Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rhubarb Lemonade

Fort Mandan is holding a rhubarb festival today! What a great idea. Fort Mandan is a nice day trip from Bismarck; just pack the picnic basket and go. My plans today don't include the rhubarb festivities, but I was thinking this morning about the rhubarb recipe contest and what I would enter...

I'm guessing most people will bring pies and breads and maybe a couple jellies. And I'm guessing a picture-perfect rhubarb pie will win the blue ribbon. If I were competing, I'd bring a classic rhubarb-strawberry pie, lattice crust or maybe even cut-out star crust. With fresh vanilla bean whipped cream. And maybe a scoop of that scrambled egg ice cream on the side. Or not.

However, if I were entering just for fun, I'd bring rhubarb lemonade. It wouldn't win the contest, but I think it would be a hit with the attendees to wash down all those rhubarb bread samples.

Rhubarb Lemonade

3 cups chopped rhubarb, mostly pink part of stems
1 cup white sugar
1 cup sweet wine (riesling or white zin work well)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cups water

In a medium saucepan, mix rhubarb, sugar, and wine; bring to a boil and simmer until rhubarb is soft. Strain mixture to obtain rhubarb syrup. Add the syrup to pitcher along with lemon juice and water. Stir and serve over ice.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Carlos Creek Winery

This is me:

This is a Segway:

This is me on a Segway after a few glasses of Minnesota wine at Carlos Creek Winery:


Any questions?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vanilla Scrambled Egg Ice Cream

Well, summer is here and the ice cream maker has come out from the depths of the storage closet. I never had intentions of being a homemade ice cream maker myself, but our friendly neighbors gave us with an ice cream maker as a wedding gift, and we haven't looked back since. But learn from my mistakes and beware of the eggs.

I decided to make standard old-fashioned vanilla ice cream, recipe straight from the manual. I even got a little fancy and added vanilla bean, ooh la la. I heated the milk but made the mistake of leaving the egg in the hot milk too long and it started to cook the eggs. So now we have scrambled egg ice cream. It's still good, there are just tiny frozen bits of scrambled egg every now and then. Not appetizing? I hear bacon ice cream is a big thing right now, so maybe I'm just starting a new trend.

And I must mention, kudos to Cass-Clay for announcing they do not use rBGH/rBST milk in their cream (not sure if this applies to all their products...). Corporate chemical giant Monsanto says it is safe; the rest of the world says it is not. This bovine hormone is legal in the US (and ONLY in the US), but I'm not taking any chances. Supporting "No rBGH/rBST" dairy is not hard; even Wal-Mart has joined the no-hormone milk club.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bessy's Best Milk

Bessy's Best is here!

Dan's Supermarket is carrying Bessie's Best whole milk by the gallon jug, straight from Sterling, ND. I'm not typically a whole milk gal, but after talking to the earnest guy giving out samples by the dairy case and seeing "no synthetic hormones" on the label, I picked up a gallon.

And if Bessie is reading, I'm waiting for the lowfat moo juice, honey.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


It is Summer with a capital S in Bismarck right now. The river is packed with pontoons and bikini-clad teens. The cotton from the cottonwood trees is flying through the air. Dairy Queen is doing brisk business across the street from the public swimming pool. Kids, kids everywhere.

Yes, this is what we live for. Blue skies, sunny days, chirping birds...and ribs.

Welcome to Ribfest. This is the first time Ribfest has pulled into our humble little town. And from the looks of it, us small town folk love us some ribs.

My honey considers himself a bit of a rib connoisseur. He's eaten a lot of ribs in his day, proclaiming Space Aliens to be the best in town. Well, except my own, of course, right hon? Right...?

So being a rib expert, we had to check out Ribfest. It's a fundraiser for the Downtowners, bringing Bismarckians together for food and inflatable fun. $3 gets you in the door, and then you see this:

The end of the line to purchase $20 ribs. Awesome.

There were three rib vendors, none local. They all proclaim themselves to be the best, and you are supposed to vote for the best one. They all have their trophies stacked up in front with long lists of awards...but it looks like they just compete amongst themselves. It's not really competition, it's just a marketing schtick to sell ribs. But hey, if you can get rib grilling to pay the bills, keep on grilling...

We went to the shortest line, the Rib King. While standing in line, I watched the kid in front of us play with his balloon and listened to the local band Betty Does tune up. I love it when bands take a long time to tune. "Test. Test. Test 1. Test 1."

We finally got to the front of the line. We ordered #7 - the Royal Flush, with ribs, chicken, sausage, brisket, potato salad, beans, and cornbread, all served in your very own Styrofoam container. I thought, 'Royal Flush, how appropriate, since that's probably what we'll be doing a couple hours from now.'

Sorry if that was gross.

The food was ok, the ribs were decent, and our rib connoisseur declared them to be edible, but certainly not the best he's ever eaten. We didn't bother voting, since we really didn't want to stand in line again to try the others, and part of me just didn't want to play along with the competitive rib game.

So suggestions for next year? Let Famous Dave's and Space Aliens enter the "contest" as well (with their own pricing) and add more seating.

If Ribfest comes back, we might go next year, but right now, I'm going outside to enjoy every last bit of the longest day of the year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Return of the Garden

I received our first delivery of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce! Spring greens, baby turnips, and radishes. I was thrilled with the baby turnips; I sauteed them quickly, tops and all, with a little salt and pepper, and enjoyed them for breakfast.

It sounded like Farmer Jay had a problem securing the farm land, which messed up his planting schedule. It was all worked out, but due to the lack of produce this week from the plot, he distributed veggies out of his backyard garden! I'm already impressed. I can't wait to meet this guy.

In one of his soliloquies on North Dakota, Clay Jenkinson (who I have a not-so-secret crush on) said that one of the most Jeffersonian aspects of this great state is the backyard garden. For the past few decades, I feel that there has been a general trend away from gardening in the Midwest, but get the tiller ready, because the comeback is here and now. Much like the victory gardens of WWII, Americans are finding the garden again. Why?

Because the garden helps us reclaim our independence from the economic forces that have made us all feel vulnerable lately.

Because the garden is health and vitality. It doesn't get any fresher than the backyard. Period.

Because the garden is tradition, recalling our memories of eating garden peas straight out of the pod at grandma's house.

Because the garden is connection to the earth with all its abundance and beauty.

Because there is no better scent than freshly tilled dirt, new tomato and basil plants, and the promise of rain in the air.

Because it just feels right.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Radish Sandwich

The radishes are here.

Everyone seems surprised that I already have radishes popping up, and I give almost every single one away as I just don't really like radishes. They are a little too spicy, a little too raw oniony for me. I just grow them because they are easy to grow and pop up so early.

Easy and early. Yup, that's how I like 'em.

However, I'll admit that there is one way I'll eat radishes con gusto.

Radish Sandwiches

1 piece bread (preferably white bread)
1 pat of butter
Thinly sliced radish

Schmear butter on bread and top with sliced radishes. Enjoy. Repeat.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Summer Berry Pie Crust

There is nothing like a big slice of fresh fruit pie topped with real whipped cream to make my tastebuds scream "SUMMER!". Sour cherry, blueberry, rhubarb-strawberry, oh my. As you start to encounter the summer's bounty of fruit, why not make your own pie crust?

Foodies get obsessed with pie crust. Crisco vs. butter vs. lard, flour/fat ratios, flour protein levels. No wonder pie crust intimidates people! Throw all that out the window along with the measuring cups - this is an unscientific, unmeasured, a-dab-of-this-and-that basic pie crust. Hopefully, by taking away all the frou-frou fussiness from pie crust, we'll all realize that it's really as easy as...well, you know.

First, add flour to a bowl (approx. 1-1/2 cups) along with a dash of salt. Don't worry about it, just eyeball it. Add a COLD stick of butter.

Ever seen Last Tango in Paris? You'll never look at a stick of butter the same way again.

Now take off your rings, wash your hands, and dig in, crunching up the butter until you have crumbles.

When you press the crumbles together in your fist, they should stick together. Like flocks of geese. Or penguins. Or Mama bears and Baby bears.

Never mind.

Now add icy cold water, a spoonful at a time, and mix it in until you can form a ball. Some people swear by adding a splash of cider vinegar, too; go ahead if that floats your boat. Flatten the ball a bit, cover with that butter wrapper, and throw in the freezer for a few mins to chill. The dough needs to be cold before you roll it out. (If you're not using the dough right away, use plastic wrap and keep in the fridge.)

Now we're ready to roll. Grab two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, place one on the table and sprinkle with flour. Take out the chilled dough, place on top of floured surface, and then sprinkle top of dough with flour. Top it off with the other sheet and roll out the dough.

My hubby gave me this rolling pin for Christmas after watching me hurt myself rolling out sugar cookies with a Smurf glass. Long story.

Flip the dough onto your pie plate, fix any holes, and then let your creativity take care of the rest.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Morel Mushrooms

Get the camo out! We're going hunting!

This is the one and only time I've shot a gun. Before my husband has a heart attack at the idea of me wielding a gun again, let me clarify: we're going morel hunting!

My bud Jenny called me up with the delicious proposal of walking along the river bottoms looking for morel mushrooms. I was surprised to find out that morel mushrooms (yes, $25/lb morel mushrooms) grow wild in our area and they are out there for the picking.

As a kid, mushrooms were one of the many foods I refused to eat, thinking they simply ruined a perfectly decent pizza, but now I have seen the light! Mushrooms in pasta, mushrooms in stirfry, mushrooms in omelets, stuffed, sauteed, grilled...I'll admit we enjoy the occasional 'shroom, in the most legal sense of the word.

However, in our house, mushroom tastes vary from button to portabello...and then back to button. We don't get too exotic with our fungi, so I was cautious with the idea of eating mushrooms I happened to find in the trees. Then I quickly removed that thought from my mind, since morel mushrooms are easy to identify, and foraging for food (especially gourmet delicacies) is always a win in my book.

We hopped in the car with a couple of empty ice cream buckets and Jenny's dog Jack, trusting that his morel-sniffing instincts would provide us with buckets of fungi. It was a gorgeous afternoon with sights like this:

And this:

And this (Hi, Jack!):

And, yes, sad to say, this:

We only found one morel.

I'm not quite sure what to do with my single mushroom yet. Nonetheless, it was a lovely walk in beautiful surroundings with great company, so even if morel hunting didn't feed my stomach, it certainly fed my soul.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Curried Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Tomatoes

I've noticed that my blog has been a little light on the recipes lately, and sometimes ya just need a good recipe. So here is what we had for dinner tonight. It's healthy, it smells great, and the whole meal literally takes 15 minutes from cutting board to table. You have nothing to lose, I promise it's good. Enjoy!

Oh, and if you are wondering 'Where's the beef?', check this article out to calm your anxiety.

Curried Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Tomatoes
Adapted from How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

2 T. canola oil
1 minced garlic clove
1 t. minced fresh ginger
1/2 t. salt
A few cracks of black pepper
Small pinch of cayenne
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
1/3 cup water
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned is fine, use the juice)
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup frozen peas
Cilantro and golden raisins for garnish

Add oil to large pot and turn heat to medium. Add garlic and ginger. When garlic starts to color, add the rest of the spices to release their aromas, then add cauliflower, water, and tomatoes. Stir, cover, turn down heat, and simmer until cauliflower is almost tender (5-10 mins). Add chickpeas and peas, cook until cauliflower is tender, garnish and serve with couscous.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hug a ND Farmer - Buy Canola

Can I just ask one question? No, that question doesn't count as my one question. Here is my question: why in the world are we so obsessed with olive oil? I'm not talking about Popeye's gf, although she had a certain 'je ne sais quoi' about her. No, I'm talking about that golden liquid fat you have sitting in your cupboard right now.

I blame Rachel Ray with her annoying EVOO thing. I think she started using "EVOO" just so she wouldn't have to say the word "virgin" and make all those stay-at-home moms sweat something unnatural. And now look: our fear of a little v-word has increased our dependence on foreign (olive) oil.

More discussion on socially challenging v-words some other day. Maybe.

Ok, I kid, I kid. Regardless, I do believe that olive oil has become the basic cooking oil in lots of American kitchens, and the kicker is that no one can really tell the difference when cooking with olive oil or a basic vegetable oil. I've never sat down to a tater tot hotdish dinner at my mom's house and asked, "Mom, did you use triple-processed extra virgin olive oil to saute the onion and hamburger hidden underneath these tots? It's delicious!" Nope, never happens. However, US demand for the stuff has been growing by 20% every year, and out of all the olive oil consumed in the US, less than 1% is produced domestically.

Please pardon the statistics. I'm an economics nerd at heart.

Wait, there's a happy ending to this one. Being lucky Dakotans, we live in a sea of plentiful, healthy, homegrown oil: Welcome to Canola Country. Out of the 1 million canola acres planted in the US, 90% of them are in good 'ol ND and MN.

Hey, I'm not an olive oil hater; in fact, I really like it in salads, pasta dishes, and the occasional bread-and-balsamic soak, but for your everyday swirl-in-the-pan, kick Rachel (bless her heart) in the teeth and bring on the all-American canola oil!

Or Canadian. Close enough.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rhubarb Syrup

The rhubarb plant continues to proliferate, and I haven't yet tired of its deliciousness. So on to rhubarb dish #3: rhubarb syrup.

I've been wanting to try making rhubarb syrup for awhile now, thanks to a suggestion in The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. In the spirit of improvisation, I didn't quite follow her recipe. I just tossed chopped rhubarb in a saucepan, poured in the last glugs from a bottle of strawberry riesling, added a dash of sugar, let it simmer until softened...and ended up with mushy green-pink-grey slop that even my dog would think looked gross.

But it tasted good.

So I pulled out the strainer, pushed the slop through, and ah ha! Beautiful rosy pink liquid nectar emerged. Treasure. All I could think was - ice cream!

I don't typically like anything fruity in my ice cream. I'll go for chopped nuts any day, but keep the strawberry corn syrup goo away, thanks. So I was a bit surprised that I absolutely adored this fruity syrup on my Haagen Dazs.

After a couple of bowls of ice cream and a pancake breakfast, the rhubarb nectar is now gone, but more rhubarb experiments to come...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Great Plains

This morning I've been pondering summer vacation. Who doesn't love thinking about summer vacation? Although our plans aren't set yet, I just have to pass on this article from about all the wonders right here in our own backyard.

We North Dakotans (all 635,00 of us) sometimes forget how lucky we are to live up here. We forget that sightings of bison, antelope, and geese are unique experiences for others. Being occupied with the business of life, we forget that our livelihood is tied to the land, whether it is farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, or mining energy resources from our earth and sky. We forget that conservation is key to ensuring that our great-great-grandkids will be able to fish the same waters, hike the same lands, and breathe the same fresh air as we do.

If you have a moment, take a look at the article, if only for the majestic picture at the top. It's a reminder why we call this land The Great Plains.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rhubarb Bread

Now that I have the rhubarb bug, it's time to make rhubarb bread.

When looking for a basic midwest recipe like rhubarb bread, you won't find it from the Barefoot Contessa, Jamie Oliver, Rachel Ray, or any of the other celebri-chefs you see so much of nowadays. Nope, for rhubarb bread, we're going straight to the source: the community cookbook.

Community cookbooks can come from schools, churches, workplaces, charities...if you don't have one (or don't have access to one...thanks Mom), it is a sign that you need to get out from under your rock. They are easily identified by their lack of glossy photos and each recipe including the name of the recipe contributor. It's cute, it's quaint, it's a tradition that I hope keeps going for a long, long time.

This one happens to be from the local telephone company. It's a big thick volume of local recipes with ten pages of meatball recipes. Someday I'm going to make every single meatball recipe, invite friends over, and have a Meatball Ball.

Some recipes are almost comical in their simplicity and straightforwardness. For example, who hasn't always wanted a good cough syrup recipe? And of course I would list it right next to the fudgesicles.

Tom Smith is obviously really excited about his cake.

Where were we? Ah yes. So here is the rhubarb bread recipe, page 331.

I know it's a good one since a bunch of people apparently contributed the same recipe AND there is a recipe listed above it also titled "Rhubarb Bread" that is exactly the same, except for the teaspoon of cinnamon. It must have been tough, being Gerri, and enduring the Norweigan coffee-fueled gossip about her cinnamon-less rhubarb bread every Sunday at church.

You could easily whip this up in the mixer, but with quick bread I like the 'ol bowl and wooden spoon. The mixer feels like overkill.


So what to make for dinner?

Sauerkraut hotdish, anyone?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Munchkin House

If I were tiny enough to live in a mushroom cap house like gnomes or Smurfs, I would snub the corporate mushroom-house-building machine and instead live in this happy little nook underneath the rhubarb canopy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Apricot Trees

So I told you about my lemon and lime trees. And yes, they are alive and well, thanks for asking.

But I didn't tell you about the rest of my fruit trees.

I've basically decided to turn my tiny backyard into an orchard. In addition to my apple tree and the sour cherry bushes that our neighbors so generously passed on to us, I've planted a plum tree, a sweet cherry tree, and a pear tree, all supposedly self-pollinating and ok for our harsh northern climate (time will tell).

And then came the apricot trees.

I ordered two Goldcot apricot trees with the plan to grow them as espaldier trees against this wall:

That's Cash. Say hi, Cash.


Espaldier is when you train trees to grow against a wall, usually in fancy symmetrical forms. Remember that I'm a lazy gardener, so my espaldier apricot trees will be free-form. How hard can it be to grow a flat tree? Plant it close to the wall, trim off any branches that aren't going to work, and train the rest to follow some wire guides, right? That's my plan, anyway.

So I receive a long box, open it up, and see this notation on the receipt:

They are out of 2'-4' trees, so they are sending me 1'-2' trees instead? They can't do that! While I'm writing a complaint letter in my head, I check out the trees.

Hmm, this box looks awfully full...

(That's what she said.)

I pull out the contents and find four trees!

Upon closer inspection of the receipt, I see the 2 for 1 notation. I don't remember ordering 2 for 1 trees...and how am I going to fit four apricot trees in my yard?

So as I ponder that, I notice little rubber bands holding together the branches. So I start removing those, only to notice that they aren't branches at all, but completely separate trees...

Eight trees! I only wanted two!

As I have no use for eight apricot trees, I started calling friends and family and quickly found good homes for the unwanted little dears.

And no complaint letter was written.