Friday, September 4, 2015

Minnesota State Fair Fare: A Quick Review

The real critics have all weighed in, and as you can see, taste is in the eye of the beholder. As we enter the final weekend of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, I have a word or two to say about some of the treats I've sampled at the fair this year. But don't take my word for it, get out there and try these for yourself.


Liquid: Frozen Blu

I've said this once, I'll say it a million times: this beer is itself worth the price of admission. I am not a beer girl, but this stuff is oh so good. Located just to the North of the two story Lulu's Public House, the Schell's stand serves blueberry beer topped with blueberry beer foam and it is arguably the best thing I've had at the fair. Ever. Yes, I am considering going back this evening, handing over my $10 ticket, and getting myself a Blu. It's THAT good.

Grub: San Felipe Fish Taco

My friend Anne Kingston turned me on to these and I am eternally grateful. San Felipe's taco is a huge, soft tortilla, wrapped around a crispy, battered filet of tilapia and topped with crunchy coleslaw and some secret sauce I could pour on just about anything. Pro tip, if you don't like your entrees sweet, ask them to skip the mango salsa, which is more like mango jam.


Liquid (sort of): Lingonberry float

Sorry Anne, and Rick Nelson, I thought this complicated concoction was just ok. They top scoops of lavender hued lingonberry ice cream with lingonberry syrup and seltzer water, then a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry. It's almost too much, and the tiny, mushy berries were a distraction rather than a treat. For over $6, I've had better.

Grub: Salad Named Soo

By all accounts, The Rabbit Hole's Midtown Market restaurant is a top notch Korean spot with a tremendously talented chef. The Rabbit Hole will take up residence in International Bazar's Midtown Global Market stand for the remainder of the fair. On a hot day like Friday, their "salad" seemed like a refreshing choice, and for the most part it was: Cubed watermelon sits in a bath of kicky chili honey lime sauce and sprinkled with mint, cilantro, pea shoots and almonds. The flavors were spot on, but the problem here is with the execution. I don't know about you, but I prefer my herbs chopped. A giant leaf of prickly mint is not appealing, and entire sprigs of cilantro, stem included, just get in the way rather than enhance the dish. I don't want to have to do my own chopping, especially in 90 degree heat, and without a knife. Also, according to the State Fair's web site, the salad was supposed to include arugula, which would have made it more of a, well...salad.


Liquid: Espresso Float

I was so excited about the espresso float from Java Jive, but it turned out to be an over priced disappointment. While the flavor was good, I just cannot get over the price. This place has a couple of strikes against it. First of all, their system is all wrong. The same kid that takes your order also fills it, which makes the lines move at an imperceptible "speed." When I was finally handed my $8.50 cocktail of chilled espresso and vanilla ice cream, the cup was barely half full. Um, no. Short changing me on my espresso is never a good idea. When I asked him to put some more coffee in it, the only adult in the booth (presumably the manager/owner) gave me a crusty look. Sorry lady, for that kind of dough, you better fill that puppy to the rim.

Grub: Duke's Poutine

I would not have chosen this item, but I was able to try it at the Taste of the Fair a week before the actual Fair started. Some poutine, like the one from Rabbit Hole, available this weekend at the International Bazar's Midtown Global Market booth, utilizes fantastic French fries that would be wonderful on their own, and tops them delicately with a few choice items. Not at Duke's. These are the bottom of the barrel fries, so fleshy in color you might question if they ever saw a moment in a hot grease bath, and ladle them with some of the worst Thanksgiving gravy this side of the Iowa border. The only discerning flavor was black pepper, and the mouth feel can only be compared to something they might serve you in a rural hospital post jaw surgery.

Liquid: Lemon Kombucha

I'll make this simple: unless you love the taste of watered-down lemon Pledge, stay away from the $3-for-a-dixie-cup serving of Lemon Kombucha at Produce Exchange.

On another note, I noticed that, in what I can only assume is an effort to expedite the entire stuffing-your-face process, several vendors, including Blue Barn and The Rabbit Hole, had dishes pre-prepared and lined up at the ready. This would be fine on a crazy busy State Fair Saturday, but on slower days it does not bode well for the dishes. The French toast from Blue Barn, for example, boasts electric blue pop rocks sprinkled liberally on top of home made whipped cream, but after the dish is plated, it has only a few minutes before the blue sparkle of the pop rocks becomes streaks of neon aqua in a sad heap of cream, which is the sorry mess I was handed. Again, great flavors, poor execution.

So there you have it folks. The good, the bad, and the mediocre. Let me know your faves.. or least faves.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Red Cow

On a recent, cold Saturday evening, I was craving a hot, greasy burger. This doesn't happen often, so my family jumped at the chance to enjoy one of their favorite meals. On the way to the relatively new Red Cow on Selby in St. Paul (there is also an Edina location and a soon-to-open Minneapolis location), I told my husband I would be thrilled if Red Cow came even close to the burgers at Blue Door (where one of the most craveable burgers ever bestowed upon humanity, the Jiffy Burger, reigns supreme.) We love Blue Door, but the St. Paul location is too tiny and the Minneapolis location is...well, in Minneapolis.

Mission accomplished.

But first, the negatives, 'cause that's just who I am.

The space is gorgeous, no doubt about it, with dramatic red booths, fantastic cow paintings, and lots of dark wood everywhere. The former home of Costello's Bar is refined and classy, with pops of crimson everywhere. The seating, however, leaves much to be desired. There are only a handful of comfortable booths, and entirely too many high tops to be considered family-friendly in my book. A three-year old would risk a broken arm or two teetering up there at those high tops, and the teeny tiny vestibule was crowded with tables. I felt sorry for the poor patrons who got stuck there, with hungry would-be customers lurking over their shoulders. I don't understand the choice of high tops, but maybe I'm the exception. I find them terribly unwelcoming. They don't say, "come, sit for a while, stay for dessert." They say, "Champps" to me, and that is not a good thing. It was packed, which is always a good sign, but I would not go back on a Saturday night. Any given Tuesday, I am there.

We got lucky and after about 25 minutes, we were sat at a tiny table that barely fit the three of us, but at least it was a half booth so it was nice and cozy, and out of the way.

And now, to the good stuff. Service was top notch. Friendly, knowledgeable, unhurried. I opted for the Barcelona per the recommendation of the lovely couple next to us. Considering she was practically sitting on my lap, I felt like I could trust her already. The Barcelona is topped with Manchego cheese, prosciutto, piquillo peppers and a smoked aioli smear. They had me at Manchego. Hubby went for broke with the Royale, 'cause he's all fancy like that. Beef patty, pork belly, arugula, brie and tomato jam. Yep, super fancy.

Both burgers were decadent, perfectly cooked, and topped with on-point, balanced flavors. But the fries...oh. My. God. The fries.

Not since Little Tel Aviv in Minneapolis closed its doors have I had such wonderful French fries. When I was younger, my parents fried potatoes at home, in some old frier they dragged with them all the way from Israel, and those fries, my childhood fries, were my idea of heaven. And I'm not even a fry girl! At Little Tel Aviv, they created equally magical French fries, and now again at Red Cow. They are surreal. No, really.

I couldn't resist the dessert special, even though I finished every last bite of my burger (also never happens). Creme brûlée topped with sour cherries, or something like that. But you know what? Meh. Lovely creme brûlée, but the topping was basically thick, uber sweet cherry jam. Next time, I'm finishing my fries!

Oh, we'll go back to Blue Door. There is no way I can forgo my Jiffy Burger. But I am already planning the next trip to Red Cow (Breakfast burger, I'm looking at you!) and dreaming about those spuds.

Royale. Worth all ten thousand calories. 

Barcelona. With fries. 

He likes it! 

Kids' sliders. 

Dessert in a jar. Cute oveload. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

LoLo American Kitchen, Stillwater

After whining for years about how we never, ever, go to MY type of restaurant (read: from-scratch cooking, chef driven, local, foodie...) this past weekend we went to two, count 'em, two such places.

On Friday night we met friends at LoLo American Kitchen in Stillwater. I admit, the term "American Kitchen" has scares me off in the past. I assumed the menu will be uninspired, the cooking techniques lacking, and the spice level reduced to pleasing the Minnesota palate. But places like Tilia, Travail and many others have changed my mind, so when the opportunity for a rare visit with our Wisconsin friends at an American Kitchen presented itself, we happily went.

LoLo is a brand new build-out where once was only an alley. It's a beautiful space and one would never guess that not so long ago all that stood between the two existing buildings was a hot dog cart. The building, complete with an actual ceiling and everything, has an open kitchen, a long bar, and a few comfy booths. Being a brand new building, we were perplexed by the choice to not include some sort of a vestibule. The door opens directly from the street (up a couple of stairs) into the dining area, where several tables crowd the front. We sat at one such table, and every time the door opened, a cold gust of wind swept over us. It's Minnesota, add a heat-preserving vestibule!

On a Friday night, LoLo was packed. Our server was absolutely lovely, patiently waiting as we time and time again had gotten caught up in conversation and forgot to look at the menu. Speaking of the menu,it was a bit odd. A combination of elegant entrees like seared duck breast and maple glazed salmon are joined a bit awkwardly by a collection of tacos, hot dogs, and burgers. I assume the hot dogs are a nod to the aforementioned hot dog cart.

I went for the Korean BBQ tacos, the most exotic sounding item on the menu. My party also ordered the duck and pork belly tacos, the seared duck breast, and the roast chicken tacos, as well as the crostini trio and the roast chicken and ghost pepperjack quesadilla.

The verdict: All of the food was good. The Korean BBQ Tacos, while not terribly Korean (or BBQ for that matter) were delicious. The hanger steak in the tacos was butter soft, as opposed to the almost beef jerky texture I expected and had hoped for from Korean BBQ. It was surprising but nice. The lemongrass and napa cabbage was cool and spicy, a perfect addition. The flour tortillas were huge and fluffy, not what I expected and decidedly American. The bite and flavor of smaller corn tortillas would have been a nicer compliment to the melt-in-your mouth steak.

Appetizers were just ok. The crostini also had texture problems, with the bread being soft and soggy and the pork belly limp and overpowering. The quesadilla was also a bit of a one noter, spicy but overwhelmingly chickeny.

Although I did not partake, the cocktail program (insert my husband's eye roll) was deemed a huge success. A drink called Leave Britney Alone includes a splash of "disappointment."

The best part of the meal, as is the case for most meals, was the dessert. I skipped the cocktails in favor of a sweet bite at the end, and it was very much the right move. A cup of True Stone decaf and a heavenly butterscotch budino, topped with a layer of salty maple syrup, was a divine way to end the evening.

All in all, LoLo was a success. The LoLo web site includes a tab called Street Food but so far there are no items under the tab or any explanations as to how or when it will come to life. We are often in Stillwater and I would gladly go back to LoLo on a quieter night and try one of the burgers, perhaps and Surf 'N Turf, complete with lobster and candied bacon, and hope the budino is still on the menu.

Leave Britney Alone! With edible orchid. Would you have eaten it?

Seared duck breast. Perfectly cooked and joined by plump cherries and Yukon potatoes.

Too. Much. Tortilla. 

Next post: Red Cow Burgers.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review of Twin Cities Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the City of Lakes to the Capital City

I love to cook, but I am obviously no Steven Brown. Still, I can work my way around a kitchen. One of the many things I love about Twin Cities Chef's Table is that the recipes have not been "dumbed down" for us home cooks. It's as if the chefs believe in us, in our ability to produce something as elegant as duck-fat roasted beets or pancetta-wrapped pheasant breasts with sweet garlic sauce. While my world involves more chicken nuggets than chicken ballotine, I appreciate the faith that it took for these well accomplished and world trained chefs to include recipes like braised octopus is the book. They shared what they wanted to share, and that is why I got the book, for the authentic insight into their kitchens.

Another thing I appreciate about Stephanie Meyer's beautiful new book is that the recipes often include many elements that can be made separately, both for monetary and sanity purposes. While I may not undertake Alex Robert's lobster with truffle butter on a weekly, or even yearly, basis, I may be able to sneak those gorgeous ricotta gnocchi into our family dinner without breaking the bank. Forepaugh's Donald's Duck may have a cute title, but I am pretty sure preparing the eight different components will send me to the loony bin. But hey, those lovely rice tots sound divine with a simple roasted chicken breast. I can do that!

The recipes span the gamut from the simple to the terrifying and everything in between. And while it is not possible for me to serve bunny agnolotti to my seven year old (unless I want to send her to therapy directly after dinner), I already tackled Brasa's citrus pork with great success. Fika's Gravlax may not become a staple in my home, but you can bet that Pizza Lola's pizza dough and Salty Tart's pastry cream will.

I have heard of, but have not visited, all but one of the establishments featured in the book. Most have been on my to-eat list for a long time, but because we are lame, we have not been very good at ticking off the list. Yet. Part of me wants to pick up another copy and keep it in the car. That way, when we are out running errands on a Saturday (there are lots of great places within 10 miles of Room and Board, it turns out) I can quickly skim the pages and choose something like Birchwood or Wise Acre instead of (please forgive me) Chili's.

Pick one up today for your favorite home Chef.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Citrus Pork Hash

Forgive me Blogger for I have sinned. It's been over two years since my last post. Life gets in the way and before you know it, two years have gone by without a blog post. They have been a great two years, however, filled with joyous (and not so joyous) days with my girl, trips around the country and abroad, and a couple of freelance jobs that I absolutely love and that sometimes even pay for my cappuccino habit. Almost.

But after a long absence, inspiration struck yesterday when I went to a demonstration and book signing by Zoë François and Stephanie Meyer at Kitchen in the Market. Both ladies have recently released lovely new books. Zoë is on her fifth book with partner Jeff Hertzberg, Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Stephanie just released her first book, Twin Cities Chef's Table , a gorgeous book featuring local chefs and their recipes, along with photos from the author herself.

Every so often, I am reminded that I am more than a mom who occasionally writes for a small neighborhood newspaper (which, as I may have mentioned, I LOVE!) I also love to cook, I try to eat at local restaurants as much as our very picky seven year old will let us, and whole heartedly support this fantastic movement toward farm-to-table chef driven thing we have going on in the Twin Cities and beyond.

We were recently in Duluth, as a matter of fact, and had this amazing sandwich at Northern Waters Smokehaus and a luscious latte at Duluth Coffee Company. Both places had great service and a passion for their craft that shone through in a way only a small establishment can offer.

So, back to the inspiration. That would be Stephanie Meyer herself. A ridiculously talented Renaissance woman, she is a photographer, writer, recipe developer, cooking instructor, advocate of local eateries and can deck out a "Treehouse" with the best of them. After meeting Stephanie, I remembered that I used to be sort of hip. I used to write for great magazines and websites, I used to hang with all the cool kids. I got sidetracked by life's little and big joys, but last night I was inspired to take a small step, get back to writing about what I really care about, and most importantly, I was inspired to cook.

One of the recipes in Twin Cities Chef's Table is a citrus pork shoulder from Alex Robert's Brasa. It's one of my favorite go-to's at Brasa, so I made it as soon as I found it on Stephanie's blog, Fresh Tart. The pork shoulder I bought fed approximately 27 people, and since there are only three of us in our family, one of whom does not eat much more than mac & cheese and ketchup, there was plenty left over. On a cold evening with the threat of an early November snow looming, I decided on potato hash. Doesn't that just always sound good? Say it with me...potato hash. It sounds warm and crispy and flavorful. No? Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, it turned out great. Without further adieu, Citrus Pork Hash.

Citrus Pork Hash

- Left over Brasa's Pork Shoulder Roasted with Citrus Mojo
- 4-6 small Yukon potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 celery rib, cut into thin slices
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced (you can add more if you love garlic. I do not.)
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley or cilantro for a bit of freshness

Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add a little kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until barely tender, about 5 minutes after coming to a boil. Drain potatoes.

In a cast iron skillet, sauté onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil. When onions are opaque, add red peppers and celery. Cook another 3-5 minutes, then add potatoes. With a spatula, gently push the vegetables down to create a flat surface. This helps sear them on the bottom, creating a crispy texture. Cook until the potatoes have the texture you want. You can simply warm them up, or go for a deeper sear and cook them longer.

Add left over pork. If you want crisper meat and vegetables, add as little of the juices (mojo) from the pork as possible. For a softer texture, add more.

Cook until the pork is heated through. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro. Serve with warm tortillas or tortilla chips.

Looking back at previous (ok, old) posts, I realized I talk about Zoë a lot, and have even mentioned Stephanie once or twice. At least I'm consistent in my stalking choices.

Citrus pork hash.

Yes, this is all she eats. And it took a lot of work to finish the plate.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


We love Art-A-Whirl weekend. It's the official start of summer for us, of out-door festivals and eating on folding chairs in front of various food trucks. This year, Chef Shack was parked in front of the Northrup King Building, so we enjoyed pork tacos and sweet potato tacos al fresco, surrounded by rusty train tracks. I didn't snap any pictures because it started raining just as we were slurping up the last of the tacos, but trust me, they were beautiful. Catch them when you can.

Art-A-Whirl is also a great excuse to eat at one of our favorite dives, Uncle Franky's Hot Dogs. We tend to save this luxury for this special weekend, although I am not sure why. It has an adorable back patio, and seems like a perfect summer lunch for kids and grown ups alike. Now that I think about it, there might be is a Chili Dog in my five-year-old's near future. Except she'd order it without the chili...

My go-to: Northside Polish Maxwell with fried onions and sauerkraut, and Tony's Southside Maxwell, a deep fried Polish with mustard and hot peppers.

To round off our weekend of eating dangerously, and since we were sans aforementioned five year old, we decided to give Ngon's Bistro on University a try. Ngon's Bistro has been on my Must Try list for a while. It's been getting a lot of press, and since I am on a bit of a mission to single handedly help restaurants on University Avenue stay in business during the light rail constructions, it was my civic, no, HUMAN duty to visit them.

The Pho here is highly rated, and even though I am not a big Pho fan (say that fast ten times) it seemed like a good place to give it another go. It was a good choice, with a flavorful stock and fresh toppings like sprouts and jalapenos. I could have done without the strangely textured meatballs, I must admit, but the soup itself was lovely. Add to that the gorgeous Spring rolls, which were popping with cilantro and with a rich, thick peanut sauce, and I was a happy, albeit full, camper. Next time, I'm going to try my husband's choice, the Hu Tieu, which is a more subtly flavored broth made with pork instead of ox tail. I may even skip adding any protein, the stock and rice noodles are robust enough on their own.

Oh, and another note to self: split the Pho, it's enough for at least four adult-sized meals. See?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Buttermilk Cake

I had a tough day. I wanted cake. I had fresh strawberries and frozen rhubarb from last year, and now I had an excuse to make this cake I have been eyeing for a while.

The original recipe does not call for rhubarb, but it is such a simple cake I knew it could handle anything I threw at it, and I was right.

Thank you Sarah, for an amazing blog full of gorgeous photos and tantalizing recipes.

For the recipe, check out Sarah's blog, The Vanilla Bean.