Cozy Comfort at Carmelo’s

I have been driving past the Carmelo’s sign for years, always meaning to stop in but never making the time. Last night that changed and I expect to be stopping there regularly from now on.

A cozy little Italian restaurant on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, Carmelo’s believes in the wholesomeness of homemade food. Making everything from scratch using recipes passed down through the generations, the entire meal was a comfort after a long day. While Frank Sinatra softly crooned in my ear, I slathered butter on the fresh baked bread, dug in to my Primavera and sipped a crisp Pinot Grigio:

primavera

Fresh sautéed garden vegetables with aglio olio sauce, tossed with fettuccine (vegetarian)

The Husband opted for their signature dish, The Chicken Carmelo. He loved every bite:

chicken carmelo

Lightly breaded, baked & topped with fresh crab, parmesan & a lemon cream sauce served over angel hair & garnished with roasted vegetables

We couldn’t leave without dessert. Their tiramisu was heavenly, so light and creamy:tiramisu

Gluten free? No worries, they have options for you too. Trust me, you don’t want to wait to stop in.

Fall Escapes to the North Woods

Have I mentioned lately how much I love camping? We packed up the car and headed north for some scamping, it was our first visit to Big Bog State Recreation Area.
grassy views

It’s right by Upper Red Lake, Red Lake is the largest freshwater lake located entirely within Minnesota.
lake at dusk

The air was alive with monarch butterflies.
monarch butterfly

And something far more sinister. We watched this female Northern Harrier hunting along the shoreline for quite some time.
northern harrier

Fortunately she didn’t see this little guy.
woodchuck

The days were breathtakingly beautiful.
fall trees

And so were the nights.
sunset

Crustless Quiches

This recipe is great for those times when the cupboards are bare. Using the most basic ingredients, Crustless Broccoli-Cheddar Quiches from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food collection is a great recipe for breakfast, lunch or even a light dinner. Very easily halved or doubled, it’s also a great recipe for experimenting! Try substituting different cheeses and vegetables, I used frozen kale after discovering that I was out of broccoli and it was delicious!
crustless quiche

I’ve made this recipe for simple brunch and dinner parties, it’s always a hit and couldn’t make things any easier.  Consider serving it with some crusty bread and a side salad or fruit, and the meal is complete.

Here’s the recipe:
– Butter, for ramekins
– Coarse salt
– 1 package (10 ounces) frozen broccoli florets
– 6 large eggs
– 1/2 cup half-and-half
– Ground pepper
– 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (3 ounces)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter four 8-ounce ramekins (or a 9-inch pie dish); set aside. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add broccoli; cook 1 minute. Drain well; transfer to a cutting board, and blot dry with paper towels. Chop coarsely.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in broccoli and cheese.

3) Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Ladle broccoli mixture into ramekins, dividing evenly. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

PREP: 10 MINS TOTAL / TIME: 50 MINS / SERVINGS:4

Relaxing at Merlins Rest

I love finding a neighborhood joint to relax after a long day. Growing up watching “Cheers,” I feel compelled to find a place where everybody knows my name. That’s the kind of place Merlin’s Rest could be.

Known for their Bangers & Mash, authentic Fish & Chips and whiskey stocks, they also serve up a delicious veggie burger:
veggie burger

And from what The Husband says, an awesome Reuben sandwich:
reuben sandwich

And according to my girlfriend, they have a knitting night that I just can’t miss. Who could ask for more?

Fast Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Some weeks there is less healthy cooking in my life than I like to admit, this was one of those weeks. Fortunately, the one meal that I made was worth sharing! Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Chickpeas and Rainbow Carrots from Vegetarian Times:
vietnamese noodles

This gluten-free, vegan recipe is a cold noodle salad. After the cold blast of fall air we’d just had, I wanted something hot, hot, hot for dinner! I’d like to say that’s why I used chile garlic sauce instead of sweet chile sauce but I’d be lying. I didn’t have any sweet chile sauce, so I opted to go for a spicy substitution instead. The ruling? I really liked it. It was quick and simple, ready in less than 30 minutes and my spicy version was warming even though the dish was cool.

Here’s the recipe from Vegetarian Times (October 2013 p.29):

  • 4 oz. thin rice noodles
  • 6 Tbs. sweet chile sauce (I used red chile garlic sauce)
  • 2 Tbs. lime juice
  • 3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
  • 2 rainbow carrots, sliced into thin coins (1 cup) (I used regular carrots)
  • ¾ cup cooked chickpeas
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup toasted unsalted cashews, chopped (I was so hungry, I didn’t chop the cashews)

1. Prepare rice noodles according to package directions. Drain in colander, and rinse under cold water until completely cooled.

2. Stir together sweet chile sauce and lime juice in measuring cup or small bowl.

3. Combine noodles, cabbage, carrots, chickpeas, cilantro, and mint in large bowl. Add chile sauce mixture, and toss to coat. Garnish with toasted cashews.

Serves 4, ready in less than 30 minutes.

Calling All Fire Trucks!

I love fire trucks. And I love parades. What could be better than a parade of fire trucks?firetrucks

In the late 1970s, Roger Jackson, a Burnsville resident and fire equipment collector started displaying his collection with the help of his friends. A great source of entertainment for local kids, it included a short parade of equipment down Nicollet Avenue.
firetrucks spraying kids

It was such a hit, the Burnsville Fire Muster & Community Celebration became an official city event. Its first Fire Muster parade was held in 1980.
antique firetrucks

It has grown to include more than 100 fire trucks from around the Midwest from antique horse-drawn hand pumpers (circa 1900) to the latest in firefighting technology.
firetrucks

In 2004 it earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for holding the longest Fire Truck Parade in the World when over 120 trucks were present.
firetruck parade

For more information, visit The Burnsville Fire Muster.

Dinner Dates in French Meadows

Do you ever get so hungry that you just can’t figure out where or what to eat? That happened to us the other night. We ran through a list of restaurants that would feed us very respectable dinners, but we weren’t excited about any of them. That’s when inspiration struck, how about The French Meadow? It’s a favorite breakfast joint for us but we’ve never had their dinner before. Turned out to be just the ticket.

The Husband dug into the North Start Bison Burger. It comes with St. Pete’s Bleu Cheese (his favorite), bacon, and red onion marmalade on an organic brioche bun:
bison burger

I was having problems deciding but our server sold me on the vegan special: Chickpea Croquettes on Pita with Greens. She was right, the little croquettes were light and satisfying:chickpea croquettes

When you go to The French Meadow, you have get dessert. It took a lot of soul searching, but we finally landed on the Seasonal Berry Cake:
cake

Take a lesson from us. The next time you’re so hungry you can’t decide on where to eat, head to The French Meadow!

Where’s the Fire?

Who doesn’t love a fire truck? How about a hundred fire trucks?  It was a lovely day for the Burnsville Fire Muster Parade!
firetruck

The Mother and I have been attending this parade for longer than I can remember, it has always been a highlight of the fall season.
firetrucks

This year had new surprises, like the Ames Horses leading the trucks down the route!horses

And my absolutely favorites, the Zurhah Motorcycle Corps at the end of the pack!motorcycles

I even had a front row seat for their figure eight formation!
motorcycles

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

This recipe is for all of the peanut butter lovers out there! Move this to the top of your list IMMEDIATELY. Better yet, stop whatever you’re doing and bake a batch right now! Peanut butter is one of my favorite things in the whole world and this treat gives me even more reason to love it.

I made these for a family get-together and part of me regretted leaving the plate of them behind. They have been on my mind all week, they were that good. Thinking about them so much even made me realize that the recipe could be modified in fun ways. Sure you can use any fruit jam you want, but what about using milk chocolate or Nutella instead? I suspect there will be some experimenting in my future….

Another recipe from Real Simple, it turns one of my favorite lunches into a delightful dessert:
peanut butter and jelly bars

Here’s the recipe for Real Simple Recipe for PB&J Bars:

Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the baking dish
1/2 cup raspberry jam (I used all natural jam)
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, mashed (I used organic raspberries)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter (I used natural peanut butter)
1/2 cup chopped salted roasted peanuts

Directions
Heat oven to 350° F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Line with parchment paper. (I was out of parchment and used buttered aluminum foil)

Combine the jam and raspberries in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the peanut butter and beat until combined.

Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing on low until just combined.

Press half the dough into the prepared dish. Top with the raspberry mixture. Fold the peanuts into the remaining half of the dough and drop in clumps over the jam. Bake until the top is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool in the dish for 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into 16 squares.

Makes 16 bars. Hands-On Time: 15 minutes. Total Time: 3 hours

A Dutch Girl in Minnesota

If I’ve followed the vague conversations about lineage correctly, my ancestors were German, Swedish and Dutch. The Dutch component has always intrigued me most, it felt unique in a state known for its Swedish and Norwegian heritage. (Lutefisk, anyone?) When I recently learned that the Van Heels came to Minnesota from Holland in the 1870s, I started wondering why. What would prompt someone to leave their home and travel 4,100 miles around the world?

It turned out that it wasn’t that interesting. There was no mass migration from Holland during any century like one sees from other European countries. The Dutch had a pretty good life in their homeland, the main reason they left was because a future in the United States looked more prosperous. They advocated the concepts of family, faith and farming and enjoyed the life that hard-earned money could bring. They wanted a chance for more.
farm land

When they originally arrived in 1609 it was because they were looking for an alternate route to Asia; they found good farmland and wildlife instead. The closest I could find to a great migration was in the mid-19th century when potato crop failure, high taxes and a religious revolt triggered approximately 250,000 to emigrate over a twenty year period (1830s into the 1840s).

Following the Civil War emigration was often prompted by letters from friends and family already settled in the United States. Could that be why The Van Heels boarded that ship all those years ago? There might be more research in my future.

Read more about Dutch emigration history.