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food for thought: desserts

20 Feb

I celebrated a birthday earlier this month, and after a fun and tasty meal at Barrio, we pondered where to go for dessert. Pat threw out a few ideas, and ultimately decided we should try the bar at La Belle Vie. Apparently they are known for their fine desserts. La Belle Vie is a beautiful restaurant, and I found the bar ambiance to be classy and romantic. We chose a spot on a couch by the fireplace right near the bar. We were there for dessert only, so Pat ordered coffee and then we selected two desserts. We figured it’s not often we make it to La Belle Vie, so we may as well try two desserts (instead of sharing one) to get more of a sampling of their dessert menu, and also because…well…two desserts are always better than one!

We decided on the warm apple cake with truffle ice cream and thyme, and the something-or-other caramel cake with dark chocolate sorbet. We asked our server what she thought of our choices and she claimed they were her two favorites on the dessert menu. She described the apple cake as “not too sweet, but not savory” and the caramel cake as “think of your Grandma’s caramel layer bars- this is way better.”

The coffee came and I was very impressed by the silver service. Pat drinks his coffee black, and I rarely drink coffee (especially not at 9:00pm), but this coffee came with a lovely cream and some beautiful lumps of sugar, so I talked Pat into adding those delicacies to his cup. And he sure was glad I did, because then we got to SHARE his coffee. La Belle Vie’s coffee with cream and sugar gets two thumbs up from me!

Our desserts arrived and they were artfully and beautifully presented. The apple cake was alternating layers of white cake and baked apple, cut out into perfect circles. There was also a small scoop of truffle ice cream and a plop of thyme foam. The caramel cake was a small rectangular square of cake, with a scoop of rich, dark chocolate sorbet, and then way over on the edge of the plate was this glob of what can only be described as unidentifiable white stuff.

My conclusion: I don’t like fancy desserts. The apple and cake circles? They were fine. The truffle ice cream? Well, let’s just say in my humble opinion mushrooms should never be an ingredient in ice cream. And the thyme foam? Simply weird. The server was correct- the apple dessert was not very sweet and I would actually use the term savory to describe 2/3 of it. The caramel cake was good, but honestly I’d choose a homemade bar from my grandma any day. The dark chocolate sorbet was the only divine part of both desserts, and the mystery glob? I still don’t know what it was, but once in my mouth it provided me with the same sensation as eating a mouthful of pop rocks. Zesty!

In sum, I officially like my desserts hearty, large, simple, and delicious. Give me a chewy chocolate chip cookie or an amazing homemade bar or a generous scoop of ice cream or a warm piece of apple pie any day, and I will be happy. Desserts served at places like Birchwood Cafe, Crema, Izzy’s or A Baker’s Wife come to mind. Heck, desserts from my own kitchen come to mind!

So where’s the deep, deep ‘food for thought’ in all this? Do you like fancy frou-frou desserts? Or do you prefer a delicious, delectable not-very-exciting-but-always-dependable old stand-bys?


holiday highlights

27 Dec

It has been a very busy 4 days around here. In that time, I have not facebooked, tweeted, blogged or e-mailed. It was wonderful. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things and used to the idea of not having dessert at EVERY meal.

Here are some highlights from our various family gatherings and Christmas celebrations (in no particular order because that is just too hard to decide):

1. Billy Elliot with my god-daughter (and niece). The highlight was actually watching her watch Billy Elliot. Pretty sure I’ve created a monster.

2. Brette’s vanilla caramels. Everyone who ate one, loved them. I may have just popped one into my mouth just this minute.

3. This guy. A big thank you to my in-laws (and to Brette for suggesting it). I’m so excited to have a new member to my Le Crueset family!

4. Watching my brother-in-law, Nick hula-hoop on the Wii Fit. It’s the closest to him dancing that I’ve witnessed. He’s not the most extroverted guy, so this was a bit of a stretch. His willingness to be a good sport was very entertaining to the rest of us.

5. Food gifts!

  • My parent’s secret recipe horseradish pickles (using horseradish made by my dad). These pickles are amazing.

  • Candied almonds made by my god-son (and nephew), Jack. There are fewer in the jar now…

6. Hearing my dad’s laugh. My dad has an awesome laugh. He was laughing as he opened our gift to him: a new ice bucket (they’ve had their current one for about 40 years – no joke) and a bottle of Crown Royal Reserve. He’s likely enjoying a Crown Royal Manhattan as we speak.

7. Attempts of family photos. Every year we try to do a photo on Christmas Eve with Brette’s family. It can sometimes be a production…especially if we involve the dogs.

8. The cioppino tradition. Brette and I do our own Christmas just the two of us (and Lily, of course).  I make cioppino, Brette cracks a bottle of wine and we hunker down in comfy clothes and open our gifts to each other. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year. I must have been good this year because I got some great gifts including a kitchen scale, a snazzy bike helmet, an ihome and a baggalini! I’ve been eyeing the baggalini brand for quite some time, but I’ve never mentioned it before. How cool is that? The man can read my mind.

9. Ice cream stocking stuffer! What’s better than ice cream in your stocking? Izzy’s pumpkin ice cream – my favorite! My hubby is always coming up with cool stocking ideas. This is the second time I’ve received ice cream, but I really hope it’s not the last!

10. The time spent with my family. We are very fortunate to have wonderful families and it was such a pleasure to get to spend time with both of them to celebrate my favorite holiday.

There are many more but I’ll stop at 10. Besides I must start finalizing my food goals for 2011 and my race calendar. So many decisions!

What were your holiday highlights? I hope you were able to spend it with the important people in your life!

on the road: seattle part 2

16 Sep

Time for part 2 of our trip to Seattle. If you need to catch up on part 1, please go here.

Before we left for Seattle, everyone we talked to that had been there said we HAD to go to the market. That would be the famous Pike’s Place Market.

Now, I love markets. As you know I have a routine about the local markets here in Minneapolis.

This is one of those markets that is open every single day. I was most excited about visiting Pike’s Place. In fact, I made Brette promise me a whole day there. In the back of my mind, however, I wondered if I was going to be disappointed. It had been built up sooo much. It’s like being the last one to go see what everyone says is the ‘best movie ever made’ and thinking it was just okay. Brette was even more worried of this phenomenon than I was. He was expecting a number of vendors would be selling “crap” that they didn’t even make.

Thankfully, we were not disappointed. Just the opposite. We were ecstatic and loved everything about the market (except maybe the crowds) and went there not just one day, but every single day we were there. Sometimes more than once!

I learned from a vendor that you must prove that you make/grow/produce the product you sell. There are five vendors who have been grandfathered in but other than that, you have to prove yourself. I love that.

They have everything at this market from the famous fish guys, produce, jewelry, restaurants, flowers, honey, nuts, wood products and a zillion other things.

The famous fish guys

OMG Peaches! That’s how the guy described them to me and he was right, the first word’s out of my mouth were “Oh my God!”.

Brette’s favorite street performer.

Yes, we had two cameras along.

It was near the market that we found many of the more casual restaurants to enjoy. The food in this part of town is nothing short of amazing. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the options around. Just follow your nose to whatever smells the best. Here are a few places our noses took us to.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese:

Brette picked this one for lunch. The menu had a number of sandwiches featuring cheese that they make right there on site – and you can even watch them make it! I started up a conversation with the gentleman behind me who turned out to be a local who worked near by. He goes to Beecher’s a couple times per week. He made me try a sample of their mac and cheese (well, made is strong word. It didn’t take much convincing) and he helped me decide on sandwich.  All of their sandwiches are of the grilled cheese variety. Mine featured their flagship cheese along with tomatoes and basil. Brette went with one that also had the flagship cheese along with soft shell crab. They were the perfect food to eat while standing against a wall and watching the hustle and bustle of the market. We were very satisfied. On a side note: the Seward Co-op is now selling Beecher’s Flagship Cheese!

Pike Place Chowder:

This is also right in the middle of the market craziness but absolutely worth seeking out.

They have a variety of chowders including a classic clam chowder, a manhattan version and even a vegan version!

We both opted for the special which was a crab and oyster chowder. Brette got his in a bread bowl and I opted for a regular bowl along with a market salad which was chock full of fresh veggies from the market. We didn’t speak much while we were eating. It was that good. It was piping hot with lots of crab and oyster chunks and the creamy broth was soul-warming and it didn’t come across as super heavy. This would be on my “must go back to” list for the next time I’m there.

Piroshki on 3rd

We first saw Piroshki at the market and then on the way back to the hotel we noticed they had another location right next door. I loved the name and I loved the smell coming from the door, so we stopped in for breakfast one day. The woman working who I assume was one of the owners was adorable. Brette could have listened to her russian accent all day long. She was great at helping us pick our piroshki.

So what are piroshki? According to the Piroshki web site, they are small baked or fried turnovers or dumplings with savory meat, vegetable or fruit filling. They use recipes from Russia where they were originated. We ordered a sweet and a savory plus coffee which she insisted came with cookies. Who was I to argue?

When I asked what her favorite savory was, she answered quickly that it was whatever one just came out of the oven. So, we went with that – the spinach, egg and cheese. Our sweet was a rhubarb filling in a butter flake crust.

a blurry view of the spinach, egg and cheese

I thought they were both super tasty and if I lived next door to this place, I would likely try whatever was fresh from the oven on any given day. I think Brette would too as long as he could listen to her talk.

Cafe Campagne

This cute french cafe was on many people’s list as a place to go. I like cute french cafes so it didn’t take much convincing. We ended up eating there twice. Once for breakfast and once for brunch. The service was not super fast, but I really enjoyed the food there. Our first meal wasn’t anything crazy spectacular but I loved that they had plain yogurt and house made granola. It was perfect for me that day. So was the chocolate croissant.

The day we were there for brunch was after our 8 mile run along the scenic waterfront. We were hungry and ready to eat.

I ordered: OMELETTE AU BASILIC French rolled omelette filled with basil, topped with fresh tomato compote, served with chicken and pork sausage. It was hands down the best omelet I ever ate. Perfectly cooked so it just melted in my mouth. The make their own sausage and after not having meat for so long, it was a great way to get reacquainted.

Brette ordered: BURGER D’AGNEAU* Lamb burger with grilled balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, aïoli and pommes frites.

He pretty much went into a food coma afterward. To say he enjoyed himself would be a massive understatement. He didn’t make it all the way through the mound of pomme frites but it was a very solid effort.

I would go back to Cafe Campagne (am I sounding like a broken record yet?). I loved the atmosphere and I half expected to be able to speak french just from being there.

Now for Safeco field.  We’re pretty big Twins fan and we love being able to go to games at different stadiums. We really liked Safeco, but it’s not as nice as our brand new Target Field here in Minneapolis. I know, I know. They are 10 years apart in age and the new one is always going to be nicer. I get it. Still, have you been to Target Field? It’s so awesome!

It was a nice cool night for a game and of course while we were there we had to try the stadium food specialties.

I heard a rumor they had sushi. I was expecting the pre packaged sushi you find at the grocery store, but was surprised to see the gals at Rice n’ Roll, rolling sushi to order. Sure, it took forever, but it was darn tasty. How many times can you eat sushi and watch a live baseball game?

Brette followed his nose to the field specialty – the garlic fries! Good gads, the garlic on these suckers was crazy! There was easily a whole head of garlic on these fries. We did not make-out like teenagers that night.

Instead we watched the Twins BEAT the Mariners and had a leisurly stroll back to our hotel.

Why yes, we are wearing the same sweatshirt. No, we did not communicate clearly what we were packing for the trip.

One last food find I must mention for Anne’s sake. I missed her on this trip as she and Pat are great travel buddies. One thing about Anne is that she can sniff out ice cream shops better than anyone. Being on my own, I had to make her proud.

I found one! It was even Gelato! It was pretty fantastic too. I tried a dish of the chocolate along with the marscapone. Anne – it was great. I was only sad you weren’t there to enjoy it with me!

This was such a wonderful weekend getaway. We really liked Seattle despite the hills we were not expecting. I had no idea Seattle was hilly. Why didn’t anyone warn me?  I could spend a whole post just on the hills and the giant one Brette forced me to climb.

If you have a chance to visit Seattle, I would highly recommend it. How can you not love views like this?

one ingredient ice cream

26 Mar

I opted for a quiet night at home this fine Friday night. Brette’s at the MN High School Boys State Basketball Tournament where his alma mater is playing this evening. Go Wildcats! I decided to stay at home with the dog (who is snoring at my feet right now), catch up on some DVR and just chill.  Other than entertaining friends, this is how I’d prefer to spend my Friday nights.

Before Brette took off, I insisted he cook.  Since it’s been threatening spring here in MN and Brette has been dying to break in his new charcoal grill, burgers were in order. Nothing smells like spring more than a charcoal grill cooking up some burgers and veggies. I cannot wait for summer because it means more of this:

Perfect Friday night food.

What made it even better was dessert.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What? Jen!  – you can’t have dessert, you gave up sugar for lent!

But, this is no ordinary dessert. It’s the one ingredient ice cream I hinted at on Wednesday. What is that one ingredient?


No joke.  If you are a food blog junkie like myself, you may have seen this already. It’s making it’s way through the blog circuit.  And for good reasons. Ice cream out of a banana?

I tried this for the first time last weekend when our friend’s, Amanda and Dave, came over for dinner. I wasn’t confident it would work, but knew if it did, it would be super impressive. So, we all gathered around the food processor to watch what happened. Low and behold, after some patience and scrapping of the bowl, we had what looked like soft serve banana ice cream. And that’s exactly what it tasted like.

I promise if you make this for people they will be super impressed.

For those people off sugar – you will LOVE this.

For those of you that are lactose intolerant – you will LOVE this.

For those of you on Weight Watchers  or just gearing up for bikini season- you will LOVE this.

That is, if you like bananas.

There is an awesome tutorial of the step-by-step process with photos over at the kitchn. I highly recommend it.Their photos are fantastic.

Here are a few photos from my experience this evening.

Start with a very ripe banana that has been peeled, sliced and frozen.

Pop them into a food processor and turn it on. It will be loud. It will start to break up into pebble pieces.

This is where you need to channel your patience. The bananas will start to gum up and you will continue to have to stop the processor, scrape the sides, break up the clumps and start again.  At some point you will start to wonder if it’ll ever work and likely think I’m full of baloney.  I got impatient tonight and this happened:

I always wondered what it would take to ruin a Pampered Chef scraper. Now I know. Don’t stick it into a running food processor hoping to speed up banana ice cream. Have patience.

Eventually, it will turn into a creamy, smooth, soft-serve consistency. I promise. Once it gets there, you could add things to it. Tonight I tried my favorite pairing with bananas…

I can’t wait to throw some chocolate into the mix too. Can you imagine? Yum!

Here’s what the end result looked like:

Cold, creamy and delicious. I loved it with the peanut butter. It is for sure becoming a favorite of mine. I find that one banana per person is a nice portion, but since it’s just fruit, you could have more without guilt. Though tonight I would feel guilty since I promised to save some for Brette.  I could blame the dog? (who is still snoring by the way)

Have any of you tried this? What did you think?

sugar-free update #2

3 Mar

2 weeks in!

4.5 until a very “sweet” Easter.

Here are the updates from the field. It’s just Amanda and I reporting this week as Meghan was experiencing some technical difficulties. You can check out the week one update and see our pretty faces here.


I know I’m hurting for sugar when I find myself staring longingly at the free sample in the Lund’s bakery: powdered donuts. Just a few weeks ago I would have managed to snag two of them. It’s really not getting any easier. I don’t think I mentioned this before, but I’m a new mother and still nursing my 12 week old. Call me crazy, but I feel like my new diet has taken a toll on our little dude’s tummy. Diapers have taken on a life of their own!

Things I’m craving that I can’t have:

Everything! Grocery shopping, commercials for sweets, cooking shows are now really hard to do and watch if there is something involving sugar. And FYI…everything has sugar.

Non-sweetener substitutes that you love (or any that just didn’t work):

Actually, I’ve simply taken sugar out of a couple recipes (baked brie, brie fondue, homemade pasta sauce, etc) and I haven’t missed it.

Accidental (or not) cheat moments:

I had a piece of gum on my way to teach a class. I had to. There was no other way to disguise my hummus breath. I’m sure there were other moments that were truly accidental, but I can’t do much about those.

General thoughts: has it been hard? Anything specific that you are noticing?

Normally I love going out to eat, but I feel like this Lenten challenge makes it more stressful. I have to ask the server too many questions! I also feel like I’m starting to substitute butter for sugar and that can’t be good! What will week 3 bring?

The plus side: I’m back in my pre-pregnancy jeans. Well, some of them.


I think I went through some major withdrawal this past week. I had a day or two of dizziness and ickiness. I just felt “off”. I even stayed home from work for a day. Could it have been the lack of sugar? Could I have been cured with a square of chocolate?  If so, that’s crazy! I’m feeling much better now, so I’m hoping my “offness” has passed.

Things I’m craving that I can’t have:

I can’t say I’m craving anything specific. It varies on my surroundings. For example, we went out for dinner with Anne and Pat on Friday night and it’s tradition for the 4 of us to go for ice cream after dinner. Not being able to partake in that was disappointing. My latte was good, but it didn’t taste like a scoop of Pavarotti.

Non-sweetener substitutes that you love (or any that just didn’t work):

I am now in love with dates. 1 or 2 at the end of a meal are proving to be a great way to keep my sweet tooth in check.

Accidental (or not) cheat moments:

None that I know of! I almost cheated.  I was at Whole Foods this past weekend and there was a sampling of crackers and trout spread. I had cracker in hand and was about to add the trout spread when I thought, “I should check the ingredients”. Yep, both the trout spread and the cracker had sugar in it. Into the trash it went and I made a b-line for the cheese samples.

General thoughts: has it been hard? Anything specific that you are noticing?

I am really noticing how much sugar we consume. I would consider myself a very healthy eater.  I love desserts and have missed them. However, I’m more amazed at the sugar in other foods – like trout spread. What’s that about?

What about you? I know we have a few readers that are doing their own challenges.  One of you is off the splenda (yeah!) and a certain sister of mine was going sugar-free for the week. Are there more of you?

Tell us about it. What are you noticing? Any tips? Secrets?

bullet point Sunday! by Anne

15 Nov
  • Keeping up with two blogs every day for one month is more of a challenge than I thought. And I even have a co-conspirator with this blog!
  • The other day I realized that of all the things I’ve had cravings for during this pregnancy, one thing that I have NOT been craving is ice cream. This is probably one of the strangest phenomenon imaginable since I am a huge ice cream-aholic when not pregnant, so one would think that would increase tenfold while incubating a human. Not to worry, Friday night I met a friend at Crema, and the moment I walked in I was overcome with an enormous need for ice cream, so I ordered myself the double scoop chocolate/raspberry&crema swirl. It was heavenly goodness. Then Saturday Pat and I stopped at the DQ and I had a hot fudge sundae. Whew- ice cream non-craving respite is OVER!! Now who wants to run out and get me a malt?
  • I love my husband!!! You will NEVER guess what he did today. NEVER!! While I was suffering from some general malaise this Sunday, and felt like doing nothing besides nap and lie around in my sweats, he dug out the cookbooks, planned a dinner menu for the week, wrote out a grocery list, and then LEFT THE HOUSE WHILE THE VIKINGS GAME WAS STILL ON to go grocery shopping. I’m kissing his feet as we speak.
  • Then, THEN!!! Pat also took it upon himself to make dinner tonight. He made none other than Jen’s previously-mentioned Cuban Black Bean Stew. I had to step in and chop the onions during a crying jag, but other than that I didn’t have to lift a finger for this meal. And it turned out delicious. And we have dinner all ready to go for tomorrow night- double bonus!! He EVEN took PICTURES. I think he’s ready to be a guest poster on She Said, She Said.

Chez Pat



a delicious fall dessert idea

28 Sep

The other week at book club I served what has come to be one of my favorite fall/winter desserts. It’s the Pear Ginger Crumble, a la none other than Ellie Krieger. This dessert provides a nice, refreshing take on your typical apple crumble with the use of pears and a zesty addition of ginger. Another bonus is that it’s really easy to make- you simply toss everything together and put it in the oven. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or solo, this dessert is a fan favorite in our household.