The Latin Tongue: Restaurants in the Twin Cities

A nice spread from El Bravo

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that Americans have an obsession with Mexican food. Simply take a look at our fast food chains, food courts, strip malls and everywhere in between. You cannot say the same about any other ethnic cuisine. Sure, Italian is right up there, but besides pizza (which is mostly Americanized anyway), Italian cuisine has not quite taken over like the rampant spread of tacos, burritos and other notions borrowed from Latin culture. What is less obvious to me is, why?


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Support the right to know what’s in your food? Fight the DARK Act now!

Label GMOs

I joined Right to Know MN at the start of this year because I couldn’t imagine any sensible person arguing against the right to know what’s in our food. I joined because I care about what I feed my family, and because I believe real food is worth seeking out and paying for. I joined because the science around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is inconclusive at best, and because the studies that tell us we can (or worse, that we should) eat them with abandon have been paid for by the companies with the most to gain. (I also joined because Tracy Singleton, owner of the Birchwood Cafe, asked me to, and she knows what she’s talking about.)


Here’s the official spiel:


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Kitchen DIY: Making the most of real vanilla

Vanilla Bean

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice following saffron. Vanilla remains pricey (around $3.50 a pod) largely due to the fact that it is very labor-intensive and challenging to grow. Originally from Mexico, the vanilla orchards had a highly symbiotic relationship with its natural pollinator, the Mellipona bee. Man-made attempts to replicate what nature was doing best by artificially pollinating the plant were largely unsuccessful until the discovery that the vanilla plant could be hand pollinated, thus enabling the plant to be grown in areas outside of Mexico.

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Gardening for Dinner: Using seasonal bounty

fried green tomatoes

I have never really considered myself a gardener. I have always had a plant or two growing in a pot or hanging basket and on some rare occasions, actually got something to eat from them. Then, four years ago, my wife and I bought a house and discussed putting in a raised bed for a small garden. That first bed was five feet by 10 feet and served as our very first garden. 


We didn’t get a whole lot out of that little bed, I think because we overplanted the small area. I wanted a large variety of vegetables and that didn’t work out so well. So, the following year, I added five more boxes and three half-barrel planters so that I could get a larger variety. 


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Grilled Salad: Welcome to your new obsession

grilled salad

I still remember the first time I decided to grill salad. Still in culinary school and just learning about layering flavors, my class was focusing on a duck confit salad, and that dish seemed very heavy for traditional greens. Yet I didn't want to go down the familiar path of a frisee salad. So, I wondered: what if I grilled some romaine? My thought was that the smoky, charred flavor would really complement the duck but not overpower it. Using duck fat and sherry vinaigrette as dressing, I gave it a shot, and it turned out to be a huge hit. I've been grilling salad ever since.


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Seasonal Pick: Garlic scape chimichurri

garlic scape chimichurrie

Ah, summer. Farmers markets are hopping, CSAs start up again, and access to über fresh and local produce is finally easy once more. Except that in the first days of summer, the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash we love to gobble up aren’t ready yet. Instead, vegetables and herbs that may be less familiar — pak choi, fiddleheads, ramps, and garlic scapes — still grace the stands. 


I’ve learned two tricks over the years when it comes to approaching cooking with new foods and both have served me well. First, ask the vendor. What is this? To what is it similar? How do you like to cook with it? They almost always steer you in the right direction.


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Kitchen DIY: Mastering quick pickles

quick pickles

Whenever I make up a batch of quick pickles, I think about my grandmother, who had such a lush, amazing garden, and the food preservation skills to match. She had little in the way of finances, so she was always very frugal about using whatever was on hand so we could enjoy the tastes of her garden throughout the long, cold Minnesota winter months. I remember zucchini, squash, tomato salsas, even fruit pickling. If she grew it, she canned it.


When I grew up and became a chef, I never forgot the way my grandmother would make sure to use produce wisely so that there wasn't any waste, and of course, I never forgot her quick pickles. 


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Eat Your Weeds: 3 foraged plants that are ready for dinner


Although there are numerous fresh herbs this time of year — and it's only going to get better from here until those first wintry flakes — what you find in your garden or farmers market is only part of the medicinal and culinary mix of options. 


In other words, try eating some weeds. 


What many people consider weeds could be the start of a beautiful herbal relationship. Once you start recognizing these once-reviled weeds, you'll begin to see your yard in a whole new way. Here are three that are often saved from my lawnmower's wrath, with many making their way into our dinners.



Outstanding for allergies, nettles (sometimes called stinging nettles) are usually abundant in both urban and rural settings. Just when I was planning on going out to forage them in the woods, I realized I had some growing just under my flowering cherry tree. 


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