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My Favorite Things™ (December 27th, 2019)

Here it is.

The final 5 Things™ of the year.

We’re going to do something special this time around.

But first, I’m going to mess around with the headings for a bit.

Okay, that’s enough.

Here are My Favorite Things™ that happened this year at NWS. I took a deep dive, noting the moments in this blog that sparked the most joy in me, then tried to whittle it down to five, but was unable. What can I say? I’m a sentimental person. Hopefully, uncut as it is, this list gives you a hint at the sort of year we’ve had at the Smokehaus.

The Adisalad joined our menu.

The Adisalad is New Year’s resolution food: Haus kimchi or sauerkraut, a delicious assortment of pickled vegetables, with fresh cucumber slices, and chopped Marcona almonds over mixed greens and thin-sliced cabbage.

The salad joined the menu in January, and quickly became my lunch break of choice for somewhere around three months—after which I began transposing it into sandwich form, because carbs are great. Among its other noteworthy attributes are its position on our menu as a middle ground between the Ensaladita and the two-meals-in-one-package NWS Salad (in both size and price) and its status as vegan-friendly option (choosing ‘kraut over kimchi).

New Sticks.

When they’re in-stock, Bison Buddies are one of our top-selling items. Eric and the Smokers (not Eric’s band name, but could be) caught wise to this trend and whipped up an assortment of new snack sticks—with future plans to develop more—to please our constituents in search of something quick, easy, and flavorful. The current selection (at full capacity) features Big Jim Hatch Chile beef sticks, Royale With Cheese bacon-cheeseburger sticks, and Smoked Sockeye Salmon Buddies alongside the Bison Buddies. Everyone loves snack sticks!

Smoked Sockeye Sticks aka Salmon Buddies

Patricia made donuts and brought them in to share.

Working at NWS in the Patricia era has been a joy for a handful of reasons—new and exciting cookies, cheddar crackers, pasties, and samples of each new item as they emerge—but the day she brought in a tray of cake donuts she’d made that morning was a favorite of mine. Yes, our dear Patricia just whipped up some cake donuts in her kitchen on a whim.

Patricia’s initial plan was to try a donut Cuban sandwich with our Minnesota Pulled Pork. Though I do not know whether she succeeded in that goal, I do recall making a Northern Donut—yes: a donut with scallion cream cheese and smoked Atlantic salmon. It was not good enough for the menu (and would’ve been far better with our Atlantic salmon gravlax), but I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t enjoy it.

The Sandwich Lab Series.

I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this Thing™. Sandwich Lab (our annual pedantic and artistic gathering in the pursuit of sandwich excellence) easily got a nod in over 50% of the blog content this year. For good reason, too. Last year’s Lab had so many high-quality offerings that we elected to feature them all (in roughly one-month intervals) on the menu.

Since a great deal has already been said about these sandwiches, here’s a list of their names and their ingredients to sate you. And of course you can always follow that hyperlink I just provided if you care to read more.

  • The Breakfast Club – Bagel, scallion cream cheese, smoked turkey, smoked pancetta (crispy), red onion, cilantro.
  • The Wagner – Hero roll, mayo, mustard, smoked turkey or smoked pastrami (unofficial 3rd option: black pepper and coriander salmon), quick pickles, cilantro, sriracha.
  • The Spinderella – Hero roll, mayo, mustard, dill pickle, smoked turkey, salami, red onion, cilantro. Side of scallion cream cheese, for dippin’.
  • The Bloody Mary – Johnson’s Bakery kaiser roll, green olives, chopped dill pickle, summer sausage, smoked pancetta, cheddar cheese, Haus bloody mary mix, tomato, red onion, cilantro.
  • The Wallaby – Haus-baked Prince Myshkin Rye, smashed avocado, lemon pepper, tomato, basil, balsamic vinegar.
  • The Sebu-chan – Haus-baked ciabatta, scallion cream cheese, gravlax, cucumber, tomato, red onion, cilantro, sriracha, lettuce.
  • The Fish Schtick – Haus-baked ciabatta, mayo, lemon pepper, traditional Atlantic salmon, Cornichon pickles, tomato, red onion, lettuce.
  • The Lake Trout Situation – Haus-baked pullman white bread (buttered and toasted), smoked lake trout salad, smoked pancetta crumbles, cilantro. Served open-faced—our take on a New England lobster roll.
  • The G.O.A.T. – Lake Superior Bakehouse bagel, chèvre, crispy sliced smoked andouille, sliced Cortland apple, lettuce.

This porketta photo shoot.

Right around the time we began working in earnest on the cookbook, our creative team had the bright idea of trying to capture the heart of backyard smoking. This behind-the-scenes look at that shoot was one of my favorite Things™ largely because of the captions, but in no small part due to Greg’s rustic charm and bright attire.

This workplace drama.

Posing by porkettas isn’t the only thing Greg-with-two-Gs is good for. He and Leif have had an ongoing struggle for office dominance that has provided high-quality entertainment to anyone who might tune in.

An update:

This corrupted image of Smoked Ribs and Beans.

What better way to commemorate this delicious though short-lived daily special than this odd photograph? Designers, take note: You can now easily extract the exact color palette of our Smoked Ribs free of charge.

Working on the NWS Cookbook.

Bubbling below the surface of everything else going on this year—the strategic expansion and retraction of our menu, the addition of beer and wine (and cider, and alcoholic seltzer) to our deli, all of the new baked goods, and changes in leadership roles—has been a lot of work on the first-ever Northern Waters Smokehaus cookbook.

While there’s still quite a bit of work ahead of us, and the anticipated release date falls somewhere no sooner than Summer 2021, these past ten months of work on the book have been an exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking, ultimately very fulfilling ride.

These new faces.

The new folks who have joined our team have been pretty alright this year.

That’s all for 5 Things™ in 2019! See you next year!

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Cult of the Instant Pot

Instant Pot is a cult! NEXIVM, Heaven’s Gate, heck, even the Branch Davidians had nothing compared to this updated take on a very old (chances are your grandparents and great grandparents swore by them) piece of cooking tech- the pressure cooker. However, this hype is warranted! Unlike the pressure cookers of yore, the Instant Pot has a few other really useful features built in, such as a sauté setting, timed and automated cooking features, and the ability to hold food to serve just to name a few. Since most of us work for a living, having a device that cooks food from scratch in a fraction of the normal time is really appealing, but what that doesn’t tell you is how beautifully the pot cooks things. Waaay better than a crock pot at cooking meat to fork-tender. Waaay better than a rice cooker at cooking toothsome, perfectly defined grains. Waaaay better at giving you collard greens that are soft and full of flavor, but not decimated.  Pressure cooking really drives the flavor into your food (with pressure!) and may even make you prefer its outcome over that of, say, a slowly braised roast in the oven. To wit, here are some recipes that you could make with Northern Waters Smokehaus products in your own Instant Pot.


New England Boiled Dinner

Ingredients

-Half of a Northern Waters Smokehaus smoked Berkshire ham (3-4 lbs) or Corned Bison (3-4 lbs)

-2 T butter or oil 

-1 large rutabaga

-3 large turnips (save the greens if they have them)

-5 medium sized parsnips

-4 mediums sized red potatoes

-4 large carrots

-Half of a large head of green cabbage (or a small one)

-5 cloves of garlic, peeled

-1 small white onion, sliced

Preperation

1. Peel all the root vegetables except the potatoes. Cut the rutabaga into larger chunks (about two inches). Leave carrots, potatoes, turnips and parsnips whole. Slice cabbage up into 2 inch wedges (length does not matter). Be sure to save any turnip greens if attached to throw in with the cabbage at the end.

2. Crank up your Instant Pot’s sauté setting to high. Once preheated, add 2 Tablespoons of butter or oil and sear off the meat on all sides. 

3. Once the meat is seared, add the sliced onion, garlic, and about a cup of liquid to the pot (water, wine or beer are nice), close the lid and commence to pressure cooking on the high setting. You will want to adjust your cook time to meet the texture that you prefer: 20-30 minutes for a yielding-but-still-has-bite-to-it meat, 30-45 minutes for falling apart tenderness.  The cooking times are somewhat vague by design, as the musculature of the meat and a few other factors will contribute to how long it takes. The nice thing is that if you err on the side of less time, it is very easy to throw it back in for a little longer if It’s not soft enough.

4.  Once you have the meat cooked to your liking, remove it from the pot and into a roasting pan in the oven at 170 degrees. Add all the vegetables to the pot except for the cabbage and potatoes. You may want to add a little more (up to a cup) of liquid to the pot if it seems scant. Pressure cook on high for 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and potatoes and pressure cook for 5 more minutes.

5. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the pot and nest around the meat in your roasting pan in the oven. Remove meat from roasting pan to a cutting board for slicing. Taste the cooking liquid and adjust for salt.  

Serving

To serve family style: On a large platter (or even in your roasting pan) place vegetables in a ring around the outside, place sliced meat in the middle, and douse with several ladles of the cooking liquid.

To plate individually: Same thing, but smaller.

Serve with horseradish sauce and stone ground mustard. Don’t forget to make hash with the leftovers!


Greens

Ingredients

-3 bundles (about 3lbs) of collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale or any combination of these and sturdy leafy greens

-2 tablespoons red miso

-2 teaspoons soy sauce

-2 Tablespoons butter 

-1 packet Goya Sazon Cilantro and Achiote  seasoning

-1 Cup warm water

-1 ham bone or small chunk of ham (optional)

-Salt to taste

Preparation

1. Pick the greens- Before you start this step, set your Instant Pot to the high sauté setting. Remove the stems from the greens. You can do so by flipping the green over to its underside, folding the sides of the leaf to the center and pulling up on the thick part of the stem. Another method which is way slicker but harder to master is to make a small ‘o’ with your thumb and forefinger (think the OK signal) and pull the entire leaf through your ‘o-finger’ stem side first, thus ‘stripping’ the leaf from the stem. 

2. Combine miso, soy sauce and warm water

3. Add butter to the pot. Once melted and getting bubbly, add greens and sauté until they are all coated and wilting down. 

4. Throw it in the pot- Combine all the ingredients in your instant pot and set it to pressure cook on high for 30-40 minutes, depending on how well cooked you would like them. 30 minutes should yield a tender green, 40 minutes a very soft and falling apart green.

3. Season- This is the part of cooking greens that people often screw up. You absolutely should never salt your greens before they are done cooking. Once they are cooked to your liking, add salt until tasty.

Notes

It should be noted that this recipe has an easy vegan workaround- just sub oil for butter and omit the ham-bone. It’s also OK to experiment with some of the variables in this recipe- instead of water use wine or beer, use any kind of meat that you want instead of ham (bacon or chorizo spring to mind), and if you don’t have the Cilantro and Achiote seasoning or the miso or the soy sauce, just omit them and add more salt at the end. Greens taste good!

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5 Things About NWS Mail Order in 2019

The Holiday Mail Order season at Northern Waters Smokehaus has officially come to a close! Writing this summary post, it seems like barely a heartbeat has passed, but to the dedicated seasonal and All-Season staff working long hours—the M.O. workdays often extended from as early as 5 a.m. to as late as midnight, divided between a few shifts of amorphous length—it must feel like the conclusion to an epic journey.

Much has changed for us in the previous year of the department. In the late Spring, Andy took over as mail order director. In the Summer and Fall months, we designated cut-off days for the various holiday shipping schedules, solidified communication channels between the mail order department and the production team (aka the smokehouse), re-assessed our shipping rates and carriers to accurately reflect the material cost of shipping throughout the nation, and, for basically the first time in the department’s history, are now not losing money on the cost of shipping.

All of these changes have helped our small-scale operation provide exquisite smoked fish, meats, and other treats to an enormous amount of people this season, and to do so in a profitable manner: huge news for any small business!

This week, we’ll look at a few data points—I’d guess about five—that might provide some insight into the season and what it entails.

Ten (plus one) people.

Andy, six other year-round NWS employees, three seasonal laborers, and former M.O. director, Annemarie—also former author of this blog—taking care of outreach for corporate orders remotely: That’s the size of the crew who spent the last month and some change packaging and shipping out several literal tons of product to as close as Southern Minnesota and as far as Hawaii.

One month, one week.

That’s the length of the “season” as we measured it this year. Mail order happens, to varying degrees, year round at NWS, but for the sake of this blog post (and our own internal reckoning), the holiday shipping season began on November 11th and ended on December 18th, with the cutoff for orders shipped in 2019 on December 16th.

One thousand seven hundred sixty three.

That is how many individual boxes were shipped during the official season. 1,576 orders taken in-store, over the phone, or online, with an additional 187 through Goldbelly. Though it is never quite so cut-and-dried, that works out to just under 180 boxes per mail order staff member during this short stint.

A look at the most popular items.

While researching this tidbit, or, more accurately, asking Flo to help me uncover these statistics, the initial report was mistakenly only for the final week of the season. Upon second inspection, with proper dates in-place, we got a nearly identical list. Since I’ve mentioned both of them, I’ll provide both. Here’s the top sellers for the final week of 2019 mail order, followed by the top sellers the whole season:

And overall:

Clearly, our smoked fish is the overall winner of the season, which is not a huge surprise, given how popular it, and fish sandwiches, are in our deli.

Peak dates.

I’ll spare you the very boring-looking graph, but five days stood out (with steep peaks) for orders placed—a perfect number for the overarching theme of this blog. The significance of these dates may be partially arbitrary, but I’ll try to wager a guess as to why each day was so successful. What follows is a blend of fact and intuition:

  • 11/18 – This date reeks to me of “final day to place orders that will arrive before Thanksgiving” territory.
  • 11/29 – This was Black Friday, right? All of the calendars in the room are flipped to December, so I cannot be bothered to verify this claim.
  • 12/2 – Cyber Monday, also known ’round these parts as Pigs in Space, a day when many folks are compelled by deals to shop online. Our particular variety of deal is free (or reduced) shipping on orders between $150 and $350 placed on this day.
  • 12/9 – I have barely the slightest clue as to the significance of this date. Shot in the dark: Folks want their food available for the holidays, early enough that there is no concern about it arriving on time, but not so early as to be on its last legs of freshness when served.
  • 12/15 – The penultimate day to place orders for shipping in 2019.

Sincerest thanks for reading this week, and for whatever part you may have played in our Holiday Mail Order Season! Shipping resumes January 6th, 2020!

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5 Things: December 13th, 2019

It’s the final Friday the 13th of the decade!

Welcome back to 5 Things™. This week we have a very important announcement: December 16th-18th are the final days of mail order shipping until next year. January 6th, to be precise, is when mail order shipping resumes. The last day to place an order to be shipped is Tuesday, the 17th.

This isn’t a good photo, but I hope it is useful.

Between writing a company newsletter and continuing to work on the cookbook, I’ve become a bit exhausted of words this week. The rest of this week’s Things™ will be mostly photographs. If there are words describing them, it is because I couldn’t help myself.

Duluth Winter Village.

Participating in the Duluth Winter Village at Glensheen is always a joy.

Photos by Sharon McMahon of Three Irish Girls Photography

Flo is a beacon of goodness in this world.
Everybody’s looking warm as heck out here.

One Window: Two Views.

I got to work at my favorite desk this week. Here’s the view right up against the glass.

And from a few feet back.

Art by Leif and his daughter.

Deli Life: Cheesy.

Our deli is stocked to the brim with amazing cheeses, like this trio from Jasper Hill Farms. I eagerly await the next shipment, since setting out a sample of the newly-arrived cheeses for employees to sample is common practice at the Smokehaus.

Carrot Cake Cookies are back!

In case you hadn’t noticed in that last photo—I get it: I’m not a great photographer and there’s a lot of glare/reflection—Patricia’s amazing cookie sandwiches are back in-stock.


Thanks for stopping by 5 Things™! See you next week!

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5 Cheeses We’re Crazy About

Sandwiches, smoked fish and smoked meats aren’t the only things we do here at Northern Waters Smokehaus: We’re also purveyors of fine cheeses, olives, sweet and savory baked goods, and variations on fermented cabbage—and that’s just the short list.

The holidays are a great time for cheese (though what isn’t?), so this week we’re going all-in on “the adult form of milk.” When I asked TK, the brains and the brawn of our cheese operation, for a list of his five favorite cheeses we’re carrying this holiday season, he went above and beyond with detailed notes on each. What follows is a sort of mind-meld between TK and myself.

Rush Creek Reserve

This time of year, the hyper-regional, hyper-limited release, hyper-delicious Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese Co. is already on everyone’s mind—and may as well be on everyone’s tables too.

Rush Creek Reserve is made in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. It’s a washed rind, raw cow’s milk cheese that is a late autumn and winter exclusive. Don’t let “raw milk” cheese freak you out—after 60 days of aging, raw milk cheese passes the FDA’s raw milk laws.

In late autumn and leading into winter the cows diet changes from the fresh pastures of summer to the fall and winter hay, making their milk extremely rich and silky.

Rush Creek Reserve is made to show off this change in the cow’s diet. Made in the French & Swiss Alpine-style of Vacherin cheese, Rush Creek Reserve is wrapped in a hand-harvested piece of spruce bark. This helps the cheese keep its shape—due to its runny texture at peak ripeness—as well as adding tannins to its flavor.. The combination of the spruce and rich milk creates a rich custard texture with a very soft, delicate texture and a savory, rich finish. 

Rush Creek Reserve is an absolute must at holiday gatherings. Simply cut the top of the rind off and heap spoonfuls onto crackers, charcuterie, or just eat it on its own! This miraculous wheel pairs perfectly with a fruity Beaujolais wine. TK recommends with a glass of La Boutanche Gamay, which is available by the (re-corked) bottle in our deli.

Friesago

Shepherd’s Way Farmstead cheese is made in Nerstrand, MN by Jodi Ohlsen Read. This Asiago-style cheese is a natural-rind semi-aged sheep’s milk cheese. It’s semi-dense in texture and has an amazing grassy nuttiness to it. This cheese is extremely versatile for cooking: a perfect addition to pasta and TK’s favorite substitute for parmesan in a Caesar salad.

And TK isn’t the only one excited about it.

Friesago is a multiple time award-winning cheese by the ACS (American Cheese Society) in the Farmstead Sheep Cheese category.

Friesago pairs well with wines that have hints of salinity to them. “Salty wines?,” you may be thinking? No, winemakers never add salt to wines, ever. Think of it as a soil composition. Vineyards that are near salty bodies of water or grown in volcanic soil will bring salty notes to the wine. Think Sicilian wines. Grab a hunk of Friesago and a glass of Adrianna Occhipinti’s Sicilian made wine, Tami, sold right here at the Smokehaus.

Sakatah

Sakatah is a Dakota word meaning “Singing Hills”. It’s also the name of the Minnesota State Park between Mankato and Faribault, near Alemar Cheese Co.’s home.

This soft ripened cow’s milk cheese is seasonally made and is a great representation of an artisanal product. Wrapped in a Marquette grape leaf (a cold weather wine grape grafted by the U of M) Alemar is paying homage to the Banon and Le Mothais cheeses of Europe, using cow’s milk rather than goat’s milk.

Sakatah has balanced earthiness, provided by the tannins from the grape leaves, finishing with creamy, peppery notes.

Before serving, let the cheese sit out for 30-minutes to come to room temperature for its aroma and texture to be at its peak—this is a good practice with most soft and creamy cheeses.

Eat this cheese with wine that has a higher acidity, perhaps an unoaked Chardonnay, crisp Riesling—or if you are into ciders, try it with a French Brittany-made cider. La Brun is a delicious natural cider that pairs perfectly with Sakatah. If you’re in our deli and want to snack on a piece of Sakatah, it’s a must-try with the Pullus Pinot Grigio wine, made in Slovenia. 

Alpha Tolman

Jasper Hill Farm, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, leads the US in artisanal cheese-making while being at the forefront of environmental impact & research of their farms. They are driven to be the standard bearer of quality and innovation in US cheese-making. 

Alpha Tolman is a brand new cheese to our deli (and to TK’s knowledge, we are the only shop in Duluth selling Jasper Hill Farm cheese). It is made from raw cow’s milk with 100% of the milk coming from a single herd. This herd happily roams the pasture right onsite at the Jasper Hill Creamery and Cellars.

Alpha Tolman is inspired by French & Swiss cheeses like Appenzeller & Raclette. It has a buttery, fruity & nutty flavor when young, developing a bold, meaty, caramelized onion character as it matures. The texture is dense and pliant, easily portioned and ideal for melting.

The texture, aesthetic, and flavor make Alpha Tolman an ideal choice for fans of Appenzeller (or fondue!). TK strongly recommends pairing Alpha Tolman with Smokehaus ham. Using your oven’s broiler, heap thin cuts of Alpha Tolman onto thick-cut Smokehaus ham until the cheese starts to blister and caramelize. Next take a healthy wad of butter and slowly brown it on your stove top. Drizzle the brown butter all over the ham and cheese then serve (on a roll or on its own). Absolute perfection!

Try pairing Alpha Tolman with a robust ale, such as Hoops #21 Ale (sold here in our deli!) or a Belgium-style farmhouse ale.       

Lucky Linda

Lucky Linda is Redhead Creamery’s clothbound cow’s milk farmstead cheddar. Made in the little town of Brooten in west central Minnesota, this six-plus-month aged cheddar has gained notoriety in its relatively young existence (Redhead’s first wheel of cheese being made in 2014). Each wheel of cheese is aged right under the creamery in their cellars, allowing natural molds to create their ridiculously terroir-driven cheese. 

Rustic-looking in style, this clothbound cheddar has notes of bold mushroom, with sharp creaminess, nuttiness, and a balanced lactic finish. 

Pairing Lucky Linda with a dry cider is a no-brainer, especially Sociable Cider’s Freewheeler—guess where you can find it. Not a cider person? Try it with Fulton’s Standard Lager. The caramel notes of Lucky Linda and the maltiness of the Standard Lager deliciously compliment each other.   


Cheese is a sophisticated addition to whatever snack you’re planning, and can add dimension to many an entree. It’s an easy gift—easier if you have any inclination as to your giftee’s preferred flavor palate. Cheese, the scientific community tells us, is like a drug. These, and many more reasons, are why we’re so excited about our carefully curated lineup of (mostly) local/regional cheeses. We do our best to offer a unique selection of handmade cheeses. This isn’t American Cheese Product: This is the real deal. Every cheese in our inventory has a story—the kind you’ll be glad to share with your friends and loved ones.

You’ll taste the difference.