Crunchy local cukes and sliced onions in a potent bath of vinegar and water with salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment to all summer food, as far as I am concerned. The flavor of the freshest mild-skinned early season cucumbers against a headstrong vinegary backdrop awakens the palate and provokes a deeply familiar taste of childhood that brings me right back to the dining room table at my Grandma’s farmhouse. My only addition to this simple recipe-less side from my past is a fluttering electric frizz of fresh dill just picked from the garden and snipped on top. Added sensory bonus: if you bring the leftovers to work and the container opens in your bag, you can smell/smell like the summery parfum of vinegar, onions and dill all day long!
There is something wonderfully comforting about coming home to a warm meal ready to eat without any effort, even if you did in fact make it yourself. No matter what kind of day you had, you can right the wagon when you come home to a crock pot simmering with this warming soup. The spicy aroma seeps out of the cracks of your house, and gives you a warm and welcoming hug before you even walk in the door. I like to put together a crockpot meal the night before the day in my week that most needs fixing. For me, that is Monday. I come home, fling open the door and say “honey, I’m home” and then singsong back to myself in reply, “supper’s ready!” This is a healthy, low fat, plant strong meal. It qualifies for all sorts of healthy eating buzz words: vegetarian, Meatless Monday, vegan, slow carb, plant strong and nutritarian.
- 3 cups of red lentils, inspected on a white plate or platter, debris removed.
- 8 cups of water—really, it’s a soup that does not at all require stock!
- 1 onion, finely chopped.
- 2-3 carrots, grated.
- 1 cup of tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped.
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced.
- 2 Thai chilies, minced. I used dried Thai Dragon chilies from my garden. Something similar is easily available at the grocery store.
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons Garam Masala
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger, or ¼ cup grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds, toasted in a pan on the stove until popping
Optional additions – 1-14 ounce can of coconut milk –totally optional, gives the soup some creamy body, and the spices a place to hang since there is no other added fat included but the soup is lower fat and still wonderfully flavorful without it.
Inspect lentils, chop onion, garlic, fresh ginger (if using) and Thai Chilies and add to liner of your crock pot. Toast mustard seeds and add them along with all other seasonings to the liner of your crock. When you are ready to start the crock, add 8 cups of water and tomatoes. Stir, and cook on low for 6 hours, then stir in coconut milk, if using, and return Dal to a simmer. If you are a Midwesterner, exclaim as Bjorn jokingly did, “its good, Dal garnit!”
Serve warm with Greek yogurt or sour cream to garnish, and warm Naan or Basmati rice on the side.
My red beet hummus and veggie plate is a stunner, if you ask me. This is how it came to be, and how to make it.
A few weeks ago, we ventured out to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. After seeing a few exhibits, we developed a hunger and a thirst. All we wanted was something small, to tide us over to dinner. We ended up sharing the neat little bento box you see above that we bought at Half Pints, a new snack counter aimed at the Institute’s younger crowd. The “Lunch Box” we selected contained a cute little cheese sandwich with broccoli pesto, pear fruit leather and creamy “pink” beet hummus with veggies. We aren’t the 5 year olds this lunch was designed for, but we might as well be, because we thought it was the perfect healthy and satisfying snack along with a big bottle of mineral water. I often make hummus for us to pack up for lunches and snacks at work. We’ve been around the block with regular chickpea hummus, extra garlicky, white bean and purchased roasted red pepper varieties. Discovering beet hummus gave me the inspiration to add some much-needed variety, vibrant color and a unique flavor to our hummus. The result was gorgeous and is just what we need to provide the brightness and potent superfood fuel we need to help us down the last dregs of winter.
- 1 medium or large red or golden beet, scrubbed clean, boiled or roasted, peeled, and cut into chunks. Cook’s note: the brilliant color and slightly stronger flavor of red beet is the boldest, while the golden beet’s color turns out slightly subdued when ingredients are combined and the flavor is also more subtle, unless you double the lemon and garlic, like I did–it was zesty!
- 1 to 2 tablespoons tahini sesame seed paste (optional)
- Juice and zest of 1/2 to 1 lemon
- 1 clove of garlic, minced fine
- 1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 14 ounce can of chickpeas or cannelini beans, rinsed (or dry beans that you’ve picked through and soaked overnight.) When I use chickpeas, I remove their skins so that the hummus will be extra smooth.
- A little water
- Fresh ground pepper and salt
- Optional garnishes: olive oil, cumin or paprika.
Boil or roast and peel the beet, cut it into chunks that will fit in your food processor (I use a Ninja). Pulse beet in processor until smooth, add beans, lemon zest, garlic and cumin and process.
Add tahini (if using) and lemon juice sparingly, one-half teaspoon at a time, pulse hummus until smooth and creamy. Add additional lemon juice or a little water as needed to make the hummus the creaminess you desire. It is best not to go overboard with lemon juice, as the flavor can overpower the beet. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper. Serve with crudites, wedges of pita or crackers. If serving at a party, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with a pinch of cumin or paprika.
It has been bitterly cold and snowy in Minnesota. I am at once craving variety and comforting, old-school Midwestern staples. These individual Nacho “Pot Pies” are comforting, easy to make for meat eaters and vegetarians, and are also a tasty departure from everyday chicken pot pies. I kept the calorie count under control using fat-free Greek yogurt in the creamy pot pie filling instead of cream or half n’ half, and topped them with a small serving of multigrain chips instead of a buttery crust. We thought the texture and flavor were perfect. When served, each person can add nacho toppings as judiciously as they desire. These mini-casseroles aren’t as “fancy” as Day After Thanksgiving Individual Pot Pies with or without turkey, but they are a guaranteed happy meal for a dreary winter week night or a main course at a Superbowl Party.
Nacho Pot Pies, yield 4 Individual Pies, easily doubled
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 a Red Pepper, chopped
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeds removed and minced—add an extra pepper for more heat.
1/2 an Onion, chopped
1-14 ounce can of Black Beans, rinsed
3/4 cup of frozen Corn, thawed
1.5 Tablespoons of Taco Seasoning I use Home-Made Taco Seasoning following the Girl Who Ate Everything’s recipe.
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt
2 Scallions, white parts and just the beginning of the green, diced fine
Tortilla Chips–I used multigrain
Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese to top each Pot Pie
Optional: cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks, 1/3 cup per dish
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat individual 5-inch baking dishes, or a small casserole dish or glass pie plate with cooking spray or oil.
Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, add chopped red pepper and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno, cook one minute until fragrant. Sprinkle taco seasoning and flour, blend together and cook 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then simmer 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir in Greek yogurt, most of the black beans and corn.
Add chicken, or a few extra spoonfuls of baked beans into each dish. Divide filling between individual baking dishes.
Serve with traditional nacho/taco accompaniments: shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced olives, sour cream, sliced avocado, lime wedges and salsa. These are Nacho Grandma’s Pot Pies.
We’ve taken some fabulous trips, for which we are truly grateful. Most recently, we spent the weekend in New York City with Bjorn’s brother Brett. The primary reason for our January weekend get-away was to see the band Self play a show celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the release of the album Subliminal Plastic Motives. Before the show, at my urging we stopped at Katz’s Delicatessen to eat.
Katz’s Delicatessen opened its doors in 1888. When you look around the place, you get the sense of its history. Layers and layers of history are visible in all directions. When something new was added, the old is not necessarily taken away. There is a sense of the place’s age and at the same time, its vitality. This is Americana: a collection of artifacts, related to the history, geography, folklore and cultural heritage and flavors of the United States.
The “must eat” item on the menu at Katz’s is the Pastrami Sandwich on Rye, with mustard and pickles. My husband and brother-in-law were gracious enough to order one, since I’m not into pastrami.
This is a gorgeous sandwich. Pastrami is piled high on perfect slices of rye bread, and finished simply with a schmear of brown mustard. If you say “yes” it will come a side mixed side of pickles–full sour, half sour and tomato. The piquant mixed pickles cut right through the heaviness of the meaty sandwich. Katz’s feeds its share of tourists, but also people who appear to be at home there. It is the iconic deli in the movie When Harry Met Sally.
I tried the Matzo Ball Soup. As promised by my in-advance online reading, that giant Matzo Ball is actually as light as air. A confession: I know this is not vegetarian. That broth glistens with schmaltz. I make no apologies and have no regrets about tasting it.
One of Katz’s slogans is “send a salami to your boy in the army.” This institution has endured more than one World War. It made me think about the generations of people who have worked and eaten here who endured wars, and generations of change, abundance and loss.
I took a trip to the ladies room so that I could look around. Hey! Wu Tang Clan has dined at Katz’s. Many other celebrities and dignitaries photographs line the walls, but Wu Tang was the one I photographed, probably due to the fact that I was at Katz’s with my husband and brother-in-law.
When you walk through the door of the deli, you are handed a ticket. You might not notice it, if it is your first time, but do not lose that ticket! As you pick up items from the various stations at the deli counter, the person who serves you marks each selection on your ticket. You present the ticket to the cashier on your way out the door, they add tax and you pay. If you lose your ticket, you will pay a service charge, you will also leave with a bad taste in your mouth, I would guess.
Katz’s Delicatessen gets hype, but lives up to it. The food is timeless deli fare, and the atmosphere in itself makes it worth the trip to the Lower East Side.If you get a chance to go to Katz’s Delicatessen, you should order the Pastrami on Rye with Mustard. Say “yes” to the pickles and don’t lose your ticket. This is a meal experience in New York not to miss.
(612) 379-4909 528 University Ave SE Minneapolis, MN 55414 www.restaurantalma.com
There wasn’t a lot of forethought before our 9 p.m. decision to go to Restaurant Alma for dinner the other night. We’ve never been there, and it was on the list of places to try. A quick call while en route from Saint Paul confirmed that there was no wait for a table for two. This was not surprising at 9 p.m. on the first bone-shocking -12 degree night of the winter. Restaurant Alma deserves anticipation, but this is how dining out decisions tend to go for us: it had gotten late, we were hungry, interested in the place and there was a table available, so why not?
Alma is a nicer restaurant, but I found it immediately comfortable because of its unpretentious atmosphere. Not being “on the list” was not a problem, and our server was down-to-earth, friendly and attentive. We came in from the blustery cold night into the warm, open room and were immediately seated. Our server greeted us, and we told her that we had not been there before. She gave us a helpful overview of the restaurant’s approach. The menu changes seasonally and ingredients are locally sourced to the extent possible. The restaurant offers a three course tasting menu, with both meat and vegetarian options. Alma embraces the tasting menu concept because it allows the small kitchen to operate efficiently, and lets you try a number of dishes and dine at a relaxing pace. Eating three courses sounds like feast, but the portions are sized correctly to allow you to enjoy the variety without feeling over-fed.
Even though the restaurant was nearly full, service hummed along at a calm, pleasant pace. At the server’s recommendation, we both started with the Celery Root Flan – warm julienned celery root salad topped with caviar, served side-by-side with a silver dollar-sized truffle-oil brushed toasted brioche with a small, round flan. The flan and celery root salad were pleasantly bitter as would be expected with celery root, the garnish –itty-bitty chopped chives subtly balanced it. The challenge of this course was getting the celery root and caviar part of the dish into your mouth, I had some success when I piled the salad on top of the tiny piece of toast. The flavor and texture combination of smooth flan, salty bursts caviar and crunchy toast was unexpected and tasty.
For the second course, I ordered the Salsify & Poblano Cream Soup. The ingredients arrived in the bottom of my bowl – poblano, salsify and some nutty sautéed mushrooms. Mushrooms replace the chorizo in the meat-eaters version of the soup which is also on the menu. Salsify is a root vegetable that looks like a pale, dirty carrot. When cooked, it has the texture of a carrot as well. I found it innocuous– its lack of popularity is probably due to the fact that it has little detectable flavor. The server poured the light, creamy soup base over the vegetables from a small pitcher. Again, there were minuscule chives which provided a faint, but pleasant oniony-ness, that along with the flavorful mushrooms and poblano, balanced out the creamy base of the luxurious soup. When the server came to check on us, I told her the soup was “lovely” a word which I used to excess by the end of the meal. For Bjorn’s second course, he ordered Carolina Grits served with pork broth, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and garnished with scallions and fresh grated horseradish. He loved this dish. Taking the southern classic of shrimp and grits infusing Asian elements of pork broth and shiitake made the dish interesting and new. The horseradish provided heat that was noticeable without being overpowering. Bjorn described the dish as “excellent, a mouthful of flavors.”
For Bjorn’s main course he ordered the duck which came two ways: confit and pan roasted. The duck was served with roasted parsnips, oyster mushrooms and “cumin mojo.” He reports that it was awesome. To the untrained, vegetarian eye, the duck looked tender and perfectly cooked. In a rare moment of boldness I broke with my habit to order the pasta as my main course, and instead tried the Squash “Migas”. I should do that more often. The Migas were a heap of bread and tortilla crumbs with small pieces of squash made into a hash piled atopt charred chili puree and garnished with fresh cheese, and topped with a soft poached egg. I enjoyed the dish– it was spicy, flavorful breakfast food. I found the chili puree to be a bit on the salty side, but I have a salt-sensitive palate, so it may have been fine for others. The fresh cheese was mild, with a flavor and texture similar to queso fresco. I loved the poached egg- it tasted amazingly fresh. I wish I could find where they buy these wonderful eggs and learn to poach them perfectly– keeping the white tender and intact and finishing the yolk to creamy-perfect doneness as it was on my Migas.
Throughout the meal, neighbouring tables ordered desserts that looked intriguing, but I usually don’t have dessert unless it is going to be extremely special, so I ordered a small pot of chamomile mint tea. Bjorn ordered port and a desert, a Honey Chocolate Pot du Creme with honeycomb candy, grated chocolate, chocolate angel food cake and honey sabayon. Fortunately, he was willing to share. The dessert was phenomenal and probably my favorite part of the meal. All of the textures and flavors were luxurious, but not overly rich, and mildly sweet. Following a bite of creamy chocolatey honey goodness with a sip of port, the nutty, vanilla flavor of the port came alive and left us warm and sleepy. A perfect ending to a LOVELY meal.
I would recommend Restaurant Alma, and will certainly go back. It it a perfect place for an intimate, relaxing meal for a small group, especially a mixed group of vegetarian-omnivore eaters. I loved the fact that the vegetarian menu followed the regular menu closely. Thoughtful substitutions of mushroom for chorizo in the soup, and squash for lamb in the Migas meant that I could sample the most interesting dishes on the menu. Some nice restaurants make the vegetarian menu feel like a special cause, and many others don’t have vegetarian offerings at all. I like having intentionally meat-free dishes to choose from, but at the same time I’d rather eat close to what everyone else gets to eat. The classic elements of the dishes we sampled at Restaurant Alma were adeptly executed, and the dishes as a whole were infused with thoughtful and imaginative international flavor elements, making for a special and memorable dining experience, late on a cold winter’s night.
I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, whenever my in laws are visiting, I tend to have an above average number of kitchen mishaps. Take for example, the day a kitchen shelf “leapt” from the wall. It smashed my precious mortar and pestle received as a gift from Bjorn as well as a jar of balsamic reduction which spattered most of the kitchen with a thin layer of sticky brown goo. There were also those blueberry muffins that turned out like hockey pucks the day I invited Val for breakfast a few years back. Most recently, I attempted to make deviled eggs out of some lovely, fresh, farmer’s market eggs, and –the eggs would not peel. When the world hands you eggs that are locally grown, fresh, organic and lovely that —will not peel– make Disheveled Eggs! Disheveled Eggs start by following your favorite approach to making Deviled Eggs, mine being a stiff, simple egg yolk mixture with a little mayo, minced celery or shallot, salt, pepper and a bit of mustard to taste. The key to Disheveled Eggs is to pile on eye-catching, creative and tasty garnishes to disguise and distract from your less-than-perfect peeling and filling of the egg halves. Among my great garnish ideas either used or imagined are thinly sliced radishes, finely chopped chives, sprigs of dill and parsley, thinly sliced baby dill pickles, a tiny spoonful of capers, some flaky tuna or a little smoked salmon, a tiny bubble-tower of salty of caviar, a squirt of Sriracha “Rooster Sauce,” tiny olives, a heavy shake of smoked paprika, or a tiny pile of thinly sliced prosciutto. No matter how much you are sweating it in the kitchen, if you bring this platter of fancifully garnished eggs to table you will receive reactions of awe and delight–trust me. My quick-fix to classic deviled eggs was inspired by James Beard Award winning Canal House Cooks Every Day cookbook by Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hirsheimer not only did this lovely tome inspire many of my imaginative garnishes, but they finally gave me instructions to cook eggs from soft to medium to hard with reliable results. For the ambitious who prefer to follow a recipe, here is a deviled egg recipe using homemade mayo piped into the egg halves recently posted on Amateur Gourmet. Bon Appetit!
My garden and the farmer’s market are booming juicy ripe tomatoes. We have been enjoying tomatoes with reckless abandon with simple preparation: in BLT’s, in a caprese salad or sliced on their own. Another delicious and simple preparation that honors a juicy tomato is this uncooked tomato pasta sauce that I tossed with hot whole grain spaghetti. It contained sliced and chopped tomatoes, two chopped sweet Italian peppers, a clove of garlic- minced, chopped flat leaf parsley, basil, and a few dashes of red wine vinegar and the tiniest drizzle of olive oil. I mixed up the sauce and left it raw, then tossed it with the pasta, cooked al dente. I topped it with fresh cracked pepper, a little salt and a ball of Buratta: fresh mozzarella with a creamy center, opened for scooping a spoonful on to each plate. The Burrata is a nice texture compromise between ricotta and regular fresh mozzarella and really made this lush. This was a fabulous summer pasta and an easy way to focus entire meal on tomatoes, raw and in their finest form: juicy and warm from the vine. Summer’s lease hath too short a date! Dig in! My recipe is a mash-up of recipes from Martha Stewart (here and here) and from a recipe from Bon Appetit, with the addition of Burrata from my own imagination.
After a break from blogging over the summer, I’ve decided to make shorter posts more the norm. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.
Last year, we won a trip to Mexico. We liked it so much, this year we paid for the privilege to return. We went to Cozumel, and it was lovely, colourful, warm and most importantly, relaxing in every possible way. It was a few months ago, but for all practical purposes, we have barely seen the sun since. The late and rainy spring here in Saint Paul, Minnesota makes us extra glad we were able to have a winter getaway.
We spent the majority of our time in Cozumel on the beach. I spent a good portion of my time on the beach considering this functional branch and palm leaf umbrella that filled the gaps between the palm trees on the beach, providing shade. I wasn’t thinking about making one, or how someone made it, just that it exists, it is functional, humble and pretty and provides shade. That is all I could ask of the umbrella, and of myself. That, and snorkeling every day to look at the sea rays, seashells and pretty fish. This is a fire-breathing dragon sunning himself at our resort. Someone might mistake him for an iguana, but that person would be wrong. According to our scientific research, this is a fire-breathing dragon. Here is me, posing with one of the books Bjorn read on our vacation. I might have taken this picture to show off the manicure I gave myself on the beach. Bjorn read two books on our short vacay: Love Rock Revolution – K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgartner and Big Day Coming – Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock by Jesse Jarnow. He devoured them and clearly enjoyed both of these non-fiction histories of his one of his favorite indie record labels and his favorite band. Since the trip, we have joked that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley (of Yo La Tengo) were on the trip with us. Side note: on our vacation I only managed to read 5 magazines and one chapter of Big Day Coming and paint my nails. I really needed to be on vacation.
Classic vacation photo: the subject is extra good looking, you can see a reflection of a palm tree and the ocean in his Ray Bans and there is a guy taking a snooze behind him. And the model is extra good looking. That good looking vacationer came up with the perfect drink for a Mexican vacation or a Minnesota summer day: the Sideways Sol. This consists of a Sol beer and a shot of tequila. Add salt and lime if you like. This is a simple drink for vacation in Mexico slash summer. Don’t over think it. Don’t complicate it. Just enjoy it. This is what I mean about Mexico being colourful. There are mod murals on walls like this one. I don’t know what it is advertising, but I love the colour scheme.
This is another mod advertising mural. The colours of Mexico are vibrant, saturated and I can’t get enough.Eating off-resort favors the bold, experienced and bilingual. For a taste and texture adventure, one option we came across was tripe tacos. They are reportedly tasty!We could have ventured out to eat, but we didn’t. We took the path of the utmost easy-going every chance we could on this vacation. Early every morning when we walked to the beach we passed the snack bar at our resort where the cooks were scooping out the ripe green, soft interiors of halved avocados with large spoons, and chopping scores of tomatoes and onions and piles of cilantro and limes. The result was a lovely plate of chips with pico and guacamole like this one, that we enjoyed several times throughout this lovely, lazy, restorative trip. I hope, I so hope that we’ll get to go back.
For the most part, when it comes to imbibing, we are beer and wine people, with exceptions of course. For one thing, I like a marg on the rocks with my Mexican food, and the “Froggystyle” Salut Bar Americain’s gin cocktail with cucumber, mint and lime juice mostly, because it reminds me of the dozen or so dinners that I had with Bjorn on the Salut patio while planning our wedding. Every now and then, especially on a summer day, a refreshing and spunky cocktail can really hit the spot. This Aranciata Rossa Tequila cocktail that I mixed up recently was a good one. It will make more appearances on our patio this summer.
As evinced by this Instagram photo I snapped a few months ago, I am a little obsessed with San Pellegrino Aranciata soda, and anything else colored a deeply saturated rose hue, apparently.
I brought home 6 Aranciata sodas from Cossetta Italian Market which inspired a Google search for cocktail recipes. Most recipes I found included rum, except the “Mama Beth’s Poptail” recipe containing Aranciata soda and tequila posted on Mama Knows Her Cocktails. I was pleased to find a recipe uses reposado tequila since we brought home bottle from Mexico this winter. Mama Beth gets all the credit for the recipe, but I take credit for giving the cocktail a descriptive name and the addition of a cocktail umbrella and lime wedge to the presentation.
- Fill a glass with ice
- Add 2 ounces reposado tequila
- A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- A squeeze of fresh lime juice
- Top with 4 ounces San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa (blood orange soda)
- Swirl it with a straw and decorate the glass with a lime wedge and a cocktail umbrella (optional)– Enjoy!
This can easily be made into a non-alcoholic “mocktail” for the children and tea-totalers in your crowd by omitting the tequila, so that everyone can get in on the fun — na zdraví!