Sunday, February 28, 2010

TNDAH: Lemon Penne with Ham and Escarole

This week's Tuesday Night Dinner at Home choice was Lemon Penne with Ham and Escarole (another selection from the Rachael Ray magazine).

After boiling the penne pasta, here it is mixed in with the sliced escarole.
Preparing the ham steak.
Whipping together the lemon sauce mixture.
Finished pasta.
All together now. Pasta with the mixed greens side salad.
This pasta was one of the most interesting I've ever had. For starters, I'd never heard of escarole before (a slightly bitter member of the endive family), but it brought a great uniqueness to the dish. The lemon zest and juice provided much of the flavor, which was at times slightly overwhelming. In hindsight, I think I could have cut back on the amount the recipe called for to balance the lemon with the other flavors. I also went with wheat pasta, which I still struggle with a bit, but overall, the recipe was a good one to try. Just another opportunity to branch out of my typical routine.

Lemon Penne with Ham and Escarole Recipe
1 lb. penne pasta
1 head escarole (about 1 lb.), sliced crosswise
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 ounces ham steak, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 large eggs
Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Stir in the escarole and drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water; return the pasta and escarole to the pot. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the ham, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, lemon peel, lemon juice and half of the cheese. Whisk in 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. Stir the egg mixture into the pasta and cook, stirring, over low heat, until the cheese is melted and the mixture is creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the ham mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup reserved pasta water; season with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining cheese.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pizza Lucé Brunch

Somehow this past week really got away from me, and now I have a little catching up to do...Last Sunday, I met friends for brunch at Pizza Lucé on Selby Avenue in Saint Paul. I was a bit skeptical of the brunch offerings of a pizza establishment, but an advanced look at the weekend brunch menu put my mind at ease. Plus, $1 mimosas are hard to beat.
I ordered the Western Omelet, which came with ham, red peppers, green peppers, poblano pepper, red onion and cheddar cheese, along with sour cream, hash browns (I substituted regular in place of the jalapeno) and wheat toast on the side. I liked the omelet with its bit of Western flair, but I most enjoyed the hash browns. Pizza Lucé did a great job with the seasoning, making the cooked-just-right hash browns quite savory. Oh, and of course the mimosas were fab, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lunch at Patrick's

Last week, I basked in the glory of a "no plans Monday" - the day off because of President's Day and nothing planned except hanging out with my roommate.

After running some errands (and a fruitless hunt for sale boots), we decided to try Patrick's Bakery and Cafe in Edina for lunch. Nestled between a Heartbreaker and Papa Murphy's in a rather non-descript strip mall, Patrick's could easily be overlooked. But, once you walk through the doors, you're greeted by a beautiful dessert case, a bustling kitchen and a packed house.
I ordered the Chicken Ranch Wrap - filled with delicious, fresh and hearty chicken. It came with a side salad of mixed greens and a tomato-ey vinaigrette. Both the wrap and salad were well-prepared and satisfying. Best of all, it was priced right. Just goes to show sometimes even strip malls have delightful little gems.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dinner at Michelangelo's

On Valentine's Day, I went out for dinner with my roommate at Michelangelo's, a neighborhood pizzeria on 50th and Xerxes in Minneapolis. Just another of the many little establishments I've wanted to try since moving to my new neighborhood.
The space is small - basically one large booth, a smaller booth, a couple of high tops and a few free-standing tables - so it's perfectly cozy.
Being Valentine's Day and all, I decided to treat myself to the cherry coke. I love restaurants that still serve it with real cherries.
I went with the standard dinner salad with bleu cheese dressing to start, and my roommate chose the Caesar (he was a little more enticed by the promise of a healthy dose of anchovies than I was). My salad came with green peppers, black olives, tomatoes and onions on a bed of iceberg and romaine. It was the perfect portion size and a great start to the meal.
To share, we ordered a medium Chef's Special pizza that came with Italian sausage, black olives, mushrooms and mozzarella. While I wouldn't say it cracked the top five of my favorite local pizzas (Punch, Pizza Luce, Red's Savoy, Pizza Nea and Pazzaluna), it was definitely quite good. The sauce was savory with a nice combination of herbs and spices, and the pizza toppings were well-paired.

Michelangelo's has definitely solidified itself as a 'regular' in my restaurant line-up. It's a perfect neighborhood gem, doesn't give the impression that it would ever be overwhelmingly busy and is reasonably priced with nightly specials (next time I might try taking advantage of the Wednesday night pasta deal).

P.S. If you haven't seen Valentine's Day yet, run (don't walk) to the theater. Adorable. Delightful. Hilarious.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday Night Dinner at Home: Taco Pie

Two weeks in a row! Look out...the kitchen is really heating up now ;)

Tonight I decided to try a recipe I found in a cookbook that my office put together to raise money for charity a couple of years ago. It includes recipes from many of my colleagues, and the one that caught my eye this week was for Taco Pie.

Here's a picture of the pie ready for the oven (assembled with help from my roommate).
And, here it is fresh out of the oven (tomatoes on just half since my other roommate isn't a fan).
Served up with a side of Zatarain's Spanish Rice. Probably not the healthiest thing ever invented, but tasty nonetheless.
The Taco Pie was spectacular and extremely quick and easy to prepare. Made with crescent rolls, it had a light and fluffy taste with the added crunch of crushed corn chips. Plus, the meat, cheese and sour cream all baked together was like heaven on a fork. I'll definitely be making this recipe again in the near future.

Taco Pie Recipe
1 lb. hamburger
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1/2 cup water
1 8 0z. can crescent dinner rolls
1 1/2 cups crushed corn chips
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheese

Brown hamburger, add seasoning and water. Form crust by putting crescent rolls in nine-inch pie pan. Sprinkle 1 cup corn chips over crust. Add meat. Top with sour cream and cheese. Sprinkle with remaining corn chips. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Serve with your favorite taco toppings (we went with black olives and tomatoes).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday Brunch at Trotter's and Cupcakes from Sweets

Yesterday afternoon, my roommate and I went to Trotter's on Cleveland and Marshall, near St. Thomas, in Saint Paul for brunch. Trotter's is known for its use of fresh, local ingredients and serves breakfast until 2 p.m. on Sundays. Added bonus: there's a coupon in the Blue Sky Guide for 25 percent off any menu item.

I went with the Tortilla Lucia and a side of bacon. The tortilla comes stuffed with scrambled eggs, refried beans, tomatoes, chilies and cheese, and is topped with Trotter's homemade salsa. I found it to be delightful - fresh and filling.
For some strange reason, I thought I needed the bacon to complete the meat-less tortilla. Perhaps my brain thinks I'm a carnivore. Either way, despite being quite good, the bacon was completely unnecessary.
After our satisfying meal at Trotter's, we walked down Marshall to the new-ish Sweets Bakeshop to pick up cupcakes for dessert. I LOVE cupcakes, so I was excited to hear that there was a new shop in my old 'hood.
I found it quite difficult to decide between all of the beautifully styled cupcakes, so I went with three flavors thinking my roommate and I could try each one: the Black and White, the Cookie Dough and the Triple Chocolate.
In the end, I think all of the anticipation got the best of us (we waited until after dinner to eat them). While they're gorgeous and score an A+ on presentation, the cake itself wasn't as moist as I was expecting. It took me completely by surprise because they looked so good and the frosting was so perfect that I just assumed they'd be amazing. Maybe it was just an off day. I'm not ready to give up on Sweets just yet, so I'll wait a couple months and give it another go.

Also yesterday, we made our first stop at Vinaigrette on 50th and Xerxes in Minneapolis, which offers specialty olive oils and vinegars. I picked up the Balsamico di Modena vinegar to use on a balsamic asparagus recipe last night. Worth every penny.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happy Hour at Beaujo's

After work on Friday, I went to Beaujo's Wine Bar & Bistro on 50th & France in Edina with a few colleagues for wine and appetizers. I'd heard that it was a perfect after-work spot and was looking forward to my first visit.

Having beat the dinner rush, we found a great table situated near the front of the restaurant. I was grateful for our early arrival since not long after, lines started forming at the door and were still there when we left nearly two hours later. In terms of service, I would say that it fell somewhere in the middle. Our server was pleasant but not stellar and helpful but not speedy.

For drinks, I went with the Riesling (my standard white wine selection), which was quite enjoyable.
We shared the breads and spreads and flatbread pizza. My favorite of the spreads was the rosemary feta cheese, although I was also a pretty big fan of the baba ghanoush.
The pizza came with ham, grapes and onions as toppings...and was to die for. The grapes brought out a really unique flavor and were a surprisingly wonderful addition.
My overall thought is that Beaujo's is a great little space in a perfect location. While our service was spotty and something that could be improved upon, the small plates were spot-on and the atmosphere was perfect for a relaxing, conversation-filled evening. I think next time I may have to give the steak salad a try.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday Night Dinner with Black-Eyed Peas

With the new year well underway, I'm going to try to bring back the Tuesday Night Dinner at Home entries with some regularity. Despite the low frequency of these posts, I've actually been eating at home and cooking dinner with the roommates a lot lately...but I've lacked a little creativity, defaulting instead to several old favorites (read: lots of pasta and side salads).

So, the other day I was flipping through a recent issue of Rachael Ray's magazine and flagged a few recipes I thought sounded good. Wanting to add a little variety to this Tuesday dinner, I thought I'd try the "Pork Chops with Warm Black-Eyed Pea Salad." I'd never had black-eyed peas before, so I knew that I'd find it interesting at the very least.

Pork chop prep with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Warm black-eyed pea salad prep. I might as well go ahead and confess right here that I screwed up not once but twice with this part. First: I forgot to buy a red onion, so I had to swap it with yellow (I swear I must have walked right by the red onions at the grocery store earlier tonight while imagining myself adding one to the basket), and second: I read the recipe incorrectly and thought it only called for one can of black-eyed peas (although, it clearly states two).
Tasty side salad. Eating a salad with nearly every meal is my new thing. I like to buy the plastic containers of organic baby greens (or in this case spinach) and mix it with several other good-for-you ingredients. Lately, I've been adding the NUT-rition Digestive Health Mix of nuts, dried fruits and granola, along with parmesan cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
Finished product.
Despite a few missteps with the black-eyed pea salad, it turned out quite well (I cut back on the amount of crushed red pepper and balsamic vinegar so as not to overdo it). It had a hearty, nutty flavor and was a good complement to the browned-just-right pork chop.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spill the Wine

Saturday evening found me at Spill the Wine on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis for dinner and drinks before a friend's birthday celebration. My last visit was a couple of years ago right after it had first opened (for drinks and an appetizer), so I was looking forward to further exploring the menu.

The atmosphere is perfect, offering just the right amount of urban-chic. In the evening, the candles and white string lights make it perfect for date night or intimate gatherings with friends (although not so great for snapping photos on my iPhone). And the wine barrels sprinkled about add a nice decorative touch.
I decided to go with one of the wine flights since I was in the mood for a little adventure, and I thought the price was pretty reasonable ($10 for a sampling of three). I went with the 'round the horn flight because it had two white offerings. Surprisingly, I liked the red the best. I thought all three were fine, but I probably would have been more satisfied if I would have just gone with one glass of something I knew I'd enjoy. O-well. At least I was adventurous.
Before I get into the specifics of the dinner, I'll just say that I loved, loved, loved it.

We chose two appetizers to share: the calamari and the potato gnocchi. The calamari was great - crispy and delightful.The gnocchi was delicious. The sauce was rich and creamy and made with gorgonzola, spinach and large chunks of chicken.
For the main entree, I went with the cobb salad. I will emphatically say that it was the best salad I've ever ordered. Period. I really liked the preparation of the roasted chicken, and (as I think is becoming quite apparent) I love gorgonzola.
To top it all off, we decided to share the molten chocolate cake, which was heavenly. It even came with a side of hot chocolate, perfect for dunking the already-very-chocolatey-cake. Scrumdiddlyumptious.