Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chardonnay-Braised Pheasant with Parsnips

Whenever I purchase parsnips in the grocery store, I'm always mystified by their thick coating of wax. Is there something precious and delicate about parsnips that this seemingly hardy root vegetable needs to be waxed before transport?  Does the parsnip company somehow think that thick coats of chunky whitish wax somehow increase the appeal of the humble parsnip?  I'm still trying to figure that one out, but now, thanks to my CSA share, I happily get parsnips with good old-fashioned dirt on them instead of that weird waxy stuff.

But regardless if your parsnips have wax or dirt, wash them, peel them, and make this.  This is one of those dishes where I sat down for dinner, poured my small weeknight glass of wine, took a bite and let out a little groan of "oh my goodness this is yummy" pleasure. The wine-based sauce is wonderful, and by simmering the pheasant with the parsnips, the parsnips lend a sweetness to the pan sauce that's unexpected and delicious.

The original recipe from Food & Wine magazine originally included chicken thighs, but pheasant pieces worked great. Our family hunts pheasant in stubble fields of northern North Dakota and it's one of my favorite game meats.  I find I can substitute it for chicken with a few tweaks:

- As pheasant can be tough, I often braise it in some sort of liquid or sauce.

- As with all lean game meats, I'm extra sensitive to overcooking and try to time it right to discourage any additional toughness in the meat.

- I prefer to let the flavor of the pheasant come through, with lighter sauces and more herbal seasonings rather than drowning it out in canned soup or too much seasoned salt.

The original recipe braised in a hot oven, but I just let the pot simmer on the stovetop. And while dinner was cooking, I took another sip of chardonnay, composted my parsnip peels, and made space for a quiet moment of thankfulness.

 Chardonnay-Braised Pheasant with Parsnips

2 Tbls. butter
2 Tbls. olive oil
2 lbs. pheasant pieces
Salt and pepper
2 small onions, roughly chopped
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and cut into 3 and 1/2" batons
1 rosemary sprig
1 cup Chardonnay or other dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter in the oil. Season the pheasant with salt and pepper. Add the pheasant and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned but NOT cooked through, 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. Add the onions, parsnips and rosemary to the skillet and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Nestle the meat side up in the skillet, tucking it between the parsnips. Lower heat to a slow simmer and braise the pheasant half-covered for about 20 minutes, until cooked through. Remove the meat and vegetables; return the skillet to high heat and boil until the sauce is thickened, 5 minutes. Discard the rosemary sprig and serve.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mom's Diner - Fargo, ND

To be honest, I went to Fargo to have lunch with my friend Sam at another diner. TNT's diner in West Fargo suddenly came on my radar thanks to an early morning visit by Tom Hanks this past summer. Because in North Dakota, if a Hollywood celebrity stops by, especially a well-liked one, you know it's going to make the paper. In contrast, Lars Ulrich from Metallica was in Fargo last weekend with his model girlfriend. It still got on the news, but I don't think the locals were nearly as impressed.

But I love a good diner, and I heard good things about this little TNT's tucked behind Sandy's Donuts in an industrial building. So I pull up and, disappointedly, see this.

CLOSED.  Major bummer. Plus, the sign brags up the potato dumplings that were still two eternally long days away!  That does not help this out-of-towner. I hung out for awhile waiting for my lunch date and stayed entertained by watching people pull in, get out their cars, glance at that same sign, and then stand around as if, if the waited just a little while, the situation may change. Alas. But judging from the constant traffic stopping by, it must be pretty good.  If you've been, do share!

Sam and I have been friends since junior high. He likes good music and laughs a lot, so clearly we were destined to be friends. With TNT's closed, we cruised over to Mom's Diner in downtown Fargo instead. Knoephla soup! Salad bar! Hot turkey sandwiches! Homemade apple pie! And everything served up by a friendly young waitress who reminded me of Amy Winehouse in some vague way.

It wasn't any amazing culinary experience - the pie was good, but the salad bar was your standard iceberg lettuce and pasta salad fare and my hot turkey sandwich definitely stuck to my ribs for awhile afterwards - but it satisfied my craving for some home cookin'. Sam and I sat in our roomy booth, reminiscing, catching up, and basically giggling the whole time, and it just proved once again that it's not necessarily what you eat that makes the meal - it's who you dine with.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Baked Oatmeal

Hello new kitchen!  We've just moved to a new home, and I don't mind telling you that it took us a couple days of piling dirty dishes in the sink to remember, wait, we have a dishwasher...  A quick trip to Target for some detergent, and an hour later, we were pulling clean glasses out of the washer, marveling at them as if they were made of emeralds. "Look!  They're clean!"

The Magic Dish Cleaner-Upper Machine

However, anyone who has moved can tell you that it feels like a really long game of Fruit Basket Upset. Everything is in disorder, you don't quite know where you are or what you are supposed to do next, and frankly, I still haven't found my glasses. After a couple scrubby days of hauling boxes, scrubbing floors, and sustaining ourselves on cold pizza, I needed a) a really long hot shower and b) to bake something comforting.

I ripped this recipe out of Reader's Digest, but it's from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson and her gorgeous natural foods blog 101 Cookbooks.  If you've been visiting my little blog for any amount of time, you know I don't subscribe to any one food philosophy. Come over for dinner and you may be served meat and potatoes (probably grouse, pheasant, or venison), but you're just as likely to get a big plate of veggie stir-fry with edamame and brown rice on the side. We don't really do "meatless Mondays," because frankly, many meals are meatless in our house; but then again, you may swing by in a couple weeks and see a mule deer hanging in our garage with me frying up thin slices of deer heart in a cast iron pan. In my kitchen, all* are welcome.    *Except Monsanto, if I can help it. 

I made this baked oatmeal on Sunday morning as my friend Amber and her sweet daughter Emma stopped by to visit. We all ended up digging in, comfort in a bowl, nourishing and just sweet enough with berries and bananas and a little extra cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.  I promised Amber and Emma that I'd share the recipe, and it was so good that I made it again this week for a weekday breakfast.  If you'd like, you can assemble it the night before and pop it in the oven in the morning; also, leftovers are good warmed up the next day.

I'm not sure if it was this magical oatmeal, the fact that one of my best friends was sitting at my kitchen table, or just the quiet of Sunday, but making this dish marked the first moment that I finally started feeling like this wasn't "the new house."  This was home. Our home. And as we sat together at our kitchen table, I could almost hear the tender little roots of our family starting to plunge and stretch into the soil under our feet.

Baked Oatmeal
Check out the original recipe here. But do make this. Really. I think you'll like it.

2 cups rolled oats (aka old-fashioned oats, not quick cooking)
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and chopped (toast in the oven while it's warming up for a few mins)
1/3 cup sugar OR maple syrup
1 tsp. baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Scant 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
1 egg
3 Tbls. butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, sliced
1 and 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries or mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8x8" baking dish. In a bowl, mix together oats, sugar (if using), baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together maple syrup (if using), milk, egg, half the melted butter, and vanilla.

Spread banana slices on bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover fruit with the oat mixture and slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Gently shake the dish to make sure the milk moves through the oats. Scatter the walnuts and remaining berries across the top.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes. Drizzle remaining butter on top and serve with extra sugar or maple syrup.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fried Rice with Chard

I need to make rice more often. A big pot of brown rice. It takes an hour to make, but once it's cooked, it's one of those magic ingredients that works with everything. It's a side for dinner, then it's rice and beans, now it's in soup, oh look, now it's part of those tacos, and then still have leftovers? Whammo = fried rice.

When I was a kid, we didn't go out for Chinese food much, but when we did, I almost always just ordered fried rice as my meal, I loved it so much.  And I still love take-out fried rice. I never attempted to make it at home until recently, and what a shame, because it's so completely easy. And look, ma, no MSG! Add in some farm eggs and CSA chard, and that, my friends, is a completely great meal.

Fried Rice with Chard

2 cups leftover rice
1/2 bunch chard, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 Tbls. peanut or vegetable oil
3 eggs
Sesame oil, soy sauce and chopped green onions for serving

In a wok or cast iron pan, heat the oil over high heat. Crack in the eggs and scramble quickly. Add in rice and chard, stirring and cooking until chard is softened (you may need to turn down the heat). Serve drizzled with a tiny bit of sesame oil, soy sauce to taste, and chopped green onions if desired.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Carrot Breakfast Cookies

This morning, while wearing pink rain boots and a bright orange and black knit hat (warmth trumps fashion, always), I pulled the last carrots from the cold earth and, being the last of this season's produce, cleaned up the garden.

It's always bittersweet to end another season of gardening. The anticipation of winter turns into the hopefulness of spring, which leads to the labors of summer, which finally ends in the reflection of autumn. In the golden hours of a chilly autumn morning, I check out the bare raspberry bushes, reminding myself to trim them back so they can grow and be fruitful next summer. I see a couple old, now softened cucumbers in the dirt, telling myself that next year I'll do a better job of harvesting so I don't miss any. I do my best to stack the old wire tomato cages, already planning to plant more 'maters next year so I can finally have enough to make homemade salsa. 

But this year's different. As I knelt in the dirt pulling carrots, I'll admit I got a little emotional. We're moving to a new house soon, and although we are excited for new beginnings (and more yard space for a bigger garden), I realized at that moment that I wouldn't be digging in this garden again. I have so many fond memories in this tiny, weedy patch of earth; of Ben "helping" me pick raspberries by eating them as fast as we could pick them; of harvesting sour cherries with my niece and making pie; of sharing garden bounties with neighbors, handing the gift over the fence; of picking cucumbers and canning my first ever batch of pickles. It's in this patch of dirt that I learned that shelling beans can be as soothing as meditation, that one of the most beautiful things in the world is a healthy pile of compost, and that a sure path to peace is dirt under the fingernails. 

Fortunately, I get to carry those lessons with me to the new place, and who knows, maybe the next family in this humble little abode will learn from this same little patch of earth as well. I'm already feeling nostalgic for this home sweet home. But don't worry - I'm splitting the rhubarb. She's coming with.

As I'm expecting to be busy these next couple of weeks as we prepare for the move, I used some carrots to make these lovely grab-and-go breakfast cookies. If you haven't yet entered the world of vegan baking, this is a great introduction adapted from Joy the Baker. Instead of your usual cookie, think of them like soft little granola bites.  The dough can be sticky, and they don't rise and spread nor will they really brown much, but bite into one and you feel nourished - something we all need more of. 

Carrot Breakfast Cookies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1 heaping cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, millet, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together coconut oil, maple syrup, shredded carrots, dried cherries, and ginger. Add the wet ingredients, all at once to the dry ingredients. Fold together until thoroughly incorporated.

Let dough stand for 5 minutes before spooning by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just slightly browned and cooked through. I like these cookies a bit underdone. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Larson's Drive Inn - Larimore, ND

When I finally arrived at Larson's Drive Inn in Larimore, ND, I'll admit I was pretty excited. Up in the northeastern part of the state, I heard on Facebook that Larson's was one of the best food stops in NoDak, and being in Fargo last weekend, I made a detour to see what all the fuss was about. 

The exterior of Larson's already makes it the perfect hole-in-the-wall. Tucked into a row of trees, across the street from a field with horses quietly grazing, with a dirt parking lot that makes you glad you didn't wear your fancy pants that day, but a bright blue roof that invites you inside, I was ready for a good burger. 

And then, upon entering the tiny cafe, I saw this on the pin-up board. A restaurant review of Larson's Drive Inn by Marilyn Hagerty. 84 years old, 40 years in journalism, writing every single week about good eats in the Grand Forks region, including her Olive Garden review, which infamously went viral, and instantly made her both famous and best buds with hey-there-handsome Anthony Bourdain - plus now she's got a book deal. THE Marilyn Hagerty ate at this very same spot and gave it her two earnest thumbs up. By the way, that Olive Garden review is still one of the top five most-viewed posts on  Read it here.

So then I'm uber-excited, feeling the Hagerty celebrity vibe (I say that only half in jest). As I placed my order, I considered the full 1 lb. burger for $9.50 for two seconds, and the fried pickles and fried green beans sounded great, but I settled on the more modest deluxe quarter-pounder, the corn nuggets (highly recommended on Facebook), and a chocolate malt. 

While I wait for my order, I peek at that day's Grand Forks Herald and look who is on the front page. 

Marilyn Hagerty, winning a prestigious award for her years in journalism. And you know, I know there are a lot of other journalists out there that have risked life and limb for a good story lately, but I say good for her. Marilyn's journey brings me joy. I love this idea that life can alter dramatically at the age of 84, or frankly at any age. Julia Child didn't learn to cook until she was in her 40s. Clint Eastwood is 82 and still awesome (when he's not talking to empty chairs, at least). There is hope for the rest of us.

My food arrives and it's exactly what I wanted. A great burger on a sesame seed bun, a classic malt, and these corn nuggets that are like little fried pieces of your grandma's Thanksgiving creamed corn. I don't know how they make those, but I'm glad they do. I munched and read the article, and left with both a full tummy and an inspired spirit. 

I can't wait to be 84. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Spaghetti Squash and Papa's Pumpkin Patch

Tucked in the river bottoms of Bismarck, at the end of a gravel road under a dense canopy of cottonwood trees, you'll find a magical place called Papa's Pumpkin Patch, where there are pumpkins pumpkins pumpkins laying all over the ground and children children children playing as children rarely get to do anymore.  Jumping on hay bales, running through the forest, dangling from zip lines, riding in little wagons with noses pink from the autumn chill - and their parents following closely behind, their Canons zoomed in to capture every single gold-hued moment.

Ben at Papa's Pumpkin Patch last year

It's an annual pilgrimage for families in the area, and one doesn't know if they come for the pumpkins, the photo ops, or the very fact that they can let their kids burn off some energy. I personally go for all the above, and one cannot leave Papa's before stopping at the barn for a pumpkin cookie and a cup of hot cider.  At least I can't. 

I also like to go to this magical place because it offers a ton of squash varieties. Buttercup, butternut, spaghetti, Hubbard, acorn, delicata, carnival, kabocha, turban, the ugly "lunch lady" squash, decorative gourds, and of course jack-o-lantern pumpkins, sugar pie pumpkins, and ghostly white pumpkins.  I came home with a spaghetti squash among my treasures.

I think there's this idea still circulating, tracing back to our homesteading ancestors and the days without refrigerators, that you have to eat your food the same day you cook it, piping burn-your-mouth hot.  Since I like to roast squash (I think it tastes best that way) and my child isn't very patient when hungry, I cook in advance and happily use modern icebox technology to store until needed. When I'm baking in the fall, I'll often split a squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and throw it cut side down on a pan and let it roast for an hour or until very soft while whatever else I'm cooking is in the oven. The squash, peeled and cooled, will keep in the fridge for a few days until I need it for dinner. Voila!

Everyone's favorite way to eat spaghetti squash is, well, like spaghetti. Here's my quick work night spaghetti sauce that I used to top my roasted spaghetti squash - it changes constantly based on whatever veggies I have on hand, and I have no shame in admitting that I'll use the occasional jar of supermarket marinara, but I always kick it up with other fresh ingredients.  The addition of Italian venison sausage is a must in our house, and I put red wine in it, pretending that I'm doing it for the practical reason of getting the last bits of sauce out of the jar - but actually, I just like red wine. 

Work Night Spaghetti Sauce

1 jar decent spaghetti sauce (I look at the label and try to avoid high-fructose corn syrup in my spag sauce - a sign of cheap food production in my book)
3/4 lb. Italian venison sausage
Olive oil
Cheap dry red wine (that's how I roll)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft; add Italian sausage and garlic, cooking until sausage is cooked through. Add rest of vegetables, then the spaghetti sauce. Add a shot of red wine to the empty spaghetti sauce jar and shake, getting the rest of the spaghetti sauce out of the jar and pour into the pot to let the wine add extra flavor. Simmer and serve over spaghetti squash. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Moist Chocolate Beet Cake

When my not-beet-loving husband found out I was making a chocolate beet cake, he immediately compared my baking to Minny's from The Help.

"What, like that chocolate pie?"

If you haven't read/seen The Help...never mind, just move along.

But what he didn't know was that this is a gorgeous cake recipe, David Lebovitz approved, with whipped egg whites, superfine sugar, nearly two sticks of butter, chocolate melted over a simmering pan of water - in other words, The Real Deal, with beet puree mixed in. But unlike many veg/cake recipes that just sneak in the vegetable matter, the beets in this actually add to the overall depth of flavor and lush moistness.

I said moistness. Sorry. Weird word.

I'm putting the recipe down just as it appears on David Lebovitz's amazing, wonderful, can-I-finally-go-to-Paris-now-puh-LEEZ blog, but here are my adjustments:

1) I didn't have superfine sugar, so I just whirred a cup of sugar in my blender for 10 seconds.
2) My chocolate was a mix of Trader Joe's dark chocolate, one block of unsweetened chocolate, and some semisweet chocolate chips. In other words, I totally used whatever I had on hand.
3) I roasted my beets in tin foil instead of boiling them.
4) I don't have an 8" Springform pan, so I used a regular 8" cake pan and filled four additional ramekins with extra batter for mini-cakes.
5) Instead of espresso, I mixed some instant coffee in hot water.
6) Since I used salted butter, I omitted the pinch of salt.
7) The original recipe calls for it to be served with creme fraiche.  Unless you are making your own, or bringing it in from Minneapolis, you probably don't have creme fraiche on hand.  I just enjoyed it plain with a big glass of milk; I'm picturing my slice of cake tomorrow already with a hot cup of milky black tea.

But don't let any of those little adjustments worry you. This is a beauty of a cake. Even for the not-beet-lovers.

Moist Chocolate Beet Cake

8 ounces beets, unpeeled, rinsed and scrubbed free of dirt
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup hot espresso
7 ounces butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 cup flour
3 Tbls. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking powder
5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 cup superfine sugar

Butter an 8- or 8 1/2 inch (20 cm) springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Boil the beets in salted water with the lid askew until they’re very tender when you stick a knife in them about 45 minutes. Drain then rinse the beets with cold water. When cool enough to handle, slip off the peels, cut the beets into chunks, and grind them in a food processor until you get a coarse, yet cohesive, puree. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a cheese grater - you'll have about 1 cup of coarse puree.)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring as little as possible. Once it’s nearly all melted, turn off the heat (but leave the bowl over the warm water), pour in the hot espresso and stir it once. Then add the butter. Press the butter pieces into the chocolate and allow them to soften without stirring.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a separate bowl.
Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter is melted. Let sit for a few minutes to cool, then stir the egg yolks together and briskly stir them into the melted chocolate mixture. Fold in the beets.
In a stand mixer, or by hand, whip the egg whites until stiff. Gradually fold the sugar into the whipped egg whites with a spatula, then fold them into the melted chocolate mixture, being careful not to overmix. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and reduce the heat of the oven to 325ºF (160ºC), and bake the cake for , or until the sides are just set but the center is still is just a bit wobbly. Do not overbake. Let cake cool completely, then remove it from the pan.
Serving and storage: This cake tastes better the second day; spread withcrème fraîche and sprinkle with poppy seeds shortly before serving. Or serve them alongside.