Sunday, May 1, 2016

Real food from farm to table with “The Birchwood Café Cookbook”… a delicious and informative journey!

Phyllis Louise Harris

May 2016

How “real” is the food you are eating? Owner Tracy Singleton and Chef Marshall Paulsen of the Birchwood Café in Minneapolis are among a growing number of “real food” restaurateurs who believe everything we eat should be what nature intended. No chemicals, no genetic alterations, no flavor substitutes. Just real farm-fresh, organically grown and carefully prepared to bring out all of the natural flavors. It is the basis of their restaurant, their food philosophy and their new cookbook. It has also been the basic food philosophy and practice of Asian cultures for centuries.

Several years ago I conducted a series of classes in Asian cooking for a group of food scientists at a major food company. The purpose of the project was to acquaint them with a variety of Asian flavors that they would go on to replicate chemically. How sad it is when natural flavors have to be created from test tubes so that processed food can be made shelf stable for worldwide distribution.

But, at Birchwood the flavors are from ingredients that are certified organic, mostly from local producers and are farm-fresh. “The Birchwood Café Cookbook” puts as much emphasis on the creation of the ingredients as on their preparation and includes dozens of photos and stories about local farmers. With Farmers’ Markets opening for the season, it is a good time to take a closer look at what you are eating and where it comes from. Many local food producers welcome visitors and some have special events. Check for websites for more information.

One example is DragSmith Farms of Barron, Wisconsin, owned and run by Gail and Maurice Smith. Despite our cold winters, the Smiths grow micro greens and lettuces all year ‘round in their vast hoop houses providing Birchwood with a wide array of fresh greens no matter what the weather. Most surprisingly DragSmith also grows artichokes, a thistle vegetable that normally requires a warmer climate.

Another local supplier mentioned in the book is Bullfrog Fish Farm of Menomonie, Wisconsin, that markets and processes 14,000 pounds of Rainbow Trout every year. In 1987, founder Herby Radmann had a vision of turning a pure water resource hidden just below the surface of a sandy farm field into a thriving business supplying fresh, chemical free fish to local users.

Woods Maple Orchard in Elmwood, Wisconsin, was founded in 1840 and is still family run by Steven and Dawn Wood along with their son Jason and other family members. One of the largest maple syrup producers in the region, Woods has its own sugar shack right in the middle of its beautiful maple woods taking the sap directly from the trees straight to processing. Last year Woods Maple Syrup was named best in show by the North American Maple Syrup Council and International Maple Syrup Institute beating out entries from all over the United States and Canada. The firm also won the award in 2007.

So how does Birchwood use all of these local products? In some very interesting ways. Recipes in the book include Surly Maple Braised Pork Belly Benedict where pork is slowly cooked in maple syrup and beer. Smoked Trout Quiche uses the local fish to brighten an otherwise bland dish. Apple and Alemar Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette combines a number of local ingredients including Bent River cheese. And Indonesian Chicken Stew is a take off on the classic opor ayam with more than a dozen flavors that blend beautifully.

“The Birchwood Café Cookbook” was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2015 and is available through Amazon and local bookstores or at the café, 3311 East 25th Street, Minneapolis. Local food writer Beth Dooley and photographer Mette Nielsen added their talents to help make this a readable, colorful book. The photos alone will make you want to start cooking and the recipes will give you a new appreciation for Good Real Food. Pick up a copy soon!



Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on
Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at: