13 September 2007

Thank you for buying Land O'Lakes!

I wasn’t going to do a blog posting on my daughter’s wedding. Even though it was an extended length of days filled with food, drink, laughter, music, and dancing, I didn’t think it really fit in a food blog. Then, on the last day, I took this photo, and realized this belongs in Krik’s Picks.

This was taken at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest where we had most of the wedding activities. The hotel had a buffet brunch and people gathered there before leaving town to say goodbye to the bride and groom before everyone returned home. The butter offered on the buffet was LAND O LAKES Continentals. I had my daughter hold one up while I snapped this photo of her and her groom. It reminded me of a story from her childhood.

When my daughter was a little girl (well, she still is, but what I mean is much younger), we went to a friend’s house for dinner. During the meal, she disappeared from the table for a few minutes. It turns out, she’d gone to the refrigerator to see what brand dairy products were in there. When she returned, she sweetly said: “Thank you for buying Land O'Lakes!”

I suppose it’s inevitable that a wedding weekend is going to revolve around food and eating. For us, it began three days before the wedding, when my daughter and her groom arrived from Chicago. We did an extensive grocery run to fill the house with all the food we’d need for the various events.

That evening, we grilled salmon for our family – my daughter and her groom, my son, his wife, and their daughter, and me and my wife. I served a black bean and red lentil ragout with the salmon.

The next day, the groom’s family, many of our out-of-town guests, and most of the groomsmen and bridesmaids arrived. We hosted a barbecue at our house – grilled hamburgers, turkey burgers, and Boca Burgers and a big pasta salad.

The day after that was the rehearsal at the hotel. In the evening, the groom’s parents hosted a wonderful meal at Stella’s Fish House. It was outstanding! The event was in a party room on the 3rd floor of the restaurant. The décor was fabulous with nice views of Uptown Minneapolis. All of the entrées were great. My wife and I had the stuffed grouper, which was to die for! They also had salmon roasted on a cedar plank and chicken ala Oscar. Stella’s has a rooftop open air bar, which was one floor up from our party room. Many guests stepped out during the evening to enjoy the warm air, party atmosphere, and views of Minneapolis.

Then came the wedding day. The Marriott did a fantastic job. We offered our guests three choices – chili-crusted sea bass, New York strip steak, or caramelized chicken. I was surprised how many people chose the steak. I thought the most popular would be the fish or the chicken and only a few would choose steak. But in fact, as many people chose steak as fish, and only a few people chose chicken. It’s not easy to serve that many steaks and maintain the quality. But I didn’t hear any complaints about overdone meat. (If any of our guests who read this blog had a problem with their food, please let me know.)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there was a brunch at the hotel the morning after the wedding. After almost everyone had left town, we still had a few family members. So that evening, we went to Punch Neapolitan Pizza for a casual family dinner. They make a point of serving simple, authentic pizzas in a wood-fired hearth.

That was pretty much the end of the celebration. The next day, we returned the tuxes, returned the vases to the florist, and settled up with the hotel. We had a nice dinner at home alone that evening, and the next day, I went to Washington for work.

Lentil & Black Bean Ragout

I used to make this recipe very regularly when my children were experimenting with being vegetarian. It's very tasty and very easy to prepare. I always go through the exercise of soaking dried beans and cooking them. But if you want to simplify and streamline preparation of this dish, then you could use canned black beans.

I've always made this dish with red lentils. As I prepare it for posting on Krik's Picks, I'm a little surprised to see that it doesn't specify red lentils. The red lentils add a vibrant color to the dish. If you used green lentils, I think it would be quite drab. When I prepared this on my daughter's wedding weekend, I garnished it with minced parsley and chive blossoms.

Lentil & Black Bean Ragout

Recipe By : Good Housekeeping, July 1993
Serving Size : 4 Preparation Time :1:00
Categories : Beans

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 large carrot -- diced
1 small onion -- diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup lentils
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon
2 cups black beans, cooked
1 1/2 cups water

Dice carrots and onion and saute until tender. Stir in lentils, vegetable broth, and water. Heat to boiling, cover, and simmer 25-30 minutes. Mix black beans with lentils and heat through.

09 September 2007

Lunch at Spill the Wine in Minneapolis

I’ve been reading a lot about this place. It’s in a hip, developing area of Minneapolis, just about two blocks from the new Guthrie Theater. So when my guest blogger, Patty Miller, and I decided to meet for lunch recently, this was on my list of places to try.

We met on a gorgeous September afternoon for lunch. It was a great excuse to be out of the office. For me, getting to the restaurant was a little weird. In the past, I would have come south from my office on I-35W, crossed the Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota, and taken the Washington Avenue exit. But since August, that route has been impossible due to the collapse of the 35W bridge across the Mississippi. It felt strange driving south on 35W, knowing that in just a few miles, the road would end so abruptly.

I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before Patty. The décor is comfortable and casual. It has a warehouse feel with an open setting, exposed brick walls, high ceilings and hardwood floors. There weren’t many people there for lunch, so I had my choice of tables.

Some of the online reviews fault the restaurant for inconsistent service. I found the service to be friendly and accommodating. Of course, with a slow lunch crowd, that probably is to be expected. My server checked in with me, appropriately, to see if I wanted anything until Patty arrived. When she did arrive, the server also was prompt in checking to see what we wanted.

In fact, we did order the daily special flight of wine. Since both of us were returning to work after lunch, this seemed like a nice accommodation. We got to select three 2-ounce samples of wine from the specials listed on a chalk board. Our server advised that we had to try the Malbec. The other two were a Malbec rose and another French red.

For lunch, Patty ordered the Cobb salad. It was roasted chicken, bacon, tomato, gorgonzola cheese, avocado, and egg with parmesan buttermilk dressing. She said,”The Cobb salad was okay - not the best I've had. I like it when the different ingredients are more separated and you can mix them in as much or as little as you like. There were maybe 4 thin slices of avocado and a few crumbles of bacon.”

I had a niçoise salad. It had several unique features. For one, it didn’t have green beans, which seems to be generally regarded as an identifying feature of a niçoise salad. When I ordered it, the server asked how I wanted the tuna prepared. I thought that was a nice feature. I asked for it seared. I think she was a little taken aback because she asked for clarification – seared as in just cooked briefly on each side. I confirmed that’s how I wanted it. That’s how it was served, and I thought it was very good. The dressing also was unusual. Rather than a classic French vinaigrette, it was a sesame and soy sauce base. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Patty and I agreed that the portion sizes were adequate, but not generous. Actually, I’m ok with that. I don’t like it when restaurants serve huge portions that just don’t seem appropriate especially for a lunch. If you try Spill the Wine and want a bigger lunch, then I would suggest ordering a cup of soup or splitting a pizza.

Just a quick conclusion relative to service. After Patty and I ordered our wine, our server seemed surprised that we also wanted lunch. I’m not sure why she thought that maybe we just wanted wine at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon. Also, I had to ask for a basket of bread. We agreed that the bread was very ordinary. It was served with herbed butter, which was tasty, but also not particularly noteworthy.

All in all, while the overall experience had a few shortcomings, I liked Spill the Wine well enough to try again some time. I think it might be good for an after-work get together with coworkers.