August 28, 2011

Pedaling for Pie

I would argue that food plays a big role in keeping this marriage healthy.

Here is why: it turns out that I am much more open to doing things out of my norm if I know I will be rewarded with good food.

It also turns out that disaster can sometimes be averted with good food.

Take last summer for example. Zach (an avid biker) wanted me to go biking with him. I wasn't completely opposed, but I wasn't all that excited either. But I had agreed. Zach was a little ambitious in the route planning and picked a 20 mile route, maybe a little much for a non-biker. There were rain drops, there was complaining, and there was a bee sting to the ear which led to tears and a lot more complaining. But we are still married today because in the middle of the route, unbeknownst to Zach, we’d come across the Barrio in St Paul. I demanded we stop; Zach smartly obliged. I ate my carnitas taco, had a Trinity margarita, and immediately felt equilibrium return.

Yesterday, we decided to venture to Lanesboro for another biking expedition. Since last summer, we have learned that 15 miles is my max, but that 12 really is more ideal. And we know how important food is to the mix now. So we picked Lanesboro (and our biking route once there) based on Aroma Pie Shoppe.

I’m no fool. I smell an opportunity when there is one, particularly when it relates to food.

And Zach is no fool either. He knows that food helps keep the peace.

So, we packed up the bikes yesterday morning and hit the road full from chocolate chip pancakes. But for extra insurance, we stopped at Wise Acre for sandwiches to eat on the road (and yes, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that yesterday marked 3 days in a row of Wise Acre sandwiches!).  

It was truly a perfectly executed plan. Two and a half hours after we left, we arrived in Lanesboro and were hungry. We whipped out the sandwiches and were fed and full before there were any blood sugar drops and associated bouts of snapiness.

We pedaled away on our bikes with me knowing I’d shortly be rewarded with pie. Not any old pie mind you—pie from Aroma Pie Shoppe.

I did my research ahead of time—that’s how I found Aroma Pie Shoppe. This place is right on the bike trail (can’t be missed) in the little town of Whalan, where 70 people live.

This little gem completely met expectations. The shop was actually a little house. It had a charming sign listing that day’s flavors. It had homemade pies of all sorts lined up on the counter. It had the cream pies cooling in the deli case. It had ice cream for a la mode-ness. It had a friendly staff. It had lace tablecloths—the kind you’d only ever want to see in a pie shop. And it had delicious pie.

The minute I saw the Blubarb Pie on the board, I knew that was what I was getting. I had heard good things about that pie.

It was the perfect fruit pie: rhubarb for tartness, blueberries for sweetness, not too runny but not dry, light and flaky crust that tasted homemade. And two big scoops of vanilla ice cream to make it go down even easier.

Zach had the Chocolate Chunk Pie that I would argue was a little deceiving. The base was full of buttery and sugary caramel, with chocolate chips studding it. It was beyond sweet. My dad would love it.

That slice of pie was just what I needed to feel like the trip was a worthwhile success (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating…a bit…I think I would have felt that way anyway…maybe…). That slice of pie was also just what I needed to motivate myself to get back on the bike and go back the 6 miles we had traveled. The healthy feeling you get by biking through nature quickly dissipates when you polish off a big slice of pie a la mode.

Pedaling and pie is a solid formula for this duo. J

August 21, 2011

A Surprising Match Made in Heaven

I’ll be honest. I didn’t make these because I thought they would taste good. Well, let me back up. It’s not that I thought they would taste bad. Frozen yogurt and macarons just don’t usually fall into my I Love My Desserts Cakey and Doughy camp.

The real reason I made these was because I wanted to package them up cutely.

I have a weakness for sweets—or any food, really—wrapped up in waxed paper. I thought I could wrap these fro-yo sandwiches up in waxed paper—that was the real appeal when I ear-marked the recipe last weekend. And I’m embarrassed to report that I spent a good portion of last week thinking about cute pattered tape that I could also used to keep the waxed paper on tight. So, I was rather delighted when I found the perfect super cute polka dot masking tape at Paper Source on Friday afternoon (in colors that were perfect for summery fro-yo sandwiches, no less).

Delight quickly turned into disappointment when I got home, took the tapes out of the wrapper, smelled the chemically toxicity of them, and read “Warning: Do Not Use Except For Paper and Crafting.”

I momentarily considered whether this project could safely fall into a crafting bucket, decided against it, and pushed the tape aside.

But all was not lost. Lucky for me, I had some brightly colored twine as back-up!

So, I started the actual baking part of this project Friday night by straining the yogurt and making the rhubarb compote for the frozen yogurt. The compote was mighty delicious, and I was sad that all of it needed to go into the fro-yo.

Saturday morning the project continued with making the rest of the frozen yogurt, a project that went smoothly and quickly thanks to a recipe that, thank god, didn’t require I make a custard. (I get rather anxious over making custard because there are times when I do in fact end up with scrambled eggs despite my best efforts.) The yogurt-y mixture cooked and boiled as it was supposed to, chilled out in an ice bath, and churned away in the ice cream machine.

Next was the macarons. There was  a sick exactness to the macarons that I happened to love. The recipe started by asking me to trace a circle cookie cutter on parchment paper so that each macaron would be exactly the same size. Why, yes, that sounded like a fabulous idea.

And they were. The exact same size. I was in heaven.

At some point during this macaron-making process, I became more excited about these fro-yo sandwiches. I started to realize that the tartness from the frozen yogurt might really go nicely with the very sweet macarons.

A very methodical, albeit anal-retentive, assembly line ensued. Baked macarons were frozen. Fro-yo was taken out to soften. One by one, macarons were flipped over, topped with a scoop of fro-yo, and then very gently topped with another macaron. Each finished sandwich went onto a baking sheet in the freezer while the rest were assembled. They were all let to freeze for 20 minutes. Then, one by one they came out of the freezer to be wrapped in waxed paper and were returned to the freezer. And after another 20 minutes, they were one by one taken out of the freezer to be tied with green twine. I was not going to risk letting these pretty little babies melt.

At this point it was 4:00 pm and I was faced with a dilemma: have my fro-yo sandwich now or wait until after dinner?

After dinner it was.

And that was when my hunch was confirmed: tangy rhubarb frozen yogurt does go well with super sweet macarons. I outsmarted myself without even knowing it.

Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches, Adapted slightly from Jeni’s Spledid Ice Creams at Home

Baked Rhubarb Frozen Yogurt

Frozen Yogurt Base:
1 qt plain yogurt
1 ½ c whole milk
2 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp cream cheese, softened
½ c heavy cream
2/3 c sugar
¼ c light corn syrup

Rhubarb Compote:
½ lb fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 c sugar

Drain yogurt in a sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth (over a bowl) for 8 hours in the refrigerator. Measure out 1 ¼ c for the frozen yogurt.

To make compote, preheat oven to 300. Place rhubarb and sugar into small baking dish and stir to combine. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft enough that it is starting to fall apart, but still pink. Let cool completely before using (can be made ahead of time and refrigerated).

For the frozen yogurt base, stir together the cornstarch and 3 tbsp of milk in small bowl, and set aside.

Place softened cream in large bowl, and set aside.

Fill another large bowl with ice and water, and set aside.

Place the remaining milk, heavy cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a 4 qt saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cornstarch and milk slurry. Bring the mixture back up to a boil and cook stirring continually, for about 1 minute until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until there are no lumps. Add the yogurt and rhubarb compote, and mix to combine. Pour mixture into large Ziploc freezer bag and place in ice bath for 30 minutes, until the mixture is cool.

Pour mixture into ice cream machine, and churn for 30 minutes.

Place frozen yogurt in storage container, with sheet of parchment pressed down on frozen yogurt, and freeze until hardened.

Makes 1 quart.

Pink Macarons:
8 oz raw almonds
2 ½ c confectioners’ sugar
¾ c egg whites (6 eggs), room temp
¼ tsp sea salt
½ c plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 drops red food coloring

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 2 to 2 ½ inch cookie cutter, trace the circles on the parchment to use as a guide to pipe out the macaron batter. Turn parchment over so that pencil marks are against the pan.

In a food processor, grind the almonds with ¼ c of the confectioners’ sugar until you have a fine nut flour (but not a paste!). Pulse in the rest of the confectioners’ sugar.

Whip the egg whites and salt in a stand mixer until frothy. With mixer running slowly, add the granulated sugar 1 tbsp at a time, and whip until shiny and there are medium peaks. This took me 5 minutes.

Carefully fold in 1/3 of the almond mixture. Repeat with the rest of the almond mixture, 1/3 at a time. Then fold in the food coloring.

Place batter in large Ziploc bag. Cut a tiny snip off the corner, and use the Ziploc as your pastry bag. Starting in the middle of each circle, pipe batter around until it reaches the edges of the drawn circles.

Let batter dry 30 minutes before placing in oven.

Preheat oven to 300.

Bake macarons for about 18 minutes, rotating half-way through. You want them to look slightly risen, and be crisp and set on top.

Let cool completely. Then freeze them on the baking sheets for a couple of hours.

(This made 12 sandwiches for me, with lots of batter leftover.)

August 19, 2011

All the Wiser

I’m a little upset with myself for not visiting Wise Acre Eatery earlier. I heard of Wise Acre long before it even existed because I had a disgruntled friend who was very sad that Liberty Custard would be no more.

I saw little tidbits about the place here and there; saw people tweet about it; still didn’t go; never managed to get super excited about it. But I finally went last night with my dining buds L &L (we three try new places together, and Wise Acre Eatery was a new place for us—not an easy feat with three well-fed foodies).

So, here’s the deal: this place is “delightful” as my dining buds called it, makes you feel good, has some killer outdoor seating, and has really good food. It’s going to be added to Zach’s and my regular repertoire of restaurants for sure. Especially for the duration of the summer and fall.

They have a takeout window (two, actually) where you can get simpler items like sandwiches, soups, salads to go or eat outside with. But last night we did the dining room.

I started to get excited as I sat outside waiting for our table as I kept catching glimpses through the glass of the stuff they had for sale on the counter as you walked inside: a few pints of clearly fresh and ripe raspberries, a big huge bowl of beautiful tomatoes, and jars of homemade pickle-y stuff and sauces for ice cream (or whatever).

We three each had a glass of $6 rose, apparently the “staff favorite.” We sipped, we looked around, and we immediately all took a strong liking to this place. I think this was the first time we all completely reached consensus.

I started with a really delicious chilled beet soup that was perhaps the prettiest color I’ve ever ingested. I love fuchsia.

And then I faced some major indecisiveness when deciding on my entrée. The special last night caught my eye: a fried green tomato BLT with a side of peach and cucumber salad (um, yes please!). But then the Bacon Brie Burger that came with fries served with housemade rhubarb ketchup and homemade pickles really started to sound good. As did the Garlic Beef Skewers that came with a soft scrambled egg.

I ultimately decided on the burger and was immediately grateful when a big pile of perfect fries showed up with it. The burger was juicy, tasty, and perched upon a soft brioche bun. The rhubarb ketchup was lovely, spicy and sweet. I could have taken or left the wild rice slaw, but I’ve never been a huge fan on wild rice, and I applauded them for mixing it up a bit.

I was momentarily embarrassed when all three of us managed to completely clean our dinner plates. But I got over it in time to order chocolate custard for dessert with what I thought was going to be a rhubarb caramel sauce (intriguing, no?) but turned out to be raspberry sauce. However, I happily ate it out of its little glass jar as it melted and sloshed over the sides with no complaining.

So, yes, this place is a winner. Garden-y, thoughtful, homey, well done. I don’t know that this will become a Saturday night destination for us, but it will definitely make it on our “want good food on a weeknight” list.

August 13, 2011

A Perfect Friday Formula

We went to a lovely Italian picnic on Thursday night. The food was great, the cocktail being served was truly delicious, the company was great, and the backyard was stellar. I went home inspired.

I love a good cocktail. And at this Italian picnic on Thursday I fell in love with a new one. Meet Limoncello Champagne Cocktails with Mint.

Think mint-infused limoncello over a good pile of ice, doused with a perfect amount of fresh lemon juice, and then topped with champagne. I mean, really, could it get any better? I don’t think so.

So, I thought about this cocktail all day on Friday as I plugged away at work. I decided I must have it again. Last night.

And with a fabulous cocktail, you need fabulous food. And that’s where Surdyk’s came into the picture. My fellow foodie friends W & B gave me a Surdyk’s gift card for my birthday that has been burning a hole in my pocket. This cocktail felt like the perfect opportunity to use it.

You all know how much I love Surdyk’s Flights at MSP. Well, I love Surdyk’s Cheese Shop even more.  There is something about all sorts of amazing cheeses wrapped in perfect white paper that speaks to me in a big way. And if that isn’t perfect enough on its own, there are so many other tasty vittles in that little shop. I can barely stand it.

I walked in there so excited last night. I had a generous gift card to blow. I could be completely over the top and not feel one tiny bit of guilt.

I immediately grabbed a Rustica baguette and then made my way to the cheese counter. My rule at Surdyk’s is to let them pick the cheese. I always do this and have never been disappointed. After leaving with my 3 fabulous cheeses all wrapped up, I snagged a salami that they had been sampling, some Nicoise olives, some quince paste, and a bag of my favorite cookies in town: the chocolate cookies from Rustica.  That they sell in bags of 6 at Surdyk’s. Oh, lord.

I came home and started pulling out my marble cheese board, bowls, and plates for all these tasty treats. I pulled out the rainbow carrot pickles I had made earlier in the week as an accompaniment.

And then got to work on my cocktail. I got out our favorite glasses. Squeezed the lemon juice. Blended the mint in with the limoncello and lemon rind. Popped the bottle of champagne (and watched it explode all over the counter). And somehow didn't care about the mess I had just made. 

I had my minty lemon-y bubbly cocoction, and I was happy. It was the perfect way to end start off the weekend.

Limoncello Champagne Cocktails with Mint, adapted very slightly from

1/4 c mint leaves
1/4 c limoncello
2 tbsp sugar
Lemon peel from 1 lemon
4 tsp fresh lemon juice

Place limoncello, mint, sugar, and lemon peel in blender. Blend until mint leaves are very finely chopped. Strain through fine mesh sieve. Divide mixture into 2 glasses filled with ice. Add 2 tsp fresh lemon juice to each glass. Top each glass with champagne, and serve.

Makes 2

August 7, 2011

Soda Sisters

My mom and I get a little crazy when we’re together. We spend 99% of our time together either talking about food, eating food, coming up with food projects, or shopping for said food projects.

Friday night after we were majorly full from Pizzeria Lola and Sebastian Joe’s, we immediately started talking about what we’d be eating next and which food projects we would tackle this weekend. Somehow, we ended up getting all fixated on homemade sodas. We had both remembered seeing recipes for them in a recent Bon Appetit—and immediately started paging through back issues to find the article. Once that mission was accomplished and we vetted the feasibility of making these sodas, we got in the car to go look for the perfect soda bottles.

Saturday morning, we got as many ingredients as we could from the Fulton Farmer’s Market (cukes and basil), and then filled in the rest at the grocery store (lots of ginger, sugar, and club soda). And that that afternoon after eating some Lyonnaise salads, we got started on our soda making.

Making homemade sodas is actually really easy if you don’t mind ending up with a mildly sticky floor (and even if you do mind, you get over it, I promise). You make simple syrups out of the ingredients that are going to give it its specific flavor. Then you add club soda. And then you drink glass upon glass until you wake up with a sugar hangover the next morning and make everyone regret it.

We tackled 3 different kinds of sodas, which was a tad aggressive for my limited attention span, but I didn't fizzle out--I managed to power through. We made Cucumber, Mint, and Basil Soda…Strawberry, Lemon, and Basil Soda…and Spicy Ginger Soda (my favorite).

It turns out they are actually the perfect trio. The Cucumber, Mint, and Basil was mild and refreshing. The Strawberry, Lemon, and Basil was definitely the sweetest of the mix. And the Spicy Ginger was just special—super spicy (with 4 tsp of red pepper flakes!), super ginger-y. Minus the red pepper flakes, the amount of ginger-y punch in this soda would cure any queasy stomach.

So we did our thing—we chopped up our ingredients, made our simple syrups, stirred in club soda, mixed well, had our shoes periodically stick to the floor, and very carefully poured the finished product into our perfect soda bottles.

Like I’ve said before, I do believe there are a few things that are truly not better homemade (pizza, for one…). I was worried that sodas would potentially fall into this camp, but much to my delight, homemade sodas trump anything already bottled or canned. By far.

The point at which we started to get a little nuts was after the sodas were made and we started talking about styling them. It involved getting out our big stainless beverage bucket, sending Zach out to the store to buy lots and lots of ice to fill the bucket, getting everyone gathered around the picnic table outside, raiding my “store” in the basement for colored napkins and straws, running around to get the photos snapped before the ice melted outside, yelling at the boys to not drink their sodas until all necessary photos were snapped, and talking about creating our own labels (which sadly didn’t end up happening).

I have lots of plans for these sodas. They’d make cute hostess gifts, there are endless other seasonal ingredients to be experimented with, and the syrups keep in the fridge for a little while allowing them to be on the ready for the perfect moment.

Here’s the recipe for my favorite—the rest can be found in the May 2011 issue of Bon Appetit!

Spicy Ginger Soda, Adapted slightly from the May 2011 issue of Bon Apptetit

1 cup sugar
4 tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
6 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 cups club soda
12 lime wedges for garnish

Mix together sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, ginger, and 2 cups water in small saucepan; bring to boil. After the mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and let steep another 30 minutes, covered. Chill syrup in refrigerator.

In pitcher, mix together syrup and club soda. Stir. Serve over lots of ice with a lime wedge.

Makes 12