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!