Monday, December 31, 2007

cheers to the last day of the year

Another holiday season has come and, nearly, gone. It was a busy season, and I didn’t do as much baking as I would have liked. However, I had a memorable day in the kitchen where I made a fantastic batch of gingerbread dough, replete with blackstrap molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and fresh-ground black pepper. Alpha and Beta then helped me roll out the dough and stamp out traditional holiday shapes—bells, trees, stockings—as well as gingerbread boys and girls (with skirts!), football helmets, and the boys’ initials (S and W, btw).

Later, I tried my hand at making candy—fleur de sel caramels, which skipped right past the soft stage on the candy thermometer, catapulting all the way to hard-crack. The result was one of the largest, and loveliest, batches of toffee I could ever have hoped for.

As you know, Hambone, Spice, and little boys were in Princeton, NJ, with Hambone’s family for a few days on either side of Christmas. On Sunday night (a week ago, yikes how time flies) we made dinner for eight adults and six children. First, I made “Thomas Jefferson-style” macaroni and cheese, which is what Alpha and Beta call the homemade version of this dish (as opposed to Annie’s brand mac-and-cheese-in-a-box). I can pretty much knock out this recipe— Marion Cunningham’s from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook—in my sleep. While the mac-and-cheese was doing in the oven, I made an easy paella, with chicken sausage, shrimp, rice, tomatoes, and peas, followed by romaine lettuce tossed with Fuji apple chunks, dates, caramelized walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

On Christmas Eve, the Stockholm (Sweden) Shepards—Hambone’s brother Will and his wife Helena—carried out their tradition of preparing a Julbord. In addition to the Jansson’s Temptation (julienned potato, sliced onions, and anchovies baked in cream), this year’s spread included sil (herring) in various sauces (wine, cream, mustard), matjes herring, smoked salmon, meatballs in gravy, boiled potatoes, spiral-cut ham, and little wieners that had been pan-fried. With the meal, we drank a 1997 Chateau Chasse-Spleen Bordeaux.

Hambone and I worked in the night kitchen making the potato roll dough, ending around 1:30 a.m. so we weren’t much help to the crew cooking the Christmas dinner. Fortunately, we were able to devour the “snacks” that had been laid out to fuel the preparations: caviar with accoutrements (scallions, chopped hard-boiled eggs, cream cheese), cheese (taleggio and some sort of blue), and a fois gras de canard from Gascony, as well as champagne. Traditionally, we’ve had the caviar, fois gras, and champagne as we open presents. Yes, it’s a truly decadent way to start the day, but it’s also very festive and special. Champagne glasses on end tables don’t mix well with babies or toddlers or older kids testing RC Air Hogs so we enjoy our treat at lunchtime. Beta decided he loves caviar, though we couldn't get him to try the Champagne.

Christmas dinner was beautiful: a golden-roasted kosher turkey accompanied by gravy, cornbread stuffing, bourbon yams from the New Orleans Cookbook, buttery steamed haricot verts, cranberry sauce, and fluffy potato rolls. Each item was delicious, but I could have been happy with nothing other than the cornbread stuffing, which was perfectly savory and moist. With the meal, we drank a complex 1990 Chateau Palmer.

On Boxing Day, after an invigorating, appetite-inducing walk on campus, we made short work of leftover turkey, which was a fine stand-in for chicken in an old-school curry. The boys didn’t even ask what we were eating, opting to load up on condiments—coconut, bacon, peanuts, bananas, tomatoes, diced hard-boiled eggs, and mango chutney. Sure, turkey sandwiches are fine, but this mildly spicy curry is my favorite way to eat leftover turkey.

I’m working on a short year-in-review, which I hope to have posted before long. Please check back, but in the mean time, have a safe and happy New Year’s celebration!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays to all!

It’s Merry Chaos here in Princeton. In a pleasant role reversal, the children are quietly entertaining themselves with newfound Christmas booty, while the adults are indulging in much deserved champagne, caviar, and foie gras de canard (from the Gascony Mothership, no less) while the turkey cooks.

No matter where you are and what you believe, I hope that your day is filled with peace and glad tidings!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

new favorite blog

Just in time for the holidays—well, really, is there a bad time for candy?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

taking a stab: fish

Time for true confessions: I have a few cooking fears. These are the sorts of things that can be fussy or require time and special attention to make just right. Things that are rumored to be difficult to make. Things for which cookbooks and culinary magazines offer "fool proof" recipes. Even a half-wit could make pie crusts, yeast bread, fish, steak. From time to time I try to face one of these food items head on, which is why you don’t see big haunches of meat, roasted or braised, on this list any more.

Cooking fish intimidates me. I order fish as often as I can when I'm eating out because I just don't feel like messing with its skin or bone at home. Not to mention that I've never—neither broiling nor sauteeing—had fish turn out with that wonderful caramelization that restaurant chefs do so well.

Inspired by a recent restaurant meal, where Hambone had a luscious piece of arctic char, I decided to take another stab at fish. A quick phone call to Coastal Seafood, our local fishmonger, confirmed that one last, sizable arctic char fillet could be mine (though I could easily have picked up halibut or marlin, which my guy said looked good).

This recipe, ripped from the pages of
Gourmet, was unflinchingly easy, involving the kind of hands-off broiling that gives you time to also whip up a salad or steam a vegetable for the side. The crunchy, salty, earthy pistachios balanced the bright citrus vinaigrette and the rich char. We served the fish with buttered orzo and sauteed sugar snap peas. Wine was a mineral-crisp Schloss Gobelsburg 2004 "Gobelsburger" Gruner Veltliner.

Alpha and Beta resoundingly complimented the cook. Beta said, “This is the best fish I’ve ever had.” Alpha said, “Yeah, this is better than Gpa’s fish [walleye from the lake on which Spice’s parents live].” All of which makes this a gem for the family recipe binder.

Arctic Char with Pistachio Orange Vinaigrette
(October 2007)

4 (6 oz.) pieces arctic char fillet with skin

3 tablespoons pistachio or pecan oil, divided

1 navel orange

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 scallion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped pistachio or pecans

Preheat broiler. Put fish, skin side down, on foil-lined rack of a broiler pan. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper (total), then brush with 1 tablespoon nut oil.

Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate zest, orange juice, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, then add remaining 2 tablespoons nut oil in a slow stream, whisking. Stir in scallions.

Transfer fillets (without skin; it will be stuck to foil) with a metal spatula to plates, then drizzle with some of vinaigrette and sprinkle with nuts. Serve remaining vinaigrette on the side.

links of Thursday

The City Pages' Dara Moskowitz profiles local cheese in the first of a two-part series. Hambone and Spice have been buying LoveTree cheese at the St. Paul Farmer's Market, one of only two places you can buy this award-winning cheese, for five or six years. We love Mary Falk. Her tomme-style Trade Lake Cedar (sheep's milk) is Spice's favorite, while Hambone leans toward the Fish Bait, about which Moskowitz obliquely reveals
is only to be fed to wild fish while you are fishing, and is never to be fed to human cheese connoisseurs because, in America, only fish are allowed to eat cheese that has been aged less than 60 days. Get it? Good.
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I am thrilled to learn that, starting in December, my once- or twice-a-week lunch place—Golden's Deli—will be selling LoveTree cheese so I might satisfy my Funky Old Goat
curiosity soon.

This week's Dining Out section in the NYT is devoted to spirits, which I respect. Eric Asimov looks at bourbon and Steven Kurutz features a "tropical drink evangelist," taking me back twenty years to my JYA in London where I drank zombies regularly (two-for-one Tuesdays—I was in college) at the Long Island Iced Tea Shop.

In the Star Tribune, a squib about the reopening of 128 Cafe, under new ownership, but the section lead story rounds up the winners of the Strib's fifth-annual holiday cookie contest.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

old standby: chicken-corn chowder

Overnight, the weather in Minnesota took a turn for the worse. The temperature has dropped and a wind chill has developed. It’s very bleeping cold here, and, after pulling out the bin of winter gear—hats, mittens, scarves—there’s only one thing to be done: eat soup.

During lunch, I rekindled my love affair with Tanpopo, the Lowertown noodle shop. A bowl of beef udon with unctuous, rich beef stock, beef slices, crisp scallions, bright spinach, and slippery, fat noodles warms and nourishes.

Okay, so there are two things to be done in response to frigid weather. The other is make soup. Tonight after dinner and clean up, I stayed in the kitchen to resume cooking. A serviceable rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, red potatoes, leeks, and corn went into a Hambone and Spice standby, chicken-corn chowder. I don't have a picture as it's not a very photogenic dish. Fortunately, the flavor and comfort more than make up for that. Here is my recipe:

Chicken-Corn Chowder
3 bacon strips, cut in lardons (I like mine thick cut and unsmoked, but Nueske’s applewood-smoked is good, too)
1 medium onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
thyme, fresh or dried
2 cups diced red potatoes (we’ve also used Yukon Golds and fingerlings to good effect)
1 quart chicken stock, homemade or high-quality store bought
cooked chicken, shredded (I use an entire cooked chicken whenever I can, otherwise, I’ll adjust ingredients down)
1 cup frozen corn kernels

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, saute bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Place bits on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Add diced onions and celery to pot and sauté until onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Add potatoes to pot, followed by stock to cover with room for chicken. Bring to boil, then simmer until potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes. Add chicken and corn kernels; warm through, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings (I find that I don’t usually need to use more salt if I’ve used a rotisserie chicken) before adding half-and-half to your personal preference (I use about a quarter cup). Give it another 5 minutes for the cream to heat through, then serve.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving post mortem

A quick photo essay recapping Thanksgiving:

Wild turkey, shot by one of the menfolk in Spice's family, emerging from the deep fryer.

The deep-fried wild turkey in the foreground. Behind it, a smoked wild turkey lies in repose.

Wild turkey, two ways, intermingle on a festive fall platter.

Because my family reads this blog, it's somewhat difficult to admit that the wild turkey—either way—was really tough and lacking flavor. But, every Thanksgiving we try something new and learn from our experiments. Brining would have contributed so much to the wild birds, and I would strongly suggest that method if faced with wild birds again.

Although not pictured, I have to mention a couple specialties—when in the pheasant capital of the world, and all. First, my brother Nik carved up a few pheasants he had smoked whole—one over cherrywood and the other over applewood. I had a hard time discerning which pheasant had been smoked with which wood chip, but it hardly matters as both were delicious and confirmed that smoking is the best way to treat this lean game bird. Nik also whipped up a wholly original twist on rumaki whereby he nestled a pheasant heart alongside a water chestnut, wrapped both in a piece of thick-sliced bacon, and pan-fried until the bacon was crispy. The morsels were tossed in maple syrup. They were totally addictive. I'd love to serve these beak-to-tail snacks to my snooty foodie friends.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

over the river and through the woods

Without a doubt, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that the day is all about food, specifically a big meal that takes hours to prepare.

Bird is necessary. Except for my junior year of college, when I was living in London, I’ve always eaten turkey. Since Hambone and Spice don’t make turkey at any other time of the year, it’s our preference. We don’t brine, though I do think brining brings out the best in what can be a dry bird. One year we grilled a turkey, which was very good, but left us without pan juices for gravy, not to mention that our traditional leftover dish—turkey curry—tasted funny with smoked meat.

Potatoes can be fixed any way. I love potatoes and am rather indifferent to how they’re prepared. For the first Thanksgiving Hambone and Spice prepared, we made an outstanding potato gratin with white cheddar and mustard. We’ve made our share of mashed potatoes. One year a guest brought potato croquettes, which were good in and of themselves, if not a little awkward in the Thanksgiving pantheon. Last year, sister-in-law Caroline and I made Julia Childs’ potatoes gratin, with thin sliced potatoes simmered on the stovetop in cream before being baked in the oven with a layer of gruyere. It’s all good.

Stuffing is essential. Roughly 75 percent of my Thanksgiving folder consists of stuffing recipes torn from culinary magazines, just waiting for an occasion. My mother-in-law makes an outstanding cornbread stuffing and an ethereal oyster stuffing. When Hambone and I cook Thanksgiving, we sauté sausage and apple slices, which we then stuff in the turkey cavity to keep the beast moist, but discard before serving. We also make a mean chestnut-bacon-leek stuffing from a Gourmet recipe, circa 1996.

Sweet potatoes. The best are baked in their jackets, then mashed with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar, before being topped with marshmallows and baked again. All you foodies are likely aware that even Julia condones. They’re a kid pleaser, and consequently, have a nostalgic quality for adults. My mother-in-law and my friend Kathleen S. both make the extraordinary bourbon sweet potatoes from the New Orleans Cookbook.

Rolls. My favorite rolls are from Hambone’s family—Grandma Illges’ potato rolls, which are soft with a slightly sweet crumb, like Parker House rolls. But, I’m going to declare a heresy—I can leave the rolls in favor of potatoes and stuffing.

This year we’re going to Winner, South Dakota, pheasant capital of the world and scene of nearly every Thanksgiving from my childhood. My mother and I have been planning the menu for a few weeks. We’re fixing a wild turkey, courtesy of my hunter-gatherer father. Sides will include garlic mashed potatoes, which my brother Nik is adept at preparing; cornbread stuffing with dried apples, sage, and pecans, which is a new recipe for us; twice-baked sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, another new recipe; green beans; rolls; and, for dessert, two pies—pecan and pumpkin. Hambone and I are bring champagne and wine, including an O’Reilly’s pinot noir from Oregon that we enjoyed recently.

Since Winner is in a somewhat remote location, a wi-fi connection may not be readily available. I’ll check in if I can, but don’t hesitate, in the meantime, to have a happy Thanksgiving!

As a bonus, a spicy mix of music to cook by:
1. Ana NG (They Might Be Giants)
2. Give Me Flowers While I’m Living (The Knitters)
3. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
4. The Dap Dip (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings)
5. Suzannah’s Still Alive (The Kinks)
6. Wilderness (Sleater Kinney)
7. Demolition Man (The Police)
8. Thanks for the Night (The Damned)
9. Wings of a Dove (Madness)
10. Apple Tree (Wolfmother)
11. Hollywood [Africa] (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
12. I Can’t Stand It (Velvet Underground)
13. Goin’ Out West (Tom Waits)
14. London’s Burning (The Clash)
15. Beautiful Day (U2)
16. Everybody Ona Move (Michael Franti)
17. Boyz (M.I.A.)
18. Magnolia (Apollo Sunshine)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

NYC restaurant round-up

In addition to the sightseeing (the Guggenheim), the theater (Spring Awakening), and shopping (ABC Home, Fish’s Eddy, The Strand, countless shops in the West Village), food was a major highlight of this long weekend in New York City. Not pictured is a fantastic pizza at John’s on Bleeker.

Katz’s Deli outside

Katz's Deli inside

pastrami on rye

pickle platter (sours, half sours, and green tomatoes; the half sours were a revelation)

The Red Cat for dinner on Friday night (be prepared for a dose of Johnny Cash when you click on the link)

starter: pumpkin and cornbread panzanella with parmesan, arugula and pomegranate vinaigrette (Nothing about this incredibly flavorful salad resembled panzanella—here, the bread was but a garnish. To me, panzanella is one of those rewards of leftovers and high-quality ingredients from the garden—stale bread and ripe, juicy tomatoes. Each ingredient in the pumpkin-cornbread version was outstanding, the pomegranates especially were surprising. I just wish the kitchen would call it something else.)

main: grilled double cut pork chop with wilted romaine, dates, feta, gigantes and pumpkin seed pesto (somewhere in this tangle of perfectly grilled pork chop, warm greens, and creamy beans was one lonely date—would have loved at least one more)

side: light tempura of green beans with sweet hot mustard (I'm serving these at book group in January)

wine note: Benegas 2005 malbec

Raoul’s in Soho for dinner—still one of my favorite NYC restaurants. I love everything from the menu written in French to the occasional indifferent French waitstaff (our server looked down his snooty nose and asked me if I wanted gin in my Negroni. As opposed to what? Apparently some New Yorkers order Negronis with vodka. I'd like to see our server's withering glance at that.)

starter: pate maison with baby spinach, walnuts, and olives

main: cassoulet with confit duck, garlic saucisson, lamb, and tarbais beans (I thought I'd died and gone to wherever you go)

dessert: warm chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream and salted caramel, profiterole with ice cream and chocolate sauce, and a plate of little cookies (the profiteroles were classicly elegant; the salted caramel with the molten chocolate cake was perfection)

Brunch at Prune
I was glad to finally have an opportunity to eat at Gabrielle Hamilton's jewel box of a restaurant. Since the restaurant doesn't take reservations for brunch, we stood in the line that had formed before the doors even opened so that we might get one of the first tables. We didn't make the cut, but only had to wait—with a New York Times—for about 45 minutes. And, the wait was well worth it.

starter: merveilles (Our server compared them to beignets so I was expecting something pillowy soft. These merveilles were fried dough, but that's where the comparison ends. They were crisp, not too sweet, and utterly delicious.)

main: soft-scrambled eggs, smoked bacon, potatoes rosti, and English muffins (Looks like something I could make at home, but tastes so much better. The rosti consisted of dainty potato shreds, cooked until crisp on the outside, tender and ethereal on the inside.)

side, shared with table: housemade lamb sausage

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tasty Combo Platter

My friend Tracy sent me a link today, one with which I was previously unfamiliar—Homer's Food Blog. Homer is the drummer in the Dap Kings, Sharon Jones’s awesome backing band, and he’s blogging about the food he’s eating while on tour.

I like Homer's friendly writing style—he's utterly unpretentious, which is pretty refreshing. And, I love the blog's banner photo of Homer surveying the rooftops of Paris. Since Jones seems to be on tour almost every day of the year, Homer should have plenty of material for some time to come, and I look forward to it.

Hambone and I are going to see Homer (and Sharon Jones—110 pounds of soul excitement) tomorrow night at First Ave. Can't wait.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

long weekend

In a few hours, I'm leaving, with some girlfriends, for New York City—shopping, eating, sightseeing, gabbing.

Here are a few tidbits until I return:

Dara Moskowitz revisits Mission American Kitchen where acclaimed local chef Doug Flicker has finally rolled out his own menus.

The New York Times has a great, timely piece on heritage turkeys and an article on Michael Hebberoy, whom I've been following since he and his ex-wife were getting buzz for throwing underground dinner parties in their Portland, OR, home.

Hambone and Spice friend Tim Teichgraber offers a "hot tip for a good sip" in the Star Tribune: Sicily's climate has long produced great grapes; now winemakers are turning out great wines to prove it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

No Cal 07: the rest

Food was one of the driving forces for choosing Northern California as the destination for my milestone-birthday vacation. Chez Panisse and The French Laundry, whose reputations are deserved, offered incredible multi-course meals we’ll not soon forget. Equally memorable, though, were other restaurants and eateries where we took meals.

On our way up to Napa, we stopped at the Ferry Building Marketplace to get picnic fixings. Hambone wanted to get some dry sausage at Mastrelli’s Delicatessen, but when we saw the sandwich board, we could not resist ordering a few to go. At Mastrelli’s, whether you’re ordering a sandwich from the menu or selecting your own fillings, you first choose your own bread—using tongs to lift the large buns out of the acrylic bin, which lets you look before you leap. I opted for the North Beach sandwich with layers of salty prosciutto, provolone, and sweet roasted red peppers, while Hambone’s sandwich packed in fresh mozz, pesto, and roasted red peppers.

We both have a weakness for Italian deli sandwiches, and these did not disappoint.

Hambone and I also stood in line for at least a half hour to order burgers at Taylor’s Refresher, a St. Helena institution and an inspired place to fill your belly between vineyard tastings.
Now owned by the Gott brothers, this walk-up drive-in has an extensive burger-fry-shake menu, but also offers chicken sandwiches, a rare-seared ahi burger, and a monster Cobb salad, to name a few non-beef items. The burgers were solidly good and the sweet potato fries were stupendous. Really, I'm still thinking about the sweet potato fries.

Besides, milkshakes and sodas, the beverage menu offers beer and wine, including the 2004 Karl Lawrence cab half-bottle that we paid twice as much for the night before at the French Laundry. Price aside, I'm amused by this fact: in Napa can you find the same bottle of wine at a roadside burger joint as at the very finest restaurant.

Rounding out our meals, we ditched our reservations at Zuni Café and Piperade (yes, I double-booked) to eat sushi at an incredibly hip Japanese restaurant that had a technobeat, Ozumo. We sat at the sushi bar and were served an amuse—a first for us at a sushi bar—of tuna “salad” on cucumber wafers. To start, we ordered hanabi (slices of hamachi and avocado with a warm ginger-jalapeno ponzu sauce). We ate the following nigiri—maguro, mushi ebi (tiger prawn), hamachi (as always), sake, kampachi (amber jack, this is the same fish I had at The French Laundry where it was called kahala), and kaki (kumamoto oyster). We had rolls—yokozuna (grilled unagi, crab, tobiko, avocado and asparagus), spicy scallop (scallop, kaiware, cucumber). All the fish was wonderfully fresh and the slick ambience was quite a change of pace from upscale-rural Napa.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

French Laundry

After celebrating Hambone’s 40th birthday, by lying on a beach in Costa Rica eighteen months ago, I started give serious thought to how I might like to spend my 40th. Lots of destinations came to mind, but each seemed rather extravagant. At some point, Hambone suggested visiting Northern California and eating at the French Laundry. Didn’t take much to convince me that dining at one of the country’s best restaurants would be a fitting celebration for a milestone birthday.

In August I began the process of securing a reservation, which you can read about here.

Fast forward to October 5. Hambone and I drove up to Napa Valley from San Francisco in our rental Sebring convertible, stopping occasionally to follow a whim. Eventually we found our hotel in Calistoga and had a little time to walk around town, read/nap, and dress for dinner. Then, we made our way back to Yountville for our 5:30 dinner reservation at the French Laundry.

Housed in a stand-alone building with a beautiful courtyard garden, the restaurant has two dining rooms. We were the first diners to arrive and were seated immediately in the downstairs dining room, which had six or seven tables in the main area. The room, crowned by a heavy-beamed ceiling, was painfully quiet and empty—though we knew it wouldn’t be that way for long. That six-top in the middle of the room? It was soon occupied by a loud group of diners.

Our server walked us through the evening’s menu and explained the couple of courses that had options, thus choices to be made. We ordered a glass of champagne to accompany the treats coming from the kitchen: warm gougeres (pastry filled with gruyere “sauce”) and the salmon “ice cream cone” (a French Laundry trademark, it's a wafer rolled into a cone, which is then filled with crème fraiche and topped with salmon tartare). The salmon cone was amazing, but I could easily have eaten many more gougeres.

I wish I had a picture of each course because everything was plated and presented with the utmost care. Many plates were spectacularly artful.

We were also offered beautiful breads (multigrain batard, miniature baguettes and ciabatta, dense raisin and walnut). Two pots of handmade butter were placed on the table, one of which was salted, the other not. The unsalted butter was made by a family that only produces butter for the French Laundry. Can you imagine being that specialized?

At the end of the evening, Hambone and I had eaten one of the best and certainly most memorable restaurant meals ever, as well as the most expensive. Was it worth $240 a person? Possibly. It's really hard to put a price on an experience like this. We did get nine exquisite courses plus many extra goodies and impeccable service.

The wine list was daunting. We are used to seeing the same bottles all over town, but here in Napa, many on the list don't get distributed outside of California. Needless to say, but I will, I thought the mark-up was excessive. The list boasts a healthy selection of half bottles, which allowed us to have a white for the first fish portion of the meal, and a red for the meatier portion.

We wanted to drink locally as much as possible—not a difficult task—and were treated to some small producers we’re not likely to find at home: a Robert Hoff chardonnay from Carneros and a Karl Lawrence 2004 cabernet sauvignon ($7
0, yes for a half bottle). Both wines were pleasantly complex and well suited to our meal.

Even though Thomas Keller isn’t in the kitchen, his influence is undeniable. We’re going to keep an eye on Chef Cory Lee. Here are details from the nine-course meal:

“Oysters and Pearls”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
A clever and “classic” Keller concoction. The oysters were trimmed so only the ball of the heart was served.

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm*
Compressed Cucumbers, Perilla and Umeboshi “Coulis”
Hearts of palm (here, according to our server, from a "smaller, squatter" palm tree) were cut into small squares and cylinders. These somewhat architectural shapes were juxtaposed against a quenelle of hearts of palm that had been gently pureed. Compressed cucumbers were peeled into ribbons, which were then draped on the plate.

Sauteed Fillet of Pacific Kahala
Tokyo Turnips, Bartlett Pear, Watercress and Whole Grain Mustard Emulsion
Fish and turnips—a highly unusual, but very delicious combination. Kahala is a firm white "reef" fish, usually tossed back by fishermen.

Hambone opted for the “Tartare” of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna with Baby Romaine Lettuce, “Cornichons,” Eggs Mimosa, Crispy Potatoes, and Bottarga Vinaigrette, which was outstanding, especially the eggs mimosa.

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts”
Cauliflower, Pomegranates, Toasted Almonds, Sunchoke “Puree” and Truffle-Lobster Sauce
Evidence that each course was becoming more complex and unique. The lobster was impeccably cooked and presented as three very tender medallions. The cauliflower was a scattering of teeny floret portions. The tangy pop of pomegranate and the salty crunch of almond was an unexpected combination and played nicely with the lobster. Seriously, is lobster ever not good?

Liberty Pekin Duck Breast “Confit a la Minute”
Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries and Chestnut Sauce
Best. Duck. Ever. Every single bite of duck breast was tender and richly gamy. Each Brussels sprout was deconstructed, the "leaves" sauted. The cranberries were tart and sweet, as they should be. And, the chestnut sauce was wonderfully earthy. All these incredible fall flavors made me remember the venison and chestnuts I ate, ten-plus years ago, at the Pan Am Building's Sky Club.

Elysian Fields Farm “Selle d’Agneau Rotie Entiere”**
Bluefoot Mushrooms, Golden Corn, Fennel Bulb and “Sauce au Piment d’Espelette”
I love lamb and this was very good. The mushrooms were meaty, the corn was impeccable, the baby fennel bulb slightly anisey—all touched briefly by the spicy, rustic sauce (again, transporting me, this time to the Basque Country of France, where these Espelette peppers are hung to dry on whitewashed buildings).

“Brin D’Amour”
Grilled Baby Artichokes, Tomato Jam and Arugula

Jacobsen’s Farm Apple Sorbet
Andante Dairy Cultured Cream and Ginger Foam
I so seldom see apple sorbet. Its sweetness was tempered by tangy cream and spicy foam, a nice play of textures.

Candied Cashew Nut Tart
Salted Cashew Ice Cream and Concord Grape Jam
The tart was very good, and I loved the salty-sweet ice cream, but I didn’t love the concord grape jam. In all, a clever take on pb&j.

Hambone had “Delice au Chocolat et a la Menthe” with Amedei Chuao Chocolate-Mint “Parfait” and Mint “Gastrique”. Something about this was crispy in a way to which I could easily be addicted. Pleasantly not too minty.

~miniature crème brulee and miniature raspberry trifle
~white china dish set on the table, lid removed to uncover macadamia nuts with toffee shell, dipped in chocolate and dusted with cocoa (one of the most amazing things I’ve ever put in my mouth)
~chocolate box with five types, each hand-dipped and some dusted with gold leaf
~container with three compartments: 1) mango gelees, 2) calissons, 3) one other delight I cannot remember
~shortbread cookies and Valrhona chocolate bars with shards of brittle, each packaged in cellophane to take away

*Moulard Duck “Foie Gras En Terrine” ($30.00 supplement)
**Grilled Sirloin of Japanese “Wagyu” ($100.00 supplement)

Wouldn't it be lovely to make this an annual event? Care to join us?

Monday, October 15, 2007

weekend report

From top to bottom:

tossed salad
red romaine lettuce with pear, blue cheese, toasted walnuts, and a champagne vinaigrette

butternut squash risotto with sage
This super-easy recipe from Everyday Food has you saute chunks of butternut squash in butter from the start, where you would typically saute onion or shallots. Stirring in the stock is a tad bit challenging with the squash jostling the rice for attention, but eventually the squash chunks reduce in size, thus contributing to risotto’s inevitable sauciness.

braised pheasant with polenta
My childhood was marked by the South Dakota pheasant opener (October 20 this year), which my parents approached with all the ceremony others reserve for Christmas and the Fourth of July. Pheasants define the fall so it only seems fitting to start clearing the freezer for more! While visiting my mother-in-law this past August, I found a copy of John Ash’s American Game Cooking among her wonderful cookbook collection. The pheasant recipes were especially appealing to me so she graciously allowed me to borrow the book. The rustic-Italian braised pheasant with polenta is adapted from a Lidia Bastianich recipe. I shredded the pheasant, which is the easiest method I’ve found for removing the lean meat from this tendon-laden bird. Hambone plated by piling the pheasant on a mound of creamy polenta. The pan sauce was strained and enriched with butter, then spooned over the plate, napping pan-sauted brussels sprouts along the way. Since food does not mix in the four separate chambers of our children’s stomachs, and since their alien race does not digest any sauce other than cheese sauce, Hambone did a “four squares” presentation for Alpha and Beta.

Claudia Springs, a Mendocino County winery, makes one of our favorite pinot noirs. Their ’03 zinfandel was exceptional, and I look forward to replenishing our supply.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No Cal '07: Chez Panisse

It has long been a dream to eat at this seminal restaurant, and sharing a meal with my handsome husband on a special birthday was ideal. A lot has been written about Chez Panisse and its owner, Alice Waters, and there isn’t anything meaningful I can contribute to that body. However, I want to say that I think Waters is brilliant. I applaud her advocacy for organic, locally grown, and sustainable food and for supporting the family farmer. But I am most awe-struck with this singular fact—her restaurant has thrived and remained relevant for thirty-six years.

Here is an account of my birthday dinner:
Finding the restaurant wasn’t easy. I’m not completely incompetent as a copilot, but I do have lousy night vision. The building is located on a bustling commercial street, and there is no obvious sign identifying the place. Even though I knew this, we still drove by restaurant a number of times before we parked and walked a few blocks.

We ate in the main-floor restaurant where a four-course prix fixe meal is served nightly (there is also an upstairs café featuring an a la carte menu). A confluence of elements—walls clad in dark-wood paneling, brass wall sconces and ceiling lamps with Arts-and-Crafts styling, hand-tinted woodcuts of fruits and vegetables, and intimate seating arrangements—all make for an elegant and comfortable dining room.

The kitchen sent out a bowl of olives with fresh thyme. For some reason, Chez Panisse olives taste better than almost any other olives I ever eaten. We nibbled on these and sipped champagne (Pierre Peters, the house pour), toasting the best birthday ever (so far).
That evening’s menu was a farewell to summer and previewed the wonderful fall produce trickling into California markets:

slow-roasted king salmon with green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and fennel
This composed salad boasted exquisite, large flakes of salmon, adorned by perfectly sweet and tiny cherry tomatoes, tender-crisp baby fennel, cucumber ribbons, and slender green beans.

chanterelle mushroom soup
No one loves mushrooms more than Hambone does. Yet we found this course a little lacking. For starters, the enormous, odd-shaped bowls in which the pureed mushroom soup was served were less than optimal. Then, the soup was missing something that may have been as simple as salt. We did like the meaty whole mushrooms around which the soup had been ladled and would happily have eaten more.

spit-roasted loin of Laughing Stock Farm pork with fig chutney, sweet corn, and fried onion rings
I’m sure you know that identifying the source of Chez Panisse’s food was started and made practice by Jeremiah Towers. Now everyone does it, even food bloggers, many of whom label the provenance of their greenmarket finds. I love pork loin, especially when someone else is cooking it. The spit left a tiny hole, which was encrusted with rosemary, and the loin was moist and beautifully porky. On the side, lightly battered onion rings and a fresh fig chutney and sweet corn, which was my favorite item of the entire meal. I could have eaten four courses of the corn. This course neatly bridged the seasons. Since it's important to know where our food comes from, here's more on Laughing Stock Farm.

apple and quince galette with burnt honey ice cream
The burnt-honey ice cream was moderately addictive. Once I figure out how to approximate the caramelized honey, I’ll be making this ice cream at home as often as I can. My dessert was presented with discreet fanfare—a candle and happy-birthday wishes from the kitchen.

wine: Joseph Swan Vineyards ’02, zinfandel
We managed to stretch out a bottle through the entire meal. The wine can be characterized with big berry flavors and a mellow, long finish.

Following dessert and a pot of French-press coffee, a small plate arrived with more gifts from the kitchen: tangy candied orange peel and chocolates with pistachio cream centers, dusted with gold leaf. I'm still thinking about the orange peel and wondering how fussy it is to make as I wouldn't mind having a stash.
In all, the meal was simply amazing.

We experienced local, seasonal, and fresh—and we were not disappointed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

back from Cali

Wow, what I wouldn’t give to be back on vacation. Hambone and Spice have been home now for five days, but our heads, hearts, and stomachs are still in Northern California. The week has been a blur of deadlines, faces, and other obligations. I’m just getting caught up on mail, email, phone calls, and blog reading, so soon the food highlights from a long, wonderful weekend will follow.

Until then, Dara Moskowitz recapitulates the ever-changing restaurant scene in St. Paul—and previews a new, top-secret restaurant in Minneapolis, featuring Steve Brown!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

California here we come

T minus 50 hours until Hambone and Spice are seated at the French Laundry for a very special birthday meal. Spice couldn’t think of a more fitting celebration for a milestone birthday. She’s also thinking about flying without a net—no camera, no notebook—just five senses to imprint a memory.

The French Laundry isn’t the only exceptional restaurant we’ll visit while in the Bay Area. Tomorrow night we’re dining at the Chez Panisse restaurant. Either Zuni Cafe, which is on my 2007 food resolution list, or Piperade for Basque on Saturday night—we have reservations at both and will see what mood strikes us. And, for our final meal: dim sum at Yank Sing, which comes highly recommended by bloggers and the Chronicle.

Mignardise: [The posted menu] was irresistibly ambitious, full of things you never see, like local chèvre dusted with zahtar (a Middle Eastern spice blend based on sumac), house-made chorizo, and—be still my beating heart—a ragout of Wisconsin rabbit. Dara Moskowitz is wowed by the Napa Valley Grille in the MOA, where I have had my share of subpar meals during my job-with-an-expense-account days. Read her review, and tell me you’ve had a change of heart too. This gives me something to look forward to upon my return home.

Monday, October 01, 2007

october on my mind

For the record, October is my favorite month of the year. I love the crisp weather that allows me to wear lightweight sweaters. Lining Summit Avenue and River Road, trees ablaze in red, orange, and yellow offer a breathtaking sight. I can revel simultaneously in warm, sun-dappled afternoons or in cold rainy days. I love curling up on the chaise lounge in the screened porch or on the couch in the den, getting lost in a thick, narrative-rich novel.

But, my favorite part of fall is the change in the menu. By this point in the year, I cannot face another bratwurst. Meals that required little or no cooking hold no appeal. I’m hard-pressed to find yet another marinade or rub to enliven the chicken breasts, pork tenderloins, or flank steaks we like to throw on the grill. I long to turn on the oven, allowing complex aromas to waft out of the kitchen and the residual heat to warm our home’s core.

The first two weeks of fall are usually quite warm here, and I try to eek out another summery meal on the grill. We savor the last time we eat an ear of corn, a ripe red tomato, garden-fresh green beans or zucchini or pungent melons. When the squashes and local apples make an appearance we proclaim we’re not ready.

Then October arrives and we give ourselves over to that which we can no longer deny. It’s time to turn on the oven, spend Sundays tinkering in the kitchen, and linger over hearty meals. Hambone and I are anticipating many favorite meals and food items—chili, soups, osso buco, risotto (butternut squash, wild mushrooms), lasagna, polenta or pasta topped by thick sauces, goulash and beef stroganoff with luscious egg noodles, pheasant and other game, quick breads (banana, pumpkin), crisps (pear, apple), just to name a few. And, we’re looking forward to trying our hand at some new dishes—I’m looking at you cassoulet.

Braising and roasting and baking, oh my.

We toast the a new month with this chicken pot pie, which I love for its old-school flavors, including sherry in the cream sauce.

Chicken Pot Pie with Corn and Bacon

The Best Recipe (editors of Cooks Illustrated)

1 recipe pie dough or biscuit topping

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups homemade chicken broth
6 strips bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips

1 medium onion, chopped fine

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise 1/4-inch thick
2 small celery stalks, cut crosswise 1/4-inch thick

Salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1-1/2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3 tablespoons dry sherry

3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken and broth in small Dutch oven over medium heat. Cover, bring to simmer; simmer until chicken is just done, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer meat to large bowl, reserving broth in measuring cup.

2. Cook bacon in now-empty pan, over medium heat, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, about 6 minutes. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Increase heat to medium-high. To the bacon fat, add onion, carrots, and celery; sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. While vegetables are sautéing, shred meat into bite-sized pieces. Transfer cooked vegetables and drained bacon to bowl with chicken. Set aside.

3. Heat butter over medium heat in again-empty skillet. When foaming subsides, add flour; cook about 1 minute. Whisk in chicken broth, milk, any accumulated chicken juices, and thyme. Bring to simmer, then continue to simmer until sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper; stir in sherry.*

4. Pour sauce over chicken mixture; stir to combine. Stir in peas and parsley. Adjust seasonings. Pour mixture into 13 x 9-inch pan or shallow baking dish. Top with desired pastry dough; bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 30 minutes for large pies. Serve hot.

Note: *The recipe suggests we might cover the filling and refrigerate it overnight at this point, which we did. We also reheated the filling, as the recipe said to do, before we topped with the pastry and baked. The filling was pretty soupy and I would refrain from heating twice if you go this route. Half an hour in the oven should be plenty long to heat through.

Friday, September 28, 2007

local food round up

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl visits Big Daddy's BBQ :This story is for people who love cupcakes and ribs so much they won't mind spending their Saturday pursuing the best iterations of the genre currently, or possibly ever, available in this great state.

The Star Tribune welcomes fall with pork roast recipes and salutes Dayton's Macy's (it will always be Dayton's to me) 60-year-old Oak Grille, a Minneapolis institution.

Not local, but relevant. In my next life, I’d like to be the cheese columnist for whichever paper has the best food section. The San Francisco Chronicle is my inspiration. Earlier this week, the food section ran a short article about a tomme made in Thomasville, GA. Tommes are easily my favorite cheese, and I'm happy to see American cheesemakers making them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Resolution 07: Clancey's Meat and Fish

For a while now, our friend Apur, a dedicated foodie who always prepares a serious haunch of meat when he feeds us, has been urging Hambone and Spice to visit Clancey’s Meats. Apur and his little family are lucky enough to live in the Linden Hills neighborhood where Clancey’s is located, so they can walk over to the shop whenever they want. Hambone and Spice live all the way over in St. Paul. Visiting Linden Hills, tucked into a quiet pocket of Minneapolis, means crossing The River so we don’t make it over to this gem of a neighborhood often enough.

Hambone and Spice (mostly Spice) resolved to remedy the situation by paying a call on the store. So we visited. As with so many things, I’m wondering how we have managed as long as we have without Clancey’s.

The glass-fronted cases are filled with such gems as assorted cuts of crusty dry-aged beef, ropes of fresh sausage in transparent natural casings, creamy duck rillettes, and vacuum-packed legs of duck confit. Behind the counter, you’ll find owner/sausage-maker Greg Westergreen and Kristin Tombers*. I know their names because they introduced themselves when they heard I’d come all the way from St. Paul to buy meat from their shop, but I think they would have introduced themselves no matter where I’d come from.

The worth of your neighborhood should be measured by places like Clancey’s where the proprietors want to know your name. They’re interested in what you’re eating for dinner and how you’re going to prepare their products. The world needs more places like this.

The sausages here are amazing—filled with only the highest quality ingredients, made on the premises. They boast flavor combinations you haven’t seen anywhere else. On our first visit we picked up turkey-apricot, duck five-spice, and lamb-pine nuts-dried blueberries—each of which we roasted in the oven with quartered red potatoes and served with braised red cabbage and a medley of mustards.

Last night we used a package of Clancey’s pork-shallot-garlic sausage to put one of Mark Bittman’s 10-minutes meals to the test. Using the guidelines set forth in the NYT article, I cut five sausages into chunks and then sautéed them in a bit of olive oil. When the sausages were nearly cooked, I added a bunch of red seedless grapes and a few cloves of garlic, thinly sliced. After the grapes were heated through, about 10 minutes, I ladled the mixture onto creamy, soft polenta, enriched with butter and parmesan. What does one drink with porky, garlicky goodness that has mingled with sweet, warm grapes and salty, buttery, comforting polenta? A red fruit-laden, slightly spicy Jaboulet Parallele "45" Cotes du Rhone.

We haven’t yet made a dent in Clancey’s vast meaty offerings so we’ll be returning soon and often. And so should you—it’s my personal mission to send everyone to Clancey’s. Go. Buy sausages and free-range chicken and lamb chops and dry-aged hangar steaks. Introduce yourselves to Greg and Kristin and Erik.

*Partner Erik Sather wasn’t in on my visit.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy Autumn!

Even though temperatures in Minnesota have been hovering above 80 degrees, the leaves are changing colors, the squirrels are burying nuts, and the mice are looking for winter homes—all right on schedule. While we could just as easily have grilled, Hambone and Spice got a jump on the new season by fixing a fall dinner last night.

The meal preparation was sort of fussy and protracted by a much-appreciated phone call from a sibling so I set out some nibbles to tide over Hambone and our guest, my brother Nik. We spread a pungent taleggio cheese on Lesley Stowe's dried cranberry and hazelnut-studded Rainforest Crisps and sipped Campari cocktails (equal parts Campari and Punt e Mes vermouth with a splash of soda water).

I pulled together a pear crisp by peeling, coring, and slicing four Comice pears, which went into a 9 x 9-inch baking dish. The pears were tossed with about a quarter cup of crystallized ginger. Fresh ground nutmeg over the pear-ginger mixture. One cup of flour, a half cup of rolled oats, a quarter cup brown sugar, and six tablespoons melted butter were mixed by hand to form a crumbly dough, which blanketed the pears. The crisp baked in 350 degree oven for an hour.

Red romaine leaves and Mark Bittmans' classic vinaigrette recipe with balsamic vinegar constituted the base of a tossed green salad with toasted pine nuts and orange segments. I love sweet, salty, and nutty in my tossed greens.

Our main course was a rich, satisfying wild-mushroom risotto. The weekend prior, Hambone and I had picked up some fresh, vibrant golden chanterelles and a package of mixed, dried woodland mushrooms (from which I mostly used the morels). Martha Stewart has a recipe that calls for both fresh and dried mushrooms, and uses a pretty classic prep with shallots, Arborio rice, dry white wine, and chicken stock and butter and Parmesan cheese to finish.

Hambone and Spice were reminded of how much they each love risotto and vowed that this would be the first of many risottos in the coming months.

A Domaine Lafond cotes du rhone accompanied our meal, which was, by all rights, a fine how-do-you-do to fall.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Local food writing round-up

Invented by the rice reapers in the Albufera region near Valencia, traditional paella basically consisted of rabbit, snails, duck and beans. In a special article for the Star Tribune, Donna Tabbert Long writes about paella and offers an easy recipe for home cooks. Paella is one of the one-dish meals I'm looking forward to making as the coming colder weather suggests warming, comforting food.

Three words: Lamb. Curry. Meatballs. Dara Moskowitz reviews Blackbird Cafe in south Minneapolis, which is run by Table of Contents alum: if you love people, and restaurants, and enthusiasm, and not spending too much on a good dinner, you are going to just love it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

what's not to like about bacon

The geniuses at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, my favorite chocolatiers, have possibly one-upped the nearly perfect savory-sweet combination of their Barcelona bar by adding bacon to chocolate. The new Mo's Bacon Bar features applewood-smoked bacon and alderwood-smoked salt in deep milk chocolate. I can't wait to track a bar down...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Recent meals

1. Chicken breasts marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, and garlic, then grilled; grilled zucchini; chimichurri, which is, hands down, the best chimichurri recipe. It comes from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and it's very flexible. You can use parsley or cilantro, or a combination of both. For the acidic note, you can use lemon juice or vinegar. No matter which green leafy thing we have on hand to use, we always use sherry vinegar, as well as red pepper flakes, good-quality olive oil, garlic, and plenty of kosher salt. Even though we're fans of rustic chopped herb sauces, chimichurri has so many strong components and a fair amount of oil to bind them that the way it works best is to emulsify in a food processor or blender.

2. That pasta I only ever make in the summer when I can get garden-fresh ingredients. I've never written down the recipe, and occasionally have very mixed results, such as when the tomatoes aren't very juicy and I've thrown out all the pasta water so the vegetables aren't very saucy. Last week I made a note to pay attention to the process so I could at least get that down here. Quantities, of course, could vary according to taste, but here's the basic method: saute minced shallots in equal parts olive oil and butter until soft. Add fresh corn kernels from a few ears; incorporate corn with shallot mixture and saute for a few minutes. Add a centimeter of white wine and cover pan to allow corn to steam for a few minutes (Hambone prefers his corn less al dente). Remove cover and add diced zucchini. Season with salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and red pepper flakes. Allow zucchini to brown a bit before adding diced tomatoes. Cook for about five more minutes. Toss sauce with pasta (I used farfalle here, but I prefer orecchiette or conchiglie—something with a cup to hold the goods). This time I added a barely discernible splash of cream to the vegetables before tossing with the pasta, which, beyond a little gussied-up richness, gave the dish a depth of character I hadn't noticed was lacking.

3. Steamed clams, another quick and dirty dish lacking a recipe: I sauteed a quarter cup diced chorizo in a dot of olive oil (just to get it started), then added minced shallots, which I gave a quick swirl in the smoky, densely red oil. Roughly two minutes later I poured a quarter cup white wine (Salvenal Albarino 2004), then added 3 pounds clams (manilas and another larger variety purchased from Coastal Seafoods); covered and steamed for ten minutes. We devoured the sweet, minerally clams, swiping crusty baguette hunks through the rich (slightly briny) juice, all accompanied by the remaining Albarino.

4. Evidence of another sausage fest with the Harrisons, in which we grill a variety of sausages and try a range of mustards. This really deserves a fuller post—especially for the hospitality of our friends not to mention the places where we each sourced our meat—so more sausage news to come. Here, from left to right: asiago-wild rice bratwurt from Kowalski's; lamb-dried blueberry-pine nut sausage from Clancey's Meats and Fish; chicken sausage with spinach and feta (source unknown); and Summit Maibock bratwurt from Kowalski's.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

pheasant fajitas

Growing up in the midwest with a Father Who Hunts meant that we had a deep freeze full of wild game not unlike other homes where the deep freeze contains whole chickens or sides of beef or convenience food from Schwan's. More often than not our grilled burgers were made from ground elk rather than ground beef. Pheasant became a substitute for chicken in dishes ranging from stir-fries to soups. It's not such an exotic or even special thing to eat game where game is plentiful.

As an adult who does her own grocery shopping, I've priced farm-raised pheasant. Suffice it to say, I'm hard pressed to pay over $20 for a three-pound bird. Every bird my father sends my way is a gift. That said, the birds tend to languish in the freezer. For a while in the early-nineties we made the pheasant-lentil soup from the Silver Palate Cookbook, but I've never really found a pheasant recipe I'd like to eat on a regular basis. Come to think of it, I don't really notice many to clip from the culinary magazines I read, nor do I see many recipes in the cookbooks I buy.

I'm not a fan of using pheasant as a substitute for chicken as it often becomes dry and tough quickly. Searches for pheasant recipes online tend to involve unhealthy amounts of bacon or (gasp) cream of mushroom soup, both treatments meant to give the meat fat where it has none. I'm also not crazy about roasting pheasant with fruit.

Recently, it was my pleasure to reconsider the pheasant in place of chicken or another red meat. My youngest brother made dinner for Hambone and Spice and knocked our socks off with pheasant fajitas. Because pheasant is so naturally lean, I didn't have much hope for the dish being anything other than a disaster (sorry Nik). But, we were pleasantly surprised that the pheasant yielded a somewhat rich and complex fajita.

Here is Nik's basic method:

After deftly boning two 3-pound pheasants (Nik labels his packages so he knows where he shot the birds; these came from Winner, SD) and cutting the meat into strips, Nik heated a glug or two of olive oil over medium heat. He sauted the meat very carefully, watching the heat so as not to cook to fast.

Surprisingly, the pheasant gave up quite a bit of liquid, which Nik retained. He seasoned the meat with cayenne, salt, and some green herbs (these are not your traditional fajitas). When the meat was just shy of cooked through, he turned off the heat and put a lid on the pan.

Because he had a large quantity of meat for a medium pan, he opted to fry the vegetables (assorted bell peppers and red onion from the St. Paul Farmers Market) in a separate pan, again in olive oil. When the vegetables were bright and glistening—not even five minutes—he threw them into the pan with the meat and added a little canned green chile for kick and sauce. We ate Nik's concoction with a sprinkle of Mexican "quesadilla" cheese, wrapped in flour tortillas (my preference over corn tortillas).