Monday, November 30, 2009

A Kid for a Day

Seems like I've been on a bit of an Internet sabbatical as of late. I guess that's what happens when you take a week off, invite your nephews down to play and go home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Last weekend, my sister brought my adorable little nephews down for an adventure in the city. At 3 1/2 and 2 1/2 years old, they were ecstatic about a trip to the Minnesota Children's Museum in downtown Saint Paul. And, thanks to Saint Paul Public Library's Passport to Play offering, all four of us got in for just $4.

Here's a brief sampling of some of the exhibits, like "Out on a Limb" and "Earth World."

The boys had so much fun exploring and running and jumping and climbing...they didn't want to leave. I think we'll have to plan another visit when the "Dinosaurs" exhibit opens next month.

I kept my older nephew overnight before heading home for Thanksgiving, and we took a trip to what I called "the magical place" Monday afternoon - Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis' Linden Hills neighborhood.
Busting at the seams with children's books, Wild Rumpus is also home to many fine living animals...a chicken, cats, a lizard, a spider, doves and more. Magical indeed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Chicken Bake

Seems like forever since I actually made a true dinner at home, but with fall in full swing, I took some time this weekend to prepare one of my favorite baked chicken dishes. I discovered the "Cheesy Chicken & Rice Casserole" recipe on the back of a Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup can a few years back, and I've been hooked ever since.

This hearty meal combines ingredients from all four of the main food groups and can be served completely solo or paired with something small. I served it with some leftover bread from the Lund's bakery.

Cheesy Chicken & Rice Casserole Recipe
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup
1 1/3 cups water
3/4 cup uncooked regular long-grain white rice (I usually go with brown rice and add a little extra)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Stir soup, water, rice, onion powder, black pepper and vegetables in 11x8-inch shallow baking dish (I typically just use the standard 9x13-inch). Top with chicken. Season chicken as desired. Cover. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until chicken and rice are done. Top with cheese. Let casserole stand for 10 minutes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lunch at True Thai

This Saturday, my roommate and I chose True Thai on Franklin in Minneapolis as our lunchtime destination. True Thai is one of those restaurants that is so good, you can't help but visit more often than you probably should. However, after some pretty spotty service during our last few trips, I had all but written it off my list of faves. We decided to chance it this weekend though, placing a higher priority on delicious food than good service.
It was the first time I'd ever been to True Thai during the lunch hour. I was slightly surprised to see how family-friendly the restaurant was during the day - there were children at nearly every table. It was also a lot slower than it is at night (a good sign, I figured from a service standpoint).

True to form, however, it took a while for our server to greet us. In fact, I had to flag him down to let him know we were ready to order. Thankfully, that was the one and only minor glitch in our dining experience, and after he came over and apologized, he was extremely attentive for the rest of the meal.

We ordered the fresh Thai spring rolls, a must-get whenever we go out for Thai. The best thing about the spring rolls is that not five seconds after you place your order, they're at the table. The shrimp were large and fantastic, and the peanut sauce was simply divine.
For the entree, I chose "The Ultimate Pad Thai" with chicken, my favorite dish at True Thai. As usual, it was phenomenal. Just looking at the picture has me craving it all over again.
I'd give this visit an A- on the rating scale. It's far and away the best value for Thai food in MSP - borderline cheap for the caliber of food offered. The only thing that could make True Thai better is the service (despite a marked improvement this go-round, I still don't think you should ever have to flag down your server).

After lunch, we headed to the Mall of America for a quick visit. It's already Christmas-time in retail land.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday Night Dinner at McCormick & Schmick's

Thanks to Twitter, I found myself enjoying dinner last night, not at home as is customary on Tuesday evenings, but rather at seafood restaurant McCormick & Schmick's in Edina with my roommates.

@TCFOODFINDS hosts a daily local restaurant quiz, and if you get the answer right, your name is entered into a drawing for a gift certificate. I answered a question correctly last week about M&S's cheap happy hour eats and won a $50 GC to the restaurant's Edina location. Gotta love the power of Twitter.

Rather than putting the gift certificate toward the happy hour specials, we decided to treat ourselves and apply it to a nice dinner. I was especially excited since I'd been craving seafood for quite some time.

First up, a refreshing triple berry martini. Made with their homemade syrup, vodka, water and a splash of lime juice, I reveled in the complementary sweet and sour flavors.
For dinner, I ordered the seafood special, pairing together jumbo shrimp and a lobster tail. The meal came with a vegetable medley of squash, zucchini and tomatoes, and we ordered a side of mashed potatoes to share.

Simply put, this meal was heavenly. The shrimp were skewered, slightly grilled and accompanied by melted butter, and the lobster tail was joined by a rich and buttery lemon-flavored sauce. The vegetables were flavorful, and the mashed potatoes smooth and creamy.

Aside from the near heart attack you get just from looking at all that butter, there really wasn't a single thing I didn't love about this dinner. In terms of service, the staff was friendly and attentive. In fact, the managers went around to every table while we were there to ask about everyone's meal. I tend to think that's a nice added touch.

Seafood mission accomplished.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dixie's Champagne Brunch

This weekend was a bit of a restaurant mania. In just two short days, I managed to eat out nearly every meal: Saturday breakfast at Our Kitchen, Saturday dinner at the Green Mill and Sunday brunch at Dixie's on Grand in Saint Paul.

My friends and I like to get together for Sunday brunch from time to time (a la Sex and the City) and had heard that Dixie's has a great champagne brunch offering, making it an easy choice for this weekend's gathering.

Served until 1:30 p.m., there are three lines of choices: traditional breakfast (scrambled eggs, scalloped potatoes, bacon, sausage, cornbread pudding, jambalaya, etc.), salads and fresh fruits, and desserts (pies, bars, fondue, etc.). Best of all, the brunch comes with bottomless glasses of champagne or mimosas.

I delighted in the scrambled eggs, scalloped potatoes, sausage, bacon and shrimp.
I had a hard time deciding between all of the dessert options, but eventually landed on the pumpkin/cream cheese roll, chocolate-covered strawberries and chocolate mousse.

The strawberries were delish. However, I was a little disappointed by the pumpkin roll, which seemed slightly dry, and the chocolate mousse, which had a slight coffee flavor (I'm sure most coffee lovers would find it enjoyable though).The highlight of the experience was our attentive server who kept the mimosas flowing and checked back regularly. Another bonus: I wasn't hungry again until after 8 p.m.

A word to the wise: the Sunday brunch is the only offering from 10 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., so make sure you have breakfast on the brain and are prepared to spend $19.95 before deciding on Dixie's :)

My other Sunday highlight: my first purchases at Sur La Table, a gourmet cooking store on 50th & France in Edina. I left a happy camper with a cookie jar, olive oil cruet and snowflake cookie cutter in-hand.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Breakfast at Our Kitchen

Yesterday finally marked my first visit to Our Kitchen, a tiny little breakfast spot on 36th and Bryant in Minneapolis. My friend swears by it and was giddy with excitement when she learned I'd never been.

The restaurant literally has a max occupancy of about 20 people. I counted 15 while we were there, taking up nearly every nook and cranny at the counter and two window-facing counters.

The main counter faces the grill, so you get to watch your food come together. There are three staff - a cook and two servers. They're friendly and make you feel right at home.
I ordered the "Kitchen Special" - two eggs, hash browns, sausage, wheat toast and orange juice (in place of coffee). My meal was fantastic, and I ate nearly every bite.

The hash browns were thick bites of potato with a nice, slightly crunchy top layer. The sausage was well-seasoned, and the eggs were perfectly prepared - runny enough to dunk the toast but firm enough to still eat with a fork.
In short, Our Kitchen reminded me of a non-alcoholic, smaller version of Cheers. Filled mostly with regulars, the staff greeted many people by name...and this newbie with a smile and great service.

I spent the rest of yesterday afternoon with my friend baking. I'm pleased to report that my pumpkin bars were amazing, courtesy of this Paula Deen recipe.