Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Food Festival, USA" & "The Great Southern Food Festival Cookbook - one last homage to the Minnesota State Fair!

Date I made these recipes:  Monday, September 5, 2016 – Labor Day and the last day of the Minnesota State Fair

Food Festival, USA – 250 Red, White & Blue Ribbon Recipes from All 50 States by Becky Mercuri
Published by Laurel Glen
ISBN: 1-57145-775-5; © 2002
Purchased at BCPA (Bloomington Crime Prevention Association) annual sale, June 2016
Recipe(s): Isanti County Potato Festival, Cambridge, MN (last Saturday in September)  – Cheesy Potato Slices – p. 204 – and - Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, CA  (Friday through Sunday of the last full weekend of July) - Creamy Potato Gratin with Gorgonzola, Pears, and Pecans – p. 362-363

The Great Southern Food Festival Cookbook by Mindy B. Henderson
Published by Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 978-1-4016-0361-8; © 2008
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores– Richfield, MN
Recipe:  West Virginia Blackberry Festival, Nutter Ford, West Virginia – first weekend in August - Blackberry Buckle – p. 148

Readers, I don't know what has gotten into me, but  I have never been so inspired to cook recipes related to the Minnesota State Fair.  Ever.  I mean, over the 36 years I've lived here, I have maybe visited the fair a handful of times. 

But for whatever reason, I just keep wanting the show to go on and so this was my one, last gasp at fair-related foods.  And of course, I wouldn't be the collector I am if I didn't have a couple of cookbooks that celebrates food festivals.

Not that the Minnesota State Fair is a food festival per se, but it is the largest attended gathering that celebrates all that is agriculture and agriculture is food, right, so there you go?

And then there's the food served at the fair itself which ranges from alligator (on a stick) to turkey drumsticks ("stick" already included) to pasta (on a stick) casserole (on a stick), deep-fried pickles (on a stick) and other assorted items both on a stick and not on a stick.  I know other state fairs serve food on a stick but these type of yummy creations are what the Minnesota State Fair is known for and rightly so.

That said, what did I have to eat during the two days I was at the State Fair?  Brace yourselves:  a foot-long hot dog (love it) and a bag of cheese popcorn, neither of which was served on a stick.  I hang my head in shame.

And, as my friend, Laura, reminded me, I had a half of a chicken wrap sandwich at the Hamline Dining Hall and let me say, I felt all kinds of Catholic and Methodist mixed guilt (note to self:  look up Methodist "guilt") over this because the dining hall is known for all kinds of Minnesota staples including your ham loaf and your Swedish meatballs but I did not sample and was not interested in this fare.  If there is a special hell reserved for State Fair goers who do not partake of all the food offerings, then I guess I'm in like Flynn!

Anyway, so there I was, contemplating the end of the State Fair and all that goes with it, and then (as often happens), I glanced over at a bookshelf and there was the Food Festival, USA cookbook.  And so I grabbed that and The Great Southern Food Festival Cookbook and we were off and running.

Now as you probably know (and for sure TV chefs will tell you), food is best eaten when is season but given that grocery stores now carry all kinds of foods year-round, I decided to go with food I liked and take it from there. 

Technically, given that this is early September, I am not off-track by making recipes from festivals that have already taken place (Gilroy Garlic Festival takes place the last weekend of July and the blackberry festival took place the first weekend in August) and hey, I'm ahead of the game for the cheesy potatoes as that festival doesn't start until the end of September.  Brilliant!

So.  Throwing caution to the wind, I started to mark off potential recipes from each book, and before you knew it, I had bookmarked more recipes that I could possibly make.  Each book contains some great options making it so difficult to choose.

The Food Festival, USA book divides up festivals by sections of the United States, and so you'll get a sampling of all kinds of festival foods from these areas: Northeast; South; Midwest; Great Plains; West/Southwest, and Pacific.  It also includes a directory of "Festivals by Month" and a "Directory of Festivals by State" but I liked flipping through it section by section rather than month-by-month. 

Here's a sampling of festivals and dishes and let me just add a disclaimer that I'm not saying you have to go to these (because I'm sorry?  Chitlin Jamboree?) but rather that these were the interesting ones that caught my eye!

Northeast: National Lima Bean Festival, W. Cape May, NJ – Saturday of Columbus Day Weekend – recipe:  "Key Lima Pie"
South: Alabama Chitlin Jamboree, Clio, AL – Always the Last Saturday in October – recipe: "Sausage Roll." But if that doesn't float your boat, and I'm guessing it won't, then maybe the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival in Warren, AL will.  The recipe though – "Green Tomato Beans with Toasted Almonds" - calls for green tomatoes, not pink. What's up with that?
Midwest: Lingonier Marshmallow Festival, Lingonier, IN – Labor Day Weekend – recipe:  "Joyful Almond Cake."  And let me also add this festival:  Aebleskiver Days, Tyler, MN – Friday and Saturday of the Weekend Following Father's Day in June.  I am proud to say I not only know what an aebleskiver is, but I have eaten them.  It's a small, puffed pancake that looks like a donut – delicious!  The recipe included though – "Danish Kringle" – is definitely not an aebleskiver (so then why is it featured for this festival??) but it is still a good pastry.
Great PlainsHouby (Czech for "mushroom") Days, Czech Village, Cedar Rapids, IA – Saturday and Sunday of the Weekend After Mother's Day – recipe: "Koblihy (Doughnuts)" that contain not one scrap of mushrooms, go figure!
West/Southwest: Tucson Solar Potluck and Exhibition, Tucson, AZ – Second Saturday in May – recipe: "Solar Garden Soup" and, bonus event:  International Rhubarb Festival in Silverton, CO that is always on the 4th of July.  You've got to hand it to a place that hosts an international rhubarb festival as opposed to your domestic ones.  The featured recipe is "Rhubarb Ice Cream."
The PacificFillmore Orange Festival, Fillmore, CA – First weekend in May – Recipe:  "Grand Avenue Orange Sherbet."  And please folks, please tell me you get why I just had to select a recipe from Fillmore:  "F-F-FIL-L-L-LMO-O-O-ORE, Fillmore Junior High!"  I just had to. (Hint:  Think Brady Bunch!)

So that's the way the Food Festival, USA cookbook breaks out.  The Great Southern Food Festival Cookbook though, is divided by calendar months, some of which, like January, are sparse for festivals, and other months like September, seem to have an overabundance of festivals which is to say, when it's harvest season, it's harvest season!

So again, here's a sampling of festivals, included because they caught my attention:

April: Big Squeeze Juice Festival, Palm Bay FloridaChicken and Egg Festival, Moulton, Alabama
May: Poke Salat Festival, Arab, Alabama
June: RC and Moon Pie Festival, Bell Buckle, Tennessee (Let me just say that I almost made this recipe because...well, of course, right?  RC [Cola] and Moon Pies go together.  Everybody knows that, don't they?  Don't they??)
September: Irmo Okra Strut, Irmo, South Carolina (When I first looked at this, I thought it said "Irma," not "Irmo," and thought "Well, okay, if Irma wants to strut her okra, who am I to judge!"
October: Gautier Mullet Festival, Gautier, Mississippi – You young'uns might think this refers to hair.  It does not.  Don't go there.  "Mullet" is a fish.

Now out of all these fabulous festivals and fabulous recipe possibilities, I narrowed it down to two items:  blackberry and potatoes, or "Potatoes Two Ways" as Andy called it, seeing as how I could not just get by with one potato recipe.  Plus, in keeping with our tangential State Fair theme, the Cheesy Potato Slices recipe hails from Isanti County (Cambridge, MN) an area that Andy and I drove to just last weekend to go to Lake Mille Lacs just north of Cambridge.  We didn't have a reason to go to Lake Mille Lacs except we have never seen it and felt like a road trip.  We drove, we saw, we ooed, we aahed, and then we came home. 

And once we touched town at Casa Verme/Martin, I pulled my grocery lists together and the next day, commenced firing.

I started out with the Blackberry Buckle recipe and it was really easy to make.  You make your (raw) cake base, to which you add blackberries, the crumb topping, and then bake!  My only boo-boo, and it was minor, was that I tried to hurry the butter-softening process and almost liquefied it by keeping it in the microwave too long.  So instead of a crumble, I ended up with more of a spread but no matter as it baked up just fine.

Then there were the "Potatoes, Two Ways."  I don't know about you, but I cannot envision how a cheese + combination would not make someone happy; these two recipes made me ecstatic!

Up first: Cheesy Potato Slices where potatoes and cheese are combined with fresh herbs for a winning combination.  This recipe though, took longer to bake than stated.  Directions indicate to bake 15-30 minutes covered, and then 10-12 uncovered.  Often, when recipes are halved, they require half the baking time but not in this case as we clocked in just under an hour before the potatoes were done. Nonetheless, it was indeed cheesy and therefore delicious!

Up second (and last):  Creamy Potato Gratin with Gorgonzola, Pears, and Pecans and this recipe proved a tad more challenging to make.

First, I got us off to the wrong start by par-boiling the potatoes for too long.  This is all (chef) Jamie Oliver's fault!  I looked up instructions on the internet about how long to par-boil potatoes (as called for in the instructions) and Jamie Oliver's instructions popped up first.   They said cook for seven minutes and then cool for three.

I realized after the fact of course, that Jamie probably meant (but did not say) this cooking time to apply to whole potatoes.  The recipe though, called for the potatoes to be peeled and thinly sliced.

And so seven minutes in that hot bath pretty much cooked my potatoes in whole, not in part and...drat.  Now what?

So I carried on with the rest of the recipe as best I could and duly layered my potatoes and pears and cheese and pecans and garlic cream sauce and put it in the oven.  And then, because I made half the recipe, halved the baking times which were 25 minutes under foil and then 20-35 minutes longer without foil until "almost all of the cream mixture is absorbed and the potatoes are tender."

Well now, all my potatoes were tender before I started and my cream sauce was pretty much all absorbed instead of almost all absorbed, but don't let this stop you because the taste was great.  Andy suggested layering this differently (were I to make this again) and he might be right.  Sometimes, it's all in the wrists and the baking vessel!

Please note that each recipe has a different baking time and temperatures which is why I made the blackberry buckle one day and then the "Potatoes, Two Ways" on another day, one behind the other.

This concludes – I swear – cookbook and recipe recaps that are Minnesota State Fair-related.

Enjoy your fall.

Blackberry Buckle – from The Great Southern Food Festival Cookbook and West Virginia Blackberry Festival, Nutter Fort, West Virginia (First weekend in August) – makes 6 servings
¼ cup (1/2 stick butter)
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh blackberries
Crumb Topping:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the filling, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease and flour a 7 x 7-inch pan.  Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the egg; beat well.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.  Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk and vanilla.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan; cover with the blackberries.

For the topping, combine the sugar, butter, flour, and cinnamon together in a bowl and mix until crumbly.  Spread the topping over the blackberries and bake for 45 minutes or until done.

Cheesy Potato Slices – from Food Festival, USA and Isanti County Potato Festival, Cambridge, MN – Cheesy Potato Slices made by prize-winner Kathryn Stavem – serves 4-6
6 medium, unpeeled russet potatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon rosemary leaves
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
½ teaspoon chives (fresh or dried)
¾-1 cup butter
½-1 cup grated cheddar cheese
¼ teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 425F.  Scrub potatoes well and slice very thin.  Spread in layers in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch or larger pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and chives and dot with butter.  Bake, covered with foil, for 15-30 minutes.  Sprinkle with grated cheese and paprika.  Bake another 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender-crisp and cheese is melted.

Creamy Potato Gratin with Gorgonzola, Pears, and Pecans – from Food Festival, USA and the 2000 Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, CA – recipe made by prize-winner Camilla Saulsbury of Bloomington, IN – serves 6
10 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup Marsala wine
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
3 large russet potatoes (1 ½ pounds), peeled, thinly sliced, and partially cooked
2 large pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
8 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 cup pecans
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

In a small pan filled with water, parboil the garlic cloves until tender, about 8 minutes.  Place cloves and Marsala in a blender and puree until smooth.  Combine with cream and set aside.

 Preheat oven to 400F.  Lightly grease a 12 x 8-inch rectangular glass dish and arrange 1/3 each of the potatoes and pears.  Dot potatoes with 1/3 of the Gorgonzola and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Top with 1/3 of the pecans and 1 teaspoon rosemary.  Repeat layering 2 more times.  Pour garlic-cream mixture over the top.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes longer or until almost all of the cream mixture is absorbed and the potatoes are tender.

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