Things I Tasted, Things I Made: From Lemon Cake To The Worst Beer Ever

Culinary school wrapped up a few weeks ago and I began working at a family-owned cafe and bakery. We’re allowed to sip caffeinated beverages and nibble sweets as we please and so I find each day an exercise in self-control. After bringing home pie two days in a row, my husband pleaded with me to stop bringing it home so frequently. We compromised on “Pie Saturdays.”

Life has moved faster than normal and I find myself cooking less, ordering in more, and increasing my caffeine intake. Our favorite local pizza joint Pizza Nico probably knows us by name and when I do feel like cooking, I turn to our favorite, reliable comfort foods. The weather’s been more reminiscent of fall than early summer, but this hasn’t prevented Fargoans from throwing grand picnics. We gladly trade our traditional date nights for evenings grilling and drinking cocktails with old and new friends.

Now that I’m more secure with my footing this summer, I’ve got a laundry list of road trips to take on sunny days I have off from work. Plus, there’s an Alley Fair in downtown Fargo this weekend and the North Dakota Blogger and Writer next week which includes an evening out with our own Marilyn Hagerty. I’ll return to Fargo in time to catch a whiff of Ribfest before heading to the Twin Cities. At the end of the month, my husband and I are both taking some time off to head to Southern Minnesota for a big, family wedding.

One day at a time. In the meantime, enjoy a few tastes and recipes from the past few weeks:

Sunday Supper Pizza
No matter how busy our week is, I enjoy preparing a Sunday supper. If Jake has a special request, it’s usually for one of our favorite comfort foods like Beef Stroganoff, pasta tossed with roasted vegetables, or homemade pizza. Most of the time, I spread the dough with olive oil muddled with fresh garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs. This time, I made homemade pizza sauce.

Pizza Sauce: Saute a small, diced onion and one clove minced garlic of minced garlic. Pour in a 12 oz. can of organic tomato sauce and simmer for as long as you can. I seasoned the sauce with salt, pepper, dried oregano, basil, and marjoram, a couple splashes of red wine, and enough sugar to even out the acidity. After several hours, it turned a rusty red and its flavor and texture concentrated.

We like this recipe for a thinner, flat bread dough. It reminds me of Broders’ Cucina Italiana flat bread. The Pioneer Woman’s recipe produced a crust that was fluffier and more substantial. I added about a tablespoon of sugar to the warm water and yeast mixture and allowed the dough to rise twice. Just as my culinary teacher said, allow the dough to rise once for flavor and twice for structure.

As far as toppings go, I splurge on high quality mozzarella. I’ve found it half as expensive at large retailers. Most any vegetable will do, however, you may need to roast or blanch some vegetables (like shaved potatoes) before adding them to the pizza. Our favorites include onions, shaved thinly or caramelized beforehand, roasted eggplant, hot pickled cherry peppers, thinly sliced raw radishes, and jalapenos.

Alice Waters’ 1-2-3-4 Lemon Cake
With my bakery stint, we don’t need any more access to sweets but since I had some extra time over Memorial Day weekend, I baked a cake. Earlier, I had enjoyed a dense slice of glazed lemon bundt cake from Nichole’s Fine Pastry and wanted to make my own version to enjoy at home with coffee. After scouring the Internet for lemon cake recipes, I chose Alice Waters’ 1-2-3-4 cake recipe and made a boozy brandy lemon glaze. You can find an adaptation of Waters’ recipe on the blog Sweet Talk Sweets.

The final cake is very simple and the tart lemon glaze sets it apart. It’s not a “Look at me, look at me!” cake, but satisfying, nonetheless. Our litmus test for a recipe’s success is measured by the amount of leftovers that remain in our fridge. If this is any indication, there’s a mostly empty cake pan in our fridge.

I essentially followed the recipe, but used sifted all-purpose flour instead of cake flour. I made the lemon variation and added the zest and juice from two lemons to the batter. This author of this recipe recommends using two tablespoons less of all-purpose flour in lieu of cake flour, but I added extra lemon juice instead. You could poke holes in the cake with toothpick to help it absorb extra glaze, but I was happy with slowly spooning it over the warm cake. For a really decadent treat, spread the glazed cake with a smear of Nutella.

Brandy-Lemon Glaze (Adapted from ChefJune’s recipe on Chowhound):
In a small saucepan, gently heat 1/2 cup of brandy, 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, the zest from one lemon, 2/3 cup powdered sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Worst Beer Ever: Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale
My husband enjoys trying different craft beers. He’s especially got a palate for the hoppy and the bitter. One evening, he brought this variety home from Happy Harry’s, for kicks and giggles.

Now, this didn’t sound particularly great to me to begin with and I guessed it would be overly sweet or mapley at the worst, but boy, was I wrong. The smell, alone, was heinous. I like the aroma of snuffed-out candles and campfires, but feel Rogue took this note too far. Who wants to smell a burning forest in their beer?

The flavor was equally harsh and I literally spit out my first and only sip. I’m no Andrew Zimmern and couldn’t push its singed mulch flavor down the hatch. Even my husband couldn’t drink more than a couple sips and he’s basically morally opposed to leaving glasses of beer, unfinished. I’m all for culinary experimentation and whimsy, but it’s beyond me how anyone could have tasted this beer and green-lit it for purchase in good conscience. How do you sleep at night?

Smiling Moose Deli
On Memorial Day, we were in search of a casual lunch outing and settled on Smiling Moose Deli, one of the few places open in downtown Fargo. Plus, my husband insisted we dine somewhere were he could wear his matching track suit. Unfortunately, this ruled out the Beefsteak Club. The Smiling Moose is a fast-casual style chain that originated in Colorado and expanded its franchise to 19 locations. Two, alone, have opened in Fargo since we moved here a year and a half ago.

Smiling Moose is like Panera or a sandwich version of Noodles and Company. You order soup, sandwiches, and salad at the counter and a server delivers it to your table. Breakfast sandwiches are served all day, a fact I wish I had known the previous morning when I settled on a gas station biscuit at noon.

We ordered two sandwiches from the options marked as low-calorie: The Green Thumb, a warm sandwich with sauteed mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, roasted red peppers, black olives, swiss cheese and pesto mayonnaise and The Sidecar, a cold sandwich with turkey, roasted red pepper, lettuce, swiss and pesto mayonnaise. The large sandwiches were more like two large sandwich and came with dill pickle spears. They cost a little over $20 along with a hot tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How these were low-anything is beyond me, considering the density of the bread and addition of cheese and mayo. All in all, they were decent sandwiches made with fresh ingredients. My hot veggie sandwich was certainly better than The Sidecar which was filled with standard deli meat. I liked that the restaurant’s service was friendly, it serves loose leaf teas, and sidewalk seating. However, our sandwiches were nothing we got too excited about, or go out of our way to eat. Considering the restaurant options we don’t have in Fargo-Moorhead, I’m not sure we need two Smiling Moose’s, but it’s an acceptable option for those who want a casual, sit-down experience that’s a step above fast food and more casual than full table service.

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