Thursday, April 30, 2009

Strawberry Salad

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar? Oui, oui, mon cherie.

They're kinda like Heidi Klum and Seal. At first, you think they make an odd couple, but the more you see them together, the more perfect they seem together. Even when they wear something ridiculous to a party, you still smile and root for them 'cuz they're so darn cute. And then you see their kids and you hope they stay together, if only to keep making such adorable babies with great hair.

Except I don't think strawberry-vinegar babies would have hair. At least I hope not.

Obviously I've been reading too much celebrity gossip lately.

Strawberry Salad

Mixed spring salad greens
Sliced strawberries
Toasted walnuts
Crumbled goat cheese or shaved Parmesean
Freshly cracked black pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

Assemble, toss, and serve.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Morning Glory Muffins

Can I just throw my two cents out there for a moment? Be warned, baby rant coming up.

Is it just me, or is there a lot of unnecessary hostility between mothers nowadays? Call it The Mommy Turf Wars, women are choosing sides and putting on the brass knuckles, preparing for battle to defend their choices in child rearing.

The Atlantic ran this article daring to suggest that breast may not be best for baby, and as you can imagine, the gates of blogosphere hell broke loose. But this is nothing new. The New Yorker recently published this article with a history of breastfeeding, and for hundreds of years the pendulum has been swinging between breast and "other". But what does it say that such major publications are talking about breast milk right now?

As the Atlantic author suggests, we are obsessed with the optimization of every aspect of our children's lives. Think Baby Einstein videos, organic cotton onesies, ergonomically correct high chairs, not to mention the decisions made between breast and bottle, c-section and vaginal, cloth and disposible, stay-at-home and 9-to-5. We all want the best for our kids, but too often we use these things to categorize each other by "good mommy" vs. "bad mommy".

It's hard enough raising kids without every neighborhood mom pooh-poohing behind your back. What ever happened to just focusing on ensuring each child has a safe, loving home environment? In the big picture, does it really make a difference how a child was birthed or at what age he's given formula?

So let's all agree to just get along. I envision all of us moms and dads, sitting around a big kitchen table with mismatched coffee cups. The labels all fall away and we're just people having coffee, sharing stories, and supporting one another in this crazy role called parenthood, relishing each others' different perspectives rather than sneering at them.

Oh, and I'll bring the muffins. (Nice transition, eh?)

Morning Glory Muffins are a family staple, a recipe handed down from my grandma to my mom to me. How's that for mother solidarity? I love the heartiness of them, with all the carrot, fruits, and nuts stuffed into each bite. Set them out on your favorite plate, like my grandmother's china shown here. The tablecloth is a nice touch, too.

The ingredient list looks a bit long, but you already have most of these items in your pantry. Be sure to share with your neighbor...regardless of their quirky parenting style.

Morning Glory Muffins

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 c. (or less) white sugar
1/2 c. (or less) brown sugar
2 c. grated carrots
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1 apple, peeled, cored, grated
3 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. pineapple juice (what was drained off the crushed pineapple earlier)

Optional: can substitute 1/2 c. milk or orange juice for the 1/2 c. oil.

In large bowl, sift dry ingredients. Stir in carrots, raisins, nuts, coconut, pineapple, and apple. Set aside. In another bowl, combine eggs, vanilla, oil, and juice. Stir into flour mixture. Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen muffins.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barbecued Venison Roast

I find myself talking to my baby a lot. Rarely do I have such a captive audience, so I'm taking advantage of it. I tell him what I'm thinking about, ask him questions, and together we muse about the world. I think we're on the verge of getting that world hunger problem straightened out.

Then conversation turns into singing, right now oldies mixed with Sound of Music tunes. Then I realize I only know two Sound of Music tunes, so I end up making up songs. A current favorite on the playlist:

Lit-tle One
With his big Buddha belly
His big Buddha belly
Full of mama's milk

Or the classic:

Nummy nummy nummy
I got milk in my tummy
Yum yum
It sure is fiiiine

And then when my songs get ridiculous, I try nursery rhymes. One nursery rhyme that I actually remember:

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
So between them both, you see
They licked the platter clean

This is poignant since my hubby and I are a meat/veggie version of Jack Sprat and his wife. Before we met each other, I was a vegetarian that ate "burgers" without the actual burger (a bun with ketchup and pickles, basically) and cheeseless green pepper Domino's pizza (try ordering a pizza without cheese - not easy). His diet consisted of vending machine muffins, moose burger Hamburger Helper, and when he was wearing his fancy pants, a brick of cream cheese microwaved with a jar of salsa and eaten with chips.

Needless to say, consuming an entire brick of cream cheese in one sitting is not the best thing for a healthy digestive tract.

Now we both eat better. I eat wild game and will even enjoy the occasional chicken curry wrap at Mr. Delicious. He now eats foods that didn't exist to him previously, like beans, cooked broccoli, and mangoes. We're making progress.

So in the spirit of compromise, for every lentil-and-rice meal that harks back to my vegetarian days, we tend to balance with a manly meat-and-potatoes dinner later that week. Bonus points if dinner involves barbecue sauce.

Remember this guy?

Doe, a deer, a female deer...

Oh, wait, antlers = buck deer. Regardless, now he's dinner, in the form of barbecued venison roast:

If you have a roast from a young deer, the meat will be mild and tender. An older deer is going to taste more "gamey" and be a little tougher. Either way, slow cooking venison like this gives good flavor and tenderizes the meat. Plus, it's wicked easy.

You could just use bottled bbq sauce for this, but where's the fun in that? Slicing the meat an hour before serving to simmer in the sauce is key.

Barbecued Venison Roast

2-3 lb. boneless venison roast (can also use beef chuck roast)
1 and 1/2 cups ketchup
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons Worcestshire sauce
1 Tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
Large pinch salt
Few cracks of fresh black pepper
Big dash of garlic powder

Place roast in slow cooker (Crock Pot). Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl; pour over roast. Cook on low 8-10 hours or High 4-5 hours. An hour before serving, remove roast and slice or shred meat; place back in slow cooker, ensuring each piece is covered with sauce.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Curried Lentils

You know the scene: handsome husband comes home to a harried mom with baby on her hip, looking gorgeous in sweats covered in baby spit-up and unwashed hair, complaining that dinner is burnt and the baby needs changing.

Well, that's us. We're still getting the hang of this parenthood thing, and I'm still trying to keep up decent hygiene, but the burnt dinner turned out to be something worth sharing.

Being a new mom and multi-tasker extraordinaire, while baby was napping, I decided to whip up some dinner and take a bath while it was cooking. Having recently finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (HIGHLY recommended!), I had a renewed energy for eating locally after a long winter of supermarket dulldrums, and pulled out the lentils that my friend Jenny gave me from her dad's farm outside of Beach, ND.

I like lentils, I just never crave lentils, so they frequently get relegated to the back of the cupboard. However, this evening I was making my favorite cauliflower curry with local lentils instead of my usual canned chickpeas. I put the lentils on the stove to simmer in a curried tomato sauce and settled into my bath.

Somehow, a napping baby knows when mom is trying to relax, and whining ensued. Since hubby was at the gym, I dried myself off, threw on some sweats, and baby quickly latched onto my breast. Hungry again.

Then my nose detected that unmistakable odor of something burning. Seeing that I left the burner on a little too high, I opened the lid and peeked into a pot of blackened curried lentils and tomatoes. Very New Orleans-meets-India. Yeah, that's what I was going for.

Hubby came home, and always the optimist, he says it smells like barbecue (the man loves bbq) and it looks salvagable.

That's always a good adjective for dinner: salvagable. Yum.

So we scooped up the good bits, leaving the burnt bits on the bottom. I steamed some cauliflower and we sat down to...a pretty decent dinner. In fact, it was really good! The tomato sauce thickened, spices melded together nicely, even the burnt bits added a little flavor contrast.

Happy accidents, I need to write this down to make it again. And even if I burn dinner again being distracted by baby (and I'm certain I will), he's totally worth it.

Here's my best shot at recreating the recipe without the burnt part. In Indian cooking, this would be considered a type of dal. Serve it up with brown rice and steamed veggies, and you'll live to be 100 eating this stuff...and enjoying it. Feel free to substitute the spices for a tablespoon of garam masala or your preferred curry powder/paste.

Curried Lentils

2 T. canola oil
3 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cup water
1 - 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
3/4 cup lentils, washed
1/2 t. ground 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

Add oil to large pot and turn heat to medium. Add garlic. When garlic starts to color, add the tomatoes (juice and all), squishing and chopping them up a bit with your spoon. Add water, lentils, and spices. Stir, cover, turn down heat, and simmer until lentils are softened (approx. 30-40 mins), occasionally stirring and adding water as needed while cooking.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Special Delivery

Well, look what the stork dragged in:

Baby Ben was born on Wednesday, April 8th; a whopper at 8 lbs, 4 oz (ND walleye fishing terminology, you see). Both mom and baby are doing very well, thanks for asking.

I'll be taking a mini-hiatus from R&V while I figure out how to care for our little guy. My only culinary focus for the next couple weeks is whipping up frequent servings of the most important meal of all - breast milk. Food doesn't get much more local than that.

Be back soon, miss me!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Crispy Roasted Root Vegetables

In Lamaze class I learned that giving birth is an endurance event equivalent to running a marathon. If that’s the case, I wonder if I could get a corporate birth sponsor. I’d gladly swig Gatorade during labor, label carefully facing outward, if it would pay my med bills. Alas, I think people are more interested in catchy commercials like this than watching me push a kid out with fruit punch stains on my face.

Ok, it IS a really catchy commercial. I like it. I like it even better when my husband tries to sing this song in the shower. Funny stuff.

But if birthing is a marathon, and if my due date is right around the corner, then it’s time to carb load! For me, this means attempting to eat my weight in potatoes. It’s a tough assignment, I know, but it’s what any finely tuned athlete such as myself needs to do before The Big Event.

Who am I kidding? I luv me some taters, especially crispy fried taters, and I’ll use any excuse to enjoy them. Unfortunately, crispy fried potatoes are typically categorized as a heart attack waiting to happen. It doesn’t have to be so. Lately I’ve been roasting thinly sliced potatoes in olive oil - heavenly to eat yet hella easy to make. Mix it up with other root veggies and you’ve earned your Cordon Bleu chef star for the day. I even added leftover chickpeas to the mix last time I made it, pictured here - who knew roasted chickpeas were so good?

If you don’t already have it in your cupboard, this is a great excuse to splurge on a box of kosher salt. To me, the grainier texture sprinkles better than table salt, and thus tastes better.

And to the Gatorade Company, if you are reading this, give me a call, we’ll talk.

Crispy Roasted Root Vegetables

Thinly sliced root vegetables (suggestions: potato, sweet potato, carrot, onion, turnip, rutabaga)
Whole leaf fresh herbs, optional (suggestions: thyme, sage, or rosemary)
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

In a rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, generously coat veggies with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Halfway through cooking, add herbs and stir in with veggies.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Brats and Kraut

Thanks to the annual sausage-making family gathering, we have a freezer full of homemade Italian sausage, country sausage, summer sausage, and yes, bratwurst. Whether your brats come from the fields, the farm, or the supermarket, there are two secrets to making it right: cook them in beer and pair them with good sauerkraut.

I love sauerkraut. It must be the German-Russian in me, but I'll eat it straight up and cold, sneaking big pinches of the stuff out of the fridge with the door hanging open. The sour vinegar taste, the crunchy/soggy shredded cabbage texture - shockingly, this doesn't make everyone salivate.

Why is kim chee so trendy and popular right now, yet sauerkraut still languishes as old-fashioned? They're both pickled cabbage. Sauerkraut's time in the spotlight is long overdue, if you ask me, and it's a necessary companion to bratwurst, as anyone from ND on over to Wisconsin will tell you.

All you need to know is that good sauerkraut does not come in a tin can. Go to the refrigerator section of the supermarket and look for the cold stuff. And be warned, more sauerkraut recipes to appear in the near future!

Brats & Kraut

4 fresh bratwurst
12-16 oz. beer
Sliced onion (optional)
German-style grainy mustard

Place the bratwurst in a large saucepan or pot and cover with beer and onion slices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to simmer until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Serve hot with mustard and sauerkraut (I also like fried or roasted potatoes on the side).