Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Garden Update #3

Bibb LettuceMake no mistake about it, fall has arrived in Minnesota. The lows are dipping into the 40’s here in Saint Paul, and my fall garden is running behind.

It seems everything, from my radishes to my kohlrabi is taking a few extra weeks to get ready. But the seedlings started life with pounding rain, too much shade and the onslaught of slugs. Only the strong survived.

red radishOne good thing I learned from this fall bed, is which radish and which lettuce seem to be the most hardy. Out of the easter egg blend radish packet, only the white globe radish has managed to bulb out. The red radish pictured above is just starting to bulb however. And from the lettuce sampler seed packet, only the bibb lettuce is still standing.

The spinach and bright light swiss chard were doing well for a while, but now they’re visited daily by slugs. I set out some beer bait, but it seems a furry animal keeps drinking it up. I can’t catch a break. :-)

little finger carrotsThe Little Finger Carrots are growing well but they need to get bigger roots to harvest. The kohlrabi is doing so-so, but I’m not sure they’ll bulb out before the big freeze. Speaking of which, the metro is under a frost advisory, but the garden should be OK. My plantings are cool weather crops and I think it’ll stay frost free. Stay tuned.

purple and white kohlrabiRed RaspberryPerhaps the last red raspberry of the season.pepperThis pepper was grown from seed. It looks like a jalapeno, but another on the same plant looks like a baby bell pepper. I’ll be tasting them before it gets too cold.

new grass All this grass was started in late August and it has grown incredibly well. Hopefully this means we’ll have a lush yard in spring, instead of the awful weeds we dug out.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

fastfood@home: Milky Way Minis

Homemade Milky WayI apologize for being a day late with my blog post. Either the chilly fall wind kicked up a sinus headache, or I ate way too many of these things. They’re rather addictive.

After trying out the simple recipe for Snickers Fudge, I decided to test out a few changes to the recipe to come up with a simple take on the Milky Way candy bar. But instead of just coating the top in chocolate, I wanted to coat the every side of each piece.

MilkyWayJPEG-6The Milky Way candy bar was introduced in 1923 and was inspired by the popular chocolate malt milkshakes that were popular at that time. For this recipe, I used Carnation chocolate malt mix for the nougat. Real nougat recipes are not necessarily complicated but they are time consuming. However, this nougat is really simple because the marshmallow creme gives it that fluffy texture without all the extra effort.

This recipe is as simple as the recipe for Snickers Fudge. The most time consuming part is waiting for each step to set up in the fridge. But by the time you’re finished with the second step, the first step should be chilled enough to apply a new layer.

Homemade Milky Way

Printable Version


For the first layer

3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the second layer

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup evaporated milk 
2 7oz. jars marshmallow creme 
8 Tbs. malted chocolate milk powder 
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the third layer

14 ounce package caramel cubes
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the fourth layer

1 cup milk chocolate chips 
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

To make the first layer
In microwave safe bowl, combine chips and heat for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until fully melted. Once melted, stir vigorously for one minute. This will help it stay set at room temperature. Pour the mixture into a parchment paper lined 13 x 9” baking pan. Use a spatula to spread the mixture to an even layer and place in the refrigerator until set.

To make the second layer
In a medium heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Mix in sugar and evaporated milk. Once it comes to a boil, let cook 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in marshmallow creme, chocolate malt powder and vanilla. Pour over the set chocolate layer and use a spatula to gently spread mixture in an even layer. Place in the refrigerator until set.

To make the third layer
Place the unwrapped caramel cubes and heavy cream in a medium saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until the mixture has completely melted and is smooth. Pour in the pan and quickly spread to an even layer with an off-set spatula. Place in the refrigerator until set.

Once all layers are set, cut into bite-size pieces, similar to size you’d find at the grocery store. Set aside.

To make the fourth layer
In microwave safe bowl, combine chips and heat for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until fully melted. Once melted, stir vigorously for one minute. This will help it stay set at room temperature. Leave chocolate in bowl, and hand dip each candy piece, top-side down. Use the edge of the bowl to scrape off excess chocolate. Put on parchment paper and refrigerate until set.

MilkyWayJPEG-1 Carnation Malted Milk MilkyWayJPEG-3MilkyWayJPEG-4


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Friday, September 25, 2009

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Stuffed Bell Peppers I was on the search for simple dinner that wouldn’t take forever. I had some bell peppers from the Farmers’ Market and some ground turkey, so I figured I’d put together some stuffed bell peppers.

Bell Peppers Overall, this recipe was pretty good and simple. The ketchup, and worcestershire sauce mixture that goes on top of each pepper is the perfect combo of flavors. I used raw instant rice but I would recommend cooked rice. Occassionaly there were a few hard grains that didn’t cook properly. But this is one of those quick and easy meals, so you can’t really go wrong.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Printable Version

5 green or red bell peppers


5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 lb of lean ground beef or ground turkey

1 1/2 cup of cooked rice or 3/4 cup of raw instant rice

1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned

1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp of dried oregano

Fresh ground pepper

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 tsp of Worcestershire Sauce

Dash of Tabasco sauce


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, cut top off peppers 1 inch from the stem end, and remove seeds. Add several generous pinches of salt to boiling water, then add peppers and boil, using a spoon to keep peppers completely submerged, until brilliant green (or red if red peppers) and their flesh slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Drain, set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat 4 tbsp of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, add meat, rice, tomatoes, and oregano, and season generously with salt and pepper. Mix well.

3. Drizzle remaining 1 tbsp. Oil inside peppers, arrange cut side up in a baking dish, then stuff peppers with filling. Combine ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, and 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl, then spoon over filling. Add 1/4 cup of water to the baking dish. Place in oven and bake for 40-50 minutes (or longer, depending on how big the peppers are that you are stuffing), until the internal temperature of the stuffed pepper is 150-160°F.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chicken Breast Stuffed With Feta Cheese & Sun-Dried Tomato

Stuffed Chicken Breast Recipe Every now and then my local grocery store has a crazy sale on boneless, skinless chicken breast at $1.99 a pound. That’s when I stock up. But after a while, oven roasted chicken breast gets old for the palate. So I scoured the internet for a simple recipe for stuffed chicken breasts.

The filling is super easy and has lots of flavor. The salty feta cheese goes perfectly with the sweet sun-dried tomatoes. But my chicken breasts did turn out a little dry, so I recommend heavily drizzling each breast with olive oil. I paired this recipe with the Toasted Pine Nut Couscous recipe and they went well together.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Feta & Sun-Dried TomatoThis recipe may not knock your socks off, but it beats the monotony of plain chicken breasts.

Printable Version

4-5 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced

5 large sun-dried tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon thyme

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled finely

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use Italian style)

olive oil



toothpicks (or Butcher String)

green onion, chopped (for garnish)

  1. Sauté garlic and red bell pepper, in Olive Oil, for about 3 minutes (just enough to"combine" the flavors).

  2. Put aside to cool.

  3. In a bowl, combine Feta cheese, breadcrumbs, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic and red pepper mixture.

  4. Toss until well mixed (this will be your "stuffing").

  5. Lay a flattened piece of chicken breast on a cutting board or your counter.

  6. Put a 1/4 of the above mixture on the flattened chicken breast like you would be making a burrito and roll as tight as you can get it.

  7. Secure it with a toothpick or butcher string.

  8. Place chicken breast "roll" on a baking sheet (I spray it with Pam so it doesn't stick), brush with olive oil (this gives it a nice golden brown texture), and season with salt and pepper.

  9. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  10. Cook for about 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 180°F.

  11. Garnish with chopped green onion and serve hot.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

field trip: Searching for the SweeTango Apple

HoneyCrisp Apples September is a great time for fresh apples. So I returned to the University of Minnesota Apple House to find some of their freshest. I first visited the area for a field tour of their experimental kiwi orchard. But this time I was on the search for a brand new apple that’s gaining some big press, the SweeTango.

U of M Apple HouseI called the Apple House’s apple availability hotline at 10:40 AM, and they listed limited quantities of the SweeTango as available. But they opened at 10:00 AM, so I began my mad rush and a 45 minute drive to get some before they were gone. During my last visit, I got a few pictures of the new apple growing in the orchard but I never got to taste it. As I pulled up to the Apple House it didn’t look that busy. But as I walked up to the entrance, I was greeted by a disappointing sign. It looks I’ll be missing out on my first taste of the SweeTango, and I’ll be waiting until 2010 with the rest of the country.

SweeTango gone for seasonWhat makes the SweeTango so special? Well it’s the child of the popular Honeycrisp and Zestar apples. It’s described as a sweet and surprisingly juicy apple with hints of fall spices. It also features the satisfying crunch of the Honeycrisp, which is the U of M’s latest claim to fame in the apple world. The Honeycrisp reminds me of biting into refreshing apple cider. It’s that good. So it sounds like the hoopla surrounding the SweeTango may be warranted.

SweeTango OrchardHere’s a few facts on the SweeTango.

Origin - Developed by the same apple breeders at the University of Minnesota who released the popular Honeycrisp. SweeTango has quite the "family tree" and is a cross between two very popular apples - Honeycrisp (mom) and Zestar! (dad) - yet it delivers its own unique flavor and tasting experience.

Flavor - Juicy and sweet with hints of fall spices, SweeTango's flavor, balanced by vibrant acidity, dances to a long and satisfying finish on the palate. It also features the satisfying "crunch" of a Honeycrisp.

Appearance - SweeTango is a blush apple with deep red coloration over a yellow breaking background.

Availability - SweeTango will hit the shelves, in limited volumes, at select retailers beginning in fall of 2009. SweeTango is an early-season apple, harvested in late August and early September.

Also, during my last visit to the orchard, I overheard James Luby, from the U of M’s departments of horticultural science, mention a tree that was a cross between an Asian pear and a European pear. Well I had to nonchalantly pick one and try it, and it’s an awesome pear. No tough skin and no mealy flesh. It had the inside texture of an Asian pear but with the tender skin of a European pear. I hope they market this fruit as well. You may find something similar in the grocery store, marketed as Apple Pears because of their round appearance. (I swear they dumb down us consumers with names like that.) But I think the cross I tasted was 10 times better.

Asian Pear & European Pear Cross

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Frozen Cheesecake Sandwiches

frozen cheesecake sandwiches Summer is almost over, but it’s still warm enough to enjoy some frozen treats. I got this idea from a Honey Maid graham cracker box, where they used Cool Whip and cream cheese to top graham crackers with a cheesecake-like filling. It sounded OK, but I decided to go a step further and turn them into frozen cheesecake sandwiches.

This recipe is really easy and you don’t have to freeze it, if you don’t have the time. Just top a graham cracker with the filling and you’re done. Feel free to experiment with this basic recipe. Add some chocolate syrup or lemon juice to the filling, or even some fresh raspberries.

Printable Version


8 oz. package cream cheese, softened

1 c. thawed Cool Whip

1/4 c. sugar

10 graham crackers broken in half (or use the whole graham cracker like I did)


1. Beat the cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer until well blended. Stir in the Cool Whip.

2. Spread about 1 Tbs. of the mixture onto each graham cracker square. Or generously add to a full graham cracker and top with another to make a sandwich, then freeze until firm.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eggs-The Truth Behind the Label


There seems to be a never-ending list of the kind of eggs you can now buy at the grocery store.

Even designer eggs that promise extra health benefits are marketed heavily for the health conscious consumer. But are those labels what they’re cracked up to be?



Cage Free Eggs

Most egg laying chickens in this country are maintained in cages. But if you ask me, 24-7 confinement isn’t the life a chicken was meant to have. Since some shoppers are opposed to this egg production method, companies have latched onto calling their eggs “cage-free.” “Cage-free” does not mean that the birds are raised outdoors or that they are running free. Typically the birds are maintained on the floor of a poultry house or barn. You’ve probably seen the pictures of an overcrowded poultry floor before. I suppose it’s better than a cage. They may or may not have access to outdoor pens.

Free-Range Eggs

To range birds means to allow them to graze and roam outdoors. Range eggs are not necessarily produced by hens that are always kept outdoors. A range egg rancher may employ a combination of barn and outdoor pens. The hens can choose to go outdoors in the daytime but typically are kept inside at night for protection from the elements and from predators. They are many opinions as to how much land per bird should be used to constitute “range.” There is currently no consensus on this point in terms of market classification. But at least they’re getting closer to the way homeowners raise backyard chickens.

Organic Eggs

The United State Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program has established regulations for organic food production. Hens producing eggs that are to be labeled “organic” must receive feed made from certified organic ingredients and must be free to range outdoors. At first glance, it seems organic eggs are the best bet to be guilt free over how the chickens are raised.

Lower Cholesterol Eggs

There doesn’t seem to be breeds or strains of chickens that lay eggs of superior nutritional value and significantly lower cholesterol than other chickens. Geneticists have tried to develop a strain of egg layers that would produce lower-cholesterol eggs, but their efforts at genetic manipulation have proved futile. Chickens, like humans, need cholesterol for their normal development. Hens that producer lower-cholesterol eggs would be unable to reproduce: the amount of cholesterol in their eggs would not be sufficient for development of a viable chick.

Animal nutritionists have been able to alter the diet of laying hens so that their eggs do contain less cholesterol than the standard egg. By definition from the US Food and Drug Administration, that means an egg must have 25% less cholesterol or fat in order to claim “less” or “reduced” on their product.

The producers achieve these reductions in fat and cholesterol by selecting eggs from hens of certain ages that are fed on special diets. No drugs, hormones, antibiotics or iodine derivatives are involved.

Sounds like it’s just easier to eat less eggs than put chickens through a diet regimen.

Eggs Higher in Vitamin E

By feeding hens on diets high in vitamin E, egg producers can produce eggs that contain significantly more vitamin E than ordinary eggs. Given its benefits, including its role as an antioxidant, some people may be interested in foods containing higher levels of vitamin E.

Of course, you could get your vitamin E from almonds and swiss chard to avoid paying the extra price for fancy eggs.

Omega-3 Eggs

Egg producers can change the amount and type of fatty acids in yolks by feeding hens diets on varying amounts and types of fat. When flax seed, fish oil, or other feed ingredients high in omega-3 fatty acids are fed to hens, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids accumulate in their eggs’ yolks. Consumption of these fatty acids has been associated with normal brain and retinal development. Omega-3 fatty acids may also improve immune responses. Because of the benefits associated with eating foods that contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, some egg production companies now market eggs with a higher content of these compounds.

Call me cynical, but I imagine there’s nothing better than eggs from backyard chickens. Chickens that eat a diet of greens and insects have more Omega-3 fatty acids in their eggs than chickens fed on soybeans and corn. If you can, skip the grocery store, and raise your own laying hens. It’s easier said than done, but much more rewarding. 

Information from University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache

    Peanut Butter Cheesecake  I’ve been on a cheesecake rush lately. It’s not looking good for my diet, but cheesecake is one of my favorites IF it’s done right. This time I wanted to do something a little more rich. So I combined chocolate and peanut butter for a super creamy cheesecake.

peanut butter cheesecake with chocolateWe’ve probably all seen the cheesecakes turned into peanut butter cup monstrosities in the grocery store and even some restaurants. But more isn’t always better. I wanted to do something a little more classic and grown up looking.

This recipe calls for one cup of peanut butter. And instead of a graham cracker crust, I used peanut butter cookie crumbs and finely chopped peanuts. For the crust I just scraped the filling out of Nutter Butter cookies. The result is a subdued, peanuty crust with a super rich cheesecake topped with chocolate. What could go wrong besides your waistline? peanut butter cheesecake with chocolate ganache


peanut butter cheesecakepeanut butter cookie crustpeanut butter cheesecake


4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese (room temperature)

1 ½ c. white sugar

¾ c. milk

4 eggs

1 c. sour cream

1 c. creamy peanut butter

¼ c. all-purpose flour


1 ½ c. peanut butter cookie crumbs (Nutter Butter with the filling removed)

¼ c. finely chopped roasted/salted peanuts

2 Tbs. melted butter

Chocolate Ganache

4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

½ c. plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

2 Tbs. butter cut into pieces


1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch spring form pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix cookie crumbs, finely chopped peanuts and melted butter until crumbs are moistened. Press onto bottom of spring form pan and push slightly up sides of pan, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Bake for 5 minutes at 350° F. Once done, let cool.

3. Once the pan is cool, double wrap bottom of spring form pan with wide foil so that water can’t seep into the pan for the water bath later.

4. In a large bowl, mix room temperature cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Blend in milk, and then mix in eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate on low speed. Mix in sour cream, peanut butter and flour until smooth. Pour filling into prepared crust.

5. Put spring form pan into a larger rimmed pan, and fill the larger pan with hot water until water is about 1-inch up spring form pan.

6. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 10 minutes. Turn the oven off, and let cake cool in oven for an additional 2-4 hours. This help prevent cracking from cooling down too fast.

7. Remove from oven, remove spring form ring, and then let cool to room temperature before chilling in refrigerator.

Chocolate Ganache

1. Bring the cream to a boil, then pour half the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds.

2. Working with a whisk or rubber spatula, gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles, starting at the center of the bowl and working your way out in increasingly larger concentric circles.

3. Pour in the remainder of the cream and blend it into the chocolate, using the same circular motions.

4. When the ganache is smooth and shiny, stir in the butter piece by piece. Don’t stir the ganache any more than necessary to blend the ingredients. This will help keep it smoother and shinier.

5. Make sure the cheesecake it completely chilled before topping with ganache. Spread evenly over top of cheesecake and chill.


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Friday, September 11, 2009

fastfood@home: Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie

Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie CopycatFor many, a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie brings back fond childhood memories of a soft cookie with a smooth cream filling. Not me though. I had my first one this year and I just learned what I’ve been missing. But not content just buying it from the store, I challenged myself to make it at home.

Turns out, making it at home is pretty easy with all the copycat recipes on the web. But if there’s such a thing as a healthy cookie, this recipe is definitely not one of them. The filling is what you’d expect. Sugar, shortening and even marshmallow creme. But it turns out to be a good representation of the creme in the Little Debbie cookies. Oatmeal Cookie Sandwich

The cookie definitely has more of an oatmeal cookie taste than the original Little Debbie. But this cookie can stand on its own. You don’t need the cream filling for this recipe to become one of your favorites for oatmeal cookies.

One thing to note is the cookies spread out quite a bit when cooking. I used a medium scoop with a quick release and spaced them further apart than a regular cookie recipe.

Printable Version

1 cup butter

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups quick oats


Cream Filling

2 teaspoons very hot water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow cream

1/2 cup shortening

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla


    1. In large bowl, cream margarine, sugars, molasses, vanilla, and eggs.

    2. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.

    3. Add to the creamed mixture; mix in the oats.

    4. Drop dough by Tbsp on ungreased sheets.

    5. Bake at 350°F.

    6. Bake for 10-12 minutes,or until just starting to brown around the edges.

    7. They will look moist; don't overcook.

    8. While the cookies bake prepare the filling.

    9. In small bowl, dissolve the salt in the hot water.

    10. Allow this to cool.

    11. Combine marshmallow cream, shortening, powdered sugar, and vanilla in med bowl; mix on hi until fluffy.

    12. Add the cooled salt water and mix well.

    13. Spread filling on flat side of one cookie, press 2nd cookie on top.

    Oatmeal Cookie 

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    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Snails & Slugs Love Beer

    Snails PestsI have a feeling snails and slugs are going to be an issue next spring. The snails with shells are EVERYWHERE, but I haven’t seen them eating on anything yet. The slugs are the immediate problem. I’ve spotted them eating on my lettuce seedlings and roaming about in my compost bin. Luckily there’s a simple and safe solution to control these garden pests, and that’s with Beer!

    During the day you can see the slug slime trails glimmering in the sun, and they often lead to my raised garden bed. Growing up, my Mom used a shallow foil pie pan, added beer, and then the slugs would soon follow. For some reason they’re attracted to the beer. They get a whiff of it, climb in and drown. And by the looks of it, it’s more effective and safer than chemicals from the hardware store.

    slugs in beer Yes it’s gross. But it beats bite marks in your lettuce.

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    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Fresh Watermelon Granita

    watermelon granitaI hope everyone is having a good Labor Day weekend. Whatever you’re doing this holiday, one thing that will be at the center of many picnics and get-togethers will be watermelon. A fresh slice on the unofficial end of summer sounds like it was meant to be. But you could turn it into a frozen treat.

    fresh watermelon granitaDuring my recent visit to the University of Minnesota’s kiwi orchard, I was able to buy a few things from the nearby Apple House, also run by the U of M. They had some great Minnesota Alderman plums, apples, and watermelon. I bought them all. Once I got home and cut open the watermelon, I realized it had been through some stress. The flesh had caverns and yellowish discoloration in the middle, but for the most part, it tasted OK. So I turned it into the next best thing, watermelon granita.

    This is an easy step into the world of frozen ices, sorbets and granitas. All you need is watermelon, lime juice and sugar. Many granita recipes call for a simple syrup, which is just water and sugar brought to a boil. This helps the granita hold its shape when scooped out of the freezer with an ice cream scoop. But if you don’t mind eating a snowy mound of frozen watermelon deliciousness, do it the easy way.


    Printable Version

    5 cups peeled and seeded watermelon chunks 

    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


    Place the watermelon chunks, sugar and lime juice in a blender or food processor, replace the top, and blend on high speed until very smooth.

    Transfer the mixture to a 13x9 Pyrex baking dish and freeze for 30 minutes.

    Remove from the freezer and use a fork to scrape any ice crystals from the sides of the bowl. Stir to incorporate and return to the freezer.

    Repeat this scraping procedure every 30 minutes, or until the consistency is "snowy" when scraped with a fork or spoon, at least 4 hours. Then scoop into bowls or dessert glasses and serve.

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    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Toasted Pine Nut Couscous

    Toasted Pine Nut Cous Cous   I’ve been on a major sugar rush for way too long. Between cheesecakes and midnight snacks, I haven’t had the time to make healthier meals. I suppose cheesecake doesn’t count as a good lunch.

    Raw Pine Nuts

    Couscous has to be one of the easiest dishes out there. Once the water reaches boiling, you add the couscous, cover the pot with a lid, shut off the heat, and in 5 minutes it’s ready to serve. Talk about easy. Couscous is basically small granules of semolina wheat that soak up all the great liquid you add to your pot. That’s why recommend broth as opposed to water, for some extra flavor.

    I saw some pine nuts at the store and decided to buy them for my parrot, but my recipe testing ideas won out (although she did get some leftovers.) Pine nuts have a great flavor, with just a slight zing of pine. Most pine nuts come from the cones of the stone pine, and the ones in the grocery store are luckily, already shelled. They can be used in savory dishes like couscous, but are also great in cookies, breads, etc.

    Toasted Pine NutsI first toasted the pine nuts until they got some nice color and set them aside. They offer a nice texture to the couscous along with the sun-dried tomatoes.

    You can usually find sun-dried tomatoes in the produce section but I always end up looking real hard just to find them. It’s rare they’ll be on a top shelf for all to see.

    In this recipe I added an additional 1/4 cup water/broth, because the couscous soaked up the liquid until it was a little too dry. Couscous shouldn’t be runny or dry, but should have some good moistness.

    Toasted Pine Nut Couscous

    Printable Version

    1/4  cup  pine nuts

    2 1/2  cups  reduced-sodium chicken broth or water

    1/2  cup  small, chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)

    1  clove garlic, minced

    1/2  teaspoon  ground cumin

    1 2/3  cups  (10 oz.) couscous

    2  tablespoons  minced parsley



    1. In a 2 to 3 quart pan over medium-high heat, stir pine nuts until golden, about 2 minutes; remove from pan.

    2. In the same pan, bring the broth, tomatoes, garlic, and cumin to a boil over high heat. Stir in the couscous, cover, remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Add the pine nuts and parsley, and fluff with a fork. If desired, season to taste with salt.

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    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    field trip: Kiwi in Minnesota

    Kiwi in MinnesotaWhile looking at the website of our local paper, I just happened to spot a two-paragraph article about a field tour. The fruit at the center of it all? Kiwi. That’s right. Kiwi in Minnesota.

    Hardy KiwiI traveled about 45 minutes from my home in St. Paul to the Apple House at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center near Victoria, Minnesota. The big, metal building among rolling farmland and new home developments, reminded me of a barn. Instead of hay and horses, however, you can buy plants, gardening guides, fresh vegetables and of course apples.

    Kiwi Tour

    U of M OrchardA group of about 25 of us met outside the Apple House. Our group ranged from people with a general interest in growing kiwi in their backyard to farmers looking for a new crop. We began our trek across the busy highway to the testing orchard. There, they grow different varieties of pears, apples, grapes and now kiwis to see what’s marketable and what can grow in Minnesota’s climate. The discoveries here will help local farmers find new crops to benefit themselves, consumers, and the environment.

    Kiwi TourOur tour guide was U of M's kiwi curator, Bob Guthrie. Pictured above, he’s using a refractometer to test the sweetness of one of the kiwifruits. Guthrie plants and tests kiwi plants at the U-of-M’s orchards and at his home in Roseville, MN. He’s part Bill Nye the Science Guy and your favorite high school science teacher. He has the passion and eagerness to share his knowledge about kiwis, and passed on tips to grow them at home. For example, kiwis need male and female plants to bear fruit. One male plant should help pollinate seven to eight females. We also learned kiwis are easily grown from cuttings. Guthrie even offered a visitor cuttings for free, even though they were ready to pay.

    KiwiJPEG-7Once inside the orchard’s border of fencing and shrubs, we walked to the far edge  and there, alongside grapes, we spotted the first row of kiwis. Now these aren’t the fuzzy kiwi you’d find in the supermarket. These are about the size of large grapes, with green, edible skin and they’re quite a treat. Many of the fruits still attached to the vine were hard. The ripe ones had the feel and give of a grape when slightly pressed between your finger and thumb. As we walked down the row, we were encouraged to give the vines a little shake. If a few kiwis fell off, then they were likely the most ripe and ready to eat.

    Hardy Kiwi FruitPictured above, it looks like a perfect mini kiwi. Each one seemed to have their own flavor. Some were really sweet, others tasted like an apple, and yet others tasted just like mini kiwis. I was surprised to learn, they can be dried like raisins and even made into wine. These are other options for farmers whose kiwis may not be the best looking for fresh-eating. 

    Hardy KiwiThe first rows we toured were the oldest of the test beds and they’re not in a spot that is conducive for growing kiwi. First, they were situated East-West. Apparently the plants are best situated North-South. This will help prevent sun burn on their vines and will allow them to shade themselves from the elements.

    Second, kiwifruit likes part shade. New homes had been built that destroyed the forest and therefore destroyed the kiwifruit’s shade and protection.  To conquer that, their newest system for testing, is a somewhat elaborate, wire pergola.

    Hardy Kiwi VineKiwis grow on vines that climb quite vigorously. This pergola system will give the kiwis shade, allow easy harvest and abundant room to spread out and make its own canopy. The pergola is also situated North-South so they’ll be able to test their own suggestions at growing kiwi successfully in colder climates. Most hardy kiwis are able to grow in zones 4-9, but ‘Arctic Beauty’ can grow in zone 3. Researchers recommend a thick layer of woodchips that not only protects the roots at winter, but it also helps keep in moisture during the summer. The result is a much denser and extensive root system, which will help in the growing season.


    Kiwi Pergola

    Kiwifruit Pergola

    University of Minnesota KiwiThis pergola is so high, that it’ll make harvesting a breeze, as the fruit hang down for picking.Kiwi Pergola System

    Kiwi Pergola U of M

    Arctic Beauty Kiwi The pink-tinged leaf above is from the kiwi called “Arctic Beauty.” In the springtime nearly all the leaves have pink on their tips. This variety can be found in many garden catalogs. It’s hardy to zone 3, hence the ‘Arctic Beauty’ name.

    Silver Vine KiwiPictured above is the kiwi called Silver Vine. This is perhaps the only hardy kiwi that changes color once ripe. It’ll turn a golden color when ready for picking, but it’ll also attract Robins.

    Kiwi CrossThis is one of their hybrid crosses. It’s 3/4 hardy kiwi, and 1/4 fuzzy golden kiwi. You can already see the drastic size difference in leaves as compared to the regular hardy kiwis. I believe this cross has already survived one winter. Since it’s male, they don’t know how big the the fruits will be until they can get a female ready to produce.

    Kiwi VineA tropical expression of foliage that does quite well in negative zero winters.

    KiwiAbove is a kiwi vine that’s being trained along a wire T-bar system similar to grapes. Researchers believe their pergola system is better suited for growing kiwifruit however.

    Tasting Kiwis Everyone was eager to taste these little fruits. You may spot them in the grocery store occasionally, but it sounds like a few more people are ready to grow their own. You may even want to try them in your garden. 

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