The Minnesota Edition: This Is How a Sunset Cocktail Soiree Is Done “Up North”

I had the good wait, scratch that.

photoI had the excellent fortune of being at the lake the same weekend that neighbors of ours were hosting one of their much-anticipated sunset cocktail soirees. They happen only once or twice a summer.

I was informed: “Dear, it might be called drinks and hors d’oeuvres, but really, it’s enough for dinner.”

(I’m not sure my grandmother would appreciate this association, but for a few years I attended post-work media functions with exactly that same question on the line: What would they feed us, and would it be enough?)

Anyhow, these parties are really excellent. They begin about 5 o’clock in the evening, and wind down well past sunset. This year, I found myself puffing on a Montecristo white label cigar with an intimate group of about eight, and we sat around the fire, talking and smoking as the last light of day slipped away. It was lovely.

photo-5I didn’t take photos of all the food, but in my mind, the highlights were the baked salmon — Copper River salmon out of Alaska, I was told, along with the requisite (and I’m better for it) background story. Just outside the frame of this photo is a basket of small pumpernickel (or rye) toasts, which you smeared the cream cheese on, added a heavy slice of the salmon, and sprinkled with the capers, if you dared. Delicious.

photo-3And there was a cheese plate; I’m fairly certain that was peanut butter on the cheese plate. I don’t know more about it than that — I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it — although, at some point, I’m sure I had several slices of both the brie and the Monterey pepper jack, and a handful of grapes.

photo-1Then there’s this circular dish. I could figure out the part about the onions, the tomatoes, the bacon … the white base layer completely mystified me. Yogurt? Sour cream? Cream cheese? It doesn’t fit any of flavor profiles of the usual suspects.

The answer: Later, I found out this dish is called a “BLT Dip” — given the Google search results for “BLT Dip,” apparently I’m behind the curve — and the white layer is a blend of sour cream and mayonnaise, maybe a little garlic salt. Which makes perfect sense.

The Minnesota Edition: I’ve Had This Meal Countless Times (aka the “Classic Summer Supper” Post)

photo-5Dinner salad.
Corn on the cob.
Twice-baked potatoes.
Steak on the grill.

This is a meal that I’ve had dozens and dozens of times, probably even hundreds of times, over the years — Quite simply, this is Minnesota in the summer.

The cut of meat may change, but it’s always grilled. Tonight it was choice New York strip steaks from Cub Foods, a regional grocery store chain.

photo-1photo-2The style of potatoes may change — potato salad, baked potatoes, boiled baby potatoes tossed in fresh herbs and butter are other regular options — but the potatoes are always there. Twice-baked potatoes — potatoes baked in the oven, innards scooped and blended with such goodies as bacon bits, sour cream, green onion and shredded cheese, and then finished off in the oven again — are a personal favorite and a Grandma specialty.

photophoto-6Every Minnesotan will tell you there’s nothing better than sweet corn bought off the back of a farmer’s truck, although methods of buttering the corn do vary. This household uses a corn dipper, a tall, cylinder-typed glass beaker that is filled with hot water to a certain line and topped off with butter, which melts and floats on the top — ensuring a perfectly evenly-coated cob of corn every time.

photo-3The salad, too, is always there, although sometimes it can be an afterthought. Not when I make it: chopped romaine lettuce garnished with julienned carrots (from a bag), sliced red bell pepper, a tomato wedge, bacon bits, green onion, sunflower seeds, prepared tableside; add dressing of choice.

The timing of it all — so that dinner begins with the sun still well above the horizon, and isn’t over until the sun sets over the far lake shore — well, that’s intentional every time.

The Minnesota Edition: Thin Mint Cookie Blizzard … Mmm (aka the “Dairy Queen Ritual” Post)

photo-9For as long as I can remember, the drive from the Twin Cities to Crosslake, Minn. involves a requisite DQ stop. Something about Dairy Queen treats just taste better on the road in Minnesota, whether it’s a hot, sunny day or a humid summer night, cars whizzing by on the highway, heading elsewhere.

I usually go for the Dairy Queen Blizzard Treat: creamy soft serve and your mix-in of choice roughly blended so that crumbles, bits and whole chunks of the candy, cookies, nuts or even fruit (or some combination thereof) are strewn throughout. So I was thrilled to discover that August’s “Blizzard of the Month” was a Blizzard Treat blended with Thin Mints, that classic Girl Scout cookie, which the first thing you do is stick them in the freezer anyway (they’re just better that way).

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The verdict: A must-try for any Girl Scout cookie junkie. The cookie bits stay hard and crunchy, and the soft serve has the distinct taste of Thin Mints, which is different from but related to the mint-chip family of flavors.

As the soft serve inevitably begins to melt around the edges into little milky pools, I was reminded of this classic pairing: A short stack of Thin Mints and a tall, cool glass of milk.

BLD Minnesota Edition: Impromptu Appetizer Party, Target Superstore-Style

If you live in the heart of New York City, and find yourself in the vicinity photo-6of an all-in-one megastore, like the Super Targets that populate the Twin Cities, you will make a pilgrimage there.

And you will marvel at the convenience of being able to buy your milk, freezer waffles, birthday cards, DVDs, toothpaste — as well as a cheap, fashionable handbag from some designer’s collaborative collection — all in the same place. Reverence-worthy indeed.

While I was scouting out travel-sized Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps, the $4.95 DVD rack and more, my aunt basically sourced the entire impromptu appetizer party, which happened a little later at Grandpa’s house, from Super Target’s grocery section (which legitimately could be a stand-alone, fully-stocked grocery store).

On the Menu:

Pita chips and humus.
Shrimps and cocktail sauce, frozen/thawed.

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Meatballs and hot dogs in barbecue sauce, warmed on the stove (could have just as easily been in a Crock-Pot).
Bite-sized vegetables and ranch dip, prepackaged.

photo-2photo-1No fancy cheeses (although I do love ’em), no Chinatown-sourced delectables (although I love those, too), no ordering involved (or cooking really, either) — just simple food of the sort that people can gather around and share, along with the latest family news.

Living in New York, you forget how the rest of the country eats. That’s okay, I think, but this is quite alright, too.

BLD Minnesota Edition: Colombian-Style Corn Pancakes in the Most Unlikely of Places

photo-8When someone takes you to one of their favorite breakfast spots and says, “I get the pancakes every time” — get the pancakes.

Or a pancake, as the case may be, if the pancakes are anything like the giant, larger-than-your-face-sized pancakes at Maria’s Cafe in the Franklin neighborhood of Minneapolis, which are stuffed with seasonal fresh fruit or local and Colombian favorites, like wild rice, plantains and corn. At $2.95 per pancake, it’s a hellofa breakfast, and cheap, too. (Throw in a side of bacon or a fried egg, $1 ea., for good measure).

photo-11photo-12The traditional corn pancake, sprinkled with cotija cheese ($1.50), is about as savory and actually nourishing as any pancake I’ve ever had. The sweet corn taste, plus I think they use a little bit of cornmeal in the batter, strikes the same sweet/savory balance as a corn tamale … and the sticky, scoopable corn mash served at Acapulco‘s weekend brunch buffet. Oh, yes. (Which, I never realized, is a distinctly Southern California restaurant chain.)

One of the friends we were eating with “always” gets the fresh raspberry pancake. And so what do I order? Eggs. (cue cricket noises/silence.)

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Yep, eggs. Maria’s Colombian huevos pericos, to be exact: “Three scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes, white and green onions, special seasoning and chopped with cheddar cheese. Served with tortilla, homemade salsa.” ($7.50)

The eggs were decent, if a little bland (looking and tasting). The best thing about the eggs is that they were improved upon with the fresh salsa and two types of cheese (I added some cotija cheese, as well).

Luckily, my dining companions were as interested in my eggs, as they’d never deviated so far from the menu and wanted to try them, as I was in their pancakes, and we shared and ate amicably.

I’m generally terrified of pancakes and their great potential for dryness and lack of character. The fact that I’ve had pancakes two weeks in a row, well, that probably hasn’t happened since I was under the age of 10 and my Dad was in the habit of making Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes for us on the weekends.

I think the key to these two successful pancake endeavors is the adding in of stuffs, fruit and otherwise. In fact, I’m on the lookout now, for more …

TIP: Maria’s Cafe serves breakfast all day. Sweet.

Editor’s Note: Don’t Hate Me Because I’ve Gone Blonde (aka the “Excuses, Excuses, Excuses” Post)

I’m not sure how often you check in with the BLD Project.

But for better or worse, this blog is my lifeline to the ideas, the experiences, the motivations, the people, that drive my thoughts about food on a daily basis (whether or not I write about it).

Food for survival, food for satisfaction, food for pleasure, food for ribbons (the winning of awards and kudos kind): We’re all eating, all the time. I’m just supposed to be writing about it. Which brings me to the topic at  hand: My errant ways.

Last week was a lost week, for many reasons. I am going to rest the blame on the serious amount of chemicals that went into my head to return to blonde — let’s call it dinner, Monday night.

The recipe was something close to:

photo90 sheets of foil (aprox.)
(1 1/2) containers of
BW 2, 10 oz.
1 bottle Clairol pure white,
etc.

To that fine concoction, mix in a couple of pitchers of margaritas at Tortilla Flats, my own neurosis and BINGO. (Literally, Tortilla Flats hosts a lively Bingo scene on Monday nights.)

All joking aside, for many reasons, collectively the week was a wash. So I’m going to pick up with Thursday afternoon, when I’m on my way to the airport for “BLD Minnesota Edition,” and we’ll just call the rest … roots.