Saturday, June 30, 2012

Don't Be That Awkward Runner

This made me laugh.  I think I most resemble the "flightless bird."  Sorry... :)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #15: Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook

This time on the Cookbook Challenge, we head to France.  My latest culinary adventure had me cooking from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook.

Bourdain cooks!
Bourdain is, of course, the author of the popular memoir Kitchen Confidential.  In the last decade, he has become a true celebrity in the foodie world, currently the host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel (but not for long - he is soon to be moving to a new show on CNN). 

I first became familiar with him on the Food Network series, "A Cook's Tour."  This short lived series really laid the groundwork for the "No Reservations" format - a New York chef roaming the globe to experience new places, people, and the local cuisine.


              An excerpt from the infamous French Laundry episode of "A Cook's Tour"

Bourdain's acerbic and brutally honest personality is either one of his most endearing qualities or a huge turnoff, depending on your point of view.  He certainly has his opinions and pulls no punches, frequently skewering the Food Network personalities, as well as the James Beard Foundation.  It makes for very compelling writing and television.      

Les Halles is the restaurant in New York where Bourdain was working when his star began to rise, serving nothing but French brasserie fare.  The book is filled with recipes from the restaurant.  Very classic recipes - coq au vin, rillettes, cassoulet, pot au feu, choucroute garni - we are talking old school French, baby. 

The book is written in a typical brash Bourdain style, including a fair amount of profanity.  Smart-aleck phrases such as "Your fries, on the other hand, very likely suck," and "Don't get that dried trash (rosemary) anywhere near my bird!" appear in the recipes, which makes for entertaining reading.  At times, it feels like Bourdain himself is standing over you, coaching you in his own cantankerous way. 

That being said, he does a good job of directing you through the recipes and techniques needed to pull off the dishes.  Steps are clearly laid out, and the recipes look and sound delicious.  And what I thought was cool was that all of the pictures of the food in the book were dishes that were eaten.  There was no "food stylist" involved - they were cooking for real people during the photo shoots.  Good stuff.  

My favorite recipe from the book is the Boeuf Bourgignon.  It is a simple and absolutely delicious beef stew.  However, as it is currently summer, I opted to cook something slightly less winter comfort food oriented.  I made the Cote de Porc a la Charcutiere.

Sounds fancy, right?  Hardly.  It is basically a seared, roasted pork chop with a pan sauce consisting of chicken stock, wine, and mustard, garnished with a little parsley and some chopped cornichon pickles.

Les Halles' Cote de Porc a la Charcutiere
Great dish!  A big, juicy pork chop, nicely seared, bathed in sauce with a wine and mustard kick - delicious.  The cornichons add a briny and sour bite that is kind of a nice contrast.  Very easy meal to make, and very quick to throw together.  A winner, for sure.  The side dishes of roasted new potatoes and roasted baby beets were a nice accompaniment, thanks to my local farmer's market.

I like this book a lot and would definitely recommended it as resource for some classic French brasserie recipes.  It is funny, educational, and written unlike any other cookbook I have ever seen  Several fine meals  have produced in my kitchen under the instruction of Chef Bourdain.  Even if you do have to cover your ears from time to time.   

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Grandma's Double

One of my friends that I follow on Twitter, Eric Strand, is training for the Leadville 100.  He is doing it to raise money for the Life & Hope Fund.  You can check out his website site here.

Eric recently ran Grandma's Marathon - twice.  In order to get his needed distance for training, he got up early and ran from the Grandma's finish line to the start, and then he ran the race.  He shot some video during the course of his journey, which I found pretty inspiring:



Go Eric!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Revived race

I'm still here...I've just been very busy and slightly uninspired to write.

I wanted to correct something, however.  I had previously reported that I thought the Stillwater Lumberjack Days 10 Miler was a dead race.  Apparently it is not.
  
It's back!
My Mom pointed out an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  The Lumberjack Days 10 Miler is back as the Stillwater Log Run.  $40 for a 10 miler race might be enough to keep me away (which is unfortnate - good grief, my marathon in May cost only $45), but I just wanted to correct the error.

I'll be back when I have something more to say! :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #14: The Naked Chef

This time for our  Cookbook Challenge, we take a look at what was the very beginning of a celebrity chef empire - The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver.

A very young Jamie Oliver
Oliver is a very well known celebrity chef and food personality, and, as it turns out, a cookbook writing machine.  A quick search at Amazon showed the British chef has least ten books to his name.  I was almost surprised to see that I own four of them! 

The Naked Chef was his first (published in...good grief, 2000?  It doesn't seem like he has been around that long!), years before he started taking on the school lunch systems.  There was an accompanying series on the Food Network that shared the same title, but Oliver appears to have ditched the "Naked Chef" moniker in recent years.  The essence of the book is "stripping down food back to the bare essentials," he says.  He seems to have the goal of demystifying dishes, making food fun, and also encouraging you to use your imagination.

Soups, salads, delicious looking homemade pastas, fish, meats, veggies, breads and desserts - Oliver has a number of nice looking recipes in this collection.  The instructions to the recipes are written in an almost narrative style using very colloquial language and occasional British slang.  There is often some leeway given to the amounts called for (example: "handful" of herbs isn't a standard form of measurement), thereby encouraging creativity, which I can appreciate.   

The recipe I chose to make was "My Perfect Roast Chicken" (recipe found here).  It is pretty much your basic roast chicken recipe with typical herbs and flavorings except for the unusual step of slashing the dark meat with a knife prior to cooking.  According to Oliver, his idea of perfect roast chicken involved moist breast meat, crispy skin, and overcooked thigh meat (huh?).  The slashing enables for faster cooking of the dark meat in order to achieve this objective.

Related side note: This clip featured below is one of the best (and most entertaining and humorous) instructional video I have ever seen showing the easiest way to truss a chicken.  Brian Polcyn is one of the co-authors of the excellent book, Charcuterie.  The other co-author, Michael Ruhlman, is running the camera.  Anyhow, I always use this method, and I also always remember who is the boss of this chicken...    



So I followed Oliver's instructions, slashing as directed, trussed the bird, and threw it in the oven.  Here is what it looked like after roasting.

Out of the oven
A very nice roast chicken recipe.  Everything was delicately flavored with lemon and the mixed herbs.  As promised, the breast meat was indeed moist, the skin crispy, and the dark meat a little overdone.

But I see what he means by liking the overcooked legs and thighs.  The dark meat gets a little stringy, but it never really dries out.  Kind of good in a sticky and lip-smacking sort of way.  Not sure if I am going to do this to my roast chicken from now on, but it was tasty. 

Jamie's Perfect Roast Chicken, plated up
The Naked Chef is a nice book, and a pretty ambitious one considering Oliver was 24 at the time he wrote it.  There are some attractive recipes (a particularly large number of homemade pasta recipes, too - Oliver spends a lot of time talking about this and really encourages people to try making homemade pasta), and he breaks them down in such a way that really anyone can pull them off.

People either seem to love or hate Oliver.  He is a wealthy, mega huge celebrity chef, has come off as somewhat "activisty" in recent years, and gave all of his children unfortunate names.  In general, I think his heart is in the right place when it comes to cooking.  And The Naked Chef is an example of that, trying to get real people cooking real food.  And it is hard to argue against that.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lake Waconia Half Marathon

Today I found myself in the beautiful town of Waconia for the inaugural Lola's Lake Waconia Half Marathon.

One of the things about Minnesota - yes, we have brutal winters.  But we can also have really hot summers.  Today was one of those hot summer days.  Already in the mid 70's at race start time?  Just great.  This was going to be rough.

It was a pretty good turnout for a first year race.  They based it at the town square park, a really lovely setting.  In addition to the half marathon, there was also a 5K, and even a "Purina Pro Plan Dog Day 5K Run & Walk" for dogs and their owners, complete with a dog performance team that did a show with all kinds of tricks before the race.  As you can imagine, there was a good canine turnout as well.  Lots of cute dogs!

The course wound its way though town and then headed out of town for a counterclockwise loop around Lake Waconia.  Lots of rolling hills, and very little shade, but a pretty course for certain.

My race was pretty good for the first 2/3rds or so, but then the heat really started to take its toll.  At mile 11 when an ambulance roared by with lights blazing, that served as a reminder to shut it down.  I dialed it way back and pretty much loafed to the finish in 2:02 something.  My slowest half marathon ever.  But I don't care, it just isn't worth it.

Back at the finish, I heard another runner say, "Ambulances were picking up people left and right."  I don't know what that means, and I can't substantiate the claim, but apparently more than one person needed medical attention.  Ick.  I hope everyone is OK. 

The organizers did a pretty good job for this being the first year of the race.  Very nice technical shirt and medal, organized packet pickup, pretty course, and some good food at the post race party at Lola's (my bratwurst was delicious).

I would like to see an earlier start time than 8 AM for a summer race, and a couple more aid stations would have been good, but that is just me complaining about the weather.  Overall, it was pretty seamless for a first event.

That being said, I really think I am going to retire from summer races.  I would much rather run in the cold, crappy weather of spring and fall than do this again.  It was 84 degrees when I left Waconia.  That's just no fun, and it is borderline dangerous, so I need to seriously think this over.  But, they do have the makings of a nice race in Waconia.

A few photos from today:

WWI Memorial in the Waconia city park
Downtown Waconia
Lake Waconia on a sweltering summer day
Race crowd gathering

Nice shirt and medal
Yours truly, post race - finished!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #13: Giada's Family Dinners

I know, I recently made something from Giada's Everyday Italian for one of my Cookbook Challenges.  You'll have to forgive me for going to Giada's Family Dinners so soon after.  

More from Giada...
What can I say?  I had a hankering for something Italian, and I didn't want to spend all day in the kitchen.  Giada's recipes usually fit the bill that way.

Giada's Family Dinners is her second book, this one geared towards family-style meals.  It is filled with delicious, easy, and accessible food.  Soups, salads, entrees, pasta, grilled items, recipes and menu suggestions for family get-togethers - she covers a broad range of Italian-inspired family dinners.

As an aside, one of my favorites from the book is her lasagna rolls.  Try it, you won't regret it.  But this time, I wanted to make something different and not quite as involved.

The recipe I chose was her Penne with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-dried Tomatoes.  I had some excellent Italian sausage in my freezer from Old World Meats in Duluth, along with the penne, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, artichokes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano in the house.  All I really needed to buy was parsley and basil, so this seemed like a no-brainer. 

The Food Network has an online copy of what is essentially the same recipe, only they call for fusilli instead of penne. (Once again, the Food Network likes to tweaks these recipes from what was originally written)  While I like the idea of using fusilli, I stuck with penne simply to follow the recipe in the book.

Really, this is quite a simple dish.  Brown the sausage (Giada cleverly uses some reserved oil from the sun-dried tomatoes while browning the sausage to impart additional flavor), saute the artichokes with some garlic, return the sausage to the skillet, and add the chicken broth, wine, and sun-dried tomatoes, allowing the mixture to cook down.  Add the cooked penne, basil, parsley, and Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss until most of the sauce is absorbed.  It is quick and easy.

(Note: Giada's recipe gives you the option of throwing some cubes of fresh mozzarella in at the end.  I did not do that, as I was trying to keep it lighter, but that does sound mighty good!)

Giada's Penne with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-dried Tomatoes
Awesome!  What a flavorful pasta dish.  The Old World Italian sausage is great in its own right.  Sun-dried tomatoes add an intense tomato brightness, artichokes some texture and briny flavor, there is freshness from the herbs, and the cheese tightens up the sauce.  Truly delicious.  And the leftovers have been fantastic for my lunches this week. 

And, while the penne is good,  I will bet the fusilli that is called for in the online recipe would work even better.  Just imagine all those tasty bits of sausage, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes getting tangled up in the curly pasta!  I will have to try that next time.

Another nice book from Giada with solid recipes designed to feed your family some nourishing, easy-to-make Italian fare.  I like it.  Please try this recipe.  And the lasagna rolls while you are at it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hot & Spicy Chicken

There is a dish that I always get from a local Chinese take-out place that is simply called "Hot & Spicy Chicken."  It is a simple stir-fry of chicken, onions, and scallions in a spicy brown sauce.  Sweet with a little heat and a beguiling, floral aroma, it is unlike any stir-fry I have had.  

The funny thing is that I have no idea of the origins of the dish.  In fact, I have seen remarkably similar versions in Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants, further adding to the confusion.

Because most of the menus really offered no description beyond "Hot & Spicy Chicken" with the sinister asterisk indicating it was a spicy dish, it took me the longest time to figure out what was in this.   Then one day I went to a new Thai restaurant and saw it on the menu.  This menu actually expounded upon the dish, revealing that the mystery ingredient was lemongrass.  Of course, that explains the unique floral aroma - lemongrass!   Now I had something to work with.

So, we have chicken, onions, and scallions.  Along with the lemongrass, I added some garlic and ginger for good measure, along with a healthy dose of crushed red pepper.  

One of the hallmarks of the dish is a brown sauce that coats the chicken and onions.  This is not really what you would call a "saucy" dish.  Rather, the sauce just sort of glazes everything with sweet, floral, spicy, salty goodness. I have been playing with this for a little while now and came up with something that is close.

I concocted a mixture that starts with some regular dark soy sauce and fish sauce.  Sweet soy sauce (known as kecap manis, a thick, molasses-like soy sauce) and oyster sauce are added for more flavor, some sweetness, a briny saltiness, and body.  Chile-garlic sauce brings some heat to the party.  Wine adds acidity, and sugar gives us sweetness.  OK, now we are getting somewhere. 

I am not saying this is exactly like the dish I get at my take-out place.  But it is really close, and it tasted good.  And, it was worthy of documenting the recipe so I remember what I did. :)   

Hot & Spicy Chicken


Sauce:

-2 T. dark soy sauce

-1 T. fish sauce
-1 T. sweet soy sauce (a.k.a., kecap manis)
-1 T oyster sauce
-1 T. chile-garlic sauce
-2 T. white wine
-2 tsp. sugar



Stir-Fry Ingredients:

-Oil for stir-frying
-1 lb. chicken thighs, diced 
-1 T. fresh lemongrass, finely minced
-1 T. fresh ginger, grated

-1 Fresno or red jalapeno chile, seeded and minced (optional)
-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (more or less if desired)
-1 medium yellow onion, sliced
-4 scallions, sliced

-Rice for serving

Mix the sauce ingredients together, set aside.

Add the diced chicken to a bowl and mix in the lemongrass, ginger, Fresno chile (if using), garlic, and crushed red pepper.  Stir well to coat the chicken.

In a large skillet or a wok over medium-high heat, add a little oil.  Stir-fry the chicken until brown and no longer pink (do this in batches if necessary).  Transfer to a bowl.

Add a little more oil to the skillet and stir-fry the yellow onions for a couple minutes, just until they start to soften slightly.  Add the chicken back into the skillet and pour the sauce over the top.

Cook until the sauce thickens up and gets nice and bubbly, coating the chicken and the onions.  Add the scallions and give it a good stir.  Serve immediately over rice.

Makes about 3 to 4 servings.

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