I recently came into possession of some burger meat from a bear. My uncle Art went bear hunting this year and he managed to get one. For a man who usually doesn’t say a lot, he was sure talkative when the subject came up. In fact, he’s the one who brought it up. Also, it was his idea for me to take home a couple of packages of bear meat. He kept telling me that he was planning on turning all of it into summer sausage, but once he fried some up, he decided that it was too good to turn into sausage. Along with the meat came the warning that it was a very lean meat, so I should be careful when cooking it so it doesn’t burn. And that I needed to cook it all the way through because there is a risk of trichinosis. Between Art and Mom, I got this information about a dozen times. Of course I remembered all of this from the last time that I had bear, approximately 20 years ago (the last time Art shot one). Crap. I’m getting old.
I didn’t do anything fancy with the bear meat. I just formed patties and fried them up. The reasoning was that I wanted to try it again with no alterations. Also, we had a bunch of people over that wanted to try it for the first time, so I decided they should try it unadorned. The beef I did a la Karen Burger style.
Once both the bear and not-bear were fried up, they looked a lot alike:
Once I had everything ready for supper, I stepped into the living room to let everyone know that the food was ready. In an apparently futile attempt to streamline the process, I had the meat separated into two different (and distinct) bowls. I held one up and said “Bear,” and then held the other bowl up and said “Not-bear.” I then had to explain it again thirty seconds later when they stepped into the dining room.
Since you’ve read this far, I should actually tell you about the flavor of bear. The steak that I had twenty years ago was very sweet. I know that sounds odd, but that was the dominant flavor. It was by far the richest piece of meat that I had ever eaten, before or since. It was only about a 8 oz steak and I was a teenage farm boy, nevertheless I could barely finish the thing because of how intense the flavor was. The best way that I can describe the sweetness is to liken the taste to beef with a berry sauce. Not 100% accurate, but it should at least point you in the right direction. This is what I was expecting when I was frying up the burgers. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I tried the burgers. It had a lovely game flavor (you definitely knew you weren’t eating beef), but it was lacking in the rich, intensity that I was searching for. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it immensely and I’m plotting to swipe another package over Christmas.
Our friend Dave made this recipe for us when Lindz found out that she didn’t get into any of the Ph.D. programs she applied to. Which in hindsight was a good thing, but that is another story.
A handful of months go by and Lindz wants to make some soup because our friends Paul and Jill are coming over for the evening. Lindz decided to make chili and got the recipe from Dave. By some freak coincidence, this happened to be the day that Alice had passed away. Earlier in the day, Lindz got all the ingredients necessary, so I decided that we might as well make the chili since we still wanted Paul and Jill to come over.
Our track record with the chili is 2 crappy times out of 2 times eaten. I dubbed this recipe Condolence Chili because of this record and the fact that it’s good enough to distract you (even for a little bit) from your sorrows. It’s best eaten with some really good friends.
- 1-2 lbs of Ground Meat (we used Chorizo with the cases cut off)
- a 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
- 3 15 oz cans Beans (we used Black Beans, but feel free to mix them up a bit, i.e. black, pinto, navy, etc.)
- 2 Chipolte Chilis in Ancho Sauce
- 2 tsp Sugar
- 3/4 tsp Salt
- 2 Tbs Oil
- large Onion, medium dice
- Chili Powder
- 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
Put the tomatoes, beans (drained and rinsed), chipotle chilis, sugar, and 1/2 tsp of salt in a large stockpot and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until needed at the end. Heat 2 Tbs of oil in a large skillet over med high heat and add the onion, chili powder, cumin (both to taste, about a Tbs each), and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt. Mix well and cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Increase the heat to med high and add the ground meat. Break it up as it cooks and cook it until it is no longer pink.
Transfer the meat/onion mixture to the stockpot and bring back to a simmer. Let this cook for a minimum of 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve. Like any soup or stew, the longer you let it simmer, the better the flavors will blend.
As usual, I serve chili with grated cheese, diced onions, and sour cream on the side so people can add what they like. I personally add them all.
With cornbread as the obvious number one choice, what is the next best thing to go with chili? That’s right, garlic bread! Lindz talked me into making it the way I did when we lived back in Decorah. Not that it took any convincing to get me to do it.
- loaf of French Bread
- 2 sticks of Butter (yup, that’s a half of a pound), softened
- 2 4-4.5 oz jars of Minced Garlic
Slice the bread horizontally down the center (or into 1″ rounds). Spread a stick of butter on each half and then a jar of garlic on each half. Hey, I never said this was a healthy recipe.
Place the bread on a baking sheet and put into a preheated oven (at 375 degrees) for about 20 minutes. I’m not actually sure about the time, I just check it every five or so minutes. Pull it out of the oven when the bread is golden brown and toasted.
Jill is a master of lettuce salads. This time she brought over one that contained apples, raisins, feta cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette. It had a nice blend of flavors with the crisp apples, sharp feta, the sweetness of the raisins, and a nice tang of mustard and vinegar.
My family is Catholic (with the stray Lutheran or two), so when my Grandfather Mike passed away back in ’76, a mass was said for him. That has turned into a yearly tradition which has been going strong ever since. As other relatives have passed away over the years, they have been added to the remembrance.
The mass is held at my parent’s church (which also used to be my grandparents) and afterwards, everyone heads over to the farm to BS and eat lunch. So I thought it would be fitting to use this as a post on the one year (-ish) anniversary of starting this blog. The reasoning is pretty simple. Family gatherings like these have been a major influence on my life, both culinarily and communally. I look forward to this event each and every year because it’s one of the few times that I get to see a large portion of my family. That and the food. The Czecks love to eat. And they love to eat good food.
I just want to point out that the food has been scaled back significantly as the years have gone by. The food this year completely covered the kitchen table and the desserts took up a decent portion of a counter.
As noted in a previous post, my nephew Cole helped me make a kale salad (I really promise this post is coming soon). My aunt Rosie (and hubby Gary) went to the State Fair this year and she sat through a twenty minute demonstration in order to get this wild rice salad recipe (at least I think this is the recipe). I’m glad she was patient because it was very good. It had avocado, steak, wild rice, and all sorts of other goodies in it. One of my other aunties, Mary Ann, had a freezer full of pheasant, so she used this opportunity to get rid of some of it. Much to everyone’s delight I might add. She fried off the pieces, made a pan gravy, and finished it off in the crockpot. She had some of the younger kids come up to her and tell her how good it was. It was really cute. Some of those kids have never had pheasant before. It warmed my heart that they were willing to try something completely new and even more that they liked it.
Mom was the one who made the sausages. She picked up five pounds of the polish at Thielen’s (as usual) and it all disappeared by the time everyone was through eating. It really is that good. I can’t talk up that meat locker enough.
I think there may have been a riot if my sis, Chell, didn’t make coffee cake. (I’ve posted the recipe before.) I don’t even care that she didn’t make the poppy seed version because she sent a whole apple one home with Lindz and me. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very easily bribed with food. It’s even easier when it’s really good homemade food.
I was joking with my cousin Jon about the popcorn balls that he brought. I asked him if he was trying to class up the Czeck gatherings by drizzling chocolate over them. He just smiled sheepishly and chuckled. Good enough of an answer because they were a chocolate-caramel delight.
I’ve tried for years to get Mom to sit down, relax for a minute, and grab a bite to eat. But she is having none of it. At this point, I ask the token question of if she needs help and then let her do her thing. For the record, I do gladly help when she asks for it.
As a final note, I am endlessly amused watching people on the farm. It started out many years ago with my cousins. They would run around like wild animals crawling over the hay bales, running through the woods, sitting on the tractors, chasing the cats, mooing at the cows, and spooking the chickens. Or what I would call a normal day. Now that my cousins are older and have kids of their own, I get to watch the next generation do the same thing. And you know what? It still hasn’t gotten old.
So this past Sunday was the annual gathering of the Czecks for the Mass said in remembrance of our deceased relatives. I’ll have more on that later. But since my Aunt Janey was giving me crap about being so far behind in my posts, I thought I would put up a picture from Saturday.
My nephew, Cole, wanted to help me cook something for when people came over the next day. Lindz and I were mean and made him finish his homework before he could help. Once he was done, he and I started making a kale salad (again, more on that later). Somewhere in the process, Lindz took a picture of us working. Cole was a bit ambivalent about the final product, but I think it’s a great salad. Although, he did enjoy the toasted nuts that went into it. I had to tell him repeatedly to either eat the whole salad or stop picking the nuts out. Eventually he listened.
I’m thinking we try something more complicated next time.
My primary goal for the trip was to eat myself stupid with seafood, and up to this point in the trip, I think I was doing pretty well. My secondary goal was to do a proper New England clambake. Not surprisingly, everyone was on board with this decision.
I originally wanted to do the whole dig a pit, throw in some coals, seaweed, seafood and stuff, cover it with a tarp, wait a bit, and enjoy. But that idea died quickly when we checked the rules for the beach and no form of flame was allowed. So, off to the stove-top! Well, eventually. Gotta get the stuff first.
We stopped by a small place to purchase our seafood. They had a modest, but good quality, selection of bivalves. The lobsters were divided into different clothes baskets according to their weight. We bought two one-pound-and-a-halfers, but they did have one monster of bug. Our best guess is that it weighed in around five pounds and covered half of the bottom of a clothes basket.
The recipe for a clambake is really easy. It sums up as: gather the ingredients, layer them in a huge pot, and cook. The specifics are as follows:
Once everything is layered in the pot, cover, turn the burner to high, and cook for 17 to 20 minutes. Basically, until your potatoes are tender and the lobsters are bright red. Everything else will be done by the time these two are ready.
It was decided that the easiest way to divy up the lobster was first to remove all the meat from the shell. Easier said than done for a couple of novices.
The clambake was a little on the expensive side, but split between five people it was really reasonable. I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a blast cooking it. And guessing by how quickly it was devoured, I think that they enjoyed eating it as much as I did. The lobster did end up slightly overdone, but it still tasted great. The mussels and clams were the hit of the party though. Basically it’s hard to screw up really fresh seafood (as long as you don’t overcook it). The only thing not eaten was some of the sausages and potatoes.
Yup, it was good.
. . . So I guess I’ll catch up a little on my posts that I’ve been neglecting. I’m going to do the less involved ones, so don’t pretend there is any actual chronological order here. It’s just what’s convenient for me, and that’s what’s important right?
We ate out a couple of times at places that are worthy of posting. The first one is Mac’s Fish and Chips located on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul. I cannot speak with any authority about any dishes beyond the cod and chips basket, clam and chips basket, deep fried cheese curds, and salt-water taffy. I’ve never been able to convince myself to order anything else because this subset of their menu is just that good. This is a place that I cannot possible recommend enough. BTW, chips = french fries in the British parlance for those not in the know. Oh, I should note that Mac’s wraps the baskets in newspaper like they do back in England. It’s a nice touch.
The other place of note that we ate at was Muffuletta on Como Ave. I had never eaten there before so I was interested in going to an alumni dinner that Lindz’s school was throwing. Ok, I was interested in going for a reason beyond just free food. Maybe Narren was right, I am just a food whore. But I think that is a topic for another post. Anyway, Muffuletta is a bistro style place with a globally inspired menu. Since the school took over the whole restaurant, there was a limited menu. I got the salmon wellington and Lindz got the mushroom risotto. Hers was very tasty but nothing I haven’t eaten / made before. I have to admit that curiosity drove my decision to have the salmon. Ever since we honeymooned in Jamaica where I had the most amazing beef wellington, again a topic for another post, I’ve been fascinated with the dish. The salmon dish was over some roast veggies and some kind of cream sausce that I can’t remember the specifics on. On the whole, the dish was good and put together well. My only complaint about it was that the salmon was over cooked. I don’t know of a solution to the problem, so while it is a critique, it is not a judgmental one. It is just something I would have liked differently. If that makes any sense at all.
Last week we went out for our friend Martha’s birthday. Her chosen destination was Mario’s Bar at Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit in Minneapolis. Gasthof’s is a German beer hall with everything that you would associate with the idea. Loud people, lots of drinking, drinking songs, beer, wandering accordions, boots full of beer, waitresses that looked like they just came from the set of The Sound of Music (I know that it’s set in Austria, but that’s close enough for this Polack), beer, cabbage, schnitzel, oh, did I mention beer? Our schedule got messed up that day and we were both very hungry by the time both of us got home, so we decided to head over there early and get some food in the dining room before heading down into the bar. Despite having some Germanic blood in her, Lindz isn’t too fond of German cuisine. I, on the other hand, revel in it. I mean what’s not to love? They have all sorts of sausages, cabbage with nearly everything, dumplings, bacon, mushrooms, and really that is just the tip of the iceberg! Lindsay ended up getting some chicken soup with homemade noodles and the shrimp appetizer plate. I got the Halbe Gebratene Ente, or in English, the half roast duck. It came with a dinner salad (pretty boring), red cabbage (cabbage and beets, which I found surprisingly good considering that I don’t like beets), cranberry sauce for the duck (num!) and I chose the german potato salad (take out the mustard and add dill pickles, bacon and warm it up, which is truly divine). Here, this might give you a better idea of what I ate:
It’s not in the picture, but I had a Hacker Pschorr Alt beer with my meal. It is a dark beer from Munich, but it is nice and smooth. Not bitter at all. I was only able to make it two-thirds of the way through the plate before I had to call it quits. Also by that time, we were technically running late for the party in the bar.
Downstairs was great. They had a Polka band playing, people dancing, and apparently a Bad Christmas Sweater party going on. Here I got myself a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. A nice Hefe-Weizen with a little bit of “chew” to the consistancy, just the way I like it. It was a fun and relaxing get together. I’ll leave you with a sign that I saw in the bar: