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.
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.
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.
I’m not exactly what you’d call a sports fan. I mean, sure, I’ll watch gymnastics at the Summer Olympics and figure skating at the Winter Olympics. But beyond that, I don’t know the difference between a double dribble and a double play.
I make an exception to my sports Grinch-i-tude each summer when Handsome Greg takes me out to see our minor-league hometown team, the Saint Paul Saints. Granted, the game itself bores me to tears, but I love that the game is An Event. I love the anticipation of the action, and getting to know the people sitting near us, and the hokey entertainment between innings, and the tiara-wearing pig who delivers the game ball. And I love baseball food—hot dogs, pretzels, cracker jacks—I love it all.
And so when I was tasked with preparing a springtime dinner for Mom and Handsome Greg last month, I thought, how can I elevate baseball cuisine?
I braised fresh bratwurst in beer infused with apples and onions, and served them in soft Kaiser hot dog rolls topped with Bloody Mary Ketchup and Rosemary-Roasted Garlic Honey Dijon. I served the brats with soft pretzels and beer cheese sauce, alongside a great, big platter of fresh veggies with homemade French onion dip. For dessert, I served homemade Cracker Jacks—caramel puff corn and peanuts in red and white striped popcorn boxes.
Touchdown! Or home run! Or whatever, I don’t know.
I first made Bloody Mary Ketchup from scratch, with slow-roasted tomatoes and onions and blah blah blah. I most recently tried the same idea with store bought ketchup, and it was every bit as good, but with far less work and time. So here’s the quicky version:
My dear, imaginary internet friends, I have a confession to make. I’ve lured you here under false pretenses. Yes, I will eventually get to the velvety dumplings I promised you, and yes, you could just scroll down to the recipe. But I hope you’ll read my shameless plug first.
When I’m not cooking up fabulous dishes in my kitchen, I’m cooking up fabulous musicals for the stage. I work with a small theater company in the Twin Cities and we’re creating a new show all about growing up called Are You There, God? It’s a New Musical Revue! The show, inspired by Judy Blume and other YA fiction, will premiere at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in August.
And we’re raising funds via Kickstarter to offset the production costs. If you’d like to make a donation—even $5 will help—I’d be incredibly grateful. If you’re unable to make a donation, but you’d like to support the show, please pass along a link to your blog readers, your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, your barista…anyone you think might be interested in supporting our show.
The Ugly Dumpling
I’ve been working on this show for the past decade, and it’s truly a labor of love. And I’d love it if you played a part in it.
And now for the recipe I promised. I’m a big fan of edamame—my favorite movie-watching treat is edamame steamed in the shell, then dusted with truffle salt. I promise: it’s better than popcorn. I wanted to give my fave flavor combo an upgrade, and hoo boy, these dumplings did the trick. They’re younger than springtime—bright, fresh, and tender—yet creamy and luxurious. Dip them in the shallot broth for a perfect sweet-and-salty bite.