These are a Few of My Favorite (Edible) Things 2015

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” ― Ruth Reichl

When Gourmet Magazine closed its doors in 2009, the influential and talented Ruth Reichl continued recording her food adventures in books; years later, she's still finding satisfaction, inspiration, and a paycheck through the daily act of preparing, consuming, and discussing her endlessly delicious life. Even though an expanding career in sustainable agriculture and a small child at home afforded me less time to record/document my food-related adventures this year, my job and daughter simultaneously afforded me new edible opportunities. So while I am no Reichl, I am grateful for my endlessly delicious life.

And with that in mind, here are my favorite food-related things from 2015, in no particular order.

A trip to Portland meant dinner at Pok Pok. I rounded up a group of 12 colleagues, and the kind folks at Pok Pok graciously served us dozens of dishes at a colorful table located on a three season porch. The famous chicken wings they served up were juicy and tender, and the crispy skin was generously bathed in a glaze expertly balanced with sugar, fish sauce, and chili paste. 

A night of Portland microbrewery tours gave rise to a hankering for VooDoo Doughnuts.  While the namesake doughnut pictured here garnered the most attention from the masses, the apple fritter and the old fashioned cake doughnuts garnered the most love from my taste buds.

I planted totsoi in my garden for the first time this year, and I'm pleased to report that it's killer. Tender, succulent, and just a bit spicy, it's become my favorite green to grow at home. 

While taking a tour of the West Madison Agricultural Research Center in Wisconsin, we chanced upon a graduate student running a tomato taste test. We were lucky enough to get roped into participating in her taste test, and it was a lovely way to pass a sunny afternoon on the farm.

Two Minnesota cheese makers made big splashes this year with seemingly basic products - cheese curds and string cheese. Red Head Creamery's cheese curds are HUGE, squeaky at room temperature, and "udderly" satisfying. Lone Grazer's string cheese is hand stretched, and you can tell; it's super stringy and has a salty milkiness that keeps me running back to the co-op for more.

Revival in Minneapolis sizzled onto the scene with some of the best fried chicken I've had the pleasure of devouring. The Southern fried chicken is everything I want in fried chicken - the skin is heavily seasoned, lightly breaded, and fried to a crisp, the meat is tender and juicy, and it's served with dynamite sauces. The collard greens are a salty/sweet side that pair perfectly with the chicken, and the burger gets plenty of warranted applause with its double patty, cheese, and bacon. Don't even get me started on the pecan pie. A visit to Revival is worth the extra sit ups.

I picked this peach from a secret location in Illinois. It was sublime in a way that only a freshly picked, sun-warmed, juicy peach can be.

I had a chance to visit Charuth Van Buezekim's Dutch Girl Creamery in Nebraska this fall. She won an American Cheese Society blue ribbon for her Rosa Maria manchego-style cheese in July 2015, and now I know why. It's too legit to quit.

If you're as big a fan as I am of the Great British Bakeoff, you'll understand how one's brain becomes boggled by the bounty of pastries that exist. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a pastry chef, and who is endlessly curious about ways to combine flour, butter, and sugar. Carrie made kouign amann and I love her for it.

Should you find yourself in Ames, Iowa, The Cafe is a great choice for fresh, local food, but Vesuvius Pizza should make your short list. Their #9 signature wood-fired pizza boasts a garlic cream sauce, La Quercia prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, caramelized onions, and fresh basil. The strip mall pizza joint features a good selection of craft beer and artwork by Minneapolis's own Adam Turman. 

Never underestimate the power of a fantastic luncheon with a foxy fabricator. After a successful run as a food truck, Foxy Falafel opened a bricks and mortar restaurant in St Paul awhile back, and the cozy location proved to be memorable spot for a luncheon date complete with crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside falafel balls, lightly dressed fresh greens, beer, and sweet treats.

Our industrious and fun-loving neighbors hosted their annual "Fryfest" again this year. I brought some deep fried Vietnamese style egg rolls as an entry and won this homemade strawberry pie. 

This year, I spent most of my actual birthday on the road en route from Nebraska. This weary traveler came home to hugs, a bouquet, and a warm spaghetti dinner. Spaghetti dinner with this little gal and her dad never gets old.

Previous Year's Recaps:

[where: Minnesota, Food, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, 55418]

These are a Few of My Favorite (Edible) Things 2014

M.F.K. Fisher once said,“First we eat, then we do everything else.” This year, we ate, then we had a baby, then we ate again. We didn't travel to exotic destinations, but we had plenty of adventures around the Midwest and behind our own front door. And so with that in mind, here are my favorite food-related things from 2014, in no particular order.

1. BABY DREAMS. Our little Margaret Mae expanded the horizons of our hearts when she was born in April. We've sketched out many of our dreams about her, some of which involve charcuterie. 

2. ALEMAR CHEESE. Midwest cheese makers manage to knock my socks off, year after year. To my delight in 2014, Alemar Cheese Company released a new brie-style cheese called Blue Earth. It’s slightly buttery, with a mild brie flavor, and an utterly unctuous texture. 

3. ST ISADORE'S MEADInga Witscher is a fourth-generation organic dairy farmer and the host of the television program, Around the Farm Table. We had the pleasure of enjoying dinner at her home in Western Wisconsin earlier this year, where she served us tender veal, home made cheese, and roasted vegetables - all from her farm.

4. FRIED CHICKEN. Two days after we came home from the hospital with the babe, our neighbors, Jess and Sarah, showed up on our doorstep all dolled up in vintage dresses carrying a basket of fresh fried chicken, sautéed greens, biscuits, and key lime pie. No joke, I think gerg started crying while he was eating it. 

5. WISE ACRE. An afternoon luncheon on a glorious sunny day at Wise Acre Eatery was a special treat last summer. This salted caramel, vanilla custard, and espresso shake was a heavenly end to a lovely meal.

5. BOOZE. Two weeks after baby arrived, we joyfully restocked the liquor cabinet and larder with spirits, kickass microbrews, and wine. We toasted, and toasted, and toasted, until we were toasted. 

6. GLAM DOLL DONUTS. Remember that time when I was 38 weeks pregnant and Ben delivered a box of Glam Doll Donuts to our house? No? Well, I'll never forget that.

7. BRASSERIE ZENTRAL. The lamb neck ragout and braised red cabbage over house-made gnocchi at Brasserie Zentral made for a memorable birthday meal, as did the chocolate mousse cake, the cocktails, and the leisurely motorcycle ride to and fro with my husband. 

8. BABY SHOWER. I'll never forget all of the amazing food served at my baby shower at the Pearson residence, including two fruit tarts made with love by rising pastry boss and all-around lovable gal, Carrie Riggs

9. COPPER HEN. The “breakfast cupcake” at The Copper Hen features fresh blueberries and bacon on buttery crumble cake. The whole works is topped with cream cheese frosting and maple syrup. It's a bit of a breakfast bomb, but it hits the spot with a cup of hot coffee.

10. STOCKHOLM PIE COMPANY. After YEARS of wishing and waiting, we finally made it to the Stockholm Pie Company where I savored this decadent slice of chocolate cream pie. 

11. RED STAG. Dominating Bloody Marys and bunch at the Red Stag with the Pearsons and Drabandts before heading to The Bank to watch the Packers school the Vikings was totally tubular.

12. RECOVERY FOOD. Four months after the baby was born, I made an encore appearance at the hospital to have my gall bladder removed. While I recovered, our friends and family went above and beyond, with food and love (in order left to right, top to bottom): baked enchiladas from the Pearsons, fresh spring rolls from the Ackermans, savory hand pies from Carrie, kefta and orzo salad from Jon and Aimee, Niçoise salad from Dan and Rachelle, taco salad from the Lorges, and pulled pork sandwiches from Reed and Sarah!

Other notables:
  • Maggie's first dim sum with the Liens, Trans, and Micah and Sarah.
  • The time we surprised the Drabandts with bloody Mary's, and Tim's parents were there and we ended up day drinking and talking smart about the Packers. 
  • The caramel and toasted almond tart that Aimee made on NYE.
  • The epic gingerbread castle we made with the Flanagan side of the family.
  • Remember how gorgeous it was in September? We enjoyed a glorious luncheon at Sea Salt in September with the Hirbars that I shant forget.
Previous Year's Recaps:
These are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2013
These are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2012
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2011
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2010
2009: A Few of My Favorite Edible Things

[where: Minnesota, Food, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, 55418]

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2013

Dorothy Day once said, "Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul." So many of the meals I've enjoyed this year were about more than just the food. The company, the atmosphere, the location, the dirty jokes, the variety of forks - all of that contributed to my highlights this year.

I had so many dining experiences that served as food for the body AND the soul.

So without further belaboring the point, here are my favorite edible things from 2013, in no particular order.

1. BOROUGH. Gerg and I had the opportunity to enjoy a five-course, Skuna Bay salmon dinner at Borough shortly after they opened last year. The gravlax topped blini (upper left) was particularly lovely.

2. GLAM DOLL DONUTS. Glam Doll Donuts opened this year, to the cheers of late night donut lovers everywhere. After a night on the town, we grabbed a heaping platter of donuts, featuring my favorite, the Femme Fatale, filled with fresh raspberry curd and topped with vanilla icing. I DIG IT.

3. VALENTINO PASTA. Much to my surprise, a blast from the past started a pasta business last year. These home made pork meatballs and red sauce with Valentino spelt lumache pasta were perfection. Valentino pasta is handmade, small batch pasta from Chicago. 

4. FROZBROZ. We adored the Cinnamon Candied Pecan AND the 3x Chocolate ice cream we got from Froz Broz as our prize for supporting their kickstarter this year. The ice cream-making duo known for their zany flavors and random Facebook ice cream giveaways is finally selling pints of their killer ice cream at their new commercial kitchen space at CityFoodStudio.

5. FRESH INDIANA PEACHES. These freshly harvested peaches at Tuttles Orchard in Greenfield, Indiana were mind-blowingly good. My colleagues and I had an opportunity to do a multi-day farm tour around Indianapolis this year, and we stopped by Tuttles Orchard at peak peach season. Lucky us.

6. PIZZA NIGHT AT TWO PONIES GARDEN. Four fabulous friends had a chance to grab a margherita pizza at Two Ponies Garden in Long Lake, MN this fall. The pizza was a high five for your mouth, but the atmosphere was even better. We loved hiking through their dahlia garden.
7. RESTAURANT ALMA. A noteworthy birthday celebration at Restaurant Alma included a 9-course dinner and 3-course dessert. The standouts for me were the wild cod and mussel stew and the honey chocolate pot du creme. We also raised a glass to our friend, Carrie, who became the pastry chef at Alma this year.

8. FRESH MICHIGAN BLUEBERRIES. On a week-long farm tour through Michigan, some colleagues and I stopped to talk with blueberry growers in Covert, MI. We walked and talked through the rows of bushes and nibbled on freshly harvested blueberries for lunch!

9. LAKEVIEW DRIVE INN. On a day-trip date to Winona, MN, Gerg and I stopped at the Lakeview Drive Inn for some fried sunfish and a home made root beer. It was a perfect Minnesota summer lunch with the handsomest companion.
10.  GOOD THUNDER. Made with grass-fed milk from Cedar Summit Farm, Alemar Cheese's Good Thunder has a stiffer, pasty texture, with a smoothness that is slightly reminiscent of its sister cheese, Bent River. New this year, these lovely squares of cheese are molded and salted by Kieth Adams and his crew, and then the rind is washed in Surly Bender, an oatmeal brown ale. 
11. BURCH STEAK. Burch opened in 2013 to thunderous applause, and while I adore their dumplings and pizza, the wood roasted marrow bone with gremolata is my favorite dish there. We rang in the New Year at Burch this year, with a grip of some of our favorite folks, and it was a damn good idea.

12. TRAVAIL AND UMAMI. Before Travail closed in 2013, we had to stop in for one last supper. My favorite dish that night was thangliotti with asparagus, a poached egg, and a buttery foam sauce reminiscent of hollandaise. After they closed, I had a couple of opportunities to check out Umami by Travail, their temporary, pop-up restaurant. I'll never forget Umami's legendary chicken wings. 
13. NEW GLARUS. A group of us goofballs made a trek to the New Glarus Brewing Company's 2013 Beer, Bacon, and Cheese Fest. It was an epic day filled with sun, tons of glorious suds, and a fabulous Wisconsin supper club fish fry for dinner afterwards.

Other edible noteables:

  • My royal birthday cake, whipped up by Carrie Vono.
  • TWO Jello molds for Shanny's Halloween party, crafted with care and booze.
  • Pizza and pumpkin pie in the hospital after my sister delivered her first baby.
  • Entering jams, jellies, and pickles in the MN State Fair, even though I didn't win a ribbon. AGAIN.
  • An epic gingerbread house building competition with my in-laws.
  • An off-the-hook fish fry the night before Mark and Sarah's wedding. 
  • My last drink before I found out I was pregnant in August was...a bottle of Schlitz.
Previous Year's Recaps:
These are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2012
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2011
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2010
2009: A Few of My Favorite Edible Things

[where: Minnesota, Food, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, 55418]