29 August 2013

Not Risotto Diablo

On the rare occasion when I’m alone at home for dinner, I like to make something new or different, and something that I don’t think my wife will like. So that’s what I did in August when my wife went out for dinner with girlfriends.

The pepper plants in my garden have been particularly prolific this year. Two jalapeno plants have produced a lot of nice peppers, and my son gave me five Serrano plants that are absolutely prodigious. My wife doesn’t like hot spicy food. I do. So I set about to make a recipe using jalapenos.

My personal specialty is risotto. I have a favorite recipe for risotto with tomatoes. I decided to adapt it by adding the jalapenos and creating a dish that I envisioned calling “Risotto Diablo,” intending it to be devilishly hot. I planned to eat it with some leftover grilled salmon and carrots.NotRisottoDiablo

What I’ve done with most of the jalapenos that I’ve harvested so far this summer is put them whole on the grill. After roasting them until they’re soft, I cut them open, scrape out the seeds, and then eat the roasted peppers with my burger or steak or fish, also grilled. The peppers have tasted particularly fiery. While I wanted my risotto to be hot, I did want it to be edible. So I only used one large green jalapeno.

During preparation, I took several steps to tone down the heat. I’ve been told that the heat in a jalapeno comes from the seeds and internal membranes. So I scraped them out. I’d also been told that milk and dairy products tend to neutralize the heat in a pepper. So I finished the risotto with sour cream (instead of my usual parmesan cheese).

Well, much to my disappointment, I took too many precautions; I probably should have used at least two jalapenos. In fact, the risotto was not fiery; it wasn’t even particularly hot. Truth to tell, it turned out so mild that my wife enjoyed the leftovers with another dinner of grilled salmon later in the week.

Here’s how I prepared the risotto (and here’s a link to the original that I make often – Risotto with Tomatoes & Parmesan.) As I noted above, I served the leftovers with dinner again later in the week. In order to spice it up a little, I took a Serrano pepper, minced it and mixed it into the risotto. It still wasn’t devilishly hot, but this time it had a little more kick to it.

For the tomatoes, I used oven roasted Roma tomatoes. Every summer I buy a basket of very ripe tomatoes, roast them, and then freeze them for future use. If you prefer, you can use whole tomatoes or even canned tomatoes, but if you do, you may not need all of the broth before the rice is done cooking.

When you read the recipe, you’ll note that I used a relatively new product produced by Land O’Lakes called Sauté Express. It’s basically a butter and olive oil mixture seasoned with herbs and spices. For this recipe, I used the Italian Herb. I used to work for Land O’Lakes (now retired) and I had some in the freezer.

3 cups vegetable broth
3 roasted Roma tomatoes (click here for recipe), roughly chopped
1 cube of Land O Lakes Sauté Express (or 2 tbsp. herbed butter)
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 minced small onion
1 or 2 large green jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
¼ cup fresh garden herbs, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
2 tbsp. sour cream

In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil then reduce to simmer. In a sauté pan, melt the Sauté Express with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook onion and minced jalapeno over medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes, but don’t let them brown. Stir in the rice and cook for one minute until grains are coated and glistening. Add a ladle of broth, stir constantly until liquid is absorbed by the rice. Continue to add liquid about ½ cup at a time, stirring until absorbed after each addition.

When most of the liquid has been added to the rice, add the tomatoes to the rice along with more broth. Risotto is done when the rice is al dente (tender, but firm to the bite.)

Remove rice from heat. Stir in herbs and sour cream. Cover and let stand off the heat for about 2 minutes to allow flavors to blend; the rice will finish cooking. Add salt to taste. Serve.

26 August 2013

Duluth Grill offers creative comfort food

Most of the time when we’re at ‘The Cabin’ we don’t go into town. (The cabin is on Island Lake north of Duluth. If we don’t want to cook, we’ll walk 3 blocks to ‘The Tavern’ for a burger or fried chicken or fish.) The whole point is to get away and not substitute one city (Duluth) for another (home – Edina). But in early August, a large group of family and friends planned a dinner at the Duluth Grill, and we came along.

Several people in the group had eaten there, some of them multiple times. Those who had eaten there pretty much raved about it, and the café does get generally favorable reviews from various online sources. IMG_6114

It certainly has an extensive menu, and there’s lots of appealing offerings. Any restaurant that offers breakfast items all day is a winner in my book. As tempted as I was by the corned beef hash, I opted for the ratatouille instead. It was a good choice. The roasted vegetables were delicious. It was served over polenta. Some of the group were from Texas, and they’re used to seeing soft polenta. The ratatouille was served over polenta cakes, and I thought it was excellent. The whole dish was topped with crumbled goat cheese.

Another tempting entrée was the Lake Superior whitefish. The description of it is mouthwatering, but the presentation is even more appealing. The fish is wrapped in a spiral with the herbed butter and lemon in the middle. On the plate next to the fish is a generous serving of wild rice pilaf. It’s also served with a mixed green salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. IMG_6112

I felt the plate was a little too crowded aesthetically. But that’s a quibble. The whitefish is something I definitely would consider ordering on a return visit.

My sister-in-law had the smoked salmon salad. It looked very good, and she liked it a lot. My brother-in-law ordered gyros. But instead of being meat shaved off a rotisserie, it was a whole roasted lamb shank. I think I would have liked that better than a ‘regular’ plate of gyros, but if you were expecting regular gyros, perhaps this variation would have put you off. Also, he had the Grill’s ‘deconstructed smashed potatoes’ on the plate. I don’t remember if he ordered them as a side or if they came with the gyros. Either way, they looked very good.

Not everything was memorable. My wife had a bison burger that she said was fine but nothing special. And there are a lot of items on the menu that just don’t look appealing to me. But like I said, it is an extensive menu, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t like some of the items. IMG_6113

Now for the big question – would I make a special trip into town from the cabin just to eat at Duluth Grill? No, probably not. But, if I were in Duluth for some other reason, I definitely would consider eating at the Grill.

05 August 2013

Great food w/ rustic ambiance @ Old Mill in Austin, MN

I bet there are local gems like the Old Mill Restaurant in towns like Austin all across America. But how do you find them? Mostly, I suppose, by meeting or knowing someone who gives you a recommendation. So here’s my recommendation: If you’re traveling in southern Minnesota and you find yourself in Austin around dinner time, give yourself a treat and go to the Old Mill.

Why might you find yourself in Austin? Well, maybe for business; it’s the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Maybe for tourism; the Spam Museum is quite entertaining. Maybe just because you’re driving from Wisconsin to South Dakota; you’ll pass through Austin on I-90 (which happens to be the longest interstate highway in the United States). Or maybe you have family in the area, like I do.

My parents live on a farm about 20 miles from Austin. For the Krikava family, the Old Mill has been our reliable restaurant for celebrating special occasions. In July, my wife and I went to the Old Mill with my parents to celebrate my recent retirement. IMG_0203

Part of the appeal of the Old Mill is the view of a dam on the Cedar River which flows past the restaurant. As you might have concluded, it used to be an actual mill. Really, no matter where you are seated in the restaurant, you can see out the large windows to the dam and the river and the trees. But, if you can get a window table, so much the better.

If you dine at the Old Mill, don’t expect an unusual innovative menu. The menu features a repertoire of reliable stand-by meals to suit the tastes of its regular clientele. You can expect high quality beef. They have some fish and seafood on the menu. They even have a burger and some fried food for those who are so inclined.

For our celebration dinner, I had prime rib. I don’t see prime rib on the menu of many restaurants anymore. The Old Mill offers three choices – a 12-ounce boneless prime cut, a 16-ounce Old Mill cut, and a bone-in king cut. Under normal circumstances, I would have ordered the small cut. But I was afraid that it would be cut thin, so I ordered the middle cut. I didn’t expect it to come bone-in, but it did. It was excellent. I ordered it medium rare. The piece that was served to me was a little more well done than medium rare. But it was thick and juicy and tender. I was pleased.

My wife and my mom ordered shrimp scampi. They gave it two thumbs up. My dad ordered walleye. It was moist and tender and very nicely presented.

Entrees at the Old Mill come with a soup or house salad and a choice of potatoes, wild rice, or vegetables. They have a full bar and a respectable wine list. We had no trouble finding a nice wine that suited all our tastes at a reasonable price. I noticed that they did have a few high-end wines on the menu as well, I suppose for the occasional expense account meal.

Here’s the real question – If I didn’t already know about the Old Mill, would I drive 100 miles from Edina just to try it? To be honest, no, probably not. But how can a person discover the local gems if you’re unwilling to do just that?

So in retirement, I have to resolve to be more adventuresome and get out of town to discover and try more restaurants like the Old Mill. And meanwhile, if you find yourself near Austin around dinner time, do give it a try.