There are a few moms out there who read this blog, and today I’m asking for your advice. My baby isn’t such a baby anymore, nearing the four month mark, and pretty soon we’ll be in the market for a high chair. I’ve decided that this is the high chair I want. The Stokke Tripp Trapp chair (*oooh, aahh*). The Swiss kids I nannied in my younger days had them and I thought they were brilliant (the chairs, I mean, although the kids were pretty smart too). This chair allows kids to sit up to the dinner table with the family rather than be separated with a big tray pushed away from everyone else. It’s adjustable, ergonomic, high-quality, wooden, European, basically everything a green yuppie could ever want…and with the yuppie price tag to match at $250.
My husband is convinced that he can build one. I love him, and I don’t doubt his carpentry skills, but visions of my child toppling to the floor in a shower of spaghetti noodles make me lean towards…no.
Part of me feels like a sucker to fork over that much for a chair, since my baby will probably be well-fed and content whether he sits on a physiologically correct high chair or a tree stump. Am I buying into the baby marketing hype too much? Or can I rationalize this one? I think every mom has had their own version of this dilemma, whether it was a fancy stroller or adorable Swedish baby pajamas – what did you do?
So you went out and picked the fruit. You rolled out the dough. You weaved a gorgeous pie crust that Betty Crocker herself would envy. You even made a pretty little pattern on the crust edges. It comes out of the oven all bubbly, juicy and fragrant and cools on the kitchen counter as you swirl around the kitchen in your apron, heels and pearls, the Pie Queen herself.
And when it's time to serve this work of art? It gets schmeared with Cool Whip.
I grew up on Cool Whip. I would eat it by the spoonful. Heck, I still dip my fingers in a tub of it when given the chance. But sometimes it's like a flat note at the end of a wedding ceremony solo - it just doesn't fit. Real whipped cream, aka The Real Deal, is heaven on a spoon. Velvety, lilting - it slides and glides like Dali's famous melting clocks. And here's the kicker - homemade whipped cream is killer easy to make in your mixer. Give it two, three minutes tops, start to finish.
No mixer? Try one of those rotary egg beaters, or just toughen up your wrist and whisk by hand. It'll take longer, but then you can call it eco-friendly.
1 cup cold whipping cream
2-3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whip the cream in a chilled mixer bowl on high speed with whisk attachment until it starts to stiffen (you'll see whisk tracks in the cream). Add sugar and vanilla, and continue to whisk another minute or two until cream reaches peak stage (meaning it should form peaks when the whisk is pulled out of the mixture). Serve it up and be sure to turn the mixer off before attempting to lick the beater.
Did you know smoking can actually be good for you?
Presenting smoked trout with cream cheese on rye crackers. I know, bagels would've been classic. But in lieu of bagels, crackers work.
Remember the Canadian fishing trip? Well, we finally got around to smoking some of that catch. It's insane what grocery stores charge for a tiny piece of smoked salmon. If you have the fish and access to a smoker, it's easy peasy to do it yourself.
As far as enjoying smoked fish, it seems like it's happiest with anything creamy. Everyone knows that cream cheese is a natural match, but think about smoked fish on salad with a creamy herb dressing. Or tossed into some creamy pasta or rice. Or save it for fall and serve it straight off the fillet with some apple slices and a chunk of buttered bread.
But first, how do you smoke fish? Well, don't make the same mistake I made once and try to smoke it without brining it first. The saltiness comes from the brine; without it, you just have fish that tastes like licking an ashtray. Lesson learned.
Here are the instructions, straight from my hubby's mouth. Brine is basically fancy salt water. You can look up brine recipes online, or go to your local sporting goods store for brine mixes. We used a Hi Mountain brand brine mix from Scheel's with great results.
This is a smoking habit I could get used to.
First you have to catch fish. Put it in the brine for a couple days. Take it out. Pat it dry. Put trout in smoker without wood chips (no smoke) for 30 minutes. Then add wood chips wrapped in tin foil and cook in the smoker until internal temp of trout is 150 degrees. Take it off the smoker, let it cool. Then you can eat it. That's it.
This past weekend was Family Reunion Weekend. Smile!
Long lost relatives from small towns in North Dakota, big towns on the west coast and everywhere in between converged on Bismarck for some good 'ol fashioned visiting.
Of course, the reunion agenda revolved around food. Dinner at noon, supper at six, and just free time in between to sit and shoot the breeze.
Check out those cherries. Aunt Lynn brought those all the way from Washington state. Picked 'em herself.
Menus revolved around brats and burgers, chips and baby carrots, lemonade and the ever-present coffee. Crock pots of macaroni and cheese and sloppy joes (or "slushburgers", as my hubby calls them) made frequent appearances. Everything was served on paper plates with plastic silverware. And you know what? It was great.
I stopped focusing on the food and just focused on the people. I went for a pontoon cruise with my brother and cousins, enjoying a swim in Marina Bay and afterwards munching on Doritos with the first beer I've had in ages. Busch Light. Not usually the discerning person's first choice in snack and beverage, but a microbrew and an antipasto platter wouldn't have brought any more pleasure to the moment.
So in the spirit of summer, let's raise our glasses of cheap beer or high-fructose corn syrup beverage and offer a toast. To old friends and new. To being grateful for full plates and full hearts. To enjoying this blissful, fleeting moment.
Oh, summer. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
A summery lime cake. It's luscious. Take it to the river. Share with friends.
Lime Yogurt Cake
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa at Home
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 and 1/3 cups sugar, divided
Grated zest of 2 limes
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan (recommended to line the bottom with parchment paper and then grease the parchment paper as well). Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in one bowl. In another large bowl, whisk together yogurt, 1 cup sugar, eggs, lime zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Fold in vegetable oil, making sure all is incorporated. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until toothpick test comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook lime juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in small pan, boiling over medium heat for a minute or two to make a thin syrup. Set aside.
When cake is done, allow it to cool in pan for 10 minutes and then remove gently from pan onto cooling rack set over sheet pan. While cake is still warm, pour lime syrup over cake and allow to soak in. Cool, slice and serve.
The raspberries are here! The raspberries are here!
I wait all year for raspberry season. As a child, raspberries always seemed like a luxury to me, arriving at the supermarket in tiny ½ pint packages. You could always buy a full pint of blueberries for the same price, so blueberries became the blue-collar berry in my mind, and raspberries were reserved for the upper echelon.
In sixth grade, as part of my school report on Sweden, I wanted to make a Swedish raspberry dessert. You think I would’ve made meatballs, right? But no, I wanted raspberries. I remember my mother’s anxiety at the price of enough frozen raspberries to feed 20 kids as part of her little girl’s school project. That incident cemented raspberries in my mind as a luxury item.
My infatuation with raspberries continues today. Raspberries even crowned our wedding cake. So it’s no surprise that we have a few raspberry bushes in the garden, and this season has given us a glorious harvest. With the recent cooler weather here in N.Dak, I thought this was a great time to do some berry baking.
My copy of Barefoot Contessa at Home had a few recipes that I wanted to try, so I started with double berry muffins. Don’t they look pretty in the book?
So I took our first precious raspberries and mixed them in the batter with some workhorse blueberries, adding a little extra of this and a little less of that, my usual baking M.O. Well, I don’t know what happened. Did I overmix the batter? Every muffin recipe warns you not to overmix. Or did I undermix? Was my baking powder old? Or did I overfill the pan? I’m still stumped as to why my muffins turned out like this:
Seeing my distress, my gracious husband immediately grabbed one and proclaimed “They taste great!” He even managed to get each muffin out of the tin using a scrape-and-peel technique that I would associate more with skinning a deer than baking breakfast goods. Delicioso, no?
Ok, that didn’t work out too well. Then I saw the blueberry crumb cake a few pages later in the same cookbook. I gave it a whirl, but my improvising habit kicked in immediately. Whole milk yogurt instead of sour cream. More lemon. Less butter. More berries. A little whole wheat flour. Different pan. Why do I do this? Someone once said baking is chemistry mixed with poetry. Why do I always emphasize the poetic side of baking and try to cheat the chemistry side?
Luck was on my side that day and the cake still turned out. I’m still trying to find the right crumb-to-cake ratio, but this was pretty darn decent. I think I was just excited that it looked presentable after the muffin incident.
More importantly, this was a reminder that my reaction to situations usually matters more than the situation itself. Know what I mean? If I screw up, I have two options: a) get steaming mad or b) deal with it, laugh about it, learn from it, and move on. And sometimes something I perceive as a screw-up (i.e. ugly muffins) can actually be a beautiful thing (i.e. delicious muffins).
Or I could just follow a recipe as written for once. But where’s the fun in that?
I’m not posting a recipe this time; this crumb cake was better and I’m willing to bet that you can substitute summer berries for the rhubarb. Just cut way down on the sugar you use to coat the fruit and replace the ginger with lemon...
That excited smile! That extended belly! That drool! That happens to be the exact same face my husband makes when you start talking about barbecued ribs.
And then this face.
This is what my hubby does when he sees a rack of ribs marinating in the fridge, tongue sticking out and lips smacking in anticipation.
Yes, this child is his father's son, no doubt about it.
Barbecued ribs is an event around here. Frankly, any meat that comes from a store is an event, but barbecued ribs is right up there with electric toothbrushes and Sunday afternoons in bed as one of my dearest's absolutely most favorite things.
We start days in advance, buying the ribs from the local butcher and baking the seasoned ribs for a couple hours on low heat. Then in the fridge they go to marinade in homemade bbq sauce for a couple days. Finally, they get finished off on the grill.
And the end result?
Adapted from Recipes by Susan Spungen
1 or 2 racks baby back ribs
Salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup ketchup
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
Place ribs on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Season ribs with salt and pepper and bake at 275 degrees for 2 hours. Let cool.
Prepare BBQ sauce by heating oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute garlic until just beginning to brown, then whisk in coffee, vinegar, ketchup, honey, soy sauce, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, continuing to simmer until thickened (about 30 minutes). Set aside.
When ribs are cool, place in large Ziploc bag and cover with BBQ sauce. Marinade for 1 or 2 days in the fridge.
Heat grill to medium low. Place ribs on the grill, turning and basting about every 5 minutes, cooking until heated through and glazed, about 30 minutes. (Can also be finished in a 450 degree oven on a foil-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes, turning frequently.)
In case you haven't brushed up on your geography lately, North Dakota is smack-dab in the center of North America. You can't get further away from an ocean than here. This is Landlocked Central.
It may sound strange to coastal people, but some North Dakotans haven't seen the ocean. For the rest of us who have traveled outside these parts, most remember the first time they saw the ocean. Usually that memory entails sandy beaches, palm trees, and maybe a snorkel. For me, my first glimpse of the ocean was during a family trip to Boston. I was about 12 years old. The shore was rocky and everything was cold - the water, the wind, the wet sticky sand. But it was a beautiful, breathtaking sight. I'll never forget it.
So here in Landlocked Central, when someone shows up on your doorstep with thick bright pink fillets of fresh tuna fish wrapped in butcher paper, it's an exotic treat. Ocean fish - something to be savored, celebrated, remembered.
My dear friend Jenny and her constant companion, an Alaskan mutt named Jack, came by last night with that gorgeous fish and a bag full of fresh vegetables, made a beautiful dinner of grilled lemon-rosemary tuna kebobs, and kept Ben and I entertained all evening with stories, musings, and some good old-fashioned gossip.
Yes, Jenny is pretty darn awesome, if you couldn't tell already.
And yes, Jack is a big dog. We're in the market for a dog-sized saddle as the day will soon arrive where Benjamin will be climbing all over this patient giant, wanting to go for a ride.
Jenny's kebobs stole the show, but I contributed this salad to the evening meal. Per her request, I'm posting the recipe here. And in mid-January, I'll be able to click back to this post and sigh over this perfectly lovely summer evening.
Tabbouli Salad Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine (June/July 2009) This salad is light, clean, fresh - it tastes like summer. It's even better the next day as leftovers.
1 and 1/2 cups bulgur 1 large bunch Swiss chard, stemmed Juice from 1 lemon 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 of a small onion or 1 large shallot, finely diced 3/4 cup green olives, roughly chopped 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley 1/2 cup EVOO Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Boil a pot of water. Meanwhile, put bulgur and 1 tsp. salt in large bowl. Add 2 and 1/4 cups boiling water and cover the bowl. Let sit until the water has been absorbed and bulgur is tender, at least 20 minutes up to 1 hour.
In remaining boiling water, add 1 Tbls. salt, add chard, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the chard and run under cold water. Squeeze dry and roughly chop. Lightly toss the chopped chard so it doesn't remain in clumps when mixed in the salad.
Combine lemon juice, garlic, and diced onion. Let sit at least 15 minutes.
Fold lemon juice mixture, chard, olives, herbs, and olive oil into bulgur. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Warning: diet sabotoge coming up. Now you can't say I didn't warn you...
So many of my friends are on exercise regiments and eating plans right now, trying to drink more water and eat fewer calories. While I admire their dedication and encourage them every step of the way, I haven't joined the team. In fact, I feel like I'm the anti-dieter and I need to justify myself a bit.
I don't post recipes for sweets and such just to taunt people. I just don't see them as the antithesis of healthy. In fact, I'd like to point out that dessert is a very important component to health.
I read somewhere about a study conducted to determine different cultural perceptions of food. To summarize the study, the French equated cake with celebration and the Americans equated cake with guilt.
It may seem unpatriotic, but a life of guilt is not one I choose to live.
Here's my niece demonstrating that cake = happy. And I just like to have an excuse to post adorable family kid pics.
NPR has a segment called This I Believe. People write essays stating what they believe, and the good ones are read on the air. I've always liked this segment, so allow me to steal this idea and put my own spin on it.
- I believe in real food. Rice instead of Rice-a-Roni. Fruit instead of fruit snacks. Fresh fish instead of fish sticks. Cheese instead of Cheez Whiz.
- I believe in fat. If I eat Special K and skim milk for breakfast, I'm hungry in an hour. If I eat some granola with apricots, walnuts and a little full-fat yogurt, I'm happy until lunch time. Tastes better, too.
- I believe in less meat, more veggies. Despite being married to a hunter, we eat a lot of meatless meals, or meals where meat is more of a side than a main event. Less steak, more stir fry.
- I believe in dessert. Have a piece, love it, then leave it. If it's not delicious, don't bother.
- I believe in waste not, want not. Between our family, the dog, the bird feeder, and the compost pile, very little food ever sees the trash can around here.
- I believe in the joy of movement. Taking the dog for a walk, gardening, dancing, joyriding on a shiny red Schwinn, lifting babies up for a cuddle - I like the occasional gym workout too, but it's the daily motions of life that shape the person.
- I believe in sharing. Taking freshly baked cookies over to your neighbor's house. Inviting friends to your home for dinner. Eating with people you love whenever you can.
Any beliefs you would like to add? I'd love to hear them! As you think about it, here's a recipe that encompasses many of my beliefs listed above. Why's that, you ask?
- It's simple - It's delicious - It uses up milk that passes the sniff test...but probably should be used up soon - It's best when shared
2/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup cocoa powder 3 Tablespoons cornstarch Pinch of salt 2 and 1/4 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium pot so no lumps remain. Add 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Add remaining milk and whisk again. Set pot on medium heat, whisking occasionally at first and then more frequently as it thickens (don't let pudding burn to bottom of the pot). When it starts to bubble, whisk constantly for one minute, then remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour into serving cups or ramekins. Allow to cool a few minutes. Serve warm or cold, storing any completely cooled leftovers in the fridge with plastic wrap on top.
Don't you love it when you just stumble upon inspiration? When an "a-ha" moment appears out of thin air and the world comes into focus?
This happened to me recently reading one of my new favorite blogs In Praise of Leftovers. Specifically, it happened while reading this post. Go ahead, click on the link and read it. I'll wait.
I hope Sarah doesn't mind me quoting her here, but this is what got me:
“What people eat is not well documented.” ...lots of bloggers make special things to post or they are professional food stylists or bakers. What I really love is knowing what people bring to work for lunch (or what Wyatt had in the school cafeteria), what they have at family potlucks, what they scrounge for late at night.
What do people REALLY eat? The answer to that simple question is so much more interesting than the mountains of food mags, tv shows, and blogs out there. I find myself constantly asking people, "What did you have for dinner last night?" or "What did you eat on vacation?" I guess this blog has been all about trying to capture what we really eat instead of what magazines tells us we should, but her words just summed it up perfectly. Perfectly.
In the spirit of what people really eat, here's what was for dinner tonight. After a long weekend in Minneapolis (Yay Minneapolis!), we had no food in the house. I mean it. Check out the fridge. And the stuff in those Tupperware containers doesn't count, as it should've been tossed by now.
So to the cupboard and freezer I go and what do I spy?
- hubby's homemade Italian venison sausage
- half a bag of frozen spinach
- can of tomatoes
We can definitely get dinner on the table with this. We can even slap a fancy name on it.
Polenta with Italian Sausage and Spinach Ragu
A simple, humble meal. Polenta is just thick cornmeal mush. I like soft polenta, but if you want it thick enough to cut into chunks, just cook it longer and/or use less water.
For the Ragu:
1 lb. Italian sausage, crumbled
1 medium onion, diced
4 cups spinach, chopped
One 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
Fresh or dried Italian herbs (oregano, parsley, basil)
In a large pot, cook sausage and onion until onion is softened and sausage is cooked through. Add tomatoes and herbs, chopping up tomatoes with spoon in the pot. Once tomatoes are broken up, add spinach. Cook a couple more minutes until spinach is wilted and mixture is heated through. Serve over polenta.
For the Polenta:
1 cup cornmeal
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter
Boil water on high heat. Add salt. Put an oven mitt on your hand and grab your whisk. Slowly pour cornmeal into boiling water, stirring constantly with whisk (oven mitt is going to protect your hand from splatters). Turn the heat down to low and continue whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes (don't let polenta burn on bottom of the pot). Remove from heat, add butter, stirring. Pour into serving dish and serve hot.