Let's talk food, from restaurants and recipes to farmers markets, food issues and wine. Lee Svitak Dean, Rick Nelson, Kim Ode and Bill Ward will start the conversation.

Looking for wild rice recipes? You're not alone

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean under Locally-produced food, On the national scene Updated: November 25, 2014 - 4:29 PM

Wild rice casserole is the No. 1 recipe that Minnesota online searchers look for the week of Thanksgiving, says a report in the New York Times, prompted by the recent #grapegate controversy.

No surprise there, but at least it's official. The folks at the NYT who do data research asked Google to analyze the recipe searches prior to the holiday and compare the results to searches in the rest of the country.

It's a fascinating report with some unexpected twists, and worth a visit to browse among the states, if you have time to spare before cooking the big meal. 

The authors caution that the recipes mentioned are not the most iconic state recipes (which cooks may already know how to cook and have no need to look for). But they are the recipes that pop up as being most searched. 

Surprising on the Minnesota list is the number of sweet salads -- which makes me wonder if this recipe has appeared recently on a cooking show. "Snicker Salad" and "Cookie Salad" and "Apple Snicker Salad" are all in the top five recipes and, if you added up their search frequency, would top the number of searches for wild rice casserole.

The most popular recipes listed for each state include reference numbers that reflect how much more popular a search was in one state than in the rest of the country. Wild rice casserole, for example, has 16 times more searches in MInnesota than elsewhere.

In Wisconsin, it's Brownberry stuffing and pistachio fluff that tie for top of its list, followed by beer cheese dip (the Brownberry company roots are in Oconomowoc, Wis.). Snicker apple salad also appears on its list, along with taffy apple salad.

Iowa also has a sweet tooth, with Snicker apple salad and Snicker salad at the top of its list.

South Dakota has Snicker salad at the top of its list, with a whopping 34 times the national average.

UPDATE: To clarify, Google analyzed searches done the week of Thanksgiving for the past 10 years. The story says that the most popular dish for each state was not the focus of the analysis because, given the searches were conducted around Thanksgiving, that would have resulted in "turkey" for all the states. Instead, the researchers "looked for the most distinct" recipe searches, which is reflected in the lists that are part of the report.  

Here's the complete list for Minnesota, as reported in Upshot at the NYT, researched by Google.

Wild rice casserole ... .16x

Snicker salad .............13x

Broccoli bacon salad ...11x

Cookie salad ..............11x

Apple Snicker salad ...10x

Lefse ..........................8x

Scallopped corn ...........7x

Spritz cookies .............6x

French silk pie .............5x

A glass of wine -- and a chat -- with Jacques Pepin

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean under Chefs, Holidays, On the national scene, TV food shows Updated: November 24, 2014 - 11:11 AM
Rochelle Olson and Jacques Pepin, Photo by KQED

Rochelle Olson and Jacques Pepin, Photo by KQED

Star Tribune

In more than two decades as a reporter, I’ve met/encountered/interviewed the famous and the infamous – presidents, star athletes, rock stars, movie stars and convicted killers. It’s my job. After all this time, I don’t get nervous, but I can be apprehensive when the celebrity is someone I’ve enjoyed for years. I worry the person won’t live up to the image.

Like my brief brush with Mick Jagger years ago, my studio interview of Jacques Pepín exceeded my hopes.

I’d like to say I’m a devotee of Pepín’s method, that I’ve worked my way through a third copy of “La Technique,”  but I’m mostly a fan and a Francophile with a passion for Paris dreaming of the next time I can walk past the Tuilieries at dusk.

On his shows, Pepín charms, slices, dices and sautes while sharing sweet anecdotes and mildly mischievous asides. He seems so familiar and friendly it’s easy to forget he cooked for Charles DeGaulle and created food with Pierre Franey for the entire Howard Johnson hotel chain in its heyday.

He quickly assuaged my concerns with his calm, relaxed attitude. (If you’re unfamiliar with him, google his YouTube videos on omelet making. Fun and informative as always.) 

On camera, Pepín’s flawless. No fumbling or mumbling, just ease. Only a couple of times was he asked to do a second take for this episode. And each was a notch better than the first.I watched the taping on Monday at San Francisco’s KQED and expected to return Wednesday for an interview. But after all the audience members had  posed for photos, Pepín and his producers called me over for a shot. I followed orders.

Since I was standing next to him, I started asking questions. Then he asked if I wanted a glass of pinot noir. He was still drinking his wine from the show. I don’t usually drink on the job, but at this time, on the set with Pepín, I responded,  “When Jacques Pepín offers a glass of wine, who am I to say no?”

Pepín decided he had time before his afternoon taping to sit for an interview in the green room. Once inside, he asked a producer to get some more wine for us – chenin blanc left over from the show.

Now remember I had gone into the interview wary that the real-life Jacques would be justifiably less amusing than TV Jacques. Instead, here I was relaxing and on my second glass of wine with the great Jacques Pepin  – the man who cooked with Julia and any other significant chef in the past 50-some years.
And he was more down-to-earth and direct than I expected. He didn’t bristle at any questions. He was also much more handsome than he appears on TV. He has these deep brown eyes and is as handsome as an older George Clooney  –  if the movie star had that adorable French accent.

So here are a few snippets I learned that didn’t make my recent story in print:

Rochelle Olson and Jacques Pepin, Photo by KQED

When I asked about Julia, he told the story about how his neighbor, reporter Morley Safer, asked for an introduction to Julia ahead of a planned “60 Minutes” profile. Safer, most likely, was hoping to warm up his subject before sitting down with cameras.

Pepín shook his head as he recalled telling Safer, “I can introduce you, but it won’t matter. Julia is Julia.”
Still, he and Safer attended one of Julia’s public events. Pepín  didn’t recall the first question from an audience member, but he did recall Child’s response: “What a stupid question.”

He met Julia after a publishing agent asked him to read her manuscript for “The Art of French Cooking.” Pepin recalled the agent saying, “I’ve met this very big woman with a terrible voice.” He gave the manuscript a thumbs up  – and eventually teamed with Child for their own famous cooking series.

Pepín won’t retire. “What would I do? Now I get up every day at the crack of 10 a.m. I am not an early riser.” But he’s got a heavy schedule of public appearances, cooking events, petanque playing (a French game of tossing metal hollow balls, similar to bocce ball), walking his dogs and hanging out with his wife of 49 years, Gloria.

He hasn’t been to Paris in more than a decade. In the past when he would travel to France, it was to see his mother near Lyon where he grew up. He saw her last summer and she died soon after at 99 1/2, he notes.

He paints as a hobby and considers Picasso the master of the 20th century.

Because he never owned or ran a restaurant, Pepin said, “I didn’t have to worry much about what I said.”

As he’s grown older, Pepin said, “I like things much more spicy than I used to.”

He repeatedly praised simplicity. “Imagination is not something I’m crazy about. Sometimes they can really screw up the meal,” he said.

He likes teaching his granddaughter Shorey how to cook. “The kitchen is the right place to be after school  – the noise, the smell of it – all that stays with you the rest of your life.”

Follow Rochelle Olson on Twitter: @rochelleolson

Burger Friday: FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: November 21, 2014 - 7:43 PM

The burger: When FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar went through a much-needed cosmetic overhaul earlier this year — a part of the multi-million dollar overhaul of the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, now called the Radisson Blu — the powers that be kicked around various promotional ideas for getting the word out. I vaguely recall a press release crossing my desk, but I definitely remember the 12-year-old restaurant’s much more attention-getting strategy: A food truck, which quickly became a popular Marquette Avenue attraction during its brief life.

For that meals-on-wheels promotion, chef Jim Kyndberg — if that name is familiar, it’s because he was the creative force behind the late, lamented Bayport Cookery — was looking to ignite some culinary fireworks. One solution was a burger with a taste-of-the-region emphasis. Not just in terms of ingredients, either. “Being the Minnesota-focused restaurant that we are, I felt compelled to do a stuffed burger,” he said.

Yes, a Juicy Lucy, of sorts. For the name, he turned to a Gopher State legend — Paul Bunyan — and christened his effort the Blue Ox Burger (more on that in a moment). It sold like gangbusters, and with good reason; it’s a phenomenal burger.

Like all memorable burgers, this one piles on the complementary flavor layers, starting with the beef’s brawny, ultra-rich bite, which of course comes with a backstory (come on, this is Burger Friday, after all). In a previous job, Kyndberg had collaborated with the premium beef go-to folks at Peterson Limousin Beef to develop a chuck-brisket-short rib grind, inspired by the much-lauded hamburger formula created by Pat La Frieda Meat Purveyors. It left such a favorable impression that Kyndberg filed it away for future reference, remaining on the lookout for a place to re-introduce it. (I think the results are pretty close. Taste-test for yourself, with a visit to Lake & Irving, which imports the La Frieda product for its precedent-setting burger.)

Each prodigiously hefty patty is grilled over hickory and mesquite, and the woods' smoke sneaks into but doesn’t overpower the fat-laced meat. And talk about grill skills: At my first indelicate chomp, the thing just ran juices. A second, even messier bite later, and I reached for my knife and fork.

This isn't your basic bare-bones Juicy Lucy, not by a long shot. For starters, there's an under-the-patty layer of bacon-onion marmalade. And yes, it’s as eye-rollingly delicious as it sounds, with dashes of maple syrup and vinegar staging a low-key sweet-and-sour tug-of-war.

I love how Kyndberg isn’t afraid to go all-in on the Paul Bunyan lore. Literally. That tender, crazy-juicy shredded beef that adorns the top of the patty? It’s a ragu of, yes, oxtail. “As in, Babe the Blue Ox,” he said with a laugh, referring to the legendary lumberjack’s cobalt-tinted bovine buddy. “I couldn’t resist.”

Heh. As for the cheese, it’s the tangy, salty, cave-aged pride of Faribault, Minn., and there’s plenty of it. Staying true to the Juicy Lucy spirit, Kyndberg sneaks a tweak into the crumbly cheese. “It doesn’t have the right ‘goo’ factor for a stuffed burger,” he said. “So we grind up a good local cheese curd and mix it with the Amablu. That’s what gives it that meltiness.”

It works. The final keeping-it-local touch? A spear, fashioned from -- wait for it -- bison jerky. Wait, one more: A real beauty of a brioche-style bun, from New French Bakery.

For those on a Juicy Lucy quest, this is one for the books. Consumers are clearly in agreement, because Kyndberg reports that the Blue Ox Burger competes, sales-wise, with the menu’s popular basic cheeseburger. Me? I can’t believe that it’s not outselling its plain-Jane sibling two to one.

Price: $15 (and, to reiterate: downtown only; not available at the restaurant's Mall of America location, although it should be).

Fries: Included. They're skinny, crisp, salty, skin-on and wonderful. They’re even better with the kitchen’s smoked ketchup. Kyndberg shies away from revealing too many details (“It’s a secret blend,” he said with a laugh) but he does cop to “about seven different spices,” including the identity of the dominant flavor note: smoked paprika. Here's how high it ranks on the Condiment Judgment Scale: I spent a few minutes trying to figure out a way to get the leftovers home without stealing the cute little serving crock. “In the past, whenever I’ve presented house-made ketchup, we’re always overwhelmed with requests for Heinz,” he said. “But with this ketchup, those requests are few and far between. One of these days, we’re going to have to bottle it.” Yes, he should.

Hunting season: Kyndberg is one of the few chefs in town who finds a regularly scheduled slot for game on his menu. Right now that means dishes along the lines of venison Bolognese, elk chili, pheasant croquettes and, on the charcuterie board, a smoked goose breast. Nice.

Knowing when to stop: Don’t expect to see another burger on the FireLake menu. “I think we’re going to stop here,” said Kyndberg. “I have four on the menu, and I don’t think I want to turn us into a burger joint.” The other three? A turkey burger (“using the grind from Wild Acres, we season it in house,” he said), a walleye burger and the previously mentioned classic white Cheddar cheeseburger; all are first-rate.

Address book: 31 S. 7th St. (in the Radisson Blu hotel, between Nicollet Mall and Hennepin Av.), Mpls., 612-216-3473. Open 6 a.m.-midnight Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m.-midnight Saturday and Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

NYT claims 'grape salad' is quintessential Minnesotan dish

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: November 19, 2014 - 11:48 AM

 It's not often that "grape salad" blows up Facebook. Well, Facebook among Minnesotans, at least.

That was the case last night as the New York Times posted its state-by-state nod to traditional dishes of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Good idea when well executed -- and one that food editors around the nation have done, on occasion, for decades (they generally contact other food editors to find out what the traditional dishes are).

But this effort fell flat as readers from many states said a collective "Huh?" as they encountered unfamiliar recipes that did not reflect their states' heritage. And then came the outrage. (Minnesotans clearly take their recipes seriously.) Twitter went wild with its own hashtags: #embracethegrape and #grapegate. See some of the most amusing responses here. 

The blurb that went with Minnesota's grape salad said it "falls into the same category of old-fashioned party dishes as molded Jell-O salad, comes from a Minnesota-born heiress, who tells me it was always part of the holiday buffet in her family." Clearly, this unnamed native is an outlier when it comes to the norm. 

The issue was not with the recipes themselves, which were undoubtedly delicious. The problem was that they were billed as traditional recipes that reflected each state.

A tweet to the writer of the Minnesota blurb -- David Tanis -- and another NYT food writer -- Kim Severson -- brought some levity from them and what we will accept as an apology.


Later, in response to the uproar, Tanis posted a coment on the New York Times Facebook page: 

"Greetings, Minnesota! We're still hoping you'll give our grape salad recipe a try. It was a staple of 1950s and 1960s spiral-bound Lutheran or Junior League-type community cookbooks, even featured in the Redwood Falls Gazette, right alongside tater-tot-topped hotdish recipes. The friend who gave it to me (a life-long Minnesotan who also made a lot of Swedish pancakes with lingonberries) would be dismayed to know it has caused such ire. Grape salad may be out of date, but is so delicious it could stand a revival. For a version of hotdish, stay tuned for Sam Sifton’s post—he’s developing a new recipe now. In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving, one and all."

Does this sound like a Minnesota Thanksgiving dish to you?

Grape Salad
Serves 8.
From the New York Times

2 pounds seedless grapes, removed from stems and rinsed, about 6 cups
2 cup sour cream
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup toasted pecans, optional


Heat broiler. Put grapes in a large mixing bowl. Add sour cream and stir, making sure all grapes are well coated.

Transfer mixture to a 2-quart ceramic souffle dish or other baking dish. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top. Place dish under broiler as far from heat source as possible and broil until sugar is caramelized and crispy, about 5 minutes (be vigilant or you'll risk a burnt black topping). Rotate dish as necessary for even browning. Chill for at least one hour. May be prepared up to 24 hours ahead. Just before serving, sprinkle with toasted pecans, if using.



First glimpse at "The Victory Garden's Edible Feast"

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Chefs, Minnesota newsmakers, On the national scene, TV food shows Updated: November 17, 2014 - 3:12 PM

Minneapolitans and two-time James Beard award-winning filmmakers Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine of the Perennial Plate are back in the news, this time with a preview of their soon-to-debut effort on PBS.

It's a reboot of the network's popular and groundbreaking "The Victory Garden" series, this time seen through the couple's storytelling prism, with an assist by the national network of Edible magazines.

TPT hasn't announced when it's running the show (the series launches, network-wide, in December), but look for an upcoming announcement on its website.

Catch the preview here:

The Victory Garden's Edible Feast TRAILER from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.


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