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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Happy Hour at Thom Pham's Wondrous Asian Kitchen

Oxtail Steamed Buns
Shrimp and Chicken Spring Rolls
 Ever since Thom Pham opened up his new mega-Asian restaurant, Wondrous Asian Kitchen on Hennepin Ave in downtown Minneapolis, I have been curious to check it out. Thom Pham, a well know restauranteur in the Twin Cities closed down his popular restaurant Azia and the combined Caterpillar Lounge on Eat Street recently and opened up a much bigger operation on the infamous Hennepin and 5th corner (no restaurant has lasted in this location more than a few years!). Upon entering my eye caught huge poster sized photographs of dragons on one side of the bar wall. The decor I read, was inspired by American influenced Asian stylistic themes. The bar chairs are all upholstered with glitter sprayed red, shiny vinyl and the ceiling-high bar has been detailed with a mirrored backsplash. Maybe it was the light in the spacious room, but the decor was a bit tacky in my opinion. The restaurant felt a little too Uptown Cafeteria ish versus an upscale Asian fusion restaurant reflected in the menu (and the prices!). Our server came around and swiftly dropped off the menus and politely greeted us. The happy hour menu is almost the exact replica of the happy hour menu at the old Azia with the addition of steamed buns. I have had many of the same appetizers at Azia, but I decided to try them anyway to size up the new digs. Adam (my fiance) and I ordered up two Singapore Slings which is a gin cocktail with white cranberry, lime, cherry juice and fresh pineapple juice. Our server brought up the cocktails quickly (and refilled our water a dozen times) and took our food order. The cocktails were quite delicious and refreshing for a thrifty 6 shmackers during happy your. For apps, we decided on the philly roll, oxtail steamed buns, oyster wings and shrimp and chicken spring rolls. First arriving were the philly roll and spring rolls. The philly roll was made with smoked salmon instead of raw sushi grade salmon, but worked nicely with the cream cheese. The spring rolls came with a wonderfully nutty and sweet peanut sauce I could have eaten alone. The rolls on the other hand could have used more fresh herbs such as basil and mint and decreased the quantity of rice noodles which took up 90% of the roll. Next arrived the wings and steamed buns. The buns, a play on the American slider were great, tasting almost like a BBQ sloppy joe. The wings available with the option of sesame, oyster, teriyaki and curry and are fabulous! I have gone to Azia in the past just for the wings and I am not traditionally a wing girl. The wings I imagine are deep fried slathered in sweet, sticky sauce to die for. Eating more than a few may land you a heart attack but man are they worth it! Overall, I would come back for a Singapore Sling and wings but probably not for dinner. Let it be known that I am rooting for them and hope that their infamously jinxed location will serve Pham well.  
A Nice Touch for the Sticky Wings!
Philly Roll
Oyster Wings

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Taste of India: Butter Chicken Masala

Tonight, I decided to brave an unknown territory: Indian cuisine. All things considered, the meal I produced didn't turn out all bad for a first try! I have been craving Indian food lately, yet don't have the dinero to go out to a nice restaurant. So, push comes to shove and you must take matters into your own hands. I began the night before by marinating cubed chicken breasts in allegro marinade (amazing tenderizer and available only at Lunds). Today, I ran over to the best Indian market in town, Little India located on 1835 Central Ave NE in Minneapolis. I knew I wanted to make butter chicken, an Indian classic with tomato, cumin, clove, cinnamon, garlic, cream, coriander and butter. Because I don't have all of these spices in my pantry, I bought a ready to cook spice packet, available at most groceries. Butter chicken is known to be a rich, silky flavorful dish packed with comfort (mine didn't quite match up). I knew I wanted to add some vegetables such as peas and spinach. I found a bag of "pigeon peas" thinking they would be similar to our sweet peas... not so much. When I got around to cooking the sauce, the peas would not soften, they are a tough veg, I was not familiar with using. 

For a bit of background: 
Pigeon peas are both a food crop (dried peas, flour, or green vegetable peas) and a forage/cover crop. They contain high levels of protein and the important amino acids. In combination with cereals, pigeon peas make a well-balanced human food. The dried peas may be sprouted briefly, then cooked, for a flavor different from the green or dried peas. In India, split pigeon peas (toor dal) are one of the most popular, being an important source of protein in a mostly vegetarian diet (Wikipedia). 

Back to the story, in order to properly accompany my Indian dinner, I bought frozen naan bread which I baked and toped with fresh garlic and olive oil. Naan bread is a popular South Asian flatbread, usually cooked in a tandoor oven, creating pockets of air from the heat, and a soft chewy constancy inside. To me, Indian food is nothing without this amazing bread to dip the lovely sauces in. When I came around to making the sauce, I added too many peas, which crowded the pan and decreased the silkiness and richness of the butter masala sauce I love so much. Like I've mentioned earlier, the peas never completely softened, making them a bit hard to eat. The recipe calls for a dash of cream to be poured in at the last minute, yet I used milk instead because I had no cream. I believe this altered the effectiveness of the dish. Without the cream, the sauce falls a little flat. In conclusion, I am glad I decided to brave the unknown, because next time I try my hand at Indian, I'll know all the do's and don'ts, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gnocchi with Caramelized Onion, Sun Dried Tomato and Broccoli

The Finished Product!
Roasted Head of Garlic
(fold whole garlic in foil with olive oil and fresh herbs at 475 for 30 minutes)
Tonight, I decided to whip up a delicious meal using ingredients I had in the pantry and fridge. No trip to the store needed and I ended up with a great dish while cleaning out the kitchen at the same time. If you are unfamiliar with gnocchi, they are small dumplings made of semolina flour and potatoes. Gnocchi have been a traditional Italian pasta type of probably Middle Eastern origin since Roman times. In the past 2,000 years, each country developed its own specific type of small dumplings, with the ancient gnocchi as their common ancestor. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from a semolina porridge-like dough mixed with eggs, and are still found in similar forms today (Wikipedia). I used Trader Joe's whole wheat gnocchi for the dish, which I was happy with (not to mention healthy!). I used parmesan, onion, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, truffle oil, broccoli, basil and a medley of italian spices. Delicious! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Panko Crusted Salmon with Roasted Sweet Potato Chips

Another day, further away from Spring. Driving into school this morning, rain quickly turned into snow as it whipped past my windows. It's moments like these when we wished we'd never grown up in Minnesota. To cope with the weather blues, I decided to prepare a bright summery meal to take me back to the summer nights which feel oh so far away. On the menu is a bright peachy salmon, marinaded in sweet soy, encrusted with panko breadcrumbs, roasted sweet potato chips and asparagus topped off with a rich cilantro and soy glaze! Follow the recipe below to bring you right back into days of sprinklers, BBQ and sunshine. 

Prep your salmon the night before by placing it in a marinade of sesame seeds, garlic, onion, ginger, pineapple juice and sesame oil. This marinade will infuse your salmon with a punch of tropical flavor. When your ready to cook the salmon, drench the fillets in an egg wash and then the panko bread crumbs (as shown in photo). Pan sear the fillets with sesame oil until panko crust is just browned, over med/high heat. For the sweet potato prep, slice into paper thin rounds, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in oven alongside asparagus to roast at 425 for about 20-30 minutes. To complete this meal, I created a glaze to be poured over the top of the plate to tie in all flavors and add density. The glaze consisted of garlic, ginger, soy, honey, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce, chili paste and  freshly chopped cilantro. Reduce glaze under low heat and pour on top of plate just before serving. I hope this will brighten your next gloomy day, as it has mine. Bon Appetite!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Oh So Fun Noodles ;)

Chili Shrimp and Cilantro Bun
Tonight, I decided to make an all time favorite of mine, beef chow fun - a Cantonese noodle dish featuring the "fun noodle" or "shahe fen" in Chinese. The most common methods of cooking the noodles are in soup or stir fried. Fun noodles can be dry-fried (fried without sauce) or wet-fried (fried with a sauce). The noodles are composed of rice and come in a refrigerated package. Frequently, the noodles need to be cut into strips before cooking. The noodles cook very fast in a high heat wok, and need little to no oil because of their already slippery texture. 
Chow Fun in the Works :)
 When I begin pan frying the noodles, I crack an egg or two directly into the middle of the wok, and blend into the noodles. This adds great flavor and texture (similar to the egg you'll find in fried rice). The vegetables included baby carrots, bok choy, onion, carrot and bean sprouts. You can use practically anything alongside the noodles. I used flank steak, and marinated cut strips with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic and chili paste. It is important to marinade the beef for at least 24 hours to ensure the meat properly tenderizes. 

Beef and Bok Choy Chow Fun

The sauce used to flavor the vegetables was a mixture of black bean paste, chili paste, fish sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and ginger. 
The finished plate was garnished with bean sprouts, dry roasted nuts and green onion. 

For the appetizer pictured at top (shrimp bun) I bought frozen buns at the Shuang Hur market on Nicollet, and created a shrimp "ceviche" to pocket inside. "Ceviche" came about with diced cooked shrimp, hoisin, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger and cilantro. Delicious!


If I was nominated for the Food Network show, "The Best Thing I Ever Ate", I would hands down consider the lox bagel at Bruegger's. I have never had a lox bagel that's been able to trump the beauty of their signature sandwich. In order to appreciate the bliss of the lox you must order the bagel as such: toasted everything bagel, plain cream cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onion and lox (hold the capers). Truly amazing. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A night out to the new hot spot, Tilia in Linden Hills!

Fried Gnocchi with White Truffle & Parmesan 
Brussels with Ham & Walnuts

Squash Caramelle Pasta with
Gorgonzola & Candied Walnuts
Gravalox with Black Rye & Fish Roe Butter 

Upon a high recommendation from my foodie sister Natalie (visit her blog here) Adam (soon to be hubby) and I set out to try this new spot created by Steven Brown, a notable chef in the Twin Cities. I was previously a server at Nick and Eddie, a restaurant where Mr. Brown once called himself chef! Naturally, I had a heightened interest in tasting his creations. The restaurant is located in Linden Hills and occupies only two small rooms with a bar, open kitchen and dispersed table tops. The restaurant was in full swing at the early hour of 5pm when we dropped in to beat the crowds, or so we thought. Starting with the atmosphere, the restaurant was cozy but too loud for my taste, the music was blaring and the wait at the door created an unpleasant hovering over our meals. Our server was attentive, but clearly busy with one too many tasks. The meal portion was a bit brighter, starting with the fried gnocchi that Natalie had recommended we try. The gnocchi had a crispy skin from the frier with a pillow like moist potato filling almost like a State Fair cheese curd inside... I mean you can't go wrong with potatoes, cheese and truffle oil! Next, we shared the house cured gravalox which were quite delicate and magical. The fish roe coating the rye bread was hard to taste, a point of color more than flavor punch. I would have preferred the rye toasted, but overall a beautiful plate. Next arrived the pasta and brussels. The brussels must have been caramelized in bacon fat, because the flavor was dangerously salty and fantastic. I enjoyed the candied walnut addition which added an earthy texture to the succulent "vegetable" if they could still be referred to as such ;) The squash pasta was rich and nutty with the gorgonzola sauce and walnuts, but too salty to enjoy the subtlety of the squash and ricotta. For dessert, we couldn't resist the butterscotch creme pot: a dessert I fondly recall from Nick and Eddie (a specialty of pastry chef Jessica Anderson). I cannot believe I am about to say this, but I prefer Tilia's butterscotch because of (1) the manageable portion, (2) the thicker consistency and (3) the chilled ramekin it was served in preserved it's fresh and smooth, buttery taste. In conclusion, I think Tilia has a few kinks to work out, yet I am sure to be back again for the luxurious butterscotch creme and gnocchi pillows of heaven! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seafood and Spinach Fettuccine

Tonight's dinner was quite decadent, a fettuccine with mixed seafood for a dinner date with my grandparents :). The recipe is pretty easy and I must say, delicious! To all my lovely followers, please try this at home!

Serves 6-8
Pat of butter
1 box fettuccine noodles
1 chopped onion
1 head of garlic, minced
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
2 tbsp cream cheese
bunch of spinach 
frozen bag of mixed seafood (Trader Joe's has a great blend)
Parmesan cheese 
Fresh parsley
Salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, chili powder, basil and thyme

Melt butter is large sauce pan, add chopped onion and garlic under medium heat and let brown. Stir in flour and whisk in milk gradually. Add spices and cook until you've reached your desired thickness.Stir in cream cheese. Add spinach and parmesan cheese, stirring constantly until Parmesan cheese melts. Add bag frozen seafood and cook until pink. Pour sauce over your cooked fettuccine and finish with more parm and fresh parsley! Wa-la

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Squash Lasagna

Tonight I made a squash lasagna for a dinner party. I prepared the dish earlier in the day so that when my guests arrived I could just pop it into the oven. Squash is a little harder to find in the supermarket now that it's spring, so if you can't find squash, you could substitute using any fresh vegetable. Next time I make a lasagna I would love to try a spring lasagna with pesto, peas, cream sauce, spinach, and pine nuts for a crispy crust... stay tuned :)

The recipe I used tonight was taken from Cookinglight. I changed a few things, using spices such as basil, paprika, garlic, onion power, thyme and oregano. Overall, 
the dish was a crowd pleaser and a great meal to make for guests! 
Link to recipe:

Breakfast of Champions

First off I wanted say how excited I was to wake up to a few new followers. 
You made my day so thank you for your support! 
Now getting to my favorite breakfast sandwich composed of a simple fried egg, half an avocado, fresh salsa and a toasted crumpet. If you have never tried a crumpet, I highly recommend you buy a pack at your next grocery store outing. I can find them at Rainbow, Cub and Lunds (they can be hidden so ask for them). Crumpets are a savory bread made of flour and yeast traditionally eaten in England. Crumpets have a flat top with many small pores and a half-chewy-spongy texture. They have been used as pancakes in some parts of the world. The best way to use them in my opinion is to toast them and use them as the base for an egg sandwich. Crumpets can absorb a tremendous amount of moisture because of their porous nature, making them a great surface for butter, jam, salsa or any other condiment. Crumpets are surprisingly light, containing only 60 calories each. Other ways with the infamous crumpet could be a mini pizza with melted cheese and tomato sauce, eggs benedict, peanut butter and banana, honey... the list goes on. I hope you'll decide to add crumpets into your basket the next time you're at the market! 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dim Sum at the Yangtze

So ecstatic to be biting into a pan fried shrimp and chive dumpling!
Minced pork and veggie dumpling (left) Shrimp ginger dumpling (right)
For those of you who know me best, one of my favorite things to do is go for dim sum brunch. Dim sum are chinese steamed or fried small bites, eaten during the weekend for brunch. My fiancé Adam and I recently had dim sum in the largest chinatown in the US, San Francisco. The restaurant in chinatown filled to the brim with an all Chinese clientele and service crew. It was hard for Adam and I communicate with the bustling servers speaking only in Chinese. I was able to order successfully by pointing to the plates the next table over had ordered! The meal was a delicious experience leaving us eager to try the dim sum offerings in our home town of Minneapolis. Our next visit to dim sim took us to the Yangtze in St. Louis Park, a place I visited once before. In comparison to the dim sum at the restaurant in San Francisco and Jun Bo in Richfield, Zangtze seemed to be quite comparable in taste and variety of offerings. Service and efficiency on the other hand is negotiable. The service in chinatown was slow and communication was obviously difficult (clearly not targeting tourists- but that can be a good thing). Jun Bo, one of the largest chinese restaurants in Minnesota has decent dim sum but service can be hit or miss. What it comes down to for me, is the freshness of the ingredients and the efficiency of service. I enjoy dining at the Yangtze because of the welcoming atmosphere. Staff encourage dim sum "virgins" and are happy to answer any questions you may have about offerings seeing as thought there are no menus, and choosing dishes can be a matter of lucky picking! Dim sum is exciting for me because you never know quite what you'll find hidden under the soft, delicate, moist steamed rice wrapper. Each dim sum is served in bite sized portions of 3 or 4, making sharing and tasting multiple options easy. If you have never tried dim sum before, I encourage you to take a risk and let your senses guide you. Smell, look and feel when making your choices, and savor each bit slowly. Ordering too many dishes at once tends to rush the experience and when your dealing with such lovely pillows of flavor it is advised to take it slow! :) Out of the dishes I sampled this morning, my favorite had to be the scallop and garlic dumpling because of the delicacy of the scallop melting in your mouth. Once you bite inside, you can taste a bit of the garlic and rice paper steaming liquid, aiding to the soft almost sweet taste of the scallop. I encourage to to try dim sum while taking caution that once you try it for the first time, you'll be forever tied to the beauty and eloquence of these delicious chinese one bites!
My absolute favorite, sesame buns with sweet sesame paste filling!
Yangzee Restaurant: 5625 Wayzata Blvd. St. Louis Park, MN 55416
Steamed scallop dumping


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mexican Posole Twist!

Baked tortilla strips
My twist on the classic Mexican posole
In honor of my first visit outside in a tank and shorts (Minneapolis folk understand 60 degree temps ARE something to write home about!)... I decided to make a brightly colored festive Mexican soup to ring in the much needed spring weather. Now getting to the soup... I have made a few different versions of this Mexican classic (similar to our chicken noodle in Mexico) traditionally filled with hominy which is a larger white corn and pulled pork shoulder. This time, I decided on using italian sausage for the protein adding oregano and cumin to balance out the flavor profile. I came up with a few twists using ingredients already in the fridge such as fire roasted bell pepper and onion mix from trader joes's which is AMAZING, corn, cilantro, hominy, avocado, green onion, cheddar cheese, lime crema and my homemade tortilla strips. To add spice to the soup, I added chopped serrano and jalepeno peppers, chili power, cumin and oregano. It's easy to adjust the heat to your liking by adding or subtracting heat. The base of the soup is chicken broth pumped up by a few bay leaves. Que rico este sopa!

Tortilla Strips:
Cut a stack of white corn tortillas into strips and arrange on foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle canola oil over the top and sprinkle with salt (you could use any spice for these... I want to to try a sweet version with cinnamon and sugar to pile a bit of crunch on ice cream! yummmm) Bake in the oven at 425 for about 10 minutes, checking frequently to prevent burning. Simply delicioso!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Mystery Chicken Parmesan

This mountain looking thing was actually quite tasty, but a real debate whether or not to post the picture (the post pic are the leftovers!). The dish originally consisted of green beans with a balsamic reduction, but the picture didn't make the cut for lack of better camera equipment and staging ;). To further explain the dish allow me to share the ingredients! 
- Pan fried chicken cutlets with a batter of whole grain bread crumbs, parmesan and italian    
- Freshly grated parmesan coats the top with a sprinkle of fresh basil. 
- Balsamic reduction touches the top of this delicious "mountain." 
- Doctored up tomato sauce. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dinner Tonight- Black Sesame Salmon

Simple and easy, this healthy salmon dish is ready in less than 30 minutes. Black sesame seeds add a nutty flavor and subtle texture to the salmon. Sesame oil enhanced the rich nutty flavor accented in the seeds. I placed salmon overnight in a marinade of soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. The broccoli was roasted along with the salmon for 15-17 minutes at 450. Use the whole stock of broccoli- it tastes just as good as the floret!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Puffed Pancake - must try!

I have made this easy breakfast several times- it's been great every time.  It tastes like a sweeter pop over. The recipe below calls for sugar, but you could always omit the sugar and make a savory main dish with veggies inside almost like a crepe. The cook time is around 20-25 minutes and serves 2. 

Sweet Pancake Puff with Caramelized Bananas
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. milk
2-3 tbsp sugar
2 eggs 
Pinch of salt
Dab of butter

Banana topping:
1 large banana
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees 

Whisk together flour, milk and sugar in large mixing bowl until smooth. In a separate bowl, crack eggs and whisk. Add eggs to flour mixture and whisk again. 
Heat large cast iron pan on stove under med/high heat. Melt dab of butter until its thinly coated the bottom of the pan. Pour in flour and egg mixture into pan and let sit for 1 minute. Proceed by carefully transferring pan into oven for 17 minutes. * Don't open the oven until 17 minutes has passed, otherwise the air you let in may deflate your beautiful breakfast!

While the pancake is cooking, slice banana into thin rounds, melt 1 tbps butter in low/med heat nonstick pan, whisk in brown sugar over low heat until combined with butter. Add bananas so that each round touches the bottom and let sit 5-7 minutes. This slow caramelization will allow the bananas to take on a new richer flavor and brown just enough to give you your desired crust. Flip bananas only after 5-7 minutes and let sit until pancake is done. Plate half pancake on each plate, pile banana mixture on top, and shower with powdered sugar and maple syrup! Yum. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Asian Pantry

So I figured, I have to step off on the right foot with this blog. The honest truth is always a good place to start. I, like many others, have a certain flavor profile which ranks higher on my list. For me, as you may have inferred from the background on my blog (amazing, beautiful, juicy sesame buns) asian food has always enticed. This pic of my asian pantry staples will hopefully solidify my self declaration as a "foodie"!! Get ready for lots more goodies to come :)