always superb

Yes, that's a table made of ice.

Visit a city like Minneapolis-St. Paul in high September, and you begin to find yourself mentally packing your bags, and imagining a life for you and yours in an idyllic Midwestern wonderland.  The streets are tidy, the people are interesting and kind, and the politics are progressive, and tempered by a kind of Lutheran good sense and practicality.  Local music is good.  Beer and cheese are plentiful.

Things get a little more Darwinian in February.  That’s when you realize that not only are the people interesting and kind, they are of a hardier stock than most.  This is Little House on the Prairie country.  Here, putting food up for the winter is more than a quaint, slightly anachronistic hobby, and ice fishing is considered recreation rather than torture.

The foodways that accompany the seasons, and the pleasures they bring are at the heart of Always Superb:  Recipes for Every Occasion (2003), a collaborative effort between the Junior Leagues of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  The editors write,

Today we are far removed from life on the prairie.  We gather with our friends and families not out of a common need but a common bond formed from generations of seasonal traditions.  We may not live in a log house, but we still go to the cabin.  Food is abundant year-round, yet we welcome thick soups and hearty meals in the winter.

In that spirit, I tried to put together an autumn menu with recipes that called for root vegetables and seasonal fruits, things that were warm and hearty, without being too heavy.  And to me, that says soup, salad, homemade bread, and a fruit crisp.

This first recipe intrigued me because two of its primary ingredients, wild rice and soybeans, are two of Minnesota’s biggest crops (at the time of this cookbook’s publication, Minnesota was the nation’s second-biggest producer of wild rice and the third-biggest of soybeans), yet they’re not things I’d necessarily put together in a dish, much less a salad.

Minnesota Salad: Wild Rice and Soybeans

wildricesalad

Minnesota Salad

SALAD:

1/2 cup frozen soybeans
Salt to taste
1 cup wild rice
2 T. chopped celery
2 T. chopped apple
2 T. chopped onion
2 T. chopped carrot
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup craisins

DRESSING:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 t. honey
1 T. grated orange zest
1 t. salt

For the salad, cook the soybeans using the package directions; drain. Rinse under cold running water; drain. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt. Add the rice. Simmer for 30 to 35 minutes or until tender; drain. Rinse under cold running water; drain. Combine the cooked soybeans, cooked rice, celery, apple, onion, carrots, parsley and craisins in a large bowl.

For the dressing, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, honey, orange zest and salt together in a small bowl.

Pour the dressing over the rice salad and mix well. Chill the salad, covered, for 2 hours or longer. Serve cold.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

While it’s likely that your local grocery store doesn’t stock frozen soybeans, they probably do stock frozen edamame, which is…. soybeans.  These are delicious little suckers, and make a fine snack on their own with a little salt.  They remind me of a much healthier, less messy version of boiled peanuts.  As for the salad itself, it’s excellent, unusual, and has an appealing crunchiness.  It also improves after a day in the fridge.

For the next course, I made a pureed carrot soup.  Unfortunately, I have the world’s smallest and worst food processor, so this is always a challenge, and I never get the soup as silky and smooth as I’d like.  Alas.

Carrot Ginger Soup

carrotsoup

Carrot Ginger Soup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
1 T. grated orange zest
1/2 t. coriander
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

GARNISH:

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh parsley sprigs, or chopped parsley

Heat the butter in a large saucepan until melted. Add the carrots and onions. Cook for 15 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the ginger, orange zest, coriander and 2 cups of the chicken broth. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Puree the carrot mixture in a blender or food processor. Return to the saucepan. Stir in the remaining 3 cups chicken broth, milk, and half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until heated through.

Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

YIELD: 10 to 14 servings

As everyone knows, a bowl of soup is only as good as the bread you dunk into it. I love making bread from scratch, but almost never do it. In fact, I realized as I was making this that I hadn’t even baked with yeast since I made a King Cake – and that was during Mardi Gras. So, I was a little out of practice, but things worked out pretty well all the same.

No-Knead Braided Parmesan Bread

parmesanbread2

No-Knead Braided Parmesan Bread

PARMESAN GARLIC FILLING:

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 T. snipped parsley
1/2 t. garlic powder

BREAD:

1 envelope dry yeast
1/4 cup warm (105- to 115-degree) water
1 cup lukewarm scalded milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t. salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
1 egg yolk
1 T. water
Sesame seeds

For the filling, combine the Parmesan cheese, butter, parsley and garlic powder in a bowl and mix well.

For the bread, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, butter, sugar, eggs and salt. Stir in 1 cup of the flour. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft, sticky dough, scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally. Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Deflate the risen dough by stirring 25 times. Roll or pat into a 12 x 18-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Spread the filling evening over the dough. Cut the dough into three 4 x 18-inch strips. Roll each strip into a rope, sealing the ends.

Place the dough ropes diagonally close together on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brain the ropes gently and loosely; do not stretch. Seal the ends and tuck under securely. Let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

parmesanbread1

Combine the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and mix well. Brush over the dough braid. Sprinkle with sesame seeds Place on the lower oven rack.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings

If I had to make this over again, I’d a) remember to sprinkle the sesame seeds over it before I baked it, and b) probably use about half as much sugar as the recipe calls for.  As is, it’s a very challah-ish bread, and the sweetness kind of overpowers the butter, cheese, and garlic.  And much as I like sugar, I’ll take butter, cheese, and garlic any day.  Still, it’s quite good, moist without being heavy, and it’s excellent toasted.

For dessert, I decided to make a fruit crisp because I’ve made a fruit crisp at least once every fall for the past decade, and I’d not yet met my fruit crisp quota.  And while I’ve made plenty with apples or mixed berries, I’d never made a pear crisp before.

Autumn Pear Crisp

pearcrisp

Autumn Pear Crisp

6 Anjou pears, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1 t. cinnamon
2/3 cup flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
6 T. chilled butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine the pears and lemon juice in a large bowl and mix well.

Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon cinnamon together in a bowl. Add to the pears and toss gently to coat. Spoon into a 7 x 12-inch baking dish.

Place the flour, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and salt in a food processor container and pulse until mixed. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until mixed and chunky; do not pulse until smooth. Add the oats and pecans and pulse 2 times. Sprinkle over the pear mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until the pears are tender and the topping is golden brown and bubbly. Cool for 20 minutes. Serve warm. You may serve this with cinnamon ice cream.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings

I’d feared that the pears wouldn’t hold up well, and would just cook to mush.  However, between the cornstarch and the fact that I used pears that weren’t very ripe, they came out tender, and the crisp held its shape when served.  Of course, once the ice cream starts to melt over the warm crisp that’s a moot point, but also when the crisp is at its peak deliciousness.

It’s getting close to Thanksgiving, so next week, I’ll be going back to New England, to Rhode Island, where all the bad seed Pilgrims eventually settled after they got kicked out of Massachusetts.

Oh, and I should mention that the title of this post comes from the Hold Steady song “Stuck Between Stations,” an undeniably catchy tune that allows the listener to rock out while learning a thing or two about doomed American poet John Berryman in the process.

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