Sometimes I have, “Is this really, for real my life?” moments. I got an email invitation to a dinner at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul for the introduction of two new spirits from Prairie Organic Vodka. K had plans that night, we’ve been to Heartland and greatly enjoyed it and who am I to turn down spirits?!? So I said, “Why not?” Then the beautiful package above arrived in the mail and it enclosed the custom cutting/cheese board below. Then the game changed because I knew I was going to need my fancy pants for this occasion. And the aforementioned moment began.
It was a gorgeous summer evening and Heartland was lit with the setting sun and flickering candles. Several of my friends from the food blogging world were there and I made new friends during cocktail hour where I enjoyed sips of the Rubicon cocktail with new Prairie Organic Gin, Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lemon and fresh rosemary. If I had to pick a spirit and stick to it for the rest of my life, it would be gin. And this is good, clean gin.
If the menu was any indication, we were in for a seriously swank dinner.
The room looked like the most blog-worthy wedding you’ve never been to — perfect place settings, succulents, yellow crespedia flowers, candles, burlap runners — all waiting to cradle and light and showcase the food and cocktails to come.
A note about the cocktails: They were created to feature Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka and Prairie Organic Gin and the menu was based on the cocktail creations, not the other way around. Another note about the cocktails: They were FULL FREAKIN’ SIZED! We all expected sips and tastes, but each and every cocktail was a no joking around real cocktail. Everyone felt bad for only being able to enjoy about a quarter (if that) of each glass, but hey … we all had to get ourselves home at the end of the evening!
The first cocktail was called Aromatherapy — a soothing combination of Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka, rosewater, lime, agave nectar, bitters, ginger and tonic. I’m hit or miss on cucumber flavors, but this was really subtle and lovely, especially with the herby hit of the rosemary.
The dish crafted to pair with the Aromatherapy cocktail was a white fish with cucumber and oyster mushrooms in a ginger-infused fish fumet (a fancy word for fish stock). This was actually my favorite dish of the night — the fish was crisp and tender, the mushrooms were meaty and the cucumbers were super fresh.
Our next cocktail was called a Rhubarb Fizz with the Prairie Organic Gin, rhubarb jam, lemon and soda water. This was my favorite cocktail of the evening. It was sweet, tart, bubbly, crisp and refreshing. It was also incredibly easy to drink and would be perfect for a hot summer’s day.
The course created to pair with the Rhubarb Fizz was the poussin (young chicken) with English peas, radishes and a rhubarb puree. Sometimes the simplest foods are the nicest foods like a simple roast chicken with crisp skin, supple meat and those little fresh pops of spring peas.
The man of the hour, Chef Lenny Russo, telling his guests about his seasonal inspiration for the four-course meal. He revealed that the poussin dish was a preview before it appeared on the Heartland menu. He was unhappy with the presentation this evening and said when it appeared on the menu, he’d place it “in the classic 69 position.” The man can cook and get a big laugh from the crowd!
The next cocktail was the Happy Apple — Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka, Aperol, honey syrup, lemon, apple and soda water. The cucumber and apple paired very nicely together and this would be a lovely fall cocktail.
To pair with the Happy Apple was grass-fed beef with baby potatoes, duck fat, spring rabes and an apple glace de viande (glaze). Cutting this meat was like cutting butter, it was perfectly seasoned and the meltingly tender meat was the ideal partner to the bitter greens.
Our dessert cocktail was the Nutty Russian with Prairie Organic Vodka, nocino (green walnut liqueur), homemade Kahlua, soda water and cinnamon whipped cream. We were all thoroughly conquered by this point and, sadly, everyone was only able to take a few sips of this very strong, very rich concoction. I would happily eat a bowl of that cinnamon whipped cream any day, any time, however.
Our dessert was a walnut torte with espresso creme anglaise, cinnamon Chantilly cream, candied walnuts and a sugar tuile. I expected the glistening, clear top layer to be shatteringly crisp, like a creme brulee. But it was surprisingly soft, like gelatin. The walnut torte under it was moist and filled with warm spices. And by the last bite I was so full I was ready to take a nap under the table.
And our post-dessert treat? A swag bag filled with the infused Prairie Organic Vodka of our choice (I chose blueberry ginger), Prairie Organic Gin, rhubarb and red currant jelly from the Heartland Market and more.
I’ve enjoyed Prairie Organic Vodka since they launched and I’m an even bigger fan now that they’re offering gin. Jeff Feist, of Prairie Organic Spirits, explained that the company values local, organic, great taste and giving back to the community of Benson, Minnesota, where their spirits are made. They’ve closed the loop and heat their distillery with corn husks, use the corn for vodka and give the mash back to the farmers to feed the cows. I love that no waste philosophy.
As I’ve mentioned previously, we don’t endorse products that we don’t actually use. And when we’re making cocktails, we like to stay as close to home as possible — Prairie Organic it is. Thanks to Prairie Organic Spirits for the invitation to this beautiful, unforgettable dinner event. Give them a try and share your favorite cocktail ideas too, we’re always looking to expand our spirited repertoire.