Saturday, November 30, 2013

Potato Latkes

It's been a very nice Thanksgiving, spending cherished time with friends and family. Sean was home from Iowa State and and he, Patrick and I got to enjoy the launch of the next generation gaming consoles. The last time that happened was 2005...Sean was just 10 and Patrick was 8. The new Xbox One is astounding in both it's capabilities and gameplay. Sean and I are playing Call of Duty: Ghosts and Patrick is reveling in Madden and Dead Rising 3.

Sean loves college, but complains considerably about the food. So while he's home, I try and fill him up with all kinds of comfort food. When it comes to comfort food, it doesn't get a whole lot better than potato pancakes. Potato Latkes are super crispy on the outside but soft and moist on the outside.

Now if you want to save some time, or if you don't own a food processor, there's a real easy shortcut to making latkes. Simply buy yourself a couple bags of "Simply Potato Shredded Hash Browns". A bag is only 1 pound, 4 ounces and since you need 2 pounds, you'll need to borrow 12 ounces from bag 2. But it makes this recipe a breeze as it saves considerable time and labor.

2 pounds russet potatoes
1 small yellow onion
3 tablespoons matzo meal
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as chives or parsley, for garnish

  1. Peel the potatoes and shred them in a food processor fitted with the shredding blade; transfer the potatoes to a large bowl as the food processor fills up. Repeat with the onion. Transfer the onion to the bowl with the potatoes and stir in the matzo meal, egg, baking powder and salt. 
  2. Fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is very hot but not smoking. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a small piece of potato into the oil; if the potato sizzles steadily, the oil is ready. 
  3. Working in batches, scoop the potato mixture by 1/4-cupfuls and add them carefully to the skillet, flattening each latke slightly with a spatula. Fry, turning the latkes once, until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Remove any loose bits of potato mixture between batches with a slotted spoon. 
  4. Serve the latkes immediately, or keep them warm in a 200ยบ oven. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Wine pairing: I usually serve potato latkes with grilled pork chops, so my wine of choice would be a nice Syrah or Merlot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vodka Cranberry Sauce

Health care in this country is simply amazing to me. On Wednesday at 1:30pm, they removed vertebra C-6 from my neck and replaced it with a good vertebra from a dead guy. The operation was done by 3pm. At 5pm, after an hour in recovery, they brought me to my room. By 6:30pm, I was walking the halls with my rolling IV stand. At 9:30am the next morning my girlfriend picked me up and drove me home.

There are a couple things going on here that make this rapid recovery so remarkable. The medical side is fascinating. They made the smallest incision in my neck. You look at it and you think how in the heck did they get a vertebra out and back in through that tiny little incision? That minimal invasiveness makes it a lot less traumatic on the body, greatly aiding in a speedy recovery.

Secondly, I have to give a tip of the hat to CrossFit. I was in tip-top shape going into the operation, even doing the WOD the day before my surgery. Being in such good condition made the recovery portion of the ordeal a breeze. I was up and walking immediately and I'm about to head out right now for a brisk two mile walk around Normandale Lake. There's no doubt I'll be back at CrossFit in less than 10 days, modding my already modded workouts, of course.

While I thought I might have to take it easy over the holidays, I am set to party. I thought I'd let you join in on the fun by sharing by my Vodka Cranberry Sauce recipe. This is strictly an adult dish and it packs a keep this out of reach of the kids. And if you'd like it a little more potent, just lift your elbow a little higher during the vodka pour. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 cup cranberry juice
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup Vodka, chilled in the fridge
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange rind


1. Wash the bag of cranberries under cool water, and then throw them into a medium saucepan. Pour in the cranberry juice and maple syrup. Add the orange juice and orange rind (you could also do lemon rind and lemon juice - anything citrusy). Stir together and turn the heat on high until it reaches a boil and the berries begin to pop.

2. Turn down the heat to medium-low and continue cooking over the lower heat until the juice is thick, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow to cool, and then chill in the fridge until Thanksgiving dinner is ready. When ready to eat, add vodka to the sauce, stir and serve.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Portobello Mushroom Soup with Goat Cheese

I'm focusing on soup this week as there is going to be a lot of it in my very near future. For the last 16 years I've been waging an ongoing battle with osteoarthritis. First it claimed my right hip. Two years ago a deteriorated disk in my lower spine allowed a cyst to grow on my spinal cord. In the last month I've endured ferocious pain in my right shoulder and both of my hands are numb. But of course, that's nothing that eight Vicodin a day can't handle.

The shoulder pain is caused by the arthritis that has claimed vertebra C6 in my neck. The disk has deteriorated and slid into my spinal cord.  The surgery is really no big deal and I have no anxiety about it, but I do find the procedure incredibly interesting. To get at C6, they actually go in through the front of my neck. They move the neck muscles to one side and then move the esophagus and trachea to the other side. Now you can't beat good fun, can you?

Next they are going to remove C6, that stupid little vertebra who could not keep up his side of the bargain. This relieves the pressure on my spinal cord. Then they take a dead guy's bone from the bone bank and shape it to fit the space that C6 should have been filling. (This bone has no living tissue so there is no chance of rejection). Finally, they take a titanium plate (to complement the five pounds of titanium already in my hip, which has provided the TSA with copious amounts of wand practice) and fuse the new C6 with my old C7 so that everything is stabilized.

It appears that the only downside of Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion is from the moving of the trachea and esophagus. Most people have a sore throat and a "lump in the throat" sensation that lasts about two weeks. So that means lots of soup in my diet. So today, I'm going to share one of my favorite soup recipes. It's kind of like cream of mushroom soup taken to the power of 100. This Wine Spectator recipe has an incredible list of mouth started watering just by reading them! So make this soup. I will be doing that later this week. And see you later C6, you little piece of worthless sh*t...don't let my esophagus hit you on your way out of my neck.

2 slices apple-wood smoked bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 shallots, peeled and minced
1 1/2 heads garlic
1/2 medium leek, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch slices
5 portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 bottle Pinot Noir
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups cream
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons goat cheese
1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons prosciutto, finely diced
1 tablespoon black truffle, diced


  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, sweat* the bacon, shallots, garlics and leeks until transparent, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add portobello mushrooms and continue to sweat until most of the moisture is out of the mushrooms.
  3. Add Pinot Noir and reduce wine by three-fourths.
  4. Cover mushrooms with chicken stock and reduce to a slow simmer, cooking for 45 minutes.
  5. Add cream and bring to a boil. Puree in batches in a blender, gradually adding butter.
  6. Season well and pass through a medium sieve. Adjust thickness with chicken stock, if needed.
  7. Divide among four bowls. Garnish with goat chives, chives, prosciutto and truffle.

*Sweating is cooking at low heat in a covered pan.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

What my new neck will look like.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mongolian Beef

Mongolia measures 603,909 square miles, making it the 19th largest country in the world. At the same time, it is the most sparsely populated country in the world. A mere 2.9 million people call it home....which is less than 5 people per square mile.

Mongolia contains very little arable land...most of it is simply vast, treeless plains. So there is not a lot to do in Mongolia except procreate. But given the sparse population, the Mongolians appear to have not mastered this form of recreation. The most famous person to hail from Mongolia was Genghis Khan. But that was some 700 years ago. So the lack of procreation appears to be holding back the chance of another hero warrior emerging as well.

The extreme Mongolian climate has a strong influence on local cuisine. Since nothing grows there, Mongolians subsist on a diet comprised primarily of meat and animal fats. Today's recipe is comprised of just that....meat and animal fat. But since few of us have animal fats in our pantry, we will substitute for that with a little bit of vegetable oil. Oh.....and because China lies to the south of Mongolia, we'll borrow a few scallions from them.

This fabulous and very hearty recipe comes from Benny Lin, owner of the Pagoda restaurant in North Pole, Alaska. It serves two. I recommend serving this with sticky rice or cooked rice noodles.

1 (16-ounce) flank steak
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ground garlic
3/4 cup (3/4-inch long) scallion slices, green and white parts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 teaspoons soy sauce

  1. Trim the fat of the flank steak and cut into thin pieces against the grain. Marinate the meat for 1 hour in a mix of egg, cornstarch, and 2 tablespoons oil. 
  2. Heat up the wok with 3 cups of oil to 350 degrees F and add the cut up flank steak. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, and then remove from the heat and drain well. Discard oil. 
  3. Heat the wok up again and add 2 teaspoons oil, ground garlic, all the cut up scallions, and the marinated beef. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Now add the sugar, black pepper, and soy sauce and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve .

    Wine pairing: A big, fruity Zinfandel

    Hatgal, Mongolia