Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Rolls and Lychee Martinis

I've been racking my brain for something delicious and light to match the SPRING weather that I can enjoy for lunches this week. Duh, the perfect thing actually has SPRING in its title...Spring Rolls! I hit up United Noodle after my evening walk for some spring roll wrappers and other ingredients. Spring rolls are actually very simple to make if you have patience and a little time.

To soften the wrappers, I heated some water in my teapot and poured it on a cookie sheet and put one wrapper at a time in the hot water. I have found that I need to double-wrap my spring rolls to avoid ripping the delicate skin and all the yummy filling falling out. Take your two softened wrappers and lay on a cutting board. Layer with your choice of filling! I used butter lettuce, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, and basil.

A real cook would have whipped up a fancy dipping sauce as well, but I had 2 sauces in the fridge that I used - one was a spicy peanut sauce, and the other was sweet chili sauce. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has looked in my fridge - it's 85% condiments. Regardless, both were really good with the spring rolls. I also enjoyed my spring rolls with some steamed and salted shelled edamame.

For refreshment with my spring rolls, nothing beats a lychee martini. After countless glasses of these in NYC with Katie, Cass, and Ben, I'm hooked! A can of lychees in syrup is only about $2 at United Noodle, so this is a very simple and cheap cocktail!

Spring Rolls
Spring roll wrappers
mushrooms, tofu, or other protein filling
veggies such as lettuce, carrots, cucumber, scallions, bean sprouts
herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint
cellophane noodles

Soften wrappers in warm water, layer other ingredients, roll like a burrito. Serve with a sweet chili sauce or peanut sauce.
Can be made in advance!

Lychee Martini
1 part juice from can of lychees in syrup
3 parts icy cold vodka

Shake juice and vodka with ice. Serve in martini glass with lychee for garnish.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What I Ate in New York - April Edition


I haven't blogged in awhile, I know. I have had to make all my meals using leftover Easter food for a long time because we made way too much. And leftovers can't always be amazing, they sometimes just are good enough to curb your hunger and get you through to the next meal. Example: pairing asparagus and mushrooms from the Easter strata with the tortillas and cheese from fish tacos to make a quesadilla. Certainly not something pretty or interesting enough to blog about.

Then I spent a weekend in Hayward, WI for a girls weekend eating terrible food (pizza, pasta, DQ chicken strips and fries) that was horribly uninspiring and also not conducive to intelligent food blog posts. Then, two frantic days at work before jetting off to the Big Apple once more for a visit with Cass and to show my mom my favorite city (so far) in the world.

While in NYC, I had some notable meals that I feel the need to share! First, Wednesday night at Balthazar, I had what they called Koulibiac, which is salmon and spinach in puff pastry with a very delicious creamy mushroom sauce on top. I was hesitant in ordering it because it sounded so heavy and rich, but the dish really was very light and lovely. It was one of the best things I've eaten in a restaurant in a VERY long time. This is to me the very definition of a great give you a fabulous meal you could never imagine making at home in a way that would taste even remotely as good!! I didn't have a camera with me, but I found this picture on Flickr (from roboppy) that shows the dish:

Thursday for lunch, we went back to the same neighborhood to hit up a New York classic - Lombardi's - the self-proclaimed first pizzeria in America. I had been here before (in 2004) on a weekend, waiting 2 hours for a table, got seated in the basement, poor service, and bland pizza. But, I was willing to try it again for the sake of giving my mom a true NYC experience.

And this time I had a completely different outcome at Lombardi's! We went at 3pm on a weekday and were seated immediately in a nice section with Sinatra crooning on the sound system. We had a house salad and bottle of chianti (both delicious) and a regular pizza (thin cracker crust, san marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil) and added mushrooms, kalamata olives, and sliced fresh tomatoes. WOW. It was to die for! I loved it! My hypothesis here is that tourist traps probably have sub-standard food and service at peak hours, but when not under such intense pressure they can show why they became popular in the first place. I recommend Lombardi's pizza!

Finally, late Wednesday night we went right next door from our apartment on St. Mark's Place to Mamoun's Falafel. For only around $3 we split a killer falafel pita with hummus, tomato, lettuce, and tahini. HIGHLY recommended for cheap eats in the East Village (and then you have money left over for Pinkberry, which is on the other side of our apartment door!).

So, it was a very quick trip, but packed full of tourist-y sight seeing (Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, Times Square, Grand Central Station, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, WTC site, Battery Park/Statue of Liberty, etc), friend visiting (Cass!!!), celebrity sightings (Jon Bon Jovi!!!), and great food and drinks.

I HEART NY!!!!!!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Brunch

Happy Easter! Zack and I collaborated on a brunch menu today. I wanted to try a strata (bread vessel filled with baked eggs), he wanted banana muffins.

First, I tried to find a great banana bread recipe. I did lots of internet research and picked one by Molly Wizenberg (Orangette), which called for yogurt. Then at the last minute I thought that banana bread would be something I could find in my grandma's church cookbook. The second recipe on the page was actually submitted by my Grandma Verna! Therefore, I had to make that recipe. And, I had the cutest silicone muffin tin in the shapes of spring flowers. Here is her recipe verbatim. I added chocolate chips and my muffins turned out really cute.

Grandma Verna's Banana Bread
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter, of course)
2 eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp baking soda, dissolved in 1 T. sour cream or milk
4 good-sized bananas, mashed
2 c. flour
1/8 tsp salt
chopped nuts (opt)

Mix together and bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour.
Seriously, now I know why I'm so bad at writing recipes, it runs in the blood. "Good-sized" bananas? "Moderate" oven? How is someone supposed to know what that means?

For the strata, I bought a nice loaf of ciabatta. Hollowed it out and filled it with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, and topped with grated parmesan cheese. You are supposed to pre-bake the hollowed out bread shell to avoid too much egg-seepage. I forgot that part. But it still turned out pretty yummy.

Breakfast Strata
1 loaf ciabatta
6 eggs
1/2 cup water or milk
Sauteed mushrooms
Herbs - such as parsley and basil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

Cut the top off the ciabatta and hollow it out. Brush with olive oil and bake for a few minutes. Fill with mixture of eggs, veggies, herbs, and spices. Top with grated parm. Bake on foil covered sheet for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

We enjoyed our banana muffins and strata with yogurt and strawberries, coffee, and mimosas. It was a great start to a beautiful Minnesota Easter Sunday.

PS - went for a long walk around Lake Nokomis this afternoon and totally saw grown adults hunting easter eggs in their yard. It was awesome.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fish Tacos

Zack and I had a fabulous day today: couple of walks in the gorgeous Minneapolis weather, pain au chocolat from A Baker's Wife Pastry Shop, errands, an art show, a great lunch (see previous post), and a bottle of prosecco. It doesn't get much better than that! Until you make a late dinner with some awesome fresh fish from Coastal Seafoods.

The special today at Coastal was blue marlin, which is a very firm fish. We coated it in flour and salt and put it on the grill pan. Served along with a mango salsa, fresh guacamole, chihuaua cheese, and cabbage, it was killer. It made a convert of Zack who had never had fish tacos, or guacamole, or mangos.

Fish Tacos
Fish or shrimp - any kind
Flour or corn tortillas
Guacamole (avocados, garlic pasted with salt, lime juice)
Mango salsa (mango, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, salt)

Coat the fish with flour and salt (or not!), grill until done. Serve on warmed tortillas with a variety of toppings.

Honey Mustard Chicken Salad

Here's another entry in the Saturday salad category.

Honey Mustard Chicken Salad
Panko bread crumbs
Chicken Breasts
Red/Yellow/Orange bell peppers
Edamame beans, shelled
Cherry tomatoes
Red onion, diced

Dressing: dijon mustard, honey, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, olive oil

Coat chicken with panko, drizzle with olive oil and grill on grill pan until done. Slice and put on top of romaine with veggies and top with dressing. Serve with grilled bread.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Faux Frisee aux Lardon

This post is not as pretentious as the title suggests (I hope). While we were in NYC, Katie told me about a salad with frisee and a poached egg. Then, it was on the menu at Zucco's Le French Diner. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.

After some research, I discovered that this is a French salad made with frisee lettuce - the light green pretty lettuce that looks like lace and is also called French chicory - and a warm bacon dressing. That's trouble, since frisee is my least favorite lettuce and I don't like bacon. But do you think that would stop me?? Hardly!

After some substitutions, I ended up with a version I call Faux Frisee aux Lardon.

Faux Frisee aux Lardon
Field greens
Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Bacon
Button mushrooms
Red wine vinegar
Poached egg

1. Cut the veggie bacon into small pieces and brown in a skillet with some olive oil. Add chopped mushrooms and brown them as well. Add diced shallot and cook until soft. Remove skillet from heat and add 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

2. While your bacon and mushrooms are browning, poach an egg

3. Pour bacon/mushroom dressing over field greens, top with poached egg, and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

I really liked this salad, however; it's not appropriate for spring. It would be much more satisfying to eat a hearty salad with a warm dressing in the fall or winter. Good thing I have this blog to remind me of this in about 6 months.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fabulous Dinner by Colin

Only make bets you don't mind losing.

It's great advice, no?

When I lived with Alicia, she made many things into a competition. It's been awhile since we've done this. But, a month or two ago, Marney, Alicia, and I met on a snowy winter's night for some bowling and beers. A few lanes into the first game, we decided that the game would be a bet - and the lowest scoring person after 3 games would have to either make or buy dinner for the other 2.

Long story short....Marney lost. By a lot. A LOT. And, like any self-respecting wife with a husband who can cook, she had Colin cook for us tonight. It was such a treat because it was the first grilled food I'd had this year, and I hadn't enjoyed a Colin meal in awhile!

This guy is magic. Culinary magic, that is. Seriously, I don't know how he does it. I have never seen him use a recipe. I have never been served overcooked food. I have never been served un-delicious food. He is MAGIC!

Tonight, the wizard created a feast that started with a green salad topped with a balsamic vinaigrette that I dream about. It's really that good.
Then, baked bread and mixed summer veggies in a foil packet on the grill: green pepper, red onion, yellow squash, zucchini, and a mystery combo of spices.
Also, sauteed shrimp in a boatload of garlic and butter or oil. These shrimp are amazing - cooked to perfection, plump and juicy, and exploding with garlic flavor.
And the masterpiece: salmon with lemon and a spice rub on the grill. The salmon was to die for. Honestly - I may change my death sentence meal. Look at how gorgeous this salmon was coming off the grill on a pretty spring evening.

Sidenote: best topic for food lovers to discuss at a cocktail or dinner party? What would you eat for your last supper if you were going to die tomorrow? Usually I would answer with a field green salad, margarita pizza, red wine, and extra dark chocolate. However, this salmon may have changed my answer. Plus, prosecco is quickly replacing red wine as my wine of choice, so I may need to re-think my whole answer!

Back to tonight's meal. It rocked. Colin amazes me. I am so jealous of his ability to cook all these different dishes (on different things like grill/stove/etc) and they all are done at the same time. Also, how in the hell does he season things so well? It's a delicious mystery that I'll be happy to try to figure out for a long time. Thanks to Marney's crummy bowling, maybe I'll get to do this again soon!

Sorry, no recipes today...just pretty pictures of this awesome dinner!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Springtime Stir Fry think I got all the (important) colors of the rainbow in this beautiful stir fry. Except blue, since I don't think blue vegetables exist. If I liked eggplant, I could have added that, I guess. Anyways, I was craving tofu and springtime today so I tried to combine them in this dish.

Now, I have tried cooking with tofu many, many times before and I have always been unsuccessful. I had given up, until I heard that tofu should be either baked or pan-fried in a non-stick skillet (which I had never tried). So I had 2 packages of tofu and I tried cooking it both ways. I pressed out the moisture and cubed the tofu. Half went into a skillet over medium-high heat with 1 Tbsp oil. The other half went on a cookie sheet and into a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. The pan-fried tofu turned out great - the baked version stuck to the cookie sheet. However, the tops were nice and brown, so next time I'll try the baked version on parchment or foil because I'd really like to eliminate the oil if possible.

Then I used my wok to stir-fry on high heat the following: onion, red/yellow/orange peppers, leeks, asparagus, and sugar snap peas. When the veggies are crisp-tender, splash in some soy sauce or tamari, veggie stock, and sriracha sauce.

I know stir fry is typically served over rice, but I'm way too impatient to cook rice for 45 minutes, and it usually sticks to the pot anyways, and I honestly don't even like rice that much. So, in a flash of genius I chopped up some cabbage and scooped the yummy veggies over the crispy crunchy light green cabbage. So it was almost like a stir fry salad. Tasted great and the leftovers will make fabulous and healthy lunches this week!

Springtime Stir Fry
Baked or pan-fried cubes of tofu
Sliced red, yellow, and orange peppers
Sliced yellow onion
Sliced and rinsed leeks
Asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
Sugar Snap Peas
2 Tbsp Soy sauce (or tamari)
1 Tbsp Sriracha sauce ("The Rooster")
1/2 cup Vegetable stock (approx)

In a wok, stir fry the veggies in 1 Tbsp vegetable oil on high heat until crisp-tender (approx 6-8 minutes). Add the soy, sriracha, and stock and cook for another minute. Add the tofu back into the mixture. Serve over rice or cabbage.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Restaurant Review - Heidi's Minneapolis

Went to Heidi's last night with my friend Sarah. No reservations, just walked in on a Friday night at 7pm. Surprisingly, it wasn't that busy. The restaurant is small, with tiny tables set very close to each other.

The host was kind of snooty and seemed irked that we hadn't made a reservation. Which would have been fine if they couldn't get us in - we would have left. But I think he wanted put put on a pouty show of how difficult it was for him to accommodate us. Please. We were seated in less than 5 minutes.

We ordered a bottle of syrah that was really, really good. It was so fruity and complex I could have had just that for dinner and been happy.

Then an amuse bouche of salmon tartare with kimchi mayo - for only $2.50. Wasn't on the menu but apparently the chef makes a different bouche each night. I loved it.

For the entree, I ordered the evening special which was Hawaiian ahi tuna, seared rare, and served on top of smoked couscous, caramelized onions, and eggplant fondue. Sounds like a bunch of weird funky flavors but together they were amazing.

Sarah ordered the filet mignon with asparagus and potato, and we shared a green salad with crispy yam strips. Overall, a fabulously delicious meal, and not terribly expensive. For both of us, with a great bottle of wine and big entrees, the tab was slightly less than $100.

Heidi's = thumbs up.

We then hit up Salut Bar Americain in Edina where I finally had my first glass of Veuve Cliquot, which was excellent! Sarah had a "smoking" cosmo which was full of dry ice so it bubbled and steamed for over 5 minutes in an embarassing display. We did succumb to temptation and shared a gigantic piece of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, and I had a double espresso. It was heaven.

Totally extravagant night, and not very lean, but worth it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Prosecco Review

Went to Trader Joe's today. Jackpot! Best wine steals ever. My usual prosecco that is sold there is $6.99 per bottle, and it is superb. A really nicely balanced sparkling wine that's not too sweet or dry.

The really friendly and talkative workers there told me that TJ's now sells another brand of prosecco that's only $4.99 per bottle! When you buy 12-24 bottles at a time, that $2 per bottle can add up! But does it taste any good?????

First impression after 1 sip.....not horrible. Much sharper than the $6.99 bottle, not as smooth, less fruity. But it does go well with food that requires a drier wine. Bottom line? Good, but if you're feeling rich, I would bust out that extra two bucks and stick with the original TJ prosecco. However, in these tough economic times, and if you are trying to cut corners wherever possible, $4.99 can buy you an evening's worth of entertainment in this lovely blue bottle!
Score? Six bubbles, out of a possible ten bubbles. This means it's a great value and it's not terrible wine. Try it for yourself and decide! I will probably buy this again just to switch things up now and then.
NOTE: the lowest possible score I can give to wine is five bubbles, because any wine is a good wine in my book.

New Gadget - Flower Petal Egg Poacher

I got a present! From Cass! And it's sooooo pretty. It's a tulip-shaped egg poacher. You can also use it for making custards or little cakes.

Now, you can of course poach eggs using nothing more than some hot water and an egg. However, Cassandra believes that when you do something (even if it's as mundane as poaching eggs), you should do it in style. I agree! These little flower cups are adorable and they make your eggs so pretty, and therefore more delicious!

First, simmer some water in a pan, grease your silicone flower cup and crack an egg into it.

Place your pretty tulip with raw egg in the simmering water, cover, and cook for 6-8 minutes (I did 6, since I'm becoming more and more fond of runny eggs).

Turn cooked eggs upside down onto a nice pile of sauteed onion, mushrooms, and kale (seasoned with balsamic vinegar, nutmeg, salt and pepper) and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Isn't it gorgeous? Goes really well with prosecco!!!

Thanks, Cass - once again, you have improved my style!

What I Ate In NYC

Just returned from the most fabulous weekend in New York City. Shopping, dining, drinking, dancing, and spending time with some of my favorite people....what could be better?

And since this blog is about being lean and green, yet still eating yummy food, thought it would be appropriate to share some of the goodness I got to eat while in NYC.

Friday - first day there - after waking up at 4am, flying, subway-ing, and shopping, was definitely ready for a nice lunch. Katie and I found The Cub Room with a great prix fixe lunch for $15. We first demanded wine (!), then started with a fennel salad with apples, walnuts, and bleu or gorgonzola cheese. Second course was salmon with green veggies and fried mashed potato balls (hush puppies?). This salmon was just so pretty, I've never seen it rolled up like this!

Then we ended the meal with dessert - chocolate lava cake for Katie, cheesecake for me (and maybe another glass of wine?). Good start to the weekend!

That night, Cassandra took us to Indochine, the painfully obvious fashion model hotspot. She tried to tell us the portions were small...yeah right! We started with some sauteed asian greens and a green salad. For the entree, Katie had some very spicy shrimp.
I ordered the fish special, which was grilled striped sea bass on lemongrass and green veggies. It was HUGE, and really, really delicious.
We then made our way to the Thomson LES hotel and the new "members only" bar on 7th floor called "Above Allen." Apparently, they will soon be issuing membership cards and people like me won't be able to get in (without people like Cass and Katie to help!). But it was a great ending to a great day!

Saturday dawned beautiful and sunny. We made our way to Central Park for a lovely stroll in the sunshine. (NOTE: this marked the first time we were mistaken for locals and asked for directions, which was awesome and would only have been cooler if I actually knew where the Plaza was...who doesn't know where the Plaza is???? Duh, it is of course on 5th Ave and Central Park South). Then a tour of the World Trade Center site, and Battery Park.

Lunch on Saturday was at Kampuchea, the first and only Cambodian restaurant in the City. I had a great roasted cauliflower sandwich that I really enjoyed, especially when complemented with a lychee martini.

Dinner with Cass and Ben Saturday night was at some sushi restaurant - maybe I had too many lychee martinis at Verlaine's happy hour but I have no idea what this place was called. However, I do remember that the sushi was really super delicious!!! Here are some gorgeous pictures:

The rest of this night is a blur, but there are some embarassing photos that include pink heart sunglasses to indicate that I didn't just go to bed early.
Sunday was a rough morning. Katie and I found somewhere to eat breakfast/lunch and read some trashy gossip magazines and try to get our brains unscrambled.
Cass re-charged our batteries with a sugar rush with some really fabulous cupcakes to celebrate Katie's birthday!
Sunday dinner was truly memorable at Zucco's Le French Diner. Zucco himself in indescribably cool, he makes me wish I'd been to France. I ordered a Pan Bagnat sandwich (like a Nicoise salad, only on a baguette with fries). It was really good. But the ambiance....the ambiance was the best. Teeny tiny restaurant, kitschy decorations, authentic French owner. LOVE this place. No wonder Cass and Ben are regulars. I have no photos because that would have been terribly gauche.
The weekend ended so perfectly. Just as if we were celebrities, Katie and I hit up the nearest Pinkberry (next door to our apartment!) for a fro-yo snack. YUM! Expect our photo to show up on soon.
Bottom line: one of my best vacations ever. Had a blast. LOVE NYC!!!!

PS - all photos courtesy of Katie Hanson. Thanks girl - you are GREAT! Let's do it again someday!!