Saturday, August 25, 2012

The mystery is solved

Quick post - I saw this sign in the supermarket today.  I am happy to report we have solved the mystery of where Colorado peaches come from! ;-)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #22: Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen

Back to the world of celebrity chefs for this week's Cookbook Challenge.  We are cooking from the pages of Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen.

Cook with Tyler!
Florence gained notoriety on the Food Network for shows such as "Food 911" where he would go to people's homes to help rescue them from their culinary emergencies, as well as the host of "How To Boil Water," a long-running Food Network staple geared toward people just learning to cook.  You can currently see him on "Tyler's Ultimate," a show where Florence prepares his "ultimate" interpretation of a specific dish, and also as the host of "The Great Food Truck Race."

I've always kind of enjoyed his shows, and I think Florence has received a lot of unnecessary crap over the years.  Yes, he schlepped for Applebee's, which likely didn't help his status amongst the foodie elitists.  But unlike several of the cast of characters in the current FN lineup, the man is a trained chef and seemingly a good teacher.  There are certainly far more egregious things occurring in food television, so I feel like Tyler should get a pass.  His recipes are really good, too. 

Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen was his first book, published in 2003.  It is a nice collection of comfort foods, party foods, quick dinners, even some fairly sophisticated dishes, like homemade sushi and dim sum.  But he tries to keep it fairly simple, focusing on good ingredients and letting them do the talking. 

The recipe I chose to make is one I have made before.  But I haven't made it in quite some time, and I love it so much!  I made Florence's "Roasted Chicken with Moroccan Spices."  (The recipe here on the Food Network website is basically the same thing.  However the recipe in the book simply serves it as a roast chicken and doesn't go to the lengths of shredding it to serve with couscous and flatbread.)

Spices for toasting and grinding
The exotic Moroccan spice blend that is spread on the bird is an aroma to behold.  Cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, and fennel create a fantastic flavor combination, with a little heat from the cayenne, and some sweetness from the paprika and a little brown sugar.

All in all, it is pretty simple - stuff the chicken with lemon, garlic, and cilantro, coat the outside with a little olive oil and some of the spice mixture, and roast away.

The chicken is out of the oven!
If you like roast chicken and are looking for a new, creative spin, I encourage you to try this.  It is so delicious, and the flavors and aromas are really unique and wonderful.  You can just carve the chicken as you normally would, or you can follow Florence's online version of the recipe and go the apricot couscous and green olive sauce route.

Roasted Chicken with Moroccan Spices
I did something of a combo.  I carved the chicken, but then I also picked up some pita bread, which was stuffed with a curried couscous (the curry powder was Tyler's recipe, too), cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and a yogurt sauce with cucumber and garlic.  Originally I had just intended for the pita pocket to be something of a side dish, but I ended up slicing up pieces of chicken to include in the pita.  Delightful!

Really nice recipe, and a solid cookbook.  Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen offers a little bit of something for everyone, from simple comfort foods to some truly gourmet dishes, and nothing to overly complex for the average home cook.  I say give Tyler a chance! 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Long run, and food trucks

Saturday treated us to a gorgeous day.  A fantastically cool 57 degrees in the morning, and comfortable and sunny throughout the early afternoon.  I have the windows wide open as I type this.  Feels almost fall-like! 

I got in a really nice 17 mile run in the morning, running the trails from my house all the way to Elm Creek Park Reserve and back.  It is so much easier to run when it is cooler, and this is the first day in months where I put on a long sleeved shirt!  A couple of shots from my journey:

Layer of fog over the swamp this morning

Yours truly at Elm Creek Park Reserve, with the Pierre Bottineau house in the background
Wildlife was plentiful today.  I saw a belted kingfisher, a couple of trumpeter swans, wood ducks, green heron, pileated woodpecker, ospreys, eastern wood-pewees, American redstarts, and even an indigo bunting (which I believe is the first one I have seen this year).

Of the mammal world, I saw two deer and seven bunnies, good for a meager 0.41 BPM (the Bunnies Per Mile ratio always decreases somewhat as fall approaches!).

Giant sunflowers are in full bloom, and I noticed the bright pink swamp smartweeds are poking out, so it must be August.  Dare I say some of the trees are starting to show some yellowish colors?

All in all, a very good long run.  And after a long run, one requires sustenance.

While I like where I live, I occasionally find myself jealous of Minneapolis and St. Paul residents because they have access to certain things that I do not.  Namely, food trucks.

The food truck culture seems to be exploding in metropolitan areas around the country, and it seems especially so in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the summer months.  They have numerous choices.  There is even a Twitter handle that gives daily updates on where some of the trucks can be found.

Naturally, the suburbs are too sprawling for food trucks to make a go of it.  They need to be where there is a lot of traffic.  Since they aren't going to come to me, I decided to go to them.

A running buddy recommended I check out The Chef Shack, a highly regarded food truck which appears at the Fulton Farmers Market in Minneapolis on Saturdays.  I am glad I did.

The Chef Shack cooks seasonally with local ingredients whenever possible, so their menu is always changing.  They had a lot of nice looking items today on the chalkboard, such as pulled pork tacos, and something called "hangover hash."  I chose to go with the seared walleye sandwich.  How Minnesotan!

The Chef Shack's seared walleye sandwich
The walleye was moist, flaky, and very fresh, with some crisp lettuce and an incredibly ripe tomato on a crunchy baguette.  The baguette was a good choice of bread to hold all of the ingredients together.  The sandwich was great for the tartar sauce alone.  So tasty!  And that was possibly the biggest caper berry I have ever seen for garnish! 

A delightfully messy sandwich.  I happy strolled around the market, munching on fresh walleye.  I also bought some gorgeous cherry tomatoes from one of the vendors.  A successful outing.

Now if I could just talk a few food trucks into setting up shop in my office parking lot.  Or my driveway.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cooler days, and a couple of new races

The weather has turned positively delightful.  It would seems we are starting to slowly gravitate towards the fall season.  Much cooler days, and the forecast through the weekend is calling for highs in the low to mid 70's.  I like it!
The "fall yellows" - a Giant Sunflower in bloom
Certain signs of a change of season are around us, too.  Most noticeable are the "yellows." I am noticing the goldenrods are blooming quite nicely, and the giant sunflowers along the trails are really starting to get tall.  It is very pretty here right now.

I've got a couple of new races I added to my calendar prior to Surf the Murph in October.

On September 9th, I am running the City of Lakes 25K in Minnespolis.  For some reason, this race has eluded me over the years.  But it has a very long history and was the event that really gave birth to what is now the Twin Cities Marathon.  Mark, my friend that I ran Wobegon with, is running it as well, so the #MNRunnerds will be well represented!

Also, on October 13th, I am partaking in the Autumn Woods Classic 5K at Elm Creek Park in Maple Grove.  I did the 10K here four years ago, but this time I am just doing the 5K with several of my coworkers.  We thought it would be fun to get a group of people from the office to do a little running and bonding, so that should be cool.  I am actually debating running to this race, doing the race, and running home, which would give me a nice 19-20 mile taper run since I will still be training for the Murph, but we will see! :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #21: Moosewood Cookbook

This Cookbook Challenge takes us to a very well-known book focused on healthy cooking.  I broke out my copy of the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen.

Moosewood Cookbook - a pioneering book promoting healthy cooking
This book has been around since 1977.  Katzen was a member of the Moosewood collective, a group that owned the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY.  The book is whimsically hand-lettered and illustrated, and it features an extensive collection of healthy vegetarian recipes.

The copy I have, purchased 20 years ago, was the 15th Anniversary edition which contained several revisions from the original.  It has been a wildly popular cookbook over the years with millions of copies sold.  The New York times cites it as one of the 10 best selling cookbooks of all time, and in 2007 it was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Cookbook Hall of Fame."

There are numerous recipes in a variety of categories - salads, soups, sauces, entrees, desserts - lots of good looking stuff.  For years, Katzen's Basic Stir-Fry Sauce was my go-to sauce for Asian stir-fry dishes.  I found it incredibly versatile and loaded with garlic and ginger goodness.  For this challenge, however, I looked at the very next page and decided to make a recipe that I have never prepared before - the Orange-Ginger Sauce.

The sauce consists of orange juice, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, cayenne, salt, pepper, and corn starch for thickening, along with some optional additions of grated orange peel, honey, sherry, and scallions (I went for the full Monty and included everything).

The sauce, all mixed up
Katzen recommends serving this with stir-fried vegetables, vegetable crepes, or simply on top of some plain rice, fish, or chicken if you so desire.  Because of the ginger and the soy sauce, I thought it might make a nice sauce for a simple orange chicken stir-fry, so that is what I did.

Chicken stir-fry with the Moosewood Orange-Ginger Sauce
The dish turned out really nice!  All I did was stir-fry some diced chicken thighs, red bell pepper, broccoli, and added cashews for a little crunch.  I let the sauce do the rest of the work.  It was a good use of the sauce, which thickened up beautifully.   The orange juice provides both sweetness and some acidity, there is some salt from the soy sauce, a little heat from the cayenne, and the honey rounds it out with additional sweetness.  Fresh garlic and ginger really shine though, infusing the sauce with their pungent and spicy characteristics.  The stir-fry ended up tasting quite similar to a sesame chicken dish that I make from time to time.  I really liked the sauce.  Great flavor!

I encourage you to dig out your copy of the Moosewood Cookbook (judging by the numbers sold over the years, chances are that you, or someone you know, have one!).  There are lots of healthy, natural recipes that look delightful and inspiring, and it is a great addition to any cookbook library.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More shameless self-promotion

A lot has happened here in the past week.

First, something kind of fun - Twin Cities in Motion, the organizers and directors of the Twin Cities Marathon, featured me on their blog.  They selected me for their "20 Questions - Miles of Answers" weekly feature.  I am living proof that they will feature anyone on their blog. :)  But it is fun nonetheless.  

Second, this is even better news - On Friday, August 3rd, I started a fundraiser for Wild and Free.  I had hoped to raise $1000 to help out this wonderful wildlife rehabilitation center by the time I ran my goal race, the Surf the Murph 50K, in late October.  After a little more than a week, we have almost hit the original goal!  As of this writing, we are at $920.  I have been blown away by the response so far and want to thank everyone who has contributed.

Additionally, Wild and Free has promoted me on their Facebook page (Facebookers, please feel free to "Like" their page - lots of great updates and pictures of some of the birds and animals), there is a poster of me at the Garrison Animal Hospital to help bring attention to this project, and they announced my race and fundraising efforts at a Wild and Free wine tasting fundraiser event last week.  I will also soon be appearing on the Wild and Free website, as well as in their September newsletter!

This thing is really taking off.  I am very excited about this, and it will truly benefit an organization that does some pretty amazing work on a minimal budget.  If anyone wishes to contribute to the cause, I have added a widget below that will allow you to help us out if you so desire. 

Thanks for your consideration, and for allowing me to shamelessly promote myself and my project. :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rodizio, and early morning wildlife encounters

Restaurant recap: My folks happened to be in town this week, and I had the pleasure of joining them on their anniversary for dinner.  I let them choose, since they were visiting and I can go anywhere anytime.  They selected a place none of us had been to before - the Rodizio Grill, a relatively new Brazilian steak house here in my town.

Wow, what a treat!  They had all kinds of salads and hot appetizers to start (served buffet style), and then an endless parade of spit-roasted meat on a skewer begins.  Meat carvers come right to your table to slice and server you various cuts of beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and even fish (mahi mahi that night).  And they keep bringing stuff until you say stop.  Our meat carver said he had 17 different options for us that night.  We didn't even come close to trying everything! 

The food was of very high quality, too.  I particularly enjoyed the beef dishes.  The Fraldihna (beef tenderloin) was probably my favorite, followed closely by the Alcatra (whole sirloin).  The Peru Com Bacon (bacon-wrapped turkey breast) was also particularly good.  But there really wasn't anything I didn't like.  And the servers and meat carvers were really fun and knowledgeable, too.  A great dining experience.  Rodizio would be a fantastic place to go with a large group, or for a party.  Looking forward to making a return visit.

After nearly suffering from a case of "acute beef overdose," we wandered over to the Trader Joe's next door so Mom could load up on her "3 Buck Chuck" to take back home. :)

A good husband always carries his wife's "3 Buck Chuck"
So much fun.  Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad, and thanks for a great time! 

On a completely unrelated note, check out the beautiful quilted wall hanging my Mom made for my house.  I had a spot on my wall that was kind of oddly sized, and I didn't really have picture big enough to hang there.  So Mom custom made this to fill that space.  It is gorgeous, and the nature theme matches my other art perfectly.  Thanks, Mom!

Mom does amazing work!
Quick running story: I have been running really early as of late.  This morning, perhaps around 5 AM or so, I was running with my headlamp, as it is now quite dark at this hour since our days are growing shorter.  Out of nowhere, the headlamp catches this object coming at me.  It glances off my chest and brushes my arm.  What the heck?

It was a robin!  I don't know if I woke him from his slumber along the trail and startled him or what, but he ran right into me.  Now, I have had some funny animal encounters while running (such as the squirrel that sat on my shoe), but I have never had a bird collide with me before. 

On some of these early runs, I will admit to still being a little sleepy.  It goes without saying I was certainly wide awake after that! :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Paying it forward, and fun in the kitchen

First of all, a shameless self-promotion:

As you know from my earlier post, I am running the Surf the Murph 50K in late October.  I also decided I wanted to do this as a fundraiser.

The benefactor of my race is Wild and Free, a wildlife rehabilitation center located in Garrison, MN.  I set a modest goal of raising $1000.  To my astonishment, we are almost 3/4ths of the way there after only a few days!  Very exciting.  If you love birds and animals like I do and feel compelled to help in some small way, please check out my fundraiser website.  There you can learn more about my mission, as well as the fine work of this extraordinary organization.  

OK, the shameless self-promotion is out of the way!  In cooking news, I had a little fun in the kitchen over the weekend. 

Saturday I made Thai basil chicken stir-fry.  I even found real Thai basil, which has a slight anise flavor and tastes somewhat stronger than regular sweet basil.  It was exceptional.  And, I found some "forbidden" Thai black rice to serve with it.  I don't believe this kind of rice is typically served with a stir-fry, but it is delicious, and you have to admit, darn pretty.

Thai Basil Chicken with Forbidden Thai Black Rice
Sunday I made some slow-cooked pulled pork.  And then I had some fun with the waffle iron.  You've heard of chicken & waffles?  Well, why not pulled pork and waffles?

These weren't just any old waffles, either.  I made a favorite sourdough waffle recipe, only I added some fresh sweet corn kernels and chopped fresh thyme to give it some sweet and savory notes.  The waffles were outstanding.  They tasted kind of like a waffled corn fritter, if that makes sense.  Totally yummy!  Add some pulled pork slathered in BBQ sauce and some fresh cole slaw, and you've got yourself a mighty fine sandwich.

Waffle time!
So that's what has been going on here.  That, and I have greatly enjoyed some cooler morning runs in the 50's and 60's as of late.  This will make for some much more hospitable training as my mileage ramps up for Surf the Murph!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #20: Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book

In celebration of the 20th Cookbook Challenge, it's time for us to delve into something more obscure!  Digging deep into my cookbook archives, I decided to make a recipe from the Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book.

Cook with Charlie Brown!
Of course, everyone knows the comic strip, Peanuts.  I've always loved Charlie Brown and the gang.  Longtime readers know I had the opportunity to play Charlie Brown himself in my high school's productions of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy! The Musical."  I even wrote an angry letter to a local TV station in 2006 when they preempted "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" to broadcast a political debate between some candidates for the House of Representatives.  What can I say?  I'm a loyal fan.  It would only make sense that I have a cookbook featuring this great cartoon.

Yours truly as Charlie Brown, circa 1985...
...and the shirt that my Aunt knitted for me still fits!
The book was originally published in 1970 by Scholastic Book Services.  It is very small, almost a pamphlet.  I procured it in elementary school from one of those "weekly reader" book programs.  The recipes in the book are sandwich-heavy - things that you would obviously pack in your lunch bag.

And good grief, Charlie Brown!  It even contains a couple of ambitious recipes for a homemade sandwich bread, as well as "Miss Othmar's Mayonnaise!" (who knew the teacher of Linus could cook?) The book is filled with "Peanuts" comic strips as well, all centered around lunch and food themes. 

Most of the sandwich recipes feature mayonnaise-based chicken/tuna/egg salad type creations, and they offer up several variations as well.  For instance, there are pages featuring delicacies such as "Charlie Brown's Beefy Sandwiches" or "Linus Loves Liverwurst Sandwiches," and they provide you with a few different recipe options for each.

I opted to make one of "Schroeder's Harmonious Ham Sandwiches."  This particular one consisted of buttered brown bread, lettuce, and sliced ham.  Then you take a hard boiled egg and mash it up, and mix in some chopped mustard pickles (cornichons) and a little bit of mayo.  Spread that on the sandwich, and you are good to go.  Basically, it is a ham sandwich with a quick egg salad spread.

Schroeder's Harmonious Ham Sandwich
Of course, food from a kids cookbook is not exactly haute cuisine.  But you know, it was a decent sandwich!  Nothing fancy, for certain, but definitely tasty.  I used good Boar's Head rosemary ham, so the quality of the meat was excellent.  Crisp, cool lettuce, a little egg salad with some texture and a mustard bite from the cornichons - very nice.  The sandwich could have perhaps used additional mustard, as well as a slice of ripe tomato.  Still, it tasted good, and I would make it again. 

The Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book is more of a nostalgia piece for me than it is an actual cooking reference manual.  But it managed to produce a sandwich that would make for a nice inclusion in any lunch bag.  As Snoopy would have said in "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" - "Not bad, not bad at all."


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