Archive for November, 2011

Let me plant a seed for you

As I’ve discussed in the past, I love the bounty local foods, like beets and potatoesavailable in the fall, and my enthusiasm for winter squash is no exception. Butternut squash soups, baked acorn squash with maple syrup, pumpkin pie and the list goes on.

One part of squash that many people overlook, however, is the seed. Most of us are used to toasting pumpkin seeds when we carve jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, but many people aren’t aware that you can eat the seeds of other winter squash as well. While the volume of seeds you get from other squash is smaller than a pumpkin, I would argue that they are a tastier snack. The hulls are thinner, so the seeds get crispier and require a shorter baking time. Nutritionally, they are low in sodium and every source I’ve read states they are full of zinc and magnesium. Also, if you leave the shells on (which I definitely recommend, it is way too much work to remove them), they are a good source of fiber.

Preparation for baking any seed is simple. After scooping them from the squash, rinse them well to remove any strings or bits of squash that may remain. It is good to let the seeds dry out a bit, as it will help shorten the baking time. Some recipes suggest patting them dry with a paper towel, but I usually leave them in a colander for several hours to let them air dry. You can even leave them in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 250-300º Farenheit. I recommend a lower temperature for smaller seeds, a higher temp for larger seeds like pumpkin. After they are mostly dry to the touch, lightly coat them with olive oil. You can use other oils if you like, but I usually use olive oil, which is safe at this low of a temperature. Select some of your favorite herbs and spices for flavoring. You can do sweet or savory, though I personally find the savory ones more appealing. A very simple option is garlic powder or garlic salt. Pre-made mixes also work well. It all depends on the flavors you like. I encourage you to test out different options until you find something you like. Because the batches are small, if you don’t like one batch, you don’t end up with a bunch of seeds you’re not interested in eating.

The baking time will vary depending on the type of seeds, but the small ones usually only take 15-20 minutes. Pumpkin seeds will take longer, sometimes up to 40 minutes. You may hear the seeds begin to pop, which usually means they are done. “Doneness” is also a matter of preference, we prefer a nice crispy seed versus a chewy one. You can store the seeds in any container at room temp, but if it is like my house, they won’t last more than a few hours!

So, the next time you make winter squash, don’t forget to keep the seeds for an easy and healthy snack. Happy toasting!

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November 21, 2011 at 12:10 am 1 comment

My “Midwest Food Fest Quest”

Alright, I’m a sucker for rhyming, but can you really blame me when it has to do with food festivals?

A few summers ago, I started to notice a number of food related food festivals in Minnesota. I am someone who, obviously, loves food, and I also have an affinity for random gatherings of strangers around shared interests. Even if you only directly interact with the food in your mouth, I think the feeling of interconnectedness I get at these events is quite fantastic.

Now, as I share with you the festivals I’ve found, you must promise to get out your calendar, pull up a search engine and find a food festival you will go to in the next year. Seriously, you’ll have a blast.

For me, my first food related fest was the Cannon Falls Wine and Art Festival. Not being one to turn down the chance to sample wine of any kind, I loaded my husband in the car and drove the hour or so down to Cannon Falls from the Twin Cities. The festival features Minnesota vineyards and wineries (yes, grapes do grow in places other than France and California), some of them which have been around for many years and others which have just arrived on the scene of viticulture. Some of them make traditional grape wines, while others venture into the world of berries and other fruits. Some are really good and others…well, let’s just say they need some aging. Either way, for only $20 you get quite a sampling of what Minnesota has to offer, which may not meet high expectations of a wine connoisseur, but does give you an idea of the creativity oenologists must have in northern climes. For more info on that topic, check out what the University of Minnesota has been doing in grape breeding for just over 30 years.

My next festival may, in fact, be my favorite, largely because who doesn’t love GARLIC? The Minnesota Garlic Festival is held annually every August in Hutchinson, Minnesota. For only $5, you can watch cooking demos featuring the area’s finest chefs, dine at The Great Scape Cafe, sample dozens of kinds of garlic from as many vendors and purchase a supply of garlic that will last you until at least the following March. Leave the breath mints in the car and bring your appetite for fun because this one will leave you longing for more.

The last festival I went to that first year was the Warrens Cranberry Festival, which requires a jaunt over the river to Wisconsin for any Minnesota folks. Though not my favorite food festival,  it is an intriguing one to hit up. There are many cranberry foods to try (cranberry cream puffs anyone?) and activities (you must go on a bog tour, if for no other reason than to meet a cranberry farmer!), but be forewarned that this one is also SUPER busy and has a ton of vendors completely unrelated to cranberries, kind of like a giant flea market of sorts. But again, most festivals are worth checking out once, so if you’re in the area in September, consider a stop.

This summer I added a new festival to the list and it features one of my all time favorite summer foods, the ever-versatile rhubarb.

Rhubarb Fest tasting menu

The Annual Rhubarb Festival is well worth the drive to the lovely town of Lanesboro, Minnesota. Also know as the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Minnesota, Lanesboro is located on the scenic Root River, which makes for a great backdrop for a tasty festival. When you go to the Rhubarb Fest, be ready to wait in line to taste test all the rhubarb recipes cooked up for that year – to give you an idea, they included everything from the classic Rhubarb Crisp to the more adventuresome Rhubarb Grillin Salsa. Also, don’t forget the entertainment – the Rhubarb Sisters  and rhubarb games. Definitely a fun event for the whole family. And lest I forget, be sure to take a walk down the street to check out Das Wurst Haus. Even if you’re like me and don’t eat brats, the homemade rootbeer and the possibility of an impromtu accordion performance by owner Arv Fabian are well worth it.

So, I realize this may seem like a random time of year to be thinking about summer food festivals, but I felt compelled to write this post today because I just came across the next festival on MY list – the Minnesota Cheese Festival. Though their event page may still be under construction, I’ve already budgeted for the $30 ticket and marked my calendar for next June 2nd.

Have you?

November 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm 3 comments


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