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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rice Paper

Shrimp spring roll with peanut sauce

Crispy chicken dumplings with cranberry ginger dipping sauce

Grilled beef rolls with rice noodles and sesame sauce
The Rice Paper, a Vietnamese restaurant just moved from a cozy, tiny storefront in Linden Hills to a larger restaurant on 3948 West 50th street tucked in behind Damico and Sons. The Rice Paper is owned by An Nguyen, a Viet Nam native with a passion for fresh, light fare. I always enjoyed visiting the Rice Paper in Linden Hills for the small airy atmosphere and fresh bright food. Last night I dined at their new location, leaving me with mixed feelings. Upon arriving, I take a gander at the menu which looks strikingly similar to their old menu. The interior is open with windows lining the entire far wall. The space feels a bit too open, laking privacy and intimacy. They may have wanted to break up the room with beams or curtains so as not to create a cafeteria-style feeling. Half way into our meal, I suddenly realized the lack of music and the increasing clamor of plates, glasses and chatter from diners, which was a bit distracting. Aside from the atmosphere I will now shine some light on the most important part, the food! We decide to order the shrimp spring rolls because of the accompanying peanut sauce I still remember fondly from the Linden Hills post. I also attempt to order steamed dumplings but our server informs us they ran out so we begrudgingly order the fried version instead. Our server highlights the evenings special, a grilled beef skewer marinaded and wrapped in a grape leaf served with rice noodles, lettuce, herbs, lettuce and a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Intrigued, we overlook the astonishing $18.95 price tag order. The spring rolls arrive first. The roll itself is pretty ordinary, consisting of shrimp, lettuce, rice noodles and mint rolled into a tight rice paper roll. Quite unordinary however was the peanut sauce, a smooth buttery sweet concoction topped with a drizzle of chili paste for heat. I could eat the peanut sauce on its own and be happy. Onto the next appetizer, the crispy chicken dumplings. Similarly to the spring rolls, the sauce was the real star of the show. The fried dumplings weren't anything special but the cranberry ginger sauce was delicious with just enough sweet with spicy to make your tongue demand seconds. Our main course arrived beautifully plated and colorful. I start by biting into the beef roll and find the center disappointingly dry and bland. Coating the roll is a finger licking sticky marinade but the beef itself was forgettable. The additional accoutrements eaten together hid the bland tasting beef and in turn was fairly enjoyable but I highly doubt the chefs desire was to have the diner shadow the flavors of the beef with sauce and fillers. In conclusion, I would not rush back to the Rice Paper. The prices are too high the food hit or miss. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Part II: Heidis

Anise scented lamb shank with cardamom scented jasmine rice and arugula sauce

For my 24th birthday this month my parents asked me where I'd like to go for dinner, without much hesitation I said Heidis. I had just been to Heidis in June as you can see in my blog but I knew that no other restaurant could compare to their creativity and bold flavors. I was thoroughly impressed as always with the fare. For the main course, I enjoyed the lamb shank. Served bone in for maximum flavor, the meat was incredibly tender and eatable with a fork. The meat tasted sweet and rich with a hint of cardamom which paired beautifully with the earthy, peppery arugula pesto. For dessert, I had the raspberry "shortcake," also quite divine. The cake reminded me of tres leches cake, made of condensed milk for a ultra moist center. The cake was spongy and sweet but not overly sweet. A fresh raspberry compote and whipped cream with crumbled pistachios coated the top of the cake. The meal was a perfect ending to a marvelous golden birthday!

Raspberry "shortcake" 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Vegetarian Enchiladas with Cilantro Crema

Dinner tonight was inspired by the can of enchilada sauce I have been starring at in my pantry for far too long. I wanted to make something inexpensive and tasty. I decided on making vegetarian enchiladas filled with fresh sweet corn we had on hand, black beans, roasted zucchini squash, onion and cheese. I wanted to create a fresh topping so I paired cilantro and sour cream for a cool balance to the heat of the enchiladas. This recipe is extremely fast and easy and costs less than $3 per serving. 

(Serves 4)
Cake pan
4 8inch flour tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup salsa
1 can black beans
1 cup shredded taco blend cheese
1 cup fresh sweet corn 
1 large zucchini, diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
Taco seasoning
2 cups lettuce
1 bunch cilantro 
1 carton sour cream 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place enchilada sauce in small pot and cook on low, adding salsa, tomato paste, 1 tsp taco seasoning, 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp oregano to doctor up the flavor. In saute pan, cook zucchini, corn, black beans, onion, garlic and spices until simmering, turn off heat, add half cilantro bunch and mix. Pour half enchilada sauce on shallow bowl. Pour a bit of sauce down into cake pan to coat the bottom. Dip each tortilla in enchilada sauce to coat and fill with corn, black bean, zucchini and onion mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Wrap tortilla up and place in cake pan. Once all tortillas are in pan, pour remaining enchilada sauce over. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes. While enchiladas cook, blend cilantro and sour cream in food processor. Plate with with a bed of lettuce, enchilada, cilantro crema and extra salsa if desired. Bon appetite! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pan Seared Cod with Basil, Almond Pesto & Roasted Vegetables

In todays world, if you aren't going "green" you're clearly on the outs of every social circle you belong to. Only suitable would be that I create an *almost entirely green dinner using local, organic ingredients and sustainable cookware. While cooking green can take a toll on your pocket book, it certainly is delicious and beautiful in it's close up!  Recipe is as follows:
* Almost excludes pale cream colored parmesan & cod!

(Serves 2)
2 cod fillets (about 1/2 pound total)
1-2 cups chopped broccoli
1-2 cups halved brussels sprouts 
1 cup fresh parmesan cheese
Olive oil 
1 bunch basil, roughly chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 tbsp garlic, minced
Salt, pepper 

Preheat oven to 425. Arrange chopped vegetables on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven for about 15 minutes. While cooking, prepare pesto. In a food processor, add roughly chopped basil, 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and pulse until combined. In a saute pan add slivered almonds and cook on low turning frequently until lightly browned and aromatic. Add cooled almonds into food processor an pulse again until blended. When 15 minutes have passed on the roasting vegetables, coat with 1/2 cup parmesan and cook again in oven for 5-10 more minutes or until browned. In saute pan, cook cod until flesh easily flakes. Plate as shown in picture and enjoy!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rivertown Inn, Stillwater MN

This past weekend for my birthday, my lovely hubby Adam planned a weekend getaway to an award winning B&B called the Rivertown Inn located atop the beautiful St. Croix river in Stillwater. Upon arrival I was struck by the impeccable restoration of this 1888 Victorian mansion. Statues, fountains and lavish gardens line the perimeter of the Inn. Adam and I checked into the, "Tennyson" suite named accordingly by the the famous English poet. All nine rooms in-fact are named after famous poets and writers. Classical music played softly out of the bose sound system under the nightstand as we arrived in our suite. Aside the wood carved bed, a lavish jacuzzi tub and antique velvet chair sat next to an ornately carved mantel. I feel immediately transported back in time, carried away by soft classical and romantic decor. On the bedspread lay a breakfast menu detailing the bountiful three course meal served table side by the Inns private chef. Being the foodie that I am, I could hardly wait for the evening to conclude so that breakfast could feel a bit closer ;) Saturday morning, we walk down to breakfast to find three sweet little table set up outside on the patio for each couple to enjoy. I have taken pictures of each of the three courses to share with you. I will do my best to dissect the dishes and play with my own creations as time goes on. I did however ask the chef for the muffin recipe posted below. Healthy and delicious, I cannot wait to whip them up! Adam and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Rivertown Inn and have vowed to return to try another suite this winter. Check out photos of our three course breakfast Saturday and Sunday morning. 

Saturday morning menu:

Buckwheat pancakes with banana,
orange liquor syrup & fresh basil 
Poached pear with basil cream and
brandy lattice 
"Fabulously Healthy Muffins"

Chorizo & egg souffle with potato gratin
& asparagus emulsion
"Fabulously Healthy Muffins"

1 cup flaxseed, ground
1 cup whole wheat flour 
1 cup oat bran 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cup finely shredded carrots
2-3 peeled apples, chopped
1/2 cup dried fruit
3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
3 egg whites, lightly beaten 
1 tsp vanilla

Mix flour, flax, bran, sugar and remaining dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix chopped apple, fruit, soy, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients slowly into wet until well blended. Fill mini muffin tins, 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees 20-25 minutes. These muffins taste even richer a few days after they're made! 

Sunday morning menu:

Toasted almond yogurt
with fresh fruit 

Pear and banana phyllo strudel
over a vanilla bean custard 
Bacon & asparagus strata with
thai basil hollandaise 
Rivertown Inn
Stillwater, MN
306 West Olive Street

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hope & Anchor in Red Hook, Brooklyn

 While out on the East Coast last week visiting friends and family, I stubbled along an excellent diner in the middle of industrial, Red Hook Brooklyn. The diner was recommended to me by my brother who insisted I would enjoy this, "burger joint." Those of you who know me best will know that I am not a huge burger fan, I prefer the black bean type if you get the gist ;) Anyhow, we ended up having a wonderfully filling meal I will certainly remember. The diner was made to look retro with funky black and white photographs taken of the neighborhood hung on brick walls. A small bar featured red glitter roll stools and a full stock of spirits proudly displayed. The diner is full when we arrive about twelve thirty. The menu is quite large with a  handful of enticing apps, burgers, sandwiches and salads. I am immediately drawn to the clam cake fritter app with a malt vinegar dipping sauce. Naturally, I order it having been sold on the vinegar addition. Too few restaurants understand the beauty of vinegar. As an aside, if you have never tried malt vinegar on your fries, you are in for a treat. For the main event I decide on a "specialty" tofu burger featuring miso paste, edamame puree, and green onion. The clam cakes arrive and I am shocked by the size of them. They look like the best of the state fair fried fare. I dig in to find the fitters soft and gooey inside like a funnel cake. The edges are crisp and the center is moist and fluffy with a subtle hint of salty clam flaked inside. I dip the fritter into the vinegar sauce and immediately want to demand the recipe from the chef. The sauce is fairly light and creamy. I am guessing it's made with garlic, condescended milk and malt vinegar. The tart vinegar is perfectly paired against the sweet and salty clam cakes. My tofu burger arrives just as I have almost filled up on the clam cakes. The burger looks nothing like tofu, the patty is green and has the consistency of play dough! I know that sounds gross, but it was sooo delicious. I hastily bite into the patty forgetting to take a picture for my dear blog (please forgive me!). The waiter explained the patty is made by grinding miso paste, parsley, cilantro, tofu and spices together and then crisping the edges on the griddle. The burger was accompanied by a generous portion of salty fries and a side salad. Needless to say we all left stuffed and happy. I would undoubtably make a trip back to the Hope & Anchor for the clam cakes and tofu burger any day! Click here to check out their website. Stayed tuned for my remake of the malt vinegar dipping sauce! 
Clam cakes with malt vinegar dipping sauce 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cocktail Party

Recently I have been thinking about how to launch my love for cooking and entertaining into a profitable business. While in the process of brainstorming money making tactics, my parents were kind enough to think of their charming daughter ;) to cater their cocktail party in an effort to build up my reputation. Of course, I happily agreed and set out to plan a menu. My mother insisted she wanted no fuss nibbles, without the usual suspects ie: cheese, crackers and chips. My mother and I agreed on a few tasty nibbles including crispy chickpeas, truffled popcorn, caprese skewers, and stuffed peppers. Follow my simple recipes below for your next gathering, or if you need a hand... call me ;)

Crispy Moroccan Chickpeas
(Makes about 3 cups)

3 cans chickpeas, drained
Olive oil
Dash of the following spices: cumin, paprika, cinnamon, allspice, clove, cayenne pepper, coriander, chile power, salt, pepper and garlic. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange drained chickpeas on ribbed baking sheet. Coat well with olive oil. Mix spice blend, and toss with chickpeas. Bake for 50 minutes. Allow to cool, and then plate.
Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

Pickled ricotillo peppers*
Goat cheese
Scallion, diced

Use pastry bag or snip goat cheese wrapper at the 
corner and pipe into peppers. Skewer or serve alone. 
Garnish with scallion. 

* Ricotillo peppers are available at speciality markets
next to the olive bar. 

Summer Caprese Skewers 

French baguette, cubed
Pearl mozzarella balls
Cherry tomatoes
Basil leaves
Zucchini, quartered
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic
Cocktail skewers
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Arrange cubed bread on cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt, garlic and pepper. Bake until slightly toasted. Grill zucchini cubes with olive oil over high heat and set aside. Assemble skewers and plate, garnishing with a drizzle of olive oil, basil and balsamic. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homemade Cilantro & Roasted Garlic Hummus

 Over the 4th of July, I had a small backyard party with an assortment of tasty enticements. I have been on a hummus kick lately, so I decided to try to make my own hummus instead of buying an expensive carton at the market. Never having made it before, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make. During a trip to Israel last summer, I witnessed street vendors whipping up this ancient puree  in minutes, grinding fresh chickpeas and tahini up with mortar and pestle. I figured my own version couldn't be too challenging. Hummus is traditionally made with chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. I used all of the traditional ingredients while adding a bit of my own flair. Follow my recipe below or create your own version! 

Rachael's Cilantro & Roasted Garlic Hummus
(Makes about 3 cups)

1 19oz can chickpeas
5 whole garlic cloves
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp tahini or 1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup olive oil 
1 cup chopped cilantro 
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt 
1 tsp pepper

Roast garlic cloves in oven with a coating of olive oil at 425 degrees for 5-10 minutes or until lightly browned. In food processor pulse together chickpeas, lemon, sesame seeds or tahini, roasted garlic cloves, olive oil and cilantro until well blended. In large bowl mix puree with cumin, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro and a sprinkling of paprika. Serve with flatbread, pita chips, veggies or whatever else your heart desires.