31 October 2007

A really entertaining food video clip

I figure that if a video clip makes me laugh out loud (LOL), it deserves a post on Krik’s Picks.

I’ve written before how the New York Times Dining & Wine section online is one of my favorites. I consider it a weekly ‘must read.’ And I’ve also written about the videos posted by Mark Bittman who writes a column called the Minimalist. Bittman has a video in this week’s edition. And it was entertaining. But the one that I really enjoyed was ‘Grillades & Grits’ a recipe by John Besh from New Orleans.

The video takes about 8 minutes, so click on it when you’ve got enough time to watch it. But there are two parts of it that I really enjoyed.

First, while he’s making the grits, he talks about adding first butter and then mascarpone cheese. He tells the viewer, in his laid-back, Louisiana accent, that ‘this looks like a lot of butter,’ and if you don’t want it, just don’t add it. Then he says, with a sly grin, “But it sure is good.”

I’ve never been a big fan of grits. But I had so much fun watching him make them in this video, I might give them another try.

The second part that made me laugh was when he’s cooking the grillades. He explained earlier that grillades are thin, little slices of pork. He then casually tells the viewer, “If you don’t eat pork, then use veal. And if you don’t eat veal, then use beef.” Then he pauses for a moment as if considering just how far he can take this, and he says, “If you don’t eat pork or veal or beef, well I feel sorry for you. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

I do like New Orleans, and I haven’t been there since Hurricane Katrina. This sure made me want to go.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

21 October 2007

Lunch at The Bad Waitress in Minneapolis

Ever since The Bad Waitress opened, I’ve been curious about it. How can you not be curious about a place that’s so sassy to call itself that? So when I met my wife and son for lunch on Eat Street, it was a perfect opportunity to give it a try.

When you walk in, you’re struck by the campy diner-style décor. It’s got a counter. It’s got booths. It’s got old movie posters and covers from comic books and photos of famous people. It’s got a jukebox. It’s got tschotschkes in every nook and cranny. Definitely a sensory overload.

So here’s the joke – the bad waitress is … YOU! When you enter the restaurant, you seat yourself, the menus are on the table, and you fill out your order and take it to the counter. I’m really not too keen on self service at a restaurant. I really don’t like places like Café Latte or French Meadow, where you go through a cafeteria line, pay, and then find a table. At least at The Bad Waitress, you get your table first, and after you place your order, a real server does bring you your food.

So what difference does it make? I like the idea of having someone who you can talk to and ask about specific menu items – “What’s good today? Is the Spyhouse Scramble better than the Flying Saucer? Can I get the Diablo Breakfast without any meat?” You get the picture. When you’re taking your own order, you have to come up with the answers on your own.

The other thing I can’t figure out is, how much do you tip when you do half the server’s work? At least, like I said, at The Bad Waitress a server does actually bring you your food. When we were there, I asked her to take our photo, which she did (though rather poorly). But at least there was something that I could justify giving a tip for.

So, setting aside décor and service, what really matters is the food. On our visit, we all ordered breakfasts. My son had a cheese omelet, which was the daily special – served with any two ingredients and hash browns; he had chorizo sausage and mushrooms. My wife had the Goat Cheese Omelet, with spinach and tomatoes. I had the Flying Saucer, with spinach, mushrooms, and brie. I also had hash browns.

I didn’t taste my son’s omelet, but he said it was very good. I thought my wife’s Goat Cheese Omelet was better than my Flying Saucer. The goat cheese added a distinctive flavor that was very good. My omelet, with brie, was a little bland. I thought the hash browns were good, but not as good as at Al’s Breakfast.

Despite my quibbles, I really did like The Bad Waitress. While we were there, I saw them serve some really nice looking sandwiches. I wouldn’t necessarily drive across town just to go there. But if I were in the neighborhood for breakfast or lunch or even just a glass of wine, I’d go again.

18 October 2007

An Autumn Memory

I saw a flock of seagulls in an athletic field the other day. We’ve had a lot of rain this month. So the ground is pretty soggy. I suppose the soggy soil caused the worms to come to the surface, and the birds flew down to enjoy a feast.

It reminded me of autumn and harvest on the farm. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I grew up on a farm. I learned how to drive a tractor when I was pretty young. After my dad got confident in my ability to control the machine, I would help out in the fall by plowing fields after they had been harvested.

Basically, from September on, I would spend weekends and often evenings after school on the tractor. Dad grew mostly corn and soybeans. After the combine had cleared the crop, the open field consisted of stubble and discarded stalks and hulls. I’d come along with the plow and turn over the brown stubble, burying the organic matter and reintegrating it with the soil, exposing rich, black soil. Gradually, slowly, the tractor making repetitive trips across the field, it would transform from brown to black.

This photo is posted on Flickr by Sandy Su. It illustrates nicely what often would happen while I was plowing. Flocks of seagulls would circle the tractor and plow and land on the freshly turned soil to pick out worms, insects, or other tasty treats. I always used to wonder – we were miles away from the nearest lake. What were these seagulls doing so far away from a body of water?

There was just one problem. The stubble and crop residue actually protect the soil from wind erosion during the winter. If you had a good snow cover, the snow would hold the soil. But during a dry winter, you could literally see the dirt blow off the fields.

Years later, I think after I left the farm to go to college, my dad adopted new conservation tillage techniques. Instead of a moldboard plow, he switched to a chisel plow. Instead of turning the soil under, it would break up the soil and aerate it while leaving the crop residue in place to reduce erosion over the winter. Dad was an early adopter of the practice, at least in our neighborhood.

Many years later, when Dad retired, his renter plowed the fields using a moldboard. Trying not to be judgmental, I asked Dad what he thought. “Well,” he said, “it’s kind of a step backwards. But it sure is nice seeing a nice black field again. I always thought that a chisel plowed field looked kind of junky.”

01 October 2007

Basil harvest 2007

Throughout the summer, I’ve written about the fresh herbs I’ve been harvesting from my garden. I have so many trees in my backyard, that I don’t really have a good place for a vegetable garden. But I can strategically plant a few plants of herbs in small plots that do get enough sun to thrive. I’ve got chives, oregano, mint, sage, and tarragon that come back every year. I also grow rosemary, parsley, thyme, and basil, which I plant fresh each year.

As the weather begins to turn cool in September, it seems like the herbs take on a heightened level of flavor and aroma. It’s like the plants anticipate the coming frost and in the face of impending doom, they decide to meet their fate just bursting with flavor.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to harvest a bunch of my basil and capture the flavors at their peak. To be honest, I waited a bit too long. The flavors were still wonderful, but some of the leaves had already started to get brown spots and to lose their intense green color.

I made two batches of pesto. The first was a walnut-basil pesto; I froze that batch. The second was a parsley-basil pesto with pine nuts. That evening, I made a pizza with pesto, black olives, and parmesan cheese.

We had a party coming up, and I decided to use some of the pesto to make an appetizer tart. For the crust, I used a technique from another tart recipe that I had. I took a sheet of store-bought puff pastry. I cut it in have to for two long, narrow strips. Then I rolled each piece into a 5x14-inch strip. Then I rolled up about a quarter-inch of the edge all around each strip. I brushed the bottom with beaten egg and pierced the bottom all over with a fork. Then I baked it at 400 degrees until it was golden. Even though I had pierced the bottom, it still puffed up, but the recipe said to just gently press down the bottom to form a crust for the tart.

To finish the tart, I spread pesto over the bottom of the crust. Next I arranged quartered pieces of artichoke hearts over the pesto and pieces of roasted tomatoes. I used a recipe that I learned from my sister. You could use sun-dried tomatoes instead – either oil-packed or dried tomatoes that have been soaked in boiling water for several minutes until they soften. Finally, I spread freshly-grated parmesan over the tomatoes and artichokes.

I put it into the oven, still at 400 degrees, until the cheese was melted and the filling was hot. I baked the tarts about 20 minutes before the party and let them cool. To serve, we cut the tarts into inch-wide strips. I thought they turned out nicely. (When our guests arrived, the tarts disappeared pretty quickly.) However, they were not quite firm enough for finger food. They would have been easier to eat on a plate with a fork.

A cocktail party with Greek/Mediterranean appetizers

In the post above, I wrote that I made a tart with pesto, artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes, and parmesan cheese for a party that we hosted. After all the wedding entertaining, we decided that for this party, we needed help. So for the first time ever, we hired a caterer to make some of the food and to provide help in the kitchen during the party.

For the catering, we hired Georgia Sander. According to her web site, she’s been doing catering in the Twin Cities for 18 years. She also owns a restaurant in Dinkytown, Kafé 421.

We selected three items from her catering menu. She made crostinis with a variety of toppings, including goat cheese, eggplant, and roasted peppers. We had meat and vegetarian dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) with tsatsiki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic, oregano) sauce. The third choice was chicken breast filled with spinach and herbs, rolled and wrapped in phyllo. Then the breasts were cut into appetizer-size portions and served with a roasted red pepper sauce.

Besides the items we got from Georgia and my tart, my wife made little wonton cups filled with a cream cheese/cheddar cheese mixture and baked. (Really yummy!) We put out a variety of crackers with three kinds of cheese – a brie, a stilton, and manchego. And we had a variety of fancy olives and a bowl of cashews.

We were really lucky. It had been rainy most of the day. But by evening, it dried off and was very mild, so our guests felt comfortable sitting outside for much of the evening. After it was over, we felt we were better able to enjoy the party because we had someone to help in the kitchen. We definitely will do that again.