Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Skillet

Spring is finally here! I used to loath spring, in its unwillingness to commit- like REALLY commit, to warmer weather. One day spring is so joyous, bringing in the sunshine and the green grass, and the next day it's bringing on the snow. I used to think that spring really needed to get it together. I used to wring my hands each evening trying to predict future forecasts, with my vain attempts shot down by unexpected freezing rain. Ugh. But now, I'm warming up to the spring season. Tulips happen eventually, and spring leads to summer, and we all like summer in northern Minnesota.

Time to think spring I say! Bring on the asparagus and leeks. Bring on the ramps, the sprouts, and the spring greens!  I am reminded of my life in rural Wisconsin, when the Holsteins had their first taste of green pastures. Their raw milk taking on a slightly different flavor, hints of flavor from the pastures they are now grazing. When raw milk cheese is made from milk at this time of year, it has a grassier, earthier flavor and a softer texture. I can see it in the raw milk cheddars we are bringing in at the store. The spring produce and the spring cheeses go together like peas and carrots. There is nothing better than pickled spring onions and raw milk cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches.

Another of my favorite spring cheeses is Manchego. Made from sheep's milk, it has a mellow sheep's milk flavor with a buttery-ness that makes for a really great cheese. Since Manchego is a Spanish cheese, I often find myself pairing it with Spanish Chorizo. In thinking about creating a recipe today, I have more of an ingredient list. A pairing of flavors and ingredients that can be swapped out for others, and can be brought together in a flash. Yeah, lets do that. Let's do spring cheese, spring veggies, and keep it all light and delicious.

Let's start with caramelizing leeks- about 2 cups of sliced leeks, (whites only and thoroughly cleaned), in a hot skillet with 2 TBLS olive oil and 1 TBLS butter, and a sprinkling of salt and sugar. Once the leeks have started to take on some color, it is time to add:

 lets add asparagus, the stems sliced and the spears left big. Lets also add some premade potato gnocchi (potato dumplings that can be found in most super markets, pre-boil them in salted water just until they start to float, then add to the pan).

Now let's finish things off with a BANG. While the gnocchi and asparagus are browning up, lets add some cured Spanish Chorizo ( this is the kind that is ready to eat, like the kind from OLLI SALUMERIA with smoked paprika), diced- about 1/2 cup. Reduce the heat a bit when you add the chorizo. You don't want to burn it or brown it really, you just want to render out some of those really great flavors, and let them melt into the other ingredients. Once that has happened add:

lets do a good handful of pea sprouts. Kale or spinach would work well to. Remove the skillet from the heat. Give it all a taste, adding salt and pepper if needed. Better yet, add some dried chili flakes. Once you've adjusted the flavors, add a ridiculous amount of shaved Manchego cheese over the top. If you wanted to add some fresh notes, some fresh lemon zest would do well. Serve this thing up family style, right out of the skillet. Enjoy! Belly up!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

DIY: Homemade Vanilla Extract

Listening to my wise and witty friend and coworker Kim, I have come to many realizations. One is that she is an expert on wellness, hence her profession as a wellness expert at the Co-op. On any given day she can take one look at me and suggest a shot of fish oil and some Joy Tonic to help me get through my day. We discuss tinctures often. She has a recommendation for each of my woes and ailments.  The other day she told me how easy it was to make my own tinctures, and that she often makes them at home. The more I thought about making homemade tinctures, the more I thought about how I could incorporate this new found knowledge into my food world. Homemade vanilla extract was my immediate response. Why not steep vanilla beans in alcohol, instead of medicinal herbs? It sounded good, and the more research I did, the more I found that folks have been making their own vanilla extract for quite some time. I had to try my hand at it.

Super Easy. Here's what you'll need:

8oz glass bottle or jar
6-8 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka (you can also use bourbon, rum, or brandy)

1. Slice the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and place in the bottle. It may help to slice the beans into smaller chunks for the ease of getting them in the jar, and that is A- Okay!

2. Pour the vodka over the beans, and make sure they are fully submerged.

3. Shake. Once or twice a week will do.

4. Wait about 8 weeks, and tada, you've just made vanilla extract! You're amazing!