Saturday, December 29, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Mama G's

On a snowy Saturday, I ventured to an establishment that I had never been to before. Sometimes it is a pleasant surprise what one might find.

Mama G's
9705 Highway 101
Maple Grove, MN

I had lunch at Mama G's in Maple Grove. Operating on the northwest corner of Highway 101 and County Road 30 since 1968, this small, unassuming sports bars is known all across the metro for hosting a variety of sports leagues. They are one of the premier locations for sand volleyball in the Twin Cities, and they also do broomball in the winter.

Being a sports bar, it means there are plenty of drinks and also some food. I was not sure what to expect because the menu is quite small with no frills. It was a single page containing a select number of appetizers, a few sandwich, burger, and wrap options, as well as pizza. There did not appear to be fried foods on the menu, so I am guessing the kitchen must not have a deep fryer.

There were three burgers to choose from; the hamburger, cheeseburger, or bacon cheeseburger. I opted for the one with bacon, and with a choice of cheddar or Swiss, I chose Swiss. Also, you get a choice of a variety of bagged chips for your side. I took the Poore Brothers BBQ chips.

The bacon cheeseburger at Mama G's

My burger arrived, and I was pleased with what I saw; crispy strips of bacon, beautifully melted Swiss cheese, and a good looking burger on a fluffy, toasted bun. It came with lettuce, tomato, pickles, as well as some mayonnaise and diced raw onions on the side. This looks very promising!

One bite and I knew I had found a gem. The 1/3 pound burger tasted fresh with a fantastic beefy flavor. It was fairly thick, had a nice juiciness, and reminded me of a good homemade burger. All of the toppings and condiments only added to what was a delightful lunch. Delicious!

Even better, the burger with a bag of crunchy kettle chips only cost $5.50. The whole meal with a diet Coke and a little bit of tax set me back $8 on the nose before tip. Are you kidding me? Unquestionably, this is one of the better burger values I have encountered.

If you are looking for a reasonably priced and very tasty burger, I would suggest stopping at Mama G's. I know I will be back!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Venison sausage meets pasta

Over the weekend, I made a quick and easy pasta dish; venison sausage with fennel, red wine, and fusili.

I got the idea from an excellent Patricia Wells cookbook, At Home In Provence. The dish is fairly simple with a handful of ingredients, and it can be thrown together very quickly. The rich sauce is made entirely of tomato paste and red wine seasoned with fennel seeds. Additional body is added with an egg and cheese mixture that is stirred in right at the end. Along with a splash of pasta cooking water, this creates a silky texture.

Her recipe called for Italian sausage, but I had something else in mind. My brother had given me some of his homemade onion and garlic venison sausage. Really flavorful stuff, and perfect for a pasta dish like this. And the recipe in the book did not call for mushrooms and peas. I added them for some contrast in texture, additional flavor, and a little color.

Here is my interpretation of the recipe:

Jean's Venison Sausage with Fusili, Fennel, and Red Wine

-2 T. olive oil
-1 lb. venison sausage (or Italian sausage), removed from casings
-2 t. fennel seeds
-1 6 oz can tomato paste
-2 c. red wine
-8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1 c. frozen peas
-12 oz. fusilli pasta (or other short pasta like penne or ziti)
-2 eggs, beaten
-1/4 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
-Fresh ground black pepper
-Reserved pasta cooking water

Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet. Brown the venison sausage, breaking up the meat with your spoon. Add the fennel seeds. Allow to cook until just about all the pink is gone. Add the tomato paste, stirring it into the meat, and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the red wine and the mushrooms. Bring to a quick boil, reduce heat, and let it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook to just shy of al dente. Be sure to save a cup of the pasta cooking water for later.

While the pasta is cooking, beat a couple of eggs in a dish. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the eggs, along with some generous twists of fresh ground black pepper. Set aside.

Drain the pasta and toss it into the sauce. Stir until all the noodles are nicely coated with the sauce.

Remove the pasta and sauce from the heat. With a large spoon, gently stir in the egg and cheese mixture, using just enough reserved pasta water to help thin out the sauce (this is a judgment call on your part!). Stir well to be sure the eggs do not curdle.

When the sauce achieves the desired texture, it is ready to serve. Be sure to have a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on hand to sprinkle over the dish. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas cookies

This week, my office is having a cookie baking contest. Today I prepared my entry.

It is your basic drop cookie, and it contains dark chocolate chips, dark chocolate M&M's, and also little chopped up bits of Heath bars.

The recipe is loosely based on this one. Simply get rid of the macadamia nuts, and instead of the cappuccino chips, substitute a cup of dark chocolate M&M's. The rest is exactly the same.

Of course, I have already sampled some of the finished product, and these cookies are really yummy. I think I have a shot at the title! :)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Venison chili on a cold December day

I think the high temperature was something like 16 degrees today. Because of that, as well as the fact that it is football Sunday, and since my brother gave me some really excellent venison stew meat, it is the perfect occasion to make venison chili!

The recipe is this one, except I substituted 2 lbs. of venison (which I ground myself along with a couple strips of bacon for some added fat and flavor) for the beef chuck. And I used a can of black beans and a can of light red kidney beans, as opposed to two cans of kidney beans. Otherwise, the recipe is exactly the same.

The quality of the venison was excellent, and it was so lean and flavorful. A fantastic, mild venison taste really cames through, and I hardly had to skim any fat from the chili while it was simmering.

My chili has sort of a "sweet heat" to it, which I like very much. Served with a little grated sharp cheddar, and some hot sauce on the side; perfect cold weather football food. Yum! :)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich at The Lookout

Today I had lunch at one of my local establishments, The Lookout Bar & Grill in Maple Grove. I tried something different from my usual burger and opted for the pork tenderloin sandwich.

I have very limited experience with these sandwiches, which the State of Iowa is practically known for, but I found it to be a tasty alternative to a burger.

Here you have a breaded piece of pork tenderloin served on toasted sourdough bread and topped with lettuce, Swiss cheese, and a chipotle mayonnaise. I added a little bit of mustard and some pickles to it as well. The pork had a crispy crust, and a juicy interior. It was a substantial sandwich that was quite yummy and satisfying.

Hmmm, I may have to check these out when I see them on the menus at other establishments! :)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Our Thanksgiving Day dinner, as always, was a bit unconventional.

The Thanksgiving Day dinner

Dad grilled up a marinated tri-tip, nice and rare. In addition, he also made some jumbo stuffed shrimp, as well as some baked sea scallops with Italian herbs.

For side dishes, Mom whipped up a roasted vegetable casserole, as well as a wild rice casserole with bacon.

As unusual as this might be for "Turkey Day," it sure was delicious!