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The Golden Age of Sci-Fi

Okay, this one’s not food related, but I think it’s really fun.

One of my favorite genres of literature is science fiction.  There is a special place in my heart for the 1950’s Sci-Fi writing (commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction) and the artwork that goes along with it.  Both the writing and the artwork were based on science, but at that time, we knew so little about space travel, a lot of imagination had to be thrown in.  It ended up being a wonderful, if not campy at times, blend of easy and entertaining reading.  The fondness for this style of Sci-Fi has stuck with me since I read my first Asimov book (The Naked Sun, if I remember correctly).  In fact, I’m only 1 of 2 people that I know that actually enjoyed the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  The terrible acting and bad CG just made it that much more enjoyable because it fit in with my notion of the pulp Sci-Fi that the story comes from.

So, you can imagine that I was giddy as a school girl when I found the Pulp-O-Mizer!  It allows you to create your own cover of a Sci-Fi pulp rag.  So I naturally had to make my own.

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Fun Fact For The Day

Because I was at a friend’s bachelor all day yesterday, I thought this would be apropos:

Americans walk an average of 730 miles per year and drink an average of 20.5 gallons of beer per year. Which means that the average American gets 35.5 miles to the gallon.

A couple of unique beers I’ve had recently (not yesterday):

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A nice lager from the Zamkowe Brewery in Poland, which is almost 700 years old (est. 1321)!

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A very malty ale with a fun name from the Lagunitas Brewery.

A Very Polish Review

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.

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Yup. Brace yourselves. I’m going to go there.
It’s more than just O.K.!

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.

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The individually wrapped crackers did throw me for a bit of a loop, but they did add some needed color to the plate.

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.

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A plate load of fried carbs, starch, and fat. What’s not to love?

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.

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Under that pint sized jar worth of kraut lies a half rack of ribs. You can see part of the kielbasa sticking up on top of the photo. The cabbage roll (upper) and kluski (lower) are wedged into the right hand side of the mound of kraut. The three pierogi look miniscule and a bit lost way off on the right.

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).

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Yup. Fell asleep on the couch on date night. I’m such a romantic guy.

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 One Is For The Adventurous Sort

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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.

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Cue the “Ewwwww!”

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.

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Looking better . . .

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.

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You have to admit they look pretty darn good at this point.

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!”

The Blue Door Pub

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.

Ob-la-di.

The main reason (other than good food and good company) Miles wanted to have the Spam Bites.

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They look innocent enough . . .

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.

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I’m going to start referring to this plate as The Holy Trinity of The Blue Door Pub.

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.

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I present to you the Merriam Park Juicy Blucy.

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).

Arctic Weather and Homemade Soup

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been having a proper Minnesota winter.  More often than not the highs were topping out in the single digits with wind chills hovering around -15 degrees Farenheit.  If you’ve ever lived in this climate, you know how appealing a piping hot bowl of soup can be.  In the middle of this cold snap, our friend Ring came over for a visit and I decided to make some homemade french onion soup.

This is yet another example of the necessity to properly read through the recipe and plan accordingly.  The first night I ended up staying awake until one in the morning cooking the onions.  Not the best thought out plan.  Of course, the other option was to be eating at 10 p.m. the next night.  But, I digress.

The recipe I used is from the 9th season of America’s Test Kitchen.

Ingredients – Soup

  • 3 Tbs Unsalted Butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 6 large Yello Onions (approx. 4 lbs), halved and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • Salt
  • 2 C Water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 C Dry Sherry
  • 4 C low-sodium Chicken Broth
  • 2 C Beef Broth
  • 6 sprigs Fresh Thyme, tied with kitchen twine (I just used a heaping Tbs of dried)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper

Ingredients – Cheese Croutons

  • 1 small Baguette, cut into 1/2″  slices
  • 8 oz shredded Gruyère Cheese (approx 2 1/2 C)  (I used Mozzarella because I’m too cheap to drop $20 on cheese for one recipe)

For the Soup:  Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed pot (at least 7 quart) with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 tsp salt.  Cover, and cook for 1 hour.  The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.  Remove the pot from the oven and stir, scraping the bottom and sides.  Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar.  Continue to cook the onions until they are very soft and golden brown.  This will take 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer.  At the 1 hour mark, stir the onions and scrape the bottom and sides again.

(This is a good stopping point if you want to split up the cooking.  Just let the pot cool and stick it in the fridge till you are ready to get back to the cooking.)

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First part of the cooking done and I was off to bed.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and place it over medium-high heat.  Using oven mitts to handle the pot, cook the onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, approx. 15 to 20 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the bottom of the pot is coated with a dark crust, approx. 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Stir in 1/4 C of water, scraping the bottom to loosen the crust.  Cook until the water evaporates and another dark crust forms.  Repeat the deglazing 2 or 3 more times until the onions are very dark brown.  Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, approx. 5 minutes.

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Starting to look like a proper french onion soup.

Stir in the broths, 2 C of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Scrape up any final bits of browned crust on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Increase the heat to high and bring up to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard the herbs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Liquid added, flavors melded, and almost ready to eat.

For the Croutons:  While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree F oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at the edges, approx. 10 minutes

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Lacking the proper bowls, I found an alternative path to get the crouton with melted cheese on top of the soup.

To Serve:  Adjust the oven rack to 6″ from the broiler and heat the broiler.  Set individual broiler-safe crocks on a baking sheet and fill each with 1 3/4 C soup.  Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (don’t overlap) and sprinkle evenly with the cheese.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, approx. 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

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Not quite the standard french onion soup presentation, but every bit of the flavor is there.

From start to finish, this recipe took me around five and a half hours to complete.  Granted, half of that time was waiting for the onions to brown in the oven, so it was time-consuming, but not very labor intensive.  Just make sure you give yourself a nice big block of time when you plan on cooking this.

Ring gave me crap about not properly melting the cheese on top, but my feelings would have been hurt otherwise.  Lindz said that this even surpassed the french onion soup at one of the restaurants where she used to work, which previously was her favorite.  Score one for the TJ!  For a relatively short list of ingredients, I thought that this method gave a nice depth to the flavor of the soup.

Smoked Herring!!!

For some people, it’s music.  For others, it’s snow, or even the neighborhood lighting up.  But for me, Christmas is finally here when I get my hands on some smoked fish.

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No matter what form herring takes, it is a great fish.

This urge I can trace squarely back to my grandpa Nick.  When I was little, he would always buy smoked fish around this time of year.  It was usually smoked whitefish.  Which I do try and pick up on a regular basis.  The other one that he would buy (when he could find them) is blind robbins.  Blind robbins are small herring fillets that are so salted and dried that they turn into a jerky version of a salt-lick.  My saliva glands are going into overdrive just thinking about them.

While wandering around Cub Foods today, I ended up at the seafood counter.  This is an area that I tend to avoid because I’m weak willed and usually end up buying something from there.  In this case it was a surprise package for Lindz (post coming as soon as I make it) and a pack of whole smoked herring.  I’ve had one already and it was quite good.  A little heavy handed on the salt, but it had a nice strong smoke flavor.

So, I say to you, Happy Holidays and eat some fish!