Sunday, January 25, 2009

Edible Landscapes

Seed catalogs fill my snow-covered mailbox and dreams of this spring's vegetable garden fill my head. Every year we rip out a little more lawn and fill it with vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs, making our small little statement about the ridiculous nature of typical suburban agriculture, devoted to growing (and cutting) nothing but Kentucky bluegrass. But what if the most famous lawn in America planted a vegetable garden? I came across this cute little video and had to share. Who knew that sheep used to graze the White House lawn?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Restaurant Update: The Walrus

News for Bismarck locals - The Walrus restaurant is under new management and the future looks bright. The best waitress in the joint (I believe her name is Jill?) bought the place! Yes, the woman who has been clearing our empty beer glasses from 5 'til close for the past three years, the woman who knows that K's (or "The Bald Guy," as she calls him) drink of choice is Miller with Clamato, she is now owner/operator. How cool is that?

For non-locals, when in Bis, be sure to check out the Walrus, just a block west of the Capitol. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's an Italian place with a cozy, friendly vibe and probably the biggest beer selection in town - you can't help but want to be a regular. My favorites are the Tuscan salad with a big glass of house wine or garlic fries with Newcastle...or root beer, at least for the next 10 weeks until the stork flies in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Michelle Obama's Shortbread Cookies

Today is supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Yup, some mathematicians with way too much time on their hands factored in post-holiday blues, mid-winter blues, Monday mornings, and failed New Year resolutions and decided that today is the lowest of the low, baby. Chew on that.

However, I think they forgot to calculate in the Obama factor, because frankly, it's optimism all over the place today. A day of service in honor of MLK Jr - I know they've been doing this before, but combined with the upcoming inauguration, volunteerism and service came to the forefront in a dazzling way. Go-bama, go.

But I have a confession to make. Barack is great and all, with his articulate speech and big squinty smile, but I have a major girl crush of Michelle. I mean, look at this woman. Brains, strength, class, beauty, what's not to love?

Oh, and did I mention she makes a mean shortbread cookie?

The news hounds love a silly little story like competing cookie recipes between Mrs. McCain and Mrs. Obama, especially when the McCain recipe is found to be (*gasp*) ripped from Hershey's website. Frankly, who cares, as I'm sure Michelle doesn't spend too many Saturday afternoons wearing a flour-dusted apron either, but since the Obama family is on the way to the White House, and since I adore shortbread, I had to try out Michelle's now-infamous cookie recipe.

I don't typically use cake flour so I'm not used to its fine consistency. After mixing the batter, the flour practically disappeared and I ended up with what appeared to be a bowl full of flavored butter. At that point, I may have doubted Mrs. Obama for a moment, but filled with a spirit of hope and remaining open to change, I spread the butteryliciousness on a jelly roll pan and placed it in the oven. 30 minutes later, I have a pan full of yummy cookies, modest and simple in appearance but perfection with texture and flavor (don't skip the lemon and orange zests!).

No matter what your political affiliations, you have to admit she had the guts to give out a cookie recipe with booze in it. That's worth bonus points in my book.

Michelle Obama's Shortbread Cookies

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg yolks
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 teaspoon each orange and lemon zest
2 tablespoons amaretto (almond liqueur)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg white
Chopped nuts or dried fruit (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix together butter and 1 ½ cups of sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time and beat until smooth. Stir in flour, zest, amaretto and salt, and mix only until everything is incorporated. Spread dough evenly onto baking pan and brush top of dough with egg white and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle with nuts or fruit if desired. Bake until golden brown, approximately 25 minutes. Cool for a short time, then cut while still warm.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cabbage with Apples

About a month ago, I posted this photo to say "Hey, look at all our snow! Isn't this funny?"

Well, it's getting a little ridiculous now. None has melted and plenty more has fallen. Consider the same view today.

Oh, and it's -30 degrees out. Cheers.

Our meals have turned wintery as well. More meat, more potatoes, and I've been raiding our freezer for the produce we put away last summer. Zucchini from last summer's harvest never tasted so good, and those garden green beans frozen in August were a welcome addition to a 3-bean salad this week.

I still buy some veggies at the supermarket, but when the broccoli offerings looked limp and unappetizing this week, my hearty German-from-Russia food heritage took over as I picked up a crisp head of green cabbage instead. Digging in the freezer, I grabbed a bag of this fall's apple slices and made, well, Cabbage with Apples. You have a better name for it? "Sweet sauerkraut" just doesn't sound appetizing, so we'll stick to Cabbage with Apples. Regardless, add a couple homemade bratwurst and you've got a classic winter dinner.

Tell you what, I'll clean up the dishes if you go out and finish the snow shoveling. Deal?

Cabbage With Apples - adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 Tablespoons butter
1 small head green cabbage, shredded
2-3 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup apple cider
Heaping spoonful of apricot jam
Salt and pepper
A squeeze of lemon juice (about 1 Tablespoon)

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add cabbage, apples, and apple cider; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender and apples are falling apart, about 20 mins (add more liquid if drying out). Stir in jam, season to taste with salt and pepper, squeeze lemon over mixture, and serve.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Delicious Revolution

Leave it to Alice Waters to condense all my Rhubarb & Venison principles in one simple list of good eating guidelines. Bring on the Revolution!

An excerpt from her book The Art of Simple Food:

(These) are the principles of a delicious revolution, one that can reconnect our families and communities with the most basic human values, provide the deepest delight for all our senses, and assure our well-being for a lifetime.

Eat locally & sustainably
Eat seasonally
Shop at farmers' markets
Plant a garden
Conserve, compost & recycle
Cook simply
Cook together
Eat together
Remember food is precious

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Classic Almond Biscotti

I'm a big tea drinker. Black tea, green tea, iced, oolong, hibiscus - you brew it, I'll drink it. No sugar or cream, please, but maybe a touch of milk with the black tea, thanks. I'm not sure where this tea thing came from, as my family is more the Sanka type, but I'm rolling with it.

Tea and toast is my favorite combo, but I had a bunch of sliced almonds left over from my holiday baking, so I decided to make some biscotti. I know some people like to stuff biscotti with chocolates and fruits, drowning them after baking with white chocolate drizzles and such. If that's your bag, go for it and consider this recipe as a starting point for your creation, but I like it plain and simple.

Adapted from Bob's Red Mill Baking Book, this includes more whole wheat flour than you'll usually see in biscotti recipes. By using sliced almonds instead of whole, the biscotti loaves will be much easier to cut apart. I'm a lazy baker, so I don't make pretty cuts, but a long sharp serrated knife is your best bet. Cutting loaves straight across is easiest, but a diagonal cut looks fancy schmancy.

Almond Biscotti
1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup sliced almonds

Sift together flours, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In a separate large bowl, cream eggs and sugar together, then beat in butter. Add extracts and almonds; mix well. Stir in flour mixture until a dough forms. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto floured surface and shape into two 12" long logs. Place on baking sheet and bake 20 mins at 350 degrees, or until just beginning to brown.

Remove logs and let rest on sheet for 10 minutes. Cut each log into 1/2" thick slices, return slices to baking sheet, and bake 10-12 minutes. Turn slices over and bake another 3 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and enjoy.

Ingredient Upgrades

I hope my mom wasn't offended when I sent her this article, but I couldn't help it. When thinking about mom's pantry, there are a few things that drive me nuts, namely 10-year old cans of dusty spices, maple-flavored pancake syrup, imitation vanilla extract, and powdered green-can Parmesean cheese. And she knows it, so it's not evil that I'm writing about it here. So I've been slowly, subversively trying to bring about a change in her kitchen to fresh spices and real food, and this article demonstrated the value of this in a simple, direct way. It's not snobbery, it's just trying to help; is that so wrong?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Year of the Un-Diet

My usual online food pages are clogged right now with New Year's dieting stuff. File this article under the "Oh Pul-leeze!!" heading, with even Gwyneth Paltrow going on a New Year's diet.

I'm not one to talk about dieting, being six months pregnant and all (18 pounds gained and still going strong!). However, I know so many are thinking about it, even if they aren't announcing their new diet to the world a la Gwyneth. But we all know deep down that diets don't work. Look at the cover of this month's Oprah magazine for proof. This woman can pay someone to do nothing but swat food off of her fork, yet even she falls off the wagon at times.

So let's call 2009 the Year of the Un-Diet, embracing good food and moderation. In that spirit, here are my favorite Un-Diet books that will help anyone reconnect to their plate in a healthy, sustainable way. Skip buying that copy of The South Beach Diet and check out one of these from your local library.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Food Matters by Mark Bittman

Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck

Friday, January 2, 2009

Five Minute Bread Baking - Part 2

Well, time for an update on the Five Minute Bread Baking project I wrote about earlier. Did you catch the comment on the post from one of the authors? Who cares if it's a canned comment that they leave on everyone's blog that mentions their book via a Twitter search? I was impressed.

So instead of starting with the Master Recipe as they recommend in the book, I made the semolina dough as I had some semolina flour I wanted to use up. The recipe made enough dough for four loaves. I wanted to test the book's claim that you could keep the dough in your fridge for up to two weeks, so here's the report.

Day 1 - semolina bread - turned out beautifully, don't you just want to tear off that crusty end, douse it in olive oil, and nosh? However, I didn't get to taste it as I took the loaf to a holiday party and it wasn't cut into as the hostess was already serving other breads.

Day 4 - pizza crust (oops, no pic) - dough was too sticky to slide pizza onto baking stone in oven, so just baked it on a cookie sheet. Turned out fine, but probably would've been better baked on the stone to develop better crust.

Day 8 - foccaccia - wow, this was yummy! Basically patted out a chunk of the dough, sprinkled with sauteed onion, rosemary, coarse salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil and baked. Dough had more of that full sourdough-ish flavor, really chewy.

Day 12 - one small chunk of dough remaining and it wasn't looking as fresh as last week, but some yeast bubbles were still apparent, so I went ahead and made sun-dried tomato and parmesean bread. I'm guessing the yeast wasn't very active as it didn't rise at all prior to baking. Not the prettiest loaf, but it had fantastic flavor. I ended up eating the whole thing!

Final verdict? I'm definitely going to keep doing this. You can't beat the convenience of having the dough waiting for you in the fridge, although I'll try to keep the dough no longer than 10 days. All the recipes I tried were sound and tasty, and the breads had a lovely texture thanks to the baking techniques recommended in the book. And c'mon, the co-author left a comment on my blog, he gets points for that.

They have recipes for softer American-style loaves as well, which my hubby prefers, so that may be my next batch. Ah, even in bread we make compromises for the sake of love.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year, New Picture

Happy New Year! 2009 is going to be a good one, I can feel it in my bones.

In the spirit of the new year, I changed the header picture. This lovely shot of the prairie was taken by my dear friends Shireen and Nick last summer during their adventures on the Enchanted Highway. Yes, one could spend an entire summer traversing this state to see all the "world's largest" statues honoring the animals that have helped shape North Dakota, most notably the Holstein cow, the bison, and the turtle on a snowmobile. However, nowhere will you see this spirit of prairie pride as concentrated as on the Enchanted Highway.

Plan your summer vacations now, folks.