An apology and “Celebrity” judging at the Uptown Art Fair…

Okay friends, I gotta say, I have completely gone off the rails…food-blogging wise.  My last post was at the end of August and the calendar page just flipped to the beginning of November.  I am so sorry!  I owe you three new Beer for a Year blog posts, a post about our first family camping trip & this post!  I have no excuse other than the need to prioritize my life so that I was working on “income-producing” activities. As much as I love this blog, unfortunately, a girls gotta pay the bills!  Speaking of jobs, this week I learned that the part-time position I currently hold, at a local hotel in the Sales department is becoming full-time.  While some may see that as a positive, it is not in my case.  I can only work the part-time, 24 hours a week I had been doing, allowing me the other half of the work week to handle my gift basket orders.  It has been a perfect balance of my time for the past two & a half years, but they need more & I am ready to do more with my Basket business.  So it’s a good thing, but scary at the same time.  All the questions I was afraid to confront, now have to be asked & answered.  This past year has been so amazing for me personally & professionally.  I feel as though the universe is working to help me achieve the type of life I want to live.  More time for family, friends, eating/drinking/food-blogging, all while doing what I am passionate about and making a decent living in the process.  Isn’t that what we all want?  So if I have any advice to you, it’s to DO IT.  Stop waiting, stop thinking “tomorrow”…Don’t be afraid to walk that edge, jump off that safe boat and make the life you dream about happen NOW!

I recently posted this Steve Jobs quote on my personal Facebook account, which I think I got off Pinterest….

That says it all really.  Unfortunately, we all need money to survive.  Why not make it by doing what you love instead of wasting your life in a job that is slowly killing you, day by day.  Do it people!  Okay, enough of that, lets talk about “Celebrity” judging, at the Uptown Art Fair this past summer!

The first weekend in August, brought the inaugural 2012 Kitchen Window Culinary Arts Competition put on by the Uptown Art Fair and sponsored in part by Kitchen Window.  The phrase “Celebrity” judging was given by one of my favorite foodie friends and fellow judge Emily Sue Anderson of The Broccoli Stalker.  We laugh about the title because it left many of us food blogger friends who participated asking ourselves, how are we “celebrities”?  (okay, there are at least a couple of you, reading this that are celebrities in my eyes : ) Pretty cool, but my guess is the real celebrities weren’t available!  Anyway, I had a blast!  The picture above is of myself along with the two other judges I had the honor of hanging with all day.  Amanda Rettke & Melissa Hoepner.  I’ve hyperlinked their food blogs so you can check them out!  These girls are the best…I miss you both!  The competition was held over Friday, Saturday & Sunday.  The 1st & 2nd place winners (most points) from each days competitions would move on to the semi-finals on Sunday.  Each local Chef contestant was paired with an Uptown Art Fair Artist and they were charged with putting together a dish, and a piece of visual art.  The teams were given thirty minutes and the food was made using three required ingredients- beer from Schell’s Brewing, artisan chocolates from local chocolatier B.T. McElrath and rice from Gourmet House®  Rice.  In addition to that, one secret ingredient, unveiled to them just minutes before competition time.  They had use of a full pantry of items sponsored by Whole Foods and the artists pretty much could do what they wanted, as long as it somehow tied into the Chef’s dish.  I saw some very creative things come out of this competition!

The first round I helped judge was Saturday morning, August 4, 2012 at 11:00am.  The secret ingredient for this round…Corn, which both chefs used creatively in their respective dishes.

 

First up,  Chef Tim Draughn from Old Chicago & Artist Paul Lundquist – Photographer.  Chocolate & Coffee encrusted Beef Tenderloin and a picture as gorgeous to match in which he used both the B.T. McElrath chocolates & whole coffee beans…

…vs. Chef Annette Colon from Sunstreet Breads & Tim Foster – Oil/Pastel.  Yes, those are luscious eggs on top of her dish (you know I am egg-obsessed) and Tim’s oil painting…oh my…let’s just say, there was a bit of a discussion after the competition of just where that painting would make it’s final home!

And the winner is….

Chef Tim Draughn & Artist Paul Lundquist!!

Next round, at 1:00pm found Cherries as our secret ingredient…

This round found Chef Josh Boge from Urban Eatery & Artist Michele Combs – Painter.  Another painting we loved and a gorgeously plated dish by Josh, was almost too pretty to eat!

…up against Chef Ben Mauk from Birdhouse & Artist Paul Gill – Sculpture.  Paul’s sculpture was made mostly of chocolate and if I remember correctly, he had beer in the center. It’s hard to see what that was, that Chef Ben made…so let me tell you, it was the most delicious chocolate-cherry rice pudding; not too sweet, a bit of heat…oh my!

And the winner is…

Chef Ben Mauk & Artist Paul Gil!

And the final round of the day, 3:00pm brought Mushrooms as our secret ingredient.

This final round had Chef Sarah Master from Barbette & teammate Artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter, Photographer up against…

Chef Tammy Wong from Rainbow Chinese and teammate Artist Bill Wolfson-Painter.

With this being the last round, we had a better handle on the whole point scoring process.  It sounds like an awesome job to have, but with so many categories and food/art perspectives to keep in mind, it truly was a difficult challenge for us judges!  Chef Sarah made a perfectly cooked & delicious piece of Pork Loin, with Chocolate-Beer Mustard sauce and an Arugula salad with puffed Wild Rice.  Chef Tammy’s dish had many things going on, from stir-fried beef & mushrooms, a chocolate fruit salad and an asian slaw that had crunchy, barely cooked bits of Wild Rice.  She took full advantage of the Whole Foods pantry for sure!  The artists creations this round were unique as well, with Artist Bill Wolfson’s gorgeous painting taking cues from Rainbow Chinese’s color palette & incorporating her dish into the final design.  I was completely in awe of Artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter rendition of the Stone Arch Bridge, incorporating the beer & Chef Sarah’s dish into the final design construction.  And in the end, the winner was…

Chef Sarah Master & Artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter!

They ended up winning it all on Sunday, congrats to them both!  You can enjoy her winning recipes by clicking on this link.

I plan to use a couple of her recipes for my belated Beer for a Year blog posts, so stay tuned on that.

My thanks to the Uptown Art Fair & Kitchen Window for allowing me to participate in this year’s competition!  I hope they’ll ask me again next year! 🙂

And to you my faithful readers, I am getting back on that darn wagon/train and promise you delicious future posts, more often!

Until then, cheers!

Shawn

Beer for a Year, month nine…

Yikes, month nine already!

Well, here in Minnesota, we recently had a week or so of fall-like weather and it had me thinking of Oktoberfest…this months beer!  Summit Brewery describes this beer as “Brewed in the classic Märzen style with Northern Brewer hops from Germany. Rich, toffee malt flavors up front with a clean hop finish as crisp as the autumn air.”   It’s gorgeous color had me at first glance…much like the Minnesota landscape in October!  Read more about it here.

So, thinking of cooler temps (because we are again back in the heat here) I wanted to do something that would go good with sausages or pork…and because I had just picked up a whole head of purple cabbage from my CSA, I thought Beer Braised Red Cabbage would be perfect!  I found the original recipe here, but as I do with most recipes, I doctored it up to suit my needs.

Beer Braised Red Cabbage

1/2 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced

1/4 pound of bacon, diced & fried until almost crisp

2 tablespoons of butter

1 whole onion, (I used red), sliced thin

1 green apple, peeled, cored & thinly sliced

1 tablespoon of sugar (or honey & more if needed)

1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1 bottle (more or less) of Summit Oktoberfest beer

1 whole cinnamon stick

salt, pepper, (more bacon) dried fruits, etc!

So you’ll need to begin by slicing up the cabbage, as thin as you like it either by hand or in your food processor.  Slice the onion and apple as well.  Put a fairly large pan on medium heat and when warm, add the bacon.  Once the bacon has given off most of its fat, add the onion and continue cooking until the onions have started to caramelize and the bacon is almost crisp.  At this point, add the butter…yum!  Sorry, I get distracted by butter sometimes…and bacon…

At this point, you’ll then want to put in the cabbage and apple; Stir until fully coated in the butter etc.  Let this start to wilt down a bit and then add your chicken stock, vinegar, cinnamon stick and sugar.  Again, stir a bit to coat and let wilt for a couple of minutes.  The add your beer, turn the heat down and cover to simmer for 30 minutes (plus or minus depending on how you like the texture of your cabbage) stirring every so often and ensuring it’s not losing liquid and/or sticking to the bottom of the pan. About halfway thru this time, taste the cabbage to check for adequate sweetness & “done-ness”.  Both of which are very selective.  Adjust as necessary and feel free to add a bit of salt & pepper at this point as well.  Continue cooking until the cabbage is as tender as you’d like it.

This dish could be made more amazing by adding more bacon, more apples or other delicious fruit (figs, apricots, etc.) fresh herbs like Thyme and even some fall seasonings like clove, nutmeg. The picture above is with Mission Figs & Thyme (in addition to the above ingredients) that I actually cooked in my cast iron skillet on the grill the other day!  Provided you add enough liquid and really keep an eye on it, you could cook this under a small pork roast in the oven as well and the cabbage can absorb all those succulent meat juices while it cooks!  YUM!

So my friends, I hope you give this recipe a try, and find a nice place to cozy up, eat it outside, and enjoy the changing weather and beautiful landscape in your part of the country!

Until next time,

Shawn

Beer for a Year, month eight…

Greetings beer lovers!

If you are checking the calendar, you’ll see I’m a few days late on my July beer post…this has honestly been the craziest summer!  I am sorry, but am trying not to beat myself up about it, thinking you’ll understand and can relate.  Won’t you?

This (last) month’s beer is Summit Pilsener.  A Bohemian Style, lighter beer perfect for summer and what I am making…Fish & Chips!  You can read more about this delicious beer here.

Our house is abuzz with Olympic excitement!  The kids jump out of bed early and beg to stay up late, absorbing every minute of coverage they can digest.  Favorites of theirs include any of the swimming events, all of the gymnastic events, track events and beach volleyball…I even came home one day to this sprawled across my driveway…gotta love their enthusiasm!

So in honor of the Opening Ceremonies, I decided to make a ‘little spot’ of Fish & Chips to have that night for dinner.  The Pilsener was a great beer to use for the batter; light & bubbly, not too bitter.  Here is the recipe for the batter:

“Olympic-style” Fish & Chips:

(this makes enough for two servings of fish, so feel free to double it if necessary)

1 egg

3/4 cup of flour

1 & 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

6 oz. of Summit Pilsener

2 –  6 oz. fresh fillets of cod or other fish

2 teaspoons of seafood/fish seasoning (I used Chesapeake Bay seasoning from Blue Crab Bay Co.)

sea salt

You’ll notice this batter is similar to the Beer Battered Onion Rings I made here.  We (really my husband cause I suck at it) like to make our own sauces because it never fails that we buy a whole bottle of whatever sauce and we use two tablespoons of it and there it sits for months until it lands in the garbage.  Plus, making your own sauce is not only easy, but you know exactly what is in it!  Too many times we’ll buy a dressing or sauce that has some weird flavor to it and when checking the label, it will say “blah, blah, blah & herbs” …yah, so do your own.  For this dinner we needed both Tartar and Cocktail sauces, because you may notice I snuck in some battered shrimps, hence the need for cocktail sauce.  Although I don’t think real Fish & Chips are even served “over the pond” with either sauce and of course in my shopping for this meal, the one thing I forgot, was the Malt vinegar… note to self for next time!

So, for the “chip” portion of this meal, I sliced up some red potatoes and just started those off in about an inch of oil I had placed in a large pan (I used canola oil) while I cut up the fish and got the batter ready.  (you can cut your “chips” a little smaller so they cook quicker) I also decided to make fish “bites” instead of whole pieces.  Once the “chips” had browned a bit, I pulled them out, gave them a sprinkling of sea salt and thru them in the oven to hold.

After I removed the “chips” I cleaned up the oil and added a bit more, bringing it back up to a good frying temperature.  (please be careful when frying things in oil, wear an old shirt and keep small children away from your pan…do you know what to do in the case of a grease fire?  If not, read this post) Once the oil was ready, I popped the fish in gently and flipped them over, once one side was golden brown.  Place them on a paper towel lined plate to drain and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.

                        

So, another blog post that is totally late is the one I want to do about our recent (and first ever as a family!) camping trip we took to the North Shore!  The first day, we drove all the way to Grand Marais and had to eat at the Angry Trout Cafe.  I had fish & chips there and could have just eaten a bowl of their Tartar sauce and been happy!  (well maybe not…that actually sounds gross now reading this!)  I googled the recipe and found what appears to be the recipe below, on this website.  Not sure if it’s authentic, but I thought I would post it anyway!  I think the addition of the dill is what I loved most about this sauce.

Angry Trout Cafe, (as written by the Mother Nature Network) Tartar Sauce:

1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise

6 tablespoons pickle relish (you don’t have to buy this either, just chop up some dill pickles and add a bit of sugar)

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons dried dill weed

The hubby’s homemade Tartar Sauce:

Mix together Mayo, pickle relish (or chop up your own dill or bread & butter pickles), lemon juice, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.  Yep, play with it until it’s the way you like it! 🙂

The hubby’s homemade Cocktail Sauce:

Mix together ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and a little splash of Tabasco or other hot sauce.

This would also be good as a sandwich with some really great coleslaw on the side!  I hope you’ll try making this Fish & Chips at home one day!  Let me know if you do!

As always, until next time…go for the gold!

Shawn

Beer for a Year, month seven…

Rhubarb Beer Jam & dinner……

Hey beer lovers!  This months beer is Summit Sága IPA described by Summit as a beer with “Epic hop character”.  I love anything that is referred to as “epic”!  Usually I am not a fan of big hoppy beers, but this one is so clean & bright & fresh, that the first sip I had, I knew I liked it!  Further description from the Summit website says “Named after the Norse goddess Sága, drinking companion of the God Odin. With a divine tropical fruit hop aroma and clean, assertive bitterness.”  Assertive indeed!  Give it a try, it’s a great beer for summer!

In scouring the internet for recipes that contained beer, I came across this one, on the Tasting Table website but originally adapted from the Paul Virant’s cookbook, The Preservation Kitchen that had another of my favorite things…Rhubarb!  And, since last weekend I cut my teeth with my first jamming experience, I thought this would be a great idea!  But what to use this jam with?  I can’t just give you the jam, with no direction as to how to use it, can I?  So, I started thinking about dinner.  I knew this jam, no matter how much sugar went into it, would be more on the savory side.  I wanted to use it as a sauce more so than a jam.  And I wanted Pork.  We actually had some Pork Tenderloin, in the freezer, leftover from the gorgeous Crown Roast we had for Christmas dinner.  All I did to prep the Pork was tossed it in Olive Oil with salt, pepper & garlic.  I then threw it on the grill.

So I mentioned I was thinking about dinner…this week we picked up our first CSA share from Natura Farms.  In that share we had baby Rutabaga & Garlic Scapes, amongst other things.  I was super excited about the Garlic Scapes as I keep hearing about people using them for a variety of things, even pickling them!  I tweeted out the other day questions as to what to do with the Rutabaga and Garlic Scapes we had received.  The lovely Emily Anderson said I should try pesto with the Garlic Scapes (as did a couple other food friends) and maybe a Gnocchi with the Rutabaga?  Oh yes, that sounded wonderful!  So those were the two other additions to this meal, not to mention the Brown Butter Ice Cream with candied Raspberry Chipotle Bacon that I made…but that’s another post!

Okay, so first let’s talk about the Jam.  Now, I said that I wanted it more sauce-like right?  So yeah, I basically did my own thing with this one.  If you read the original recipe, you’ll see they strained the mixture, but I like texture and left mine a little chunky.  I used the same ingredients, but I didn’t can it.  I put it in a jar, planning to use it for dinner and try freezing the rest for a future meal.  So here’s my recipe:

Rhubarb Beer Jam

2 cups of Rhubarb, diced

1 cup of Summit Saga IPA beer

1 1/2 cups of Sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

The juice from 1/2 of a lemon

1 tablespoon of butter

First thing you’ll do is clean & cut your Rhubarb, into a small dice.  Place that into a saucepan and add the beer.  Get this going good and hot and then add the sugar & lemon juice, zest & butter.  The butter helps with reducing the amount of foam the mixture creates, but because I didn’t make an actual “jam” I didn’t really need to use it.  It was also not in the original recipe, but I remember doing that with my Strawberry Jam session last week.  I LOVE butter and will use it any chance I get!  Alright, moving on.  So your mixture should come to a small boil (enough to encourage the mixture to reduce, but not enough that you can’t get anywhere near it for fear of being splashed) and from there I just kept using my potato masher and smashing the mixture down and let it reduce by almost half.

This makes about a cup and a half so you really have almost three meals use out of it, if you aren’t canning it.  Otherwise, I would recommend using the smallest jam jars you can find.  That way you aren’t pulling a big jar out and then having to use it all up over the course of a week.  The original recipe also talks about the red hue in the end result.  Mine obviously wasn’t that color but I think that is because I used a more greener variety of Rhubarb.  I also thought that some herbs would be good in the jam, maybe Thyme (I love Lemon Thyme) or Tarragon?  I kept those out, the first time in, but might do that next time around.  I also think a heavier beer would work great too.  In keeping with the Summit theme, their Horizon Red Ale would be great with this.  The original recipe used a wheat beer, but didn’t say what brand.  I think this jam/sauce would be great as a base for a unique flatbread or bruschetta.  Have fun!

Okay, so let’s talk about the Rutabaga Gnocchi!  I have never made Gnocchi.  Yep, I can’t quite believe that myself! But this isn’t your usual Gnocchi.  It’s actually a very delicious way to use Rutabaga!  I found the original recipe on a food blog called Food and Passion.  I also found another recipe for Turnip Gnocchi on a food blog called Well fed, flat broke that sounds really good!  I might try that one this fall.

So the original recipe called for Spinach, but I decided to use Mustard Greens.  We have this flourishing in our garden right now and I am trying to use it as often as possible.  I’ts heartier than Spinach, so it might need to cook a bit longer than if you were to use fresh sautéed Spinach.  The original recipe used frozen Spinach.  Here’s what you’ll need to make this:

Rutabaga Gnocchi:

1 cup of finely grated Rutabaga (I used a “baby” Rutabaga about the size of an orange)

1 cup of flour

1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

1 cup of Ricotta cheese

2 cups of fresh Mustard Greens (washed thoroughly) or Spinach, finely chopped

2 eggs

1/2 nutmeg

Olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of fresh chopped garlic for sauteeing

You’ll start by grating the Rutabaga, because it’s somewhat like Zucchini in that it will release a bunch of water, you’ll also want to squeeze it all out.  I used my box grater to grate the Rutabaga, but the original recipe said to use a Microplane if you have one.  I do, but didn’t know how to change the blade…  Set the grated Rutabaga aside once grated.  Take the Mustard Greens or Spinach and remove any longer stems.  I chopped mine up, as small as I could, so that you don’t have huge chunks of it in your Gnocchi.  Get a sauté pan going on your stove and when hot, add a drizzle of Olive Oil and throw in your greens.  Spinach won’t take but a minute or two to cook, but you’ll want the Mustard Greens to go a bit longer.  Just before you pull it off the heat, add the salt, pepper & garlic.  Set this aside for now.  You’ll want to get a big pot of water going on the stove for boiling the Gnocchi.  Once it’s up to a boil, carefully add a good handful of salt tot the water, just like you would do with pasta.

In a larger mixing bowl, add a half cup of the flour, the eggs, ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and a bit of salt & pepper.  (you could even add in any fresh herbs you have like basil & chives) Now back to the Rutabaga…take a couple of paper towels and wrap the Rutabaga in it.  Squeeze to release as much water as you can.  Then place it in the bowl with the other mixture.  Once the greens have cooled, you can try to chop them up again if you feel you they are still too big.  Add this into the other mixture as well.  Once you’ve mixed everything up real good, grab a plate and put the other half a cup of flour on it.  Using a teaspoon, make small balls out of the Gnocchi mixture and place onto the floured plate.  Roll them around so they are fully coated in flour and carefully place five or so into your boiling water.  They are done when they pop to the top of the water.  Use a slotted spoon to remove them and set aside.  Looks like alot of work, but its really very easy!

The original recipe said to top the hot Gnocchi with Olive Oil and more parmesan cheese, but again, I wasn’t about the take the easy way out with this either!  In our recent CSA share I mentioned we got Garlic Scapes.  I decided to make a Pesto out of that for the sauce of the Rutabaga Gnocchi!  Many of you might be asking what Garlic Scapes are…you are not alone!  In the past, most people have thrown them away.  They are the curly tops that grow out of the garlic planted in your garden.  Don’t throw them out anymore!  Make this instead!  Anyway, I found this recipe here, on the Epicurious website, and doctored it up to my liking.  There were quite a few Garlic Scape Pesto recipes out there when I googled the name.  I found recipes made with almonds, pine nuts, walnuts…I chose the recipe here because it had Pistachios, one of my very favorite nuts!  Plus, I think it added to the bright green look to this pesto!

Garlic Scape Pesto:

10 large Garlic Scapes, diced (remove & discard the top seed pods)

Fresh Basil (as much as you want to add or leave it out)

1/3 cup Pistachios

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon of Lemon juice

1/3 cup Olive Oil

Salt & pepper

Place all ingredients, except Olive Oil, into a food processor and puree.  Once mixture looks like the picture above, and while the food processor is running, add in the Olive Oil.  Taste the mixture and add salt & pepper as needed.  You’ll end up with about a cup and a half of pesto that should keep in the fridge for about a week.  Now, the original recipe (man I’ve said that a million times in the post…) used this with pasta, and added about a cup of pasta water to the mixture.  I took some of the water I boiled the Gnocchi in and used that the loosen the sauce a bit.  If you use it on pasta (it would be great as a dip, or again as a base for flatbread or Bruschetta) just be sure to add a bit of the pasta water to make a sauce.  Isn’t it a gorgeous Pesto?!?!  It was really good on the Rutabaga Gnocchi!

There you have it!  I was a whirling dervish in the kitchen today and managed to use four new recipes, that’s a first for me!  I hope you’ll try at least one of these!  Today I will finish up that Brown Butter Ice Cream with candied Raspberry Chipotle Bacon that you’ll see in a post next weekend that highlights my #OinkOuting adventure earlier this month.  If you are liking what I am making these days, post a comment and share this blog with your friends!  I am going to be adding a Facebook Page for my blog later this week as well!

Until then,

Shawn

Chronicles of a crazy 20 days!

Wow, it’s been a CRAZY month so far and it’s only the 20th of June!  I constantly complain about the months of May & June, as every year, they completely derail me with field trips, the end of school, parties etc.  This year, I threw in a couple extra new events, just to challenge my strength…or because I am crazy.  I know the days have been ticking by, still no post since last month….and now that I’ve had the chance to catch my breath, I thought it would be fun to, instead of the usual post, do a little recap of my activities!  Yea!  Hope you enjoy the ride…….

June 2, 2012#TECHmunch, an event I had been anxiously waiting to attend.  It is a one-day conference for food bloggers, sponsored by BakeSpace.com and was held at Studio 514 in Minneapolis.  You can read more about it here.  Because I have never learned the art of “sitting on my hands” (like they used to say in Girl Scouts so you wouldn’t volunteer for everything!) I decided to volunteer to help with set-up the day before and during the event!  All kidding aside, let me just share one piece of advise I have learned over the years…if you really want to make the most of an event you plan to attend, volunteer to help.  It exposes you to (work, which oddly enough, I actually enjoy-so be prepared if signing on in this capacity) many more people than if you just came as an attendee.  I met & got to know better, some really great people (Babette, Tammy, Lisa, Brenda, Meghan, Emily, Joy, Cathy, Stephanie, Scott, Molly & anyone I forgot (so sorry!) and all the food-famous speakers & panelists!) that hopefully over time, I will become better friends with!  I helped with the manual labor part of set-up the day before, something of which after my years of banquet management/service I am very familiar with.  The next day, I was assigned to help with AV.  That stands for Audio-Visual….yeah, for those of you who know me, not exactly my forte. Ha!  I managed through and the only real glitch of the day ended up not even being my fault!

The day consisted of seven different topics:  Eating your way to the top; a Fireside chat with Andrew Zimmern & Jason DeRusha, Mastering your Story, with Daniel Klein of the Perennial Plate.  SEO for food writing; with experts in the field of SEO Lee Odden, Joshua Unseth & Erik Deutsch.  A panel discussion on creating, distributing and syndicating mouth-watering content with Shaina Olmanson, Zoe Francois, Amanda Rettke & Brenda Score.  Design & Page Optimization with the Geek Girls, Meghan Wilker & Nancy Lyons.  Lessons in partnerships & monetization with Babette Pepaj and Erik Deustch. And finally, a session titled, How to get on a Food Editor’s Radar, with Stephanie March, Lee Dean, Rachel Hutton & Joy Summers.   It was a GREAT event and I was thrilled to have been able to attend.

Of course a food blogger conference isn’t complete without amazing food, which you see a bit of above.  We had beautiful pastries donated by Patisserie 46 and gorgeous berries from Driscoll’s Berries.  Fresh squeezed juices  were provided by Whole Foods, Joia Life donated some of their amazing natural sodas, Bull Run coffee helped us all stay fueled up and I cannot forget that Sangria…made by Scott Pampugh.  A backyard picnic lunch was catered by Tastebud Catering and included Chicken & fresh Corn off the grill (with a couple of amazing butters to spread), two awesome salads (a carrot slaw I NEED the recipe for!) and a refreshing Basil Lemonade that I am totally recreating at home!  Dessert, decadent chocolate brownie like confections was sponsored by (and eaten early by many of us standing in line for lunch!) Bogart Loves.  An afternoon nosh, consisting of pita breads, hummus, olives, cheese and roasted veggies was provided by Whole Foods and served along with more of that magical Sangria.  We had swag bags donated by and filled with nourishing snack bars, natural produce bags and awesome coupons from Land O’ Lakes &. others.  (sorry I didn’t link any of those….& hopefully I am not missing anyone but holy crap we had a lot of great sponsors that day!!!)

A geeky moment of the day, pictured below, is where I asked the legendary Scott Pampugh (who was also volunteering that day) to take a picture with me.  We are both from Winona, MN (that automatically makes us kindred spirits right? Although he was a Cotter boy…I won’t hold that against him!) and if you don’t know much about Scott, he’s out to change the landscape of food as we know it.  Read more about him here.  The day finished off at Fulton Brewery, where attendees got to tour the facility, dine on Hola Arepa & Anchor Fish & Chips food trucks, conveniently parking outside and of course drink beer!!  There’s gonna be a #TECHmunch in Philadelphia in October…hmmm maybe I need to plan a trip out to see the Pennsylvania relative contingency!

   

I got a day to rest up, (although I spent most of it standing in my kitchen prepping for dinner the next night!) after being on my feet at that event for 13 hours, before my Dad and his family, packed into their new RV, rolled into town.  We got him for one night, and he requested his Mother’s Rhubarb Pie.

 Oh that pie.  What did I ever do before that pie… Want to make this pie?  Check out my previous post with recipe here.  And this time I made it with homemade pie crust, another first for me.  He said “his Mother never made it better” which I guess means he liked it.  🙂

This is my almost 7th grader, just after finding out she tied for first place in overall books read for the year with her class.  When I look at this picture I just want to wail…she is growing TOO damn fast.  It truly takes my breath away.  The kids last day of school was June 7th and took the day off to hang out with them.  They both had carnivals, and my daughter had a 6th grade graduation picnic that I helped with.  It was bittersweet watching her with her classmates.  I know that next year I won’t be able to volunteer like I had this past year, going on field trips etc.  I also know that Junior High is tough, not like grade school.  At the beginning of this year I felt like there was no way she would be ready to take on the challenges of 7th grade, but now, I feel differently.  My baby, growing up so fast

   

On Sunday June 10th, we went to our first ever Minnesota Twins game.  Yeah, I know, lame.  Lame that we hadn’t gone in the last two years!  I had bought tickets through the kids school and as luck would have it, ended up sitting right next to our close friends and their kids!  It was a HOT day and I worried about us actually making it through the whole game (at one point I looked over at my daughter, and if you have kids, you’ll know the look she gave me…something between “I am about to puke or I am about to pass out”)  It was a bit terrifying, but we persevered and made it through the game!  The pictures above are of my first ever Big Ginger a delicious drink made with 2 Gingers Whiskey & Ginger Ale (again lame, that I work at the hotel, connected to The Liffey and haven’t had one yet!) and the Nacho Helmet helped!  (seriously $14 well spent!)
  

June 12th brought another day I had been looking forward to for a long time, my #OinkOutings trip!  I had been so looking forward to my Oink Outing, not only because I love pigs…(loved them since Wilbur & love to eat them, in any form), but also because I had never been on a pig farm. I had no idea how pigs were birthed, raised etc. I’m happy to tell you that my expectations were met! I was well-educated that day & although it wasn’t the life I pictured, (Wilbur) I was happy to see the care taken by the Bode family both towards their pigs and staff that tends to them, 365 days a year. They are meticulous about the safety of those pigs, so that the end result, that bacon or pork loin you are cooking for your family is the best quality & safest it can be. Technology has changed pig farming; helping farmers raise pigs that are lean & delicious. Something dictated by consumer desire for leaner meat while still preserving the flavor.

It was a great day, getting to know everyone involved that advocates daily for the Pork producers of Minnesota. We started at Brackett’s Crossing where I met Chef Bryan who had cooked us delicious Pork Carnitas which we then had in that gorgeous taco shell pictured above.  From there we set out to Rebco Pork, the Bode family farm. Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!  We made a pit stop on our way down at Schmidt’s Meat Market were we toured their smoking facilities, sampled their delicious summer sausage & were treated to their award-winning Raspberry-Chipotle Bacon as a take home gift!  Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!

June 15th brought yet another birthday for me…sigh.  I am thirty-six this year.  LOL!  Really though, birthday’s aren’t a big deal for me.  I don’t expect to be lavished with gifts, but I do like to spend the day doing something I enjoy.  And, if you know me, that’s eating, drinking & shopping!  I decided We haven’t been to Stillwater in quite some time, so I thought, because it worked out that the hubby was on vacation that day, we were free!  I knew for quite some time that I wanted to check out a place called Swirl Wine Bar.  It is located in the sleepy and gorgeous little town of Afton, MN  So, that was stop number one.  There I purchased my first birthday present, a Redneck Wine Glass.  Yea, I know….don’t judge me.  I LOVE using jam jars to drink out of.  We were doing that before it was cool.  We also ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and three delicious appetizers which were devoured by the four of us.  I HIGHLY recommend making the trip and be sure to order the Grape & Brie Flatbread & the Truffle Fries…DELISH!
We then moved on to Stillwater, ducking into a few shops after strolling along the river.  One store we visited for another birthday treat was the Stillwater Olive Oil Co.  I love how these little shops have popped up all over and hadn’t actually been in one until that day!  They had many different varieties of Olive Oils, some infused and Vinegars-rich, syrupy aged Balsamic’s and a great variety of flavored white Balsamic’s.  We chose a bottle of Persian Lime infused Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon white Balsamic vinegar.  The vinegar just exploded the second it hit my tongue… I thought it would be fun to start a hashtag to chronicle my day; you can find my posts by searching for #BirthdayNosh and the picture collage above was some of the deliciousness of the day!

Gorgeous Strawberries!  Ever since I was young, I wanted to learn to can.  It’s been one of those things on my food bucket list, that I have been scared to try.  All it really takes is patience and organization.  The Strawberry Jam I made this weekend was SO good!  Stay tuned for a future post on canning.  I plan to do a Rhubarb Beer Jam for my next ‘Beer for a Year‘ post, and just last week, we signed up for a CSA share from Natura Farms and they have Currents and Elderberries, so hopefully I will get the opportunity to use those in future canning endeavors.  I also plan this summer to make Chow-Chow; a pickled vegetable deliciousness I had back in Pennsylvania Amish country.  Again posts to follow…..

And finally, June 17th, Father’s Day…..

The hubby loves ribs, so I decided that I would break out the smoker and attempt to make a scrumptious dinner for him.  The weather forecasters said “a gorgeous day is on tap for Sunday” and guess what?  It rained on and off ALL day!  The picture above was taken by my daughter, as she came out laughing at me standing there with the umbrella.  Yes, I could have let it go, but seriously at one point it rained for over an hour.  I know this because I stood there that long…and for the first time ever, I was maintaining a consistent temp on the smoker and didn’t want to ruin that!  The things we do for love…..

Oh yeah, his present?  The gorgeous cookbookVolt Ink” written by brothers Michael & Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame.  It was really a win-win gift. 🙂

So, there it is people.  The last crazy 20 days of my life.…hope you enjoyed following along.  I promise to get back on my regular schedule of posts, none of which hopefully will be this long!

Until then,

Shawn

Beer for a Year, month five…

Wow, I know I may sound like a broken record player, but where the heck did April go?  I can’t believe its the last day of the month and here I sit at 8:33pm trying to get this post done before May…which is tomorrow…..

Sigh.

Anyway, this month’s “Beer for a Year” choice is Summit’s Great Northern Porter.  The great folks at Summit Brewing say this beer was “originally named after London market workers who popularized this brew, then dubbed our Porter with a nod to the majestic railway stretching from St. Paul to Seattle. Roasted malts offer up coffee notes leading to a slightly sweet, chocolatey finish. This beer won First Place in the “Porters” category at the 1987 Great American Beer Festival® and Gold, at the 2003 World Beer Championships. They say to pair this beer with soft, creamy cheeses, hearty soups, stews, smoked foods, chocolate”….oh yeah.  That’s where this months post comes in; we are making Beer Brownies!!  Yea for chocolate & beer!

I found this great recipe on a blog called “The Kitchy Kitchen“.  I pretty much followed it as they wrote it, but put in more semi-sweet chocolate chips and less dark chocolate.  Here’s what you’ll need:

3 1/2 oz. dark chocolate, 70% or more

2 tablespoons of instant espresso

8 tablespoons of butter

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup of white sugar

1 cup of brown sugar, loose, not packed

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup of Summit Great Northern Porter

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

(the original recipe had 1 cup of walnuts, halved and toasted lightly…I don’t care for them, so I left them out)

You’ll start by gathering all your items and preheating the oven to 350 degrees.  If you are using the nuts, you can toast those for about 5 minutes.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, spices and cocoa powder.

 Meanwhile melt the chocolate, instant espresso and butter in a medium-sized bowl over boiling water.  (homemade double-boiler) Remove from heat, add the beer and vanilla extract then set aside to cool.

  

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and sugars until thick and shiny.  Continue beating on low while adding the flour mixture and wet ingredients, alternatively.

  

Fold in the chocolate chips and pour into a buttered and floured 9 x 13″ pan (and sprinkle nuts over top if using them).  Side note; I used two 8 x 8″ pans…

Bake in the preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.  They are done when  toothpick inserted into the middle of the brownies comes out clean.  Let cool, then cut and sprinkle with powdered sugar if you so please!  (you must note the cute plate I used to showcase my brownie slice…my baby girl made that for me!)

These brownies are not overly sweet, have a rich chocolate taste and are best served still slightly warm with either a drizzle of caramel sauce (or if you are feeling really adventuresome, you could reduce the Great Northern Porter and make a wonderful syrup you could drizzle over the top!) or a big scoop of ice cream.  I had one kid who asked for more and another who refused another bite after the first, so they might be best served to those who appreciate a more gourmet brownie!

Summit gave me a special treat for my next beer…stay tuned!

Until next month…which is tomorrow…..ha!  Enjoy!

Cheers,

Shawn

Beer for a Year, month four…

Month four…already??!!!  Nooooo!  And, according to the calendar, its April.  I should have had this post in March.  The devil is in the details….who cares right?  Let’s talk beer!

Summit Maibock!  I’ve heard, from quite many people, that this is THE beer.  According to Summit’s website, “this traditional German style beer earned the nickname “liquid bread” because it was brewed by monks to help them get through Lenten fasting. Moravian 37 malts and Czech Saaz hops give it a toasted sweetness with a little spice in the finish.”  They also say this is the “official beer for May Day celebrations”  however, according to the sweet older gentleman who helps me with my beer pick-up every month, “get it before then, as it will be long gone before May!”

So, what to make this month….looking at the info on the Summit website about Summit Maibock, (read more here) they say to pair this beer with “Pretzels, white cheddar, sausage, ribs, pork and smoked meat…” how about Onion Rings?  Okay, yes!!

There’s a few things you need to know about before I can tell you about the Onion Rings.  The first being that I am a little Irish.  The other is that I love Ruebens.  LOVE them.  What do either of these have to do with Onion Rings?  Well, I decided that what would be the perfect side to Ruebens on St. Patiricks Day?  Onion Rings of course!  (yes honey, I know, Rueben’s aren’t Irish….sigh.)

So, I got everything ready (cut, soaked the onions-measured and mixed the coatings)  to take to our friends for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration.  The husband loaded the car, so I assumed that he got everything…you know what they say about assuming right?  Yeah, so I should have double-checked he had everything.  How was he to know that I had the onions soaking in buttermilk, in a container at the back of our ridiculously small refrigerator.  How was he to remember that I was supposed to be bringing the Maibock with, because I was blogging about these incredible Onion Rings?  He grabbed all the other beer (it was St. Patty’s day and we were going to have Black & Tan’s!), the two Corned Beef Briskets we made the day before, just for Ruebens, the cheese, the sauerkraut, the special 1000 Island Dressing, the loaf of Rye bread and the loaf of Pumpernickel I bought for the sandwiches.  Oh and the Irish Cheddar Cheese plate with toasted Irish Soda Bread I had painstakingly cut for the appetizer plate.  You get the picture.  So, thankfully I had already drank a bottle of beer before we noticed the missing items (so I couldn’t drive back home) and thankfully my friends grew up around River Falls Wisconsin and always have Ellsworth Creamery Cheese Curds on hand (which we usually eat raw…but this time fried).  All was good.  But, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking of those sweet Vidalia rings, soaking in their buttermilk bath, at home.  Were we really going to have to make & eat all those Onion Rings on our own?  Gosh no, we have neighbors!  So, let’s start!

Beer Battered Onion Rings:

Recipe adapted from Guy Fieri’s version you can find here.

You’ll need….

2 sweet onions, sliced to 1/2 inch thick rings

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour, (divided in two)

1 teaspoon garlic, granulated

I also added seasoned salt, pepper and probably more garlic…..

One bottle of Summit Maibock (and more drinking with the rings!)

3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese (really optional, but who doesn’t love cheese!)

(The original recipe had a dip with it, but I didn’t make it…if you are interested in that, click on the original recipe link above.)

This recipe makes ALOT of onion rings…so you may want to cut back on the amount of onion you are using if they are large Vidalia’s like mine were.  Or just plan to share them and you’ll be good!

Using a bowl large enough to hold the buttermilk and onions, separating the rings and soak them for at least an hour.  (In my case, they were soaking for over a day…and were just fine!)  If you have a fryer, preheat and get ready as usual.  I used my Dutch Oven and added enough oil that the rings would be able to submerge.  (the recipe calls for 4 cups of oil….which just grosses me out, but I guess you might need that much)  I don’t even want to think of the calories in these beauties…they are worth it!

Using two separate mixing bowls, place a cup of the flour in each.  In one of those bowls, add the bottle of beer.  In the other bowl, add the salt, pepper, garlic and any other seasonings you’d like to the flour mixture. (note the plastic containers…I thought I was going mobile with these…)

Once the onions have soaked in the buttermilk, remove them, shaking off the excess and dredge in the seasoned flour mixture and then into the beer batter.  Carefully drop a few into the oil and fry until golden brown.  Be sure to leave enough space around each one as it fries, or they will stick together.  Once done, remove to a paper towel lined plate and let cool slightly before grating Parmesan cheese over them.  And of course, serve & enjoy them with a frosty cold Summit Maibock!

Until next month…(oops, later this month I mean…)

Cheers!

Shawn