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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!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Spaghetti ala Calamari

Dinner tonight consisted of a simple "doctored-up" tomato sauce, balsamic green beans, onions and crispy pan-fried calamari. Calamari, is fried squid chopped up into rings and tentacles. I was a little intimidated by the prospect of cooking this fussy seafood, but it was actually fairly simple to pull off. Calamari is a beloved dish in many countries all across the globe from Japan to Portugal. Calamari can be prepared by deep-frying, pan-searing or grilling. I wanted to go the Italian route, by using a tomato sauce to highlight the crispy seafood. There are many great squid recipes out there and I encourage you to try them out without fear ;). Hey, if Perkins restaurants can pull it off, so can YOU! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Orange Scented Scallops over Butternut Mash

My mother gifted me with a handful of beautifully plump scallops, which I used in our dinner last night. Scallops are one of the most delicate seafoods, and have long been associated with femininity and fertility in ancient mythology. Scallops must be cooked very carefully to prevent overcooking. Their texture can be easily transformed from tender to tough in a matter of seconds. I served my scallops over a bed of mashed squash and an orange-onion reduction. The onions add a bright acidity which pairs well with sweet butternut mash. I used a very light marinade on my scallops, fresh orange juice and soy sauce. It would be a shame to mask the taste of the scallop itself, so it is always advised to keep your sauce or marinade fairly simple. 

Orange-Onion Reduction
2 large onions, diced
2 tbsp butter
1/4-1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in large skillet, adding onions over medium heat. Cook until tender. Add wine and stir well. Cook another 5 minutes. Then add your orange juice and spices. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes or until onions have absorbed most of the liquid. Serve over sweet potato or squash mash and scallops. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Panera Style Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Who doesn't love Panera's Broccoli Cheddar soup? I for one am a fan, and so is my husband. I wanted to create a similar soup for dinner last night, so I started searching the inter-web for an answer. I stumbled upon a recipe claiming to have Panera's recipe. I find it hard to believe that a large chain like Panera wouldn't have their recipe patented and top-secret... but we'll see! I tried the recipe out and was impressed. The flavor was great and overall taste comparison, similar. I think the Panera soup is a bit silkier and starchier, possibly from the use of high tech blenders and thickening agents. The soup also called for 2 cups of half and half, making the soup extremely rich and delicious. I would guess Panera uses a lower-fat dairy product to keep the fat and calorie count down. I highly recommend this soup recipe with the only modification being to add garlic!