Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cool News About the Book, and a Couple Local Events

We received some exciting news this weekend:  The Trout Caviar book was named a finalist for the 2012 Minnesota Book Awards .  It's one of four finalists winnowed down from over 40 nominees in the general non-fiction catergory.  Looking at some of the excellent titles that weren't named finalists, I have to say, I feel a bit abashed; but hey, I'll take it, and gratefully.  The awards ceremony takes place on April 14.

Also, I've got a couple local signings lined up in the next few weeks:

On Saturday, February 4, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., I'll be meeting and greeting and signing books at the Seward Co-op  at Franklin Avenue and Riverside in Minneapolis.

Then on Saturday, February 18, I'll be at the River Market  co-op on Main Street in Stillwater from noon to 3:00. Valley Bookseller will also take part in this event.

In both cases, there will be snacks prepared from recipes in the book.  Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Tale of Three Tarts

Nothing facilitates culinary creativity like a well-stocked larder.  And nothing is more essential to a well-stocked larder than bacon.  Cuz where do you think the word larder comes from, anyway?  Comes from lard, which is French for bacon.  You learned something today, didn't you?  You're welcome.

Actually, that derivation just occured to me as I started writing this, but it turns out it's spot on.  Here's what my Webster's New Twentieth Century Unabridged has to say:  "larder, n., [ME, larder; OFr, lardier, a larder, a tub for bacon; LL. lardarium, a room for meats, from L. lardum, the fat of bacon, lard.]" (Another thing I've just learned is that it's really hard to type and use the mouse with a big honkin' dictionary on your desk.)

I wish I had known that (about the etymology, not the awkward dictionary) when I was writing this essay I recorded for Wisconsin Life on Wisconsin Public Radio,"The Importance of Bacon" (a variation on a chapter in the cookbook).  In light of the faddish frenzy that has arisen around bacon in the last couple of years, I'm sort of ambivalent about my role as evangelist of smoked pork belly, but that WILife essay is something of a defense and apology for my position, which I'm happy to expound upon further here.

What disturbs me about the bacon craze is, 1) The seemingly indiscriminate approach, which implies that all bacon is good, without distinguishing greatness from dreck, and 2) The culture of gluttony it seems to promote.

Now, at some level, the appeal of bacon is so great that even the worst bacon is good.  But the watery, chemical-laden supermarket bargain bacon, made from pork that comes from who-knows-where, is only good because the sledge-hammer combo of salt, smoke, and fat can disguise many flaws.  Set next to really good, natural bacon, from well-raised pigs, it looks like exactly what it is:  rubbish.  When I'm cutting bacon from one of my home-smoked slabs, I'll often taste a sliver of the "raw" stuff; I don't think you'd be tempted to do that with the $1.89-a-pound product from Bob's Food Barn.

And as for the gluttonous, drooling, stuff-your-face attitude, the bring-on-the-fat, over-the-top, clog-my-arteries, please, approach, well, I feel that's wrong at so many levels, I'm just going to let it go at that.

Pizza night chez Trout Caviar last week perfect illustrates why I glorify bacon, and other rich and wonderful products of our region--they are splendid when used in a balanced approach to cooking and eating.  Combined with good bread (the crust), savory vegetable elements (onion, sauerkraut, leek, potato), a delightfully satisfying whole results, in which you can have your tart and eat it, too, literally--one recipe's worth of Bacon Onion Tart (p. 108) provided Mary and me with dinner for two nights, and a happy hour snack, to boot.

The recipe in the book has you divide the dough in half for two tarts; I did mine in thirds.  Tart #1 was the traditional tarte flambée or flammekeuche, the Alsatian classic topped with crème fraîche, onions, and bacon. 

For tart #2 I rinsed about a cup of sauerkraut (make your own via Trout Caviar, p. 222!), squeezed it quite dry, and sautéed it in a bit of duck fat with a small leek sliced.  That mixture was combined with crème fraîche, and got a sprinkling of grated Wisconsin havarti cheese (I'm on a havarti kick recently, thanks to the Stettler Cream Havarti from Decatur Dairy  in Brodhead, WI; we get it at Renee's shop in Connorsville ).

And for tart #3, I sliced a small potato as thin as I could; I spread some crème fraîche over the dough; placed the potato slices on top; scattered one thick slice of bacon in fine dice over the top; added a handful of Wisconsin "gruyère" (Roth Kase).

The tarts baked at 525 for, what, five or six minutes.  You just watch for the crust to brown and the toppings to bubble.  With a salad, a glass of riesling--voilà.  Little better on a cold January evening; get in a brisk walk or a turn on the skis as the sun drops down through streaks of gray and pink.  Sip a glass of that crisp, tart, fragrant wine as you work on putting your tarts together.  Something else that really heightens culinary creativity is knowing whom to steal ideas from, and I raid the Alsatian larder regularly.

And here we are back in the larder:  I decided to make this dinner mid-afternoon of the same day, and didn't have to go out for a single thing  Bacon, onion, leek, 'kraut, cream, cheese, the dough makings--these are things we almost always have in stock.  If I hadn't had those particular cheeses, I'd have used something else, or left it out.  If my 'kraut crock was running low, I'd have taken out a packet of blanched, frozen garden kale, and used that.  I'm not opposed to recipes, the dear knows, but I prefer to think in terms of methods of preparation, rather than hard and fast rules or lists of ingredients.  There aren't many recipes that can't stand a certain amount of substitution or variation--and who knows, by adding your own twist, you might just come up with your new favorite dish.  The spud 'za pretty much stole the show in this instance; it will find a place in the regular rotation.

One quick note on crème fraîche:  You can buy this product at co-ops and better grocery stores.  For the recipe in the book, I suggest just mixing sour cream and heavy cream half and half.  If you have more time, you can produce a homemade version by mixing sour cream and heavy cream--a tablespoon or two of the former for each cup of the latter--and setting the mixture in a warm place--your oven with the light turned on, for instance--overnight.  The next day it should be nice and thick and tangy.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Smelt Po'boys with Wild Remoulade Sauce

We've been in eat-out-of-the-freezer mode for a couple weeks now.  When there's not enough space in the freezer to chill your martini glass, you know something has to be done.  I'm not really a hoarder of stuff, in general, but I am something of a pack rat when it comes to food.  My refrigerator is a pickle museum; I curate a jam and jelly collection there, as well.  Apparently I have a horror of endings, for I keep jars that contain a half-inch of blackberry preserves, one lonely cornichon, some scraps of fermented vegetables.  Sometimes I find jars of pickles entirely absent of pickles, nothing left but the brine.  And then, frighteningly, I'll return that jar to the fridge, thinking, hmm, there was that pickle brine rye bread recipe someone sent me eight years ago, maybe I'll make that....

As for the freezer, that's more of an archaeological situation when it comes to determining what's in there, scraping back through layers of time, discovering freezer burned trout frames, sacks of berries of dubious provenance.  I swear to god, I recently pulled out a zip bag containing a frozen block of something, and in the space where you note the contents, it said "SOUP?"  That got tossed.

But there's good stuff in there, too.  A lot of the very best fish we eat comes frozen, believe it or not.  On our trips to the South Shore of Lake Superior we always stock up on fresh fish at Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia. Sometimes the fish is frozen and vacuum-packed there, and sometimes we bring the fresh-off-the-boat lake trout, whitefish, and herring home and freeze what we won't use fresh.

So in our freezer clean-out mode, courtesy of Halvorson's, we've recently had burbot bourguignon (eelpout in red wine, by another name), fish tacos also made with burbot (an intriguing freshwater cod that Amy "Sourtooth" Thielen writes about here ; I'd really like to get up to the Eelpout Fest this year). And our last frozen fish from Corny was a package of smelt that had been in the freezer for at least a year, so I had my doubts as it thawed, but you know what? Here's what: Fish that is packed absolutely fresh, and properly frozen, and kept frozen, is great even a year later. The vacuum-packing provides no opportunity for freezer burn or staling. The smelt had very little "fishiness" to them; rather, they had a cucumber-y, watery scent like some oysters have. Their fate was to be dipped in a light tempura batter, fried, and served on homemade rolls with a remoulade sauce perked up with chopped pickled ramps and salted milkweed bud "capers" on a north-meets-south po'boy. We don't do a lot of deep frying, but a few times each winter we'll fry up fish or shrimp for po'boys or tacos. It makes for a fun and summery meal, most welcome in the depths of January.

It's a joke around our house that writing a cookbook is a rather elaborate way of organizing one's recipes, but damn handy once it's done. There's truth in the gag, too--putting together this meal, I made the buns from the Cornmeal Honey Butter Bun recipe (p. 120), shaping oval buns of about 5 ounces of dough.

The remoulade started with a batch of mayonnaise (p. 219), to which I added some mustard, worchestershire, finely diced celery root, salted milkweed buds, and chopped pickled ramps (p. 224). The tempura batter is in the Walleye Taco recipe (p. 165). And alongside we had Oven-Fried Roots (p. 192)--potato, celery root, and mystery pumpkin (yes, I know, pumpkin is not a root; but it cooks up sort of...rootish).

The beer, Bitch Creek Extra Special Brown, was an impulse buy purchased for all the wrong reasons--because it's from the Grand Teton Brewing Company, and Mary used to live in Jackson Hole, in the shadow of the Tetons; and Bitch Creek is a famous western trout stream, and there's a fly pattern named for it . In spite of that, it was excellent--deep, dark, toasty, and bitter (as I poured out the last few drops to rinse the bottles this morning I got to thinking of beef short ribs braised in Bitch Creek ESP, lots of leeks and onions, maybe a dash of cocoa, some allspice...).

We still haven't made much of a dent in the freezer inventory, and chances are that some day soon I'll get it in my head that I can't go another week without a piece of grilled lake trout, a plate of Herring Milkweed Meunière (p. 171), and I'll hit the road for the South Shore, returning with a cooler full of fish, most of which will go in the freezer.

Hey, I just remembered, there are still some whitefish livers in there. Now, if I can only find them....

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Rustic Pork Terrine with Chestnuts and Dried Apples

In writing about a stew of grilled lamb meatballs with grilled and coal-roasted vegetables in the 2011 highlights round-up, I rather surprised myself by spontaneously asserting  that "the possibilities of ground meat are vast and enticing."  Right up to the moment I wrote that, I wouldn't have considered myself the biggest fan of decentralized animal flesh, but it didn't take much thought to come up with an impressive list of dishes both down-home and haute-monde that feature that humble ingredient.

My mother made a great meat loaf when I was a kid, nothing fancy (and I shudder to think that it might have involved cream of mushroom soup...), but entirely delectable under its lacquered exterior of well browned ketchup.  Recalling autumn or winter evenings, coming in from the woods, the soccer field, the hockey rink, to a supper of Mom's meat loaf, baked potato, and baked squash--plenty of butter on the last two--still brings me an upwelling of warmth, emotion, and a deep, primal satisfaction.  And then fried meat loaf sandwiches from the leftovers, the edges crisped in the fry pan, on bakery bread with butter and ketchup, my god!, I still can't think of anything I'd rather eat.

The hamburger can be regrettable fast food, or the platform for cheffish excursions into wretched excess, but I think it achieves its ideal form in the homemade burger sculpted from freshly ground chuck, liberally seasoned, cooked medium rare over the coals on in a heavy skillet, parked on a quality bun and garnished to taste.  This is a classic American sandwich, and the French chefs, bless their hearts, just don't get it.  A great burger doesn't require foie gras, truffles, or other "luxury" adulterations.

One of my all-time favorite meals is based on chopped beef, that isn't even cooked:  steak tartare with grilled sourdough, a stack of crisp, salty frites, a glass of bordeaux--excuse me, I'm getting a little drooly....  That's been my birthday dinner the last two years, lest anyone suspect that I overstate my enthusiasm for it.

And now, if the French don't quite comprehend the essence of le hamburger, that's not to say that they're total slackers when it comes to working with cooked ground or chopped meat. You take pretty much anyone who has traveled in France, and say the word paté or terrine, and then just wait for that groan of remembered ecstasy to start, as their eyes roll back in their heads as they recall that slice of paté de campagne from the unassuming traiteur in that little village, unwrapped on a roadside bench beside a vineyard in, let's say, Beaujolais, smeared on a piece of baguette and with the first unctuous, savory, melting taste--sacré bleu! how did they do that?

Cold cut supper: homemade chicken liver mousse, store-bought La Quercia speck, Spanish chorizo

A good paté doesn't seem like it should be so hard to make, but it requires a balance of richness, meatiness, texture, salt, and spice that can be extremely difficult to achieve. I suspect that many home cooks have balked at the amount of fat frequently called for in paté recipes, and so cut back, and regretted it. In addition to the fat mixed in to the forcemeat, the baking dish is often lined with fatback or caul fat--you can practically hear your arteries clanking like rusty heating pipes just reading the recipes. The fortunate corollary (not coronary) to that fact is that you don't need half a pound of paté per person to have a satisfying meal, rounded out with bread, salad, a glass of wine.

I haven't made an exhaustive study of this branch of charcuterie, but I've dabbled in it over the years, and I recently came up with a really nice version, one that I'll use as a template for future patés. This one was based on pork, three kinds: shoulder, belly, and bacon. I added chicken livers for that distinctly paté-like texture. Good bread crumbs soaked in reduced cider also contributed to texture and flavor. Chestnuts and dried apples made up the seasonal garnish. Last time I checked, those excellent Iowa chestnuts were still available at Seward Co-op.

This is best made a couple of days to a week ahead. Weighting the paté after the baking changes the texture in a desirably Gallic way. I made this in a 750 ml (about 3-cup) Pyrex rectangular baking dish; the mixture filled it pretty much to the top, which turned out okay, but you might want to use a slightly larger vessel.

Pork Paté with Chestnuts and Dried Apples

1/4 cup applejack or calvados (apple brandy)

8 rounds of dried apple, about 1/8-inch thick

3/4 cup sweet apple cider reduced to 1/4 cup

1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs from an excellent loaf, sourdough whole wheat or the like

12 chestnuts, roasted and peeled

1 large or 2 small shallots minced, about 1/2 cup

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 ounce bacon, chopped fine

Soak the apples in the brandy, covered, for several hours or overnight. Soak the breadcrumbs in the reduced cider. Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium low heat until some fat starts to render; add the shallot and cook gently till translucent; add the garlic, remove the pan from the heat, and add the contents to the soaked breadcrumbs. Add any unabsorbed brandy from the dried apples to the pan, swirl around to rinse, and add this to the bread, etc.

8 ounces pork shoulder
4 ounces pork belly (or very fatty shoulder)
4 ounces chicken livers.

2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
2 pinches quatre-épices

I use the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer: Grind the shoulder and belly twice through the coarse blade. Then grind one-third of the meat again through the fine blade; also grind the chicken livers with the fine blade. Add the egg yolks, salt and a few grinds of pepper, quatre-épices, along with the bread mixture, to the meat and mix very well.

Let this mixture macerate for 4 to 6 hours, or overnight. Butter a mold. Place a one-inch layer of meat in the bottom, and lay half the apple slices on top. Cover with a thin layer of meat, and add the chestnuts, pressing them into the meat. Add another thin layer of meat, the rest of the apples, then the rest of the meat. Place two bay leaves on top, and a few sprigs of thyme, if you like.

Bake in a bain marie (water bath), covered, at 325 for 45 to 60 minutes, until liquid is bubbling vigorously in the baking dish and the meat is quite firm to the touch. Carefully remove the bain marie from the oven, and let the paté cool in it for about 30 minutes. Placing a weight on the paté will give it a denser texture, like the classic French version. A piece of heavy cardboard cut to fit just inside your baking dish, wrapped in plastic wrap, with a couple cans of soup for weight, will work fine. Refrigerate unde weight for a day or two before serving.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, January 6, 2012

And the Winners Are...

The lucky winners of the Trout Caviar book give-away are:

Sylvie, down in old Virginie, Rappahannock, to be exact, who wrote of blackberry wine, epic canning, drying peaches, pawpaw harvest, and more.

Jeff, who celebrated a surprise morel harvest and butchering the doe he shot on opening weekend of the deer season.

And Gloria, the biggest fan of the pungent ramp, who also enjoyed locally produced preserves, wild mushrooms, and the Saint Paul Farmers Market, particularly the produce from Sor Vang's family.

I really enjoyed reading everyone's favorite food memories of 2011.  This was a blind drawing of all who wrote in with their 2011 highlights, one entry per customer.  I put each person's name on a slip of paper, dropped them in a bag, and my wife Mary (Pastry Goddess, Plate Licker, Soup Smiler, etc.) drew the names.  I was there to see that she had her eyes closed the whole time.

Thanks to everyone who participated, and thanks for reading Trout Caviar.  We're going into the fifth year of the blog, hard to believe.  I'm feeling as jazzed about this celebration of local, seasonal eating as I ever have--maybe more than when I first started the blog, since I had no idea then what I was doing, or where it would lead.  I look forward to sharing my foraging, cooking, eating adventures in 2012, and to hearing about yours.  Your participation, your feedback and insights and occasional quibbles (but quibble all you want, really), that is what keeps this interesting. 

To the winners of the drawing:  Please email me at to give me a mailing address; I'll sign the books, of course, but also tell me if you'd like yours inscribed with a pithy little message, and if so, to whom.  Thanks.

Be back soon with new stuff.  Oh, and by the way, I'll be doing a cooking demo tomorrow morning, Saturday, January 7, on KARE 11 television here in the Twin Cities, 9:43 a.m.  I haven't been on TV before, and I am, uh, terrified!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year from Bide-A-Wee

Wishing you health, contentment, great adventures, and many happy repasts in 2012 and beyond.





All best~ Brett, Mary, Annabel, & Lily