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.
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!
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.
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.