Stories from middle America

sea change mpls

[Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

Jessica and I had the chance to dine at Sea Change last weekend. It’s a seafood (surprise) restaurant located in the Guthrie Theater at the Mill District in Minneapolis on the Mississippi River. I’m sure your first thought is of the somewhat ridiculous idea of seafood in the Midwest. Sure, we’ll never have the quality of items one can find in Seattle, or Boston, but it’s pretty amazing what can be done with flash freezing and fresh food transportation these days.

Food & Wiine

[Photo © Marcus Nilsson]

The chefs at Sea Change are pulling it off though, with some inventive and delicious dishes put forth by the current chef de cuisine, Jamie Malone (who is a 2013 Food & Wine Best New Chef).

FWCover

Sea Change focuses on using sustainable seafood for its menu, which was created by 2009 James Beard award winner Tim McKee. As the restaurant is located in the Guthrie, it stands to reason that the acoustics would be well done, and that’s definitely the case. While there was no shortage of ambient noise, Jessica and I had no problem talking and hearing each other at a normal volume. I personally can’t stand a place where you have to shout across the table just to to hear your dining partner.

We decided, after ordering drinks, to just sample several sharing plates together. Jessica had the Spring Herb Salad and I had what is known as the “Romaine” (which is essentially a caesar) to open. We moved on to the shrimp cocktail, which on the surface, sounds boring, but the presentation and flavor was excellent, if a little underwhelming. As the menu lists habañero cocktail sauce, we were pretty excited, but being one half New Mexican and the other half converted, it wasn’t nearly as spicy as we had hoped. The shrimp itself was a perfect texture and bite (unlike e shrimp cocktail we had recently at a local seafood joint).

20130612-103629.jpg

[courtesy Foodspotting]

Next up was the oysters Rockefeller and biscuits with beer jam. Sounds intriguing, I know. The oysters were ok–I think I just prefer them raw–but the beer jam? I would eat that on anything. It was all I could do to not just drink it out of the hermetic jar it was served in. More of a honey consistency than actual jam, with a sweet beer flavor, it needs to be jarred and sold over the counter immediately.

The main course of sorts for us was the grilled octopus with salsa verde and Spanish peppers. Since we’d had a similar dish at Bottega Louie in Los Angeles last year, we wanted to try it again at a different place. The dish isn’t exactly grilled, but only finished there after slow cooking. The consistency and taste were incredible.

octopi

 

[courtesy Foodspotting]

I’d have more images, but I still can’t bring myself to be that guy photographing dishes with my iPhone, so you’ll just have to trust me (as you can see from above, cell photos can tend to turn out lousy).

Overall, Sea Change is a fun, affordable and delicious place to stop by if you’re ever in Minneapolis. The service was nearly perfect, great ambiance, and the quality of the seafood is impressive, especially for a landlocked city.

That’s bacon, ramps, and tomato.

ingredients

It’s summertime (pretty much) and there’s nothing I love more than a BLT when it’s so nice outside. Especially once the tomatoes start to come in and you can pick them right out of your backyard.

bacon

We’re not quite there yet, but the high season for ramps just passed. I’m sure many of you have no idea what I’m talking about, as they’re not usually easy to get your hands on.

Ramps are also known as wild leeks or spring onions. They typically grow in wild, woodland areas, and are harvested from late winter to early spring. I had some picked up for me at Whole Foods, and they’re absolutely amazing.

ramps

As you can see, they’re very similar to scallions, at least in appearance. They do have a definite onion flavor, but also combined with garlic. You can eat the leaves raw, which led me to using them as a substitute for lettuce in a BLT.

brt

It’s simple: remove the lettuce, and add the ramp leaves. You know how to make the rest of that sandwich, right? Right? No?

Ok. Toast bread, spread with mayonnaise, add bacon, lettuce or ramps and tomato. You are now in sandwich heaven.

sandwich

The weather has finally turned for the better here in the Midwest. For those unaware, it snowed one week ago. On May 1st. Insanity.

So with that, the time has come to finally get the vegetable and herb garden going–whether using seeds started inside, or direct seeding right in your garden.

As for what we grow? It’s an ongoing (and slow) process, seeing as how we only have a few months out of each year to see what works and what doesn’t. But every year, we build our repertoire a little more. Some work right away. Some we give up on quickly.  And some, I keep trying year after year, hoping for different results. I think that’s actually insanity, isn’t it?

Herbs are pretty easy, and you can count on a lot of them coming back each year. And there is no substitute for them when cooking, trust me. We plant all of ours in different pots, sized appropriately as to which ones we use more than others. We also try to be purists with our garden, but when it comes to herbs in the summer, we usually just buy small plants and transfer them outside because we’re too impatient.

BasilGroup520

Basil is our favorite and always gets the largest pot. Unfortunately, it’s an annual so it has to be replanted each year. We use the Genovese-type, but this year we’re going to add a “Dolce Vita” blend to the pot and see what happens.

Tarragon is one that we don’t use as often, but came back on its own this year for a pleasant surprise. We had thyme in the same pot with it last summer, but we use more of it now, so it’ll get its own this time around.

Rosemary is a necessity if you like Mediterranean dishes, or, like us, make hummus all the time. It’s nearly impossible to grow from seed, though, so I’d recommend just buying a plant.

Lavendermint, and sage are three that we use less of, but are handy to have around.

Our garlic chives are back for the third! straight year, and require nearly no upkeep, so they’re a must-have.

We’re planting dill for the first time, so hopefully that goes well, because I love it in almost everything.

Now. As for the garden itself. One thing to remember if you’re planting in the same spots or beds each year is to rotate your crops. The same tomato plant put in the same place, year after year, will leach the nutrients it needs from the soil away until there aren’t any left for next year. The chances of disease are also much greater if you don’t move things around. There are some good tips here on how to properly rotate.

garden-layout

S: strawberries. P: Padron peppers B: bell peppers. J: jalapeño peppers. C: cucumber. R: radish. L: lettuce/greens. T: tomatoes.

SC: scallions.

We love salads, so we dedicate two beds’ worth of space to greens.

I’m trying Romaine lettuce (Ridgeline variety) again this year, even though I haven’t had much luck with head lettuce. The same goes for Bibb, or butter lettuce.

My parents brought several packets of Mâche back from Europe recently (with all the instructions in French and German) so we’ll be trying that out for the first time this year.

Next to that will be plenty of arugula, because I can’t get enough of that peppery flavor. And it grows like a weed.

We’ll also be trying spinach, and my personal favorite, a mesclun of the variety–and this is for real–“Sassy Salad”. How could I resist that? It’s just so sassy.

sassy-salad-mesclun

We planted strawberries in one of the beds last summer, so it gets one all to itself again this year.

The remaining three, where the real rotating is done, are our regular vegetables.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes are a must-plant again, and every year for the rest of my life, probably. Five Star Grape and Yellow Mini will also be coming back this year. All three are amazing in salads and bring some great color to dishes. After trying and failing with several full-size heirlooms over the last two years, this time around, I’ve settled on San Marzano, supposedly the best sauce/Roma-type tomato on the planet. Official San Marzano pasta sauce is ten bucks a jar, so here’s hoping they take.

2866_1_

We’re planting a basic pickling cucumber, for, well, pickling (as long as Lisey doesn’t eat them all). Scallions are the only root vegetable we’ll be planting this year, as we just rarely have success growing them in the beds. Cherry Belle Radish will get put in as well (which is a 24-day to ripe plant, so do it).

For peppers, the same jalapeño we’ve grown for the last three years is getting planted again. It’s Ferry-Morse, which is somewhat surprising, but the flavor is incredible and the heat level is just right. We’re also going to try bell peppers for the first time. Once we decide if we want red, yellow, or orange. Maybe all three. Possibly the thing I’m most excited to plant this year are Padron peppers, the Spanish heirloom.

padron

We had them while in Barcelona last summer, coated in olive oil, roasted on a plancha and sprinkled with sea salt and paprika. They were amazing. Can’t wait to be able to do that at home.

We’ll keep you informed throughout the summer how everything’s going.

ingredients

One of the other recipes that I came across in my mom’s massive collection was oatmeal wheat bread. Seeing as how I’m baking constantly these days, I thought it would be fun to try an older bread recipe and see how it came out. While I didn’t stick to it completely, I modified it (somewhat by accident) and it turned out amazing.

You’ll need:

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 packages dry yeast (approximately 4 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 8-9 cups bread flour

Boil the 6 cups of water. Add the oatmeal, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

oatmeal

Remove from heat and let cool to a warm temperature. Add the salt, honey, and melted butter, and eggs, and stir to combine.

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and let sit for five minutes. Combine the oatmeal mixture with the wheat flour in a large bowl or stand mixer. Add the bread flour, a cup or two at a time, until the dough becomes stiff. Knead in the remaining bread flour (the dough will be slightly sticky), shape into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise until doubled, about two hours.

Punch the dough down and remove to a lightly floured surface. Allow the dough to rest for ten minutes, covered. Divide into four equal pieces, and flatten each into a round pancake-like shape, about one inch thick.

flat

Roll tightly from the bottom into a cylinder shape, and pinch the seam closed with your fingers. Place the loaves, seam-side down, onto a baking sheet, oiled, or covered with parchment paper.

shaped

Allow the loaves to rise until doubled, about two more hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and bake for 30-35 minutes.

finish

Serve fresh from the oven, or let cool. As you can see, the recipe called for 12 cups of white flour. There was no way I was getting all that flour into this dough, plus it would make way too many loaves for our needs. Four is still too many, really. So I cut it down, and because of that, the bread actually turned out rather light and soft. I would imagine it would have been much more dense if I had used the full amount. Sometimes, modifying classics can actually improve them.