My Blog on WCCO-TV: Bite of Minnesota

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.

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