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Our New Favorite Chinese Place

I should qualify that a little bit.  This is our new favorite local Chinese restaurant, i.e. one that’ll deliver to our place if we so desire.  I probably need to clarify that even more.  I’m talking about Americanized Chinese restaurants and cuisine.  Granted, this is what you find by default, but with a little effort, you can find places that serve authentic Chinese fare.  But that’s neither here nor there at the moment.

New Fresh Wok is located on Larpenteur Ave, just off of Snelling in St. Paul.  They opened up sometime last fall and it took us a bit of time before we actually went and ate there, even though it’s less than two miles from our apartment.  The reason for the delay is that we were hitting a long string of mediocre Chinese restaurants in the area and we were not all that excited about trying another place just to be let down.  The other restaurants weren’t bad, but Lindz and I are used to being spoiled.  When we were living in Decorah, IA, we would frequent two really kicking Chinese places in town (yup, two great Chinese restaurants in a town with a population of just over 8000).  Of course, there is our hands down favorite Chinese place of all time, China Star, in Rochester (located a disturbingly convenient half mile from our future home and 2.5 miles from Lindz’s folks place).  That’s enough of the past.

This post/review is a compilation of a couple of visits, both eating in and getting take-out.

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First up, we have the Thai Styled Mango Chicken.  This was an okay dish.  It had an adequate level of heat to it, but for some reason the flavor was two dimensional.  The veggies were good but the chicken was mushy.  It reminded me of the chicken breasts that I accidentally bought one time that were injected with a saline solution to make them more tender.  It worked, but it felt like I was eating a sponge that kinda sorta tasted like chicken.  Even though the flavors weren’t there, I do really like the concept of this dish.

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One of Lindz’s requirements for a good Chinese place is good Crab Rangoons.  But since they are hard to find, she is willing to settle for Cream Cheese Wontons.  This is one of those tricky things to cook, with it comprising of only a few ingredients, you have to nail it every time.  New Fresh Wok passes with flying colors.

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Outside of Decorah, I haven’t been able to find a place that does a Mongolian Beef to my liking.  Much to my surprise and even more to my delight, New Fresh Wok offers up a really good version.  I like Mongolian Beef best with just beef, onions, and sauce.  They throw in a few more veggies than I would prefer, but it doesn’t detract from the dish.  It’s a nice dish with a salty, earthy base highlighted with onions, garlic, ginger, and, of course, the beef.

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My true test of a Chinese restaurant is a dish that is not even Chinese.  I am obviously talking about General Tso’s Chicken.  This is a dish that needs a teeth shattering batter, tender chicken, and a sauce that will make you thankful for the rice because it cuts the heat.  New Fresh Wok delivers on all of these accounts.  This is the fundamental reason why New Fresh Wok surged to the top of our favorites list.

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OK, I didn’t have the Orange Chicken, but Sheryl really seemed to like it.  Even though she thought it was light on the veggies.

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Naturally, we had to try out a selection from their sushi bar.  And, naturally, we went with the Dragon Roll that has eel and cucumber in the center and topped off with avocado and roe.  Not the greatest roll I’ve ever eaten, but for the price, it was worth it.  Hmm, apparently somewhere along the way I’ve become a total sushi snob.

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What would a Chinese meal be without some tea?  New Fresh Wok served the standard Chinese restaurant tea.  I’m not a huge tea drinker, so that’s all the info you’ll get out of me.  But I really like the tea pot.

If you find yourself in the Roseville area and are hankering for some good Chinese, drop in at New Fresh Wok.  You won’t be disappointed.

Family Time, Beef Wellington, And A Happy Surprise!

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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.

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Yeah, probably should have split this between two pans.

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.

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Cole working hard and getting dirty.  As it should be.

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Cole demonstrating the proper folding technique to mix the ground beef and veggies.

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.

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Here Cole is demonstrating how to brush on egg wash to the edges of the dough.

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.

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Glossy and fresh out of the oven.

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Not too bad for a twelve year old.

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!!!

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Don’t take a drug test after eating this. Seriously. False-positive. Mythbusters proved it.

Bear. Not-Bear.

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.

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Bear is a very red meat.

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These beef, i.e. “not-bear,” patties look very pale in comparison.

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.

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I think there should be a picture of the bear patties frying. Therefore, there is a picture of bear patties frying.

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Frying the other side.

Once both the bear and not-bear were fried up, they looked a lot alike:

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I was trying to do an “artistic” shot here with the not-bear.

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.

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The crew chowing down on bear burgers and watching Big Bang Theory.
(L to R) Lindz, Matt, Sheryl, Dave, John, and Janessa’s foot.

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Since Janessa didn’t fit in the previous shot, she gets her own picture. Well, that and she always has the greatest facial expressions.

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.

Brunch at Longfellow Grill

A friend of ours was up in the Cities from Iowa.  So a bunch of us got together at the Longfellow Grill on Lake St.

Szechwan Beef Salad

I had the Szechwan Beef Salad.  It had beef strips, greens, carrots, fried wonton strips, sesame seeds, and a sweet peanut sauce.  On the side was served a piece of cornbread.  Longfellows definitely earned bonus points for having chopsticks with the salad when they brought it out.  Yes, I used them to eat it too.  The beef was tender and very flavorful.  The greens were fresh but the salad was overdressed.  I liked the dressing but it got really sweet towards the end.  I liked the fried wontons in place of croutons, it fit with the theme of the salad.  The cornbread stole the show though.  It was moist.  I cannot stress that enough, it was borderline dripping.  It tasted like one of the main ingredients was creamed corn.  Not the canned stuff either.  I’m talking the stuff that is made by some hillbilly’s great-grandmother in the backwoods of the South and then smuggled over the Mason-Dixon line and sold to the highest bidder on the black market type of creamed corn.  Yeah.  It was that good.

Biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, and a fruit compote

Lindz had the biscuits and gravy. This choice surprised no one.  Pretty much by default, she always gets biscuits and gravy no matter where we go.  I would venture that it is her favorite dish.  I didn’t try any of it because I was still trying to finish off my own plate.  You can’t tell from the pictures, but the servings were very large.  Okay, I’m going to qualify that a bit.  The servings didn’t look large when they were sitting in front of you, but you noticed it after eating for ten minutes straight and not being able to see any difference in the quantity of the food still in front of you.

As with most of the places I write about here, if you get the chance you should go and eat there.  You will be happier person afterwards.  Probably will want to slip into a food coma, but happier nonetheless.

Pate and Disillusionment

The more I experiment with trying the stereotypical “high society” food, the more I laugh at that whole cuisine.  So far it’s mostly been stuff that I’ve already had before, or really similar to something I’ve already had.  Polenta, for example, is the same as the “mush” that Mom made when I was growing up.  The difference is that Mom would chill hers after it cooked to set it, and then slice it and fry it.  Served up with butter and syrup.  This is as near to breakfast perfection as one can get in my opinion.  Well, served with bacon.  Everything is better with bacon.  Like I posted previously, bone marrow reminds me of dipping your bread in bacon fat.  Venison?  Grew up on the stuff.  Gnocci? Terrines?  Fancy words for potato dumplings and headcheese, both were regular items growing up.  I could go on, but I want to get to my latest addition to this list of peasant food that was stolen and given highfalutin names.  Pate.  Very tasty, but really nothing more than liverwurst.  And I’m sure you’re tired of me saying this, but grew up on that stuff too.

One quick aside before I get to the recipe.  A while back Lindz and I went to Andrew Zimmern’s book signing here in the Cities.  When he was signing it, I told him that I grew up on a lot of traditional Polish foods and most of what he showed on Bizarre Foods wasn’t all that different from what I ate.  He agreed with me and said that as you travel the world you discover that food basically isn’t all different.  I’m beginning to understand this.  You start to learn to appreciate the nuances in the seasoning and the quality of the cook.  And an aside to the aside, if you ever get the chance to meet Zimmern, do it!  He’s a great speaker and a genuinely nice guy.  We had a blast at the book signing.

Now, onto the pate!

This whole little adventure started with a trip up to Mom and Dad’s.  I was rummaging through the deep freeze looking for meat to swipe.  Mom was down in the basement with me and asked if I wanted a package of liver.  I hesitated for about a half a second and then said yes.  At that point, I was just planing on pan frying it with some onions because that’s what you do.  After I got home, it occurred to me that I could make some pate.  After a bit of digging, I found a really basic recipe that sounded good, also it was one of the very few that called for beef liver instead of chicken.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Beef Liver, cut into pieces
  • 1 small Onion, chopped
  • 1/2 C Red Wine (did not use)
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed (used something like 8)
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 sprig fresh Rosemary (used about 1 Tbs dried)
  • 1 sprig fresh Thyme (used about 1 Tbs dried)
  • 1 Tbs Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 C Butter
  • Salt and Pepper

The lovely basis for any good meal.

Saute the liver and onions in a couple of tablespoons of the butter until the livers are browned and the onions are tender.

Good enough to eat right now!

Add wine, garlic, mustard, herbs and lemon juice and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has gone.

I’ve always wondered what could possibly make liver any better? Oh, butter! That’ll do the trick!

Cool and blend to a smooth paste in the food processor (or a stick blender like I did)  along with the rest of the butter.  This is easier if the butter is not fridge cold.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Check the consistency of the pate. If it seems dry and crumbly rather than smooth and creamy, add more butter.

Yeah, I know it look like cheap cat food. But it is earthy / minerally goodness.

Like I said earlier, very, very good, but it tastes just like the liverwurst I grew up on.  Good memories.

Guy’s Night

So my friend Ringer and I had a guy’s night when Lindz was out of town a while back.  I know what you’re thinking, “You’ve mentioned her before and unless something drastic changed, she’s still a girl.”  And you’re right, she is a girl,  but over the years she has proved that she has more testosterone than many males that I know.  Heck, she even went to my bachelor party.  So by definition, she is “one of the guys,” and therefore guy’s night is a legitimate option.  Anyway, we both love to try new foods and the best we could come up that night was a Brazilian rotisserie called Rodizio Grill.  We both decided to get the “Full Rodizio” which included the all you can eat salad bar and the gauchos (I know it’s a poor use of the term, but that is what they were called) with their spits of meat.  I’m not going to go into a full blown review like I did before because it was, well, a pain in the nether regions to write up.  I’m just going to give some brief impressions / highlights of the place.

We started off with a round of the salad bar, and I have to say, for the $20 price tag for that option, it is a bargain.  There was at least two dozen options of green salad, pasta salad, collard greens, cheeses, cous-cous, mozzarella salad, yucca salad, coleslaw, and bread.  I know I’m forgetting a bunch of stuff as well as low-balling the number of dishes.  Two of my favorites were the collard greens and coleslaw.  Not that I’ve had a lot of collard greens in the past, but these were best that I’ve ever tried, and Ringer, who’s had more than I have, also really liked them.   The base of the coleslaw was nothing special, it was just your basic creamy-style slaw, but they threw in shaved coconut and chunks of pineapple which pushed it into its own little realm of mouth magic.  The enthusiasm with this dish didn’t carry over to Ringer.  Oh, well, more for me.  We both decided that it would be well worth the trip again just for the salad bar.

The gaucho’s with their meat was an interesting experience.  We got a little hourglass shaped wooden marker with one half painted red and the other half painted green.  It’s a really simple system.  Green up, the gauchos will check if you want some of what they were offering.  Red up, they will skip your table.  On its side equaled “Check, please!”  You should check out their menu because it is quite extensive.  But here are some of highlights that we tried.  The Bife Com Alho (Beef-e Com Al-yo) is beef that is slathered garlic paste.  I mean slathered.  Even after it was cooked, you could see the layer of garlic that is still on it.  If you are a fan of garlic, this is definitely the dish for you.  My personal favorite of the tasty beef options.  The pork options were all very good, but nothing outstanding.  Without a doubt, my favorite chicken dish was the hearts served with a slice of lime.  They are called Coracao (Cor-da-sone).  The gaucho was quite kind enough to give me 3/4’s of a skewer.  He even mentioned that some people asked for entire skewers just for themselves.  The Abacaxi (Ah-bakah-shee), grilled pineapple, was to die for.  I’ve always been a fan of grilled pineapple and this was exquisitely done.

The best part of all of this is that it is that you can eat as much of whatever you want.  So my suggestion is to try a little bit of everything that sounds good and then get a lot more of whatever tickles your fancy.  A quick side-note is that they claim over 90% of their menu is gluten-free, and from what I saw that is completely true.

I would like to give a special shout-out to the gauchos and the floor manager who were extremely helpful in getting us what we wanted and making sure we were able to try everything that we wanted.  They definitely added to the experience.

Mmm. Happiness is chicken hearts.

And the second failure, kinda.

I’m always interested in trying new and often weird things that other people cringe at.  So when Lindsay tasked me with grocery shopping by myself, I couldn’t resist getting in some browsing time.  And, lo!  To my surprise I found that Cub carries beef marrow bones!  For three bucks and some change, I easily rationalized a cooking experiment.  With a little digging on the good ol’ internet, I found a pretty basic recipe with a nice relish accoutrement.  The recipe that I followed was here, and I highly suggest reading it, if for no other reason than she has much better photos.

Roasted Marrow Bones

Adapted from Fergus Henderson’s recipe

4 center-cut beef or veal marrow bones, about 3 inches long
1/2 cup parsley, chopped (I just used 2 Tbs of dried parsley, cuz that’s what I had available)
1 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tsp. capers
1  Tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
kosher salt, to taste

Thick slices of crusty bread, toasted

Even though the recipe didn’t call for it, I soaked the bones overnight in salted water to remove some of the impurities.  I had to change the water a couple of times.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Stand the bones up on end in a 9 x 9 baking dish.  Put the wider end on the bottom, so they’re less likely to tip over when you move your pan.

I bet you can't wait to dig in, right?

Roast for about 20 minutes, until the marrow is soft and the bones are brown.

"It's in the bone! It's in the bone! It's in the bo-one!" Yup, I went there.

For the parsley salad:  Chop up the parsley.  Peel your shallot and slice it thinly.  Toss the chopped parsley, shallot, and capers into a bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.  Mix with a fork to combine the ingredients.

This concoction has a lot of potential uses in other dishes.

When everything is done, scoop out a little marrow, spread it on a piece of toast, and top with a little parsley salad.

You'll have to trust me that the marrow is under the relish. Not a lot, but it's there.

 I didn’t have any french bread laying about, so I just used some potato bread that I did have.  I was a bit of middle of the road on this dish.  It didn’t overwhelm me with a foodgasm, but it didn’t leave me feel lacking either.  In all honesty, what it reminded me of was when I dip a piece of toast into the grease after I’m done frying up bacon.  Minus the smokey flavor of course.  When I first scooped out some of the marrow, I noticed that an inch down, there was still a definite pink tinge to the marrow.  Even though I’m better about it, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it because of an old hang-up with under cooked meat (thanks, mom).  So I put the rest of it back into the turned off oven where I unfortunately didn’t check on it in time and everything rendered into the bottom of the pan.  I definitely want to try this again, after  all it is a cheap thing to play around with.  But next time, I’m thinking I’m going to pop the marrow out of the bone and slice it into rondelles and fry it on the stove.  I think I’ll have much better control over everything and give a proper review.
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