Recipes

Absurdly Easy: Chai tea, with a kick of spice and sweetness

chai tea

I've come to find that certain situations are handled best with a hot beverage. Waking up to a gray morning, for instance, or stretching out on a quiet afternoon with a book in hand. Or, say, after getting caught in a warm August rainfall on a Sunday walk (hey, since when does it rain around here?). My beverage of choice for these times: a steaming cup of chai tea.

 

There’s something endlessly soothing about the warmth and spiciness of chai tea. The heat of ginger and spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and peppercorns – steeps with black tea to create a rich, spicy concentrate. Mix this in equal parts with milk, and you’ve got a rich, creamy drink that’s unlike anything else.

 

I’ve ordered chai at coffee shops all around town. My favorite versions have a strong punch of spice and just a hint of sweetness. But why shop around? It turns out that the perfect cup of chai can be made right in your own kitchen.

 

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Summer's Last Hurrah: Curried corn and zucchini fritters with cilantro mint chutney

corn and zucchini fritters

Recently, I realized that there's only a few weeks left of my children’s summer vacation. It was a punch to the stomach. Only a couple weeks left to get out there and drink in the summer, to make memories. They are seven and five, and for anyone that has or has had children of these ages, you probably understand why I feel that these ages are perfect.

 

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Kitchen DIY: Homemade ricotta cheese

ricotta bruschetta

If the ultimate DIY project is one that is surprisingly easy, and drastically better than the store-bought stuff, then I’ve got the world’s greatest food project for you: homemade ricotta cheese. 

 

Ricotta cheese was never a serious player in my food repertoire. It had typically been a background note, layered in lasagna, stuffed into pasta shells, stirred into a casserole. Never did it stand out as a main ingredient to celebrate.

 

But then, recipes for homemade ricotta started popping up on the Web. And, some of my favorite bloggers were singing its soft, creamy praises. I’m always up for a cooking project, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

 

And here’s what I learned: wow, it’s easy, and wow, it’s good.

 

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Tomato Season: The joy of homemade ketchup

tomatoes for ketchup

Although I come from a tomato-eating family, I didn't really care for tomatoes when I was a kid. Maybe I was too finicky or it was the stewed tomatoes that would make an appearance occasionally. I never understood why my aunt and grandmother would make such a fuss over picking ripe tomatoes and eating them right off the vine, and my great-grandmother used to plant 70 to 80 tomato plants a year and can all of it for later use. Now that I'm older, I have a garden of my own, and I finally understand what they were talking about.

 

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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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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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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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