Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday 17, and more signs of spring

With this post, I have blogged as much in March as I did from November through the end of February.  I hope you have enjoyed this significant increase in my drivel! :)

Saturday morning greeted me with temps in the low 40's - breezy, cool, overcast, and clammy.  In other words, pretty decent weather for running!  I like it.

I did 17 miles today.  Most of it went pretty well, although the last couple of miles were a bit of a struggle.  But I got it done.  And I couldn't complain about the weather.

There were some new bird arrivals today - the pied-billed grebe, ruby-crowned kinglet, herring gull, and numerous northern flickers. 

I also saw some repeat birds as well - three loons, several wood ducks, eastern bluebirds, and tons of eastern phoebes.  Seemed everywhere I went, there was a phoebe.  Or maybe it was just one following me around? :) 

Wildflowers have started to emerge.  I saw a number of bloodroots in bloom today (didn't write this down last year, but saw them on April 12th in 2010). 

Based on these recent signs of spring, everything still seems to be a couple of weeks ahead.

Just because I need to sneak something food-related in here - it took me almost four months, but I feel like I have finally mastered pizza making in my oven.

Sourdough pizza with mortadella, Fresno chilies, and scallions
The oven isn't quite as hot as the one from my old apartment.  But through a lot of fiddling around, I have got the process down using the pizza stone at the hottest temperature, and turning on the broiler for just 1 1/2 minutes. 

This little bit of time with the broiling element on is just enough to brown the cheese and toppings, and to crisp up the edges.  The picture above was from last week, one of my better efforts.  I am happy I have this figured out.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Long lost races

First, some administrative notes - a few recent bird arrivals to report:
  • March 24th - The American kestrels are back.  Saw a couple of them sitting on some power lines while on a drive.
  • March 26th - Saw a common loon out on Fish Lake.  Since I have lived in the NW metro, this ties the earliest arrival I have observed (2010).  They were here on April 9th last year.  Also, this same day I flushed a Cooper's hawk along the trail near Fish Lake.
  • March 28th - I saw the eastern phoebe on my run today.  Always good to see the flycatchers return!
Terrible picture, but this is the March 26th loon
I recently read Steve's post about races that have disappeared, and it made me revisit the list of the races I have done.  I was surprised to see how many of these races are no more.  I figured there would be a few, but it ended up being a pretty long list. 

Reasons for their disappearances vary, of course.  Some were barely around long enough to be remembered, but others were fairly popular events with long histories.  So here is a look back at those races.  If nothing else, it was a fun excuse to dig through my old race shirts and other apparel!

Paul Mausling Cross Country Run 6K
Paul Mausling Cross Country Run - St. Paul, MN - A race named after a talented local runner.  The race itself enjoyed a brief run of a few years in the mid to late 2000's.  It was held on the big open fields at Como Park.  This was a small event that really only attracted seasoned former cross country runners, so I got absolutely smoked when I ran it in 2005.  However, this is still one of my all-time favorite shirts (OK, anything orange is my favorite!).

Winter Waddle 5K
Winter Waddle 5K - Edina, MN - Pretty sure this race is no more.  When I ran it in 2005, it started in the heart of 50th & France in Edina and was an out-and-back down 50th - at night, and on the weekend of New Year's.  We actually ran down the middle turn lane, yet the street was not closed to traffic!  Kind of crazy.  More recently, this got moved to a local golf course (perhaps due to the traffic issues?), but I don't believe this race has occurred in the last couple of years.  At least, 2010 is the last reference I can find for it.

Tornado Trail Mix 5K

Tornado Trail Mix 5K - Anoka, MN - This race was put on by the Anoka H.S. track team.  It was a mix of paved and dirt trails on a rather neat and surprisingly scenic piece of land adjacent to the school.  I remember enjoying being the old guy passing a couple of the local, "too cool for the room" high school football players (wearing their football jerseys, do-rags, goofy socks, etc.) who took off like a shot and were sucking wind after the first mile. :)  I even won my age group, which is a rare thing.

Easy Does It 5 Miler
Easy Does It 5 Miler - Plymouth, MN - A really nice race along the shores of Medicine Lake.  I was kind of sad that this one went away, as it was a fun course and had a really long history.  They ended it in 2006 after a 25 year run.  I think the organizers just got tired of doing it every year.  Side note: one of the funniest comments I ever received while wearing this shirt: "1982 to 2006?  Wow, that must have been a long race!" 

Pike Island Rundezvous 10K
Pike Island Rundezvous 10K - St. Paul, MN - Here we had a small trail race at Fort Snelling State Park.  Kind of a scenic run around Pike Island (where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge) on very flat and not at all technical trails.  This race was only around for a couple of years that I can recall.  Definitely one of the wildest colored race shirts I own!

Heart of St. Paul 5K
Heart of St. Paul 5K - St. Paul, MN - For all intents and purposes, this was a Valentine's Day edition of the Turkey Run - the exact same course around Lake Como, same race headquarters, just a different month.  This was a small event that never caught on, and it only lasted a couple of years.    

Wild Goose Chase 30K
Wild Goose Chase 30K - Watson, MN - This race was cool - a small, intimate, and rural event consisting of a lap around Laq Qui Parle Lake in western Minnesota.  I ran the 30K solo in the inaugural year in 2007, and I believe the race only enjoyed a 3 year run.  Not sure why this one went away.  But it was fun, and I got to run and chat with Carrie Tollefson during the race. 

Frigid 5
Frigid 5 - St. Paul, MN - For some reason this race ended in 2010 and hasn't returned - which is kind of sad because it had a rather long history.  I miss this winter race; not because it was scenic or anything (the MN State Fairgrounds is a desolate ghost town in the winter), but because of the cool stocking caps!  Kind of a unique piece of race apparel, and you still see people wearing these hats from years gone by (Steve commented in his post he still wears his from 1984!).

Lumberjack Days 10 Miler
Lumberjack Days 10 Miler - Stillwater, MN - I am presuming this race is dead because Lumberjack Days is dead.  The city of Stillwater recently voted to put an end to the annual summer festival due to unpaid debt and mismanagement by the event organizers.  Too bad, because this was a fun 10 miler with a net elevation loss from start to finish that ended under the lift bridge in downtown Stillwater.  Fast course, and still my 10 mile PR.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #5: Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

For my next Cookbook Challenge, I took a trip to southeast Asia with my copy of Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Diguid.

Authentic Asian cooking
This big, heavy, coffee table-style book is subtitled, A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia, and it details the authors' trek following the Mekong River through southern China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  It is filled with stories about the people and places, with a large collection of authentic recipes.

"Hot, sour, salty, sweet" - the book's title, but also four words that often describe the characteristics of the food from this region.  These sensations from the use of ingredients such as chilies, fish sauce, limes, and palm sugar, all work to create bold flavors with an amazing balance.

The authors take the time to explain the people of the various countries they traveled through, as well as the culinary traditions unique to each or these regions.  Chapters are structured around the types of foods or primary ingredients as opposed to the specific countries.  However, each dish indicates which country it hails from.

The recipe I chose to make was a humble Vietnamese Shrimp and Pork Stir-Fry (a couple links to the recipe are here and here).  The book described it as a dish you would see served as "street food" at a small food stand, usually served on top of some rice or noodles.  This particular recipe consists of shrimp and thinly sliced pork shoulder quickly stir-fried with lemongrass, garlic, and fish sauce, and garnished with cilantro if you so desire.

I also made their Vietnamese Must-Have Table Sauce (nuoc cham), a traditional condiment that, according to the book, appears on the table at just about every meal (and, it was suggested as an accompaniment to the stir-fry).  The sauce consists of fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, garlic, a little cider vinegar, and some sugar, making for a sauce that combines all the hot, sour, salty, and sweet elements.

Vietnamese Shrimp and Pork Stir-Fry
The dish was quick to make and cooks in mere minutes.  Just make sure you have your chopping and prep work done, and your rice made, and this is ready in no time.

And the stir-fry was full of flavor.  Plump shrimp, tender slices of pork, quickly stir-fried with fish sauce, lemongrass, and garlic?  Why, yes!  Lemongrass is fast becoming one of my favorite aromatics, and the dish had lots of it, adding an exotic perfume to the dish.  Very fragrant and delicious.   

The nuoc cham, however, really puts the dish over the top.  Drizzle on some of that spicy, tangy, sweet and pungent sauce, and it adds a brightness that absolutely elevates all of the flavors.  I also garnished with the optional cilantro, as well as some scallions (not called for in the recipe, but I had some on hand and figured that would not be too out-of-bounds, so this will be our little secret!), and served it over Jasmine rice. 

I loved this.  A simple and successful meal.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is an interesting look at the diversity of the food in this area of the world and how it varies from country to country.  The book features some beautiful photography as well.  I've got my eye on a few of the other recipes, so there might be a repeat Cookbook Challenge at some point.

Bright Light! Bright Light!

I hate it when shoe companies change models.  They take a perfectly good shoe and tinker around to give them "new and improved" touches, improved technology and materials, blah, blah blah.  Eventually, these improvements seem to change the shoe so much that they barely resemble the original.
  
My normally trusty Asics GT 2100 series shoes betrayed me.  I had been happily running in the 2150 and 2160.  However, the 2170 came out, and I felt like they strangling my feet.  The shoes pinched my toes, and the uppers were rubbing the top of my feet, which caused a great deal of pain.  Just awful.

So I stopped in at TC Running Co. yesterday and picked up a new pair of shoes.  Got some help from the expert staff, and they put me in a shoe brand and model I have never tried, the Saucony Progrid Guide 5.  Check these out: 


Electric blue! Neon green!
Wild colors!  Holy cow, if my pasty white spring legs don't blind the oncoming traffic, my shoes certainly will.  Wow!

I actually really like the flashy colors, but the important thing is they work.  In fact, they feel great and fit like a glove.  A fantastic blend of cushion and stability for my overpronation.  This morning I had one of my best runs in months, a spirited and speedy 5 miler through my park.  I'm loving these shoes. 

Now, a message to my new friends at Saucony - don't screw with these shoes!  They are fine the way they are.  No more tinkering, please! :) 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Beautiful spring days & a strange sight on the lake

I had some stuff to do today, so I did my long run Friday night.  This was the view at Rice Lake:

A beautiful spring evening in Minnesota
Really, a stunning night.  Perfect spring evening!

My run wasn't very good.  I managed 15 miles, but it was tough.  I suppose that is to be expected after a full day at the office.  Pretty tiring!

I did see some new birds.  The hooded merganser finally showed up in my neighborhood, as did the buffleheads.  Nice to see some of the ducks showing up, as all of out lakes are free of ice.

Speaking of lakes being free of ice, I also saw these guys out on Fish Lake:

There was ice on the lake five days ago!

"Go, Speed Racer..."
That's right, a couple of locals already had the jet skis out on the lake!  Notice they are wearing wet suits.  They would have to.  The water is still quite frigid with the ice having melted less than a week ago.  Seeing jet skiers is not a common sight in March in Minnesota!

Our early spring continues!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring has sprung!

Unrelated to anything, I wanted to let you know I made an appearance in Steve's Human Race photo gallery in the "butt shots" section!  It's truly an honor. ;-)  

Spring is here!  For real.

New bird arrivals this week include the wood ducks and the great blue herons.  I saw them yesterday, March 20th.  Just in time for the first day of spring.

Didn't see anything new on my run today, but the warm temperatures and recent rains have caused everything to start turning green.  Grass is growing, leaves are popping, and it is really getting pretty here.

A few photos from tonight's run:

This is becoming a regular self-portrait! Yours truly at the lake.

The ice went off of my lake on the 18th, and today the leaves are starting to pop

More leaves are popping along the trails

Grass along the trail is getting green, and the plants on the floor of the woods are coming to life!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #4: Everyday Italian

I had to make something from one of Giada De Laurentiis' books, didn't I?  This past weekend I grabbed my copy of Giada's first book, "Everyday Italian."

Giada!
It's no secret that I have enjoyed Giada's shows on the Food Network, as there are a number of references to her in previous posts.  She really knows how to cook, her recipes are not difficult and very approachable.

"Everyday Italian" is really a no nonsense cookbook filled with 125 of her recipes.  She is not here to teach you about Italian culture, or the authenticity of dishes - she is here to help you get a tasty plate of Italian food on the table with a minimal amount of effort. 

Actually, Giada's recipes from this book, as well as "Giada's Family Dinners," have served as a basis for a lot of my creations.  Recipes such as Scampi on Couscous, Balsamic Roasted Chicken, Pork Chops with Fennel and Caper Sauce, Lasagna Rolls, and the recipe I made for this exercise, the Beef and Cheese Manicotti.

So yes, this dish is something I have prepared before.  Last time I made it, I took a few liberties with the ingredients and mixed things up.  This time, I tried to stay true to the ingredients called for in the original recipe.

The recipe on the Food Network site is, for all intents and purposes, the recipe from the book.   The website recipe contains the same ingredients, just more of them - double the beef, sauce, cheeses, and two extra tubes of manicotti (14 instead 12).

Why is the website recipe so similar, yet different from what was published?  My suspicion is that either the celebrity chefs tweak their recipes over time, or the Food Network test kitchens adjust them to make more sense for the home cook.  For instance, most ground beef is sold by the pound, jars of marinara sauce are about 3 cups, and your standard 8 oz. package of manicotti pasta contains 14 tubes.  If you follow the book exactly, you would have leftover beef, sauce, and two unused tubes of manicotti.

So I feel like the recipe in the book fails to a degree.  I tried to follow the recipe, but I ended up cooking my pound of beef and used all 14 tubes of manicotti so as not to be wasteful.  Are you really going to save two leftover uncooked manicotti tubes?  Then once everything was assembled, it seemed like it should be more saucy and cheesy.  So I ended up going with the sauce and cheese amounts prescribed in the website recipe.  I would recommend that you do the same if you try it.

Manicotti, hot out of the oven
Aside from having to adjust some of the quantities in the recipe, I will say the taste is excellent.  It is a delicious and satisfying dish, and one of the great things in life is experiencing the smell of red sauce and ricotta cheese emanating from the oven as it bakes!  This makes a huge pan of food, easily enough for six hungry people, and it is something that can be made in advance and baked later.  I have been subsisting on the tasty leftovers this week.

Beef and Cheese Manicotti with a side of asparagus
All in all, I like her book.  This recipe might not work so well as written, but other recipes I have made from the book have been much more successful (in fact, her Balsamic Roasted Chicken is something I crave from time to time!).  In this instance, if you make the manicotti, just follow the directions on the website and you are good to go!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sweltering at the Human Race

My first race of the 2012 season got off to an interesting start.  March 18th brought us some unseasonable warmth - Sunday's high was 79 degrees and dew points were in the mid 50's to give us a little kiss of humidity.  Well, this is going to be fun...

Race Headquarters - the spiffy new student center at St. Thomas
This was the 7th time I have done the St. Patrick's Day Human Race.  I keep coming back because it is the first "official" race I have ever done, all the way back in 2005, so there is some sentimental value.  Plus, it is always a nice race to kick off the racing season in Minnesota.  It is usually a lot cooler than this, and today was, hands down, the hottest Human Race I have ever run.  

My friend Lisa was there running with her race team.  I laughed because her race team shirts are green, and it was obviously a St. Patrick's Day-themed race, so it was somewhat challenging finding her at first! :)  We decided to run the race together and be somewhat conservative.

The race is the same as it always is - an out-and-back down Summit Ave. - only much hotter.  Man, it was warm out on the course, especially during the second half when the wind was at our backs.

We did see Steve out there cheering us on just shy of the 4 mile mark, so that was a nice boost as we headed for home.  He snapped this photo as we ran by!

Photo by Steve - yours truly in orange, Lisa in green, heading to the finish.
A scary moment happened as we were approaching the finish.  We observed an older runner ahead of us, a gentleman in his 70's, wobbling and listing to the right.  I remarked to Lisa that this guy didn't look so good.  A couple of spectators came into the street to check on him, but he kept going.

Photo by TSL Events - guy in blue obscuring the guy we were escorting in
Lisa said we had to make sure he got in safely.  We ran up to him and flanked him on each side.  The guy was breathing hard, almost wheezing.  I asked if he was OK, and he didn't answer.  As we crossed the finish line, he more or less leaned onto Lisa.  She hustled him over to the step of the RV parked at the finish and got him sitting down, and I went and got the paramedics.

Thankfully, he was fine and ambulatory about 10 minutes after being treated.  Big thanks to the paramedics for being there and helping to support events like this!  Frightening to see something like that happening, but I am glad all's well that ended well.  Whew!

Despite the heat, it was fun to run with Lisa, and it was great to see Steve.  That has become the really fun thing for me when it comes to running these races - seeing all the friends and familiar faces.  Good times!

Oh, and I finished the 8K in 39:05.  And, I got an early start on my heat training for the summer. :)

On to the next...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Summer, summer, summer...wait, it's March?

Wow, what a heatwave!  Yesterday was close to 80, and here on St, Patrick's Day, we are going to be flirting with 80 again.  This is insane.

My morning run was beautiful and felt not unlike a day in June.  60's, plenty of humidity, and a little warm once the sun came up.  I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the lake.  In the picture below, there is open water in the foreground, but you can still see a shelf of ice in the middle of the lake!

Open your big eyes and take in the sunrise!
Yours truly, somewhere around mile 12.
I did 15 miles and saw some cool stuff.  Early into the run, I counted 14 turkeys roosting in their usual spot before the sun came up (that equates to 0.93 TPM - "Turkeys Per Mile!"), three deer, two eagles, a pileated woodpecker, mallards, geese, downy woodpeckers, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinches, and more robins and red-winged blackbirds than I could count.

This week also saw some new arrivals.  The eastern bluebird showed up in my neighborhood on Wednesday, the 14th (arrived on March 29th last year).  And today the song sparrow made an appearance (I had him showing up on April 2nd in 2011), along with dozens of common grackles (last year they were here March 26th).  So far we are trending roughly a week and a half to two weeks early this season.  

My first race of 2102 is tomorrow - the St. Patrick's Day Human Race in St. Paul.  Many years I have run this in tights, gloves, stocking caps - all the winter gear.  Tomorrow will be in the upper 70's again, so I will be sporting the summer running outfit!  No plans to run hard, just planning to enjoy the day and the start of the race season in Minnesota.  More to come!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Last days of "winter"

It was 65 degrees today.  Virtually all of the snow we got less than two weeks ago is gone, and the ice is melting rapidly.  For the rest of the week, we are to be flirting with 70 degree temperatures.  I am liking this!

A few images from today:

The last of the remaining snow and ice on one of my local trails

The ice on my local lake, melting very rapidly

Yours truly, first run of the year in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt

Rescued a woolly bear caterpillar from the trail!

Enjoy my first ever meal on my deck on this gorgeous "winter" day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #3: The Men of the Pacific Street Social Club Cook Italian

My latest Cookbook Challenge takes me to the streets of Brooklyn with Gerard Renny's "The Men of the Pacific Street Social Club Cook Italian."

Italian-American home cooking
Renny is a restaurateur in New York.  This book, published in 1999, recalls stories and recipes from his childhood of growing up in a tough, but loving, neighborhood Brooklyn.   Stories of family, various characters from the area, and members of the Pacific Street Social Club.  "Social Clubs" were comprised of the neighborhood men who would get together to cook, drink, socialize, and carry on the traditions of their Italian-American forefathers.  As Renny put it, these were really a "poor man's country club."  

The chapters are structured around the days of the week, with the idea of showing typical menus that would appears over the course of a week in their Italian household.  The meals were quite structured, and certain dishes were planned for having leftovers.  There are also chapters dedicated solely to the important holidays of Christmas and Easter Sunday.  Being a Minnesotan and not at all Italian, this book is the first place where I learned about the magic that is"Sunday gravy" - a big 'ol pot of meat and red sauce.  Yum! 
 
The recipe I chose was one that is not particularly Italian.  In fact, it would not look out of place on a table in the rural Midwest.  It is called "Coyote Chicken," a simple roast chicken with lemon, garlic, onions, potatoes, and the one ingredient that jumped out and made me want to make the dish, Le Sueur-brand canned peas (more on these in a second). 

About the interesting name - Renny said it was always simply called roast chicken in his house, but relatives referred to it as "Coyote Chicken."  It was suspected that it was a play on the word cacciatore since an uncle referred to this as "hunter's style" chicken.  And what kind of hunter hunts chickens?  A coyote, they figured!  

Goodness in a can
Now, let's talk about the peas.  I have to confess that I LOVE Le Sueur peas!  I always remember them being served by my Grandma at the dinner table, so I grew up eating them. And I thought it was interesting to see them in an Italian family recipe from New York since they are a Minnesota product (originally packed in the the "Valley of the Jolly Green Giant," Le Sueur, MN - hence the name).

I usually have a can or two in my pantry at all times.  They resemble nothing of fresh or frozen peas.  These tiny, young peas are already cooked, and therefore quite tender.  They have a very sweet taste.  And Renny points the liquid from the peas is essential for this dish.  It basically creates the sauce and brings everything together. 

The dish is so simple.  Chicken pieces are marinated for a couple hours in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, smashed garlic cloves, and sliced onions.  The chicken is added to a baking dish along with some cubed russet potatoes and baked at 375 F until the chicken is cooked through, roughly 45 minutes.  Then the canned Le Sueur peas and the liquids are added to the chicken and potatoes in the baking dish and placed under the broiler for a few minutes just to further brown the chicken and potatoes and heat the peas through.

"Coyote Chicken"
I was really happy with how the chicken turned out.  The skin got beautiful and crispy, and the chicken was wonderfully juicy and nicely seasoned with the garlic, onion, and lemon.  Bits of onions that were caramelized during the baking were a surprising taste treat.  Delicious!  Very good flavor. 

I would have liked the potatoes to get a little more brown, but I blame myself for not stirring and basting them well enough prior to baking.  And the addition of the peas and their liquid at the end really does bring this together.  The peas are sweet and tender, and the liquid deglazes the baking dish, making for a very flavorful sauce.

This is not a fancy dish, nor is it the prettiest.  But it's honest, simple, nourishing, and delicious comfort food, and I liked it.  Leftovers were darned good for for lunch the next day, too!  And the book offers an interesting, personal insight into a family, Italian-American culture, a place in time, and the cuisine that plays a central role in it all.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Birds Are Back In Town

All apologies to Thin Lizzy for the title of this post, but it seemed appropriate!

This morning I got up to do my long run - went downstairs, bundled up in my tights, jacket, stocking cap, gloves, etc.  Then I checked the weather.  It was 45 degrees, even before the sun came up! 

Back downstairs, changed into shorts, ditched the jacket and the stocking cap...

(Note to self - check the weather before getting dressed for the run!)

I put in a good 15 miles today at a nice, easy pace.  The weather was comfortable, even if it was rather windy.  Always a treat to be able to wear shorts this time of year.  Spring is upon us!

For further proof, we only need to consider the bird sightings I had today.

I saw countless numbers of Canada geeseHuge flocks flying over in V-formation, honking wildly.  Honestly, I saw easily over a hundred.  Actually, I knew the geese were here already, because on Thursday this guy was trying to get into my office...

"None shall pass!" ;-)
The mourning doves are here.  This is not terribly unusual, in that I occasionally see one or two overwintering in the area.  However, I saw several today, so they are making their way back up here.

However, the highlight was seeing that the red-winged blackbirds had returned to my neighborhood!  This is always a big sign of spring.  I know they were not here yesterday, as I saw none on Friday's run.  As is typical, I heard them before I saw them, their familiar trill reverberating from the swamps.

For the past few years, I've actually kept track of their arrival.  In 2009, they arrived in my neighborhood on March 17th, in 2010 on the 18th, and last year on the 19th.  So they are at least a week early when compared to recent years.  Great to see the blackbirds.  It is always a positive sign that winter is on its way out.

So, we are getting closer to spring.  It got into the 60's today, so just about all of the snow from the previous week is gone.  And next week has a couple of predicted highs around 70.  I am liking this a lot.

Update: Sunday, March 11th brought the arrival of trumpeter swans (a pair did a flyby on my morning run), and I saw numerous robins.  There are a few robins that stuck around in my neighborhood over the winter, but there were so many today that these have to be the "tourists." :)  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cheeseburger Pizza

Just a quick note to let you know that leftover beef from my Maid-Rite recipe makes for a fantastic cheeseburger pizza...

Leftover Maid-Rite ground beef, onions, cheddar, and gouda cheese - pickles were added after baking
Got to have a little mustard with your cheeseburger (pizza)...
That is all.  The weekend is off to a good start! :) 

Happy Friday to all!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #2: Feasting on Asphalt

My next Cookbook Challenge brought me to a book that was a Christmas gift from my folks a few years back (thanks, Mom & Dad!), "Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run."

Road tripping with Alton
"Feasting on Asphalt" was one of my favorite things that the Food Network has ever done.  A few years ago, they did two separate documentaries featuring Alton Brown and his cronies riding motorcycles across the country.  They avoided Interstate travel, purposefully seeking out the "off the beaten path" highways and byways in search of America's road food.  (There was also a "Feasting on Waves" miniseries that followed a similar concept, only using boats in the Caribbean, although I wasn't as enamored with that - I preferred the road trips in the good 'ol U.S. of A - I'm rambling).  In any case, I wish "Feasting on Asphalt" was a permanent series.

This book accompanied the second documentary where they did a "river run," taking their motorcycles and following the Mississippi River from Louisiana all the way to my home state of Minnesota.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "cookbook," as it is more of a travelogue featuring tales from their road trip.  But there are several recipes scattered throughout, featuring some of their finds and road-inspired cuisine.

The recipe I chose to make was the "loose meat" sandwich, which was really popularized by Maid-Rite.  Think of it as a sauceless sloppy joe meets a crumbled hamburger - seasoned, crumbled ground beef that is steamed and served on a bun.  Because of the association with the franchise, you will often hear the sandwiches generically referred to as "Maid-Rites," and you will also occasionally see them called "taverns." 


"Alton, tell us about Maid-Rites..."

While there are Maid-Rite franchises in a number of states, primarily in the Midwest (including a handful in Minnesota), these loose meat sandwiches are perhaps most well-known in Iowa where the franchise started in 1926.  I have eaten at a Maid-Rite a couple of times before (most recently in 2006 in Iowa).  But I haven't made them for myself, so I thought I would take Alton's recipe for a spin.

"Maid-Rite," complete with pickles, onions, mustard, and some optional cheese
The recipe is ultra simple.  Ground beef is cooked in a skillet with some really finely minced onion.  Yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and salt are your seasonings.  You add a little water to help steam the meat and keep things moist.  While the beef cooks, you pulverize it with a potato masher (the beef in loose meat sandwiches is crumbly to the point of being almost fluffy, so that is the texture you are going for).  Pile it onto a bun and chow down.  Traditional accompaniments include mustard, pickles, and onions, sometimes cheese, and the jury is still out on ketchup (some say yes, while traditionalists may scoff!).

"Maid-Rite" with a side of crinkle-cut fries!
Not exactly haute cuisine.  But hey,  it's road food, so what do you expect?  It tastes just like a crumbly burger.  The mustard adds a nice tangy element, and the Worcestershire boosts the beefy flavor of the sandwich.  I would recommend adding the cheeses, pickles, onions, and some extra mustard.  The sandwich would seem rather one-dimensional otherwise.  All things considered, I would probably prefer a burger; but the flavor is really good.  It is an interesting regional sandwich with a unique history.  And it is very quick and easy to make, so you can easily cook this up in a flash on a weeknight for a fast meal.

"Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run" is a fun book, filled with great stories of history, people, places, and the food Brown and crew encountered on their journey.  Truly, it makes you want to hit the open road yourself to seek out your own pieces of Americana.  It is also fun to see familiar local landmarks featured in the book.  I might have to make the "Swing Omelette" next...   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spring around the corner?

After a snowstorm last week, the weather has made an about-face.  Today, I had the sunroof open on my drive home, and the run was amazing.  54 degrees!  Very nice.

Yours truly on today's beautiful run (no pictured: my pasty white legs!)
One of the things that happened after the snowstorm was that I quickly found out which trails are plowed and which are not.  As it turned out, I had to find some new routes because I couldn't get to the park!

Thankfully, I have plenty of options.  I found a nice alternative route just to my east that takes me past some lakes, swamps, and parks, and through a quiet residential area.  Surprisingly hilly also, so this will serve as a good place to go for some hill workouts. 

Today's run was gorgeous, but incredibly sloppy.  Lots of large puddles, slush - unbelievable how much snow melted.

It feels like we made it through the winter relatively unscathed in terms of snowstorms.  Especially compared to last year.  Days like this really have me looking forward to spring.  Here is hoping it is around the corner.  I rather enjoyed running in shorts today!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Snap, Crackle, Pop

I have it on good authority that this Rice Krispie bar recipe is amazing.  At least, they were a huge hit with my coworkers.

Chocolate-Butterscotch Rice Krispie Bars
I followed the recipe exactly, using the prescribed semi-sweet and butterscotch chips to stir into the Rice Krispies and marshmallow mixture.  My only deviation was to the topping; instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips, I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips to melt together with the butterscotch chips.  Loved the darker chocolate-butterscotch combo.  Delicious, and incredibly easy to make.

Anyhow, just a quick post to share a tasty recipe.  There will be some actual running content soon.  Tomorrow is supposed to be 52 degrees, so I will be breaking out the running shorts!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #1: Patricia Wells At Home In Provence

For my first Cookbook Challenge, I selected Patricia Wells At Home In Provence.  This is a good one to start with, as I really enjoy her writing and have four of her books.  And, she is a runner who contributes recipes to Runner's World magazine, so it only made sense. :)

Because I am French!
My favorite cookbooks are those which have plenty of stories to accompany the recipes.  Wells' book does not disappoint in this area.  The book contains a collection of stories from her 18th century Provençal farmhouse named "Chanteduc" (which means "song of the owl").  Stories about the house itself, life in Provence, various purveyors, their vineyard (where they make Clos Chanteduc, a very tasty, rustic Côtes du Rhône that I have tried), and plenty of pretty pictures, too.  This cookbooks is completely charming and a pleasure to thumb through.

Of course, there are also delicious looking French country/Mediterranean recipes.  Most of the recipes are very approachable, and they don't have a large number of ingredients.  With a few exceptions (such as Guinea hen), you should be able to find most of the ingredients quite easily.  We are talking simple, but good French country cooking here.

Wells includes an entire chapter of pasta recipes in her book, which might seem surprising for a French cookbook.  But as she points out, "Where would the Mediterranean palate be without pasta?"  Fair enough!       

I chose to make her recipe for Fusilli with Sausage, Fennel, & Red Wine (the recipe from the book is this same as this one on the Food & Wine website, although it is named differently).  She noted this is a hearty dish for cold weather.  Today the wind chill was 12 degrees, so it seemed like the perfect choice!

Fusilli with Sausage, Fennel, & Red Wine
You have pork sausage with an added boost of extra fennel seeds.  Red wine, a little tomato paste, egg, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese all add flavor and body to the sauce.  Everything is tossed with fusilli pasta.  There is nothing not to like here.

The key to this dish is using really good sausage - which I did, my homemade spicy Italian.  If you don't have homemade, Wells advises tracking down the best you can find.

Everything comes together very quickly, there is nothing complicated about the recipe, and with just a few ingredients, it would be easy to throw this together on a weeknight. 

While not the most colorful dish, it makes up for that by being really delicious.  The sauce is rich and "winey" (if that's a word) with some nice acidity and sweetness, and it sort of glazes the pasta.  Bits of sausage get collected by the curls in the fusilli, and the fennel adds that signature licorice/ainse flavor that works so well with sausage.  Good stuff, quite filling and warming, and definitely recommended.

A very nice book, and a tasty and easy pasta recipe to add to my repertoire.  I am also looking forward to trying some of the other recipes (especially those that are a little more French) and enjoying the cuisine from Patricia's beautiful farmhouse.     

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Circle The Wagen

SNOOOOOOOW!

February 29th snowstorm!
We finally got a snowstorm this season.  On "Leap Day," even.  Looks like March 1st got screwed out of the opportunity to go "in like a lion," as they say! 

The west metro got somewhere between 4 to 6 inches of wet, sloppy, heavy snow.  Naturally, not much was plowed at the time I headed to work, and the roads were in terrible shape.  However, my drive was made better by the fact that I now have all-wheel drive.

My VW Tiguan (a.k.a, the "Little Beast") performed flawlessly.  It is great being able to pull away from a slushy intersection and pull through rutted up, snow-packed roads with ease.  All-wheel drive = greatest invention ever.  Love my Tiguan.

It is little secret that I am a VW aficionado.  My family has owned countless VW's over the years.  My Dad's first car was a '57 Beetle (with a gas heater and the classic oval rear window - sweet!).  We've had the Type 3's (both the Fastback and the Squareback), Super Beetle, Rabbit, Scirocco, the aforementioned Tiguan, an ultra cool Corrado, more Jettas than I can keep track of (I've had four myself), and even an awesome little red '90 Fox 2-door (which was officially my "first" VW).

Yours truly with the Fox!
Why the VW talk?  Well, I couldn't talk about running because I took the day off due to the snowstorm. :)  Also, this fun story recently came across my desk.

I learned about these gentlemen putting together a documentary called "Circle The Wagen."  It chronicles their trying to drive an old beater '72 VW bus from Tulsa to L.A. down Route 66.  Of course, there were numerous breakdowns and issues, but what they learned was that there was this sort of "underground" network of nice VW enthusiasts willing to help them during their journey.


   

They were raising funds to help with post-production costs.  Being a fan of old VW's, I felt compelled to contribute to their cause, and they surpassed their fundraising goal.  Thanks to the folks at the VW Facebook page for bringing attention to this so the story can be told!

Learning about this documentary, I couldn't help but think of one of our more memorable VW adventures as a family. 

It was Christmas of 1982, and we were headed to my grandparents' house.  We took the '82 Rabbit Diesel, as it was the new car at the time.  The weather was bitter cold and well below zero.  Some of you might not know this, but at really cold temperatures, diesel fuel starts to gel.  About 20 miles into our journey, we had to turn around and head home, slowly sputtering as the fuel was solidifying.

The '82 Rabbit Diesel (left), and a very sweet '86 Wolfsburg Edition Jetta GLI (right)
Our only other transportation option was the '74 gold Super Beetle - with a heater that didn't work all that well!  The four of us piled into Goldbug, bundled from head to toe in snow boots, stocking caps, mittens, even blankets, and made the four hour drive down to our grandparents' house.

"Goldbug" - the '74 Super Beetle!
The Super Beetle actually had a little analog temperature gauge on the dashboard (recording the temp inside the car).  I don't recall seeing that go above anything in the low 30's. 

What was even more strange was the fact that wherever we stopped, nobody had heat.  It was uncanny.

We pulled into a McDonald's for lunch thinking we could at least warm up over our meal.  Their furnace wasn't working, so it was freezing cold in the restaurant.  We ate our burgers and fries with all of our winter gear on!

Later, we stopped at a gas station and went inside to warm up (leaving Dad outside to fill up the Goldbug, where his glasses froze to the bridge of his nose!).  It was freezing cold in there, too.  They had a small kerosene heater sitting in the station - but they had turned it off because, earlier in the day, a customer had backed into it and started he coat on fire!

Good grief.  Needless to say, we couldn't get to our Christmas destination fast enough.  We look back on that trip now and laugh. 

Not long after, Dad invented a small heating coil that wrapped around the fuel filter for the Rabbit Diesel, and the car never gelled up in the winter again.  Believe it or not, that little car transported our family from Minnesota to Florida and back on three separate occasions for family vacations.  It had something like 165,000 miles on it when we got rid of it.  Word has is the next owner put at least those kind of miles on it, and then some.  For all I know, it could still be running.  A great car.

The Super Beetle served us well, too.  Oh, another funny thing that happened with the Goldbug; Mom once drove all the way home from the grocery store with a 12-pack of pop on the front bumper.  The trunk was located in the front, and the pop didn't quite make it in there with the rest of the groceries. :)  Good stuff.  I remember that car was eventually sold to a kid in a neighboring town who paid for it with a combination of cash and a couple cords of firewood (oh, the kind of bartering that goes on in northern Minnesota!).

Anyhow, I have digressed long enough.  It was just that seeing the clip for "Circle The Wagen" brought back lots of memories of the various "Wagens" in my life.  Fun, distinctive little vehicles.  I look forward to seeing this movie finished.  It would be fun to have one of those classic VW's again.

You know, I do have an extra garage space now.  Hmmmmm...

 

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