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Archive for October, 2009

I should have known. Us Minnesotans wrote the book on the phrase ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.’

Right on time, at the heels of my dreary October report, came a smashingly beautiful Fall day; just in time to lift spirits across the city, to pour sunshine down on the deprived and saddened. It was blinding. It felt hot. Car interiors warmed up and jackets were shed. Lots of skin came out to say ‘Hello’, to welcome the sun.

And while most of the city wandered around in a daze, strangers smiling at each other with lots of contented sighs, I escaped.

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Just a few short months ago, that deck was covered in soggy footprints, soaked towels, half empty sunscreen bottles, juice boxes, a few toys, often a stray lifejacket and maybe a wet child or two. It held chairs that held bodies that held hair off their warms necks and cold drinks in hand. The deck groaned under the weight of languid summer days, resplendent in the hot sun. And the lake laughed up at the blue sky, at the boats skipping across it’s surface and popped up a turtle or two to take stock, or a loon that just as quickly dove for cooler waters beneath. At night, the waters slept, still as glass, covered occasionally in a gentle fog, as the rubber band snap of bullfrogs sang harmonious shoreline lullabies. Idyllic barely does it justice. And it always ends far too soon.

But now, it’s just empty, save for the few hardy anglers, a lazy boat or two that holds tight to the remaining light and good weather and maybe the eagle, if he’s fishing today. Still, in it’s emptiness, and the solitude that tends to follow Labor Day like a reluctant puppy, Loveless Lake retains it’s beauty in entirely different ways, and offers a means to escape just once more before it settles down for a long winter’s nap.

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And I settle in, pulling a bag of two of food with me and some warm clothing. The furnace kicks out it’s cozy heat and a few candles lead the daylight hours into night. I settle into the profound silence with a good book or two, some music and the need to just be me for a day or two. To hike and sit on a stone overlooking the St.Croix River, or to just stare at the water outside. Maybe I’ll do nothing at all. Stay in my pajamas all day and drink coffee, invite the muse to visit and tap away until it’s satisfied. I might rake leaves and lay among the crunch. There certainly should be a nap on the sofa, a good snack. And a bonfire as the sun disappears over the tree line. The bed is piled with blankets and I turn off the furnace at night, hunkering down under the weight that lulls me to sleep. I think about nothing at all. And everything, but really, it’s nothing. Winter is coming and this will end for several months. I won’t be able to walk down the hill, with the water winking an invitation at me beyond the corner of the cabin. There won’t be the giddy anticipation of a weekend with my nieces and nephews, racing around the water in the boat, dragging an inner-tube with a shrieking child holding on for dear life. It will end, with the last drop of water drained from the water heater, and the final look around before the car door slams on yet another season.

It’s always bittersweet.

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I demand a do-over on October. Now.

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The colors are woefully gorgeous. Woeful it is, as the glorious October sunshine that tends to set them off to perfection, causing my jaw to drop in awe has been conspicuously absent, leaving the bright yellow maples and dark red oak trees to show off their glory in nothing more than rain-drenched light. Halloween is bearing down on us, and I have only fleeting images in my mind of how beautiful this month can be in Minnesota. Soon comes November, dreary November and then all the holiday junk and then……well, there’s just winter after that. I need my October to set my mind right before taking that plunge. I need piles of crisp dry leaves to kick through, another sorely missed option of this fleeting month. All the leaves have been far too soggy to play with, and certainly not desirable for your shoes.

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There is some kind of somber romantic beauty caught up in the fog, the burnished colors trying their best to break through the unbroken and gray light. And amongst that backdrop of drab this October, I have craved all manners of comfort through steaming bowls of soup. Fall is perfect for soup, with or without expected weather habits, and the kicky Chorizo and Black Bean recipe here is good for warming the tummy, and chasing away thoughts of the impending gloomy November. Remind me that I need to stock up on candles.

It’s also one of those recipes that sent me to three stores to find a good quality dry-aged chorizo to use in this recipe. Do you ever do anything like that? I kind of like darting into a store and buying one thing, for some reason. Maybe because I do it so often. I do highly recommend using that type, usually in a casing and referred to as Spanish chorizo, as opposed to the loose ground kind. While you likely will get good flavor from both, the dry-aged variety is so agreeably piquant, giving it a better flavor profile. This soup came together as an amalgam of two separate recipes, each stellar in their own right. I couldn’t choose which one to make, so I took the best of both of them and made something new and fabulous.

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Ahhhh hearty soup, warm and satisfying. This was excellent; chock full of good vegetables and beans, chunks of seared sausage and a nice dollop of sour cream to smooth out the heat. It was a land mine of flavor and texture for the eye and the belly. I served it with these yummy cornbread croutons, an outrageously good idea I had recently to use up some leftover cornbread in a different way.

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These snappy little squares are perfect with soup or stew, a delicious tasty extra with amazing toothsome bite. Take your prepared cornbread pieces and cut them into thin slices, no more than 1/4 – 1/2″ thick. Place the slices on parchment covered cookie sheets in a 325° oven and bake them until they are crisped and golden brown, turning once or twice while they bake. This could take about 45 minutes to an hour. You can cook them in a higher oven; they tend to not dry out as completely as a slower temperature but the outcome is completely subjective. Save some to crumble over a salad for a nice touch of crunch. That is, if you can keep yourself from eating them all.

Chorizo and Black Bean Soup
By Kate

This soup comes together pretty quickly, but like many, it will develop deeper flavor after a day, or even more. Adjust the amount of water for the thickness you prefer. The broth is thin, and can be thickened in any manner you prefer if you wish.

3 links Spanish chorizo, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can diced tomato, fire roasted if you can find them
1 c. whole kernel corn
2 t. chipotle pepper in adobo (I run the whole peppers through the food processor to make them easier to use- chop a whole one, or more to taste. You can sub ground cayenne pepper to your liking, or dried chili of choice.)
1 t. dried oregano
1-2 t. ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

In your soup pot, warm oil of choice over medium heat and cook onion for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and peppers and cook for about 5 minutes more. Add the chorizo and cook until the pieces are seared and slightly browned. Stir in about a quart of water and gently scrape the fond off the pan. Add in the chipotle, tomato, corn and black beans, and more water to the consistency you prefer. Stir in the cumin and oregano and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

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I really need to make more of it. Time that is, especially when I can get this……

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for something like 15 minutes of actual work; like getting my hands messy, watching the mixer spin and covering a bowl with plastic kind of work. Whoa. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

But really, I should do this more often.

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Maybe it’s because I don’t think bread photographs all that well. Like soup. I can make soup once a week but you rarely read about it here because it isn’t all that glamorous and hates to pose when the camera comes out. Some foods you can’t keep down if you tried. The camera turns on and they pose the heck out of themselves, flashing their merits for the lens to find, almost shouting ‘Look at me!!’ in their desire to be seen. And loved. Bread is just sort of there. The color isn’t superb and eye-catching; you can’t really show off the crumb in any photo and there’s no flashy edges, roasted and burnished, that tell it’s tale. And it’s bread. It’s a vehicle for your cheese, peanut butter, jam or fruit butter. It gets smothered in mayonnaise. No wonder it just sits there when the camera comes out. Rarely is bread honored on it’s own, although some of the best breads I have ever eaten can offer up their finest attributes with nary a spread in sight. But let’s face it. When you go for bread, you almost always have the thought of placing something on it, covering it up and hiding it from view, mashing it down in a press, or cooking it over a flame. Maybe over time, bread has developed somewhat of a complex, and when the camera points its way, it probably sighs and thinks ‘Oh great, next it will be the peanut butter jar. Or that god-awful mayo crap. Or that fabulous sharp cheddar in the fridge, maybe with chutney.’ It’s time to behold the bread. To claim it for the amazing food that it is, to place it forefront in the kitchen, to give it it’s due. To make time for it. To take 21 pictures of it like I did in an exhaustive effort to bring out the best of it, to try to make it shine. As I tapped ‘Command + Delete’ over and over again, sighing in frustration, the coarse and hearty crumb of this bread still playing on my tongue, I decided that the bread just needed to tell it’s own story in the only way it could. It needs to be made to be appreciated.

For five years of my life, I worked in the office of an artisan bakery and was subjected daily to fresh baked bread of all shapes, sizes and flavors. Some days all I could manage for lunch was to grab a ciabatta roll and maybe a little ham. Sometimes it was a Sesame Semolina loaf, a snappy and crisp Baguette or the mouth-puckering Sourdough Boule. My desk usually would be covered in crumbs, and when I cleaned out my keyboard, yep- you guessed it- crumbs. My daily log book was filled with crumbs. They crunched under my shoes, and almost every day as I exited the building and passed the rack of breads that were left, I would grab one to take home for Griffin. But I was surrounded by the wonder of all things yeast and it cemented a love for bread in me that lives strong still, nearly eight years after I left the job. I never really thought about how fortunate I was then, but now, when I want something yeasty, that snaps with a shower of golden snowy crumbs all over my lap, that’s what I think about.

And I need to give it the time and attention it should have, time it deserves and way more than I do, which is a rarity. Even if most of that time is spent gazing at a plastic covered bowl, faint drafts of yeast and flour emitting from within, while I sigh heavily, dreaming of warm bread covered with melted butter, a drizzle of honey or a gooey slice of melted Brie. The warmth of a 400° oven easily chases the chill of an October Sunday away, while I doze through the NFL game, one synapsis just awake enough to keep track of the time passing and bringing me ever closer to those dark brown loaves. And the smell. God really knew what He was doing when He created bread, didn’t He? Somebody say ‘Amen’.

Whole Wheat Multi Grain Bread
From The Essential Eating Well Cookbook

1-3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. bread flour
3/4 c. 7-Grain cereal (Bob’s Red Mill makes a delicious one)
2 T. milk powder
1 pkg. active dry yeast (2-1/4 tsp.)
1-1/4 t. salt
1-1/3 c. water
2 T. molasses (I did not have any, subbed in unsw.applesauce and loved the result)
1- 1/2 T. canola oil

Fit your Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook. Spray a medium bowl with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine flours, cereal, milk powder, yeast and salt in the mixer bowl and blend on low speed for about a minute. Whisk together the water, molasses and oil until combined, and then with the mixer running on low, slowly pour the liquids into the flour mixture. When fully combined, stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 30 minutes.

Turn the mixer on to low again, and mix the dough for about a minute stirring in about 2 more tablespoons of wheat flour. The dough will not form a ball and will be slightly sticky. Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl and cover the top with plastic. Allow to rise until doubled in size- 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Coat a standard loaf pan with cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and sprinkle a little more flour over the top. Carefully collect the dough together to form a loaf and place in pan. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled in size, 50 minutes to an hour.

Bake at 400° for 35-40 minutes, until top of loaf is golden brown and there is a hollow sound when you tap on the top. Allow to cool in pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

KATE’S NOTES:
Bob’s Red Mill makes a 5-Grain, 7-Grain and 10-Grain cereal mix. Although the recipe calls for the 7-Grain, I used the 10-Grain as it was what I had on hand. Either of the three varieties would work just fine in the proper quantity. I was a little skeptical about the amount of time the dough mixed after the rest period. It seems pretty short and does not seem to develop the gluten much like other methods. However, the result of the loaf tasted really good, with a dense and coarse multi-grain crumb and a nice texture. I might experiment with the amount of mixing time to see what the end result might be. I doubled the recipe and both loaves were a bit short but I might have baked them sooner than they should have though.

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Apple, Brie and Sweet Salty Praline Quesadillas
By Kate

One medium sized apple of choice, shredded and squeezed to remove excess moisture (I used Honeycrisp)
Two sliced Brie cheese
Sweet Salty Pralines (method follows)
Two Flour tortillas

In 8″ skillet, heat one tortilla until starting to crisp and brown. Remove to plate and add second tortilla to pan. While second tortilla heats, spread shredded apple over warmed tortilla on plate and top with pieces of Brie. Scatter pralines over the top. Cover with second tortilla and place back in pan. Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing to heat slowly. Carefully flip tortilla once during heating. When cheese is melted, place on plate and cut into wedges. Serve hot.

To make Pralines:

In a medium sized skillet, melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter over medium heat until foamy. Add in a cup of pecans and stir to coat. Cook, stirring regularly for about 2-3 minutes, then sprinkle in two tablespoons of brown sugar and one teaspoon of sea salt. Stir to coat pecans, breaking up any chunks that form. After a minute or two, carefully pour two tablespoons of water into the skillet and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until syrup thickens and pecans are fully coated.  Pour onto a plate and spread to cool, being careful not to touch the caramel.

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The words ‘chili’ and ‘simple’ often aren’t used in the same sentence, and I’m sure chili purists would snort at a pot of smoky rich chili that’s ready in less than an hour, but while there can be a steadfast debate over what constitutes true chili- beans, no beans, the type of meat or none at all- chili is one of those subjective words that has as many meanings as there are cooks to pull it together.

I love a pot of chili that develops over time on my stove. The extra deep flavors, the rich tender chunks of beef and the warm smoky aroma that fills my house are one of the things I begin to crave as the daylight grows shorter each Fall. Be that as it may, I also love having something hearty, healthy and quick to pull together and offer to a gnawing stomach. Or a broken soul.

I found this quick chili recipe last year from an Eating Well magazine and it was an instant hit. It comes together so quickly that you might barely have time to bake a pan of cornbread before you are ready to indulge. You need canned beans and enough know-how to chop an onion; most anyone can manage that and yet it just begs for improvisation, for peppers or perhaps corn and some late season zucchini to add heft and health to an already stellar pot.

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Soup. Chili. Stew. Chowder. These words have been ringing in my head this past month as we’ve waved off summer and started our reacquaintance with Autumn. Last year I was happily enmeshed in soup-making and found all sorts of good ideas for a steaming pot. This one is a good -and quick-  option for soup season.

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Quick and Easy Three Bean Chili
Adapted by Kate

1 medium red pepper, cored and diced
1 medium poblano pepper, cored and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and diced (for more heat, use serrano)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can great northern beans
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can pinto beans
2 15-oz or 1 28-oz can fire roasted tomatoes
3 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
1-2 T. chipotle chili in adobo, if desired

Drain and rinse all canned beans, set aside. In a medium stockpot, cook onion and all the peppers in oil until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add in chili powder, cumin and garlic and cook about a minute, stirring continually. Add in tomato and all beans, and two quarts of water. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Simmer to develop flavors, about 15 minutes. Add in chipotle for more flavor and heat if you wish. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed.

Can be topped with diced avocado, cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime. Additional ingredients to add if desired: diced zucchini or frozen corn.

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Kate’s Chunky Applesauce
(more a method than a recipe)

Peel, core and slice your apples of choice, filling your pan as full as possible while maintaining enough room to be able to stir.

Place about 2 cups of water in the bottom of the pan along with the juice of half a lemon. Stir to coat the apples as best you can and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until apples have broken down and reduced to about half. Depending on your temperature, this could take several hours. Be patient, it’s so worth the time to do it slowly. When apples have reduced by half, add in a cup of packed brown sugar and about 4 tablespoons of cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons of nutmeg. Stir to combine and cook over low heat for about another hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Stir in one tablespoon of unsalted butter. Cook for 15 more minutes and taste again.

If the mixture seems too dry as it cooks, add about 1/3 of a cup of water to bring back moisture. The apples themselves will release their liquid and the end result should be nice and thick.

Many thanks to John at Baker Apple Orchard in Centuria WI, for the apples that grace our table, and this recipe. He’s been so kind about sharing the bounty of his property with us, and we are deeply appreciative of his generosity. If you happen to be in the area (it’s great for a Fall leaf viewing trip!) please stop by and say ‘Hello’. Their fresh pressed Apple Cider is the best you will ever have!

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September in Minnesota really could not have been any more beautiful. The weather was temperate throughout the entire month with warm sunshine and cool, crisp nights. It was also extremely dry. Like desolate and parched, desert-like dry.

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By the end of the month, the air was almost caustic, and any amount of wind kicked up rolling dust devils. The few zucchini left on my vine withered in the dryness and the grass, once again, became parched and crackly. And then, just when it seemed the haze that hung in the air would never break up, October came along and with it, a long and much needed drenching rain.

And cold. Those gorgeous September days of upper 70’s and purely blinding sunlight have given way to temps in the 50’s and a lot of clouds. I finally had to give in and turn on the heat when both the cats began fighting over who got to snuggle in my lap for warmth, and a cozy, comforting meal from the oven seemed like just the ticket to usher in a cold, blustery and rain-driven night.

Most any Wednesday finds me eagerly perusing the New York Times Dining and Wine section, skipping over the restaurant news and market talk to find the weekly recipes, eager for some new ammunition to add to my cooking arsenal. Sometimes I fall flat, or I print off an interesting specimen that ends up languishing, forgotten, in a pile somewhere.  But this recipe for Ratatouille and Sausage Pot Pie with Cornmeal Biscuits seemed to be one destined to go from the printer to the prep table in record time. And it did. One day was all it took and it was bubbling on the trivet, my stomach growling in desire as the rain pelted the rapidly darkening windows and the furnace hummed happily.

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What a wonderful twist on comfort food, a new definition for an age-old favorite. The recipe calls for italian sausage, but if you’ve got a meat market in your area, one that makes its own artisan sausages, pick a richly flavored one to use in this recipe. A local market near us makes it’s own bratwurst and the Wild Rice variety paired beautifully with this dish. Roasting the vegetables brings out so much sweetness and flavor; both Mike and I were really happy with this dish, the complex flavors and the ultra-comforting way it filled us up.

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Ratatouille and Sausage Pot Pie with Cornmeal Biscuits
From The New York Times Dining section, 9/30/09

For the Biscuits:
1 c. AP flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 t. sugar
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. kosher salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3/4 c. sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the yogurt or sour cream and fold in gently until mostly combined. Gather the dough with your fingers and press any remaining dry ingredients into it, kneading it lightly until it all comes together. It should be slightly sticky. If too wet, sprinkle with a little more cornmeal. If too dry, add a small amount of milk. Press dough into a ball and place plastic wrap over the top of it. Set aside.

For the Ratatouille:
1 large eggplant, cut to 1″chunks
2-3 medium zucchini, cut to 1″ chunks
1 large red pepper, cut to 1″ chunks
1 large yellow onion, cut to 1″ chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
3/4# italian sausage, casings removed
2 large tomatoes, cored and rough chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh oregano
3-4 large basil leaves, chopped

Oil for roasting, salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450°. In a large bowl, place all the vegetables and drizzle them with about 3-4 T. of good quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and gently stir to coat. Spread the vegetables on two cookie sheets without crowding them. Roast until golden and browned in spots, about 20-25 minutes. Stir once during roasting.

Meanwhile, in an oven proof skillet with deep sides (or use a regular pan, then a separate baking dish) cook the sausage until browned, breaking up into small pieces. When sausage is cooked, add the tomato and stir gently. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes without disturbing. The tomato should break down slightly, but not too much.  At this point, if the vegetables are not done yet, turn the burner off under the skillet and wait for the vegetables to finish. You don’t want the tomato to become mushy.

When the vegetables are done, scrape them into the skillet with the sausage and tomato, or pour everything into a 2-3 quart baking dish. Divide the cornmeal biscuit dough into five or six workable pieces and flatten them with your palms, placing them on top of the vegetable and sausage mixture, pressing them down slightly. They can be in rounds, or you can cover the top as much as possible with the dough. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°. With a pastry brush, dip into the juices in the pan and brush the tops of the dough with the juices. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbly.

This dish would be just as good without the addition of any meat.


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