Friday, September 19, 2014

Is it the weekend yet?

I don't know about the rest of you, but this week Friday did not come soon enough and I am ready for the weekend. The best weekends begin with happy hour. Over at Called to the Table is an ode to dirty drinks and happy hours.

Dirty Martini a la Love Tree Farmstead
2 servings

For the olives:

4 to 6 large green olives, cured and pitted
3 to 4 tablespoons juice from olives
1/4 cup gin
2 tablespoons
Love Tree Farmstead juniper-flavored cheese (or a peppered chèvre)

In small container cover olives with olive juice and gin and marinate at least 4 hours. Drain and pat dry with paper towel, then fill the middle of each olive with the cheese. 

For the martinis:
5 ounces gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce olive juice-gin from marinated olives

Shake gin, vermouth, and olive juice-gin with ice and strain into martini glasses; garnish with olives.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stories to tell

There is a great mystery and powerful music playing that we don't 
hear and stories full of magic, so many stories that life isn't 
long enough to tell them all.   --Garrison Keillor

Yesterday was one of those days that everywhere I went I met cool people who told me their stories. Two characteristics they had in common: passion in the way they live their lives and a willingness to talk about it.

A young man who has been urban farming since he was 12 years old is now an enthusiastic youth educator, teaching kids about gardening and healthy foods.

A woman who lived her entire life in Madison, Wisconsin recently moved to the Twin Cities. She was tentative about whether she'd eventually adjust to our way of life but she knew she made the right decision. The cultural divide between Wisconsin and Minnesota isn't always easy to maneuver.

A cashier-by-day, burlesque-performer-by-night told me how excited he was to head to the fabric store after work so he and his friends could start creating new costumes for his performances. He is a self-taught dancer and acrobat, and I hope to schedule some time to go watch his show.

And all of this was before lunch! After work I took the train into downtown and at the ticket station I met a woman who wanted advice about which ticket to purchase and which train she should be on. Turns out she was in town from Seattle to interview for a position with pulmonary surgery, and was spending her final evening in Minneapolis exploring the lakes and maybe taking a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge.

I spent the evening at my favorite stomping ground, American Swedish Institute, mingling with fellow bloggers and food lovers who are party of Fortify (formerly MN Food Bloggers)

Before the event began I ran into an elderly Swedish friend of mine who tells the most amazing stories. Last night was no exception and I was treated to the tale of the missing Dala horse. Back in the 1960s my friend along with his son and wife made a pair of six-foot tall Dala horses. One still stands at the Gammelgården Museum in Scandia, Minnesota. But one of the horses stood outside of a relative's coffee shop, and when a thief took the horse the story was featured on KSTP news. A viewer in St. Paul contacted my friend saying he found the stolen horse. The horse was returned and it stood at ASI for a few years before it disappeared again. Some horses are always looking for greener pastures.

At the Fortify event I met a few bloggers, had a delicious cocktail made from Gamle Ode Celebration Aquavit, and nibbled at lovely bites from Fika. Conversation with a married couple who have ties to the co-op community ended the evening perfectly. Again, passionate people with great stories to tell. (And they also told me where to score Red Wattle pork.) 

Back at home I told T about the people I met, and relayed the story about the missing Dala horse. His comment was, "Sounds like a good case for Guy Noir."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From flub to fabulous: Zucchini-Parmesan Waffles

I've been writing a lot lately about my kitchen flubs. Somewhere in the mix was that rotten spiral veggie cutter that I just couldn't seem to master. But after a few trials and blunders, I have finally figured out how to whittle my squash into pretty ribbons.

Our Sunday brunch was inspired by my success with the Veggetti and by fellow food blogger Amanda Paa's "Smitten with Squash." Zucchini-Parmesan Waffles are a riff on Amanda's Summer Squash Pancakes. I'll be writing more about Paa's delightful new cookbook in a later posting. Until then, I'll be congratulating myself for mastering the fine art of zucchini spirals by griddling up another batch of these savory waffles.

Try these waffles warm with butter or honey-butter. Use leftover waffles to make grilled cheese sandwiches; great with Gruyere or mozzarella, tomato marmalade, and a bit of basil!

Zucchini-Parmesan Waffles
Makes 4 to 5 waffles

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fresh gound nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup grated or skinny spirals of zucchini, squeezed in paper towel to remove extra moisture
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1/4 cup Greek-style yoghurt
1 large egg
1 tablespoons melted butter, unsalted

In large mixing bowl whisk together dry ingredients and set aside. In separate mixing bowl stir together zucchini, buttermilk, cheese, yoghurt, and egg. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Stir in butter.

Heat waffle iron and cook waffles according to manufacturer's instructions.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Single bars and single women

Before I was old enough to hang out in bars, before I was even allowed to date, I spent many a Saturday night plopped in front of the TV watching SNL. Every generation believes the Saturday Night Live of their tweendom was the funny period of the show and since that time, be it 30 or 20 or 10 years ago, it has really gone down hill. In funny and not-so-funny times we looked to SNL to define and explain pop and political culture, and to poke fun at those who take themselves to seriously.

So we expected a few laughs every Saturday, and I still catch my breath a little when I remember the night SNL delivered something quite different. The scene opened in a practically empty dim-lit bar. A bartender tended to his counter, a piano guy quietly tickled the keys, and a pretty blonde started to sing:

Single bars and single women
With a single thought in mind
Just to make it till the morning
Looking for what they can find
For a man you won't remember
For a night you can't forget


I did a double take at the TV. This wasn't funny. This was sad. This was poetry - the kind of poetry my relatively innocent unclaimed heart understood. I sat, mesmerized and baffled. Those heartbreaking words stayed with me into adulthood as I attempted to avoid the fate of the lonely singer.

These days I seek out bars with decent Happy Hours and screens that show Packer games when there is a conflict. Thankfully I've yet to be the lonely girl sitting with her cocktail singing about the futility of one night stands. Hearing that song all those years ago served as a good warning.

At Called to the Table today is a story about a different kind of bar, along with a confession: I cannot make bars. I just can't. I am terrible at mixing them, baking them, and chiseling them out of the pan. (My friend L still shakes her head when recalling my first attempt at baking brownies. The bars became little blocks of brown cement that stuck so completely to the pan that we had to throw it away even after soaking it in hot soapy water for days.) I found a recipe for a no-bake bar with all of my favorite ingredients: butter, pretzels, peanut butter, and chocolate. And, as you can see from the photo above, I still haven't perfected my bar making skills.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fun with fennel

At a family gathering this past weekend one of my nieces was telling me about her love of fennel seed. Our conversation veered into something I am completely nuts about: fennel root.

I've been playing around with ideas for a pair of Nordic cooking classes I am teaching this autumn and keep stumbling back to fennel marmalade. Fennel is a sweet little accompaniment to pork, poultry, and all things fall. This marmalade is a beautiful topping for chicken burgers, pulled pork, ribs, grilled trout, cheese plates, and cold cut sandwiches. Last night we added it to BBQ sauce for grilled chicken wings, and now my thoughts are stuck on adding Fennel Marmalade to a grilled pizza with rye-kissed crust and topped with white cheddar and bacon. 

Fennel Marmalade

1 large head fennel, chopped (about 3 1/2 cups)
12 ounces orange juice
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large orange, zested and sectioned
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon salt

In large saucepan stire together fennel, juice, vinegar, sugar, and ginger. Turn heat to medium high and bring mixture to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours or until fennel root is just starting to break up and mixture is reduced and thickened. Stir in chopped orange sections, zest, tarragon, and salt and let mixture sit covered, off heat, for about 20 minutes. Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Clean veggie plate club: members wanted

My daughter is one of those uber-healthy girls who runs and does yoga and is never without a snack sack of veggies. She eats spinach for breakfast, carrots for lunch, and kale for dinner, claiming all the while to love her mostly vegan diet.

Me? I think a love of vegetables skipped my generation. Or, at least, it skipped me. I get my five a day, usually. (A task made much easier since I started VB6ing, eating mostly vegan before dinner, during workdays.) But I don't always enjoy eating my vegetables.

With every bite of broccoli I return to the table of my youth when I was a miserable kid sitting alone with a plate of cold peas in front of me. My dad would make frequent visits to the dining room to check on my progress and reprimand me, "You cannot leave the table until you finish your vegetables." Funny thing is, I don't remember my dad ever eating his vegetables.

The promise of dessert was no consolation. Who could relish thoughts of a hot fudge sundae when you had to wade your way through a pile of over-cooked green beans sitting in clumps of congealed butter?

At one point I thought of a way to beat the system. During dinner I'd scoop huge bites of slimy carrots and asparagus into my mouth and chew, then pretend I needed to use the bathroom. I'd spit the vegetables into the toilet, flush, and return to dinner. Timing between bathroom visits was crucial, and I actually got away with splurging and purging for a few weeks before I got cocky. It probably helped that so many of us were at the table and my exits went unnoticed until Dad finally figured out my trick.

Once the jig was up, it was back to not-so-quality time alone with a plate of uneaten horrors.

I always liked raw vegetables and fruit and never eschewed a bowl of radishes dipped in salt or a whole tomato sprinkled with sugar. Times haven't changed a whole lot, and to this day I prefer my veggies on the undercooked side of "done."  Dousing them with a vat of melted cheese also helps.

As zucchini season settled in last month, I decided there must be some new ways to prepare this relatively tasteless green. After hearing my daughter, uber-healthy girl, talk about the joys of veggie "pasta" I decided to give the Veggetti a try. This As Seen On TV kitchen accessory claims to "Turn veggies into healthy spaghetti." Sounds great, right? Well, as with many As Seen On TV products there is apparently a trick to using this tool and I haven't quite figured it out yet.

The Veggetti is a double v-shaped tube with two sets of blades within the cylinders. You are supposed to push a vegetable through the blades, twisting gently so that ribbons of zucchini or cucumber or carrots spill out. The first time I used the Veggetti the zucchini I was prepping kept breaking into chunks, and rather than ribbons I collected sad little jagged fangs. Still tasty, mind you, especially because I (barely) cooked the scraps in some leftover tomato sauce with sausage and mushrooms and then covered the whole mess with a layer of shredded Parmigiano. I wrote about the experience at Called to the Table today, and perhaps I'll revisit the topic once I master the Veggetti.

At least my dad isn't waiting in the other room ready to inspect my plate. The beauty of adulthood is not having to finish ALL of my vegetables. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

State Fair Diaries: singing the no ribbon blues

Does it help ease one's blues (that's no ribbon blues, not blue ribbon blues, and I am sure there is a hit song in there somewhere) when the Minnesota State Fair baked goods that beat you were absolutely wonderful? Yes, it does. Does it help ease one's blues when your Minnesota State Fair baked goods win no ribbons but are put on display in the Creative Activities cases? Yes, it does. And so my no ribbon blues this year are put to rest and, in this post-State Fair state of repose, I begin to plan for next year's contests.

A word about my entries: the Gold Medal cookie is yet another rendition of the lovely little melting moment, this time flavored with T's favorite summertime drink: basil lemonade. The Bisquick waffle is inspired by a, perhaps confusing, fusion of trendy savory waffles, hotdish, and banh mi. Eaten immediately off the griddle with hot chicken and cool quick pickles it is exceptional. Eaten after the concoction sits for an hour or two (the whole thing coming to a sad tepid temp, waffle soggy from the wet chicken and pickles losing both their cool and their crispness), it was likely a real mess when the judges finally tasted it. The waffle itself is made using coconut milk and sesame oil and brings to mind a scallion pancake. That part of the recipe alone is a keeper.

Read about my SPAM entry (another savory waffle concoction) at last week's Called to the Table, and if you prefer hearing from actual ribbon winners, check out my story Ribbon Junkies over at the City Pages Hot Dish blog.

We now return to our regular non-State Fair blogging.