Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friends on Food

Turns out summer is almost over.  I can't say I'm upset about that!  The hot weather combined with the insanity of my schedule is something I do not want to relive.  I managed to get a lot of things accomplished this summer with the work I've been doing for Pet Project Rescue, but over the last four weeks, I can hardly remember cooking at all!  I haven't been to the farmers' market in weeks.  I haven't cracked open my cookbooks in a long time.  My food magazines have been collecting dust.  I've been eating out more times than I can possibly imagine.  But the winds are changing.  Temperatures are dropping, winter squash are starting to appear in the grocery store, and things are starting to calm down for me.  I've set aside my Sunday morning for a trip to the farmers' market and I have been eyeing my copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  Things are looking up!

To jump start my blog, I of course wanted to start with another Friends on Food.  This one of my favorite quotes from Joey!  Enjoy - and I hope to see you all very soon.

The One Where They're Up All Night - Season 7

JoeyMan, I’m starving! What was I thinking at dinner?! "Do you want soup or salad?" Both! Always order both!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friends on Food & Summer Vacation

I'll be the first one to admit that my summer blogging is essentially nonexistent!  It's not so much for lack of cooking as a lack of time for cooking things besides sweet & sour tofu or pasta with veggies.  I've realized that the older I get, the busier my summers become and the less time I have for hobbies that I've cultivated during the cooler months.  Is it just me, or do we Minnesotans try to cram 12 months of social activities into these few fleeting months of summer?!  That plus vacations, cabin get-aways, weddings, and hiding out when the temperature gets too hot means that it's suddenly mid-July and I have no idea what I've been eating the last two months!  But my CSA share has really kicked up the vegetable output and I have nine giant and beautiful cucumbers sitting in my refrigerator, just waiting to be a blog post.  So sometime soon my dear friends, I will be back with recipes and food-related adventures.  

But for this Thursday evening following a meeting at school and a free Chipotle dinner, I'll leave you all with another installment of Friends on Food.  And if you miss my kitchen tales, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!

Season 9 - The One with Phoebe's Birthday Dinner

Monica: I suppose that Chandler will have the smoked duck.
Chandler:  And I suppose Monica will have the.....manipulative shrew.
Joey: How did I miss that?!  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Beat the Heat: Lemon Quinoa Salad with Tomato & Avocado

Looks like summer has officially begun, and man did it kick us all in the face this week.  I generally dislike heat, preferring chilly and overcast weather.  So when I saw this week's forecast, I almost started to cry.  It's impossible to do anything in this weather!  I don't like to drive because I feel like my car is going to explode; I don't want to go outside because I feel like I might explode; I don't want to cook because I feel like my kitchen is going to explode.  (I might have an irrational fear of spontaneous combustion.)  

In times like these, I stare wistfully at my kitchen as I dial the number for delivery pizza.  Although, one time last summer, the pizza place told me it would take longer than usual because the excess heat caused their ovens to start on fire.  Seriously!  Instead of risking the lives of many a pizza delivery person, try this super easy recipe for a lemon quinoa salad.  The cooking is minimal -- boiling water and cooking up your quinoa is all that is required.  The rest of the ingredients are fresh, filling, and perfect for a hot summer day.  Add some chilled wine or a cold beer, and you can easily beat the dinner heat!

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Tomato & Avocado
serves 2 as main, 3-4 as side

1 cup dried quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
Juice from one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large heirloom tomato, chopped
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup chopped basil (use lemon basil for an extra lemony kick!)
Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions.  Allow to cool in the refrigerator until about room temperature.

In a small bowl, squeeze in the lemon juice.  Then using a fork to whisk continuously, add the olive oil slowly until you get the consistency of a vinaigrette.  Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix to coat evenly.  Add the tomato, avocado, and basil.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Garlic Stir-Fried Greens

When the summer growing season hits its stride, my refrigerator becomes filled to the brim with greens of all types.  I buy big bags of salad greens at the farmers' market, only to get resupplied with even more greens from my CSA share.  What's a girl to do with all of these healthy, vitamin-rich greens?  Two thoughts: garlic and stir-fry.  

This week I had a bunch of beet greens from the farmers' market plus a big bunch of kale from my CSA share.  I'd never cooked with beet greens before, but I didn't want to throw away perfectly good produce.  My food bible, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, said that beet greens can be treated much like chard in recipes.  To make the most of the huge, leafy stalks, I decided to add the beet greens to my stir-fry.  (The beets will show up later is a salad!)  The resulting stir-fry was an amazing treat.  The greens had fried up perfectly, the rice was flavorful, and a dash of soy sauce and  Sriracha added a salty kick.  I had just a tad leftover, which I sauteed up the next day with some frozen vegetables for a hearty lunch.  If you ever find yourself swimming in piles of leafy greens, this is a great way to serve them up!

Garlic Stir-Fried Greens
serves 2

for rice:
Light drizzle of olive oil
1 shallot or 1/2 of a small onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup of rice
1 cup vegetable stock

for greens:
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or other neutral-flavored oil
1 shallot or the other half of the onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 large handfuls of mixed greens (kale, beet greens, spinach, chard, etc.), washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha

In a small sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallot and saute until translucent.  Add the dry rice and toast in the pan for about 3 minutes.  Pour the vegetable stock into the pan and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce the heat, cooking according to the package directions, until the rice is cooked.  

In a large saute pan or wok, heat the grapeseed oil.  Add the shallot and saute until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the greens, and saute using a pair of tongs to gently turn the greens.  Once the greens have cooked down, add the soy sauce and Sriracha.  Toss again to coat.  Remove from heat.

Once the rice is done cooking, throw it into the wok/saute pan and gently fry it over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add in your cooked greens, and toss everything to incorporate.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Serve warm.

*Thanks for visiting my blog!  If you enjoyed this recipe, "like" me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or visit me on Pinterest for more!*

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pesto and the Basil Monster

During the past two summers, I've tried to grow little pots of different herbs in my St. Paul apartment.  In order to keep an eye on them but keep them away from curious kittens, I put them on the window sill of my bathroom window, tending to the plants for a couple of weeks and then promptly forgetting about them.  

But this winter, as I bought those plastic packages filled with herbs for a tiny sprig of thyme or a couple of leaves of basil, I decided that this year I was not going to mess around.  No more sad window sill pots.  My mom gave me some big planters and I went out to the St. Paul Farmers' Market in early May, trying to decide what collection of herbs I would be growing this summer.  I ended up with basil, thyme, basil, rosemary, basil, lemon basil, basil, giant-leaf basil, basil, dill, basil, sage, and probably some more basil.

With the help of my mom's green thumb, I lovingly planted my collection of herbs into the planter and nestled it quietly in the back corner of my apartment property.  (Of course, I got permission from my landlord first!)  The little plants held so much promise and looked quite adorable in their fancy pot.  But I realize now that I've created a monster.

Every day I go out to water and check on my little herb garden, it's exploded just a little bit more.  The basil plants have tripled in height, fragrant leaves spilling out in every direction, dwarfing the other herbs.  The sage leaves are huge and fuzzy, just waiting to be picked.  The rosemary has tumbled down the side of the pot and I know my lemon basil is in there somewhere...I just have to find it!  They are all calling out to me and finally today I attacked.  

What's the best way to make excellent use of a lot of basil?  Pesto, of course.  And as with most other things in my life, the more garlic the better.  After work and before the rain hit, I went outside to harvest a big ol' bowl of my little basil leaves.  I whipped up a quick batch of pesto, using the pine nuts I had in my freezer, the Parmesan in my fridge, and the garlic on my counter.  Then I boiled up some noodles and tossed the pasta with ALL of the fresh pesto.  It was the simplest of meals but man on was delicious.  I ate more than my fair share, but luckily, the little apartment herb garden is already working on a comeback.  Weekly pesto?  Perhaps!  

If you have your own herb garden, this is the perfect pesto recipe for all of that delightful basil you have growing.  And if you are buying your basil in bulk at the store, here's a great way to make sure any extra doesn't go to waste!

Garlic Lovers Pesto
makes about 1 cup of pesto

2 cups of loosely packed basil leaves
3 cloves of garlic, skinned
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor (or even a blender), pulse the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, cheese, and about half of the oil.  Scrape down the sides and pulse again, slowing adding the rest of the oil until you achieve the consistency that you like.  

Some recipes advise that you keep the cheese out of the pesto until you are ready to serve.  I don't keep my pesto on hand for longer than a few days, and I've never had a problem with adding the cheese straight away.  

Serve your pesto with pasta, on sandwiches, on pizzas, or as a dip.  It's pretty versatile!  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Mornings

I tend to be a creature of habit.  While I enjoy surprises and new beginnings in life, it can take me a while to readjust and find my happy medium again.  Over the last few weeks, I have been training for a new job, which left me mentally exhausted at the end of each day.  When things get busy or I feel out of sorts, I always count on my Sunday mornings to bring me back. 
No matter the day of the week and regardless of whatever craziness I managed to get into the night before, I'm awake before 7:00am.  Sometimes earlier if the kitties have anything to do with it.  On Sundays, I grab the morning paper and make a big pot of coffee before heading out to my happy place: the St. Paul Farmers' Market.
One of my favorite parts of Lowertown is Mears Park.  It's like a little green oasis amid the lofts and restaurants surrounding it.  It's so peaceful.  There are brightly colored flowers, a bubbling creek, and happy dogs running around with their owners in tow.
Then I arrive at the farmers' market.  I usually take a quick pass by all of the stands, checking on the best places to buy what's on my list and looking for inspiration from new produce.
This Sunday, farm-fresh eggs were on my list.  I love the shades of brown of the eggshells and the promise of a golden yolk inside.  Hard boiled, fried, stirred into muffin batter, or scrambled into some fried rice, eggs are one of my favorite kitchen staples
The farmers' market is a great place to check out new things.  These twirly, garlicy, snappy garlic scapes called to me this Sunday.  If you're unsure of what to do with your new ingredient, ask the farmer.  They more so than anyone else will know how to showcase the fresh flavor of your new item.
Besides the tasty, fresh food, I think that sense of community and conversation is what I love most about the farmers' market.  Everyone is there because they love fresh, local food.  Shoppers talk to the talk to the shoppers...shoppers talk to other shoppers all with the hope that these freshly grown morsels end up deliciously on someones plate.
Part of this conversation involves eating.  How can you truly know if a carrot or tomato is what you are looking for if you can't test it out?  While walking past a stand this morning, I heard a farmer say, "well taste it!  You won't know if you want to buy it until you do."  Where else are you encouraged to try before you buy?  And because the food is so fresh, you can snack on your purchases while you shop.  Thin, snappy stalks of asparagus are my favorite farmers' market treats.  But I've been known to munch on fresh berries as well.
The farmers' market reminds me that we have a plethora of food locally available to us in Minnesota.  While we might not have the most advantageous growing season, and there are some things that we can't grow here, overall we have a lot of variety!  It's no wonder the locavore movement is so strong here in the Twin Cities.  You can rely on locally-sourced produce and have a menu filled with diverse flavors.
My whole trip to the farmers' market usually lasts under one hour, and then I make the trek back home, my grocery bag bursting with expected and unexpected treats.  I think about all the delightful things I can cook with my new produce over the upcoming week.  I leave the zen of the farmers' market, once again at peace and ready for my week.
I can absorb all of the crazy of the upcoming week, knowing that I'll be able to draw from my Sunday morning routine every time I pull out my freshly picked strawberries or sugar snap peas.  And the crazy can hit anytime, anyplace, even a block away from the farmers' market!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Friends on Food

I swear, I have been cooking!  I've been recycling back through some of my old favorites, eating some super easy meals, and trying to get reoriented with my new schedule at this new job.  But today I finally had some time to sit down and think about planning a menu I can share with all of you.  My CSA share started last week (and they still have some prorated shares available if you want to check out this delightful little farm!) so I'm anticipating a lot of fresh, veggie-filled recipes in the future.

But for now, enjoy a long-delayed Friends on Food, courtesy of the episode I'm watching right now!

Season 1 - The One with All the Poker
Monica: Alright, here we go. We've got salmon roulettes and assorted crudites.
Joey: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Monica, what're you doin'? This is a poker game. You can't serve food with more than one syllable. It's gotta be like chips, or dip, or pretz--
Monica: I'm sorry, I guess I was all out of pretz!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mexican Black Bean Quinoa Burgers

This week I started a new job so I've been overwhelmed with meeting new people, training for this new position, and altering my daily schedule.  I'm really excited about this change in my life, but when I came home from work after a long day of learning a brand-new area of law, I was pretty exhausted!  Luckily before I started this new job, I came up with an idea for a quick and yummy dinner that I was excited to test out.  After day one on the new job, I came home eager to see if my idea actually worked!

I love finding new ways to enjoy my favorite cuisine: Mexican food.  And when a recipe also includes some healthy components and is easy to put together, it's a jackpot.  These little burger patties are chock full of healthy ingredients.  Quinoa is a delicious source of protein and fiber, and I absolutely love to make quinoa into patties and burgers because it develops an amazing, nutty flavor when fried.  So this recipe was perfect for throwing together on a day when I was mentally and physically beat.  Everything goes right into the food processor, making it super simple to whip up.  And the ingredients are extremely healthy, so I felt good about eating more than my fair share of these tasty burgers.  I paired mine with some heart-healthy avocado and fresh salsa.  These Mexican black bean and quinoa burgers were an absolute delight.  I'm sure you and your family will agree!

Mexican Black Bean Quinoa Burgers
serves 2

1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup regular bread crumbs
1 1/2 tbls chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced fine
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
4 scallions, diced
1 cup cilantro
Juice from half of a lime
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt & pepper
2 tbls olive oil

Put the diced carrots into a food processor and pulse until the carrot is finely chopped.  Add the scallion, black beans, quinoa, bread crumbs, chili powder, cumin, garlic, cilantro, and salt and pepper.  Pulse until combined.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  Once the mixture is seasoned to your liking, add the beaten egg and pulse until combined. 

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.  Form the mixture into 4 patties.  Cook each patty until heated through, about 5-6 minutes per side. 

Serve with avocado slices and fresh salsa

*Thanks for visiting my blog!  If you enjoyed this recipe, "like" me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or visit me on Pinterest for more!*

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ricotta and Scallion Gnocchi

There are certainly perks to being single and not having a roommate.  One such perk is that nobody is around to judge you when you want to eat chips or popcorn for dinner, or when you eat pasta with butter and garlic salt for three days straight.  When things in my life get really busy, something has to give, and occasionally it's cooking.  These past few weeks I've been moving nonstop, working on a fundraiser, meeting up with friends, getting ready to start a new job, and preparing for the marathon this Saturday.  With all of that going on, my kitchen time has fallen by the wayside and I've enjoyed many atypical meals!  I also had a stellar brunch at Tilia and another one at Wild Acre Eatery, and had the pleasure of a few lunches at the food trucks in St. Paul.  So I haven't been a complete lost cause!

But things are settling down and I was feeling unbalanced.  I stole a friend's cookbook while babysitting her kids and realized I needed to get back into the kitchen and start eating deliciously again.  A recipe for gnocchi made with ricotta cheese and scallions sparked my interest and I figured it would be a great preparation meal for Saturday's marathon! The pasta turned out wonderfully.  The scallions added a little bit of spring freshness to what can sometimes be a dense dish and the ricotta made the pasta light and creamy.  Paired with a simple tomato sauce, you'll have a perfect springtime pasta dish. 

Ricotta & Scallion Gnocchi
from Simply Organic by Jesse Cool
serves 4

16 ounces full-fat ricotta cheese
7 scallions, minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups - 2 cups all-purpose flour

Place the ricotta in a colander and allow it to drain over a bowl for 15-30 minutes.  Discard the liquid.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 

In the meantime, combine the ricotta, egg, salt, pepper, green onions, and Parmesan cheese in a medium bowl.  Gradually add the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, and combine the ingredients with your hands until the dough holds together in a ball and is no longer insanely sticky. 

Remove a teaspoon-sized piece of the dough and roll it into a ball on a floured surface.  Drop the ball into the boiling water.  If the dough falls apart in the water, add more flour to the dough by tablespoons until it forms into a ball.  Repeat the test until the ball holds together and floats to the surface. 

Divide the dough in about 6 equal parts.  Roll out each section on a floured surface into a rope about one inch in diameter.  Cut the dough into one-inch pieces and lightly press each piece with a fork.  At this point, you can toss the gnocchi in flour and freeze for later. 

If you plan to cook the gnocchi immediately, salt the boiling water generously, and gently drop the gnocchi in the boiling water in batches.  Stir gently to prevent them from sticking.  About 5-10 seconds after the gnocchi rise to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon and place into a serving dish.  Repeat as needed. 

You may serve these gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce or even with olive oil or butter.   

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sundried Tomatoes, Ramps, and White Beans

Have you ever tried ramps?  If not, then you definitely should get on that.  I had read about ramps in some of my cookbooks, but was never curious enough to try them out.  But ever since joining the group of Minnesota Food Bloggers and following some very talented cooks on Twitter, I've really learned a lot about delicious ingredients.  My Twitter feed has exploded lately with talks of ramps, and this season I decided that it was time to try them out.  Ramps are wild leeks and that are harvested in the early spring, and are one of the first greens to pop up from the ground in April.  Their season is also quite short, and they will be disappearing just as quickly as they came, at the beginning of May.  So it makes sense that everyone is talking about these greens, because the time to talk about ramps is fleeting.


But is the talk worth it?  Absolutely.  As soon as I cut into one of these delicate greens, I knew I was going to fall in love.  The flavor of a ramp is reminiscent of both onion and garlic in their most subtle forms.  Think about a garlic chive, but then add a wild, earthy note.  That's what you'll get from ramps.  I'm legitimately upset that I have been missing out on these greens all of these years, and even more so that I finally came around so late in the ramp season.  I plan to stock up some ramps and have a wild, ramp cooking spree until the season is over.  If you were to try one or two ramp recipes this season, be sure to try this one.  The mellow flavor and texture of the beans allows the ramp-ness of the dish to really come through.  And the ramps pair nicely with the sundried tomatoes.  But don't be can certainly add more ramps to this dish! 

Sundried Tomatoes, Ramps, and White Beans
adapted from Clean Start by Terry Walters
serves 2

1/2 cup boiling water
4-5 sundried tomatoes
4 ramps, washed, roots removed, bulb and greens sliced thin
1-2 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp mirin
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 large slices of thick country bread, toasted

In a small bowl, soak the sundried tomatoes in the hot water for about 15 minutes or until they are soft.  Remove the tomatoes but reserve the soaking liquid.  Chop the tomatoes and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the sundried tomatoes and saute for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the ramps and mirin, and continue to saute for another minute.  Add the tomato liquid by tablespoon as needed to prevent sticking.  Pour the beans into the skillet and add another 2 tablespoons of the tomato liquid.  Continue cooking until the beans are heated through and there is no liquid left in the pan.

Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.  Remove from heat.  Serve over a piece of toasted bread.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chettinad Tofu

About two years ago, a couple of my friends and I started an informal cooking club, which we aptly named "Calorie Club".  The three of us would get together once a week to try out new recipes, drink wine, and talk about food.  Each week we'd alternate hosting responsibilities -- and if you were the hostess that week, you picked the menu!  Some weeks had themes, whether it was all appetizers, desserts, Julia Child cooking; other weeks were opportunities to have help cooking something we'd always wanted to try.  We made everything from fish cooked in cream, to homemade refried beans, to steak pinwheels, to blue cheese stuffed tortellini, to grilled pizzas, to chocolate desserts.  (I was a meat-eater during part of this!)  With three of us working in the kitchen, we were able to tackle a variety of dishes in a single meeting and build off of our collective kitchen strengths.  We created some amazing dishes, and along the way we encountered a few failures.  But after we finished eating, we would discuss the dishes and journal our experiences.  Every week, we learned something new.  And the Calorie Club met faithfully, once a week, until one of our founding members moved to out-state Minnesota. 

But this last weekend she was back in town, and the Calorie Club was revived for another meeting.  This time, our hostess and menu planner decided on an Indian theme.  And the two of them graciously offered to substitute tofu for the chicken in the main dish.  Love these ladies!!  The three dishes we made at Calorie Club this weekend had my mouth on fire (in a good way), and the kitchen was warm with lovely aromatics and sizzling sounds.  We all made mistakes as we went (I forgot to add a collection of spices at the right time!), but the finished meal was divine.  Acorn squash, green beans, and this chettinad recipe, made with tofu instead of chicken.  Served with basmati rice and some garlic naan, and I was in heaven.  Thanks for the great Calorie Club reunion, guys!

Chettinad Tofu
adapted from Healthy South Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan
serves 4

1 package extra firm tofu, drained
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbls neutral-flavored oil
2-4 very small cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns (about 6)
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup diced onion (or about one small onion)
1/4 cup chopped tomato
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 heaping tbls fresh minced ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper and cumin combo (1/2 black pepper 1/2 cumin)
1 cup tomato sauce

Drain your tofu and press it between towels to squeeze out the excess liquid.  You can also place it between two plates and put something heavy on top.  Once the tofu is drained, cut it into small cubes.  Then in a bowl or on a large plate, dust the tofu cubes in the flour, shaking off any excess flour. 

In a large non-stick skillet with a cover, heat the neutral-flavored oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add the tofu in a single layer and fry.  Turn the tofu cubes as needed to fry all sides.  Do this in batches if needed.  Once the tofu has fried, set aside. 

Add more oil to the pan if needed, then reheat if necessary.  Once the oil is hot, add the cinnamon sticks, crushed bay leaf, and peppercorns.  Cover the pan and heat until you hear the peppercorns pop.  Then add the fennel and cumin seeds.  Saute until the cumin seeds are browned. 
Add the onion, chopped tomato, garlic and ginger to the pan and saute for until the garlic is fragrant.  Then add your turmeric and curry powder.  Stir and continue cooking until the onions are tender.

Add the cayenne pepper, salt, and the black-pepper-cumin combination.  Stir well and let heat for a few minutes. 

Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet and stir.  Simmer for about 4-5 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Finally, add the fried tofu back into the pan and allow the mixture to simmer for another 5 minutes so the tofu can soak up the flavors.  Find the cinnamon sticks and remove (or warn your guests).  Remove from heat and serve with basmati rice or naan.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What is Your Earth Day Resolution?

Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to think about ways that you can change up your life to help the environment.  If everyone committed to make one small change to benefit the Earth, imagine what kind of an impact we could have!  Our environment is a precious that we should be vigilant about protecting for our future generations.  Wondering what you can do this year to help out Mother Earth?  Here are some ideas with links on how to get started.

* Start composting - either outside or indoors
* Set up a rain barrel to collect rainwater for your thirsty plants and gardens.
* Grow a small bunch of herbs instead of purchasing them in bulk at the store (and inevitably throwing away spoiled herbs). You can start a small garden even in an apartment space
* Join the Meatless Monday revolution.
* Start relying more on local produce and foods.  For local readers, here's a great resource for finding local food sources.
* Minimize your food waste by planning your week's menu in advance and shopping only for those items (and not when hungry!).

My Earth Day resolution is to minimize my food waste.  I sometimes go grocery shopping after a training run, which leads to a lot of impulse purchases that may go to waste once my head clears.  I also plan to do more shopping at my local co-op, especially for produce and herbs.  Many items at local co-ops come in bulk, so you can bag up only what you will need for the week, instead of committing yourself to huge bags of lettuce or big containers of basil.  I hope to help out the Earth by reducing waste and buying local.  And in the process, I might just help out my pocketbook.  Isn't helping the Earth fun?

How do you plan to help the Earth today?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Veggie Friendly Shepherd's Pie

I'm always looking for ways to turn some of my favorite meat dishes into vegetarian-friendly fare. Sometimes tofu is a good substitute for protein in a recipe, other times a few containers of mushrooms add a meaty consistency and complex flavor.  It all depends!  I do enjoy experimenting with recipes, but it can be frustrating when something doesn't turn out.  Mostly because that means I'm going to be hungry!  When I was asked by CBS Minnesota to come up with some vegetarian recipes for St. Patrick's Day, I jumped at the chance.  I wanted to come up with a shepherd's pie that was flavorful and meaty....a recipe where you wouldn't miss the ground beef.  I did some homework, checked out other recipes, and came up with this delicious dish.  I gave some leftovers to my parents, and even my dad, the big meat-eater in the family, loved the mushroom substitution!  That's when I knew it was a good one!  Enjoy this hearty meal any time of the year, especially now that we're experiencing chilly, rainy spring weather.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Food Network
serves two

2 medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled and in large dice
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces of cremini mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean, and sliced
1/4 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup mushroom stock
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste

In a large pot, place the diced potatoes and cover with water. Salt the water liberally and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and return to the cooking pot. Add a tablespoon of butter and the milk and mash until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside (or do this during the remaining cooking).

In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of butter until melted. Add in the mushrooms and cook until browned, stirring infrequently. About 5 minutes. Once browned, remove from pan and season with salt and pepper.

Return the pan to medium heat and add another tablespoon of butter. Add the onion, celery, and garlic, cooking until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and herbs, cooking again until softened, another 5 minutes.

Whisk together the mushroom stock, red wine, and tomato paste. Add the mixture to the vegetables in the pan to deglaze, using a spoon to scrape up the cooked bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquid to a simmer and allow to cook until slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms back into the pan and cook until the mixture has reduced and thickened, about 8 minutes. Taste for seasonings.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small baking dish, pour the vegetable mixture. Dot the top of the veggies with the mashed potatoes, using a spoon (or your hands!) to smooth the potatoes over the top of the dish, sealing the edges as best you can. Then pinch the mashed potato topping in spots to create texture, which will help the potatoes get browned and crisp. Bake for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are a bit browned.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Restaurant Ruminations :: Aida

Before moving to my apartment on Grand Avenue, I spent most of my life growing up in the small suburb of Richfield.  The city doesn't have the most glamorous of food scenes, but tucked away here and there are some restaurant gems like Vina or Sandy's Tavern -- unassuming spots with great food and a neighborhood feel.  I've watched as the Richfield food scene has slowly bumped up its game, and as my parents still live in the city, I'm always anxious to try out some of the new offerings so I can give them my reviews. 

While I was reading one of my favorite food sources, The Heavy Table, I came across a quick mention of a new Mediterranean restaurant that had opened in Richfield, Aida.  What is this?  Mediterranean cuisine in Richfield Minnesota?!  I called my mother and set up a dinner date -- I had to check out this new place immediately. 

My Richfield friends will immediately recognize this location as the old Taco Bell on 66th and Penn Avenue.  The outside of the restaurant still bears some similarities to TB, but once you walk inside Aida, it's an entirely new feeling.  The tables are gleaming, colorful lanterns hang from the ceilings, wide-screen televisions display the menu offerings and cycle through photos of the food and its regional inspiration, and you can smell the aroma of cooked, spiced lamb. 
The menu is small but enticing.  And for newbies to the Mediterranean food scene, they make it very easy for you!  You can choose a sandwich, salad, or plate.  Then you choose your meat, whether it be lamb, chicken, or falafel.  Then you get to choose your toppings and sauce.  Easy!  They also have a few house specials, dessert options, and a small kid's menu for your smaller eaters.  I knew exactly what I wanted: naan falafel sandwich, topped with feta cheese, onion, and tomato, and the cucumber yogurt sauce.

It was a very tasty falafel sandwich.  The generous serving of falafel had a delightfully fried crunch on the outside and was perfectly seasoned.  The onions and tomatoes gave the sandwich a fresh aspect, which I always enjoy.  And the cucumber yogurt sauce was thicker than I'm accustomed to, but it was very delicious and very garlicky!  I think I tasted garlic for at least an entire day after eating the sandwich.  But I love garlic, so it was delightful.  All of these flavors wrapped in a piece of soft naan bread...a welcome addition to the Richfield food scene.
chicken kebab
My mom also enjoyed her chicken kebab sandwich.  The kebab is cooked to order, so you have to wait just a bit longer for it to be prepared than the other meat-based menu items.  But my mom says that it was well worth the wait.  I didn't try it, but I trust her assessment!  In addition to the good eats, the service was rave-worthy.  It's an order-at-the-counter style restaurant, but the server/cashier walked around the restaurant, asking all of the patrons about their meals.  And the food was brought out immediately after it was prepared -- whether the server brought out the plates or the cook who had just prepared them.  It was like they just could not wait to share their food with everybody.  I loved it!

I would love to go back to Aida and try more of the menu offerings, including the desserts (!), but my preliminary assessment is very positive!  I hope that the people in the Richfield community take advantage of this new restaurant and its wonderful hospitality. 

After reading my daily emails this morning, I saw that the Heavy Table also posted their review of Aida!  I was so close to being first...this is what I get for watching Smash instead of blogging!  Read the Heavy Table review here.

Restaurant Details
2208 W. 66th Street
Richfield, MN 55423
(612) 866-5061

Monday-Saturday: 11am - 10pm
Sunday: 11am - 8pm

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Turkish Spinach & Tomatoes

While I own a sizeable library of cookbooks, I often turn to internet sources for cooking inspiration.  I follow a few blogs that regularly post delightful recipes and I love to read the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times.  It's a one-stop foodie paradise, with great recipes, food stories, etiquette tips, and links to other food news.  I was reading some of the articles the other day and found a plethora of spinach-themed recipes.  With spring in the air, I thought it was the perfect time to try out as many of these spinach recipes as I could.  And after a quick trip to the co-op, I had three large bundles of crunchy, fresh spinach.  If you can, I'd always opt for the fresh stuff instead of the containers of baby spinach.  It's so much more crisp and flavorful!
The first recipe of my spinach fest is a Turkish spinach & tomato dish with rice.  The rice makes this dish hearty and the combination of spices adds a warmth that is so soothing.  I had a few bites without the goat cheese, and it's great either way!  I just liked the added creaminess and bite that the goat cheese added.  Plus, I'll jump at any excuse to use my CSA chevre! 

Turkish Spinach & Tomatoes
adapted from New York Times
serves 2 as a main dish

1 pound fresh spinach, washed
2 tbls extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can chopped tomatoes in their juice
2/3 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
Juice from 1 lemon
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbls fresh goat cheese

Lightly wilt the spinach by placing it in a steamer basket over 1-inch of boiling water.  Wilt the spinach in batches if needed.  Set aside in a colander over a bowl to drain.  (You can do this step in advance.)

In a large, lidded skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the minced garlic and saute for about 30 seconds.  Then add the can of diced tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes have broken down a bit, about 5 minutes. 

Add the vegetable stock, spinach, rice, lemon juice, sugar, paprika, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt to taste.  Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then uncover and continue to cook as needed until the mixture has reduced and thickened like a stew.  Mine came together almost immediately.  

Taste and adjust seasonings.  Stir in about 2 tablespoons of goat cheese.  Serve with a piece of crusty bread.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pasta with Roasted Green Beans and Balsamic Butter Sauce

If I've learned anything during my four+ years of marathon training, it's that motivation may not always come to you the morning of a long run.  Once or twice a training season, I'll wake up in the morning with no desire to lace up my shoes and go for a three-and-a-half hour run!  It could be the weather, my attitude, my level of exhaustion...all I know is that I was slated to run 20 miles this morning and as soon as I woke up I knew it so wasn't going to happen!  The dreary, cloudy weather makes me want to brew another cup of coffee and cuddle with the kitties on my sofa instead.  Knowing that physical and mental breaks are an important part of any successful training (as long as they are kept in check!), I'm postponing my long run to next week.  Plenty of time before the Fargo Marathon!  But because I made a killer pasta dish last night and I don't want to waste the carbs, I will run later today.  For like an hour :) 

maybe later....
So now that I've written out my long excuse for not running 20 miles this morning, I'll get to the good stuff: this pasta dish with balsamic butter sauce.  I found the original recipe on Pinterest and it's been sitting on my food board for a few weeks now.  I went looking for a new pasta recipe and decided this would be a good one to boost my carbs on a Friday night.  I was a little worried that the balsamic vinegar would be overwhelming, but the smaller quantity rounded out with sugar and butter created this smooth, silky sauce that was mild and flavorful.  Plus, the whole dish came together with very little effort and in very little time!  I used green beans because they looked a little more snappy at the co-op that afternoon.  I also had to use some chevre in this recipe because I received my first container of homemade goat cheese from my CSA farm yesterday. 

Wow.  This chevre is divine.  In addition to using some to round out this pasta dish, I had a few small know...just to test it out!  I can't wait to get more of this amazing chevre from Little Flower Farm.  (You can also sign up for a chevre share with them!)  The chevre gave this pasta dish the extra bit of creamy, tastiness that it needed to round everything out and make me eat an entire second helping.  A very tasty pasta recipe to add into your dinner rotation -- Enjoy!

Pasta with Roasted Green Beans and Balsamic Butter Sauce
adapted from Food & Wine
serves 4

3/4 pound of fresh green beans, washed and ends trimmed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of tube pasta
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 stick of butter (1/4 pound), cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons goat cheese
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toss the green beans in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 12 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a small handful of salt and then the pound of pasta.  Cook until al dente according to the package directions.  Drain the pasta and put into a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the balsamic vinegar to simmer.  Continue to simmer until the vinegar has reduced to about 3 tablespoons.  Stir in the brown sugar and 1/4 tsp ground pepper. 

Combine the green beans, pasta, balsamic vinegar, and butter.  Top with the Parmesan cheese.  Taste and adjust salt & pepper as needed.  Serve and top each serving with a tablespoon of goat cheese.  Stir in the goat cheese and enjoy!

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Grandma Hinrichs's Pancakes

There's nothing quite like waking up on a Sunday morning.  It's relaxed, peaceful, and content.  Sundays don't have the same get-up-and-go feeling as Saturdays do.  So I love to lounge around with a giant mug of coffee, read the Sunday paper, and eat breakfast.  But Sundays in St. Paul are nothing compared to Sunday mornings at my grandparents' house up in Osakis.  The country air knocks me out at about 9pm so I wake up around 6am, the smell of coffee, bacon, and pancakes as my subtle alarm.  For as long as I can remember, staying at my grandparents' house meant big country breakfasts with family in pajamas.  If I'm up early enough, I get to enjoy a steaming cup of coffee with my grandma, just the two of us. 

Grandma Hinrichs and me, circa a long time ago!
As soon as the rest of the family wakes up (and there are a lot of us on the Hinrichs side!), the kitchen bustles, the sausage starts sizzling, and the pancakes are flipping.  I've grown up with my grandma's pancakes.  I eat them at my grandparents' house, my parents' house, and now at my St. Paul apartment.  There's nothing quite like them and no matter how many recipes I try, nothing compares.  These pancakes have a certain comfort about them, bringing me back to mornings up at the lake, holiday breakfasts with my family, and funny stories about my grandpa's use of pancakes as sandwich bread.  They are perfect rounds -- not too sweet, not to cake-y.  The batter also gets better with time.  Making pancakes with day-old batter yields even better pancakes than with day-of batter.  It's a delightfully easy recipe and I made a batch this morning in about 6 minutes.  Love Sunday breakfasts with grandma's pancakes!

Grandma Hinrichs's Pancakes
makes about 15 medium-sized pancakes

3 egg yolks (reserve the egg whites in a separate bowl)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups of milk
2 cups of all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour to give the pancakes extra heartiness)
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Add all of the ingredients in order and mix together.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are light and frothy.  Gently mix the egg whites into the pancake batter. 

Heat a large pan or griddle over medium heat.  Grease the pan with cooking spray or butter.  Using a ladle, spoon equal amounts of the pancake batter onto the pan, in as many rounds as can comfortably fit on your pan. 

Once the sides of the pancakes start the bubble and the bubbles set, they are ready to flip!  Cook the other side until golden brown.  Continue cooking pancakes until you have as many as needed.  Serve with butter and syrup. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cheesy Potato & Rutabaga Mash

This year I will once again be graced with delicious and tasty produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, courtesy of Little Flower Farm.  I'm so excited to find new and interesting ways to cook with all of the veggies that I will be getting from June through October.  I really enjoy CSA shares because it expands my eating and cooking horizons.  When I go to the farmers' markets, I tend to stick with what I know.  But when you buy a CSA share, there will inevitably be some vegetable in the box that makes you stop and think.  Last time I purchased a CSA share, it was kohlrabi!  I'm still not 100% sure what to do with kohlrabi, but I anticipate learning more about it this summer.  So to get into the spirit in this unseasonably warm spring, I picked up a random root vegetable at the grocery store and came home without a recipe in mind.  After doing a bit of background reading on my chosen rutabaga, I decided the easiest way to utilize this veggie was in a cheesy mash.  I added some mashed potato just for more starchy deliciousness, and it did not disappoint!  This is just one of many ways you can use rutabaga this year.

Cheesy Potato & Rutabaga Mash
serves 2 as a side

1 medium-sized yukon gold potato, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 medium-sized rutabaga, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the chopped potatoes and rutabaga.  Boil uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.  Drain the vegetables and return them back to hot pot. 

Add the milk, butter, and cheddar cheese.  Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes and rutabaga, combining the ingredients, until you achieve the desired consistency.  Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.  Serve alongside your favorite meal.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friends on Food

I have been known to eat some strange combinations of food for my meals.  I'll sometimes have pickles and popcorn for dinner, and once I ate an entire can of Pillsbury crescent rolls and a can of baked beans for dinner.  Many evenings I'll just go home and eat whatever I find in my cupboards and refrigerator: crackers, chips and salsa, frozen naan, leftovers, whatever!  One of the perks of being a grown-up is that you can kind of eat whatever you want.  And you can pair it with a beer.  Luckily, I've never had to eat the entire contents of my refrigerator.  Can't say the same for Joey from this episode of Friends!

The One with Joey's Fridge - Season 6

Chandler: Well, you …you don’t look good Joe.
Joey: The fridge broke. I had to eat everything. Cold cuts, ice cream, limes—Hey, what was in that brown jar?
Chandler: That’s still in there?!
Joey: Not anymore.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Restaurant Ruminations :: Birthday at Pizzeria Lola!

This Sunday I turned 28 years old.  My birthday has always had a bit of a kick to it, seeing as it follows right on the heels of St. Patrick's Day and it always pops up in the middle of March Madness.  With all of those events taking place, there is never a shortage of fun things to do around my birthday!  I did some celebrating with my friends on St. Patrick's Day, and we enjoyed some Irish beers and the arrival of a kilt-wearing bagpiper man at the Dubliner. 
Drizzle was all decked out for St. Patrick's Day.
The next morning was my birthday!  I woke up, had a big cup of coffee, and then because I can do whatever I want on my birthday, I had pickles for breakfast.  Yup, that happened.  And it was delish.  But the focus of my day was lunch with my parents at Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis.  Pizzeria Lola has been on my "must-try" list ever since I heard of it!  And it should be on your must-try list as well, if not for my praise, than for the praise of pretty much every person who has been there since it opened in 2011.  Plus, the owner named the pizzeria after her dog, Lola.  I clearly had to check it out!  (I hope to go again when Lola is at the pizzeria!)

I walked into the pizzeria and was immediately in love.  It's a spacious restaurant, with a bar in the back, tables in the front, and track lighting that all leads to the center of the restaurant -- the huge wood burning oven.  For $3, you can get your photo taken in a photo booth and the back wall is adorned with photo-booth pictures of happy, Pizzeria Lola patrons.  Another point of interest for me was the "cooked" art hanging on the walls.  Created with an invisible ink, you "bake" these prints in the oven and the design magically appears.  Completely apropos for this space.  My favorite thing about the pizzeria (besides the food) was the dishes.  Vintage, non-matching plates that looked like dishware your grandmother would have had in her kitchen.  I loved them.  Loved them! 

perfect for making pizza AND art!
Birthday lunch means I get to order an appetizer.  A nice serving of spiced olives did the trick.  Even my mom, who thought she hated green olives, enjoyed these marinated olives.  There's just something about pickles and olives that I cannot resist. 

But my pizza was absolute heaven.  I ordered the La Creme pizza, which I'm pretty sure translates roughly into "the best pizza ever."  A tangy Italian red sauce tempered by a bit of rich cream lightly covered the pizza crust.  That was topped with a handful of shaved parmigiano-reggiano, slightly melty from the warm sauce.  A few leaves of basil permeated the pizza with a fresh flavor, and a drizzle of olive oil on top just killed it. 

But the crust....oh the crust.  It can be the downfall of even the best-intentioned pizza.  The tastiest ingredients in the world can only go so far on a lackluster crust.  Luckily, this pizza crust was a shining example of what all pizzas should strive to emulate.  The crust was thin and chewy, a hint of a crunch on the outside crust, and it REALLY stood up to the pizza toppings!  It was not soggy, mushy, or floppy.  It was dreamy. 

My pizza was cut into six tantalizing pieces and I devoured four of them in an instant.  I forced myself to hold off on the other two, even though I could have easily polished them off as well.  (Confession: I ate the last two slices about 2 hours after I got home!)  The light crust, fresh ingredients, and the focus on good flavors instead of overwhelming toppings means you can order a pizza all for yourself!  Especially if it's your birthday!

My parents shared their pizza (fools!) and had similar rave reviews for the house-made fennel sausage and natural-casing pepperoni that topped their cheesy pizza.  I didn't try it, but it looked quite delicious.  There is a pizza on the menu to suit any palate -- ranging from the traditional to the inventive.  The Boise pizza is on my radar for next time and I'm going to force someone to order the Lady ZaZa and explain it to me in excruciating detail. 

A birthday meal also means dessert!  I have never been a huge fan of birthday cake -- growing up I opted for birthday strawberry shortcake or birthday pie.  I'd read rave reviews of the cookies and ice cream at Pizzeria Lola, so I told my mom a birthday pumpkin pie would not be necessary for my 28th!  I debated between the DYI ice cream sandwich and the plate o' cookies......

Ice cream sandwich for the win!  Two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and homemade vanilla soft-serve.  They even put a little candle in the ice cream and sang happy birthday!  Such a lovely touch for my birthday dessert.  The cookies were warm, with melty chocolate chips, and the ice cream was sweet and creamy, with flecks of vanilla bean. 

I formed a little ice cream sandwich and dug right in.  I had chocolate and ice cream all over my hands, and I could not have been happier.  Nom nom nom......  best birthday lunch EVER.  Thanks Pizzeria Lola! 

Restaurant Details
5557 Xerxes Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 424-8338

Monday-Thursday: 5pm - 10pm*
Friday: 5pm - 11pm
Saturday: 11am - 11pm
Sunday: 11am - 10pm

*Starting in April, Pizzeria Lola will be open for lunch 7 days a week!