Thursday, January 31, 2008

local food writing round-up

A memoir—and farewell—from Dara. Can't wait to follow her next chapter.

The Star Tribune has a short piece on the Egyptian spice blend, dukkah. My sis recently sent me a package of dukkah that she picked up at the Oakland farmers market but I’ve been thinking about making my own and the recipe for the dukkah with pistachios and cocoa nibs especially appealing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Consider this a joint venture between The Great Freezer Clean Out and Kids in the Kitchen: bangers and mash.

The package of lamb sausage from Clancey's was the first candidate from the freezer for consumption. These aren't just any ol' lamb sausages either. Rich and meaty, they get a little earthiness from pine nuts and a complementary sweet bite of blueberry to cut the lamb's richness. While the sausages were roasting in the oven, Alpha treated us all to mashed potatoes.

Following the directions in his Williams-Sonoma Kids's Cookbook, he selected enough small Yukon Gold potatoes to fill the bottom of a large saucepan. We covered the potatoes with water, threw in some salt, and set them the boil. About fifteen minutes later, Alpha stuck a knife tip into the largest potato and claimed them done. I drained the potatoes (heavy, hot pan), then turned Apha loose to mash and add half a stick of butter and Cedar Summit Dairy organic half-and-half—to his preference. Which is to say, I turned a blind eye. The potatoes were some of the best I've had in a long time—really rich and creamy. You can make these any time you want!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Great Freezer Clean-Out of 2008

When I was a kid, my family had a deep freeze in the garage. During the fall and winter hunting seasons, my father did his part to keep the freezer filled with pheasant, duck, grouse, goose, deer, and elk. In the summer, walleye from the lake we lived on found its way into the freezer. A family friend would often keep us fed with half a cow. My mother maintained an incredible garden, and the freezer held the green beans, corn, and peas she’d bag. She'd also keep tins of cookies and other goodies around the holidays, and frozen treats (popsicles, ice cream bars, and the like) during the summer. I can see the virtue of a deep freeze, especially if you have a large family or if you "put things away," but I really don’t have need for one.

Except for the summer when the farmers market is in full swing, my shopping style is to stop at the grocery store frequently, daily if necessary, and pick up the freshest ingredients I can for dinner in an effort not to horde or stockpile food. I'm also not big on thawing meat or fish. In my limited experience, when I follow the safe thawing method in the fridge, I tend to underestimate the length of time it takes so I'm often left with still-frozen items when I'm ready to cook. Yes, I know there are ways to overcome this deficiency, but I prefer to cook my meat and fish the day I bring it home from the store.

Our side-by-side refrigerator and freezer, which came with the house, is less than optimal for a family with two growing boys. Both components are just too narrow, cramped, and claustrophobic, but the freezer especially so. It's impossible to store much in here, and unless the item comes in a box, most packages end up being a little awkward to fit. Inevitably, something frozen, solid, and toe-crushing falls off a shelf each time the door is opened. Plus, the water dispenser sucks up a bit of room that could be given over to a stash of nuts or more pints of ice cream.

But, it looks jam-packed, you say? In the past six months, the freezer has filled itself with food—and I'm not quite sure how it happened. Perhaps our sausage love from the summer of 2007 had something to do with it. We started hording packages. Friends who knew of our passion would bring us sausages from their travels to far-flung Minnesota towns that still boast meat lockers. I cannot complain about that measure of generosity.

Perhaps the full freezer has something to do with access to locally raised meat. I have a coworker whose brothers are raising grass-fed, organic beef and veal, and I have a hard time resisting the regular e-mail notifying me of his inventory. A friend's sister raises free-range, organic chicken, and we like to order one whenever she has birds ready. My father and brothers hunt and provide us with pheasant and deer.

My freezer holds some gems. To whit:

~ one smoked pheasant
~ a few packages of venison cuts
~ one pound Buescher Brothers' ground veal
~ one pound Buescher Brothers' ground beef (one pound)
~ two Buescher Brothers' T-bone steaks (one pound each)
~ three packages of sausage from Schmidt’s (Nicollet, MN)—jalapeno brats, Cajun brats, wieners
~ two packages of sausage from Clancey’s Meat and Fish (Mpls)—lamb-dried blueberries-pinenut, pork with jerk spices
~ two packages of meat from St. Joseph Meat Market (St. Joseph, MN)—(hot) fresh andouille brats, Swedish-style meat balls
~ one free-range chicken from a friend’s sister who raises them (6 pounds)
~ one pound lamb chops
~ two pounds shrimp
~ packages of frozen strawberries and blueberries for smoothies
~ assorted white boxes of frozen Indian food

I know there may be a few more things kicking around that I’ll unearth and salvage as I can. And, I'd like to find a new home for or a way to organize the nonedibles—the ice packs and the drum to the ice-cream maker, ready to be pressed into action whenever the urge for homemade ice cream strikes—seemingly necessary, but taking up prime real estate.

So, yes, perhaps I could use a deep freeze. However, I will resist and, instead, set a challenge. My immediate goal for the beginning of this new year is to clean out the freezer. No new items until the list above is dwindled. Okay, true confession, I just purchased a pint of vanilla ice cream and a pint of mango sorbet, but don't worry, neither will last long.

Up first: Clancey's lamb-dried blueberries-pine nut sausage

Thursday, January 24, 2008

local food writing round-up

Ever since November, when Russell Klein's new French brasserie-style restaurant, Meritage, opened in downtown St. Paul, I have been looking forward to eating there. Patiently I wait to hear something favorable about it. Kathie Jenkins at the Pioneer Press reports mixed results (but—I'm scratching my head over this—still gives the restaurant 3 of 4 stars). Has anyone eaten a good meal at Meritage?

One more column from Dara. What a treat! This week she gives a predictably gushing
review to Stewart Woodman's new restaurant, Heidi's: It has only 40 seats, but Heidi's is interesting enough for a lifetime.

And at the Strib, Rick Nelson urges readers to break out the bundt pan—a Minnesota invention—and bake. Nelson also reviews a trio of new Asian restaurants. Obento-Ya Japanese Bistro makes my list of restaurants for '08.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

local food writing round-up

In what must be one of her final columns at City Pages, Dara Moskowitz looks at a Mpls restaurant that offers Mexican street food: I'm never going to be able to cross the threshold of Los Ocampo without ordering some antojito or other, and my advice is that if you only learn one new word in 2008, let this be it.

The Pioneer Press offers has the list of forthcoming Twin Cities restaurant openings that any foodie with a pulse should covet. It should come as no surprise that I'm looking forward to Steve Brown's new place, Porter and Frye. Red Stag Supper Club, where we've already had a reservation that we had to cancel, is finally starting to get some mention. St. Paul locations of Pop! (picadillo empanadas) and Salut (I love a good brasserie for mussels or steak frites and bearnaise and oyster towers) will be convenient for H&S's family outings.

But, I think the opening I'm most excited about is Senor Wong's, a neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant/Polynesian cocktail place by the Truong family. Opening February 4. In downtown St. Paul. Two blocks from my office. Described in the Press article as a place where people can go everyday. And, I will if it's even half as good as today's lunch at Ngon.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

kids in the kitchen: breakfast

My kids love to help in the kitchen. They like to scoop flour into measuring cups or baking powder into measuring spoons and dump the ingredients into a bowl. They can crack eggs pretty neatly on the counter or the edge of a mixing bowl. Alpha, who is eight, can even separate egg yolks from the whites. They know that, typically, when we bake, you mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and you mix the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then add the wet to the dry and incorporate.

Together we have made countless batches of cookies, cakes, and brownies. But breakfast foods motivate both boys to pull themselves away from cartoons on weekend mornings. They grab their stools, belly up to the kitchen counter, and help with pancakes, waffles, muffins, French toast. And, Alpha makes perfectly soft scrambled eggs. Julia Child would be so proud.

This morning, Beta rolled up his sleeves to help me with the French toast. I measured the milk; he poured it into a bowl. Together we added eggs, a pinch of salt, a splash of vanilla, a hint of cinnamon. I sliced the day-old baguette; he placed the slices into the custard. I turned on the burner, heated the cast-iron skillet, and melted butter; he carefully plopped the custardy baguette slices into the pan and counted aloud while we waited for the first side to brown. Then he added more bread slices to the custard to soak while the previous batch finished. We piled all the slices on a plate and kept them warm in the oven.

After I cleaned the custard bowl, Alpha cracked eggs into it. He beat the eggs with a whisk, then seasoned with salt and pepper and grated in manchego cheese. Another quick stir. I turned on the stove for him, setting the flame low-ish. Alpha did the rest. I should watch and learn as his scrambled eggs are made with the patience and love I have never been able to give them. I’m thrilled.

Cooking is an activity I enjoy, clearly, and I am pleased that we can share it. The boys are learning to be a little self-sufficient. Cooking for one’s self or for others is a great life skill. There are great teachable moments too—measuring and math, chemistry, and vocabulary. But, the best part is the pride they have in the end product, as well as the pleasure they take in enjoying a delicious meal.

I look forward to doing more cooking with the boys in 2008. There are many recipes to try in the Williams-Sonoma kids’ cookbook that my friend Krista sent the boys. I’d like to try baking bread and making gnocchi and pasta. Alpha has a goal to make every known cookie and has “invented” [his word] a recipe for mac-and-cheese that I’d like to help him execute. Beta has a thing for tapioca pudding so I’d like to find a good recipe to make with him. And, there will be ample opportunities for them to help with our theme—to be revealed shortly—for 2008.

Friday, January 11, 2008

local food writing round-up

In the City Pages, Dara Moskowitz reviews her favorite 2007 cookbooks: If you buy only two this year, let it be these.

On a more gossipy note, the City Pages is running an article about a St. Paul resident who also happens to have a popular Travel Channel program and happens to be involved in a food fight.

At the [St. Paul] Pioneer Press, Kathie Jenkins’ cover article proclaims, We think you'll flip over the tasty variety of ethnic pancakes available morning, noon and night. I have had a jones to make bahn xeo, crispy Vietnamese crepes, for a few years now. Three or four recipes torn from the NYT and Food and Wine wait in my clippings folder, and I always have mung dal on hand for kitchari. One of these days...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

2007 in review

Happy New Year! Hambone and Spice ate so well in 2007. We enjoyed many fantastic and memorable meals in restaurants, in our friends’ homes, and in our own home. We had a blast cooking with our kids—both love to help measure ingredients, dump them into a bowl, and stir.

Here are some highlights from our year in food and drink:


Hambone and Spice have been fans of the cocktail since before we were of legal drinking age. So it was pretty exciting to watch a resurgence in the cocktail’s popularity. Gin and tonic, vodka gimlets, scotch and soda—all had ample play in our home. In New Orleans, Spice developed an unquenchable thirst for Sazeracs and French 75s.


Sunday morning visits to the St. Paul Farmers Market continue to be a balm. The boys really look forward to visiting their friends the Bison Guy (at Big Woods Bison) and Ly Vang at Hmong Handicrafts. We don’t have favorite vendors as we shop for whichever produce looks best, and it can vary from week to week. In addition to locally grown produce, we’re buying locally raised meat. Our chicken comes from friend Lisa M’s sister, who raises free-range birds, and Spice’s coworker, Lee, has hooked her up with some outstanding beef and veal (ground, steaks, summer sausage, beef sticks, and more) that his brothers raise. And, Spice’s father and brothers continue to provide game birds and fish from South Dakota.


Unwittingly, 2007 was the Year of the Sausage. The obsession started with a trip to Clancey’s Meat and Fish in Linden Hills, where we discovered a freezer full of exquisite house-made sausage. Links of traditional garlic pork, turkey-dried apricot, stunning duck-five spice, and an incomparable lamb-dried blueberry-pine nut. A few trip to St. Joseph, Minnesota, which still has a meat locker where townsfolk can drop off their deer for processing, unearthed a deep freeze with a bounty of brats—cherry bombs (dried cherries and jalapeno), steak and cheese, and funeral hotdish (noodles and cream of mushroom soup). We enjoyed many sausage fests with friends, which involves grilling sausage and brats, roasting small red potatoes, and pulling out of the refrigerator as many mustard jars as we can carry to the table.

~regional foods

South Dakota: pheasant, wild turkey

New Orleans: pheasant-andouille gumbo, beignets, softshell crab, crayfish boil, and more


For nine months of the year, Sundays afternoons are all about trying new, involved meals, usually something that allows a meditation over peeling, chopping, sweating, browning, braising. You know, recipes that allow for hours of preparation and cooking, provide a warm and nourishing meal, as well as tasty leftovers for mid-workweek lunches. In this way, we’ve made chili, goulash, Bolognese sauce, and coq au vin, to name a few.


Spice and friend Tracy A. took a fantastic four-part wine class at France 44, which featured an overview, a session on whites and one on reds, and a culminating session on pairing food and wine, where Spice learned to appreciate Riesling, especially with a fatty, spicy chorizo. Chuck at Solo Vino turned us on to Iberian wines—a few spectacular crianzas, including one that is very inexpensive, as well as a Portuguese tinto, Quinta de San Francisco, which we buy by the case. We also treated ourselves to a ’99 Karl Lawrence—and shared with friends—after drinking a more recent rendition in No Cal.

~favorite things made at home
Judy Rodgers’ spicy cauliflower pasta from the Zuni CafĂ© Cookbook, Martha Stewart’s easy jambalaya, arctic char with pistachios, polpetti, coq au vin, Mediterranean fish stew

~best things eaten this year

Hot Brown Sugar ice cream at Izzy’s (St. Paul), Vosges Chocolate’s Barcelona bar, France 44’s fruit compote, tres leche cake at 112 Eatery (Minneapolis), Grayson’s taleggio-style cheese (procured from Surdyk’s), cornbread panzanella at Red Ca
t (NYC), cornmeal poundcake at Lucia’s (Minneapolis), lamb shoulder with stewed chickpeas with lamb bacon and tomatoes at Saffron (Minneapolis), salmon-tartare “ice cream cone” at The French Laundry (Yountville, CA), pimento cheese, rosemary cashews, Juicy Lucys at the Groveland Tap, South Dakota rumaki (pheasant hearts and water chestnuts wrapped with bacon, pan-fried, and set in a pool of maple syrup)

~best restaurant meal

French Laundry

~restaurant honorable mentions

Chez Panisse, Cochon (New Orleans), Alma and 112 Eatery (Minneapolis), Red Cat and Raoul’s (NYC)

~restaurant discovery of the year
: Sea Salt
We had a fun time eating at Sea Salt, the fish and seafood restaurant located in Minnehaha Falls park. Sea Salt is open only for six months of the year (April through October) as most of the seating is outside. But, what a treat it is to eat oysters from oil pans and softshell crab sandwiches and calamari and more, en plein air, while listening to the falls gently roar. I remain optimistic that April will arrive soon.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

so long

Pretty much everyone has reported that Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is leaving the City Pages, taking her food column to Minnesota Monthly. I first read the news here and found it a little devastating. I'm pretty sure there's no longer any good reason to read CP. And, even though MM is glossy, I, for one, don’t really see this move as bigger and better. The magazine is very ad-directory-driven publication, and it’s very regional, but it’s bound to improve with Dara at the helm.

Check out Dara’s round-up of the best restaurant dishes from 2007. In a highly predictable move, she's slathered praise on Mission, with Doug Flicker in the kitchen, and on La Belle Vie and Heidi's, which is Stewart Woodman's new place. I was happy to see Brasa's roast pork on the list, as it should be. Meltingly soft and perfectly smoky, it was one of the best things I ate, anywhere, in 2007. And, the entries for Tea House 2 and Ngon Bistro have made an impression upon me. Both restaurants are on my radar.