Why You Should Get to Know a Farmer

One of the best experiences we’ve had as a family has been our exploration of North Dakota. Our journey began two summers ago, when we decided to get lost on the prairie by traveling to a different place in North Dakota every weekend, and it has become a lifelong pursuit.

We would drive for miles passing field after field and wondering what the crops alongside us were. Wheat, corn and sunflowers were easy, but the field guide we had said that North Dakota was also one of the leading producers of barley, sugar beets, soybeans, dry edible beans, flax, potatoes, canola, oats and honey, to name a few.

As the crops flashed by our moving car, we found ourselves repeatedly wishing that we knew a farmer who could provide us with some answers. How could we have lived in North Dakota, one of the agricultural capitals of the world, for all these years and not know this stuff? (The photo below shows pictures of each featured crop – can you name them?)

Fortunately, our participation in last Tuesday’s inaugural Banquet in a Field event, hosted by Julie and Carl Peterson of Peterson Farms Seed, yielded better results than we could have imagined.

Not only can we now identify all of the above crops (albeit within close range), but we also have at least a dozen or so farmers as new friends, and several invitations to visit local farms and even ride a combine.

Our servers for the evening were volunteers from the Future Farmers of America, including some of the state officers. These young people were just amazing – hard-working, polite, adaptable, and mature beyond their years.

The event was sponsored by Common Ground North Dakota, a dynamic group of volunteer farm women who are on a mission to connect with those of us outside the world of agriculture in an effort to help us better understand how our food is produced.

And, of course, what North Dakota banquet would be complete without a little bit of meat? We were blessed to be joined by our friend Austen Germolus and another member from NDSU’s BBQ Boot Camp, who brought their big grill right onto the field and served up the most amazing beef tenderloin and leg of lamb I have ever eaten. These men really know their meat.

Tony and I read about food every day – it’s our livelihood and we care about what we eat and serve, both at home and in our restaurant. With so much information disseminated on the web, in our newspapers, and on our TVs, it’s easy to see why many people have become concerned about our food and its production here at home and abroad.

How harmful are pesticides and GMOs? What is the difference between organic farming and conventional farming? Is a tractor the same thing as a combine? Is our chicken really going to come from China?

The women from Common Ground have touched on something by reaching out to non-ag folks to establish personal relationships between both cultures. Eating is one of the most personal experiences we have as humans, and we have to do it several times a day. By starting the conversation, these farm women give the rest of us an opportunity to meet a food-producer and ask our questions so that we can make informed decisions about the foods we eat.

At Banquet in a Field 110 non-ag folks from Fargo and Cass County turned out to meet some area farmers, tour plots of eleven different crops and learn the difference between a tractor and a combine.

They also had the opportunity to taste foods made with those eleven crops, and one of the most popular appetizers we served was a recipe for Corn Fritters fried in canola oil, created by our Sarello’s Executive Chef, Ben Walker. Chef Ben’s fritters are delicious, easy to make and, as one guest told me, “Surprisingly full of flavor for a corn fritter.”

Agriculture is the heartbeat of our state, and will continue to be long after the oil boom goes bust. If you have questions about your food, take some time to get to know a farmer. You won’t be sorry, and you might even get to ride a combine.

Many thanks to Krista Kappes, Betsy Armour and
Katie Pinke for sharing their photos from the event!

Chef Ben’s Corn Fritters

Makes: 24-30 fritters

Ingredients: 3 cups flour
½ cup plus
1 tablespoon yellow corn meal
3 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1½ tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
3 eggs
2 cups fresh sweet yellow corn (approx. 3 ears)
Canola oil for frying

Directions: In a large bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, cayenne pepper, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and milk, then add to the flour mixture and stir or whisk until well combined. Add the corn and gently fold to incorporate. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Heat 4 inches of oil in a heavy pot or deep fryer to 350 degrees (use a deep-fry thermometer for accuracy). Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to drop the batter into the oil, and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt as desired.

Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce and enjoy.

Cooking Video: The Lost Italian’s Mojito Chicken

Recently on North Dakota Today Tony featured one of our favorite summer grilling recipes that we call Mojito Chicken.

We created this recipe in the summer of 2010, inspired by the bounty of beautiful mojito mint we had in our garden at the time. We make this recipe several times throughout the summer, and serve it with our Grilled Corn Salsa. I love to make a little extra to use for salads and sandwiches later in the week. Click the play button in the video box below and enjoy!

It’s National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

August 4th is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, and while we have no idea where this designation originated (perhaps a campaign by chocolate chip makers?), we readily embrace any excuse to indulge in our all-time favorite version of this classic cookie, the Clipper Chipper.

Last Valentine’s Day we shared a blog post about these special cookies, which were served each day at 4:30 PM aboard the vessels of Clipper Cruise Line. Chock-full of milk chocolate chips as well as walnuts, pecans and macadamia nuts, every bite is filled with yummy deliciousness.

We worked for Clipper for several years and have fond memories of our time with the company, and these cookies have been a great way to revisit those days together. Enjoy!

Clipper Chippers
The Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies from Clipper Cruise Line,
as featured in the cookbook “Cooking Adventures from the Clipper Galley”

Makes 3-4 dozen medium cookies or 5 dozen small cookies

1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Frangelico liqueur
1 tablespoon Tia Maria liqueur (Kahlua may be substituted)
2 eggs
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups milk chocolate chips
1 cup walnut halves (optional)
½ cup pecan halves (optional)
½ cup macadamia nuts (optional)

With an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, Frangelico and Tia Maria until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt (in a separate bowl). Gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture using a large kitchen spoon. Carefully fold in the chocolate chips and nuts. Mix well with a large kitchen spoon. Place in storage container and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Scoop one teaspoon of cookie dough for each cookie onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Cool slightly and serve while still warm.

Helpful Hint: The dough may be refrigerated up to several days in advance. It also freezes well for future use.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • Use an ice cream scoop to form the cookies.
  • You can omit the nuts if desired, but don’t skimp on the liqueurs – this combination is essential to create an authentic Clipper Chipper.
  • Kahlua or any coffee-flavored liqueur may be substituted for the Tia Maria.
  • To freeze the dough, wrap it tightly in two layers of plastic or scoop into cookie size and freeze on a tray for one hour. Transfer to a plastic freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months. Allow to come to room temperature before baking.
  • Baked cookies may also be frozen for 3 to 4 weeks. Thaw at room temperature before serving.