Monday, March 31, 2008

Ramen love

I have a confession to make. It's really tough to come out like this. I mean, most people think I have pretty good taste, that I would never stoop so low. How can a mature adult even consider such a thing?

But, my friend, hang on to your hat: I completely and utterly love ramen noodles.

Yes, ramen, the noodle soup that most people haven't eaten since they lived in a dorm room. Ramen, the poor man's Asian buffet. Where else can you get lunch for 10 cents? I know I'm not alone, there are others in this world who join me in declaring ramenliciousness.

Here's the secret to turning ramen into a celebratory dish: you have to add stuff. Shocking, I know, but the noodles and powder only go so far. My fav is frozen veggies, just cook them right along with the noodles and you have dinner. If you get really excited, throw in a few frozen shrimp or leftover chicken.


I prefer ramen cooked, but no summer potluck picnic is complete without the broccoli coleslaw salad with crushed dry ramen noodles. Thanks to allrecipes.com for digging up the recipe.

INGREDIENTS
1 (16 ounce) package broccoli coleslaw mix
2 (3 ounce) packages chicken flavored ramen noodles
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup unsalted peanuts
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar

In a large salad bowl, combine the slaw, broken noodles and green onions. Whisk together the sugar, oil, vinegar and ramen seasoning packets. Pour over salad and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate until chilled; top with peanuts and sunflower seeds before serving.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sugar Sugar

Antique sugar bowls and I just don't get along.

Everyone loves a pretty sugar bowl. Sugar bowls are such dainty traditions, visions of tea and crumpets come to mind. They hark back to the time when people actually tasted their food, declaring a need for a pinch of this or a spoonful of that to make the food experience absolutely ideal, individualized for the personal palate.

This love of sugar bowls makes sense because, not only do we love sugar, but we adore personalization. Our egos need to know that we are special and unique, especially as the world around us becomes more and more homogenized. I'm convinced that one of the keys to the success of Starbucks is how they encourage people to identify with their beverage. I'm a tall soy chai. My boss is a venti bold coffee. My husband is a hot chocolate with whipped cream......

Sorry, my mind drifted there (ahem). What was I saying? Oh yes...

In high school, my after school job was babysitting, except the kids were around the ages of 10 and 12 and didn't really need a babysitter. I just picked them up from school and we basically hung out together until their folks got home. It was the best job I ever had.

They had an old crystal sugar bowl sitting on the breakfast bar. I believe it belonged to the dad's grandmother. One afternoon, I noticed sugar stuck to the sides of it, and for some odd reason, I absent-mindedly started scraping it off the sides with a spoon. I must have scraped a little too hard, because the spoon broke through the side of the bowl. It was irreparably damaged. I felt terrible. They were nice about it, knowing that it was an accident, although I could tell they were a tiny bit disappointed. When I went on a summer exchange program to Spain, I brought back a hand-painted azucar bowl. It could never replace grandma's sugar bowl, but there's something to be said for starting new traditions.

So now look what I did today:




I broke my sugar bowl. Well, it was my grandma's sugar bowl, part of her wedding china. I was grabbing my camera case off the shelf next to it, the strap was around the bowl and brought it smashing down onto the counter top.



I guess I should feel nostalgia or regret, some sense of loss. Instead, I'm just thinking that I have a bit of a mess to clean up. But if you ever invite me over for dinner, hide the sugar bowl.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Honey-licious

I was chatting with a co-worker at work the other day. She happens to sit right next to the area that I call "The Trough", as we all meander over there for nibbles throughout the day.

Sitting at the trough was a large jar of honey.
"So where did the honey come from?" I ask.

"Oh, do you want it?" my co-worker says right away.

"Umm, I was just asking where it..."

"Take it! Seriously, we have so much of it. My brother helps my uncle with the beekeeping and I'm trying to give some of it away..."

First, before I tell you about my absolutely giddiness at the suggestion of a big beautiful jar of prairie clover honey (for free, no less), let me say that...well, there aren't words to describe the wonders of honey. Countless poets, philosophers, and yes, even those eloquent expressionists known as R&B singers have tried in vain to pinpoint the sweet seductive sensual nature that is honey, the nectar of the gods. So I'm not about to try to expound on its beauty, but let's just say that only a fool would ever turn down a beekeepers' honey.

To make a short story shorter, I left the office that afternoon with the honey jar, cooing over it like a pooh bear. It was a bright sunny day, and I held it up to the sun to see the golden colors shine through. Now the question is: what to do with this delicious gift?

Like most people, I mostly use honey as a condiment. My favorite is simply swirling it over buttered bread (or pb bread). I use it in cereal, tea, smoothies, the usual suspects. But about twice a year, I'll dig out the cookbook Recipes by Susan Spungen and make Baby Back Ribs with Coffee (and Honey) BBQ Sauce.

My husband tells me that he loves me everyday, but his eyes get especially moist with emotion saying it over a plate of these ribs.

2 1.5-lb. racks of baby back ribs
1 T. olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 c. strong coffee
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1 c. ketchup
3/4 c. honey
1/4 c. low-sodium soy sauce

Season ribs with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with foil, place the ribs on the baking sheet, and bake for 2.5 hours at 275 degrees. Let cool.

Make BBQ sauce: in medium saucepan, saute garlic in olive oil for 2 mins. Whisk in remaining ingredients along with a couple twists from the pepper grinder. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 mins, or until sauce starts to thicken, stirring occasionally. Let cool.

When ribs and sauce are cool, place ribs and sauce in resealable plastic bag and turn to coat ribs in sauce. At this point, either leave the ribs marinating in the fridge for up to two days, or they can be cooked immediately.

To cook ribs, either grill over med-low for 30 mins, basting and turning every 5 mins to avoid burning the ribs; or bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 30 mins, basting frequently.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Farm Eggs

Most people get their eggs from the grocery store. Some will search them out at a farmers market. Some will even keep a few hens in their backyard (although I have yet to meet a city dweller who does this). Myself, I get my eggs from The Egg Lady.


I've never met The Egg Lady. She drops by my co-worker's desk about once a month to sell her farm-fresh eggs for 75 cents a dozen. I just love the idea of getting a dozen eggs for the same price as my weekly peanut M&M fix from the office vending machine. And these eggs are beautiful. Some are have white shells, some have brown shells, some have speckled shells. Some are small, some are big. When you crack them open, there are differences in the yolk colors, ranging from pale yellow to sunset orange. They come in all varieties of egg cartons, all reused and well-worn. I adore these eggs. The Egg Lady has no idea how much joy she is bringing me.


In my house, we eat a lot of eggs. We'll hard-boil a few for lunches and snacks (and the occasional potato salad craving). I use a few in my Saturday morning baking projects, along with the occasional quiche or spaghetti carbonara, but sometimes I just want scrambled eggs.

I'm not great at cooking eggs, but I'm a sucker for savory breakfasts. We've been pounded over the head with the idea that breakfast is a sugarfest, with syrups and doughnuts and over-the-top sweetened breakfast cereals (although you'll call me a hypocrite after you peek in my cupboard...if you can't tell, my honey likes kids cereals).


I'm such a downer when it comes to kiddie cereals. For example, one of my favorite things is to mix Lucky Charms and Cheerios, as there are just too many marshmallows in Lucky Charms. I still like the marshmallows, but I just can't handle a spoonful of nothing but sugar puffs. Once, when I apparently didn't have any Cheerios in the house, I called the General Mills customer comment line to complain about all the marshmallows. I think the GM lady thought I was crazy. She just laughed and said, "Well, the kids like it!". And then promptly sent me a coupon for a free box of...Lucky Charms.

But back to eggs, this weekend I woke up on Sunday morning craving scrambled eggs with lots of veggies. I love cleaning out the fridge with all the random leftovers and making something yummy. This is a one-pan wonder, because who wants to spend Sunday washing dishes? Start by sauteing all your veggies in olive oil (here we have the classic onion/green pepper/tomato combo with a little turkey bacon...I know, breaking the no-meat-from-grocery-store rule with that one). Once the vegs start to soften, push them to the side of the pan and crack in a few eggs:

Scramble:

Then mix it all up. Delicioso.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easy Salad


The oh-so-elegant author of French Women Don't Get Fat says that there is no such thing as good bottled salad dressing.

Au contraire, mon ami.

I agree that most bottled salad dressing is good for nothing but ruining a perfectly good bowl of romaine, but there is an exception to this rule: Brianna's Poppy Seed Dressing. Eater beware: it's so good that while eating a simple lettuce salad topped with this, I found myself gobbling it up too fast and I actually chipped my tooth on my fork.

I blame the dressing. Don't say I didn't warn you.

If you are lucky enough to find Brianna's in your grocery store, grab a bottle and make Easy Salad. (If it's not at your local grocer, you can purchase it here.)

Yes, that is what it is called: Easy Salad. Go ahead and make up your own name, call it whatever you want, but try it and let me know what you think! Hey, if it gets my meat-and-potatoes hubby to eat his veggies, it must be pretty darn good.



Easy Salad

1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 bag coleslaw
1/2 c. sliced almonds
3-4 green onions, sliced
1 c. chow mein noodles
1/2 bottle Brianna's Poppy Seed Dressing

Mix lettuce, coleslaw, almonds, and onions together in large bowl. Add dressing and toss. Just before serving, add chow mein noodles and toss once more.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter! Easter tulips from my mom, ain't she sweet?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hot Cross Buns

As a child, every Easter was spent at grandma's house. She lived on the outside edge of a small town, right where the streets turned into dirt trails, fading fast through the tall prairie grass. Travelling to grandma's house, we knew we were getting close when tractors shared the road with cars and pick-up truck drivers in the opposite lane waved as they passed.

Grandma always had a couple fragrant Easter lilies sitting by the fireplace. We'd wake up on Sunday morning and my brothers and I would scour the house for bright plastic eggs and our baskets of treats. We'd nibble on chocolates and jellybeans, ignoring warnings about spoiling our appetites before Easter dinner. But before the ham was baked, the potatoes were mashed, and the pies were cut, we all packed in the car and headed to church.

I couldn't tell you what the sermons were about, nor what hymns were sung, but I do vividly recall the gatherings that happened right after church. The gentle hum of conversation and laughter mingled in the air with the smell of coffee. Platters of all things sweet emerged from stacks of Tupperware containers in the church kitchen. I always selected my favorite: a hot cross bun. Hot cross buns are a sweet bread, studded with dried fruits and topped off with a frosting cross in the spirit of the Easter season. I think I also liked them as I could eat it and hum one of the first piano songs I ever learned:

Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns
One a-penny, Two a-penny
Hot Cross Buns

Grandma passed away a few years ago, and I can't say that I've been back to that small town since then, but this Easter I've been feeling nostalgic and wanted to recreate those buns. By biting into a hot cross bun, maybe, just maybe, I can capture that moment again, with the smell of coffee and Easter lilies and the joy that comes from humming a simple song.

I made these hot cross buns with the recipe out of The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger. It's my main bread cookbook, and it has never failed me.

The hot cross bun dough, flavored with nutmeg, currants, and chopped apricots:

The buns, getting ready to go in the oven:

The final delicious product:


Friday, March 21, 2008

Walleye

Let me preface this entry by stating that I love fish. Wait, let me clarify: I love eating fish. Fried, poached, sashimi, doesn't matter. If it's on my plate, I'm a fish fan. If it's swimming in the lake and brushing against my leg, that's an entirely different story.

So as a friend of fish as food, you may have pity on me as I live in the geographical center of the continent, as far from an ocean as you can possibly be. And at times, I may nod my head in agreement, bemoaning a diet without yellowfin tuna, fresh sea scallops, and Alaskan halibut. But then my eyes will sparkle once again, as my fish of choice swims in the rivers and lakes that are just minutes from my front door. Yes, my friend, I speak of the one, the only, the WALLEYE, the most celebrated fish in the northern plains.

I've had arctic char at Jean-Georges in NYC, catfish straight from the bayou in Mississippi, and all manners of sea creatures doused in olive oil in Spain, but I will happily trade them all for a plate of Missouri River walleye, lightly breaded in Shore Lunch, fried up in our trusty cast iron pan, and served hot with homemade tartar sauce. No side dishes, just a beer to wash it all down.
Ok, I'll admit that coleslaw would be a nice touch.

Walleye is a firm, white-fleshed, cold fresh-water fish. My personal rule of thumb: colder water = more delicious fish. Catfish seems mushy, a byproduct of slowly simmering life away in the warm, mucky waters by the gulf. Walleye swims deep, dark, low. I imagine cold aquatic crevices of blue ice melt meeting the slow silent dust of the river bottom, green-gold scales flashing by with a flip, a flippant flip, of the tailfin.

If you want to talk about catching walleye, you'll have to talk to my dad, the Walleye Master. He'll tell you all you've ever wanted to know about rigs and jigs, nets and knots, trolling and sinking...the line, not the boat. But if you want to talk about eating walleye, then lean in closer, my friend, as I have plenty of fish tales to tell.
Woe to the man who goes to a restaurant for a walleye dinner. He obviously lacks a friend with a boat.

My Tartar Sauce Recipe

1 cup good mayonnaise (no Miracle Whip, please)
2 T. finely minced onion or shallots
1 minced dill pickle
1 t. pickle juice
1 T. capers
1 T. parsley
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 or 2 t. lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. This is a base recipe; feel free to add and adjust as you like.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring snow day

Wow, there are a lot of great blogs out there. A lot of great photos, too. And they've been posting for years. I feel teeny-tiny. What could I possibly have to add? Why does my Canon point-and-shoot suddenly seem so inadequate? Uh-oh, verbalizing insecurities, not good. But I take comfort in the fact that no one (except my hubby) knows about my public musings. So write on.

My hopes for spring were dashed this afternoon as the snow started to fall. And kept on falling. I've been eyeing the patch of dirt that is my garden for a week now, waiting for a glimpse of green to signal the arrival of the ubiquitous rhubarb plant (always the first to sprout) and officially end winter. But alas, snow has returned, and white has dashed my hopes of green.
Here's my snow-covered apple tree (and tiny compost pile, thanks for my foraging dogs; more on that later).


One great thing about snowy days is comfort food. And one of my favorite things in life is soaked white bread: think gravy, marinara sauce, anything left on the plate that can be sopped up with a wonderful slice of carbohydrate heaven. So this evening, I grabbed a package of partridge cutlets out of the deep freeze.

Ok, wait. Partridge? Seriously? Yes, and they're delicious. Mild, tender little morsels, straight from the prairie.

You see, my hunter husband and I have a deal. I was a vegetarian when I met him, and I still lean towards the lower end of the food chain, but love reigns supreme and I joined the omnivore majority on one condition: if he hunts it, we'll eat it, but no meat from the grocery store shall pass our threshold. Ok, yes, we have the occasional exceptions, namely No Name Salmon and deli-sliced turkey. But in general, if I'm cooking meat, it came out of the mammoth deep freeze in our basement, right next to all that kernel corn from last fall that we have yet to eat (anyone have any decent recipes to use up a small mountain of corn??). This all seems quirky to my east-coast friends, but it's a way of life for us. And hey, it's organic!

So moving on to dinner, I tossed the bird in a pot with sauteed onions and potatoes, covered it all with crushed tomatoes and herbs, simmered for a few minutes and voila!

Partridge fit for a queen, with plenty of tomato sauce to soak up with homemade white bread. If you don't have a hunter in the family, you can easily substitute anything you have on hand: pieces of chicken breast or steak, a firm white fish, even just adding extra veggies would be fantastic! I'm dreaming of cauliflower...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Entry #1

How does one start a blog? So much empty space, so many possibilities, so much pressure to hit just the right note. . . Indulge me for a moment, as I expound on the reasons behind my writing (I promise there is a reason). Blogs are frequently described as literary outlets, and this, my friend, is no exception. I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy focused on food. Food, food, glorious food. Sometimes I wish I were one of those people who just ingest their dinner and move on, the action of eating simply serving the purpose of consuming caloric energy. However, this notion soon passes as I have never been satisfied with a dietitian's hypoallergenic view of gastronomy. I must linger, I must savor, I must indulge and play and swoon. Fresh farm eggs with yolks to match the golden orange sunrise, garden tomatoes still warm from the summer sun, pheasant that was flying in the prairie sage just hours before it hit my lips; these are certainly a few of the true pleasures in life.

Dear reader, bear with me as I come to the point. There is so much media devoted to food. You may ask, "Do we seriously need another food blog?" I'll let you answer that, however this is different. Gag me with a silver spoon if I have to read another blog that is specifically focused on the wonders of all things French or Italian. I love Europe as much as the next gal, and you can peruse my favorite web links to prove it, but honey, I don't live in Paris. There is a void in the food world that I'm perplexed by: why is no one celebrating the food from the breadbasket of America, right here in the Great Plains? We lust over French truffles, Australian Shiraz, sushi made from "fresh" fish shipped in from thousands of miles away, when we have an incredible bounty right under our humble noses.

With a nod to the local food movement (thank you, Alice Waters!), my intention is to fill that void by focusing my foodie energy on (gasp) my backyard. At times, this may literally mean my backyard and my gardening experiments that occur there. Other times, my backyard will be the Plains as a whole, and all the farmers, hunters, fishermen, and cafe waitresses that are keeping this region true to its roots. My mind runneth over with ideas, stories, and recipes to share. So keep me honest, dear Reader, and feel free to leave a comment on my doorstep.