Playing with favorites in the kitchen


There can never be too many cooks in Jay Randolph’s kitchen at holiday time.

The owner of Jay’s Café on Raymond Avenue says his idea of a great holiday is “to get together with my family and hang out in the kitchen. There’s something really wonderful about a big event where you need everyone to help you and they’re all in the kitchen.”

We took Randolph’s cue and invited four local chefs into our paper kitchen to create a holiday meal that retires the turkey, plays with traditional favorites and relies heavily on ingredients grown and produced locally. The menu they’ve created can be treated as a casual buffet or a more formal holiday meal. We’ve included recipes for each dish.

The starter

J. D. Fratzke, chef at Muffuletta, suggests the restaurant’s signature sweet potato croquettas with Minnesota bleu dressing, featuring

St. Pete’s bleu cheese. Fratzke calls the dish a “savory doughnut hole.” He chose this recipe because “it’s root vegetable time” and that means parsnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes are abundant.

In Fratzke’s four years at Muffuletta he focused on using local ingredients and seasonal produce. “One of the things I keep saying is that food tastes better closer to the source,” he says. When you buy food from local producers, “you trust the origin of the food a little more. When you know the grower or the producer, you put more love into the cooking, and they put more love into producing it.”

(Note: Fratzke’s last day at Muffuletta will be December 1. He’s leaving to be part of a new restaurant, the Strip Club, in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. At press time, Muffuletta had not yet named a new chef.)

Sweet Potato Croquettas

1 pound cooked, diced parsnips or celery root, chilled
2 pounds cooked, diced potatoes, chilled
2 pounds cooked, diced sweet potatoes, chilled
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups roasted garlic puree
1/2 cup pecorino Romano, grated
1/2 cup Parmigiano regiano, grated
1/4 cup corn starch
5 cups all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Place root vegetables, garlic puree, eggs, both cheeses, and salt and pepper in mixing bowl. Mix on low speed until ingredients are well incorporated.

One cup at a time, mix in flour, turning off mixer every cup and a half to scrape down sides. Continue to mix for 5 minutes, remove from bowl and transfer to covered container until ready to use.

Heat canola oil in deep fryer to 350 degrees and drop 1-tablespoon dollops of the batter into the oil. Fry until deep golden brown; lay out on paper towels or napkins before plating. Serve with bleu cheese dipping sauce.

Minnesota Bleu Dressing

1 pound St. Pete’s bleu cheese
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tbsp. fresh cracked pepper

Crumble bleu cheese into large chunks and place in bowl of food processor. Pour in buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt to taste and pepper. Run processor until all the ingredients are well mixed and the bleu cheese has broken up just enough for pieces to still be visibly chunky.

The entrée

If you’re ready to move on from turkey, Randolph suggests Jay’s stuffed Minnesota pork loin. He buys his pork from Fischer Farms of Waseca, a family farm that avoids hormones and antibiotics with their livestock.

“The animal’s diet, its foraging environment and its eventual flavor are all related,” Randolph says. Buying sustainably raised Minnesota pork supports family farming, he says, “and it tastes great.”

Randolph’s restaurant will mark its third anniversary in St. Anthony Park in February. Under the direction of chef Karl Gerstenberger, the café began serving dinners four nights a week last spring. Gerstenberger’s résumé includes Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Locally, he’s worked at the Birchwood, Cue, D’Amico and Sons, and Aquavit.

Jay’s Café strives to use local and organic food. Randolph likes the buy-local philosophy because, he says, owning a small business is about creating relationships — with vendors and the people who eat there.

Jay’s Café Stuffed Minnesota Pork Loin
Chef Karl Gerstenberger

Boneless pork loin roast
3 to 6 baking apples, depending on size of apples and roast
1 to 2 bunches of Swiss chard or black kale
3 to 6 cloves garlic
Butcher twine

Place loin, fat side down, on a cutting board. Butterfly pork in a spiral cut (like unrolling a towel): Make a long cut lengthwise down side of loin with a sharp boning or paring knife, stopping 1 inch from bottom (beginning of spiral). Turn knife parallel to bottom of loin and begin to cut your way inward (parallel to bottom), keeping thickness of meat as even as possible, using your other hand to gently lift and pull top portion of meat away from knife, until loin is one long flat piece of meat. It should be an evenly thick square or rectangle.

To get an even thickness after “laying” it open, put the loin on a cutting board on a firm, secure surface, cover the loin with plastic wrap and pound it to an even thickness using a meat mallet or back of a large pan. Slide the loin onto a sheet pan and refrigerate while preparing the stuffing.

Heat 2 quarts of water and 3 heaping tablespoons of salt. Remove the chard leaves from the stems and julienne the stems. Peel as much garlic as you’d like and cut into uniformly thin slices. Blanch chard leaves, stems (or kale with stems removed and discarded), and garlic in the boiling water until tender: 10 to 15 minutes.

Core and peel the apples; cut apples in half and then into 1/4-inch slices. Toss with a little lemon juice. Allow chard/garlic to cool and chop into chunks 1/2 inch or larger. Add apples to the chard mixture.

Season the inside of the roast with salt and pepper. Spread stuffing evenly on the unrolled roast, and roll it up. Use butcher twine to tie the roast, spacing the ties about 3/4 inch apart. Season the exterior of the roast with salt and pepper and cook in a 375-degree oven until the internal temperature of the largest end of the loin is at least 140 degrees. The roast will heat up another 5 degrees during a 10-15-minute resting period. Remove the twine using kitchen shears, and slice the roast in 1/2-inch slices. Drizzle with some high quality extra virgin olive oil and taste the Minnesota fall.

The vegetables

Sally Hammer spent her first 12 years living in New Zealand, where a traditional holiday meal always included lots of vegetables and a salad at the end to cleanse the palate. Dessert was served with assorted cheeses and port or other dessert wines.

Hammer moved to Lauderdale when she was 12 and still lives in her family home, where she operates her business, Kiwi Katering. One can find Hammer at the St. Paul Farmers Market just about every Saturday searching for the food she’ll use for that week’s menu. She says she’ll continue to shop the market throughout the winter, looking for locally produced meat, dairy products, baked goods, apples and squash.

Preparing much of the meal ahead of time is Hammer’s goal when she’s entertaining. The two recipes she chose to complement the stuffed pork loin allow a cook to do just that. Hammer suggests sautéed parsnips and carrots glazed with Dijon and honey, along with a salad of fennel, beets and oranges.

Sautéed Parsnips and Carrots with Dijon-Honey Glaze
Sally Hammer

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 pound carrots (julienned)
1 pound parsnips (julienned)
2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Sautee carrots and parsnips in the olive oil until browned on edges, about 10 minutes. Add butter, honey and Dijon. Stir until well glazed. Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Fennel, Beet and Orange Salad
Sally Hammer

3 beets, roasted
1 to 2 fennel bulbs, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise
2 cups arugula

2 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seed
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the dressing, mix orange zest, mustard and fennel seeds in bowl. Whisk in vinegar. Gradually mix in olive oil.

Place fennel slices in bowl and toss with two-thirds of the dressing. Slice beet and oranges. Arrange arugula on platter, then place alternating slices of beets and oranges around the edge of the platter. Pile fennel slices in the middle and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Chop fennel fronds and sprinkle on top.

The beets can be roasted and the dressing can be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.

The dessert

Using local ingredients in her cooking is something St. Anthony Park resident Lesley Powers has been doing for years. Before moving to St. Paul in 1995, Powers owned and operated the Metro, a trendy restaurant in Townsville, Australia, that focused on fresh foods. She grew her own herbs if she couldn’t buy them in town.

Powers’ latest venture is her catering business, Bliss Gourmet Foods. During the holidays she adds gourmet cookie boxes to her repertoire for businesses to give as corporate gifts or for individuals to buy singly to enjoy at home.

Holidays should be calm and enjoyable, Powers says, and she achieves this in her own home by creating what she calls “festive menus to prepare today and serve tomorrow.”

She chose two desserts for our holiday meal: a festive trifle and

St. Nicholas torte. Powers describes the trifle as a “beautiful dessert showpiece of layered fruit, whipped cream, pastry cream and moistened cake. To show off the layers use your most beautiful glass bowl.” The St. Nicholas Torte is gluten free. Both dishes can be made one day ahead, she says, and they are easy for guests to dish up at a buffet.

Finding dessert ingredients that are grown locally is hard in the winter in Minnesota, but Powers does use organic and locally produced dairy products and eggs. In summer she picks locally grown strawberries and freezes them to use in her winter desserts.

“It reminds you of the taste and scent of summer,” she says.

Festive Trifle
Lesley Powers

Pastry cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp. unsalted butter

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the pod into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. In another small bowl, place the eggs.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes.

Take the custard off the heat and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes. After it has cooled, whisk in the butter, 1 tbsp. at a time. Whisk until smooth with each addition.

Trifle cake
Genoese cake or packaged Italian lady fingers

Fruit layer
Any fruit of your choice (strawberries, raspberries, and bananas work well)

Arrange the cake or ladyfingers in a single layer in the bottom of the trifle dish, covering the bottom completely. Sprinkle cake with sherry or rum (a couple of tablespoons). Place fruit over cake layer (again, use however much you want). Pour one-third of the custard over the fruit layer. Repeat the layering of the cake, sherry or rum, fruit and custard, two more times.

Cover and refrigerate. This can be made one day ahead.

When ready to serve, beat 2 cups of whipped cream with 2 tbsp. of sugar. Mound on top of trifle and garnish with a few extra berries.

St. Nicholas Torte
Lesley Powers

2 cups slivered almonds
2 cups finest dark chocolate
2 cups pitted dates
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar

Chop each of the above ingredients medium fine. Alternately, they can be pulsed in a food processor. Put into a mixing bowl. Place 6 large egg whites in a separate bowl and whip until stiff. Gently fold in 1/2 cup sugar. Fold egg white mixture gently into almond, chocolate and date mixture, being careful not to overmix.

Pour into a pound cake tin. Bake in a slow oven (approximately 325 degrees) for 45 minutes. Cover and refrigerate when cool. This can be made one day ahead.

When you are ready to serve, dust cake with confectioners sugar and decorate with some toasted flaked almonds and a few berries.