Archive for June, 2007

Taste #28: Fresh and Natural and Empty organic grocery store

Where no co-op has gone before Shoreview, Bloomington, Plymouth and Hudson, Wis., all have at least one thing in common: All are without a natural foods co-op (or a Whole Foods Market, for that matter). Enter Fresh & Natural Foods. Owners Kerry Larson and Bill Fogerty have been expanding their organic, health-conscious grocery store chain at a fast clip, moving from one store to four in just five years and introducing everything from locally raised grass-fed beef, hundreds of bulk food items and a host of gluten-free foods to a huge swath of Twin Cities-area shoppers.

I paid a visit to the Bloomington Fresh and Natural Foods and was not disappointed. Although the space is a little large for the amount of product they have, the quality is very high. The best (and worst) part of my visit was that there was nobody there! Seriously, there was one cashier, one stock-boy, and one manager. All for the six customers wandering the aisles. It was nice to not have to fight over the ears of corn, and to shift grocery carts around so I could get down an aisle, but how are these guys staying in business?

I picked up a weeks worth of food, including the best chicken sausages I’ve ever had. The brand is Hans All-Natural, and the flavors are unique and worth the $6 package (of four). I picked up the Spicy Cilantro flavor, but have been happy wtih all of them. But it’s the ingredients list that really sends me reeling. Check this out for the Spinach and Feta Chicken Sausages:

Skinless Chicken, Fresh Organic Spinach, Feta Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Contains less than 2% of the following: Fresh Organic Parsley, Black Pepper, Garlic, Salt, in a Natural Pork Casing.

Again, well worth the $6.

We grilled them up with some organic corn, organic chips and organic watermelon for a perfect Saturday lunch in the backyard. I’m not sure I’ll head back there, primarily because its a drive, but if you’re in Bloomington, or near one of their other locations, please stop in. It won’t be crowded and you’ll be doing a good thing.

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Peas! Glorious Peas!!

We have peas, and boy do we have peas. After two months of careful grooming, and diligent watering, my happy little sugar snap peas are almost ready to harvest!! I hate to pull them off the vines, they’re just so pretty there. But eventually I will. And I’ll probably have them eaten before I even get to the house.

Here’s a family recipe (I think its family, sorry if its copyrighted) from the Mom-In-Law for these glorious peas:

1 1/2 lb fresh sugar snap peas
2 T. vegetable oil
1 t. dark sesame oil
3 T. pine nuts
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2 T dry sherry
2 T teriyaki or soy sauce

String and clean peas. Heat skillet or wok overhigh heat. Add oil. After its hot, add sesame oil. Add pine nuts and coat in oil. Mix in sherry and teriyaki and peas. Cover and lower heat to medium. Cook 2 minutes. Serve immediatly.

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Mondrian Cheese

So, I’ve got my sister working for me now. Okay, not really, but she sent me this great photo from her phone earlier today. It’s “Mondrian Cheese.”

She knows I’m a big fan of the artist, Piet Mondrian, and thought I’d like the cheese. Next time I make it out to Denver, I’ll have to get me some and give it a try.

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Taste # 22-23

A gold medal park
Outdoor noshers have a fabulous new picnic destination: Gold Medal Park. Here’s the plan: Drop by the grab-and-go case at Spoonriver for a turkey-mango chutney sandwich, a blue cheese-walnut-apple salad or a chicken quesadilla (don’t forget a refreshing bottle of Vignette soda, made with pinot noir or chardonnay grape juice). Hike up the park’s observation mound, take a seat on one of the Brazilian hardwood benches and soak up the breathtaking riverfront view.

You can’t go wrong with either of Brenda Langton’s restaurants. Her first, Cafe Brenda, has been a favorite of mine since I started working in the warehouse district. To say I was excited to try out her new place, Spoonriver, when it opened last year was an understatement. Their website reads:

“Committed to the Advancement of Organics, The Support of Local Farmers and Serving the Freshest, Most Delicious Food Possible.”

And I think they’ve accomplished that.

J and I chose # 22 and 23 from StarTribune’s Taste 50 for lunch the other day and were absolutely delighted. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, it wasn’t too hot and the food was just delightful. We picked up lunch and walked to the newly opened Gold Medal Park. At the top of the spirally path, we followed the strib’s recommendations and sat down to enjoy out lunch. I was surprised there wasn’t more competition for the fun benches and fabulous view, but I wasn’t complaining. After driving by the slowly-developing park for the last 18 months, it was great to actually be sitting at the top.

J chose a brie and arugula sandwich and a gorgeous salad for later that day. I promised her I would quote her, so here’s the email I received:

“mmmmmmmmmmm…… right now I’m eating one of the best apple/walnut/gorgonzola salads I’ve ever had.”

It looked mighty tasty, i must say. I chose the turkey sandwich with mango chutney. I’m a sucker for mangos, so there really was not other choice (except for the brie sandwich that J already laid claim to.) The sandwich was fresh, the bread was hearty and with a bag of organic potato chips, I was one happy little picnicker.

I also found a great bottle of “wine country soda” called Vignette. While it didn’t exactly taste like Chardonnay, it was light and refreshing and perfect to sip at the top of a large mound over looking the Mississippi. (yeah, I know a real Chardonnay would have been better, but it’s the lunch hour, folks, some people have to work.)

(Can i say that the coolest part of these photos is the amazing backdrop. You can really see how high we are when you pull your eyes from the food and look behind it. See you on the top!)

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A winery to visit,
a restaurant to avoid,
beautiful kabobs,
and a nature lesson.

A weekend up north at the in-laws was jammed pack with both adventure and culinary lessons.

It started with a trip to the very beautiful Chateau St. Croix Winery just north of St. Croix Falls. What a surprise. Based on a winery in France, this couple did a great job creating a vintage winery in the hills of western Wisconsin. We chose to do the free tasting (just three) and I went with the top three whites (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Grand Reserve Chardonnay). The PG was nice, but a little short for my taste. The first chardonnay was a touch bland, but the GR Chardonnay blew me away. Just for the record, they do get most (95%) of their grapes from California, which is nice, because the upper midwest winters make it hard to grow grapes. After the tasting we browsed through the craft stalls, bought a beautiful metal turtle in honor the of In-laws snapping turtle population, and snacked on some limp, greasy fries. We rounded out the visit with a ver well done tour of the winery and learned many things, including the high price of oak barrels, and that their life span is only about five years.

After a bike ride through farm country, we cleaned up and went to dinner. We chose a much talked about restaurant in nearby Taylors falls, called, Tangled up in Blue. More like tangled up in confusion. I don;t have any photos, but you’re really not missing anything. The food was very “safe” (AKA boring) and the service was downright inattentive (even though it started out quite promising). Onto better things.

Before a lunch of grilled shrimp kabobs, vegetable kabobs and more kababs, we headed over to the St Croix River for a quick kayak trip. Along the shore were dozens of clam shells opened and deserted by local Otters. I actually never knew there were freshwater clams, and that we would see them in the St. Croix.

From the kayak, I saw one of the clams, a large one, resting near the shore. Just before I picked it up, I asked the guys if these clams had a defense mechanism. I quickly figured it out. They squirt! Oops. Clam down.

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The Taste #4: Cultural Revolution Conversion

4. A better breakfast. Cultural Revolution isn’t your basic fruit-in-the-bottom yogurt. Organic, non-homogenized milk and butterfat, from a network of Amish family farms in southeastern Iowa, results in a luscious texture, gentle sweetness and modest traces of fruit flavorings. Man, this stuff is good.

I have to admit, I am not a huge yogurt fan. I eat it becuase it’s good for me, its quick, and its portable. But more often than not I load up on it and then it sits in the fridge collecting dust and odors. But not this time.

I found a container of Cultural Revolution Peach Organic Yogurt at the Mississippi Market and recognized the name, but was more impressed with the label. It was clean and fun and light-hearted, and just begged to be throw into my cart, even at $1.29 each. The price may have bothered me more, but I don’t buy enough regular yogurt to know the difference.

The top of the lid reads,

“Cultural Revolution organic yogurt uses only the freshest, most natural ingredients, and – here’s the revolutionary part – it delivers naturally sweet, creamy taste without all the sugar, carbs, calories and sodium contained in most other yogurts. Co, how did we create a yogurt that is so good for you and tastes so good? We simply let nature do what she does best, and she delivered. Our yogurt is made exclusively of organic whole milk and rich, creamy organic butterfat that contains vitamins A and D. Gently processed and never homogenized, Cultural Revolution has a pure flavor and texture that will transofrm your taste buds. Low Sugar. Low Carb!”

There was another blurb on the side about the layer of liquid on top of the yogurt, that can either be enjoyed on its own or mixed in. I tried it both ways and really, truly have never tasted anything like it. The texture was a little chunky, but I mixed it up and the lumps smoother out. The flavor was so unique, but so fresh. It tasted of peaches, but there was just no peach color, so the sensation was surreal. I savored every bite, but the bottom came too soon. I call myself a yogurt lover now, but not just any yogurt. But now you know which kind.

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A Kohlrabi Dinner

I first fell in love with Kohlrabi last summer at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. It is such an inviting vegetable with its pale green screen and goofy looking tentacles. It actually reminded me of an organic-y spaceship. Fortunately, one of the vendors was offering samples, so I was able to try it without any risk. She recommend sprinkly it with some salt, but I really enjoyed it just plain and fresh. This summer I actually planted some Kohlrabi and it seems to be doing well. First a little background.

Kohlrabi is a relative of the cabbage, but is really just much more fun to eat than a bland, tough, leaf. It has a very clean flavor and the texture of a crisp apple. I picked up a few at the market last weekend and decided to try something new with it.

In my bible, I mean The Joy Of Cooking, I found a recipe for Kohlrabi with Parmesan Cheese. It was fairly basic. Just chop the Kohlrabi into matchsticks, boil until tender, drain and mix in a tablespoon or two of butter and four ounces of parmesan cheese. No problem.

When I was reading the information about the little green spaceships, I stumbled across direction to the cook the leaves. It read, “If you are lucky enough to find kohlrabi wtih the leaves still attached, they can be cooked like mustard greens, page 388. I quickly turned to page 388 and added another dish to the dinner menu.

Mustard Greens with Chickpeas and Curry quickly became Kohlrabi Greens with Chickpeas and Curry. And it was almost as easy as the first recipe. Sweat a couple onions and four garlic gloves in some butter (or ghee), wilt the greens, then add a can of diced tomatoes (organic, of course) and a can of chickpeas along with the essential spices, including ginger, cumin, red pepper, coriander and curry powder. Add some stock and simmer away. The dish was flavorful with a double kick from the curry and the red pepper. Throw a chicken breast on the grill and dinner was served.

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Buon Giorno Italia

After our weekly trip to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, we took a detour through the little town of Lilydale and stopped at a great little deli for some lunch. We found what we were looking for on Hwy 13. A place I’ve been reading a lot about, The Buon Giorno Italia. What a great little find. The deli is huge, with ample seating and a selection that left us wandering in circles for the first 10 minutes were were there. There’s a cooler in the back that was loaded with homemade pastas and raviolis. We grabbed a tub of Spumoni because I’ve always wanted to try it. More on it later.

There are shelves loaded with great italian finds, including all sorts of dried pasta and gnocchi, sauces, dried herbs, canned tuna imported from italy and the list goes on. We were already hungry, so we went to the deli counter where, again, the options were endless. There were a dozen sandwich choices, the traditional deli salads, a huge case of traditional Italian meats and olives, a pizza bar, a pasta bar, and of course a whole cooler full of cheese. We decided on a couple of sandwiches, one called a Calebrese (or something like that) for Husband, and a roasted vegetable sandwich for me. We also bought a small container of their tortellini pasta salad and two mushrooms stuffed with crab.

The cheese I just had to try, was an cow’s milk cheese aged in saffron. The wrapper read, Toma Elvo Valley, and I take it to be where it is from. It was beautiful and the texture was silky and rich. We didnt, however, pick up any scent or taste of the saffron, which was a shame, but the cheese was still quite delicious. We pulled out our little bottle of truffle oil and had a pre-dinner treat along with a chilled pinot grigio.

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The Taste #7

“The succulent mango” teased the headline on the blackboard hanging above the produce department at the Seward Co-op Grocery & Deli. As always, that attention-getter was chased by a highly readable history, buyer’s guide and how-to-use tutorial on the delectable fruit. Such literary license might be an anomaly for supermarket shoppers, but it’s business as usual at the Seward, where a knowledgeable and obviously well-read staff presides over one of the Twin Cities’ most appealing fruit and vegetable selections.

It reads…

REGULATE… YOUR BODY TEMP! Whatever the season, the weather and your own body will tell you what food to eat for their thermal properties. Watermelon and Cucumbers are the ultimate hot-weather goods – they cool the body. Butternut squash, on the other hand, warms you up on brisk fall days. Rebecca Wood (Whole Foods Encyclopedia) writes that slow-growing foods like cabbage are more warming than fast-growing lettuce. Also, foods that are slow-cooked or cooked with more oil/fat are more warming. In general, raw foods are more cooling than cooked, but also require more energy to digest. So your body may love you for gorging on Melons on summer mornings, but it would not say no to some nice steamed kale splashed with tamari and vinegar at the end of the long day.

I stopped by the Seward Co-op the other day for lunch, and in addition to enjoying a lovely Vegetable Korma, I learned a little something in the produce section.

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Off on a little tangent…

Sorry folks, but in an effort to encourage everyone to start supporting local agriculture, I though I’d provide a link to check out your own personal ecological footprint. It allows individuals to measure the impact on natural resource use. Take a look. It’s very humbling. Click here to go to www.myfootprint.org. Oh, and not sure how accurate it really is as it makes a lot of assumptions.

I’d be interested to hear (read) what you think of it. (that’s a hint).

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