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...
A jar full of Double Chocolate Cookies topped with sparkling sea salt.
Lucia's To Go in Minneapolis sells luscious double chocolate sea salt cookies.  I live an hour from said cookies.  I've fiddled around with recreating them at home and actually the pastry chef who bakes them is always kind and generous with her recipes.  But finally I was forced by tragic circumstances to develop this cookie recipe myself.

My mother makes fantastic double chocolate cookies.  Her old recipe uses vegetable shortening.  I won't use that anymore because it's nasty stuff that's bad for me.  However.....it does make nicely shaped, soft cookies.  Mom doesn't use it anymore either.  She just switched in all butter.  If you are a very experienced baker, like mom, you can fiddle around and add a bit more flour and pull the cookies out early when they are still gooey.  These kind of adjustments are often done without even really thinking.   The butter swap can make them a bit too crispy and prone to spreading.  I hadn't thought about them for years.

Fast forward to Christmas 2015.  My business partner's wife needed a good easy chocolate cookie to round out her holiday baking. I remembered my mom's good cookies and shared the recipe.....without testing it myself.  I know better.  When a professional cook with eons of baking experience who also happens to be a friend gives you a recipe, you assume it will work....right?
not good cookies........too spready....
The above photo was texted to me with the question, "is this right?"  The answer is no. I was horrified.  I tried to figure out what happened.  Insulated pan, light flour measure,  the butter..... What ever it was I need to fix it.  Today I fixed it and added the sea salt topping....like Lucia's.  
Tips and Tools for Great Cookies
  1. Use aluminum baking sheets with no edges--not insulated
  2. I love a baking sheet with a pebbled surface.  It gets an ugly patina after a while making it almost nonstick.  
  3. I love baking parchment--you can pull an entire sheet of cookies off the sheet to finish cooling on the counter in one swift tug--no pans to wash
  4. Use a small metal spatula with an angled "blade" to lift cookies from the pan
  5. Take cookies out of oven when cookies are just set and the center looks still looks a bit wet
  6. Let cookies stand on baking sheet 2 minutes before removing to cool on racks or waxed paper
  7. To measure flour, dip your cup into the flour and sweep off the excess with a flat blade of a knife
Double Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 cups cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 (12oz.) pkg chocolate chips
large flake sea salt, if desired
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and eggs.
  3. Add flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, mix until well combined, scraping sides and bottom of bowl once.
  4. Stir in chocolate chips.  
  5. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets.  flatten slightly by pressing dough with your hand.  Sprinkle each cookie with a little sea salt.
  6. Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until just set.  DO NO OVER BAKE. 
  7. Cool on sheet for 2 minutes before removing to waxed paper to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen
Minnesota in January....sigh.....
It's a cruel joke that the coldest, bleakest days of winter come right after the new year's bright shiny promises of eating better and exercising.  How about a compromise?  This luscious egg dish is really just reverse engineered scrambled eggs.  The milk and herbs are mixed into the already hard cooked yolks.   
Jaque Pepin's mother's Eggs Jeanette taste rich and decadent, but are actually quite sensible and perfect for our Sunday Brunch.  I'll be making these more often.  I resolve to keep a half dozen or so hard cooked eggs on hand.
Eggs Jeannette
based on a recipe by Jacque Pepin
Serve this up with a bright citrusy tossed salad for a satisfying brunch or supper.

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (parsley or chives are classic but cilantro and bit of chopped jalapeno are very good)
2 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 to 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
reserved egg filling
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. good olive oil (flavored or nut oils are great here too)
salt and pepper
  1. Halve eggs and pop the yolks into a small bowl.  Mash yolks with a fork.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except oil.  Use fork to mash all the ingredients together.  Reserve 2 Tbsp. for sauce.
  3. Spoon filling back into egg, spreading top flat.
  4. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add egg, flat side down, and let cook, undisturbed, for 2 to 3 minutes or until well browned.  Arrange on serving plate, browned side up.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine all sauce ingredients.  Beat until smooth and spoonable with a fork or small whisk.  Add more water if it is too thick.  Taste and add salt and pepper to correct seasoning.
  6. Immediately spoon sauce over warm eggs

Makes 3 to 4 servings

HLR Cellars guesthouse in Calistoga, California.
In a couple of weeks, I'm running away from the snow to HLR vineyards in Calistoga, California.  This Minnesota family has wisely relocated to warmer climes and are making wonderful wines.  Their Hella licious is my favorite.  Start by buying a well-priced case and after three you can run away to their guest house, too.  It's a hella good deal.

Hoppin' John, black eyed peas simmering with ham.
A bowl of Hoppin' John, topped with short grained rice.
Hoppin’ John

1 lb. black eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 big Poblano, Hatch, Anaheim chile, Hungarian hot wax or banana pepper, seeded and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 to 3 carrots, chopped
6 cups broth (ham, chicken or vegetable), approximately
2 bay leaves
2 cups frozen chopped spinach or other green
1 cup diced ham
Hot cooked short grained rice
1.     soak peas in cold water overnight OR in a large pot, cover peas with water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and soak 1 hour.  Drain

2.     In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook about 3 minutes to soften.  Add chile, celery and carrots, sprinkle with a little salt and continue cooking about 3 minutes more.

3.     Add soaked beans, broth, and bay leaves.  Simmer about an hour or until beans are tender.  Add additional broth or water if needed.  Taste and add salt and plenty of pepper.

4.     Add frozen spinach and let simmer until hot.  Taste again and correct seasoning.  Serve topped with a big scoop of rice and plenty of hot sauce.

Makes about 3 1/2 quarts


·      I use frozen spinach, because that’s what I have in the winter from my garden.  Fresh greens are really good.

·      Hoppin’ John is perfect for vegetarians—giving them a good way to get the elusive “perfect protein” from beans plus rice. This is also nice to have in the fridge in mason jars.   Add 2 tsp. smoked paprika to the sautéed veggies to give it that “hammy’ flavor that goes so well with black eyed peas.

·      Lots of people cook the rice with the beans, I like to keep it separate so it doesn’t turn to mush when you reheat a bowl the next day.

·      I like to use short grained rice because is sticks together as a nice foundation or topping for the stewed things like this. 

Oyster Chowder with Crisp Prosciutto and Fresh Thyme
big oysters in Oyster Chowder.
Landlocked midwesterners tend to fall into two camps when it comes to seafood.  Crave it and love it as a rare treat or loathe and fear it.  I fall squarely in the "crave and love" camp.  When we were lucky enough to have oysters in our house when I was a child, they were mostly made into oyster stew.  I love my dad's simple bowl of oysters poached in cream with a bit of celery.  My husband loves the briny broth, but not the oysters themselves.  This holiday season I found some very nice shucked oysters and decided to make a heartier chowder to satisfy us both.
PictureFresh Oysters near Petaluma, CA.
I must admit, I prefer my oysters here...on the deck of my cabin in a California vineyard, 3 miles from their watery home.

PictureWinter-time Oyster Chowder.
Curled on the couch in my cozy sunroom, my elbow brushing the fragrant fresh herbs on the windowsill, and snow outside isn't half bad.  Especially when the oysters are simmered in a savory chowder with potatoes, leeks.  I top the chowder with a crumble of buter-crisped prosciutto and fresh thyme leaves from the windowsill.  The thyme adds a couple of layers of flavor with some of it being long simmered from the start and then fresh leaves sprinkled on the hot soup.

Oyster Chowder with Crisp Prosciutto and Fresh Thyme

1 pint fresh oysters
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp chopped prosciutto (about 2 slices)
1 medium leek, chopped (white and pale green portions only)
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped, plus additional for garnish
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup fish stock (OR bottled clam juice)
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
Salt and Pepper
  1. Place a strainer over a bowl.  Dump oysters into strainer, so juices (a.k.a. liquor) drains into the bowl.   Check oysters for any bits of shell.  Reserve juices.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat.  Add prosciutto and cook until crisp.  Remove prosciutto and reserve as a garnish.  Add remaining 2 Tbsp. butter to pan.  Add leek and celery, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cook over medium heat until tender, about 3 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir until no dry flour remains. 
  4. Stir in reserved oyster liquor, fish broth, and half and half.  Add potatoes and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes or until potato is tender.  Add oysters and simmer, uncovered, until oysters plump and edges just curl, about 3 minutes.  Taste and adjust salt and add plenty of pepper.
  6. Top each serving with crumbled prosciutto, fresh thyme leaves and a little more freshly ground black pepper.   Add a few oyster crackers, if you  like.

Makes 4 servings

TIP:  I buy frozen pints of fish stock from Coastal Seafoods in the  Twin Cities.  I'm sure good fish markets across the country have the same.  I pop out the frozen stock and chop off what I need, then return it the rest to the freezer.  Otherwise, save up shrimp shells, fish bones, and other trimmings in a bag in your freezer to make your own stock. 

You can substitute bacon if you can't get prosciutto.  Cook the bacon and reserve.   The smokey bacon fat can overwhelm the sweet oysters so pour off the fat and save for another use later.  In the same pan, add only 2 Tbsp. butter.  
I love oatmeal.  I'm kind of picky and only really love old fashioned rolled oats.  Steel cut are ok, but a bit more like pilaf---I like these savory with sausage and a fried egg on top.  Quick cooking oats are rolled thinner and chopped up more.  They cook up sticky and icky.  The fat flat rolled old fashioned oats cooks in 5 minutes; that's quick enough for me.  They make soft hot breakfast with a bit of chewiness and creaminess.  A little pat of Hope butter from grass fed cows is always a nice addition.  

Do have a freezer like this?  Neat packages of raspberries and tomatoes from my garden are nestled up with abandoned overripe bananas haphazardly tossed in to be used later.  Today I found a way to use them up beyond smoothies and banana bread.  Hot Banana Oatmeal.  Skinned bananas can be used right out of the freezer but they keep better if you freeze them in their own skin.  That skin can be a bit of pain to remove.  Be patient....let them stand at room temp while the oatmeal cooks, the skin will pull right off.  If it doesn't, run them under hot water for a few seconds.

Hot Buttered Banana Oatmeal
1 1/2 cups water
pinch of salt
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. butter
1 very ripe banana, peeled broken into chunks 
toasted walnuts, milk, and brown sugar for garnish if desired.

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil.   Add salt and oats, reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until thickened and creamy.  
  2. Remove from heat and add cinnamon, butter, and banana.  Stir together, crushing banana with the back of the spoon until creamy.  
  3. Serve immediately, topped with nuts, a little milk and brown sugar if you like.

Serves 2
I was panicking.  MY FAVORITE ALL-CLAD COPPER SAUCEPAN IS FAILING!  Look closely by the handle and you can see black goo bubbling out between the copper and the stainless lining while I boil my brittle.  NOOOO!  Today I called customer service.  They want me to send them my picture of the defect and they will send me a new pan.  Not a pretty copper baby....they don't make these anymore...but a very nice copper core stainless replacement.  All-Clad has a lifetime guarantee and they mean it.  

People ask me all the time,  what is  my favorite cookware.  I always tell them to never buy a full set of one kind of cookware.  I love Le Creuset heavy French Ovens and bakers, All-clad saucepans can't be beat.  Vintage cast iron skillets are a treasure and naturally non-stick.  Add one medium quality nonstick ceramic omelet pan, and you're set.  

Let's play with fire.  Michael and I went to see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by the Stages Theatre Company.  It was a fantastic show--I highly recommend it.  The candy land reception after the show was really fun.  The indoor s'more set up was brilliant.  A heavy wooden box held burning gel "sternos" packed in with attractive stones.  I loved the homemade marshmallows and tons of chocolate candy options.  At some point in my career I will  rip off this brilliant set-up.
Can you believe they are finally here?  Click on the icon below to download your very own copy of the Chef Demo recipes form the 2013 Minnesota Garlic Festival.  Do you know what is even more exciting?!  There are still more recipes to come!!  I just thought I'd put out what I've got so far and let you start enjoying them.  Stay tuned for the Garlic Stuffed Prime Rib Sandwich recipe from Restaurant Alma's own Chef Bryan Morcom.  I know I loved every bite of my sandwich at the Great Scape Cafe and look forward to recreating it at home.  Mmmmm.