In September, almost two years to the date since they took on the assignment, Betsy Nelson and Tom Thulen celebrated the release of their new cookbook, “Tasting Minnesota: Favorite Recipes from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
“We got married, started working on the book and then the book came out right around our two-year anniversary,” Nelson said. “It was kind of like having a baby, but it’s a book.”
The couple, who live in Bryn Mawr, make a good pair for the cookbook-writing business. Thulen is a photographer and Nelson is a food stylist and recipe developer.
“Even in college — and I write about this in the book — I always made friends through food connections,” Nelson said.
While a student at the University of Minnesota, where she earned degrees in psychology and studio arts, Nelson worked in food service at a hospital on campus. Some of her coworkers were students from outside of the U.S., and they got to know each other better by sharing favorite dishes.
“We all shared food from our culture,” Nelson recalled. “That was a great way to connect”
After college, Nelson spent more than a decade working in Twin Cities restaurants, including Café Brenda and Azur (both closed, but well-regarded in their time). After she became a parent, Nelson shifted into food styling — a career change eased by her background in studio arts.
The book includes a few of Nelson’s own recipes — including her rhubarb barbecue sauce — but most were lent by chefs from restaurants around the state. Sixty-five chefs contributed the more than 100 recipes in “Tasting Minnesota.”
“We didn’t get everything we wanted from everybody, because sometimes chefs don’t care to share their recipes or they’re busy and they don’t get back to you,” Nelson said. “We tried to get the very best representation from all parts of Minnesota that we could.”
The recipes are from today’s Minnesota, one overflowing with farmers market bounty and enriched with the culinary contributions of its immigrant communities.
“It’s showing the diversity of what we have here in Minnesota,” she said. “Actually, I don’t know too many people who are regularly eating hotdishes, currently.”
Sure, readers of “Tasting Minnesota” will find a recipe for lutefisk, “but it’s not a traditional one,” Nelson said.
“We like comfort food. It gets cold here,” she said. “You want something warm when it’s freezing outside, but I feel like there’s a nice variety of flavors and cuisines.”
There’s some stick-to-the-ribs fare, but recipes also include a Sri Lankan curry from Heather Jansz, aka “The Curry Diva,” and the breakfast okonomiyaki — a savory, eggy Japanese pancake — served at Elephant Walk Bed and Breakfast in Stillwater.
Every recipe was tested — and photographed by Thulen — in the couple’s Bryn Mawr kitchen at least once.
“The okonomiyaki was one of those where I was like, oh, I’ll definitely make this again. And I have,” Nelson said.
The couple’s other favorite recipes include a breakfast bowl from Gai Gai Thai (now closed, but once found at farmers markets around Southwest Minneapolis), a chocolate stout cake from Salty Tart in the Midtown Global Market and The Kenwood’s chestnut crème brulée with cognac-marinated prunes.
“It sounds like a weird thing, but it’s well worth making,” Nelson said.
Nelson and Thulen shared a couple of recipes from “Tasting Minnesota” with the Southwest Journal, including one for grilled chicken with some of Nelson’s rhubarb barbecue sauce. They may not be weird, but they, too, are well worth making.
Nelson and Thulen will be signing copies of “Tasting Minnesota” at Cockadoodledoo, 403 Cedar Lake Road S., during the annual Bryn Mawr neighborhood Sip and Stroll event, 6 p.m.–10 p.m. Oct. 13.
Wild Rice and Quinoa Porridge
This is not your grandmother’s porridge…but it is nonetheless wholesome and comforting, with whole grain goodness of wild rice, quinoa and brown rice studded with dried cranberries and sweetened with maple syrup.
For the porridge:
1 ½ cups cooked wild rice
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Topping:
½ cup whipped cream for topping
dash of vanilla extract
¼ cup toasted walnuts for topping
Makes 4 servings
Place all the porridge ingredients together in a 2 quart saucepan and simmer together over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes until thickened. Adjust seasonings as you like and serve in bowls topped with a dollop of whipped cream and toasted walnuts. Leftover porridge will keep well refrigerated. To reheat, add a bit more cream while you warm it over low heat.
Grilled Chicken with Rhubarb BBQ Sauce
Betsy Nelson/That Food Girl/Minneapolis, MN
Rhubarb is one of the first harvestable crops that pops up in my garden, and after a long winter we are hungry for the flavor of something homegrown. When rhubarb comes in abundance, make this savory sauce to slather on grilled chicken, beef, pork, or fish.
For the BBQ sauce:
3 cups rhubarb, trimmed, washed and chopped
1/3 cup yellow onion, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh gingerroot, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced, seeds removed if you want it less spicy
½ cup real maple syrup
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup molasses
2 Tablespoon mustard powder
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon Smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
makes 3 cups
For the grilled chicken:
1 fryer chicken, cut into pieces, about 3-4 pounds
salt and pepper to season
For the BBQ sauce mix all ingredients together in a medium heavy saucepan and simmer together, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking for about 30-45 minutes until thickened. Taste to check flavor and adjust as you desire with salt and pepper. Cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. This sauce keeps well for 3-4 weeks.
When you are ready to grill, season the chicken pieces with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Arrange chicken on the hot grill and grill for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally and adjusting the heat to cook the chicken evenly. Brush the chicken with the rhubarb BBQ sauce in the last 5 minutes of grilling. Check the chicken with a meat thermometer; the temperature should read 165 degrees. Serve with extra BBQ sauce for dipping.