Red Lentil Dal / Masoor Dal in the Crock Pot or Slow Cooker

Masoor Dal in the sun ourwaytoeatThere is something wonderfully comforting about coming home to a warm meal ready to eat without any effort, even if you did in fact make it yourself.  No matter what kind of day you had, you can right the wagon when you come home to a crock pot simmering with this warming soup. The spicy aroma seeps out of the cracks of your house, and gives you a warm and welcoming hug before you even walk in the door.  I like to put together a crockpot meal the night before the day in my week that most needs fixing.  For me, that is Monday.  I come home, fling open the door and say “honey, I’m home” and then singsong back to myself in reply, “supper’s ready!” This is a healthy, low fat, plant strong meal.  It qualifies for all sorts of healthy eating buzz words: vegetarian, Meatless Monday, vegan, slow carb, plant strong and nutritarian.

Masoor Dal ingredients in crock ourwaytoeat


  • 3 cups of red lentils, inspected on a white plate or platter, debris removed.
  • 8 cups of water—really, it’s a soup that does not at all require stock!
  • 1 onion, finely chopped.
  • 2-3 carrots, grated.
  • 1 cup of tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced.
  • 2 Thai chilies, minced.  I used dried Thai Dragon chilies from my garden.  Something similar is easily available at the grocery store.
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons Garam Masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger, or ¼ cup grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds, toasted in a pan on the stove until popping

Optional  additions – 1-14 ounce can of coconut milk –totally optional, gives the soup some creamy body, and the spices a place to hang since there is no other added fat included but the soup is lower fat and still wonderfully flavorful without it.

Masoor Dal in the crockpot ourwaytoeat


Inspect lentils, chop onion, garlic, fresh ginger (if using) and Thai Chilies and add to liner of your crock pot.  Toast mustard seeds and add them along with all other seasonings to the liner of your crock.  When you are ready to start the crock, add 8 cups of water and tomatoes.  Stir, and cook on low for 6 hours, then stir in coconut milk, if using, and return Dal to a simmer.  If you are a Midwesterner, exclaim as Bjorn jokingly did, “its good, Dal garnit!”

Masoor Dal ourwaytoeat

Serve warm with Greek yogurt or sour cream to garnish, and warm Naan or Basmati rice on the side.

Dal and Naan ourwaytoeat




Nacho Pot Pie with or without Chicken

Nacho Pot Pie ourwaytoeat

It has been bitterly cold and snowy in Minnesota.  I am at once craving variety and comforting, old-school Midwestern staples.  These individual Nacho “Pot Pies” are comforting, easy to make for meat eaters and vegetarians, and are also a tasty departure from everyday chicken pot pies.  I kept the calorie count under control using fat-free Greek yogurt in the creamy pot pie filling instead of cream or half n’ half, and topped them with a small serving of multigrain chips instead of a buttery crust.  We thought the texture and flavor were perfect.  When served, each person can add nacho toppings as judiciously as they desire.  These mini-casseroles aren’t as “fancy” as Day After Thanksgiving Individual Pot Pies with or without turkey, but they are a guaranteed happy meal for a dreary winter week night or a main course at a Superbowl Party.

Nacho Pot Pies ourwaytoeat

Nacho Pot Pies, yield 4 Individual Pies, easily doubled


1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 a Red Pepper, chopped

1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeds removed and minced—add an extra pepper for more heat.

1/2 an Onion, chopped

1-14 ounce can of Black Beans, rinsed

3/4 cup of frozen Corn, thawed

1.5 Tablespoons of Taco Seasoning I use Home-Made Taco Seasoning following the Girl Who Ate Everything’s recipe.

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

1 Cup Vegetable or Chicken Stock

1/2 Cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt

2 Scallions, white parts and just the beginning of the green, diced fine

Tortilla Chips–I used multigrain

Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese to top each Pot Pie

Olive Oil

Optional:  cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks, 1/3 cup per dish

Method:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Coat individual 5-inch baking dishes, or a small casserole dish or glass pie plate with cooking spray or oil.

Nacho Pot Pie Fixings 2 ourwaytoeat

Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, add chopped red pepper and cook 2 minutes.  Add garlic and jalapeno, cook one minute until fragrant.  Sprinkle taco seasoning and flour, blend together and cook 1 minute.  Add stock and bring to a boil, then simmer 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.  Stir in Greek yogurt, most of the black beans and corn.

Chopped Chicken and Black Beans ourwaytoeat

Add chicken, or a few extra spoonfuls of baked beans into each dish.  Divide filling between individual baking dishes.

Assembling Nacho Pot Pies ourwaytoeatTop with tortilla chips, scallions and shredded cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees, 18-22 minutes until golden.

Nacho Pot Pies topped with cheese ourwaytoeat

Serve with traditional nacho/taco accompaniments:  shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced olives, sour cream, sliced avocado, lime wedges and salsa.  These are Nacho Grandma’s Pot Pies.


Our Way to Eat at Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pot Du Creme at Alma

(612) 379-4909 528 University Ave SE Minneapolis, MN 55414

There wasn’t a lot of forethought before our 9 p.m. decision to go to Restaurant Alma for dinner the other night.  We’ve never been there, and it was on the list of places to try.  A quick call while en route from Saint Paul confirmed that there was no wait for a table for two.  This was not surprising at 9 p.m. on the first bone-shocking -12 degree night of the winter.  Restaurant Alma deserves anticipation, but this is how dining out decisions tend to go for us:  it had gotten late, we were hungry, interested in the place and there was a table available, so why not?

Alma is a nicer restaurant, but I found it immediately comfortable because of its unpretentious atmosphere.  Not being “on the list” was not a problem, and our server was down-to-earth, friendly and attentive.  We came in from the blustery cold night into the warm, open room and were immediately seated. Our server greeted us, and we told her that we had not been there before.  She gave us a helpful overview of the restaurant’s approach.  The menu changes seasonally and ingredients are locally sourced to the extent possible.  The restaurant offers a three course tasting menu, with both meat and vegetarian options.  Alma embraces the tasting menu concept because it allows the small kitchen to operate efficiently, and lets you try a number of dishes and dine at a relaxing pace.   Eating three courses sounds like feast, but the portions are sized correctly to allow you to enjoy the variety without feeling over-fed.

Celery Root Flan at Alma

Even though the restaurant was nearly full, service hummed along at a calm, pleasant pace.  At the server’s recommendation, we both started with the Celery Root Flan – warm julienned celery root salad topped with caviar, served side-by-side with a silver dollar-sized truffle-oil brushed toasted brioche with a small, round flan. The flan and celery root salad were pleasantly bitter as would be expected with celery root, the garnish –itty-bitty chopped chives subtly balanced it.  The challenge of this course was getting the celery root and caviar part of the dish into your mouth, I had some success when I piled the salad on top of the tiny piece of toast.  The flavor and texture combination of smooth flan, salty bursts caviar and crunchy toast was unexpected and tasty.Poblano and Salsify Soup at Alma

For the second course, I ordered the Salsify & Poblano Cream Soup.  The ingredients arrived in the bottom of my bowl – poblano, salsify and some nutty sautéed mushrooms.  Mushrooms replace the chorizo in the meat-eaters version of the soup which is also on the menu.  Salsify is a root vegetable that looks like a pale, dirty carrot.  When cooked, it has the texture of a carrot as well.  I found it innocuous– its lack of popularity is probably due to the fact that it has little detectable flavor.  The server poured the light, creamy soup base over the vegetables from a small pitcher.  Again, there were minuscule chives which provided a faint, but pleasant oniony-ness, that along with the flavorful mushrooms and poblano, balanced out the creamy base of the luxurious soup.  When the server came to check on us, I told her the soup was “lovely” a word which I used to excess by the end of the meal.  Carolina Grits at Alma ourwaytoeat.comFor Bjorn’s second course, he ordered Carolina Grits served with pork broth, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and garnished with scallions and fresh grated horseradish.  He loved this dish. Taking the southern classic of shrimp and grits infusing Asian elements of pork broth and shiitake made the dish interesting and new.  The horseradish provided heat that was noticeable without being overpowering.  Bjorn described the dish as “excellent, a mouthful of flavors.”

Duck Two Ways at Alma

For Bjorn’s main course he ordered the duck which came two ways:  confit and pan roasted.  The duck was served with roasted parsnips, oyster mushrooms and “cumin mojo.”  He reports that it was awesome.  To the untrained, vegetarian eye, the duck looked tender and perfectly cooked.  Squash Migas at Alma ourwaytoeat.comIn a rare moment of boldness I broke with my habit to order the pasta as my main course, and instead tried the Squash “Migas”.  I should do that more often.  The Migas were a heap of bread and tortilla crumbs with small pieces of squash made into a hash piled atopt charred chili puree and garnished with fresh cheese, and topped with a soft poached egg.  I enjoyed the dish– it was spicy, flavorful breakfast food.  I found the chili puree to be a bit on the salty side, but I have a salt-sensitive palate, so it may have been fine for others.  The fresh cheese was mild, with a flavor and texture similar to queso fresco.  I loved the poached egg- it tasted amazingly fresh.  I wish I could find where they buy these wonderful eggs and learn to poach them perfectly– keeping the white tender and intact and finishing the yolk to creamy-perfect doneness as it was on my Migas.

Pot Du Creme and Tea at Alma

Throughout the meal, neighbouring tables ordered desserts that looked intriguing, but I usually don’t have dessert unless it is going to be extremely special, so I ordered a small pot of chamomile mint tea.  Bjorn ordered port and a desert, a Honey Chocolate Pot du Creme with honeycomb candy, grated chocolate, chocolate angel food cake and honey sabayon.  Fortunately, he was willing to share.  The dessert was phenomenal and probably my favorite part of the meal.  All of the textures and flavors were luxurious, but not overly rich, and mildly sweet.  Following a bite of creamy chocolatey honey goodness with a sip of port, the nutty, vanilla flavor of the port came alive and left us warm and sleepy.  A perfect ending to a LOVELY meal.

I would recommend Restaurant Alma, and will certainly go back.  It it a perfect place for an intimate, relaxing meal for a small group, especially a mixed group of vegetarian-omnivore eaters.  I loved the fact that the vegetarian menu followed the regular menu closely.  Thoughtful substitutions of mushroom for chorizo in the soup, and squash for lamb in the Migas meant that I could sample the most interesting dishes on the menu.  Some nice restaurants make the vegetarian menu feel like a special cause, and many others don’t have vegetarian offerings at all.  I like having intentionally meat-free dishes to choose from, but at the same time I’d rather eat close to what everyone else gets to eat.  The classic elements of the dishes we sampled at Restaurant Alma were adeptly executed, and the dishes as a whole were infused with thoughtful and imaginative international flavor elements, making for a special and memorable dining experience, late on a cold winter’s night.


Fresh Tomato Pasta for the Height of Tomato Season

Every time I come upon a tomato grown in our garden, I exclaim, “hello, gorgeous!”Fresh Tomato Pasta on

My garden and the farmer’s market are booming juicy ripe tomatoes.  We have been enjoying tomatoes with reckless abandon with simple preparation: in BLT’s, in a caprese salad or sliced on their own.  Another delicious and simple preparation that honors a juicy tomato is this uncooked tomato pasta sauce that I tossed with hot whole grain spaghetti.  It contained sliced and chopped tomatoes, two chopped sweet Italian peppers, a clove of garlic- minced, chopped flat leaf parsley, basil, and a few dashes of red wine vinegar and the tiniest drizzle of olive oil.  I mixed up the sauce and left it raw, then tossed it with the pasta, cooked al dente.  I topped it with fresh cracked pepper, a little salt and a ball of Buratta: fresh mozzarella with a creamy center, opened for scooping a spoonful on to each plate. The Burrata is a nice texture compromise between ricotta and regular fresh mozzarella and really made this lush.  This was a fabulous summer pasta and an easy way to focus entire meal on tomatoes, raw and in their finest form: juicy and warm from the vine.  Summer’s lease hath too short a date!  Dig in!  My recipe is a mash-up of recipes from Martha Stewart (here and here) and from a recipe from Bon Appetit, with the addition of Burrata from my own imagination.

After a break from blogging over the summer, I’ve decided to make shorter posts more the norm.  I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

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


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!





Chicken Noodle Soup – A Cure for Cold Season

When the long Minnesota winter is starting to wear on us, there are certain classic recipes that we revisit every year.  A bowl of homemade soup provides a fortifying boost of energy and straightforward, clean flavors that help a body endure the waning months of cold and darkness.Chicken-less Chicken Noodle Soup on

A steaming bowl of chicken or chicken-less noodle soup is a warming cure for winter blahs if I know one.  It is so comforting if you have a cold.  I don’t follow an exact recipe to make Chicken and Chicken-less Noodle soup.  I chop a few peeled carrots, a few ribs of celery and onion, and saute them in a little oil until fragrant, but still crisp.  Then, I add about 5 cups of broth, (homemade when I have it).  I bring the soup to a point beyond a simmer and add two handfuls of frozen peas.  When the soup returns to almost-boiling I add a few handfuls of egg noodles, and about a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley.  I like to use ample, wavy, dumpling egg noodles.  They need 6-10 minutes of cooking time to cook to tender, but not soggy.  Bowl of Chicken-less Noodle SoupIn order to make chicken-less soup for myself, and classic chicken noodle soup for Bjorn, I saute chicken breasts or thighs separately.  When the chicken is cooked through, I chop it and add a hearty serving of chopped chicken to his bowl.  You can make a whole pot of chicken-less soup if everyone prefers, or you can saute the chicken along with the veggies if everyone at your house eats chicken.  Before serving, I adjust the flavour with salt and pepper.  If you are a stickler for following a recipe, Martha Stewart’s Chicken Noodle Soup is similar to my general guidelines, except that she doesn’t add peas; she opts for dill instead of parsley and she uses quick-cooking vermicelli noodles instead of wide egg noodles.  This soup is flexible.  You could add other veggies.  For me, I like to stick to the classic Chicken Noodle soup ingredients, except that I leave out the meat.

Chicken Noodle Soup Heating Instructions

A little while ago, Bjorn’s brother was under the weather, so we decided to bring him a serving of our soup. I removed a portion of the soup and put it in a disposable container before the noodles were fully cooked so that he could bring the soup up to temp without the noodles getting soggy.Cold Season Care Package

To round out our care package, we added a bottle of fizzy mineral water for some electrolytes and a quarter-sleeve of saltines to go along with the soup.

Get Well Soon Care Package

I taped my handwritten instructions to a small bag with washi tape and we dropped the package off at Brett’s house, hoping to bring a little warmth and cheer to a dreary sick day.  Homemade soup tastes wonderful and fills the house with a comforting aroma.  This soup is made entirely of staples that are usually on hand in the pantry and freezer.  Chicken Noodle soup cooks quickly and provides comfort, flavor and textures you just can’t get from a can.  When you’ve had it with winter, remember to make this soup!

Chicken Noodle Soup

Inspiration for Winter Salad Season

Mixed Greens with Beet, Grapefruit and Avocado with Grapefruit-Thyme DressingYou might think a person’s natural “Salad Season” would occur in the summer.  Since I started photo-documenting the food we eat, I have discovered our true salad season occurs in the deep winter.  We certainly don’t have a dazzling array of garden and local produce available, but even so, we do our best to choose the best produce and canned goods available to get by.  This is probably the season when we need hearty salads the most here in the Midwest.  Our bodies are hiding in bundles of clothing, we spend our time mostly indoors and in natural darkness, and we inevitably encounter a number of virus threats on a weekly basis.  I consider these light, bright, crunchy, energizing, nutrient rich, colorful salads, [along with sleep] to be one of the secrets to a maintaining a pretty reliable immune system.  They are also my January-February hope that when spring arrives, I will feel and look more springy than a person feels in the depths of winter.  Shaved Carrot, Purple Cabbage and Sunflower Seeds on Romaine

Our first salad, shaved carrot, Parmesan,  radish, white bean and raw sunflower seeds on romaine. Cukes, Halved Grape Tomatoes, Celery Chunks and Kidney BeansI start preparing our salads by adding its prominent components to a bowl.  Chop something crunchy (celery), add a protein (kidney beans), add any other vegetables you have on hand and wish to include (here, cukes and halved grape tomatoes) , toss with greens, (here, romaine and spinach).  If you care to, add a flavor/texture  “treat” such as seeds, nuts, avocado, egg or a bit of cheese.   This is the way to make a great winter a great salad.Radish, Celery, Cuke and Kidney Beans with Spinach and RomaineI typically toss greens with either some citrus juice, lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit or a flavored vinegar.  My favorite vinegars are red wine, balsamic or tarragon vinegar.  Then I drizzle just a few drops of olive oil and toss the greens.  It is surprising how little oil you need to bring all of the flavors together.  Sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard, or a teaspoon of honey or jam to the oil and vinegar/citrus mixture before mixing vigorously to add further flavor and help the dressing to emulsify before tossing the liquids with the greens.   Chopped fresh herbs or dried herbs along with salt and pepper added according to taste complete the dressing.  Beet, Bosc Pear and Cucumber on Mixed GreensThis salad is composed of beets, peeled bosc pear and sliced cucumber on mixed greens dressed with leftover grapefruit juice and fresh thyme dressing and a little pepper and salt.  Don’t hesitate to open a can of beans, beets or citrus canned (hopefully BPA free) in its natural juice.  There are many health benefits and few sacrifices when you add these nutrient-rich ingredients the easy way.  ourwour

The next salad is composed of sliced radish, sliced pear, white beans and a few slices of brie on spinach with citrus-preserve dressing. Black Bean, Corn, Radish, Grape Tomatoes and Pepitas

Another great salad is composed of corn, black beans, peeled and quartered cukes, minced scallion, halved grape tomatoes and pepitas dressed with lime juice, olive oil, honey and chili flakes over romaine.  Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit dressed with Grapefruit Juice and Thyme on Mixed GreensIn my book, this winter salad is special, grapefruit supremes, sliced avocado and red beets on mixed greens with grapefruit juice and olive oil dressing with thyme leaves. Shaved Carrot and Chickpeas on RomaineHere is another hearty and satisfying salad we’ve enjoyed composed of shaved carrot, celery, chickpeas, sliced radish and provolone on romaine-spinach mix.

Salads in winter are limited by the produce in season, but those limitations can open up room for creativity.  Salads like these complete a meal as a healthy side dish or stand as a meal on their own.  Certainly, they brighten your plate and the winter— try ’em.


Homemade Perogies — Comfort Food for a Winnipeg North-ender

Last weekend when it came time to eat, both Bjorn and I were hungry for the same thing:  “real food.”  We’ve been raking tons of leaves, the air is chilly, it gets dark early at this time of year which is more than enough to make a person crave warmth and comfort.  To us, “real food” is the food that we would have eaten as children.  It is wholesome, homemade, hearty and satisfying– something Grandma would make.  This particular meal is one I grew to love as a child but isn’t one that either of our Grandmas would have made–though amazing cooks, there isn’t a Ukrainian among them.  I grew up in the North End of Winnipeg so many of my friends and classmates had a Baba.  There is a large population of second, third and forth generation Ukrainians settled in the North End.  Family recipes are preserved and propagated through their use at wedding socials, at social clubs suppers, church fundraisers and in restaurants that serve good, home-style Ukrainian food.  I can say with assurance that even without a Ukrainian relative, any Winnipegger worth her salt knows a good perogy.  To me, perfect perogies are filled with a cheesy potato mixture, boiled and fried with onions until they are golden and crispy and served with sour cream.   Perogies can be the center of a meal on their own.  When served with borscht, holobtsi, kovbasa and a slice of City Rye or Pumpernickel bread and butter, you are having a homey, North End feast.  I set about to make perogies from scratch for the first time last week.   I didn’t have the advantage of Hunky Bill’s Perogie Maker or a Baba’s recipe so I followed my instincts and took some guidance from a pierogi recipe by Martha Stewart.  Martha is Polish so she uses the Polish spelling for Pierogi.  Each Eastern European country has their own name for a perogy, and each family has their own variation on the recipe and favorite way to serve perogies.  Whether you call them perogies, pierogi or varenyky the general concept of a perogy is the same:  a soft, unleavened dough is stuffed with potatoes, vegetables, herbs, cheese or meat, boiled and sometimes fried, and typically served with fried onions and sour cream or jam. I made half the quantity of Martha’s dough and potato filling, doubled the cheese and I channeled “North End Baba” while a I rolled, stuffed, boiled and fried.  I found the dough forgiving and easy to handle.  I floured the counter and rolled the dough to 1/8 inch thickness, then cut as many rounds as a I could with a juice glass.  I measured the cheesy-potato mixture into each round with a scoop to avoid over filling any.  The potato mixture is the consistency of dry mashed potatoes, since it contains no milk or cream.  It was surprisingly easy to stretch, fill and pinch the soft dough to form tightly sealed, plump crescents.  I boiled all of the perogies in batches of 8 or so.  Not a single one burst open.Some people stop here and eat perogies after boiling them.  We tasted one, and found it tender and thoroughly cooked, but the next step of frying the boiled perogies with onions is my favorite preparation.  After boiling the perogies, I froze half of the batch, spreading them out on a lightly greased cookie sheet and covering them with saran wrap to fry up another day. Roasted red beets are a good side dish to serve with perogies.  So often I read recipes for roasting beets skin on and then slipping the skins off after they are roasted.  I find this to be a messy way to nearly burn my fingertips and dye them pink.  Instead, I peeled and sliced red beets before roasting them.  I coated them lightly in olive oil and sprinkled over some thyme from our garden that I saved and dried, and roasted the beets at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.

I love the way roasting a vegetable with herbs deepens its flavor and intensifies its color.  The aroma of roasting thyme is the inside-the-house equivalent to autumnal the scent of fallen leaves.

 I fried our perogies in butter with sliced onions. The results were exactly what we were hoping for– my perogies were homey, satisfying and so delicious that I could hardly believe I made them myself.  The meal took me right home to Winnipeg, I will always be a North Ender at heart.  

Cucumber Days

Take two, I had a few issues with my first post made from my Ipad, so I’ll try that again… 

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3 years into gardening, this is the first year we’ve had any success with cucumbers. This year, we are enjoying them regularly in salads, on tacos and most commonly sliced thin, perhaps peeled, and tossed into a bowl with cracked pepper, sliced purple or white onions, snipped fresh herbs, such as chives, flat-leaf parsley, or dill all soaked in white vinegar and a splash of water. This is a taste from childhood that I learned to love at my Grandma’s house, fresh from her garden. We are harvesting spicy Serrano and hot, citrusy Lemon Drop peppers every day.  I have been chopping these and tossing them into the vinegar-water mixture. It mellows their bite enough to make them a perfect, punchy but palatable addition to the mix.  I consider this sliced cucumber, onion, hot pepper and herb mixture a perfect summer side dish, snack, condiment and salad.

There are two schools of thought on the ubiquitous sliced cucumber side dish, one vinegary, like mine, and the other, a creamy version made with sour cream. Check out this recipe for the creamy version of sliced cukes on Deucecities Henhouse, a favorite Twin Cities based blog haunt of mine.

Watching the cukes grow has been almost as much fun as eating them. Ours are growing in all sorts of unconventional shapes. I spend time every week tying tomato plants to chicken wire and winding twine around bamboo poles to support green beans, peppers and peas. Cucumber vines take the initiative of sending out tendrils that stretch out until they find other plants and structures nearby, then curling the tendrils tightly around so they hang tight. Cucumbers are fully capable of supporting themselves.

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!