Supporting the Little Guys

As the crab apple trees and lilacs both came into their full glory, filling the yard with the fragrance of a delayed Spring, I took an additional day of vacation to extend a long weekend, and frantically scrambled to eliminate as much dog and cat hair as possible, while putting together an extra-special spread for the women of my book club.  We are usually pretty low key, but it’s not every day we are honored with the author at the table with us!

Crab Apple Blossoms and Lilacs in Duluth

With a couple of mutual friends in the club, the author of Locally Laid was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to join us for the evening to discuss her book.  Lucie Amundsen was fresh off the circuit of events surrounding “One Book Northland,” the annual community-wide book event in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a frequent speaker and instructor on both writing and agriculture-related topics.

Locally Laid, the book

In full disclosure, but honestly not influencing my review of the book (otherwise, I would simply not have put together a blog post at all!), I have come to know Lucie through a variety of intersecting organizations and activities. Before I became acquainted with Lucie personally, though, I became acquainted with her eggs — those of you following my blog for some time may recall this frittata recipe and encouragement to vote for Locally Laid Eggs as part of the Super Bowl commercial promotion contest (link to that post here)!

Lucie herself is kind, smart, and humor-filled — and the book reads as you would expect from someone like that: well-written, funny, and enlightening about what smaller farmers face in trying to break into the big ag industry and over-crowded grocery shelves. While my family has been a fan of “LoLa,” the little chicken that could (along with her “truly worth-every-penny” eggs) from the beginning, I was not aware of the full story behind this start-up until reading the book. Alongside the business story you also receive a healthy dose of classic Northern Minnesota life and understand why we love it here.

Chicken napkin rings to honor Locally Laid.

My book club has gathered every other month or so for the past 5 years, rotating among our dining room tables in the evening after work, enjoying interesting conversation (sometimes which even touches upon the book!), while sharing a light dinner and wine. The book’s theme this time gave me a chance to break out the chicken napkin rings, and do a little fun browsing for “compatible” wines.

Poultry, Agriculture, and "Uncaged" Wines

And a special book club guest provided an excuse for a festive (yet simple-to-prepare) dessert: Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse (link to full recipe provided).  To add a little color, I mixed in some raspberries with the blackberries, and used a four-berry preserve.  The recipe is easily adapted to a variety of fresh fruit preserves and berries.  It can be partially prepared ahead of time and ready to assemble just before serving – a perfect book club option!

Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

If only I had hosted this book later in the summer, I could have gone to “Farm LoLa” and picked the berries myself to use in the dessert!

Locally Laid is an award-winning book, and is an excellent choice for an engaging book club discussion.  If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you (with or without your book club in tow) can catch Lucie at one of her upcoming speaker events, listed on Locally Laid’s website: http://locallylaid.com/the-book/.

~ Kat

Indian Summer: Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering

Summertime is perfect for lazy afternoons on the patio, with a book in one hand and a beer in the other.  Grilling ribs is an art that requires several hours, so it is a perfect companion for the lazy afternoon on the patio (especially if it is your spouse or partner doing the grilling while you sit with the beer and book!).

My boys and I decided to improve the probability of this scenario by splurging on my husband’s 50th birthday present …… a Primo Oval XL 400 Grill.  Yep, that’s 400 square inches of cooking surface and a ceramic grill construction that allows for perfection in grilling and smoking.  Some men have their dream sports cars, my husband has his dream grill.  When I went shopping for the grill, I texted my sons jokingly, “Do we love him that much?”  My oldest replied, “Well, the grill is a show of love as well as an investment in future meals for ourselves, making the deal substantially more attractive.”  With meals like this Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering, we have been quickly realizing that return on our investment!

Fennel-Spiced Ribs on the grill

The grill was actually the perfect opportunity for my husband to try one of the recipes he had been eyeing in the cookbook I recently purchased from one of my favorite bloggers — Tikka, Tikki & Spicy Bites, authored by Peri Avari and Rohit Kapoor, over at Peri’s Spice Ladle.  The Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering did not disappoint!

After marinating the pork ribs overnight, they were ready for hours of slow roasting on the grill. In order to help keep the ribs moist, my husband sprays them down every 20 minutes or so with a mixture of juice, vinegar and water.

Finishing the Fennel-Spiced Ribs

After smoking the ribs in the rack, and cooking them for a couple hours, he then wraps them in foil to cook for another hour.  The last stage is to put the ribs directly on the grill with indirect heat to finish them with a glaze.

Glazing the Fennel-Spiced Ribs

Using a silicone brush, he glazes with a heated mixture of mango chutney and chicken broth.

Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs on the Grill

After the grilling stage is done, the ribs are transferred to the kitchen for application of the Onion Cilantro Tempering.

Onion Cilantro Tempering on Fennel-Spiced Ribs

Fennel Ribs 20150530 6

We served the ribs with a side of cucumber raita, and bookmarked this recipe for a repeat performance!

Fennel-Spiced Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering and Cucumber Raita

Peri’s newest cookbook, Tikka, Tikki & Spicy Bites, is a bargain at only $5.99 (USD) through Amazon, and also available through Amazon’s international sites.  I have followed Peri’s blog since I began blogging several years ago.  If you are not familiar with Peri’s Spice Ladle, it is a feast for the senses with delicious recipes and food ideas (ranging from family-friendly weeknight meals to more sophisticated dinner and party options), as well as interesting writing on the Indian culture and cooking techniques.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Sorry, I Burned the Pine Nuts

In digging through my draft posts, the ones that never quite saw the light of the blogosphere, I came across this one … sharing an easy pasta recipe with sautéed spinach on the side.  I have mentioned before that my husband is the primary cook in this house; not that I don’t know how or am not willing, but for him it is a hobby and an art, and I willingly enjoy the products of his creativity.  Often when I cook, it is because my husband and boys are gone for the evening or weekend, and I go looking for something quick to put together, so I can pour a glass of wine and hunker down with a good chick flick!

Rigatoni with broccoli and brie ingredients

On one of these occasions when I found myself on the cooking rather than eating side of the food equation, and felt my blog had been sparse on the food posts, I tried to keep the mayhem (and cat hair) in the kitchen at a minimum as I cooked, with an occasional photo along the way.

Feline kitchen help

Four ingredients: whole wheat pasta, broccoli, brie and pine nuts.  Really can’t get much simpler than that.

Whole wheat rigatoni

Broccoli steamer
My old Pampered Chef microwave steamer pot is ideal for quickly steaming veggies.

The challenge is to not eat the brie while chopping it into cubes as the pasta boils!

Brie cubes for pasta

Actually, the real challenge is not getting distracted while the pine nuts are toasting in the skillet.  As usual, I multi-tasked one too many things, and soon the smell of burnt pine nuts was filling the house …. but it was not a loss, and I took one for the team, filling a bowl with a healthy portion.

Pasta with burnt pine nuts ..... aka Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli

And for an additional dose of green leafy vegetables, and another of my favorite quick and easy sides, I couldn’t screw up the Barefoot Contessa’s Garlic Sautéed Spinach (my kind of recipe — advertised prep time: 6 minutes, cook time: 4 minutes!).

Garlic cloves for sauteed spinach

A good olive oil, generous portion of garlic cloves, and fresh spinach leaves mix together for a wonderful wilted dish. It stands alone or would be tasty mixed in with pasta for another pasta with greens option.

For the Garlic Sautéed Spinach recipe, click here.

Garlic Sauteed Spinach

For the Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie recipe, click here.

Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie

Ciao! ~ Kat

Cooking With Fiori di Zucca

The seasonal fiori di zucca dishes offered when we traveled to Italy a few summers ago were some of my favorite food memories!  Each restaurant prepared them slightly differently, and my husband found a little grocery in Rome which had the delicate flowers delivered in the mornings, providing an opportunity for him to attempt making the savory stuffed appetizer himself.

Our shaded yard (not to mention the often short summers in northern Minnesota) does not provide an optimal space for growing squash, pumpkin or zucchini, but when we visited my parents in South Dakota recently, the zucchini blossoms in their garden were plentiful.  My husband carefully packed a half-dozen blossoms in our cooler for the 8-hour road trip home, and treated us to memories of Rome that evening.  Fiori di zucca fritti is a perfect mid-summer small plate to share!

Fiori di Zucca Fritti

Do you have a favorite zucchini/squash blossom recipe to share? I would love to see it!

Recipe my husband used for the Fried Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms pictured above, from Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fried-cheese-stuffed-zucchini-blossoms-recipe.html.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Café Levain’s Sunday Suppers

Café Levain’s Sunday Suppers … I dare you to say that seven times fast!  Actually, if you indulge in the three-course treat, you will be too busy enjoying the simple but savory fare to bother with tongue twisters.

Cafe Levain in South Minneapolis

Upon the recommendation of a foodie friend, I made reservations for Café Levain’s “Sunday Suppers” while visiting the University of Minnesota campus with my son.  I am often skeptical of prix fixe menu options, but Café Levain made me a believer in the concept that a good value can still mean a top quality dining experience.

Sunday Suppers at Cafe Levain

My friend let the chef (a friend of her husband’s) know we would be dining with him that evening, and we were welcomed with a complimentary prosecco (with the non-alcoholic option for my high school-aged son), a nice touch to start the evening.  The ambience was reminiscent of a Paris bistro, warm and cozy, with a simple yet enticing menu.   I had browsed the menu on the website beforehand, and when I saw that a couple of the dishes I had hoped to try were options for the three-course special, I was sold.

Mushroom Brodo at Cafe Levain

I started off with the Mushroom Brodo, with an amazingly flavorful broth.

Cafe Levain's Roasted Chicken

For the main course, my son ordered the roasted chicken and I had the short ribs.   Both entrées were served over a potato puree with cider-braised cabbage, and the flavors of the entrées and sides complemented each other beautifully.  Chef Adam’s recipe for Braised Beef Short Ribs with Port Reduction is on the Cafe Levain websiteThis dish has received rave reviews from numerous critics and food bloggers, with good reason.

Cafe Levain's Short Ribs

While I should not have had room for dessert, I never say “no” to crème brûlée, and this one was definitely worth making room for.  My son had the banana bread pudding and he usually says “no” to dessert, but did not leave a bit on his plate.

Creme Brulee at Cafe Levain

The service was attentive, the dining room casual and relaxed without losing a sense of refinement.  For $25.00, the three-course “Sunday Suppers” menu was a steal!  And the pours with the wine pairings (for a reasonable additional charge) were generous and well-matched.  Whether Sunday, or any day, I highly recommend this hidden gem in South Minneapolis.  I know we will return.

Ciao! ~ Kat