Friday, November 2, 2012

Children's Hospital Lasagna Throwdown

Last week there was a throwdown in the ER of Children's Hospital in St. Paul.  No, there wasn't a fight, but rather a lasagna competition among some of the staff.  Each of the three competitor's were very different.  My mom's was more of a classic lasagna, maybe what you would recognize as a Midwestern lasagna night dinner.  Another was a traditional Italian version with a bechamel sauce.  Suzanne Palmquist's was my second choice only because it didn't set properly; if it had, it would have given my mom a run for her money. Third place was Kathy Quinn's unique twist on lasagna with shredded pork.  This one missed the mark a bit, as it had a traditional tomato sauce and cheeses.  I think maybe a twist of BBQ flavor would have sent this to the top as a contender.

The champion by a blind taste test of administrators and myself was the red toothpick, my mom's recipe.  The people's choice was Kathy's pulled pork!  Congrats to all, as everyone who donated $5 received a sample of each competitor's entry, Caesar salad, and garlic bread.  All the proceeds went to the sunshine fund, which sends cards and giftcards to staff out on extended medical leave.  Feels good and tastes good!

Here's my mom's recipe which is adapted from an old McCall's Cooking School Magazine


1 1/2 lbs mild Italian sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion (plus a bit more, mom eyeballs measurements)
2 cloves of garlic crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 can of crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes- no added flavoring
2  (6 ounce) cans of tomato paste
1 tablespoon salt
12 lasagna noodles
1 container of ricotta cheese or 4% cottage cheese (mom uses cottage cheese, I use ricotta)
1 egg
 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Break-up the meat and  cook in a dutch oven with onion and garlic until browned, approximately 20 minutes, drain fat off.  Add sugar 1 tablespoon salt, basil, fennel, pepper and half of the parsley and mix well.  Add tomatoes  tomato paste, and a 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 1 1/2 hours.  Cook noodles in large stockpot with salt until al dente.  Drain and rinse and dry off noodles.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium bowl combine ricotta/cottage cheese,  egg, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit salt if using cottage cheese as it is salty enough).

In a 9x13 inch baking dish, spoon 1 1/2 cups of sauce. Layer with 6 lasagna noodles to cover the pan. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over noodle, then top with 1/3 of the mozzarella  Spoon 1/2 cups sauce over cheese, sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Repeat layering with noodles, sauce, mozzarella, then Parmesan again.  Cover with foil and bake 25 minutes, then remove foil and bake another 25 minutes uncovered, or until bubbly. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Minnesota Maple Syrups

Growing up, Sunday's were full of syrup, from pancakes to waffles and french toast.  I remember these amazing teddy bears and hearts my mom used to freehand with pancake batter.  Now people just use pancake or cookie molds to get shapes.  It was not pure maple syrup that graced our table, but rather Mrs. Butterworth's and Hungry Jack.  For a growing family, and with kids who wouldn't have appreciated the deep intense flavor of pure maple syrup it was great.  Now, however I crave the real deal, and wanted to compare some locally made syrup.  We aren't Vermont, but we have some nice producers in the state.

First up was Three River's Farm maple syrup from Elko,MN.  This syrup was the darkest of the three, which I would call a Grade A dark amber. This has a very intense, robust maple syrup flavor.  It works well as table syrup, or in recipes where it needs to cut through a fat or other ingredients to shine through.  I would use this in our maple syrup roasted chicken and other cooking purposes.

Wild Country Store
Second was Wild Country from Lutsen, MN. This is slightly lighter than Three River's and I would call it a Grade A medium amber. Again, a very nice flavor, and not as thick as the previous.  This syrup is light enough that I think it would do nicely in recipes that do not involve heat or reducing the syrup at all.  This is the syrup I used in the Maple Dijon Dressing recipes last week.

 Third was Lutsen's Caribou Cream.  This is a much smaller operation than Wild Country, and maybe this is why it has a much more delicate flavor and I would call it a Grade A light amber. This is fantastic as table syrup, as you can get a clear sense of of the light smokey flavor.  I would also use it in dressings and other simple recipes.

Caribou Cream's Operation
Caribou Cream was my favorite of the three for an everyday syrup, though all three were high quality and I would use for different purposes.  However, with an ounce costing $1 versus $.14 for intimidation maple syrup I see why I grew up with the grocery market variety.  It was a joy to tour both Caribou Cream and Wild Country.  I met both sugerbush operators, and learned how it is a true labor of love.  Everything is done by hand here, from tapping the trees in the snow, repairing lines all year around, and finally the production end.  It takes nearly 60 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.  Pretty amazing! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Balsamic Onion Marmalade by the Spoonfull

I am so glad food trucks are all the rage right now and a few cookbooks highlight some of the best.  Wishing the Chef Shack would share their crack Indian-spiced donuts recipe, but that will never happen.  I made Thomas's Balsamic Onion Marmalade from Food Trucks cookbook and it was amazing! We slathered it on pork roast sandwiches, turkey burgers, etc.  Make some for yourself or share to make fast friends.  

Thomas's Balsamic Onion Marmalade
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
4 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons brown sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Heat oil over medium heat in large skillet.  Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and caramelized  about 20 minutes.  Add the cloves, salt, and pepper, stirring to coat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add the brown sugar and orange zest. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions start to shrivel.  Add the vinegar, reduce heat to low and cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently.  Adjust seasoning if needed and serve warm or room temperature   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Swing and a miss

The Twins didn't make it to the playoffs this year, and a few recipes did not make the cut to be copied down into my recipe book.  I thought I would share a few reviews to save others some time, or know to tweak.

Chai Latte Bar Cookies: This one I want to try again as I think this might have been user error.  I am not a fan of brownies or bars that are not set in the middle, and these were anything but set.  I think I mixed the cream cheese in too much and that played with the ratio of bar to cream cheese layer.  Flavor was good for the few I could salvage from the edge.

Thai Turkey Burgers: These were good, just not great.  I have a great asian chicken burger/slider that I prefer over these, so they won't make the cut.

Almond-Poppyseed Cakes from Desserts in Jars: Again might have been user error, but I thought the cakes were a bit dry.  I would add just a bit more fat to the batter.

Chilled Oatmeal in a Jar: The consistency wasn't for me.  I think I prefer crockpot oatmeal instead.  It was so quick and easy, I just didn't like the gluteny texture the next day.  Thanks Megan for suggesting it, but just wasn't my preferred oatmeal.

Fresh three-bean salad: This one I would make again.  Very light, low fat, and fresh summery flavor.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy 6th Anniversary!

Last month Charlie and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary!  Oh how the time has flown by.  This summer we had one of the most amazing meals of our life in Las Vegas at Joël Robuchon in early celebration of our anniversary.  Robuchon was named chef of the century, and we understand why.  I am trying to write a post worthy of that experience to follow later.  We celebrated on our actual anniversary with a simple home-cooked meal.  

At a recent gathering at the Minneapolis Central Library numerous food critics discussed food writing, and I remember one person asked what they always order at a restaurant to help evaluate the quality.  One person surprisingly said lemonade, which I couldn't agree with more!  Does a restaurant take the time to squeeze lemons and make a simple syrup for their lemonade, or do they just serve MinuteMaid from the fountain?  The other time tested item is a roast chicken, and that is what I set off to make this year. 

What can I say, this meal was delicious!!!  One of my best ever; winner winner chicken dinner!  I wish I could say they were original recipes, but they weren't.  We dined on a mixed green salad with maple dijon dressing, roast chicken with lemon and thyme butter, roasted potatoes, and the most amazing scalloped tomatoes you will EVER have.  This is my new favorite way to use up a bunch of tomatoes.  Promise me you will try this recipe and fall in love!

Isn't our china beautiful? Homemade biscuits, but they aren't as good as the Flying Biscuits in Georgia! (Those are my benchmark.)

Roast chicken, potatoes and tomatoes

Charlie is a sweetie and we order our wedding cake every year.  Though, who are we kidding, it is all for m, as Charlie isn't much of a cake guy.  Dessert every night for a week and a highlight every year.  This year Buttercream changed their frosting somehow, as the filling did not have as intense almond flavor in the past. :(

Recipes used:
  • Andrew Carmellini's World's Best Biscuits 
  • Roast Chicken from William's Sonoma Couples Cookbook: I added thyme butter underneath the skin to keep it moist and give it more flavor
  • Scalloped Tomatoes from Ina Garten: I added oregano and thyme (seeing a theme here of our thyme going out of control in our herb garden)
  • Maple Dijon Dressing from Wild Country maple syrup: 1/4 cup each of pure maple syrup, dijon mustard, olive oil, red wine vinegar; whisk all ingredients together.  
May everyone find true love in this world and be happy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Respite in Lutsen

Last week I needed a respite from work, after planning a library event for all 5,000 incoming freshmen at the University of Minnesota.  Mom came to the rescue, and we went up North to Lutsen for the weekend.  Growing up we went to Lutsen for "leaf peeping."   Though the weekend was anything but relaxing, as I jam packed everything in that we could, it was different from work, so it did the trick and I came back to work on Monday rejuvenated.  Here are a few photos from our trip and restaurant suggestions.

 Duluth is the perfect stop on the way, and oh how it has changed since I was a kid!  I have been a fan of the North Water Smokehaus long before it was featured on DDD.  Their smoked salmon is the best in Minnesota.  This time I tried the Cajun Finn.  A well-balanced sandwich with the rich salmon, green onion cream cheese spread, topped with roasted red peppers and a little kick of banana peppers.

Other Duluth favorites include: Amazing Grace Cafe (great bread and soups), Taste of Saigon (egg roll noodle salad), Sammy's thin crust pizza (taco is a fav), Sara's Table (lobster mac and cheese), and for a splurge there is always the New Scenic Cafe. 
 Canal Park area in Duluth
 We visited two of Minnesota's best sugarbushes: Caribou Cream and Wild Country.  I will be doing a taste test soon comparing Minnesota maple syrups.
 Mom and I even tried sea kayaking for the first time on Lake Superior!
 Chez Jude has been on my restaurant list for some time, and mom was kind enough to be my date.  It was very good food, a quaint location with a beautiful view of sailboats on the Lake, however overpriced a bit.
 The scallops and pork belly were good, but one of mine was a bit sandy.
 Mom was intrigued and also got the Chicken and Waffles.  They were amazing!  The chicken was well seasoned, crispy and perfect with Caribou Cream syrup drizzled over it.  The wild rice waffles with chilli butter was the perfect pairing.  Mom has been converted to the dark side!
 Oberg Mountain is a must, especially in the fall.
 Betsy Bowen's studio with a wonderful demonstration of woodcuts.  I can't wait to get my original piece for Christmas. :)
 Another place on my list is the Naniboujou Lodge.  A beautiful rustic lodge almost at the Canandian border.  The dining room is breathtaking, as it is painted with Cree Indian designs, and has the largest stone fireplace in Minnesota.  The librarian and preservation part of me cringes when I look closely at the flaking painted particle board walls.  I certainly hope money is being set-aside for restoration. 
 Their wild rice burger is delicious!  Unfortunately, the coleslaw is inedible; I don't understand horseradish in coleslaw.

Do we have to go home?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Olympics Party 2012

Two years ago we started our tradition of always hosting an Olympics potluck party.  All our family brings an international dish to share.  This year we added lawn games into the mix.  Sorry for the post-Olympics post.
Edible Olympic rings for party favors! 
Thanks to my co-worker Jon for borrowing his mini-donut maker.  

Mom making a yummy salad

Our festive table of eats

My in-laws Chuck and Marcia with my hubby watching the swimming

Kait and I are the champions of bocce ball!

Auntie Sue, Uncle Reb and Dad

The torches needed a little bit of explanation

Toasted cheese please!

 My English berry trifle 

Can you see the resemblance? 

Unfortunately, Marcia's tomato tart photo didn't turn out, but it was delicious.  A must make now that tomatoes are ripe!  Please make this over the weekend; you won't be disappointed.  

Tomato Tart

Crust:                 11/4 C. flour
                             1T. fresh thyme, chopped
                             1 t. salt
                              8T. cold butter, cut into small bits
                              2t. dijon mustard
                              4T. ice water

Filling:                   6T. olive oil
                              1lg. onion, thinly sliced
                               2 yellow peppers thinly sliced   
                               2 red peppers thinly sliced
                               1 T. dried thyme
                               1 T. dried rosemary
                               salt and pepper to taste
                               1/2 C. slivered basil
                               1/4 C. chopped parsley
                               4 garlic cloves, minced

Topping:               1 C. grated Gruyere cheese
                                2-3 lg. tomatoes sliced into 1/4" slices
                               2 T. fresh thyme chopped
                               1 T. chopped fresh parsley
                               1 T. olive oil

Combine flour, thyme, salt   in processor. Put in butter. Stir in mustard and ice water. Combine until mixture holds together. Pat into flat disk, wrap in plastic and refrig. for 1 hour.

Heat oil in saute pan over med low heat, add onion, peppers, thyme, rosemary salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until thick, 45 min. Drain in strainer. Put aside.

Preheat oven to 375. On floured surface roll out dough to 12". Put in 11" tart pan with removeable bottom. prick bottom carefully, line with foil and add pie wights or dried beans. Bake 10 min. Remove foil and weights/beans and bake 10 min more. allow to cool slightly. Put cheese on bottom, then spread filling all over carefully. Arrange tomatoe slices in overlapping circles/ Sprinkle with pepper, thyme and parsley. Drizzle with oil. Bake 40 min. Let cool 10 min and removes sides of pan and slide tart from bottom. Serve at room temp.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Visiting Thailand Through Cuisine

One of my bucket list places to visit is definitely Thailand.  Thai cuisine involves so many wonderful spices that compliment each other no matter if it is a bowl of rice, noodles, or soup.  Thai cooking also is lighter than many other cuisines.  Until then I will live vicariously through my cousin Molly's trip.  Oh the food pictures and lush greenery draping over Buddha statues.

Every year we draw names at Christmas time and Molly was lucky enough to draw my husband prior to her trip.  Do you remember the days when you would just buy gifts for someone?  You would think about what that person was like, what their hobbies were, and pick a gift with care.  Those days are gone to lists.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Christmas list too.  Some folks I don't get to see as often, so some ideas are nice, but if I can tie it with a little something personal or handmade, even better.  Molly was an exceptional gift giver this year.  Not only did she carefully mail back 5 jars of curry paste, made by the person she had a cooking class with, but also two books on Thai cooking!  By far the best gift of the season!  (Well, I do love my new bedding as well.)  Below are a few recipes that we have tried and loved.

Khao Phad Gaeng Kheo Wan Phak
(Green Lipstick Fried Rice with Vegetables)
Serves 2

Cooked Rice (2 servings)
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 can of baby corn (rinse well), or sweet corn cut from the cob
1 tablespoon onion, diced
1 tablespoon carrot, diced
1 tablespoon spring onion, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons light soy sauce
A few grinds of pepper

In a bowl, add sugar, soy sauce, garlic, pepper and curry paste.  Mix well then add the cooked rice.  In a wok at medium heat add all the vegetables.  Stir frequently for 2 minutes.  Add rice mixture to the pan.  Only cook 2 minutes. Serve and enjoy.  This is a new favorite at our house!

Phad Siewe
(Fried Noodles with Sweet Soy Sauce)
1 handful rice noodles, soaked
1 handful meat of your choice (we used chicken)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2-3 drops of dark soy sauce/ Tamari
a few grinds of pepper
1/2 handful of Chinese kale (into into 1 inch) (We omitted kale, and added more cabbage, as that is what we had at home)
1 handful of Savoy cabbage (into into 1 inch)
1 carrot sliced (we added extra, as I love carrots)

Prepare noodles by soaking in boiling water (follow directions on package).  During the last minute add the kale, cabbage and carrots  for 5 seconds, then remove promptly.  Once tender, drain and cut with shears into smaller pieces.  To the drained and cut noodles add all vegetables, garlic, soy sauces, and sugar.
Heat oil in a wok and add the meat of choice and stir until meat is cooked.  Then add your noodles, kale, cabbage, and carrots mixture. Cook for a couple minutes to combine.  Serve with a pinch of pepper.

Green Lipstick Gaeng Kheo Wan Gai
(Green Curry with Chicken)

1 handful chicken
4 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces water (I added more coconut milk and less water)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon green curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 handful green beans, trimmed, 1 inch pieces
2 kaffir lime leaves

Heat oil and green curry paste in a wok to medium.  Cook chicken until half way done, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar.  Mix to combine.  Add the water and the green beans.  bring to a bowl and immediately pour into serving bowls and garnish with kaffir lime leaves.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pizzas on the Grill

I am still waiting to visit the Pizza Farm.  It has been on my summer date bucket list for two summers now, but taking time off to go, and on a beautiful day, has proved to be quite challenging.  In the meantime, we make pizza on the grill at least once a month.  Here are a few of our pizzas we made this past month, and my go-to basic pizza dough recipe (sorry, I don't remember where it is from).

Pizza Dough


1 1/2 cups of warm water (105-110 degrees)
1/2 teaspoon yeast
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil


Mix water, salt, and yeast in a large bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes to proof.  Gradually pour in 2 cups of flour and stir to mix.  Mix for 1 minute to form a sponge.  Cover and let rise for 1 hour.  Put sponge in a mixer bowl with a dough hook and add 1/2 cup of remaining flour to dough while kneading until all flour is added.  Remove from the mixer and put into a large bowl that has been oiled.  Roll dough in bowl to cover with oil.  Cover and let stand 2 1/2-3 hours.

Roll dough to desired thickness (puffs up a bit  when it hits the grill) and oil both sides.  Turn grill on to 400 degrees and oil grates.  Cook on both sides 3-4 minutes.  Add toppings to the done side, once you flip it.

Makes 4 large pizzas.

Pizza fixings

Being a purist with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil

Grilled corn, bacon and blue cheese, what can be better?

No those aren't worms!  They are caramelized red onion, chicken apple sausage, apples, and gouda.  My new favorite!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer of Soup: Potato and Leek

When I think of potato soup, I think of a hearty and hot cream soup with chunks of potato to be enjoyed in front of my fireplace.  However, after watching Alton Brown prepare a blended version, and my husband introducing me to the word, vichyssoise, I had to give it a try.  They make perfect little cold shots to be enjoyed at a party, garnished with some chives.  

Alton Brown's Potato and Leek Soup


  • 1 pound leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, approximately 4 to 5 medium
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 14 ounces, approximately 3 small, Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives


Chop the leeks into small pieces.
In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes.
Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Week in Review: July 9, 2012

This past week was filled with lovely baked goods and cool eats. Here's a round-up of what we made this past week.  More details to follow.

  • Four different pizzas on the grill; recipes will follow later this week
  • Alton Brown's Leek and Potato Soup 
  • Brown's Grilled Braised Leeks I didn't braise them long enough, but we still weren't a fan.  They were too limp, hard to cut, and lacked depth for my taste.  

  • I have been wanting to find a great super-thin crispy flatbread recipes for weeks.  Then I stumbled across Martha Stewart's Basil Flatbread Crackers.  OMG, they are so delicious.  I ate a whole one as soon as it was cool enough to handle.  Next time we make pizzas in the oven I am going to use this herby dough as the base then add toppings to try to duplicate my fav flatbreads in the world at Ciao Bella in Edina.  Trust me, make these crackers!  So easy and so delicious!  

  • After swimming with my nephew at my in-laws we had oyster cracker trail mix.  My niece and nephew played cleaning ladies the rest of the afternoon. I wonder if we can bribe them with sugary candy to clean our house. (Yes, I have the cutest nephew and niece ever!)

Look auntie, I have my rags and am ready to work! 
All tuckered out from cleaning!  

Oyster Cracker Trail Mix Recipe
16 ounces oyster crackers
1 ounce ranch salad dressing mix
3/4 cup oil -- scant
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 bag of m&m's
1 small can of nuts of your choosing

Stir all ingredients except crackers, m&m's, and nuts in a bowl. Add crackers and stir well. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 275F degrees for 15 minutes. Once cool, toss with m&m's and nuts.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Soup of Summer: Gazpacho

Nothing tastes like summer than a ripe tomato.  It's a little early for homegrown tomatoes, but the farmer's market had some last weekend that inspired us to make gazpacho.  Here's our staple recipe at the Mastel household:

2 cloves of garlic
1/2 onion
 1/2 green pepper
5 large tomatoes, peeled
1 piece of sourdough soaked in water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
dash of hot sauce

If you have never peeled a tomato before, here's a quick photo tutorial.  Once cool, slice tomatoes into medium sized chunks, along with the green pepper.  Quarter the garlic, so you don't have large chunks floating in your soup.  Rip the bread into pieces, and add to a blender with all the other ingredients.  Please use a blender; a food processor just doesn't give you the right texture.  Puree until you have a smooth soup.  Refrigerate at least three hours to let the flavors meld, and completely chill before serving.
Serves 4

Note: Our basil is out of control, so I decided to add a small handful to our last recipe.  Tomatoes and basil are so natural together, so why not?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beat the Heat

Record heat is stretching across the US, and Minnesota is no exception hitting a record 99 degrees today, with a stretch of at least 5 days ahead in the 90's.  Here are a few of our favorites to beat the heat.

  • Frozen grapes: My husband went to Arizona State University, and a little trick he did to beat the summer heat was to freeze grapes.  When you bite into them it's a little slushie.  Yum!
  • Cold coups: We love gazpacho and chilled cucumber; recipes to follow later in the week.
  • Flavored water: Everyone in my family knows I hate drinking water.  To keep hydrated I love throwing some slices of lemon, cucumber, or berries into my water.  
  • Homemade popsicles and ice cream: I have tested a few from Sweet Cream & Sugar Cones, along with Jenni's, both destined to be regulars in the freezer. 
  • Ice cubes:  My Grandma Peg didn't have air conditioning until we all begged her when she retired.  She taught me the trick of spritzing water or putting an ice cube on your inner wrists for at least the illusion of it being cooler for a moment.  
  • Smoothies and coolers: A new favorite today is the cucumber cooler, thanks to my coworker Megan! Perfect to use the last of my English cucumber today and some of our overgrown mint. 
Cucumber Mint Cooler

1/2 a cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces
8-10 mint leaves
1 lime, juiced
1/2+ cup of water (I used lemon water)
1/4 cup of honey
A tray of ice cubes

Add all ingredients into a blender and whirl away.  Add more water if blending is difficult.  Add more honey to taste.  Garnish with a slice of cucumber or mint leaf. A simple and healthy summertime drink to sip on the patio or while playing bocce ball. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Apple Valley is Changing for the Better

I am a suburb girl.  I grew up in Brooklyn Park, and Apple Valley has been my home the past seven years.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I have seen Apple Valley change these past few years.  Yes, we are still townhouse central, and full of chain restaurants, but there is some real change happening and I am loving and supporting it!

Last week marked the first Friday in a line-up all summer of free music at Kelly Park.  This has been going on for several years, but last Friday was amazing.  There had to have been over 300 people at the event.  Every parking spot was full, and people were parking in my development three blocks away and walking.  Food vendors are starting to make an appearance beyond the lame ice cream man in a van.  Enjoy Restaurant had brats and burgers, and Culver's had ice cream (yes a chain), and there were a few others.  I would love to sell homemade goodies at this and our farmer's market.  Maybe next year I will look into that. It was the people.  Families and singles out listening to music and chatting with one another.  Everyone out in support of the arts.  In addition, the Apple Valley Arts Foundation gave three Apple Valley arts teachers $1,500.  It gives me hope for the future, seeing my community supporting the arts.  I am proud to be an Apple Valley resident.  They host free music every Friday 6-9pm.  Interested in joining me for a picnic in the park?  Drop me a line and let's go!

We have an adorable farmer's market in the parking lot of the Galaxie Library every Saturday morning.  It is perfect. Charlie and I go to the farmer's market to buy what we can from our grocery list, then off to Target for the rest.  There are between 10-15 vendors.  Just enough for almost everything you need from bread to veggies and fruit.  Don't get me wrong, I love the giant Minneapolis Farmer's Market and the Downtown Saint Paul one, but this one is intimate and quiet.  You can touch and smell the food, chat with the vendors at length, and bump into neighbors.  Then visit the library! :)

This year we have a food truck!  Hazzah!  The Sassy Spoon will be joining the farmer's market every week! The bright pink truck beckons your order.  Last Saturday they only had two options, a sweet potato hash or a pork dish.  I of course went straight to the sweet potato hash.  The lovely ladies whipped up my order in a matter of minutes.  The Hungry Hungry Hash had a combination of sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli and a nice fried egg on top.  This definitely fits their tag line of "wholesome food with attitude."  It had heft, without being too heavy.  The vegetables were not in your standard cube, but delicate julienne strips that were lightly cooked in oil until all the edges began to caramelize.  Large enough to share, but why would you?  It was delicious from the first to the last bite.  I will be back to order this and others again soon.  I can't wait to try the Creamy Berry Crumble from Sweet Science ice cream, which they sometimes sell.