Thursday, October 28, 2010

Grandma's Scalloped Corn

If this picture looks like it's from 1962, that's because it is.  Kinda.  Well, actually, no, I just took this picture recently, but the potholder, the spoon, the casserole dish, and yes, the scalloped corn recipe are all from my late grandmother.  My hard-working, cattle rancher's wife with six children in the middle of the Badlands of North Dakota grandmother.  My dear sweet grandmother. 

I can still smell the earthy scent of farm dust and engine oil from the garage, and then walking into the kitchen with the warm aroma of pot roast and mashed potatoes, grandma waiting patiently for us, watching us come up the drive from the kitchen window, hugs all around.  Ah, the nostalgia. 

Growing up, I'll admit I didn't like scalloped corn.  It was always on the table at Thanksgiving, sometimes at Sunday dinner, but it was too mushed together for me, a kid who liked to keep her peas separate from her carrots, thankyouverymuch. 

But thankfully, tastes change and I've come to appreciate the simple wonder of this dish.  A poem of economy, practicality, and lovely simplicity; an appropriate ode to a woman who epitomized all those qualities with quiet, humble grace. 

Grandma's Scalloped Corn

1 16-oz can creamed corn
1 16-oz can whole kernel corn, drained
2 eggs, well beaten
1 small onion, chopped fine (optional)
2/3 c. shredded cheddar cheese (or 6 T. cut-up chunks Velveeta cheese or 4 cheese slices)
16 single soda crackers, crumbled
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 c. milk
dash of celery salt
salt and pepper to taste
6 individual soda crackers, crumbled

Combine corn, beaten eggs, onion, cheese, milk, seasonings, and crushed crackers. Put in greased baking dish; top with remaining cracker crumbs. Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven about 1 hour.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Zucchini Curry

A condensed list of my current obsessions:

1. Used books.  This is nothing new, really.  I just like the mothy smell of them, the soft worn texture of them, the fact that there is no hard binding that needs cracking.   But lately I've been purchasing extras in preparation for any oncoming winter storms.  Some people stockpile bottled water and canned beef stew; I stockpile Willa Cather novels and Emily Dickinson poetry, creating a literary fortress to barracade me from any oncoming winter weather warnings.  C'mon, snowstorms.  Bring it on. 

2. My thick cable-knit cowl neck sweater I got at TJMaxx for a song.  I wear it about twice a week.  My co-workers probably notice, but I can't help myself.  I pull the neck of it up over my chin and mouth like a grey winter turtle so just my eyes and nose peek out.  As my husband says, "That's hot."

3.  Zumba.  Have you tried it?  The latest dance aerobics craze?  It reminds me of junior high, memorizing all the dance moves from my copy of MTV's The Grind Workout Hip-Hop Aerobics (with Eric Nies, yum).  I practically burnt out that tape.

4. Curry paste.  Specifically, Patak's Mild Curry Paste with a can of coconut milk to make easy, luscious curry. 

I have not found this brand of curry paste in Bismarck-Mandan (if you find it, tell me!), but I think it's better than Thai Kitchen curry paste.  This particular jar I purchased at World Market Cost Plus in Billings, Montana.  The Asian grocery store in downtown Fargo also carries it.  It's on too, but you'll pay a crazy amount for shipping.  So, when in Fargo, note to self: always stop by Asian grocery store and buy Beth an extra jar of curry paste.  Thanks. 

One heaping Tablespoon curry paste and a can of coconut milk.  That's all you need to remember.  Everything else is open to interpretation.  I've made curry with chicken, pheasant, peppers, cauliflower, or, as you see here, with the last fresh zucchini of the season.  Don't you love a simple meal? More time for flopping on the couch with an old book, snuggling down into my sweater.

Zucchini Curry
Recipe adapted from Epicurious. If you hear "curry" and think 'too spicy,' don't worry.  The coconut milk will balance out a lot of the spice.  Plus, a mild curry paste is kind to even the most Midwestern German-Russian palate.  Feel free to replace the zucchini with whatever floats your boat; of course, if replacing the zucchini with meat, please cook the meat thoroughly first (I'd just cook it with the onion).

1 heaping tablespoon curry paste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
6 medium zucchini (3 lb), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 (13 1/2- to 14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk, well stirred
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup roasted cashews, chopped

Accompaniment: cooked basmati rice

Heat oil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté onion, stirring, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add curry paste and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add zucchini and cook, stirring, until it begins to appear moist, 3 to 5 minutes. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Serve sprinkled with cilantro and cashews.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quick Frittata

Note the time on the stove.  6:34.  That's AM.  Yes, 6:34 in the morning ON A WEEKDAY no less.  And I'm making a frittata.

It's a sickness, this cooking obsession of mine. 

Ben was up early.  Usually, we just cuddle together, but he was so active and wiggly, it was just time to get up.

This is how I keep my child entertained.  I let him dig in cupboards half naked.  Makes for a cute picture, though.

To be honest, though, this was just about as easy as making a bowl of oatmeal.  I had leftover baked potatoes, leftover bacon, and a bunch of eggs - just throw it all in the pan and you've got an awesome treat of a weekday breakfast. 

Quick Frittata
Ah, the frittata.  For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this is one of my favorites.  It's so versatile; I've made this with cherry tomatoes, with sausage, with leftover stir-fried peppers, with sauteed zucchini...heck, if you're feeling adventurous, I bet you could even use leftover crusty bread or noodles in it.  The ingredients vary, but the foolproof stovetop-to-broiler method is the key in my experience - I've never been able to flip a frittata in the pan to cook solely on the stovetop.  Mark Bittman has a great take on the frittata with more veg than egg - check it out here

2 Tbls. olive oil
2 leftover baked potatoes, chopped into small chunks
6 eggs
Salt and pepper
2 Tbls. milk (optional)
Leftover chopped bacon (optional - or use any other leftover meat/veg that you think would work)

In a large cast iron pan, heat oil.  Add potatoes and bacon, heating through (I like to really cook them until the potatoes are starting to crisp up). 

In a separate bowl, break about eggs, add milk and some salt and pepper; beat until mixed.  Pour egg mixture over hot potatoes in the hot cast iron skillet and let sit undisturbed for about 3 minutes or until starting to firm up.  Scrape along the sides, carefully lifting the bottom's edge as you run your spatula along the edge.  Let any eggy liquid run underneath the frittata to cook. 

Turn on the oven broiler, moving the rack to the highest position in your oven next to the broiler.  Move hot cast iron pan under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, watching carefully, and removing when starting to brown on top (remember to use a potholder!).  Let sit for a minute to cool slightly, then flip onto a large plate.  Serve warm, at room temp, or I even like it cold.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Venison Stew

I think those glorious 70 degree days of the last few weeks have now past.  Leaves are dropping faster than we can rake them up.  Winter coats are coming out along with frosty windshields in the early AM hours.  I no longer fool myself into thinking just the afternoon sun streaming through the windows is going to keep our tiny house warm - the heater is now on for the season.  My friendly backyard neighbors will finally start harvesting their backyard apples, since a good overnight frrost makes them "so much sweeter."  Remind me that I'm going to have to finally pull my last tomato and zucchini plants out...

Now this is the autumn I love: crisp, cool-nearing-on-cold, sweaters and hot apple cider.  Bring it on.

We took Ben to Papa's Pumpkin Patch last weekend.  I'm so thankful there are places like this in Bismarck.  Just old-fashioned fun with hayrides, a corn maze, ziplines and huge stacks of haybales for kids to run around, and my favorite part, 50 cent hot apple cider with a 25 cent pumpkin cookie. 

Ben was a little too young to be tromping around on the haybales, but he sure was a big man pulling this little wagon around all afternoon.  "Sorry, mom.  Riding in the wagon is for babies."  He pulled that wagon and watched the other kids run around, mentally taking notes for next year when his little legs will be able to go a little faster.  He watched the little train pass by, the driver ringing his bell every time he caught Ben staring at him in wonder.  He watched the big horses clomp around, pulling the hayride wagon filled with people with seemingly no effort.  And then he found out, after an afternoon of pulling a wagon himself, a pumpkin can make a pretty decent seat. 

Finally, the chill got to us and we came home.  With the opening of deer season right around the corner, I've been clearing out room in the deep freeze.  With a few packages of last season's deer meat to use up, a big pot of venison stew was just what the doctor ordered.  I dare say this stew is as near classic as it gets - big chunks of meat, carrots, and potatoes in a thick broth.  Simple perfection.  This is exactly what we needed after an autumn day outside romping in the pumpkin patch, rosy cheeked and hungry.

I heart autumn.

Venison Stew
When Kent butchers our annual deer, he pulls even the pieces that are too small to be cut into steaks and puts it in a bag labeled as stew meat, although cutting up deer steaks would be perfectly acceptable too.  Adapted from AllRecipes.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds venison stew meat
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups water
3-4 tomatoes, chopped (or one 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes)
7 small red potatoes, quartered
1 pound carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces (or a bag of baby carrots)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the meat in oil. Add onions and garlic, sauteeing for 3-4 minutes to soften the onion. Add Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, oregano, salt, water, and tomatoes. Simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is tender. Add potatoes and carrots; cook until tender (another 1-2 hours). Combine cornstarch and water. Stir into the stew. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pumpkin Spiced Latte

We've had quite the pumpkin harvest this year.

I have good intentions of cooking more with pumpkin this year, but since I find cooking with real pumpkin a pain in the keester, we usually just give them away to friends. Because seriously, who can eat 12 pumpkins (besides Peter Peter, of course).

The other day I grabbed a couple out of the garden and set them on the floorboards on the passenger side of my car to make a surprise pumpkin delivery to a friend.

As I was driving, I turned a corner and the pumpkin rolled over, exposing this:

A slug. An icky gross slimy slug.

I got all flustered. I couldn't really pull over or stop where I was at, but the pumpkin kept rolling around and I just imagined trying to clean squished slug out of the floormat.


Still driving, I decided the pumpkin needed to stop rolling. I took the very tip of my index finger on the pumpkin, trying to avoid the slug's path as it slowly crawled on the bright orange skin. I finally found a place to pull over and using the only thing I could find to scrap it off (a clean diaper), I scraped it onto the pavement.


So Michelle, glad you liked the pumpkin. Sorry about any slug juice.

But Michelle, as a coffee-holic (and any other members of the Caffeination Nation out there), I think you'll dig this.  I know I did.  I don't make coffee at home, but it's always around at work.  A few of my co-workers are diehard coffee aficionados, which means the coffee is always good...ok, sometimes a little strong, but usually good.  I caught this on Aunt Shoe's blog and had to try it.  To make this at work, I mixed up the milk, vanilla, and spices in a little jar at home, and took it to the office.  At work, I just shook the milk jar, poured half a mug of it in my cup, microwaved it for a few seconds, then topped off my mug with coffee.  Blissssssssss. 

Pumpkin Spiced Latte
Thanks Marianne!  This is a great recipe (and so much cheaper than a Starbucks run).  :-) 

3 cups hot whole milk
4 teaspoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or just substitute a mix of 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. ground ginger, and 1/8 tsp. nutmeg)
6 ounces double-strength brewed coffee
Whipped cream and additional pumpkin pie spice for garnish (optional)

Combine the hot milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and pumpkin pie spice in a blender; blend until frothy. Pour the mixture into 3 coffee mugs to about 2/3 full. Pour 2 ounces coffee into each mug. Garnish each mug with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oatmeal Bread

We are having a spectacular autumn here in North Dakota.  These 70 degree days make the locals absolutely giddy.  We marvel.  We gaze.  We wonder...will it last?  Can it last? 

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Or, to paraphrase Robert Frost:  enjoy it, 'cuz it'll slip away all too quickly. 

So speaking of golden wonderment, this is the first loaf of homemade bread I've made in a long time.  A loooong time.  Maybe even since before our little Benny Bear came into the picture.  Last weekend, Ben was with grandma, Kent was hunting, and I wanted a thick slice of homemade bread with butter on a warm fall day.  This was exactly what I wanted - golden wheaten bliss. 

Much like beautiful autumn days, homemade bread doesn't last too long (at least not in our house).  Enjoy it. 

Oatmeal Bread
From Gourmet Today - yup, I'm cooking my way through it. 

2 cups whole milk
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking) plus additional for topping
1/2 cup warm water (105-115°F)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast (from 3 packages)
1/2 cup mild honey
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus additional for buttering pans
3 cups stone-ground whole-wheat flour
About 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
Vegetable oil for oiling bowl
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Special equipment: 2 (8- by 4-inch) loaf pans

Heat milk in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan over low heat until hot but not boiling, then remove pan from heat and stir in oats. Let stand, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cooled to warm.

Stir together water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon honey in a small bowl; let stand until foamy, 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.) Stir yeast mixture, melted butter, and remaining honey into cooled oatmeal.

Stir together whole-wheat flour, 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour, and salt in a large bowl. Add oat mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead with floured hands, adding just enough of remaining unbleached flour to keep from sticking, until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes (dough will be slightly sticky). Form dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled large bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel; let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Lightly butter loaf pans. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead several times to remove air. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a loaf, then place 1 loaf in each buttered pan, seam side down, tucking ends gently to fit. Cover loaf pans loosely with a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly brush tops of loaves with some of egg wash and sprinkle with oats, then bake until bread is golden and loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 35 to 40 minutes. (Remove 1 loaf from pan to test for doneness. Run a knife around edge of pan to loosen.)

Remove bread from pans and transfer to a rack to cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies

The other day, I noticed a recipe for cheesecake-swirled brownies freshly printed off the computer and sitting on the kitchen counter next to a bag of chocolate chips.
"Going to do some baking?" I asked Kent.

"Oh yeah.  Don't those look good?" he asked.  I could almost see his sweet tooth pulsating in anticipation of brownie euphoria.

He was right. They totally looked good. But I noticed the list of ingredients - a box of brownie mix was top of the list.

I totally get the appeal of the box mix. My mom makes box brownies all the time. I grew up on box brownies. But lately, if I'm having a sweet treat, I want it to be AWESOME.  I want The Real Deal.  I want it to be soooo worth it.

So I did a little intervention.  I "forgot" to pick up brownie mix at my next trip to the grocery store and instead, went to Smitten Kitchen for help. 

I adore Smitten Kitchen. Sometimes, while reading SK, I suffer pangs of inadequacy. I don't think of myself as super-blogger or anything, but reading SK makes me feel a) hungry, b) like I have a lot to learn about blogging and photography, and c) hungry again. And she's been at it for so long, she has a ton of recipes in her archives, including not one but TWO versions of cheesecake-swirled brownies.

Kent never got around to making his brownies before leaving for another grouse hunting outing last weekend, but I made this as a little "Welcome Home" for him on Sunday.

He's soooo worth it.

Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (click here for the original post)
Makes 16 2-inch square, thick brownies

Brownie batter
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Cheesecake batter
8 ounces cream cheese, well softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Make brownie batter: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan — though I did mine double-boiler style, placing the mixing bowl I was using over simmering water, thereby creating one less dirty dish and melting the chocolate more gently — over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread in baking pan.

Make cheesecake batter: Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over cheesecake/brownie batter swirl. Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sonnets Sandwich Shop

I've always romanticized the idea of owning a bakery. I mean, who doesn't love a good bakery? The aroma, the warmth, the comfort food trinity of flour, sugar and butter - what's not to like? Part of me thinks it would be magical to own one, to be in the bakery atmosphere 24/7 and known in your community as "the bakery lady."

However, talk to a baker and they'll tell you of the long hours that start at 4 am, the tight profit margins, the rising costs of inputs, the difficulty finding good help, the constant battle against the United States of Food Corporations...

I guess I'm ok with just playing bakery in my own kitchen.

Thankfully, other Bis residents decided to take on the bakery biz challenge, the most popular of which has to be Bread Poets. A true local business success story, the swirled cinnamon log is the Bread Poets signature, although I prefer the hearty multi-grain loaf. If you haven't had a Bread Poets cookie yet, you are missing the boat. Huge, wholesome yumminess.

Now Bread Poets has now opened a sandwich shop called Sonnets (get it? Poets? Sonnets? It took me a moment...). Amber, her adorable daughter Emma, and I checked it out this weekend.

See, I told you Emma was adorable! She put those upside-down sunglasses on herself. I think she's ahead of her time in the sunglasses trend world.

Not only is Sonnets locally owned, but the army of sandwich assembly staff behind the counter are so super nice, you can't help but root for them and want to see the shop succeed.

Every sandwich is named after a poet, and the ones I tried were great: the turkey cranberry "Eliot" sandwich (named after T.S. "April is the Cruelest Month" Eliot, which I think is appropriate, since turkey and cranberry is the opposite of April...I wonder if that was intentional) and the tuna salad "Dickinson", which was amazing with a touch of curry powder in it to take it over the top. Next time, I'm ordering off the kids menu with the Fluffernutter - peanut butter and marshmallow creme!

Sonnets just opened and there are still a few bugs in the system. The menu is hard to read - customers stand at the counter and squint trying to read the descriptions. They carry a line of potato chips with beer/margarita/bloody mary flavors that look kinda fun, but they aren't tasty, trust me. And as we went during a Saturday lunch rush, seating was a little sparse. But overall, two thumbs up, it's great to have another locally-owned lunch option in town.

For you Bis-bang locals, check it out up by Kohl's. Sandwiches are around $6.