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Archive for February, 2011

I always tell my friend Steph that she is our American version of a princess.  She HATES it when I call her that but the last time I checked, here up North we don’t have an equivalent to a Southern Belle thus I don’t have a better description!

Makes Kate Middleton Look Lazy

This woman exudes the likes of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & the City (only on steroids and with a sense of responsibility).  She knows how to sew, has a cute little urban feeling apartment over the Mississippi, has a passion for dance and yoga, is a doctor, and one of the most amazing cooks that I’ve yet met (just to name a few of her talents).  How she has time to do all of this or how she learned it is still a mystery to me and the rest of the girls…we’ve just gotten used to sitting there with our jaws open.

Now onto the meal that she put together for us a couple of weeks ago.  As an appetizer she put together a party classic that of course, she ended up somehow making even better with caviar:

Smoke Salmon Puff Pastry with Dill Cream Sauce and Caviar

Two of the most beautiful (inside and out) women that I have in my life! And yummy appetizers...

Now let’s talk about the flan.  I’ve never had flan before and while I knew that it was a quiche or custard textured pie, none of us knew that it might also be a religious experience until that point.

Homemade Vinegarette Dressing with Asparagus Flan

I found the recipe that I believe Steph used but I’m going to follow-up with her to be sure; ASPARAGUS FLAN RECIPE.

The flan was LITERALLY plate licking good, as showcased by the beautiful Ms. Jen

Then there was the main course, Mussels in White Wine Sauce served with crispy fresh bread.  Can I get an “Amen”?

Mussels in White Wine Sauce with Crispy Warm Bread to soak up the yumminess on the bottom of the bowl

Lastly but not leastly was dessert.  Yum-o.

Lemon Pudding Cake with Fresh Blackberries

Girl’s night was another week of wine sipping, food pounding, and comments being made about the crazy women on “The Bachelor”…thus I pronounce it an utter success! 

If you’re interested in any of the recipes than I will be sure to update the post – just let me know in the comments section and I’ll ask her for them this week!

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India Palace
Woodbury Location
8362 Tamarack Village
Phone: (651) 731–6300
Webpage: http://www.indiapalacemn.com/
Menu: http://www.indiapalacemn.com/menu-beverages/index.php

Situation:
Whenever I’m having a rough day at work there is nothing that the Chicken Makhani at India Palace can’t make better.  Last month I went with my coworker Tom who is an ethnic food coinsure much like myself and felt that I owe it to the owners of India Palace to finally let them know that I have a love affair with their orange chicken goodness. 

Tom's Specialty Dish

Side story: In reference to my lunch buddy Tom.  My coworker’s wife actually does authentic Chinese cooking lessons (that she learned from Tom’s mother) as part of an silent auction fundraiser for their children’s school.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to get in a spot in one of these so here’s to hoping my free plug here on the blog will accomplish that!!

 Atmosphere:
India Palace is Woodbury is located in the Tamarack Village complex off of Radio Drive.  The interior is extremely well kept, has very large chairs and sizeable booths, good lighting, quiet music, and the service has always been great but I should note that I mainly eat at the lunch buffet. 

India Palace's Woodbury Location in Tamarck Village

Menu:
Take a look for yourself above!  Let’s just say there is a reason that they have been able to expand to four locations!  Anything Indian that you can think of or dream of is on this menu.

Our Experience:
It’s always good.  Always.  And this time was no exception. 

India Palace's Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Makhani, and then some Fish Nugget Things

On American Idol they say that one of the most important qualities is consistency and the same is true with favorite restaurant spots and India Palace has not failed me yet.  The buffet is always fresh but has a little bit of everything, while always having some kind of chicken curry or makhani for those of us that are cravin’ the orange goodness.

Overall:
They are always consistent, have fresh ingredients, are reasonably priced ($9 for lunch buffet M-F), and their chain is a true ethnic food gem for the Twin Cities.  So if you are looking for a great Indian restaurant in the Twin Cities than you needn’t look any further.  Especially since they now have Plymouth, Roseville and Burnsville locations along with their Woodbury spot.

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Tucci Benucch
Mall of America
W114 W Market
Bloomington, MN 55425
Website: http://www.tucci-benucch.com/

Dinner Menu: http://www.tucci-benucch.com/menus/dinner.pdf

Situation:
My friend Amber and I went to the MOA in order to look for some cruise attire for her upcoming trip.  After an exhausting search for something perfect we decided that we needed to treat ourselves to some Italian eatery at Tucci Benucch.  She even treatd me to dinner so I can’t wait to take her to a place that I found in Eagan very soon!

Atmosphere:
The atmosphere at Tucci Benucch is a rustic feel with dimmed lighting and big bulky Northern Itlay looking furniture.  On the weekends, good luck getting a table here without a reservation.  It’s not that it’s that world renowned; my impression is that with the out-of-towners flooding the mall it’s the closest that they can get to the big city Italian dining experience. 

Outside of Tucci Benucch

I can say this because when I used to be loaded onto a school bus in high school to come to the MOA and the highlight coming here was going to Rainforest Café.  Now that I live here, you couldn’t give me a gift certificate to go to that place and fight the toddlers and the artificial monsoon that pours down every hour.

Menu:
The menu at Tucci  consists of the classic Italian dishes, pizza and pastas.  Their appetizers are the expected and quasi predictable (caprese, meatballs, ravioli, bruschetta).  Their wine list and drink list are very extensive though. 

Our Experience:
When we got there we decided to sit at the bar and have dinner to avoid a wait and since it was just the two of us.  One of the drink specials was “Pizza Sauce Bloody Mary”.  When I asked the bartender he said that people either love it or hate it.  He suggested that if I was going to try it that I should get a tamed down version.  Upon his advice, I did just that. 

First of all, what is a cucumber doing in a Pizza Sauce Bloody Mary? I was kind of expecting a chunck of motzarella, peperonni...something that would be on a pizza.

I consider myself a Bloody Mary coinsure and this was the most unique one that I’ve ever had.  It really did taste like I was having a pizza.  For me, I don’t usually like vodka with my pizza so it wasn’t for me.  It wasn’t bad, it was just very unique.

They brought us bread with oil that was very crunchy and tasty.  When our appetizer of bruschetta they completely forgot to bring us any kind of utensils so we were left to fend for ourselves and try to eat these beautifully over heaping crunchy squares.  Overall the service was adequate but nothing to write home about.  

Basil, tomatoes, motzarella and balsamic, oh my!

But back to the bruschetta; great choice for $6.99.  Very fresh ingredients and had a perfect ratio of olive oil, to tomatoes, to balsamic.

Since we wanted an appetizer and drinks we decided to split our entrée.  The Chicken Marsala was very very very good.  The chicken was correctly done and still moist, the mushrooms were perfectly cooked and the mashed potatoes were smooth and not lumpy.  While I think that $18.99 is very steep, it was a very good dish. 

Perfectly cooked mushrooms, potatoes, and chicken. Delightfully flavored. But at $19.00 it better be!

Overall:
If you are coming to the MOA from out of town and need a chance to get your Italian fix, then I would suggest making a reservation beforehand and get some great Italian food while in town.

If you live in the Twin Cities and are looking for a Saturday night date at an Italian restaurant, I would probably look elsewhere.  Since there is such a demand at the MOA for this kind of fare I would skip the hassle since you can find this level of Italian food for a better price, or go one level up and pay the same price for something fancier.

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This is the funniest book that I’ve ever read, bar none.  At multiple points throughout the book I found myself tearing up from laughing so hard while sitting on my couch reading it alone, looking like a freak.

One of my coworkers mentioned that he actually had to stop reading it while on a plane since he was so tempted to turn to the guy next to him and say “I swear that I’m not crazy, but, you have to read this” after laughing out loud twice. 

Ridiculously funny is right Chelsea

If your dad or grandpa (or anyone’s dad or grandfather that you knew growing up) used swear words in every sentence than you have to read this.  Even if you didn’t have the same upbringing as me, it’s a quick read and well worth the time just for the quotes throughout the book.

Justin's dad's baseball coaching stories are some of the best stories throughout the book. Classic.

This book actually reminded me a lot of my grandpa on my father’s side that says a certain unholy term in almost every single stressed out sentence that has ever been used for the last 70+ years. 

The funny part about the whole thing is that he must go to mass to pray to the same “Jesus Christ” that he curses in these phrases at least twice a week.  Many of the phrases are actually very inventive and if you met my grandpa you just have to laugh since the man has the biggest heart of gold in the entire world and while he seems tough, he’s really a teddy bear.  This is the same with Justin’s dad…

Justin, his brothers, and his dad

This is a book that was written by 29 year old Justin Halpern that stemmed from a Twitter account that he started in 2009 after a horrific break up forced him to move to his parents’ house, with his 74 year old father.

Here’s a sneak peek of the kind of quotes that are painted throughout the book from his website, www.shitmydadsays.com :

Justin’s dad on his recent camping trip, “I’m not sure you can call that roughing it, son… Well, for one, there was a f*cking minivan parked forty feet from your sleeping bags.”

His dad on his recent engagement, “Engagement rings are pointless. Indians gave cows…Oh sorry, congrats on proposing. We good now? Can I finish my indian story?”.

Justin Halpern

Review: *****/5 stars.  I read all of the Chelsea Handler books and this blows them away in my mind and is a book that everyone with a crabby grandpa or neighbor should read.

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 Girls nights continue as does the drama on the Bachelor!  A few weeks back I tried to keep it low maintenance since only a couple of girls were able to make it with school and schedules.  BUT I had to make something fun that I would like that I normally couldn’t make for the BF so Indian food in the crock pot it was!

In terms of the Bachelor…the wicked witch of the West has been casted and has made it through a few weeks.  Michelle is the definition of all that is evil and backstabbing and I can’t wait for the hometown dates.  She actually is kind of a hybrid between Cruella DeVille and a leather belt (from tanning).  Since she lacks any facial fat in her face what-so-ever I suspect that at some point she’ll look like an actual leather purse.

She even gave herself a black eye for attention. Really?

Chicken Vindaloo (as adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Lamb Vindaloo) 

2 packages of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions , chopped medium
8 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2. 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

 

Lots of fun ingredients

Instructions:
Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken to the skillet and cook, without stirring, until well browned on one side, about 4 minutes. Stir the meat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until completely browned, 4 to 6 minutes longer.

Transfer it to the slow cooker. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and heat 2 more teaspoons oil until just smoking. Brown the remaining chicken and transfer it to the slow cooker

 Return the skillet to medium heat and heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil until shimmering. Add the onions and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, scraping the browned bits off the pan bottom, until the onions are softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

 

Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

 

Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, the tomatoes, bay leaves, vinegar, and sugar, scraping the browned bits off the pan bottom; turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

 Transfer to the slow cooker.  Cover and cook, on either low or high, until the chicken is tender, 6 to 7 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high.

Discard the bay leaves. Set the slow cooker to high (if necessary). Whisk the flour with the remaining ½ cup chicken broth until smooth, then stir into the slow cooker. Continue to cook on high until the sauce is thickened and no longer tastes of flour, 10 to 15 minutes longer.    

Feel free to use a fork to break up the chicken thigh

 Before serving, use chopped fresh cilantro and lime as a garnish over basamti rice.

Chicken Vindaloo fit for a Girl's Night

TIPS:

  • DO NOT use chicken breasts for this, use the thighs.  In general I wouldn’t recommend chicken breasts in the crock pot at all.  Use bone-on chicken or chicken thighs since in the crock pot it dries out and chicken breasts end up tasting like a tennis ball after 6 hours.
  • Basamti rice as a side is perfect.  Basamti rice can be found in a burlap bag in the Indian section of most grocery stores for a few dollars and is different from other rices.  I used my rice cooker and it ended up perfect!
  • Many of the other recipes for Chicken Vindaloo that I found had ground mustard, ground turmeric, and ginger.  I added all three of these after the point until it was to the perfect flavor.  I would suggest adding freshly ground ginger but all that I had was ground and made it work.

The Lineup that Saved the Day!

 

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Restaurant:  Fuji Sushi & Steakhouse
Location: 4864 Keystone Crossing, Eau Claire, WI 54701
Cuisine: Sushi, Hibachi, sit down Japanese and Chinese

Quite honestly, I could have a good time with this group of girls in a cardboard box.  But admittedly Fuji was much nicer. 

The Old Crew

Fuji is back in the development that used to house Texas Road House over by the growing portion of town near the mall in Eau Claire, WI. 

yummmm Yummmmm YUMMMMMM

Immediately upon walking in there was a Japanese water garden with a water mill and all. 

Asian Influence Decor at Fuji

As we preceded there was a regular bar, a separate sushi bar, a plated dinner seated area, and then the “hibachi room”.  I couldn’t believe how large the dining room area was and it had probably 9-12 hibachi grills in there.

Fuji's Massive Hibachi Area

My friend Amy and I decided to split a shrimp and scallops hibachi meal for $22, and for $5 they give you another salad, soup, and serving of fried rice.  That means that we had extra coin for sushi!  We both are big fans but didn’t stray from our favorites:

Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Tempura

Then the orange goodness with the salad came out as it always does at hibachi grills.  That stuff is sooooo good and there was actually a girl who had another whole bowl of it through the meal that will remain nameless.

Salad with Orange Yummy Goodness

The miso soup was also super tasty and didn’t have chunks of tofu which was very refreshing.  Who likes tofu anyways?

Fuji's Mushroom Soup

The hibachi grill performance was similar to other ones that I have been to but entertaining as ever.  The flaming onion mountain, the egg in hat trick, and he even gave us the chance to earn a sake shot!  Four for five baby! 

In all faireness, if he hadn't chucked 1/2 an egg at her she would have caught it...instead it went into my purse the first try.

Then there was the shrimp and scallops.  Ours were perfectly cooked, had a crispy outside, and were in a very good marinade of soy sauce, orange goodness, and one other sauce that was unidentifiable.  The fried rice was also very tasty and was served after getting our scallops and shrimp. 

Shrimp Marinated in Tears from Heaven

Overall Experience:  If you’re going for a birthday, anniversary, or out with a group of your girlfriends it’s the new place to be in EC!  Just make sure that you make reservations or you’ll be sitting in the booth area since it was pretty hoppin’ on a Saturday night!  The food was really good and I would suggest splitting your meal with someone so that you can try out some of their neat signature sushi rolls or unique drinks.

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 Unbroken is a historical fiction novel by the author of Seabiscuit, Sarah Hillenbrand…or so I thought until yesterday.  Sometimes I’m such a ditz. 

I listened to this book on audio book and after finishing it last week, I found out yesterday from my coworker that it’s actually a non-fiction book about the real life track star Louie Zamperini.  The whole time that I was listening to it I didn’t know that there were pictures of him throughout the book of him and the people in his life or that a story of that magnitude could be true.  Unbelievable. 

Unbroken and Unbelievable

While the author was researching and writing Seabiscuit which is held in the Depression-ear, she kept running across stories about the Olympic runner Louis Zamperini.  After finishing Seabiscuit, she finally had time to call Louie and after an hour on the phone with him, she instantly knew what her next book would be about.

 

I can’t even do the description on this justice after finding out it was non-fiction so here are the author’s notes on Unbroken

“Growing up in California in the 1920s, Louie was a hellraiser, stealing everything edible that he could carry, staging elaborate pranks, getting in fistfights, and bedeviling the local police. But as a teenager, he emerged as one of the greatest runners America had ever seen, competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he put on a sensational performance, crossed paths with Hitler, and stole a German flag right off the Reich Chancellery. He was preparing for the 1940 Olympics, and closing in on the fabled four-minute mile, when World War II began. Louie joined the Army Air Corps, becoming a bombardier. Stationed on Oahu, he survived harrowing combat, including an epic air battle that ended when his plane crash-landed, some six hundred holes in its fuselage and half the crew seriously wounded.”

Louie and his big brother Pete

On a May afternoon in 1943, Louie took off on a search mission for a lost plane. Somewhere over the Pacific, the engines on his bomber failed. The plane plummeted into the sea, leaving Louie and two other men stranded on a tiny raft. Drifting for weeks and thousands of miles, they endured starvation and desperate thirst, sharks that leapt aboard the raft, trying to drag them off, a machine-gun attack from a Japanese bomber, and a typhoon with waves some forty feet high. At last, they spotted an island. As they rowed toward it, unbeknownst to them, a Japanese military boat was lurking nearby. Louie’s journey had only just begun.

Louie after beating a world record for the mile at a collegiate event

That first conversation with Louie was a pivot point in my life. Fascinated by his experiences, and the mystery of how a man could overcome so much, I began a seven-year journey through his story. I found it in diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs; in the memories of his family and friends, fellow Olympians, former American airmen and Japanese veterans; in forgotten papers in archives as far-flung as Oslo and Canberra. Along the way, there were staggering surprises, and Louie’s unlikely, inspiring story came alive for me. It is a tale of daring, defiance, persistence, ingenuity, and the ferocious will of a man who refused to be broken.

Review: *****/5 stars.  Before I found out that it was non-fiction I would have given it 3.5 stars because I thought that the post war portion of the book was kind of rushed as I would have like a little more character development.  But after finding out that this was Louie’s true story there was honestly nothing to do but give it 5 stars.

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