one crazy summer

I had high hopes for this week’s food for fun post. Last weekend, a friend and I threw an 80th birthday party for one of the most amazing women I know. This woman, and her party, are a natural fit here and I was looking forward to telling you how I came to meet my amazing friend 20 years ago, giving a brief recap of what she’s meant to me over the years, and finishing sweetly with three of the cookie recipes served at the party.

party time

party time

But.

undoubtedly the first non-food picture shown here

undoubtedly the first non-food picture shown @ food for fun

Summer has thrown me for a crazy loop–the kind you ride full speed at amusement parks. It happens every year–me thinking I can keep up with work projects, etc with my kids home from school, then realizing midway through that I just can’t. My only choice at that point is to give in to the free fall, hang on tightly, and enjoy the ride. This post, then, is about enjoying that ride. Here are a handful of the summer adventures that have eaten up my blogging time.

  • Took my daughters to a riding stable for a pony party. Of course there were treats. (thanks, Marlaine!)
yeehaw :-)

yeehaw 🙂

  • Enjoyed phenomenal meals at local treasures.
ribs, coleslaw, and collards @ Big Daddy's

ribs, coleslaw, and collards @ Big Daddy’s

Buttered Tin's salads, sandwiches, and sweets are top-notch

Buttered Tin’s salads, sandwiches, and sweets are top-notch

Minnetonka's General Store

Minnetonka’s General Store

  • I could say my kids dragged me to a nearby town for a candy shop tour, but that wouldn’t be entirely true as I had a hand in planning our day.20130711_12490020130711_12343120130711_125104
oh, the bounty

oh, the bounty

two words: lemon. juice.

two words: lemon. juice.

first time grilling bacon--I highly recommend

first time grilling bacon–I highly recommend

ice cube trays, oh my

ice cube trays, oh my

  • Wrote another Funny Names in Food post at Blog of Funny Names. Check it out here for more on the foods of summer.

Will close with a picture of me and dear friend and mentor, Ann.

at MIA last winter, seeing the Foods of Shakespeare exhibit

at MIA last winter, seeing the What Would Shakespeare Eat? exhibit. Thanks, Mary G for taking photo.

Hope to see you back next week when food for fun unveils Ann’s story and offers up her tasty cookie recipes.

a visit to the doctor (chocolate)

Tonight I returned to a shop I first mentioned in a post last spring. When I first stopped in, Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau had recently opened in a four-story Victorian mansion in Saint Paul. I’ve been back a few times since (once for an out-of-this-world French toast breakfast) and tonight was my chance to visit in more of a professional capacity and dig deeper. And because my experience and what I learned was all about fun, I must tell the Dr. Chocolate story here.

Dr. Chocolate, a.k.a. Dr. John Gannon, grew up in Minneapolis and eventually attended St. Thomas University in Saint Paul. He and his lovely wife (yes, that would be Mrs. Dr. Chocolate, though her real name is Evelyn) then lived in California where he practiced for many years as a forensic clinical psychologist. He also dabbled briefly in the chocolate business, but things didn’t pan out and he continued on his chosen career path. Fast forward to a few years back and he and his wife purchased a lovely and large mansion in St. Paul that had often housed charming Italian restaurants. When the last restaurant tenant left, the empty building seemed an ideal spot for Dr. Gannon and his wife to realize their dream of returning to the chocolate business.

The mansion opened its first level in early 2012 as a retail chocolate shop, offering gift items and a diverse selection of locally, nationally, and internationally sourced chocolates. By mid-summer, it also sold ice cream scoops and wine pours and the third and fourth floors were opened for the above-mentioned French toast extravaganza. Tonight, the local chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier met at Dr. Chocolate’s for a tour and wine tasting.

We were treated to a peek at their in-progress chocolate museum as well as what will be their wedding cake tasting room on the second floor, then whisked off to the upper levels for a beautifully planned and implemented wine-and-chocolate tasting. Four pours (two red, two white) were served with six chocolate samples. Dr. Chocolate, clearly a brilliant man (he had the names of all 20 of our group’s attending members memorized very soon after meeting us), had constructed a tasting sheet for matching flavor profiles to each chocolate we sampled. Tasting the wines and chocolate was a treat, as was listening to Krystal, the event planner, and Dr. Chocolate describe what we were tasting.

four wines to pair with six chocolate samples

four wines to pair with six chocolate samples

love this tasting tracker

love this tasting tracker

Word of Dr. Chocolate’s tasting events is spreading; their third and fourth floors are now regularly used. These floors also open to the public most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, offering fine wine, craft beer, inventive cocktails, and music. What fun to see the progress made since my initial visit and write-up.

Which is why the end of the evening meant so much to me. Evelyn called me aside near the meeting’s close to ask if I’d written a blog post about them soon after they had opened. (Why yes, yes I had!) I had sent them the link to my post, as I often do when writing about local businesses, but hadn’t known that it had been received, much less read. Recognizing me from my photo (these Gannons are bright folk for sure–what a memory), Evelyn so kindly shared that they had appreciated my words and even included a copy of the post in their Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau scrapbook. I was touched and honored to have made this connection.

Dr. Chocolate, his wife, and all staff involved in the evening were charming, gracious, and great fun. Dr. Gannon and wife have taken a (delicious) passion from dream to reality. Saint Paul is lucky to have Dr. Chocolate in the house.

chocolate under glass

chocolate under glass

granola and baked apples, flavors of fall

Les Dames d’Escoffier, the same group that got me to St. Louis for their annual conference, had yet another assignment for me. Our local Les Dames chapter sponsors Community Design Center, a youth gardening program. Dames are often called upon to teach cooking classes to program participants and Tuesday was my day.

I had limited time to pull ideas together, so a quick “menu” of granola and baked apples was planned. The granola recipe came from a class I’d taught many years before (again, to a youth gardening program, so I was confident it’d fly) and the baked apples were inspired by a cookbook my husband brought to the marriage. Strictly for Boys: A Cookbook for Boys 8 to 80 had been a gift to my husband from his mom when he was a small boy. Dog-eared, it also serves as a place for him to store any recipes he picks up from his mom, and it’s a kick to see it still used. My girls have scribbled “and Girls” just below the “for Boys” on the front cover and it’s a fun go-to book for simple brownie recipes and such. It was the first place I looked for a baked apple recipe.

First step with the 12 high-schoolers was making a batch of brown sugar for the granola. I’m loathe to pay for what I could easily make on my own, so was glad to show these kids that a batch of brown sugar is as easy as thoroughly mixing 1 cup granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons molasses. (That’s how it’s done in the factory; why pay for that extra step?) Granola ingredients were then thrown together and the students proved their creative mettle by etching a smile and a heart in their granola before baking.

granola with a smile

granola with heart

Next up was baked apples. I used the Strictly for Boys book as reference, but provided no recipe as I wanted the kids to feel comfortable making these “pies without a crust” (coined so by a student) without exact amounts. They enthusiastically cored their own apples, then filled them with cinnamon-sugar and a small slice of butter. After baking for half-an-hour at 375°F, the apples were ready. The fragrant baked fruit, oozing with buttery, cinnamon-sugar syrup, was gobbled up as quickly as the granola had been.

These kids were amazing—cooperative, enthusiastic, entertaining, creative. (Even better, they did dishes without being asked.) And it was gratifying to see soon-to-be young adults enjoying (and inhaling) foods that were packed with good-for-you nutrients. I know I’ll soon be whipping these fall favorites up for my kids as well.

classic granola

Classic Granola

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Extras (nuts, seeds, dried fruits)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or other flavor extract

Heat oven to 275°F. Grease baking sheet.

In large bowl, toss together oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt, and Extras except for dried fruit.

In saucepan, bring maple syrup, oil, and water to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour liquid over oats mixture; stir to coat. Spread mixture evenly over baking sheet. With fingers, squeeze oat mixture to form clumps. Bake 30 minutes. Stir in dried fruits, if using. Bake 15 minutes longer or until browned and fragrant. Makes about 3 cups.

food tv, food trucks, and the vanishing photos

When the Food Network debuted in 1993, I didn’t get too excited. I was already living a food-centric life and didn’t care to watch food-based television as well. (Unless the “foodie” in question was Julia Child–then I wanted a front row seat.)

How, then, did I become a Cooking Channel junkie? This FN spinoff launched in 2010 and is described as airing more instructional (read: less reality-based) programming. I don’t necessarily watch for the recipes (though I have found a few–check out Chocolate Diablo Cookies). More often, I enjoy the host’s style and personality or the interaction of a larger cast of characters. The following have been some of my faves:

Extra Virgin – Contemporary and cheeky culinary version of Green Acres.

The Supersizers Go – British co-hosts “visit” different eras of history to reenact the life–and diet–of the time.

Chuck’s Day Off – Chuck Hughes has my vote for best-looking and most charismatic on-air celebrity chef.

Baron Ambrosia’s Culinary Adventures – Crazy food escapades that showcase small mom-and-pop restaurants around the country.

Food Jammers – Three 20-something guys strip food production (frying, brewing beer, making ice cream, etc) down to its most basic. They visit hardware stores and the like to come up with wackadoo contraptions that somehow get the job done. Projects include a taco vending machine, cheese cave, and cityscape made entirely from chocolate.

Eat Street – Likable smart-aleck host tours the country to scope out the food truck scene.

There’s plenty more, and I realize many of these shows got their start on FN, but bringing them all together on Cooking Channel makes sense to me.

When my husband mentioned he had heard that Eat Street was coming to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to film, I was jump-for-joy happy. I could hunt the crew down and possibly watch the filming of a favorite TV show! A quick online search uncovered which food trucks the show would visit and when. Today was my best chance of making the location (Gastrotruck, Rice Park), so I met my husband for a lunchtime stroll through downtown St. Paul.

We found Gastrotruck and saw filming taking place a block or so away from the actual truck. I had meanwhile spotted a new truck, Tiki Tim’s, that I’ve wanted to try, so ordered up their fantastic fish tacos. They were nicely garnished with chili-dusted crema and fresh cabbage, cilantro, and green onions. With lightly battered and freshly fried fish, these tacos were tasty, even more so just because they had been thrown together in the back of a truck. I dutifully snapped photos of my food, the truck, and menu board.

We then wandered over to Potter’s Pasties & Pies where my husband got a beef pasty and I enjoyed an order of their much-lauded banoffee pie. Syrupy caramel, thin and lovely banana slices, rich and slightly sweet marshmallow cream–yum. Again, photos taken of truck and food.

Last stop was circling back to Gastrotruck as the camera crew was finally filming the truck. I had hoped to catch sight of James Cunningham, Eat Street host, but no go. Clearly they keep the star talent at home. The peanut butter bread pudding I wanted to order was Sold Out (dang!); instead, I tried the quinoa salad. (Didn’t want another full entree, though would have managed to find room for that second dessert.) A crew member approached and we chatted, but because I hadn’t ordered one of four menu items they were featuring, I wouldn’t make the filming cut.

If that wasn’t enough of a downer, remember my photos? Stunning fish tacos? Crazy good banoffee pie? Quirky food trucks and their menu boards? When I got around to posting my pix, I could find only the Gastrotruck picture and a message that my SD card had “failed and erased.” Arrrgh. I don’t have photos, I didn’t meet JC, and I wasn’t interviewed on a national television show. Them’s the breaks.

On the up side,  I got a long walk in on a gorgeous day (with my husband, which means I get bonus “date afternoon” points) and enjoyed seeing and even eating from multiple food trucks. In the end, I’ll still call it a good food day.

the only surviving photo of my most delicious day

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.

from cobb salad to chocolate chateau

Spring break hit this week which could only mean one thing: road trip. Despite having no official travel plans, I was able to get out on a few small trips–all food-focused, of course.

On Thursday, a good friend and I were joined by our daughters as we day-tripped to Stillwater, a small destination city with quaint downtown shopping. Lunch, at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, was retro in decor and food. My butterfinger malt was rich with malt powder (yay) and the Cobb salad looked like a Cobb salad was supposed to–neat rows of ingredients. (Food pet-peeve: restaurants that toss chicken, bacon, romaine, blue cheese, and hard-cooked egg together and call it a Cobb. Don’t toss a Cobb.) The blue cheese dressing was thick and the bacon was good, though adding avocados would have made it more authentic. We shopped a bit, then hit Tremblay’s Sweet Shop for a collection of pay-by-the-pound candies before heading home. (I billed our visit to this store as a treat for the girls, but who am I kidding? I love candy.)

Cobb salad at Leo’s

Friday’s “road trip” came about when my oldest daughter asked if we could go on “one of our adventures” when her younger sister went to daycare. (I love that my daughter considers our outings “adventures.”) We had only a few hours, so stayed close to home and set off to explore a few St. Paul neighborhoods.

Our first stop was Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau. (Yes, that is really what it is called.) The first floor had opened only a month ago as a retail chocolate shop. The upper three floors of this beautiful Victorian mansion are eventually slotted to hold a chocolate museum, hall-of-fame, event center, pastry shop, tasting room, and who knows what else. Dr. Chocolate certainly has big dreams.

The first-floor shop was stocked with wrapped chocolate bars sourced regionally and internationally as well as high-end chocolate candies and baking mixes. They also carry aprons, cookbooks, coffee mugs, and other gift-y items. The chocolate display case boasts at least 30 different kinds of truffles along with bricks of chocolate wrapped in gold foil (shades of Willy Wonka) and chocolate-dipped goodies such as fruit, cookies, and the like.

The truffles were front-and-center and seemed the thing to buy, though we limited ourselves to three total. I also bought a few chocolate bars (Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Aztec dark) as well as a chocolate Cabernet cake mix (packaged in a wine bottle) and a few smaller chocolates. It wasn’t an inexpensive trip, but it was fun to be there at the beginning of this store’s journey. Walking away with our bag of classy chocolate was simply (chocolate) icing on the cake.

Dr. Chocolate signage

Dr. Chocolate purchases

We left the Chateau to walk a few blocks to Cheeky Monkey, a fun lunch and dinner spot with impressive food. I’ve been a number of times, but especially enjoyed sharing it with my daughter. We chowed down on sandwiches (hers the Little Monkey with turkey and cheese and mine a roasted pepper, chicken, bacon, and gouda panini–delish, ate every last crumb) and enjoyed the complementary self-serve cucumber and lemon waters.

No time for dessert (we had chocolate waiting for us in the car, remember?), we drove over to Grand Avenue to do a bit of window shopping. I was thrilled to spend this time with my 9-year-old as I know that in not too many years she’ll prefer spending time with friends to spending time with mom. I’ll take as many of these “adventures” as she’ll give me.

Tonight my husband and I took the shortest road trip of the week by hitting the freeway for i nonni, an upscale Italian restaurant in a nearby ‘burb. The food and drink were amazing. From cocktail (gin with grapefruit, sage, and cucumber–refreshing!) to appetizer (cured, paper thin slices of strip steak) to entree (farro pasta with sea urchin roe and lump crab) to dessert (a game-changing figgy pudding–wow) to grappa (what else after an Italian feast?), the meal was one I’ll long remember. It was a splurge, for sure, but with two young kids and nearly 20 years of marriage under our belts, my husband and I don’t get out much. Tonight’s fancy-pants date made up for all of the going out we haven’t done in the past few months.

When Monday rolls around, the kids go back to school and I’ll buckle down to work projects again. And though I didn’t hit the beaches of Cancun or tour Disney property with my family, I enjoyed local spots–new and old, upscale and casual. I shopped, ate well, and spent time with friends and family. Spring Break 2012 gets high marks from me.