One-Stop Shopping: Simple, good, and tasty gifts

mason shaker

Update: Cooks of Crocus Hill is open until 2pm today, Dec. 24th. Stock up!


With less than a week to go before Christmas, and plenty of spots open on our wishlists (okay, many of them for ourselves), we asked for some expert guidance from Julie Jansa, buyer at Cooks of Crocus Hill. 


Here are her picks for some outstanding holiday picks: 


For the budding mixologists: For those that like to create, check out the Homemade Gin Kit or the Mason Shaker from our pals at W&P Design in Brooklyn, NY. These folks have a passion for creating products on trend with great packaging.  


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DIY Craft Cocktails: Holiday drinks that pack a punch

holiday cocktails

I keep three main goals in mind when making cocktails for a gathering. First, I want them to be simple to prepare, without the need to make several trips to the grocery store, co-op, or liquor store. Most ingredients should already be in my kitchen or home bar. This is particularly true during the holidays, when prep time is limited, or nonexistent due to other food and hosting tasks needed that night. 


Second, I want to be able to mingle and socialize during the gathering, instead of being stuck at the bar or in the kitchen, making single drinks to order. Last, and most importantly, I want them to be delicious and something a bit out of the ordinary. After all, holiday drinks are particularly celebratory: we are toasting family and friends and marking the end of one year and the beginning of a new one.


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Hello, Holidays: Gingerbread with cinnamon icing


Though chocolate is my favorite sweet, around this time of the year I love to bake with those warm, delicious holiday spices. You know the ones I’m talking about: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.  


Along with their unique flavors, I love their warm, comforting aroma wafting through the house.  It wakes me up from the cold-weather coma that sets in in December and January. Ok, that might be a bit dramatic, but I’m still trying to grapple with the fact that winter is here. This week my daughter and I did our best to fight cold outside by staying in the kitchen to bake gingerbread with cinnamon icing. It was perfect.


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Cure for Black Friday: White turkey chili

turkey chili

Maybe you’ve been standing in line since 4:30 a.m. and you’ve returned home with the flu and bags and bags of merchandise that you purchased because you wanted a good deal.  You’re hungry, tired, and thirsty. So, it's time to grab a beer and dig into those leftovers.


Or maybe you've been lounging at home all morning (our favorite Black Friday activity) but you're really not too keen on preparing T-Day 2.0 as another round for dinner. We understand completely — we love the big T-Day supper, but when it comes to the day after, we want leftovers that are more creative, instead of being a rerun.


This chili does the trick.  Make it first thing in the morning so it sits all day, awaiting your hungry return from the mall or the couch.



White Turkey Chili

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Brava, Birchwood: Roasted pumpkin hand pie

hand pie

In honor of local Thanksgiving feasts, we present this excerpt from The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, with a recipe for the exquisite roasted pumpkin hand pie from Birchwood Cafe. 


Birchwood Cafe owner Tracy Singleton explains it this way: “We're not just in the neighborhood, we're for the neighborhood.” 


That neighborhood is the Seward area of Minneapolis, where it’s easy to concur with the cafe’s website description of what you’ll find: “A crossroads of hot food and cool comfort, Birchwood Cafe is one part funky coffee house, one part neighborhood cafe, and two parts eclectic organic kitchen.” The cafe’s motto is “Good Real Food,” and everything on the menu typifies this slogan in the most creative way.


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Vino 101: It’s (relatively) easy buying green

organic wine sign

In my last post, I wrote about how difficult it is to grow grapes and make wine in an environmentally responsible manner, and how rare organic and biodynamic winemaking remains today. 


Now I want to focus on the brighter side: while “green” wine still accounts for a small share of the industry, that share is growing quickly, and it isn’t terribly hard to find wines from makers who are genuinely trying to be responsible environmental stewards. 


But first, it’s important to nail down the terminology used by winemakers to indicate environmentally friendly juice. 



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Kitchen DIY: Homemade enchilada sauce

enchilada sauce

Lately, my mind has been drifting towards cool-weather comfort food. You know, those meals that you can settle in to and cozy up with in the evening. 


I’m ready for less running about, more family meals at the table, and that smell that you greets you at the door and permeates the house, when you know something delicious awaits you for dinner. Yes, I’m ready to eat hot soups and sip hot drinks. I’m ready to braise things again.


Enchiladas may seem like an odd place to start, but for me, it’s a perfect seasonal-transition meal. It’s warm, substantial, and very much a comfort food. I’m a big proponent of making homemade sauces since it takes just a little extra effort, and the results are almost always worth it.  


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Hunting for Dinner: Fried panfish spring rolls

spring rolls

For many fishermen, visions of a 30-inch walleye or a 50-inch musky are what drive them to get out there and fish. I love catching a big fish just as much as the next guy, but for me the real trophy is what ends up on the plate. A huge walleye would look great hanging above the fireplace, but more than likely it wouldn’t be that great to eat. Here in Minnesota the walleye is king, everybody loves catching them and most everybody loves eating them. I am the exception to that rule. I would rather catch a stringer full of perch or sunfish. 


There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, they are usually easier to catch. Small pan fish like perch, sunfish, bluegills and rock bass are usually the first fish we catch when we are little. When you get into a school of pan fish, the action is usually nonstop and you can catch them one after another and end up with a limit of good eaters in no time at all. 


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