Monday, September 26, 2011

perfect roasted chicken

as i took my dog for a meander in the blue light that is dusk taking over the afternoon sun, the aromas that lingered in the air around our house were intoxicating. all of the scents associated with the chicken that i had previously roasted were recognizable and blended ever so gently with the smells of decaying foliage and lake superior. the rosemary that was stuffed in the carcass, the smoked sea salt that flecked the skin, and the root vegetables that roasted in the rendered chicken fat were all so alive in the air. i couldn't wander past the smells, and eventually i just became lazy and went back inside to be hugged by the memories of my roasted chicken.

my daughter and i sat side by side at the dinner table. we lit a candle for ambiance. she had a princess glass with a silly straw. i had wine. it was beautiful. we savored the crispy skin, the buttery-tender flesh, and homemade biscuits dripping with butter and homemade jam. i didn't want the moment to end. eventually it came to a close. three year olds aren't as into reflecting on vivid moments as their parents, and so stuffed tigers and baby dolls had a tea party, and i embarked in clean up.

this picturesque roast chicken is very easy. it's really an equation of love and neglect. i put some effort into flavoring the chicken in the beginning. i rubbed smoked sea salt and cracked pepper into the skin and shoved a few sprigs of rosemary into the chicken, gave it a couple of love pats, and sent it into a 425 degree oven. you could elaborate more with herbs and spices, but i was a simpleton, and needed to balance the love with the neglect, and so i kept it stream-lined. the most important little maneuver that helps with ever-so-tender flesh is roasting the chicken up-side down for half of the duration of the baking time. i start the bird out upside down in the roasting pan. the white meat of the breasts cooks in all of the juices and fat that pools at the bottom of the pan. then i neglect the chicken for a little while. i usually give my daughter a rock skipping lesson, we explore the back woods a bit, and then return inside and flip the bird over. i also turn the oven down to 375 degrees, and add a mix of root vegetables to roast alongside the chicken. as the chicken finishes roasting, the skin surrounding the breast meat crisps up, and the root veggies get tender and slightly crispy as they catch the chicken fat rendering off of the bird as it roasts. another round of rock-skipping and an episode of dora, and the chicken was done! i whipped up a batch of whole wheat buttermilk biscuits and baked them while the chicken rested.

we not only savored the aromas and flavors of the roast chicken once, but twice as i made a roasted chicken stock. as the evening came to a close, i added the remainder of the bones and carcass of the chicken into a stock pot. i threw in generous amounts of herbs and garlic and covered the lot with plenty of water. i allowed the stock to simmer over-night, and strained the stock this morning before breakfast. we awoke to our noses full of humid air smelling of roast chicken and herbs, prolonging the memories of our roasted chicken. i'll use the stock later in the week, or freeze it for future soup. belly up!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

tomato, tomato, tomato

thanks everyone! the tomato class was awesome! we cooked some really good food and had a blast! i was able to try out this crazy recipe idea that i've been swooning over for a bit. caramelized heirloom tomatoes and plums. both fruits come into season together, and the rule seems to be what grows together goes together, so we gave it a whirl. i'm glad we did! yum!! we are always open to ideas and suggestions for class ideas. what do you guys want to learn about today? let us know! here's a quick and simple recipe we did that won the popularity contest hands down! cherry tomato confit. a great way to use up the handfuls of cherry tomatoes from your garden. belly up!!

cherry tomato confit

2 pints cherry tomatoes (any variety will do)
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1 hearty sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stem discarded
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
sea salt and ground black pepper

preheat oven to 325 degrees. spread tomatoes and garlic out on a baking sheet. drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with rosemary, crushed red pepper, a large pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper. nake until tomatoes are wrinkled and fragrant, about 45 minutes, shaking pan once or twice. transfer tomato pan to a rack to cool. discrad garlic. use confit in salads, or serve over dishes like pasta, fresh goat cheese or polenta, or on grilled meats, fish, or fowl.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

soup's on

i have to admit that i have been in a bit of a blogging rut. i cook during the day for my wages, i cook at home, i teach cooking classes, i blog about food, and then i involve my recreational time towards reading about, exploring and cooking food. this food engulfed practice has left me a bit burnt out, or frazzled- i'm not sure which. i love food. i love being completely absorbed in the culinary world in some form, all of the time. this said, i've been thinking a lot about balance. the fragile balance of life. life seems to be one big juggling act, and keeping everything tilting, and hurling through thte air, and spinning in harmony is really my everyday challenge. metaphorically, i have of coarse, compared this circus performance to a pot of soup. throw all of life's factors into a pot, a few dashes of this, more salt, and hugs and bang- soup's on. yeah, i like thinking about life as soup. it seems fitting, especially since it seems as though the clouds could release some rain or snow anytime now. perfect soup weather. so let's talk soup.

today i morphed out of my slump. and when i morph, i morph. i made two soups today, trying to please the array of soup eaters here in cook county. a creamy, herby roasted local tomato soup was first. then, inspired by a case of wisconsin grown, white sweet potatoes i started combining flavors. poblano peppers, roasted sweet corn, fresh sage, cumin, and black beans made for the second hearty soup. there is something energizing about excitedly cooking soup, or excitedly cooking anything for that matter. you get a bit of pep in your step- like you've just downed a whole lot of coffee, but without the caffine crash. i was rejuvinated as i perfected my dicing skills, toasted spices, and ultimately got lost in the making of soup. maybe it was the mini vacation i've been waiting for! anyway, in lue of "the art of tomato cookery" class i'll be teaching later tonight at the co-op, i'll share the roasted local tomato soup recipe. play around with the varieties of tomatoes, the fresh herbs you can get your hands on, and focus on balance. the acidity of the tomatoes go great with say- creamy, salty, and tangy- blue cheese or chevre would be a great finish for the soup. you don't have to make this a creamy soup either. the condensed flavors of the roasted tomatoes stand on their own. a garnish of fresh herbs would do the trick too!

Roasted Tomato Soup:

2 large onions, julienned
5 # tomatoes (any variety), roughly halved and chopped
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 pint of heavy cream
2 cups half and half
1/4 cup sherry
sea salt and black pepper to taste

combine the onions in a large bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper. spread the onions on a baking sheet and roast in a 425 degree oven until browned and toasty-roasty.

combine the tomatoes in a large bowl with 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup roughly chopped garlic, a sprinkling of sea salt and pepper, and fresh chopped thyme and rosemary. spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast in a 425 degree oven until browned and the juices start to condense.

remove the onions and the tomatoes form the oven and combine in a stock pot. pour in the stock and bring the mix to a simmer, and simmer until the onions and tomatoes are happy together- about 15 minutes. add the sherry and another sprinkling of fresh herbs. allow to simmer a few more minutes.

turn down the heat, and add the cream and half and half. with a hand held blender, puree the soup as little or as much as you'd like. taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. ladel into bowls and garnish as desired. belly up!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


someone once told me that the weather in northern minnesota will always be an interesting topic for conversation, and will always have people guessing. that statement is completely true. yesterday addie and i spent the afternoon on the beach, soaking up the sun and skipping rocks. we watched as the storm clouds rolled in, but not before we had a couple of hours to lounge around the sand and the pebbles. the rain storm that followed was a mix of storm and wildfire smoke, and the sight was unruly and perplexing. this morning there was a cool fall breeze sneaking in our windows bringing in the smells of wildfires and changing seasons, reminding me that we are always guessing.

we had fantastic weather this weekend- very sunny and warm, perfect for the co-op's food booth at the radio waves music festival here in grand marais. grill'n up bison burgers and dancing to live local music is a great way to spend a weekend, and all of the profits are going to the local food shelf! thanks to all of the volunteers and families that helped out! it wouldn't happen without you!

with the seasons changing comes a change in produce. the peaches and nectarines are wrapping up their season, and pluots, tomatoes, and figs are moving in. i love this time of year. i start unpacking the sweaters, and start relying on figs. they are one of my favorites. their appearance alone makes people curious. cut one in half and examine the insides, and you'll be even more baffled. there is this juicy, seedy, weird interior that i love! they have this sort of sweet nectar that oozes a bit out of the wonderfully ripe ones. they are sort of earthy. sort of fruity. the interior sometimes reminds me of the consistency of jam. figs are suttle. they pair really well with things like balsamic vinegar, blue cheese, bitter greens, and salty components like bacon or prosciutto. i've included an ingredient list for an appetizer i made here at the co-op for a fun little staff snack. figs are versatile and fun, so play around with them. they pair so well with so many flavors, so don't limit yourself! get down with your figs!

figs with bacon and blue cheese:

bacon, chopped
figs, halved
blue cheese crumbles

crisp the bacon in a saute pan. remove the bacon form the pan, and add the figs, cut side down. the idea is to sear the figs, and caramelize the sweet interior a bit. once that has occurred, remove them from the pan, and place them on a paper towel to remove the excess grease. on a platter place the figs, browned side up. sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles and the crisped bacon. you could stop here and serve as an appetizer with some bubbly wine. you could also place the figs on a bed of bitter greens like radicchio or arugula, drizzle on a little balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, sprinkle on some fresh herbs and have a really nice salad. just a few options! belly up!!

Monday, September 5, 2011


it always seems that this time of year folks are over-zealous to pawn off a few zucchini. they are perhaps, the most abundant producing vegetable in the garden. this phenomenon seems to be common with all summer squash and zucchini varieties. one hill of three plants can supply at least three dozen fruits in a season under the right circumstances. the more frequently you pick, the more you are encouraging production and extending the season. unpicked squash will quickly grow to impressive baseball- bat size and retard new fruits. allowing a few fruits to uninhibitedly grow this big could be used as a technique to slow production when the pantry is over flowing, you've exhausted all available squash and zucchini recipes, and your friends are trying to give you their surplus.

i went south this weekend to a family shin-dig in my hometown in rural wisconsin. zucchini was a popular topic for discussion. what do you do with three dozen zucchini laying around your garden? it seems as though you cannot have too many zucchini recipes! my brother, the one i pegged as being a more adventurous eater, is developing a distaste for zukes. he and his nemesis have never seen eye to eye. he accuses his wonderful wife of lacing their evening dinners with the zucchini. you have to admit that zucchini is a great add in to soups and stews. their delicate flavor harmonizes with most foods, and the abundant yields enable the cook to use them without reserve.

double chocolate zucchini cupcakes revolutionized the zucchini, or the way people seem to misjudge this harmless and tender fruit. paired with chocolate, warm spices, and baked into submission- the zucchini rules. no one, and i mean no one will question these cupcakes. glaze them with dark chocolate ganache, and you rule too. this recipe is a slight alteration of the chocolate zucchini cupcake recipe from here's how they go:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup yogurt
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup cocoa, shifted
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease large muffin pans and line with muffin cups.

In a medium bowl mix together the sugar and canola oil. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla, yogurt, zucchini, and chocolate chips.

In a separate bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients. Add the liquid ingredients and mix until well combined. Spoon batter into large muffin pans. Bake in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, while prepping the icing if you go that route....