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Spring indeed

24 Mar
Everything is better in a heart-shaped bowl.
Everything is better in a heart-shaped bowl.

Wouldn’t it happen that as soon as I let my guard down and decide to be excited about spring, we’d have a gray day with four days of snow in the forecast? Well. Let me tell you one thing. It might not look like spring outside, but it can be spring in my heart…aww. In lieu of that, it can be spring in my bowl and in my mouth. Even better.

 

Not knowing whether D would be available to come to our church St. Patrick’s Day party the Saturday before last (and, well, because we have an absolutely impressive reputation for making and breaking our own plans), I signed up to bring the least committal thing I could: dessert. Normally, I love cooking and baking for people, especially in my own house. But in potluck-type settings, there’s a part of me who knows that the offerings will be full of casseroles, Miracle Whip, Jell-O, and rolls picked up from the bakery, and that’s what people want and expect. I’m inclined to think that it’s not worth the while to rack my brain for some never-before-seen creation from the oven when either someone will slurp without tasting or a very cute, well-meaning child sticks their finger in the middle of. I know. I need a little attention when it comes to the food I make.

 

Despite these crucial, shattering circumstances, I thought anyway. I pondered, I prayed, I aspired to make Jamie Oliver’s Sticky Toffee Pudding or bring a plate of homemade donuts or Chocolate Clafoutis. And thought some more, and then forgot promptly once church was over.

 

The Saturday of the St. Patrick’s Day party rolls around, and fifteen minutes before it, procrastination and forgetfulness catches up, sits on me until I cry for mercy, and pushes me in the direction of the fridge and cupboard. It also threatened me with a life of only canned green beans unless I bought several pints of strawberries (they were on sale). Obviously, I obliged. Forgetfulness is a hard master.

 

So with five minutes until takeoff for the party (hooray for living really close to the church!), I scrambled and searched for something to pair with the strawberries, and you’re looking (look! look!) at the results: a regular bowl ‘o cream with a few twists. Cardamom, strawberries, and orange are good friends, but a word of caution: cardamom can be a pretty strong friend. You know that one friend who’s always the center of attention at every party? Right. Cardamom. The funny friend, but still. Once in a while, a strawberry would like a chance.

 

I’ve tried this both with plain, slivered almonds and sugared ones, with the vote that plain is best—the sugared almonds provide a crunch that is great in some places, but is kind of the guy at the gym wearing jeans and flip-flops on the treadmill; a little awkward.

 

I can see this with a variety of fruits, though I definitely wanted to stay away from the typical fruit salad offering. Blueberries would be a great addition, as would be a swirl of maple syrup. Let me know what variations you come up with.

 

Welcome, spring! (Please stay! Please! I am not native to Minnesota and can only do snow so long.)

 

-Erin

 

Spring Strawberries and Cream Bowl

 

This recipe is best made a few hours ahead of time, though it was born in about five minutes. Making it ahead of time allows the cream to absorb the cardamom and orange flavors.

 

Kitchen tip: Cream whips best when you use a chilled bowl, preferably metal. (I don’t have a metal bowl, but I just refrigerate a glass or ceramic bowl at least half an hour.) If mixing by hand, choose a large, sturdy whisk to incorporate the maximum amount of air.

 

Lastly, though the cardamom might seem exotic, this recipe has been certified both kid- and adult-approved. Miracle.

 

Prep time: About 7 minutes

Difficulty level: Not even close

 

1 pt. strawberries, tops removed, sliced thinly

1/2 C heavy whipping cream

scant 1/4 C granulated sugar

1 1/2 C plain yogurt (fat-free varieties tend to be grainy; Old Home is slightly better)

2 dried cardamom pods, ground (or 1/8 t cardamom, to taste)

1/2 t dried orange peel (or zest of one medium orange)

handful slivered almonds, divided

 

Set aside strawberries.

 

*In a large serving bowl, whip cream to soft peaks (~3 minutes with an electric mixer). Fold in sugar gradually. Fold in yogurt, cardamom, and orange peel or zest. Fold in strawberries, reserving a handful. Fold in almonds, reserving a handful. Top bowl with reserved almonds and strawberries.

Not mine: Tangy fresh tomato soup

5 Sep
Mmm, mmm good. Consendensed what?! Campbell's ain't got nothin' on this.

Mmm, mmm good. Condensed what?! Campbell's couldn't do it if they tried. Well, maybe. But this is better anyway.

I realize that not only are not all good recipes created by me, but that sometimes I actually use a recipe–someone else’s, to boot! That’s where this one came from. I have been multiply blessed by heaps and pounds and ginormous quantities of other people’s home-grown produce; mostly in my own generous family. Heaps of yellow cherry tomatoes, which the people who grew and sold the plants to my dad said tasted “like candy.” Personally, I don’t think tomatoes taste like candy, because I had a Lindt chocolate-orange square earlier and there was definitely a difference. But yes, they are sweet.

In addition to the controversial yellow cherry tomatoes, I’ve gotten six-pound zucchini (I’m estimating on the low side here), big, thick, heavy, sandwich-slice tomatoes, yellow and red heirloom in all sizes and with a variety of kinda fun bubbles marking them as heirloom, and small red cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately, that bounty comes with a price.

I have been a saver of things since who knows when. Money (how else were we able to get a house after less than a year of marriage?), new clothes (always waiting for a “special” occasion, thus going un-worn), even leftovers (the Midwestern Meateater is careful about what he eats, in case I’m using it for later). Hence, I “save” the produce for a “special” occasion. However. Special occasions involving leeks, mint, rosemary, thyme, dill, cilantro, sweet corn, mounds of tomatoes, new potatoes, peaches, and cantaloupe in one meal, well, they don’t come often. And if they do, I don’t have either the time or stomach for them.

So, tomatoes got given to me, tomatoes got saved by me, and then tomatoes got…away from me. Squishy. But now…oh, now I have a tasty soup, courtesy of Martha. Well, no. Courtesy of Martha’s huge company. (I need that caveat, because on a personal level, I am not a fan of Martha’s…but her decision-makers have produced a mighty many things that I like.)

This soup is written to be eaten chilled, which I’m sure would be great on a hot summer evening or afternoon. However, our “summer” days happened to get a cue from Labor Day that summer was apparently over, because the day I made this, it was cold and rainy. Thus, a hot soup.

Tangy and sweet, this soup is incredibly pungent. The flavors are like summer–bold, intense, and bright. It would warm you in the winter, too.

Nutritional low-down

Everything in here is good for you. Everything. It’s like V8 that tastes good and doesn’t smell bad. Drink it. Eat it. Freeze it. I suspect it would be a great base for another soup, and a creamy version is very tempting.

The recipe

Find the recipe here, since I’m sure there’s a reason I’m not supposed to post it…like that Omnimedia didn’t exactly give me permission.

What’s in it? I can tell you that:

  • tomatoes
  • fresh, grated ginger
  • fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • sugar
  • love.

I added a bit more sugar than called for to cut the acidity, but I also used quite a bit of yellow cherry tomatoes, which are more acidic than their red counterparts. If you prefer sweet versus tangy, I suggest using only red tomatoes, particularly varieties like Roma, which are low-acid. The recipe calls for serving with a yogurt-lime dollop, but that will also increase ye olde tang.

My favorite part: if you plan to serve it cold, all it involves is a little chopping and a blender. That’s it. Yes, really.

I served it with hot garlicky lentils and toasted, crusty bread–the Midwestern Meateater would think he needed something else if I didn’t include a slab of protein. Very good all around.

Heirloom tomatoes with basil and pink salt…because summer is not over yet

25 Aug
With the tomatoes stacked alternately, I nearly have my own Olympic games here.

With the tomatoes stacked alternately, I nearly have my own Olympic games here.

I know summer is rumoured to be on its way out, but you know what? We all say this every year, but I especially mean it this time—it has gone ridiculously, criminally fast. True, I have gotten one really good, painful sunburn, but I am nearly transparent and could get that in November, too. I feel like I have hardly experienced summer and I, for one, am not about to let it go without a fight. The good news is that the garden appears to agree with me. This is the first in what might end up being a slew of ideas using the red, pink, yellow, and green tomatoes, zucchini, basil, oregano, sage, chives, parsley, cilantro, bell peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers…

I love this particular recipe because it does not get any simpler than this—the food naturally shines through just as it was meant to be, completely unfettered by anything I could’ve done to it. The licorice-lemon-pepper notes of basil complement (instead of mask or block) the flavor of vine-ripened, sun-grown tomatoes. These ones were fresh from the garden—you know, the ones that are so ripe that the seeds pop out with any pressure? Nearly there. The pink Hawaiian sea salt is surprising and crunchy, and definitely with a taste unlike grocery shelf salt. This was my first experiment with gourmet salt. If you’re shy about using large-grain salt or don’t happen to have any around (I wouldn’t either if I didn’t have family in Texas, where I found the salt), sprinkle with kosher or table salt.

These ingredients need no help with beautification, so the presentation is filled with just about as much color as the Olympic opening ceremonies. This would be great for company, as a last-minute side to grilled dishes, or as a simple substitute for green salad. We made a Sunday breakfast out of it, accompanying it with whole wheat popovers, sunny-side-up eggs, and thick banana-orange-soy drinks.

Heirloom tomatoes with basil
and pink salt

From “raw” to eating: less than five minutes (plus time to chill)

Makes: a platter, 4 servings

Inside:
1 large red heirloom tomato
1 large yellow heirloom tomato
handful fresh basil, including flowers (optional) washed and dried
pinch of pink salt or other gourmet, large-grain salt (I used pink Hawaiian sea salt, purchased in person here and also available here or here)

Slice tomatoes into thick rounds. Arrange tomatoes in alternating colors (red, yellow). Make a chiffonade of the basil (chiffonade is French for “ribbon”), or simply chop roughly, leaving flowers whole. Mine weren’t exactly…ribbony. They taste the same. Toss basil on top. Sprinkle with pink sea salt. Allow to rest for five minutes. Serve!

-E

Mango-mint lassi

17 Jul
Mango-mint lassi

Oh, so good, mango-mint lassi. If you're feeling hot and sticky, this is where it is.

First, let me start with an apology. I’m a little sorry not to have posted in quite a long time, but I promise I have been doing good things in the meantime, such as camping, searching for ticks, and getting ready with Midwestern Meateater to be first-time homeowners. That’s a project. While I was out, you missed something I’m actually known for bringing to share in the out-of-doors—cranberry & carrot couscous with salmon and herbs. Five minutes, and it was great. Take that on your next adventure and your friends will think you’re amazing. Maybe it’ll appear here someday.

I don’t promise to never slack again, just in case. (Someone once told me not to use the words “never” or “always,” since they have exceptions.) But I will come back, each time. Lassie and me, faithful as ever. Except that I bring food and Lassie brings a message about someone in trouble.

Hot times = cold drinks

These days around Minnesota, are hot. These are sticky, steamy, zapping, three-popsicles-a-day times. In other words, summer has finally arrived, and while I love how everything grows so well and turns an emerald shade, it becomes necessary to do a little cooling off. As someone at a fabric store recently told me, “if you have to sit in your car at a stop light for more than a few seconds, you have to turn the air conditioning on.”

On these sweaty, sweaty days, I don’t have the appetite or desire to stand over a stove or even come near an oven. When I come in from outside, I immediately want something cool, and it is nice not to eat another popsicle, especially when beautiful colors and flavors for a nice, cool drink are so easy to get.

Meet the lassi

The lassi is a traditional Indian drink, served up daily over ice at your local Indian restaurant. It can be flavored with cardamom, pistachios, rose water, or even cumin. Without googling, I cannot even begin to tell you where to find rose water. It’s frothy, smoothie-like, and best of all, chilled.

I first had a lassi at a restaurant here in the Twin Cities called Passage to India. On the menu was a “lassi,” and although I didn’t try it there, I have wanted to since. Names of dishes at ethnic restaurants like this one tend to be about as descriptive as hardware items, but I could imagine the lassi anyway. Yogurt, fruit, blended up? What’s not to like?

Nutritional low-down

The lassi is all good things: dairy, dairy, whole fruit, and sugar (well…I might have fibbed a little).

While I’m at it, a shameless plug for us all to be drinking our milk: Americans have gotten better in this area, but we’re quite bad overall. The worst group is kids and teens; this is where Pepsi and the likes are student body president and you’re not cool if you don’t like it. Or at least, it’s all too accessible, and when it’s not, a host of syrup-laden drinks flavored like “kiwi-strawberry” made by someone who’s never tasted either of those things takes the place of better beverages.

There’s an idea especially among teen girls through even through college-aged ladies that dairy will pool around your middle or other ungainly places bad things will happen; i.e. boys will not ask you out. In a nutshell, this is completely not true and can be quite devastating, in fact. There is a plethora of information out there available about osteoporosis, but let me give you this bit of information: your bones need vitamin D, calcium, and a few other things to be able to grow. And if you don’t give your bones those things early, you may have done the damage by the time you wise up. For females, the last stop on the bone train is age 30. Bones start to lose density after that. The denser the bone, the less likely to break and cause major havoc down the road; even an early death.

I talked with a professor once who was studying bone mass density among women, and used the students on campus as subjects. The results were scary—women whose long-term health was at jeopardy because of neglect.

Essentially, drink your milk! It’s so good for you.

Mango-mint lassi

From “raw” to eating: 5 minutes

Makes: 4-6 servings

I started with the classic mango lassi in mind, but when I remembered mint in the fridge just waiting to go bad, it had to join in.

Inside:
Flesh of one mango, cut into chunks
1 C milk
1 C water
½ C sugar (or less)
handful fresh mint leaves

Whizz this all in a blender on high for about 30 seconds (it’s okay if you see some green flecks from the mint). Serve over crushed ice.

Ah. So good, and good for you. Another day well-done.

-E

Serve over ice...which conveniently floats like a buoy on the surface.

Serve over ice...which will pop up, float like a buoy, and make you want to boat.

Spring lime-tomatillo salad

16 Apr

Lime-tomatillo salad, on a picnic blanket next to my leg.

As of this morning, the Midwestern Meateater said, “Wow–this really feels like summer.” So he promptly marched off to school in shorts, and I sweltered in our apartment. And by 5 pm, it was snowing. Oh, spring, oh Mountain West, oh, living in a desert. Despite the snow, let’s pretend it is summer, or at least legitimately warm-ish, and that I (or you) would not want to cook in such weather. I would want to chop up summery things and cilantro whilst salsa dancing in the kitchen, like Salma Hayek on “Fools Rush In,” but without the accent because I’m not Mexican, and I would use tomatillos. Oh my! I have something that fits this description exactly.

This particular salad, like so many other concoctions in my alleyway kitchen, was borne out of resourcefulness, a need to use things that would otherwise go mushy, moldy, or to some other land of oldness. I tend to get dreamy in the produce section anytime I see an object I don’t know a lot about; I am a particular sucker for foreign-seeming vegetables or fruit. And hence, our tomatillos, in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Waiting. Forgotten. Unloved. In a foreign country, surrounded by apples and other English-speaking things. About to be loved.

About tomatillos. According to Wikipedia, which I’m pretty sure has been my main educational source for some years, even though non-existent people are in the database, says this about our green friend: “The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or Physalis philadelphica) is a small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit surrounded by a paper-like husk formed from the calyx.” I can confirm that. For all you will try not to, you will mostly think of southern women and the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” since this little guy seems so much like an unripe tomato. But I promise that if you keep waiting for it to “ripen,” um, your ripeness will turn out to be mold. ‘Tis ripe when green, firm, and quite tangy, in my non-professional opinion. What is it used in? Well, if you live around here, you know it as what every person in the valley has stood in line for on a Friday night at least once, despite the obvious crowd of awkward first-daters. Yes, it’s Cafe Rio, and the famous dressing? Made with tomatillos. Yes (nodding seriously). For you non-valley-ers, ever heard of salsa verde? Dark-ish green, thin, on the side of your gooped-up enchilada? Tomatillos are what make it green. In any case, they’re not expensive, and they’re now found in just about every produce section in any mega mart. I got my last ones at Wally-World.

Try this for your next picnic—or anytime the weather is way too good to be inside cooking.

Tomatillo-lime salad

2 tomatillos, husks removed, cut into quarters or eighths
2 roma tomatoes, cut into quarters or eighths
1 (or two!) ripe avocadoes, skin removed, pitted, and inside cut into chunks or wedges
handful chopped cilantro, abt 2 T

swig of lime juice
swig canola oil (an almost tasteless oil, best for this application)
tsp or so granulated white sugar
Pinch salt

Combine and taste—if you like less tang, add some sugar. More tang, more lime juice. Toss to coat and let marinate in the fridge. No, marinating is not just for meat—the flavors will come together even better with a little chill out time.

Nutritional standing:

  • Tomatoes—vit C, lycopene, fiber, high, high percentage water (but don’t use this as an excuse not to drink! Just a bonus)
  • Tomatillos—contributes to a plant-based diet, part of the newest Food Guide Pyramid
  • Low in everything you want to be most careful about moderation with—salt, sugar, even fat (and healthful fat from the oil)