Back in Action!

Our camper is finally fixed, (YEAH!) and we are back on the road! *sigh* What a relief for all of us. Three hours South of Owatanna, MN is Des Moines, Iowa. We arrived in Des Moines on Wednesday evening, set up camp and spent Thursday night with NECI alumni Sean (aka Trip) and Haley Wilson. We had a great meal at their house and Chase had loads of fun playing with the cats. I think he’s missing his own who are staying with Nana in Vermont. Marcus will be visiting the Cuisine at Home Magazine publishing location today with Haley then staging at Azalea Restaurant in downtown Des Moines with Trip. Tomorrow he will be showcasing NECI at the farmer’s market here in Des Moines where there are an anticipated ten thousand visitors. Should be wonderful!

Published in: on August 31, 2007 at 11:35 am  Comments (1)  

Mankato Hill Climbs, MN


We spent this perfectly sunny, not too hot Saturday afternoon watching motorcycles fly up a very steep dirt 250 foot track. Most of them made it up in a matter of 6 seconds, one in less than 5 seconds, a few didn’t make it at all. There were Hondas, Suzukis, Harleys, KTMs, Yamahas, in 2 stroke and 4, from 60cc to 600cc, two wheel and four wheel. The participants, both male and female, ranged in age from 5 to 50+. The Kato Cycle Club hosts this event once a year. Check out some of our pictures of these crazy hill climbers! More on the club at www.keysystemsplus.com

Published in: on August 26, 2007 at 1:10 pm  Comments (1)  

Spaghetti & Meatballs on a stick?!

…deep fried salami wrapped pickles on a stick, even a Reuben on a stick!! We visited the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul on Thursday…it’s the country’s largest, and from what I could see, has the craziest food selection. They’ve taken the “on the stick” so far as to sell socks on a stick, or tee shirts on a stick. You name it, they’ve stuck it. In an attempt to budget, we packed a cooler with salads and sandwiches and made a point of parking close enough to the fair entrance so we could easily leave and eat when we got hungry. No such luck. The moment we passed over the pedestrian bridge and onto the expansive fair grounds, thousands of aromas entered our noses and summoned our stomachs towards the endless acres of food. We really did try to resist. Really. A $1 all you can drink milk (just milked, pasteurized, and piped into the dairy booth) (oh, and we had our choice, white or chocolate) here, a harmless hotdog in a bun on a stick there. Nothing substantial, really. Then we found the food court. Here we come, fair food. We ate Cajun chicken po boys (this was Not on a stick, though I’m quite certain we could have requested it), BBQ pork sandwiches, more hot dogs on sticks, fried potatoes with ranch dressing, gyros, honey sticks, caramel apples, not on a stick (guess they wanted to be different), hmmm. I know I’m forgetting something. We washed it all down with birch beer soda, something I haven’t tasted in years. Even though this was the opening day of the fair, and a drizzling rain was keeping us all wet, there were an estimated five thousand plus people there! We were told that on a normal fair day, upwards of twenty thousand visit. Guess that’s why it’s the country’s largest. If you’re not able to experience it first hand, check out the fair and food online at www.mnstatefair.org and see what other foods can be put on a stick.

I’ve just been corrected on my attendance figures, thanks Dan.  The count for the day came in at over 79,000!  Amazing.  Chef says “Imagine what we could do for recruiting and sales with a NECI signature “Chocolate Bomb” on a stick dipped in chocolate fondue for $5?!!”

Published in: on August 24, 2007 at 1:53 am  Comments (1)  

Farmer’s Market, St. Paul, Minnesota

On this rainy past Sunday morning, Chef Marcus put back on his whites and visited the St. Paul’s farmers market. He and NECI alumnus Dan Zelle set up a banquet table decorated with New England Culinary Institute brochures and information, the laptop with a NECI DVD running, and two burners (one induction, one butane; more on this later). Their goal was to get the NECI name “out there” (in this case the Twin Cities area) and hopefully capture potential students. They began the morning by visiting some of the other local vendors and purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to demonstrate their culinary prowess to the market-goers. The team of chefs first sautéed and caramelized zester apples and red onions, deglazed with Meyer’s Dark Rum, and added a touch of brown sugar and butter. They then created perfectly creamy colored crepes and topped these with the apple mixture. Judging by the crowd, these were quite a hit. They then prepared a simple, yet absolutely delicious tomato sauce using fresh heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and onion, tossed this with organic capellini pasta, and added chiffonade basil to finish. NECI definitely got some exposure. There were at least 300 different onlookers coming and going throughout the day, all asking questions, and close to 130 of them sampled the food Marcus and Dan prepared. The farmer’s market was a fun and effective way to reach out to people, and we hope to do this again.

On a side note: induction burners don’t work on aluminum pans, only steel ones. We learned this the hard way today. After preparing the apple mixture, we attempted to gently heat the calphalon pan to make our crepes. And, to our surprise, no heat. Dan fortunately knows a restaurant owner nearby and borrowed a butane burner. A slight delay in preparation, but this didn’t stop the passersby. Chef Marcus stayed engaged in conversation with curious and interested market shoppers while Dan took care of the heat. “Now we’re cooking with gas!” was Chef’s comment. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the induction method, it is an electric burner with magnetic generated heat. To touch the surface of the burner (although on) with your hand, there’s no heat, but once a steel pan is placed on the surface, the heat is instant. It’s possible to boil water in a mere four minutes.

Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 3:11 am  Comments (2)  

Cheese & Cranberries…what a combo!

Wisconsin is pretty serious about its cheese, this we know. There are dairy farms everywhere (quite similar to Vermont, in fact). The main difference we’ve noticed is the color. It’s all orange cheese. The cheese makers add the annatto seed to the process to turn their otherwise white cheddar into yellow. I find this funny. In a good way, of course. And the fried cheese curds are delicious!

We’re driving through the center of Wisconsin right now on our way from Green Bay to La Crosse and started wondering what kind of fields we were seeing. It’s been nothing but corn and dairy for quite a while, but these fields had dams and interesting irrigation systems. Marcus thought cranberries, so we looked it up on www.wikipedia.com . I read the entire cranberry excerpt out loud and learned a whole lot. Next thing we know, we’re seeing signs for Ocean Spray and straight up bogs with cranberries in the center!

Published in: on August 19, 2007 at 3:21 am  Comments (4)  

Green Bay, WI


Our NECI camper is unfortunately out of commission right now, it’s in the shop waiting for new axles to arrive. (if you’re interested in knowing more, check out http://www.rvforums.com/cfforum/viewmessages.cfm?Forum=1&Topic=6581 ). We decided to take this opportunity to visit the Green Bay area and Marcus’ cousin, Jeremy, and NECI alumni, Eric Paynter. We spent the first night in the Oneida Reservation Radisson Hotel, and had a fun night taking turns at the casino (we were given $30 each at check in to play with) and swimming in the pool with Chase.

Our next day, we visited the National Railroad Museum. We were hesitant at first, since there was a pretty steep admission charge (almost thirty for the three of us) and we were only planning to spend an hour or so there. Turns out, we spent 3 hours plus and almost didn’t want to leave. We stood next to 1.6 million pound engines, walked through old passenger cars, and took a 30 minute ride on a train around the museum. There were old cars on display which used to haul meats (they weren’t refrigerated, so they had huge ice blocks set inside both the front and back of the car which needed to be replaced every 100 or so miles), there were old corn and grain hopper cars, old liquid food cars…It’s interesting to see how food began it’s cross country travel…from local to nationwide. With the onset of the interstate highways, and the expense of coal (engines weren’t very fuel efficient), our food began to travel in trucks instead of trains as it does today. As fuel began to get more expensive, we see an increase in the price of foods shipped. Hence, the rise of many Buy Local, Stay Local campaigns.

One of the old passenger trains on display contained a food service car. We walked through and admired the full stainless steel kitchen and peeked inside the cast iron, wood fired oven, the lowboy freezers, and the old ice chests. There was even a server station set just below the kitchen with a pass through window. The passengers walked up a short set of stairs and dined in a glass bubble on top of the car. The next car on display was a US Postal car in which mail bags were emptied, sorted, and placed in slots by zip code. Can you imagine bouncing and jiggling down the track reading an endless number of hand-scribbled addresses and trying to figure out the final destination of each letter? All while possibly being shot at? (we saw quite a few bullet holes in the windows of this car). But, “The mail must go through!

The next half of our day was spent walking through the 4-H barns at the Brown County Fair. Agricultural adolescents raising beef cattle, dairy cows, market pigs, sheep for wool, rabbits, roosters, hens, turkey…You name it, they had it. Country kids learning first hand where their food comes from. It’s so easy to forget sometimes…

That evening we enjoyed a traditional Cajun chicken stew made by Jeremy’s roommate, Debbie…a real Louisiana woman. The stew was delightful and not too spicy. She says she held back a little not knowing what we could handle. It was perfect. We had a nice visit with them, then headed North to Crivitz, WI to visit Eric.

Crivitz is a quiet little town with much of the area’s economy based on summer tourism. There are small clear lakes with cabins and beaches everywhere. Eric Paynter, ‘06 Essex, is currently the Executive Chef of a private club. We toured his enormous kitchen, with enough walk-in cooler space to serve thousands. There was even a separate fish cooler in which the members labeled their fresh catch from the lakes and identified the meal when they’d like it served. The place was very clean and organized for being over 100 years old. We then visited with his friend Margie at her house and roasted marshmallows by the fire. It was such a beautiful night. The next day, we stopped at Veteran’s Falls on our way out of town, tossed the gold pan in the water, gave it a few swirls, and turned up with a whole lot of lead sinkers. But, as expected, no gold.

Published in: on August 18, 2007 at 3:12 am  Leave a Comment  

112 Eatery

Since we’ve been back from South Dakota, we went to dinner with Dan Zelle and his family at the unique 112 Eatery in St Paul. When he made the reservation for us, Dan said we were in for a treat. And boy was he right. This restaurant was opened by a chef for chefs. After a long, hard night at work, this is where the chefs and kitchen staff come to eat and socialize. 112 Eatery is open with a full menu until 1 AM. Perfect hours for the hungry night owls who’ve just gotten out of work. The menu ranges from simple salads and egg sandwiches to foie gras and sweetbreads. We ordered just about one of everything and passed the dishes around family style. Much better than having to decide! I chickened out on trying the sweetbreads, but everything else was wonderful. Foie gras/lardon salad, crostini w/ white anchovy and avocado, lamb scottadito with goats milk yogurt, tempura prawns with rooster mayo, sautéed sweetbreads with porcini & clam sauce, tagliatelle w/ foie gras meatballs, Chinese fried eggs, cold cuts and house made pickles (we probably ordered more) and delicious desserts to top it all off. We’ve been talking about this meal all week long. Food by chefs for chefs. This would make a great spot for an internship site. www.112eatery.com

Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 6:31 pm  Comments (1)  

big farms, big fields, BIG machines!

Published in: on August 14, 2007 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Where some of our food & fuel come from…

Our trip back to Minnesota brought us to Stan’s farm, once again. He has 1500 acres of corn and soybeans which he sells to Green Giant and other larger companies. The corn gets harvested, shucked, and dried in a large propane-fueled kernel drier which slowly draws out the moisture. Stan points out that this is an antiquated system, “I turn it on and let it run for 24 hours a day for three weeks straight.“ He harvests around 30 TONS of corn and soybeans a day during these three weeks. He also raises pigs for sale to familiar companies such as Hormel and Swift. Hmmm. Hormel, I think I have some of their meats in my fridge. Could be from this farm? We asked lots of questions about where the food goes and what final products they end up in, but Stan’s answer was brief. He grows it, they buy it, we use it.

Much of the area corn is being used to make fuel. We passed a few such ethanol plants while on the road. (We all commented on how it smelled like beer.) The use of corn for fuel is driving up corn prices which makes it difficult to purchase corn as feed (although one of the byproducts can be used as feed), but many farmers are involved in a coop in which they trade the goods they have for the ones they need with other area farmers. Stan uses soybean mash for protein and corn mash to feed his pigs. He makes good use of what he has, so he doesn’t have to go out and buy much feed.

Speaking of corn as alternative fuel, the process is being used more frequently than I had realized. Out East we talk about bio-diesel and solar power, here in the Mid West, they use corn and wind power. We’ve seen numerous windmills in action, something I find fascinatingly beautiful. There is also the choice at the pump to use 10% ethanol for 20 cents a gallon less. We’ve been purchasing gas (and lots of it, as you can imagine) for around $2.70 a gallon. Even as low as $2.60 at times. We’ve also hit it as high as $3.30 near Chicago. No wonder our food prices are climbing! Back to the alternative energy issue, it’s exciting to see this attempt at changing our fuel consumption source on such a grand scale.

Published in: on August 14, 2007 at 1:05 am  Comments (1)  

Root Beer Floats & Big Balls of Twine!


We’ve discovered that Minnesotans take their root beer pretty seriously. It’s sold by the bottle with many different “microbrew” labels everywhere.  We were even told that it’s available by the keg or pitcher. This has taken us on the perfect root beer float quest. Our attempt at home (in the NECI camper) was an alright one, we started with the right ingredients anyhow (okay, I admit that’s pretty hard to screw up, there are only two). We used a local brew and Breyers Vanilla. And they were delicious, but not quite right. We didn’t have our root beer cold enough and that icy frost never set up on the ice cream…you know, the one you need to eat off with the spoon. 

We drove an hour and a half yesterday to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, MN.  I’m sure we spent more in gas than this was worth, but on a crazy cross country trip as this, it’s just one of those American landmarks a traveler must see. At least once, anyhow.  We promised a friend back home we’d take a picture of Chase on top, but at twelve feet around, we could only hold him up really high.  We can say we saw it, at least, and have the pictures to prove it. 

On our way back from the twine, we saw a really neat 50s style drive-in restaurant which we decided to check out.  It’s name is the Peppermint Twist, and the only thing missing was the server’s rollerskates!  We pulled in to the covered parking space, pressed a little silver button and ordered, you guessed it, 3 root beer floats.  They were delivered by a happy teenager straight to our windows.  (Other cars nearby had trays hanging off the sides with more than floats on them.)  Mmmmmm.  These had that icy frost. The Peppermint Twist has quite an extensive menu ranging from burgers to wraps to meals. It was even featured on the Food Network in 2002.  What a great food find!

We then stopped by Rebecca Lake Park and let our full tummies settle as Chase tried to rule the enormous playground.  One other visitor’s comment about the lake was, “I bet when you left Vermont you never thought you’d be visiting this little green lake in Minnesota!”  She’s right, that one wasn’t on our list.  🙂 

Published in: on August 13, 2007 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment