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.

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!

Basil Harvest and Pesto Making

Gentle Reader: OK, so I am a basil fanatic. Each summer I grow as much as I can in my big herb pot on the porch. I cook with it and eat it fresh in all kinds of dishes. Then late summer, when it gets really big, I make pesto and freeze it.

It will take another week or so to recover enough to make another batch. This cutting yielded about 5 cups firmly packed–the exact amount needed to make Ina Garten’s recipe. Notice the gorgeous green olive oil which was a gift from my cousin who brought it from Greece on the return trip from Kosovo. (Yes, North Dakota National Guard Peacekeeping Mission).

I freeze the pesto in muffin cups then transfer the little blocks to one larger bag for space-saving storage and pull out as many blocks as needed for the inspiration of the day. I’m waiting, not very patiently, for the Farmer’s Market vendors to bring Heirloom Tomatoes.

Brunch: Featuring Eggs on the Grill

Gentle Reader: My first experiment with eggs on the grill started, as these things often happen, by inviting 3 friends to come for Sunday brunch on the porch. With that as my inspiration I decided to modify Ina Garten’s recipe for Herb Baked Eggs. Instead of the gratin dishes under the broiler I headed for the grill with each egg in the cup of a muffin tin. They took about 10 minutes under indirect heat and turned out beautifully. Easy too!

I added a few strips of roasted peppers (see post from last week) and roasted asparagus to dress the plates. Also served red swiss chard, grilled toast with marmalade and ginger preserves.

We embellished our brunch with a spritzer made with Prosecco, muddled cilantro, and fresh lime juice.

What a civilized way to spend a Sunday afternoon: simple food, good friends, 75 degree weather in North Dakota and surrounded by flower pots blooming everywhere.

Christening the H.M.S. Kitchen

Last week’s wine tasting was the shake-down voyage of my new stainless steel appliances. It maybe more aptly named the S.S. Kitchen since the 90 degree heat of the past week made it seem more like a steam ship. This captain* can report that everything worked beautifully and the appliances easily contributed several additional hands on deck.

 The mini-reno started in my frustration with a too small refrigerator, went sweeping like a North Dakota prairie fire to a convection/induction range, and etc . . . etc. When the smoke cleared, I even replaced the kitchen faucet with a semi-industrial pull down thingie.

While Alton Brown calls it a chill chest, around here we just call them “the fridge.” My observation is that one needs a fridge big enough to hold pantry items labeled “Refrigerate After Opening” PLUS all the things that are in various stages from construction to serving. Oh, and let’s not forget the aftermath: leftovers. It’s not easy to keep a shelf nearly empty knowing that it needs to be a combat-ready landing strip for platters of cheese and 14 lb. turkeys. One must be ruthless to avoid the chillier version of a junk drawer.

* No, I’m not the Queen of My Kitchen. That title is reserved for my 10-year veteran Kitchen-aid stand mixer.

Wine Tasting — The People’s Choices

We served 5 wines last night at “On the Vine” wine club hosted by yours truly. First, we had a blast. By “we,” I mean me and about 55 friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Here are the wines and food pairings I chose to represent 5 courses–each with its own wine.

  1. Salvatore Principe Prosecco 2009 served with grilled pineapple and watermelon. (Yes, I grilled the watermelon and about which I had many questions.) Tasters liked this prosecco with its pear and apple notes. It is very yellow in color and light to the palette.
  2. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2009 served with cucumber and shrimp bites. While a few tasters really liked this wine, it was the least consumed of all the offerings. Notes of mango, lime and herbs.
  3. Molly Dooker “The Boxer” Shiraz 2008 (New Zeeland) served with italian sausage and potato bites (both grilled). This wine made its debut in North Dakota and is ranked 91 points by Wine Spectator. It has a lovely balance of plum, blueberry, lavender, and yes, even a little smoky bacon.  
  4. Molly Dooker “The Maitre D'” 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon served with brie and Maytag blue cheeses–dressed with craisins and star fruit. Also making its ND debut, with dark berry, violets, root beer, and wood smoke. This wine was also a favorite of the group. Folks who love big red wines were in “hog heaven” comparing it with the Shiraz. Personally, I think the Shiraz won.
  5. Frisk Prickly Riesling-Muscat 2009 served with palmieres and strawberries.Now don’t go turning your nose up at a Riesling. Read on. It is light and minerally and spritzy. Both sweet and spicy. Tasters thought it was magic paired with the strawberries and palmieres.

Pulling corks can be a daunting task for a tasting this size. But in the new trend, all of these wines were screw top except for the prosecco, which was a traditional wired cork used on champagne.

Credit where credit is due: We are so grateful to Captain Jacks Liquorland (Tom Sitter) who supplies the wines for our group and worked with me to pair a great wine with the food I’d chosen. Also, Chad Bartz of Ed Phillips and Sons delivered the wine and came early to help get them ready.