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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Watermelon: A new slice on an old favorite

                   Sweet, salty and fresh. This is a huge favorite with anyone who tastes it.

What goes together better than watermelon and the 4th of July? I can't think of a thing but if you are looking for a more 'adult' way of serving this refreshing and classic fruit for the holiday, try this:

Cut the watermelon into slices and then into wedges and arrange on a serving platter.
Drizzle balsamic vinegar or a balsamic vinegar reduction* over the melon.
Crumble Feta cheese over the melon.
Cut fresh basil leaves into thin strips and sprinkle over the feta & melon.

Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar
Recipe Notes:
  • I used balsamic vinegar that I brought back from a trip to the Columbia Valley earlier in the year: California Napa Valley Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar. About $16 
  • If you want to make your own balsamic reduction (basically a syrup made from vinegar): Pour 1 cup (or more) vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a high simmer. Cook until reduced to the desired syrupy consistency. I also like to add a TBSP of brown sugar to the syrup about ½ way though the process for flavor. Here's the only trick: Watch carefully as it begins to thicken. This scorches easily, ruining the product. Use at room temperature.
  • I have not tried it, but you might take a few dried figs, a tsp of good vanilla and some balsamic vinegar and process them in a food processor or blender. This might give you a slightly thicker and wonderfully flavored product without reduction. Not thick enough? Cook it down a little.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All in a Summer's Day

Crostini Topping: Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Artichokes

Summer. It has barely begun, yet I feel I am running from place to place as fast as I can. From the north woods to the north shore to Minneapolis and back again: business, errands, family. So much for those long leisurely days in the garden.

Todd Menton playing the bodhran

Last weekend seemed especially hectic for everyone I know. Friends Bob and Arlene Jones, owners of The Farm on St. Mathias, hosted the 3rd Annual Celtic Festival at their CSA; neighbors Kevin and Steve entertained their extended family of 60 at the Gull Lake Yacht Club; others were holding graduation parties, packing up for camping trips or attending another June wedding. 

3rd Annual Celtic Festival  

Reunion preparations at the Gull Lake Yacht Club

The weekend was also one of the few breaks in the weather we have had this spring. As anyone in the Upper Midwest can tell you, the rain here has been incessant, skipping over places like Oklahoma and Texas that desperately need it and 'gracing' us, up to our knees. But Saturday was a jewel; light breezes, bright sun and puffy marshmallow clouds giving just enough peek-a-boo shade to keep the day from feeling uncomfortably hot.

Sunday night came as a welcome rest after all that craziness. I snipped some peonies from the garden (putting my life at some risk climbing up a stone wall to do so), created a makeshift bouquet for the table and wandered inside.

Smoked Salmon from Morey's
 In town earlier in the day I was happy to remember that Morey's Seafood Market was open on Sunday and stopped in for inspiration. Smoked salmon? Yes, definitely. Hmm. I had asparagus at home from the farmers market...artichokes? Too warm outside to enjoy one of those steamy cheesy dips. What about a chunky crostini topping? I was on to something. I finished my shopping by adding a baguette to the mix and headed home to play in the kitchen. 

Meditrina from Sokol Blosser

I decided to 'call in backup' for the eating part of my little exercise, there being another week to go before my husband was home to take his place as taster, and called my neighbors. The evening was cloudy but the rumbling and the rain held off until after dark, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the loons calling across the lake while we sipped a pretty little blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir from Oregon.

As we sat on the deck overlooking Lake Margaret we talked about future travel plans, the puppies, the beautifully restored Chris Craft motoring past us on the lake; everything and nothing. After weeks of running it was a moment of quiet entertainment that one lives for in these woods.

Next week will be crazier than the last, with a quick trip to Minneapolis, then Bayfield with friends and back to the North Shore for work; another whirlwind of go-go-go. But just now I was enjoying the moment, the loon calls and the easiness of a summer evening shared with friends.

Salmon, Artichoke and Asparagus Crostini
Light, flavorful and quick. Perfect for a summer evening.

12 oz Smoked Wild Salmon
1 6oz jar quartered Marinated Artichokes, broken (reserve marinade)

2 TBSP Pure Olive Oil
½ Sweet Yellow Onion such as Vidalia, rough chopped
½ # fresh local Asparagus, cut into 1 1/2" pieces
½ tsp dried Thyme Leaves
½ tsp dried Dill Leaves
Kosher Salt and fresh ground Pepper
Shaved Parmesan, if desired

Clean salmon by removing skin, fat and bones. Break into large flakes.
Reserve 2 TBSP marinade from artichokes. Set aside.
Break artichokes into chunks and add to salmon in a medium bowl.
Heat olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add onion and asparagus and saute until just softened.
Add herbs by rubbing them in your palms over the dish. Taste and season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Add marinade from artichokes. Reduce liquid almost completely, remove mixture from heat and cool.
Toss lightly with flaked salmon and artichokes . Serve on toasted baguette slices & top with shaved parmesan. Serves 4

Recipe notes:
  • Rough chopping is just a way of saying 'chunky and irregular' vs. neatly and evenly cut. I think it suits this rustic dish.
  • This mix would be as at home in a frittata or as a topping for fresh greens as it is a topping for crostini.
  • I used a sweet yellow onion but sautéed, chunky-cut shallots would also be wonderful in this recipe.
  • Try adding chopped pepperoni or proscuitto, or roasted garlic, if you have it on hand.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Golden Rice

Want a different take on Wild Rice? This dried fruit and spice packed version is one of my favorite ways to use it.

Golden Rice
This is one of my favorite takes on this tasty grain.

1 ½ cups cooked Wild Rice
1 ½ cups cooked Basmati Rice
1/3 cup chopped Dried Apricots
1/3 cup Golden Raisins
½ cup Sliced Almonds
1/3 cup Chopped Red Onion
1 tsp ground Cardamom
1 tsp ground Ginger
½ tsp ground Cinnamon
½ tsp Turmeric
¼ tsp ground Cloves
¼ cup chopped Parsley
1½ tsp Ruth’s Spicy Mango Sauce or substitute a prepared chutney to taste

Cook the grains separately. Toss together with the remaining ingredients. Serve hot or at room temperature. May be made ahead and reheated gently.

Recipe Notes:
  • Other grains such as wheat berries, brown rice, couscous and barley may be added to or substituted for the rice.
  • Cook each grain separately in vegetable or chicken stock for the best texture and flavor.
  • Ruth’s Spicy Mango Sauce can be found in many grocery stores among the sauces and condiments (or order it online) and gives a great zip to this dish.I have substituted various kinds of pureed chutney with great results.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

North Shore Yearnings: Cove Point Lodge

Rush Hour Traffic in the Duluth Harbor

The first time I drove over the hill overlooking Lake Superior I was in awe. Interstate 35 literally cuts the country in half, running from Laredo, Texas all the way to Duluth, Minnesota and the international inland seaport of Superior. As you near Duluth you gain elevation until, almost unexpectedly, the Great Lady lays before you, as far as you can see.

The completed trail will run 86 miles along the North Shore

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and one of the deepest. Even on those few days each summer when insufferable heat marches down the hill to the very edge of the lake and the sand burns your sandaled feet with each step, it is nearly too cold to stand in the shallows.

Dog Tired
A Different Pace
The north and south shores of the lake could not be more different. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, considered one of the top sailing spots in the world, is just an hour and a half drive east from Duluth to Bayfield, Wisconsin. We have sailed among these twenty two islands (collectively, rather than individually, named for the Apostles) on many occasions and on many more, taken the ferry across to Madeline Island for hiking, shopping or just to party with friends at Tom's Burned Down Cafe. 

The Ice Caves near Meyers Beach

The elevations are somewhat lower here and the softer sandstone cliffs have been carved by thousands of years of waves into gaping caverns. We have hiked to these caves in winter from Meyers Beach, finding them coated inside and out in heavy slabs of ice, like massive sculptures.

Bayfield, Wisconsin

I am one of those people who has become enchanted by this huge expanse of water, at times docile and others immensely violent. Old fishermen sit at places like The Rum Line Bar or Morty's in Bayfield and tell harrowing stories of ducking into the shelter of Stockton Island 'just in time' or bailing water as fast as their arms could move “there is no bilge pump faster than a scared man with a bucket”. We are fair weather sailors and are far more likely to be taking photos of the occasional huge breaking waves from the shore.

Watch the Red Bull Surfing Team surf Lake Superior in March of 2011. The team was staying at Cove Point Lodge (buildings in the background).

Hiking the North Shore

The North Shore, along the high elevations of the Sawtooth Mountains, a mile or two inland, is a great contrast to its twin. The mountains skirt this side of the water with the Superior Hiking Trail running their crest. The trail runs from Duluth to the Canadian Border, some 277 miles. Here you see the massive basalt cliffs and the highest point on the lake, Palisade Head. The deep waters off the north shore make anchoring all but impossible in most areas, 1000 foot commercial ships and commercial fishing boats a far more common sight than sailboats.

Waterfall along the trail

This is hikers paradise, waterfalls flowing toward the lake at every turn, State Parks like Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche and Temperance River following the shore north toward Grand Portage and the Canadian border.

Cove Point

Just a few miles north of Split Rock Lighthouse, I am lucky enough to be working for a few weeks at Cove Point Lodge, built in 1995. Literally a stones throw from the water, each of the lodge rooms face the lake and the more recently built Fjord “cabins” (beautiful 2 and 3 bedroom homes) are just up the path.

I take my morning coffee down to Mickey's Fish House, a small building on the waters edge that once belonged to a local commercial fisherman, and lean on the deck railing. I feel the light spray of the morning waves on my face. Maybe I could live in this little building, nestled in the cove and run a porta-bar for tips or dole out firewood? I could pretend to be an old haggard fisher-woman and tell tales of near death on the lake like those old sailors in the bars of Bayfield.

Okay, maybe not, but it is romantic to think about it. For now, I guess I'll just finish my coffee and get back to work.       

Cove Point Lodge Wild Rice

Cove Point Lodge is just 4 miles north of Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. This wonderful Wild Rice Pilaf is often served with dishes like their House Walleye or Steak and Steelhead (Trout) special. 

1 ½ # organic Minnesota wild rice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 med red onion chopped
1 med yellow onion chopped
2 c shredded carrot
1 ½ c slivered almonds
1 c green onion
1½ -2 TBSP Brown Sugar
S&P to taste

Cook wild rice in salted water or stock, drain & cool slightly.
While rice is cooking, sauté red and yellow onion in olive oil until translucent. Place in large bowl.

To sautéed onions, add carrot, almonds, green onion and cooked wild rice. Mix thoroughly. Stir in brown sugar. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm. Rice can be made a day ahead and reheated in a little stock on the stovetop or in the microwave. 

Sunrise on Lake Superior
Recipe Notes:
  • You will find 2 kinds of wild rice from Minnesota: the darker colored cultivated wild rice grown in long oblong paddies, is often sprayed for pests and is combine harvested. California actually now grows more cultivated “wild” rice than Minnesota. Lighter colored truly 'wild' rice that is harvested by small boats along lake shores and in marshes and is a naturally organic product. It is a little harder to find and may be more expensive than it's cousin but if you look for organic wild rice you are likely to find it. 

  • Experiment! Cook different grains separately (wheat berries, quinoa, etc.) and then combine to create different textures. Grains and dried fruits also go together beautifully. Add dried apricots, golden raisins, cherries or other fruits as you like. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crawling Toward Summer: Rhubarb Tarts

Creamy Rhubarb Cheese Tart

I noticed yesterday, while moving the hose to water my currant bushes, that our yard has been graced by not one, but two, turtle nests. When turtles lay their eggs, they scoop out the sand in a distinctive pattern, like a sort of snow angel in the sand. We didn't see the mothers at their work but from the size of the nests they are probably painted turtles, as common as snappers in this area. Both nests face precisely west, as if these absent mothers wanted to point their babies in the right direction, downhill toward the water for the 200 or so yards they will travel to the relative safety of the lake. Spring has arrived.

Chives in the Herb Garden    
I am doing a bit of traveling for work this year and each time I return after a week or so away, the changes are remarkable. The rhubarb, under the last stubborn pile of snow just 5 weeks ago, is full grown now and ready for picking. The black currants have finished flowering and have set fruit, a little late this year. I inspect them daily, willing them to ripen faster, anxious for the huge black fruits, a variety called 'Ben Sarek', as big as ripe blueberries. 

Hops on the trellis

Northern gardens don't have the luxury of long, sleepy starts and slow growth. They are a riot of activity, plants bursting through the soil in brilliant green and racing to full size in 60 or 90 or 120 days to beat, first the heat and then the frost, in their fervor to reproduce. The hops, climbing a trellis on the northwest corner of the property are putting on a full foot of growth per day; an astonishing feat for any plant. I look forward to the canopy of shade they create for outdoor reading all summer long and their beautiful cone-like green flowers; the fruit that beer brewers covet. 


The loons have returned to the lake now and are hatching their young, I hear them mournfully calling to each other across the water as I return to the house. Our neighbors Kevin and Steve have invited me to join them on their boat tonight in a 30 minute ride to Lost Lake Lodge for dinner. If we are lucky, we may see the mother birds with babies hitchhiking on their backs, protected from predators below the water's surface.

                  Maggie, photo-bombing the Rhubarb

I return to the rhubarb and cut most of the great red celery-looking stalks, leaving the largest and toughest stalks to regenerate the plant. My friend Stacy's words come to mind as their tart perfume envelops me. When she stopped by yesterday she remarked on the size of the bushes this year. “There is just something about rhubarb. I look forward to it every year but    somehow in that first bite I realize I have forgotten just how amazing it is.” Or perhaps rhubarb, starring in some sort of cosmic role, is reminding us just how amazing Spring really is? Pea shoots, the first greens snipped from the garden, peppermint spreading in the north garden like a weed, Siberian Iris ready to flower. I often race past them to the next project, forgetting why I planted them in the first place. Is there a lesson for me in those fantastic first flavors?  

spring flavors

Rhubarb is one of the few truly seasonal fruits left. We have managed to find a way to either chemically manipulate the storage of fruits or ship from distant lands fruit like pears and clementines, once rare and fragile, so that you can roll into a grocery store virtually anywhere in the country and find them year round. Yet rhubarb remains safe in the backyards of northern gardens, the domain of grandmothers and urban farmers alike. 

Pork Chops with Rhubarb Sauce on the grill

I cut a couple of stalks the other day as a tease and sautéed them in olive oil with yellow onion, a touch of garlic, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. After adding a little water to thin it to a sauce, I spooned it over pork chops on the grill. It was lightly sweet and lightly tart with just the right touch of richness from the balsamic vinegar. My husband slathered the remaining sauce on bread, declaring it “too good to put in the frig”.

I am in no hurry for the height of summer this year, content to see the turtles hatch in their time and to spend a little more time in the herb and flower garden, taking in the mix of fragrances. I will play with some of the rhubarb stalks today but freeze most of the chopped stalks. Maybe I can hold on to that 'first bite of Spring' feeling a little longer that way.

Creamy Rhubarb Cheese Tart

1 ¼ c flour
2/3 c rolled oats
½ c brown sugar, packed
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ c cold butter

½ c lightly toasted walnuts, chopped, if desired.

Lightly grease the bottom of 6 individual tart pans, a large muffin pan or an 8x8” square pan.

                            a pastry blender                                                               

 Toss together the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or food processor until the mixture is crumbly and even textured.

Set aside ¾ – 1 cup of the mixture for topping. Add the chopped walnuts and set aside.
Press remaining crust mixture lightly into the bottom of the pan/pans. 

8oz cream cheese
4 oz mascarpone cheese
1 c sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp vanilla (I use Madagascar Bourbon brand)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 egg

Beat cheeses and sugar together to combine. Add remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl. 

Stir in 2 cups chopped rhubarb. Pour rhubarb cream cheese mixture over crust, sprinkle with reserved crust mixture and bake, 30-40 minutes until just set. Watch carefully. Cool to room temperature and chill 2 hours or freeze.

Recipe Notes:
  • Mascarpone cheese resembles cream cheese in texture but has a richer 'cheesier' flavor. If you cannot find mascarpone cheese you can substitute more cream cheese.
  • If the crust is pressed too tightly into the bottom of the pan it becomes very hard upon baking. Press it very lightly, just enough to hold it together.
  • Experiment with flavors and spices in this recipe. Increase, decrease or substitute lemon, spices, etc.
  • Try serving this while still a little frozen
  • Make a little sauce of fresh rhubarb or strawberries for the top – sliced fruit, honey or sugar to taste and a little water – cook until softened and use it as a sauce.
  • Want more creamy goodness? Place less crust mixture in the bottom of the pan (just enough to hold the bottom together) and barely sprinkle on the crumbly topping.
  • This can be baked as bars, individual tarts, etc. adjust the baking time accordingly. A 9” whole springform pan took just over an hour. Large muffin tins baked in about 35-40 minutes

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's Summer Salad Time!

In a hurry for a great meal? Try this over chopped romaine lettuce: poached jumbo shrimp, sliced red onion, sliced fresh strawberries & blueberries tossed in Salad Girl Savory Strawberry Organic Dressing. This quick salad is screaming summer.

Salad Girl Dressings are available at Food Co-ops across the country and Whole Foods Markets in the Midwest. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

At the Lake

Mixing Up Sweet Cornbread Salad with Lemony Herb Vinaigrette

Every once in a while I find myself rethinking my place in the universe over the most ordinary of situations.

Summer holidays on the water are a Minnesota tradition. Summer cabins, modest to magnificent, rim virtually every body of water in the state and all are loaded with water worshiping visitors from the first sign of warm weather onward. We are no strangers to this phenomenon, living in a northern lake resort town that boasts all of 900 winter residents and swells to 3000 during the summer months. Tourists come to the northern lakes area to enjoy the water, woods, golf courses, drag races and the non-stop summer nightlife at places like Zorbaz on Gull Lake.

What do we do on holidays with all these tourists about? We, go further north, of course. We spent the Memorial Day weekend visiting family and friends just north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota at my husband Woody's childhood home on Lawrence Lake.

Did somebody say fish fry?

Maggie, our mostly fearless Golden Retriever, went straight for the water. Ah, nothing like starting off a holiday weekend with that wet dog smell. Sister in law Karin was there with her two boys (When did Tiler start looking like a man?). Kurt, a college friend of my husband, met his sister Jen 10 years ago and they have been together since. Their daughters, Baylee and Tia, now 16 &17, brought a carload of friends dressed in colorful sweatshirts bearing high school names like Princeton and Big Lake and kept the place lively throughout the weekend. Razz, a college friend of Kurt and Woody's whose band plays each July at a giant rock festival called Moondance Jam, brought along his guitar and joined us with his lovely daughter, Bella.

On Saturday, neighbors of 30 or more years, Bob and Janet stopped in to invite us all to their 50th wedding anniversary in July. They have known these adults since they were the kids running in circles in this very yard. Having no children of their own, they talked about how much they enjoyed it when 'the kids' rode their bikes over for summer visits and what good times they had shared with their parents at events just like this one, years ago.

Dinner time
Not much later, Woody's high school classmate and longtime neighbor Bob showed up with Ruby, a 10 week old glossy-black lab puppy. Bob is a breeder and Ruby is the last of her litter of seven. She was an instant celebrity upon arrival and her bloodline was evident even at this adorable my-feet-are-too-big-for-my-body stage. After her initial play she sat quietly and observed from her masters lap, seeming to take in all the details of the conversation. Bob and Woody talked at length about school days, where other friends ended up and promised to get together more often.

I slowly began to realize something as I sat and listened to these conversations during evening cocktails around the fire. We are now the 'old people'. Kids and dogs for hours raced in circles, played volleyball, paddle-boated, showed off class rings, chased each other and piled on hammocks together comparing texts from friends partying elsewhere. We 'old people' sat and talked and talked some more: old times, good times, scary times. Recounting the days past. As I listened, I became keenly aware that the kids around us were building the very memories that were being recalled around the fire by an older generation. 


As it got dark, s'mores made with peanut butter cups (a truly inspired idea) were devoured around the fire as Razz entertained us with his guitar. Kids and dogs, friends and family, the old 'been-in-the-family-forever cabin by the lake' seems almost too good to be true. But it was true. And what fun to know that someday, when they are the 'old people' cocktailing around the fire that those same kids will be recreating with their families as we were, something classic, something sappy, just like the generation of oldsters before them.

A Minnesota Fish Fry
 When it came to dinner plans on Saturday it was an easy choice: a Minnesota Fish Fry. If you have never experienced this most classic of lake-country summertime meals, it is one of life's simple pleasures. Piles of fresh fish dredged in seasoned flour, then raw egg, then in your own special-recipe-crispy-coating and fried over an open fire. Traditionally served with fried potatoes and onions, I opted for something lighter.

Sweet Cornbread Salad with Lemony Herb Vinaigrette
As I pulled together the ingredients for a summery bread salad to accompany the fish, I caught sight of a loaf of cornbread. Hmm. Cornbread Salad? Why not? A huge hit and perfect accompaniment to fish.

1 ear Sweet Corn, fresh cut and oven roasted (or frozen, thawed)
¼ c Celery, chopped
¼ c Red Onion, thin sliced
6 large leaves Fresh Basil, julienne cut
½ c Cucumber, diced
1 c Cherry Tomatoes, halved
Salad Girl Lemony Herb Dressing (see notes)
3 -4 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
1 loaf cornbread, torn into bite size pieces
Romaine Lettuce, chopped

Place chopped romaine on a large platter.

Cut the corn from the cob, lay on a cookie sheet and oven roast at 350 degrees until it just begins to brown. Watch carefully. Cool and place into a large bowl. (Alternately, steam corn lightly and cool).

Add celery, red onion, basil, cucumbers and tomatoes to bowl with corn and toss well. Add Salad Girl dressing and mix to coat (use ample dressing). Add the crumbled goat cheese and cornbread pieces and toss again. Pour mixture over romaine and serve.

Sweet Cornbread Salad with Salad Girl Lemony Vinaigrette Dressing

Recipe Notes
  • This would also be great with the addition of black beans, bacon, avocados and chili peppers in a chili-lime dressing. Experiment!
  • Salad Girl is an organic, gluten-free salad dressing line made in Minnesota by my good friends Pam and Jim Powell. Now available in most of the U.S.
  • And those s'mores made with Reeses peanut butter cups? Crazy good. But what about slicing fun size Snickers in half too? Or using Nestles Crunch Bars? This could be dangerous.