Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Uh Oh

I think my Mulberry Root Beer is a little closer to Mulberry Beer. I just slammed one after a workout and now I'm feeling a bit tipsy. Our sodas always taste yeasty like beer, but never make you feel like you drank a beer- they just don't ferment long enough. Perhaps my kitchen is just too hot for making non-alcoholic beverages?

Good thing I chowed down on a big bowl of millet and eggplant/yellow squash/onion/tomato/kale with my "soda".

Monday, July 28, 2008

Green Tamales

Tonight's meal was brought to you by the sweltering summer heat and an oven turned up to 400F.

I'm currently trying to avoid buying anything at the store, as I've already surpassed our grocery budget for the month. So everything in this meal was already in our garden, pantry, or fridge. Feel free to substitute things that are in YOUR house when you make this.

I was going to just make some collards, some beans, and some polenta...but decided to put it all together inside the collard leaves for a tamale-like dish. I love how it turned out!

Green Tamales (serves 6)

12 collard leaves

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 mild chile, finely chopped
2 cups polenta
4 cups water
1 tsp. salt

1 cup cooked kidney beans (I pressure cooked some)

1 red pepper, seeds removed
2 medium tomatoes
1/2 sweet onion
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. salt

Start by preheating the oven to 400F. To prepare the filling, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and mild chile, stirring as it cooks to prevent any burning. When the garlic is fragrant but not browned, add the polenta, water, and salt. Stir to completely combine. Continue stirring until you have a thick, pudding-like polenta- about 10 minutes should do it. Stir in the cooked kidney beans and remove from heat. Taste the mixture (careful- it's really hot!) and adjust salt to your liking.

Fill a wide, shallow skillet about 1/2 way up with water and heat until simmering. Then wash 12 collard leaves and remove the largest part of the stem- about 1/3-1/2 of the way up the leaf.

Then drop the leaves in the shallow pan of simmering water for, oh, maybe a minute. The leaves should still be bright green. Now it's time to assemble your rolls.

Place about 1/2 cup of filling closer to the stem end of the collard leaf.

Fold in the two lateral sides of the leaf.
The fold up the stem end and continue rolling up and over the filling. Roll them tightly for a nice looking finished dish.
Pack the rolls into a lightly greased 8x11 baking dish. Then prepare your sauce.
Puree red pepper, tomatoes, onion, smoked paprika, and salt in a food processor or blender until smooth. Spoon over the collard tamales and bake, uncovered, for about 20-25 minutes.
We had ours with some tasty sweet corn smothered in Miso-"Butter".
Here's an inside shot:
As you can see- the polenta firms up nicely to mimic a tamale. Except with these tamales you can eat the wrapper!

Drinking Local

Just about everytime an Eat Local Challenge comes up in public conversation, someone mentions upping their percentage of local beer or vodka to meet the challenge guidelines. It's true- we have a decent number of small breweries and even some hard liquor made nearby, I'm told. But I'd be hard pressed to name a single local alcoholic beverage.

The only alcohol in our house is a 2 oz. mini-bottle of tequila I use for making margarita cupcakes and some vanilla extract- neither of which are local. My partner is straight edge, so no alcohol for him. And me- I come from a long line of alcoholics (recovering, thank God) and keep my drinks to about one per year. So I won't be kicking back with a cold local brew anytime soon.

I will, however, be kicking back with a cold Mulberry Root Beer, though!

We started making our own root beer a few years ago. It's not hard to do and the supplies are pretty cheap. Northern Brewing on Grand Ave. has everything you'll need as far as equipment goes and the roots/herbs can be procured at your local co-op. There's a gazillion combinations you can use, but we thought it'd be fun to use up some mulberries in this one.

Mulberry Root Beer
1 quart mulberries, washed (sub any berry)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup date syrup (sub 1/4 cup raisins if you don't have this)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Tbsp. sarsparilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped and the remaining pod
2 Tbsp. licorice root
2 star anise
1 Tbsp. juniper berries
2 gallons filtered water
1/4 tsp granulated ale yeast or champagne yeast

Stir together all fruits/herbs and 1 gallon of the filtered water in a large stockpot. Bring to a simmer and boil for 30 minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Prepare a strainer over another larger pot, carboy, or empty bulk peanut butter bucket. Strain the mulberry-spice liquid, gently pressing the mulberries to get the juice out. Discard strained solids. Add the remaining gallon of water to the jug and stir. Make sure the temperature is lukewarm- no hotter. Then stir the yeast with 1/4 cup of water in a little cup. Add to the jug and stir vigorously. Your brew is now ready to bottle.

It takes some strong bottles to package this up as the carbonation can get pretty fierce. I really recommend only using bail-top bottles designed for this purpose. These should be sterilized with hot water and soap before bottling. We use a spigot rigged up on an old 5 gallon bucket and put a plastic hose over the nozzle that attaches to a bottling wand. But you can get creative about how to get the soda into the bottle- just keep it sterile.

The soda needs to stay in a warmish place (no problem in summer) for a few days. Usually they take about 48 hours for the carbonation to build, but we check after 24 just in case. You might want to open them outside as they can be lots of fun to open- like champagne that's been shaken up.

Once you know they're at the right fizzy consistency, bring them into the basement or a refrigerator to stop the yeast and get those brews ready for drinking!

PS- I can't really guarantee how this brew will taste when finished because it's still sitting on the kitchen floor growing bubbles. But my temperature-test taste was rockin good- kindof like a spiced cherry vanilla soda.

FYI- yes, I cross posted this on the Eat Local Blog. Lazy, but necessary.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

There's nothing for dinner...

Do you ever have those days when you've spent so much time working on a project in the kitchen (homemade bread, a cake, jam, etc.) that you're too tired to cook dinner? I've had a few of those lately. I've had some serious fun making jam, baking for other folks, and gardening, but sometime after all that I just want to order pizza. And since I'm still taking the Eat Local America challenge, I should really focus on making practical meals.

Yesterday I realized that we had a TON of cucumbers. I pick 2-3 per day and we only eat 1 every few days. So it was time to make pickles. This time I used this recipe and added some chili peppers and grape leaves (to keep the pickles crisp). I'm always on a hunt for the perfect pickle recipe. Today after weeding the garden, I found another quart's worth of cucumbers. Of course- AFTER- I make pickles I find the hiding cukes.
Amazingly enough, I still cooked some actual meals after making the pickles.

So here are some of the foods I've enjoyed in the last 2 days. Yesterday the kids and I went to the Farmer's Market and found some really awesome stuff. Perhaps our favorite thing to get is garlic bread from some folks that use local, organic flour. We sliced it up with some Veganaise, fresh local tomatoes, and basil from the garden to make some super good tomato sandwiches. I love that lettuce-leaf basil.

Last night I wanted soup for some reason (maybe because it was nearly 90 in our house and, like, 100% humidity). So here are the local veggies I rounded up for the soup:

Carrots from the farmer's market (hooray for local carrots!)
The first sweet corn of the season
local purple scallions from the co-op
Garlic from the backyard
local shell peas from the co-op
pasilla chilies from the garden

I just simmered this up in a soup pot with a vegan bouillon cube. It sure was tasty.
This morning I got to spend some quality time with the boys. We had tofu scramble with the aforementioned veggies, sesame semolina bread from the farmer's market, and "apple dippers" as mcdonald's would call it: Early crop tart apples dipped in wildwood plain yogurt with maple syrup and cinnamon. Plus some local raspberries.

So I didn't feel tempted to order pizza today- Mission accomplished.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Strawberry Jam Forever

At work we have a little something we like to call "buddies". Sure, we have friends at work, too, but buddies might rank higher than friends...Buddies are free food. Now, buddies are bittersweet. We all love free food, but if it's free at the co-op, that means that our co-op is losing money from the dented, slightly smashed, past its expiration date products. So while I shouldn't have been excited (actually, thrilled) over the 16 quarts of local strawberries sitting in the buddy bin on Wednesday, I was.

I snagged all those strawberries in a heartbeat and promised I'd bring people jam the next day. I decided to use a "Basic Strawberry Jam" recipe from a book called something like "The busy person's guide to canning" (I'm just busy because I'm canning, so I don't know if this book is for me).

I thought it was odd that the recipe didn't call for pectin, but it called for astronomical quantities of sugar, so I figured that would help it set up once it reached the jelly point (220F). So I purchased 36 cups of fair trade, organic cane sugar, 3 more cases of canning jars (I had one) and high-tailed it home. At this point it was 6pm. Probably a little late to start a quadruple batch of jam, but nevermind that.

The jam went according to plan until I had it all sealed up and processed. It had passed the "does it run off a cold spoon in single drops or sheets" test decently. It was a little thinner than usual, but I figured it would just be a softer set kind of jam. Wrong. More like a not-set-at-all type of jam.

So my 42 jars of strawberry jam were delayed until last night. I opened each jar, resterilized the jars, reboiled the jam, and added plenty of pectin this time. Bingo! Forget any risky low acid fruit jams without pectin for this girl. I'm sticking with the sure thing.

As I was eating the jam straight-up out of a spoon last night, I realized that I'd never had homemade strawberry jam. Usually I'll try something before I make 42 jars of it. But, really, who wouldn't like homemade strawberry jam?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A proper Southern meal

This is how I want to eat every day. This is simple food that is rich, satisfying and highly nutritious.

I pressure cooked some black-eyed peas and then seasoned them with Bragg's and a little liquid smoke. For the greens, I fried up some little pieces of marinated tofu, onions, and garlic and then added an assortment of collards, mustard greens, and overgrown lettuce from the garden.

The cornbread is the Southern Style cornbread I always make from Gluten-free cooking school. I eat my cornbread with my meal because I like savory cornbread. Mike and the boys like theirs for desserts, smothered in maple syrup. They were a little bit mad at me for serving the peas on top of the cornbread, but I really wanted them to try it. Instead, the kids scraped the peas off and saved the cornbread for last.

Cucumber "Pickle" Salad

4-5 pickling cucumbers, roughly chopped
2 small cippolini onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill
1 pasillo chile (or other chili you like- these are mild), minced
1/2-1 tsp sea salt (salt to taste)
1-2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

Stir everything together and let it marinate at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Take my word for it

I've cooked up a storm this week, but have nothing much to show for it. You'll just have to take my word for it. I made a Peanut Butter Cheesecake for some friends, but forgot to take a picture. Then I made a tofu quiche for an event and again forgot to take a picture. I was even going to take pictures of some yummy road trip food yesterday again forgot.

Now, I know I could tell you all about these foods without pictures, like how the peanut butter cheesecake batter was so rich that I felt sick after licking a fair amount of batter from the inside of my food processor (Don't worry, guys, this was after your cheesecake was safely in the oven).

And I could tell you about how I got home at 11pm last night after a long day at a Wisconsin Bluegrass festival and still needed to make a quiche for an event at 9am this morning. I almost didn't make it, but then decided I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to make quiche. The crust of a quiche is really my favorite part, so I had to make it from scratch. I filled the crust with sundried tomatoes, (local) broccoli, onions, garlic, and (local) mushrooms. The quiche itself was the tofu, soy cheese, turmeric base from The Garden of Vegan.

But describing food is not nearly as much fun as looking at it (or eating it, for that matter).

So finally tonight I took a picture my dinner!
I love polenta because it cooks up relatively quickly and can be seasoned with anything your heart desires. This polenta has sage and thyme from the garden along with salt and pepper. That's it. The green bean, tofu, mushroom mixture was the best part.

Lately everything I've been making has been seasoned with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, tamari, and a touch of sesame oil. So guess what the sauce on this is...?

The tofu was marinated in this new favorite sauce and chopped up kinda little. I heated some olive oil in a cast iron skillet and fried up the little tofu pieces, then added the green beans from the backyard. Next I threw in 2 thinly sliced cippolini onions (local), sliced creminis (local), and a pasillo chili from the garden. As soon as the mushroom started to wilt, I poured in the sauce and took it off the heat, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan into the sauce.

This meal came together really quickly and I'm hoping it will taste even better in my lunch tomorrow. I was really surprised how much the sage from the polenta really stood out, even with the assertive balsamic vinegar & maple flavors. Yum!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hey Ladies...

I've been battling aphids on my tomato plants since June. I've never noticed any aphids in my gardens before, but they started out on one tomato plant this year and spread to the others. It was my excitement to try this one particular tomato variety that kept me from plucking the infested plant before things got out of hand.

Every year I plant different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I've tried the brandywines, green zebras, garden peach, yellow pear, Juan Flame, Black Krim, and countless others. I've enjoyed every one of them, but I rarely repeat them because there's something special about planting a new (old) variety. Sometimes I'll hear about a variety I want to try and seek it out. Other times (okay, most times) I just like the name of the tomato plant so I'll buy it. I mean, how can you resist a tomato called the "Hillbilly"? Such was also the case with the Italian Cream Sausage tomatoes.

I know, I know. Those tomatoes don't sound vegan, kosher, or even healthy. Maybe that's why they appealed to me so much... And when aphids appeared on my Italian Cream Sausage plant, I just couldn't bring myself to destroy the plant.

I've tried a few of the recommended treatments- I've inspected each leaf, squishing the aphids and their larvae. I've sprayed them with a high pressure hose to knock them off . I've misted them with soapy water to drown the suckers. Yet they still spread to my other tomatoes.

So now, with 6 tomato plants afflicted, I'm bringing in the big guns.

Ladybugs LOVE aphids. Me: not so much. So I'll let the ladies do the work on this one.
{By the way, I got them at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis. They're awesome}

The boys helped me water the garden to encourage the thirsty ladybugs to stay a while, have a drink, and have a bite (of aphids) to eat. Then we spritzed them with some sugar water to make them a little sticky so they won't want to fly too soon. {Don't worry- it doesn't hurt them}
The boys helped me spread the ladies on the tomato plants. We only used about 1/2 the bag. The ladybugs went back in the fridge for a nap until our second spreading. I hope they're hungry!

Some good news from the garden is that the black hollyhocks I got for Mike a few years back are finally blooming. Mike's favorite color is black and when I asked him what flowers he'd like to plant he replied, "Black ones", probably trying to be difficult. So when I found black hollyhocks, I knew we had to plant them.
When I'm out in the garden, using a pitchfork and spreading straw, mucking around in compost, I like to pretend I'm a real farmer. This is how hardcore I feel.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Meet my blog-on-the-side

Dear blog-reading friends,

I know it seems like I've been neglecting you lately. What was that- One post last week?! It's time for you to meet my blog-on-the-side, Eat Local Mississippi Market. What once was just for co-op folks is now open to all. I'm trying not to "cross-post" so that you can get something unique from me at each site. Be forewarned that the MM blog is not all vegan, but the lessons learned and great recipe ideas will be useful no matter what your eating habits.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

St. Croix Adventures

Yesterday our family embarked on a journey into the wilderness. Okay, we just went to a state park, but it felt eons away from the city. We went to William O'Brien state park on the St. Croix river to spend the day canoing, picnicking, and swimming.

Now it probably wasn't the smartest idea for two folks who have never so much as touched a canoe to decide to go on a 2 hour canoe trip on the windiest day of the year with two restless 8-year-olds...But we were feeling adventurous! So we rented a canoe, two paddles, and 4 life jackets and set sail. Except the sailing wasn't exceptionally smooth. It was more like frantically paddling upstream both ways, zig-zagging across the river so much that our short loop probably quadrupled in mileage.

Is there some secret to canoing? It looks so simple in movies and from my usual landlocked view. Perhaps Mike and I didn't have our rhythm right. Or maybe it was the kids deciding to STAND UP and both lean over one side of the canoe, sending us tilting perilously close to the water. Or maybe we had the boat backwards or something (is there a front?). Or maybe the wind really did make our trip be upstream both ways. Whoever we decide to blame, it was pretty stressful trying to keep going one direction and avoiding getting stuck in the shallow parts. But there were moments when we looked up into the trees and the sky and remembered, "Oh, yeah. This is really beautiful!"

It didn't look like a sunny day- in fact, it was downright cloudy with storms coming in that night. Both Mike and I got sunburned kinda bad, but the kids were fine with their farmer tans already established for the summer.

After we got safely back to shore we went to the beach and swam for a little bit and the kids worked on a sand castle. I layed on the beach and tried not to fall asleep. Then we found a shady spot to cook dinner and enjoyed some potatoes and refried beans alongside rice-veggie burgers. Oh, yeah- and chips and soda of course. No eating local today. {wait, that's not true. the corn chips were local and so were the frozen potatoes} In true camping style, we ate these out of paper cups.

We finished eating just as the clouds started rolling in and made it home before the biggest part of the storm hit St. Paul. And just a few minutes later? A tornado warning for our beloved park. We made it out just in time. Good thing we decided not to make it a camping trip!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My second wedding...

I'm super excited to be doing the desserts for another vegan wedding!
This one is in September, so Fall flavors will be featured.

Flavors will be: S'Mores, Maple Walnut, Lime Margarita, and Pumpkin Cream Cheese.

The bride and groom will have a two tiered mini citrus cake covered in cream cheese frosting and lime zest. Aren't these flowers beautiful? Who can guess what kind they are? (No cheating, Erin & Holly!)

After a long hard day of sleeping out on the deck chairs, it was all I could do to whip up a quick salad for dinner. This one is with nappa cabbage, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeños, and green onions. I dressed it with sesame oil, tamari, and rice vinegar. A bit monochromatic, but delicious nonetheless.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Why I'm not very cool

Where do I like to spend a hot Saturday night? In the kitchen, of course.
How ironic that canning or preserving needs to take place during the hottest summer months, when the garden is overflowing with food. This task, while enjoyable, heats my kitchen far beyond lasagna-baking or soup simmering temperatures. It is nearly unbearable.

So today, while making mulberry jam and jalapeño jam (that's two kinds, not mulberry-jalapeño...although that might be good), I took breaks in the kiddie pool in the backyard and sipped ice water.

And then, after heating up the kitchen to unbearable levels, I figured, "Hey, why not make some pasta?" My fellow Eat Local Challenge participants and I have lamented over the lack of very local pasta here in MN. I rely on the Dakota Grower's pasta from North Dakota when I need a quick pasta fix, but there's nothing like homemade pasta.

Tonight I decided to make a tortelloni pasta with 1/2 my dough and some fettuccine with the other half.

The pasta itself is pretty darn local, with flour and water being 99% of the ingredients in this recipe. The filling is as follows:

Herbed Sunflower Seed Pasta Filling

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, toasted in a dry skillet (MN)
1/4 cup water (MN)
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
10 stems from cremini mushrooms (WI)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh thyme (backyard)

After toasting the sunflower seeds until beginning to brown, add 1/4 cup of water and let them soak for about an hour. Go do some yoga in the meantime. Then whizz around the sunflower seeds, soaking water, and remaining ingredients in a food processor until finely minced, but not quite smooth. Use about 1/2 tsp. per 2" round of pasta dough. This would also be super good as a spread on crackers, inside a tortilla, or just off a spoon.

The sauce for this pasta is a white sauce made with Earth Balance, flour, Org. Valley soymilk (WI), salt, green onions (MN), cremini mushroom caps (WI), parsley (backyard) and blanched snap peas (backyard). I didn't measure anything for this recipe, sorry.

Even though it was 9pm before I got to eat dinner, it was damn good. And the best part is, I have fettuccine in the freezer for another day!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


If there's one thing this Eat Local Challenge has done, it's made me really excited about food. {I know what you're thinking..."How could Liz be any more excited about food?"}

A few months ago I never would have squealed with delight after seeing that the nappa cabbage and yellow squash from Wisconsin were delivered today. But today, in the produce aisle, I squealed and even jumped up and down a little after seeing these beauties. Plus, there were local cippolini onions! I'm just so excited to have my menu broaden!

So as soon as I got home I cooked up some buckwheat with the onions, then sauteed yellow squash, zucchini, onion tops, cherry tomatoes and cremini mushrooms with handfuls of fresh parsley, lime basil, and thyme. Wow- this was just what I needed. I just seasoned it with the herbs and salt, so I could really taste the freshness of the veggies.
Afterwards I enjoyed a shake made with OatsCreme (MN made- I emailed them to find out where their oats come from), Organic Valley soymilk (WI), and backyard strawberries.

Now I've just got to plan a fun dinner for tomorrow. I'm just working a 1/2 day, so I could make something really special...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Local Party Food

We hosted a game night at our house last night and I challenged myself to make the snacks as close to 100% local as possible- Here's how I did:

Our burritos were made with homemade flour tortillas (flour from MN and soymilk from IA), homemade refried black beans (beans from MN, peppers from the garden, green garlic from MN/WI), lettuce from the garden, and homemade pico de gallo (tomatoes from MN, green onions from WI, japaleno from garden, cilantro from MN/WI).

The chips were from Whole Grain Milling Co. in MN. The cookies are my Sunny Oat Maple
Cookies (local except for the oil, salt, and vanilla). Our beverage of choice for the night was Rhubarb-Ade. I think I posted before about the Rhubarb Lemonade recipe that my friend Sarah gave to me. I tweaked it just a bit-


6-7 cups chopped rhubarb
7 cups water
1 cup maple sytup
a small handful of fresh lemon verbena leaves
additional 1-2 cups cold water

Boil the rhubarb, maple syrup, and water until the rhubarb is very mushy (maybe 10 minutes). Then strain the liquid in to a pitcher with a fine mesh strainer. In a smaller cup, smash the lemon verbena leaves with a cup water to release the flavor, then add to the rhubarb liquid. Taste the rhubarb ade and add more cold water if it need to be diluted or more maple syrup if it is too sour. {If it's too sweet, you can add some lemon juice, but my rhubarb was tart enough} Refrigerate pitcher for at least 4 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Here's a great bagel sandwich I had a few nights ago- made with a St. Paul Bagelry "everything" bagel, MN tomatoes, MN made pickles, my homemade pickled radishes, and Wisconsin dill mustard. Yum!