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Monday, December 28, 2009


It is back to reality this week, huh? I have shunned using the internet for as long as possible and it is time to get back into it (at least for a few days).

These last couple weeks have been a bit hectic. I felt like my mind has been constantly racing in order to check items off my huge list. While price limits were set for gift giving, we did not technically set any limits on stocking stuffers. So, I ran from store to store to buy little stocking stuffers for everyone. Juice boxes, fruit snacks and puzzles for the kids, candy and mini bottles of champagne for the adults, protein bars for my dad, and so on.

Luckily, to help us keep energized, I made some Raw Chocolate-Chia Energy Bars from the newest issue of Vegetarian Times. I carried one in my purse so I wouldn’t be tempted to grab something quick and unhealthy for breakfast or lunch.

The key nutritional ingredient in these bars is chia seed. Yep, just like the seeds you use for Chia Pets. Surprisingly, they are full of fiber (7 grams per bar) and heart-healthy Omega-3 fats. I always wondered if those seeds were edible!

In 2008, my former employer held a company-wide contest using Chia Pets. Since I was the designated over-achiever in our department (read: nerd), I was named to be in charge of the Chia. I know it is advertised as being an easy thing to grow, but that was not my experience.

While the seeds sprouted a little in the beginning, I must have used too much plant food or fertilizer and fried the thing out. Pressured to enter our Chia Pet in a contest, I had to come up with a solution to our dead Chia Pet.

Yep, I cut and glued pieces of yarn all over the Chia and turned it into a party Chia Pet. While it did not take home the top prize, my craftiness did land it in the top three.

While I will never try my hand at another Chia Pet, I will continue to use chia seeds in my food. Not only are the seeds great in energy bars, but they can be added to smoothies or yogurt and even used as an egg replacer in vegan baking. Find it in the bulk spices section of your co-op.

Raw Chocolate-Chia Energy Bars

from Vegetarian Times, January 2010
(makes 8)

1 ½ cups pitted dates
1/3 cup raw unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole chia seeds
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract
1 cup raw slivered almonds

Place dates in a food processor and puree until a thick paste forms. Add cocoa powder, chia seeds, vanilla and almond extracts. Pulse until all ingredients are combined. Add almonds; pulse until nuts are finely chopped and well distributed through date mixture.

Spread a large sheet of wax paper on a work surface. Transfer date mixture to wax paper and use paper to press mixture into ½-inch thick rectangle. Wrap tightly and chill overnight.

Unwrap block and cut into 8 bars. Rewrap each bar in wax paper.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Simple Side Dish: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Is it just me or is cooking inspiration lacking in others too? I blame the weather. Who wants to go grocery shopping when the temperature is hovering around zero? I also blame the holidays. Instead of making a meal planning list, I’m making gift shopping lists.

So, instead of trying new ingenious meals, I’ve looked around my kitchen for items to use up. We’ve eaten a lot of hodgepodge meals lately like a trio of side dishes or a small meal with a bigger dessert. One of my favorite recent meals would have to be Roasted Brussels Sprouts alongside Roasted Delicata Squash. Simple, easy, light, and totally local.

We had planned on making a fresh salad from the Brussels sprouts from our winter crop share. However, we did not use them fast enough and they started to wilt. So, after a little damage control (tossing the wilted yellow leaves & halving the sprouts), they were tossed with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and baked at 425° for 25 or so minutes. I grated a bit of Parmesan cheese on top for extra flavor.

The light dinner gave us an excuse for a big piece of pumpkin pie with freshly whipped cream. Mmm…delicious!

Monday, December 14, 2009

On Being Sick

I have been in total hibernation and out of touch with the world for four straight days. I barely used my computer, did not leave the house, and definitely did not speak on the phone. That’s right, I was sick. No, I wasn’t suffering the dreaded H1N1, I had your garden variety head cold which put me out of touch for awhile.

Problem is: I’m not very good at being sick.

The first day, I felt the symptoms coming on, but chose to ignore them as if they were a fluke. Just in case, I down a bunch of Emergen-C, super nutritious smoothies and a bunch of liquids.

The next day, the symptoms worsen and I accept that I could possibly be sick. Hating to pass it onto anyone else, I cancel lunch plans with a friend, miss out on the Simple, Good & Tasty event, and skip my networking meeting where Jason DeRusha was guest speaking. Bummer.

I try to rest, really, I do. But, I’m just not that good at sitting still. I alternate reading a book and catching up on chores like laundry, cleaning, and cooking. I even make dinner.

(Cashew Quinoa Stir-Fry from Veganomican)

By the third day, I’m sick of being sick. Being cooped up for too long and not being able to socialize, I’m tempted to go to a friend’s birthday party with my husband, but remind myself that my energy level would only last 1-2 hours (and I’m probably contagious). So, I stay home and read all 579 pages of my book while sitting on the couch. How’s that for sitting still?

By the fourth day, although still tied to the box of tissues and had yet to leave the house, things are starting to look up. I can confidently say, “Yes, I can meet for lunch next week”. My life is no longer on hold. So here I am, finally crafting a blog post and feeling a lot better.

Take that sickness!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bowties with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Last week was quite crazy, but full of great activities. I tried out a few new restaurants, Barbette, Nami, Tanpopo, and BeWitched Deli, tried the new Surly Smoke beer (awesome!), attended the No Coast Craft Fair, and went to a really cool Taiko Caravan (drum group) performance courtesy of Metro Magazine at the Southern Theater.

This week should be a bit more low-key and I’m looking forward to it. We still have a lot of our winter crop share to use and I get to check in on the Tahitian Vanilla Liqueur this weekend.

While we were not able to cook too much last week, we did squeeze in one of my favorites from Very Vegetarian, Bowtie Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.

First I make a sun-dried tomato pesto using home dried tomatoes soaked in hot water for 20 minutes. Blend in basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and water until it has a uniform crumbly texture.

Next, sauté a red onion with strips of portobello mushroom and slices of garlic. Toss the veggie mixture with freshly cooked bow-tie pasta, pesto, and a little water to thin it out.

I love this dish. Not only is it great the first time around, but it holds up well for leftovers too.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chex Mix & Mingle Event

I’m excited to share my experiences from the Chex Mix & Mingle event yesterday. Now before you start thinking that I drank the Kool-Aid, I’m going to tell you right now that you’re wrong. I ate the Chex Mix (hee hee):

I’ve always been a fan of homemade Chex Mix (um, hello to polishing off a whole bag of my mother-in-law’s recipe), but when I received an invite to an event featuring Chex Mix and Katie Lee (as in the one formerly married to Billy Joel), I was a bit apprehensive. I’m not a fan of Katie Lee and figured it was just a gimmick to get me to buy her new cookbook. After doing a bit of research, I realized the event was focused on Chex Mix and considering I’ve been chatting with the General Mills/Betty Crocker folks lately, I figured it would be a great opportunity to “mix and mingle”.

If you haven’t been out to the General Mills campus, you need to visit this place! I passed a Caribou Coffee, a bank, a hair salon, and even a mini-grocery store stocked with General Mills products. Their employees can never say, “I didn’t have time to run to the grocery store”!

The group attending was pretty small, probably under 100 people. We sat in the auditorium to learn more about “America’s Most Trusted Kitchens” and hear a bit from Katie Lee about holiday entertaining.

Interesting Fact: Everyday at 4pm, 50% of consumers don’t know what they are having for dinner.

Afterwards, we were ushered into the gorgeous Betty Crocker Kitchens to try the Top 5 recipes in the Chex Mix Recipe Contest. With names like Lemon Rosemary, Deviled, Chexicago, Pumpkin Pie Crunch & Buffalo, I had to try them all. America voted for the winner, which was announced at the event and it was my personal favorite as well: Buffalo Chex Mix.

I have to admit, I’m now really tempted to throw a Chex Mix party of my own to try all the great recipes again. I wonder which one my friends would vote to win.

We also received Katie Lee’s new cookbook, The Comfort Table, Recipes for Everyday Occasions, and she autographed the books. 

After some more mingling, I was whisked off to another area of the Betty Crocker Kitchens where we got to be crafty. You know me, I love crafts and I love food, so what a great combination. They showed us how to make simple gifts using Chex Mix. It was so dead easy that I put them together very quickly and went back to socializing (and eating more Chex Mix). Here’s a picture of me with one of the gift ideas, a recipe box:

I did mention they are gorgeous kitchens, right?

We walked away with some swag:

Overall, it was a great afternoon and I came home on a post-event high. I met a lot of fabulous people and I even found a few recipes I’m going to try from Katie Lee’s book. I am glad to walk away with some hostess gift ideas too.

FTC Disclosure: I received everything mentioned for free, courtesy of General Mills in exchange for attending the event. I drove my own car and paid for my own gas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cranberry Contribution

Thanksgiving is over, the weekend has passed and now it is time to return to reality. I considered posting over the break, but tried to stay as far away from my computer as possible as it is always nice to focus on other things.

I cannot say I cooked much over the weekend. I brought the coffee (Peace Coffee, of course) for Thanksgiving Day breakfast to accompany the Eggs Benedict made by Ryan’s mom. For Thanksgiving dinner, I brought cranberry sauce and rolls to go with the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans at my family’s house. Yep, this cranberry sauce:

The sauce was well received but I had made way too much. I took a reader’s suggestion and mixed the leftovers in with my oatmeal and it was delicious!

One of our newer traditions is to exchange names for Christmas. Once all the nieces and nephews started popping up, they became a priority in gift giving. It just made sense to focus on them and set a limit for the adults. At my family’s house we set the price limit and drew the name of a couple. It remains secret until Christmas.

At Ryan’s family’s house, we buy for everyone (with a price limit) and then exchange names for a handmade gift. This year the theme is “something in a frame”. I don’t have a clue of what I’m going to make, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something fun. It also remains a secret until Christmas and can be tough to keep from our significant others since we live in the same house!

Are you trying to put a halt to the excessive Christmas spending too? How do you do it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tahitian Vanilla Bean Coffee Liqueur - Vote!

Marx Foods has been gracious enough to offer more products to try, Tahitian and Madagascar Vanilla Beans. The only catch was that I had to photograph the vanilla beans either by themselves or incorporated into a dish and submit it for their first ever photo contest. I know, such a difficult requirement, right?

I eliminated photographing the vanilla beans by themselves because I’m not a professional photographer and couldn’t even do them justice.

I thought about making some kind of awesome dessert, but figured the vanilla beans would get lost in the dish.

After considering vanilla infused vodka, I came up with an even better idea – I’ll make my own Kahula!

It is surprisingly easy to create your own cordials and liqueurs as I have been doing some reading on it lately. It is not nearly as complicated as beer brewing and it doesn’t require any special equipment besides a glass storing jar or container.

Here’s the recipe I used. It’s loosely based off of Classic Liqueurs by Cheryl Long.

If you like this recipe and photograph, vote for me here. If I win, I can create more Marx Foods goodies for you.

Tahitian Vanilla Bean Coffee Liqueur

1 cup water
2 tbsp coffee (I used Peace Coffee)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 Tahitian vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 ½ cups plain vodka (I used Shakers)
½ cup brandy
1/8 tsp crème de cacao (or chocolate extract)

Heat water in a pan or a tea kettle. Add coffee to a coffee filter, tie with cooking twine and add to hot water. Steep for four minutes, then remove coffee filter.

Add sugar and vanilla bean and heat to boiling. Once boiling, reduce heat and keep at a low boil for 1 minute before turning heat off. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Once mixture is cooled, add vodka, brandy, and cream de cacao to a large glass jar. Pour in coffee mixture (including vanilla bean) and stir well. Set in a cool, dark place for three weeks.

After three weeks, strain mixture several times through a fine wire mesh strainer. Remove and discard vanilla beans. Reseal jar and store in a cool, dark place for an additional 2 months before enjoying over ice or in a White Russian cocktail.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cafe Brenda to Close Doors

When I think of vegetarian friendly cities, Minneapolis is not at the top of my list. Instead, I think of Portland with its many vegan cafes filled with tattooed-bicycle-riding-free-spirits. Or I think of the San Francisco area where fresh produce is plentiful and everyone sports great complexions. Or I even think of New York City where just because of the sheer diversity in the city there are vegetarian options available almost anywhere you look.

However, Minneapolis is surprisingly ranked #7 on and while we may not have as many options as the other cities I mentioned, we still have a great vegetarian restaurant scene. There is Ecopolitan for raw and vegan goodies, French Meadow Bakery for awesome Tempeh Reubens, Pizza Luce for tasty mock duck combos, and Delights of India and Nala Pak if you’re craving Indian. Of course there are quite a few more great veg-friendly restaurants in the cities, but my original favorite is Café Brenda.

Brenda Langton is a pioneer in the vegetarian and local foods movements. She and her husband started Café Brenda 23 years ago and followed it up with Spoonriver in 2008. Not only did Brenda run both restaurants, but she also was the co-founder of my favorite market, Mill City Farmers Market, located along the Mississippi River.  The neat thing about Cafe Brenda is that although it produces quality vegetarian food, the menu also includes items for their omnivore friends, all while keeping local and sustainable in mind.

So, when I heard the news that Café Brenda was to close their doors, I was speechless. How could a great staple like this cease to exist? I know of many couples (including myself and my husband) that spent their anniversaries dining over organic greens and brown rice or sharing a plate of hummus and pitas along with a glass of wine.

To us, this news is incredibly sad. I will miss Café Brenda, but of course I will remain positive as Brenda Langton is not someone to sit still for very long. She is an innovative leader in Twin Cities’ food and I look forward to whatever she cooks up next.  In the meantime, I am going to try to squeeze in one last visit to say farewell as the anticipated closing date is December 5th.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cranberry Walnut Muffins

Just doing a quick post today. While I’m full of words and stories, I just can’t seem to get them to come out right – ever have those days?

So, I’ll leave you with these awesome Cranberry Walnut Muffins. While trying to clean up my stacks of recipes, I came across this one in the Star Tribune. It’s from a book called Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More by Carole Walter.

These muffins rocked and kept fresh all week. While you can freeze them for later use, we ate them all over a week or so. I’ve tried various cranberry muffins in the past which have been too dense or grainy. These remind me of fresh blueberry muffins in their lightness and golden color.

Cranberries are on sale at almost every store or at a winter farmers market. There is one coming up on Saturday (the 21st) at Local D’Lish from 10am – 2pm. They are located at 208 N. 1st Street in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District. I’ll be headed there for sure to pick up a winter crop share from Loon Organics.

Cape Cod Cranberry Muffins

(makes 15 muffins)

5 ounces (1 ¼ cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons canola oil
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup orange juice
¾ cup coarse-chopped toasted walnuts

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°. Line 14 muffin cups with paper or foil cupcake liners.

Place the cranberries in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and use on/off pulses to coarsely chop the cranberries. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter and oil and heat until the butter melts. Stir in the sugar; it will not dissolve.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to stir together the eggs and orange juice. Stir in the sugar mixture, then add the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. When the flour is almost incorporated, stir in the cranberries and walnuts.

Fill the muffin cups until almost full with batter, about ¼ cup each. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, one pan on each shelf. Halfway through baking, rotate the pans front to back and switch them from one shelf to the other. Bake until the muffins are golden brown and the tops are springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Teeny Tiny Sweet Potato Fries

You know when people say that summers are crazy and there’s not enough time in the day? While I agree summers can be busy, so is fall, winter and spring, at least for me. Plus, the days are actually shorter, so it feels like I have to cram in more stuff in a shorter time period.

Take these last two weeks for example. I remember saying that my calendar looked pretty free. I think I jinxed it because I now have a full calendar. Not that I’m complaining because I do like to keep busy, but it’s funny how things can change so quickly.

That is why simple meals come in handy. The other night Ryan and I were teetering on getting take-out because we were pressed for time and didn’t want to make an involved dinner, but we really couldn’t bring ourselves to eat out again. Veggie burgers to the rescue!

I sautéed peppers, onions and mushrooms and threw them on top of a veggie burger on toasted whole-grain bread. Ryan mentioned his work friend had made shoestring sweet potato fries recently, so I thinly sliced a couple sweet potatoes and baked them for 30 or so minutes.

This meal was completely satisfying and best of all, much cheaper and healthier than any take-out joint. Smart!

I’m off to attend Art Heals with Free Arts Minnesota. It’s their annual fundraising luncheon and I’m helping host a table. The kids, their stories and their artwork are amazing. I encourage you to check out this wonderful organization.

Tomorrow I attend the March of Dimes Signature Chef Auction courtesy of The Style Laboratory. It should be an unbelievable chef event and I’ll try to grab a few pics if allowed.

Have a great week!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Scrumptious Spring Rolls

Shopping at ethnic groceries is quite enjoyable for me. I love discovering new products and being reminded of others that I should try. Often times I tend to buy items that I don’t need or have any plans to use in the immediate future. I promise myself I’ll figure out how to use the product and make something awesome. Such was the case with the rice paper wrappers I purchased over a year ago (maybe even two years ago) on an exploration shopping trip.

I was comforted by the fact that if I ever wanted to make spring rolls, I could. I’m not sure why this brings comfort as my mom never stocked up on food for “just in case” moments. Maybe it’s one of those latent genes that I got from my grandma. All I know is that I finally made spring rolls and realize all that I missed out on.

Although making spring rolls involves a lot of preparation, they are a snap to put together. I pulled out an old recipe from Cooking Light for Vietnamese Summer Rolls. While it isn't spring or summer, these rolls are a great way to pack in a bunch of veggies.

I broke out the mandolin to cut carrots and cucumber, stripped cilantro and mint from the stems, soaked cellophane noodles, and rinsed bean sprouts and butter lettuce.

After soaking the rice paper in cold water, simply layer the ingredients in the wrapper and start rolling. These were served with the suggested dipping sauce which was good, but needed a bit more flair. The linked recipe is a little different from what I did, so play around a bit with the ingredients. Use what works for you!

This is a contribution to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Panko Crusted Goat Cheese Salad

What a fun weekend! It has been a blast looking through Halloween party pictures and getting great ideas for next year’s costume. I say “next year” because Ryan and I skipped out on Halloween this year. We just felt like ignoring it. Sure, we could have busted out the Mario and Luigi costumes again or the mad scientists, but instead, we did our own thing.

(Mario & Luigi Flashback)

We had an awesome time running errands together, sitting at Muddsuckers for a couple hours reading books (or distractedly reading while bopping to Vampire Weekend), and enjoying a long and casual dinner at Birchwood Café (2 pizzas + 1 bottle of wine = $30 Saturday Special). By the time we made it home, all the trick-or-treaters had retreated to bed while we lazily watched True Blood on DVD.

I’m amazed that we avoided all Halloween candy too. We did not buy any nor did we receive any. Don’t get me wrong, I love candy (especially anything gummi or sour), but I’d rather consume the calories in the form of cheese, specifically goat cheese.

During a recent trip to Des Moines, we ventured outside of my beloved downtown to the East Village to grab food and cocktails at The Continental (my new favorite DSM restaurant). We shared an appetizer of panko crusted goat cheese and fell in love with the crunchy yet smooth texture and decided to replicate it at home. Using this post as a guide, we went about roasting buttercup squash, mixing up a fig balsamic vinaigrette, and breading and baking our goat cheese. (Note: Use unflavored dental floss to slice the cheese!) We also threw in a few cranberries and roasted squash seeds to complete the meal.

It was a perfectly light dinner, but totally satisfying thanks to the goat cheese. It brought us right back to our barstools in Des Moines enjoying Pisco Sours and people watching.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Pics Wanted

It's pumpkin time! If you carve 'em, paint 'em, or decorate 'em, I want to see the pictures.

In between all your trick or treating and costume partying, send the pumpkin pictures to me at cafecyan[at]yahoo[dot]com along with your name and city.

I'll be doing a round up on WCCO on Tuesday, November 3rd highlighting all the talented individuals, so get them to me this weekend.

I have to admit, it has been a few years since I've carved a pumpkin (hence, lack of pictures), but I definitely love roasting the seeds! This year I have been roasting seeds from anything but pumpkins and you know what? They are equally great and serve as such an awesome snack. Try it yourself.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maple Roasted Acorn Squash

It is definitely squash season in our house. Earlier this week I had a variety sitting on my counter: buttercup, butternut, acorn and two pumpkins. There was no way I’d let any of it go to waste. I was particularly apprehensive about the acorn squash as it wasn’t really good last time when it was stuffed with tempeh and wild rice. I think it lacked seasoning and the whole thing was quite dry. It just didn’t work for me. So, this time I really wanted to find the perfect recipe and it was a success!

This recipe was so simple and our house smelled like Thanksgiving thanks to the use of sage and thyme. The apples brought just the perfect sweetness to contrast the savory squash flavor. If you don’t have acorn squash, feel free to substitute another kind and it should work just as well.

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash
(4 servings)

1 small acorn squash (about 1 lb.), halved lengthwise, seeded
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 ½ tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup diced onion
2-3 large apples (I used Haralson), unpeeled, cored and diced
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1 ½ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
Thyme sprigs, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray roasting pan and cut sides of squash halves with cooking spray; season with half the salt and pepper. Arrange squash, cut side down in pan. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover pan; turn squash cut side up. Bake 30 minutes and remove from oven.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add apples, nuts, sage, thyme, and remaining salt and pepper; sauté 3 more minutes.

Dot squash with remaining butter. Divide apple mixture equally among the squash halves, mounding it in the cavity. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Bake, uncovered an additional 20 minutes. Serve hot; garnish with thyme sprigs.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thai Coconut Rice with Tofu

Some weeks are filled with dining out, happy hours, and quick dinners that make one long for home cooking. Not that I need anything fancy or overly involved, but just something tasty and satisfying.

This last week I’ve hit up Glacier’s Café, Fuddruckers, Manny’s Tortas, and Brasa. That is a lot of eating out if you ask me! Luckily though, on each of those visits, I was joined by friends, so that makes it all worth it.

When I’m not out running around or experimenting in the kitchen, I really like something simple like this Thai Coconut Rice with Tofu.

The coconut milk came as a gift from my sister and the lemongrass was picked up at a Kansas City farmers market and I was eager to use them both. It’s Fair Trade Month and it felt oh-so-appropriate to use Alter Eco Coral Red Jasmine Rice. I’m not a big fan of eggs in my fried rice, so we simply omitted them and because we’ve already cut down our Thai basil plant, regular basil had to suffice in this dish.

The recipe comes from The New Whole Grains Cookbook by our local cookbook author, Robin Asbell.

Thai Coconut Fried Rice with Tofu
(4 servings)

2 cups coconut milk
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
½ cup water
½ tsp salt
1 cup black, red or brown rice
1 lb. firm tofu, pressed
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp peanut oil
4 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp chopped ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large eggs, whisked together
4 oz. snow peas, trimmed (about 2 cups)
3 large scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup fresh Thai basil, washed and dried
½ cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped

In a 4-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring the coconut milk, lemongrass, water and salt to a boil. Add the rice, return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover tightly and cook for 30 minutes. When all the liquid is absorbed, remove the pan from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the lemongrass.

In a cup, mix the soy sauce, lime juice and sugar; reserve. Heat a large wok until hot, add the oil. Add the shallots and red pepper flakes and stir-fry over high heat until the shallots are golden, about 2 minutes. Crumble the tofu into the hot oil and stir-fry, scraping often, until golden and crisp. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for a few seconds. Quickly add the eggs, and add the rice and soy sauce mixture. Let cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute to set the eggs, then start stirring and turning the mixture. Add snow peas and scallions ad keep stirring. Cook over high heat until egg is cooked and no longer looks shiny or wet. Add the basil and toss quickly, then scrape out into a serving bowl and top with peanuts. Serve hot.

This is a contribution to Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Evening at the Longfellow Grill

Whenever I am asked, “What is your favorite day?” on those get-to-know-you quizzes, I am quick to answer, “Thursday”. I feel like Thursday is a day where most of the work week is over, but there is still time to complete important projects before the weekend.

However, the main reason why Thursday is my favorite day of the week is because the Taste section arrives in the Star Tribune. For the past six (or more) years, I patiently wait for Thursday to arrive so I can grab the paper and pour over restaurant openings and closings. My Thursdays became even better when the Pioneer Press started releasing the Eat section too. Wow, two food sections in one day!

When friends at work noticed my obsession with the food sections and constant chatter about newly opened restaurants an idea was sprung: Let’s start a dinner club! Through multiple lunch meetings, we determined our core members (9 of us), set some ground rules and made an overwhelming list of restaurants to visit. We also held a meeting to discuss possible names and decided upon The Finer Things Club. Totally original of us, right?

We have been going strong for almost two years now, meeting every month at a different restaurant. Last month, it was my turn to pick and I have to admit, there was a lot of pressure. Here I am the food writer of the group who attends numerous foodie events and I couldn’t decide on a restaurant!

Luckily, a friend got wind of my struggle and said he’d make it easy for me by inviting us to Longfellow Grill. Known for their made-from-scratch foods down to even the dressings and sauces, I was sure Longfellow would be an excellent choice.

Pat, our waiter (and friend) made sure we were well taken care of. He supplied us with happy hour priced drinks just before the happy hour cut off and made sure we tried a unique appetizer, Roasted Duck & Grits.

The menu describes the dish as “Slow cooked Maple Leaf Farms duck with wild Marsala mushrooms and dried cherries in a savory poultry glace, over truffle-scented cheesy grits.” Our table really liked the dish and I especially loved the grits. Super creamy yet firm and very tasty with a pop of tartness from the cherries. I’m working on obtaining the recipe as I have to make the grits at home!

[Editor's Note: I found the grits recipe -yes!]

We also shared an appetizer of Tempura Green Beans for the novelty of it.

The neat thing about Longfellow is the table spacing. Now, if I were on a romantic date, I’d hate being so close to another table, but being with a group of friends, we had no problem chatting with our neighbors. We sat next to a super sweet couple who offered us bites of their appetizers while we chatted about her former life as a recipe tester for Betty Crocker. As soon as they were finished dining, they offered a little wave as they were off to catch a Ken Burns special on PBS. How sweet!

While most of my table ordered “the best turkey burger in the Twin Cities” with a side of yummy sweet potato fries, I went with the Vegetarian Risotto.

I think the big chunks of veggies prevented this from being a delicate risotto, but it was still a fantastic dish in terms of flavor. The cheese and wine made a creamy sauce and the rice lent a nutty flavor that paired well with the spinach and herbs. My only request would be for the veggies to be chopped a bit smaller, but perhaps they were going for a more rustic dish?

We were all too stuffed for dessert, but Pat brought it out anyway, so who are we to say no? It was agreed that the Butterscotch Pudding was amazing and worth a return visit, but the Chocolate Mousse was much too rich and thick for our tastes.

Longfellow Grill was definitely worth the visit and we all enjoyed the freshly made food and attention to detail in service. We were even handed separate checks, which is sometimes flat out refused in restaurants. Small things like that are much appreciated and added to the already pleasant dining experience. Longfellow is part of the Blue Plate Restaurant Group, so you'll find similar fare at Edina Grill, Highland Grill, Groveland Tap and 3 Squares.

Longfellow Grill
2990 West River Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 721-2711

Monday, October 19, 2009

Help Me Win This Contest!

Hey readers! Remember when I made the Barley & Lentil Soup with Mushroom Broth?

Well, that recipe has been entered in the Marx Food's recipe contest because I used their dried porcini mushrooms to make the delicious broth.

I need your votes to help me win this contest! It's really easy and you don't need to register anywhere. Just do this before October 21st (Wednesday):

1.) Go to

2.) Click the little circle next to Cafe Cyan: Barley & Lentil Soup with Mushroom Broth

3.) Click Vote at the bottom and you're done!

(If for some reason you don't have a circle to click, simply refresh your browser or delete your cookies.)


Friday, October 16, 2009

Smoky Black Bean Tacos with Garlicky Greens

Figured I’d do a quick post here today as it’s been a weird week. I kept thinking yesterday was Friday and now that it is actually Friday, I think it is Saturday because my husband took the day off work. We all have those weeks where things just don’t make sense, right?

We’ve been on a Swiss chard kick lately and for good reason – it is only $1 a bunch at the market. I realized that I like it a lot more when I don’t use the stalk. I think most of the nutrients are in the green leaves, so hopefully I’m not missing out on too much.

I picked up a few outdated magazines at a cook’s garage sale and Smoky Black Bean Tostadas with Garlicky Greens from Vegetarian Times stood out as one to try. We decided to go the taco route instead of tostadas, but followed the rest of this simple recipe as instructed.

I used black beans that I had cooked myself (successfully I may add), sliced up an avocado as an extra ingredient and used some of my homemade salsa instead of the chipotle salsa.

These tacos were super quick to make. Although I usually try to pick out simple recipes, this one was done in about 20 minutes. I’m not used to dinner being done so quickly. Most nights we eat around 8:30-9:00pm, but this was on our plates by 5:30pm – whoa!

Try this recipe for yourself. The great spices and the added garlicky greens made these way better than our boring quickie plain black bean/avocado tacos. By the way, I have a ton of queso fresco left over - any suggestions on how to use it?

This post is a contribution to Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fondue For You

On Saturday morning, I was a guest on the Fresh & Local radio show on AM950. My secret desire is to host a radio show someday, so this gave me a taste of the radio experience without the stress of planning a whole show format. Susan Berkson and Bonnie Dehn, the hosts, made us feel completely at ease and it truly felt like we were having a conversation amongst friends.

Susan and Bonnie turned it over to the guests to discuss what we’d make with ingredients found at the farmers market. I knew just what to do with Brussels sprouts, apples, sweet potatoes, green beans, and squash: fondue!

My friend gifted me with a fondue pot last year I’ve been eager to use it, but was waiting for the right time. Considering my front yard is covered with snow and it is already time to break out the winter jacket, I could think of no better time than now.

Right after the radio show, Ryan and I headed to the Minneapolis Farmers Market (in the freezing cold!) and shopped for the goods picking up tiny baby Brussels sprouts and some Eichten Farms smoked Gouda.

We steamed the Brussels sprouts and asparagus, roasted the onion and sweet potato and chopped up a Haralson apple.

The Gouda was melted with Emmentaler cheese and combined with white wine, pomegranate liqueur, rosemary, cornstarch, and rehydrated Matsutake mushrooms from Marx Foods.

There are tons of fondue recipes out there. Feel free to experiment with various cheeses and alcohols (beer, brandy, wine, etc.). Pretty much anything can be dipped – just make sure it stays on your skewer! Our personal favorite was apple and brussels. Be sure to keep the fondue over a heat source otherwise the cheese will seize up.

The radio show should be up here today or tomorrow. The show is done in four segments, so be sure to listen to them all as my fellow guests were awesome and full of great information. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m eager to hear the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simple Brussels Sprouts Salad

Awhile back in the blogger world, it was pretty vogue to post a pic of your fridge for all to see. It was kind of like a peek inside someone's life, which is always cool.

I never posted a fridge shot last time around, but luckily, City Pages Hot Dish invited me to share and did a little write up on it.

One of the items in my fridge were brussels sprouts and I had them front and center (well, bottom and center) so I wouldn't forget they were in there. A lot of folks do not like brussels sprouts. I tend to believe that's because they've only had the mushy stinky variety. It's unfortunate because brussels sprouts are totally yummy if prepared in the right way. Sometimes I roast them, sometimes I put them in a veggie hash, but often times I just prepare this simple salad:

All you have to do is slice the brussels sprouts very thinly, toss with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, some chopped toasted walnuts, and grate Parmesan or Asiago cheese on top and toss again. Let it sit in the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavors meld.

We served this alongside a homemade deep dish pizza and I have to say that a mix of pizza and brussels sprouts salad kind of rocked.

Check out the fridge shot here:

The uber organization is all my husband, Ryan. He likes to have things quite accessible and in the right spots. I'm the one who just throws things in there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Barley Minestrone Soup

The weather this week has definitely taken a turn towards fall. The temps are in the 50’s and it’s been rainy the past few days. I’m so sad; I don’t want our great summer to end! However, I am one to try to embrace things with happiness, so I took advantage of the colder weather and made soup.

Jessica Chapman, a writer for The Hot Dish on City, was recently looking for a vegetarian minestrone recipe so I sent her my favorite one from Fine Cooking magazine. After sending it to her, I realized I had all the ingredients in my fridge (and yes, I had half a head of cabbage from my last cabbage dish).

This soup is awesome, especially if you use the rind (or a piece) of Parmesan cheese while the soup is simmering. All the vegetables are able to shine through and flavor the broth. Plus, all those vegetables have varying textures and shapes to make you feel satisfied after eating.

I’ve adapted it from the original non-vegetarian recipe. Be sure you use an awesome broth for this. If you can’t make your own, find your favorite at the store. My favorite veggie broth is Kitchen Basics because of the low-sodium content and rich flavor. I find it at Byerly’s. For this recipe, we tried Edward & Sons Not-Chick’n bouillon cubes. It was very good, but a bit on the salty side, so I didn’t season with any additional salt.

Barley Minestrone
(6 servings)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped Savoy cabbage
1 cup diced onion
1 cup sliced carrot
¼ cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, sliced
8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1-inch piece of Parmesan cheese rind
1 cup quick cooking barley
1 (14.5 oz.) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 1 ½ cups fresh kidney beans)
Kosher salt
Freshly grated black pepper

Heat oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the cabbage, onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, undrained tomatoes, rosemary and Parmesan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add barley and stir to combine, and continue cooking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until barley is tender. Discard rosemary and Parmesan and add the kidney beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

This post is a contribution to Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Canning and Preserving

Whew! I have been preserving up a storm! Last week, I picked up 1/2 bushel of tomatoes (about 25 pounds) and made salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, and slow-roasted tomatoes. I reported all about it on Bite of Minnesota for WCCO. My house smells like a mix of pizza, pasta sauce, and spicy peppers (not that I mind).

Considering I had tomatoes leftover, a tomato reward was quite appropriate.

I simply chopped up a couple of seeded tomatoes, a few leaves of basil, and drizzled a little roasted garlic olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top.

Usually, I broil or toast the bread, but this time, I poured a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, heated it up and put in the bread slices. It was perfect - crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I'll be using that technique in the future. Sure, there's a bit more fat content, but it is worth it.

Even after the bruschetta, I still have some tomatoes left. I think I should follow a reader's suggestion and make Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Personal Ingredient

I love the show Top Chef and really enjoyed the Top Chef Masters series. Not that I’d ever want to be on a competitive cooking show, but I do have fun watching others compete. As the seasons have gone on, the competitors have gotten crazier and more unique, which is fun to watch too. I especially love it when the chefs whip out personal/secret ingredients that are usually saved for the finale. I wish the editing would focus a bit more on the neat little secrets chefs have, but I suppose it wouldn’t make for incredibly suspenseful television for the average viewer.

If I were on Top Chef, one of my personal/secret ingredients would have to be this:

It looks like ordinary tea, but it’s not. Nope, it’s smoke tea and has a wonderful earthy aroma of smoke that is created by smoking the tea leaves over a pine fire. It is also known as Lapsang Souchong. I first discovered smoke tea while in Seattle. While walking by the Vital Tea Leaf, my eyes immediately focused in one single jar. It was labeled “smoke tea”. Leaving Ryan to continue walking down the street, I walked in and pointed to the jar. I just had to find out what it was all about. One sniff and I was hooked. It reminded me of sitting around a campfire, smoky and fragrant; I knew this tea would replace liquid smoke in my cooking instantly.

My favorite use for smoke tea is to flavor tempeh in TLT’s. It gives the tempeh a true smoked flavor that I completely enjoy. Simply pour boiling water over the smoke tea leaves, let steep for five minutes and use the liquid instead of liquid smoke in your marinade. If you want to concentrate the flavor, boil the liquid down and use that for a fuller flavor. I have even thrown a pinch of tea leaves in a tofu dish to give it a grilled smoky taste.

Maybe someday, a Top Chef will pull out smoke tea as their secret ingredient. If that happens, you know I will jump up and give a high five to the TV…or fall out of my chair in disbelief. I guess we’ll just have to wait until that moment, won’t we?

This entry has been a contribution to Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In Over My Head with Cabbage

Cabbage is everywhere right now and practially screams, "buy me!" I swear that before I can finish a head of cabbage, I have already bought another one and I'm frantically searching for new recipes ideas.

This happened again at Mill City Farmers Market last weekend. While passing by Loon Organics, I couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful heads of napa cabbage. I looked to Ryan to see if he thought I was crazy for buying cabbage again, but since he gave me the nod of approval, I snatched it up and didn’t look back. I mean, how can you resist something this gorgeous?

I had planned on making Real Food Daily’s Ying Yang Salad, but felt like we had OD’ed on it last time so I needed to try something different. I considered Thai Wontons, but did not want to handle the tedious job of filling a million wonton wrappers. Luckily, I found a recipe for Sesame Noodles with Wilted Napa Cabbage from The Healthy Hedonist Holidays that included the yummy peanut flavors of the Ying Yang Salad, but had just a few simple steps. I also baked some tofu to make it a well rounded meal.

I don’t usually publish recipes that are in cookbooks out of respect for the author’s hard work, but a version of it has made its rounds on the Internet, so here it is along with my changes:

Sesame Noodles with Wilted Napa Cabbage
(4 to 6 servings)

3 tbsp natural peanut butter
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin (or white wine)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp maple sugar
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
6 oz. soba noodles
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Whisk together peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, maple sugar and red pepper flakes in saucepan.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, place cabbage in colander over sink. Warm sauce over medium-low heat.

Drain noodles over cabbage in colander to wilt cabbage. Transfer noodles and cabbage to serving bowl, add sauce, and toss until combined. Sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.
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