As much as we love to cook and eat at home, we also enjoy going out for dinner. It is nice to get out, relax and eat a meal without any prep or cleanup. I bring home new ideas and often just plain feel inspired. We are fortunate to live in the Twin Cities where there are so many great restaurants to choose from, and to be able to enjoy a meal out quite often. I have mentioned that I can scarcely make a cheese sandwich without whipping out my camera to take a picture. The same goes for restaurant meals. Even with this slightly obsessive hobby, I don’t want to bother other diners, so I snap photos quickly on my mobile without flash. They vary in quality, but they are sufficient to give a taste of a few dishes at restaurants around town that we’ve enjoyed in recent months. Beginning today, and for the next few posts I’m going to share our dining adventures around town. I hope you will be inspired to try out a new place.
Broder’s Cucina Italiana - 2308 West 50th Street, Minneapolis, MN, telephone: 612.925.3113
A few weeks ago, we found ourselves driving around in Minneapolis on a rainy day, becoming hungry. I was navigating with my mobile phone and so it should come as no surprise that we ended up at an Italian restaurant, Broder’s Cucina Italiana, a casual Italian deli-counter with dining tables. It was crowded. We stood in line and ordered and the chefs had time to prepare and hand us our plates of food before we even had a place to sit. We learned that the restaurant had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network a few days before, and it was rainy, and most importantly, they serve good food. The busy-ness is justified.
I had the pasta special of the day which was egg fettuccine with local green garlic and grape tomatoes. The fresh pasta had a nice chew to it, and the green garlic was oniony and mild. It was dressed in olive oil with a shot of lemon juice and shaved Parmesan cheese. It was at once hearty and refreshing. I loved it!
Keeping with the Italian theme, a.k.a. where we dine when I’m choosing, the next meal on our Twin Cities tour are two plates of pasta we shared a Pazzaluna. For some reason even though we’ve both lived in Saint Paul for almost a decade, neither of us have eaten at this downtown Saint Paul fixture. We decided to split two pastas so we could try more than one dish. I ordered the Ravioli di Magro, a spinach and ricotta-stuffed ravioli made in-house tossed in butter and sage, and served on sugo pomodora. [sugo again! It means sauce!] Bjorn ordered house made Gnocchi Quattro Fromaggi, at least that is what we thought he ordered. We were a little surprised when both our pastas came out with a tomato-y sauce. I don’t think there were 4 cheeses on the Gnocchi. Nonetheless, the Gnocchi was light, and nothing like the dull thud of a dough-ball some places try to pass off as Gnocchi. We liked each other’s selections better than our own. Unlike the lighter than average Gnocchi, I thought the house made ravioli was indiscernible from any other spinach ravioli I have tried, frozen or fresh. Needless to say, we by no means exhausted our options at Pazzaluna. It may not be a fail-proof menu, but we’d consider giving it another try, someday.
This is one of my favorite moments in the spring. We have a tree in our front yard that has burst into bloom and covers our yard in an a canopy of electric-pink blossoms. When the wind blows, soft petals drift through the air and settle into the grass like fuchsia confetti. I try not to stray far from home while this tree is in bloom, lest I miss a precious moment of our tree’s bold and reverent announcement of spring’s arrival.
In the back yard there isn’t a whole lot going on yet. Most of our 96 square feet of raised beds are looking forlorn and neglected. Even so, dandelions are anxiously popping up in the lawn and there are a few random leaves of lettuce and herbs that managed to re-seed themselves poking their way up in our raised beds. The exceptions are the 2 square feet which are abundantly producing our earliest perennial crop — Chives!
I swear that the first moment the sun comes out in the spring, these little troopers start growing like mad. They don’t give a rip about snow and frost. I love these dark coloured, mild-flavoured little toughies. I transplanted mine from my parents’ garden. My Mom and Dad tend an amazing flower garden in their partially wooded, partially sun-soaked yard on a lake in rural Northern Minnesota. They focus on flora and their only edibles are chives, rhubarb and my Dad’s small blueberry patch. They have always grown chives and my Mom sends me out to snip a small bunch to garnish baked potatoes and other dishes when I’m home. I love chives on potatoes, salads, and pasta and pretty much anything that can be heightened by the addition of a dark green garnish with a mild, onion-y flavour.
Our garden’s earliest offering provided me with the jumping-off point for our breakfast. I did a quick Google search to see what others have been saying about chives at breakfast time. I quickly found two breakfasts with chives in a starring role. The first was a recipe for Chive Scrambled Eggs by Martha Stewart. I don’t dig the thought of cottage cheese in scrambled eggs* so instead, I decided to follow inspiration and guidance in a recent post on a lovin’ forkful for our breakfast of scrambled eggs with chives and a grape tomato salad with a few tweaks of my own.
Tomato and Cucumber Salad, serves 2
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
- 4 inches of cucumber, quartered and chopped
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 ½ Tablespoons of fresh chives, rinsed and chopped
- Fresh Ground Black Pepper
To begin, I went outside with my kitchen scissors and snipped a small bunch of chives from each of my two abundant bunches. There will be no shortage of chives for us this summer, but I still try to use each bunch equally.
- 2 Whole eggs, plus 4 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 3 ½ Tablespoons light cream cheese
- 2 ½ Tablespoons fresh chives, rinsed and chopped
- ½ Tablespoon unsalted butter
Once the salad was assembled, I cracked the eggs 2 whole eggs into a bowl, then separated 4 more eggs, and added only the whites. I measured the cream cheese into the bowl, and ground black pepper into the eggs. Most recipes call for salt at this point but if you add salt as much as recipes and food shows call for, you are going to consume way too much salt. There is no need to exceed healthy sodium levels in your diet. There are so many other flavors and textures going on in most meals that you don’t need to salt your food at every turn for it to taste wonderful. Once the eggs were adequately whisked, I melted the butter in a non-stick pan and scrambled the eggs.
When the eggs were just set, I sprinkled chives and folded them in while the eggs finished cooking. I like my eggs on the done side. I’m all for super-soft eggs that are made so creamy and decadent at the Birchwood Cafe, but if I’m not there I prefer mine to be fairly firm. With the addition of cream cheese, the eggs stayed moist and turned out to be some of the fluffiest eggs I have ever made. As soon as the eggs were done to my liking, I served them in a low dish, and served the salad in small bowls on the side of our plates.
This breakfast hit the spot. It felt as springy as the day. The salad had light, refreshing flavors and the eggs were fluffy with a subtle creaminess. Our garden’s verdant chives carried a mild and pleasant onion-note throughout the plate. This breakfast was satisfying and gave us lightness and energy to enjoy the beautiful spring day before us, missing not one precious, perfumed breath.
A few weeks ago, we spent a long weekend in Montréal, Québec visiting a dear friend I grew up with. We stay close despite the many miles between the places we live. We enjoyed our little get-away immensely. We balanced our time between catching up with my friend and her husband and getting to spend time with their two darling, sweet, smart and loveable little boys, and seeing some sights around a vibrant French city in my home country. The best meals we ate over the long weekend were in my friend’s home. My friend is an omnivore, and her husband is vegetarian, and they are conscious of eating healthfully. We dine well together. I was so busy being entertained by the two little guys at the table that I didn’t remember to whip out my camera during those meals, so, a fabulous Quinoa and Beet Salad, Roasted Pork Tenderloin and the best Indian food we’ve ever eaten will have to live on in our memories. We happened upon a few tasty bites when we went out exploring, and so I will share a little peek at what we saw and ate around the city.
This is my second visit to Montréal, and Bjorn’s first. The first afternoon of our visit we set off wandering from the campus of McGill University and headed toward the Old Town of Montréal. It turns out this colourful building, which could be a museum of modern art, is in fact a convention center known as Palais des congrès de Montréal. It also contains shops, restaurants and a metro stop. What a surprising structure to house a convention center. It serves a vital purpose in the city, and the higher cause of being public art.
We didn’t have to wander long before we became thirsty and peckish. I had a short mental list of things to show Bjorn and for him to try in Montreal. Trois Brasseurs in Old Montréal, or Vieux-Montréal, if you are local, was a good place to check Poutine off the list.
We wandered our way through Vieux-Montréal, and stopped to buy a print from a gentleman with a temporary stand set up at the corner of Rue Saint-Vincent and Rue Saint-Paul. We live in Saint Paul, so we thought a picture of this street corner was a perfect souvenir. We will add it to a little framed collection of art that we have purchased from similar street-corner stands in Czech Republic and Italy on display in our house. I have learned to buy the souvenir I want right away when I see it. When I put off buying it, I never come across what I want again.
The City of Montréal holds a parade in honour of Saint Patrick’s Day, the day after Saint Patrick’s Day. Our city, Saint Paul, Minnesota is a very Irish and Catholic city, so I am used to a pretty big celebration of this day. Montréal does it big too. The parade goes on for hours, and is a massive party, to say the least. We spent a few hours at the parade with my friend, her parents, and her almost three year old who loves marching bands. We were all satisfied after twenty-or-so marching bands and a few hundred floats went by and so my friend and her parents headed home for nap time and Bjorn and I headed out for lunch. We ended up at a bistro.
Lunch revived us. We headed toward le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Montréal seems to have art on every street corner for the enjoyment of the public. Just above is Coeur Jumeax, a sculpture by Jim Dine.
After taking in the Musée des beaux-arts, we were thirsty, and so we stopped in to a little shop to buy something to drink. What a place! I could not believe the variety of all manner of prepared foods, produce, dry goods and wines that lined the shelves in this tiny, urban grocery store. The coolers and shelves were positively packed with salads, sliced vegetables, plates of fruit, Babybel cheese, marble cheese, greek yogurt, cups of sliced fruit, and cantaloupe sliced in half, and wrapped in saran wrap with plastic spoon all ready to be grabbed and eaten on the go. The place was packed with people, so I had to move fast which is why the pictures are a bit blurry.
Behind a deli counter, there were colourful bowls containing a marvelous variety of salads: top left, salads de Thon (Tuna), front left, Salade Greque (Greek), and front right, Legumes Grille (Grilled Vegetables).
Also behind the deli counter, there were bowls of hard-boiled eggs, sausages, Salad D’Orizo Epicée (Spicy Orzo Salad), and baguettes and bagels prepared with dinde et fromage (ham and cheese) and saumon fumé (smoked salmon) all of which were selling like hotcakes to the masses of people recovering from Saint Patrick’s Day parade revelry. Clearly, this store exists to meet a need in this neighborhood. It appears that real, ready-to-eat food is a go-to meal of choice for Montréal’s many University students and bankers who are natural regulars in this neighbourhood. I sometimes daydream about being a proprietor of a general store with a lunch counter. There may not be enough foot traffic to support a store like this in my neighbourhood, but it is fun to see a city that depends on independent neighbourhood grocery stores. Montréal feels European.
Every day in Montréal we managed to find some high place to climb. One day it was Mont Real, the next was up the shaky elevator shaft in Stade Olympique, or Olympic Stadium, constructed for the 1976 Olympics. It felt like we stepped into an anachronism visiting Olympic Stadium, which sits seemingly untouched, unused and un-updated since the late ’70s.The final high point of the trip elevation-wise was up the steps to visit the impressive Saint Joseph Oratory, or Oratoire-Saint-Joseph du Mont Real and its grounds. As you can see here, Bjorn was determined to get a head start. We thought the insignia on the facade of Oratoire-Saint-Joseph above the entrance also seemed anachronistic being so modern in the context of an immense old building. Perhaps it was added closer to the building’s completion in 1967, not in 1924 when construction began. Another must-try food item on our list was a pastry. Along with neighbourhood grocery stores, it seems like there is a quaint boulangerie on every block. We enjoyed some delicious pain au chocolat and almond pastries with a latte at Au Pain Doré, a really nice boulangerie near my friend’s house. Also on the Montréal food “To Do” list was bagels. We grabbed some sesame seed bagels with cream cheese just before we boarded the plane to go home. We didn’t make it to one of the “must visit” bagel shops, but the bagel we found was still way better than average*. Our visit to Montréal was so nice. It was a refreshing little get-away. We struck the perfect balance of friend-time, and seeing new streets. I highly recommend a visit in conjunction with a trip to Quebec City as a great two-stop tour of French Canada. *And that is saying something. I didn’t even eat mine until lunch time at work the next day.
I have been eating and making stir fries all of my life. Stir-frying vegetables and a protein of choice served with rice or noodles is a weeknight staple in so many homes. It is easy and flexible in that you can use whatever vegetables you have. It is also satisfying and can be quite healthy if you aren’t heavy-handed with oil in the preparation. I consider myself to be fairly adept at stir-frying vegetables to tender-crisp, but my challenge has been developing a tasty and full flavored sauce. I don’t buy stir-fry sauces, and in experimenting with the ingredients and seasonings used to develop flavor, I have served some meals in which the flavor was weak. After many trials and much error I took some guidance from others [here and here]. Now, I am finally cracking the code of making tasty stir-fry sauces from scratch that are simple and flavorful. Tonight’s Stir-fried Vegetables and Tofu with Udon Noodles in a Spicy Peanut sauce was declared a winner.
Stir Fried Vegetables with Tofu -Yields about 4 Hearty Servings
- 1 block of Extra Firm Tofu, with excess water removed then cut into cubes. Meat eaters might enjoy chicken, beef or pork instead of tofu, either pre-cooked, or sautéed with onions and other seasonings before vegetables are stir-fried.
- 1/3 of a Package of Udon Noodles – cooked according to package directions
- Olive Oil or Peanut Oil, for cooking
- Approximately 4 Cups of Vegetables, I used:
- ½ of a medium red onion, diced
- 1 broccoli crown, cut into florets
- 1 cup of fresh spinach
- ¾ cup of frozen soy beans (Edamame)
- ¾ cup of sliced button mushrooms,
- ¼ of a Red Bell Pepper, sliced into strips
- ¼ of an Orange Bell Pepper, sliced into strips
There are no limits on the vegetables that would be great in this Stir Fry. Other vegetables that come to mind include cauliflower, shitake or cremini mushrooms, green peas, green onions, water chestnuts, baby corn, bamboo shoots, carrots, celery, bok choy, cabbage, asparagus, snow peas, broccolini and green beans… It will be great with just about any vegetable you like. You simply assemble an assortment of vegetables, wash them, and then chop them into nice, bite-size pieces.
This is a meal that comes together quickly once you start cooking it, so I like to get all of the vegetables ready and make the sauce before I even start stir-frying the vegetables. I whisked together the following ingredients into a spicy-peanutty sauce. You can adjust the heat up or down according to your preference by adding additional Red Chili Flakes or Garlic-Chili paste. My sauce was fairly spicy to begin with, so I decided simply to stick to my original recipe. I placed a bottle of Rooster Sauce on the table in case either of us found the spice level to be lacking.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
- 2 tablespoons natural chunky peanut butter
- 1/3 cup veggie broth or water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
- A squeeze of lime juice
Once the Spicy Peanut Sauce was ready and all of the veggies were chopped, I selected Japanese udon noodles from the pantry to serve with the stir-fried vegetables. I like udon noodles quite a bit. Even though udon have a light colour, they are a whole wheat noodle. They have a smooth texture and a similar size to linguine. Instead of udon noodles we often have nutty buckwheat soba noodles, rice noodles, regular whole grain spaghetti or occasionally rice. I have noticed that udon noodles are salty enough without additional salt added to the water as you would add to most pastas.
I like the way udon noodles come wrapped in individual portions. I typically make way too much pasta, and we have leftovers for days. The guidance helps.
Let me let you in on a nifty trick for preparing tofu to be cooked. When you purchase tofu packaged in water, you need to squeeze out some of the liquid so that the tofu can absorb the sauce and flavor of the vegetables. Rather than pressing tofu between plates and setting it precariously under a heavy object, which always wants to tip off and fall on my foot, someone once told me to wrap the tofu in a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel and microwave it for 2 minutes.* This process works wonderfully to remove the excess liquid from the tofu and makes it ready to absorb a flavorful sauce after being nuked on high for two minutes for 2 or three rounds. This is far easier and less dangerous for my feet. After microwaving the tofu and slicing it into bite sized cubes I started my veggies.
Other than a great sauce, the key to a good stir-fry is not to overcook the vegetables. I always start with onion, giving it a 2-3 minute head start in the pan with a small glug of oil before adding anything else. I use a large, deep nonstick pan, because I don’t have a wok. A wok or a well-seasoned cast-iron pan are very helpful to making a healthy stir-fry because the vegetables don’t stick, even if you only use a little oil. Next, I add the remaining vegetables in the order that allows everything to finish cooking at the same time without overcooking any single ingredient. If I was using carrots and celery, for example, I’d add them first, and cauliflower soon after, followed by frozen vegetables, and finishing with mushrooms, bell peppers and anything that takes only a few minutes to cook. You can probably look up estimated cooking times for vegetables in a cookbook or on the internet. I have learned through trial and error. Tonight, I was able to add most of the vegetables at the same time, reserving the broccoli, tofu and spinach to add later, since they need a shorter cooking time.
When the veggies had cooked about 2 minutes and were looking bright and well on their way to tender-crisp, I added the peanut sauce, turned the heat to low and let the whole thing cook for 4 minutes. A few minutes with heat allows the salty-spicy-sweet-citrusy-nutty elements of the sauce to meld. When I figured the vegetables and sauce needed another 4 minutes more to cook, I added the broccoli and tofu. Even though broccoli is a dense, cruciferous vegetable, it cooks quickly, and after no more than about 4 minutes, it is done. When the vegetables are done they are bright and softened, and still retain a firm bite. Tofu is great sautéed or broiled, but tonight I wanted to eat it fresh, so I cooked it just enough time to absorb the sauce and to be heated through.
When the noodles were cooked, I drained them and served them on a small platter with a few sprigs of curly parsley. Cilantro would be a suitable garnish for the pasta, if you like cilantro, but we aren’t big fans. Before serving the stir-fry, I scattered the fresh spinach leaves in a pile on the platter. I could have stirred the spinach into the veggies and sauce and allowed it to wilt, but I find that spinach is great, even if it only half-wilts under a mound of steamy vegetables.
We both enjoyed this stir-fry. It was full of spicy, peanutty flavor and a bright variety of vegetables that retained their bite. The tofu also soaked up plenty of flavor and was as easy as could be to prepare. And the pasta? Everything tastes good on a serving of steamy, al dente pasta. When you are in the mood for an easy and delicious vegetable stir-fry, consider trying this tasty recipe. The sauce and veggies are full of texture and flavor. This dish is flexible, quick and easy enough to make any night of the week.
*Thank you to the person who told me the tofu-nuking tip, whoever you are. I am so pleased that I don’t have to press tofu ever again.
If you are anything like us and you like to eat 3 square meals a day, it tends to be a good idea to throw a salad in the mix once or twice a week. The other night I came home with just such a meal in mind. I started with an inventory of the fridge. I gathered up the remaining vegetables that we had on hand, and along with a few items from the pantry, this is what I put together for our supper tonight.
Hearty Salad of White Bean, Broccoli, Spinach, and Avocado with Soft Egg Yields 4 Hearty Portions
- 4 Cups Spinach
- 1 Cup of Romaine Lettuce – Washed and Cut into bite size pieces
- 1 Broccoli Crown – Cut into Small Florets
- 1/8th Cup of a Red Onion – Finely Diced
- Large Handful of Julienned Carrots
- 1—8 ounce can Cannellini Beans – Rinsed and Drained
- 1 Avocado – peeled and sliced, drizzled with a squeeze of lime juice.
- 4 Eggs
- 1 Can of Tuna – optional
Once I had assembled all of the vegetables I heaped the lettuce and spinach into a medium-sized mixing bowl, began rinsing and chopping the other vegetables, and placed them in the bowl. At the same time, I started a small saucepan of water heating on the stove to cook the eggs. When the water came to a boil, I placed 4 eggs in the sauce pan of water, reduced it to a simmer, and set the timer for 6 minutes. When the bowl seemed to be filled with an ample rainbow of vegetables, I whisked together the ingredients for a spicy and flavorful vinaigrette in a separate bowl.
Spicy Red Pepper, Honey and Mustard Vinaigrette:
- 2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – optional: use one or two tablespoons of garlic infused olive oil
- 3-4 Tablespoons Flavored Vinegar – I used Champagne and Tarragon vinegar
- 1.5 Tablespoons Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 Tablespoon Honey
- 2 Tablespoons Spicy Mustard – I used Kühne, a hot prepared mustard from Germany
- Course Ground Black Pepper – to taste
While I worked on the salad dressing, Bjorn split several yellow, eggy buns in half and topped them with thinly sliced, reduced fat Colby-Jack Cheese, and then placed the buns on a foil-lined sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes to melt the cheese. He also heated a small bowl of leftover spaghetti sauce in the microwave, for dipping the toasted cheese bread.
When the eggs had cooked 6 minutes, I removed two for our supper and carefully peeled them. I let the remaining eggs continue to cook a few minutes longer so that they would be hard-boiled, making them easier to pack for our lunches tomorrow.
I drizzled the dressing over the bowl of salad, tossed the salad gently with tongs, and served it on a platter. I placed the avocado slices on top, and gently sliced the eggs just before serving to expose the warm, soft yellow yolk. I’m seeing “soft eggs” everywhere, in blogs, such as this tasty-looking and classic presentation on Smitten Kitchen, in magazines and in restaurants on bruschetta, pizza, and salads. Talk about having a classic food item go trendy! I’m all for it though, eggs are a versatile, simple yet exquisite food. Bjorn added about half of a can of tuna to his plate, and mixed it into the salad. Adding tuna to the omnivore version of this salad added protein and healthy omega 3 fatty acid, a heart-healthy fat. The Avocado and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the dressing also added heart healthy fats to both of our plates.
The spinach, romaine, sprouts, carrots and broccoli gave the salad a nice crunch and were full of antioxidants, calcium and potassium. The white beans and egg added a contrasting soft texture to the salad, and protein which made the salad a hearty meal. The vinaigrette had a pleasant kick of dijony, red-pepper heat, and set off the flavors of the soft egg, avocado and red onion. The toasted cheese bread made a yummy side dish dipped in the warm spaghetti sauce. We enjoyed it all.
The salad was huge and made plenty for two servings at supper time, two servings for lunch the next day with a little more to spare. The salad was hearty enough to be a satisfying, complete meal, and had a healthy rainbow of veggies, good sources of protein and healthy fats to make it a nourishing meal, nutritionally speaking. It is wonderful to toss together a variety of vegetables and pantry staples into a salad. It makes for a simple, healthy and satisfying supper that makes you feel good, and that you can feel good about eating. Give it a try!