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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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Absurdly Easy: Chai tea, with a kick of spice and sweetness

chai tea

I've come to find that certain situations are handled best with a hot beverage. Waking up to a gray morning, for instance, or stretching out on a quiet afternoon with a book in hand. Or, say, after getting caught in a warm August rainfall on a Sunday walk (hey, since when does it rain around here?). My beverage of choice for these times: a steaming cup of chai tea.

 

There’s something endlessly soothing about the warmth and spiciness of chai tea. The heat of ginger and spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and peppercorns – steeps with black tea to create a rich, spicy concentrate. Mix this in equal parts with milk, and you’ve got a rich, creamy drink that’s unlike anything else.

 

I’ve ordered chai at coffee shops all around town. My favorite versions have a strong punch of spice and just a hint of sweetness. But why shop around? It turns out that the perfect cup of chai can be made right in your own kitchen.

 

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Summer's Last Hurrah: Curried corn and zucchini fritters with cilantro mint chutney

corn and zucchini fritters

Recently, I realized that there's only a few weeks left of my children’s summer vacation. It was a punch to the stomach. Only a couple weeks left to get out there and drink in the summer, to make memories. They are seven and five, and for anyone that has or has had children of these ages, you probably understand why I feel that these ages are perfect.

 

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Kitchen DIY: Homemade ricotta cheese

ricotta bruschetta

If the ultimate DIY project is one that is surprisingly easy, and drastically better than the store-bought stuff, then I’ve got the world’s greatest food project for you: homemade ricotta cheese. 

 

Ricotta cheese was never a serious player in my food repertoire. It had typically been a background note, layered in lasagna, stuffed into pasta shells, stirred into a casserole. Never did it stand out as a main ingredient to celebrate.

 

But then, recipes for homemade ricotta started popping up on the Web. And, some of my favorite bloggers were singing its soft, creamy praises. I’m always up for a cooking project, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

 

And here’s what I learned: wow, it’s easy, and wow, it’s good.

 

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Tomato Season: The joy of homemade ketchup

tomatoes for ketchup

Although I come from a tomato-eating family, I didn't really care for tomatoes when I was a kid. Maybe I was too finicky or it was the stewed tomatoes that would make an appearance occasionally. I never understood why my aunt and grandmother would make such a fuss over picking ripe tomatoes and eating them right off the vine, and my great-grandmother used to plant 70 to 80 tomato plants a year and can all of it for later use. Now that I'm older, I have a garden of my own, and I finally understand what they were talking about.

 

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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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Vino 101: A reconsideration of Deutschland wine

germany map

Several weeks ago, when Germany won the World Cup, the New York Times ran a story proclaiming the victory a symbol of "not just the country's dominance of Europe, but its global prominence." The Times suggested that Germany's win "will usher in an era of further prosperity for Europe's economic powerhouse." It may have been a bit of a stretch to predict a surge in a nation's global economic strength based on a soccer game. After all, the two prior Cup winners were Spain and Italy, and last I checked things are not going so well for those two countries. But there is no question that Germany has seen a remarkable economic turnaround in recent years, recovering from the 2008 recession faster than nearly any other country in the world (our own included).

 

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Under the Husk: Discovering the mysterious ground cherry

ground cherries

I had to laugh knowingly last weekend at the Kingfield Farmers Market as I stood behind a woman in the Gardens of Eagan booth. In front of her was a bowl spilling over with these little papery beige spheres and a sign inviting shoppers to try one.

 

“Ground cherries?” she said, ducking away from them like they might possibly explode. “What are they? I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before. Are they cherries? No stems…Hmm. How do they grow? What do they taste like?”

 

A market pro, the gentleman working was not fazed by this barrage of questions. He deftly explained that, related to tomatillos, ground cherries grow on bushes and are often compared in flavor to strawberries, pineapple, and sometimes even butterscotch. 

 

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