Wild Rice…And More Wild Rice

I believe I might be part squirrel. Each fall before the St. Paul Farmer’s Market closes it’s outdoor market for the season, I squirrel away maple syrup, popcorn, cranberries, and wild rice for the winter. Then about September of the next year, I run across the wild rice and throw it out, and start the cycle again. This week’s assignment broke that cycle and we enjoyed three delicious wild rice recipes.

The three recipes I chose were a wild rice meat loaf, a ham and wild rice quiche, and a wild rice salad with cranberries and pecans. Figuring out how much wild rice to cook was a bit tricky because some of the recipes called for uncooked rice and some called for cooked rice. I must have done the calculation wrong because my first batch of wild rice came up short for the last recipe so I needed to make more rice.

I made the Taste of Home meatloaf first. It was surprising how little ground beef was needed–just one pound. The recipe contained two cups of cheddar and four cups of wild rice. The outcome was a tasty loaf with healthy fillers. We had it for dinner with rosemary and garlic roasted sweet potatoes and then had sandwiches the next day.

I have been wanting to make a quiche for a long time, but every time I think of it it’s for a brunch I am hosting and I fear trying something new for guests. So this assignment gave me an opportunity to try out making a quiche. The allrecipes quiche turned out beautifully. Like the meat loaf, the quiche was filled with other nutritious ingredients such as ham, red peppers, and mushrooms along with the wild rice. While it was perfect for our Sunday brunch, it will be a nice Monday night dinner as well.

The last recipe I made was a seriouseats.com wild rice salad. It accompanied a bowl of homemade tomato soup for dinner and additional leftovers turned into a healthy lunch for my husband and me.

I did enjoy cooking the grain ahead in a big batch because it made the remaining recipes go a lot quicker. I am not sure I would make enough for three recipes, however, because it turns into too many meals for my household of two. I fear we are going to end up with a lot of waste this week.

Overcoming my fear of beets and leeks

When I am eating out, I often order beet salads and I have always enjoyed the flavoring of leeks in soups and other dishes. Yet,  I had never bought beets and leeks at the farmers market or grocery store, because they just seemed too difficult to prepare. So when we were given this week’s assignment, I knew exactly the vegetables I would tackle.

My husband and I buy most of our groceries at Kowalski Market, where we shop once per week. We don’t live near a Kowalski’s, but we love the quality of the produce and meats there so we drive to the St. Paul store each weekend.

The recipes I selected for this week required a lot of beets and leeks, eight beets and a total of seven leeks. I nearly bought out the stock of beets and leeks at Kowalski’s with my purchase. While in the produce section shopping for class, I decided to take this  opportunity to add more vegetables and fruits into our diet overall this week, so we ended up buying a number of other vegetables as well. And my husband got inspired to make homemade hummus to accompany all the vegetables we were going to be turning into snacks and sandwiches this week. I have to say that when we were at the check out at Kowalski’s I stood a little taller, feeling proud to be buying more healthy foods. (The frozen pizzas and chips in my cart in the past always make me feel slightly guilty at the checkout.)

On Sunday night we decided to make filet mignons so I decided to take on the beets since they take more time to cook. I selected an Ina Garten balsamic roasted beet salad from the Food Network. The beets are roasted for 50 minutes. You then peel and cube them and drizzle a homemade vinaigrette over the warm beets. The beet salad is served on a bed of arugula with marcona almonds on the top. The recipe also calls for a goat cheese topping, but I substituted a sheep’s milk feta instead because I find goat cheese to be too bitter for my taste. The only challenge with the beets was peeling them. At first I tried to peel them with a knife and it was labor-intensive. Around beet eight, I realized you could more easily remove the skins with your hands in one simple motion. Voila!! The salad was a perfect accompaniment for the steaks, and I ate the salad for lunch the next day too.

I took on the first batch of leeks on Monday night by preparing a Creamy Pasta with Leeks, Peas and Parmesan recipe from Woman’s Day that I found online. The recipe called for sautéing the leeks and lemon peel, and then combining them with cream and the boiled  orecchiette pasta and peas at the end before serving. I didn’t time the pasta well so the leeks and cream cooked longer than I liked. While the pasta was still good, it would have been creamier had I better timed the pasta. We enjoyed the pasta for dinner and I took it to work the next day for lunch as well.

On Tuesday night, I took the remaining leeks and made a potato leek soup I found on Food.com. This was by far the easiest recipe I made, and it turned out beautifully. We plan to reheat the soup tonight for dinner and we already froze another serving for later.

Given our assignment, we definitely bought and ate more vegetables this week, and it even inspired me to bring my lunches to work, which is a much healthier option than eating fast food in Dinkytown–my default lunch choice. The advantage of buying produce in bulk is that you only need to shop once and can make several meals out of your purchases. The disadvantage is you are “committed” to using them so you need to use them. Another disadvantage is they take up a lot of refrigerator space.

Overall, this was a valuable assignment because I realized trying to cook something new is not that hard since YouTube videos are available to guide you for almost every food preparation technique. I also realized that I can make the time to cook healthy dishes during the week.



Cooking from scratch

Isn’t it funny how one simple phrase can trigger a memory from long ago? In our first class, Chef Bill talked about the benefits of “cooking from scratch,” and those words brought me back to my childhood kitchen in the early 1970s.

My parents always invited my grandma and her sister, my great aunt Barbara, over for holiday dinners. Each holiday meant a new battle between my elderly relatives and my Mom. My grandma would hardly get her pastel coat and coordinating cotton gloves off before she launched the first verbal missile, “Did you bake that pie from scratch?” My Mom would huff and reply, “No, I would never do that. I baked a Mrs. Smith’s frozen pie.” You see my Mom was a “modern woman.” She embraced all the conveniences that were newly available, such as boxed cake mixes, Betty Crocker au gratin potatoes, and of course, frozen pies. In our house, food prep was quick, and food almost always came out of a box or can.

This battle between my Mom and my grandma and her sister went on for years, with the elderly sisters losing every battle, until the year I turned 12. Then they finally won the war. At Christmas that year, my aunt Barbara gave me a church cookbook, “ Cookin From Scratch.”  From that day on, I have been cooking from scratch.

I love to cook. I love the colors and smells of the ingredients, losing track of time when I am cooking like I do when I am reading a good book, feeling a sense of accomplishment when a meal turns out perfectly, but most of all, I love the happiness home cooked meals bring to my family and friends.

My husband loves to cook too. On the weekend, we plan 3-4 meals for the coming week so we can have leftovers for the other days of the week. Then on Saturday or Sunday we go grocery shopping, which we both love to do together. When we were first married 26 years ago, we had a very tight grocery budget. We couldn’t spend more than $50 per week for groceries between the two of us. We vowed then that when we had more money, we would never have a food budget and would buy the best quality food. Gratefully, that’s the case today.

Usually on Sunday afternoons we cook something more complex, such as a casserole or soup. It’s always a dish with lots of leftovers so we can freeze them for the weeknights when we get home late and are too tired to cook something that requires a lot of time and energy. Unfortunately, at least a couple times a week, we end up leaving our home cooked food in the freezer, and we pick up takeout on the way home. The excuses are always the same: “It’s too late. I don’t have the energy to warm something up. Or I don’t want to have to do dishes.”

When I inventoried our pantry, I must say we have a pretty strong pantry game overall. That said, white bread, bleached flour, white rice, and regular pasta are still go-to staples in our kitchen. Whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are nearly nonexistent in our pantry.  We know the nutritional value of those foods, and the pantry list reminded us that we need to do a better job of including them in our diet. Besides that, we would like to eat dinner at home most nights with fewer excuses. But we could get the most health benefits from packing a lunch most days. Our diets are blown daily at lunch, because we both eat lunch out every weekday, often at fast food restaurants. Figuring out how to work packing a lunch into our schedule would reap a lot of health benefits for both of us.

Our class assignment to use what’s in our pantry to cook two recipes was an easy one. I always have cans of tomatoes on hand for soups, chili, and crock pot dishes, so I decided to make a Cooks Illustrated cream-less tomato soup that I have been wanting to make. The recipe uses bread as the thickener instead of cream. In the cookbook, a homemade crouton recipe immediately followed the soup recipe so I decide to make it too.  Croutons are so simple to make! The soup was fresh and delicious, and the croutons crunchy and buttery. And the best part of all is that we have leftovers to freeze for two more meals.

For my second recipe, I decided to make a dessert. Every year in July or August, we drive to Rush River Produce in Maidenrock, Wisconsin, and we pick pounds of blueberries to freeze. We then make delicious muffins all winter long combined with the sweet memory of picking the blueberries in the summer sunshine. While I make a lot of apple crisps, I rarely make a blueberry crisp so I decided to find a recipe on the Web. The crisp turned out perfectly, and I whipped up some fresh Chantilly cream to accompany it.

I am already looking forward to next week’s home assignment. Here’s to cooking from scratch.