Sunday, February 23, 2014

Minnesotan Asian Fusion

Asian ingredients and foods have been combined with, inspired by, and played the leading role with ingredients and foods from many different cuisines. Today's blog is about Minnesotan Asian Fusion cooking. Never heard of it before? Well, neither have most people, but I made such a hotdish for a potluck lunch today.
First, let's talk about hotdish. The famous Minnesota Hotdish is easy to make and oh, so versatile.All you need is some meat, such as hamburger, chicken, or sausage; a vegetable of some kind, such as corn, green beans, onions, or celery; some kind of starch, such as rice, noodles, or pasta; and some kind of condensed or thick soup to stick it all together. Options include French fried onion rings, shredded cheese, croutons, nuts, etc. You mix and match ingredients from each of the groups and then bake it in the oven (usually at 350 degrees for 45 - 60 minutes) and you have a great entree. Add a salad and dessert and you have a meal!

One last thing you need to know about hotdish - the hotdish is the food that's in a casserole dish. I know, I know, lots of people use the words hotdish and casserole interchangeably, but most Minnesotans will agree with me. You carry a casserole, and you eat the hotdish.

For today's potluck, I made Hamburger Chow Mein Hotdish. For this recipe, as with most other hotdishes, exact measurements are not important and you can substitute almost all ingredients to your liking. 

1/2 onion
2 stalks celery
1 pound hamburger
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 - 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can beef with barley soup
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons - 1/4 cup soy sauce
15 ounce can corn (or 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn), drained
1 (12 ounce) bag chow mein noodles

  1. Finely dice 1/2 onion; set aside
  2. Dice 2 stalks celery; set aside
  3. In a frying pan, brown hamburger with the onion and celery; season with pepper and garlic; drain; set aside
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soups, water, and soy sauce
  5. Add corn and hamburger mixture to the soup mixture and mix well
  6. Add chow mein noodles and mix well
  7. Place hotdish in a baking dish or casserole dish and bake covered at 350 degrees for 45 - 60 minutes - until heated through

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pumpkin Pie From Scratch

My Mom never made pumpkin pie from scratch; well, I believe that's true because when I was growing up, she used a lot of canned and packaged foods, and so pumpkin pie was always made with canned pumpkin pie filling. Empty the can into a packaged pie crust, bake, and serve with Cool Whip.

As I got older and was occasionally cooking the new way - hippie-style (you know, substituting carob for chocolate, substituting chicory for coffee, making my own yeast bread), I still used a lot of canned fruits and vegetables. So naturally, my version of making a pumpkin pie from scratch was using canned pumpkin, not canned pumpkin pie filling. At least you added evaporated milk, eggs, and spices to the canned pumpkin before you put it in a pie shell. But it did not occur to me (yet) to buy an actual pumpkin and make the pie from that.

We moved to southeast Kansas when our daughter was little. We moved to a very small town with a single large company that had a "no spouse rule" - if one spouse worked there, the other could not. So, I found myself without a job, lots of play time with my daughter, lots of women's charity organizations, lots of ladies' lunches, and no place to shop. This was before the Internet and the Web, so some of my attention was diverted to cooking. To add a little extra challenge, the house we rented for the last six months we lived there had no stove/oven. I had quite a few electric appliances, such as slow cookers, electric skillets, electric fondue pots, hot pots, and a big Dutch oven. With some planning, I found I could cook almost anything in my stove-less kitchen. One big challenge was baking cookies - I could bake only 4 at a time, so our daughter enjoyed Oreos and Girl Scout cookies for that time period.

One day, I got the urge to try my hand at baking a pumpkin pie from scratch - no canned pumpkin. All recipes I found said "cook 6 cups pumpkin until tender . . ." but that was the extent of information I found. So I brought a nice big pumpkin home from the grocery store, cut off the top, and scooped out the seeds and pulp from the inside - and proceeded to cook those in the Dutch oven. And I cooked and stirred and stirred and cooked, but to no avail. The seeds and pulp never changed form and looked nothing like the canned pumpkin I was used to. I got out my potato masher and tried to mash it up, but that didn't work either. I got out my mixer and that didn't produce a nice smooth pumpkin puree. As a side note, I didn't cook or eat squash, so had no idea that one cooked the meat of the vegetable, not the insides. If I had pictured a cantaloupe where one eats the meat but not the seeds, I would have figured it out, but I didn't. I just kept cooking and mashing.

Luckily, my neighbor came over; she was an older woman who was an excellent cook. After she finished laughing at my disaster, she was kind enough to show me what I was doing wrong. She helped me cut up the meat of the pumpkin, cook it, and puree it and together we made a wonderful pumpkin pie - from scratch!

Today, with the Internet, the Web, and YouTube - you can see actual demonstrations of these types of things. And in the future, who knows? Maybe someone will appear holographically in your kitchen and help out. I can't wait. I could always use some instruction - and help with the dishes!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Snow with Spaghetti and Meatballs

Last week, I said that according to Punxsutawny Phil, we're due for another 6 weeks of winter. Apparently, he was right. Mother Nature blessed us with snow last night. Oregon got far more snow, shutting down I-5 near Salem and creating driving havoc in Portland. We only got 3-4 inches and though it was powdery and sparkled like diamonds, I'm glad I didn't have to go out in it. And felt bad for dinner guests who did have to drive home in the snow.

The dinner included some old friends, some new friends, and a newly engaged couple (YAY!). And what could be better than spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, chocolate cake, and bubbly wine? Hmm ... I know: meatballs! They turned out really yummy. I'm including the recipe, but usually when I cook, I add this and that as my mood strikes me, so I'm recreating the following recipe from memory. And you should feel free to add a little more of this or a little less of that while keeping the proportions of ground meats, eggs, and bread crumbs the same. That will yield the correct texture for the meatballs.

Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Makes about 48 meatballs

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago cheese (or a blend of these)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (the cheese is salty as is the tomato sauce, so be careful)
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1 cup lightly packed finely chopped fresh basil

  1. Thoroughly wash your hands - meatballs should be mixed and formed by hand
  2. In a large bowl, combine the beef and pork until well-blended
  3. In a small bowl, combine the eggs, cheese, pepper, and salt and mix well
  4. Add the egg mixture to the meat mixture and mix well
  5. Add bread crumbs and mix until well-blended
  6. Add the basil and mix lightly until well-blended
  7. Lightly form meatballs, about 1 - 1 1/2 inches in diameter; do not handle too firmly or they'll be dense and chewy
  8. In a frying pan, heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil and then add meatballs, a few at a time, and brown on all sides
  9. Drain browned meatballs on paper towels and then place in a large pan or pot with a little tomato sauce to finish cooking; simmer meatballs for about 30 minutes to complete their cooking and absorb the flavors of the sauce
  10. Serve meatballs and tomato sauce with cooked pasta; pass the cheese!
Tomato Sauce
Makes enough sauce for about 2 pounds dried pasta, cooked - freezes well

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
1 head roasted garlic
2 (29 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried oregano *
2 teaspoons dried basil *
* you may substitute several leaves of fresh oregano and/or basil
1/2 cup dry red wine
Optional: for a meat sauce, add browned and drained 1 1/2 pounds ground beef and/or Italian sausage and then serve meatballs on the side

  1. Saute onions in olive oil over low heat until soft and translucent - about 30 minutes 
  2. Add several cloves of roasted garlic that have been smashed and saute 2 minutes more
  3. Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes; blend well
  4. Add sugar, red pepper, oregano, basil, and wine
  5. If making a meat sauce, add the cooked and drained meats
  6. Simmer for about 1 hour
  7. If using fresh basil or oregano, remove before serving

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Vegetables and Groundhogs

Weather seems to be capturing my attention lately, more so than usual, I think. First, I am truly sympathetic with my sisters, brother, nieces, nephews, cousins, and dear friends who live in Minnesota and have been braving wind-chills of  -54 degrees. They're rejoicing in heat waves when the daytime temperature is about 25. So I really am sympathetic, yet a bit smug. After all, who was the smart one to move to the Pacific Northwest where we rarely get such temperatures.

And weather has been part of the build up to the Super Bowl, with frigid temperatures and snow in New Jersey a possibility just a week ago. They escaped the snow and the very coldest temperatures.

In Seattle/Tacoma, we have had a relatively dry January, although it has been foggy and cloudy. We've had to scrape and defrost windshields a couple of times, but temperatures have been fairly normal for us, ranging from the mid-30s to the mid-40s. Typical winter, though a bit dry.

But today the sun came out! And it was glorious. Still chilly at 45 degrees, but with a brilliant blue sky. And so, my mind turned to planting flowers and vegetables this Spring. For flowers, I have a beautiful blue hydrangea and I'm thinking of planting a couple more. I love the flowers and the foliage and they don't require care beyond keeping weeds out and deadheading blooms. I have a large hostos that slugs love to munch on, leaving the large leaves very lacy looking; I think I need to de-slug the plant this year. I want to plant some dahlias, but the tremendous variety leaves me indecisive until it's too late. This year, I'll just make some decisions and go with it. As usual, I look forward to the blooming of daffodils, jonquils, and bluebells. We seem to have an active squirrel population which digs up bulbs and deposits them elsewhere in our yard. I never know where these flowers will bloom. I've dug up the bulbs after they're done and tried to organize them, but the same disarray happens every year.

We have strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry plants and will probably add to that collection. We love berries and it's wonderful to go outside and pick them and have them for breakfast.

As for vegetables, herbs and tomatoes are always at the top of my list. I'm also thinking of green beans, wax beans, carrots, onions, and who knows what else. Maybe Brussels sprouts. Years ago, I planted Brussels sprouts from seeds. I'd never seen them grow before, and thought they might grow in bunches like grapes, but on a single stalk like broccoli. After awhile, these spiky single stems grew to about 3 - 4 feet tall, and then they all fell over. I thought that was the last of those plants. Then I noticed little bumps along the stalks, so propped up the stalks and the bumps turned into Brussels sprouts. I was amazed! They were ready just in time for Thanksgiving and were the best thing ever. Now that I know what to expect, maybe I'll try growing them again.

While I was daydreaming and starting to create lists, I heard that Punxsutawney Phil was ceremoniously dragged out of his burrow and saw his shadow. Six more weeks of winter.

Can I wait that long to dig in the dirt and plant stuff or will I move on to other projects? Maybe this is the year that I buy all my produce from farmers' markets and farm stands, supporting the local agricultural community. What a good idea!