Monday, October 31, 2011

Lasagna for Two - Oct 27, 2011

At one of the last Fulton Farmers' Markets of the season, Nick and I made some fun purchases, including a package of fresh egg pasta sheets from the Broder's booth. Since a pasta maker is one of the few kitchen items that we haven't collected (and I think it will stay that way, as I loathe those single purpose tools that take up valuable cupboard space, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we would make pasta once every 27 months), this seemed like a fun way to have fresh pasta without any extra effort. We decided that lasagna would be an excellent use for our market bounty.

I consulted my trusty recipe binder (it's like an old-timey epicurious) and found family recipes from both of our Moms. Hmm...which one to pick? Both are much loved versions from our respective childhoods. I settled on a combination of the two, utilizing ingredients that I had on hand. I'm nothing if not diplomatic. Now for my next dilemma...lasagna recipes are designed to feed a crowd and Nick and I are just two people with limited freezer space. Luckily, I found a third recipe in my binder. One for 'single serving' lasagnas from a cooking class I had volunteered at years ago. This recipe was a basic outline, including proper ingredient ratios, for lasagna made in a small loaf pan.

Now that I had a workable plan, consisting of a mash-up of three assorted lasagna recipes, I was set to start cooking. Our finished version included ground beef (my mom), ricotta (Nick's mom), and a tomato and herb sauce that I made up on the fly. I topped it with shredded mozzarella and baked according to some version of the directions. This came out of the oven right as Nick arrived home from work and the two of us managed to eat about two thirds of this in one sitting, making the amount just about right...perfect if you enjoy having one or two servings of leftovers.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Potato Leek and Celery Root Soup with Sausage - Oct 20, 2011

Once we received our new CSA delivery last week, I needed to use up a few items from the previous delivery to make a little room in the fridge. One of those items was the celery root in my crisper drawer. I decided to combine it with some of our potato stash, and a couple leeks that had been hanging out for the past two weeks, in a rendition of one of my favorite simple winter soups; Potato Leek. To create this soup, I simply chopped up my celery root, 5 medium potatoes, and 3 leeks and tossed them all in my Dutch oven with a healthy pat of butter. Once the leeks were soft and silky, I added 3-4 cups of water and some of my Penzey's chicken stock base. I let this simmer until the celery root and potatoes were soft, about 30 minutes. Next, I blended everything with my immersion blender until I got it to the consistency I like. Nick and I topped our bowls with some sausage slices, a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground pepper.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dinner Club *Renion* - Oct 14-16, 2011

All six of the original Madison Dinner Club members, plus spouses, significant others and friends from all across the Country met up in our founding city recently for our official Ten Year Reunion (or Renion, as it will now forever be known). This meet-up serendipitously correlated with homecoming weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, our beloved Alma Mater.

Weekend activities included, but were not limited to, polka dancing, beer drinking, farmers' market going, Badger football game attending, Memorial Union Terrace visiting, and eating a delicious meal together at L'Etoile, complete with personalized menus! While the weekend obviously lent itself to revelling in blissful nostalgia (and we took part in plenty of that, complete with belly laughs from long forgotten stories of people we used to know and experiences we had), my favorite part was looking at how we've all evolved over the past ten years to the people we are today, enjoying the new faces that have been added in to the group, and realizing that no matter how much time passes and how many changes occur during that time, that we will all still be able to come together and thoroughly enjoy one another's company around a dinner table full of good food.

Dinner Club Forever!

I love you guys.
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Cauliflower Leek Gratin - Oct 13, 2011

This delicious gratin included cauliflower florets, leeks and chopped potatoes as it's base. I sauteed these all briefly together along with some butter and salt until the leeks were soft. Then, I mixed the vegetables with a basic bechamel sauce, which I made using whole milk, butter, flour and shredded baby Swiss cheese, with just a smidgen of nutmeg to season. After placing this mixture in my baking dish, I topped it with fresh whole wheat bread crumbs mixed with grated Pecorino-Romano and coarsely ground pepper. I baked this until the top got golden and toasty.  I used this recipe as a guide and was quite happy with the results I achieved with my additions and substitutions.  This is definitely the start to cold weather cooking in my kitchen.
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"Frozen" Pizza - October 22, 2011

I grew up in a frozen tundra bereft of good pizzerias but awash in local and national frozen pizza distributers. My favorite frozen pizza of all is good old Tombstone, which is today owned by a mega-corporation but was born in the 1970s in northern Wisconsin. Hmmm.... who else could that describe? Oh yeah, ME!

Despite its ubiquity, frozen pizza was something we only ate on "special occasions" in my family. It meant it was somebody's birthday, or we had a babysitter, or my mom had made the error of taking us with her to the grocery store and they were giving out samples and then we begged and pleaded and somehow a pizza or two ended up in our cart! All the more reason that the perfect combination of cardboard thin and crispy crust, non-descript mellow sauce, and stringy greasy cheese is something I crave today.

I've been wanting to figure out how to recreate the crisp crust of a good frozen pizza (without the additives and preservatives of a real one) and thought maybe this recipe from Cook's Country for St. Louis style pizza would do the trick. Alas, it was a disappointment. The crust was not "cracker crisp" - perhaps because I couldn't use corn starch and instead substituted arrow root starch. I rather liked the sauce though and appreciated its simplicity, so I may hold onto that. I also just used regular mozzarella since that was what I had on hand.

The quest continues!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Periodic Fish #10: Some Kind of Trout

It's been so long since my last weekly fish post, that I hereby declare this series to be "Periodic Fish."

So long, also, that I can't remember exactly how I prepared this trout, or even specifically what kind of trout it was.

Based on this photo, I seemed to have cooked it directly on the grill, along with some tomatoes, onions and squash.

I'm sure it was awesome!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coconut Chocolate Blondies - October 19, 2011

These are an adaptation of the famous Smitten Kitchen blondies. I'm trying to eat more coconut and coconut oil, since learning that the saturated fat contained in it is primarily in the form of medium-chain triglycerides, which are healthy fats that my short bowel can digest and absorb. I followed the basic recipe, but substituted melted coconut oil for the butter and added in about 1/2 a cup of organic chocolate chips and about a quarter cup of unsweetened coconut flakes. Delicious! So good, that less than 24 hours later they are already gone!

My only change next time will be to remove them from the pan before they are completely cooled. The last few had to be pried from the baking pan and that took annoyingly too much time and effort when I was anxious to eat them!

Jess & Nick's CSA Delivery #13 - Oct 20, 2011

A new delivery arrived today. I know I haven't really put up anything that we made with our last delivery, but I have been cooking. Mostly it's been old favorites which I've blogged about before, see here. I do have one new meal to post, but things have been a little busy around here of late due to a much anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed Dinner Club Reunion (post to come soon)!

Now, on to the task at hand. Please allow me to introduce you to our latest farm delivery. Starting in the top left we have some absolutely darling Honeynut butternut squash. Each one of these can fit easily in my hand and are the perfect single serving squash; next is sugar dumpling squash; baby beets; leeks, bottoms and tops; spinach; cheddar cauliflower; broccoli; carrots; and red kale tops. Vegetables not pictured include sweet potatoes; onions; salad mix; and Italian garlic.

Thank you Harmony Valley Farm!  This box gets me really excited for fall cooking.
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Friday, October 07, 2011

Frisee Salad - Oct 5, 2011

Since I haven't been to the grocery store in way too long, Nick and I have been scrounging around the pantry trying to be creative with what we have on hand. A trip to restock is in order today, methinks. I had originally wanted to make bean burritos, as I've been craving protein like mad lately, but we were out of cheddar cheese and that idea had to be scratched. What we did have was a beautiful head of frisee lettuce from our CSA farm, some thick cut bacon in the freezer, and some fresh eggs. With that, I made up these little salads, full of flavor and protein. In addition to the bacon and poached eggs, I added toasted walnuts and shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese. Protein all around. These were delicious and took care of my cravings.
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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Jess & Nick's CSA Delivery #12 - Oct 6, 2011

Our latest batch of vegetables has arrived. Some of the highlights are pictured above, including radishes from the choice box; winter squash of assorted varieties including kabocha and sugar dumpling; green top celeriac; leeks; Hong Vit radish greens; French fingerling potatoes; one incredibly shaped tomato (along with other, normal looking tomatoes...all delicious, I'm sure); and cauliflower. Veggies not pictured include spinach; salad mix; red and green romaine lettuce; peppers; and onions.

Many of these ingredients seem fitting for warm, silky fall soups (celeriac, cauliflower, leeks and potatoes, I'm looking at you), but I'm so happy that we still have some summer vegetables in the mix. It seems only fitting as we're in a beautiful patch of Indian Summer here in Minnesota.  Temperatures are in the 80's, fall colors are at their peak, and a warm breeze is blowing through the window as I'm writing this.

Thank you, as always, to our dear friends at Harmony Valley Farm. We can't wait to get started creating delicious meals with the bounty with which you've provided us!.
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Brats with Sheboygan-style Buns - October 5, 2011

My latest homemade project came about because I found some all-natural corn-free brats at our local Whole Foods last week and also some naturally fermented vinegar-less and preservative-free sauerkraut. Actually, it started with the sauerkraut. When I purged the house of items containing corn derivatives last month, I was so sad to toss the nearly full jar of imported from Germany sauerkraut I'd recently purchased at the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington. I figured the only way I'd be able to eat sauerkraut again was to make my own, so I was thrilled to discover Cortland Valley organic sauerkraut in the grocery store! Extra bonus: It is from the Wisconsin-based GLK Foods, Inc.

The next hurdle between me and a taste of the homeland was the brat bun. I just don't trust any commercial bakeries right now and no one here really makes a proper brat bun anyway. Feeling emboldened by my recent successes at making homemade Tater Tots, I thought I could tackle the brat bun next.

There were no recipes in any of my cookbooks, so I did a little Googling and quickly found The Bratwurst Pages: Wisconsin's Soul Food where they explain the many nuances of brat culture and lore, including the German translation of "bratwurst" as "fry-sausage." That means that a "brat fry" is not only an entirely inaccurate term (although brats can be pan fried, a "brat fry" in Wisconsin is typically an event where brats are cooked outdoors on a charcoal or gas grill), but a redundant phrase meaning "fry fry"! They also helpfully provide a recipe for classic Wisconsin brat sides, including potato salad and semmel rolls.

The rolls were actually quite easy to make and only took a couple hours from start to finish. I didn't have any rye flour for dusting so used some semolina instead. I ended up baking them only for about 20 minutes and thought that might have even been a touch too long, or the 450 degrees was a little too hot in my oven. I'd advise watching them carefully and perhaps err on the side of removing them earlier and then returning to the oven for a finally heating and crisping right before serving.

The end result was quite good! A good bun with a serious bite that could hold up to my liberal dosing of sauerkraut and mustard. Will definitely be making these again (after I've consumed the remaining half dozen currently hanging out in the freezer, that is.)

I need to keep searching for brats though... these were pre-cooked and just didn't have the bite or juiciness of good Wisconsin brats.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies - Oct 4, 2011

I don't really have a lot to say about these. I was craving cookies and so I made these in the middle of the afternoon. They're amazing. I used the Foster's Market Cookbook recipe and omitted the cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins in exchange for chocolate 'chips' that I made from smashing my Trader Joe's pound plus chocolate bar with a hammer. Don't worry, I didn't use the whole pound, just a quarter of it. This is a fun way to do chocolate chips and I think it makes the cookies more interesting since the pieces are not uniform. I baked them just long enough for a chewy cookie, which is the texture I prefer. Actually, I like a chewy center surrounded by crispy golden edges, but I haven't mastered that combination yet, so chewy is my default texture. I baked 2 dozen and used my handy tablespoon scoop to portion out 18 more, which I put in the freezer for a rainy day. These would be good with some chai... Now I just have to make sure to save some for Nick.
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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Hot Chai Latte - Oct 4, 2011

I found a recipe for a homemade chai tea concentrate online and decided to give it a whirl. It sounded so warm and cozy. I'm starting to embrace all those comfort foods and beverages that are so good in the fall. And, if you happen to be experiencing a bit of an autumnal heat wave, as we are here in Minnesota, you can also serve this up over ice.

Those of you that know me might be aware of the ridiculous amount of assorted teas that I have collected. It's not all my fault. Some of them have been gifts. But really, it's over the top. We have way too much tea on hand. That being said, I had a hell of a time finding plain black tea to use for this recipe. I ended up dipping into a precious little container that a good friend brought to us from China. I'm not sure that it is black tea since it is labeled in Chinese characters, but I decided it was close enough. I also added two random bags of decaf chai that I found hanging out in a box all by themselves (that cleared out a little room in the tea cupboard) as well as two bags of Earl Grey (which is the name of my cat-nephew), that I threw in for the bergamot oil since I didn't have any orange zest on hand.

Other than that, I followed the recipe as written. I now have a large bottle of chai concentrate in the fridge in which to indulge as I please. My first taste was the little latte I made using equal parts chai concentrate and 2% milk, plus a little frothy goodness on top. It was delicious.
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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Spaghetti Squash and Roasted Tomatoes - Oct 3, 2011

Spaghetti squash is cool. It really stands apart in the squash world. When you first slice it open, you might not notice anything unusual. It seems to be much like any other of it's winter squash brethren, a mass of seeds and unappetizing mush surrounded by solid squash flesh. It's uniqueness only becomes apparent upon roasting in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

That solid squash flesh has been transformed to golden vermicelli. It's really a fun party trick. The flavor of this squash is much less 'squashy' than some of it's counterparts, so, as it's name suggests, it works well as a pasta substitute without slapping you in the face with squash flavor.

For our meal, Nick and I chose to mix our spaghetti squash with oven roasted tomatoes, fresh oregano leaves, toasted pine nuts, and a healthy portion of grated pecorino-Romano cheese. Other fun combinations might involve fresh parsley and hazelnuts, a la Martha Stewart, or sage and brown butter sauce, which is what I like on sweet potato gnocchi. Perhaps one could even experiment with Asian flavors...think glass noodle salad.  Really, the possibilities are endless.
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Monday, October 03, 2011

Homemade Tater Tots - October 1, 2011

One reality of my newly-discovered food allergy is that virtually all convenience and processed foods are off-limits. Even if they don't contain obvious corny ingredients like corn starch, corn oil, corn flour, or corn syrup, they could be problematic if they contain one of many ingredients that are probably derived from corn or created using corn as part of the processing. This list is daunting and overwhelming and includes things that you see on all kinds of food ingredient lists: dextrose, vinegar (white vinegar is derived from cereal grains and if they don't tell you which kind it is fair to assume it is corn since that is the cheapest), citric acid, ascorbic acid, maltodextrin, xanthum gum, and much more. If you are curious, check out this list... it seriously made me cry the first time I looked at it.

For the most part, eliminating convenience foods is not that big a deal for me. I prefer healthy whole foods anyway and enjoy cooking from scratch. But I would be lying if I didn't admit that a part of me was really bummed to think that I'd never have some of my favorite trashy comfort foods ever again, like Tombstone pizza, or McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, or Tater Tots.... Yummm, Tater Tots... Tater Tots rock, don't they?

Imagine my happiness when the latest issue of Cook's Country magazine arrived in the mail and I saw that the fine folks there applied their America's Test Kitchen expertise to developing the perfect recipe for homemade crispy potato tots! The preparation took several hours and I nearly burned the house down when I let my oil get too hot, but they were delicious and I will definitely make them again some time. Mine didn't turn out quite as pretty as the store-bought version or the ones in their photographs, but the taste was spot on. At least one comfort food is back in my life! Now I just need to figure out how to make some homemade condensed cream-of-mushroom and I'll be eating tater tot hot dish this winter!

Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Chowder - Sept 25, 2011

I made this chowder for an impromptu happy hour gathering with friends that Nick and I hosted. It's the perfect soup to bridge that tricky transition from summer to fall. It's made up of the ingredients and flavors of summer, but it has a warmth and heartiness that one starts to crave on cool fall evenings. This is a recipe from my decade old Foster's Market Cookbook. It's a wonderful resource for fresh and healthy comfort food. The soup section is particularly good, as is the dessert section, but that's a story for another day.

I followed the recipe as closely as I was able. I had to omit the celery and leeks and replaced them with extra onions, potatoes, and peppers. Oh, and bacon.  I added some bacon too.  I mean, why not, right?  The corn was deliciously sweet and the roasted red peppers added a not-insignificant kick of heat, which the heavy cream did little to temper. Nevertheless, the heat was welcomed on a chilly night. The sweet and spicy flavors were balanced perfectly by the addition of fresh thyme leaves from the backyard. I forget how much I like that herb.

Here's another picture showcasing my recent thrift store acquisitions. I had to fight back an involuntary squeal when my eyes fell upon this little Catherine Holm pot on the cluttered shelves. I grabbed the matching sauce pan too. And by grabbed, I mean my arm reflexively reached out and snatched it almost before I saw it. Isn't it cute on that red and white potholder? Love.
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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread - Sept 24, 2011

Fall is here, Dinner Clubbers. At least it's here in my Minneapolis kitchen. How do I know? Because I had a craving for pumpkin chocolate chip bread that was so great I had to go out on a Saturday afternoon to pick up canned pumpkin to make this. Being a 'pantry cook,' I prefer to cook with what I have on hand, making substitutions when I don't have all the ingredients in a recipe, and never, ever making an extra trip to a busy store for one measly ingredient. But this time, no substitutions would do.

Nick's mom, Nan, sent me this recipe after I tried it at her house and could not stop raving about it...or eating it. It's delicious! The recipe makes two loaves, which is good because that's one for me and one for Nick. Just kidding. Kind of. And, not to leave any moms out of the credits, that cute loaf pan is compliments of my mom. She knows my weakness for vintage thrifted kitchen ware and indulges me every once in awhile. So, thanks Moms!  You made my day.
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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Another Min-nicoise-ta Salad - Sept 24, 2011

How did the entire summer escape me before we made our annual Nicoise salad? The haricots vert that I found hiding in the crisper drawer from the CSA delivery two weeks ago (I know, I was ashamed of myself) were the impetus for this meal. I blanched those and then set them aside while I boiled potatoes and eggs. The rest of the plate is compiled of fresh, or preserved veggies, including some lovely red romaine lettuce, frisee, tomato wedges, olives and a pickle. Nick and I decided to omit the traditional anchovies and tuna in favor our beloved smoked trout. I whipped up a little red wine vinegar/olive oil/Dijon vinaigrette to drizzle over everything and we were in business.
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