Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting

Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting

When I try to explain to acquaintances what sort of a person my father is, I tell them about how much he’s done for me and Mike in the three years since we’ve bought our house.  He started with painting, installing a new toilet, tiling the entryway, and laying down a vinyl plank floor in the kitchen.  Then he moved on to wiring our garage and installing new counters and a dishwasher.  We helped somewhat–Mike much more than me, because my impatience and high-strung personality combine to make me the DIYer from hell–but the knowledge was all Dad’s, gleaned from years of working on his own houses and an intrinsic mechanical aptitude (he’s a retired electrical engineer).  This litany of projects usually impresses, and that’s the point.  He’s a capable person, generous with his time and talent.

It goes deeper than remodeling.  He taught me how to knit, how to make tuna noodle, and the importance of always having a piece of scratch paper when working on a math problem.  He builds things–a swing set made from pine trees he cut down and stripped of their bark, a compost bin made from an old plastic barrel.  He bakes clover leaf dinner rolls in muffin tins, cardamom bread dripping with icing, and cinnamon rolls, the dough sliced carefully with a length of dental floss to keep the swirl intact.  He can change motor oil, butcher a deer, and cleanly flip a 9×13 cake out of its pan, into his hand, and then onto a cooling rack.

He has his faults: a streak of stubbornness, a tendency to grow too many rutabagas and then try to foist them off on me, and using what my kindergarten teacher would call his “outside voice” whenever he talks on the phone.  But what sums him up is something that my mother said to me years ago, during my teenage phase of anguished embarrassment at my parents’ existence.  “I married your father,” she said, “because he was so nice.”  What I think she was trying to express didn’t sink in until years later, after I had left home and saw my parents through the lens of adulthood.  My mom didn’t mean that my dad was merely pleasant, the person who always asks how your weekend was and genuinely cares about the answer (although he does).  I think she was trying to say that there are people who look at each day as a chance to give instead of simply take, people that are level-headed and unbelievably kind.  There are too few of these people in the world, but my dad is one of them.

And this is his sixtieth birthday cake.

Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting

The cake recipe is from Ina Garten, as published in Food & WineThe buttermilk lends a moistness with a light touch, and the coffee, although quite assertive in the batter, just adds a hint of depth to the finished cake.  I used instant coffee–I dissolved a rounded teaspoon of coffee into one cup of boiling water, and let it cool for about fifteen minutes.

The original cake recipe features a chocolate buttercream frosting, but I wanted something lighter for an 85+ degree day and used a whipped cream frosting from Epicurious.  I only needed about 3/4 of the frosting, but you could use all of it if you like your cakes thickly coated.  Otherwise, you can reserve the leftover frosting for a later use.  Frankly, chocolate whipped cream is a lovely dessert in its own right, especially layered with fresh raspberries in parfait glass.

The cake can be prepared a day ahead of time, and should be stored covered in the refrigerator.

Cake adapted from Ina Garten, as published in Food & Wine, frosting adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients:

Cake

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup hot coffee

Frosting

Whipped Cream Frosting Ingredients

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
pinch of cream of tarter
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream

Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spray two 9-inch round baking pans with baking spray.

Combine sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Mix until completely incorporated.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the buttermilk, canola oil, and vanilla.  Add to dry ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are fully moistened.

Using an electric hand mixer, mix the batter on low speed, gradually adding the coffee, until batter is smooth and coffee is fully incorporated.  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, then remove from pans and place on wire racks until completely cooled.

Chocolate Cake Layer

If needed, level the top of the cake layers with a large serrated knife.

Frosting

In a container with a tightly fitting lid, beat together the sugar, cocoa powder, milk, and cream of tarter until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate until chilled, 1 to 4 hours.

Transfer sugar mixture to a large bowl.  Gradually beat in the cream with an electric mixer, 1/2 cup at a time, until fully incorporated.  Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

Assembly

Place a cake layer on a platter or cake stand.  Thickly spread the top of the cake layer with frosting.

Add the second cake layer and spread frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Cover cake and refrigerate until serving.

Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting

Chili Sesame Green Beans

Rhapsodizing about the glories of seasonal produce is de rigueur for food bloggers.  Gushing about the superior flavor of a dew-covered strawberry just picked from the field, celebrating the ugly beauty of a lumpy heirloom tomato, buying a dozen ears of sweet corn from a roadside stand and eating them all in one sitting–these moments are set into prose again and again and again because there is a glorious truth to them.  The sweetness of strawberries from the u-pick farm down the road will always surpass the vague strawberry flavor of pale red giants from California, heirloom tomatoes are more photogenic than their bred-for-easy-transport counterparts, and corn on the cob from Florida is a sad imitation of the local version.  But there is a downside to eating local, occasionally hinted in recipe round-ups about what to do with an abundance of tomatoes or zucchini: monotony.

This isn’t as much of an issue for farmer’s market shoppers, since they can pick and choose what to buy for dinner.  But for CSA subscribers and avid gardeners, the season’s bounty can seem like a be-careful-what-you-wish-for fairy tale come to life.  Just as the mountains of lettuce start to diminish, there are piles of zucchini, green beans, and cucumbers, then heaps of tomatoes, and finally a profusion of apples.  I can cope with eating giant salads for dinner three nights a week, I have an arsenal of zucchini recipes, and I have yet to reach the upper limit of how many cucumbers I can eat in one sitting.  The chest freezer has ample room for several batches of tomato sauce and applesauce.  Where the whole eat-local-and-be-happy enterprise starts to falter is the green beans.

At some point in the not-so-distant past, before blogging and Mike and responsible adulthood, I ate raw green beans from my dad’s garden by the handful.  In the intervening years, the hefty bags of green beans that are frequent flyers in our CSA boxes have faded the vegetable’s appeal considerably.  I can only force down so many raw and steamed green beans a week, especially on top of all the cucumbers and zucchini.  Occasionally, Mike prepares himself a plate of green beans with a mustard-bacon vinaigrette, but his green bean consumption threshold is lower than mine.  At a particularly low point last year, with two bags of green beans in the refrigerator and another one on the way, I hit upon the solution.  As many of my culinary revelations do, it began with my beloved copy of Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate.

I had dismissed this recipe on my initial perusal of the cookbook because of the sesame oil–it’s not an ingredient that I typically keep in my pantry.  However, I was able to find it in the ethnic foods section of my local grocery store, and the nutty flavor it adds transforms the green beans from something Mike and I have to eat into something that we want to eat.  This small miracle is well worth $5.99 for a 15-ounce bottle and the loss of some pantry shelf real estate.

This recipe would probably be easiest to prepare in a wok, but I make do with my Dutch oven.  I usually serve the beans over rice to make a meal, but they also work as a side dish.

Adapted from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

Ingredients:

Chili Sesame Green Beans Ingredients

2 tablespoons sesame oil
4 cups green beans, trimmed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 pinches of crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Heat wok or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add sesame oil and tilt to coat evenly.  Add the beans and 1/4 teaspoon salt and increase heat to medium-high.  Cook, tossing constantly to coat the beans with oil and salt, for two minutes.

Add the garlic and 2 pinches of crushed red pepper.  Continue to cook, tossing constantly, until beans are crisp-tender, about one minute.  Remove from heat and stir in the sesame seeds.  Add additional 1/4 teaspoon salt and pinch of crushed red pepper to taste, if desired.

Chili Sesame Green Beans

My Mixing Bowl Third Anniversary

Three years ago, on July 22, 2012, I launched My Mixing Bowl with a recipe for garlic scape pesto.  It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to post an annual recap on my blog’s anniversary (here are the first and second anniversary blog posts).  Over the past year, I’ve written 90 posts–here are some of the highlights:

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie

Maple-Walnut Cranberry Pie

Recipes

Jasmine Deli-Pork Basil Rolls

Pork Basil Rolls from the Jasmine Deli

Restaurants

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Travel

Ritter Sport

Ritter Sport Chocolate

Miscellaneous

This will be my last anniversary post for My Mixing Bowl–in September, I’m transitioning to a new domain name.  All of my existing content will be moved to the new site, and I’ll be adding a professional design, social media presence, and a monthly newsletter.  There are big transformations ahead, and I’m excited to share them with you in the coming months.

But some things won’t change–my love of CSA produce, my commitment to honing my writing skills, my passion for travel, and my contentment with my home in the Twin Cities.

And there will always be garlic scape pesto.

Garlic Scape Pesto

MN 61 North Shore Scenic Drive

Starting in Duluth and ending at the Canadian border, Minnesota State Highway 61 (MN 61) hugs Lake Superior’s North Shore and offers dozens of scenic views along its 151-mile route.  Added bonus: since the lake is in sight for most of the drive, it’s nearly impossible to get lost.  Although there are lots of restaurants along the way, I prefer to bring along a cooler and have a lakeside picnic of crackers and vegetables from home and smoked fish purchased along the way.  Whether or not you plan on picnicking, bring a lightweight jacket.  Lake breezes can be chilly, and the temperature drops as you head up north.

Besides the state parks listed below, there’s an additional one that we skipped on our recent trip up the North Shore: Cascade River State Park at mile 99.8.  Exact mileage numbers are from NorthShoreVisitor.com, and approximate mileage numbers are my estimates.

Red Flannel Hash from the Duluth Grill

Red Flannel Hash from the Duluth Grill

Start (Mile 0, Duluth): We began our day with red flannel hash, seven grain porridge, and a giant cinnamon roll at the Duluth Grill (read my previous review here).  My other favorite Duluth breakfast spot is At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café (review here).  As you leave town, make sure to take Scenic 61 (on your right) instead of the expressway to Two Harbors.

Russ Kendall's Smokehouse

Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse

Mile 19.7: If you’re planning to picnic, stop at Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse in Knife River for some smoked fish.  My favorite is the smoked Alaskan king salmon (it’s moister than the cheaper Alaskan silver salmon), or you can try some smoked cisco or herring caught in Lake Superior.  Russ Kendall’s also stocks cheese, pop, and a small selection of souvenir food items like jam and wild rice.  Note that there’s a credit card minimum of $10.

Great Lakes Candy Kitchen

Great Lakes Candy Kitchen

Mile 20 (approximately): Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen is less than a mile down the road from Russ Kendall’s.  They have the requisite fudge and saltwater taffy, but I prefer the hand-dipped chocolates in the front case.  Since all of the chocolates are the same price per pound, there’s no required minimum–try a piece of English toffee, a couple sea salt caramels, and a toasted coconut haystack.  If you don’t have a cooler to keep your chocolate from melting, you can choose from a decent selection of imported licorice or just eat your haul at the picnic tables out front.

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Mile 39.5: Probably the busiest state park along the route, Gooseberry Falls State Park is best known for its iconic waterfalls, but I also love the easy one-mile hike from the falls to Lake Superior and the relatively uncrowded lakeside picnic area.  Parking at the highway rest stop near the falls and visitor center is free, but you need a state park vehicle permit (daily and annual permits available) to park near the picnic area.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

Mile 46.0: Stop at the scenic overlook just before you get to Split Rock Lighthouse & State Park to snap a photo of the iconic lighthouse, or get up close and personal with a lighthouse tour.  The lakeside picnic area (state park vehicle permit required) is my favorite along the route since the tables are right on the lakeshore.

Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche State Park

Mile 58.5: I like Tettegouche State Park for the half-mile hike from the visitor’s center to Shovel Point, which offers some great views of the lake.  The highway rest stop by the visitor’s center has free parking and a picnic area, although the tables overlook asphalt instead of the lake.

Temperance River State Park

Temperance River State Park

Mile 80.4: Temperance River State Park is another highway rest stop-style park, with free parking near the river gorge and an easy hike down to Lake Superior.  The large, dark rocks by the shore retain more solar heat than you would expect, making them your best bet for lakeside sunbathing (or napping).

Grand Marais

Grand Marais

Mile 109 (approximately): With lots of restaurants and lodging options, the laid-back town of Grand Marais makes a perfect base for a long weekend on the North Shore (see my previous post for a full write up).  Grab a donut at the  World’s Best Donuts, pizza and a bumper sticker at Sven & Ole’s, or enjoy lakeside seating at the Angry Trout Café.

Devil's Kettle, Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Devil’s Kettle, Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Mile 123.8: Judge C.R. Magney State Park requires a state park vehicle permit, but it’s worth it to see Devil’s Kettle, a churning waterfall on the Brule River (the waterfall’s name comes from its mysterious nature: the river splits, with half tumbling down the rocks and the other half disappearing into a giant pothole).  The hike to Devil’s Kettle is less than a mile, but be forewarned that there are lots and lots steps.

Mile 145.0: Besides seven state parks, MN 61 also offers the Grand Portage National Monument.  The Grand Portage was a 8.5 mile path utilized by the Ojibwe and French-Canadian fur traders that connected the Pigeon River to Lake Superior, bypassing a treacherous stretch of rapids and waterfalls.  Start at the monument’s heritage center to get a some background information about the Ojibwe, the fur trade, and archaeological excavations at the site.  Then spend an hour or so exploring the reconstructed Historic Depot, staffed by very knowledgeable costumed interpreters.  Obviously, my favorite part was the kitchen, where I got to learn what the Depot’s residents were eating in the late 1700s and watch fish roasting over the hearth.  There’s no admission fee for the heritage center and the Historic Depot, making this the best bargain along the route.

Mile 150.8: Grand Portage State Park is the final state park along with route, with the biggest waterfall of them all–at 120 feet, the High Falls are the tallest in the state.  There’s free parking at the highway rest stop by the visitor’s center, and a picnic area adjacent to the parking lot.

End (Mile 151.0, the U.S./Canadian border): Drive into Canada for some sightseeing, or use the helpfully signed “Last Turnaround Before Border” if you forgot your passport–you can’t get back the U.S. without it.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

For the sixteen weeks of the year when Minnesota produce is bountiful, I keep a CSA journal to record what arrives in our box each week and what we make with it.  I like to page back through the years to see when the season’s first raspberries arrived, to recall my favorite summertime recipes, and perhaps most importantly, to figure out what to do with an abundance of zucchini.

CSA Journal

My journal reveals a constant cycle of fajita zucchini rice bowls, gnocchi with zucchini and feta, and linguine with zucchini and chickpeas, but my favorite zucchini recipe, chocolate zucchini bread, makes an infrequent appearance.  Quite simply, this is because I can’t be trusted with it.  I start with three reasonable slices, and then I have another one to even off the loaf, and then I have another one just because.  Before I know it half the loaf is gone, and I have a pounding headache from eating half a cup of sugar first thing in the morning.  I don’t know what makes this particular baked good so addicting; possibly it’s that the zucchini lends an irresistible moist texture, or maybe it’s the subtle depth of the cocoa powder.  It might be wrapped up with a nostalgia for the glorious months of teenage summer vacations, when I could sleep in until nine and a loaf of freshly-made zucchini bread would be waiting for me on the cutting board (thanks, Mom!).

I like to shred fresh zucchini and freeze it in 2-cup portions for future cold-weather bread baking (the bread itself also freezes well).  The pans are prepared using my mom’s method described below and more fully in her banana bread recipe.

Ingredients:

Chocolate Zucchini Bread Ingredients

3 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups shredded zucchini, completely thawed if frozen (if using thawed frozen zucchini, don’t drain it; you need to include all of the liquid to give the bread its moist texture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease the short ends of two 8 inch x 4 inch loaf pans.  Line the sides and bottom of pans with a sheet of wax paper, leaving a few inches of extra wax paper on each side so that the bread can be easily lifted from the pans.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla.  Stir in the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and baking powder and mix until smooth.  Stir in the zucchini and mix until smooth (if using thawed frozen zucchini, be sure to incorporate all of the liquid into the batter).

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread Batter

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaves comes out clean.

Place loaves in pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Holding both sides of the wax paper, remove loaves from pans, gently loosening the ends with a spatula if needed.  Place loaves on wire rack to cool completely.  Peel wax paper from cooled loaves, tightly wrap, and store in refrigerator.

If you’re not going to eat the bread within a day or two, bread can also be stored in the freezer and then thawed before eating.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Grand Marais, MN

Grand Marais

Grand Marais is my kind of small town: beautiful views of Lake Superior, lots to do, and great food.  You can breakfast on the World’s Best Donuts, drive to Canada and back, try a slice of Uff Da pizza, hike to a waterfall, shop at a five-and-dime, and enjoy the fresh fish at a dockside restaurant–all in one day.

Where to Eat

Cinnamon Sugar Cake Donut from the World's Best Donuts

Cinnamon Sugar Cake Donut from the World’s Best Donuts

The cake donuts alone make the World’s Best Donuts worthy of its moniker: lighter in texture than a traditional cake donut, superb when coated with a thick dusting of cinnamon sugar.  There are also raised donuts, twists (try the chocolate covered one), cream or jam-filled bismarks, long johns, apple and blueberry turnovers, jam-filled croissants, caramel pull-aparts, and cream cheese and maple swirls.  A small selection of gluten-free items is also available, baked off-site at a gluten-free facility.  Besides the cake donuts, my favorite item was the skizzle, a flat piece of fried dough coated with sugar–basically a thin version of American Indian fry bread.

Skizzle from the World's Best Donuts

Skizzle from the World’s Best Donuts

The World’s Best Donuts is cash-only, but there’s a 24-hour ATM at the bank across the street.  There is a small café-style seating area inside, a few outdoor picnic tables, or you can enjoy your donuts on a harbor side bench overlooking Lake Superior.

Margherita Pizza from Sven & Ole's

Margherita Pizza from Sven & Ole’s

Most Minnesotans will recognize the iconic yellow stickers: Sven & Ole’s has been a Grand Marais institution since 1981.  Order your pizza at the counter and take a seat in the adjacent dining room, eclectically decorated with antique snowshoes, a taxidermied elk head, a go-kart, and a 1960s board game called “Hurry Waiter.”  The pizza itself is straightforward but delicious, available in thin, thick, or deep-dish crust (my favorite is the chewy thick crust.)  I opted for an individually-sized Margherita pizza and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the fresh mozzarella, tomat0es, and basil.  Mike chose the “Uff Da”, Sven & Ole’s signature pie (named for an upper Midwestern expression of Scandinavian origin, which I would translate loosely as “oh boy”).  It’s basically a supreme pizza, with olives, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and lots of sausage.

Uff Da Pizza from Sven & Ole's

Uff Da Pizza from Sven & Ole’s

Sven & Ole’s also offers thick-crust cheese, pepperoni, sausage, and Uff Da pizza by the slice.  If you want a beverage stronger than soda, the Pickled Herring, located at the back of the dining room, features a full bar, table service, and free popcorn.

Maple Pecan Pie from the Pie Place Cafe

Maple Pecan Pie from the Pie Place Cafe

The Pie Place Café serves full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, but there’s no shame if you’re just in it for the pie.  The selection of pies changes frequently, with seasonal fruit pies, cream pies, and “specialty” pies with ingredients like nuts or chocolate.

Bumbleberry Pie from the Pie Place Cafe

Bumbleberry Pie from the Pie Place Cafe

The maple pecan pie, with a subtly sweet maple custard and toasted, slightly salty pecans, didn’t fall victim to the tooth aching sweetness of so many of its lesser peers.  The bumbleberry–a combination of strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, and rhubarb–had an intriguing flaked pastry upper crust and a nice balance of tart rhubarb and sweet berries.  A slice of pie will set you back $5.25, but it’s well-worth the price (and it may be heresy, but I prefer the Pie Place Café to the more famous and slightly cheaper Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors).

Angry Trout Cafe

Grilled Fresh Fish of the Day Salad from the Angry Trout Cafe

If you’re looking for freshly-caught fish, try the dockside Angry Trout Café, which offers the fresh fish of the day in sandwich, entrée, salad, or fish and chips form.  For vegetarians, there are options like regionally-sourced shiitake mushroom skewers or a seasonal vegetable sandwich.  If you order off the lunch menu (available all day) the Angry Trout can be a fairly budget-friendly dinner option, particularly considering the focus on local, sustainable ingredients.  See my full review for further information–I enjoyed the grilled fish of the day salad, with whitefish prepared with a combination of olive oil, lime juice, and tarragon that set off the delicate freshness of the fish without overwhelming it.

Angry Trout Cafe, on the Grand Marais harbor

Angry Trout Cafe, on the Grand Marais harbor

Things to Do

Hang out by Lake Superior!  There’s a rocky beach by the harbor, with benches or space to bring your own lawn chair.  Get some donuts from the World’s Best Donuts or pizza from Sven & Ole’s for cheap lakeside dining.  You can also walk out onto Artist’s Point and the breakwater (on your left as you’re facing the harbor).

My goal for my next Grand Marais trip is to take a class at the picturesque North House Folk School–during the summer, they have 2 hour mini-courses on crafts like bread baking or timber raising, and there are also some free craft demonstrations.  For a more immersive experience, you can take half-day to several day courses on everything from making soap to forging a Scandinavian forest axe.

As a tourist town surrounded by the great outdoors, the shopping in Grand Marais skews toward tourist kitsch, woodsy home décor, and camping gear.  Joynes Ben Franklin combines all of the above and then some.  The variety of products crammed into one storefront is mindboggling: lampshades and wool yarn, $300 Dale of Norway ski sweaters and bleach, Minnetonka moccasins and lampshades, hot pink Carhartt overalls in size 3T and cast iron cookware.  It’s worth a visit, even if all you need is some postcards and a moose Christmas ornament–they stock those too.

See my post on the MN 61 North Shore Scenic Drive for more things to do near Grand Marais.

Nelson's Travelers Rest, Grand Marais

Cabin #7 at Nelson’s Travelers Rest, Grand Marais

Where to Stay

I highly recommend Nelson’s Travelers Rest, a small resort only a 10 minute walk from downtown Grand Marais.  We stayed in Cabin #7, which has a queen bed, woodstove, and full kitchen, reasonably priced at $80 per night.  Nelson’s also offers two-bedroom cabins that sleep four starting at $90 per night, and smaller cabins and hotel rooms starting at $60 per night for a double.  Our cabin was well-maintained, scrupulously clean, and firewood was included (summertime evenings in Grand Marais can be cool when the wind is blowing off the lake–we ended up building a roaring fire on the 4th of July).

What are your favorite things to do in Grand Marais?  Any restaurants I should try on my next visit?

 

Review: Angry Trout Cafe

Most restaurants in Grand Marais have a view of the water.  At the Angry Trout Café, you can get one step closer, by literally dining on Lake Superior at one of the dockside restaurant’s patio tables.  Yes, you may need to bundle up and have a healthy tolerance for bracing breezes, but the catch of the day really does taste better within view of the commercial fishing vessel that caught it.  Obviously, fish features prominently on the menu–you can get the catch of the day in sandwich, entrée, salad, or fish and chips form, or opt for wild-caught Gulf shrimp or locally smoked trout.  If you’d prefer something land-raised, there are several chicken options, turkey or beef burgers, and steak.  There’s also plenty for vegetarians, from entrée-sized portions of fettuccine or wild rice to shiitake mushroom skewers.

Angry Trout Cafe

Grilled Fresh Fish of the Day Salad, with whitefish

On the day we visited, there were two catches of the day: herring and whitefish.  I opted for the milder whitefish, grilled and served on a salad.  The fish was prepared with just enough olive oil, lime juice, and tarragon to set off the delicate freshness of the fish without overwhelming it.  The rest of the salad was a bit hit and miss.  Although all of the components were delightfully ripe and crisp, some of the ingredients–particularly the strawberries and the beets–didn’t pair well with the fish or the rest of the salad.

Angry Trout Cafe

Fish & Chips

The fish and chips (also prepared with whitefish) were a lighter change of pace from the pub-style standard.  The thin coating of batter allowed the quality of the fish to shine, and the tarragon-heavy tartar sauce added a complementary fresh note.  The waffle fries and coleslaw were unremarkable, although the coleslaw did contain a little regional flourish in the form of dried cranberries.

The Angry Trout doesn’t take reservations, but you can call up to 15 minutes before you arrive to be added to the seating list.  When the wind is blowing off the lake, the wait for outside seating will be much shorter than the wait for the dining room–so bundle up and enjoy some well-prepared Lake Superior fish in its native habitat.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

Angry Trout Café
http://www.angrytroutcafe.com/
408 W Hwy 61
Grand Marais, MN 55604
(218) 387-1265

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Review: The Liffey

On our Irish honeymoon, Mike and I ate a lot of our meals in pubs.  This wasn’t due to a deep, abiding love for Guinness–I think it took me at least two hours to consume my first and only pint–but instead because Irish pubs are a reliable place to get decent meals at a reasonable prices.  The cuisine is usually several notches above your typical American bar food, although the classic fried fish and chips are always on the menu.  Mike still raves about a roasted chicken dinner he ordered in Dingle, and I enjoyed many well-prepared salmon filets.  But Twin Citians don’t need to go to Ireland to get delicious food in a pub setting: The Liffey offers the well-prepared casual cuisine and cozy atmosphere of the best Irish pubs, and in the summer months adds rooftop seating with great views of the St. Paul Cathedral.  The menu includes the usual suspects–fish and chips, sausage and mash, burgers–but there are also healthier and vegetarian options, like curried chicken, a quinoa salad, and a house-made vegetarian burger packed with vegetables, chickpeas, quinoa, and wild rice.  There are daily drink specials from 11am to 6pm and happy hour appetizer specials from 2pm to 6pm, with discounts of up to $3.75.  There’s also a short dessert menu, or you can hit up the nearby Cossetta for pastries or gelato.

The Liffey

Hummus Platter

Ordering a hummus platter at a pub is the equivalent of ordering the chicken sandwich a burger joint.  But the Liffey’s hummus platter is a solid vegetarian option, with freshly grilled naan and colorful crudités.  Although the hummus lacks the roasted garlic promised on the menu, the unexpectedly sweet citrus flavor more than made up for the inaccurate description.  The sea salt on the naan counters the sweetness of the hummus, and the crisp slices of watermelon radishes were a welcome addition to the standard assortment of carrots, cucumbers, celery, and peppers.

The Liffey

Steak and Mushroom Pie

The best thing about the steak and mushroom pie is actually the red wine–the steak picks up a wonderful richness from its red wine braise, and when combined with the mushrooms, each bite of steak tastes meatier that it logically should.  The crowing mound of mashed potatoes has a flaky texture reminiscent of a good baked potato, although the puddle of cheddar cheese distracted from the rich flavors of the steak.

The Liffey’s satisfying menu of traditional favorites and lighter options, exceedingly friendly service, and rooftop seating make it the perfect pub experience, even for those of us who want to skip the Guinness.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

The Liffey
http://theliffey.com/
175 West 7th Street
St. Paul, MN 55102
(651) 556-1420

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Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

My love for Minnesota summers is a bittersweet affair, marked by the ever-present knowledge of an impending separation.  Slurping down ice cream from Sebastian Joe’s and the Grand Ole Creamery, laying on a picnic blanket by the Mississippi River, eating sauteed CSA zucchini on our patio, walking around Lake Harriet, picking pounds and pounds of strawberries–the finite number of blissful summer moments makes each one more heart achingly lovely than the last.  A couple of years ago, I decided to embrace the transience of the season with a Scandinavian-inspired Midsummer party, and after a hiatus last year (because we were actually in Scandinavia!) I hosted a belated Second Annual Midsummer Party this past Sunday.

The dinner menu was the same as my previous party: Finnish sour rye bread, new potatoes tossed with butter and dill, smoked salmon, Swedish meatballs with lingonberry preserves from Ingebretsen’s, and deviled eggs garnished with fresh dill in a ploy to make them Scandinavian.  Mike mixed up some excellent Dala Horse lingonberry cocktails with lingonberry syrup from Ikea, vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice.  For dessert, I made an Icelandic Hjónabandssæla, or happy marriage cake.  The rhubarb jam filling makes it a perfect early summer dessert for cool climates, when sturdy rhubarb is the only produce you can rely on.  The oatmeal-based cake has texture similar to fudge oatmeal bars, denser and much firmer than a typical cake.  The sweetness level is subtle, making the leftovers eminently suitable for mid-morning coffee breaks.

If you don’t have access to fresh rhubarb, you can use one cup of pre-prepared rhubarb jam for the filling, or substitute one cup of berry jam (I suspect raspberry would be delicious).  Tightly covered, this cake keeps quite well for at least four days in the refrigerator.

Rhubarb jam adapted from Outside Oslo; cake adapted from Iceland Review

Yield: one 8 inch by 8 inch cake (16 modest servings)

Ingredients:

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake Rhubarb Jam Ingredients

Rhubarb Jam
3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 3 medium stalks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake Ingredients

Cake
1 cup rhubarb jam
1 3/4 cup quick oats
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 stick plus 6 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 eggs
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Rhubarb Jam
Combine the rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb has completely broken down, about 25 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low if rhubarb starts sticking to the saucepan.

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake Rhubarb Jam

Remove jam from heat and cool completely.

Cake
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the oats, flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and baking soda in a large bowl.  Mix in the softened butter until evenly incorporated.  Add the eggs and mix until a stiff dough forms.

Grease an 8 inch by 8 inch baking dish, using the wrapper from the stick of butter if desired.  Evenly press about 2/3 of the dough into the prepared dish.

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Spread with about 1 cup of rhubarb jam (see instructions above to prepare the jam).

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Using the remaining 1/3 of dough, take a Ping Pong ball-sized piece of dough and flatten it between your hands.  Place piece of flattened dough on top of rhubarb jam.  Continue in this manner, using smaller pieces of flattened dough to fill in the gaps between the larger pieces, until the rhubarb jam is completely covered.

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Bake for 20 minutes, or until top of cake is lightly browned.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Mushroom, Chard, and Noodle Soup

Mushroom, Chard, and Noodle Soup

Over the past month, I’ve passed by the culinary signposts marking the beginning of summer: cotton candy and deep-fried cheese curds at a local festival, linguine with asparagus and pine nuts, malted-vanilla-malted-milk-ball ice cream from the Pumphouse Creamery, a picnic by the Mississippi River.  Our first CSA box arrived last Tuesday, heavy with jars of raspberry jam, honey, and maple syrup, and with cilantro, basil, and chive seedlings peeking out over the top.  As expected, there was lots of lettuce, a bundle of asparagus, a few radishes, and the first of many zucchini.  There were also some new-to-us vegetables: turnips and Swiss chard.  I made the turnips into a rather soggy, oddly flavored batch of turnip fries (Mike diplomatically referred to them as “about as good as they could have been”).  The chard met a more auspicious end, in a mushroom and noodle soup.  The mushrooms add a meaty depth to the broth, while the chard soaks up the flavors of ginger, garlic, and Sriracha.

I recommend using sesame oil for the added flavor, but you could use canola oil in a pinch.  On the other hand, the sesame seeds themselves don’t add much to the finished soup (they sink to the bottom of the bowl as soon as you dig in), so feel free to leave them out if you don’t have any on hand.  I used 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, and the resulting soup was definitely on the salty side; if you want to dial back the sodium, reduce the soy sauce to 2 tablespoons.

Adapted from the Kitchn

Serves two

Ingredients:

Mushroom, Chard, and Noodle Soup Ingredients

1 tablespoon sesame oil
8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4 ounces dry whole wheat spaghetti noodles
1 cup thinly sliced chard leaves
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add sesame oil and tilt to evenly coat.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have started to brown, about 4 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Stir in the Sriracha sauce and soy sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are completely browned and have started to give up their juices, about 2 minutes.

Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Add the noodles and chard and reduce heat to a low boil.  Cook until noodles are tender, about 5 minutes.

Serve garnished with sesame seeds, if desired.

Mushroom, Chard, and Noodle Soup