Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Rain Food

I will say that aside from the impending doom of cold snow, and darkness, one thing that I love about fall is the food.  I must have a thing for beta-carotene because I can't get enough of those dark-hued vegetables.  Squash, pumpkin, beets, yams, you name it - I want to eat it.  I've already been enjoying the spoils of these root/gourd items in the form of pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin pie, sweet potato soup, oatmeal sweet potato muffins and squash soup.

The last couple of days have brought a whole slew of wind, sudden cold and rain, all of which seem to point to one dish:  biscuits and gravy.  I never thought of myself as a biscuits and gravy type of gal, until I got to thinking about a little dish called "chicken a 'la king".  Growing up I always enjoyed this dinnertime staple, what with it's shredded, saucy poultry, peas, and mushrooms (two of my favorite vegetables).  Good thing I have a Romsdahl (my maternal namesake) Kokebok (that's Norsk for cookbook, duh) on hand!  My adaptation of Adele Romsdahl Umhoefer's recipe found therein was pretty damn good, if I do say for myself.

Chicken a' la King
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 can mushrooms (or fresh, sliced, to taste)
1/2 - 3/4 C flour
3 C low sodium chicken broth
2 C milk
6 T peas (I used frozen)
4 C chicken, cooked and chopped

Saute pepper and mushrooms (if fresh) in butter until just softened.  Blend in flour, stirring to make a roux.  Slowly stir in broth and milk.  Add mushrooms (if canned), peas, and chicken.  Stir constantly until thickened.  Pepper liberally (to taste).  Serve over baking powder biscuits fresh out of the oven.  Makes approx. 5 servings.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gingered Up

I've always loved ginger-y food and drinks, and I think the world is catching on.  Ginger is refreshing and zesty - sometimes even spicy.  Ginger ale is an in-flight favorite, and gingersnap cookies (or, molasses crinkles, if you rather) have been putting smiles on the faces of grandmas and grandkids for ages.  I'm still developing a taste for the pickled slices that accompany sushi, but when I was in college, we occasionally concocted an elementary potion of gin and ginger ale.  We dubbed it "gin & gin" or "the double gin" or something like that.  Whatever we called it, it was delicious.  Like a lot of college-kid cocktails, the sweet ginger ale cloaked the booze flavor, increasing its drinkability.  Maybe we were before our time, because lately ginger is making a big statement in cocktails all over the place, it seems.

Take for example the Local's signature cocktail, "The Big Ginger".  I recently enjoyed this drink at happy hour and was very pleased - it had a just-right mix of warm whiskey flavor and ginger beer fizz.  I especially liked having wedges of both lime and lemon to squeeze into it.  They also offer a diet version dubbed "The Skinny Ginger". 

Then, I learned of the Pimm's Cup, thanks to Orangette.  After following Molly's blog and reading her book A Homemade Life, I have come to trust her recommendations.  When she said the Pimm's Cup was a gin-based drink, I was definitely intrigued.  When I went to the Craftsman and saw it on the menu, I took a chance.  It was delicious!  Sort of strange and different - darker than I thought it would be, and with floating bits of cucumber in the glass.  I really liked it.  I thought it seemed easy enough to make at home, and like a good summer cocktail.  Once I got a hold of a bottle of Pimms No. 1, though, I was a bit confused - the liquid was dark and smelled a bit like Jagermeister - not like gin at all.  And the label described it as a liqueur, which although surprising seemed fitting, considering its sweet-ish and syrupy quality.  But whatever it is or was expected to be, it was great mixed with quality ginger beer (also a new experience) and a bit of garden-fresh cucumber, over ice.       
The Longfellow Grill, one of my longtime favorite happy hour spots, recently featured a cocktail with a piece of candied ginger speared over the top of the glass.  I never did order the drink (it has since been removed from the menu), but my bartender friend once slipped me a piece to taste.  I loved it!  Perhaps candied ginger will pave the way to the next phase of ginger love.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Dark Side of the Craftsman

I was excited to go to the Craftsman.  Really, I was.  The boyfriend and I were celebrating our two-year anniversary and chose the Craftsman as our fancy restaurant of choice.  I'd never been to the Craftsman, and always wanted to go, considering all the great things I'd heard about their delicious, local fare.  
It was a beautiful night, so we gladly took a table out on the patio.  I heard their patio was great, but I still wasn't expecting the secluded deck with a pergola and vining greens everywhere.  

We started with drinks - a Pimm's Cup for me (more on that later) and a Surly Furious for him.  Then we ordered a cheese plate, which was delicious.  I had the pancetta-wrapped trout with cauliflower puree and broccoli, and he had the salmon special with a shock-purple beet vinaigrette and mixed summer veggies.  Both were fantastic (once I got over the fact my fish still had it's head and was staring at me).  

At one point during the dinner I heard a nearby table chat up the waitress.  I caught bits and pieces, including "so cute" and "Stuart Little".  I didn't recall who Stuart Little was at that moment, and thought perhaps they were complimenting the waitress on her chic wire-rimmed eyeglasses.  Not much later, I thought I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye, and saw the boyfriend's eyes follow it, too.  When I asked him if he saw something, he said no.  

The evening grew dark and we left the Craftsman after filling our bellies with all the great food.  Then, I got the news.  The boyfriend told me there was a MOUSE in our company on the Craftsman's patio.  It apparently frolicked under the table behind us and was in fact the dark figure darting near ours.  And, the idiot diners nearby actually told the waitress they thought it was cute that a little, vile, disease-carrying mouse was sharing their dining space.  The waitress laughed awkwardly and said "Oh, I'm glad you think it's cute."  I was shocked/livid.  I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to mice.  I can handle snakes and bugs and other gross stuff, but not mice.  

I do understand that animals inhabit the outdoors, and that mice happen. Believe you me, I have lived in enough old houses and apartments to know that they are everywhere you don't want them to be.  And, I did consider the fact that a gas station with requisite dumpsters is very close to the Craftsman.  But a mouse in a restaurant?!  In a dining area?!   This is not Ratatouille, ladies and gentleman.  This is a good, quality, respected, expensive meal at a Minneapolis restaurant.  And I believe it goes without saying these days that mice can have a devastating effect on food and food production.  I don't think it's unreasonable to expect to dine out of doors at a restaurant with no more than humans and perhaps a couple of bugs.  

Monday, August 30, 2010

it all starts with breakfast

I must have a thing with breakfast.  I mean, I'm a believer in eating breakfast, and I really enjoy it, and I do it daily.  The other day I had a dentist appointment in the morning, giving me more time to make and relish in a "special" breakfast (a.k.a. something that takes more than .5 minutes to prepare and would be difficult to eat at my desk at work).  Two words:  breakfast tacos.  I love that tacos are really easy to make, highly adaptable, and also delicious.  These breakfast tacos featured scrambled eggs with green onions whipped in, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and chopped spicy lettuce from the farmers' market.

When vacationing in Mexico last spring, I had the great pleasure of enjoying a great leisurely breakfast every day.  One of my favorites was this great plate of juevos rancheros.  This could be easily replicated at home with some good tortilla chips, scrambled eggs, queso fresco, cilantro, salsa and refried beans.  My only complaint was that the coffee refills with this desayuno were hard to come by.

Friday, July 23, 2010

summer (grill) lovin'

I eat vegetarian much of the time, mostly because I'm too cheap and lazy to cook meat.  However, the summer grilling season seems to provide a lot more opportunities to enjoy delicious meat prepared by others!  Last month the boyfriend treated me to probably the most delicious kabobs I've ever eaten  (thanks to his sister, who gave him Weber's Charcoal Grilling cookbook for his birthday.)  These kabobs consisted of pork and mango with a glaze made of orange juice, lime zest, honey and mint.  It was amazing!  Perfect fuel for Rock the Garden later that evening.  

Monday, July 12, 2010


As I moved into my apartment last November, I am continually discovering new and changing vegetation around the building.  I had a lilac bush outside my front window?  Didn't know until they were blooming.  A peony by the back stairs?  No idea until the blooms flopped onto the step.  And best of all - a mystery bush on the passenger side of my parking space.  All these months I disregarded it, until one day this summer I noticed little red berries.  I figured they were probably your run-of-the-mill, wilderness (bear food) variety, until I looked closer:  RASPBERRIES!  Food of the gods.  I couldn't believe my luck.  Now, I realize that perhaps someone feels ownership over said raspberry bush.  My neighbor across the hall does maintain many of the plants growing on the property, making them, in my mind, hers.  Not to mention the fact that the bush is bordered on the other side by the next door neighbor's garage.  Perhaps the raspberries are rightly theirs!  All this being said, I couldn't help but to head back there the other night with an old strawberry container and pluck away.  I looked over my shoulders a couple of times, half expecting to see the cross raspberry bush possessor looking stern with arms crossed, but I didn't.  And let me tell you: they taste like heaven!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Holy Hummus

One of my favorite Minneapolis delis was featured in the NY Times the other day:  Holy Land!  I'm a big fan of their hummus, but their pita bread, pita chips, tampenade, and random snack mixes are also great.  Other brands of hummus simply don't compare - gross texture, bad taste, weird chemical additives...  As the story describes, they have many many delicious varieties.  I love the classic plain style, but also enjoy the guacamole (I'm American, after all), jalapeno and artichoke & garlic.  I have yet to see the peanut butter variety, though!  Maybe you can only find that at their original Northeast location.  Field trip? 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I would like to thank the Rand deli

...for being so awesome.  The Rand deli is actually called Allie's, but it was introduced to me as "the Rand deli" (it's in the Rand tower, downtown Minneapolis).  Everything at the Rand deli is delicious.  And they have about 10,000 menu items daily.  And everything is homemade.  With a smile.  The people who own the place are a married couple, and they are perpetually friendly and kind and genuinely thankful for your business (so they tell you)!  This morning I ran out the door without breakfast and was faced with the conundrum of where to go and what to get once I arrived downtown.  Bagel and coffee from Starbucks?  Nah...  Coffee and scone from Caribou? Nah...  Bruegger's for something different?  Nah.... Everything so underwhelming.  And then it hit me... Rand deli.  I walked up to two steaming baking sheets full of freshly-baked scones.  In about 29 different varieties.  I asked for the raspberry almond and a small coffee.  Guess what?  It's cheaper to get a medium (with a scone)!  Thank you, kind Rand deli employee, for telling me! 

I'm reminded of that scene in the movie "Clueless" in which the stoner guy Travis gives an acceptance speech in class upon receiving his award for being the most frequently tardy student throughout the year.  He credits the employees of McDonalds who made his egg mcmuffins every day as contributing to his achievement in tardiness.  Granted, I was not late for work as the result of my going to Rand deli this morning, but I am equally grateful for the experience!

image via
The Rand Deli website: 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Five-minute dinner

I recently enjoyed this delicious 5-minute dinner for one, which, considering  I don't own a microwave and I'm hesitant to eat meals that come from boxes, is pretty good I think.  Not that I have anything against microwaves.  Really, I don't.  I just never got one when I moved into a new apartment last fall.  (The previous place came with a microwave.)  I manage pretty well with my toaster oven.  

Sometimes you just don't have an hour to devote to making dinner.  I love taking the time to make something complex and delicious, particularly in the company of great people and a wine, but this scene simply doesn't take place every evening of my life.  So the other night, I grabbed a few random ingredients and voila! had dinner in just about five minutes.  No box, can, or microwave required!  First off, chop a little garlic and slice a few mushrooms.  Throw them in a small skillet with some olive oil and saute until the mushrooms have softened.  Then, throw in some leftover cooked noodles (I had buckwheat soba in the fridge) and a handful of fresh spinach.  Toss until all the ingredients are getting cozy and the spinach is wilted and bright green.  Turn off the heat and throw some shredded parmesan and fresh cracked pepper on top.  Eat!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plain Yogurt: It's good, I promise.

While wandering through a Northfield bookshop not long ago, I noticed Michael Pollan's book "Food Rules".  (No wonder; it's everywhere!)  I flopped it open to a page about food trying to be something it's not (and how you shouldn't eat that which falls into this category).  I think this makes pretty good sense.  I'm all about genuine-ness and being true to yourself, so why shouldn't I hold the same standard to the food I eat?  

I think yogurt is, in a lot of ways, a victim of the food marketing machine.  Food marketers have done a good job of making the American public think they can get a tall order from yogurt: cancer-fighting stuff, digestive medicine, weight-loss magic, and even a good dessert.  Those things might all be true, but I don't think you have to buy a pack of six individual containers of chocolate raspberry Yoplait Delights to get them.  Much of all that could probably be attained from good old plain yogurt.  

Plain yogurt often gets a bad rap:  it's boring, sour, bad-tasting, etc.  But when you think about it, actually all yogurt was "plain" once.  So why not take out the middleman (chemical/food engineers?) and add your own flavors?  I discovered a good trick for weekday yogurt breakfast on the go.  First, buy a big container of plain yogurt.  Before heading to work in the morning, put a serving of it in a tupperware container and add frozen banana slices (about half a banana).  If you're really feeling indulgent, also add a spoonful of jam or drizzle of real maple syrup.  Once you get to work, open, stir and pour granola on the top.  Voila!  In the time it takes me to get to work, the bananas have melted enough so they're soft and juicy, and they've kept the yogurt cold, too.  

With a little more time on my hands, I may add other fruits, such as dried apricots or strawberries and enjoy my yogurt from a pretty bowl like the one pictured (thanks Grandma).  Poor yogurt needn't be forced into something it's not.  I think the calcium, vitamins, and live cultures on plain yogurt don't need food marketers' help.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

Inagural Farmer's Market Buys

I made my first farmer's market purchase of the year, hurrah!  A sign of more good things to come (namely... summer?).  I quickly snatched up some spring onions and chives from the Minneapolis (Nicollet Mall) farmers' market, both of which are beautiful and fresh and green, like spring is.  Now if only I hadn't recycled that March issue of Edible Twin Cities, which featured loads of chive recipes....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Eats: Fargo

I assure you, Fargo is not a culinary void.  Nor is it full of citizens who wood-chip their local nemeses.  On a recent long weekend trip to Fargo, I had the pleasure of enjoying some new and familiar culinary goodies.  For one, Nicole's Fine Pastries:
This. Was. Amazing.  I didn't even know I liked coconut cream pie.

What meringue perfection.  I wonder if they use a creme brulee-type blow torch on the meringue?  I've never seen meringue look like that!  It's like Redi-Whip!

And last, but not least, fruit tarts.  Once you dive in, you can actually see the flecks of vanilla bean in the custard below.

And for another - the new JL Beers. I first read about it on The Heavy Table, and I think it fulfills a longtime area need for a restaurant/bar with an impressive list of taps.  And, I don't know of any other place in town where you can get a beer flight.  The place is small, and so is the food menu, but they do small well.  The burgers were perfectly tasty, and the fresh potato chips were a perfect complement to the flight.  I couldn't keep my eyes off the potato slicer - ribbon after curled ribbon of potato goodness!  My one complaint?  No tap water.  Who doesn't have tap water?  When I asked, they tried to sell me a bottle of water.  I told them no thanks, I'll stick to the beer. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bagel Love

Hands down, Common Roots Cafe has the best bagels in the metro. No need for fancy dough full of herbs or chocolate or pumpkin puree, no need for special flavored cream cheeses... just pure, unadulterated, gluten goodness and cream cheese divinity. My favorite combination pictured: toasted poppyseed bagel with plain cream cheese. Mmmm. 

(note:  pretty much everything on the Common Roots menu is good.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You, too, can learn to love sardines

I bet most people would say they don't like sardines.  I used to think I didn't like them either.  Until I made the "Sophia Loren of Pastas," that is. 

I found the recipe online and was instantly intrigued.  It calls for pappardelle, which, not ever having heard that word before, I had to Google.  Turns out it's just broad, flat noodles (like wider, flatter fettuccine).  At my office Christmas party I won a big basket of Trader Joe's groceries(!), which included about three pounds of spaghetti.  Needless to day, I was working to use it all up. I shopped for the rest of the (simple) ingredients, bought a bottle of wine, and invited over the boyfriend. Not only was it easy to make, it was delicious! We're sardine converts, and I'm anxious to make it again. Great success.

Recipe: here
Photo:  via Flickr

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday Scones

Sunday often seems like a good day for baking. Perhaps it's because I have more time on my hands, but more likely it's due to the fact that after my savory, eggy brunch, I'm in the mood for a sweet pastry.

The other Sunday, I used the Wisconsin cranberries in my freezer and leftover cream in the fridge to make cranberry scones. Earlier this winter I made cranberry-lemon scones from a recipe I found online, then later made Mark Bittman's version (of course). What follows was mostly inspired by Bittman.

Buckwheat Cranberry Scones
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C buckwheat flour
1 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 scant tsp salt
5 Tbsp cold butter
2 eggs
3/4 C cream
1 C cranberries (frozen)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk eggs and cream together in another (smaller) bowl. Cut butter into chunks and add to dry ingredients. If you have a pastry blender, use it to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. If not (as in my case), use your hands and do your best. Pour wet ingredients into flour/butter. Stir to combine. Then, add cranberries and fold in until they're mostly mixed in.

Dust a clean surface with flour, and flour hands as well. Take dough in your hands and knead 10 times. (Mark says no more!) Then, press the dough ball into flat round - about an inch thick? Whatever looks good to you. Place the dough on a baking sheet, then cut the dough into wedges. Gently separate the wedges. Then, dust the scones with sugar. Bake for 7-9 minutes. More like 9 if your scones are big. Unless you like gooey scones.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lentils: A Primer

I admit: I've never cooked with lentils. How I got through a year of volunteering without ever learning how, I'll never know. Not long ago I picked up some beautiful golden-orange lentils at Seward on a whim. Then, the good people at A Grain a Day posted a recipe for faux sloppy joes, using lentils! I tried it the other night with some success.

First, I consulted the cooking Bible, a.k.a. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, for instructions on how to cook lentils. Let's just say that either I did something wrong or this is one of the
few instances in which Bittman is off base. I poured the lentils in a saucepan, covering them with a couple of inches of water. Then I set them to boil (covered), stepped out of the kitchen for a few minutes, and returned to find them boiling over! This only incited small flames from my gas range... lovely. The second time I've almost started a fire in my kitchen. I stirred them, lowered the heat, and vented the lid - per Bittman. I continued cooking them for about 10 minutes, then stirred to check. They were definitely DONE, and a lot of water remained in the pot. I tried to drain them, but that didn't work very well.

Satisfied enough with the lentils, I proceeded with the rest of the recipe. Very tasty! Mine turned out a little more mushy than real meat sloppy-joes would be, but I don't mind a little mush now and then.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Life-Changing Macron

My dear friend Delite once asked a Cafetto barista "Will this cookie change my life?" He gazed into the bakery case and said frankly, "probably not."

Today I have Cocoa & Fig to thank for a life-changing salted caramel macron. No joke. I wish I could go back to the moment in my life when I was eating it. I tried a big pistachio macron in Brussels about a year ago, and it went in the garbage. Because somehow, it tasted like garbage.

Thanks, also, to the Cocoa & Fig
website for clearing up my confusion surrounding coconut macaroons and french macrons. I wondered about that.