Category Archives: Food

Wild Noodle Chase

"Spätzle-02" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons -
Spätzle-02” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.
"Gulasch" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gulasch” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week the StarTribune ran a feature in the taste section on cooking with paprika. This made me nostalgic for the Hungarian goulash at the Black Forest Inn. I was a bartender there from 1974-1978 and the goulash was one of my favorite dishes. The article had a recipe so I made up my mind to make a batch. After our car shopping failure on Friday we made a Costco run and I picked up a package of cubed beef. Main ingredient taken care of, my plan was to make a quick sortie to Hy-Vee for the rest of the ingredients.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream. The Iowa based grocery stores are huge and they have an amazing selection of whatever you can think of. They are just moving into Minnesota and built two new stores in the Twin Cities area, one of which is about 4 blocks straight North of us where the dilapidated K-mart and Big Dollar stores previously blighted the neighborhood. We moved to New Hope in 1991 about the time the last grocery store in town closed. There hasn’t been a supermarket in New Hope since. Now there’s a great one within walking distance of us. Possibly the best thing that’s happened since our children were born.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream.

What does one serve their goulash with? The BFI served it on rice if I remember correctly, but the recipe I had suggested spaetzel. Spaetzel are little dumpling like egg noodles which were also a part of the Black’s fair. I decided to go all in on the nostalgia and serve the goulash on spaetzel.

My level of culinary ambition was not high enough to make my own spaetzel, although it doesn’t seem that hard. I just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I set out to locate the spaetzel. At that point, I wasn’t absolutely clear as to what spaetzel was. I thought that it might be made from potatoes, since it seems similar to gnocci. I looked in the German section of the ethnic foods area, no spaetzel. In fact not much of anything considering there are more folks of German ancestry than Scandinavian in Minnesota. The German section was dwarfed by the Mexican section. I checked the pasta section, just in case they lumped it in with Italian starch bombs. I checked the refrigerated section and the frozen section and the health food section and came up empty.

When in doubt ask someone.

When in doubt ask someone. I stopped a young woman in Hy-Vee uniform and when I asked she got that WTF look on her face. I described spaetzel, incorrectly saying it was like a potato dumpling. I mentioned the fact about the prevalence of Germans, and she replied that she was one-hundred percent German and I shook my head over the assimilation of our culture into the mainstream of tacos, chow mein and salsa.

“I’ll ask the grocery manager.”

She came back a few minutes later, “He didn’t know what it was, but we have potato dumplings in the frozen section.”

Now we were really barking up the wrong dumpling.

We asked the young man stocking frozen foods. He looked at us like we’d asked where the thousand year old eggs were. We spent several minutes combing the huge frozen section and couldn’t even find the potato dumplings, which we shouldn’t be looking for in the first place. I applaud the Hy-Vee training program, these folks are obsessive about helping you and are truly shocked when they realize they might not have something you want. It was not easy to  convince her that not going home with spaetzel was not a disaster. I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel. She earnestly made a note for the grocery manager and said they would try to add it to their stock.

I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel

I finished up my shopping and got in the checkout line. They asked the inevitable question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Oh oh, here we go again, “As a matter of fact, no.”

It happened that the woman who I assumed was the head cashier was helping in that lane. So once again the gauntlet was thrown and she was off in search of the elusive noodle.

Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

I checked out, paid up and was headed out the door when she intercepted me with… a bag of spaetzel. It had been in the Italian section (another insult to my heritage), I’d looked right at it. The problem was that it didn’t look like the spaetzel I was familiar with. I’m used to homemade spaetzel that looks like little bumpy white grubs. This spaetzel was the commercially made, longer, more slender and uniform extrusions which look more like short linguine than spaetzel. I was skeptical. Was this part of some plot to co-opt Tuetonic  culture? Creeping Italianization? Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to admit to my doubts. I had reached my tolerance point for being helped. I’d spent way too much time at the grocery store, Becky was texting me wondering if I’d gotten lost. So I paid for this bag of imposters and got out to there quickly before someone else tried to help me with something.

I must say that the spaetzel cooked up into the rich, fluffy little dumplings that I loved, even though they looked very odd to my Northern European eye. And the goulash was exceptional!

It’s that time of year

I’m not referring to the time we give up on the Twins for the season and start talking about next year, or the time hope springs eternal for the Vikings season. I’m not even talking about taking a week off to spend at the cabin. I’m talking about a Minnesota tradition that has taken on the trappings of ritual. The growing, preparing and eating of sweet corn.

Minnesota sweet corn
image credit: Cliff Hutson via Flickr, Creative Commons


And like the fate of the Twins and the Vikes, this culinary tradition is rife with controversy. Where to get it, how to cook it, how to eat it and where the best comes from are subjects of heated debate throughout the state and beyond. There are even those that claim the best sweet corn comes from, gasp, Iowa. Any time people sit down to eat sweet corn, it’s obligatory for each person to testify as to when and where they had the best corn ever. Continue reading It’s that time of year

Road Trip, Food Trip

As promised, more about my road trip.


I don’t really consider myself a foodie. I love to cook and have a somewhat undeserved reputation as a good cook; I have so many friends that can cook circles around me. But consider my itinerary. First stop, Chicago, to visit my daughter who does graphic design work for Rick Bayless’s Fontera Foods, and is showing some foodie inclinations. Then up to Traverse City, Michigan to visit my clients, and dear friends, Barb Tholin and Charlie Wunsch who publish Edible Grande Traverse, a beautiful magazine about the local food scene and my new client and friend Dr. Mary Clifton,who is a guru of plant based nutrition and healthy eating habits. Then on the way home I stopped in East Lansing for Dinner with college pals and former roommates Jim and SB Anthony. SB (it’s Patricia, but I’ll always think of her as SB, her college nickname) is one of those who can cook circles around me. So I was anticipating some mighty fine eats.

My first culinary experience was great road food, enjoyed on the fly, a bag of cheetos and a coke. Sorry Mary. OK so I wasn’t off to a great start. I do love cheetos though. One of my goals for the trip was to cut southeast through the back roads of rural Wisconsin. What’s the use of owning a Mazda if you don’t drive some crooked roads now and again. Unfortunately I was on a southwest bearing for awhile, turning a seven hour drive into ten. You might ask what this has to do with food. When I realized I was going to be so late, I contacted Lucia to check out their plans. She wanted to take me to Mixteco Grill, but the kitchen was only open until 9  and I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there. I estimated 8, but if you know Chicago traffic, you know you could be very wrong about any eta. Luck was with me, I hit their door at just about 8, we called ahead to the restaurant, put our names on the list and they assured us that if we got there by 9 they would serve us. We made it at about 8:45.

When we got there we were seated in the back dining room, which is decorated by large graphic paintings based on the art of Mexico’s ancient native cultures. The room was full of large groups who were having some very loud fun. We asked to be moved to the front, which has more of a diner feel to it, but was empty and quiet, more what we had in mind, since we don’t see each other too often and we wanted to catch up. I ordered lamb chops in molé sauce, David, Lucia’s companion, had enchiladas molé and Lucia had fish tacos. The molé was the best I’ve had, the lamb was perfectly prepared. The fish tacos were topped with pickled vegetables and were also great as were the enchiladas. The service was prompt and friendly. It’s byob, a plus for Chicagoans that you don’t find in Minnesota.

Next stop, Traverse City, Michigan. Traverse City is a tourist town, a college town and an ag town. It proclaims itself to be the cherry capital of the world, and has a booming winery business. TC and the area around it might have the highest per capita population of gourmet chefs in the country.

First stop was dinner at the Jolly Pumpkin a restaurant, micro brewery and distillery that’s out on Old Mission Peninsula, that stretches north from Traverse City, dividing Grande Traverse Bay. I had a white bean and braised lamb stew that was excellent, well worth the distress that the beans were going to cause later. It was a pleasant evening of reconnecting with my friends Barb and Charlie. There was a lot of talk about the micro brew offerings, I believe that “hoppy” was thrown around a bit. I’m not well versed in my alcohol terminology anymore.

I stayed that night by myself in the turn of the century farmhouse that Charlie’s family owns, where his parents had lived in their retirement. The next morning I drove into town to meet Charlie at their house in town and told that we were going to lunch at Frenchie’s Famous, which lays claim to the world’s greatest pastrami sandwich. But first we had to wait for Jim to show up with a load of horse shit that was destined to go in Charlie’s garden. When Jim arrived with the shit, we hopped in my car and headed for Frenchie’s. Frenchie’s establishment seats about 10 people, behind the counter is a huge copper espresso machine. When we got there, Barb was there having a latte with a beautiful swirl pattern, the mark of an expert barista. Turn’s out the Frenchman was an expert sandwich maker as well, the pastrami did not disappoint. Served on a chibatta, it was piled high with great pastrami, melted cheese and two different sauces, one of which I believe was mango wasabi.

Dinner was at the farmhouse and my new friend and client Dr. Mary Clifton volunteered to cook us a vegan dinner. We had a salad of shredded beets and parsnips with pasta in an excellent pesto. Barb whipped up a rhubarb pie for desert. It was a pleasant evening, Dr. Mary has an eight year old daughter Anna and Charlie and Barb have an eight year old son, Ellis, both kids are adventurous eaters. A very pleasant evening.

The next evening we drove out to the Lelanau Peninsula (lower Michigan’s little finger) to Glen Arbor and Blu, the award winning restaurant of Chef Randy Chamberlain. Blu is an architecturally stunning space, high ceilings and all windows, looking out onto the lake. The food was amazing. We ordered pork belly, duck liver pate and a third appetizer that I don’t remember. I had the sirloin. Now you might ask why I would order something as pedestrian as steak at a fine restaurant, but it was served with a terrific sauce that made it an outstanding dish. Ellis ordered the duck. It was duck confit, and ate it with gusto.

Then next day it was lunch at Trattoria Stella with Dr. Mary. Stella is in the Village, a former mental institution turned swank development, where both Dr. Mary and Barb have their offices. Frankly the conversation with the doc was so intriguing that I can’t remember what I had to eat. But I’m sure it was good. I think I had lamb, again. You might be sensing a pattern developing. Yes, I like lamb.

I was planning to get an early start the next day, but Charlie and Barb twisted my arm to stay for lunch at Amical featuring French cuisine made from local farm goods. I had a pasta with braised lamb, tomato based sauce, with olives and wonderful cheese. I know, if I was really going to write about the food on my trip I should have taken notes. After lunch I called SB in East Lansing to let her know I wasn’t going to make it until late afternoon. She said that that worked and that she was planning dinner, and asked if I like lamb. “Of course,” I said.

From East Lansing I headed down to Chicago for a couple of days. Lucia and David and I tried to go to Du Champ at the end of their street on Damen, but it was packed so we just headed down Damen to take advantage of the plethora of small independent restaurants in their neighborhood. I love Chicago. We found a tiny Middle Eastern place where the food was excellent. The real culinary highlight of this stop was the Chicago style hot dog at Wriggly Field.

So that was my Food tour of Lake Michigan.

Problem Solving Test

By way of introduction, there’s a couple of things I want to mention about this next story.

As far as being relevant to this blog, It serves as a baseline for my cognitive skills. Over time I expect that they’ll deteriorate, and this way my kind readers can let me know when it’s time for institutionalization. I fear when you read this you might find that ship has already sailed.

Here’s the situation as it I saw it this morning at 8:00 am.

  1. I was desperate for caffeine.
  2. I had the ability to make coffee.
  3. I had no cream and no milk.
  4. I don’t drink coffee without cream or milk.
  5. The temperature was -8.

So I had to make some decisions. There was no way that I’m going to drink coffee without cream. Coke, that’s out. On a morning like this I need the reassuring companionship of a hot beverage. So what should I do? I could go to the store and get cream and milk and come back and make coffee. I could go to Caribou and get  coffee and cream hot and ready to go.

Neither of these alternatives seemed very good to me, given the temperature, but as every addict knows, your Jones can get you to thinking in peculiar ways. Necessity however, is the mother of invention (not, as many people think, Frank Zappa) and she gave birth to a stroke or genius. I can make espresso! That’s right, I chose, out of the array of RHD retirement gifts, a combination drip coffee and espresso maker. I can slam down a shot of expresso without any dairy products in it. And that I did. In fact, since you can’t make just one shot on this machine, I slammed down two. The second one with sugar and caramel flavoring. Problem solved!

Not quite. I still felt the need for a soothing hot liquid to sip while I’m working. It hit me like a flash, Tea! Green tea to be precise, Jasmine green tea to be more precise. Next question is how to make tea? The one thing you need to know about that question is:

I am not a tea bagger,

I am a tea infuser.

From Russia with Love

On Saturday we finally were overwhelmed by cabin fever and ventured out of the house and into the city. We were glad we did because for one, it didn’t seem that bad out, I’m not sure what the temp got to, but it was sunny and there was no wind so it was easy not to flinch. Another reason is that we saw some great art at the Museum of Russian Art and had a great meal at El Mason.

TMORA is located on 55th and Stevens in a beautiful Spanish Revival Building which was formally a church. It features a great collection of Russian paintings from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, tumultuous times in Russia. The paintings show the progression from an “art for art’s sake” aesthetic to an increasing social agenda and by the end they become instruments of Soviet propaganda.

The other exhibitions were equally fascinating. One featured a collection of matryoshkas, those familiar nesting dolls that have become symbolic of Russian Folk art. If you have an interest in color this display is like a clinic in highly saturated color harmony. Plus the imaginative decorative schemes of the dolls hold a wealth of inspiration for graphic designers.

And finally the photography of Sergie M. Prokudin-Gorskii, pioneering Russian photographer who, with the backing of the Tsar, travelled extensively in Central Asia along the Silk Road in the early Twentieth Century. The photos are remarkable in themselves, but the technique used to capture them is incredible. He used a special camera of  his own invention and took three separate exposures, each with a different filter, using glass negatives. He used a special projector to combine the three negatives for viewing. The Library of Congress, which purchased 1600 of the glass negatives from his estate in 1948, is now using digital scanning technology to make these images easily accessible. This is not only a priceless historical record, but a milestone in the art and science of photography. We’re very lucky to have it here in the Twin Cities, don’t miss it.

I won’t go into great detail about El Meson in this post, other than to say go there, it’s fabulous!

A little art, a little name dropping

springfall_1_775Yesterday’s StarTribune featured some personal connections of note. In the OP-ED section, long time friend Susan Cushman wonders about the role doctors play in the last days of life, if they need to be more forthright with families and patients when confronting the inevitable. Based on recent personal experience Susan, a Doctor herself, inspires us to give thought to what we least like to think about.

medalLucia Watson, chef and proprietor of Lucia’s, who I’ve swapped Walleye recipes with and named a daughter after, is being awarded the prestigious Chevalier du Merite Agricole. “…one of the highest honors from the French Ministry of Agriculture. It’s akin to a knighthood, and recognizes her culinary expertise and focus on locally grown, sustainable food products.” Congrats, Lucia. Oh and if  you’ve haven’t been to the restaurant, you must. You might just name your firstborn after it as well.

Finally may Alma Mater, Carleton College was written up for it’s new sparely appointed student housing. Apparently they’re bucking a trend of schools attracting students by building very posh accommodations. They feel that the more draconian digs will attract a greener thinking matriculate. Although in Minnesota, not having air conditioning between September in May doesn’t sound like a huge sacrifice. Anyway, what’s the big deal? Musser Hall has been there since the sixties!