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An email popped into our inbox a few weeks ago notifying us of a special event that was going to take place at Canterbury Park on April 24th.

Savor Minnesota
The Best of Minnesota Wine, Food and Beer!

Admission was $35 in advance, $40 at the door. The price included a souvenir tasting glass and a Savor Minnesota booklet with discounts and free offers from participating wineries.

The following Minnesota wineries were present:
Cannon River Winery
Crofut Family Winery
Falconer Vineyards
Fieldstone Vineyards
Forestedge Winery
Garvin Heights Vineyards
Glacial Ridge Winery
Goose Lake Winery
Minnestalgia
Morgan Creek Vineyards
Northern Vineyards
Parley Lake Winery
Saint Croix Vineyards
Warehouse Winery
Wine Haven Winery
Woodland Hill

A lot of the guys could be found hovering at the Summit Brewery stand. There were also educational booths and free food! Chester Creek Cafe (from Duluth) was there offering a plate full of goodies like green coconut curried mussels, roasted potatoes and veggies, seasoned almonds, olives and buttery baguette.

This was the perfect opportunity to become better acquainted with our friends Edelweiss, LaCrescent, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, St. Pepin, Foch, LaCrosse, as well as the growers and winemakers.

Of course the wine was great, but I loved, loved, loved the Honey Butter from Bee Happy Honey. Who knew that mixing butter and raw honey could be that good? I want to spread it on everything and if I can’t spread it on something, then a spoon works just fine.

For next year…bring a bag to hold all those flyers and keep your fingers crossed for more food booths. It is such a shame that you can’t buy the wine there, not all are offered in the local liquor stores and some wineries are a trek.

Stay tuned for more Minnesota wine writings… the 3rd annual MN wine weekend trip is quickly approaching and we will be hitting the open roads of Northwest MN to sample all the fine wines our state has to offer!

Maybe I am the only one that was curious, but I had to check out the new Subway breakfast menu. For being in South Mpls I am always a bit bummed that the only food establishment that is within an easy walking distance is Subway. I feel this responsibility to frequent it at least once a month. Maybe if people go here other restaurants will open?? That is my reasoning and dream.

A lazy Sunday finally found its way into my schedule so I thought I would start the morning with a brisk walk to Subway and try out this new menu. There are 5 different breakfast sandwiches you can choose from, I settled on the basic egg and cheese. For $1.75 I could order the English muffin and for a bit more you could get it served on a flat bread or other Subway sandwich bread.

So the positives, the egg is an egg white omelet and the English muffin is a light wheat. So if you are looking to beat the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin in calories and fat, the Subway sandwich will do it. The Subway egg and cheese is 4 grams of fat vs the McMuffin egg and cheese which is 12 grams of fat. The Subway breakfast sandwich also gives you the option of adding any of the toppings that are available to you when ordering a normal build your own sandwich, so you can easily add in some veggies to the mix. The refrigerator case has also expanded to include things like juice, yogurt, and apple slices.

However, we all want to know if it is worth it, right? I guess if I was on a road trip, saw a Subway on the side of the road and needed a quick to-go breakfast I would consider ordering it again, but I won’t make a point to walk there again for breakfast. The English muffin was  cardboard and I couldn’t taste the egg omelet. I would recommend spending more to try the flatbread and adding some veggies to ramp up the flavors. Or maybe what I am really recommending is finding a few friends, heading to a yummy brunch location and really starting the day right!

Breakfast served til 11am.

Subway: http://www.subway.com/subwayroot/index.aspx

This past holiday weekend was a great excuse to open the recipe books and search for new recipe to bring to the family gathering. I always jump at the opportunity to bring something so I can try another recipe in my never decreasing stack. The challenge when having to transport something to another location is temp. I don’t want a recipe where it has to be served chilled or served hot – I just can’t guarantee that I can pull that off when driving all around town. When I saw these tarts could be served room temperate – score! The original recipe called for the zucchini slices to be folded and placed in a concentric circle so it would form a rose. Well that sounded a bit complicated to me and maybe too much zucchini to support the small pie crust circle it would sit on. I decided to just use 2 zucchini slices and place the folded edges against each other which made for an interesting look in itself.

These were perfect bite size delights! Within a matter of minutes there was only 1 left. Why will no one eat the last one!? The pie crust was a bit sweet and the goat cheese a bit tangy. The zucchini was perfect – it still had a bit of crisp when biting into it but not a mushy mess. This recipe will be transferred to my permanent collection. I can’t wait til my garden starts producing an abundance of summer squash so I have reason after reason to make these over and over again!

Mini Goat Cheese Zucchini Tarts

adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package)
  • 48 2-inch-diameter zucchini slices, cut into 1/16- to 1/8-inch-thick rounds (this is 1 to 1 1/2 zucchinis)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme
  • 3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (more or less to taste)

Preparation

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or SilPat). Place pie crust on floured work surface. Using a shot glass (or a biscuit cutter about 2 inches in diameter) cut out 24 rounds; transfer to prepared sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Place in freezer until dough is firm, about 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; keep frozen.

Toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place zucchini in another medium bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and thyme.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread goat cheese generously over each frozen dough round. Fold 2 zucchini slices in half and place atop 1 dough round. Repeat with remaining zucchini and dough (reserve any remaining zucchini for another use). Sprinkle with Parmesan and pepper. Bake until crusts are light golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Remember when eating real food was normal and not a fad? It is a little bit sad but promising that movies like Food, Inc and shows like the Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution are starting to wake people up to the idea of eating things like apples and bananas, instead of fruit roll-ups. Well, I recently read about the newest MPR series – Fighting obesity one meal at a time – and of course it got me interested. What is in our fridges? It is everyone’s favorite segment on MTV Cribs, right? 🙂 Jen and I don’t have any Cristal in our fridges, but we do have some real food! And one of us has beer. Lots of beer…

I heard someone say recently… “if your grandma doesn’t recognize the ingredients in something, then you shouldn’t eat it.” So true. Are you listening xanthan gum?

BTW – If you haven’t seen Food, Inc yet, be sure to check out the special airing on PBS coming up on April 21st.
Check your local listings: http://www.pbs.org/pov/tvschedule/

Dominguez Restaurant
3313 E 50th St, Minneapolis, MN 55417
(612) 729-2353
no website

“Let’s go to the Mexican place! You know, the Mexican place!” Thankfully my friends can decipher my cryptic talk because they all call it “the Mexican place” too! I first discovered Dominguez back in 2007 and I find myself going back again and again. You will find the Mexican place right off 34th Ave on 50th street in Minneapolis. It is a little orange building with bold, yellow block letters spelling out: RESTAURANT. There are some charming lawn ornaments in the front of a little man with his donkey and cart – they always make me smile when I pull up.

My favorite dish is the chimichanga. The veggi chimichanga. A deep-fried burrito, smothered in cheese sauce. Ooh my. The veggie chimichanga is filled with fire roasted peppers and onions, accompanied with a side of rice and a side of refried beans. The beans are not that special, but the rice is fluffy and lightly flavored, overall I always leave with a full belly and not feeling greasy and gross like other Mexican establishments have left me. The food is fresh and served by the nicest servers.

One word of advice – stay away from the margaritas. Your choices are lime and cranberry (yes, cranberry) and they are just weird. The taste is like an energy drink or HI-C juice box that has gone bad. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and they pointed that Dominguez does not have a full liquor license, they just sell beer and wine. So would mean the margarita probably doesn’t have tequilla. Hmm, wonder what it does have?? Your best move is to stick with the beer, can’t go wrong there!

I realize this neighborhood joint probably isn’t in-between everyone’s home and work but I recommend making the trip to visit, your bellies will be happy!

In case you haven’t heard, Kieran’s Irish Pub opened in Block E last week. As I stood there last night, gaping at the massive, beautiful, mountain of a bar, I realized I was not in the mood for the brown bubbly stuff.

I was hungry for wine.

A peek at the wine list:


I enjoyed the Cocannon Cabernet.

It’s too soon for a full review, but here are a  few early observations.

The new Kieran’s is larger than the previous location with a more complex floor-plan. There is a main dining room with a stage, a small separate dining room (with another bar), a couple of private rooms for groups of 10-15 people, and a new Titanic Lounge. In my opinion, the space is pleasant and comfortable. There are nooks, crannies, cozy booths, high and low tables, gas fireplaces and the same random art that covered the walls in the old space.

The food was creative (ie.: bison, walleye, curry, and yes…fancy pretzel dipping sauces!), tasty and well-priced. The wait staff and bartenders proved friendly and attentive. The Tim Malloys rocked the house with dirty toast after dirty toast.

So far, business is booming. The place was packed when we arrived around 7:30 for dinner, and by the time we left at midnight–a line had formed outside!

Before robins and tulips, the first signs of Spring for me are:
1. A sighting of someone wearing shorts, while the snow is still on the ground,
2. A motorcyclist all bundled just to be the first on the streets and
3. Minnesota Monthly Restaurant Week!!

Last week, I got to visit 2 restaurants that were offering special tasting menus: Kafe 421 and Ginger Hop

Kafe 421
421 14th Avenue Southeast
Minneapolis, MN 55414-2005
(612) 623-4900
www.kafe421.com

$15 Dinner Menu

Starter: Greek Salad—Romaine hearts, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, green peppers, feta cheese, kalamata olives and oregano vinaigrette
This was a just fine Greek salad. Nice crisp lettuce, with cheese and kalamata olives. Always a good way to start dinner and get that stomach ready for more!

Entrée: Vegetarian Moussaka—Layers of potato, eggplant, zucchini and tomato topped with a thick béchamel and parmesan crust served with pomodoro
This was so good and I didn’t see it on their regular menu so this was a treat! The sauce was much more tomato than bechamel (a white sauce of milk, butter, flour), but lovely and rich.

Dessert: Ouzo scented crème brulee Baklava a la mode
Well the dessert was suppose to be the crème brulee, however the server told us they just ran out and will have to substitute with the baklava (a la mode!). I may have been too excited upon that news! I am not a crème brulee fan, but baklava? Stand back!

Overall: I wish I would remember to go here more! Good wine list, good food and the parking lot off 5th St SE validates (so I only had to pay $2). They also have a meal deal on Tuesdays and Sundays – check out the website for more info.

Ginger Hop
201 East Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 746-0305
www.gingerhop.com

$15 Dinner Menu

Starter: Three cream cheese -OR – cream cheese and onion wontons
I picked the three cream cheese and it didn’t disappoint! There was just the right amount of cream cheese so I wasn’t left with a pile of fried dough with no cream cheese to eat with it.

Entrée: Sweet Green Curry -OR- Thai Fried Rice
This was a tough choice, I am not sure how much I like Thai curry, but this was the night to try! So I ordered the Sweet Green Curry. It is not sweet! It is the spiciest thing I had in a long time, in fact I was pretty surprised how spicy it was without giving a person any warning. However, I can say I like curry when it is a coconut curry dish like this was! The crisp, fried tofu blended in wonderfully along with the red pepper, peas and eggplant.

Dessert: Ginger ice cream with a ginger snap cookie
Lovely finish, a nice creamy ice cream with a soft delicious gingersnap cookie

Overall: The service was pretty lacking this night and I wish they took reservation instead of just call ahead. The sweet green curry is real spicy, with no warning, hoping that next time I can order with a reduced spice level. However, I learned that if I see coconut curry on the menu, I will ordering it again and again!

There comes a time every winter when I just need to get away. I usually don’t need a long time, just a few days or so. I need that time to not see snow, to remember the stunning colors flowers bring to the landscape and to not see my breath when I walk outside! Just last weekend I, along with Jen, made the escape to Atlanta. While the weather may have been more warm-lanta like, the food was all Hotlanta!

If you find yourself in Atlanta any time soon here is a quick run down of restaurants we recently visited.

Steel
Neighborhood: Midtown

950 W Peachtree St, suite 255
Bizzare place, not until a menu was in front of me did I realize this was an Asian restaurant! The decor was modern and nondescript. I ordered the stir fried vegetables with brown rice. Not bad, but the sauce was forgettable.

Prickly Pear Taqueria
Neighborhood: Midtown
950 W. Peachtree St NE, suite 220
I am pretty sure you could find a better Mexican place than this in the area, but it was right across the street from my hotel and when you have been walking all day sometimes you just want something easy. No chips and salsa on the table for you, you have to order it so instead we ordered the guacamole and chips. Guac was ok, but the paper thin chips were better. Additionally, I ordered 2 veggie tacos which were too heavy on the green sauce and not heavy enough on the cheese!

Dantanna’s
CNN center
1 CNN Center
This is a total sports bar place, with fun oversized booths that have individual flat screen TVs, although we were seated at a boring table. The tomato-goat cheese soup was yum. The veggie sandwich listed herbed Brie but I couldn’t find it, without cheese it lacked dressing.

La Tavola
Neighborhood: Virginia Highlands
992 Virginia Avenue NE
My favorite restaurant of the bunch! We sneaked in just before the wait turned from zero to 1 hour! If you are looking for Italian, go here. The Caesar salad was heavy on the garlic, but that is exactly what I like. My main dish was an apple, walnut, smoked ricotta ravioli that I hope to see on a menu near me someday.

Dakota Blue
Neighborhood: Grant Park
454 Cherokee Ave
You can tell this is a local, neighborhood gem. Tables filled with young, hip, artsy couples and local art hangs on the walls. I left with a new craving, jalapeño cheese grits from Dakota Blue. The wrap I ordered was overstuffed with beans, cheese and scrambled eggs and it was great. If this was in my area I would visit frequently!

Marlow’s Tavern
Neighborhood: Midtown
950 West Peachtree Street
It is a chain, with 6 locations in the Atlanta area! However, I am glad I didn’t say no to chain dining this night! Dinner was great, and they were happy to have us for hours (which I love to settle in a booth,with a good friend and a bottle of wine and not think about leaving the safety of booth life and entering the scary world again). The asparagus fries were crisp and with aioli sauce. My house made black bean burger was good but lacked flavor. Jen said that her steak was the best she had in ages. This was the first restaurant on the trip I ordered dessert at (for shame) and was pretty sad I couldn’t finish my carrot cake.

Baraonda Caffe Italiano
Neighborhood: Midtown
710 Peachtree St NE
They serve Neapolitan style pizza where the pizza is cut into 4 giant slices and you are left with that dilemma, to fold or not fold. I folded my special of the day – Fontana cheese, goat cheese, plum tomatoes, zucchini. I more than satisfied my craving for pizza at this stop!

Looking for something to do in-between the restaurant outings… go to the Cyclorama! It is a giant oil painting completed in 1886, that covers over 15,000 square feet, depicting the Battle of Atlanta and you get to view it by sitting a chair that rotates 360 degrees. Sounds nerdy, right? Well, it is. But it is stunning and Jen and I loved it!!

The Vegetarian
4022 Central Avenue Northeast
Minneapolis, MN 55421
(763) 782-9678‎

First I want to start with a big thank you to everyone that recommended the Vegetarian lately and putting it on my radar. The best way to briefly summarize my outing: 100% vegetarian. 100% yum.

The warmth and spices hit you immediately upon walking in. We were greeted by the friendly owner and were told to sit wherever we wanted. The restaurant is small, laid out in a rectangle where one wall was lined with about  10 – 4 person tables and the opposite wall housed the large buffet stand and a few more tables. Bright yellow and a counter, laden with accessories, stare back at you when you walk in to pick your seats.  The out of season, holiday paper place mats actually made me smile more about this little gem on Central Ave.

The menu was overwhelming to this vegetarian who usually has a limited selection on every menu. It took awhile just to comprehend that I could order anything on this menu without making a single substitution! We started with just ordering some appetizers before deciding upon dinner. We ordered garlic naan – 2 orders! I was in heaven. We also ordered vegetable pakora. The pakora was served with a green chutney that the server picked up on the fact we loved when we finished off nearly all of it but freaked out when he tried to take the remaining drops away. He offered to bring more which ended up being twice as much – thank you! 🙂 Pakora is a deep fried vegetable with a spicy tempura batter. The thing that I love about a 100% vegetarian restaurant is that I can grab at a deep fried item and not worry about what I would be eating. There was a sampling of cauliflower, potato slice and other delicious mystery items.

Finally I settled upon the mutter paneer for my main dish. Surprise, surprise – it is what I usually order. I also usually order everything with zero spice, yes, I know, that is sad, but I don’t like cover-ups. Spicy dishes are hard for me to sample all the true flavors, all I taste is that hot spice. Of course my fellow dining buddies are much more adventurous and asked for medium spice. Once my dish of peas and cheese in a slightly creamy, tomato sauce was brought out I couldn’t wait to dig in. However, one bite and I was like, “oh no”. Then I really looked at the dish and I saw the chili oil pooling in mine, I knew that meant I got the spicy dish. And at the same time one of my fellow dining buddies said she wished her dish had more spice and couldn’t believe this was “medium”. It wasn’t medium, I had the medium. Even though it wasn’t the spice level I would prefer, I still think my only complaint of the dish is that the cheese didn’t hold up to other paneer I have had. But don’t get me wrong, I still loved the dish.

One bonus at The Vegetarian is the seasoned rice. Adding a little flavor to the rice makes the whole dish have an added layer of flavor that ended up in me having no leftovers! With no leftovers to pack up, it was time to head out. Probably the best timing also because I was about to start in with another sneezing attack. There were a couple of times the spices being cooked in the kitchen wafted out to the front and made it a bit difficult to not cough or sneeze. Some real cooking was being done back there!

Oh and something to note: We happened to have a bottle of wine in the car (always a wise move to just travel with a wine selection of your own, right!?) and asked if we could bring it inside to drink. That doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence in MN, but I think it is being allowed more and more. We weren’t able to here, but the owner came out later and told us he was working with the city to make that happen and be sure to stop by again so we could really party. 🙂

Wine Wisdom: Corks

There is one thing always in my way before I can enjoy a nice glass of wine – the cork. I usually don’t pay too much attention, but recently I opened a bottle that had a glass stopper and it lead me to think and research a bit more. Here is just a quick summary of the 4 that I am most familiar with:

Natural cork: More and more often you hear that natural corks are only being used because of tradition. People don’t want to spend money on a nice bottle of wine only to just twist off the top. Wine consumers might be dragging their feet at the possibility of a change, but the modern wine industry continues to seek other ways to cap their wines. The biggest reason for finding an alternative? A chemical called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). The greatest fault of the natural cork it that it allows the possibility of “cork taint” (which by the way, I always thought a “corked” bottle of wine would taste and smell like vinegar, but it actually smells like wet cardboard). TCA is a compound that forms when a chlorine bleaching agent used in the manufacture of corks, reacts with mold already present in the cork. The chemical TCA in turn will destroy the aroma and taste of the wine, although it is still harmless to drink. It is also thought that if the chemical TCA is present in the manufacturing facility that the cork may allow it to pass through, because the one advantage of natural corks they do allow wines to breathe. And for those wanting to age a rich, bold red a little bit of oxygen is needed to interact with the wine to create an environment suited for aging. But come on, how many of us really age those wines?

Screw tops: are made only from aluminum material. They form an air tight seal that can keep out oxygen for a longer time than cork, which helps to maintain the wine’s overall quality and aging potential. Right now the countries using screw tops the most are France, Australia and New Zealand, but more and more are popping up.  Plus I found when traveling with wine, a screw top is very handy!

Synthetic corks: are made from plastic compounds designed to look and “pop” like natural cork, but without the risk of TCA contamination. The biggest complaint is that the synthetic corks are nearly impossible to extract, and who wants that??

Glass: released by Alcoa. They only hit the market in 2003, but already 300 wineries have utilized Vino-Seal.  The glass stopper has a rubber ring at the base, which creates a hermetic seal that prevents oxidation and TCA contamination. However, these glass stoppers come with a high cost and few automatic bottling equipment is available so I think it will be awhile before more wineries adapt these, but they sure look cool!