Salsa Verde

I’ve always liked a variety of salsas, from the traditional Mexican salsa made with ripe, red tomatoes, to salsa guajillo and salsa verde. Most salsas serve a special purpose to be an important part of a dish, but they can also be served as a dip with chips. I’ve made salsa verde many times, but I’ve found it to be slightly acidic. So, one day I added an avocado. It really seems to make it more well-rounded by balancing the acidity of the tomatillos. Read more

How to make delicious homemade corn tortillas

I’ve always bought corn tortillas, but they were never as good as the homemade ones in Mexico. I was determined to make my own so I looked at a bunch of recipes online. How hard could it be? The only thing I thought was that it would be very labor-intensive.

Fortunately, with modern equipment like the Vitamix, I wouldn’t have to do it completely by hand. I committed to buying a 25 pound bag of organic, local yellow corn. This was indeed the smallest size available. The only other ingredient I had to buy was cal, which is dried lime, often used for pickling vegetables. Read more

Yes, it’s vegan cheese!

I’ve made sauerkraut a couple times. It was pretty easy. Basically you mix diced green cabbage with sea salt, weigh it down with a rot iron pan and lots of books for a few days and, voilà, you’ve got sauerkraut! It’s been several years since I last tasted cheese. My favorites were double cream mushroom brie, Gouda and any stinky French cheese. I gave it up, along with all things dairy, to rid myself of asthma. And it worked. For the last few years there has been a fake meat trend, partnered with lots of varieties of fake cheeses. I’m not so thrilled about the fake meats, but there’s actually something very healthy about vegan cheese varieties. They are made with real ingredients, like nuts and herbs, and they are indeed fermented much like cheese has always been made. Probiotic foods that help digestion, like KimChee and sauerkraut, are right up there with fermented, aged vegan cheese! Read more

A Second Taste: Trying Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar Again

nicos-alpha-invertOkay, so it’s been 2 1/2 years since I first tried Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar on their “soft” opening. Wow. Has it been that long? Every time I passed it, I swore I wouldn’t go back. As we were standing in line behind all the bachelors at Chipotle, my favorite and only “fast” food place, my partner and I looked at each other and pondered giving Nico’s another chance. Heck, they’ve had plenty of time to work out the bugs, so the food must be better. I’ll have to say that I was very impressed by the changes.

We started out with a Tecate, which is not a very common beer to find in local Mexican restaurants. The Mexican beer list was quite extensive. I’ll have to come back to try one of the many tequilas. Next, the trio of salsas took some deciding, among the available six, including: Pico de Gallo, Roasted Tomatillo, Chile de Arbol, Chile Serrano, Ancho Narranja and salsa Verde. I opted for the Roasted Tomatillo, Chile de Arbol and the deliciously spicy and “creamy” salsa verde. And here I thought that cream had been added, but it’s all on account of the whipped avocado.

tacosTwo orders of tacos came next; two vegetable and one camaron. Arroz and frijoles came with the tacos. I was happy to discover the soft corn tortillas, instead of the typical hard-shelled gringo tacos, accompanied by sauteed squash, red bell peppers and charred corn. The shrimp taco had sauteed garlic, chile de arbol, black pepper and lime served on a flour tortilla. The tacos were very good. The only thing I would change would be to have corn tortillas instead of flour for the camaron tacos.

It did take me a while to get back to Nico’s Taco and Tequila bar, but I’m glad I gave it another chance. The “soft” opening is all but a faded memory. I look forward to stopping next time and not just walking by.

Cooking with Linda, in Cuernavaca

I spent a LOT of time taking and editing these videos in Cuernavaca, Mexico a few years ago. I showed how to make three types of salsa: salsa verde, salsa guajillo and hot as a dog’s nose salsa. By the end of the third shoot, I sampled the last chip with habanero salsa, and then the mosquitos started to attack!

When in Playa…

Ernesto and I have been to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico seven times. Playa del Carmen, or just “Playa” as the locals refer to it, is a coastal resort town in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Playa is located 70 km south of Cancún and 20 km west of the island Cozumel.

Avenida Quinta, a.k.a. 5th Avenue

caravanWe have certainly seen Playa grow into a more commercial resort city, but I think it has its charm intact. There are more convenience stores that sell cheap trinkets and t-shirts, but there are still quaint restaurants and artisanal stores that dominate the avenue. I did notice that some of the local vendors have become more aggressive in trying to draw tourists in to their stores. One particular vendor prodded a tourist by saying, “Hey, where are you from? I have something to show you. Stop! Hey, I said Stop!” Read more

Another attempt at Nosh

A restaurant review. I’ll give it 4/5 stars

cornfieldWe’ve been trying to go to Nosh for quite some time. Every time we go, we’ve picked a day when they’re closed. But today we took our usual road trip from Minneapolis, en route toward Lake Pepin, which takes us through some very quaint, but small towns like Maiden Rock, Stockholm and Lake Pepin. There were droves of people waiting for the Harborview Cafe to open at 5pm, so we hit the road toward Nelson and saw the other side of Lake Pepin, on our way to Lake City. We were anticipating another harbor and hopefully a great restaurant.

nosh-signWe saw the familiar harbor in Lake City, with Nosh nudging at its side. Fortunately we got the last table on the second floor, which had a great view of the harbor. We started by sharing a large Belgian beer, followed by a warm beet salad with arugula and candied walnuts. We ordered a good, dirty red until the delicious steamed mussels in a tomato broth arrived with just the right amount of chili heat. We both ordered the Thai red snapper. I thought it would be the typical filet with a side of vegetables, but instead it was a fragrant stew with bok choy and a perfectly spiced broth. Given the fact that it was a sunny, but cool 40 degree day, the hot stew was very comforting.

harborAs with most restaurants, I’m usually hesitant to order dessert, but I thought that if everything was so great up to this point, the dessert would also be fabulous. Not so. I ordered the chocolate mousse with chipotle chiles. It was good, but not anything to write home about. My partner had the chocolate torte with raspberry sauce which was just so-so.

The service was excellent. Everyone involved made an extra effort to make our experience memorable. I hope to return to Nosh when I can enjoy the sunny patio in humid, 90 degree heat, while watching the boats come in to the harbor. I know the food will be good.

Not quite enough to Crave

A restaurant review of Crave, Downtown Minneapolis. I give it *** stars.
Ah, yes, another great rooftop patio! Great, modern seating with a view of Hennepin Avenue, and the sun keeps shining for several hours at that height. One of the final 2014 World Cup games had just finished, so I thought I’d honor the poor Brazilians by having a Capirinha. Of course, my first Capirinha was skillfully mixed by a Brazilian so I knew how it should taste. The drink arrived in a hard plastic, tall glass with a lot of ice and a couple of limes. It smacked of pre-made mix; not a special house-made mix. Strong, but not good. My cousin arrived and she ordered a mojito. We basked in the sun and, much to our surprise, watched a very long Shriner’s parade below. For some reason, they had hundreds of go-carts driven by the old Shriners in their maroon felt caps!

crave-photo

We ordered the fabulous Mediterranean platter which consisted of hummus, dusted with a nice smoky paprika, kalamata olive spread, whole kalamata olives, cucumbers and a zesty red pepper spread.  As the sun started to drop below the buildings, my cousin ordered her favorite Asian chicken salad and I ordered the Margherita pizza, sans mozzarella, with kalamata olives and mushrooms. The herbed pizza was very flavorful but appeared to be not just baked but fried on the edges.

This place could certainly step it up a few notches by replacing the fake grass wall by the lounge with wall plants and add a number of Palm trees throughout the patio. The food is good, but they really need to think about hiring a head mixologist!

Bland Mexican: Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar

Okay, I know it’s not fair to review a restaurant on its first day, but hopefully it will be more helpful than hurtful. I was sad to see the Birdhouse leave after such a short stint, but happy to see that a Mexican restaurant was swiftly moving in, with an emphasis on “tequila bar”.

We sat down in the new chairs and anticipated the spicy food and special margaritas. As I scanned the menu, I realized that it was probably thrown together very quickly, on account of all the typos. No big deal. It’s their “soft” opening and all the bugs will work themselves out over time. Our server greeted us immediately and talked about some key items on the menu. This attentive, sincere service was not expected, given the fact that this new Mexican venture was owned by Amore Victoria. Even though she pronounced the “lls” in tomatillo, I still thought she was very charming.

We ordered the house margarita and the special blood orange margarita. Our server reassured us that it was a “house-made” sweet and sour mix. It really was quite mediocre. My partner’s blood orange marg tasted like a suped-up lemonade. I’d stick with a safe Sierra Nevada or a more expensive tequila. By the way, most of their tequilas are blanco and cheap, if you know what I mean.

Then came the guacamole in a machine made molcajete. It was simply bland, made with mashed avocados and not so ripe tomatoes. What happened to the serrano chiles and fresh lime juice?! The salsa verde, with chips, was definitely from a jar and the chips had no flavor. I swear there were a few stale ones in there too. We both ordered batter fried cod tacos and shrimp tacos on flour tortillas. Our server must have seen us make a face because she came back immediately with two surprisingly spicy salsas.

I really hope they get it right at Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar. They have a lot of competition that could very well wipe them out. I’m not sure I would go back for the food until then. For now, I only wish that I could have the same server at a better Mexican restaurant.

Spill the Bill

I finally made it to the new Spill the Wine, now located on Bryant Avenue South and Lake Street. What a great location, compared to their last place on Washington Avenue where they were neighbors with Grumpy’s. The food I had at the former location was very good; mostly fresh pastas with a variety of ingredients to choose from. I took my Mom to the new one. I was anxious to see the new menu, even though it was brunch on a Saturday. I perused the menu that had many fonts and sizes and realized that I’d be requesting a handful of sides, since each item either had meat, cheese or eggs and sautéed with butter. I have a plant-based diet without any processed food or oils, but I usually make small compromises when I go to restaurants.

I noticed that they had collard greens, shiitake mushrooms, arugula and potatoes so I asked our server if the cook could put these items in one dish as a sort of makeshift vegan entree. All is well with the order, accompanied by a nice dry white wine. My mom ordered the big plate jumbo burger with pork fat and a side of tasty paprika fries. My food came in separate plates: first the potatoes brava, then the golden beets with balsamic vinegar and the grilled cauliflower with fresh arugula. The food was very good, despite the separate plates. My mom also enjoyed her burger and chose to take half of it home.

When the bill came, I wasn’t surprised at the usual price for two people: $55. But when I took a closer look, I realized that I had been charged for the equivalent of three appetizers. My vegan makeshift entree of separate plates came to $15 versus my mom’s big plate burger of $11. I’m not sure if this was a deterrant to vegan or vegetarian patrons, but I certainly felt cheated. I was confident going to the new Spill the Wine that it would be just as vegan-friendly with these items documented on the menu, but I was wrong. I’ll certainly think twice about going there for a meal. Perhaps I’ll just have to spill the wine next time.