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.

melting!

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.

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

escape from suburbia

Yesterday, I escaped suburbia and had a blast doing it. Large cities invigorate me. The air seems charged somehow. I breathe deeper, my blood flows stronger–cliches, yes, but everything is more alive. My life in the ‘burbs is a good one and there are solid reasons I live where I do. Just the same, when I have a chance to go urban, I grab it.

Which is why I was happy to join a friend for lunch at Eat Street Social. This stylish spot, just two-weeks young, was too hip for signs, so it took me a while to figure out exactly where it was. Once I (finally) found the door, I sat in the darkly paneled dining room and ordered a salad (greens, pickled radishes, sliced kumquat) and grilled turkey sandwich. The sandwich was decent enough, but Jen’s burger beat it for taste.

My favorite “dish” was the cocktail. I had recently seen the Copper Dagger reviewed and knew I had to try it. Ingredients: verna Amaro, Lemon Hart 151, St. Germain, lemon, and egg white. While I don’t know much about the first three spirits (though had just read about each in Boozehound), the drink seemed sophisticated and I liked the idea of frothy egg white crowning my cocktail. The Copper Dagger was fantastic. My dessert–chocolate-olive oil cake–had a slew of lovely and tasty garnishes: salted Marcona almonds,  coffee ice cream, vanilla syrup, and a terrific buttercream, but the cake itself was a touch dry and try as I might, I couldn’t detect the olive oil.

Walking back to my car, I passed Truong Thanh, a Vietnamese grocery. Remembering that I needed fish sauce, I added the shop to my itinerary. Ethnic grocery stores thrill me–strange packages with wording I can’t read; unfamiliar produce, meat, and dairy; foreign cooking equipment and serving dishes. I love walking the crowed aisles trying to decipher products, even if just by photo. I eventually selected a fish sauce, but also found green tea pumpkin seeds, a strainer skimmer, ginger candies (the same brand my daughter enjoys at half the price I usually pay), and lemongrass. At check-out, I struck up a delightful conversation with the owner, a tiny older woman, about acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Making this connection was fun and amazing; who sees–much less chit-chats with–the owner of a local Costco? Another reason the city brought me to life.

My last stop was Rye Delicatessen–a much talked-about and reviewed new eatery in Minneapolis. There’s been so much hype (it’s amazing, it’s rotten, everything in between), I wanted my own take on it. Filling a brown bag with goodies (black-and-white cookie, ruglach, sour cream and bacon knish, day-old bialy), I tried it all and concluded it was indeed good stuff–amazingly buttery would be my overall descriptor. But I also decided that Jewish deli food isn’t my thing–too heavy. My mission completed, I found the freeway and flew home in time to get my girls off the school bus. I’d enjoyed a great foodie escape and look forward to the next.

Mixed greens and my Copper Dagger sidecar at Eat Street Social.

green tea pumpkin seeds--taste a bit like Fruit Loops