Monday, October 15, 2012

Culinary adventure take two, Travail Kitchen and Amusements

On our second day of the Fall culinary adventure we traveled to Travail Kitchen and Amusements for a spectacular dinner experience. We were told to arrive at around 4:30 pm as they opened at 5:00 and to be prepared to stand in line until the doors opened at 5 to procure a spot, because this place was very popular.
They were not kidding. We arrived at 4:00 and no one was there so we walked around the neighborhood for a while and came back at 4:15 and there were two young ladies there so we stood in line and soon there were about 25 people there waiting for the doors to open ( they don't take reservations). The time came to open the doors and we entered with instructions to take a seat at the bar or at the long multiple-seat table in the center of the room so that is what we chose and it turned out to be providential to our enjoyment of the experience. We decided on the tasting menu @ $70.00 per couple and added a beer and some wine to the bill. Our servers were 2 or 3 guys and ladies and began our experience with a shooter of thick cranberry juice with a parsley and thyme foam which was quite interesting. Next came a first course of  eight total consisting of a flower pot with two kinds of cake in the form of "dirt" with several other ingredients and a "fertilizer" of curry. It was fascinating!

The courses were interrupted with little bites of amazing creativity, such as a Pork Belly Pop and an Italian Meatball and a small panna cotta that I can't remember the name of, then a second course, soup with popped wild rice and red wine foam and then a mushroom soup poured over it in a bowl to create a beautiful soup with exquisite flavor. The third course was an amazing array of Beef Tartare, Beef Carpaccio, Horseradish Foam with Beef Jerky, Shredded Egg Whites with Truffle Oil, Red onion Marmalade, and a Course Ground Mustard with a fried cracker to stack all of these delectable delights on.
the fourth course was a Agnolotti pasta, stuffed with Wagyu Beef Cheeks and a red wine foam, microgreens and an aioli that I  can't remember. Next was a plate with spaghetti and Italian sausage meatballs, two  perfectly cooked Sea Scallops and  pureed Eggplant Parmigiana with Tomato powder and peeled tomatoes.
The fifth course was preceded by our server bringing a small crock with cover and a topped quail egg on top set on a bed of mashed potatoes. He told us to wait until the next course was presented and then he came with a small pot of broth and told us to pour the quail egg into the broth he had poured into the crock and stir  it around and wait for the next step. Soon he came with the Chicken course and told us to pour the now Egg Drop Soup into the chicken platter that consisted of a sliced chicken breast and chicken thigh with no bones and chicken skin wrapped around the meat. It was amazing to say the least! I wanted to lick the plate clean of that broth, it was that good. The chicken was that tender and moist and the skin crisp and tasty.
Next was a palate cleanser that was the talk of the restaurant. Our server came with a smoking pot of something we couldn't recognize and he told us it was a blueberry yogurt frozen with liquid Nitrogen and he said it was time-sensitive, so I had to down it as soon as he put it in my little cup he had provided. I put it in my mouth and there was a literal explosion in my mouth like pop rocks and smoke coming out my mouth and nose like I was about to catch fire. The restaurant crowd was watching and cheered when they saw the smoke coming out of my mouth. It was hilarious!
Our next course was a lovely Risotto with a variety of ingredients that I can't remember and topped with crumbled Ginger Snaps. Excellent! The dessert courses were next and the first was a trio of Macaroon, S'mores and Cream Soda that was exquisite.
Our final stop on the culinary experience was a Halloween dessert of toasted Marshmallow over a trio of fillings decorated like a graveyard and topped with hand made cotton candy. I did not want this evening to end because it was so amazing and delicious. Another bonus was the fact that we were seated at a long table with about 14 other people who were enjoying the food as much as we were and it was like a little community of new friends enjoying an experience together. It was the highlight of our culinary weekend and I cannot wait to go back and enjoy the 15 course tasting menu. You simply MUST try this place for an experience you will not forget!
Great eating,

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The first stop on our culinary adventure weekend.

A Culinary Adventure weekend

Teresa and I just returned from a weekend of culinary adventure in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. We had originally planned to do Kansas City but those plans fell through so we decided on the Minnesota version. We researched several restaurants in the area and settled on a few that sounded like our style and made a tentative schedule and hit the road. I made a reservation at our first stop on the tour for Thursday evening at Sanctuary, on Washington Ave. in Minneapolis. It is a beautiful space, decorated in a Gothic style with a few Gargoyles here and there but not overdone. It felt very comfortable and not too stuffy  or too dark. The host greeted us and it turned out to be a guy I went to high school with and also happened to be one of the owners, Mike Kutscheid. Small world. We decided on their tasting menu and our server Ericka explained the process and we began.
The bread service was a locally baked baguette with garlic oil and spiced toasted almonds. Very Nice. The first course of five was a cheese course with a hard goat cheese, olive oil and Fleur de Sel with Kalamata Olive and cornichon, paired with an Italian Pinot Grigio. It was a great cheese and I will be looking for it. Next, was the salad of roasted beets, dressed microgreens and Lavender, paired with an amazing Chateau de Campuget Rose that we both thought was the best wine of the evening.
The third course was a surprise of a spicy lamb sausage slider with baby bok choy and a green cherry tomato salad. It was paired with Angeline Pinot Noir from Santa Rosa, California, which cut nicely through the spiciness of that lamb sausage and lent some fruitiness as well. Next was a gorgeous risotto with preserved walnuts and sun-dried tomatoes. It had a nice sweetness to it brought by the walnuts which I had never seen before. They are whole walnuts, picked early before they are ripe and preserved in a heavy sweet syrup and they are soft to the tooth, which was somewhat strange but delicious. the risotto was paired with Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc, aged in smoke to "soften" it a bit. It was excellent.
All during this experience, Ericka asked if the pace of courses was right, if we needed anything more, explained the courses and ingredients as well as the pairings of wine and the reason for them. She was an excellent server! The dinner was very relaxed and she made it that way.
Our final course was dessert and it consisted of a square of fine mixed chocolate on a Cayenne Chocolate sauce with a Dark Chocolate Ice cream and Dark Chocolate coated crisped rice kernels arrayed on the plate for a touch of crunchiness. Ericka then surprised us when she said she had made something special for us; a Bloody Sidecar cocktail with a few different liqueurs, Blood Orange juice,Prosecco, and topped with a skewered slice of that preserved walnut and some Curcao faux caviar beads on it. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful dinner. The quality was excellent, the presentation elegant and the flavors spot-on. We will be back and I highly recommend it for your dining enjoyment.
Good eating,


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

Tonight I am testing a recipe that I found on for a Butternut Squash soup. I am about to cook for a 100 person lunch at my  church, The Vineyard, in Duluth, MN and I want the dishes I do to be pre-tested and good before I experiment on 100 people. I cooked for this same group last March and they have asked me to do it again next week. Last time I did a Creamy Asparagus  soup and a Chicken with Ancini De Pepe. I am going to repeat the chicken soup but it is Fall and Butternut Squash is in season and I like it so here we go. I have tweaked the recipe to what I think I would like and I will include it here for your enjoyment.
I begins with 1 1/2 lbs. Butternut Squash, skinned, seeded and cut into 1/2" pieces.
6 slices of thick cut bacon cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Celery ribs, chopped
1 Carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
3/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 medium apples, cored, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups homemade Chicken stock
2 cups water
In a 6 qt. heavy pot, cook the bacon until crisp and remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Reserve 2 T of the fat in the pot. Cook the Celery, Carrot and onion in the fat over low heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Add the Cinnamon and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the Potatoes, Squash, Apple, Stock, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon Salt and 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper and 1/4 teaspoon White Pepper and bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.
Add 1/2 the cooked Bacon and use a hand blender or process in a regular blender in small batches until very smooth. Serve the soup topped with Sour Cream, Bacon bits and some croutons if you like. This is a very nice soup! It will serve 8-10 people as a first course, or 6-8 for a main course.
Good eating, my friend!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Venison Confit

Venison Confit

1/2 t fennel seed
1/2 t Cumin seed
6-8 Juniper berries
Toast spices and put in a grinder, then put into a bowl. Add 1/3 t dried whole Rosemary, 1 t Kosher salt, 2 scoops finely ground coffee, 1/4 t ground Rosemary, 4 Bay. leaves.
1 Venison steak
Coat Venison steak in light olive oil and rub the spice mixture evenly over both sides of the meat. Place in a small baking dish and cover with plastic wrap, then place in the refrigerator for 48 hours. Pre-heat the oven to225 degrees. Rinse off the spices and place a little oil in the bottom of the same baking dish.
Add the meat and cover it completely with light olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 4-6 hours.
Uncover the meat and pull it apart with a fork. Serve over fresh pasta with a mushroom/bourbon sauce or a reduced red wine sauce. It can also be an appetizer on crostini with soft cream cheese and caramelized onions.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Venison Confit Success

I recently had the honor of cooking for the annual Wild Game Dinner at my church, The Vineyard, in Duluth, MN. We were expecting anywhere from 150 to 200 men and it turned out we served 180 in the final tally. It was so much fun for me that I can't properly express it. I had some great help in the kitchen thanks to the organizing efforts of my friend Charlie Plys. We cooked anything we could get our hands on to feed that many people and it worked out that all were fed aplenty and we had a smidgen of leftovers to boot.
My dishes for the dinner were Venison Confit with Smoked Onions, Mushrooms and Fettucini Pasta and Venison Bourguignon. I have done the Bourguignon before and it was a hit and I will share the recipe here but the big deal for me was the Venison confit. I have played around with this before and reported it here on this blog but with no really good conclusion to the dish. This time however, it was a real success. Here is the deal:
This will do a small amount for an appetizer or main entree for about 4 people.
1good sized Venison steak or 2 chops
1/2 t Fennel Seed
1/t Cumin Seed
6-8 Juniper Berries
Toast the spices above in a skillet over medium heat and then put in a spice grinder and pulse until coarsely ground and then into a small bowl. Add 1/2 t dried whole Rosemary, 1 t Kosher Salt, 2 scoops (about 2 T)
finely ground coffee, 1/4 t ground Rosemary, 4 bay leaves.
Coat the venison in light olive oil and place in a small baking dish. rub half the spices on one side of the venison and flip over, rubbing the other half of the spices on the second side. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrgerator for 48 hours.
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Remove the venison from the refrgerator and rinse off the spices with cool water. Place a little olive oil in the bottom of the baking dish and place the venison on top of it. Cover the meat completely with light olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil very tightly and place on a sheet pan. Bake  at 225 degrees for 6 hours. uncover the meat and pull it apart with two forks into shreds.
Smoked Onions:
I use an aluminum 9x13 cake pan with aluminum lid for my smoking chamber. Place about 1/2 cup Apple smoking chips in the bottom of the pan and place a sheet of aluminum foil poked full of hole over the chips. Take a medium sweet onion and cut into quarters.Set the onion quarters on the foil and place the pan over a gas burner or on your gas grill for about 20 minutes. the onions should have a nice golden brown look about them but may not be quite fully cooked yet. remove them from the pan and slice them into smaller pieces and saute them until nice and soft.
Meanwhile, to complete the dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook 1/2 lb of Fettucini for about 9 minutes until slightly al dente.
Place 2 T olive oil in a saute pan and add 1 T Anchovy Paste ot 2 oil packed anchovies and cook until the Anchovies blend into the oil as though they have disappeared, about 2-3 minutes.
Add 1/8 cup minced Garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Slice 1/2 lb of Baby Bella or Button Mushrooms and saute along with the Anchovy and Garlic until all the moisture has been released, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add about 1/4 cup Red Wine to de-glaze the pan and cook until the wine has reduce by about 1/3. Add the shredded Venison and Smoked onions and cook until heated through. Stir into the cooked Fettucini, drizzle with a little Olive Oil and serve.