Monday, December 28, 2009

Camo Summer Sausage

As if making summer sausage could get any more exciting, look at what hubby found at Running’s Farm and Fleet.

Camouflage sausage casings. You knew someone was going to think of this.

Camouflage has taken on a life of its own. Forget corduroy and denim: you can now bedeck your whole household in camo. Cover your 1996 Ford Festiva in camo.

Camo makes a one-of-a-kind statement as a wedding the ever popular "don't f*** with me" bridal look in this lovely example.

Camo bikinis - perfect for your next hunting adventure…for another daiquiri by the pool in Vegas.

Camo toilet paper - maybe the vision of camo at the throne encourages guys to aim better?

So the camo casings may seem innocuous – but it’s a slippery slope to camo kitchen appliances.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Date and Coconut Granola

Snowed in. Blizzard warning. No travel advised. I-94 and Highway 83 closed.

I love being snowed in.

And looks like Ben doesn't mind it either. Time to lick the window and make squishy faces!

Why is everyone in such a hurry to dig out and get out? I'm huddled in, snow piled up at the door, nowhere I need to be. Baby is playing at my feet, running his toy car over my toes.

We'll dig out eventually, but for the moment, let's make granola. I just pulled this out of the oven. Smells love-ly!

What is it about the winter and the upcoming new year that puts me in a granola mood? Last year about this time I made this granola - which I still love, but I had a pile of dates to use up and found this little number at Granola with butter? Yup, proving once again the old adage: butter makes everything better.

Date and Coconut Granola
Target has a great selection of raw nuts - I had some of their raw mixed nuts on hand and used them here, but obviously you can substitute. I also cut back on the sugar and allspice from the original recipe, since I'm OD'ed on sugar after the holidays and I'm just not big on allspice, but feel free to check out the original here.

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup raw mixed nuts
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup (packed) pitted dates, each cut crosswise into thirds

Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread out mixture on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add dates; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes longer. Cool. Store airtight at room temperature.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

The baby is napping.

The sun is streaming into the south-facing windows as the snow blows around outside.

Across the street, smoke rises from a neighbor's chimney.

I'm snuggly warm with a new fleece from my sister-in-law and a big mug of green tea from Steep Me A Cup Of Tea, where they remember that my favorite is genmaicha.

Our home is a lovely little lived-in mess with baby toys and pillows strewn about and I have no urge to clean it up.

The evening plans include the annual family crab leg dinner -and Mom is trying out a new recipe for French Onion Soup, now that she discovered where the Gruyere cheese is located in the grocery store.

My best friends are coming home for the holidays and I can't wait to see them.

My little brother is home from college on the west coast, too - haven't seen him for over a year.

The Christmas cards are lining the mantle, messages of love and joy from friends and family near and far.

Everything, everything is just so wonderful and I feel like the luckiest gal in the world. Wishing you peace and love, have a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Smoked Salmon Spaghetti Carbonara

Before I had a place of my own to call home, I would occasionally housesit/dogsit for a wonderful family. They had a gorgeous home in the country: big yard, hot tub, hammock hanging under massive cottonwood trees, beautiful sunsets. I couldn’t believe they actually paid me for the privilege of staying there. It was the best job ever.

Of course, this gorgeous home had a gorgeous kitchen: a built-in fridge/freezer stocked with great ingredients, two sinks, convection oven, gas range, top-quality knives and pans, a cookbook library. I was in heaven. And of course, when hubby and I were still dating, he’d come by and I’d make him dinner, playing the high-class homemaker and trying out whatever crazy concoction struck my fancy.

One night, I just made a simple meal of spaghetti carbonara. He liked it. He really liked it. In fact, according to him, it was a dealmaker, and the engagement ring came soon after.

That's some powerful pasta.

For me, reflecting back on this, it's an affirmation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder quote that now hangs above the sink in my own modest kitchen.

“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”

If you are not sold on this dish yet, know that this is one of the quickest, easiest meals you can make straight out of your pantry – and it’s all in one pot. Uncomplicated food + fewer dishes = more time for the simple things, like putting the baby to bed early, lingering over the kitchen table, finishing off that bottle of wine, dancing in kitchen…

Smoked Salmon Spaghetti Carbonara
Spaghetti carbonara is traditionally made with bacon or pancetta, but as always, I improvised with what I have on hand. I read somewhere that Italians NEVER mix fish and dairy - if this is true, it’s too bad, as they’ll never be able to enjoy this. Don’t freak out about dropping eggs right into the hot pasta; the egg “cooks” from the pasta’s residual heat (although anyone pregnant or ill should still take the usual precautions). If you really want to gild the lily, add some cream – but I don’t think it’s necessary. Serve with a green salad to balance this rich dish.

12 oz. of spaghetti (not quite the entire 1 lb. box - I use ½ regular noodles and ½ whole wheat noodles)
½ cup smoked salmon, broken into pieces
2 eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesean cheese

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water (do not rinse the pasta). Return hot pasta to cooking pot with about ½ cup of cooking water. Break eggs directly into hot pasta. Add cheese and stir to distribute. Add salmon, toss and serve.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Romaine Salad with Pheasant and Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette

I've been a little obsessed with Google Analytics lately, especially the section that tells you which blog posts are getting the most hits. I would have never, ever guessed that these were my top posts:

1. No Bake Haystack Cookies
2. Wedding Redeye
3. Frosting Guns Bang Bang

Soooo...if Google is telling me what I think it's telling me, people want more posts about lazy-day cookies, booze, frosting, and/or guns. Hmm.

Unfortunately for my fellow Googlers, the following recipe involves none of the above. In fact, I don't think anyone is Googling an orange balsamic salad with pheasant right now, but it's what we had for dinner tonight and it was delish, I can't help but share. Clearly, I'm still on a fruit-with-lettuce-salad kick.

And for those of you who happened upon here in search of booze and frosting, I hate to disappoint, but I'm sure our favorite boozy semi-ho friend Sandra Lee would be happy to help. Much like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, I must watch her make the famous Kwanzaa cake at least once a year.

Seriously, how did this woman get a cooking show again?

Romaine Salad with Pheasant and Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
The vinaigrette comes out of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook; the rest is improvisation.

Romaine lettuce
Pheasant breast, cut into strips, seasoned with Montreal Chicken, and pan-sauteed in olive oil until cooked through
Orange sections
Chopped cashews
Sliced green onions

Assemble salad and serve with vinaigrette.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbls. balsamic vinegar
Scant 1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and/or basil
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard (no dry mustard? Just squeeze in a squirt of dijon.)
Freshly ground black pepper

Add all vinaigrette ingredients to clean empty jar. Cover and shake well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cranberry Orange Bread

In the lovely little book Simplify Your Life, there is one tip the author gives that is ringing in my ears as I type - "everything that leaves the kitchen must be on a plate." The idea is that if it's on a plate, you won't spread crumbs around the house, and thus won't have to clean as often. I should've taken this to heart before digging into this bread, as I now have cranberry orange crumbs surrounding my keyboard, a little trail of deliciousness showing my path from kitchen to keyboard as I keep going back to the kitchen to cut myself off another slice. It's addictive.

There was that moment as the loaves cooled on the counter that I considered giving them both away. I could give them to my neighbors with their Christmas cards. I could take them to my mom's house as we go there for dinner tonight. I bet my co-workers would love to try this....

But I have to try it to make sure it's ok before passing it on, right? Well, that was my thought a half a loaf ago as I plowed through five thick slices with my tea for breakfast.

This is why I usually make double batches, especially around the holidays - so I can pass on the goodness to family and friends. I still have one loaf left, pristine and untouched to give away...if my nibbling little self can stay away from it.

Cranberry Orange Bread
Adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger, this recipe makes one loaf, but can easily be doubled - just process the cranberries in two batches. I know this seems like a lot of sugar, but don't be tempted to cut back on it. It's really a perfect level of sweetness as it is.

1 and 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 Tbls. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
Grated zest of 2 oranges
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup orange juice
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 Tbls butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan and set aside. In a food processor, combine cranberries and sugar, pulsing to chop. Set aside

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and ginger. Add orange zest and walnuts. Toss to blend.

In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice and eggs until frothy. Add vanilla and cranberry mixture. Stir to combine. Pour over dry ingredients and drizzle with melted butter. Stir with large spatula just until moistened.

Spread batter into loaf pan. Bake 50 minutes or until top is crusty and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix - Redeux

Bismarck, ND current weather conditions: 1 degree. Yup, we're above zero...oh, that doesn't count windchill?

Since it is officially winter here in North Dakota with snow, windshield ice scrapers, and the mad morning scramble to put enough layers on both myself and baby before venturing out of doors, it seems only appropriate to repost this great recipe for homemade hot chocolate mix. My hubby still likes Swiss Miss with pb toast, and Penzey's makes a great cocoa to mix with milk, but I think this mix is a keeper. Try it and let me know what you think.

And hopefully this winter, we won't be faced with this outside our back door.

PS - this is one of the few hot chocolate mix recipes you'll find that does NOT use coffee creamer as a base. Because I care. You're welcome.

Hot Chocolate Mix
Adapted from Alton Brown's Good Eats

1 and 1/4 cups powdered milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add all ingredients to a clean, dry container with lid (like a large glass canning jar) and shake it up, baby.

Fill your favorite mug 1/3 full of mixture. Add enough boiling water to fill cup halfway, then use a whisk to mix into a slurry (be sure you catch all the mix off the sides of the mug, too). Top off the mug with additional boiling water to fill, mix once more and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Venison and Squash Curry

The reading materials scattered on/under/around my bedside table serve as a reflection of my scattered interests. Amongst the hair ties and bobby pins you’ll find a well-worn book of Sudoku puzzles, a few back issues of Bon Appetit and Mother Earth News, a copy of The History Of God that I keep telling myself I’m going to dig into soon, some Rilke and Neruda, a book about canning, a travel guide to Spain…you get the idea.

On the other side, my husband’s bedside table is a testament to the steely focus of his attention: nothing but Cabela’s catalogs, an old book of hunting stories, and the latest issues of Field and Stream. Hunting isn’t just a hobby for this guy; it is a core part of his existence.

A funny thing happens sometimes. Every now and then, a copy of F&S gets up, meanders across the bed, and lands on top of my pile. I kid you not. Obviously, I have no idea how this happens, but after this magazine trots on over to my reading pile, I unknowingly grab it, start flipping through it, and lookie lookie, amongst the excellent articles on conservation and Bill Heavey’s smartly humorous back page essay, there are game recipes to be found. Really good game recipes. We’re talking rugged gourmet Mario Batali-esque game recipes.

In fact, if you check out the latest issue of Field and Stream (Dec 09/Jan 10), inside there is a five-recipe spread devoted to venison, including venison osso bucco and venison tamales, which was thrilling for me as a tamale aficionado. I promptly filed it away for the day that I have an extra five hours to make handmade tamales…I’m guessing sometime in January 2032. I’ll pencil that one in my day planner.

Not all their recipes are as complex as this. Take this venison curry from the October issue. For most Midwestern cooks, curry is new yet still accessible flavor – so why not try it with venison? As I had one of the season’s last squash sitting on my counter, I had to try this.

It was good. Really good. Even better as leftovers. And I’m doubly impressed since it came out of a hunting mag. Do I hear a call for a Field and Stream cookbook?

I still think curry paste is far superior to curry powder, but use whatever is fresh and on hand. Maybe add a little coconut milk too? Don’t omit the jalapeño – the dish needs a little spice.

Venison and Squash Curry
Adapted from Field and Stream magazine, October 2009 issue - plan ahead on this one, since the meat needs to hang out with the spices in the fridge for a bit and it all simmers on the back burner for a couple hours before chow time.

1 lb. venison, cut into 2" cubes
2 Tbls. curry powder
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 Tbls. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 - 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 Tbls. tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 winter squash, diced (I used Hubbard squash)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
3/4 cup turkey stock (or chicken broth)
2 Tbls. cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper

Put the cubed venison in a large bowl with curry powder, allspice, coriander, and generous doses of salt and pepper. Mix well to combine spices and coat meat. Refrigerate for at least one hour (preferably longer).

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add venison and cook until well browned on all sides, about six minutes.

Add onion, tomatoes, and tomato paste, and continue to cook, stirring, until onion is soft, about four minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add squash, jalapeño, and stock; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 more hours, or until meat is very tender. Stir in cilantro and serve with rice.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tom and Jerry Batter

For all the grumbling about the holidays - the shopping, the schlepping, the schmoozing - there are moments that make it all worthwhile. The glimmer in a child’s eye as they hang a favorite homemade ornament on the tree. The pristine glow of a picture-perfect fat-flake snowfall. My big gruff father-in-law in the kitchen, wearing a red flowered apron, beating a bowl of egg whites. Yes, these are the things the holidays are made of.

Eggnog may be America’s holiday beverage of choice, but around here, Tom and Jerry runs a close second. For those who aren’t acquainted with Tom and Jerry outside of the cat-and-mouse cartoon, it is a warm beverage composed of hot water, a shot of rum, a shot of brandy, and a generous topping of sweet foamy egg batter with a sprinkle of nutmeg. Think of it as frothy, boozy eggnog without the milk – or better yet, think of it as Festivus in a mug. And if you drink it while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, it magically tastes even better. Trust me.

You can purchase Tom and Jerry batter in the local liquor stores this time of year, but like most things in life, the store-bought doesn’t compare to the homemade stuff. While the store-bought batter is almost always soupy, the homemade batter has major fluff and froth, like the cappuccino of your dreams. It’s only Christmas once a year, so get out the mixer and make a batch at your next holiday get-toegether. It’s beverage that is meant to be shared, and around here, the taste of a good Tom and Jerry sparks the memories of holidays past, and the stories and laughs start rolling.

Tom and Jerry batter is best when served immediately, although you could keep it covered in the fridge for a couple hours if necessary – just whip it up again before serving. If brandy is too strong for your taste, try a shot of crème de cacao instead. And yes, this is composed of raw eggs, and no, I have no idea if there is a version that eliminates all salmonella risk – but if you are so straight edge about raw egg consumption that you can go through life without eating pinches of cookie dough and enjoying a Tom and Jerry once a year, then God bless you.

The original family recipe card:

And the recipe below translated for today’s kitchen. Enjoy!

Tom and Jerry Batter
5 fresh eggs, separated
3/4 cup powdered sugar, divided
Hot Water

Pour egg whites into mixer bowl and beat at high speed with whisk attachment until stiff peaks form, about four minutes. Lower mixer speed to lowest setting and slowly add ½ cup powdered sugar, combining until just mixed. Pour egg white mixture into separate large bowl and set aside.

In mixing bowl, add egg yolks and beat at high speed with whisk attachment until creamy and pale yellow about four minutes. Lower mixer speed to lowest setting and slowly add ¼ cup powdered sugar, combining just until mixed. Pour egg yolk mixture into large bowl with egg white mixture. Fold gently until yolk mixture and egg mixture are just combined.

Fill 8 oz. mug 2/3 full with hot water. Add a shot of brandy and a shot of rum. Fill mug to brim with egg batter, sprinkle nutmeg on top, insert wooden stir stick into mug, and serve immediately.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase

Ladies and gentlemen, I have located the mothership, and surprisingly, it's right in my backyard.

Oops, no, that was the Fargo AC/DC concert. Maybe the mothership for some...but it looks a little alien-like, don't you think? At least the most mothership-looking picture I had...

Ah yes, there it is. The mothership for local ND foodies - the Pride of Dakota holiday showcase! And that exclamation point is well deserved. This isn't just a bake sale or a craft show. This is an event!

For one weekend, the Bismarck Exhibition Center is set up for North Dakota vendors selling their North Dakota wares. I beat the Saturday crowds and stopped by on Friday evening - although there is no guarantee that you won't see me there again tomorrow. I mean, check out this table of kuchen. It took all my energy not to rip the wrapping off that apple one and just plow my entire face right into it.

Thankfully, Red Roaster Coffee from Minot was set up near by to revive my energy with coffee beans to use as sniffing salts. I don't even make coffee at home and I was still trying to decide between the Christmas Blend and the Caramel Cinnamon Roll beans.

I heart my ND flax seed, and these flax cookies stole the show for me. I'm a sucker for any cookie I can justify as delicious AND good for me. There WILL be a crowd around the sample platter. Be polite but persistant in getting in there to try them. Trust me on this one.

As I brushed cookie crumbs off my black sweater, I came across the NDSU Germans from Russia heritage table and thought I died and went to Cookbook Heaven. Forget Food Network - the church and community cookbooks are where it's at and this group is collecting and preserving as many as they can get. God bless their little German-from-Russia hearts for that.

But if I'm misspelling anything or blathering on here, I know who to blame for my lazy grammar: Maple River Winery, Dakota Hills Winery, and Vintner's Cellar. Clearly, I can't resist samples of rhubarb wine...and even rhubarb vodka!

If you make it to Pride of Dakota this weekend, let me know what some of your favorites were. If you can't make it there, you can still check out the products here. Good people and good products make for very happy holidays. Cheers!

PS - Tickets are $2, but bring your own reusable bag and you only get charged $1. Hours are from 10-5 on Saturday, 11-5 on Sunday. Be warned: cheerful people in holiday aprons will charm you into buying mass quantities of wild plum jam - as if buying homemade jams requires any arm twisting.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

L.L. Bean Game and Fish Cookbook

So if anyone is looking for any holiday gift ideas for Yours Truly, here's a hint:

Don't I give great hints? I learned from my dear hubby that direct is best.

I picked up this gem of a game cookbook at the library and I'm smitten. Nearly every edible North American game animal and fish is included. In what other cookbook will you see the phrase "chicken-fried young squirrel is better than rabbit or chicken"?

And yes, an entire chapter devoted to that most delicious of all fish, the Walleyed Pike, aka walleye.

I like this cookbook because, as opposed to Ted Nugent's delicately titled Kill It and Grill It, this one has a gentlemanly touch to it. Even with chapters devoted to squirrel and muskrat, the text still makes the reader envision the hunters you would see in an Orvis ad rather than, say, someone named Jeb wearing a Dixie flag doo-rag. I'm charmed by the fact that it was published in the 1970's - it's clean, classic, unpretentious, with a dash of James Beard sprinkled throughout. And if I ever get to the point that I can clean an animal myself, there are lots of tips on how to clean, butcher, and preserve the meat.

Or, if you REALLY want to get me excited for the holidays, you can stop by Tiffany's and pick up one of these little numbers.

Hey, beneath it all, I'm still just a girl who likes sparkles.