Monday, August 30, 2010

Frozen Hot Chocolate

"Honey," I said, sweetly, as we were reading before bed. "What would you think if I bought a $500 blender?"


"Well, it's a really good blender," I add.

"...ummm. Don't we already have a blender? Didn't it cost, like, $25?"

I can see now that I should've taken a different approach. Something more like an infomercial. I could've said, "Honey, how much is our health and well-being worth to you? $5,000? $50,000? What if I told you that we could make an investment in our health, possibly even extend both the quality and length of our lives, for the low low price of $500?"

But no. Instead, I kept digging myself a hole.

"Well, it's a really good blender," I repeat. "You can even make nut butter in it!"

He wasn't impressed.

Clearly I'm talking about the Vitamix 5200, the king of all blenders. It doesn't just blend. It pulvurizes. It puts the "smooth" in smoothie. It can turn a handful of cashews into a spreadable substance in seconds. It can whip apple slices into applesauce. It can even make ice cream. And I'm mesmerized by it.

I've had a history of blender issues (click on the link if only to see the most adorable picture of my little one a year ago...sorry, it's just too sweet). I've put the Vitamix up on the kitchen appliance pedestal once reserved only for KitchenAid mixers and Viking ranges. It doesn't help that my co-worker has one and raves about it.

But seriously, I can't justify it. $500? Why does it cost that much? Maybe the blades are made out of baby rhino teeth.

Fortunately for us regular folk, you don't need a Vitamix to make frozen hot chocolate. And fortunately for my husband, I'm keeping my Visa card in my wallet...for now.

Frozen Hot Chocolate
From Fine Cooking mag, it's like really thick chocolate milk blended with ice, except using cocoa powder instead of chocolate syrup adds that hot chocolaty-ness to it. Remember that homemade Kahlua? That's a perfect (adults-only) addition. This makes one big glass or two smaller servings.

1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cups natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Small pinch of salt
A couple shots of Kahlua (optional)
1 cup ice cubes

Blend all ingredients except the ice in a blender until well combined. Add ice and blend just until slushy. Serve immediately.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Boil-In-A-Bag Omelets

I have to thank my dear mother-in-law for this idea. My in-laws were out pheasant hunting with friends in western North Dakota staying in, if I remember this right, an old cabin with the claim to fame that Teddy Roosevelt (ND’s fav president) once slept there. It was during this stay that they were introduced to boil-in-a-bag omelets.

With all the buzz about plastic chemicals leaching into food while cooking, I wouldn’t advocate cooking food in a plastic bag every day. However, it’s yummy, easy, and campsite friendly, if you don’t mind traveling with eggs. I bet you could use that egg product that comes in a carton, if you really worry about cracked egg making a mess in your cooler.

Hope you got a couple new ideas for cooking on the campsite this week! And I have to say thanks to Doug Leier from Outdoors Live on The Mighty 790 radio in Fargo for the camping week inspiration. If you want to hear me talking with Doug about omelets and bananas and the general joys of camp cooking, just tune in this weekend (for you curious out-of-staters, I'll post the link later). Sorry if I sound like a crazy person on the radio. I just get really excited about stuff like this.

Boil-In-A-Bag Omelets
Everyone makes their own omelet in their own bag, and you can boil them all at once. Make sure you mark each bag with a marker so you know which one is yours!

Omelet fixings (finely chopped peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, grated cheese, ham, bacon, sausage, etc)
Salt and pepper

Get a large pot of water boiling. Meanwhile, in a quart-size Ziploc bag, crack in two or three eggs. Add the fixings of your choosing. Sprinkle in a dash of salt and pepper. Seal the bag and squish everything around so it all gets mixed. Mark the bag with your initial to indicate which one is yours. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add omelet bags to the water and cook 6-8 minutes or until egg is cooked firm. Open the bag carefully and let the cooked omelet roll out onto a plate. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Campfire Bananas

Who doesn’t love a good campfire? Our neighbor purchased one of these new propane-fueled campfire glass bowls for his patio. “Look! No smoke!” It’s really nice and it looks pretty, but he mentioned you can’t roast anything over the propane fire, for risk of ruining the unit with drips of bratwurst grease or marshmallow fluff.

Now tell me, what is a campfire without brats and s’mores?

The s’more is still the ultimate camp dessert, but if you’re open to trying something new one evening, this is it. Bananas stuffed with chocolate, wrapped in foil and roasted until the chocolate is melty and the banana is soft – it’s like a hot banana split, in the best way possible.

But making these in the backyard fire pit yields one advantage over the campsite fire: topping them with ice cream!

Campfire Bananas
Chocolate chips, marshmallows, miniature candy bars, chopped-up peanut butter cups, caramels, butterscotch chips, coconut, chopped nuts – go wild, whatever you can think of
Whipped cream or ice cream (optional)
Aluminum foil

With the banana still in the peel, carefully cut the banana down the middle lengthwise while leaving the ends and the bottom side of the peel intact, so it opens similar to a hot dog bun. Stuff the middle of the banana with chocolate and other sweet fixings. Push the banana back together and wrap completely with foil.

Set in hot coals near the campfire flame (not IN the flame) and let roast 5-10 minutes, depending on the heat of your fire. Check by opening part of the foil – the banana should be very soft; if it’s not soft, wrap it up and put it back in the fire to cook longer. When done, carefully remove from fire and open the foil. Top with whipped cream or ice cream, if you have it. To eat it, grab a spoon and scoop the banana right out of the peel atop the foil.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Camp Fish and Rice

I’ve decided to make it camping week here at R&V. With Labor Day right around the corner, there’s still time to pack up the tent and get out there for the last gasp of summer.

Just don’t expect to see me there.

Pre-child, we were fairly seasoned campers, so this summer we tried camping with our one-year-old Ben. Hilarity ensued.

First, we chose what turned out to be the coldest weekend of the summer. Yay.

Next, Kent wanted to bring The Big Tent instead of our little tent so we'd all have extra room. Ok, makes sense, fine.

And then there's the vestibule.

Kent has a big tent. I mean BIG. He uses it as a portable hunting lodge in the fall and winter, so it has a wood stove with a stovepipe that sticks out the top of the tent and a couple cots that fit inside with room to spare.

He loves this tent. He'll set it up in the backyard sometimes, just to see it standing up in its glory.

Did I mention he really loves this tent?

Last fall while tenting during hunting season, he thought it would be handy to have a separate space for hunting gear, keeping the tent living area clean and dry.

This is how the vestibule entered our lives. It’s an entryway for the tent, set up like a tent attachment. A tiny tent for the big tent, if you will. Here are the boys in front of the vestibule in front of the tent.

So there we were at Cross Ranch, a lovely nature preserve along the Missouri River, tucked amidst the tall cottonwood trees. Just the three of us and the huge tent. And the vestibule. And the cots. And the inflatable mattress. And all of Ben’s baby gear. And the dog. And the dog’s gear. And the coolers. get the idea.

They say you don’t own your things; your things own you. As camp set-up dragged on into the evening, those words kept ringing in my head. I helped with set-up too, but my focus was on keeping the little guy from falling in the river next to our campsite.

I realize Kent had good intentions with all this. He set all this up because a) he loves us and wants everyone to be comfortable and b) he loves gear, especially camping gear. Very Clark Griswold. However, with the cold weather and fussy child, my patience was in limited supply. I wanted our little pup tent, the one up by myself in ten minutes flat. I wanted a hot meal. I wanted Ben to stop fussing. And, ok, I’ll admit it, I just wanted to be home.

The campsite was set up, vestibule and all, just in time for us to cook dinner on the camp stove, take a walk, then get Ben ready for bed. Fortunately, dinner was hot, quick, and good – fish and rice. I usually pooh-pooh any recipe that starts with “First, rip open a package of instant rice,” but I make no apologies in this instance.

And the rest of the trip? After tossing and turning all night, trying to keep Ben warm and comfortable, we tore down camp on Saturday morning, got home by noon, and slept blissfully at home Saturday night. And that made me a very happy camper.

Don't worry, one bad night won't keep us from getting out and camping again. After all, all the hassle may just be worth it, if only to enjoy views like this.

Camp Fish and Rice
We store walleye fillets in Ziploc bags filled with water so they freeze in a solid block of ice. This way, they’re portable and can be thawed out on either Day 1 or Day 2 at camp. And if you caught fresh fish out at camp, all the better.

1 pouch Lipton/Knorr 7-minute rice sides, whatever flavor floats your boat
1 lb. walleye fillets, cut into chunks
1-2 Tbls. butter or oil
Cut-up vegetables (optional; cut up dense vegetables like carrots finely so they cook through)

Start cooking rice according to package directions with the butter included in the boiling water. Once boiling, add veggies and fish. Cover and cook until rice is tender and fish flakes with a fork.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Classic Fried Chicken

Auntie Toni has a farm, E-I-E-I-O!

And on this farm she has some chicks...and turkeys...and cows...and pigs...E-I-E-I-O!

I won't say I married my husband because his aunt happens to raise chickens on her hobby farm and generously shares the poultry bounty with us, but truth be told, it may have been a factor in our marriage agreement. But that's just between you and me, wink wink.

Aunt Toni and her husband retired a few years ago, but like true North Dakotans, they never stopped working. On their small plot by Minot, they have a few cows, a whole roost of chickens, sometimes a couple pigs, and a freezer filled with fresh fresh meat.

Thanks to her, I no longer romanticize the idea of having a hobby farm. Oh, yes, there was a day when I pictured myself on my own five acre plot in a long flowing skirt, holding a hand-woven basket of chicken feed, leisurely tossing it on the ground to feed my chubby hens as singing chickadees perched on my shoulders and mice with tiny t-shirts on sewed a ballgown for me in the farmhouse attic.

But now, after visiting the farm this summer, I am reminded that farming - even 5-acre farming - can be shitty work (and I mean that literally).

Sorry. I swore. Don't tell my mom.

So here's to Toni, the hardest workin' retired woman I know. Thank you for the chicken and for being an all-around amazing aunt, welcoming me into the family with open arms. And yes, this fall I have plans for that beef heart you gave to us. Stay tuned.

Fried Chicken
From the latest issue of Fine Cooking, this ended up being a laborious process for us, since we filled the pan with too much oil, which meant it took longer to heat up and we couldn't add as much chicken to the pan at the same time without overflow issues. Lesson learned for next time. If you don't have a thermometer, you can buy them in the grilling and turkey fryer section of your local hardware store. This time of year, you may even find them on sale!

1-1/2 cups buttermilk
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 whole small (3- to 3-1/4-lb.) chicken, cut into 10 pieces
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. sweet paprika
2 to 3 cups vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk with 2 tsp. sea salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 and up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

When you’re ready to fry the chicken, put the flour, paprika, 2 tsp. sea salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a large doubled brown paper bag, and shake to combine. Working in 2 batches, drop the chicken pieces into the flour mixture, fold the top of the bag closed, and shake to coat completely. Arrange the coated chicken on a large wire rack set over a large rimmed baking sheet. Discard the remaining flour mixture.

Pour enough oil into a deep heavy-duty 12-inch skillet (preferably cast iron) to reach a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until a deep fat/candy thermometer clipped to the side of the skillet without touching the bottom registers 350°F.

Carefully arrange the chicken skin side down in the hot oil—it’s fine if the pan is very crowded. The temperature will drop to about 300°F. Partially cover the skillet with a lid or a baking sheet, leaving the thermometer visible, and fry until golden-brown, about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain 300°F to 325°F. If necessary, move the pieces around for even browning. Turn the chicken over and fry, uncovered, until browned all over and an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of each piece, 5 to 7 minutes more.

Meanwhile, wash and dry the wire rack and baking sheet and set the rack over the sheet near the skillet. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to the rack to drain briefly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Toffee Bars

I had an itch to bake this weekend. When I bake, I find myself scrounging around the kitchen for something to use up - ends of chocolate bars, nearly empty bags of dried fruit, a random handful of nuts at the bottom of a jar. Am I the only person who does this?
This time, I had some almond roca left over from Christmas and a peanut butter-filled chocolate bunny from last Easter sitting in my cupboard. I was tired of seeing that cellophane-wrapped bunny every time I opened the cupboard, so I finally unwrapped it and chopped it up along with those almond roca for toffee bar topping.

I have to admit, it's kinda fun to wield a massive knife and chop up a chocolate bunny. I must have some pent-up holiday frustration that I'll need to deal with some day.

I made these bars, cut them, set them on a wire rack to cool, and went to play with Ben. No more than five minutes later, I walked through the kitchen and noticed four bars were gone already.

Let's just say this recipe has hubby's stamp of approval.

And ps - this has nothing to do with toffee bars but everything to do with NoDak; check out this video. Some Bismarck boys...oh, excuse me, "bois"...with a lot of time on their hands this summer made this. I got a big 'ol laugh out of it. Thanks "bois"!

Toffee Bars
From Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. When you spread the batter in the pan, it's going to be a really thin layer, and you'll think you won't have enough batter at first, but just go with it and keep spreading it on the bottom of the pan. It'll work. Promise.

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup toffee bits
1/3 chopped walnuts

Beat butter on high speed for 30 seconds until completely softened and whipped. Add sugar, egg and vanilla; beat until well-combined, scraping down sides of the bowl if needed. Beat in flour. Spread mixture in bottom of ungreased 13"x9"x2" pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until edges just start to brown. Pull from oven and immediately top with chocolate pieces; let set for 2 minutes to soften chocolate, then spread across bars in a thin layer. Immediately top with toffee bits and walnuts, cut into bars while still warm, and cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Adventures in Pickling

When my stepdad called begging us to take some of the cucumbers that were taking over their garden, he didn't have to twist my arm too much to oblige.

It's picklin' time!

I know using Mrs. Wages mix as pickle seasoning isn't the most culinary thing to do. I should've harvested some fresh dill, crushed my own mustard seed, gathered sea salt from the shores of Maui...and someday, I may do that (especially that Maui part).

But in reality, this is what's going on when I'm in the kitchen.

Thanks, dear, for taking pictures of me without my written permission at 7:50 am. Love ya.

Note the hunched posture, the rack of drying dishes teetering precariously near the edge of the cupboard, the young child sensing that there is a hot stove nearby that needs to be closely inspected. I probably tripped over that truck five times until I finally tossed it out of the way.

If ripping open a packet makes my life easier, so be it. Mind you, I'm CANNING PICKLES! Remind me next summer that this is what grocery stores were made for.

However, I can now admire my shelf of (nearly) homemade pickles all winter long. In the meantime, I'm penciling that Maui trip in my schedule 17 years from now.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Green Beans with Parmesan Sauce

"Tell ya what, Mom. Let's go put on our best Hawaiian shirts, grab some shades and a sippy cup of juice, and go pontoonin'!"

Must be summertime.

The green beans are gorgeous right now. Go to the Farmers Market and pick some up to make this. And while you're there, get some extra to store away in the freezer. You'll thank me come January.

Bismarck Farmers Market schedule (as far as I know)
- Sun, Noon @ K-Mart
- Tues, Thurs, Sat, 8 am @ K-Mart
- Mon, Wed, Fri, 3 pm @ Mac's (by south Wal-Mart)

And don't forget Urban Harvest downtown on Thursdays!

Green Beans with Parmesan Sauce
From Gourmet Today. We ate this as a side to steamed walleye. I heard somewhere that cheese and fish should never go together, but whatev, I doused the fish with this sauce - awesome.

About 1 and 1/2 lbs. green beans, stem end snapped off
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (the pre-shredded stuff is fine, however I use the powdery green can parm)
1 Tbls. cream cheese, softened
1 and 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbls. olive oil
1 Tbls. white wine vinegar
1 Tbls. water

Cook beans in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to bowl.

Meanwhile, blend Parm, cream cheese, mustard, garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and pepper in a blender until combined.

Bring oil, vinegar and water just to a boil in a small saucepan. With blender on low speed, add hot oil mixture in a stream, stopping to scrape down sides of blender if necessary, then blend until thick and creamy.

Pour sauce over beans and toss to coat. Ok to serve hot, at room temp, or cold.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

DC finale

Why do we travel? I'm really a homebody at heart, and becoming more so as I grow older, but I'm convinced that travelling is good for the soul. Being in a new environment livens up our senses and shakes up our perspective on things, if only for a few days.

And you know, a little trip can be good for the palate too.

Our little DC trip gave us plenty of new food experiences. We met up with our friend Ibti at Le Chat Noir, a tiny bistro near Bethesda and my first experience with real deal French food.

We ordered fromage (not cheese - "fromage") and I discovered that triple-creme is French for triple OH-MY-GOSH-WHAT-IS-THIS-WONDERFULNESS-THAT-I'M-EATING-RIGHT-NOW cheese. I discovered that snails taste like a cross between mussels and chicken. And I reaffirmed that no matter how fancy the restaurant, food truly does taste best when shared with friends.

We enjoyed brunch with Kent's aunt and uncle at the Chart House in Old Town Alexandria, sitting right on the Potomac River. It was my first taste of caviar.

Although it looks gorgeous on a plate, I have to be honest. I don't see what all the fuss is about. It tasted salty, a bit like smoked salmon. Or like licking the underside of a sea turtle. Yeah. That's what it tasted like.

Of course, before we left, we had to hit up Five Guys to sample Obama-rama's favorite all-American burger.

Good thing they planted a kitchen garden at the White House to offset any hamburger-induced artery clogs.

Ah, 'twas a lovely trip. And now, back to Bismarck and back to our regularly scheduled R&V programming.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Zucchini Gratin

I forgot that the Smithsonian rebuilt Julia Child's kitchen in the American History museum. I remember reading about it awhile ago, but it's was a wonderful moment of happenstance that we stumbled upon it.

Clearly, I'm tickled to be there. And it was all there. The famous pegboards with the meticulous outlines of each pot and pan. The table with the funky chairs. The old school six burner stove.

Don't you love how she uses her cabinets to hang pictures? But Julia truly stole my heart when I discovered that she was a Skippy lady. Yes! Go Skippy! Jif is so overrated.

What is it about Julia? Clearly, we're all charmed by her. We all love to be fed, and yes, she made French food accessible to the American housewife. But there's something more to it that has made her so timeless.

I think we love her humanness. She looks normal - not done up like most celeb chefs today. She doesn't claim to be an expert - you feel like you are learning right along with her. And she's funny. I mean, just check out this clip. "The Chicken Sisters!" Hilarious.

The French Chef Julia Child's Chicken

In honor of Julia, may I present a gratin with seasonal zucchini and potatoes. In true French style, the vegetables just serve as vehicles for buttery breadcrumbs and cheese. I'm sure Julia would approve.

Zucchini Gratin
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks. Be sure to slice your potatoes as thin as possible. Slice them too thick and you'll have trouble cooking them through because the zucchini cooks up more quickly.

zest of one lemon
1 1/2 pounds summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1/6th-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs

1/2 pound potatoes, sliced transparently thin
3/4 cup feta cheese (I know, not French - go ahead and splurge on Gruyere if you'd like)

Preheat oven to 400F degrees and place a rack in the middle. Rub a 9x9 gratin pan (or equivalent baking dish) with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with lemon zest, and set aside.

Place the zucchini slices into a colander placed over a sink, toss with the 1/2 tsp. salt and set aside for 10-15 minutes (to drain a bit) and go on to prepare the oregano sauce.

Make the sauce by pureeing the oregano, parsley, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a food processor or using a hand blender. Set aside.

For the breadcrumbs, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until the butter is wonderfully fragrant, and has turned brown. Wait two minutes, then stir the breadcrumbs into the browned butter.

Transfer the squash to a large mixing bowl. Add the potatoes and two-thirds of the oregano sauce. Toss until everything is well coated. Add the cheese and half of the bread crumbs and toss again. Taste one of the zucchini pieces and add more seasoning (salt or red pepper) if needed.

Transfer the squash to the lemon-zested pan, top with the remaining crumbs, and bake for somewhere between 40 and 50 minutes - it will really depend on how thinly you sliced the squash and potatoes - and how much moisture was still in them. You don't want the zucchini to go to mush, but you need to be sure the potatoes are fully baked. If the breadcrumbs start to get a little dark, take a fork and rake them just a bit, that will uncover some of the blonder bits. Remove from oven, and drizzle with the remaining oregano sauce.