30 July 2013

Summer dinner, tomatoes 2 ways

We usually grill fish at least once a week. Usually it’s salmon. But this week my wife bought a nice looking piece of mahi mahi. I had a little time this afternoon to peruse recipes on Epicurious and decide on a menu.

I found two recipes that featured roasted tomatoes.

In Minnesota, we haven’t yet reached the peak of tomato season. In fact, we have only harvested 3 cherry tomatoes off our tomato plants so far. But I have previously written about my sister’s method of roasting tomatoes and then freezing them for use throughout the year. So the fact is, I used some of the roasted tomatoes from my freezer rather than running to a market for fresh tomatoes tonight. TomatoRelish

The first recipe that piqued my interest was for Greek-Style Mahi Mahi. It all sounded interesting. But I’d already decided to grill the fish, and the recipe called for broiling it with feta, herbs, and mayo. Still, the recipe called for making a tomato relish that sounded like a nice accompaniment. So I made that part of the recipe. It was very simple, really. Instead of using wedges of fresh tomatoes as the recipe specified, I diced the roasted tomatoes and then mixed in the olive oil, red wine vinegar. We liked how it turned out, and it was a very nice accompaniment to the grilled fish.

The other recipe that I found was for Israeli couscous with roasted tomatoes and Kalamata olives. I followed this recipe pretty much as published. The interesting part of it was the dressing. It called for about half of the roasted tomatoes to be blended into the olive oil and lemon juice to make a tomato flavored vinaigrette. I liked it so much that I’ll make it to serve on salads in the future.

By the way, we were disappointed with the mahi. It tasted quite fishy despite being grilled. The tomato relish helped to cut the fishy flavor. So we were glad that we had it.

Let me know if you decide to try it.

29 July 2013

3 Things to Keep Me Busy

When I started talking about my plans to retire, the most common question was – What are you going to do with your time? I assured everyone that I had a long list of things that I wanted to do in retirement. But the top 3 are read, travel, and cook.


My last day at the office was July 2. On July 3 my wife took me to the Edina public library. Now, of course, I read a lot at work – e-mail, newsletters, periodicals, reports. But I can’t tell you the last novel I read. It had been so long that the library had deactivated my account, and Linda had to check out the book for me. The first book I read in retirement was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

After I finished the book (loved it) and got my library account updated, I took Linda’s advice and downloaded the Hennepin County Library app for my iPad/iPhone. I also downloaded Overdrive Digital Library so that I could download and read eBooks. I downloaded and now am reading the second book in The Girl series – The Girl Who Played With Fire.


The next thing that happened on July 3, my sister-in-law called and invited us to spend 4th of July at their cabin north of Duluth. We decided spur of the moment to accept. So my first retirement trip was to my wife’s hometown. My second trip (coming up in a couple days) is to my hometown, farm actually, to visit my parents.


For the July 4 weekend, we were responsible for Friday night dinner. I improvised a Bobby Flay menu for salmon from the Food Network web site. I did modify it quite a bit, however. You’ll have to read my next post to see what changes I made.

But I guess the best part about cooking in retirement is that I have the time to do something on a whim. For example, earlier this spring, I tried to make a pilaf with brown rice. But I had trouble getting the rice cooked. I was afraid that there was something wrong with the rice. Then I read an article in the current Cooks Illustrated magazine about cooking brown rice for salads. They recommended cooking the rice in an ample amount of water and then draining it and cooling it.

I decided to give it a try. What the heck, I had all afternoon, and if it didn’t turn out, I could just toss it and make something else. It was a liberating experience. In the past, I would rush home from work and couldn’t take a chance on an untested recipe because if it flopped, I wouldn’t have time to recover.

Here’s the link to the article. But Cooks Illustrated has limits on content that it posts on the web site. So depending on when you read this, the link may no longer work.

My new project is going to be sourdough. I tried sourdough many years ago, but couldn’t get it to produce the results I wanted. I gave up. But this month, my sister gave me starter from her sourdough. So I’m going to give it another try.

I’m hoping to post a success story about sourdough in the near future.

Thanks for reading!

Grilled Salmon for Friday Night at Island Lake

When my wife and I accepted an invitation to spend July 4 weekend at my sister-in-law’s cabin, we volunteered to help with cooking. Our assignment was dinner on Friday night. We decided on salmon as the main course. I went to the internet to find a recipe/menu that would be good and creative but relatively simple to make, recognizing that the kitchen at the cabin has some limitations. (And besides, we weren’t going there to spend the whole afternoon cooking.)

Here’s what I came up with: Pan Roasted Salmon Steaks with Sherry Vinegar-Honey Glaze and Spicy Tomato Relish and Parsleyed Potatoes. It’s a Bobby Flay recipe that I found on Food Network web site. But, I made a few changes. CabinSalmon

1. I decided to grill the salmon rather than pan roast it. But I mean really, Bobby Flay is known for his grilling technique. In fact, the show that this recipe came from was called “Hot off the Grill.”

2. My wife doesn’t like spicy food. So I left the red pepper flakes out of the Spicy Tomato Relish.

3. Likewise, the glaze for the salmon called for ancho chile powder. I left that out. Didn’t have any in my pantry anyway.

4. The glaze also called for Dijon mustard. Many years ago, I saw an episode of The Essence of Emeril where Emeril Lagasse made homemade mustard. The episode was filmed in 2005, and I can’t remember when I saw it on TV. But I started making it, and I decided that I would use that instead of Dijon in Bobby Flay’s salmon glaze. Here’s Emeril’s recipe for Homemade Tarragon Mustard.

The meal turned out great. I hope Bobby Flay doesn’t mind about the modifications I made in his recipe.

25 July 2013

Rincon 38: Another winner for Hector Ruiz

It’s great to have an innovative restaurateur like Hector Ruiz working in your city. He and his wife have succeeded in bringing creative, high quality Latin cooking to South Minneapolis, and my wife and I have enjoyed each of his venues.

We were quite dismayed when El Meson, his first restaurant, closed late in 2012. We had enjoyed dining there often. Besides great food, he often had flamenco music and dancing as entertainment. (Click here for a review of El Meson.) At least we still had Café Ena, his second venue, which is another personal favorite.

But we shouldn’t have worried. Not even 6 months after closing El Meson, Ruiz opened Rincon 38. It’s in the same neighborhood as Ena. The word ‘rincon’ means ‘corner.’ The restaurant is located on the corner of 38th and Grand in South Minneapolis. It’s not even a mile from Ena, which is at 46th and Grand. DSC00506

Rincon 38 is a tapas restaurant. We met friends and scored a table outside. It was a gorgeous evening and a relaxing way to enjoy the food. Between the four of us, we split 6 different plates plus 2 desserts. All of them were great, but a few really stood out.

Pulpo – braised octopus. It was tender and served with potatoes, chorizo sausage, and artichokes with aioli and drizzled with sherry. Fabulous.

Coliflor – roasted cauliflower with saffron and a citrus aioli.

The other tapas were setas (mushrooms), canoli (lobster, crab, and mascarpone wrapped in a pastry), vasco (sorry, can’t remember) and mero (roasted sea bass over vegetables and polenta).

For dessert, we split pumpkin crème brulee and tiramisu. I’m not too fond of either, so I had an espresso.

I always enjoyed the wine list at El Meson and Café Ena. Rincon 38 continues that tradition with an interesting line up of wines, mostly from South America and Spain. But they also have a nice selection of beer on tap and bottled. On this particular summer night, I opted for beer.

Since we ate outdoors, we didn’t get an impression of the interior ambiance. The service was friendly and knowledgeable. We had a great time and we definitely will be back.

15 July 2013

Post-retirement lunch at Victory 44, Mpls.

The first thing I did in retirement, after my last day at the office, was have lunch with my son. As a north Minneapolis resident, Ben is a fan of Victory 44. He’s taken my wife there, and I’ve wanted to go.
We planned lunch for a little later – 1 p.m. When I arrived, Ben had already gotten us a table. There were not a lot of people in the restaurant. A few were eating outside on the patio. But it must have been quite hot because after we’d been there for a while, a group of 5 or 6 people moved inside. DSC00503
When you go to the Victory 44 web site, you get a narrated video of the chef/owner talking about his background and approach to cooking and running the restaurant.
We started out with coffees. Ben loves the coffee specials that are available. (He teased his wife that he’d be having better coffee than she that day.) There are several options on the menu, but he opted for the ‘Barista’s choice.’ I’m more of a straight up caffeine kind of guy. I just ordered the French Press.
When the coffee was served, the barista came to our table. First he pressed and poured my coffee. Then he swished and swirled Ben’s specialty into a cup and presented him with an impressive display of barista art. Voila!
We both had a version of corned beef for lunch. I had corned beef hash served with a soft-fried egg. As with hash served with a poached egg, the soft yolk oozes through the fried beef and potatoes. But since it’s fried, the whites have more substance than the soft whites of a poached egg. The lunch also came with two pieces of excellent whole grain bread toasted Panini style.
Benjamin had a Rueben sandwich. I didn’t take a taste, but he said it was excellent. He’s had it there before. His sandwich came with fried potatoes that were topped with a white powder. Ben said it was powdered bacon. Hmmm.
The ‘Day Menu’ at Victory 44 is available until 3 p.m. Great for me since I love breakfast food like the hash. Another interesting item on the day menu that tempted me was something called salmon pastrami. I’ll have to try that some day. The dinner menu changes daily based on what’s available fresh and what the chefs are in the mood to prepare. The video on the web site describes their tasting menu, which sounds interesting to me.
So all in all, it was a great way to begin retirement. I’ll be back.

13 July 2013

Happy Hour bargains at Bar Louie, Mpls.

When Bar Louie opened in Uptown last year, my wife and I were intrigued. At the time, we weren’t aware that it’s a chain. But it sounded like a fun time especially the outdoor patio. It took almost a year, but we finally decided to try their happy hour.

Happy hour is a pretty good deal. We went intending to have one of their $7 martinis, which we did. They were good, and $7 is a pretty good price for a martini. But we actually had a little bit of a hard time deciding on which martini to order. Most of them seemed a little too fruity for our tastes, and we actually ended up getting pretty basic martinis.

For food, we got one order of calamari and a roasted vegetable flat bread. We liked the flat bread better. It had a nice crisp crust and the vegetables were very tasty. The calamari was good too, but was a little too greasy and gave my wife a stomach ache later in the evening.

We arrived early and had no trouble being seated at a table on the patio. We really liked our server. He was friendly and informative. So it was a pretty good experience, except for one thing. They do permit smoking on the outdoor patio, and there was a guy smoking a cigar two tables away. We were pretty much downwind from him, so for most of our time at the table, we would get whiffs of cigar smoke.

While we were there, we saw a flyer promoting $5 burgers on Tuesdays. The burgers on the menu looked pretty good, so we decided that for our next visit, we’d come during happy hour (for $3.50 beers) and each have a burger.

So about a month later, that’s what we did. We don’t normally go out on Tuesdays, but this was a special occasion. (My last day in the office before retiring.) We got to Bar Louie a little later than our first visit, and as we anticipated, it was busier than before. We were told we’d have to wait up to 30 minutes for a table on the patio. We could wait in the lounge area outside and order a happy hour beer. That sounded ok to us. DSC00481

We settled in and a server came around. We asked for a beer list. Don’t have one, she said. What do you like, she asked. I told her I like an amber. Don’t have one, she said. So that kind of left me up in the air. I suppose I could have walked into the bar and looked at the taps to see if there was one that I’d like. Finally she suggested a beer and we both decided to try it.

Well, before the beer arrived, our buzzer started buzzing that our table was ready. Just then our server arrived and handed us our beers. We took them to the table with us. After we got seated, another server stopped by with a bill for the beers. We asked if they could be added to the tab for our food, but no, we had to pay the first server separately.

OK fine. Our food server was much friendlier, and also better at recommending beer. I had a second beer with my burger and liked it much better. The burgers were very good. I had a BBQ burger, and my wife had a ‘Blue Louis’ with blue cheese. By the way, you get a choice of Tater Tots or fries with the burger. Tater Tots … yum!

We were asked how we liked the meat cooked. I always ask for a burger to be cooked medium, but my wife likes burgers still pink in the middle. She was a little annoyed that the burger came out cooked through. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think restaurants should bother trying to cook a burger to order. But if you give the customer a choice, then you ought to serve the food they way the customer wants it.

So here’s our bottom line on Bar Louis Uptown. It’s a fun locale. Not all of their servers are friendly. I don’t think we’d eat there during regular hours. But happy hour is a good bargain, as is the $5 burger promo on Tuesdays. So all in all, not bad.