Friday, September 30, 2011

3-Course French Dinner for 4 People Under $20

I don't like using my blog for any type of advertising or stuff like that. But this is too good to pass up.

I recently was alerted to a local contest called "Plenty for Twenty" in which you buy fresh ingredients from a local grocery chain (Cub Foods) for less than $20 and make something delicious and creative.

Well, with the help of my wonderful friends Marney Olson, and her husband Colin Farbotko, I made a video and entered the contest.

And, lo and behold, I'm a finalist for the GRAND PRIZE, which is a year's worth of free groceries. Imagine the amazing blog entries that you'll see here if I win!!!! I will need the public's help to win, as all voting is done on Facebook.

If you're a Facebook person and you want to vote for me, just search for Cub Foods in Facebook and click on the "Plenty for Twenty" link at the left. You'll have to "like" Cub Foods before you can vote, but you can always "unlike" them later. Vote once per day between September 30 - October 7, 2011. The winner will be announced October 14, 2011.

If you don't want to bother voting, that's OK. As a reader of my blog, you get special perks and I will share my video with you right here!

And, as a special BLOG-ONLY bonus, you lovely readers get to view my blooper reel.

If you're interested in any of the recipes featured in the video, see below!

Mushroom Pate
Serves at least 4 as an appetizer

1 package button or crimini mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 medium union, roughly chopped
olive oil, salt, pepper
french baguette

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange your mushrooms and onion on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and puree in food processor, you may need to add more olive oil to get the right consistency.

Serve with crostini (sliced baguette)

Spinach and Cheddar Souffle
Serves 4

Don't follow my video instructions. Follow this recipe instead, it's much better.

Chocolate Souffle
Serves at least 4, probably 8

I used this Mark Bittman recipe in the video. But if I were you, I'd make Chocolate Lava Cakes instead. They're much better, plus you can make the batter days in advance.

Have a nice day!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spicy Sweet Corn Cakes

The sweet corn this Just, wow. Corn isn't usually even in my top twenty favorite fresh foods. But. This year, the sweet corn crop may have converted me. I discovered Peter's Pumpkins on a tip from another local blogger and I've found them at Midtown on Saturdays and Kingfield on Sundays.

Now, I'm not typically very chatty with strangers, but I mentioned to the farmer (could have been Peter himself for all I know) that I'd heard he had the best corn. He modestly agreed and said he uses a different type of seed that ensures the corn stays sweet all summer, not just at one peak time. He wasn't just selling me a line and some ears of corn, he was dead serious. This corn is juicy, bright, creamy, and so very very sweet.

As mentioned earlier this week, I vacuum sealed most of the two dozen ears I bought on Saturday. This likely means I prepared and froze this amazing corn on the same day it was picked. Cool. And I saved some kernels for eating this week also.

Tonight I combined the corn with a few other simple ingredients (the chile peppers and onion were from the farmer's market, too) to make these cakes. When you toast up sweet kernels of corn, they sizzle and pop like popcorn and develop a rich deep caramelized flavor that's addictive. I'm not even going to tell you how many of these corn cakes I ate. (It was three.) (Okay, four.) They were delicious with a mug of roasted tomato, red pepper, and basil soup.

Other serving suggestions include giving your corn cakes a more latin flair with avocado, black beans, and pico de gallo (this WILL happen tomorrow, I can already taste it!). Or serve with Scalloped Tomatoes. Or on a bed of salad greens with salty feta cheese, tomatoes, and a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. Or just snack on them as is, whatever floats your boat, freak.

Spicy Sweet Corn Cakes, adapted from alexandra's kitchen
Makes about a dozen small cakes

1/2 cup corn meal or polenta (or more if needed)
2 cups sweet corn kernels
1/2 small red onion, diced very fine
2 serrano chiles, seeds and ribs removed and diced very fine
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 cup shaken buttermilk (or more if needed - and can substitute plain yogurt)

Mix all ingredients together and let rest for 5 minutes. If super wet or too dry, add more corn meal or buttermilk. You're looking for a thick pourable consistency, like pancake batter.

In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp oil (I used evoo) over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Use a large scoop to pour about 2 Tbsp batter into a small pile in the pan. Fit as many as you can in the pan.

Let cook about 2 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom, then flip and cook another minute or two. Remove to a towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Continue with remaining batter until gone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scalloped Tomatoes

Right now is - by far - my favorite time of year to shop for food and eat. I get giddy at the Farmer's Market, dreaming of the millions of ways I could combine the ingredients to make something healthy and delicious.

On Saturday, I went balls-out crazy at Midtown, buying as much as I could with the intention of preserving it all for the bleak months of December through March.

Out of this gluttonous bounty, I got: eight quarts of roasted tomato and red pepper pasta sauce, two quarts of roasted tomato and red pepper soup, two vacuum sealed bags of roasted beets, one vacuum sealed bag of roasted butternut squash, four large vacuum sealed bags of fresh sweet corn kernels, three pints of crockpot applesauce, over one dozen zucchini oat bran muffins, and some steamed green beans I've been eating on that lettuce all week.

Yes, my deep freeze is filling up nicely! And even after all of that, I still had a bunch of tomatoes left for dinner tonight.

This recipe for scalloped tomatoes has literally been on my blog to-do list since the first year I started blogging. I put it off and shame on me for doing so because OH MY GOD do I ever love this recipe. I love, love, love it.

If you like tomatoes, you will love it too - it's like fresh summer tomatoes on steroids, all pumped up and juicy. It's so easy and freaking delicious you must make it RIGHT NOW, or if now is not a good time, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

I honestly could eat the entire pan of these scalloped tomatoes (which is the same as tomato gratin, just another fancy name that means topped with cheese and baked). But I was able to refrain from gobbling it all, if only so I could bring it to work and show it off at lunch tomorrow. The taste reminded me of all the best things about a fabulous lasagna or pasta dish, without all that grody pasta (full disclosure: I don't really like pasta). This would be awesome with a poached egg and something green.

I am not kidding. Make this. Before the tomato season ends (i.e. NOW!). You won't be sorry.

Scalloped Tomatoes, adapted from Ina Garten
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

2 cups day old bread cubes
1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
6 large tomatoes, cored and diced
1 large clove of garlic, grated on a microplane or mashed into a paste
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil or butter. Toss in bread cubes and stir over medium heat until golden brown and toasty. Remove from heat and sprinkle with dried herbs and a pinch of salt.

In a medium bowl, toss together your tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, salt, and basil.

In an oven safe baking dish, put your bread cubes on the bottom. Top with tomato mixture. Sprinkle grated cheese on top and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vegetable Fried Quinoa with Egg

I get a lot of feedback from people about recipes on my blog that goes something like this: "That stuff all looks great, but I just don't have enough time to cook like that because I have [insert excuse here: kids, busy job, no money, a life, etc]."

I had a few days last week where my fridge was pretty bare and I was making some of those excuses myself. It just seemed easier to order a pizza or go out, and I was severely tempted to do that. But I powered through, and re-discovered the key to quick healthy meals.

I know you know this. I knew it, too, but I forgot. The key is a tiny bit of preparation. Duh. On Sunday, I boiled up a cup of quinoa in 2 cups water with a vegetable bouillon cube for 15 minutes. Then I sauteed some onion and broccoli. With these 2 items already prepped, I was able to make this healthy version of Chinese fried rice in just a couple of minutes tonight. It was awesome.

No matter how busy you are, I think you'll find it's possible to find time to boil up a pot of whole grains like brown rice, wheatberries, farro, oat groats, or quinoa (which is technically a seed). This is the hardest step, and building a great meal is a snap from this point forward.

To make your fried rice, simply stir fry some vegetables in high heat oil, add your rice or quinoa, then scramble an egg into the whole mixture. Season with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. Delicious, addictive, and healthy!

Vegetable Fried Quinoa with Egg
3 cups chopped veggies (I used cabbage, carrot, peas, onions, broccoli, ginger, and garlic)
1-2 cups cooked grain or quinoa
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)

In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 Tbsp light oil (peanut, canola, or vegetable but NOT olive oil) over medium high heat.

Add your vegetables and stir fry at high heat for about 2 minutes or until they begin to soften. Use your best judgement of when to add the veggies. For example, I had pre-cooked my broccoli so I added that last and just let it heat through. No need to add any salt or pepper because your soy sauce will be flavor enough. If the pan gets too dry and your veggies start sticking or burning, add a teaspoon or two of water. Try not to overcook - err on the side of caution and work quickly so your vegetables don't get overly soft. You want them to keep a nice crunchy bite.

Add your cooked quinoa or rice to your slightly softened stir-fried veggies and stir. Make a well in the middle of the hot pan, add a spot more oil, then add your beaten eggs. Scramble the eggs into the mixture.

Turn off heat and add soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring well to combine. Garnish with chopped scallions, if you have them. And serve with hot sauce to taste.

TWO YEARS AGO: Summer Quinoa Salad

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stuffed Tomatoes

I try not to let the real world intrude too much on this blog. But sometimes the real world won't be ignored. I've had pretty heavy thoughts today and debated whether to post this recipe or not. Because who cares about stuffed tomatoes when real things, bad things, happen in life?

I set aside 1 hour this morning to reflect on that day 10 years ago. And, I assumed after that hour, my thoughts would return to happy sunny skies and tomatoes and yoga and I'd be on my merry way. But the real world doesn't work that way. Reflection continued and these thoughts kept intruding on my day as I folded laundry, made my bed, went for a walk, and practiced yoga.

Ten years ago today, I was exactly 1 week into my first real job out of college. Logging into my computer on the top floor of a downtown Minneapolis skyscraper, I was frustrated that the internet wasn't working. My boss told me about the planes. I spent the next hour with strangers in the skyway, watching a TV mounted on the wall in some insurance office or something, tears streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks as those towers collapsed.

I knew that our world had changed, but I didn't understand how or what it all meant. Our building closed for the day and I rode the bus home in a state of shock, translating news from my headphones to other passengers. When I reached home, I was perplexed to find my roommates blithely throwing a frisbee in the front yard, like any other day. Didn't they get it? I planted myself in front of the TV and cried the rest of the day away.

Looking back, I probably would have cried more had I realized how bad things would get. As Forrest Gump taught me, shit happens. Economies crumble. Politics become horribly polarized. Countries go to war. Natural disasters happen. Beautiful, smart, witty, creative people get evil diseases they don't deserve (excuse my language here, but just fuck ALS and fuck cancer, OK?).

So, why am I still posting a stuffed tomato recipe today? Because...

I am alive.


I am healthy.

These are two things I no longer take for granted. I don't want to pollute my body with any more Nacho Cheese Doritos and Cherry Coke - I did that in excess for the first 30 years of my life and I guarantee the next 30 will be dramatically different. When the world seems overwhelmingly hopeless, I remember that things can change for the better - and I know this because I have changed for the better. The best way I can think of to take all this bad shit and turn it into something less awful is to honor my alive healthy body with good nutritious food and some physical activity.

So, yeah, this is still just a silly food blog, but it makes me feel like I'm doing something productive for myself when I post a photo and recipe of meal that was seasonal, local, satisfying, and tasted good. Go ahead and stuff something good in a ripe tomato. This is primetime tomato season so you really can't go wrong.

Stuffed Tomatoes
makes 4 stuffed tomatoes

1/2 cup white beans, drained (I used leftover Bean/Veg/Grain Gratin, after performing a rutabaga-ectomy)
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 can tuna, drained and flaked
1/2 cup hard cheese, grated finely (like parmesan)
1/2 cup sauteed onion, carrot, kale (optional, it was included in my gratin so I didn't need it)
splash of your favorite vinegar (mine is currently raspberry vinegar)
4 large local in-season tomatoes

Slice the top off the tomatoes (about 1/4 of the tomato, leaving about 3/4 behind). Use a serrated knife to cut around the inside and a spoon to scoop out the guts. Chop up the guts, including the tomato top and mix this together with your beans, quinoa, tuna, cheese, and vegetables. Season with vinegar, salt, and pepper. I preferred this mixture after it had been refrigerated for 30 minutes and served cold.

Season your hollowed out tomato cups with salt and pepper. Scoop in as much filling as you can, then serve.

ONE YEAR AGO: Cherry Tomato Tart

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bean, Veg, and Whole Grain Gratin

I often say that I like to try new things; but, being nearly thirty-three years old means I don't actually do it very often. Like the rest of the universe, I get stuck in my way of doing things and it becomes habit to pick out certain styles of clothes season after season, hang out with a select group of friends, and automatically buy the same foods at the grocery store each visit.

Today I tried to break out of that mold when the fennel at the grocery store didn't look as good as I wanted it to. I decided to buy a rutabaga for my recipe instead, and smugly congratulated myself through the store and all the way home for my substitution bravery.

I know I've eaten rutabagas before in my life - I am a Scandanavian/Minnesotan after all, and this vegetable is also known as "the Swede." But I don't recall hating it so intensely. I really, truly, honestly dislike rutabaga as of today. It now joins turnips and eggplant on my very short list of vegetables that I do not care for.

The rest of this dish is so good, however, that despite having to pick out the rutabaga chunks (and there are a boatload of them), I really was happy with my dinner. That's something at least. The moral of this story ISN'T that you should think twice before trying something new...quite the opposite! I wouldn't know how much I love celeriac, or leeks, or jicama, or parsnips, or a million other delicious foods without giving them a chance.

The moral is: always find the silver lining when something unexpected happens. This bean, vegetable, and whole grain gratin is delicious despite the rutabaga, will feed an army, costs next to nothing to make, and is a complete one-pot meal that contains all your necessary proteins, carbs, and vegetables! It tastes like a comforting creamy/cheesy casserole (hotdish to us Minnesotans) that your mom would have made for you when you were a little kid. Only it's really, really good for you.

I've kept the name as generic as possible so that you can substitute anything you like to custom fit this recipe to your taste buds. So if you love rutabaga (Marney!), go wild. It's a lovely fall dish that smells amazing cooking away in your oven while Bob Dylan sings to you, birds chirp in the trees, and children laugh in the street. Let's not take our holidays for granted, this one was gorgeous!

Bean, Vegetable, and Whole Grain Gratin, loosely inspired by this Veg Times recipe
Serves at least 6 as a main dish

6 cups diced vegetables (I used carrots, onion, kale, and rutabaga-ew! fennel or parsnips would have been good)
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
3 cans or pints cooked beans with liquid (I used Great Northern, Navy, and Garbanzo)
1 cup cooked whole grain (I used oat groats, but you can substitute brown rice, quinoa, wheatberries, farro, millet, barley, or whatever you like)
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup hard cheese, finely grated (I used pecorino romano, but parmesan, asiago, or any other hard cheese will do).
2 cups bread crumbs
salt, pepper, and olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter. When melted, add all your diced vegetables, 1 tsp salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and 3 bay leaves. Stir occasionally and cook until all veggies are soft. Remove bay leaves. Deglaze pan with vinegar.

Add 3 cans or pints of beans, including the cooking liquid. Add the cooked whole grain also. Add a big handful of chopped parsley, the bouillon cube, and 1 cup finely grated hard cheese. Stir well.

The liquid level should be as high or a bit higher than the beans because you are going to cook this in the oven and you don't want it to get dry. So, you may need to add some water, stock, or broth until you can see the liquid level rise to the same level as the beans.

Mix bread crumbs with more parsley, cheese, and freshly cracked black pepper. Spread this mixture over the beans then drizzle with olive oil. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes and top of breadcrumbs are golden brown and toasty.

Remove from oven and let gratin rest for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Serve with a fresh green salad.

ONE YEAR AGO: Carrot Cake
TWO YEARS AGO: Rainbow Rollup

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chunky Apple Muffins

This morning, there was a crispness in the air that reminds me that it's already September. I love September. It's my birthday month and it reminds me of new notebooks, sharp pencils, day planners, new clothes, and fresh beginnings.

With as much whining as I've been doing about summer coming to an end, I was surprised at how welcome today's cool breeze was. There's probably nothing that goes better with the first whiff of autumn than something appley, cinnamony, sweet, and warm with your hot black coffee on a cool September morning.

I had these delicious local state fair apples that were starting to get a little soft and it seemed like a brilliant idea to whip them up into muffins. I used about 5 times more apples than the original recipe called for, and I left all the skins on.

There actually were a few too many apples because some of the muffins had difficulty staying together, but I didn't care. I wanted to be punched in the face with apple flavor, so I deliberately altered the ratio of fruit to batter to heavily favor the apples. Best punch in the face I've ever received.

Apple Muffins, barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 15-18 muffins

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
2-4 cups diced apple chunks
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
more brown sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, cream together your butter and two sugars, then beat in egg. Gently stir in buttermilk or yogurt (it may curdle if you use buttermilk and stir vigorously but that is OK). Slowly stir in the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. The mixture will be very thick and dry, but will loosen up after adding the apples.

Fold in your apple chunks and walnuts. Spoon into greased muffin pan and top with a sprinkle of brown sugar. Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of muffins emerges clean.

ONE YEAR AGO: Chicken Fajitas
TWO YEARS AGO: Heirloom Tomato Pizza