Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fun with Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are awesome.  I've enjoyed them for years, and (much like kale) it seems the sprouts have recently become trendy.  Case in point, the latest Bon Appetit had a recipe for Brussels Sprouts and Steak Stir-Fry.

I wasn't entirely sure that Brussels sprouts would work in an Asian stir-fry dish, but they are great.  I should have known.  I frequently use Napa cabbage in my stir-fries, so why wouldn't these mini-cabbages work?  They get tender in the cooking process, but they hold up very well to the high heat cooking.  Their flavor compliments the other ingredients nicely.

The recipe is very heavy on the vegetables with lots of sprouts and carrots.  A little bit of flank steak will please those who crave meat.  Fresno chile adds a touch of heat, ginger, garlic, and scallions provide your classic stir-fry aromatics, and an oyster sauce and soy-based sauce mixture rounds everything out with a salty richness.

Brussels Sprouts and Steak Stir-Fry
My only variations to the recipe included the addition of sugar and chile-garlic sauce to the sauce mixture.  I thought the sauce could use some sweetness for balance.  And let's be honest - the Fresno chile is pretty mild in the grand scheme of things, and I do like some extra heat in my stir-fries!  But overall, this is a very successful dish.

Highly recommended for long-time lovers of Brussels sprouts - as well as those who are riding the Brussels sprouts bandwagon. ;-)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Recent runs, recent pizzas

Dare I say our weather is taking a turn for the better? 

We got perhaps 4 inches of snow on Friday.  However, the temperatures over the weekend have been in the low 30's.  Icicles are hanging off of my eaves, and there is a whole lot of melting going on.

I got in 16 miles yesterday, and another 5 today.  Running was slightly challenging, as the guys who plow the streets and the guys who plow the sidewalks are never on the same page.  The sidewalk plow guys have done a nice job getting after it right after a snow.  However, the street plow guys always make additional passes and undo all the good work the sidewalk guys have done!  It's an eternal struggle.

The runs were tough, but good.  I continue to see little signs that spring is closer.  Yesterday the red-bellied woodpeckers started chirping with their familiar "kwirrrrr!"  It was the first time I heard their call this season, and they were doing it everywhere I went.  That, coupled with the sounds of the jubilant cardinals, chickadees, blue jays, and even the cackling wild turkeys, gives us all hope.

Speaking of hope...

I haven't made pizza in quite some time, so I needed to change that.  I made a couple this week.  My 13 year-old sourdough starter, "Hope," is alive, well, and quite feisty.  And my sourdough pizza recipe continues to produce some tasty pies.

This pizza I made on Tuesday, topped with Calabrese salami and crimini mushrooms.

Pizza, pizza!
And here is Friday's pizza, also with Calabrese salami, but I added artichoke hearts and Beldi olives as well.

Tasty stuff
The first pizza was really good, but the second pizza even better.  Love the addition of some briny ingredients like the olives and the artichoke hearts.  

It was nice to have pizza on the menu again.  It was also a reminder that I need to get back into a more regular pizza making schedule!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Signs of spring?

The was the view behind my office on Valentine's Day:

Walking in a Winter Wonderland
What a lovely scene!  The snow was fairly wet and clingy, and it managed to look this way for much of the day before the wind knocked it down.  Absolutely gorgeous. 

In spite of the snow, I am noticing some signs of spring.

While on some recent runs, I heard the cardinals and chickadees singing their "spring songs."  Also, the downy woodpeckers were doing their drumming.  That is the first time this season I have heard this.  And during an early evening run, a pair of trumpeter swans flew over my head.

Stuff is happening.  These are all good signs.

Of course, as I type this, the predicted low temperature tonight is supposed to get down to -2 F.  But whatever.  We are going to get there!  Eventually.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Split pea soup variant

Split pea is one of my favorite soups on earth.  When I saw this recipe for Grandma Zimmern's Tailgating Pot of Love, I had to try it.

Of course, this recipe comes from Chef Andrew Zimmern, who lives here in the Twin Cities and has made quite a name for himself as a food writer and TV personality.  This soup is a variation on classic split pea soup, only it includes such interesting ingredients as kielbasa, caraway, fennel, and escarole.

I was a week late for the big football game, but Zimmern said he brings this to most tailgate parties he attends.  I figured this would also serve as perfect fare for a snowy Sunday that featured a winter storm!

I ended up scaling down the recipe since this makes a lot of soup.  For the most part, I cut the ingredients by a third.  (So, two total cups of split peas, 8 cups of liquid, etc.)

Green and yellow split peas - colorful!
Also, I changed a couple of things.  I made a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, celery leaves, and bay leaves to add to the pot.  Perfect flavors for this soup.  Also, instead of using all chicken stock, I added a bottle of brown ale, taking a page from my split pea soup recipe.  For those keeping score at home, that's 6 1/2 cups of chicken stock and a cup and a half of beer. (I used Third Street Brewhouse's "Lost Trout" brown ale - a very nice local beer)

Prepping the ingredients
Otherwise, I followed the recipe as written, and an awesome recipe it is.  Here is the finished product, all plated up: 

Grandma Zimmern's Tailgating Pot of Love
Loved the kielbasa in here.  You could even do without it and you would have a great soup, but the smoky, garlic-laced sausage is really tasty.  The caraway adds an interesting savory note, and the escarole and fennel were fun and flavorful veggie additions.  If I do say so myself, the beer was a nice touch as well.  This adds a little bit of malty, tangy flavor to the finished soup.

Also, I highly recommend the suggested condiments of hot sauce and white vinegar.  Hot sauce is something I like in most any soup, and the white vinegar added an acidic lift that plays nicely with the sweetness of the peas.  Give it a try. 

Split pea soup fans will thoroughly enjoy.  And, as I figured, it was a perfect meal for a snowy Sunday in Minnesota...

Winter Storm Warning = perfect soup weather!
Thumbs way up for Grandma Zimmern's "Tailgating Pot of Love!"  Chef Zimmern's recipe is fantastic.  This will be made again.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

In local news

Some fun stuff in the local news this week.  My hometown newspaper did a nice story on my fundraiser for Wild and Free this past fall.

I am thrilled with the article, as the reporter did a very nice job promoting Wild and Free and their efforts.  In 2012, they took in 433 birds and animals, which is pretty incredible for such a small operation.  They do amazing work, so I am really happy to see them get some publicity.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Burrito Bowl

The fast food giant, Chipotle, has a fairly popular menu item known as the "burrito bowl."  Basically, it is intended to be a lower calorie option with all the burrito fillings minus the tortilla (which at Chipotle results in a near 300 calorie savings). 

I've been known to grab this for lunch on occasion, but it is incredibly easy to make an excellent version at home.  Here is what I used to construct mine:

1.  Steamed basmati rice, tossed with a handful of chopped cilantro and the juice of 1 lime

2.  A can of black beans (drained), simmered in a 1/2 c. of chicken stock and a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin

3.  One recipe of braised chicken tacos.  (Trust me, you will want to make this - best taco or burrito filling ever)

4.  Some salsa fresca

5.  Guajillo chile salsa for good measure

6.  Grated cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, shredded lettuce, sliced scallions, and sour cream

Assemble items 1 through 6 in a bowl in that same order, and here is what you get:

Homemade Burrito Bowl
Delicious stuff.  Great colors,  Nice textures.  A very tasty meal!  It's not an exact copy, as Chipotle grills their chicken.  But after you try the chicken thighs braised in an exotic tasting ancho and guajillo chile salsa, you might not miss the grilled version.  It is so good!   I've been subsisting on the leftovers all week.

Of course, the bowl is a nice choice.  But there is nothing stopping any of us from stuffing all of this in a tortilla, either! :) 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cookbook Challenge #35: Young Children's Mix and Fix Cookbook

Time to have some fun with something slightly obscure and geared for kids!  For this Cookbook Challenge, we are breaking out the Young Children's Mix and Fix Cookbook, published by Parents Magazine.

Learn to cook at an early age!
The book is from 1975 and was put together by the editors of Humpty Dumpty Magazine, a kids magazine published by Parents.  I am not sure how it came into my possession.  My brother's name is written on the inside cover.  (Did I steal it?  Does he want it back?  I should check into this!)  Anyhow, it is a collection of 55 kid-friendly recipes, very heavy on the sandwiches, beverages, cookies and snacks, and some easy lunch items.  Simple stuff, a few ingredients, with nothing too dangerous for kids.

Given that the book was written in 1975, there are some hilarious lines that would raise a few eyebrows today.  Some examples:
  • "The next rule is to ask Mother if it is all right for you to use the kitchen."
  • "Several of the recipes in this section involve the use of the stove, broiler or toaster, so be sure your mother is there to give you a hand."
  • "And making your own snacks not only takes a load off Mother's shoulders, but it's fun!"
Yeah, because your Dad is completely incapable of finding his way around the kitchen! :)

In any case, I decided to try the "Pizza Muffins."  These were basically toasted English muffins topped with tomato sauce, a sprinkling of oregano, American and Parmesan cheese, and popped under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

So, with no adult supervision, I whipped up some Pizza Muffins for a quick snack.

So you say you like your Pizza Muffins crispy?
It would figure that, of all the recipes from these Cookbook Challenges, the one I screw up would be from a kids cookbook!  As you can see, the edges got a little crispy and charred.  Pro Tip: things happen quickly under the broiler!

As for the Pizza Muffins, they are about what you would expect - rather pedestrian toasted English muffins with tomato sauce and cheese.  Certainly nothing you would make to impress anyone.  That being said, they weren't awful, either.  They do taste a little pizza-like thanks to the oregano, and who doesn't like melted cheese?

In the end, the Young Children's Mix and Fix Cookbook offers some opportunities for a kid to have fun and learn a few things in the kitchen.  And anything that can get a youngster interested in preparing their own food can only be a good thing.

However, I must say this particular challenge was more than a little humbling for me, and clearly I need to work on my broiling skills.  Perhaps I should have asked Mother for assistance?


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