Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Casey Cooks for Me (Fig, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Arugula Pizza)


Normally mys sister, Casey, and I like to cook together but we’ve both been really busy this summer and she travels a lot for work.   Well, our schedules opened up to hang out last Friday night and she offered to make me dinner.  Of course I jumped at that.

She made a fig, goat cheese, prosciutto, and arugula pizza.  She’s made it a couple times and has been raving about it so I was excited to try it.

This is the recipe she followed:

  • 1 lb. pizza dough
  • Fig Spread (recipe below)
  • 4 oz. fresh goat cheese
  • 2 oz. prosciutto
  • Tow generous handfuls of arugula (gently tossed with olive oil and sea salt).
  1. Preheat the oven to 525 or 550 degrees F.  (Use a baking stone if you have one).
  2. Place your pizza crust on a lightly floured pizza peel (or the back of a lightly floured aluminum sheet pan).  
  3. Spread some fig spread on the pizza crust; enough to coat it but not too thick.
  4. Dot with crumbled goat cheese, then put the pizza into the oven (either on baking stone or a pan).
  5. Bake until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted, about 5-8 minutes. 
  6. Take the pizza out and top with folds of prosciutto and a mound of dressed arugula.    

Fig Spread
  • 4 oz. dried, black Mission figs, chopped
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine or ruby port
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar

  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized.  
  3. Add the figs, balsamic, and red wine, scraping up any brown bits that have accumulated at the bottom of the pan.  
  4. Once the wine is almost evaporated, add the water and sugar.   Simmer to reduce until the water is mostly evaporated and the figs are soft.  
  5. Pour the mixture into a food processor (or blender) and puree to the thickness you desire.  Remove.   (You can make this in advance and keep it in the fridge for a couple days.)

The pizza was excellent.  I would definitely make it; in fact I am craving it already.   I really liked the pizza flavor and instead of having a side salad, the salad was kind of on top.   It was a great balance of flavors. 
So, I tried really hard to just sit back and relax but I had some ideas that I thought would make the pizza better and couldn’t help but to offer up some input.   Thankfully, Casey was open to it and thought the ideas were an improvement.  

Add Cayenne pepper to the fig spread.  Casey is similar to me in that we both like a little heat, so of course cayenne pepper was added to the fig spread.   It was really good that way because the fig spread is pretty sweet, so this allowed for a sweet and spicy thing going on.   As I think about the fig spread, I might even consider adding garlic with the onions to add another layer of flavor.  Oh, and I might use honey instead of sugar. 

Brush crust with olive oil and pre-cook for 3-4 minutes.  Put the crust in for a couple minutes to start the cooking process before you add any toppings.   When I do this, I brush the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.   (Make sure to go all the way to the end of the crust with the olive oil so that the crust gets golden and has extra flavor with the salt and pepper.

Put the prosciutto on to cook with the goat cheese.  I though the prosciutto would be better if it was cooked with the pizza instead of added at the end.  Casey decided we should do a taste test and so we put prosciutto on half.   We both liked the cooked prosciutto better.   It got a little crispy and added a deeper, more robust flavor.  

Play with the ingredients.  I think you could also use blue cheese or gorgonzola in place of the goat cheese for a different flavor.   Also, the fig spread could be used on a cheese plate or in a sandwich too.  Lots of possibilities!

We had bubbly with the pizza.   It was actually a sparkling Gruner Veltliner (Szigeti Gruner Veltliner Brut N.V.) from Austria.  I really like Gruner Veltliners, especially with food, and I love bubbly so it was fun to have the combination.   I thought it was a good pairing.   The bubbly was light and refreshing and provided a good balance with the peppery arugula and heat of the cayenne. 

A family that cooks together, or for each other, stays together.  Cheers!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tangletown Gardens: Farm Tour

Last week, I ventured out of the city and deep into the country for a tour of Tangletown Gardens.  Tangletown Gardens is a 100-acre farm in Plato, MN owned by Dean Engelmann and Scott Endres. 

It was a lovely, hot summer day in the countryside.  

Let me start by telling you how the tour of the farm came about…  I’m a member of a local organization called Women Who Really Cook (WWRC).   It is a great organization of local women in the food industry.  I joined because I obviously love food and writing about it and promoting it (PR); and it is a great opportunity to network and to meet fellow food lovers.  The monthly meetings are held at different locations each month and this was our lucky meeting spot for July courtesy of host Beth Fisher, chef at Wise Acre Eatery. 

Women Who Really Cook
We started off the meeting/tour with a lovely feast made by Beth Fisher and her crew from Wise Acre Eatery, which is a restaurant owned by the farm.  

Wise Acre Eatery Crew
The meal consisted of pulled pork sandwiches with peach BBQ sauce, red cabbage coleslaw, potato salad, and fresh pickles; along with fresh lemonade and summer water (water with fresh herbs).  It was amazing!  
Amazing "snack"
Delicious Homemade Pickles
Fresh Lemonade and Summer Water (water infused with fresh herbs)

For dessert, we had frozen custard with rhubarb caramel sauce and brownie chunks on top.   I didn’t get a photo because I had to eat it quickly, before it melted.  (Temps were pushing 100 degrees).  

The ladies enjoying dessert

After lunch, we took a hayride tour around the farm.  The tractor was driven by Engelmann’s father, while Engelmann explained the farm.  

Dean Engelmann talking passionately about the farm.
Engelmann's Dad enjoying dessert.
About the farm…..

Dean Engelmann and Scott Endres met at the University of Minnesota and bonded over their shared agricultural heritage and a love of new ideas.  They started Tangletown Gardens in 2002.

It's easy to see Engelmann's passion for farming and pushing the envelope.  Stating, "If we don't fail regularly when trying something new, then we aren’t trying hard enough.”  You can tell that he holds holds himself and the farm to the highest quality standards. One term that I heard Engelmann say repeatedly during his discussion was “culinary quality.”   Everything they produce is with the goal of high culinary quality; be it the best carrot, the best pork chop, or the best potato for making French fries.   
Engelmann grows annuals, perennials and other plants for their garden center and landscaping services.  In addition to the plants and produce grown year-round in the fields and greenhouses, there is a lot of livestock roaming the farm as well.  

Engelmann raises Scottish Highland cattle, which is a breed of cattle that is more common in Scotland or Wales than rural Minnesota.  Apparently, The British Royal Family eats this type of beef.  As Engelmann joked, “If it’s good enough for the Royals, it is good enough for us.”

The hogs raised on the farm are Large Black Hogs and the rare Heritage Berkshire breed, chosen for their taste and also as a way to prolong the breed.  Engelmann mentioned that the pork chops from his pigs are more red than pink, stating that pork isn’t supposed to be white (referring to the pork campaign calling pork the other white meat).  “The commercial way of raising pigs, with vaccines being given practically every four minutes, changes the way pork should look and taste,” says Engelmann.    
Since pigs can't sweat, they roll in the mud to stay cool.
The chickens raised on the farm roam around cage free.  They also come in handy as lawn mowers by being moved around in their portable coop to new pastures that need to be “cleaned’ up.  Talk about self-sustaining; the animals are essentially put to work unbeknownst to them (they are doing things that are natural to them, such as eating grass or tilling up the soil).


Engelmann follows a rotational system, meaning that he will let parts of the land to go dormant in order to be rejuvenated.  When a section is taken out of production, it is planted with cover grass that is eaten by the cattle that, in turn, leave behind manure that is spread by the chickens. The hogs finish the task by digging up and aerating the soil.  After all, growing high-quality items is all about the soil and Engelmann seems to have this down to a science.  Even the food scraps from the restaurant are returned to the farm and either composted, fed to the animals, or added to the soil. 
Growing 16 different kinds of garlic.  
The items from the Tangletown Gardens farm can only be purchased at the garden center, through their CSA, or in the restaurant.  They don’t sell anything to middlemen or other retailers.  
While it doesn’t sound like a restaurant was part of the original plan, it seemed meant to be when the custard shop across the street from the garden center closed.  Engelmann and Endres bought it and opened Wise Acre Eatery, a restaurant developed primarily around the produce and livestock grown on the farm.  Essentially, a farm-to-table restaurant in its truest form.

Various vegetables picked on the farm at 10 a.m. that morning will be eaten by Wise Acre customers that evening.  Now that’s fresh.  

I had a great time on the farm and didn’t want to leave.  But, unfortunately, I had to rush off to get back to the city by 5 p.m. for an appointment. 

This experience was a powerful one for me.  We all keep hearing about farm-to-table and the importance of eating locally.  Well, it is experiences like this that really makes it hit home.  I’m a visual person and being there really helped me understand the importance of getting to know your local farmers and the care they put into the items they produce.  I can’t wait to meet more local farmers and support their efforts.  Having met Dean Engelmann and seeing his farm, the plants/produce, and the animals, it made me want to support him by rushing over to the garden center and certainly to Wise Acres Eatery.  

I’m actually going to Wise Acres Eatery tomorrow for lunch with a friend and can’t wait. It has been on my "to eat at" list for months.  I also get to interview Beth Fisher, the chef, for her involvement with the March of Dimes Signature Chef Auction.  It should be interesting to talk to her about her experiences working with the farm and working with the freshest ingredients for the restaurant.

I want to know your local favorites; farms, cheese, honey, meats, produce, whatever....   Talk to me.  


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fresh White Truffles (not the chocolate ones)

About a week ago, I had the following on my calendar: “pick up white truffle at Cooks of Crocus Hill.”  Cooks of Crocus Hill does crop shares and this year they had truffles on their list. Obviously, I couldn’t resist.  I paid my $35 and anxiously awaited their arrival from farm in Oregon (http://www.oregonwildedibles.com/).

This was the description on their website: The Oregon June Truffle (Tuber gibbosum) is a late spring/early summer white truffle with a short four to six week season typically centered around the month of June. While similar to the Oregon (Winter) White Truffle, the Oregon June is a rare gem and, in general, a little larger. The Junes have a slight garlic note and pungent aroma that will fill your kitchen and is perfect for infusing marbled meats, cheeses, butter, nuts and oils. These truffles love eggs and make a wonderful addition to egg based sauces. A fresh June truffle aioli is a perfect accompaniment to the bounty of fresh spring goodies from the garden. They also work well with starches such as rice, potatoes or pasta. Combine with wild morels of the same season for a taste of heaven!

When I went to pick them up, I was informed that due to the weather conditions, the truffles were smaller than usual.  To make up for it, I got four truffles instead of one.  Can’t complain about that. 

For the menu, I decided to use the truffles in an appetizer and a simple pasta – no recipes, just instinct on how I wanted to taste the truffles.

For the appetizer, I toasted slices of a baguette (with butter and salt and pepper).  Then I put on a layer of fresh ricotta, drizzled it with honey I bought at the farmers market, sprinkled that with fresh cracked pepper and topped it with small pieces of the truffle.   It was a really good appetizer (if I do say so myself). 

For the main feature, I decided to go simple with fresh pasta with a butter sauce.  I sautéed about a teaspoon of garlic with butter and added a splash of wine and a lot more butter.  

I used fresh pasta that I bought at the farmers market. 

I gave my husband the task of slicing the truffles really thin with a razor blade.   

Butter, pasta, fresh truffles, and fresh parmesan.  How can you go wrong with that?   It was delicious.  However, I will say that I was not happy with the pasta.  It had a gummy texture.  I was really mad that I didn’t just make my own pasta, which was my original plan.  Next time, I will definitely make my own pasta.  Yes, there will be a next time.   It was really fun to have a fresh truffles in my kitchen.  It brought me back to Italy and the sweet, little Italian guy who generously shaved lots of truffles onto my fresh pasta, while the table of New Yorkers at the next table bitched that “they didn’t get that many truffles shaved onto their pasta.”  Ha!  

This is the generous Italian man!  I found his photo - this is in 2007 in Orvieto.
The fresh pasta in Italy that cemented my love of fresh truffles.   

I love visiting Italy from own dining room table.  Although, I think I need to plan a trip back soon.

Sides: I served it with a butter lettuce salad with a buttermilk/shallot dressing topped with shredded parmesan.

Pairing: I served it with one of my favorite white burgundy wines:2005 Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Embrazees 1er cru.   

We visited this winery a couple years ago and fell in love with the region and the wine. Here are some photos from that trip to France in 2008.   (Man am I getting the travel bug.)   

This is where I actually tried the wine and fell in love with it.
The next day, we went biking through the countryside and  set out to find the winery - without GPS.  
Beautiful Wine Country

We found it!   We actually rang the bell but no one was home.  
Tough decisions!

FYI - I just organized all of my photos in one spot, which makes them easy to access.  I figured if  I'm talking about something, I might as well add the photo to fully share the experience.   Travel is definitely one of my passions and it is where I get a lot of my food inspiration.   

Do you have a memorable travel-related food experience?   Do share.  And include photos if you have them.