You Can Be a Chicken and Still Make this Easy Chicken Saltimbocca

Gentle Reader: My cooking adventures continue here on the 47th parallel. Yesterday, I attempted my first try at Chicken Saltimbocca. The recipe came from one of my favorite places Cooks Illustrated. The ingredient list is short and not threatening.

My personal opinion: it was good–just not great –although my sweet neighbor (read: guinea pig) said “the recipe is a keeper.” I was expecting more depth of flavor and perhaps more complexity so next time, I’ll tweak the spices a bit.

During the browning, the cutlets bowed up on side 2 so they got golden around the edges but not in the middle–which ended up pale. As a result, there were fewer brown bits to start the pan sauce and maybe that contributed to it being bland. Certainly, not bad for a first try. If you are a novice, this recipe is not difficult and cooks fast. Granted, the pan sauce was a “wing it” operation because the recipe originally makes 8 servings and I was cutting it down to two.  Thus, making that small amount of sauce was not conducive to careful measuring. Regardless, the pan sauce was fine–just a tad thick.

Cooking tip for future reference: I was impressed with the idea of using dry vermouth instead of white wine in savory or herbaceous recipes (although not suitable for sweet things where white wine is really the only option). It’s easier to keep a small bottle of vermouth on hand rather than opening, using some, and wasting the better part of a bottle of white wine. Yes, a bottle of white wine will go bad in this household but red wine? Never!

Bon Appetit!

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!

Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Elegant and Ridiculously Simple

Gentle Readers: I’ve taken on mastering the art of making grilled cheese sandwiches. While the one in the picture is actually a grilled ham and cheese, I really prefer the plain ol’ plain old. The juxtaposition between the savory, melting cheese and the crunchy bread is to die for.

I kick it up a notch by using a hunk of French bread split in half. Butter the cut side and fry in olive oil. Grill it? Absolutely! Note: the outside of the loaf now becomes the inside of the sandwich. Don’t worry about the rounded surface. As soon as the bread starts to brown I put on a good layer of sliced Gruyere cheese (Yes, I’ve tried a gazillion other kinds of cheese and it’s Gruyere hands down). I like to put a lid on it for a bit to help melt the cheese but I have also tried pressing it with a bacon press and the difference is not that noticeable. Besides, when I get to this point I can’t wait to eat—forget any unnecessary steps. 

This is the best comfort food – fast! A glass of zin –or any luscious red– is perfect with it.

Pretty Darn Good Stuffed Banana Peppers (and Acorn Squash)

Gentle Reader: While my maiden voyage into Stuffed Banana Peppers turned out well, I think it was due in part to the straight and gentle taper of the beauties I bought at the Farmer’s Market. I think that I would not have done as well with some of the wiry and twisted samples I’ve seen since.

I cut the peppers in half, cleaned out the seeds and stuffed them loosely with a mixture of ground beef (in western North Dakota that can only mean Angus), chopped onion, grated white cheddar cheese, KS&FGP (kosher salt and fresh ground pepper), and a pinch of garlic powder. I say stuff loosely because if the mixture is packed too tight, it does not cook completelty through before the outside is overdone and the stuffing tends to be hard as a rock. Baked at 350 for about 45 minutes. I also basted them with their own juices once while cooking and before serving. If you are keeping any as leftovers, be sure to save those precious juices.

I feasted on these and sent a couple next door to Joan Alice where they were a hit as well.   The banana peppers were tangy and sweet–less acidic than red bell peppers and I would say have a brighter flavor. I’ll make this again and again. It was rich, satisfying and definately a comfort food. When I say something is “lick the dish good,” I do mean lick the dish and there are many a picture to prove it.

As a side note, I also use a similar mixture (minus the cheese) in my Stuffed Acorn Squash: Cut an acorn squash in half from stem to blossom end, scoop out and discard the strings and seeds, brush the squash with olive oil, sprinkle with KS&FGP. I like to bake these face down for about 15 minutes before stuffing and finishing off in the oven at 350 degrees.—usually an hour total time. Why not add the cheese? I guess because the squash is already so rich, the stuffing needs to be less rich as a counter-point to offset all the natural sugars.

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.

The Bread of Life

Gentle Reader: Since recorded time people have been baking bread and talking about it: ancient Egyptians in the 20th century BC, public ovens in Rome, and the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness. Writings abound with metaphors such as: the staff of life and the bread of the world– populating biblical parables and present day parallels.

Father Robert West, former abbot of Assumption Abbey taught me something his mother always did before cutting a fresh loaf of bread. She inverted the loaf and blessed the bread saying the trinity prayer while making a small cross with the tip of her knife. This practice grounds me spiritually and reminds me that North Dakota is the breadbasket of the world.

The loaf in the photo (or what remains of her gift) was made by my friend, Liz– a consummate cook and host. This hearty bread is graced with sunflower seeds throughout as well as crowned on top. Of course, I forgot to take a picture when it was still whole and in its presentation basket wrapped in a lovely French napkin. But like the bread of the ages Liz’s offering was shared with extended family at the lake this weekend, and a piece headed to Hazen while the remainder came back to two households in Bismarck.

I’ve made countless kinds of bread in my life from homemade buns, to quick bread, to caramel rolls, and dozens of loaves from Dakota Maid mixes in my bread machine (these are a product of our state-owned mill and elevator).

I just realized I never make bread without giving part of it away.

I’ll confess that I really don’t have much patience for the act of serious bread making nor does my waist-line have the tolerance for much consumption. However, the best bread I’ve ever eaten (EVER!) was the bread bought at the village street markets in Provence France.  Their flour and baking technique allow the bread to blister on the surface which is the sign that the bread has achieved the proper rise and temperature while baking. One simply does not buy loaves without that characteristic.

Fast forward to today and imagine me grumbling as I scour every loaf of French bread in the supermarket looking for any hint of blisters and the store employee looking at me like I’ve swallowed yeast whole. So, my dear Julia Child, this foodie shall replay your DVR program on baking bread and give it a go. Bon Appétit!