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The Latin Tongue: Restaurants in the Twin Cities

A nice spread from El Bravo

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that Americans have an obsession with Mexican food. Simply take a look at our fast food chains, food courts, strip malls and everywhere in between. You cannot say the same about any other ethnic cuisine. Sure, Italian is right up there, but besides pizza (which is mostly Americanized anyway), Italian cuisine has not quite taken over like the rampant spread of tacos, burritos and other notions borrowed from Latin culture. What is less obvious to me is, why?

 

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DIY Craft Cocktails: Hello, summer drinks

summer drinks

I maintain that making cocktails should be as spontaneous and improvisational as regular cooking. This is particularly true during the height of summer, when backyard gardens and farmers markets are producing an almost overwhelming amount of vegetables and fruit.

 

For example, there are few things as pleasant as drinking cold Vinho Verde in a friend's backyard, then plucking a couple fresh raspberries and dropping them into your glass. (Berries can also be frozen and later used as ice cubes in cocktails throughout the summer.) Additionally, just-picked tomatoes (roughly chopped and salted) form the base of a spectacular Bloody Mary, one that can be garnished with a sliver of fresh cucumber.

 

Summer drinks should be refreshing, easy, and made with ingredients you already have on hand. The following recipes are for drinks I've been enjoying this summer, and are basic guidelines/suggestions that can be adapted to whatever is available.

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Embrace local farm bounty with giardiniera

giardiniera

All winter we dream of these months, when farmers market tables pile high with an array of vegetables, and CSA boxes get heavier and more diverse, boasting everything from kohlrabi to radishes.

 

It's no surprise, then, that I find that I'm eating a ton of vegetables lately, and not just boring, broccoli-as-a-side-dish vegetables. I love pickled vegetables, and giardiniera is one of my favorites.  

 

With its Italian roots, giardiniera is also known as "sottaceti," meaning "under vinegar," and is usually eaten along with antipasto selections like cured meats, various cheeses, and olives. The simple mix shows up on Italian beef sandwiches in some places, particularly in Chicago, and can be used in a muffuletta sandwich, a swoon-worthy creation that originated with Italian immigrants in New Orleans.

 

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Hunting for Dinner: Salmon burgers, fresh as you can get

salmon

My father-in-law, Ted, has a beautiful king salmon that he caught, mounted and hung in his closet. I've heard the story about how he caught that fish a few times. He likes to tell everyone that he hung it in the closet so that he can look at it twice every day — once in the morning when he gets his coat to leave, and once in the evening when he hangs up his coat. It really is a magnificent fish and I've found myself looking in the closet from time to time, thinking about the day that I might get the opportunity to catch one similar. 

 

This year that chance finally came. Ted asked me if I'd like to head over to Manitowoc, Wisconsin for a weekend of salmon fishing. I quickly jumped at the opportunity and looked forward to it for months. It was going to be a quick trip leaving Friday morning and returning Sunday afternoon with two days out on the charter, joined by my brother-in-law Zac and his friend Ndefru. 

 

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The art of the quick pickle

quick pickle

Whenever I make up a batch of quick pickles, I think about my grandmother, who had such a lush, amazing garden, and the food preservation skills to match. She had little in the way of finances, so she was always very frugal about using whatever was on hand so we could enjoy the tastes of her garden throughout the long, cold Minnesota winter months. I remember zucchini, squash, tomato salsas, even fruit pickling. If she grew it, she canned it.

 

When I grew up and became a chef, I never forgot the way my grandmother would make sure to use produce wisely so that there wasn't any waste, and of course, I never forgot her quick pickles. 

 

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Don't fear the kohlrabi — it comes in peace

kohlrabi

Kohlrabi. That often-massive light green orb with tentacles, excavated from under your piles of chard and kale at the bottom of the CSA box. “Weird,” “alien,” and “compost pile-bound” can be heard when describing it. But beneath its rough exterior lies a tasty ingredient for your stir frys and slaws that will leave you wishing for more.

 

A member of the same family of vegetables as cabbage and kale, kohlrabi is high in both vitamins C and B6, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. It’s readily available during Minnesota summers at farmer’s markets, co-ops, and occasionally more traditional markets, and it’s usually inexpensive.

 

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Vino 101: A few (not fifty) shades of gray

pinot grigio

This marks the debut of SGT's new wine column, by one of our favorite oenophiles. Cheers!

 

At a recent tasting, I was pouring a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris, and someone asked me a perfectly sensible question that wine pros hear all the time: "What's the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio?" Responding to this question is tricky, because the answer is both perfectly simple and kind of complicated.

 

The simple answer is that there is no difference. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are simply two names for the same grape. Gris means "gray" in French, and Grigio is the Italian word for — you guessed it — gray. The name comes from the color of the grape (more about that later). 

 

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Make This Now: Red raspberry sorbet

raspberry sorbet

In honor of an upcoming visit from Jeni Britton Bauer (frozen dessert genius), we provide this snippet from her new book. Hello, summer desserts...we sure do love you. 

 

Raspberry sorbet is easy to find, and many cookbooks have recipes for it. I include it in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts for two reasons. First, raspberries are an example of a perfect fruit, like really great peaches (harder to find than raspberries), black currents, and ripe apricots. Sometimes you just want to respect that and leave well enough alone. Will tarragon or spices or mix-ins make the sorbet better? No. They may make it interesting, but nothing can make fresh raspberries more delightful.

 

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