As a selected blogger for foodbuzz.com’s 24, 24, 24 event, I honored 2008 by throwing a unique party hosted by foodbuzz. Despite the fact that those of us in Minnesota live in an icebox this time of year, I decided that 1) all of the food and drink I served at this party would be a local product, and 2) the food experience would be classier because of it.
Between you and me, I went into this agreement wondering how I would create a party-worthy spread with local products in the middle of a snowy Minnesota winter. (Have you heard how much snow we’ve had?) I imagined hours of online research and driving from shop to shop and co-op to co-op to see what’s fresh, discover the good sources, and gather the information I needed to throw a fantastic party.
Au contraire. Sometimes when you think you have limitations, you actually have opportunities. With a trip to Golden Fig, Mississippi Market, and an afternoon of online sleuthing, I created a party spread involving numerous classy items and two custom-made cocktails. And here’s the winningest part: All of the food and drink was grown, raised, produced, or bottled in Minnesota or Wisconsin. In fact, I bought everything on Grand Avenue within 2 miles of my home.
Here is the menu for the evening, which involved 21 of my closest friends in my apartment in St. Paul. It turns out that the bigger challenge of throwing this party is that I live in a vintage outfitted with a pint-sized stove with just one oven rack. (Dear landlord, I will email this post to you when I ask for a better stove.)
Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple Sage Glaze
Creamy Parsnip and Wild Rice Hotdish with General Mills Crunchy Topping (aka, Crispix)
Winter Squash Galette
Onion Galette with Mustard Cream
Wasabi-Miso Marinated Top Sirloin
Baguettes with Roasted Garlic Cheese Spread
Minnesota Fireside Apple Tarts
Minnesota Nice: Honey-oat infused Shakers vodka with half and half and fresh nutmeg
Peace Coffee Minnetini: Peace Coffee-infused Shakers vodka with half and half, espresso, and Kahlua
And that, my friends, I find terribly Minnesota Chic!
Let me start by describing the drinks, both of which quickly worked their way into my heart (and taught me a few useful things about vodka). I wanted something homey but classy, which led me to this article at the Washington Post. To honor the winter season, the folks at Blue Hill Farm in New York infuse vodka with two pantry items: oats and honey. I was intrigued by this combination, and given that I wanted to serve a Peace Coffee drink, I decided to do two vodka infusions: one with Peace Coffee, and the other with extra virgin raw honey (from Wolf Honey Farm) and rolled oats (from the bulk section at the co-op).
The instructions online for coffee-infused vodka are lacking, so I had to wing it with a little common sense. (There is this description, but it never mentions how much coffee to use.) The process for this infusion is still a little mysterious, but in my experience, you can infuse roughly two cups of coffee (broken to pieces under a towel), a liter of vodka, and a tablespoon of sugar. Put everything in a seal-tight jar and tuck it into the corner of your kitchen. For four to five days, shake it and have a taste each day to monitor its progress. You will know when it is done. Strain vodka from bean using a tea strainer and a funnel.
For the Peace Coffee Minnetini, I shook equal parts of coffee-infused vodka, Kahlua, chilled espresso, and half and half over ice and strained it into a glass. (Of course, martini glasses might be ideal, but I find them to be fussy party vessels.) The drink was creamy and sweet with a nice punch of coffee-alcohol happiness. It was a definite crowd (and hostess) pleaser.
Honey-oat infused vodka
Everything about the cocktail I called Minnesota Nice is like wrapping yourself in a big down blanket in the middle of winter. It’s warm, easy, comforting, and humble. And just when you get so proud of yourself for making such a nice cocktail, you remember, “Oh yeah, there’s oats in here” and it brings you back down to size.
I followed this recipe at Chow, and you should too. Infuse two cups of rolled oats, 3/4 cups raw honey, and 1 liter of vodka. Monitor your infusion patiently and taste it as you go. As with the coffee, the smile on your face will indicate when you are done. The recipe talks about straining it multiple times, but I found that just once was enough.
To make the cocktail, shake equal parts honey-oat vodka and half and half over ice. Strain into a glass and grate fresh nutmeg on the top. (Don’t skimp on this step!) I called it Minnesota Nice because it’s easy to love, but eventually knocks you off your feet. Everyone loved this cocktail and one friend likened it to a sunny cup of breakfast. I can’t say enough what a glorious concoction this was.
Of course, we also needed some food to wash down our booze!
In my research trip to the co-op, I found good onions and squash, which led me to make Deborah Madison’s galettes as described in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, one of my most-loved cookbooks. Whenever I am faced with a vegetable I’m not sure what to do with, I simply say, “What would Debbie do” (WWDD?) and consult her book. She will not let you down, and I considered the galettes the star of the show.
Winter Squash Galette
The recipe has been described nicely at A Chow Life, so you can get it there if you’d like. It involves handmade yeasted tart dough (so easy), roasted squash, garlic, onion, sage, parmesan, and egg.
Onion Galette with Mustard Cream
The onion galette involves six cups of yellow onion, thyme, white wine, Dijon mustard, cream, eggs, bread crumbs, and Parmesan.
Making the squash galette was very straightforward, but I did wonder a bit about cooking 6 cups of onion in my saute pan for the onion galette. The onions were piled so high, I wondered if they’d be evenly and thoroughly cooked. There was no need to worry. I just added a little olive oil to the onions as they cooked if they got dry. The result was quite a tasty mess of onions.
Of course, both of these beauties were delicious, and you can never go wrong with serving a well-prepared squash. However, this onion galette (pictured in the forefront), with its heavenly mustard cream balanced out by sharp onions, cheese, and yeasty crust, almost had us dancing in the streets.
Harmony Valley Roasted Root Vegetables
I especially like Harmony Valley for the lovable bag of mixed root vegetables they offer throughout the fall and winter seasons. It’s a three-pound bag of rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, and orange and purple carrots. It’s so easy to make these things taste like candy (well, savory candy, of course).
Clean three pounds of root vegetables. Cut off all of the tops and bottoms and lightly peel the vegetables. Cut into coarse pieces. In a bowl, mix the vegetables with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or just enough to lightly coat everything). Stir in salt, cracked pepper, and two tablespoons of fresh sage. Roast in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, then flip all of the vegetables (the undersides will be dark and glazed). Roast for 20 minutes more, then coat with 3 to 4 tablespoons of maple syrup and roast for approximately another 10 minutes.
Creamy Parsnip, Pear, and Minnesota Wild Rice Hotdish (with General Mills Crunchy Topping, aka, Crispix)
Here is my nod to classic hotdish so known in the state of Minnesota. I thought it would only be wise to include a wild rice hotdish in our menu, and imagined it paired with seasonal parsnips. This logic led me to a recipe at recipetips.com.
As with these types of Grandma-friendly traditional recipes, you might want to take few liberties. Angela and I* added some extra nutmeg and a few cloves of crushed garlic. This is a tasty hotdish, but not quite a thing of beauty given that the wild rice makes for a dark brown casserole. S’ok, though, as we polished off the whole thing.
Wasabi-Miso Marinated Thousand Hills Top Sirloin
When it came to serving the meat, I wanted to throw in an extra element of some kind. Given that I live close to University Avenue, I decided I would use my Asian fridge items to kick up the spice level of the Thousand Hills meat. I followed this recipe at myrecipes.com, which involves a marinade of yellow miso, mirin, rice vinegar, wasabi powder, and white wine. I adjusted the portions to match the extra servings and marinated everything for a full day in a ziplock bag.
The results were acceptable, but were comprised by my aforementioned pint-sized stove. I couldn’t get the thick grill pan to sit close enough to the broiler flame, so I transferred it to the stovetop (eek). By the time the burner and pan were up to speed, I lost the momentum and didn’t have the wonderful seared meat I expected. Regardless, there were no complaints, and we polished off the whole plate.
Breadsmith Baguettes with Roasted Garlic Cheese Spread
The organic garlic from Harmony Valley made for plump cloves of golden garlic, which I paired with a Wisconsin-made raw Cheddar Cheese spread.
Minnesota Fireside Apple Tarts with Sonny’s Vanilla Ice Cream
For dessert, I wanted a simple way to serve the bag of Fireside apples I got at the co-op, so I used this recipe for a thin French apple tart. We ate these with local Sonny’s vanilla ice cream, which is for the best, given that I was too busy shaking cocktails and being all Minnesota Nice Nice to remember to glaze the tarts with vanilla and honey before serving. What a shame!
Oh yeah. Given all the cooking I did, I all but forgot that we were also honoring the turn to 2009. A number friends brought champagne. We played some Tchaikovsky in the lead-up to midnight as we toasted, hugged, and sang Auld Lang Syne. I wish I could write more about everyone who came, but a Flickr photo montage will have to do. Thank you to all my friends who came to celebrate. No party would be Minnesota Chic without you!
PS: Every party has a few addendums, and these are the things I learned.
- If ever in doubt, buy the better booze.
Truth be told, I infused one round of vodka with top-shelf Shakers and a second round with lower-shelf Philips. Although both local products, the results were very different. During the infusion process, I smiled after tasting the Shakers. When I tried the Philips vodka, I involuntary shook my head like my cat does when she gets something stuck in her mouth. It was rough around the edges, and of course, so were the cocktails.
- $300 is not enough money to throw a party for 21 people.
By all accounts, the party was lovely. We all ate one serving of food, had a couple cocktails, and enjoyed the bottles of wine everyone contributed. But being a bit of a perfectionista, I would have loved more of the top-shelf cocktails, another three pounds of root vegetables, and about four (ok, five) more of the onion galettes. In other words, we partied well on a small budget. And get this. I had no leftovers!
- Follow the Alton Brown school of kitchen gadgetry.
To grate the nutmeg, I bought a microplane with a slide-off top and underlying nutmeg container. Eh. I should have bought a straight-up baby microplane instead. Like Alton Brown says, keep it simple when it comes to kitchen equipment.
And with that, I think we should roll the credits!
Top Sirloin Steak: Thousand Hills Cattle Company, Cannon Falls, MN
Fireside apples: LaCrescent, MN
Castle Rock Organic Farms cream line milk: Osseo, WI
Raw milk Brunkow cheddar cheese: Darlington, WI
Sartori Sarvecchio cheese: Antigo, WI
MinneSalsa: Hugo, MN
Organic Tortilla Chips: Whole Grain Milling Company, Welcome, MN
Garlic and root vegetables: Harmony Valley Farm, Viroqua, WI
Sugarloaf, Carnival, and Acorn Squash and organic half and half: Organic Valley, La Farge, WI
Minnesota Wild Rice: Clearbrook, MN
Koop’s Dijon Mustard: Pleasant Prairie, MN
Hope Creamery butter: Hope, MN
Transitional yellow onions, MN
Grenada nutmeg and Sumatra cinnamon: Penzey’s, Wauwatosa, WI
* Thank you to Aaron, for suggesting the party’s theme in the first place. (The New Year Sushi Dance Party wouldn’t have nearly the same charm.) To Angela, for coming early to be the trusted sous chef. And to Michael, for coming early to do the aesthetic thing he does so well (and for bringing the ice cream, too).