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!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is Your Favorite Bar Divey Enough?

With all the recent kerfluffle over the comment of a downtown saloon owner considering turning the former Sid's Liquor store into a new bar featuring live music, similar to the legendary Pomp Room, or potentially named The Pomp Room, I got to thinking about what the local scene is looking like these days.

It occurs to me that a lot of the legendary sketch factor has been lost to the ages. My idea of dive bar probably wouldn't make the cut for the third D in Guy Fieri's idea of DDD. A good dive bar is dark, located in an area you're not quite sure you should park your car, smelly (once with the combination of stale beer and stale smoke), some broken furniture (like the booth with the spring that pokes your butt or a chair missing a back), and when it comes to food either a glorious cheeseburger or perhaps only a rack of potato chips and beer nuts and a jar of pickled turkey gizzards. These are places where you can generally find a group of regulars that not only day drink, they morning drink. Ideally, the place has been a somewhat recent crime scene- people forget there was a stabbing at the Pomp Room in the 1990s.

About the time the Pomp Room closed down, the Sioux Falls dive bar scene started disappearing in earnest. Let's take a little inventory to clear up what sorts of places I mean: Smoe's, certain iterations of Skelly's, Phil's Corner, The Arrow Bar, The Rainbow, The Lime Light, the original Crow Bar, The Stockman's, The Sportsman's, and the mac daddy king of all dive joints- The Frontier. Now, there's a memory, or rather a foggy string of vague semi-connected recollections. If the front of the house wasn't scary enough, with semi-catatonic patrons and people eyeing you wondering why you are in there, you could push through the back doors of swinging plywood where there was a stage set up for the, ummm, errr, "performers" and a bunch of bicycles lined up against the back wall that Charlie Johnston had collected for the law enforcement bike give away.

It seems like a lot of these sorts of places are gone, but a few are most definitely disbursed around town. I think people like to wax romantic about the old dives as they stand in line to get into the latest greatest strip mall sportsy, chicken wing-serving bar and grille. I don't often find lines to get into the Coalinga or Walter's Hi Ho. But if you want to go, they are out there, here's a short list: Little Coalinga (a cheeseburger nirvana), Walter's Hi Ho just up the street, Silver Moon over by the Farmer's Market, Log Cabin, just to name a few. These are great places to go check out, and I strongly encourage people to do so. I suspect we may lose a few more as 8th Street starts to change as the rail switching yards are relocated.

What else makes your list?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Charcuterie at Hy Vee

I had to stop by Hy Vee today because I needed a relatively obscure ingredient (for Sioux Falls, anyway) and I sort of had a hunch this particular Hy Vee might have it. The ingredient? I needed some veal for a little cooking project. They had it.

On my way back to the meat department as I was winding through the maze of renovations, I walked by the new Charcuterie counter. And I must say . . . pretty forking impressed! When I heard Hy Vee was doing this, I figured the product would look a lot more like the deli counter and a lot less than the selection at Look's. I took a quick inventory and noticed a fine offering of cured meats, including speck, prosciutto, pancetta, double smoked bacon, mortadella, soprasetta (regular and spicy), and others. Overall, a very respectable offering. I have needs for these sorts of things in my life and I am very glad to have them here. At the Charcuterie, Hy Vee also sells a nice assortment of pickles and other accompaniments. Don't know what you want? They will slice you up a tray. And I bet the helpful smiles slice faster than the artisans at Prairie Berry.

In the future, I am looking forward to the other new features at Hy Vee, especially in the Grille or whatever they are calling it, where beer and wine will be offered. There are a lot of things about Hy Vee that drive me to drink, like their total rip off meat pricing. So, at least when I get pissed off, I can just wheel my cart over there and take a brief pause. Way to gauge consumer demand Hy Vee!

And thanks for the nice selection of tasty salted meats!