Monday, January 31, 2011

Snowy with a Chance of Meatballs

We got more snow today. This is hardly a news flash - Minnesota has received at least a trace of snow during 27 of the 31 days in January. Wow!

Some of the side roads were not plowed this morning, making for an interesting experience driving to work. There were some hills that were difficult to traverse, and there is always some hotshot in a 4x4 who feels the need to go 15 MPH faster than he/she should. However, the drive home was much better. Giving credit where credit is due, the road crews did a remarkable job of cleaning things up. I think we got somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 4 inches. Nothing horrible, but enough to be a nuisance.

The run this evening was kind of fun. We are still under a Winter Weather Advisory, so snow was falling, and the trails were covered in light fluff. I felt like a little kid busting through the fresh snow. The pace was slower due to the weather, but who cares? It was a good time in the great outdoors.

Running in a winter wonderland!

In cooking news - Last night I made some meatballs. But not just your ordinary meatballs. These consisted of beef and pork, seasoned with fennel seed, crushed red pepper, dried oregano, fresh thyme and parsley, and garlic. Of course, there were eggs and bread crumbs for binder. I also added toasted pined nuts and some chopped sun-dried tomatoes (the kind not packed in oil). The final touch was inserting a cube of smoked mozzarella cheese into the center of each ball.

Pasta and red sauce with big 'ol meatballs stuffed with cheese!

The meatballs were baked first. A couple of them experienced "blowouts" during the cooking process! But for those that stayed intact, I was left with a small, creamy, smoky center that was a nice little treat.

After baking to get them nicely browned, I simmered the meatballs in some homemade red sauce and served them over spaghetti rigati (love this pasta shape from Barilla). It was a fantastic Sunday supper. Even better as leftovers for a Monday lunch!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

13 miles and some spicy shrimp

This morning I was greeted with a rather mild 24 degree day. Slightly overcast with a bit of a breeze, it still felt good considering we are in January.

I ran 13 miles today, which is my longest run since November. Some areas of the trails had melted off, so there was bare pavement and good traction in spots. Other places, not so much.

While the trails are nicely plowed, for the most part there is still a layer of slushy snow, which makes for quite a workout. Most of the run was a wheel-spinning, limited grip sort of affair. I was pretty tired by the time I got home! But I was also happy to complete a run of this distance. Time to start building up again in anticipation of spring.

My stir-fry kick continues! Tonight I made some kung pao shrimp. It was based on this recipe from Epicurious.

Spicy shrimp!

I realize the recipe in the link is not for kung pao shrimp, but I added some water chestnuts and peanuts, along with some hoisin sauce and black bean-garlic sauce to the mixture. So it seemed more kung pao-esque by the time I got finished. :) A sweet, salty, and quite spicy sauce, and dare I say I cooked the shrimp perfectly - plump, tender, and just cooked through. A very successful dish worthy of storing away in the recipe archives.

The fragrant aroma of garlic and ginger still hangs in the air as I type this. It is making me hungry again. ;-)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Early A.M.

I had some training to attend that kept me at work later than usual this week, so I did my running in the wee hours of the morning over the last couple of days. With headlamp ablaze, I ventured out at 5 AM both yesterday and today.

Running at this hour is rather nice. I don't do it very often during the week, because I like to get to work early. Hardly anyone is awake, so you pretty much have everything to yourself. The sidewalks and paths are nicely plowed at the moment, and my headlamp helps me see where I am going. The only thing I encountered on the bike path either day happened this morning - a sneaky local cop was parked right on the path in his police cruiser, busy clocking unsuspecting motorists cresting the hill!

Even after completing my early morning run, I was still the second person in the door at the office today. Do I get a gold star for my dedication? :)

And while I enjoy the actual process of running, it does feel good to get it out of the way, as it frees up the rest of the day. No need to plan out your run when you get home - you are already done. It is time to relax, and maybe fix a little dinner.

So, I fixed a little dinner! Sourdough pizza with pepperoni and artichoke hearts, with a tasty regional beer to wash it down. A fine reward for that early morning run! :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fun with eggs and sourdough

Today it was 27 degrees above zero. Hallelujah! That means it was 54 degrees warmer than it was on my drive to work Friday morning. Wow.

Running was an absolute treat. Trails were plowed and nicely packed down. Slightly breezy, but how can I complain about 27 degrees after all we just went through? What a joy it was to run this evening.

Here is a recent dish I made, kind of a "breakfast for dinner" sort of meal:

Baked eggs in prosciutto "cups" with sourdough waffles

I had seen eggs prepared this way before (see pictures here and here for some examples), but this dish was largely improvised. I lined a couple holes in a muffin tin with prosciutto, adding a small amount of cooked mushrooms, oven-roasted tomato, and white cheddar, topping it with a whole egg. Baked it in the oven at 350 for about 12 minutes until the eggs were set, but the yolks still runny. The prosciutto gets crispy and forms a little cup, which makes it easy to extract from the muffin tin. What a great way to prepare eggs! This was absolutely delicious. I need to go out an buy prosciutto so I can make this again soon.

To accompany the eggs, I whipped up some sourdough waffles using this recipe (with a teaspoon of vanilla extract added for extra flavor). I had some extra leftover starter in my fridge that fit the bill nicely here. These were quite yummy. Great sourdough flavor! Topped with some awesome Caribou Cream maple syrup, these were definitely some tasty waffles. And I have a few extra that I froze, which will serve as excellent breakfast fodder this week.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bitter cold

Kind of a brisk morning here in Minnesota. The thermometer on my car will tell the story:


That picture was taken when I arrived in the parking lot at work. Believe it or not, I saw colder on the drive in - a crisp -27 F on the outskirts of town. And that wasn't even the worst in the state. Babbitt and I-Falls clocked in at -46 F! Wow.

Just an awful, awful day, weather wise. I was treated to a nice, arctic sunrise, however.

Here comes the sun!

That sun didn't do much to warm things up, either. I don't think the temperature made it above zero today. If it did, it wasn't by much. Wind chills were fluctuating between -10 and -20 as well. If ever there was a good day to skip running, today was it.

Bottom line; it was just brutal, and I have been perpetually cold all day.

When I got home, I took a hot shower for no other reason than to thaw myself out. I am currently sitting in front of the fireplace in my fuzzy sweatpants and polar fleece sweatshirt drinking a Bell's "Hopslam" ale. If this doesn't warm me up, nothing will!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter blahs

Running continues to be a challenge. A recap of the last few runs:

Sunday morning it was 3 F degrees with light flurries. Seeing snow was strange, as there was nothing on the radar. I ran what ended up being 5 1/2 miles on an improvised route that I had to map out later. Snowplows from Saturday's snow event had thrown snow all over the sidewalks and trails, so I needed find areas that were less treacherous. I ended up doing several loops around a hilly subdivision in my neighborhood.

Monday's run was the toughest I have had in a long time. Streets were slushy and slippery. With every step you take, you spin your wheels, so to speak. The trails, still not plowed after several recent snow events, are rutted up and nearly impassable in places. Nearly fell twice and joked with friends that I imagine I looked like the end of the infamous Steve Young vs. the Vikings bumbling, stumbling scramble for a touchdown. The run was only 5 miles. It felt like 20. Also on this day, I learned that we are on track for a potential record setting snowfall this season. Awesome.

Steve Young reference clarified below between the 45 second and 1:04 mark... :)

Yesterday I ran indoors at the dome. Outdoor temps were around 10 F with a wind chill that was below zero, so inside sounded like a good option. This was actually a decent run, just a shade over 5 miles. Nice to have traction for a change. The dome was fairly quiet, which was appreciated. What was not appreciated was that I got dusted by two really fast girls again. Darn fast girls! :)

For the remainder of the week, we can look forward to more snow on Thursday and Friday, coupled with our coldest temperatures of the year Friday morning. Predicted low for that day is currently -15 F (actual air temp, with an even worse wind chill...woohoo!). Good times.

In more fun news, I have been continuing the sourdough pizza experiment. Lots of fun! The latest batch was made with the same recipe from Slice, plus a 1/2 t. sugar - however, on day 2, instead of adding the 5 ounces of water, I substituted 5 ounces of beer. Deschutes "Jubelale" winter ale, to be precise.

The fun with sourdough continues!

It worked exactly the same as the dough made with water, only it had a really nice beer aroma and flavor, in addition to the tangy sourdough taste. Beer was a fantastic substitution here. This pizza was topped with prosciutto and oven-roasted tomatoes. A most excellent meal, and I managed to save a couple of slices for breakfast. :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snnnnoooooowww! (And, some cashew chicken)

This week has been ridiculous. Does it snow every day here? Accumulations have been nothing significant, but these weather events have produced just enough snow to be annoying.

Thursday I didn't bring a lunch to work, so I was forced to go out. Of course, it was snowing like crazy during the lunch hour, and I was sliding all over the roads in a quest for a simple sandwich. My run that evening was an adventurous 5 miles in the fluffiest snow you have ever seen. It was so light, and sometimes up to ankle deep on the trails. This might sound strange, but I found it surprisingly difficult to run in that stuff. What didn't help was the fact that the packed-down snow underneath the fluff was uneven on the sidewalks and trails (my city seems to have taken a laissez-faire attitude towards plowing this year). That being said, it was still kind of fun in a weird way, but not all that speedy.

Friday night, I managed to slog out 9 miles (not the easiest thing to do after having Big Bowl kung pao chicken for lunch) during one of these so-called "clipper systems" (as the weather geeks call them), our second one in as many days. We were supposed to get "less than a inch" during the daytime. My drive home from work was horrible, and it snowed a good inch during my run. At times there were HUGE snowflakes that looked like giant feathers! Very pretty, but it was more than "less than an inch." A challenging run that left me fairly well frosted over, but it felt good to get it done.

From Friday evening's run: loving the ice buildup on the eyelashes and facial hair

In cooking news...

I have been on a stir-fry kick lately. And why not? Stir-fries are quick, easy, and tasty, and they shorten the amount of time you need to spend in the kitchen when playoff football is going on. :) I found a recipe for cashew chicken that looked appealing, so I decided to give a whirl. (Recipe can be found both here and here)

Of course, I can't follow a recipe without trying to put a personal touch on it, so I made the following changes and additions:

  • Used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts (thighs taste better, I think - I always use these for stir-fries)
  • Added a half of a red bell pepper, chopped (I thought it needed a veggie, plus it adds nice color)
  • Added about a teaspoon of sesame oil to the chicken marinade
  • Added some crushed red pepper to the chicken (1/2 t. or so, didn't really measure)
  • Added a teaspoon of chile-garlic sauce to the sauce mixture

Otherwise, I was pretty true to all of the ingredients and amounts listed in the recipe.

Take-out at home - Cashew Chicken

A delicious dish. Tender chunks of chicken, crunchy cashew, nice hit of ginger and garlic - lots of different textures and flavors going on. I was glad I added the spicy elements of crushed red pepper and chile-garlic sauce, as they complimented the stir-fry quite well. The red bell pepper was also a welcome and colorful addition. Definitely worthy of making again, especially when you don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

Now if you'll excuse me, the Packers-Falcons playoff game just kicked off... :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Triple Ham & Swiss Soudough Pizza

Tonight's sourdough pizza:

I topped this bad bod with small amounts of rosemary ham, hot capicola, and Canadian bacon. Cheeses included Emmethaler and Raclette. We will call this one a "Triple Ham & Swiss!"

This represents the second really successful batch of dough I have made using the Slice pizza blog's sourdough pizza recipe. As noted in my earlier post, I add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the mixture, just because. The resulting dough is simply beautiful - light, supple, and quite easy to shape.

The edge of the crust develops a beautiful rise. Texture is crispy on the bottom, and the rest of the crust has a great, bready chew with a tasty sourdough flavor. Even though it takes three days to make the dough, this is totally worth the time and effort. So unbelievably good! No question about it, this is fast becoming my favorite pizza recipe to make.

Top that, Papa Johns! :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

One Dirty Magazine

In print, my first name is frequently mistaken for that of a girl. As a result, I end up getting some interesting junk mail. Over the years, I have received some very gender-specific mailings from places like Coldwater Creek, Title Nine, Victoria's Secret - the list goes on.

Recently, there was a moment of shock when my mail carrier bestowed upon me some of the trashiest, smuttiest literature I have ever seen. It was enough to make a person blush. I asked myself, "Can they really print THAT?"

Of course, I am talking about Women's Health magazine.

For years I have been receiving an occasional complimentary copy of this in my mailbox, thanks to a running publication I subscribe to who clearly thinks I am a girl. I've always recycled them without even opening paging though one. But this week, for whatever reason, I happened to take a look.

They have an entire section on love and romance that contains a rather free and frank discussion of the topic. The secrets of close couples? Love myths debunked? A regular advice column - "Ask the Guy Next Door"? And, I might add, they are fairly graphic with the language and descriptions of the related activities. Good grief! Shouldn't they put an "NC-17" rating on this?

It really sounds like the writers at Women's Health magazine desperately need dates.

(Frantically Googling directions to the Women's Health magazine corporate headquarters...) :)

Oh, and for the record, I only read one dirty magazine - Trail Runner! Hey, that is their slogan; "One Dirty Magazine." ;-)

In running news - THEY PLOWED MY TRAILS! Hallelujah!

Sunday morning I enjoyed a nice run at -6 F below zero. It might sound awful, but there was no wind, so it was actually somewhat pleasant. I even saw a northern shrike, which is a birding highlight on any day.

Tonight, it was snowing. About an inch dusting had fallen, so the trails were nicely cushioned. And the temperature was around 20 degrees, so that was most appreciated. Even saw some dude "para skiing" on my local lake. Nice evening to run.

Yours truly on today's run, enjoying the snow

A "para skier" on the lake, also enjoying the snow

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Beet Gnocchi

Beets are awesome. One of my favorite vegetables. And I absolutely love it when I see them used in unexpected ways.

For instance, in gnocchi - those cute little Italian dumplings traditionally made with potatoes.

I recently stumbled upon a blog featuring a beautiful recipe for goose bourguignon with beet gnocchi. Those brilliantly colored gnocchi looked sensational.

While I have made beet pasta, for some reason, it never occurred to me that this can be done with gnocchi, too.

Gnocchi has only been made a few times in my kitchen (and never with beets, obviously), so I needed to do some research. I located this recipe for beet gnocchi. Very simple, adapted from a Mario Batali recipe, with just a handful of ingredients. I followed this recipe quite closely in terms of proportions, but varied a couple of things.

First thing I did was put some beets through a potato ricer. But instead of roasting a pound of beets, I cheated. I used a 15 oz. can of whole, small beets, drained of all liquid. Why? Well, they are already cooked, and therefore nice and soft, making them easier to pass through the ricer. Also, I put the beet pulp into some paper towels to squeeze out some excess moisture. Here is what I ended up with:

A big 'ol mess of beet pulp!

While that was going on, three large russet potatoes (two pounds worth) were baking in the oven. Once cooked, they were peeled and pressed through the ricer onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

The recipe talked letting the potatoes cool slightly. However, during my research I saw yet another recipe that said the potatoes should be "absolutely cold." Taking a page from Chef Anne Burrell's gnocchi recipe, the potatoes were cooled down quickly and completely to keep them fluffy. How to do that in Minnesota on a bitter cold winter day? Why, use the best walk-in cooler available, of course - my balcony! :) 15 minutes outside on a 10 degree day chilled these fluffy potatoes down in a hurry.

Potatoes, cooling off rapidly with the help of Mother Nature

Once cooled, the potatoes and beets were combined on a floured board. The rest of the ingredients get worked in - two cups of flour, pinch of salt, and an egg. This is gently kneaded together until you have a fairly smooth, but still ever so slightly wet, ball of dough.

Beets and potatoes mixed together on a floured board

Once finished kneading, you have a pretty, purple dough!

Then, I cut off a strip of the dough and started rolling it into a dowel, perhaps about an inch thick. The dowel is then cut into individual pieces of gnocchi like so:

Rolling out and cutting the gnocchi

Now comes the fun part - putting some little ridges on your gnocchi. They actually make small, ridged gnocchi boards for this. But why bother when you can just use a fork to do the job. All you do is press it down gently and roll it off of the fork. It takes a few times to get the hang of it, but soon you will be rolling these off of the fork like nobody's business.

Rolling the gnocchi on a fork to give it ridges

A freshly rolled piece of gnocchi

Here is a video that shows the technique of rolling of the gnocchi better than I can explain it:

Once rolled, they should be cooked right away or frozen. I was going to use these the next day, so I transferred them to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and put them back outside.

A finished batch gnocchi, returned to the snowy deck for a flash freeze!

It didn't take long to freeze them in this weather. After about an hour, the gnocchi were hard as rocks! I transferred them to plastic bags and put them in my actual freezer until ready to use.

Today, I boiled up some gnocchi until they floated, and quickly dropped them into an ice bath to cool them down and stop the cooking. Here is what they looked like after coming out of the ice bath:

Cooked gnocchi - you can see they lost a little color, but still maintained a purplish hue!

For dinner, I gently reheated some gnocchi in a skillet until warm. I made a stew out of some lamb shanks today, so the gnocchi would serve as a bed for the stew.

Lamb shank stew with beet gnocchi

The gnocchi were nicely cooked and had a texture like a fluffy dumpling. As expected, they also has a subtle beet flavor. Once plated up, I stirred the gnocchi into the stew so they would get coated with the sauce. In hindsight, I should have made my stew a little more "saucy" - it came out kind of thick, and it would have been nice to have more liquid to cling to the gnocchi. But that was my only complaint. A delicious dish. And the stew itself, aside from being thick, certainly did not suck.

I will definitely make these again. I do want to know how some of the other recipes I found managed to maintain such a brilliant purple color. Must figure that out, because those dark purple orbs look incredibly cool! But all things considered, it was a relatively successful foray into the world of beet gnocchi making!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter running, and precious medals

In winter running news (fast becoming known as Jean's typical bitching and moaning about the weather) - running has been difficult. I ran outside last night on what was actually a pleasant 25 degree day. However, the streets had a slippery layer of slush left over from a dusting of snow, which felt remarkably like running in sand. And, we are going on two weeks of no plowing on a couple of my preferred running trails. So they are still a rutted up mess, probably lost and gone until spring unless they get some heavy machinery in there. Very slow going yesterday.

I've run indoors a few times recently, which ranks from "decent" (when it is quiet with few people present) to "annoying" (when obnoxious lacrosse players are practicing at the facility). It is hard to do long runs here, as it gets quite boring. The scenery never changes, and then there is the part where you have to remember what lap you are on in order to keep accurate track of mileage! Still, it is nice to have the option to run indoors on awful days, even if you have to run in a circle.

A humorous side note - one day at the dome, I must have selected a time when all the fast women were running. There were all of four runners in the whole facility (yours truly, and three women), and I ended up getting passed and lapped by all of them! I am no speedster, mind you, but I am not that slow, either. They absolutely smoked me. As one friend astutely pointed out, I got "chicked" three times over! :)

I am not sure what it is. I used to really enjoy running in the winter, but this year it has just been a chore. Temperature doesn't bother me so much, but let's face it - it has been pretty cold for the most part. Street and trail conditions absolutely suck. And running indoors will do in a pinch, but I can't bring myself to make it a regular thing. Somehow, I am just going to have to suck it up and forge ahead, I guess.

By the way, the weather forecast for the weekend is looking like a high of 10 on Saturday, with a low of -12 below on Saturday night (actual air temp). So I've got that to look forward to.

Switching gears to something more fun - I have talked about this before, but back in high school I was in the show choir. We had a group of five guys my junior year, and a larger group of guys and girls my senior year. Lots of great memories from this period of time - concerts, singing at town functions, going on "tour" - cool stuff.

Which leads me to a fun find from last night - while rifling through a box, I discovered a baggie full of various medals and awards from high school. In it, I found my medals from State-Region, our highest level of vocal competition at the time. Two of the medals were with the show choir, one was for a trio, and the other a duet. Sweet! It was pretty cool to stumble upon these, as I had not seen them in some time.

The hardware from decades gone by!

I jokingly asked several of my friends if I could have traded the medals for tattoos back in the day - or does this sort of bartering arrangement only apply to football players and their memorabilia? :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pancetta - well, sort of

This unfinished post had been languishing in my drafts for close to a month now, and I don't know why. Let's publish this thing already!

Earlier in one of my sourdough pizza posts, I talked about some home-cured pancetta. I had a slab of pork belly in my freezer, so I took a stab at making some of my own. Or, at least a version of pancetta! I will explain.

Following Ruhlman and Polcyn's advice (and their recipe) from Charcuterie, I cured the pork belly for a week in a mixture of sugar, salt, pink salt (sodium nitrite), crushed juniper berries, thyme, nutmeg, garlic, and black pepper. After rinsing off the excess seasonings and cure mixture, I rolled and tied the belly.

Here is where I did things differently; traditional pancetta is hung and air-dried for weeks. I didn't want to wait that long. :)

Oven-roasted pancetta, anyone?

To speed things up, I opted to slow roast the pork belly in a 200 F degree oven until it hit an internal temperature of 150 F. Took a little over 3 hours, and this is what I ended up with:

Yours truly with a slice of my pancetta!

So what exactly is it? Think of this as more of a homemade bacon with pancetta flavor. The meat is texturally different since it is cooked, and a little leaner since some of the fat renders out, but the flavors are there. In fact, it was downright delicious.

A couple slices of my oven-roasted pancetta

It is great simply diced up and used on a pizza. Spaghetti carbonara would be a no-brainer. Some of this found its way into an omelette over Christmas while visiting Mom and Dad. Crisped up in a skillet, it also made a nice topping for some smoked cheddar mac & cheese - or as my friend Sarah in Missouri called it, "mac-n-cetta!" (and I am still upset I didn't think of that first!).

"Mac-n-Cetta" - cheesy, smoky, porky goodness

In any case, I am happy to have a few pounds of "pancetta" in my freezer for future dishes. Pork is good food.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sourdough adventures

So I have been continuing my experiments with the mysterious force that is sourdough starter.

Hope is alive and well, and she is a potent and lively starter. I have been keeping her nice and bubbly with regular feedings. (I also created another starter of my own from scratch. I grew this one using some organic rye flour to get it going, and then I fortified it with a little bit of Hope, so this starter is also doing quite nicely. I am calling my starter "Thor," the Norse god of thunder, a tribute to my Norwegian heritage...but, I digress.)

I've enjoyed some decent success making pizzas with a no-knead sourdough. The dough is somewhat tricky to handle, as it is quite wet, and you need to work a fair amount of flour into it. But it has produced some tasty pizzas. Still, I have been looking for other recipes to experiment with.

My quest to make sourdough pizza took a delightful turn this week.

Recently the Slice pizza blog did a "Sourdough Starter-Along" - a step-by-step guide to making your own sourdough starter. They shared this recipe for sourdough pizza dough that I thought I would try.

My starter was fed early in the morning (I used Hope for this one). Later in the day, I harvested 4 oz. of bubbly Hope and mixed her with the prescribed amounts of bread flour and water. Covered and left overnight, it expanded beautifully, sort of resembling a no-knead dough at this point.

Next, I mixed in the remaining flour, water, salt, and olive oil as I worked the dough in the stand mixer. My only variation to the recipe was that I added a 1/2 t. of sugar to my dough (what can I say - pizza dough loves a little sugar, and it also helps the yeasts kick into gear). After 10 minutes of kneading, the dough was quite supple and felt great. So far, things seemed promising.

Now, the dough goes into the fridge for two days. Would it be worth the wait?

Perhaps the most important thing I am learning with sourdough is that you need PATIENCE. These naturally leavened doughs are not like those made with your ultra-reliable instant yeast. Nothing happens very fast. These doughs take time.

After two days, the dough became very soft, airy, and expansive, so the sourdough starter in the dough was active and doing its job. Here is a shot of the dough after it was taken out of the fridge:

The dough was easy - and dare I say fun - to work with, much easier to shape than the no-knead variety I have been working on. A rolling pin was not necessary. I simply patted the dough out and gave it a nice lip:

Here is the pizza topped with tomato sauce, hot capicola ham, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, green olives, mozzarella, and provolone cheese. I also sprinkled on some fresh thyme and sage, as well as crushed red pepper:

This was easily the best and most successful sourdough pizza I have made, and arguably one of the best pizzas I have ever made! I was so excited when I took the pizza out of the oven. The crust was so good; crispy on the bottom, the edges got nice and puffy with a great chewy texture, with a tangy sourdough flavor. Tasty topping, delicious crust, excellent results...what more would you want?

So, worth the wait? No question about it. How exciting to experience some true success with sourdough! It really wasn't that hard, nor was it terribly time-consuming. Sure, you have to wait a couple of days to dine on your pizza - but the work at each stage it fairly minimal and is spread out over time. And how much fun is it to create something like this completely from scratch without a commercial yeast? (The answer? Very fun!)

Sourdough starter is fascinating stuff, and I am learning more and more each time I work with it. One thing is for sure - I will be making this pizza recipe again and again. Thanks to the folks at Slice for sharing!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sesame Chicken

Sesame chicken is one of your classic take-out dishes. This is a recipe have been making for several years now, adapted from Tyler Florence's "Eat This Book."

Traditionally, the chunks of chicken are deep fried to produce a crispy coating. But I have adapted the recipe to make a lighter dish. For my version, I omit that step and opt to stir-fry the chicken pieces instead. I also add some red bell pepper, scallions, and a little additional chile-garlic sauce to make it more spicy.

While my chicken doesn't get crispy like the classic version, I really don't think you will miss it. The sweet, spicy, tangy sauce has a ton of flavor, and you won't have to run a few additional miles to burn off the extra calories! :) Here is what I do:

Sesame Chicken
-adapted from Tyler Florence's Eat This Book


-2/3 c. ketchup
-1/2 c. orange juice
-1/4 c. soy sauce
-2 T. honey
-2 T. rice vinegar
-1 T. chile-garlic sauce
-1 T. fresh grated ginger

Stir-fry ingredients:

-1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced, excess fat removed
-1 T. soy sauce
-1 T. sesame oil
-1 T. peanut or canola oil
-1 bunch of broccoli, cut into florets
-1 red bell pepper, large dice
-4 scallions, sliced
-1 T. cornstarch mixed with 1 T. cold water
-Sesame seeds for garnish
-White rice for serving

Combine all of the sauce ingredients. Cover and set in the fridge until needed.

Combine the diced chicken thighs, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl. Stir well, cover, and let marinate in the fridge for an hour or so.

Heat a wok or large pan over high heat. Add the canola or peanut oil. Stir-fry the chicken until almost cooked through. If using a wok, move the chicken to one side; if not, transfer the chicken to a dish and set aside.

Add the broccoli and red bell pepper. Stir-fry for a few more minutes until the veggies are crisp-tender.

Incorporate the chicken back into the vegetables. Add the sauce mixture and the cornstarch. Allow to cook until hot, thick, and bubbly, and the chicken is completely cooked through. Add the scallions, sprinkle on some sesame seeds, and serve immediately over white rice.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First run of the year

I behaved myself last night (did the rest of you?!?), and I headed out the door at 7:30 this morning for the first run of 2011. The weather was cool; 4 degrees, fairly breezy (20 MPH winds, gusting to 30!), snow flurries, and a wind chill of -13. I would need to bundle up in my full winter running regalia:

Ready to rock the 2011 winter running season, Minnesota style! :)

A light dusting of snow overnight added some traction to what would have been ice covered trails in many spots. Roads in my area looked like crap. Traffic was moving slowly, and I was really glad I didn't have to drive anywhere.

There were a few challenges during the run. The worst places were where you were going into the wind, and I did have to bust through a couple of large drifts on the north end of my lake. Also, I am a little upset that they never plowed one of the trail spurs that leads to the lake trails. This was snowed over before Christmas, melted significantly earlier this week, and is now a rutted up, frozen solid mess until spring. Ick! Looks like I will need to change up my route.

The run wasn't all that bad, really. I did a big loop around my lake and through the neighborhood. I know you will be shocked to hear that I did not encounter a single human being on the trails today (come on people - New Year's resolutions?!?). By and large, I was actually very comfortable, save the frozen eyelashes and the huge chunk of ice that accumulated on my face mask! When all was said and done, I put in a shade over 9 miles. Decent run to start the year, considering the conditions.

Tonight's dinner - beef pot roast! I found a really nice chuck roast on sale at my local market (2 1/2 pond roast for about $8!). Nothing too fancy with this one in terms of preparation. Very much your classic pot roast, braised in red wine and beef stock, with aromatic veggies and fresh herbs. Yum!

Braised, beefy, gravy-soaked deliciousness

Perfect dish for a chilly day that saw a high temperature of 9 degrees... :)

Happy New Year!


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