February 27, 2011

Homemade Jelly Donuts. Enough Said.

Last year, Williams-Sonoma was pushing the donut thing hard in their catalog, and I fell sucker. I became obsessed with the idea of making homemade donuts.

I love donuts. Glazed donuts. Cake donuts. Chocolate frosted donuts. Jelly donuts. Donut holes. Dunkin Donuts. Gas station donuts. They fall into the sweet white carb-y camp that I’m a huge fan of.

But we didn’t have a deep fryer, or an candy thermometer, or a donut cutter, so I didn’t get very far in my homemade donut quest.

But for a few months, every time the catalog would come and those donuts were featured, I salivated.

I tried to convince Zach to put a $400 deep fryer on our wedding registry, he thought I was nuts, I gave up, got married, and forgot about donuts for a little while. But the whole thing came back to me a few weeks ago when I was at Paper Source and came across this cute donut patterned paper.

Enough is enough, I said to myself!! I control my own destiny. If I want homemade donuts, I can make that happen!! And so I did.

I bought a cute little donut cutter. I bought a candy thermometer. And I bought a donut cookbook.

We had friends over for brunch today, and I decided this was going to be the day that donuts would make their debut in this household. But since it involved dough (which you know I have issues with from time to time), I got cold feet, and did a test run on Friday night with Vanilla Glazed Donuts from cookbook Donuts by Elinor Klivans. Pretty good. Good enough to make for company, I decided.

But boy oh boy, did it get better. I decided in addition to the standard glazed this morning, I’d try the Jelly-Filled Donuts in Klivans's book too.

And they were rock-star.

Okay, so there are some things that I think are actually not better homemade (pizza, for one). I was worried that jelly donuts would also fall into this camp. Not so. Homemade jelly donuts are better than the professional version. I don’t think most bakeries use Bon Maman raspberry jam to fill them.

These jelly donuts were carefully fried (albeit a slight tad undercooked in the very middle, but I can fix this next time, and these lovely friends that came over like things not completely baked all the way, so score). They were lovingly rolled in a big plate of sugar. They were carefully given slits, and then blindly pumped of raspberry jam. (It was hard to know exactly how much jam I was putting into these donuts, so some had quite a bit of jam). But no one complained.

Thank god I only made six of them, because if we still had some right now, I’d be having one with a fresh cup of coffee as we speak.

Jelly-Filled Donuts (Adapted slightly from Elinor Klavins’s Donuts cookbook)

Canola oil for deep frying
Yeast donut dough (below)
2/3 cup Bon Maman raspberry jam
½ cup sugar

Yeast Donut Dough:

¾ cup whole milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/3  cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 package quick-rise yeast
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat milk and butter over medium heat until butter is melted and temperature is 125 degrees. Stir.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together 2 ½ cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Pour in milk and butter; mix on medium speed until well incorporated. Add eggs and vanilla and beat about 2 minutes, until full incorporated. Add remaining ¾ cup flour and mix about 1 minute longer.

Dough will be sticky, but place in new bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and let rise in warm place for about 1 ¼ hours or until well risen. Use dough right away.

Jelly-Filled donuts:

Flour a decent-sized working surface, and roll dough out until about ½ inch thick.

Use a drinking glass about 3 inches wide to cut out rounds of dough. Place cut-outs onto oiled baking sheet. Cover donuts with clean dish towel and let rise in warm place for about 45 minutes.

Fill a large and deep cast-iron pot (such as Le Creuset) with 2 inches of canola oil. Heat on high until oil reaches 360 degrees on a candy thermometer. Keep and eye on it and adjust heat as necessary to keep it at 360.

Carefully place 3 donuts at a time in the oil, and let fry for about 2 minutes or until the bottom side gets golden. Flip over (a fork works well to do this), and let cook another minute or so, until both sides are golden brown.

Remove from oil and place on paper towel lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining donuts.

While donuts are still warm, but cool enough to touch, roll in sugar to coat well.

Take a sharp knife, and cut a small slit into the donut. Using a pastry bag with a metal tip, pipe in about 2 teaspoons of jam into the middle.

Serve immediately.

Makes 15 donuts.

February 26, 2011

Only words I have for LBV: OMG

I have been in spring cleaning mode today. And as part of that, I cleaned out all of my purses. And in one of those purses, I came across the menu from the Valentine’s Day tasting menu at La Belle Vie. The menu that I discretely (and embarrassingly) slipped into my purse mid-meal because I knew I had to keep this menu in my personal files. It was the single best meal of my life, and I’m guessing it will remain on a top ten list forever.

Because of this, I’m ashamed that this dining experience has not made its way to my blog yet. But I know exactly why it hasn’t.

I've been afraid to try to write about it. I do not have the words needed to give this meal justice. I’m not armed with the perfect technical culinary words to even try explain what I experienced.

The best I can do is recite an over-used acronym: OMG.




An amazing meal. Truly amazing. Not a casual amazing that is thrown around too often to mean anything. A real, honest to god, amazing.

That night, chef Tim McKee himself was walking around talking to some of the tables. This brought forth very conflicting feelings in me. Part giddiness at the thought of meeting the best chef in Minnesota. Even bigger part terror that he actually would stop by and I would have to come up with something completely brilliant to say to match his more than brilliant food. But, our table was not on his route that night. Phew. Saved from a potentially mortifying encounter.

It was a dining experience that you realize midway through will probably never be replicated. You want to grab hold of it and never let it go. You get giddy with how delicious everything is that you’re tasting. And you actually physically shake your head in disbelieve that someone can actually create food like that.

Food like Poached Lobster with Salsify Tortelli, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Red Wine, which was by far the most amazing course of this amazing meal.

It was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, and I have been wondering if Tim McKee would put it on the menu permanently if I promised to go there once a week and order it. I’ve also contemplated making it my lifelong goal to replicate it. I know I need to have it again. I’m just not sure yet how that will happen.

I’ll let you take a look at the rest of the menu yourself—you’ll start to get the faintest idea of what I mean.

(You won’t see any photos because it was Valentine’s Day...and my poor husband finds it embarrassing when I pull my camera out every time we go out to eat…so…I decided to leave the camera at home…it was Valentine’s Day, after all…)

La Belle Vie on Urbanspoon

February 22, 2011

Delicious Open-Faced Comfort by the Name of Croque-Montagnarde

What do you do with half of a leftover loaf of delicious millet flax bread from Lucia’s?

You steal a trick from Tartine that you saw in the January issue of Martha Stewart Living.

You slice it real thick. Slather it with béchamel sauce. Top it with smashed potatoes tossed in olive oil, ham, Gruyere, and fresh black pepper. You bake it. And then you thoroughly enjoy it.

Tartine is in San Fran and is known for its bread. I am going there next month and can barely stand waiting. Perfect that I got a little teaser in Martha Stewart Living this month. Baker at Tartine, Chad Robertson, provides a week’s worth of recipes using a loaf of bread when it’s at its freshest and when it’s a week old. In addition to the recipe they had for the Croque-Montagnarde that we had tonight, there are also recipes for Warm Winter Bread Salad (which we’ll be having tomorrow night, made of toasted chunks of bread, endive, radicchio, frisee, bacon, and an herb vinaigrette), Cinnamon Breadcrumb-Sprinkled Ice Cream, and Eggs in Red-Wine Sauce.

Robertson also provides the recipe for Tartine’s Country Bread, which I initially thought was quite generous. But, then I realized he put it in a code that few of us can decipher. Grams.

1,135 grams white bread flour…

100 grams water per feeding (78 degrees)…

Yea, right. I barely just figured out how to make challah using cups and teaspoons. I'll skip this gram stuff for now.

But that’s okay. I’m more than happy subbing in the delicious bread we do have access to in Mpls that I don't have to do all sorts of conversions for. From Lucia’s, from Rustica…

But I digress.

For this delicious open-faced comfort, thank you, Baker Chad.

February 19, 2011

Root Beer Bundt Cake: FAIL


I had a kitchen failure today. A deceiving kitchen failure. A kitchen failure that successfully hid itself from me for hours.

A few weeks ago, I had a chocolate root beer cake with root beer ice cream at Lucia’s Wine Bar that was so delicious. And it’s been on my mind for a few weeks now.

I’ve been doing some research online about chocolate root beer cakes, found a few recipes, and decided to place my bets on the Root Beer Bundt Cake recipe in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. This required a cookbook purchase. But with my B&N discount card and a $10 gift card, I decided it didn’t really even count as a cookbook purchase.

Somehow along the way this morning as I was pulling out the ingredients, I became mesmerized by the root beer bottles themselves and propped them all over the house so I could take photos of them.

After this slight distraction passed, I did everything right. I took the time to spoon the flour into the measuring cup gingerly, take a knife, and level it off like you’re supposed to. I very carefully greased every nook and cranny of my Bundt pan. I was making this cake a day before I needed it (to take to a friends’ house for dinner tomorrow night) because the recipe said the flavors develop nicely if made a day in advance. I set myself up for success, I swear.

“Until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean” said the recipe. Yep, followed this instruction.


The saddest part about this whole experience was that I didn’t realize I ended up with a  cake that was truly not completely cooked until I was releasing it from the pan hours later after it had cooled. Turns out the part of the cake that is right next to the hole in the pan takes longer to cook than the rest of the cake. Who knew?

I didn’t even get to the root beer fudge frosting, which sounded quite tasty with its stick of unsalted butter, dark chocolate, salt, root beer, cocoa, and confectioners’ sugar…

I didn’t even get to put the finished, frosted cake into my Bundt cake traveler…

February 17, 2011

The Difference a Day Makes & Exciting Fast Food

I had to travel for work this week. (That's why you're seeing more iPhone pics.)

This was my dinner last night from the new-ish Surdyk’s at the MSP airport on my way out of town. Can I just say, I think Surdyk’s is the most genius little slice of heaven to ever grace MSP. Before Surdyk’s, the food options at MSP were slim. There was the standard fast food. But there wasn’t any Exciting Fast Food (I’ll tell you what Exciting Fast Food is in a sec). There were some totally not-as-good-as-the regular location satellite restaurants. That was about it.

But this Surdkyk’s location (despite being a satellite location) has nailed it. I now make sure to build in an additional 20 minutes into my travel time to stop there when flying out of MSP (preferably more than 20 minutes, so that I can also sit at their bar and imbibe while enjoying their delicious nibbles and sandwiches).

This is their cheese and salumi plate, and I’m quite in love with it. Three delicious imported cheeses. Three different meats, like salami and proscuitto. A garnish of fresh fruit. Nuts. Good bread. Cornichons. Such a civilized and delightful way to start a trip. Even a business trip to Cincinnati.

This was my dinner tonight at CVG. Cincinnati chili.

Okay, so I don’t usually like fast food. I actually generally hate fast food. But there are exceptions, like Exciting Fast Food. What falls into this category? Chik-fil-a, Skyline Chili, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Popeye’s. That’s probably about it. And none of them are in Minneapolis, which I think makes them particularly Exciting.

I love fried chicken. I love waffle fries. I love biscuits. I love Cincinnati chili. And I love donuts.

So, whenever I’m in an airport that I know has such options (and believe me, I remember these things), I always look forward to my reunion with Exciting Fast Food. But here’s the catch: I have to eat fast. And remove myself from the situation. Because if I think about it for too long, I get grossed out. So I usually shovel it in, washing it down with soda, refusing to think, only allowing myself to relish in the junky goodness that I always feel disgusting from afterwards. It’s so good while it lasts.

It didn’t last long tonight. I didn’t eat fast enough. I had to resort to Gold Star Chili, which I had never had, because they didn’t have Skyline in the airport. So I was immediately apprehensive. But I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to get Cincinnati chili. The opportunity doesn’t present itself all that often (which I’m thankful for). I started to think a little bit about the meat that was (or wasn’t) in it. It came out with a brownish color that wasn’t overly appetizing. But when consumed with a very generous portion of the grated cheddar that they very generously garnished it with, it actually tasted good (in a junky goodness kind of way, of course).

But my imagination or conscience got the best of me. I had about five bites with regular chewing and breathing time in between them, and I was done. Am done.

And for this reason, I’m hoping you will forgive me for my food cheating. You know I love the good stuff more.

February 13, 2011

The Early Bird Gets The...Table at Pizzeria Lola

Among our friends, Zach and I are known as the early dinner eaters. We took this to a whole new level on Friday night trying to get into Pizzeria Lola.

I absolutely LOVE Pizzeria Lola—we’ve been a handful of times since they opened around Thanksgiving. The only reason we haven’t been more is because it’s challenging to get a table. The place just keeps breaking their own records.

But Friday I was determined to make it work (w/o having to wait). So, our plan was to get there when the doors opened at 5. And that, we did. And because we’re not only always on time, but generally early, we pulled into the parking lot at 4:50. I was feeling sort of lame-o about this. I mean, really, 4:50 on a Friday night for dinner? But when I love a place’s food that much, I’ll do it. I’ll stoop to such lows. We decided to save a tiny bit of face, not look super desperate, and wait in the car. Until 4:55. At which point I started to imagine a line forming at the door and got a little panicky. So there we were at 4:56, standing in front of the door on a cold February Minnesota day waiting for them to let us in, slightly embarrassed.

It gets better from here.

First, the chef / owner herself let us in, which made me slightly giddy. I wanted to tell her how much I love her restaurant, but I didn’t have the guts. (And no, her name is not Lola. Lola is her dog’s name. Not sure what her name is.)

I’ve been excited to add Lola to the blog for a while. Last time I was there, I didn’t have my camera with me, and I was bummed.

While I love the food, PL is about more than just the food. I was telling someone the other day that when I walk in there, I just get happy. The whole restaurant is just so…cohesive. Bear with me, here.

It’s slightly funky and sassy, and that is carried out across the whole restaurant. The names of the pies have some sass (My Sha-Roni!, The Lady Za Za). On every table is a Ting bottle with one brightly colored flower. They have a photo booth. They have those photo booth pics on the walls. The whole restaurant (and food) exudes the same thing: sassy funky hip-ness.

The Roasted Cauliflower with Calabrian Chili has become a favorite recently. And you know it passes the test when my anti-vegetable husband likes it (and helps me eat the cold leftovers the next day). Roasting the cauliflower brings out a nuttiness and gives it a great caramelized flavor. The chilis give it a kick. And the flat leaf on top keeps it fresh. It’s really a perfect dish. Cauliflower—a perfect dish? Yes, really.

As for the pies, I’ve already found a favorite. Meet the Hawaii Pie-O. So totally delicious. Bacon, roasted (real) pineapple, mozzarella, provolone. The provolone gives it this great almost Swiss-y taste. I’m almost drooling thinking about it again. It tastes every bit as good as it looks.

However, I decided to try the My Sha-Roni Friday night. Zach got the Hawaii Pie-O. I ended up begging him to share it with me—I had some serious food envy. I mean, the My Sha-Roni is also delicious. Red sauce, pepperoni, big juicy chunks of sausage. But the Hawaii Pie-O is where it’s at for me. Sweet and salty on a pizza. Now, that’s something.

They have an enticing list of pies that seems to include something for everyone. I have a few mushroom loving friends who always get the Forager. They just added a kimchi pizza to their menu. They have a pizza with a soft egg on top. A pizza with heavy cream in the sauce. All cooked in a wood-burning oven. The crusts are delicious—less blistered than Punch.

And they serve local Fulton beer, which I always order. I know one of the owners and I think this mere fact alone makes it taste great (for those of you who don’t know him, you’ll still like it).

We didn’t have dessert the other night, but we have in the past. I like that they’re homemade. The cookie ice cream sandwich tastes like the cookies are actually homemade ones, but they are frozen so solid that they are really hard to eat. They also have soft serve vanilla ice cream that they drizzle a bit of olive oil on with some sea salt. Great unexpected flavor.  But overall, their desserts have become something I am fine passing on.

So. Starters and pies = delicious. Really really delicious. Space is great. Leads to instant good feelings. Service is fine. My only complaint: getting in. By the time we left on Friday night (5:55), there was a considerable wait. But for now, I’m smitten. And I’ll be there at 4:55.

Pizzeria Lola on Urbanspoon

February 12, 2011

To Lancaster, With Love

Have you ever seen a more beautiful chocolate bar? I sure haven’t. Months ago, I saw a bunch of these at Surdyk’s—probably about 10 or so in an array of equally beautiful colors and flavors. They are stunning to me. So stunning that I really don’t care how they taste (although my mom tells me they’re quite good, this one with a subtle violet flavor).

This was one of a handful of items that got packed up this week in Minneapolis and sent off to Lancaster to my mom (my first Valentine J) and dad.

I love putting care packages together. I don’t do it very often. But I should. It’s fun to brainstorm the stuff. Collect the stuff. Pack up the stuff. Hear when recipient gets the stuff.

My first stop was Rustica, which I’ve mentioned before. We bought a pound of this Dogwood El Limoncillo coffee and took it to Lancaster when we visited for Christmas, and it was a big hit. So, pound of that for mom and dad: check. (And a beautiful brioche bun and latte for me to consume at a window-side table while I was there: check.).

Also included was a trip to Paper Source, which I like again, now that my wedding is over and the trips there aren’t loaded with obligation. I am a sucker for their papers. I never do a whole lot with them because I’m not crafty, but they draw me in, and I buy them. I’m always convinced that they’ll come to good use. On this trip, I left with this pretty heart paper (which DID get used, obvi) and a sheet of sweet donut-patterned paper. Because I’ve been obsessed with the idea of making homemade donuts for a good year now.

And of course, no Valentine’s Day package would be complete without candy, right? To Sugar-Sugar, where this beautiful chocolate bar was purchased. Along with my mom’s favorite from there: malted milk balls. My dad is a gummy fruit candy lover, like me. He got gummy hearts that I picked out solely because of the vintage Valentine attached to them that read: “Don’t be Chicken Hearted.” I made sure to tell my mom to look at it, because I’m pretty sure such detail is lost on my dad (no offense meant, of course).

And then to top it all off: a perfect blue canister of La Baleine sea salt. Odd, you say? Yea, probably. But, I love this blue canister of sea salt, and I know my mom does too (and can’t find it easily now that she’s in Lancaster). When she still lived in Minnesota, she always had it on her kitchen counter, and it’s been adopted into my kitchen as well. For some crazy reason, it brings me a lot of joy, that little canister. I realized how much so a few weeks ago when I bought the Trader Joe’s version in a pinch. It is most definitely not as pretty. And every time I reach for it, I feel a tinge of sadness. 

So, odd? Yes. But perfect for a Valentine's Day care package that my mom will be getting? Also, yes.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom and Dad!

February 9, 2011

$12 to a Lot o' Valentine-y Deliciousness

Who’s ridiculously full right now? This girl.

But, for a (particularly) good reason. I scoped out a fun Valentine’s Day food treat!

Last week, I saw on Facebook that Sweets Bakeshop (delicious macarons and cupcakes, now open in both Mpls and St. Paul) is doing special Valentine’s Day packages this weekend. The cute little $12 one caught my eye. I thought it would be a fun dessert to bring home for V-Day. 

4 macarons (flavors: Raspberry Truffle, Praline, Rose, Chile Pepper)
3 mini cupcakes (flavors: Chocolate Raspberry, Hibiscus Macadamia, Raspberry Milkshake)
1 brownie

Cute, no?

The nice gals at Sweets gave me a sneak peak and loaded me up today with an assortment of today’s special flavors plus one of the flavors for the V-Day packages. I tried each one tonight (after eating a hearty portion of Carbonara). Hence, why I feel slightly ill now. But worth it. As always.

Their cupcakes are really delicious (worlds apart from the other bakeries in town), but I love their macarons best. It’s the French in me. It used to be that you could only get macarons in Paris, but not anymore! Tonight I had bites of the Salted Caramel, Lavender, and Chocolate flavors. Yum. Airy and light at first bite, and then dense and chewy as you get into the gooey filling in the middle. The Salted Caramel one has my heart. Not only for its taste, but for its pretty turquoise color.

We actually gave boxes of these macarons to our out of town wedding guests last summer.

(Side story: after tons of deliberation and brainstorming, I had decided last summer that for our out of town guests, we’d leave them little wooden crates of delicious foods to enjoy while they stayed in their hotels. I had seen a picture…perfect little crates full of artisanal crackers, cheese, freshly picked apples, salami. It was totally up my food alley. But the logistics of it all for a wedding weekend when everyone arrived at different times, not so much. So, somehow this idea morphed into a trunk FULL of Minnesota foods and (what my mom has since lovingly deemed) ugly reusable Whole Foods grocery bags that we were going to load all of this MN food into. We hauled it all back to my house. Deep down I wasn’t feeling great about it. And then I saw a new picture. Of perfect little macarons nestled into a simple white box. So, the next day, I returned 20 bags of Kettle Corn (made in MN), 20 ugly reusable grocery bags, and god knows what else. And called Sweets Bakeshop.)

Back to tonight. As for the SIX cupcakes they sent me home with, I loved the Thyme Honey Walnut one! Some bites were thyme-y, some were honey-y, and some were nutty. Delicious. And smart. Also tried the Dreamsicle (yep, tastes just like one in a fresher way), Spicy Chocolate (surprisingly worked despite my bias against spicy mixed with sweet), Salted Caramel (yum), and Chocolate Raspberry (one of the V-Day flavors and Zach’s favorite tonight).

A perfect little smorgasbord of Valentine-y goodness. Place your order, lovies!

Sweets Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

February 5, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes and an (Un)healthy Dose of Possessiveness

I made chocolate cupcakes today for my brother to take to a Super Bowl party tomorrow. Yes, it was a particularly nice sister thing of me to do. But he’s a good brother, that John-Paul. He deserves nice sister things.

I didn’t make just any chocolate cupcakes, mind you. I made cupcakes out of the Yates Family Chocolate Cake recipe. The cake that we have for every single family birthday. The cake I make for all of my friends’ birthdays. They are better than all other cupcakes, these cupcakes made out of the Yates Family Chocolate Cake recipe. They are the best, most moist, little chocolate cakes covered with perfect sugary buttery frosting that I’ve ever had. Not to toot my own horn.

Ask anyone who has had them—they’re mighty good.

I’m sort of convinced that someday they will make me a small fortune, so I am very protective of the recipe. I won’t share it. I’m embarrassed about that, I really am. Whenever someone asks for the recipe, I’m not sure if I should just ignore the request or be honest and tell them that no, in fact, they cannot have the recipe.

I’d like to say that this possessiveness is only something that surfaces with these cupcakes, but I’d be lying. I’ve always been possessive…of my food (I have been known to hide food on occasion)…of my family…of my friends. But I prefer to call it fiercely loyal instead of possessive.

So, I feel sort of guilty. Showing you these delicious cupcakes. Telling you how good they are. Not giving you the recipe.

I hope you’ll forgive me.

February 1, 2011

Sweet Places for You and Your Sweetie: Valentine's Day Top 10

First things first. My first version of this posting had a picture of lipstick lips on a napkin. I wanted to provide you with a visual. Food blogs are supposed to have appetizing pictures.

But that picture didn't turn out so appetizing. I posted it, I decided I really did hate it, and I took it down. (Now, I'm left with bright red lips, the night before a big presentation.)

BUT...on to more important things, this post is for all of my wonderful guy friends out there who may be looking for some Valentine’s Day ideas (and for the ladies in my life who are the planners in the relationship). Here you go. My top 10 recos for V-Day in no particular order. (You can thank Ryan B for this idea!)

La Belle Vie Lounge: You can splurge on the dining room if you’d like, but I happen to love the Lounge. Swanky, romantic, and special-feeling. The tasting menu is awesome, particularly with the matching wine flights. Before you start on the tasting menu, have one of their cocktails (they’re known for them) and the fries with béarnaise. Mmm. Take a cab home for the full experience. They are very generous with the wine flight pours. Tasting menu w/ matching wine flights in the lounge is a guaranteed good night. I have friends who will vouch for this.

Lucia’s Wine Bar: Love this place for any Friday night, but would also make it a special occasion place. The wine bar (vs the restaurant) is the best of both worlds. I think it’s hipper and more cozy than the restaurant, and you can still order off the restaurant menu if you’d like. Try to grab the table in hallway towards the back right in front of the kitchen window. You can see everything as it comes out and plan your meal accordingly! Not to mention have privacy. Get the Focaccia Crostini with a Trio of Spreads. And dessert is a must—they bring a killer dessert tray around.

Surdyk’s: I’m guessing some of you will be looking for takeout. Wine? Check. (Duh.) But they also have a gem of a cheese shop too where you can pull together a full spread. They have an amazing cheese counter where they let you generously sample any of the cheeses you want and then proceed to wrap up your choices in beautiful white paper (I’m a sucker for this; it makes me want to buy more cheese). All the fresh baguettes and crackers you could want. Delicious paninis. They even have hot entrees (that I haven’t tried, but would). Yummy desserts, too (try the brownie or macarons).

Lucia’s To Go: Another takeout option. Everything is always great. They have entrees (that change by the week, but think Beef Stroganoff or Roasted Chicken) that you can take home and heat. I’m sure Lucia’s To Go will also have a full entourage of fun Valentine’s Day desserts as well. Lucia does fun seasonal items. I always end up with impulse buys that catch me as I walk down the counter to pay (random salted caramels or handmade chips and salsa). Don’t be afraid to go overboard. You’ll be glad you did.

Piccolo: Delicious! One of the best new-ish restaurants in town. But look at the menu before you commit—they constantly change it, and the options are limited. Everything I’ve ever had has been fantastic; it’s just not for everyone. Piccolo serves small plates—not small plates to share. Small plates as in four bites or so. Which is fun because then you can try a lot of different things. About 4 and you’re moderately full. If I was going, I’d be trying the Chocolate Soup with Coconut, Cinnamon, and Hot Pepper Oil. Very cute space. Perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Corner Table: Charming, cozy, good food, good service, and my guess is it will be one of the easier places to get into for Valentine's Day. Also easy parking—a bonus! See my review “Corner Table: 1 Year, 9 Months Later.”

Meritage: Other side of the river. If you’re willing to venture over to St. Paul, go to Meritage. French food, very Parisian looking inside, and very tasty. The salted ice cream pops for dessert are the best. Love those. Service is spotty—I’ve had good experiences and bad. But food has always been good. And the chef makes rounds at the tables. (And if you mention said spotty service to him, you get free salted ice cream pops. I'm just sayin...)

Alma: Okay, disclaimer here. Zach and I went a few years ago and ordered their Valentine’s Day menu. Between that and one bottle of wine we spent almost $300, and I have yet to get over it. Nothing tastes that good, especially when you don't expect to spend that much. But the food was great. And everyone raves about it. I haven’t been back since, but have been wanting too. Beware the Valentine’s Day menu though! You have been warned, no nasty-grams about this.

Cooks of Crocus Hill: I haven’t checked out their Valentine’s Day schedule, but a cooking class here would be a great idea. I love the demonstration classes—you generally get served a full meal, and they have wine to buy by the glass. It’s a fun night, and it’s good food. AND you can do your Valentine's Day shopping there too with the 15% coupon they give you with all cooking classes.

Café Lurcat: Lurcat is just solid. The food is always really well prepared, and the items on the menu are recognizable, so it's generally a crowd-pleaser. It also has great view of Loring Park. Great service. Favorites: apple, chive, cheese salad; mini burgers; fries; miso-glazed sea bass; mini doughnuts; A to Z Pinot Noir.