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Great American Steak Company – Beef Filet Review

If you’ve been to one of America’s premier steakhouse chains like Ruth’s Chris, Mortons, Smith & Wollensky, or an upmarket independent operator in your local market, like me, it’s likely you have paid $30 – $50 for a premium beef filet, usually around 6 ounces. Add a couple sides and drinks and you’re easily at the hundred dollar market for dinner.

Frequently you’ll see ‘filets’ on sale at grocery stores, personally sized portions, usually about four ounces, for anywhere between $4.99 – $9.99.

Imagine my surprise when I found a bunch from “Great American Steak Company” for $1.99 each.

Great American is a retail brand of  the American Foods Group, part of the Rosen’s Group, a diversified operator founded in 1946 in Fairmont, Minnesota, about 100 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Among their other brands are the Sheboygan Sausage Company and Big City Reds Hot Dogs.  According to the USDA plant number on the packaging, this beef was processed at another Rosen subsidiary, Skylark Packing in Omaha.

At the price, I was ‘afraid’ the product would be not real muscle meat, but instead a rolled or ‘pressed chopped and formed’ piece of beef.  I was wrong.

The steak was a moist, flavorful single cut of beef, wrapped in bacon.  Wish I had bought a hundred.

Great American Steak Review

Packaging

Great American Steak Review

Filet cooked medium, cut in half

 

Great American Steak Company Reviews

Duluth, MN – Canal Park Brewing Review

A year old, operating kinks worked out, Canal Park Brewing has  great beer, updated menu adds spot on poutine. Menu.

Canal Park Brewing Review

 

 

 

 

 

 
Canal Park Brewing Company on Urbanspoon
 

Canal Park Brewing Review

Homemade Pizza Recipe

It’s  both a labor of love and a real pain in the ass at the same time, making pizza at home from scratch.  But once and awhile I enjoy it, and I thought I’d share some recipes and tips I have sorted out after years of trial and error.

The first task is making the dough for the crust, and if you want it to turn out ‘pizzeria style”, you’d best start 24 hours or longer in advance. I make a double batch, divide into two balls, one of the pie of the moment, one to freeze to have handy for next time. (Tip: to freeze a ball of pizza dough, coat it with olive oil, but in a freezer bag.  Allow to thaw for 24 hours in the frig before using, and allow three hours on the counter to come to room temp for best results).

Basic Pizza Dough

  • 2 t yeast (jars work better for me than packets)
  • 4 t sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 4 C flour (the best is designated as “00″ which is used in Italy. Find it at good food stores. King Arthur sells a version, too) but almost any white flour will do.
  • 1 C + more, water water, warmer than your finger
  • 1/2 C EVOO

Put yeast, and 2 t sugar in 1 C warm water, mix. Allow to sit at least ten minutes for the yeast to be activated. You’ll know it’s working when it has a foam cap on top of the liquid.  If it doesn’t foam up, start over.

Mix flour, remaining sugar, salt and EVOO together. If using a counter top mixer, about two minutes, lately though, I have been doing it by hand, gives me some added satisfaction.  Add water and continue to blend.  Eyeball whether you need more water and add appropriate amount until all ingredients are blended. With a KitchenAid, mix on low for 8 minutes, until the dough loses its stickiness.

When I do it by hand, it’s a ten minute chore, folding and kneading to reach the same results.  The last  minute of mixing, if you want a flavored crust (like herb or garlic), add that ingredient and mix.  Split the dough in half and put one in the freezer as described above.

Lightly coat the other ball with oil, and place in  a covered bowl for 2 hours to raise.  At the end of the two hour period, put in a large tupperware, with lid, overnight in frig, and when ready to use the next day, let sit on the counter (still in the tupperware) for 4-6 hours before using.  (If you want a cracker thin, crispy crust, skip the 2 hour rise).

Assembly and Baking

Preheat the oven to 500. Roll out the dough, or hand stretch, into an oval about the size of a cooking sheet. It’s easier to do if you lightly flour your counter or work space. Poke holes across the dough with fork tines. Now here’s a trick.  Place the rolled out dough on a piece of parchment. Brush on your favorite tomato sauce, cover with cheese and your favorite toppings. I generally use pinches of fresh hot Italian sausage (you can buy the builk style or rip the casings off of link style, pepperoni, and olives. Sprinkle a t of oregano and basil over the pie.

Homemade Pizza Recipe

Stretched dough

Homemade Pizza Recipe
Ladle sauce and spread with back of spoon
Homemade Pizza Recipe
Ready for the oven

 

Pizza Squeeze

While I usually make my own sauce, in a pinch, I am quite happy with a product called “Pizza Squeeze” from Contadina. Everyone has a personal preference for how pizza sauce should taste, this product suits me. (pictured left).

Carefully lift the pie on the parchment (you may require assistance) and slide onto middle rack of pre-heated oven.

Bake for six minutes on the parchment, and then pull the parchment out from under the pie, leaving it bare on the oven shelf.  Bake 6-10 minutes longer, until the crust browns and the cheese is bubbling.  Your time may vary, as oven temps do.  You can also do it on a Weber the same way; be sure to keep watching it and rotating every couple of minutes. You can get a nice char from charcoal reminiscent of the 800 degree wood ovens currently in fashion.

Let sit on a bread rack for a couple minutes when removing from oven. Slice in squares, or serve whole and pass a pair of scissors around the table to let guests have a DIY pizza experience.

This is a local Chicago brand of Italian sausage, I really don’t find much variance in  brands, except I usually skip ones made in house at groceries.  I haven’t found one of those that is all that flavorful.  Score a couple of sausages lengthwise to peel back the casing.  Pinch off a piece of the pork to dot the pizza.  For me, about half the size of a golf ball is ideal.

Homemade Pizza Recipe

 

Homemade Pizza Recipe
Peeling casing off sausage
Homemade Pizza Recipe
Pinch off sausage pieces

For olives, when I’m in a the mood for ‘green’, I buy what are often labeled “salad olives.”  I’ve paid $5 a jar, and a buck a jar, never seem to be a significant difference.

Homemade Pizza Recipe
Salad Olives

Today’s pepperoni choice is “Jefferson Brand” – the packages promises “Wisconsin quality made in Kansas” whatever that means.  It’s a Tyson company. The plant number on the package indicates the product is made at the Tyson plant in South Hutchinson, KS.  It was on sale.  Pepperoni is something I don’t see much difference between brands either.  But you can tell its ‘cheap’ if the slices char and or cup on the pie, indicating a higher fat to pork ratio.  I’m sure you’ve seen that on some pizzeria pies.

I like a little diced fresh garlic on my pizza.  Here in Portland, my favorite pie is heavy on the garlic, a “Neapolitan style” at Cara Amico.

Homemade Pizza Recipe
Diced fresh garlic

.Almost any shredded or sliced mozzarella will do.  You may want to mix it up by adding romano, provolone, or exotic blends like flavored goat or fetas. Not sure of the melting quality, but I’d like to try some from Cypress Grove in California, who make a whole raft of flavored goat cheeses.  The truffle one might add some interesting depth.

Homemade Pizza Recipe
Pepperoni side

 

Homemade Pizza Recipe
Sausage side

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade Pizza Recipe

Couple of Duluth Disappointments

Kawika and the Minnesota posse hit a couple of places in Duluth recently, and were disappointed across the board.

The local Marcus theater has five buck night, and apparently they try and make up for the reduced admission with a giant price on a hot dog combo – $8.75 for a dog and soda.  The good news should have been that the franks are high-quality beef weenies from Chicago’s Eisenberg, the bad news (beside the price) was the dogs had been on a roller/heater for so long as to be nearly inedible. Food outlets that use dog rollers should toss product from time to time. Common sense.

Duluthians were so excited about the opening of their first Panera bread store, that they lined up the night before the grand opening. The posse went for sandwiches.

It’s funny, Panera does make so many great breads, and do a lot of good in their communities.  But they fall down on the ingredients used in their sandwiches, it’s been my opinion, and the posse came away feeling the same way.

Marcus Theater Hot Dog

Marcus Theater Hot Dog

 

Marcus Theater Hot Dog

Marcus Theater Hot Dog

 

Panera Tuna Sandwich

Panera Tuna Sandwich

 

Panera Duluth Review

Duluth Lobby

Panera reviews

New Orleans – Liuzzas Review

Luizzas Review

Liuzzas Original Location

Too often, visitors to the Big Easy miss out on many of the best places to dine in the Crescent City.  I guess you could probably say this about most travel destinations; in the Crescent City, visitors tend to get “stuck” in the French Quarter or nearby Garden District and miss out on the neighborhood dining experience.  Not that there is anything wrong with what is available in either of those two locales, it’s just that New Orleans has so much more to offer when you get out and about.

Not far from the Quarter, Liuzza’s has been operating and serving local favorites since 1947.  In a city where some eateries have been open for way over a century, one that is only approaching 70 might not seem like such a big deal, but in most US cities other than New Orleans, a seventy year old restaurant is a big deal.

Liuzza’s menu is straightforward New Orleans, a combination of Creole and Cajun cuisines, with a little Italian mixed in. Luizza’s has a second location, “Liuzzas By the Track”, which is not far from Burgerdogboy daughter’s domicile, and near the fairgrounds/racetrack where the annual fete of JazzFest takes place (starts in two weeks!)  The “Jazz” part of the name is kind of misleading, as every year during the two week extravaganza, you’ll also have the opportunity to hear the biggest stars in the history of rock, as well.

Anyway, the spawn and I hit Liuzza’s for a quick lunch, and as always, it was superb. She went with the soup of the day, which was Turtle, and excellent, and I opted for a fried shrimp po-boy, which was absolutely perfect at every level.  We hastily decided to split an order of fries, and that was over ordering, as it turned out.

If you’re planning on hitting New Orleans, it’s worth a quick cab ride to either location to have some great grub, and dine with the locals, who can be pretty entertaining all on their own!  Open Monday through Saturday from 11A – 7P.

Luizza's Review

Fried shrimp poboy

Liuzza's by the Track on Urbanspoon
Liuzzas Review

Coney Island Recipe – Hot Dog Sauce

I love coney island style hot dogs, which are not to be confused with chili dogs.  Coney islands follow a basic formula of a natural casing wiener, adorned with meat sauce, chopped raw onions, and yellow mustard.  There are variations of them around the midwest, usually at shops started by Greek families two or three generations ago.  Some of the more famous include American Coney in Detroit, Skyline and Gold Star in Ohio, and of course, Deluxe Coney in my home town of Duluth.

On occasion, I make my own sauce at home, whipping up a batch large enough to consume immediately, and freeze the rest in sandwich bags to take out whenever I have the urge over the succeeding couple of months.

My recipe has been developed and fine tuned over many years, and is similar to the sauces listed about, but not identical.  Each establishment has their own ‘secret ingredient’, I am sure.

Coney Island Style Hot Dogs

Ingredients for Sauce:

  • 6 C water
  • 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 4 t chili powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 4 t cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2  finely diced onions, one for broth, one for assembly later
  • 2 pounds 85/15 ground beef
  • High quality, natural casing hot dogs (I used Usinger’s)
  • Buns
  • Yellow mustard

Method:

Bring the water to a boil, and add and stir in the tomato paste. When thoroughly mixed, add the dry spices and herbs. Now here’s the twist, which is different that I usually would have done in the past, but it really works for this. Crumble the beef RAW into the broth, and the onions, and simmer for three hours or until reduced to a thickness that you prefer. You may have to further crumble the beef while cooking with a wooden spoon or potato masher, but chances are the hot water will do the job for you.  I usually end up cooking for considerably longer than three hours, reducing my concoction to a thick and meaty sauce.

Assembly:

Steam or griddle fry your dogs, place one on a bun slathered with yellow mustard. Ladle a quantity of chili to your personal preference and dust with diced onion.

Pictorial, step by step:

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

6 C water, 6 oz tomato paste

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

Spice / herb combination

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

Water, tomato paste, spices boiling

 

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

Crumble raw beef into ‘soup’

 

 

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

Usinger’s of Milwaukee, NC wieners

 

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

Finely diced onions

 

Coney Island Hot Dog Recipe

Lunch time!

 

 

Coney Island Recipe

 

 

Luigis Pizza Review

Luigi's Frozen Pizza ReviewContinuing to cut a swath through small Midwestern frozen pizza manufacturers, I happened upon Luigi’s brand, manufactured in the small town of Belgium, WI.  I’m not able to find much information about it online, nor do they have a website. I’m going to make a giant assumption here and opine this is yet another manufacturer that started out as a supplier to bars and restaurants and made the leap to retail. Stop the presses!  Upon further investigation, with a ‘similar logo’ and geographical proximity, it may be these pies originally came from the loins of a nearby restaurant, Luigi’s of Sheboygan. Maybe.

It’s also one of those times when I reached for one product and ended up bringing home another; usually I go for “all meat”, but ended up grabbing a supreme, which is topped with sausage, pepperoni, onion, green and red peppers.  The sausage bits are small and pre-cooked. The quantity of toppings is adequate; the pie falls into what I would determine to be a medium price range at about $7 per pie, which ways in at about 25 ounces, or 28 cents per ounce, or 87 cents for each of the eight slices (recommended servings).  Further, each slice contains 20 % of your daily sodium content. Whoops!

Instructions call for 15 – 18 minutes at 400; they further state that since ‘oven temperatures may vary’, one should rely on appearance, rather than timing, and bake until the cheese bubbles and the crust is brown.

After 15 minutes, the cheese was not ‘bubbling’, so I went the distance with another 3 minutes. And then another two and a half minutes, I must need my oven temp calibrated!

The result is pictured below.  It’s a thin and crispy ‘Upper Midwest style’ crust, but it broke in a couple of places coming out of the oven. No big deal.

Coming out of the oven, the aroma was similar to a pizzeria, which is a plus with me, but also noticeable was the scent of the green peppers, which I believe in the “a little goes a long way” with that topping.  Not my favorite.  Cheese and sauce were good, the cheese had a nice “pull” to it.  Cracker crust lived up to its billing.

Sausage?  Not so much.  There are very few frozen pizzas that have raw sausage, I get that, but the pre-cooked crumbles, especially this small, have a taste that just doesn’t sit well with me.  This sausage isn’t very seasoned, either, tasting more like pure ground pork. That’s ok, just not at the top of my list. Pepperoni did not char or cup, indicating a better quality pepp than many suppliers.

Would I buy it again?  Sure.  While it’s not at the top of my list for frozen pizzas, it is soooooooooooo much better than so many brands. I recommend you try it, though I suspect it might be a bit difficult to find outside of the Wisconsin and Northern Illinois areas.

Luigi's Frozen Pizza Review

Out of the package, prior to baking

Luigi's Frozen Pizza Review

Baked, 400, 20 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luigis Pizza Review

 

Smashed Burger Recipe and Method

If you’re a fan of smashed burgers, with a nice char crust, whether your favorites come from Smashburger, Shake Shack, Fatburger, or other joints, here’s a fairly faithful reproduction.  Now you can make ‘em at home!

Divide one pound of quality 85/15 into five balls, each will be slightly over 3 ounces.

Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle until it is ‘smokin’ hot.’

Salt and pepper the balls and drop onto the skillet for one minute.

After the minute, flip and smash, cooking for another minute.

Flip and cook for one more minute, and you’re done.

Eat. Smile.

Method photo from Serious Eats site.

smashed

 

 

Smashed Burger Recipe

New Orleans, LA – Bourbon House Reviews

Bourbon HouseIf there’s a “first family” or royalty of the restaurant biz in the US, one surely has to consider members of the Brennan family in New Orleans at the top of the list. Various family members own a dozen or more restaurants in the Crescent City and elsewhere, including the always highly touted Commander’s Palace.

A trained chef and third generation member of the family, Dickie Brennan has made his own mark on New Orleans dining, with four marks to his name, including the fine dining establishment called “Bourbon House“, at the corner of Bourbon and Iberville, at the western gateway to the French Quarter.

There are three elements of a good restaurant experience:  food, service, and ambiance. Sometimes it only takes one of them to carry the night, two can make it a great event, and all three create an over the top outing.

At Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, I had the extreme pleasure of a trifecta: great food, pleasant atmosphere, and over the top service.

A large but tastefully decorated room, with white linen adorned tables and appropriate place settings with ample cutlery made for a nice set up for the environment.

Starters included the seafood gratin, a mixture of shrimp and crabmeat in a rich bechamel, with artichokes and leeks, served with toast points from local legendary bread baker Leidenheimers. The dish was chock-a-block packed with the seafood, and the vegetables added a nice zest to the creamy staple of French cuisine, a white sauce made with a light roux, milk, and seasonings.

I opted for a very traditional New Orleans entree, barbecued shrimp, which has nothing to do with either barbecued or grilled cooking, but is rather whole shrimp simmered in a butter and herb sauce.  This is a dish offered at a number of different restaurants in the New Orleans area, including one that purportedly created it in 1913.

Having consumed this dish around the Crescent City, other places around the country, and made it at home, you should know, in my opinion, if you’re traveling to New Orleans, you can chose to eat it at the restaurant that claims it as its own (and relies on a decades old reputation), or you can have the best in the city, like I did, at Bourbon House.  Bourbon House’s recipe is buttery, herby, and zesty. Perfect. Mop up the left over broth with more Leidenheimers.

The third element of the perfect restaurant evening – service – was over the top. Each table is taken care of  by a team, and ours was seen to by a lead server named Kat ,who was charming, affable, knowledgeable about the menu offerings, local lore, and provided exactly the right amount of attention and timing to make the trifecta complete.

 

Bourbon House

Barbecued Shrimp

 

Bourbon House

Main Room

 

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

 

Bourbon House on Urbanspoon

Bourbon House Reviews

Ponchatoula, LA – And Middendorfs Restaurant

About 40 miles north of New Orleans,  Ponchatoula is a city of about 5,000 souls in Tangipahoa Parish. Established in the early 1800s as a logging camp, the town today is a regional commerce center for the Parish, and home to Louisiana’s second largest festival (after Mardi Gras), the Ponchatoula Strawberry Fest, which takes place in early April.

The town also describes itself as “the antique capital of America” and it does seem to have its fair share of shops of that ilk, and prices are very reasonable.

The local produce market sells a wide variety of products grown in the area, including the strawberries, along with preserves and various canned fruits and vegetables.

It’s worth a drive if you’re visiting the Crescent City, and enroute or on the way back, take in a meal at Middendorf’s, 10 miles south of Ponchatoula on I-55.  Famous for crispy thin sliced strips of catfish, your lunch of dinner options include a wide variety of local seafood, steaks, and chicken.  Start out with a cup of  gumbo, turtle soup, or a dozen fresh oysters.

Louisiana seafood is fresher than nearly anything you’ve ever eaten, and enjoying it on the waterside dock  overlooking a back bay of Lake Ponchatrain, at Middendorf’s makes it twice as tasty.

Menu

midd1

2009 dining guide
Middendorfs Restaurant

Middendorf's Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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