Monday, April 30, 2007

Stuffed shells alla Giada

Last night I made Giada de Laurentiis' stuffed pasta shells recipe with a few variations.

The recipe calls for ground turkey, but I used a mild Italian sausage instead. I thought this would be a little more flavorful. Also, in lieu of making the arrabbiata sauce recipe, I simply took 5 cups of marinara sauce and added some crushed red pepper flakes.

I really liked this recipe. The combination of Italian sausage, artichokes, and ricotta cheese stuffed inside of a pasta shell was almost like a small orb of lasagna covered with a delicious tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese! It takes a bit of time to assemble everything, but once it is ready for the oven, you've got a pretty easy one-pan meal. And the leftovers were great for lunch today. I will be making this again.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Minnetonka Drive In

What a gorgeous day! Any time you can get a 70 degree day in Minnesota, you have to take advantage. After a long run this morning in beautiful conditions, I ventured over to the west side ot the Twin Cities metro to do a little shopping. Also, I sought out a place for lunch that was like taking a step back it time.

Minnetonka Drive In
4658 Shoreline Drive
Spring Park, MN

The Minnetonka Drive In is located in Spring Park, a small community west of Wayzata on Lake Minnetonka. It is a seasonal operation open during Minnesota's milder months from March through October. Here you can find burgers, sandwiches, and shakes served they way they were decades ago; by carhops!

Let’s be clear, this is not some trendy place pretending to be a 60’s drive in. The Minnetonka Drive In is a 60’s drive in! In looking at the menu boards, I have to believe they are original, as there is nothing modern about them. They even feature ”Hot Rod Thursdays” where people come out in their classic automobiles.

A classic drive in menu board

Today they were featuring the California burger as a special for $1.99. I opted for that, along with an order of fries and a large diet Pepsi. And rather than dine under the canopy, I chose to eat over in the picnic area to enjoy our wonderful day. (There are even menu boards set up right next to the picnic tables!)

The California burger and fries at the Minnetonka Drive In

My carhop arrived in about 5 minutes with my food. Given that this is an original fast food restaurant. the food is styled as such. The California burger consisted of a thin burger patty topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and "dressing," which appeared to be a zippy mayo. This is how fast food should be, but so often is not. The patty was still juicy, and the tangy dressing mingled beautifully with the cool lettuce and tomatoes. What is not to like here for a mere $1.99? An excellent fast food burger.

The fries were straight out of the fryer, hot and crispy, and in the crinkle-cut style that I enjoy very much. There was a good sized portion of them, too. Very nice! I enjoyed my meal greatly as I basked it the sunshine raining down on the picnic area.

The entire meal was $5 and some change, which really makes you wonder why anyone would choose McDonald’s. My lunch would have put any “value menu” to shame!

If you are ever in and around Lake Minnetonka, you owe it to yourself to take a trip into Spring Park for a nostalgic lunch at the Minnetonka Drive In. It will be darn tasty, and it won’t cost you very much, either. And feel free to drive your ‘57 Chevy if you’ve got one. :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry from Sunday

This past weekend, I made a delicious stir-fry dish with sliced pork tenderloin.

The recipe was loosely based on my Kung Pao chicken recipe in terms of the sauce mixture. The veggie combination was a little different (broccoli, mushrooms, red bell pepper, carrots, green onions, water chestnuts), but the prepartion was more or less the same.

Served it over some wonderful jasmine rice, and it was a tasty and flavorful meal with a bit of spice and plenty of garlic and ginger. I have been enjoying the leftovers for my lunch all week!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Washington Square Bar & Grill

Today, quite famished after my long weekend run, I ventured into the town of White Bear Lake in search of a good burger. I managed to find one in a cute little downtown bar.

Washington Square Bar & Grill
4736 Washington Square
White Bear Lake, MN

The Washington Square Bar & Grill is located in (conveniently enough) Washington Square, a charming area of downtown WBL that is clearly the “old” part of the city. The area is reminiscent of a small town, complete with lots of trees, quaint shops, and even diagonal parking.

The bar is situated on a street corner and has plenty of outdoor seating (which was a busy on this 70+ degree spring day). I chose to eat in the bar, which was a cool old building complete with brick walls, butcher-block tables, and a bar constructed out of corrugated sheet metal. A classy establishment.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they have a large menu with all sorts of choices of creative sandwiches, burgers, entrees, and also an extensive drink menu with countless beers, cocktails, and close to a dozen martini offerings. There is a a lot going on at the Washington Square Bar & Grill!

I opted for the 1/3 pound bacon cheese burger (but I was so tempted by their special of the day, a seared tuna steak sandwich with wasabi aioli!). What was great is that they gave you a choice of like five different cheeses, one of them being Italy’s answer to bleu cheese, Gorgonzola. I was all over that! Fries would come as part of the meal.

A Gorgonzola-Bacon Cheese Burger at the Washington Square Bar & Grill

My server (most pleasant, by the way) brought me my food an apologized because they accidentally upgraded me to the 1/2 pound burger! Kindly, she charged me the 1/3 pound price. I certainly had nothing to complain about. The burger was excellent and carefully prepared. Juicy, cooked to order at a nice pink medium, and topped with creamy Gorgonzola, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, and sweet red onion; how can a burger lover not help but smile?

The fries are my least favorite style (that being the thicker variety), but they too were well-prepared with a crispy bite to them and a creamy, soft interior.

At the 1/3 pound price, the burger and fries were $8.50, so this was a pretty good value as well. Add a diet Coke and some tax, the bill was just a shade over $11 before tip.

I will certainly be visiting the Washington Square Bar & Grill again. I am intrigued by some of their sandwich offerings, as well as the tempting Jack Daniels burger that I almost chose. A return trip (or two) will be on the horizon.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A nice pizza for dinner

I whipped up a tasty and pretty pizza tonight, if I do say so myself.

Asparagus, black olives, sauerkraut, provolone and Jarlsberg cheeses, and some slices of bacon-horseradish wurst from TJ's Country Store in Mahtowa, MN.

I am really enjoying sauerkraut as a pizza topping (just drain it and squeeze the sauerkraut really well first!), especially in combination with sausage.

And the bacon-horseradish wurst was awesome. Slightly smoky, with a little horseradish "kick." Very nice! If you ever find yourself anywhere near Duluth, it is worth it swinging off of I-35 into Mahtowa for a stop at TJ's. They have a huge variety of homemade sausages that are wonderful.

Map of Mahtowa

A delicious dinner tonight!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Brookside Bar & Grill

Spring is finally here! Our stretch of awful weather has passed, so it was time to get outside and take in some of God’s glories. After a morning of some hiking and a little bit of bird watching on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, I ventured to town of Marine on St. Croix in search of some sustenance.

Brookside Bar & Grill
140 Judd Street
Marine on St. Croix, MN

Marine on St. Croix was founded in 1839 and is historically significant in that this was the site of the first commercial sawmill in Minnesota. It is a beautiful river town nestled up against the St. Croix River. In the small downtown area, you will find the Brookside Bar and Grill.

The Brookside Bar and Grill is a tiny restaurant with perhaps 15 or so tables inside, but there is also a patio out back where you can dine during Minnesota's milder months. It is said to have been in operation for more than 75 years, so the bar is quite a landmark. Inside, you will find old wood floors, antique bar signs, as well as some mounted fish on the wall. The Brookside is a charming a cozy place. And is sits along side of the creek that provided water for the old mill site.

On the menu, you will find an assortment of sandwiches, burgers, Heggie’s Pizzas (a central Minnesota bar food staple), and a few dinner items (including a Friday night fish fry, and Saturday night prime rib). None of the food here is pretentious in the least. I selected their “Sawmill Burger,” a 1/3 pound bacon cheeseburger with fries.

The “Sawmill Burger” at the Brookside Bar & Grill

As I was eating, I kept thinking this reminds me of a home cooked burger (which is a high compliment). It was nothing fancy, but wonderfully delicious. You could tell the beef was fresh and hand-formed, and it was perfectly cooked. Served on a soft, fluffy bakery bun, topped with creamy American cheese and a couple strips of bacon (and not just any bacon...we are talking thick-cut pepper bacon...yum!), and I had a most enjoyable burger.

The basket was accompanied by a small side of fries and some cool, creamy, and crisp cole slaw. The fries, like the burger, were nothing fancy, but they were quite good, cooked up nice and golden brown, and were lightly salted. Some people might quibble about the portion size of the fries. Your mileage may vary, but a 1/3 pound burger and a fistful of fries leaves me completely satiated. This meal was perfect for me.

Best of all, the price of the burger basket was $7.50. With a diet Coke, the meal price came to $9.60 before tip. A true burger bargain.

I encourage you to take a trip through the scenic St. Croix River Valley sometime. This is some amazing country. Bask in some of Minnesota's history, and be sure to swing into Marine on St. Croix for a delicous and reasonably priced lunch at the Brookside Bar & Grill.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lunch at the Gun Flint Tavern

While in Grand Marais over the weekend, my Mom and I decided to have a little lunch, as the good Norwegians would say.

Gun Flint Tavern
11 Wisconsin St.
Grand Marais, MN

We dined at the Gun Flint Tavern, an eclectic little restaurant and bar located right on the waterfront.

Their menu is extensive and creative; numerous sandwiches, pizzas, soups, an assortment of ethnic and vegetarian entrees, along with a wide variety of beer, wine, and beverages to choose from. They use organic ingredients whenever possible. It is a fun menu, giving you many options.

I ordered their Cuban sandwich, which was pressed and grilled, served with roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and a chipotle pepper aioli.

The Cuban Sandwich at the Gun Flint Tavern

The sandwich was very good, and one of the more interesting Cubans I have tried. Great flavor on the roasted pork, and the chiptole aioli added a delightful smoky taste. Creamy Swiss cheese and some crisp dill pickles rounded out the sandwich quite nicely.

Mom had the soup and half sandwich. She chose a pressed sandwich made with Brie, fennel, artichoke hearts, and pesto, along with a spicy chicken and orzo soup (which I believe was a special).

I got to try a bite of Mom's food, and her sandwich was wonderful. Creamy, great texture, a multitude of flavors from the pesto and fennel, and a garlicky bite. Great stuff. And the soup was thick, loaded with pulled chicken, orzo pasta, and tomato with some southwestern spices. It too was delicious.

When in Grand Marais looking for something a little different, I would highly recommend checking out the Gun Flint Tavern. It is a cute place with tasty food, and one of the more interesting menus you will find.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Weekday frittata

Tonight I made a quick, easy, colorful, and delicious meal. Frittatas are great when you want something fast. You can throw just about anything you want into them.

I added some fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, provolone cheese, and some awesome Compart Farms bacon. Beat some eggs, chop and sauté some ingredients, add a little cheese, and throw under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Nice and yummy!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Thai on a rainy Sunday

Tonight I made a Thai basil chicken stir-fry for dinner that turned out very nice.

The recipe was mostly based on this one as far as the sauce mixture and veggies are concerned, except I added a couple of tablespoons of hoisin sauce as well.

I used diced, boneless-skinless chicken thighs, which I am really starting to enjoy much more than chicken breast. They are much more flavorful and moist, and I think they work great in stir-fry dishes. I buy them almost exclusively now.

The rice is a sweet Thai black rice. It is a short grain variety that has a great flavor, a firmer texture, and a gorgeous color.

A delicious, spicy meal on a dreary, rainy Sunday!