Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Goodies

This year found me at my domestic finest for the holidays. I decided for the third year running that I would make small gift bags of candy as presents (previous years brought homemade caramels and peanut butter bonbons), along with Christmas cookies for a large community Christmas dinner my mom was helping organize.

Hoping to select a creative candy choice, I browsed Epicurious until I stumbled upon a recipe for peppermint patties. Perfect.

Following a visit to Sur La Table for a new candy thermometer, 1.5-inch round cookie cutter and foil wrappers, and a trip to Lunds for my ingredients, I set out with my two little helpers (my roommate and her boyfriend) to make the nifty little minty treasures.

The process is slightly time consuming (lots of freezer time) and definitely requires more than one person when you get to the dipping-in-chocolate step, but the finished product is quite delightful. Not only are they tasty, but they look like they were made by the hands of a professional.

We had quite a bit of chocolate left over, so I tried making chocolate covered cherries. They turned out just fine, although they've never really been my cup of tea. Plus, I didn't make the fondant inside that truly makes the chocolate covered cherry experience. O-well, better to be resourceful than wasteful. :)
Next up, Christmas Vanilla Sugar Cookies, a recipe I got a couple years ago from The Splendid Table's Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

I was so excited about these cookies because a.) I love Lynne Rossetto Kasper b.) I'd had the recipe for quite some time and c.) they sounded delicious.

Cutting out cookies with the adorable snowflake cutter.
Some baked snowflakes and angels.
Icing prep.
Ta-da. Finished product.
Although I'm quite proud of how these cookies turned out, I will say that I now have a profound appreciation for why people simply buy the pre-made sugar cookies at the grocery store. These are a lot of work! And making approximately 12 dozen doesn't make things any easier.

Regardless of all the work I put into my tasty treats this holiday, I'm glad I did it. It allowed for good roommate bonding and really put us all in the Christmas spirit.

I'm already starting to think about next year's candy choice. Feel free to send any good ideas my way.

Christmas Vanilla Sugar Cookies Recipe
(makes approximately three dozen)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
white decorating sugar, for garnish (or blue and yellow if you're making snowflakes and angels)

Cookies: In small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth, about two minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat well. Add the dry ingredients in three parts and mix until just combined. Shape the dough into three flat disks, wrap each disk tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. One disk at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch fluted cutter, cut out the cookies and place on baking sheets with wax paper. Refrigerate for an additional 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease baking sheets. Place cookies two inches apart and bake 9 to 11 minutes. Let cool.

Icing: In the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, combine ingredients. Stir two to three minutes until smooth. Remove from heat and place in glass measuring cup, allow to cool to lukewarm. To ice cookies: use pastry brush to spread a light coating of icing on each cookie and then sprinkle the decorating sugar over the icing. (Allow icing to set for a few hours before stacking cookies.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Roller Derby and The Liffey

I have been waiting for months for my first Roller Derby experience (and not because of "Whip It" because I haven't even seen that yet). All the waiting came to an end last Saturday when we traveled to Roy Wilkins Auditorium in Saint Paul to watch the Minnesota RollerGirls take on the Sioux Falls Rollerdollz.
We were lucky enough to score trackside tickets for $13 (somehow...even though they were sold out), and even managed to find amazing spots along the track right where the teams enter/exit. Below is a photo from the first mashup between the home teams: the Superheroes and the Supervillians.
Here the MNRG All-Stars being introduced at the start of the main bout.
The Sioux Falls Rollerdollz at the start.
I affectionately referred to Dropkick Donna as my favorite of the refs, because she stood by us most of the time and had a cool name.
Some action shots...

A band playing during halftime...
My favorite of the players, L'exi Cuter, during one of her many turns as lead jammer for the MNRG...
I must say that my first trip to the Roller Derby certainly was memorable. Once I began to understand the 'bout,' 'jammer,' 'blocker' jargon and how the game works, I was cheering like I'd been a fan for years. As the MNRG All-Stars crushed the Sioux Falls Rollerdollz 180-44, it hit me that I may have found a Minnesota sports team to cheer for that won't disappoint me.

Before the bout, we stopped at The Liffey for dinner and drinks.
I had the fish and chips. Delicious.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brunch at Edina Grill

This weekend marked my first visit to Edina Grill (my second to last stop on the Blue Plate Restaurant Company tour...although not sure I'll be making it out to Maple Grove any time soon). I've always thought of Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis as my favorite of the Blue Plate restaurants. It still is, but Edina Grill easily slid in as my second favorite.

Edina Grill is a great spot for brunch. It's ideally located on 50th and France in Edina and has a fairly extensive breakfast menu.

When we arrived Saturday morning, I was extremely grateful that we called ahead, leaving us with just a short 10-minute wait. The restaurant was filled to the brim, and we were seated in a booth just off the bar.
After not much deliberation, I decided to order the breakfast burrito. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that it's a superb choice. I wholeheartedly agree. It is stuffed with roasted pulled pork, black bean salsa, hash browns, scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese, and served with salsa verde, sour cream and salsa roja. I. Loved. It.
The best part about the burrito is that, while it's hearty and very filling, it doesn't have all the grease of your standard "bacon, eggs and hash browns" breakfast.

While Longfellow will always be in my heart (most notably for its cooler ambiance and slightly superior service), I don't feel the least bit guilty adding Edina Grill in as a regular in my still new-ish neighborhood.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmastime in Our House

Driving around rural Minnesota as youngsters during the holidays, my sisters, brother and I could often be heard shouting
"Christmastime to the left" (or to the right) whenever we passed a Christmas display. Now that we've all grown up, it seems - more often than not - my mom is the one pointing out the Christmastimes.

Smart cookie that she is, she's found a new car companion to share in the Christmas spirit. My oldest nephew has picked up on the tradition and recently spent all of our car rides together during his visit pointing out each and every one of the Christmastimes. It just warmed my heart.

So, tonight, as my roommate and I decorated for Christmas, I couldn't help but smile as I thought about Christmastime in our house.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

MIA and The Louvre Exhibit

Yesterday afternoon, thanks to a day off and free Museum Adventure Passes from Linden Hills Library, my roommate and I made it to the much-anticipated Louvre exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Minneapolis is one of only three cities on the Louvre exhibit tour (according to a docent) - along with London and Atlanta. Since its arrival in mid-October, the exhibit has often sold out so we were grateful for the open availability. It wasn't until halfway through the exhibit, that a docent politely informed me that I couldn't take photos since the items were on loan. Respectful person that I am, I'll refrain from posting my contraband photos (no matter how tempted I may be). However, you can learn about some of the amazing pieces and view them here. I'll admit that it was pretty incredible to see a Da Vinci work in person. My favorites though were: the Georges de La Tour and Johannes Vermeer paintings, the Lady of Auxerre statuette and the Peacock Dish.

And, the good news is that the rest of the museum was fair game for photo-snapping. The MIA offers one of the best views of the Minneapolis skyline (although you wouldn't really know it judging by the photo below; seems the winter doldrums are here to stay).
Here are some of my absolute favorites, starting with Van Gogh's Olive Trees.
And the Renoir.
And some Monet.
And Dali (my favorite of all the artists).
More Surrealism from Tanguy.
Then there was some Picasso.
And then there are some of my other favorites, in no particular order:

I love this one for its historical significance (Tornado over Saint Paul).

By far the most startling piece that we saw was the painting below. I call it startling only because it's found smack dab in the middle of the Classical rooms. The museum asked visitors to share their thoughts on the painting in a nearby notebook. Some other patrons also questioned the appropriateness of the juxtaposition with the classical art.
For lunch, we visited D'Amico's ArtsCafe, where I had a lunch combo with the ham panini and tomato basil soup. Both were superb. The panini had thick slices of ham, manchego cheese, red onions and a delicious fig chutney of sorts. And with the cold weather outside, the soup totally hit the spot. It was creamy and filled with nice chunks of real tomato. Mmm...mmm...good.