Friday, April 29, 2011

Sesame Crusted Walleye

When in Fargo, I try to make three stops before heading back west to Bismarck:

1. A cute (and cheap!) downtown clothing store, Little Black Dress
2. My favorite patisserie, Nichole's Fine Pastry
3. The Asian grocery store

As my conference concluded early on a Monday afternoon, I cruised to downtown Fargo to pop into each one, giddy at the idea I had no child with me so I could do simple adult things that have become so rare and treasured, like browse clothing without chasing a two-year-old through the racks; sip a latte in a quiet, clean environment rather than finishing my kid's apple juice at our kitchen table covered with toast crumbs and squished peas; peruse shelves of spicy sauces and exotic ingredients rather than standing in the supermarket debating between honey or cinnamon grahams.

You don't debate between honey and cinnamon grahams? It's a constant tug-of-war in my mind, can't decide which I like better.

Yes, I need a life.

So back to Fargo, imagine my disappointment when I pulled up to Little Black Dress and saw this:

Closed. Monday. Dang. I pressed my nose to the glass, hoping it was a mistake.  It was not a mistake. Who knew a mannequin in a store window could be such a tease?

That dress is too adorbs.  I'm such a sucker for stripes ever since I watched that Chanel movie with Audrey Tautou.  Which made me think French.  Which made me want quiche.  Which made me think...Nichole's!

Yes, the little slice of European café heaven that is Nichole's with lovely tarts, the smell of deliciousness wafting in the air, the whole thing just making you want to tie on a mock-Hermes scarf and sip a real cappuccino out of a real cup while eating real, real good pastry.

Odd.  It looks a little dim in there.  Oh no.  No, please don't tell me...

Although I understand bakers need rest too, my heart breaks a little deeper.

So no new dress.  No buttery, savory quiche.  But I brighten up, knowing I have one last stop on this Monday afternoon and fortunately, the Asian market is reliably open.

I heart the Fargo Asian market.  It's right on Main near downtown.  As reader friend mentioned when she picked up some curry paste for me, it smells a little funky in there. But just dive in - it won't kill you.

I love the amazing array of rices that always reminds me there is an entire world beyond "white" and "brown." I love the jars of sauces and pastes and oils and spices, each one brimming with potential to tickle my taste buds in ways I've never experienced before.  I love the freezer case filled with mystery meats that I haven't dared to try yet (cow uterus? baby octopus?).  And I really, really love the fresh produce section, the only place in North Dakota that I've found where I can reliably find baby bok choy, fresh oyster mushrooms, lime leaves, Japanese eggplant, and a whole host of other fruit/veg/egg products I don't readily recognize. I'm sure most everything is imported, or at least transported from far outside of North Dakota, but this is my big city indulgence.  Just like  really small town people get all excited when they shop at Kohl's.  The Fargo Asian grocery is my Kohl's. Trader Joe's is my Menards.  Byerly's (in Minneapolis) is my Bloomingdale's. Whole Foods is my Nordstrom.

So when hubby came home from the first fishing trip of the year with walleye freshly caught from the mighty Missouri River that rolls by Bismarck, you have to pardon me if I had Asian flavors on the mind. With a some recipe direction from Mark Bittman, I cracked open my new bottle of sesame oil and drizzled it over the fillets, rolled the fish in some toasted sesame seeds, and fried 'em up in a cast iron pan of hot oil. Texture was awesome - I've never had walleye with such a crunchy, crispy coating - but the taste was plain. After all, it was just fish, sesame seeds, and oil.

But then we dipped them in the sauce.

Yes. That was exactly what it needed.  Perfect.  Maybe, just maybe, better than quiche.

Sesame Crusted Walleye
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I buy sesame seeds in bulk from Penzey's; I'm willing to bet that the Asian market has them too. As always, when frying fish, beware the vicious oil splatter.

1 or 1-1/2 pounds fresh walleye fillets (can substitute other firm fleshed white fish)
1 cup white sesame seeds
Salt and pepper
Dark sesame oil
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar
Canola oil for frying

Toast sesame seeds in a saucepan or cast iron pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they start to appear golden brown and smell fragrant.  Pour into a shallow dish.

Rub fish with 1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil. Season fillets with salt and pepper. 

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 mins.  Add at least enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, more is preferable, up to ½” deep in the pan (more hot oil = crisper coating).  Dredge the fillets in the toasted sesame seeds, patting to help the seeds adhere, and carefully add them to the hot oil.  Raise the heat to high and cook until golden on each side, about 5 mins total.

While the fish is cooking, mix up the sauce: 3 Tablespoons soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil. Serve with hot fish. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Winner...

Wow. I'm impressed. Reading through your comments on the last post, I'm reminded how you all are so... awesome.

Sometimes it's so lonely being the lone soul trudging to the grocery store with her reusable bags, the only one who remains endlessly fascinated with the science experiment known as a compost pile in her backyard, the chick who dares to do the timewarp and use washable diapers on her infant.

But you guys came out swingin' with your backyard gardens, your forests of freshly planted trees, your earnest efforts to turn off the lights when you leave the room, your monthly schlepp to the recycling center.  Call me optimistic, but I think every bit counts, so thanks for all the heart-warming reminders that we're all doing our little part. I got some great ideas to up my eco-game, too.

As promised, we have a cookbook winner! I went to, punched in 1 through 11 (counting Al on the R&V Facebook feed) and got...

True Random Number Generator  2Powered by RANDOM.ORG
Two.  Grabbing the second post:

 Danica said...

Here's a few: cloth napkins (I LOVE THEM-why use anything else?), I use these awesome reusable cotton pads instead of cotton balls "Better for Grownups Organic Reusable Cotton Face Rounds" and I haven't drank plastic bottled water in over 3 years. And heads up- I'd love to hear all about the things you've done! I'll take any ideas!

Idea #1: get your home-cookin' groove on with your new cookbook!  Whoo-hoo!
(For the record, Danica lives in the midst of the wonderland that is Minnesota and has one of The Single Most Hilarious blogs out there. Check her out here.) 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Giveaway

If you’ve been hanging out with me here for any length of time (Hi Mom), you know that I have a special spot in my heart for Earth Day.

To celebrate, I won’t bore you with my extensive eco-friendly laundry procedure that involves a proprietary mix of detergents, a trademarked air-drying technique, and an all-important sniff test to determine whether something really needs to be washed or not (patent pending). I won’t gross you out with the fact that I have a bucket of orange peels, used tea bags, and carrot shreds rotting under my sink right now in a compost pail.  I won’t even tell you about all those showers I’ve taken with my husband over the years….to save water, of course. (Why? What were you thinking?)

I will, however, send you an awesome cookbook.
A friend of mine sent me this cookbook for my birthday and I was just smitten because a) it’s Alice Waters; b) it’s natural, local, simple, real food; c) it’s Alice Waters; and d) the stories that accompany each recipe and the gorgeous photos make for great bedtime reading, my preferred place for cookbook perusal. I think you’ll like it too, so I’m sending a copy to one of my lovely readers in celebration of Earth Day.

Just leave a comment about something you do to step a little more lightly on this beautiful little world of ours. I’ll randomly select a winner on Monday evening around 8 pm CST.

Here’s hoping you have a wonderful, beautiful day.  Thanks for stopping by, and don’t mind those wet jeans hanging over the kitchen chairs to dry…

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tower City Cafe

If you've ever tried driving 200 miles down a lonely stretch of highway by yourself with a walnut cream pie in the back seat, you know from experience it can be a pestering distraction.

Look at it. Sitting all by its lonesome in the back seat.  I should've buckled it in for safety. I'll just bring it up to the front seat. You know, in case I hit a major curve on this straight-as-an-arrow Interstate 94.  We wouldn't want walnut cream pie sliding all around, now, would we...

Oh, lemme just take a peek.  Just to make sure it's still ok in there.

It's whispering to me.  "eat me..."

I took a quick trip to Fargo today to attend a writing conference, with about 20 fellow freelancers and bloggers from around North Dakota. I met some amazing people, like Dawn, a farmer's wife with a feature article in the latest Cowboys and Indians magazine about the North Dakota Badlands; Jessie, a pretty-as-a-peach country girl with a blog about the country life; and guest speaker Tanner, who had some brilliant advice on multimedia storytelling, something I hope to do more of in the near future.

But as much fun as the conference was, part of me, just a teeny tiny part of me, was really just excited to drive to Fargo as an excuse to stop in Tower City for pie.

Next time you find yourself driving on I-94 on the west side of Fargo, take Exit 307 to Tower City.  Swing into the clean, shiny gas station and walk slowly and steadily to the cafe inside, specifically the manna that is The Rotating Pie Display.

Make your selection carefully - the super-sweet sour cream raisin is the house specialty, but I'm on Team Apple when it comes to TCP (Tower City Pie) - and savor the fact that the pie is homemade every morning by friendly, talented small town lady bakers.

I have a goal to sample every kind of pie made by Tower City Cafe.  There are about 20, so I have my work cut out for me, but have a pretty good start, crossing sour cream raisin, banana cream, chocolate, blueberry, and apple off my list thus far.

This time, I picked up Walnut Cream.  I didn't even know such a pie flavor existed, but once I got it in my car, that darn pie kept whispering. "just a little nibble..." But I forgot to pack silverware!  "Where there's a will, there's a way..."  But I'm driving! "It'll just take a second..."

Ok, just a quick swipe with my index finger...

Yum.  O.

Oh, what the hell.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Little Tea Cookie

This little writing hobby of mine is turning into a major catalyst for my lifestyle choices. Sure, I tend to choose article topics that seem interesting to me, but then I plunge headfirst and become The Biggest Fan of whatever I'm writing about.

Exhibit A: I recently wrote an article on Community Supported Agriculture (more commonly known as CSA) for a local publication, The Prairie Independent. However, not only did I write the story, but after the article was completed, I talked with my husband and we ended up becoming CSA members ourselves at Riverbound Farm, despite the fact that we maintain a large backyard garden and typically can't eat all our tomatoes ourselves in the first place. I was just so smitten with the McGinness family, I couldn't help myself.

Exhibit B: I recently finished a soon-to-be-published article about tea and although I've been a long time tea drinker, the act of writing that article opened my eyes to the simple joys of tea and I find myself sipping cups of English Breakfast and genmaicha with renewed enthusiasm, picking up a couple extra tins of tea leaves at Steep Me A Cup Of Tea and deciding to enjoy a proper cup a little more often (in fact, I'm sipping on a mug of tea as I type. Well, not literally as I type. I'm not that talented.)

And as if my gusto for tea needed any extra enticement, I then found this book at the library:

When I spotted it on the New Books shelf, I think I startled the woman next to me because I literally let out a gasp of excitement. I've been eyeing Breakfast Lunch Tea for a long time, however when it first came out, I recall looking it up on Amazon and seeing an incredible price of $50, too high for me to be purchasing a cookbook (although I know see it listed at the much more reasonable price of $20 - so maybe that one I first saw was an imported British version? A first edition?).

Every recipe in here can be described with one word: lovely.  Lovely little cakes and biscuits, lovely risottos and salads, lovely scones and pancakes. Being an English bakery in Paris, everything is a little tinier, a little simpler, a little more elegant than we're accustomed to seeing state-side. No wonder people went ga-ga over this cookbook (myself included).

So I flipped to the Tea section and decided on these pecan cookies, mostly because I had all the ingredients in my pantry. A little cookie to enjoy with a cuppa tea on a rainy Sunday. Lovely.

Pecan Cookies
Called Pecan Biscuits in the British/French cookbook Breakfast Lunch Tea, these little morsels aren't much to look at, but these simple, tender, delicately sweet cookies melt in your mouth and beg to be washed down with a hot mug of milky tea. Makes about 24 cookies.

1 cup softened butter (the original recipe calls for unsalted, but I like a touch of salt in my sweets, so I used salted)
1 generous cup pecan nuts
1/4 cup superfine sugar, plus 1 Tablespoon (Domino is a common supermarket brand of superfine sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the pecans on a baking tray and roast them for about 15 mins or until they start to smell fragrant and nutty. Place the toasted pecans in a blender or food processor, add the 1 Tablespoon sugar, and grind them finely. Set aside to cool.

Beat the flour with the 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy, then add vanilla extract. Slowly beat in flour and lastly the ground nuts. If the dough seems too soft, put it in the fridge to chill for 15 mins.

Break off pieces of dough and shape them into 3/4" balls. Place on baking sheet, press down slightly to flatten (optional), and bake for 15 mins or until lightly golden. They taste best completely cooled.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Big 3-0

I can see why people freak out about their thirtieth birthday. The magic and lightness of your twenties are OVER.  Thirty = responsibility, groundedness, exchanging hard lemonades and late night runs to Taco Bell for goblets of merlot and shared appetizers of bruschetta...but not too late, we have a babysitter tonight, so gotta get home soon, mm-k?

For the record, I still like late night runs to Taco Bell.

I decided to embrace 30. I don't have much choice in the matter, so why not embrace it. I'm actually really content with my life right now, so there was a sense of comfort in reaching 30. Life partner and kid, check. Good friends, check. Cozy, comfortable home, check. A job I love, check. Feeling connected to my community, check. A couple signs of wrinkles on my brow, check.

Wrinkles add character.  At least that's what they tell me.

To ring in 30 properly, a couple friends and I ditched our responsibilities for one short weekend and cruised to "The Cities" which, as any North Dakotan knows, refers to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. We crashed at a downtown hotel, shopped, talked, ate, laughed, drank, ate, laughed some more, went to the spa, giggled at the simple pleasure of spending an afternoon in a bathrobe. No Mall of America this time, but we did have a grand time grooving to The World's Most Dangerous Polka Band at Nye's Polonaise Room in downtown Minnie. The bartender crowned our shared slice of homemade carrot cake with a candle and we toasted to 30 with bottles of High Life ("It IS the champagne of beers," our bartender reminded us).

I think 30 is going to be a very good year.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gobble Gobble

North Dakota spring turkey season opens this weekend, turning this: 

Into this: 

Stay tuned...