Saturday, August 17, 2013

BLT Love

Maybe it's that I'm a summer baby.  Maybe it's that we wait so long for this weather.  Maybe it's that I just plain love summer.

Whatever it is, I have more summer comfort foods than winter.  BLT 's are one of those foods.  Granted, I could make a BLT year round, but it is not the same as an August BLT.  A BLT from ingredients from the grocery store, organic or not, just cannot compare.

Fresh from the farmers market meaty tomatoes and tender lettuce.  Thick peppered bacon from Bar 5 Meats and Grandma Hazel Seed Bread from A Toast To Bread .  This bread, oh my.  My daughter said it best as she took in the aroma as it toasted- 'this is REAL bread.'  I normally avoid bread, but this was ah maze ing.

An August farmers market BLT... hands down the best.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hoa Bien Vietnamese Restaurant

One of my favorite restaurants when I am craving lighter food is Hoa Bien.  It is located on the corner of Lexington and University in St. Paul.  Hoa Bien is a Vietnamese restaurant, and to me, much better than traditional Chinese, which tends to have more fried items.

What I love most here is their noodle soups and salads.  They are made with glass or cellophane noodles.  They also offer non fried spring rolls, which are made with a rice noodle wrap.

My son ordered the won ton soup the last time we went to Hoa Bien.  We expected broth and won tons, maybe a few green onions.  We were amazed at the number of vegetables in the soup.  They were bright and fresh, perfectly cooked in the broth, which was flavorful without being oily or salty.

This is the side of vegetables that comes with the rice noodle soups-

And of course, my Hu Tieu Nam Vang or Clear Broth Soup with Seafood-

Hoa Bien always satisfies the craving for a light, filling meal.  The noodle salads are wonderful in warmer months, when you don't want heavy food.  And the soups are great comfort food in the winter when you are craving something warm.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Looking for a great date night?

We have walked past Marx Fusion Bistro I don't know how many times.  There were a few times we thought of trying it, but the wait was always too long for a last minute decision to eat there.

Friday night we stopped in again, last minute, to see if we could get a table.  Apparently we arrived before the crowd and were able to get right in.  The restaurant was still busy, but had a few 2 person tables available.

The tables in the bar area were slightly cramped, but had a nice view of the main street outside.

We started with two appetizers, the Tuna Tartare and the Empanadas.

The tuna was served raw, on sticky rice with diced mango between the rice and tuna.  The glaze that was on the plate was amazing-a mango, orange and chili sauce with a sweet balsamic reduction drizzled through.  The mix of spice and citrus was a great compliment to the sweetness of the reduced balsamic.  The green onion that topped it off was tempura battered.

The empanada was perfectly done.  I don't have a photo of it.  It was stuffed with spicy beef, a little mozzarella, and served with guacamole.  Some empanada can be greasy but this one had a light flaky outside.  A lime cilantro cabbage slaw was served on the side.

For our main course we shared the Butter Poached Salmon.  It was served on leek risotto, which was creamy and had just the right amount of leek flavor.  We had asked about the doneness of the salmon before ordering, and it came just as advertised.  We don't typically order salmon at restaurants because it is frequently overdone.  This was a perfect medium on the spectrum of rare to well done.  We may have startled the waitress a little when we asked, she said it could be done more if we wanted and we answered simultaneously "NO, medium is perfect!"   Keep in mind, this is coming from a couple that loves sashimi.  The salmon was topped with green olives, capers, tomatoes in a buttery rosemary infused sauce.

To finish off the night, we selected the almond cake.  We hadn't seen a written description of it, so were a little surprised that it had more of a coconut flavor than almond.  The frosting was creamy with grated coconut and chopped almonds.  The cake was slightly dry, but that was offset a little by the creaminess of the frosting.  We chose a 20 year port, but this cake would also be great with coffee.

As far as ambiance, it was a little loud for conversation.  Although, we did need to lean in closer to hear each other, which is never a bad thing!  I would recommend it for a date night-I can see it being a great place to get a few glasses of wine and appetizers.  Portion sizes were large so sharing was easy.  With 2 apps, 1 entree and a dessert, we had plenty to share.  For us, 1 app, 1 entree and a dessert would have been plenty.

Kudos to my husband for the awesome photos!

Hello again!

It's been a while since I posted!  Busyness of life and all that I suppose.

Most of my recipe posts will now be on the blog at  
This is the site for Look Good Naked boot camp.  Some of you know I've been involved as a participant with LGN since January of 2012.  I love it!  Everything about it.  Even the crazy soreness that follows this old body a day after the workouts!  What I truly love and have wanted to be involved in though is the nutrition portion.  

I am a self confessed recipe hoarder, and this gives me an opportunity to share some of those recipes with others.  I'm still learning so much about nutrition and hope to be able to pass along some of that knowledge to others.

I will still post some here from time to time.  The 'not so great for you but taste amazing' recipes I'll save for this blog :-)  And as winter approaches, trying new restaurants becomes our weekend past time, so look for more restaurant reviews and photos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 'famous' weekly menu

Some of you know I try to plan out a menu for our dinners every week.  I like to be organized, and if I don't have the menu planned, I don't do well cooking dinner on the fly.  Usually meat is still frozen, I'm missing ingredients, etc.  It does not make for a good afternoon if I don't know ahead of time what to make for dinner!  I plan it out according to what I already have in the house, what activities we have going on each night, and what is on sale at the grocery store (or what I have found at the farmers market) that week.  This also saves time not running to the grocery store more than once or twice-those little trips add up especially if you're working, running kids around, and all those other things that occupy our time in the afternoons.

I usually plan for 5 nights, trying to have it all planned by Sunday evening for the week ahead.  We save the leftovers to eat for lunches.  Sometimes I only make 4 and we have leftovers one night, depending on the size of the meal.  We have also eaten half, then I freeze the remainder for another weeknight a week or two later.  Soup is a good example of this.  We eat it once, freeze the rest and it makes a quick heat up dinner on a busy night, rather than freezing individual portions.

This week on the menu:
Italian Quinoa Casserole with mixed green salad
White Chicken Chili
Chickpeas in Coconut Sauce with spinach
Healthy Chicken Stroganoff with peas
Grilled Steaks with Vegetable Kabobs and Pesto Gnocchi

If anyone wants the specific recipes, let me know and I would be happy to email them to you!

Italian Quinoa Casserole

What in the world is Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah)?!  It is a little grain that packs a big punch!  It is gluten free, high in fiber and a complete protein.  For the following recipe I used Tri-Color Quinoa from Trader Joes.

This link has a wide variety of information about Quinoa:

This recipe was originally called Quick Quinoa Lasagna.  But not having noodles threw my family off, so I changed up the name a little.  The taste is basically the same though as a lasagna.  I used Hot Italian Sausage which gave it that Italian flavor and a little heat.

One note on cooking Quinoa.  Follow the package directions, including the rinsing.  If you skip the rinse step, the Quinoa will be bitter.  Make sure you are using a colander with fine mesh, otherwise it will all flow out the bottom and down your drain!

When assembling this dish, you may need to be careful when spreading the cheese mixture, as it is thicker than the Quinoa.  I used my hands (CLEAN!) to pull it apart to get a more even layer.  The Quinoa spreads well with the back of a wooden spoon.

Italian Quinoa Casserole
-makes 12 servings
1 can Diced or Petite Diced Tomatoes (about 15 oz)
2 8oz cans Tomato Sauce
2 tsp Oregano
1 large Onion, diced
4 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1lb Lean Ground Meat (Italian sausage, lean beef, turkey or chicken)
3C Cooked Quinoa
8oz Ricotta Cheese
8oz Mozzarella Cheese
8oz Parmesan Cheese

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
-In a large pan, brown the ground meat.  Drain any fat off the meat.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same pan, add the olive oil and heat to medium.  Add the onion and saute until soft, but do not brown.  Add in the garlic, and cook stirring often for 1 minute.  Add the meat back to the pan.  Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce and oregano.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer until heated through.
-In a separate bowl, mix together all three cheeses, reserving about 1/4C of the mozzarella and 1/4C of Parmesan.
-In a 9x13 pan, place a thin layer of the sauce, followed by a layer of Quinoa and a layer of the cheeses.  Repeat this pattern ending with sauce.  Add the 1/4C of both reserved cheeses on top.
-Bake uncovered for 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.  It will cut easier after it stands.

The finished product-

Great with a large salad on the side!

You can see the grains of Quinoa a little more in this photo:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Curried Chickpeas-vegetarian dinner

This is one of my FAVORITE recipes.  It originally came from Sunset magazine (which by the way offers great healthy recipes on a regular basis).  This is meatless yet filling and can be modified for those who do not like spicy food.  I leave the heat out until the end that way the kids eat it as well.

Curried Chickpeas and Tomatoes
(modified from Garbanzo Tomato Curry)
-makes 6-8 servings

1 onion, chopped (yellow works best-stronger flavor)
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or olive or canola)
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 Tbsp mustard seed
1/2 Tbsp whole cumin seed
2 cans chick peas (also labeled garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 32oz can diced or petite diced tomatoes (undrained)
Cayenne powder to taste
Hot sauce to taste (Franks or Tabasco)
Chopped Cilantro
Plain yogurt
Cooked Jasmine or Basmati rice (about 1/2 C per serving)

In a large pan heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions, ginger and garlic until onion just begins to brown, about 6 minutes.  Add curry powder, mustard and cumin seeds and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add chickpeas and tomatoes (with juice).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer uncovered stirring occasionally to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.  If the mixture is thicker than desired, stir in a little water to thin.

Serve in shallow bowls with rice.  Spoon 1/4-1/2 C yogurt next to the chickpeas.  Top with cilantro and cayenne or hot sauce to taste.