Sunday, October 31, 2010

2011 Races

Below are links to my 2011 Races:

April 16, 2011 - Trail Mix 50K - Bloomington, MN

July 4, 2011 - Tofte Trek 10K Wilderness Run - Tofte, MN

September 18, 2011 - Harmon Farms 10 Mile Trail Run - Inver Grove Heights, MN

October 8, 2011 - Scenic Byway Half Marathon - Belle Plaine, MN

November 20, 2011 - Turkey Run 5K - St. Paul, MN

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A tad bit breezy

For those keeping score at home, we set a new record for the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in Minnesota, and the satellite images make this storm look like a landlocked hurricane. I can now add "High Wind Warning" to the list of various bad Minnesota weather phenomenon that I have gone running in! From the local National Weather Circus website:


1122 AM CDT TUE OCT 26 2010




Running with the wind was extremely fun. Running into it, not so much. Balance was also tricky in the crosswinds, but I managed to stay upright the whole time. Being that it was garbage day in the neighborhood, everyone's garbage cans had blown into the street, so I had to stop and move a few out of the road. I saw some really confused robins and song sparrows, and the red fox was in the same spot where I saw him Sunday. And I encountered only one person during my journey - another runner.

Batten down the hatches - more of the same weather tomorrow, with our first chance of snow overnight! Minnesota is an interesting state.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The foxy one, and gloomy weekend kitchen projects

The lovely weather that I enjoyed on Friday's run is gone. Saturday and Sunday were much cooler and wetter, and now we are facing more chances for rain this week. There is even the ominous "snow flurries" icon appearing on the Nation Weather Circus's forecast chart for Wednesday, not to mention a "High Wind Warning" that has been issued thanks to a huge low pressure system moving in. It begins...

Sunday morning I did a five mile run in light drizzle and 52 degrees. Not the nicest of days, but running in drizzle isn't all that unpleasant. I did have a fun encounter with a red fox. I rounded a corner, and the foxy one was just ahead of me on the trail. He took off like a shot! I continued around the bend and there he was again trotting ahead of me, unaware that I was still behind him. I was able to close the distance and get a good look. A beautiful, fuzzy fox! Gorgeous with a thick, fluffy tail.

Eventually he turned and saw me, breaking out into a full sprint down the trail once again. We were kind of in a weird area with a fence to my right, and a swamp to the left, so the fox had nowhere to go but down the trail! I got to follow him for a couple hundred yards or so before he found a dry escape route and veered off to the left, disappearing into the woods. I found myself envious of the fox's speed. Wow, do those guys have wheels! Anyhow, I had not seen a red fox on my trails since last winter, so that was a treat.

With the past weekend being a gloomy one here in Minnesota, it was a good excuse to take on a few cooking projects.

Starting with dessert, I made peanut butter cookies. The cookies were the same as this batch, only I used dark chocolate M&M's in place of the chocolate and peanut butter chips. These could be the best peanut butter cookies - no, scratch that - could be the best cookies on the planet. I am so happy I found this recipe! Just incredible. You should try it.

Peanut Butter Cookies with Dark Chocolate M&M's

I also broke out the pasta machine and made homemade fettuccine. But not just any fettuccine. I am talking homemade beet fettuccine! Roasted beet puree was added to the dough. This doesn't add much of a beet flavor; rather, it is more for the color.

Quick recipe: There are only 4 ingredients for the dough - 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 t. salt, 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, and a cooked beet roughly the size of an egg (pureed or run through a potato ricer). Knead together until you have a smooth, elastic hunk of dough (might take about 20 minutes). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours to let the dough relax. Cut into 4 pieces and get ready to roll! You can now cut or shape this however you like.

To make the fettuccine, the dough was rolled through the pasta machine all the way down to the second to the last setting (so not quite the thinnest). Then I ran it through the wider blades of cutter attachment to produce flat fettuccine noodles.

After boiling for 3 minutes, this resulted in some really nice pasta, perhaps some of the best I have made. It cooked up beautifully and had a great, toothsome texture. But what to serve it with? How about some beef stroganoff with porcini, shiitake, and crimini mushrooms?

Beef Stroganoff with Three Mushrooms over Homemade Beet Fettuccine

If ever a dish needed some color, it is stroganoff. The pasta loses a little color when cooked, but you can see it still maintains a rosy hue. A pretty canvas for the meal, and truly delicious.

Finally, I made Giada's lasagna rolls. I love this dish and have prepared it several times now. Only this time, I made it will seafood.

Lasagna rolls, out of the oven

The recipe is pretty much the same as Giada's. Only I used about half the spinach and added 8 oz. chopped crab meat to the ricotta/Parmigiano Reggiano mixture. To prepare the filling, I made a ball of the mixture and placed a whole cooked shrimp in the center before rolling up in the lasagna noodle.

I roll them up this way. It is different than described in the original recipe, but much easier in my opinion.

I have made the recipe as written with the prosciutto, and have also substituted Italian sausage - but this seafood variation is my favorite so far. Delightful!

Giada's Lasagna Rolls with Shrimp and Crab

Not a bad weekend in the kitchen.

Until next time,


Friday, October 22, 2010

Long day

This was my day, somewhat atypical for a Friday:

-Up and ready to get to work at 5:20 AM (yes, I am an early riser!)
-Arrive at work at 6:10 AM
-Worked a full day, got lots done
-Headed out for a run after getting home at 4:00 PM - decided to do a long run tonight, as the weather forecast has it raining for the foreseeable future
-Headed out for the trail that borders my local lake (beautiful day by the way - 68 F, sunny, light breeze)
-Successfully dodged two women with strollers and at least six children completely blocking the trail
-Saw several dozen American coots as I rounded the trail along the lake
-Successfully avoided getting cold-nosed by a spirited Irish setter
-Started my second lap around the lake
-Lots of runners, bikers, and walkers out tonight, clearly taking advantage of the nice day
-Saw the coots again (rather cute, bulbous birds, the coots are)
-Rescued a woolly bear caterpillar from the trail (this one was mostly brown, which is indicative of a mild winter - this completely contradicts earlier woolly bear rescues this season which have been mostly black with a small brown band, so I am confused)
-Saw a convoy of at least seven highly decorated semi trucks from the WWE heading into the Twin Cities as I ran along the trail by the Interstate (must be a wrestling event in town!)
-After leaving the lake trail, saw my resident eagle near their nesting site (always great to see the eagle)
-Around 6:00 PM, arrived home after completing 12 miles on what might have been our last truly warm day of the year
-Enjoyed a post-run recovery beverage (Tallgrass Brewing Co. I.P.A.)

It has been a rather full day. But with the long run out of the way, I can now sleep in tomorrow morning, which is somewhat unusual for a Saturday morning. In any case, that sounds really good right about now!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cookies and hard liquor

Anytime I have the opportunity to cook with booze, I get excited because booze adds a lot of flavor. Wine and beer occur frequently as ingredients in my savory dishes. So when I saw the following cookie recipe on Une Gamine dans la Cuisine (a wonderful blog, by the way), I had to try it.

The recipe was for Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies - correct, that would be chocolate chip cookies loaded with pecans and laced with a healthy dose of bourbon.

I varied the recipe slightly, opting to add some rolled oats, a mixture of both chocolate and butterscotch chip (butterscotch has a sort of "boozy" taste), and a little bit of almond extract. My reasoning for adding almond extract is because the smell and taste reminds me of maraschino cherries, an important garish in the Manhattan cocktail. So, think of this as a Manhattan in cookie form!

The cookies were delicious, and very "cakey" in texture, as noted in the original recipe. You can truly taste the bourbon, and the almond extract did add a slight cherry note. My cookies did not spread out as much those ones pictured in the original recipe. I suspect that is, in part, due to my addition of the rolled oats. So they turned out kind of chunky style, but that is OK. The taste was delicious, and they were a huge hit at the office!

I am sure my Dad will cringe when I say I used a quarter cup of 10-year Eagle Rare for a cookie recipe, but it was all I had on hand... :)

Bourbon Pecan Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookies
-adapted from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. rolled oats
1 t. of baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 c. bourbon
1/2 t. almond extract
1 1/2 c. toasted chopped pecans
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. butterscotch chips

Mix the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until fluffy. Add the white and brown sugars. Mix until well incorporated.

Add the eggs, bourbon, and almond. Mix until fluffy and well incorporated.

Mix in the flour mixture until it just comes together. Stir in the pecans, chocolate, and butterscotch chips. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before making the cookies.

Heat the oven to 350 F. On parchment lined baking sheets, drop rounded tablespoons of dough approximately 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake 8 to 11 minutes until the edges are slightly browned. Allow to cool on the cookies sheet for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beef Stir-Fry with Mushrooms and Snow Peas

Saturday morning treated me to a beautiful 14 mile run. The crisp 42 degree temperature in the morning was a pleasure to run in. I only saw five people the whole time I was out. Still lots of migrating juncos, grackles, blackbirds, sparrows, and ducks. Just a great morning on the trails.

To fuel up from the run, I made a beef stir-fry recipe from the current issue of Bon Appetit that was easy and delicious.

My ingredients

I followed the basics of the recipe, but varied a few things:

1. Did not use 12 oz. of shiitake mushrooms, because I didn't feel like taking out a loan to buy mushrooms. :) Shiitakes are like $4 for a 4 oz. package at my stores. I used a mix of crimini and a few dried, reconstituted shiitakes that I had in my pantry.

2. Did not use the full amount of snow peas and added a few sliced carrots and bamboo shoots.

3. Added some minced garlic when stir-frying the beef, because you've got to have a little minced garlic in a stir-fry. C'mon now!

4. Increased the amount of chile-garlic sauce to a heaping tablespoon.

5. I added a tiny splash of white wine to the finished stir-fry because I thought the sauce was a little thick.

6. Did not use cilantro. I love cilantro, but to me, it seemed a little out of place in this dish.

All cooked up

A tasty, quick, and easy meal. The top sirloin I used was especially tender and flavorful. Everything was coated in a sweet, salty hoisin-based sauce, with a hint of an exotic cinnamon and ainse notes from the Chinese five spice powder. Extra chile-garlic sauce did a nice job in adding some pleasant heat. And I was glad I used some carrots and bamboo shoots, not only for color, but also for texture and flavor.

Beef stir-fry served over jasmine rice

All in all, a pretty successful adaptation of the dish. I will make this again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Animal Planet

The work schedule has been crazy and busy as of late. A few mornings in recent weeks, I have awakened at 5 AM to run before work because I knew my schedule would keep me late due to meetings and whatnot. I have a headlamp that I wear for such occasions so I can see where I am going.

Let there be light!

You rarely ever see a person when you are running at 5 AM. But on Monday, I did have some interesting encounters with wildlife.

I barely made it a hundred yards into my run when my headlamp caught some glowing eyes on the edge of the street. Whatever it was scurried off into the gutter. But then another shadow streaked in front of me, with yet another critter running behind me, both going crashing into the woods. Egad, I am surrounded! They were small, slender animals with long tails. I thought they might be gray squirrels, but rarely would you see squirrels up before daybreak. Possibly a mink? Well, there is a swamp nearby, and i have seen them in the area before, but it seems unlikely that three of them would be together. Chupacabras?!? Who knows? As of now, this trio of furry beasts remains unidentified. It certainly made for a lively start to the morning.

A couple miles into my run I saw another set of eyes. I turned my head to put the spotlight directly on it - cottontail rabbit. I startled the bunny so much that it jumped straight up into the air (they have an amazing vertical leap!) before breaking into a full sprint along a fence line. The leaping rabbit reminded me of the scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Finally, about a mile from home I passed the large lawn by a local school. Yet another set of glowing eyes along the edge of a trail. My headlamp revealed a large raccoon! The masked bandit was under an oak tree eating fallen acorns. Rather than run, the raccoon made himself flat, crouching down on the lawn and simply waited for me to pass, obviously reluctant to give up his cache of acorns. I told the raccoon to be careful, as there is a street nearby, and went on my way.

Lots of action on Monday morning - and seeing it was only made possible with my handy, dandy headlamp! What can I say? The little things keep me entertained.

Keeping an eye out for the Chupacabra,


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taking stock

Chicken stock is used as a base for many recipes. In this day and age, it is really easy, and sometimes more convenient, to simply buy a box of stock or a jar of chicken base. I fully admit that I even have a jar of chicken base in my fridge for when the need arises!

But homemade chicken stock is so good! Sure, it takes a little time. But not that much time, really. Here are some details about a batch that I made recently. It was a two day process, but the work involved was fairly minimal:

Day 1 - Make the stock:

As I have discussed in my chicken noodle soup post, I like to roast a whole chicken briefly in a hot oven - not to cook it completely, just to give a wee bit of color to the skin. So I brushed a whole chicken with some olive oil and roasted it at 450 for about 20-25 minutes until the skin on top was slightly browned. I believe that taking a little extra time to do this step adds more flavor to the finished product. Browned food tastes good, right?

After that, I added the chicken to a stockpot with the following items:

-3 carrots, peeled,
-2 stalks of celery (including the leaves)
-1 onion, cut in half
-1 head of garlic, cut in half
-1 leek, white part only, cut in half
-1 parsnip, peeled & quartered*
-1 turnip, peeled*
-A stalk of rosemary, several sprigs of thyme and fresh parsley, tied in a bundle**
-15-20 whole black peppercorns
-8 cups of cold water

* The parsnip and turnip are not necessarily "classic" ingredients to use in stock - but these are flavorful root veggies, and I had plenty on hand from a recent farmers market purchase, so I decided to use them. Consider these optional!

** I think these are probably some fairly standard herbs, but I had specific plans for this batch of stock. If you wanted to make a very neutral flavored stock, you might want to omit them. Conversely, if you wanted to make a Chinese chicken stock, you could add things like fresh ginger and scallions here instead.

Chicken in the pot

Cover the stockpot, bring to a near boil, and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 60 to 75 minutes or so. Remove the chicken and set aside. Pour the stock into a large container (preferably one with a cover) through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the veggies and herbs.

Transfer the stock to the fridge. Leave it only partially covered, which will allow it to cool down more quickly and safely. Once completely cooled, cover and allow to sit overnight in the fridge.

Meanwhile, what about that chicken? Once the bird has cooled enough to handle, remove the meat and cube into bite sized pieces. Don't be afraid to nibble on a few of the moist, delicious pieces! Add it to a lidded container and refrigerate until needed. You can use the leftover chicken in a variety of dishes. Make some chicken salad, throw a few pieces on your nachos, or add it to soup (foreshadowing alert).

Day Two - De-fat the chicken stock:

Once the stock has had a chance to chill in the fridge overnight, it makes it exceptionally easy to remove the excess fat. All of the fat floats to the top, so you can just spoon it right off! This made about 8 cups of stock. You can put it to use right away, or freeze it for later.

Chicken fat!

A trick to speed up this process for those who live in a cold climate during the winter months - On chilly winter days when the temperature is below freezing, I have been known to simply set my partially covered stock pot out on my deck for a rapid cool down. Amazing what a few hours at bitter cold temperatures can do for fat removal. My deck makes for a fantastic walk-in freezer during the winter!

So what did I use my chicken stock for? I made a tasty chicken wild rice soup, chock full of carrots, celery, onion, garlic, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, three kinds of mushrooms (crimini, porcini, and shiitake), a little bit of bacon, cooked wild rice, and my chicken left over from the stock making project. I also added a little bit of white wine, some additional rosemary, thyme, and parsley during the cooking process, along with some dried herbes de Provence. The whole thing was finished with some half and half to make it creamy. Good stuff.

A very yummy, and very Minnesotan, soup!

By putting in just a little bit of effort, you will end up with a very flavorful, de-fatted chicken stock that is far superior to anything that comes from a box or a jar of soup base. Also, unlike the store-bought stuff, you will note there was no salt added to my stock, which will allow you to control salt content in your dish.

There you have it. Now go forth and make your own chicken stock!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mac & cheese on a hot fall day

Nice 13 mile run this morning. Quite a mild start to the day in the upper 50's with some humidity and fog in the low lying areas. Flocks of white-throated sparrows and common grackles were busy heading south. Many of our leaves have fallen, but there are still pockets of pretty areas. I enjoyed the crunch of the leaves underneath my feet as I ran. A very pleasant journey today.

Amazingly, the temperature skyrocketed to an unseasonably hot 82 degrees this afternoon. Crazy for October. And I wasn't really planning for this in terms of dinner. You see, fall comfort food was on the menu tonight!

I saw this easy recipe for a classic mac & cheese made with Velveeta on a rather fun blog earlier in the week. I haven't used Velveeta in years, and it just sounded good. Kind of the ultimate, creamy mac & cheese that a mom would whip up for a kid. I needed to make this.

Of course, I can't do anything by the book. I did use all of the exact measurements called for in the recipe. But I embellished a little bit with the following alterations and additions:

1. Added a finely minced yellow onion and sauteed in the butter before making the roux.

2. The milk also received several generous dashes of chipotle pepper sauce, fresh thyme, crushed red pepper, and a dollop of both Dijon and whole-grain mustards.

3. I made homemade chicken stock earlier in the day (more on that in a later post), so I had lots of chicken meat. I took about a cup of diced chicken and dusted it with smoked paprika before mixing into the pasta.

4. I used 8 oz. of cheese, but the breakdown was as follows - 4 oz. Velveeta, 2 oz. extra sharp cheddar, 1 oz. fontina, and 1 oz. Gruyere (I actually did weigh everything on my kitchen scale!).

5. Sprinkled some panko bread crumbs on top before baking.

So, while the principles were essentially the same, this ended up being a a significant deviation from the original recipe. What I ended up with was a cheesy, smoky, spicy mac & cheese with chicken. The results were excellent:

Hot out of the oven

Plated up - creamy, smoky, cheesy, chickeny goodness!

Very happy with this recipe. Naturally, you could do without the chicken, but it was a nice addition, and the smoked paprika added a great flavor. The cheese sauce was was super creamy thanks to the Velveeta and fontina, tangy from the extra sharp cheddar and Gruyere, spicy thanks to the crushed red pepper, with a little smoky spice from the chipotle sauce. Panko bread crumbs made for an outstanding crunchy topping. There was nothing not to like here.

Good stuff. I will make this again, without question. But next time, it will be on a chilly winter day!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fall colors and Calzones

The last week (the last several weeks, actually) have been hectic and incredibly busy. A few days have felt like I've barely had time to breathe. That has made the runs after work something to cherish. Here is a shot from tonight's run:

Sunlight streaming through the fall colors

I am pretty sure that the peak of our fall color was Sunday, so we are slightly on the downhill slide. We lost quite a few leaves on Monday and Tuesday with some strong winds. Still, there is some nice color to be seen. This week during my runs I also chased a couple of garter snakes off of the trails, which was pretty cool. And, I have been busy rescuing woolly bear caterpillars from getting crushed by bicyclists and runners.

Not a bad way to decompress after a long day, if I do say so myself.

This turned out to be a nice time saver for food this week - I had a ball of pizza dough left over, so this past weekend I split it in half and made a couple of smaller calzones.

Prepping the calzones

They were stuffed with Canadian bacon, artichoke hearts, oven-roasted tomatoes, and a mixture of fontina and mozzarella. After crimping, brushing with olive oil, and cutting a couple of slits in the top for vents, I baked them in the oven on a cookie sheet at 425 F for approximately 12 minutes. As you can see below, some cheese started to ooze out at the seam, but there was no blowout! Pretty darn tasty.

The finished product

The other calzone I let cool completely on a rack. Then I wrapped and froze it, which served for a quick and delicious dinner tonight after what was an exceptionally busy day. I think I am going to make these more often. With a normal batch of my pizza dough, I can crank out four of these bad boys. I found that they freeze really well, so we can call it my own homemade (and far superior) version of a "Hot Pocket"! :)

Until next time,


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall colors

My runs this past week have been beautiful. I love the cooler weather, and had an especially nice 13 mile run on Saturday morning at a crisp 40 degrees. We even had our first real frost this morning!

The colors are spectacular. I have to believe the maple leaves are peaking here this weekend. Several different birds are migrating through. Lots of Myrtle and palm warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, and white-throated sparrows have been seen in great numbers. New England asters were still blooming as of yesterday. I chased a garter snake off of the trail. And, I rescued a woolly bear caterpillar from the trail (this guy had a thin brown band - if you recall, the Old Farmer's Almanac notes that this is a sign of a long winter - yikes!).

It is really difficult not to enjoy fall in Minnesota. Below are some images from the past week in and around my neighborhood:

Homemade Ravioli

This week was incredibly busy, so it was nice to make it to the weekend to spend a little time in the kitchen. I had not made homemade ravioli in some time, so I figured it was time to break out the pasta machine.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. But is it hard work? Not at all. And, is it worth the effort? Oh, yeah!

I sort of improvised the whole thing. Pasta dough recipes for ravioli are pretty much all the same ingredients (flour, salt, eggs, and maybe olive oil) with varying amounts of each. More eggs will make for a more luxurious, richer pasta, so I used a fair amount of eggs in my recipe. I used 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 3 whole eggs plus one extra yolk, 1/2 t. salt, and 1 t. of olive oil. Knead (add just a tiny bit of water if needed to bring the dough together) until you have a smooth, elastic dough.

The pasta dough - smooth, elastic, rested, and ready to roll!

Nothing for the filling was measured. I stirred together ricotta cheese with some fontina and Grana Padano. I had some basil pesto in my freezer and sun-dried tomatoes in the pantry, so those got worked in as well. Parsley, salt, and pepper rounded it out with an egg to bind.

The time consuming part is rolling out the dough through incrementally smaller rollers. You kind of have to do this in batches since you will need to divide your dough into four pieces in order to roll it out. Once you get a sheet of pasta rolled out to the thinnest setting, I add generous teaspoons of filling every couple of inches on one side of the sheet. Then I brush a little water around the filling and fold the other side over the top. Press down and around the filling to seal the ravioli, taking care to press out any air bubbles. Cut the ravioli using a pizza or pastry cutter. Repeat three more times with the remaining dough and filling.

Finished ravioli - One was made with a funny shaped end cut of the dough, so that ended up looking like a moon. :)

From here, they can be cooked up, or frozen on a cookie sheet and then transferred to a freezer bag for longer term storage. The great thing about fresh pasta is that it cooks quickly. My ravioli took only about 4 minutes, and they will be floating on top when they are done.

The ravioli turned out really nice and flavorful. My only issue was that the filling should have been more dense. It was a little too soft to retain a classic ravioli shape, but it still tasted quite good. And there were no blowouts when boiled!

Homemade ravioli rocks!

I served it with a simple tomato sauce with a sprinkling of sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. The green sauce was a reduction of green zebra tomatoes. Yummy! So, while not at all difficult, it does take time. If you have kids, this would be a fun project to tackle as a team.

Homemade pasta rules!


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