State Beer?….No,State Dessert!

A while back Bill Burge of STLBites fame discussed MO’s push to have a state beer. Well, this morning on NPR (yes…I listen to NPR) Ketzel Levine discussed Maryland’s push for something along the lines of MO. It’s not necessarily beer….but something just a good: Smith Island Cake. cake.jpgYep…dessert. Maryland is pushing for Smith Island Cake to be crowned the state dessert of Maryland. Smith Island is located about 12 miles out in the Chesapeake Bay. I have never had the opportunity to visit the island…but I have had their cake. And take it from me…it’s delicious. Some ladies make it with 9 layers…some 12…some even 18!!! The women in the community are known by how many layers each of them use in their cakes….kinda like a classification system of chocolatey, sweet goodness. A perfect evening to a perfect Maryland day is a big slice of this bad boy and a big glass of whole milk. ugh….makes my mouth water just thinking of it. Wonder what airfare to Maryland is these days.

Broken Arrow Ranch: Texas Hill Country

I lived in Austin for 3 years. While I was there, I spent most of my time eating and drinking….the latter being the more prominent. However, my carnivorous ways were honed and encouraged while living in the Hill Country. BBQ was a way of life….meat with every meal. I was lucky enough to have come in contact with this amazing ranch. Broken Arrow Ranch is a one of a kind, truly free range wild game meat. Until recently, Broken Arrow Ranch has slipped my mind. Micheal Ruhlman reminded me today of the beauty that is Broken Arrow Ranch.

As a supporter of sustainable agriculture efforts, we work with about 100 ranches around Texas as an integral part of their game management plans. Without proper population management, ranches can quickly become overpopulated with wild deer and antelope resulting in overgrazing and, eventually, starvation for the entire herd. Our field harvesting methods helps ranchers maintain naturally sustainable deer and antelope populations, which preserves the herd and land as a future resource.

Our field harvesting facility is comprised of several separate trailers that can be moved to any location on the ranch to minimize the time lapse between harvesting and processing. The ranch is quietly searched for deer and antelope. Animals are harvested in the field from long-range using a sound-suppressed rifle and a Leupold scope.”

We have undertaken these unique field harvesting procedures in order to reduce stress during slaughter, which is a major factor in controlling meat quality. An animal that senses a threat or unusual situation will react with an increased flow of adrenaline which in turn creates a rapid increase in lactic acid within the muscles. This acidic condition causes the meat to become tough, strongly flavored, and reduces the shelf life of the meat. Farmed deer are slaughtered by loading them into a trailer, taking them to a slaughter house, and running them through an apparatus where they are killed and processed. Even though these deer are domesticated and relatively tame, there is certainly some stress introduced during this process. The purpose of our field harvesting technique is to ensure the animals are never under any stress and the resulting meat quality is the highest possible.

The first time I had meat fielded by Broken Arrow was while dining at Cafe Annie in Houston. It was an amazing meal and one of my first introductions to sustainable agriculture. The liver for NYC’s Head to Tail Dinner at the Astor Center was sourced from Broken Arrow. What a bunch of lucky folks.

In regards to their mobile ‘butcher shops’: Gordon Ramsay had a similar type of slaughter performed on the turkeys he and his children raised for Christmas Lunch on his BBC show “The F Word”. I found it interesting how the slaughter of the birds took place at his home in the garden. A quick electric shock and they birds were dead…feathers plucked and cleaned. and before you knew it….they were in the oven. Now that is fresh. See STLBites spot on “The Butcher”.

Mobile butcher shops might just be what our local farmers need.



Mushrooms and Truffles

If I had to pick one of my favorite winter dishes…and by winter I mean that goofy season in St. Louis falling in the months of February, March and the first part of April….I pick mushrooms with truffles. Yes, yes…truffles are spendy…but worth every shiny nickel. My two favorite truffle mushroom dishes are from right here in St. Louis. The first being at Moxy. Chef Brenner did this amazing starter with polenta, various types of mushrooms and truffles. Geez…it was good and rich enough to have as a main course. Sadly, I haven’t seen it on the menu in a while. It was great with a glass of Malbec (or two). Triangles of grilled polenta made with a rich meaty mushroom stock covered in a fantastic mound of perfectly sauteed wild mushrooms spiked with truffle oil. Made for some good eats.

Last night, we didn’t feel like cooking. And lucky for us our favorite restaurant is in walking distance…almost in our driveway. So, we braved the unploughed back alley of Benton Park and moseyed on over to Niche for dinner. We were the only ones in the joint. Lucky for us. (eventually 2 more tables arrived). Given the state of our fair city, servers were unable to make it in. Lo and behold, Brian the bartender. Brian stepped up to the plate and not only worked the bar but served all the tables…and he did it amazingly well!!! It was a great night to dine at Niche. Quiet, relaxed and terribly fun.

Simon had the tasting menu and I had the prie fixe. The chef’s tasting menu is just too much for me on a Tuesday night. Si is a big boy and can handle it! We both started with the cauliflower soup-served two ways. I had the traditional soup, served with warm apples and walnuts. It had a deep earthy curry undertone. Rich and velvety. I could have just had that for dinner. Satiating and scrumptious. Simon was served the soup aerated with crispy bacon and apples. It was just as good. Anything with bacon, right?

I can go through the tasting menu, but I’m not. See Bill Burge’s review at STLBites . Spot on as usual.

What I want to talk about was my dinner. The tarragon gnocchi with wild mushrooms, truffled, greens, parsnips and sweet potatoes.

First off, if you have never had gnocchi at Niche, do your self a favor and go. The very first time I went to Niche was within the first few days Gerard opened the door. I hadn’t even met Simon yet. I just finished a gut rehab at our Benton Park house and G had finished the restaurant. I remember being so excited when I went looking at the house, seeing the posted occupancy permit and liquor license in what is now Niche. I didn’t know what or who was going in there at the time. All I knew is that having a restaurant/wine bar in my back yard was a plus…signed on the house that day. A dear friend and I stopped in for a light dinner. He had the gnocchi. He is just about a finicky as they come with regards to food. He knows what’s good and what he likes. Niche gnocchi was put on that list that evening. Never had he tasted gnocchi so light and tender…full of flavor. Little puffs of amazing-ness.

Last night, I ordered the gnocchi thinking I would re-live that night. I didn’t. What I was served was a gastronomic wonder in it’s own right. (too strong of words???…nah) The gnocchi were made with a bit of chickpea flour and had a golden brown crust. They were studded with fragrant tarragon, served with a medley of wild mushrooms (morels, trumpets, oyster, hen of the woods were some I think i recognized in between shoveling it in), truffles and a rich truffled oil sauce. Jumbled up in the mix were some greens and tiny diced parsnips…maybe a turnip…I can’t remember. All I know is that those gnocchi and mushrooms made the favorite dish list at Niche.

I ordered the chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and Simon got the coconut kulfi. Lucky for me Simon doesn’t like tropical flavors and I do…so we did the old switch-a-roo and everyone went home happy.