30 November 2010

Monocle Restaurant, DC, celebrates 50 years

Happy anniversary to the Monocle Restaurant in Washington, DC. On Dec. 1, they are celebrating 50 years in business.

As I've written before, Krik's Picks got its start as a list of restaurant recommendations for members of the Land O'Lakes Board when they had a free evening in Washington, DC. I included the Monocle as one of my 'Picks.' But other than that brief mention, I've never done a full review.

This won't count as a full review. I'll do that sometime in 2011. But over my 25+ years traveling to Washington, DC, I've had plenty of lunches and dinners at the Monocle. I've attended fundraising events that were held there. And, in fact, we've held small group dinners at the Monocle.

One of the reasons why I like business entertaining at the Monocle is that they do (or at least have) served Land O'Lakes products. Makes sense. If you're running a restaurant that caters to American lawmakers, you ought to feature American products.

Of course, the main reason for picking a place for business entertaining, whether it's Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, or any city  anywhere, is to impress your guests. You want a restaurant that serves good food, and you want efficient and unobtrusive service. That describes the Monocle to a tee.

So happy anniversary to the Monocle. I'm looking forward to enjoying your service for years to come.

28 November 2010

Birthday Dinner No. 1 & No. 3

I ended up having three birthday dinners. No. 2 was on my birthday, which also was Thanksgiving. (See the next post about that.) My parents and my daughter and her family were at that dinner. But my son was in Wisconsin with his wife’s family on Thanksgiving. So we planned a birthday dinner with his wife and kids for the Monday before Thanksgiving. My daughter and her son were able to come; but my son-in-law had to work.

I had a recipe from the New York Times that I wanted to make. It’s a butternut squash and mushroom Wellington. (Click here for the recipe.) It really wasn’t too difficult to make, and it turned out really well.No59v2 (2)

My son looked at some recent issues of Bon Appetit, and he picked a recipe that he wanted to make that would go with the Wellington. It was pancetta, asparagus, and peas with pasta (recipe here.)

Since it was a birthday celebration, I decided to open a special bottle of wine. My wife and I visited the Imagery Winery in Sonoma a couple years ago that produced Italian-style wines. We bought a half case of different varieties. For this dinner, I opened a Barbera. It was really great.

So besides our family dinners, my wife and I usually have a birthday celebration dinner out at a restaurant. I really wanted to go to Meritage in St. Paul. I’ve written about it before. It’s my favorite special occasion restaurant in the Twin Cities. We had a reservation for the weekend before my birthday, but we cancelled it because of bad weather. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving the restaurant was closed for remodeling. So instead, we went to Café Lurcat in Minneapolis.

I consider Café Lurcat to be a reliable, excellent restaurant for a special occasion. It pretty much lived up to my expectations. We arrived a few minutes early, so we weren’t surprised when the hostess told us that we’d have to wait a few minutes. We actually didn’t mind since we quite like the bar at Lurcat. We found a comfy couch and settled in. Linda picked a special martini. I asked if the bartender could make a Sazarac cocktail. The server wasn’t familiar with that drink, so I thought I was out of luck. But when he arrived with our drinks, he had my Sazarac. Yum.Lurcat

Just as our drinks were brought out, the hostess told us that a table was ready for us. So we brought the drinks with us into the dining room. But we didn’t so much like the table, so we asked her if we could wait until something else opened up. She very graciously obliged. So back we went into the bar where we finished our cocktails.

About the time that we finished our drinks, another table was open. We liked it a lot better and so we began our dinner service. The food was very good. You can read my review on Yelp here. But as my review indicates, we were quite disappointed with the service. At the end of the meal, we spoke to the hostess, who also was the manager. She sorted things out to our satisfaction.

Three birthday dinners, all quite different. I enjoyed them all, and had a very happy birthday week.

26 November 2010

Thanksgiving & Birthday Dinner No. 2

Yes, it’s true. I did have turkey for my birthday dinner. This was one of those relatively rare occasions when my birthday fell exactly on Thanksgiving day. (See next post.) There’s no rule that says you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving … Oh wait. My wife just informed me that there actually is such a rule.

So anyway, it was fun planning a combination birthday/Thanksgiving dinner. It was made especially fun because my daughter and her family recently moved back to Minnesota, and they would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. My son-in-law is a chef, so we could count on him to help prepare some special items for our menu. Also, my Mom & Dad drove up from Albert Lea to have dinner with us.

I think the best way to report on our menu is to do it by who brought/prepared what.

Mom & Dad brought beef jerky and dried beef from Nick’s Meats in Hayward, MN. Nick has won many awards over the years for his sausage and smoked meats. My kids love the dried beef and beef jerky. It was my daughter’s special request that Mom & Dad bring them for Thanksgiving. We served them for appetizers.

My daughter and her husband prepared several items for the dinner. Their appetizer was jalapeno-goat cheese hush puppies from the September 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. They were great. They also prepared two side dishes – creamed spinach and cornbread stuffing with turkey gravy. The three items that they prepared were the most work, and my son-in-law spent much of the time at the stove.

For Linda and me, our appetizer was cheese and crackers. I was responsible for the turkey. My usual preparation is to cook the turkey on our classic, charcoal fired, Weber kettle grill. I like how the charcoal gives the meat a nice smoky flavor. We made a 15-pound turkey. It took not quite three hours to cook. I also made whole wheat date dinner rolls from Bon Appetit December 2002. Besides making a salad, Linda also made a sweet potato recipe that she has in her recipe folder. For dessert, she picked a recipe from the Star Tribune for pumpkin ice cream pie. The recipe was printed as part of a series on Thanksgiving recipes from the Taste archives. It originally appeared in 2002.

Lastly, besides the pie, we also served gingerbread cookies, my favorite holiday cookie. We planned a family ‘cookie factory’ to bake and decorate cookies for the Sunday before Thanksgiving. But bad weather kept our grandkids and nieces away. I baked the cookies anyway, and on Monday, my granddaughter came over and helped decorate them.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving, and I had a happy birthday.

Strange facts about my birthday

Several people have asked, "How often does your birthday fall on Thanksgiving?" Not very often. Not often enough for me to really know. But you can find out anything on the Internet, so I looked it up.

I was born in 1951 (on a Sunday). The first time my birthday fell on Thanksgiving was 1954. It didn't happen again until 11 years later - 1965. Next was 1971, 6 years. Then 1976, 5 years. then 1982, 6 years. Then the cycle started over again, 11-6-5-6. So it's a 28 year cycle.

With this birthday, I've just started a new 28 year cycle. The next time my birthday is on Thanksgiving is 2021. I'll turn 70 that year.

01 November 2010

Recipe: Mixed Pepper Risotto

It’s been an amazing autumn. I can’t remember a time when our heavy frost didn’t occur until so late in October. I had already harvested my  basil earlier in the month. But I still had several peppers in the garden when the forecast called for temps to drop to the mid-20s. It was already after dark when I went into my yard to bring in the last of the peppers. There was one bell pepper, a half dozen banana peppers, two habaneros, and three or four jalapenos.

I took the hot peppers, the habaneros and jalapenos, minced them and covered them with olive oil and put them in the refrigerator. A quarter teaspoon of that mixture will add plenty of heat to pasta, rice, or a burger in the coming weeks.

I improvised a risotto recipe for the bell pepper and two of the banana peppers. I also snipped some fresh oregano and parsley, which still is fresh and green despite the freezing night temps. The recipe turned out pretty well. It had a nice, distinct pepper flavor, but it probably could have used more herbs or a more flavorful stock to balance the flavors better. Here it is.
1/4 cup diced onion (or shallot)
1/2 cup diced peppers, any mixture that you have available
2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
1/3 cup minced fresh herbs (oregano, parsley, basil, mint, whatever you have available)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in sauté pan. Sauté onions and peppers until onions are translucent. Stir in rice and continue to cook until rice is coated with oil and slightly translucent (about one minute). Pour in wine, cook and stir until wine is most absorbed. Add stock 1/2 cup at a time, cooking until liquid is absorbed before adding more stock. Continue until rice is al dente and most of the stock has been added. Adjust seasoning to taste when you add the last of the stock. Remove from heat and stir in herbs and cheese. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer rice to serving bowl and garnish with more fresh herbs. Serve as a side dish to chicken or fish.