Friday, September 29, 2006

A surprise for lunch

We received a surprise at work today; the department sprung for lunch from the California Pizza Kitchen.

I got myself a Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza. It consisted of Jamaican jerk seasoned chicken, bacon, onions, green onions, roasted red and yellow bell peppers, with a "Caribbean" sauce.

I am not enamored with the crust on their pizzas. They are a softer texture, which I don't mind, but they taste a little bit like one of those refrigerated Boboli crusts to me (perhaps their crusts are pre-made or frozen?). But the toppings were a flavorful combination of ingredients, with the spicy chicken pieces, the smoky bacon, and the delicious roasted peppers. The sauce on the pizza was slightly sweet and had a good bit of kick to it as well. And, everything was in balance, so the toppings did not outweigh the crust. Overall, it tasted pretty good.

Obviously, you have gathered by now that I am not a big chain restaurant guy. But I will say that for chain restaurant pizza, CPK offers some extremely creative, tasty, and unusual options, and this inspires me to try new and different things with my homemade pizzas.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - J. Cousineau's Dram & Alehouse

Over the last decade, the city of Maple Grove has experienced enormous population and economic growth. In more recent years, it could also be considered a contender for the national chain restaurant capital of America, with a number of the usual suspects setting up shop here.

Restaurants have come and gone, but J. Cousineau's Dram & Alehouse has been here long before most. They opened in 1991, a time when Maple Grove almost considered the "outskirts" of the Twin Cities!

J. Cousineau's Dram & Alehouse
13540 Grove Drive
Maple Grove, MN

Named after an 1894 Minneapolis riverfront grocery store that was known as a gathering place for locals, J. Cousineau's is, for lack of a better term, a sports bar. It is filled with TV's and sports memorabilia, and they have nightly events and specials, many of them based around sporting events. The menu is reflective of the setting, offering vast choices of American bar food standards; a laundry list of different appetizers and finger foods, several salads, and all kinds of burgers and sandwiches. And, if you are so inclined, you can wash down your food with a 42 oz. "yard" of beer (served in a hand-blown glass)!

I ordered their "1894 Burger," a hamburger topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, and mayo. I opted for the 1/4 pound patty, had them add a slice of Swiss cheese, with a side of fries and a diet Coke.

The "1894 Burger" at J. Cousineau's

The burger was very tasty, made with Minnesota raised beef and cooked to order (a perfect medium, I might add). For a 1/4 pound burger, it sure was stacked high. It was so tall, it was almost hard to bite into, so it was hard to imagine what the 1/2 pounder would be like! The crisp vegetable toppings and the melted Swiss offered a nice contrast in flavors and textures, and it had a good balance of ingredients. Most delicious!

As for the fries, they were of the big, thick, frozen food service variety, so I didn't find them terribly exciting. Not that frozen fries are necessarily bad or evil. It is just that if frozen must be used, I greatly prefer the skinny and slender style akin to what most fast food joints use, or even better the crinkle-cut variety with the serrated ridges that allow the ketchup to cling to the fries so beautifully. The thicker ones don't appeal to me as much because never seem to get crispy enough. But, enough rambling. That's just my personal preference.

Despite my nitpicking about the fries, I'll definitely return here and would be interested in trying some other offerings from their menu. Good burgers, beer by the yard, and sports on TV; that is a pretty good combination, if you ask me! :)

Meatloaf with sophistication

Also in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press, there was an article about meatloaf. 'Tis the season to start making hearty dishes like this! The article contains a few helpful preparation tips, and the author advocates changing things up a little to add some elements of sophistication to your recipe. Also included is a meatloaf recipe from star chef Wolfgang Puck.

Being a "regular"

Not specifically about food, but this is somewhat food-related; In today's St. Paul Pioneer Press, there was a cute article about what it is tobe a "regular" at a restaurant. It features a few folks who are regulars at some local restaurants, and it talks about some of the perks they receive, as well as the friendships and bonds that are created.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - Country Glazed Ham Shop

Forget Subway! When I want a quick and delicious sandwich for lunch, this is the place I go to.

Country Glazed Ham Shop - Maple Grove and Minnetonka, MN

I have been visiting the Country Glazed Ham Shop ever since I moved to the Twin Cities in 1994. Their Minnetonka location was about a mile from my first office, so I was a regular customer. But, of course I changed jobs and moved around a number of time since then, so the visits became less frequent.

So, needless to say, I was thrilled when they opened a second store in Maple Grove's faux "main street" area a couple of years ago. Once again, they were less than a mile from my office!

The Country Glazed Ham Shop is a specialty meat store and deli, specializing in, well, hams. Absolutely excellent hams, I might add. Around Christmas and Easter, it is advisable to order your holiday ham well in advance, because they are in huge demand. However, during the lunch hour, they also do a brisk business selling a large variety of fantastic homemade gourmet sandwiches available for dining in or take-out.

I rotate between a few selections; one is the CGH Classic, a ham and Swiss with a variety of toppings. Another is the Unforgettable, a roasted turkey breast sandwich with bacon and avocado (both of these sandwiches feature an awesome sunflower cream cheese spread, too!).

The "Club Sub" from the Country Glazed Ham Shop

Today I had one of my other "usual" sandwiches, the Club Sub. This consists of their wonderful ham paired with turkey, bacon, and provolone cheese on a hoagie, dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. It is big and satisfying, and the meats are incredibly tasty. Nothing fancy, just a great sandwich.

If you are in Maple Grove or Minnetonka during the lunch hour and you're sick of the same old boring fast food sandwiches, the Country Glazed Ham Shop offers some wonderful and much tastier alternatives.

Pizza in balance

I love it when things go right in the kitchen.

A pepperoni, capicola, mushroom, and black olive pizza with just the right amount of cheese and sauce. Everything is in balance, the ingredients cook evenly, and you get some nice browning on the top.

Life is good. :)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Mushrooms

In the midst of packing, cleaning, and getting ready to move, I didn't feel like spending a ton of time in the kitchen on Sunday night. So, I threw together a quick and easy baked pasta dish.

I normally like to make my own pasta sauce when I have time, but these days there are some really tasty sauces you can buy. A current favorite of mine is a private label from the Lund's and Byerly's grocery stores here in the Twin Cities. In the last year they have introduced their own line of products, and their pasta sauces are fantastic. They are all natural, made with the prized San Marzano tomatoes. Delicious and very convenient! For this dish, I used their wild mushroom sauce.

Anyhow, this was very easy to make, and it calls for very few ingredients, none of which are too exotic or expensive. The use of fresh mozzarella cheese in this dish is fun, too. Once baked, you will encounter these little pockets of stringy, gooey cheese that clings to chunks of meat and noodles. Good stuff!

Baked Rigatoni with Sausage & Mushrooms

-Extra virgin olive oil
-1 8 oz. package crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, ground
-1 28 oz. jar of your favorite pasta sauce
-1/2 lb. rigatoni, cooked very al dente
-4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
-Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

In a deep skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms until nicely browned and reduced in size. Set aside. In the same skillet, brown the Italian sausage. Drain the fat, add the mushrooms, and pour in the pasta sauce. Allow to simmer for 15 minute so the flavors have a chance to mingle. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook the rigatoni noodles for perhaps only 6 minutes or so. You want to undercook these, as they will continue to cook in the oven, so this will help them to better maintain their texture. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat the oven to 350 F. In a large casserole or round baking dish, add the rigatoni, pasta sauce mixture, and the cubed fresh mozzarella. Stir well to incorporate and to distribute the cheese. Top everything with a generous layer of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Allow to rest 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - Choo Choo Bar & Restaurant

I ran 13 miles this morning. It was my “big” run before my half marathon in a few weeks. Needless to say, the run left me quite hungry and in need of nourishment. I sought out another local joint to ease my hunger.

Choo Choo Bar & Restaurant
160 Railway St W
Loretto, MN

Loretto is an old railroad town located just west of Medina and about a mile south of MN Highway 55. Of course there is development going on all around it, but it still retains some of its small town qualities.

One such place helping to keep the small town feel is the Choo Choo Bar & Restaurant. As the name would imply, it is located right by the railroad tracks in town. They have a restaurant and a bar (which are separate), and they feature live music as well. It is a rustic place. The bar has a vaulted ceiling and it is filled with old railroad memorabilia. Heck, there was even a real Soo Line Railroad caboose located in the bar!

I sat down in the bar right next to the caboose. The menu had a number of different sandwiches, and there was a whole other page of pasta and dinner items, which I didn't pay much attention to (I think those were for the restuarant during dinner hours, anyhow). I was there for a burger. So I ordered up their mushroom-Swiss burger with fries.

The Mushroom-Swiss Burger at the Choo Choo Bar & Restaurant

It didn’t say on the menu how big these were, but I am guessing it was a half-pound patty. The burger was huge! It was cooked to order and covered with melted Swiss cheese and a mound of sautéed mushrooms. The burger was indescribably juicy and moist. I literally had juices running down my chin! Very flavorful and filling. And the fries, as you can see, are the real deal with the skin still on. I love it when places serve real fries! They were crispy, golden brown, and delicious.

This was a tasty meal that satisfied my cravings. The Choo Choo Bar & Restaurant in Loretto seems to be serving up some really good and unpretentious food here. And lots of it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A post-run meal with bunny rabbits

What dinner could be easier after my run on a cold, rainy day than a big, hot bowl of Annie’s Bunny Pasta with Yummy Cheese, spiked with a little capicola ham and some peas?

Hey, it's Friday night after a busy week at work, I didn't feel like cooking much, and I can’t help it: I love the stuff! :)

Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich, anyone?

Apparently, anything can be deep-fried. Check out this story from the Seattle Times:

Meet Charlie Boghosian, the deep-fry guy. He has become known as a "fair food innovator" and makes the rounds to various state fairs every year. The article focuses on some of his unusual creations. He has gained some notoriety for his inventions like the Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich, which is a deep-fried chicken patty with Swiss cheese served on a sliced Krispy Kreme doughnut. Another invention this year was "fried Coke," which best I can tell is a doughnut batter infused with Coca-Cola. Yikes!

I do love the little sidebar in the article that compares the calories of the Krispy Kreme sandwich to other fast food items, making it look like a healthy alternative. Yes, because everyone needs more doughnuts and grease in their life! :)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More frittata fun

Tonight's dinner involved more fun with frittatas!

I was scrounging for something to eat tonight, so I threw together some hot capicola ham, green peppers, frozen peas, a couple of eggs, and a little baby Swiss cheese. And I even managed to get some better browning on the top! What a fast, easy, and delicious meal.

Chef's night out in the Twin Cities

Here is a recent article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. They interviewed several chefs from various Twin Cities eateries and asked them where they go to eat when they are away from their own kitchens. Some of their responses were kind of surprising, and it was interesting to see the variety of tastes among these chefs.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Jean's Beef & Guinness Stew

I love beef stew. And with the weather turning cooler, this weekend was the perfect time to make some! I have seen a number Irish recipes for beef or lamb stew that use the delicious and dark Guinness stout beer, so that was the inspiration. This recipe is a concoction I came up with after much experimentation, and I really like the results.

With any braised dish, you want a flavorful cooking liquid. That involves using a generous amount of aromatic vegetables and herbs, but there is also some cooking technique and equipment that will help achieve this. You must brown the beef really well, and you need to scrape up those delicious bits that cling to the bottom of the pot and incorporate them into the liquid. This is what gives your stew flavor, color, and richness. And nonstick cookware doesn't work, because nothing sticks! You actually want the meat to cling to the pot a little bit so those brown bits can form. That means you need a heavy-duty cooking vessel, such as a cast iron Dutch oven. It makes a huge difference.

My personal twist is that I slice the onions very thin and cook them until they are very wilted, browned, and almost caramelized, allowing them to absorb some of the browned bits left by the meat on the bottom of the pot. Once the dish starts cooking, the onions virtually disintegrate and melt right into the stew. This not only contributes to the wonderful flavor, but it also helps to thicken the braising liquid.

This is a dark, rich, thick and hearty stew that will undoubtedly warm you up on a cold day. The leftovers are great, too. Also, you could just as easily substitute red wine for the Guinness beer to make a version of beef bourguignon, and it will work equally as well.

Jean's Beef & Guinness Stew

-2 1/2 lbs. beef chuck roast, cut into large cubes
-Flour for dusting
-Salt and pepper
-2 T. olive oil
-1 large yellow onion, sliced very thin
-4 carrots, sliced into large rounds
-8 cloves garlic, minced
-3 T. barley
-2 T. tomato paste
-2 c. beef stock
-12 oz. Guinness beer (or another stout beer)
-1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
-8 oz. package crimini mushrooms, quartered
-About a dozen small red potatoes, cut in half
-1 c. frozen peas
-Cooked egg noodles to serve

Dust the meat with a little bit of flour and season with salt and pepper. In a large cast iron Dutch oven, heat the olive oil to medium-high and sear the meat in batches until nicely browned. Set aside. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat in the pot, reduce heat to medium and add the onion. Allow to cook for several minutes until very brown and wilted, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add the carrots and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and the barley, cooking for another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir it into the vegetables. Now add the beef stock and Guinness to the pot and continue to scrape the bottom of the pan to release those delicious brown bits. Return the beef to the pot. Add the rosemary sprig, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add the mushrooms and cover. Cook for 1 1/2 hours or so, occasionally stirring and skimming the fat that rises to the top. About an hour before serving, add the potatoes and allow to cook through. A couple of minutes before serving, stir in the peas. Remove the rosemary sprig (all the leaves will have fallen off by this point!). Check the seasoning, adding a little more salt or black pepper, if necessary. Serve this over egg noodles with a pint of Guinness on the side. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tonight's pizza

I realized that it had been a month to the day since I made a homemade pizza for dinner. That is a long hiatus. I practically live on homemade pizza, so tonight I decided to make up for lost time!

As it turns out, it was sort of a standard “everything” pizza; homemade pizza sauce, a couple kinds of meat (pepperoni, capicola ham), and topped with onions, green peppers, black olives, and mushrooms. The cheeses were a blend of aged provolone, baby Swiss, and farmer’s cheese.

The pizza was very good. The cheese didn’t get as brown on the top as I would have liked (I committed the ultimate sin of pizza making; too many toppings!). Regardless, it smelled great coming out of the oven, and it was darn tasty!

Road Food Pursuits - Peppermint Twist Drive In

We don’t have Sonic Drive Ins in this neck of the woods, which is perhaps the only national chain that is keeping the drive in restaurant concept alive. Therefore, drive ins are a bit of a novelty here in Minnesota. We just don’t have very many of them. It probably has something to do with our brutal winters, too, but there are few of them around.

So when I learned of a real drive in a mere half an hour from my place, I had to check it out.

Peppermint Twist Drive In
115 Babcock Blvd W
Delano, MN

A recent mini-road trip west of the Cities brought me to Delano, home of the Peppermint Twist Drive In. It is located right in town on US Highway 12. It is a seasonal business that was started from a defunct A&W drive in, and has been family owned an operated since 1982. The Peppermint Twist was even featured on The Food Network’s show, “The Best Of...” in their episode on drive ins.

The menu board at the Peppermint Twist

You pull into a stall under the canopy, and there is an immediate feeling of nostalgia. I can’t remember the last time I would have ordered from a menu board like this! You press the button for service, place your order, and a very friendly carhop brings you your food. It is truly a blast from the past.

Wow, what to order? The menu was huge with a variety of burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches galore. I was in a burger frame of mind today, so I ordered the “Smoke House Burger” with a side of fries and cole slaw. This particular burger consisted of two thin patties (totaling 1/3 of a pound) topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, and BBQ sauce.

The Smoke House Burger and Fries

They weren’t messing around. As far as the BBQ bacon cheeseburger genre goes, this was perhaps the best I have tasted. The burger was juicy and flavorful with the melted cheddar cheese and a smoky, tangy BBQ sauce. And let me tell you about the bacon; it was the real deal! Thick cut slab bacon was used here, not the thin, crumbly stuff. Simply amazing!

The fries were big, thick-cut wedges of potato with a nice, fluffy texture inside. There were so many, I couldn't eat them all. Add a side of some cool, creamy cole slaw, and what more could you ask for? This was just a great meal all the way around.

And I even got a little BBQ sauce on my windowsill and steering wheel just to complete the drive in experience! :)

Mackenthun’s Sausage & Deli

I took a little road trip just west of the Cities today and found a neat little meat market in the town of St. Bonifacius. It is Mackenthun’s Sausage & Deli. They have a full meat counter, but what I was interested in was all of the sausage products.

They have a ton of different stuff ranging from cured to smoked to fresh. I ended up buying some garlic summer sausage (which I sampled in the store and thought was very tasty), some of their “campfire” beef jerky, which comes in big slabs and has a great smoky flavor. I also got some teriyaki beef sticks and some beautiful looking apple wood smoked bratwurst. I will be anxious to try those, as they look outstanding.

Anyhow, it was fun to stumble across this place today. Always nice to find good meats! :)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pioneer Press article on Twin Cities ethnic restaurants

The St Paul Pioneer Press recently published a guide to world food featuring several Twin Cities ethnic restaurants. They asked the chefs/restauranteurs of these establishments what one dish a person must try get a true taste of that particular ethnic group's cuisine. I have only eaten at one of these places (that was Vincent in Minneapolis), so apparently I need to get out more! :)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Newspaper article on heirloom tomatoes

In post a few weeks ago, I spoke of a really good "Big Rainbow" heirloom tomato that I purchased at a local farmer's market. In today Minneapolis Star-tribune, there was an interesting article about heirloom tomatoes. There is also a link in the article to a few different tomato soup recipes.

Hmmm, now I am craving a grilled cheese sandwich! :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More improvisation with leftovers

As you can probably tell, I am needing to go to the grocery store! :) Tonight's dinner was thrown together with some leftovers, as well as things found in the fridge and freezer:

-An onion bratwurst from McDonald's Meats in Clear Lake, MN, that I found buried deep in the freezer
-A hot dog bun, also from the freezer
-Leftover chili from the weekend
-Pickle relish and mustard from the fridge
-Tater tots from the freezer

There you have it; sort of an upscale chili dog with some tots on the side! :)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Frittata with leftovers

Eggs are a fantastic canvas for leftovers. Here is what I whipped up for dinner tonight:

-A small hunk of leftover Swedish potato sausage, sliced
-Peas from the freezer
-A couple of cloves of roasted garlic (leftover from last weekend's roasted garlic mashed potato recipe!), sliced up
-A couple of eggs, beaten
-A combination of grated baby Swiss and farmer's cheese

In a non-stick skillet, I sautéed the sausage sliced until brown. I added the peas and roasted garlic and let them just warm through for about 30 seconds. Then I poured in the eggs and cooked until barely set on the bottom, topped it with cheese, and threw under the broiler for a couple minutes until the top became set and the cheese was nicely melted.

There you have it; a Swedish potato sausage frittata with peas and roasted garlic. Swedish-Italian "fusion cuisine," as it were! :) It turned out very nice, light and fluffy, and was quite delicious. A great way to use up some leftovers, and a fantastic dish to improvise with.

Annie's Macaroni & Cheese

True confessions: I have always liked macaroni and cheese from a box. I didn't even mind the generic labeled, glowing orange, four-boxes-for-$1 stuff that a lot of us subsisted on during our college years. You remember those days when Kraft was considered too expensive? :)

Now that I have grown up a little bit, in recent years I have been buying Annie's Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese products. They are all-natural (and in some cases, certified organic), they have some interesting shapes and flavors (including cute little bunny rabbits!), and they taste great. Definitely a little more upscale than the stuff you remember as a kid. Sure, it is a bit more expensive, but it is made with natural and organic food products, and it is still a meal for less than $2.

In fact, I will also confess that my "carbo-loading" meal for my race last weekend was a box of Annie's Shells & Real Aged Wisconsin Cheddar with some frozen peas stirred in! Quite yummy. I always have a few boxes of these on hand for those nights I don't feel like exerting myself in the kitchen.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Jean's Beer Chili

Football season is here. This can only mean one thing; I can start making chili again!

Now that the weather is cooling down, and because today was especially damp and cold, I decided I would brew up a batch of my homemade chili to have on hand for watching the games. This is something I have been making since my college days, and I have been tweaking the recipe ever since.

Football is always better with a bowl of chili!

A couple of things about my chili:

-I always use beer as one of the liquid ingredients. I think it gives the chili such a nice, tangy taste.

-Purists say chili should not have beans. My recipe has beans. Why? Because it’s my chili! :)

-I like to add a touch of brown sugar to the finished product. I think it is a nice touch to balance out some of the heat.

Jean's Beer Chili

-2 lbs. ground beef chuck
-1 medium yellow onion, diced
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-Salt and pepper
-3 T. chili powder
-1 T. ground cumin
-1 t. ground coriander
-1/2 t. dried Mexican oregano
-1/2 t. dried thyme
-1/2 t. crushed red pepper
-1/2 t. ground sage
-1/2 t. cayenne pepper
-28 oz can tomatoes, pureed
-1 cup beef stock
-1 12 oz bottle of amber beer
-2 14 oz. cans kidney beans, drained
-1-2 T. brown sugar (optional)
-Hot sauce to taste

Brown the ground chuck with the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and add all of the spices and seasonings. Add the tomatoes, beef stock, and beer. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook (covered) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, skimming off any accumulating fat. About a half an hour to an hour before serving, add the kidney beans and the optional brown sugar (if you feel a little sweetness is needed). Serve with some of your favorite hot sauce on the side.

Enjoy. And remember, it will taste even better tomorrow, so feel free to make this in advance!

Road Food Pursuits - Sydney’s Frozen Custard

I was going through some photos from my Labor Day weekend, and I can’t believe I forgot to mention this place, as it was a very nice find as far as road food is concerned.

Sydney’s Frozen Custard
14 South Broadway
Grand Marais, MN

My Mom and I took a trip into Grand Marais one day, and we stopped at this great little custard shop out on Artists’ Point.

Sydney’s Frozen Custard is a seasonal business, only open in the spring and summer, so I was happy to get a chance to visit before they shut down for the winter. It is probably good that they are seasonal. I can't imagine their rooftop patio would be very pleasant in January! :)

They have a variety of different things to choose from written on their colorful chalkboard menu. There were some lunch items such as a Chicago-style hot dog, and even gyros; but I must confess that I was only there for the custard!

The "coffee-toffee-crunch" frozen custard from Sydney's

I had a small cup of the “coffee-toffee-crunch,” which was a coffee-flavored custard topped with bits of a chocolate-covered toffee. Very rich, dense, flavorful, and creamy, with a nice crunch from the toffe, exactly as advertised. Absolutely awesome!

We sat down at a picnic table and enjoyed our custard, as well as a gorgeous view of the harbor. It was certainly worth the trip!

Road Food Pursuits - Kopper Kettle Restaurant

This morning I decided to go out for some breakfast, so I headed up to this place I had heard about in the northwest metro.

Kopper Kettle Restaurant
225 Central Ave
Osseo, MN

The Kopper Kettle Restaurant is located on Central Ave right in the old part of downtown Osseo. It is the kind of small town restaurant that is becoming increasingly difficult to find in the rapidly homogenizing suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Osseo isn’t very close to any major Interstates, so it is also the kind of place you have to seek out. I would venture to guess that most of their business is from locals (there was only an elderly couple and a police officer dining with me today).

The Kopper Kettle has a bright, homey feel, and the walls are covered with wildlife art. My server was very friendly, and was terribly excited about the start of football season, especially the Vikings game tomorrow night!

Just hash and eggs, with zero pretention

I had the corned beef hash with scrambled eggs today. There is absolutely nothing pretentious about it. It is a large plate of crispy hash that is topped with light, fluffy scrambled eggs and toast. No parsley sprig, no orange slice for garnish. It is what it is; real food. I like that. And there was so much that I couldn’t eat it all. It definitely hit the spot.

I am going to come to the Kopper Kettle for lunch sometime, as I understand there is some great home cooking to be enjoyed here. More later... :)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Swedish potato sausage

Swedish potato sausage may not be very well-known outside of the Midwest, or in other areas lacking a large Scandinavian population. Essentially it is a ring sausage that is usually stuffed with a combination of beef, pork, potatoes, onions, and is most commonly seasoned with allspice. It is a mild, earthy sausage that has a fairly creamy and soft texture because of the potatoes used in the recipe. Your will frequently see this served at Christmas dinners of Scandinavian families here in Minnesota.

While I have made my own version in the past, this one was purchased from TJ's Country Store in Mahtowa, MN, a small shop that sells their own hand-crafted sausages products. I got very excited when I saw this in their meat case, because Swedish potato sausage is not always easy to find. And the store owner told me, "It's my mother's recipe, and it's excellent!" With an endorsement like that, I had to give it a try.

I simply roasted the sausage in the oven for 35 minutes at 350 degrees and served it with some roasted garlic mashed potatoes, a side of peas, and some pan gravy I made from the drippings. The sausage was as advertised. It tasted just like a Swedish mother would have made it; Rustic, a delicate texture, nicely seasoned with the onions and a hint of allspice. Very, very nice.

No question, a great meal tonight.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Road Food Pursuits - Gordy's Hi-Hat

I spent the holiday weekend up in the North Country. On my return trip home, I turned off of Interstate 35 onto Minnesota Highway 33 and headed into the town of Cloquet in search of a little lunch. I found something very good.

Gordy's Hi-Hat
415 Sunnyside Drive
Cloquet, MN

Bypassing all of the usual suspect fast food restaurants along Highway 33, I crossed over the St. Louis River and found myself at Gordy's Hi-Hat, a very well-known local hamburger joint. The menu has a variety of burgers, fries, onion rings, shakes; things you might expect to see at a typical fast food restaurant. But this is not your typical fast food.

Gordy's Hi-Hat is hardly a secret. It is a seasonal operation, open in the spring and summer, and they have been catering to hungry locals and North Country travelers since 1960. I was there a little bit after 11:00 on the a Tuesday (the day after Labor Day, mind you), and the place was already bustling.

The Gordy's Hi-Hat California burger with fries

I ordered the California burger, small fries, and a small diet Pepsi. According to the information printed on the tray liner, nothing at Gordy's is frozen. The burgers are hand-formed from fresh ground beef every morning. It was excellent. A juicy patty with lettuce, mayo, and thick slices of very ripe tomato. The fries were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. What is not to like here? A great meal, and it cost me all of $5 and some change.

If you find yourself on the Intestate near Duluth during the spring or summer, you need to get off the freeway and head into Cloquet. Gordy's Hi-Hat will make it worth the trip.

A pleasant surprise at the golf course

Every once in awhile, you discover a great food item in the most unexpected place.

Over the weekend, I played a round of golf at Superior National in Lutsen. Before we teed off, my Mom and I stopped at the clubhouse grill for a quick bite. The grill there is nothing fancy. They serve burgers, quick sandwiches, and the like.

They do have bratwursts and sausages as well. And while a lot of places like this might serve a standard product from a food service provider, that is not the case here. They offered a couple of different hand-made, locally produced sausages from the Lake Superior Sausage Company. You had a choice of an onion-garlic bratwurst or a Creole sausage. I opted for the Creole. Wow! Spicy, full-flavored, juicy, and delicious! It was awesome.

A Lake Superior Sausage Company Creole sausage at Superior National

While it might be easier and cheaper to go with something else, I love it when places go the extra mile to show off some of their local products. You might not get to try them otherwise. It is always fun to find things like this.

And the sausage was much better than my round of golf… :)

Cinnamon-Raisin Swirl Bread

I have made several loaves of this in recent weeks, and it has been turning out very nice. The picture isn't very good, but trust me, the bread is!

A lot of the proportions are based on my Mom's whole-wheat bread recipe, and I just kind of improvised the rest, using elements from a couple other recipes as a guide. I did not use all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture that the recipe calls for. I just gave it a light dusting. Had I added a little more, I am sure it would have made for more distinctive swirls, so perhaps I will add more next time. But it was still very flavorful, not overly sweet, and just darn tasty. I will be having this for breakfast all week, and I can't wait to make it again.

Cinnamon-Raisin Swirl Bread
makes 1 loaf

-1/4 c. milk
-1/2 c. water
-3 T. honey
-2 T. molasses
-1 t. salt
-1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-3/4 c. whole-wheat flour
-1 1/2 t. instant yeast
-2 T. butter
-1/2 cup raisins
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-3 T. sugar
-2 t. cinnamon
-Extra butter for the loaf pan and for brushing on top

Mix the milk, water, honey, molasses, and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add both the flours, yeast, and butter. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. With the dough hook attachment, knead for 10 minutes or until the dough comes together with a smooth surface. Add the raisins to the dough and knead for another 2 minutes. Allow to rise in a bowl, covered and in a warm place, for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Prepare the egg wash. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Punch down the dough and place on a lightly floured board. Roll into a long rectangle shape about 1/2 inch thick, keeping it no more than 8 inches wide (so it will fit in the pan when you roll it up!).. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture (using as little or as much as you like). Roll the dough up like a jelly roll and tuck the ends under. Transfer to an 8 1/2 inch buttered loaf pan, placing the dough seam side down. Brush the top of the loaf with some melted butter. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled in size. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove from the loaf pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy!