Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spaghetti with Zucchini

Zucchini has a way of creeping up on you. Meandering through the garden today, I harvested this monster:

That pic doesn't do it justice. To give you the idea of its dimensions, here is the zucchini on a plate:

Actually, that's a kids' plate and fork. See, that's my idea of a joke. Lame, but funny to me, and it's my blog, so mnaah. Here's the adult version:

Ok, enough adult version zucchini pics for today.

So what do to with a ginourmous zucchini? The typical North Dakotan answer is zucchini bread, and trust me, zucchini bread will be coming soon.

However, it seems a bit ungraceful to shred up the first zucchini of the year and disguise it in quick bread. I wanted to eat this zucchini in its full vegetable glory, mixing it with other local ingredients to create a dinner from the prairies. We're blessed with having Dakota Growers Pasta Company right in our backyard, but forget the Ragu - when the first zucchini lands on your kitchen counter, grab a box of home-grown spaghetti (spaghetti trees are native to ND, you know) and make this delish Italian dish.

Spaghetti with Zucchini (say it with your best Italian accent: "Spa-GHET-ti wid Zuc-CHIN-ni")

1 - 16 oz. box spaghetti (Dakota Growers)
1 lb. Italian sausage (homemade)
1 large zucchini, seeded and chopped (backyard garden)
2/3 cup dry white wine (Maple River Winery dandelion wine)
1 cube vegetable bouillon (store-bought)
1/2 - 14 oz. can Great Northern beans (store-bought)
Parmesean cheese (store-bought)

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Meanwhile, brown Italian sausage in large pot. Add wine, bouillon cube, and zucchini. Bring to a boil, then simmer. Add beans, and continue to simmer until zucchini is crisp-tender (don't overcook!). Add drained spaghetti to mixture, toss, and serve with Parmesean.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Berry Pie

After the meringue shrinkage incident, I needed a little redemption. I just wanted to make a pie that looked pretty. That's it. Then I encountered Smitten Kitchen's absolutely gorgeous nectarine, mascarpone, and gingersnap creation. Dear heaven, did that look delicious, no doubt helped by the fact that Smitten Kitchen has a knack for food porn photography.

Knowing that I'd destroy nectarines if I tried to slice them like that, I took the berry route and ended up with this beauty.

And the taste? Think cheesecake wearing a summer dress: creamy and light without the heavy molar-rotting sweetness. Better yet, it's practically no-bake. With a pre-made graham cracker crust (check the baking aisle), you could whip this baby up in 15 mins, no oven needed. And for us Bismarckians, that means more time for river ratting.

In our neck of the woods, look for mascarpone in the specialty cheese section of the grocery store.

Summer Berry Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which was adapted from Bon Appetit, which was adapted from...

1 sleeve graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 and 1/2 pints mixed berries

Crust: Place graham crackers in a large ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add butter and blend until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press mixture over bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart or pie pan. Bake crust at 350°F until color darkens, about 8 minutes. Cool completely.

Filling: Beat ingredients until smooth. Spread filling in prepared crust.

Topping: Top with berries. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Optional step: warm some fruit jam and brush over topping. It makes the fruit shiny, since we all like shiny pretty things.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie

Since I'm married without children and younger than 72 years old, people tend to ask when/if I'm having kids. The answer: I don't know, maybe? Well, today I had a practice run, hanging out with Amber's little girl Emma while the baby mama took a little time to relax. Emma and I ended up being pretty good buds. I took her for a walk, she spit up on my arm. I fed her, she farted on my leg. You know, all the stuff girlfriends do.

But who can resist spit up from a cutie like this?

Last week I saw the movie Waitress with Keri Russell as a pie-making guru. She sings a little song during the movie:

Baby don't you cry
Gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie
With a heart in the middle

So while folding socks with Emma at my side, I was thinking about that movie, that tune, those pies. I thought about those fresh eggs I got this week from the egg lady for $1 a carton. I thought about that lemon juice from Arizona that I still had in the freezer. Hmm. Lemon. Eggs. Pie.

Lemon meringue it is.

Lemon meringue is the retro kitsch queen of pie. Bright yellow filling, the jellied consistency, fluffy topping to show off the fact that you have a kitchen appliance that will whip egg whites that high. And y'all know I'm a sucker for kitchen kitsch. I had visions of pulling this pie out of the fridge, with its huge pile of lightly toasted meringue crowning a bright yellow lemon filling, perhaps wearing pearls and heels with my hair in a elegant twist, a la June Cleaver.

So I made the pie, cooled it, put it in the fridge to set, and then this is what happened:

Shrinkage. I didn't push the meringue close enough to the edges. Pie 1, Beth 0.

But the pie still tasted fine and the baby survived my novice babysitting session, so all is right with the world.

And in case you are wondering, there are no babies in my immediate future, but it's always good to know I can borrow this giggling gal for an afternoon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Bounty is Near

Right now I am blissfully content after spending an hour in the garden pulling crabgrass. In fact, I do believe that a direct path to happiness is dirt under one's fingernails. To top it all off, we have tiny cucumbers and not-so-tiny zucchini already! I'm just giddy at the sweet little veggies hidden under the bushy plants, so humor me by allowing a few photos of my babies.

Get ready for a zucchini bonanza next month!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Midwestern Jambalaya

Flipping through my mother-in-law's gossip magazines this weekend, I spotted a pic of Jessica Simpson wearing a shirt proclaiming "Real Girls Eat Meat." I thought it was lame, realizing it was a jab at veg country queen Carrie Underwood, and that the media loves a rivalry, and Ms. Simpson might sell one more country album because of that stupid shirt.

Then I was sad because I knew all of that useless info.

And now I'm sad because I'm spreading the stupid publicity.

And now, although I'm nearly vegetarian in my usual dining choices, I'm offering up three, count 'em, three animals in one dinner dish. And I'm not talking turduckhen.

Is this the power of suggestion?

Sidenote: may I suggest never eating anything with "turd" in the name?

I don't know if I have words to explain how much my guy likes jambalaya. It's meaty, it's's kinda like him (wink wink). Whenever we happen to be in the vicinity of Rapid City, SD, we work our schedule around a jambalaya dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Co, washing it down with the house-brewed root beer.

Wait, does this internet thing go any farther south than Kansas? If anyone from the bayou is reading this, allow me to apologize in advance for liberally applying the term "jambalaya" to my spiced mix of rice, tomato, meat, and shrimp. I know that South Dakota is not New Orleans. I know I can't come close to the real deal since I'm -42% Creole. I know you'll either laugh or cry at the recipe to follow, especially since I don't add the holy trinity element of celery.

Despite this, allow me to butcher the meaning of "jambalaya" under the flag of Imitation Is Flattery.


Midwestern Jambalaya

1/2 lb. venison sausage, sliced
1/2 lb. grouse, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 lb. frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 cups broth (veggie or chicken)
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon basil
Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste
1 bay leaf

Heat oil in large pot, add sausage and grouse. Once nearly cooked through, add onion, green pepper, and garlic; saute until soft. Add broth, tomatoes, rice, spices, and bay leaf; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 mins. Stir in shrimp, cover again, and simmer until rice is tender. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Tag

Received in the mail today:

One buck deer tag for the Badlands this fall.

Visions of venison dance in our heads.

Happy dance ensues.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Last Banana?

In an effort to continue localizing my diet, I've stopped buying bananas. Well, "stopped" is a pretty strong word...let's just say it's not on my weekly shopping list anymore. Yes, the time has come to consider my banana habit and the economics behind it (check out the Freakonomics blog for a quick overview).

If you think about it, bananas are the slimeball of the fruit world: cheap, easy, and definitely not from around here. Despite this questionable persona, bananas are nearly as American as apple pie. Consider Exhibit A: my mom has a banana hanger sitting on her kitchen counter; it's a wooden stand devoted to nothing else but holding bananas. Needless to say, banana bread constituted 14% of my caloric intake as a child.

I've purchased bananas out of habit, since they are always readily available, so darn easy to eat, and even when overripe you can make good use out of them. Plus, my bulimic college roommate said that potassium is, like, important. However, as I turn to a local diet, I'm now ready to move bananas from the dietary staple to the occasional purchase category. Granted, this is easy to do in the fruit fiesta that is July; ask me about this again in January.

But I still had one lonely brown-spotted Cavendish (the ONLY imported banana's that for biodiversity?) sitting on my counter. Can. Not. Waste. Food. So, ta-da, banana and blueberry muffins.

Since that poor banana traveled a thousand miles to get in your kitchen, show it some respect by actually eating it. Bananas freeze well. If you have overripe bananas, don't throw them out. Instead, just peel them, toss them in a ziploc bag, and save in the freezer until you are ready for smoothies or a banana muffin party. But when gathering your weekly groceries, always consider the source of your food, and get ready for some good old-fashioned banana inflation.

Gross, that was a sick thought you just had.

Banana Blueberry Muffins

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Dash of salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup blueberries

In large bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; stir just until moistened (batter will be lumpy). Fold in banana and blueberries. Spoon into a 12-cup greased muffin pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Angel Hair Pasta Salad

For Michelle and Carmen, who requested this quick recipe, saying it tastes like summer.

Angel Hair Pasta Salad

Serves 12

1 - 16 oz. package angel hair pasta, cooked al dente
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup white wine
1 - 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (with the juice)...or fresh if you've got 'em
Oregano and basil, fresh or dried
Handful of Kalamata olives
Handful of green pimiento-stuffed olives
Handful of crumbled feta a little more

Heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, saute quickly. Add 1/4 cup of white wine, let simmer for a few seconds, then add red pepper flakes and tomatoes. Simmer 5 mins. Add herbs and olives, then remove from heat. Toss with pasta, add a swirl of olive oil to keep pasta from sticking. Once completely cooled, toss with feta and serve.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Onion Tart

The Bismarck farmers' market is held in possibly the most unattractive place in the entire city: the Kmart parking lot. Only the gasification plant across the river rivals the ugly view one can behold in north Bismarck on Highway 83, aka Land of Telescoped Restaurant Signs. However, finding fresh veggies with the dirt still clinging on Saturday mornings makes it worth the trip.

Pulling into the parking lot, I see one lonely table, its flowered plastic tablecloth barely hanging on in the blustery winds. Admiring the lone farmer's gumption to sell produce in 35 mph gusts, I shove my car door open against the wind, jump away as it quickly slams behind me, and head towards the table.

The farmer lady greeted me and we started the ND weather talk. "Slow start growing vegetables this year, with the cold weather and dodging hail storms and all..." I perused her offerings: rhubarb, onions, and some fresh herbs. She was almost apologetic from the slim pickings, but I'll never leave a farmers' market empty-handed. As I already had plenty of rhubarb and herbs, I grabbed a bag full of Walla Walla and Red Hamburger onions and went home with thoughts of dinner.

With the cooler windy weather, I decided to turn the oven on and make an onion tart. It tasted pretty good, but not passing along the recipe since it still needs some tweaking; maybe cheese and/or Italian sausage with it next time? But I still enjoyed every bite, knowing that a flour mill in Harvey, a few egg-laying hens roosting just outside of town, and my friendly Kmart parking lot onion farmer all provided me with dinner this evening.

For that, I am grateful.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Corny Salsa

Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: I have only five more bags of frozen corn left in the deep freeze from last season. What a fantastic problem to have, too much corn straight from our uncle's farm, but with the current corn season right around the corner, I want to use it up and move on to the fresh stuff.

So I flip through Bon Appetit magazine and see a simple recipe for corn and jalapeno relish. For me, once you put jalapenos in, you've crossed the relish line and moved into salsa territory. Per my usual habit, I didn't really follow the recipe, and what I got turned out to be good enough that I'd like to share it with any other poor soul out there dealing with the same corny corn dilemma.

Ok, now that was corny.

We put the local twist on it, spooning it over grilled walleye with a side of garden lettuce. If you have black beans, cilantro, or chopped tomatoes on hand, throw them in with an extra squeeze of lime juice. Fantastico.

Corn Salsa

1 cup corn kernels
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Finely chopped jalapenos chiles, to taste
1/4 cup canola oil
Dash of kosher salt

Mix, chill, and serve.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

Baking isn't really a summer activity, but I was having cookie cravings and fig newtons just weren't cutting it. Have you heard of the chocolate chip cookie recipe with vanilla pudding? You must try these. They're like homemade Soft Batch.

If you need proof of its goodness, here is a rack of cookies that were sitting out on the counter to cool last night:

I didn't have time to put them away this morning, but here is the same rack when I arrived home from work today:

From the looks of it, my spouse mouse gives these two crumb-covered thumbs up.

Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in the instant pudding mix. Stir in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and baking soda, mix well. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop cookies by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Summer Blender Bliss

My sweetie and I just returned from a great weekend of camping and biking in the Black Hills.

Some highlights from the trip:

1) Coasting 15 miles down the Mickelson bike trail. Notice I didn't mention the 15 miles uphill prior to that carefree coasting...

2) The $14.95 crab and prime rib buffet at the Silverado. I'm not usually one for buffets, but c'mon, all you can eat crab for $15?

3) This picture, proving once again that there are no normal pictures of me.

So we come home to a simmering hot Bismarck. After hauling everything in, unpacking, and throwing a load of clothes in the washer, we needed a break. A girl's best friend during the summer is the blender, so here are two favs to beat the heat.

Orange Julius
6 oz. frozen oj concentrate
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8-12 ice cubes

Blend and serve.

4 scoops vanilla ice cream
1 cup cold strong coffee
1 cup milk
2-3 Tablespoons sugar (to taste)
8-12 ice cubes

Blend and serve.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4th

In the spirit of independence, a few pictures from my modern-day victory garden:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I Heart Mark

Let me just clarify something for the listening audience. All three of you. It's not really that I love to cook; I simply love food. Fresh food. Local food. Real food. And in this day and age, if you want real food, you've gotta cook.

Or do you?

See, Mark Bittman understands me. Never met him? Allow me to introduce you right here. You can thank me later. #14, #53, and #90 have me especially excited in ways I choose not to explain further.

This is my kind of cooking. Fast and fresh meals, a paragraph recipe instead of a page, celebrating the best of the season, and not a single can of cream of mushroom soup in sight. It's because of articles like this that my copy of his cookbook How To Cook Everything is dog-eared and covered in splatters, while my Joy of Cooking remains pristine.

You see, Mark understands that I don't have a/c, so I don't want to heat up the oven and bake a casserole in July.

Mark understands that there are a million and one things I want to do outside right now, and stirring a pot of risotto for 45 mins didn't make the list.

Mark understands that I want to spend the dinner hour lounging on the sunny back porch with my sweetie, not basting a turkey.

So here's to a summer of fresh, seasonal, slapdash cooking. Grab it out of the garden, chop, season, serve, dine, laugh, and enjoy these precious golden drops called summer.