Monday, May 20, 2013
Although there is a university here, Valley City is not a college town per se. Absent are dingy cafés serving slightly burnt coffee and overly-toasted bagels, sleazy dance clubs, or head shops. We don't have any interesting ethnic restaurants, or art house movie theaters, or any movie theaters at all actually.
There are a few times of year however when for the few of us involved in university activities feel like, just maybe, we live in a college town. Last week, graduation, gave us reason to celebrate.
We were invited to a graduation party hosted by two foreign exchange students and a guy from Florida, which for all intents and purposes might as well be considered a foreign exchange student here. I don't think its a mystery to anyone who is familiar with human nature to understand why a Mongolian, a Ghanan, and a Dominican from the South would be friends here in Little Scandanavia.
When you've made the commitment to leave your family so far behind to study and make something better of your life it is that much more rewarding to achieve your dream. They were proud, like chests puffed out, dressed to the nines proud. And so were their families. Everyone's parents came, from Mongolia, Ghana, and Florida as well as relatives from all over, Minneapolis, Chicago, and beyond.
It's intoxicating all that love and happiness and untapped potential. It took me back to the days before children, and marriage, and career when you had your whole life spread out in front of you like a gigantic blank slate ready to be scribbled over. Life was so freeing back then, all that blankness, you could stretch out your arms and twirl around Sound-of-Music style. Life is just as fulfilling now but in a more nuanced way, your slate gets crowded once the scribbling begins, you don't have as much room to move around.
Of course the best part for me was the food. Everyone brought their favorite dishes, there were baby back ribs, Ghanan rice and peas, dumplings from Mongolia (literally from Mongolia, his grandmother made them and brought them over on the plane). There was this incredible mouth-igniting coleslaw that was kind of like kimchi but sweeter. There was fried chicken, grilled chicken, and big chunks of juicy pork butt cooked with tons of sweet peppers and garlic. We ate goooooood. It was the best party I've been to in four years.
The next day, still drunk on all that joy, I wanted to make something that symbolizes all the love I have for my family and what says love better than roast chicken? Especially one stuffed with fragrant lemons and fresh herbs. And if you're making a roast chicken why not make two? Spread the love, invite some friends. Which is what I did, and which is why the photographs show two chickens, while the recipe just calls for one. I appreciate you in advance for your understanding.
Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken
Makes 4 servings
1 onion, sliced
2 lemons, halved, juiced, and halves reserved
4 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs basil
6 cloves garlic, crushed, unpeeled
1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Combine onion, lemon juice, thyme, basil, and garlic in a roasting pan or large baking dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat on all sides.
Fill the cavity with the lemon halves, herbs, garlic, and as many of the onion slices as possible (the rest of the onion slices can just hang out in the bottom of the roasting pan). Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to keep everything from falling out. If you're not sure how to do this follow this video. Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
If you have time refrigerate the chicken uncovered for a couple hours, or better yet, overnight to let the flavors soak in. If not, go ahead and heat the oven to 400°F and arrange the rack in the bottom third of the oven, leave the chicken out at room temperature while the oven heats.
Roast the chicken for about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the inner thigh reads 165°F. Baste the chicken occasionally during cooking; if the breast gets too brown before the chicken in completely cooked, cover it with a small piece of foil.
Transfer chicken to a cutting board and cover with foil. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Friday, May 17, 2013
My grandma is famous for a lot of things. Most recently for not being very nice and not taking her medication, but also for her Orange-Sour Cream Drops. As a child I would spend many afternoons at her house around Christmas time making batch after batch of orange cookies, peanut brittle, and a cotton candy-like creation called Divinity.
Her orange cookies are noteworthy because of their two types of tang; the first from the citrus zest and juice and the second from copious amounts of sour cream. They also contain large amounts of butter which give them a melt-in-your-mouth quality, especially if you sneak one straight out of the oven—to die for people, I'm telling you.
I dream of these cookies often. I have a very, very, soft spot for them that might only be matched by my father, whose love of peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches I also share. Great gourmands think alike, am I right?
The problem with Grandma Phyl's Orange Drops is they are kind of a pain-in-the-butt to make, there's lots of juicing and zesting and frosting involved. So I was psyched when I came across a very similar recipe in an old issue of Everyday Food.
They are basically a Snickerdoodle recipe with citrus swapped in for the cinnamon and vanilla and a simple little icing spread on top. They have soft centers and delicate, crisp edges with a light lemon and tangerine combo that is irresistible.
They don't have the heft of Grandma Phyl's cookies, and they are certainly not as intensely orange-y, but they will most certainly subdue my orange cookie craving until Christmas or at least through spring.
Soft Citrus Drop Cookies
Adapted from Everyday Food
Makes 5 dozen
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated tangerine zest, divided
4 teaspoons lemon zest, divided
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed tangerine juice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Heat oven to 350°F and arrange racks in the lower and upper third of the oven. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to break up any lumps.
Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add half the tangerine zest and half the lemon zest and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl then add the eggs in one at a time. Add flour mixture and beat until incorporated.
Scoop into rounded tablespoons and place about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges are lightly golden, but cookies are still soft in the middle, about 12-15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Whisk together the tangerine and lemon juices, remaining zest, and powdered sugar until smooth. Spread icing over each cookie and let stand at least 1 hour to allow the icing to harden slightly. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
When we first announced that we were moving to North Dakota we usually got one of two responses. The first was, why? The second, more optimistic reaction was, it must be so peaceful there, aren't there a lot of horses?
The horse response always caught me off guard because that was not the first thing I thought of when I imagined our life in North Dakota. I like horses as much as the next Midwestern gal, but Montana, Wyoming, those seem like far horsier states than ours. Four years later and I guess we are embracing prairie life because the horse riding predictions finally rang true.
Paula, the secretary for the music department at the University invited us out to her ranch last week for burgers, wine, and horseback riding. Ten miles down one dirt road and three miles down another landed us at the farm her great-grandparents homesteaded in 1897. Wide expanses of farmland surrounded us in every direction and I imagined riding up to that spot in a covered wagon. How did people decide where to stop when everything looks exactly the same? "Well Ma, this wide open field of grass looks as good as any."
The house they live in is the same one her great-grandparents built. The barn is only the second one on the property—the first was blown down in a tornado in 1930. The land is now plowed in neat rows and metal storage buildings dot the landscape, but for the most part everything is pretty much as it was two hundred years ago.
Louisa had a blast riding atop Carrot, a chestnut thoroughbred 150-times her size. She had a smile a mile wide as soon as she put her tiny feet in the stirrups. Her expansive grin turned into all out opened-mouth fits of giggly laughter when Layne, Paula's rodeo-star daughter, sat in the saddle with her and got the horse trotting at a moderate speed.
The wind whips pretty hard out there with no trees or houses to keep it confined. The next night I still felt a chill and was hungry for a hot bowl of soup to warm me up. I am a big fan of those bags of dried mixed beans, sometimes labeled 16 bean soup or 14 bean soup. I like the variety of textures from the little beans that get overcooked and give the soup some viscosity, to the big ones that still retain some bite.
Of course bacon and beans is a no-brainer and cooking the aromatics in the bacon grease is always a good idea. The turmeric however is what makes this soup extra special. It adds a nice bright note as well as its signature citron color. A simple soup like this one will get you through those last blustery days of spring and right on into summer.
Bean and Bacon Soup
Makes 6-8 servings
4 ounces bacon
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
4 carrots, sliced 1/2-inch thick
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound 4 ounce bag dried mixed beans
8 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Place bacon in a large soup pot and cook over medium heat until crispy and brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pot. Add the onions and cook until starting to brown. Add celery, carrots, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 3-5 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until beans are tender, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, ladle soup into bowls, crumble bacon over each bowl and serve.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
As I predicted last week, spring has finally arrived in North Dakota. It might have taken until May to do so, but I say let's celebrate with cookies!
I will admit for all of my local readers that spring did come...and has since left (it was 23°F this morning) but I believe it will be back and at least we're not like those poor saps south of here who had snow on May Day...ha ha suckers! Sorry, that wasn't nice.
Anyhoo, let's talk fruit-filled, soft, crumbly cookie fabulousness. These chewy blueberry cookies are like the best Fig Newton and Fruit Roll-up together as one. They feel fancy enough to make a lovely Mother's Day gift, but are substantial enough to satisfy the sweetest of sweet tooths.
The blueberry filling is tinged with orange zest and orange juice and I've thrown in a few raisins for good measure. The raisins act like the adults in the situation, kind of like chaperones at prom, making sure the blueberries don't get too carried away with their bad selves.
The citrus-tinged fruit gets wrapped in a soft sugar cookie dough then sliced and baked. Making for one hell of an elegant little cookie.
Adapted from Parents Magazine
Makes 32 cookies
6 ounces dried blueberries
2 ounces raisins
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 cup orange juice
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine blueberries, raisins, brown sugar, orange zest, and juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until nearly all of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; let cool. Scrape mixture into a food processor and purée until smooth.
Heat oven to 350°F. Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Stir together all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl then add to the butter mixture and beat on low until flour is completely incorporated.
Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Wrap 3 in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you roll out the other piece. Place 1 piece of dough between 2 pieces of parchment or waxed paper and roll into a 12in-x-5in rectangle, about 1/4in thick. (The easiest way to do this is to roll it out lengthwise to 12 inches first, then out). If you are feeling anal you can trim the edges, if not, leave them rough. Remove the top piece of parchment and spread about 1/4 cup of the blueberry filling down the middle. Use the bottom piece of parchment to fold the dough lengthwise over the filling and seal the edges with the tines of a fork.
Cut crosswise into 8 slices. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and repeat with another piece of dough. When one baking sheet is filled bake for 15 minutes, or until browned. Remove to a rack to cool and repeat with remaining dough.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Reading someone else's grocery list is the food equivalent of sneaking a peek at their diary. A grocery list, while nonchalantly written, is extremely personal and not meant to be shared with anyone outside your immediate family.
This mundane errand we run tricks us into thinking no one would possibly care what we went to the store for, but discovering someone's tossed out list can be the best find at the supermarket.
Take this one for example, first can we give a shout-out to poodle lover's everywhere? Who wouldn't use the crap out of that notepad?
I'm going to go ahead and assume this is a woman writing this list and I'd love to ask her what are you going to do with all those condiments girlfriend? That's going to be one hell-of-a-cheese sandwich with all that butter, and mayo, and ketchup....I'm sorry katcup. That's assuming she meant Velveeta, although Velella could definitely be something I've never heard of.
One more question.....is that last item Chicken and Bisquick or Chicken in a Biscuit?
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I hate to jinx myself (and everyone else in a 200 mile radius) by saying this, but I think spring might finally be here. I say this even after school was canceled last week due to blizzard conditions and even though the sign at the bank downtown only read 37° F when we drove by it an hour ago.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I'm convinced that next week I might be able to turn off the heat and open the windows for the first time since October. I have little tiny sprouts popping up in the pots on the windowsill, they are telling me winter is almost over and I'm choosing to believe them.
It has been cold so long that I'm actually kind of over spring, it's taking too long to get here and I'm sick of waiting. I'm ready for summer. I want it to be hot. I want to tend to my gigantically bushy tomato plants while the kids run through the sprinkler. I have visions of turning my entire backyard into a corn patch this year.... we'll see.
In the meantime I'm going to appease myself with summer food. Salads, limeade, popsicles, and big 'ol burgers like this one.
Crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside these veggie burgers leave those frozen hockey pucks from the freezer section to shame. They are kept moist with copious amounts of shredded carrot and zucchini and have a manly, robust quality thanks to the red kidney beans. Atop a toasted bun with some garlic-laden paprika mayonnaise and you'll start thinking of summer too.
Red Bean Burgers with Paprika Mayonnaise
Makes 8 burgers
For the burgers:
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated and excess moisture squeezed out
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (15.25oz) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons of your favorite spice mix (I used BBQ, but cajun, creole, or Old Bay would be good)
For the Paprika Mayonnaise:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, and zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables start to brown. Add garlic and cook another minute. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Mash the beans in a bowl with a potato masher to desired consistency (I mashed mine up pretty good for the kiddos, but you can leave it chunkier if you prefer). Add the vegetables and remaining ingredients and thoroughly combine. Taste mixture and add more salt, pepper or spice mix as needed.
Form 8 patties, about 1/2 cup each, or make smaller "sliders" if you'd like. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
Meanwhile, make the paprika mayonnaise: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until smooth.
If you have made the burgers the day before take them out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking, otherwise, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Once oil is shimmering add burgers and cook for 3-4 minutes a side or until browned, crispy, and hot all the way through. Don't crowd the pan, you may have to do this in batches. Serve with paprika mayonnaise or ketchup for the little ones.
Uncooked burgers can be laid out on a baking sheet in a single layer, uncovered, and placed in the freezer. Once completely frozen, pack in a resealable freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw, covered, in the refrigerator before cooking.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
When it comes to gifts a big canister of cookies is hands down the best present you can ever give. Especially if that present is to be delivered by mail. Who doesn't like cutting through packaging tape to find an unexpected stockpile of cookies? I dare say if there is a person out there who can resist immediately eating at least 2 on the spot I want you to hunt them down and turn them into the authorities for offensive sourpussery.
I celebrate everyone I know by sending them a gigantic container of cookies for their birthday. I have about 2000 nieces and nephews so buying them all gifts can get a little out of hand not to mention cookies are way more personal than some toy they are going to forget about the day after they open it, or a lame-o gift certificate. I employ my children in the effort so they feel invested in the gift. They help make the cookies, decorate the containers, and make a cute card—violá gift goddess strikes again.
We made these celebration cookies for my nephew Joshua's birthday a couple of weeks ago. He was turning 5 and you know, that's kind of a big deal....to Joshua.....whose birthday I kind of forgot. Because of my belatedness we had to up to ante, no plain 'ol chocolate chip for that guy, nope, I had to pull out the big guns. If you are in need of a really special, exceptionally delicious cookie this is it.
They take a little work with all the rolling and filling and sandwiching and such but the lemon-ginger combo is out of this world. Let me just start by saying, these ginger cookies, by themselves, are hands down the best ginger cookies you will ever eat. They are soft, chewy, and perfectly spicy without being too in your face. I beg of you to eat one warm right out of the oven. You will momentarily be transported to heaven and you won't regret it. But ginger is no wimp, you've got to have some umph to stand up to it and this lemon filling does the job, it is bright and tart and of course very buttery.
I could go on forever about these cookies but I can't. Little Lucas's birthday was five days ago and I have yet to make his cookies.
Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Filling
Makes 32 sandwich cookies
Adapted from Brigid Callinan
For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1/3 cup for rolling
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
For the filing:
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon lemon extract
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
For the dough:
Heat the oven to 325°F and arrange the racks in the upper and lower sections of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
Combine the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk together.
Combine the 3/4 cup sugar and the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs and molasses and beat until smooth, about a minute more.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Divide remaining dough into roughly 32 heaping teaspoon sized rounds and place on the prepared baking sheets.
Place the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar in a bowl. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and roll each ball in the sugar to coat. Space the balls about an inch apart on the baking sheets and bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating them from the upper and lower racks halfway through. They will still be soft when they are done.
Immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack and repeat with the remaining dough. Let cookies cool completely before frosting.
For the filling:
Place the powdered sugar, butter, and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until mixture looks crumbly. Gradually increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer to low and add lemon extract and juice and beat until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy.
When cookies are completely cool, spread or pipe about 1 heaping teaspoon of filling onto the flat side of half the cookies. Top with another cookie and press to help them stick together and flatten the frosting.
Cookies keep sealed in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost (tightly wrapped) at room temperature.