Thursday, January 29, 2009

And Now for a Bit of Bread

I could hardly let a wrap-up of last year's food highlights pass without some mention of bread. Real Bread , that is, the good stuff.

I'm not sure you can say that there's really ever anything new in the world of bread. It's been around such a long time, has so many variations in so many parts of the world, I have to imagine that anything I might think of, someone else has already come up with. But here are two breads that debuted at the Real Bread stand last year, and found an appreciative following. Both of these breads are "mixed leaven" breads, which means they use both active dry yeast, like you buy at the grocery store, and sourdough starter. If you don't have a jar of starter bubbling away on your counter or slumbering in your fridge, here you will find instructions for
starting your own starter.

Probably the most distinctive bread we came up with last year was our Apple-Cheddar Flats, an ode to Wisconsin in bread form. We based it on our fougasse, the Provencal-inspired, olive oil-enriched flat bread. To the basic dough we added grated sharp cheddar (I use the seven-year-old white cheddar we buy at
Bolen Vale Cheese ) and grated apple from our own trees. The apples pretty much melt into the dough, leaving behind a slight appley fragrance, a touch of sweetness, and a nice springy texture. The sharp cheddar is very noticeable, especially when this bread is warmed, or sliced and toasted a bit on the grill.

Apple-Cheddar Flats
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup well-refreshed liquid sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup whole wheat bread flour
1/2 cup unbleached white bread flour
3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour

3 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, medium grate (about one cup grated)
4 ounces grated apple (about one cup; one medium apple peeled and grated)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let it sit for about five minutes. Add the rest of the water, the starter, salt, olive oil, whole wheat bread flour and white bread flour, and two cups unbleached all-purpose flour. Stir to mix well. Stir in the grated cheese and apple. Continue adding white flour by the half-cup until the dough is thick and difficult to stir.

Turn your dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for a couple of minutes, adding white flour as necessary, until you have a cohesive, slightly elastic dough. Note: The apple and cheese tend to make this dough a bit sticky. Just persevere with the kneading, adding flour as needed, and don't worry if it's still a little wet and shaggy after this first kneading. It will firm up as it rests.

Put the dough back in the bowl, sprinkle the top with a bit of flour, and leave it alone for at least 15 minutes and up to half an hour. Then put the dough back on your work surface and knead for a couple of minutes more, until the dough is elastic--that is, it bounces back quickly when you poke it with your finger. Note: Total kneading time will only be about five minutes. Personally, I think the whole "no-knead" bread phenomenon that arose (no pun intended) a couple of years ago is sort of gimmicky; however, most bread recipes grossly exaggerate required kneading times.

Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temp for about four hours, till nearly doubled in size. In warmer weather I refrigerate this dough for the first couple hours of rising, and finish rising at room temp.

Divide the dough in thirds, and start working the pieces out into long, flattish planks. This is best done in several stages, as the dough will now be nicely glutenized (not a real word!) and resistant. Start elongating and flattening, leave it alone for a couple minutes when it resists, go back and do it again. Eventually you'll have long flats of dough, about 14" by 5".

Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Slash the dough with a very sharp knife or single-edge razor, however you like. Some options here below. On the left is the classic fougasse shape, the "Tree of Life," where you cut all the way through and open up the holes. The other two flats are just scored about 1/2-inch deep.

If you have a baking stone, place the dough on cornmeal-dusted peels. If not, place them on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or covered with parchment paper. Let rise 30 to 45 minutes, depending on ambient temperature.

When the oven is hot and the dough risen, bake for 20 minutes. We add steam by throwing three or four ice cubes into a small cast iron skillet that sits on the floor of our electric oven. You can add steam through whatever method you like, or skip it; it's not that important with this bread.

This bread is best served very fresh, or reheated or toasted. It's very happy alongside a glass of cold white or rosé wine, and you will be, too.

The ""6"

This started off as an attempt to make a slightly grainier version of our pain de campagne, a semi-sourdough country white loaf. I got a little carried away in the process, and the "6" took on a life of its own. Sorry about the slightly awkward measurements. I've cut it back from the larger batch we make for the market, and I want to present it as we actually make it.

We make this bread with all organic flours. Here in the Twin Cities, check your co-op for the flours from Whole Grain Milling.

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup well-refreshed liquid sourdough starter
2 1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp buckwheat honey (or another full-flavored honey; or a tablespoon each of honey and molasses)
scant 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
scant 1/4 cup cracked wheat
generous 1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup whole wheat bread flour (or sub regular organic whole wheat flour)
2 cups (or more) organic unbleached white flour (I use Gold n White from
Natural Way Mills)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let it sit for about five minutes. Add the rest of the water, the starter, salt, honey, and all the grains down through the whole wheat bread flour. Stir to mix well. Add a cup of white flour and stir well. Continue adding white flour by the half-cup until the dough is thick and difficult to stir. It will take around two cups of white flour total.

Turn your dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for a couple of minutes, adding white flour as necessary, until you have a cohesive, slightly elastic dough. Put it back in the bowl, sprinkle the top with a bit of flour, and leave it alone for at least ten minutes and up to half an hour. Then put the dough back on your work surface and knead for a couple of minutes more, until the dough is elastic--that is, it bounces back quickly when you poke it with your finger.

Total kneading time will only be about five minutes.

Now the dough must rise, and it should rise for a good long time. I usually make the dough in the afternoon, refrigerate it for a few hours, then take it out, knead it down, and let it rise (or "proof," if you want to sound quite "baker-ly") at room temp overnight, shape it and bake it the next morning. But you can also make the dough in the morning, let it proof for seven or eight hours, then bake it off that evening.

Preheat your oven to 450 F.

When the dough is well risen, divide it in two and shape the pieces into large oval loaves. Place them on a cornmeal-dusted peel (if you're using a baking stone) or a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or covered in parchment paper. Let rise about 40 minutes.

Slash the tops any way you please with a very sharp knife (serrated bread knife works well) or single-edge razor. Bake at 450 for ten minutes, then turn the oven down to 410 and bake for another 20 minutes, until the loaves are nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. (We add steam by throwing three or four ice cubes into a small cast iron skillet that sits on the floor of our electric oven.)

Note: Check the bread a couple of times in the later part of baking to make sure it isn't browning too much--the honey can cause it to get quite dark. Tent with aluminum foil or turn the heat down if the bread is browning too fast.

Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trout Caviar Book Club: Annabel's Choice

You can't say this isn't a gastronomical family, when even the dogs have their noses stuck into cookbooks! These are completely unstaged photographs, folks, I swear. Annabel's head is actually stuck between the pages of the book. She started out as below, then rolled over:

Best we could tell, she was interested in a recipe for oeufs en meurette, poached eggs in red wine sauce (I always put some of our home-smoked bacon in; a great winter dish).

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Sunday, January 25, 2009

While We're Talking About Books...

We're coming up to last call for the Trout Caviar Sweepstakes--let us know about your 2008 local food favorites to be entered in a drawing for a copy of The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook .

Here are a couple that earn their place on any forager's shelf:

Abundantly Wild , (Adventure Publications , 2004) by Teresa Marrone, who lives in Minneapolis.

The Forager's Harvest (Forager's Harvest, 2006) by Samuel Thayer, a Wisconsinite.

A couple of years ago I was interviewed for an article on foraging in the Star Tribune, and I was happy to share my passion for this fascinating hobby. When I read the published article, though, I was more than a little dismayed. While it wasn't a total hatchet job, it did manage to characterize foragers as variously crazy, sketchy, "hippie-stoner," and slippery. The sort of person who, "Whenever they have given me a phone number, it has invariably been disconnected soon afteward," according to one Saint Paul chef.

Now, I don't think it's wise to protest too much on behalf of my own character; what I will say is that even a quick perusal of these two thoughtful, intelligent, well researched and extremely well written books should go a long way toward dispelling those sorts of hackneyed stereotypes.

Marrone's book is especially good on wild fruits and greens, has a section on the most common and easily identified mushrooms, and has loads of interesting recipes. It's more comprehensive than Thayer's, and takes a gourmand's approach to the topic. A quick flip shows tempting recipes for plum chutney, stuffed morels, wild greens pasta, pickled ramps, fiddlehead pie.

Thayer's take is perhaps a bit more that of the naturalist. He includes quite a few plants that I didn't know were edible, like spring beauty and marsh marigold, and others that I didn't know existed, like the "ground bean" or "hog peanut" (amphicarpaea bracteata). He's got a lot on wild roots--of evening primrose, thistle, burdock, and more. (From Thayer I learned that I need to dig much, much deeper for quality burdock than I did in this
impromptu orchard forage.)

In Thayer's book I also discovered, much to my surprise, that I didn't know dookie about nettles. Now I know that what I always thought were stinging nettles (because they are indeed nettles, and they sting like the dickens), which I've encountered so often, so painfully, in shady river bottoms and along trout streams, are in fact wood nettles. Both stinging and wood nettles are abundant wild edibles; in Thayer's opinion wood nettles are superior in several ways to stinging nettles. These are some of the first forest plants to emerge in the spring, and I'm really looking forward to doing more with them this year.

Thayer evangelizes on behalf of milkweed; from Marrone I learned how to prepare acorns for the pot (though I haven't tried them yet).

Both books combine an infectious enthusiasm for wild foods with reminders to use all due caution in gathering wild plants. Both are detailed in their descriptions of edible plants and of potentially dangerous look-alikes.

In the end I can't say that you'll find one more useful or enjoyable than the other. If you want to forage for wild food in the Upper Midwest and beyond, you're going to want them both.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fergus Rules

2008 Food & Wine Finds

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love's bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all disheveled wandering stars.

Which is from the poem "Who Goes with Fergus?" by William Butler Yeats and has little if anything to do with the topic at hand, but which is a whacking good little poem. That link gives the whole poem and some illuminating commentary on such things as the odd phrase "brazen cars." And I tend to think that if more people were going through their day with a line like "And all disheveled wandering stars" in their heads, the world would be a slightly better place.

The Fergus I'm in fact talking about is the chef Fergus Henderson , and his two books, of dishes from his Saint John restaurant and Saint John Bread & Wine, in London, are my favorite cookbooks of last year. (I'm actually a little slow on the uptake here--The Whole Beast was first published in 2004, Beyond Nose to Tail in 2007.)

What I love about these books, about this style of cooking, is not necessarily the many ways of cooking lamb brains, or trotters, or pig's head, though those certainly are intriguing. What impresses me is the integrity of Henderson's approach, his embrace of humble ingredients and simplicity in preparation that amounts to a kind of genius, almost revolutionary (counter-revolutionary?) in an age of "molecular gastronomy" and the like.

Consider this salad of red winter vegetables:

It's finely julienned raw beets, red cabbage, and red onion, tossed in a very simple vinaigrette, served with a dollop of crème fraiche. You are instructed to "nustle your blob of crème fraiche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers." Then you make a mess of this platonic relationship as it suits you. That's from Beyond Nose to Tail.

I couldn't wait to make this dish from The Whole Beast: Boiled Chicken, Leeks, and Aioli.

Looks pretty plain, I know, but the simple combination of good free-range chicken, poached leeks, and very garlickly aioli, with some good bread, chilled rosé from the south of France--it took us away from Minnesota winter, while still being warming and filling. (I have to say, I would cook the chicken differently next time. Fergus has you put the chicken and aromatics into cold water and bring it up to a boil, then turn it off and let it sit, rewarming the chicken in heated-up stock later. I would cut the chicken up, use the wings and back to help make the stock, simmering that for a while before adding the legs and then the breast to poach, adjusting cooking times for each. I think that would yield more tender meat; it came out a little chewier than ideal in the book's version.)

As I flip through these books, there's hardly anything I don't want to try: Confit of rabbit leg in broth; duck legs and carrots; confit pig's cheek and dandelion; "Orbs of Joy" (red onions baked in chicken stock).

The Whole Beast is short on baked goods and desserts; Beyond Nose to Tail makes up for that failing with an extensive selection of breads and "puddings." Mary made the Apples and Calvados Trifle and couple of weeks ago, and it was a custardy, whipped-creamy, appley delight.

Both books are written with lots of personality. They're idiosyncratic without being "twee," I think the word is. Or maybe they are twee; maybe I like twee. I leave you with this "recipe" for


This recipe has quite particular requirements but, as with any of these recipes, please feel free to adapt them to suit your own situation.

A driftwood fire on a beach in the Hebrides, mackerel caught that day, filleted.... When the embers are just so, place the mackerel, skin-side down, on the griddle. By the time the skin is happy and crispy, the fillets should be cooked.

Pop into a bap with some horseradish, sit on a rock and eat with lots of white wine. 'Did anyone remember to pack the corkscrew?'

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw, except Grilled Mackerel recipe, copyright 2007 by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Café Society

2008 Food & Wine Finds

While the meals we enjoyed at the New Creamery last year were certainly exquisite, you can't eat grilled pheasant with herb demi-glace and cabernet-braised bison short ribs every day. Moderation in all things is key, so we try to tuck into that sort of fare no more than, say, every other day. On the days off, we look for simpler food, and the small-town cafés of west central Wisconsin have provided many delights.

Cece and Allies' Sand Creek Café pictured above is probably the most charismatic of them--it starts with the excellent sign, and continues to the warm, woody interior, the taxidermy on the walls, the totally local feel of the place. When the old-timers come in for lunch, their interaction with the proprietress is classical rural-laconic:

(Enter Wayne. He shrugs his coat at a central table. The owner approaches.)
Owner: Fish or shrimp, Wayne?
Wayne: Fish.

The Sand Creek cheeseburger is the best around, a hand-formed, perfectly fatty patty served on a nice potato roll. Good fries. Good chili and soup. For breakfast, excellent biscuits with sausage gravy. You'd have to gorge yourselves to spend more than $15 on a lunch for two here; at breakfast you'll spend less than $10, food, tax, and tip.

The town of Sand Creek is worth a visit even if you're not there at mealtime (is there such a time?). It sits at the shady confluence of Sand Creek (there are brook trout in there, but you need to be a magician to cast a fly line through the overhanging alder branches; kids drowning worms would have better luck) and the Red Cedar River. There's a nice park in town along the creek, and another just across the river. Here's a map: Sand Creek Cafe‎ . It's about an hour-and-a-half drive from Saint Paul. And here I find that we're not the first to sing the praises of this out-of-the-way gem: a review by none other than Michael Stern .

One of our other favorite spots is the Dairyland Café in Ridgeland, WI. Fried egg sandwich, $2.25. Hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches, good soups. Maybe not a "destination" restaurant, but a friendly place with good food.

A couple of other places we've enjoyed: the Green Apple Café, also in Ridgeland, for good breakfasts--eggs cooked how you like them, homemade preserves to spread on your toast.

On U.S. Highway 12 at Wisconsin 128, Peg's Pleasant View Inn serves a wonderful buffet on the weekends. When we stopped there on a Sunday in December, the bar was busy with the Packer faithful faithfully enduring the tail-end of a disappointing season for the Green & Gold. No disappointments in the non-smoking dining room, where we bellied up to the holiday-decorated buffet for chicken a la king on homemade biscuits, excellent pot roast, sticky barbecue ribs, and more, so much more. We made that our main meal of the day, obviously, and it set us back about $8.95 a person.

One other place I have to mention--and I'm sure it will come up again--is not a restaurant, but our favorite cheese shop, where there is not a speck of French cheese in sight, but where you can order up Wisconsin cheddars aged one to ten years, or pick up a wedge of Roth Kase gruyere (French name, Badgerland cheese), a Black River blue, buttery Wunderbar (excellent in grilled cheese), actual limburger, and more. Curds, I can't forget the curds. And flavored cheeses, which Mala says the salami cheese is one of the world's perfect foods, but I don't know, I'm sticking with the seven-year-old white cheddar.

Bolen Vale Cheese is run by the Bartz family. It's on Wisconsin Highway 64, one of my favorite roads of all time, just barely west of the town of Connorsville. They also stock other dairy products, local organic meats--beef, lamb, and goat--crackers to go with your cheese, coffee, candy bars, some crafts, what-not. Don't pass through Connorsville without a stop at Bolen Vale.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Creamery Restaurant, Downsville, WI

2008 Food & Wine Finds (Tell us about yours--the Trout Caviar Sweepstakes is still accepting entries!)

It was a sad day for local food enthusiasts and hungry Twin Cities day-trippers when the Native Bay restaurant near Chippewa Falls closed its doors last year. In three memorable years, chef Nathan Berg and his staff had turned a former supper club on the shores of Lake Wissota (a wide spot in the Chippewa River) into one of western Wisconsin's few destination restaurants, and a shrine to local, seasonal foods, at that. When Native Bay went dark, we felt pretty certain that we wouldn't be crossing the Saint Croix for locally inspired fine dining anytime soon.

But then, we hadn't been to the
New Creamery in Downsville, just a few miles south of Menomonie.

Which we did happen upon last summer, shortly after it reopened under new owners Terry and Paula Vajgrt, with chef Brian Griep in charge of the kitchen.

We stopped in for brunch one weekend on the way out to the Bide-A-Wee. Brunch, in spite of the sun-drenched, summer-breezy, flowery-terrace connotations it carries, is often a dismal affair of over-cooked eggs and hung-over service. Brunch at the Creamery wasn't like that, not at all.

A delightful bread basket started it off, including walnut scones that we have to try to get the recipe for. Then perfectly poached eggs pertly perched upon more than palatable smoked trout cakes, and a crustless quiche cleverly constructed (okay, I'm done now) of local cheese and--hey! what's going on here?--actual wild mushrooms! By which I mean, mushrooms clearly gathered from the wild woods--hen-of-the-woods most prominent.

In the left-hand menu margin there was a list of the restaurant's local suppliers, and we realized we knew about half of them (including Midtown's Sylvan Hills Organic Farm ) and knew of most of the rest.

And the service was cheerful, professional, and we ate looking out at the Creamery's lovely gardens. This sort of thing could give brunch a good name again. In every way, the Creamery kitchen under chef Griep makes Wisconsin country dining look more than promising once more. As we were leaving the Creamery we picked up a flyer for a game and wine dinner being held a few weeks hence, and we signed up straight-away.

The only negative comment I can make about the evening was that it was a shame that only one other couple got to enjoy this feast. Well, that and the literalist quibble that, since it's strictly illegal to sell truly wild game or fish in Wisconsin (and most everywhere in this country), the "wild game" designation was a bit of a poetic stretch.

Which is not to say that these farm-raised meats weren't delicious: A delicate salad of smoked trout, fabulous grilled pheasant--the best I've ever eaten--wonderfully flavorful duck breast, two excellent bison preparations (I never used to expect much from bison; now I do). The meats were all expertly cooked; the sauces were wonders of elegant simplicity; the accompaniments just right and just enough.

A palate-cleansing sorbet of Sylvan Hills late-season strawberries was the best I've had outside of France. Chef Griep came out to describe each course in his low-key, self-effacing manner.

The wine service was extraordinary, too, directed with obvious passion and care by Clay Vajgrt. It started with champagne and went through several superb and superbly matched wines from the U.S. and France.

Simply put, this was the best restaurant meal we ate this year.

The Creamery is just a little more than an hour's drive from the Twin Cities--east on I-94 to Menomonie, south on Wisconsin 25 a few more miles to Downsville, a charmingly sleep little town on the Red Cedar River. There are bike trails and ski trails in the area. Orchards, cheese factories, antiques, hiking, fishing, hunting--something for everyone, and some of the most beautiful countryside in our area.

And you needn't come home hungry.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Seared Salad

It's a bit like Chinese landscape painting, cooking from the northern winter larder. Although the palate is limited, the elements somewhat sparse, the restrictions can in fact be liberating. You're able to consider familiar things in a different light, place them in new roles.

I can't say whether it arose from a stroke of culinary genius, or from the sheer boredom of contemplating yet another cole slaw, but one night I decided to fry the salad. And it turned out really, really well.

In fact, I'd been meaning to try this for quite some time, this tweaked combination of three of the most constant foods in our winter kitchen--cabbage, apples, and squash. What brought them together was two other local products, Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil from near Prairie Farm, Wisconsin (which is just a few miles from our Bide-A-Wee), and an apple wine vinegar from the Leatherwood Vinegary in Long Prairie, Minnesota. I bought the vinegar at Local D'Lish in downtown Minneapolis. Hay River is the first and only brand of American pumpkin seed oil, and Leatherwood is the only vinegary in Minnesota; they helped make this delicious salad unique, indeed.

This really was an intensely local meal: Grilled Hilltop Pastures Family Farm pork cutlets (off a shoulder roast, very economical) glazed with Talking Oak Farm buckwheat honey (another Prairie Farm, WI product) atop Sunrise Creative Gourmet fettuccine tossed with a little Hope Creamery butter. The butternut squash and cabbage were from Julie Pflaum of our Midtown Farmers' Market , and the apples from another Midtown colleague, Havlicek's Veseli Vrsek Happy Hill Orchard . We drank a bottle of Hauser's Colonial apple wine from the Bayfield Winery .

This works equally well as a starter or side dish.

Seared Salad of Butternut Squash, Cabbage, and Apples
serves four

1 butternut squash
2 apples, peeled, seeded, and quartered
2 wedges cabbage, about three inches at the wide end

grapeseed or canola oil

2 Tbsp pumpkin seed oil (or olive oil if you don't have this)
1 Tbsp apple wine vinegar (or another good vinegar--I realize these specific products may be difficult to find)

coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper

Remove the solid top of the squash, and use the lower part, around the seed cavity. Cut the lower part in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel the squash with a peeler or paring knife. Cut two strips per person, a bit more than an inch wide.

Heat a heavy skillet and add a couple teaspoons of grapeseed or canola oil. Add the cabbage and apples and cook over medium-high heat. Check the apples frequently, and keep turning them to brown on all sides. Let the cabbage develop a nice sear on the first cut side, then turn it over to sear the other side.

Remove the apples and cabbage when they're nicely seared--they won't be cooked through, just colored and softened a bit. Add a little more oil and the squash slices. Cook over medium-high heat till the first side is well browned, then turn the squash over and brown the other side. When both sides of the squash are browned, add 3/4 cup of water. Cover the pan and steam the squash until the squash is tender, four or five minutes.

To assemble: Cut each cabbage wedge in two--as if you were butterfly-ing a shrimp, but in this case, cut all the way through. On each plate place a half-wedge of cabbage, seared side up. Arrange two slices of squash and two pieces of apple on top of the cabbage.

Mix together the pumpkin seed oil and apple wine vinegar (or subs of your choice). Drizzle the dressing over the salad and a bit around the edge of the plate for superfluous gourmet garnish. Sprinkle a good pinch of coarse salt (gray sea salt would be my choice) and give it a grind of fresh black pepper.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Iron Range Fettuccini

A Local Food Find of 2008

We're still taking entries for the Trout Caviar Sweepstakes ; tell us about your local food finds and favorites of 2008 to enter.

So, Hibbing, Minnesota is an interesting place: This city of about 17,000 in the heart of the Iron Range (city slogan: "We're More Than Ore") boasts the world's largest open pit iron mine and was the boyhood home of Bob Dylan (Bobby Zimmerman, then). One-time home run king Roger Maris lived there, as did Jeno Paulucci (they're not quite to my taste, these days, but I can remember when I couldn't get enough of Jeno's Pizza Rolls). There you will also find the Greyhound Bus Museum. Quite a varied roster of claims to fame for the Iron Capital of the World.

Minnesota locavores can add one more: the fettuccini from Sunrise Creative Gourmet is one of my local food finds of 2008. I have to admit, it took me a while to find it--the label says the company was established in 1913. Sunrise products are widely available in the Twin Cities area; Byerly's stores carry them, as do several co-ops.

I came across the Sunrise Traditional Fettuccini at a new shop that also deserves mention in a local-foods run-down of 2008: Local D'Lish, in the warehouse district of Minneapolis, debuted last year, featuring wonderful foods from Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest. We applaud their efforts and wish them well.

About that pasta: It's just really, really good. It has a rustic, homemade quality. It's made from semolina flour, water, eggs, and salt. It's pretty. It takes up sauce beautifully. What more do you want from a noodle? (Note: In our experience the fettuccini takes much longer to cook than the seven minutes advised on the package, nearly twice that long to a lovely al dente bite.)

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Monday, January 5, 2009

BBQ Ribs in a Cardboard Box

Have you heard about the Trout Caviar Sweepstakes? Everyone who posts a comment here about one (or more) of their local food finds or highlights of 2008 will be eligible for a drawing. The prize is a copy of The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook , which highlights our state's farmers, millers, cheesemakers, winemakers, pairing them with chefs who use their products. It's a beautiful book that celebrates our rich and evolving agricultural heritage and its impact on the culinary culture throughout the state. Entries will be open until we have enough entries to make it a drawing, or until the end of the month, whichever comes first.

I have no doubt whatsoever that it's this deep white winter we're, um, enjoying, that sends me right back to the longest days of last summer as I consider my local food highlights of 2008.

We never really put the grill away for the winter, but the pleasures of grilling and barbecue are surely best enjoyed on those mellow, lingering summer evenings. We've been doing our own home smoking for some time now, but I got a chance to expand my barbecue horizons last summer when Kim Ode asked me to take part in her "Edesia Cookbook Review", held each month at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Galleria in Edina.

Of the several books I considered, the one that most caught my imagination--and tastebuds--was a book by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnecliffe, Peace, Love, and Barbecue. Mike Mills is something of a legend on the competitive barbecue circuit. His team from Murphysboro, Illinois stunned the barbecue world in 1990 by winning World Champion in ribs and Grand World Champion overall at the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest, held each year in Memphis. What was so stunning about the "Apple City" team's victory was not just that it came in their first appearance at the "Super Bowl of Barbecue," but that they were Yankees! No "Northerners" had ever won at Memphis before. This was a serious blow to Southern pride--never mind that Murphysboro, at the far southern tip of Illinois, lies south of Louisville, Kentucky.

If you love barbecue, buy this book. It is equal parts memoir, folklore, history, ethnography, and cookbook. And the recipe for those world champion Apple City ribs produced the best ribs I've ever tasted--and I've long been a fan of Ted Cook's 19th Hole on 38th Street in south Minneapolis.

As great as those ribs were, cooked at home, the barbecue I enjoyed most this past year came about as the result of--dare I say it?--Yankee ingenuity. We picked up a rack of pork spare ribs at the Midtown Farmers' Market from Jill Marckel of Chase Brook Natural Meats, and we took them out to our land in Wisconsin. I planned to smoke them, but all we had for cooking facilities was a fire ring and grate. We needed something to contain the smoke and heat, and that's where the Yankee ingenuity came in.

We needed some kind of box, but all we had was cardboard; that would not do so well next to the fire. We had a roll of aluminum foil, and some duct tape (you just knew that duct tape would figure in here somewhere, didn't you?). And now that I'm remembering, we didn't even have enough cardboard for the whole box, so a couple of the sides were made from foil-wrapped newspaper.

The product of those materials, and the aforementioned Yankee ingenuity, was this:

The marinated, spice-rubbed ribs went inside, and in time--quite a lot of time--with a mopping of apple cider now and then, as the light faded from the valley, we sat down to this:

Applewood-smoked spare ribs, fire-roasted corn-on-the-cob, heirloom tomatoes from our garden.... If, like me, you're looking out today through frost-etched windows at another bitterly cold, snowy January day, well, I'm sorry. But, cheer up--summer will be here before you know it, and the best ribs you've ever eaten await.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bayfield Winery Fruit Wines

(This is the first of our 2008 Food & Wine Finds--Please share your own discoveries of the past year in the Comments section below.)While staying, and dining, at O'Bryon's Village Inn in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, last summer, we were intrigued by a selection of local wines on the restaurant's wine list. They were made from locally grown fruit--not grapes, but apples and pears, some flavored with other local products like cranberries and black currants.

The wines were all from the Bayfield Winery located at Hauser's Superior View Farm, a few miles down the shore. We ordered a bottle of apple-based wine as well at the Dry Pear shown above, and while I admit we weren't exactly expecting Montrachet, we were pleasantly surprised. The apple wine was a bit sweet but with good balancing acidity, and it was excellent with the rich, full-flavored lake trout and whitefish entrées. The pear, with sherry-like notes and subtle sweetness, made a fine digestif, and would do just as well as an aperitif.

We visited the winery the next day, in its exalted seat overlooking the lake, and bought half a dozen bottles to take back to Saint Paul. We enjoyed them back in the city, but this is probably the best setting to appreciate them, a summer's evening on the beach at Corny:

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw