Door County, the sweets edition

This gallery contains 12 photos.

With a tween daughter at home, I’ve given lots of thought to friendships: how they’re made, how fragile they can be, what makes a good one, and so on. While I didn’t especially enjoy those middle school years myself (though … Continue reading

cookbook travels and banana bread squared

A show of hands here–who brings cookbooks home from their travels?

Even with the rise of the electronic recipe (my 11-year-old daughter Googles recipes, despite her mother’s large cookbook collection), paper cookbooks remain popular vacay take-homes. They give travelers return trips, even if just in mind and taste buds.

Opening Makers Mark® The Special Touch cookbook, a Kentucky purchase, I smell the bourbon of distillery tours. When the pages of Savoring San Diego are flipped, I see the ubiquitous flowers of that fair city. The Montana Cookbook brings back a sense of open land and Simply Colorado invites visions of rocky mountains.

While relatively close to home, the city of Duluth was another vacation spot worth remembering. (Culinary details from last summer’s camping trip recorded here.) An especially impressive restaurant stop was The Duluth Grill, and their cookbook told the tale of evolution from Ember’s franchise to one-of-a-kind comfort-food haven. The parking lot garden speaks volumes to their emphasis on fresh, locally sourced, and sustainably raised ingredients.

The book’s $30 price tag gave me pause and I left without, knowing I’d find it online for far less. Except I didn’t. The Duluth Grill Cookbook was available only on the restaurant website. I kicked myself (and certainly deserved a kick for not supporting small business when I had the chance), but found redemption in a friend who was making a quick trip that way. She, too, is a big fan of this much-loved restaurant and agreed to bring the cookbook back for me.

sauce with bookJust last week, then, I finally held a copy of this beautiful and lovely book in my hands. To prove its worth, I immediately set out to make Tofu and Walnut Marinara (taking a pass on the walnuts). It was hearty, flavorful, and packed with good-for-you veggies. Two days later it tasted even better and I know I’ll be making this sauce again.

now THIS is a tofu marinara sauce

now THIS is a tofu marinara

beet lemonade and it was really quite good

beet lemonade and it was really quite good

I have my eye on the Ratatouille recipe as well as the Buffalo Tofu Strips, both dishes I enjoyed while there. I’d also love to make their Beet Lemonade, though will have to riff on their standard Lemonade recipe as they do not share the beet version I was so enamored with during my visit.

Minnesota’s bitter cold winter called for a baking recipe, so I also made TDG’sr Chocolate Chip Cookies. In the same manner as an earlier cookie adventure, I experimented with each baking sheet, sprinkling some unbaked cookies with chocolate salt, some with vanilla salt and also mixing in marshmallow bits and even leftover movie popcorn that was sitting on the counter just asking to be poured into the remaining batter. Even without my improv, these cookies were amazing and hit all the right sweet, salty, tender, crisp notes.


because one photo of these amazing cookies would not have been enough

because one photo of these amazing cookies would not have been enough

So here’s to cookbooks and here’s to travel and here’s to those cookbook gems we find when we travel. If you’re looking for the recipe for either the sauce or cookies, let me know in comments or at deLizious facebook and I’ll pass them on your way.

And speaking of sharing recipes, I’ve been on a bit of a banana bread binge lately after finding two renegade recipes on favorite food blogs that demanded to be made. The Cottage Grove House rocked my world with Rye Whiskey Banana Bread

there's rye whiskey in my banana bread!

there’s rye whiskey in my banana bread!

and Shanna over at Curls and Carrots kept my spirits up with Rum-a-Dum-Dum Banana Bread. Thanks, ladies, for two fabulous loaves!

rum-spiked banana bread

rum-spiked banana bread

campy food and more

My husband and I both camped when we were younger and want to enjoy these trips with our family as well. Yet, it went so poorly with babies that we set those plans aside a few years until our daughters were at a better age for travel. Last year we hit South Dakota and it went amazingly well–we wanted another week of camping this summer. So we headed to Minnesota’s North Shore, which offers miles of gorgeous Lake Superior views.

Hiking, shopping, tenting–all good. But my favorite part of camping–and travel in general–will always be the food. Memories of childhood camping include my mom planning menus and packing food in crates and coolers. Mom is far more organized than I, so my planning and packing efforts pale in comparison, but just the same I love to think through meal possibilities and pack accordingly.

Then there are meals out, which I like having at one-of-a-kind stops along the way. (Though there’s compromise as kids and husband appreciate the Taco Bells and Subways of the road.) I armed myself with a ripped-out feature from a local paper titled Destination Duluth: Where to eat right now, circling the places I wanted to hit. And…




Many of my husband’s family’s friends gave us camping gear as wedding gifts, most likely with the hope of taming the “city” in his “city girl” bride. One such gift was a camp-stove toaster, which toasted sourdough English muffins for egg sandwiches. We’d also brought an Italian-spiced bacon from a favorite meat market and I’m already planning a return trip for more.20130816_081949


Typical drive-in food at A & Dubs.

Chicken basket, fries, cole slaw. The butterscotch malt? Already gone!

Chicken basket, fries, cole slaw. The butterscotch malt? Already gone!

The Duluth Grill makes a great case for going your own way. Originally partners in the Ember’s chain, the owners tell of the day they ran out of pancake mix. Choosing to make their own ‘cakes from scratch–which tasted better and cost less–was a light-bulb moment. Their partnership with Ember’s eventually flamed out and they now have vegetable and herb gardens (the server’s shirts read “Veggies fresh from the parking lot.”) and serve imaginative fare–some out-there, some more down-home–all of it made onsite using local and organic ingredients. My one regret was not having room for the When Pigs Fly sundae: vanilla ice cream topped with cherrywood-smoked bacon, pecans, homemade caramel sauce, and Hawaiian red sea salt.

buffalo tofu strips

buffalo tofu strips

bison burger with homemade onion rings

bison burger with homemade onion rings

ratatouille over polenta sprinkled with goat cheese

ratatouille over polenta sprinkled with goat cheese

beet lemonade--surprisingly tasty!

beet lemonade–surprisingly tasty!

20130813_113627While not technically a lunch stop, I enjoyed wandering a downtown outpost of the Duluth Farmer’s Market. My favorite find: curry coconut granola.


My oldest daughter likes to have her night as head chef to serve up Girl Scout Gumbo (no scouts were harmed in the making of this dish, haha). A hearty mixture of potato, ground beef, bell pepper, alphabet soup, and onion, it goes over especially well when camping.

girl scout gumbo with a side of veg

girl scout gumbo with a side of veg

Hobo dinners are another childhood camping memory, so these fire pit-roasted beef-and-veggie packets were on our list. We changed it up by using chorizo instead of beef and I’ll never go back. The chorizo’s spices (and fat) gave the veggies immeasurable flavor and tenderness.

hobo dinner chorizo-style

hobo dinner chorizo-style

I’d read earlier about cooking breadsticks over a campfire, so had made up a ziploc of dry mix at home and added the liquids at the campsite. They were tricky to cook on a stick, as they tended to droop with the heat and fall into the fire. And cooking too close to the flames left them charred. What finally worked? Laying them in a skillet and turning them often.2013-08-12 18.37.09


banana boats with c chips, mini 'mallows, and cut-up caramel pieces

banana boats with c chips, mini ‘mallows, and cut-up caramel pieces

Banana boats and s’mores. Typical campfire treats, but the s’mores were extra special this year as I’d made graham crackers à la Smitten Kitchen before leaving home.

gimme s'more!

gimme s’more!

skidmarks on my heart

skidmarks on my heart

Positively Third Street Bakery: This tiny gem’s cookies sold out quickly. We never made it before noon in our two visits (to go back twice in five days says something about how badly we needed these cookies), so only had a few to choose from. Handwritten labels listed basic ingredients such as butter and sugar, but each variety had an extra “something.” Adventure, perhaps. Or Joy, Love, Good Times. Our favorite is the Skidmark: deep chocolate, hit of espresso, chocolate chips, etc. And the “special ingredient”? Burnt rubber–what else?

Betty’s Pies is state-famous (though the website claims world fame) for its North Shore location and crazy good pies. Just as fun is the kitschy blue-and-white checker decor.

apple, coconut cream, 5-layer chocolate a la Betty

apple, coconut cream, 5-layer chocolate à la Betty

Another bit of culinary fun my oldest brought to the trip was ice-cream-in-a-bag. In a 1-quart ziploc, she combined 1/2 cup milk (didn’t seem to matter if it was full-fat, skim, chocolate, nonfat half-and-half–everything worked), 2-4 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and pinch of salt. After sealing the bag, she put it in another ziploc and surrounded the sealed bag with rock salt and ice. Five or so minutes of tossing the bag from one hand to another (wrapping it in a towel makes it easier to handle) turned out top-notch soft-serve ice cream. Because we’d picked up malted milk balls at a candy shop that day, we crushed a few and mixed them into the ice cream for a bit of texture and extra flavor.

ice cream in under 10 minutes, better than DQ

ice cream in under 10 minutes, better than DQ

Northern Waters Smokehaus came highly recommended from multiple sources. A quick-order sandwich shop, they also smoke and sell their own meats and if I lived in Duluth it would be a regular stop. Their sandwiches are inventively named (my bahn faux mi layered Berkshire Ham, paté, carrot, cabbage, cilantro, quick pickles, hoisin, chili sauce, and butter–can you even imagine?); I beg you to click on the above link for a taste of their creativity.

a really good sandwich

a really good sandwich

Just for Fun

PhotoGrid_1376430421888Fizzy Waters focuses on sodas of all kinds–vintage and craft especially–as well as a smaller selection of old-fashioned candies. My daughters enjoyed a turn at the make-your-own-soda fountain and I’m giving my youngest the prize for most innovative with her version of Chocolate Sprite.

Duluth Coffee Co. is said to be the antithesis of Starbucks and I can see why with its dark and spare space. As a non-chain fan (see above), I adored it. This coffee is served all around town for good reason. Roasted in-house, it’s fragrant, well-balanced, deep, and dark. I took home a bag–despite the steep price tag–as I need that coffee magic every morning in my own kitchen.

We were glad to come home to warm beds and indoor toilets, but there is so much more food to be enjoyed that we’ll be back. I anticipate a Duluth Dining II post (camping optional) sooner rather than later.

cocktail flippin’

Mentioned in my last post was my delight in meeting other like-minded folk within the blogging community. My circle of friends has expanded in ways I’d never imagined as has my pool of ideas and inspiration. A recent find has been The Weary Chef. Like me, she feeds a husband and two young kids while also running around tending to the rest of her life. While I’ve only just discovered TWC, I’m already nuts about her Friday Happy Hour post. While you’ll find a handful of cocktail write-ups at food for fun, there’s nothing scheduled weekly. Yet I so like the idea of celebrating the end of a workweek with a fun adult beverage that I’m hoping to stop by TWC each Friday and make whatever it is she’s making (or at least an approximation, depending on my pantry).

In honor of my new Friday tradition, I’ve been inspired by a review of a just-opened restaurant (you must click on this link if only to see the box graters hanging from the ceiling) in the latest Minnesota Monthly. Borough’s bar menu features A Flippin’ Good Drink and for the name alone I already love it. But it gets better: this drink combines milk stout with bourbon and egg to taste “almost like bitter dark chocolate.” Anything with bourbon gets a Like from me and the whole concept sounded absolutely lovely.

Amounts were not given, so I guessed at two parts stout to one part bourbon. And the (raw) egg thing didn’t sit well with me as it smacked of health shakes circa 1970. But I love me a little egg white froth on a cocktail (ramos gin fizz, anyone?), so tossed one white in the mix. Into the cocktail shaker, then, went 1/2 cup stout, 1/4 cup bourbon, 1 egg white.

flippin' good, yes

flippin’ good, yes

Minimal shaking required as the stout provided plenty of foam, though the egg white gave it a boost as well as tamed some of the stout’s rougher edges. I gave it a blast of carbonated water after sampling as it was too strong for my taste, but the chocolate notes rang loud and clear. I hope to hit Borough soon to try the real deal, but for now will enjoy my homespun version of the flippin’ good.

Overall, my drink-mixing skills are bare bones as I have yet to develop a sense for what kind and how much of one spirit to mix with another. But if I continue hanging out at TWC and other fun cocktail posts (Putney Farms is another good one for fun drinks), I’ll eventually find my inner mixologist. If you have favorite cocktail recipes or blog suggestions that will help me get there, please holler back via comments or facebook. I’d love to have you at the party 🙂

inspiration from a friend and a cookie

I met up with a foodie friend for lunch today who believes–as I do–in empowering others to cook. (Jen’s business is aptly named Catalyst Cooks.) I enjoy our visits because she doesn’t limit her ideas. Time with Jen is always inspiring.

We ate at a popular Minneapolis cafe-style bakery, Sun Street Breads, and my gobbler sandwich (piled high with moist, tender, herb-flecked turkey) was yum. But I had a feeling the cookies I bagged to take home would be the real superstars. I was right. The Domino (Belgian chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips) was divine, though the big hit–for me–was the Crusher. The ingredient tag read chocolate chips, crushed pretzels, and broken up sugar cones. Combining chocolate and pretzels isn’t new, but the addition of the sugar cone struck me as brilliance. Why hadn’t I thought of it?

I loved the idea, so went home to bake up a batch of cookies using chocolate chips, crushed sugar cones, and pretzels. A recipe for Monster Marshmallow Cookies listed several nuts, chips, and types of cereal, so seemed a good fit for this project as the pretzels and crushed cones could easily replace some of the stir-ins. I also liked the idea of using mini marshmallows.

As usual, I played it fast-and-loose with measurements (for the stir-ins anyway) and ended up with more chocolate chips, marshmallow, etc then intended. More lacy than solid, the cookie’s structure–the word “craggy” comes to mind–had been stretched thin by the many stir-ins. Replacing half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour also made for a slightly different chew. But in the end, the many ingredients–marshmallows, chocolate chips, m&ms, oats, pretzels, crushed cones–made for a crazy and crazy good cookie packed with contrasting textures and flavors. They weren’t Sun Street’s Crushers, but that had not been my intent. I had only wanted to make cookies that combined chocolate chips, pretzels, and sugar cones.

I’ll stretch a bit here to say that my cookie find and subsequent baking project was a bit like my conversations with Jen. I’m encouraged to look at things from a completely different perspective, then inspired to work those new ideas into my own projects. My hope is that everyone has a friend like Jen as well as a pantry full of fun cookie ingredients for the next time inspiration strikes.

monster crushers

monster crushers

Crusher Marshmallow Cookies

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup each all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups stir-ins (any combination of pretzel pieces, crushed sugar cones, chocolate chips, m&ms®)
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats (I used old-fashioned)
  • 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

In bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and baking powder. In separate bowl, beat together butter and sugars with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden and set. Let cool slightly on baking sheets. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

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.

the List and the dari-ette

Today my youngest and I waved my oldest daughter off to Girl Scout camp, then made plans to check off another fun food spot on my List.

Most folks seem to have Bucket Lists and for good reason. It’s smart to be purposeful about what you hope to accomplish in a lifetime. No Bucket List for me, though. My List comprises all of the many restaurants and food trucks in Minneapolis/St. Paul that I hope to visit.

This List isn’t written down, but mention of a restaurant that intrigues puts the spot on my List. I’m fully aware that I’ll never make all of the places on my List. I’ve also seen restaurants shutter before I’ve had a chance to stop by. But over the past three or four years, I’ve slowly ticked off a fair number of new restaurants. And for someone with young kids, it pleases me very much that I’ve made the effort to get out there.

So about today: The weather was amazing; it seemed a good day for a drive-in. I’ve read reviews of the Dari-ette, said to be one of the last remaining true drive-ins in the area, and figured this was absolutely the day to hunt it down.

The building was on the rickety side, but had plenty of character. My daughter wanted spaghetti (the menu leaned heavily toward old-school Italian-American), so I ordered a side of that with my turkey sandwich. The best part was the ice cream, of course. My Heath bar flurry had ribbons of hot fudge sauce and my daughter’s root beer float was lovely.

turkey sandwich, side of spaghetti, Heath bar flurry

We ate on a step near our car as the four outdoor tables were taken, and when I looked up at the vintage Dari-ette Drive-in sign with the amazingly blue sky behind it, I was crazy happy. Something about making it out to another fun, independently owned food venue, and sharing these moments with my daughter, thrilled me. An overly intense reaction to lunch at a drive-in, maybe, but for me, trying a new restaurant is something that matters.

Perhaps my List is simply a Bucket List for someone who loves all things food. Definition aside, I look forward to continuing to move through this list and am glad today offered me (and my daughter) another chance to explore.

sweet scones

Minneapolis’ St. Martin’s Table closed a few years back. This small, nonprofit cafe served up vegetarian fare for 26 years and shared space with a small bookstore, also a part of the faith-based St. Martin’s Community. Servers were volunteer, with tips going to a staff-picked charity-of-the-month. Eating at this restaurant always felt good as you knew your dining dollars were making a difference, but the food alone was worth the visit.

Each day’s menu offered a handful of sandwiches, soups, and salads; all were served with the most amazing honey-whole wheat bread. With the restaurant shuttered, the bread–and all of their other delish offerings–are a thing of a past. Almost.

My mom had bought a copy of the restaurant’s cookbook: from the kitchens of St. Martin’s Table and has generously passed it on to me. This humble spiral-bound cookbook holds many of the restaurant’s homespun recipes and I’m thrilled to have it. I make myself a loaf of the honey-whole wheat whenever I need to be extra good to myself. I’ll post the bread another day, but tonight we talk scones.

With too many blueberries (is there really such a thing?) in the produce drawer, scones were in my very near future. St. Martin’s Table’s cookbook has a recipe for Jennifer’s Scones. (Apparently, “Jennifer was a kitchen goddess at SMT during 1998.”) Though I’d never had scones at St. Martin’s Table, I was sure they’d be winners.

The recipe was for plain scones (though I used white whole wheat flour to add whole grain), but also noted that up to 1 1/2 cups stir-in (blueberries!) could be added. I knew I was pushing it by adding so much fresh fruit as the extra moisture would make for a longer bake time. While the scones did take more than 20 extra minutes in the oven, they were worth it. Instead of brushing the dough with cream and sprinkling with sugar, I sprinkled the unbaked scones with coarse sugar and sea salt. If St. Martin’s Table was still around, I’d bet they’d have done the same. The oats put these scones in the “healthy breakfast” category (in my book anyway), but they’re easily enjoyed anytime you want a tasty, but not overly sinful, baked good.

Jennifer’s Scones

From St. Martin’s Table cookbook. Recipe notes that up to 1 1/2 cups optional stir-in can be added before stirring in the buttermilk.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk (I used 3/4 cup as the blueberries added plenty of extra moisture.)

Heat oven to 350°F.

In bowl, mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture looks like fine granules. Stir in buttermilk until dough is moistened.

Place wet dough on floured work surface; knead 3 to 5 times to form 8-inch circle. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar as desired. Cut into 8 wedges. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

the chain, monster cookies, and cookbooks

As much as I’d like to think I’m not a food snob (I like Peeps–food snobs don’t like Peeps), I do tend to turn my nose up at chain restaurants. I prefer to visit one-of-a-kind spots. The food is often (though admittedly not always) better than what’s offered at chains and–just as important–my money goes to entrepreneurial folk, not Corporate America. I also appreciate the unique look and feel of independent spots. One of my first positions out of college was as manager of a well-known coffee chain. I will never forget the thick manual instructing exact placement of everything in the store. It included a diagram for the spacing and position of everything on the condiment bar; precise measurements dictated distances from the cream pitcher to the sugar packets to the nutmeg shaker, etc. Holy cow.

So, my family knows: Whenever possible I prefer eating at independently owned food venues. Today we road-tripped north to my in-laws and time constraints meant that fast-food was on the menu. Supper at Subway. Instead of complaining (which I often do), I gamely ordered a spinach, turkey, and avocado six-incher on whole wheat. It was tasty enough and I could have done much worse than a healthy turkey sandwich.

Sitting around a table at Subway–a table that looks like every other table at any other Subway in any other city in America–I looked over at my oldest who was laughing. My husband laughed at whatever she had said, then my youngest started in. As I joined in, it occurred to me that I was enjoying my family and I was enjoying my meal in a–gasp!–chain restaurant. I admitted to myself in that moment that even though food is paramount in my life, it’s still always going to be secondary to relationships. This isn’t to say I’ve changed my mind about chain vs. independent. One-of-a-kind will always win in my book. But the experience took a small notch out of my (still not admitted to) Food Snob status.

My postscript (the first of two, so keep reading) is yet another of my mother-in-law’s amazing baked goods. At the end of our road trip, we found a platter piled high with Monster Cookies that she had baked for our arrival. They were amazing and yummy. No chain will ever be able to match the taste and texture of a fresh-baked homemade cookie.

monster cookies à la amazing mother-in-law

monster cookie minus a bite

Monster Cookies

parenthetical comments are mine

  • 1 1/2 pounds peanut butter (preferably super-chunk)
  • 1/2 pound butter or margarine (pick butter), softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 9 cups quick-cooking oats (use old-fashioned for more texture)
  • 1/2 pound chocolate chips
  • 1/2 pound candy-coated chocolate candies (m&ms of course:-))

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease baking sheets.

In bowl, beat together peanut butter, butter, sugar, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla until mixed well. By hand, stir in oats, chocolate chips and chocolate candies.

Drop batter by tablespoons onto baking sheets. Bake 12 minutes or until just lightly browned. Watch closely at end so cookies do not burn. Makes 72 cookies.

Lastly, I’d like to invite you to check out a post I wrote for Megan Kocher’s blog for the Kirschner Cookbook Collection. I’ve written about this collection here before, and was lucky enough to be asked to write a post for the Official Site. I feel so strongly that this collection has a lot to say about women and history and was thrilled to be able to put my thoughts in print. I’d like to share it here as well.

food truck tuesdays (even though today is wednesday)

Compared to other parts of the country, Minneapolis/St. Paul is late to the food truck game. While coastal cities have enjoyed fun food-on-wheels for years, the Midwest is just now starting to collect a wider variety of mobile food spots.

I’ve visited only a handful, but am grateful for even that as it’s been tough to get downtown (where the trucks are) with the busy-ness of summer schedules.

The best find so far has been a spot next to my husband’s office where a different truck parks each Tuesday. My girls and I try to join him for lunch those days to enjoy food I’d never make at home, but am happy to order from a truck.

Our finds so far:

Tot Boss

Only in Minnesota can you find a food truck focused on tater tots. Never having been a fan of these processed potato rounds (ovals?), I went because it sounded like fun. The sleek black truck–dotted with extremely large tater tots–sports plenty of attitude.

tot boss truck

tots on truck

My poutine tasted exactly like the sum of its parts (tater tots+cheese curds+so-so gravy).

poutine with tots

My youngest daughter ordered simple: side order of tots with choice of dipping sauce. Tots-and-dogs, my husband’s order, must have been unremarkable enough that I didn’t snap a picture as I couldn’t find a shot on my camera. Picture tater tots and mini corn dogs nestled together in a small food tray and you’re there. The concept was fun fun fun, but in the end, it was just tots. (Love tater tots? This is your truck.)

Bacon Trolley

You could quibble and say BT is not really a food truck, as this vintage red trolley car is pulled behind a pickup. But no matter as it’s a charmer.

bright red bacon trolley

bacon-based menu

This “truck” has received mediocre reviews from local papers, but I was wowed by my pork belly báhn mì. The textures and flavors balanced well and it was just plain gorgeous.

before the first bite

pork belly báhn mì–yum

My husband’s Spanker sandwich certainly had an inventive (and cheeky) name, but it seemed to be just an ordinary–though still delicious–barbecued pork sandwich. No complaints, but it was a bit average for the most expensive item on the menu.

pork belly spanker

The best order was the bacon popcorn for both daughters. The concept was simple enough: Buttered popcorn tossed with finely crumbled bacon, then topped with a crisply cooked bacon slice. Yes, I let my kids have popcorn and bacon for lunch. But if the popcorn counts as both grain and veg (and it does, right?) and the bacon adds protein, they had a well-balanced meal. OK, maybe no, but there’s no arguing that popcorn and bacon are brilliant together. It seems a no-brainer, but I’d never thought to combine the two. You can bet I’ll be sprinkling crumbled bacon on our popcorn next movie night.

bacon and popcorn–first-rate combo

r.a. Mac Sammy’s

I mentioned not caring much for tater tots and the same holds true for macaroni and cheese. Maybe I overindulged in my youth, but it’s a meal I’d never make for myself. That said, this truck in all its day-glo yellow glory made for a fun lunch spot.

mac and cheese on wheels

My girls ordered mac and cheese with bacon, though they could have asked for any number of toppings. Blue cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños, mushrooms, etc. were available for a small upcharge. The mini mac and cheese ordered by my girls seemed hearty enough (even my 10-year-old only ate half), so I’m curious how large the bigger size is.

bacon and cheesy mac mini

When asked independently (neither girl heard the other answer) what they thought of the dish, one girl said “too cheesy” and the other offered “not enough cheese.” Not sure what to make of that; depends on taste buds, I guess. I thought it was tasty enough, but again, not a fan so am a poor judge.

I was thrilled to find menu items with neither mac nor cheese and very much enjoyed my salmon po’ boy. Authentic it was not, but it was a well-built and delicious sandwich.

salmon po’ boy à la mac-and-cheese truck

Hubby had a Nathan’s hot dog which he declared tasty.

Next Tuesday will bring another food truck to my summer and I look forward to whatever it is I’ll find. The food may not always be spectacular (though it often is), but it’s sure to be fun.

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.

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.

chow mein circa 1980s

I’m sure there are other children of the ’80s who have this memory: A hole-in-the-wall (no sit-down dining, only take-out) Chinese restaurant where my parents occasionally picked up an order of chow mein and rice for supper. We transferred the food from its white take-out containers to our dinner plates and I remember thinking it was fun eating directly from take-out containers. Such rebellion. Our spot was named Wong’s and of course it’s long gone.

Even without Wong’s and spots like it, Asian food is easier to find now more than ever and its scope is so much broader (stir-fries, spring rolls, noodle dishes, rice bowls, pho, and then some). But back in the day, in suburban middle America at least, chow mein was plenty ethnic and exotic.

Because I enjoyed that chow mein as a child, it’s still something I seek out. I love the fall-apart-in-your-mouth celery, the savory chunks of meat, the tiny flecks of onion, and, most of all, the thickened and savory gravy that binds it all together. Served on a pile of steamy rice, it’s comfort food that brings me back.

I’ve never found a chow mein recipe that creates what I remember this dish to be, so I tend to make it up as I go along when the craving hits. Chow mein was on tonight’s menu as it seemed a good vehicle for the leftover chicken in our fridge. I managed to get proportions right (doesn’t always happen) and was pleased with the final dish. It’s a healthier version of the chow mein of my childhood as it’s loaded with veggies, leaving meat as accent. I also tossed in baby corn as it was in my pantry and I’m a huge Chinese 5-spice fan so had to use it. It’s not exotic and it’s not fancy. But it is hearty, healthy, and full of flavor. And for me, it’s comfort.

chow mein cooked up in cast-iron

on the plate

Chicken Chow Mein

Amounts for all ingredients are approximate.

  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 4 cups chopped celery
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chopped baby corn, drained (sliced water chestnuts would also work well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated gingerroot
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • 1/4 cup stir-fry sauce (I used a tasty black stir-fry sauce which is bottled and sold by a local chef)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed into 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • Sliced almonds
  • Soy sauce

In large skillet, heat oil over medium (or so) heat. Add onion and garlic; stir-fry 3 minutes or until fragrant and onion starts to soften, adding stock as needed to keep pan from drying out.  Add celery, baby corn, gingerroot, and 5-spice. Stir-fry 5 minutes, continuing to add stock as needed, until celery starts to soften. Stir in stir-fry sauce; cook until vegetables are coated and celery is tender. Add cornstarch slurry; cook, stirring frequently, until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Serve sprinkled with almonds. Season with soy sauce as desired. Makes 4 servings.

defending the little guy

My youngest and I ran errands today and I looked forward to lunch out with her. She lobbied for Mc D’s or Subway, but I held strong to trying a local spot I’d often driven past, but never had time to stop at. Razs Coffee & Ice Cream Cafe also advertises soups, sandwiches, and bakery, so I was sure lunch could be found.

The shop was small and mostly empty, though arriving at 1:30 meant we had probably missed any lunch crowd. The sandwiches looked decent enough, but I couldn’t get excited about chicken, tuna, or egg salad fillings. The soup for Monday was Chicken Noodle–bingo. My daughter and I each ordered a bowl. It came with a roll and crackers–standard cafe fare. I also ordered an Americano as the shop’s coffee scent was beautiful and strong.

Our soup was very very good. I doubt it had been made using fresh local ingredients; it most likely came premade in a plastic pouch. But it was for sure a step up from canned. The noodles were so soft they fell apart on the spoon (not the al dente you want in a proper pasta dish, but just the ticket in chicken noodle soup), the chicken chunks were big and meaty, and the broth was salty and rich. It was a fun soup to slurp with my daughter and we emptied our bowls. The Americano was also excellent–it included the elusive crema you don’t always find floating atop espresso drinks. Not everything was amazing, though: The rolls were on the dry side and the packaged crackers were borderline stale.

In the end, dessert trumped all: Ice cream was a must–this was Razs Coffee & Ice Cream, after all. (Though I was tempted to take home one of the chocolate chip cookie bars as they looked fantastic.) My Caramel Collision Malt was truly yummy and my daughter’s ice-cream streaked mouth was proof that she enjoyed her mint-chocolate chip kiddy cone.

As we ordered our ice cream, I noticed Daughter getting dangerously close to a display of breakable serving dishes. I approached, ready with my “look with your eyes, not with your hands” speech, but instead fell in love with a small ribboned cake stand. It was priced at an incredibly affordable $10 and was just what I need for my Easter centerpiece. I added it to our $15 tab (couldn’t have had the meal for less even at McD’s) and left with a cake plate in one hand and my daughter’s little hand in the other.

found this at an ice-cream shop--so pretty!

The meal at Razs wasn’t 5-star, but I felt better about handing my dollars over to a man behind the counter who actually owned his one-of-a-kind shop rather than pay for a so-so meal at one of the many chain giants that seem to rule today’s dining scene. It was delightful to find good food and Martha Stewart–worthy servingware in a suburban strip mall. I’ll be back. I still need to try the chocolate chip cookie bars.