Wednesday, October 22, 2008

At the Table with Anthony Bourdain

This weeks episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations was a change from the original recipe. At the Table is a concept where Tony sits down for dinner with a few big-shots in the food world and they discuss food, food service, travel and culture. Of course, since it's Tony Bourdain, it isn't surprising that they cover a wide variety of topics and many war stories will be discussed.

For the first episode, Tony is joined at Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 by writer Bill Buford, "Nightlife Queen of New York" Amy Sacco, Ted Allen, and magazine editor and former gossip columnist Chris Wilson (he wrote his own blog for Tony). They talk about the morality of an $1800 meal, whether we should feel guilt for eating certain foods, the most disgusting things they've seen in a restaurant/bar, the place of celebrity chefs in the world and the typical chef question ... what's your last meal?

Oh, and if you're looking for some of the recipes from Wylie, look no further. Grilled Corn Pebbles, Lime Mayo and Scallions or Foie gras, Fennel, Malt, Sherry and Vinegar Jam or Sweetbreads, Peanut, Beet-pomegranate and Pickled Sweet Potato.

This was a fantastic episode, and I'm disappointed that it's only a one-off (or two or three-off).

I tweeted the entire episode, and here are the things that really caught my attention:
  • Anthony Bourdain's new show's pilot is hosted at WD50 with Wylie Dufresne. So.Jealous.
  • "Is it ethically okay to blow $1800 bucks on dinner?" Bill Buford argues that dinner serves 2 purposes, nutrition and culture, making it ok
  • Love Bourdain's blog:
  • Ted Allen: "$1800 will get you one hell of a hooker"
  • Why does the US lack the streetfood scene so prevalent in the rest of the world? Ted Allen thinks it's the lawyers and nanny state mentality
  • Bourdain counters saying that there is no more oppressive nanny state than Singapore, and every night govt agents watch the hawkers clean
  • Amy Sacco blames fast food corps for killing the street-food vendor. That makes sense. I can see how corp america could kill street food
  • Ted Allen: Too many Americans think the only way to eat cheaply is to eat crap in a box filled with high-fructose corn syrup and chemicals
  • @donmball Exactly. There are maybe three outside vendors in St. Paul. One hot dog guy, the grill outside of Dunn Bros and another
  • These four believe London is the new European home of cutting-edge cuisine.
  • Should shame or guilty pleasure be an important part of a fine meal?
  • Ted Allen: "The critter should have the best life it can have" Bourdain: "A happy animal more often than not means better food"
  • Chocolate is like salt, cod or coffee; a prime mover of civilization. Hmm, methinks Mark Kurlansky has a new subject for his next book!
  • Hmm, Amy Sacco says that celebs are much better customers than the regular public. Protecting her clients maybe?
  • Is the celebrtiy chef phenomenon a good thing? Bourdain says post Rachael Ray probably better than pre-Rachael Ray, though he hates to admit
  • Ted Allen: Anyone encouraging people to get in the kitchen, make good food and use natural ingredients has made the world a better place
  • Wylie Dufresne says a blessing and a curse. Turned a lot of people onto cooking better at home. Created a lot of egos though.
  • As citizens of the world, should we know how to cook? Should you be mocked if you can't? No, but don't just eat fast-food and crap
  • Great section! When asked what they would make if having company over: Risotto, Meatloaf, Texas BBQ, Roast chicken. Comfort food wins
  • More and more men are watching Food Network and cooking well. Does this mean fewer women? And if so, is it a change in gender roles?
  • Last meal? Amy Sacco-Mom's spaghetti & meatballs. Backup-KFC or Popeye's. Ted Allen-Baby back ribs.
  • Biggest sellers in New York? Comfort food. Ted Allen says New Yorkers need a hug.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ExactTarget's new study misses the point of social media

In a study released by ExactTarget, and done in collaboration with Ball State Universitys Center for Media Design, provides new insight into the media consumption habits and marketing preferences of six commonly targeted groups. They argue that email and direct mail is more impactful in purchasing habits than social media. I argue that they're missing the social media point.
One of the key findings in this research is that 18- to 34-year-olds claim they are more likely to be influenced to make purchases based on e-mail marketing messages and direct mail than from marketing messages on social networks, said Mike Bloxham, director, insight and research, Ball State Universitys Center for Media Design. It is too easy to assume that the media consumers choose for their own news, information and entertainment are, by default, the best media to use for marketing messages. This is a dangerous assumption to make in a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their level of control over their media experiences."

Read the release on the study here.
My Take:
The original study didn't differentiate if they were testing B2B or B2C. The advantage of email is that using in collaboration with a powerful CRM, you can target the message based upon the purchasing profile and demographics of the individual. Social media (facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc) doesn't offer the specifics, nor closed-loop metrics of email and CRM combined. It's scalable, and targeted, but in order to be taken seriously, needs to be personal and manual. Social media is better suited to be used to develop a sense of community. Zappos, Comcast, WholeFoods, for example, have done an exceptional job in the social media world, and Amazon has developed a community within their own site (reviews, etc). However, I feel the study is flawed because it doesn't test the main purpose behind using social media as a marketing/PR tool.

In addition to what I see as a flaw in the overall concept of the study, one needs to evaluate who conducted the study. ExactTarget, while an exceptional email marketing and one-to-one marketing tool, makes their money on email marketing. It would be in their interest to skew the study to achieve the results they desire. Of course they would want to say email is much more efficient at delivering the message the customer wants to hear and to drive sales. It's in their best interest. If they were to find that social media marketing drives sales better than email, they would have to change their entire business model.

Now, email marketing isn't going anywhere. I'd be in trouble if it did. However, that doesn't mean that social media isn't as powerful, or in certain cases, more powerful than email, but what this study examines is simply the wrong usage of social media marketing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

Many posts today are about causes of poverty, anecdotal evidence of abject poverty, maybe even grandiose ideas of how government or non-governmental agencies should be required to end poverty before building bombs. Frankly, they'd all be right, and I completely support the causes behind the posts. I, however, will be looking at possible solutions with much more granularity. How can we affect change to the world if we can't affect change in one person's life?

Growing up, my father was the executive director of an emergency food shelf and clothing closet. Through the United Way they also ran a meals on wheels service to seniors and the housebound. In his 15 years at that organization, he took them from a place to go when people had no other place to go to a place where the abject and working poor were able to work toward self-sufficiency. They met with case-workers, received assistance to obtain vehicles, shelter, holiday gifts, back to school clothing as well as assistance writing resumes, taking ESL classes and prepping for interviews and learning work skills. This was a strange concept in the Minneapolis metro area at the time. Most places wanted to get people in the door, feed them, clothe them and send them on their way. Dad wanted to help these people so they could pay it forward. He learned that concept from his father, as I did from him. So, how can I pass this on to others?

Hubert H. Humphrey once said "compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism" and "it was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." What kind of Minnesotan would I be if I didn't echo the thoughts of the great statesman?

As government fails to figure out how to stop its own bleeding pocketbook, how can we expect it to support those who need help? It's time to turn to the people of affluence. Now, you may not consider yourself affluent, but compared to billions across the planet, you are, based upon the simple notion that you are able to read this post, hell, that you know how to read! You can affect change, not necessarily on a wide-scale, but individually, you can touch the lives of people who need your help. I'm not talking about those in need of emergency assistance, but rather those who wish to strive toward self-sufficiency, but need a little push or a little hand-holding along the way. Do you want to be the change in the world? Try microlending. Here are a few examples of ways to donate using microlending. For those who aren't exactly certain what microlending entails, here's a bit about it.

Microcredit is the extension of very small loans (microloans) to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty who are not considered bankable. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit. Microcredit is a part of microfinance, which is the provision of a wider range of financial services to the very poor.

Microcredit is a financial innovation which originated in Bangladesh where it has successfully enabled extremely impoverished people to engage in self-employment projects that allow them to generate an income and, in many cases, begin to build wealth and exit poverty. Due to the success of microcredit, many in the traditional banking industry have begun to realize that these microcredit borrowers should more correctly be categorized as pre-bankable; thus, microcredit is increasingly gaining credibility in the mainstream finance industry and many traditional large finance organizations are contemplating microcredit projects as a source of future growth. Although almost everyone in larger development organizations discounted the likelihood of success of microcredit when it was begun. The United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit.
Some of the many purveyors of microcredit are:
  1. Kiva
  2. Make Poverty History
  3. Poverty Fighters
  4. Microplace
  5. FINCA International
The vast majority of the clients of microlending are women in developing countries. However, some microlending agencies (like Microplace) actually allow you to specify the level of poverty you would like to help, your financial return, terms of repayments and location. So you can actually help a family in the delta build a fence, whether it's the Mekong Delta or the Mississippi Delta is completely up to you. Hopefully some day that person can pay it forward to help the next generation. As Hubert H. Humphrey (yes, again) said, "the impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor."

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

Here's the game:

The Omnivore's Hundred is an eclectic and entirely subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life.

His rules:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here , linking to your results.

I impressed myself with my list. I guess growing up in a family where "strange" foods were the norm and when Michelle and I travel, we try to eat locally as much as possible (haggis, black pudding, aloo gobi, chicken tikka masala, etc).

However, I don't think I'll go out of my way to eat the things missing from my list, except maybe jello shots.

Here's the list:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine

60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Couch Potato to 5k - Week 1

Day 1: 8/2/08
Time: 26:26
Distance: 1.66 miles
Pace: 15:50
Calories burned: 309

Day 2: 8/6/08
Time: 26:02
Distance: 1.63 miles
Pace: 15:55 min/mi
Calories burned: 303

Day 3: 8/7/08
Time: 33:01
Distance: 1.91 miles
Pace: 17:11 min/mi
Calories burned: 356

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Getting off the couch, wandering Highland Park and Grand Avenue and lunch at Punch

This morning, Michelle and I got up close to the regular time (we're trying something new, and actually getting up early on weekends) and decided to start the Couch Potato to 5k program from CoolRunning. I finally tried out the Polar heart rate monitor that Kirk gave me when he got a fancy new one. It's pretty much idiot proof, but lacking in some basic functionality. You set it for a minimum and maximum rate for your workout zone, then decide if you want it to annoy you by beeping at your when you're below or above the zone. Needless to say, I shut that off. Once you begin your workout, you simply hit the only button it has once to begin your workout, then hit it when you're done. It then gives you your time of workout and the average heart rate. Very basic. I also use the Nike+iPod trainer. That thing is awesome. I have the iPod mini from two versions ago, so it works really well for this, but the armband that fits that style doesn't allow you to see the face, so it makes it tough to use for the running program we're doing, since you need to be able to see the timing. I figured that wouldn't be a problem since I was wearing the watch for the heart rate monitor, but that only shows your heart rate while you run, not the timing. That caused a bit of an issue since I couldn't see the timer for 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking. I abandoned the armband and just held the iPod in my hand to watch the timer on it. Next time Michelle is going to wear the heart rate monitor so she can give it a try, and I'm going to find a running watch with interval timing. All in all though, it wasn't a bad morning. Unfortunately there was absolutely no breeze this morning, so it was a bit stuffy and muggy on the run, but not ridiculously hot. Could have been better, could have been worse.

Day 1:
25 minutes
1.7 miles
148 avg. heart rate

After the run, Michelle had breakfast plans with Gosia and Julie. She hasn't seen Julie for over 18 months (she just moved back from Baltimore) and with Gosia living in Appleton, she doesn't get to see her nearly as much as they would all like. It was great for her to get to hangout with her college friends again. I wish they all lived here so Michelle could have that girlfriend time. It was really nice to see her happy and talking with them. Of course, Gosia's pregnant and Julie has an 18 month old, so there was a lot of baby talk. Yet more pressure!!!

While she was breakfasting with the girls, I headed over to Fish Ave (66th Street in Richfield, the location of World of Fish and Something Fishy), to pick up 10 gallons of R/O water and 5 gallons of salt water as well as some Forumla Two and Prime Reef for my fishies. Something Fishy had Formula Two on sale, buy one get one free, so I saved myself $5.99! While there, I saw an absolutely beautiful silver arowana. It's odd that Something Fishy would have a large freshwater like that, but this thing was something special. It had to have been at least 28" long and was in pristine condition. Needless to say, it had a hefty price tag at $299. Mike would have died. His arowana isn't nearly that size yet, but with time, and considering it lives in a 310 gallon aquarium, it definitely has a chance to get there.

After they were done, I met Michelle and Gosia at the Starbucks attached to Barnes & Noble in Highland Park. We talked for a bit, then she headed off to register at Babies R' Us. We decided to walk around Highland Park, and check out Patina before lunching at Punch. Michelle loves Patina. It's a very eclectic shop with a very wide assortment of gifts, knick-knacks, decorations, etc. We walked in and were immediately drawn in by the "Pretty Useful Tools" line by the V&A Museum. Now, the V&A was the one thing we definitely missed when we were in London. Michelle's still kinda bitter about it. Now, with her affinity for design and all things "period", that museum would have been outstanding for her. These tools were right up her alley. A tape measure covered in a William Morris wallpaper design from 1837, stuff like that. They definitely screamed "Michelle."

After picking up Erin's birthday gift at Patina (something eclectic and very, very cool for the new homeowner and soon to be newlywed), we walked down to Punch for lunch. Punch has, by far, the best pizza in town. There isn't even a close second. I had never been to the one in Highland Park, the original. I guess I never realized that this one was table service instead of cafeteria style service, so I was a bit confused off the bat and probably looked like an idiot, trying to find the line.

Once we were situated in our seats, and since Michelle had breakfast about 90 minutes prior, we figured one pizza would suffice. Typically we get a pizza and a salad to share or we each get our own. However, this time we settled on the Bruni (sausage, spiced salami, onion, oregano).

It was fantastic as always. Thin crust, baked in a wood-fire oven at 800 degrees for 90 seconds is just the way all pizza should be prepared. The edge had a nice char on it, the pizza was a bubbly, melty, ooze in the middle and the salami was crisp on the edges and perfectly placed. I adore Punch.

After lunch, we headed over the Grand Ave. to see what there was to see. Frankly, we didn't feel like walking around much, but I hadn't had my Grand Ole Creamery fill this summer, so we drove down Grand, parked and walked up to the familiar door. Shockingly, there was no line out the door on a lovely, warm St. Paul Satuday. Michelle tried something new and went for the Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet while I had the tried and true Black Hills Gold. Michelle's sorbet was light and tart. Frankly, it was perfect for a sunny, 85 degree day. My cone was creamy heaven. Seriously, it's the best ice cream I have ever tasted.

We then walked around the block, eating our ice cream and drooling over houses in Crocus Hill. WANT. After we finished our cones, we headed toward Golden Fig Fine Foods. I love that store. It's filled with all kinds of locally made gourmet products (mustards, oil infusions, organic pretzels, chips, breads, chocolates, etc) and locally grown/prepared eggs, meats and cheeses. They had fantastic looking pepper bacon, pork tenderloins and dry aged steaks. Today, however, I was in the mood for something a bit lighter. We decided upon a levain from Rustica and black bean and corn MinneSalsa.

After we left the Golden Fig, we decided to call it a day and head home. All in all, it was a fantastic day and we were home by 3:00. I kinda like this getting up early thing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Roasted Chipotle and Pineapple braised bbq country ribs and black beans

Deciding that I wanted to finally used the two pounds of country ribs my mom gave me a while ago, I was uncertain as to the best way to prepare them. Michelle doesn't dig on ribs, so grilling them was out (even though country style have no bones), but I thought to myself, "Self, why not take the easy way out and braise those suckers in the crock pot all day?"

Being the lazy man that I tend to be, I rummaged through the pantry to check out what we had for braising. It was either going to be teriyaki or Frontera Roasted Chipotle and Pineapple Barbecue & Grill Sauce. Figuring that the teriyaki wasn't exactly what I had in mind, I took the leap and went with the unknown commodity.

Step 1: 7:00 am

Pull ribs out of fridge

Step 2: 7:01 am

Drizzle olive oil into bottom of crock pot and place ribs.

Step 3a: 7:02 am

Open bottle of Frontera Roasted Chipotle and Pineapple Barbecue & Grill Sauce.

Step3b: 7:02 am

Dump contents over ribs and stir with tongs to ensure full coating.

Step 4: 7:03 am

Set crock pot to low and go to work.

Step 5: 7:03 am - 5:30 pm

Drive to work. Have ridiculous traffic on 35W to 280. Traffic opens up on 280 and is clear sailing to downtown St. Paul.

Work all day.

Drive home from work. Have ridiculous traffic on 35E from downtown St. Paul to Larpenteur. Clear sailing to 36, open on 36 then crap from 35W home.

Step 6: 5:32 pm

Feed Henry. Take Henry outside to do his bidness. Check on dinner. Looks outstanding.

Step 7: 5:48 pm

Realize that I forgot to hit the bank for Michelle and we have nothing to drink other than water and beer, and I can't have the booze for another few weeks. Head to bank and Target.

Step 8: 6:11 pm

Open crock pot and begin pulling the ribs. The beef is so tender it's just falling apart. Things are looking good for tonight! Time to let the pulled beef simmer and absorb all the juices.

Step 9: 6:31 pm

Open can of black beans, add some garlic hot sauce and simmer. Give pulled beef a last stir and prepare the plates.

Step 10: 6:40 pm


This was fantastic, and ridiculously simple. I hadn't used my crock pot in quite a while, and had forgotten how nice it is to be able to set something up in the morning and have virtually no work required when I get home. The flavor of the beef in the sauce was very nice. A little bit of kick in the Frontera Roasted Chipotle and Pineapple Barbecue & Grill Sauce, but the sweet of the pineapple seemed to be lacking.

I would definitely do this again, and would like to try a few different sauces and cuts of meat, but it worked really well on the country style ribs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday lunch workout

Headed back to the Skyway Y today after a ridiculously long hiatus. But, considering I'm feeling good (for now - cross fingers) I better work out while I'm not in pain.

Today's Regime:

35 minutes
3 miles
354 calories
164 heart rate average

Feels good just to be back in the gym.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday dinner: Butterfly pork chops with honey-dijon marinade, roasted green beans, baby carrots and red potatoes

For dinner tonight, we wanted something nice and light. I decided to go with Butterfly pork chops with honey-dijon marinade, roasted green beans, baby carrots and red potatoes.

Pork chops:

Marinade - Market Pantry honey-dijon marinade

Pork chops - Von Hanson's Meats

Pour marinade over pork chops in ziploc bag, and let sit in fridge for 30 minutes.

Grill on medium, 8-10 minutes per side.

Roast veggies:

Quarter potatoes and remove stem end from green beans. Line grill basket with aluminum foil.

Place potatoes, baby carrots and green beans into ziploc bag. Prepare seasoning for veggies. Mince one garlic clove, mix with three tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss veggies with seasoning and oil.

Dump contents of ziploc into basket.

After the first turn of the pork chops, place basket on grill. Turn veggies every 5 minutes until done.

And here's the final product. This turned out very, very nicely with PLENTY of leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saturday Lunch: Old Chicago

Saturday for lunch, Mike and Erika invited me to join them, as Michelle was off with Chuck in search of green home building products of some type.

Mike wanted pizza, Erika wanted salad and I just didn't really care that much. Old Chicago was conveniently located and would fill the varied tastes of the three of us.

As is typical, we started with a half order of Italian nachos. Now, these aren't anything overly special, however they never disappoint. Pasta chips, topped with italian sausage, pepperoni, pepperoncini and mozzarella served with marinara on the side. Always satisfying, and can easily make a meal on their own.

While Mike ordered the personal-sized Meat Me with Chicago-style crust and Erika chose the house salad with raspberry vinaigrette, I decided to peruse the special summer menu for my luncheon.

I decided upon the buffalo chicken hoagie. Now, typically I like most anything buffalo chicken, and like Joey Tribbiani, I am a fan of the sandwich. So, I figured mixing the two would be a safe bet. Gladly, I wasn't mistaken.

Comprised of what appeared to be three reasonably sized chicken tenders, battered and fried before being slathered with a buffalo chicken sauce, placed betwixt two halves of a surprisingly nice hoagie roll (with a nice crust and toasted on a salamander) then topped with a blue cheese sauce and tomato slices, served with a side of fries.

Old Chicago's fries are middle of the road. I'm guessing they're a Sysco product (like most of their food), but at least they tend to be decently seasoned and crispy.

The chicken part of the sandwich was actually quite tasty. The chicken wasn't stringy, wasn't fatty, wasn't overly done, but could have used a bit more heat in the buffalo sauce. The tomato slices, however, were terrible. Mealy and unripe, they were virtually inedible.

Frankly, for a chain restaurant lunch, it was middle of the road. I'd get the sandwich again.

Friday Night Dinner: Erte

Last night, for the summer birthday celebration with my beautiful wife, my mom and dad, grandma and Marcia, we had dinner at Erte in Northeast Minneapolis.

Let me preface this by saying that the pictures aren't fantastic. It was dark, and Michelle's iPhone doesn't have a flash. I didn't want to be rude by using the regular camera with the flash.

First, the space was beautiful in its simplicity. Nothing overdone, it was a nice sized room with exceptionally high ceilings. While it made for a pleasing visual aesthetic, combined with the hardwood flooring and plaster walls, it made the room very, very loud. Every sound reverberated throughout the room. While every typical restaurant noise is amplified in this setup, when you combine the live music Erte has every Friday night and we literally could not be heard across the table without yelling. Last night was an acoustic trio named treVeld, playing from their debut album, Bohemian Flats - ["Bohemian Flats is treVeld’s debut recording, which draws upon several musical sources and traditions, including Gypsy, Swing, Old Time, Celtic, Bluegrass, Blues, Chamber and Nordic Roots."] (they were excellent, by the way.)

Starter: Potato and Pear Vichyssoise

Let me start by saying that I was a vichyssoise virgin. Last night I popped my cold soup cherry, and I will never be the same.

The first bite was ... weird. The flavor and texture were outstanding. A wonderfully creamy potato puree with a hint of sweet pear on the top. Upon a second taste I noticed two distinct textures within the soup. There were finer grains of the pureed potato but was more interesting was the almost gritty nature of the pureed pear. Combine that with flavors of caramelized onion and nutmeg, and it was a very nice complement to the sweetness of the pear.

However, there was still the oddity of eating cold soup. After five or six spoonfuls I got used to the idea and quite enjoyed it. Michelle, on the other hand, looked as if she put crickets in her mouth. She could not deal with the weird feeling of cold soup.

My entree: Porketta.
Spicy sausage stuffed pork tenderloin with sour cream and chive mashers ($21)


Now, I don't know about you, but when I think porketta, I think of that nasty green herb and fennel encrusted crap sitting in the display rack of deli. It always looked out of place, and as if nobody ever ordered it. I'm just going to go ahead and imagine that it tastes absolutely nothing like this at all. In any way. Ever.

This was fantastic. A wonderfully prepared pork loin, wrapped around hand ground, cured, spiced, crumbled and fried sausage. This was then sliced and placed on top of hand mashed sour cream and chive potatoes (none of that reconstituted Sysco crap here folks) then drizzled with a gravy made of the drippings.

The dish was perfectly spiced, the pork wasn't tough or dry in the least and the sausage didn't overpower the entire dish.

Michelle's entree: Faux Fried Chicken.
Two tender chicken paillard breasts rolled in cornflake crumbs, grilled and served with sour cream and chive mashers, a side of zesty barbeque sauce and Eddie’s refrigerator pickles ($16.50)

Michelle wasn't a huge fan, thought it was a bit on the greasy side, which would belie it's name as "faux fried", and considering it was grilled, I was a bit surprised. However, the emulsifier used to adhere the cornflake crumbs to the breast was likely clarified butter, and did leave a residue on the plate. However, I thought it was outstanding, and the portion was closer to something you'd find at a chain, rather than a chef-owned place. The pickles were horrible, but I'm not a bread and butter pickle fan at all.

Mom's entree: Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breasts. Two sauteed duck breasts in an orange glaze with sour cream and chive mashers ($20).

Michelle doesn't eat duck, and typically I find duck to be too fatty and gamey for me, but this was more delicate than most duck. Must be something to do with the organic nature of the ducks. Mom loved it.

Dad's entree: Some broiled sea bass dish that he traded with Grandma. It was not good. Nobody liked it. It was one of the daily specials.

Grandma's entree: Brisket.
Angus beef, baked for a day with garlic, mushrooms, onions & spices, cooled, sliced and roasted again ‘til it’s fork tender – served with honey bunny carrots and le smush potatoes ($16.50).

This was fantastic. Grandma didn't like it and (as previously mentioned) traded for the nasty fish. The brisket might have been the best dish on the table. One didn't need to actually chew the meat, it simply entered your mouth and immediately was broken down by the copious amount of saliva produced by the scent of the beef. Very good portion size, Dad took home over half of it.

Marcia's dish: The House. Erte’s signature U.S.D.A. Prime 10 oz. coulotte cut sirloin, served with Erte’s bronze steak sauce ($17).

Coulotte cut sirloin. If you are expecting a steak that looks like it came from Cub or Super Target, don't. Coulotte cut looks closer to the actual loin than it does a typical sirloin steak in an American butcher.

This steak was fantastic. Delicate texture with a very hearty, beefy flavor.

Side dish: Hash browns.

Literally a platter-sized hash brown. Thin, cripsy, not overly greasy. Nicely salted, wonderful starchy hash browns. I loved them.

Wine: Moillard 2006 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Tradition ($24).

I only had a taste due to the new meds, but it was a good pinot noir. Nicely balanced and not too tannic. I will try it again.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mixed baby greens with raspberry-chipotle glazed chicken, strawberries, sunflower seeds and raspberry vinaigrette

First day back at work, and it was incredibly productive. Six new campaigns launched and two training sessions for our new VP of federal sales. All in all, I was rather pleased.

Michelle and I decided that tonight should be a nice-light dinner, watching Deadliest Catch and Project Runway. For some reason it never occurs to me to do a crab boil on Deadliest Catch night. I'll have to remedy that next season. For something light, I decided against beef, and figured a nice salad would do. However, as easy as a mixed green salad with balsamic is, I figured that it wasn't much more work to actually make something a bit more appealing.

After a swing by Cub on the way home to pick up some chicken, I ended up with a quart of strawberries (they were by the front door, I couldn't resist) as well.

Knowing that I had a bottle of Archer Farms Raspberry-Chipotle grilling sauce in the fridge, I decided to put it to good use along with the strawberries and a dash of Annie's Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Deciding to use chicken strips instead of whole breasts meant that I had to use some foil on the grill, else I would have chicken strip charcoal briquettes dangling between the grill slats. That's not a pleasing thought at all.

Actually, this worked rather nicely, as the browned more evenly, and in the final few minutes of cooking, when brushed with the glaze, they were able to simmer in the drippings rather than the glaze simply charring.

Next step was to pull the chicken and slice the strawberries. So far, we're looking at around 12 minutes from prep to completion at this point, so I'm relatively happy.

Next, a drizzle of the dressing over the top of the plate of greens and strawberry slices

Then sprinkled with raw sunflower kernels for good measure before the chicken is placed.

And voila, mixed baby greens with raspberry-chipotle glazed chicken, strawberries, sunflower seeds and raspberry vinaigrette.

We were happy with this dish. Next time, however, we want to try walnuts instead of sunflower kernels and maybe add buffalo mozzarella or Gorgonzola as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beef kebabs with couscous

After yet another day of stabbing pains in my back, I decided something quick and easy was on the menu tonight.

The kebabs

One pound of kebab beef courtesy of Von Hanson's, one yellow bell pepper, four red potatoes, one onion and Drew's All-Natural Shiitake-Ginger dressing and marinade.

Set the kebab meat into a ziploc baggie, cover with marinade and set aside for 15 minutes.

Halve the potatoes, chunk the bell peppers, quarter the onion. Salt and pepper to taste.

After 15 minutes, remove the beef from the marinade and assemble.

Once assembled, they may resemble something like this, unless you're much more particular about the aesthetic of your kebabs than I.

Fire up the grill to medium low, and cook until everything is done to your liking. I turn a few times, for a grand total of around 12-14 minutes cooking time.


While your kebabs are grilling, you are free to get the couscous going. I typically use Marrakesh Express or Near East, simply because they're essentially idiot-proof.

Take 1 1/4 c. water, mix with 1 tbsp. olive oil and the seasoning packet. Stir and bring to a boil.

Once your water/oil/seasoning mixture is boiling, remove from heat and stir in couscous. Cover and let sit for 7 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.


Tonight's meal was served with a 2005 Protocolo Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. It's a typical Spanish house red. We have had this vintage twice previously and have enjoyed it. This bottle however was ridiculously bland. There was virtually no flavor. I'm assuming it was a bad bottle, based upon previous purchases.

Tonights finished product:

Sadly, some of the kebabs were overdone, but I would say that 90% of the meal was cooked to Michelle's liking, as I typically prefer my beef medium-rare to medium, whereas she likes it medium-well. I should have pulled two kebabs earlier.

Nathan's 60 second book review: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

After one rather botched attempt at a book club a few years ago (we lasted all of about four meetings), I decided to go ahead and do my very own book club. I will review books selected, read and analyzed by me. They will range from traditional best-seller fiction, obscure non-fiction, classics (yes Michelle, I'll read at least one), beach novels, chick-lit, suspense, to graphic novels, biographies and current affairs.

I promise you no public service of any kind, no deep analytical thought, no searching for themes, motifs or Christ symbolism. What I do promise is that they will be brief and should at least let you know whether or not I liked the book at all. I hope.

Anyway, onto the first episode in Nathan's 60 second book reviews!

Episode 1: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by (Breckenridge's own - he was born there, by Minnesota rules, we claim anyone born, raised, marketed in, flown into or out of Minnesota as our own. We're provincial. Eat it.)

According to The Onion A.V. Club, this book was "One of the brightest pieces of pop analysis to appear this century." Now, while I'm not sure if it's one of the brightest pieces of pop analysis, it's certainly the best (and only) piece of pop analysis I've read this century.

Klosterman rambles from chapter to chapter, covering his takes on such topics as Saved by the Bell, Star Wars, Porn, Pamela Anderson, Guns N' Roses, Alternative Rock, Say Anything, soccer, The Sims, The Real World, Celtics v. Lakers, Vanilla Sky, serial killers and journalism with the wit, banter and pop-culture references to which I have become accustomed in my 31 years on this planet. While I enjoyed these essays, and yes, much to the chagrin of my beloved, I laughed out loud with regularity, the section of the book that really sold it for me was "The twenty-three questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I can really love them."

Now, these questions led to many a lively lunch discussion in the office, but I'm not going to ruin the surprise and give you a head start on determining whether or not Chuck Klosterman can really love you, or if anyone can really love you based upon their answers. Just know that these questions may or may not decide the next President of the United States. I mean, honestly, who cares about war, the economy, climate change, famine or suspension of habeas corpus when what we really want to know is whether Barack Obama or John McCain would save their spouse the pain of a broken collarbone every three years by way of crescent wrench by having every song they hear or sing (to their ears only) sound like it's being performed by the Layne Staley-led Alice in Chains. Okay, so I gave you one. Now for the other twenty-two, you need to check out the book. I highly recommend it.

Coming soon, Episode 2: Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski.

Beef with bacon. Do you need anything else?

After lying in bed the vast majority of the day trying to find a comfortable position for my spasming lower back, I finally got up and started dinner. On the menu tonight, six ounce sirloin fillets wrapped in thick-cut bacon, courtesy of Von Hanson's Meat Market. Typically I prefer to season my steaks with sea salt and a cracked peppercorn melange. However, on this occasion, to shake things up I reverted to my childhood. There are a few schools of thought in the realm of steak seasonings (other than unadulterated beef, of course), the majority fall into either A1 or Heinz 57.

Growing up, we rarely used the 57, and NEVER touched the A1. Instead, we went for the always classy Adolph's Marinade in Minutes.

Pierce the meat a few times on each side with a fork, mix this packet with 2/3 cup cool water, whisk briskly, set 1/4 cup of the marinade in the fridge for later and let the meat soak in a ziploc for 15 minutes. Take the steaks, toss them on a ridiculously hot grill for six minutes a side (these were about 1 1/2" thick), let them sit for a couple minutes off the grill while you finish prepping the rest of the sauce.

With that 1/4 cup of marinade you set in the fridge, you are on your way to steak sauce nirvana. Simply whisk and nuke for 60 seconds and you have a fantastic dipping sauce for those wonderful cuts of meat.

My sirloin fillet was served with a traditional baked potato (with salt, pepper and butter), while Michelle decided upon a salad of mixed baby greens, cucumber, broccoli florets, baby carrot, baby bella mushrooms and Marie's Premium Super Blue Cheese dressing.

For dessert, we opted for a Market Pantry strawberry picnic cake with waves of buttercream icing topped with sprinkles of some sort of "strawberry" candy. Frankly it was reminiscent of FrankenBerry or Crunch Berries. Too sticky sweet and not very good.

However, there's something appetizing about sitting in bed, having dinner while flipping back and forth between Intervention and American Gladiators, before finally settling on THS: Heath Ledger. Well, okay, maybe not, but that's what was on. Crappy TV night until we caught the replay of the Project Runway season five premiere. More on that later.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big Bowl on the house!

Stepping into the blinding light of a midday sun after almost three hours of The Dark Knight was quite a shock. Michelle and I stumbled around for a few minutes, trying to get our bearings and not walk through any poor souls who may have stepped into our path along the way. Eventually we meandered into Border's, then headed toward the Apple Store to check on the iPhone 3G availability (needless to say there were none). Following that 30 second walk-by, Michelle had a few things to grab in the cosmetic section of Macy's before we did lunch.Speaking of lunch, boy do I love me some Big Bowl. Yeah, it's a chain, but my lord it's a good chain. Typically we start with the chicken potstickers, and yesterday was no exception. They were a bit greasier than normal, and the mustard-sesame sauce had a bit less mustard, but they were good either way. Following the appetizers came entree time. Michelle went with the Crispy Orange Chicken and I ordered the Panang Curry Chicken.

Michelle's crispy orange chicken was very good. She ordered it with fried, rather than jasmine, rice. Frankly, who can blame her? Unless you need the rice to cut the heat, go with the fried. The breading on the dish was lighter than one would see in an orange, sesame or General Tsao's chicken at a LeAnn Chin, or your traditional "Americanized" Chinese place, yet not with the mealiness of a tempura or beer-batter of a lemon or sweet & sour chicken either. It was indeed, crispy without being heavy and grease laden. Served with caramelized orange zest in strips tossed in the chicken pieces along with the sauce, it wasn't overpoweringly sweet with a fake "orange" flavor, rather the zest acted as a nuanced citrus feel on the tongue.

As always, the Panang curry chicken was outstanding. Seriously, great combination of delicate (pea pods, lemongrass and coconut milk) and spice (yellow curry and fresno peppers) with a wonderful bite in the aftertaste.

See, you can almost taste it through the picture! Man, this is excellent, and now I'm ridiulously hungry again. Time to go start marinating tonight's sirloin fillets.

Sunday at the movies

Michelle and I decided yesterday to take the plunge and see if we could entertain ourselves by posting the daily goings-on and ramblings of a young(ish) suburban couple. So, sure, here goes.

Sunday we hit the 10:00 showing of The Dark Knight at AMC Rosedale 16, followed by lunch at Big Bowl (thank you work, for the $30 gift certificates).

Anyway, the film. It was good. I wasn't blown away, but it was good. Liked how dark and brooding it was. Liked Heath Ledger's performance, very impressive. However, it wasn't as entertaining as Robert Downey's take on Tony Stark. Iron Man was, in my opinion, a more enjoyable film. Anyway, it doesn't matter what I think on the subject, but what does matter is that there were two excellent previews.

First, Watchmen. Now this looks stunning. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, considering that Zach Snyder (of 300 fame) is directing. Expect stylized violence, gratuitous slow-motion action sequences and vibrant colors (typically blood) within muted tones in the frame.

Second, The Spirit. Now this thing looks extraordinary. Directed by Frank Miller (Sin City), this is a updated vision of Will Eisner's comic of the 1940s, in which a young masked crimefighter takes to the streets. Now, watching the preview, you'll be able to see that Miller is doing this film in a very, very familiar style. Hell, he might as well call it Sin City 4 - The Spirit Years. Still, the story looks interesting, and the preview is gorgeous. I'm looking forward to it.

Up next ... Lunch!