Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grow Your Own Heirloom Garden

Family heirlooms come in various shapes in sizes. In my family, our heirloom jewels come in the form of garden seeds. During harvest season, my mom carefully saves seeds from the sturdy plants in her prolific garden. You know what I adore about that? The beans, tomatoes, and dill that I plant today are the same seeds of the same garden goodies that I ate as a kid. The tradition is nostalgic and interesting to me. Each time I bite into a fresh “rattlesnake pole bean” or a “scarlet runner bean” bean from my garden, I think of my hard-working mom, her soil-stained knees, and her beloved garden.

People who are “seed savers” are especially interested in the concept of heirloom varieties. The Seed Savers Exchange defines an heirloom as "any garden plant that has a history of being passed down within a family, just like pieces of heirloom jewelry or furniture. Some companies have tried to create definitions based on date, such as anything older than 50 years."

Heirlooms come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, from tomatoes to perennial flowers. If you’re really curious about all the heirloom varieties available, check out the heirloom plant resource book put out by the Andersen Horticultural Library at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum–it records all of plants offered by mail order from a myriad of catalogs.

Now you can become part of the ever-growing seed saver/heirloom seed movement. Don’t have a family member saving seeds? No problem. You can still get your green thumbs on some “saved seeds” by visiting a local store with a Seed Savers Exchange rack. Don’t know where to find Seed Savers seeds? Find the store selling them closest to you on the Seed Savers’website.

Perhaps you’re not interested in starting from seed and would rather plant heirloom plants seedlings? No problem there either. From farmers markets, to co-ops, to garden centers, many folks are selling seedlings grown from heirloom seeds. In addition to farmers markets and co-op plant sales, here are a few locations where you can get your green thumbs on some heirloom seedlings:
If you know a person who saves seeds, consult the oracle. In my experience, I’ve found that folks who save seeds are generally fountains of knowledge on the topic, and might even be willing to share a seedling or two with you to help you get started. And if you’re a seed saver and have a great resource to share, please do so in the comments section below.

Cross posted from: Grow Your Own Heirloom Garden - Twin Cities Taste - April 2014 - Minnesota

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Prairie Dogs: House-Made Sausages and Charcuterie in Uptown

Twin Cities wurst worshippers have a new joint to add to their must-visit list for summer 2014. Prairie Dogs, to be located in Uptown, plans to combine the best of the Chicago-style hot dog eatery with that of a butcher shop market, using locally-sourced ingredients to make house-made encased meats and charcuterie.

“Think of it as Hot Doug’s of Chicago meets Bavette la Boucheriein Milwaukee,” said Prairie Dog co-owner and sausage maker, Craig Johnson.

Serving sausages prepared for sit-down customers as well as offering a stocked butcher case for home cooks, Prairie Dogs will be cranking out house-made sausages like bratwurst, merguez, chorizo, Polish sausage, and hot dogs using locally-sourced meats from producers like Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farm. They’ll also feature local beer, sustainably produced wine, seasonal produce, and locally sourced buns (Johnson’s still on a quest to find the perfect locally made sausage bun).

Johnson grew up in Maple Plain, MN, but he first learned the craft of sausage-making while attending the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. He honed his sausage-making skills back in Minnesota at joints like Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen, Spill the Wine, and most recently at Ike’s in downtown Minneapolis. He was approached by Minneapolis restaurant consultant Tobie Nidetzabout the Prairie Dog concept, and the two formed a partnership as co-owners of the new venture.

Prairie Dogs


“Experimenting with different levels of meat grinds and fat content helps me figure out my own recipes. I’ve been picking butchers brains!” said Johnson, who is a regular customer at many of the local sausage-making shops in town like Clancey’s and Everett’s, and is heading to Chicago soon for a whirlwind tour of well-known sausage establishments like Hot Doug’s, Devil Dawgs, and Franks N’ Dawgs.

Johnson says customer input in vital, so he’s been serving sausages at events and holding pop-ups at restaurants such asFirst Course BistroBirch’s in Long Lake, Monies Bar in his hometown of Maple Plain, and The Zumbro CafĂ©. These events have allowed Johnson to identify recipes that are hits, like the popular, mildly spicy merguez lamb sausage that he tops with light mint aioli, piquillo peppers, and feta cheese. His “Tickle me Chelmo” emerged as a favorite at the Zumbro popup—it’s a chorizo link topped with breakfast potato hash, lime crema, salsa verde, and a sunny egg.  The Seoul Dog has been a crowd-pleasing hot dog topped with house made kimchi, marinated carrots, and shoyu mustard. As for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free folks, Prairie Dogs intends to offer house made, build-your-own vegan dogs, gluten-free rolls, and even a lettuce wrap dog.

Aiming for an opening date of May 2014, Prairie Dogs will be located in Uptown, near Lake Street/Hennepin. They plan to offer lunch, dinner, late night dining, a butcher case for home cooks, and have delivery by bicycle to the Uptown area, to boot.

If you simply can’t wait until May to sample Prairie Dog’s sausages, stop by Ike’s downtown over the next two weeks, where Johnson’s smoked Polish sausage will be a featured menu item, or watch their Facebook page for future pop-up events.

Prairie Dogs currently has a Kickstarter campaign going on to help to reduce investor costs, cover the cost of furnishing the restaurant, and cover labor costs and training. Check out a video about the Prairie Dog concept and their kickstarter:

Posted on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 in Permalink

Cross posted from: Prairie Dogs will Offer House-Made Sausages and Charcuterie in Uptown - Twin Cities Taste - March 2014 - Minnesota

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

The ABCs of CSAs: 2014

These freezing temps may have slowed the rest of us down, but Minnesota’s farmers have been busy prepping for the growing season. They’re attending conferences, figuring out how to best extend their growing season in Minnesota’s challenging climate, selecting the best varieties for their land and their customers, keeping their livestock warm and fed, and figuring out the how to boost their bottom lines while being environmental stewards and community-builders. They have been very busy, indeed.

And now it’s our turn to get to work selecting our CSAs for next year. Selecting a CSA can be a bit daunting, but never fear—you have time on your side, and this annual ABCs of CSAs will help you navigate.

The Basics on CSAs

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation is a partnership between local producers and their subscribers. Before the growing season commences, a CSA farming operation sells subscriptions to members of the public who pay upfront and then become stakeholders in the farm. You, as a stakeholder, receive regular boxes of food (called “shares”) from the producer during the growing season in return for your subscription dollars.

When you subscribe, you enjoy the benefit of having a relationship and understanding with the people growing your food. In a very direct way, you experience both the challenges and the bounties that the producer experiences. And, undoubtedly, you will receive some kind of produce in your CSA box that will challenge you to try something new.

Membership arrangements, delivery locations and frequency, products, opportunities for involvement, and costs vary with each CSA operation, so research is the key to finding one that suits you. There are several CSA opportunities in the Twin Cities area. To make it easier for you to select which CSA opportunity works best for you, Land Stewardship Project releases an annual CSA Farm Directory which provides details on more than 60 Twin Cities area producers and their wide variety of CSA subscription plans.

What if I Can’t Handle a Whole Box of Produce?

An almost-full bushel of produce every week might be too much for some folks. If you’re one such person, consider these options:
  • Many Twin Cities CSA operations offer half-shares which are smaller shares for less money. Some of the farms that offer half shares include Axdahl’s Garden Farm & Greenhouse, Blackberry Community Farm, Broadfork Farm, Fox & Fawn Farm, Growing Lots Urban Farm, Hulgan House Heritage Farm, Jake’s Burr Oak Farm, Prairie Sun Farm, Shepherd Flock Farm, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm, Uproot Farm, and Wozupi.
  • Split a share with a family member or neighbor. One of you picks up the share, and you split the box each week, or you alternate weeks, so each ends up with a full share every two weeks.
  • Many CSA subscribers save their seasonal bounty for later use through preservation techniques such as canning, freezing, pickling, and drying.  I just made some tomato soup last week using tomatoes that I canned from the my CSA share last summer. The University of Minnesota Extension website has all the information you need if you’re interested in getting started with food preservation.


I Want to Make my Choice Based On Pick Up Location

Perhaps you’d like to pick up your share at your community co-op, farmers market, or a pick up site that is closest to your workplace. If you look in the CSA handbook, most farms have listed their pick up spots. Axdahl’s, Big Woods Farm, Blackberry Community Farm, Green Earth Growers, Loon Organics, and Thorn Crest Farm have all listed the co-ops where they do their pick ups. You can also pop in to your neighborhood co-op and ask if they have a list of the CSAs that offer pick ups there.

While this list is incomplete, here are some convenient Twin Cities pickup locations:

  • Seward Co-op: Blackberry Community Farm, Common Harvest Farm
  • Eastside Co-op: Blackberry Community Farm
  • Just Food Co-op: Big Woods Farm
  • Whole Foods, St Paul: Green Earth Growers
  • Valley Natural Co-op: Green Earth Growers
  • Mill City Farmers Market: Loon Organics
  • Linden Hills Farmers Market: The Farm of Minnesota
Seward Co-op hosts an annual CSA fair in spring that showcases area CSA farmers. This is an opportunity to actually speak to the farmers in-person. This spring’s date hasn’t been announced yet, but stay tuned for an announcement on their website.


Beyond Produce

CSAs can provide more than just produce—eggs, flowers, cheese, meat, and more are also available through CSAs in Minnesota. As you read through the directory, take note of those additional items that appeal to you—whether it’s pastured-raised eggs or fresh-cut flowers. There are also CSAs that specialize in items other than produce.

Non-Produce CSAs Not listed in the Land Stewardship Project’s CSA Directory

So now that you’re armed with information, feel free to share which CSA you’ve selected and why. We love to hear about all the great CSAs in Minnesota.

Cross posted from: The ABCs of CSAs: 2014 - Twin Cities Taste - February 2014 - Minnesota

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Le Chocolat Chaud—Blissful Chocolate Therapy for the Masses

Le Chocolat Chaud—Blissful Chocolate Therapy for the Masses
Growing up, hot chocolate was a sweet treat that was whipped together from a powdery mix and sipped too quickly after sledding. I never minded the burned mouth or the sticky mittens afterwards because hot chocolate was a superb treat, and it still is. These days, we’ve elevated our hot chocolate recipe. That’s not to say that we don’t have a jar of powdery mix stashed in the pantry for hot chocolate emergencies, but when time and ingredients permit, we indulge in Parisian-style hot chocolate. And it’s always worth the effort.

The first time I heard about le chocolat chaud, or Parisian hot chocolate, was while I was reading David Lebovitz’s book The Sweet Life in Paris for book club. After we finished the book, I wasn’t craving croissants or boeuf bourguignon—I wanted that darn chocolat chaud that he raved about. I decided to consult an expert, Carrie Vono—she’s the pastry chef at Alma and a beloved friend. Carrie offered to mix some up for my husband and me. As we sat at the bar, sipping the rich, bittersweet concoction, I gazed at Carrie and my husband’s smiling faces, and all was right with the world. I thought, for a minute, that chocolat chaud should be patented as some kind of therapy.

I finally asked Carrie for a chocolat chaud lesson, and she, being truly amazing, obliged happily. She said, “Do you have milk and sugar?” I said, “You betcha!” She said, “Perfect. I’ll bring the chocolate.” The secret to Carrie’s method is using high quality, bittersweet chocolate, and allowing additional cooking time after the chocolate has melted into the milk. The additional cooking time allows the mixture to thicken, creating that rich, smooth texture that sets chocolat chaud apart from its powdery counterparts.

Le Chocolat Chaud a la Carrie Vono of Alma

  • 2 cups milk (whole milk is better)
  • 5 ounces of high quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • Marshmallows (if desired)
1. Slowly heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan.
2. Once the milk becomes warm, stir in the chocolate until it is melted and the mixture is steaming hot.
3. After the chocolate is completely melted, stir in the sugar.
4. Let the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes, while you stir constantly. Don’t let it come to a hard boil.
5. Pour into cups, garnish, and serve immediately.

Cross posted from: Le Chocolat Chaud—Blissful Chocolate Therapy for the Masses - Twin Cities Taste - January 2014 - Minnesota

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

MacGyvered Granola Recipe

MacGyvered Granola Recipe

In winter, I tend to stock up on oatmeal. When I’m at the store, I daydream about curling up with a warm bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and hickory nuts, and watching reruns of hometown hero, MacGyver (he’s from Roseville). These daydreams often come true.

But sometimes, even though I’m scowling at the frost on the window, I still want cold cereal. With that in mind, I decided to call on the spirit of MacGyver this week to make some granola—using only pantry supplies, no trips to the store for anything.

As I said, I always have a supply of oatmeal in the winter. This is the only ingredient that I deem necessary for this recipe. Everything else can be MacGyvered, depending on what’s in your larder. No maple syrup? No problem. Use warm honey or rice syrup instead. No canola oil? Use olive oil or melted butter instead. No brown sugar? You can MacGyver your own with white sugar and molasses.

This recipe is loosely based on Alton Brown’s granola recipe, but in the spirit of Mac, refuses to conform to it.

MacGyvered Granola

General Ingredients
3 cups rolled oats (or quick oats, or instant oats)
1 cup pecans (or slivered almonds, or walnuts, or NO nuts)
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut (or no coconut)
Heaping 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar (or white sugar and molasses)
1/4 cup maple syrup (or warm honey, or rice syrup, or agave syrup)
1/4 cup canola oil (or olive oil, or coconut oil, or melted butter)
3/4 teaspoon salt (don’t have any? leave it out)
1 cup raisins (or dates, or Craisins, or dried cherries, or chopped up dried mango)
1 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and powdered ginger (or allspice, or pumpkin pie spice, or cardamom, or mace)
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
2. In a bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, spices, and brown sugar.
3. In a separate bowl, combine syrup, oil, and salt.
4. Mix wet and dry mixtures together, and pour out onto 2 baking pans. Spread evenly and cook for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. When it’s golden brown and crunchy, it’s done.
5. Remove from oven let it cool. Mix in raisins (or other dried fruit). Package it up.
Need some inspiration? Say no more.

Cross posted from: MacGyvered Granola Recipe - Twin Cities Taste - January 2014 - Minnesota

[where: Minnesota, Food, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, 55418]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Ultimate Fruit Cake Recipe of 2013

2013’s Fruit Cake: A Modern Twist on a Classic
Confession: I like fruit cake.

When I was a freckled kid in pigtails, I’d kneel on my chair at the kitchen table and watch my mom mix up the heaviest and most beloved cake in our house–the holiday fruit cake. Mixed with strange candied citron and fruit glace, and wrapped in a brandy-soaked cloth and wax paper, the large cake would sit in waiting until after we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve.

After all the gifts had been opened, my dad would mix up egg nog, and we’d celebrate the baby Jesus’s birthday with fruit cake and egg nog. This tradition has never wavered. Each and every year, we open gifts on Christmas Eve, eat fruit cake, and sip egg nog. This year, the fruit cake torch was passed on to me.

With my mom’s cake so perfectly ingrained in everyone’s memory, I decided to go in a slightly different direction with my fruit cake recipe. Inspired by Cold Spring Bakery’s fruit cake, this recipe substitutes the traditional candied fruit with rehydrated dried fruit like apples, apricots, and raisins. It’s a modified version of What’s Cooking America’s Regal Fruit Cake recipe.

A Fruit Cake for 2013
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 3 hour 20 min

Yields: 1 large fruitcake

  • 1 1/2 cups yellow and purple raisins
  • 1 cup chopped, dried apples
  • 1 cup chopped, dried apricots
  • ½ cup chopped, dried peaches
  • 3/4 cup currants
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup white grape juice (or cider)
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Brandy

  1. Grease a 10-inch tube or round pan; line the pan with wax paper and grease very well.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dried fruit. Bring the grape juice to a boil, then pour the the grape juice over the dried fruit. Let stand 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter or margarine. Gradually add brown sugar, stirring until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. In another large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and mace; gradually add to butter mixture. Add almond extract and fruit mixture; stir until well blended. Spoon into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 3 hours and 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. A good check is to use an instant digital thermometer to test your fruitcake. The temperature should be between 200 and 210 degrees. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
  7. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove from pan, peel paper liner from cake, and cook completely.
  8. Wrap in a brandy-soaked cheesecloth; store in the refrigerator. Let the cake come to room temperature before serving.


This recipe yields a rich, moist, fruit-laden spice cake. It pairs perfectly with egg nog – heck, I wouldn’t eat it any other way.

And just in case you’re not up for making your own fruit cake, Cold Spring Bakery in Cold Spring, MN still has their famous fruit cakes available this season.

Cross posted from: The Ultimate Fruit Cake Recipe of 2013 - TC Taste - Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Ultimate Holiday Cookie Swap Recipe

The Ultimate Holiday Cookie Swap Recipe
Holiday cookie swap parties bring together so many great aspects of the holidays, but mostly, they bring together a lot of homemade cookies. A good cookie swap depends on a couple handfuls of attendees for optimal cookie variety.

As you read through your swap invitation, the stars begin to align—until you get to the end of the invite, which instructs you to bring 10 dozen cookies to the event. Suddenly, your excitement turns to dread as you contemplate the task. FEAR NOT! I have the perfect holiday cookie exchange recipe! It’s an adapted version of the sugar cookie recipe that my husband’s mother sent to me. The cookies are festive, taste great, and are relatively simple to make. I use locally sourced butter, eggs, oil, and flour to make them even more “home” made.

The Ultimate Cookie Swap Almond Sugar Cookies
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. almond extract (can substitute with vanilla extract)
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar

Makes 4-5 dozen
Almond Sugar Cookies
1. Cream together your sugars, butter, and oil.
2. Add the eggs one at a time.
3. Add the almond extract and fresh vanilla.
4. Let the mixture mix until it becomes slightly fluffy/whipped.
5. Mix together your dry ingredients.
6. Add the dry ingredients one cup at a time.
7. Mix well.
8. Chill the dough for at least one hour. It can also stay chilled overnight.
9. Place parchment paper over your cookie sheets to make cleanup easier.
10. Roll the dough into small balls (the size of a walnut) and place on your cookie sheet. I used one of those tbsp.-sized dough scoops to save time.
11. Gently flatten the dough balls with a glass dipped in sugar.
12. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes (17 minutes if you’re using insulated cookie sheets) until slightly brown on the edges.

These cookies are light, crispy, and buttery with an unexpected almond twist. Colorful sugar adds just the right amount of festive decoration without any messy frosting, and they stack and transport with ease.

Cross posted from: The Ultimate Holiday Cookie Swap Recipe - Twin Cities Taste - December 2013 - Minnesota

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]