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Grilled Salad: Welcome to your new obsession

grilled salad

I still remember the first time I decided to grill salad. Still in culinary school and just learning about layering flavors, my class was focusing on a duck confit salad, and that dish seemed very heavy for traditional greens. Yet I didn't want to go down the familiar path of a frisee salad. So, I wondered: what if I grilled some romaine? My thought was that the smoky, charred flavor would really complement the duck but not overpower it. Using duck fat and sherry vinaigrette as dressing, I gave it a shot, and it turned out to be a huge hit. I've been grilling salad ever since.

 

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Vino 101: A reconsideration of Deutschland wine

germany map

Several weeks ago, when Germany won the World Cup, the New York Times ran a story proclaiming the victory a symbol of "not just the country's dominance of Europe, but its global prominence." The Times suggested that Germany's win "will usher in an era of further prosperity for Europe's economic powerhouse." It may have been a bit of a stretch to predict a surge in a nation's global economic strength based on a soccer game. After all, the two prior Cup winners were Spain and Italy, and last I checked things are not going so well for those two countries. But there is no question that Germany has seen a remarkable economic turnaround in recent years, recovering from the 2008 recession faster than nearly any other country in the world (our own included).

 

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Under the Husk: Discovering the mysterious ground cherry

ground cherries

I had to laugh knowingly last weekend at the Kingfield Farmers Market as I stood behind a woman in the Gardens of Eagan booth. In front of her was a bowl spilling over with these little papery beige spheres and a sign inviting shoppers to try one.

 

“Ground cherries?” she said, ducking away from them like they might possibly explode. “What are they? I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before. Are they cherries? No stems…Hmm. How do they grow? What do they taste like?”

 

A market pro, the gentleman working was not fazed by this barrage of questions. He deftly explained that, related to tomatillos, ground cherries grow on bushes and are often compared in flavor to strawberries, pineapple, and sometimes even butterscotch. 

 

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DIY Craft Cocktails: Hello, summer drinks

summer drinks

I maintain that making cocktails should be as spontaneous and improvisational as regular cooking. This is particularly true during the height of summer, when backyard gardens and farmers markets are producing an almost overwhelming amount of vegetables and fruit.

 

For example, there are few things as pleasant as drinking cold Vinho Verde in a friend's backyard, then plucking a couple fresh raspberries and dropping them into your glass. (Berries can also be frozen and later used as ice cubes in cocktails throughout the summer.) Additionally, just-picked tomatoes (roughly chopped and salted) form the base of a spectacular Bloody Mary, one that can be garnished with a sliver of fresh cucumber.

 

Summer drinks should be refreshing, easy, and made with ingredients you already have on hand. The following recipes are for drinks I've been enjoying this summer, and are basic guidelines/suggestions that can be adapted to whatever is available.

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Embrace local farm bounty with giardiniera

giardiniera

All winter we dream of these months, when farmers market tables pile high with an array of vegetables, and CSA boxes get heavier and more diverse, boasting everything from kohlrabi to radishes.

 

It's no surprise, then, that I find that I'm eating a ton of vegetables lately, and not just boring, broccoli-as-a-side-dish vegetables. I love pickled vegetables, and giardiniera is one of my favorites.  

 

With its Italian roots, giardiniera is also known as "sottaceti," meaning "under vinegar," and is usually eaten along with antipasto selections like cured meats, various cheeses, and olives. The simple mix shows up on Italian beef sandwiches in some places, particularly in Chicago, and can be used in a muffuletta sandwich, a swoon-worthy creation that originated with Italian immigrants in New Orleans.

 

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Hunting for Dinner: Salmon burgers, fresh as you can get

salmon

My father-in-law, Ted, has a beautiful king salmon that he caught, mounted and hung in his closet. I've heard the story about how he caught that fish a few times. He likes to tell everyone that he hung it in the closet so that he can look at it twice every day — once in the morning when he gets his coat to leave, and once in the evening when he hangs up his coat. It really is a magnificent fish and I've found myself looking in the closet from time to time, thinking about the day that I might get the opportunity to catch one similar. 

 

This year that chance finally came. Ted asked me if I'd like to head over to Manitowoc, Wisconsin for a weekend of salmon fishing. I quickly jumped at the opportunity and looked forward to it for months. It was going to be a quick trip leaving Friday morning and returning Sunday afternoon with two days out on the charter, joined by my brother-in-law Zac and his friend Ndefru. 

 

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The art of the quick pickle

quick pickle

Whenever I make up a batch of quick pickles, I think about my grandmother, who had such a lush, amazing garden, and the food preservation skills to match. She had little in the way of finances, so she was always very frugal about using whatever was on hand so we could enjoy the tastes of her garden throughout the long, cold Minnesota winter months. I remember zucchini, squash, tomato salsas, even fruit pickling. If she grew it, she canned it.

 

When I grew up and became a chef, I never forgot the way my grandmother would make sure to use produce wisely so that there wasn't any waste, and of course, I never forgot her quick pickles. 

 

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Don't fear the kohlrabi — it comes in peace

kohlrabi

Kohlrabi. That often-massive light green orb with tentacles, excavated from under your piles of chard and kale at the bottom of the CSA box. “Weird,” “alien,” and “compost pile-bound” can be heard when describing it. But beneath its rough exterior lies a tasty ingredient for your stir frys and slaws that will leave you wishing for more.

 

A member of the same family of vegetables as cabbage and kale, kohlrabi is high in both vitamins C and B6, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. It’s readily available during Minnesota summers at farmer’s markets, co-ops, and occasionally more traditional markets, and it’s usually inexpensive.

 

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