Go to Home Page

try everything once, including grilled cabbage

September 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

It’s pretty rare that I won’t try something new. For food, that’s a given; and I’m willing to try most everything once. You can never say that you don’t like something if you never try it, and more often than not, you should try a food a minimum of five times before declaring it off limits. Certain foods, however, I have taken one bite, just to say “I’ve tried this.” but there was never any chance of a repeat performance.

Like beef tongue. And for the record, I realize that it’s ‘beef’. But when you walk in to your culinary class at 6:45am, bleary eyed and in search of coffee and a massive, pale, gross looking slug of WHAT-THE-HELL-IS-THAT??? is laying on the counter, to which your instructor glibly tells you ‘That’s beef tongue.’, it truly turns your stomach. You cannot even imagine how enormous the tongue of a cow is unless it’s laying on the counter in front of you. Think of what you see, then add about 18 inches. Plus, cooking that thing is…. pungent. Then you have to peel it, and that’s as horrible as it sounds, because it’s truly wretched when you hear, and see it happening. I asked my instructor if my grade would be based on eating the beef tongue and he shook his head, thankfully. I took one taste, though, fresh with the memory of that pale slug looking thing, and the ripping of skin in my head and that was the end of that.

These days, the list of foods that I eat is extensive, no more surprising that 90% of them, I’m betting, were foods I didn’t touch even 10 years ago; beets, fennel, tomato, chard, spinach, mushrooms, eggplant (jury is still out on that one), salmon, onions, squash (both varieties), fresh herbs, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts…. it just goes on and on. The expansion of your palate will never be a quick and perfect thing, and that’s ok. As long as you never stop trying new foods, new methods of cooking foods and keeping an open mind to it all, there may come a day when mushrooms are on your plate because YOU put them there. This is no more surprising to me than being jabbed with a pin, as mushrooms were so revolting to me for so long that I nearly gagged just being in the same room with them.

My work allows me a constant window to people’s eating quirks. And even after 2-1/2 years at this  job, I still am surprised to come across food aversions. I’m not talking about avoidance for health reasons, such as lactose or gluten issues, I’m talking about people who visibly shudder when I serve salmon. “It’s fishy.” is the standard response. And they don’t want to hear that it’s only fishy when it isn’t fresh. That the cooking method goes miles towards making it taste good. That even if they haven’t eaten it in 20 years, they really should try it again. Once someone makes up their mind that they don’t like a food, it’s pointless to even open their minds again.

And that’s sad. If that had been me 10 years ago, my life, my meals and my mind would be terribly stagnant. And what’s the worse that can happen? You make a dish and end up not liking it? Maybe it was the method. The seasonings. It was overcooked, or undercooked. Did anyone really love kale the first time they ate it? I sure didn’t. But I kept on trying, because if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.  Which brings me to Grilled Cabbage.

My only exposure to warm cabbage in a meal was when I was young and the corned beef with cabbage dinner was prepared in our house. The smell was nauseating, and I couldn’t eat the pale, limp cabbage that was the result. With this memory, I’m not sure how I decided that grilling it might be better, but I’m always willing to take a shot and see what I hit. Something about that additional smoky grilled taste caught in my head, and I drizzled olive oil over sliced cabbage in an oven safe skillet and sprinkled it with a bit of sea salt.

Then I set the entire pan in the middle of a very full grill.

This was totally new for me, and I wasn’t even sure I would like it, but I let it brown all over, tossing it occasionally with tongs as it cooked. When it seemed tender, but still a bit crisp, I took it off the heat and scattered a handful of crumbled blue cheese on it.

A tentative first bite, and contemplative chew revealed the smoky taste I was looking for, and a surprisingly crisp yield. A pop of blue cheese sealed the result; it was really good. Unbelievably, outrageously good; so good that I ate the entire pan, a half head of Napa cabbage, along with the rest of my dinner.

You know when you’ve had something extraordinary happen, and it seems to fill you with a sense of wonder? Like the air around you has shifted and you can almost feel a change taking hold of you? This, coupled with the start of September, a new month, and all around me seeing my friends children go off to school in new clothes, to new schools, from new homes and new states and begin brand new experiences and somewhere inside you, this time of year says ‘What was will never be the same again.’

And I don’t think I’ll look at a plain head of cabbage again, now that I know what heat and smoke can do to it. So try something new, and keep your mind open to possibilities and just TRY those foods that you maybe once hated, that maybe made you gag or roll your eyes. You just never know, do you?

What are some foods that you eat now that you once couldn’t stand??

Grilled Cabbage

Napa cabbage, shredded, but not too fine
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Blue cheese crumbles (or feta, if you are so inclined)

Heat grill to high, or prepare coals to make a good hot base.

In an oven safe skillet, or a cast iron pan, lay cabbage in one layer as best as possible. It will shrink a bit, so you can wedge it together at the beginning. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sea salt, or to taste. Place pan on grill grate and shut the lid. (Remember…. the handle will be HOT. Keep an oven mitt or towel close by, with a set of tongs)

Allow to sit, undisturbed, for about 15 minutes, then toss lightly, pressing it back to one layer. This helps with the browning, which provides tons of flavor. Cook, tossing occasionally, until cabbage is wilted and browned all over. How long you cook it depends on how crisp or soft you wish it to be. My pan was probably on the grill for (maybe) a half hour, possibly less, and the end result was crisp, but still tender.

Remove from heat and toss blue cheese on top. Allow to cool slightly, and consume warm. Season with pepper, if need be.

herb marinated cherry tomatoes

August 28th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Earlier this Spring, we took the leap and purchased a CSA share in the Bossy Acres farm. Bossy Acres, run by the team of Karla Pankow and Elizabeth Millard, grow organically on a farm in Northfield, and specialize in unique, heirloom varieties. Being a family of three, we decided to get the Mini share that would deliver every other week, plus an add-on share for fresh farm eggs and fresh roasted coffee.

Hands down, it was the best decision we made this year. In previous years, I would visit the Farmers Markets up to three times a week to keep a good stock of fresh vegetables on hand. In deciding on our CSA delivery, I figured that I would still be able to browse the markets on our off week from deliveries, but the wealth of vegetables showing up in our boxes keeps us chugging along in between delivery weeks, and only on a few occasions have I needed a quick visit to our local market to fill in around the edges. Our garden has also been producing well, and we’ve enjoyed broccoli, chard and a bounty of tomatoes from our own backyard, and the garden at our lake home.

In one delivery from Bossy Acres, complete with a copious harvest from the lake, I faced a counter full of cherry tomatoes that I desperately needed to do something with before they all started collapsing.

These simple marinated cherry tomatoes were a perfect option to take care of the bounty. One quart jar later, they were ready for a few days soaking in the refrigerator, redolent with fresh thyme, oregano and crushed cloves of aromatic garlic. The hardest part of the entire procedure was peeling the little things. The olive oil marinade even made enough to have some left over to fill an extra bottle for use on salads or drizzled over good bread.

A good marinated tomato has endless uses. I love using them on pizza, or you can toss them on your greens, too. Mashed and blended with vinegar, they make a simple vinaigrette, or like pictured here, scooped out and placed on bread, with some of the oil scattered over the top. Once the jar has had time to meld all the flavors together, what happens after that is only limited by your imagination and appetite.

For your bounty of garden tomatoes, pack up a jar or two of these beauties. You will love them.

Herb Marinated Cherry Tomatoes

2 c. high quality olive oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 t. crushed red pepper
2 sprigs each fresh thyme and oregano
1 t. mixed peppercorns
1 t. flaked sea salt (I used Maldon smoked)
2 pints Cherry Tomatoes

The Cherry tomatoes need to be peeled, and this was the most tedious part of the whole procedure. Score an X on the bottom of the fruit with a sharp knife and bring a pot of water to a boil. Place a large bowl of ice water nearby. Working in batches, drop the scored tomatoes in the boiling water for 15 seconds. With a slotted spoon, remove from the pot and immediately drop in the ice water. Once cooled, simply peel off the skins. Place the tomatoes in a quart canning jar with a few sprigs of fresh herbs. I liked using the flowering tops of the herbs in the jar.

In a small saucepan, warm the oil, garlic, red pepper, peppercorns and salt gently, stirring to dissolve the salt. Do not bring to a boil. Add the fresh herbs and remove from the heat. Allow to cool completely, then strain out the solids, pouring the oil over the tomatoes in the jar. Any remaining oil can be poured in to a carafe for other uses in the kitchen. Cover the jar and give a gentle shake, then allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate for up to two weeks. I doubt they’ll last that long.

You will see the oil solidify in the refrigerator. This is normal. Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for a short time before serving to bring the oil back to liquid.

dark chocolate nutella muddy buddies

August 23rd, 2013 | 1 Comment »

There’s only a few foods that I simply can’t imagine not having on hand. Can you guess???

At the top of the list is peanut butter. But I bet you thought I was going to say Nutella, didn’t you?

Come in to my kitchen…

bananas foster baked oatmeal, and a perfect weekend

August 21st, 2013 | 2 Comments »

We celebrated our 11th anniversary with a quiet weekend at the lake, just the two of us.

It was perfect in many ways.

Come in to my kitchen…

august

August 5th, 2013 | Comments Off

Just the other day, I slipped two fist-sized tomatoes off the vine in the garden. I went a bit overboard, maybe, with tomatoes this year, planting five plants in a space that’s probably much too small for all of them- plus the broccoli, chard, basil beyond necessity, oregano that needs a violent haircut every other week, parsley, lemon thyme, lemongrass and the curious curry herb I found- and yet, I’m not sorry for the riot of green stems that I tussle with every day, nor the fact that those five plants have an extraordinary amount of fruit awaiting that magical ripening. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

{{farmers market find from 2012}}

We do love our garden tomatoes. Two years ago, even my then 17 year old would nearly leap for joy when I came in from the garden, my hands laden with golf-ball sized yellow heirloom tomatoes that fell open to reveal it’s pink striped interior, a sweet, tender flesh that melted in our mouths. We’d crack fresh black pepper on them, maybe a thin drizzle of blue cheese dressing and eat them shamelessly. And prolifically. 2011 was the Summer of Tomato. By the time the season was over, honestly, I was kind of tired of them, but in a good, good way.

{{herb sweet corn & tomato salad}}

I think the odd years might be best for tomato love in our climate. Last year I maybe got a half dozen off the vine all season long, and they just tasted flat. Something was just off in the air, the soil and the sun in 2012. My garden plot is organic, and ever since we began utilizing it in (maybe?) 2007, I’ve simply tossed all my kitchen waste on the soil, covered it once or twice in the Summer with cut grass, then buried it in fallen leaves each Autumn to rest. Each Spring, I just dig through the decomposing leaf cover and plant. The soil is black as night, fragrant and thick with fat worms. One season we had four tomato plants in that garden that each topped out at about six feet in height, so fat with leaves that the fruit hid deeply inside, only popping out at me when it turned bright red in it’s calling card to me.

{{tomato jam}}

But back to those two tomatoes. The skin had split on them, which happens in my garden. I believe I once heard it’s due to inconsistent watering, and that likely is true. I’m a lazy waterer, much preferring to rely on Mother Nature to help out, and boy, did she ever this Spring. But July came along and the rain was less prevalent, and at time, I ignored the soil, so a few cracked tomatoes is my penance. These two little gems, both no bigger than a racquetball left just enough behind once the cracks were gone for Griffin and I to stuff in our mouths and sigh, deeply. They were sweet as can be, but as my boy said “They’re almost perfect.”

And he was right. It’s August. It’s the month of bounty, as our staggering CSA boxes can attest. I literally groan under the weight of the 2-3 fully stuffed bags I drag out to the car every other week, my eyes shining as I unload them at home. And while the tomatoes are sweet, and suddenly, everywhere, in a few weeks with the right heat and sunlight, they will take on a taste like nothing else in the world.

August. And tomatoes. And everything else that is bursting through the soil and waving ‘Hello!’. I cut thick bouquets of fresh herbs, lifting my hands to my nose, the lemon thyme clinging to my fingers. I dream of herbed sweet corn salads, verdant pesto. There is little I can’t cover with a fluttering of tiny green flakes from the cutting board. I give bouquets to my friends, to share the wealth.

Sometimes I just sit and look at the garden, the floppy fence around it trying to keep out the freeloaders, the tomato cages sagging under the weight and the purple tomato plant that is loaded with what looks to be more than 50 tiny purple orbs that turn a dark reddish-violet when ripe.

The taste. Oh that taste. It’s August; the scent of Milkweed, and high Summer at twilight, humidity trapped in the grasses and big puffy clouds sweeping overhead. It’s sunshine and cool nights and gardens bursting with life, ice cream as the sun falls off. The rain has come often enough to keep the grass from turning to hay, and I’m ready to sweep up all the goodness of a bountiful season. The time after dinner, when dishes are done and bellies full is perfect for slipping in to a chair on the patio, leaning my head back and drawing in the fragrant air, the changing sky, lazily watching blue change to amber to purple and beyond.

 

blueberry vanilla chia ‘jam’

July 30th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Canning and preservation of food can happen year round, but it’s during the summer when people consider putting up the excess of the season the most. My Instagram feed is jammed with photos of …. well, jam. And pickles! Oh, the pickles. They are everywhere, veggies of every sort soaked in vinegar and spices and the giddy anticipation is felt right through the computer. It seems that the waiting time for proper pickles of any kind is now akin to the last few days before Christmas in it’s anticipation.

Growing up, my Mom did not do any preservation. During the Summer she spent plenty of time and cash purchasing cases of peaches and cherries, and maybe a pie or two was made from the bounty, but she loved fresh fruit, and we loved fresh peaches and cherries and most of that case would end up in our mouths, fruit juice staining our shirts or running down our elbows; I have the quintessence Summer memory of sitting on the back steps with a peach in hand, pressing my teeth over and over in to it’s superb flesh, and getting soaked in sticky-sweet juice like every child should at some point or another. The smell of ripe peaches catapults me backwards to sultry Summer, and the eager anticipation of that overflowing box of fruit, colanders filled in the sink while a Summer breeze shifts the window curtains, and more sweet, intense peaches, or cherries, to eat than should be legal. I love the idea of canning fruit, but there isn’t even comparison to flavor of fresh, no matter how diligent you are in the process, and that slip of difference always keeps me in check when I think of fresh peaches any other time of year. If the burning sun isn’t drying peach juice on your hands, it just isn’t the same.

My sister-in-law is the jam-maker in the family. She loves it, and makes quite a lot that she happily shares. I love a good, homemade jam, and I’ve tried making it a few times. Once, it was perfectly jam-like and I didn’t mind the process at all. We coveted the result, too; opening a fresh jar of deep and dark jam that smelled like summertime was such a treat in the dead of Winter. The next time I ventured to make it, it felt like the process was mocking me. It didn’t feel right, nor did it go right, and the final result was more like a thick syrup than anything close to resembling jam. We ate it anyway. Are you kidding? Blueberry syrup is divine. From that moment on, I just made syrup. Forget the jam. Me and pectin apparently don’t know how to figure each other out.

This raw Chia jam isn’t even like jam at all, except a bit in it’s consistency. If you’ve ever made a pudding with Chia seeds, then you can kind of get how this jam works- the mighty little Chia seed, worthy of soaking in up to 10 times it’s weight in liquid, is the binder, no pectin needed. Fresh fruit is whirred in the food processor with Chia seeds, the scrapings of a vanilla bean and a good dose of crossed fingers, then in a jar it goes for an overnight stay in the refrigerator. The next day, spread on toast, it’s fruity, with the tiny, almost imperceptible gel-like quality of Chia and the unearthly beautiful scent and flavor of fresh vanilla. I buried the vanilla bean pod in the jam for it’s overnight, to infuse more of the flavor because a vanilla bean buried in anything with fruit is magical in every way. What the jam isn’t is overly sweet. There is no added sugar, which you need a ton of in homemade jam. In this version, you taste fruit, subtle and sweet all on it’s own, but if you like the cloying sweet taste of jam with it’s sharp undercurrent of pectin to hold it’s shape, this jam might not be for you. But I encourage you to try one jar, as it’s just the simplest of simple things to make, and keep your mind open to possibility. It may ‘Wow’ you in an unexpected way.

My original inspiration came from Shockingly Delicious, who’s photos of her Raw Strawberry Chia Jam made my eyes bug out. I switched out the vanilla syrup that her recipe calls for to use the vanilla bean, and instead of lemon juice, I added fresh squeezed lime juice and a bit of zest, which you just don’t taste at all as much as it adds a dash of brightness to the final end result.

And it should suffice to say that any fresh fruit would make for a fine substitute for the Blueberries. Get crazy with it.

 

Raw Blueberry-Vanilla Chia Jam

1 c. fresh blueberries, washed
1 tsp. fresh grated lime zest (lemon is fine, too)
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and consistent. Alternately, you can place all the ingredients in a bowl and mash with either a fork or a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier consistency. Scrape in to a jar with a tight fitting lid. Press vanilla bean pod down in to jam, seal lid and place in refrigerator overnight. Stir jam before using. Vanilla bean pod can be discarded or left in jam to heighten the flavor.

 

a season of blueberries

July 24th, 2013 | Comments Off

Blueberry season is my favorite.

This is one trip’s worth of picking at my absolute favorite spot, Rush River Produce. I become almost giddy with excitement when the postcard arrives in the mail, announcing the fruit is ready for picking. Although there are blueberry farms closer to me, what I love most about going to Maiden Rock, Wisconsin for these beauties (and they are stunning berries) is that the 70 minutes drive to get there is one of the most beautiful road trips one can take locally. You wind and twist along the Mississippi, past Lake Pepin and through beautiful, quaint little towns. I always go as early in the morning as I can; then, when done picking, I drive to Stockholm, or even further along to Pepin and make a stop for lunch and relaxing. I can’t get enough of the scenery, and driving along with the scent of fresh picked fruit in my car is one of Summer’s most intense pleasures.

For utilizing such perfect fruit, most of what I pick goes in to the freezer. I employ the straight to the freezer method; no washing of the fruit as it begins to break down the moment you rinse the white bloom off of it. I portion the fruit in to 2-cup increments and freeze the bags as flat as I can manage. Two cups is a pretty standard amount for most recipes, and the berries freeze without clumping so you can measure easily for other needs. They are easily utilized for pancakes or waffles in this manner, too.

We eat plenty of them fresh too. And a recipe I discovered last year for Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme was a huge hit. Spread over fresh, creamy Burrata, it was a beautiful pre-dinner treat.

If you LOVE Blueberry syrup on your pancakes like I do, this recipe is so simple. And it’s taste is out of this world. Best part about this recipe was that it was printed in The Edible Twin Cities Cookbook.

Of course, blueberries go beautifully in muffins, and this Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut version is a favorite of mine. It’s a mouthful, all right. Both in syllables, and in flavor.

Here’s a favorite coffee cake recipe for you to try as well, Blueberry Lemon Coffee Cake, rich with pop of blueberries and the spritzy bite of lemon- one of my favorite flavor combinations. Using Rice Krispies cereal in it guarantees it a perfect breakfast food.

There’s so much more one can do with blueberries. And I’m sure you have your favorites, too. Care to share them with us??

in the good ol’ Summertime…..

July 16th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

When you think of the month of July, what comes to mind? Heat. Sun. Humidity. Thunderstorms. Exploding growth in the garden. Balmy, beautiful Summer nights. Popsicles. Ice cream. Grilling outside. Fresh produce from the Farmers Market.

In one word, quintessential Summertime.

It’s very warm as I write this, too; nearly 80 degrees and it’s only 8AM. Yesterday, as I walked to my car after work, the sun shimmering over the parking lot, and opened the car door to the furnace inside, I thought back to April, and it’s never-ending snowfalls. The blanket of snow we awoke to on Griffin’s birthday on the 19th, the Earth Day storm and parade of cold, sopping wet days. The May Day snow. Rain, rain and more rain in May and a Memorial Weekend at the lake where we needed to run the furnace, and a simple sweatshirt wasn’t enough to keep the chill at bay.

As I sat in my car, feeling the suffocating heat, I thought ‘This is what we waited for in the Spring. This is what we love, our theater of seasons, our scorching Summer.’ The idea of even raising one breath of complaint about it went out the window. It was hot, all right.

Thank goodness for that.

We’re not cooking much these days, although I did roast a whole bunch of vegetables the other day while the A/C churned out some crisp air. Today I plan to make a big batch of these Ridiculously Healthy Millet, Kale & Yam Burgers. And as always, with the surge of heat I get the urge to bake. Crazy, isn’t it? We’ll see what I come up with. But we still need to eat, and simple foods are passing through our kitchen, with lots of fresh salads, some quick stand-bys and a few Yee-Hawww cowboy style, throw it all together and see what happens kind of meals.

For a bit of inspiration, check out these oldies, but goodies from my Recipe Box.

Chard with White Beans and Fresh Herbs

In July, two years ago, I fell head over heels in love with Chard. We ate this quite often that Summer, and ever since.

Fettucine with Braised Kale

We also fell hard for Kale. This was one of the recipes that completely changed my mind about that green.

Ratatouille Gratin

When zucchini, tomato and eggplant are at their peak, there is nothing finer than this dish.

Roasted Radish & Caramelized Onion Tart

 We had a lot of vegetable revelation in 2011; this time was all about roasting Radishes.

Herb Flatbread with Pesto & Caramelized Onions

Simple and so delicious; make a big batch of the onions to keep on hand and it’s even easier.

Pickled Radishes

Perfect on a sandwich, or just straight from the jar. I really need to do these again.

Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing

Gotta love the crunch of these raw salads. I’m addicted to them.

Super Simple Strawberry Vinaigrette

If you’re flush with strawberries (and if not, you should be!) this simple salad vinaigrette is extraordinary.

Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro

This delicious and simple recipe came from my very last issue of Gourmet magazine, back in 2009.
(A moment of silence for the loss of a great work of art)

What are you eating during our hot and wonderful Summer?? Anything good you’d like to share??

grilled bok choy

July 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

We rolled right in to July with perfect Summer weather. Our CSA share started too, and we’ve been enjoying a lot of wonderfully fresh organic fare, including some large and sumptuous heads of Bok Choy (Joi Choi). I promptly split one in half, dropped it on a searing hot grill and called it dinner.

 

Come in to my kitchen…

raw pea salad for your Summer

June 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

I’m fairly certain that you don’t feel like cooking when the heat index soars. No one really does, and even though we’re still a bit behind on our growing season, the bounty at the Farmers Markets is such that you can arrive home, dripping from a hot, steamy walk among the tables with an overflowing sack of fresh vegetables and make something cool, refreshing and satisfying for dinner without turning on your oven. Like this raw pea salad.

Come in to my kitchen…