Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gordy's revisited

While driving back to the Twin Cities from Duluth, I realized that, with the summer season essentially upeon us, it was time to take a detour for lunch and head into Cloquet, MN.

Gordy’s Hi-Hat is open again. (And there was much rejoicing!)

My bacon cheeseburger and fries at Gordy’s Hi-Hat

I had previously written about Gordy’s, a seasonal operation that is only open during Minnesota's milder months, so I need not go into great detail. But I will say my bacon cheeseburger was awesome. Fresh, well-seasoned, and tasted incredibly homemade. It was dressed with a little mayo and ketchup, and topped off with a creamy melted Ameroican cheese, bacon, and pickles. This is everything a fast food burger should be. And the fries rock. These skinny, crispy little gems are a delight.

Gordy's is yet another reason that I love summer! :)

Wild Onion

This past weekend I was in Grand Marais, MN and got a chance to dine at a new restaurant in town.

Wild Onion Cafe
207 Wisconsin St.
Grand Marais, MN

The Wild Onion Cafe just opened on May 7th of this year. It is located in downtown Grand Marais in the Harbor Inn Motel and has a fantastic view of the harbor.

The menu is very creative and exhibits a great sense of humor, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner items available, depending upon the time of day. I was there for lunch, and they had numerous sandwich offerings that are familiar, but with a creative twist. There were things like a venison burger, a “BLT” with shaved Kobe beef, a smoked turkey sandwich on cranberry bread (cleverly named “11-25-07,” the day after Thanksgiving!), and a pulled barbecue chicken sandwich, to name a few.

I ordered their Rueben, which was corned beef with Swiss cheese, sweet and sour kraut, and a homemade Russian dressing.

The Rueben at the Wild Onion Cafe

Served on a delicious toasted caraway rye bread, the sandwich was excellent. The ingredients were top notch and very fresh, with a generous amount of corned beef, and was perfectly balanced with the cheese, kraut, and the zippy, sweet Russian dressing. Yum!

Homemade rosemary potato chips accompanied the Rueben, and they were absolutely wonderful. Think of the best kettle chip you have ever had lightly kissed with fresh rosemary. Outstanding. I wish I could buy bags of these chips.

When in Grand Marais looking for a meal that offers a new twist on some old favorites, stop in at the Wild Onion Cafe. Enjoy the beautiful view, along with some very well prepared and delicious food.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Church Basement" Calico Beans

We had a potluck at work this week, so I brought a favorite potluck dish, my "church basement" calico beans.

This dish is a my take on a somewhat traditional potluck dish. It is combination of a multitude of beans mixed with hamburger and bacon in a sweet, smoky sauce. It is easy to make, and while it might not look like anything special, the taste is quite delicious and satisfying. You could do the whole thing on a stovetop, but it is perfectly suited for the crock pot.

Being raised a Lutheran in Minnesota, this dish evokes a feeling of nostalgia in that it is a type of casserole (or as we call it, "hot dish") that would have been served at a church basement supper, hence the name I bestowed upon the recipe. :) It also makes for a great side dish for a summer barbecue or bratwurst cookout in place of baked beans.

The recipe make a pretty large batch, but the leftovers freeze well.

My "Church Basement" Calico Beans

-1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
-1 lb. lean ground beef
-Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
-Seasoned salt, to taste
-1/2 t. dried thyme
-1 yellow onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-2 cans Pork & Beans (do not drain)
-1 can kidney beans, drained
-1 can Great Northern beans, drained
-1 can navy beans, drained
-1 can butter (lima) beans, drained
-1 can pinto beans, drained
-3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
-3/4 cup chili sauce (the ketchup-type product, not the Asian style!)
-1/2 cup BBQ sauce (your favorite brand)
-2 T. prepared mustard (yellow, Dijon, whole-grain, your choice)
-1 T. liquid smoke

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp, set aside and drain, reserving 1 T. of the bacon dripping in the skillet. Add the ground beef, season with pepper, seasoned salt, thyme, onions, and garlic. Brown until the beef is no longer pink, drain. Add all ingredients to a crock pot and stir well to incorporate. Cook on high for 4-5 hours (or on low for 8-10 hours). Serve as part of a potluck.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dinner at the Speak Easy

While in Fargo, ND, I needed to do a little carbo loading for the next day’s race, so I drove back across the border to dine at a popular Moorhead restaurant.

Speak Easy Restaurant & Lounge
1001 30th Avenue South
Moorhead, MN

I ate at the Speak Easy, an Italian-American red sauce joint with a 30’s gangster motif.

This was a very cool place. Dimly lit, decorated with dark wood and leather, and lots of red curtains, you felt like you were in an old time supper club.

The menu contained tons of different pasta dishes, as well as some American specialties. Since I was there for pasta, I opted for their mostaccioli.

The mostaccioli at the Speak Easy

The dish consisted of large mostaccioli noodles tossed in meat sauce and topped with pieces of batter-fried mushrooms. The meat sauce was tangy and rich, and the crispy mushrooms offered a fantastic textural contrast, as well as a wonderful flavor. I have never had a dish like this before and thought it was quite creative.

Coupled with a house salad and some soft, warm bread with garlic butter, I would be appropriately fueled up for the race!

The Speak Easy was a treat. Neat atmosphere, delicious food, and plenty of it. Check it our when in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

Road Food Pursuits - Pelican Drive Inn

I just wanted to mention a really tasty malt I had while driving through the town of Pelican Rapids

Pelican Drive Inn
520 North Broadway
Pelican Rapids, MN

I stopped at the Pelican Drive Inn en route to Fargo. It is your typical, cute small town ice cream and sandwich shop. They had a menu full of your various fast food items, but I was there for ice cream.

I am a big fan of blueberry malts, so that is what I had. It was noting fancy; Tastee Freeze soft serve ice cream, malt powder, and blueberries. But it was most delicious. Cold, creamy, malty, and sweet. It really hit the spot after several hours on the road.

Blueberry malt from the Pelican Drive Inn

I can't vouch for the food here, but the ice cream sure was wonderful. If I find myself in the area again, I will be stopping in for a cool, tasty treat!

Road Food Pursuits - Nelson Bros. Restaurant

On my way to Fargo, I stopped off for breakfast in Clearwater, MN. Here I found a truck stop with some seriously good eats.

Nelson Bros. Restaurant
Clearwater Travel Plaza
950 State Hwy 24
Clearwater, MN

I swung into the Clearwater Travel Plaza and ate at the Nelson Bros. Restaurant. When going to a truck stop, you don’t always expect to find a classy, beautiful restaurant decorated in knotty pine, but that is exactly what I found. Wow, this place is nice.

Not only is the decor pretty surprising, but so is the food. They pride themselves on using artisan products, and they even have their own bakery. Perhaps it comes as no shock that this restaurant was featured on a past episode of the Food Network show, The Best Of...Truck Stops?

My choice was the “Two Eggs, Hash Browns, and Meat.” But not just any meat. How does some artisan wild rice sausage sound?

Breakfast at the Nelson Bros. Restaurant

The breakfast was fantastic. My scrambled eggs were wonderfully fluffy. The hash browns were a work of art, with a delightfully crisp crust. And the sausage...mmmm, the sausage...flavorful, moist pork sausages with bits of nutty wild rice. Wow! And I cannot forget to mention the delicious home baked whole wheat bread, made in their very own bakery.

Everything was just excellent. The meal was a great start to my morning. If you find yourself on I-94 between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud looking for a bite to eat, please don’t snub your nose at truck stop fare. The Nelson Bros. Restaurant will change the way you feel about truck stops.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Venison Meat Loaf

Over the weekend, I made meat loaf. But not just any meat loaf. This one had venison!

As per usual, I used the recipe for Alton Brown's "Good Eats" Meat Loaf as my guide. Some alteration I made; the meat mixture was 50% ground venison and 50% ground pork. And I used Italian-style bread crumbs in lieu of the croutons.

The meat loaf turned out great. The venison flavor came through, and the pork added an appropriate amount of fat, since the venison is so lean. It was one of my best efforts; moist, delicious, and even better left over (making for some fantastic cold meat loaf sandwiches!). A fun and hearty dish to cook up on a Sunday.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The BLT goes uptown

Tonight I tried to replicate (somewhat) a sandwich I had at a restaurant last fall.

Back in November, I ate at The Crooked Spoon Cafe in Grand Marais, MN. The sandwich I ordered was called the “Crooked B.L.T.” It consisted of thick-cut pepper bacon, bibb lettuce, balsamic-marinated tomato slices, and a curried mayo. I loved it, and I thought I would try something similar at home.

Following the recipe for my ”B.B.T. Sandwich” (bacon, basil, and tomato), I made a few alterations. I took some mayo and stirred in a little bit of curry powder to taste. Just enough to give it some nice color and flavor. And, I drizzled my tomato slices with some 12 year-old aged balsamic vinegar.

My exotic and tasty "B.B.T." sandwich

The combination of ingredients was so tasty, with the locally produced, double-smoked bacon, the exotic curried mayo, and a simple whole wheat bread. I love using fresh basil instead of lettuce because it bring such a vibrant flavor to the sandwich. And giving the tomatoes a bath in balsamic vinegar really perks them up when they are out of season.

This was a quick, easy, and somewhat upscale sandwich that will become a staple this summer, I am sure.

Road Food Pursuits - Trappers Bar & Grill

Today I hit one of my local restaurants for lunch.

Trappers Bar & Grill
6810 Lake Drive
Lino Lakes, MN

Trappers Bar & Grill s a true roadhouse; a large bar that serves as a swinging live music joint on the weekends. It is located in Lino Lakes on the southeastern corner of Lake Drive and Hodgson Road, and they have a stunning view of Rice Lake.

Music is not all that is served up at Trappers. They have some good chow, too. The menu is fairly large, with lots of sandwich and burger options, entrees such as fried chicken, and there is plenty of bar food as well. They even had a bloody mary bar set up while I was dining there, for those who are so inclined!

Today I selected the “Trapper Deluxe,” a 1/3 pound burger topped with bacon, American cheese, mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, with a side of fries.

The “Trapper Deluxe” at Trappers Bar & Grill

For a 1/3 pound burger, it was huge. By the time I got everything assembled, I could barely get my hands around it! The burger was very fresh, with a juicy and delicous beefy flavor. Crisp, thick-cut bacon, creamy melted American cheese, and sauteed mushrooms topped it off, along with the cool lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles on a big toasted bun. Wonderful flavor and texture contrasts. A great burger!

The fries were excellent as well. You can see they were of the skin-on variety, and they were cooked just right. A fantastic crispness to them, along with a fluffy interior. Fantastic.

This proved to be another excellent burger bargain. The burger basket was $7.25. The whole meal with a diet cola was $9.67 with tax before tip. A great meal, a beautiful view, and a solid price. How can you go wrong? I will have to put Trappers Bar & Grill into my regular rotation.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Giada's Chicken Ragu

Tonight I did a little more cooking with Giada De Laurentiis. I made her recipe for Linguine with Chicken Ragu, a quick, easy, and delicious pasta dish.

There were a couple of liberties taken on my behalf. I added mushrooms. And, instead of linguine, I used a box of De Cecco maccheroni alla chitarra, sort of a square spaghetti noodle that has a great texture. Otherwise, I stayed very true to the recipe.

This is a tasty dish that I enjoyed very much. The preparation was quite simple. Chicken thighs have a lot of flavor, and I enjoyed the fresh rosemary in the sauce. I am glad I added mushrooms, though (a good flavor/texture addition). I will most certainly be making this again!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Grilled Tuna Steak with Soy-Ginger-Honey Glaze

Here is what was for dinner tonight. I made a grilled tuna steak with an soy-ginger-honey glaze. This is where a George Foreman Grill comes in handy (grilling fish is perhaps its best application, in my humble opinion).

This is so easy. Take one sashimi grade tuna steak (about 8 oz.) and mix up the following marinade:

1/4 c. soy sauce
3 T. white wine
3 T. honey
1 T. fresh grated ginger

Stir the marinade together and reserve about 3 T. of it to use as a dipping sauce. Place the tuna steak in a ziplock back and pour the remaining marinade it. Allow to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour, turning once.

Heat up the George Foreman Grill. Remove the steak from the marinade and pat it dry. Grill for two minutes, turning once to get the grill marks. You should have a good sear on the outside, and it will be rare and pink on the inside. Serve with a small ramekin of the reserved marinade along the side for dipping. Easy, and delicious!

(Of course, in the absence of a G.F. Grill, there is no reason this can’t be quickly seared on each side to your liking in a hot skillet!)

Road Food Pursuits - Meisters Bar & Grill

I headed out of the house late on a gloomy Minnesota morning in search of some lunch. Somehow, I ended up having breakfast instead!

Meisters Bar & Grill
14808 Oakhill Road
Scandia, MN

The small Swedish hamlet of Scandia, MN, is home to Meisters Bar & Grill, a small tavern built in 1959. It is a really cute establishment. A cozy bar with lots of wood, old wood floors, wooden booths, and plenty of character; it is a perfect small town bar.

Their menu looks great, with many different burgers, sandwiches, dinner entrees, and even broasted chicken. But since I arrived early, I was able to get in on breakfast, which is served only on Saturday and Sunday.

I opted for their breakfast item called “Scoty’s Special,” which consisted of two eggs, toast, home fries, ham, sausage and bacon (Gasp! Pork three different ways!).

”Scoty’s Special” at Meisters Bar & Grill

Fluffy scrambled eggs, excellent whole wheat toast, a slice of griddled ham, a strip of thick bacon, and a link of juicy breakfast sausage; wow! Everything was delicious. But the home fries were perhaps my favorite part of the meal. These were sliced new potatoes (no frozen potato products here), nicely browned and tossed with a little parsley. They were wonderful. What a fantastic breakfast!

The cost of this meal was a paltry $4.99 before tax. Unbelievable! Not only was this a delicious and filling breakfast, but it was unquestionably one of the best breakfast deals I have encountered.

If you are in the St. Croix River Valley on a weekend morning looking for some breakfast, you might want to consider stopping in at Meisters Bar & Grill. I know one thing, after seeing their lunch and dinner menu, I will be back. Any place that claims to be famous for burgers is a place I want to become acquainted with!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pizza for dinner

Tonight's pizza turned out really nice.

A combination of fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, fresh basil leaves, sliced Boar's Head pepperoni, green olives, and mushrooms. I love it when I top it with just the right amount of stuff so that everything gets nice and brown on the top. Yum!