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Entries in local eats (7)

Saturday
Jul102010

Original Content

Yep, another blog post.  Hold onto yer hats!  This one is even all original content; GASP!

 

I haven't yet blogged about our csa, or how amazing it is... but I promise you I will, and that it is indeed amazing.  We went with Riverbend Farms this year and they are simply wonderful, if not simply for the unique things we've gotten so far: corn meal AND turtle beans from last year's harvest (!!!)  I really meant to keep some of the turtle beans for us to plant our own beans next year... but then I forgot to save a few and they all got soaked along with the edibles.  Oh well.  This meal was incredible, not just because I used an entire tub of mascarpone cheese in the polenta, or because I cooked the beans in my favorite Italian fashion, but because aside from the salt, mascarpone cheese and oil, every ingredient came from within 80 miles of our house.  Locavore-ism at its very best (and most delicious).

I made the beans in the same fashion Kyle and I learned five years ago (has it really been that long?) while living in the hills of Italy:

 

Rince your beans well, and pick through them to sort out broken beans and pesky stones.  Soak your beans in cool water with about an inch of water covering them (add more water as the beans will absorb some).  Cook them in their soaking water with a few cloves of garlic, add salt and stir every once in a while until the beans are the right consistency for you.  I like them just past al dente so they still have a tiny bite to them. When they're done, drizze really good olive oil and serve with crusty bread  Holy cow it's sinful, not to mention incredibly healthy.  You can use them at every meal (they were quite lovely with CSA eggs fried and their yolks oozing onto the beans) and they keep in the fridge until they mold or smell funny, but I can pretty much guarantee they won't be around long enough for you to get to that point, so just keep using them until they're gone. 

 

This polenta was absolutely fluffy, perfect, sinful and divine.  I was literally in love.  If you can get your hands on homegrown corn meal, do it now and do it fast.  Little chunks of whole squeaky corn REALLY brought the dish together.  For one cup of corn meal, I used 4 1/2 cups of 1% milk with a 1/2 cup of half and half (this is what we call improvising when you don't have whole or 2% milk on hand). 

Ingredients:

1C cornmeal

4 cups whole or 2% milk

1 tub mascarpone cheese (12oz ?)

Salt to taste

Two cloves of Garlic (or five garlic scapes) minced

 

Bring the milk and garlic to a simmer and slowly add the cornmeal over medium heat, whisking constantly until well incorporated.  Stir once every 5 minutes until it reaches the consistencey of apple sauce, about 30 minutes.  Serve immediately. 

 

Sunday
May022010

It's hunting season

At this point I'm just going to assume you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma.  If you haven't, please do. If you have, we're probably on the same page.  I've sung Mr. Pollan's praises before, and I have to admit he has inspired me (and probably a million other Americans) on many levels with regards to the food I put into my body. I have been known, however, to take things and run with them.  Last year I got excited about the native edibles that were available for eating that can't be cultivated (or take a lot of unpredictable effort when attempted).  This year, I decided to find those goodies for myself. 

 

Now, foraging is not for the weak of heart, or for the ill-informed, so I tapped my most valuable resources.  A wonderful woman named Kathy (@Kathysforay on Twitter) just up and offered to take me.  People, that doesn't happen!  She didn't even force me to get blindfolded or anything (you know, because of the secret location of the mushrooms and whatever), on top of the fact that she was gracious enough to let me keep what I found.  She even told me I had an eye for it! I almost believed her, too.  In about 30 minutes we stumbled upon about 7 or 8 morels that are now waiting for some cooing love this week... I might even blog about it. 

This blonde beauty was my first find.  I squealed like a little girl when I saw it, and had to resist picking it instantly so I could snap a picture of my first forage ever.

Friday
Jan222010

Winner and SGT Dinner

So I took some time off. 

Fine, I'm lying.   I didn't take ANY time off. 

 

I've been plenty busy with food and photography, but none of which really inspired me to sit down and blog about it. Granted, I easially could have written about dinner at Everest on Grand with Rae and Eric, but I didn't take any pictures and honestly I wasn't inspired to (until I got our delicious food.  Holy shit. I love Indian food).  You can read about our dining experience at Sen Yai Sen Lek over on Erin and Ben' blog.  I had TWO client meetings on Sunday (following up the advertorial posted on Off Beat Bride last week, I've been spending a lot of time responding to inquiries) and generally ate out a ton the past few days. Since this is so unlike me I will recap for you.  Monday Lunch: Buon Giorno. Dinner: Red Stag  Tuesday Lunch: 3 Squares, Dinner: Brasa  Wednesday Breakfast: Bryant Lake Bowl, Dinner: Northeast Social Thursday Dinner: Sushi at Seven.

 

What am I,  some kind of socilite? 

 

The worst part is, I have no inclination to cook this week.

 

At all.

 

I'm not sure I can even muster up the desire to fry myself an egg this morning.  Anyway to provide at least ONE piece of original content this week (so I don't feel like a complete failure) here is a picture at the Simple Good and Tasty Dinner at Brasa, St Paul. 

Meeting Alex Roberts was probably the highlight of my dining week.  He was very kind and friendly, his food is delicious, his mindset so focused on good quality and local ingredients... and he's damn cute too (have I started liking guys with beards? Damn you bearded husband.  You're changing my ideals!).

 

Oh and the winner: Emily Tritabaugh was the lucky number 17 to be selected by Random.org!  You have an email from me in your inbox about collecting the goods.  Way to comment!  I love the concept behind her blog too.  Mottainai is a Japanese term that refers to when something valuable, such as food, is wasted. Her blog and lifestyle are dedicated to make Mottainai a little less frequent in the world... and we should probably be friends. 

Sunday
Aug022009

Outstanding in the Field: MN Edition

On Friday as I drove my parents and Kyle farther West into the Minnesota heartland than I had ever been, my mother and I discussed how we had heard about Outstanding in the Field. She was certain that I, being "in-tune" with food culture, had told her about it. I, on the other hand, believed that she told me about it last year when her Houston goat cheese supplier (Blue Heron Farm) had their cajeta featured at the 2008 Outstanding in the Field in Texas.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Regardless of how we had heard about the meal, the four of us we were headed to Riverbend Farm in Delano, MN to experience our 1st farm dinner. The mission of Outstanding in the Field is simple: "To re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it."

Outstanding in the Field- MN

If that doesn't line up with my philosophy I don't know what does. The chefs, Scott Pampuch (owner and Executive Chef at The Corner Table) and Mike Phillips (Executive Chef at Craftsman Restaurant) teamed up with Greg Reynolds and his wife, the proprietors of Riverbend Farm. Both Pampuch and Phillips are well known in the Twin Cities for their commitment to fresh, local and organic ingredients, and Riverbend Farms are one of their go-to suppliers. In addition to supplying restaurants, Riverbend products can be found at local Twin Cities co-ops and they offer a CSA to a lucky 80 participants that signed up in March of this year.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

But enough with the small talk, onto the food!

When we arrived at the farm there were two options of beverages being served: 45h Parallel Spirits and Il Follo Prosecco.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

The lemonade vodka's being served by distiller Scott Davis were refreshing and smooth, but the prosecco was the best accompaniment for the Charcuterie being served up: headcheese (which is really becoming one of my favorite parts of charcuterie) coppa salame, MN cured prosciutto, Pork Rillette with spicy mustard and rhubarb compote, and house made mortadella. I've been a sucker for mortadella since I lived in Italy, and this provided me with a good fix.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

After we socialized a bit in the field, we heard from Jim Denevan, the founder of the nationwide dinners and Katy Oursler, Events Director. They gave us a brief background of how Outstanding in the Field was formed, their mission, and their travels. You can read more about much of what we learned here.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

From there we split into two groups and toured the farm. My group toured alongside Greg Reynolds, as he explained to us the theory behind his crop rotation while we got to enjoy the gorgeous July air.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Finally it was time for dinner. Just the anticipation of walking up to the gorgeous table set for 150 people made the price tag alone worth every dime. I immediately headed to the cooking tent where dinners were encouraged to watch the makings of the upcoming feast.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Our 1st course was a Farmer's Salad, composed of carrots, beets, potatoes, sheep's milk ricotta, pheasant eggs, salad greens, and a fresh shallot vinaigrette. There was a delicious blue cheese included too, but sadly it wasn't listed on our menu. The entire dinner was paired with Miner Family Vineyards Wines, which was a great flashback to California Wine Country. With the salad we were served a perfectly balanced Napa Valley Chardonnay. We got to hear from Pat Ebnet from Wild Acres talk about his poultry production as well as from Joe and Lou Jones from Idle Hands Farms, potato growers extraordinaire.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

It was around this time that Kyle noticed darkening clouds in the distance. I was skeptical they would ever reach us (have we had ANY rain in Minnesota this year, after all?) but it definitely made us wonder where 150 people would eat if a storm came our way.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Up next was cured Star Prairie Trout with cucumber, breakfast radish and cabbage coleslaw.
The fish was incredibly tender and mild, while the slaw provided a nice refreshing and light course, well paired with the Miner Viognier: clean, bright and citrus-y.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

My wonderful parents who get to enjoy Outstanding in the Field in Houston this September
Outstanding in the Field- MN

On to true Minnesota Fare (and who in Minnesota doesn't love sausage?). Next was Fischer Farm Fennel Sausage, served with a kohlrabi puree and braised greens tied together with a Honey Gastrique. Given the opportunity, I could eat this for dinner on a daily basis. The sausage was a coarsely ground pork and the fennel was brightened by the licorice flavor from the fennel. The kohlrabi was as smooth as the best mashed potatoes with a slight sweetness brought by the gastrique to tie it all together. The Miner Merlot was oaky, dry and full bodied with blackberry undertones.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

It was around this time we realized those ominous clouds were definitely coming towards us.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Never you mind, the next course was served without any hesitation. Large portions of Mark Simon veal served with a Riverbend swiss chard and a cornmeal "tamale" served on a bed of sweet corn, black turtle bean, succotash, veal demiglaze and herb butter. The tamale was a beautiful and delicious creation, with fresh sweet and creamy Minnesota corn. The veal was beautifully smokey, though I have to admit it was pretty hard to cut with my butter knife. Being the driver of the evening I only had a drop of the sangiovese, but recall a dark, earthy and dry wine. A clear cousin of a good Tuscan sangiovese, with the twist of American terroir.

Outstanding in the Field- MN

At this point the storm was upon us. The wind picked up and it was announced that dessert would be served in the greenhouses. The whole lot of us made the trek with the lightning flashing behind us. Many of us lingered outside of the greenhouses until the 1st drops of rain started to fall. The food, wine and weather combined made some of us a little loopy.

The storm approaching

Outstanding in the Field- MN


Getting my toes dirty

Outstanding in the Field- MN

All messed up on good food and great company
Outstanding in the Field- MN

Encountering friends

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Outstanding in the Field- MN

Lighting strikes in the distance

Outstanding in the Field- MN
Dessert was the most unique of all courses: Riverbend cornmeal and Start Thrower farm sheep's milk cheesecake with sour cherry sauce, raspberries, black cap berry sauce, ricotta and honey ice cream. I didn't taste the ice cream, but at that point I was too infatuated with the storm to care.

A patron silhouetted by the outside barn light with rain battering the outside of the greenhouse

Outstanding in the Field- MN

The Greenhouse, lit only by lightning

Outstanding in the Field- MN

A man lit just by the light of his cell phone
Outstanding in the Field- MN

Tuesday
Jul142009

Canning: A how-to

Do you know how to can?

You do?

Jerk.

Okay I'm kidding, but I am pretty jealous. Chances are a family member taught you. My grandfather was a canner by trade, but lived in Texas and I never learned the family business. Okay fine, he worked in can plant and didn't make pickles for profit... but apparently he and my grandma used to can at home all the time. They did have a hobby farm after all. What's the point of farming if you can't use your stuff year round?

Veggies weren't the norm in my garden growing up, aside from tomatoes (which were always eaten fresh) and one time I think we grew a baseball bat sized zucchini. Apparently my mom has "never actually canned" either which sad, but also sheds light on how things change from generation to generation. And now, here we are, "Generation - Oh shit the world is falling apart", planting our gardens, cooking locally grown food and eating our vegetables, and without Grandma next to us to show us what to do.

I've thought about canning. Friends encouraged me: "It's not hard at all" "Just read the Joy of Cooking, they'll tell you how to do anything". Great. But it seems to me canning is one of those things people teach you how to do, not something you can just learn to do from a $5 book you bought at Menards. Yes, boys and girls, Menards.

canning, take one

My hopes is that one CAN learn to can by the book, and that as I learn to can, maybe it will help you learn too if your mom, uncle or grandma or dad didn't have the chance to teach you how. Just for you I will expose it all; my successes, my lessons and my failures.

I decided my 1st endeavor would be an easy one: dilly beans. String beans (or green beans, or wax beans) run rampant in Minnesota this time of year and for an insanely cheap price. I bought what I estimate to be about two pounds for five bucks.

canning, take one

I'm not providing a recipe because I don't want you to sue me if it doesn't work and I haven't tried the beans yet to tell you how delicious they are. There are of course loads of recipes on the Internet and canning books are notoriously inexpensive. I do however want you to have a good understanding of the canning process from one learners perspective to another, so here we go.

canning, take one

Canning 101

Warm up those jars. I have a dishwasher so this is the method I used as I had a few forks and knives that needed cleaning anyway. I made sure it was on the heated water cycle, and waited for my jars to get clean and hot. This can also be done by simmering the jars for 10 minutes, completely submerged in water, but what can I say, I'm a lazy canner.

While I waited for the dishwasher to run I got everything else ready. Water and vinegar with salt solution on the burner? Check. Beans hulled and organized? Check. Garlic peeled, dill heads picked, crushed red pepper and mustard seed at the ready? Check. Lids heated in a separate pan? Check.

*Failure: I didn't have my lids heated/sterilized when I was ready to go. They are supposed to be boiled for 10 minutes, and there is nothing in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving about using the dishwasher as an option. This set me back. I would suggest boiling them in the same water that you plan to can in HOWEVER, unless you have a super long magnet wand, the water will probably be too deep for this option.

canning, take one

So now, your jars are hot, your water is boiling, your brine is ready, your lids are sterile. And it's go time:

Take out one jar at a time. Place one garlic clove, one head of dill, mustard seed and crushed red pepper in the bottom of the jar. Fill it as tight as you can with beans. And I mean tight! Use a flat utensil to stuff the beans onto one side of the jar while you fill the other.

canning, take one

Once the jar is full and the beans are lower than the middle of the threads on the jar (this is called 1/2 inch of headspace) you're ready to add your vinegar solution.

canning, take one

Using a canning funnel (incredibly helpful!) add water to the same point of the jar (1/2 inch headspace). Take a flat, clean utensil and agitate to get out any air bubbles. Shove any floaters there might be a few) back under the point of no return (re: 1/2 inch from the top of the jar) and grab your lid out of the hot water (the oh-so-fancy Ball magnetized sticks are incredibly convenient here as well) and set it uniformly on top of the jar.

canning, take one

Screw on the ring so that it is finger tight, not so tight a 5 year old couldn't unscrew it.

*Fail. I have a HUGE pot a home. I have no idea how big it is, and I'm not going to go check just to brag, but I was POSITIVE the ball jar rack would fit into my ridiculously huge pot. Guess what? Yep, just 1/4 inch too narrow for that fancy jar rack. This led to both cursing and improvisation. I used my big ole'pot, without a rack, and with yet another fail, not enough water to cover the single jar at a time method I had decided was going to work best for me without Mr. Jar Rack. Why do I even bother continuing on at this point? Well... sometimes there is just no going back.

Place your four jars in your jar rack, making sure there is at least one to two inches of water covering the tops of your jars (yeah, har har, yuck it up...). Boil for 5 minutes, remove jars and let cool.

*Fail: My brining solution ran out after jar one. 2 cups of water plus 2 cups of vinegar in a quart jar apparently mean negative space in a jar filled with green beans? Or I simmered the solution too long and 3/4 of it evaporated? THIS is why I'm not giving you a recipe.

Oh, and did I mention that's it. THAT'S IT? You're done!?! Wait two weeks to see if your pickles taste like pickles, don't mold, expand or get fizzy. Where is my instant gratification? Where is my PING?

Not one recipe indicated WHEN the jars are supposed to ping (meaning SUCCESS! You've done it! You've successfully removed air from your jar, your lid IS decompressed and your food isn't going to kill you when you eat it!... hopefully!) or what this ping sensation was going to be like. Would you be able to hear it from the next room? Is it distinguishable from other noises around the house? Should it have decompressed while it was in the water bath? I may or may not have heard one (or maybe two) pings during this process. The 1st jar I completed seemed to have completely decompressed during the boiling process. Two others, and the 1st were definitely compressed after an hour of cooling, but that 4th jar was a thorn in my side. What did I do wrong? How did I do anything differently with that 4th jar? I went out to socialize that evening and by the time I got home it was down!

canning, take one

SUCCESS!

Clearly, I have no idea WHAT I am doing, but so far, they look greenish, haven't exploded, started growing mold and are actually kind of pretty!

canning, take one

Things I've learned (aside from my previously listed failures):

1.Do this with someone else. Have a "Lets learn to Can" party, or force your significant other into the learning process with you. I already know two people who are mad I canned without them, so chances are, you know someone who wants to try it out too.

2. Be really organized. Is your kitchen a little cluttered? Clean it up. Get your Mis En Place together more than you would for any other meal you've cooked.

3. Don't worry about failure. Canning has been around since the days of Napoleon. If you go to eat something and it looks or smells horrible, consider it a done deal and order a pizza... or buy some Gedney's.

4. Submerging your jars isn't a must, but will result in lowered liquid levels inside your jars (according to the Magic Blue Book)

5. You CAN learn to can from a book... AND trial and error. I am now the proud owner of 3 canning books, and honestly can't wait to try again. (My grandma is so excited I'm canning I'm inheriting the family pressure canner). I'd like to try something not pickled next time but it is about to be cucumber season. Salsa is definitely on the list. Any other must try ideas out there?

canning, take one