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Global Hotdish Supper Club: Italy!

One of the things I have missed most from Chicago are the nights that my friends and I would get together and cook a fun dinner together.  We would drink wine and snack on cheese while we took our time cooking some new dish (pasta made from scratch was a favorite), often not sitting down to eat the actual dinner until very late because we had so much fun through the cooking experience.  Sometimes it was only two of us, sometimes it was a house-filled dinner party.  The size of the group never mattered, it was that I got to spend time with my closest friends making memories doing one of the things I love most: cooking.

I recently was sharing these memories with my sister-in-law Lindsay when she mentioned being a part of a Global Hotdish Supper Club and invited me to join.  I was thrilled to be invited!  The format generally works by the group deciding on a host, then voting on a cuisine.  The host chooses the main dish to make and then everyone else fills in with appetizers, sides, desserts and drinks.  The first time I joined, the group was breaking protocol a bit and simply meeting at an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner.  I had never had Ethiopian food before – I recommend trying it!  It was adventurous, hearty and delicious.

At the Ethiopian restaurant, I shared our story of living in Italy for 3 months before moving back to Minnesota.  Everyone immediately was interested in doing Italian cuisine for the next supper club.  And since I was the one that had the cooking class experience from Italy, I volunteered to host!  The next step was deciding what to make.

First, I knew I wanted to make fresh pasta.  Everyone loves fresh pasta and it had been far too long since I had made it anyway, so I was looking for an excuse.  I decided to go with the classic spinach & ricotta ravioli in a sage butter sauce.  The key to this dish is to splurge for really good ricotta and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The fresher the ricotta, the better.  I am lucky that my local grocery store makes a fresh ricotta in-house.

The recipe for my spinach & ricotta ravioli can be found here: https://italianmidwestern.com/recipes/pasta/spinach-ricotta-ravioli/

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I also wanted to make a meat dish, but wanted something that could be prepared ahead and that was a bit more exotic than the ravioli.  I decided to make a dish we had a couple times in Italy, Vitello Tonnato or Veal in Tuna Sauce.  The dish sounds strange, I know!  The first time we tried it we were being adventurous (see Florence: Day 53).  Our first surprise was that the dish was served cold.  The second surprise was that it was strangely addicting!  So much so that we tried it again later in our trip (see Florence: Day 76).

The recipe for Vitello Tonnato can be found here: https://italianmidwestern.com/recipes/meat/Vitello-Tonnato-veal-in-tuna-sauce/

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That evening there were 6 of us around a table filled with meats, cheeses, tomato and bread soup (my sister-in-law made the recipe from Florence: Day 27), bread and wine. Then we enjoyed panna cotta and homemade limoncello for dessert. There was a lot of great conversation and tons of laughter! I truly enjoyed the evening and am so thankful to have been included in such a special group of women who share my love of food and exploring different cuisines!
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Canning & Freezing

Between my back yard garden (which is something I always longed to have while living in Chicago), my brother’s HUGE garden plot at work (he works on a farm), and some scores from my local farmers market, I have been working through the first of the summer’s bounty.

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Not pictured: 8 lbs of pickling cucumbers.

I had this week off of work, so I had plenty of time to spend planning, cooking, freezing and canning.  This truly was so much fun for me to work through.  The kitchen is my happy place!  I am not going to go into great detail of everything I did, but will touch on the highlights of how I used a variety of these ingredients.  I found most of my recipes online, so I will include links for anyone else that may be looking for ideas.

Bacon Tomato Cucumber Salad

After a morning of finding recipes, planning a shopping list and going grocery shopping, I needed some lunch.  So I took the one non-pickling cucumber I had and a few of the many, many tomatoes and made this Bacon Tomato Cucumber salad.  I tweaked the recipe a little bit – I substituted 1/2 the mayo with greek yogurt and added a splash of champagne vinegar.  This was SO easy to throw together and it was super delicious!  It tasted like a BLT in a bowl.  It gets soggy leftover, so only make as much as you want to eat.  But again, it was so easy it was totally worth it.  This will become a regular recipe for me.

http://simplyhealthyhome.com/bacon-tomato-cucumber-salad/

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Giardiniera

Joe loves Giardiniera and it’s not as abundantly available in MN as it is in Chicago (most people would recognize this as the hot pepper mixture that Potbelly’s uses on its sandwiches).  And this was a great use for a few of the smaller quantity vegetables I had on hand.  I used several of the chilis, a few of the carrots and some farmers market cauliflower I had in the freezer.  The recipe calls for 4-8 serrano chilis, depending on how hot you want the giardiniera to be.  I went with 6 targeting a medium heat and so far, I think it could stand to be hotter.  I started the process 48 hours ago, so it still may gain heat as it sits.  It is a couple day process to make, but is not very labor intensive.  It turned out pretty well and I expect it to get better and better as it marinades.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jeff-mauro/homemade-hot-giardiniera-recipe.html?ic1=obinsite&_escaped_fragment_=

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Day 1: soaking in salt water

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Final product: this yielded about 1 2/3 pint jars, though I didn’t use an entire bell pepper like the recipe called for, so this could easily yield 2 full pint jars.

Homemade Pepper Flakes

There were seriously so many chilis…..so I decided to cut several in half and stick them in the food dehydrator.  It took about 24 hours at 100 degrees to dry these out.  Once dried, I put them in my mini food processor and made homemade chili flakes.  I kept all the seeds in the mixture, so I’m expecting these to pack a good punch of heat.  These are now sitting in a dish next to my stove ready to be used for general cooking.

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Moroccan Lentil Soup with Sweet Potato

I used the rest of the carrots and some onions from my brother’s garden and some farmers market kale to make one of my favorite healthy soups.  This dish has a such a warm, spicy flavor – it’s very comforting.  Yet it is packed with super healthy ingredients, so I love to have this in the freezer for whenever I am in need of something light and nutritious.  This is a Daphne Oz recipe and can be found both online and in her cookbook, Relish.

http://abc.go.com/shows/the-chew/recipes/Red-Lentil-Sweet-Potato-Stew-Daphne-Oz?cid=pinterest_thechew

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Frozen Zucchini and Zucchini Relish

So. Much. Zucchini.  My brother had several monster zucchinis from his garden and I’m growing zucchini in my back yard as well.  So I had to think of a few ways to use these.  First, I simply grated several of the zucchini in my food processor to freeze.  So I’ll have zucchini on hand to easily use all winter.  I’m not much of a baker, but I may have to take a stab at zucchini bread one of these days.

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I searched for a lot of ideas of how to use/preserve so much zucchini.  I came across a lot of pickle recipes, but because I was making so many pickles already, I wanted to find something a little different.  Finally, I found this summer squash relish recipe.  Tasting it on its own, it’s not my favorite.  But I have already mixed with a little mayo and greek yogurt to make a tartar sauce and I mixed it with mayo and ketchup to make a Thousand Island-type dressing for sandwiches.  Both applications turned out quite tasty!  This recipe yielded a LOT, so I will have to get creative to use it (and will be giving several jars away – with ideas of what to do with it).

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/summer-squash-relish-recipe.html

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Step 1: Layering the salted zucchini and onions to release their moisture

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Final product (this yielded 8 jelly jars and a pint in total).

Pickles

As I mentioned earlier, I got 8 lbs of pickling cucumbers from my brother.  And I inherited a TON of dill in my backyard garden from the previous owner.  So I made two types of pickles: spicy dill (pictured left) and sweet and spicy pickles (pictured right).  I have never made pickles before and they need to sit at least 2-3 weeks to come to flavor, so I have no idea if these turned out yet.  I’m excited to try them!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/spicy-dill-pickles-recipe.html

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/emerils-homemade-sweet-and-spicy-pickles-recipe.html

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Onion and Rosemary Confiturra

I saved the best for last!!  To use onions from my brother’s garden and from the farmers market and to use rosemary from my back yard, I decided to try this recipe which is essentially like an onion jam.  It is SO GOOD!  One small bite is packed with flavor and is both sweet and savory.  I tried this on some cheese and it was heavenly.  I know this will be great on steak as well, and I look forward to finding other ways to use it.  I highly recommend this recipe!

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/08/seriously-italian-onion-and-rosemary-confiturra-recipe.html

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Onion Confiturra on the right (zucchini relish in process on the left)

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Jars of gold!  This recipe yielded 4 jelly jars.

Here is the full line-up of canned items.  I’m very excited to share these with loved ones and enjoy these throughout the fall and winter!

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Cooking with Emily: Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi

It has been far too long since I have returned to the cooking I learned in Italy and added a recipe to the blog.  Now that life is starting to get truly settled in MN, I am excited to get back to cooking and sharing these recipes.  And the best thing is that Emily is now old enough to start helping.  She certainly has to be monitored, can only help with certain parts of the process and I need to accept the fact that she will make a complete mess, but it sure is worth it to cook together!  Our first official blog recipe made together:

Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi  http://italianmidwestern.com/recipes/vegetables/spinach-ricotta-gnudi/

Enjoy!

Sporting our personalized aprons from Italy:

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Stemming/Weighing Spinach:

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Rolling Gnudi (okay – she was mostly playing/making a mess – but having fun!):

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Football Food: Part 1

Those that know me well know that I am a huge football fan. And I’m loyal to my home state and the Minnesota Vikings, no matter how heartbreaking of a team they can be! Football season is one of the reasons I love fall. That and the beautiful colors from the changing leaves, and the craving for hearty comfort food. Football Sundays are the perfect excuse to indulge once a week! I’m going to highlight the football food we enjoyed for the first four weeks of this season. The middle of the season has been busy with weddings, traveling and house hunting. That and the fact that it’s been a terrible season for the Vikings has taken my focus away from football a little bit. But now that we are into November, it’s time to refocus! I plan to do a second post towards the end of the season with more football food ideas. In the meantime, here are weeks 1-4:

Week 1

The first week was a fabulous week for the Vikings! At the beginning of the season, people had high hopes for the Rams and low hopes for the Vikings, so when we beat the Rams on the road, it was very exciting to watch.

There is no better drink for football in my opinion (outside of beer) than a bloody mary. And when I make them, they are pretty much an appetizer and drink rolled into one. I love the fixings that go along with the drink! We enjoyed celery, bacon and a skewer of salami, cheese, pickles and olives. I think of it as an antipasti bloody mary and it’s a true combination of Italian and Midwestern!

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Next I made baked jalapeno poppers. I stuffed the peppers with a mixture of cream cheese and shredded pepper-jack. I then rolled the stuffed peppers in flour, then eggs, then breadcrumbs. I put them on a foil-lined baking sheet and baked them at 350 for about 30 minutes. They turned out beautifully crispy and gooey in the center. It was my first time attempting to make these at home and I can say they were a hit!

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Lastly, we enjoyed a true Minnesota staple: cream of chicken and wild rice soup. This is probably a dish that I will make my own recipe for and post on the blog one day, but this time we had been given frozen, homemade soup from my mom. So we simply reheated and enjoyed her home-cooking. It is one of my absolute favorite soups and is so creamy and comforting!

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Week 2

We went into week two cautiously optimistic. It was our home-opener against the New England Patriots. The Patriots really didn’t look very good in week 1, so we were hopeful we might actually have a chance of beating them. That hope didn’t last long as they beat us 30-7.

We enjoyed this week of football (in spite of the loss) up at Joe’s parents’ cabin near Ely, MN. I was going back to work a couple weeks later, so we decided to enjoy a long weekend at the cabin while we still had such a flexible schedule. When I ask Joe what his idea of football food is, he always answers with chili. So I made chili. I didn’t do anything earth-shattering here. I just chopped an onion and a red bell pepper and sauteed them while browning some beef. I then added canned tomatoes, canned beans and a packet of chili seasoning and then let it simmer so all of the flavors combined. It was extremely easy and turned out very delicious.

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One of my favorite football foods is queso. I decided to make a homemade version that combines evaporated milk with shredded cheese that is tossed with cornstarch. I added a couple cans of drained Rotel and let it simmer until thick. The queso was delicious with chips….

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…and we discovered it was delicious on top of the chili!

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Week 3

The third week brought a loss from the Saints. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t even very fun to watch. But, Joe & I had fun stopping off at a restaurant along the road on our trip back from a weekend at a cabin up north with friends. The restaurant we chose was Rough-Cut Grill & Bar in Milaca, MN.

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We wanted good football food, but didn’t want to be stuffed, so we decided to split an appetizer and a burger. Little did we know, the appetizer we ordered was enormous! It was fabulous football food. The appetizer was called Smokin’ Pork Fries and was a bed of french fries covered in pulled pork, chipotle barbecue sauce and ranch. Although certainly heavy, the fries were extremely delicious!

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After packing up 75% of the Smokin’ Pork Fries to go, Joe and I split the mushroom and swiss burger. The burger was juicy and flavorful and was served on a tender ciabatta bun. It was a very good meal and I highly recommend stopping at Rough-Cut if you ever find yourself driving on highway 169 in central Minnesota!

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Week 4

We got a glimmer of hope in the fourth week when we beat the Falcons 41-28. Unlike the couple weeks before, this was a fun game to watch. In addition to that actual food I like to enjoy while watching football, I love the company of other Vikings fans. This week I invited my immediate family over to enjoy the game and some food. I decided to have everyone bring some appetizers and I would supply a main dish.

The main dish I decided to make was Amy Thielen’s Booya-Pozole from her cookbook “The New Midwestern Table.” I always seem to make a couple modifications to a recipe these days, partly to simplify the process based on the ingredients I have available to me, and partly to put my own touch on a recipe. The main modifications I made this time was that I only used pork (the recipe calls for pork and chicken) and I smoked the pork on my Big Green Egg before adding it to the stew.

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The smoked pork added a wonderfully smoky flavor to the broth. The other main modification I made to the recipe was that I pureed part of the broth with only the vegetables in it to make it a bit of a smoother/creamier soup. But this recipe is truly wonderful as it is. It takes some time to prepare, but it is so hearty and wonderful, it is well worth the effort. And I always make a huge pot and freeze some to enjoy later in the winter.

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The spread my family brought was great. It ranged from guacamole to sushi to a sweet pumpkin dip for apples and gingersnaps. I had so much fun enjoying a Vikings win with my family!

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Up North

When people hear that we spent three months in Italy and that I love to cook, they assume that I find the food in Minnesota a let down. That’s not true at all! I love finding great regional food and this summer, I had a lot of fun discovering some great dishes on our trips up to my in-laws’ lake cabin near the Canadian border. Here I am highlighting just a few of my favorites up north:

The Boathouse in Ely, MN

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The Boathouse is a great place to find some craft beers (something I love in the US, but were hard to find in Italy). It also has a great rustic Minnesota feel with wood finishing and deer on the walls.

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If you can’t decide which beer you’d like to try, you can get a flight. I personally love getting a flight because I love variety, but don’t need the volume. So it’s a great way to get four small, different beers. If there is one beer I would say is a must try, it’s their blueberry blonde. I’m not generally fond of fruity beers (or blonde ales, for that matter), but this one is so good. I have it every summer. It is also fun to watch the blueberries float and sink in the beer (they constantly move around).

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They also have great food. My favorite starter is the gunboats. They are jalapeno peppers stuffed with a wild rice cream cheese mixture and topped with crumbled sausage. They are like a lighter jalapeno popper and are really delicious. They also have duck wings on the menu, which I unfortunately don’t have a picture of, but are another great and unique option.

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Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse in Knife River, MN

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Stopping at Russ Kendall’s on our way back from the cabin became a new tradition this summer. I have no doubt we will continue to do this at least once a summer from this point on. They have roughly eight different kinds of smoked fish including several varieties of salmon, whitefish and lake trout.

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They also sell tubs of cheese spread (we always get swiss almond which I think goes best with the smoked fish) and crackers. A cracker, some cheese and a piece of smoked fish makes an amazing snack. We bring the fish home and enjoy it for days. There are no doubt more creative things a person could do with this fish, but I like the cracker snacks so much I haven’t even bothered trying anything else.

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Rockwood in Ely, MN

A trip up north would not be complete without walleye. Rockwood is great because they take traditional Minnesota ingredients like walleye and duck and work them into dishes from other regions or countries. One example not pictured is walleye rangoon, a play on crab rangoon. On our last trip to Rockwood, we tried their walleye cakes with wild rice and they were delicious!

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We also tried the poutine with chopped duck breast. Duck is probably my favorite meat. This and the duck wings at Boathouse are the least formal presentations of duck I’ve ever eaten. But they are fantastic! Obviously this is a heavy dish, but it was was delicious and the duck made it even more decadent.

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Haute Dish Review

My friend Marah was in town for business, so it gave me the opportunity to go into Minneapolis for a great “foodie” dinner! I used to have foodie dinners in Chicago on a regular basis and obviously had amazing meals in Italy all the time. Since we have moved back to Minnesota, I have yet to get out for a unique and amazing meal. Marah and I both love to cook and we appreciate both regional home-cooking as well as chef-prepared “foodie” dinners. I decided Haute Dish was the perfect restaurant to try. The name is a play on the Minnesota comfort food of hotdish and the menu seemed to take both aspects of the food we love and combine them. I had been wanting to try this restaurant for awhile and when I explained the concept to Marah, she loved it.

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The restaurant only offers a few tasting menus, so we decided to try two of the smaller tastings and split them. The first was the “HD Classic” and consisted of three courses: house salad, mac n cheese and tater tot hautedish. The other was “Meatless Monday” and consisted of four courses: green goddess salad, fried green tomato, green eggs and parm, and “choose your own adventure” for dessert. It was quite dim in the restaurant and I only had my iPhone for a camera, so I admit these are not the greatest pictures of the food. But I feel they are enough to capture the idea of what we enjoyed.

The first course of the HD Classic menu was “house salad.” It was a wedge of iceberg topped with bacon, blue cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers and served with french and ranch dressing. I absolutely love that this is the traditional midwestern salad I have grown up with, but obviously elevated. The presentation was beautiful, all of the components were very fresh and delicious and the ranch tasted of fresh herbs. It was a great start to the meal.

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The second salad was the green goddess salad.  It was bibb lettuce served with a green goddess dressing topped with toasted peanuts, cheese stuffed peppadew peppers and green olives.  The flavors were bright and I absolutely love cheese stuffed peppers (I have my own recipe on this site under antipasti or at http://italianmidwestern.com/recipes/antipasto/stuffed-cherry-peppers/).  This salad was very enjoyable, but not quite as outstanding as the house salad.

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Our second courses were the best courses overall. For the classic menu, we were served macaroni and cheese with crab meat that had an extremely creamy cheese sauce that included tallegio cheese, one of my favorites that I ate a LOT while in Italy! It was topped with tobiko (flying fish roe), fresh parsley and celery leaves. This was so decadent and amazing. It is a very good thing this course was portion controlled, because I would have had a very hard time stopping myself if I was presented with a much larger plate-full!

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The meatless Monday menu’s second course was fried green tomatoes. These were served with a fingerling puree and a roasted tomatillo chimichurri.  The tomatoes were perfectly fried to a tender, but firm texture with a crispy outer coating.  The fingerling puree added richness and the chimichurri brought a brightness that cut through the heaviness of the dish.  It was so delicious!

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I have to say we didn’t love the main courses. We certainly didn’t hate them either, but we were not blown away by these dishes. The classic menu’s tater tot hautedish was my most anticipated dish of the night. This was a deconstructed version of the traditional Minnesota dish. It was braised beef, homemade tater tots (which had the consistency of mashed potatoes that were formed into a tater tot shape and then fried), green beans, mushrooms, gravy and jus from the beef. Then the dish was topped with a little cheese. Overall this dish was very good, it was just over-salted. I think the braised beef and the jus were the culprits. My guess is the sauce over-thickened and the saltiness became too intense. If the saltiness were better balanced, this dish would have been excellent!

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The main course for the meatless Monday menu was green eggs and parm. This was my least favorite dish of the meal. It was a parmesan steak, for lack of a better term, served with an heirloom tomato sauce, a fried egg, and a fennel garnish. I like the idea of what they tried to do with the parmesan, but I didn’t love the texture of the “steak”. And unfortunately none of the other components of the dish wowed me either.

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To finish the meal, we split a dessert. We chose the cheesecake that was topped with a brittle and served with a bourbon caramel sauce. This dessert was excellent and plenty to share! It was a great mix of textures and was decadent, but not overly sweet. It was a fabulous end to the meal.

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Overall, I loved our dinner at Hautedish and continue to love the concept of this restaurant! This was the perfect choice for my first “foodie” dinner out since our return to Minneapolis.

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Thank You Dinner

If you are a close friend or family member of mine and you offer me help in a time of need, there’s a good chance your thank you will come in the form of food. My soon-to-be sister-in-law Lindsay loaned me her car for four days so that Emily and I weren’t without a car while Joe made a trip to Chicago to tend to our condo. Joe didn’t get home until late on the evening that Lindsay needed her car back, so my brother drove her up to get it on a Tuesday after work. Since they were coming at dinner time, I figured cooking them dinner would be a great way to say thank you and to hopefully make the trip up to our place feel a little more worth-while.

Although I’m excited to get back to work, I admit I will miss having the opportunity to cook a meal like this on a Tuesday night. As an antipasti, I made stuffed cherry peppers. These were inspired by the stuffed peppers I used to buy at Pastoral in the French Market in Chicago. I found a jar of sweet and spicy cherry peppers at Trader Joe’s and knew I had to make up a recipe of my own. I mixed goat cheese, ricotta, a mix of fresh herbs and lemon juice and stuffed the peppers. They turned out sweet, spicy, creamy and delicious! The recipe can be found under the recipe section of this blog, or at the below link:

http://italianmidwestern.com/recipes/antipasto/stuffed-cherry-peppers/

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For the primi piatti, I made a tomato and corn custard pie. I found this recipe in the September 2014 issue of the Food Network Magazine. To be honest, I used needing to thank Lindsay for using her car as an excuse to make this pie. It was SO GOOD. I bought fresh sweet corn and an amazing (and huge) tomato from a local farm stand. The quality of corn and tomatoes used makes all the difference in this recipe and it is certainly no coincidence this recipe was in the September issue of this magazine since this is the best time of year for corn and tomatoes. I will likely find a reason to make this pie at the end of every summer. It was so creamy and decadent but also really highlighted the flavors of the corn and tomatoes. It was so good!

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Lastly, I served my own version of tagliata di manza (strips of beef) as the secondi piatti. I fired up the big green egg and grilled a flank steak that I had marinaded in olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped rosemary. I served it as we experienced in Italy, with an arugula salad, shaved parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Such a simple and delicious dish!

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