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Christmas Fruit and a Citrus Kick in the Ol’ Boxers

I had forgotten about a particular tradition until Lindz visited one of her professors before Christmas.  Her professor receives a box of citrus from one of his former students every year during Advent.  When Lindz showed up to visit, he had just gotten his yearly present and he realized that he couldn’t eat it all before it went bad.  So, Lindz ended up with a box of fruit.

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The Red Navel oranges (in the red tissue) were by far the best ones. Sweet, but with a prominent citrus tang.

The tradition that I forgot about was the giving of a certain bag of “goodies” at Christmas time.  This bag consists of an orange (maybe an apple too), nuts in the shell (usually peanuts), and some form of candy (candy canes, old fashioned ribbon candy, chocolate coins, etc).  With a bit of research on the good ol’ internet, I found that a lot of people used to get these in their stocking from their parents.  Personally, I received it from our priest every year as a youngster.  I’ve heard of this custom off and on over the years, but never knew the origin.  I’ve always assumed that it was a “healthy” and/or “inexpensive” gift.  But the more that I heard about it, it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t just a local Catholic thing, it was far more widespread phenomenon.  This year I finally took the time to do the research.  It turns out that the actual origins are pretty murky.  Frustrating, but not surprising.  On the web, a lot of people remember this as a kid, and many continue it with their own children.  Most people are comfortable with the answer of “I don’t know.  It was just something that grandma (or whomever) always did.”  They assume that it either came from the old country, (Italy, Poland, England, etc) or it dates back to the time when oranges were a rarity and hence an actual treat, or some combination of these two factors.  While I can see these two reasons being factors, it just didn’t feel right for how widespread and long lasting this experience is.

Wiki to the rescue!

In his (St. Nicholas) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes . Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him . . . and drops the third bag down the chimney (where) the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Ok, but how do we get from a bag of gold to an orange?  Here is where symbolism comes into effect.  The best explanation is that an orange is a similar color to gold and that oranges are similar in shape to bags of the shiny stuff.  Also, in some European countries, oranges have symbolized Jesus’ love for the world.  I’ve listed a bunch of the more interesting links that I’ve found at the end of this post.

Now that the history lesson is over, on to the food!

We weren’t eating the box of oranges as fast as we should have and they were in real danger of going bad.  So I had to come up with something to use a whole bunch of oranges at once.  I’ve had a venison loin sitting in the freezer since last fall and it seemed like it would be a perfect pairing for an orange pan sauce that I had in mind.

Since the sauce was going to be the star of the show, I simply cut the loin into medallions and pan fried them in a bit of oil.

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I’m not sure why I keep posting pics of frying meat, but it always look so good.  Well, that I love to see my cast irons being used.

As a side, I went with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic all mashed up together.

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I really love roasted root veggies and mashing them up makes for a nice variation. Especially if you plan on putting some kind of sauce on them.

Once the venison was fried off and resting, I made the pan sauce.  The recipe that I borrowed quite heavily from is the Orange Pan Sauce with Middle Eastern Spices from the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook.  I really wanted the sauce to be a “Friday-night-drunken-barroom-brawl” explosion in your mouth, so I went very heavy on the OJ and zest.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Shallots, minced
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 C Orange Zest
  • 3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 C Orange Juice
  • Salt

Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbs fat from the skillet (of whatever meat you are making).  Place skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute.  Stir in sugar, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond.  Add the orange juice, increase heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 C, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Off heat, season with salt to taste.  Spoon over meat and serve.

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Yes, it tasted even better than it looks.

I managed to create the citrus barrage that I was intending.  Plus, the other spices weren’t lost in all of the citric acid.  They were a nice background note in the sauce.  What is even better, is that the sauce worked equally well on both the meat and the roasted veggie mash.  All in all, I was quite pleased with this meal.  In fact, I am hoping the bag of lemons that we have in the fridge right now linger around a bit so I have an excuse to try this with a different citrus.

p.s.  Sorry if there is less snark in this post than usual.  Lindz has been hoarding our household’s share of it lately.

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An informative page, with emphasis on the Canadian Prairies.

A well-researched page (much more effort than I put into mine) that is a nice narrative.

This page looks at this Christmas tradition with regard to its English origin.

A sugar- and food-centric page that emphasizes the sweet and preservative aspect of fruit.

An interesting audio story from Minnesota Public Radio about the impact of a couple from Minnesota and their influence on the Christmas orange tradition here.

A not very helpful page with regards to Christmas oranges, but a still very interesting read.

A wonderful page full of Polish Christmas time traditions.

More Soup From The Arctic Blast

As previously mentioned, we had a bitterly cold spell here a couple of weeks ago.  In addition to the French Onion soup, I also made a Smokey Corn Chowder. I was excited to revisit this recipe because I’ve only made it once and that was several years ago, and it was nice hardy and decadent soup to fight off the chills.

The recipe is adapted from a Real Simple magazine issue from, well, several years ago.

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces (the recipe only called for 8 oz, but I had to do something with the other half of the package, right?)
  • 1 large Onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 20 oz Frozen Corn
  • 3 lbs Potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 3 C low sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1 C Half & Half
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Scallions, sliced on a bias for garnish (optional, i.e. I didn’t have any)

Over medium heat, cook the bacon in a stock pot until crisp.

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You really thought I would only use a half a package of bacon!?!?

Remove the bacon and place on a paper towel to drain.  Remove all but 2 Tbs of the fat and return the pot to medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic, paprika, and red pepper, cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the corn, potatoes, broth, and half & half, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

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Insert wry and witting comment here.

With either a food processor or a stick blender, puree half of the soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer soup to bowls and garnish with the bacon and scallions.

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I think I’m starting to get the hang of these foodporn shots.

I prefer to tailor make up spice mixes as I go.  But lately I’ve been trying to use up some of the spice blends that have been sitting around in my cupboard for way too long.  What I’ve been doing is looking at what spices the recipe calls for and try and find one that matches the closest.  In this case it was Penzey’s Jerk mix.  I’ve got absolutely nothing against mixes (in fact, the Penzey’s line is quite superb),  I just prefer to make it up as I go.  I substituted around 2 Tbs of the Jerk seasoning for all of the spices in the above recipe.  It turned out quite well.

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Hey! Who are you calling a jerk?

Brinner

BRINNER (brin-er) noun; (1) An evening meal that consists of breakfast menu items.  (2) A contraction of the words breakfast and dinner.

Usage: Man, I love having pancakes and bacon for dinner!  It’s my favorite brinner!

Origin: I heard it from Matt D. sometime last year (see above usage).  I have no idea where he got it from.

One evening, I was rooting around the kitchen looking for ideas on what to make for supper and I was coming up with a complete blank.  Out of desperation, I asked Lindz if egg sandwiches were OK.  Fortunately, she said yes because we may not have eaten otherwise.  She even threw in the idea of using some breakfast patties that we picked up at the store.  Of course I had to one up her and found a partial bag of mozzarella that needed to get used and decided to throw that into the mix.

I toasted and buttered some bread, made a couple of over-easy eggs, and fried off the patties.  The real stroke of genius (hey, it’s my story and I’ll tell it how I want!) was to pan fry the cheese so that it would melt and get a nice crust on it.  Assemble the parts and enjoy with several napkins.

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I laughed out loud when I opened the package and saw how big the sausage patties were.

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This is the reason why Lindz told me fry eggs over-medium for sandwiches in the future.

Arctic Weather and Homemade Soup

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been having a proper Minnesota winter.  More often than not the highs were topping out in the single digits with wind chills hovering around -15 degrees Farenheit.  If you’ve ever lived in this climate, you know how appealing a piping hot bowl of soup can be.  In the middle of this cold snap, our friend Ring came over for a visit and I decided to make some homemade french onion soup.

This is yet another example of the necessity to properly read through the recipe and plan accordingly.  The first night I ended up staying awake until one in the morning cooking the onions.  Not the best thought out plan.  Of course, the other option was to be eating at 10 p.m. the next night.  But, I digress.

The recipe I used is from the 9th season of America’s Test Kitchen.

Ingredients – Soup

  • 3 Tbs Unsalted Butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 6 large Yello Onions (approx. 4 lbs), halved and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • Salt
  • 2 C Water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 C Dry Sherry
  • 4 C low-sodium Chicken Broth
  • 2 C Beef Broth
  • 6 sprigs Fresh Thyme, tied with kitchen twine (I just used a heaping Tbs of dried)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper

Ingredients – Cheese Croutons

  • 1 small Baguette, cut into 1/2″  slices
  • 8 oz shredded Gruyère Cheese (approx 2 1/2 C)  (I used Mozzarella because I’m too cheap to drop $20 on cheese for one recipe)

For the Soup:  Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed pot (at least 7 quart) with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 tsp salt.  Cover, and cook for 1 hour.  The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.  Remove the pot from the oven and stir, scraping the bottom and sides.  Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar.  Continue to cook the onions until they are very soft and golden brown.  This will take 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer.  At the 1 hour mark, stir the onions and scrape the bottom and sides again.

(This is a good stopping point if you want to split up the cooking.  Just let the pot cool and stick it in the fridge till you are ready to get back to the cooking.)

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First part of the cooking done and I was off to bed.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and place it over medium-high heat.  Using oven mitts to handle the pot, cook the onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, approx. 15 to 20 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the bottom of the pot is coated with a dark crust, approx. 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Stir in 1/4 C of water, scraping the bottom to loosen the crust.  Cook until the water evaporates and another dark crust forms.  Repeat the deglazing 2 or 3 more times until the onions are very dark brown.  Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, approx. 5 minutes.

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Starting to look like a proper french onion soup.

Stir in the broths, 2 C of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Scrape up any final bits of browned crust on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Increase the heat to high and bring up to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard the herbs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Liquid added, flavors melded, and almost ready to eat.

For the Croutons:  While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree F oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at the edges, approx. 10 minutes

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Lacking the proper bowls, I found an alternative path to get the crouton with melted cheese on top of the soup.

To Serve:  Adjust the oven rack to 6″ from the broiler and heat the broiler.  Set individual broiler-safe crocks on a baking sheet and fill each with 1 3/4 C soup.  Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (don’t overlap) and sprinkle evenly with the cheese.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, approx. 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

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Not quite the standard french onion soup presentation, but every bit of the flavor is there.

From start to finish, this recipe took me around five and a half hours to complete.  Granted, half of that time was waiting for the onions to brown in the oven, so it was time-consuming, but not very labor intensive.  Just make sure you give yourself a nice big block of time when you plan on cooking this.

Ring gave me crap about not properly melting the cheese on top, but my feelings would have been hurt otherwise.  Lindz said that this even surpassed the french onion soup at one of the restaurants where she used to work, which previously was her favorite.  Score one for the TJ!  For a relatively short list of ingredients, I thought that this method gave a nice depth to the flavor of the soup.

Family Time, Beef Wellington, And A Happy Surprise!

My little sis, Sara, wanted a pepper grinder for her birthday this past summer.  So Lindz and I found her a nice one and gave it to her (it ended up being a couple months late, but we’re pretty chill about this kind of thing in my family).  Then my uncle Art discovered it.  Mom had written a note to remind herself to tell me that I needed to pick up one for Art.  Somewhere along the line, my nephew Cole found said note and added his name to it as well.  Christmas rolled around, so we gave a grinder to Art and another one to Cole.

Since Cole has been expressing an interest in cooking, Lindz and I decided to pick him up a cookbook as well.  The one Lindz selected was Jamie’s Food Revolution, by none other than one of my favorites, Jamie Oliver.  Personally, I like a couple of his other cookbooks better, but I couldn’t argue with Lindz’s logic.  This book is a spin off of the time he spent in Huntington, West Virginia, where he started a grassroots campaign to end obesity and to get people to eat healthier.  While working a bit with the community as a whole, he concentrated his efforts on the school lunch system because that is where he felt he could do the most good.  As a result, this cookbook is geared towards a novice in the kitchen and the recipes tend to be on the easier side.  Like I said, I couldn’t argue with her logic.

I ended up giving Cole the cookbook a day early because I told him that I was kidnapping him one day, so we could cook supper for people.  (I saved the pepper grinder for Christmas day and judging my how much he was bouncing around, I think he liked it).  The recipe I picked out was the Ground Beef Wellington.  Before we started, I told Cole that he was cooking and I was just there to make sure he didn’t burn the house down.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium Onion
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Celery Stalk
  • 1 Potato
  • 2 cloves of Garlic
  • 2 Portabella Mushrooms
  • Olive Oil
  • 4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
  • large handle of frozen Peas
  • 1 large Egg
  • 1 pound Ground Beef
  • Salt and Pepper
  • AP Flour, for dusting
  • 2 sheets Puff Pastry

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel and chop the onion, carrot, celery, and potato into 1/4″ dice.  Finely grate the garlic.  Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms to about the same size.  Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil over medium-low heat in a large frying pan and place all the veggies in it.

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Yeah, probably should have split this between two pans.

Pick off the rosemary leaves, finely chop them, and add them to the pan.  Fry and stir the veggies for around 8 minutes, or until they soften and color lightly.  Add the peas and cook for another minute.  Put the veggies in a large bowl to cool completely.  Crack an egg into a cup and beat it until it is mixed.  Add the ground beef to the bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Add half of the beaten egg.  With clean hands, mix everything up.

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Cole working hard and getting dirty.  As it should be.

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Cole demonstrating the proper folding technique to mix the ground beef and veggies.

Lightly dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Lay the puff pastry sheets one on top of the other.  Roll out the pastry so it is roughly 12″ x 16″.  Dust with flour as needed.  Turn the pastry so that the long edge is towards you and place the beef mixture along this edge.  Mold the beef mixture into an even log.  Brush the edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg.

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Here Cole is demonstrating how to brush on egg wash to the edges of the dough.

Roll the beef mixture up in the pastry until it’s completely covered.  Squeeze the ends together.  Dust a large cookie sheet with flour and place the Wellington on top.  Over all of the Wellington, brush with the remaining beaten egg.  Bake in the preheated oven for an hour until golden brown.

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Glossy and fresh out of the oven.

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Not too bad for a twelve year old.

Since we were cooking for a fairly large crowd, we did a double recipe.  Also, since I am apparently inept at finding puff pastry, I just used the croissant dough in the paper tubes.  Cole and I did have a minor argument about who got to pop them open.  I thought this recipe was a bit under-spiced, but it was well received by everyone.

And now for the surprise!

Chell tried out a different family recipe for coffee cake.  She said it was an easier dough to work with, but she liked the crumbles from the original.  I would have to agree with her on the topping.  These were a bit doughy instead of a nice sugary consistency.  The new recipe had cinnamon in it, which wasn’t a bad addition, but I prefer it without.  But most importantly, she made it with a poppy seed filling!  And even better, she sent a poppy seed one home with Lindz and me!!!

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Don’t take a drug test after eating this. Seriously. False-positive. Mythbusters proved it.

Vive la Crappies!

Earlier this past summer, I “liberated” some crappies out of Mom’s freezer and fried them up.  (Relax, she told me to take them.)  Well, I finally got around to writing about it.

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It’s pronounced “craw-PEAS.”

I didn’t do anything fancy with them.  I was just trying to use up some pantry supplies that I’ve had forever, namely some corn meal flour and panko bread crumbs.  The only seasoning that I added to each was a bit of salt and pepper.

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The panko bread crumbs are on the left, which, by process of elimination, means the corn meal flour is on the right.

Once they went through an egg bath and a dip in whichever dry mix, I just pan fried them in some oil.

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I know I’ll get some grief from my Aunties about this (they like to remind me heart disease runs in the family). But I think this sight ranks right up there with some of Rembrandt’s paintings.

The corn meal ones turned out quite exquisitely.  The panko ones, well, not so much.  The batter ended up mostly falling off.  The taste of what was left on was nice, there just wasn’t a whole lot there.  Fortunately the fish stood up well on its own, so it really wasn’t a complete loss.  What I should have done is pulverize the panko crumbs so they were fine like the corn meal.  Lesson learned.

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As you can see for yourself, the corn meal crappies turned out beautifully. And the panko crappies, well, like I said, not so much.

Categories: family, recipes, supper Tags: , ,

Ice Fishing and God’s Twisted Sense of Humor

Due to a screw-up in the work schedule, we ended up with a couple of unexpected days off this past week.  What does one do in Minnesota in the middle of winter when it’s 15 degrees out and a wind chill of 5?  Go ice-fishing, of course.

My boss (Steve), a co-worker (Clint), and I decided that we needed to go sit on some ice for a day and see what happened.  Since the St. Croix River is only a handful of miles from Steve’s place, it made sense to find a spot right off of Bayport.  Clint, being an avid fisherman, knew the area pretty well, so that sealed the deal.

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This is what I stared at for 7 hours.

Clint and I started the day on the Wisconsin side of the river, but we had absolutely no luck.  By the time Steve showed up, we were desperate and ready to move.  So we called our friend Matt (a fanatical fisherman) to see where we should go.  The short of it was we were on the wrong side.  We were good on the north and south, we just needed to be on the west bank instead of the east.  In fact, even before I got my line in the water, Clint pulled up the first fish of the day: a nice sized smallmouth bass.

Of course this got everyone excited, and in fishing terms means that we didn’t see another fish for an hour.

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For the longest time the was the whole of our catch.

After a few beers, one feels nature’s call.  Basically, as soon as I was indisposed, both Clint and Steve reeled in a nice crappie each.  While excited that we finally got more fish, I was beginning to feel left out.

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Stretching my legs, grabbing a beer, and getting out of a 5′ cube crammed with 3 guys.

After several fish nudging my bait, but never taking it, one finally started pulling on the line.  I quickly set the hook and started cranking it in.  Everyone was confused as my “catch” came up to the hole.  Once it popped out, there really wasn’t any less confusion.  Then it slowly dawned on all of us that I just pulled up a mudpuppy.  Or in slightly more scientific terms an aquatic salamander.  Considering that a large one will measure 13″ to 16″, the 10″ one I caught at least was decent sized.

So, not only did I get dubbed with the “good luck leak” moniker, I also got the “ugliest fish” award.  But as Steve pointed out, I didn’t get skunked.

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The ugliest thing I have ever reeled in.

I did sort of redeem myself later when I pulled in a big crappie on Steve’s line, but it still felt a little bittersweet.

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My “share” of the catch.

All in all, it was a decent trip.  Spent some relaxing BS time with my co-workers, got out and enjoyed nature, and even brought home a couple of fish for supper.  The grand total for the day was 2 smallmouth bass, 4 crappies, and a mudpuppy that got thrown back.

Oh, and by the way, the crappies were quite tasty.  I just gutted, beheaded, and scaled them before throwing them in a pan of hot oil.  They didn’t even need any seasoning.  Although I probably would have been better off filleting them, but I didn’t have the energy to do it.  I’ll consider it for the next time.

Lake of the Woods

Since the weather has been attempting to freeze my vitals off at work, I’m going to reminisce about a warmer time.

Every summer my family goes up to Lake of the Woods to visit and fish at my uncle’s cabin for a long weekend.  This was an odd year for a couple of reasons.  Work was a mess, so I couldn’t take off on Friday like everyone else, so I ended up driving six hours by myself after putting a full day.  Caffeine and MPR Classical made for relaxing trip.  I didn’t get up to the cabin until 2 a.m., but Lindz was a sweetheart and stayed up to wait for me.  Also, this was the first year that Grandma Bert couldn’t make it up.  She had just gone into the nursing home a couple of months prior.  The whole weekend just felt a bit off because of it.

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The view off the end of the dock. Lake of the Woods is behind the reeds on the horizon (behind the boats).

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Dennis and Patty’s dog, Charlie.

If I remember right, everyone came close to limiting out Saturday.  (I only went out on Sunday).

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The walleye and sauger from Saturday’s outing.

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Cole with the monster 30″ walleye he reeled in.

As has been the custom for the last I don’t know how many years, we do a huge fish fry and meal on Saturday night.

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Saturday’s catch filleted and ready for breading and the frying pan.

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One pan down and many more to go.

My uncle Dennis has a really sweet set-up for frying fish.  He’s got a large propane burner set up on a stand and a 18″ cast iron skillet.  You can fry a lot of fish very quickly.  Like I said, sweet set-up.

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My contribution to supper.

While most of the crew was out on the lake, I made some guacamole for supper (and to snack on while waiting for them to return).  I was a little bit bummed out that most of the people weren’t too crazy about it.  But I got over it pretty quickly by eating some more guac.  I was also a bit confused about the so-so reaction because these are the people that regularly eat head-cheese, kraut, pickled pigs feet, herring . . . .

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The token veggie tray.

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Homemade coleslaw with Grandma Bert’s dressing recipe.

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Fresh sweet corn and boiled new potatoes.

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Pickles and cream.

Pickles and cream is basically sliced cucumbers and onions done up as refrigerator pickles.  Then you add heavy whipping cream and a bit of sugar (to taste) for the cream part.  Now, this is going to sound really weird, but it is unbelievably delicious.  You take the pickles and cream and put them on mashed potatoes and enjoy.  Without a doubt, this is my favorite topping for taters.  I like it even better than chicken gravy and I think chicken gravy is what the Greek gods referred to as ambrosia.  Yes, the potato and pickles and cream combo is really that awesome.

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I’m sure that I love my sis for more than her baking skills, but staring at this picture, I’m having a hard time coming up with any other reasons.  J/K, Chell.

Quasi-fake mint Oreo type cookies and monster cookie bars were the desserts that made it up north this year.  To no one’s surprise, they disappeared by the time we left on Sunday afternoon.

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The snacks of choice while out on the lake.

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Sunday’s catch.

Like I mentioned, I went out fishing on Sunday.  We finally found a hot spot when we ran into a little engine trouble.  Well, more of an electrical fire.  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  There was a short in the wiring by the battery and it melted a bunch of the plastic insulation around some wires. Since the battery is in the same well as the engine, there was a whole lot of concern when smoke was spotted coming out of the hatch.  The only thing affected was the down riggers, so we made it home without further incidence.  But that did cut the fishing short.  Oh, well.

On the plus side, I did pull in a couple of decent sized walleyes.  Unfortunately they were in the size slot where we needed to toss them back (19.5″ to 28″).  The one that got me was the one that measured 27.5″  I was sooo close to my own trophy walleye.

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This is the one that I’ve decided to brag about.

Bear. Not-Bear.

I recently came into possession of some burger meat from a bear.  My uncle Art went bear hunting this year and he managed to get one.  For a man who usually doesn’t say a lot, he was sure talkative when the subject came up.  In fact, he’s the one who brought it up.  Also, it was his idea for me to take home a couple of packages of bear meat.  He kept telling me that he was planning on turning all of it into summer sausage, but once he fried some up, he decided that it was too good to turn into sausage.  Along with the meat came the warning that it was a very lean meat, so I should be careful when cooking it so it doesn’t burn.  And that I needed to cook it all the way through because there is a risk of trichinosis.  Between Art and Mom, I got this information about a dozen times.  Of course I remembered all of this from the last time that I had bear, approximately 20 years ago (the last time Art shot one).  Crap.  I’m getting old.

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Bear is a very red meat.

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These beef, i.e. “not-bear,” patties look very pale in comparison.

I didn’t do anything fancy with the bear meat.  I just formed patties and fried them up.  The reasoning was that I wanted to try it again with no alterations.  Also, we had a bunch of people over that wanted to try it for the first time, so I decided they should try it unadorned.  The beef I did a la Karen Burger style.

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I think there should be a picture of the bear patties frying. Therefore, there is a picture of bear patties frying.

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Frying the other side.

Once both the bear and not-bear were fried up, they looked a lot alike:

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I was trying to do an “artistic” shot here with the not-bear.

Once I had everything ready for supper, I stepped into the living room to let everyone know that the food was ready.  In an apparently futile attempt to streamline the process, I had the meat separated into two different (and distinct) bowls.  I held one up and said “Bear,” and then held the other bowl up and said “Not-bear.”  I then had to explain it again thirty seconds later when they stepped into the dining room.

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The crew chowing down on bear burgers and watching Big Bang Theory.
(L to R) Lindz, Matt, Sheryl, Dave, John, and Janessa’s foot.

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Since Janessa didn’t fit in the previous shot, she gets her own picture. Well, that and she always has the greatest facial expressions.

Since you’ve read this far, I should actually tell you about the flavor of bear.  The steak that I had twenty years ago was very sweet.  I know that sounds odd, but that was the dominant flavor.  It was by far the richest piece of meat that I had ever eaten, before or since.  It was only about a 8 oz steak and I was a teenage farm boy, nevertheless I could barely finish the thing because of how intense the flavor was.  The best way that I can describe the sweetness is to liken the taste to beef with a berry sauce.  Not 100% accurate, but it should at least point you in the right direction.  This is what I was expecting when I was frying up the burgers.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I tried the burgers.  It had a lovely game flavor (you definitely knew you weren’t eating beef), but it was lacking in the rich, intensity that I was searching for.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it immensely and I’m plotting to swipe another package over Christmas.

Condolence Chili

Our friend Dave made this recipe for us when Lindz found out that she didn’t get into any of the Ph.D. programs she applied to.  Which in hindsight was a good thing, but that is another story.

A handful of months go by and Lindz wants to make some soup because our friends Paul and Jill are coming over for the evening.  Lindz decided to make chili and got the recipe from Dave.  By some freak coincidence, this happened to be the day that Alice had passed away.  Earlier in the day, Lindz got all the ingredients necessary, so I decided that we might as well make the chili since we still wanted Paul and Jill to come over.

Our track record with the chili is 2 crappy times out of 2 times eaten.  I dubbed this recipe Condolence Chili because of this record and the fact that it’s good enough to distract you (even for a little bit) from your sorrows.  It’s best eaten with some really good friends.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lbs of Ground Meat (we used Chorizo with the cases cut off)
  • a 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 3 15 oz cans Beans (we used Black Beans, but feel free to mix them up a bit, i.e. black, pinto, navy, etc.)
  • 2 Chipolte Chilis in Ancho Sauce
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 3/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbs Oil
  • large Onion, medium dice
  • Cumin
  • Chili Powder
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced

Put the tomatoes, beans (drained and rinsed), chipotle chilis, sugar, and 1/2 tsp of salt in a large stockpot and bring to a simmer.  Continue to simmer until needed at the end.  Heat 2 Tbs of oil in a large skillet over med high heat and add the onion, chili powder, cumin (both to taste, about a Tbs each), and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt.  Mix well and cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.  Increase the heat to med high and add the ground meat.  Break it up as it cooks and cook it until it is no longer pink.

I know it sounds weird, but I find browning meat relaxing. Maybe it has something to do with the smell.

Transfer the meat/onion mixture to the stockpot and bring back to a simmer.  Let this cook for a minimum of 15 minutes.  Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve.  Like any soup or stew, the longer you let it simmer, the better the flavors will blend.

As usual, I serve chili with grated cheese, diced onions, and sour cream on the side so people can add what they like.  I personally add them all.

This is a welcome sight no matter what else is going on in your life.

With cornbread as the obvious number one choice, what is the next best thing to go with chili?  That’s right, garlic bread!  Lindz talked me into making it the way I did when we lived back in Decorah.  Not that it took any convincing to get me to do it.

Ingredients:

  • loaf of French Bread
  • 2 sticks of Butter (yup, that’s a half of a pound), softened
  • 2 4-4.5 oz jars of Minced Garlic

Slice the bread horizontally down the center (or into 1″ rounds).  Spread a stick of butter on each half and then a jar of garlic on each half.  Hey, I never said this was a healthy recipe.

You maybe having a knee-jerk reaction to the amount of butter and garlic. But don’t knock it until you try it. I’ve gotten very good reviews.

Place the bread on a baking sheet and put into a preheated oven (at 375 degrees) for about 20 minutes.  I’m not actually sure about the time, I just check it every five or so minutes.  Pull it out of the oven when the bread is golden brown and toasted.

This is a very effective anti-vampire recipe. I haven’t seen one since I’ve been eating this.

Jill is a master of lettuce salads.  This time she brought over one that contained apples, raisins, feta cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette.  It had a nice blend of flavors with the crisp apples, sharp feta, the sweetness of the raisins, and a nice tang of mustard and vinegar.

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Even if you don’t like rabbit food, you should try this flavor combo.

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This is Jill. This is a glass of wine. This is Jill with a glass of wine.