Vibrant Beet Hummus

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.

Crudites and Red Beet HummusA 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.  2014-3-25 Vibrant Beet Hummus1We 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.  Veggies and Hummus packed to travelI 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.

Golden Beet Hummus in the NinjaMethod:

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.

Crudites and Red Beet Hummus

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.

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.

Principles of a Satisfying Snack

I’ve been thinking about snacks.  If you say the word “snack” I associate it with the small plate containing Triscuit crackers with peanut butter and jam or slices of cheddar cheese that greeted me after school when I was a child.  I recall the semester that I studied abroad in England the break between morning lectures was an occasion for friends meeting in a  dorm room for cups of instant coffee and McVitie’s Biscuits.  It also calls to mind taking part in the ritual of afternoon noshes — a tiny bowl of salty-crunchy bits and nuts served with a cocktail and a crossword at my great Aunt Margaret’s home Victoria, British Columbia — très sophistiqué.  In these moments, snacking served a dual purpose — it was a time to pause and enjoy a simple and comforting luxury, and to stave off hunger for a few hours more until mealtime arrived.

If you don’t happen to be in the midst of childhood or your college years, or making precious memories with elderly relatives, snacking can have a dark side.  This would be most snacks that come in 100 calorie servings sealed in shiny wrapping, or anything mindlessly inhaled while standing fridge-side.  I don’t find those snacks to be satisfying.  For me, a snack composed according to a few simple principles fits into the romantic episodes in my life as well as the real world.  Take this tasty morsel — a tiny slice of rye bread topped with a little leftover egg salad and a sprig of fresh dill from my garden.  It is well worth  saving a few leftover spoonfuls of egg salad so I can have a snack like this one in the middle of a summer afternoon.

The first principle of a good snack is that it should be quick.  It should take less than 5 minutes, or preferably less than 3 minutes to prepare.  I start each day with only so much energy to devote to food preparation, and I don’t want to devote very much of that to snacks.  I like to keep a small bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge so we can grab one for a snack at work.  It only takes a moment to crack the shell and eat it with a little salt and pepper.  The protein and small amount of fat that an egg contains can sustain me through the afternoon.

The second principle of a good snack is that it should either be light, or very very small.  I usually opt for light.  For this snack that I prepared for myself and for Bjorn, I spread a wedge of light Laughing Cow cheese on two Wasa Crispbread Crackers.  I sliced a radish and some cucumber very thin.  I sprinkled a little smoked paprika on the cucumber and a dash of salt and pepper on the radish.  The whole snack contains less than 150 calories, and also healthy things like fiber.  You can enjoy the crunch of the crackers and veggie slices, the creaminess of the cheese, and take in the brightly colored veggies with a punch of paprika with your nose and your eyes.

The final principle of good snacking is to pause.  While eating, it is so important to take a moment to pay attention, so you know you’ve eaten something, and to appreciate the nourishment.  I also try to pause when I’m done. If it was a tasty snack, I might think that I want a little more, but if I give my mind and stomach ten minutes to catch up with each other, I usually find that I’m satisfied.

Baked Chips Fit for Superbowl Sunday

This Sunday, people across the country will gather around the television to evaluate the entertainment value of the newly-released beer commercials and eat chicken wings* and cheesy dips.  Many of those people will watch the accompanying football game.  Whether you are really into the game or just the commercials and other fanfare, isn’t Superbowl Sunday at least partly about the food?  I am not one to begrudge myself or others their favorite snacks at a Superbowl Party.  They are All-American comfort food.  A typical menu is inspired by Stadium Food, Backyard BBQs and Tailgating favorites, but prepared indoors and served in a manner fit for eating at the couch.  I don’t know about you, but my Superbowl Sunday is also Super-Sedentary Sunday.  When people around me who are watching the game cheer because the right team has scored, I leap off the couch to high-five/fist-pump/bump chests on cue.  That is the only exercise I get the whole day.  Even if I am just not that into sports, I enjoy this day and all of the fun it has to offer.  The challenge I’ve given myself this year is to make food that completely is worthy of the celebration, and doesn’t send my caloric intake for the day over the top of the high-end of the recommended range for an adult male.  I am not saying I am swearing off nacho cheese for life.  No, no, no.  This is the thing:  I have seen those darned, heartwarming Dominos commercials about how they are improving their pizzas and I’m as susceptible to the marketing of convenience and processed snacks as the next person.  I have just realized that falling for that message limits the potential for enjoying good, simple food without guilt.  Are you with me?  Without further adieu, my version of Oven Baked Potato Chips, a snack fit to eat this Sunday.

To make:  scrub a couple of Russet Potatoes.  I sliced 3 potatoes and made plenty of chips for the food testers [Meghan and Bjorn].  You can increase or decrease the number of potatoes you use depending on the size of your crowd and how many other awesome dishes you are preparing.

I like to slice the potatoes very thin.  I used my brand new OXO Softworks Mandoline to slice the potatoes .  The Mandoline was a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law.  He is a die-hard sports fan, so it is totally appropriate that the Mandoline’s first use is to test a Superbowl Snack.  If you have a Madonline, please be very, very careful.  This is one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment you can keep in the house, if you ask me.  If you use it with extreme care though, the food chopping results are pretty cool.  If you don’t have a Mandoline, you could use a sharp knife, or the long blade part of your cheese grater if it is still sharp.  I will slice the potato just a little thicker than I did this time on game day.  My slices were fine, but as you can see, they had some tattered edges and they got pretty crispy upon baking.  Crispy is great, but a little less crispy might be even better.  I went for round rippled chips this time, but next time I might do shoestrings, waffle fries, or regular French Fries.  The recipe is the same no matter how you slice ’em.  Just be aware that when potatoes are baked with little or no oil, the bigger chunks don’t crisp up the same way they do when deep-fried.  You have to try it out and see what shape and size you like.

I soaked the sliced potatoes in cold water for a while before baking them.  This helps release some of the starch from the potatoes, which helps them get crispier when baked. Once the potatoes had a good soak, I dried them off on paper towels and put them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil which was sprayed thoroughly with cooking spray.  You could toss the potatoes in olive oil before this step, or drizzle them with a small amount of olive oil when they are in the pan, but that is optional.  I didn’t and I was totally happy with our crispy baked chips.

I sprinkled the thinly sliced potatoes with seasoning.  Today I used an envelope of Spicy Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, oops, I guess I did go ahead and use a processed convenience food. I had it in the cupboard I thought “what the heck?!  I’ll use it.”  It was good, but I’d be totally happy with a bunch of herbs.  I love the combination of herbs in a jar of Poultry Seasoning, or a good shake of 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s; if you don’t use a mix, Paprika, Onion Powder, Garlic, Chili Powder and Thyme would also be good… Seasoning is another part of this recipe to adjust to your own personal taste.  The seasonings you love will taste good.  Notice that I didn’t say anything about salt.  I think its best to let everyone salt their own chips according to taste so I put out the shaker when the chips were served.  I threw the baking sheets in the oven at 425° for somewhere between  30-45 minutes, tossing the chips once, half way through.  I like crispy tatos, so I let them go to the done side and made them extra crisp by finishing the baking briefly under the broiler.  Depending on preference, you can bake them until they reach a “tender-crisp” level of doneness.

While the chips were cooking, I whipped up a little bowl of “Skinny” Garlic Aioli.  All credit for the Aioli goes to the wonderful blog Gina’s Skinny Recipes.  My recipe for “Oven Chips” is also heavily adapted from Gina’s recipe for Baked Seasoned Fries which accompanies the Garlic Aioli recipe.  The Aioli is made with 2 Tablespoons of Light Mayo, 2 Tablespoons Fat Free Greek Yogurt, 2 finely minced Cloves of Garlic and salt and pepper to taste.  This Aioli is a seriously garlicky and kicky condiment.  I topped the bowl of Aioli with a little bit of flat-leaf parsley.  I think almost everything looks and tastes better when it is topped with fresh herbs.

When the fries were ready, I served them on a platter.  I set out ketchup, shakers of salt and pepper, and tarragon vinegar.  I always serve chips with vinegar.  I’m Canadian, so vinegar is a must.  Malt vinegar is traditional, but I love using other flavor-infused vinegars to make dressings and cook and flavor food.  They add zero calories, you know.

We probably eat potatoes once a month or so, and when we do, we often have oven baked chips or fries.  They are fit for your Superbowl Party, or any old Thursday night.  Try it!

*I read that the National Chicken Council estimates that a 100 million pounds of chicken wings will be consumed over the weekend.  Holey Moley.  That’s a lotta wings.

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.

Perfect Summer Snack Times Two

What do you do when you are hungry for a snack and you have a fresh baguette and all of the ingredients for the two perfect summer salads to go with it?  Well if you are almost incapable of avoiding complication in the creation of even the simplest of summer snacks (like me), you make both.

Today’s summer afternoon snack started with a caprese.  I think an insalata caprese would be in the top 3 contenders of foods that I’d want to have to eat on a desert island.  I love them so much that when our garden is kicking out tomatoes and basil like mad, I’m eating them in as many as three meals a day.  They are summer’s loveliest flavour and texture combination.  A luscious tomato, cut thick, with generous slices of fresh mozzarella and just-picked basil leaves floated down upon them; finished with the lightest drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salt and maybe a little pepper.  I’m no stickler, but I will mention that these things taste like a million bucks if you’ve grown your own tomatoes and basil, or bought them very fresh from friendly farmer who has.  And the mozzarella-it must be very fresh, milky and on the watery and porous side.  I think the cryo-packed balls can often be as good as the packed-in-water in plastic containers from the grocery store.  So many people love good fresh mozzarella that it is becoming very easy to find and cheap to buy.  Enough about my caprese obsession.  How about a picture of the golden tomato caprese that launched a thousand word paragraph?

This on its own is the perfect summer snack, but there are two hungry people in this house,  and, I’ve also got some lovely dill, fresh eggs and lettuce, so I can’t stop with just the caprese.  I boiled the eggs, or, if you are a student of Martha Stewart –hard cooked them.

Check out these gorgeous fresh eggs that I bought from a man named Fernando who raises them in the little town where I work.

For egg salad, eggs are boiled, peeled, sliced in half and ready to be chopped and combined with a little light mayonnaise, mustard, diced onion and celery and a little pepper and salt to taste, then piled on top of some lettuce and garnished with dill, both from the garden.

There isn’t much more to do then to place the plate between two hungry people to eat with baguette, or on their own.  I put salt and pepper, olive oil and vinegar on the table, to adjust flavours, as needed.  We dove in.  It was fresh, flavourful and satisfying; the perfect summer snack.