May 22, 2011

Fatigue, Rain, and Japanese: Friday Night @ Masu

All weekend, I’ve been struggling with recapping our trip to Masu on Friday night. I’ve been wanting to go there in a big way since I knew they were opening. And the food was delicious, just what you’d expect from La Belle Vie chef Tim McKee (have I mentioned I’m a fan?). But, I was having trouble putting pen to paper. Or keyboard to blog, rather.

I think I have a working theory on what the problem has been. I’m generally shot by the time Friday night hits. A tired heap. And this Friday, I had darted across town as fast as I could to get to my hair appt on time. And from there, the plan was for Zach to meet me at Masu, since I’d already be in NE.

It was raining. There was traffic. Not a lot of street parking. And only one of us with cash for valet parking. There was a bit of snappiness as we exchanged phone calls asking about the other’s ETA as we each tried to find parking.

But finally, we had both arrived and handed our cars off to valet (I graciously paid for my husband).

We were taken to our table. And unfortunately, it was in the middle of the restaurant, right smack dab in the center of more hustle and bustle.

We tried, we really did, to be all zen and content, but I couldn’t help but realize that we were both exhausted and not on our a-game on date night.

So, all in all, the night just didn't live up to expectations. And perhaps I didn't want to document that.

However, the food was delicious, and lifted our spirits a bit. I don’t pretend to know anything about sushi. I’ve always liked it when I’ve had it, but I could probably count the number of times I’d had it on one hand. But I know when things taste good. And things tasted good on Friday.

The menu is extensive with lots of different options that are perfect for sharing: sushi, rolls, robata, noodles, some killer desserts.

After we ordered drinks pronto, we started with the Firecracker Roll, with tempura shrimp, crab, avocado, and spicy tuna. Cleary fresh, great flavor, good textures. Pretty, to boot!  

Then we shared a mighty fine skewer of BBQ Short Rib. Two perfect cubes of beef. We immediately wished we had ordered about 10 of them, they were that good.

And then we moved onto the ramen. This was what I think I was most excited about. I’d been hearing buzzing about the ramen for weeks. We had the Tonkatsu Curry Ramen, with pork, Chinese broccoli, and a soft poached egg. We liked. Tasty and brothy, perfect for a rainy night. I’ve heard they fly the noodles in from San Fran every day. The Pork Belly Ramen is on my radar for next time.

I think maybe my favorite part though was dessert. I happen to love rice pudding, so I ordered the Coconut Rice Pudding Brulee, which was just like it sounds. Creamy rice pudding with a torched top, served with fried bananas and a plum dipping sauce. Total perfection and not something you'll want to share.

We will be going back for sure, but not on a Friday night, and not in two cars. And if I have anything to do with it, we’ll also not be seated at that terrible table in the middle of everything.

Who knew a chef who is a master of French cooking could also rock Japanese?

Masu Sushi & Robata on Urbanspoon

May 16, 2011

Something to Chew On

This has been the highlight of my week so far. I think that homemade croutons soaking up homemade vinaigrette should be the highlight of everyone’s week.

I don’t think there are many things that pack as big of a punch as panzanella does for how easy it is. It’s almost a no-cook meal. Almost. You have to fry up the croutons in a frying pan. But, you also get to pick at those croutons as they cook. And I say that makes it worth it. (Note: homemade croutons are delicious on their own; you don’t need to make panzanella out of them.)

Yes, this was a delightful dinner. But there is a large opportunity for improvement. Next time I will add some shredded chicken so that I fill up on more than 10,000 huge chunks of soaky, yummy bread.

This salad is the closest thing any of us in Minnesota have gotten to spring or summer yet this year. I’ve been craving serious colors in my food.

Can you tell that I have a somewhat negative outlook on things this week? That I’m in a funk?

In the first paragraph, what I really wanted to say wasn’t that this panzanella was the highlight of my week because it was so dang good. It was good, don’t take me wrong, but it was the highlight of my week so far because I’m in a funk.

In the third paragraph, what I really wanted to say was that eating all of that bread, between the 10,000 huge soaky, yummy chunks and the pieces I stole from the frying pan, gave me such a bad stomach ache that I’m wondering if I have a gluten sensitivity like my mom.

And in the fourth paragraph, what I really wanted to say was that up until yesterday (in the middle of May, mind-you) we haven’t had spring yet in Minnesota and this girl is sick. Of. It.

Phew, thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

Turns out this panzanella was probably really good for me. The pastor at the church I went to as a kid used to say that he gave people extra big pieces of bread at communion if he thought they had some thinking to do over their chewing. So, panzanella was probably a good thing for me this week. It gave me lots to chew on. Literally. Figuratively.

No worries, I’m fine. I’ll snap out.

In the meantime, you’ll like this recipe even if you’re not Ms Crabby Pants like I am this week. It’s from my friend Ina.

Panzanella (Adapted slightly from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten)

For the salad:

1.5 tbsp olive oil
3 cups French bread or French boule cut into 1-inch chunks
½ tsp salt
1 tomato, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cucumber, seeds removed, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
½ red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
½ yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
10 large basil leaves, chopped
1.5 tbsp capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ cup good olive oil
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh pepper

Heat oil in large frying pan. Add bread cubes and salt, stir to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until browned but not hard.

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients.

In large bowl, assemble vegetables, basil, and capers. Add croutons. Pour vinaigrette over top. Stir. Let sit about 20 minutes. Serve.

Serves 3 as main dish.

May 10, 2011

Bucket List

It’s actually very overwhelming to be obsessed with food. It results in chicken-scratch lists of must-try restaurants, chicken-scratch lists of restaurants to go back to, countless recipes flagged in cookbooks, countless recipes flagged in magazines, stacks of old Williams-Sonoma catalogs, plans to start new Sunday night food traditions, stacks of cookbooks by my bed that leave my mind swirling with food ideas as I try to fall asleep, even a binder of food-related ideas.

It’s all fun and games until you start realizing what this obsession can cost--and even more so, what it can do to your formerly toned body.

Would I trade it in, this obsession? Of course not. I mean, you see what I eat. And if you love food half as much as I do, you know it’s a sacrifice worth making.

So, because I like to make lists and like to have a plan, here is my bucket list for this year. The things I want to accomplish. All related to food, of course.

1.       Recreate the menu from the cooking class my friend Wendy took me to at Cooks of Crocus Hill for my wedding shower gift last summer with Lucia’s chef Lori Valenziano

Summer Sweet Corn Risotto
Summer Caponata
Clams with Tomato, Onion, Fennel, and Garlic Cream
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

2.       Have La Belle Vie chef Tim McKee tweet back at me

3.       Create a new Sunday night tradition: a glass of port with chocolate or blue cheese

4.       Make Roasted Chicken for 2 with Warm Bread Salad from The Zuni CafĂ© Cookbook

5.      Make lots and lots of jam with my jam cookbook The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. It’s arguably the most beautiful cookbook I own.

Rhubarb-Rose Conserve with Cherries
Strawberry Rose-Geranium Jam
Strawberry-Blood Orange Marmalade with Rosemary
Blackberry Jam with Lemon Basil

6.       Perfect a signature cocktail. Cocktails are just so elegant.

7.       Learn how to use our charcoal grill

8.       Go back to Piccolo for dinner

9.       Try 20 new eating establishments. Currently on the list: Masu, Tilia, Sun Street Breads.

10.   Dine at the kitchen table at Corner Table (unlimited food and wine for the night--they just keep bringing out dishes to share with the table)

11.   Make Almond Joy inspired cupcakes

12.   Make homemade strawberry pop tarts

13.   Make candies and package them up super pretty

14.   Go to the new Fulton Farmers Market every Saturday this summer (except on the Saturdays when I go to the Mill City one)

15.   Finally make at least one thing from Julia Childs’ cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking

16.    Buy a French press (even though we already have a regular coffee machine as well as an espresso machine)

It’s going to be a delicious year. 

May 7, 2011

A Merry Brunch at Meritage

I’ve mentioned before the predicament I face whenever I go out for brunch. I always find myself stuck between wanting salty and sweet. The doughy comforting French toast and pancakes always calls my name, but then so do the salty and crisp roasted potatoes and bacon that go along with the savory eggy dishes.

I usually am forced to pick (except when on vaca in another state, of course)—and sweet is generally the winner. And then I am forced to slyly swipe some of Zach’s salty off his plate.

Because brunch is usually a one-course affair.

But not at Meritage! They have outsmarted the system. And because of that, they are now hands-down, my favorite brunch place in the TC.

The menu starts out with an amusements section, little $3 bites like Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters or Beignets. Little things that can help balance out that sweet / salty predicament but won’t fill you up.

Our table chose a few orders of the Beignets to have with our Blood Orange Mimosas. Things were off to a brilliant start as we sipped in the sun that was pouring in through the windows. It’s chic in there for sure—Parisian-esque, sophisticated, but not stuffy.

The mains were what you’d expect from a mains section of a brunch menu, but twisted slightly to be special. Steak and Eggs, Strawberry Ricotta Pancakes, Eggs Benedict, Lobster Rolls.

Lobster Rolls. You know I could never turn down a lobster roll, right?

So, I didn’t. The Strawberry Ricotta pancakes were majorly on my radar. But Lobster Roll it was—and I wasn’t disappointed. The Lobster Roll was definitely good—tons of big chunks of lobster, lots of fresh herbies to add good flavor. I only wish the mayo had been thicker—it was on the runny side as evidenced by the drips on our plates and my pal Wendy and I hovered over our plates as we ate. But, that didn’t stop me from devouring the whole beautiful thing. Along with the skinny crispy almost-perfect fries.

At this point we were all pretty full, but genius strikes again with little dessert offerings. Little sweet nibbles that don’t make you feel like you’re really eating dessert. It almost doesn’t count as dessert in my opinion.

Again, almost all of us played copy cat and ordered the Izzy’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream Pops dipped in chocolate. How can you not when they’re so dang cute? This has to be my favorite ice cream ever. Salty. Caramel-y. So unbelievably wonderful and creamy.

I’m digging Meritage in a big way. Next brunch, that’s where I’ll be. I almost guarantee it.

Meritage on Urbanspoon

May 1, 2011

My Contribution to the Royal Wedding Obsession

I didn’t really get the whole royal wedding obsession last week. I was actually sort of shocked when I saw how many of my friends got up early to watch as I scrolled through Facebook updates walking into work on Friday. But I myself started watching re-runs of it Friday night. And once I started watching, I couldn’t stop.

Somewhere between being completely gaga over how beautiful Kate, er, Catherine looked and watching Harry and Pippa flirting with each other, I think I got myself into a British frame of mind for the weekend because I made lemon curd and scones.

I’m not generally a lemon curd kind of girl. It’s mostly been off my radar for most of my adult life.

The case of pretty Weck jars that came in the mail last week probably had something to do with this project, in all fairness. I had intended to fill them with jam, pronto (I have the recipe picked out and everything), but well, there really isn’t any fruit at the Farmers’ Markets in town yet. I guess fruit doesn’t grow when it’s 30 degrees out and raining.

Lemon curd can go in jars, though. So, lemon curd it was. And of course, I needed something to use the lemon curd on. That’s where the scones came in.

It’s very easy to make lemon curd, it turns out. A little bit of zesting. A little bit of juicing. A lotta bit of stirring. A little straining. And done.

And scones are always easy schmeasy and so amazing when they are fresh from the oven. They lose a lot overnight. If you make them, do like we did, and eat them hot from the oven, standing over the bowl of lemon curd to dip. At 9:30 on a Saturday night, of course. One of the highlights from the weekend.

I will be brainstorming more uses for the curd this week. It made a lot. Two big jars worth. It keeps for two weeks in the fridge. Let the countdown begin. I’ve already discovered that it’s delicious on fresh strawberries. I’m guessing it’s a really nice little treat spooned onto some plain Greek yogurt.

Or just pretty sitting in a perfect Weck jar in the fridge.

Lemon Curd, Adapted slightly from The Craft of Baking by Karen deMasco

Grated zest of 3 lemons
½ cup fresh lemon juice (3 lemons worth)
½ cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 large eggs
½ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp

Whisk together all ingredients except butter in medium heatproof bowl.

Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water, and whisk constantly, cooking until the mixture thickens. You’ll know it’s done when you can take a spoon across the curd and the trail doesn’t fill back in immediately.

Take off heat, and let cool 5 minutes.

Whisk in cubes of the butter, mixing to thoroughly incorporate after each addition.

Strain the curd through a fine mesh sieve.

After it cools completely, place in jars. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks covered.

Makes just over 1 cup