Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I’ve never been so happy to make mac & cheese August 3, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The mac and cheese I make from scratch. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I PREPARED HOMEMADE macaroni and cheese for supper Wednesday evening.

That’s a big deal for me as I recover from a broken left wrist with a currently unusable hand. I managed one-handed, without assistance, to boil and strain the macaroni, make a cheese sauce, combine both and then slide the glass casserole into the oven.

When Randy arrived home from work, the dish needed an additional 15 minutes of baking time. I should have started prep earlier given the slowed pace of cooking with only one hand.

Even something as simple as choosing kettles required thought. I couldn’t use the usual two-handled pot for boiling the macaroni. And when I opened the package of cheddar cheese, I cut it with a scissor. I can’t separate the sides of a ziploc bag. Thankfully I could punch the top of the evaporated milk can and pour the liquid through that hole.

Eventually I got the mac and cheese ready and in the oven.

I’ve learned much since the June 16 fall resulting in a broken left wrist followed by surgery to implant a plate held in place by 10 screws. I’ve learned the value of patience, the importance of two hands and that I really don’t dislike cooking as much as I’ve always claimed. Now I wish I could cook regularly. But my cooking has been sparse given so much done in the kitchen requires the use of two hands. I dislike constantly asking Randy to help when he already has enough on his plate (pun intended). Can you open this can? Can you open this jar? Can you open this bag? Can you, can you, can you? My frustration grows.

So far he’s been patient and helpful and does nearly all of the cooking after a long, hard day of physical labor at his job. But I haven’t asked him yet to deal with an aging head of cauliflower, hoping he will notice the vegetable on the top shelf of the fridge…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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I finally learn to cook with Minnesota wild rice January 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:32 AM
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TO CONFESS THAT I am a native Minnesotan who’s never cooked with wild rice may equate a sin. I’m not sure. If anything, such a confession is akin to a Norwegian admitting he/she has never tasted lutefisk.

Minnesota blogger Sue Ready, when she learned that I’d never cooked with wild rice, remedied that. She gifted me with a pound of 100 percent wild rice from Quality Rice Products, Inc., Garrison. How kind was that? I’ve never met Sue, who blogs at Ever Ready. But she encompasses what I’ve come to expect in the bloggers I follow—a deep-rooted goodness.

If you check out Sue’s blog (click here), you will soon discover an abundance of recipes woven into her posts. She clearly enjoys time in the kitchen. I do not.

But I was up to the challenge Sue presented in that bag of wild rice. I chose one of her recipes, Artichoke Turkey Casserole, which includes 1 ½ cups of wild rice, for my debut attempt at cooking with northern Minnesota’s beloved grain.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

The first problem: How do I even make wild rice?

I found instructions tucked inside the bag, but then faced my first obstacle. How do you rinse and drain wild rice without the kernels filtering through the colander? Do not use a colander apparently.

Next, after cooking the rice for the specified 45 minutes, the grain still crunched beneath my teeth. So I added another seven minutes to the simmer time and called it good, not really knowing whether I’d cooked the rice long enough or too long.

I just want to note here that the nutty aroma of the wild rice intrigues me. It smells of earth, although not precisely of earth. Perhaps rather the scent combines earth, water, fire, sky, even the history and traditions of the Ojibwe, early harvesters of this manoomin, the “good berry.”

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Because I’d cooked the rice earlier in the day, I resumed making the hotdish with the dicing of vegetables—carrots, onion and red pepper—and the boiling of noodles. I already had the two cups of chicken (substituted for the turkey) which my husband grilled the previous evening.

About 45 minutes later, I had the dish pulled together with the assistance of the husband who sliced artichokes, stirred together cream of chicken soup and milk, and measured cheese while I chopped and sauteed the veggies and tended the noodles. Typically I can multi-task in the kitchen, but preparing this hotdish took way more time than I anticipated and I was getting hungry. And, as everyone in my family knows, I get crabby when I can’t eat at my usual time.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

When I eventually pulled the hotdish from the oven, I couldn’t wait to dig my fork into this truly Minnesotan dish. I suppose an explanation is due here to those of you unfamiliar with Minnesota’s version of casseroles, known in our state as hotdish. Most hotdishes include a cream soup and noodles, this one no exception.

I wondered, though, about that combination of noodles and wild rice. But it works. The crunchy texture of the rice kernels pairs well with the creamy consistency of the noodle mixture.

Even though this hotdish includes a teaspoon of dried thyme and a tablespoon of parsley flakes, I found the flavor a bit too bland for my taste.

Yet, with a sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper added,  it’s a tasty and filling comfort food for a cold Minnesota winter evening.

Now that I’ve assured myself I can cook with wild rice—a food which always intimidated me—I’m ready to try preparing wild rice soup. After all, a cup of raw rice equals five cups of cooked rice, meaning I have plenty of manoomin for additional dishes.

Thanks, Sue, for expanding my cooking skills via your gift of Minnesota wild rice.

HAVE YOU COOKED with wild rice and, if so, what’s your favorite dish to prepare?

FYI: To try Sue’s Artichoke Turkey Casserole, an adaptation of a Better Homes and Gardens Comfort Foods recipe, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A super soup competition March 14, 2011

AT HIS DAY JOB, Steve sells cars. On the side, he raises chickens on his small Minnesota acreage. He’d like to add a few pigs and cows, but he’s not versed in raising those critters.

He’s an expert gardener, though, who cans his produce. He appreciates the taste of home-grown vegetables and those farm-raised chickens.

Steve also loves to cook.

Sunday night I met Steve and sampled some of his cooking at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s first-ever “Soup-er Bowl” in Morristown. Loaded with hefty chunks of chicken, thick homemade noodles, carrots, celery, onion and garlic, Steve’s creamy chicken noodle soup earned him a second place finish among the 10 soups entered in the cooking competition. He deserved it. I don’t typically like chicken noodle soup, but I loved Steve’s.

I asked for the secret to the cream base. A stick of butter and half-and-half combined with the juices of his home-grown chicken, additional chicken stock, bay leaves and other spices created a savory broth. By the way, Steve appears to be the kind of guy who would rather share cooking tips than keep them secret.

Steve's chicken noodle soup is in the top left corner of this photo. The winning soup, taco chili, is next to it on the right. The other soups here are corn chowder, Mulligan stew and (I think) cheeseburger.

I don’t know how the other nine competing cooks—except the youngest cook, eighth grader Louis—felt about revealing their recipes. Louis left the recipe for his fiery green chili on a table for diners to pick up. Let me tell you, when I tasted his chili laced with hot jalapenos, I gulped lemonade.

Taco chili won the 2011 “Soup-er Bowl” trophy from among entries like Mulligan stew, cheesy wild rice, corn chowder, ultimate cheeseburger, a second chicken noodle soup and Steve’s chicken noodle soup.

The "Soup-er Bowl" trophy, awarded this year for the taco chili.

This whole idea of a “Soup-er Bowl” was the brainchild of my friend Mike, who volunteers as CVLHS acting development director. Mike is one of those guys who is always giving back to the community. He remains a strong supporter of the Lutheran high school even though his eldest son graduated from there several years ago.

Wanting to connect the congregations that are part of an association supporting CVLHS, Mike came up with the soup competition. Last weekend five of the member churches held local contests with the two top winners from each church advancing to yesterday’s finale.

Soup and chili samples were placed onto vintage metal trays for each diner.

Unfortunately, I was out of town last weekend, or I would have entered a soup. Mike has already invited me to participate next year. But after tasting all of the excellent soups and chilis on Sunday, I’m hesitant to vie against so many great cooks. I might simply remain a taster.

I love soups. Each year for the past seven, my sister Lanae has hosted an autumn soup party at her Waseca home. While she doesn’t award a trophy for the best soup, the winners are really us, the invited guests. Last year we could choose from 17 homemade soups spread out on tables in her and husband Dale’s garage. Click here to read all about her 2010 soup party.

When I heard about the CVLHS “Soup-er Bowl” gathering, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to eat soup and support the school. For $5, diners got small samplings of each soup or chili, breads and sweet treats, along with beverages.

The party was not only a fundraiser for the school but, more importantly, an evening of fellowship, organizer Mike said.

Diners packed tables in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall to taste 10 soups and chilis and then vote for their favorite at the CVLHS "Soup-er Bowl" party.

He’s right. I met car salesman/chicken farmer/chef Steve when I sat at the same table as him. Now my name is on Steve’s list to contact when his chickens are ready for butchering next summer. I can already taste that delicious chicken noodle soup…

By the time I went through the line, the vintage trays had all been used, so seven soups and chilis were crammed onto an oval plate. I later picked up the remaining three to sample. My sister also uses vintage trays at her party.

HERE’S THE RECIPE for Green Chili from eighth grader Louis:

Green Chili

Brown hamburger. Separate hamburger from juice and let juice sit.

Sauté celery, white and green onions, jalapenos, cilantro, green peppers, black pepper and hamburger juice.

Put hamburger and vegetables in pan and add green tomatoes and stir until finished.

NOTE: Louis did not list specific ingredient amounts, so I guess you need to figure that out for yourself.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Craving comfort foods January 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:40 AM
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WITH THE START of a new year, I’ve tried to focus on eating healthier foods. Salads. More fruits and vegetables. Less bread. Less cheese.

The strategy worked for awhile. But then my body demanded more. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Macaroni and cheese.

So I caved in to my cravings. I couldn’t help myself. This time of year, in Minnesota, we tend to burrow into our homes, tuck ourselves under fleece throws while snuggled on the couch and wait for spring.

To ward off the winter blues that result from too much snow, cold and darkness, we often opt for hearty comfort foods with a lot of substance.

That said, the other night, instead of opening a boxed macaroni and cheese product, I opted for homemade. Years ago I always made maci and cheese from scratch using Velveeta. That’s how my mom made it, so that’s how I prepared it. But I wanted to try a different version.

I found a yummy recipe for Traditional Macaroni and Cheese on allrecipes.com. I loved the rich cheddar taste. The guys in the household rated it as much better than the boxed mac made with powdered cheese. (What’s in that stuff anyway?) But my husband says he prefers Velveeta to cheddar. Go figure. I’m sticking with the cheddar.

 

The mac and cheese I made from scratch and seasoned with extra pepper.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough comfort food for one meal, I made bread pudding for dessert with a recipe I also pulled off allrecipes.com. I adapted the Bread Pudding II recipe by substituting dried cranberries for the raisins, cutting the cinnamon to ½ a teaspoon and using only ½ a cup of sugar. I loved it and ate the bread pudding for dessert that evening and for breakfast the next day.

SO TELL ME, what comfort foods do you crave in the deep, dark depths of winter?

 

Bread pudding laced with dried cranberries because I prefer those to raisins.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling