Best Brunch Ever!

Those of you who follow my kitchen adventures know that I found the perfect English Muffin recipe yesterday.  Earlier in the week I received an email from one of my favorite blog sites, Skinnytaste, the I thought would go perfectly with my homemade muffins, Crust-less Summer Zucchini Pie!  In my head this "pie" topped with a poached egg and some habanero aioli sounded really good!

It turns out this morning is a rare rainy one here in the Twin Cities.  It was the perfect morning to spend in the kitchen whipping up this new recipe.  And even better?  All of the ingredients with the exception of the milk, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper came either from Farmer's Market or my herb garden!

I'll be honest, this recipe is not for those who want few ingredients or minimal prep but if you're up for just a little bit of prep work, this recipe is totally worth it!  There are 13 ingredients if you count the cooking spray.



The star of this dish is the zucchini.  My food processor made short work of shredding the zucchini.

To get the liquid out, the recipe calls for squeezing the shredded zucchini in cheesecloth.  I prefer these great towels I bought on Open Sky from Michael Ruhlman.  I use them for all sorts of things, but they work great if you want to squeeze liquid out of zucchini!  Just throw them in the wash afterwards and use them over and over.

 
 


Look at these beautiful shallots I found at the Inver Grove Heights Farmer's Market!  They made me cry!  Literally.

The chives came out of my garden.  Thank you Dave for braving the rain to snip some for me!




There are two cheeses in this pie, mozzarella and Parmesan.  Both were from Eichten's out of Center City, MN.

The recipe called for white whole wheat flour.  Well, I didn't have any in the house so I used regular whole wheat flour.  It worked just fine!

Add a little baking powder, milk, olive oil (from the Olive Grove of course!), eggs (from my friends at Otis Family Farm in Baldwin, WI), salt and pepper and you're ready to put it all in the oven. 

 
 


Almost immediately it started to smell so good!  There's something about the smell of cooking onions that I just love!


After about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven out comes this savory pie just screaming to be topped with an egg!

I served it topped with a poached egg drizzled with some of that delicious habanero aioli from San Pedro Cafe.  I've gotten quite good at poaching eggs, thank you Michael Ruhlman.  On the side?  Those amazing home made English muffins topped with homemade sour cherry jam!

 


This was so good!  Dave loved it too.  I'll definitely make it again.

English Muffins - Attempt #2 - The Winner!

I have big plans for breakfast tomorrow!  I made homemade sour cherry jam today and I made my second attempt at homemade English muffins.  If you missed my first attempt, click HERE to see how they turned out made on a griddle.

I wasn't thrilled with the "griddled" English muffins.  They were OK.  They were denser than I like but had good flavor.  I wanted to see if I could improve on them with a different recipe so I tried King Arthur Flour's Baked English Muffin recipe.

I did have to buy a couple of new ingredients for this recipe, hi-maize natural fiber which is just "special" cornstarch and pizza dough flavor.  The pizza dough flavor was optional but what the heck, I had to place an order anyway!  And I'd love to try this in my artisan pizza dough to see how it changes the flavor profile!
 


It's pretty easy, dump all the ingredients in a bowl and mix for a minute then let it rise for an hour.  The dough is pretty wet and sticky after first mixing.  And I have to say, it did smell a bit like pizza!


It rises beautifully. 

The muffins are baked on a greased cookie sheet in "English muffin rings."  Now the recipe says it will work just fine without them, but since when I have avoided the opportunity to buy kitchen gadgets?  I used the rings!  A little corn flour is placed in each ring.



The dough is then portioned out into the rings.  It was pretty sticky.  I ended up coating my hands with cooking spray to I could measure out the dough.



Once in the rings you just push it down a little then put another cookie sheet over it and let them rise for another hour.  This is what they looked like after that second rise.

 
This whole contraption is then put in the oven.  Halfway through baking you have to flip the pans over.  I was a bit nervous about this but it was really pretty easy!



For the last few minutes the top cookie sheet is removed so the muffins can brown.


A few minutes later, out of the oven come these beautiful English muffins!  I could tell just by feel they were lighter and fluffier than the ones I had made on the griddle.  They looked so perfect it was hard to wait for them to cool.




I fork split one and was thrilled at what I found!  Lots of nooks and crannies!  

Then came the ultimate test, toasting one.  Perfection!  It smelled amazing and tasted even better!  There's a hint of that pizza dough flavor in there!




So I've done it.  No more store bought English muffins in this house!  I'm so excited for breakfast tomorrow!  I'm going to make a zucchini pie topped with a poached egg and some habanero aioli and I'm going to serve it with a homemade English muffin and homemade sour cherry jam!  I can hardly wait!

English Muffins - Attempt #1

Over the past several years my husband and I have been trying to eat better.  What do I mean by better?  No, we're not just eliminating sugar or sweet things or high fat things (how could you live without those things?!), we're trying to eat food that is better for us and for our local economy.


I'm not into organic for organic sake.  I used to work at a major food manufacturer who had organic product lines.  Is organic really better for you?  That's up for debate and I'm not going to debate it here.  When organic products are produced on one end of the country then packaged and shipped to the other, is it really better for the environment, all that fuel, all those fumes to truck it across the country?  So I buy local.  If it happens to have had all the paperwork done to be called organic, well, OK, that's fine.

We buy all of our beef from a local farm, Butternut Woods in Silver Lake, MN.  They raise grass-fed Highland cattle that is not only delicious but antibiotic-free and the cows eat what they were meant to eat.  I've visited the farm, met the farmers and the cows!



We buy our chicken, pork and get our eggs from another local farm, Otis Family Farm in Baldwin, WI.  The chicken are cage free, the pigs roam free and they are all raised by Bob himself!  Otis Family Farm bacon, well I don't know what to say about it other than it's the best bacon I've ever had.  From the second you put it in the pan the smell is intoxicating!

We've also tried to reduce the amount of processed food in the house.  Since I don't plan on making cereal, Dave's cereal will remain in the house.  But I don't buy pasta anymore.  I make it all. It's too easy, too cheap and so much better tasting when you make it from scratch!  Yes, I know, I have gadgets that make it easy to make like my Kitchenaid(s) and my ravioli presses but you don't need those gadgets to make good pasta.




Sometime last year I read "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter" by Jennifer Reese.  Jennifer goes to the extreme in terms of not buying processed foods and making it all at home.  What do I mean by extreme?  In her suburban yard she has chickens and goats and lord knows what other animals.  She's made prosciutto in her basement and even makes her own hot dogs!  We'll stick with Applegate Farms hot dogs, thank you very much.



What I did take out of her book was her recipe for "every day bread".  This bread is so simple to make and so delicious, after I made the first loaf we have not purchased another loaf of sandwich bread, not one!  I blogged about the bread HERE.

I've been making artisan breads and pizza doughs for years thanks to the books out by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day.  I've made these breads in the oven, on the grill and even in a crock pot!

Recently I learned how to make the most delicious hot dog and hamburger buns so we will never buy those again either!  These buns are so stinkin' easy to make why would you buy them?  Yes, you need to be home for a few hours so they can rise but really, there's nothing to making them!  And, as an added bonus, the hot dog buns make amazing French toast!



So one day I was looking in the frig and there they were, English muffins in a package from the store.  OK, I make sandwich bread, artisan bread, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, pizza crust, pasta and I'm buying English muffins?  My next challenge, English muffins!


Did you know that English muffins are made on a griddle, not baked in the oven?  I didn't either!

I found a recipe on my favorite, all things baked website, King Arthur Flour.  They were pretty easy to make, basic yeast bread dough that you roll out then cut in circles.






They are then cooked on a warm griddle that has been dusted with cornmeal.



I read a lot of the comments that had been posted after the recipe and a majority of the folks that had tried the recipe had "pushed the muffins down" when they were flipped over.  This didn't make a lot of sense to me.  Wouldn't I be pushing out all those yummy nooks and crannies that make an English muffin an English muffin?  Since so many said that was "the trick to even cooking" I did it too.  I think next time maybe I won't.


I was thrilled to see that my English muffins actually looked like English muffins!  I'm not sure what I was expecting!


I did have trouble figuring out when they were done so I resorted to a thermometer and assumed that they were done around 205 degrees like other breads.  It seemed to work!


I had a hard time waiting for them to cool!  I really wanted to try them.  Eventually they were cool enough and I split one with a fork.  It was denser than I would have liked but even on the inside it looked like an English muffin.  This confirmed that next time I'm not going to push them down.



I toasted one and it tasted like an English muffin!  Now it wasn't the best English muffin I've ever had.  It was a little heavier than I would like but not terrible.




King Arthur Flour also had a recipe for a baked English muffin.  These require metal rings, which of course I ordered!  Watch this blog to see how the baked muffins turn out!  Once I master these no more store purchased bread!  (Well, at least very, very little... there is always that time you want bread for dinner but don't have any made!)

Banana Ice Cream - No Ice Cream Maker Needed!

I'd seen this "recipe" floating around the web on sites like Skinnytaste and Pinterest.  I happened to have a few very ripe bananas and decided to see for myself if you can really make ice cream from bananas, and just bananas.

For those of you who like recipes with few ingredients, this one's for you.  There's one ingredient, bananas.  There's also just one piece of kitchen equipment required, a food processor or blender.  Well, I guess there's one more if you count the cookie sheet!

And, if you know someone with a dairy allergy this is a perfect ice cream treat!

So here's what you do.  First, cut the bananas in about inch chunks.  Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for several hours.  Mine were in the freezer overnight because I didn't get to making the ice cream the night I intended!


Place the frozen banana pieces in your food processor or blender.  I've read several accounts from people who have made this and though it will work in a blender, it appears a food process or makes it a little easier to scrape things down.  The bananas do get sticky before they magically become ice cream.

Process.  It will look like it's not going to work.  The bananas will just become crumbly.  Don't worry, have patience, in about 3 minutes you will have ice cream!




It really does look, feel and taste like ice cream.  I served it to my husband and he said "and cream".  And I said, no, just bananas!


I love that I have a way to use up ripe bananas other than banana bread!  Drizzled with a little dark chocolate sauce and some toasted pecans you have a great dessert!

Another winner from the Noble Pig!

OH MY!  Yes, another winner from the Noble Pig!

Do you want to serve an amazing dessert in just 5 minutes?  This is the one for you.  A few days ago Noble Pig posted "Butterscotch Bananas with Vanilla Ice Cream" and I just had to try it.

Simple and delicious!  First, toast some pecans.




While they are toasting, melt butter in a skillet.  Once melted, add brown sugar and a little cinnamon and stir until smooth.  Yes, it's really starting to smell good now!

 
  
Add some bananas and toss them to coat.  Next, the fun part!



Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the bananas with rum.  Now, not just any rum will do.  You need a rum with enough alcohol content to give you a flame.  With all the alcohol in our house, including many different rums from Dave's many trips to Puerto Rico, we didn't have one over 80 proof so we had to pick up a little bottle of 151!



Once drizzled, light it on fire!  Yes, Dave did this.  Not because I was afraid to, but because Dave was so excited to!  The alcohol burns off pretty quickly.



That's it!  Pour it over your ice cream, top with the toasted pecans and enjoy!  And oh did we enjoy!  Thank you again Noble Pig! 


Joan's in the Park - A Must Try!


A month or so ago Dave and I were out running errands in St. Paul and the errands ran into dinner time.  We were going to just head to Savoy for pizza but then I remembered hearing about this great new restaurant called Joan's in the Park.  We decided to try it!  The service and the food were oustanding so we knew we would be back.  After we had ordered our wine, one of the owners, Joan Schmitt, mentioned a cabernet franc they also had that the staff just loved.  We decided when we went back, we'd have that wine.

Well, this past Tuesday we had reason to celebrate and decided to go back to Joan's and get that bottle of wine.  Once again, Joan's did not disappoint.

Joans is owned by Susan Dunlop (the chef) and Joan Schmitt (maitre d').  The staff includes four of Joan's children, one of whom, Dan, was our waiter that night.  As with all the staff Dan  was attentive, fun and knowledgable about not only the food but the extensive wine list as well.  The banter between Dan and his mother was fun too!

Of course we had to start the night with that bottle of cabernet franc!


We decided to split an appetizer and salad and each order our own entres.  We'd decide about dessert later!

With every meal a loaf of fresh baked bread is served.  We try not to eat the whole loaf!  As good as it is warm out of Joan's oven, it's even better toasted!


The last time we visited we had the crab cake.  It was more crab than cake prepared with taragon and was served with a caper aioli adding just the right amount of salt.  Had it been socially acceptable to lick the plate we would have!

We decided to try something different this time so we ordered the Chorizo Stuff Demi-Sec Plums.  The plums were stuffed with chorizo with just enough heat to offset the sweetness of the plums and demi-sec.  The plums were wrapped with an Alto Adige speck ham (think proscuitto) and served with a Tutta Calabria pepper sauce.  Delicious doesn't cover how amazing this tasted.  The sweet plums, the salty and spicy chorizo with the hot pepper sauce was a blend of flavors that just danced in your mouth!  Tuta Calabria is a hot chili pepper for those of you who haven't had them before.


While we were eating our appetizer, Joan brought a couple of glasses of white wine to our table.  She said the wine paired perfectly with that appetizer.  It was a Clean Slate Rieseling and Joan was right, it paired perfectly with the plums!  Dave drank the entire glass and he doesn't even like white wine!

For our salad we selected the Apple Goat Cheese which was spring greens topped with goat cheese, apple, dried apricots, caramelized walnuts and a honey dijon vinaigrette.


Do you think I liked it?


The last time we were there one of the more unique sides was suggested but we passed.  This time we had to try the roasted radishes.  Yes, roasted radishes.  The chef roasts the radishes with a little sugar and salt and serves them with a browned butter / maple syrup sauce.  You have to try these radishes!  The heat is roasted out of them and the nuttyness of the browned butter and the sweetness of the maple syrup are a perfect complement.  We ate the entire dish of them!


For dinner I decided to try the scallops.  Last time I had the goat cheese ravioli which were to die for!  The scallops were delicous as well.  They were perfectly seared and served with roasted cauliflower with toasted almonds and orange zest (definitely going to try that) with a beurre blanc sauce.


Dan talked Dave (it wasn't hard) into the salmon with miso glaze.  It was served with green beans and a sesame lemon vinaigrette.  They typically cook the salmon to medium but Dave asked for it to be cooked through and that wasn't a problem for them.  It came out perfectly cooked and as delicious as Dan said it would be.


The portion sizes are just perfect.  Not to huge but not "elf food" either.  Even after bread, an appetizer, salad and our entree we found room for dessert.

We chose the same dessert we had last time we visited, the Browned Butter pudding.  I can't even describe how this tasted.  The pudding is rich and velvety with great butter flavor.  It's topped with a chocolate caramel (the best caramel I've ever had), whipped cream and a little citron salt.  They even give you a little spatula so you can get every last bit of it.


How do you think we did?


We love Joan's and we'll be back again and again.  The little building on Snelling used to be a pizzaria.  Who would think that such amazing food could come out of such an unassuming little building?


They have an impressive wine list and a full bar. 

Joan's is unique in that it's great for any occassion.  Want to dress up and go have an amazing, romantic dinner?  Joan's can do that.  Want to have a casual dinner in jeans?  Joan's can do that.  Want to come in wearing shorts and flip flops?  Well that works here too.

Our plan for next time is to sit at the bar, have an appetizer and a flat bread and some good wine and chat with the staff.

So go to Joan's.  You won't be disappointed!

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