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Friday, September 30, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Butternut Squash Risotto with Smoked Bacon

Dinner tonight would certainly be considered Fall comfort food; creamy, cheesy, and bacon-y?! say no more. I found the recipe online, while looking for great Fall recipes. The recipe I found was published in Cooking Light magazine and actually packs less of a punch calorie-wise that your standard restaurant risotto thanks to two key factors, 1. no butter added and 2. less cheese. In Italy believe it or not, risotto is often served as a first course with a meat dish to follow, oh and don't forget the antipasti before the meal! For those of you who have never cooked risotto before, be advised that it does take a while, about a half hour just to cook the pasta. Risotto is a great meal to serve a small group, it's a crown pleaser, but it's not a dish you can pop into the oven and forget about. Below I have shared with you a link to the recipe. The recipe calls for walnuts, which I omitted as well as pancetta which I substituted for smoked bacon. The bacon renders a beautifully aromatic flavor to the risotto. Feel free to make each recipe you find your own by tweaking them a little to satisfy your own personal tastes. 

Monday, September 26, 2011


Yesterday, I decided to take a road-trip out to Wisconsin and dine at the Harbor View Cafe, I have been hearing about for a long time now. Myself, husband and dog (of course) loaded up around 10am and set out toward WI-35, the breathtaking highway which runs along Lake Pepin, the widest naturally occurring lake connecting the Mississippi. Lake Pepin travels right along numerous charming towns, namely Bay City, Maiden Rock, Stockholm and Pepin where the Harbor View resides. The leaves are just beginning to change, yet the forests are still lush and saturated with colors of green, yellow and orange. The roads are winding and scenic, well worth the hour and forty-five minute trip for lunch ;). We decide to begin exploring the charming Lakeside town on the way back home, and continue onward toward the infamous Harbor View. The Harbor View Cafe opened in 1980 with the motto, "The Best from Scratch" and continue to live up to their motto of using the best quality local ingredients and changing their menu on a regular basis to keep up with the changing harvest. The Cafe sits across from an old railroad track and a beautiful harbor you can see from my photos above. The views are spectacular and food even better! I was advised by my mother to arrive on off hours as they can be extremely busy. We arrived at around 12:45 and met no line. I would imagine the dinner service is busier than the lunch service. The cafe is small and quaint, with wood surrounding, pressed tin ceiling and blue checkerboard table linens. The atmosphere is casual, almost cabin-like. We are seated immediately at a booth and told by the host to review the chalkboard menu. There are no paper menus in the restaurant and diners must choose from a handful of main dishes which all come with choice of soup or salad. My husband and I were struck by the steep price tag for all of the dishes coming from such a casual atmosphere. We figure the food must be worth the prices and proceed to order. I am a HUGE seafood fan so naturally go for the Pesce, a mixed seafood "soup" with spicy saffron broth. My husband orders the stuffed mushrooms with linguini noodles. After we order, fresh bread is brought out for nibbling. Shortly after, our starter salads arrive which are good and easily decipherable from the bottled dressings. The food arrives and we are both wowed by the large portions and lovely presentations. I dig right into the shell fish, with offerings of mussels, clams, halibut, salmon, crayfish, shrimp and scallops- which makes me feel a little better about spending $28! The broth is tasty, yet not at all spicy as they had suggested. I suppose Wisconsin's version of "spicy" is similar to Minnesotans! My husband Adam loves his meal, but we both agree the portion could have fed 3 other adults! The mushrooms were stuffed with cheese, the linguini was swimming in a hearty cream sauce and what looked like a whole bag of cheese was placed on top for garnish. The meal was delicious and would be great after a hard day of heavy manual labor! Overall, I would be happy to return to the Harbor View, especially if it means taking a drive along Lake Pepin again! On the way home, we stopped along the way to go antiquing and ponder sweet little galleries. I recommend stopping in Stockholm, a few miles before Pepin to visit their galleries and boutiques as well as Bay City, where you can find my new favorite antique store titled, "Old Stuff" Antiques where you can find the best prices. Be sure to post a comment if you plan to take a road-trip out 35 and share your thoughts.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

Tonight's dinner inspiration came from a "Country Living" magazine. I was intrigued right away by the pumpkin ingredient. On of my favorite parts of fall is the sweeping pumpkin craze that seems to hit us all around this time of year. Pumpkin is light and carries great flavor. The recipe was fairly straight forward and didn't take up too much time. These shells are healthier that the average stuffed shells recipe as well because the pumpkin deters the need to massive amounts of cheese which adds a lot of fat. 

Click below for a link to the recipe and don't forget to leave me a comment and let me know what you thought! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Artichoke, Italian Sausage and Goat Cheese Pizza

When push comes to shove and your pocket book is running thin, there is absolutely nothing wrong with turning to your pantry for help. I am a fan of the Food Network show, Chopped where four chefs must make three meals out of bazaar mystery basket ingredients in less that 30 minutes. It is always fun to challenge yourself by cooking with what is on hand instead of hitting the grocery store for exactly what you need. Tonight was one of those nights, fall is in the air, the sky is overcast and I find myself digging out winter coats and hats to walk the dog around the block! Who wants to spend money or leave the house?! Not me! So, as a result I decided to make a pizza with what I had lingering in the deep corners of the refrigerator. Pizza's are a great palate for a dinner on the fly. You're bound to find ingredients around your kitchen that would taste great on a pizza. On hand, I had a frozen whole wheat pizza crust, goat cheese, half a bottle of marinated artichokes, marinara sauce and frozen Italian sausage... perfect. I started by sauteing the sausage in a pan with olive oil and Italian spices including fresh garlic and basil. When the sausage began to brown, I chopped up my artichokes into smaller pieces and sauteed them along with the sausage. The marinara was added to the crust, then the sausage and artichokes, then small bits of the cheese and a little extra seasoning for the top. The pizza baked in less that 10 minutes and wha la, dinner is served :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This morning my family and I dined at my favorite dim sum spot, the Yangtze in St. Louis Park. Earlier on in my blogging days, I wrote a review of the the dim sum at the Yangtze so I will refrain from boring you with the same details. Take a look at my review back in my blog history and enjoy a few extra tantalizing shots of our meal!
Pork and bean curd wrapped in tofu 
Pork and vegetable sui mai  
Steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce 
Roasted green pepper stuffed with chopped shrimp and oyster sauce
From rear: shrimp dumpling, peanut, chicken and water chestnut dumpling
Rice noodles with barbecued pork and soy glaze

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stockholm, WI Pizza Farm

This past Tuesday family, friends and I left early from work, packed up a picnic and drove out to Stockholm Wisconsin for pizza. No joke! You may be inclined to call me crazy, but this pizza is not your ordinary take and bake, it's a pizza and produce farm where 100% of the ingredients are either grown at the farm or at a local farm near by. People from all over the state flock to this farm for the picturesque views of rolling countryside, the starry night skies, the comrodory between picnickers and of course the wonderful wood fired pizzas and homemade bread.  The farm is only open to the public on Tuesdays between 4pm to 8pm. Folks come prepared with folding tables and chairs, wine, beer and side dishes to go with the pizza. The natural beauty of the farm and the landscape is worth the hour and a half trip from the cities alone. Breathing in the *now crisp fall air and relaxing in the bounty of nature is quite refreshing coming from the day to day grind of the city. Farm goers come from all walks of life, children and families, young couples, groups of friends and locals who have been coming to the farm every Tuesday for years and years. The farm focuses on creating a sustainable environment. There are no trash bins on the farm, all trash must be brought back with you to eliminate waste and if you reuse your pizza box next time to visit the farm, they'll give you 10% off your pizza! The farm offers a variety of pizza options depending upon the bounty of the crops. On the photo above, you can see their chalkboard menu and a man taking orders. Pizzas are quick to cook, taking less than 5 minutes in the oven due to the intensity of the heat in the wood ovens. We ordered a roasted potato pizza with rosemary and sweet onion as well as a roasted eggplant and vegetable pizza. The pizza's tasted extremely fresh and rich with earthly flavor from addition of fresh herbs and spices grown at the farm. The crust is prepared with a mixture of various grains and wheats in house which creates great texture and body. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent on the farm, and encourage any readers to check it out before the season ends at the end of November. Click here for a link to the farms website!

Dinner Tonight: Rigatoni with Swiss Cream and Peas

Dinner tonight was simple and tasty. Here's how you make the sauce: melt butter in a pan with minced garlic and dried basil, add milk and simmer. Add a pinch of flour and whisk until sauce thickens, adding more milk if needed. Shred swiss cheese into sauce, whisking frequently. Add a bag of frozen sweet peas and saute for 5-7 more minutes over low heat. Add cooked noodles with 1 few tbsps cooking water and toss well with salt and pepper. Plate with grated parmesan cheese on top!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Indian Summer Party!

Cucumber Raita- plain greek yogurt, cucumber diced, lemon, salt, pepper and cumin
The spread!

Korean pancake!
Indian spiced pita chips

Friday, September 9, 2011

Black Sheep Pizza

Tonight I decided to venture out of my own kitchen and into the hands of the Black Sheep Pizzeria in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis. The result, marvelous. Black Sheep Pizza is unique among pizza joints in the cities in that they cook their pies under a coal fired oven. Most pizza ovens use wood or gas. Coal fired ovens are hotter, and dryer, yet tougher to maintain making these ovens hard to come by. Unknown to many, coal was actually used most commonly to bake the first pizzas in the United States. Black Sheep is the first coal-fired pizzeria in Minnesota and prides itself on using emission-free coal and regaining the "original" pizza tradition in the United States. Black Sheep is located on the 600 block of Washington Ave. North in a small storefront. Seating is limited to bar stools, a few booths and a handful of tables. The atmosphere is tight yet cozy, with an open kitchen. I sat at the bar and watched the bustle of the kitchen staff tossing giant pizza rounds up into the air and dropping pizzas into the fire burning oven toward the back of the restaurant. The menu is small but showcases a unique variety of specialty pizzas, highlighting bold flavors dynamic pairings. We order #4, with meatballs, ricotta, basil and garlic... yum! The pizza arrives looking bright and delicious with crispy charred edges. The meatballs are sliced thin and taste a little spicy, just how I like it. The smooth and mild ricotta cheese pairs nicely with the spicy meatballs and fresh tomato sauce. The crust is not too thick with the perfect ratio of crispy to doughy. Because the coal oven is so hot, the pie remains dry throughout without succumbing to a soggy, limp center found in such restaurants such as Punch which use wood fired ovens. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sweet Home Cheesy Grits with Sauteed Spinach and Cajun Shrimp

Who doesn't love creamy, cheesy grits? Grits are comfort food at its best. Creamy, warm and stick to your ribs, finger-lickin good! Grits are coarsely ground corn most commonly found in the Southern United States. Grits are often eaten for breakfast alongside eggs and ham. Grits alone have little flavor and need to be doctored up with spice and cheese to create a melty, almost potato like consistency. Tonight I decided to pair my grits with grilled cajun spiced shrimp to celebrate the Creole culture in Louisiana as well as sauteed spinach to bring in color and healthy nutrients. Follow my recipe below. 

(serves 5-6)
11x7 baking pan
4 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
1 cup and 1 tbsp quick cooking grits 
1 large egg, 1 egg white
1 cup shredded cheese (any kind you like- sharp cheddar works well)
Pinch salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder
25-30 large shrimp
3 tbsp cajun seasoning

Sauteed Spinach
1 frozen box chopped spinach, thawed and strained to remove excess water
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
Pinch salt, pepper, garlic and cajun seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large saucepan, add milk over med heat until boiling, then add butter and grits and whisk 8 minutes under low heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat, add eggs and cheese and whisk again. Add mixture to baking pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. While grits are cooking, add butter into pan with spinach, milk and seasonings. Cook over med heat until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer on low. In another pan, add shrimp and cook until pink. When grits finish baking, plate with grits in the bottom of a shallow bowl, drizzle a little extra cheese on top to melt followed by a dollop of spinach and shrimp on top. This dish is rich and comforting- great after a long day at work or a chilly winter night ;)

"Not Your Average Cobb!"

This monster, nutrient packed salad is hearty, healthy and delicious. Who says you have to follow all the rules anyhow?! Make up your own versions of the classics and impress your guests! In my version of the cobb I have hard boiled egg, avocado, red onion, croutons, fresh sweet corn, ripe tomato and cheese. YUM!

Monday, September 5, 2011


This Labor Day weekend, I spent at my families cabin up on the North Shore. For years my family and I would spend almost every-other weekend up at the Lake. One of my fondest memories remains the elaborate meals we prepare together. My mother and I would mull-over the menu for the weekend and cook together in the kitchen chopping and dicing away. My dad would normally man the grill and my siblings would fill in when needed. This weekend, wasn't any different. My mother planned the dinner and I prepared Sunday brunch. For dinner, I helped my mother with her menu of grilled chicken with a honey mustard marinade, grilled romaine with blue cheese and bacon and homemade french fries with truffle oil. If that doesn't leave your mouth watering, than dessert will. Homemade tres leches cake, or in Spanish, "three milks" cake. Tres leches cake is my absolute favorite cake, for its moist texture and rich earthy flavor from using warm spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. For breakfast I made an asparagus and onion strata with a basil, broccoli emulsion. Below you'll see highlights from this weekends favorites. Hopefully you can start a similar family tradition with these recipes. I assure you that any family member hiding away in his or her room will come running when the smells of tres leches cake come steaming through the house. 

Beautifully grilled chicken

Good ole dad manning his station!

My mother found the recipe for the chicken in CookingLight magazine. The recipe recommended to place chicken in marinade for about two ours, but my mom decided to marinade her chicken overnight which I believe paid off in flavor. This is some of the best grilled chicken I have ever had. Be sure to take down this recipe! Click here for the recipe!

Ahh the lovely tres leches. This recipe is a bit time consuming, but well worth the hard work. Your guests or family will rave about this cake again and again. My mother found the recipe in Food & Wine magazine which can be found by clicking here!

Rachael's Asparagus and Onion Strata with a Basil and Broccoli Emulsion
(Serves 8-9)
*Must be prepared a day ahead

2 loaves french bread, broken into pieces
1 bunch asparagus, chopping into inch sized pieces
2 yellow onions chopped into rounds
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsps olive oil 
2 tbsp butter
2 cups milk
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 dozen eggs
Blend of your favorites melty cheeses, about 2-3 cups
1 tsp salt, pepper, garlic powder and cumin

Heat large saute pan over med heat and add 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter, add onion and let simmer over med heat for 8 minutes, until softened. Add garlic, water and asparagus and saute over low heat for 10 minutes. In a mixing bowl, add milk, eggs, basil and spices and whisk until well combined. When vegetables are through simmering, cool for at least 10 more minutes. As vegetables cool, take out a large 11x17 cake pan and smear 1 tbsp butter on the bottom so as not to stick. Add a layer of french bread on the bottom. When veggies are cooled, add to egg and milk mixture until combined. Pour egg and veg mixture over bread, then add the rest of your bread pieces and push down with your hand so that all the bread is soaked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, preheat oven to 350. Add bake and cook 20 minutes. Take out of oven and add cheese to the top and cook 20 more minutes. Serve with emulsion over the top. Recipe shown below. 

Basil, Broccoli Emulsion:

1 bunch fresh basil
1 cup boiled broccoli (must be soft)
3/4 cup heavy cream 
1 tbsp butter
Salt, pepper

In small sauce pan, add cream over low heat. Add basil and butter and steep for 5-10 minutes, but don't bring to boil. Cool for 10 minutes. In food processor, add milk mixture, salt, pepper and broccoli and pulse until well combined. Pour over strata!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Smokey Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Spinach

Dinner tonight was inspired by a recipe I stumbled upon. I love making soups and stews and had an afternoon free of activities, so I decided to cook it up. I don't know about you but I cannot think of a more relaxing activity that blasting the music, and getting your hands dirty in the kitchen, not to mention the fantastic aromatics brewing from soup simmering on the stove. Enjoy!

(Serves 5-6)

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (about 3 ears)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Pinch cumin, pepper, garlic powder and salt
  • can cream-style corn
  • 1 package frozen spinach or 3 cups fresh spinach 
  • About 15-20 Jumbo shrimp, thawed 
Melt  butter in a large sauce pan oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and jalapeño; cook for 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in milk and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; cook until thick (about 5-10 minutes).