Product Review: Ritter Sport Chocolate

RItter Sport

I have a minor obsession with Ritter Sport chocolate.  I think it has something to do with the colorful wrappers–I have a compulsive urge to collect every single one, stack them in my pantry, and gaze upon my personal chocolate rainbow.

Of course, Ritter Sport is also very good chocolate.  I was introduced to it on a study abroad trip to Germany, and since then it keeps serendipitously crossing my path.  One of the best flights of my life was a trip home from Portland seated next to Ritter Sport’s U.S. brand representative–he regaled us with jokes about chocolate business (“What’s the difference between male and female chocolate? Male chocolate has nuts.”) and gave us limited edition Christmas-themed Ritter Sport bars.  During our Baltic cruise, we happened across Ritter Sport Colorful Chocoworld on an excursion to Berlin, and my biggest regret of that trip is that it was too hot to stock up on chocolate bars.  In the Twin Cities, I’ve found that Kramarczuk’s has the best selection, with 16 of the 19 varieties available in the U.S.  For national retailers, Cost Plus World Market carries 12 varieties plus Ritter Sport minis, Target stocks several varieties, and I occasionally find a bar or two at Trader Joe’s.

Because I am the sort of person who reviews Peeps and compiles lists of pumpkin products, I have spent the past eight months systematically sampling Ritter Sport bars in an attempt to review all of the varieties currently available in the U.S. (it was a tough job, but someone had to do it).  I’ve rated each bar on as a GET IT, YOUR CALL, or SKIP IT.

  • Alpine Milk Chocolate (light blue wrapper): 30% cocoa milk chocolate made with milk from the Alps.  A high-quality chocolate, but with too much milkiness and not enough cocoa for my taste.  YOUR CALL.
  • Butter Biscuit (brown wrapper): milk chocolate wrapped around tiny squares of a shortbread cookie.  If you’ve always wished that chocolate dipped cookies had more chocolate and less cookie, this is the candy bar for you.  Since I found the cookie quality to be somewhat mediocre, this is YOUR CALL.
  • Cocoa Mousse (light brown wrapper): milk chocolate with a whipped cocoa cream filling, divided into 9 pieces instead of the usual 16.  Disappointingly, this bar just tasted like milk chocolate–the dark chocolate mousse has little to no flavor of its own.  SKIP IT.
  • Coconut (pale blue wrapper): milk chocolate with coconut flakes in a milk and coconut filling.  The pieces of coconut provide an interesting texture, but I think a bittersweet dark chocolate would have been a better pairing with this sweetened filling.  YOUR CALL.
  • Cornflakes (yellow wrapper): milk chocolate with bits of cornflakes.  The cornflakes provide a hint of crispiness, but no additional flavor, so I’d SKIP IT.
  • Dark Chocolate (burgundy wrapper): 50% cocoa dark chocolate.  A decent dark chocolate, but for the price I prefer a higher cocoa percentage.  YOUR CALL.
  • Dark Whole Hazelnuts (brown wrapper): dark chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts.  This bar is packed so full of hazelnuts that it’s like eating a handful of high-quality chocolate covered nuts.  Definitely GET IT.
  • Espresso (dark brown wrapper): milk chocolate with a creamy coffee filling.  This bar packs a potent coffee punch–the chocolate plays a supporting roll.  Enjoy a square or two after dinner for an easy version of dessert with coffee.  GET IT.
  • Extra Fine Dark Chocolate (black wrapper): 73% cocoa dark chocolate, divided into 36 pieces instead of the usual 16.  An intense, slightly bitter, smooth dark chocolate, very reasonably priced for the superb quality–GET IT.
  • Extra Fine Milk Chocolate (royal blue wrapper): 35% cocoa milk chocolate.  I’m not typically a fan of milk chocolate, but Ritter Sport’s version has a deeper chocolate note and creamier texture than the average, making this a GET IT.
  • Marzipan (red wrapper): dark chocolate with a marzipan filling.  The almond flavor overwhelms the chocolate (which may be a plus or minus depending on how much you like marzipan), so this is YOUR CALL.
  • Milk Chocolate with Raisins and Hazelnuts (red-brown wrapper): milk chocolate with raisins and hazelnut pieces.  Although the raisins add minimal flavor, their chewy texture combine with the extra-creamy chocolate and appealingly crunchy bits of hazelnut to make this a GET IT.
  • Milk Whole Hazelnuts (brown wrapper): milk chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts.  Packed full of hazelnuts, this bar is basically Nutella in chewable form.  Most definitely GET IT.
  • Peppermint (aqua wrapper): dark chocolate with a peppermint filling.  The creamy filling packs a breath-freshening minty punch–you’ll never want to go back to those weak foil-wrapped chocolate mints again.  GET IT.
  • Praline (indigo wrapper): milk chocolate with a creamy hazelnut paste filling.  I was expecting something similar to Nutella, but the hazelnut flavor is actually quite faint.  Since this bar mostly just tastes like milk chocolate, albeit high-quality milk chocolate, this one is YOUR CALL.
  • Strawberry Creme (pink wrapper): milk chocolate with a strawberry yogurt creme filling and crispy rice bits.  The combination of a dairy-based filling, strawberry, and chocolate is reminiscent of Neapolitan ice cream minus the fake fruit taste, while the crisp rice provides an interesting texture.  GET IT.
  • White Whole Hazelnuts (cream wrapper): white chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts and crispy rice bits.  Unlike the dark and milk whole hazelnut bars, the white version includes crisp rice for a pleasantly lighter texture.  Since the white chocolate itself is fairly bland, this is YOUR CALL.
  • Whole Almonds (dark green wrapper): milk ch0colate with whole roasted almonds.  Like the hazelnut bars, this nut-dense bar is like a handful of chocolate covered almonds–GET IT.
  • Yogurt (white wrapper): milk chocolate with a yogurt filling.  This is Ritter Sport’s most unique bar, and the sweet milk chocolate is a pleasing contrast to the tangy yogurt.  If you’re in the mood to try something different, GET IT.

Macaroni and Cheese

This is a vintage Stacy and Mike recipe, from the days when a handful of handwritten recipes from my mother, Mike’s tofu stir technique, and the Betty Crocker Cookbook comprised our entire culinary knowledge.  In food writing, there is a well-worn trope about learning how to cook from a wise elder, the grandparent or parent who imparts decades of wisdom about roasting a chicken or canning pickles.  That is not my story, since I was spoiled–I have a mother who made homemade dinners for us nearly every night.  Since I didn’t need to, I lacked the motivation to learn how to cook, and I was content to subsist on spaghetti noodles topped with shredded cheddar cheese on the rare occasions when I had to fend for myself.

You can criticize the Betty Crocker Cookbook for hawking the company’s baking mixes and condensed soups, featuring some dubious “ethnic” recipes, and tending towards meat and carbohydrate heavy-dishes in lieu of more vegetable-centric cuisine.  But when I left home at age 21 and finally started cooking in earnest, I needed Betty Crocker’s helpful pictorial tutorial on page 221 about how to properly scramble eggs and the handy chart on page 375 giving water amounts and cooking times for various types of rice.  Learning to cook is a process, and Betty Crocker gave me the basics, like this from-scratch macaroni and cheese recipe that started me on my journey to the quinoa, kale, and Ethiopian split pea stew ahead.

This isn’t an overly decadent macaroni and cheese: I’ve reduced the amount of butter and cheese from the original recipe, and I prefer the heartiness of whole-wheat pasta.  However, this isn’t a “diet” meal either, since it still contains a respectable amount of full-fat cheese.  Usually we opt for sharp Cheddar, but this time around I wanted to use up a block of Swiss.  It was tasty, but I prefer the extra zip of sharp Cheddar.  Note that Worcestershire sauce contains fish, so omit it for a strictly vegetarian dish.

Adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients

2 cups dry whole-wheat macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, preferably sharp Cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour, salt, pepper, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce, if using, and stir to form a thick paste.  Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly and breaking up lumps as needed.  Continue to stir and cook at a boil for a minute.

Remove from heat and stir in cheese.  Fold in prepared pasta and pour into an ungreased 2 quart casserole dish.

Macaroni and Cheese Before Baking

Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Review: Khyber Pass Cafe

If you’re the kind of person who likes bucket lists, a visit to Khyber Pass Café for an Afghani dinner checks off one of the 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die (the restaurant is specifically recommended).  On the other hand, reducing an entire country’s cuisine to a single list item in the pursuit of racking up frantically-paced life experiences kind of misses the point.  Don’t just scarf down your meal at Khyber Pass Café and depart, having experienced Afghani cuisine once and for all.  Instead, return again and again: the café is a cozy place to spend a Friday evening, you can customize your meal with an assortment of house-made chutneys, and everything down to the side order of spinach is prepared with care.

Khyber Pass Cafe

Chutney Sampler with ginger-jalapeno, cranberry, and cilantro walnut chutneys

The menu encourages you to accompany your meal with one of the house-made chutneys–since I couldn’t settle on one, I skipped the entrée and ordered the chutney sampler, which includes three chutneys of your choosing and a basket of pillowy-soft Afghani bread.   I tried the ginger-jalapeno, cranberry, and cilantro-walnut chutneys.  The ginger-jalapeno chutney was the spiciest, and the strident ginger note made it too overwhelming to enjoy on bread.  However, it was a welcome addition to my side of spinach and would also pair well with rice or chicken.  The cranberry chutney was identified on the menu as “slightly spicy”, but I just detected a pleasant balance between tartness and sweetness.  My favorite chutney was the cilantro-walnut, shimmering with cilantro and a generous helping of salt.

Khyber Pass Cafe

Sabzee (spinach cooked with leeks and spices)

As mentioned above, the spinach was best when paired with the ginger-jalapeno chutney, and I appreciated the generous serving size for a side dish.  On its own, the spinach was nicely cooked but minimally seasoned, so definitely order a chutney to accompany it.

Khyber Pass Cafe

Kofta and aloo (meatballs and potatoes)

In a city strongly influenced by Scandinavian immigrants, it seems a bit lame to go to an Afghani restaurant and order one of the most familiar items on the menu: kofta and aloo, or beef meatballs with potatoes.  However, Khyber Pass’s version is a welcome detour from the Ikea-style Minnesota classic, with curry-flavored potatoes and lean meatballs drizzled with cilantro-walnut chutney.  The meal is rounded out with a side salad and a serving of rice.

Other items on the menu include several preparations of organic New Zealand lamb, a build-your-own vegetarian combo plate, and chicken kebabs.  Thursdays feature live music at 9 pm (check the website for details), and there’s a rotating dinner special on Friday and Saturday evenings. Service is attentive without being rushed, and the textiles hanging from the ceiling provide lovely décor and acoustics conducive to conversation.

Regardless of your stance on culinary bucket lists, a meal at Khyber Pass Café with a side of cilantro-walnut chutney is an experience worth having.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

Khyber Pass Café
http://khyberpasscafe.com/
1571 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
(651) 690-0505

Khyber Pass Cafe on Urbanspoon

Green Shakshuka

Usually this is the time of year when I post my annual gripe about springtime in Minnesota, a season that is more likely to feature blizzards than blossoming tulips (Mike: “Did you have Easter egg hunts when you were a kid?” Me: “No, because there was always snow on the ground.”)  In contrast, this spring has been unusually spring-like.  Warmer-than-average temperatures melted all of the snow in March, and there weren’t any late-season snowstorms to replenish it.  April has been an idyllic picture-book vision of springtime renewal, with green grass, budding trees, and breezy days in the 60s and 70s.  Honestly, it’s a little weird–I keep looking over my shoulder, convinced that a blast of Arctic air is going to swoop down from the north and spoil everything.

But if a lifetime of dealing with Minnesota weather has taught me anything, it’s that you roll with whatever Mother Nature throws your way.  In the winter, you bundle up in a down parka and hand-knit wool accessories, keep a snow shovel in the car trunk, and eat a lot of soup.  In the summer, you savor dinner on the patio every evening and go to Sebastian Joe’s for ice cream.  And if you are blessed with the rare Minnesota spring, you spend your lunch breaks in Loring Park, watching the ducks paddle around the lake as you relish the sun on your face, and when you go home you cook up a spicy combination of leeks, spinach, and eggs for dinner, which you then eat on the patio.

Shakshuka is a North African egg dish typically made with a tomato-based sauce, but this version substitutes sautéed spinach.  I seasoned the dish with a diced habanero pepper, which was a bit much; I’d recommend using half a pepper, or leaving it out completely if you don’t like spicy food.  Be sure to use an oven-proof skillet–after cooking the vegetables on the stovetop, you add the cheese and eggs and finish the dish in the oven.  We served this with toast, but it would also be good with a side of wheat berries or bulgur.

Adapted from the Kitchn recipe by Karen Biton-Cohen

Ingredients:

Green Shakshuka Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 habanero pepper, finely diced (optional)
5 ounce package baby spinach (about 2 cups tightly packed)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup feta cheese
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat.  Add oil and tilt to evenly coat.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and pepper, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is golden, about 3 minutes.  Add the spinach, oregano, and cumin and stir until spinach is wilted.

Cooked spinach mixture

Remove skillet from heat.  Sprinkle the feta over the cooked spinach mixture.  Crack the eggs over the spinach mixture, evenly spacing them around the edge of the skillet.

Green Shakshuka Before Baking

Transfer skillet to oven and bake for 14 minutes, or until edges of eggs are set.

Green Shakshuka

Review: Everest on Grand

Everest on Grand’s lofty slogan–“The Tallest Taste”–seems at odds with the restaurant’s location in nondescript one-story brick building.  But the brightly-hued interior is more promising, with the delectable aromas of Nepali, Tibetan, and Indian cuisine wafting off the buffet table.  The daily lunch buffet is offered from 11:30 to 3:00, with a rotating selection of soups, bread, rice, and meat and vegetable curries.  Otherwise, you can order from the regular menu, which includes momo (steamed dumplings), noodles, roasted tandoor dishes, and an array of vegetarian, chicken, lamb, goat, yak, and fish curries.

Everest on Grand

Vegetable Momo

Although the lunch buffet is tempting, try the momo, Nepali/Tibetan steamed dumplings filled with vegetables (spinach, cabbage, and onion), meat (ground turkey and pork), chicken, or yak.  Carefully pleated and plump with filling, the momo have a soothing doughy texture, and the tasty spinach-heavy filling of the vegetable momo provides the smug satisfaction of actually enjoying food with some redeeming nutritional value.  But the highlight is the momo achaar, a spicy house-made tomato-based sauce with cilantro and a uniquely delicious combination of spices–I found myself scraping the last bits of sauce up with my fork after I ran out of dumplings.

Everest on Grand

Daal

Everest on Grand

Roti, minus my first bites

A half order of momo makes for a satisfying lunch, especially when paired with a bowl of daal or piece of roti.  The daal is a brothy lentil soup, with a warming gingery flavor profile.  The roti, a platter-sized round of bread, has papery-crisp exterior and a thin, wholesomely wheaty chewy interior.  It’s a perfect for sopping up daal, and I should have thought to try it with my leftover momo sauce.

The restaurant’s only drawback was the sluggish lunchtime service, possibly due to a focus on the buffet.  So settle in, admire the framed poster of the Himalayas, and eagerly anticipate your order of St. Paul’s tallest taste, served in a convenient dumpling form with a sauce of sky-high deliciousness.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

Everest on Grand
http://www.everestongrand.com/
1278 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
(651) 696-1666

Everest on Grand on Urbanspoon

Favorite Twin Cities Coffee and Tea Shops

My love of coffee shops far outstrips my need for coffee–I never really picked up the habit, and sleep issues have led me to dial way back on my caffeine consumption.  But the appeal of coffee shops transcends the actual coffee: the whirring of blenders, the bulletin board of flyers promoting local bands, the smell of fresh grounds and baked goods.  And when it comes to writing, I am far more productive in a coffee shop, where I’m paying good money for the privilege of sitting there, compared to at home, with the distractions of laundry and random Internet browsing.  Here are my favorite spots in the Twin Cities for grabbing a cappuccino or herbal tea and a snack and getting some writing done.

Favorite Coffee and Tea Shops

Clockwise from upper left: Nina’s Coffee Cafe; desserts at Truffles & Tortes Dessert Cafe; herbal tisane at the Tea Garden

  • Nina’s Coffee Cafe, St. Paul.  Ambiance-wise, this is my favorite–it’s located in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, in a historic building with high ceilings, exposed brickwork, a bookstore in the basement, and for some reason, a six-foot replica Statue of Liberty.  The cappuccinos are frothier than you can can imagine, and best when paired with one of the incredibly dense, big-enough-to-share brownies (I’ve never attempted to eat one solo).  Other good beverage bets are the chai latte and Montana Gold herbal tea.  Nina’s always seems to be bustling, so be prepared to circle around a bit to find a spot.
  • Truffles and Tortes Dessert Cafe, Anoka.  In the fall, the pumpkin lattes are a must-try: in contrast to the chain coffee shop versions, they’re light on sweetness but strong on the spice.  In the summer, try a mocha or caramel frappe.  However, as the name suggests, the best thing about Truffles and Tortes is the desserts.  They’re a bit on the pricey side, but one dessert easily serves two.  Favorites include the Bailey’s rhumba, which is a light, creamy mousse laced with Bailey’s atop a thin layer of chocolate cake and coated with a chocolate ganache; the Andes mint rhumba, which features a refreshing minty mousse; and the red velvet cake, sold by the slice.  They also serve a small selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches.  The major drawback is that the WiFi is turned off between 10 am and 3 pm.
  • The Tea Garden, various locations.  Since I am primarily a tea drinker, the Tea Garden is my favorite beverage stop.  According to their website, there are over 2.3 million drink combinations, ranging from ice tea lattes and shakes to pots of loose leaf tea.  One of my favorite cold drinks is iced green tea with pomegranate or raspberry flavoring and tri-colored jellies.  My favorite hot loose leaf tisanes (aka herbal teas) are Eve’s Temptation, with a tart apple flavor, and Par Amour, a blend of strawberry and hibiscus.  As added bonus, there is a buy-one-get-one-half-priced discount if you’re an MPR member.  Unfortunately, as of late the food options have been limited to packaged snacks.

Any other Twin Cities coffee or teas shops I should check out?

Review: QuickFire Pizza

QuickFire Pizza is a restaurant name that tells you exactly what to expect: individually-sized pizzas, baked in a wood-fired oven and ready in a few minutes.  But at the same time, that straightforward description leaves out the details that make QuickFire one of my favorite pizza places.  As you might expect at an establishment with an 8,000 pound pizza oven imported from Italy, the crackling thin crust is the centerpiece of each pizza, complete with scorch marks and a hint of wood smoke.  Instead of the standard shredded cheese, there’s fresh mozzarella.  And the mozzarella is only the beginning of the delicious toppings.

The menu features several classic Neapolitan offerings, like Margherita and Basil Prosciutto, in addition to extravagantly topped, globally inspired specialty pies, such as the Thai Chicken, Hawaiian Pig Roast, and Cajun.  There’s also a build-your-own option, with your choice of a slew of sauces, fresh mozzarella cheese or a shredded blend, and toppings from standard (pepperoni) to the unorthodox (goat cheese, pickles, and celery).  For an extra charge, all pizzas are available with a gluten-free crust.

QuickFire Pizza

Build-your-own pizza with garlic-infused olive oil, fresh mozzarella, spinach, and mushrooms

I opted for a build-your-own with garlic-infused olive oil, fresh mozzarella, spinach, and mushrooms.  Disappointingly, the olive oil didn’t actually impart any garlic flavor–I’ll have to pay an extra 50¢ and spring for garlic as a topping next time.  The fresh mozzarella, applied with an admirable restraint, imparted welcome bursts of mellow cheesiness without gratuitous grease, and the spinach was cooked to a papery bitterness that complemented the earthy depth of the mushrooms.

QuickFire Pizza

Neapolitan-style Sausage and Roasted Red Peppers

The Neapolitan style sausage and roasted red pepper pizza included the same fresh mozzarella along with an adequate tomato sauce.  But what the tomato sauce lacked in punch was made up for by the hefty chunks of spicy Italian sausage.

In the fast-casual sector mostly dominated by national chains (Chipotle, Panera, Noodles & Co.), it’s nice to see a local place that’s doing everything right: quality ingredients, a unique menu, and a prime location in downtown Stillwater.  And of course, that amazing crust.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

QuickFire Pizza
http://quickfirepizza.com/
116 South Main St
Stillwater, Minnesota 55082
(651) 439-7009

Quickfire Pizza on Urbanspoon

Lemon-Herb Chickpea Casserole

As I’ve moved towards a mostly-vegetarian diet, my dinner repertoire has become more diverse.  Since my motivations for going meatless were primarily based on health and environmental concerns, replacing meat with copious amounts of cheese (as a friend puts it, “a cheese pizza vegetarian”) would have missed the point.  Instead, I tend towards vegetable-based meatless recipes, and I try to rely on what produce is in season.  During the summer and fall, I work through my calendar of recipes as the various crops ripen.  Linguine with asparagus becomes linguine with tomatoes or zucchini and then the growing season draws to a close with gnocchi with butternut squash.  As winter settles in, I cook from my extensive collection of dishes that rely on root vegetables, canned beans, or sturdy produce that tastes halfway decent after a cross-country journey (cabbage, leeks, and squash feature prominently).  And finally, when the snow has mostly melted and I’ve switched to my lightweight winter coat, I pull out my it-should-be-spring-already-but-I-live-in-Minnesota recipes.  These are foods that taste light and fresh, but are still hearty enough to sustain you through the inevitable April snowstorm.

This is the perfect-not-quite spring recipe: the zest and juice of a lemon provide an invigorating zip, and the herbs used (parsley and rosemary) seem to reliably travel well from distant climes.  It’s a nice change of pace from the the typical vegetarian casserole: instead of pasta and lots of cheese, it’s packed with chickpeas and bound together with yogurt, cottage cheese, and a bit of brown rice.  This recipe does take a while to prepare, so if you’re making this on a weeknight you may want to prepare it the night before and add the bread crumb topping before baking the next day.

Adapted from The Kitchn recipe by Faith Durand

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Lemon-Herb Chickpea Casserole Ingredients

1/4 cup uncooked brown rice (about 1 cup cooked)
2 eggs
1 cup low-fat small curd cottage cheese
3/4 cup full-fat regular (not Greek) plain yogurt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
3 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 large shallots, minced (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, juiced and zested (about 1/4 cup juice and 1 tablespoon zest)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Prepare rice according to package directions.

Meanwhile, beat eggs in a medium bowl.  Stir in cottage cheese, yogurt, 1/2 cup Parmesan, parsley, and rosemary and mix until well-combined.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (if cooking the casserole the same night you are preparing it).

Combine chickpeas, shallots, garlic, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper, and prepared rice in a large bowl.  Stir in the cottage cheese mixture and mix thoroughly.  Pour mixture into prepared dish (at this point, you can refrigerate the casserole until the next day if desired).  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and bread crumbs.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until bread crumbs are golden-brown.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Lemon-Herb Chickpea Casserole

Review: The Wedge & Wheel

Stillwater’s The Wedge & Wheel cheese shop and bistro is initially daunting to the cheese ignoramus.  And by cheese ignoramus, I mean myself.   I purchase the majority of my cheese pre-shredded (the exception is feta, which is pre-crumbled), and our fridge door is home to a green plastic cylinder of grated Parmesan.  Artisan cheese is something that I appreciate on the same level as symphonies and Pilates: I can see the intrinsic value, but I don’t really get it.  So The Wedge & Wheel’s gleaming white subway tile, refined black and white color scheme, and case with unpronounceable expensive cheeses were all a bit much.  But if I never stepped out of my culinary comfort zone, I would still be subsisting on instant ramen noodles, so we settled in to try some fancy cheese.

Besides the retail side of the operation, the shop offers a small daily-changing menu of reasonably priced cheese and charcuterie (cured meat) flights, along with sandwiches, salads, beer, wine, and cider.  The cheese flights feature three different cheeses, bread, and accompaniments, and there is enough food to be shared by two as an afternoon snack (or enjoyed as a meal by one, if you really get this artisan cheese thing).

The Wedge & Wheel

American Cheese Flight

Our American cheese flight featured Humboldt Fog, a blue cheese, and a mild, slightly buttery firm cheese whose name I neglected to note (possibly Toma).  The range of flavors and textures made the flight accessible to the uninitiated–I started by sampling the mild, firm cheese, then moved on to the spreadable Humboldt Fog, and finished up with an enjoyable bite of the pungent blue cheese that I initially thought I would dislike.  In between bits of cheese, I nibbled the thoughtfully paired accompaniments: almonds lightly coated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, and pickles and olives that put the aggressively salty mass-produced grocery-store versions to shame.  The shop’s owner was on hand to bring us two rounds of extra bread and enthusiastically answer our rudimentary cheese questions, all while also chatting up customers at the retail counter and assisting other dining patrons.

Whether you’re a cheese aficionado or a hesitant novice, The Wedge & Wheel has something to offer–a wedge of cheese from across the ocean or a local farm, the most gourmet cheese sandwich you’ll ever come across, or the chance to sample a flight of cheeses and step beyond your comfort zone.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

The Wedge & Wheel
http://wedgeandwheel.com/
308 Chestnut Street East
Stillwater, MN 55082 USA
(651) 342-1687

The Wedge & Wheel on Urbanspoon

Overnight Oats with Blueberries

Breakfast: my most monotonous meal of the day.  Since I’m really not an early morning person, I rely on the convenience of cold cereal–Wednesdays and Sundays are reserved for All Bran, and the rest of the week features a rotating selection of Vanilla Almond, Maple Pecan, or Ginger Almond Cashew Trader Joe’s Just the Clusters Granola cereal.  On Saturdays, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I make oatmeal.  My usual method is to microwave some quick oats and water, but lately I discovered overnight oatmeal.  Instead of cooking the oats, you let them soak overnight in the refrigerator with milk and your choice of flavorings.  The texture is slightly chewier than cooked oats for a nice change of pace.  I prefer them on the soupy side, similar to cold cereal with milk.  For thicker oats, try reducing the milk to 2/3 cup.  The sweetness level is moderate and can also be adjusted to your liking.

Ingredients:Overnight Blueberry Oats Ingredients

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup frozen or fresh blueberries

The night before, mix oats, sugar, and cinnamon in a small container (about a 2-cup capacity) with a tightly-fitting lid.  Stir in the milk and blueberries.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, stir thoroughly and eat cold.

Overnight Oats with Blueberries