Happy Birthday at Heartland Restaurant

The evening started with a parking space right in front of the restaurant.  I mean right in front.  We just walked up the steps and into the restaurant.  When does that happen in St. Paul?

We were seated at our table for two right outside the kitchen.  Yes, the kitchen of my dreams.

I wonder if that pot rack would fit in my kitchen?  Probably not.  I’m not sure one of those pots would fit in my kitchen!

There was a little trepidation I’ll admit.  Was there going to be something on the menu we really didn’t want to eat?  Life is short.  Try everything once!

On the table was our personalized menu for the evening!  Dave and I immediately started reading to see if there was anything we weren’t sure about! Smoked trout?  Yum!  No worries with the first course! Suckling pig.  Never had that before.  Should taste like pork, right?  We just won’t focus on the fact that it’s a baby pig. Pan Roasted Rabbit.  It’ll taste like chicken right?  I’ve had rabbit before but in a stew. It’ll be fine! Cheese with root vegetable chutney, honey and baguette?  Yum again! And finally a Chocolate Pots de Crème?  Who wouldn’t like that!

Our waiter for the evening, Phillipe, brought us water and dinner rolls.  The rolls were both sourdough, one a whole grain sourdough with a delightful mix of seeds on the top, including a toasted fennel which was delicious with the tang of the sourdough and the other a molasses sourdough which was tangy and sweet at the same time.  You could definitely taste the molasses in the roll.  These were hearty rolls, neither Dave nor I finished a whole one and four were brought to the table!

With the rolls we were given a delightful Austrian Pinot Noir.  Dave likes pinots that taste like the dirt they were grown in.  I prefer a pinot that tastes a bit more like the fruit.  We decided this was one we both liked.  Just a touch of earth with enough fruit for me.  We both emptied those glasses!

The first course was smoked steelhead trout with mache, blue corn blinis and a harissa crème fraiche.  Delicious.  The smoked trout was perfect, just the right amount of smoke and perfect texture.  Dave and I both really enjoyed the mache.  If you don’t know what it is (we didn’t, I consulted the Google!) it’s a salad green also known as “lamb’s lettuce.” It had an almost nutty flavor, not bitter at all.  The blinis were also delicious and the sweet blue corn combined with the smoky trout was a perfect combination. Philippe warned us that there was harissa in the crème fraiche and that it was spicy.  Well, maybe by Minnesotan’s taste.

This course was paired with a Hopler Pinot Noir from Austria.  Of the five glasses of wine we were given during the evening, this is the one Dave and I both finished!  Dave likes earthy pinot noirs, ones that taste like the dirt in which they were grown. I prefer a bit fruitier than that.  We both agreed this one was a good balance of both.

Our second course was suckling pig.  Baby pig. While we were quite sure that it would just taste like pork neither Dave nor I was thrilled about baby pig.  We had just about gotten ourselves over that thought when Chef Russo came over and told us how cute the little pigs were when they came in that morning!  We let him know that was more information than we really wanted!  The pork (we’re just going to call it pork now) was cooked in the sous-vide method until it fell apart then Chef Russo pressed it and cut it into these adorable cubes.  It was very tasty. But what made this dish was the apple cider reduction. OH.MY.GOD was this delicious.  It was thick and had a tangy apple flavor that made the dish.  The sides were mustard greens and a pickled cipollini onion.  Dave said the last time he had eaten mustard greens was when he was in the Army, many years ago, stationed in the south.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had them before.  They were ok on their own, kind of like spinach, but coated in the apple cider reduction, well they made a nice little mop for my plate!

The pork was served with a Sori Paitin Dolcetto d’Alba from the Piedmont area of Italy. This was a bit heavier wine than the pinot noir.  We both liked this one as well and it paired nicely with the pork.

Our next course was pan roasted rabbit.  Dave was a little nervous at this one, he’s never had rabbit before.  I’ve had rabbit at least once before, in a stew at Zazu during one of our trips to the California wine country.  It was OK.  It was gamey so I didn’t love it, but it was OK.  So that is what I was expecting here.  I was happily surprised!  Chef Russo’s presentation was white meat (I had dark at Zazu) and it was crusted in a spicy, horsradishy mustard and bread crumbs.  It tasted like chicken.  I’m not kidding, chicken.   Really good chicken, don’t get me wrong, but chicken.  This was served with turnips that had been roasted in pork fat and a chokecherry gkace de viande (which is fancy French for a thick brown sauce).  Chef Russo knows how to make sauces.  As with the apple cider reduction, this sauce was fantastic.  Sweet but savory at the same time, delicious with the bite of the spicy mustard.  By this time we were starting to get full!

The rabbit was paired with a Viridiana Roble, Riberu del Duero from Spain.  We loved this wine!  It was dryer than the previous wines and had a big, bold flavor. It was made with Tempranillo grapes, a varietal we both enjoy.  And even better, the retail price point on this wine is about $15.  We’ll be looking for it!

The cheese course was a Shepherd’s Way Farms Friesago.  To me it tasted a lot like a really good Parmesan cheese both in texture and flavor.  It is a natural rind semi-aged sheep milk cheese.  It was called a “must try” by Food and Wine Magazine!  Shepherd’s Way Farm is in Nerstarand, MN, just south of Northfield.  We may need to visit!  This was served with a root vegetable chutney, wildflower honey and a piece of baguette.  The chutney was good but a little sweet for my taste.  The surprise of this course was the honey.  I’m not generally a big fan of honey on its own.  I love it in goat cheese or butter, but I’m not one to slather it on toast.  I may have to amend my ways with this honey!  I loved it.  It was sweet but not cloying and it didn’t have any of that grassy flavor some honey’s have.

After the cheese course we were given a tour of the restaurant.  The six-story brick building was built in 1902.  A furniture company was among its many tenants.  In 1980, it was converted to a mix of commercial and residential condominiums.  Heartland lives in the lower two levels.  We got a tour of the party rooms, one of which overlooks the new Saints Stadium, the refrigerators and freezers and a portion of the building now used for storage that may become the home to sausage making! Heartland will be supplying the Saints with their sausages and hot dogs!

We learned that these beautiful street lamps were the original gas lamps from Kellogg Boulevard. When the city put in electric lighting, the fire marshal took all of the gas lamps for himself.  He was convinced to sell a few for this space.


We were even allowed into the room where Chef Russo cures his meats.  These will take three years to cure! He told us about Bubba, the pig that stood four feet at the shoulder and looked like a Shar Pei with all his rolls.

After our tour was dessert!  Chocolate pots de crème.  Thick, rich dark chocolate “pudding” with whipped cream and a side of Door County sour cherries, oh my. I wanted to ask for a spatula so I could get every last bit!

We had a great time.  Chef Russo is funny and engaging. We learned a lot about the restaurant and food but also about some St. Paul politics too!  We highly recommend Heartland Restaurant and if you have a special occasion, by all means do the Chef’s Table!

Yummy new appetizer, Tomato & Mozzarella Tarts

I follow the Skinnytaste blog. I've also signed up for Gina's emails from the blog.  Late last week she sent me the recipe for Tomato and Mozzarella tarts. They looked so pretty I had to try them.

Here is a link to the original recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens Website

Tomato and Mozzarella Tarts

The tarts are simple, some puff pastry sheets, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and some basil.  All but the pastry sheets are staples in my house. I grated some Parm, sliced up some cheese and tomatoes and pruned my basil plant and I was ready to go, almost.

I had been to visit my friends at the Olive Grove just this morning and I picked up some Italian seasoning. I always have their basil infused oil in the house. I thought I might kick a few of the tarts up with the oil and seasonings.

Using a 3" round cutter, cut the tart bases out of the puff pastry dough. I easily got 9 tarts out of half a package.

Poke holes in each tart with a fork then bake about 10 minutes until they get puffy.

Per the recipe, top the puffed tarts with a little shredded Parmesan cheese, the mozzarella cheese and a tomato. I wasn't sure what order would work best so I tried a couple, Parmesan, tomato, mozzarella and then Parmesan, mozzarella and tomato.

I sprinkled a little of the Italian seasoning and drizzled a little of the basil oil on a few of them too.

Back in the oven for another 10 or so, I did have some where the tomato slid off.  No worries, I just put it back on!

The final touch is a little basil. I don't like trying to bit through a whole leaf so I julienned some and put it on top.

These are delicious.  Who doesn't like puffed pastry? The "plain" ones were good, your typical caprese flavors. But the ones on which I added the seasoning and basil olive oil were really, really good!  As an after thought we drizzled a little balsamic vinegar on one.  Even better!

Next time I will probably dice the tomato to make it easier to eat and I'll definitely add the seasoning, olive oil and a good drizzle of balsamic vinegar!  Perfect appetizer for entertaining. You could even make them bite sized!

An Unsalted Peanut Challenge

To say that work has been crazy the last month would be an understatement.  I work in IT.  We had, let's say, some system issues that required some of our staff to work nearly 24x7 for an entire month.  No, this is not what we in IT define as fun.

The team had a war room in which a not insignificant number of snacks were always available.  One coworker was tasked with bringing in peanuts.  Seems simple enough, right?  Well, after you've been working day and night for a few weeks, dealing not only with the techy folks working the issues but also with IT and business leadership, well, you get tired.  When you stop at the store on your way to work to pick up said peanuts you may not look so closely at the label.  You might just pick up unsalted peanuts.  Yep, that's what happened.

My challenge?  Make the unsalted peanuts into something that tastes good.  I was up for the challenge.

I Googled, I scoured Pinterest, I even checked Cook's Illustrated and I found what I think is the perfect use!  Homemade Snickers bars!

They actually called for salted peanuts but with a cup of regular peanut butter, caramels and chocolate in the recipe, I didn't really think the extra salt on the peanuts would make that big of a difference.

Here is a link to the recipe, complete with great step-by-step pictures!
Homemade Snickers Bars

I have never made nougat before so this was a first!  The ingredients in nougat? Butter, sugar, evaporated milk, marshmallow fluff, peanut butter and vanilla.  Who knew?

Melt a little butter in a pan, add the marshmallow and peanut butter and a little vanilla and cook it until it's nice and bubbly.

The nougat is poured into a pan that has been lined with parchment.  This allows you to get the bars out of the pan to cut them!

Into the frig this goes for about half an hour.

The next layer is the caramels and peanuts. If you are lucky, you have a hubby who will unwrap all the caramels for you!

I chopped the peanuts up just a little.

The caramels are melted with a little heavy cream and the peanuts are added.

This mixture is "poured" over the nougat layer.  I used quotes around poured because this is  a pretty thick mixture.  Maybe I didn't have the pot hot enough (I didn't want to burn the caramels) or maybe this is just the way it is supposed to be but if you make these, work quickly with this step!

Back to the refrigerator.  The recipe says to leave it in the refrigerator 30-60 minutes or overnight.  It was already late in the day so I opted for overnight.  Next time I may not do that.  Keep reading!

After 30 to 60 minutes or overnight, it's time to coat the candy bars in chocolate.  The first step in that process is to make candy bars out of the pan of nougat and caramel.  Here's where I think the 30 to 60 minutes may have been better.  

These are HARD to cut.  I mean really hard to cut!  Some of them even sort of shattered so maybe I should have let them come to room temperature just a little bit.

I cut them in two sizes, some people may not want a big one right?

The chocolate in which they are dipped is not just chocolate but a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate.  I prefer Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chocolate chips.

Get that all melty and it's time to make Snickers bars!

Dip the bars in the chocolate, shake off the excess and leave them on a piece of parchment to dry.  The recipe said you could put them in the frig but I don't like how chocolate sweats when taken out of the frig so mine just stayed on the counter.

I had a bit of chocolate left so I put it in a pastry bag and decorated my candy bars!

They looked pretty good!

My husband, as usual, was by guinea pig.  He thought they did taste like Snickers.  He thought real Snickers had a more milk chocolate coating but he thought they were really good.

I didn't temper the chocolate when I melted it.  I thought maybe with the peanut butter that wasn't necessary.  But the chocolate did seem to bloom just a little.  No worries, they taste good and I'm sure the folks at work tomorrow won't mind!

The Best Sourdough Bread

There's been a sourdough theme on my blog lately.  Things go in streaks I guess.  If I get the energy this morning I may make sourdough lemon pancakes for breakfast.  Big if... was up all night for work so I'm a bit tired and maybe just a little crabby this morning.

Back to sourdough.  It is one of my favorite breads and I finally learned to make it a couple years ago.  I've tried lots of different recipes and I've learned one big lesson.  Sourdough takes time.  I've tried many "quick" sourdough bread recipes and the results ranged from inedible to just OK.  Sourdough takes time.

And I don't just mean developing the starter, yes that takes time too, but you have to let sourdough develop on it's own schedule based on the ingredients you used and the temperature in the house.  I've now found two recipes that I would consider my "go to" for making sourdough.  One is Merlin's Magic Sourdough from King Arthur Flour and this is the other one.

I don't remember where I found it but I pinned it immediately and have made it twice now.  I love it.

Here is a link to the recipe:
Sourdough Bread: A Beginners Guide - from The Clever Carrot Blog

The blog post is really helpful if you are new to making bread.  Or, if like me, you're looking for a better sourdough bread.  Emilie even puts a nice weekend schedule in the post so you know when to do what with the recipe!

It starts with the starter.  For this recipe (and any good sourdough recipe I've found) you need well fed starter.  Like leave it out at least over night to get it good and bubbly.  I forgot to take a picture at this step so you'll just have to trust me.  I've had my starter for a couple years now.  I feed it weekly.  Well, almost weekly, some weeks I forget but it's fine!  I got my first bit of starter from King Arthur Flour.  I highly encourage you to find someone with some starter in their frig rather than start with the little bit from KAF.  It's not bad, but you'll want to make bread right away and, well, if you start with this starter-starter it will take a couple days to be ready and if you're impatient like me you'll be baking at 9:30 at night!  Check out my experience here:  My First Sourdough

So the starter is fed.  Next add a little water, olive oil and bread flour.  If you like your bread extra tangy like I do, add a little citric acid (you can get that at places like Cook's of Crocus Hill or King Arthur Flour).  I learned that trick on my 5th or 6th loaf!

Now the dough has to rest for about 45 minutes.  This allows the flour to fully absorb the liquids and makes the dough easier to work with and the bread taste better.  If you want details on this process, check out The Clever Carrot blog.  She has beautiful pictures and goes into detail about each step.

Next the salt is added.  Yes, after you have a dough you add the salt.  I'd have to go check but I believe Merlin uses this technique on his sourdough.  Adding the salt after the dough has had a chance to rest supposedly keeps the gluten from getting too tight and resulting in a lighter bread.  There are different schools of thought on this and according to Emilie at The Clever Carrot, she's added it in with the other ingredients and it worked just fine.

To the salt add a little water then work it into the dough by folding the dough over and over until you no longer feel grains of salt on your hands.

Now it's time for the long rise!  Place this beautiful dough in a bowl, cover it and go get a massage, go shopping, take a nap, go to a movie.  It can take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours for the dough to rise to one and an half or two times it's size.  This depends on the temperature of the house, the ingredients used, many factors.  I try to get to this point as early as possible on Saturday morning.  Then when I'm done running errands I can start the second rise.

Once the dough is about double in size, reshape it into a nice boule shape.  This dough can be cut in half to make two loaves but I prefer one big one!

The other part about this recipe I like is the bread is baked in a dutch oven!  I've been making Michael Ruhlman's bread in a dutch oven for years.  It comes out perfect every time.  I've also been known to make bread on the grill in my Lodge cast iron Dutch oven.  I do this on those very hot days in the summer when I don't want to heat up the house.  I've used the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day bread for this too.  Using a Dutch oven you don't have to put a pan of water in your oven.  The bread sort of self-steams for the first part of the baking giving it a fantastic crust.

So with the bottom of my Dutch oven coated in corn meal (keeps the bread from sticking), I put my dough in, the top on and wait another couple hours.  See why you have to be patient with sourdough?

Finally!  Time to put that beautiful slash on the dough and stick it in a hot oven!  The oven is pre-heated to 450 F and then dropped to 400 F when you put the dough in it.

After 20 minutes, remove the lid and let that beautiful dough brown up, baking another 40 minutes.  Emilie also has the tip to open the oven door during the last 10 minutes to let some of the moisture out, again enhancing the crust.

And viola, 24 hours after you started you get this beautiful loaf of bread.  It has a crispy, chewy crust and a soft interior and it has that classic tang of sourdough bread.  I love this recipe!

Homemade Pita Bread

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