A couple of months ago I had a free weekend, so I decided to head north to visit the fam. Specifically, to visit Grandma. She gets lonely sitting in the nursing home even though Mom and everyone else tries to pop in on her as often as they can. If I’m away too long, Grandma starts to bug Mom about whether I’ve called or not. So, it just makes everyone’s life easier when Grandma is happy. I don’t mind though, she keeps me on my toes.
Unfortunately, Lindz wasn’t available for this trip (Grandma wasn’t happy about this, she likes it when Lindz visits). But just to let Lindz know what she was missing out on (food-wise, that is), I sent her a picture of a snack I cobbled together out of the fridge.
Lindz was amused, she sent back a picture of pizza rolls and juice and told me that I was missing out. Although, I did get the impression that she didn’t feel like she was missing out on anything with my snack.
Several weeks ago Lindz found a Groupon for Nye’s Polonaise, the premier Polish restaurant here in the Cities. Which is located in the Nordeast section of Minneapolis (you know, where the Polacks have lived for generations). I’ve been itching to go there for years. The urge gets worse when I’m working out in the western ‘burbs because I drive right by Nye’s on the way home. Anyway, the Groupon was getting close to expiration, so we made plans to make a date night out of it. After the usual bit of “What time do you want to go?”/”I don’t know, what time where you thinking of going?” we decided that sooner was better. This turned out to be a good idea. There weren’t many table filled when we got there at a quarter to five, but when we left around 6:30, there were people waiting at the door for their turn to be seated.
Based on the recommendation of my boss, Steve-O (also a Polack), we started the meal off with a Polonaise Martini each (Chopin vodka, dry vermouth, and olives). As much as I secretly yearn to be James Bond, I really need to come to accept the fact that I’m not a martini drinker. I can appreciate the quality of the drink, but it’s just not my cup of tea, so to speak. After the round of martinis, Lindz switched to her standard Bombay Sapphire G&T (gin and tonic) and I tried a Polish beer that I haven’t had before. Okocim O.K. Beer is a full bodied pale ale that is really good. Not too light and crisp, but also not too dark and heavy. All in all, a very nice beer for all occasions.
For our appetizers, I ordered the pickled herring. Hey, I’m a Polish kid in a Polish restaurant in the Polish section of town, what did you expect? Lindz got the Cheese and Potato Pierogi. The herring was very good, if a bit overpriced. I do consider it a worthwhile purchase because it was emotionally comforting to be eating herring in that atmosphere. Herring always reminds me of my Grandparents, Nick and Bert (really it’s Enoch and Bertha, but we’re all about brevity and nicknames). Grandpa and Grandma have both made and purchased an obscene quantity of the pickled fish over the years. Combine that with the mid-20th century decor of Nye’s (it’s not retro, they just haven’t changed it in 50 years) that I’ve seen in countless places with my Grandparents and you’ve got yourself a very nostalgic Polack on your hands.
Lindz and I both thought the pierogi were good. Though she prefers the ones at Longfellow’s Grill (which I haven’t had yet). I really liked the fried onions that came with the dish. I thought they added a nice savory/sweet taste to the pierogi.
For our entrees, Lindz ordered the special of the evening, creamy pesto shrimp linguini. Even though the shrimp were a bit overdone, Lindz did like the dish. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of it. I’m trying to find that delicate balance of doing a decent job of documenting these dishes in public without being that annoying prick of a food blogger at the next table who does a full photo shoot with the flash going off like a thunder storm.
Lindz and I both opted for the house salad over the soup with our entrees. That was a mistake. The veggies were fresh and the dressing was good, but the salad consisted of lettuce and a wedge of tomato. Soup would have been better.
I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted to eat until I saw one item on the menu that was an answer to all of my prayers. The Polonaise Platter (sensing a theme yet?) under the section labeled Polish Specialties. It came out on a small serving platter (the kind that you put a full roast on). I just want to say that again to emphasize the amount of food that was placed before me. It came out on a small serving platter. It comes with a link of kielbasa (sausage), golabki (cabbage roll), three pierogi (filled dumplings), kluski (potato dumpling), zederka duszone (braised spare ribs), and of course kapusta kizona (our beloved sauerkraut, i.e. fermented cabbage). I’ve got a lot of ground to cover here, so I’m just going to take one item on the plate at a time.
First up is the Polish sausage. I’m heavily biased with quite a few foods because my family has been perfecting certain items over generations. At the head of that list is sausages. Grandpa Nick would make his own every year and I’ve had very few that comes as close to the perfection of his version. The ones served at Nye’s are good, but not outstanding, even though they come from the Kramarczuk’s, a well known and well regarded deli in town.
My family rarely made cabbage rolls, so Nye’s is fighting a fair fight here. In fact, Nye’s stands out quite proudly. This was by far the best item on whole platter. It was meaty with a nice flavor of caraway and garlic. The cabbage leaf cover added a sweet note to each bite.
As far as I can remember, no one in my family has made pierogi, so once again Nye’s has the edge here. At this point I had already tried the cheese and potato pierogi appetizer, and those were good, but not great. The ones that I had on my platter were much better. The one with sauerkraut was okay. The one with mushrooms was quite tasty. But the standout one was the one with a cranberry filling.
Kluski is a vague term that can apply to anything between a solid dough dumpling to noodles. The kluski served at Nye’s was a flour and potato dough made into a dumpling slightly smaller than a baseball. It was good, but like all the kluski that I’ve had, it is a really dense dough, so the bigger the dumpling, the harder it is to cut and eat. Which is why I prefer the kluski Mom makes (around the size of the top two sections of your pinkie finger). Flavor-wise, there really wasn’t any difference between Nye’s and Mom’s. In short, it was a good dumpling, even if it was a bit large.
Growing up on the farm, I’ve eaten a lot of ribs over the years. My desire and taste for them have grown and ebbed many times over the years. Currently I’m in a pro-rib phase, so I really enjoyed the ones at Nye’s. There was no dominant spice flavor which leads me to suspect that they were boiled with the kraut that it was served with. Which isn’t a bad option if the kraut is good.
Which leaves me with the kraut. I’ve never really appreciated kraut until I was in my twenties. Now I crave it on a regular basis. I’m not talking about the weird overly processed stuff you find at the grocery store (although Frank’s is pretty decent). I’m talking about the stuff that is made in 30 gallon crock jars sitting in the basement of your grandmother’s house. The kraut at Nye’s is arguably better then the stuff I grew up on. It is less sour (less fermentation) and heavier on the caraway seeds, which I’m a fan of. This was the other stand out item on the platter.
As I was explaining to Lindz earlier today. I had a great time at Nye’s. Even though I had never been there before, I felt totally at home. A super casual atmosphere and a lot of dear-to-my-heart comfort food is available. Plus our waitress was super awesome. I really look forward to making more stops here.
I’m going to leave with a saying that I saw on the menu: Jedzcie pijcie i popuszczajcie pas (Eat, Drink, and Loosen Your Belt).
P.S. For those of you going “This place sounds really familiar, where have I heard of it before?”, the answer you’re looking for is that it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.
This recipe is mind-blowing amazing! I found it over at the Not Without Butter blog. It is called Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. If you like Asian cuisine, you’ll love this dish.
I tried it out on some chicken feet that I had in the freezer. Yes, I had chicken feet around but no wings. That’s how I roll. And before you ask, yes, they are edible, and yes, they are quite good. I do suggest that you peel off the skin, cut off the last knuckle, i.e. the claw, and give them a good wash. Or if you’re lucky, your little sis will do all of this for you.
I’ll play nice and give you the original recipe.
- 1 1/2 pounds Chicken Wings, tips removed, drummies and flats separated
- 3 Tbs plus 2 tsp Fish Sauce
- 3 Tbs plus 2 tsp Sugar
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
- 1 Tbs minced Garlic
- 1 Tbs minced Ginger
- 1 Tbs Veggie Oil
- 1 Tbs Lime Juice
- 2 Thai Birdeye Chilis, finely minced – I used dried chili peppers
- Cilantro leave for garnish (optional)
Mix 2 tsp fish sauce, 2 tsp sugar, and the black pepper together and coat the chicken with it. Let it marinate for a half hour.
In a steamer, bring some water up to a boil and put the chicken in the basket. Steam it for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. While the chicken is steaming preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Over medium heat, saute the garlic and ginger in the oil until they are crispy and golden. Once that is done, strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and save the garlic and ginger in another bowl.
When the chicken is done, remove from the steamer and pat dry with some paper towels. Brush the flavored oil all over the chicken and place them in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake the chicken in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Flip everything over and bake for another 20 minutes.
Once the chicken is done baking, drain them on a paper towel if necessary, and place in a large bowl. Make the sauce by combining the remaining fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice. Mix together until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and chilies. Pour over the chicken and toss to evenly coat. Pile it onto a plate and garnish with the cilantro and serve.
I went into this recipe with the knowledge that if I left the feet in the oven as long as you’re suppose to leave the wings, I’d end up with a desiccated mummy of a chicken foot. Even though I drastically cut the time in the oven (7 minutes per side), the feet still ended up being over cooked. I’m thinking of a couple of ways to get the crispy skin and not have them turn into leather. One plan is to skip the steaming and just roast them, and the other is to steam them and just throw them under the broiler for a couple of minutes per side. A benefit of the roasting that I wasn’t expecting was that the gelatinous nature of the feet was significantly muted. I don’t mind that texture/stickiness, but it can get to be a bit much after a few feet.
All that aside, the flavor was wonderfully amazing. The sauce had a nice punch to it which was rounded out by the freshness of the citrus, garlic, and ginger. The fish sauce added a nice background note of earthiness that I associate with Asian cuisine. All in all a very simple and very solid sauce. I can’t wait to try this recipe on some wings!
I’ll leave with one of Mom’s favorite sayings: “If you don’t like what I’ve made, go make your own supper!”
First off, that is a great name for a pub. Simple. Unpretentious. Easily shortened: the Blue Door. Rolls right off the tongue. Unique, as not to be confused with another establishment. Great name.
Our good friends, Miles and Sarah, were in town for a preaching convention (yeah, I now know more pastors than I had ever thought possible). Since we don’t get to see each other in the flesh all that often, we decided to go out and have supper together. Miles, being a fellow food lover, suggested The Blue Door Pub in the Highland Park area of St. Paul. This was a great choice because it is close and they have amazing food. The downside is that everyone around the area knows that they have great food. Which translated into a 45 minute wait for a table at 6:30 pm on a Thursday.
The main reason (other than good food and good company) Miles wanted to have the Spam Bites.
As previously noted, I do love me some Spam. So, basically, there was no possible way this evening was ending without having some Spam. We also ordered the Deep Fried Pickles and Cheese Curds for our appetizers.
The spam bites went beyond my wildest dreams. The bites consisted of diced spam and diced pickles, held together in a mass of cream cheese. Then gloriously battered and deep fried. If you’ve ever had the pickle/cream cheese/ham wraps before, these tasted just like that. Deep fried pickles are out of this world. The tart vinegar taste pairs very nicely with the beer batter and the garlic aioli. Cheese curds are a Midwest staple (the really good ones squeak against your teeth). They only improve if you batter them and deep fry ’em. If you’ve never had any of these before, I most definitely recommend it. Just not too often. You know, heat attacks and such.
The burger of choice that night was the Merriam Park Juicy Blucy. Three out of four of us ordered it, and it will make sense as to why in just a sec. The Merriam Park is a hamburger stuffed with bacon, bleu cheese, and garlic. Them topped with a red currant jelly. See? You want one too, huh? All of the stuffing makes for a really rich and full bodied bite. That’s where the jelly comes in. It gives that bite just a hint of sweet and tart to balance out the flavor. At the moment, it is my clear favorite Blucy. I opted for the deep fried green beans as a side. Though it was a close call because their tater tots are worlds beyond your fondest memory of them as a kid. Really. They are that good.
So if you ever find yourself in St. Paul (specifically, Highland Park) swing on over to The Blue Door Pub. It is without a doubt worth the wait in line.
P.S. A quick shout out and a thanks to Miles for letting me use his pictures (the top and bottom ones).
I had forgotten about a particular tradition until Lindz visited one of her professors before Christmas. Her professor receives a box of citrus from one of his former students every year during Advent. When Lindz showed up to visit, he had just gotten his yearly present and he realized that he couldn’t eat it all before it went bad. So, Lindz ended up with a box of fruit.
The tradition that I forgot about was the giving of a certain bag of “goodies” at Christmas time. This bag consists of an orange (maybe an apple too), nuts in the shell (usually peanuts), and some form of candy (candy canes, old fashioned ribbon candy, chocolate coins, etc). With a bit of research on the good ol’ internet, I found that a lot of people used to get these in their stocking from their parents. Personally, I received it from our priest every year as a youngster. I’ve heard of this custom off and on over the years, but never knew the origin. I’ve always assumed that it was a “healthy” and/or “inexpensive” gift. But the more that I heard about it, it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t just a local Catholic thing, it was far more widespread phenomenon. This year I finally took the time to do the research. It turns out that the actual origins are pretty murky. Frustrating, but not surprising. On the web, a lot of people remember this as a kid, and many continue it with their own children. Most people are comfortable with the answer of “I don’t know. It was just something that grandma (or whomever) always did.” They assume that it either came from the old country, (Italy, Poland, England, etc) or it dates back to the time when oranges were a rarity and hence an actual treat, or some combination of these two factors. While I can see these two reasons being factors, it just didn’t feel right for how widespread and long lasting this experience is.
Wiki to the rescue!
In his (St. Nicholas) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes . Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him . . . and drops the third bag down the chimney (where) the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.
Ok, but how do we get from a bag of gold to an orange? Here is where symbolism comes into effect. The best explanation is that an orange is a similar color to gold and that oranges are similar in shape to bags of the shiny stuff. Also, in some European countries, oranges have symbolized Jesus’ love for the world. I’ve listed a bunch of the more interesting links that I’ve found at the end of this post.
Now that the history lesson is over, on to the food!
We weren’t eating the box of oranges as fast as we should have and they were in real danger of going bad. So I had to come up with something to use a whole bunch of oranges at once. I’ve had a venison loin sitting in the freezer since last fall and it seemed like it would be a perfect pairing for an orange pan sauce that I had in mind.
Since the sauce was going to be the star of the show, I simply cut the loin into medallions and pan fried them in a bit of oil.
As a side, I went with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic all mashed up together.
Once the venison was fried off and resting, I made the pan sauce. The recipe that I borrowed quite heavily from is the Orange Pan Sauce with Middle Eastern Spices from the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook. I really wanted the sauce to be a “Friday-night-drunken-barroom-brawl” explosion in your mouth, so I went very heavy on the OJ and zest.
- 2 Shallots, minced
- 2 tsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1/4 tsp Pepper
- 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
- 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1/4 C Orange Zest
- 3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
- 2 C Orange Juice
Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbs fat from the skillet (of whatever meat you are making). Place skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in sugar, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond. Add the orange juice, increase heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 C, about 10 to 15 minutes. Off heat, season with salt to taste. Spoon over meat and serve.
I managed to create the citrus barrage that I was intending. Plus, the other spices weren’t lost in all of the citric acid. They were a nice background note in the sauce. What is even better, is that the sauce worked equally well on both the meat and the roasted veggie mash. All in all, I was quite pleased with this meal. In fact, I am hoping the bag of lemons that we have in the fridge right now linger around a bit so I have an excuse to try this with a different citrus.
p.s. Sorry if there is less snark in this post than usual. Lindz has been hoarding our household’s share of it lately.
An informative page, with emphasis on the Canadian Prairies.
A well-researched page (much more effort than I put into mine) that is a nice narrative.
This page looks at this Christmas tradition with regard to its English origin.
A sugar- and food-centric page that emphasizes the sweet and preservative aspect of fruit.
An interesting audio story from Minnesota Public Radio about the impact of a couple from Minnesota and their influence on the Christmas orange tradition here.
A not very helpful page with regards to Christmas oranges, but a still very interesting read.
A wonderful page full of Polish Christmas time traditions.
My little sis, Sara, wanted a pepper grinder for her birthday this past summer. So Lindz and I found her a nice one and gave it to her (it ended up being a couple months late, but we’re pretty chill about this kind of thing in my family). Then my uncle Art discovered it. Mom had written a note to remind herself to tell me that I needed to pick up one for Art. Somewhere along the line, my nephew Cole found said note and added his name to it as well. Christmas rolled around, so we gave a grinder to Art and another one to Cole.
Since Cole has been expressing an interest in cooking, Lindz and I decided to pick him up a cookbook as well. The one Lindz selected was Jamie’s Food Revolution, by none other than one of my favorites, Jamie Oliver. Personally, I like a couple of his other cookbooks better, but I couldn’t argue with Lindz’s logic. This book is a spin off of the time he spent in Huntington, West Virginia, where he started a grassroots campaign to end obesity and to get people to eat healthier. While working a bit with the community as a whole, he concentrated his efforts on the school lunch system because that is where he felt he could do the most good. As a result, this cookbook is geared towards a novice in the kitchen and the recipes tend to be on the easier side. Like I said, I couldn’t argue with her logic.
I ended up giving Cole the cookbook a day early because I told him that I was kidnapping him one day, so we could cook supper for people. (I saved the pepper grinder for Christmas day and judging my how much he was bouncing around, I think he liked it). The recipe I picked out was the Ground Beef Wellington. Before we started, I told Cole that he was cooking and I was just there to make sure he didn’t burn the house down.
- 1 medium Onion
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Celery Stalk
- 1 Potato
- 2 cloves of Garlic
- 2 Portabella Mushrooms
- Olive Oil
- 4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
- large handle of frozen Peas
- 1 large Egg
- 1 pound Ground Beef
- Salt and Pepper
- AP Flour, for dusting
- 2 sheets Puff Pastry
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel and chop the onion, carrot, celery, and potato into 1/4″ dice. Finely grate the garlic. Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms to about the same size. Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil over medium-low heat in a large frying pan and place all the veggies in it.
Pick off the rosemary leaves, finely chop them, and add them to the pan. Fry and stir the veggies for around 8 minutes, or until they soften and color lightly. Add the peas and cook for another minute. Put the veggies in a large bowl to cool completely. Crack an egg into a cup and beat it until it is mixed. Add the ground beef to the bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add half of the beaten egg. With clean hands, mix everything up.
Lightly dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour. Lay the puff pastry sheets one on top of the other. Roll out the pastry so it is roughly 12″ x 16″. Dust with flour as needed. Turn the pastry so that the long edge is towards you and place the beef mixture along this edge. Mold the beef mixture into an even log. Brush the edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg.
Roll the beef mixture up in the pastry until it’s completely covered. Squeeze the ends together. Dust a large cookie sheet with flour and place the Wellington on top. Over all of the Wellington, brush with the remaining beaten egg. Bake in the preheated oven for an hour until golden brown.
Since we were cooking for a fairly large crowd, we did a double recipe. Also, since I am apparently inept at finding puff pastry, I just used the croissant dough in the paper tubes. Cole and I did have a minor argument about who got to pop them open. I thought this recipe was a bit under-spiced, but it was well received by everyone.
And now for the surprise!
Chell tried out a different family recipe for coffee cake. She said it was an easier dough to work with, but she liked the crumbles from the original. I would have to agree with her on the topping. These were a bit doughy instead of a nice sugary consistency. The new recipe had cinnamon in it, which wasn’t a bad addition, but I prefer it without. But most importantly, she made it with a poppy seed filling! And even better, she sent a poppy seed one home with Lindz and me!!!
Earlier this past summer, I “liberated” some crappies out of Mom’s freezer and fried them up. (Relax, she told me to take them.) Well, I finally got around to writing about it.
I didn’t do anything fancy with them. I was just trying to use up some pantry supplies that I’ve had forever, namely some corn meal flour and panko bread crumbs. The only seasoning that I added to each was a bit of salt and pepper.
Once they went through an egg bath and a dip in whichever dry mix, I just pan fried them in some oil.
The corn meal ones turned out quite exquisitely. The panko ones, well, not so much. The batter ended up mostly falling off. The taste of what was left on was nice, there just wasn’t a whole lot there. Fortunately the fish stood up well on its own, so it really wasn’t a complete loss. What I should have done is pulverize the panko crumbs so they were fine like the corn meal. Lesson learned.