My Blog on WCCO-TV: Bite of Minnesota

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Corner Table's Vine Dining

If you are into the local restaurant scene or follow the farm-to-table movement, chances are you've heard of Chef Scott Pampuch. As the owner and executive chef of Corner Table in South Minneapolis and founder of Tour de Farm, it's no surprise that Chef Pampuch looks to local farms for inspiration in his dishes.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a Muir Glen dinner event (thanks, Kate!) hosted by Corner Table and was thrilled to attend. I recall reading about Scott Pampuch's partnership with Muir Glen in Foodservice News a few months ago and thought his rationale was totally acceptable. Really, who am I to judge? I also recently partnered with General Mills on a project (more to come on that in a later post), but I still value eating fresh and local when possible.

Anyway, onto the fabulous dinner! The focus of the meal was to highlight special hand-harvested canned tomatoes by Muir Glen called Meridan Ruby and Chef Pampuch did it extremely well.

The evening started with plenty of wine along with a couple passed appetizers like fire-roasted tomato soup paired with mini grilled gouda sandwiches and tomato tarts topped with Northern Lites blue cheese. I'm a sucker for a good tomato soup and thought this one was the best that I've had. The added flavor of caramelized carrots and rutabagas combined with smoky fire-roasted tomatoes probably had a lot to do with the success.

The first course seemed simple, but of course, was quite complex. Tender pieces of pasta were stuffed with sofrito and served with Amatriciana pasta sauce offering little bites of pork and some kick from crushed peppers.

The second course was a take on the traditional hamburger, using lamb instead of beef, ditching the bun, and creating a tomato gastrique (think ketchup) out of the strained tomato juices. No waste here! I also enjoyed the housemade mustard, pickle relish, and tomato salt made from dehydrated tomatoes.

Creating a dessert using tomatoes can't be easy, but tomato sorbet was the right way to go. Full of tomato flavors and hit with a bit of salt, this light sorbet was a great match for the dense olive oil cake.

If Scott Pampuch can make canned tomatoes taste this good, I can only imagine what he can do with fresh produce. This dinner not only enticed me to try Meridian Ruby tomatoes on my own, but also enticed me to rush back to Corner Table to explore more of Chef Pampuch's creations.

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Disclosure:  This dinner was a press/promotional event sponsored by Muir Glen.  All thoughts are my own and I was not required to write anything about it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barley Minestrone Soup

I ate dinner at a friend’s house recently and gasped when she threw away the end rind of parmesan cheese. As a responsible and savvy foodie, I told her that next time she should stick it in her freezer for future use in soups and stews. I’m sure she thought I was crazy, but it’s something that I swear adds a hint of saltiness and depth while the dish simmers.

See the Parmesan rind in there?

Take this minestrone soup for example. Sure, it’s chock-full of vegetables, beans, and barley, but since I didn’t use any bacon or pancetta, it can lack some saltiness that can’t be replaced with just kosher salt. To replace that depth, I throw in a rind of Parmesan while the soup simmers which improves the flavors immensely. I’ve been making this soup for years and it’s a great way to get a lot of veggies and fiber.

Barley Minestrone Soup
Adapted from Fine Cooking – Fresh 2006
(serves 4)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups green cabbage, roughly chopped
1 cup onion, diced
½ cup carrot, sliced into ¼-inch half moons
¼ cup celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-inch piece of Parmesan cheese rind
½ cup quick cooking barley
1 cup kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add the cabbage, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes with their juices, rosemary, Parmesan cheese rind, ½ tsp salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the quick-cooking barley and kidney beans; simmer an additional 10 minutes. Remove rosemary sprig and Parmesan rind. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with slices of crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oatmeal Packets

As if the dark days of winter could be any darker, the busy time at Ryan’s job (aka “busy season”) is upon us. That means he spends most of his day at work looking at spreadsheets, numbers, and complicated calculations. Ugh.

That also means it’s time for me to step it up in the food department and make sure he has plenty of healthy snacks and meals to keep his brain going until April. Instead of stocking his desk with crackers and cookies, I figured oatmeal packets would be a healthier and more substantial choice.

While I usually buy thick rolled oats, I had some free coupons for quick cooking oats that I put to use in these packets. First, I made oatmeal powder by putting 1 cup oats in my coffee grinder and blending until powdered, which help the oat mixture thicken when cooked.

Then, I put the following in sandwich bags:

¼ cup quick cooking oats
2 tbsp powdered oats
1 tbsp wheat germ or ground flaxseed
1 tbsp maple sugar or brown sugar
1 tbsp soy protein powder
2 tbsp dried fruit (mixed berries, raisins, pineapple, etc.)
1 tbsp nuts (walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds)
1 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)
1/8 tsp cinnamon

Each bag has something slightly different. Some have shredded coconut, some don’t (but a pineapple, coconut, and pecan combo is quite tasty). Some have maple sugar, some have brown sugar. I really tried to mix it up.

Now, all he has to do is add ¾ cup boiling water, stir, and let sit for 2 minutes. Or, he can add 2/3 cup water (or milk) and microwave it for a minute or two.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pizza Bites

I’ve posted about pizza numerous times, but that’s only because it is one of my favorite foods. If it didn’t make such an impact on my waistline, I’d eat pizza every single day. So, it’s no surprise that I am attracted to all forms of pizza; most recently pizza bites from the blog Chaos in the Kitchen.

These were really easy to make because I had a pound of Artisan Bread’s European peasant loaf (mix of whole wheat, rye and white flours) in the fridge. Next time I’d use white pizza dough to improve the flavor, but this dough worked well in a pinch.

I stuffed my bites with sautéed peppers and onions along with mozzarella (be sure to use the cubes – much easier to work with compared to shredded) and dipped them in a pre-made spaghetti sauce. They were so good that we ate almost the whole pan!

Since I’m still tweaking my recipe, hop on over to Chaos in the Kitchen for her recipe and enjoy this fun food as an appetizer or for dinner. I'm excited to make this with my nephews next time they visit.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Pasta

As the main cook and meal planner in our house, sometimes it gets a little overwhelming to have full responsibility of this portion of our life. Since most of our meals are homemade, it can mean a lot of planning and cooking. Don’t get me wrong – 99% of the time I LOVE it, but there are some days where I don’t want to pick the meal and I don’t want to make it. Ryan used to help out more, but having me stand over his shoulder telling him what he could do differently apparently wasn’t the best motivator (sorry, babe).

Lately, Ryan has decided to step back into the kitchen and has cranked out some wonderful meals, all while I stayed far, far away from the kitchen (well, as far away as you can in a townhouse). I had already picked out several dinners for this week, so Ryan weighed the options and decided upon this pasta dish from Urban Drivel. I loved his rationale too: it would make good leftovers for his lunch and the leftover ricotta we had was nearing its expiration date. Smart guy!

While I worked upstairs, I was treated to the great scents of the meal like crushed fresh rosemary, minced garlic and roasted butternut squash. Before I knew it, Ryan called out, “Ten minutes until dinner!”

And the meal? It was delicious! He also served a little arugula salad with vinaigrette on the side to add some green to the plate. I can’t wait to ask the question, “What’s for dinner?” again soon.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Ricotta
Adapted from Weight Watchers via Urban Drivel
(serves 4)

1 ½ lbs. butternut squash, fresh, peeled and cubed
8 oz. uncooked whole-wheat pasta, penne or shells work well
1 ¼ cup skim milk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper, freshly ground, or to taste
1 tbsp rosemary, fresh, chopped, divided
½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375°. Coat a baking sheet and a 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Place squash on prepared baking sheet; roast until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Place in a large bowl and mash.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. After squash has been roasting for about 10 minutes, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pot.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together milk, flour, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in mashed squash and 2 ½ teaspoons of rosemary. Add sauce to pasta; toss to mix and coat.

Transfer pasta mixture to prepared baking dish; dot with spoonfuls of ricotta and then sprinkle with Parmesan and walnuts. Bake until top is lightly browned in a few spots, about 15 to 20 minutes; remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon of rosemary.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Olive & Cheese Crackers - What Next?

Not too long ago, I tweeted this in reference to a blog post I enjoyed:

Ask and you shall receive, right? Lucky me, I received 5 cookbooks for Christmas this year and couldn’t wait to dig in.

I was really excited about Gourmet Game Night, a finger-foods cookbook I came across in a friend’s wedding registry. Determined to make something before she could crack the cover, I scoured my kitchen and found the necessary ingredients for Olive and Cheese Crackers.

Since I often buy food items I don’t quite need (yet), it was pretty easy to find a jar of pimento-stuffed olives, 2 sticks of butter, sharp cheddar, cayenne, salt and flour. The crackers were really yummy (duh, they are filled with butter and cheese), but I feel like they need something else...

I still have a ton of dough to bake, so help a blogger out. Should I turn them into sandwich crackers with some sort of filling (maybe with jalapenos) or create a dip/spread to serve them with?
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