Staking our claim as North Dakotans

Last week Tony and I had the opportunity to give a presentation at the North Dakota Bloggers and Writers Workshop, an annual event sponsored by the North Dakota Departments of Tourism and Commerce. We were assigned the topic “Passion with a Purpose,” and spoke about our adventures from the summer of 2012 when Tony, Gio and I embarked on a quest to discover as much of North Dakota as possible in one season.

Every single weekend that summer we loaded up our car, checked our handy state map and chose a new part of North Dakota to learn about. We called our project “Lost on the Prairie,” and blogged about our travels as we went along.

I’m a lifelong North Dakotan, a member of the fifth generation of North Dakotans in my family. Giovanni is the eldest member of the sixth generation, and my hope for this experience was that he would grow up knowing and loving North Dakota, so that one day he might choose to raise a seventh generation of North Dakotans.

On Monday we shared our story with a room full of North Dakota bloggers and writers, all with their own unique North Dakota stories. Beth Kaylor, host of the gorgeous food blog “Rhubarb and Venison,” was there, this time using her mad skills as a communicator to act as the moderator for a panel of talented writers. I first met Beth at last year’s conference, and have followed her blog ever since. Beth’s husband is an avid hunter and she features a wealth of stories and recipes centered around the wild game he brings home, in addition to a variety of other foods. Not only is she a talented writer, cook and photographer, but rumor has it she even knows how to prepare wild turkey, feathers and all.

One of Beth’s panelists was the charming and delightful Jenny Dewey Rohrich, also known as the Prairie Californian, who met her North Dakota sunflower farmer via Twitter. Jenny moved to Ashley, ND from Chico, California, married that farmer last fall and has never looked back. In October of last year, Jenny wrote an epic blog post titled “10 Ways Marrying a Farmer Will Change Your Life,” which went viral in hours and was even featured on the Huffington Post. She is completely self-taught with her writing and photography, and she’s kind of amazing.

Also on the panel was the uber-talented Jessie Veeder, a writer and singer-songwriter who hails from her family’s ranch located on the edge of the badlands in Western North Dakota. Jessie hosts the blog “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,” where she chronicles life in the state’s oil patch and all that this oil boom brings with it. We felt like we knew Jessie already through her weekly column in the Sunday Forum, but she’s even cooler and more lovely in person.

We made many great connections with other North Dakota writers, too, and I’ll be linking to their blogs on our North Dakota page soon so that you can discover and enjoy their work.

On Tuesday, Tony and I were invited to attend a luncheon at the North Dakota Travel and Tourism Conference in Fargo. We were surprised and honored to be called up on stage, along with Jessie Veeder, to receive the North Dakota Ambassador Award. This recognition is so special to us, almost like a nod to let us know that yes, we can stake our claim as North Dakotans. We will display the license plate with pride, and look forward to using the beautiful piece of cookware from Davy Pottery in Burlington, North Dakota.

You see, as a girl growing up in Fargo, with all my family living either in the city or out of state, I felt a stronger connection to the lakes country of Minnesota than I did to my own home state. I know there’s a perception that Fargoans have a general apathy toward the rest of the state but, after talking with other Fargoans and taking time to really reflect on this, I’ve come to believe that this separation is oftentimes purely circumstantial.

Unless our parents or grandparents lived west of Fargo, owned a farm or were once farmers, most Fargoans simply don’t have the same natural connection to the land that nearly everyone west of us does. All four of my grandparents lived in Fargo when I was growing up, so we never ventured west for holiday visits.

Being on North Dakota’s easternmost border, in such close proximity to Minneapolis as well as some of Minnesota’s best lake country doesn’t help our cause, either. Within forty minutes, Fargoans can head east and be at the lake, with our bare feet up on the deck or in a pair of waterskis. Within three and a half hours, just a little longer than it takes to get to Bismarck, we can be in downtown Minneapolis, or at the Mall of America. Let’s be honest: if you lived in Fargo, this would be probably be your reality, too.

A future in North Dakota was never part of my plan. In fact, I worked really hard to pursue a life far from my home state. I attended college at the University of Alaska followed by a decade-long career working on cruise ships. I married a foreigner (he loves it when I call him that), who hailed from the thriving metropolis of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

The vision I had for my adult life did not include the (once) sleepy burg of Fargo, or any other part of North Dakota. If anyone had told me twenty-five years ago that I would one day receive a North Dakota Ambassador award, I would have told them to get lost. I might even have used more colorful language.

But life is funny that way. My lost Italian fell in love not only with me, but also with my family and Fargo, and in 1996 he convinced me that we should buy a house here to enjoy during our two-month breaks from life at sea.

Once we opened our restaurant in 2000 and later welcomed our son in 2004, I had comfortably settled into the reality that North Dakota was our destiny. But I never expected that it would also become our passion.

During our nearly ten years at sea, Tony and I were lucky enough to visit all seven continents and see the world in a way few people get to. As a small-ship Cruise Director, I was even luckier because my job description included fun duties like driving zodiacs and accompanying expedition adventures to explore some of the more remote parts of the world like Antarctica, Svalbard and the Amazon. To say that we’ve had some amazing travel experiences would be an understatement.

But the summer we spent as a family traveling around, learning about, and getting lost on the prairie of North Dakota was one of the very best travel experiences of our lives. We gained an even deeper appreciation for North Dakota life, especially outside of Fargo, out there on that wide open prairie where life has its own set of challenges and blessings.

We reconnected with our history, visiting my grandmother’s hometown of Danzig, long gone now but the old grain elevators are still there to mark the spot.

We crossed all four state lines, visited countless small towns, drove down dozens of gravel roads (a first for Tony) and made many new friends along the way.

We enjoyed unique experiences like being able to pet a real live bison, feed milk bottles to hungry little calves, and go horseback riding (another first for Tony).

We were able to attend a Native American Powwow, be in two countries at the same time, and take in the Americana 4th of July celebrations in both Bismarck and Mandan.

We also drove down the Enchanted Highway, toured a brick-making plant, visited a Benedictine Abbey, played golf in the heart of North Dakota’s Badlands, and attended our first rodeo, to name just a few of our favorite North Dakota experiences.

We thought that once the summer was over, our quest to discover North Dakota would end and we would move on to a new family project. But I don’t think we’ll ever tire of getting lost on the prairie. There are so many places we still have to visit, so many people to meet, so many stories to tell.

This summer we’re going to do it again, this time with an emphasis on food and its place in our state – where it comes from, how it gets to our markets and tables, what it means to be a farmer, or as Tony says, “the rock stars of the world.”

We’d also like to discover some of North Dakota’s best foods – we’re already familiar with the amazing pie at the Tower City Cafe, but we hear that the famous Juneberry Pie at Lund’s Landing is pretty good, too. We know that Wishek, ND is known for its sausage, but who makes the best kuchen? The best burger? The best honey? Who has the best food truck out there on the Bakken?

We’ll be launching a feature on the blog soon to highlight our Lost on the Prairie 2014 adventures, and are planning our summer itinerary as I write. We would love to include your stories.

There has never been a better time to be a North Dakotan, and I’m so glad that my lost Italian helped me find my way home. It’s never too late to get lost on the prairie.

Do you have a favorite North Dakota story you’d like to share at Home with The Lost Italian? If so, we would love to invite you to be a Featured Guest Blogger!

Contact us either via email to dine@sarellos.com (use the subject header “ND GUEST BLOG POST”), or leave your contact info in the Comments section here on the blog.

Down, Set…Dip! Two Great Dips for Game Day

Last fall we hosted a contest to find the Perfect Party Dip, and Jean Eppler’s cleverly-named “Cranberries Gone Wild Dip” took home the title. With its ubiquitous appearance this past holiday party season, our voters clearly picked a winner; however, just three votes separated the top three party dip contestants.

While Jean’s dip spoke to the season with its festive Christmas colors and seasonal main ingredient (cranberries are out of season now, and can only be found frozen), our runners-up are perfect for the ultimate DIP-APALOOZA, otherwise known as Superbowl Sunday.

What makes Peggy Fisher’s Hot Beef Taco Dip (Fargo, ND) and Sherre Sattler’s Jalapeno Popper Dip (Grand Forks, ND) ideal for this occasion?  While completely different from each other, they are both hot dips, as in, they are kept warm throughout serving. And with the recent low temperatures, outside and even indoors this week, a hot dip is definitely the way to go on Sunday. Plus, the game is being played outdoors at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and we anticipate that we’ll probably even feel cold just watching the action. (Although right now the forecast predicts a balmy 37 degrees with light rain – that’s a walk in the park for our hearty lot here in the Upper-Midwest.)

Next, both dips are easy to make, and this is important because we don’t think you’ll be able to choose between the two, so why not serve them both? We also love that they can both be made the day before and refrigerated until ready to bake.

Of course, taste is probably most important, and these dips creatively embody the flavors of two highly popular party foods:  tacos and jalapeno poppers.

Peggy Fisher’s Hot Beef Taco Dip is wonderfully hearty and offers the classic taco flavors of seasoned ground beef, melted cheddar cheese, sour cream and tomatoes. In her recipe submission, Peggy said, “Old, young and in between LOVE this easy and satisfying dip,” and the comments we received last fall at our tasting events confirmed this opinion. People are attracted to Peggy’s dip because it is colorful and appealing in appearance, and they keep coming back for more because it tastes so darn good. Peggy serves her dip with Tostito Scoops chips, and even recommends leaving recipe cards on display next to the dip for guests to take.

Sherre Sattler’s Jalapeno Popper Dip was a terrific surprise. When I first received this recipe entry, I was intrigued by its name, but doubted that it could really live up to the flavors of this popular appetizer. But it does. This creamy concoction of cream cheese, mayonnaise (did I really just say that?), canned green chilies and jalapeno peppers, and parmesan cheese is topped with panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs, butter and more parmesan cheese, and the result is almost embarrassingly delicious. Sherre recommends serving her dip with bagel chips, Ritz crackers, or baguette slices, but tortilla chips will also work well.

You can use a chafing dish to keep each dip warm throughout the party, but to be honest, we don’t expect them to stay on your party table for long. We’ve mentioned three distinctively different dips for you to feature at your Superbowl party this Sunday, but feel free to check out the Superbowl Party section on our blog at for more great ideas. Have fun this Sunday, and just in case you’re wondering who Tony is rooting for he wanted me to leave you with this clue: Omaha!

 

Angel Food Update…

We’ve had a terrific response to our column and post on Angel Food Cake, and it seems that many of you plan to make our recipe but need a little more clarification to get started.We want to make sure you are well-prepared to make your own angel food cake from scratch, so here’s a little more information to help you on your way.

QUESTION #1: What the heck kind of measurement is “M, cup”???

What? Didn’t you go to culinary school? How can you not know this? We just assumed that everyone knew what an M, cup is.
Initially, the online version of our recipe on InForum.com listed the first sugar measurement as “M, cup granulated sugar,” and we are grateful to the many of you who contacted us to find out what this cryptic code actually meant. Turns out, the website’s software has a difficult time reading uncommon fractions, and let’s face it: there is nothing common about the fraction 7/8. The measurement has been amended and is now correct in the online recipe. Thank you, thank you, for asking – there are no dumb questions, just dumb software programs. :)

QUESTION #2: You have sugar listed twice in the ingredients. Is this an error?

We can completely understand how one could think this, especially with the hullaballoo that darn “M, cup” created. But the answer is YES, there are two separate sugar measurements in the recipe. This is on purpose, because the first batch of sugar (7/8 cup) will be sifted in with the flour and set aside until later. The second batch of sugar (3/4 cup) will be whipped in with the egg whites. This is detailed in the directions of the recipe, too, so you’ll know exactly when to use which batch of sugar. Now, can someone tell us Who’s on First? :)

QUESTION #3: Where can I find an aluminum angel food pan like the one you wrote about?

About a dozen of our readers have contacted us to find out where they can purchase an aluminum angel food tube pan, a task which has turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

In the Fargo-Moorhead area, I found them in stock at Culinex, a local restaurant supply store located at 1802 1st Ave S. in Fargo. They are available in the store for $18 and you can stop in anytime between 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. I also called Scheels Home & Hardware, Creative Kitchen, and Bed Bath & Beyond, but none of these stores carried the aluminum style.

You can find an aluminum angel food tube pan all over the internet, and right now these are the two I would recommend at Amazon.com:

 “Nordic Ware 2 Piece Angel Food Pan with Cooling Feet” for $14.99 + free shipping for Amazon Prime members – price and free shipping status are current as of 1/17/14 and subject to change.

OR

 

 “Wilton Angel Food Pan” for $11.47 + 5.99 for shipping. Prices is current as of 1/17/14 and subject to change.

We absolutely love, love, love to hear from our readers, so if you have any more questions or comments about angel food cake, or any of our recipes, please let us know! You can comment here on the blog, via email to dine@sarellos.com, on our Facebook Page or via Twitter to @sarahnasello and/or @thelostitalian.

CLICK HERE for the RECIPE for Angel Food Cake

 

Peppermint Bark: An Easy, Last-Minute Holiday Treat

This week on North Dakota Today, Tony and our nine-year-old son Giovanni demonstrate how to make one of our favorite holiday treats, Peppermint Bark.

Peppermint Bark is the very first treat we make to kick off the holiday baking season, and Gio and I have been making it together since he was two years old, just like my mom did when I was growing up. This is a great recipe to try with kids as it’s easy, affordable, and basically foolproof.

There are only three ingredients: a dozen candy canes, vanilla almond bark, and peppermint extract. There have been many occasions where Gio and I have forgotten to add the peppermint extract, but the result is still minty and delicious. See? You really can’t mess this one up.

We make several batches of Peppermint Bark to give away as gifts to friends, family, teachers, and others who touch our lives throughout the holiday season. We love that this recipe can be made well in advance of serving (up to at least a month), and we use cookie tins lined with wax paper to keep it fresh.

Small tins or cellophane gift bags work well for Peppermint Bark gifts, and we like to attach a customized label to make the gift extra special. I am always surprised by how much good will this simple treat creates – people are so pleased to receive this gift. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift idea, why not make a batch or two yourself f before the holiday?

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Peppermint Bark

Serves:  Many

Ingredients:
1 pkg vanilla almond bark
12 candy canes, regular size (not the small canes)
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

Instructions:
Blend the candy canes in a food processor until desired texture is achieved. We prefer to blend them until all large pieces are crushed, and the mixture is just a little grainier than sugar. ***This step is the “special something” that makes this peppermint bark soooo delicious.

Melt the almond bark in the microwave according to the instructions on the package, or in a sauce pan over medium-low heat, until all lumps are gone. Remove from heat and stir in the peppermint extract first, then the crushed candy canes until thoroughly mixed.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and pour the bark mixture onto the sheet, smoothing out to reach all edges. Once all the bark has been transferred, lift the sheet up with both hands and gently bang it down on the counter a few times to smooth out the mixture. Place in a refrigerator or cold place and allow to set until completely hard, at least one hour.

When bark is hardened, peel from waxed paper and break into pieces (like toffee or peanut brittle). Store in an airtight container until gone.