30 October 2009

Trick or Treat! Hooray for Pearsons

My granddaughter always thinks I'm joking when I say that I don't like chocolate.

“Poppy,” she says with an exasperated tone. “Just try it.”

Of course, I'm exaggerating a little bit for effect. But the fact is that when it comes to preferred sources of empty calories, chocolate falls pretty far down on my list.

That's kind of a roundabout way of explaining why Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls are my favorite candy bar – no chocolate. And that brings me to the real point of this post: Pearson's Candy was founded in St. Paul, MN in 1909, and they are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. (Click here to see their web site. Lotsa interesting history about the company.)

So happy anniversary to Pearson's, a food company neighbor to Land O'Lakes. I wonder if eating Salted Nut Rolls counts as eating local?

By the way, even though chocolate isn't my favorite, I do like fudge. And I also like Pearson's Nut Goodie Bars.

27 October 2009

Recipe: Focaccia with Olives and Rosemary

It's kind of hard for me to believe I haven't posted this recipe before. It's one of my favorites. Not only is it delicious (especially when you have fresh rosemary available). But it's also pretty easy to make. The only thing tricky about it is that focaccia is supposed to be a soft, airy bread. So you only want to use just enough flour to allow you to handle the dough without sticking. Lots of good quality olive oil helps. That caveat notwithstanding, I still use more like 5½ cups flour, about 1 cup more than the recipe calls for.

The only other modification I use is I mix the olives into the dough rather than spread them on top as the recipe says.

This really makes a big loaf. I usually end up freezing half of it for a future use. But it also keeps fairly well in the refrigerator. I like to split it and toast it and eat it with butter and cheese and fruit for breakfast.

Focaccia with Olives and Rosemary, Bon Appetit, May 1995

2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons dry yeast
4½ cups (about) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
24 black or green brine-cured olives (such as Kalamata or Greek),pitted, halved
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1½ teaspoons dried

Place 2 cups warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle dry yeast over; stir with fork. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes.

Add 4 1/4 cups flour and salt to yeast mixture and stir to blend well (dough will be sticky). Knead dough on floured surface until smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is sticky, about 10 minutes. Form dough into ball. Oil large bowl; add dough, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough; knead into ball and return to same bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes or less

Coat 15x10-inch baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Punch down dough. Transfer to prepared sheet. Using fingertips, press out dough to 13x10-inch rectangle. Let dough rest 10 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over dough. Sprinkle olives and chopped rosemary evenly over. Let dough rise uncovered in warm area until puffy, about 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475°F. Press fingertips all over dough, forming indentations. Bake bread until brown and crusty, about 20 minutes. Serve bread warm or at room temperature.

26 October 2009

Recipe: Roasted Harvest Vegetable Lasagna

I've written before about my parents and their garden. Well, a couple of weeks ago I benefited again from their bounty and generosity. They stopped by the house on their way into the city and dropped off some of their late fall harvest. (I suppose it's sort of like a 'community supported agriculture' delivery.)

The delivery included several butternut squash. Our daughter was coming to Minnesota for the weekend, and we were planning a family dinner on Friday night. (See following posts for the restaurants we visited while she was here.) I remembered making a lasagna once with roasted squash, and my wife agreed that would be good for the dinner entree.

Well, I searched and searched, and for the life of me, I couldn't find the original recipe. I did, however, find another recipe for squash and mushroom lasagna that I thought I remembered making at least once. (Click here for that one that I found on Epicurious.) That recipe called for sauteing the squash rather than roasting. But I figured I could use that as a basis and improvise.

So the recipe below is my adaptation of the butternut squash and mushroom lasagna from Epicurious. Just a few comments first. I felt that my version was dryer than the Epicurious one. I attribute that to the fact that sauteing the squash in broth provides a high-moisture ingredient for the lasagna that's missing in my version. I also wanted to add roasted red peppers, but my wife felt that was too much. So I compromised and only put the peppers on half of the lasagna. My son and I liked them.

1 large (or 2 medium) onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
½ pound whole mushrooms, cut in half (small mushrooms) or quarters (large mushrooms)
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch cubes slices (about 5½ cups)
olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme), divided
4 tablespoons sliced fresh sage, divided
2 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups grated provolone cheese, divided
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 large eggs
2 roasted red peppers cut into strips (optional)
½ pound dried lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss squash cubes, onions, and mushrooms with olive oil to coat. Spread vegetables onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Sprinkle with half of the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables in oven for about 30 minutes, or until squash is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees.

Mix ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 cup provolone, and 1½ cups Parmesan cheese, and remaining herbs in large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper; mix in eggs.

Brush 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic lasagna pan with oil. Spread 1 cup ricotta mixture over bottom. Arrange 3 noodles on top. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over noodles. Arrange ½ of the roasted vegetables over. Sprinkle with ½ of remaining mozzarella and provolone. Top with 3 noodles, then 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, remaining roasted vegetables, and remaining mozzarella and provolone. Top with 3 noodles. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.

Bake lasagna, covered, 35 minutes. Uncover; bake until heated through, about 25 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

23 October 2009

KwikPick: Family dinner at Jasmine 26, Minneapolis

We had (almost) our whole family home last weekend. Only my son-in-law in Chicago couldn't be here. So for dinner on Saturday, we wanted to pick someplace casual and kid-friendly. We thought of a few old standbys, but finally decided on someplace new – Jasmine 26 on Eat Street in Minneapolis.

Food: 4
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3
Value: 3

It's been a long time since I've eaten Vietnamese cuisine. I do really like it, and the food served at Jasmine 26 is pretty good. With our group of five adults and one child, we ordered a nice selection. The only trouble is, the style of dishes (at least those that we ordered) did not lend themselves to sharing, which is usually part of the fun of eating at an Asian restaurant.

For example, I had red peanut curry with roasted duck, eggplant, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and sweet potato. It was excellent. But, the way it was served, you spoon some rice into a small bowl and then spoon some of the curry over the rice. The curry has a lot of liquid, almost more like a stew. So that made it difficult to share. By the way, it was delightfully spicy. Just enough heat to make it interesting.

My son and his wife both had soups. (My wife has had soup at Jasmine 26 before, for lunch. I think it's kind of a specialty.) They both liked their meals, but again, pretty hard to share soup.

My wife's dish was quite interesting. She had the seafood crispy noodle, which was a variety of seafood sauteed in a light garlic sauce and served in a bowl formed from crispy noodles. I did taste that, and it was good. She liked how the sauce softened the noodles on the bottom of the plate so that there were an interesting variety of textures as she ate the dish.

My daughter's meal also was interesting. She had grilled shrimp tossed in coconut milk with thick rice noodles, garnished with shredded lettuce, cucumber, herbs. I took a taste of that and liked it, though my wife's crispy noodle meal was more interesting.

I guess I'm kinda working backwards on this meal. We actually started with an order of spring rolls and coconut cream cheese wonton. I liked the wonton better than the spring roll, though others at the table raved over the spring roll. And my granddaughter had the chicken satay appetizer as her meal.

Recommendation: As I look back over this review, I notice that the most common adjective that I used was interesting. So I guess I would recommend Jasmine 26 if you're looking for an interesting meal – maybe a little unusual from the usual Asian, good flavors, quality ingredients, well prepared.

17 October 2009

KwikPick: Mort’s Deli, Golden Valley, MN

We have trouble sustaining an authentic deli in Minnesota. Mort’s is the most recent attempt. We gave it a try for lunch when my daughter came to town for a visit from Chicago.

· Food: 3
· Service: 3
· Ambiance: 3
· Value: 3

Pretty average scores, in my judgment. Based on this visit, I’d have to say that Mort’s sandwiches are your best bet. My wife and daughter split a Mort’s Reuben. It was made with horseradish cheese instead of Swiss. They liked the lean corned beef and the sandwich was very tasty. But the horseradish cheese was very mild. They both spiced up the sandwich with mustard. We were joined by my sister-in-law and her older daughter. They split a corned beef sandwich, and they also liked the corned beef.

Mort’s serves breakfast until 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, so I focused on the breakfast menu. I opted for corned beef hash (which is available all day anyway, as are the omelets). Sorry, but I was not impressed. The corned beef was good (notice a trend here?) But the hash seemed to lack flavor. I much prefer the hash at Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown.

The hash came with a bagel and two latkes. The menu says that the bagels are from H&H Bagels in New York City. The bagel came with cream cheese and two pats of butter – very nice touch. The latkes, on the other hand, were unimpressive. They needed to be much crisper. They were served with sour cream (good) and applesauce (tasted like grocery-store Mott’s).

After we placed our order, the server brought us a plate of pickles. They were very good, as was the matzo ball, chicken noodle soup. For beverages, I had coffee. It was ok, nothing remarkable. The half-and-half on the table wasn’t Land O Lakes (boo, hiss). Mort’s also offers a large variety of Dr. Brown’s sodas – my wife’s favorite. And my daughter had a large glass of chocolate milk – only 99 cents, a bargain.

Recommendation: Worth a visit, stick to sandwiches, nothing to rave about.

16 October 2009

Hennessy House B&B, Napa, CA

Guest post by Lisa Novacek Hertel

On a recent vacation, our family stayed at the Hennessy House B&B in Napa, Calif. The experience merits mention given the consistent quality of comfort, hospitality, and yummy provisions we enjoyed.

Heath, Lil (our 4-year old) and I arrived early enough on a Thursday afternoon to participate in the complimentary wine and cheese tasting provided to all guests each day. The selection hit the spot, with an array of hearty cheddars and white cheeses to soothe the appetite, fruit to complement the cheeses and satisfy Lillian, and a mix of local wines to sip and savor. We especially enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon from a familiar name but one we had not previously associated with wine production -- the Francis Ford Coppola collection. We were very pleased with our discovery (and you can learn more at http://www.franciscoppolawinery.com/).

The Hennessy House afternoon taste fest managed to tide us over very well until dinner. The B&B is well placed in the heart of Napa with several fine dining establishments within walking distance. We chose an Italian restaurant, Uva Trattoria Italiana (http://www.uvatrattoria.com/), which had an inviting menu and something for everyone. Naturally, Lil wanted cheese pizza, but it was such a delight, her parents helped her devour it! Heath ordered the Fettuccine Pollo with mushroom-cream sauce, and I settled for the simple Penne Pesto. Both of us were pleased with our choices as well. A very satisfying meal from start to finish.

Now, back to the Hennessy House. Returning to our room, we found that staff at the Hennessy House had helped to ensure a comfortable evening with in-room services of sweet sherry and gourmet chocolates, movies to delight younger guests, and at least five pillows per occupant! We appreciated the cozy end to a travel-heavy day.

The next morning, we made our way to the dining room while taking in the lucious smell of breakfast cooking and baking. Freshly squeezed orange juice, hot coffee and a tea lover's paradise of flavors welcomed us as we took our seats. Soon, staff entered and placed full sundae dishes of fresh fruit on our china plates. This was act one of a three-part production, which segued into a delicious slice of cranberry bread pudding accompanied by sizzling bacon. While we may have been content to stop at this point, we managed to find room for the third and final offering, fresh-from-the-oven, homemade muffins. Lil and I chose sour cream raisin, while Heath enjoyed a parmesan cheese muffin. These delights were served with butter and divinely melted in our mouths.

The Hennessy House staff members were as attentive and gracious as we completed our stay as they were at the beginning. We were given extra muffins for the road and bottles of water to keep us hydrated. Directions were shared to a local park that is a favorite of the owner's children. And no goodbye could be complete without a few photos for the scrapbook, which the innkeeper personally took for us.

We left the Hennessy House with a very positive impression, and we know we'll be back.