl, combine salsa and all remaining ingredients; mix well. Add bowl ingredients to skillet with chicken; mix well.
  5. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook 20 minutes or until chicken is tender; stirring occasionally.
  6. Serve chicken on or next to rice.

Tacos Dorados


Corn tortillas, potatoes, shredded chicken/beef, chopped onions, oil (typically vegetable or canola oil but substitutions are okay too), flour, salt, pepper, and chicken bouillon (chicken bouillon is preferred, but optional)


  1. In a bowl, mash boiled potatoes into a bowl, and mix the salt, pepper, chicken bouillon, and flour until thoroughly combined.
  2. In a pan, add the oil and the chopped onions and heat (medium heat) until onions are clear/soft.
  3. Add in your mashed potatoes into the pan and mix thoroughly. potatoes should come out like a smooth paste.
  4. Grab your corn tortilla (or any substitute your using; also, the tortilla is preferably warm or steamed), and add your shredded chicken/beef onto the tortilla along with your potatoes.
  5. Put your assembled taco (taco can either be shaped like a rolled taco, or flat quesadilla shaped), and place it in a pan with hot oil. turn tacos every 45 seconds to a minute, or until golden crispy.
  6. Toppings include tomato broth, shredded lettuce, queso fresco, sliced radishes, hot sauce or any mild tomato sauce, and sour cream (optional)