Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cafe Maude Brunch

Last weekend I had brunch with a friend at Cafe Maude (on 54th and Penn in Minneapolis) for the first time. I'd been for drinks and dessert once before and loved the ambiance but hadn't made it back for a second visit. Thanks to a recommendation from This Minneapolis Life, I figured it was a wise brunch choice.

I love the look and feel of Cafe Maude. The rich, vibrant colors are cozy and inviting. The space is well utilized. And as a bonus, there's also usually live music (piano during our visit). I thought we might regret not making a reservation given Cafe Maude's popularity (and a slightly awkward exchange with the host where he kind of seemed to hint at just that), but we ended up getting a booth immediately.Our server was friendly and helpful, which I was grateful for since I'd heard mixed reviews in the past. I was disappointed to learn that they were out of the quiche of the day but quickly recovered, asking the server for her recommendation between the bacon avocado omelette and the chorizo hash. Without any hesitation, she steered me toward the chorizo hash.Served with a fried egg and baby red potatoes, along with avocado and harissa on the side, I was quite impressed with the hash. The chorizo packed a nice little kick (sometimes a little more than this spice-adverse wimp is used to...but my water glass was kept full throughout) and the potatoes were fabulous. Obviously, the harissa hot sauce wasn't my cup of tea, but the avocado was a nice complement to the chorizo. Overall, it was very good.

My friend went with the smoked salmon omelette, which she also noted was very good.
I'd say that Cafe Maude definitely lives up to its "civilized leisure" tag line, paying great respect to its namesake Maude Armatage. It's easy to see why Cafe Maude is often considered a neighborhood favorite.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ice Skating in Downtown Saint Paul

One of the (few?) greatest things about Minnesota winters is the abundance of snowtime activities made available to my cold-blooded friends. Earlier this month, one such friend had the great idea to go ice skating in Saint Paul.

Each year, downtown Saint Paul offers free ice skating at an outdoor rink located next to the beautiful, historic Landmark Center.

Mind you, I hadn't been ice skating since probably the eighth grade...and given that graceful isn't exactly one of the words often used to describe me, I was slightly nervous about this little outdoor adventure. The good news is that after about 10 minutes, I started to get comfortable in the skates and began doing my best "Cutting Edge" impressions (toe pick!). Plus, you get quite a workout going round-and-round that rink. Best of all, there were no falls to report. All in all, a victory.

If you're interested in skating, the 2009-2010 season runs through Jan. 31, and Wells Fargo offers free skate rental to anyone with a Wells Fargo check card (otherwise $2 per person).

If the idea of freezing for free doesn't entice you, surely the beautiful Saint Paul architecture will. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Road Trip: Clear Lake, Iowa

As 2009 came to an end, my roommates, our friend and I found ourselves on a road trip to Clear Lake, Iowa (approximately two hours from MSP), to meet another friend who now lives out East and was home for the holidays.

For those of you who don't know, Clear Lake is home to a large lake, the plane crash site of Buddy Holly and a Culver's. The last of which is the reason we chose it as our meeting spot. Well, that, and because it marked the halfway point.

Some sights along the way (still in Minnesota)...

Officially across the border...

For lunch, we decided on Cancun, a Mexican restaurant offering creative decor and cheap, cheap eats. Nothing too exciting to report. My burrito was very filling.

After lunch, we toured the fine city with its quaint downtown and 13.6 miles of shoreline.

After the requisite stop for ice cream at Culver's, we turned around and began our journey back to Minnesota. Of course, there was a must-see attraction on the way home: Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa.

The few times I had driven by Diamond Jo in the past, I was itching to stop but luck was never on my side. I was ecstatic when my friends agreed to humor me.

Something tells me Lady Gaga channeled Diamond Jo for some inspiration with "Poker Face."

Gold corn as door handles!

Just as I always imagined it...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas Season at the Basilica

I've gone to mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis twice since Christmas, and each time I've been struck by the beautiful decorations celebrating the season.

From the simple elegance of the white poinsettias and candles combined with the birch and pine trees...
To the beautiful nativity scene behind the altar...

The whole scene is delightfully exquisite.

Now I'm off to watch 500 Days of Summer, another film I've heard fantastic things about.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Dinner to End All Dinners

Before he moved to London, a good friend and I would make dinner for each other every Thursday night. Each week, we'd brainstorm ways to "out do" each other. From sweet potato fries and pecan crusted chicken to chocolate trifles and garlic mushrooms on toast, we'd take turns proclaiming our own dinners "the best ever" weekly for more than a year.

During his recent visit, we decided to team our efforts and make one incredible dinner of mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and steak. Each brought its own uniqueness...the mashed potatoes were a blend of sweet and Russet combined with peanut butter (yes, peanut butter), the Brussels sprouts were roasted and topped with crumbled bacon, and the steak was broiled with a dry meat rub and caramelized onions and mushrooms.

Below are the boiled potatoes prepped for mashing. Each kind was mashed separately with peanut butter added before blending together for a swirl-like effect.
Finished product.
Brussels sprouts with chopped onion, olive oil, salt and pepper ready for the oven. We used - and strayed slightly from - this recipe.
Another finished product with the crumbled bacon.
Prepping the meat for the broiler, using this rub recipe. We followed these instructions for caramelizing the onions. Admittedly, we didn't start caramelizing until the meat was nearly ready for the broiler, so the onions were really more "coated" than "caramelized."
The complete meal.
Call me boastful, but I really think we outdid ourselves here. Every part of this meal was perfect. The peanut butter brought a really nice flavor to the potatoes, and I never quite realized what I was missing before putting all of those spices on the steak (far better and easier than store-bought marinades). And, while I once considered myself lucky to have avoided the torture of Brussels sprouts as a child, I have quickly joined the growing list of converted.

After dinner, we watched Julie & Julia, a quite appropriate way to end the evening. Good movie...I like to think we could have given both ladies a run for their money ;)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas Brunch at WA Frost

Seems I still have a bit of catching up to do with all of the activity over the holidays. Today, I'm writing about brunch with friends just before Christmas at WA Frost in Saint Paul. For the last few years, my friends and I have been getting together for Christmas activities rather than gift exchanging. This is our second visit to WA Frost in the last couple years.

WA Frost is one of the nicest restaurants in MSP and is always decorated beautifully for the holiday season.

I ordered the Fontina Cheese & Chicken Omelette, which came with home fries, bacon and fresh fruit. I thought the meal had a great presentation and found it to be quite enjoyable. I liked the caramelized onions in the potatoes and the perfectly crispy bacon. The omelette was also very good, although I wasn't quite as impressed with the breaded red peppers. And, it's hard to go wrong with fresh fruit.

WA Frost earns top points for its ambiance alone. Paired with good food, a great location and a festive holiday spirit, I'd put it near the top of the must-visit list.