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Friday, March 18, 2011

A Friday brunch

Finally I can say that I have hosted a brunch.  Since September I have not been able to wait to host a brunch, and six months later I can finally say that I have done so.  In fact, it is the first time I have even made a great breakfast in my apartment.
On the menu:

Zucchini bread
Breakfast potatoes
Broccoli and cheese strata
Turkey sausage links

What a fantastic way to ring in the Spring season.  It was a beautiful day!  And with great company and great food, I really couldn't ask for anything better!

I have to say that I hate when the host/ess of the party spends the entire time cooking and serving without much interaction with the guests, yet today I found myself doing just that!  Boo!  I will say, though, that my kitchen is more like a breakfast nook;  it is completely secluded from the entertaining area.  AND my breakfast potatoes took longer than expected.

Last night I went grocery shopping, prepared the strata, and baked the zucchini bread - a very soothing way to spend a Thursday night.

As far as the Zucchini bread goes, I was hoping to make my Nanny's (grandma's) recipe (she passed away mid-January), but I couldn't find it in her recipe box!  So I had to resort to Paula Deen's recipe on  I am ALWAYS hestitant to get recipes online, but this recipe is fantastic.

Chocolate chip zucchini bread

3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 t baking soda
3 eggs
2 C white sugar
1 C vegetable oil
2 t vanilla extract
2 C grated zucchini
1 C semisweet chocolate chips
1 T orange zest

Preheat your oven to 350 and spray 2 - 9 x 5 inch pans with non-stick spray.

Grate your zucchini.

Mix your dry ingredients until well mixed.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy.  Add sugar, and continue to beat until well blended.  Stir in oil, vanilla, zucchini, chocolate chips, and orange zest. 

Stir in your dry ingredients. Pour in to prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. 

I kept the loaf in the pan overnight, covering it with a towel to keep moisture out.  Then I cut the loaf and served it on a cute platter.

Then David and I contrived an action shot with his hand taking a piece of bread and laughed our booties off after I took the photo.

I love strata.  It bakes like a yummy souffle.  And the best part of this strata is that you can make it the night before and pop it in to the oven 15 minutes  before your guests arrive.

Broccoli and cheese strata, modified from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 6-8 servings

10 oz broccoli
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 T butter
1 t salt
1/2 t fresh cracked rainbow peppercorn
1/4 t grated nutmeg
8 C French bread
6 oz  freshly grated Gruyere
1 C freshly grated Parmesan
9 large eggs
2 T Dijon mustard

Saute onion and broccoli in butter until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t pepper, and nutmeg and continue cooking for another minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Spread half of your bread cubes on the bottom of a well-buttered, 3-quart casserole dish.  Add half of your sauteed broccoli and onions over the bread cubes, and sprinkle with 1/2 of your cheese mixture.

Repeat the second step with the rest of your bread, the rest of your broccoli and onions, and the rest of your cheese.

Whisk your eggs, Dijon mustard, and the rest of you salt and pepper.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over your strata.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate ovenight.  In the morning,  remove from the fridge and let sit  for 30 minutes.  Bake for 45-55 minutes at 350.

The potatoes are super easy.  Fry red potatoes and sweet onions in olive oil until brown.  Add sea salt and fresh cracked rainbow pepper.

And I can't forget the fresh flowers I used as a centerpiece!  $3.99 at Trader Joe's, and very Springy!

Great food, and great company...Couldn't be better!



Friday, March 11, 2011

Good eats in the TC

I have gotten myself in to an expensive habit.

I am going restaurant crazy lately!  Dinner, brunch, happy hour, you name it.  I would even say that dining experiences have become a hobby of mine.  Great food and drink over great company - it's really all I want in life!

It is quite an expensive hobby for a soon-to-be college grad, though, so I am going to have to reign it in a bit in the next few months.  I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you all the great eats throughout the Twin Cities!

Let's see...where to begin!?  I'll start with the most recent.

Aster cafe

Last night Sarah and I enjoyed happy hour at the Aster down on St. Anthony Main.  What a hidden gem!  Very urban with exposed brick but also intimate, and in my eyes, kind of sexy!  Great date night.  Another bonus about the cafe is its frequent live performances.  Happy hour specials are very inexpensive - $3 domestic taps, $3 house wines,  $3 cheese plates (Sarah and I got the Brie, bacon, and cranberry plate - FAB!), and $5 signature cocktails.

The Bulldog Northeast

This is my favorite and my go-to place for happy hour.  I can never pass up a Bell's 2Hearted, and their fennel fries are fantastic.  Great crowd, too.  And I almost forgot to mention - homemade cupcakes!

French Meadow

French Meadow isn't too out of the ordinary.  Over the years it has kind of become my friends' and my place for breakfast, although lately we have been branching out more.  The past few weeks I have gone early on weekday mornings to relax and read over a nice breakfast.  I have been getting the same thing, too - FM's daily fruit and nut pancake.  This pancake has become my new pastry.  Today it was apple pecan, last time banana pecan, and the time before that, raspberry and granola.  So yummy.

Northeast Social

Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood in NE, this restaurant was abuzz on a Thursday night.  The single-room dining space was so inviting, and I LOVED the navy blue walls.  The bar is dark and Victorian-esque.  Ultra cool.  Great food, great wine, great service.

Cafe Ena

Not only is the food superb at this Latin American-inspired restaurant at the corner of 46th and Grand, the ambiance is perfect - warm and intimate with a definite South American feel.  I had conchas - scallops served over a butternut squash risotto - so delicious.  This night was the ultimate splurge (at least for a college student)!  But totally worth it.

Blackbird Cafe

Even if the food wasn't great at the Blackbird, which it was, I would keep going back just for the atmosphere.   Floor-to-ceiling windows cover the front and part of the side of the restaurant, filling the space with natural light.  I am a total sucker for interior design and decor, and the Blackbird is so great - totally shabby chic.  Tons of vintage mirrors cover an entire wall.  I went for brunch with Emily and Sarah.  We didn't get drinks but were admiring all of the fancy breakfast drinks they served!  Be sure to order the hash browns when you go!

La Chaya Bistro

La Chaya Bistro sits in a cute little building on Nicollet right off 46th.  (It is a bit hidden behind the BP on the corner.)  Another hidden gem.  Again, a great date place, and the food was truly fantastic.  I had a chipotle-rubbed grouper served over roasted potatoes, broccoli, and zuchini.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  I had to savor every bite!

Gorkha Palace

Best Indian food I've had (although I guess I haven't tried a ton of Indian restaurants).  BUT, I did recommend it to a friend, and he said it's his new favorite, too.  Their lunch buffet is very inexpensive and very good - make sure to try the veggie fritters and coconut shrimp curry.  Also, they have a seasoned naan bread (I can't remember the seasoning) that is super delicious.  Gorkha is a relatively new restaurant in NE that is a bit hidden but on the same block as Bulldog.  Every time I go in I just think, I hope so much that your little business is doing well because it is so great!  So, support Gorkha Palace!

Town Hall Brewery

Town Hall is my other favorite for happy hour.  LOVE to bike there in the summer and sit out on the patio.  TH has excellent beer - make sure to try the Cocoa Nut.  Masala Mama is great, too!

Is that it for now?!  I guess so!  I will keep you posted on other great eats.  At least I am putting my new expensive hobby to good use!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blair's birthday bash

My baby sister Blair turned seventeen a few weeks ago (what a delayed post!).  I can't believe that my youngest sister is now seventeen!  And I am not even one to get emotional!

It is a birthday tradition in my family that on our birthday we get to choose what we want for dinner and dessert.  (One year [in elementary school, I'll have you know] I requested Old Country Buffet [EWWW!]...That outing never happened...I wonder why?!

This year Blair requested Big Bowl's Kung Pao stir fry.  I have blogged about it before - you can find the recipe here.  Three huge batches and we had ourselves a feast!

This recipe is so great for entertaining because it is so easy to make a huge batch.  AND it's always a crowd pleaser.

Poor Biggy (that is what we call Blair)  had mono!  Poor thing was so sick she could hardly enjoy the big feast!

She requested this for her cake:

Now I know what you are thinking, and YES!  I did make the cake and decorated it myself!!!

Yeah...right.  The cake was from Byerly's and so incredibly delicious.  Blair goes to the zoo school - the School of Environmental Studies - which explains the zoo theme.  Very cute.

And here is the beautiful birthday girl herself!

Cheers, ya'll!


Saturday night hodge podge

Saturday night I was on a kitchen binge.  Meaning, I was in the kitchen all night cooking and baking goodies.  I have this thing - I will go a week or two (or maybe three) without baking at all, then I will bake several goodies in the same day.  Prime example - Saturday night.

First I went to Surdyk's.  Every great night starts with a trip to Surdyk's.  I was debating what I would do that Saturday night.  Typically when I am being indecisive about my plans I end up forgoing any option and spending my time in the kitchen instead.  Maybe not typically, but often enough!

What a great night, though!  I made a light dinner of pineapple rice - shown here.

You can find the recipe at 101 Cookbooks.  Now, here is what I think of the recipe:  It combines a lot of great flavors, and I love basmati rice.  It is a great, light, nutritionally valuable meal.  Nothing too heavy, which is always good for lunch or dinner.  Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Definitely.  Next time I would add more red pepper flakes and more shallots and green onions.  Would I serve it while entertaining?  No.  It is not quite that good.

That night I also made pumpkin swirl brownies.  Sounds super fantastic, right?!  Wrong.  What a complete disappointment.  I will not even put the recipe on my blog.  At one point the recipe called for cayenne pepper, and I thought, Oh my goodness;  these are going to be so fantastic.  And seriously,  what two flavors are better than chocolate and pumpkin?!  Let me tell you, any flavor is better than the flavor in these brownies.  (I may be a bit harsh here - Sarah said that she liked them.)  Surprisingly, there was a serious lack of flavor.  The brownies were lacking some serious sweetness, and the spices tasted all wrong.  Anyway, that is enough about the brownies.

I redeemed myself by making a batch of delicious cinnamon iced oatmeal cookies.  Every time I think of iced cookies, I think of Bread & Chocolate on Grand.  There aren't any words.  My cookies were not quite up to par with B & C's, but they were still quite good.  Find the recipe here at Smitten Kitchen.

Mine don't look quite as pretty as those on Smitten Kitchen, but they tasted yummy!