Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pesto Trapanese

Saturday I made a variant of this recipe from Bon Appetit. For all intensive purposes, this is a "pesto Trapanese" - a Sicilian pesto made with tomatoes and almonds.

For my variations, I used a whole mess of cherry tomatoes I bought at the farmers market. I only roasted them 15 minutes, as they are a lot smaller than the plum tomatoes called for in the recipe. I also added a handful of fresh basil when I blended it up, and I folded in a good amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

I've been on a fusilli kick lately, so I used that instead of peciatelli. Toss the fusill with the pesto, thinned with some of the pasta cooking water to luxuriously coat the pasta, and you are ready to serve it up. I added a little fresh basil for garnish, and sprinkled in a non-traditional ingredient - bacon. Why? Because that is how we roll here at Jean's Running Café! And let's face it, bacon is good with anything involving tomatoes and basil.

A very tasty dish. The sauce has a wonderful roasted tomato flavor, the fresh basil comes through, and the almonds add a nice nuttiness. And the bacon works really well here, even though I risk possibly offended the Sicilians by including it! :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Guest Chef"

A fun story for Friday...

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was fresh out of college and working as an "Assistant Golf Professional" (that was purely a title and not necessarily indicative of actual golfing ability). I spent a winter working at a golf course in Arizona. Having just returned to Minnesota in the spring, and while waiting for the snow to melt so the local course could open so I could resume my employment, my Mom (home economics teacher extraordinaire) invited me to do a cooking demo for her "Foods" class. Having nothing better to do, how could I say no?

Actually, I am Norwegian, but I do employ a similar teaching methodology... :)

What I did not know beforehand was that my Mom told her class that there was a "guest chef" coming in to do a demonstration. A few of the kids knew me already and immediately recognized the elaborate ruse Mom tried to pull. But for those who did not, I recall a few eyes being rolled with the revelation that I was the son of the Home Ec teacher!

I haven't a clue what my specific recipe was, but I made a chicken stir-fry and cooked lunch for the class. I brought in my wok and put on a demonstration of some stir-fry basics - prepping your ingredients, making the stir-fry sauce, peeling and mincing garlic, cooking with the wok, stuff like that. I do remember that even I had some sriracha chili sauce I carted back with me from AZ (keep in mind this was 1994 and I am from rural MN - exotic stuff at the time!) that got incorporated into the dish for some heat. It was a lot of fun.

The reason I bring this up is because, through the miracle that is Facebook, I received a couple of messages last night from students who were actually in the class, saying they still remember the awesome stir-fry I made for them! This seems like half a lifetime ago. It was astonishing that anybody would even remember. How funny!

So, thank you to those who reached out with the compliments and allowed me to take this trip down memory lane. And if anyone from the class still has this recipe, please send it my way... :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writer's block

I've had writer's block all week with very little to talk about. So let me just simply say I like my new camera...

Tonight's quick pasta dish, thrown together with a little of summer's bounty from the farmers market - fusilli with bacon, garlic, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and a little grated Pecornio-Romano.

We'll talk more later...

Monday, August 23, 2010

And, we're back...

I am back with a new camera! I picked up a little Nikon Coolpix over the weekend which was on sale at a good price. And here is Sunday's tater tot hot dish! :)

There are all kinds of crazy modes and settings, and the setting I used for this one focused more on the tots, leaving a couple of spots a little out of focus. But the richness of the color is impressive, and I think this will take some very nice pictures. Looking forward to experimenting with it.

Not too much to report on the running front. I skipped running last Friday because it was ridiculously hot and humid. Saturday morning was a decent 10 miler in dense fog, but the temperature was at least below 70 (scared a buck and a doe along the route - they were surprised to see me in the fog!). Sunday was off. Today, I opted to run in the morning before sunrise because the high was projected to be 90 again. I was glad I did - it was 74 and disgustingly humid, even at 5 AM! Ick. The humidity just never goes away.

I still have no races scheduled, and I am in no hurry to sign up for anything. I'm looking forward to some crisp fall days before I start pondering any races. And I threw my proverbial hat in the ring for a race lottery, the results of which I should know in early September, so that will likely be the driver to help determine the direction of my plans, one way or another.

Sunday I took a very nice hike at Elm Creek. It was a foggy morning and not too oppressively hot, but things really warmed up after 9 AM. Saw some good birds, too. The exciting finds included a pair of migrating magnolia warblers, and I also spotted a yellow-throated vireo. Other usual suspects included the American redstart, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, house wren, least flycatcher, eastern wood-pewee, eastern kingbird, flocks of cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, and a bevy of woodpeckers (hairy, down ,red-bellied, and pileated). The "yellows" of late summer are really starting to take hold - goldenrod are blooming, and the giant sunflowers are getting very tall. Dare I say I even saw a hint of some leaves starting to turn?

I was never completely without a camera after my Olympus bit the dust. I have one of my Dad's old ones, which I don't like as much for indoor use or food photography. But I do take it with me on hikes because it has a better zoom. Here are some images of the waning days of summer:

Dew-covered giant sunflowers

Fog over the lake

Fog over the park

Red admiral butterfly on a tree

Until next time,


Friday, August 20, 2010

Requiem for a camera

My favorite little Olympus Stylus pocket camera died last night after just a shade over 4 years of faithful service. Something is going wrong with the lens, and it keeps shutting itself down. When it does stay on, the pictures are blurry, so I am afraid the thing is toast.

It was a great camera and took really nice picutures. So tiny, I could just slip it into my pocket or waist pack and take it anywhere. I can't imagine how many pictures I took with it, and it was still going strong on its original rechargeable battery! And it was with me for every single race I have run since August of 2006 including my five marathons. And it has a "Cuisine mode" for taking closeup shots of food, which I obviously used frequently!

I will miss you, little camera.

I do have a backup, but it is not as portable. This particular post will be without pictures, but this blog will not!

Time to go shopping...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chicken Pad Thai

Pad Thai, the national dish of Thailand - stir-fried noodles tossed with some sort of protein and/or vegetables and eggs, in a light, spicy, sweet, yet pungent sauce. I have a cookbook by Nina Simonds called "Asian Noodles" that I have been using for nearly a decade now. Her recipe for shrimp Pad Thai was my first introduction to the dish, and I just loved it.

Sunday I created a version with chicken based very loosely on Nina's shrimp Pad Thai recipe, but I embellished and included a number of other ingredients. Actually, the sauce is about the only thing that somewhat resembles the original recipe, and even that I altered. So, let's just say this recipe was "inspired" by Nina's! There are a couple of special ingredients that you will need that should be easy enough to track down. Even if you don't have a specialty Asian market in you area, you can find these at any grocery store that stocks a decent Asian foods section:

1. Fish Sauce - Known as "nam pla" in Thailand, this is a thin sauce made from salted, fermented fish. Did I just hear several or my readers collectively say, "EWWWW!"? :) Well, it does have a very distinct, pungent smell, and I would definitely describe it an "acquired aroma" to the uninitiated! Some might say it smells nasty on its own, but trust me - everything rounds into form when incorporated into the dish. It is an essential ingredient in Thai cooking, and there truly is no substitute. If you have never tried before, all I am saying is give fish sauce a chance!

2. Roasted Chile Paste and Chile-Garlic Sauce - Roasted chile paste is exactly what you might think it is - a cooked down, thick paste of roasted red chilies and other spices. It is not especially hot, but it adds a nice, subtle, roasted chile flavor, along with providing some extra body to the sauce mixture. I use the Thai Kitchen brand, which is widely available. Chile-garlic sauce is another animal altogether. This is a puree of red chilies and garlic and typically has some sweetness, but also a sharper bite. Be careful here, because different brands tend to have widely varying degrees of heat, and this is not apparent on the labels. The brand I like is Huy Fong, which I think has a nice balance of sweet and heat, but isn't too warm. (As a side note, neither of these are absolutely essential to the recipe below - you could use one or both, or completely omit them if you so desire)

3. Rice Stick Noodles - The traditional rice stick noodle used in Pad Thai is the flat variety (pho), which slightly resembles linguine. Per Nina's suggestion in the book, you can also substitute the really thin, round variety of rice stick noodles (vermicelli). I have tried this as well, and it is kind of a fun, nontraditional twist, especially if you are a fan of angel hair pasta. For either of these noodle styles, all you need to do is soak them in hot water for a few minutes until they are just pliable and somewhat soft. Don't soak them too long, however, as they will finish cooking in the dish.

I love Pad Thai year round, but especially so in the summer, as it is somewhat light, yet most satisfying. As with any stir-fry dish, make sure you have all of your ingredients prepped, within reach, and ready to go for when the cooking starts. Things happen very quickly!

Chicken Pad Thai
-inspired by Nina Simonds' "Asian Noodles"

Pad Thai Sauce:

-1/3 c. fish sauce
-1/4 c. ketchup
-1 1/2 T. sugar
-3 T water
-1 t. roasted chile paste
-1 t. chile-garlic sauce

Pad Thai Ingredients:

-1 T. olive oil
-1 T. fresh ginger, grated
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 t. crushed red pepper
-1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, excess fat removed, cut into cubes
-1 c. snow peas, julenned
-3 eggs, lightly beaten
-8 oz. bean spouts
-4 to 5 scallions, thinly sliced
-7 or 8 oz. package rice stick noodles (the flat kind), soaked in hot water until slightly soft, drained
-Small handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
-Small handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
-Lime wedges, chopped peanuts, and sriracha chile sauce for serving

Make the sauce. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl or measuring cup. Set aside.

Heat your wok or other deep cooking vessel over medium high heat. Add the oil. Add the ginger, garlic, and crushed red pepper and stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the chicken and stir-fry until nearly no longer pink and cooked through.

Move the chicken to the side of the pan. Add the snow peas and stir-fry for 30 seconds or so. Move the snow peas to the side.

Add the eggs to the pan. Stir-fry the eggs until they are just set. Move everything back to the middle of the pan.

Add the sauce and stir well to combine. Add the bean sprouts, scallions, and rice stick noodles, tossing well until until well incorporated and everything is cooked through. Add the cilantro and basil at the very end.

Serve with lime wedges, chopped peanuts, and sriracha sauce if desired. Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I just wanna celebrate!

And you live your life with your arms stretched out.
Eye to eye when speaking.
Enter rooms with great joy shouts.
Happy to be meeting.
The Innocence Mission, "Bright as Yellow"

By and large, my summer has been really kind of blah. I have been disgusted by the hot and humid weather. I canceled a couple of my planned races as a result, and the two races I did were no fun at all. Work has been challenging and stressful. I haven't had any vacations. Aside from my adventures in the kitchen and a few enjoyable hikes on the weekends, the rest of the summer has been largely boring without much to celebrate.

Thankfully, there was a reason to party over the weekend. We had a family gathering in honor of my uncle Jim who is turning 80 next month. My cousins organized the event a month in advance since it was easier to get everyone together during the summer. Some of my cousins and relatives I had not seen in years, so it became a family reunion of sorts as well.

There is nothing shy about our family. Arriving at the party, you are greeted with enthusiastic voices and hugs all around. Laughter and tears are always part of our gathering as we reminisce about people, family stories, and events from years gone by. There is never a shortage of great food. And goodbyes always take at least an hour. It was marvelous. I have the best family.

How wonderful to see everybody, catch up, and to celebrate!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Salsa Fresca!

I have all of these beautiful tomatoes from the farmers market, so it seemed only appropriate to make a batch of fresh salsa.

For all intents and purposes, this is a pico de gallo. There are different variations, but generally speaking, this is a chunky salsa made of tomatoes, garlic, onions, fresh chile peppers (most often jalapenos or serranos), cilantro, and lime juice. No cooking is involved. All you really need is a cutting board and a bowl (although, for this version, I decided to break out a pan and toast some spices - but you certainly wouldn't need to).

Fresh salsa is wonderful stuff. For a salsa such as this, I think it is important to chop your ingredients by hand. One of the great things about fresh salsa is the texture. The soft chunks of tomato. The crunch of the onion. Little bits of chili peppers and garlic dancing on your tongue. A blender would destroy that. Sure, this will take a little longer. But it is easy. And, mindlessly chopping and mincing vegetables can be relaxing and therapeutic. (Also, as a friendly reminder, see here for safety tips for working with chile peppers)

The salsa is tasty, lively, and extremely fresh with just a little bit of heat. I seeded my jalapenos to reduce some of the heat (the salsa still had a pleasant warmth), but feel free to live life on the edge and leave the seeds in if you so desire. Of course, the key to this is having really ripe, delicious tomatoes. Lucky for us, they are now in season! The lime juice, along with any juices leeched out because of the salt, is really the only liquid present, and that helps distribute the flavors and seasonings to bring everything together.

Here is what I did, but feel free to play with the amounts and adjust as you desire. A little more or less of any one ingredient certainly isn't going to hurt anything.

Salsa Fresca
-makes approximately 2 1/2 cups of salsa

-3 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, diced
-3 cloves of garlic, very finely minced
-1 medium yellow onion, diced
-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, minced
-1/4 c. cilantro, roughly chopped
-1/2 t. dried Mexican oregano
-1/4 t. ground cumin
-1/2 t. kosher salt
-A few grinds of black pepper
-Juice of 1/2 lime

Add the tomatoes, garlic, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro to a bowl. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, toast the Mexican oregano and cumin for just a couple of minutes until fragrant (this is optional, but the act of toasting really helps to enhance the aroma and flavor). Add to the salsa.

Add the kosher salt and black pepper. Squeeze the juice from half a lime over the salsa. Stir well, and allow the salsa to sit for a half and hour or so before serving to allow the flavors to come together. Or, cover refrigerate for later use.

The salsa is best the day it is made, but is also good on day two. No idea how long it keeps, as it is always gone by the second day. Still, a good rule for this salsa is that fresher is better.

Break out the tortilla chips and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Staying out of the kitchen as much as possible

It has been too hot to really want to spend much time in the kitchen. Temperatures over the weekend soared into the 90's with a heat index topping out at a whopping 102 on Sunday afternoon. It was time to make something quick and easy for dinner.

My folks used to make a version of this dish whenever we needed something fast and tasty. Essentially, it is a beef and noodle hot dish of sorts, but it is not baked. The sauce is comprised of ketchup and BBQ sauce, which gives it a sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor. This is not haute cuisine by any stretch of the imagination, and the parsley garnish in the picture below is wildly over-the-top. But it is delicious and satisfying. Leftovers the next day are good, too, as the noodles absorb the sauce. And, perhaps best of all, it got me in and out of the kitchen in a hurry on a very hot day. Here is how I did it:

Jean's Beef-Noodle Hot Dish
-makes about 4 servings

-1/2 c. ketchup
-1/2 c. BBQ sauce
-1 T. Dijon mustard
-A couple dashes Worcestershire sauce
-8 oz short pasta (rotini, fusilli, penne, elbow macaroni, whatever you like)
-Reserved pasta cooking water
-1 T. olive oil
-1 lb extra lean ground beef
-1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
-Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice
-1 small tomato, cored, seeded, diced
-1 c. corn kernels
-1 c. frozen peas, thawed

First, make the sauce. In a measuring cup or bowl, mix together the ketchup, BBQ sauce, Dijon mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta a couple minute shy of al dente. Drain pasta, making sure to reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water.

In a large, deep pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Add the ground beef, onions, and garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and whatever other seasonings you like (full disclosure - I added some unsalted Cajun seasoning blend, Mrs. Dash "extra spicy," and some smoked paprika). Cook until meat is browned and the onions are soft. Drain the fat.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the tomato, corn, and peas to the beef. Cook for a couple of minutes more until the vegetables are heated through.

Add the pasta to the beef mixture, along with the reserved sauce. Stir to incorporate. The sauce will be thick, so add small amounts of the reserved pasta cooking water to help thin the sauce until it luxuriously coats the noodles. The amount of water you will need might vary, so you will have to eyeball it until the consistency is to your liking. Serve and enjoy.

Note: I also like to grate a little Swiss cheese over the top just before serving. It makes no sense with the dish, but I personally love the combination of BBQ sauce and Swiss cheese. It could be the next big thing...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nick of time

I went for a run this afternoon when I got home from work. I knew there was some weather brewing out to the west, but I didn't realize how close it was. I had looked at the radar, and it seemed the rain was still quite a distance from me.

I had stopped to take a photo of my local lake because I thought the clouds looked rather cool:

As soon as I started heading west back to the homestead, I saw a flash of lighting and darkening skies. Yikes! Immediately, I launched into my best impersonation of Usain Bolt (not an easy feat for a tall, duck-footed guy of Norwegian ancestry) and started sprinting. I covered the remaining mile and a half in rapid time. I even scared the hell out of a mother deer and her spotted fawn as I rounded a corner to take a shortcut through a wooded trail!

Figuring I was going to make it, I stopped briefly near my place to take a quick shot of the sky:

As I entered my parking lot, I saw a couple of big rain drops hit the pavement. By the time I got into the building and up to my place, the heavens had opened up and I could barely see out my window. Thunder, lightning, raining cats and dogs.

Perfect timing. And, a great workout! Nothing like a good old fashioned thunderstorm to introduce a little speed work into your regimen.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A good run

Finally, a good run on the weekend!

Hallelujah! Hit it, Andre...

Saturday morning greeted me with temps in the mid 60's and a layer of clouds. It was somewhat humid, but nothing oppressive. I ran 10 miles, and it felt like a breeze. Strong, somewhat speedy, and dare I even say spry? Loved every second of it. A rare treat as of late.

We are to the point in the season when a lot of the yellows are starting to emerge in the vegetation. The black-eyed susans are starting to wane, but the giant sunflowers are really starting to bloom along the trails, as is the goldenrod. The landscape is very pretty right now.

Giant sunflower from a recent hike

And when the yellows show up like this, it is a sign that fall is around the corner. Which means cooler days. I am SO looking forward to cooler days!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blood, Sweat, and The Bert Fershners

Running sucks.

Two days in a row of a scorching 95 on the heat index has made life miserable and running exceedingly difficult. The heat and humidity have been unbearable. And for some reason, over the last couple of days, an unbelievable number of people figured this was a great time to sealcoat the driveway or fix potholes in the street, so several areas of my neighborhood had a wonderful aroma of hot tar fumes as I ran through. Even better, my right nipple started bleeding because I failed to take adequate anti-chafing measures and every article of microfiber in my running shirt was heavily saturated with sweat (you really wanted to know THAT part, didn't you?!?). And now Brett Favre is supposedly retiring, and we are completely screwed. If it is true, this will be another same 'ol, same 'ol Vikings season where we have a really good defense that will keep us in games, and an offense that is OK but makes just enough costly mistakes, leaving us clinging to hopes of a wild card berth only to be profoundly disappointed, asking ourselves, "Why do I cheer for these guys year after year?!?"

Ugh...I really need some cheering up.

Which is where The Bert Fershners come in! This comedy troupe from Wisconsin enjoyed a little notoriety in the late 90's with some appearances on Comedy Central. I found one of their performances on YouTube last night. I am sure I haven't seen this in over a decade, but it still made me chuckle like I did back then.

"Jelly Truck," by The Bert Fershners

The world is a better place because The Bert Fershners were in it. :)


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