Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Dinner

Tonight's dinner for New Year's Eve, and my last dish of 2010:



Cappellini with lobster, shrimp, sweet garlic, and artichokes. It was loosely based on Mario's recipe, only I added shrimp, didn't add mint, and used cappellini instead of spaghettini. It was really yummy, and a fitting way to close out 2010.

Sorry for the short post, but you must excuse me - Turner Classic's is kicking off an evening of Marx Brother's movies in about 20 minutes. Groucho awaits! :)

Happy New Year!

Bring on 2011

2010 was something of a bipolar year for me as far as running is concerned.

When all was said and done, I did manage to log 1655 total miles. That was less than 2009, but still, I am pleased with that. It was my second highest mileage total ever.

Races were a different story. Really, it is a tale of two halves.

The first half of the year (up through May, anyhow) gave me a very successful 25k trail race, an 8k PR and a sub-4 hour marathon & new PR. Nice!

The second half of the year (essentially starting in June) gave me a series of lackluster races - a stormy, miserable 20k in Des Moines, a sweaty, miserable 10 miler in Stillwater, and three other races I backed out of on account of heat, humidity, thunderstorms, and, of all things, an ice storm. Racing was largely unsatisfying from June on.

I also withdrew from the Zoom! Yah! Yah! indoor marathon this coming January, primarily because of the weather. Seems as if we get a freaking snowstorm of the century every weekend, December was unseasonably cold even by Minnesota standards, and my trails have been buried because nobody seems to remember how to operate a plow. Therefore, long runs outside have been difficult to say the least.

So I am ready for 2010 to be over with. Bring on 2011! Let's start this thing over, set some new goals, and get some races in the books. I am ready to swing for the fences.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last pizza of 2010

No-knead sourdough with pepperoni, green olives, mushrooms, and a combination of provolone and mozzarella cheeses...



2010 was a good year for pizza. But I think 2011 will be better! :)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas!

Yours truly, on a Christmas Day hike on a trail overlooking Lake Superior



All apologies for the relative dearth of posts lately. I took some extra vacation time and spent over a week in the North Country with my family in celebration of Christmas. It was an epic holiday week!

Aside from some dreaded "lake effect" snow on my drive up last week (an unpredicted snow event at the head of Lake Superior south and west of Duluth), I had a fantastic time. I went running numerous times (nothing crazy, just 5 and 6 mile runs), enjoying view of the forest and the big lake.

There was no shortage of food - great home cooking from Mom and Dad, including our traditional Christmas dinner of pork and Norwegian sausage. Other meals included Dad's home smoked BBQ ribs, a Giada chicken dish prepared by Mom, seafood chowder, and even a trip into town to partake in Sven & Ole's "hump day buffet." I also made homemade lefse with Mom, as is tradition.

We enjoyed a fairly decent winter storm that put down about four inches of the fluffiest snow imaginable. The forest was absolutely gorgeous, as you will see in the photos. I got to see some fun birds and animals, along with numerous tracks.

Best of all, it was just great to be able to spend time with the family. We participated in a beautiful Christmas Eve service at their church. And it was a real treat to spend time with my nephew and niece. My niece is only 5 weeks old, so she isn't very impressed with me yet. But my year and a half old nephew is. He is cool and absolutely LOVES me, and it was so much fun watching the little guy tearing into presents. Rumor has it he is warming up to the Cookie Monster plush toy I gave him! :)

A quick story - One of my nephew's favorite books Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go." In the book, there is a tiny little character called "Goldbug" that appears on every page - kind of like a "Where's Waldo" sort of thing. Every year before we open presents, our family reads from the second chapter of Luke, verses 1 - 20, as a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Mom's reading of this passage was interrupted by my nephew running over to me with the book saying, "Jean! Jean! Bug! Bug!" He wanted to find "Goldbug" during the reading of the Christmas story. Dad asked Mom if she also located "Goldbug" in her book. :) Poor Mom was laughing so hard she could barely finish. It was so cute, and will no doubt be a Christmas memory we will not soon forget!

Below are some images from my week. Season's Greetings to all, and I wish you the very best in 2011 and beyond!

Grand Marais Harbor with the Sawtooth Mountains visible in the background - the numerous ducks you see floating around were common goldeneyes



The "Hump Day Buffet" at Sven & Ole's Pizza in Grand Marais - great pizza, and the "hot dish of the day" was beef and rice (I even had seconds on the hot dish!)



A curious onlooker in the forest



A shot of the snowy forest. Bonus points if you can find my Dad in the picture... :)



A path in the woods



Friendly black-capped chickadee enjoying a snack



Light, fluffy snow collecting on a spruce tree



Christmas Dinner - a traditional roast pork, Norwegian "polse" sausage from Kenyon, MN, mashed potatoes, gravy, the works...awesome!



A winter wonderland in the Arrowhead of northern Minnesota



Yours truly amidst a lot of snow!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Open your big eyes and take in the sunrise

The title of this post, some lyrics from Toad The Wet Sprocket's "Is It For Me," rang true this morning. Not much to say, just wanted to share the view of the sunrise from my office today. Stunning!



I have a great run at the Plymouth Fieldhouse again today. There were no teams practicing this afternoon, so I practically had the place to myself. Feels good to wear shorts in January!

Tomorrow - the office holiday potluck. I am bringing my homemade chili. Can't wait!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow!

By all accounts, this was a fairly epic snowstorm this past weekend. I am not sure what the official snow accumulation total was in my neighborhood (the National Weather Circus must not have any official snow spotters in my area, because we never make the totals list!), but it is easily over a foot. Minneapolis clocked in at 17.1 inches, causing all sorts of issues. As I am sure many of you saw on the news, it also turned the Metrodome from fully risen to unleavened (and thank goodness nobody got hurt!).

If you look carefully at the 10 through 13 second mark, you can see a cart driving from left to right near the wall, getting out of Dodge in a big hurry!



Here are some images from around my area after "Snowmageddon," as the media dubbed it. What an absolute mess:

Parking lot with snowed in cars



Street by my place



Another view of the street by my place



Parking lot at work - check out the piles of snow!



Today's high temperature reached all of 3 degrees F. The highways are clear, and side roads are still kind of nasty, most notably at the intersections where snow is still packed down and slippery. The bike path along the road in my neighborhood is buried under an avalanche of snow from the plows. Snow is piled up everywhere, and I am sure we are going to be stuck with most of this until spring.

That being said, I still went running in shorts tonight. OK, so it was inside at the Plymouth Fieldhouse dome. :) A spirited run at a comfortable 55 degrees indoors was a treat after being snowbound for most of the weekend.

Inside the Plymouth Fieldhouse. The City of Plymouth managed to keep their dome inflated.



A happy runner escaping the cold and snow - feels good to run in shorts for a change! :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

TTHD with a twist

We are in the midst of blizzard-like conditions. Depending upon where you live, a foot to 20 inches of snow has fallen across the Twin Cities. This is a crazy storm. Here is what my street looked like at 1 PM today:

An insane amount of snow



Certainly an epic storm, which is now being followed up with some bitter cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Trapped inside all day with nowhere to go, it was a good excuse to do something funky in the kitchen.

Ever since I saw this recipe for buffalo chicken pot pie, I thought about trying a tater tot hot dish ("hot dish" being Minnesotan for "casserole") with a buffalo chicken theme. Why wouldn't this work? It certainly should.

I did find a recipe on the internet with a similar Buffalo chicken/tater tot twist, so someone has most definitely done this before. And while that recipe looked good, I ended up going my own way. Taking my standard "TTHD" recipe usually made with ground beef, I put a buffalo chicken spin on it by adding cooked chicken, celery (two ways), hot sauce, and blue cheese.

Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Hot Dish - just taken out of the oven



The results were quite delicious and downright yummy. I used just enough hot sauce to give the hot dish a hint of Buffalo wing flavor, and it was not overpowering. Just a mild, pleasant burn. And the hot sauce sort of bleeds into the overall sauce mixture, giving it the right color as well. Cream of celery soup, along with sauteed, diced celery, is included in the recipe, which is a natural accompaniment to Buffalo chicken, So is a sprinkling of blue cheese. Of course, it goes without saying that everyone loves crispy tater tots. What is not to like here? This was darn good!

I know, not exactly haute cuisine - but I sure enjoyed it. The hot dish tasted darn good on a snowy, bitterly cold night in Minnesota. I might need to have a second helping to warm me up!

Here is what I did:

Jean's Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Hot Dish



-1 t. extra virgin olive oil
-1 medium carrot, diced
-1 stalk of celery, diced
-1 small yellow onion, diced
-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
-1 lb. cooked chicken, diced
-1/4 c. Frank's Red Hot Sauce (or your favorite wing sauce)
-2 T. Italian parsley, minced
-1 T. fresh thyme, minced
-1 14.5 oz. can French cut green beans, drained
-1 10.75 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup (low sodium)
-1 10.75 oz. can condensed cream of celery soup (low sodium)
-Crumbled blue cheese (if desired)
-Tater Tots


Preheat your oven to 350 F.

In a skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Saute the carrots, celery, and onion until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked chicken. Pour in the Frank's Red Hot Sauce (the amount depends upon your preference - I used about 1/4 cup, but if you want to make it more "Buffaloey," don't let me stop you!). Stir well to coat.

Add the vegetables to the chicken, along with the parsley, thyme, green beans, and both of the undiluted cans of soup. Mix everything together very well and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.

Sprinkle the optional blue cheese over the top, if desired. Arrange the tater tots in a single layer until the dish is completely covered with tots.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until completely cooked through, hot, and bubbly, and the tater tots are nicely browned and crisp on top. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Makes about four generous servings.

Friday, December 10, 2010

And it is not officially winter yet!

I had a really nice 7 mile run tonight. Comfortable temps in the low 20's, trails nice and clear, calm winds. Just a really pleasant experience out there.

However, here is what the Twin Cities is in for over the next few days according to the National Weather Circus:

Overnight: Snow. Low around 15. Northeast wind between 11 and 14 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of 6 to 10 inches possible.

Saturday: Snow. Temperature rising to near 16 by 11am, then falling to around 9 during the remainder of the day. Wind chill values between -1 and -11. Blustery, with a north northeast wind between 15 and 25 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 4 to 8 inches possible.

Saturday Night: A 50 percent chance of snow before midnight. Cloudy during the early evening, then gradual clearing, with a low around -11. Wind chill values between -20 and -30. Blustery, with a north northwest wind between 13 and 21 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Sunday: Sunny and cold, with a high near 1. Wind chill values between -22 and -32. North northwest wind between 10 and 13 mph.

Sunday Night:
Mostly clear, with a low around -14. North northwest wind between 8 and 10 mph.

Monday: Mostly sunny and cold, with a high near 3.

Monday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around -12.


A huge winter storm, lots of snow accompanied by blizzard conditions, followed by bitter, bitter cold. And winter is still officially a week and a half away!

My grocery shopping is done, I have no need to go anywhere, so I am hunkering down by the fireplace, hoping that my running trails are cleared off sometime before April. I am sensing some indoor running in my not too distant future.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The dough also rises - more fun with sourdough

I have had a few more adventures on the sourdough front. Earlier this week I produced my first successful batch of no-knead sourdough pizza dough. The principles are exactly the same as a regular batch of no-knead dough, except instead of using a scant amount of yeast, you use a small amount of sourdough starter.

I should have measured better, but what I basically did was take about a cup of all-purpose flour and mixed it with about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar. To that, I added 3/4 cup of water, two generous tablespoons of active sourdough starter, and about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Everything gets stirred together just until incorporated, placed in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and it was set in a warm place to rise overnight.

The dough rose quite nicely and easily doubled in size. I turned the glutenous mixture out onto a very well floured board, sprinkled a generous amount of flour over the top, cut the dough into two pieces, and gently shaped each piece into a ball. The dough was very wet, so I found I needed quite a bit of flour when working with it. This was enough to make two smaller, roughly 10-inch sized pizzas.

I simply patted and gently stretched out the dough into a rough circle. With it being fairly wet and supple, I had to be careful, so I opted to use my hands. Previous batches of no-knead dough were not this wet, so perhaps I need to work on the flour ratio? Hey, I got it kind of circular. It ain't perfect, but that is what makes it look homemade, right? :)

Not my prettiest pizza, but quite yummy



Topped with pepperoni, home-cured pancetta (more on that in another post!), fresh sage and thyme, and mozzarella with a smattering of aged gouda, it baked up nice and crisp on the pizza stone. The result was a rather tasty personal sized sourdough pizza. Very good flavor, nice rise around the edges, and overall a delicious crust.

Still a long way for me to go, but I am beginning to get a feel for how the sourdough starter behaves, how it likes to be fed, and how to work with it. We will call this progress! Exciting stuff.

FYI - Slice has an interesting day-by-day tutorial on creating your own starter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter Storm Warning - Part II

Friday gave us another winter storm. There was a good inch of snow on the ground by rush hour, with the promise of up to seven inches overnight. And the official season of winter is still nearly three weeks away. Eeek!

Actually, it wasn't a bad run. Aside from getting some snowflakes in the eyes when going into the wind, the scenery was quite nice. Fluffy powder was covering everything. The fresh snow on the trails offered good grip. I even ran into two different folks on the trails who both said - "This is a great day for a run!" And they were right. I had fun and put in seven miles tonight, as I think I might be snowbound tomorrow (this snow is sort of hampering my winter marathon training).

Here are some before and after pictures:

Ready to head out - snow falling steadily



After the run, snow falling harder. Notice the frozen ice chunks in my goatee!



With that, I enjoyed another successful sourdough pizza for dinner. Right now I am sitting by the fireplace and sipping on a tasty I.P.A. as I type this. And I continue to watch it snow.

I am thinking it is going to be one of "those" winters here in Minnesota.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hope springs eternal

Interesting weather this week. A balmy 45 degrees on Sunday, then a storm system that started with rain, turned to snow, and dropped a couple of more inches of snow in my neighborhood Monday night into Tuesday. Then we went into the deep freeze. Temps no higher than 20, wind chills in the single digits. It was rather chilly buying gas for the car on Wednesday morning.

Snow removal is a rather interesting thing in my neighborhood as well. My streets are only "plowed" in the sense that a plow truck drives through, barely lowering the blade, and dumping more road salt than anything. This turns the snow into a Slurpee-like consistency that will probably be there until April. It is really fun running in that, too, kind of like trying to run in sugar sand. Four to eight more inches of fresh stuff on the way for Friday night and Saturday morning, too. Yeehaw!

In cooking news, my friend Eileen gave me some lively sourdough starter over Thanksgiving. The starter's name is "Hope," and she is 10+ years old. I have very little experience, along with no real success, using a sourdough starter. I tried creating my own, but that failed. So I was anxious to give this a try.

I wanted to try and make a sourdough pizza, so I fed some of Hope in a jar. After a few hours, it easily doubled in size. The tape with the purple mark indicates the level where I started after feeding Hope.

Hope rising!



After doing some research, I decided not to try a recipe, but rather a ratio. I went with a 1:2:3 ratio of starter to water and flour by weight. So, take the weight of the starter, double the weight in water, and triple the weight in flour. I also add a teaspoon each of salt and sugar and a tablespoon of olive oil.

After kneading everything together (I found that I had to add a little additional flour), I got the dough to a consistency I liked and let it rise. The rise was very slow, but it rose. After punching it down, I rolled it into balls for individual pizzas and stored in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I was getting ready to cook up a pizza, but the dough felt somewhat dense. It didn't seem very soft or pliable. I thought I had failed somewhere along the line. I returned the dough to the fridge and opted for some leftover turkey for my meal.

But the day after that, I checked the dough again. In what seemed like something of a happy accident, the dough had relaxed and risen some more. It was very stretchy, pliable, and easy to work with. After sitting out at room temperature for about an hour, it had even started to rise again.

I was so glad I didn't give up on the dough and throw it out! Clearly, this is different from using a commercial yeast. The sourdough culture must not be as potent, requiring more time to rise, especially when stored in the fridge.

So, here is my first successful sourdough product using Hope - a pepperoni and green olive pizza!

Sourdough pizza success!



It was delicious. The pizza baked up nicely on the stone - crispy on the bottom, but with a nice, chewy crust. You could also detect some of the characteristic "sour" flavor. Yum! I was so happy to have this for dinner last night.

I still have SO much to learn about sourdough, but it was fun to finally experience some success with it.

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