Notes from the North Shore…

One of my favorite places on Earth is northern Minnesota.  From the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, up the coast to the border of Canada.  This summer, we decided to take the kids up a little farther than we’ve traveled with them in the past, to Grand Marais, MN.  Our plan, was to kick around Grand Marais for the day, then head south a bit to Temperance River State Park and camp for two nights.  On the way home, a quick stop in Two Harbors for a hike around Split Rock Lighthouse, and another quick stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park before finally on to Duluth & an overnight at the Hampton in Canal Park (thank you employee discount-I sure will miss you…).

Growing up in southeastern Minnesota, I’ve done my fair share of camping over the years.  I love to camp.  But, I’ve come to realize that I don’t much care for the “rustic” part of it anymore, which you could totally get from how the back of my van looked the day we set off.  Uff-da.  Anyway, my kids hadn’t been “real” camping yet (only cabin & such at Girl Scout camp) and we’ve wanted to do this for the past several summers.  I don’t know who was more excited, them or me!

I began preparing for this trip, but reserving our campsite online.  I was able to secure a site, for two days, that “overlooked” the lake.  It was close to the shower/bathroom area as well, which I was a bit worried about….smell, noise etc.  Next planning step, what are we going to eat?!?!  Yes, of course I had to plan our menu!!  And NO, we were not going to eat hot dogs/hamburgers etc.  We were going to have fun camping food!  Okay, hot dogs & hamburgers are fun, don’t get me wrong, but I am always challenging myself with food, why wouldn’t that apply to camping?

So out came the recipes I have accumulated from my days of being a Girl Scout Leader, not too long ago.  A definite on my menu, Girl Scout Gumbo.  And Walkin’ Tacos.  And Snickers Salad…and Puppy Chow, and S’mores, and Raspberry Pancakes….oh gosh.  I can’t pack the refrigerator so I had better settle down.

When the date finally arrived, and we had the van & kids loaded (and I mean loaded…it was like we were going on a two-week vacation…thank goodness I have a “mommy-van”) a quick check of the forecast of the North Shore said we’d be in for perfectly hot camping weather!  Normally, the North Shore in July sees highs in the 70’s that time of year, but just our luck had them in the middle of a heat wave.  Yes, we camped in almost 90-degree weather…record breaking heat for that area!  No cooling off at night for us…

We arrived in Grand Marais, parked the van and headed out on the shoreline to stretch out our legs after the long ride.  First thing I noticed, the beach was all rocks.  No sand, just tiny, shiny, gorgeous little rocks!  Walking a little further, we happened upon this cool rock…totally meant to be.  And then we started seeing these rock sculptures.

The first few, lined up along the shore.  We continued walking, into an area called the Artists Point.  And they were everywhere!!  How cool is that!

   

The kids loved walking around them, looking at them for design ideas and I knew, for the next few days, they’d be looking for rocks to build their own.  I however, was ready to eat.  Did I tell you that a restaurant I’ve known about for years is in Grand Marais?  Yep, Angry Trout Cafe, here I come!!

We did make a quick pit-stop for the kids to have a slice of pizza at a place in Grand Marais called Sven & Ole’s pizza.  They had bottles of incredible Buddy’s soda from the New Ulm Beverage Company/August Schell Brewing Company.  The Orange soda…oh my gosh…so, SO good!!  It was almost like a melted orange popsicle…get your hands on a bottle SOON!

     

Okay, focus Shawn.  Let’s talk Fish & Chips at the Angry Trout Cafe!  First, a little background on the restaurant itself-taken from their website.  “Open “seasonally” (May-October) the Angry Trout Cafe is a small indoor/outdoor restaurant, cobbled together out of an old commercial fishing shanty that clings to the edge of Grand Marais Harbor. From this beautiful setting we offer a menu based on the bounty of Lake Superior and the surrounding region – locally-grown produce, hand-harvested wild rice, and of course, our specialty, fresh Lake Superior fish.”

     

It was busy that day, even for a weekday, but the wait was short and we wanted to brave the heat and sit on the deck overlooking the gorgeous Lake Superior views.  While eating, we even got to watch a boat-plane take off, right next to the restaurant.  Pretty cool for my nine-year old!  We only managed to eat the Fish & Chips, as everyone was eager to get to our “home” for the next two days/nights.  I had the fried Cod and the hubby had the fried Whitefish.  But the one thing I couldn’t get off my mind, was the Tarter Sauce…it was off the hook!  I tried to re-create it when I made my version of Fish & Chips, but I don’t know if it was the environment, or a missing ingredient, It was much better there.  I literally wanted to eat it with a spoon, it was that good!

Home-sweet-home…..for the next two days anyway.  Our campsite at Temperance River State Park proved to be pretty nice, on the corner of a walkway & the road thru the campground-but not too noisy.  We were downhill from the latrines and our view, well, you can see it above.  Not super awesome, but we spent so much time hiking and away from camp, it didn’t really matter.  However, my daughter and I went on an exploratory walk one afternoon and found LOTS better sites, sprinkled throughout the campground.  If you are interested in the lot number of those, send me a note as I would be happy to share that with you!  One thing that made those other sites so much more appealing…the fact they all had great tree coverage.  Our site had us exposed from all sides really, and that week, with the almost 90-degree weather, we would have loved to have more shade.  But alas, we made the most of it!

After setting up camp, we headed out to explore the park; if you ever get the chance to go there, do it!  It was so gorgeous!  They have lots of trails where you can hike and take in gorgeous waterfalls & views that are breathtaking.  It was truly a picture-perfect place!

After all that walking, we needed to eat!  We must have walked twenty miles, mostly up and over the rocky shoreline, over the course of those three days!  One cool thing that Minnesota State Parks do, that we didn’t know until we were getting firewood at the office, is that you can check out activity bags to use while you are camping.  We checked one out and my son read to us as the rest of us prepared our feast!

As I mentioned before, Girl Scout Gumbo was on the menu, as was Snickers Salad.  And of course, no camping trip is complete without S’mores!  Here is a quick list on how to make both items….

Girl Scout Gumbo–  the amounts depend somewhat on how many people you are feeding.  The recipe that follows should feed 12-18 people, so adjust as necessary.

You’ll need: {2 pounds ground beef} + {1 tablespoon of dehydrated onion/onion powder or 1/2 minced onion}  +  {4 cans vegetable soup, condensed if you can deal with it}  +  {1 cup of water}  +  {salt, pepper, garlic to taste}  +  {2 cups grated cheese}  +  {corn or tortilla chips}

Instructions-  brown ground beef, add onions and cook until tender.  Add soup & water and cook 10 minutes longer.  Pour over corn or tortilla chips to eat and sprinkle with cheese.  Enjoy!

Snicker Salad-  so there are a couple of different ways to make this.  We made it the pudding mix way, but I think when I had it before, it was with Cool Whip.  So, if you want to try the latter version, just substitute it instead of the pudding & milk.

You’ll need:  {1 box of french vanilla pudding} + {1 cup, or more of milk} + {2 granny smith apples} + {2-3 Snickers bars}

Instructions:  mix pudding & milk together in a bowl and set aside.  Carefully chop the apples and Snickers bars.  Once pudding has set, fold in apples & Snickers.  Enjoy!

I don’t need to tell you how to make S’mores…do I?  Just kidding 🙂  If you don’t have long-handled s’mores (or hot dog) sticks, I found some great, inexpensive ones at Walmart!

What a great vacation we had!  Ahh…so many great shots…so hard to pick the ones to share with you!

So for now, I hope you’ll curl up with someone special, in front of a glowing fireplace and dream of all the awesome photos you’ll take when you get out next summer and explore the gorgeous Minnesota State Parks!  I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful area!  Thanks for hanging in there with this extremely looonnnngggg post!  Ha!  Until next time, Shawn

Beer for a Year, month eight…

Greetings beer lovers!

If you are checking the calendar, you’ll see I’m a few days late on my July beer post…this has honestly been the craziest summer!  I am sorry, but am trying not to beat myself up about it, thinking you’ll understand and can relate.  Won’t you?

This (last) month’s beer is Summit Pilsener.  A Bohemian Style, lighter beer perfect for summer and what I am making…Fish & Chips!  You can read more about this delicious beer here.

Our house is abuzz with Olympic excitement!  The kids jump out of bed early and beg to stay up late, absorbing every minute of coverage they can digest.  Favorites of theirs include any of the swimming events, all of the gymnastic events, track events and beach volleyball…I even came home one day to this sprawled across my driveway…gotta love their enthusiasm!

So in honor of the Opening Ceremonies, I decided to make a ‘little spot’ of Fish & Chips to have that night for dinner.  The Pilsener was a great beer to use for the batter; light & bubbly, not too bitter.  Here is the recipe for the batter:

“Olympic-style” Fish & Chips:

(this makes enough for two servings of fish, so feel free to double it if necessary)

1 egg

3/4 cup of flour

1 & 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

6 oz. of Summit Pilsener

2 –  6 oz. fresh fillets of cod or other fish

2 teaspoons of seafood/fish seasoning (I used Chesapeake Bay seasoning from Blue Crab Bay Co.)

sea salt

You’ll notice this batter is similar to the Beer Battered Onion Rings I made here.  We (really my husband cause I suck at it) like to make our own sauces because it never fails that we buy a whole bottle of whatever sauce and we use two tablespoons of it and there it sits for months until it lands in the garbage.  Plus, making your own sauce is not only easy, but you know exactly what is in it!  Too many times we’ll buy a dressing or sauce that has some weird flavor to it and when checking the label, it will say “blah, blah, blah & herbs” …yah, so do your own.  For this dinner we needed both Tartar and Cocktail sauces, because you may notice I snuck in some battered shrimps, hence the need for cocktail sauce.  Although I don’t think real Fish & Chips are even served “over the pond” with either sauce and of course in my shopping for this meal, the one thing I forgot, was the Malt vinegar… note to self for next time!

So, for the “chip” portion of this meal, I sliced up some red potatoes and just started those off in about an inch of oil I had placed in a large pan (I used canola oil) while I cut up the fish and got the batter ready.  (you can cut your “chips” a little smaller so they cook quicker) I also decided to make fish “bites” instead of whole pieces.  Once the “chips” had browned a bit, I pulled them out, gave them a sprinkling of sea salt and thru them in the oven to hold.

After I removed the “chips” I cleaned up the oil and added a bit more, bringing it back up to a good frying temperature.  (please be careful when frying things in oil, wear an old shirt and keep small children away from your pan…do you know what to do in the case of a grease fire?  If not, read this post) Once the oil was ready, I popped the fish in gently and flipped them over, once one side was golden brown.  Place them on a paper towel lined plate to drain and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.

                        

So, another blog post that is totally late is the one I want to do about our recent (and first ever as a family!) camping trip we took to the North Shore!  The first day, we drove all the way to Grand Marais and had to eat at the Angry Trout Cafe.  I had fish & chips there and could have just eaten a bowl of their Tartar sauce and been happy!  (well maybe not…that actually sounds gross now reading this!)  I googled the recipe and found what appears to be the recipe below, on this website.  Not sure if it’s authentic, but I thought I would post it anyway!  I think the addition of the dill is what I loved most about this sauce.

Angry Trout Cafe, (as written by the Mother Nature Network) Tartar Sauce:

1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise

6 tablespoons pickle relish (you don’t have to buy this either, just chop up some dill pickles and add a bit of sugar)

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons dried dill weed

The hubby’s homemade Tartar Sauce:

Mix together Mayo, pickle relish (or chop up your own dill or bread & butter pickles), lemon juice, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.  Yep, play with it until it’s the way you like it! 🙂

The hubby’s homemade Cocktail Sauce:

Mix together ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and a little splash of Tabasco or other hot sauce.

This would also be good as a sandwich with some really great coleslaw on the side!  I hope you’ll try making this Fish & Chips at home one day!  Let me know if you do!

As always, until next time…go for the gold!

Shawn

A menu tasting………at The Liffey Irish Pub

I don’t make a habit of reviewing restaurants, as I leave that to the real critics out there, but today I, along with some of my co-workers were invited to the Liffey for lunch, to sample some of the new menu items.  I find a reason to eat at The Liffey whenever possible….but that is easy for me.  I work part time at the Holiday Inn St. Paul Downtown, which is connected to The Liffey!  We are so lucky to have such a great place for our guests to enjoy when staying with us!  Our guests are well taken care of, under the guidance of Chef Erik Rasmussen and General Manager, Jay Johnson.  Let me share with you a little history first…taken right from their website.

“The Liffey Irish Pub first opened in February 2003 and is part of the Cara Irish Pub family which includes our sister pubs The Local, Kieran’s Irish Pub and Cooper Pub.  In the summer of 2011 we remodelled the pub, adding more color and flair along with more bench and high booth seating, while still retaining our warmth & charm.  The pub was built in Dublin, Ireland before being constructed here in St. Paul. The Liffey was chosen as the name to celebrate both our proximity to the Mississippi river and our cultural ties to Dublin as The Liffey is the name of the river that runs through Dublin, Ireland. The Liffey is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In 2005, we opened The Terrace at The Liffey, our 2nd story outdoor seating area.  This award winning patio offers seating for over 150 with a full bar available to our guests as they take in views of St. Paul.”  Read more here.

Located just steps from the Xcel Energy Center– home of the Minnesota Wild and venue to some of the best concerts & events each year, The Liffey is situated in one of the most exciting parts of downtown St. Paul.  My clients don’t hesitate to say yes when I offer lunch in the summer…that terrace is awesome!  So let’s talk about what we sampled today!

First up, Pot Roast Sliders……these little cuties were in the top two of what we tasted today.  Soft buttery buns, stuffed with tender, juicy Pot Roast, gorgeously sweet caramelized onions and the horseradish sour cream added a nice little kick to balance it all out.  You get three to an order, perfect for sharing or to keep all to yourself!  Seriously, after tasting this today, the next time I make Pot Roast, I may just make them into sandwiches right away!

Next up, Ham & Gruyère, our second favorite of the day.  To start, this sandwich was perfectly cooked, golden brown and oh, if I could encrust all my sandwiches with Gruyère, well life would just be a whole lot better!  Wikipedia describes Gruyère as sweet but slightly salty cheese from Switzerland, with a flavor that varies widely with age. It is often described as creamy and nutty when young, becoming with age more assertive, earthy, and complex. When fully aged (five months to a year) it tends to have small holes and cracks which impart a slightly grainy mouthfeel.   It has always been a favorite cheese at our house.  The kitchen staff at The Liffey puts a whole mess of thinly-sliced ham, topped with a Dijon cheese sauce (uh, yeah, they should bottle & sell that stuff) in between two slices of sourdough bread and then slather the outside of the bread with creamy Irish Butter and grated Gruyère.  You can have it served with fresh-cut chips (they are kettle-style chips, coated in dill), champ (mashed potatoes with fresh chives), wee greens (as shown, with mixed greens, tossed in honey-chive vinaigrette, cucumbers, scallions & radishes), or a cup of their homemade soup.  GO GET THIS SANDWICH PEOPLE!!!  They only thing that would have made it better, was if I would have had it with a Crispin Cider!  Or a Guinness….or…..

Isn’t this one gorgeous!?  It was almost to pretty to eat!  Almost….. This is the Seared Tuna, another Small Plate at The Liffey.  They quickly sear the Tuna, still keeping it rare and place it on top of a bed of black olive tapenade, honey cured bacon and drizzled wasabi mayo.  Tuna is such a delicate fish, that I found the tapenade & bacon a bit overpowering, but delicious and in the end, the whole dish worked together.  I deconstructed mine while I ate it, so I could taste each component.  This was a well put together Small Plate that is the perfect beginning to a wonderful meal at The Liffey!

You can’t make a trip to The Liffey without having Fish & Chips of some sort!  This is their Fish Bites, another Small Plate and makes a great starter for that “wee bit of fish” you crave!  It’s served in a oversized bowl, on waxed newsprint with lemon wedges, spicy cocktail sauce & house tarter sauce.  They lightly batter the Cod and fry it crispy.  Who doesn’t love that?!

Another new addition to the Small Plates menu, is Curry Chips.  We had a discussion after our lunch about the term “chips” when it refers to what we Americans call french fries.  Many of you know that in France they are actually called “pommes frites“.  Here is what I found out about the origin of “chips”, again from our friends at Wikipedia.  “Traditionally, “chips” in the British Isles (and Australia and New Zealand), are cut much thicker, i.e., are “chipped” from the potatoes and described in some recipes as “chipped potatoes” not simply “chips”, and are typically between 10 and 15 mm (3/8–1/2 inches) wide. Since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. Thick-cut, or beefsteak, British chips are occasionally made from unpeeled potatoes to enhance their flavor and nutritional value and are not necessarily served as crisp as the European French fry due to their relatively high water content.”  Whatever you call them, these “chips” were cooked just right, crisp and perfect for dipping in the house made curry sauce & horseradish sour cream.

Each day, the kitchen staff creates a new Pub Pizza.  Today, we tried the Sausage & Pepperoni version, thin cracker crust, ample toppings and the perfect amount of cheese make this a great Small Plate to share or for lunch.

And of course, we couldn’t leave without trying a couple of desserts.  The Bread & Butter Pudding, was made with sourdough and tossed with vanilla bean custard, mixed with apples & cranberries, baked & topped with a whiskey anglaise.  Not too heavy or overly sweet, this was just missing a steamy hot mug of Irish Coffee along side it!

The Whiskey Apple Crisp is spiked with a touch of  2 GINGERS IRISH WHISKEY™, cardamom, cinnamon and new, topped with a scoop of Izzy’s Salted Caramel ice cream.  Oh yeah!  They have a really great selection of desserts, but the problem being, there are so many great things on their menu, its hard to save room!  Maybe I can bring a client in for a “dessert lunch”…hmmm….

Other favorites on The Liffey menu, Chicken Shots on the Small Plate menu, crispy bits of chicken tossed in a 2 GINGERS IRISH WHISKEY™  glaze.  You can’t go without trying the Frickles as well.  They take their house-made sweet & spicy pickles, batter them in buttermilk and fry them golden.  Served with a creamy side of ranch, these are a must have!  Interestingly enough, they have some non-Irish goodies on the menu as well…the Curried Chicken is one of my favorites and they make a pretty mean Gnocchi as well!  Two other popular items are the Finnegans-Brined Chicken & Steak & Mushroom Pie.

The only things missing from our lunch sampling today was a pint of Guinness or The Big Ginger™, but alas, we all had to be productive the rest of our day!  If you haven’t been, you need to go….don’t walk, RUN to The Liffey soon!  There is no better place in downtown St. Paul to grab some great pub food!

Thank you to The Liffey staff for inviting us in to taste these delicious dishes!

Cheers,

Shawn