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 Pumpkin

Yield: about 4 dozen mini muffins


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.

Mini Pumpkin Muffins

Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

A couple weeks ago, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies for Mike to take up to his cabin over Labor Day.  I ate one (okay, actually two) fresh from the oven, when the cookie was soft and pliable and the chips were still melty.  It tasted like caramelized sugar, with scattered bits of semi-sweet chocolate and a dash of vanilla, but underneath those flavors it tasted like home.  I am fortunate to have a mom who is a talented baker, the sort of person who always makes brownies from scratch and marks the changing seasons with homemade pies—fresh strawberry at the beginning of summer, then blueberry, raspberry, apple as fall arrives, and finally pumpkin for Thanksgiving.  Aside from the occasional cameo appearance by Oreos, our cookie jar was filled with homemade cookies.  There were peanut butter, oatmeal, molasses, M&M, and sugar cookies, but most often the cookie du jour was chocolate chip.  My mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted.  And even better than the chocolate chip cookies themselves is the raw dough, small spoonfuls stolen from the bowl as the cookies are assembled and then the leftover bits scraped from the bowl.

Out of curiosity, I compared my mom’s recipe to the standard recipe listed on the back of my bag of Nestle chocolate chips.  The major difference is that my mom’s recipe uses margarine and shortening, which makes for a softer cookie than using the butter called for by the Nestle recipe.  My mom’s recipe also contains a half teaspoon of water, which practically speaking shouldn’t make much of a difference, but I like to think of it as the secret ingredient that makes the cookies taste so perfect.

Yield: about 4 dozen 2-inch cookiesIngredients:

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies Ingredients

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup margarine (1 stick, not spread), softened to room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon water
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips (Mom and I prefer Nestle brand)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix sugars together in a large bowl.  Add margarine, shortening, vanilla, and water and mix until light and fluffy.

Cookie Dough

Add eggs and mix until well combined.  Add flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until dry ingredients are completely incorporated.  Add chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

Using two spoons, drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto ungreased baking sheets.

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies Before Baking

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned on the edges.  Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, and then remove from baking sheets to finish cooling on wire racks.

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Review: The Mad Hatter

Located in a dignified converted mansion, with a sweeping drive and imposing front gates, the Mad Hatter is the type of special occasion restaurant that you take your grandma to for her birthday dinner.  The restaurant’s name is a reference to its beginnings as a tea room in downtown Anoka; they’ve recently relocated into a new, larger space and added dinner service.  The contemporary American menu is short and on the pricey side for an outer ring suburb, but for the most part, the food does justice to the elegant surroundings.

The Mad Hatter

The basic garden salad is generously sized—I’ve gotten smaller entrée salads.  I opted for the restaurant’s signature honey lavender dressing, which has a pleasant herbal tang, a bit of buttermilk sourness, and the faintest hint of honey.

The Mad Hatter

The ginger soy glazed baby back ribs are served with a crisp Asian slaw of peppers, onions, jalapeno, apple, daikon sprouts, enoki mushrooms, and a sesame dressing.  The ribs were expertly butchered and skillfully cooked, with a crisp outer char yielding to a juicy, tender interior, while the ginger soy glaze enhanced the pork’s flavor without overwhelming it.  The fresh crispness of the slaw balanced what could have been a too heavy dish; the only quibble was that there wasn’t quite enough slaw for the last rib.

The Mad Hatter

Instead of being simply slung onto a plate, the roasted garlic, potato, and mozzarella flatbread featured an appealing presentation of overlapping triangles, with bright purple and green sprouts, purple potatoes, and a bit of green pesto peeping out from beneath the mozzarella.  Unfortunately, the flatbread didn’t taste nearly as good as it looked.  I wasn’t able to identify the composition of the green pesto due to its extreme saltiness, which unfortunately drowned out the roasted garlic and potatoes.  In addition, much of the crust was soggy, possibly due to the layered presentation of the flatbread.

Despite the flatbread disappointment, the baby back ribs were so delicious and the surroundings so elegant that we would still consider the Mad Hatter for our next special occasion.

★★½ out of 5 (recommended with reservations)

If you go:

The Mad Hatter
1632 S Ferry Street
Anoka, MN 55303
(763) 422-4160

Mad Hatter on Urbanspoon

Salmon Avocado Appetizer

I’ve never had to cook for just myself: I spent my college years living at home, and after graduation I moved down the the Twin Cities with Mike.  Based on the sorts of low effort, slightly pathetic dinners I make for myself when Mike cooks meat entrees, I have long suspected that if left to my own devices I would subsist on oatmeal, popcorn, apples, and the occasional plate of spaghetti.  So when Mike headed out to rural Wisconsin to spend six days at his cabin, I was seized with an irrational urge to prove, once and for all, that I could cook decent meals for myself.  Granted, there was one night when I ate four ears of corn from our CSA for dinner, but that was mostly because sweet corn is best freshly picked.  My other dinners more than compensated for corn-on-the-cob Tuesday: homemade English muffins and ratatouille salad, eggplant lasagna, and charred Italian peppers with pasta.  But my best culinary effort was a salmon avocado appetizer based on the Norwegian Star’s salmon tartare appetizer I fell in love with on our Baltic cruise.

My version isn’t “tartare” since I used cooked canned salmon instead of smoked salmon, but the flavor is similar.  I used a 3 1/2 inch ring mold to make one entree-sized portion, but you could make two appetizer-sized portions by using smaller ring molds.  This would also make a nice spread on a sandwich or crackers.

Inspired by the Norwegian Star’s salmon tartare appetizer

Serves one as an entree or two as an appetizer


Salmon Avocado Appetizer Ingredients

6 ounce can sockeye salmon
1 medium avocado
2 tablespoons diced cucumber
freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste
small leaves of lettuce, toast point, or additional cucumber slices to garnish, if desired

Drain salmon and remove skin.  Place in small bowl and flake with fork.

Halve avocado and remove pit.  Scoop out flesh and add to salmon.

Add the cucumber to the salmon and avocado mixture and mix until well combined.  Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

For an entree-sized portion (pictured), press mixture into a 3 1/2-inch round ring mold.  Use two smaller ring molds if appetizer-sized portions are desired.

Salmon Avocado Appetizer in Ring Mold

To serve, remove ring mold.  Garnish with a few small pieces of lettuce, a toast point, or cucumber slices if desired.

Salmon Avocado Appetizer

This Minnesota summer was brought to you courtesy of…

Although I spent the evening eating corn-on-the-cob on my patio, it’s the day after Labor Day.  Summer is officially over.  Since summer is the reason I keep hanging around Minnesota, winter after winter, I am experiencing a bit of a post-summer slump.  Sure, fall is nice, with apples, squash, colored leaves, and pumpkin spice-flavored everything, but as each noticeably shorter day passes, subzero temperatures and piles of snow draw nearer.  My main coping strategies for most of life’s adversities are making lists, consuming copious amounts of carbohydrates, and running (nice how those last two cancel each other out).  So here’s my list of the highlights, food and otherwise, that made the summer of 2014 possible:

  • A dozen or so lemon ices from Culver’s, a Midwestern fast food chain known for its signature Butterburgers and frozen custard (also delicious).  Their lemon ice is light, refreshing, and best when topped with blueberries or raspberries.
  • Picking strawberries, eating a few pounds of them during the cleaning process, and making classic strawberry shortcake.
  • Picnics along the Mississippi River on the giant waterproof LL Bean picnic blanket I got as a birthday gift last year.  Favorite picnic food: a loaf of homemade bread, still warm from the oven, supplemented with homemade hummus and fresh vegetables and fruit from our CSA.
  • Seeing the Mississippi River at historic heights in downtown St. Paul, the day after it crested at 20.5 feet (the 7th highest level on record).
  • My first meal from a food truck, the satisfying Thai veg pasty from Potter’s Pasties.
  • Workday picnic lunches of sugar snap peas, some strawberries or watermelon, and a couple fresh rolls from Whole Foods, enjoyed on my favorite bench along the Mississippi River.
  • Running the Red White and Boom Hot Dam 5K in a respectable 26:28, since I didn’t get cut off by a train this year.
  • An amazing birthday weekend with lunch at the Finnish Bistro with my parents, sister Rachel, and Mike; a day trip to Stillwater featuring a rooftop patio lunch at the Green Room, self-serve frozen yogurt at CherryBerry, and a Key Lime truffle from Candyland; dinner at the Barbary Fig; and the happy discovery that you can get a kid-sized serving of Grand Ole Creamery ice cream in one of their house-made waffle cones (my flavor of choice is Black Hills Gold, sweet cream ice cream studded with praline pecans and Oreos).
Summer 2014

Clockwise from upper left: Culver’s lemon ice with raspberries; the view from my favorite lunchtime picnic spot along the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis; Cherry Berry tropical sorbet with fresh fruit and cookie monster frozen yogurt with cookie dough bites, brownie pieces, and chocolate syrup; view of Mississippi River flooding Harriet Island in downtown St. Paul

  • A veggie burger on the rooftop of Brit’s Pub, followed by a hilarious (and free!) performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged on the lawn bowling green.  
  • Attending a St. Paul Saints baseball game, where I ate a giant bag of cotton candy that turned my lips and mouth a highly attractive shade of blue and enjoyed the minor league antics between the innings (a tire rolling contest, men dressed in drag raking the field, a pig on a leash, etc).
  • Lots and lots of CSA vegetables, fruits, and herb plants.
  • A day trip to Red Wing for the farmer’s market and River City Days.  The food highlights were a spinach pizza from Firebrick Bread’s mobile wood-fired pizza oven, with a perfectly chewy crust and whole cloves of roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, and mocha almond fudge Izzy’s ice cream from the Red Wing Confectionary.  The non-food highlight was seeing the world’s largest boot at the Red Wing Shoe Museum.
  • Irish dancing, a concert by the Mahones, shopping, and a giant piece of Claddagh Coffee’s Dublin crumb cake at Irish Fair.
  • Taking a random Tuesday off from work to enjoy a beautiful summer day with a run in the park, blogging on the patio, more blogging and ice cream at Sebastian Joe’s, a picnic supper, and a walk around Lake Harriet.
  • Speaking of Lake Harriet, the fabulous truffle popcorn at the lakeside Bread & Pickle.
  • Spending an afternoon at the Chipotle Cultivate festival.  Yes, it was a giant commercial for Chipotle, but there was also some great music, tofu bowls from ShopHouse (Chipotle’s LA Southeast Asian restaurant), and caramel corn made with local vendor Bare Honey’s chile-infused Hot Honey.
  • A day at the Minnesota State Fair complete with a Minnesota Cooks demonstration, newborn farm animals, and cheese curds.
  • Walking around the Minneapolis lakes with my sister Rachel.
  • Enjoying dinner with Mike on our patio almost every night.
Summer 2014

Clockwise from upper left: Spinach pizza from Firebrick Bread’s mobile wood-fired pizza oven; the Bread & Pickle’s truffle popcorn and Lake Harriet; Bare Honey’s “Hot Pop” caramel corn, made with chile-infused honey; ShopHouse rice bowl with tofu, green curry, green papaya slaw, herb salad, charred green beans, chili jam, and crispy garlic


Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

A couple weeks ago, a muffin of epic proportions appeared in the office break room.  The appearance of random baked goods in and of itself isn’t noteworthy—my law firm is large enough that there is a steady stream of catered client meetings, and the remains of fruit trays, pastry assortments, and boxes of cookies regularly make their way downstairs.  But the sheer size of this muffin made it notable: it was coconut-sized, equivalent to at least three regular muffins.  No one wanted to singlehandedly eat the entire monstrosity, but as the day went on, bits of it began to disappear.  First half of the muffin was neatly carved off with a little plastic knife, then half of the remaining half, and so on.  By 3:00, all that remained of Muffinzilla was a bite-sized piece.  Part of me was curious to see if people would continue to divide the muffin into smaller and smaller pieces, until they were carefully separating mere crumbs.  But the other part of me was hungry, so I spirited the muffin piece back to my office, feeling vaguely guilty for breaking some sort of muffin-dividing social contract.  The momentary guilt was worth it: the muffin was light yet moist, with enough banana to make you feel like you were making a virtuous breakfast selection and enough chocolate to make your choice worthwhile.

I typically don’t do much breakfast baking—I’m a granola and milk kind of person—but I wanted to send some baked goods along with Mike for his Labor Day weekend trip to his cabin.  Mike’s breakfast tastes skew towards the sweeter side (true story: he occasionally drizzles chocolate syrup on Cinnamon Toasters), so banana chocolate chip muffins were perfect.  These muffins are on definitely on the sweet side, with lots of chocolate; if you’re looking for a less dessert-like breakfast, you could halve the amount of chocolate chips.  Make sure that you use very ripe, mushy bananas so that they mash easily, and tempting as it may be, don’t overmix your batter–it should be lumpy.

Adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, 10th edition

Yield: a baker’s dozen (13 muffins)


Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin Ingredients

2 very ripe medium bananas (about 1 cup mashed)
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line muffin cups with paper liners.

Mash the bananas in a medium bowl.  Add the milk, oil, and egg and stir until well-combined.  Add the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix just until dry ingredients are incorporated.  Batter will be lumpy.  Gently fold in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups until about 3/4 full.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins Before Baking

Bake for 15 minutes or until muffins are golden brown.  Remove from pan immediately and place on wire rack to cool.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

2014 Minnesota State Fair Highlights

As another summer draws to a close, it’s time for the twelve day celebration of agriculture, handicrafts, nostalgia, and gluttony that is the Minnesota State Fair.  Since the State Fair is one of the few days when I studiously ignore nutritional guidelines and consume fried food followed by staggering quantities of sugar, I tend to stick with tried-and-true favorites rather than the latest deep-fried gimmick on a stick.  Here are my classic favorites, along with a few new discoveries:

Classic Food Favorites

  • I eat them every year for a reason: the creamy texture of the soft serve at Dairy Goodness (Dairy Building) and the crispy, almost airy batter on the Mouth Trap’s deep-fried cheese curds (Food Building) make these offerings the best of their genres.
  • Mike’s favorite fair food (besides cheese curds) is the Holy Land Deli’s Mediterranean lemonade smoothie (International Bazaar), an icy concoction of freshly squeezed lemon juice and fresh mint leaves.

New Food Discoveries

  • A new offering this year, the apple rollover from Minnesota Apples (Agriculture Horticulture building) is a delightfully flaky pastry, folded around a spiced apple filling and topped with a cider glaze.
  • Since the Corn Roast (southeast corner of Nelson St. and Dan Patch Ave.) has been serving up roasted corn for 30 years, this is a new discovery only to me.  The juicy, slightly smoky roasted corn-on-the-cob is the quintessential taste of summer.
  • After a day of eating pastry, ice cream, and cheese curds, the fresh fruit at the Produce Exchange (Judson Ave., across from the International Bazaar) was exactly what I was craving.   My baseball-sized, gloriously ripe Colorado peach was the most satisfying thing I ate all day.

Other Fun Stuff

  • There are free samples of Kemps’ Pearson Candy Company-inspired ice cream from 1 pm to 2 pm daily at the Kemps booth (Cooper St., by Kemps Little Farmhands).  Mike and I both preferred the intense nuttiness of Salted Nut Roll (marshmallow ice cream with salted peanuts and caramel), with Nut Goodies (chocolate and maple ice cream with chocolate nut clusters) as a close second.
  • The Minnesota Cooks demonstrations (Carousel Park) are a highlight of the fair for me.  Chefs from restaurants across the state prepare dishes featuring local ingredients, while a panel of farmers discusses sustainable practices.  You even get to sample the delicious results.  The demonstrations only take place on one day of the fair (this year, it was Sunday, August 24), so mark your calendars for next year’s demonstrations on Sunday, August 30, 2015.
  • The History & Heritage Center (West End Market) features a fascinating exhibit about the history of the fairgrounds and a glimpse of how the fair has changed over the years.  Among many other tidbits, we learned that the Agriculture Horticulture building was a WPA project, cookie and cake baking contests were suspended during WWI due to sugar rationing, and the State Fair won a precedent-setting 1981 Supreme Court decision regarding public solicitation rights.
Top row from left:

Top row from left: apple rollover from Minnesota Apples; prize winning vegetables; middle row from left: lamb at the Miracle of Birth; bison and CSA salsa wontons from a Minnesota Cooks demonstration; deep-fried cheese curds from the Mouth Trap; bottom row from left: maple syrup and vinegar in the Creative Activities building; Colorado peach from the Produce Exchange


Review: Cossetta Alimentari

As much as I love Minnesota, I also love to travel, and since returning from our Baltic cruise my wanderlust has been in full gear.  I’m eagerly anticipating a trip to Seattle in September for the International Food Bloggers Conference, and in the meantime, we’ve been taking cheap trips to Italy by way of downtown St. Paul’s Italian food destination Cosetta Alimentari.  The sprawling brick building houses a counter service eatery, a gourmet pastry shop, an Italian grocery store, and a full-service restaurant.


Clockwise from upper left: Misticanza salad with asiago breadstick; sausage and pepper sandwich; miniature opera cake, Key Lime tart, and chocolate covered cannoli; miniature opera cake, cannoli, and chocolate mousse

The Eatery & Pizzeria has a bustling, upscale food court feel, with stations featuring salads, soup, sandwiches, pasta entrees, and pizza.  The green salads are mixed to order, from a wall shelf of brilliant greens with a pop of purple radicchio.  The misticanza salad is vegetarian friendly, with a sharply bright lemon dressing, a generous amount of pepper, and thinly shaved Parmesan.  Meat eaters would enjoy the antipasto salad, with its robust mix of high-quality genoa salami, provolone cheese, olives, and pepperoncini.  If you’re in the mood for heartier fare, the pizza features a wonderful house-made sauce and from-scratch crust, and can be ordered by the slice (cheese, pepperoni, or sausage) or as a whole pizza. The variety of hot and cold sandwiches are big enough to split, and served on loaves of wonderfully chewy house-made bread.  If the weather is nice, there’s a lovely outdoor deck off the main second floor dining area.

After you finish your meal, head back downstairs for dessert.  Stepping into the Pasticceria invokes the proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store sensation: a long glass case is filled with exquisite cookies and pastries.  Walk slowly and take your time making your selection; the visual bonanza is half the fun.  If you want to try a bit of everything, there are bite-sized versions of many of the pastries.  I’m partial to the miniature chocolate mousse, with its chocolate crust, rich chocolate ganache, and fluffy dome of mousse.  Mike’s favorite is the miniature Key Lime tart, with its flaky, buttery crust and a delicate dollop of whipped cream and dainty blueberry for garnish.  There is also wonderful gelato in a variety of flavors, labeled in Italian but with visual cues so that you can figure out what each flavor is, such as a strawberry on top of the “fràgola.”  My favorite flavor so far is the chocolate hazelnut.

The Market and Italian Grocery features a broad array of all foods Italian, with a variety of freshly baked bread; a deli with pasta salads, prepared entrees, and an assortment of meats and cheeses; a full meat counter; and Italian dry goods including pasta, sauces, olive oil, vinegars, and chocolates.  You can purchase Cossetta’s house-made pizza sauce for your homemade pizza, as well as their gelato for dessert.  I recommend the Dei Fratelli Fire Roasted Vegetable pasta sauce (not quite homemade, but the best I’ve ever had out of a jar) and the Emilia mushroom gnocchi (excellent in Butternut Squash with Gnocchi and Mushrooms).  But the bread is the highlight for me, with loaves displayed on shelves up to the ceiling and carefully handwritten signs describing the texture and crumb of each variety.  Personal favorites include the focaccia asiago breadsticks and shepherd stick ciabatta.

Whether you’re looking for supplies to cook an Italian feast, a great slice of pizza, or a delectable dessert, Cossetta is your place.  While it may not be Italy, I suspect it’s comparably delicious.

★★★½ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

Cossetta Alimentari
211 7th Street West
St. Paul, MN 55102
651- 222-3476

Cossetta Alimentari on Urbanspoon

Pasta with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

Heirloom Tomatoes

I love heirloom tomatoes.  Although this is a foodie stereotype on par with with rhapsodizing about kale and taking pictures of food in restaurants (of which I am also guilty), my feelings are nevertheless genuine.  Before eating them, I let them bask on my countertop for few days, admiring their vibrant red and purple hues and appreciating the beautiful imperfections of their lumpy surfaces.  This week’s extended tomato admiration period also gave me time to scheme about what to do with my bounty.  They were too good to add to a pasta bake or waste in a recipe that drowned out their unique flavors with overpowering ingredients.

The recipe I improvised is a fancier take on my classic pasta with fresh sauce: in addition to olive and basil, the tomatoes are combined with chives, rosemary, and lemon juice.  The garnish of toasted of pine nuts adds a richness that makes this dish taste like it took much longer than fifteen minutes to put together.  If you don’t have heirloom tomatoes, I suspect any ripe tomato would do just as nicely.

Inspired by Rebecca Miller’s Pasta with Ricotta and Heirloom Tomatoes, published in Real Simple, July 2010


Pasta with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs Ingredients

3 cups dry penne
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 pieces (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
shredded Parmesan

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking pan frequently, until pine nuts are golden, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Combine tomatoes, chives, rosemary, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.

Serve prepared pasta topped with tomato mixture, and garnish with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

Review: At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe

With its menu focused on local and sustainable ingredients, plethora of vegetarian and vegan options, and roomy booths made from salvaged lumber, Duluth’s At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe has a laid-back, earthy vibe that made this mostly-vegetarian feel right at home (the menu even features a “Hippy Farm Breakfast”)*.  We stopped by for breakfast-for-lunch on a recent trip to Duluth–on weekends breakfast is served until 3:30.  The breakfast menu features mostly classic American fare, with omelets, pancakes, French toast, and a few sandwiches, while the eclectic lunch and dinner menu includes falafel, Thai curry, and fish tacos along with Lake Superior white fish and burgers.  At Sara’s Table does a great job of accommodating a wide range of dietary preferences–besides the vegetarian and vegan options, many of the menu items can be made gluten-free upon request.

At Sara's Table

The signature cranberry wild rice French toast (which our waitress informed us had even been on TV) is served all day for good reason.  The two-slice full order comes with a side of fresh fruit, or you can get the “one-on-one”, with one slice of French toast, an egg, and fresh fruit.  Truly great French toast starts with great bread: in this case, thick, wheaty slices flecked with grains of wild rice and the occasional cranberry.  Although the French toast is tasty enough simply with its dusting of powdered sugar, you can also top it with maple syrup or oatmeal-beer-stout syrup.  I’m a big fan of maple syrup, but I found myself reaching for the oatmeal-beer-stout syrup with its dark flavor and hint of cinnamon.  The fact that the oatmeal-beer-stout syrup wasn’t quite as sweet or prominently flavored as the maple variety allowed the flavors of the French toast itself to shine.

At Sara's Table

Mike ordered the build-your-own omelet (which includes monterey jack and cheddar cheeses) and chose sausage, tomato, and mushrooms as his extra fillings.  All of the omelets are made with three eggs and come with toast and a side of home fries, fresh fruit, or fresh greens and tomato.  The omelet was satisfying, with generously sized chunks of high-quality sausage and a fluffy texture.  The home fries, while a bit short on salt, were well-cooked, tender with a slight chewiness.

A hearty At Sara’s Table breakfast is enough motivation to make anyone a morning person.  However, since breakfast is served until 3:30 p.m. on the weekends, you don’t even need to roll out of bed early–the best of both worlds.

★★★ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe
1902 East 8th Street
Duluth, MN 55812

*In a foreshadowing of future foodie things to come, Mike took me to At Sara’s Table on our first date.  At that point in my life, the locally sourced ingredients and tasty vegetarian options were lost on me, so I was happy to have the opportunity to redeem myself on our recent visit.

At Sara's Table - Chester Creek Cafe on Urbanspoon