Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies Just Like Mom Used to Make

One of my most vivid holiday memories from childhood is decorating cookies. Now, just so you understand, decorating cookies was an epic event at our household. With 6 kids, all of whom needed to bring cookies to various events, my mom made a boatload of cut-out cookies - we're talking enough cookies to completely cover both the dining room and kitchen tables (both of which seat 8). It must have been at least 20 dozen.

After all that baking, my mom would gather the kids around the kitchen table with giant bowls of icing, sprinkles, and shredded coconut, and we would commence decorating all of those cookies. It would take several hours to complete, especially when each reindeer cookie had to have a red sprinkle on the nose, and every tree cookie had to have ornaments frosted on it. My personal favorite technique was using shredded coconut with white icing for Santa's beard.

My mom was so hilarious and awesome - we were not allowed to lick anything, and naturally we'd forget, so she was constantly supervising, sending us to wash our hands and replacing our frosting knives anytime we "sampled." I can just see her - hands on hips, laughing at our ridiculous designs - and us - crawling over each other to grab the blue frosting, or crawling under the table to head for the bathroom to wash our hands (yet again).

Naturally, at some point, we grew up and moved out, and mom grew tired of making all of those cookies by herself, and I gladly picked up the tradition baton. I'll say this much - cookies, especially gingerbread men , become rated R pretty quickly when friends, rather than children, are in charge of decorating. ANYhoo - here's my version of gingerbread cut-out cookies (adapted from a Good Housekeeping recipe):

Note: The molasses and ginger are the stars of this recipe, so don't skimp on those ingredients.

Yield: 6-1/2 dozen
Prep: 20 min. + chilling time (2 hours)
Bake: 10 min./batch

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup dark molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fresh ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
Frosting or confectioners' sugar, optional


In a large bowl, cream butter, vanilla, and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with water, beating well after each addition. Wrap and refrigerate the dough for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out to 1/4-in. thickness. Cut with 2-1/2-in. cookie cutters dipped in flour. Place 1 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Refrigerate pan for 10 minutes.

Remove pan from refrigerator and bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool. Frost or dust with confectioners' sugar if desired.

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

Cheese That's Worth The Splurge

Cheese That's Worth The Splurge - Dara & Co. - November 2011 - Minnesota

Hear ye! Hear ye! The newest batch of Hook’s 15-year-old super-aged cheddar has made its way to the Twin Cities.

Overall, Hook’s 15-year-old cheddar has a balanced, intensely cheddar flavor. Like so many aged cheeses that I enjoy, the lactic acid has crystallized in the Hook’s 15-year-old cheddar forming a few crunchy bits of calcium lactate, the crystals ranging in color from darkish yellow to almost white.

While some aged cheddars take on an extremely bitter quality, most likely brought on by the temperature being raised during the aging process, the marginal bitterness of the Hook's 15-year is balanced with sourness and saltiness expected in cheddar cheese. It’s slightly crumbly, and best at room temperature. Savor the delectable cheddar chunks on their own, or perhaps with a few slices of apple.

If it sounds like the Hooks are cheese wizards, they very well might be. Nearly 40 years ago, Tony and Julie Hook started making cheese together. Julie Hook remains the only woman to win the World Championship Cheese Contest for her Colby cheese in 1982, and more recently the Hooks won a Silver Medal for their Gorgonzola at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest.

This year, Hook’s began selling their 15-year cheddar at their cheese factory in Mineral Point on Friday, November 4, and shipped it out to shops around Minnesota shortly thereafter. It’s currently available at France 44, Surdyk’s, and Lunds & Byerly’s while supplies last. Obviously prices vary, but you can expect to see it selling for about $60-$70/lb. At that price, I budget for it, forsaking other indulgences, and it’s always worth it.

[where: cheese, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

New York, New York. 2011.

A recap of our trip to NYC and North Adams with images and words.
For my birthday this year, I received an invitation - an invitation with boarding passes attached - from gerg. He decided the perfect gift for me was a trip to NYC and a meal at Le Bernardin. He is totally boss.

I was excited for NYC, but I was feeling a bit rundown on Friday after a long meeting in Kansas City which came to an exciting finish as the gentleman seated next to me puked all over himself on the plane as we landed in Minneapolis. Sheesh.

But being a north woods girl, as soon as I saw Manhattan from the window seat that Saturday evening, I was fully revived and ready for some hot, city action. We spent our first night wandering, heading down to Times Square, stopping for a slice and several cocktails en route.
We saw a Macy's window display with gears in it. gerg likes gears.

I woke up on Sunday morning with a cold, but that didn't stop us from heading to the West Village to catch the Packer game at Kettle of Fish, where we ran into a crap-ton of Packer fans. MANY high fives were thrown about.
Standing in line at the Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village awaiting admittance.

Later that night we celebrated a ripping Packer victory with drinks at Barramundi bar on the lower east side and dinner at wd~50, Wylie Dufresne's NYC restaurant. wd~50's atmosphere is sophisticated, casual, and somewhat SEXy. Neither too forward, nor too aloof, our server seemed like she'd always worked there, and was happy to be there.

The food at wd~50 was trickery on a plate. The aerated foie gras inspired in gerg a new appreciation for foie, so much so that he ordered it at Le Bernardin the following day. The wagyu chuck steak was rich, slightly salty, and figgy. We ordered the dessert to split, but our server said the chef insisted that we each have our own, and brought out two servings - both of which we savored.
  • Aerated foie gras with pickled beet, mashad plum, and brioche (dizzying and delectable)
  • Peekytoe crab roll with salt ‘n vinegar chips and celery mayonnaise
  • The foreknown eggs benedict (it definitely delivered)
  • Wagyu chuck steak with black-eyed peas, fig, and rutabaga (wagyu in figgy sauce FTW)
  • Duck breast with black sesame dumplings, red cabbage, parsnip consommé
  • Soft Chocolate with beet, long pepper, and ricotta
Soft Chocolate with beet, long pepper, and ricotta ice cream at wd~50.

Monday morning came early, and we had to get to the National September 11 Memorial Museum for our scheduled tour of the outdoor space. The pools are huge, as is the space. That we couldn't see the bottom of the fountains within the pools was unsettling, but we both agreed that we were ok with feeling unsettled. Slightly eerie, very much overwhelming - we saw children playing tag among the trees while adults wept in solitude.
One of the twin reflecting pools at the 911 Memorial.

Our visit to the memorial was cut short because we had a lunch date a Le Bernardin. The place was gorgeous - from the upholstery on the suede and chrome chairs, to the tiny bubbles on the dinner plates, to the buttons on the maître d's jacket. The 24-foot triptych painting of a stormy sea called "Deep Water No. 1" by Ran Ortner of Brooklyn, pushed the aquatic theme to the forefront. Our meal was captivating, from the foie-topped shrimp to the crispy black cod. I did not catch a glimpse of Ripert, but I did catch a glimpse of the coat check girl's *ahem* décolletage - scandalous!
Getting our tourist on in front of Le Bernardin.

Have you noticed gerg's facial hair tribute to Pete Vuckovich? He received a couple shout-outs from passersby on his sweet, Movember moustache. With gerg's 'stache in tow, we headed to Brooklyn, where we stopped by NYC Resistor, a hacker collective with a shared space. We met some geeks. Gerg felt comfortable. A trip to Brooklyn wouldn't be complete without a stop at Grimald's, in DUMBO, so we swung by. The line was short, so we stopped for a pie -piping hot cheese, sausage, pepperoni, onion, and garlic on a coal charred crust.
Pizza at Grimaldi's, under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Eventually, we headed to 4th Avenue Pub in Park Slope to meet up with some old friends from Minnesota, Bryn and Micycle. I had an imperial oatmeal stout from Southern Tier Brewing Company. It was roasty, dark, bubbly, and a good fit for a rainy night in Brooklyn. The subway ride back to Manhattan was quiet, since everyone in the car was sleeping except for us. Snooze fest!

We spent all of Tuesday in Central Park. We started at the upper west corner and worked our way down. It was hard to believe that the trees, water falls, and woodsy feeling of the North Woods at the Ravine were so close the madcap streets of Manhattan. Gerg was pumped that he finally got to peep the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.
The Huddlestone Arch at Central Park. Can you spot gerg?

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

After our tour of Central Park, we embarked on a train, and then caught a ride through the Berkshires, and ended up in North Adams, MA, where we celebrated Thanksgiving with friends who excelled at celebrity trivia and looking good.

We played.

We watched another ripping Packer victory.

We ate.

We imbibed.
The end.

Of COURSE that's not wine - what's WRONG with you?

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

Cheers to Duluth-Made Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch - Dara & Co. - October 2011 - Minnesota

When I’m in the mood for a light, refreshing beer, I grab a Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch, brewed in Duluth.

Yes, I know, wet hopped beers are all the rage this time of year, and for good reason—they’re awesome. But sometimes, I need a break from hoppy beers, and when I’m in the mood for a light, balanced, refreshing beer, I grab a Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch.

The folks at Lake Superior Brewing Company started in the 1990s as homebrewers. Today, they craft a variety of regular, seasonal, and specialty beers at their brewery in Duluth. Although German law dictates that only a few breweries in and around Cologne can legally call their beers “Kölsches,” the Lake Superior version is a worthy homage. Lighter than a lager, straw yellow, slightly grainy in the nose, crisp and smooth on the palate, with moderate levels of German hops and carbonation, Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch is an ideal session beer.

Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch pairs well with all kinds of food, but can be overwhelmed easily. I'd recommend serving it with fruit, cheese, grilled vegetables, and delicately spiced meat. And when you’re ready to share your love of Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch with several people, kegs are available by special order from Surdyk’s and St. Anthony Village Liquor Warehouse.

Cheers to Duluth-Made Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch - Dara & Co. - October 2011 - Minnesota

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

Apple Cider Donuts

Behold the autumnal tradition known as the apple cider donut!

Donuts, donuts everywhere! The donut craze in the Twin Cities has been well documented by Dara, and indeed, many bakeries in the Twin Cities are cranking out good donuts. But this time of year, I scout out a donut of a different variety: Behold the autumnal tradition known as the apple cider donut.

Apple cider donuts are dense cake donuts made with apple cider and buttermilk. Deep fried until golden brown, the tender morsels are usually coated generously with cinnamon and sugar. Depending on the maker, the apple cider flavor can be more or less pronounced, and cinnamon and nutmeg levels vary by maker as well. Although coated in sugar, they’re not cloyingly sweet. My guess is that it has something to do with the tanginess of the cider and buttermilk in the batter.

Finding a cider donut can be tricky. You likely won’t find them at a bakery. They seem to take up residence among piles of apples at farmers market apple stands.

Local Apple Cider Donut Spottings:
• McDougall's Apple Junction - Hastings
• Sweetland Orchard stand - NE Farmers' Market, Mill City, Bloomington, Fulton, and Kingfield.

So get thee to a fall farmers' market! Upon arrival, grab a coffee, milk, or hot apple cider before you get in line for your donut. Then, find your cider donut, take a bite, and smile.

And just in case you’re interested in making your own cider donuts, here’s a recipe that pumps up the apple flavor by reducing the cider.

Apple Cider Donuts

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 18 donuts, and 18 donut holes

1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil for frying

Cinnamon sugar (1 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon)

In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, until the eggs are completely incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Using a 3-inch or 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the sheet pans. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes.

Add enough oil to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F*. Place a couple of cooling racks on a jellyroll pan.

While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the cinnamon sugar by mixing the two together. Set aside.

Fry and top the doughnuts: Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Let them settle on the cooling rack for a minute after the doughnuts are fried. Dip them into the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Serve with coffee, hot cider, or milk.

Apple Cider Donuts—Heaven! - Dara & Co. - October 2011 - Minnesota

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

Food Lover's Must Read: Lapham's Quarterly Food Issue

Why must you read the Lapham's Quarterly food issue? Because it rules.

Lapham's Quarterly threw all of its weight behind the topic of food, and created one hell of a charming magazine issue.

Lapham's Quarterly is a quarterly magazine that devotes each issue to a single topic. This past summer's issue was "Food." Lewis Lapham is the man behind the magazine. Former editor of Harper's Magazine, he is now the editor and eponym of the magazine. Lapham and his team assembled the issue by scouring thousands of pieces from the literary and art world, and piled them into a not-too-cohesive collection with food as their theme.

From food-related scenes lifted from Shakespeare and Dickens to snippets by Anthony Bourdain and Patton Oswalt, Lapham's Food issue tackles the topic of food with silliness and serious contemplation via excerpts, poems, trivia, artwork, essays, charts, and jokes. View the contents of the food issue here.

From Lapham's blog:
"In the issue, Charles Dickens asks for just a little more, Annie Dillard participates in the food chain, William Carlos Williams raids the refrigerator, Roland Barthes fiddles with chopsticks, H.L. Mencken worships the hot dog, and Erasmus teaches us how to have good table manners.

The issue also includes charts and graphs of history's top chefs, a sampling of dos and don't for table manners all over the world, the calorie counts of military rations, and major historical party fouls. Our essays include Daniel Mason on earth-eating, science writer Deborah Blum on food poisoning, and Brent Cunningham on the bourgeois desire to return to the farm."

I only wish they could have included my favorite scene from Uncle Buck (surely they would have if they could have):

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

Pizza Night at the Stone Barn in Nelson, WI

This picturesque Wisconsin farm serves wood-fired brick oven pizza on weekend nights.
Pizza Night at the Stone Barn

Pizza on the farm is fast becoming a popular summertime experience for city and country folk alike. In the most recent issue of Minnesota Monthly, Dara wrote about the “incredibly charming and memorable” Pizza Night at A to Z Produce, in Stockholm, Wisconsin.

But along the back roads of the Mississippi River there’s another charming pizza farm, and it serves on the weekends (unlike A to Z’s pizza night). If you’re planning a weekend autumn trip through the Mississippi River Valley, the Stone Barn in Nelson, Wisconsin, is a destination offering pizza on the farm, ice cream, pristine woods, and an antique shop.

Stone Barn’s pizza is constructed on extra thin crust baked in a wood-fired brick oven. They make fresh dough each day, and roll out a fresh crust for each pizza when you place your order. As for toppings, meat eaters can indulge in the Italian sausage, chorizo, or gyros, which they prepare on-site by combining local pork or lamb. The herbs that flavor the pizza are grown on-site, and if you’re lucky, you can grab an outdoor table next to a raised bed overflowing with fragrant basil and rosemary.

The picturesque outdoor seating area is nestled among solid stone wall foundations left standing after a barn collapsed in the 1980s. If you can’t grab an outdoor table, the grassy area allows picnickers to lounge, bird watchers to ponder, and butterfly chasers to rollick. If outdoor seating isn’t available, indoor seating offers a view of the pizzas being made in their wood-fired brick oven. An antique shop offers a collection of antique jewelry and serve ware. Wait time can be up to two hours, so sipping a bottle of beer or a glass of wine (available on-site) and taking in the scenery and some antiques will help pass the time.

The Stone Barn will be closing a little earlier this year, so September 25th will be their last day for the 2011 season—they’ll re-open in May of 2012. Until then, they’re open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Pack what you’ll need, including bug spray, binoculars, books, etc. Be sure to take all that you brought; it’s a private farm, not a public park.

The Stone Barn
S685 County Road KK
Nelson, WI 54756

American Cheese Society Awards - WI and MN Roundup

The 2011 American Cheese Society competition is a wrap, and several Minnesota and Wisconsin dairies came back with ribbons. Why did I pull out Wisconsin and Minnesota? Because I was born and raised in Wisconsin and I currently live in Minnesota. So there.

Check out my sister blog, You Are Where You Eat for my highlights and the list of MN and WI cheese that made the cut:

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

Reetsy's Take on Punch's Mimi Pizza

Book Club Mimi Pizza by gergistheword
I made my own version of a Mimi Pizza, with darn good results.
My pizza go-to at Punch Pizza is the Mimi. They bake a pizza crust in their wood-fired oven, pull it out of the oven, and then pile it with fresh grape tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic. I'm a sucker for the contrast in temperatures and the unexpected twist of the raw tomatoes and cheese on a pizza.

For book club, I attempted my own version of the Mimi, using some of my favorite local ingredients. I used fresh, local mozzarella, organic cherry tomatoes from Wisconsin, and organic basil from my garden. I even used organic flour from North Dakota in the crust.

For the dough, I used a variation of Peter Reinhart's Napoletana pizza dough recipe. It's a bit time-consuming, but not rocket science, and it results in a fantastic, chewy-on-the-inside, crusty-around-the-edges crust. I've used this dough recipe both on the grill and in an oven cranked as high as it would go (preheating the pizza stone).

Hot, Recipe ACTION!

5 cups all-purpose flour (I use 4 cups white, 1 cup wheat)

1 ¾ tsp table salt or 1 ¼ tsp Kosher salt

1 tsp instant yeast

2 cups cool water


1. Using an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook mix together all the ingredients on low speed for 4 minutes or until all the flour gathers together to form a coarse ball. Let this rest for 5 minutes then mix again for an additional 2 minutes, until the dough clears the side of the bowl and sticks a bit to the bottom (add a bit more water if too dry, or flour if too wet).

2. Put the dough onto a floured surface, dust the top with flour to absorb the surface moisture and then form the dough into a ball. Put the dough ball into lightly oiled bowl turning the dough over to coat, cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before refrigerating overnight.

3. On the following day remove the bowl from the fridge 2 hours before you plan on making pizzas. Using wet hands gently remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured surface, trying to deflate the dough as little as possible. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, gently rounding each into a ball. Line a baking sheet with parchment and brush with olive oil. Place the pieces you intend to use that day on the sheet and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit out for 2 hours before making into pizzas. You can now freeze any of the extra dough balls in individual food bags (still oil the dough). Use the refrigerated dough within 2 days and the frozen dough within 3 months.

4. An hour before you make pizza pre heat the oven to its highest setting, with you pizza stone on the middle shelf.

5. To shape into pizzas place the dough on a floured surface and firmly but gently flatten with floured hands to about an inch thick. Use your fingertips press into and around the edge of the dough, turning it as you do, and continue in a spiral fashion, turning and pressing as you work your way to the center. You want to stretch the dough to about 10 inches.

6. Move the dough to the ‘peel’. Make sure it can move freely by sprinkling the peel with cornmeal. If you don’t have a peel (not exactly common kitchen equipment) use an inverted baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.

7. Transfer the pizza to the baking stone and cook until the crust is puffy and slightly charred, about 9 minutes in my oven, but your oven will probably vary so watch carefully. You'll need about 8 minutes on a 500 degree grill.

8. In a bowl toss together quartered cherry tomatoes, cubed fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the warm crust. Sprinkle a chiffonade of basil over the top, and serve immediately.

Worth noting: I used less olive oil than Punch does, as a matter of taste. Also, eat it immediately. Why? After sitting for awhile, the temperature of the ingredients levels out, and it's better when the cheese and tomatoes are cool and the crust is warm.

Niagara’s Wine Region Doesn't Dissapoint

This month my husband and I enjoyed a week-long motorcycle ride to Niagara Falls for our anniversary celebration. Our route took us up through the Upper Peninsula, down along the eastern shore of Michigan, and across the green belt of Ontario. We experienced all kinds of regional culinary wonders—from cudighi (a regional spicy Italian sausage) and fresh perch, to poutine (French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy) and juicy strawberries.
Among all the edibles that the trip had to offer, the one aspect of local cuisine that truly enchanted me was Ontario’s wine region, specifically Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Escarpment. I had read that there were “some wineries” in the area, and we had planned on checking them out, but the wine culture and appreciation that we experienced was more enthusiastic than I had anticipated.

As we motored across the highway toward the falls, between bridges and views of Lake Huron, vineyards neatly dotted the landscape. I learned that Niagara’s wine region lies at approximately 43°, and while it’s no Burgandy, France, the conditions are decent enough that about 70 wineries operate in the surrounding Niagara area.

Unlike Dara & Co’s own Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, I’m no wine expert, so I took recommendations from servers and/or sommeliers when I was ready to start tasting. The standouts included the famous Inniskillin ice wine, a Konzelmann Estate Gewurztraminer, a Creekside Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a reasonably priced Trius Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

You can catch a glimpse of a Niagara Peninsula winter while you watch a video about how ice wine is made here.

Ready to try some wine from the Niagara Peninsula? It’s not easy to find in the Twin Cities, but you can get your hands on a bottle of Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine 2007 at France 44.
Niagara’s Wine Region Doesn't Dissapoint - Dara & Co. - July 2011 - Minnesota

Rationalizing a Move to MN: An Attaboys Roundup

I have very few family members in MN. I think some of them should move here. Therefore, I'm compiling a somewhat objective roundup of rationale for making a move to MN/MPLS, in the form of a list of attaboys that might be appealing to my family members:

Brains and Know-How
  1. Minneapolis was named the third most literate city in the nation last year by the Center for Public Policy and Social Research
  2. Minneapolis is named one of the top ten smartest cities in America by the Daily Beast
Quality of Life
  1. Minneapolis was named the best city for finding employment by Forbes Magazine
  2. Minneapolis, St Paul has the best airport food, according to airfarwatchdog
  3. Minneapolis named top vacation spot by National Geographic Magazine
  4. Target Field was named the Sports Facility of the Year by Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal
  5. Minneapolis Named One of 18 'Coolest Cities' in America by Men's Journal
  6. Minnesota named 'Most Hipster State in the U.S.'
  7. Minneapolis has the best parks system, according to Live Science.
Health and Fitness
  1. Minneapolis-St. Paul named the healthiest, fittest metropolitan area in the United States by the American College of Sports Medicine
  2. Minneapolis named Bicycling's Top City by
  3. Minnesota named by best trail state by American Trails (biking, equestrian cross-country skiing, off-highway vehicle, water, snowmobile trails, and several thousand hiking trails)
  4. Minneapolis is the fittest large city in the U.S., according to new rankings from MapMyFitness.
  5. Named one of the top ten cities for organic eaters to live by Organic Authority.
  1. Minneosta named one of the top 10 friendliest states for physicians by Modern Medicine.
  2. Rochester (just 1.5 hours away) named one of the 10 best cities of the next decade by Kiplinger
  3. Four Minnesota hospitals were named among best in nation by Thomson Reuters
Help me make the case. If I forgot a good one, comment below, yo.

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

It’s International Pickles Week!

It’s International Pickles Week! - Dara & Co. - May 2011 - Minnesota

It’s the third week in May! You know what that means? It’s International Pickles Week! Whether they’re slung aside a sandwich or perched atop a Chicago dog, pickles are an ever-present side dish, especially in Minnesota in the summer. Thus, I thought I’d devote some time to Minnesota’s pickling tradition.

Perhaps Minnesota’s greatest claim to pickle fame is Gedney pickles. In 1879 (before Ford sold his first automobile), Mathias Anderson Gedney moved to Minneapolis with pickles in mind. With a handful of recipes, he opened his first Gedney pickle plant in 1881 in Minneapolis at the corner of Lowry and Pacific. Gedney’s plant eventually relocated to Chaska, where it still operates today.
There is no shortage of pickles in Minnesota, whether you’re scanning jars at the State Fair, raiding your auntie’s root cellar, or a munchin' on a plate of potluck pickle roll-ups at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge. Perhaps you want to go the extra mile in the name of pickles this week? The Strip Club Meat and Fish serves up a pickle small plate featuring vegetables that are pickled in-house and deep fried. Or you could try your own hand at frying some pickles using this Gedney recipe:

Gedney’s Deep Fried Pickles Recipe
Preparation time: 60 min. Serves: 8
· 24 dill pickle spears, chilled
· Egg wash, recipe follows
· Breading, recipe follows
· Canola oil, for frying

· 2 cups milk
· 2 eggs
· Pinch of lemon pepper
· Pinch of dill weed
· Pickle juice

· 2 1/2 cups cornmeal
· 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
· 1/2 cup lemon pepper
· 1/2 cup dill weed
· 4 tsp paprika
· 2 tsp garlic salt
· Pinch of cayenne pepper, or more to taste

For egg wash: In a baking dish, whisk all ingredients together, except pickle juice. Add pickle juice, to taste, and whisk to combine.

For breading: Combine all ingredients in a baking dish.

Using only very cold dill pickle spears, dip pickle into egg wash and then coat with breading. Repeat until no pickles remain, and arrange dipped pickles on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper. Chill for at least 30 minutes. In a deep fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees F. Alternatively, heat oil in a large, heavy pot suitable for deep-frying. Carefully add chilled pickle spears, in batches, to the hot oil and fry for about 3 1/2 minutes or until golden. Move to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Do you have a favorite pickle in the cities? Know a great pickle recipe? Please share!

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

Sampling Masu Sushi & Robata

Sampling Masu Sushi & Robata - Dara & Co. - April 2011 - Minnesota

Sampling Masu Sushi & Robata

Last week, gerg and I grabbed a meal at Masu Sushi & Robata, a new sushi and robata restaurant in NE Minneapolis. I was particularly interested because James Beard Award-winning chef Tim McKee was involved in producing the menu, and because they’ve made a commitment to sourcing sustainable seafood.

They were busy on that Wednesday night, so we set up a reservation for 9:30 p.m. and took some time to decompress at our NE home before we headed out. Upon arriving, we were seated in a cozy booth under a painted pair of watchful eyes that spanned the full length of the back wall. The menu consisted of sake and other drinks, pub-style appetizers (izakaya), sushi, grilled items (robata), and noodles.

We split a glass of sweet sparkling rhubarb green tea from their non-alcoholic drink menu. Then we ordered the “Warrior” sake flight consisting of Minato Harbor Yamahai Nama Genshu, Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo, and Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu. The $14.50 Warrior flight is an economical way to sample the Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu since it runs $89 by the bottle.

The ginger duck dumplings (gyoza) were an appetizing combination of rich duck meat and pungent ginger. The crispy bottoms of the dumplings balanced the unctuous texture of the duck. As we gobbled them up, my husband noted that he “could eat about nine more orders of those.”

Up next was a round of oyster shooters—a quail egg, an oyster, some flying fish roe (tobiko) and green shiso submerged in a 2 oz. shot of sake. It was high-five worthy. The combination of the sweetness from the sake, the saltiness of the oyster, and the richness of the quail egg made for a memorable and tasty shooter.

The sustainable seafood options are plentiful on the sushi menu. I opted for a bowl of the littleneck clam ramen with garlic, seaweed (wakame), and fish cake. The ramen wasn’t the slimy noodles from a cup that I experienced in college. The noodles were just past al dente, and as I plucked the clam meat from the tiny shells floating among the noodles, I slurped the broth and contemplated ordering another oyster shooter.

Masu also is serving up a selection of items prepared on a charcoal grill (robata), from Japanese mushrooms to glazed pork ribs. Speaking of the pork ribs, while they’ve made a commitment to sustainable seafood, they haven’t applied that same commitment to their other meats on the menu, according to our server.

The atmosphere is playful and upbeat, complete with a half dozen pachinko machines and Munny dolls. Robata, oyster shooters, and Pachinko? That’s a happy hour recipe worth repeating.

Masu Sushi & Robata
330 E Hennepin Ave., Mpls.

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

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

ATK Cookie by gergistheword
America's Test Kitchen's Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

My husband is a certified cookie monster, so we're always trying out new cookie recipes in our kitchen.

Now, the Toll House recipe has been my "tried and true" chocolate chip cookie recipe for years, but we discovered a "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie" recipe from Cook's Illustrated, and with a name like that, we had to try it.

The ingredients are relatively similar to the Toll House recipe with minor variations. Possibly the most interesting and valuable piece of information in the recipe was related to the actual baking of the cookies. They warned against baking "in batches."

"Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving....Baking two trays at a time may be convenient, but it leads to uneven cooking. The cookies on the top tray are often browner around the edges than those on the bottom, even when rotated halfway through cooking."
I'm the kind of nutcase who hovers around the oven while my cookies are baking, so with a timer and some attentiveness I managed to rotate the trays as suggested. It made a RADICAL difference in the consistency of the cookies.

I've adopted this technique for other cookie recipes, and it works!


I like growing green beans. I like pickling them. I like sharing jars of pickled green beans with my homies.

For that reason, I decided we needed a trellis. Not just ANY trellis...but an epic trellis. A trellis so big and so awesome that we could grow more than 75 square feet of beans.

Enter my husband Gerg - the handiest, fixitiest dude I know. He was able to use salvaged wood from our epic fence project last year, hardware he had laying around, and paint leftover from the house trim. All he had to buy was a roll of twine for $2.97.

The plan was simple. Build a giant trellis for the side of the house.

3 simple steps:

1) THINK BIG. Lay out slats of wood. Nail them in place. Staple twine to the backside for additional crawl space for the vines.

2) Once assembled, paint it to match the trellis mounted to the front of your house. When you smack your head as you're painting the underside, don't cry. Instead, go in the garage, complain to Gerg, get a quick hug, and get back to painting.

3) Hang it on the side of the house using very strong anchors reinforced with caulk. Then, stand back and marvel at your giant trellis.

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

Rave-R-Rave Fashion

Could I wear a feather boa, giant pants, and a visor and get away with it? I did at Drop Bass's epic outdoor rave, Even Further, in 1997.

And I still could! Rave fashion is alive and well - stomper pants, tutus, beads, backpacks, glow sticks and all! But apparently, above all else, a raver gal must rock fuzzy legwarmers for an optimal raving experience these days.

Check it:

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

If You're Near Madison on April 16, Think Cheese

There are a lot of killer reasons to live in/near Madison, WI, but this event is especially cool. Botanical gardens AND artisan Wisconsin cheese? So, so awesome.

25 Best Cheeses of Wisconsin
April 16, 2011, 6 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wis. Which do you think are the 25 Best Cheeses of Wisconsin? Discover and taste the favorites selected by Wisconsin Cheese Originals at this artisan cheese tasting. As part of admission, each attendee will take home a 24- x 36-inch numbered art print, suitable for framing, showcasing a glamour shot of the 25 Best Cheeses of Wisconsin.
Tickets are $35.00

I mean, just check out the cheese-tastic photo shoot they've lined up for the poster! Can you imagine having 500 lbs of artisan cheese delivered to your front door? I can't attend, but I'm gonna do my damnedest to get my paws on one of those posters.

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

Valentine's Day Treat: Red Velvet Pancakes

I whipped these lovelies up for Valentine's Day. Two hours of mixing and flipping (along with a terrible cold) made the preparation a bear, but it was worth it for the smile on my love's face. Plus, it was fun to wear my cute, vintage apron and pumps. Not interested in cooking? Grab a stack in Eden Prairie without the fuss.

Elizabeth’s Pick: Red Velvet Pancakes - Dara & Co. - February 2011 - Minnesota

I know. How’s that for a headline? Better than red velvet cupcakes if you ask me. These beauties are courtesy of The Herb Box, the Scottsdale-based chain that’s taken over David Fhima’s Zahtar at Eden Prairie Lifetime Fitness. Not only is the health-conscious restaurant open to the public, but the hotcakes are yours for the making—just in time for Valentine’s Day. (P.S. Other deceivingly indulgent items on The Herb Box’s menu include brown sugar pork ciabatta, market street short rib tacos, and smoked trout beignets.)

By Chef Becky Windels

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
1 c. organic white sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cage free large eggs, lightly beaten
3 c. buttermilk
3/4 c. crème fraiche
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp. all natural red food coloring
3 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 c. rice bran oil

Directions: In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Add wet and dry together and whisk just until combined. Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium high heat. When hot, add butter or oil to grease, followed by a small scoop of the batter. Wait for the pancakes to bubble (2-3 minutes), flip and cook for a minute or two more. Garnish with mascarpone spread and Grand Marnier syrup.
Yield: Approx. 18 mid-size pancakes

8 oz. softened mascarpone
4 oz. crème fraiche
1/4 c. organic white sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon zest

Directions: In a small bowl, whisk together to combine.
Yield: Approx. 14 oz

2 c. organic sugar
2 c. water
1/2 c. organic orange concentrate
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 c. Grand Marnier
Slurry organic corn starch

Directions: Heat all ingredients to dissolve. Add cornstarch as needed to thicken.
Yield: One quart

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Raji's Rocket - Superbowl XLV

Raji's Rocket
Originally uploaded by gergistheword
As the Packer season developed this year, talk of the Super Bowl began to cross our lips. Thinking of Super Bowls past, I recalled my time working at a sandwich shop when I was in high school and college. The Super Bowl meant one thing back then: I'd spend the majority of the day preparing 6ft hoagies.

While telling the story, I mentioned, "if the Packers make it to the Super Bowl, I'll make a 6ft sub."

It came to pass.

Where does one find 6ft loaves of bread in Minneapolis? Wuollet Bakery! With bread on hand and meat and cheese scored from Kramarczuk's, we built a colossal hoagie to celebrate the occasion, and we named it Raji's Rocket, after my favorite Packer this season. 3ft of it was Italian - cappicola, mortadella, and salami with provolone and mozzarella. The othr 3ft was a club - smoked ham, turkey, and bacon with Swiss and cheddar cheese. I even managed to sneak some of my favorite DragSmith Farms micro greens on it.

There was much rejoicing during and after the game, and commemorative Raji's Rocket souveniers, in the form of leftovers, were send home with rejoicing guests.

iPhone Fun with Emoji

My bro-ham tipped me off to a goofy iPhone app last weekend.
It's called Emoji Free!
It installs an Emoji keyboard onto your iPhone.
SRSLY. Install it and emote me a rainbow...or a cheeseburger.

Check out this video on YouTube for the deets:

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

Objectified: A Film about Manufactured Objects

Have you peeped this documentary?
It's called Objectified, and it's by Gary Huswit, who also brought us Helvetica.
"Objectified is a feature-length documentary about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis."
It's not just about fancy chairs and record players, although it does feature them.
It's about environments, industrial engineering, consumerism, capitalism, identity, production, design, creativity, sustainability, and much more.

It features Paola Antonelli (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Chris Bangle (BMW Group, Munich), Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec (Paris), Andrew Blauvelt (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), Tim Brown (IDEO), Anthony Dunne (London), Dan Formosa (Smart Design), Naoto Fukasawa (Tokyo), Jonathan Ive (Apple, California), Hella Jongerius (Rotterdam), David Kelley (IDEO), Bill Moggridge (IDEO), Marc Newson (London/Paris), Fiona Raby (London), Dieter Rams (Kronberg, Germany), Karim Rashid (New York), Alice Rawsthorn (International Herald Tribune), Davin Stowell (Smart Design), Jane Fulton Suri (IDEO), and Rob Walker (New York Times Magazine).

[where: Sustainable, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

These are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2010

I started doing an annual recap of my favorite eats a few years ago, and it's a blog entry I've always enjoyed writing. It's like looking at a yearbook, but without the "See you next year! Never Change!" crap.

Whether it was dope desserts, or awe-inspiring seafood, or out-of-this world cheese, the best part of my meals was the company - my dashing husband Gerg. The worst part was that I didn't take the time to blog about most of these meals. I wrote a lot for my day job this year, and I had a blast writing for Minnesota Monthly, but I didn't blog about dining at Tru or Topolobampo, and I went bananas at both joints. My resolution this year is to blog more about good food right here at Reetsyburger's Refuge.


So without further delay, here are my top 10 favorite edibles from 2010 in no particular order:

- A Dessert-Only Tasting at Tru in Chicago. This is when they still had their deconstructed chocolate bar dessert on the menu (pictured above). Milk chocolate cream topped with tempered dark chocolate, served with coffee ice cream, caramel mousse, and malted caramel. The tasting also included such indulgences as chocolate-whisky lollipops, passionfruit pâte de fruits, cannelés, macarons, miniature root beer floats, and fruity lollipops as we exited. So gangster.

- The #5 at Black Sheep Pizza. A 12" fennel sausage, hot salami, onion, and cracked green olives pizza with a side of their tangy marinara paired with an alluring glass of Surly Smoke.

- A 1/4 lb of Hook's 15 Year Cheddar with some honeycrisp apple slices and a couple glasses of Hess Collection '19 Block Cuvee' while keeping it real around the island in our kitchen.

- The Ceviche Trio at Topolobampo in Chicago. Ceviche Fronterizo (blue marlin with lime), Ceviche Yucateco (shirmp and calamari with lime and orange), and Ceviche de Atun (ahi tuna with red chile apricot salsa). They also had killer Mexican hot chocolate.

- The Butterscotch Panna Cotta with Seasame Seed Brittle at Parma 8200. It doesn't get better than chilling a on patio with butterscotch decadence under the moonlight on gerg's birthday - with Shannon S. as our server.

- Pan-seared Sea Scallops served with a Surly 2010 Smoke "beer" blanc at Cafe Twenty Eight. It was a special, not a regular menu item. I yapped about those scallops for at least 20 minutes in the car.

- The Cajun Grouper Sandwich at Frenchy's Salt Water Cafe at Clearwater Beach, FL. Fresh, tender grouper, seasoned perfectly on a bun. It certainly helped that it was December and we were kicking it at the beach while a snow emergency raged in Minneapolis.

- The Soft Eggs and Lobster Bruschetta at Bar La Grassa. The soft egg and lobster alone is worth a visit to Bar La Grassa. The Star Tribune even snagged the recipe for us!

- The Blueberry Pancakes at Al's Breakfast. I'd never even attempt to get a spot at Al's on a weekend, but what's more fun on a day off that a fun, kitschy breakfast joint with bomb blueberry pancakes and lots of coffee?

- An 8 course Tasting at Victory 44. The meal was not planned. We stopped in for a quick bite during the week, but 2 hours later, and 8 courses later, an epic meal had taken place. And while I never blogged about the night, I did write everything down! Here's all that we were served: 1) Sweet potato soup with candied walnuts, 2) Crispy mashed potato fries with bacon, salt, and fennel, 3) Beef carpaccio with red onion sunchoke parsnip fennel escaviche paired with Les Trois Couronnes coates du rhone, 4) Leek soup with beet and honey foam paried with a Trentadue zinfindel blend, 5) Truffle froth mushroom powder porcini angolotti paired with a Stephen Vincent cabernet blend, 6) Scotch egg with pickled radish and onion aoli paired with an Alta Vista malbec, 7) House made chorizo with fried polenta and a demi with scallop and bacon paired with a Nero D'avolo villa pozzi, 8) Dessert Plate: Marshmallow fluff brittle brownies, a brownie with hazelnut butter, some chocolate mousse, a semi fredo cookie, a cheesecake noodle, a chocolate cake with cherry caramel, and tres leches. All paired with Henkel Cuveé Brut.

Other edibles of note:
- Punch had a serious salad special one night. It was a plate of arugula and a ball of burrata with cracked pepper and sea salt.
- A juicy, grassfed beef burger at The Inn.
- The King's Breakfast at King's Wine Bar. best overhard fried egg I've ever had. .
- Countless bowls of Pho at Pho 79, Quang, and Ngon Vietnamese Bistro.
- Food made by friends: Shannon's BLTs, Sarah's German Chocolate birthday cake, David's Boeuf Bourguignon, Aimee's chocolate torte, Monica's potato salad, Jason's lamb, Dan's ham, and so much more!

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