September 27, 2011

Schwans' Makes Quick Meals for Singles

Two products I keep on hand are the Schwans' Unbreaded Chicken Filets (item #502) and the Asparagus Spears (item #779).  These items are quick to prepare and perfect for one or two servings. 

Schwans' uses 100% all natural chicken! These boneless, skinless filets are 99% fat free and great for grilling, roasting, or to use in any of your favorite chicken recipes. Packed in individually wrapped in easy-peel packaging keeps product fresh and easy to use for one or two servings. There are 10 servings per box.

The asparagus is easy to use.  It can simply be thawed and eaten cold; grilled; cooked and added to any dish.  This isn't your pencil thin asparagus, these stalks are hearty!

I find Schwans' products equal to fresh products without the worry of spoiling.  Many items come in resealable bags so you can use as little or as much as you need. If you are trying to control your portion, these two items are great for because of the individual or resealable packages.  Of course, if you are a fan of asparagus like I am you might get a little out of control. 

For this dish I took the froze chicken breast and cooked it in my cast-iron pan; as it cooked I added a little seasoning. While the chicken was cooking I took out my asparagus spears to thaw; once the chicken was almost ready to eat I added the asparagus to the pan to heat. I topped this simple dish with a fig sauce I had on hand.  This meal without the fig sauce cost $3.16.

"Schwan's is an online grocery store that offers food delivery to your home. Products range from ice cream and dessert to meats, dairy and recipes to match." 

To find out more about Schwans visit their website 

Watch for more recipes I make using Schwans products. 

September 19, 2011

Mutton Cook Off -Nick Engen vs Chef Patrick Atanalian

What happens when one local filmmaker challenges Sanctuary’s head chef to a cooking challenge? You have the Mutton Cook Off, of course. 
Filmmaker Nick Engen & Chef Patrick Atanalian

Rumor has it this challenge began after a debate over who followed the better soccer team. At the beginning of summer filmmaker Nick Engen challenged Chef Patrick Atanalian to see who could make the best lamb dish.  Sanctuary owner, Naomi Williamson, said Nick was persistent about the challenge and would playfully encourage his opponent when he stopped in for a cocktail at Sanctuary.  Finally Patrick relented and the challenge was on. (Anything to get Nick to stop bugging him) Patrick said, "I'll still be drunk at Brits at 3:00 p.m., show up and still kick your ass at 6:00."

Next was a location, where to hold such a monumental event? Because he laid down the gantlet, Nick hosted the challenge at the community room at the Bridgewater Lofts. Friends, neighbors, and staff from Sanctuary were invited; those who showed up would get to vote for their favorite.  Of course, you need one unbiased judge and someone to tell the story, I volunteered.

Mutton, Is that Lamb?  Lamb, Is that Mutton? 
Is there a difference? Yes, but it is slight.  According to (yes that is an actual website) the meat from a young sheep (less than 12 months of age) is called lamb. It is naturally tender and mild in flavor. This is more common in American kitchens. The meat from an older sheep (over one year of age) is called mutton. It has a more intense flavor than lamb, but is preferred to lamb in other cultures.

The Battle Commences
Chef Patrick walked into the Bridgewater Lofts Community Room coolly as he carried a large pot and a few supplies.  Guests saw Nick confidently proclaiming his mutton would be ready shortly; shortly turned into about another hour and a half.  Nick did treat guests to homemade pizza and treated Patrick to a bit more smack talk.

The Dishes
~Nick Engen~
Oven Roasted Mutton Coated with Honey and a mix of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, and Olive Oil

~Chef Patrick Atanalian~
Mutton Coconut Red Curry with Mint Cilantro Chutney and Naan

The Results

Chef Patrick took home the win on this battle with his Mutton Coconut Red Curry. Though the mutton did not dominate the dish, the pieces were tender.  The Mint Cilantro Chutney was the perfect cool complimented the spicy curry.  Nick’s piece of mutton (he thinks may have actually goat) was carved in front of guests.  The first two pieces he gave me I could not chew. We did eventually find pieces that were edible.  A few guest commented on the meat being too rare.  The coating of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, and Olive Oil was the best part of the dish.  The honey added gave it a little sweetness that worked well with the herbs.  One guest said, “I think Nick invented lamb gum” because her piece too was chewy.

Though Nick’s meat did not turn out as planned he said it was more about getting people together. He did claim that he has made better meals with wild game he has shot and that he is really good with duck.  I told him I would love to come back and try his food any time. Nick graciously extended an invitation.

Thank you to Naomi from Sanctuary for inviting me to judge. If you are looking for a wonderful restaurant to dine at next time you are downtown Minneapolis, I recommend Sanctuary. Chef Patrick's menu changes every other month.  He also creates a featured dish on Friday and Saturday evenings. If you want to try a sample of his food there is also a different five course tasting menu each week night.  If you are not sure what to try ask their knowledgeable staff including owner and general manager Micheal Kutscheid, who will most likely greet you at the door.

The evening was incredibly fun.  I met a lot of new people and even ran into my friend, Anthony Morley, unexpectedly who lived in the building.

September 10, 2011

Kimchi Recipe

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz (link below).

1 large Chinese or Napa Cabbage
1 gallon water
1/2 cup coarse salt
1 small head of garlic, peeled and finely minced (You can use jar garlic equivalents too)
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (You can use jar ginger equivalents too)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup chili paste
1 bunch green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths (use the dark green part too)
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon sugar or honey

1. Slice the cabbage lengthwise in half, then slice each half lengthwise into 3 sections. Cut away the tough stem chunks.

2. Dissolve the salt in the water in a very large container, then submerge the cabbage under the water. Put a plate on top to make sure they stay under water, then let stand for 2 hours.

3. Mix the other ingredients in a very large metal or glass bowl.

4. Drain the cabbage, rinse it, and squeeze it dry.

5. Here’s the scary part: mix it all up. (Ok, this isn't very scary, but David wrote it that way. He is a funny guy) Tip from David: Some recipes advise wearing rubber gloves since the chili paste can stain your hands.

6. Pack the kimchi in a clean glass jar large (I used a Ziploc container) enough to hold it all and cover it tightly. Let stand for one to two days in a cool place, around room temperature.

7. Check the kimchi after 1-2 days. If it’s bubbling a bit, it’s ready and should be refrigerated. If not, let it stand another day, when it should be ready.

8. Once it’s fermenting, serve or store in the refrigerator. If you want, add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds over the kimchi for serving.

Storage: Many advise to eat the kimchi within 3 weeks. After that, it can get too fermented.

Cornmeal Fried Okra

I started picking up okra at the local farmer's market.  I knew I had a wonderful recipe in the My New Orleans cookbook (there are actually a several).  The more I page through this book the more I love it.  I had to giggle when, in the story on the side of the page, John Besh says "When I was a kid, I couldn't understand why they didn't sell fried okra in movie theaters instead of popcorn!"  What? Is he crazy?  OK, this girl loves popcorn, so I don't think fried okra could replace it.  (Sorry Chef).  Typically okra gets a bad wrap because people often think of it is a slimy vegetable, when prepared wrong that can happen.  However, when prepared correctly it has crisp flavor that might remind you a bit of a green bean.  I found a little tip that John's grandmother used to keep her okra from being slimy; she used a capful of white vinegar while it stews.  Okra is often found in gumbo and soup as thickener.

If this is your first experience with okra you may be wondering what to look for; look for smaller, green spears.  Most recipes you can substitute frozen for fresh.

1 pound okra, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 cup buttermilk*
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons Basic Creole Spices**
1 quart canola oil

1. Puck the okra and the buttermilk into a mixing bowl and toss.

2. Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, and Creole Spices in another mixing bowl.  Lift the okra from the buttermilk and toss it in the cornmeal mixture until well coated.

3.  Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan (I used a small pot to reduce splatter) until it reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer. Fry okra in the oil in batches, about a third at a time, until golden brown; about 5 minutes. Remove okra from the oil with a slotted spoon or strainer and let drain on paper towels while frying the next batch.  Season with salt (I used more Creole Spices in place of salt).  Serve Hot.

This recipe makes a thinner crust, if you want a thicker crust repeat steps 1 and 2.

I served with a Creole Sauce I made
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
Dash of hot sauce (I used Sriracha) to taste
Pinch of Creole Spices

I think I will also be able to convert this recipe over to a Cornmeal Fried Pickle (that will be coming later)

*Don't have buttermilk-use 1 tsp of white vinegar, put in a 1 cup measuring cup, then fill with milk.

**Basic Creole Spices mix can be found on my blog

Basic Creole Spices

Basic Creole Spice - makes 1/2 cup -
    2 tablespoons celery salt
    1 tablespoon sweet paprika
    1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
    1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon garlic powder
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
    1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix together the celery salt, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and allspice in a bowl. Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, and store. 

*Recipe from My New Orleans by John Besh

September 6, 2011

Country Inn & Suites -Sioux Falls, SD

Photo from hotel website 

Traveling as a single person is a little different than traveling as a family.  I look for a hotels that not only provide value, but also allow me to use discount codes because often I am traveling on a budget.  When I check into a hotel I am attentive to how does the staff work with guests; the cleanliness of public spaces such as lobby, pool or fitness center; the cleanliness and location of my room.  I want to make sure I am comfortable and secure when I stay at hotels.

On a recent trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota I stayed at the Country Inn & Suites located downtown.

I recently had my hours at work reduced, so my budget is tight.  I was in town for a friend's CD release party and wanted to stay close to the venue.  I had two options: Holiday Inn and Country Inn and Suites. I originally booked my reservation at Holiday, but then based on a recommendation from my friend Ross Sveback ( changed my reservation to the Country Inn and Suites because I was able to use a discount code (CARLSONF) and he mentioned the wonderful breakfast.  I found out the code would save me over $30/night, in addition to saving money by not having to buy breakfast outside of the hotel.

I would want to thank Amber.  I was using the discount code CARLSONF, however online it would not allow me to use it with a check in date of Friday.  I called the hotel, Amber advised me to put my check in date as Saturday and then let her know.  She changed the arrival date and gave me the discount for Friday night as well.

Photo from hotel website
Anytime I met a member of the staff I was greeted. I was asked at check in if I had a floor preference- anything but the first floor and not by a stairwell were my requests.  I was on the third floor a few rooms from the elevator.  The room was clean with one of the most comfortable beds I have had in a hotel. I love pillows and my bed had four fluffy feather pillows. The hotel also had a workout room, pool and hot tub which I didn't have time to use, but I did look at them. 

One additional benefit of staying at Country Inn & Suites (any of them) is the breakfast each morning.  The breakfast was wonderful.  It had enough variety for any visitor. You could choose from cold cereal, eggs, waffles, fresh fruit, toast, patries...the list goes on. I am a coffee drinker and even though there was a coffee maker in the room, it was nice to take a coffee to go after breakfast when I left the hotel in the morning.

On site is also the Falls Landing Restaurant and Bar.  I did have time to enjoy beer in the bar with my friend.  The staff was friendly.  You can sit inside or out on their patio overlooking the Big Sioux River.

I would like to also add after my visit I received an email survey about my stay.  I mentioned a few minor things I noticed like the wallpaper in the bathroom needed fixed. I made sure to mention what Amber had done; it is important that when someone stands out with great service they should be recognized. I did receive an additional personal  follow up from the General Manager.

When I travel again I will consider Country Inn & Suites in any city.  This was a great hotel if staying alone, with a friend or even the whole family.  When I return to Sioux Falls, this will be my hotel of choice.

Thank you for a great stay to the staff 
at Country Inn & Suites- Sioux Falls!