Monday, August 29, 2011

the trestle inn

as a birthday surprise, i was taken on an adventure friday evening. my destination was completely unknown to me. it was a long drive along quiet and curvy gravel roads. i wasn't in charge of navigating, as it was a surprise, so i took advantage of the picturesque views from my passenger window. it was a perfect late august evening when we reached our destination. the trestle inn, located amongst the forests, lakes, and wilderness just outside of finland, minnesota, is a gem. the rustic inn and saloon is built from the timbers of an abandoned railroad trestle that was last used in the 1920's. the douglas fir timbers are estimated to be 300 years old. susan butler and her family purchased the trestle inn in 2000. sue is just as much of a legend as the inn itself. she raised three children, on her own, far from most of the thrills and luxuries most of us are used to. sue has just recently added electricity within the last five years!

we had a memorable and entertaining experience. everything about the trestle inn has a bit of history to it. there is this amazing wood stove at the end of the bar, and an even more amazing loft area upstairs, filled with antiques and wooden furniture, that is used for special events. memories were abound from floor to ceiling. we were lucky enough to share some stoop time with sue the owner, and her wonderful waitress. they told us tales from the past, and shared with us their love of the land and the lives that they live. hardships are a plenty, but with their hilarious outlooks on life, things are going well. the funniest animal sighting that a guest has reported to sue in the past: a camel.

about the was great! i couldn't resist the quirky 'minnesota burger', which had me thinking about my mother's tater-tot hot dish! it was a picture perfect burger topped with a giant, crisp tater tot, fried onions, and smothered in cream of mushroom soup! there's a variety of offerings on their menu. a great burger list, steaks, ribs, and walleye are all available, a hearty menu-not for the faint of heart- perfect after a long day fishing, paddling, or hiking. the saloon has draft rootbeer on tap, as well as a variety of brews.

if you are in need of an adventure off of the beaten path, take a meander to the trestle inn. there are several lakes and trails to explore in the area. every season has its own adventure there. for more history, stories, and information visit their website:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

sunday brunch

every friday morning, during the summer season, folks can savor the local special up at ryden's border store cafe. the special on friday mornings is 'steak bites'. these marinated bites of tender beef are served up with eggs and hashbrowns, and it seems that they sell out around 9am. i haven't actually been able to make it to ryden's on a friday morning before 9am, so i have yet to get in on these delicious bites. however, my fella and his coworkers have, and i'm told weekly, about just what i've been missing.

we decided to recreate the 'steak bites' for a sunday morning brunch. (i actually didn't have any background for which to recreate from, so jeremy did most of the work with the steak bites). i wanted a well rounded sunday brunch, so the menu looked something like this: venison 'steak bites', herb roasted new potatoes, fresh fruit salad with lime juice and vanilla sugar, and mini bloody marys.

we were given a gift of venison back strap from my aunt, and decided that was a great substitute for the beef used at ryden's. we sliced the back strap into 1/2 inch thick steaks. they were sort of mini steaks -to replicate the 'bites'. we wanted to marinate them a bit too, so some tamari, garlic, toasted sesame oil, chili flakes, and herbs did the trick. i don't have a recipe for the marinade, but you should be able to wing it at home. we let the venison marinate for about 45 minutes, then fired up the grill. you could pan fry these, but i really enjoy the flavor of grilled venison, so once the grill was preheated, on went the venison. it probably didn't take more than a few minutes on each side, to make perfect medium-rare/ medium venison bites. finished with fresh cracked pepper and a little smoked sea salt, and voila'! venison steak bites.

the herb roasted potatoes, which are a personal favorite, are super easy to do. just make sure to get your hands on some great quality new potatoes, or dig up a few from your garden. the young potatoes that you could harvest from your garden now will be tender and earthy- perfect for roasting! toss with enough olive oil to coat all of the potatoes evenly. throw in whatever fresh herbs are growing in your garden, sea salt, cracked pepper, and roast in a 425 degree oven until golden brown and cooked through.

the fresh fruit salad. i was a minimalist here. depending on the fresh fruit that you use, a fresh fruit salad has a pretty short lifespan, so i only made enough for brunch. i used bananas and fresh picked blueberries-both were perfectly ripe and required very little work to make them taste fantastic. a few squeezes of fresh lime juice and a few sprinklings of some vanilla sugar i had stashed in the cupboard. it had a slightly tropical vibe, yet mid-western with the fresh picked blueberries. simple. good.

sunday brunch is one meal that i really enjoy making because it seems to bring us all together on a day which could potentially be very busy with chores and beach time. my daughter really likes to get in on the event, delegating who gets to cook what items, as she is busy picking blueberries, playing dress up with our beloved dog, and whipping up a pretend brunch of her own. i speculate that my young multi-tasker might be ready to work in a restaurant sooner than i would've thought....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Balsamic Onion & Bacon Jam

my ambitions for cooking today are dwindling. i love cooking. i love coaxing the flavors of grains and fruits and meats and vegetables into morsels that cannot be refused by my palette. i love over-thinking the possibilities of an onion, for example. so, today i did just that. i over-thought my beloved and dear friend, the onion. the onion enters in and out of my life, repeatedly, all day- every day. we have a relationship. my all time favorite way to prepare onions is to caramelize them. whenever i caramelize onions, i make certain to prepare more than i need. that way, i have a stash in the fridge that i can dollop on, say, a bagel with chevre. or folded into mashed potatoes. or draped over leftover pizza. however i choose to roll with my onions, they are fantastic, and they hold a special place in a heart, soul, and belly.

i am also currently obsessed with making jam. i have now picked a slew of wild berries, which will soon be transformed into preserves. as wonderful and magnificent as fruit jams are, why limit one's self? i really think that onions- caramelized and paired with say balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and BACON would make a mighty fine jam. this was my task for the day. must make caramelized onion and BACON jam. here's how it went....

i researched a few different recipes to give myself some guidelines. the balsamic onion marmalade from the book, 'wichcraft' was easy and a great place to start. i substituted brown sugar for their granulated sugar, made a few adjustments, added bacon and fresh rosemary, and the end result was awesome!!

1 Tbl olive oil
4 slices bacon, minced
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp smoked sea salt, or plain sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp fresh rosemary
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar

coat the bottom of a heavy bottomed skillet with the olive oil. saute the minced bacon until browned and crisp. remove the bacon from the pan, leaving the bacon fat.

* i suspected that by mincing the bacon, i would get a more even bacon flavor throughout the marmalade. my tasters detected the bacon, but a few folks suggested that bigger chunks of bacon might be better. so go with your preference. if you like big bits of bacon, don't mince the bacon.*

add the onions, salt and pepper to the skillet. cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until the onions are soft. add the sugar and reduce the heat to medium-low. cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the onions appear dry. add the vinegar, rosemary, and the cooked bacon and reduce the heat to low. continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, until the vinegar is reduced. the end product should be creamy-thick, onion-y, sweet, and slightly salty. i spooned the jam into cute little 4oz jam jars, allowed them to come to room temp, and stashed them in the fridge. belly up!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

German Potato Salad

she was hungry, so hungry, she was trying to think clear. she kept opening the fridge door, and looking at the mustard and the beer. and then finally she went out into the rain. carrying her bicycle chain. and her feet worked the pedals while her appetite steered. after that she just followed her nose. and fate is not just whos cook'n smells good, but which way the wind blows.-ani difranco.

as customers are led into the co-op, following the aroma of smoky bacon sizzling in our skillets, i always think of that little ditty. we've all been there. nothing but mustard and beer in the fridge, and our hunger unruly. the reason for the bacon? i re-created a german potato salad here at the co-op, that i've been making frequently this summer at my home. it's quick and delicious, and is the perfect salad to whip up for those last minute shin-digs on your deck.

i like to use baby/new potatoes, whose availability is becoming more and more as summer slowly slips away, and potatoes are being harvested from your gardens. there are several different varieties you could go with, but i really like the buttery characteristic of the yukon gold varieties of potatoes. i also toss in fresh kale, and lace the salad with a bit of the reserved bacon fat. belly up!!

German Potato Salad
-makes enough for a crowd-

4.5 baby yukon gold potatoes, halved
1 lb. bacon, chopped
1 bunch kale, thinly sliced

Bacon Vinaigrette:
6 Tbl bacon fat
6 Tbl olive oil
6 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, minced

Whisk together the above ingredients and set aside.

Boil the potatoes until they are just barely done. Strain them, place on baking sheets, and let them cool in the fridge.

Fry the bacon until crisp. Strain the bacon, reserve the bacon fat, and cool the bacon.

In a large bowl combine the potatoes, bacon, and kale. Toss with the vinaigrette and enjoy!!