Archive | January, 2012

Thanksgiving Decorations = A Tasty Snack

31 Jan
by Francine

A photo of the roasted seedsIn early fall, our kind farming friends gave us many pumpkin-y things to decorate the restaurant. When Christmas took over the restaurant, I brought the harvest to our living room.

A few weeks ago I realized, I should probably remove the harvest decorations since there was snow on the ground and our neighbor had already removed his outdoor Christmas lights.

Instead of just throwing away the squashes, I wanted to get the seeds out of them so I could have a snack.

Never one to be deterred by a thick skinned squash, I decided to crack them open by dropping them on the kitchen floor.  (I should mention that our kitchen floor is old linoleum and that no one is in love with the state of our kitchen…it’s constantly mentioned that it needs a facelift.) I do not recommend this method of opening gourds or squash if you have lovely wood floors or if someone in your house is trying to take a nap.A photo of the cracked gourds

Once the squash cracked open a bit (it took quite a few times of ‘dropping’ on the floor), I used a knife to wedge it open some more and scoop out the seeds.

Then I rinsed the seeds, salted them and toasted them in the oven. Crunchy and yum!

There were five different kinds of squash and gourds. I tossed all the seeds into one bowl.  I couldn’t really tasty a difference between them except for the seeds of the turban squash…they were very big and not too crunchy.

But I do have a warning… Photo of an unpleasant squash*For more information on this bitter orange guy see the comments.

Do you have a method for opening gourds and slightly dried out squash that is more sophisticated than “drop repeatedly on the floor”? If so, I’d love to hear!

Do you like toasted squash seeds?  Do you season them with anything other than salt?

Happy cracking!

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Saveurs de Coree: Beijing, China

26 Jan
by Francine

Saveurs de Coree: Fine Korean Grill in Beijing, China

Finding this restaurant was a relief because the day before Scott and I had wandered around alleys and major roads looking for a restaurant that served oat noodles.  We never found that restaurant and the hunt left us grumpy, hungry and disappointed that we were unable to try oat noodles…how great do those sound!?

So when we set off with the address of this restaurant in hand and the promise of top gA photo of the restaurantrade beef from a nearby Chinese province, I secretly crossed my fingers that we’d find the restaurant without too much wandering.

What we found was a lovely little restaurant in a Beijing hutong. (Hutongs are small alley/ neighborhoods…it’s hard to describe exactly.)  As soon as we stepped inside we were impressed by the architecture and the décor, which was minimalistic and airy.  

As our evening progressed we were more and more delighted: there was a fruity soju cocktail, melt in your mouth beef, fresh kimchi, cute dishware, crispy-n-crunchy sesame coated tuna, cinnamon tea with pine nuts…oh my!

We had a lovely dinner…read on to find out the breakdown of this far away, but doing things somewhat locally, restaurant.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 3

Their website advertised beef from Liaoning province and seafood from Shandong province. I was very excited to find a restaurant that sourced its ingredients, this wasn’t something I often came across when I dined out in China.  The menu was well designed to explain their food items and to explain their mission to serve healthy, sustainable and MSG-free food.A photo of the food

Flavour: 5

This place definitely gets a 5 because we were able to enjoy the Korean flavors we love and are familiar with punched up a notch as well as experiencing some new tastes.

I really like Beef Bulgogi. I’ve even made it a few times and it’s always beefy and sweet, but the Beef Bulgolgi at Saveur de Coree stands out as the best I’ve ever had.  We grilled it on our tabletop grill. The meat was wonderfully marinated and tender.A photo of the grill
We experienced something new when we ordered the iced cinnamon tea; it was cooling and spicy at the same time. It came with pine nuts floating on the surface. (And anything with pine nuts gets my thumbs up.)  We were hoping to try a dessert of sweet rice balls dipped in nuts, but they didn’t have any…that would have been another new flavor experience and a tasty treat!

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

We were seated near the kitchen (in a tiny restaurant like this with a kitchen on each floor, most diners will be seated near the kitchen).  I was hesitant because I thought it might be noisy, but I barely even noticed; and when I did notice, I was charmed.  

When our food was up, the cook notified the server by lightly donging a gong.  It’s a simpA photo of the kitchenle thing, but significant because most of the time when you sit near the kitchen you hear something like “order up” in the States and probably its equivalent loudly spoken in Chinese.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor:  5

Korean barbecues are fun, but they can sometimes be uncomfortable.  The grill is right at your table so you can really feel the heat.  This place tried hard to create an elegant yet comfortable table with a grill top.  

As I sat down, I was told that I could put my purse into my stool—the seat lifted off and the stool was a small storage unit. This was something new for me and it was nice to have my stuff out of the way.

A photo of the grillerThe wait staff was helpful but not too helpful.  They asked us if we wanted help grilling our food, but we didn’t need any help. (It’s unusual because often at Korean BBQs in China the wait staff assumed we didn’t know what we were doing. So it was nice to be left alone to enjoy the food, just the two of us with Scott as the grill master.)

The design of the place was interesting. There were 2 floors, but the second floor was more of a loft.  There were rustic wooden beams and white stucco walls.  It was a charming atmosphere in which to eat.

Overall Rating: 13+

If you ever find yourself wandering the hutongs of Beijing, grab this address so you can enjoy some of China’s finest ingredients, Korean flavors and a cozy little restaurant.  But make sure you have enough cash…it is a tad pricey, but certainly worth every 块 kuai (one of the many ways to refer to Chinese currency). :)

Winter on the Outside, Summer on the Inside: Watermelon Radish

24 Jan
by Francine

A photo of the radishIt doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you cut it open and see its brilliant pink, you’ll know why another name for this radish is Beauty Heart Radish.

 I first encountered it when I was living in China. One day it appeared in a lettuce and carrot salad when I was eating at a neighborhood restaurant with fellow teachers.

Immediately I fell in love with its color, its crunchy texture and its subtle radish flavor. Later I had it in another salad where it was the star of the dish. 

When I saw one of these radishes for sale at our local co-op, I knew that I had to try and re-create the salad I enjoyed many times when I was living in China.

I should also mention that these can keep for awhile. (I stored one in the fridge for about a month before using it…gotta love long lasting winter vegetables.)

Watermelon Radish Salad: Chinese Style

Ingredients:A photo of the inside
  • 1 watermelon radish
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt (to taste)
  • handful of roasted peanuts
  • 3-5 green onions
  • sesame seeds (for garnish)
Directions:

Using a peeler, remove the tough light green skin. It’s okay if there’s some white “rind” left on the radish. Cut the radish into small pieces and toss with a dash of salt in a bowl. Set aside.

A photo of the saladPrepare the sauce. Mix soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and sugar in a small bowl and stir with a spoon. Taste. If it needs more of any ingredient, you can add more. (I know this might not be the best way for those of you who love to follow recipes, but you should feel confident that you can add more or less of any ingredient, depending on whether or not you like it or how much you like it.)

Dice the green onions. If you have peanuts in their shells, crack them open and remove the thin papery covering.

Pour the sauce over the radish slices and toss together with peanuts and diced green onions. Top with toasted sesame seeds for extra crunch.

This salad is served cold. It would be a great accompaniment to a stir fry. Or if you’re like me, you can just eat it will a big bowl of steamed rice.

Have you ever tried other types of radishes? Would you be willing to put a little summer in your winter?

Chicken Cacciatore: Don’t Let This Dish Pass You By

15 Jan
by Deanne

If you are not from an Italian family, you might have missed this dish. Steve and I prepared it for the family, and I was the only one who’d had it before.  I made it once as a teenager…that must have been back when I was fairly certain I’d marry an Italian. ;)

It’s a hearty, but not heavy, meal for a cold winter’s night.  It’s a great way to use some of the summer veggies you stored from your garden or the farmer’s market: tomatoes, green or red peppers, carrots, and garlic.  We used the tomatoes that we put in the freezer at the end  summer.A photo of summer tomatoesWe adapted several recipes, but below is the basic recipe from my 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking

Our adaptations:

  • We added green peppers and roasted the mushrooms. 
  • We used red wine instead of white wine.
  • We seasoned with fresh oregano and basil instead of the spices listed in the recipe.

Chicken Cacciatore is a versatile dish because even with our recipe adaptations and changes it was still very satisfying.

Chicken Cacciatore or Hunter’s Chicken

from the Joy of Cooking

Cut a 4lb. chicken into individual pieces

Dredge with 2-3 tablespoons flour

Sauté until golden in 1/4 cup olive oil with

  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1 minced garlic

Add:

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 3/4 cup Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon sweet marjoram
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or 1/4 cup Muscatel

Simmer the chicken covered with vegetables and spices for 1 hour or until tender.  Serve with boiled pasta or sautéed new potatoes.

We’d love to hear if you have our own version of Chicken Cacciatore or enjoy this dish as a family tradition.

One day sunny, windy snow the next…

11 Jan

Yesterday was the last in a series of spring-like days here in Minnesota (at least for a few days).  The days have been so spring-like that tiny green spinach leaves could be found close to the soil, under the dead and dried out leaves.Photo from Jan 10And today it’s like the abominable snow monster moved into the neighborhood, began blowing up his air mattress and knocking on our doors, trying to introduce himself.

Oh Minnesota winter, you’re always full of surprises…not that I mind, riding my bicycle in January is always a treat. I just feel bad for our cool weather crops, they don’t know if they should grow or sleep.

What’s the winter weather like in your neck of the woods? Has he paid you a visit this winter?

Winter Sunshine Muffin

10 Jan
by Francine

Last week, I adapted this recipe (which has become my go-to, easy to adapt, wholesome muffin recipe).

A photo of the muffin

  • In place of bananas and green tomatoes, I used the orange flesh of two sweet dumpling squashes I had roasted and scooped from their shells.
  • I added 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground cloves and 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg.
  • I also added some freshly grated ginger.
  • Finally I added a handful of dried cranberries.

The result…a spicy, moist, smile-inducing treat—the perfect nibble to enjoy with a cup of tea on a a sunny winter afternoon.

Bagels Should be Bucky

7 Jan
by Deanne

Half way through making bagels, for my first time and Steve‘s second time, we decided to crack open Steve’s Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft published by the Culinary Institute of America.  

We discovered…

“Bagel dough is often described as bucky, meaning that it is very tight and dry.” 

Our bagels may not have been as bucky as they should have been because we didn’t mix and shape them according to the instructions in the book.  They still turned out good, and we will try them again with a bit more knowledge next time. 

It was fun to punch a hole in the dough and stretch them into bagel shapes, not the way to do it according to the book.  They suggest making a long piece and shaping into a ring.

Still, even bagels that resemble donuts taste good!

Have you ever made bagels? Any bagel tips to share?