Hey Strangers! As I’m sure you both have noticed, I’ve been a little, uh, casual in my posting schedule. The truth is, I’m eating pretty differently than I was before. I’m just finishing up the Whole30 Challenge (today is Day 29!) and while it’s not right for everyone, it’s been really great for me. The food I’m preparing right now is more utilitarian than mouthwatering, so I won’t be blogging my recipes. Perhaps when I’m better at making delicious, grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free meals, I’ll invite you back into my galley kitchen.
Until we eat again…
Two years ago, I had never tasted Vietnamese food. And today I would “Hey, Kool Aid” through a brick wall if I thought there was a banh mi on the other side of it.
What can I say? People change. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m scary allergic to bell peppers, ginger, coffee, curry, and wasabi. But (in recent months) that hasn’t stopped me from experimenting with Asian flavors I’ve never before tasted in entirely inauthentic ways!
This delightfully tiny, non-lethal slider version of the classic banh mi features sweet and savory pork, quick pickled vegetables, sriracha mayo, salty peanuts, and fresh cilantro on sweet Hawaiian rolls.
Today I’m going to ask you to use your imagination. Have a glass of wine, close your eyes, turn on some Simon and Garfunkel, and imagine you’re entertaining your nearest and dearest. Imagine you’re tasked with cooking a fabulous dinner for your terribly handsome beau on his 50th birthday. And imagine that last minute rush before dinner is served—the rush to get dinner on the table and make sure that hot food stays hot and salad stays fresh.
Can you imagine that? Good. Now imagine that the beautiful ingredients below came together in a perfectly composed salad that I didn’t have a chance to photograph on that lovely night before serving it!
Sorry, folks. By the time dinner was served, the sun had gone down and I couldn’t justify whipping out my lighting set-up to photograph the finished salad. So just imagine a bed of velvety greens tossed in sweet and sour pear vinaigrette, topped with creamy, pungent Cambozola, toasted walnuts, crispy apples, and my mad scientist experiment, hibiscus pearls. Imagine that!
A word about those hibiscus pearls: this was my first foray into molecular gastronomy. It was a success, and much simpler than I imagined. I steeped a cup of hibiscus tea and spiked it with hibiscus extract from l.c. finn. I boiled that with agar agar, and used a regular eyedropper to squeeze the mixture into a tall glass of cold oil to form the pearls. That’s the extent of the special ingredients and equipment. The flavor of the pearls was distinct but not overwhelming; a little tart, like pomegranate juice. The texture was smooth and gelatinous—sort of like biting into a creamy drop of tea. For instructions on making agar agar pearls, visit http://molecule-r.com/en/content/67-pearls-training. You can purchase the extract here.
My incredibly generous manfriend, Handsome Greg, treated me and Mom to an epic shopping spree at Kitchen Window for Christmas. My loot included 3/4 of the ingredients of a complex, delicious bread dipping oil: a fruity extra virgin olive oil, pink peppercorns, and smoked sea salt. I added a few leaves of fresh thyme, and served it for Greg’s birthday dinner.
The surprisingly fruity bite of the peppercorns was carried gently down to earth by the tender thyme leaves and robust, earthy smoked sea salt flakes. We sopped up the oil with chewy, warm ciabatta bread, alongside Greg’s favorite pepperoni-stuffed chicken breasts, angel hair pasta scampi, a killer salad with cambozola and hibiscus pearls, and classic molten chocolate cakes.
I’ve reached a turning point. After weeks (months) of chocolate and bread and gravy and kickasseroles, I’ve started craving salad again.
Yes, I know, summer in Minnesota is a lifetime away. Last week we had temperatures around 20 below zero. Last winter we still had snow in May. May. (#disMay)
But despite my bleak weatherscope, now that the holidays are over, I’m craving bright, fresh, warm-weather foods. So here’s a tasty compromise—fresh greens with a summery, acidic vinaigrette topped with the luxurious tastes of winter: salty prosciutto, sticky figs, and creamy burrata.
This salad was my first experience with burrata and, well, if you ever see the headline “Midwestern Soprano Arrested after Defeating Great Siberian Tiger with Bare Hands,” that’s me, and the tiger and I were fighting over the last piece of burrata. It’s creamy and delicious and that tiger had it coming, stealing my cheese.
Have you met my mom?
If you’re an actor in the Twin Cities, she’s probably dressed you, beautifully and carefully in costumes that helped you fully realize the physicality of your character. If you’re a St. Kate’s graduate, she might have mentored you and helped you find your way into adulthood. If you’re a ballroom dancer, you might have once shared a waltz with her at the Dancer’s Studio weekly dance party. In the unlikely event that you’ve been incarcerated, she might have taught you to quilt on one of the many Sunday afternoons she’s volunteered at the women’s correctional facility in Shakopee. And if you’ve been to her place for dinner, you’ve had an incredible meal shared with good friends, along with music, wine, fascinating conversation, echoing laughter, and a lapful of love from her cat, Pablo.
When she came to my house for her birthday dinner last month, I wanted to prepare an extra special meal, to return the kindness of many such dinners and thank her for setting such a powerful, compassionate, creative example for me to follow. Also, cooking for people is how I love them.
So I topped a creamy lemon risotto with Mom’s favorite—seared scallops. The luxurious risotto is somehow light, with a pop of freshness from lemon and Italian parsley. I served it alongside a fig, burrata, and prosciutto salad with balsamic vinaigrette (recipe to come!), and followed it with mini flourless chocolate cakes topped with a blackberry and red wine reduction.
Happy Birthday, Mama!
Happy 4th of Halloween Eve!
To celebrate the magic of Halloween, this year I decided to make a candy inspired by … 4th of July fireworks.
When I was a girl, I though fireworks and firecrackers were so beautiful—pretty enough to eat—and I desperately wanted to know what they taste like. Fortunately my sensible sister Emily dissuaded me from taking a big bite of fiery sparkler.
This candy tastes like you just ate a firecracker, but without the hassle of having to re-grow your eyebrows. First it’s sweet and hot, then there’s an explosion in your mouth, followed by a bit of lingering smoke.
The recipe for chipotle pepitas makes far more than needed for the chocolate bark, and that’s fine by me. The salty, smoky seeds make an excellent crunchy snack.
Goodbye ice cream trucks and picnics and ripe tomatoes.
Goodbye road trips and outdoor concerts. Goodbye action blockbusters in air conditioned theaters. Goodbye lemonade.
Goodbye s’mores and dandelions and thunderstorms and fireworks. Goodbye reruns and strappy sandals. Goodbye sunburns. Goodbye baseball and crickets chirping.
Goodbye fresh cherries.
The good news is my little show opens in less than two weeks and we’re right on track. The bad news is my little show opens in less than two weeks and I’m plagued with the world’s worst chest cough. For better or for worse, I’ll soon be standing in front of hundreds of people at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, and I’m hoping with all I’m worth that I won’t be up there honking like an agitated goose.
Thank goodness for Air Supply’s Greatest Hits to ease my anxiety.
I’m comforted, too, by the memory of the last meal I prepared for Mom and Handsome Greg that I truly tasted—Crab Cakes with Orange Aioli—before cough drops became my primary source of sustenance and “mentholyptus” killed my taste buds. The crab cakes were exceptionally crabby—you could easily add more breadcrumbs and make more cakes. They were moist and flavorful with a crispy, golden crust, and the accompanying dip was a perfect balance of creamy mayo, pungent garlic, and bright, fresh orange zest.
Two weeks ago I posted a recipe for Bloody Mary Ketchup accompanied by an image of a beer-braised bratwurst half-dressed in the spicy, tangy sauce. I have since heard impassioned debate on proper brat condiments from a number of sources. It seems the argument between ketchup lovers and mustard enthusiasts is more volatile than the Great Cilantro War of aught three.
In the interest of impartiality I’m following up my favorite ketchup recipe with my favorite mustard recipe. I roasted a head of garlic with sprigs of fresh rosemary, then combined the resulting sweet garlic paste with a creamy honey dijonnaise.