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.