Thursday, December 20, 2007

What else ya gonna do with 2 sticks of butter? Chocolate Hazelnut Gooey Butter Cakes

Back down South, they love love love Paula Deen. My mother bought me a set of "The Lady and Sons" cookbooks and I could feel my arteries hardening just reading the table of contents. Despite the health consequences, I agree with Paula that "butter makes it better" so I couldn't resist playing with this recipe from her for "Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes."

She offers that you can easily swap out the cake mix base or the filling ingredients. I took her peanut butter suggestion and made my own variation with Nutella (the hazelnut cocoa goo that stole my heart in college - a jar of that and a loaf of bread was the ultimate broke student luxury). To make it extra decadent, I used a Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Supermoist cake mix and threw in a healthy pinch of ancho chile powder into the cream cheese filling. About a jar of the Nutella stands in for the can of pumpkin in the original recipe.

I think they are supposed to be served warm, but I like to chill them over night and bring 'em up to room temp before serving. They are like cream cheese brownies on speed. It's a fitting end to my holiday baking. I'm now fat enough to float in case I fall off the boat during my sailing vacation in the Bahamas for Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New England Clam Chowder that won't make you rounder

I found a clam chowder recipe that has got the rich taste of my quasi-mother-in-law's version without the heart-stopping pound of bacon that starts the soup and hangs out for the entire ride. J the BF liked it so much, he had to rat me out to his mother (which he promised not to do). No worries - now she is demanding my recipe.

This version is one of the many re-formulations that Cooking Light has been publishing recently where they are taking older recipes and updating them to get more flavor into the dish while keeping many of the nutritional stats in check. It's amazing what a little bacon can do for you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Homemade in a Hurry - Cake Mix Cookies

Call me Southern and old fashion, but I never like to show up at someone's home for a party without a hostess gift of some-sort. Usually I stick with a nice bottle of wine, but around the holidays, homemade treats seem more appropriate - but don't fit well with my rush/rush always late lifestyle unless I work ahead.

For a potluck dinner party, I had prepared some smokey mac & cheese the day before and was heating it in the oven before leaving for the event. I got the whim to whip up some warm, fresh baked cookies to bring as a hostess gift - could I do it in 20 minutes with no cookie mix in the house? No problem . . .

Found this recipe for Easy Cake Mix Cookies and I happened to have a box of yellow cake mix in my cabinet that I was never going to use. Threw that in a bowl with some flour, eggs, and oil and I had a batter. Chocolate chips? I thought I had some, but someone must have pilfered them in a chocolate fit, so I substituted a box of chocolate covered cashews that had been re-gifted to me from a work colleague. I made half a dozen monster-size cookies (instead of the dozens of puny ones called for by the recipe from this batter. I slide the cookie sheet into the oven next to the heating mac&cheese. They end up a little bit like muffin tops - very tasty. 20 minutes from start to finish - I never need to go gift-less again!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Macadamia Crusting Mahi Mahi with Alton Brown

Even with an absurdly short 22 minute workout on the elliptical machine, I got a chance to watch some "Good Eats" - a show I used to hate, but for which I have recently acquired a new appreciation. The fact that the host, Alton Brown, lives in Atlanta is of special appeal to me - he seems to come from good redneck stock.

Anyway . . . . In a recently broadcast show on nuts (Alton swears by cashews, pistachios and Macadamia nuts as the best for cooking due to their neutral flavors) he demonstrates an intriguing method for doing nut crusted roast fish. He actually partially roasts the fish for 5 minutes before pressing the crust onto the fish - something I never would have considered doing. I'm making a point to check out this recipe for Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi next time I'm feeling a little fishy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Torta Barozzi - Total Chocolate Extreme

J the BF signed me up for a Splendid Table newsletter after becoming an avid listener to their weekly podcast. You would think that me being the foodie freak in the house, I would have already been a longtime fan of the self proclaimed radio show (hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper) for "people who love to eat." Instead I resisted getting caught up in yet another piece of media I didn't have time to consume - no matter how fascinating the subject matter. Having it thrust upon me so forcibly made me even more resistant. One recipe changed it all - the Torta Barozzi.

Torta Barozzi is a flourless chocolate cake that has its roots in northern Italy. One evening while waiting for friends at a local bar, I was cleaning out the inbox on my BlackBerry and I came across a "Baker's Chronicles" edition of the Splendid Table email that told the story of this mysterious dessert that was the very embodiment of chocolate in all it's dark glory. I've cooked it 3 times in the last month in a quest for chocolate Nirvana. I've come pretty damn close by following Kasper's tips to use only the highest quality chocolates (Scharffen Berger varieties work well) and being sure not to over-cook the cake. It is meant to be fudgey and moist in the middle. The instructions say to serve at room temp, but if you've been storing in the fridge, nuke a slice for about 15 - 20 secs until it is just about to melt - it's rated-R-good.

The original recipe doesn't seem to be on the Splendid Table site, but is available in Kasper's cookbook, The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food. Some dude also posted it up on Recipezaar. If you make it, don't skimp and get the cheap chocolate - it does make a difference. As for me, the voice of Lynne Rossetto Kasper is now my steady weekly companion for my Sunday work-outs.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

White Chili fit for the winter

Now we are firmly in the cold grasp of another Minnesota winter, I've been relying on hearty soups and stews at least once a week as a good seasonal option to knock the cold out of our bones. I've experimented with a Chipotle Turkey chili with Chocolate and revisited last year's mainstay - a yellow pepper pumpkin soup, but I keep coming back to a modified white chili that satisfies oh-so-well this time of year.

I start with this recipe from and modify it by replacing one of the cans of diced green chiles with a seeded minced canned chipotle pepper. Don't let anyone tell you that white chili is for lightweights. This one sticks to your ribs and warms you out of your mid-winter stupor.

Yummy alternative to a salad from La Brea Bakery

Pay attention to the suggested recipes that food products put on their packages. Sometimes, you may discover a new favorite. Case in point is this delicious dish I just assembled per the suggestion on a package of La Brea Rosemary and Olive Oil bread I picked up at my local Rainbow. While the Uptown Rainbow is a unapologetically ghetto grocery store, I have to give them props for stepping up the game in their bakery by selling these great La Brea products. They are great for when I don't feel like getting cleaned out by Lund's (the yuppie grocery down the street) for a decent loaf of bread.

Back when there were above freezing temperatures in the Twin Cities, I cut out a small "recipe" off a round of the La Brea bread suggesting that I serve a few toasted slices topped with chopped watercress tossed with olive oil, lemon, garlic and shaved parmesan cheese. According to the package, it would make "an excellent light lunch when served with a glass of Viognier.

I thought it would be a nice light 1st course to my white chili, so I toasted a couple of thick slices, drizzled with olive oil, under the broiler and served the fresh greens on top. I had to be generous with the salt and pepper on the watercress to get a satisfying result, but the combination of the peppery herbs, salty cheese and crispy rosemary bread brought some much needed sunshine into my dining room in spite of the single-digit temps. Paired with a nicely chilled Pinot Grigio, I was reminded of dining al fresco in Rome - something I haven't done in 7 years, but need to find a way to do again very soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Swedish Glögg - a drink that delights and then . . .

My buddy Joel sought to celebrate his Swedish heritage and the first big snow in the Twin Cities by having folks over for a Glögg party. Glögg (or glugg as it was pronounced by our host) is a traditional Swedish mulled wine loaded with spices, dried fruit, nuts, and if you are naughty enough, a healthy splash of vodka. We hear the test batch had a massive portion of vodka, per the recipe Joel had secured from his family (on a newspaper clipping). The guests, were served a safer reduced-vodka version along with a buffet of crackers, cheeses, sliced sausage and Swedish cookies.

The Glögg tasted like a dark old-world winter evening. Served hot - it's deep and rich with port and brandy, loaded with chopped almonds and raisins and heavy with the flavor of prunes. One sip, and any chill from the single digit weather outside immediately faded from my body. While I can't find a copy of the recipe online that mirrors what we were served (there are tons of options), my cup was full of plump raisins and I swear there were prunes in the recipe somewhere. In fact, this old-world drink (good as it was at the time) can get medieval on your ass after the fact, so I'll pass on adding it to my repertoire for a future holiday menu.

Luckily, the Glögg spell passed in time for us to enjoy the Nortec Collective at the Walker Art Center. A mixture of Norteño and techno (more progressive trance than ambient from what I could tell), their music was great stuff but hard to fully enjoy in a theater setting (several folks in the front row created a dance pit to better enjoy the performance). I was just glad my dancing at my seat was due to the music and not the Glögg.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Consuming Corvina at Salut

After yet another late-night shopping jaunt in Southdale, we popped in to Salut Bar Americain for dinner. Although I adore their steak sandwich, I had already had a double deluxe Butterburger from Culver's that day, so decided to try something from the seafood menu. Corvina was on offer - not a fish I was familiar with, but I decided to give it a shot.

According to some page on Geocities called "Land of Fish", Corvina is also known as white sea bass and is only found in the pacific. It is a preferred firm white fish for use in making true ceviche. Salut had clearly been buying lots of it lately, because it was all over the menu. I had the "Chez Tomas" version which was crispy seared and then served with a white wine and lemon sauce with portabello mushrooms - delicious treated this way. The crust on the fish had an almost grainy texture, but the fish itself was very mild, but substantial. It paired well with the "good" house wine of Fume Blanc. Glad to meet you Corvina - we'll be getting together again soon, I'm sure.

Strange sights & great eats at Sanctuary

My boss raved to me about the food at Sanctuary, but warned me that "the guy clearly didn't have much $$ to put into decor" so I should be sure not to judge the place on initial impressions. I was taking a prospective employee out for dinner, so I was a little nervous about trying a new place and potentially putting a cloud around this guy's interviews with us the next day. Trusting my boss's taste in food, I took the risk and am glad I did.

Sanctuary occupies one of those new buildings that have popped up near the Guthrie on Washington. The evolution of this neighborhood, with a spate of new condos, restaurants and office spaces, seems to be in full-spite of the horrid Metrodome that continues to cast its shadow over that area of town.

Upon entry, my dinner guest and I were greeted by an enthusiastic short bearded man in what looked like a tux who made very showy and pointed gesticulations of welcome as he showed us to our table. As he swept away, I was wondering where the floor show would occur. From the ceilings hung oddly traditional chandeliers that flirted heavily with kitsch and the place was furnished with high-back antique-y looking chairs that looked like they were swept from an Ozzy Osbourne estate sale. We were seated next to the very chatty bar at the back of the dining room, which was more comfortable then the mostly empty front area where we passed only one dining party of 6 young folks happily noshing amazing looking dishes and drinking wine.

Strangeness aside, it was a great meal. We both started with the carnival squash soup with truffle mouse and pasilla oil. It was exquisitely sweet, earthy and just a touch of spice to warm us out of the cold fall stupor we were in. I went decadent on the entree and opted for a surf&turf special of beef tenderloin with poached lobster in this indescribably good sauce. My life would be so much more complete if I got more lobster. We shared a massive serving of the pumpkin bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream and jalapeño maple sauce (compliments of the house as a thanks for stopping in). The two of us couldn't finish it, but only because of the sensory overload. It was terribly enjoyable and satisfying. Those tables should have been full on a Thursday night, so if you have not been to Sanctuary - go!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Big wiener at women's roller derby

There is something that is very wrong, but oh so right about selling massive hot dogs at a women's roller derby match. The Minnesota Rollergirls put the hurt on at Roy Wilkins about once a month so check 'em out and get the jumbo dog with a PBR.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Vietnamese ice coffee at Slanted Door

@ the Slanted Door in the San Francisco ferry building, they serve you a mini brew of coffee dripping into a cup of sweetened condensed milk with a glass of ice on the side so you are getting the freshest ice coffee possible.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Brunchin' with myself @ 17th ST Cafe

I love croissants. I heart them even more stuffed with eggs, bacon, avocado, and cheese with unlimited mimosas on an sunny morning in DC. I am enjoying a brunch with myself at the 17th St Cafe before returning to Minneapolis this afternoon. The service is a bit spacy, but the people watching is excellent. Food is good too, but everything tastes better with sunshine and champagne.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Drumstick please!

This was a cup of 'drumstick' flavor ice cream that I bought from a little coffee and treats stall in the Longworth Congressional office building in DC. It was so good I couldn't get the picture taken before I ate it. We should deconstruct flavors and experiences from our childhood ilke this more often.

According to the Edy's website - it is only available May - Aug, so if you see it, stock up!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spicing up that leftover pork tenderloin a la cauliflower

pork_tenderloin.jpg, originally uploaded by Cookthinker.

Those folks at Hormel know how to do a number on a piece of meat. They pump those pre-seasoned pork tenderloins with so much stuff, you just can't mess 'em up unless you fail to cook them long enough. Nevertheless, I had half of a peppercorn-spiced variety leftover from the weekend. I had perfectly grilled it on Saturday, so I didn't want to ruin it by nuking it for my Monday meal. It probably would have taken to the microwave just fine, but I wanted to preserve that tender juicy texture as much as possible so it wouldn't "taste" like leftovers.

Getting inspiration from Emeril, of all people, who I had watched earlier in the evening doing a fascinating treatment for cauliflower involving a hot pan, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and lemon, I decided that may be a good option for my leftover tenderloin.

I cut the meat into into 1 inch thick medallions while heating a couple of turns of olive oil, three cloves of crushed garlic and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper. I added the medallions and sprinkled them with dried Italian seasoning. After they were heated through (about 6 minutes), I turned off the heat and squeezed the juice of half of lemon over the meat to tame the spice and add some citrus. The result was fork tender, more rounded in spice profile and seriously succulent.

Served with some gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce (a frozen emergency meal life-saver from Trader Joe's) and a simple green salad tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and it was a painless elegant meal on the table in 20 minutes. I even had a cheap French Bordeaux from TJ as well to top it off. Who says you can't live large on a Monday night?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sweet Action in a Kettle of Fish

Steps away from the infamous Stonewall Inn in New York is a comfy neighborhood pub called Kettle of Fish. With low ceilings, dartboards, and a cluster of comfy worn in brown sofas, it's like hangin' in your buddy's basement rec room.

Tried a Sixpoint "Sweet Action" ale and it a was indeed a "sweet" experience. Slightly sweet and bitter with a good structure. This was listed on a beer menu written in marker on a sheet of paper taped to the bar, so I don't think it is broadly available.

Curry casserole - a Thai hot-dish

How could I possibly resist something so intriguing on a Thai restaurant's specialties list as a "curry casserole". While in NYC for business, a buddy of mine took me to his favorite Thai place in Chinatown where I got to experience this eastern take on a staple in middle American homes.

It was layered squid, shrimp, fish and other "seafood" in a thick curry spiked sauce. Paired with coconut rice, it was quite good. If I get the name of the place from my friend, I will pass it along..

Monday, September 17, 2007

While I'm promoting my professional projects . .

I've briefly opened the door to my commercial pursuits here, so I'll go ahead and post one more work-related piece of content and then back to bite&chew as normal.

One of my sites, is seeking to inject a little fun into learning how to eat healthier. To that end, we've created

If I tell you too much more, it kind of ruins it, but it's a mess - in a good way.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Calypso Shrimp - don't mess with Betty!

Work is clearly starting to overtake me, as I'm cooking recipes off the sites I manage for a living. I don't fit into the standard audience profile for these properties, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't take my own medicine now and then.

I ended the day like many of my consumers wondering "what do I make for dinner". Knowing I had a pound of shrimp in the freezer, I pulled up this recipe for Calypso Shrimp. I should have just trusted Betty and followed the recipe, but I had to start mucking with it by switching out the Old El Paso salsa for a spicy mango habenero variety because I wanted more hot & sweet in the citrus bean salsa (didn't work - dish needed the salt of a traditional mild chunky tomato salsa to counter-balance the sweetness of the oranges). I also, on a whim, picked up some imitation lobster meat that was on sale and mixed that in with the shrimp. Big mistake. The crap cooked down, shredded up and basically ruined the dish. The shrimp themselves, however, were very nice!

Sorry Betty, sometimes I can take your stuff up a notch, but I over-reached this time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Crema's Hidden Magic

Summer in the Twin Cities is coming to an end and we have many reasons to be a bit down about that. Not the least of which being that I only recently discovered Crema. I've driven past the place a million times, but assumed it was simply an over-done ice-cream joint. With the summer being very short here, I never found time to go check it out.

We walked down one particularly warm evening after reading an article in our local neighborhood paper about their unusual featured flavors like olive oil and other unexpected things in addition to more traditional varieties. I tried their signature "crema" flavor which was suggestive of a iced latte. After grabbing our ice cream, we walked out to the alley dining area and discovered one of the most romantic spaces I've scene in Minneapolis.

In addition to the kitschy lights, there was a babbling fountain and selective foliage interspersed with intimate candle-lit tables and the open sky above. Apparently you can get a limited dinner menu there as well, but we were hard pressed to figure out what that menu was (seemed to be a secret that was only available by request). The ice cream itself was very good by the way.

20.21 - A dinner that stares back

Earlier this summer, I took a potential employee for my company to Wolfgang Puck's 20.21 at the Walker Art Center for a pre-interview-day dinner. I enjoyed my last meal at 20.21 and I have enjoyed the Puck cuisine at other restaurants, so it seemed to be a safe bet.

My last visit to 20.21 was with J the BF on a very crowded Saturday night. I forget what we were celebrating, but I've been reminded several times since that my ADD that night which seemed to keep pulling my eyes toward the wait staff, as opposed to my BF was not at all appreciated. Besides his irritation, I remember that the place was too loud & chaotic, the tables too small for the elaborate dishes (requiring most of the items to be plated by the servers at the table to prevent disasters) and the food was superb.

This time, it was Wednesday and it was business, so I expected the scene to be less chaotic, but the food equally superb. If I failed to give my dining companion proper attention, it wouldn't be perpetually thrown back in my face. After embarrassing myself getting us lost in the museum trying to find the bloody restaurant, we got in and were seated in a prime location in the signature window overlooking the Downtown vista hovering over the busy street below.

I started with my favorite dish, the crispy calamari salad - perfectly crisp tender bites of calamari over a fresh blend of greens tossed with a sweet/spicy chili sauce that is intoxicating. We ran through a few more mediocre dishes before being greeted by the grotesque disappointment of a whole crispy sea bass. Somehow, they managed to fry any flavor out of the fish to the point that even the fish looked shocked. The server was nice enough to take away the carcass and it's horrified stare before we labored to complete the meal. I fear that 20.21 is moving into that realm of places with great cocktails and tasty apps, but I'm not going to risk the $$s on the main dishes again any time soon.

Shamed into continuity

I have been informed by J the BF that if I intend to continue to embarrass him in fine restaurants by taking pictures of my meal with my Blackberry, then I am required to continue to blog.

Bite & Chew continues . . . .

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pork Frites @ Salut

Salut Bar Americain is usually our Saturday post shopping celebration of excess. This time, there was no shopping - just a hunger for good meat and fries.

I wasn't in the mood to blow a $40 wad on steak so I opted for the pork chop frites. Served with this delicious spicy blood orange glaze with enough on the bottom to slop the fries, it was heaven. If you just need meat and potatoes, this is the way to do it folks.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Montreal - The French out there . . . La Chaumiere du Village - St. Agathe des Mon

We capped off our vacation to Montreal with a weekend in the Laurentian mountains north of the city at a quaint, but slightly quirky gay B&B. For our first night in the mountains, we returned to a great little French restaurant in the little town of Saint Agathe Des Monts simply named La Chaumiere du Village.

While the building itself suggested a converted 1950s home, the food itself was remarkable. 3 of our party of 4 started with a puff pastry appetizer featuring chicken-like wild mushrooms, white and grey shallots (who know there was such a thing) in a creamy white wine sauce sandwiched within a tongue tingling pastry studded with cracked black pepper. The server/pastry shelf, a spry petite little elderly woman who hovered over us throughout the night was tickled to see our delight in her creation.

After a refreshing "gourmand pause" of lime sherbet floating in a shot of gin or vermouth (it was difficult to tell), I was treated to a main course of flank steak paired with a sweet-smoked red wine reduction. I love grilled flank steak, but i struggle to keep from over-cooking it. This was among the best I had ever tasted and the sauce was a work of art unto itself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Herkimer has got Gose

If you are in the twin cities, go to Herkimer and get the Gose. It is a cross between a Belgian Wit and a Berliner according to the menu. I'm not sure what that means, but it's good stuff and very distinctive. Maybe it was the orange slice garnish, but to me it's sort of like Blue Moon, if it went to the dark side.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Back to bacon - the mech way!

In a quest to start eating breakfast at home, thus avoiding the crap carbs and fat by which I may be tempted at work, I have fallen into a groove. These days, most mornings start with Fiber 1 Rasin Bran (disclaimer - I am employed by the folks that make this cereal) and Jennie O extra lean turkey bacon.

The turkey stuff is not an exact copy of what bacon lovers crave, but the stats are great. Each slice has 20 calories, less than 1g of fat and 3g of protein. I swear by the stuff. My only worry is the first ingredient on the label, "mechanically separated turkey". Sounds horrid and cruel to the turkey.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A new recipe from my kitchen - Creamy Rice&Beans

Inspired by those burritos-as-big-as-your-head at Chipotle, I pulled together this dish to go with grilled chicken for a meal a few weeks ago. I always feel guilty for consuming those buggers, but this side dish gives me what I crave and I can just have a small 1/2 cup serving with a more respectable piece of lean grilled chicken and a nice green salad. I also have this recipe posted on
  • 1/2 cup white jasmine rice (uncooked)

  • 3/4 cup chicken stock (or broth)

  • 2 cloves of garlic - peeled and smashed

  • Fresh Juice of 1 lime

  • 1 can black beans - rinsed and drained

  • 1/4 cup low fat sour cream

  • 1/4 cup shredded mexican-blend cheese

  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

  • 1/2 tsp Chile Powder

  • Salt to taste

  1. Stir together rice, stock and garlic in medium saucepan

  2. Heat on medium-high heat to boiling

  3. Stir once, cover and reduce heat to low

  4. Simmer rice on low heat for 20 minutes or until liquid is almost absorbed

  5. Add lime juice to rice

  6. Re-cover rice and continue to simmer for 2 additional minutes

  7. Lightly fluff rice with fork and stir in black beans - re-cover and heat additional 3 minutes or until beans are heated

  8. Remove rice from heat

  9. Stir in sour cream, cheese, cilantro and chile powder until well blended

  10. Add Salt to taste

  11. Serve immediately!

Creamy Rice And Beans @ Group Recipes

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Eating through a disaster

Tonight as I was trying to get my 45 minutes of cardio in at my office gym, an interstate bridge loaded with rush-hour commuters was falling into the Mississippi River a few miles away. Through my cloud of sweat and the sounds of VH-1's "I love the 90s - 1996" blasting in my ear, I noticed that incredulous stares at TV screens beyond my field of view. Not until I completed my cool-down, did I switch the station on my personal "Cardio-theater" to CNN to catch the news.
As expected, my phone had been shivering in my gym bag for half an hour with text messages from friends, frantic calls from my Mom and sister, notifications from my Facebook page, etc. After calling Mother to calm her down and alerting J, the BF to what was going on beyond his office, I went home the back way - avoiding the highway and enjoying the view of Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

I got home, stuck a Trader Joe's Refrigerated Pizza (Pesto Pomodoro) in the oven and attempted to make a honey dijon vinaigrette (red wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, squeeze of honey, kosher salt, and coarse black pepper) to go with my baby spinach salad with feta, sliced almonds and roma tomatoes. Not a combination I had tried before, but it actually turned out well enough to inspire us to eat outside.

We sat on our balcony which has a clear view of downtown Minneapolis, but no visibility to the river beyond and the disaster that was still unfolding as we consumed our meal. I've been sipping on a bottle of "Cheap Red Wine" this week which seemed appropriate for a pizza & salad night, but whose garish (though not repulsive) flavors and rich red color amplified the dark hazy mugginess that settled over the city as the sun set and people were still being recovered across town. Reading the blog of a former political colleague who witnessed the collapse from his house, I'm left with some heavy questions that will linger over all of our dinner tables for a long time both here in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Montreal - O'Chalet; Tres Gay

I wanted to sample the nightlife in Montreal, so we made a reservation at O'Chalet, a quaint family-run place at the edge of "le Village," the uber-gay area of town. This was to be followed by a cocktail and sight seeing at one of the local watering holes.

We enjoyed O'Chalet's simple finely tuned approach to French Canadian fare. We started with two appetizers - Tempura Shrimp with a finely chopped sprinkling of pineapple (not sure how this is Canadian) and a veal ravioli in a rich butter/egg sauce. The shrimp were delightful but the ravioli sauce was a bit rich and and the meat texture too rustic for my taste.

For my "plat", I enjoyed a duck confit with roast potatoes and a lightly dressed salad. I'm not used to seeing a duck confit served on the bone (chefs in high-end US restaurants tend to shred the meat and serve it in an over-engineered manner), but the flavors were simple and satisfying. Given that I only understood about 20% of the French menu, I think we fared well.

As we dined, we found the surrounding tables were filled with gay male dining parties which seemed odd among the rather drab surroundings. Clearly regardless of decor, solid good food appeals to all.

After dinner we walked Rue St. Catherine searching for a good place to cozy up for a drink, but nothing seemed quite right. It was only 10pm and Montrealers are notoriously late-night people so many of the promising locations looked too empty to bother.

We made our way back to the east side of downtown (Centre Ville est) to catch a little of the Montreal Jazz Festival. We saw one poor singer (Robin McKelle) fighting to keep her dress from blowing up and revealing her high notes in the mid-summer breeze. Moving on to a stage uphill, we encountered a massive crowd dancing almost club-style in front of a stage where a DJ, guitarist, 2 horn players and a woman with a traditional African percussion instrument (which looked to be a gourd wrapped in beaded netting) were whipping the crowd into a frenzy. As we stood enjoying the beats of Moses Mayes, I noted that this was a very appropriate end to a night in a city jostled between languages and cultures in such a 21st century manner.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Montreal - Senegalese Super Shrimp at Ferreira

The last time we went to Montreal, we counted on our wandering instincts to find some of the great food we kept hearing about. We weren't very successful. Turns out that to eat well in Montreal, you need to do your homework and make reservations well in advance for the choice dinner spots. La Ferreira was no exception.

After some email volleying a couple of weeks before our arrival, we snagged a prime 8pm slot at one of the hottest chow spots in the city. La Ferreira focuses on Portuguese-inspired fusion cuisine with an emphasis on unique preparations for seafood.

The scene screamed "hot spot" with several tables of power dining in-filled with couples dressed for ultra-luxe action. The center of the scene is an open kitchen where you can see the white-clad staff churning out the fresh cuisine.

I opened my meal with a spicy gazpacho topped with a mixture of chilled poached Mexican seafood & avocado. Although the portion was overly generous, the flavors were fresh, bright and well-balanced such that the freshness of the tomatoes and herbs took center stage.

The appetizer course was the highlight of the evening - grilled giant shrimp from Senegal. Each shrimp was about 10 inches long and had been halved lengthwise and grilled to perfection. they were served with an amazing combination of sweet/spicy sauces at the base of the dish. If the sizes of the shrimp was not eye-popping enough, the intense and near-orgasmic flavors were enough to throw us over the edge.

My entree of black pepper crusted seared tuna over wasabi mashed potatoes would have seemed pedestrian (though good) had they not taken the extra step of broiling thin slices of foie gras on top of the tuna to add a rich buttery dimension to the dish. While I could have quarreled over the selected tuna cut (it was very chewy in places) the preparation was exquisite. I am not an expert on Portuguese cuisine, but I would have to agree with the critics that La Ferreira is a must-visit point on any culinary tour of Montreal.

Put that nutmeg in yo margarita

I love margaritas. On the rocks with no salt. I am enjoying this one at Innuendo in Saint Paul. With Patron Silver, it is a very good drink. With a little whole nutmeg, it is fabulous! I had to suffer through several Cher songs and a losing game of pool to experience it but the bar is cool so I will be back.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Montreal - No Butter, No Coffee at Tim Horton's

Tim Hortons, originally uploaded by johncarney.

While we adored the accommodations at the Hotel Godin, we had no interest in the $25 / person room service options for breakfast. J, the BF and I were trying to keep up with our work-outs while vacationing and nothing sucks more than trying to exercise on an empty stomach, so skipping breakfast was not an option.

There was an ESSO station across the street with a Tim Horton's inside. Tim Horton's is Canada's answer to Dunkin' Donuts and features all manner of fat/carb/sugar combinations to fuel the Canadian populace.

Both mornings we were in the city, we stepped across the street, through the line of fueling vehicles to get J the BF his bagel. Both times, the conversation ran thus (after some formalities to establish that we did not speak French):

Us: "One plain bagel with cream cheese and a cheese croissant"
Tim Horton's: "Plain bagel - okay! Butter?"
Us: " No, with cream cheese"
Tim Horton's: "With cream cheese - butter?"
Us: "No butter"
Tim Horton's: "No Butter!!??"
Us: "No butter"
Tim Horton's: "Coffee?"
Us: "No coffee - just the plain bagel with cream cheese and the cheese croissant"
Tim Horton's: "No Coffee?!?"
Us: "No Coffee!"

Apparently, it is unfathomable to enter a Tim Horton's and leave with no butter or coffee. Aside from all the French being spoken around us, I was jarred to realize that this really was a different country. Who puts butter AND cream cheese on a bagel? Those wacky Canadians do, I guess.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Montreal - Cafeteria: One Plush Lunch

Cafeteria :: Plateau, originally uploaded by markj.

A city with a strong cafe culture like Montreal requires an ample supply of establishments that morph throughout the day from coffee house to lunch spot to happy hour to dinner to after hour bar. Last year, we delighted in Java U as a stellar example. For this trip, Cafeteria seemed to have been designed to fit the bill and was a new experience for us.

After our first thwarted attempt to get lunch at Schwartz's Deli, we defaulted to Cafeteria. The name is slightly ironic as there are no lunch ladies or melamine dishes to be found in this joint. The decor is plush red velvet seating, dark luxurious wood tables and a melange of textures in every wall, floor, and lighting treatment. The entire facade of the restaurant opened out into the street beaconing us in with a hip rhythm-driven vibe that almost seemed out of place at 12:45pm on a Wednesday afternoon.

Inside were a couple of young dudes surfing on laptops while sipping on draft beer, a few groups of young people noshing on burgers & sandwiches and the too-cute bartender casually providing drinks to the servers who nonchalantly kept the show rolling.

I opted for one of the 3 selections of Moules et Frites (mussels & fries). This version was cooked in an arrabiata tomato sauce that was mildly spicy. In Minneapolis, I noted that a lot of high-end bars/lounges offer mussels or fries, but this was the first encounter I had with them paired as an entree. The mussels were delightfully fresh and the sauce was flavorful enough to invite my bread and fries to play. At $12CAD, it was an excellent value and an appropriate lunch to welcome me to Quebec before setting my credit card on fire at more extravagant venues.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Montreal - Schwartz's Smoked Beef, Do NOT call it Pastrami!

Upon arrival in Montreal, we dropped our bags at the Hotel Godin (which has since been acquired by a new owner and re-branded Opus Montreal) and immediately stomped up the street to Schwartz's Deli in search of its infamous smoked beef. We had read several times that Montreal smoked beef is a culinary marvel and Schwartz has perfected to a level that they get orders for it to be shipped around the globe

According to some travel/food guide I consulted (can't find the reference), Montreal smoked beef brisket is typically cured for several days, smoked for hours and then (as if this beef hasn't been through enough) shoved for several hours more into a spice loaded steam box resulting in a fall-apart tender delight of gastronomical proportions.

Upon arrival at Schwartz at 12:30pm, we found a line out the door and 1/4 of a block long. Given the hungry frenzy we were in, we defaulted to a less busy place (Cafeteria) down the way but returned promptly at 11:20am the next day to beat the rush.

On our return visit, we successfully scored a seat immediately and we both ordered "lean" smoked meat sandwiches (you can order different levels of desired fat) with an order of fries and a pickle. The sandwiches promptly arrived piled on soft thin slices of rye slathered with mustard. The meat was literally dripping off the sandwich as we picked them up to feast. Sure to the promise, the meat was tender and well seasoned, but less decadent than I expected (likely due to our opting for lean). Next time, we'll take up the fat level to see how that impacts the experience. Whatever you do, don't call it Pastrami, lest you get a prompt tongue lashing from the Quebecois.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Montreal - La Poutine - Don't try this @ Home

While one would think that the Québécois would choose to embrace a dish that illuminated their French heritage in a refined manner, it is a bit ironic that the bite with the most iconic standing in the province is resolutely Canadian.

Le Poutine Québécois (pardon my slaughtering of French grammer) is a gastronomic monster. Don't try this at home kids! They take a big plate of fries and cover them in brown gravy and finished with a heavy sprinkling of cheese curds. It's heaven and a heart attack on a late. I give myself permission to do Le Poutine just once when I'm in Montreal and I chose to do it at Peel Pub in the main shopping district off Boulvard St. Catherine.

Peel Pub was recommended to us during our visit in 2006 by a sales clerk at the HMV across the street. She suggested it was a reliably good, cheap place that she enjoyed visiting after work. The menus are printed on the place mats (English on one side, French on the other) while every direction has TVs and projection screens beaming sporting matches and coverage. The tables at noon are filled with a broad cross-section of Montreal urbanites all excitedly enjoying massive platters of brochettes, burgers, pizza, fish & chips and of course, poutine!

While watching coverage of the Wimbledon semifinals, I ordered "The Canadian" - 2 grilled hot dogs "all dress" with a poutine Quebecois and a side of cole slaw. I fear I broke some cultural code by adding my slaw to the dogs atop the "all dress" fixings of mustard, pickle relish and onions, but the result was fantastic. I didn't finish the poutine for fear of shortening my life by a few months (+ the gravy was strangely sweet). Nevertheless at $4.99CAD, the value was stunning after 2 nights of $100+ meals around town.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NYC(5of5) - The Room - a very dark place

thomas.jpg, originally uploaded by herman melville.

After a night of gorging and pool-playing with our agency partners on a recent trip to NYC, my boss and I were sidetracked from our route back to our hotel and lured by a colleague into a tight and lively little bar called "The Room". I am usually a bit suspicious about any place that goes by nondescript names or titles. In New York, however, I think minimal names signify, "Yeah, that's all there is to the name - shut up and appreciate how cool this is!" Okay, when in Rome . . .

The Room was terribly dark - darker than any place I ever expected to be with my boss, but the crowd had the right casual neighborhood vibe and there were a few stools at the far end of the bar so we got comfortable. They featured a broad selection of obscure beers written in chalk on the wall and dispensed from a series of taps protruding from a brick wall behind the bar. I fail to remember what beer I had there, but I'm sure it will not be on offer again if ever I return. Some things are best left to the moment and some menus are best if they are allowed to expire.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Whitey's and boobage

I got diverted from my normal Tuesday night hangout to a saloon called Whitey's in NE Minneapolis. Had a Blue Moon. Okay bar but I was shocked to witness the Minnesota breast enhancement society walk in and make a scene. I didn't realized gross boob jobs hung in threes!

Monday, July 16, 2007

NYC(4of5) Billiards y la cerveza Presidente

On my recent business trip to NYC, our agency was generous enough to follow a lavish meal with a couple of rounds of pool at a rather dim, but functional place called Soho Billiards. The fact that the place wasn't really in Soho as I understood it seemed to only bother me (but I'm from Alabama - what do I know?)

To get into the vibe for the place (which serves beer and only beer - in bottles & cans) I ordered a Presidente which can best be described as a Dominican Budweiser. I was going for the ghetto chic look, but ended up just looking pissed as that's what the beer tasted like. I'm not sure why it can't be fun like the Presidente ads - this one for example has levity, rhythm and some dudes dancing - rather well. All my beer had was a stale after-taste.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

NYC (3of5) Dos Caminos - Heavenly "Mexican" in Soho

Our agency partners in New York set up some "team development" time at a Mexican restaurant in Soho called Dos Caminos. When I arrived, folks were huddled around the bar looking out onto the impossibly glamorous patio enjoying their signature margaritas and south-of-the-border inspired cocktails. I sparked the curiosity of my business colleagues by ordering a "Cosmo del Diablo" which was as wickedly good as it sounds. Svedka Vodka infused with 5 Chiles, Pineapple, Passion Fruit all shaken and served on the rocks. It reminded me of my favorite margarita - the Mango Mariachi - at my neighborhood standard Bar Abilene. Sweet and spicy with a little kick-in-ass where it counts.

By the time we were seated for dinner, several of the group of 20 diners had followed me down the Diablo road. They went down a little too quickly and I certainly did not want to be "that guy" at the company function who drank too much, said too much and got way too comfortable in mixed professional company. Good thing I metered it out, otherwise, I would have missed the nuances of a fabulous meal.

Appetizers were pre-ordered for us and came out in bountiful quantities - a decadent cazuela de queso dip, crispy stuffed seafood empanadas and fresh colorful salads. I feared that I would be too stuffed to enjoy the main course - a gorgeously grilled skirt steak with this amazing sauce drizzled over the top - superb and melt-in-your-mouth tender. I ended the meal with the Oaxacan chocolate mousse cake, spiked with morita chile and accompanied by pistachio ice cream. Sounds almost over-the-top, but with the mousse foundation it was actually a lighter, well rounded end to the meal. My list of must-returns for NYC is definitely growing.

NYC (2of5) When Italian goes BOOM!

When J the BF suggested we have dinner at a place called Boom in SOHO - Manhattan, I wasn't expecting Italian. A name like "Boom" suggests a nightclub or some over-wrought fusion cuisine hotspot full of beautiful people sipping cocktails and eating cuisine of indeterminate origin. While some of the above was true about Boom, the cuisine was nothing to sneeze at.

Yes, Boom was full of beautiful people including the servers who all seemed to be cut from the same mold of tall, dark, lean and just-off-the-runway young dudes. They were a terribly friendly attentive bunch dressed in their black "Make Food, not War" t-shirts (or something like that). A fabulously worldly looking woman in impossibly flat-soled sandals (and was clearly the restaurateur) continuously zipped between the tables and the folks languishing in front enjoying a smoke to ensure all was well.

They brought us several delicious updated Italian standards including items from a variable bruschetta menu that you just have to experience to do it justice. We experimented with a special that they had for the night with shrimp and avocados - yum! My entree of petite scallops over pasta was very well prepared in a richly decadent (but well proportioned) sauce. Boom is definitely on my list for a return visit.

NYC (1of5) Wilting expectations at Witchcraft

J the BF decided to tag along with me on a business trip to New York to do some "trend shopping" for his business. We flew in on a Sunday morning to get a full day of tooling around town together before going our separate ways for business purposes. The miracle of the fact the I made it to NYC at all could be subject for another post on a different blog where late-night parties, excess gin, 7am flights and pissed-off boyfriends are germane to the editorial direction. Therefore, I digress . . .

I had read a short post in some foodie or travel mag several months ago extolling the virtues of Witchcraft - a sandwich purveyor in NYC that was taking the town by storm. The picture of their slow-roasted pork sandwich with slaw and fresh sliced jalapeños on ciabatta captivated me and had been on my mind for a long time, so we had to find one of these magic sandwich places post-haste upon arrival in Manhattan.

The closest location to our hotel that we could Google up was in the lobby of an Equinox gym in Soho. Looking at the menu, the fare at Witchcraft seemed to be a bit out of place in a fitness center, but judging from the uber-urbane clientèle and the post-modern industrial chic interior, I figured it all must fit if you are a New Yorker and can get it.

I ordered my long desired pork sandwich and was frankly disappointed. The meat was dry, the jalapeños overpowering and the slaw relatively tasteless. Add to that the over-done chewiness of the bread and I felt more than a bit let down after pining over that image for so long. There is something to be said for overwrought expectations sucking the wind out of a new experience (as well as how a hangover leaves nothing tasting right). Given the circumstances, I can't say I won't make another go at the Witchcraft handiwork next time I'm in NYC, but I won't go in with the high hopes I had originally.

Friday, July 13, 2007

LA (2of2) 0 to Packed at Chaya Venice

After a day of meeting with a partner company about plans, ideas and what-not, their team offered to take us out to a nice meal at Chaya Venice. In order to assure we got a decent seat, we were told to meet them promptly at 6pm, which seemed to be an obnoxiously early time for dinner, but I'm glad we took their council. Within 25 minutes of our arrival, the place went from pin-drop empty to every table being filled with the vaguely beautiful, but pained set that only southern California can produce.

My friend Eric had suggested/considered Chaya for our dining spot the night before, but it was closed on Monday so it was either an odd coincidence that our business colleagues chose this place or there just aren't many choices in Santa Monica for high-end cuisine. Like Chinois, Chaya Venice aimed for Asian fusion, but with a more Japanese underpinning and a modern aesthetic that added to the vibe and energy of the place.

I started my meal with a fabulous set of seared sea scallops over Thai green papaya salad. The dish was lightly dressed with a delicate ginger garlic vinaigrette that helped to bring out the sweetness of the papaya and the scallops beautifully. I followed the scallop salad with another attempt at paella. My last experience with paella was viciously heavy and unpleasant so I feared ingesting this dish while wearing a shirt that was just on the edge of being too tight for a business dinner. This particular paella was served with half a grilled lobster on top so I couldn't resist giving it a go.

The mix of seafood and rice was superb in every way. The underlying dish was well seasoned to help the sweet meats of the lobster, shrimp and squid to shine, but the portion was reasonable enough to not leave you feeling like a stuffed horse. This is certainly a place to be if you want to dine among the sorta beautiful (but certainly well dressed) people and try to "get" what SoCal is about.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Burger for dessert

I went down to lunch at my company cafeteria and found "burger and fries" in the dessert case. It was actually chocolate cake as a burger in an angel food cake "bun" with some stale pound cake strips on the side. It looked so foul and odd, I had to have it.

Much more interesting of a picture and a concept than a dessert. Red icing does not make for a good stand in for ketchup.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LA (1of2) - What the Puck? Chinois on Main

I had to make a quick run out to LA for business, so I called up a friend/former co-worker who is now living in Santa Monica to connect over chow. My buddy Eric clearly doesn't get out much as he kept pointing out places that he heard were excellent, but since he had never been to any of them, he couldn't say for sure. Of the options he presented, we aimed for Chinois - a long-standing Wolfgang Puck establishment on the Main Street drag.

If I did not know it was a Puck establishment, I would have been nervous. The place has clearly not been renovated since the 80's and every surface had a Miami Vice/Buddha Palace color and texture palette applied to it. The Puck folks describe the design as "timeless" with only the slightest hint of irony. Eric had heard that this was one of Wolfgang's first restaurants and that the food was excellent so we gave it a go.

The menu read like a twisted Chinese-America culinary romance novel, if such a thing existed. Dishes like "Warm sweet curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon pearls" and "Braised veal cheeks with plum wine and long life noodles" suggested hard-core gastroporn, so I aimed for two of the less sexy items labeled as "Chinois Classics" to get a better feel for the soul of this joint.

I paired an entree of Grilled Szechuan beef with spicy shallot cilantro sauce with a side dish of the Crispy Spinach. The beef was exceptional in tenderness, flavor and raw spirit and was brought to new heights with the side sauce.

If you have not enjoyed a good fried hardy green, the Crispy Spinach at Chinois is a sporty intro. I fell in love with the concept of taking good a tough leaf like spinach or collards and deep frying them to tender crispy perfection several years ago. Whenever I see crisp greens on a menu, I can't resist. The side dish was a bountiful massive platter that both Eric and I noshed down to the clean plate below. Fried vegetables are a beautiful thing!

While I could quibble with the decor, the food wiped it all away and made me forgive the Puckster for some missteps he's made at my local Puck hot-spot 20-21 (another place with great food, but questionable restaurant design) or those horrid Wolfgang Puck Express outlets in airports and malls. If I were him, I'd expand more cautiously.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summer on the road

I've been logging some serious miles over the last few weeks, so I'm way behind on Bite & Chew updates. Never fear, however. Over the next few days, I'll be reviewing some of the fab and foul experiences with food I've had in Los Angeles, New York, Montreal and right here at home in the coolest place on earth (so I've heard) the Twin Cities. I'll try to keep the postings from specific cities together so bear with me as I try to recall experiences from 6 weeks ago (flavor does fade on the tongue after a time).


Monday, July 9, 2007

Homage to mom - chicken and broccoli

As a kid I complained that every weeknight meal my mom made seemed to consist of some combo of chicken, rice and broccoli. I am very tired today so I am doing as moms taught me. A little dressing up here and there but true to the original.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Happy hour before gym

This is a Blue Moon beer that I am enjoying at a happy hour at a resolutely non-chic watering hole called JJ's Clubhouse. Not something I recommend before working out but I didn't know it would be so big.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gay Pride Party? Time for big thick juicy hot dogs?

It's GLBT Pride weekend in the Twin Cities and our neighborhood is host to the Uptown Pride Block Party sponsored by the Bryant Lake Bowl. Since the party is less than a block away, we invited 4 of our man-friends over (a very hot set we made roaming the party, I must say) for a little pre-gathering of grilled hot dogs, burgers and beer.

I went to the store looking for the thickest, juiciest, longest hot dogs I could find as that seemed to be appropriate fare for a group of hungry gay boys on Pride weekend. I found these Klement's Chicago Brand Beef Hot Dogs. They weren't as big as the mega dogs you find at the stadiums, but they were very satisfying and grilled up quite nicely.

I enjoy "slaw dogs" which I believe is a very southern treatment for hot dogs - just give me ketchup, spicy mustard and some creamy deli-made cole slaw and I'm happy. If we happened to also have some chili to put under that layer of slaw, I would have been in hog heaven - so to speak. We served these with some deli-made "picnic" style creamy potato salad, grilled zucchini and for the extra meat-hungry boys, some grilled Angus burgers for "dessert". Paired with a case of Summit IPA beer, we were well oiled for the sounds of Bob Mould and Tina Schlieske (of Tina and the B-Sides).

Monday, June 4, 2007

Art, Azia and a very stiff drink

Some friends of ours live at the semi-exclusive Minneapolis address of 801 Washington Ave, which is a massive loft conversion that was at the forefront of the conversion madness in that part of town that now has run amok. Nevertheless, the space is fabulous, the lofts gargantuan and the public areas are used as a gallery to display art. Once a quarter they host an art opening there for the public called, "Art at 801" so that the residents can show off the building to the community of envious gawkers and the art-i-nistas. After a couple of hours of people watching, it was after 10pm and we were peckish enough to brave Azia - a rather over-the-top pan-asian fusion place on "Eat Street" in Minneapolis.

We went with a happy-hour order of cranberry wontons and some fried calamari off the main menu. Calamari begs for salt - I don't know why, but anytime I've been disappointed with calamari, it was due to a lack of salt - this was no exception. The most interesting part of the dish was the sweet basil dipping sauce that I tried to capture in a photo. The color was akin to lime sherbet and looked terribly unnatural, but was quite tasty. They have a version of the calamari sauted with a sweet chili sauce so we'll try that next time.

The Cranberry wontons were $5 or $6 on the happy hour menu and made up for the calamari disappointment - they were crispy fried and stuffed with cream cheese. They made for the perfect companion for the Lychee-tini - a 14.5oz knock-your-socks-off monster of a cocktail made with lots of 3 vodka (it's apparently distilled from soy) and lychee-fruit puree. Be sure to hit this drink up at happy hour when it is 1/2 price - it's $14 during regular business hours. Given previous trips to Azia, I knew one of these would make me happy, two would create a personal disturbance. I stopped at one and was home watching TV by midnight.

Leading me back to Lucia's

Reading another local food blog recently, I was reminded of Lucia's Wine Bar/Restaurant/Cafe and whatever else they have over there under that name. Saturday afternoon, the BF and I wanted to break out of our rut of going to the same places and hit up something off our regular circuit, so we decided to walk over to Lucia's to grab lunch.

Although our friends and every reputable food critic in the know extols the virtues of Lucia's fresh approach to local ingredients, our experience dining there a couple of times several years ago was underwhelming. While the food was expertly prepared and of very high quality, our Southern-tilting palates had a difficult time understanding what all the fuss was about. We figured after five years in Minnesota, the hot sauce and butter-fried remnants of our years in Atlanta have faded, so we figured it was time to give Lucia's another try.

The BF was disappointed that Lucia's was serving brunch, not lunch, but I didn't mind repeating breakfast. It was once my favorite meal until I started adhering to a standard breakfast of Fiber One Raisin Bran and scrambled Egg Beaters on the weekends (kinda takes the wind out of your sails on breakfast). I ordered up a Bloody Mary and their French-style omelet stuffed with slices of mild chorizo sausage and topped with guacamole (so much for leaving the southern palate behind). Like before, the food was expertly prepared and deliciously fresh, but not that flavorful.

I was debating whether or not to try again for dinner in the restaurant sometime earlier today when I got a gift of a $100 gift certificate to where else - Lucia's - from the head of my division at work as a "thank-you" gift. All the signs are pointing me back to Lucia's.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Holy Guacamole Kids!

I'm thrilled to see that guacamole season is back! I took a short cut this winter when I was in desperate need of a guac fix by using a jarred guacamole mix by Frontera brought home by the BF. It was good (tangy and citrus-y), but couldn't hold a candle to my home-made version. I have been known to pack a mortar and pestle in my suitcase when traveling for extended vacations where I would have access to a kitchen. Because of my penchant for making this while on vacation in exotic locales, it brings me a certain level of instant "Zen" when I make this at home. Play with this set of ingredients and see how it suits ya . . .

DM's Guacamole

2 ripe Haas avocados (the small leathery ones) pitted, cubed and scooped from shell - here's a video that teaches you the technique: How to Dice an Avocado: Easy Cooking Tips & Techniques
1 medium jalapeño chili, finely diced (seeded if you want your guac mild)
2 cloves garlic - minced
2 Tbls finely minced red onion
1 tsp coarse kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped red onion
1 - 2 roma tomatoes - seeded and diced
4 - 6 dashes Mexican Hot Sauce (like Cholula) or Tabasco Sauce
3 - 4 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro - chopped
Juice of 1/2 fresh lime

1) Place the diced chili, garlic, minced red onion and salt in a mortar bowl - grind with pestle until a wet paste starts to form and the items seem well mixed (Touch a bit to your tongue and swallow. If you feel a slight burn in the back of your throat, it's just right)
2) Mix paste with the avocado - mash and mix until incorporated, but avocados still a bit chunky
3) Add chopped Onion, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine - taste for salt - add more if needed
4) Stir in tomatoes and cilantro. Sprinkle with lime juice.

I prefer to serve these with "Garden of Eatin" blue corn chips, but this goes great on chicken burgers as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sangrita! A Bloody Good Way to Tequila!

While doing business in Mexico City a couple of years ago, I was introduced to Tequila y Sangrita by my Mexican colleagues. Apparently, a common way to drink Tequila in certain parts of Mexico is to accompany a good anejo or reposado with a sweet/savory/spicy chaser of tomato juice, citrus juices and spices. With some salt and limes on the side, it can make for a pleasantly mellow Sunday afternoon on the porch, or a weepy, messy night depending on how far you take it. Based on your taste (I like mine sweet and spicy), you can adjust the proportions, but here is what's in it generally:

1 Cup Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
2 Cups Tomato Juice
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1 TBSP Finely Minced Onion
Several Dashes of Smoked Tabasco Sauce (or a hot sauce of your choosing)
A couple dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
Seasoned Salt and White Pepper to taste
A dash of baker's sugar if you'd like (which I do)

Mix and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to let flavors blend. Some folks will strain it, but straining Tomato Juice doesn't always work so well, so I'll drink it chunks and all. Serve chilled in shot glasses with a good quality tequila and fresh lime wedges. The key here is to sip, not shoot! Good tequila is meant to be savored, not inhaled.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Ride on the Safari Express

I was at a reception earlier this week hosted by the Community Capital Alliance - an organization with which I volunteer. The event was catered with an unusual, but extremely flavorful array of North African delights from an exquisite but rustic pan of beans to various curried meat concoctions to rich wrapped sandwiches rolled with fresh baked product. Despite the vary Minnesota bland array of tastes at the event was very well received - especially the wrapped sandwiches.

With my half-day off "Summer Fridays", I had time to visit the caterer for the event, Safari Express at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. As a late lunch I enjoyed a spicy lamb wrap sandwich and a small salad. The lamb was tender and rolled with a spicy yogurt-based sauce and encased in what seemed to be a fried flat bread. The rest of the menu has great standbuys in international and directory grown food like curries and stews, but all the action was on my taco.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fowl encounter without a knife

I tried to have an impromptu picnic by the Mississippi river courtesy of Surdyk's Bistro 2 Go Cheese Shop and a lovely lunch box I found there filled with great piece of baked bread, cheeses and fruit enough for one. Instead, I ended up dodging evil wild geese and piles of their shit while attempting to consume my soft and hard cheeses with no knife or any other utensil next to a stagnant stretch of backwater. My own damn fault I guess, for trying to be spontaneous and whimsical but the cheese was very good!

Papas del Sol (Potatoes of the sun)

I've been a bad blogger - but summer's here so time for new experiments in the kitchen.

Potatoes have crept back into my regular diet as a starch alternative to rice, so I'm trying to find new ways to eat them rather than mashed or baked (nuked in my case). I decided to take some cooked red potatoes and pair them with some nice sunny Mexican inspired flavors (thus - potatoes of the sun). The lime juice tames the heat of the peppers and adds a sunny flavor to boring old potatoes.


1lb small red potatoes, quartered
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium jalapeño chili, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup coarse chopped cilantro
1 tsp Smoked Spanish Paprika
2 tbls Olive Oil
Salt to taste


1) Boil potato for 10 minutes or until cooked, but still al dente firm - drain
2) Heat large saute pan over med-high heat - add oil when hot
3) Add Garlic and Jalapeño - saute until chilis soften and garlic starts to brown
4) Add small amount of green onion and drained potato quarters
5) Gently toss the potatoes to coat with oil.
6) Sprinkle with salt and paprika and toss until well blended
7) Heat for 3 -4 minutes until potatoes are lightly browned
8) Sprinkle with Lime juice to tame the heat of the peppers
9) Pour into serving bowl - top with cilantro and green onions

I served this with shrimp sauted with ancho chili powder, garlic, salt and olive oil finished with a splash of silver Tequila. To get something green on the plate, I roasted some asparagus - I'll be smelling that tomorrow! Overall, a small risk in the kitchen from my curiosity that did not kill the cat.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Social networking for Foodies -

As if there weren't already enough social networking sites out there, a new site has popped up that I had to try out, despite already having a MySpace site & profile that I sorely neglect. This new site, is focused on connecting foodies to each other. The site is heavy on the web 2.0 stuff (tags, stumbles, groups, etc) but they do allow folks to upload their own recipes and swap info in a free-form fashion with each other as well as form sub groups around specific food topics. I've already set up a basic profile as well as joined the Southern Cooking and the Mexican groups. I haven't submitted any recipes yet, but have already started tagging and saving a few new things I'd like to try. I've also started feeding some of my favorite restaurants into the site with my personal reviews. Seems to still have a relatively low user base, but I'm curious to see if it takes off once the site is out of beta.

The big red Weber Grill in Schaumburg, Il

I spent the better part of last week on the road for work observing focus groups of women talking about cooking and meal planning. During most of these sessions, we were treated to delivered boxes of food from local suburban casual dining dives and disasters like PF Chang's and Bennigan's. During a session in Schaumberg, Illinois (about 30 minutes outside of Chicago) we were able to slip out of the research facility for an actual sit-down lunch. Drawn by the 10% discount offered on our hotel keys and the fact that it was across the street, we opted for the Weber Grill Restaurant - an outgrowth of the infamous back-yard primal cooking appliance company we all know and have encountered.

This place took the grill idea over the top. The front lawn was graced with a 15 foot high red grill greeting the passing traffic. Inside, the light fixtures were made of grill covers and every opportunity to refer to Weber's heritage was taken. For lunch, I opted for the Pulled Pork/BBQ Chicken combo plate with my pork served North Carolina style (seasoned with a spiced vinegar sauce vs. the Midwest style that relies on tomato based sauces).

The chicken was tasty enough and the pork had more than sufficient flavor, but the texture left much to be desired. I kept encountering what tasted to be little pellets of fat and the meat was tenderized to the point of near-butter making it barely distinguishable from the fat globules. Looking at the other dishes, I have to imagine there is more to this place than what I encountered. Given they have 3 Chicago-area locations and are expanding to Indianapolis soon, it's only a matter time before I find myself in the Weber Grill again sometime soon, so I'll have to give them another chance to prove themselves as other than the another suburban chain restaurant.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Train me, shred me

Calories in, calories out right? I've completed 10% of the 40 sessions of personal training that I've recently purchased from Fitness Together where the mantra is "1 Client, 1 Trainer, 1 Goal." Now that I'm 30-something, my love of food and wine is catching up with my ass, so it's time to get serious about staying fit. I'm enjoying the sessions, but there have been several times that I've felt near death as they focus on continuous circuit training. Since all the equipment of the studio is exclusively yours to use during your session, there is no waiting or breathing between exercises, thus a combined cardio and resistance workout. I haven't been pushed as hard as when I was 12 and forced to join my school's football team to "toughen me up". After a month of pre-season training in the 95+ degree Alabama August sun in a jock 2 sizes too small (thanks Mom), the football program was canceled for the year. I almost felt resentful - now I'm grateful I can give someone several thousand dollars to hurt me to my benefit.

I'm awaiting a new eating plan that is to be derived from my self-reported survey of meal preferences and a 24-hour log of my eating that ran the gamut from skim-milk oatmeal to country fried steak. I'm hoping to come out the other end of this journey with a flatter belly and a bigger man-rack so that I at least look good when I'm stuffing my face.

Gourmet Convenience

In an effort to do more cooking at home to stem our spiraling restaurant meal expenditures, I've been relying more on the type of convenience food products by which I make my living marketing to the masses. Here are a few highlights of things that have proven indispensable recently (none of which are manufactured by my employer):

Big Bags of Quick Frozen Chicken Breasts: My local Trader Joe's has great prices on bags of frozen chicken fillets. On Sunday or Monday night, I'll throw them in a bowl of cold water for about 30 minutes to thaw, drain and sprinkle them with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and ancho chile powder and broil them on high for about 6 minutes per side. I throw them in the fridge and use them for quick protein boosts after my work-outs, chop them up to throw into tacos, pasta sauces and salads or whatever.

Boxed Risotto: I've discovered these delicious Lundberg Risotto mixes that cook up in about 20 minutes that are hearty and elegant enough to jazz up a simple oven roasted salmon or pan seared pork chops. Just toss up a simple spinach salad and you've got instant fine dining.

Stuffed Pasta: Somewhere during that Atkins/South Beach madness, I forgot how much I enjoyed a simple plate of refrigerated ravioli or tortellini finished with a nice chunky rustic tomato sauce or gorgeous pesto toss. I've rediscovered how easy it is to buy these vacuum packed boxes of filled pasta and keep them in the freezer for whatever, whenever. Again, Trader Joe's to the rescue for dinner tonight when I took some fire-roasted veggie stuffed ravioli from my freezer, boiled it up and tossed it with Trader Joe's jarred vodka sauce (studded with chunks of pre-cooked chicken breast). I accompanied it with some frozen french-style green beans with slivered almonds. Dinner took 15 minutes to cook up and went over very well.

Better Than Boullion
: The blow-hard celebrity chefs and Alton Brown tell you "if you're going to use boullion, you might as well use water." Not true. My BF's mom turned me on to these refrigerated jarred concentrated paste-style bases that comes in chicken, beef and other proteins. Just a tablespoon of this stuff in a quart of boiling water opens up a world of fast gourmet possibilities from decadent rice to luxurious sauces. I don't waste my time with canned/boxed broth where there's always extra to throw out anymore.

I'm finding that by just putting the right things in my pantry and freezer, I'm able to throw together some fittingly high-end meals without letting my weekly grocery budget stretch into the triple digits. I get my new meal plan from my trainer soon, so we'll see how long this affordable trend lasts. The protein shakes are already chilling in the fridge . . .