Lasagna Heaven

photo-2This column appeared in a recent edition of the Devils Lake Journal newspaper in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Since I started writing this column, I have written a lot about recipes and foods I enjoy that have been long standing traditions in my family and have ties to my North Dakota roots. Two recent columns talked about how two different HGTV cooking shows brought back memories of lutefisk and Lutheran church suppers and also green Jello salad. But what kinds of new recipes and dishes have I discovered and enjoy cooking as a grownup? My adult pallet has been affected by the traveling I have done for work, restaurants I’ve dined at and my circle of friends, which has changed over the years as I have moved around. I do enjoy cooking, but I’m not much of a baker. I’ve never had a family to cook for, so during the week I don’t make anything too fancy. When I do cook, I tend to favor dishes that can be frozen into individual meals.

I enjoy trying new recipes from cookbooks, magazines – I’m a longtime subscriber to “Bon Appétit” – and cooking shows and so still to this day I’ll find a recipe I like that I add to the mix of favorites. My most recent new favorite recipe is actually an old favorite restaurant dish. Some of you may remember the Lavosh at the old John Barleycorn restaurant in Grand Forks, which I think has been closed for awhile now. Some of you also are likely familiar with Trader Joes, which has a location in the Minneapolis area. About five Trader Joe’s have opened in the Denver area over the last year or so, and I finally visited one a couple of weeks ago when I spent a weekend in Denver getting a much needed city fix (and also to enjoy a couple of quiet nights as where I live is sandwiched between a semi truck speedway and a very busy train track). Prior to my Trader Joe’s visit, I asked friends on Facebook what were some of their fav items to buy there. Trader Joes is well loved and I immediately got at least 10 suggestions, including one from an old college and sorority pal who said it sold lavosh bread – just like what was served at John Barleycorn. And it was inexpensive – just a couple of bucks for a package with about 10 large sheets of lavosh bread.

Lavosh John Barleycorn style. Not the best presentation in this pic, but it tasted yummy!

Lavosh John Barleycorn style. Not the best presentation in this pic, but it tasted yummy!

I’ve since made the lavosh John Barleycorn style a couple of times, using my college pal’s general tips for preparation, topping it with havarti cheese and caramelized onions, to which I added balsamic vinegar and a little brown sugar. It was delish and all it needed for perfection was one of John Barleycorn’s also infamous Long Island Iced Teas!

Other favorite dishes of mine include my own variation of spaghetti, spaghetti pie, and chili – mine doesn’t have kidney beans as I don’t like them. I also really dig grilling and some of my favorite recipes include different types of kabobs – veggie, pork and beef, and I have a killer recipe for grilled salmon that next to family dishes is the oldest recipe I own, having cut it out of a Glamour magazine back when I was in my 20s.

My hands down favorite recipe is Red Pepper Lasagna, which I found about 15 years ago in a copy of Better

Red Pepper Lasagna

Red Pepper Lasagna

Homes and Gardens. At one point I lost the recipe but thanks to Google I found a copy of it on the Internet. The author of the recipe actually makes his own lasagna noodles. That’s way too much work for me, and sometimes I use the jarred roasted red peppers rather than roasting them myself. The lasagna has layers of lasagna noodles, a béchamel sauce, parmesan cheese and a red pepper sauce. It truly is to die for! The recipe’s author was interviewed in the magazine and said “I could eat this every day.” I would have to agree!

The recipe follows:

Red Pepper Lasagna

One 28 oz can crushed tomatoes 1/3 cup flour
Four medium red peppers OR ½ t salt
28 oz jar roasted red peppers ½ t nutmeg
1 T olive oil 3 cup milk – preferably whole
½ cup parsley 1 ¼ cup parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic minced ¾ t black pepper
1/3 cup butter 12 lasagna noodles

If using whole peppers make a red pepper sauce. Half peppers, remove insides. Place peppers cut side down on a foil lined sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly. Wrap peppers in foil. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Peel skin. Cut into thin strips. In large pan cook peppers (or strained jar peppers) in hot oil over medium heat for about one minute. Stir in undrained tomatoes, parsley, garlic and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes uncovered, stirring often. Set aside to cool.

For béchamel sauce, in medium pan melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and nutmeg until smooth. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for one minute. Set aside to cool.

Cook lasagna noodles. Immerse in cold water. Grease bottom of three quart rectangular dish. Cover bottom with ¼ of the pasta. Spread about one cup of red pepper sauce, followed by ¾ cup of béchamel sauce and 1/3 cup of parmesan. Repeat twice. Top with remaining pasta, béchamel and parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and light brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Make ahead directions. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes covered with foil. Remove foil and bake another 15 to 25 minutes.

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Island Writing

British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

When I started writing my blog some three and half years ago, I had no idea where it would lead me, although I hoped it would land me a job as when I began writing it I was unemployed. I certainly didn’t think it would lead me to spending nearly a year writing for the newspaper in my home town of Devils Lake, North Dakota, or out here on Colorado’s northeastern plains writing for the newspaper in the town of Brush. And in my wildest dreams I didn’t think it would lead to a regular freelance gig writing for a business news web site in the British Virgin Islands. However, that is exactly what happened recently. To date I have written three stores for a web site called BVI (British Virgin Islands) Business. Check out my first article posted on the web site last week. Of course I am hoping for a trip to this lovely, picturesque island! Ya man!

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The Green Salad Thing

This column appeared in a recent edition of the Devils Lake Journal newspaper in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota.

A few weeks ago I wrote about an episode of HGTV’s popular “Chopped Show” where one of the ingredients was lutefisk, which at least three of the four competitors had not heard of before and proved to be a challenge for them to prepare. Another episode of a cooking show called “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” recently caught my eye due to its ties to the upper Midwest, this time to Milles Lacs Lake in Minnesota where I worked at a restaurant for part of one summer when I was in college at the University of North Dakota.

Mo Rocca, a journalist who you may know as a contributor to the weekend news program CBS Sunday Morning, is the show’s host and introduces each program by saying he never learned to cook from his own grandmother (he is of Italian and Columbian descent), so now he is looking to learn from other people’s grandparents around the U.S. In the recent episode that I watched Rocca traveled to Milles Lacs Lake (the second largest lake in the land of 10,000 lakes) where he visited the (spectacular) lake home of Joenie Haas, who if you are a cooking show groupie will be interested to know is the mother-in-law of Andrew Zimmer, who hosts the Travel Channel series “Bizarre Foods.”

My Dad says he softens the cream cheese and mashes the pears.

My Dad says he softens the cream cheese and mashes the pears.

During the show Haas teaches Rocca, whose humor and engaging smile adds to the series charm, how to make her versions of two ubiquitous Midwestern dishes – Tater Tot Hot Dish and Jello Salad. During the introduction to the Jello Salad segment photos of some popular versions of the salad from back in the day were shown, including one that was a light, creamy green color and was formed in a round tube salad mold. It was the spitting image of a salad my maternal grandmother, Grandma B., served at Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house in Oberon, North Dakota, when I was young. When I was living in the Washington, D.C. area in the 1990s, I was trying to create an Easter meal for my boyfriend at the time that would include some old family favorites. I found my grandmother’s recipe for a green salad, which includes lime Jello, cottage cheese, cream cheese and pears and decided to make it. I didn’t have a round tube mold so I just served it in a dish. I don’t remember what the then boyfriend thought about the concoction, but I relayed to my family that I had made Grandma B.’s recipe, calling it the Green Salad Thing. The family decided to revisit the dish, which had fallen off the holiday menu lineup, and at the next holiday
Simple but delicious. It's best to let it sit for awhile before serving.

Simple but delicious. It’s best to let it sit for awhile before serving.

gathering it was added to the menu and has been in the lineup ever since. It is usually made by Dad Fast Eddie who also often makes his tangy German Cabbage Salad.

I’ve seen just a few episodes of “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” which has only aired for a couple of years, as it is on the Cooking Channel which isn’t part of my regular cable lineup. However, I think I would enjoy seeing more as I am all about preserving family food traditions, including the Green Salad Thing. Plus the grandparents on the show have lots wisdom and observation, and often humor, to share about not just food, but life itself.

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Facebook – the modern day global scrapbook

(This column appeared in a recent edition of my hometown newspaper, the Devils Lake Journal in Devils Lake, N.D.)

I recently discovered a scrapbook from my Devils Lake High School days that I had long forgotten I even possessed and had not cracked open in at least 20 some years. It amazes me the variety of items I kept and treasured enough to so carefully preserve. The care I took with it is particularly interesting since keeping a scrapbook for other life milestones is not something I’ve continued throughout my life.

Back in the 70s, the Devils Lake High School mascot was a cute little Satan. It has since been changed to the Firebirds to be more PC.

Back in the 70s, the Devils Lake High School mascot was a cute little Satan. It has since been changed to the Firebirds to be more PC.

One aspect of the scrapbook that is somewhat surprising to me is the number and scope of newspaper sports SB 2story clippings (many of them by the Journal’s Mike Belmore) and sports paraphernalia I saved – I think I have every Devils Lake Satans button produced in the 1970s! Looking back I remember being an avid fan of hockey (who wasn’t) and basketball, yet my clippings in the scrapbook are for every sport from wrestling to cross country, which brings me to the recent story of Devils Lake cross country team member Melanie Bailey, who has warmed the hearts of people around the world through her recent selfless act at a meet of carrying an injured fellow competitor on her back instead of finishing the race. The Devils Lake Journal first posted a photo on its Facebook page of Melanie carrying competitor Danielle Lenoue on her back on a recent Wednesday. It instantly got a ton of likes and eventually within about a day went viral, which basically means that legions of people worldwide saw the photo or story through social media sharing, which can result in it being picked up by the media. As I write this column I know Melanie’s story has been shared by ABC News and USA Today and that will likely expand. Ellen DeGeneres also posted a photo of the pair on her Facebook page, and rumor has it the girls and their families are heading to LA to appear on a popular talk show.

This phenomena of a story spreading like wildfire worldwide was unheard of back in my high school days because none of the technology existed for it do so. In addition to the viral nature of the story, I also think what’s interesting about this story is that so far it has only been shared and touched the hearts of so many via a powerful photo and the written word. I also like the fact that it’s actual, authentic story going viral, rather than some goofy YouTube video of a cat scaring a baby or some other animal nonsense. From YouTube videos to insipid shows like the Kardashians or Honey Boo Boo, people in the U.S. and elsewhere are filling their brains with a lot of nonsensical drivel. Melanie and Danielle’s story is a bona fide story involving real, everyday people and genuine emotions.

And Melanie and Danielle’s story is being scrapbooked for them in an electronic forum for a much larger audience to see and appreciate than ever could have happened in the 1970s. However, even though these girls could gather a collection of links to the many stories that have appeared I noticed that instead Melanie cut out the Devils Lake Journal print article and photo from the meet, took a picture of it and posted on her Facebook page. You go girl. Get that scrapbook going.

From my high school scrapbook. It's amazing all the things I saved!

From my high school scrapbook. It’s amazing all the things I saved!

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This column recently appeared in my hometown newspaper the Devils Lake Journal in Devils Lake, N.D.

One of my favorite Food Network shows is “Chopped.” If you’re not familiar with the program it features four chefs in a cooking contest in three, timed challenge rounds with a chef being eliminated after each round by a panel of three judges. The rounds are generally appetizer, entrée and dessert with 20 minutes allotted for the first round and 30 minutes respectively for the last two rounds. I don’t know about you but I can barely make spaghetti and a salad in 20 or 30 minutes much less a gourmet dish, which is what these chefs are darn well expected to do. However, even these experienced chefs struggle to create something uber fancy in the allotted time and make their fair share of mistakes in their efforts to create greatness, and oh yea, win $10,000.

In the beginning of each round the chefs open a mystery basket of ingredients with which they have to make the dish. The longer this show is on the air the more wacky the ingredients seem to get and the more unlikely they really go together to make a cohesive dish. In some recent episodes the mystery baskets have contained leftovers, often met with disdain by the competing chefs. In one episode the chefs got leftover tacos, cake fondant and I don’t remember what else and were expected to make something edible.

I recently was perusing my cable lineup trying to find something to watch when the word lutefisk popped out at me from the program description for an episode of “Chopped,” and being a good North Dakota Lutheran I thought “well I gotta watch this.” Lutefisk was one of the mystery basket ingredients in the entrée round and it was paired with hazelnuts, Pinot Noir wine and dried lobster mushrooms. At least two of the chefs had never even heard of lutefisk, and one of them gave it such a look of disdain you would have thought it was an undesirable creature from another planet. I guess these chefs weren’t Midwestern Lutherans whose church had an annual Lutefisk supper. But the chefs literally have about 20 seconds to decide what they are going to make, so there really is no time for ingredient contempt. One of the chefs decided to make a fish cake with the lutefisk and two of the chefs opted to make something more soup like, one making a noodle dish and the other lutefisk laksa, (which actually has a nice ring to it) which the chef says is a soup from Singapore. After much high intensity cooking, the fish cake chef got eliminated with the judges saying the chef didn’t cook the fish cakes all the way through. The other two chefs’ dishes looked very similar with both chefs using a lot of exotic spices and ingredients, which must have been the key because none of the judges really made any comments about the taste of the lutefisk itself, although they liked both dishes overall.

St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Devils Lake, N.D. - home of many lutefisk suppers.

St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Devils Lake, N.D. – home of many lutefisk suppers.

I haven’t had lutefisk in oh probably more than 30 years. I think the only time I have ever had it was at the annual lutefisk supper at St. Olaf Lutheran Church, and my only real memory of it was that I thought it smelled bad and that I didn’t like the way it tasted, although I have no real clear memory of the actual taste. I don’t think my mom or dad, Fast Eddie, ever prepared lutefisk, however, they will certainly let me know if I’m wrong. However, these “Chopped” chefs showed there is more than one way to cook a lutefisk – season the heck out of it and bury it in soup! So here’s a shout out to the Lutheran churches still doing a Lutefisk supper – make some lutefisk laksa or noodle soup!

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What to write?

Greetings Small Town Word Nerd Blog Followers!

I have been writing this blog for more than three years now, and it definitely is an activity that I thoroughly enjoy! When I first started writing it the focus was on job hunting and unemployment, as at the time I had been unemployed for quite awhile. Then I became a reporter (and employed thank goodness!) for my hometown newspaper, the Devils Lake Journal, where I began writing a column called “Adjusting to Life in My Hometown.” The column also often served as my blog post. And although I haven’t worked for the Journal for more than a year, I still occasionally write a column. However one of the reasons I don’t think I write one more often is that my column/blog has lost focus. For the last year or so my blog posts have been all over the place in terms of subject matter.

So I am asking for input. Based on what I have written about in the past or what you would like to see in the future, what would YOU, my blog followers, like me to write about? Continue the focus on small town life, something about food – any input would be appreciated!

cropped-blog-pic-21.jpg Lisa

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Prison Pot?

(A version of this column recently appeared in my hometown newspaper The Devils Lake Journal, published in Devils Lake, N.D.)

Shortly after I moved to Brush, Colo., to work for its newspaper, I began covering its city council meetings. At the time, the city was considering passing an ordinance that would allow residents to have chickens in their back yards. It held a community meeting to allow residents to voice their opinions. If I remember right about 20 people showed up for the meeting with several having very strong feelings both pro and con about chicks in yards, which the city ultimately decided not to allow. When the city council recently decided to hold meetings regarding whether or not to allow marijuana sales in Brush, nobody was quite sure how many people would show up and what they would say. It turns out nearly 100 people showed up at the first meeting, and more than 160 at the second one, and they had plenty to say.

A businessman wants to turn this former prison into a facility to cultivate and sell pot.

A businessman wants to turn this former prison into a facility to cultivate and sell pot.

Let me back up. First, marijuana is now legal in Colorado and also Washington. However, municipalities can pass their own rules on whether or not to allow it. Brush passed an ordinance last summer creating a three-year moratorium on any type of pot sales or cultivation, etc. About a month ago the city received a letter from a businessman who wanted to turn a former and now empty prison in Brush, which he purchased last spring, into a place to not only sell retail marijuana but to cultivate it. This request resulted in the meetings for citizens to voice their opinions about pot sales. At the first meeting, people packed the council chambers, filling up all of the available seats leaving people to stand against walls throughout the room, even those behind the council seating area. The second meeting attracted even more people. Most of the people who spoke were against it, and passionately so – not a surprise in a small, rural, mostly conservative community.

There are people in Brush who, in part because of the tax revenue pot sales can generate for communities, are for allowing this prison pot operation or retail marijuana sales. Unfortunately many of those who are for it are afraid to speak out publicity due to fears it will jeopardize their business or standing in the community. Some who are against sales scoff at this idea, but it’s true and it was actually confirmed at the second community meeting when a man stated he would boycott businesses who were for pot sales. It’s hard to believe in the year 2014, members in a small, American community would be afraid to voice their opinions about an issue – any issue -because of possible negative repercussions. I find it quite surprising.

My guess is that if marijuana were to become legal in North Dakota, which I don’t foresee happening any time soon, many in the Devils Lake community would probably feel the same way as many here in Brush do – they would be opposed to marijuana sales. However I’d like to think that community members in my hometown would feel they could freely voice their opinion, pro or con, without worry about their position or their business in the community.

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