When I think of food

When I think of food

When I think of food, it’s usually of the plate. The plate, clean. The plate, full. The plate, empty again but covered in crumbs, smears, leftover bits of whatever we were eating. Sometimes messy, sometimes elegantly so. The plate that will disappear to be washed and then used again. Washed by someone with wrinkled fingers forever reeking of sweat and astringent cleaning chemicals. I think of the restaurant kitchen, and the long, often arduous journey that led to the plate in front of me on the table. Hands with knives attached down to the wrist as a natural extension of the arm. Chef’s orders. The cold line giggling, fryers spitting, everything so feverishly hot, everyone desperately sweating. I think about the food trucks lining on streets. 1: tamales, 2: burgers, 3: Korean steamed buns, 4: ice cream truck for dessert. A popsicle in the shape of Sonic the Hedgehog’s head and gumballs for eyes. Perkins was never the best brunch in town, but we went there anyway for 3AM unlimited coffee, 4AM omelets, 5AM bathrooms. This was in the Midway neighborhood. Midway is loud, dirty, fascinating, fun. Ethnic restaurants on every corner: Some of the best Ethiopian food in the city. Some of the best Thai food anywhere. My favorite (some nights) Chinese food at Peking Garden. And then Perkins, strangely, in the midst of it all against the backdrop of a decaying shopping mall and train passing by with heads leaned against the window. When I moved downtown it was Mickey’s Dining Car instead. I sit where Meryl Streep sat and imagine her there beside me. A man...
After we eat

After we eat

The meal, consisting of something from the garden, something from Lake Superior, and something that Ralf across the table killed with his hands for the pièce de résistance, is over. There was wine, but I’m drinking Alquimia Reserva tequila brought back from Jalisco. There was cheese; soft cheese, hard cheese, blue cheese with a funk that still lingers at the back of my teeth when I think about it. They say Chinese is the most sophisticated style of cooking, more so than French (the culinary gold standard in the West), Italian, Spanish… But it hasn’t taken hold in the Twin Cities. In Minnesota it is still mostly greasy takeout and fried rice. It reminds that the world is not so small yet that we have can anything and everything at our fingertips. Our general culture is still defined generally by city, state, region, country, and (all) the people living therein. And while big box grocery stores and delivery services have given us access to the things that don’t grow nearby (bananas, avocados, quinoa, walnuts, grapefruit…) much of the cuisine is still defined by what does. But humans are odd in their distinction of culture. Amish stores selling Amish wares, restaurants offering the “most authentic” to white people while calls of appropriation and insensitivity abound. We move around, and we take our culture with us. And then we take the culture of this somewhere new onto the next somewhere new. The Italians wouldn’t have pasta if Marco Polo hadn’t traveled east, and his descendants brought it through Ellis Island and across the United States. Now we have Asian noodles and Italian...
Lamb for Easter? Of course.

Lamb for Easter? Of course.

Kofta is a family of foods consisting of ground up or minced meat, seasoned and made into meatballs, patties and/or meatloaf.  Kofta recipes can be found originating from the Middle East to Southern Asia and while 85% of the recipes I’ve come across are meat focused, there are a handful of Indian recipes that substitute paneer, potato or starchy plantain to be vegetarian.  The protein used can be beef, lamb, pork, mutton, poultry and/or blend.  I love the flavor of good clean lamb, but pork’s ability to take on flavor is unmatched, and the gamey taste of lamb can turn people off.  I like to use a blend of lamb and pork.  This way I get the strong clean flavors I want of the lamb and spices but can easily please a hesitant crowd. We then we eat this with Raita (recipe below),  a cucumber-yogurt sauce that dances with the spiced lamb on your palate and creates a subtle tingle of love and harmony in your soul.   Lamb Kofta with Raita Yield: 4 servings Ingredients: 1 1/4lbs ground lamb 1lb ground pork 1/2c packed Fresh basil, medium chop 1 lemon, zested and zest chopped fine 1t cinnamon, ground 1t black pepper, ground 1t cumin, ground 1t clove, ground 2T onion powder 2T garlic powder 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1/2c breadcrumbs 2t salt   Directions: Preheat grill, fire up coals or warm oven at 450f.  (these are best grilled over charcoal or wood) In a non reactive mixing bowl or kitchen aid mixer combine meats, spices, salt, zest, eggs and then breadcrumbs.  Mix until spices are fully incorporated and...
Freshwater fish cakes: Honoring every piece of your catch

Freshwater fish cakes: Honoring every piece of your catch

Got any of last summer’s catch in the freezer?  Here is a great fish cake or burger recipe: A very simple base that you can incorporate into meatballs, burgers, fish cakes, and serve it with endless ingredients (from a burger bun and french fries to fresh Chinese broccoli and kimchi).  It’s a surefire way to utilize every piece of the fish you caught and honor its life. I go through a lot of Minnesotan Walleye at my day job, so  I started saving the belly meat or any small scrap and freezing it. After a few months, I would have 2lbs or so stocked up.  It really adds up! Don’t be a jerk and waste it.  #fishlipstotail   Freshwater fish cakes yield: 2 servings Ingredients: 1lb Walleye, Pike, Sunfish, Trout, Perch, or any other freshwater fish you enjoy 1 egg, lightly beaten 3/4c breadcrumbs, finely ground 1 lemon, zested 1T dill, chopped 1T tarragon, chopped 1T parsley, chopped 2t onion powder 2t garlic powder 1t black Pepper 1t sea salt 1/4c grape seed oil for frying (local option) Directions: Using a filet knife, clean the fish and discard any bones, scales, or white sinew in the flesh. Use your fingers to feel for any of this in the meat.  Then cut into 1/2 in pieces. Place all ingredients in a non-reactive mixing bowl and combine with your hands for 2min, or until everything is incorporated evenly. You can also use a kitchen aid mixer or food processor for this step. Once forcemeat is completely mixed, make a little tester meatball and cook it. Taste it for salt.  Does it...
Defining a city by its food: 17 truly St. Paul dishes

Defining a city by its food: 17 truly St. Paul dishes

Much poetry has been written as an ode to the city; the place where we were born and/or raised, that has shaped us. Poetry, pictures, paintings and films. We look for these things and as the arts they help us to define ourselves as they define the world around us. However, as the “roving gourmand” Jim Harrison states plainly, “How feebly the arts compete with the idea of what we are going to eat next.” Isn’t it true that a good meal trumps all else? That the Mona Lisa cannot truly be enjoyed on an empty stomach? That we will walk out of an Oscar-worthy film to satiate a begging appetite? That we cannot read, or write, or dream, or laugh when hunger pangs beg the largest question of them all: Who am I, if not someone who needs to eat? So then we define the city by its food. It’s step one, maybe, the base (cornerstone) of how to describe the landscape. We start here. But then we ask what kind of food culture can be created when a city’s identity is changing; when people are moving in, and out, of its borders at a rapid pace? Regardless of what the landscape will look like in 5, 10, 20 years or more, these dishes remain truly representative of the Capital City’s soul. It’s core. And they will keep us fed today so that we may go on and enjoy everything else she has to offer.   17 dishes that define St. Paul Pelmeni at Moscow on the Hill These dumplings are simple. They are delicious. As a happy hour...
Beer cheese soup with spiced popcorn, bacon, and more beer

Beer cheese soup with spiced popcorn, bacon, and more beer

Is there ever a bad time for beer cheese soup? Not when you can make it yourself. This simple recipe captures the addictingly-rich flavor, the oh-so-smooth texture (with a perfect crunch from the popcorn), and the simple, soul-hugging goodness of a Midwestern classic. Beer cheese soup with spiced popcorn, bacon, and more beer yield: 1 gallon Ingredients: 4lbs russet potatoes, peeled and chopped 2 yellow onions, chopped 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed 8C vegetable stock 3C milk 6 pack beer (Summit Pilsner) 2T Worcestershire sauce 2T Dijon mustard 1C shredded cheddar cheese 1C shredded Muenster cheese 1t nutmeg, ground 2T fresh sage, chopped TT salt TT white pepper   Directions: Place the potatoes, onion, celery, garlic, sage, 2 beers, milk, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and vegetable stock in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 30-45 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat; cool slightly (do not drain). In a blender, cover and blend mixture in batches until smooth. Return all to the pan and heat through. Stir in cheese just until melted. Season with salt and white pepper. Taste. Season with more salt and white pepper? Fry up some bacon and chop it up to top with spicy popcorn for an added...