24 May 2015

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake w/ Strawberry Frosting

Well, it’s a rainy Sunday on Memorial Day Weekend. Perfect for baking. I improvised this recipe from a couple of different sources. First, the cake recipe is from the Beth El Women’s League “New Kosher Cookbook.” The recipe as printed is a Bundt cake. I’ve made the recipe many times, and it’s a favorite. I only made one modification to the recipe, but as you’ll see in the directions, this time I baked it in a loaf pan rather than a Bundt pan. My modification, I included some fresh lemon juice and lemon zest, simply because I had half a lemon in the fridge from another recipe. I’m not sure if the cookbook is available. My wife got it as a bridal shower present … that would be at least 41 years ago.

The frosting is from Go Bold With Butter, a dairy industry web site to promote butter. The recipe was for Strawberry-Lemon Sandwich Cookies. I made a batch of those and had quite a lot of the strawberry frosting left over. So my plan was to make the cake and fill it and frost it with the frosting.

I’m serving the cake tonight. We’re having some friends over to play canasta after dinner.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Strawberry FrostingIMG_1249

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. butter
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp. lemon extract
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 1/3 c. poppy seeds
  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak poppy seeds in buttermilk. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and lemon extract. (I only had a half teaspoon of lemon extract on hand. So at this point, I also grated in some lemon zest and squeezed in about a teaspoon of lemon juice.) Sift the dry ingredients and add alternately with the poppy seeds and buttermilk. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Grease a loaf pan, and pour in cake batter, filling to about 3/4 full. (Depending on the size of your loaf pan, you may have additional cake batter. I made six cupcakes.) Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Then carefully invert the cake from the loaf pan onto a rack. Cool completely. Split cake horizontally. Cover the bottom half with a generous portion of strawberry frosting. Cover with the remaining half and then frost the rest of the cake. (Note that since I was using leftover frosting from the cookie recipe, I only had enough to fill and frost half the loaf.)

Strawberry Frosting:

  • 3 ounces strawberries, rinsed, hulled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place strawberries in food processor or blender. Process until pureed. Use electric mixer on medium speed to beat butter until light and fluffy. Add strawberry puree and mix until combined. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar and continue mixing until combined and spreadable.

Note that I used farmer-owned co-op products – Crystal Sugar and Land O Lakes Butter.

19 May 2015

Hymie’s Vintage Records truly is the best!

I do like buying things online. If I know what I want and it’s just a matter of price and availability, buying online is quick and easy. But this month, I had an experience that demonstrates what true customer service is all about, and I can’t imagine it would ever happen online.

For Record Store Day in April I went to Hymie’s Vintage Records. We seem to have a pretty robust vinyl scene in Minneapolis, and Hymie’s is often cited as one of the leading vinyl purveyors. The owners, Dave and Laura Hoenack, put on a pretty great block party. Besides that Dave is one of my son’s best friends. IMG_1246

I bought a few things in the store, and as I was checking out, I asked Dave if he had a copy of Cannonball Adderley’s Fiddler on the Roof recording. (Another friend of mine said he’d heard it on the radio recently and it was great.) It is available online. Amazon, just for example, has it as a CD, MP3 download, and even used vinyl ($20). But, I’ve been listening to vinyl in my home office recently, and I thought if Hymie’s had it in stock, I’d buy it.

Unfortunately, Dave told me that he didn’t think he had a copy in the store. So I paid for my other items and kinda forgot about it.

About a month later (just last week as I write this), a parcel was delivered to our door by the mailman. It was from Hymie’s. Sure enough, Dave had remembered my inquiry, and when he found a copy of the album, he sent it to me.

Wow!

By the way, when I set up my home office, I decided to get a record player. I still have quite a few records from my college days. I even still have my old turntable. But it’s beyond repair. So I did quite a lot of research, and the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB gets high marks for being an affordable, high quality turntable. I did buy it online; I can’t remember if it was Amazon or Best Buy.

30 April 2015

Spanish culture thrives at La Cosecha, Paso Robles, CA

When my wife and I planned our California vacation in March, we considered how to break up the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I suppose we could have done it in one day. But there was no need to hurry (it was a vacation after all) and there are plenty of things to see and do in the nearly 400 miles between the two cities. I’d always been curious about the Paso Robles wine region. We have friends who recommended it as did some of my former associates at Land O’Lakes.

Our hotel was the Paso Robles Inn, located right on the town square and easy walking distance to several restaurants. A friend had recommended Il Cortile for excellent Italian cooking. But when we called for a reservation, we learned that Il Cortile is closed on Tuesdays. However, they recommended La Cosecha, also right on the town square and owned by the same chef. We enjoy good Spanish and Latin food, so it was an easy decision to give it a try.

I’m glad we did. It was delicious, relaxing, and very enjoyable.IMG_0364

Since we’d spent the afternoon wine tasting at several area wineries, we decided to have cocktails before dinner, rather than a bottle of wine. The restaurant offers an intriguing array of craft cocktails. My wife had something called the Jabroni, like a Negroni only made with cachaca instead of gin, Cynar, white vermouth, and amaretto. She doesn’t normally like the bitterness of a Negroni. In the Jabroni, the Cynar gave a hint of bitterness. But it was mellowed by the white vermouth and amaretto. She liked it.

My cocktail was called ‘A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That.’ It’s not on the regular menu; I think it was a special concoction of the bartender. It was made with bourbon, iris liquor, Fernet and amaro. It was sort of like a Manhattan though the iris liquor gave it a flowery essence like a Sazarac.

As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, my wife is sensitive to cilantro. So we asked the server to steer us away from anything that would have cilantro. Ceviche is a house specialty. We knew that would have cilantro, but I wanted it anyway. It featured shrimp and scallops, and it was great. My wife ordered a salad for her starter. When it arrived and she took her first bite, she detected the distinctive cilantro flavor. The server was genuinely dismayed; he had told us no cilantro in the salad. He took it away and brought her a fresh one, at which time he informed us that the first one had micro greens as a garnish, and that included some cilantro sprouts.

For her entrée, Linda had chicken roasted with mushrooms and white sweet potatoes. We had never encountered white sweet potatoes before. Our server actually brought one out from the kitchen to show us.

My entrée was braised bison short ribs. They were excellent, very tender and very flavorful. They were served on top of a celery root puree. I did have a glass of wine with my dinner. I ordered a Turley Old Vines Zinfandel. It was one of the wines we had tasted at the winery earlier in the day. I wanted to see how it paired with the meat. It was excellent, as you’d expect. La Cosecha has a very interesting wine list, with many locally produced wines as well as a selection of Spanish and South American wines.

The ambiance of the restaurant was very laid back. There were a couple of large groups in the restaurant that night. I thought it was interesting that the groups were all men. I assume that they were in Paso Robles doing business, and most likely that business was wine.

Our server was very friendly and helpful. He quickly and efficiently took care of the slight misstep of the cilantro greens on my wife’s salad, and otherwise, he was great.

With the prevalence of Hispanic culture in California, I suppose it makes sense that a town like Paso Robles would have a great Spanish/Latin restaurant. I’m glad we found it.

28 April 2015

Groovy lunches at The Third Bird, Mpls.

I’d have to say that for me, The Third Bird was an acquired taste. As a fan of Kim Bartmann’s Café Barbette, I anticipated good food, comfortable ambiance, and maybe a little quirky style and ambiance. So the first time we went there, on a Saturday night last winter, I was disappointed.

Wait. Disappointed is too strong. The food was good. The vibe of the restaurant was energetic. The service was fine. But part of why we went there in the first place was to try it’s bison burger, which had been getting rave reviews, including from my wife. Much to our chagrin, we were told that the burger wasn’t available that evening. I think that the server could have handled the situation more diplomatically. But we left fairly nonplussed.

I can’t really explain why I decided to try it again for lunch this spring. I guess I was still curious and certainly was willing to give it another try. But over the course of three lunches in March and April, I’ve gotten over my initial concerns and have become a fan, at least for lunch.

Each time I’ve been there, it’s been later than normal for lunch. I arrived after 1 p.m. and found myself almost alone in the restaurant. That would be a negative for some diners. But I didn’t mind. I guess after years of business travel, I’ve gotten used to eating alone anyway and I used the lack of distractions to focus on the menu, the food, the wine, and the ‘groove’ of The Third Bird. IMG_1170

Lunch 1: My server informed me that there had been a substitution for the fish entrée listed on the menu. It sounded good, so I ordered. It was pan roasted trout with thin sliced, pickled radishes, tender herb shoots, peas, and slices of sautéd turnip. It was simple, light, and delicious. It was a little pricier than I expected ($21), especially since there was nothing else on the plate. But I’m a big fan of trout. It’s not easy to prepare well, and this lunch was great. I also had a glass of rose wine - Côtes de Provence Clos Cibonne Tibouren 2012. It was a nice reminder that spring was on the way, despite Loring Park being covered in late March snow.

Lunch 2: Having had a good experience on the first lunch, and now being more familiar with the menu, I planned a lighter lunch for this visit. I opted for the parmesan omelet. The omelet is cooked flat, not folded over. The flavors were great - buttery eggs and pungent cheese. It was served with a simple salad on the plate with the omelet. I had a glass of white wine with this lunch. The menu listed it as Jacquere Vin De Savoie Abyme. I don't know if that's the grape and the region, but it was very good. It may have been a bit over chilled when served, but by the time my food arrived, it was the right temp. It was bright and acidic and very fresh. It went very well with the omelet. It also was a very generous pour, probably 6 ounces (maybe more).

Lunch 3: Now I felt I was on a roll, and I was looking forward to the third lunch toward the end of April. This time, I had my mind made up before arriving; I was going to order the legendary bison burger. But, oops, I waited too long. My server informed me that the bison burger was no longer a regular item on the menu. They would have a burger on the menu all the time. But the bison burger would take a turn in the rotation, and it was not available that day. Well, I came in planning to eat a burger, so I ordered the one that was offered that day. It was a double patty stuffed with cheese and topped with crisp fried onions. The burger came with a small bowl of a very good barbecue sauce. There’s no way you could pick up the burger and eat it like a sandwich. I attacked it with fork and knife, dipping it in the sauce (though the burger was so moist and flavorful that it didn’t really need a sauce). The burger, like all sandwiches on the menu, comes with malt vinegar chips. For a $2 up-charge, you can get fries, greens, or soup. I stuck with the chips. I considered ordering beer with the burger. But the wine list at The Third Bird is very creative, and so I ordered a glass of red wine instead. I had a robust Montepulciano, recommended by my server.

So the food and wine experience for lunch was very good. Since I was there late and without many other diners, the restaurant was very calm and laid back. I don’t know if that would still be true during a busier lunch time. Certainly my one dinner experience was a more energetic vibe. But at least for my three lunches, the servers were all very friendly and helpful. I like the ambiance of the restaurant. And each time, there was some very appealing music playing over the sound system. My favorite was my second lunch. The mix was mostly classic rock and roll, but with some more contemporary rock mixed in.

Now that I’ve gotten over my initial hesitancy, I’m eager for a return visit for dinner. I see that they have music occasionally. That might be fun to try.

19 April 2015

KwikPick: Sonora Grill, Mpls., great Southwestern cooking

My wife and I have become fans of Record Store Day. It started because our son’s best friend bought a record store in the Longfellow neighborhood of South Minneapolis. At the time, I thought that it sounded like a risky decision for a young father. But Dave Hoenack and his wife, Laura, have made Hymie’s Vintage Records a focal point for the revival of vinyl recordings in Minneapolis. And we look forward to attending the block party that they throw as part of Record Store Day. We’ve gotten in the habit of finding a local restaurant for dinner after the festivities at Hymie’s. This year, another couple of friends joined us for dinner at the Sonora Grill, located only 6 blocks from Hymie’s.

  • Food: 4
  • Service: 3
  • Ambiance: 3
  • Value: 5

The back story on the Sonora Grill is that it started out in the food court at Midtown Global Market in 2011. A couple years later, they opened the Grill in an old Embers Restaurant several blocks east in the Longfellow neighborhood. I’d been there once before for lunch, shortly after it opened. I really enjoyed the food at lunch, and that’s why I suggested it for our Record Store Day dinner.

The food was great. For a table of 4, we got one order of their whole baked chicken, one order of paella, one order of beef short ribs, one order of eggplant fries, and one of their daily salads. The salad turned out to be more of a dinner salad with slices of chicken on it. It was very good, but not really what we were expecting. Besides that, everything except the paella came with vegetables on the plate. The chicken asado was fantastic. We expected that it would be enough for two people; it actually was enough for three. Besides the chicken, the plate included flour tortillas, beans, and a potato salad. My plate of short ribs included a slaw of shredded cabbage and a tasty salsa. The short ribs were cut ‘flanken’ style. I thought they were a little dried out and tough, but others at the table really liked them. The paella was very good, with large tender shrimp, mussels, chorizo, and chicken on top of delicious saffron rice. And we all loved the eggplant fries which came with a spicy aoli.

Service for our table anyway was a bit of a disappointment. Our server was friendly and helpful with advice about the menu. But he also was very slow and inattentive. However, we noticed that the server for the next table was very prompt and attentive, so it may be just the luck of the draw as to how good your server is. As far as ambiance, no complaints really, but as I mentioned above, this is a repurposed Embers restaurant. So the ambiance is comfortable but plain. We actually ate on the patio outside, and that was very nice.

I rated Sonora Grill high in terms of value. We got a lot of really good food for a very reasonable price. We only had one round of drinks – three glasses of wine and one beer. I was the beer drinker. When I inquired about the beer on tap, the server mentioned a dark Mexican beer that wasn’t even listed in the menu. It was great with the food, and was only $5 for a pint glass.

After dinner, we all agreed that Sonora Grill deserves a return visit. After this experience, I think I’d skip the short ribs, and maybe order a selection of Sonoran tacos (called ‘caramelos’). They’re priced at only $4 and the menu lists an intriguing variety of fillings, such as shrimp, beef tongue, roasted mushroom, and fish.

Anytime you’re looking for a place to eat in the Longfellow neighborhood, I’d heartily recommend Sonora Grill.

Click here for an explanation of my KwikPick rating scale.

31 March 2015

Oh me, oh my–tracking my vacation steps

While my wife and I were on vacation in California (see the next post in my blog), we walked A LOT. I know that because I wore my activity tracker throughout the day. We logged 11 miles of walking on two consecutive days in San Francisco. I think even my wife was surprised by that.

One day, we took a city bus to Golden Gate Park. We walked around in the park, and then we walked to Haight-Asbury and then all the way back to our hotel in the Financial District. According to the tracker, that was 11.32 miles, 24433 steps. The next day, we walked from our hotel around the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf, and then continued up Van Ness to Union Street. There we shopped around, had lunch, and then walked back via the Wharf and North Beach. That was 11.41 miles, 24861 steps. Whew!

I bought the activity tracker in February. My wife questioned why I needed one, and I probably don’t. I don’t use it to motivate myself to exercise more. I have a pretty regular exercise schedule and I’m disciplined about sticking to it.

But there were a couple of things that I specifically wanted. First, I used to have a heart monitor, and I found that useful for pacing my workouts at the JCC. That was an old system that required a monitor that straps around my chest and connects wirelessly to a wristband/watch. The thing that appealed to me about the new activity tracker was that it’s all integrated into a wristband. It’s kind of amazing how it works. But I’ve been able to determine that it’s pretty accurate.

The other thing I wanted the activity tracker for is to help me understand how much exercise I get from working around the house and yard and walking with my wife. (The walks are part of my exercise regimen.)

While I was trying to decide which device to buy, I looked at several comparisons online. I quickly narrowed it down to either the Fitbit Charge HR or the Mio Fuse. (Both are Editor’s Choices in PC Magazine.) At the time I was shopping, they were both the same price. I liked the style of the Fitbit, and it had a couple of nifty features. For one, when it’s connect via Bluetooth to your iPhone, if you get a call on the phone the Fitbit displays the caller ID so you don’t have to fumble for the phone to decide whether to answer. It also tracks stair steps. That would be very helpful to an office worker who wants to take the stairs to get exercise.

But in the end, I opted for the Mio. (Is it pronounced My-oh or Me-oh? I still don’t know.) I don’t really need either of the nifty Fitbit features. I’m retired, and I don’t climb office stairs anymore, and I don’t answer my phone while I’m exercising. The Mio is more waterproof than the Fitbit (not that I’d wear either while swimming). But more to the point, it was available immediately while the Fitbit was on back order.

Frankly, the hardest part about using the activity tracker is remembering to wear it. The Mio is a little bulky so it doesn’t fit comfortably under long sleeve shirts, so lots of times when I’m just working around the house, I don’t remember to put it on. That kind of defeats the purpose.

As best as I can tell, it’s pretty accurate in measuring heart rate and distances. The default setting for tracking steps taken is 10,000 steps daily. So who decided that 10,000 steps is an appropriate goal for daily exercise? When I take a 4-mile walk with my wife (which is her daily routine), that totals about 9000 steps, so I hit the goal easily on those days. But when I do a workout on the elliptical machine, I know I burn a lot of calories and get a good cardio workout, but it doesn’t tally the equivalent number of steps. I’m eager to see how it works when the weather warms up enough for riding my bike.

Lastly, it now links to the Health app on the iPhone. So I’ve started to accumulate data there. First of all, it’s interesting to note. We’ll see how useful the info is over time.

30 March 2015

2nd Best California Vacation Ever!

In March, my wife and I spent 8 days in California. It was kind of an ambitious trip. We covered a lot of ground, starting in Los Angeles, then to the Paso Robles wine country, ending in San Francisco. It was a busy trip. But probably because we’ve traveled to California many times in our married life, we had things pretty well planned out. At least part of it was the weather. California’s climactic misfortune – an extended drought – meant that we had generally gorgeous weather the whole time.

I’ll post more details about some of the restaurants we visited. But here’s an overview of the trip.

Los Angeles: Like our trip last year, we started in Los Angeles where I had a board meeting for Mazon, the anti-hunger advocacy organization that I serve on. We stayed again at the Hotel Palomar near the UCLA campus. I’ve said it before, I’m a big fan of Kimpton Hotels. But after this second stay, I’m tempted to say that the Palomar is my favorite of all. It certainly is an ideal location. It’s a one-mile walk to Mazon’s office where the board meeting was held. And it’s close to the restaurants, entertainment venues, and sights that we wanted to visit. IMG_0338

  • Sculpture garden on the UCLA campus.
  • Botanical garden, also on the UCLA campus. Besides being a peaceful oasis in the busy city and bustling campus, we were fascinated by the turtles we saw swimming in the little creek and sunning on its banks.
  • Holmby Park – This was our walking destination on the Sunday after we arrived. It’s an easy walk from the Palomar, and a nice little park. On a Sunday morning, with record high temperatures, the park was busy with people walking their dogs and families with their children. But we continued past the park into the Holmby Hills residential neighborhood where we oogled the fabulous mansions located there.
  • Will Rogers Beach – After our walk, we drove to the end of Sunset Boulevard to have lunch at Gladstone’s. We’ve been there before; here’s the link to the review I wrote in 2007. I won’t write any more about it. It’s outrageously expensive (like $25 for a plate of fish and chips). But the view is fantastic, especially on a hot sunny day. And the food is quite good. After our lunch, we walked the beach and even waded into the surf to get our feet wet.
  • Besides Gladstone’s we had a return meal at AOC. Like our past meals there, it was fantastic. But still no celebrity sightings.
  • The other restaurants were ink and Pace. Our meal at ink was the most unusual of our vacation – small plates, wonderful flavors, unusual but appealing combinations. At Pace we enjoyed fantastic Italian fare in a comfortable setting with a jazz combo enhancing the ambiance. I plan to post more detailed reviews about both, so no more about them now.

Paso Robles: After LA, our plan was to drive up the coast to San Francisco. To break up the drive, we decided to check out the Paso Robles wine region. It was a fairly easy drive after we got out of the LA traffic. We picked up picnic fare along the way and ate at one of the wineries that we visited. We enjoyed the wineries very much, better than the Santa Barbara wineries that we visited last year.

  • Wineries – Turley, Opolo, Brecon, and Halter Ranch. We especially liked the wine at Brecon, Halter Creek, and Turley.
  • Paso Robles Inn – We wanted to stay near the town square in order to get a feel for the town and be close to restaurant choices. (The alternative would have been to stay at a winery B&B, which sounded like fun, too.) The Inn is very comfortable and moderately priced. It’s located right across from the town square. The Inn consists of several different buildings surrounding some very nice grounds and gardens.
  • La Cosecha – This was the restaurant we chose for dinner in Paso Robles. After tasting wine all afternoon, we enjoyed having a cocktail before dinner. The restaurant has a great drinks menu. The food is primarily Spanish. I especially enjoyed the ceviche of shrimp and scallops that we had for a starter.

San Francisco: This was our final destination. We stopped to have lunch with relatives in Los Gatos. Then finished the drive into The City. Before turning in our rental car, we drove out to Lands End and Seal Rock. They’ve built a very nice visitor center there since the last time we were in SF. Our hotel was the Galleria Park, a Joie de Vivre located in the Financial District. We’ve stayed at other JDV hotels in the past and found them to be very pleasant. Our room was quite small. Fortunately, we’re not large people. But I could imagine a bigger person feeling very cramped in the tiny bathroom. The hotel was ideally located for our planned activities and restaurants.

  • Golden Gate Park – No vacation in SF is complete without a visit to Golden Gate Park. Besides the beautiful trees and plants, the park is home to the De Young Museum and its fantastic sculpture garden. I was disappointed to have just missed an exhibit of work by Keith Haring. But there was one of his sculptures on display near the entrance to the museum. Despite having visited the Park on many occasions in the past, this was our first time walking around Stowe Lake and onto the little island on the lake. We ate a picnic lunch lakeside. The ducks and gulls shared some sourdough bread with us, after we were done eating. The only disappointment from this visit was that the rose garden had just started blooming and wasn’t at full color yet.
  • Farmers market at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero – The variety of fresh, local food that’s available at the market is astounding. We shared a smoked brisket sandwich from Shorty Goldstein’s Jewish Deli booth at the market. Delicious.
  • Chinatown – Sure it’s a cliché. It’s jam-packed with people and stores and shops overflowing with knick-knacks, souvenirs, and cheap toys. But it’s an integral part of the culture of San Francisco, which makes it worthwhile to visit, even just to walk through and take in the sights and sounds.
  • Jewish Museum – I really like this museum. But it’s a small museum, and its exhibits are thematic. On this particular visit, the exhibits were more cultural than artistic. They were instructive, but not as enjoyable for our preference.
  • Restaurants: On this trip, we revisited two old favorites and two new experiences. IMG_0381
    • Kokkari – This is our favorite restaurant in the city. I’ve reviewed it before, and don’t really have anything new to add. Only to say that we like it so much, it’s probably the only restaurant that’s on our ‘must eat there’ list for future trips to SF. Here’s my review from our first dinner there, in 2008. Here’s my second post about it.
    • La Mar – We’d eaten here for lunch previously. We liked it so much that we decided to try it for dinner this time. It was fantastic, as we expected. The only thing is, my wife is sensitive to cilantro, and a lot of the dishes are seasoned with it. However, the menu is very extensive, and we did not have trouble finding other dishes for her to eat.
    • Piperade – Totally new to us, and wonderful. I’d heard about it and had it on my list of restaurants to try in SF. It features food from the Basque region of Spain. I’ll write more about it on another post. But it fully met our expectations.
    • Waterfront – We’ve eaten here for lunch and dinner. It’s a very good, nothin’ fancy fish and seafood restaurant right on the Embarcadero. It’s not as touristy as Fisherman’s Wharf. We decided to have our last night’s dinner here. The photo above was our dinner at the Waterfront; what a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge! It was a perfect choice.

It’s hard to imagine how this vacation could have been any better. Just for the record, however, our No. 1 Best California Vacation Ever was 40+ years ago … our honeymoon.