Monday, August 11, 2014

Farmer's market find! Or culinary roulette.

It's garden season here in the northland and the farmer's markets are really getting good. There are tomatoes,  new potatoes,  geen beans,  all sorts of leafy things that look way too healthy, and today I found a new addiction - shishito peppers!

These litte buggers are about 3 to 4 inches long and look like they pack a punch but that's the funny thing, for some strange reason known only to peppers themselves, only about 1 in 7 have what you could call a bite. Most of them, in fact, are quite mild and almost sweet. They are not sweet in a bell pepper way since they are still a chile pepper but sweet in a mild fruity way but that seventh one.....wow! Not habanero hot but here's the thing after 5 or 6 mild ones you get gobsmacked with just enough heat to make you take a long pull on your beer and dive right back into them. 

I researched a bunch of different recipes and came up with my own version that I think you will really like.

Wash and dry off the peppers - however many you want but trust me it won't be enough!

Fire up your gas grill as hot as you can. You could also use a hot cast iron pan

Toss the peppers with a high smoke point oil - personally I like Smude's sunflower oil since it's local and gives a nice flavor.

After the grill is very hot, put the peppers on to blister. I say blister because thats what we want. We dont want to blacken them like roasted peppers, just let the skin blister then turn them. A little charring is ok but not black all over

As soon as they are blistered take them off the heat and season the hell out of them with a flaky sea salt, the larger the grain the better. I also seasoned them with a peppercorn medley from McCormick's because I like the taste.





Now just  sit back with a cold beer and enjoy, but watch out for the seventh one!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A cure for the wintertime blues

The last time I ventured into the blog-o-sphere to give you a slice of my mind it was 78 degrees and sunny, today not so much. When I fired up and connected my life to the rest of the world this morning, the accu-weather app informed me, quite smugly, that THIS sunny day was starting out at a balmy 27 below zero (yes, that is Fahrenheit)!

In the land of 10,000 lakes it seems that the weather is always the main topic of conversation,  my theory is because there is so much of it, and in typical Minnesota nice fashion we try to look at the positive.
" Oh jeez, I saw Mr. Frostmeister dropped the temp down to minus 27 last night, I had to use a blanket!"
  " Ya but at least there wasn't any wind, so it was a pure cold and not some hopped up windchill number"

This year, however, it is really getting to be too much. So when the love of my life announced that she had received an email inviting us to attend the de'vine Food and Wine Experience at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa Mn (www.grandviewlodge.com), it was if the clouds parted and the angels were pouring liquid sunshine (Riesling, I presume) from the sky! "Book it!" I said and let the cold be damned for one weekend at least. " Oh, and buy the way, on Friday night there is a wine dinner featuring the wines of Robert Sinsky Vineyards in Napa (www.robertsinsky.com), should we do that as well ?" (praise Jesus and hallelujah!! I thought to my self) "Why yes dear, I think that would be quite interesting as well." So two phone calls and one free room upgrade ( a cabin with 3 bedrooms, three bathrooms, two fireplaces, and a kitchenette) later we were ready to go.

 Early Friday afternoon we packed up the Jeep and made our way north to Paul Bunyan's turf, where the women wear flannel and the guys wear beards, but not in the ironic hipster way you see in the "city". As we checked in we were offered the lodge's house wine- "would you like red or white? or one of each perhaps?" and this being Minnesota we took one of each, just to be polite. I mean, they did offer....

 

What a pleasant way to start the weekend! We hopped back in the car, got to our cabin, unpacked, opened the Cab, and entered a state of relaxation.




Friday night's dinner was held in CRU, the resort's wine bar/restaurant/cellar which seats about a hundred and has a wine cellar that holds 2000 bottles. The decor is dark with wood beams, spotlighted ares of vintage bottles and various wine paraphernalia, twinkly lights and candles, overall very cool.
The first surprise of the evening was that the sales rep from Sinsky that was going to be the host of the dinner was replaced by Robert Sinsky  himself! Something about how she no longer works for him, and besides he wanted to come here to experience some weather.

A quick aside  - I was fortunate enough to actually visit the Sinsky winery about 6-7 years ago while attending a continuing education course at the Culinary Institute of America called  "A Chef's Tour of Napa Valley", I know, pretty rough duty, and to this day when I think of Napa , this is the first place I think of - with its views of the valley, the wines, the food etc... Robert's wife, Maria Helm Sinsky is an accomplished chef and cookbook writer and is also the Culinary Director of the winery.

We found our seats and were soon joined by another couple and Chris Griese - the manager of the company that distributed Robert Sinsky Wines in Minnesota so that led to a few extra glasses of wine for our tables as well as an autographed bottle of the Abraxas wine that was served with dinner.

Chef Manders and his crew did a great job of developing a menu to compliment the wine, but hey speaking as a chef who has done his fair share of wine dinners, with wines like these, all you are going to do is compliment, not outshine the wines.

The menu included;
lobster potstickers on seaweed salad w/ sake dipping sauce and an Abraxas cuvee , Los Caneros

baby spinach salad with triple cream goat brie, caramelized pears and walnuts with a 2012 Pinot Blanc ,Los Caneros

bacon wrapped pheasant with an apple stuffing, braised red cabbage with 2010 Pinot Noir, Los Caneros

braised beef pie with wild mushrooms, tarragon, and winter vegetables - 2007 Marcien Red, Los Caneros
and a blackberry upside down cake with a vanilla Greek yogurt sauce  paired with a late harvest 2012 Pinot Gris.                                              


sorry about the picture- I can't decide if it was pheasant juice or too much wine!


 For me this was the highlight of the weekend festivities but there was so much more such as break out sessions on everything from South African, Italian, and Pacific Northwestern wines, a sushi and sake demo, cheese 101, even a demo and book signing by Minnesota's own Food Network star Amy Thelen.

Lunch on Saturday was a soup challenge in which the resort chefs each prepared a soup and samples were voted on by the masses. The soups ranged from Chinese duck confit hot pot to lobster bisque w/creme fraiche, to short rib and potato (the winner), the was even an apple pie soup which would have scored big with some ice cream!

That evening was the Grand Tasting event with approximately 20 wine vendors serving up over 100 different wines - there was even a local craft brewery there which was a welcome respite to all the wine. Again the resort chefs put on a great spread with dishes like pork shoulder tostadas, venison meat loaf, chicken parm, and even tater tot hot dish (this IS Minnesota after all), but my favorite pairing of the night was a dark chocolate mousse bombe with caramel and a 10 year old Tawny port, which of course I had to eat the whole thing!

The finale of the weekend was the Sunday morning champagne brunch with all the caramel rolls, bacon and eggs Benedict you could eat. Frankly, by this time I couldn't eat a lot but still managed to reduce the amount of leftovers. They were pouring muddled berries with prosecco, and a sparkling Vouvray, which as you know is our favorite white in this house, in fact , I am pretty sure I ordered a case!

So now it's back to the same old grind, with work and sub-zero temperatures but for one fleeting three day span we were able to find a remedy for the wintertime blues.

Thanks for a wonderful weekend dear and Happy Valentines day - I love you!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Damn near local"

Ask any chef and they will tell you, that given the choice, they would rather use a fresh local product over a product that has traveled thousands of miles and was picked months ago. Sometimes, however, we have a recipe we are working on that really needs a little something something that is not available at the local farmer's market such as finding olives in Central Minnesota( not gonna happen) so for this unfortunate, yet all too common, occurrence I have coined the phrase " Damn near local".

First all, my definition of local maybe different than yours but it's my blog and I am defining local as anything grown, brewed, produced, baked, raised, etc... within 150 miles from home. So yeah, a beer from Duluth could be considered local but some of my favorite cheese from eastern Wisconsin isn't.

So here is the first in the "Damn near local" series, my take on the Italian summer classic salad panzanella. Just a reminder I really don't cook with recipes so what follows is more of a guideline let your taste buds be your guide!

 Damn near local panzanella - Tuscan style bread salad 
- makes enough for about 3 people as an entree

About 1/2 loaf of old cibatta bread  - don't worry if it is hard this salad was developed to use up old bread.
3-4 very ripe tomatoes, large diced - if the tomatoes are not insanely ripe don't make this salad!
1/2 of a red onion cut into rings
take the bread and place it in a large bowl then cover it with water. Let the bread soak up enough of the water to make it soft but not so long that it turns into mush. Remove the bread and squeeze out the excess water. Tear the bread into bite sized pieces and place into a large bowl.
After the bread has been soaked and squeezed you can start adding the rest of the ingredients. Here are the local ingredients included in mine - tomatoes, red onion rings, peeled and seeded cucumbers, parsley, basil, thyme, grilled and chilled chicken breasts. I also use a locally pressed virgin sunflower oil in the vinaigrette which is very easy - equal parts oil and vinegar with some Dijon mustard.I used 2 T oil and white wine vinegar and a T of Dijon. Helpful hint - when making dressing test it on a slice of cucumber to give a taste of how it will taste on the salad -if you just test it on a spoon or *gasp* your finger, it will,should taste too tart.



After adding all the local ingredients I added a couple of ingredients that make this "damn near local" as they were from outside the 150 mile limit -  cheese and olives. The cheese I used is one of my favorites, Montamore from Sartori in Plymouth WI. The olives were Kalamata from Greece - so definitely not local.

Once you have all the ingredients in the bowl, drizzle the dressing on and toss.

So the final score of the ingredients:
bread - Clearwater MN. aprox. 20 miles
tomatoes - Sartell farmer's market - 3 miles and backyard 20 feet
onion - Big Lake MN - 20 miles
sunflower oil - Pierz MN - 30 miles
herbs - backyard 20 feet
cheese -Plymouth WI. 330 miles
kalamata olives - Greece - nowhere close
white wine vinegar - France - again not from around here but really good

so out of the 8 ingredients, 5 were from within the 150 mile limit so I think that makes this dish 
"Damn near local"!




Saturday, August 10, 2013

Duluth Minnesota - Napa of the North?

This past weekend we ventured north for our 25th anniversary and spent time in the, admittedly self -proclaimed, "Craft brew capitol of Minnesota" Duluth (The Mayor, His Honor Don Ness, called dibs).
We met up with daughter # 1, a Duluth resident, who did a commendable job acting as our concierge for the weekend.

Before I get into the details of our dining adventures, I would like to go on record as saying I believe that Duluth is in the throes of an American city renaissance. Sure it still has many of the problems that a city of 90,000 people has but long gone is the Duluth of the late 70's and early 80's that I used to visit that was a depressed mining and logging town and always seem to be grey. 
The Duluth of today has a vibrant arts scene with a young Bohemian edge to it. The Duluth of today has an explosive tourist season with festivals just about every weekend it seems. One such festival, The Tall ships, brought in an estimated 15 million tourist dollars to the city in one weekend! But then there is the Blues Fest, the Reggae Fest, and in the winter there is even Bentleyville, the largest free walk-through holiday light display in America.

As I mentioned before Duluth claims, tongue in cheek, to be the "craft beer capitol of Minnesota" at last count I believe there are 8 or 9 breweries in the Duluth - Superior area, with my favorites being Lake Superior Brewing Company, Bent Paddle Brewing Company and Fitger's Brew House, not that the others are bad, I just haven't tried them yet!

The first stop on our dining adventure was the Northern Waters Smokehaus (www.northernwaterssmokehaus.com). This place is so great                                                          
 They are a basically a smoke house that sells sandwiches, delicious, delicious sandwiches.
Among our picks were the Sitka Sushi - wild Alaskan -house cured gravlax- cucumbers, shredded veggies, pickled ginger, cilantro, chili sauce, and wasabi mayo served on a fresh hoagie.
The Cold Turkey - sage maple smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, on a stirato roll  (basically an Italian style baguette) with crayo (craisin- walnut-garlic mayo).
The Hedonist - country style liver pate with Dijon, mayo, onions, lettuce, and Cornichon pickles on a hero roll.Oh and by the way it was awesome - I didn't want it to end
Sitka Sushi

The Hedonist

The evening brought the opportunity to visit a restaurant that I had heard so many good things about and that I have wanted to try for a long time, The New Scenic Cafe ( www.sceniccafe.com ).


The New Scenic Cafe is located about 10 miles up the scenic highway 61 has been called one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S.. Andrew Zimmern called it the "American Amalfi coast" on his Travel Channel show.

As this was a celebration of our anniversary and our daughters were with us, we went all out and ordered appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I want to apologize up front for missing and some poor quality photos but I was way to busy eating to worry about pictures!

For our starters we had pan seared scallops with a spicy citrus glaze and curried blue mussels.
No disrespect to the scallops, they were cooked perfectly which is very difficult to do, but the mussels were so fricking good! They came with a sauce of red curry, cider, cream, and cilantro as well as two slices of grilled cibatta bread which is not nearly enough as you want mop all that sauce.

As great as this place is, it does not have the snootiness that you find in some top places and that is reflected on the menu as well. One of the menu sections is sandwiches and we ordered two of them.

The first was the asparagus and egg - with gruyere cheese, frisee lettuce, butter, and lemon basil aioli on grilled cibatta.
The second was the grilled chicken breast - with asparagus, brie, and lemon basil aioli on cranberry walnut bread.
grilled chicken (side view )

Our entrees included the ratatouille lasagna - halloumi cheese, eggplant, zucchini, quinoa pilaf, garlic chips and a red wine reduction

and the seared duck breast - perfectly cooked duck breast, apricot curry, strawberry, micro greens,sided by a creamy leek and spinach tart with a bleu cheese mousse.

I can't begin to tell you how wonderful every thing was and do it justice - the photo sure don't but remember, we also ordered dessert!
Daughter # 2 ordered a salted caramel tart - a chocolate pastry, filled with salted caramel, topped with ganache, and cream fraiche.
as you can see - Daughter #2 doesn't like whipped cream so she declined the cream fraiche
The two desserts I didn't get photos of were the seasonal pie (raspberry/rhubarb I think) and the turtle cake -brown butter caramel, toasted pecans, ganache, and whipped cream. 
For my dessert I chose the Sauternes parfait. This was simply fantastic with a unexpected surprise. The tulip glass was layered with a dessert wine gelatina, caramel whipped cream, caramel creme, topped with hazelnut toffee. what was so cool was that the toffee acted just like caramel-y flavored pop rocks! which of course caused much laughter and looks from neighboring tables! 
Yeah it was as good as it looks!


Our last dinner was at another independent North Country gem - the family owned Duluth Grill (www.duluthgrill.com) 
Pulling into parking lot you get the feeling of driving up to an old Denny's or Sambo's reminiscent of road trips with the parents in the 70's
Like much of the Duluth, this place has a funky, hipster(in a good way), self reliant vibe evident in the large vegetable planters and cafe crew wearing shirts printed with the saying "vegetable fresh from our parking lot". 
The menu here is huge! It features all day breakfast and some cool twists on classic diner fare.
Our choices included the A.L.T wrap(avocado, lettuce, tomato) , house made cheesy cauliflower soup with homemade onion rings, the Asian peanut burger (grass fed beef, basil, cilantro, house made peanut sauce, all topped with an over easy egg and rooster sauce drizzle), and the Bahn Mi Duck burger (hand pattied duck patty, Sriracha mayo, house made pate, and pickled carrot and daikon slaw). 
As good as all this was, for dessert we ordered a rhubarb crisp and  a strawberry pie made withe the sweetest tiny little strawberries I have ever tasted.
Other items on the menu that caught my attention were Lake Superior whitefish, Scotch eggs, and the Medieval gryos made from braised lamb shanks.

Our last stop was back at the Northern Waters Smokehaus, where I picked up some smoked lake trout as a gift and some of their house cured lonzino for Friday night deck nights- just a plug for www.livingthedecklife.blogspot.com !


I have not visited a place that takes such pride in their food and beverage scene since I visited Napa. The restaurants and breweries are justifiably proud of what they do and really deserve your patronage.
Now if they could just do something about the winters!



The American answer to Italy's Amalfi Coast







Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pho-etry in a bowl or 50 Shades of Soup

I have a new love in my life.
 She is hot, sweet, salty, and sour.
Just the smell of her makes me excited, and even though she has a history of burning me and making me sweat, I keep coming back for more.
We have flirted for years but I have finally taken the plunge and made her my own.
Amazingly my beautiful wife approves of her and my daughters both love her.
Her name is Pho and she needs to be shared with the world.

One of Pho's many delights is that even though she is amazing naked
 If you give her the proper dressing 






She becomes absolutely stunning and unforgettable 

To start your own love affair with Pho, please visit your own Vietnamese cafe, or if you feel the need to make her your own a good place to start would be 
"Pleasures of the Vietnamese table" by Mai Pham page 58- quick pho and then add your own desires.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Place.

" You should start a restaurant! "- It seems every time I cook for somebody, I hear that phrase.
Don't get me wrong, I would love to own and cook in my own place but there are so many reasons I shouldn't - two college tuitions to pay, lack of benefits and retirement, the fact that most restaurants fail within  a year of opening, and of course lack of an investor with deep pockets being a few, but I think what, to me, might be the main reason is the type of place I would want goes completely against the grain of the cookie cutter chains and "innovative gastronomy" that seem to be all the rage today

Location - where geographically doesn't matter as much as the setting. I need a view,whether it be a lake, a view of a river or vineyard or field of sunflowers, a wooded bluff area would be nice as well. Failing the sweeping vistas, a place that has a huge courtyard that would have room for dinning as well as space for the herb and vegetable gardens.

Feel - I want a place that feels like coming over to a friends backyard or deck, somewhere that you can linger and talk over a glass of wine or good beer. Somewhere that you know the person sitting at the table next to you or if you don't, you soon will because of the unhurried, comfortable pace of the evening. A place that people can come every night and still feel special and welcome. a place you go to celebrate an anniversary, a new job, Mom's first night out after having a baby, or maybe just because its Thursday and you have a three day weekend.

Food - The menu will vary nightly depending on whats in season or fresh. The menu will also be centered around food that is simply prepared in the large brick, pizza style, oven that will be the main cooking appliance in the place. Whole roasted fish, leg of lamb, beef and pork cuts as well as fresh bread and roasted vegetables. I would also feature fresh made pastas and an antipasto table. Food that is intended for you to feel welcome and comfortable.

Maybe I am stuck in a fantasy world and you are thinking "Yeah good luck trying to create something like that" but this is what I feel a restaurant should be.

The name of this place would be something like Focolare -which is Italian for hearth and the root  foccacia both of which convey warmth and conviviality.

Anyway that's what I would like.