Sunday, May 29, 2011

Restaurant Review :: Everest on Grand

When it comes to certain restaurants, I'm a creature of habit.  Everest on Grand is one of these places.  This restaurant gem is on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, right in between Lexington and Hamline.  It's a small, quaint place serving Nepali/Tibetan/Indian food featuring lots of cilantro (yay!) and they even have yak meat on the menu.  When they offered up a Groupon for their delicious food, I immediately snapped it up and proceeded to wait until the very last day to redeem.  Thankfully, Leigh and I got there for our work lunch before the HUGE Groupon rush.  Usually it's pretty quiet, especially for lunch, but it was a crazy fest that day.  Luckily I knew exactly what I was going to order.

We started out with vegetarian dumplings of the deep-fried variety.  They are called Kothe, which is a deep-fried dumpling stuffed with a mixture of vegetables (or chicken or yak!), onions, cilantro, and delightful spices.  It was served with this amazing sauce on the side that perfectly complemented these little deep-fried pieces of heaven.  I did not intend on eating my entire half of the serving, but I just couldn't stop and after about 5 minutes, the plate was totally empty!  These dumplings are just too good.

I ordered my favorite main dish as well -- palak paneer.  Sometimes I feel bad not mixing it up at my favorite restaurants and trying some new things, but if you have the option of eating something this tasty, why would you NOT order it?!  I love the palak paneer.  A creamy mix of spinach, spices, blocks of paneer (which is a cheese), with some tomato and cilantro as a garnish.  Mmmmm, LOVE it.  I spoon a generous serving of palak paneer over a bed of rice and chow down!  The best part is that the portions are so big, you can take half of it home and eat it for lunch the next day (or dinner that night...). 

Of course, it wouldn't be a full Everest meal without their garlic naan.  A warm, chewy piece of naan bread, sprinkled with bits of garlic AND cilantro.  Tear it into pieces and either use it as another way to eat the delicious palak paneer or just sample it plain.  Either way, it's super good. 

This place rocks.  The food is top notch and the menu is stacked with awesome-sounding meals.  And during the summer, they have outdoor tables so you can enjoy the eats with some Grand Avenue people watching.  I don't know if I'm ever going to venture away from this A+ meal, but I invite you to go and try out something new!  Maybe your comments will inspire me to deviate! 

Everest On Grand Reviews in St Paul

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cheesy Lasagna

I haven't cooked anything in a while...sometimes I just have those weeks.  So tonight I wanted to get back into the kitchen and make something delicious.  I pulled out a recipe I photocopied from my friend's Moosewood cookbook for a super simple lasagna.  I made this dish as is, but I have some ideas for doctoring it up later on.  Maybe a vegetable lasagna with a cheese sauce....or adding some spinach into the mix.  If you feel so inclined, adding meat or using a meat-based sauce would be an option as well.  But even on its own, you get a cheesy, hearty, awesome meal in a snap!

1 regular-sized jar of tomato sauce (I used tomato basil but any variation will do, and use your own discretion as to how much sauce you want in the lasagna when you buy your jar of sauce)
12 lasagna noodles, half cooked or uncooked*
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 lb grated or sliced mozzarella
1/2 cup (or more!) of parmesan, romano, or asiago cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Spread a little of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Cover the sauce with a single layer of noodles (about 4) breaking them as necessary to fit into the bottom of the pan.  Using 1 cup of ricotta/cottage cheese, dot the top of the noodles with spoonfuls of the cheese. 

Then you get to layering!  Layer your ingredients in the following order:  a third of your sauce (about 3/4 of a cup), 1/2 of your mozzarella cheese, another 4 noodles on top, the remaining ricotta cheese, another third of your sauce, the rest of your mozzarella, the last of the noodles, and the last of your sauce!  Top the entire dish with the parmesan/romano/asiago cheese.  You get a layered masterpiece of cheesiness.

Bake for 45 minutes.  Cover loosely with foil if the cheese is browning too fast toward the end.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.  Eat and enjoy!

*Food Tip: The recipe said that uncooked, regular noodles worked great in this dish.  I'm lazy, so I took the recipe at its word and it worked!  The noodles on the very top were a little al dente and chewy, which is perfect for me.  The noodles in the lower layers were perfectly cooked.  So rest assured that you can buy regular lasagna noodles and they'll work just as wonderfully as those no-boil ones!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Restaurant Review :: Cheeky Monkey Deli

I've had a less-than stellar week.  So after a second trip to the vet on Friday with my kitty, Ruby, I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch before I headed back into work.  There are quite a few great options right around my neighborhood - Cafe Latte, Bread & Chocolate, to name a few -- but just a mile away in the Selby & Dale neighborhood there are some awesome places to eat!  One of my faves is Cheeky Monkey Deli

The first thing you notice when you walk in (besides the huge crowd of people clamoring to get the the yummy food) is the giant menus.  Big, colorful, and filled with delicious-sounding sandwiches. 

They serve hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, pressed sandwiches, some salads & soups, desserts, AND wine & beer!  THEY HAVE HAPPY HOUR!!  Don't forget, I love to eat but I also love me some booze drinks.  Anyway.....

After ordering and getting your number, you head over the dining room area to wait.  There are some rows of tables but if you walk a bit further in, it has almost a living room feel.  Big leather couches with coffee tables, a fireplace, and other chair/table combos that you might not expect in a restaurant.  It's comfy, cozy, with a bit of an eclectic flair.  Plus I always love sitting in bustling restaurants surrounded by people who are LOVING their food.  Makes me smile.  And order more.

I ordered my sandwich to go -- a roasted vegetable sandwich with hummus on ciabatta bread.  (Note: pre-veggie Christine also LOVED the ham & brie sandwich!) 

Wow.  WOW.  This sandwich was a-ma-zing.  The roasted vegetables gave the sandwich a smokey flavor that I had been subconsciously craving since that morning (my neighbor was grilling in the morning...JEALOUS).  And the veggies were soft but still had a bit of a crunch to them.  The hummus was the perfect addition, adding it's own smokiness and a creamy texture to the veggie sandwich.  The veggies included some summer squash, red peppers, asparagus, spinach and maybe some tomato and mushrooms.  I honestly couldn't tell -- I ate it so fast!  Check it out -- maybe you'll see some that I missed in my sandwich-eating fervor.

YUM.  Oh it was so yummy.  And it was only $7!!  The perfect way for me to brighten up the end of this blah week.  If you're looking for some seriously awesome and inventive sandwiches in a great spot for a fab price, look no further than Cheeky Monkey Deli.  This entire neighborhood is filled with foodie gems.  Cheeky Monkey Deli is certainly one of them!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

White Chocolate Raspberry Cookies

Apparently in the Twin Cities there is a lawyers summer softball league.  Some of my coworkers create a team each year, and every year I have to remind them that I have absolutely no coordination and I'd only be a liability on their team.  But they have a bake sale at work to raise money for the entry fees, and I happily contribute some baked goods to help!  I can bake....I cannot play softball.  Seriously.

This year I made some white chocolate raspberry cookies from the Big Girls Small Kitchen blog that I've made before and just loved.  They are chewy, tart, and oh-so delicious.  Plus, it's pretty easy to make them!  I adapted the recipe only slightly because I like more raspberry than white chocolate in my cookies, but the original recipe is pretty flawless.  Side note: I've never made anything from BGSK that has NOT been delicious! 

2 cups frozen raspberries
1 tbls sugar

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 stick butter
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 265 degrees.  Spread the raspberries on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 35 minutes, then sprinkle the 1 tbls of sugar over the berries and cook for another 20 minutes. 

Increase oven temp to 350 degrees.

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric mixer for a minute or two until well combined.  Beat in the egg.  Separately, whisk the flour, baking soda, and sat, and add that to the wet ingredients.  Beat until the dough just comes together.  Add the white chocolate chips and stir.  Sprinkle the cooled raspberries on the dough and cut them into the dough with two butter knives. 

Form the dough into tablespoon sized balls and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are set but not very browned.  Cool and enjoy!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bar La Grassa & 112 Eatery FOR THE WIN!

Isaac Becker, the head chef of both Bar La Grassa and 112 Eatery in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, won the James Beard award for his superb cooking and menu-crafting skills.  Well deserved, in my opinion, and many congratulations to Becker!

Becker won "Best Chef" in the Midwest division, beating out two chefs from Wisconsin (ha!) and one from Missouri.  He also beat our other hometown nominee, Lenny Russo, the acclaimed chef of Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul.  TIME Magazine has described the Beard Award as the "Oscars of the food world," and according to the James Beard Foundation's website, this award is the most coveted honor for chefs around the country.  So it makes perfect sense that Becker would be recognized for his amazing efforts at 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa.  I've been to my fair share of restaurants around the Twin Cities, but OMG these two places are the best of the best.  There are menu options at Bar La Grassa that I just can't even comprehend because they are way too delicious.  It seriously blows my mind. 

I haven't been since I started this lil' blog, but I will certainly be going (numerous times) over the course of the next year!  Mmmm I can't wait to try more of Becker's award-winning masterpieces.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Taste Thursday :: Desert Sand Cookies

The last two weeks I haven't found much in the Star Tribune's Taste section that inspired me.  The recipes were either too complicated, took too long, or involved a lot of bacon.  Yesterday though I decided to try out the Desert Sand Cookies from the back page of the section.  It seemed appropriate to get my Scandinavian heritage on for Cinco de Mayo.  Plus it was one of the only recipes in the section that seemed relatively quick and easy. 

I have to admit though, when I got the dough together I was really nervous!  It didn't seem so much like dough as it did, well, a big pile of sand.  (I should have guessed considering the name of the cookie....) But I was sure that I'd made a mistake and that these cookies would not form.  Not to be discouraged I made a test batch.  Those turned out pretty good, so I made the rest of them.  The cookies are actually pretty delicious!  The browned butter added a complex flavor to these cookies that otherwise would have been kind of like shortbread.  They crumble in your mouth much like a cookie made out of sand would, so they are very light and delicate.  Perfect with a cup of tea.  This recipe makes 3 dozen small cookies or 2 dozen medium cookies. 

2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar

Put the butter in a sauce pan and melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Once the butter starts to foam, begin to stir constantly.  The butter will start to brown up pretty quickly so don't go anywhere.  Once the butter is a deep brown color, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature for about an hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combing the flour and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla extract, and the cooled butter.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms.  (Again, it's going to be more like sand than a dough.) 

The recipe says to use teaspoons but I work better with my hands.  So I grabbed about a tablespoon size of the dough and kind of squished it together to form a oval-shaped mound.  Smooth the dough gently so that it doesn't have your palm prints on it!  Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes.  They do not brown much, so do not be worried about that.  Remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.  They are very delicate out of the oven and until they are cooled so be careful. 

After they've cooled, have a taste!  Isn't it like eating a sand cookie (but way better)?  Yum.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quinoa Galettes

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  I had all of these grand plans for a Cindo-de-Mayo themed blog post, but things started to go awry as soon as I left work.  I was going to make some vegetarian enchiladas....but then I didn't feel like going to the store to buy the ingredients.  Then I was going to make some margaritas....but I didn't want to buy tequila because I very rarely drink it.  So THEN I decided I'd just buy some Mexican beer!  But I went into the beer cooler at my liquor store and bought this instead:

BAM!  Brooklyn Lager.  Needless to say, my blog post today has nothing to do with Cinco de Mayo! 

Instead I looked for some ways to use what I already had stocked in my fridge.  I had a bunch of leftover quinoa from the muffins I made last week and I did not want to waste it.  Luckily I found the perfect recipe on one of my favorite food blogs La Tartine Gourmande.  Quick side note: this blog is stunning.  I could stare at the photographs all day long....

One recent post included a recipe for "quinoa galettes" or quinoa patties.  The ingredients looked so simple that I was worried that the patties would end up being bland or need some kind of a side sauce to add flavor.  But wow was I surprised!  These little quinoa patties were delicious all on their own.  The inside of the patties had a creamy quality while the outsides were crunchy and nutty.  So simple and SO GOOD.  This simple recipe makes 12 small patties.  Do yourself a huge favor and try them immediately.

2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped chives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, Gruyere, or I used Romano
1 onion, finely chopped (the recipe calls for yellow or white but I used purple and it turned out fine)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
Extra virgin olive oil

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic.  Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let rest for a few minutes.  Your mixture should be a consistency that allows you to form patties.  If the mixture is too wet, add more bread crumbs.  Too dry, add some water or egg.  It's not going to be a very sticky mixture, but it should stay in a patty form if you mold it together. 

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy pan over medium-low heat.  Add the patties into the pan, about 4 at a time.  Cover your pan (I used foil) and cook for 7-10 minutes, until the patties are a very deep brown.  Carefully turn them and cook another 7-10 minutes until the bottoms are also browned.*

Remove from the skillet and set on a wire rack to cool while you cook the rest of the patties.  Serve them completely plain or with a side salad for a fantastic meal. 

And I haven't forgotten about Taste Thursdays!  I tried making Desert Sand Cookies today from today's paper...not sure how they turned out....stay tuned!

*Food Tip: I had to add more oil in between steps to achieve the desired color in my cast iron skillet.  You might also try increasing the heat.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Friends on Food - Fancy on the Inside

Today has been highly unmotivating and pretty boring, so I thought I'd post a little Friends on Food to raise my spirits! 

Season Two: The One with Two Parties

MONICA: So, I'll get candles and my mom's lace tablecloth, and since it's Rachel's birthday, I mean, we want it to be special, I thought I'd poach a salmon.
ALL: Ohhh.
ROSS: Question. Why do we always have to have parties where you poach things?
MONICA: You wanna be in charge of the food committee?
ROSS: Question two. Why do we always have to have parties with committees?

JOEY: Really. Why can't we just get some pizzas and get some beers and have fun?
ROSS: Yeah.
PHOEBE: Yeah, I agree. You know, I think fancy parties are only fun if you're fancy on the inside and I'm just not sure we are.

***So are you fancy on the inside?!***

Monday, May 2, 2011

Restaurant Review :: Common Roots

This weekend was jam packed with Pet Project Rescue events.  Sunday I went to Urbanimal in Uptown to show off my foster kitty, Storm, and cuddle with some other cutie puppies and kitties who need to find homes.  My foster was adopted by a wonderful family, but it was still a bit of a heartbreaker for me!  My friends met up with me afterwards at Common Roots on Lyndale.  I'd never been there before so I was expecting some warm beverages and maybe a scone or something....I was NOT expecting the plethora of delicious foods they had waiting for me!

First of all, the menu totally rocks.  They have everything from bison tacos to pizzas to soups to desserts.  And after a brief convo with one of the workers, I learned that everything in the entire cafe is made from scratch.  (I tried to get a cookie recipe but was totally denied.)  And after checking out their website, I learned that they rely on local farmers for their produce and use all organic and naturally grown ingredients.  It doesn't get much better than that.

I was starving after a long afternoon so I ordered the Wild Rice Burger.  All I have to say is WOW.  I've had some wild rice burgers in the past but nothing compares to the one at Common Roots.  The wild rice was perfectly cooked and formed into a patty that was dripping with melty cheese.  The burger is served with arugula and an aioli.  The inside of the poppy-seed topped roll is grilled to add a bit of a crunch.  And the burger is served with a side of greens topped with a homemade vinaigrette.  Holy cats this was to die for.  My friend Tasha tried one bite of my burger and she was off to order her own! 

My other friend Rachel tried their soft pretzels.  Mmmmmmm so tasty.  They were hot, chewy, and salty.  The peppery cheese on the side added a welcome kick to these salty morsels.  The pretzels are also on their happy hour menu (yup, they serve beers!). 

But the highlight of our meal?  The chocolate cookies.  O.M.G.  We ordered one to share and it simply was not enough.  It was a chewy, almost brownie-like cookie with chunks of white chocolate and maybe dark chocolate.  The outer edge of the cookie had a bit of substance...almost a crunch...and the inside was just melt-in-your-mouth amazing.  I went back up to the counter and ordered two more.  They were devoured. 

I had no idea that I was missing out on such a wonderful cafe.  The food is amazing and I loved the coffee-shop atmosphere.  I cannot wait to come back for happy hours and for their fab sounding brunch!

Common Roots Cafe Reviews in Minneapolis

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Food for a Good Cause :: Quinoa Muffins

This weekend I volunteered with Pet Project Rescue at the first No-Kill Walk for Animals.  The walk was around Lake Como in St. Paul and participants walked to benefit a local animal rescue of their choice.  I helped out at the Pet Project Rescue booth giving out information and trying not to screw things up.  The weather was NOT going to be good -- rainy and cold -- so the night before I thought I'd bake up a little snack for the fellow volunteers who joined me at 8am!

Oz - a PPR foster pup -- braving the weather with his stylish rain jacket!
Papi enjoying his bone on his muddy blanket!
I found this recipe on Big Girls Small Kitchen and adapted it to meet my refrigerator contents.  The quinoa adds a healthy punch and an amazing texture to these otherwise normal muffins.  I also threw in some raisins for a chewy and sweet kick.  I tripled this recipe to make 24 muffins, but this original recipe makes about 8.

1/4 cup canola oil*
1/2 cup sugar, minus 2 tbls
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and egg.  Beat or whisk until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened.  Add the milk and mix again.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Pour this over the wet ingredients and stir together.  Add the quinoa and raisins and stir to combine.

Divide the batter evenly among 8 muffin cups.  Fill the remaining cups with water to protect your pans.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Eat and enjoy!

*Food Tip: For a richer, denser muffin, substitute all or some of the oil with apple sauce.  And while any neutral oil will work with this recipe, canola oil is rich in Vitamin E and has the lowest amount of saturated fat among all of the cooking oils.  Bonus!