Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pumpkin Seed Pesto & Goat Cheese Crostini

A few weeks ago I took a cooking class at Whole Foods in Minneapolis.  It was such a different experience than the class I took at Cooks of Crocus Hill, but the recipes were just as fantastic.  The class had about 6 people and we all sat at a counter while the instructor cooked right in front of our eyes.  Each of us had the opportunity to participate, which really meant adding pre-chopped ingredients to a pan or stirring!  But it was still a lot of fun and I left with some great cooking tips and a packet of six new and dazzling squash recipes.  This week was my first attempt at recreating one of the recipes: pumpkin seed pesto.  The pesto is nutty and flavorful, and it has a deeper flavor than your traditional pesto. 

In class, we used the pesto to complement a butternut squash soup (excellent idea!), but it would pair equally well with some cooked pasta and chopped basil.  Or you could feature this pesto in my eighth appetizer dish of the season!  (I'm giving myself until the New Year.....not sure if I'm going to make it!)  I ate these crostini for dinner the other night and they were soooooo gooooooooooood.  The biting flavor of the goat cheese paired insanely perfectly with the mellow pesto.  A sprinkling of freshly grated pepper and you will wow your friends with this great app!

Pumpkin Seed Pesto & Goat Cheese Crostini

for the pesto:
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or as much as needed)*

Chop up the pumpkin seeds and walnuts in a food processor.  Add the cheese and pulse until finely chopped.  While the processor is on, drizzle in the olive oil slowly until everything comes together into a loose paste consistency.  Taste and season accordingly.

for crostini:
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
1 large Italian baguette, sliced into 1-inch slices
6 ounces of plain goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Toast the baguette slices on one side for about 5-8 minutes, or until the exposed side is just getting crisp.  Remove from oven and let cool so you can handle the bread.

On each slice (the toasted side), spread on a layer of goat cheese, a little less than a tablespoon's worth.  Then top with a dollop of the pesto.  Sprinkle the crostini with freshly cracked pepper. 

Serve and enjoy!

*A quick word on the oil.  The original recipe from my class called for pumpkin seed oil in this recipe.  When I went to buy it at the store, I discovered that it's about $20 for a small bottle.  Sorry, but that is so not going to happen!!  Later, I realized that walnut oil would probably make a great substitute, but by that time I'd left the store and was set on using my standard olive oil.  You lose some of the depth of nutty flavor by substituting olive oil, but I still liked the floral sweetness that the olive oil brought to the pesto. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

It's been unseasonably warm in Minnesota, so much so that it felt like I was vacationing over the holidays!  Well...that's a bit of a stretch...but I did drive around with the windows down and went on a nice post-Christmas run with my friend Leigh where I was able to break out my spring running jacket again.  But all of this nice weather put a dent in my cooking plans because who wants to make chili when it's really nice out?  I sure didn't.  Today it finally started to cool down and I figured the time was right for me to cook up a big pot of chili and get ready for the inevitable Minnesota chill. 

Inspired by a delicious lunch this summer from one of the food trucks, I thought a lovely sweet potato and black bean chili would be a nice combination.  I also was able to use some of my delicious Red Gold canned tomatoes!  I loved the "chili ready" tomatoes because they were chopped into a larger dice than ordinary diced tomatoes, making them perfect for a hearty chili.  Kudos Red Gold for that inspired version of canned tomatoes!

This recipe requires very little prep work, so it's easy to throw together after work or when you're trapped inside because of a snow storm.  (It's going to happen people....)  But don't be fooled by the simplicity of the recipe.  It's hearty and healthy, plus the canned tomatoes and sweet potatoes add some softness to the relatively spicy chili.  Work with these ingredients and add more or less seasonings to suit your taste.  If you have a favorite chili recipe of your own, consider adding in some sweet potatoes and black beans to change it up a bit! 

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
serves about 4 portions

2 tbls vegetable or canola oil
1/2  of a yellow onion, finely chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tbls chili powder
1 tbls cumin
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped onions and saute until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Then add the garlic and sweet potatoes, and saute for another 5 minutes. 

Add in the chili powder and cumin and stir to coat the vegetables in the spices.  Pour in the vegetable stock and using a spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to get all of the spices off the bottom.  Add the two cans of tomatoes and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer covered for 10 minutes. 

Add the beans to the pot, and check for seasonings.  Add salt & pepper at the time if you need it.  Cover and let simmer for another 10 minutes.  Recheck for seasonings and serve. 

I topped my chili with about a tablespoon of freshly chopped cilantro for a bit of freshness.  You can also serve with sour cream or slices of avocado.  It's delicious.  DELICIOUS!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friends on Food :: Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  Although this quote doesn't have much to do about food, it's still one of my favorite holiday episodes of Friends.  So happy holidays from me to you.  And the Holiday Armadillo!
Monica: Wow, come in, have a seat. You must be exhausted coming all the way from…Texas.
Ben: Texas?
Ross: That's right, Ben. I'm Santa's representative for all the southern states. And Mexico!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Seventh Day of Appetizers: Endive Ricotta Spoons

Happy Christmas Eve eve everyone!  Keeping in line with my last post, this is another fresh and easy appetizer to serve at any holiday party.  I love using the endive leaves as serving "spoons" for the ricotta cheese and raisin mixture.  It looks impossibly elegant and it saves on some dish washing.  And because I don't have a dishwasher in my kitchen, I'm always looking for ways to cut down on dish washing!  The combination of the creamy ricotta cheese and the salty-sweet raisin topping is quite tasty.  Because the dish is so simple, be sure to use quality ricotta cheese and olive oil.  I served this appetizer years ago at an annual Secret Santa party that I have with my girlfriends from St. Olaf, and it was a hit!  Our party this year is going to be after Christmas to accommodate our busy holiday and travel schedules, but I might just bring this one back into my appetizer rotation and see what kind of twists I can think of now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen!   

Endive Ricotta Spoons
from Real Simple, Nov. 2007
serves 6-8

1/2 cup, roasted unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tbls chives, chopped
3 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 endive
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

Combine almonds, raisins, chives, olive oil, salt, & pepper in a small bowl. 

Trim the ends of the endive and separate the leaves.  Arrange the leaves on a plate so that the "scoop" side is facing up.  On the core side of the endive leaf, place a dollop of ricotta cheese.  Then top the ricotta with a spoonful of the almond mixture.  Repeat until out of endive or out of mixture.  Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Gift Jars :: Cookies!

One night last week, I pumped up the holiday music, grabbed myself a beer, and danced around the kitchen while making these completely adorable holiday cookie jars for some friends and family for holiday gifts!  It's really an inspired gift (if I do say so myself), because don't you often find yourself craving a delicious homemade cookie but lacking the energy to pull a recipe together?  And while some of the bags or boxes of cookie mix can be a decent fix, there's really nothing like homemade.  So this is a way to give someone the best of both worlds: a quick cookie fix that offers all of that homemade flavor!  Plus, who wouldn't want to get holiday cookies that they can enjoy in January or February, after the mountains and mountains of cookies have been eaten?! 

I snagged this gem of a recipe from the Bakerella website -- genius!   Here's what you need in order to create these cookie gifts.

1 quart glass jar (I found mine at Target)
1 1/3 cup of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooking oats
3/4 cup red and green M&Ms
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped pecans (*I didn't have room for these in my jars!!!)

Then using a funnel, or a make-shift funnel from parchment paper, put the ingredients into the jar as follows:

Flour/Baking Powder/Baking Soda/Salt
Cooking Oats
Chocolate chips
Brown Sugar
White Sugar
Pecans, if there's room!

Be absolutely sure to pack each layer down as much as possible!  I used a ladle that fit into the jars to jam each layer as much as I could before adding the next layer. 

Now you have to tell the recipient how to bake these cookies!  You can find a handy PDF file with the instructions already printed for you at the Bakerella website.  All you need to do is print, cut, and tape. Done! But if you want to hand write the instructions or make your own handy set of directions, this is what you need to include:

Stir all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Then add:
1 slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup butter (melted slightly in the microwave)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Then roll the cookie dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, place on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. You should get about 2 dozen cookies.

Attach the instructions and dress up your holiday jar with ribbons or holiday stickers!  Everyone will love these jars filled with cookie love!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sixth Day of Appetizers: Vegetable Spring Rolls

I know, I's December 21st and I'm only on my sixth appetizer. I blame a wicked bout of food poisoning this weekend that thwarted all of my plans to cook, bake, and be merry. Seriously. Food poisoning is one of the worst ailments I could be afflicted with! FRUSTRATING! I'm trying to get back on my feet so I decided to post an appetizer recipe that my friend and I made at the appetizer "party" we had a few weeks ago.  Spring rolls are really fun to put together -- you can make them with whatever vegetables you prefer and because the skins are quite translucent, you can use the veggies to make pretty patterns on the outside of the spring rolls.  This appetizer could be a great, fresh starter for a heavy holiday meal.  Or you could serve these spring rolls as part of a New Year's party platter.  Either way, yum!

Crisp Vegetable Spring Rolls
makes about 8-10 spring rolls

1 package of spring roll skins
1 package of very thin rice noodles (sometimes called vermicelli noodles or rice sticks)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
2 avocados, cut into thin slices
1 bunch of cilantro, washed and stems removed
1 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2-3 limes
1 cup of crushed peanuts

*You could also use red or yellow peppers, Thai basil, a dash of soy sauce, or anything really!

Prepare all of your veggies so the spring roll assembly will be easy and quick!  Cut the limes into quarters so they are ready to squeeze.  Prepare the noodles according to the package directions, then rinse under cold water and set out next to the vegetables. 

Prep the spring roll skins according to the package directions, which usually requires you to soak the skin briefly in warm-to-hot water.  I use a pie pan to soak the skins in; that way you don't have a greater risk of tearing or otherwise messing up the spring roll skins. 

Once the skin has soaked, place it on a flat surface and assemble your vegetables.  Start with some avocado, then noodles, then carrots and cucumbers, and top with cilantro leaves.  Then squeeze a bit of lime juice over the veggies and sprinkle some peanuts on top.  Roll up the spring rolls like an egg roll, but be sure to do it super tightly!  Repeat until done!  You can serve the spring rolls in their entirety, or cut them into smaller pieces. 

We taste-tested the spring rolls with a peanut sauce I found on the blog Two Peas in Their Pod.  I didn't have all of the ingredients, so I changed it around a bit!  All you need for this sauce is:

Freshly grated ginger to taste (about a tablespoon suited my tastes)
2 cloves grated garlic
2/3 cup water
½ cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1½ tablespoons sugar 

Heat the water over medium heat, then add all of the ingredients and whisk together well.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and let simmer for 5 minutes. If the sauce doesn't thicken, whisk for one minute over medium heat.  Pour into a dish and serve alongside the spring rolls!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cookie Swap Update and Easy Garlic Tomato Pasta

Last week I left for the Key West wedding of one of my best friends, Amie.  It was five amazing days filled with sunshine, the ocean breeze, tropical drinks, flip flops, and wedding bliss.  Amie and her now-husband Joe have the kind of romantic-comedy love that nobody thinks is truly possible in real life.  But it is!  And I was so happy to be a part of this wonderful destination wedding! 

Returning to a Minnesota winter was made a little bit easier by the fact that I had magically gotten a bit of a tan while in Florida (if you know me but at all, you know that I don't tan -- I burn).  And I had my mail on hold while I was gone, so I was also looking forward to the three dozen cookies that awaited me when I got home from work on Monday. 

But before opening up the packages of cookies, I felt compelled to make myself a home cooked dinner after five straight days of eating out.  Plus, being a vegetarian that doesn't eat fish is extraordinarily difficult in an island setting, and I actually didn't eat much on the trip!  So I whipped together a super easy and SUPER delicious garlic tomato pasta using some more of the canned tomatoes that the wonderful people at Red Gold Tomatoes sent to me! 

1 pound of fresh pasta
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used Wild Tree's spaghetti sauce seasoning, but any Italian mix of dried herbs would work just as well)
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add a handful of salt and drop in the pasta.  Cook according to the package directions. 

While you wait for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the chopped garlic.  Saute for about a minute, then add the tomatoes and seasoning.  Stir occasionally, and let the tomato mixture cook for about 5 minutes or until your pasta is done. 

Using tongs, add the pasta right from the pasta water to the tomato mixture.  Stir everything together, and heat over medium heat for another minute or two.  Taste for seasonings and serve. 


Once I was finished eating my yummy pasta dish, I started eyeing those cookies again!  I lucked out and received a variety of cookies that I loved for very different reasons.  First up: Ginger Spice Cookies from Lisa of Tequila Cupcakes

I love ginger cookies, but I am not a huge fan of ginger snaps.  I love soft, chewy cookies, and these ones from Lisa really hit the spot!  If you are looking for a tasty ginger cookie recipe, check out her blog!  I next opened up an adorable little box of Coconut Macaroons with Bittersweet Chocolate from Sara of The Little Bite

I adore coconut cookies and these tasty morsels were perfection.  The recipe seems foolproof -- you should really check it out!  And my last cookie package was a big bag of Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti from Anita at Confessions of a Foodie

I loved the subtlety of the chocolate flavor and the bright green bits of pistachio dotted along the biscotti cookies.  I so wanted to enjoy these cookies with a cup of tea, but I was too impatient to wait for the water to boil!  Yum yum yum. 

Overall, it was so much fun to send out my bon bon cookies to food lovers around the country, and it was equally as fun to receive people's handmade cookies!  Interested in participating next year?  Check out this link and sign up to receive updates!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fifth Day of Appetizers: Cheese Straws

I don't know about you, but the proximity of Christmas is starting to make me nervous.  Not only am I only on my fourth fifth appetizer of the season, but I add a new gift recipient to my list every day and I still haven't done any shopping.  Talk about holiday stress!  Thankfully my calendar is clear from now until the holidays, so I can get some cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, and maybe even some ice skating crossed off the list. 

For today, I'll just focus on my next appetizer -- these tasty cheese straws that have a little bit of a kick to them!  I made them one evening with my friend Leigh and she described them perfectly as slightly spicy Cheez-Its.  I couldn't believe how easy it was to make these cheese straws, and they were quite the hit even at work the next morning!  The combination possibilities are endless as well, and I'm thinking an asiago/rosemary cheese straw could be great party snack.  You can make them in advance and set them out in pretty glasses for people to take as they please.  And trust me -- they will take them!

Spicy Cheese Straws
perfectly wonderful as is
from smitten kitchen

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half-and-half (we used 2% milk and it worked just fine)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.  (We also used the food processor to grate the cheese, using the grater attachment.) 

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into thin strips at your desired length, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide.  Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them.  (They will puff up!) 

Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

Arrange in a pretty glass and serve at room temperature.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Exchange!

This year I participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!  The premise seemed simple enough -- it was basically an extended, cross-country version of your traditional cookie exchange.  Oh how I loved it when my mom participated in cookie exchanges during the holidays.  We'd come home one day and there would be plates and plates filled with exotic-looking cookies for us to eat.  To this day, every Christmas I tell my mom to make these elusive cookies that I swear we had during a cookie exchange.  There was chocolate, maybe some peanut butter, and chow mein noodles.  I hope to someday find the recipe for this mysterious cookie.

But back to the present-day cookie swap!  Two food bloggers organized an extraordinary cookie exchange between 625 food bloggers in the U.S. and even, I think, in other countries.  We had to commit to making and sending one dozen cookies to three different food bloggers.  Then all of the recipes would be posted simultaneously today!  But choosing the right recipe would be a challenge.  Many of my favorite holiday cookies need to stay chilled and were inappropriate for this cross-country exchange.  So my mom and I went through her traditional holiday cookies and we settled on one of my top 5 cookies for the holidays: the bon bon cookie.  It's an adaptation from an old Betty Crocker recipe, and my 1989 version of that cookbook had already eliminated it from the recipe selection.  I decided to keep the recipe alive, so I baked my cookies and shipped them off to Los Angeles, Colorado, and Florida care of:

Nick @ Macheesmo
Nicole @ Sweet Peony
Leann @ Taste & Travel

I've been out of town for the last five days, so I'm excited to get my three dozen cookies from around the country once I finally get my mail.  Just what I need after a Florida vacay -- cookies :)  So for those of you looking for an easy holiday cookie recipe, or for those of you who received my cookies and want to know the secret behind the magic, here you go!  And I really really hope they turned out well for you!  Check back later for an update on the cookies I received from the swap!

Happy Holidays!

Bon Bon Cookies
adapted from Betty Crocker
makes about 24 cookies

for the cookies:
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla (yes, tablespoon!)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tbls cream

for the glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbls cream
1 tsp vanilla
colored sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer and mix the butter, vanilla, and sugar.  Add the flour and salt and mix again.  At this point, my mother always adds a little dash of cream.  If your dough is dry, you can add even more, up to two tablespoons.

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are just turning light brown.  Let the cookies cool on a cooling rack.

In the meantime, mix up the ingredients for the glaze (except the sprinkles).  Once the cookies have cooled, dip the tops of them into the glaze and let them sit on a pan covered in parchment paper.  Sprinkle the cookies with the colored sprinkles.  Refrigerate the cookies for about an hour so the glaze will set.  Eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fourth Day of Appetizers: Tomato Ricotta Toasts

A few weeks ago, I received a super exciting email and I've been waiting anxiously to share it on my blog.  Someone from Red Gold tomatoes contacted me about entering a blogger contest of theirs, which in and of itself was exciting and obviously I entered without a moment's hesitation.  But THEN, they asked if I would like a little gift basket of their tomato products to test out in my recipes!  I was beyond thrilled!

I love cooking with canned tomatoes.  In fact, more often than not, I prefer it.  I always have a dozen cans of various tomatoes in my pantry: diced, crushed, whole, tomatoes with basil, pureed, and sauce.  Why?  Well, the tomatoes at your local market that are grown out-of-state are usually grown to withstand transport.  They have thicker skins and sturdier flesh and just don't taste very tomato-y.  They lack the juicy, sweet flavor of a homegrown tomato.  So if I'm not buying my tomatoes at the farmers' market, I'm usually using canned tomatoes because they are picked at their freshest and canned right away to capture the delightful essence of the tomato.  I was eager to try Red Gold's tomatoes in my recipes. 

My first test of the Red Gold tomatoes was with my fourth appetizer recipe of the holiday season: tomato ricotta toasts.  When doing a minimalist recipe that calls for only a few ingredients, make sure those ingredients are quality.  I purchased some homemade ricotta from Whole Foods, a freshly baked baguette, and the sweet-tasting, diced tomatoes provided by Red Gold.  The outcome was an easy but tasty appetizer recipe that I actually quite enjoyed for dinner last night -- warm, toasted bread; creamy ricotta cheese; and the tomatoes were wonderful -- sweet, juicy, and flavorful. 

I also just realized that this is my 100th blog post!  So fitting that it features bread, cheese, and tomatoes, my three favorite things.  I've loved working and eating my way through the last 100 posts -- I can't wait for the next 100!

Tomato Ricotta Toasts
serves about 6-8 as an appetizer

One large baguette or Italian loaf, sliced into one-inch slices
1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
~ 2 cups of ricotta
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Brush the bread slices lightly with extra virgin olive oil and place on a grill or grill pan for about 5 minutes, or until the one side of bread has nice grill marks.  Don't toast the other side!

Once the bread has toasted, place a thick layer of ricotta cheese on top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Then place a heaping spoonful of diced tomatoes on top of the cheese.  That's all!  Eat and enjoy this simple but delicious appetizer!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Third Day of Appetizers: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms

I'll admit, up until about a year ago, I would not eat a mushroom.  My only exposure to mushrooms were the little button mushrooms on salads and, let's be honest, those are not the best advocate for the mushroom community.  After trying a sauteed cremini mushroom, I was hooked, and I've slowly come to appreciate all kinds of other mushrooms.  So when I saw this appetizer on the smitten kitchen website, I knew I had to try it immediately.  I had an appetizer-cooking party with my friend Leigh and sadly the market only had a half of a pound of mushrooms.  We took those down, with the help of her mushroom-loving seven-year old son, in about five minutes.  Delicious.  The mushrooms are earthy, have an amazing texture, and the garlic butter and lemon juice just adds this extra punch of flavor that deepens and brightens these mushrooms.  Just be sure to cook a whole pound.  Maybe two!

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
only slightly adapted from smitten kitchen
serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 2-3 as a side dish

1 pound of cremini mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp towel with the ends trimmed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter, chopped into pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
juice from about a half of a lemon
a handful of a chopped green herb of your choice

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a baking dish, toss the mushrooms, garlic, salt & pepper, and oil together.  Top the mushrooms with the butter and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Top with lemon juice and the herbs of your choice, and serve! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies!

I both adore and despise holiday shopping.  I want to find everyone on my list the absolute perfect present, but of course nobody will give you a straight answer about what they truly want.  (Unless it's my sister, and no I will NOT buy you those ugly shoes!)  The key to buying a great Christmas gift is really just to know the person well enough to anticipate what they might use.  Is your dad a runner who lives in Minnesota?  Some great winter running gloves could be useful.  Is your friend an obsessive reader?  Try a book embosser (I love mine!).

But shopping for a foodie can be a challenge.  On the one hand, there is no shortage of wonderful cooking shops, neat pantry items, random utensils, or fabulous cookbooks to buy.  And no food lover has everything they could possibly need for their kitchen.  But on the other hand, so much of this stuff can come with a hefty price tag!  Being a foodie can be expensive.  There is no need to break the bank when it comes to holiday shopping for your food-loving friend.  Snoop around their kitchen to see what might be missing and then check out my top five picks for great food-themed gifts available right here in the Cities. 

1.  Minnesota Themed Gift Basket from Golden Fig

I love the Golden Fig store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  Over 70% of the items sold in the store are Minnesota made.  Golden Fig sells all kinds of intriguing spices, spice packets for making dips, locally-made snack items, and Minnesota-themed cookbooks.  But my favorite thing about this store is that they will put together a gift basket for you based on any price range and any theme.  Consider getting your favorite foodie friend a Minnesota-themed gift basket.  The photograph above is one such basket, and it has candy, honey, chocolate bars, chips & salsa, and some of the Golden Fig specialty spices.  But there are so many things to choose from that you can custom-make a basket to suit your friend's likes.  Even a non-foodie would appreciate this basket of deliciousness!

2. Fun Aprons

An apron is one of those cooking tools that every kitchen needs but that people are unwilling to buy themselves.  It's almost an afterthought for many people!  I would have never purchased my own apron, but I've received two awesome ones as gifts.  You can go for a plain, colorful apron, or something a little more fancy with ruffles and pretty patterns.  I have both!  You can check out Cooks of Crocus Hill, Williams & Sonoma, or even Anthropologie for cute and sturdy aprons.    

3.  The Great Scandinavian Baking Book (or any cookbook!)

As a Minnesotan and a St. Olaf graduate, I have a soft spot in my heart for traditional Scandinavian cooking.  And I truly can't imagine anything better than warming up my kitchen with the aroma of the sweet and savory breads, rolls, and cakes that you will find in this cookbook.  Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth resident who has penned many other cookbooks, all receiving glowing reviews.  This cookbook is no exception.  It's not a new cookbook, but it might just be one of those cookbooks that your friend didn't know they couldn't live without!  (Did that make sense?)

If your friend isn't a big baker, or if your friend already has this cookbook (lucky!), try any one of the other great cookbooks written by Minnesotans.  "The Minnesota Table" is a great cookbook featuring menus and recipes that follow the Minnesota seasons.  It would be a great option for a foodie interested in the locavore movement.  You can find tons of great Minnesota cookbooks at places like the Golden Fig, Common Good Books, or any other local shop.

4. Cooking Classes


I love taking cooking classes.  It allows me to try out new recipes and feel like a Food Network chef or Top Chef contestant.  I've tried the classes offered at Cooks of Crocus Hill and, more recently, the classes at Whole Foods.  Cooks of Crocus Hill (on Grand and in Edina) offers both passive and participation classes on a wide variety of topics.  The participation classes can run up to $70 or so, but you really do get hands on with the cooking.  At the Whole Foods in Minneapolis, you take classes with a group of about 8 people, and everyone has the opportunity to try their hand at a part of a recipe.  I liked the intimate setting, but you do sacrifice some of the participation.  Those classes are about $30.  Giving a gift certificate for a cooking class is a wonderful holiday gift!  And you know what would make it better?  If you went to the class with your foodie friend!  (You get to eat everything that is cooked, you know!)

5. Foodie Fight

Are you serious?  A trivia game about food?!  Do I really need to go into why this is such a perfect gift for a foodie friend?  I didn't think so.  I saw this game when I was shopping at Bibelot and fell in love.  The only challenge for you in giving this gift will be suffering an epic defeat when your foodie friend wants to play the game!

Do you have any other ideas for holiday gifts for the foodie on your shopping list?  Leave 'em in the comments!  Happy shopping everyone!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bolognese Fake Out

The other night I was flipping through my mountains of cookbooks, searching for inspiration, when I saw a recipe from Barefoot Contessa for a "weeknight bolognese" dinner.  In fact, I had been trying to get a good angle on some new uses for canned tomatoes (more on this later!), so this recipe just called out to me.  I love cooking with canned tomatoes because they are so flavorful and easy to cook with.  And as an avid runner, I am always in the market for a new pasta dish!  This recipe is one step up from an earlier tomato sauce post, but it's just as simple and delicious.

Originally, I had intended to just omit the beef that the recipe called for, because it seemed easy enough.  But when I opened my freezer, I saw some "crumbles" that I had purchased a few months ago from Quorn.  According to my friend, and confirmed by the website, the principle ingredient of Quorn isn't soy, it's actually a form of fungi that is high in protein and low in fat.  Sounds odd, but I threw in some of those crumbles to my cooked sauce and I had a thicker, richer, and healthier sauce.  Triple bonus!  Of course, you can omit the Quorn completely and you'll have a delicious pasta sauce, or you can cook it with beef according to the original recipe.  But I happened to love my bolognese fake out, and I think you will too! 

Pasta Bolognese Fake Out (Vegetarian Bolognese)
adapted from Barefoot Contessa
serves 4-6

2 tbls olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls dried oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more if you like more heat)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 cup Quorn frozen "beef" crumbles
1 box of short pasta (small shells or orecchiette work well)
1/4 cup cream
Dash of nutmeg
Salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add in the olive oil.  Allow the oil to heat up a bit, then add in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  Saute until the garlic is fragrant, then add the crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock.  Season with salt and pepper.  Allow the sauce to come up to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water up to a boil.  Salt the water liberally, then cook the pasta according to the packaged directions.

Add the Quorn to the sauce and stir to heat up the crumbles.  After a few minutes, stir in the cream and nutmeg, and taste for seasonings.  Add more salt and pepper if needed. 

When your pasta is finished cooking, drain and add to the pan of sauce.  Stir to coat. 

Serve up the pasta, and top each plate with some grated Parmesan cheese and basil if you have any on hand.  Enjoy this classic pasta fake out!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Second Day of Appetizers: Gougeres

It's the "Second Day of Appetizers" this holiday season on Ruminations on Food, and I bring you a great recipe that I ripped (literally) from the Star Tribune taste section.  Gougeres are bite-sized, airy cheese puffs that make a great appetizer for any gathering or meal.  The recipe is pretty simple and my favorite part about gougeres is that you can make them ahead of time and pop them in the oven for five minutes before serving.  Easy.  And cheesy.  The puffs hollow out as they bake, so this is also a light snack that won't fill up your stomach before the big meal.  I brought mine to my family's Thanksgiving dinner up in Osakis.  The pumpkin pie I made was a disaster, so I was glad I had these little guys to fall back on!

adapted from the Star Tribune
makes about 36 puffs

8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.* 

In a medium sauce pan, heat the butter, water, and salt over medium heat.  Once the butter has melted and the mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and add the cup of flour all at once to the liquid.  Begin stirring immeidately with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together into a ball of dough.  Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring for another minute, until a light film begins to coat the bottom of the pan. 

Scrape the dough into a larger bowl and beat with a mixer for about a minute to cool it off.  Reserve about a tablespoon of the beaten egg for later, and add in the rest of the egg mixture to the dough in four parts, beating after each addition until the egg has completely incorporated. 

Add in one cup of the cheese, the mustard, and pepper, and stir until well blended.  Then you may either use a tablespoon to measure out the dough, or put the dough into a large plastic bag and snip one of the corners off.  Then use the bag like a pastry bag and squeeze out little bits of dough onto the pan. 

Using a pastry brush, dot each dough mound with a bit of the reserved egg mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake another 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the reserved cheese on top of the puffs.  Put back into the oven for a minute to set the cheese.  Then let cool for a bit, but serve warm.  If you are baking in advance, let cool completely and store in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for up to a month.  Reheat at 350 degrees for about five minutes. 

Serve and enjoy!

*I ran out of parchment paper and tried just greasing the pans with cooking spray.  It made it hard to form the dough into little puffs because it kept sliding around.  Go with the parchment paper!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Friends on Food :: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  To celebrate this holiday of thanks and gratitude, I thought I would post a Thanksgiving-themed Friends on Food.  There are so many great Thanksgiving episodes to choose from, but I opted for the one with a cameo by Brad Pitt.  He's just as delicious as Thanksgiving dinner :)  Have a wonderful holiday everybody!

Season 8 - The One with the Rumor

Will: Look at her standing there with those yams.  My two greatest enemies Ross: Rachel Green and complex carbohydrates!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Puree & Salty Pumpkin Seeds

We just had our first Minnesota snowfall of the season and upon seeing that first bit of snow, I immediately starting longing for sweatpants, flannel, hot cocoa, and Christmas music.  I adore winter, even these Minnesota winters!  And if you know me but at all, you know that my fondness for winter comes with a dislike of summer.  It's true!  Give me December over July any day.  So this Saturday night, I finally decided to tackle the three sugar pumpkins I bought a few weeks ago at the St. Paul Farmers' Market.  It seemed fitting for the snowy occasion! 

It's so incredibly easy to break down a pumpkin into fresh puree and, bonus, you get to roast the seeds into salty deliciousness!  Fresh pumpkin can really make a difference in your pumpkin recipes, so buy a sugar pumpkin at your local farmers' market or co-op and try out these recipes.  (Note: don't use a regular Halloween pumpkin for baking -- make sure you buy a sugar pumpkin.  They are a little smaller than your typical carving pumpkin.) 

I'll be cooking with the pumpkin puree all winter long, and so can you!

Baked and Pureed Sugar Pumpkin
Depending on the size of the pumpkin, you can get 2-5 cups of pureed pumpkin.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Carve out the stem of the pumpkin using a pairing knife.  Cut off the seeds from the top and put them into a large bowl. 

Then, chop the entire pumpkin in half using a large, sharp knife.  Next, using a large spoon, scrape the stringy parts and seeds out of the pumpkin, and put all of that into your bowl.  Getting out all of the insides might require some muscle...really scrape it out! 

Once you have a cleaned pumpkin, place the halves as best you can into a baking dish, cut side down.  Fill the baking dish with about 1/2 inch of water.  Bake the pumpkin until the skin is easily pierced with a fork. 

Once the skin is browned and the pumpkin is tender, remove the pan from the oven and let the pumpkin cool, still cut-side down, until you can handle it easily.  Then, scrape the pumpkin off of the skin using a spoon.  It should come right off without any problems. 

Once you've collected all of the pumpkin flesh, puree it in batches in a food processor or blender.  I measure out two cups of pureed pumpkin and put them into freezer bags.  Stash them in the freezer until you're ready to cook! 

Salty Pumpkin Seeds

While the pumpkin is cooking, start on the seeds.  Using your fingers, separate the seeds from the stringy bits and throw those bits away, keeping the seeds in the bowl.  Once you've gotten most of the insides separated, rinse the seeds and try to remove the rogue bits of pumpkin. 

Put the seeds back into the bowl and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Then add whatever salty flavors you want.  You could try Lawry's seasoning salt, a bit of cayenne pepper, or go sweet and add cinnamon and sugar. 

Roast the seeds at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning them about half way through the cooking.  I roast mine a little longer because I like them super browned. 

Let the seeds cool before putting them in an airtight container.  Try not to eat them all at once!! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Twelve Days of Appetizers :: Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade

Ah the holidays.  Such a wonderful time filled with friends, family, joy, and the inevitable panic and stress associated with hosting a holiday gathering.  As a vegetarian, I gravitate now toward the appetizer table and fill in the gaps with some slices of pie.  Yum.  And even outside of a holiday party, I often will choose an appetizer to be my main course at a restaurant, or I'll have "app night" and make all snacky foods for dinner.  YUM.  But surprisingly, the recipe page of my blog is lacking in available appetizers.  And for those of you gearing up for the holidays, that just won't do!  So I present to you: The Twelve Days of Appetizers!  I will try my hardest to post twelve stellar appetizer recipes so that you can have a large variety to choose from come your holiday party. 

A quick disclaimer: some of these I will have made in the past and therefore I won't have any pictures of the final dish to share.  But I'll throw in some other pictures, just for added intrigue!  And the First Day of Appetizers is one such recipe.  Instead of a partridge in a pear tree, feast your palates on this delicious roasted red pepper tapenade!  It's easy to make and calls for a lot of things that you might have standard in your pantry.  I call on this recipe whenever I need a quick dip to share, and it's red so it's perfect for the holidays!

Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade
serves a party of about 8-10 as an appetizer

1-16oz jar roasted red peppers, drained & chopped
1-6oz jar marinated artichokes, drained & chopped (if marinated in oil, reserve the oil)
1 cup minced cilantro
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil (or the olive oil from the marinated artichokes)
1/3 cup capers, drained
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 tbls fresh lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste

Throw all of the ingredients into a food processor, process until slightly smooth.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Spoon into a bowl and serve with toasted baguette slices or flatbread!

See -- told you it was easy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweet & Sour Tofu

Tofu can be a bit of a mystery for some people, myself included.  But I started eating tofu in stir fry and other noodle dishes even before I went all veggie.  Tofu really sucks up the flavor of whatever you are serving, and if you fry it up, the crispy outsides may even be a welcome change of pace from a traditional meat dish.  I don't cook with tofu all that often, only because I haven't taken the time to really figure out great ways to serve it.  But this recipe gets gold stars on many accounts: it's easy to make, the ingreidents are probably already in your kitchen, and it is delicious.  I make mine extra saucy and serve it up over a bed of rice, or in this case, quinoa.  If you try it, I really think it could change your mind about the benefits of tofu!  Yum.

 Sweet & Sour Tofu
serves 2 portions
adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen

1 block of firm tofu
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup of honey or brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
extra virgin olive oil

Remove the tofu from the packaging and cut it into 1-inch slices.  Place paper towels underneath and on top of the sliced tofu and press down to extract the liquid.  Repeat if necessary until the tofu is quite dry.  Then slice the tofu into 1-inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in a plastic bag filled with the flour until evenly coated.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, honey, white wine vinegar, ginger and garlic.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, coat the bottom of the pan with a drizzle of olive oil.  Once warm, place the tofu in the pan in an even layer.  (Do this in batches if you have a small skillet.)  When that side is golden brown, flip the tofu around to brown all of the sides.  When the tofu is browned, add the sauce to the pan, shaking the pan to completely coat the tofu.  Keep the pan on the heat until the tofu is coated and the sauce has reduced and thickened.  Serve over rice and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Hobo" Roasted Vegetables

Disclaimer: growing up I had NO idea that my parents called this dish "hobo vegetables."  It was only when I called for some specifics about the recipe that I realized that was the name!  But the unfortunate-sounding name is not indicative of how tasty this veggie side can be.  It was always a treat when I realized that my mom was roasting up her classic carrot/potato/onion side dish for dinner.  I would sometimes open up the oven and sneak a morsel of veggies just because I couldn't wait.  For those dinners, my plate would be half covered in buttery roasted vegetables, ensuring that on those days I satisfied my food-pyramid requirement.  When I studied abroad in Scotland, I had my mom send me a bottle of Lawry's seasoning salt so I could make this dish for my flatmates and enjoy a little bit of home.  It's so simple and so delicious, you should add it into your repertoire immediately. 

Hobo Roasted Vegetables
serves 2-3 as a side dish
from my mother's kitchen!

3 carrots, chopped into rounds
2 medium-sized baking potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 yellow onion, diced into medium-sized pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 teaspoons of Lawry's seasoning salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil to cut down on clean up.  It's buttery!

Put your chopped vegetables on the pan in an even layer.  Break apart the butter with your fingers, and dot the top of the veggies with small pieces of butter.  Sprinkle seasoning salt on top.  Shake the pan to coat the veggies with the salt.  Cover the pan with foil.

Bake for about 30 minutes covered, shaking the pan every so often to mix up the veggies.  Then remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, until the veggies start to brown up.  Remove from the oven and stir around to make sure all the vegetables are coated in buttery, salty goodness. 

Serve and enjoy!

** Food tip: I have a feeling that this side dish would also be astounding with some fennel added to it.  The co-op didn't have a fennel bulb when I went shopping, so I can't say for certain how it would mesh.  If you try it out with fennel or another hearty vegetable, let me know how it goes!**

Also, check out the facebook page for my blog and "like" it if you like good food :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Maple & Butter

Let's face it: brussels sprouts have a bad rep.  I understand the reluctance of a child to try these a child I would barely eat anything, let alone a brussel sprout.  But I have a hard time understanding the aversion of adults, especially those who have never actually tried a brussel sprout, but are hanging on to those childhood fears of new and strange looking vegetables.  C'mon people...if you're old enough to appreciate a good glass of wine or bottle of beer with dinner, you should be able to TRY a decent recipe for brussel sprouts! 

I made this side dish last Thanksgiving for my entire family, and I made a smaller portion, figuring that nobody would really want to try it.  Wow was I wrong.  This brussel sprout dish was the hit of the party!  Family members who have always been wary of brussel sprouts tried and loved the rich flavors and textures.  There are many ways to amp up a traditional roasted veggie dish, and this is one way to impress people with the often-forgotten brussel sprouts.  Now get over yourself and just try it! 

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Maple & Butter
from Vegetarian Times magazine
serves about 8

2 pounds of brussel sprouts, washed & trimmed
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

In a large bowl, toss the brussel sprouts with the olive oil and some salt and pepper (I do about a teaspoon each).  Line a sheet pan with foil and pour the sprouts onto the pan in an even layer.  Bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown, shaking the pan every so often to toss the sprouts.

Once finished baking, place the brussel sprouts into a bowl and toss with the maple syrup and butter.  Taste and season as necessary.  Serve and be ready for compliments!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Crock Pot Enchiladas

For someone who loves to cook as much as I do, I can be surprisingly lazy in the kitchen.  I like to cut down on steps, cut down on utensils, and cut down on time as much as possible because at the end of the day, I wants to eat the food!  Some recipes require time and love in order to turn out right (like my completely from-scratch pumpkin pie, made with a real pumpkin), and I'll take those steps so long as I can balance out my cooking life with a few super simple recipes.  Like these crock pot enchiladas!

Who knew that you could make some pretty tasty enchiladas in a crock pot?  I certainly didn't.  And while they aren't your traditional enchiladas with the delicious and creamy sauce, these faux-enchiladas certainly hit the spot!  The mixture inside is spicy and the tortillas soak up a lot of the salsa juice and become really soft and chewy.  But the outside edges of the enchiladas get super crispy, so you end up with a great balance of textures.  If you're looking for a super simple and quick dinner that doesn't skimp on good flavor, look no further!

Crock Pot Enchiladas
adapted from
makes about 8 enchiladas

2 jars of your favorite salsa (I like using a combo of hot and mild salsa from Salsa Lisa)
1 package of traditional tortillas, at least 8
1 1/2 cups of your favorite shredded cheese
1 15-oz can black beans, drained
1 cup frozen corn
3 scallions, chopped fine
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt & pepper to taste

Set up your crock pot and pour in about a cup of salsa, spreading it around to make an even layer.  In a medium bowl, combine the beans, corn, scallions, spices, and half of the shredded cheese.  Put about a third of a cup of the mixture into a tortilla and roll it up tight.  Place the tortilla seam side down into the salsa-coated crock pot. 

Repeat until you have about three or four squeezed into the crock pot in a single layer.  Pour another cup of salsa over those enchiladas and top with 1/2 cup of cheese.  Then repeat the enchilada-making process to create another layer in the crock pot.  When you get to the last layer, top with salsa but not with cheese.  Heat the crock pot on high for 2-4 hours.

When the enchiladas are done cooking, serve with a sprinkling of cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some chopped cilantro. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pan de Muerto

I haven't posted in over a week (my apologies!) but I'm thrilled to be back with one of my favorite sweet breads of the season -- pan de muerto.  This requires a little bit of a back story.  From junior high through college I regularly took Spanish classes.  Come November, my Spanish teachers would always take a day out of lecture to have a party celebrating Dia de los Muertos, and it became my favorite event of the fall semester.  We would listen to music, decorate masks, and eat the oh-so-delicious pan de muerto to celebrate this day.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and around the world that honors loved ones that have passed away.  People create memorials to honor the dead and spend the day remembering with gatherings and offerings to encourage the departed souls to come back to Earth.  People celebrate with brightly decorated skulls (in obvious contrast to our Halloween celebrations), marigold flowers, and food. 

Overall, it's a wonderful holiday that celebrates life and honors the dead.  One of my favorite parts about Dia de los Muertos is pan de muerto.  This delicious sweet bread is traditionally served during Dia de los Muertos and can be either shaped into a bun or into a skull with colorful sugar decorating the top.  I couldn't get enough pan de muerto during the high school celebrations, and the same is true today!  Not only is this bread completely delicious, but baking it reminds me to honor my friends and family that are no longer with me.  Consider celebrating this great holiday by baking some of your own pan de muerto!

Pan de Muerto
makes one giant loaf of bread
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 packets dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon anise seed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
zest from one orange

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and sugar.  Mix to combine. 

In a small pan, heat the milk, water, and butter until nearly boiling.  Stir the warm liquid and the dry ingredients together until blended.  Mix in the eggs and add remaining flour gradually as needed until the dough is soft and not tacky.  I ended up using about 5 cups of flour total.  Knead the dough on a floured surface for ten minutes.  Place dough in a lightly greased bowl in a warm environment.  Cover.  Allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. 

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a large round.  Add additional molds to the top if desired.  (My "bones" didn't work out well!)  Let the bread rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough on top.  Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown.

In a pan, mix the 1/2 cup of sugar, orange juice, and orange zest.  Heat over medium-high heat and allow to boil for two minutes.  This will make a glaze for the top of the bread.

When the bread is still warm, top with powdered sugar and then brush on the glaze.  Sprinkle colored sugar sprinkles on top in a design if desired.

Eat, enjoy, and happy Dia de los Muertos!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Restaurant Rumination :: Wise Acre Eatery

This weekend I headed over to the Tangletown neighborhood of Minneapolis to check out Wise Acre Eatery with some friends.  I've been wanting to check out this farm-to-table restaurant for some time now, and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.  Except that I shouldn't have waited so long... 

Just on paper, Wise Acre is pretty astounding.  The two owners of Wise Acre are farm boys at heart, and after starting the neighboring Tangletown garden center, they decided to begin a restaurant venture serving meals sourced from their family farm in Plato, Minnesota.  The menu states that the ingredients have been harvested within the last 24 hours from the 130-acre farm, and that is certainly a boast-worthy quality.  You can taste the freshness and the love for the ingredients in every bite.  In fact, my friend said that he'd never had such amazing tasting beef before.  And it wasn't due to any spices or seasonings...the inherent flavor of the food was what delighted him most.  We decided that it was probably because the cows are happy!

The atmosphere itself  is lovely.  It felt warm and friendly inside the small space, complete with a small bar and a spot up front showcasing all of the goodies available for purchase.  (You can buy eggs, canned items, and lots of other great items right from the restaurant!)  We sat outside because the weather was still quite nice and the patio was dotted with large, space heaters to cut down on the chill.  So I could see the hustle and bustle inside, but I was able to enjoy the fresh air with my friends.  Awesome. 

And the food....oh my the food......  Holy stars it was amazing!  To start, I ordered the pickle plate for the table.  I love pickles and will often eat an entire jar in one sitting (not even joking), but pickled veggies are a bit of a question mark.  This plate featured pickled eggs, pickled garlic, and other pickled vegetables, offering enough for a few bites for each of us.  Turns out, I don't mind pickled veggies and I'm now obsessed with pickled garlic!  The pickling wasn't overwhelming so the sweetness of the vegetables really shone through.  I had half a mind to buy a jar of pickled garlic before I left, but I don't want to make a habit out of eating jars of garlic. 

My main course was similarly fantastic: harvest crepe cannelloni.  Sweet and delicious crepes were rolled into cannelloni shapes and stuffed with a ratatouille made with all fresh vegetables.  Served alongside the faux pasta rolls was a great mix of creamy and kerneled corn that was cooked to perfection and some broccoli florets with basil and roasted almonds.  Blew my MIND.  I wish I could say that I tackled my dinner with some restraint, but I had gobbled up everything on my plate before my friends had finished half of their burgers.  I just couldn't help myself.  So I started helping myself to bits off of surrounding plates and was able to try a few more options.  

My four friends ordered some of the burger options, which came with a side of fries and wild rice slaw.  The wild rice slaw could be a meal all on it's own.  Think of a traditional slaw but subtract the often overpowering (but admittedly delicious) dressing, add a subtle sweetness, and throw in hearty grains of wild rice.  You've got yourself a great side!  And in perfect fall fashion, the french fries were served with a homemade pumpkin cranberry ketchup.  Swoon worthy, for sure. 

But hands down, the best part of the meal was the dessert.  We ordered two sundaes, one a traditional brownie sundae with vanilla custard and hot fudge, and one specialty sundae made with rosemary custard and poached pears.  I have no words to describe the amazing deliciousness of this rosemary custard.  Subtle rosemary flavor...creamy custard...happiness all around.  I desperately want more.  The presentation of the sundaes in little, squat jars was cute, but it made it challenging to get at the corners of the brownie tucked at the bottom!  But among friends, messiness is encouraged, and we all made it work!

So if you haven't left for Wise Acre Eatery and you are still reading this blog, shame on you. Go there right now.  The dinner options are fantastic and the breakfast menu is making me very excited. They don't take reservations, but if you have to wait, enjoy the decor (there's an adorable print in the women's restroom!), and contemplate a pickled garlic purchase.  Now stop reading and start eating!