Tag Archives: cooler challenge

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipes: Booze Smoothies!

I promised you the last recipe today. I also promised you a wrap-up. One of those promises is going to be fulfilled, the other is going to have to wait until my writer’s block goes away, hopefully Monday. I have to say, though, that while I love all these recipes, these two are my favorite. Not because they’re the most gourmet or anything, but because damnit, I want some fruit and booze (hey, it’s been a long week)!  So, take it away, Gaylin!  (As a note, if you guys haven’t been checking out the recipes and comments on her blog, go there now–there’s all kinds of extra goodies over there from this series, as well as bunches of yums otherwise unrelated!)

Frozen Fruit Booze Smoothies
I had originally meant these smoothies to serve as an alternative to breakfast, but when it came right down to it, the bottle of local rum was staring me in the face when I started the whole process and before I knew it, we had what we like to call in our house “booze smoothies.”
The recipe starts with fruit we freeze during the harvest time, when they’re in season. Strawberries typically come from Maple Creek Farm, our CSA, but we occasionally get them from other farms that sell at the farmer’s market near our house. One of them isn’t on the web. Burda’s Berry Farm, located in Three River’s, Michigan. Their berries are always great quality and when they feel the fruit has passed its prime for eating out of hand, it’s picked and turned into other things, like jams and jellies. In addition to strawberries from them we also get blue berries. Another berry farm we get fruit from is Bigelow’s Berry Farm.
Most of the berries we get from our farmers are super ripe when we get them, so we process them the same day they land in our kitchen, for maximum freshness. What we can’t use that day or the next, we’ll clean or hull, and then spread out in a single layer on cookie sheets that fit in our freezer. Once completely frozen, the individual fruits go into freezer bags and await whatever insanity we have planned for them in the middle of the cold months when we’re craving the fresh fruit that’s never available except from far flung places off the American continent.
So, to make our fruit smoothies, I put an extremely generous cup full of mixed, frozen berries, into the blender, and to that I added an equal amount of frozen peaches. I topped this with the last two scoops of homemade peach ice cream that had magically survived my husband’s assault (ok, I confess, I hid it so I could have some and then I promptly forgot about it). To top all this off, I added a good cup full of a locally made Pinot Gris called “Gris Gris” made by Vintner’s Cellars, a custom wine maker just down the street from my house (how cool is that for local!). This didn’t produce quite enough liquid for the processing, so we topped it all off with about half a bottle of our newest local spirits find, Freshwater Amber Rum from New Holland Brewery in my hometown of Holland, Michigan.
Whir the dickens out of all of this, and poof, booze smoothies, without ever having to resort to adding water from ice cubes. “Sheer genius!” was my favorite compliment from sharing these. They traveled in the cooler quite nicely in our large thermos (the one that’s never seen coffee in it) and were gone in the blink of an eye when people got wind of their yummy factor.

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipe: Venison

I’m a big fan of healthy food you can take on the go, especially since Thadd and I are pretty active. And, he needs hand-held foods for lunches because he’s often eating it while running between classes.  Empañadas are perfect, and this recipe is one I plan to try out as soon as my nephews get me some more venison (hey, guys, if either of you two are reading, this is a hint!). Take it away, Gaylin!
Venison, Wild Mushrooms, and Caramelized Onion Empañadas
My husband’s family is big on hunting for several reasons. Foremost among them, however, is our ability to control our source of meat and how it’s processed. Almost all the red meat in our house comes from deer we’ve taken off his family’s ancestral farm. Last year’s harvest included two good-sized bucks and we still had some of the ground bits left (the tenderloins were the first eaten, of course). I caramelized a white onion that I’d diced up, though that onion had seen better days and really needed to be used. To this, I added several cloves of mince garlic and the venison for a quick fry. The meat cooks alarmingly fast because of how lean it is. We still had some of the mushrooms left from the other dishes I cooked, so I added those to the pot too.
Now this is where my amounts get a little iffy. I’ve cooked a dish like this since before I was married many years ago, so I don’t really know the exact amounts, but I can tell you roughly what else it has. The venison needed a little sauce to really keep it from being dry in the meat pies. I cast about in the fridge and found a lonely little bottle of homemade stout beer that a friend had gifted my husband with and it bravely sacrificed itself to the cause. To this, I added a goodly splash of soy sauce and another goodly splash of some homemade white vinegar I had on hand. Spices added included a large quantity of black pepper, but also a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, long pepper, cubebs, and salt. All this simmered away merrily at medium low heat until the liquid had turned to a thickened gravy and everything was nicely coated.
 This is where I used Shawn’s awesome crust recipe using some of the last of the homemade apple sauce I had on hand.
The flour was the whole wheat flour I had from Hampshire Farms. I love this crust because it behaves so very nicely to everything. My next goal with it is to roll it thinner. I am so glad Gaylin liked this crust, though I really can’t take credit for it personally. Vegetarian Times really hit a winner with this one. We make it in triple batches, freeze it with the banana-black bean filling they have in their recipe, and freeze them for snacks and lunches. They come out perfectly every time, and it’s nice that we have a use for any extra applesauce we make and don’t get eaten!
After the mixture had cooled to room temperature, I separated the pie crust into 6 good sized chunks, rolled them out into thin ovals, set the filling in the center and rolled them up, crimping the edges. These went into a 350F oven for about 45 minutes until the crusts had browned nicely and I was confident that the filling was hot through. Onto a rack to cool completely and then I packed them away from the trip, layered between wax papers just in case there was any residual moisture that leaked. I didn’t want them to stick together.
These would likely work with beef, too, and I may give that a try soon since I doubt I’ll get any more venison before winter (since it is, after all, illegal to hunt them at the moment). Tomorrow, the finishing touches, and a wrap-up of how this whole thing worked out!

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipe: Spring Rolls

I love spring rolls. They’re a great way to make salad an on-the-go food, for one. But, they’re also versatile and beautiful. I suggested them to Gaylin in my menu ideas, and she thought it sounded like fun. Since she’d never used the rice wrappers before, I mentioned that I often double them up to keep them from ripping open (they’re fairly delicate, so if you’re using anything that has sharp edges, like carrot sticks, this can happen fairly easily).

Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls

I have to confess the idea of using rice paper wrappers terrified the bejezus out of me when this was first floated as a possible recipe. I mean rice paper? It’s tissue paper delicate, right? My big fumbly fingers can can chop and dice with the best of them, but I am not a decorative cook by any means. And rice paper wrappers look…elegant. Delicate. Special. When I went to my favorite little Asian market near my house, I made the mistake of walking down the wrapper and noodle aisle (yes, they have a whole aisle dedicated to this!). And when I saw the neat little packages of square wrappers next to the round ones, I thought “Well, if it’s square, then it’s more like origami, right?” And into my cart went the packages. I’m so glad I did. These were my favorite dish of the whole trip.
The filling was key here.
I started with the last of several small containers of grains that I had gotten as gifts from people who know my love for trying new things (otherwise I would have used the grains from Hampshire Farms). Most of the grains had very little left in their containers, so I mixed them all together in an effort to clean the cupboards. In the end, the mixture included black rice, red rice, brown rice, purple barley, hulless barley, and rye berries. It was about two pounds of dried grains. I put these in our fuzzy logic rice cooker (one of the best high-cost items I’ve ever gotten for my kitchen), followed the directions for mixed grains, and let it work its magic while I was cooking the rest.
But here’s a little secret. Before I closed the lid on the rice cooker, I nestled 5 raw eggs still in the shell onto the mix. The rice cooker fit them all quite comfortably and when the grains were done cooking, I had 5 already hard-boiled eggs that didn’t require yet another pan on the stove. I use this trick almost every time we use the rice cooker because hard-boiled eggs are a go-to protein source for our household, whether they end up getting used on salads or simply eaten out of hand when we’re rushed for time and on the go.
While the grains were cooking for the filling, I sliced up some of the lion’s mane mushrooms we’d soaked ahead of time, adding both those and some red onions to my frying pan in some olive oil over medium-high heat. I wanted the onions to soften, but not to brown. As these were cooking, I defrosted the last of last year’s pea harvest (so happy to have found these lurking in the freezer). Once the mushrooms and onions were done, I tossed them together and let things cool for about ten minutes, then added a goodly amount of leaves and stems of sorrel that we needed to harvest before we left on the trip. The plant was already starting to bolt and we needed to use it up or lose it. The already green sorrel turned a lovely bright green when tossed with the rest of the ingredients. A splash of white balsamic vinegar, a quick adjustment of salt and pepper spices to balance the flavors, and this all went into the fridge.
The grain mixture cooked along its merry way and when it was done I spread it all out in a large baking pan and let it cool completely. This went into the fridge with the rest of the filling. Once everything was good and cold, I pulled out the grains, oiled my hands with a little olive oil, and broke up the large chunks of grains that stuck together, coating each of the grains in just a little oil. Into the oiled grains I tossed the mushroom mixture and mixed everything together completely, checked the seasonings again, and then got to work rolling them in rice paper.
Spring rolls make a great appetizer, lunch, or snack, and are so quick and easy. They keep in the refrigerator for several days, too, so you can make a bunch up ahead of time for cool summer snacks (try them with fruit salad, they’re great!). 

Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipe: Squid Ink Pasta with Fresh Spring Veggies

If you’ve been following for the last week or so, you know my regularly-scheduled blog posts have been preempted for a this series of recipes and how-to tips on eating as local as possible for an entire weekend vacation from a cooler and one tote. Our Weekend Cooler Challenge continues with this mouth-watering recipe from guest blogger Gaylin at More Than Just the Food (her text is in black):

Squid Ink Pasta with Fresh Spring Veggies

I’ll confess that the idea for this recipe came from a few wrinkly carrots that had seen better days. I hadn’t used them last season before they started to wilt, so I shredded them at that time and soaked them in water until they gained a bit of life. Firmer, I drained out all but enough water in them to barely cover them in a freezer bag. Sealed and laid flat on a cookie sheet, they  froze up nicely until I figured out what to do with them.

When it came time to make this dish, started some lion’s mane mushrooms covered and soaking in the hottest water that comes from my tap. The night before, I’d set the carrots in the fridge to defrost, along with a cup of frozen peas that we’d blanched and somehow not finished. On cooking day, these got set aside to drain while I was boiling the water for the pasta. This is the water I’d saved from making the gnocchi, and since it was already hot, it came back to a boil very quickly even after I added a bit more water to the appropriate level for boiling pasta noodles.

The noodles themselves were an impulse buy that The Big Guy bought at one point on an unsupervised trip to the grocery for beer. What he came back with was a lovely squid ink fettuccine, made by a pasta producer not terribly far away from our home, one I’d not heard of before, Al Dente Inc. (http://www.aldentepasta.com/) of Whitmore Lake, Michigan.

As with the gnocchi, the freshness of this pasta made it cook very quickly. Once at the boil, I added pasta and cooked it for exactly three minutes, tossed in about a cup of the peas that had defrosted overnight, cooked for one minute more, and then drained everything (again saving the water). To stop the cooking, I ran cold water over the noodles and peas, drained them completely, and poured them into my largest mixing bowl. I added the defrosted and pre-shredded carrots to the bowl and then set this aside.

In my largest frying pan again over medium low heat, I  added about a tablespoon of oil and 1 cup of chopped leeks (whites and light green only). These cooked until they were softened. As a few of the edges started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms that I’d soaked overnight after I’d squeezed them and chopped them. These got cooked up until the last of their moisture was gone and they too started to crisp lightly around the edges (it didn’t take long, mere minutes). I set these aside to cool completely.

While everything was cooling, I mixed up a quick, lemony yogurt dressing. It took about 1/3 of a cup of the yogurt I had left in the fridge, 3 teaspoons of olive oil, several tablespoons of lemon juice, salt, pepper, fresh tarragon and chives from my garden, and about 1/2 teaspoon of Charley’s Ballpark Mustard, the last of the container. Charley’s is a wonderful local mustard maker that’s a mainstay among Detroit Tigers baseball fans. It was one of the first mustards available locally that I could find and I keep going back to it, even though I’m perfectly capable of making it on my own. We’re growing our own mustard this year to make some of our own gourmet mustards because there’s just no one doing it locally that we can find (well, that and we just want to make our own mustards!).

Dressing, noodles, and veggies all got tossed together and placed in the fridge to mellow. It really does improve overnight in my experience. And no, the pasta doesn’t taste like squid.

The weekend food journey continues through this week, with a final round-up o the experience Friday. And, if you live in MI and love gnocchi, here’s where Gaylin got it (I’ve also linked it on the gnocchi recipe itself, along with their Facebook page)!