Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's pizza

I thought I would ring in the New Year with style by making a gourmet homemade pizza!

I made a pizza with my brother's homemade onion-garlic venison sausage, Canadian bacon, caramelized onions, black olives, sauerkraut, and some havarti and Swiss cheeses.

The pizza turned out great! The flavorful venison sausage, Canadian bacon, and sauerkraut work very well together. And this was actually the first time I had used havarti cheese on a pizza. It was sharp tasting, and a great melter. Kind of nice for something different. An enjoyable meal!

Happy New Year! :)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - Ole Piper Inn

I went for a 9 mile run this morning, and the only thing I had for breakfast afterwards (I am embarrassed to say) was a bowl of Fruity Pebbles! I needed sustenance. so I found another great local restaurant to satisfy my cravings for food.

Ole Piper Inn
1416 93rd Lane NE
Blaine, MN

If you weren’t looking for it, this place would be easy to miss. In fact, I almost drove right by it.

The Ole Piper Inn is located on the southeast corner of Central Avenue (Hwy. 65) and Cloverleaf Parkway (93rd Lane NE) in Blaine. It is tucked away in a strip mall next to a gas station.

A brisk business was being done at lunch, both in the restaurant and the sports bar (the two are separate). The place was jumping, and the friendly servers were serving up plenty of good-natured sass to the regulars. It was a comfortable environment to walk into.

Their menu has something for everyone, offering breakfasts in the morning, and a number of sandwiches, appetizers, pizzas, and other entrees from the lunch hour on.

Continuing on my burger quest, I opted for their “Piper Burger.”

The “Piper Burger” at the Ole Piper Inn

Constructed in a fashion similar to that of the notorious “Big Mac,” it comes on a sesame seed-crusted Kaiser roll with two grilled beef patties that are separated by a small disc of bun. It is topped with American cheese, bacon, lettuce, and their own “special sauce.” The meal came with fries, but to be different, I opted for the $1 upgrade and chose seasoned waffle fries instead.

What an excellent burger. Char-grilled, cooked to order, and arriving a perfect medium, it remained very juicy and delicious. The Kaiser roll was fresh and soft, the bacon was crispy, and the lettuce was dressed with the appropriate amount of “special sauce,” so the burger wasn’t messy or over-sauced (the special sauce was great...smooth, sweet, and a little bit tangy, kind of like a really good homemade thousand island dressing). Waffle fries were a nice change of pace, too. They were crisp and well-seasoned.

A delightful meal, and a fantastic value, too. With a diet Coke, and even with the upgrade on the waffle fries, the bill came to $9.57 before tip. Any time you can get a burger and fries meal this good for under $10, it is worth a return visit.

I can say, without question, I will be coming to the Ole Piper Inn again. Now that I know where to look for it. :)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas ribs

Just had to share my Christmas Day dinner, because I thought it was a work of art.

Dad's home smoked BBQ ribs

Our Christmas Day was skewed a little bit due to some scheduling difficulties, so we ended up having out big prime rib dinner with the family on the 23rd. On Christmas Day, it was just Mom, Dad, and me. So Dad made his ribs.

These were unbelievably meaty baby back pork ribs that Dad rubbed with his seasoning mixture the night before, and they got a nice dose of applewood smoke the next day. Couple that with Mom's au gratin potatoes and the ever-popular green bean casserole and we had a feast. We can have this for Christmas anytime.

I am even gnawing on a leftover rack for dinner tonight... :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

You load 16 beans, and what do you get?

I had an abundance of dried beans in my pantry, and I found a beautiful ham shank in the meat department of my local grocery store. A perfect excuse to make bean soup!

The magic beans

This ended up being a 16 bean soup. How did that happen? Well, I took a fairly standard 13 bean soup blend and added three additional heirloom dried beans. There were the large, maroon and white Christmas limas, some speckled pink Cranberry beans, and the Calypso beans, which are the cute “Holstein cow-colored” beans. Even with my limited math skills, I believe that adds up to 16!

The recipe is largely based on my split pea soup with a couple of exceptions:

Simply use 1 lb. of dried beans (whatever dried beans you like, be it a single bean or a mixture) in place of the split peas. You must soak the beans in water overnight to help hydrate them. If you don’t do this, it is going to take forever and a day for them to get soft in the soup.

I also add a tablespoon of tomato paste right after I add the garlic and stir it around to coat the vegetables, right before adding the liquids. I think it adds a little bit of body and flavor to the soup.

Otherwise, the processes and amounts for making the soup are virtually identical to the split pea soup recipe. Cooking times might be slightly longer because dried peas break down faster than beans.

My 16 Bean Soup

The soup is very hearty, flavorful, and darker than most bean soups because of the addition of stout beer. The variety of beans gives it some different textures, and it is perfect on a winter day. To make it a little bit thicker, puree about a cup and a half of the soup and return it to the kettle. Delicious!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - Brine's Bar & Restaurant

Today I did a little Christmas Shopping in scenic and historic downtown Stillwater, MN. I found a cute little bar and restaurant for my lunch.

Brine’s Bar & Restaurant
219 So. Main St.
Stillwater, MN

Located in a building that is nearly 140 years old, Brine’s Bar & Restaurant is a landmark of sorts in downtown Stillwater. It was founded in 1958 by a gentleman named Lamont “Bud” Brine. The restaurant is still family owned, and they have even expanded to include a market and deli in uptown Stillwater.

I ate in the dining room, which is upstairs from the bar. The interior is rustic with high-backed, old wooden booths and vaulted ceilings. I sat down by a table with a view of downtown Stillwater’s main drag.

The menu is family-friendly, with a selection of soups, salad bar, burgers, brats, as well as hot and cold sandwiches. As burgers tend to be my usual selection at places like this, I couldn’t help but go for the “Brine Burger.”

The "Brine Burger" at Brine's Bar & Restaurant

The “Brine Burger” consists of a char-grilled burger topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, Canadian bacon, and Swiss cheese. Now, this is the cool part; you have a choice of bun! Yes indeed, you can get your burger on a white, wheat, onion, rye, or pumpernickel bun. How awesome is that? I am not sure I have ever seen anyone offer a choice like this before. Excited, I opted for the rye, and I also added fries and cole slaw to the meal.

The burger was delightful. The patty was quite lean and not greasy, but still retained enough moisture so it was not dry. A tasty piece of meat, with a great flavor from the grill. A pile of mushrooms and thick slices of onion were buried underneath the smoky Canadian bacon and Swiss cheese. The rye bun was incredibly fresh and loaded with caraway seeds. Very nice!

Not to be outdone, the fries (even though they are my least favorite style of fry) were golden, brown, and delicious. And the cole slaw was fresh, creamy, crispy, sweet, and clearly homemade. Add a couple of great big, crunchy dill pickle spears on the side, and I had a great meal.

I believe the burger must have been a special price today, because was listed as the "Saturday #3) on my check. The meal, with a diet Coke, cost $9.60 before tip. Any time you can get a tasty burger and fries for under $10 in a restaurant, you have stumbled into a good deal.

When I am in Stillwater, I will go here again. Perhaps I will have the pumpernickel bun next time? :)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Norwegian Venison Meatballs

I love Swedish meatballs. They are seen gracing the tables of many Scandinavian families at Christmas. And talk about fantastic comfort food in the winter!

This recipe is loosely based on that of Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit Swedish meatballs from the beautiful and elegant Aquavit cookbook . Over the years of cooking this dish, I have made several additions and adjustments to personalize it.

With any meatball, it is always good (I think) to use a combination of meats. Especially when using venison, a very lean meat, a little bit of ground pork will help with some added fat, as well as flavor contrast. Note that the recipe can be easily made with beef instead of venison (I just happened to have some venison given to me by my brother). So don’t feel like you need to use venison!

As my version of this recipe has evolved, I felt the meatballs needed some additional seasoning; specifically, spices that come to mind when I think of Scandinavian dishes. Scant amounts of ground allspice, mace, and ginger round out this dish nicely.

Most Swedish meatball recipes call for the traditional lingonberries to be either added to the sauce, or at a minimum, served on the side. I have opted to use my Mom’s homemade wild raspberry jam, with berries harvested from the same woods where my brother got his deer.

I have a strange ingredient in the sauce; sweet pickle juice! Why? The original recipe calls for some juice from a pickled cucumber recipe in the cookbook. Not wanting to make that just to get some juice, I simply substitute a little juice from a jar of bread and butter sweet pickles. It adds a sweet, vinegary bite to the finished sauce.

And why do I call them “Norwegian” meatballs instead of Swedish? Because I am Norwegian, that’s why! :)

As I said, this is big time comfort food. Serve it with some mashed potatoes to soak up all of the wonderful sauce!

Norwegian Venison Meatballs


-2 shallots, minced
-1 t. oilive oil
-1 1/2 lbs. venison stew meat, ground (or ground beef)
-1/2 lb. ground pork
-1 cup of fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs, chopped fine
-2 T. half & half
-1 1/2 T. honey
-1 egg
-1/4 t. ground allspice
-1/4 t. ground mace
-1/4 t. ground ginger
-1/4 t. ground white pepper
-Salt to taste
-Butter and olive oil for frying


-1 c. beef stock
-1/2 c. half & half
-2 T. raspberry jam
-2 T. juice from a jar of sweet pickles (sounds strange, but trust me!)
-Several turns of fresh ground black pepper
-1 T. cornstarch mixed with 1 T. cold water

Sweat the shallots in the olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

Put the meat in a large bowl. Soak the bread crumbs in a little bit of half & half to moisten, then add to the meat mixture. Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs and mix well. Form into meatballs.

In a large, deep skillet of fry pan, fry the meatballs in batches in a little butter and olive oil until nicely browned, but not cooked all the way through. Transfer to a warm plate.

In the same skillet where you cooked the meatballs, add all of the sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, allowing to thicken slightly. Return the meatballs to the sauce, allowing them to cook through, perhaps 15-20 minutes or so. Add the cornstarch mixture to help tighten it up.

Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Jean’s Maca-Toffee-Choco-Cino Cookies

Christmas is coming, so it is time to bake cookies!

I got the inspiration for this from Giada DeLaurentiis’ awesome hazelnut chocolate chip cookie recipe. But I have taken a few liberties and customized it with some different ingredients.

I use macadamia nuts instead of hazelnuts. Why? Because I hate removing the skins from hazelnuts! And, I like dark chocolate, so I use dark chocolate chips instead.

But the real score was finding these cappuccino chips from Guittard. Cookies with macadamia nuts, toffee, dark chocolate, and a little blast of coffee? Yum!

This recipe is incredibly easy, and the results are fantastic.

Jean’s Maca-Toffee-Choco-Cino Cookies

-1 2.25 oz bag macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
-2 Heath candy bars, finely chopped
-1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
-2 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-1 t. baking powder
-1 t. baking soda
-1/2 t. salt
-2 sticks of unsalted butter
-1 c. light brown sugar, packed
-1 c. white sugar
-2 eggs
-1 t. real vanilla extract
-1 c. dark chocolate chips
-1 c. cappuccino-flavored chips (Guittard brand)

First thing, toast the macadamia nuts in a skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes or so until they are lightly browned and fragrant (watch them carefully so they don’t burn!). When cooled, chop them into smaller pieces.

While you are chopping, chop up the Heath bar into small pieces.

Heat your oven to 325.

Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside for later.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until the texture is fluffy and the sugar is incorporated. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture until everything is combined. Fold in all of the remaining ingredients.

On parchment-lined baking sheets, drop hefty tablespoons of dough about an inch and a half apart. Bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a baking rack to cool.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas in D.C.

I came across this while surfing some food blogs today. Not a bad dinner spread at the White House for the holidays this year!

I must say the the Chicken Fried Beef Tenderloin sounds pretty interesting. They are definitely not slumming it by using the traditional cube steak! :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Duck and Wild Mushroom Ragu

My brother gave me a couple of duck breasts that a friend of his got while hunting this season. The breasts still had the bone still attached and the skin removed, so I debated what to do with them. A couple of years ago, I concocted a ragu similar to this with farm-raised duck, so I thought I would adapt it.

Since these birds were wild, and because the package of ducks that I was given still had a wing attached (this is required for transporting so a Game Warden can identify it), I decided these might benefit from a marinade to enhance the flavor, and possibly kill any sort of “gamey” elements that might be present.

The rest of the recipe is similar to a Bolognese sauce. It is a rich, luxurious, and hearty dish that would stand up a well to a big red wine. A perfect, delicious meal on a bitter cold Sunday in December!

Duck and Wild Mushroom Ragu

For the Duck:

-2 nice sized wild duck breasts (perhaps 1 pound of meat), bone still attached
-1 cup red wine
-4 cloves garlic, smashed
-Several sprigs fresh thyme
-Fresh ground black pepper

The rest of the ingredients:

-Olive oil
-1/2 cup bacon, cut into lardons
-S & P to season as needed
-2 carrots, small dice
-2 stalks of celery, small dice
-1 medium onion, small dice
-5 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
-1 6 oz can tomato paste
-1/2 bottle red wine
-2 cups beef stock
-Several sprigs of thyme, plus one tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves, reserved
-8 oz. package crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1 small package wild mushrooms (any kind you like), reconstituted in a half cup of water, sliced, soaking liquid reserved

Day 1 - In a large ziptop bag, combine the duck in the wine, garlic, thyme, and black pepper. Place the bag in a bowl in case there is leakage, and allow to marinate in the fridge overnight.

Day 2 - Brown bacon in olive oil and reserve. Leave about a tablespoon of fat and brown the duck for a couple of minutes just to sear it, seasoning with the S & P. Set duck aside, drain most of the remaining liquid, and begin sautéing the carrots, celery, and onions, about 5 minutes until nicely colored. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add tomato paste, stir, and allow to brown a little bit to add some depth of flavors. Deglaze with wine, add the stock and thyme sprigs. Add the duck to the pot. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add the crimini mushrooms and dried mushrooms, and pour in some of the soaking liquid. Allow to simmer, covered, for an hour or so. After about an hour, remove the duck from the ragu, slice or shred the meat, and return the meat to the ragu. When ready to serve, add the reserved chopped thyme leaves and the bacon. Serve over your favorite long pasta.

7-Grain Honey Wheat Bread

I have always loved multigrain breads, and so does my Mom. My brother was the detractor in the family, often referring to these as "bird seed breads!"

Yesterday I did a little experimenting with a recipe to make my own "bird seed bread." My Mom originally gave me her recipe for whole-wheat bread, which I then modified into a honey wheat bread. I have altered it further with the addition of a couple tablespoons of 7-grain cereal, which is a coarsely-ground mix of different whole grains.

A mere two tablespoons was enough to give the bread some noticeable texture and flavor. Next time, I think I may experiment further by adding some whole sunflower seeds, or maybe some millet to the mixture. The bread turned out very nice, and I will be happy to have this on hand for my breakfasts this week!

7-Grain Honey Wheat Bread
makes 1 loaf

-1/4 c. milk
-1/2 c. water
-3 T. honey
-2 T. molasses
-2 T. butter
-1 t. salt
-1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
-1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-2 T. 7-grain cereal mix
-1 1/2 t. instant yeast
-Extra butter for the loaf pan and for brushing on top

With the dough hook attachment on a stand mixer, mix all ingredients for perhaps 10 minutes, or until the dough comes together with a smooth surface. Allow to rise in a bowl, covered in a warm place, for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size (alternatively, for bread machine users, you could do this on the "dough" cycle up to this point). Punch down and transfer to an 8 1/2 inch buttered loaf pan. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled in size. Brush the top of the loaf with some melted butter. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove from the loaf pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tonight's pizza for dinner

My brother gave me some homemade venison sausage (hot Italian style), so I decided to use it on a pizza.

I also threw on some Canadian bacon, pepperoni, black and green olives, and mushrooms. So it was a bit of an "everything" pizza! The venison sausage was delicious. Quite lean and very flavorful, with lots of red pepper and fennel seed. Perfect for a pizza topping!

Oh, and I've got my new oven figured out now. Preheat to 550 F, 8 minutes on the pizza stone...presto!

Road Food Pursuits - The Bierstube

Today I found myself doing more exploring in the northeast metro. I stopped for lunch in White Bear Lake.

The Bierstube
2670 E. County Road E
White Bear Lake, MN

To call The Bierstube a “chain” is not entirely accurate. While there are five locations in Minnesota (Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Oakdale, Red Wing, and here in WBL), they are all owned, at least in part, by the same family.

Lawrence William Yanz opened the first Bierstube first in Hastings in 1962, starting out with a modest menu of Reubens, bratwursts, and 3.2 beer. Today they offer a much more extensive menu, with many sandwiches, entrees, and German specialty items.

The White Bear Lake location is at the end of a strip mall off of County Road E. Inside, there is the feel of German pub meets sports bar, with lots of TV’s and sports paraphernalia decorating the walls.

I was in a burger mood, once again, so I ordered the “Max Burger” (the house favorite burger, named after the grandson of the original owner). It was topped with grilled onions, American cheese, barbecue sauce, and bacon, served on a Kaiser roll. I added a half order of French fries and a diet Coke to drink.

The "Max Burger" at The Bierstube

Likes: The burger had a fantastic grill flavor. A mound of browned, sweet onions mingled beautifully with the smoky barbecue sauce, the creamy melted cheese, and the crisp bacon. The Kaiser roll was very fresh, and I have already expressed my appreciation for crinkle-cut fries (yum!).

Dislikes: Were it not for the barbecue sauce, the burger would have been pretty dry. And, my bill was $11.53 before tip! That is pretty steep for what was essentially a burger basket.

Despite being a little dry, the burger did have good flavor, so don’t think this means I am going to write off The Bierstube (leave it to me to order a burger at a German pub!). I plan to go back sometime to try their Reuben (which sounded excellent, served on a garlic-crusted pumpernickel rye!), or some of their authentic German dishes.

I shall return.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Homemade lefse

Over the holiday weekend, Mom and I made our traditional batch of lefse. This is something we do every Thanksgiving and at Christmas.

Lefse is a Scandinavian flatbread that is made from a potato-based dough, and It accompanies most holiday meals around this time of year. It is rolled very thin and cooked on a hot griddle (or an authentic lefse griddle, if you are a purist) until it develops some nice brown spots. To offer a comparison, lefse looks quite similar to a flour tortilla.

At its best, lefse is a delicate and pliable bread. Some people like to wrap things in it, others like it with a little jam, or even some simple butter and sugar. Me, I like it straight-up with nothing on it. I find it is excellent on its own!

We ate the entire batch over the course of the week, so I had none to take home with my leftovers. Because of that, I am looking forward to making another batch at Christmas! :)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dining at The Angled Utensil

While in Grand Marais over the Thanksgiving holiday, my Mom, sister-in-law, and I had lunch at The Crooked Spoon Cafe. Mom had been wanting to go here since they opened, and that was all the reason I needed!

The Crooked Spoon Cafe
17 W. Wisconsin Street
Grand Marais, MN

The Crooked Spoon Cafe is a relatively new restaurant right in the heart of the downtown area. It is a tiny restaurant with seating for perhaps fifty or so diners. The menu is a creative one (this was the lunch menu), with a selection of sandwiches, salads, appetizers, and a couple of soups, including some daily specials.

Mom had their signture soup (pictured to the left), which was French onion served in a crock with Gruyere cheese and puff pastry taking place of the traditional crouton. A dramatic presentation. for certain, and Mom said it was excellent. My sister-in-law had the muffuletta; a huge sandwich with olive salad and roasted peppers, served on a baguette. Eating it was a messy and challenging proposition, but she said it was very good!

I had the "Crooked BLT," which consisted of thick-sliced pepper bacon, balsamic-marinated tomatoes, bibb lettuce, and a curried mayonnaise, served on caraway rye bread. It was a great sandwich. The bacon was awesome, and I loved the balsamic tomatoes, which contributed a sweet and zippy flavor to the dish. The curried mayo added an exotic flavor that worked unexpectedly well. It gave me some new ideas for making BLT's at home.

The "Crooked BLT"

This restaurant might be a little too creative or precious for some. In other words, if you are looking for a greasy burger and fries, this is not the place to go! And, while I thought my lunch was reasonable ($7.50 for my sandwich), it is not the cheapest place in town, particularly for dinner. However, if you are looking for some creative and tasty offerings that are different from the norm, The Crooked Spoon Cafe is worth checking out.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - Sager’s Bar & Grill

Centerville, MN, is a town of 3,000 residents located in the northeast corner of the Twin Cities metro area, sandwiched between the cities of Lino Lakes and Hugo.

Centerville has a long history dating back to the 1850’s, prior to Minnesota statehood. French-Canadian fur traders were quite active here because of the abundant wildlife, and Centerville became the main stop between Stillwater and Anoka.

Early settlers would hardly recognize Centerville today. It has become engulfed by the metro, and signs of development surround the city. However, there is a little piece of small town charm that remains.

Sager’s Bar & Grill
7098 Centerville Road
Centerville, MN

Sager’s Bar & Grill is an honest to goodness small town corner bar. As you approach the intersection of Centerville Road and County Road 14, it is hard to miss with its bright green paint job! I was unable to really find out much about this establishment, as they do not seem to have much of a web presence, but I do believe it only became Sager’s recently (formerly known as Kelly's Korner). But obviously, this building has been here a long time.

Sager’s is a sports bar, with a separate bar and dining area. The interior is rather spartan and nothing fancy, with tables and chairs you might find at a church potluck. The walls are covered with the requisite neon beer signs, there are lots of flat screen TV, pools tables, games, a stage for live music, and they even have a lady selling pull tabs.

The menu is huge, offering countless appetizers, creative sandwiches, and burgers, along with a number of different dinner entrees; things you would expect to see on a sports bar menu.

The Mushroom-Swiss Burger at Sager’s Bar & Grill

I ordered the 1/4 pound mushroom-Swiss burger with fries (1/2 pound burgers are also available for the larger appetite). The burger patty was pressed thin, quickly seared, and topped with a mound of sautéed mushrooms and a slice of Swiss cheese. It was served on a nicely toasted sesame seed kaiser roll.

It is hard to wax poetic about this burger because it was unpretentious and simple. But it was also quite good, very much a “what you see is what you get” kind of meal. Despite being a thinner patty, it was still very juicy, and the whole thing seemed quite large for a mere 1/4 pounder. There were tons of delicious mushrooms tucked underneath the melted Swiss. And a toasted sesame seed roll is always a nice touch!

While the fries are my least favorite style (the thicker, square-cut type), it was hard to fault them because they were golden brown and nicely crisped.

All in all, a satisfying and flavorful burger at a decent price. The meal, with a pop, cost $9.55 before tip.

It is nice to see the small town corner bar is still alive in some areas of the ever-expanding metro. This is just further proof that you have to keep exploring. Places like Sager’s Bar & Grill are out there; you just have to look a little harder.

Jelly Belly by the truckload

I am a Jelly Belly jellybean junkie. Hands down, this is my favorite candy on the planet.

Ever since I was a little kid, whenever we went to a mall, I had to stop at one of the candy stores that sold the bulk Jelly Belly beans, You know, the kind where you could custom mix your own flavors.

Year’s ago, there used to be a number of places that sold Jelly Belly in bulk. It would seem in recent years that a lot of those stores (at least in my area) closed their doors. And since I don’t go to malls much, bulk Jelly Belly’s have been slightly harder to come by.

Imagine my delight when I saw the SuperTarget in my neighborhood had bin after bin of bulk Jelly Belly beans! I happily loaded up a bag with all of my favorite flavors this morning (nearly a full pound!), taking care to avoid the bin with the horrible buttered popcorn flavored beans... :)

Life is good.

A belated post of my lunch at Chez Jude

Note: this is a writeup I did last May, and I felt it was worthy of inclusion on this blog. Better late than never! :)

Chez Jude
411 W. Highway 61
Grand Marais, MN

Over Memorial Day weekend I had lunch at Chez Jude in Grand Marais, MN. Mom thought it would be the kind of restaurant I would appreciate.

Chez Jude is a cute little resturant that was created in an old house with a lovely view of the harbor. This is the kind of place that focuses on serious food made with locally-produced, seasonal ingredients, and it is artfully presented.

Mom had the breast of chicken tartine, which was essentially an open-faced baguette sandwich with wood-roasted and sliced chicken, tomato, and onion, served with a cucumber salad and pommes frites, a meal which she liked very much. I had the wood-fired pizza balsamico with strip steak, boursin cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and asparagus spears, drizzled with a reduced balsamic vinegar syrup. It was absolutely excellent.

I would highly recommend this restaurant. The food is of top quality and presented beautifully. But be warned; it is not the kind of place to go if you are looking for a simple burger or sandwich. This is a place for foodies who are looking for something more along the lines of an upscale dining experience on the North Shore. If that is your kind of thing, by all means, go.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What WON'T be on our Thanksgiving menu

Really, there are no words...

White Castle Turkey Stuffing


The first good pizza in the new place

Since I moved into my new place, I have had difficulties making dough. Once I got over that, I then had issues with temperature control in my new oven.

Tonight I jacked up the heat to 550 and let the pizza stone heat up for 45 minutes. Here is what I ended up with:

To date, this is the best pizza I have made in the new apartment. Aside from a couple of air bubbles that got away from me, the bottom of the crust was nice and crisp, yet the edge had a great chewiness to it. A good effort. I think I am finally getting this oven figured out!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Memories of Blazin' Sauce

Tonight I found myself at the Buffalo Wild Wings location in Plymouth for a year end fantasy league banquet and awards ceremony. Over the years, this becomes a default gathering place for leagues, to plan trips, or just to get together for the heck of it.

I have not been to Buffalo Wild Wings in several months, but I am a seasoned veteran of this establishment. I really enjoy their wings. And I still vividly recall my first brush with the dreaded "Blazin'" sauce.

December of 1994; the franchise was known simply as "BW3" back then. It was along the lines of a typical college bar scene at that time, unlike the more family-friendly sports bar atmosphere they are trying to carve out today. Several of us from work had ventured to Minnesota's lone location in Dinkytown for some wings and beer the night before Christmas vacation.

Being a rookie who liked hot food, I foolishly went straight to the top of the charts and ordered the wings with "Blazin'" sauce, the hottest thing on the menu. My friends (all BW3 regulars) strongly advised that I reconsider. But my hubris or youth got the better of me.

I mean, I am the guy who keeps a stash of different hot sauces in my fridge for those times when a liberal application of heat is needed on an otherwise bland dish. I have eaten the much feared "#7" (a fiery beef and jalapeno burrito combination) at the now defunct T. Juan's Mexican Restaurant in Brainerd, MN, and lived to tell about it. And I always order Chinese take-out menu items that have the little "star" or "pepper" icon next to them. How bad could the "Blazin'" sauce be?


To this day, those wings were the hottest things I have ever put in my mouth. Sweat was absolutely pouring down my face as I tried to choke down this spicy chicken from hell. In fact, the wings were so hot, they gave me the hiccups! No food has ever done that to me before. It is not a comfortable feeling. And no amount of beer can adequately put out the fire (believe me, I tried!).

Having learned my lesson the hard way, I tend to opt for the milder flavors these days. The "medium" level is about as high as I will go as far as the more traditional wing sauce is concerned. And I have come to enjoy some of their newer sauces, such as the Thai (which, sadly, I learned they don't make anymore!) and Caribbean Jerk.

But hey, if you don't believe me about the "Blazin'" sauce, try it for yourself. And bring a camera, because "before and after" pictures are always appreciated… :)

Thanksgiving take-out?

Thanksgiving with my family has always meant a home cooked feast, and I can't see how we would ever deviate from that.

But that is not the case for everyone. In recent years, I have noticed a growing trend where more and more people are getting their Thanksgiving dinners via take-out, or even going out to a restaurant. One cannot deny the great convenience and time savings this would offer, especially consider how busy and crazy the holiday season can be for some folks. And given the reputations of some of the businesses offering Turkey Day to-go or dine-in, I would have to imagine their dinners would also taste very good.

Today's St. Paul Pioneer Press ran an article featuring places in the Twin Cities where you can get your Thanksgiving dinner to go. In addition, they also have a list of restaurants serving Thanksgiving dinner. I was astonished to see the number of different stores and restaurants providing such services, proving that these options are becoming popular, and perhaps more viable, choices for a lot of families.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tony Stewart's Cheese-Stuffed BBQ Meat Loaf

1. Take a recipe for Alton Brown's "Good Eats" Meat Loaf.

2. Divide the meat mixture in half. Put one half of the mixture in the bottom of a loaf pan and press it down. Lay a few slices of your favorite cheese (in this case, sharp cheddar and Swiss) lengthwise in the center of the meat mixture. Place the other half of the meat mixture on top and press it down so it will create a pocket of cheese in the middle.

3. Instead of the glaze from Alton's recipe, substitute some of Tony Stewart's "Smoke" Bar-B-Que Sauce, and bake per Alton's instructions.

4. Allow the meat loaf to rest for 15 minutes after baking. Take a moment to enjoy the sight of the molten cheese that will flow from the center after slicing.

5. Enjoy the meat loaf while watching a little NASCAR on TV! :)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Beef Jerky

Who doesn't love beef jerky? I will occasionally buy some to snack on if I am near a reputable meat market, or will pick up a bag of Jack Link's at a gas station when I am on a road trip. But the problem is that purchasing beef jerky is kind of expensive.

An easy and more economical solution is to make it yourself. While I don't have a smoker, I do have a food dehydrator, and I have been making my own recipe for a number of years.

When making jerky with a dehydrator, the key is an overnight soak of the beef in a salty, sweet, and flavorful marinade to help preserve and flavor it. Since I am not smoking my jerky, to impart some smoky flavor I use liquid smoke. As the name would imply, this is a concentrated, smoked liquid that you can find at any supermarket in the country. Look for it the condiment aisle.

You must use a lean cut of beef (anything fatty just turns nasty and chewy). I really like using an eye of round roast for jerky. There is very little fat on it, and you can slice it into nice, large slabs. This time I used a sirloin tip roast that I found on sale, which has similar qualities.

The resulting jerky is a delicious combination of sweet, salty, and spicy. It is very addicting.

Jean's Dehydrator Beef Jerky

-2/3 cup soy sauce
-1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
-3 T. brown sugar
-1 1/2 T. liquid smoke
-1 t. crushed red pepper
-1/2 t. garlic powder
-Lots of fresh ground black pepper (perhaps 20 turns from your pepper grinder!)
-2 lbs. lean beef (such as eye of round roast, sirloin tip roast, or round steak), sliced about 1/8-1/4 inch thick

Day 1: Combine the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, liquid smoke, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, and black pepper. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place the sliced beef in a large zip-top bag and pour the liquid mixture over the top. Seal the bag, place it in a bowl (in case the bag springs a leak!), and allow it to marinate in the fridge overnight, turning it from time to time to allow for a good distribution of the marinade.

Day 2: Remove the beef from the marinade, discarding the liquid. On the racks of your food dehydrator, lay the slices of beef in a single layer, taking care to ensure that they are not touching each other, and that there are enough gaps to allow for proper circulation (depending upon the size of your dehydrator, you may have to do two batches). Turn on the dehydrator and let it work its magic. You may wish to rotate the trays to ensure even drying. Generally I find this takes somewhere between 4 to 6 hours, depending upon how thick you slice the beef, and how dry you want it.

You will know when it is done when the beef is dry, still somewhat pliable, and there are no soft, raw feeling spots. Allow the jerky to cool completely before packaging. I like to keep it in a zip top bag or a tupperware container in a the fridge. I have no idea how long it will keep because a batch never lasts more than four days or so!

Note: If you don't have a food dehydrator, there is no reason this recipe couldn't be accomplished in the oven on a really low heat by using some cookies sheets and racks. I would hesitate to offer any drying times or guidelines, but I know you can do it this way. Just think "low and slow," and keep an eye on it! :)


Road Food Pursuits - Miller's on Main

One of the truly fun aspects of moving is getting to explore a new neighborhood. Now that I am somewhat settled, today I hopped in my car to see if I could find a good local joint for lunch.

Miller’s on Main
8001 Lake Drive
Lino Lakes, MN

One the northwest corner of Main and Lake Drive in Lino Lakes, you will find Miller’s on Main. This bar and restaurant very much has a “sports bar” feel to it with some NASCAR overtones (which I can appreciate!). They cater primarily to a local crowd, sponsoring various activities such as card tournaments, meat raffles, golf leagues, and even a Polish horseshoes league!

The bar and restaurant are separate, and the walls are covered with knotty pine and sports memorabilia. There are numerous TV’s with different sporting events playing on all of them.

On this Saturday, they were doing a pretty brisk business at lunch. The bar was filled with hunters who were exchanging their stories with each other.

The menu contains a lot of your standard bar food fare; burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizza, broasted chicken, as well as dinner entrees such as steaks and ribs. I ordered the Miller’s “Small Block,” and let me tell you, there was nothing small about it! The “Small Block” is a half-pound hamburger topped with Swiss and Cheddar cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and grilled onions and peppers. A different twist was that the burger was served on Texas toast.

The Miller’s “Small Block” at Miller’s on Main

What a fantastic burger! The patty was grilled to order (a perfect medium), and it was extremely juicy. It was stacked high with mushrooms, onions, peppers, and crispy bacon. A slice of Swiss and cheddar cheese served at the “glue” to hold it all together. While it is challenging to eat such a tall sandwich, it was worth the effort.

I loved the idea of using Texas toast in lieu of a bun. Rarely do you ever see this done, with the possible exception if a “patty melt.” But the toast seemed to offer a more stable platform to support such a large burger with all the toppings. And since the burger was so juicy, the toasted bread held up much better than a soft bun would have. A great idea!

The fries were of the thin, shoestring variety, cooked up nice and crispy. There was enough of them on my plate for two people. They were delicious, but I could not eat them all. The whole meal, with a diet Pepsi, cost $9.84 (before tip). A solid value for a burger of that size and quality.

You have to love a small local bar that serves up a great burger, and Miller's on Main does just that. I am very happy that this establishment in in my new neighborhood!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

'Tis the season for lutefisk!

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, here in Minnesota this can only mean one thing; it's time for lutefisk!

For the uninitiated (or, for the non-Scandinavians out there!), lutefisk is a fish; more specifically, dried cod that has been preserved in lye. It is rehydrated, cooked, has a somewhat gelatinous texture, and is usually topped with melted butter (if you are Norwegian) or a cream sauce (if you are Swedish). Lutefisk is a traditional Christmas dinner accompaniment in many Scandinavian households in Minnesota, including ours.

This "iggly-jiggly" fish (as some call it) has very little middle ground; people either love it or hate it, and jokes are often cracked regarding its texture and aroma. I myself am not a fan of the stuff, but many of my family members are. However, I do recognize and appreciate the importance of lutefisk as a part of our holiday celebrations!

It is not uncommon for Minnesota churches with Norwegian and Swedish roots to host annual lutefisk suppers (which also tend to showcase other traditional Scandinavian specialties such as Swedish meatballs, lefse, krumkake, rommegrot, rosettes, and the like). The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently ran an article that talks about the fellowship and social aspect of these dinners.

Also, the article interviewed a gentleman named Jim Harris who is a lutefisk lover from Apple Valley. He runs a lutefisk website, has visited numerous lutefisk suppers throughout the upper Midwest, and even compiled a list of restaurants and churches that offer this delicacy.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bolognese Sauce with Spaghetti

Long time, no post!

I am officially moved! Things are still in a bit of disarray, as I am nowhere near unpacked, and I am still trying to figure out where everything is! But last night I cooked my first meal in my new apartment; Bolognese sauce with spaghetti (and in celebration, I opened a really nice 1997 Barolo to accompany it…mmmm, Barolo!).

Bolognese sauce is a meat ragu for pasta that was made famous in Bologna, Italy. In a nutshell, it is ground meat, aromatic vegetables, and a little tomato cooked with some wine and stock and is finished with a little milk or cream. Traditionally this is served with the long, flat tagliatelle pasta, although I like it with just about any long pasta, or short tubular pasta, for that matter.

It is a rich, thick, and complex sauce that is easy to make, but it does take time (there are no shortcuts!). There are as many recipes for this as there are people, and this is how I did it yesterday. My recipe varies all the time, the amounts are not exact, and I make no claims of authenticity. But it does taste very good. And the leftover sauce freezes exceptionally well.

Jean's Bolognese Sauce

-Olive oil
-1 lb. ground beef
-1 lb. ground pork
-Salt and pepper
-2 carrots, finely diced
-2 stalks of celery, finely diced
-1 small yellow onion, finely diced
-8 cloves garlic, minced
-1 T. tomato paste
-Red wine
-1 cup beef stock
-1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
-Dried basil
-Dried Italian seasoning
-A pinch of crushed red pepper
-8 oz. package crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1/4 cup of milk

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat some olive oil and brown the meat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the meat and set aside, and drain all but a tablespoon of fat. Add the carrots, celery, and onions and sauté until softened and the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook another minute. Toss in the tomato paste and stir until it coats the bottom of the pot and starts to brown. Add some red wine to deglaze and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the beef stock, tomatoes, the dried basil and dried Italian seasoning (perhaps a tsp. of each), and the pinch of crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally. As the amount of liquid reduces, I like to keep adding a little more red wine and allowing it to continue cooking down. Repeat this action over the course of the cooking process (I probably used about 3/4 of a bottle of wine). Perhaps about 15 minutes before serving, stir the milk (or cream if you so desire). Serve over your pasta of choice with a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Percorino Romano cheese, and open a bottle of Italian red wine!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - The 5-8 Club Tavern & Grill

Once again, this weekend was a repeat of the last; cleaning, packing, preparing to move. Ugh! And, like last weekend, I decided to treat myself to a little lunch. Today, I set out to taste some of Minneapolis food history.

The 5-8 Club Tavern & Grill
5800 Cedar Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN

The 5-8 Club Tavern & Grill is a landmark bar and restaurant located on the corner of Cedar Avenue and 58th Street on the Minneapolis/Richfield border. It dates back to 1928 where it started out as a ”speakeasy,” serving illegal beer and liquor during the Prohibition period of U.S. history.

Today, the 5-8 Club has become more family-friendly, neighborhood-type joint where you can get a great burger or sandwich and a beer. And one sandwich they are known for is their famous ”Juicy Lucy.”

For those not familiar, a “Juicy Lucy” (also seen spelled “Jucy Lucy”) is a creation that originated in south Minneapolis. Simply put, it is almost a “reverse cheeseburger, if you will. Two hamburger patties are pressed together with cheese stuffed on the inside. When you bite into it, you will get a nice bit of ooey-gooey cheese seeping out from the middle of the burger.

Controversy surrounds the Juicy Lucy; there is some dispute as to who actually invented it. The consensus seems to be that Matt’s Bar (located just 20-some blocks north of the 5-8 Club on Cedar Ave.) was likely the first to craft the “Jucy Lucy,” as they spell it. However, the 5-8 Club also claims it as their own. We may never know the truth, but the dispute certainly adds to the mystique of this sandwich.

The 5-8 Club is a cozy restaurant, decorated with colorful antique metal signs from years gone by. They put an emphasis on the quality of their products, noting that their meat is U.S. Choice-grade, all of their daily specials are made from scratch, and they even go so far as to bake their own hamburger buns!

I was greeted by a very friendly server and who took my order. What the 5-8 Club does different from Matt’s is offer a choice of cheese to stuff your burger with; American, Swiss, or bleu. On this day, I opted for the classic Juicy Lucy with American cheese.

Moments after the server took my order, the 5-8 Club was descended upon by waves of mini vans and foreign-built luxury station wagons. It was roughly 16 or so kids from a youth soccer team, along with their yuppie soccer parents. Of course, these screaming children all slid together a group of tables and sat right next to me.

Two different parents stopped by my table to say they were sorry for the noise. I assured them that it was OK, and that their apology was unnecessary. Other parents were apologizing to the wait staff (that must be a hell of a lot of fun, having to apologize to everyone everywhere you go!)

I will say this; the servers handled this large group with an unbelievable level of professionalism. They had smiles on their faces the whole time, and never looked flustered for a second. And throughout the melee, I was not forgotten about. Clearly, they must have some skilled servers at the 5-8 Club. And thankfully, my order got in before the soccer team, so I would get my food first! :)

The “Juicy Lucy” at the 5-8 Club

My Juicy Lucy arrived, and you have to appreciate the simplicity. You have grilled beef stuffed with cheese. Add a few pickles and a bun, maybe a little ketchup, mustard, and fried onions, and you are good to go. That’s it! The pictures doesn’t really illustrate that shape very well, but it was almost like a slightly flattened meatball. It was charred nicely on the outside, and (as promised) after the first bite, the melted cheese on the inside starts to ooze out.

And, with the cheese on the inside, there is an added bonus; it really does a wonderful job of keeping the burger moist and juicy, as the name would imply. This was a very flavorful burger. A nice basket of crispy fries and some cool cole slaw to round out the burger basket, and I had a fantastic meal. An awesome and most creative sandwich, whoever invented it!

I will have to go to Matt’s Bar sometime to see how their version compares. Incidentally, I found a website of someone who is searching for the best Juicy Lucy in the Twin Cities. While the reviews are subjective, I find the quest most interesting.

As for the 5-8 Club, I thoroughly enjoyed their version of the Juicy Lucy, and it was fun to be able to taste a unique piece of south Minneapolis culinary lore.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Holy basil, Batman!

I foresee myself eating at several restaurants in the coming week. Most of my kitchen and cooking equipment has been packed in preparation for next week's move, so I can't imagine I will be doing a lot of cooking. That being said, I didn't have anything to bring to work for my lunch today. It was the perfect excuse to go to one of a favorite ethnic restaurant.

7885 Main Street North
Maple Grove, MN

Originally opening in 1983 in St. Paul, Sawatdee is one of the first Thai restaurants to come to Minnesota, and to the upper Midwest for that matter. They now have seven different locations in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, including the one in Maple Grove where I dined today (the Maple Grove restaurant also has an attached sushi bar called Zushiya which serves some great stuff, but I will cover that another time!).

Before you think that all Thai cuisine is screamingly hot, you should know that this is not entirely true. Granted, some of it can be quite spicy, but there are selections on the mild end of the spectrum, too. And at Sawatdee, there is a fair amount of leeway; you can customize the heat of your dish by using their "5-pepper scale." Simply request your preferred heat level on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 1 being mild and 5 being near the meltdown stage), and they will season your meal accordingly. And if that isn't enough heat for you, they have three ramekins sitting on each table offering extra crushed red pepper, pickled jalapeños, or chile oil (yikes!).

Holy Basil Supreme from Sawatdee

Today I had the Holy Basil Supreme from their special lunch menu. It is comprised of big pieces of chicken, red bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, jalapeño peppers, and holy basil. It is stir-fried with a light, thin, and spicy sauce and is served steamed rice on the side. The lunch-sized portion was more than generous (for only $8.50, by the way).

All of the ingredients were very fresh and tasty, with the vegetables still retaining some of their crispness. The holy basil itself is rather minty (this is different from the sweet Italian basil we all know, and it apparently does not release its fragrant aroma until it is cooked!). It mingles nicely with a sauce that is sweet, salty, slightly pungent (since fish sauce is used here), and pretty spicy with those big hunks of jalapeño floating around!. And the rice soaks up the sauce beautifully. An excellent lunch, and a warm one, too. I requested a "2" on the pepper scale, and it was spicy enough to make my nose run!

If you find yourself in Maple Grove looking for some good, spicy food, Sawatdee is the place for you.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Venison Stroganoff

I discovered I had one remaining package of venison in my freezer that my brother gave me. I decided to put it to good use and make some stroganoff.

Now, some people cringe when they hear the word "venison," thinking it is this horrible wild meat that needs a potent marinade to kill the so-called "famey" taste. I happen to love the stuff, and trust me, if your venison is "gamey," it wasn't properly handled. Bad venison can taste like fur, and that really sucks. But good hunters know that a properly cared for deer results in a unique, lean, and indescribably flavorful meat. Thankfully, my Dad and brother know what they are doing when they hunt, so their venison is always excellent!

If ever there was a dish that needed some color, it is stroganoff! That is why I added the red bell peppers. You could just as easily omit them if you wish. In the past, I have also used a colored pasta to brighten up the dish, but today I just used egg noodles.

The stroganoff turned out very creamy and delicious. The venison definitely brought some flavor to the party (although it goes without saying that beef could be substituted here), and by taking the time to brown the onions and the mushrooms, it also contributes additional layers of complexity. Another great dish for those chilly fall days!

Venison Stroganoff

-1 lb venison steaks, cut into strips
-1 T. fresh thyme
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-Salt and pepper
-Olive oil
-1 small yellow onion, sliced
-1 small red bell pepper, sliced
-8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1 cup beef consommé
-1 T. brandy
-8 oz. light sour cream
-1 T. cornstarch, diluted in 1 T. cold water (if needed)
-Egg noodles for serving

Combine the venison, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Drizzle in a tablespoon of olive oil, set in the refrigerator until ready to use. In a large skillet over medium heat, add some more oil cook the onions until very brown and almost caramelized and set aside. Sauté the red bell peppers for a few minutes until slightly softened and set aside. Sauté mushrooms until browned (you guessed it, set aside!). Increase heat to medium high and brown the venison. After the venison is browned, but not completed cooked through, return the vegetables to the skillet. Add the consommé and brandy and allow to come up to temperature. Reduce heat to medium. Just before serving, stir in the sour cream and allow to thicken (if more thickening is needed, stir in the cornstarch and water mixture and bring the temperature up a little bit until thickened to your liking). Serve over egg noodles and enjoy!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

14 Bean Fire Roasted Chili

Since I am moving soon, I have been making an effort to clean out my pantry a little bit so I don’t have to move as much stuff. This dish was an improvisation based on a couple of items I had in my pantry. I decided to make a 14 bean fire roasted chili.

Why 14 beans? Well, why not? :) I had a partial bag of Bob’s Red Mill 13 bean soup mix to use up. This mix contains, navy, pinto, red, black, baby lima, large lima, garbanzo, Great Northern, and kidney beans, along with black-eyed peas, yellow and green split peas, and lentils. I also added a few heirloom Christmas lima beans to the mix, so that is the reason for the "14 bean" designation! (A note on the beans: It is important to soak the beans overnight to hydrate them, and also to simmer them until tender before adding them to the chili. This way it greatly reduces the cooking time.)

What makes it “fire roasted?” I had a can of Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted whole tomatoes in the cupboard. These tomatoes are slightly charred before they are canned, so they have a nice smoky flavor to them. Perfect for chili!

This was loosely based on my beer chili recipe, so you will see a few similar ingredients and seasonings to go along with the variations.

This chili turned out very nice. It was spicy with a little hint of smokiness, and the variety of beans made for an interesting textural contrast. Good stuff on a cold fall day!

14 Bean Fire Roasted Chili

-1 lb ground beef
-1 small yellow onion, chopped
-8 cloves garlic, minced
-Salt and pepper to taste
-3 T. chili powder
-1 T. ground cumin
-1 t. ground coriander
-1 t. dried Mexican oregano
-1 t. fresh thyme, chopped
-1/2 t. crushed red pepper
-1/4 t. ground sage
-1/4 t. cayenne pepper
-28 oz can Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (juice and all, broken up)
-1 cup beef stock
-1 12 oz bottle of amber beer
-1 1/4 c. dried beans (soaked overnight, simmered until just tender)
-1-2 T. brown sugar (optional)

Brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and add all of the spices and seasonings. Add the tomatoes, beef stock, beer, and the soaked/cooked beans. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook, covered. Stir occasionally, skimming off any accumulating fat. Allow to simmer for 2 hours until the beans are soft, but not broken down. Add the optional brown sugar if it needs some sweetness. Enjoy!

Road Food Pursuits - Lions Tap

I was busy packing and preparing for my move most of this morning, and I worked up quite an appetite. Since I will soon be leaving the southwest metro, I have been trying to make a point to hit some of the great local restaurants that I will be moving away from.

Lions Tap
16180 Flying Cloud Drive
Eden Prairie, MN

Today I found myself at the Lions Tap for lunch. This well-known establishment is located in southern Eden Prairie on Flying Cloud Drive, practically on the Shakopee border. They are an award winning hamburger joint, and their slogan is simply, “Famous Hamburgers.”

The Lions Tap has a long and rich history dating back to 1933. It started out as a vegetable stand where they began pouring beer (now that is my kind of vegetable stand!). This evolved into a bar that eventually started serving hamburgers.

The current owners bought the restaurant in 1977, and they created what has become a closely guarded “secret seasoning” for their burgers. The Lions Tap has been consistently winning awards ever since, including numerous “Best Hamburger” awards from Mpls-St. Paul Magazine

I sat down in the bar at a booth. It is a cute, friendly place with several Vikings and Twins signs, and a little bit of taxidermy on the walls. Also on the walls you will find the menu. There is nothing fancy about it. They offer a few different choices of (you guessed it) hamburgers, either singles or doubles.

California cheeseburger with fries at the Lions Tap

I opted for the single California Cheeseburger with a side of fries. The burger was topped with lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and a few pickle slices. They offered a bottle of mayo on the side as well so you could apply as you desired (a nice touch).

As you can see, the even the single burger is so tall that they have to skewer it to keep it together! It was very pleasing to the eye. The patty was extremely flavorful, juicy, and well-seasoned (presumably because of their “secret seasonings!”). The crisp, cool vegetables offered a wonderful contrast of textures. Fries were of the “crinkle-cut” variety (a ketchup-grabbing style that I happen to enjoy greatly), and they were crispy and hot. And the whole meal, with a diet Coke, set me back $8 and change, so not only was this a great burger, but it was also a great deal. This more than lived up to the hype.

All of the staff was extremely friendly and welcoming, and my server was was fascinated with my little Olympus camera. I told her all about it, and I even got to show her the “cuisine mode” setting as I took a picture of the burger, which she thought was really cool (I always wonder what people think of this geek who photographs food, so her reaction was fun to see!).

I have to believe that a trip to Eden Prairie would not be complete without stopping for lunch at the Lions Tap. You will get a fantastic burger, and it will be better than any you could find at the usual suspect restaurants just up the road near the mall. It will probably be cheaper, too.

Gold Nugget: Back from the dead?

A couple of months ago I wrote that the Gold Nugget in Minnetonka was closing due to a condo development that was set to be built in its place.

I drove by this great neighborhood burger joint today and sure enough, the windows were all boarded up, the signs were ripped down, and there is construction fencing surrounding it and the adjacent building. It is looking like everything is set for demolition.

However, I am happy to say there is a glimmer of hope. In one of the windows, there was a giant sign that said “CLOSED: Grand Re-Opening Spring 2008.”

Perhaps some sort of deal was worked out with the development group to keep the Gold Nugget going in the new development? One can only hope. This was a place that was too good to lose, and I am sure the neighborhood misses it.

While that date is a long way off, I will be looking forward to the spring of 2008!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fun with Boca Burgers

I have pretty much been subsisting on food from my freezer and pantry this week, and tonight I had a Boca Burger for dinner.

I must confess I kind of like these meatless pucks made of soy and vegetable products. The grilled vegetable patties are particularly tasty, and only 80 calories per burger, so they are really lean as you would expect. And they lend themselves to lots of creative and fun possibilities.

My grilled vegetable Boca Burger was topped with sauerkraut, baby Swiss cheese, spicy bread & butter pickles, ketchup, and grainy mustard, and it was served on a toasted, multi-grain Siebenfelder bread. Not too shabby for quick meal!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Russ Kendall's Smokhouse

I have been neglectful in failing to mention a place I visited (twice) a couple of weeks ago.

Russ Kendall's Smokehouse in Knife River, MN


On a recent trip up north, I stopped at Russ Kendall's Smokehose. It is located in the in the tiny village of Knife River, MN, which is between Duluth and Two Harbors on Scenic Highway 61. This place has been doing business on the North Shore of Lake Superior for more than 80 years specializing in smoked fish, as well as other smoked meat products.

I purchased a hunk of their sugar-cured salmon, one of their specialties. It was simply outstanding, with a beautiful smoky and sweet balance. Fantastic stuff! Still curious, I made a return visit on the way home to sample some of the sugar-cured trout and a little bit of their buffalo jerky. The trout was moist and smoky with a delicate, flakey texture. And the jerky did not disappoint, either. Nice, thick slabs of lean buffalo meat, not too salty, with a great smoke flavor.

If you are a fan of smoked fish and find yourself in the area, a stop here is worth your while.

The Archive of Restaurant Posts

This post will serve as an archive for any other restaurant-related discussions separate from my "road food" pursuits:

Buffalo Wild Wings - Plymouth, MN
California Pizza Kitchen - Maple Grove, MN
Chez Jude - Grand Marais, MN
Coho Cafe - Tofte, MN
The Crooked Spoon Cafe - Grand Marais, MN
Gun Flint Tavern - Grand Marais, MN
Joe Senser's Restaurant & Sports Theater - Plymouth, MN
Maid-Rite - Ankeny, IA
Noodles & Company - Maple Grove, MN
Raccoon River Brewing Company - Des Moines, IA
Sawatdee - Maple Grove, MN
Speak Easy Restaurant & Lounge - Moorhead, MN
Village Square Cafe - Walker, MN
Wild Onion Cafe - Grand Marais, MN

The Archive of Assorted Food Topics

This will serve as sort of a "catch all" archive for the various food-related topics, discoveries, products, or businesses that I have discussed in my blog:

Annie's Macaroni & Cheese
Blackwing Quality Meats (buffalo burgers)
Boca Burgers
Byerly's take-out sushi
Jelly Belly jelly beans
Lefse - A Scandinavian tradition
Lutefisk - Another Scandinavian tradition
Makenthun's Sausage & Deli's - St. Bonifacius, MN
Russ Kendall's Smokehouse's smoked fish - Knife River, MN
Superior National Golf Course's grilled sausages - Lutsen, MN
TJ's Country Store's Swedish potato sausage - Mahtowa, MN

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tasting a bit of fast food history

While down in Iowa over the weekend, I felt I had to stop for a Maid-Rite. There are only a handful of these in Minnesota, and I haven't been to one in years. And since Iowa has a number of them, it was an easy call. I swung into a newer store in Ankeny on my way out of Des Moines.

The Maid-Rite Sandwich

Invented in 1926 by a man named Floyd Angell in Muscatine, IA, Maid-Rite restaurants are Iowa's contribution to the world of fast food. They have been serving their famous “loose meat sandwiches” for decades now. And with most restaurants being located in the Midwest (mainly Iowa), it has become somewhat of a regional specialty.

The sandwich is simple; it is crumbled ground beef served on a bun, kind of like a sloppy joe, but without the sauce. You can top them with pickles, onions, mustard, and (against the wishes of purists) ketchup. They are a little hard to eat, but they are nicely seasoned, flavorful, and (for beef that is already crumbled), quite juicy.

While I do think I am more of a burger guy, I will say the sandwich tastes very good, and is an interesting change of pace from the usual. And I enjoyed the chance to taste a little bit of fast food history as I made the journey home.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My dinner in Des Moines

While in Des Moines this weekend for a race, I dined at the Raccoon River Brewing Company for the second year in a row. Once again, it turned out to be a good choice.

The Raccoon River Brewing Company is, as you would guess, a brew pub. They brew their own beer (consisting of several offerings all year long, as well as seasonal brews), and they have billiards, as well as live music on the weekends. But they also have a really creative menu that is above and beyond your standard pub fare.

Last year I had the smoked chicken with wild forest mushroom penne pasta, which was absolutely excellent. However, I thought I would mix it up this time and have something different.

Lobster Mafaldine at the Raccoon River Brewing Company

I ordered the lobster mafaldine, which was fantastic. Lobster meat and shallots with mafaldine pasta (sort of like a long, skinny lasagna noodle) tossed in a tomato-basil cream! They were quite generous with the lobster, and it was ever so delicately cooked. I loved the mafaldine pasta shape here, as the ruffles on the edges of the noodles made for a nice texture, and the wider part gave the creamy sauce something to cling to. A really tasty dish.

Unfortunately, as I was running the next day, I didn’t partake in any of their beer. But I did have one of their homemade cream sodas which was excellent (and, for some reason, bright blue!).

I look forward to going here again when I am in town. Next year, for three in a row?

Road Food Pursuits - Bernie’s Grill

On my way to Des Moines, I ventured off of Interstate 35 in Faribault to search for breakfast. In the old downtown area , I stumbled upon Bernie’s Grill.

Bernie’s Grill
129 Central Avenue North
Faribault, MN

It was not hard to spot. The downtown was pretty dead this morning except for one block where there were a ton of cars.

Open since 1995, Bernie’s Grill is a quintessential small town cafe and coffee shop. This Saturday morning they were doing a lively business, and I got one of the last tables they had available.

Breakfast at Bernie’s

I ordered one of their “Egg Specialties,” which consisted of two eggs, hash browns, toast, and I opted for the combination with the ham steak. The hash browns were expertly cooked and were among the best I have ever tasted. The crust actually made a cracking sound when you cut into them, and the interior was moist and soft. I had the eggs scrambled, and they too were well prepared, light, and fluffy. Toss on a couple of griddled ham steaks and some nice whole wheat toast, and I had an outstanding breakfast to start my journey to Iowa.

On my way to the downtown area, I passed several more easily accessible restaurants close to the Interstate (the usual suspects) where I could have stopped for breakfast. But this is the perfect example why it is fun to go off the beaten path. I wouldn’t have found Bernie’s Grill otherwise.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Fast noodles

I know, I have been eschewing fast food chain restaurants lately. But today I was desperate. And I ended up with a decent meal, so I thought I would share.

Failing to bring anything from home and not wanting to eat in the cafeteria, I ventured out of the office searching for something quick, lower in fat and relatively healthy (so no burgers today!), with plenty of carbohydrates in preparation for my race this weekend. I ended up at the local Noodles & Company, a place I have been to numerous times in the past. It met all of the above criteria, and it was pretty tasty as well.

I had the "Japanese Pan Noodles," which consisted of thick, chewy Japanese udon noodles in a spicy soy sauce tossed with shiitake mushrooms, crisp carrots and broccoli, and topped with bean sprouts and black sesame seeds. I added the optional chicken (Strange, they now serve a seared, fanned-out chicken breast on the side, as opposed to pieces of chicken tossed with the noodles. When did that change?). It was a generous portion of meat and noodles, and the food tasted quite good. Hard to fault a $7 meal like this.

As far as a fast food joint is concerned, this is not a bad option. At least they present a decent alternative for days like today when I didn't want a greasy burger.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jean's Spicy Chicken Lo Mein

Yesterday I was feeling under the weather and wanted something to help rid me of my head cold. I ended up making a chicken stir-fry with noodles, kind of in the style of a "lo mein" dish you would find at your local Chinese take-out restaurant.

Whenever I get take-out, I usually get a container of BBQ pork lo mein as one of my choices. When done well, it is consistently a favorite of mine. I have always loved these noodle dishes with their nice chunks of meat and veggies tossed with long, slender noodles and coated in a sweet and salty sauce. Delicious!

Generally speaking, most lo mein dishes are pretty mild. Because of that, I often find myself adding some sort of Asian chile sauce to my take-out lo mein to spice things up. So today I decided to make my own lo mein, also choosing to make it with some fiery heat. I used a healthy dose of chile-garlic sauce (which can be found at most grocery stores in the Asian food aisle), as well as some crushed red pepper. I would also add many other nutritious, cold-fighting ingredients like fresh ginger, minced garlic, and lots of colorful veggies. The lo mein turned out pleasingly hot and was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

The stir-fry sauce is something that I have tinkered with over the years and continues to evolve. This has become my standard sauce that can be used for virtually any stir-fried meat/vegetable combination. While there are a lot of ingredients, once the prep work is done it cooks in minutes. And if you wanted to serve this stir-fry over rice instead of noodles, I would just eliminate the noodles and add a few more veggies of your choice. Here is what I threw together:

Jean's Spicy Chicken Lo Mein

Stir-Fry Sauce:
-1 cup water
-2 T. white wine
-2 T. light soy sauce
-2 T. dark soy sauce
-2 T. rice wine vinegar
-2 T. sugar
-1 T. oyster sauce
-1 T. chile-garlic sauce
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-2 T. fresh ginger, grated
-1 1/2 T. cornstarch
-A few dashes of sesame oil

Stir-Fry Ingredients:
-1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
-1 T. light soy sauce
-1 t. crushed red pepper
-1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
-1 red bell pepper, chopped
-1 small head of broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
-1 small yellow onion, sliced thin
-A few crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
-8 oz. long noodles, cooked (such as lo mein, spaghetti, vermicelli, your choice)
-1-2 T. peanut or canola oil

1. Mix all of the sauce ingredients together, stir well, and set in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2. Combine the chicken, soy sauce, and the crushed red pepper together in a bowl. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a half an hour or so.
3. Cut up all the veggies, add to a bowl, and set aside until ready to use.
4. Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and cool them down. Set aside until ready to use.
5. In a large wok or deep pan over high heat, add the oil. When hot, add the chicken, stir-fry until no longer pink, and set aside.
6. In the same pan over high heat, stir-fry the veggies for a couple minutes.
7. Return the chicken to the pan with veggies and pour in the sauce mixture. Bring it to a boil, allowing sauce to thicken and the chicken to cook through.
8. Stir the noodles into the dish until they are coated with sauce and warmed through.
9. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pizza, pizza...

Just had to show off tonight's pizza because it turned out so nice... :)

A homemade pizza with pepperoni, sweet peppers, caramelized onlons, black olives, crimini mushrooms, with fresh mozzarella and aged provolone. Yum!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Steakhouse at home

Tonight I cooked up a strip steak that Dad sent home with me last weekend.

When I was in Green Bay, WI, last May, I ate at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse and had the “Italian Crusted NY Strip,” so that was my inspiration for this meal.

I marinated the steak for 4 hours in about 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. I grilled it for 4 1/2 minutes on my George Foreman (what can I say, I am an apartment dweller!) to medium-rare. The steak was topped with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a drizzle of some really good 12-year balsamic vinegar. For sides I had a baked potato laced with some baby Swiss cheese, as well as some steamed Brussels sprouts.

A very hearty and enjoyable meal. The marinade added a tangy, garlicky flavor to the steak, with a nice hit of the mixed Italian herbs. It was a great way to end a tiring day of packing, cleaning, and preparing to move!

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a glass of red wine to finish... :)