Sunday, May 31, 2009
I prefer to do my shopping Northwoods style. Over the course of the 11 years that I've been heading to the Siren area I have found a few good spots to source local, wholesome foods that are raised in a respectable manner that I both appreciate and savor. I'll take you on a brief tour of my shopping excursion on Sunday evening as I was dragged kicking and screaming back to reality.
The first stop was at the Burnett Dairy Cooperative in Grantsburg, WI. We've been going to the cooperative for years to pick up perfectly smoked Goudas and other cheeses for cocktail hour on the lake. There is also an assortment of other great happy hour fare (smoked meats, spreads and crackers) and I tend to stop on the way home to pick up a good snacking cheese or a little something to slice for sandwiches during the week. Their cheese selection ranges from the classic American varieties to some tasty European inspired offerings. It's cheese and it's Wisconsin, so you just can't go wrong. Can't make it to Granstburg? The Linden Hills Co-op has a small selection of cheeses from the folks in Burnett County to help you get your cheese fix.
Next stop is one of my favorites, Hennessey's Hidden Pond Farm. The friendly folks at Hennessey's seem as if they are from another time, where things move a bit slower and classic farming integrity is yet to be compromised. They also run a small bed and breakfast, but the reason I hang around is for their natural Buelingo Beef. I know that the word "natural" has lost some of its buzz in comparison to say pasture raised or grass-fed, but I still appreciate what these folks are doing, and think their products are pretty darn good.
I'll start by saying that I prefer grass-fed beef to grain-fed for a number of reasons that likely warrant a different post. I realize that grass-fed beef will never have the "merits" of prime beef - you just can't coax that much fat from such a natural diet, and it's hard enough to achieve a prime quality steak from a grain-fed steer as it is. However, I feel that if prepared correctly, you can have incredibly flavorful cuts of beef that are sourced outside of the realms of the grain-fed stockyards. Hennessey's cattle bridge the gap between grass and corn-fed, offering their animals a diet of hay, corn, soybeans, sunflower, wheat and barley (and thankfully, no animal bi-products). They also have plenty of room to move around and live a peaceful existence, and at $3.10 a pound for ground beef and $2.00 a pound for short ribs, it's tough to beat (they also sell whole halves and quarters in addition to organic eggs and Amish chickens). I think their ground beef is best mixed with some minced onion, an egg, a pinch of fresh thyme and some really good Dijon. Mix thoroughly, form into patties, grill to medium and melt some of that gorgeous Burnett Dairy cheese and you are in for a serious cookout.
Every Minnesota boy likes some meat and cheese, but eventually you need to have some vegetables to keep the blood flowing. I like to balance out the food pyramid at the Melon Vine Organic Farm just down the road from Hennessey's in Pine City, MN. In addition to seasonal produce, they sell a variety of flowers and bedding plants to start your own organic garden. I was already fixed for plants from an early season trip to the Mill City Farmers Market so I decided to focus on the produce. I wasn't very optimistic for variety this early in the season, but managed to find some gorgeous asparagus. Buying straight from the source enabled me to pick up a bunch for only $3, quite a bit less then if I bought from a farmer who had to drive down to a city market. The perfect spears cooked up quickly and tenderly with a little coat of olive oil, some freshly cracked pepper, and a nice little shake of sea salt. Simplicity, indeed.
I'm fortunate enough to have my own northern oasis to escape to on the weekends, but eventually the the beer and food runs out and I have to head home. Thankfully I've met some awesome purveyors who can help ease the pain of the Sunday evening ride home and subside the sting of Monday with a little farm-fresh boost to start my week.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The place sports an old-school speakeasy decorum with lots of dark woods and a cool spiral staircase leading up to elevated seating. We had the big table right in front of the "fireplace" that also serves as the office door. I settled down with a FINNEGANS while my comrades ordered their Manhattans and thought to myself, "I'm going to like this place."
Turns out I was actually kind of wrong. As noted above, the high expectations were based on the names and all the strong recommendations, but the whole night was just really odd. The drinks were in and we were asked if we wanted to order some small plates. We said we needed just a moment, but were ignored for what seemed like an overtly long time (refuse to assign minutes because -they get blown out of proportion). When our waiter made it back over we ordered a couple of small plates and another round to fill our long-since-empty glasses. Again, the wait seemed long, but the largest offense was the staggered service. The lads who ordered bread received their items first. Then a few minutes later the grilled romaine salads came out. Quite some time after that, the shrimp boil and duck prosciutto arrived. I sat there, still waiting for my salad (a cold salad, mind you) for another few moments after the last small plates arrived. The waiter was kind enough to bring a free round of deviled eggs for our troubles, so at that point I told him to "cancel the salad." He claimed they had just plated it, which I took as code for "oh shit, I forgot" and it arrived a few minutes later - right before my entree showed up which is about the worst service blunder imaginable. The starters all arrived at different times and of course mine showed last, with my entree the first out in hot (soon to be cold) pursuit.
Again, the entree delivery was staggared, so I waited patiently for everyone to get their food. Eventually our friends told us to get started as they were now sharing our frustrations. Then it hit me...I ordered a pork dish (on a tip I received from a very credible source, plus I grill grass-fed steaks at home all the time) served with a cherry, bacon BBQ sauce. The dish that sat before me, now cold from the wait (stupid manners) had micro greens on it. Cherry bacon BBQ sauce and micro greens just don't seem to go together. I took a bite and quickly realized this was pork, but not the preparation I ordered. Well sometimes, you just say "screw it" and shut up and eat.
By then I was so hungry, I was just happy to have food (by the by, the pork was served with a citrus and chili-like sauce that would have been really good had the pork still been warm. I thought the comedy of errors was over for the night, but then our check showed and I realized I was over charged for the dish I had originally ordered - thankfully this was a mistake we could have corrected. I tipped back the rest of my beer and began to ponder how this could have gone so wrong? Still, at the end of the day I still had a great night out with the guys in a cool spot. I just wish I hadn't bothered with the food (note - most people did enjoy their food) and just had a few more cocktails for my dinner.
I doubt I'll be back, but have to believe all those reputable sources I heard rave about the place must have known what they were talking about, and hope that this was an isolated incident (I honestly thought I'd freakin' love this place). Regardless, I don't think there is any reason for me to head back given my particular experience.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Every year my family and I take a fishing trip down to the bayou. We usually head to New Orleans to get our blood warmed up, crush some giant redfish and eat some killer food. This year would be a bit different as I had a cousin gettin' hitched in Hilton head, so we decided to take so we packed our bags and headed there instead. I missed New Orleans and especially Cochon, but had an awesome time at the wedding and in Savannah, GA the day after.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Now, shopping at a co-op CAN be expensive. Goods are usually organic or sustainably raised, which usually leads to healthier and better product in MY opinion, but it also makes it more expensive to produce, which in turn makes the goods more expensive to purchase. Thankfully our friends at the Mississippi Market in St. Paul has pieced together a course to help educate folks on how to make co-op shopping as affordable as possible. The class I attended a few weeks ago was both well attended and insightful. I already knew about several of the strategies they taught us, but I also learned a great deal more. I've listed a couple of good take-aways in no particular order:
1.) Arrive organized. OK, so most people are thoughtful enough to whip up a grocery list when they go shopping - no big deal. I'm talking about about putting together an Excel sheet that lists out all the major categories and each item that I typically need in them. It helps me stay focused and I can even type in the bulk item numbers on the sheet so I can be quick at the store. If it didn't make the list, it doesn't go in the cart. If you want to update frequently you can even keep track of pricing. I've found so far that I have less waste than usual using this method. I think the best way to do this is to create one sheet and put it in a transparent sleeve or have it laminated. Instead of writing a list every week you simply mark it up with a dry erase marker and erase when you are done.
2.) Always take inventory. I'm amazed at how many times I've gone to the store and purchased a number of goods only to come home and realize that I still had more than enough, or that I missed something I needed. Taking a solid inventory beforehand can not only save you money in duplicate purchases, but it can also save you time from running back to the store. I always try and build a stock of things I use all the time to eliminate confusion, but taking inventory is simply the best way to help build your list.
3.) Plan meals. Sit down before you go to the store and look at your week. How many meals do you need to plan? Once you've got that nailed down figure out what you want to make. Crack a cook book or hit Epicurious to plan out your meals - the ingredient list becomes your grocery list. I find that if I have my plan ahead of time I end up getting exactly what I need and skip on the non-essentials which are typically more expensive. Make sure your plan is built around perishables and always take leftovers into consideration - nothing is worse then spending money on food right after you've thrown out a perfectly good meal that you left in the fridge too long.
4.) 3 Days 3 ways. Head to Mississippi Market's site to check out their 3 days 3 ways program. Essentially they give you the blue print for stretching a few items across several meals - in the winter I roast a chicken on Sunday and it gives me a solid dinner that night, with leftover meat for sandwiches, salads and another dinner or two later in the week.
4.) Easy on the coupons. You don't really save anything if the coupon persuades you to buy something you don't need. They're designed by the manufacturer to try and get you to buy. Now if it's something you need, stock up. If you don't need it don't buy it.
5.) Hit the bulk section. This seems like a no-brainer, but I mean really study it. I always blew past it or only stopped to get almonds. Once I past it I would go buy packaged whole wheat flower, cous-cous, beans and rolled oats. Then I attended this class and realized I could buy all that in bulk for much cheaper while utilizing less packaging materials. If you haven't stopped by your co-op's bulk section recently, then check it out. You'll be surprised at everything you can get.
Now this isn't a holistic view of all the strategies (shopping seasonally may be the best), but they are simply things I heard for the first time or things I was already doing that I could easily expand upon. I find my total bills are much less then they used to be and I'm eating much better and more creativly then ever before. I strongly encourage you to take up these practices or to keep them up and help support our local producers. I think you'll find the journey most enjoyable.
Friday, May 8, 2009