10 April 2014

Who decides what is 'good' food technology

There's a great article on the St. Paul paper's web site about an innovative project using the old Hamm's Brewery to grow fish (tilapia) and use the fish waste to fertilize greenhouse veggies. http://www.twincities.com/News/ci_25497427/At-former-Hamms-site-its-the

Don't get me wrong. I love the concept and I hope it works. But I was curious to see that it's being celebrated as an organic food production system. And since I'm an organic skeptic, I wondered: If cows and pigs and chickens have to have access to sunshine and pasture to be considered sustainable, why aren't those same activists criticizing this project for confining the fish and failing to provide them with access to open water? For that matter, why aren't organic plants required to be grown in dirt and have access to sunshine, rather than hydroponics in a greenhouse?

Who decides that this project's industrial technologies are laudable while conventional 'industrial' agriculture (like my dad practiced) should be castigated?

I've felt for a long time that the organic movement has gotten so wrapped up in self righteous rhetoric and food politics that it's lost its way. 

25 March 2014

Pre-Italy wine tasting in S. Mpls: Terzo

My wife and I made it to Terzo before we went to Italy. My goal was to sample an array of Italian wines so that we’d be more knowledgeable when it was time to order in-country.

I had hoped to do a custom flight of Tuscan wines – chianti, sangiovese, and Brunello. Regrettably, Terzo didn’t have just exactly what I wanted “al bicchiere” (by-the-glass). They did, however, have three Tuscan wines on the menu; one was a Chianti, one a Sangiovese blend, and a Montepulciano. We ordered a half glass of each. Our server recommended what order to try them. All were good. My wife liked the Chianti best, and I liked the Montepulciano.

TerzoNow, a word about Terzo’s wine menu. Terzo is an Italian wine bar. All of the wines on the menu are Italian, and they have a robust selection of wine by the glass as well as an extensive selection of bottles. Pricing is not cheap, but it is very straightforward. I think the most expensive glass I saw was $20 for a Barolo. Most of the glasses that we tried cost anywhere from $8-14. They serve a 6-ounce pour, which I consider generous. (I usually expect a 5-ounce pour.) You can get a half glass, 3 ounces, for exactly half the price.

Terzo does not do wine flights per se. Instead, you can specify your own ‘flight’ simply by choosing an assortment of half-glasses. If your server is as good as ours was, you can get good advice on choosing a custom flight.

As a wine bar, the food menu is oriented toward small plates and appetizers. They do have 5 or 6 ‘piatti’ which are entrée sized plates of food. Some of them looked very appealing. But we chose an assortment of small plates. The categories on the menu are ‘cicchetti’ (snacks), bruschetta, salads, and small plates. They do also offer a cheese board, salumi board, and prosciutto. On the snack list, they offer something that I’d call an ‘amuse bouche,’ a one-bite appetizer for $1. (We didn’t get one on our visit.)

Here’s what we did get to eat:

  • Calabrian peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese. There were two nice-sized peppers on the plate. The server said they were not too spicy, but they were too spicy for my wife. I loved them and gladly gobbled them both.
  • Caramelized onion tart. The server was practically bubbling with excitement to tell us that the puff pastry for the tart was made in-house. It was excellent.
  • Two gorgeous seared sea scallops with mini potato chips (made from fingerling potatoes). The scallops were served with a fennel puree and a preserved lemon relish. This was my wife’s favorite dish.
  • A plate of chilled and sliced veal, dotted with tuna emulsion, each dollop topped with a caper berry. My favorite. It was sublime.

I’ve mentioned our server a couple of times in this post. She was fantastic. She was friendly, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and attentive. Her food recommendations were exactly what we wanted. And she did a great job helping us to explore the nuances of Italian wines. I hope all the other servers are as good as Karen.

One more thing about Terzo that I really appreciate; they take reservations. Terzo, in case you didn’t know, is the No. 3 restaurant at the 50th & Penn intersection of Minneapolis owned by the Broder family. The Cucina is a deli, and the Pasta Bar is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. But in order to maintain the ambiance of a neighborhood restaurant, they don’t take reservations. That’s ok on a nice summer evening. If it’s a long wait, you can always stroll down to Lake Harriett. But we don’t have enough of those warm evenings in Minnesota. So we don’t go to the Pasta Bar as often as we otherwise would, because we’re not going to be hassled by bad weather while waiting.

Terzo solves that for us. Half of the tables are available for reservations, and half are kept open for walk-ins. Nice compromise.

We will definitely be back.

24 February 2014

I hate food waste #3: Carrot pasta

Sorry, I got distracted after writing two posts on using leftovers creatively instead of throwing them away. (Click here for #1 and here for #2.) But this one is the one I’m most proud of.

It started with a turkey. When I make turkey, I almost always grill it. After dinner, my wife and I strip the carcass of the remaining meat. Then I break down the carcass and freeze the bones, usually in two bags. I use the carcasses later to make turkey broth for any recipe that calls for chicken broth. I use this recipe from Bon Appetit/Epicurious as my starting point. (The recipe calls for roasting the bones. But since I grill my turkey over charcoal, I find that the carcass already has a nice smoky flavor and depth of flavor, so I skip that step.)CarrotPasta

After the broth was done simmering, I strained it into freezer containers (for future use). What remained were the bones, now pretty well bare of any meat, and the soggy celery, onions, and carrots. I did toss most of that stuff. But I decided to save the carrots. They looked so nice and while they generally held their shape, they were quite soft and mashable.

The inspiration for my use for them came from two separate places. First I saw a video on Mario Batali’s website for mezzalune (click here). And shortly after that, I read a recipe for potato gnocchi. “Aha!” I said to myself. “I wonder if I could make pasta dough with the boiled carrots from my turkey broth.”

It turns out that the carrots worked very well in the dough. I used pretty much the same proportion of carrots to flour as the recipe called for potatoes to flour.

After shaping a few gnocchi, I noticed that the dough seemed very malleable. I decided to try rolling it out, and it worked very well. So then, remembering the mezzalune video, I blended together some (leftover) ricotta, herbs, and an egg and went about shaping the mezzalune. I did about half of the batch as mezzalune and half as tortelloni.

Besides feeling sort of self-satisfied that I’d found a use for the boiled carrots, it was fun to shape the stuffed pasta. The carrots provide a nice orange color, but they don’t really add much distinct flavor. Most of the flavor comes from the herbed ricotta plus the olive oil, herbs, and cracked pepper I finish them with after cooking.

23 February 2014

Italian comfort food & cool jazz at Parma 8200

The heaviest snowstorm of the season (so far) almost spoiled our plans to have dinner with friends. We had a reservation at an Italian restaurant in Minneapolis. Then we planned to drive to Parma for an after dinner drink and to listen to the sounds of Benny Weinbeck who performs there every Saturday night.

With the roads covered with packed snow and ice, we wanted to minimize the amount of driving. So we changed our dinner reservation to Parma and spent the whole evening there. Good decision!

Parma 8200 is part of the D’Amico family of restaurants. I admit that I’m a fan. Their restaurants are reliably good. My favorite is Café Lurcat (which I’ve written about before; click here). But even though Parma is quite close to our house, we’d never eaten there previously. DSC00752

To start with, we had a little trouble deciding on wine. Parma has a good wine list with many choices at reasonable prices. The trouble was, we couldn’t find one that appealed to everyone at the table. Our server was very patient and helpful. He brought tastes of several wines. Finally, the women decided on a bottle of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. I had a glass of chianti, and my friend had a glass of California cabernet.

Like the wine list, the food menu at Parma also offers a nice selection to appeal to different personal preferences. For antipasti, they offer a variety of cheese plates and ‘salumi’ plates in addition to traditional Italian starters. We skipped those and went to salads. The women shared an apple salad which featured romaine, hazelnuts, and gorgonzola dressing. I had a ‘blistered’ romaine salad with radicchio, pecorino cheese, and a sherry vinaigrette. The romaine had been grilled gently until it was slightly wilted and blistered. The slightly smoky flavor complimented the slightly bitter taste of the radicchio. My friend had a Caesar salad. It’s not on the menu; you have to ask. You can have it with anchovies (he did), but you also have to ask for that.

The pastas on the menu can be ordered either as entrées or as a ‘primi’ course. One of their specials for the evening was a lamb tagliatelle, and that’s what I ordered. I loved it. The pasta arrived covered with a tomato sauce with tender, flavorful pieces of shredded lamb. The server offered a sprinkling of grated cheese and cracked pepper, which I took.

It was easy for our group to find appealing meals among the ‘secondi’ entrées. My friend asked about the brasato. The server described it as being like pot roast. (Looking online, I see that the beef is braised in wine, so it’s not an ordinary roast.) It was served with soft polenta. The presentation looked very appealing, and there wasn’t much left of the meal when he was done. The women each ordered chicken. My wife had grilled chicken and our friend had lemon chicken. Both women requested and received grilled mixed vegetables on the plate with the chicken instead of potatoes or other starch.

The menu offers several side dishes, including risotto, potatoes, polenta, Brussels sprouts, and butternut squash. We didn’t order any, nor did we have dessert. Instead, we took the remainder of the bottle of white wine into the bar and listened to the music until Benny closed the piano at 10:30.

At the end of the evening, we all agreed that if we had gone to the other restaurant, we probably would have skipped the music and gone home after dinner. Instead, we had a leisurely dinner, friendly conversation, and entertaining music after dinner. Very fun.

10 February 2014

A carnivore’s delight at Butcher & The Boar, Mpls.

I don’t really have a good excuse for not trying Butcher & The Boar sooner. It’s been highly acclaimed since it opened, and I’ve been curious. Finally, after an evening out with some friends, we expressed mutual interest in trying it. That was fine, but then came the challenge of finding a weekend that worked for all of us, and when we could get a reservation. The place is popular. Hopping busy. It wasn’t easy getting a reservation. We finally picked a date 6 weeks out, and that worked.

You could say it was worth the wait. I’d say, “I wish we’d gotten there sooner.”

As you’d expect, the menu is very ‘meat centric.’ Having said that, I noted that they do have a ‘Waters’ section of the menu with fish and seafood. Several of the fish and seafood items looked interesting, and I considered ordering the barbecued octopus. But in the end, we stuck to meat.ButcherBoar

All of the publicity about Butcher & The Boar mention the smoked beef rib. It’s huge, and it’s expensive. We decided we could split it among us. We also ordered a skirt steak to share. Both were excellent. The beef rib was moist and meaty and had a tremendous Tabasco-molasses barbecue sauce. It had plenty of heat, but was not overwhelming. My wife, who does like overly spicy food, thought the beef rib was great. I thought so too, but I found the steak to be particularly appealing. It was served on a platter cut into slices with roasted peppers. I thought it was great.

We ordered several side dishes to go along with the meat – mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. All of them were good. My wife was disappointed by the mushrooms; she said they didn’t have any distinctive flavor. But I liked them – they tasted like mushrooms. We all liked the roasted sweet potatoes, and the broccoli also was very good.

As a group, we’re not big eaters, so splitting two entrees and a bunch of sides worked well for us. But the entrées are generally not huge (except for the beef rib). So I think most people likely would order their own entrée. Another friend, who’s a fan of Butcher & The Boar, recommended starting with some of the sausages on the menu. No one in our group particularly wanted them, so we didn’t. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had, or at least we should have ordered another side dish.

We did split an order of S’Mores for dessert. They were ok. I certainly didn’t need dessert, but I probably would have preferred the pistachio tart that’s on the menu. I had an espresso that was very good and a nice way to finish the meal.

Besides meat, Butcher & The Boar is noted for it’s extensive beer selection and bourbon. Our friend had a beer. Linda and I had cocktails. Hers was called Brainstorm – a special house exclusive bourbon with Benedictine and dry vermouth. It was excellent. I had an outstanding Sazerac cocktail; classically mixed, nothing fancy, but really great flavor. The restaurant offers bourbon flights as well, and that might be fun someday.

Just a couple of other comments – the restaurant has a parking lot, but it’s reserved for valet parking. I found street parking about four blocks away. As I said, we had a reservation, and we were seated as soon as we arrived. But at first we were shown to a table in the bar. When the group objected, they gave us a table in the dining room. The décor and ambiance is very pleasant – dark and woody. It’s not a dressy place by any means. I saw many patrons wearing blue jeans. And it’s quite loud. You can see by the photo that we did not have a large table, but I had trouble hearing our friends across the table during dinner.

06 February 2014

A Quick Overview of our Los Angeles Vacation

At the end of January, my wife and I spent several days in Los Angeles. We actually were in Westwood Village, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica. We had a great time, and I’ll be writing posts on several of the restaurants that we went to. But here’s a quick overview of the vacation, with comments on the things we did.

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of Los Angeles. We had fun. But it wouldn’t be our first choice for a January vacation. I had a board meeting for Mazon (the anti-hunger advocacy organization). So the city and the neighborhood where we stayed was determined by proximity to the board meeting location.

That said, I couldn’t imagine a better location. We were right by the UCLA campus and it was easy to find great restaurants, interesting museums, fun entertainment, and nice walking paths. I have to admit that I had the impression that Los Angeles was not a walker-friendly city. But I was wrong. Our hotel was about a mile from Mazon’s office, and it was an easy 17-minute walk through a very pleasant, quiet, attractive neighborhood. My wife is an inveterate walker, and it’s always very important that she find interesting, convenient, and accessible walking routes. That turned out to be easy.

One of the biggest factors in making our vacation enjoyable was our hotel, Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood, a Kimpton Hotel. I’ve raved in the past about how much Linda and I enjoy Kimpton hotels. So when started making our travel plans, I looked for a Kimpton near to the Mazon meeting. The Palomar was perfect. As has been our experience at other Kimptons, it was comfortable, not at all pretentious, friendly, and fun. The concierge was fabulous! He helped find walking paths, made recommendations for restaurants and nightlife, and made us feel personally welcomed at the hotel. (Thank you again, Josue!) I’ll write more about how great the hotel was in another post.

Here’s a quick run-down on the restaurants we tried:

La Bruschetta – This was a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Westwood Village, a short walk from our hotel. The food was great and the service was friendly. The ambiance and décor was warm and comfortable. We enjoyed our meal. We made our reservation in advance on Open Table.

Skylight Gardens – Sunday brunch. This is located in the heart of Westwood Village. We discovered it just walking down the street looking for a place to eat. The brunch food was off the menu (not a buffet), and you could order a bottomless glass of mimosa. We did. Very enjoyable. I easily believe that this would be a favorite for parents visiting students at UCLA.

A.O.C. – We actually had eaten at A.O.C. on our only previous trip to LA. (Click here for that review.) We enjoyed that visit so much that we decided to go again. It did not disappoint. We agreed that it was the best meal we had in LA. This was another one that we reserved on Open Table.

Picca – I so much wanted to love Picca. But I didn’t. It’s Peruvian small plates, especially featuring ceviche. We really enjoyed a ‘cebicheria’ in San Francisco (La Mar). Picca is very highly rated in most reviews, and I really had high expectations. The food was very good, and the ambiance was lively and energetic. I guess the main problem was cultural. We just didn’t hit it off with our server. He had is how ideas about what we should try, and it wasn’t really what we wanted. In the end, it was good, but not up to expectations.

The Ivy – I admit that we went to The Ivy in hopes of making a celebrity sighting. No luck. We did have a very good lunch, for which we paid handsomely. We knew it would be expensive. But when I opened the menu, the prices actually took my breath away. Still, it was fun. We enjoyed a sunny outdoor table. The service was formal but not pretentious. And the food was good.

Tar and Roses – This was a recommendation of our concierge. (Thank you, Josue.) It’s a fairly new restaurant in Santa Monica, and we were totally impressed by it. The food was great. The décor was comfortable and attractive. Our server was friendly and helpful. And considering everything, the prices were reasonable. This was a close second for our favorite meal.

During our trip, we went to two music venues. Both were recommended by the Palomar’s concierge.

Montage Hotel Beverly Hills – We told Josue that we wanted to find a place to have a drink and hear some music (after our dinner at Picca). He told us that the Montage has live music in it’s lounge every night. He also said that the hotel attracts a lot of celebrities, and maybe we’d see someone famous. (Nope.) The piano player was very good, and he played a wide variety. It seemed like we were the only ones listening. We chatted with him in between sets. I think he was relieved to know that some was enjoying it. The drinks at the Montage were expensive, as we expected. My Sazarac was not so great, either.IMG_0451 (2)

Harvelle’s – This is where we went after our dinner at Tar & Roses. What a blast! We got there just as the opening performer was finishing (around 9:30 p.m.) There were only a handful of people in the bar, and it turns out that most of them were in the blues band that took the stage. Not to worry; the place rapidly filled up. We were the oldest people in the bar by a couple of decades. The band played blues and classic rock. At one point, a woman took over the dance floor, lite a couple of batons on fire, and did a totally outrageous performance. (I’m not going to do a blog post about it, so here’s a photo.) This was the perfect way to end our stay in LA!

We visited two museums.

The Hammer Museum – The museum is practically across the street from the restaurant where we had Sunday brunch. I didn’t realize it, but it’s affiliated with UCLA. During on Sunday walk on campus, we saw the sculpture garden with is part of the museum. We thought the exhibits in the museum were good, but somewhat limited. Still, we enjoyed it.

The Getty Center – We had visited the Getty Villa on our previous LA vacation, so this time we wanted to see the Getty Center. It is a fantastic art museum with a wide variety of different styles of art, including classical paintings, sculpture, landscaping, and architecture. Unfortunately for us, we planned our visit on the afternoon after our lunch at The Ivy, and we got there a little too late in the afternoon. We had two solid hours and saw as much as we could cram in. But we really needed more time.

So that’s about it for the overview. Over the next few weeks I’ll post reviews of the hotel and some of the restaurants.

And by the way, we never did see any celebrities.

11 January 2014

I hate food waste #2: Leftover lunch, salmon & pasta

LeftoverLunch

My wife and I typically have salmon once a week. I usually grill it. And she usually buys a piece big enough so that there’s some left over for me to eat for lunch later in the week.

My usual practice is to simply warm it in the microwave along with leftover risotto or couscous (served with the salmon when I made it originally. Here’s our favorite risotto recipe, click here.)

This week, however, we had some leftover bowtie pasta. We’d made it for our grandkids when they were over for dinner, and there were a few bowties left.

So I put the pasta on a plate and flaked the salmon over it. Then I dressed it simply with olive oil, fresh-ground pepper, and a half teaspoon of capers. I also drizzled on a little red pepper sauce that I made from Serrano peppers that I grew in my garden last summer. Then I warmed the whole plate in the microwave. It was really good! I’d consider making this for dinner sometime.