I dragged my sleepy rear end out of bed this morning and rolled on back to the Minneapolis Convention Center (with one quick stop at Village Market for the angel food cake loaves Cub didn’t carry and the item my brain collapsed on last night: bean dip. I woke up at 2 a.m. thinking ohhh, BEAN DIP. I know exactly where that is. Duh.) Leah McLean, KSTP anchor, was first up to share her Fiesta Chicken. When she wasn’t there at her presentation time, I started to get worried. The audience was full, because the weather was fine and it was Senior Citizen Day. Generally speaking, seniors enjoy the slower pace of the weekday crowds and the first one hundred get gift bags. Also, they LOVE our local news personalities (as do we all.) So when Leah wasn’t there right away, but the chairs were full, I was a little concerned there might be a geriatric riot. What would THAT look like, I wondered. Fortunately, Leah showed up, only a bit flustered over some parking hassles that had delayed her. The audience glowed with delight, and Leah went to work like the pro she is, needing minimal assistance. She shared the news that she is pregnant (congratulations, Leah!) and told stories about work and family while cooking up a pasta dish with chicken, bell pepper and onion in a white sauce. I helped serve until it was all gone, and so I can’t tell you how it tasted, but it smelled deliciously of cumin, garlic and a hint of cayenne.
I began a frantic clean up that wasn’t quite done when the next presenters, Bobby Jensen and Belinda Jensen of KARE 11 showed up. Fortunately I had most of the set up organized and the counter cleared off, so the unwashed dishes remained hidden in the sink (thank heavens there were no cameras trained on that spot, as there are on the cooktop and prep counter.) Belinda, a meteorologist, also does gardening segments with Bobby, and although they have the same last name, they are not related in any way. They bantered like brother and sister to the delight of the crowd, who had questions about them and about gardening. For a cooking demo, there were a lot of questions about parasitic infection. I got to come to the rescue when from backstage I heard Belinda say, “You didn’t just cut yourself, did you?” In seconds I was onstage, band-aids in hand, patching up Bobby’s finger. Their roasted corn and orzo salad with tomatoes, feta and arugula looked wonderful, but once again the crowd beat me to it.
Another clean up, and then Yigit Pura was back, this time with Panna Cotta topped with a grapefruit juice and Campari gelee and grapefruit supremes. The panna cotta was a creamy base flavored with vanilla bean and citrus zest and thickened with gelatin sheets, which I must try because they look like a lot of fun. The next layer was citrus juices and Campari thickened with more gelatin leaves dissolved in a simple syrup, which was added after the base had gelled. We had done these steps the day before, so Yigit’s presentation was about the nature and, in the case of the vanilla bean, the history of the various ingredients, followed by a demo of making grapefruit supremes, which is what it is called when you peel the fruit with a knife and slice the segments out of their membranes, resulting in glistening, gorgeous crescents. Yigit popped a few of these on top, and I finally got to taste one. This was grown-up deliciousness of sweet and tart and creamy and juicy; kids, go eat your pudding cups.
Chef Carl Littlejohn from Redrossa followed, assisted by Ryan. Redrossa is an Italian place in Bloomington, near the Mall of America. Since I wasn’t needed and had some prep work backstage, I missed most of his presentation, but the air was filled with the staggeringly heady scent of basil, and I made it out front in time to help distribute his samples of bruschetta over fresh mozzarella on toasted ciabatta slices, and drizzed with a balsamic reduction. So yummy, and Carl had enough for me to snag a couple extra for my healthy lunch. I missed out on his chocolate cake layered with a creamy chocolate filling and topped with what looked like ganache. So it looked worthy of its reputation as a favored dish at Redrossa. I will most certainly need to try it when we go there. Carl and Ryan did almost all of their own clean up (thank you, guys!) so I only had to do a few dishes left over from Yigit’s presentation as I enjoyed my bruschetta.
Our next presenter was Chef Colin Murray, whose day job is at the restaurant Seven, but who at night turns his passion for food in a different direction: dog treats. He owns Barkley’s Bistro, where healthy and balanced dog treats are created. He used vegetable stock, steamed green beans, parsnips, sweet potato, golden flax seed and oats (I might be missing a few things here) to make a thick dough which is then baked. He invited the audience to try them and I did. I decided f you brushed it with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt, it would make a decent cracker. Colin’s love for animals and enthusiasm for nutrition was evident in his presentation, and he was another one great for taking over his own clean up. He’ll be presenting again on Sunday, and has a booth at the Show, if any of you out there make it.
My last assignment for the day, before turning the stage over to Bruce and Dan (seriously guys? it takes TWO of you to do the same job I did ALL DAY LONG?) was to assist Natalie Davis, aka Miss Minnesota, with her Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Protein Smoothie. Natalie is a knockout, unsurprisingly, and she was in full-on regalia with tiara, cocktail dress and sash, and what I like to call Hollywood shoes, but she is also a standout student, slated to graduate from St. Olaf in a few months with a degree in Chemistry. For her presentation, I put on a microphone so I could give her a hand while she prepared the smoothie and we could talk and better explore some of the things she wanted to share with the audience, like the Miss America scholarship program, her platform of autism awareness (she’ll be at the Steps of Hope fund and awareness raising walk at Ridgedale Center on Sunday morning,) and physical fitness. Towards the end, as we were all snacking on smoothies that smelled and tasted a lot like a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup with a thin slice of banana on top, I got her attention by telling her that I had a serious question I needed to ask. She sounded just a bit apprehensive, but pageant veterans know a lot about facing the difficult interview questions so she was game. “Just where do stand on the issue of banana ripeness?” I asked. A pause, and then she laughed and surprised me by saying, “I have always wanted someone to ask me that question!” It turns out that on what she calls the green to brown spectrum of banana ripeness, she prefers them slightly less than fully golden, but before any brown appears. She asked where I stood and I replied that I enjoy a more ripened banana, say about 60% of the way on the journey from green to brown. She announced we would be perfect roommates because we would never argue about the bananas to which I countered, “Unless you ate them all before they got to 60%, because then there would be trouble.” She was great fun to work with and I think she had a good time, too.
So I was in a pretty good mood at the end of the day. I got a final hug from Yigit. I finally got to walk around the show for a few minutes and enjoy the beautiful gardens and water features. I met Dave Dahl, who will be one of my chefs tomorrow, and I got a smile and a wave from Bobby Jensen, who was still wearing his band-aid. I got a wave from a few familiar faces from the Kitchen Stage audience, too. I picked up my one grocery store item and arrived at home just a few minutes before the Bobby and Belinda footage from the Kitchen Stage was aired on KARE 11 news, and there I was in the background, doing something intently, for .5 seconds. Yep, I am feeling like pretty hot s*%t right now, and will probably continue to do so until I see the pictures Maggie took of me and Miss Minnesota standing together, because the comparison will not be flattering. I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts. So please, come out and join in the fun, and don’t forget to say hi when you do. I’ll be at the show 9am-5pm on Friday, 9am-10pm on Saturday, and 9am-5pm on Sunday.
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