Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Adventures With Food: On The Road... St. Louis Bites and Brews

Schlafly Raspberry Hefeweizen

I'm always on the lookout for delicious and unusual food and when I find something out of this world I just have to share. This weekend was one of those times. My husband and I spent a Saturday touring two of the biggest breweries in St. Louis. Most people know that the gateway city is the home of Anheuser-Busch, but unless you are in it's limited distribution area you may not have heard about the Schlafly Bottleworks.

While AB has been around since 1852 and virtually set the bar for American beer, Schlafly is a relative newcomer to the brewing scene after establishing themselves as a fixture in the St. Louis market in 1991.

But it is this newcomer I intend to focus your attention on today. If you come to St. Louis definitely plan on taking the free tours offered by both companies, but make sure you're hungry when you hit Schlaflys.

Schlaflys have two locations in St. Louis, the Taproom in the downtown area and on the outskirts of the city you will find their main brewery, the Schlafly Bottleworks. Inside you can take a short tour and enjoy samples of some of their signature craft brews. (I highly recommend the Coffee Stout, Scotch Ale and the Raspberry Hefeweizen.) Then sit down and relax for a bite to eat in their restaurant.

They have a diverse menu that incorporates fantastic locally sourced ingredients. Their menu offers standard appetizers like Pretzels and Nachos done up with a twist by pairing them with Hefeweizen cheese sauce and Bison and black beans.

This brings me to the burgers. I gave in to the siren song of the Bison Burger and wished I could have gone back for seconds. The Burger came cooked to order, smothered in Gouda cheese on a toasted brioche bun with fresh lettuce onion and a side of slaw.

Bison Burger

They also serve a Vegetarian Black Bean burger that is so good my very non-vegetarian husband didn't even realize there wasn't any meat in it until I said something.  I suggest taking a look at the menu yourself and the next time you're passing through stop in for a bite!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Comforting Cottage Pie

Just the name Cottage Pie stirs up memories of cozy pubs with a roaring wood fire and a good pint of local brew. In honor of St. Patrick's day I dusted off one of my all time favorite comfort foods and gave it a lovely Irish twist.

Cottage pie dates back to the late 1700s and was a way to use up leftover stewed meat. Typically this dish was found in more humble households where potatoes were used to make it a more filling and inexpensive meal.

You may know this dish as Shepard's Pie but that term didn't crop up until the next century. Since then there has been some tendency to affiliate Shepard's Pie with the dish when it is made with lamb or mutton and cottage pie when it is made with beef. Personally I like that way of differentiating and use it myself, though if you travel in Ireland you may find this dish referred to as either Shepard's Pie or Cottage Pie regardless of what it's made of.

Regardless of what you call it this comfort food is always wonderful and easy to make. The recipe I'm giving you today is the lazy man's version. If you have the time I encourage you to use fresh ingredients, but if not this can be easily whipped up in 45 minutes to an hour. What's the Irish twist you ask? A pint of Guinness of course!  I took a note from good Irish stew and used Guinness Stout to build my gravy instead of beef broth alone.

 Cottage Pie

(serves 8)

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
1 16 oz bag of frozen vegetables
1 24oz bag of steam and mash potatoes
1 15 oz can of Guinness stout
1-2 cups beef broth
1 tsp crushed bay leaves
1 tsp ground sage
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
flour (for the gravy)
2 cups of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese


Make mashed potatoes according to package directions and set aside for later use. (I also added some cream to smooth out the texture and flavor). In a large saucepan begin browning the meat. When most of the fat has cooked out pour it off and add the chopped onion and celery and seasonings. Saute until the vegetables are clear. Add the frozen vegetables and some of the beef broth and some of the beer. (work in 1/4 cup increments tasting as you go. You are building your gravy so you will want to make sure it is not too thin and that the beer does not overwhelm the meat.) As you add the liquid occasionally dust some flour over the contents of the pan and stir well to thicken the gravy. I used about 1 tbsp of flour, 1 cup of broth and 1/2 of the can of Guinness. Once you have the gravy to your liking pour the contents into your baking dish and drizzle the Worcestershire sauce across the top. De glaze the pan with a bit more broth or beer (just enough to get the good browned bits off) and pour over mixture. Top with shredded cheese and top that with the mashed potatoes. Smooth the potatoes to the edges of the baking dish and run a fork across it in lines to make a nice ridged pattern. Bake in a 375 F oven for 30 minutes or until the top is slightly browned and the dish is warmed through. Serve and enjoy!  (I should note that the cheese is not traditional but it is so well liked in my house that I often include it. Additionally, should you not care for the flavor of the stout you can use straight beef broth or even a nice red wine.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Chowder

A bit of the spring cleaning bug carried over into the kitchen this week when I looked in the refrigerator and saw odds and ends of various vegetables lurking in my crisper drawer. There wasn't enough of any one for a complete dish but there was nothing wrong with any of them either. So, waste not want not, I chopped everything up and chucked it into  the crock pot. Soups on!

In my house soup and meatloaf serve the same very important purpose. They give me a vehicle to use up all my leftovers. For this soup I intended for it to be a chowder but I only used one potato, and a sweet potato at that so it doesn't really have a chowder texture. The beauty of it though is, it will never be the same twice. So next time it may be mostly potato with some other veggies thrown in, who knows.

That said I've listed what I put in but feel free to alter it based on your preferences or more importantly, what's lurking in your veg drawer!

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Chowder

(12 servings)

1 small head of cabbage sliced thinly (like noodles)
2 sweet onions
4 cloves garlic crushed or diced
2 carrots sliced in rounds
4 parsnips sliced in rounds
the kernels from 4 ears of corn (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 jalapeno peppers without seeds (seeds left in would have been fine or more peppers)
1 head of cauliflower roughly chopped
1 sweet potato cubed 
1/2 carton of beef broth
1 carton vegetable broth
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1tsp onion powder
2 tsp crushed bay leaves or 3-4 whole
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp celery seed
Heavy cream (not to be added until the end)


Chop it all up and combine, except the cream and butter. Cook on low in the slow cooker for up to 8 hours. This is a lot of soup so I freeze quite a bit of it. If you also plan to do so package the portions you intend to freeze before adding the cream. The cream tends to separate after freezing. For the portion you intend to eat promptly add the cream and and butter and serve.

If you want your broth a bit thicker you can blitz some in a food processor or blender (be careful when doing this with hot liquids), or use a potato masher to crush up some of the vegetables in your pot or you could add cornstarch (make sure to mix it into a cold liquid before adding it to the pot, broth or wine will do). I found it was very nice just as it was but I can see a number of things I will change next time. Celery is a must to add, a bit of white wine would probably have added a nice depth of flavor, and more carrots, and some potatoes would be nice. Overall this was a delightful dish and I almost can't wait for my veg drawer to be full of leftovers again so I can make some more! Short, simple, to the point and delicious, happy cooking.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mana From Heaven...Laskiaispullat

Also called Shrovetide Buns, Laskiaispullat are my absolute favorite pastry.  They are a popular treat made across Scandanavia during the season of Lent. In Sweeden they are Selmor, in Norway, Fastelaven and in Estonia, Vastlakuklid. Whatever you call them they are heavenly. 

I remember the first time I had them in a little cafe in the Finnish town of Kauhajoki. I was there as an exchange student and my friend, a fellow exchange student, suggested stopping for coffee one afternoon. I bought one of these buns, choosing it because I knew I loved Pulla and it looked so inviting with the piped whipped cream. Well there has been no happier accident I am sure. When I bit into the decadent almond paste I was sure I'd died and gone to heaven. I fell in love that day and I think you will to! 

Now many years later this is my fist attempt at these beauties and while, in my opinion, Pysäkki Ky still has the best Laskiaispullat, these are pretty darn close!

(Makes 10 buns)

Pulla Dough:

1 cup Milk
1 Tbsp (25 g) Fresh Yeast
100 g (about 7 Tbsp) Butter
1 Egg
1 tsp Cardamom
1/2 cup sugar
3cups All-purpose flour
Pinch of salt 


Almond paste
Whipped cream

1 egg (an egg wash)
Sliced Almonds and sugar (preferably large sugar crystals)
Powdered sugar (for dusting) 


Warm the milk slightly and combine with the yeast and some of the sugar. Stir in the egg, sugar, cardamom and salt. Start adding flour and melted butter a little at a time, alternating wet and dry ingredients. When the dough thickens, knead by hand until it's smooth, glossy and springy and comes off the bowl easily.

Allow to rise in a warm place for around 40 mins.

Once risen, tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly. Form a long rope shape and cut into 10 pieces. Make little buns and place on baking paper on an oven tray. Let rise for another 30 mins under a tea towel in a warm place.

Break the egg in a small bowl and brush over the buns. Top with flaked almond or sugar drops. Bake in 325 degrees for 15-18 minutes. 

Allow to cool completely before filling .

Once ready and cooled, cut a small circle off the top, like a little cap. 

Scoop out the insides and fill with almond paste and whipped cream and put the top back on. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with your favorite coffee or hot beverage.

So, just in case you are a severe traditionalist or, like myself, were unable to find almond paste in your local grocery, I have a recipe that is simple and delicious if a little time consuming. I won't lie I did not enjoy peeling almonds...yup peeling almonds. However the end result is without a doubt top notch.
Almond Paste


 9 oz Almonds
1 egg white
8 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp vanilla (or almond extract if you have it)


In a medium saucepan bring some water to a boil then remove from heat and pour in the almonds. Allow them to sit for two minutes then drain and one at a time remove the almond skins. Toast peeled almonds until aromatic, (about 8 minutes) then blitz in a food processor until finely ground. Add the powdered sugar, egg, vanilla, and orange juice gradually allowing the food processor to fully combine into a thick paste. It will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Remove and seal in an air tight contained until use. Store in the refrigerator. (This can also be used in various other cakes, cookies and as a filling for danish.)