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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lamb Chops over Creamed Spinach, Cilantro Cream, and Balsamic Sauce

This past weekend, I made delicious lamb chops using a simple marinade of equal parts garlic infused Worcestershire sauce and olive oil with a pinch of salt, pepper and dried oregano.  I paired my chops with a cool cilantro sauce and sweet balsamic reduction to create a balanced plate. I love the taste and texture of lamb chops. Because lamb chops are butchered on-the-bone they have a insular layer of fat which seals in their great flavor. Lamb chops are excellent to serve for a last minute special occasion because they cook up very quickly. All I did to cook my chops was saute them in a hot cast iron skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and cook 2-4 minutes on each side, depending on your taste. Try these simple recipes... maybe for your sweetheart on New Years?!

Simple Creamed Spinach

1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of excess water
2 tbsp butter 
1/4 cup whole milk or cream 
Pinch salt, pepper, garlic and nutmeg

Add butter to saute pan over medium heat. Add spinach, and mix 1 minute, then add milk and spices. Blend well and cook 5 minutes on low. Serve with your favorite meat or vegetable dish. 

Cool Cilantro Cream

1 container sour cream
1 cup chopped cilantro 
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp fresh garlic
Pinch salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in blender until well combined. Serve over meat or fish.

Red Wine Balsamic Reduction

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar 
2 tsp honey 
1/4 cup red wine
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano

Add all ingredients to small saucepan. All ingredients to boil over medium heat. Once sauce is boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Drizzle over lamb chops, accompanied by cilantro cream. 


Sunday, December 16, 2012


Homemade roll: crab, egg, red pepper, cilantro and asparagus
Sticky rice bowl with fried egg, drizzled with eel sauce and spicy mayo

Last night I had a few friends over for a make-your-own sushi party! Over the thanksgiving holiday, I was treated to a make-your-own sushi bar put on by a relative who grew up in Japan. She is an expert on sushi making and passed on a few fun tips and tricks to me. After the trip, I could not wait to try my own sushi bar at home, hence my party last night! Unfortunately, we live in the midwest, far away from the ocean, so I made do without fresh squid, eel or fresh fish. My sushi "buffet line" included: 

- Sliced red pepper 
- Sliced cucumber 
- Sliced red onion 
- Blanched, sliced asparagus
- Bacon Bits 
- Cream cheese
- Japanese egg omelet
- Mock crab
- Shrimp ceviche 
- Scallion
- Cilantro 
- Jalapeno 
- Avocado
- Panko bread crumbs 
- Sesame Seeds 
- Eel sauce 
- Spicy Mayo 
- Pickled ginger 
- Wasabi 

Eel sauce and spicy mayo are used frequently, drizzled over fresh rolls for a sweet and spicy kick. I made the sauces from scratch, and they turned out fantastic. Here are the recipes:

Eel Sauce for Sushi 

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (Japanese sweet wine)
1/3 cup granulated white sugar 
1 tbsp minced ginger 
1 tbsp minced garlic

Heat all ingredients in small sauce pan and mix well over medium heat until mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat to low  and simmer until sauce has thickened. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. 

Spicy Mayo for Sushi

1/2 cup mayo (preferably Kewpie- Japanese style mayo)
1-2 tsp sriracha hot sauce
1 squeeze of lemon juice 
1 tsp sesame oil 

Blend all ingredients well and serve with your sushi roll or over rice and veggies.  

Click below to watch a great sushi making video!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pumpkin, Spinach and Squash Lasagna

Looking for a delicious vegetarian dish you can make ahead? This lasagna I just made is super easy, tasty and healthy all in one! Try it out and share your comments with me under this posting :)

Spinach, Pumpkin and Squash Lasagna
(Serves 6-8)

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 box oven-ready lasagna sheets
1 box frozen spinach 
1 bag frozen creamed spinach 
1 container low-fat ricotta 
1 bag mozzarella cheese 
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp onion powder 
1 can non-spiced pumpkin puree
3 tbsp plain cream cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp dried basil 
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper  

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add cubed butternut squash to cookie sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes,until softened. 
De-thaw both regular and creamed spinach. Add thawed spinach to large bowl, mixing in ricotta, 3/4 bag mozzarella, garlic, onion and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Mix pumpkin together with cream cheese and set aside. When squash is threw roasting, mash up, adding a small amount of water, salt and pepper. Meanwhile in a 6x8 casserole pan begin layer your lasagna pouring olive oil in bottom, then layer sheets of lasagna noodles, then pumpkin mixture, then spinach mixture, then noodles, then squash mixture. Top lasagna with any remaining spinach mixture and bake in the oven at 425 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, top with remaining mozzarella, panko, basil and seasonings. Broil on low 10 minutes, then top off on a high broiler setting, browning the edges as shown in the photograph. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shrimp Cakes Over Grilled Corn and Avocado Sauce

Last night for dinner I made some delicious shrimp cakes, based on a Cookinglight recipe. I combined the cakes with a grilled corn relish made with cilantro, olive oil and red pepper as well as a avocado sauce made with cilantro, lime, garlic, cumin and salt. These shrimp cakes are so delicious and flavorful yet light enough to make as an appetizer. The use of panko bread crumbs as a binder and crunchy coating, adds a light crispiness. I sautéed my shrimp cakes in sesame oil, to boost the flavor. I also added a few drops of fish sauce to my cake batter for an extra flavor booster. Please check out this Cookinglight recipe, you are going to fall in love with these, I promise ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Buvette Gastrotheque, Greenwich Village, NYC

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my husband and I were able to spend a few nights in New York City. Before our trip, I did extensive research on New York's hottest new restaurants. In the course of my study, I discovered Buvette, a small French gastrotheque in Greenwich Village. Gastrotheque is a French word used to express a casual restaurant serving provincial wines and small plates. I was initially drawn to Buvette for its quaint, romantic atmosphere. When we arrived, I was struck by the exceptionally squeezed size of the place. The restaurant uses miniature tables, thin surfaces and child-sized serving dishes to provide a uniquely French and uniquely delicate feeling. The interior of the space is simple and elegant with candlelit tables and bar, marble table-tops and deep woods. Buvette is French in every sense of the word. Some people wonder why French woman remain thin when their diet tends to include heavy cream, bone marrow, butter, wine and cheese. Well folks, I think I have found the answer! The French eat rich foods in very small portions.  I have to admit, they've got a great concept, if only big-macs and super-size-me media would get the hint! For dinner, we ordered a tartinette with balsamic, Parmesan, sage and prosciutto as well as mussels in white white, and a cauliflower gratin with Gruyere. The plates arrived in tiny dishes, and yet the ingredients were rich and satisfying enough to satiate our all-day-walking-appetites. We shared a delightful carafe of Sauvignon Blanc for a reasonable $18. I would highly recommend a trip to Buvette next time you find yourself in NYC. Just remember to pack light: there will be not room for bulky coats and bags ;). 

Check out their website by clicking here. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

GRUB- Northampton, MA





Over the thanksgiving holiday, my family and I spent time with relatives in Northampton, Massachusetts. For those of you not familiar with Northampton, it has a population of around 28,000 and sits between several renowned colleges including Amherst and Smith. This particular trip was especially exciting because our relatives, Dan and Beth recently opened up a second restaurant, called GRUB in the heart of Northampton. Their first endeavor, Bistro Les Gras, an upscale French restaurant allowed Chef and owner Dan Martinez to spread his culinary wings. Cooking with local, fresh ingredients Dan specializes in farm to table preparation, leaving absolutely nothing to waste. A few years back I had the pleasure of enjoying a multiple course meal I will never forget at Bistro Les Gras. Each dish was simple, beautiful and incredibly flavorful. This year, I tried their newest project, a sandwich shop. Upon first impression, I was surprised to learn of the concept, since one successful restaurant alone is a grand achievement. I later learned from Dan why they decided to tackle such a varying genre. He replied with a smirk, "we wanted a great sandwich in Northampton... so we opened our own shop!" GRUB, is a casual joint, with a handful of booths and tables, a chalkboard menu and graffiti-clad walls. GRUB caters to the college crowd, remaining open until 2am on the weekends. What impressed me most about GRUB was the unique and eclectic menu hinting on the traditional, but with a very large curve ball! For example, they have a sandwich called the BBLT, a playful cousin to the BLT with slow-roasted pork belly, smoked bacon and ham, greens, and roasted tomato marmalade. This sandwich is massive, filling, juicy and delicious! The meats, bread, sauces and additions are all prepared from scratch. Dan has been known to "bake by day, and cook by night!" I also tried their trout salad, a healthful combination of smoked trout, quinoa, greens, almonds, olives, chevre, and cucumbers tossed in a fennel-honey vinaigrette. The salad was unlike any I have tried. I loved the play of texture created with a grain like qunioa paired with soft chevre cheese. The smokey trout also paired beautifully with the briny olives and pungent cheese. If I lived nearby, I would order that salad regularly! GRUB offers the town of Northampton elevated casual cuisine at the right price, in a casual approachable atmosphere. Congrats Dan and Beth! 

Please check out both of Beth and Dan's restaurants below to learn more.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Raku Modern Japanese Restaurant

Flaming Sushi Rolls!

Seaweed Salad 

Tuna Pizza 

Hurricane Roll 

Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream 

My good friend Natalie kept telling me how fabulous this place Raku was, so when a Groupon appeared in my inbox I had to accept fate :) When going to a sushi restaurant in the Twin Cities I usually go into the experience with an expectation of decent seafood, and traditional fare. What I was not expecting to appear at Raku were a whole slew of unique and "modern" (hence the name) dishes reflected on the traditional but much improved. Raku opened up in Edina just off 50th and France fairly recently. Their interior is large and pleasant with light colors and cozy booths. My husband and I parked ourselves at the sushi bar and within seconds were entertained by flaming rolls, and large sashimi platters arriving in the window clad with foe ginkgo trees and figurines! This place takes the saying, "we eat with our eyes" very seriously! We started by ordering seaweed salad and tuna pizza. The seaweed was pretty traditional of course, but the pizza? at a sushi restaurant? brilliant! The crust of the "pizza" was a crispy layering of wonton wrappers which tasted like a crispy potato cake. Atop the crust lay crab-meat, a think layer guacamole, then fresh tuna, then spicy mayo and eel sauce. The combination of creamy guacamole, fresh seafood, a hint of spice and a crispy crust was undeniably delicious. I would have order another had we not ordered a sushi roll. Our sushi roll was called, " The Hurricane" and featured a mixture of spicy tuna, salmon and avocado on the inside while the outside is deep fried, cut and drizzled with fish roe, spicy mayo and eel sauce. I love the texture of deep fired sushi because the edges of the seaweed wrapper crisp up leaving a stark contrast between the crunchy outer layer and the soft inside. By the end of the meal I was not quite full, so we splurged and ordered my favorite tempura fried green tea ice cream. I have had green tea tempura ice cream before at other Japanese restaurants and could not tell much of a difference. I am sure the ice cream and technique for frying are similar, so no room for tremendous variance. While delicious, I could have gone without and enjoyed that perfect feeling of satisfaction instead of fullness! I can honesty say that Raku is now my favorite sushi restaurant in the Twin Cities!!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Homemade Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

This holiday season, I intend to make many of my gifts instead of buying the ever-over-done sweater or gift card. I decided to practice one of my "gift" items, homemade jam. I started out making a jam, which quickly became more of a "sauce" because I omitted pectin, the gelling agent. The resulting sauce was quite delicious and versatile.  

Strawberry Balsamic Sauce
1 small bag frozen strawberries 
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 
3-4 tbsp fine sugar
1 cup chopped mint
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon 

In saucepan, add strawberries until thawed. Then add balsamic and sugar. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Once boiled, reduce heat to low adding lemon, sugar and and mint. Cook about 15-20 minutes or until thickened and strawberries have loosened and broken down. Add more or less sugar and or lemon depending on how sweet you like your jam/sauce. Pour over ice cream, pound cake, or over toast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sweet Potato & Kale Tart

Last night, I used my last pie crust to make another tart, this time using sautéed kale and sweet potatoes. On top of the tart, I used goat cheese which adds a great pungent note to the dish. This tart is easy to prepare ahead of time, and looks beautiful when served to guests. The colors of orange and green lend themselves well to the Thanksgiving palate, making this a nice side dish to accompany your turkey. 

Sweet Potato & Kale Tart
(Serves 4)

1 pie crust (such as Pillsbury)
2 cups fresh or frozen kale, chopped
1 tbsp butter
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
3-4 tbsp truffle oil  
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder on hand 
1/2 cup goat cheese 
1 egg, whisked 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
In a large frying pan, add butter and sauté kale until tender. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Set aside. On a baking sheet, add your potato rounds seasoning with salt, pepper and garlic. Drizzle with truffle oil and bake in oven at 425 for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Lay out your pie crust over parchment paper. Add a heavy layer of your baked sweet potatoes, then pile kale on top. Fold in your pie crust so that 1-2 inches are folded over. Brush egg-wash over folded edges and top with goat cheese. Bake tart at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until crust is light brown and toasted. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Goat Cheese Risotto

It's election day and who doesn't feel great about living in the U.S.A  where we have the freedom to vote? For dinner tonight, I wanted to make an equally special dish to enjoy while watching the polls ebb and flow, and tensions rise and fall. Risotto is a special dish because: 1- it's time consuming 2- it's rich and comforting and 3- it represents our diverse cultures in the U.S.A, risotto being from Italy. I used goat cheese, peas and truffle oil to enhance my risotto and made sure to toast the arborio rice before cooking. Foodies around the country have a cooking preference for risotto, for example: some prefer al dente rice, some prefer a thick sauce and other like a runny sauce. Personally, I enjoy al dente rice and a slightly thicker sauce. It should be up to you, the chef to decide! As for the recipe, I loosely followed Jamie Oliver's recipe. Being that I failed to measure... I have posted Jamie's recipe for you below:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Caramelized Onion & Potato Tart

Tonight, I took a cue from Cookinglight and revamped their recipe for an onion tart. I followed the recipe, but added seasoned potato rounds to amp up the flavor and texture. I made sure to caramelize my onions, releasing their nature sweetness. I also added a but more spice including, basil, oregano and chili flake. I used only feta cheese, instead of swiss on top. This dish is not only delicious, but simple and easy to prepare a few days ahead. 

Click here for the recipe!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Everest on Grand

My husband and I moved 5 blocks away from Everest on Grand in May 2012 and we only just experienced the restaurant on Monday! I had been waiting for the right excuse to go, so when my husband's co-worker invited us I was thrilled. Everest on Grand has been a St. Paul staple for years; the small two room restaurant is always packed in the evenings for dinner and during the day for their buffet lunch. Everest specializes in Nepali, North Indian and Tibetan cuisine including curries, Tandoor, noodles and their famous Nepali dumplings called, momo. Everest prides itself on making each dish from scratch and focusing on quality, fresh ingredients. I have been hearing about their momo dumplings for quite some time, and was not surprised why after eating the tiny flavorful bites. Momo are typically steamed and filled with spices, yak, lamb, chicken, veggies... you name it. The best part of the dumplings is the dipping sauce composed of tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamon, chili, oil garlic and onion. I wanted to order a cup of this stuff and pour it over everything! We also ordered a samosa as an appetizer, which is a fried pastry composed of potato, lentils and often peas. The samosa was decent, nothing out of the norm. For our entrees, my husband and I shared Matar Paneer and Kauli. Matar Paneer is a dish of green peas cooked with Paneer cheese in a creamy herb sauce. Kauli is a cauliflower curry cooked with potatoes, peas and spices. The matar paneer came to the table with a layer of oil on top which was not exactly enticing. Looks aside, the dish hit all the right notes: rich, salty, creamy, spicy and nutty. The kauli was delicious as well, a little less soupy and fantastic mixed together with the matar paneer. I have eaten a lot of Indian food in my day, and their Indian dishes hit the mark. I would be interested on my next visit to try their Nepali and Tibetan offerings. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Crispy Tofu Noodle Stir-fry

Tonight, I whipped up a quick noodle stir-fry using Trader Joe's brand General Tao's sauce, frozen vegetables and rice stick noodles. I am a true believer in making your life easier by cooking with store-prepared products once in a while. Life is about balance, cooking included. What made the dish so special was the crispy tofu. I used extra-firm tofu, which holds up to frying. In order to achieve a good crispy edge, it is important to drain your tofu for 10 minutes on paper towels to blot out any excess water. For frying, I added a thin layer of sesame oil over high heat, frying tofu on each side for about 3-5 minutes. Send my a pic of your next creation!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hmong Village

I finally made it out to the Hmong Village today for lunch. The Hmong village opened a few years ago in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul just east of downtown. From outside, the Hmong Village appears to be a large boxy warehouse in the middle of an industrial run-down neighborhood, yet walk inside and the atmosphere changes drastically. If you have ever been to the mercado central in south Minneapolis, you'll have a better idea of what I am speaking of. Rows and rows of clothing, jewelry, home goods, spices, music, food and traditional crafts line the perimeter of the building like a maze. When I arrived around 1pm, the parking lot was full and bustling with 99.9% Asian patrons. I can't lie, I did feel a little out of place with my camera sticking out of my bag walking back and forth looking for anything to draw my attention. I wanted to try foods I had never experienced before, so I started out with a dish called, laab beef (aka: larb). Larb is a Laotian spicy meat salad cooked with fish sauce, mint, cilantro, lemongrass, chili, and lime juice. Larb can be prepared raw or cooked and is intended to be eaten inside a lettuce wrap. Call me naive, but I did not realize the larb I had purchased was made of raw beef sitting out on the counter at room temp for god only knows how long. I tried the first bite and felt immediately squeamish. The flavors were great, but something about the gooey raw meat kept me from chewing another bite. Next, I decided to try something a little safer... Hmong spicy sausage. The cashier encouraged me to try the sausage with a side of sticky black rice, which I accepted. The sausage was served with an extremely spicy chili sauce which only heightened the flavor packed sausage. Hmong sausage is cooked with a fragrant array of spices such as, lemongrass, ginger, and chili. I loved the sausage, especially alongside the sweet sticky rice. Before leaving, a plastic wrapped corn bread caught my eye. I LOVE anything with corn, so of course I took one home. To my surprise, the "corn bread" was more like a gooey rice cake than bread. I usually adore a chewy gooey texture, but this was over the top. I felt like I was eating a cooked piece of glue. While eating this "corn bread" of sorts, it occurred to me that almost every culture in the world has a different texture preference. Over time, cultures have adapted  their own palates for different tastes and textures. For example, in the Hmong culture, you see a great deal of glutinous rice flour used in cooking which creates a very gooey, chewy, soft texture. In American culture, we LOVE anything crunchy and fried. In Indian cuisine, you see a lot of thinner sauces covering almost every dish. In African cuisine, nutty, paste-like sauces are in the majority. It is for this reason that I find global cuisine and culture so fascinating and exciting. 

I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and trying a few new foods at the Hmong village.

1001 Johnson Pkwy, St. Paul MN 55106

Sunday, October 28, 2012

An Enchanted Evening...

Last night my husband and I had the pleasure of dining at our friends, Ryan and Chantelle's beautiful home. Chantelle and I have always seen eye to eye when it comes to cooking and design, so I was thrilled to have the pleasure of enjoying their beautiful home and cooking. Walking into their home, I immediately felt a sense of peace. Chantelle has created a 'beach escape' environment within the confines of our frigid Minnesota weather. Candles were lit, lights dimmed, shells sparked, and walls filled with life treasures and unique finds. For dinner, she and Ryan pulled out all the stops starting with a delicious appetizer of melted brie, followed by pierogis, borscht, Israeli couscous salad and pumpkin ice cream for dessert! Borscht is a popular Eastern European beet soup prepared with beets and tomatoes and can be prepared both cold and warm. My grandmother loved to cook borscht which also happens to be a staple in Jewish cuisine. Chantelle shredded her beets, which added a nice texture to the soup instead of leaving the beets whole- which could be frightening to the novice eater;). Pierogis for those of you non-Europeans are potato dumplings prepared either steamed or fried. Please try Chantelle's borscht recipe below:

2 cartons vegetable broth (my mom always used beef broth)
4 medium beets peeled 
3 large carrots 
1 large onion
3-4 bay leaves
1 tbsp vinegar 
1 tsp sugar 
1 tbsp dill 
1/2 of a small cabbage (purple preferred)
1 16oz can of diced tomatoes 
salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream for garnish

Place broth is large pot with bay leaves. In a food processor, shred the onion, beets, and carrots, then add to broth. Add vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to broth and stir well. Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover for 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Then add cabbage and tomatoes. Cover and simmer another 30 minutes. Add dill  and serve with a garnish of sour cream. Delish!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Roasted Acorn Squash & Harvest Blend

This past weekend, my husband and I had our vegan friends over for dinner. I wanted to use seasonal ingredients, so I choose acorn squash to stuff with a harvest grain blend of quinoa, Israeli couscous, orzo, and lentils. For my husband and I, I melted a small portion of goat cheese on top which added an excellent creaminess. For crunch, I toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) on top! Even if you are not a vegan, you'll love this delicious and healthy recipe. 

Harvest Blend

(serves 6)
1 package harvest blend from Trader Joe's
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 cup sliced red onions
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 
1/4 cup mango chutney
1 tsp honey
2 tsp curry powder 
2 cups fresh spinach 
Toasted pepitas and/or goat cheese for garnish 

Cook harvest blend by package directions. In a separate sauté pan, add olive oil over medium heat with garlic, shallot and red onions. Cook 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. In a large pot, add cooked harvest blend, shallot, garlic and onion mixture, vinegar, chutney, honey and curry. Mix well. Add spinach and pepitas in at the end and serve alone, or baked inside a roasted squash with a bit of goat cheese on top for the non-vegans. Enjoy!