culinary mash-up: chickpeas, margaritas, shabu-shabu, ice cream cake

This weekend I enjoyed one of the craziest–and most fun–meals I’ve yet to experience. Gracious friends invited us over for shabu-shabu–a Japanese dish that owes its name (if Wikipedia is to be believed) to the sound the food makes as it cooks in bubbling broth–along with the host’s amazing margaritas. Already known for his margaritas, our friend had kicked things up a notch after a recent trip to Cozumel. He promised they were even Better now that he was using a homemade lime sour mix. I was asked to bring dessert and also slipped in an app as I’d just seen a Must-Make-This-Now recipe in a recent Bon Appetit.

So, we have Bacony Roasted Chickpeas: a Mediterranean-American-Italian appetizer.

tasting as good as they look

tasting as good as they look

They were simple to make–just a handful of ingredients–and went down easy with the made-to-order margaritas.

margarita anyone?

margarita anyone?

The shabu-shabu was also great fun. Think fondue with an ethnic, less kitschy twist. Our hostess had set it up perfectly: Both halves of the pot held boiling broth, though one half also had a few drops of hot sauce added. Ingredients from the trays of prepped food (gorgeous shrimp, fish balls, mochi, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, sprouts, udon) were tossed into the broth with chopsticks, then fished out when cooked as desired. Between “interactive eating” and the fabulous ingredients, this meal was as stellar as they come. As we enjoyed tossing and fishing (and eating), we patted ourselves on the back: save the tequila in the drinks, this was crazy-healthy party food.

Shabu Shabu


boiling broth

boiling broth

Those back-pats ended, though, when the ice-cream cakes came out. With extra mint-chocolate chip ice cream on hand, I’d made two layer cakes of chocolate cookie crumb crusts (14 or so ounces cookies crushed to crumbs and mixed with 1/4 cup melted butter, then pressed into a 13x9ish-inch pan and frozen), a thick layer of minty ice cream, generous drizzles of homemade hot fudge sauce, and clouds of sweetened whipped cream. With cases of Girl Scout cookies in the basement, I couldn’t resist topping the cakes with cookie pieces. One cake might have done it for the amount we needed; I made two so I could stir creme de menthe (3 or so tablespoons) into the ice cream that went in the cake for the grown-ups. It was Grasshopper Cake, after all.



Adding the pepperoni pizza ordered in for the kids, this was quite a feast. A culinary mash-up indeed. Here’s to great meals and great friends and great times. If you want to entertain, but worry think that you can’t come up with the Perfect menu, take a page from this post. The foods don’t have to go together. They need only to be made (or purchased) and eaten in the spirit of friendship.

rock star food with the dames

Last week, I attended the national Les Dames d’Escoffier conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and found myself surrounded by so many amazing and accomplished women. And lots of food. Because this blog is all about the food, I’ll focus on the edibles but the women at this conference were inspirations to me as a female business owner and I was honored to be a part of their four-day gathering.

The first night I enjoyed a meal at Araka, a restaurant across from the hotel that had been recommended by the St. Louis native sitting next to me on my flight. My dining companions and I ordered up drinks, then split an appetizer (lobster sliders), flatbread (braised short ribs, horseradish, gorgonzola, arugula), entree (arctic char with polenta, sun-dried tomato pesto, shaved Brussels sprouts), and dessert (bourbon peach cobbler). I was already developing camera fatigue, so only shot the sliders.

Araka’s lobster sliders

Sponsored in part by California Figs, the conference boasted mounds of these heart-healthy fruits. Breakfast and lunch often included bowls spilling over with more types of figs than I knew existed. (I’m from Minnesota, remember? Our figs are imported and usually of the Black Mission variety.)

striped tiger, brown turkey, calimyrna–figs figs figs

Also seen often at conference meals was platter after platter of cheeses. They ranged from robust to mild, salty to slightly sweet, creamy to dry, but all were divine. The slivers of dried mango (under left tongs in photo) were the perfect complement and I’ve already purchased a package of these dried fruits myself.

wedges and wheels, cubes and crumbles, slabs and slices of cheese

Especially fun for me (as I’m new on the ice cream-making trail), was the soy sauce ice cream à la Kikkoman. It was dusted with ground hazelnuts and could easily pass for a slightly smoky version of salted caramel.

Soy sauce ice cream–who knew? It really was lovely.

There was also high-end fancy fare. The food was pretty and tasty, for sure, though my favorite meals were those with the bowls of figs, platters of cheese, and a fantastic African couscous breakfast dish (keep reading!).

strikingly beautiful (and artistic) dinner–roasted veg, parsnip puree, onion-crusted beef

fancy dessert–tres leches cake, deconstructed

That couscous breakfast dish? It was magnificently simple (couscous, dried fruits, nuts) and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Quick to make, easily stored, offering good-for you proteins, carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals–an ideal breakfast, whether hot or cold. I’d bet that a dusting of cinnamon and drizzle of honey would make it even more appealing.

Tunisian Mesfouf, a.k.a. Sweet Breakfast Couscous

A smaller group of attendees toured a number of local food finds, one a chocolate factory called Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate. I loved it for its name alone, though the chocolate was over-the-top rich, sweet, and creamy, too.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate display

Another tour involved a brewery, where I enjoyed an oatmeal stout float with vanilla ice cream (yum) and a beer flight of 4 Hands Brewery pours.

4 Hands blond ale, oatmeal stout, red ale, rye IPA

All this food and drink called for morning visits to the hotel’s fitness center. In addition to their pyramids of bottled water and fresh fruit, they offered fruit-infused water. The apple-berry version on the right was a huge wow. I’m making it at home for sure. (And so should you.)

refreshing fruit-flavored waters

I’m glad to be home, though I enjoyed food magically appearing at seemingly all times at the conference. It’s up to me to put meals together now, though I’ve had plenty of inspiration. I’ll put figs on my grocery list, apples in my water, and couscous on my breakfast table. Here’s hoping you’ve been inspired to try something new as well.

ethnic, exotic, and tofu

I very much enjoy ordering authentic dishes at ethnic restaurants. With young kids in the house, I often play it safe when making meals. I’d rather they enjoy healthy, basic homemade fare (lean steaks and burgers, grilled pork chops, mildly seasoned chicken, etc) than refuse to eat the curries, stir-fries, and highly flavored stews (think jambalaya, cioppino) that I love. These dishes are lots of work and I’m the only one who would truly enjoy the meal. The “exotic” entrees remain restaurant fare.

True, kids learn to eat a broader variety of foods only when they’ve been exposed to this broader variety. Yet my experience has been that my girls (and husband, too) like basic and plain. While they’ll give new foods a taste, they won’t eat what they don’t like (and why should they?) and they don’t like complex and highly flavored dishes.

Tonight’s meal, then, was all about me. I had tofu in the fridge with an expiration date coming up, so decided to shake things up by whipping up Cauliflower and Tofu with Tikka Spices. The recipe came from Deborah Madison’s This Can’t Be Tofu! and I won’t bother to offer it here as I made so many changes along the way (didn’t have the right ingredients on hand, was fast and loose with measurements) that what I served was an approximation of the recipe.

Instead, I’ll offer this “formula.” I roasted and ground cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds along with whole cloves, grated my nutmeg, then added a bit of ground turmeric, curry powder and Szechuan pepper as well as minced fresh garlic. I had cubed firm tofu, then combined it in a plastic bag with the spices, shaking it to coat. (Shake-and-bake!) The coated tofu was sautéed in olive oil with just a touch of salt. Steamed cauliflower was added to the sautéed tofu along with a can of coconut milk (key ingredient–can’t have the dish without) and a handful of cashew pieces. I also tossed in a bunch of stale kale chips that were sitting on the counter. A handful of chopped fresh basil finished it off. At the able, the dish was served with whole milk Greek yogurt for a refreshingly cool contrast.

The coconut milk and spices were fantastic together and made this curry what it was. Any protein or veg could be used and the individual spice amounts can be varied to taste, so plenty of room for variations on the theme.

Did my kids like it? Nope. My husband? Not really. But I loved the fragrance, textures, and flavors of my meal. Bonus: I have leftovers in the fridge that will taste even better tomorrow. It was for sure more work to roast and grind spices, etc, but I’m glad I made the effort. It was better than what I’d order at a restaurant (less greasy) and I enjoyed turning out something different come mealtime.

Tomorrow night I’ll be serving up simple again. But there’s another can of coconut milk in my pantry and a package of tempeh in my refrigerator, so maybe I won’t wait so long to serve up “exotic” fare again.

block of tofu

cauliflower (and tofu) curry in cast-iron

dolma, donuts, and maple syrurp soda OR a culinary mashup

After dropping my daughter off at an across-town playdate, I couldn’t resist driving down Central Avenue–a street known for its ethnically diverse hole-in-the wall (read: authentic) restaurants and grocers. Thinking I’d spot somewhere fun to stop right away, I was sorry to see that Central Ave, much like the suburbs, is now peppered with chains. I have Applebee’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s in my neck of the woods as well, so I drove a bit further until I saw a sign for Filfillah Restaurant. Advertising gyros, schawarma, and other Middle Eastern fare, it seemed a good spot to try.

While divey from the outside, the inside was clean, polished, and handsome. Even better, the service was first-rate: The charming and gracious (and handsome) staff went out of their way to serve. After finishing my order of finger-licking good dolma, I hopped over to the cash register to grab a napkin to clean said fingers. Soon after I’d sat down again, a server appeared at my table with an entire napkin dispenser. (Either he was being genuinely gracious or figured I was a mess of an eater.)

The dolma were adorable. I’d last had them ten or so years ago when I’d developed a recipe for these lamb-stuffed grape leaves for a client. Filled with pine nuts and currants and served with a cool tzatziki, Filfillah’s version was lovely.

pretty dolma and dip

I also ordered a Jerusalem Falafel Wrap, which promised falafel, eggplant, feta, and tahini all wrapped up in lavash. Wow–this sandwich blew me away. I wish I could better describe the distinct flavors; the best I can do is say that there was just enough salt, lots of savory, and plenty of hints of “I need another bite.”

amazing Jerusalem falafel wrap–so so good

I was given a container of housemade baklava upon leaving, with my server apologizing for “inconveniencing” me by making me wait for him to come to my table to take my order. (I think I waited about four minutes after entering the store to have my order taken.) These guys take customer service seriously.

Driving home, I impulsively pulled into Heights Bakery as I’d passed it many times before without stopping and it looked like a gem. It was old-school all the way with baked goods laid out under glass on pale pinkish-rose food-service trays. I bought donuts for the family (vanilla sprinkle for youngest daughter, chocolate sprinkle for the oldest, and cinnamon-sugar for Mr. foodforfun), then filled up the box with what I wanted to try. An apple fritter made the cut as did a cinnamon twist, blueberry-filled crispie, and date-filled bear claw. I’ve tried a bit of each (save what I bought for my loved ones–had at least that much self-control) and have since drifted off in a carb-infused coma.

a simple package

delish old-school donuts

My final food fun for the day was following up on a brainstorm that had come from a piece in the local paper’s Taste section. Angry Trout Cafe had been reviewed as serving up excellent housemade maple syrup soda. Why couldn’t I make the same drink? I have that soda maker, remember? I whipped up a batch of soda water, then played with maple syrup amounts until I liked what I tasted. (1 cup soda water, 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, dash lemon juice, smaller dash vanilla extract) Definitely a drink I’ll make again. Cool, crisp, refreshing–perfect for the heat wave this summer has brought.

I hadn’t expected to try authentic Middle Eastern food today, nor did I think I’d enjoy crazy-good pastries and make my own maple syrup soda. This is why I love food: It’s always fun to see what tasty little surprises each new day brings.

resuscitated sandwich

At a recent Les Dames meeting, I enjoyed an amazingly delicious bánh mì sandwich. I couldn’t absolutely identify everything layered in the split baguette (though I know there was jalapeño, carrot, pork, and cilantro), but the flavors and textures balanced perfectly. There were leftover sandwiches at meeting’s end and I was lucky enough to take a few home with me.

These sammies have served well as quick lunches, but the bread is starting to get tough. The thought of tossing something so delicious was too much to bear; instead, I spooned the filling into butter lettuce leaves for adorable little lettuce cups. A pre-lunch ice cream while shopping (it was HOT today–don’t judge me 😉 ) meant I needed a lighter lunch option. These flavor-packed small bites were ideal.

a leftover Vietnamese sandwich

plus small leaves of butter lettuce

lettuce cups!

Because I hate throwing food away, I’ve since pulled out the soft, soggy insides of the French rolls and whirred the stale bread shells in the food processor. These bread crumbs will store in the freezer until needed. When you have a sandwich this good, you need to get as much life out of it as you can.

friday’s (culinary) field trip on franklin

I’ve written before how I love to escape from suburbia and I had a chance to do so today. A friend and I met for lunch at Seward Cafe on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It was a funky and grungy spot–lots of soy on the menu. I enjoyed a TLT, which was multigrain bread spread with Vegenaise, then topped with marinated tempeh and organic tomatoes and lettuce. It had been ages since I’d had tempeh and the tasty sandwich inspired me to pick up a package at a later stop.

Walking back to my car, I passed Shega Bakery and Spices. Thinking it might sell pastries and such, I walked on in. Turns out Shega is an East African grocery store/take-out deli, so I had the pleasure of wandering aisles trying to guess what was on the shelves and what they might be used for. I bought fresh collard greens, a pack of the thickest carrots I’ve ever seen, a sourdough bread labeled Diffo Dabo, and a bag of injera.

now those are carrots

love how it lists “All purpose Water” in the ingredient list

Ethiopian sourdough bread and the banana leaf it was wrapped in

beautiful injera

Made from teff flour, injera is an extremely tangy fermented pancake-like flatbread used as food, plate, and utensil in Ethiopian cuisine. I’ve loved injera since first tasting it at an Ethiopian cooking class nearly 20 years ago. The teff flour I once bought with the intent of making my own still sits in my pantry, so I was happy to buy a fresh batch of the finished product.

Next stop: Seward Co-op. I’ve shopped this green-tiled co-op before and needed to stock up on oats and oil. I also picked up a package each of tempeh (a fermented soybean cake that is one of the most meat-like meat substitutes I’ve found) and tofu. I’ll enjoy playing with them in the very near future.

Seward Co-op is easy to spot

I had passed Franklin Freeze on my way over to the co-op, so made sure to circle back to sample one of their 26+ soft serve flavors. Housed in an old Dairy Queen, it is indeed soft-serve mecca, including even vegan varieties in its lineup. I snapped a quick photo of my Kahlua-and-cream cone before it melted, then enjoyed. Sweet and creamy–textbook soft serve.


I went a few blocks off Franklin for a quick trip to The Donut Cooperative. I’d been there before, but couldn’t resist returning as long as I was in the area. My chocolate crispy donut and chocolate sandwich cookie were both amazing. They made it home uneaten only because I wanted to take a photo before devouring.

Donut Cooperative got its start with the help of kickstarter

fun treats

I covered a lot of culinary ground in the few hours I had this afternoon: A healthy lunch, Ethiopian food, take-home soyfoods, soft serve in a cake cone, and amazing from-scratch baked goods. These “field trips” are a huge treat for me. They usually start with at least one planned destination, but much of the fun is what’s found on the aimless wander. It seems there is plenty of deliciousness to be discovered.

banana bread pudding–Guatemala 3

It was just last week that I cooked my first Guatemalan food. A friend had asked me to help teach a cooking unit to complement her class service project. Her students had made guacamole as a class a week earlier, but Teacher Traci asked me to do a bit of research and come in with a few recipes that would delve just a bit deeper into Guatemalan fare. Crispy corn tortillas and the accompanying black bean paste have already been covered in this week’s posts. Tonight I finish with my favorite of the recipes we made.

Already a fan of bread pudding, I fell hard for Bocado de Reina. I had only a small sample in class, but have since made it at home and devoured all but one slice. It’s a great way to start the day (banana, bread, eggs–how could it not be a Balanced Breakfast?) and is also sweet enough for dessert. Drizzling it with a bit of (fat-free) half-and-half makes it even dreamier.

One student commented that it tasted like a “super moist bread pudding.” Bingo. That’s exactly what it is. I’ve linked the original source below, though I used more than the two cups of bread called for and passed on the raisins. Also, the original recipe didn’t say if the bananas were mashed or cut up. I always have too-ripe bananas on hand, so mine were mashed. The end result was amazing, so I’ll do the same the next time I make it. The lone piece left in the pan is marked for tomorrow’s breakfast, so I’ll be whipping one up again soon.

crazy-moist banana bread pudding

Bocado de Reina

Translated as “bite of a queen,” it possibly suggests this dish is “food fit for a queen.” Stirring a handful of raisins into the batter is optional.

2 cups crumbled bread (I used nearly double that)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I used full-fat the first time and fat-free the second–both work well.)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 bananas, peeled

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 8-inch round cake pan. In large bowl, sir together all ingredients. Transfer batter to pan. Bake 45 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

black bean paste–Guatemala part 2

Foodforfun has taken a (culinary) trip to Guatemala. Last week, I walked six high-school students through a few Guatemalan recipes at the request of their teacher and my good friend, Traci. You can circle back to Monday’s post for more background as well as the skinny on the Crispy Corn Tortillas we made. Today it’s all about the black bean paste we spread on top of those tortillas.

Our recipe called for soaking and cooking dried beans, a step I did the night before the class. The beans were then pressed through a mouli food mill (a hand-held contraption from another decade–mine a gift from my mother-in-law), which left the skins behind and produced a creamy, yet sort-of chunky (think guacamole) bean paste. The paste was mixed with a bit of vegetable oil and cooking liquid, then “fried” to dry it out just a touch. The final spread was warm, savory, full-flavored, and oh-so-amazing.

Another bean paste recipe I had found online kept things super-simple by stirring a touch of oil into canned refried black beans, then cooking this up in a skillet. I was glad we spent the extra time soaking and cooking dried beans, as the canned version would have been less full-flavored than our from-scratch batch. As well, simmering the beans with onion, garlic, and cilantro added background flavors.

While delicious, this bean paste will win no beauty contests. Only the bravest of the students dared work the beans through the food mill to produce the dark, mucky-looking mixture. In the end, everyone was willing to sample the beans as the “puree” was seasoned to taste with salt. And all agreed the final spread made a perfect topping for the tortillas. Sprinkled with cotija cheese, it was slightly more attractive and the salty tang of the cheese offered great flavor balance. All of this on the crispy corn tortillas? Perfection.

the retro mouli food mill

food mill at work

Fried Black Bean Paste (Frijoles Negros Volteados)

2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight and drained
1/2 head garlic
1 small onion, cut into 4 wedges
3 sprigs fresh cilantro
6 cups cold water, plus more as needed
Sea salt, to taste

Rinse beans; transfer to large saucepan. Add garlic, onion, cilantro, and water. Bring to a boil; partially cover. Simmer 1 hour or until beans are very tender. If beans begin to dry out before fully cooked, add more hot water as needed. There should be a cup or so of bean liquid left in pan when beans are fully cooked.

Remove garlic; squeeze softened cloves out into beans. Discard garlic peels. Remove and discard onion and cilantro. Set beans aside to cool slightly. Pass beans, garlic, and enough of liquid for creamy consistency through food mill. Final “puree” should have consistency of guacamole. Season with salt.

black bean paste ready for crispy corn tortillas

Guatemalan fare–the first installment

One of the best parts of making a career from your passion is that work and play become the same thing. When my friend, Traci, asked if I would lead a class on Guatemalan cuisine for her students at an area high school, it was an automatic “yes.” This sounded like tons of fun.

The irony of it all is that I have not a drop of Latino blood and have not (yet) been to Mexico. Still, the Internet is a fine research tool and I enjoyed learning about authentic Guatemalan cuisine. My first step was to write up a “report” so Traci and her class could decide what they wanted to make when I stopped by.

The final verdict was a menu of elote (roasted corn with various toppings), crispy corn tortillas, black bean paste (essentially refried black beans), and Bocado de Reina–a Guatemalan bread pudding. These were easy recipes to work through and the experience went amazingly well. The six students were fun to work with and turned out a mouthwatering spread.

the Guatemalan feast

I’ll use each of this week’s posts to highlight a recipe. Today, we talk tortillas. I brought in white corn tortillas from a Mexican market as 1) they’re extremely inexpensive compared to mainstream grocers and 2) quality is so much better when food is made by authentic small-batch manufacturers.

The crispy tortilla “recipe” was as simple as heating about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet. We didn’t measure temps, but I’d imagine we were looking for 350-360°F. To test for the right temp, we tossed in a small piece of tortilla to see if it sizzled without immediately shriveling and turning dark. I put two students in charge of the tortillas and they did a bang-up job. The final tortillas were perfectly crisped without being brittle or burnt. These young women have a future as Mexican street food vendors if they so choose.

On Wednesday, we’ll circle back to the black bean paste that we used to top the tortillas. Until then, ¡Buen provecho!

frying up

stacked up