Monday, December 29, 2008

think of kale, especially when it's -5 outside

I think about kale a lot, perhaps too much. It's an underrated vegetable for sure, and its resilience to cold and frost deserves some serious respect. I took this picture about six weeks ago in mid-November. By that time, St. Paul, MN experienced two frosts and one snow storm (when I took this picture). I harvested it the same day, to make sure we did not push our luck.

If you live in Minnesota, you know that gardens typically do not support life into November, with the exception of a few lucky pumpkins or squash. I planted this purple lacinato kale, an Italian heirloom variety, in late summer in preparation for a fall harvest, since it's always exciting to have a few things to eat after the August/September vegetable rampage. The other day it was -5 at 12:00 pm. It's amazing to think that only one month and a half has passed since eating the last gift from the garden. These thoughts keep me warm during the arctic months.

I've posted my favorite kale recipe below. Tuck it away for next season. Now, if you live in the Upper Midwest and you want to cheat, you could buy some California kale, which is in season right now, but it certainly won't be the same as brushing the snow off your own crop.

This recipe serves 4 as a side dish.


  • 2 large bunches of kale, trimmed of tough stems
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ground black pepper
  • sea salt
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  1. heat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. wrap the garlic in foil and roast for 45 min to 1 hour - garlic should be soft and golden brown. set on the counter to cool.
  3. while garlic is roasting, bring a large pot of water to boil and add a big pinch of sea salt.
  4. put the kale in the pot and blanch for 3-4 minutes, until thickest part of leaves is tender (but not mushy!).
  5. remove kale from pot, put it in a colander, and run cold water over it until it's very cool to the touch.
  6. using a clean dish towel, squeeze all of the water out of the kale, then pull the individual leaves apart.
  7. when garlic has cooled, slice the top of the head using a sharp serrated knife and squeeze garlic into a small bowl (it should be nice and pasty at this point). add a pinch of salt and black pepper.
  8. heat two tablespoons of oil in a small skillet. when the oil is hot, add the red pepper flakes and garlic, stirring constantly for 1 minute to keep them from burning.
  9. add the kale and saute for 3-4 minutes until hot. remove from heat and stir in a splash of vinegar and another pinch of sea salt. Serve hot or luke warm.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

depression = polenta and fried eggs

If my last recipe wasn't thrifty enough for you, then hold on, because this is about as cheap as one can possibly eat. Everyone is saying that the economy will only get worse, so enjoy potato leek soup while you can - it may soon be a luxury.

Every so often, our family faces an empty refrigerator, and just when we're about to order pizza or consider going out, we go back to this recipe as an extremely simple, delicious meal from pantry staples. Polenta, or grits if you live below the Mason-Dixon, are a true blessing to the weeknight chef. Otherwise known as coarsely ground cornmeal, polenta is available at any grocery store, and many co-ops offer it in their bulk sections. It keeps in your pantry indefinitely, so it's an item every home chef should have on hand. Also, if you live in the Midwest, polenta is often ground from local corn - a good way to continue eating locally during the cold winter months.

Aside from olive oil and parmesan cheese, the only other ingredients you'll need are eggs. At around $3.00 per dozen, organic eggs are perhaps the cheapest source of animal protein available to the frugal locavore. You could save money buying conventional, manufactured eggs, but once you learn about the conditions in which those birds live, you'll be happy to shell out an extra dollar for some ethical, quality product. Besides, if you eat eggs as a way to cut down on the amount of meat you buy, spending a little extra should not be a big deal.

I saw this specific recipe in the NYT's Dining section, which is an excellent source for simple meal ideas (especially the Mark Bittman articles). Serve it with a salad or some sauteed greens for a complete, balanced meal.

This recipe serves 4 people.


  • 4 1/2 cups low-sodium broth or water
  • 1 1/2 cups polenta (not quick-cooking), coarse corn meal or corn grits
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
  • 1 1-ounce chunk or 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 large eggs
  • Coarse sea salt for garnish.
  1. In a large pot, bring broth or water to a simmer. Stir in the polenta and salt. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened to taste, 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in butter and pepper; cover pot to keep warm.
  2. Using a vegetable peeler, slice cheese into slivers, or grate it on largest holes of a box grater.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil until very hot. Fry 4 eggs until edges are crispy and yolks still runny. Repeat with remaining oil and eggs.
  4. Pile polenta into 4 bowls and top with cheese and then fried eggs. Garnish with sea salt and more pepper and serve.

Monday, December 15, 2008

recession = potato leek soup

During a recession, many people look critically at their grocery bill as an opportunity to cut costs. This is a good idea, as long as you don't sacrifice healthy, seasonal, high-quality products for mass produced items at a lower cost. Rather than use the economy as an excuse to stop shopping at the co-op, perhaps you should rethink exactly what you're buying, and how you're preparing it. For example, you could eat less meat, or purchase seasonal produce that typically costs less than off-season delicacies (such as strawberries in January, which you shouldn't be buying in the first place). If you live in northern climes, your choices will be limited, but the payoff is huge, both economically and emotionally.

If a bull market is steak and lobster, then a bear market is potatoes and leeks, preferably in the form of soup. With a dollop of butter or sour cream, and some good bread, this soup is a filling winter meal that costs less than a six pack.

Millions of people have survived on the potato alone. If you have access to water and some onions or leeks, a whole world of flavor awaits. This recipe appears on the first page of Julia Child's epic "Mastering The Art of French Cooking," and with good reason. The simple combination of inexpensive, seasonal vegetables embodies the frugality of peasant cooking without sacrificing flavor. More importantly, excluding salt and water, this recipe only has two ingredients. It is the easiest soup recipe I've ever made. Anyone can and should make homemade soup. No excuses.

This recipe serves 6 people.


  • 1 lb peeled potatoes, thinly sliced (any variety will do, but I like Yukon Golds)
  • 1 lb thinly sliced leeks, or sweet onions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 TB salt
  • 3 TB butter
  • 3 TB minced parsley or chives

  1. bring water to boil in a large soup pot
  2. add salt and vegetables, bring to boil
  3. lower heat and simmer, partially, covered for 40-50 minutes
  4. turn off heat, and using a potato masher or empty beer/wine bottle, puree the vegetables in the pot by pressing them against the bottom of the pot (this is much easier than it sounds)
  5. if using butter and herbs, stir them in and serve immediately. a dollop of sour cream on top also works well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

i just have to write about shish

On this busy section of St. Paul's Grand Avenue, a very wise man has reinvented Middle Eastern cuisine in the Midwest. This cozy, sleek little restaurant, simply known as Shish, not only has a solid menu of freshly prepared Middle Eastern staples, but it has managed to produce these dishes using a lot of natural, local ingredients.

With our toddler in tow, my wife and I stumbled into Shish this evening for a quick meal. This was my first time eating there, but my wife had been to Shish once before and was anxious to return.

We spent at least five minutes combing the large menu to make a selection, but the lure of freshly made falafel sandwiches proved too strong. I was particularly eager to try Shish's falafel, as one of my preferred vendors is another St. Paul gem, Abu Nader.

After placing our order, I noticed a sign on the wall promoting an "organic hamburger" special. Despite a recent surge in popularity, it is awfully difficult to locate organic meats in Minnesota restaurants, especially in less formal eateries. I then asked one of the employees if all of their meats were organic or free range, and was told "hold on, I'll ask the manager."

A friendly, excited-looking man appeared, and boldly told us that they only use organic ground beef, and all of their other meats are procured from sustainably minded, local producers. The manager then said "Wait here. I will show you the ground beef." He vanished into the kitchen and returned holding a package of Dakota Beef, which appears to be a reputable Midwest producer of organic beef.

The manager then said: "We buy only high quality meats from local producers, because people come here for the food, and we want to give them the good stuff." Right on.

Needless to say, our falafel sandwhiches were superb, tasting of all the good stuff this little restaurant has so carefully sourced for its patrons.
I don't think they have an official website, but you can find basic info about the restaurant here. And if you have seen their site, please post the url here.

1668 Grand Ave.

St. Paul, MN 55105


Update 07/08/09: Shish now has a website.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

the locovore's holiday

Thanksgiving is the food holiday. Christmas and Easter have their hams, and Halloween its candy, but none of the other major U.S. holidays are as explicitly tied to the stomach as Thanksgiving. After all, the image that appears in most people's minds is a feast at which the pilgrims give thanks to native Americans for their generosity in helping the new Americans survive the harsh winters of their new found home. It also celebrates the riches of the fall harvest, which is perhaps the most exciting part of the holiday to gastronomes. So not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is an exceptional opportunity to build a menu of local foods from area farmers and artisans. Even in northern climes, Thanksgiving typically arrives during the very tail end of the fall produce season, and many farmers' markets hold special market days on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

What's more, holidays are great excuses to break from routine and seek out some truly unique food items. This makes Thanksgiving an excellent time of year to expand your local food knowledge and cooking repertoire, even if you don't consider yourself a rabid locovore. To give you some examples of how one family decided to spend their Thanksgiving dollars and calories, I've posted our menu below, which we served to 10 family members. We didn't purchase every ingredient from in-state sources (in our case Minnesota), but we did try to design a menu that used as many local products as possible, given our particular climate. I've listed each menu item and the origins of its major components below, as well as any relevant links.

Summit Winter Ale (Minnesota)
Schell's Pilsner (Minnesota)
Vinho verde (Portugal)

hors d'oeuvres
potato chips (Old Dutch, Minnesota)
assorted pickled peppers (our garden)
dry-cured salami (Volpi, Missouri)
marinated olives (Spain)

roasted beet salad
organic gold beets (Wisconsin)
Sartori parmesan-style cheese (Wisconsin)
organic radicchio (California)
olive oil (Italy)
balsamic vinegar (Italy)
organic walnuts (unknown)

stuffed turkey breast with prunes
organic, free-range turkey breast (Farm on Wheels, Minnesota)
organic pork shoulder (Farm on Wheels, Minnesota)
pancetta (Italy)
bread crumbs (old bread from New French Bakery, Minnesota)
parmesan-style cheese (Sartori, Wisconsin)
organic rosemary (Rockspring Farm, Wisconsin)
organic sage (Rockspring Farm, Wisconsin)

acorn squash risotto
acorn squash (Minnesota)
onions (Wisconsin)
organic butter (Organic Valley, Wisconsin)
parmesan-style cheese (Sartori, Wisconsin)
arborio rice (Italy)
olive oil (Italy)

sauteed brussel sprouts with pancetta

brussel sprouts (Minnesota)
organic rosemary (Rockspring Farm, Wisconsin)
pancetta (Italy)

baguettes (New French Bakery, Minnesota)

Yali Cabernet-Carmenere (Argentina)

apple tart
harolson apples (Minnesota)
flour (Minnesota)
organic butter (Organic Valley, Wisconsin)
organic cream (Organic Valley, Wisconsin)
organic eggs (Crystal Ball Farms, Wisconsin)
Cognac (France)

Friday, November 21, 2008

a sustainable strip club?

I'll start this post by saying that this is the first review of St. Paul's most important new restaurant, The Strip Club, that will not include commentary regarding the clever/cheeky nature of said establishment's name. Love it or hate it, it's what the forward-thinking owners of this beacon decided to call it, and I think we have more important topics to discuss, such as the vittles served within. It should also be noted that the chef and owners are fervent supporters of local foodstuffs, so practically everything served at the place is highly seasonal and grown by local farmers.

I'll keep this small but filling. My wife and I visited The Strip Club for the first time for our fifth wedding anniversary. As young parents, and resident East Siders, we don't leave the house for a fancy date as often as we would like, so this outing carried significance beyond the value of a mere wedding anniversary. That said, we entered the fine old building with only one preconceived rule: "eat and drink whatever you want."

The evening digested as follows.

apperetif #1:
old fashioned - just like grandpa's
moscow mule - refreshing, yet predictable

first course:
foie gras* - this local version of the French classic changed my life
french fries - absolutely perfect

*I'll admit, not all foie gras production is ethical or appetizing, but the Gasset family in Caledonia, MN demonstrates a respectful practice of this ancient technique.

apperetif #2:
old fashioned - no comment
moscow mule - no comment

second course:
grilled caesar salad - warm, crisp, and smoky, this salad redefines entree
spinach, beet, and goat cheese salad - simple and seasonal, a must-order

main course:
bone-in ribeye - an intimidatingly sized portion of the best grass-fed beef. hallucinatory.
NY strip steak (the restaurant's namesake) with blue cheese and scallions - exactly what it should be. a juicy, meaty, thick steak, cooked perfectly (rare to medium rare)

I don't remember, but it was f'in good.

flourless dark chocalate tart (we split it) - not unlike crack/cocaine
some-port-from-Washington - a triumph. the perfect pairing for an illicit dessert

single espresso - as it should be

To save you the trouble, I scoured the interwebs to date and collected the most prominent reviews of the Strip Club to date. However, this list does not include the reviews written by The Pioneer Press and Mpls|St. Paul Magazine, who still think it's ok to hide their "archived content."

Star Tribune review
City Pages Dish review
City Pages blog mention
Maria Energia (East Side St. Paul-based green blogger)
Aaron Landry (MN food bloger)

I also found some patron-generated photos on flickr.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

simple provisions: a convenient way to buy the basics

Remember how grandma used to fondly recall the gentle clink of glass milk bottles on the porch? And the peace of mind achieved by knowing that your basic dairy, egg, and bread needs will be met every other week, without having to get in the car? Chances are, some thoughtful person in your geographic locale may be delivering farm fresh products to your neighborhood for a fair price. If you live in the Twin Cities, and enjoy buying high quality, local products from farmers directly, I urge you to try Simple Provisions. Started up by Carter Beck, a Stillwater, MN resident and locavore extraordinaire, Simple Provisions fills a much needed gap in any sustainably-minded family's food procurement model by delivering a select number of basic products, including milk, butter, eggs, bread, steaks/chops, coffee, and even some produce items.

The model is simple: set up an account via email, deposit some money into it via PayPal, and create a "standing order" of the items you want to receive on a regular basis. Our family has recieved milk, butter, eggs, and bread for nearly 6 months now, and the delivery is now a major event.

From the website:

Simple Provisions is a home delivery service featuring organic milk in returnable glass bottles and other local, sustainable and organic farm products. Weekly delivery to homes in and around the St. Croix Valley, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Simple Provisions customers enjoy a direct and vital link to local land stewards who practice sustainable, ecological farming. A Simple Provisions delivery serves as a complement to purchases from the local farmers' market or CSA memberships.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

harvest your own free range, organic, heirloom chickens

As a stomach driven individual, one of the more fulfilling ways to eat is to participate in each step of the process: harvest, preparation, and cooking. Gardeners know this. Mushroom foragers know this. And yes, hunters know this. I'm saddened by the tension that often exists between people who selectively harvest wild raspberries, and the people who selectively harvest the birds that eat those berries. Hunting is one of my passions, as it's an excellent way to spend time with friends/family, get some exercise, and possibly procure some delicious table fare.

In my home state, Minnesota, we have a plentiful (yet shrinking) amount of wild, open space that supports a massive amount of edible plants and animals. For those of you not familiar with the ruffed grouse, it's basically a wild chicken that lives in new growth forests in the northern United States and Canada. Like other chicken-type birds, ruffed grouse obtain most of their food by searching the forest floor for berries, nuts, tree buds, clover, and other tasty bits. Because they spend the majority of their day on the ground (rather than in the air), their meat and flavor resembles that of a free range, domesticated chicken - white and juicy.

For a long time, Europeans and Americans have understood and respected the utilization of wild food sources, but as lifestyles continue to shift away from local food sources, the perceived importance of ethical, sustainable, hunting practices is waning. This is not to say we should all build our own sod huts and eat only what we kill; rather, it's a matter of revisiting concepts like hunting as part of a broader, sustainable eating culture and philosophy.

To further pique your interest, here's a recipe for the next grouse you procure (either through the sights of your 20 gauge, or the freezer of a friend).


  • one whole grouse (plucked*, with feet and head removed)
  • 2 tbsp high quality butter (softened)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bottle of bold, mildly expensive red wine (how many grouse do you shoot?)
  • one small shallot, minced
A note about plucking wild game: Many people think it's a huge hassle to pluck their game birds, so they skin them. Don't follow their advice - when you remove the skin prior to cooking, you remove the fat (the flavor!) and expose the normally juicy meat to intense heat. Plucking is easy work if you plan ahead. Once the bird is shot, field dress it normally, and find a cool, dark, sheltered location, such as a root cellar, basement, garage, shed, or old refrigerator. Using a piece of string, hang the bird by its feet and let age for 24-36 hours. The secret is simple: soon after the bird is shot, it cools and rigor mortis stiffens the birds muscles, including those that hold the feathers in. By aging the bird, the muscles loosen again, and they can be pulled out with ease. Don't whine. Just trust me.

  1. preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  2. wash and dry the bird and make sure you've removed any remaining shot (tweezers work well)
  3. smear one tablespoon of the butter all over the bird (inside and out); repeat with the salt and pepper
  4. find a small, heavy bottomed, ovenproof sauce pan or skillet that will hold the bird(s), heat it over medium/high flame, and add the olive oil
  5. once the oil is hot, sear the bird on all sides using a tongs - should be golden brown when you're done (4-6 minutes)
  6. put the pan in the oven and roast for 15-30 minutes (until internal temparature reaches 150 degrees - this is wild game, not some sickly factory bird, so don't worry)
  7. once the bird is ready, put it on a small serving plate and loosely cover with foil
  8. put the pan back on the stove and toss in the minced shallot, saute over low heat for 1 minute (don't burn the f'in shallots!)
  9. add 1/4 cup of the red wine and reduce until the remaining liquid has thickened and resembles a light syrup.
  10. off heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter. then carve the bird and drizzle with the sauce.
  11. pour and drink the remaining wine with elegant-yet-woodsy confidence.
*serves 1 tired, accomplished hunter, or two normal people (as a first course)

Monday, September 22, 2008

sow the seeds: support local agriculture longer, more often

I recently read about how Minnesota's own Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy launched "Sow the Seeds," a fund to support sustainable food systems. According to the website, STS "fosters sustainable food systems in the Upper Midwest," and, it appears one of the main ways they do this is through grants and other tools to help small farms produce good food, longer.

From the website:

Imagine serving lush local tomatoes at your next Thanksgiving dinner. How about locally grown strawberries on Memorial Day? Sow the Seeds (STS) wants to make these dreams a reality by helping area farmers develop a longer growing season, and, in the process, create a more vibrant and diverse local food system.

STS is launching the "Local Longer" campaign to help make the local produce season longer for farmers and for shoppers who love local food. By enabling farmers to plant earlier in the Spring and harvest later in the Fall, season extension can help farm businesses grow and the supply of locally grown fruits and vegetables expand.

Friday, September 19, 2008

from animal, vegetable, miracle: agricultural plant diversity

Headed to the grocery store today? Read this beforehand:

[from page 49 of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle] According to Indian crop ecologist Vandana Shiva, humans have eaten some 80,000 plant species in our history. After recent precipitous changes, three-quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the field quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy, and canola.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

diets are not sustainable

Finally, a short, compelling article from the NY Times outlining the current shift from fad, deprivation-style diets to sensible, seasonal meals - that are also enjoyable. Imagine that!

Here's a gem:

The market research firm NPD Group gets a glimpse of national eating habits through the food diaries it has collected from 5,000 consumers since 1980. The percentage of those consumers who are on a diet is lower than at any time since information on dieting was first collected in 1985. At the peak in 1990, 39 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men were dieting. Today, that number has dropped to 26 percent of women and 16 percent of men.

And another:

[...] there are other indicators of a shift in eating habits. In May, the market research firm Information Resources reported that 53 percent of consumers say they are cooking from scratch more than they did just six months ago, in part, no doubt, because of the rising cost of prepared foods.

Sales of organic foods have surged, and the number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled since the mid-1990s.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

fast food promotions for hospitals are not sustainable

While walking down the street the other day, I noticed a shameless promotion painted on the window of a national fast food franchise, which is located right next to a major children's hospital.

Yes, the sign says: "Ask about our clinic and hospital discounts." Enough said.

Monday, September 8, 2008

a sustainable state fair?

As Minnesotans well know, our state fair just came and went, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of autumn (exciting!). While strolling through the fairgrounds with family, I snapped a few photos of things that represented, even in a subtle way, some of the more sustainable habits of fair organizers and fair-goers.

The two main concert stages (Heritage Square and International Bazaar) are sponsored by local breweries. Heritage Square (my favorite) is supported by Schell's beer, the second oldest family-owned brewery in the US, and Summit sponsors the other stage. There's also the infamous "Leinie Lodge" stage, sponsored by the seemingly local Leinenkugels company in Chippewa Falls, WI, but most people don't know that the beer is actually owned by SAB-Miller (South African Brewing), a multinational beer juggernaut.

I was pleased to learn that the hot dogs hidden within the classic Pronto Pup (the original corn dog) are proudly made by a small sausage company from Wisconsin. Sadly I don't remember the name of the company.

The always busy grilled corn-on-the-cob stand now features a large compost bin sponsored by Eureka Recycling. This is quite significant, as the stand sells thousands of cobs per day, which likely adds up to hundreds of pounds of compostable waste. Most people I saw eating corn put their chewed cobs in the huge, butter soaked bin.

Lastly, many of the cheese curd stands feature cheese from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Have you ever seen a sight more beatiful than a crispy, golden, freshly fried curd?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

animal, vegetable, miracle cont'd: book review

As you may have read in a previous post, I'm in the midst of reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. I just discovered that an energy blogger friend of mine, Maria Surma Manka, wrote a detailed review of the book as a post on the Green Options blog. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

recipe: eggplant parmigiana on the grill

The haphazard success I achieved making roasted potatoes on the grill has inspired further experimentation with using a charcoal grill as an oven. As mentioned last time, baking/roasting food on the grill, in place of your indoor oven, keeps your house cool during the hot months. It also maximizes the amount of heat you actually use from your coals, since the most common use of charcoal is high heat, short term, flash-grilling for steaks, sausages, vegetables, etc. It's surprising how long a briquette will generate heat, so put that energy to good use by slow-cooking something before you flip the burgers.

How it happened: yesterday I realized there was a bag of slender, pale-purple eggplants sitting in my fridge, just waiting for a simple summer preparation. My brain immediately leaped to a seductive recipe for eggplant parmigiana in one of my favorite Italian cookbooks, for which the ingredients and technique just begged for smoky hot coals. Moreover, it's not comfortable or convenient to set up a chaise longue in the kitchen, so do yourself a favor and bake this on the grill while soaking up some shade.


  • 2 pounds eggplant (any variety), sliced into 1" disks
  • 2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes (good ones)
  • 1 bunch basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic (slightly crushed)
  • .5 lbs fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (don't even think about the green can from Kraft. if you live in the midwest, try Sartori Parmesan from WI - it's a local alternative to the real stuff from Italy)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Start a full chimney-load of charcoal.
  2. While coals heat up, coat the bottom of a deep-sided baking pan (brownie pan works well) with about 2 tbsp olive oil.
  3. Layer eggplant slices in an orderly fashion across the bottom of the pan - you may need to or three layers to fit all the eggplant. Grind some pepper over the top and drizzle with some more oil. Stuff the garlic cloves randomly into the eggplant layers.
  4. When coals are hot, deposit them on one side of the grill, making a tidy-looking pile (you may need to use some tongs).
  5. Set the baking pan on the grill grate directly over the coals. Cover grill, open vents, and let it cook for about 12-15 minutes.
  6. Remove grill cover and check the color of the eggplant, it should take on a light brown color at this point (if it still looks raw you'll want to leave it on for another 5-10 minutes). You should also use a tongs to check one of the bottom slices, to make sure they're not burning.
  7. Once the eggplant has browned slightly, remove it from the grill and add another 10-15 charcoal briquettes to the existing pile (this is important, as it keeps the grill hot).
  8. Layer the basil leaves on top of the eggplant. Then pour the diced tomatoes over the basil. Then add the mozzarella and parmesan.
  9. Put the pan back on the grill, but on the cool side. Cover grill and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Make sure you don't peek at the dish too early, because each time you lift the cover you release the heat from your grill.
  10. While patiently waiting for cheese to melt, prepare the remaining elements of your meal, which you can cook over the hot side of the grill once the eggplant is done - you should have plenty of heat left in the coals.
  11. Congratulate yourself on yet another rustic, yet elegant, grilling victory.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

must read: animal, vegetable, miracle

For my 29th birthday my very thoughtful wife gave me a book I had wanted for some time: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by the esteemed Barbara Kingsolver. I'm now plowing through the chapters and the content is exceeding expectations.

Based on the three chapters I've read so far, the book mainly focuses on Ms. Kingsolver's experience moving to a farm in Virginia to reconnect with the land and create a lifestyle out of eating locally produced food, exclusively. The prose is very smooth, and it exudes the right combination of personal anecdotes and hardhitting facts about the broken American food economy/culture. Here's just a small taste:

All the world's farms currently produce enough food to make every person on the globe fat. Even though 800 million people are chronically underfed (6 will die of hunger-related causes while you read this), it's because they lack money and opportunity, not because food is unavailable in their countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that current food production can sustain world food needs even for the 8 billion people who are projected to inhabit the planet in 2030. This will hold even with anticipated increases in meat consumption, and without adding genetically modified crops. [page 18]

So where does all this food go, you ask? According to Kingsolver, "most of it becomes animal feed for meat consumption, or the ingredients of processed foods for wealthier consumers who are already getting plenty of calories." You can add the production of ethanol to the mix, too. Think twice about that bag of Tostitos.

I'll try to share some other tidbits as I move through the book - stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

light your grill sustainably

I know it's obvious to veteran charcoal grill-masters, but I'm consistently shocked by people who ask: "what is that metal thing?"

I'll keep this short: avoid the use of nasty charcoal fluid. It smells awful and isn't good for your food or body. Instead, purchase an inexpensive chimney-starter (pictured), which uses old newspaper to start coals for cooking. Enough said.

There are several schools of thought debating the correct way to use this device, but here's a process that works for me every time:

  1. locate two full pages from your daily newspaper (or your neighbor's)
  2. crumple up one sheet and place it in the underside of your starter
  3. fill the top with charcoal, place on grill grate
  4. light paper and let it burn off completely
  5. load the second piece of newspaper into the bottom
  6. light paper and let it burn off - your coals should be emitting some smoke and heat at this point
  7. drink 1-3 beers while waiting for coals to heat up (15-30 minutes, depending on the weather and amount of charcoal used)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

co-ops go social media

While visiting Seward Co-op in Minneapolis today, I read some info about a great initiative happening right now. The "Eat Local America" challenge is a month-long event to promote and celebrate local food. Anyone who's interested in feeding their inner locovore should check it out, and it also seems like a great way to introduce friends, family, etc. to supporting local producers. To highlight participants' activities, the organizers are showcasing personal blogs and other cool content.

From the website:

This summer, you can kick-start your quest to eat more local by joining the “Eat Local America” challenge, presented by co-op grocers nationwide. This national challenge celebrates and supports the growing interest and passion to eat (mostly) locally grown or produced food - inviting individuals to try to consume 80 percent of their diets (or 4 out of every 5 meals) to local foods for a select amount of time during the summer months.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

recipe: roasted potatoes on the grill

In a rare moment of clairvoyance, I invented this recipe in an effort to enjoy roasted potatoes without turning on the oven. Root vegetables taste great (and are inexpensive) year around, but it can be a challenge to prepare them during the summer, as the kitchen can become a real sweat lodge. I've listed the ingredients and technique below, but you'll quickly realize that a cave person likely came to the same conclusion. This recipe begs for variation and experimentation. Go wild.


  • 2.5 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces (I used Yukon golds, but any variety should be fine)
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
  • chopped leaves of one rosemary sprig
  • olive oil
  • black pepper
  • kosher salt
  1. Light a chimney-load of briquettes. While the coals are heating up, locate a deep, heavy roasting pan (see picture) that can handle high heat.
  2. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil - this will keep the potatoes from sticking
  3. Combine all of the ingredients in the pan, drizzle with more oil, and toss to evenly distribute oil, herbs, salt, and pepper. Cover it with tin foil.
  4. Once charcoal is ready, dump it onto one side of your grill - make sure it's relatively flat and not heaped in a pile.
  5. Place the pan on the grill grate directly over the coals and cover grill. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes. The goal of this step is to fry the potatoes, so you should hear a sizzling sound after a few minutes of cooking.
  6. Check the potatoes by lifting the tin foil - if the bottom layer is browning, use a spatula to toss them. Replace foil and continue frying for 5-10 more minutes.
  7. Have a drink.
  8. Once you get a nice brown color on most of the potatoes, slide the pan to the cool side of the grill - cook, covered, for at least another 10-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fully roasted and tender.
  9. Have another drink, and enjoy your effortless grilling mastery.
There are several beautiful elements to this recipe, the main one being that you don't really have to pay close attention to it (as long as you know when they're browned and not burned). And you can leave the pan on the cool side of the grill for quite a while, which is especially helpful if you're going to use the hot coals for the rest of your meal, be it vegetables, hamburgers, sausages, etc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

looking for a relaxing way to burn off sustainable eats?

Ride your bike through Swede Hollow Park in St. Paul. Arguably the most scenic, historic, shady, pleasantly downhill stretch of paved bike path in the Twin Cities, the trail through this park (if you ride from north to south) is perfect. The path is part of the Bruce Vento Regional Trail, which weaves its way through most of St. Paul's East Side. In addition to a picturesque valley of trees and limestone, you will pass the old Hamm's Brewery and ride through a very unique railroad tunnel.

For those of you who don't know the history of the park - check this out.

(photo credit: kaitschott)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

rotten tomatoes

Today's St. Paul Pioneer Press contained two national wire stories about the current salmonella scare surrounding tomatoes and other fresh produce. The first, "Growers: Tomato probe flawed" (McClatchy), outlines the tension between farmers and the Food and Drug Administration. The second, "Fear of tainted food growing, poll indicates" (Associated Press), describes the results of a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll about changes in eating and buying habits during the past six months.

They're both worth reading, but I wanted to call attention to a few passages from the second article, which outlines the current level of fear permeating the marketplace:

While the poll found that three in four people remain confident about the overall safety of food, 46 percent said they were worried they might get sick from eating contaminated products. The same percentage said that because of safety warnings, they have avoided items they normally would have purchased.

Wow. If the poll is accurate, basically half of the country is worried about the safety of the food they eat. Sadly, if you look at in a different way, the least processed foods (fresh vegetables) are perhaps most at risk for contamination in our current industrial food production system, since you can't pasteurize, reconstitute, or preserve them as you can a box of dried macaroni and cheese or a mass-produced hot dog.

To put this in a broader context, the article also states that "In addition to the salmonella outbreak, this year has seen the largest ground beef recall in history, raising consumer concerns reflected in the poll." Do you remember the beef recall? It's easy to forget amidst the deluge of tainted products.

Furthermore, the article suggests that most people would support increased regulation of produce production and distribution, but that's only a small piece of the puzzle. The broader issue is the increasing distance, mechanization, and general over-complication of our mainstream agricultural system, all of which is driven by the race for lower food prices. For example, does someone in Duluth, Minnesota really need Peruvian asparagus in September?

(photo credit: [177] on Flickr Creative Commons)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

recipe: classic german bratwurst

As promised, I'm posting an abbreviated version of the brats we grilled up for my daughter's b-day. I've pulled the ingredient list and steps from the book I mentioned previously, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlmann & Brian Polcyn, which contains some additional tips and details.


  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder butt, diced (if you're in MN, buy from Prairie Pride or Farm on Wheels from the St. Paul Farmers' Market)
  • 1 pound lean veal shoulder, diced (could also use venison or beef)
  • 1 pound pork belly or back fat, diced
  • 3 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper (or black, if you don't have white)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg (very important - check out Penzey's)
  • 2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup ice-cold heavy cream
  • 10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed (I get my from Kramarzcuk's in Minneapolis).
  1. Combine all the ingredients except the eggs and cream and toss well to distribute seasonings. Chill in a bowl until ready to grind.
  2. Grind the mixture through the small die into a bowl set in ice (note: I use the Kitchen-Aid food grinder attachment, which is an excellent tool, but you could also use an old-school manual grinder).
  3. Using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer (or a strong wooden spoon if mixing by hand), mix on low speed (or stir) for 1 minute. Add the eggs and cream, start the mixer on low, and then increase the speed to medium and mix until the cream and eggs are uniformly incorporated and the sausage appears sticky, about a minute longer. Saute a small portion of the sausage and taste; adjust the seasoning if necessary. (Refrigerate the sausage mixture while you do this.)
  4. Stuff the sausage into the hog casings. Twist into 6-inch links. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook. (note: I use the Kitchen-Aid sausage stuffer attachment, which doesn't work very well).
  5. Gently saute, roast, or grill the sausage to an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Yes, do not overcook your sausage. You bought the best all-natural meat, correct?
Try it. You will never look at Johnsonville the same way, if you even choose to look at them.

Monday, June 30, 2008

farm on wheels: high-quality, affordable, organic meats

Just wanted to hack out a quick post to highlight the delicious offferings of Farm On Wheels, a popular St. Paul Farmers' Market vendor offering the best in organic beef, poultry, pork and I believe, lamb. I recenlty purchased a one pound sirloin steak (grass fed) for $6.50, which feeds two, and it was simply delicious seared to medium rare in a very hot cast iron skillet (or charcoal grill).

Who can compete with $5.99 per pound for sustainable (and juicy) steak? I'll soon wish I could run my car on grass fed beef.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

can't find tasty, all natural sausage? make your own

For Christmas my parents gave me a book I've wanted for some time: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. Anyone interested in making sausages, among other juicy things, at home would die for this book. I've only made a few recipes thus far, but I've already read the whole thing cover-to-cover. From duck confit to chorizo, these dudes tackle it all.

For my daughter's first birthday, I decided to make a huge batch of traditional German bratwurst for the party we planned. I'll try to post an abbreviated version of the recipe, but you may just have to purchase your own copy. Check out the flickr photo set for more pix from this session...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wow: The average mother of a child under 15 spends more on fast food every year than on books, music, movies and video games combined

From the NYT:

Fast Food's Portion of Parent's Dollars

two tools to help you find seasonal, local food

I recently found two web sites that any locovore should consult when trying to locate sustainably produced, seasonal, local foods.

Epicurious Seasonal Ingredient Map
Very slick online map that displays foods grown in US by month and state. For instance, Minnesotans should be eating asparagus, raspberries, and rhubarb in June.

Local Harvest
This is a social networking-type site for small food producers, farmers markets, and CSAs. Each of these groups can create profiles about their company and products, which is aggregated on a US map via Google Maps. Users can then locate producers in a specific area.

Friday, May 16, 2008

attack of the genetically engineered sugar beets

The Organic Consumers Association, a great watchdog/advocacy group for sustainable foods, recently issued an alert about the US governments approval of genetically engineered sugar beets:

"Since half of the granulated sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, a move towards biotech beets marks a dramatic alteration of the U.S. food supply. These sugars, along with GE corn and soy, are found in many conventional food products, so consumers will be exposed to genetically engineered ingredients in just about every non-organic multiple-ingredient product they purchase."

I recommended using their email petition to take action now (located on the same page).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

gourmet boutique brasserie cafe bistro factory farm

In yet another contaminated food situation, Target has issued a recall for beef, pork, and poultry produced by one of its suppliers, Gourmet Boutique in Queens, New York. The Pioneer Press covered the story in an article today, which mentions that the meat was recalled due to the possible presence of listeria.

Using perhaps the most oxymoronic name a mass-produced food manufacturer could have, there are all sorts of flowery messages on their website, including:

"We start with the finest and freshest Grade "A" meats and vegetables which are received daily from local produce and meat markets." Yeah... Sure...

There should be laws against completely inaccurate company names, as there's nothing "gourmet" or "boutique" about the listeria found in frozen burritos at big box grocery chains.

Adding insult to injury, according to the website they specialize in "Home Meal Replacements." Creepy.

the beef

Just wanted to drop a quick note saying I purchased some grass-fed beef round steak from Thousand Hills Cattle Co. yesterday. We grilled those babies up this afternoon and I must say, they were ultra tasty medium rare, with just a coating of salt and fresh ground black pepper.

I believe this is the same beef served at the East Side's new gastronomic darling, The Strip Club. I'm embarrassed that I haven't been there yet, but expect a full review as soon as possible.