My Blog on WCCO-TV: Bite of Minnesota

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Canning and Preserving

Whew! I have been preserving up a storm! Last week, I picked up 1/2 bushel of tomatoes (about 25 pounds) and made salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, and slow-roasted tomatoes. I reported all about it on Bite of Minnesota for WCCO. My house smells like a mix of pizza, pasta sauce, and spicy peppers (not that I mind).

Considering I had tomatoes leftover, a tomato reward was quite appropriate.

I simply chopped up a couple of seeded tomatoes, a few leaves of basil, and drizzled a little roasted garlic olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top.

Usually, I broil or toast the bread, but this time, I poured a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, heated it up and put in the bread slices. It was perfect - crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I'll be using that technique in the future. Sure, there's a bit more fat content, but it is worth it.

Even after the bruschetta, I still have some tomatoes left. I think I should follow a reader's suggestion and make Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Personal Ingredient

I love the show Top Chef and really enjoyed the Top Chef Masters series. Not that I’d ever want to be on a competitive cooking show, but I do have fun watching others compete. As the seasons have gone on, the competitors have gotten crazier and more unique, which is fun to watch too. I especially love it when the chefs whip out personal/secret ingredients that are usually saved for the finale. I wish the editing would focus a bit more on the neat little secrets chefs have, but I suppose it wouldn’t make for incredibly suspenseful television for the average viewer.

If I were on Top Chef, one of my personal/secret ingredients would have to be this:

It looks like ordinary tea, but it’s not. Nope, it’s smoke tea and has a wonderful earthy aroma of smoke that is created by smoking the tea leaves over a pine fire. It is also known as Lapsang Souchong. I first discovered smoke tea while in Seattle. While walking by the Vital Tea Leaf, my eyes immediately focused in one single jar. It was labeled “smoke tea”. Leaving Ryan to continue walking down the street, I walked in and pointed to the jar. I just had to find out what it was all about. One sniff and I was hooked. It reminded me of sitting around a campfire, smoky and fragrant; I knew this tea would replace liquid smoke in my cooking instantly.

My favorite use for smoke tea is to flavor tempeh in TLT’s. It gives the tempeh a true smoked flavor that I completely enjoy. Simply pour boiling water over the smoke tea leaves, let steep for five minutes and use the liquid instead of liquid smoke in your marinade. If you want to concentrate the flavor, boil the liquid down and use that for a fuller flavor. I have even thrown a pinch of tea leaves in a tofu dish to give it a grilled smoky taste.

Maybe someday, a Top Chef will pull out smoke tea as their secret ingredient. If that happens, you know I will jump up and give a high five to the TV…or fall out of my chair in disbelief. I guess we’ll just have to wait until that moment, won’t we?

This entry has been a contribution to Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In Over My Head with Cabbage

Cabbage is everywhere right now and practially screams, "buy me!" I swear that before I can finish a head of cabbage, I have already bought another one and I'm frantically searching for new recipes ideas.

This happened again at Mill City Farmers Market last weekend. While passing by Loon Organics, I couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful heads of napa cabbage. I looked to Ryan to see if he thought I was crazy for buying cabbage again, but since he gave me the nod of approval, I snatched it up and didn’t look back. I mean, how can you resist something this gorgeous?

I had planned on making Real Food Daily’s Ying Yang Salad, but felt like we had OD’ed on it last time so I needed to try something different. I considered Thai Wontons, but did not want to handle the tedious job of filling a million wonton wrappers. Luckily, I found a recipe for Sesame Noodles with Wilted Napa Cabbage from The Healthy Hedonist Holidays that included the yummy peanut flavors of the Ying Yang Salad, but had just a few simple steps. I also baked some tofu to make it a well rounded meal.

I don’t usually publish recipes that are in cookbooks out of respect for the author’s hard work, but a version of it has made its rounds on the Internet, so here it is along with my changes:

Sesame Noodles with Wilted Napa Cabbage
(4 to 6 servings)

3 tbsp natural peanut butter
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin (or white wine)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp maple sugar
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
6 oz. soba noodles
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Whisk together peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, maple sugar and red pepper flakes in saucepan.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, place cabbage in colander over sink. Warm sauce over medium-low heat.

Drain noodles over cabbage in colander to wilt cabbage. Transfer noodles and cabbage to serving bowl, add sauce, and toss until combined. Sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Leftover Couscous

Awhile back I made Roasted Vegetable Couscous and had so much leftover couscous that I asked my readers for suggestions. While breakfast couscous sounded awesome, the couscous had already been steamed in veggie broth and a veggie broth-cranberry-walnut combo didn’t sound appetizing for breakfast. Ratatouille sounded yummy, but was very similar to what I already made. Fortunately, Carrie came to the rescue with a garlic quiche using the couscous as the crust - how smart!

I started by sautéing onion and garlic. I definitely would have used ramps if they were in season, but that season has long passed us, so instead I used garlic purchased at Garlic Fest.

The crust part was easy. Simply mix butter with the leftover couscous and press it into a pie plate.

The crust was filled with sautéed onion and garlic, eggs, milk, cheese, tomato, and cilantro.

While the quiche was baking, I prepared my new favorite green bean recipe. Basically it’s a bunch of spices mixed with Dijon to coat the green beans. We had a bunch of haricots verts from the farmers market, so they were an easy substitute.

Surprisingly, my couscous crust stayed together (I’m not too talented in the area of crusts) and it browned nicely.

The beans were a perfect spicy side dish to the mellow oniony quiche.

Pan Seared Green Beans
adapted from the Pioneer Press

(6 servings)

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chile powder
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine green beans, mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, chile powder, garlic and salt. Toss to coat beans.

Heat large skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add beans, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook in 2 batches if necessary. Cook beans, without disturbing for 5 minutes or until charred patches appear. Toss beans. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, transfer beans to bowl or plate. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It’s My Birthday!

Well, okay, so it was my birthday on Saturday, but I can still celebrate, right? I still have at least one more birthday get-together this week, so it isn’t officially over.

It’s been a bit hectic around here, hence the lack in posting. First, we had our trip up north with the fam. Everything went quite well and it was enjoyable to spend extended time with everyone.
Remember how I was bringing a few veggie based dishes to the cabin? Luckily, almost everyone was willing to try them. We did breakfasts of biscuits and gravy, granola and yogurt and delicious blueberry cornmeal pancakes. For lunch we brought homemade pizza dough and topped the pizzas with little yellow tomatoes. The sloppy lentils were a hit at lunch. Both the kids and the adults liked them. It’s key to use French green lentils so the whole thing doesn’t turn out mushy. For dinner, I made veggie stuffed poblanos. The reviews were mixed. Some liked only the filling and not the pepper while others loved the pepper, but not the filling. Although we took some leftovers home because I made too much food, I’d count it as a successful eating adventure.

Once home, we did a birthday celebration on Friday. We had a progressive dinner starting with these cute Taco Tart appetizers that my sister-in-law made:

She had never made them before, so she was excited to try out a new recipe. These appetizers were paired with margaritas and chips with queso.

Moving onto the next house, my mother-in-law made Greek Salad, a couscous dish with white beans, walnuts and kale, and the drink was a current fav of mine, Vodka Rosemary Lemonade Fizz.

The final stop was our house and although we’re usually on top of making food, Ryan is under a work deadline and didn’t have time to make anything. Luckily, Coldstone came to our rescue with these super cute ice cream cupcakes.

We paired them with the best champagne ever, Veuve Clicquot, and had fun pronouncing the name in French accents throughout dessert. What a fun night! I’d love to do something like this again. It was fun to split up the duties and make the evening an experience to remember.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Dream Kitchen

I was able to do something really neat recently: a photo shoot! A friend of mine, Rachel Anderson, started a professional photography business and I needed a few headshots done for a project I’m working on, so I gave her a call. Since my home kitchen is a bit on the lame side, I needed to find a spectacular location for the photo shoot. Thanks to a recent WWRC meeting, I knew just the place.

Photo by Rachel Anderson

I met Rachel at Roth Distributing. It’s an amazing showroom with many demo kitchens as Roth Distributing is the regional distributor for Sub-Zero refrigerators and Wolf appliances, both of which I would LOVE to own myself…maybe someday!

I can just imagine myself pulling some fresh baked cookies out of a Wolf oven:

Photo by Rachel Anderson

Or partying in my wine room with my awesome Sub-Zero wine storage:

Photo by Rachel Anderson

Big thanks to Rachel for doing an awesome job on the photos and to Roth Distributing for letting us play around in the kitchens. We had a blast!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Four Cheese Ravioli with Mushrooms

The last few days have been filled with planning and packing. We’re heading out of town for a little while and I had to do some intense meal planning. Since I’m cooking for nine adults and three kids, my mind had to transform our typical 4-serving meals into much more. Plus, I’m feeding vegetarian meals to a meat and potatoes crowd, so I’m super nervous how much will be eaten. I’m sure someone will refuse to eat “my” food (dad, I’m looking at you), but I’m hoping everyone will be open minded to eating healthier.

I’m definitely not making anything containing mushrooms on vacation. My dad will pretty much die if a mushroom comes near him. No, he’s not allergic, just picky. So, I save my mushroom cooking for home. A favorite of mine is to pick up some ravioli from Trader Joes and top it with sautéed mushrooms. Easy and delicious.

We had some leftover kale, so it was added to the mushroom mixture. I feel so fancy when I eat something like this versus standard pasta and red sauce.

Here’s the recipe I used. I pretty much followed it, but reduced the butter to 2 tablespoons and added shredded kale when I added the wine.

Four-Cheese Ravioli with Mushrooms
Gourmet October 2006

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced crosswise
8 ounces presliced fresh cremini mushrooms
5 ounces presliced fresh shiitake caps
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 (16- to 20-oz) package fresh or frozen four-cheese ravioli

Heat oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then cook shallots, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes.

Add mushrooms and increase heat to high, then sauté, stirring, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and mushrooms are golden, about 4 minutes. Add wine and boil until liquid is evaporated and mushrooms are tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, parsley, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter until butter is melted.

While mushrooms are sautéing, cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until ravioli are al dente. Drain in a colander.

Return drained ravioli to large pot and add mushroom mixture, stirring gently until combined.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Minnesota Cooks at The Fair

This year I’ve attended the Minnesota State Fair three times. Three times! I think I’ve only been to the fair five times in my life tops, but this is the first year I really found joy in the fair. I used to think of it as a place where you can spend tons of money, eat crap for food, and feel claustrophobic in big crowds. Well, although I still spent tons of money and ate some crap for food, I found ways to enjoy it.

First, have a plan. Start with the food (don’t we all eat something at the fair?). Use the fair food finder here or find great resources like Vegan Express, Heavy Table, or Star Tribune. Then, wedge in activities like riding the giant slide or the Sky Glider or meandering through the Midway.

Second, learn something. Do you want to become more eco-conscious? Learn about wildlife in Minnesota? Learn how to work with polymer clay? There are plenty of activities throughout the fairgrounds where you can enrich your life.

Finally, find a place to relax. Sit down and enjoy a free concert, watch your favorite radio personalities live on the air, or simply people watch. This will give you time to rest your feet, regroup, and let your food digest. Listening to the calming music of Ecuador Manta erased any stress I had:

Yesterday Ryan and I spent ten hours at the fair and by having a plan, learning, and relaxing, we were able to make it through the day without a problem. It was a big day for foodies at the fair because of the seventh annual Minnesota Cooks event where consumers, chefs and farmers gathered together to share ideas.

I attended two food demonstrations, a morning session with Marshall Paulsen from Birchwood Café and Jon Radle from Grand Café, and an afternoon session with Heather Hartman from Spoonriver and Dick Trotter and Lisa Scribner from Trotter's Café and Bakery.

For the morning demonstration, Marshall Paulsen used vegetables from Svihel Farms to make a refreshing Cobb Salad with Poached Chicken and Honey Vinaigrette. Jon Radle used cornmeal from Riverbend Farm along with Svihel Farms corn for corn grits that were topped with beef tenderloin from Thousand Hills Cattle Company. Going through the list of ingredients, it was exciting to see how many local farmers these chefs supported. Although I didn't try a sample, the marinade used for the beef sounded delicious: coffee, dark beer, ancho chile powder, herbs, oil, salt and pepper. I will be trying that marinade on some tofu in the near future.

The afternoon demonstration showcased fruits and vegetables from Natura Farms in a Roasted Summer Vegetable Pizza and a White Velvet Cake topped with Raspberries. Dick Trotter and Lisa Scribner really showed that it's great to think and buy local by using local fruit whenever possible and even using gouda from Eichten Farms on the pizza.

Heather Hartman's Wheatberry-Arborio Risotto with Grilled Vegetables proved that risottos can showcase other grains. She used local wheatberries from Sunrise Mill Farms to lend a different texture to the dish and topped it with grilled vegetables from Natura Farms. I was dying to try it, but alas, no samples made it to the front row.

It was fun to see the chefs in action and to listen to the banter among the panelists. Senator Al Franken proved that the squeaky wheel gets the grease by repeatedly stating his hunger status and as a result, was quieted with pieces of bacon and beef. Although her handlers were trying to move her onto her next commitment, Senator Amy Klobuchar remained down to earth and approachable while promoting her fight for better food in our school lunchrooms.

Heavy Table has a beautiful picture essay from the day’s events.

Check out my fair food intake. Please don't judge me!
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