Friday, May 25, 2012

The Terroir of Minnesota

I made a special local/organic dinner on Sunday to celebrate one year living in Minnesota. We were also celebrating the one year anniversary of my partner's blog Day by Tao. Both of these choices are also part of a larger effort to live sustainably and connect to the place (ecologically and culturally) where we live. Both native northwesterners we moved to Minneapolis so that I could go to grad school. Minneapolis is a wonderful city, and we are starting to feel at home here. So making progress towards living our goal, but still a long ways to go.

I designed this menu to highlight the flavors of Minnesota and the season (early spring). The dandelion greens and some mint in the barley were actually foraged from my neighborhood:

Celebrating MN Menu

Roast lamb shoulder
Sauteed dandelion greens
creamy barley risotto
Maple Custard

If I were in Oregon I would have had to include salmon as the protein portion of the meal, but what represents Minnesota? I chose lamb. I am not really sure why, other than MN is a fairly meat and potatoes kind of place and something about a Sunday lam roast seemed to hit the mark.The lamb shoulder came from the Midtown Farmers Market (which opened this weekend!), but I don't remember the name of the farm. I used a crock pot and added:

1 2lb roast (in this case lamb shoulder)
a cup red wine
1 cup water
1 tbsp dried rosemary
1 onion chopped roughly
5 garlic cloves cut in half
2 carrots cut into one inch pieces
1 cup mushrooms cut in half

I pretty much just let all of those things cook in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. The carrots turned out pretty mushy, though still delicious. Next time I will add them with an hour or two left. I think the mushrooms are my favorite.

For the barley I sauteed 1/2 onion minced in 2 Tbsp butter, then I added two cloves of minced garlic and sauteed for 30 seconds. To the pot I added 1 1/2 cups of hulled barley (the barley is local and from Whole Grain Millers). I covered the barley with 3 cups of vegetable broth, reduced the heat to low, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes. When the barley was tender (if the broth evaporates too quickly just add more water so the barley doesn't stick to the pan) remove from heat and add 1/4 cup half and half, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup chopped mint. I found the mint by the sidewalk,  making it very local.
Dandelions in my backyard

My backyard is FULL of dandelions (jealous, right), and I know that they have not been treated with pesticides, making them a local and economical option for dark green vegetables. Dandelion greens are best in the early spring when they are tender. They are somewhat bitter, and they get more bitter later in the season. I sauteed them in a little butter for a minute or two.

Custard is pretty much my favorite dessert. It can come in pretty much any flavor, is super easy, relatively healthy, and tasty. This recipe came from the Moosewood Cookbook I think in the original version it called for full fat milk, but any milk will do. The higher the fat content the creamier the custard will be, but I don't actually think it makes that big of a difference. For the custard I mixed;

1 1/4 cup 1% milk
1 1/4 cup half and half
1/3 cup maple syrup
4 eggs (I use two to four depending on how many eggs I have)
a dash of cinnamon and one of nutmeg

Pour the above into 6 custard cups and bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes or until the custard is set and does not appear liquidy any more. I think custard is best chilled. NOTE: I don't own custard cups. I usually use 1/2 pint mason jars because I think they are cute, but I have also used a muffin pan.

I wanted to do like a creme brule topping for the custard so I sprinkled about 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts on the top and then mixed 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tbsp water in a small pan and heated it on low until it turned a light caramel color - about 3 minutes. I poured a thin layer of syrup over the cooked custard and then broiled the top for a minute or so. This worked pretty well, but then the custard was warm and seemed to dissolve a little so I don't know if I would actually recommend it. I think just sprinkling toasted walnuts on top would have been a better option.

I still miss Oregon and can't wait to go back for the summer, but I think I am connecting more and more with Minnesota. This meal represents that connection.

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