Monday, March 26, 2012

Cheesy Potato & Rutabaga Mash

This year I will once again be graced with delicious and tasty produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, courtesy of Little Flower Farm.  I'm so excited to find new and interesting ways to cook with all of the veggies that I will be getting from June through October.  I really enjoy CSA shares because it expands my eating and cooking horizons.  When I go to the farmers' markets, I tend to stick with what I know.  But when you buy a CSA share, there will inevitably be some vegetable in the box that makes you stop and think.  Last time I purchased a CSA share, it was kohlrabi!  I'm still not 100% sure what to do with kohlrabi, but I anticipate learning more about it this summer.  So to get into the spirit in this unseasonably warm spring, I picked up a random root vegetable at the grocery store and came home without a recipe in mind.  After doing a bit of background reading on my chosen rutabaga, I decided the easiest way to utilize this veggie was in a cheesy mash.  I added some mashed potato just for more starchy deliciousness, and it did not disappoint!  This is just one of many ways you can use rutabaga this year.

Cheesy Potato & Rutabaga Mash
serves 2 as a side

1 medium-sized yukon gold potato, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 medium-sized rutabaga, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the chopped potatoes and rutabaga.  Boil uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.  Drain the vegetables and return them back to hot pot. 

Add the milk, butter, and cheddar cheese.  Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes and rutabaga, combining the ingredients, until you achieve the desired consistency.  Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.  Serve alongside your favorite meal.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friends on Food

I have been known to eat some strange combinations of food for my meals.  I'll sometimes have pickles and popcorn for dinner, and once I ate an entire can of Pillsbury crescent rolls and a can of baked beans for dinner.  Many evenings I'll just go home and eat whatever I find in my cupboards and refrigerator: crackers, chips and salsa, frozen naan, leftovers, whatever!  One of the perks of being a grown-up is that you can kind of eat whatever you want.  And you can pair it with a beer.  Luckily, I've never had to eat the entire contents of my refrigerator.  Can't say the same for Joey from this episode of Friends!

The One with Joey's Fridge - Season 6

Chandler: Well, you …you don’t look good Joe.
Joey: The fridge broke. I had to eat everything. Cold cuts, ice cream, limes—Hey, what was in that brown jar?
Chandler: That’s still in there?!
Joey: Not anymore.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Restaurant Ruminations :: Birthday at Pizzeria Lola!

This Sunday I turned 28 years old.  My birthday has always had a bit of a kick to it, seeing as it follows right on the heels of St. Patrick's Day and it always pops up in the middle of March Madness.  With all of those events taking place, there is never a shortage of fun things to do around my birthday!  I did some celebrating with my friends on St. Patrick's Day, and we enjoyed some Irish beers and the arrival of a kilt-wearing bagpiper man at the Dubliner. 
Drizzle was all decked out for St. Patrick's Day.
The next morning was my birthday!  I woke up, had a big cup of coffee, and then because I can do whatever I want on my birthday, I had pickles for breakfast.  Yup, that happened.  And it was delish.  But the focus of my day was lunch with my parents at Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis.  Pizzeria Lola has been on my "must-try" list ever since I heard of it!  And it should be on your must-try list as well, if not for my praise, than for the praise of pretty much every person who has been there since it opened in 2011.  Plus, the owner named the pizzeria after her dog, Lola.  I clearly had to check it out!  (I hope to go again when Lola is at the pizzeria!)

I walked into the pizzeria and was immediately in love.  It's a spacious restaurant, with a bar in the back, tables in the front, and track lighting that all leads to the center of the restaurant -- the huge wood burning oven.  For $3, you can get your photo taken in a photo booth and the back wall is adorned with photo-booth pictures of happy, Pizzeria Lola patrons.  Another point of interest for me was the "cooked" art hanging on the walls.  Created with an invisible ink, you "bake" these prints in the oven and the design magically appears.  Completely apropos for this space.  My favorite thing about the pizzeria (besides the food) was the dishes.  Vintage, non-matching plates that looked like dishware your grandmother would have had in her kitchen.  I loved them.  Loved them! 

perfect for making pizza AND art!
Birthday lunch means I get to order an appetizer.  A nice serving of spiced olives did the trick.  Even my mom, who thought she hated green olives, enjoyed these marinated olives.  There's just something about pickles and olives that I cannot resist. 

But my pizza was absolute heaven.  I ordered the La Creme pizza, which I'm pretty sure translates roughly into "the best pizza ever."  A tangy Italian red sauce tempered by a bit of rich cream lightly covered the pizza crust.  That was topped with a handful of shaved parmigiano-reggiano, slightly melty from the warm sauce.  A few leaves of basil permeated the pizza with a fresh flavor, and a drizzle of olive oil on top just killed it. 

But the crust....oh the crust.  It can be the downfall of even the best-intentioned pizza.  The tastiest ingredients in the world can only go so far on a lackluster crust.  Luckily, this pizza crust was a shining example of what all pizzas should strive to emulate.  The crust was thin and chewy, a hint of a crunch on the outside crust, and it REALLY stood up to the pizza toppings!  It was not soggy, mushy, or floppy.  It was dreamy. 

My pizza was cut into six tantalizing pieces and I devoured four of them in an instant.  I forced myself to hold off on the other two, even though I could have easily polished them off as well.  (Confession: I ate the last two slices about 2 hours after I got home!)  The light crust, fresh ingredients, and the focus on good flavors instead of overwhelming toppings means you can order a pizza all for yourself!  Especially if it's your birthday!

My parents shared their pizza (fools!) and had similar rave reviews for the house-made fennel sausage and natural-casing pepperoni that topped their cheesy pizza.  I didn't try it, but it looked quite delicious.  There is a pizza on the menu to suit any palate -- ranging from the traditional to the inventive.  The Boise pizza is on my radar for next time and I'm going to force someone to order the Lady ZaZa and explain it to me in excruciating detail. 

A birthday meal also means dessert!  I have never been a huge fan of birthday cake -- growing up I opted for birthday strawberry shortcake or birthday pie.  I'd read rave reviews of the cookies and ice cream at Pizzeria Lola, so I told my mom a birthday pumpkin pie would not be necessary for my 28th!  I debated between the DYI ice cream sandwich and the plate o' cookies......

Ice cream sandwich for the win!  Two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and homemade vanilla soft-serve.  They even put a little candle in the ice cream and sang happy birthday!  Such a lovely touch for my birthday dessert.  The cookies were warm, with melty chocolate chips, and the ice cream was sweet and creamy, with flecks of vanilla bean. 

I formed a little ice cream sandwich and dug right in.  I had chocolate and ice cream all over my hands, and I could not have been happier.  Nom nom nom......  best birthday lunch EVER.  Thanks Pizzeria Lola! 

Restaurant Details
5557 Xerxes Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 424-8338

Monday-Thursday: 5pm - 10pm*
Friday: 5pm - 11pm
Saturday: 11am - 11pm
Sunday: 11am - 10pm

*Starting in April, Pizzeria Lola will be open for lunch 7 days a week! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dulce de Leche Brownies

If you hadn't already noticed by the content of this blog, I'm not a huge sweets eater.  I very rarely have anything sweet or chocolaty in my kitchen (the holidays and girl-scout-cookie season are the main exceptions to this rule), and it never really bothers me.  Any cravings for sweet foods can usually be handled with a bowl of cereal or a spoonful of soy ice cream that I keep in the freezer.  Told you -- not a big sweet tooth!  But on those occasions that I'm really in the mood for something sinful, I figure I can just bake it myself.  Chocolate chip cookies can be thrown together in a hot minute, as can a super easy shortbread recipe that I use from Big Girls Small Kitchen.  But I read a blog post about easy dulce de leche and was intrigued enough to want to test it out.  I didn't want to have random cans of this sweet treat without putting them to good use, so a quick search for "dulce de leche brownies" and I had sealed my fate.  My kitchen would once again be home to some decadent, chocolate treats. 

After some internet research on the best and easiest way to cook dulce de leche from a can of condensed milk, I settled on the slow cooker version.  Stove top cooking had a few references to "explosions" and I didn't want to deal with that.  Slow cooking seemed to be the way to go for no fuss and minimal risk.  Turned out AMAZING.  Sweet, caramely, rich dulce de leche with very little effort.  The brownies were similarly easy to put together.  And they were dense, but didn't turn out overly rich, which allowed the sweetness of the dulce de leche to really shine through.  I'll admit: it was nice to have a dessert option for the last couple of nights!  I still have another can of dulce de leche that needs to be used.  More sweets might be in my future.
No-Fuss Dulce de Leche

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (or as many as will fit in your slow cooker)

Remove the paper wrapping from the can of sweetened condensed milk.  Check the can to make sure it has no punctures or dents.  And do not open it!  Lay the can in the bottom of a slow cooker on its side.  Cover the can with about 1 inch of water. 

Heat the slow cooker to low and "cook" the can for about 8 hours.  Check every so often to be sure that the can is still covered with water.  Don't leave unattended in case it starts leaking. 

Once the 8 hours are up, remove the can from the slow cooker and allow to come to room temperature.  Once cooled, place your dulce de leche in the fridge (you can keep it in the unopened can) until you are ready to use it....preferably to make these smashing brownies..... 

Dulce de Leche Brownies
adapted only slightly from David Lebowitz

1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 can of your dulce de leche (above)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Reduce heat to low and add the semi-sweet chocolate, stirring continuously until melted and smooth.  Add the cocoa powder and whisk until it has combined.  Pour the chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl.

Add the eggs, one at a time, to the chocolate mixture, fully incorporating the egg into the chocolate before adding the next egg.  Then add your sugar, vanilla extract, and flour.  Mix to combine.

Prepare a 9x9 inch baking dish with aluminium foil on the bottom and sides of the baking dish.  (The brownies are really sticky, so this step helped a lot for serving and clean up!).  Spray the foil with baking spray.

Scrape half of the brownie mixture into the pan and spread evenly.  Then add large spoonfuls of your dulce de leche to the top of the brownie mixture.  Use about half of the can.  Using a knife, swirl the dulce de leche to even it out.  Scrape the next half of the brownie mixture on top and spread it evenly.  Drizzle the remaining dulce de leche over the brownies and use your knife again to create swirly patterns. 

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the brownies in the middle of the pan have just set.  Test with a cake tester or fork if you want to ensure that they are done.  Eat a brownie warm out of the oven.  Take extras to your friends to impress them with your culinary wizardry.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Grilled Cheese & Pickles

I'm sure many of you like kicking back with a beer, some chips, and primetime television after a long day at work.  I certainly enjoy that luxury, but subtract the chips and add a jar of dill pickles with a fork.  No joke -- I can sit down and watch reruns of Friends and simultaneously devour an entire jar of pickles.  I love pickles, and I love discovering ways to add pickles into my cooking.  While shopping at Trader Joe's the other day, I noticed some samples of a sandwich being served near the back of the store.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that what they had termed "The Dubliner" was actually heaven in a sandwich.  Sharp, melty cheese and crisp dill pickles sandwiched between toasted bread thick with Irish butter.  Are you dying yet?  The people around me seemed a little suspicious of this pickle sandwich, but I audibly exclaimed, "OH MY GOD" as I walked toward the frozen foods, munching on my sample.  The next day, I set out to recreate this sandwich of my dreams.

Of course, I had no information about the ingredients used in the sample sandwich, except generic ideas of bread, cheese, and pickles.  I actually baked two loaves of rustic, hearty bread that afternoon, so I went with that.  But any sturdy sandwich bread, or even 1/2-inch slices of a good Italian loaf would be stellar.  I decided to stick with a nice, sharp cheddar to pair with the crunchy dill pickles.  Both have strong flavors of their own, but the cheese and the pickles worked very well together.  Such an easy idea...I can't believe I had never thought of it before.  And now I've had a grilled cheese with pickles twice in two days.  Plus pickles for snacking while cooking.  Of course.

Grilled Cheese with Pickles
inspired by a sample at Trader Joe's
serves 2

4 slices of hearty bread (about 1/2-inch slice)
~ 1-2 tablespoons softened butter
4 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
4 medium-sized dill pickles (I used the full-sized pickles, but you could just as easily use the pickle chips)

Spread the butter thickly on one side of each slice of bread.  If you are using full-sized pickles, slice them lengthwise into thirds, not into rounds.  I found the rounds to be a little more unwieldy.  Assemble your sandwiches -- bread, layer of cheese, pickles, another layer of cheese, bread.

Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Place the sandwich(s) into the skillet and cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the bread is a golden brown.  Flip carefully, and cook the other side until it's golden brown.  If the cheese isn't melting, place a tent of tinfoil over the pan to trap in the heat and melt the cheese.  Once the bread has toasted and the cheese has melted, remove the sandwich(s).  Slice in half, and serve hot.  Be amazed at your grilled cheese with pickles. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hearty All-Purpose Bread

After a long hiatus from recipe blogging, I spent most of Sunday afternoon cooking and baking up an absolute storm in my kitchen.  I have no idea where I got the energy, but I turned out a pan of dulce de leche brownies, a killer grilled cheese sandwich, and two loaves of this hearty, rustic-style bread.  Now I'm exhausted, but I am forcing myself to get at least one of these recipes on the blog before I pass out!

For the past few days, I've been daydreaming about homemade bread.  I rarely buy bread at the store, with the exception of baguettes, so if I want bread in the house, I usually have to make it.  The last time I made homemade sandwich bread was probably a year ago, but there are a few sandwich recipes on my to-do list, so I decided it was time to bake up some bread.  Baking bread is actually a very easy task.  In fact, waiting for the dough to rise is probably the most challenging part of the entire process.  I snagged this insanely easy recipe from one of my new favorite cookbooks, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. 

As an aside, I adore this cookbook (props to my dad for the great Christmas gift!) and it's given me a lot of great ideas on cooking more from scratch.  With spring in the air, I start craving all things healthy, all things local, and all things homemade.  You might start to see some more of these types of recipes on the blog!  But if you are a frugal shopper, this cookbook will also give you price points for all of the things that you could be cooking instead of buying.  For example, according to Reese, cooking your own bread costs you less than $1 per loaf.  And that includes the cost of heating your oven.  Plus, you control the amount and quality of your ingredients, and you can be more creative.  And there's nothing like bread fresh from the oven.  Am I right? 

So I cooked up two rustic-looking loaves of bread (rustic because I barely kneaded them), with crunchy, chewy outsides, and soft insides.  The whole wheat flour gave the bread a touch of heartiness, but it still tastes like a very versatile bread.  One will go into the freezer for later use, and the other will likely be gone by the middle of the week!  If you've never baked bread before, this is a great starter recipe for everyday use. 

Hearty All-Purpose Bread
adapted from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
makes 2 medium-sized loaves

1 teaspoon instant yeast (don't use a packet...that will contain more than needed)
3 1/2 cups of lukewarm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour (optional; you can use all-purpose as well)
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons salt

In a large liquid measuring cup or in a medium-sized bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar.  Allow the yeast to proof for about five minutes.  It should be foaming.  If it's not, you might need to try again with new yeast.

Prepare two loaf pans by spraying them with cooking spray. 

In a large bowl, combine the flours and salt.  Pour the yeast mixture into the flours, and combine using your hands.  The dough should be shaggy.  Knead it in the bowl briefly until it comes together.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Place the dough into the two bread pans and cover with a towel.  Let the dough rise until it reaches just about the top of the loaf pan, about two hours.  If your dough is having trouble rising (as mine usually does because I keep my apartment cool), preheat your oven to 450 to warm up the kitchen.  You can also try putting the covered loaf pans on top of the stove to warm them up.

Once the dough has risen, bake at 450 for 30 minutes.  Then remove the bread from the pans and bake directly on the oven rack for another 15 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove the bread from the oven, and snag a quick slice of warm bread.  Then allow the bread to cool. 


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Restaurant Ruminations :: Brunch at Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters in Minneapolis really does have it all.  I went there for the first time this summer to enjoy some tap beer and small plates with a friend.  The white bean hummus and french fries were a perfect pair for my Surly Furious on that summery evening.  This week when I was researching possible brunch options for a date with two of my law school friends, I came back across the Muddy Waters brunch menu.  They offer a handful of breakfast offerings -- from classics to the unexpected -- and another smaller handful of lunch dishes.  I quick glance of the menu and I was sold. 

Luckily I arrived a bit early and was able to snag a table for my group of three.  Muddy Waters was bustling at 11:30 on a Sunday morning, but as I watched the crowds come and go, there always seemed to be people leaving just as another group arrived.  I ordered a hot cup of coffee as I waited and then noticed people around me drinking Bloody Marys and beers!  Probably best I stuck with my cup of strong coffee, but I appreciate knowing that a boozy brunch is an option for my next visit.

That's when I noticed what I was sitting RIGHT next to -- a case filled with sinful-looking bakery items.  I was seriously an arm's length away from these tempting treats.  I stared....and stared....and sipped my coffee....and stared....

.....and by the time my friends arrived, I had decided on a brunch appetizer...the cinnamon cardamom donut.  This was not your average donut hole.  First of all, it was only slightly smaller than the size of my fist.  I actually ate it with a knife and fork!  But second, the donut itself was light and airy and the sugary coating was made up of larger, crunchy sugar crystals and a dash of cardamom spice.  I cleaned my plate of all the sugar that had fallen off the donut...that's how good the combination was (or how decidedly unclassy I can be at restaurants)!

I was tempted by three options on the brunch menu: the malted waffle, the Cuban breakfast, and the biscuits and gravy.  It is so rare to see biscuits and gravy on a menu that I can actually eat and it was such a favorite of mine in college.  Luckily, Muddy Waters offers sausage gravy OR mushroom gravy on top of the biscuits for any vegetarians.  Paired up with eggs over-medium and some crunchy, well-seasoned roasted potatoes and I had a breakfast that was beyond comforting.  Plus the mushroom gravy was an absolute delight -- creamy, earthy, and everything you'd expect from a traditional gravy.  I only wish I had a teensy bit more on my plate.  I so rarely get to enjoy gravy! 

Beyond just the food, the atmosphere of Muddy Waters was enjoyable.  The service was friendly and personable.  The tunes kept me on my toes -- I heard everything from The Beatles to the Batman theme song.  And the guests ranged from people perched on window-side seats with their laptops open, to groups of people enjoying Bloody Mary brunches, to a seeming regular customer with a newspaper and giant cream-filled coffee.  (What can I say...I'm observant.)  Overall, it was a great setting for my brunch with friends.  And I was able to try a bite of the nutella & banana waffle -- oh holy wonderful.  That's all I'll say.

Restaurant Details
2933 Lyndale Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55405
(612) 872-2232

Regular Hours
Monday-Friday: 7am - 2am
Saturday-Sunday: 8am - 2am; Brunch: 10am - 3pm
Lunch: 11am - 3pm
Happy Hour: 3pm - 5pm
Dinner: 5pm - 11pm