Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Homemade Granola

I may be coming down with a touch of clausterphobia. I can't remember the last time Bismarck had this much snow. Consider the view from my back door.


At this very moment, my husband is risking life and limb, shovelling snow off the roof. Maybe I should be out there helping, at least providing moral support and/or breaking his fall.

But it's cold out.

Well, maybe I can brave the elements long enough to grab a picture.


So now that we can rest easy knowing the roof isn't going to cave in, let's make granola.

I think my body is rejecting white flour and white sugar now that the holidays have past, but the baking itch remains. Granola seems to be a good way to kick off the New Year. Plus, it's tough to find a good granola in the grocery store. It's either too sweet or too hard or not enough of this or too much of that. The only way to get it right is to do it yourself, and it's actually really easy to make.


The results from this recipe? Sweet, but not too sweet; crunchy, but not too crunchy; and packed full of the nuts and fruits instead of the $5 bag of dry oat chunks you get at the supermarket. I've been eating the results three times a day, I can't get enough of it.

100% of the recipe credit goes to Slashfood, I just made some simple adaptions. Thanks to this recipe I'm considering a career change from corporate office manager to Granola Superstar, supplying wholesome deliciousness to the masses. Whaddya think?

Feel free to make substitutions with the nuts and fruits, and be patient as it bakes - it won't start looking toasty until 20-30 minutes into baking.

Homemade Granola
2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ (optional)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey

Mix oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, and wheat germ in a large bowl. Measure oil into the measuring cup and swirl it around before pouring into bowl. Measure out the honey in the same, unwashed cup. The oil will help the honey exit the cup. Toss everything together until evenly coated and then pour out into a large roasting pan.

Bake at 300 degrees for 30-40 minutes, turning it with a spatula every ten minutes or so until mixture is an even golden brown. When it is finished cooking, returned the baked granola to the mixing bowl, add the dried fruit, stir to combine, and allow to cool, stirring gently several times as it cools so it doesn't clump together too much. Enjoy!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Semi-Ho Sandra Lee

Can I be allowed one more rant? Promise I'll get back to the food in the next post. Let's discuss the train wreck that is Sandra Lee and her "semi-homemade" philosophy. How does this woman have a cooking show? For those who have not yet experienced the wonders of Sandra Lee, check out her Kwanzaa Cake, because nothing spells "delicious" like cold apple pie filling and Corn Nuts on a store-bought cake.

Yes, Corn Nuts. Seriously.

See, Sandra has a method behind her madness. She calls it the 70/30 philosophy. According to the Ore-Ida pre-packaged potato website, which includes her bio as their official spokesperson, her concoctions combine "70% ready-made products with 30% fresh and creative touches". So the core of your meals come out of a package, while fresh produce, meat, and dairy is considered a garnish. No wonder Ore-Ida loves her.

Hey, I agree that convenience items have their place, and I have the Annie's boxed mac-and-cheese in my cupboard to prove it. However, Ms. Lee takes this to dangerous level. Any nutritionist will tell you that a majority of what you eat should come from the periphery of the grocery store - that's where you'll find the fresh, healthy food. By advising people to flip this around and focus on the center aisles is irresponsible at best.

And don't get me started on her holiday Christmas wreath thingy.

Ok, I'm done. Details from Sunday's baking marathon to come.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Onion Rant

Allow me a moment to get something off my chest. Today at the grocery store, I had two options for yellow onions.

- Option #1: organic USA onions for 89 cents/lb (3 pound bag)
- Option #2: regular onions imported from Peru on sale for 68 cents/lb.

Personally, I'll spend the extra 20 cents to support the onion farmer in my backyard that has made the choice not to poison the ground and my onion-eating family with chemicals. I grabbed my bag of organic onions, but unfortunately, it appeared that the imported onions were the hot seller.

I wish people would think for two seconds about the repercussions of their purchases. Lowest price doesn't always mean highest value.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Leftover Holiday Turkey Soup

Ahhh. December 26th. The cards have been sent out. The crumpled wrapping paper has been picked up. The relatives are packing up to go home. The pants are fitting a little tighter this morning. Yes, the holiday orgy has ended, leaving behind good meals, good memories, and hopefully that Red Rider BB Gun that you've always wanted.


Or the metal strainer that you've always wanted. What? You didn't ask Santa for a metal strainer this year?


My mom decided to go all out this year for the Christmas feast by making turkey AND prime rib. Say the words "prime rib" and my hubby starts smiling with a faraway look in his eye and a 50% chance of him telling you about the all-you-can-eat crab and prime rib buffet at the Silverado casino in Deadwood, SD. He's a fan.

Of course, Christmas dinner always ends with leftovers. During the after-dinner search for suitable Tupperware containers, Mom was going to throw out the turkey carcass. She must have noticed my look of anguish. A turkey carcass is culinary gold, the bones and leftover meat containing such concentrations of flavor that it seems sinfully wasteful to throw it out. Luckily, she put it in a stock pot for me and today I'm making leftover turkey soup.


There is this crazy idea out there that making homemade soup is difficult, especially when talking about boiling up bones to make stock. In reality, it takes about 15 minutes of total labor on your part; the rest of the time, the pot simmers away, filling your home with a fantastic warm aroma that I would call "Grandma's House on Thanksgiving Day". The resulting soup is better than anything coming out of a can, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you've created a delicious meal out of scraps of meat and bits of vegetables. How North Dakotan of you.

This soup can be as simple or as complex as you want. I just used carrots and rice; you may want to go crazy with veggie additions. Dig in your vegetable drawer and use what you have. I'm sketching out a recipe here, but in the end, this soup will be best if you go with your gut, just like grandma would've done.

PS - I don't recommend this soup with a smoked turkey carcass. Trust me on that one.

Leftover Holiday Turkey Soup

1 turkey carcass - leave on any meat and skin
1-2 onions, quartered with skin on
Vegetables (Any combination of carrot, celery, peas, corn, potatoes, turnips, peeled and seeded tomato, yams, green beans)
Grain (best options: egg noodles, rice, barley, or orzo)
Seasonings (bay leaf, whole peppercorns, bouquet garni, salt, soy sauce)

In a large stock pot with turkey carcass, add water until carcass is nearly covered (approx. 4-6 quarts of water, depending on size of turkey). Add onions (leaving the skin on adds that nice golden color to the stock) along with celery, carrots, a couple bay leaves, 6-8 whole peppercorns, and bouquet garni. If you are missing any of these items besides the turkey and the onion, don't worry about it, just leave it out.


Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer so only small bubbles boil up to the surface. Simmer for 1-2 hours, checking occasionally to skim any foam off the surface. Strain out the stock. Remove any meat from the carcass and reserve for soup; discard the rest of the carcass along with the softened vegetables.


Yes, those are my honey's gorgeous hands helping out. Love to see a man at work.

At this point, you have a lot of turkey stock. Feel free to freeze some for future use.

Return the strained stock to the pot. Season to taste with salt and/or soy sauce. Add soup grains and vegetables. Bring to a boil, then simmer until grain is cooked through and vegetables are softened. Add turkey meat, heat through, and serve. A splash of cream in each serving bowl is a nice touch.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

My husband and I had just left Fiesta Villa. It was late on a frigid, below-zero night, and we scurried to our vehicle parked a block away. Right by the billiard hall across the street sat an older woman on a bench, wrapped in layers of sweaters, coats, and scarves, slowly sipping a hot drink from a nearby gas station. She had her cart of belongings beside her, covered with black plastic. It took me a moment to realize that she was homeless. We greeted her, she greeted us back, and we kept walking.

I don't know why she wasn't at the local homeless shelter, I don't know why she didn't hitchhike south for the winter, but it was a stark reminder for me that our humble little community still has people in need. Many of us feel a bit cash-strapped lately, but even a little bit helps. With time off from my job over the holidays, I've been cleaning out closets and cupboards, and my recent kitchen clean-up resulted in a couple bags full of non-perishable food cluttering my shelves (how did I end up with 5 cans of kidney beans?). If you find yourself in the same situation, Ruth Meiers Hospitality House and the Ronald McDonald House will be happy to take those items off your hands.

Stealing a phrase from a card we received recently: Peace on Earth will come and stay when we live Christmas everyday.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cooking Shows on Hulu

Our house is one of the few US households without cable TV. In fact, we don't even get local TV stations. Instead, we get our entertainment fix from Netflix DVDs and the good 'ol internet. Frankly, I'm surprised more people don't cut the cable or satellite since so many TV shows and movies are now available online.

However, I do miss Food Network. That is, until today, as I just discovered that hulu.com posts Food Network cooking clips! Rachael, Tyler, even "add-some-more-whippin'-cream" Paula, the gang's all there. For food porn at its finest, look no further than Giada's Everyday Italian, each episode filled with the comforts of pasta and cleavage. No wonder she has such a devoted following.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lobster Walleye

This is our new favorite way to prepare walleye, created on a whim one evening when we were out of Shore Lunch. We call it lobster walleye because the buttery flesh reminds us of, well, you know...

Sorry that I only have a picture of leftovers, but you get the idea.



Lobster Walleye

Place 1 or 2 lbs. walleye fillets on half of a large piece of aluminum foil. Season with lemon pepper and seasoned salt. Place a pat of butter on top of each fillet. Fold other half of aluminum foil on top of fish and wrap up edges securely. Place in a 400 degree oven for 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets, or until fish is flaky. Serve with lemon wedges.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chili

We’re used to cold winters in North Dakota, but even the hardiest souls get a little itchy after spending a week with temperatures hovering below zero degrees. Most of us don’t spend much time outside during these days, but the chill still gets into your bones, tenses your muscles, freezes your fingers, and makes you nostalgic for the simple summer pleasure of going outside in just a t-shirt.

However, with winter comes the joy of hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meals and lately, chili has been on my mind. My friend Jenny wanted to make chili this past weekend, so I went with her to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients. We ran into someone we knew in the seasonings aisle and started chatting – wouldn’t you know it, that person was making chili too.




Search for a chili recipe and you’ll come up with a million and one variations: beanless, meatless, white, green, spicy, super spicy, chicken, turkey, tofu – you name it, someone has a chili recipe for it. But what if you just want chili? Just a classic pot o’ chili like Ma used to make? Well, here’s the recipe: simple, easy comfort food on a cold, cold night. With cornbread on the side, please. Not only because cornbread is good with chili, but also because I’ll use any excuse to turn on the oven and bake this time of year.

Note: this is chili as my German-Russian heritage knows it, meaning absolutely not spicy. If you like heat, add it as needed.

Chili

1 lb. ground meat (we use elk or venison)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ green pepper, chopped
1 Tablespoon chili powder
A few shakes ground cumin
Salt and pepper
1 – 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 – 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 – 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

In a large pot, start browning meat over medium heat. Halfway through cooking, add onion, garlic, and green pepper and continue cooking until meat is brown and veggies softened. Season meat with seasonings, then add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and beans. Simmer 10 minutes or until ready to serve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's not the size that matters...

A new favorite quote that I must share:

Size and equipment don’t count nearly as much as devotion, passion, common sense, and, of course, experience.

This is from a recent article by Mark Bittman and he is talking about cooking, of course...why, what did you THINK he was talking about? Dirty.

If ever the moment comes that you feel insecure about cooking because you lack a Viking range, custom cabinets, and/or a set of Wusthof Grand Prix knives, keep this quote in mind and read the rest of the article here. Simplicity makes me happy, maybe you'll have the same feeling...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mission: Potluck

Location: Home, 7:20 AM
Status: 7-layer dip ready to go for today's office holiday potluck, aka "Food Day." Platter is heavy - surprised that seven little layers could weigh so much. Nothing like a heavy duty chip dip to get you in the holiday spirit.


Location: Office Potluck Central, 9:35 AM
Status: Setting out the dip for those morning munchers, conveniently giving me an opportunity to browse the offerings of others. Hoping for minimal leftovers as I don't want to be eating chip dip for the next three days.

Location: Office Potluck Central, 11:30 AM
I think they liked it. Leftover worries unfounded.


Mexican Seven-Layer Dip

I used a quiche dish, but a 9x13" dish would probably be best. Just spread each layer as follows.

Layer 1: Mix 16 oz. can refried beans and 1 packet bold taco seasoning.

Layer 2: Mix 16 oz. light sour cream, 8 oz. light cream cheese, and 4 oz. can diced green chiles.

Layer 3: Prepared guacamole

Layer 4: 16 oz. salsa

Layer 5: Shredded cheese

Layer 6 & 7: Chopped tomatoes, chopped green pepper, chopped green onions, chopped lettuce, sliced black olives, or some combination thereof.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Five Minute Bread Baking

-38F WINDCHILL... BLIZZARD CONDITIONS AND DANGEROUS WIND CHILLS TODAY AND TONIGHT ACROSS CENTRAL AND WESTERN NORTH DAKOTA....BLIZZARD AND NEAR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS CAN BE EXPECTED THIS MORNING DUE TO STRONG NORTHWEST WINDS 20 TO 30 MPH WITH GUSTS OF 40 TO 45 MPH.

I love a good blizzard. Snowed in, nowhere to go, a brand-new cookbook fortuitously arriving in the mail the day before - this is my ideal day.

I only hope it keeps blowing through Monday morning.

Granted, the dogs still need to be fed and maybe eventually I'll get out and attempt shoveling the sidewalk.

Better yet, we'll hold off on that shoveling idea.

So the new cookbook. My three friends who read this blog know that my true love is baking, especially bread baking, and that my future occupational ambitions teeter somewhere between opening a bakery and installing home wind turbines (we can talk wind turbines another day). Any Saturday morning, you can typically find me in the kitchen with the dough hook attachment running on my red KitchenAid mixer, flour dusting the counters and my black yoga pants.

But according to a slew of complimentary book reviews on Amazon, my Saturday morning routine is about to be turned on its head with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I had to chuckle when I found out the authors are from Minneapolis. Of course, only a couple of practical, bread-crazed Midwesterners would come up with this!

The secret: make a big batch of high-moisture bread dough, keep it in the fridge (up to two weeks for the basic doughs), and cut off a grapefruit-sized chunk of dough to bake fresh whenever you want it. No kneading. No dough hooks. No kidding.

I made the 100% Whole Wheat recipe, which was printed in a Mother Earth News magazine article. It turned out great, but we ate through the bread too quickly, never testing the refrigerated dough theory to its fullest extent.

So my mission is to try out, to see if all the excitement around this book is justified. However, if the theory works and my bread baking routine is knocked down to only five minutes, I'll have to find another Saturday morning hobby.

I hear curling is making a comeback.

By the way, one of the authors, Zoe Francois, aka Minneapolis wedding cake extraordinaire, has an amazing baking blog that I will be adding to the favorites list. What can I say? It was love at first sight.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chocolate Penguins

All of the people in my office got the cutest holiday gift yesterday: chocolate penguins! They are so adorable, I had to take a picture and share.


I found the chocolatier's website and it's pretty impressive with great items for gifts and wedding favors. Even better, they use top-quality ingredients with a business philosophy of sustainability and environmental stewardship. Who knew delicious little penguins could be inspirational too?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Scenes from the Kitchen Butcher Shop

We are officially done deer hunting for the year! K filled his muzzle-loader tag west of Mandan. A muzzle loaded gun is basically an old-fashioned gun, where you manually pack in the gunpowder and bullet like they did in the old days. At least that's how I understand it, I'm still a rookie to all of this. One bullet, one shot, so you better make it a good one.


So when K comes home with a deer, the kitchen turns into a butcher shop and I do my best to be a good sport about the blood splatters on my shirt while helping grind meat. I still haven't seen Sweeney Todd, but chopping up massive quantities of meat will turn anyone into dark comedy aficionado for the evening.

So in that spirit, allow me to post a few pictures to commemorate the end of deer hunting and butchering season for this year. Light stomachs beware:




Monday, December 8, 2008

Stove Top

Confession time: I'm a big fan of Stove Top stuffing. I know, it's processed, the sodium content is off the charts, and I'm sure your Aunt Sally's homemade stuffing is 1,000 times better. But if holiday meals are all about nostalgia and tradition, I'll be buying that turkey-flavored feat of stuffing engineering for many years to come.

However, I have to vent. Does anyone remember when Stove Top stuffing included chopped onion and celery in the basic cooking directions? Now it's just boil water and 1/4 cup "spread" - what the heck is "spread"? I know it's supposed to mean margarine, but "spread"? I always saute a little onion and celery in the pan before boiling the water - it ups the "je-nais-se-quoi" quotient a bit. Sauteed in butter, by the way, not "spread". It's so much better like this that I'm a bit disappointed that Kraft doesn't include this simple step in the instructions. Must we be that far removed from fresh produce as to eliminate the fresh onion/celery instructions?

Maybe it's time to try my hand at homemade stuffing, but the Stove Top nostalgia lingers...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stroopwaffels

My friend Katie brought stroopwaffels to work one day. Sweet, delicate, smooth vanilla and caramel flavors - I was hooked. With the holidays approaching, I asked Katie if she would make me a couple dozen of these cookies. I know, bold to ask someone to bake for me, but I was more than willing to pay her for them. However, we then decided it would be much more fun if we made them together. Agreed!


Off to Katie's way-too-clean apartment I went, vanilla extract and sugars in tow. We plugged in her special stroopwaffel iron and got cookin'.




"Stroops," as Katie calls them, are a confection originally from Holland - thin waffled wafers, sandwiching a layer of homemade caramel. These are definitely more work than your average cookies, but I think it's worth it. I'm not a fan of one-food-specific kitchen appliances, and luckily Katie will let me borrow her iron whenever my stroop craving strikes, but if you really get into these cookies and/or homemade waffle cones, you could justify purchasing the iron.



We used Martha Stewart's stroopwaffel recipe (see it here), adding a tablespoon of cinnamon to the batter. For the caramel, we used Katie's family recipe for microwave caramel. After a previous bad experience burning caramel to a pan on the stovetop (IMPOSSIBLE to remove), I'm sticking with the microwave from now on.

Katie's Microwave Caramels

1 cup butter
2 and 1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in 2-quart dish. Microwave on high 3-4 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes and at the end. With no further stirring, continue to microwave on high 10-14 minutes or until 245 degrees (firm ball stage). Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla. Allow to stand 10 minutes, stirring several times. Pour into buttered 9 x 13 pan and cool. Score into individual caramels and wrap each in waxed paper.

If using caramel sauce for cookies, use it before cooling.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Ornaments

Happy Holidays! We're all about the laid-back, homemade Christmas in our house, and our tree reflects that. Here's a recipe for Christmas ornaments, easy-peasy and fun for kids both young and old. Can't wait for our niece and nephew to come over and help paint them! Of course, I had to paint a few myself...


Christmas Ornaments

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup salt
1 and 1/2 cups water

Blend flour and salt, add water and stir. Work dough into a ball and knead for a few minutes until smooth and pliable, adding flour if sticky and water if crumbly.

Roll out dough to 1/8". Cut out to desired shapes (if making ornaments, don't forget to poke a hole at the top for hanging). and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cool completely and decorate.