Community of a Plate Intern Brunch

8 08 2009

Intern Brunch, the Back Story

interns by Meredith Hart

After spending the summer hunting down stories to cover about people using local food to create a community, it seemed only natural that the four interns of Renewing the Countryside would share our own story of the community that we have built around local food. Like the people we have been meeting with all summer, we have very strong connections to local food in Minnesota and are all charged with keeping that passion and our budgets in line with one another.

On a cool Saturday, uncommon for late July, we all went out to visit the Guardian Angel’s garden plot in Oakdale then met at the St. Paul’s Farmer’s Market. We each had selected something to cook for one another for brunch and needed to carefully select the produce and products that would soon be filling our stomachs. As college students, we were constricted to a tight budget and even tighter cooking environment.

Though we started together, the St. Paul Farmer’s Market can become rather crowded rather quickly and we were soon going a variety of directions and meeting different producers for our products. Upon finally making all our selections and being able to find each other again, we were off to the University of Minnesota campus to my small kitchen to create our breakfast feast.

Small Space by Megan Hines

I live in an older house that has been split into four different units, in an apartment style setting that I share with three other roommates. We don’t have much counter space, a very small stove/oven, no dishwasher, and a small table for two, but we’re college students so we have often found it to be more than we needed. However, when you fill our kitchen with four people, an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, and three different dishes that need to be baked it is quite a different story.

It was quite a feet to hunt down all the ingredients and utensils that we needed within my kitchen, and luckily I had just enough flour to make both of the baked dishes work. We all divided into small sections of the kitchen, moving things out of the way to try to make space for our creations. Aromas of fresh dill, peppers, grated cheese, squeezed lemons, and raspberries quickly filled the small space, making our stomachs even more excited for the brunch to come.

Scone Ingredients by Megan HinesRecipes slowly began to take form, shifting slowly from a gooey mess to a batter that could not be mistaken for a baked treat or a bag of potatoes to breakfast fries. As items rotated out of the oven, the sweet smell of raspberry rhubarb muffins and a savory scent of cheddar dill scones made the time it took to bake them seem painfully long. A Turkish egg dish quickly took form on the stovetop while simple syrup to sweeten a delectable sparkling raspberry lemonade bubbled softly next to it.

Then almost suddenly everything came together at once- the baked goods cooled in the windowsill, the sweet lemonade was ready (and almost too beautiful to drink!), the eggs were the perfect consistency and the potatoes finally reached the level of crispness we were looking for.

Performing an impressive balancing act, we moved our mid-afternoon feast to an outdoor deck I am fortunate to have on the second floor of my house, just in time for it to start down pouring. We quickly moved everything back inside and improvised by sitting Moroccan style in the living room, with pillows on the floor around a rather small coffee table. Finally the time had come to toast to our creations and dig in to the wonders we had created.

The scones had a perfectly buttery, flaky texture with fresh pieces of cheddar, dill and onions creating a savory surprise in every bite. The rhubarb raspberry muffins were sweet and tart, balancing the fruit and root ingredients in each morsel. The eggs were a mix of peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and onion, in a traditional dish that Meredith had learned on a trip abroad,  which appropriately came with a story of how she had learned to cook it. The potatoes had a great crunch and herbed aromatics needed to round off the meal. Emily’s lemonade was a delightful addition to the meal, with a sweet yet sour concoction with pieces of raspberry that made it almost chewy while mineral water made it bright and crisp.

We slowly enjoyed our meals, discussing the points of each item and laughing at our misfortune for trying to eat outside during the only thirty minutes that it had rained all day. This summer we have created our own community within our organization and internship, which has stressed to us how important it is to have a connection to our food. Our plate was a celebration of the community of our relationships that have grown and the process of creating and sharing a local foods meal within our group that we have spent the summer sharing on behalf of others.

Megan’s recipe: Cheddar, Dill, Onion Scones

I had actually started the morning thinking that I was going to make sweet scones, which I had done before and really enjoyed, but decided that I would instead try my hand at savory scones. I love the texture and taste of scones and am a firm believer that they are the perfect any time of day food, and not just breakfast or brunch. I went into the farmer’s market without a recipe in mind but knew the main ingredients that I would need to make them – heavy cream, cheese, dill and onions.

Meredith and I started wandering around the Farmer’s Market while waiting for Emily and Sarah and found Eichmann’s cheese shop, one of the vendors we were hoping to run into while there. I love cheese, and couldn’t resist the 1 year aged cheddar they were selling. The bright yellow color was beautiful and the samples of other cheeses they provided confirmed that I was without a doubt buying from the right company. As I purchased my cheese for the savory scones, Meredith discussed the possibility of us coming to visit their cheese making production to document it for another story.

We then met up with the other girls and tried to think of an action plan, which quickly changed as I got distracted by Crystal Ball Farms, a vendor selling dairy products just a few feet away. The milk and cream were all sold fresh in glass jars, a charming touch that encourages people to bring back their bottles and continue service with the company. They boasted having the best chocolate milk in the state of Wisconsin, but not being much of a milk drinker myself, I was just interested in the heavy cream for the scones.

Onions by Megan HinesI then wandered around trying to pick just the right place to buy onions and spotted rows of fresh produce from a group of women that I knew I had to have. They were a great size, smell, and shape and looked fresher than some of the surrounding vendors. The last on my list from the market was dill, which I actually had a rather hard time finding. On my last hope in the only isle I hadn’t yet walked down, I found a woman selling beautiful fresh bunches of dill that I knew my scones needed to have. I added it to my arms, now full of fresh produce and then worried about re-finding the rest of the group.

Recipe from Food Network, Barefoot Contessa
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/cheddar-dill-scones-recipe/index.html

Ingredients

* 4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
* 2 tablespoons baking powder
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
* 4 extra-large eggs, beaten lightly
* 1 cup cold heavy cream
* 1/2 pound extra-sharp yellow Cheddar, small-diced
* 1 cup minced fresh dill
* 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk, for egg wash
(I added ½ cup fresh white onion)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Combine 4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Combine until just blended. Toss together the Cheddar, dill, and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough. Mix until they are almost incorporated.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 minute, until the Cheddar, onion and dill are well distributed. Clump into chunks/balls as large or small as desired. Brush the tops with egg wash. Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outside is crusty and the inside is fully baked.

Sarah’s recipe: Raspberry Rhubarb Muffins

I am not a chef. Stir-fry is about as complicated as I get on my small college apartment stovetop. And cooking takes time. The college schedule is rarely conducive to spending long hours in the same place. But baking allows me to whip up something quick, stick it in a pan, and do homework (or weeks of neglected laundry) while it’s in the oven.

So, while my kitchen-gifted peers were inventing savory scones and egg dishes, I settled on muffins. In keeping with the local spirit, I looked for a recipe from The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, Renewing the Countryside’s 2008 work of local recipes from local restaurants using local foods. I chose Joan’s Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins, donated by Joan Halquist, who owns the Ellery House Bed and Breakfast with her husband, Jim, in Duluth.

After our intern huddle at the farmers’ market, I hustled off to collect my ingredients. I bought 10 stalks of rhubarb for just $2 from a smiling, hunched over old woman who farms independently just outside of Stillwater, Minnesota. Then I scoured the market for strawberries. After experiencing a minor crisis when I realized strawberries were out of season by late July, I learned that raspberries make a palatable substitute. Emily led me to the table of Lorence’s Berry Farm, the Northfield farm where she had worked for five years. The table was covered in a moss of fuzzy red raspberries, and a $5 pint would be perfect for my muffins.

Recipe from Renewing the Countryside’s The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook

Ingredients

* 1 ¾ cups flour
* ½ cup sugar
* 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
* ¾ teaspoon salt
* 1 egg, slightly beaten
* ¾ cup plain yogurt (milk can be substituted)
* 1/3 cup vegetable oil
* ½ teaspoon vanilla
* ¾ cup diced rhubarb
* 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (or raspberries)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, combine egg, yogurt, oil, and vanilla. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture until all ingredients are moistened. Fold in rhubarb and strawberries/raspberries into batter.

Divide batter between 12 greased muffin cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle warm muffins with sugar after baking.

Meredith’s recipe: Turkish Menemen

(or scrambled eggs if you do it wrong like me)

For two weeks this past June, a friend and I took an amazing trip to Turkey and Greece for her graduation.  Of course before leaving we heard many stories and warnings about being young American women in a foreign country and were overly suspicious of just about everything. For some reason, however, we found ourselves doing everything the books tell you not to do, like walking down dark, deserted alleyways and falling for the tricks of carpet salesmen. Despite this, we eventually became enamored with Istanbul and all the incredibly generous and happy people that we met there. It was a fantastic experience and we’ve already decided we’re going back.

Some of those aforementioned generous people were an owner and his two employees of a shop located around the corner from our hostel. We were drawn in the first night by the interesting earrings on a display outside and it helped that we weren’t instantly bombarded by the vendors asking what we wanted. Looking for different designs, we were invited inside to see what else was available. We defied the travel books that night because three hours later we were sitting around a make-shift table with the three men eating traditional Turkish Menemen and receiving life lessons about hopes, dreams, and Paris Hilton. We felt it was a successful first night for our trip that was meant to be for cultural experiences and less about museums (we only went to two: one was an old building, the other a wine museum).

Menemen is simple and can be made with ingredients grown in just about every part of the world: eggs, tomatoes, and peppers. Other ingredients can be added in for extra flavor. The difference of this dish from scrambled eggs is the consistency.  The juice from the tomatoes combines with the egg to make it a half liquid half solid mixture and the pepper adds a little flair.  The colorful skillet is traditionally placed in the center of the table while bread is used to scoop out bites.  Forks and plates are acceptable for less inclined double dippers.

Turkish Menemen by Meredith Hart

Turkish Menemen Recipe (adapted from several online recipes and from the Turks themselves)
Serves: 4

Ingredients

*Olive oil
*1/2 yellow onion
*2-3 peppers of desired spiciness – chopped
*3 medium tomatoes or 2 large – chopped
*5 eggs – beaten
*Salt
*Pepper
*Feta cheese – optional
One loaf of thick bread

Directions

In a large skillet, cook the onions in the oil until translucent.  Throw in the peppers and let cook for 2 minutes.  Add in the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute making sure not to loose any of the juices.  Pour the eggs into the pan with salt and pepper and allow to cook, stirring occasionally. Add the feta cheese. Once the eggs are set, remove from heat to avoid letting the dish get too dry.  Serve with sliced bread and deep conversation.

Emily’s Recipe: Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade and Roasted Potatoes

I am a berry snob. I am, it’s true. After five summers working on Lorence’s Berry Farm in Northfield, MN, it is no wonder that I am prone to sternly investigating berries in grocery stores, and sadly turning away as I imagine the poor berries ripening in the back of trucks as they journey from California to Minnesota. Berries mean summer, and summer means berries. So when we set about to design our Intern Community of a Plate, I knew I wanted to do something with berries.

First, I searched for new potatoes. I wanted to make roast potatoes with rosemary and sage, using herbs Meredith grows in her garden. Rosemary and potatoes go together. They just do. Potatoes were not hard to find. I stopped at one of the first vegetable growers I saw and found beautiful, shiny new potatoes. I put the potatoes in my canvas bag, hoisted them onto my shoulder, and headed off.

Next, the main event: raspberries. It was the first time I have attended the downtown St. Paul Farmers’ Market as a customer. Needless to say, once I found the Lorence’s stall, it was strange to find myself looking at berries from the customer side of the table, and the familiar faces on the vendor side were surprised to see me there. I purchased three pints (one for brunch, two for eating later!) of the summer raspberries, and carefully carried them as I searched for the other interns. The Moosewood Cookbook has a wonderful sparkling raspberry lemonade recipe, and it seemed a perfect way to use fresh summer raspberries.

Roasted Potatoes- An delightfully inexact science
Serves 4

Ingredients

*10 new potatoes, chopped into small cubes or sliced
*1 tablespoon rosemary
*1 tablespoon Sage
*2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
*Salt
*Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400. Chop potatoes, sage, and rosemary. Mix together with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, either in a large bowl or a gallon ziplock bag. Put on a cookie sheet or 9 x 13 pan so that the potatoes are evenly spread out. Bake until the potatoes are soft, around 20 minutes. Turn the potatoes over with a spatula occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn.

Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade from The Moosewood Cookbook
Serves 4

*1 cup sugar
*1/2 cup water
*2 cups rinsed and chopped raspberries or strawberries
*1 cup strained, fresh lemon juice
*24 ounces sparkling water
*mint leaves (for garnish)

Directions
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir continuously until the sugar dissolves and the liquid becomes clear. Transfer this sugar syrup to a blender, add the berries and lemon juice and puree until well blended.

In a pitcher, combine the puree with the sparkling water and serve in tall glasses over ice. Or, refrigerate the puree and prepare individual glasses by mixing together equal parts of puree and sparkling water. Garnish each drink with mint leaves. Refrigerated puree will keep for about 4 days.

To view more photos of the intern brunch, please see the Flickr slideshow.

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