Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sign #246 You're Disconnected from Your Food

I recently bought a copy of Kinfolk Magazine, for the first time. I'd never seen or read it, but you know, all the cool kids are reading/contributing to/talking about it, so I figured I should see what all the fuss is about. I bought Volume 8, the spring issue. Turns out, the issue is largely dedicated to ice cream! My favorite. See also: faux fried ice cream.

I flipped the page to the first of the multiple-page ice cream article, only to find a large picture of a patch of grass. I was slightly puzzled, that is, until I turned to the next page with a photo of a cow and realized, right - ice cream comes from grass by way of cows.

Thank you, Kinfolk, for bringing it all back, for reminding me where ice cream comes from, and how wonderful are the gifts of summer.

*Thanks, also, to my friend Jenna, for bringing the Kinfolk craze back home. Upon leafing through it at the lake over 4th of July weekend, she remarked "What kind of magazine is this?? I thought it was supposed to be about entertaining! And who the heck puts flowers in their ice cream cones?!" 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Waitstaff-less Cafes - Love it or Lump it?

What do you think of cafes that don't have waitstaff? I'm talking about cafes, delis or restaurants where you order at the counter and seat yourself with a table-flag in hand. You grab your own water, maybe your silverware and napkins, etc., then someone comes and brings you your food a bit later. Maybe you even have to bus your dishes.

There are a number of really great establishments in Minneapolis that fit this bill. Birchwood Cafe in Seward, Mosaic Cafe at Midtown, and French Meadow Bakery in Uptown come to mind. I can personally attest to the fact that all three of these places have fantastic, local, homemade, delicious, vegetarian-friendly, health-conscious, as well as pleasantly indulgent food. However, a recent visit to Mosaic Cafe for dinner one evening got me thinking.

For one, some people bristle at the idea of going out to a restaurant and not being waited on (ahem, husband and his grandmother). Let's create jobs and hire some waitstaff, right? If I'm going to go out to eat and pay good money for my food, shouldn't I enjoy the opportunity to have someone refill my water for me and take away my dirty dishes?

Now, I know that at French Meadow, once dinner service starts, they utilize waitstaff. And my recent visit to Mosaic confirmed that they follow the same practice. However, by the end of the evening at Mosaic  I wondered if our waiter had much experience in that role. When he brought our drinks, he carried them over by the rim, blissfully ignorant (I guess?) of the fact that he was pawing all over the area on which I was just about to clamp my lips. If I wanted to kiss your fingers, I'd ask, thank you. *Lady bartender at Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub, are you also reading this? When he came to bus our dishes at the end of our meal, he dropped silverware on the floor and table, and knocked a pickle across our table. Granted, these are fairly innocent mishaps, but I got to thinking, maybe we'd rather just do the self-service thing?

Aside from the benign jumbles of our Mosaic waiter, who was otherwise friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, I got to thinking, perhaps the self-serve deli model is what enables these establishments work in the way they do? In other words, maybe by bypassing waitstaff, they're better able to deliver the quality offerings they do at their fair prices and desirable locations? I don't have enough experience in the biz to know, but regardless, I'm going back for more.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hello, Weekend

Happy Friday, y'all. Is there anything better than a weekend? I hope you're planning for good times and relaxation. This weekend J and I will be busy packing. We are moving. Not far, but into another, bigger, new house. It is exciting and overwhelming all at the same time, and involves lots of hard work packing, planning and cleaning.

Thankfully we have a break planned for a family dinner at the new Union restaurant downtown. I must admit I have read mixed reviews, but am trying to keep an open mind! Looking forward to getting downtown and trying a new place.  

On the cooking front, things have been a bit sparse around my house (see above re: moving). Thankfully I've been able to tap into some pantry reserves and scrounge together some homemade grub, supplemented by birthday take-out earlier this week (a.mazing.bbq, by the way). Last night I made a riff on these sweet potato mole tacos, which definitely did the trick. Next time I'd add a bit of salt into the mole spice mix. Here's to the weekend! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Easy Sesame Noodles

This past Saturday, I went to my regular mid-morning yoga class, then headed home for a little lunch. I love the luxury of being home to make lunch on the weekends. So, I pulled out what has become an old standard recipe for me - though I haven't made it since the warmer months last summer. It's quick, easy, and very adaptable. The ingredients and directions are more guidelines than anything. Feel free to adjust the recipe to your taste and whatever ingredients you have on hand. 

First, prepare your vegetables. I peeled a couple of carrots before slicing into matchsticks. 
Gather some bell peppers - mine ended up equaling about a half a pepper. 

Whisk together a quick sauce.

Boil your noodles, add the veggies in the last couple of minutes of boiling, drain, rinse, and toss it all together!

Easy Sesame Noodles

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side. Keeps well for leftovers. 


4-5 oz. buckwheat soba noodles
2 small carrots, cut into matchsticks
variety of bell peppers, cut similar in size to the carrot matchsticks
2 green onions, sliced
sesame seeds, to taste

2 Tbsp neutral-tasting oil, such as canola or grapeseed
2-3 tsp soy sauce
a splash of fish sauce, to taste
dash ground ginger
juice of 1/2 lime
honey or sugar, to taste


Boil the noodles according to the package directions - this ended up being about 8 minutes for me. In the last 2 minutes, add the vegetables (minus the green onion). I actually forgot this step, so instead, just stir-fried the veggies in the same pot after the noodles were done. 
Drain the noodles and veggies, rinse with cold water.

While the noodles are boiling, whisk the sauce ingredients together. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. 

Toss the the noodles and veggies with the sauce. Add the green onion and sprinkle sesame seeds throughout. Mix together and add more sesame seeds to garnish, as desired. 

This salad can be enjoyed warm, room temperature, or cold. I think this would also be great with some edamame thrown in, or with your choice of protein (chicken, tofu, shrimp, etc.). Enjoy!

Inspired by this recipe, and the Otsu recipes in Heidi Swanson's cookbooks.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Stuffed Shells

I got it in my head the other day that I wanted to make stuffed shells. I have vague memories of my mother making pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and covered in tomato sauce when I was young, but hadn't eaten them probably since that time. After a little Pinterest fun, I found a number of vegetarian stuffed shells recipes and got to work. 

I'm now inspired to create a version stuffed with squash (since I seem to have a never-ending supply of it!), but this time around I was happy with the spinach/artichoke classic recipe I made, courtesy of Pink Basil. You (ahem, my husband) might think this recipe is complicated, what with it's multiple steps of boiling, mixing, stuffing, and baking, but I assure you, it's actually quite simple. You can mix together the filling while the shells are boiling, and stuffing the shells is easy if you squeeze them open gently like one of those old-school rubber coin purses. I love that this recipe required only a few pantry staples: pasta, jarred sauce, ricotta, parm, spinach and artichoke hearts - weeknight win! You could really speed up this recipe by pre-boiling the shells - then all you'd have to do is stir together the filling and stuff them. Recommended beverage: boxed red wine. A real Italian feast, I tell you!

The only changes I would make next time around would be to add a bit more "zip." I didn't notice any addition of salt and pepper or other spices in the recipe, so I didn't think to add them. (I was trying to follow the recipe closely, which I don't often do!) I would probably salt and pepper the filling mixture, and maybe even stir in some lemon zest or Italian seasoning. I would also probably sprinkle red pepper flakes over the top before baking. I definitely think I'll be trying this again! Recipe here

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day. I love Valentine's Day, I can't help it! I realized it can be overly commercial, like any holiday, but I love the reminder to express your love and affection for those in your life! I also happen to love red, hearts, chocolate, and mail, which really seals the deal for me. I have fond memories of making and distributing valentines and valentine boxes as a kid, and still get a kick out of sending valentines today. Me and my man are spending the night in, making lobster and drinking wine, dining by candlelight. Maybe we'll watch the latest Woody Allen flick, too. A wintry night in snuggling up with my guy and my pup makes me happy.  

Valentine postcards from Rifle Paper Co., homemade heart-shaped Oreos from Shutterbean

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Soft Polenta with Roasted Vegetables

Are you on Pinterest? Lately I've been feeling rather obsessed. I, like all others that fall into Pinterest's target demographic, love it for the recipes, beautiful pictures, inspiring home and fashion ideas, and crafts. Whenever I start feeling particularly obsessive, though, I just look at the number of items other users have pinned. I'm nowhere near those there, so I breathe a little sigh of relief. 

This recipe is one I pinned. It's originally from the soon-to-be defunct Martha Stewart Whole Living Magazine, which has caught my interest in the past. While I've had varying success making recipes gathered from Pinterest, I loved this one because it was a great way to use up some vegetables I've had lying around for awhile, and it gave me an excuse to make polenta. Polenta is one of those foods that I love, and that's simple to make, yet I continually forget about it and go through long spans of time between making it. I made it on another dark, cold evening, and it proved to be just the thing. 

Soft Polenta with Roasted Vegetables

Adapted from this recipe from Whole Living 


6 baby red potatoes, quartered
2 whole carrots, coarsely sliced into coins or half-moons
2 whole parsnips, peeled and coarsely sliced into coins or half-moons
2 stalks of celery, coarsely sliced
1 C diced butternut squash
* feel free to sub whatever other hearty winter vegetables you have lying around

6 C vegetable broth, divided
1  14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
dried rosemary and thyme leaves, to taste

1 C polenta
1/2 C parmesan cheese
1 oz. softened cream cheese
salt + pepper to taste


Pre-heat oven to 475 degrees. Prep the vegetables and toss all together (minus the tomatoes) with a glug of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place vegetables in a metal roasting pan. (I used a metal 9 x 13 cake pan - just be sure it's something with taller sides that you can transfer to the stovetop later). Roast vegetables 20-30 minutes, until mostly tender, tossing halfway through roasting. 

While the vegetables are roasting, start polenta. In a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid, bring 4 C broth to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and slowly whisk in polenta, whisking constantly. Turn heat down to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes.

Once the vegetables are finished roasting, transfer the pan to the stovetop and place over medium-high heat. Sprinkle herbs over vegetables, add drained tomatoes and 2 C broth. Simmer veggies in broth for about 15 minutes, until mixture has thickened slightly and flavors have melded. Season with salt and pepper. 

When the polenta is done, the liquid should be absorbed and the texture should be creamy rather than crunchy. Stir in parmesan cheese and cream cheese, until fully incorporated. 

Spoon polenta into wide, shallow bowls and ladle vegetables and broth over the top. Garnish with additional parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, to taste. 

This recipe makes for good leftovers!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Better Than it Looks

This was my lunch yesterday - leftovers from dinner the night before. I play this card a lot because I find that something hot is much more satisfying for a workday lunch than a cold sandwich, or the like. But I'm telling you, it's better than it looks. Especially if you don't drizzle tahini salad dressing on top (it's just so delicious). I like to think of it as an uber-flexible, use-what-you-already-have-in-the-pantry delicious Indian spiced lentil stew. For those of you squeamish about foods with this curious yellow-green glow, fear not. It may look like something unmentionable, but it tastes amazing. It's just the turmeric giving it that glow, and turmeric is good for you. Deliciously spiced and hearty, yet quick and easy - all the while making you feel like you just sidestepped Indian takeout.

Indian Spiced Lentil Stew

Adapted from this recipe on Souvlakiforthesoul.com

Serves 4-6

1/2 red or yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 Tbsp diced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cloves
chili pepper flakes to taste
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, smashed (optional)
1 C red lentils
2 C vegetable stock
1 C water
1 C diced red potatoes
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
salt and pepper to taste
squeeze of fresh lime

Place the lentils in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse. Set aside. 

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat (I use my dutch oven). Add the onions and saute until starting to soften. 

Add the cumin, turmeric, cloves, pepper flakes and coriander and stir to coat the onions. Toast for a minute or two until spices become very aromatic. Add the garlic and ginger and stir another couple of minutes. Add the lentils and potatoes and stir to coat. 

Pour the stock and water into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 minutes, until lentils and potatoes are tender. 

Stir in the rinsed and drained chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use a potato masher (in the pot) to mash up some of the potatoes. Alternatively, use an immersion blender, food processor, or regular blender to make a smoother soup. I used the potato masher method because I don't have an immersion blender and was too lazy to transfer the soup to my food processor. 

Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice and garnish with sour cream and cilantro, if desired. This soup keeps well and makes great leftovers. I imagine it would also freeze well! 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cooking for the Long Winter, Part II: French Onion Soup

Do you like French Onion Soup? My sister-in-law loves it, and I have a hunch that most people wouldn't turn up their noses to it on any given day. It stands up in the cannon of soups you find at old-timey supper clubs and sandwich delis alike. However, I find french onion soup to fall into that category of foods that can be either really bad, or really good. Like cantaloupe. Cantaloupe at its worst can be dry, translucent blocks of filler in a bad side of fruit. At its best, cantaloupe can be a fragrant, peachy, dripping-with-juices gem of a fruit devoured in the summer sunshine. 

Although I'm often tempted to order french onion soup at the aforementioned supper clubs and delis, lured by the memory of melty swiss cheese floating in rich beefy broth with velvety slips of onion, I often find it to be a super salty, gloppy mess with weird croutons and clumps of cheese. (I would know - in another life I helped serve it at an old-timey summer resort dining room.) 

The recipe below is one I discovered from Cooks Illustrated, who illuminated the proper method of producing an amazing pot of french onion soup. I made it a long time ago and again on a recent lazy Sunday. The key to this recipe is basically cooking the hell out of the onions. In a dutch oven, in a hot oven, for a LONG TIME. Then on the stove top for a bit. The beauty of this recipe, though, (once you get over the sting of slicing all the onions), is that the oven does most all the work, so you're free to watch marathons of your favorite TV show or get moving on those winter projects on your list. 

French Onion Soup

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 4-6


2 Tbsp butter
about 3.5 lbs yellow onions, cut pole to pole and sliced 1/4 in. thick (I used a mandoline)
4 C beef broth
2 C water, divided
1/2 C cooking sherry
2 bay leaves
3 sage leaves
1 baguette, sliced
about 4 oz. swiss cheese, grated


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a dutch oven, spray cooking spray or add a bit of oil and rub it around. 
Place sliced onions in dutch oven, separating the rings within the slices. Scatter 2 Tbsp of diced cold butter over the onions. 
Place the lid on the dutch oven and place in the oven. 

After 1 hour, remove dutch oven and carefully remove the lid. Stir the onions and scrape down the sides.
Return the lid to the pot but leave it ajar this time. Place in the oven for another hour. 

Remove the dutch oven, stir and scrape down the sides again. The onions should be getting quite brown now. Place in the oven (again, lid ajar) for another 45 minutes. 

Remove the dutch oven and place it on the stove top over medium-high heat. Stir the onions and scrape down the sides again.
Let the onions cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Dark crusty bits will be forming on the bottom of the pot - this is good and what gives the soup amazing flavor. 

Add 1/4 cup of water to the pot and scrape up the crusty bits stuck to the bottom. Repeat this process of letting the onions sit for 15 minutes, then adding 1/4 cup water and deglazing the pot a total of 4 times (so you have added 1 C water total). 

Let the onions sit another 15 minutes, then add the sherry and scrape the bottom of the pot. 
Pour in the beef broth, 1 C water, the bay leaves and sage. 
Adjust the heat so the soup comes to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer the soup for 10-15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, slice the baguette and place slices on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle cheese on top.  

Remove bay leaves and sage from the soup. Add salt/pepper to taste.

Place the pan of bread and cheese under the broiler and broil for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble (watch closely!) 

To serve, ladle the soup onto bowls and float cheese baguette slices at the top.* Add additional slices mid-way through your bowl, because you made this at home and you can.

*If you have fancy soup crocks, by all means place toasted bread in the bowl, sprinkle with cheese and place the bowls under the broiler. I do not have such crocks, so made do with this method (which worked well for eating the soup over multiple meals). 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cooking for the Long Winter, Part I: Pumpkin Gnocchi

It's funny, you know, to think of how our schedules, situations and climate affect how and what we cook. Now that the holidays are over, we're staring out ahead into the long winter. And this has lead me, of late, to cook warming meals that take a longer time to make. My schedule has been more varied the last couple of weeks and I have found myself interested in tackling some bigger - not to mention delicious - meals that I don't make often. This is the first of two.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Sage

J and I opted to stay in on New Year's Eve again this year. Knowing that we would have the whole evening ahead anticipating the ball drop, I took the opportunity to make pumpkin gnocchi. I have made this dish about once a year for the past few years, in the fall, and enjoyed every bit of it. I don't have the exact source of the recipe, but it was likely provided by the good folks at Harmony Valley Farms, the CSA I participated in a few years back. Also, this Martha Stewart recipe is pretty similar.


2 1/4 C pumpkin puree, divided
2 C bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 C unsalted butter (half a stick)
1/2 onion, diced 
8 oz. mini portabella mushrooms, sliced
10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
1 C chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 C heavy cream
scant 1 C grated Parmesan cheese, divided, plus more for garnish. 


Place the flour in a bowl and add the salt and nutmeg. Whisk to combine. 

Dump flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Place the pumpkin puree and 1/2 C parmesan in the well and begin incorporating the flour into the pumpkin. Once the dough is starting to come together, knead a few times. 

Divide dough into six equal sized pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a cylinder, about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into pieces, about 1/2 inch long (doesn't have to be exact, just think of it as making gnocchi the size you want to eat - keep in mind the will expand a bit in cooking). Cover the dough you're not using and any cut gnocchi pieces with a clean towel to prevent anything from drying out. You can further mold the pieces or press with the tines of a fork to make lines - none of this is necessary, unless you're trying to make the gnocchi look prettier. 

Fill a large stock pot with water (about 6 qts), add salt and bring to a boil. Drop in the gnocchi and stir once so they don't all stick to the bottom. When they float to the top (after about 2 min), use a slotted spoon to remove them and place them in a colander over a bowl.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and sage and cook a few more minutes, until mushrooms are starting to release liquid and cook a bit. Add the remaining 1/4 C pumpkin puree, broth, cream and 1/4 C Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Add the cooked gnocchi to the skillet and stir to coat. Spoon onto plates or bowls and finish with extra Parmesan  salt, pepper, nutmeg and sage.