Thursday, May 29, 2008

ND Citrus Trees

I'm officially a citrus freak.

I use lemon slices as my proverbial ketchup and squeeze limes over my popcorn on movie night (try it with a dash of seasoned salt). Every year, I strongly suggest that my in-laws bring up some fresh lemons from their winter home in AZ. I still get a little green with envy of their tales of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice every morning and home-grown lemonade, knowing that there is no way, no how that I can get lemons that fresh in North Dakota.

Or can I?

Yesterday, I received received my Gurney's order with a dwarf Meyer lemon tree and a dwarf Key Lime tree.

When they said dwarf trees in the plant catalog, they weren't kidding.

I love the idea of houseplants, happy little green organisms that decorate the home AND clean the air. However, I kill 'em off every time. Many have gifted me with houseplants, claiming that they are so easy to care for, they will practically vacuum the rugs for you if you let them, but alas, they all turn brown on me due to lack of attention.

Considering this, I have no idea why I think I'll have better luck with indoor fruit trees, especially ones that need to be hand-pollinated, but I'm hoping the idea of homegrown citrus will give me a little more incentive. Plus I think they kinda look nice by the window side-by-side like that.

Maybe some fresh ND limeade next summer?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Corn and Cheddar Spoon Bread

I arrived home from work today and found my hubby installing a new shower in the basement bathroom. 'This is great,' I thought. 'I love coming home to a man hard at work.'

After a kiss hello, I informed him that 1) the bathroom looked great (despite the fact that it looked like a hardware store threw up in there) and 2) I was starving.

He 1) thanked me and 2) informed me that he just ate a massive calzone 45 mins ago.

'This is great,' I thought. 'I get to make whatever I want for dinner.' And what I wanted was comfort food. Fat-and-carbs food. Something warm and soft, like eating my favorite blanket but much more flavorful. What I wanted was corn & cheddar spoon bread.

This is my favorite winter meal. Yes, I realize it is nearly June. For a seasonal cook, I should feel a touch of embarrassment making a dish that is more appropriate in the middle of January. But I quickly got over that silly sentiment and got cookin'.

Much like my 4-year old niece trying to decide between her favorite pink shirt and her favorite purple shirt, I also have a tough time focusing on one aspect of this spoon bread to sing about. Would it be the savory flavor, balancing the sweet corn and the salty cheddar? Perhaps the souffle-like texture? Or better yet, the dairy trifecta of milk, butter, and cheese that creates such a light-yet-filling morsel? In the end, I think it comes down to one essential element: the crust.

I love crust. I was that weird kid in school who would eat the grilled cheese sandwich crusts at lunch and leave the middle. I always grab the bread heel. I get disappointed when cheesecake doesn't have graham cracker crumbs on the bottom. Yup, I'm crusty and proud of it. So it's no surprise that I always dig into the corners of this stuff first, scraping along the bottom to get every last crunchy crumb.

The recipe is from Savoring the Seasons by Lucia Watson. Lucia has a famously good restaurant in Minneapolis called, well, Lucia's, and it's all midwestern, all the time. Although I highly recommend the cookbook, here is a quick and dirty version of the recipe, adapted from the original. Note that it's a pantry meal; you probably don't have to make a special trip to the grocery store for ingredients.

Corn and Cheddar Spoon Bread

2 and 1/4 cups water
1 t. salt
1 cup cornmeal
A few cracks of pepper
2 T. butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
1 and 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup corn kernels
A few chopped green onions or chives

In large pot, boil water; add salt. Lower heat and slowly stir in cornmeal, trying to avoid lumps. Cook a couple mins until thick and remove from heat. Add pepper and butter; stir. Add milk; stir. Add eggs; stir. Add cheese, corn, and onions; stir once more until smooth.

Pour mixture into buttered casserole dish (I use 13x9, since I like to spread it out for crust factor). Bake at 400 degrees for 40 mins. Let cool for 10 mins before serving.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Frosting Guns (bang bang)

Ok, take a deep breath in....and e-x-h-a-l-e. We've had a small hurricane run through our house the past couple days, this hurricane being the in-laws and our niece and nephew. I love them all to death and I'm so glad that they came for the great visit, but I have to admit that little kids take a lot of energy for someone used to her routines and general order of things.

Now peace has regained its rightful place in our household. Much needed rain has fallen all day, and even now thunder booms in the distance, a comforting sound in the middle of a drought. My favorite thing to do on a rainy day is nap. Check that one off the list, as I had a killer nap today. Second on the rainy day list: baking.

As I had some leftover frosting from the cake decorating class, I thought this was the perfect time to test out the frosting gun that my friend Amber swears by. Amber is the cupcake queen. I mean, she has a cupcake carrier; in my book, that makes you a cupcake die-hard. After telling her my tales of woe from the dreaded frosting bag from the class, she brought me spirits up and gave me hope that I, too, can decorate cupcakes by giving me a frosting gun.

For a moment, it looked like a contraption I once saw on an Austin Powers movie, but we're not going to go there.

But first, cupcakes must be made. After digging through a couple cookbooks, I landed on a coconut cupcake recipe from The Barefoot Contessa. I don't have much luck with homemade cakes. Typically, they turn out dry and heavy for me, but these are one of the few exceptions to that. And with coconut? Fantastic. Proving yet again that I turn a little bit more into my mom everyday, the coconut nut. Yum yum yum.

Loading frosting into the gun wasn't the prettiest operation, but the job got done. Locked and loaded, ready for action.

The result? Amber proves correct yet again, this sucker is so easy and steady. Whoever invented the trigger on this baby deserves a big fat gold star, since you don't even have to touch the actual plunger that pushes the frosting through the tip.

Gorgeous, darling.

I have now regained hope in cake decor. Thanks Amber!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sneaky Cookies

This is my husband's favorite cookie (underbaked, per his preference):

It's basically an oatmeal-peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookie. The first time I made them, they were a hit. After the third batch, he took a bite, looked at the cookie for a bit, and said, "I think this is my favorite cookie. Ever." 'Nuff said.

The one thing he doesn't know is that I'm pretty sneaky. Well, he knows that I can be sneaky, but when it comes to cookie ingredients, he doesn't realize that his favorite cookie is almost-kinda-sorta good for him.

The base recipe comes out of The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Your prairie mom has a copy, guaranteed. Look for the Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Rounds recipe. As a back-up, here are the ingredients.

Now here's how I changed it.

1) Fats. Original recipe calls for 3/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup peanut butter. I simply switch it: 1/2 cup butter, 3/4 cup peanut butter. Extra protein. Grrrr.

2) Sugar. Original recipe calls for 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar. I never use all the sugar that a recipe calls for. Plus, I prefer brown sugar. So wave the magic recipe wand, and presto: 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar.

3) Flour. Original recipe calls for 1 and 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour. I sneak whole wheat flour into my baking, so just fill the cup 1/3 full of whole wheat flour, and top the rest off with white flour.

4) Oats. An extra handful of oats can't hurt, right?

5) Chocolate chips. I'm not messin' with the chocolate chips.

Shhh, he'll never know. Our little secret, right?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Romantic Anniversary Meal

So May 20th is our wedding anniversary. And May 20th is our first date anniversary, too. Awww...

Our first date was so sweet, with taco pizza at our favorite local joint and a walk along the river (the same river walk where he proposed).

Being the annoying lovey-dovey, sappy-happy couple, we think our anniversary is pretty special and last year, we celebrated our anniversary in grand style with trip to NYC.

This year was special too, but in a completely different way. A hot air balloon? Candles? Bubble bath? Boom chicka chicka? Even better...

We ordered in pizza and watched the season finale of The Office online.

C'mon, it's kinda romantic. Taco pizza, same kind of pizza we had on our first date. Do we get points for trying?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Food Waste

Next time you find yourself complaining about food prices, check this out:

According to an article published today in the New York Times, this is how much food is thrown out for every American family every single month. Not every year. Every month.

I know, you're thinking that there is no way you throw that much food out. But this is also taking into account food that is thrown out at the restaurants we eat at, the grocery stores we shop at, all those school cafeterias, and yes, our very own kitchens. See the complete article here.

People in Haiti are eating mud, and meanwhile every American tosses a pound of food every day into the garbage. Maybe Mom was right about cleaning our plates and those starving kids in Africa....

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rhubarb Crisp

A sweet and simple post for a sweet and simple item: rhubarb crisp.

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. - Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Emma Lynn

A very special announcement: on May 16th, Miss Emma Lynn entered this world in all her beauty and glory. A big congratulations to Amber and Jon!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fiesta Villa margaritas

Recently I was on an airplane, bored out of my skull, and after stashing away my work computer and flipping through SkyMall a couple of times, I ended up falling on my old time-filler stand-by: making lists.

I'm a sucker for a good list. I love making lists, checking things off of lists, envisioning the perfect world that will emerge once the list is completed..."Hi, my name is Beth and I'm a recovering type-A with perfectionist tendencies."

So in the skies somewhere around central Minnesota, I composed a list of my favorite Bismarck restaurant items. Food and drink that just makes me happy, makes me sigh with pleasure, makes me think that even in little ol' Bismarck there are foodie gems to be found. For the most part, I prefer dinner at home, but I'll reapply my mascara for at outing including one of these morsels. And this Friday night took me to one of the list-toppers: margaritas at Fiesta Villa.

On gorgeous summer evenings, the humble folks of Bismarck flock to Fiesta Villa's patio. The restaurant is a (sort of) Mexican joint in an old train station. The trains still rumble by, which can be either annoying or charming, depending on your mood, but always loud. On weekends, it's pretty reliable that live music will be there to accompany your sipping, and although the salsa isn't the best in town (go down the street to Los Amigos for that), I'm not one to turn down free chips and salsa.

Overall, the drinks are good, but it's the atmosphere and friends you meet up with there that make the F.V. patio worthwhile. I have to admit, I got pretty knockered after two pomegranate margs, so be warned...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Prepare a Wild Turkey - The Rest of It

Today was Turkey Day. Not Thanksgiving, just Turkey Day. We need more non-holiday turkey days, in my opinion.

I missed out on most of the preparation as I was working all day, which was unfortunate as it was absolutely gorgeous out and my 15 min. walk over my lunch break did not suffice for soaking up the sunshine.

However, my hubby was kind enough to get dinner put together and snap a few photos of the process (what a sweetheart). So here's the smokin':

After the smokin', it's a-time for the roastin':

After the roastin', it's a-time for the slicin':

And then...well, you can guess the rest. A dinner fit for a king...and queen..and the queen's mom and little brother. Yup, little bro and Mom came by, so we set up dinner on the old picnic table in the backyard, cracked open a bottle of our latest Basement Brew wine, and had a good 'ol time.

As delicious as it was, we couldn't eat nearly all of it, so I'm looking forward to the next best part of turkey dinners: leftovers!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to Prepare a Wild Turkey - Step 1

My little brother, the Navy officer-in-training, is home for a few weeks before leaving for the next step in his education (Knot Tying 101). Tomorrow night, we're celebrating his homecoming by making his favorite meal: our Maple and Pepper Smoked Wild Turkey.

Warning: picture of raw meat coming up!

My hunting honey goes out twice a year to bag a gobbler. Although we usually have our turkey dinner the day after the big hunt, this spring we stored the bird in the freezer awaiting my brother's arrival. Now that he's here, it's turkey time.

We found this recipe for wild turkey in a Field & Stream magazine a few years ago and have made it the same way ever since. The secret? BRINE.

Brine is basically salt water. You can soak any poultry in brine. All that salt water soaks into the meat, and you're guaranteed to get a moist bird. This is important for this gobbler, since 1) it's a wild turkey, which makes it a little tougher/drier than Butterballs, and 2) we're smokin' the sucker. For a turkey, you'll need a big container, so we use this cooler:

Our brine is 1 cup salt, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup black pepper. Mix it in with enough water to cover and soak overnight.

Steps 2 & 3 coming tomorrow....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cake Decorating 103

The final project:

If you are not doing anything next Tuesday night, give me a call, as I do NOT have cake decorating class.


Monday, May 12, 2008


Pardon my lack of posts lately, but I was actually able to tear myself from the computer for a little while for a little road trip with my friend Jenny to Lincoln, Nebraska. Road trip! Yesss.....

This would mark my first time in Nebraska. My impressions? It's a long way to Nebraska. It doesn't look too bad on a map, since you only have to drive through South Dakota. But trust me, it's a long drive, so do as I did and bring a friend and good tunes.

We had lots of fun and there are plenty of stories to tell, but overall, this trip made me realize that I have great friends, and these great friends are blessed with really great taste. This sounds a touch egotistical (after all, they are MY friends), but I only mention it out of surprise as my style is...well, let's call the bare walls and lack of furntiure "modern". However, nearly all of the people in my life have this knack for creating warm, welcoming spaces. For example, I realized this weekend that I really really like bowls of fruit sitting around. It's healthy, it's beautiful, it's decorating with a natural product that can be made into pie. Mmm, pie.

I'm going to steal this idea from my dear Nebraska friends, even though they'll just laugh and remind me that they didn't invent bowls of fruit and there are plenty of Renoir paintings to prove it, which will lead into a discussion of Impressionist art and its influence in cinematic stylings...which will devolve into a discussion about Nicholas Cage movies.

In the end, it is always about Nick Cage.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cake Decorating 102

Here are the main reasons I'm not impressed with "Wilton Method" cake decorating.

1. The course book gives you projects like this to hone your skills. With manicured nails, no less. Sorry, I have better ways to spend 5 hours than dabbing frosting stars on a three-year-old's birthday cake.

2. The frosting is made out of Crisco. Lots and lots of Crisco. Feed that to your loved ones.

3. The Crisco-coated tips eventually need to be cleaned. With this brush. An absurd task in my book.

4. Again, the Crisco. I just can't get over it. Eww.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cake Decorating 101

Two and a half hours in cake decorating class tonight, and here is what I have to show for it. Needless to say, I'm not quitting my day job for a future in pastry decor anytime soon, but I love the kitschy-ness of it. This cake just makes me giggle from the weirdness of it all. Yay clowns!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spanish Tortilla

Oh, lovely lovely. What a beautiful day in this beautiful world. I feel like I'm in the middle of a Louis Armstrong song, with budding trees, blossoming flowers, warm sunny days, and, yes, even shiny new babies all around (three friends, three babies, three weeks...sounds like a great reality series idea).

When it's this nice out, I (*gasp*) don't tend to spend as much time in the kitchen. Granted, I love winter for those evenings snuggled on the couch with a Jane Austen book, a pot of soup simmering on the back burner, bread baking in the oven for all the reasons you bake bread: smell, taste, warmth, nostalgia. However, springtime puts me in high gear, with gardens to plant, garages to clean, rummage sales to attend, walks to take, bikes that just must be ridden.

So this evening was no exception. I didn't want to be in the kitchen all evening, so dinner had to be quick, light, and yummy. I looked around my kitchen: olive oil, potatoes, eggs...Spanish tortilla it is!

Spanish tortilla (tortilla espanola) is my favorite Spanish food. Yes, more than paella, and paella is hard to beat. Forget the Mexican tortilla; Spanish tortilla is actually a potato omelette. It has literally taken me years to figure out how to make this well. Uh, wait, scratch that, I still can't compare to the tapas bars in Salamanca, but this gringo version will pass in a pinch. The secret: don't flip it - broil it. Let me explain.

First, you need to boil the potatoes.

I don't know why I threw the potatoes in whole like this. You should really cut them in half or fourths. But, hey, this works too. You just want to soften them up a bit, not mushy soft, so boil for about 10-15 mins.

Meanwhile, crack some eggs, and season with salt and pepper. Then beat the eggs.

Take an ovenproof pan (cast iron works great) and add a hefty chug of olive oil and turn on the heat. Here is where you could saute some onion. I didn't have onion today, so I mixed in some chives instead.

Now the good stuff. Chop up the potatoes, season with more salt and pepper, and fry 'em up. Sweet Jesus, fried potatoes ranks up there right next to homemade raspberry jam and dancing in my room to this song. I know, I'm a nerd, but I love me some fried taters. And old Justin Timberlake pop songs, apparently.

So we have fried taters. Pour the eggs on top and let it cook for a few mins, no stirring. The bottom will cook and the top will be runny.

Now here is the point when many Spanish tortilla recipes will tell you to flip the tortilla. Just give it a little flip, maybe try it one-handed and blindfolded since it's soooo easy. Especially in a cast iron pan. Right. I've busted up a few tortillas too many trying that one. So here is what you do, and pardon the crappy photo:

Just throw it under the broiler for a few minutes. Watch it c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y since it will burn if you leave it in five seconds too long. But once it looks toasty and a little brown on top, it's done. Let it cool for a few minutes and then slice it up, serve it with a salad, eat, and then get outside, since it's too nice out to do dishes tonight.