Monday, April 26, 2010

OMF seeks MPLR

I came to an important realization today.

I haven't been to any amazing restaurants here. It sounds sort of disheartening, but its also interesting how long its taken me to notice.

When it comes to food, even foodies get complacent, accepting...we don't expect that every place that we go to is going to be great, and we take comfort in the familiarity of chains when we need to. So after a while, you forget that there was a time when thinking of a breakfast sandwich made your mouth water, and imagining eating an expensive fish dish made you want to start saving up so you could justify eating it again as soon as possible.

It sounds like I'm treating food as a metaphor for something else right now, doesn't it?

It's impossible to not be hopeful, though. This weekend, I had a certain vegetarian friend visit, and I tried to find a restaurant with good vegetarian options for her. Given that the John Morrell & Co. meat processing plant is in Sioux Falls and whole regions smell like bacon all the time, I don't think a lot of people really get vegetarianism here.

 Vegetarianism may have not made it to Sioux Falls, but the Double Down certainly has! Source

We went to Puerto Vallarta, a local Mexican restaurant in town, mostly because they had a sizeable number of things on their menu that did not include meat, and they seemed to grasp the difference between cheese and processed cheese food. Mexican food in general is usually not that hard to make vegetarian, and their options are usually not too bad.

This was something else. I don't want to turn this into a big rag on Puerto Vallarta, because as a restaurant, I'm sure lots of people would be fine with it, and they didn't do anything wrong really, customer service-wise. So I'll just put it in the words of my friend: "it is, in fact, possible to a) ruin a vegetarian burrito and b) use too much butter in cooking."

Harsh words from a lady from the Dairy State. This burrito was, despite being full of vegetables, the most buttery thing I have ever eaten. 

Which just sort of gives you further proof that this town does not get vegetarianism. Its as if they were trying to mask the taste of vegetables (eww! gross!) with as much butter as possible, as if no one, even someone who ordered a vegetarian burrito, would ever actually want to taste vegetables.

So, I'm a little disheartened right now. I almost don't want to go to restaurants anymore. I'm just not sure that this level of mediocrity is worth it. Or maybe I should post an ad, like in the personals section:

OMF seeks MPLR: Open-Minded Foodie who's been disappointed by the dining scene in the past, seeks Moderately Priced Local Restaurant to patronize on a long term basis. Fresh ingredients and creativity is a must. Open to any ethnicity. Message me if interested.   

Props to my sis for giving me the personals idea in her dance blog, All She Wants to Do Is. With any luck, we'll both find the illusive restaurant/dance partner we both seek.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Camp Food: A Lesson from the Pros

Want to learn how to make really awesome camp food? Take a lesson from the manly men of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association. This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to enjoy the kayaking expertise and devour the food of these experienced outdoorsmen. But on to the food,

Step one: The Dutch Oven

This is not your mommy's Le Creuset (although I do loooove their new Cassis color). Traditional dutch ovens like these were meant for camp fire cooking: heavy cast iron, standing on approx. 2 inch high feet, with a lipped lid, meant for piling coals under and on top of for heating from both directions. All of these meals were prepared in a dutch oven like these two.

Step Two: The Ingredients

  Camp food is usually a fascinating mixture of real, fresh ingredients, prepared in a simple, hearty style....

And unabashedly canned and store bought ingredients, used for their convenience and portability. I'm not sure if I'd ever seen canned chicken breast before. Yet somehow, it all comes out tasting amazing. Maybe its the camping, maybe it's the company.

Step Three: The Food

We had three awesome dutch oven dishes. The first was a stew, made from tender marinated steak, potatoes, red onion, red, orange and yellow peppers with a dash of salt and pepper.

Cory, who made this dish, marinated the steak beforehand and brought it along in a cooler, so it had plenty of time to get deliciously tender. It was simple, fresh, and delicious.

Next, we had a tortilla soup, made by Peter. He says it was "just a Shore Lunch mix," but really, he's being modest. 16 cups of water, 2 packets of tortilla soup mix, a can of diced tomatoes, canned chicken breast, heat it all up and voila!

  It tastes a lot better than the picture I took. Add some crumbled tortilla chips, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, and dear Lord, was that amazing. And this pot was HUGE. It was also completely not what I would expect to eat on a camping trip with a bunch of guys. I think I might be looking for some Shore Lunch mix for myself next week.

Finally, we concluded with what turned out to be the group favorite: Enchiladas, again, made by Peter (who I should clearly camp with more often). He took probably a pound of hamburger meat, fried it up, added a can of cream of chicken and a can of cream of mushroom soup, then spooned the mixture into tortillas and folded them up. After the meat mixture was mostly gone, he piled the tortilla wraps back into the dutch oven, shelving them in layers upward. Then, he poured a can of enchilada sauce on top, smothering it with cheese, and covering it back up to bake for a few minutes. It came out like this:

Mmm, cheese. I'm not a huge fan of ground beef, but the enchiladas were muy tasty. It was more of a casserole than my traditional idea of an enchilada, but still way more elaborate than what I usually make.

Then, we of course concluded the evening with S'mores, despite being way too full. There's always room in this belly for a s'more.

All in all, I was very impressed by what these guys could make over a fire. Admittedly, when I go camping, I usually cook with a Coleman camp stove, because I'm convinced I'll burn anything over a fire (which I usually do). However, this weekend really made me want to try my hand at real campfire cooking more. Maybe when Dave and I go to the Black Hills some time later this summer, we'll challenge ourselves to just use the campfire to cook. It may be hard though; I really like my camp stove.

Thanks to Cory and the SDCKA for killer vittles and an awesome time!

What do you make when you go camping?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Workin' What You Got

It used to be, whenever I wanted to bake something, I would just go down to the store and buy whatever ingredients I needed. And no, I was not formerly independently wealthy (unless you count "living with your parents" as being independently wealthy). I just placed "brownies" in the same necessary category as "ibuprofen" and "kleenex;" when you need it, you need it.

Now, I'm trying to live a little smarter; I don't ALWAYS make cupcakes on a whim, and I try to not go out for every single ingredient I need.

Case in point: last Thursday, I wanted to bake. However, I decided that instead of making something based on my own whims, I would make something based on what I actually HAD. Imagine that. So, I started with a few ingredients;

 That's vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, white chocolate, and pecan pieces. And from this, along with some other ingredients, I made...

Pumpkin White Chocolate Pecan Muffins with Cream Cheese Drizzle
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil (substitute apple sauce for less fat)
3/4 c. canned pumpkin
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. white chocolate chips
1/3 c. pecan pieces

1. Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Grease and flour muffin pan, or use paper liners.
2. Mix sugar, oil and eggs together. Add pumpkin and water. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. More or less spices can be added if you prefer. Mix wet and dry ingredients together. Add the white chocolate chips.

3. Pour mix into prepared muffin tins, and fill cups 2/3 full. I prefer to sprinkle on the pecans at this point, because I think they taste better just on top, but you can mix them into the batter, if you like.

4. Bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

5. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove the muffins from the tin to cool. While the muffins are cooling, prepare the:

Cream Cheese Drizzle
1-2 tbsp cream cheese
1 c. powdered sugar
1-2tbsp milk

Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. You can add more or less powdered sugar until it is to the consistency you prefer. You'll want to be able to drizzle it off a spoon, but you want it to hold it's shape a bit, like a thin frosting.
6. Drizzle the frosting over the muffins. And EAT!