Sunday, May 29, 2016

Getting the Good Stuff: The State of Grocery Shopping in Sioux Falls

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: We are living in Sioux Falls at a great time. The cultural diversity keeps getting, well, diverse. And we are all reaping the benefits in terms of music, art, and food.

If you really cook, like I do, sooner or later you are going to need some pretty crazy ingredients. I'm on a real Asian food kick lately, and fortunately, I have identified much better resources for things like fish sauce, Chinese wind sausage, and dried shrimp, than I ever imagined. I needed ingredients yesterday, so between downpours, I ventured out and picked up a few things and made a few mental notes I'd like to share.

Nikki's. I've mentioned Nikki's before. This gem is located at 8th and Indiana and has been serving awesome, authentic Mexican tacos, tortas, and burritos for years. The food is great, but step inside the grocery store and prepare to stock up on all those authentic little ingredients you need to cook some great food at home. For instance, need some epazote to simmer in a pot of black beans and pork? No problem- you just need to decide what variety you need. Need dried peppers? Ancho? Pasilla? Guajillo? Chipotle? All there. How about good tortillas? Queso fresco? Crema? Reliably ripe avocados? Si, si, si, and si. Need a beef head to make barbacoa for the neighborhood block party? What the what? Yeah, there just might be one in the meat case-- along with really good pork, pre-seasoned beef, chicken, or pork for fajitas, all sorts of short ribs and other cuts that will amaze you. The prices are great and the quality is outstanding.

New Asian Store on East 10th. I'm sure it has a name, but I didn't catch it. It's at East 10th and Omaha, right next to where the old Pizza Inn/new Popeye's Chicken is going. I stopped in there because I was on a quest for Thai Bird Peppers- the very small, insanely spicy red peppers to make a dipping sauce for some chicken. The sign said Asian Seafood and Produce, so I figured this was a good bet. Beautiful little store. Clean and well organized. No fresh peppers on this occasion, but I asked for help and was handed a package of frozen peppers. Boom! While I was at it, I picked up some curry paste and some rice noodles to add to my collection at home. Apparently, I feel compelled to pick those up every time I leave the house.

Thanh Mai. This is the Asian grocery on Rice Street. It's practically in the Morrell's parking lot. Hands down, this is one of the most far out crazy places to visit in Sioux Falls. It's small, the aisles are narrow, and the shelves are bursting with all sorts of things. It's organized, but it will take you several trips to get the hang of it and to locate some of the hidden gems. If you need dark soy sauce, kecap manis, thick soy, mushroom soy, or just want a gallon of regular Pearl River Bridge soy sauce, this is the place. Been missing out on duck flavored ramen noodles? No problem. Korean fermented pepper paste? Yup. Need a pot and basket to cook sticky rice? It's there. Thanh Mai is also my go to place for esoteric Asian vegetables. I honestly cannot identify a lot of what's there. If you really want to blow your mind, go explore the freezers. You'll find things like bags or pre-made pot sticker dumplings and some frozen fish. But I have also made note of the following: an entire pig skin, a tray of frozen duck heads, frozen frogs (not legs, whole frogs), and the prevailing champion (thus far) a package of four, whole, immaculately packaged and vacuum sealed frozen giant water bugs. They were labeled "Bait for Fish." Yeah, I have some doubts. You might also note a box full of fresh fish heads or maybe even some live blue crabs. Don't touch those.

Fareway at 41st and Sycamore. Yeaaaahhhh! The new Faraway store is open. And, I must say it is NICE! Very nice layout and a very nice store. You won't find the bells and whistles like you do at Hy Vee, but these guys have a great selection of all sorts of things. However, the real reason to go is the meat counter. Staffed by a small army of flying monkeys, it's all fresh out of the case, old school butcher service. It's fresh, good, and priced nicely. And chances are, if you need something a tad out of the norm, like skirt steak, just ask. They probably have some. It might be frozen, but you'll likely get what you need.

Start searching the inter webs for cool recipes, make a shopping list, fill your travel much with coffee, crank up some good tunes, and go explore the awesome ingredients available in the little grocery stores around town. You'll be much richer for the experience and the efforts are well worth it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Attic Kitchen Is Open! Get there!!!

One of the best options for a friendly beverage and a respectable, delicious bar meal on the East Side is The Attic. The lines out the door on Friday nights and some Wednesdays attest to the popularity of the food.  Well, if you've been by 41st and Sycamore in the last 30 days, or so, you may have noticed the kitchen has been closed due to the super cool expansion and remodeling going on there.

The kitchen is now together with about as much new, shiny stainless steel as the top of the Chrysler Building! And, with the kitchen open, there is now a new menu. Here's the low-down. 

Overall.  Kicked up. If you were loving something that rolled off a delivery truck in a processed pre-made, freezer ready form, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Goodbye big breaded "shroom" slices, waffle fries, and Nacho cheese the color of John Boehner's suntan. Hello whole chickens cut up in house, fresh steaks, and reformulated, house ground burger. Yeah, that new "Nacho" cheese? Creamy Manchego.  Impressive and tasty.  Chef Roger has totally revamped this. Some old classics like the club sandwich are gone, but there are some new contenders that will be hard to beat.

Burgers. Reformulated. House ground. The Attic always had a good, fresh burger, but if there was any complaint about them, it was that they could get a tad dry.  Now, it's a house ground blend with chuck and either short rib or brisket that delivers on the juicy flavor you want. And look at the menu pages below. A couple new contenders with a Pull Monty and a tricked out egg burger.  Probably more of a mess and a food coma than I am looking for, but I bet they get some attention.

Flatbreads.  Another nice addition. Anything pizza is usually pretty good. I had one last weekend and the buffalo chicken flatbread was really flavorful. And the presentation on a half sheet pan with some micro greens as garnish was very cool.  I'm looking forward to trying the Mediterranean version soon.

Way gourmet stuff.  A braised short rib glazed with plum demiglace? Sign me up.  And the half roasted chicken is phenomenal. That's a dish you'd expect to see at a place with starched white table linens. It almost begs for a wine list instead of an icy cold macrobrew. 

I dare say this is going to push bar food ahead just a tad here in River City. Give it a try!

Here's a bootleg look at the menu on the first full day of the new kitchen being open:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

St. Patrick's Day Feast. Are you ready?

It's Ersatz St. Paddy's here in Sioux Falls. Paint the shamrock with Sylvia, get bombed with a bus load of Canadian Shriners, eat breakfast at McNally's, and stand around the parade.  Or not.  If you are, please be safe and don't drink and drive.

Me? I'm skipping the ordeal, oops, I mean festivities. But in honor of my Irish grandmother who treated St. Patrick's Day like Mardis Gras, New Years Eve, a birthday and V-E Day all rolled into one, I will be making some corned beef and cabbage to celebrate Thursday. Personally, I think a brisket slowly cooked with aromatics and vegetables is more Eastern European Jewish than Irish, but hey, it's 'Merica! And it is comfort food. A tough cut of meat (cheap, or cheaper than a nice tender steak) seasoned well and cooked into submission makes for great eating. 

For the second time, I am brining my own. In other words, I am taking a brisket flat I purchased at Costco and making that into corned beef.  Plain beef brisket, not that pre-corned crap in a bag. It sits in a brine solution consisting of water, salt, sugar, pickling spices, garlic, and the magic ingredient sodium nitrate a/k/a pink salt a/k/a saltpeter. I keep it in that brine for five days. Then I take it out, rinse it, and toss it into a crock pot. Add one bottle of Guinness, a healthy pinch of more pickling spices, and one roughly chopped onion, carrot and celery. Put the lid on, put it on low, and carry on. After a good 8 hours or so, add some new carrots and celery to serve with the meat. About an hour or so before you plan to serve it, put in some whole baby potatoes and some wedges of cabbage.

Use the internets to find a brine formula. It's not as precise as baking French macaroons, but this isn't a time to eyeball all the ingredients, especially the water, salt, sugar, and sodium nitrate. You need to hit a certain level of salinity. Oh, and you can get pink salt at Uncle Eds, or possibly Scheels or places where sausage is made. If all else fails, Amazon. Be careful with it. It's not pink to color meats, it's pink so you don't eat it or put it in a salt shaker. 

Serve that up with some nice mustard, or better yet for me some horseradish, a little soda bread with some butter, and knock yourself out. The leftovers will make for a killer corned beef hash and/or a good Reuben sandwich. Whatever you do, DO NOT toss the liquid left in the crock pot. Use that to cook a regular beef pot roast, a pork roast, or a chicken or something. It's amazing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Today's Tip: Fromage Fort. Just in time for the Super Bowl

Jacques Pepin! I read your book! You magnificent bastard! 

Always like to use that line.  Anyhoo. Here's something to boost your Super Bowl food street cred.  Fromage Fort. It means "strong cheese" if you don't parlez. Heard about it from . . . you guessed it, Chef Jacques Pepin. It's basically cheese spread. But here's a good part: you make it out of all the leftover pieces of who knows what cheeses that you bought at Hy Vee or when you were drunk at Look's.  It's the best way to blow the remnants out of the fridge and make something awesome.

Find a half pound of leftover cheese pieces in your fridge.  Blue, Gruyere, cheddar, feta, sheep's milk, cow's milk, yak milk, mozzarella, whatever. You can even use that Hy Vee Monterey Jack leftover from taco night. Personally, I'd skip cream cheese, Velveeta, American, or anything flavored, i.e. Taco cheese.  Cut it into pieces. Grate the harder stuff like Parmesan or pecorino. Toss it in the food processor. Chop up a mediumish piece of garlic, add a couple grinding a of pepper, a quarter cup of a decent-enough dry white wine, and maybe a dab of Dijon mustard. Process until it's smooth and spreadable.  You might have to add a dab of wine or two, but not much.

Put it in a dish, cover it with plastic wrap, let it get comfortable with its recombobulated self in the fridge and then break out some crackers or toasted bread.  Or go completely nuts and use it to make some cheese bread to go with a nice soup. 

Leftover elimination. Fridge management. Good eating.  Enjoy.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Hy Vee Market Grille: Credit Where Credit is Due

I have a love-hate relationship with Hy Vee. They try hard and have made many improvements to their shopping experience over the years. Unfortunately, some of those changes have been made at a political level (Sunday alcohol sales) and some crafty real estate purchases that have literally driven competitors out of the marketplace. I don't like that.

But what I do like is the new Market Grille concept that has come to all the local Hy Vee stores, with the sole exception of 26th and Sycamore.  It's a sit-down restaurant, complete with wine and beer service, inside the store. We visited the location on 37th and Minnesota last week while finishing some holiday meal shopping. 

Overall, I must say, not too shabby. Atmosphere is pretty good. Tables and some booths around the room, bare concrete floors, bar area in the corner, and a wall of wine. Staff was friendly and helpful. 

The menu is pretty extensive and features a lot more than what someone could run out to the deli/Chinese/sushi/fried chicken area to plate. There are good appetizers.  Try the maple bacon won tons, as mentioned by Cory Myers. They are unique and pretty tasty. Want to keep eating? You can select from salads, sushi rolls, steaks, chicken entrees, sandwiches, and flatbread pizzas. I tried the Sicilian flatbread. Not what I expected. Instead of getting a mini-pizza, it was on a crackly sort of bread with three different meats (meatballs, crumbled Italian sausage, and pieces of a spicy sausage link) and dollop of sauce and cheese. Was it the new culinary star of the SF dining scene? No. But it was well-prepared and pretty tasty.

And overall, that's my take on the place. Hy Vee is not going to pose much of a threat to the likes of Minerva's, Bros, or Ode. But it is a nice, convenient place to duck into for a casual meal or a refreshment of the adult beverage persuasion while shopping. It's a good addition to the overall food fabric of our community.

So, kudos, Hy Vee. Now, about that fresh meat pricing . . .

Saturday, October 17, 2015

God Bless You, Paul Prudhomme

A week ago, Paul Prudhomme died at age 75. A lot of ink has been spilled about his passing and his enormous contribution to the American culinary scene. Chef Paul was an important piece of my own food background, so I am going to spill just a few more drops in his honor.

Paul Prudhomme was the youngest of 13 children. His parents were sharecroppers in south Louisiana, near Opelousas. This is the heart of Cajun Country. It's about an hour or so straight west of New Orleans. Lafayette is the epicenter. The towns of Eunice, Breaux Bridge, Church Point, and even Avery Island (the source of Tabasco) are within striking distance. If you ever have a chance to visit-- go. The area is rich with food and music traditions. We're talking country people. Small towns. It's a lot like any other rural part of America, except instead of corn or soybeans, you see vast tracts of sugar cane, and bayous and rivers instead of lakes and streams.

Paul Prudhomme grew up in that tradition, watching his mother and siblings using the foods they could grow or raise to make delicious, belly-filling and heart-warming meals. If you have an older relative who waxes philosophically about how his mother toiled to bake bread weekly and put meals on the table every week, while preserving meats and vegetables to get the most out of a hog or beef-- same thing, just with a Cajun French accent. This was original farm-to-table cooking, because it was essential to survival.

So, Paul learned these traditions, and perfected them really, eventually landing in New Orleans to become the executive chef at Commander's Palace. He then opened his own restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. I confess, I've never eaten there, but I have walked by several times. It's hard to say what we are looking for in the French Quarter at any given time, but it usually is not fine dining. At any rate, if you are a fan of Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, or Donald Link, just keep in mind that Paul Prudhomme made straight the path that these chefs travel.

No, my encounters with Chef Paul were in cookbooks. I have a copy of Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen and another I will get to in a moment. If you want to make credible Cajun or Creole, this is the one you need. I studied it at length. Back in the early 1990's, it was extremely difficult to find some of the ingredients one needed to make basic dishes like jambalaya or gumbo. It was nearly impossible to find fresh jalapenos in a produce section, let alone tasso ham or andouille. But with a few substitutions, you could come close and now, those ingredients are widely available and there are even great south Louisiana retailers who will ship the real deal to you for a price. These dishes are eye-opening and delicious. One of Prudhomme's hallmarks is the use of spice mixes- heady mixes of cayenne, white pepper and black pepper, along with a few dried herbs like basil, thyme, or oregano, depending on the dish. But the peppers are a given and it's a magical mix. It's the blend that is responsible for delivering a brand of heat that only Cajun food can- a deep, slow, round burn that demands you take another bite. This isn't light fare and some of it is a bit of a project. For instance, making chicken andouille gumbo requires frying the chicken first- in oil, lots of it. Everything, and I mean everything in the house smelled of fried chicken, including socks in a dresser drawer. It's also one of those times it occurred to me that having a fire extinguisher nearby was probably a good idea. We survived and the smelly house was worth the gumbo.

Louisiana Kitchen also contains the method for making your own Turducken, just in case you want to test your patience and knife skills boning three birds. (Make sure you attempt assembly a few days before Thanksgiving in case you need the aid of a surgeon after you sever some tendons in your hand with that boning knife.) It also describes how to blacken redfish, chicken, or burgers. (Hint: do NOT try this in the house.) It's true that blackened redfish became so popular that Louisiana had to impose a commercial fishing ban on it.

The Prudhomme Family Cookbook is another sort of critter entirely. It contains recipes contributed by Chef Paul, as well as the Prudhomme siblings. I've never seen a cookbook put out by a south Louisiana Catholic parish Lady's Altar Society as a fund raiser, but I bet it reads about like this. In addition to the sorts of recipes you'd expect to find- jambalaya, shrimp Creole, gumbo, you are also going to find recipes that were selected to preserve them. I'm talking things like boudin rouge (a pork sausage that requires about a quart of fresh pork blood) and paunce bourre (stuffed pork stomach, yep, Cajun haggis). This book is out of print, so if you ever see a copy, grab it.

One quick diversion. I received a copy as a gift in 1990. I used to love to read it, especially one recipe for something I thought was absolutely nuts. About three or four pages are dedicated to the concept of getting a couple gallons of peanut oil together and frying a whole turkey. I thought the concept was fascinating and crazy, but by the end of the decade, you could purchase a rig to attempt this stunt at home. And by now, that craze has mostly passed after any number of wannabe Cajun rednecks have burned down their deck. However, that burner is exactly what you need to blacken redfish along with a big cast iron pan. How's that for irony?

Fall always makes me crave Cajun food, and Cajun music. The chill in the air demands something spicy that requires a cold beer and begs a dance in the kitchen after dinner.

Au revoir et bon chance, Chef Paul. Merci beaucoup!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Example of Odd Things in The Friendly Aisles

One thing that I find a bit more than a tad irritating is the odd pricing of those block cheeses at Hy Vee. 

The other day I was obsessed with making Eggplant Parmesan. I had some beautiful eggplants from The Good Earth, but needed a couple items to complete the dish, including fresh mozerella. So, off to the friendly neighborhood Hy Vee. 

I look in the usual spot where I find the balls and logs of soft, "fresh" mozerella. Out. All gone. Nada. Finis. I even checked up front to see if they moved it up front as some feature. Not there either. I really wanted the fresh cheese, but I wanted the eggplant dish more, so I set off clear across the store to the location of the everyday block-style cheeses. Why all the different cheeses can't live together in peace is beyond me, but that's a whole other rant. 

Upon reaching the block cheese area, I was confronted with the usual wacky pricing problem. Here's what I mean: The block cheese is sold in three different sizes- 8 oz, 16 oz (that's a pound in case you forgot), and 24 oz. the question is what's the best deal? You'd think it would be the big 24 oz, sort of a bulk discount thing. Nope. 

Check it out yourself. Here is the price for 8 oz blocks. Neato! A sale!

Here is the one pounder. 
And the 24 ouncer. 

What to do, what to do .... Well, the little 8 oz blocks were the best price, so I grabbed two and got the hell out of there. And made eggplant. It was good. 

Enjoy the local produce and brush up on those math skills!