On the left is Mary Jane January of 2015. On the right, Mary Jane December 2015 after a weight loss of 47 lbs.
April 27th, 2015 I started seeing a wellness coach at my local clinic.  At my last visit I was told I had lost 47 pounds.  Wow.  I still have quite a way to go, but I think I have a handle on this.   I've been through this before...TOPS with my mom when I was a little girl (though I didn't have a weight problem then--I can still recite the pledge "...though I may overeat in private, my excess poundage is there for all the world to see." yikes), Nutrisystem in college (what a scam), registered dietitians (all propionates of fake food), Weight Watchers a bunch of times (too anonymous for me--fake point system), every diet book that hit the shelves (endless list of crazy and pretty good)...   Someday I'll write down the details my journey, but just so you know, this time it's working.  

I've been preaching the gospel of good, preferably local and organic, foods for eons.  I do this because I firmly believe that is what tastes best.  I never really cared about the nutrition.  I really love teaching people how to make great food to share with their friends and families. I would not sacrifice taste for nutrition's sake.  I left that for the grumpy diet gurus.  I love to have fun and feed the people I love delicious foods.  At work I was often surrounded by  highly processed foods.  If I had 6 kinds of frozen mini quiches hot and on the test kitchen table in front of me, I ate them.  If I was developing recipes for more creative ways to use refrigerated crescent rolls, I lunched on hot rolls for a week.  I also ate a lot more fast food than I admitted to myself.  Always hurrying...no time to cook...just this once.  

I wish I could say it's a magic formula.  It's not.  We all know what to do.  Eat better and exercise.  This time it has to be a lifestyle change.  How cliche!?  Everything I do and everything I eat has to be rewarding.  I am not going to punish myself.  I'm worth being nice to.  I had to walk away from work that involved foods that I won't eat. I once developed a recipe for fish tacos that used frozen fish sticks wrapped in shelf-stable flour tortillas topped with a slaw dressed with mayo mixed with powdered taco seasoning.  I can't do that anymore.  I would never feed such a thing to my family, yet I was telling a nation of other families this was a good idea for dinner.  That kind of makes me sad. I don't regret my time spent in commercial test kitchens--it's made me a much better cook, recipe & product developer.  I count many of the cooks I've worked with as friends.

I'm still doing food consulting.  Probably more than ever, actually.  I'm very selective about who I will work with because I know, that food is going to go into me.  Thank you, Urban Organics/Haberman & Assoc. Peet's Coffee, Thousand Hills Cattle Co, and Kadejan chicken.

What is truly different for me now is the support of a pro who speaks the truth about food.  Every other weight loss expert  counseled me to use fat free "foods" or artificially sweetened garbage (sugar free Jell-O, hello?!) In my mind I rolled my eyes and knew that this "expert"  didn't understand what good food was, but I also thought that perhaps they held the secret key to losing this weight because I obviously had no clue.  Before, I figured I would just have to set aside my good food while I dieted away the pounds.  I've always cooked well at home, just like my mom.  I am a scratch cook with a big garden.  I do not buy spaghetti sauce, Cool Whip has never been on my table, my hamburger has never been helped.   I get the meat,  eggs and veggies we eat from my farmer friends.  I know that full fat pasture-raised dairy tastes best.   

When my coach started outlining her strategy for improving my health, her advice was an echo of what I always say when I'm teaching people how to cook. When my coach said 80% of what it takes to achieve a healthy weight would be making good food choices... and it turned out that those choices are one's that I already believed in-- I knew immediately I could do this.  This was going to be a celebration of great food.  The 15% that is exercise is still a work in progress. I know I'll get there.  That leaves 5%.  That's what's going on in my head.  Hours of talking, both with my wellness coach and a therapist have been extremely helpful.  This is the key to my success.

Here are the basics of how I eat now:  
  • I eat mostly whole unprocessed foods
  • I cut out bread, because I found it was the center of my diet: toast or bagels for breakfast then a sandwich for lunch and then another sandwich for dinner--too much of a good thing
  • If I do use a processed foods it must have 5 ingredients or less
  • preservatives are right out
  • I allow myself to taste anything wonderful I want (my homemade banana cream pie, for example).  Just a bite suffices.
  • I rarely eat at restaurants and when I do I'll only eat at a place that cooks with integrity.  Yes, I have had the fried chicken at Revival and I'll do it again.
  • I eat about 7 servings of fruits and veg every day

Turn your Salad into Soup....'Cause Baby it's Cold Outside

PictureMary Jane's lunchtime chicken quinoa and spinach salad.
This is what a lot of my meals look like.   I could have made this prettier, but I wanted it to be real.  It's a pile of greens (spinach here, but I like kale, romaine, arugula, other leaf lettuces) topped with a scoop of a cooked whole grain.  Here it is quinoa, but I like millet, barley and buckwheat too.  I cook up a bunch and keep it in the fridge.  On top of the grains I put a some protein, chicken here, but it could be cooked beans, hard cooked eggs, steak, whatever.  I always make sure to make extra when I grill or roast.  Then I add a bunch of veggies, raw or roasted and some sliced onion.  I drizzle this big salad with a simple vinaigrette, often times lemon juice and olive oil with salt and pepper.

It's helped me to have this kind of a formula to make meal prep easy.  Now that it's winter I'm craving a hot meal at noon.  It occurred to me it would be easy to keep my lunch the same but heat things up by turning it into a hearty soup. 

Pictureturning Mary Jane's salad into soup
  1. Drizzle a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. I use the amount I would have used in my salad.  Sauté the onion a few minutes to soften.  Add mushrooms and cook a few minutes longer.  Add the other firm veggies (here it's carrots, radishes and celery).  Season with salt and saute just a few minutes longer.
  2. Pour in about a cup of chicken broth.  (Any broth or tomato juice works here).  Add few grinds of black pepper and the juice of half of a small lemon.  (This is the other part of my vinaigrette).  Bring this to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until veggies are tender.
  3. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and greens. Cover and cook about 5 minutes longer or until greens are cooked through.  Add cooked grain and season with about a tsp. of organic soy sauce or tamari.  Enjoy!

Chicken and Vegetable Soup with Quinoa
This Saturday I will be making crepes at the Le Creuset store at the Albertville Outlet Mall from 2 to 4pm.  I am so lucky to get to play with their pans.  I truly love them.  I'll be using the lovely enameled crepe pans and a simple nonstick skillet.  I had never used the little wooden batter spreader before. 
I'm getting the hang of it.  Swirling the wooden bar around the pan with the batter trailing behind it is kind of zen.  If I get good at it, it will result in more perfect crepes.   I'll probably revert back to just swirling the batter in the pan in a nonstick skillet.  

Crepe batter is best made a day ahead.  That gives the air bubbles a chance to escape and the starch granules to really get hydrated.   A great thing about crepes is how well they keep.  They refrigerate well and freeze beautifully.  This makes them great for parties or for just having around the house for a great wrapper for scrambled eggs,  peanut butter,  fruit....it's endless what you can stuff into a crepe.

I've made hundreds of crepes, but not recently, so my crepes may not look perfect, but they are perfectly delicious.  I like to keep some softened butter by the stove while I work.  I squish a pastry brush into the butter and use the brush to butter on my pan between crepes.  When you use a nonstick pan, the butter is not really there for pan release, but for browning.  That said, every so often it's a good idea to wipe out the pan so the residual butter doesn't burn.

I like to use a small 1-ounce ladle to spoon the batter into the pan

I had some fun playing around with different flours in the batter.   Crepes  get most of their structure from the eggs in the batter, so the gluten in the flour just plays a minor supporting role.  This makes crepes perfect for those who need to be gluten free.  I much prefer to serve my gluten free friends foods that are naturally that way, rather then the crazy over processed fake food in the gluten free aisle.

The basic crepe is a great little eggy pancake. It is sturdy, yet tender.  It will be yummy with Nutella and whipped cream or herbed ricotta and prosciutto.  

Buckwheat is crazy nutritious.  I'm happy to have found another way to add it to my diet.  The buckwheat is earthy and will taste great filled with creamy herbed mushrooms.  

The cornmeal crepe is a new favorite and features cornmeal from Riverbend Organic Farm.  You can really taste the sweet corny flavor in the freshly ground stuff.  I'm filling that with a Mexican style roasted corn salad.  

The real rockstar is the sorghum flour crepe.  The flour came from my friend Greg Reynolds' Riverbend Organic Farm.  I had never worked with sorghum flour before.  I grew up with sorghum, they syrup, in our pantry.  We ate on pancakes, cornbread and used it like molasses in baking.  I remember watching it being made in the fall.  The beautiful seed-tassled corn-like stalks were fed into a hand cranked press that squeezed the juice out of the stalks.  Then it was boiled down into a syrup.  Sorghum flour has a little bit more protein than corn and is completely gluten free.  This simple little batter bakes up into a nutty sweet crepe.  The flavor reminds me of graham crackers.  I'm filling these with whipped goat cheese sweetened with maple syrup and cinnamon spiced apples.
Basic Crepes
Recipe by Alton Brown
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
Butter, for coating the pan

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

Makes 17 to 22 crepes

Basic Buckwheat Crepes
Published in Bon Appetite Magazine Feb. 2012
1 1/4 cups buckwheat flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil plus additional for skillet
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cups (or more) water
 1/4 teaspoon salt

·      Place flour in medium bowl. Whisk in eggs, 1/4 cup oil, milk, 1 1/4 cups water, and salt.

·      Heat 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; brush pan with oil. Add 1/4 cupful batter to skillet; tilt to coat bottom. Cook crepe until golden on bottom, adjusting heat to prevent burning, 30 to 45 seconds. Using spatula, turn crepe over; cook 30 seconds. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining batter, stacking crepes between sheets of plastic wrap. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.

Sorghum Flour Crepes
Posted on November 16, 2013 in Crepe Recipes, Gluten-Free Recipes
Makes 12
2 large eggs
1 tbsp oil
 2/3 cup (158 ml) milk
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

§  Beat eggs until frothy, whisk in oil and milk until blended.
§ Add in dry ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth.
§  Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and lightly coat with oil.
§  Pour a small amount of batter to cover pan thinly.
§  Cook until lightly brown, then turn over.
§  When both sides are golden brown, transfer to a plate. Repeat the same for the remaining batter.
§  Serve hot.

Cornmeal Crepes
1  cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for brushing skillet

·      Blend flour, cornmeal, salt, milk, eggs, and 2 tablespoons butter in a blender until smooth. Let batter stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

·      Lightly brush a 10-inch nonstick skillet with butter and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Stir batter, then, holding skillet off heat, pour in 1/3 cup batter, immediately tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom. (If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crêpe.) Return skillet to heat and cook until just set and pale golden around edges, 10 to 15 seconds. Loosen edge of crêpe with a heatproof silicone spatula, then flip crêpe over carefully with your fingertips. Cook until underside is set, about 20 seconds more, and transfer crêpe to a plate. Make 11 more crêpes in same manner, brushing skillet lightly with butter for each and stacking crêpes on plate as cooked.

Makes 12 crepes

Creamy Mushrooms
Martha Stewart
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (from 2 shallots)
 6 sprigs thyme, plus more for garnish
 1 1/4 pounds chanterelle mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped
 Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup creme fraiche

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of shallots and half of thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add half of mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened and golden brown in places, about 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Cook until most of wine is evaporated; transfer to a large bowl. Cook remaining shallots, thyme, and mushrooms in the same manner; transfer to bowl. Let mixture cool and remove thyme. Stir in creme fraiche and season with salt and pepper.

Mexican Corn Salad (Esquites)
From Kevin Lynch’s Closet Cooking
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups corn (about 4 ears), cut from the cob
 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 glove garlic, grated
 2 green onions, sliced
 1 handful cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juice
2 tablespoons cotija (or feta), crumbled
 chili powder to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the corn, toss and let it sit cooking until charred, mix it up and let it char again, about 6-10 minutes.

Add the jalapeno, saute for a minute and remove from heat.

Mix everything and serve warm or at room temperature.

Ferran Adria and me with half of Jose Andres to the right.
I don't speak Spanish and Ferran Adria doesn't speak English so my words of gratitude and appreciation for his work were most likely not understood.  Too Bad.  Last night at the Minneapolis Institute of Art I listened to Adria's words through a translator as he spoke of his  avant garde cuisine and his take on creativity.  Jose Andres added funny anecdotes that illustrated Adrias points.  The assertion that his food is art when he told us that El Bulli broke the assumed rule that restaurants cook so people will like it.  Adria told us he cooked to stir emotion in his guests and that he never cooked for the money.  To dine at El Bulli was to "eat knowledge and creation", he said.
There was a lot to take in as he talked about creativity, authentic cuisines and their evolutions.  I look forward to thinking about what it would mean to standardize the language of cooking in the way that math and sciences have done
PictureJose Andres' Liquid Olive
Near  then end of the talk, Jose mentioned the famous Liquid Olives that Ferran created.  Jose said that he has made more money from selling Liquid Olives in his restaurants than El Bulli ever did.  He was once in a "Very Important Chef's" kitchen.  This chef asked him if he felt guilty about stealing Adria's olive idea.  Jose asked him if he chops, roasts, grills, or sautés anything in his restaurant.  Of course the answer was yes.  Then Jose asked, "Which one of those techniques did you invent, moron."  It was a beautiful way to point out how the evolution of cuisine has been rushed along a bit by Ferran Adria.

Then we left the auditorium and walked over to the tasting.  The room was crushingly full.  You earned every bite of food you got, battling your way through the crowds.   Some people politely queued up and waited their turn while other gladiator-types pushed in.

We started with dessert.  Michelle Gayer's Salty Tart offered up cute round butter cookies with a sweet multicolored sesame topping piled on top.  Next to that was a tray full of little sugared mini brioches filled with a nugget of halva, a sweet sesame fudge.

PictureRadish and Butter Tart
Most of these photos are terrible, but it was such a memorable night, I'm going to use them anyway.

Victory 44's radish and butter tart was one of my favorites.  A tender yet sturdy pastry case held a few slices of pristine radish.  The foam on top had the texture of whipped cream, but the flavor of an excellent cultured salted butter.  A pretty pink radish powder was dusted over it all.

Sadly, I did not get to taste this.  They ran out.  I'm guessing it was great.....

PictureRussel Klein's cured fish.
Across the way, Russell Klein put together a meticulous morsel of cured fish.  The salty fish was offset with pearls of citrus and a spicy nasturtium leaf.

Next to Russell was Lenny Russo.  He had a crispy toasted sandwiches make with a spicy house cured lamb.  These were a favorite of my husband and friends.  

PictureA woman with her head in the pig box.
Travail was well represented with four of their chefs on hand.  They also had the most theatrical offerings.  The first was a vegetarian charcuterie.  I stuck my head through the drapes and into a white box.  The inside of the box was brightly lit and papered with bright photos of pigs..in farm stalls , in mud, in pastures, and more.  The floor of the box was covered in sweet hay.  Of to the left was a small cast iron pan of what looked like apples cooked with cinnamon.  The most startling thing were the sounds of pigs grunting and squealing.  After one final loud squeal an arm thrust a breadstick wrapped in what appeared to be ham through the back of the box.  I opened my mouth and took it.  

Turns out, it was brined, cured, and smoked rutabaga dyed with beet juice.  It tasted great.  Very hammy on so many points. 

PictureMy hand job.
Next to the piggy box was another box called the hand job.  I put my hand through a hole in the front and a gentle gloved hand took mine and proceeded to put stuff on the back.  I pulled out my hand to reveal this and slurped it up in one bite.  Turns out it was a drop of honey topped with a rich liver mousse that was sprinkled with some puffed rice.  It was a great bite and very fun.  This was where I met Ferran.   He seemed to be amused by the scenes.  Then I was off to wash the sticky honey from my hands.

PictureLoaded Baked Potato
Next up was Steven Brown's Tilia.  He crafted a whimsical  loaded baked potato.  In the bottom of the cup was a little potato and cheese stuffed tortellini (the only cheese of the night, by the way).   Potato broth was poured over the top.  This was made by simmering the crispy fried skins of hundreds of baked potatoes and then reducing it until is was a luxurious and earthy jus. A sliver of Red Table's fine speck was draped over it all and a couple of batons of chives brightened up the bite.  

Jose Andres daughter was particularly fond of this bite, I heard.  She is only eight, but quizzed the chefs like a pro about how they made it, then promptly carried off a sample to her poppa.

Mike Phillips was able to send some of his excellent salumi off with Jose.  Jose seemed genuinely pleased.  He's in for a treat.

PictureDelicious and creative things from Hey Day
Hey Day had some nifty bites.  Here they are.  Nope, I can't remember exactly what they were.  The little bamboo dishes did sit neatly on top of my wine glass garnering some appreciative comments on my technique from my fellow tasters.

PictureLa Belle Vie's Beauties
La Belle Vie's presentation was gorgeous.  Wooden boxes were filled with a miniature rustic rock garden.  The no-plate-needed (thank you for this) bites were perched on top of the bigger rocks ready for you to pick up.  On the right was a paper thin shard of cranberry  sugar like fragile pink hued glass.  On top was a dollop of something creamy and good.  

On on the left was another of my favorites for the night.  A crunchy cracker of puffy crisp squid held a chewy piece of smoked scallop.  The olive oil was spun into a cream that dotted the squid cracker.

PictureLibertine's house made tofu.
Libertine's house made tofu gelled into a  simple custard flavored with a gentle mushroom broth.  Briny salmon roe sparkled next to a bit of micro green shiso.

Picturemy favorite of the night
This bite tops the list as my favorite.  I'm a sucker for octopus.  The octopus was simmered long and slow until it was tender then chopped and packed into a loaf pan.  When it chilled the natural gelatin from the tentacles  gelled holding it all together.  Thin slices were cut from the terrine that were then cut out into these perfect little rounds.  The little dots were emulsions of quajillo chile and avocado.  A little cilantro and a couple of pumpkin seeds added the perfect freshness and crunch.  Sigh.

Mike DeCamp from Monello made this fresh little crudo that was strewn with petals and kept cool with a bit of crushed ice.  He had nine cheesecloth poufs filled with flavored powders like lemon, cilantro, cumin and others. The idea was to pouf your crudo to your own liking.  It was a bit of a juggle, but fun.  Michael love the crushed ice--kind of like a fish sno-cone.

Pictureone bite paella
This is a playful one bite paella.  Built on a black olive cracker, a smear of spreadable chorizo anchors a good sized shrimp perfumed with saffron.  Tiny bits of pickled shrimp and a micro cilantro add pop and freshness.

The last table housed desserts made by Spoon and Stable's Diane Yang and La Belle Vie's Niki Franciioli.  The huckleberry marshmallows topped with pop rocks were a kick.  A sublime chocolate pudding layered with shards of brioche toast was topped with a whimsical foam and chocolate twigs.

Bradstreet Crafthouse made a great cocktail.  Not sure what was in it, but I had two.  

 As events go, it was waaaay overcrowded.  The event was not sold out and I cannot imagine packing any more bodies into that space.  That said, the chefs really kept up.  They hustled and charmed.  There was plenty of opportunities to chat with each chef if you wanted to.  I am bummed I didn't get to taste Isaac Becker's offering.   The trash situation was a little overwhelming.  The charming high top tables became trash dumps for most of the party.  Near the end, when I'm assuming a third of the tasters had gone home, the place was just right.  The room was full and lively, but you could move about and a few trash bins had appeared.   

Chances are good I've made mistakes in this little review, forgive me (or even better, correct me).  I wanted to get it all down before my memories got as blurry as my photos.  

A funny thing just happened at the grocery store.  I've had a long weekend...hosting 6 cooking demos with 6 different incredible chefs, roasting a whole hog overnight with Thomas Boemer... all in the name of fresh, sustainable, nourishing food.  I tracked over 20,000 steps on Friday AND Saturday.  Sunday I rested...and didn't do my hair or makeup.  I'm tired and it shows.

Tomorrow I have a TV segment in the afternoon on burgers on Twin Cities Live, so I did my grocery shopping tonight, 7 pm on a Sunday.  At the checkout I divided my food into TV food, and food for home.  The TV food went by first....ground beef and pork, two kinds of cheese, hot sauce, some tortillas, and a little lettuce.  I paid.  Then my own food went by....organic carrots, raspberries, grapes, and a melon.  While I was bagging the first batch and cashier said, "are these wick?".  I paused.  I wasn't sure what she meant by wick.  When she said it again it hit me. W.I.C--the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.  I felt funny.  I said, "no, why would you ask?".  Of course, in my head I was sure it was because I was wearing an old gray T-shirt, no makeup, and my air-dried hair twisted up with a clip and bobby pins.  She thought I was poor and I was embarrassed.  Then she said it was because I had all fruits and vegetables in my second order and that people using WIC will usually buy their "real food" separately.  

I laughed out loud at the situation.  Which was worse.  My own insecurities thinking my appearance made the world think I am too poor to afford my own  groceries or her statement that people using W.I.C. funds would really rather not be buying all those fruits and vegetables.    I smiled and told the pretty blond that some people might find that offensive (because it is).  I continued to chuckle to myself as I packed the rest of my groceries.  I bet she thought I was crazy...
Me as I was at the grocery store with no make up, old T, and undone hair....
We  had a blast at a friend's cabin last weekend.  I had a superb punch at Coqueta in San Francisco.  I recreated it at home and it is perfect for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.  

Agua de Valencia
Agua De Valencia  means “Valencian Water.”  It certainly is as easy to drink as water--beware.  My recipe is a riff on  a classic Spanish cocktail from the 50s.  Cheers.
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup gin
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water boiled and cooled)
750 ml bottle cava (Spanish sparkling wine) or other sparkling wine
orange and lime slices for garnish
ice cubes
1.     In a pitcher stir together orange juice, gin, vodka, and simple syrup.  Chill.  Can be made a day ahead.  Chill cava.
2.     When ready to serve, stir in cava.
3.     Pour over ice and garnish with orange and lime slices if desired.

Makes 6 cocktails

This is a big pie...perfect for parties.  I took it to my friend, Mitch Kezar's party last night.  He is an amazing photographer specializing in outdoor, wildlife, hunting, and fishing photos.  I am honored to be his friend and could listen to him tell about his amazing adventures forever.  It was a pot luck and many farmers, anglers, and hunters were in attendance...so the food was AMAZING.  I brought this sheet pan of a pie.

It's such a handy thing to bring when you have a crowd.  I made strawberry rhubarb because my rhubarb has been wild this year and the first local strawberries are available, but it's just as good with blueberries, peaches or apples...just name your fruit.

I've always loved finding new, better ingredients.   I love Sunrise Flour, a locally milled flour, made from heritage varieties of wheat.  It seems that many sensitive to modern wheat can enjoy this without ill effects.  I'm loving the Organic Valley cultured unsalted butter, with it's European tang.  Costco has some affordable organic minimally processed cane sugar that is excellent.   By the way I thicken the pie just a bit with Minute Tapioca (a brand name), which is simply cooked cassava root and bit of lecithin shaped into pearls and dried.  It's my favorite thickener for fruit pies--cornstarch can fail in the presence of acid ingredients, like rhubarb, and flour can taste...well, floury.  

 Now for the pie.
adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart's Everyday Food

5 cups all-purpose flour (I like Turkey Red Heritage Refined Wheat Flour)
2 Tbsp. sugar (I like Kirkland Organic at Costco)
1 tsp. sea salt
2 cups unsalted butter (Organic Valley Cultured is my favorite)
1 cup ice water
  1. Place flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse just to mix.  Chop cold butter into pats and drop into machine.  Pulse until butter is incorporated into flour and resembles corn meal.
  2. With machine running, drizzle in ice water.  Do not over mix.  Stop machine and see if you can squeeze a handful of  dough into a ball. Dump crumbles of  dough onto work surface and press into two disks.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes, which is just about the time it takes to trim the fruit.  
2 lbs. strawberries, hulled and halved (6 cups)
2 lbs, rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (6 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup quick-cooking tapioca (Minute brand)
1/3 cup additional sugar for the top
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a large bowl, toss together berries, rhubarb, 1 1/2 cups sugar and tapioca
  2. Have a 14-inch jelly roll pan at  hand.  Lightly flour a work surface.  Shape one  flat disk of dough into a rough rectangle.   Roll into a 12x16 inch rectangle.  Place pan on top of dough to judge if it will fit.  Gently roll dough onto rolling pin and use pin to transfer dough to pan.  Unroll onto pan and gently shift and press dough to fit into edges and corners, allowing extra to hang over sides.  Roll remaining dough in the same manor, into an 11 by 15-inch rectangle.
  3. Toss filling again and dump into dough-ligned pan, spread evenly in pan.  Use rolling pin to drape top crust over fruit filling.   Press to seal around edges.  Use scissors or a knife to trim edges of dough to leave a 1 1/2-inch overhang.  Turn overhang under to build up edge a bit.  Press edges decoratively with a fork or pinch to crimp.  Cut about two-inch slits about every 4 inches in top to vent.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar.
  4. Place pie in oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees F.  Bake until crust is deep golden and you can see juices bubbling in center slits, about 65 to 70 minutes.
  5. Remove pie to wire rack and allow to cool about an hour.  Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 servings

We've been feeding this nutrition packed seed to the birds for a long time.  American cooks are rediscovering millet.  I first met millet on a plate in culinary class in college.  It was a sorry sight--overcooked and tossed with canned fruit cocktail.  Not pretty.   It has a simple mildly sweet flavor that can be used anywhere you might use cous cous.   I'm looking for ways to pack more nutrition into my meals and cous cous does not earn it's place on my plate.  Enter, millet.

Cooked plain with a pinch of salt, as the package directs, it's a great foundation for anything saucy like exotic Moroccan dishes, homey stews, curries, or classic braised meats.  You can serve it up sweet as a hot cereal for breakfast; add some dried fruit, and few walnuts and some milk.  Cold cooked millet is great in salads like the millet tabbouleh below.
Millet cooked in broth with the addition of olive oil and parmesan cheese is a dandy dish on the side or add a salad and it makes a great lunch.
Millet Polenta
Millet Polenta 
This is nice as it is, but is great foundation for a saucy braised beef or eggplant ragu.

1 cup millet
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 /2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, if desired
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil or parsley
  1. In a medium dry saucepan, toast millet over medium heat until it is golden brown.  You will hear it begin to pop and it gives off a fragrance like popcorn.  Tip it into a dish for later.
  2. Add oil onion, garlic and salt to pan and cook 3 minutes or until onion is just translucent.
  3. Add pepper, broth, and toasted millet.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the heat.
  4. Fluff with a fork and lightly stir in parmesan, if using, and basil.  

Makes 4 servings

Millet Asparagus Pilaf
I added left over millet polenta to a pan of stir fried asparagus for a veggie packed side.  When asparagus season is over, use what ever is on hand--green beans, zucchini, red bell pepper....mix it up.
Who knew buckwheat was such a nutritional powerhouse?  Not me.   After reading up on it, I think if I ate enough of it I just might live forever..or develop super powers.   I've been seeing a wellness coach lately and she gave me an assignment last week to cook with buckwheat.  I've cooked with buckwheat before and knew it's quirkiness...but after working out the best Kasha Varnishkes recipe for the Betty Crocker Big Red Cookbook,  I didn't give it another thought.  I'm glad I've given it a closer look.

Buckwheat (a.k.a. kasha) is a funny little fruit seed of a plant related to sorrel and rhubarb.  The flowers are very fragrant and beloved by bees.   The little seeds cook up just 15 minutes.    They give off a funky  barnyard aroma while cooking.  I suppose earthy or nutty might be a prettier way of saying it.  That aroma dissipates into a truly nutty flavor by the time it's ready.  Kasha is great with umami flavors like mushrooms, soy sauce, and blue cheese. 
Simply drizzle cooked kasha with truffle oil and toss with grated Parmesan and plenty of pepper for a lovely little side.  Kasha can be mushy if overcooked or over handled, so be gentle.  Prevent the mushy tendencies by"varnish" the groats with egg before cooking, making it a great grain for pilaf.  You can embrace the mush and turn cooked kasha into nifty veggie burgers.
When you shop for buckwheat look for whole toasted groats, you may see a crushed or cracked version on the shelf next to what you want.  Untoasted varieties are available as well. You'll want to toast those in a dry skillet before you cook them.  I cooked up a cup of kasha and tossed it in the fridge for quick meals later.

Basic Cooked Buckwheat Groats (a.k.a. kasha)
In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil.  Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1 cup of whole toasted groats.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  

Buckwheat Pilaf with Mushrooms
The grains of buckwheat are varnished with egg just like the classic dish, kasha varnishkes, making a fluffy savory side or meatless main.

3 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 egg
1 1/2 cups buckwheat groats
3 cups beef or vegetable stock or low sodium canned
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
truffle oil, if desired
  1. in a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and mushrooms and cook until onion is tender and mushrooms are beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.   
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir egg into groats, stirring until well coated.  
  3. Increase heat to medium high and add groats.  Cook, stirring, until egg has dried and groats are separate.  
  4. Add stock and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until stock is absorbed, about 10 minutes.  
  5. Fluff with a fork and toss in parsley.  Drizzle with truffle oil, if desired.

Makes 8 side dish servings
Japanese Buckwheat Salad
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, so it made sense to me to use those same ingredients in this quick whole grain salad.  Tastes great fresh, but even better the next day.  Spoon this on top of baby spinach for a satisfying lunch. 
2 cups cooked and cooled buckwheat groats
1 carrot, shredded
1 small bell pepper, cut into slivers
1/4 English cucumber, cut into slivers
2 green onions, sliced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup Japanese vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Toss all ingredients together.  Chill until ready to serve.

Makes 4 side dish servings

Japanese Vinaigrette
This makes more than you need for the recipe.  
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
2 tsp. toasted sesame seed oil
2 tsp. hot chili garlic sauce (like sriracha)
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil

Whisk together.  Keeps for a week refrigerated.

Kasha Burgers
Basic simple flavors are ready for your favorite burger toppings.  Sharp cheddar and blue cheese are a great addition.
1 grated carrot (about 1/2 cup)
2 green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 clove garlic chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked kasha
1 Tbsp. flour or chickpea flour
1 Tbsp. water
  1. In a large nonstick skillet heat 1 Tbsp. of oil.  Add vegetables and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.
  2. In a medium bowl, add kasha.  Knead with your hands or mash with a potato masher to create a coarse paste.  Stir in vegetables. Sprinkle flour and water over all and mix well.
  3. Shape into two patties.
  4. Heat remaining oil in skillet.  Add patties and cook until browned, about 4 minutes.  Carefully turn and cook another 4 minutes.  Top with sliced cheese now if desired.
  5. Serve on buns with your favorite burger toppings.

Makes 2 patties

I'm doing a demo on this Saturday at noon in Eagan, MN at the Le Creuset  outlet store.    I get to use all their yummy pots to create something special for mom.  It's spring-ish and the air is still often cool, so I landed on making a variation of Eggs Benedict made all in one skillet with the added bonus of a bunch of fresh veggies.  Stand by for the Truffled Bacon Hollandaise I've drizzled over the top--I made in in 3 minutes in a blender.  

I only do this sort of thing for products I truly love.  I truly love all things Le Creuset.  The heavy cast iron and the non reactive slick enamel finish are a joy--creating a nice brown flavorful fond and cleaning up easily.
Skillet Eggs Benedict with Pan Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms

I love Eggs Benedict, but rarely make it at home because it makes such a mess….frying ham slices in one pan, poaching eggs in another, making a sauce in a third.   I’ve made things easier.  Bacon and pan roasted veggies form a nest for the eggs to poach in while I whip up a fast blender hollandaise.

3 slices bacon, chopped
4 to 6 oz. fresh mushrooms sliced (a mixture is good)
1 small onion, cut into wedges
8 oz. asparagus, washed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 cups spinach
1/2 cup grape tomatoes
4 eggs
salt and pepper
4 thick slices whole grain bread, toasted
Truffled Bacon Hollandaise

1.     Cook bacon in a large deep skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon to a plate and spoon out all but a Tbsp. of drippings (save one Tbsp. for the sauce, if desired.)

2.     Over medium heat, add mushrooms and onion to pan with the bacon drippings.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown a bit and the onions are tender.

3.     Add reserved bacon, asparagus, spinach and tomatoes, tossing to combine.  Create a hollow for each egg.  Slip one egg into each vegetable nest.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover, reduce heat and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until egg whites are set and the yolks are thickened.

4.     Place toast on serving plates or platter.  Top each toast with an egg and a portion of the vegetables.  Drizzle with warm hollandaise.  Garnish with fresh chives, if desired

Makes 4 servings

Truffled Bacon Blender Hollandaise

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. Bacon fat
1 Tbsp. black truffle olive oil
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or hot sauce

1.     Heat butter slowly in a small pot until it foams.  Add bacon fat and truffle oil.  Heat again just until it foams.
2.     Meanwhile, drop egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne into a blender. Blend the egg yolk mixture 20-30 seconds or until it’s pale and golden.
3.     With the motor running, drizzle in the hot melted butter mixture.  Run the blender a few seconds longer after the butter has been incorporated.
4.     Keep warm until ready to serve.  Leftovers don’t reheat well, but taste great cold spread on toast.

It's not about the ketchup.  It's about learning how to take locally grown fruits and vegetables and turn them into something greater than the sum of their parts.  My home chapter, the Crow River Sustainable Farming Association is coming together to figure this out. We are using simple ketchup as a model.  This is a test run, but we used as many local products as we could:  onions, garlic, honey, and sunflower seed oil.  
Tomorrow a sample will be on it's way to a lab for testing and then we can label and sell our wares.   Pretty cool!  

There will be lots more to tell about this story...stay tuned......
...a little knife work...
The final product...