Friday, December 18, 2009

Baking up the night - cookie gift boxes for the office

Earlier this week, I completed my annual baking-night where I embarked to bake up some fresh treats to present to my employees and other key folks at the office in lieu of holiday cards or other trinkets. Last year, I took on a rather complicated set of recipes that kept me in the kitchen well past 1am 2 nights in a row in order to crank out those goodies. While I see the sacrifice as part of the sweat equity that puts more meaning into the gifts, I only have so much energy and can't do late night activities that require dexterity and concentration as well as I used to think I could (I'm sure I can just more clearly see what an idiot I am at 1am).

This year, I only had one night to get it all done, so I dispensed with anything that needed overnight chilling or would require fillings and multiple components. This meant skipping the awesome cookie recipes from my quasi mother-in-law (like date-nut pinwheels) due to their labor intensity and my tendency to screw the recipes up along the way.

I prepared last weekend by doing most of my grocery shopping, ensuring I had enough flour (I only use Gold Medal Unbleached all-purpose, since their profits pay my mortgage) and sugar on hand and getting my gift box materials together. I skipped the overpriced stuff at Container Store, and found perfectly good stuff at Litin Paper in North Minneapolis for cheap (gift boxes, bows, labels, etc). J found me some cello bags at Target and that was just what I needed to save me from a frustrating night of wrapping things in Saran Wrap. Completion time this year from turning on the oven to packing the last box - 6 hours (8pm - 2am). At least it was all done in one night. This year's box had 4 items - links to the recipes follow:

Spiced Ginger Cookies

Chocolate-Hazelnut Gooey Butter Cakes

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (J the BF ate 6 of these in the first hour they came out of the oven)

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

All boxes were well received by the lucky 12 who got one this year. I hope the 12th person sees hers. She may have left for the holidays by the time I put it on her desk. Otherwise, she will have a nasty surprise awaiting her in January.

Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yes, your meat can be too thick - Butterflied Pork Chops with Fig-Pinot Noir Glaze

When you are faced with the stress of getting dinner on the table in a hurry after a late night at work, you tend to run into little challenges. I recently stumbled home around 8pm after a full day determined to pound out a quick simple meal based on whatever happened to be in the fridge. My only meat option on hand - double thick boneless pork chops - would ordinarily take about 30 minutes to cook due to their size. I wanted to cut the time in half, so I tried my hand at butterflying.

Its a simple idea, but one that I don't do often due to my lack of confidence with my own knife skills. Take a thick piece of meat, cut through it at it's hemisphere (parallel to the board) to within 1/2 an inch of the opposite edge and open it up. Suddenly, you have something thinner and faster cooking. After successfully opening up my chops, I needed to figure out how to put some flavor in the boring other white meat. J the BF suggested smothering them in onions and serving them with apple sauce - a classic presentation, but this was my one moment to be creative for the day, so I decided to take a little more risk. I found a cheap bottle of Pinot Noir in the wine rack and a jar of fig preserves in the fridge. I even had a few shallots on hand. Combined with simple spinach salad, I had an easy, but elegant meal, on the table relatively quickly. Here is the recipe as I recall it, but you may need to play with the amounts to get the flavor balanced to your taste.

Butterflied Pork Chops with Fig & Pinot Noir Glaze


2 1.5 - 2 inch thick Boneless Pork Chops - Butterflied
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Kosher Salt and Coarse Ground Pepper (to taste)
2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium Shallot - finely diced
1/2 cup Pinot Noir wine
2-3 TBLS Fig Preserves
1 tsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp Dijon Mustard


1) Season Pork Chops with cayenne, salt and pepper

2) Heat Olive Oil in medium saute pan on medium-high heat

3) Pan cook Pork Chops until both sides are well browned and meat is done (aim 145 for medium - 160 for well done is preferred from a safety angle) - about 7 minutes/side. Place cooked chops on a platter and tent with foil

4) Stir the shallots in the hot pan for about 1 minute until softened and slightly browned. Pour in the wine and scrape pan to de-glaze and remove browned bits from pan.

5) Stir in the fig preserves, brown sugar and the mustard until melted and dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce liquid by half until slightly thick glaze forms. Reduce heat; Season sauce with salt and pepper.

6) Place chops and any reserved juices from the platter into the pan with the glaze. Turn the chops a few times to coat and heat for about 2 minutes.

Serve with sauce spooned over the meat and enjoy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

So that's what became of Jitters - Honey, a new bar in Nordeast

While I'm contemplating cutting back on things like cocktails and bar food for a while, I have to take note of new places to visit nonetheless. Reading my "Strib", I noticed this review for Honey, a recently-opened basement club that has taken the place of Jitters underneath Chiang Mai Thai's new Asian outpost Ginger Hop. While I never went to Jitters often, I liked it's dark exposed walls and the feeling of drinking in some underground club.

According the Tom Horgen (the reviewer) this may mark a continued resurgence of a somewhat classier bar/restaurant row for Nordeast Minneapolis in contrast to the area's many dive bars. I am already a fan of the incumbent establishments like Keegan's, Butcher Block, Punch, Nye's, and Whitey's so this will give even more reason's to trip across the river to nosh and sip. Since they have "chocolate flights" on the menu, J the BF would be more than happy to stay out a little later for cocktails.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

After work Tequila at Barrio

It doesn't take much to get me to say yes to Barrio - my favorite tequila bar in town so here I am with co-workers for an impromptu cocktail. As we speak I am enjoying a great reposado Cazadores with the worst Sangrita I have ever tasted. It's a weeknight so 1 and done.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hail to the Ham Shop! C.G. Ham's

When J the BF finds something that he really likes to eat, he gets obsessive about it. For years, he harassed me about his favorite spot for lunch - a deli in a strip mall out in Minnetonka that he kept referring to as "The Ham Shop." I was skeptical - in places like Spain, they have crazy joints like El Museo del Jamon which are massive emporiums to ham and other porky curiosities and you can get some decent bocadillos there, but we don't live in Madrid. On the other side are typical American places like Honey Baked Ham where people go for feast meats pre-cooked, sliced, spiced and ready to stuff down the gullets of your family. Nevertheless, not a place I would go for a good sandwich.

Turns out, what he called "The Ham Shop" is actually C.G. Ham's - a local specialty meat place that happens to also churn out some hella-good sandwiches. Once I was finally convinced to try it, I started singing praises to "The Ham Shop." While there are tons of perfectly good places for lunch in my neighborhood, it doesn't take much arm twisting to get me to drive the 10 miles out to the 'burbs on a Saturday afternoon for one of their unbelievable deli creations.

J, true to his obsessive nature, is addicted to "The Unforgettable" and never veers from ordering it - fresh multigrain bread stuffed with roast turkey, bacon and avocado enriched with sunflower cream cheese spread, tomato and spinach. I have been sampling from their hot and grilled sandwich array - a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed the beauty pictured here called "Fire in the Belly" - hot corned beef and pastrami with melted pepper jack cheese and spicy mustard on a freshly baked hoagie roll that melts in your mouth. They have a good selection of deli salads and fresh baked desserts as well, but I'm usually happy with the little peppermint patty candies that come with the sandwiches.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brit style in an Irish Pub - Keegan's

We did our annual holiday tradition of attending a screening of the winners of the British Ad Awards at the Walker tonight followed by a pub dinner. We normally go to Brit's for fish and chips, but with the crowds of Holidazzle (Minneapolis's odd idea of doing a Christmas parade 4 nights a week for the entire season), downtown MPLS is a zoo on the weekends.

We veered to our preferred pub, Keegan's in Nordeast Mpls, for Newcastle and beer battered fun. I know, its an Irish bar so it doesn't match the British theme, but it tastes just as good.

They have renovated the menu, and added some new sandwiches and entrees (often accompanied by champ - Ireland's version of mashed potatoes). I stuck with my standard 2 piece fish and chips. We even got treated to some live Irish music. Sounds like a good way to spend Sunday evening . . . and there wasn't a Christmas parade in sight.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weeknight Ribeye fix for 2 - Steak with Parmesan Butter, Balsamic Glaze and Arugula

I'm laid up this week recovering from knee surgery, so I asked J the BF to attempt to make our favorite weeknight steak meal. A nifty arrangement (courtesy of of sliced pan seared rib-eye over arugula and parmesan shavings topped with a simple reduction of shallots, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. It never fails to satisfy and it is among the few recipes we have built for two.

We failed to get it on the table this time though due to yet another rancid steak from Trader Joe's. One day I'll learn my lesson - don't buy anything from the fresh meat case from TJ - stick to the freezers and the shelf stable stuff. Even our favorite places aren't perfect. I guess my local butcher will be getting more business from us from now on.

I still wish I had that dish though, so I'm posting an earlier photo I took to remind me of the dinner that should have been.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Helping my buddy Joel - Places to Eat/Drink in Atlanta

My friend Joel (on the left in the photo) is thankfully leaving the ranks of the unemployed to take a job in Hotlanta Georgia. I'm a little jealous of him as Atlanta is a great food city. I would probably be big as a house if I still lived there due to all the great options for great (and often cheap) food. He'll be packing up the truck and leaving DC soon, so I wanted to give him a jump on where to go and what to do. I created a punch list to encourage him to get out and taste the city, but my knowledge of the ATL is over seven years old at this point (I moved to the Twin Cities in 2002). Below is a sample of the suggestions I sent him for my picks of places to nosh and sip. Help us out with other suggestions, and I'll pass them on. Moving to a new city is hard enough. Finding places to eat shouldn't be.

Places to eat

La Fonda Latina (Good cheap Latin food - I love the Quesadillas with corn and jalapenos as well as their queso dip)

Daddy D’z (our favorite BBQ in ATL – near Turner Field and ‘da Hood – looks scarier than it is – GO! The ribs are not to be missed)

Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack (a more approachable, but very good BBQ place north of Ansley Mall – counter service)

RuSan’s (The McDonalds of sushi in Atlanta – very cheap and pretty good)

Flying Biscuit (original location in Candler Park, but Midtown location more convenient – great breakfast, but crowded and a scene)

Thumb’s Up Dinner (Do Breakfast at the Edgewood Ave location – great biscuits and breakfast skillets)

Agave (awesome upscale fusion southwestern cuisine near our old hood in Cabbbagetown)

Zocolo (had some good Mexican food when we lived there – do the heaven and hell shrimp quesadillas if they are still on the menu. Mixed reputation according to more recent reviews. If nothing else, try their knock-your-balls-off margaritas

One Midtown Kitchen (a newer place with an open kitchen, beautiful people and awesome food)

Taqueria Del Sol (Another place with great cheap food – the line is always long but it moves fast)

The Vortex (The best burgers in Atlanta and a great menu of local beers)

Watershed (nationally rated upscale Southern Cuisine purveyor owned by one of the Indigo girls in Decatur)

Two Urban Licks (a downtown spot owned by the One Midtown Kitchen people – haven’t been there, but J, the BF highly recommends it)

The Colonnade (an Atlanta institution where the blue hairs, the gays and everyone in between gathers for old-school southern cooking)

Mary Mac’s Tearoom (similar idea to The Colonnade – old school Southern cooking and an Atlanta instititution)

Eat’s (Our favorite place to eat out while we were students at Emory – very good cheap food – try the jerk chicken and the Jamaican Ginger Beer)

Partying with the Boys:

Blake’s On the Park (The standard and a classic gay bar behind Outwrite - the gay coffee shop/bookstore. Looks like a double wide with a crowd to match) -

The Heretic (We used to call it the “hairy dick” – make sure it is not a dress code night as the crowd can veer toward the leather/levi’s set) -

Mary’s (Very fun and laid back hole-in-the-wall gay bar in East Atlanta) -

Swinging Richards (where the boys are paid to get nekked) -

Woof’s (Atlanta’s main gay sports bar)

Jungle (Atlanta’s big-ass warehouse dance club – go when you are looking to flash your pecs and score with the circuit boy crowd)

Burkhart’s (When I was in school, this joint was popular with the “chicken” – not sure the scene now, but they had pool tables!)

Other Bars / Lounges to chill, nosh and/or slum:

Halo (will look familiar to you if you live in DC, except for the fact that it’s not really a gay place, but still attracts some dudes due to the Midtown location - very mod luxe feel) -

The Flatiron (Bar/grill in East Atlanta – J the BF and I loved to go there for late night beer and burgers when I was in grad school – awesome jukebox and very good bar food)

Manuel’s Tavern (Casual tavern where the political movers and shakers in Atlanta can be seen having a pint next to the blue-collar set - in the shadow of the Carter Presidential center) -

Apres Diem (almost-too-cool-cafĂ© to be in a strip mall – great cocktails, wine, desserts and some decent dinner items. Good for hanging out with friends when you want to talk and look erudite) -

Joe’s On Juniper (You know the drill - casual laid back place popular with the gay boys for beer, burgers and nachos in Midtown) -

The Clermont Lounge (Something in Atlanta you have to do once, but never again. One of my b-school classmates described it as a strip bar for homeless people. I’d also add the hipsters who love them. If she is still there, look for Blondie – the now elderly trans-esque stripper that can crush beer cans with her breasts) -

Additions, comments, or suggestions? Leave 'em below. Joel will thank you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oh yeah - where was I?

Just because I stopped blogging does not mean I stopped eating. Quite the contrary in fact (unfortunately). 2009 has been a full year of too many cities and too many meals to count, so I focused on eating rather than writing. Maybe a little more of the later would slow me down from the former.

I am finally getting to looking at the bizarre photos of food that I've been amassing this year from all over. Last check had me at 90,000 Delta flight miles this year covering cities like Washington D.C., Atlanta, Tortola, L.A., Denver, St. John, Sacramento, Chicago, Bentonville, New York, Cannes, Paris, Cancun, Roussillon, Montreal, St. Louis, San Francisco, and other places I'd rather soon forget. Each city was a chance to taste something new - and I got to squeeze in a little exploring here at home in the Twin Cities.

While I try to remember what exactly it was I was eating, here's a visual sample:

Happy holidays!