THE GOVERNOR'S GRILLED CHEESE
A couple of weeks ago, I helped throw a gala at the MN Governor's Residence.  We are still enjoying the cheese left over from that party.  I'm always trying to push more veggies into my meals and grilled cheese sandwich is a great way to do it.  Thin slices of cheese glue the chopped or grated veggies in place.  My secret to a great grilled cheese: start with a cold pan, season with salt and pepper, add something acidic (a pickle slice or tomato will do the trick), and keep the heat lowish--no higher than medium, use strong-flavored cheeses meant for melting (you can use less this way).  
  1. Top a slice of bread with thin shavings of cheese.
  2. Top cheese with grated carrots, chopped green onions, and slivers of sweet peppers. Add a couple of pickle slices (spicy peppers are particularly good) and top with more cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.  Top with a second slice of bread.
  3. Butter top slice of bread.  Place buttered side down in COLD skillet.  Tuck the veggies that fell out as your flipped the sandwich into the pan back between the cheese.  Cook over medium heat until well browned.
  4. Butter top of sandwich and flip.  Cook until golden brown.  Cut in half to serve.

SPROUTS FOR THE WINTER AHEAD
It's fun to have a bit of green on the windowsill during the long white winters.  Save the root end of your green onions.  Drop them into a shallow jar of water and set them on the windowsill to sprout new onions.  After the roots are reestablished you can pot them up for an even longer harvest.  Celery works the same way.  Pot up some carrot tops for a cute "pet plant".  It won't grown another carrot, but it will continue to send up greens and eventually flower with Queen Anne's lace type bracts.  Here's a good link for more ideas.
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This is a nifty picture from The Traveling Spoon, a great little food and travel blog by Rachel.
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BASIC STOCK
In restaurants it's easy to collect trimmings in the cooler for stock.  At home it's just as easy, but it takes a little more time.   Homemade stocks are another little bonus prize you  get from cooking from scratch.  Keep a zip bag in the freezer to collect the odds and ends.  In addition to meat trimmings, wash and save roots, stalks, leaves, ends and peelings from your veggies.  When you have enough (about 4 cups), it's time to make stock.  By the way, I like to reduce my stock by about half.  It takes up way less freezer space.  One cube gives a bit flavor punch to basics, like chili.


MY FAVORITE TRIMS
onions, carrots, and celery (the foundation)
leeks, scallions, garlic, parsley and other herb stems (aromatics)
fennel, chard, lettuce, summer squash (herbal and grassy)
potatoes, parsnips, winter squash, corn cobs (sweet and earthy)
bell pepper, green beans, asparagus (vegetal)
tomatoes, citrus peel (acid--use sparingly)
eggpant, mushrooms (umami, meaty)

MEATY MATTERS
chicken wing tips (no one eats these anyway--trim them off and collect in a freezer bag)
chicken backs (I always cut this out along with the tail and into the bag of carnage it goes)
poultry carcasses--post roast or raw
beef bones---mix it up--beefy ribs bones make a great stock with the addition of a bunch of chicken wings
seafood and fish--save shrimp and lobster shells, fish back bones, skins and roly poly heads 

SPICE IT UP
use whole spices to make them easy to strain out later
peppercorns
thyme
bay leaves
parsley 
wee baby garlic cloves too small to do any good otherwise

STOCK CONTROVERSIES: 
POTATOES:  while it's true, potatoes can make your stock cloudy, they also impart an earthy flavor that I really like.
TO ROAST OR NOT:  drizzle stock ingredients--frozen is OK--with a bit of oil and roast in a hot oven until well browned.  You are adding a layer of flavor and a good brown color.  BUT it's not absolutely neccessary.
ONION SKINS:  They can make your stock bitter--on the plus side they can add a lot of color---I don't use them
CABBAGE FAMILY:  These can be very overpowering--I avoid them 
BEETS:  give a good flavor but a decidedly rosy hue to your stock.  Maybe OK for a dark beef stock; decidedly weird for a pale chicken broth.

STEP BY STEP
This is very general--fill that pot up and don't worry about measuring.
  1. Load up your biggest slow cooker with meat (about 4 cups)  and veggie trimmings (about 4 cups)
  2. Add 3 or 4 pepper corns, a sprig of thyme, 2 bay leaves, garlic and a a handful of parsley
  3. Add enough cold water to just barely cover.
  4. Cook on low over night or all day until everything is very tender and meat trimmings are falling apart at the joints.  
  5. strain and chill.
  6. pull off congealed fat (discard or save if useful for cooking--like duck fat)  skim off and discard any scum on top
  7. It should be jelly-like at this point.  Freeze if you like or dump into a pot and boil until further reduced and syrupy.  This saves a ton of freezer space.

You decide how to freeze your stock--in cubes, flat in a freezer bag, or in cup size containers.--It's nice to have a variety--just don't forget to label it--trust me---you WON''T REMEMBER WHAT IT IS in a month.

 
 
I'm helping a friend's family celebrate Rosh Hashanah tonight.  Check back for recipes.

L'Shana Tova!
 
 
 
 
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I've been stressed lately, and feeling more behind than usual.  Wanna see what I've been up to?

  While at the KSTP studios preparing for a TV demo on the basics of canning tomatoes, drama struck.  The heavy granite countertop shifted in the hands of the movers and broke, sending a big, heavy chunk to the floor---smashing it to bits.  the glass cook top clattered into the body of the cabinet.  Guess I'll use hot plates for the demo.  Okey dokey.



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I host our chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association board meetings.  Board member, Chuck Banks, brought me an enormous pineapple tomato.  It weighs 662 grams.  That's nearly a pound and a half.  My kitchen scale is stuck on grams, and I can't figure out how to switch it back to pounds.  I do have a second scale, but the batteries are dead.....  I added the rubber chicken for a sense of scale.

Did you read that scandalous article about refrigerating your tomatoes?  I tried it, and they are correct.  IF you let your tomatoes get fully ripe on the vine or at least on your counter, they can be refrigerated with no loss of flavor or texture.  WOW.

We had lasagna, French bread with cultured butter, a salad, and a big platter of refrigerated sliced tomatoes for dinner.  

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I'm guest chef at a big gala at the MN governor's residence.  I never do things the easy way.  I'm sourcing ingredients all over the place.  Like this beauty from Forest Mushroom in St. Joseph, MN.  It's a 5 lb 4 oz hen or the woods, aka maitake, mushroom.  The owner has a picker who found it in the local woods.  He's sending it to me in St. Paul as I write this.  $500 a plate.....no pressure.  (Actually, the full time chef, Micah, is doing the heavy lifting--I'm only doing one course and the after party food, and sourcing all the ingredients........and a bunch of silent auction donations.......)  Thank you Greg Reynolds or Riverbend Organic Farm, Peterson Produce, Kadejan Chicken, Thousand Hills Cattle Co, Corner Table, Tilia, Stickney Hill Dairy, Alemar cheese, St. Agnes Bakery, .........Sommelier Marcus Hanson and whole bunch of cool wineries owned by Minnesotans.

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Do you like Peet's Coffee?   Good.  Soon their shops will have breakfast sandwiches like these.  I've been helping them figure this out for nearly a year.  

Even so, a girl has to eat.  I've been enjoying the veggies from the box all summer long.  Here is a nice noodle recipe, I think you'll like.

BUCKWHEAT SOBA NOODLES WITH KALE AND MISO DRESSING
This is nice hot or cold and everything in between.  I like how the hot noodles barely poaches the kale.  It's a good side to grilled fish.   Bonus.....buckwheat is gluten free.

1 bunch kale
1 (10 to 11 oz pkg.) buckwheat soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti
3 Tbsp. miso paste
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 to 1 tsp. sambal or other chile paste
2 green onions, sliced
black sesame seeds for garnish
  1. Strip out center rib from kale and discard. Working in batches, stack leaves and roll up like a cigar.  Thinly slice roll crosswise into shreds.  Toss into large serving bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, cook noodles as package directs.
  3. While noodles cook, in a small bowl, stir together miso, sesame oil, soy sauce and sambal.  Stir about 2 Tbsp. boiling water from noodle pot to make a creamy sauce.
  4. Drain noodles and drop onto kale.  Drizzle sauce over all and toss to coat.  Toss in green onions and garnish with toasted black sesame seeds.

Make 6 side dish servings or 4 entrees.
 
 
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Summer Gumbo
Pictureroux for gumbo
The garden box this week was filled with late summer goodness.  So much is obvious, but one....not so much.  Okra.  Okra can be a bit of a stretch for a midwestern girl.  You'll notice when you slice it, it is sticky.  These sticky juices can turn slimy if you don't give it the proper acid balance.  Tomatoes and okra love each other.  Cook them together for a nice little side, or better yet....make some gumbo for supper this week.  We had it tonight and it was GREAT!  

Gumbo is different in a couple of ways.  It is thickened and flavored with a dark roux made of flour cooked in oil and butter.  This deep browning also limits the ability of the starch to thicken the broth, and that's where the okra shines.  That sticky sap melds with the tomato and browned roux to make a perfect stew.

I love to visit little butcher shops in all the small towns around me.  Today I had a meeting at Gale Woods Farm and grabbed a sandwich for lunch at Mackenthun's Meats.  The sandwich was fine, but the andouille sausage I brought home was stellar.  If you can't find smoked or fresh andouille sausage, plain smoked sausage will work just fine.

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Summer Gumbo
 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper
1/4 lb. smoked  andouille sausage, cut into bite sized pieces
3 Tbsp. butter (divided)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chopped sweet pepper, about 1 medium bell or 2 sweet Italian
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery, with leaves
2 cups chopped tomatoes, about 4
2 cups chicken broth (homemade or low sodium)
2 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 cup sliced okra
3 cups hot cooked rice
  1. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add chicken and season with salt and plenty of pepper.  Turn to brown well.  Remove to bowl.  Add sausage and cook a few minutes until browned.  Remove sausage to bowl.
  2. Add 2 Tbsp. butter and flour, stirring to moisten flour.  Cook over medium heat until deep golden brown, the color of peanut butter.  The bottom of the pan will be coated with a brown floury layer--don't worry.  Remove from heat and let stand until bubbling stops, about 3 minutes.
  3. Return to heat and add remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add peppers, onion, garlic and celery.  cook stirring 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and stir until softened.  As the vegetables soften they will scrub the floury layer from the pan.
  4. Add broth, worcestershire sauce, okra and reserved chicken and sausage.  Stir to combine, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occaisionally.
  5. Serve topped with a scoop of hot cooked brown rice, a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley and and few shakes of Tabasco sauce

Makes 6 servings

Tip:  For 3 cups of cooked brown rice, combine 1 cup raw rice with 2 cups cold water and  a pinch of salt in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand another 10 minutes.


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Grilled Eggplant Panzanella Salad
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By the way......when I call for a fat batard, I'm referring to the loaf of bread, not the guy in the kilt......

GRILLED EGGPLANT PANZANELLA SALAD
This nice for lunch or with grilled chicken or steak for a late summer dinner.

8 (1/2-inch thick) slices  peeled eggplant (about 1/2 of one large)
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 (1-inch thick) slices country French or Italian style bread (fat batard or boule shapes)
1 small clove garlic
1 large tomato, coarsley chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 cup coarsely chopped arugula
balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  1. Heat grill or grill pan.  drizzle both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil.  Drop onto grill and cook until tender, turning occasionally, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Place in large serving bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Lightly drizzle bread with olive oil and grill until toasted, turning once.  Cut the garlic clove in half and scrub both sides of the toasted bread with the cut side of the garlic.  Cut toast into cubes and add to bowl.  
  3. Add tomato, basil and arugula; toss well, tearing eggplant into pieces.  Season with salt and pepper, add a drizzle of balsamic (about 1 Tbsp.), and cheese.  Toss again.  Let stand 5 minutes, tomatoes will get juicy and add to the dressing.  toss again and serve.

Makes 4 servings
 
 
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Tender Baby Turnips
These are such a treat.  I washed these tiny jewels with a terry washcloth, trimmed the tops and the tails and split them in half.  I covered them in water and simmered them just until tender.  After I drained them I added a bit of butter and let them bubble and brown a bit before I seasoned them with salt and pepper.  Simple and lovely.  

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Evicting Hitchhikers on Your Broccoli
Cute little green worms tucked into your organic broccoli is good sign.  Who wants to eat something that the bugs don't even want?!  Simply pull the broccoli into florets and soak them in cold salt water for about 10 minutes before cooking.  Lift out the broccoli and you'll see the worms have let go.  

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If you happen to have a good meat shop like Rieder's in Delano or Clancey's.  Chances are good that you can get some fine house cured dried beef.  Sometimes smoked but always salty and delicious it rivals its fine cured Italian cousin, braesaola.  A bit of dried beef draped across a slice of melon is a luscious treat. 

 
 
The first summer melon will probably be gobbled up as it is.  I remember a chef asking Greg his favorite way to eat melon and he said with his pocket knife.  When you feel like switching your melon up a bit, try this.  Add a few slivers of melon to your next green salad or enjoy a diced savory melon and cucumber salad on the side of your next grilled steak.  Garnish with a little chopped cilantro and mint.


Thai Dressing for Melon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Mix all ingredients in a small jar.  Drizzle by spoonfuls over salad.
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IT'S TIME FOR RATATOUILLE
If you haven't seen this movie, you should.  After watching this with my son when he was little, I made him ratatouille.  He still loves it---who knew I'd get all sentimental over eggplant stew, but I do.  I love to make a big batch.  We eat it hot on pasta or cold in sandwiches.   (By the way....Both kids asked me to make Puttanesca sauce after reading Lemony Snicket and that's how they came to love anchovies at an early age---funny stuff--this pop culture.)
  • dice a large eggplant (unpeeled is fine), 1 large onion, 2 peppers (sweet and hot), 3 to 4 medium tomatoes, 1 medium zucchini
  • In large deep skillet heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add eggplant, onion and a clove of chopped garlic.  Season with salt and pepper. Eggplant will suck up the oil, but will release it as it gets tender.  So, add more oil if you need it but remember, it's easy to go overboard.
  • When eggplant is browned in spots add peppers and tomatoes.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 5 minutes or until tomatoes collapse.  Stir well, scraping up the bottom.
  • Add zucchini and simmer until just tender.  Add chopped fresh parsley.  Other fresh herbs are good here, too, but keep it to one or two.  Try fresh basil and little rosemary--oregano is good too--but remember to keep it simple.  Taste and correct seasoning.

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You don't really need a recipe for this, but if you'd like one, here you go.

Loose Meat Philly Cheese Steaks
  • Brown a pound of lean ground beef (pork, chicken, turkey, venison all work well, too) with a sliced onion and sliced peppers.  Season with a little salt and pepper while it cooks.
  • Stir in a big spoonful of country style Dijon mustard and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  • Spoon into split hoagie buns and top with sliced provolone cheese.


I love this recipe from my friend, Raghavan.  You can learn more about this amazing chef, here.   The cooling cucumbers, mint and yogurt play an interesting counterpoint to the heat of the chilies.  Raita is so versatile I enjoy this spooned over sliced tomatoes, grilled chicken, or scooped up with flat bread.  Of course it's also really good gobbled up with a spoon.  Enjoy.
 
Soused Cucumbers in Yogurt and Fresh Mint(Kakadi Raita)
Curries by Raghavan Iyer; yield: about 2 cups (serves 8)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, whisked
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt
  • 1 large English cucumber, ends trimmed off, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out, shredded (or diced finely)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 2 or 3 fresh green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles to taste, stems removed, finely chopped - do not remove the seeds
Instructions:
Thoroughly combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.  Serve chilled or at room temperature. This will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Enjoy this little peek into Raghavan's latest book.  This practical book is worth having on your shelf.  

Not-So-Cool Cucumbers
(Zera Kakadi)
From Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer
When you have a surplus of juicy cucumbers from your garden and get tired of canning, pickling, or slicing them atop salads, try turning them into the cooked vegetable du jour to accompany grilled meats or what-have-you. We Indians, especially from northwestern India, delicately spice cucumbers with cumin and turmeric, and cook them until just tender. This is one of those vegetables that when cooked exudes surprising succulence with each bite. The cucumber has an almost squashlike quality (no surprise since it is from that family) that seems to come through much more sharply when warmed.

Serves 6

  • 4 medium-size to large cucumbers (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large green or red bell pepper, stem, core, ribs, and seeds discarded, flesh cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 2 fresh green serrano chiles, stems discarded, finely chopped (do not remove the seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Juice from 1 medium-size lime
1. Peel the cucumbers with a potato peeler. Slice off and discard about ¼ inch from both ends of each cucumber. Cut each cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard the slippery, watery seeds. Working with one cucumber half at a time, slice that again lengthwise into 2 halves. Each cucumber should yield 4 equal slender slices. Group 3 or 4 of these slices together with the long sides parallel to you. Using a sharp knife, cut the slices crosswise into ½-inch-wide slices to end up with ½-inch pieces. Repeat with the remaining slices. You should have about 5 cups of cubed cucumbers.

2. Place 1 teaspoon of the cumin seeds in a spice grinder (you can also use a coffee grinder) and grind them to the consistency of finely ground black pepper. Set the ground cumin aside.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, sprinkle in the remaining teaspoon of cumin seeds, which will instantly sizzle and turn reddish brown and fragrant, 5 to 10 seconds. Add the bell pepper and the chiles and stir-fry until the bell pepper softens a bit and the chiles start to smell pungent, about 2 minutes.

4. Stir in the ground cumin, salt, and turmeric; the heat will be just right to cook the spices without burning them, 15 to 30 seconds. When the spices cook, their aromas change into a more sophisticated nuttiness. Add the cucumbers, stir well once or twice, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the cucumbers are tender but still firm looking, 10 to 12 minutes.

5. Stir in the lime juice and serve the cucumbers warm.

These gnocchi tossed with some freshly steamed green beans are heavenly.  I love gnocchi.  The soft pillowy potato version are my favorite.  They are always made with starchy potatoes.  Recipes always come with the caution to avoid adding too much flour, lest they become heavy.  I wondered if I could use new potatoes instead--and did with excellent results.  I break another rule here.  To keep from over handling this delicate dough, I don't bother pushing the little ridges into each dumpling.  To be perfectly honest, if I'm making gnocchi for dinner--I rarely do that step and we all enjoy the plain little pillows just as they are.    These little guys are kind of homely.  The skin flecked dumplings retain the earthy new potato flavor which is why I brown them with some chopped parsley at the end.  
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New Potato Gnocchi
Breaking all the gnocchi rules, new potatoes, no ridges, leaving the skins on---oh my!

1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed clean but skin on
salt
1 egg
plenty of ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley leaves

  1. Simmer the potatoes in plenty of salted water until just tender, about 20 minutes.  Don't over cook them or allow the water to boil too hard.  It will break the skins and make the potatoes too wet.
  2. Drain and cool until just warm.  I toss them into the freezer for a few minutes if I'm in a hurry.
  3. Place the potatoes and all of the remaining ingredients into the work bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until blended, it will be a sticky dough.
  4. Sprinkle a work surface generously with flour and use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto surface.  Use spatula or scraper to turn dough over, coating with flour.  divide dough into four pieces.
  5. Use floured hands to roll dough into ropes about 1/2-inch thick.  Dip scraper or knife into flour and cut each rope into 1/2 inch pieces.
  6. At this point either cook and eat or freeze your gnocchi.  To freeze, place the gnocchi on a wax paper lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Freeze until solid, then slide them into a zip closure bag to store frozen.
To cook:  
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Have a skimmer close at hand.
  • Meanwhile, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium low heat.  Allow butter to foam and brown.
  • Add a generous handful of salt to boiling water (you want it salty as seawater).  Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer, but not a rolling boil.  Drop in gnocchi (fresh or frozen).  Initially the gnocchi will sink.  
  • When the gnocchi float, they are done.  Skim them out of the pot and drop them into the browned butter.  Continue until all gnocchi are in skillet.
  • Add a few tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley or sage to the skillet and raise the heat to medium.  Continue cooking, tossing and turning the gnocchi unit it is browned in spots and the herbs are crisp.
  • Serve plain or with a dusting of parmesan, and  a dollop of pesto.  Add lemon a squeeze of lemon juice and bit of grated zest, if you have one handy.   Freshly steamed green beans or peas are a nice addition.

Serves two as an entree or 4 as a side.



 
 
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Grilling sweet peppers, zucchini and onion along side our steaks for supper.
 
 
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Roasted Baby Turnips with Miso Butter

Trim  turnips and cut in half if large.  Arrange on rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with a tiny bit of vegetable oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and browned.
Toss hot turnips with melted butter and a bit of miso paste.  Sprinkle with ground pepper.

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Summer Pasta
The veggies cook while the pasta boils.  Dinner in less than 20 minutes.

1 lb. dry fettuccine
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium eggplant, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small sweet pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn
1 cup arugula, torn

  • Cook pasta 11 minutes  in a large pot of boiling salted water.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add eggplant, onion, pepper, and garlic.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Cook until eggplant is browned in places.  Don't be tempted to add more oil.  Eggplant will release the oil it sucked up when it is tender. Remove from heat.
  • Drop remaining ingredients on top of cooked vegetables.
  • Drain pasta and drop on into skillet.  Toss well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve topped with shredded parmesan if desired

Makes 4 to 6 servings