Prosciutto, Asparagus and Swiss on Toast -An Easy Easter Appetizer

I’ve been missing my blog!  We’ve been busy visiting Mexico, hosting visitors, working and waiting for the snow to melt.  Here’s a tasty and easy appetizer I made this morning that was inspired by Elsa’s Ham and Asparagus Toasts by Rachael Ray with a few tweaks– I used deli slices of prosciutto and Swiss cheese instead of ground ham and fontina, less butter and smaller slices of bread.  These tweaks made the assembly easier, less expensive and more appealing, I think.  It is easy to leave the prosciutto off of as many slices as desired to make this appetizer friendly to vegetarians.

Asparagus Procuitto and Swiss Toasts on ourwaytoeat.comIngredients:

  • 1/2 pound thin asparagus spears
  • 1 baguette, cut into 3/4-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 2.5 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
  • 12 slices of Swiss cheese from the deli, halved
  • 1/4-1/2 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto from the deli

Method:

1.  Snap the woody ends off of skinny spring asparagus and steam for 2.5 minutes in salted, boiling water, then run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking.

2.  Slice a baguette into 3/4 inch slices.  Arrange the slices on a sheet pan, and toast the slices 6 inches below the broiler in the oven a minute or two.

3.  Mix 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2.5 tablespoons of grainy Dijon mustard and brush over the toasted bread.

4.  Top each slice with a pile of prosciutto, a halved sprig of asparagus and a half slice of Swiss cheese.

5.  Return the sheet pan to the broiler and watch carefully.  Remove when cheese is melted.  Season with ground black pepper and serve on a platter.

I brought the platter to my family’s weekly Saturday morning coffee gathering, and came home with an empty platter.  Success!

 

 

 

 

Soft Eggs and Avocado on Toast with Cauliflower Soup

Like most people, soups are on heavy rotation at our house in the winter.Soft Eggs and Avocado on Toast with Cauliflower Soup ourwaytoeat.com I made this Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Garlic from a recipe in a recent Real Simple Magazine and a loaf of Jim Lahey’s wonderful No Knead Bread last Sunday.  We had a few people over on Sunday night, so most of the bread was eaten up.  I needed some inspiration for a quick side dish to make the leftovers into a square meal for supper on Monday night.  P1070723Fortunately, the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living just arrived.  I paged through it, and landed on a quick, simple and still luscious side dish, that  made our cauliflower soup a satisfying meal–Sesame Toasts with Poached Egg and Avocado.Egg and Avocado on Toast up Close

To the extent possible, I followed Martha Stewart’s recipe for Sesame Toasts with Poached Egg and Avocado, but for the arugula I subbed spinach, very lightly dressed with tarragon vinegar and olive oil and I subbed crunchy, toasted slices of No Knead Bread instead for Sesame Toast.  I was able to duplicate the rest of the preparation using ingredients we had on hand.  Yes, I treat our household to the purchase of fresh avocados almost every week.  Tasty Supper of Cauliflower Soup and Toast with Poached Egg and Spinach SaladThis is more of a reminder than a recipe, really.  I occasionally need a reminder that eggs and avocado in their natural form are only a few minutes preparation away from becoming a sublimely luxurious, simple supper.Cauliflower Soup - Toast with Avocado and Poached EggsThis meal was on the table in minutes, was tasty and brought a little light into a dark winter evening.  It works well with soup,  or on its own, and it would also be wonderful for breakfast or lunch.

 

Backyard Baby Shower for Betsy

I have a small group of girlfriends from school who all live around the Twin Cities with their wonderful husbands and significant others.  We all have busy lives, so we don’t see as much of each other as we could before we all grew up and joined the workforce, but we manage to keep in touch by making sure every big event in each of our lives is celebrated.  There are 5 of us in total which means we all get a chance to host small group celebrations every time someone gets engaged, married or has a baby, or in the lulls between those milestones, someone hosts a brunch or a game night.  In early September, I hosted a baby shower for Betsy, who was expecting a baby girl.  This is the chevron shower invite that I created at ontobaby.com, a great website that I happened upon that allows you to customize colors and content and create many neat things for free, and then print them, or send them out via email as a PDF.  Since the shower, teeny little Vivian Kiyoko arrived, and she is beautiful and I am so thrilled for Betsy and her husband, Sam that they are parents of this perfect little person.

Like most easygoing and enjoyable parties, this one started with advanced preparation.  I made a full recipe of Martha Stewart’s Corn and Zucchini Orzo Salad.  The salad was lemony with juice of 3 lemons and zest, kicky from the jalapenos from our garden, tasty and light, but the recipe, which reports to yield 6 servings yields something closer to 16 servings.   I guess the pound of orzo pasta, 6 medium zucchini and 6 ears of corn should have been a tip-off.  Everyone loved the salad and it made for some good leftovers the next week for lunch.  I served the crumbled feta in a separate bowl so each person could add their own.  Somewhere along the line while preparing for the shower I read an article about all the things pregnant and nursing moms aren’t supposed to eat, so anything that could vaguely be construed to be unpasteurized or uncured was served separately, even though most of my groceries probably satisfied both of these pregnant-person dietary requirements.  I’m a vegetarian in a mostly meat-eating world, so I am (over)sensitive to this sort of thing. I am so glad that Tea Sandwiches and Deviled Eggs are back in vogue.  I like both of these baby shower classic snacks, so I made both.  Tea Sandwiches are perfect baby shower bites–they are small, cute and girly.  I made cucumber tea sandwiches with cream cheese and chives, and smoked salmon tea sandwiches with the same spread.  Both the sandwiches and classic deviled eggs were yummy.   Decorations are one of the things that make a gathering into a party, so even though this is a small shower with a group of girls who gather with some regularity and don’t rely on pretense, I had to decorate.  Betsy was expecting a girl, I took that as license to go pink. I cut dots out of pink felt and strung them into a garland on embroidery floss.  Each felt dot is secured to the embroidery thread with two hand-stitched french knots.  [Try saying that five times fast.]  I stuck these around the patio with pink striped washi tape. I also hung pink tissue paper balls from the house and our patio lights with washi tape. I bought little pots of pink mums; hearty ones, like the moms and moms-to-be at the shower.  I wrapped the pots in poufy pink tissue paper, shiny clear wrapping paper and secured the paper to each pot with a wide pink ribbon, tied in a bow.  The hearty mums decorated the table and served as a little favor for each person to take home. I marked every person’s place at the table with a plant stake topped with a pink polka-dot name card that I made with a strip of card stock, further embellished with washi tape that I stuck into the pot of mums at each place. To round out our lunch I served antipasto skewers which consist of golden cherry tomatoes, marinated artichoke heart quarters, salami, fresh mozzarella, marinated mushrooms, peppers and seasoned olives from the grocery store olive bar threaded on to short bamboo skewers, dressed lightly with balsamic vinaigrette and garnished with fresh flat-leaf parsley from our garden. I set up a buffet table on the patio so that we could help ourselves to food and drink while we relaxed and talked.  I set out pink tumblers and reusable striped straws as well as champagne glasses out so everyone could pour their own pink lemon-aid Arnie Palmers  from drink dispensers and San Pelligrino sparkling water from the bottle which was sitting on ice.  I also set out bottles of fruity Joaia and Izzy’s soda, and of course, we popped a bottle of champagne.  I served mixed nuts, mints and bridge mix in a cut glass candy dish, another nod to classic baby shower fare that I am happy to revive. Desert was simple and totally a highlight.  I whipped cream and stirred in sugar and vanilla, and sliced strawberries and blueberries which macerated in sugar in the fridge.  The whipped cream and fruit were a delicious topping to a white cake made in a bundt pan, served with coffee. Betsy took home a nice assortment of cute baby gear, books, clothes and other essentials, and this cute Locally Grown Clothing Co Minnesota onesie.  Nice pick, Alison. September was a busy month!  Having to buy a new car and getting a new roof for our house and a few trips out of town took the time I’d normally devote to blogging, but I’m back and planning to share a few “catch up” posts about the fun we’ve been having, stop back!

Chef Shack Food Truck at the Mill City Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis

We visit the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market every weekend that we’re in town.  We had friends visiting from out of town last weekend, and so we decided to change up the routine and venture out to the Mill City Farmer’s Market to check out a different market and sample a much-buzzed Twin Cities Food Truck that parks there on Saturday mornings.  We weren’t surprised to find that the Mill City Farmer’s Market is a great place for crowd watching, beautiful produce and good eats.

The Mill City Farmer’s Market is tucked between the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum, and the Gold Medal Flour elevator and the condominium building that houses Spoonriver, my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis.  The Mill District and nearby Saint Anthony Main, which is directly across the wonderful pedestrian-only Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi are two of the most fun pockets of Minneapolis to stroll through.  I love their lively atmosphere and unique architecture which reflect the area’s evolution over time from a riverfront industrial district to the cultural center of the city.   Even though I love visiting these places, this was our first trip the Mill City Farmer’s Market.  Although the vegetable stands were overflowing with organic veggies, it is much more than just a place to stock up on heirloom tomatoes.  People gather, music is played, there are artisanal cheeses, chocolate and baked goods, handmade clothing, furniture and other art for sale.  The space was packed to the gills by mid-morning with strollers, camera-wielding bloggers, Iphone-ing instagrammers, gawkers, some shoppers and people like us who are there to eat.   

Once we toured the market, we joined the lengthy line at the Chef Shack food truck.    The line moved quickly.  It gave us just enough time to peruse the chalkboard menu.  Bjorn ordered a Walleye Sandwich and a bag of the Chef Shack’s renowned Indian-Spiced Mini Doughnuts for the group to share for dessert.  As you can see, the sandwich consists of a meaty walleye fillet, fried crispy and served on a fresh baguette with lettuce, tartar sauce and veggie trimmings.  Bjorn confirmed that the sandwich was one of the best he’s had.  The four of us devoured the mini doughnuts so fast that I couldn’t even take a picture.

Our friend Ben was out for adventure.  When he placed his order for Beef Tongue Tacos, the guy handling the cash register told him that he eats a Beef Tongue Taco every week he loves them so much.  The meat eaters who sampled the tongue confirmed that it was a dense, beef flavor and texture, more offal-like than muscle-y.  There!  You can see the tongue poking out from below the corn!  The vegetarian in me says “eek!” and the foodie says “cool!”

I swung by the Spoonriver food stand and purchased a refreshing glass of unsweetened Mango Iced Tea.  Their Cucumber Water and Watermelon-Basil water were also beautiful and looked refreshing.  It was very tempting to try a savory Spoonriver crepe, but I wanted to stick to the Food Truck option for today.

I was the sole vegetarian in the group.  I ordered the Sweet Potato Tacos, one of several vegetarian offerings from the Chef Shack.  They were tasty.  I piled on some of the house-made garnishes available in tubs: pickly cukes and cauliflower, a dill pickle and some slaw.  I am a sucker for garnishes.  The double-layered tortillas were extremely fresh and delicious.  I was glad to have the second tortilla layer, because the bean-corn-sweet potato mixture in the tacos was on the watery side, though wonderfully flavorful.  The tortilla kept it all contained.  I crumbled a little fresh feta from Singing Hills Dairy, purchased in the market on top–I won’t lie, I do prefer veggie tacos with cheese.

Our friend Jenny ordered a grass-fed, all-beef hotdog and also piled on the house-made condiments and garnishes.  One of the Chef Shack chefs greeted us at the condiment table, and asked us cheerfully if we found what we needed.  Yes, we certainly did.  We walked away from the market, plopped down on a flat rock that served as our seating and table and enjoyed a wonderful, unique and tasty lunch.

I’ve visited a handful of food trucks in Minneapolis and Saint Paul and this was by far the best food truck meal I’ve experienced to date.  This is the sort of truck that justifies its existence.  The food simple, inspired and is as good or better and more fresh than many restaurants, served casually, quickly and is perfect for outdoor eating on the go.  If you find yourself in Minneapolis on a Saturday between the hours of 8 and 1, I highly recommend a trip to the Mill City Farmer’s Market followed by a delicious lunch from the Chef Shack.  Delish!

The Summer Sandwich // Simple Dining, Al Fresco

This post is one part ode to one of my favor summer meals and one part cautionary tale.  I figure that this blog is about my life, including some of the great meals in it, so I will start with a brief account the day when I spent inadvertently spent $17.72 on 0.57 lbs of cheese.  [Oopsie.]  

It was a typical Saturday morning.  We started our day at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market.  I determined my mission that day was to purchase the components of a summer sandwich for our lunch.  At the time, our garden still had a few weeks to go before it would have much to offer us.  I bought vegetables, bread, and then we left the market and looped our way up Grand Avenue to the Saint Paul Cheese Shop. That place is pretty neat. Sampling is encouraged, so we tasted several paper-thin wisps of cheese the cheesemonger shaved neatly off of several wheels of cheese and dropped into our extended hands from the forked tip of the blade of his cheese knife.  I let my guard down.  It is atypical for me to make a mindless splurge without glancing at the price per half pound.  I was in a cheese-induced stupor when I asked for a small wedge of Marcel Petite Comte raw cow’s milk cheese from France, and a wedge of Terchelling Sheep’s milk cheese from Holland.  I’m sure there are people who routinely spend far more than this on cheese in any given week.  I’m not knocking it and I might do it again at some point. The difference will be that I do it intentionally.  As a consolation, at least the cheese was very, very good.

Whew. Now that I’ve made that confession to my friends and readers, let’s make a sandwich!   A Summer Sandwich is quite simply a sandwich with any combination of meat or vegetarian meat substitute, seasonal vegetables, cheese and sandwich spreads piled on top of nice bread.  

I sliced a grainy loaf of bread and served the bread and cheese with our own cheese knives on wooden cutting boards.  We eat most of our meals al fresco on our patio.  It has been 90+ degrees farenheit there lately, but it is still very pleasant in the shade of a Maple Tree canopy.

I filled a platter with sliced cucumber and tomato, garden lettuces, piles of deli turkey and tofurky, along with bowls of mayonnaise and grainy dijon mustard, and placed salt and pepper shakers on the table.  The secret to the perfect summer sandwich is bringing out whatever looks good and fresh, and let each person assemble the sandwich they desire.  

If Freud were here, he’d say, “a sandwich is never just a sandwich.”  It is the meal I ate on pebble beaches out of a cooler with my parents camping in Door County, Wisconsin in grade four.  It is the BLT’s that beckoned numerous cousins, Uncles and Aunts to my Grandma’s farm house every July when the tomatoes were all ripe at once.  It is the meal of lettuce, ham, turkey, tomato and cheese sandwiches on good sandwich bread that we shared with friends from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saint Paul and Minneapolis on a lakeshore in Northern Minnesota after a long, hot day on the lake last year over the 4th of July long weekend.  It is the halved baguettes piled with cheese, sliced tomato and a pile of pršut [for the meat eaters] that we ate on a secluded pebble beach a few months ago in Croatia.  

What is one to serve on the side?  Well, nothing—any decent summer sandwich is in itself, a square meal.  Or, if the mood strikes, some salty-crunchy potato chips, leftover potato salad out of the fridge, deviled eggs or summer fruit would all be the perfect compliment.  On this particular day we rounded out our plates with bright, rainbow radishes that were too pretty to slice or even to remove the stem.  Sure, they could have been thinly sliced and piled on the sandwich, but they were refreshing, spicy perfection and a visual treat perched on the side our plates.  

A Summer Sandwich is simple perfection.  No matter what fresh fixings are available, where you are, or what time it is, a sandwich satisfies hunger.  A sandwich feeds a crowd with varied tastes, comes together easily and is a perfect meal to eat outdoors on a hot July day. 

And the cheese?

We’re still working our way through it, and savoring every little morsel–we figure it cost us about 8 cents per crumb.

Happy Friday!

I find it somewhat ironic or at least interesting as a person who spends plenty of time thinking about, preparing and writing about our weekend and evening meals that Bjorn and I eat about 10 meals every week away from home.  We eat these meals in our cars, at our desks in our respective offices or in an empty conference room with co-workers.  We don’t eat shabbily.  I make an effort to make even the food I pack for our breakfasts and lunches something to enjoy, while being easy to prepare, healthy and portable.

The fact that we spend a lot of time at work is a fact of life.  It is also a fact that I don’t like to think of the alternative of not having stable careers.  I snapped these pictures of my simple breakfast of avocado mashed on top of a reheated slice of garlic bread that I ate at my desk this morning.  This was  a TGIF moment.  As much as I appreciate my job, I love heading home in the bright sunshine with the weekend ahead.  Enjoy!

Un Morceau de Montreal – A Morsel of Montreal

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.  

Poutine, which consists of French fries, topped with cheese curds melted by gravy goes very well with an afternoon beer. 

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.

I had a “Caprese” sandwich on a baguette with salad made of a tomato, cucumber and red onion.  The unique twist on the caprese was that it contained brie instead of fresh mozzarella.  So very French.  

Bjorn had a roast beef panini and a bowl of chicken noodle soup.  No, it doesn’t look terribly exciting, but it was a totally solid, satisfying lunch.

When we are travelling and have no idea where we are going and we end up with a lunch of baguettes and paninis with brie, we’re doing alright.

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.

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  — I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.  

Amélie and a Simple Pasta with Butter and Cheese

One of my favorite films with a memorable food-moment is Amélie, a simple and joyful French film from 2001.  [Spoiler alert...] Amélie is a solitary character with a wonderful internal life.  She observes the world exactingly.  She appreciates simple pleasures and amusing oddities in the goings-on around her with her eyes open, and her mouth closed.  Amélie finds joy in her private life, but also experiences a lack human closeness.  Throughout the movie she launches a series of secret undertakings that bring beauty, life, love and joy to her father, her neighbours, her co-workers and the man who helps her at the vegetable stand.  Her mischievous initiatives become a catalyst for change, new possibilities and happiness.  Waging her secret campaigns for improvement in the lives of others brings Amélie vicarious joy, but she experiences isolation on her own.  One evening, Amélie stands in the kitchen of her darling little apartment, making herself a bowl of noodles, clearly on auto-pilot.   She drains the pot of pasta, and uses a rotary grater to top the noodles with cheese, all the while staring in apparent contemplation of the state of her life.  The quiet evening in her safe haven ends in lonely and frustrated tears at the realization that she is living outside, without meaningful connections of her own.  I love so many things about this film, and I watch it now and then and discover more that I enjoy.  What I have enjoyed since the first viewing is that simple bowl of noodles.  You can do so many things with food, and especially pasta, but so often, the simplest are the most perfect and enjoyable.  Boiled noodles, a little butter, salt, pepper and sometimes, some grated cheese served as simply as possible is a plate of food that manages to nudge on sublime.

Here is my most recent bowl of buttered noodles with cheese.  We had only lasagna noodles in the cupboard, so I boiled them in an ample amount of water, lightly salted.  Once they were cooked al dente, I drained them and used a pizza cutter to slice the broad noodles to an imperfect approximation of papardelle.  I thank Martha Stewart for including  broken and jagged shards of lasagna noodles in a pasta recipe in the cookbook Dinner at Home for inspiring the use of spare and broken lasagna noodles in a non-lasagna dish.  I stirred a little butter thinned with a splash of warmed vegetable stock to allow the noodles a thin coating.  I topped the bowl with finely grated white cheddar, ground pepper and a tiny shake of salt.  It was delicious.  No further elaboration is required.  As for Amélie, she finally succeeds at taking the joyful leap into living her life  when she  removes a literal and figurative mask of protection and reveals her identify to a man whom she secretly admires.  In opening herself up to the possibility of success or failure at love, a life that Amélie has previously observed as an outsider begins to unfold.  Our moments of real pleasure in this life are so precious-they are best enjoyed through attention and fully and openly savoring every delicious experience, no matter how simple.

Getting Ready for Mexico and a Late Lunch at Rosa Mexicano

We’re taking a trip to Cancun, Mexico in a week, and so we’ve been looking for ways to sample south-of-the-border flavors as a fun way to gear up and get excited.*  Today, I sat down to write a post about a delicious Mexican meal we ate yesterday, and I made myself a snack to enjoy while writing.  I doubt I’m the only person who gets hungry when reading and writing about food.  I don’t usually snack while I post, but this is the sort of activity weekends are made of at our house.

This simple snack verging on a meal is known in our house as Chip N’ Chee.  It was christened by our friend Jonny, who prefers to top his Chip N’ Chee with kippered snacks.  My version consisted of Nacho Chips, sliced black olives and Colby Jack cheese, melted in the microwave for about 30 seconds, served with smoky jarred Frontera Habenero Salsa and a Tecate beer.  It can be made more elaborately with jalapeno, diced tomatoes, and onions then heated in the oven and served with sour cream and guac, but I went for simplicity today.  Are tortilla chips and melted cheese an authentic Mexican snack?  No, but it has some authentic elements,** and I think it is fair to call it Minnesota-Mexican.***  Yesterday was a lazy day that started with sleeping in and then eating a hearty brunch sandwich.  That sort of morning meal is best followed by either a late lunch, or an early supper, whichever suits your fancy.  We fancied a late lunch.   We were downtown running errands yesterday afternoon and found ourselves hungry, so we decided to stop for a mid-afternoon bite.  I was shuffling through my mental list of restaurants to try, and fortunately, our upcoming trip to Mexico jogged a memory of a recent Heavy Table post about Rosa Mexicano, a new Mexican restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.  I was able to locate the restaurant’s address quickly on my handy-dandy new smart phone.  Rosa Mexicano is a Mexican restaurant that has been around since the ’80’s in New York and Miami, and just recently showed up in Minneapolis on the corners of 6th and Hennepin.  We arrived and were seated immediately in the dining room.  The decor is colorful and sleek, and there is zero kitch which is ubiquitous with Mexican restaurants throughout Minnesota.****  The dining room was wide open, and about half full of diners, which I would imagine is a decent crowd on a Saturday afternoon on which a snowstorm  is expected.  We sat at a two-top in the center of the room, and I faced a tiled blue fountain above which was suspended a mobile with a hundred or so small, identical white human sculptures poised in mid-dive and suspended by fine wire at varying levels above the fountain’s square pool.  Other than the impressive fountain and diver mobile at room’s center, the only decor to be seen are straight-sided glass vases displayed along the wall separating the dining room from the bar, each containing a liquid dyed different colors with, what I guess, was food coloring.  The walls, tables and chairs are painted in blocks of purple and pink, a nod, I’m guessing to the restaurant’s moniker.  Our server was raring to go and encouraged us to try the famous guacamole, which is their signature dish, made table-side on a cart.  I glanced around the room and determined that the big pot of guacamole would be too much for me today unless it was the only thing I was going to eat, so we decided to try it another time.  Again, at the suggestion of the author from the Heavy Table article, and in preparation for Mexico, we decided to select a  flight of three tequilas to share.  We opted for Reposado tequilas; tequilas that have been rested on oak barrels for a time.  We selected the Hurradura, Corazon and Tres Generaciones, and we liked them all, but liked the third the best.  The flight is served in  skinny hand-blown shot-glasses of uneven size and were accompanied by a 4th shot glass containing a salty and spicy tomato-y “Sangrita,” aka, chaser, which we sipped, but didn’t finish.

After perusing the menu for a time I opted for Tacos Vegetales a la Brasa, which are Skillet Roasted Seasonal Vegetables topped with a soft herbed cheese and served with red bean chili, corn esquites and a tomatillo mocajete salsa.  Per the title, the roasted carrots, onions and green and yellow zucchini squash arrived in a small square skillet, with each accompaniment in its own separate dish, perched on top of my plate.  The dish was served with a side of flax tortillas, which arrived in a pink plastic tortilla warmer.  The pink plastic serving dish was, in my opinion, the only cheesy element of the restaurant’s overall presentation, but I guess if you are going Rosa, you go all out.  I was a little nervous about flax tortillas and considered asking them to bring me corn instead, which are served with all of the restaurant’s meat-centered dishes.  I kind of hate how vegetarian dishes are always accompanied by healthier breads and sides than omnivore options.  Just because I don’t eat meat doesn’t mean I am trying to eat extra-healthy all the time.  I presume in this case, the corn tortillas served with the non-vegetarian dishes contain, or are cooked in pork or beef fat.  Unlike the numerous disappointingly dry whole wheat buns I’ve eaten with veggie burgers around the world, the flax tortillas were fresh, not overly grainy and overall quite good.

Bjorn chose the Enchiladas Mole Xico, which consists of two corn tortillas filled with shredded beef seasoned with chipotle peppers and topped with Veracruz mole made with raisins, plantains,  hazelnuts, pine nuts, ancho and pasilla chilis and garnished with Mexican creama and queso fresco.  In addition to our individual plates of food we were served a generous bowl of the house rice topped with cilantro and another ample serving of refried black beans topped with queso fresco as well as two salsas: a smoky pasilla de Oaxaca which we loved, and a salsa de tomatillo y Habanero, which we liked less.

As a whole, we both thought the meal was special.  The food was beautifully presented and the flavors were well-developed and were surprising and unique, compared to almost all Mexican food that either of us have eaten.  There was an obvious attention to authentic flavors and careful seasoning.  Of everything on the table, I most enjoyed the refried beans and the corn esquites.  The refried beans were creamy and tasty.  Corn esquites was new to me, made of fresh corn cut off the cob, and served in a creamy sauce with cayenne pepper and Cotija cheese.  I also enjoyed the dollop of creamy, mild, herbed cheese on top of my veggie tacos.  Using only a touch of cheese has become fashionable in higher-end Mexican restaurants because it is more typical of authentic Mexican cuisine.  It is a contrast to the melted-cheese encrusted plates at a typical Mexican restaurant in the Midwest.  I like cheese though, so I was glad they didn’t skimp.  Bjorn was most impressed with the spicy beef in his enchiladas, the flavorful mole, and the smoky pasilla salsa.   There was plenty to eat without getting stuffed.  In addition to the great flavors, there were certain details of the food presentation that increased our enjoyment.  The water was served out of pitchers containing ice, but there was no ice in our glasses.  The separate serving dishes for each of the meal’s elements made it easier to enjoy their distinct flavors and textures without having them run together on our plates into a nondescript mass.  We left just as it began to snow, feeling warmed, satisfied, and happy to anticipate a trip to Mexico in our near future.

*Not that we need much help to get excited for a free, all-inclusive trip to Mexico in December.

**The most authentic Mexican element of this snack is probably the beer.

***Sitting down to eat and write about this lead me to ponder why there is so much discussion of authenticity in preparing a regional cuisine when we are so blooming far from locales where these cuisines originate?  I think people want you to know that with exceptions of home-cooked meals by people who learned at home, and restaurants that pay attention to authenticity, what you make in your Midwestern home and eat at most Midwestern restaurants is nothing like the local cuisine of say, Tuscany, or Jalisco.  Nonetheless, there are some nods in that direction, and it is great to enjoy food with a measure of global curiosity.  At the same time it is important to understand and appreciate the truly traditional and authentic approach to cooking and eating from different parts of the world.  If I ate only the traditional dishes of our region, I would go pretty hungry as a vegetarian.

****Save for Masa, another downtown Minneapolis where the decor and all surfaces in the restaurant are stark white.