Friday, June 28, 2013

It's Not Starbucks Tuna Salad

My small town used to have a Starbucks and while I love to visit my locally-owned coffee shops, there was something a little 'big-city' feel about having a Starbucks. Sadly it closed and I am still happily patronizing the small coffee shops that squeezed out the big corporate giant. One of the things I enjoyed was the food. One salad in particular and one dessert. I'll share the salad recipe here and the dessert will have to wait for another day. The tuna salad is one I just loved. I like tuna salad as much as the next gal, but it can be a little bland. White pasta, white mayo, and light tuna. It lacks color and zip. So when I tasted this one, I knew I had to figure out a way to replicate this one at home. It works great to mix the dressing in a blender so you get the peppers and tomatoes really smooth. To cook frozen peas, I put in a Pyrex measuring cup, cover with boiling water and let stand for a few minutes then drain. Lovely green peas are ready for salad without being overcooked! I do the same thing to soften the sun dried tomatoes. I hope you enjoy this flavorful twist on tuna salad.

It's Not Starbucks' Tuna Salad
2 c. dry penne pasta, cooked according to directions and cooled
8 sundried tomato halves, softened and chopped
4 halves roasted red peppers in oil (I use Mezzetta)
1/4 c. sundried tomato vinaigrette
1/2 c. real mayo
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil leaves
1 c. peas cooked and cooled
1 can albacore tuna in water drained
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Prepare pasta according to directions. Drain and cool. In a blender combine vinaigrette, mayo, peppers, tomatoes, basil and cayenne. Blend until smooth. Pour dressing over pasta. Stir in peas and tuna. Chill until serving.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Seven Layer Salad

Summer seems to have arrived. Today. We've had a couple warm days here and there this month. But it's muggy and hot today. That means salad weather. I try to limit the stove and oven use in the summer so we eat lots of stuff off the grill, lots of salads, and lots of fruit. One of our favorites is a recipe I got from my mother who probably got it from her mother. It's basic, easy and really good. And it involves bacon so you can get even the most anti-salad folk to eat it. You had me a bacon, right? If you use the real bacon bits in the salad aisle, or use leftover bacon from a hearty breakfast, or better yet maybe you grill your bacon outside! The bacon makes it go great with any grilled food. We had ours with hamburgers last night. It was a great combo. 

For cooking peas, you can do it in the microwave, but I use a pyrex measuring cup, add the 2 cups of frozen peas and then add enough boiling water from the electric kettle to submerge the peas. I let them sit a minute or two and then drain. This way they are cooked just enough, AND they stay nice and green! Anyway to keep the heat down in the house is great with me. I hope you enjoy this super easy summer salad.

Seven Layer Salad
1 head lettuce, shredded (or one large bag iceberg shredded lettuce)
1/2 c. chopped onion and green pepper (more or less of either depending on your preferences)
2 c. frozen peas (or fresh) cooked and cooled completely
2 c. real mayo
2 T. sugar
2 ounces of shredded cheddar or cojack
4 slices of bacon, browned and chopped or 1 bag Real Bacon Bits

Put the shredded lettuce in a glass bowl. Layer onion/green pepper bits evenly on the lettuce. Then a layer of peas. Cover the peas with mayo. Sprinkle mayo with sugar. Layer with shredded cheese and top with bacon. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. A couple hours is good, overnight is even okay. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fresh fish and other good things

Catch of the Day Salad at the Angry Trout Cafe, Grand Marais, MN
Well, I have been a little quiet lately. And for good reason. I enjoyed an awesome vacation with my family. We live on the prairie in southwestern Minnesota. We trekked north to the Great Lake Superior. Spotty cell service and limited internet access are what we tech-based working folk seek in a real getaway. We spent a week enjoying Grand Marais and the surrounding boreal forest and canoe areas of Cook County. What a splendid place. It combines the excitement of north woods, lakes, canoeing and wildlife with the added wonder of the inland sea known as Lake Superior and all that goes along with life along the water. 

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, but for all practical purposes it behaves like the sea without the salt. It creates its own weather. It offers up an incredible variety of fresh fish all in the comfortable proximity to the fruits of the northern Minnesota forest: blueberry, maple syrup, wild rice, and more. 

We are fortunate to enjoy our share of walleye every summer thanks to my in-laws who are master walleye fisher-folk on the Missouri River of South Dakota. But to experience the fish of Lake Superior—herring, lake trout, and salmon—is a treat. We made the most of it eating as much fish as we possibly could, all the fresh and smoked delicacies that are unique to the North Shore. We enjoyed a catch of walleye and whitefish with our guide, Joe. We gorged ourselves on smoked whitefish, salmon for more than one meal or trail-side snack. We tasted the fresh fried whitefish and herring in the fish and chips basket thanks to the Dockside Fish Market. And always a favorite, we enjoyed the catch of the day at the Angry Trout. Their Fresh Fish Chowder featuring the day's catch of lake trout is second to none. I also devoured the Catch of the Day Salad pictured on today's blog post. A grilled lake trout on a bed of greens with beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, and cheese smothered in the mustard maple vinaigrette makes for a epicurean adventure that I hope to experience again soon. The dressing is so good I wanted to lick the plate. Seriously.

My post today is not a recipe, it is lauding the wonderful tastes of the North Shore of Minnesota. Among the places we visited include: World's Best Donuts, Sydney's Custard, Java Moose, Angry Trout, Dockside, Sven and Ole's Pizza. There are so many great places to eat in Grand Marais and many we have yet to try... next time!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Barbeque Chicken Salad

When the weather warms up, I love to cook less, grill whenever possible, and eat lots of salads. This is one of our favorites. It combines some great summer flavors, it's easy, and it tastes awesome. You can throw it together with leftover chicken breast. I like to buy the larger packages of 3-4 chicken breasts and either make them all on the grill to have leftovers or split up the package at home and freeze in smaller portions for later. It's a great way to save a little money and time. I always vow to eat more chicken so this helps me do that. This salad works great as a main dish or as a side to grilled steaks or ribs. The barbeque sauce in the dressing really sets this salad apart. I also find that tossing a salad with the dressing in a large bowl right before serving helps you use less dressing while coating every bite. But caution that you have to use what you make and use it immediately or you end up with a lot of soggy leftovers that you won't eat. Try this the next time you have some extra grilled chicken on hand. It's sure to be a hit with the whole family. Also be sure your chicken is cool and so is the corn or it makes the salad lose its crispiness.

Barbeque Chicken Salad
1 large head of lettuce, chopped
2 c. sweet corn, either thawed from frozen or from fresh cooked corn on the cob that is cooled
1 c. sliced black olives
1 large chicken breast, grilled and cooled, cut into chunks
2 c. crushed tortilla chips
optional: 1/2 c. chopped onions

1 c. real mayo
1 c. Sweet Baby Ray's Honey BBQ sauce

Combine mayo and barbeque sauce until smooth. In a large bowl, add lettuce, corn, olives and chicken (onions too if you like them). Start by adding about a half cup of dressing and toss. If you need more dressing to coat the salad, add a bit more. When satisfied with the dressing coverage, add the crushed tortilla chips, toss lightly and serve immediately. Garnish with sliced olives and tortilla chips.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Not Your Kid's Hot Dog

It's summer and if you have kids that means it's hot dog season. Even if you don't have kids, you're likely to eat a hot dog at a picnic or a ball game this time of year. Nothing says summer like baseball and hot dogs. Now at the ball park you might not have a lot of condiments to choose from. Ketchup, mustard, relish, maybe some kraut. That's okay. There is nothing wrong with a traditional dog on a bun. If you feel adventurous, next time you fire up the grill, try some different toppings to jazz up those dogs. Chili cheese dogs are great. Kraut, spicy mustard and crushed pretzels are fun. If you follow the blog, you might soon notice a theme. I've been extremely interested in using spicy peanut sauce lately and here's another way to really shake things up. If the kids eat their hot dogs with ketchup, it doesn't mean you have to eat them the same way. Grown up hot dogs can be just as delicious. The flavors here combine some spicy heat, cool crispiness, summery freshness, and salty crunch.

Not Your Kid's Hot Dog
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
spicy peanut sauce
1 large carrot coarsely shredded or grated
1/2 cup lightly salted dry roasted peanuts, chopped
fresh cilantro, chopped

Grill the hot dogs. Place the dogs in their buns. Drizzle hot dogs with spicy peanut sauce. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts, grated carrots, and fresh chopped cilantro. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

I was home alone one evening. An odd thing around here that I would have to make a meal for myself that was exactly what I wanted to eat. Endless possibilities. Cook? Order in? Carryout? Make it easy on yourself, right? I had just spent over two hours in a late afternoon committee meeting sitting next to someone eating peanuts. It made me hungry and got me thinking of a dish I used to eat regularly. Spicy Soba noodles! Yes! And I had all the necessary ingredients on hand! It's great to throw together when you need a quick meal that doesn't come from a drive-thru. Under 15 minutes start to finish. 15 MINUTES, that includes bringing the water to a boil. This dish was every bit as good as I remembered and made enough to enjoy some cold for lunch the next day. Perfect! These are SO easy especially if you have leftover cooked chicken. The noodles cook in 6 and a half minutes! There you have it—easy dinner for one with extras for lunch.

If you aren't familiar with Soba noodles. Give them a try. Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat. The noodles I use are Eden Soba made with spring wheat and 40% buckwheat. They are dark brown, not the white flour noodles you might be familiar with. They are hearty and filling and super delicious. Eden also makes other varieties of Soba flavored with Wild Yam, Mugwort, Lotus Root and other traditional Japanese pastas. I might be making these more often in variations that will suit the entire family. With kale? With mild peanut sauce? With tofu? In noodle broth? The possibilities are endless indeed. They are nutritious and quick. I'll be testing out some recipes for homemade peanut sauce and will share it when I find one that I like.

Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce
1/2 package of Soba noodles
1 chicken breast grilled and cut into chunks
1 cup fresh spinach cut into strips
2 large fresh basil leaves cut into strips
House of Tsang Bangkok Padang Peanut Sauce to taste, about 2-3 T. is all I used
1/4 cup dry roasted, unsalted peanuts, whole or chopped, whichever you prefer

Cook the noodles according to directions, about 6 and a half minutes is all they need. Drain noodles. Add chicken breast, spinach, basil, peanut sauce to noodles. Stir to coat and heat everything through. Transfer noodles to a bowl and top with peanuts. Drizzle with a little more peanut sauce if desired. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Dessert Party and Lemon Mascarpone

Single Blackberry Cream Coffee Cake cut into layers.
Oh my! It's been over a week since my last post! We had a big week getting ready for a celebration on June 1st. Our dear friends celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a little gathering of friends for music and desserts. My incredibly talented husband provided vocals and another friend, an immensely talented professional musician, Peter Lothringer, provided the guitar magic. It was a great evening of classic ballads and love songs, rock tunes and gospel greats from the likes of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Mahalia Jackson, Elvis, Cat Stevens, and the list goes on. It was a great time. We were so thankful and honored to be a part of such a great evening to celebrate such an awesome milestone. 

The 'bride' began planning the menu about a month earlier. I volunteered to bring three desserts and I wanted them to be memorable. I will focus here on what I chose to make. I enjoyed a luncheon with the couple several weeks earlier where some desserts were served that provided some inspiration. One was a light cake with berries and a lemony filling between the two layers. I offered to figure out a recipe for this kind of dessert. Summer berries and lemonade are flavors that capture summer. I had a great blackberry cream coffee cake recipe that yielded a thin light cake suitable for layering. I was on the hunt for a lemon filling recipe and found many included mascarpone. I confess I had never baked with mascarpone before. I was pretty excited about the possibilities. I offered to make my previously posted Rhubarb Meringue dessert. We are at the peak of rhubarb season right now. And for something a little less heavy and sweet, we came up with the idea for fresh fruits and artisan cheeses. I found some exquisite cheeses at my local grocery store that incorporate fruits like sweet cherry, strawberry, mango and more. I heard about fruit and cheese pairings on NPR's The Splendid Table and was able to pair up some great season fruits with the cheeses available here. I paired apple slices with cinnamon lancashire cheese, strawberries with strawberry chardonnay cheddar, peaches with mango fire cheddar, and red grapes with sweet cherry cheddar. I also included a honey goat cheese served with pineapple. It was a nice addition to the sweets. 

On to the Blackberry Cream Coffee Cake. I posted this originally in April and in that post, I mention exclusions which in this variation I will include. For the party, I made two coffee cakes in 10" springform pans without non-stick coating. I find the dark pans bake too fast on the bottom and I didn't want that taste to overpower the rest of the dessert. So I purchased a couple light tinplate pans. They worked well for the cakes but didn't clean up well so I am still on the hunt for a good springform pan. For the party I planned to layer the two cakes, one with almond topping on top and the one without almonds on the bottom. I was up early the morning of the party to do my baking. I should have done it the night before but alas, I did not. Now I must also confess that not every baking venture comes out perfectly every time. The first attempt seemed to fail. I mixed up the two cakes in separate bowls and baked them at the same time. While baking I noticed they weren't quite 'right' and vaguely remembered the amount of flour I measured was not the same as the recipe called for. Nervous that the cakes were ruined, I finished the baking, removed the cakes to cool, and ran to the store to get new ingredients (namely the blackberries). So I made the cakes again this time taking care to measure things correctly. The cakes went into the fridge to cool while I made the mascarpone. Ideally they would have been made a day ahead so they were completely cooled. But even with the late finish the cake was well received at the party. One guest remarked that it was 'surprisingly rich and light at the same time.' Perfect for summer entertaining, I think.

I did keep the 'mistake' cakes and put them in the freezer thinking I could learn something from how they turned out. I remember putting a lesser measurement of flour in the cake batter instead of 1-3/4 cups. How would that difference affect the cake? I'm no pastry chef so these things are a mystery to me. I waited until yesterday until I took one cake out of the freezer, let it thaw a little and cut into it. It wasn't ruined, but I don't recommend trying it. It was more like a sponge cake than a coffee cake. So with the leftover lemon mascarpone I cut the single cake horizontally and spread the mascarpone on the bottom and put the other layer back on top. That is what you see in the picture above. (See my little puppy in the background!) 

So I ended up with a much smaller version of the original layer cake using the single cake I salvaged from what seemed like certain failure. Single cake but the idea is the same. The full double layer cake makes for a lovely presentation at a formal gathering (see second photo), while the single cake cut into two layers works will for a more modest version of that to enjoy at home for breakfast or dessert.

On to the recipe, finally:

Blackberry Cream Coffee Cake with Lemon Mascarpone

For ONE 10" springform pan: 
(For double layers, make two cakes, preparing each cake separately and omitting almonds on one of the cakes.)

Crumb topping: 
1/2 c.  flour
1/3 c. sugar
zest of one lemon
4 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 c. slivered almonds

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

3 eggs

1 cup yogurt, use a good thick kind
, I used vanilla
1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups fresh blackberries, washed and patted dry.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Lightly grease and flour and 10-inch springform pan.  To make the crumb topping, combine the flour, sugar in a small bowl and mix to combine. Pour in the melted butter and lemon zest and mash with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt and vanilla until well blended. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the liquid ingredients.  Fold together gently until evenly combined and no streaks remain, being careful not to over mix.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Dot the top of the batter with the blackberries. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the berries. 
Bake until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 38-40 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.  Remove the sides of the springform pan. Chill cakes for 2 hours before assembling.
Lemon Mascarpone:1 cup heavy cream
1 tub of mascarpone (8 oz.)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 jar of lemon curd (about 1/2 cup)*
Beat the cream until it starts to get fluffy, add mascarpone and continue to beat. Add 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, scrape down the sides, beat, and repeat until all the sugar is used. Add lemon curd last and beat until creamy. 
Place one cake on the plate, spread with mascarpone in a thick, even layer. Top with second cake (with almonds on top). Chill until serving. 
*Some recipes call for the entire jar, but I wanted the lemon flavor to be lighter to complement the berries and not overpower them. This also yielded more mascarpone than I needed for the layer cake, so I used the leftovers on the test cake later. Use any leftover filling within 2 days. You could use inside crepes, cream puffs, any number of things.
Cake recipe adapted from Williams Sonoma