Welcome, Spring: Lemony artichoke chicken salad with carrots

chicken salad

As usual around this time of year, I find myself in a bit of a food rut. It feels like we should be eating local fresh asparagus and ripe sweet strawberries, but our finicky Minnesota climate just can’t decide if it wants to launch into full-on spring or not. 


So, I wait patiently for these beautiful gems to show up at the farmers market, because nothing comes close to tasting as good. In the meantime, lighter fare is slowly creeping into my subconscious, and I find myself using my Dutch oven less and less.


Back in my college days (many years ago), I worked as a caterer. I really enjoyed working the events and learning about different foods. One of my favorite dishes we did was one that is similar to the salad I’m sharing today, commonly known to us then as the “president’s salad”, because it was the president of the university’s favorite salad and he always requested it for his catered functions. It was delicious.


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Earth Day Every Day: Thoughts on seeds and farming


Just in time for Earth Day, farmers have spring fever! All the good things about being a farmer are happening right now: planting, growing, the smell of soil, birdsongs, longer days, and muscles flexing after winter rest. The maddening, exhausting and difficult things about farming are dim memories from past years and small clouds on this season’s distant horizon. 


So, while we enjoy the warmth of the greenhouse and plow through routine tasks like potting-on and thinning, our minds have plenty of time to ponder. Good time to speculate on the future of our niche in food production.


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Vino 101: Wine frauds and scandals, part deux

red bicyclette

In the last Vino 101 post we looked at adulteration, a crude type of wine fraud that is relatively easy to catch. But there is a more subtle and complex kind of fraud, in which the integrity of a prestigious wine is compromised. 


If you’ve been to Canal Street in New York, or Tijuana, or pretty much anywhere in China, you’ve seen cheaply made fakes of big-name brands like Fendi and Gucci. Famous wine names like Burgundy and Champagne are essentially brands too — names that, over time, have developed an identifiable style and a reputation for high quality that commands a premium price — and those brands’ reputation rests on producers collectively adopting and enforcing minimum quality and typicity standards. 


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Pucker Up: Learning to love sour food


Like bitter flavors, sourness is nature’s way of waving a red flag over a substance that is unripe, spoiled, or otherwise inedible. But for those of us who don’t mind a bit of tartness, this warning signal may actually be the first sign of some healthy benefits.


We can taste sourness thanks to receptors on our tastebuds that detect hydrogen ions from organic acids found in certain foods. Many of these acids occur naturally and are part of a food’s flavor profile, such as citric in lemons, tartaric in tamarinds, and oxalic in leafy greens. 


Unripe fruits are particularly sour before becoming sweeter, since their acids are eventually broken down during the ripening process and their acerbic taste replaced by natural sugars. Other acids in foods are due to additives like acetic acid (used to make vinegar) or as a result of fermentation, which produces lactic acid in pickled produce like sauerkraut and cultured dairy such as yogurt.

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Spice Trade: Appreciating the lure of cloves


As every cook learns, spices yield depth and dimension to many foods. With each spice story, you find a fascinating history lesson, better understanding of the origins of various ethnic dishes, as well as the base for many modern-day pharmaceuticals. 


History tells us spices used to be a major form of commerce, and created vast wealth for many civilizations, with pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon traded much like gold, silk, and cotton.


Clove was an especially a hot commodity, connecting the Maluku “Spice” Islands of Indonesia to Egyptians, Chinese, and European buyers. Cloves are reddish-black, dried flower buds of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. Once a Spice Island sanctity, cloves are now collected from India, Madagascar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 


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Hunting for Dinner: Roast duck breast

roast duck

This last hunting season was a hard one for me, I didn’t get out as much as I had hoped and the little hunting I did wasn’t as fruitful as I needed it to be. I didn’t shoot a deer this year and I didn’t get as many squirrels as I usually do. On the plus side, I did spend some time grouse hunting and actually came away with several grouse. I also did really well on ducks this year. I didn’t get out very many times but my good friend Eric Passe down in Wabasha put me on some ducks on the days I did get out, so I have plenty of duck in the freezer.


I don’t know what it is about ducks, but I have an affection for them that I don’t have for other animals I hunt. Maybe it is the fact that ducks were the very first thing I ever hunted. Or maybe it is the people that I have hunted ducks with. Either way, ducks and duck hunting are just part of who I am and what I do. 


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Vino 101: J’accuse! Wine frauds and scandals

roman god wine

While the wine trade enjoys a romantic public image, it is a business, and a cutthroat one at that. And, like any other business, it has had its share of unscrupulous operators. The first fraud involving wine probably arose shortly after it was initially recognized as a valuable commodity many thousands of years ago, and the ensuing years have only seen the schemes grow more ingenious, even as more controls have been put in place to stop them. 


The history of scandal in the wine business is not only long and colorful; it also has much to say about our complicated relationship with this complicated beverage. Wine may be the most regulated drink in the world, and yet it remains surprisingly easy for knaves and scoundrels to exploit our fundamental gullibility, credulousness, and insecurity about it. 


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Hunting for Dinner: Attempting the perfect polenta


Nobody is ever going to mistake me for a vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like vegetables. I just don’t think I could live off them alone. After all, meat is a central part of most everything I do. I hunt, fish and trap a lot of meat. There really isn’t anything out there that I won’t eat. 


But that said, it is probably time I started making more vegetable-themed meals. I don’t even know what is considered vegetarian.  I have a few friends and family members that are vegetarians but they still eat fish and eggs and cheese. I’m not sure that counts as being vegetarian but what do I know. 


 My interest in vegetables has grown ever since planting my first garden a few years ago. I do a fair amount of canning and freezing and enjoy vegetables from my garden year-round. I enjoy them next to some kind of meat, as a side dish. I have never really considered them anything other than a side dish until recently. 

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