Easter Menu and Tablescape

2013 Easter menuGentle Reader: Our weather frequently demands North Dakotans keep things simple. Easter on the 47th parallel often means the juxtaposition of winter coats worn over frilly frocks and snow boots replace Maryjanes carried to church in a plastic bag. With Easter being early this year, we’re glad for 40-50 degree weather and most of our snow is gone. Thankfully, grilling the racks of lamb outdoors will not require a shovel.

The menu is decided and the table is set. Flowers are in place. I’ve just made a mental note that decorating for Easter is far less stressful than Christmas. For Easter, I tend to use what is on hand or readily available–a welcome alternative to hauling endless tubs of decorations out of the garage. Here I’ve used grocery store tulips and carrots –and my summer dishes which work perfectly from now through fall.

Reminder to self: Take a lesson in simplicity for next Christmas. Enjoy!!

2013 Easter Carrot & Tulip Bouquet 2013 Easter Tablescape 1 2013 Easter Tablescape 2 2013 Easter Bunny fold Napkins

Grilled Corn on the Cob– Mexican Style


Original recipe from Cook’s Illustrated has been adapted by Bonnie Staiger.
This recipe is easy–it just looks long because I’ve given detailed instructions. Grill husked corn directly on the grates over a very hot fire to achieve maximum charring without drying out the corn. Coating the corn with oil and chili powder gives it spice and prevents it from sticking to the grill.

• 6 large ears corn, husks and silk removed

Pre-Glaze (Brush on for even distribution–can be done in advance. Just make sure corn is brought to room temperature before grilling):
• 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Cheese Sauce (Recommend making in advance and refrigerate. This allows the chipotle to bloom. Stir well before applying to grilled corn):
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise (not miracle whip)
• 3 tablespoons sour cream
• 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
• 1 medium garlic clove, crushed
• 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon chipotle pepper flakes (optional—well, not really)
• 4 teaspoons juice from 1 lime
• 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese (fresh grated Parmesan could be used)

1. Pre-glaze: In a small bowl, combine oil, chili powder, and salt.
2. Cheese sauce: In another bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, cilantro, garlic, chipotle pepper flakes, black pepper, lime juice, and cheese.
3. Grill the corn, turning occasionally, until lightly charred on all sides, 7 to 12 minutes total. Remove from grill and apply cheese sauce. Serve immediately.

No Recipe Chicken – I Dare You to Wing It

Gentle Reader: Do you think you are not expert enough to try a 1 pot dinner without a recipe? Here I tell you how I did it so, hopefully, you aren’t intimidated by the idea. As you can see, I’m also not formatting it like a recipe. Think of this post like when you would ask your grandmother how she made one of your favorites and she’d rattle off some stuff. Sit back and just read this post. Then trust yourself to give it a try — “wing it.” (No, not related to chicken wings.)

Back story: Lots of business travel this past month left little to eat in the house so I went to the grocery store to by some chicken thighs* which are always a good ingredient to make sure I’m fed for a few days. Now it’s 5:00pm and I’m bordering on starving but I have no plan. Then I reminded myself that I could, indeed, wing it.

Onward! I splashed a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a pot, placed the chicken thighs skin side down to brown a bit and turned them over to brown on the other side. Then I took them out of the pot onto a plate so I could lightly brown some onion in that same pot.

Next, I smashed up and added a clove of garlic. I threw (well, not literally) the thighs back in the pot along with the accumulated juices and by now I’d decided to add a can of diced tomatoes. (No fresh tomatoes on hand which clearly shows I didn’t have this plan when I was in the grocery store 20 minutes earlier.) After that I sprinkled in about a tablespoon of pizza seasoning, splashed in some wine and let it all simmer down for awhile to let the chicken cook through. Now what?

Pasta!? Sure, why not. Boil the water and threw in some noodles. In the meantime, I noticed the tomato sauce was still too runny so I sprinkled in a little Wondra flour which I keep on hand for just this sort of thing. Voilà! Just the right consistency.

About that time, my sweet neighbor, Joan Alice, called and I invited her over for yet another experiment. She is such a brave woman. Two hours later we were well fed and had solved all the world’s problems. Isn’t that what simple food is all about?

* Don’t be buying those tasteless boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you’re a fanatic about lowfatlowcal, find another way to get the job done but this is not it!

Provence in my Periphery

Gentle Reader: Several years ago, I had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Provence France on a wine and food tour. I knew I was entering a different world when, during the flight into Marseilles, passengers were served brie and tomato sandwiches. Yes, French bread, butter and fresh basil. From that day forward, I’ve almost always had a good brie in my house.

Our group stayed in a bucolic Gites de France called L’Ecole Buissonnière. It is a 300-year old restored farmhouse or “mas” in the Provencal countryside near Vaison la Romaine.

Each day we ventured out to visit the different vineyards such as Beaumes de Venise or Gigondas. Lunch was always at a different café then off again to villages, historic sites, and the street markets. The traditional weekly street markets, “le marché,” are held in a different village each day. A typical shopping list will take you to a different village, depending on where the market is that particular day.

Each evening we returned to the mas with a few of our favorite wines purchased at a vineyard tasting room, a few cheeses from le marché  and we enjoyed a rustic dinner prepared by our hosts. We’d recount impressions of our adventures like the famous Abbaye de Senanque, a Cistertian community of monks whose buildings date back to the 12th century.

In addition to the region’s endless fields of grape vines and lavender there are amazing stands of olive trees which are also the stuff of legends. Small and craggy, some –protected of course, date back hundreds of years. On visiting one little shop specializing in all things olive, I came home with two small bottles of the greenest EVOO I’d ever seen and a couple of olive wood kitchen utensils.

From that day forward, when I’m in need of olive oil, I search and research the internet for the best crop of the season then purchase it by the case. I keep it, cool and dark, in my wine cellar. Like a good wine, I gift a bottle here and there to friends who appreciate it.

Back home on the high plains of North Dakota, my collection of olive wood utensils has grown and I must caution myself occasionally not to let it become an obsession. However, there is something deeply satisfying about cooking with a well-loved wooden spoon and spatula or chopping olives and garlic on that lovely cutting board. Olive wood’s grain is a work of art. It is strikingly heavy and dense with swirls of rich color and markings.

With almost every use I’m reminded of the magic of Provence, the smell of lavender, and sound of Cistercian prayers.

Blessings Abound

Gentle Reader: The table is set.  Tom is bathing in the sink and will be cooked on the Weber rotisserie grill—regardless of the ambient temperature (yes, the snow shovel is close by). A few things have been prepared in advance like Drunken Cranberry Fruit Conserve (port and rum) and Parmesan Thyme Crackers.

Today’s advance work includes Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Lime Crema, prep for Potato and Parsnip Mash, and Jumbo Mushrooms Stuffed with Dressing. Tomorrow morning it’s Swiss Chard and Chevre Chipotle Spread.  I’m in my glory and Tom will make his debut about 4:30pm.

Most importantly, we will have a family gathering to enjoy the assembled food and each other. We celebrate a life swimming in blessings and friends and family with whom we are united in spirit. We send you our boundless love. This is a time we remember Our Source and loved ones who have taught us how to be thank-full!

Old* McGinness Had a Farm

Gentle Reader: We’ve had incredible weather this fall here at the 46th parallel. Last weekend the temperatures were in the upper 60’s and even lower 70’s. But we have also had a couple of good snows –dropping enough white stuff to bring out the shovels.

As we head back to more seasonally normal temperatures and prepare for winter, I’m consoled by the fact that I will have access to fresh, organic produce grown right here on a local farm. You read correctly, right through the winter. Riverbound Farm is located south of Mandan along the historic Highway 1806  and I’m a shareholder in this CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Angie and Brian McGinniss have added a winter CSA subscription. So each week shareholders now have the bounty year ‘round–even in North Dakota.

In addition to pastured poultry and free-range eggs, the bonus opportunity is my family’s Thanksgiving turkey is coming from there as well. Time to fire-up the rotisserie grill.

* Angie and Brian McGinness own the farm but are far from old. They are a delightful young couple with a passion for growing high-quality produce on the land homesteaded by Angie’s great-grandparents.  About 40 miles upriver at Sanger ND, was my great-grand parents’ homestead.

Tomato Sandwich Social

There are tomatoes and then there are Tomatoes. In this part of the country and especially the sandy river-bottoms along the Missouri River, we grow some of the best. Yes, we have the boring greenhouse-grown and hydroponic offerings in the grocery stores—which I avoid unless it’s between November and June. There is a big difference between the luscious, sun-ripened, garden tomatoes and ones from which the stuff runs out in a pool of seeds and mysterious liquid. Ish!

When you can get over-the-moon flavor and moistness that is similar to a juicy beef tenderloin, then it’s time to eat until you can’t eat any more. Rest up a bit and eat some more . . . or in my case, have a party.

Yes, a party. I’m talking about my first Tomato Sandwich Social. The timing was perfect: I had a free day and the tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market were, indeed, over the moon. I set out all the component parts and let everyone make their own sandwich just the way they like them.

Footnotes on the buffet: Yes, those are radishes set in a bed of coarse sea salt. They made great visual appeal and no work involved. The bacon was done on the outdoor grill in a cast iron pan to keep the house from smelling like Perkins. 

Party Recipe: send emails to all my friends, create a Facebook event, gather up all the fixin’s people usually like and then just start answering the door. Friends without email or FB simply missed out because the turn-around time was so short. The goal was to make a simple party to prepare and host. I think people enjoy themselves more when they know you did not kill yourself getting it together. Besides, there is nothing like messy food to put guests at ease—provided the host is also at ease and enjoying the fun.

Desert? Marshmallows from the gourmet section of TJ Max. They were a hit and a conversation piece. Score!