Thursday, February 28, 2008

local food writing round-up

I haven’t rounded up restaurant reviews in a while, largely because there has been a slight lull in local food writing as well as a changing of the guard. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, who left the City Pages a month ago is now at Minnesota Monthly. She has been replaced at CP by Rachel Hutton, who was at MM previously. Twin Cities magazine publishing proves to be as soap-operatic as what I have experienced in book publishing.

Check out Dara’s blog. She is also editing Real Food, a Greenspring (MM’s parent company) publication that is available nationally (grocery store freebie), and at Lunds and Byerly’s locally. Did I ever mention that I wanted that job?

Over at City Pages, Rachel Hutton is reviewing the “restaurants of the moment,” including Nick and Eddie and Meritage. Nick and Eddie’s is the new restaurant from the folks who ran Au Rebours, the brasserie-style restaurant that, last year, vacated the Hamm Building in St. Paul. Meritage continues the brasserie spirit of Au Rebours in the same physical space. The local restaurant scene proves to be no less soap-operatic than publishing.

At the Strib, Rick Nelson reviewed Meritage a few weeks ago, and this week tackles Red Stag, another well-buzzed restaurant.

My restaurant list grows exponentially!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Friday Night Light

Somewhere along the line, I’ve had to admit that Friday nights are all about not cooking. Or, for cooking the least amount possible and taking a breather after a long workweek and the obligations to school-age children.

Recently I surveyed some of our foodie friends who are also working parents. When asked what they serve for dinner on Friday nights, each said delivery pizza or take-out. Not bad choices, except that we’re typically already feeling a little gross from having exercised that option at least once, earlier in the week.
Our summer solution is cocktails and nibbles, such as handmade guacamole and chips with a margarita, or our favorite saucisson sec and a wedge of cheese with gin and tonics or chilled rosé. For some reason, in the dark of winter, these options don’t seem very substantial.

A few weeks ago, Hambone suggested working our way through Bittman’s 10 minute meals. We clipped the article way back in July, when it promised to get us out of the funk of summer heat. We tucked the clipping away for future reference, and, quite frankly, there's little difference between the rut one falls into during the dog days of summer and trying to keep hearty cold-weather cooking lively and quick.

We’ve cooked #5 (steam mussels in white wine with garlic, basil, chopped tomatoes until the mussels open, then serve with crusty bread) and #11 (sauté shrimp in olive oil that has been warmed with sliced garlic, cumin, and pimenton, then garnished with parsley and a squeeze of lemon and served with crusty bread). Not quite a full meal but more substantial than cheese and bread. Both items packed fresh flavors into their small packages and proved warming on cold winter Friday nights. I sourced my seafood at a local fish market, Coastal Seafoods—went in for the mussels (PEI) and was seduced by the wild brown Mexican shrimp (in the 16/20 neighborhood and very sweet).

I’ve marked a few more to try in the near future: #8 (littlenecks, olive oil, and garlic with angel-hair pasta or bread), #14 (prosciutto, olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic, red pepper flakes on pasta), #15 (grilled cheese sandwich with prosciutto, tomato, basil), #31 (quick chile relleno, using canned whole green chilies), #70 (sauted squid rings with a garlic/pimenton/mayo sauce), #80 ("not-quite merguez": seasoned ground lamb burgers served on couscous with a side of bottle harissa), and #86 (smoked trout fillets with toasted almonds, shredded fennel, and olive oil/lemon juice dressing).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Last week I hosted my book group, which is comprised of some really good cooks. Each member works in the publishing industry. Those who work for publishers regularly wine and dine their accounts, while the booksellers are, well, wined and dined. Everyone has access to great cookbooks. And, everyone likes to eat and talk about eating. I wouldn’t want to join any other book group, but they do make for a tough audience when it comes time to host them. No pressure.

From the moment I volunteered my house for the next discussion—way back in November—I started planning the menu. Typically, the host serves appetizers, usually casual but rarely simple. In the past year alone we’ve been offered chicken satay, Vietnamese-influenced spring rolls, a mountain of tuna tartare, a luscious lemon-glazed pound cake, and, always, countless cheeses.

Initially I intended to make a Southern-themed spread of hors d’oeuvres—pimento cheese with crackers and celery, spiced pecans, and a spicy shrimp cocktail. But when the week of our discussion rolled around, I had a complete change of heart—and palate. Perhaps the shift had something to do with the impossibly cold weather or with the malaise I’ve been feeling lately.

At any rate, I was in need of shaking things up so pulled out some recipes I’ve been meaning to try for some time, starting with Judy Rodgers’ herb jam (spinach, cilantro, parsley, garlic, and olives, cooked slowly and mashed with smoked paprika and cumin, then given a blast of lemon juice before serving), served with pita chips.

I can’t get enough of one of the top 2007 food crazes: meatballs. The February 08 issue of Bon Appetit featured a recipe for bison meatballs and a cilantro-yogurt sauce, which sounded very appealing to me. At the grocery store, however, I chickened out and purchased lamb rather than bison. Few people I know share my love for bison, so I swapped it out for the authentically Middle Eastern—and still assertive—flavor of lamb.

The herb jam was really good, but it went largely untouched. The smoked paprika and oil-cured black olives lurking amid the dark green spread were a little intense even for the foodies in our group. The meatballs, however, were devoured handily. You’ll want to make these as soon as you can. Don’t wait to share them with anyone. The cilantro-yogurt sauce makes these meatballs extra delicious and would be great on pan-seared lamb chops or grilled fish. I’m linking to the recipe because it’s long—really, it’s two recipes—but don’t let that discourage you because the directions aren’t difficult and you are in for a treat.

In addition to the food I made, Chowgirl Amy, who traded in her publishing job to become a caterer, arrived bearing killer goodies from her professional kitchen: duck pate with shallot and golden raisin marmalade, roasted vegetables (carrots, green beans, baby bok choy) with a ginger-soy-sesame dressing, and an artichoke heart tapenade.

(ETA photo)