Sunday, June 28, 2009

Redeye (Wedding Schnapps)

There are a lot of great things to do during the summer in North Dakota, but if it's Saturday night, you'll find everyone at wedding receptions. This is especially true in small towns, where everyone goes to the reception, regardless if they were formally invited or not.

Expect to be feeding 400-500 people if you are having a small town ND wedding. That's just how it goes.

Yes, this a snapshot from our wedding. First dance. "Stand By Me." I still love that song.

I guess North Dakota is one of those places where people still get married. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for co-habitation if that's your bag (hey, anything Goldie and Kurt do is cool with me), but in general, Dakotans are still pretty traditional. I mean, legally stores can't even open until noon on Sunday, and the community really really appreciates it when young people commit to each other with formal ceremonies.

Or maybe the community just likes a good party. And no ND wedding reception would be complete without a bottle of redeye.

Redeye is a wedding staple, basically sweetened Everclear. It's a German heritage thing. However, full disclosure, we didn't have it at our wedding reception (*gasp*). I actually had to convince my parents that it would be a bad idea to have redeye at our reception since we already had an open (and free) bar, manned by some great cousins who didn't mind spending an evening playing bartender.

Call me crazy, but passing around a bottle of hard liquor in addition to the bar seemed like a little too much encouragement to get plastered, knowwhatimean?

Just like Italian families all have their own marinara recipe, ND families all have their own redeye recipe. Here is ours, courtesy of my mom, a recent retiree who decided that redeye shouldn't be limited to just weddings and breaks out a bottle while pontooning with friends.

Do all parents go crazy like this in retirement while their offspring become the responsible grown-ups?

I copied it straight from the email she wrote to me. I love my mom.

Redeye (Wedding Schnapps)

Here it is. You'll need 5 or 6 bottles for a full recipe. If you need empty liquor bottles, let me know. I'm sure I can scrounge some up from your brother's closet. :)

2 2-liter bottles 7-Up
1 1-liter bottle Everclear
1/2 bottle, 750 ml, creme de almond

Mix all together slowly. Keep mixing while filling bottles.
Optional: add maraschino cherries.

1/2 recipe: 750 ml Everclear to 1 1/2 bottles 7-Up.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Fruit Milkshake

It's summertime and the livin' is easy...

Isn't that how the song goes?

Well, the livin' is mostly easy around here. I'm a little worked up since my twelve-week maternity leave is almost up and back to the office I go next week, hi ho hi ho. I'm fine with the idea of going back to work, but it's taking my baby boy to daycare for the first time that has me in a tizzy.

I know, parents take their kids to daycare everyday and I just need to relax, but I'm having a hard time with this one. I've been with my little guy everyday of his life thus far and now I just drop him off at someone's house? And I'm supposed to be ok with this?

Maybe it's just the heat getting to me. It's 90-something degrees here this week and we don't have air conditioning. Don't feel too sorry for me, I actually like not having a/c. Without a/c, the contrasts of summer compared to the rest of the year are amped up. Our summertime lifestyle completely changes: what we wear, where we sleep, how we cook, what we eat. My kitchen is minimized to the grill and the blender.

Typically my hubby mans the grill, since he's a prototype male that gets his kicks from fire and meat. Meanwhile, I am the frozen fruit queen. Any slightly overripe fruit goes in a Ziploc and is thrown into the freezer. After a whirl in the blender, my frozen fruit stash turns into smoothies, milkshakes, daquiris, whatever.

But yesterday, tragedy struck. They say everything happens in groups of three.

RIP 6/25/09
1. Farrah Fawcett
2. Michael Jackson
3. My blender

During an experiment with frozen watermelon, my blender went out. I've emailed the blender company, hoping to get a replacement part (just need a new blade assembly, since it's now stripped out), but something tells me that I'll have to bite the bullet and get a new one.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older (although many of you will say almost 30 is NOT older), but I've become disenchanted with new things. I want my blender to last a long time. I want my clothes to last a long time. I want my car to run forever. I want patina in my life. Why must I trade my cellphone in every few years and suffer being laughed at by the cellphone store employee because my phone is "so, like, ancient"? Why is everything being made so you can't fix it yourself anymore? One part of my blender goes out, and I'll probably need to trash it and buy a whole new unit.


On a happier note, today is Friday, meaning Free Chocolate Friday! Mars is giving away coupons for free candy bars, satisfying my peanut M&M habit. Go to and check it out.

Have frozen fruit and a functioning blender on hand? Try this.

Summer Fruit Milkshake
1/2 cup milk or yogurt
2 scoops vanilla ice cream
1 peach, cut into chunks
5 or 6 frozen strawberries
1 frozen banana

Blend it up, adding more milk as needed to keep the mixture moving. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Baked Rice Pudding with Meringue

It's been over five years since my husband and I went on our first date. And now we're married with the most adorable baby ever (I'm biased), a dog, a mortgage, a garden, a lawn did it all happen so fast?

Probably because he's the best guy ever (again, I'm biased) and I would've been a fool not to marry him. He cleans the house without being asked, he's willing to clean out the gutters in a rain storm, he sees the best and worse sides of me and still sticks by my side, pregnancy hormones and all.

Did I mention he's a great dad too?

You can actually see our child catching the fishing bug in this photo. Amazing.

So if we've been together for five years, that means that I've been hearing about his grandma's awesome baked rice pudding for at least four of those years.

I love rice pudding, but rice pudding for me either meant stovetop or Kozy Shack. But he insisted that his grandma's was the best. "You know, it's rice pudding, but you bake it in the oven, and it has meringue on top..." I had never heard of such a thing. Of course, his grandma has passed on now and his mom didn't have the recipe, and I didn't find anything similar in my cookbooks. Finally, came to the rescue.

"This is it. This is exactly it."

I'm not going to lie, this is a pain in the butt to make, with the water bath and making meringue and all. But for my hubby on his first Father's Day, it's totally worth it.

Baked Rice Pudding with Meringue

1 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked white long-grain rice
2 beaten egg yolks
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 pinch salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 egg whites
1/4 cup white sugar

Place the water and rice into a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir, and reduce heat to low. Cover pan, and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. (If you have leftover rice from dinner, just skip this step.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the egg yolks together with 1/2 cup sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the cornstarch and salt. Continue beating, and gradually pour in the milk. Stir in the cooked rice, lemon juice, and raisins. Pour the rice mixture into a baking dish, and place inside a larger baking pan. Fill the larger pan with water to 1 inch up the sides of the dish containing the rice mixture.

Bake in preheated oven until the pudding is creamy and most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add more water to maintain the water level.

Meanwhile, place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Continue beating, and gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Remove the pudding from the oven, leaving it in the larger baking dish. Top pudding with the meringue, swirling with a spoon to create soft peaks. Bake in 400 degree oven until the meringue is golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

To all my friends with flooded basements thanks to a week of thunderstorms, my sincere sympathies. Sorry, our wet/dry vac has already been lent out, but you are welcome to come over for dessert and talk about it.

I know. Still on a rhubarb kick. But when I see posts like this on other blogs, I can't resist.

Yes, I made it to bask in its sweet saucy glory. Yes, I put it on ice cream. Yes, I put it on my oatmeal. Yes, I eat it straight from the pan with a spoon. I hope you don't mind if I double-dip.

The original recipe called for four stalks of rhubarb. Are you kidding me? I have three massive rhubarb plants taking over my garden, I need to use more than four stalks. So as always, I adapted. I think the lemon adds a brightness to it all, a lovely discovery for future reference.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Adapted from Everybody Loves Sandwiches, who adapted it from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from...

1 and 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, sliced
3 c strawberries, quartered (I used a 16 oz. bag of frozen strawberries)
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 c sugar (or enough to coat fruit)
3 T cornstarch
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cinnamon

1 c flour
1/2 c oats
1 t baking powder
1 T brown sugar
3 T raw sugar
Zest of one lemon
1/3 c melted butter
1/4 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375F. Add the rhubarb and strawberries to a casserole pan, tossing with the sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Squeeze in lemon juice and stir to combine. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine all the topping ingredients, except walnuts. Stir until clumps form. Use your hands to scatter the topping evenly over the fruit. Sprinkle top with walnuts. Bake for 45 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit have created a bubbly sauce. Cool slightly and serve with ice cream.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

John's Meat Market

Why yesterday was The Most Perfect Day:

1. Baby Ben slept for eight hours straight for the first time EVER! And if that wasn't blissful enough...

2. Then Baby Ben slept most of the afternoon, waking up just in time to go to grandma and grandpa's house because...

3. Grandma and grandpa called earlier, begging to babysit. Twist my arm, OK! Which means that...

4. I got a date night with my husband, going out for dinner despite the massive thunderstorm that rolled in and then stopping by the dollar store for sophomoric entertainment that basically entailed throwing stuff at each other.

And if that weren't enough...

5. I discovered my localvore Eden in the form of John's Meat Market.

Don't you love the fact that you can shop at a place here called John's Meat Market? It could be a butcher shop or a San Francisco dance club.

Bismarck has lots of great little butcher shops. I love how I always feel like I'm walking into a Brady Bunch episode when I go to the butcher -so retro and quaint. I was looking for a Brady Bunch clip with Sam (Alice's boyfriend, remember?) in his butcher shop, but no luck. However, this little number is adorably awkward:

Since we mostly eat game at our house, I typically only go to the butcher to buy sausage seasonings for our annual sausage party. I mean annual sausage-making party. But I heard that John's carries free-range eggs from a local farm, so I had to check it out.

It's in an older part of town over on 18th Street off Broadway. My dad grew up in this part of town. He worked in the now-closed grocery store a block over as a kid. The neighborhood is a little run down now, but John's is a beacon of light in the 'hood, the big plate-glass window displaying a bright clean logo...and apparently a reflection of me standing by our truck to take this picture.

Inside it's spotless, with coolers lining the walls and a friendly guy behind the counter. And those coolers are filled with local beef, buffalo, lamb, eggs, even kuchen, that German dessert we all know and love.

The eggs have a picture of the chickens on the label! I love that!

So I'm on a mission to spread the word about John's Meat Market. Locals here adore Butcher Block Meats in Mandan, and I share the BBM love, but I'm spreading the wealth. For those not in the Bis-Man area, instead of picking up your usual chicken breasts at the supermarket, stroll down to your local butcher shop. You may be surprised at what you find there.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cuban Black Beans

Personally, I don't think I'm a picky eater. However, when I found out my in-laws try to keep track of all the foods I don't like, I realized that maybe others see my food preferences differently.

I'll try anything once, but there are a few things that I just avoid if possible.

Foods I don't like:
Yeasted donuts (cake donuts are an entirely different story)
Squid or any other seafood with chewy tentacles
Fruit-flavored hot tea
Supermarket cake frosting
Processed cheese food (EZ Cheese, Cheez Whiz, etc)

Um, let's not go deeper into the processed food dislikes, shall we?

My husband, on the other hand, will eat anything. I can spend all day trying out a recipe for duck a l'orange or throw a frozen pizza in the oven and he will be just as content with either option. Bless his heart, he's chewed through many of my cooking disasters. Like that pumpkin soup that had way too much onion in it - he still ate it, cheerily saying it "cleared his sinuses". Or that fancy spice rub I tried to create for Christmas pheasant that turned into some type of cinnamon curry. Not so good.

There is one thing he doesn't eat, though: beans.

I'm talking about any bean. Green bean, black bean, kidney, garbanzo, soy, even peas. He just doesn't like them. So why do I keep trying to get him to eat them? Why can't I just leave him alone about it and accept the fact that he's not a bean guy?

Well, I love beans and I love a challenge, so I keep trying to sneak beans onto his plate. I know, I'm so mean. But guess what? I finally found a bean dish that he'll eat. No, not only eat, but enjoy.

I happened upon Cook for Good via Mark Bittman's NYTimes blog and it's a great find. Basically, the author Linda Watson put together tools like shopping lists, menus, and recipes for people to be able to eat economically AND sustainably. One of her recommendations: cook up a pot of dried beans every week.

So I cooked up a pot of black beans. A lot of beans. Two pounds of dry beans, to be exact. Which basically fills a crockpot.

I mean, I like beans, but seriously.

I froze some and put the rest in the fridge, scanning cookbooks for bean recipes. I had a ham hock in the freezer, so I knew I wanted to use that too (Ham + Beans = Good). And then this recipe fell in my lap.

I've checked out The Splendid Table's How To Eat Dinner from my local library twice now. I should just go buy the darn thing, it's a great cookbook. I mean, this book got my husband to eat a bowl full of beans and then go for seconds. That's saying something.

PS - On the topic of sustainable eating, click here to see the movie trailer for Food Inc. Basically, it looks like The Omnivore's Dilemma in cinematic form. I hope this comes to Bismarck, or at least I hope our community movie club Cinema 100 picks it up for a showing...

Cuban Black Beans
Adapted from The Splendid Table's How To Eat Dinner

1 ham hock
Olive oil
1 whole clove
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 - 14-oz. can chicken or vegetable broth
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 generous Tablespoons tomato paste
2 - 15-oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sherry, wine, or cider vinegar; or 2 limes
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Film bottom of large pot with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add ham hock, clove, onion, peppers, and salt. Saute for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until veggies are sizzling (don't let the juices on the bottom of the pot turn black).

Add a little broth with garlic, bay leaves, spices, and tomato paste. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot as it simmers; this gives the dish flavor. Add rest of broth and beans. Adjust heat so pot bubbles gently. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, adding a little extra broth or water if needed while cooking.

Remove ham hock and cut any meat off the bone, returning meat to pot. Stir in vinegar or juice from limes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve over rice with cilantro as garnish.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kettle Corn

Right when I thought we could turn off the heater until next fall, we're hit with a cold and rainy spell in Bismarck. Not that I'm complaining, as my garden loves a good rain, but it is a little disappointing when everyone's weekend plans in June revolve around sun and fun. No pontooning this weekend. No car show in Mandan. No grilling...ok, we still grilled up some fish. We're diehards.

So on a rainy afternoon, I went to Joy the Baker's blog. It's pure sunshine. Opening her website, you can almost hear the birds chirping in the temperate climate zone perfection that is California. Do Californians understand how lucky they are? Oh, but wait...I guess they have to deal with traffic, crime, high taxes and property costs, that crazy governor, etc etc...

Well, no place is perfect, but sometimes I'm really really happy to live where I do.

Anyway, Joy was making kettle corn. It took me all of three seconds to read her post, glance at the dreary skies outside, dash into the kitchen, and get my popcorn kettle ready to go. Suddenly I was transported to countless street fairs in the heat of summer, the kettle corn vendors hawking their sweet-salty wares for $5 a bag. What a racket. But I still buy it, along with my $9 gyro. It's all about atmosphere.

Warning: if you try to eat the whole bowl, you'll probably get a tummy ache. Trust me on this one.

The recipe is copied straight off of Joy's blog. I'm not messing with it.

Homemade Kettle Corn
1/2 cup popcorn
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
3 tablespoons sugar
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Make sure that it’s a pan that you can easily lift and shake in the air. Have two pot holders on hand. Once the oil is hot, pour in the popcorn, sprinkle sugar on top and cover.

It will take a few minutes for the first pops, but once the popcorn starts popping, shake continuously until the popcorn is popped. This means that, once the popcorn really starts going, you’ll want to grab the pot with your pot holders, securing the lid, and shake the pot above the flame of the stove for a few seconds, return to the heat, and repeat this process several times throughout the popping process. This will prevent the popcorn from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

Transfer to a serving bowl, salt lightly, and mix. The sugar will still be hot, and the popcorn may be sticky. The popcorn will dry as it cools.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fish Chowder

I'm on a high-fat kick. Sounds devilishly dangerous, doesn't it? Lately I've been keeping cream in my fridge, eating whole milk yogurt like it's going out of style, and allowing vanilla bean Haagen-Dazs to make a regular appearance in my freezer. Just in time for bikini season.

I'm guessing breastfeeding has something to do with my new-found love of dairy fat. Or maybe my arteries were looking for a challenge. Or maybe I'm just hungry. Whatever the reason, it's not surprising that I'm suddenly channeling Paula Deen by putting a little whippin' cream in everything. Pies, pasta sauce, fresh fruit - few things make it to the table without a little dollop. With a freezer full of walleye, even fish isn't saved from a bath in creamy goodness.

Enter fish chowder, stage right.

I adore soup. Soup is the strong, quiet guy in the corner - humble yet fulfilling, basic yet eloquent. I know it's June and a pot full 'o soup may not be what you're craving, but we still get chilly days this time of year in ND and on those days, this is just simple and satisfying.

You can substitute the cream for milk, but go for the glory.

Fish Chowder
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything

1/4 pound bacon or ham, chopped
1 small onion, minced
3 russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 cups chicken or fish stock
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
2 cups chunked fresh white fish (such as cod, walleye, or northern pike)
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
Chopped chives or parsley for garnish

In a large pot, add bacon, onion, and potatoes and cook until onion softens, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and thyme and stir. Add stock and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, then milk and cream; add fish and bring to a slow simmer over low heat until fish is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Garnish and serve.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Wonders of Canadian Candy

For the record, Japanese candy sucks and Canadian candy is awesome. Yes, I'm willing to meet you by the willow tree after school for some fisticuffs if you disagree with me.

Whenever I go to Canada, I bring back candy, specifically Mackintosh's toffee. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the toffee on this trip, but I grabbed a few goodies from a gas station in Swan River on our way back from the fishing camp.

Just to clarify, that one on the bottom is a Big Turk. With a K. It's basically a massive chocolate-covered gummy bear. I'd never had one before, but I've now tried it and can attest that it is an exception to the yummy Canadian candy rule. The makers of Big Turk can go ahead and replace the K with something else.

I often wondered what those Canucks are putting in the stuff that makes it taste better. Is it the fresh air and clean water? The fancy French translations on the labels? The friendliness of the cashiers and their cute accents?

Thanks to careful observation of the Canadian Kit Kat wrapper (it was a long ride home), I think I've found a clue.

"Chocolate Plus Onctueux". Is "onctueux" the French word for "creamy", or is it an amazing food additive developed by the Canadian version of Clark Griswold in some Laboratory of Deliciousness? Flipping over to the ingredient list:

"Salt*, Yeast* - *may or may not contain." You'd think the Kit Kat people would have a pretty good idea of the recipe by now, but apparently they like to retain a sense of mystery about its actual contents.

Canadian candy even contains friendly warning labels. Because they care.

This is a work in progress. In order to solve the case, I'll have to consume more Canadian candy. A lot more.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Fry Fish

My hubby's family has a tradition of going fishing up north every year. When I say "tradition", I mean they've been going to the same place nearly every year for the past forty years. And when I say "up north", I mean waaaaay up there. Start in Bismarck, drive north for twelve hours until you run out of highway, and you'll end up in a town called Flin Flon.

Don't you love the name Flin Flon? Those crazy Canucks.

Frankly, I thought we were half-crazy driving so far to go fishing. Don't we live right next to a river? And doesn't that river have fish in it? But last week we made the trek, my first trip to northern Manitoba, baby and fishing rods in tow. It's a little odd to go on an early summer vacation to a place where the birch trees still haven't leafed out, ice still blocks access to some of the lakes, and you are greeted in the morning to frost covering cabin windows.

What's the appeal? Well, it's the fishing, silly. The huge lakes are interconnected by rivers and creeks, giving you a sense of adventure and exploration as you portage from one to another. Surrounded by nothing but pine trees and loon calls, it's not uncommon to see bear or moose roaming around, which gets outdoorsmen more excited than seeing Angelina Jolie roaming naked on the lake shore.

Or like my father-in-law said, you feel like you're in the middle of a Hamm's beer commercial.

I couldn't have said it better.

I didn't go fishing myself this time, having a six-week old baby in tow, but I did get out for a cruise around the lake in the evening. It was breathtaking. You feel the wildness of the place with water so clean and clear that you can see the fish swimming deep below the surface. The lakes are peppered with forested islands, many with names and stories like Tombstone Island ("because people are buried there") or "That Place Where Jim and Sandy Got Stranded For The Night When Their Boat Motor Quit" Island.

If you are interested in taking a trip up to northern Manitoba, get more info here, here, and here. However, we're fortunate in the Bismarck area that you don't have to drive twelve hours to go fishing. The Missouri River is hoppin' right now, according to my walleye-expert dad; the waters of Lake Sakakawea haven't been this high in years; and many smaller local lakes like Fish Creek are underappreciated in our humble opinion.

So hitch up the boat and hook on a lindy rig or a hula popper. Once you've reeled in the big one, here's the family secret to holding a fish fry, tested and perfected over the past forty years.

1. Gather your nearest and dearest together and go fishing.

2. Clean and fillet the fish. Instructions here.

3. Get out the cast iron pan, Coleman stove, and Shore Lunch batter mix (Original Recipe, please) and set up a temporary kitchen on a picnic table outside. Batter the freshly-caught pieces of trout, northern pike, and walleye in a big Ziploc bag and fry in hot oil.

4. Take fish out of pan when golden-brown and crispy, and serve hot with lemon. Tastes best when eaten outside with a cold beer or brandy Coke in a mason jar while sharing fishing stories from past and present.