For the second consecutive year, Rep. Tim Walz has won the fourth-annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Off, which was held today in Washington, D.C.
The good-natured bipartisan competition, hosted by Sen. Al Franken, always yields some clippable recipes (find all 10 of them here).
It's no suprise that members of the delegation take the opportunity to offer somewhat shameless shout-outs to Minnesota-based food companies, including Hormel, Jennie-O (Walz), Crystal Sugar, Kemps, Land O'Lakes (Sen. Amy Klobuchar), MOM Brands (Rep. John Kline) and Green Giant (Rep. Michele Bachmann). But hey, wouldn't you?
Just two recipes required (the cyncial may say pandered to) what is perhaps the Gopher State's most famous ingredient, wild rice: "Ranger's Hunting Camp Hotdish" from Rep. Rick Nolan, and Rep. Betty McCollum's "Minnesota Wild Rice and Chicken Hotdish." Franken's recipe calls for U of M-developed Honeycrisp apples.
Three required that church-basement hotdish staple, cream of mushroom soup: Rep. Collin Peterson's "Hunter Hotdish" (which earns kudos for its use of ground venison, underscoring the politician-hunting connection), Nolan's "Ranger's Hunting Camp Hotdish" (see previous elected-official-in-the-gun-blind observation) and Rep. John Kline's "Morning Hot Chow Hotdish."
Walz's recipe requires a do-it-yourself cream of mushroom soup, which probably goes a long way in explaining its appeal.
I'd like to offer a few additional honors. This year's They Were Robbed award goes to Sen. Al Franken's delicious-sounding roasted pork sausage-apple-sauerkraut conconction, although that layer of mashed potatoes might explain its also-ran status.
Rep. Erik Paulsen wins the Phoning-It-In medal for his "Grandma's Minnesota Nice Mock Lasagna," for two reasons: Ragu spaghetti sauce. And the words "mock lasagna."
The Most Responsive to Conditions Back Home medallion belongs to the "It's So Cold My Hotdish Froze" dessert hotdish from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a freezer dessert involving a peanut butter-cream cheese-Cool Whip custard in a Golden Grahams (a General Mills product, naturally) crust, although just reading it makes my teeth hurt.
As for the Best Name award, it's no contest: Rep. Michele Bachmann's "Polar Vortex-Mex Hotdish."
Here's Walz's winning recipe, re-written in a more follow-able format:
TURKEY TROT TATER TOT HOTDISH
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: From Rep. Tim Walz.
1 lb. ground turkey
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/2 c. chopped green onions
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more as needed
2 tsp. salt, divided
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. of fresh green beans, stems removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 slices bacon
6 tbsp. butter, divided
1 1/2 c. chopped baby bella mushrooms
5 to 6 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c. half and half
1/4 c. chopped onions
3 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
1 32-oz. package Tater Tots
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine turkey, garlic, sage, green onions, egg, pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. In a skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil and then brown the turkey mixture. Remove from stove and transfer mixture to a large bowl.
In a pot of boiling water, blanch green beans for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove beans and plunge them into ice water. Once cool, drain completely and add to turkey mix.
In a skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, and cool bacon on paper towels. Chop bacon into 1/4-inch pieces and add to turkey mix. Gently combine turkey mix, beans and bacon and spread in an even layer in a 9x13-inch baking pan.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons butter. As soon foam begins to subside, add mushrooms and cook, stirring continuously, until mushrooms are browned, about 4 to 6 minutes.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Slowly and evenly sprinkle flour into the butter. Cook for 2 minutes, then slowly whisk in the milk and half and half. Cook for 2 more minutes, then add diced onions, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. After 1 minute, stir in 2 1/2 cups cheese and cook, stirring, until melted. Pour cheese mixture evenly over casserole. Scatter Tater Tots over the top, then scatter remaining shredded cheese. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.
After a three-year hiatus, the Hard Rock Cafe is returning to Minnesota.
This time, instead of Block E in downtown Minneapolis (pictured, above, in a 2002 Star Tribune file photo), where it had a home from 2002 to 2011, the rock n' roll memorabilia-soaked chain is opening a 400-seat outlet in the Mall of America in Bloomington.
The Hard Rock, which operates 140 restaurants, 19 hotels and nine casinos in 56 countries, is promising two bars, a retail outlet and a music stage with capacity for 1,200 guests, located on the south side of Nickelodeon Universe, adjacent to the Peeps & Co. store on the mall's first level. Opening is planned for this summer.
This isn't the mall's first brush with celebrity eatertaineries. Planet Hollywood had a 10-year Mall of America run that ended in 2003, and the Gatlin Bros. operated a music club from 1992 to 1996. Last month, 400 Bar owners announced plans for a new fourth-floor live-music venue, restaurant and music museum, opening in June.
Hopefully this news also heralds the return of Prince's guitar and Christina Aguilera's bustier. Both were included in the memorabilia collection in the downtown Minneapolis Hard Rock.
The burger: If the half-pound burger at Mission American Kitchen & Bar is good enough for downtown's captains of industry, it's good enough for the likes of me.
People-watching is a big draw at this 10-year-old IDS Center hot spot. During any given noon hour, a healthy majority of the Hubert White mailing list appears to be congregating over salmon BLTs, Cobb salads, open-face Reubens, French dip sandwiches and other straight-up renditions of all-American fare. (The kitchen's speed and the service staff's unflappable nature are two other major assets, along with that 100 percent address).
If they're smart -- and let's face it, this crowd didn't get where they are by floundering in the shallower percentiles of their B-school grading curves -- they're also making a habit of the Mission burger, which is almost as noteworthy for what it isn't as for what it is.
What it's not is complicated, just a very what-you-see-is-what-you get monster (so big that it tiptoes into knife-and-fork territory). No runny egg yolk to make a mess of that hundred-dollar Talbott tie, no painstaking prepared sauces that a nervous job candidate can't properly pronounce, no exotic bun that will fall apart when it gets into someone's hands.
Instead, the kitchen delivers a loosely packed, thickly formed patty, gingerly seasoned and brought to a faint char, with a barely pink, nicely but not outrageously juicy (see Ruined Tie Comment, above) interior.
The bun is of the soft white variety, barely toasted. Condiments go the bare-bones route: a rash of sweet, not-quite-crunchy grilled onions. A pair of tomato slices that at least look as if they might have come from the summer sun even if they don't taste that way. A single garden-fresh romaine lettuce leaf. And a melty slab of quietly sharp Cheddar.
In short, no surprises, no showy add-ons, just solid burger goodness. Those who prefer their burgers on the conservative side will be all over it.
Fries: Included. Those who gravitate towards the skinny-and-crispy side of the french-fry spectrum will probably not find satisfaction at Mission. The long, skin-on, hand-cut fries are more limp than firm, with a solid, deeply potato-ey bite.
Bear in mind: Consider yourself a rookie if you lunch at Mission minus a reservation. Walk-ins, don't despair: the restaurant's sunny, four-sided bar is one of downtown's most appealing dine-at-the-bar venues.
Address book: 77 S. 7th St. in the IDS Center, Mpls., 612-339-1000. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
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The burger: Spoonriver owner Brenda Langton was not accustomed to serving lamb at Cafe Brenda, her long-running, vegetarian-focused Warehouse District restaurant. That’s an understatement: It never appeared on the menu. But when she launched Spoonriver in 2006, Langton broadened her protein horizons and created what quickly became an anchor item: a lamb burger, seasoned with Moroccan spices and served with a vivid harissa. And it’s a knockout.
It starts, as it should, with first-rate meat, nurtured in pastures near Hutchinson, Minn., from farmers Doug Rathke and Connie Karstens (if you’ve ever enjoyed the couple's stand at the Minnesota State Fair -- the Lamb Shoppe, in the Food Building – then you know first-hand that they raise a premium product). Langton rather ingeniously lightens the meat’s intense lamb-ness by folding quinoa into the ground lamb. Then she leads taste buds on a guided tour to North Africa with a carefully balanced blend of fennel, garlic, coriander, mint, parsley, paprika and cumin. The results are lively and juicy, and still allow the meat’s rich bite to shine through.
The thick patties are browned in a skillet on the stove and then finished in the oven. As for the bun, it's of the soft multigrain variety (from the New French Bakery), one that proves to be a complementary match for that subtly seasoned ground lamb; no sweet brioche or sturdy Kaiser roll for this one. Lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado and that ultra-fragrant harissa round out the garnish brigade.
It’s delicious, and clearly a candidate for membership in the local non-beef burger pantheon. Here’s one way to gauge the Spoon Burger’s enduring popularity: “It’s in our cookbook,” said Langton, referring to her “Spoonriver Cookbook,” which was published in 2012. “A lot of people buy the book just for that recipe.”
Price: $13.50 at lunch and weekend brunch, $14.50 at dinner.
Fries: None. Instead, opt for the side salad, which turns out to be one of the city’s most remarkable payoffs on a $2 investment. This is a restaurant that actually cares about lettuce greens, and the concern and effort shows.
“I had a salad the other day at a restaurant that shall remain nameless,” said Langton. “It was the limpest, dumbest and most horrible spring mix. There was no life left in it.”
Not so at Spoonriver. “We like crispy, crunchy, fresh lettuce,” she said. “We buy and make and wash our own mix, and that variety of lettuces is so much better.” Yes, it certainly is.
Bonus round: Don’t you love the show-and-tell aspect of a dessert tray? Pastry chef Stacy Sowinski (you may recall the name from her former days as a first-rate éclair-making machine at Sweetski’s) has a well-practiced knack for turning out appealing desserts that minimize sugar content and maximize flavor, often while working within challenging vegan and gluten-free frameworks. Case in point: A cool coconut-milk tapioca brimming with almond, black currant and mango accents. Delicious.
Ok, one more thing: With this punishing winter transforming the Twin Cities into a real-life version of the “Star Wars” ice planet Hoth, there’s something incredibly soothing about stepping inside the built-in warmth of sun-soaked Spoonriver. “We’re like Mazatlan in here,” said Langton with a laugh, and she’s not too far off the mark. With its blood-orange walls and floor-to-ceiling windows, Langton’s long, skinny dining room (still effortlessly stylish as it approaches its eighth birthday) makes lunch feel as if you’re temporarily ensconced in a more forgiving climate. Priceless, right?
Address book: 750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-436-2236. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, for dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and for brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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