Monday, May 31, 2010

Sneaky Brownies

Meet your worst nightmare. Brownie batter - with carrots. And spinach.

The cookbook calls it "loving deception." The idea is to slyly stuff sweets and pasta dishes with vegetable purees so your kids will eat their veggies - without ever knowing it!

Hmm. I'm not too sure how I feel about this.

Yay for veggies, but can't kids enjoy broccoli in broccoli form? Does it have to be covered in cheese? It's not that complicated - all you have to do is stick an Elmo sticker on broccoli and kids will eat it. True fact.

But curiousity got the best of me. "These brownies fool everyone!" exclaims the recipe. "You won't believe how scrumptious they are." Ok, I'm game. But then I read the next line: "Just don't serve them warm - it's not until they're completely cool that the spinach flavor totally disappers."

Yup. The recipe actually says that. Delish.

I bought a massive tub of baby spinach this week, so what the heck, let's give it a shot. And know what? They're not bad. They're not super amazing, but think of it as a party trick. Play the "Bet You Can't Guess What You're Eating Right Now" game. Everyone loves that.

Sneaky Brownies
Adapted from Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. Yes, Jerry's wife. So just think: Jerry Seinfeld has probably eaten these brownies. Oooh, brush with fame! I read that she left her first husband right after their honeymoon to marry Jerry. Now that's loving deception...

3 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 c. carrot puree (steam 2-3 carrots until very soft and puree in food processor)
1/2 c. spinach puree (steam 2 cups baby spinach until very soft and puree in food processor)
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbls. butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 c. all-purpose flour (substitute up to half with whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Grease an 8x8" baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until melted.

In a large bowl, combine melted chocolate, vegetable purees, sugar, cocoa powder, butter, and vanilla; whisk until smooth. Whisk in egg, then stir in flour, baking powder and salt.

Pour batter into pan and bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into bars. Or do as I did and eat one warm, just to see...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fried Eggs with Village Hot Sauce

I'm a hot sauce wimp. There. I said it. I wish I loved hot sauce, pouring Tabasco on my eggs and relishing the thought of extra jalapenos on my nachos. But I'm a German-from-Russia gal at heart. Putting ketchup on my fleishkuekle seems spicy.

So thank goodness for Village Hot Sauce, made right here in ND - Grand Forks to be exact (Go Non-Offensive-Green-and-White college sports team logo!). It's flavorful, saucy, with just a tiny kick of spice since I ALWAYS buy the mild stuff, never the hot version. It's not Los Amigos salsa (R.I.P), but it's pretty darn good.

I even put it on my eggs.

Fried Eggs with Village Hot Sauce
Breakfast for one on a Thursday morning - feel free to add more if you feel like sharing

1-2 eggs
Handful of baby spinach
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Village hot sauce

Pour a glug of olive oil in a cast iron or non-stick pan, heat over medium-high heat. Crack in the eggs and let sit for a minute so the bottom starts to cook undisturbed. Add tomatoes around the edges of the pan. When bottom of egg is firmed up, flip egg to cook other side. Add spinach to top of egg; the heat of the pan and egg should make it start to wilt (cover for 30 seconds if not wilting). When egg is done to your liking, remove with veggies and serve with hot sauce, toast, and a glass of oj.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Harvest Restaurant

Friday night in Linton, North Dakota. 60 miles south of Bismarck. Population 1,200.

This is a happening place.

No, seriously. It is. Don't let appearances fool you. Drive down Broadway past the Green Lantern bar towards the grain elevator and you'll find Harvest Restaurant. And this will make you very happy.

Harvest is run by Zila, a Brazilian woman twice my age with twice my energy and a kind, graceful way about her that pulls you in immediately. She moved to Linton, ND with her doctor husband who, bless his heart, saw the need for rural doctors and wanted to help. So Zila, not one to sit around the house, decided to open a fitness center.

In Linton, ND.

Then, she decided to open a restaurant next to the fitness center. Not just a burger joint. A restaurant with nice lighting, tablecloths, and multiple pieces of silverware sitting at each place setting. On the weekends, her son Edgar would man the grill with Brazilian BBQ every Friday and Saturday night, an all-you-can-eat feast of meat brought to you on big skewers and piled right on your plate.

In Linton, ND.

We were at Harvest in December to try the Brazilian BBQ and it was quiet. Too quiet. Just us and another table. The meal was amazing and I just hoped that they would get the publicity they needed to get Bismarck folk heading down Highway 1804 to check this place out.

That's my carnivore. See that gleam in his eye? He gets that any time he sees red meat. I love that he's holding his silverware, ready to attack. He also does that any time he sees red meat.

So we decided to visit Harvest last night to celebrate our anniversary. This time around, I was pleasantly surprised. It was busy, with about 10 tables filled, and they told me it was a slow night.

Zila and Edgar were pretty excited, not only because they are just enthusiastic people who love life and feeding their community, but also because last night the Bismarck news played this nice news story all about Harvest. Click on the link to see Zila, her son Edgar, and their lovely restaurant.

Now I can't wait to hear about the lines out the door at Harvest next weekend.

In Linton, ND.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Homemade Kahlua

Back in college, I really wanted to have a drink. Wait. Let me rephrase. I really wanted to identify with a drink. Like 007 with his martini. Or Carrie Bradshaw and her cosmo. Something that I could always order, know I would like it, and feel semi-cool drinking it. Because that's why you start drinking, right? To feel semi-cool?

So the journey began in college. When I was 19, a group of us went up to Winnipeg - my first time ordering at a bar. I chose Smirnoff Ice. One is ok. Six is not. No more alco-pops for this gal after that night.

Then came the frat party days, which meant cheap keg beer. Thankfully, I grew out of this phase pretty quickly, since the frat scene was just...well, let's just say the quality of the personalities often matched the quality of the beverage being served. I think that's a good rule to stick with.

Then I went though a Colorado Bulldog phase - vodka, Kahlua, topped off with Coke, cream, and hazelnuts. I loved those hazelnuts, since that meant I got to drink AND eat. Everyone knows eating is better than drinking, so why not order something with garnishes and get the best of both worlds? Extra olives in my Bloody Mary, pleaseandthankyou.

I still haven't settled on a particular drink, but although Bulldogs are too fussy for me now, the college gal in me still likes a Kahlua and cream now and then. A couple summers ago we were at our friends' cabin at Lake Tschida. For the non-NDers, a "lake cabin" around here is nothing fancy - this ain't Minnesota, after all. A ND lake cabin typically means an old trailer with a few strings of Christmas lights on the porch next to a watering hole in the middle of the prairie with country radio cranked up. And we love it.

So we're at the cabin and someone pulls out a jar of homemade Kahlua. Awesome. Don't you just love the idea of homemade liquor in a mason jar on a hot summer day at the lake? What? Is my red neck peeking out from under my J.Crew shirt?

Don't worry. It's still me. Look. Organic vodka. So it's good for you!

Homemade Kahlua
Adapted from Bon Appetit (March 2010). Most vodka in the liquor store around here is imported. If you're shopping for booze, I'll be flattered if you think of me and pick up a Made-in-USA bottle. Phillips is a decent basic vodka, based in MN and they have an organic label called Prairie (pictured above). Spudka is made in Idaho (and a favorite with the celiac folk, since potato vodka = no gluten, or so I hear). If you wear fancy pants, Shakers is excellent (but with a top shelf price).

2 cups water
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup instant coffee granules
2 cups vodka
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)

Bring water to boil in a medium pot. Add sugar and coffee. Reduce heat to low, stirring just until sugar and coffee dissolve. Remove from heat and let stand until cool.

Once coffee syrup in cooled, stir in vodka. Pour into large jar. If using vanilla bean, scrape in vanilla bean seeds and then drop in the bean halves, stirring to blend. Cover. You can serve immediately, but it gets better as it sits, up to six weeks.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Swedish Meatballs

No. Not those Swedish meatballs.

Just kidding. I love ABBA.

Ok, there ya go.

Back in my college days, I was in Spain. More specifically, I was in the women's bathroom outside yet another gilded church that every exchange student simply must visit when studying abroad in Spain, even though they all eventually mush together in one long procession of gilded-lily altars. Anyway, there was a group of Swedish students there, too. A few of the Swedish girls were reapplying lip gloss in the bathroom while I was there and I suddenly felt like the ugly American duckling. They were so stylish, so cool, so gorgeous. And it wasn't like there was just one pretty one leading the pack of normal looking Swedish girls - they were all just picture perfect. I wanted to be them. I wondered if I moved to Sweden and ate what they ate and shopped where they shopped and followed their every move, if I too could hope to be so effortlessly cool as they seemed to me at that moment. My Old Navy clothes suddenly felt so nerdy, and my hair so dull, and my frame so awkward with my flat chest and long torso and corn-fed thighs. They gabbed and giggled in their funny lilting language and I just washed up, pulled my hair in a ponytail, and meandered on. Weird how that stands out in my memory so vividly. And frankly, I haven't encountered an ugly Swedish person. Ever. Not just Elin Woods and Greta Garbo. I mean, random people from Sweden that I meet on vacations or just hanging out in Minnesota - they're just good looking people.

Which brings me to Swedish meatballs.

Actually, that story had nothing to do with Swedish meatballs. The girls in the Spanish church bathroom probably didn't eat a lot. Kate Moss claims that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, however I politely disagree. Swedish meatballs taste way better than skinny feels.

Swedish Meatballs
Alton Brown on Food Network - yes, the nerdy Good Eats guy - is a great source for foolproof basic recipes. This is adapted from his version - with our own rhubarb and venison style, of course.

2 slices fresh white bread
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 and 1/2 pounds ground elk
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 cups pheasant stock
1/4 cup sour cream

Tear the bread into pieces and place in a large mixing bowl along with the milk. Set aside.

In an electric skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are soft. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In the mixing bowl with the bread and milk mixture, add the meat, eggs, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and onions. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute (or just mix thoroughly with your hands).

Heat the remaining butter in an electric skillet set to 275 degrees F. Divide the meat, rolling into small meatballs, and add the meatballs to the pan, sauteing until golden brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs using a slotted spoon.

Once all of the meatballs are cooked, decrease the heat to low and add the flour to the pan or skillet. Whisk until lightly browned, approximately 1 minute. Add sherry and whisk. Gradually add the stock and whisk until sauce begins to thicken. Continue cooking until gravy reaches desired consistency. Whisk in sour cream, cover meatballs with the gravy and serve.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Monkey Bread

Monkey bread is my mom's specialty. On the weekdays, my mom avoids white flour and white sugar, but come Saturday morning, it's time for a treat.

Lucky me, this recipe makes a lot, so if I time it just right, I can drop by her house while the monkey bread is still warm, and usually get sent off with a good chunk of warm gooey carbaliciousness to nibble on at home...or in the car on the way home. I'm not above a sticky steering wheel.

Happy Mother's Day, mom. We love you!

Monkey Bread

4 tubes buttermilk biscuits
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. vanilla ice cream
1 t. cinammon + 1 c. sugar, mixed

Quarter biscuits and roll in cinamon/sugar mixture. Put in greased 9x13 pan. Heat margarine or butter, sugars, and ice cream until hot. Pour over biscuits. Bake 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Note: You can 1/2 the recipe and use 8x8 pan.
Note: You can also increase butter and ice cream to 3/4 c. each for more "goo" in a 9x13 pan.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Good Morning, Bismarck!

Snow covered tulips. Welcome to spring in North Dakota.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fried Fish with Zucchini Corn Fritters

Parenting pop quiz: your baby finally goes down for a late morning nap. You're feeling a little tired yourself. Do you...

a) Take a nap
b) Take a relaxing hot shower
c) Sit down with a favorite book
d) Grab the cast iron skillet and fry up some fish and fritters

If you chose A, B, or C, congratulations on being a normal, well-adjusted adult. If you chose D, welcome to Club Nutzo. At least I'm in good company.

Before Ben takes a nap, I feel exhausted. I promise myself that I'm going to nap with him, that we'll snuggle and snooze the afternoon away for one of those epic naps where you wake up and the light outside has shifted and you wonder 'My oh my, how long have I been gone?'

But then he falls asleep, and my eyes open wide. 'I could do another load of laundry,' I think to myself. 'Or I could dig up some dandelions. Or I could teach myself to crochet...' Sleep falls down the priority list and my engine starts up again.

So with a free hour stretching out before me the other day while Ben napped and I...didn't, I decided to cook (surprise surprise). We had fresh walleye in the fridge thanks to my honey's recent fishing tournament - no cash prize this time, but fresh fish is still a prize in my mind. Plus, I still had some zucchini and corn in the freezer from last season to use up. Fish and fritters it is!

Doesn't that look nummy? Hot off the griddle.

I cooked this up, enjoyed a few bites...and still got in a little nap before my well-rested baby boy woke up. Double joy.

Fried Fish with Zucchini Corn Fritters
If you don't have zucchini and corn in the freezer, I wouldn't go out and buy it for this; just bookmark this recipe for August when you're swimming in zukes. And then store some of those veggies away in the freezer, so you can pull it out for a taste of summer whenever you'd like.

Vegetable oil for frying

1-2 lbs walleye fillets (or other firm white fish)
1 egg, beaten
1 sleeve saltine crackers, put in a large Ziploc bag and FINELY crushed
1 tsp. seasoned salt

1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup corn kernels
2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

First, mix up the fritters. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, pepper, and baking soda. Then add zucchini, corn and chives, mixing well. Let sit while you prepare the fish; the batter will moisten as it sits.

Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, enough to cover the entire surface but not so anything could swim in there (maybe 4 Tbls, depending on the size of your pan). Mix crushed saltines and seasoned salt in large Ziploc bag; dip fish fillets in egg and then add to saltine bag; shake it up to coat the fish.

Carefully place coated fish in hot oil and fry until browned on one side, flipping to brown the other side. When fully browned and cooked through, remove from pan and place on paper-towel-covered plate.

Add more oil to the skillet if needed and heat until shimmering. Working quickly, grab the fritter dough with your hands in small balls, flattening to make thick patties. Carefully place in hot oil, repeating until pan is full (you'll only have room for half the fritters first time through) and sauté until cooked through, browned, and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Repeat with remaining patties, adding more oil, if needed. Serve hot with fish.