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gourmet dinner club: mexican

31 Mar

It’s funny to me that we’ve had so many gatherings of the Gourmet Dinner Club and this our first Mexican theme. We were definitely due to tackle the very popular Mexican cuisine. Rick Bayless – watch out! Lee, our host, did a great job of creating a Mexican evening that we all enjoyed. This time around, we let everyone know what we were bringing so that we knew all bases were covered. And boy were they covered.


This particular evening happened to fall during vegan lent and since I’m trying to do this right, this night was not an exception. So, even though I didn’t sample every dish (so hard!), I am doing a thorough write-up and made sure to get everyone’s thoughts.

The appetizers

Liza’s mom was our special guest for the evening and she brought one of my all-time favorite foods, securing her on my favorite people list forever, guacamole.

We won’t talk about how much of that bowl I ate. it was fantastic. Did you know that you should leave the avocado pit in the guacamole because it keeps it from browning? I always learn something new at the GDC.

Also on the appetizer table were sopes – made by Kari.

Aren’t they beautiful? They got rave reviews too. Some had shrimp on top and others had a black bean mixture along with Mexican cheese of course.

Lee had quite the array of beverages to help us wash down the guac and sopes, inlcuding Mexican Beer,water, juice and a  Mexican sangria that was super tasty. She served them in very small glasses which made it completely acceptable to have three.

After we were finished with our apps and I was finished telling my story about cooking at the Corner Table, it was time to move to the table.

The Main Meal

First up – vegan tortilla soup! Amanda is such a sweetheart and found a vegan version of this Mexican favorite. I found it to be super tasty and I didn’t miss the chicken at all.

I never knew that tortilla soup had pureed tortillas IN the soup. Is this a well known fact that I just was not privy to? The crunchy strips on top were my favorite part.

Mike, who always wins for presentation, had another home run with his Mexican Rice topped with edible flowers. He created his own recipe because he’s cool like that and it included  garlic, cumin, chili powder, mint (common in the Oaxaca region), tomatoes, stock and a good grating of cotjia cheese. What’s not to like?

I took the vegan route of course and made potato and kale enchiladas from Veganomicon. They were a bit time consuming to make, as I need to roast peppers, make two different sauces, cook the potato and kale and then assemble. I’m pretty sure I dirtied every dish in my house. It looked like a bomb went off. I served them with extra sauce, cilantro “cream” (tofu), and pumpkin seeds. I would definitely make them again, but on a weekend. They keep well and I think they would freeze well too.

Here’s a look at it all put together. You can also see the black beans that Lee was kind enough to make for me. Thanks Lee!

For the main course, Lee tackled Rick Bayless’s carne asada. It looked delicious.I had some of the sauce on my beans and it was tangy and sweet. Why was it sweet? Because it had prunes in it! Fun, right?

Dessert

I love sweets so this was the hardest thing for me not to eat. Liza made tres leches cake using this recipe. There were lots of moans and groans of happiness around the table as people ate. It was an absolute hit. I think Mike tried to actually steal the leftovers at some point. Amanda who doesn’t normally like tres leches was smitten. I think she’s a convert.

No one ever leaves the GDC hungry and this evening was no exception. Despite not being able to eat many of the dishes, I was still stuffed when I left. I blame the guacamole.

As we were prepping dessert, Amanda and Mike were trying to figure out if they are related. I think the mystery is not yet solved, but how cool would that be? I can see the headline: Gourmet Dinner Club brings together long lost cousins.

It was another great evening of the GDC.

Do you have a favorite Mexican Recipe? Are there any above you’d like more detail on?

restaurant review: ecopolitan

25 Mar

I’ve been aware of the uptown restaurant Ecopolitan for quite some time. I always wrote it off as “way to hippy for me”. I knew they were a raw vegan restaurant and to me that was scary.

Meghan has been trying to get me to go there for awhile and somehow I managed not to schedule that gathering. However, with vegan lent , I knew it was bound to happen. So, Meghan, Willa and I (the MN vegan lent briggade) made a date to go check it out.

Ecopolitan is more than just a restaurant. It is also a Juice Bar, Wine bar and an Eco-shop. It’s a non-profit organization which promotes Eco-Raw Living, which according to their web site is an “educated lifestyle that harmonizes health science, nutrition, ecology, and community to promote a sustainable future on Earth” They provide many different Health Services, “uncooking” classes, lectures, eco-stay retreats and more.  You can check out their website for more details, as I’m going to just focus on the food.

Meghan had eaten there before and couldn’t say enough about it. As a long time vegetarian, she loves that she can order anything on the menu without haveing to ask for modifications. I totally get that. I, however, was still skeptical. Mainly that I was going to stick out as a sore thumb.

So, how did it go?

Pretty well, actually. I’m not saying that I’m going to be going there on a weekly basis, but overall, the experience was better than I expected. The company helped, of course.


So, let me break this down….

Atmosphere: Ecopolitan is in an old house so that’s kind of cute. The two front rooms serve as the dining room and the kitchen and pre-made items and smoothie bar are in the back. The table and chairs reminded me of what I picked up at a garage sale to furnish my first apartment, but they seemed to fit well for this place. It was full the whole time we were there (on a Monday), but it wasn’t overly loud. It definitely has a laid back vibe.

Service: Here’s where they lost me. Our waitress was very nice and gave excellent recommendations. Can you sense a but coming your way? It’s a big one. Everything there literally moves at a snails pace. Maybe that’s supposed to be part of the charm, but it did not work on me. It took forever to get our main courses. In fact, in total our meal took 2 1/2 hours – and it wasn’t because we were gabbing away like crazy…it just took that long to get our food. What doesn’t make sense to me about this is that this is a RAW restaurant. Meaning – they didn’t have to actually cook my food, just assemble it. And, it seemed like many of the components of our dishes were likely made ahead of time. So, what gives? Does this laid back vibe mean slow-mo in the kitchen? Apparently. I probably wouldn’t mind had it been a Friday or Saturday night. But it was a Monday and I turn into a pumpkin at 9 p.m., so this really got on my nerves.

Food:

The food was tasty and very different. I really want you to be able to see what it looked like, but my photos are horrible. I’m going to show them to you anyway so you get the gist. Apparently the cough and cold I was suffering from made me forget the basic functions of a camera.

We ordered the Cashew “Cheese” Log for an appetizer. Here is the description: Rolled in sun-dried tomatoes, olives, & fresh basil. Served with balsamic onions & flax crackers. It tasted a lot like a vegetable cream cheese spread and it was pretty tasty with the flax crackers. I would have never known it was made with cashews.

We each ordered a different entree so we could all sample a few things.

My dish was the favorite of the evening and was a recommendation of our waitress:

ECO-SAUSAGE PIZZA – Macadamia-cashew “cheese”, walnut eco-sausage, bell pepper, marinated mushrooms, onion, & ginger marinara sauce.

It was so good and tasted and smelled a heck of a lot like pizza. If I go back, I’ll be ordering that again.

Meghan had the next best at the table:

PESTO PASTA – Pine nut pesto on zucchini noodles with tomato, bell pepper, marinated mushrooms, & walnuts. Served on balsamic- vinaigrette-dressed spinach.

The zucchini noodles were very fun and came with a lot less guilt than a pile full of pasta and we all really enjoyed the dish. It had plenty of flavor….thought not as much as my pizza.

Then there was Willa’s dish:

NOT-CHO “CHEESE” PLATE – Pine nut “cheese” on greens with bell pepper, cucumber, marinated mushrooms, onion, cilantro, cashew “sour cream,” & hot sauce. Served with eco-chips.

I think we were all most intrigued about this dish. It is served over kale so to me it looked more like a salad with a few chips on the side. More chips would’ve been welcomed at the table. My main issue with the dish was the spice. Now, I know I’m a wuss when it comes to spice, but I have gotten so much better the past few years. This, however, was way to much for me. One bite was all I could handle. Willa, the who has the ability to eat habaneros as a snack, didn’t have a problem with the spice, but it wasn’t her (or Meghan’s) favorite either. I don’t think any of us would order it again.

While we were eating we saw a gigantic sundae-type dish come out, so we immediately asked about it and then ordered it. Eating a raw food meal I think automatically means you get dessert.

We did check out the pre-made desserts in the case, but nothing really looked that great. Plus, I think we were sold on the sundae as soon as we saw it.

The parfait was whipped frozen bananas and strawberries that were served in a glass coated with a coconut-date spread and nuts. We all really liked it, but weren’t necessarily blown away. You could make something just as tasty (and maybe better) at home following this recipe as your base.

So, what’s the overall opinion?

Some may find it a bit spendy compared to other restaurants (my two pieces of pizza were $15), but they used quality ingredients so that certainly didn’t bother me at all.

I think if you are a vegetarian or vegan you will love this place and appreciate the options. You might like it on a more regular basis. I think it’s an interesting experience for others to try as well – especially if you’re an adventuresome eater. I would go back if invited, but because of the sloooooowwwwww service, I won’t be running there every week. Though if Meghan figures out how to make their pizza at home, I would be really happy.

I also realized I’m far from anyone giving me a “hippy” label, but I can happily be a guest among them.

Have you been to Ecopolitan or a similar type restaurant? What did you think?

Meal Swapping

10 Mar

Note: This post is by Featured Contributor, Liza.

So a few months ago there was an article in the Star Tribune about meal swapping here.

My good friend Heather Clark emailed me and said we should get a group together to do this.

I thought it was a great idea but had numerous questions.  My family tries to eat consciously.  We shop at the coop, we buy organic produce and dairy when possible, and most importantly my son has a peanut allergy.  Would I be a diva to ask the group to respect some of my food priorities?  Heather came up with the great idea of surveying everyone interested to see if our priorities aligned and they did!

There are seven of us in the group, most of us have small children or travel a lot for work which means having several meals ready to thaw in the freezer is awesome.  Basically we cook one dish for six people and get six meals in return.

We met for the first time in November to discuss how we should structure the group, how often we should meet, discussing menu ideas, spice tolerances, etc.  We settled on meeting every other month and agreed that about three weeks before a swap we would email our meal suggestion to the group so we would make sure we didn’t have seven pasta dishes or too many repeats.  I had suggested that we all purchase the same dishes to prepare our meals in so we wouldn’t have to keep track of whose containers were whose.

We agreed to meet in December and would be swapping soup and ½ dozen Christmas cookies.  Due to a snowstorm (shocker this winter right?) we were unable to meet but ended up dividing and conquering our deliveries and the goods received were great!

In February, on Super Bowl Sunday, we met again (well in advance of the game).  This time the menu included; Indian Curry, Empanadas, Egg Bake, Squash and Sage Ravioli, Meatballs, Stuffed Shells and Chicken Pesto Calzones.

So far it has been wildly successful!  We are all loving trying different dishes and having ready to thaw meals at our fingertips.  As we move into warmer months we have talked about having one person make something that is fresh and ready to eat like a pasta or tuna salad that we can consume right away just to add some variety.

So do any of you swap?  What are your favorite meals to make ahead and freeze?

I promise next time we meet as a group to snap a picture so you can see all of these lovely ladies.

25 things – meghan

16 Feb
To kick off our “meet the contributor” series, here are all sorts of interesting facts about my friend (and sometimes twin), Meghan.
25 things that may or may not have to do with food and exercise that may or may not be humorous.

That is one helluva shroom!

  1. I had a job in college that enabled me to tour every single theme park from North Carolina to Canada and back- I’m a roller coaster pro – what? I would be jealous too.
  2. While touring for said job in Canada they already had veggie dogs at their hot dog vendors in Toronto-yeah that is RAD!
  3. I wish I could create a work space that enabled me to bicycle all day – you know like those walking work stations but a bike station instead.
  4. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years. In that time I have had shrimp, scallops and crab legs more than once and felt bad everytime. I also took up fishing this past summer. Feel free to judge.
  5. I compost. Then drink 7up out of a can to compliment my whiskey. Again, feel free to judge.
  6. I do what I can to take care of our resources and the animals on this planet but nobody is perfect.
  7. I bike on my trainer in the basement while watching The Amazing Race dreaming up ways to win the million.
  8. The only two people in my life who I would do The Amazing Race with want nothing to do with it.
  9. I gave up dairy a month ago and I’ve never had more energy in my life. Well maybe when I was 5 but who remembers that?
  10. Tiramisu and Tres Leches owned my heart when I ate dairy and would be a good reason for me to eat dairy again.
  11. At my first job in Minnesota I was obsessed with peanut butter. I would eat a spoonful at 4 p.m. everyday to fuel me up for the gym. My colleagues bought it in gallon sizes for me as a joke – it was the best!
  12. I read cookbooks like novels and own more than I can keep up with.
  13. I did a triathlon once. Pretty sure I did the doggie paddle the entire swim. This, even after I had a professional coach. Thanks Mr. Z-sorry to be your worst student of all time.
  14. Based on outcomes of #13 I now do duathlons and LOVE them.
  15. I am a horrible runner. Every other year I actually like running… which means every other year I don’t. This year I like it!
  16. That may have something to do with the fact that T-dogg bought me a Garmin Forerunner for x-mas and I am straight up GEEKED about it!
  17. I hated olives until I lived with Beth in college. Now they are one of my most favorite foods.
  18. My ex-boyfriend is still one of my best friends – that rules!
  19. Biking is hands down, 100% what I would rather be doing at any given moment on any given day.
  20. I met the love of my life while biking.
  21. The first CD I owned was Vanilla Ice, the second was Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Tip. RIP Left Eye.
  22. I could eat an avocado every day for the rest of my life and never ever get sick of them.
  23. I had a boyfriend once who called me mango due to my obsession with the fruit-it is my favorite nickname to this day.
  24. I’m not a mid-westerner and it is painfully obvious everyday.
  25. However, I LOVE Minnesota and imagine I will be here for a while.

fun announcement!

15 Feb

I am very excited to announce the first of many changes that will be happening to the blog over the next couple of months.

I have contributors! I’m very lucky to know so many smart and intelligent woman who all have perspectives and points of view about food and living a healthy lifestyle. These perspectives need to be shared. They are such a wealth of knowledge.

So in addition to my musings, I will now be featuring regular guests posts from these lovely ladies.

Amanda, Willa, Meghan, Liza and Anne.

I totally feel like the mother hen in this photo.

These women have very different backgrounds and all lead busy full lives. They all have one thing in common. They love food. They love to eat food. They love to eat good food. I love them for that. That’s why I knew I could bribe them with food. It always works – you should try it.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be introducing them to you one at a time, so you can get to know them. They are each going to share 25 super interesting things about themselves.

Remember when I did that in November? This will be very similar.

I’m confident you recognize Anne as she was my co-blogger from the beginning. She’s now taking over a contributor role as her life is way crazier than mine. She also has her own blog here. You can reconnect with Anne by perusing her 25 things.

There will be at least one post a week from one of these fine women. I hope you enjoy reading about food and health from a variety of perspectives as much as I do. I truly find it fascinating.

Bear with me as we go through some other fun changes that include: moving the blog to a new site, a new feel and….. a name change!

Lots of change in the air. Change is good. Who’s with me?

restaurant review: the corner table

23 Jan

Last night, Anne and Pat took us out to celebrate our anniversary. This is a tradition between us. Anne and I were each other’s maid of honor and so we always take the other out for their anniversary. This creates an excuse for us to go try new (or a favorite) restaurant at least twice a year. I love that.

I was even more excited to be going to the Corner Table. It is on my list of food goals for the year and I’ve been reading about it for more than a couple of years. They are known for their commitment to the local food scene and have gotten consistent great reviews from all of the local critics. Chef, Scott Pampuch, is very well regarded and an expert at braising. Who doesn’t like an excellent braise?

Anne attempted to make a reservation, but they only take reservations for groups of 6 or more. So, when we arrived at 7:15, there was a 45 minute wait. What I think is funny about a place that takes limited reservations, is that there is no place to wait. The restaurant is small and unless you want to sit on someone’s lap, there just isn’t a good spot. We opted to go across the street for a pre-dinner coffee and tea. We were trying to figure out the upside to not taking reservations for smaller tables. I have never worked in a restaurant so I don’t know all the insider stuff. Can someone tell me why you wouldn’t want reservations? It wasn’t a deal breaker for us by any means, we are just curious to the reason.

Atmosphere:

We all agreed the atmosphere was great. It was cozy and warm which is appreciated when the temperature is below zero. It was buzzing because it was busy, but we could hear each other just fine. No outdoor voices needed. Brette described it as a cozy South Minneapolis nieighborhood spot. Yep, that about sums it up. I also loved that you could glimpse into the kitchen, that everything was clean, and that there were real towels in the bathroom. It’s the little things.

Service:

Again, top marks. The hostess was very nice and agreed to call us when our table was ready. This wasn’t necessary as we got kicked out of the coffee shop when they closed so we had to go back a bit early. She took our coats, which I thought was a nice touch. Our server was excellent. She was very enthusiastic without being annoying. She stopped by the appropriate number of times and never made us feel rushed. Plus, she had a great explanation of the pork belly dish.

Food:

Amazing. That’s what I’m going with. I know, it’s a bold word, but I really thought my food was amazing.

We started with the nosh plate that included pickled tomatillos, fresh sausage, mustard, apples and crostini. We devoured it. The mustard was my favorite…spread on bread. So good.

Then on the main courses.

Both Pat and I ordered the special. It was a braised rabbit over big house-made noodles, carrots, parsnips and foie gras butter. It was a lot like a chicken noodle soup except so much better. The rabbit was super tasty, the noodles were perfect and the broth was addicting. Neither of us left a drop in our bowl. The next time I have a cold, I would like to eat that. Actually, I’d like to eat it when I don’t have a cold too.

Brette had his fingers crossed that there was a lamb dish on the menu. He was in luck. And, it was fantastic. He graciously offered me a bite and it was very tasty. The lamb was braised and also came with kick butt noodles. I really liked the carrot chips on top.

Anne opted for the pork belly. It came on top of yellow lentil dal and was piled high with seasonal vegetables. Anne was very happy based on her empty plate at the end of the night.


Did you notice that all of the dishes are pretty much the same color? This is not surprising. There is not much ‘in season’ in Minnesota right now. However, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips keep well so it’s no surprise that they were the vegetables on each of our plates. This is not a place where you will find asparagus or heirloom tomatoes in January. They really stick to what’s available. Nice work Corner Table. You made Minnesota winter fresh and tasty.

We loved The Corner Table. We all agreed we would go back (and often). Brette pointed out that it would be a great place to bring out of town guests. It highlights the local farms, a great local chef, and a great neighborhood.

It is tradition when the four of us go out together that we end the evening with ice cream. Even when the temps are beyond frigid, we go for it. Minnesotans are hearty. We headed to Sebastian Joe’s where we had plenty of company. I had the Mounds ice cream and it was one of the best flavors I’ve had there. I restrained from ordering another.

The key to eating ice cream in the winter is to keep your coat on. Brette had the hazelnut. I snuck a lick and that too was good. It tasted just like hazelnuts!

Anne also had the Mounds and Pat went with the chocolate chip….which was gone by the time I took the photo.

It was a great evening. We are so lucky to have great friends who also enjoy good food. Thanks guys!

restaurant review: barrio

17 Jan

This weekend we had the pleasure of dining out with our friends, BK and Carin. They wanted to takes us out as a thank you for watching their dog, Carter. We did not argue or complain, we just asked when and where we should show up.

Barrio in Minneapolis was the pick. They had never been there and Brette and I had just been there once for happy hour and had been wanting to go back ever since.

We had a fabulous time thanks to perfect company and the restaurant itself.

Let me break it down.

Atmosphere:

Carin described it as “moody”. She meant that the atmosphere worked for both a romantic dinner, dinner with friends, or a fun time at the bar. We were seated upstairs which was a bit quieter, but you could still feel the energy from the activity downstairs at the bar. It’s definitely a hip place, but not hip enough where I didn’t fit in.

Service:

I liked our server a lot. He scored major points when he asked us if we thought it was too loud and turned down the music that was blaring  from the speaker right above us.  From there, he gave us plenty of time to chat and make our menu picks. He answered all of our questions and offered suggestions when we asked. When we asked about dessert, the tone he used in his response “we just have churros”, was enough to know what he thought about them. I like that. I don’t want to waste my time (or the calories) on a dessert that isn’t that great.

Food:

Most of the things on the menu are either small plates or tacos. There are about 4 or 5 larger plates that I’m assuming are more entree sized. The small plates makes it easy to order a number of different things to try which is the route we went. I think we all liked everything we ate. There was not one thing that we didn’t finish. Some of the favorites of the table:

  • Guacamole with homemade corn tortilla chips. I love that their guacamole has radish slices in it. It adds a different crunch.
  • Pork Belly Tacos – both Brette and BK were big fans.
  • The Roasted Beet Salad with goat cheese and peanuts. The peanuts were different from the traditional beet salad. I really loved this salad.Like really.
  • Sugarcane Skewered Tequila Shrimp – very well cooked and super tasty.
  • Crab Empanadas with salsa verde and avocado – I liked these a lot more than I thought I would

Like I said, we liked everything we ate, these are just some of the highlights.

I would be remiss not to mention the drinks. This is a tequila bar for pete’s sake. When in Rome! I opted for the Trinity Margarita and somehow managed to sip it through most of  the meal. I can see where it would be easy to have 3 or 4 of those bad boys. It was limey and delicious. BK tried both the Caesar Chavez (their classic margarita) and the Enter the Dragon (a spicy passion fruit version) and he was happy with both. Brette went with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – tequila with a tamarind cinnamon cola. He thought it was very tasty and would order it again. Carin, being with child, ordered the Midnight Sun, a tangy blood orange soda. She felt it was missing some tang that it had promised. However, it was nice to have some different non-alcoholic options.

As I mentioned above, the dessert option was not very enthusiastically described. We opted to go down the street to Zelo for some after dinner drinks and dessert. It was a good choice. Between the four of us, we split the Budino (molten chocolate cake with vanilla gelato), the Carmel Apple Crisp, and a Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake. They were all excellent and we nearly licked the plates. I think the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake was the winner with the table. It was a perfect ending to a fun night out.

I would absolutely recommend Barrio. It is a fun place for happy hour, dinner, or just a nice tequila when nothing else will do.

Have you been to Barrio? What did you think?