A month or two ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a meetup with other local food bloggers, hosted by Jim Norton of The Heavy Table. It's always fun to meet others in the blogosphere (especially when it comes to food) and get their advice on where to eat, what to order, who to talk to, what's in the works, who is closing shop. One of the individuals I met was Lee Zukor, "Instigator" for Simple, Good, and Tasty. Lee is diving into the world of local, organic, and responsible eating and wants you to come with him. In addition to his garden, CSA and farmer's market extravaganzas, he's started organizing meals at restaurants that focus on using local ingredients.
I was a little late in the game on finding out about his first meal (I read too many blogs and therefore often end up skimming even my favorites) but made sure to get my name on the list to his second, scheduled to take place at Heartland Restaurant in St Paul.
Lee invited me to come a bit early to tour the kitchen, which I gladly obliged. I enjoyed a nice glass of Cremant Rose in the bar while discussing what it takes to quit your job and become an organic farmer with one of Lee's previous co-workers. Then we were whisked off the the dinning room which was reserved solely for Simple Good and Tasty dinner participants.
While I didn't cook anything "new" this week, I did experience a first. It was a challenge to pass up the vegetarian menu that was featuring duck-egg pasta ravioli with local sheep's milk ricotta (oh god my mouth is watering just typing that) but I had to dive into the house made headcheese, which I had never officially previously consumed (I am certain I had one version or another during my time in Italy, but never knowingly called it headcheese).
|a seasoned loaf made of the head meat, sometimes including the tongue or brains, of a calf or pig and molded in the natural aspic of the head.|
Hey, I'm always up for a challenge
I was dining solo (shocking, right?! Kyle started Grad School two weeks ago, so the occasional dinner without him is inevitable) and had a great time getting to know my dining neighbors, Steve and Ben, a couple of dads from Lee's neighborhood and Joan and her sister, from A Backyard Farm. Fortunately, Joan ordered the Flora option, so I was able to take pictures for both meal options.
Before the meal Lee talked a little bit about his mantra, announced that Simple, Good and Tasty is officially a business according to the State of MN, and thanked everyone involved for being a part of the evening.
Next up was Chef Lenny Russo who also talked about his local food mantra, explained a bit about his business practices (like the fact that they purchase and utilize a whole pig, hence the headcheese portion of the evening)
This led to an amuse bouche (I'm not sure there are any other two words in the world that I love more... especially when I'm not expecting to hear them... or maybe foie gras) of Walleye Mousse on Kohlrabi slaw with a chervil aioli. Yums.
For us omnivores the 1st course was the much awaited headcheese. If you like ham, you'd love headcheese. It's creamy and rich, and the idea of internal organs being in there is the farthest thing from your mind when it hits your tongue. I was immediately brought back to the time Kyle and I spent on the pig farm in Italy. There is an undeniable earthy character to properly raised pork. I have to admit I kind of missed the concept of the chrysanthemum salad while eating it but the dish was delicious.
The vegetarian eaters got a very brightly colored fruit soup that looked incredibly refreshing (a good thing on any 90 degree day).
Next up was the Poussin (which may or may not just be a young chicken)
It was incredibly tender, rich, and in sum, delicious. Additionally, I could eat about 20 of those wild rice-pumpkin seed cakes and ANYTHING that has been drizzled with bit of Glace de Viande (fancy pants description for boiled down meat juice) gets two thumbs up from this girl. Well done Chef!
I already talked about how great the vegetarian option sounded. This picture makes me seriously hungry.
The dessert was delicious, and I love love love pepper with my chocolate. It's my new obsession. Last winter I was making chipotle hot chocolate for my crew in the cold blustery mornings. Sadly since this is Minnesota only a few appreciated the heat in their belly's from the spicy pepper addition. I'm not always a chocolate and cherry fan, but the cherries were mild, and are definitely in season so it works in my book.
I would have really liked to try the veg option, but probably didn't need a 2nd dessert. Damn it looks good though.
All in all, I highly recommend you go to one of Lee's up and coming dinners. Next month is at (my all time favorite, and impeccably close to me) Red Stag Supper Club. The price is right, the company is light hearted and good natured, and hey, it's local! Email Lee if you're interested in learning about future events!