Seared Salmon with Miso Sauce

Based on a perusal of my recent posts, it appears that I’ve taken to subsisting on restaurant meals and pumpkin baked goods.  But fortunately (or unfortunately, since the pumpkin oatmeal cookies were pretty darn tasty), I’m still cooking.  I just haven’t been making anything blog-worthy.  There have been lots of recipe repeats from previous years: ravioli with apples and walnuts, spinach and leek bean soup, savory roasted sweet potatoes, mushroom barley risotto, and Thai butternut squash soup.  Meanwhile, the new recipes I’ve been trying keep falling short: the slightly-scorched sockeye salmon cakes that tasted great, but need some further refining of technique; the Japanese-inspired dish that involved lots of running around to find soba noodles and miso, only to yield a disappointingly mediocre result; the kimchee stew that needed more of a punch; and the roasted delicata squash salad that didn’t quite happen since I got lazy and just ate the squash plain.

But finally I found a hit in in the form of an easy weeknight salmon recipe, and as an added bonus it used up some of the leftover miso from my Japanese noodle dish experiment.  Miso is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans, similar in texture to chilled cookie dough.  It mostly tastes salty, with an earthy, fermented kick at the end.  I tracked down miso at Whole Foods, in the refrigerated section with the tofu and meat alternatives.

White Miso

White miso close up

The mellow flavor of the salmon makes it a pleasing backdrop for the assertive miso sauce, and a side of honey glazed brussels sprouts further balanced out the saltiness of the sauce.

Adapted from the Real Simple recipe by Dawn Perry

Serves 2

Ingredients:

Seared Salmon with Miso Sauce Ingredients

1 1/2 tablespoons white miso
2 1/2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 4-ounce salmon filets
salt
pepper
crushed red pepper

Combine the miso, 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil, vinegar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add remaining 1 teaspoon canola oil and tilt to evenly coat bottom of skillet.  Place the salmon filets in the skillet, skin side up if applicable, and cook for 2 1/2 minutes.   Flip filets over and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until filets are opaque throughout, about another 2 1/2 minutes.

To serve, pour miso sauce over salmon and sprinkle with crushed red pepper.

Seared Salmon with Miso Sauce

Spiced Applesauce

For the past several months, I have been fantasizing about transforming piles and piles of fresh apples into quarts and quarts of chunky, cinnamon-infused applesauce.  My parents generously offered me as many apples as I wanted from their miniature backyard orchard.  But I turned them down, because part one of the applesauce fantasy (inspired by childhood trips to Hauser’s orchard in Bayfield, Wisconsin) involved Mike and I going to an orchard to pick the apples ourselves, climbing up apple trees and sharing a romantic moment as the autumn sun streamed through gnarled leafy branches.  Originally I wanted to pick Regents, a crisp variety with a balanced flavor that makes it my favorite eating apple.  Plus, Regents literally keep for months and are supposed to cook up into a nice applesauce.  But since I had trouble finding an orchard that offered u-pick Regents, I decided to split my apple purchase between pre-picked Regents and u-pick Firesides (a sweeter, not quite as crisp variety) at Apple Jack Orchards in Delano.

The drive out to the orchard was just as bucolic as I had pictured.  It never fails to amaze how quickly the big box stores of outer Twin Cities suburbia yield to cornfields, horse pastures, and old tumbledown barns, and the maple trees along our route were laden with red leaves shimmering in the afternoon sunlight.  But as we approached the orchard, I realized that this outing was not exactly going to be the idyllic apple picking of my youth.  There was a sheriff’s deputy stationed at the entrance to the parking lot, languidly directing traffic with one hand while eating an apple turnover with another.  There were cliques of teenage girls in flimsy ballet flats and flowery scarves, toting bags of kettle corn and frantically texting on their glitter-encased iPhones.  There was the massive line for the tractor ride; the gift shop hawking innumerable apple-themed home décor items; and the café, also with a massive line, dishing up mac n’ cheese, hot dogs, and apple spice doughnuts.  U-pick apples seemed to be a minor and peripheral part of the Apple Jack Orchards agritainment empire.

“Are you okay?” Mike asked, as we trudged through the u-pick section of the orchard, which was the size of my parent’s backyard.  Instead of a proper bushel box, we had been provided with small plastic shopping bags.  This was sadly appropriate, partly because most of our fellow pickers seemed to be satisfied with two or three apples, but also because no one would buy an entire bushel considering the steep price per pound.  Most trees had been plucked clean by the hordes, and I was starting to give up hope of finding any apples to pick at all, much less finding a tree that I could climb up.

“It’s just not what I was imagining,” I answered, as I watched the cars circle the lot in search of a parking spot and breathed in the cloying aroma wafting over from the kettle corn tent.  “This is like the Disney World of apple orchards.”

We finally found a tree with some apples, once we climbed high enough to be beyond the reach of little hands .  It was still a beautiful day, and we supplemented our u-pick apples with a half peck of impeccable Regents and jug of cider.  We enjoyed the first of our apples on a bench overlooking the river, and once I mentally tuned out the mobs of screaming children, it was almost idyllic.

DSC_0048 Apple picking

Farming is a difficult, uncertain business, and if kettle corn and tractor rides provide Apple Jack Orchards with a steady revenue stream, more power to them.  But considering the city-slicker prices we paid for our apples, my applesauce should be eaten from a fine china plate with a silver spoon.  Next year, if my parents offer me free apples, I’m taking them up on it.

But unlike the apple picking experience, the applesauce recipe I developed turned out to be everything I hoped for.  Since I used a sweet apple variety (Firesides), I didn’t need to add any sugar.  However, if you use tart apples, or prefer a more dessert-like sauce, you can add sugar to taste to the finished sauce.  I peeled my apples using this method, in which you quarter the apples before peeling them–this was easier for me than peeling the whole fruit.  Texture-wise, this applesauce is fairly chunky.  I ran my first batch through a potato ricer and was rewarded with a slightly smoother sauce, but since I like chunky applesauce anyway it wasn’t worth the hassle for subsequent batches.

Finally, if you’re looking for information about Minnesota apples or general apple preparation tips, this guide from the University of Minnesota Extension is a great resource.

Yield: about 4 1/2 cups applesauceIngredients:

Spiced Applesauce Ingredients

approximately 3 pounds of sweet apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 10 cups)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

Place the apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1 1/2 cups water in a Dutch oven.  Stir thoroughly to coat apples with spices.

Apples before cooking

Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low.

Cook, stirring every ten minutes, until most of the apples have formed a mush and the few whole pieces that remain can be easily halved with a spoon.  (This took 1 hour and 45 minutes for me, but based on the variety of apples you use, your cooking time may vary.)

Cooked Spiced Applesauce

Applesauce after cooking is complete: few intact apple pieces remain

Mash the apples with a potato masher to break down the remaining intact apple pieces to form a chunky sauce.

Spiced Applesauce

The final product after mashing

Cool and store in airtight containers in refrigerator or freezer.

Review: Sawatdee

Sawatdee is a local institution.  Founded in 1983, not only was it the first Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities, it was the first Thai restaurant in the five-state area.  Although the original location in lowertown St. Paul closed several years ago, there are now downtown St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, Bloomington, and Maple Grove restaurants, plus a branch in St. Cloud.  Each location has a slightly different menu and atmosphere.

The Maple Grove restaurant is an interesting meld of Thai restaurant/sports bar/sushi bar/live music venue.  The main seating area is decorated with elephants and painted fans, the Sunday night football game was displayed behind the bar on a giant TV, and a chef was painstakingly rolling sushi in the corner (we missed out on the live music, which happens on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights).

Sawatdee

Pad Thai with chicken

Although the Japanese portion of the menu looked tempting, we were there for the famous Thai cuisine.  It may be cliché to order pad Thai, but Sawatdee’s version never disappoints.  Slippery rice noodles are generously topped with finely ground peanuts, scrambled eggs, bean sprouts, diced green onion, and your choice of chicken, pork, tofu, shrimp, or beef.  At Sawatdee, you choose your level of spiciness on a 1-5 scale: I usually opt for a 2, which is moderately hot without being uncomfortable.

Sawatdee

Toam yum soup with tofu

The toam yum soup is a harmonious chorus of flavors: meaty straw mushrooms, a bright lemongrass and chili infused broth, fresh slivers of green onion, and pieces of your protein of choice. I chose tofu (the other options are chicken, pork, shrimp, or a seafood combo) and was treated to gloriously spongy chunks of tofu, their porous interiors saturated with spicy broth.  Besides being a tasty dinner, the soup has near-medicinal sinus clearing properties; next time I have a cold, I’m going to skip the Sudafed and head to Sawatdee.

Sawatdee’s longtime slogan has been “Thai it, you’ll like it!”  Minnesotans have been trying it, liking it, and returning for over 30 years, in testament to Sawatdee’s reliably fresh, balanced dishes.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

If you go:

Sawatdee-Maple Grove
http://www.sawatdee.com/loc_maplegrove.html
7885 Main Street North
Maple Grove, MN 55369
(763) 494-5708

Additional locations in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Eden Prairie, and St. Cloud

Sawatdee on Urbanspoon

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Maple Glaze

Last week, I felt like a cross between Piglet being blown away in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and the autumn version of the Grinch.  It was relentlessly gray, with precipitation ranging from a light drizzle to a downpour and brutal wind gusts knocking down expectant leaves just as they started to show a hint of yellow.  Since it’s getting dark earlier and earlier, I had to shift my evening runs indoors, pounding out mile after mile on my treadmill while staring at a beige window shade.

But on Saturday the sky was finally blue, the kind of clear, redeeming blue you only notice after a long spell of dreariness.  Determined to take advantage of the not-as-miserable weather, I trudged over to the library (actual temperature: 42 degrees Fahrenheit; “real feel” with windchill: 30 degrees Fahrenheit), to browse the semi-annual used book sale.  I found a slew of Agatha Christie books for my collection, including two I hadn’t read before–as a fan since age 13, this is becoming increasingly rare–and a 1963 first edition copy of Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book for a mere 50 cents.  As I walked home in a happier frame of mind, I reflected on fall’s redeeming virtues.  I can accessorize with my hand knits: multicolored scarves, cabled wrist warmers, and a raspberry-colored beret that makes me feel like a film noir heroine when I tilt it rakishly off to one side.  I relish waking up to a cold house on  Saturday mornings just as the furnace kicks on, cocooned under a quilt with Mike and drowsily secure in the knowledge that I don’t need to get out of bed until I want to.

And then there’s the food: the roasted acorn squashes that become my default weekend lunch, their orange flesh scooped from brittle skins and mixed with a bit of butter and a lot of salt and pepper, and the apples that fill the refrigerator, starting with Zestar and SweeTango in September and Regents by the end of October.  But perhaps most importantly, fall marks pumpkin baking season.  I started off a few weeks ago with pumpkin mini muffins, and continued with a batch of pumpkin oatmeal cookies for a housewarming potluck.

These are cake-like cookies, more akin in texture to a muffin than a standard chocolate chip cookie, with strong notes of warming cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Unglazed, the oatmeal makes them a bit wholesome tasting, but the maple glaze places the finished cookies decisively in dessert territory.  I halved the amount of glaze in the original recipe, since I was transporting the cookies and didn’t want them to be too gooey.  Mike thinks that more glaze would make a good cookie even better, while I think it would make these tooth-achingly sweet.  It’s your call–make the recipe as written, and add more glaze if desired.

Adapted from Chow Yield: 45 cookies

Ingredients:

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies Ingredients

Cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups old-fashioned (rolled) oats
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
15-ounce can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

Maple Glaze Ingredients

Glaze:
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and mix until well-incorporated.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix just until combined.  Add half of the pumpkin and mix just until combined.  Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and pumpkin.

Place 2 tablespoon (1/8 cup) mounds of cookie dough on the prepared baking sheets.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies before baking

Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops of the cookies are set and the bottoms and edges are just starting to brown.  Save parchment paper and place cookies on wire racks to cool.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

When cookies are completely cool, set them on the parchment paper as close together as possible.

Combine the powdered sugar, milk, and maple syrup in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Using a fork, drizzle glaze over the cookies.  If glaze is too thick to drizzle, add additional milk as needed to achieve desired consistency.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Maple Glaze

Allow the glaze to completely set, about 20-30 minutes.  Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Maple Glaze

Review: Holy Land

If the Holy Land is busy, you may find yourself queued up between packages of feta cheese and piles of olives–the Middle Eastern counter-service eatery shares space with a specialty grocery store of the same name.  The restaurant’s décor is brightly utilitarian, but any similarities to a fast food franchise end there.  A glance into the open kitchen reveals several slowly rotating vertical spits of lamb meat, barrel-sized rice cookers, and a half dozen rotisserie chickens spinning their way through leaping flames.  But despite all the meat on display, the Holy Land is a rare budget-friendly restaurant with plentiful and interesting vegetarian options (in other words, it’s the perfect cheap date night for this mostly-vegetarian and her enthusiastically omnivorous husband).

photo 2

Appetizer sampler: stuffed grape leaves, baba ghannuj, falafel, and hummus

Holy Land Falafel Salad

Falafel salad

The appetizer sampler (which happens to be vegetarian) consists of large servings of hummus and baba ghannuj, a side salad, and two pieces each of the falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and pitas.  The highlights of the sampler are the falafel, their green parsley-hued interiors a bright flavor contrast to the deep-fried exterior; and the pitas, which are baked fresh daily.  The hummus and grape leaves are well-prepared but not particularly memorable, and the overpowering bitterness of the baba ghannuj made it impossible to eat more than a few bites.  Next time, I’ll stick with the falafel, which I further enjoyed in the form of a falafel salad; they can also be ordered as a 10-piece appetizer, pita sandwich, or wrap.

Holy Land Gyro

Gyro with side of hummus

The gyro is your chance to try some of the meat you were watching rotate earlier, skillfully shaved from a vertical spit and served with a side salad, pitas, and your choice of rice, hummus, or fries.  The meat is crisp and peppery, with a potato chip-like addictive quality–I don’t think I’ve ever seen my sister eat that much meat in one sitting.

Holy Land Chocolate Baklava

Chocolate baklava

Tempting as it may be to finish your dinner, pack up some of it to go (everything at the Holy Land seems to come in super-sized portions–just ask at the counter for a box). You need to save some room for a piece of chocolate baklava, its thin layers of chocolate a subtle complement to the classic honey and walnut flavor profile.

Your Holy Land experience doesn’t need to end with dessert: you can buy the Holy Land’s hummus and fresh bread at the adjacent grocery store, as well as halal meats, olives, cheese, dates, spices, dry goods, and baklava (and for some reason, Ethiopian ingredients; the Holy Land is my injera and berbere source for Ethiopian Yellow Split Pea Stew).

Although service is minimal by design at a counter-service restaurant, the Holy Land’s employees seem dedicated to providing an excellent customer experience.  During our visit, the cash registers crashed due to a computer glitch, and it took an extended period of time to get them up and running.  As the line grew longer and longer, the cooks came out from the kitchen to apologize profusely, hand out coupons for $5 off our orders, and offer us complimentary beverages while we waited.  The food was well worth the wait, and the proactive customer-focused service was some of the best I’ve experienced, at any price point.

★★★½ out of 4 (recommended)

If you go:

Holy Land
http://holylandbrand.com/
2513 Central Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
(612) 781-2627

The Holy Land also has a location in the Midtown Global Market, with a smaller grocery selection (they do carry injera)
920 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 870-6104

Holy Land on Urbanspoon

On the Road: Seattle

As longtime readers may have noticed from past posts about our Baltic cruise and our trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Mike and I travel at a hectic pace. Our philosophy is that since vacations are short, cram in as many experiences and as much local food as possible–you can relax back at home.

On my recent solo trip to Seattle for the International Food Blogger Conference, my handy downtown hotel enabled me to make the Pike Place Market my home away from home, and I took advantage of the sunny, unseasonably warm days with several walks around the city.  Here are some of my discoveries:

Seattle Food

Clockwise from upper left: Smoked salmon crumpet from The Crumpet Shop; cinnamon cardamon braid from Piroshky Piroshky; marionberry frozen yogurt from Shy Giant Frozen Yogurt; épinard feuilletés and croissant la framboise from Le Panier; raspberry glazed raised and pumpkin old-fashioned doughnuts from Top Pot Doughnuts

Food:

  • The Russian pastries at Piroshky Piroshky (Pike Place Market, 1908 Pike Place) are a carbohydrate addict’s fantasy fulfilled: flaky puff pastry or hearty bread encasing savory or sweet fillings.  The savory piroshkies include many vegetarian options; although I loved the soft, freshly baked exterior of my mushroom, onion, and celery piroshky, the celery-heavy filling was overwhelming bitter.  I had better luck with the sweet piroshkies: the cinnamon cardamon braid is a dessert for people who love bread, with a doughy pastry flavored throughout with cinnamon and cardamon and brushed with a citrus glaze (I was initially hesitant to try the braid since raisins were listed as an ingredient, but I found exactly one).  Also recommended is the chocolate cream hazelnut roll featuring a springy housemade filling studded with bits of hazelnut.
  • If you can find a seat, the cheery Le Panier (Pike Place Market, 1902 Pike Place) is the perfect place to rest your feet and appreciate the art of French baking.  If the bakery is full, you still need to try the pastries—just get them to go.  I enjoyed the croissant la framboise, each bite through its seemingly infinite airy layers revealing a filling that tastes exactly like my mother’s homemade raspberry jam, made lovingly in small batches; and the épinard feuilletés, a puff pastry with a liberally salted and cream-enriched spinach filling that actually left me disappointed that my final bite consisted only of pastry.  Although I’ve never been to France, I suspect that the offerings are up to French standards: the dignified gentleman seated next to me was reading Le Monde and tucking into an éclair with gusto.
  • I expected Seattle in September to be cloudy and cool, but instead I got a sunburn and was in need of something cold after a sweat-inducing trek along the waterfront.  The tart marionberry frozen yogurt at Shy Giant Frozen Yogurt (Pike Place Market, 1500 Pike Place, No. 16) fit the bill: briskly tart, the only sweetness coming from the berries.  The other daily frozen yogurt selections were traditionally sweet vanilla and chocolate.  In addition to their housemade frozen yogurt, Shy Giant also serves locally made Snoqualmie gourmet ice cream.
  • In a city defined by coffee, The Crumpet Shop (Pike Place Market, 1503 First Avenue) is filled with the aroma of tea, with employees madly toasting crumpet after crumpet beneath an Alice in Wonderland mural.  You can get a bag of six crumpets to go, or you can order a toasted crumpet with sweet or savory toppings like lemon curd, chocolate hazelnut spread, pesto, or English cheese.  I opted for a crumpet spread with a pale pink smoked salmon cream cheese and topped with cucumbers.  The thick crumpet’s crisp toasted exterior yielded to a spongy interior, while the smoked salmon spread melted into the crannies.  If you enter the shop through the back door, be sure to leave through the front–you can see crumpet making in progress from the sidewalk-facing window.
  • The pumpkin old-fashioned doughnuts advertised on a sidewalk placard drew me through the door of Seattle-based Top Pot Doughnuts (flagship cafe at 2124 Fifth Avenue, plus other locations), but when I came face to face with the glass case of doughnuts I couldn’t bring myself to just buy one.  The lemon old-fashioned and cinnamon sugar-dusted sandcastle chocolate cake doughnuts were tempting, but when I noticed that the raspberry glazed raised doughnut had flecks of raspberry puree in its brilliant pink glaze, my decision was made.  The orange-tinged pumpkin old fashioned doughnut had a pleasingly crusty texture and tasted like the familiar pumpkin pie spice blend of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Since I ordered the unglazed version, it had only a hint of sweetness.  The raised doughnut, on the other hand, was a billowy serving of dessert for breakfast, with lots of sugar and a bit of fruit.  It’s larger than a lesser doughnut would have any right to be—a cup of black coffee to balance the sweetness is a must.  As an added bonus, the Fifth Avenue location is a nice hangout, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a loft.

Shopping:

  • Chukar Cherries (Pike Place Market, Main Arcade, 1529-B Pike Place) has a slew of delectable chocolate-covered dried fruit and other goodies.  I’m partial to the Black Forest cherries, dried Bing cherries covered with bittersweet cocoa.  The helpful people behind the counter are happy to let you sample the different varieties before you buy.
  • If you prefer a healthier treat, the dried apple chips at Simply the Best (Pike Place Market, 88 Pike Street) are made without any added sugar or preservatives.  I have been happily munching my way through a giant bag of the Golden Delicious chips; they also offer Granny Smith, Fuji, and Honeycrisp apple chips in addition to a wide range of other dried fruits.
  • An entire wall of Market Spice (Pike Place Market, 85 Pike Street) is filled with canisters of every spice you’ve ever heard of, and lots that you haven’t, in addition to colored sugar, spice blends, and hot chocolate mix.  Since the spices are sold by the ounce, you can buy as much or as little as you want.  The shop also sells coffee beans and their own signature tea blends.
  • For those who prefer paper over a GPS, Metsker Maps (Pike Place Market, 1511 First Avenue) has every map imaginable, as well as guidebooks, globes, and other geographical merchandise.

What to See:

  • The Seattle Aquarium (1483 Alaskan Way) was one of the highlights of my trip.  The aquarium is focused on the animals and ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, and its open-air bird and mammal exhibits and pier location integrate you into the environment you’re learning about.
  • The iconic panorama of the Seattle skyline from the Kerry Viewpoint (211 W Highland Drive) makes it well worth the uphill climb from downtown.
  • Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Avenue) and the adjacent Myrtle Edwards Park (3130 Alaskan Way) are a half hour waterfront stroll from the Pike Place Market.  Myrtle Edwards Park in particular is a relaxing escape from the crowds, with a rocky shoreline that reminded me of Lake Superior’s North Shore, plus mountains.
  • I took a brief walk through Pioneer Square, Seattle’s original downtown, and would love to spend more time exploring the neighborhood on a future trip.
  • It may be obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway: although it’s a bit of a tourist trap, the view of Mt. Rainer from the top of the Space Needle (400 Broad Street) on a clear day is still amazing.
Seattle Shopping and Sightseeing

Clockwise from bottom left: array of spices at Market Spice; Seattle Aquarium; Myrtle Edwards Park; view from Kerry Viewpoint; view from observation deck of the Space Needle

Pumpkin Madness

Pumpkin Spice Products

A small sampling of pumpkin products: Siggi’s Pumpkin & Spice 2% Skyr, Noosa Pumpkin Yoghurt, and Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice Morsels

Pumpkin spice.  What started with a latte has morphed into its own merchandise season, overlapping with the end of “back to school” and the beginning of “Halloween.”  Since I don’t spend all that much time in the processed foods aisles of my grocery store, I’ve been in ignorance of the Big Bang-style explosion of pumpkin and pumpkin spice products.  But a bag of pumpkin spice candy corn piqued my interest, and I embarked on an informal survey of pumpkin products.

Because I am the sort of person who loves lists, I’ve compiled a list of what I found.  Obviously, I didn’t sample the majority of the products listed—the resulting caffeine and sugar high would have lasted until Easter.  However, I did purchase a cup of Siggi’s Pumpkin & Spice skyr (a super-thick Icelandic-style yogurt) and a bag of Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice morsels, and received a free sample of Noosa Pumpkin yoghurt.  I have high hopes for all three, and will report back (*see product review footnotes below).  Weirdest products I spotted?  Either the Frontera Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa or Torani Pumpkin Pie Flavored Sauce (like hot fudge, except orange and pumpkin pie flavored), both at Cost Plus World Market.

Groceries
My in-no-way scientific methodology consisted of wandering up and down the aisles of the stores I visited over the past few weeks: Cub Foods, Target, Trader Joe’s, and Cost Plus World Market.  Products that listed “pumpkin” on the ingredient list are marked with an asterisk (*).  However, be forewarned that  pumpkin was often in the “contains less 2%” section of the ingredient list.

Baked Goods
Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Swirl Bread* (Cub Foods)
Pumpkin Spice Cake* (Trader Joe’s)

Baking Mixes and Ingredients
Betty Crocker Pumpkin Bar Mix* (Target)
Betty Crocker Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix* (Target)
In the Mix Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix* (Cost Plus World Market)
Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice Morsels (Target)
Pumpkin Bar Baking Mix* (Trader Joe’s)
Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix* (Trader Joe’s)
Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix* (Trader Joe’s)
Pumpkin Pancake & Waffle Mix* (Trader Joe’s)
So’fella Pumpkin Spice Bread Mix* (Cost Plus World Market)
Sticky Fingers Pumpkin Spice Scone Mix* (Cost Plus World Market)
World Market Pumpkin Spice Pancake & Waffle Mix* (Cost Plus World Market)

Beverages
Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Coffee K-cup (Target)
Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Ground Coffee (Target)
Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Ground Coffee-Decaf (Target)
Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Sugar Free Coffee Syrup (Target)
Café Escapes Café Pumpkin Spice K-cup (Target)
Celestial Seasonings Sweet Harvest Pumpkin Tea* (Target)
Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice Ground Coffee (Target)
Harney & Sons Pumpkin Spice Tea (Target)
International Delight Pumpkin Pie Spice Creamer (Target)
Maxwell House International Café Pumpkin Spice (Target)
Nestle Coffee Mate Pumpkin Spice Creamer (Target)
Nestle Coffee Mate Pumpkin Spice Creamer-Sugar Free (Target)
Paramount Coffee Co. Sweetie Pie Pumpkin Pie Ground Coffee (Target)
Paramount Coffee Co. Stud Muffin Pumpkin Spice Ground Coffee (Target)
Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix* (Trader Joe’s)
Republic of Tea Pumpkin Ginger Tea (Cost Plus World Market)
Tazo Chai Pumpkin Spice Latte (Target)
Twinings Chai Pumpkin Spice Tea (Cost Plus World Market)
World Market Pumpkin Spice Coffee (Cost Plus World Market)

Candy
Brach’s Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn (Target)
Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses (Target)
Mars Pumpkin Spice M&Ms (Target)
Ovation Break-a-part Pumpkin Spice Chocolate (Cost Plus World Market)
Russell Stover Pumpkin Pie in Milk Chocolate (Cub Foods)
Trident Layers Pumpkin Spice Gum (Target)

Cereal
Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal* (Trader Joe’s)

Condiments and Garnishes
Archer Farms Oregon Pumpkin Butter* (Target)
Frontera Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa* (Cost Plus World Market)
Oregon Growers & Shippers Pumpkin Butter* (Cost Plus World Market)
Pumpkin Butter* (Trader Joe’s)
Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons* (Trader Joe’s)
Torani Pumpkin Pie Flavored Sauce (Cost Plus World Market)

Cookie Dough
Pillsbury Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Flavored Chips Cookie Dough* (Target)
Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice Cookie Dough* (Target)

Cookies
Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights Filled Cookies* (Target)
Market Pantry Pumpkin Cheesecake Crème Sandwich Cookies* (Target)
Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Cheesecake Cookies* (Target)
Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies (Target)
Reko Pumpkin Spice Pizzelles (Cost Plus World Market)
Simply Indulgent Pumpkin Glazed Cookies* (Cost Plus World Market)
South Bend Chocolate Co. Autumn Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies (Cost Plus World Market)

Dairy
Chobani Pumpkin Spice Blended 2% Greek Yogurt* (Cub Foods, Target)
Noosa Pumpkin Yoghurt* (Target)
Pumpkin Non-fat Greek Yogurt* (Trader Joe’s)
Siggi’s Pumpkin & Spice 2% Skyr* (Target)

Frozen
Pillsbury Pumpkin Pie Toaster Strudel* (Cub Foods)

Pasta
World Market Pumpkin Gnocchi* (Cost Plus World Market)
World Market Pumpkin Pasta Sauce* (Cost Plus World Market)

Snacks
Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Monster Trail Mix (Target)
Danielle Crunchy Pumpkin Chips* (Target)
Kellogg’s Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts* (Target)
Sconza Pumpkin Pie Almonds (Cost Plus World Market)
South Bend Chocolate Co. Pumpkin Crunch (Cost Plus World Market)
This Pumpkin Walks into a Bar…Cereal Bar* (Trader Joe’s)

Restaurants & Coffee Shops
This section of the list is based on national chain restaurants or coffee shops with Twin Cities locations, plus Dunkin’ Donuts, since the discovery of their pumpkin cake doughnuts was one of the highlights of our autumn trip to the East Coast a few years ago.  I used company websites to review the ingredient lists when available, and products that I could verify as containing pumpkin are marked with an asterisk(*).  If there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts in your neighborhood, have a pumpkin cake doughnut in my honor–meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying some Bruegger’s pumpkin bagels as a rather tasty consolation prize.

Baked Goods
Pumpkin Bagel (Bruegger’s Bagels*, Dunkin’ Donuts)
Pumpkin Bread (Caribou Coffee, Starbucks*)
Pumpkin Cake Donut* (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin* (Starbucks)
Pumpkin Crumb Cake Donut* (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Pumpkin Muffin* (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Pumpkin Munchkin* (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Pumpkin Pie Donut (Dunkin Donuts)
Pumpkin Scone* (Starbucks)

Beverages
Pumpkin Chai Latte (Caribou Coffee)
Pumpkin Ginger Latte* (Caribou Coffee)
Pumpkin Latte* (Caribou Coffee)
Pumpkin Spice Coffee (Bruegger’s Bagels)
Pumpkin Spice Latte (Starbucks)
Pumpkin White Chocolate Mocha* (Caribou Coffee)

Condiments
Pumpkin Cream Cheese* (Bruegger’s Bagels)

Ice Cream
Pumpkin Cheesecake Concrete Mixer* (Culver’s)
Pumpkin Pecan Concrete Mixer* (Culver’s)
Pumpkin Pie Blizzard (Dairy Queen)
Pumpkin Spice Shake* (Culver’s)
Salted Caramel Pumpkin Concrete Mixer* (Culver’s)

What are your favorite pumpkin products?  Did I miss any crazy pumpkin products that you’ve spotted?

*Product Review Footnotes: I enjoyed the intense cinnamon and nutmeg spiciness and very light sweetness of Siggi’s Pumpkin & Spice 2% Skyr, but it was thinner than their other flavors.  I missed the super-thick, stand-a-spoon-upright-in-it texture I expect from Siggi’s.

The Noosa Pumpkin Yoghurt tasted like pumpkin pie blended into whipped cream, and the ingredient list reveals why: the pumpkin puree at the bottom includes cream cheese and cane sugar, while the whole-milk yogurt itself contains cream, honey, and more cane sugar.  I prefer a thicker, less sweet yogurt, but if you’re a yogurt-as-dessert kind of person this should be your fall yogurt of choice.

What it’s all about

I recently attended the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC), held September 19-21, 2014 in Seattle.  In exchange for registering for the conference at the discounted blogger rate, I agreed to write three posts about the conference.  The content of this post and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

For me, food blogging is all about the writing.  I’ve wanted to be writer since the first grade, and food is easy to write about: it’s a huge topic, I’m passionate about it, and since I eat three meals a day, I have lots of material.  But at the end of the day, if food blogging didn’t exist as a medium, I would still find a way to write about something.

Blogging is a fairly solitary pursuit, and prior to my visit to Seattle last weekend for the International Food Blogger Conference, I had never met any other food bloggers in person.  I think I subliminally expected everyone to have the same blogging motivation as me: a love of writing.  But as I discovered in the space of the first 20 minutes, there are a myriad of other reasons people food blog: a passion for food photography, as a platform for corporate-sponsored recipe development, as a promotional tool for a food-related business, to generate income via ads and sponsored content, or a combination of a few or all of the above.  It seemed like everyone I met at Friday’s opening reception had an expensive camera, a branding scheme, or 2,000 Twitter followers.  I was hoping to find some kindred bloggers; instead I went to bed feeling like I was doing it all wrong, and resolved to rectify the situation by signing up for a Twitter account (unfortunately, I discovered @mymixingbowl is already taken).

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 am thanks to the time difference and spent the next two hours lying sleepless in bed (albeit a very comfortable one), panicking about the fact that not only do I lack an Instragram account, I have a pretty vague idea what Instagram even is, as well as ruminating about the pathetic blandness of my blog’s design.  But as the day went on, as I walked along the waterfront over my lunch break and enjoyed a frozen yogurt at the Pike Place Market, I realized that my goal for this blog has never been to accrue a slew of “followers” or hawk products.  What I want to do more than anything is to continue to develop as a writer, and a genuine compliment will always be worth more to me than a social media ranking.  So I spent the rest of my time at the conference taking in the events that I thought would be helpful–the writing sessions with Dianne Jacob and Shauna James Ahern were both invaluable–and I skipped the promotional pitches.  Instead, I experienced Seattle: riding to the top of the Space Needle (it may be a tourist trap, but it’s still a great view), browsing the produce stalls at the Pike Place Market, and writing in a doughnut shop with coffee and pastries at my side.  For me, that’s what it’s all about.

The tools of a food blogger's craft: doughnuts, coffee, and a laptop

The tools of a food blogger’s craft: doughnuts, coffee, and laptop

 

Review: Ginza Sushi & Grill

Full disclosure: when Mike and I go to Champlin’s Ginza Sushi & Grill, we gravitate towards the “grill” portion of the menu.  I’m fond enough of sushi, but the grill items always pique my interest more: udon and soba noodles, fried rice, and hibachi and teriyaki entrees.  My dinner of choice is the teriyaki salmon bento, ideal for those who like to try a little bit of everything as well as obsessive-compulsive types who hate it when their food touches.

Miso Soup and Salad

Salad with ginger dressing and miso soup

Teriyaki Salmon Bento

Teriyaki salmon bento

Although the meal starts with a lackluster miso soup and iceberg salad drowning in a sea of weak ginger dressing, the main course is artistic in execution: a bento box with precisely assembled portions of teriyaki glazed salmon and steamed broccoli and carrots, white rice garnished with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, a California roll, harumaki (a fried vegetable spring roll), and cream cheese wontons (in no way authentic, but still very tasty).  The salmon is moist, with a teriyaki sauce that neatly walks the tightrope of flavor without becoming overly salty, while the vegetables are cooked to crisp perfection and serve to soak up the excess teriyaki sauce.

Gyoza

Gyoza (fried pork dumplings)

If you’re not ordering a multi-course dinner, appetizer favorites include the wholesome-tasting giant portion of steamed edamame, lightly seasoned with salt, and the gyoza, pork dumplings served with a savory dipping sauce.  The vegetable rolls are a light, fresh option, whether or not you’re a vegetarian; in lieu of fish, they’re filled with cucumber, avocado, asparagus, or more intricate combinations of vegetables, tofu, and seaweed.

As far as atmosphere, Ginza Sushi & Grill has a sleek contemporary decor that’s a notch or two above the typical strip mall eatery, with a subdued ambiance that makes it perfect for a quiet date night or a happy hour meet up where you can actually hear your tablemates.

The wide range of Japanese dishes and quiet surroundings make Ginza Sushi & Grill a satisfying, Zen-like change of pace in an area of the metro mostly populated with chain restaurants and sports bars.  Now I just need to delve into the sushi side of the menu.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

If you go:

Ginza Sushi & Grill
http://www.ginzachamplin.com
11460 Jefferson Court
Champlin, MN 55316
763-421-0268

Ginza Sushi & Grill Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Mini Pumpkin Muffins

Fall has definitively arrived.  Three days last week had daily high temperatures in the 50s, Zestar and Sweet Sixteen apples have made their farmer’s market debuts, and the pumpkin patch we drive by on our daily commute is erupting with bright orange jack-o’-lanterns in the making.  There is a certain crispness to the air in the early mornings and late afternoons that I never feel in summer, however cold it gets.

In honor of the season, and also because I have been subliminally influenced by the pumpkin products relentlessly popping up in every supermarket aisle and on coffee shop menus, I made a batch of pumpkin mini muffins for a church potluck.  I’ve found that bite-sized foods tend to go over better at potlucks–since there are so many options, people are hesitant to commit to a full-sized item.  However, you might find yourself eating a full muffin’s worth of these mini muffins.  Thanks to the pumpkin, they’re soft and moist, with the perfect balance of spice and a pleasant but not overwhelming sweetness level.  The baking time is longer than a typical mini muffin, probably because the pumpkin makes the batter rather dense.

Adapted from “3 for 100″ Mini Pumpkin Muffins by Libby’s PumpkinYield: about 4 dozen mini muffins

Ingredients:

Mini Pumpkin Muffins Ingredients

15-ounce can pumpkin
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon all spice, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line mini muffin cups with paper liners.

Mix the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and canola oil in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix just until dry ingredients are incorporated.  Batter will be lumpy.

Spoon one tablespoon of batter into each mini muffin cup.

Mini Pumpkin Muffins Ingredients

Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops of muffins are dry to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Place on a wire rack to cool.

Mini Pumpkin Muffins

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Mini Pumpkin Muffins