Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Patisserie on Fourth

I took today off from work, using one of my precious vacation days to luxuriously spend it however I wanted. Baby went to grandma's house and I found myself alone, at last, with an entire day in front of me to spend however I chose.

And I had absolutely no idea what to do.

My days are so hurried, always working, cleaning, cooking, pumping, feeding, bathing, and/or parenting; always needing a little more sleep; always resigned to the fact that "leisure" is no longer in my vocabulary. And suddenly, for one moment, I don't have to do any of that, and I simply don't know what to do with myself. Away from the rush of my daily routines, my spinning top life suddenly stops, teeters, getting ready to topple...

So I spent an hour mindlessly clicking around the web (Jezebel, you will be the end of me) and then finally got down to business. I must not waste this day. I must get out of the house. I must treat myself. So where did I go? Patisserie on Fourth.

If you are a Bismarckian and have not yet visited Patisserie on Fourth, go. Now. Really. Leave all notions of calorie counting at home. These ladies know what they are doing in the kitchen and they are producing the best baked goods in town, hands down. The cupcakes are gorgeous AND delicious. The breads showcase the fact that the owners understand the importance of crust and crumb - something I haven't seen anywhere else in Bis-bang. And the scones are meltingly, crumbly, butterly good.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. They are still tweaking their set-up as it still doesn't feel cafe cozy. Last time I had lunch there, their beautiful quiche was served in styrofoam with plastic silverware, like a flat note at the end of a melody. And oh, how I wish they offered a full barista coffee menu. But you can see that they are working on these things with rearrangements of display cases and "green" paper coffee cups. In the end, it's all about the product, and the core of their business - the baked goods - is solid and I will happily consume their products if only to ensure that this place is around for many years to come.

After devouring my cranberry orange scone, I stopped at the library to stock up on enough reading materials to get me through the holidays. The book on the top of my pile:

Hopefully hubby will see the humor in it, too.

Now it's almost noon and a free afternoon stretches out before me. What to do next? A bath? A walk? A nap? Or how about a thick slice of this pumpkin bread with homemade apple butter?

A gal could get used to this.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Split Pea Soup

Why does split pea soup get such a bad rap? I think it is the unfortunately unfashionable color – pea green. Baby poo green. 1974 shag carpet and avocado refrigerator green. But despite its color, I still love it. And guess what? Baby likes it too!

Baby Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Cooking For Baby

1 cup split peas, rinsed and picked over
1 small pear, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup water

Put all ingredients in a small pot; bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until peas are very soft, about 45 mins, adding additional water as needed to keep peas covered. Puree in a blender, cool, then store in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Grown-up Split Pea Soup
Adapted from How to Cook Everything – if you have some on hand, fry up some bacon until crispy, chop it up and sprinkle on top. Chopped ham works too.

1 lb. split peas (minus the 1 cup used for baby’s soup), rinsed and picked over
1 small russet potato, peeled and quartered
½ medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 cups water or stock (enough to cover ingredients plus 1/2”-1” extra liquid on top)
Salt to taste

Put all ingredients in a large pot; bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until peas are very soft, about 45 mins, adding additional water as needed to keep peas covered and tasting cooking liquid, adding salt to taste. Puree in batches in a blender and serve hot.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pheasant Adobo

Some days, I think I need a more adventurous hobby than cooking. Maybe I should take up cliff diving or extreme skiing - two sports that do not come naturally to a person from the plains, trust me. Heck, even rollerblading down a moderate incline can be classified as an "extreme" sport in Flatland USA. But then again, our kitchen is a little unusual, and some days down-right adventurous.

Case in point: Kent killed a wild turkey today. I watched him clean the carcass, the heat rising from the turkey's limp body in the cold November air as I passed him pitchers of cold water for rinsing out the cavity. As I watched him, I thought about life and death. I thought of all those thanksgiving turkeys and how the kill is hidden from view. I thought how I would totally be a vegetarian again if I was the one who had to clean and gut the animals. I thought about my little boy, wondering if he'll be hunting and gutting turkeys in the near future - a little worried that he will, but a little more worried that he won't, that he will choose to be blind from the connections of how the world provides for us and sustains us.

We're brining the turkey for dinner later this week, but for the moment, let's talk pheasant, probably my favorite of all game meats. Walleye is my favorite (if you classify fish as meat), but pheasant is a close second. Right now I'm cooking everything out of the latest issue of Fine Cooking - sorry, but I can't help myself, there's just too much good stuff in it. This is one of those finds: pheasant adobo. Of course, it was chicken abodo in the mag, but I tweaked it. Simmering meat in vinegar gives you a double punch of both flavor and moisture. Just remember to open a window and don't breathe in too deep since boiling vinegar smells like...boiling vinegar. But it's worth it.

Pheasant Adobo
Adobo is a Filipino dish. As pheasant is actually an Asian bird, it makes sense to cook it with an Asian twist. Serve over rice.

1 Tbls. vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 and 1/2 lbs. pheasant breast, trimmed and cut into 1" thick strips
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 bay leaf

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Season pheasant with salt and pepper, and add to hot oil, cooking until light golden brown. Add garlic and cook one min more. Add vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaf, and 1 tsp. pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid reduces by about one-quarter, about 10 mins. Discard bay leaf and serve over rice.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chopped Venison Steak Sandwiches

The deer hunt was a success! Hubby came home with a doe already butchered and nicely packed in a cooler, but of course he had to bring the head home too and leave it lying by the back door for a few days. To his credit, he brought it back for the ND Game and Fish analysis of deer heads for wasting disease. I’m imagining a big refrigerator at the Game and Fish dept with hundreds of deer heads lining the shelves, staring at anyone who enters with those big black eyes and tongues hanging out. Freaky.

Fresh venison, such a delicacy, such a treat. How did we prepare it, you ask? Did we do a quick sauté with exotic mushrooms and envelop it in a velvety béarnaise sauce? Did we marinate it for a couple days and then grill it with baby potatoes and homemade bbq sauce? Did we go with steak tartare and serve it raw and still quivering on the plate with a big bottle of French bordeaux?

Nope. We chopped it up in the food processor, dumped it in a pot with some cheddar, slapped it on some bread and called it dinner. Because we’re classy like that.

I adapted this recipe out of Fine Cooking mag - a lovely publication, but I have yet to see a venison recipe in its pages. However, kudos to them on the latest issue where they do a spread of holiday goose and duck – until you get to the back page for ingredient sources where they recommend purchasing a goose for the low low price of $184.99. Pardon my French, but WTF? $200 for a goose? I'm not a NRA member or anything, nor a hunter myself, but if you are considering spending $200 for a goose this Christmas, may I suggest you man up, buy a gun, and get outside suburbia for once? See that low white cloud? Those are geese. Hundreds of geese. Fresher than anything you can buy for $184.99.

Where’s the picture of dinner? We ate it. No, not the picture, but we ate the dinner. All of it. It ‘twas inhaled before I even got a snapshot. Oops.

Chopped Venison Steak Sandwiches
For the sandwiches, use whatever carb you have on hand – crusty rolls, hamburger buns, serve it open-faced on toast, or use it as topping for pasta or rice.

2 Tbls. ketchup
1 Tbls. dijon mustard
2 Tbls. chopped banana peppers or pepperoncini
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 lb. venison steak (can substitute beef tips)
Salt and pepper
3 Tbls. olive oil
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 and 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Toasted crusty rolls, hamburger buns, or bread for serving

In a small bowl, mix ketchup, mustard, peppers, and vinegar and set aside.

In a food processor, pusle half the meat until just coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the other half. Toss beef with salt and pepper to season.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it just loses its pink color, about 2 mins. Add onion and mushrooms and cook until onion and mushrooms soften, about 5 mins. Stir in ketchup mixture and cook until heated through, about 2 mins. Stir in the cheese until melted, about 1 min more.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vegan Pumpkin Bread

My friend Amber called me the other day to check in after I left a woe-is-me hunter's widow boredom message.

"So what are you doing?" she asked.

"Making pumpkin puree."


"I know what you're thinking..."

"Didn't you just blog about what a pain in the ass it is to cook pumpkin?"

"Yes, it's hardly worth it, but I'm giving it a go again..."

Yes, I spent a couple hours yesterday chopping, cooking, peeling, and pureeing one of our jack-o-lanterns, so I can conclude with certainly that there are a few reasons why it is a pain in the keester to cook up pumpkin:

1) Pumpkins are unwieldy to clean and cut up

2) Boiling/steaming takes a large pot and a bit of patience - and roasting takes even longer

3) The boiled/steamed pumpkin retains a lot of water, so it's more liquidy than the canned stuff and thus not great for pumpkin pie

4) The puree from the home food processor will never be as creamy and smooth as the canned stuff.

So knowing all this, why did I bother with it this year? It was a perfect storm of media:

1) My weekly Cook for Good newsletter reminded me that pumpkins are food and food is a terrible thing to waste. Amen.

2) Consumer Reports came out with a report that practically everything in a tin can (such as canned pumpkin) leaches BPA into your food, a chemical known to cause cancer, birth abnormalities, etc. Don't you sometimes feel you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't? For the record, if you're worried about BPA in your food, here's what Consumer Reports recommends:

- Choose fresh food whenever possible. (Check!)

- Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula (Check! - and note they are referring to canned liquid formula here).

- Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens. (Check!)

3) Food Inc. came out on DVD and arrived in my mailbox (thank you, Netflix) and after viewing it, all I could think was, 'What is wrong with us? Why must our food system be such a disaster?' Yet another reason to eat the food out of my backyard whenever I can.

So I had a pumpkin's worth of puree. I wanted to make something baked, but most pumpkin bar or pumpkin bread recipes just use 2/3 cup or 1 cup of pumpkin, max. Nope, I needed a really pumpkin-y recipe.

Joy the Baker to the rescue. Somehow she knew I had a ton of pumpkin BUT didn't have any eggs in my fridge. She swooped in like a little baking angel and posted this lovely recipe and just made my day. And no eggs meant that I had no excuse not to lick the spatula clean.

Now the question is what to do with the nine other pumpkins sitting around my house right now.

Vegan Pumpkin Bread
Since my puree was a little more liquidy than canned puree, I left out the 1/3 cup of water called for in the original recipe. I made one loaf with 1/2 cup walnuts, another loaf with (non-vegan) 1/2 cup chocolate chips, and both were delish.

3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute up to 1/2 the ap flour with whole wheat flour)
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 cups pumpkin puree or 1 - 15 oz can pumpkin (if using canned puree, add 1/3 cup of water to the batter)
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup chopped walnuts OR 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour two loaf pans (mine are 8×4x2) and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.

In a medium bowl, carefully whisk together pumpkin puree, oil, maple syrup and water.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and use a spatula to fold all of the ingredients together. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl well, finding any stray flour bits to mix in. Fold in the chopped walnuts or chocolate chips.

Divide the dough between the two greased pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Let rest in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pasta with Ham, Peas, and Cream

Now that he's such a big boy, I've been pureeing everything in sight to see if our little guy will eat it. The latest experiment: peas. Since I heart peas, I'm happy to report that our son is indeed a happy little pea eater.

Meanwhile, my hubby continues to pick around peas whenever he encounters them. It's at the point where I'll make a dish like this pasta, but put the peas in a separate bowl just for me and mix them on my plate to please my man. I know, I'm spoiling him. But marriage is about compromises, right? Did I mention he cared for our child, cleaned the house, and washed all the dishes today...and looked mighty fine while doing it?

Sure, he may have been looking to gain a few brownie points since this weekend is the much-anticipated Deer Opener, an unofficial state holiday in ND. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, is off to the fields to chase Bambi this weekend. Even our daycare provider asked for Friday off to go get their annual supply of venison. I usually get a little bummed out this weekend, with everyone gone and the dreariness of winter starting to close in - but I think the little man and I will have some serious bonding time this weekend. And we both get to eat all the peas we want.

Pasta with Ham, Peas, and Cream
A quicky but a goodie, this meal can be on the table in 15 minutes, start to finish. I made my own pasta sauce earlier this year and stored it in the freezer, but feel free to use whatever you may have on hand. If you really like tomato flavor, add a little tomato paste to the mix.

12 oz. pasta ribbons
2 cups tomato pasta sauce or one 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes with 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 cup chopped ham
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup whipping cream
Grated parmesean as garnish

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente; drain. Meanwhile, heat pasta sauce, ham, and peas in separate saucepan. Toss pasta sauce with drained hot pasta, pour cream over, stir and serve with grated parmesean.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Old-Fashioned Meatloaf

So did you catch the Bismarck edition of A Prairie Home Companion this weekend? As a NPR nut, it is often the soundtrack to my weekend putterings. I didn't make it to the actual recording at the Civic Center, but heard it all on the radio. How amazing is Andra Suchy? Seriously. Homegrown talent right there. I heard her play once at the Prime Steer and was just blown away by her cover of Jolene.

Oh, this is a food blog? I know, I'm getting there.

Anyway, I must have had Prairie Home Companion on the mind when I baked up this old-fashioned meatloaf. With mashed potatoes. On a Sunday evening, no less. No, I didn't wear the June Cleaver pearls and heels, although that would've made the whole scene complete, wouldn't it?

I never make meatloaf. I just don't think of it. But if I was going to make meatloaf, I wanted a good base recipe. I went to Smitten Kitchen, but then saw that SK proclaims not to like meatloaf. So off to Epicurious. I had to flip through a few recipes to hit on one I wanted to try - I'm sure the meatloaf with chopped prunes is much better than it sounds, and the chopped chicken livers loaf wasn't what I was going for either. I just wanted something 1950's classic.

I finally found this ketchup-laden number. Perfect. I tweaked it by using elk burger and adding bbq sauce and it was exactly what I was shooting for - moist, flavorful, almost a little sweet - and even better since the baby was napping during dinner, giving my husband and I a rare opportunity to just sit, talk, and linger at the table. I take those little moments whenever I can get them.

Old-Fashioned Meatloaf

2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup bbq sauce
2 pounds ground meat (I used elk burger, but you can use all beef, or a beef/pork combo)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, mix together ketchup and bbq sauce; set aside.
In a large heavy skillet cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes. Cook vegetables, covered, stirring occasionally, until carrot it tender, about 5 minutes more. Stir in salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 the ketchup mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

In a large bowl combine well vegetables, meats, bread crumbs, eggs, and parsley. On a rimmed baking sheet form mixture into a 10" x 5" oval loaf and spread remaining ketchup mixture over loaf.

Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.