Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slow Food Randomness: The S'More Bike

The biggest surprise of our day at Slow Food Nation 2008 wasn't the panel discussion on Edible Education with Alice Waters et al., or the indulgent 4-hour taste crawl through the pavilion at Ft. Mason, or even the victory garden and local food producers set up in front of city hall . . . it was the guy on the S'More Bike. He wasn't part of the program. In fact his flaming bicycle was quickly shut down by park security, but not before a crowd helped themselves to some unexpected gourmet goodness. These weren't your ordinary s'mores either, the marshmallows were from Recchiuti, the graham crackers were from Kika's and the chocolate was from Scharffen Berger.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Minnesota State Fair Eats: Everything on a Stick and Then Some!

In case you haven't been, the Minnesota State Fair is one of the highlights of the summer for Minnesotans and unlike other State Fairs, *everyone* including all of the news and radio stations go to the fair. This great Minnesota-get-together is about really three things: farming, fun, and food -- especially on a stick (well, not the farming part).

So in the spirit of being food adventurists, we joined the weekday crowds and embarked on a mission to:
1) discover the best and the worst of this year's fair food
2) try as many things on a stick (there are supposedly 55)
3) celebrate Minnesota agriculture including Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her life size butter sculpture.

We took our mission seriously as Justin, myself and Justin's dad readied our taste buds to evaluate as much fair food as we could stomach. For each food, we tasted, took a photo, wrote down the cost and gave it a score. Here are the results:

Tastiest Fair Foods of 2008

First Place: Bacon on A Stick from Big Fat Bacon

As the "Bacon Babes" will tell you, this deliciousness is due to a thick piece of bacon with a maple syrup glaze cooked to juicy, hot perfection. This new-to-the-fair booth was all about taste but they kept it real with this health acknowledgment:

and they had their marketing together...

Rating: 5 out of 5 Uffdas
Price: $3.00

Second Place: Salted Nut Roll on a Stick

Forget Pearson's or any store bought version, this freshly made nut roll had soft nougat, chewy caramel and crunchy nuts to go. You could get peanut or pecan or cashew- even covered in chocolate! But all we needed was the classic- in fact chocolate would have overtaken the nutty goodness. We ate it throughout the day until it was gone because we couldn't get enough.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Uffdas
Price: $4.00

Third Place: Pork Chop on a Stick

This classic fair food is known for its juiciness and its outstanding seasoning. We found a bottle of the famous seasoning at home (Justin had bought at a previous fair) and determined some of the secret ingredients: salt and MSG! Although some of the romance is now lost we have to admit it still was tasty!

Rating: 4 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $6.50 (yikes! but worth it)

Most Creative Foods of 2008
Now we aren't saying these are the best but they sure were fun to try.

First Place: Scotch Egg on a Stick

Hmm, a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage (!!!) dipped in breadcrumbs and deep fried. And with special horseradish sauce. This was creative and fun to look at after you bit into it.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $6.00

Second Place: Tater Tot Hotdish on a Stick

Yes, this was not new to the fair thanks to Ole and Lena but it sure was interesting. Minnesota is the land of hotdish -- there's actually a map of hotdish by region. While this looked like a corn dog or pronto pup with a side of cream of mushroom soup, this detailed diagram explained it all.

"Ole" explained that we needed to push up the hotdish and dip every time for maximum Minnesotan delight.

Rating: 3 of 5 (for interest)
Price: $4.00

Third Place: Cheese curds

The State Fair is known for this signature Minnesotan dish and we loved it . . . until the next day when we went to Eichten's Cheese 'n Bison restaurant in Center City, Minnesota and the unthinkable happened. We ordered their cheese curds on a whim (they make their own cheese). They looked different, sort of irregular and in clusters. We ate them and uttered the biggest Minnesota dairy blasphemy: THESE ARE BETTER THAN THE STATE FAIR CHEESE CURDS!!! So help me, it was true. Even Justin's mom agreed. I don't think we had truly tasted a cheese curd until then. The amorphous fried shape due to the just-dipped and fried method with a quick dip in flour first then the batter. The cheesy, greasy, crunch deliciousness of it all. WE WERE IN CHEESE COMAS. I think we possibly still are.

State Fair Cheese Curds:
Rating: 4 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $4.00

Eichtens Cheese Curds
Rating: 10 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $5.95 and we got a lot more

Heckuva Deals for 2008

First Place: Cider Freeze

First of all the fair itself is a heckuva deal at $10.00 for admission. But this apple cider freeze made from local Minnesota apples was sooo good on a hot day. You had to go into the Agriculture building by the apple display to get it. Yum!

Rating: 4 of 5 Uffdas
Price: 75 cents ( yeah, uh huh, less than a dollar)

Second Place: All You Can Drink Milk

It used to be a quarter but even a dollar is a bargain for 1% chocolate milk...

or 2% regular milk as much you can drink...foamy and dee-licious

Rating: 5 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $1.00 unlimited refills

Third Place: Frozen grapes

These were just plain tasty, refreshing, and healthy. They were excellent palate cleanser after the disappointing gator on a stick that we had just eaten. Can we make these at home?

Rating: 5 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $2.00

Biggest Disappointments for 2008

We had some high hopes for a few things but they just missed the mark.

First Place: PB & honey hot dog

There was peanut butter in inside the dog and slathered on the bun, but frankly (pun intended), it was boring and looked a little gross. You could hardly taste the PB difference and it was very forgettable.

Rating: 1.5 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $3.00

Second Place: Lynn's Lefse with Lingonberry

Again, just too bland. I loved watching the women roll it up fresh and even admired their lefse earrings, but this potato pancake had no pizzazz -- lingonberry or not.

Rating: 2 of 5 Uffdas
Price: $2.75

Third Place: Teryaki Ostrich on a Stick

This was terrible. The ground meat patty could have come from my microwave and the sauce was no help. We should have known this was a bad deal from this sign:

This was a stick up, because we were robbed. We want our stomach space back!

Rating: 1 of 5 Uffda
Price: $4.00

So how did we do?
We tasted 19 foods, 11 of which were on a stick. We didn't get sick and we weren't overly full- yes, we threw some food away. Not too shabby!


Oh yes, we found Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her entourage. They were in the process of being sculpted by hand from 90 pound blocks of butter. What they do with that butter after the fair is their business.

And as a bonus, after eating the terrible terayaki ostrich on a stick, we spotted the Kolacky Queen and Princesses. In case you aren't familiar with this traditional fruit or jam filled Czech pastry, you should seek it out. The Royal group was kind enough to grant us a photo and hear a bit about Justin and his dad's recent trip to the homeland.

It was an amazing day!! Until next year!

No, thank you, Minnesota!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Don't Take This with a Grain of Salt...

Spice it up instead! I recently learned a new and inspiring way to bring unique colors and flavors to your dishes using three simple things:
  • French grey salt
  • a flavorful spice or ingredient
  • a coffee bean grinder
Thanks to a talk by Eric Gower, the Breakaway Cook, I learned to easily create a flavorful and colorful salt to use on things like vegetables, meat and more- in a manner of seconds. Eric showed us how to blend French grey sea salt with different ingredients to create new flavorful salts. He simply blended the salt with the seasoning in the coffee grinder in three different combinations:

French grey salt + smoked paprika for a brilliant orange color and smoky flavor

French grey salt + lavender for a light grey/ lavender color and aromatic flavor

French grey salt + matcha green tea for a brilliant green color and unique flavor

All of these combinations were sampled on corn on the cob with a bit of olive oil. I have also tried lavender salt on marconi almonds- which is delightful. It was so simple and so easy and the possibilities are endless for new flavors and colors. I really hadn't thought of doing this before and now, it seems so very easy.

Eric's "breakaway" philosophy is to use global ingredients in non-traditional yet simple ways. His encouragement for simple experimentation was inspiring! He has a very interesting cookbook with many easy recipes and ideas to introduce you to Breakaway cooking.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

We're going to the State Fair!

The Minnesota State Fair that is...and it is a feast of food on a stick, Swedish and Norwegian specialties, as well as a celebration of butter, milk, apples and all things agriculturally Minnesotan. We will be sharing the food delights and the food disappointments, just give us a few days to taste and digest. All you can drink milk booth here we come.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Last Full Belly Egg of the Week

We truly cherished our dozen eggs from Full Belly Farms. From fried eggs to scrambles to beautiful sugar cookie dough, we fully appreciated the color and flavor from these delicious eggs.

This incredibly smooth and supple sugar cookie dough was made with Full Belly Farm eggs.

Tonight I used the last egg as an egg wash on my peach galette. The egg wash gave the crust beautiful shine and color. Our final egg for the week from Full Belly Farm.

The peach galette that I spontaneously made at midnight with an egg wash on the crust.

Unfortunately, I did not get to the FarmShare fast enough this week, and the eggs were sold out...which probably makes me appreciate them even more.

For more details on the tarts, go to my baking blog:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Full Belly of Eggs

At the end of every summer, for a long week overlapping with Labor Day, our family would leave the Minneapolis suburbs and head down to stay with my bachelor farmer Uncle Fred. The first of the morning chores was popping the pin on the chicken coop and letting the chickens scatter across the yard to peck and peck until they gathered together again by dusk to be closed in again. The chickens were ancillary to the financial enterprise, however, they filled his and neighbors' need for fresh eggs (in all shades of brown and some with double yolks!) in the same natural way that his own slaughtered pig and cow filled the freezer for consumption throughout a calendar year. I realize that my first vivid imprint of where eggs came from was a pretty romantic notion.

At Uncle Fred's Farm, circa 1978. Lester (the dog), my Dad, Uncle Fred, and me.

When I first tipped the the lid on the carton of eggs from Full Belly Farms I was reliving these kind memories until Lauren informed me that they were seven dollars a dozen. [queue the record scratch] Seven DOLLARS a dozen? This didn't seem to compute on several levels. First, I struggled to remember what was the highest price I had ever seen for the fanciest free-range, vegetarian fed, super omega-3 enriched eggs anywhere including the farmer's market (maybe $4.50??). Secondly, this figure was hard to reconcile with my pre-adolescent memories of the farm (weren't all those eggs basically free??).

Full Belly Farm Eggs ( come in various shades of brown in a generic carton with an informational sticker on top . . . "Fresh Eggs Assorted Sizes" and no mention of grade.

I admit the Full Belly Farm eggs were gorgeous hues of brown and of an approachable size that an elementary school kid could easily palm. Our CSA farmshare comes from the Capay Valley in California and we have the option of adding sustainably raised meats and eggs to our weekly distribution of fruits and vegetables. It would be easy to herald the modern virtues of Full Belly's approach to farming with their mobile chicken cabanas . . . their approach seems reminiscent of what I remember about Polyface farms if you've read Pollen's Omnivore's Dilemma. I love saving the planet as much as the next guy, but at this moment my main concern is how do these eggs TASTE?

A mobile chicken coup (aka Chicken Cabana) at Full Belly Farms, photo credits to Lauren.

For me the purest, most ultimate egg test is to simply fry it and let the egg speak for itself. Uncle Fred's technique was to take the cast iron skillet and first fry the bacon and then move on to the eggs (and repeat . . . for 20+ years in the same pan). My cast iron isn't nearly that seasoned so I used the Teflon. Upon cracking, the orangey yolks and high riding albumin were immediately notable.

Somewhere along my Food Science education I have inserted this cartoon image of the USDA-sanctioned egg quality grades into my memory. Basically, when an egg white stands up tall around the yolk you've got a high quality and fresh egg. You'll find this and more in the USDA Egg Grading Manual, a comprehensive and authoritative 50+ pages on egg quality. In the spirit of full disclosure I did try candling the Full Belly Eggs in order to report on a few more quality parameters, however, I don't think my mag-light had the lumens required for the job.

Cartoon of egg grades from the USDA Egg Grading Manual (, note the profiles.

As a matter of preference I prefer my eggs--as we called them growing up--"basted". Simply start your eggs out sunny side up, add a few teaspoons of water and cover with the lid so the tops of eggs steam. The albumin covering the yolk will go from transparent to opaque, yet the yolks will remain nice and runny.

These images make me hungry. Top: basting procedure; Middle: finished eggs, top view with cracked pepper; Bottom: finished eggs, profile view trying to show the height of yolk.

In my homage to Uncle Fred I complimented the eggs with bacon (in this case organic and nitrate free) and toasted white bread (the bread-bag informed me it was HFCS-free). Not sure what Uncle Fred would have thought about all that since he farmed his 180 acres without chemical fertilizers and didn't charge a premium or turn it into a business proposition . . . however, it was another time and he had paid off the farm long before I was in the picture.

"Basted" eggs and bacon with toast.

Unfortunately, yolk color and taste aren't in the USDA's grading scheme--I understand why, that's too intensive to measure and can become somewhat objective if you don't do it right. But, yum, these Full Belly Eggs are some of the best I've had in recent memory. Also, check out Lauren's blog post on Wouldn't That Be Lovely to see what those rich yolks did to the color of her sugar cookies. $7 a dozen? Yeah, we'll probably get them again, but $7 a dozen? I'll get over it . . .

Saturday, August 9, 2008

We're on a Mission to the Mission: A Half Day in the Gourmet Ghetto

Sometimes life gets so busy with chores and work that you have to call a timeout and just do something for fun. This was our mission a week ago, and we decided to have a food inspiration day in the Mission District in San Francisco- otherwise known as the Gourmet Ghetto. It actually was an easy half day trip with all three stops on the same street: Tartine, Bi-Rite Grocery, and Bi-Rite Creamery.

First Stop: Tartine

This delicious bakery had a line out the door. We have been told it is the best bakery in SF and we believe it. The menu has various pressed sandwiches, desserts and cakes. We had to have the open-faced Monsieur Croque with Niman Ranch Ham and a pressed sandwich of San Daniele Prosciutto and Provolone with arugula. But we couldn't miss out on the beautiful pastries so we took a croissant (a true test of a bakery- which it passed with flying colors) and a scone to go. Sitting at the community tables, we had a splendid brunch.

The Croque Monsieur was exceptionally wonderful- the crispy crust, the soft center soaked with bechamel sauce and melted cheese. It was outstanding.

The prosciutto sandwich was also a delight as well as a surprise to find three sandwiches instead of the usual two.

We are including our afterfood photos as inspired by Laura Letinsky, artist and professor at the University of Chicago. We actually ate the Croque Monsieur first while waiting for the sandwich- which left us unable to eat the whole three sandwiches. It was a good choice.

Second Stop: Bi-Rite Grocery

All of my SF friends rave about Bi-Rite Grocery, which sounds like Rite-Aid to a non-San Franciscan. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This small market sources local produce and artisan food, and makes its own sauces, baked goods, ice cream and more. A pillar of the Gourmet Ghetto community, this tiny market is a delight to explore. We were most intrigued by the Bi-Rite products themselves (local meats, sauces) as well as the unusual ones like crafted caramel chocolate tiles with sea salt and snacks like popcorn with curry. We bought the tiles for a foodie neighbor ( I already but the popcorn for a work tasting) and some aged gouda that looked like saenkanter. What a lovely place to shop and just the right size to browse for interesting items.

Third Stop: Bi-Rite Creamery

Mmm, ice cream was just what we needed after our delicious brunch. We somehow found the room to try a "double" which was three flavors of ice creams that Bi-Rite makes on site. They let you preview any flavor you like with a taste on a metal spoon (a sustainability move). After great debate over salted caramel vs. honey lavender, we accidentally created a modern neopolitan of balsamic strawberry, Mexican chocolate and honey lavender. And it was fabulous. The honey lavender was by far the best. The Mexican chocolate could have had more cinnamon and the balsamic strawberry could have had more balsamic. In case you are more of sundae person, they have those as well with housemade chocolate sauce. We gave this place two thumbs us as we sat on the benches outside the creamery eating our modern trio with a classic wooden stick. A perfect juxtaposition.

After that we composted our ice cream bowl and stick and rolled ourselves and our pastries home...saving a few other places in the Gourmet Ghetto for another Mission in the Mission.