Archive for September, 2007

A very tasty local dinner.

Let it be known that we said Local Dinner, not Lo-Cal Dinner. Although I don’t think it was overly sinful. K and I decided it would be fun to get our group of creative gals together for a lovely, local dinner. She hosted at her beautiful house (minus dog) and I sent out the emails. The goal was to have an entire meal (seven people – seven dishes) that were all based on our CSA or farmers markets finds. Four of us have had active CSA deliveries all summer. Three of us (ahem) had a not-so-great CSA experience when the CSA folded. Oh well. There are still plenty of goods at the market.

So on to the details. That first picture is J’s beautiful platter of FM tomatoes and basil with local herbed butter and bread. The chunk of cheese is from the St. Paul Famous Cave Lady Cheese. It is soooo good. She even sells “fish bait,” which is cheese that’s not pasturized, and a bit to raw for my taste, but good to know its available.

And potato skins. Hello, totally local food. Usually offered in bars, with frozen ingredients, these were the real deal. Red potatoes from ATs CSA. She added some fresh local (again, not lo-cal) cheese and local sour cream with fresh herbs. They were delicious. And oh, so much better than anything served at Champs. Yum, yum. Calories, shmalories.

AB brought beautiful tomatoes, basil and mozzarella from the Mississippi Market. It’s my favorite co-op and these were delicious. The only problem with local, in-season tomatoes, is that they really ruin tomatoes for the rest of the year. These were juicy, sweet and tart, all at the same time. Guess I’ll have to freeze some more.

My contribution: Carmelized Butternut squash and onions pizzas. It’s from the current issue of the Wild Oats magazine, and I hope it’s posted on their website soon. So easy, so beautiful. Carmelize the squash and onions with some oil in a low oven for an hour, brush some oil and garlic on a local crust, add some parmesan (hardly local), add the squash and onions and sprinkle on some feta. What a treat. Sweet and tart and hot and crunchy. I’ll remember this one every fall.

K, our lovely hostess, made a beautiful carrot bake. It was unlike anything I’d had and I can’t believe I didnt get a shot of it. I know it contained local carrots, milk, eggs and cheese. It was a warm comfort food that would well when the temperature is lower than it should be. And I think it would be a perfect reheated lunch. It was sweet and savory at the same time, and very hearty. K – we need the recipe!!

And then there was desert. JS made a beautiful apple, cranberry and maple crisp with Cedar Summit Farm Vanilla ice cream. Sweet, tart, rich, cold, yum. This is a recipe to share and to make again, and again and again. JS – please send me this recipe. (and you know what? somehow, she brought it the party of her bike, that’s talent!)

Seven you ask? Try to think of seven dishes for a meal. S brought some tasty bread to pass around. What’s a dinner party without bread?

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The Kitchen

The next day I brought sister and her husband to a restaurant in Boulder that I had read about. It’s called The Kitchen, and they’re known for serving local, fresh ingredients in innovative ways. We chose to go for lunch to simply everything. From the moment we walked in, I felt at ease. The decor was light and airy, one wall was brick, another stone. There were two large paintings on the walls that were completely white canvases. Sister knew I love them and pointed it out. A chalkboard on the side wall listed the local providers of their products. The service turned out to be slow, but at least the food made up for it.

I started with an absolutely delightful cup of tomato soup. And that’s what I love about restaurants that use local, in-season ingredients. The food tastes like what it should. This soup tasted like tomatoes. And nothing else. Good, warm, thick, ripe tomatoes.

I also ordered a lovely BLT served on a gouda biscuit. The bacon (local) tasted like bacon. Even the fatty end pieces tasted like bacon, and they weren’t chewy or gristly, still crisp and tasty. The biscuit was moist, but held together pretty well. (It took me about four minutes to eat the whole thing, so I hope it stayed together.)

Sister ordered the zucchini and goat cheese fritatta, which was pretty as a picture, even though it was lacking the said goat cheese. She requested some on the side, and then she found it rather enjoyable.

Sister’s husband ordered the lamb burger, which he said was very good, It was beautiful, but I don’t eat lamb and made no attempt to show interest in it. I’ll trust him.

Thinking we didn’t have room for dessert, we moved on to continute our shopping along the Pearl Street Mall. It’s a wonderous place to wander, with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants (and unfortunately, a few chains). But I always have to stop at my favorite pet store, Farfel’s Farm. Farfel is a big huge sheepdog, who was fast asleep in the front window. So cute. So tired. What a life. I picked up a couple treats for Dog and then found ourselves a treat.

We found wickedly-fun candy store where they sell all the good stuff. There are candy cigarettes, dot candy, rock candy, and M&M dispensers divided by color. I picked up a pack of Pop Rocks for the husband, and sister treated me to a bowl of mocha nut gelato. It was my first experience with gelato. And YUM!!

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A happy weekend of cooking and eating in Denver.

The mountains, the open space, the wide open sky, Wild Oats and lots and lots of food. I spent a long weekend visiting the sister and her husband and since we all love to cook, we opted to stay in rather than spending the money at pricey restaurants. For their wedding, they received a Tagine. And I’ve been dieing to use it. We found a recipe on Epicurious for Chicken and Chickpea Tagine. The hardest part about the whole dish was finding the spices. The recipe called for Harissa and Ras al-Hanut. I’d heard of Harissa; a spicy Moroccon sauce. But we just couldn’t find it. Not at the Indian grocery, and not at my favorite grocery store, Wild Oats. Same with the Ras al-Hanut. So, we made them. Google is a beautiful thing, and thanks to my personal food expert, Chris, he read us the recipes over the phone so we could put them together.

The rest of the recipe went together easily. We browned the chicken in the base of the tagine,removed it and added the tomatoes, chickpeas and spices, returned to chicken to the pan and threw it in the oven for 40 minutes. When it was done, we served it with basmati rice, and the harrissa/creme fraiche mixture. The flavors were intense and complicated. We could taste the cinnamon, the caraway and the saffron. The chicken was tender. I’ll be making this again. Now, I just need a tagine.

And a side of curried cauliflower. Yum.

That was the first night.

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Help your local farmers!

Tomorrow, on Saturday, September 8th, a number of area restaurants are raising money for the sustainable farmers in southeastern Minnesota who were affected by the recent floods. There is also a live auction with some great things for foodies. Personally, I’m planning to pick up a pizza from the Birchwood. Yum.

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The MN State Fair, part 2

I made it back. Every year I think about returning to my beloved State Fair on its last day, Labor day. And this year, L and I made it back. We took the city bus, route number 84, which cruised fairly close (2 blocks) from my house and dropped us off right at the door of the fair. With our free ride coupons, it couldn’t have been easier. The hardest part of the day was the temperature, which reached a hot and sticky 90 degrees. Isn’t it September?

So, we started in the food building. (One of my favorites). I had heard a lot about this wild rice booth, with wild rice hamburgers and wild rice corn dogs. I opted for the corn dog (it was half the price and size). And I have to say I was disappointed. It tasted like a corn dog. A regular corn dog. Oh well, it was still good, and I have to hope healthier.

L started with the cheese curds, and I couldn’t take a picture because my fingers would have drowned the camera in grease. But they were good, and somehow I ended up holding them because she started shopping. Funny how that happens.

We moved on to the barns before they closed (early on the last day) and had a nice conversation with a very happy cow, just before almost being peed on by another cow. They looked very tired, as did their people. Ten days of non-stop spectators has got to be exhausting.
After our digestion break, I found a handmade pretzel. (Not bad, boring for the fair, but again healthy).

And lisa found a taco.
And then we went overboard. Lisa found her favorite London Broil sandwich, full of juicy grilled roast beef and a heap of mushrooms. Now that I’m a mushroom fan it actually looked good. But I was able to control myself. until we found Giggles, a lively food stand near Machinery Hill that featured local (taadaa) ingredients. I went with the ($7) Walleye Fries. and they were worth it (although warm on a hot day).

They were crisp and meaty and the coating (Panko) was hearty. One of the best foods I’ve had at the fair. Until this.

Despite what you think, its a belgian waffle coated in dark chocolate on a stick. I skipped the whipped cream and sprinkles for obvious reasons (corn dog, curds, pretzel, walleye) and even so, it was heaven. The chocolate was rich, but not too sweet. The waffle was crispy on the outside, but had soft innards. The stick came too soon, and I finished just before we boarded the bus for home, so I wasn’t able to make it back for another one. But there’s always next year, right?

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State fair, part 1…

It has become a tradition for me to go to the fair with friend L, as well as friend C from DC. Sometimes the three of us have gone together, other times, like this year, we go on two separate trips. Which is fine with me, because it means I get to go to the fair twice.

So last night was trip number 1. I met C from DC after work, and we wandered through the streets and vendors catching up and talking about the happy little bun she’s got in the oven. Married, and pregnant within weeks. Some girls have all the luck. C had been at the fair for a few hours before I got there, and said baby was taking up some room, so she left most of the eating to me. Yeah.

I started with my favorite, the cajun deep fried pickles from the food building.

Served with extra hot sauce and some ranch for dipping, they’re the perfect savory treat. Not too greasy, not too healthy. I enjoyed them as I walked north toward the Pet Building, because really, the dogs are the best part of the fair. I was in luck, and the Boston Terrier Club of Minnesota was camped out next to the building. I got to hold an adorable little girl named Milly and wanted to swipe her, but no, I gave her back. So sweet.

Then onto meet C and find some more grub. Its just so hard to decide. I don’t want to eat too much, and don’t want to eat the same things every year, but the foot long was calling my name when I walked past. You heard it, didn’t you? Smothered in onions and ketchup, there’s nothing better.

After the dog, we made our way through the Miracle of Birth Center to check out the new babies and watch some videos of others being born. Last year I saw two calfs being born in person. This year, no such luck.

I stopped to chat with a cow, who appeared to have just had a baby. She stared at me much like I was staring at her. This is crazy, but I think cows are beautiful. I love the contrast of the white and black fur. They look so clean. This is a four day old piglet who had fallen asleep while suckling.

An itty, bitty lamb cuddled up to its mother.
And a whole mess of piglets trying to get some dinner. We learned that each piglet get their own teet. Everytime they feed, the look for the same one, which explains the jostling and rolling of the little piglet bodies. Ohhh, they are just too darn cute!

And on to more food.
C was looking for something sweet and she had a coupon for strawberry shortcake. I have an aversion to fake fruit, and honestly, this was no exception. The berries were too red, and too soft, and I didn’t even have an interest in a bite.

Besides, sweet stuff and the fair just don’t go together for me, which is probably what lead me to this beautiful carnitas taco. The whole time I was wolfing it down, the juice from the pork was dripping onto my toes. Now its a tradition to run home and wash my feet after going to the fair, because, well, there are barns and stuff in the barns, but I don’t normally drip juice from a taco on my toes. Oh well, the dog sure thought my feet smelled good when I got home. Yuck.

Part two of the fair to come, I can’t wait to go again!

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