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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.

My favorite roast chicken plus a couple of new side dishes

This happened around a month ago, so the details are a bit sketchy in my brain.  I know someone came over and ate with us, I recently went grocery shopping, and I needed to use the chicken because it wouldn’t fit in the freezer anymore.  Other than that, make up whatever back story you want.  It probably will be more interesting than what really happened.  Just for the record, I’m not excluding the possibility of a ninja attack.  They’re sneaky like that.

So, the roast chicken recipe is hands-down my favorite one that I have ever done.  I try to do it on a regular basis since I can get great birds from Mom (she raises some for butchering every year).  The recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef, one of my first cookbook purchases way back around the turn of the century.  Also one of my favorites that I constantly turn to first for ideas.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken, whole; about 3 lbs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 Tbs each of Basil, Parsley, and Marjoram; mixed together (I use dried, if you use fresh go with a small handful of each and finely chop them)
  • 1/4 C Olive Oil
  • 1 Lemon; quartered
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tbs of Rosemary (again I use dried, go with 2 sprigs if you have fresh)

Preheat the oven and a roasting pan to 425 F degrees.  Clean up any odd bits of the chicken, i.e. pin feathers, excess fat, anything that got missed inside of the cavity, etc.  Rinse the chicken, inside and out, and pat dry.  Rub the cavity with salt.  I usually use around a couple of teaspoons.  Gently grab the skin, breast side, by the neck and separate the skin from the breast.  The easiest way to do this is to poke a couple of fingers down in between.  Just be careful not to rip the skin.  The skin is attached better between the breasts, instead of trying to separate things, I just leave it as two tunnels.  Sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt down in the tunnels, followed by most of the herb mixture and a drizzle of olive oil into each.  Stuff the cavity with the lemon, bay, and rosemary.  Tuck the wings under themselves and truss up the bird with some kitchen twine.  I won’t go into how to truss the bird because I’ve done it numerous ways and still haven’t found a method that I like and works well.  I’m assuming that it’s more user error than actual methodology.

Make a three or four shallow cuts into the thighs to help the heat penetrate (dark meat takes longer to cook than white) and rub in the remaining herb mixture you have left.  Rub the entire chicken with a little olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Remove the hot roasting pan and add a little oil.  Place the chicken on one side, breast down, and put back into the oven for five minutes.  Switch to the other side, again breast down for another five minutes.  Finally, flip the bird onto its back and cook for approximately one more hour.  When the chicken is done, let it rest for ten minutes or so.  That way the juices can absorb back into the meat instead of ending up on the cutting board.  The skin ends up nice and crispy, while the meat is juicy and flavorful.

For side dishes I adapted two recipes from the book I’m currently reading, A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright.  I’m only about a hundred pages into it, but so far it is a great history of food of the entire Mediterranean area.  There is plenty of emphasis on the food of the poor (which doesn’t get talked about a lot, period) as well as the over the top feasts like when we think of de Medici’s and the like.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in food history.  The first recipe I did almost verbatim from the book, the second, well, not so much.

The first recipe that I did is called Salatat al-Malfuf from Syria.  It is a pretty basic cabbage salad, but I would like to make some tweaks the next time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head Savoy Cabbage (about 1 lb); damaged leaves removed, cored, and shredded
  • 1/4 C Sea Salt
  • 6 Garlic Cloves; minced
  • 2 Tbs Lemon Juice
  • 6 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried Mint (I didn’t use this because I didn’t have any, but I think it would be great in here)

Toss the shredded cabbage in a large bowl with the salt and let it sit for an hour.  Thoroughly wash the salt off of the cabbage by dunking it in water.  Taste a piece to make sure the salt is washed off.  Place in a clean bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.  Serve at room temp within an hour.

I like the idea of this recipe, but letting the cabbage sit that long with that much salt wilted the hell out of it.  I think the next time I do this, I will go lighter on the salt and definitely lighter on the time it sits.  Also, I think the “dressing” of lemon juice and olive oil could be cut in half because there was a lot sitting in the bottom of the bowl when everything was eaten.

The second recipe is called Col-i-flor from Catalonia (the very northeast corner of Spain).  Surprisingly enough, this is a cauliflower recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lbs Potatoes; peeled and cut to the same size as the cauliflower florets
  • 10 oz Cauliflower florets (about one small head)
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp White Wine Vinegar

Place the potatoes and cauliflower in a large saucepan and cover with two inches of slightly salted cold water.  Bring to a boil and cook until both are easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.  Drain and transfer to a serving dish.  Mix the oil, vinegar, and salt to taste.  Pour over  the cauliflower and potatoes and mix, breaking them up a bit.  Serve immediately.

So that’s the recipe from the book.  Here’s how I did it:

  • I skipped the potatoes and just doubled up on the cauliflower because I had a very large head
  • I added a pound of fried and chopped bacon because everything is better with bacon
  • I ended up using 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar just to give it the punch I think it needed

Assuming that you just didn’t skip down to the end, here’s your reward for reading this really long post:

Well worth the effort in the kitchen.

Another Birthday Meal

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 tasted even better than it looks!

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:

This is why Germans entertain me.