Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jam Popsicles

 I am one who believes that out of difficulty comes opportunity. 

Take canning. I'm not an expert canner. I taught myself how to can with a worn Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and the sheet of instructions that come in the little boxes of Sure-Jell. And I'll admit, I'm still surprised when I hear the cans pop, shocked that after all that processing and boiling, it actually worked.

My canning experience is limited to pickles, applesauce, jam, and a bad batch of green beans. Apparently, you must use a pressure cooker to can beans least that's what I deduced from the nose wrinkle I got from my mom after explaining how I processed them. Despite the bean debacle, I'm usually pretty successful with my other canning experiments, but there is occasionally a jar that doesn't seal or a jar of jam that's a little too runny. That's when it's time to get creative.

Unsealed jars just go into the fridge rather than the pantry shelf to get consumed immediately. But that runny jam - everyone will tell you that it's a great topping for pancakes and ice cream, but honestly I don't like fruity stuff on my pancakes, and I'll usually grab the chocolate sauce for my ice cream before the jam jar. I could use that jam as a basting agent for game birds, and a little bit of liquidy jam shaken with oil and vinegar makes an amazing salad dressing.  However, most often to use up jam that doesn't set, I turn to my blender and resort back to my favorite way to use up bits of fruit and dairy:  make popsicles.

You'll notice Ben is wearing a jacket in the photo. It's getting a little cooler out, and this is probably our last batch of popsicles for the season (the rest of my jam set up just fine).  With fall underway, we're moving away from the fruitastic days of summer and into our season of squash, pheasant, apples, and the heartier stuff of autumn. As the weather gets colder, the popsicle molds will keep moving farther and farther back in the kitchen cabinet, awaiting the first burst of berries next summer.

Jam Popsicles
When it comes to popsicles, I encourage you to just dig around your fridge, freezer, and pantry and start experimenting. I typically find one or two fruity items (jam, pureed fruit, juice) and one or two dairy items (yogurt, milk, ice cream), blend, taste, and freeze. But for the formal recipe lover in all of us, here's a basic recipe.

1/2 cup unset jam (or add a bit of water to regular jam to make it runny)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I looooove full fat Greek yogurt, but fat free is easier to find)
Juice, milk, or water as needed to make it pourable

Blend jam, yogurt and liquid together. Taste it for sweetness and adjust as needed. Pour into popsicle molds. Freeze until set.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How Not To Hunt - A True Story

Photo from Grand Forks Herald

I'm not naming names, and I've taken some liberties in quotes and such to summarize the tale, but here's a sadly true story about how NOT to hunt.

Recently, near a small town in northwestern North Dakota, a young man approached a farmer, asking permission to hunt on some nearby land.  He was bowhunting for moose and had spotted a large moose in the area. As the farmer wasn't the landowner of that parcel, he gave the young hunter the name and phone number of the owner, who granted permission to hunt.

Later, the farmer observed a large moose walking slowly through the field, the young man following from about 50 yards behind. The moose had been shot in the leg; it finally fell over. Seeing the moose fall, the farmer came by.

"So how are you going to get that back to your truck?" asks the farmer.

"I don't really know," says the man, the hulking animal laying at his feet.

The farmer offered to get his loader, telling the hunter that he'd return in about 45 minutes.

By the time the farmer returned with the loader, the hunter was sitting by the animal, which was still not gutted.  (When it comes to processing wild game, I've learned gutting is the first thing you do to help cool the meat down quickly so the meat doesn't spoil).

"Well, aren't you going to gut it?" asks the farmer.

"I don't have a knife," says the man.

A little exasperated, the farmer tells him, "Well, I can lend you a knife."

"I don't know how to gut a moose," says the man.

In an act of amazing generosity, the farmer makes a phone call and he and another local resident gut the young man's moose and load the cleaned carcass into his truck box. By this time, it's getting warm out and the meat needs to be attended to so it doesn't spoil.

"What you ought to do is go into town and get that pick-up box filled with ice," advises the farmer.

"I don't have any money with me," says the man.

At this point, the farmer, frustrated, takes leave of the situation, saddened to see such a majestic creature laid to waste by a foolish, ill-equipped person calling himself a hunter.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Portland Malt Shoppe - Duluth, MN

Let me tell you about this chocolate malt.

I'm not going to tell you it was the most amazing malt I've ever had - although it was pretty darn amazing - but I will say it was the best malt "experience" I've had. Mostly because when you order a malt at The Portland Malt Shoppe in Duluth, Minnesota, where we spent our Labor Day weekend, this is the view you get to enjoy with your treat.

Pretty amazing sight for this landlocked lady...including those two handsome fellas there.

I keep forgetting to buy malted milk mix at the grocery store, but somehow I think malts are better when you go out for one. If you get hit with a malt craving in Duluth (and here's hoping you do), check out The Portland Malt Shoppe.  Details at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Roasted Broccoli and a Life Lesson

Like most three-year-olds, Ben is in total helper stage right now. He's our little shadow, wanting to do whatever we are doing, whether it's mowing the lawn (pushing his toy mower while Daddy mows), washing dishes (which involves washing soap bubbles off plates with the sprayer - and spraying Mom a bit while he's at it), or doing laundry (throwing clothes in the dryer - even the ones that haven't actually been washed yet).  When I cut our modest broccoli harvest from our little garden and began separating out the stems, leaves and flowers, he was right there with me, helping cut with his butter knife and build little piles of veg.

So I felt terrible when, as he was "helping" stir a big bowl of hot broccoli puree for a future broccoli soup, the bowl tipped and hot liquid spilled all over him.

There was a moment of stunned silence. And then the scream.

It's amazing how quickly one moves when your child is hurt. I swooped up my screaming child while swiping puree off his little arms, five seconds to the shower, spraying him down, clothes and all. I grabbed the burn spray, then the children's Tylenol, and finally he calmed down and I realized, thankfully, he was more scared than hurt.  No real burns on his little arms, and ten minutes later he was acting as if nothing happened.

But it was one of those moments of checking in on my parenting tactics. Here I am, cooking broccoli three different ways simultaneously (stems = pureed, leaves = sauteed, flowers = roasted), mixing a quick dip for my roasted broccoli, and thinking I'm doing a good job as a mom since I'm a) feeding my child nourishing food and b) involving him at every step along the way...and the results of my effort are a nearly-injured toddler, a major mess in the kitchen, and an hour less of sleep as I clean it all up. The appeal of frozen pizzas becomes very apparent.

I fight my inclination to constantly protect my child, to always be cautioning him, to keep him always entertained with the safe fluffy stuff of modern childhood - Disney movies, noisy battery-powered thingamajigs, video games on iPads - and instead try to include him in real life. And looking back on this little experience, I realize that if he only learns one thing from me, I hope it is this:  life is messy. Life sometimes hurts a little.  There are easy paths in life, going with the crowd and doing as they do, but oh, it is so much better to choose your path and really, truly, deeply embrace it. To take life and drink every last drop, suck out the last bit of marrow, be your beautiful unique perfectly imperfect self, laugh and cry and dance and work and play and create and do and breathe and love, broccoli burns and messy kitchen and all.

Can a three-year-old learn all that from a piece of broccoli?  Maybe, maybe not, but I know this year's broccoli harvest gifted me with more than just dinner; it gave me a reminder of what life's all about.

Roasted Broccoli
Thankfully, this was one positive outcome of the crazy evening. I heart roasted veggies, and broccoli is a perfect candidate for the hot oven. 

To roast broccoli: chop a head of broccoli; separate out the flowers (keep the stems and leaves for stir-fry or soup). Add flowers to a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and toss so each piece is lightly coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender and just starting to brown on the edges.

To make a dip for the roasted broccoli beauties, grab some mayonnaise (homemade mayo would be amazing here) and spruce it up with fresh lemon juice, chopped capers and some chopped fresh chives if you have them. Fresh herbs like tarragon would be lovely, too. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How to Make Butter

I am a fairly typical 21st century American woman. I work full-time outside of the home. I pay someone to care for my child every weekday. I go to the gym. I text. I enjoy an occasional latte. I will splurge on a pair of killer heels. I own an iPod. I manage all of my household's finances.

And, as of today, I make butter.

I thought making butter involved churning, like I needed a special barrel with a big churning stick, a gingham apron, and an extra two hours of time to continuously pump and stir, slowly transforming liquid to solid while dripping sweat from your brow salted the cream. And this is all after you've gone out and milked the cow yourself, of course.

How silly of me. With the miracle invention known as the KitchenAid mixer, making butter is spectacularly easy. Not as easy as throwing a few sticks of butter in your cart at the grocery store, but there is something empowering about knowing how to make pantry staples. All you need to make butter is a mixer and a carton of heavy cream.

Heavy cream can be expensive, but my local grocery store needed to unload a few crates of it before they hit their expiration date, cutting the price in half. I used some of the cream in meals and doused a few peaches with the stuff, but I still had quite a bit left. After reading the gorgeous cookbook The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila and discovering that butter is just heavy cream whipped to the point of separation, a light bulb went off for me and I had to try it.

I poured the cream in my mixing bowl, sprinkled in a heavy pinch of salt, and using the paddle attachment on my mixer, starting whipping. At first, it whipped the cream; then the whipped cream started to come apart, and after a few minutes, I glanced over and it had finally separated, chunks of butter sitting in a white pool of buttermilk. Magic.

Instead of a recipe, watch this beautiful video from The Homemade Pantry's Alana Chernila. She has her mixer on medium speed; I cranked mine up to 10 with no problem. Don't skimp on the pressing/rinsing part at the end; without pressing out all the buttermilk, your butter can go rancid quickly. And of course, save that buttermilk! I made cornbread to go with a big pot of venison chili I cooked up, but you can use it in muffins, pancakes, buttermilk fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits...

Perhaps my favorite part of the video: she uses the butter to make radish sandwiches! Alana and I are destined to be best friends, I just know it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Corn and Tomato Gratin

It's still summery warm outside, but I just couldn't help myself.  On Sunday, I pretended autumn was already here and cranked up the oven, releasing all my pent-up baking energy. When I bake, I BAKE. A hot oven is a terrible thing to waste, so I roasted some veggies, made a batch of cookies, a few loaves of homemade bread, and, oh yes, this gorgeous gratin before finally shutting the oven off and starting a truly epic kitchen clean-up session.

We are swimming in corn and tomatoes right now and, like most produce that ripen in the same season, they pair beautifully together. For this dish, fresh corn kernels are simmered in cream and milk, then layered with fresh sliced tomatoes and basil-scented breadcrumbs, nestling little nobs of butter here and there to bring it all together. We're served it up with some grilled goose brats, and although the brats were good, I lingered over this dish, scooping up big pieces of tomato from the gratin with slices of that freshly made bread, letting the juices soak in the bread a bit, taking a messy bite, and then washing it all down with generous sips of white wine on the backyard patio, enjoying that perfect taste, that perfect moment, as a cool breeze swept in with a reminder that the true autumn is just a whisper away.

Corn and Tomato Gratin
Recipe here. Perhaps the best part about this recipe is the heavy cream - buy the little half pint of cream and you'll still have just enough left over for those last slices of the season's peaches. 

4 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/2" thick
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 6-8 ears)
1 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 c. fresh bread crumbs (I throw a few slices of bread in the blender and give it a quick buzz)
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
1/2 c. grated parmesan
3/4 stick (6 Tbls.) butter, cut into small pieces

Arrange tomato slices in one layer on a rack set over a shallow rimmed pan and sprinkle on both sides with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Let drain 30 mins.

Meanwhile, bring corn, milk, cream and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a saucepan over high heat (watch carefully so it doesn't boil over), then reduce heat and simmer until corn is tender, about 10 mins. Cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, toss together bread crumbs, basil, cheese, and 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.

Butter a shallor 2-quart baking dish. Arrange 1/3 of tomato slices in dish, then cover evenly with 1/3 of bread crumb mixture, then dot with 1/3 of the butter. Spoon half the corn mixture over the crumbs, then repeat, layering with half remaining tomotoes, crumbs, and butter, and all of the corn. Arrange remaining tomatoes over corn, then top with remaining bread crumbs and dot with remaining butter.

Bake uncovered in 375 degree overn until top is golden and gratin is bubbling, about 45 mins. Cool about 15 mins before serving.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Best Pizza in North Dakota?

Despite our eagerness to get to Duluth for some camping and adventures over Labor Day (about eight hours from home in Bismarck), I convinced my hungry spouse that yes, it's totally worth getting off the Interstate and heading to downtown Fargo for lunch at Rhombus Guys for pizza.

"Trust me."

He was very glad that we made the stop. 

Rhombus Guys - I'm going to say it - may just be the best pizza in North Dakota. I love me some artesian Fireflour Pizza, some old-school A&B or Pizza Corner slices, and yes, we do frequent Papa Murphy's on occasion, but Rhombus Guys comes out on top based on 1) the huge variety in toppings, 2) the great atmosphere in the downtown Fargo location (rooftop patio, baby), AND 3) the fact you can split any pizza with half this, half that. 

To please both our palates, we ordered half Happy Pig (for my love: pulled pork, pineapple, red pepper, honey bbq sauce) and half Thai chicken (for yours truly: chicken, red pepper, cilantro, peanut sauce). And actually, in a twist of pizza romanticism, I thought the bbq and peanut sauce had some lovely flavor affinities going on. Or maybe that was my beer talking.  

We ordered a large pie, and I'm slightly embarrassed to say that between me, my hubby, and our toddler, we inhaled nearly the entire thing, leaving just enough for a snack somewhere around Brainerd, MN. Clearly, my child has an enormous pizza appetite. 

For the record, on the trip back to Bismarck we stopped in again for another pie.  "Hi, remember us?  Our kid spilled his lemonade everywhere?  We're back for more!" Our server kindly brought us extra napkins. 

Check out the menu at