Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Zucchini Lemon Cookies

I haven't planted zucchini in my garden for two years running now. I like zucchini, but I would get overwhelmed. There's just. so. much. Even without planting zukes, somehow I can magically acquire them. Jokes about locking car doors to avoid gifts of vegetables ring true.

Thank to my father's prolific garden, I acquired two zucchini that were just on the edge of being too big. You want to catch them when they are maybe the length of your foot, not your thigh; but it seems like those buggers can grow a foot overnight. These were closer on the thigh-side, but fortunately not yet woody. I halved them, scooped out the seeds, shredded them up, and proceeded to use a measly two cups on a double-batch of these lovely soft tea cookies. I now have a massive bowl of the remaining shredded zucchini in my fridge. We'll see what comes of it. I'm thinking zucchini pancakes.

I've recently got hooked on an online food community called Food52. I still love a good printed cookbook, but visiting a great online food community in some ways gives me the same feeling I get when I walk into my library or go to a great museum: I'm overwhelmed by all the creativity, the variety, the beauty in the world; I want to soak it all up and take advantage of every opportunity to bring something good and pure into my day, whether it be slicing a perfect tomato, digging into a really good book, discovering a new song that I love, writing a letter to a faraway friend, seeing my child run up to me with his arms wide-open for a hug. Truly, good food can inspire a good life.

Back to the humble cookie, these are simple, lemony wonders. They are soft and won't brown up much, but when you see a little brown peeking out on the bottom edge, you know they are done. In the Olympic spirit, a cuppa tea would be an appropriate pairing. Or iced coffee?

Zucchini Lemon Cookies
Original recipe here on Food52. Make a double batch. Seriously. 

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Small pinch of salt
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
Zest of one lemon
1 cup shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, mix flours, baking powder and salt; set aside. Combine butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg; mix until incorporated. Add lemon and zucchini and mix until combined. Slowly add flour mixture to wet ingredients until mixed in; do not overbeat. Drop rounded spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and bake 14-16 minutes or until edges of cookie are golden.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Chopped Salad and Summer Resolutions

If any dish represents my summer thus far, it's this one. A quick, mish-mash, scrounge-around-and-make-it-yummy salad. Fresh, filling, easy, quick. Bonus: this salad also incorporates my new-found love of queso fresco. Thank you, SuperTarget, for bringing that lovely number into my world.

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, one of my fav food blogs; every recipe of hers is a winner. But I especially love recipes that encourage you to mix it up and this salad basically forces you to use your creativity.  As Einstein said, creativity is intelligence having fun.  I threw in radishes, fennel, corn, carrots, sunflower seeds, queso fresco, and a heap of barley and served it over lettuce.  I probably broke a few food combo rules in the process (fennel and corn? sunflower seeds and queso fresco?) but it's a perfect metaphor for my favorite way to cook: throw it together, try something new, see if it works...and it'll probably be edible regardless.  I'll admit this kitchen philosophy has brought about a few disasters - a much-too-oniony pumpkin soup and a terrible curried pheasant on Christmas Eve come to mind - but to be honest, even the terrible dinners become fond memories.

It's the end of July already. The raspberries and cherries are done; we're starting to see the blessed cukes and tomatoes now. My basil didn't turn out great this year, but thankfully our CSA share has been loading us up on my favorite herb. The squash, as always, is bountiful.

But aside from gardening, there are a few very specific things I still need to do with my summer before the cold winds blow in:

- Take Ben to the waterslide park.
- Go camping at Cross Ranch.
- Grill bbq ribs.
- Campfires. The more, the better.
- Buy some pie irons for the campfires mentioned above.
- Rollerblade the bike trail a few more times.
- Spend one long, languid day pontooning on the river.  Bring extra Leinie's summer shandy.

Now away from computer!  Time to enjoy these days of pure summer.

For the chopped salad recipe, jump over here to Smitten Kitchen.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Brew - Dickinson, ND

Welcome to my favorite coffee house in North Dakota. It's called The Brew in Dickinson.  It's housed in an old chapel.  A tiny chapel with a steeple, stained glass windows, and a little courtyard around it.  A temple to caffeine.

I'd been to this coffeeshop back when it was called Badlands Brew (and the photos are from a visit when it was Badlands Brew), but it's wonderful to see that under the new management, it's still amazing.  Fab sandwiches and really really good coffee.

Let me tell the sweet tale of my last visit to The Brew.

I walked in on one of those first super hot North Dakota summer days, asking the barista for "something iced and not too sweet."  He recommended an iced toddiano, which I'd never heard of before then, but it's made with cold-pressed coffee and it was EXACTLY what I wanted.  No harsh espresso tinge, not super milky, just refreshing, coffee-licious.

I was in town to help with a fundraising event.  I walked in with my cup from The Brew and started chatting with folks, most of whom I had never met before.  One woman smiled and asked me what I was drinking.  I told her, saying how much I loved the location, how good my drink tasted, how nice the barista was in recommending it. She smiled again and said, "Oh, that's so good to hear.  I actually own The Brew.  Thanks for stopping by."

I guarantee you'll never have that experience while holding a Starbucks cup.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Overnight Coleslaw

The Fourth of July is tomorrow.  What are you taking to the party?  If you didn't know what bring to your own gathering before you started reading this, you do now.

I threw this coleslaw together to use up a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix.  It has to sit overnight, so I left it in the fridge and, a couple days later, took it out to serve with dinner, took a bite...and proceeded to eat half the bowl.  In my book, a life well lived consists of an endless series of acts of generosity, but I'll admit that I only reluctantly forced the fork down to ensure there was some left for my dear spouse and child.

I grew up with the all-American two ingredient coleslaw recipe:

1) Bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix
2) Bottle of Kraft coleslaw dressing

And actually, that's still how coleslaw is made at my mom's house, and I'll still happily throw a scoop on my paper plate.  But this new recipe blows Kraft out of the water.  And it's nearly as easy.  Plus, I love that you can (actually, you must) make it ahead of time, either one or two days in advance, so when it's party time, just pull it out of the fridge and off you go.

If I have cabbage and carrots on hand, I'll happily shred my own, but this time I'm listing the recipe with the bagged coleslaw mix.  It's going to look like A LOT of coleslaw before you pour the dressing on, but as it sits in the fridge, it's going to melt down into lovely crunchy goodness.  If you want to shred your own veggies, be sure to check out the original recipe linked below.

Overnight Coleslaw
Adapted from the July 2012 issue of Food and Wine magazine.  Get the original recipe here

Two 14-oz. or 16 oz. bags of pre-shredded coleslaw mix
1 c. sugar
1 c. distilled white vinegar
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp. dry mustard powder
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. kosher salt

Add the coleslaw mix to a large bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, oil, dry mustard, celery seeds and salt and bring just to a boil. Pour the hot dressing over the coleslaw and toss well. Refrigerate overnight. Drain any excess dressing just before serving.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cherry Bread Pudding and a Prayer

Well now, this is a little bit embarrassing. But hopefully you can derive the spirit of the bread pudding from the photo.

One of my kitchen (and life) philosophies is waste not, want not.  It's not only for economical reasons; I truly believe that the most respect you can give to those who made your food possible - whether that means farmers, gardening neighbors, migrant workers, egg-laying hens, or the elk that gave its life for your dinner table - is to ensure the food is prepared with love and shared and consumed to its fullest extent. That bread you baked on Sunday gets eaten as sandwiches on Monday, French toast on Tuesday, salad croutons on Wednesday, and bread pudding on Thursday.  That milk that is nearing its expiration date gets mixed into chocolate pudding or blended into a morning smoothie. That fruit nearing a state of over-ripeness turns into amazing fresh fruit popsicles.  Those broccoli stems get cut up along with the broccoli head in the vegetable stir-fry.  Coffee grounds and used tea leaves go into the garden.  When you butcher a deer, you don't just cut out the backstraps and leave the rest of the carcass - you cut out all the meat (including the heart), donate the hide, give a bone to the dog, and put the horns up on the wall.

I don't think I'm alone in this. There is something ingrained in us that grieves at an overt display of waste - think landfills, litter, or that meal that someone barely touched that is getting thrown in the trash.  Despite the influx of wealth in North Dakota and the conspicuous consumption that some have taken to because of it, many of us still harbor that instinct passed on from our salt-of-the-earth forefathers to make do with what you have, happily live a humble life, and say a prayer of appreciation for the nourishment that will carry us through to the next day.  The simple acts of using our hands to knead bread dough, or dig in garden soil, or make venison sausage all represent so much more than food production; they are acts that connect us to the rhythms of life, helping us appreciate our food sources and bring greater respect to those who help create this Land of Plenty that we live in.

Which brings me to bread pudding.  The cherries are from my backyard, plucked off the trees as the robins squawked above me in protest; the eggs are from Steph in Driscoll; the bread is last remnants from a couple loaves baked earlier in the week. Put it all together, and that bite of cherry bread pudding is not only a beautiful breakfast; it's a representation of my community, a reflection of my place in the world, and a gesture of respect to all of those people and forces that made it possible.

Cherry Bread Pudding
Adapted from this recipe from the New York Times

4 oz. stale white or whole-wheat bread, crusts removed (weigh after removing crusts)
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Butter for baking dish
3 eggs, separated
1/2 c. almond flour or almond meal
2 Tbls. honey
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 lb. cherries, pitted (I used sour cherries, mixed with a couple extra Tablespoons of sugar)
2 Tbls. sliced almonds

Tear or cut bread into small pieces. Combine milk and vanilla and toss with bread in a bowl. Let soak.

Butter a 8" x 8" baking dish.  Arrange pitted cherries in the dish.

Stir or bread soaked bread until it becomes mush. Beat in egg yolks, almond flour, cinnamon and honey.

In a clean, dry bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, begin beating the egg whites on low speed. Gradually add the sugar, turn up the speed to high and whip until egg whites form a soft meringue, about 1 minute. Be careful not to overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the bread mixture. Scrape into baking dish and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.  Serve warm.