Tuesday, September 14, 2010

sMac-ked by Fall

Fall, people. Fall.

Sweaters. Football. The smell of the air. The comfort food. I always get excited when the seasons turn, but especially when fall arrives. To me, the telltale signs of the season include, but are not limited to: Minnesota air temp suddenly drops below 60 degrees seemingly overnight, green tomatoes abundant at the farmers market, fantasy football draft takes place, football begins, I lose my first fantasy game by one stinking point (one point!! Grrrrrrr.), the pugs shed less, the pugs pant less on walks, the Minnesota State Fair is over in a blink, and the urge to hibernate takes on sudden strength, making it nearly impossible to exit the warm bed.

Another sign of fall: pumpkins and squash roasting to tender yumminess.

I'd like to assert the opinion that if you've never roasted a whole pumpkin or butternut squash, you should just do it as soon as possible. Even if you have no intention of making my recipe below. Use it for homemade pumpkin pie or something. Anything. Just try it. First of all, just the act of successfully halving one of these behemoths makes you feel like a hero. Second, when you taste the end product, you'll never buy canned purée again.

Last year I made up this recipe based on a pizza I tried that had butternut squash and smoked mozzarella, and oh my. Yumazing, people. Yumazing. Something about the smoky and the sweet in harmony really did a little number on my usual flavor-pairing logic.

Notable disclosure on the subject: this is honestly one of my most favorite dishes I have ever made. So easy and good. My husband on the other hand, not so much. I think his exact word was, "eh." You be the tiebreaker.

Recipe for Mac & Cheese with Smoked Mozzarella and Butternut Squash Cream Sauce:

  • 2 cups of elbow pasta
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • Fresh smoked mozzarella (enough to fill a cup or so when diced)
  • Fresh chopped basil (about a tbsp)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

First, you'll need to roast the squash. Slice the squash in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Place the two halves skin-side down on a roasting pan. Roast at 425 for 30-40 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can comfortably handle. Scoop the fleshy orange goop into a food processor and cover, leaving that small opening at the very top for steam to escape. Pulse a few times, then mix continuously while slowly adding the cream in a steady stream through the opening. Add only enough cream to get the roasted squash to a sauce-like consistency.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water to al dente and drain. Add the pasta back to the pot and cover with the hot sauce. Then stir in as much or as little diced mozzarella as you like (I like a lot. Cheese is my weakness.) so the cheese melts just a little, but small chunks remain. Taste for salt and pepper, (it will probably need salt) and stir in the chopped basil. Is best served with a glass of red wine, a good movie, and a cozy blanket.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Defense of Turkey Burgers

The first time I ever tried a turkey burger was a little over 2 years ago, when I had first moved to NYC. I had never seen so many menus offering turkey burgers.

What is this all about? I thought.
I order. I bite. Oh.

I don't really consider myself a turkey burger kind of gal. I don't know what that actually means; I realize the implications of how that may come across. A turkey burger seems like something salad-eaters eat. And I'm not really a salad kind of gal. I have nothing against salad, just lettuce. I also have nothing against salad-eaters, unless you're on a lettuce diet, with which I might take issue. All I'm really saying is, when it comes to burgers, I usually go for whatever will clog my arteries the fastest.

But this turkey burger thing... it's good. I'm diggin it. You've got to add some stuff to it to give it a little flavor, otherwise it's way too lean and bland. Which is also how I feel about lettuce.

Recipe for easy Turkey Burgers topped with Guacamole and Roasted Red Pepper:
  • 1 lb ground turkey meat
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp green Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Make a batch of Guacamole
  • Fire up a Roasted Red Pepper
  • Burger buns of choice

Heat a cast iron or heavy skillet with a little olive oil on med-high. In a big bowl, mix the turkey, red onion, cheese, cilantro, Tabasco, salt and pepper with your hands. Shape into burger patties and cook on the grill until nice and crusty brown on both sides and firm enough to let you know it is cooked throughout. Top with guacamole (and don't forget the chips to snack on extra guac) and a roasted red pepper slab. Devour, and envision your cholesterol lowering. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Speaking of Cake

Have you seen this yet? It's pretty fantastic.



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scarlet Fever

What is it about red velvet cupcakes? Is it that signature deep jewel-red hue, or the steady growing trend of cupcakes and cupcakeries? Is it the many celebrity endorsements, or insertions in popular culture? No matter what the explanation might be, the world is all abuzz with red velvet cupcake fever. Ask any local cupcake bakery what their most popular current flavor is. If the answer is not red velvet, odds are it's in the top three. It's also very likely that said bakery has seen red velvet's popularity soar even higher in recent months.

Red velvet cupcakes are not only gaining popularity and growing in availability at restaurants and bakeries all over the U.S., but are also making quite a crimson splash overseas. As it soars to cupcake superstardom, red velvet quite easily maintains it's natural elegance and charm. Although it's exact origins are disputed, red velvet has long been celebrated in the southern tradition, and in my mind, is an indisputable southern belle at heart. I remember when the film Steel Magnolias was released. Set in Louisiana, there is an unforgettable scene involving a red velvet grooms cake in the shape of an armadillo. I was young and I remember being very puzzled by this, and wondering what it was exactly. I'd never seen cake that color (or shape, for that matter). It wouldn't be until years later that I would finally make the connection.

Later, when cupcakes became a pop culture phenomenon, red velvet rose in tandem. Pick up a People magazine and you're sure to read about Katie Holmes' cupcake deliveries to the set of her latest movie (red velvet, naturally). Who doesn't love a little celebrity gossip with their dessert?

The unique flavor and fine texture of red velvet is all about what goes into it. There is a distinct science to these ingredients that results in brilliant confectionery synergy. But I think the real secret to red velvet lies in its inherent charm in a way that can't fully be defined. It's beautiful. It's delicious. It's unforgettable.

Recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting:

Cupcakes (makes 12 regular cupcakes)

  • 2 and 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt
  • 2 tsp of cocoa powder
  • 1/2 oz. of red food coloring
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, sift the flour and salt together. In a separate bowl, make a paste by stirring the cocoa powder and food coloring together. It will look like blood. Seriously. Set these aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Next, add the cocoa and food coloring paste, using a spatula to get all the goopy red goodness. While the mixer is on a low speed, alternately add the flour/salt mixture with the buttermilk. Finally, add the vanilla, juice from the orange, and baking powder. Beat until smooth. Spoon the batter evenly into paper or foil cupcake liners in a regular muffin/cupcake pan, making sure not to overfill since the cupcakes will rise. Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely before spreading on the frosting.

Buttercream Frosting (will cover 12 cupcakes)

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to whip. Next, drizzle in the milk and vanilla. Continue to whip until the ingredients come together with frosting consistency. Frost cupcakes right away.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good Great Stuff That Shall Remain Nameless

This is the story about the day I found I had some good stuff. Good stuff that I decided to throw all together. To make great stuff. Great stuff that I piled on my plate, and ate so voraciously that I realized I almost ate all of it before I could successfully snap a photo as evidence of its greatness.

I had some good bacon. It was thick-cut and meaty. I got it at a meat market - the kind of place that does one thing and they do it well. Meat. I also had some fresh green beans and new potatoes from the farmers market. Grown local. In season. Finally, I had some good herbs. Grown by me. Freshly cut.

Until this day that the bacon-potatoes-green beans came together as one, I had been operating under the misconception that these ingredients had conceded to side dish status. Supporting actors. Sure, bacon sounds like an amazing meal in its own right, but does it ever really take center stage without some pretty solid backup dancers?

Of course, the beauty of this combination is that it could go either way: make a big batch and devour all at once, or serve it as a clever, amped-up side at your next BBQ, picnic or potluck. It would go perfect with a burger or brat. But I really wouldn't know for sure - it didn't last very long in my presence.

Recipe for...


Ok, here's the deal. It doesn't have a name. And I didn't measure anything. Call it what you want. Eyeball the proportions of ingredients. I promise you this dish cannot be ruined by accidentally adding too much bacon. Or whatever.

Boil a whole mess of new potatoes, cut in quarters or small cubes. When they are tender, add a whole mess of green beans. Boil a few more minutes until the beans soften a little. Drain. Put the pot back on the heat and fry up some diced bacon in the bottom. As much as you want. Life is short. Go heavy on the bacon. Add the potatoes and green beans back to the pot and toss. The bacon fat should do, but you could also drizzle a little olive oil if you want. Salt and pepper to taste. A dash of lemon juice, and some fresh chopped parsely and chives for garnish. DIG IN.

The picture totally doesn't do it justice, by the way. I simply must get a better camera. It's on my wish list.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bitter Greens and Blues

I have the I-really-should-blog-today-but-oh-for-the-love-I-really-just-can't-right-now blues.

This morning I went to the farmers market and left with only raspberries. In my defense, I did just go on Thursday and pick up zucchini, green beans, fresh garlic, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. But my shopping companions seemed worried. Or disappointed. Or both.

We did meet some very interesting women. One of the many factors that make me so very much my mother's daughter, is the quality we both possess when we are so overcome with curiosity about an intriguing behavior about food, that it is simply impossible for us to mind our own business. As we were about to pass by three women eagerly stuffing large garbage bags full of a mysterious green plant, subsequently wiping the vendor clean out of the stuff, my mother turned to me and whispered, "I've seen someone do this before, with the big garbage bags for all the greens; what is that stuff? I've got to find out."

Turns out, due to a very short window these greens appear at the markets, the women were stocking up for the whole year. Apparently this bitter green plant is very high in iron, and they considered it a treasure. Per their native country (which we found out was Kenya), they cook the greens down with onion and tomato to create a sort of stew, which they then would freeze and eat throughout the year - until the next season rolled around, when they could go out and collect as much as possible. I don't think this green had a name that was consistent to every culture. There were no signs to mark it. The women called it something that sounded like "managa," although I have no idea about the spelling because I googled "managa" and google seemed confused by my inquiry. One guy we asked gave a shrug and just said, "I think they're just bitter greens. Like spinach. Kinda."

I loved meeting these ladies and learning their story. I wonder if I told them about how I make fried green tomatoes when it's green tomato season, if they'd find that as fascinating as I found them. I got a big kick out of that thought since I don't think I could possibly fascinate anyone. Maybe if I went to Kenya. I'll have to try that sometime.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How to: Grill Ribs

I'm sitting here, eating strawberry ice cream, with a super-fun-weekend hangover.

Not that kind of hangover. Well, maybe a little.

I had a great weekend with family - filled with yummy food, good conversation, boat rides, and some serious ribs. Nathan and I hauled the pugs up north to my dad's lake house and spent Friday and Saturday with him and my stepmom Sandy. We ate, drank, laughed, and forced a swimming lesson on the pugs. On Sunday we went to oh-so-elegant La Belle Vie (sans pugs, naturally) with my mom, stepdad, brother, aunt, uncle and nana to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and life in general.

While La Belle Vie is always delightful plated perfection, on Saturday something truly miraculous happened. I learned to grill ribs.

Not buy grilled ribs. Not bake-broil-fake-some-good-ribs-because-I-don't-own-a-grill ribs, I learned the art of real deal ribs.

I can't tell you how exciting this is. Being married to a man from St. Louis, MO, and getting his nod of approval - and not just Nathan, but meeting my expectations as well - ribs are a favorite food of both of us.

How to Grill Ribs, ala my dad - Roger. Or "Rog" (pronounced Rodge) as we affectionately refer to him on occasion.

First, you gotta give them a bath in Italian dressing. Salt, pepper. Anything beyond that is up to you. Cook them low and slow in the oven until gray-brown and tender. When you're ready to grill, heat the coals in a charcoal grill using one of those little cylinder thingys so you don't have to douse them with lighter fluid. When the coals are lit, dump them in and spread them around. Add the ribs, and pour the dripping dressing over the ribs so the coals start smoking. Cover and let them smoke, leaving small holes for a little air escape.

After several minutes, see if they're getting brown on the bottom. If not, cover again and wait. When they do start to brown and crisp, flip and brown the other side. Cover. When the other side is ready, flip again and paint the top side with BBQ sauce. Cover. Keep monitoring the size of the air holes. Too much oxygen will cause the coals to flame up and burn the ribs. After several minutes, flip and paint the other side with sauce. Cover. Check after several more minutes. When ribs reach desired done-ness, remove from grill. Cover grill and close all air holes to put the flames out. Serve ribs with extra sauce, corn on the cob, corn bread, lots of napkins, beer and a hammock.