A New Beginning

This post has been a long time coming for a number of reasons. First off, our lack of posts since Christmas isn’t because we’ve had enough to do; that’s certainly not the case. Since our last post, Natalia has finished law school and taken the bar exam. Meanwhile, I’ve been working and planning for this fall, when I will begin my doctorate program in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. What this means, is that Natalia and I will be moving, tomorrow morning actually, to Milwaukee and to the next chapter of our life.

This was by no means an easy decision to make, but after many conversations between each other and our family, we both felt that Milwaukee was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up at this time. It’s tough leaving home. Physically, moving is much more demanding than I had previously thought, but it’s the emotional aspect that took me most by surprise. It’s weird leaving the only place where you’ve ever called home and moving to a place where you don’t know a lot of people. Fortunately, we’re not too far from our hometown and all of our friends and families. And that’s who this post is dedicated to. Thank you everyone for all of the wonderful memories that we’ve had in Minnesota. Thank you for all the smiles, laughs, drinks, and meals we’ve shared together over the years. Thank you for your kindness, your prayers, your support, and your love. We can’t wait to come back to Minnesota after we’re done here so we can catch up on all of the lost time. Thank you, from Apartment #6.

Merry Christmas, Round 1

Happy Christmas Eve!


Tonight, we’re cooking just for ourselves – a Christmas Eve tradition that we started our first Christmas together. Before we started dating, since my family celebrates Christmas following the Orthodox calendar, December 24th was usually pretty uneventful. Now, though, I get to celebrate two Christmases – the December AND January versions! Last Christmas Eve, I made a rib roast; tonight’s (slightly more adventurous) menu: sous vide duck with orange and cranberries, Dijon-glazed Brussels sprouts, and homemade cinnamon ice cream!

We have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate this Christmas – our families, a finished (and bound, as of today!) Master’s, an almost-completed JD, and of course, our engagement!

Merry Christmas to all – we hope everyone celebrates well with their loved ones near and far.

 

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Tilia

This is, without a doubt, our favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities.

We first went to Tilia last summer and immediately fell in love with the food, the ambiance, and the neighborhood. Located in charming Linden Hills, close to both Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, the restaurant itself is completely unassuming: no huge sign or placard, just the name on the front window. Steven Brown, the head chef and owner, welcomes guests in to his small yet wonderfully homey restaurant with food that’s exciting, fresh, and (really) affordable.

We are so excited to see how well Tilia is being received, not only because we love it so much, but because it makes great food accessible to all ages.  Recently named Minnesota Monthly’s Best New Restaurant for 2011, Tilia has also been topping other Best of Twin Cities lists since it opened last spring.

Not once have we been disappointed with our meal. Tilia’s menu offers everything from soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and larger appetizer plates to share. There are also some great side options – we even learned to LOVE brussel sprouts after trying Tilia’s version…and who wouldn’t: they’re caramelized and sauteed with walnuts and ham! The bar is well stocked (plenty of different tap beers to try), and there’s also a lovely brunch offered on weekends.

Our most recent visit was on a bright and frigid afternoon, a typical cold winter day in Minnesota. The restaurant was ready for Christmas, both inside and out. It was busy; there was an energetic buzz in the air as everyone was enjoying their lunch. We sat at the counter where we were able to enjoy watching the chefs create and plate all the dishes. We started our lunch by sharing a crispy smoked pork belly with lentils, which we quickly devoured; it reminded us of a favorite dish from our trip to The Publican in Chicago.

I ordered a tagliatelle pasta (they offer small portions for their pasta dishes, something I wish more restaurants would do) with smoked cauliflower, braised greens, and bagna cauda, finished off with (lots) of Parmesan. It was delicious. Andrew, of course, ordered his favorite: the BLT dogs. He swears this is the best hot dog you can order in the entire state of Minnesota…considering you get two hot dogs topped with bacon, tomatoes, dill pickled cauliflower, mayo, and mustard, I tend to agree!

Tagliatelle

Andrew's BLT Dogs

Tilia is truly a Minneapolis gem. Warm, inviting, and inventive, it’s definitely a place to go back to again and again.

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Thankful

After cooking all day Wednesday (late into the night, actually – we didn’t go to bed until after 2:00 a.m.) and starting up early on Thursday morning, we made it through Thanksgiving.

In spite of all the craziness of the last few weeks, cooking and hosting Thanksgiving was something we were both so looking forward to. We knew we wanted to do everything ourselves, and by “do everything,” we mean from scratch. None of this “semi-homemade” mentality (our hatred for Sandra Lee deserves its own post).

Telling friends about our plans inspired some interesting looks and comments (“You’re cooking the entire meal? By yourselves?”). While some admitted that just thinking about hosting Thanksgiving gave them nightmares, we were excited to have both of our families over and to cook our hearts out…and everything turned out beautifully.


It was really a wonderful day – we have much to be thankful for!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
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Big week

Happy first snowfall to all! I usually like the snow to wait until after Thanksgiving, but we’ve held out longer than last year, so I can’t complain too much.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it’s less than a week away! We are so looking forward to hosting our families and cooking up a storm in our little apartment! In preparation for next week, we’ve been trying to not spend a lot of money on groceries and use up what we have in our refrigerator. A few nights ago, we decided to make a curry. Based on what we added, it turned into more of a curried chili, but that’s what made this meal so great – it was completely adaptable to the ingredients we had on hand!

For our curried chili, we braised two chicken thighs (bone in, skin left on) in some olive oil. In another pot, we combined a can of light coconut milk with a tablespoon of curry paste, and stirred together until the mixture just about boiled. We then poured that over our chicken thighs and added lots of vegetables: green beans, green pepper, tomato, carrots, and cannellini beans that had been soaking throughout the day. Everything was left to simmer for about an hour (we also added some more curry paste to increase the heat); just before serving, we added a handful of golden raisins for sweetness. Andrew sliced up some of his homemade bread for the finishing touch.

We have both had a rather hectic week, but Andrew has completed an important milestone:

he presented his master’s thesis yesterday!

I’m so proud of how hard he has worked throughout this program. It seems like just yesterday that we were running to the mailbox to check on acceptance letters. I’ll always remember opening our tiny apartment mailbox and finding the large square envelope inside (from my own law school application process, I came to learn that big envelopes mean good things!). Now, after three semesters and two summers of full time classes, Andrew has his master’s!

We do have a lot to be thankful for this year – and I can’t wait to celebrate with everyone on Thursday! Ljublju you, Driy!

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Pancakes and French Press

Like most grad students I know, we don’t often eat breakfast.  If we do grab something, it usually means that we’ll quickly eat a slice of bread (at least it’s homemade!) and drink some coffee before running out the door. This last Sunday, though, I decided to take advantage of a cool and overcast morning and make some pancakes, topped with bananas and some lovely apple butter from my favorite  local orchard.

As mentioned above, coffee is usually a staple throughout our day; our dependence on it probably deserves its own post.  Unfortunately: our wonderful coffee maker has stopped working recently.

Fortunately: we have a French press.

Making coffee in the French press is certainly easy enough: add three and a half coffee scoops of ground coffee to the press, cover with HOT water (almost boiling), and press down. Let the coffee steep for about 3 minutes, and enjoy! I also love the fact I can take the press out to our coffee table, which is perfect for our Chelsea mornings!

While the French press might not be as convenient as our regular coffee maker, it makes great coffee.  And its four-cup capacity is the perfect size for the two of us..which helps us fight against our coffee addiction that the ten-cup coffee maker was certainly feeding!

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3 Weeks to Thanksgiving

Happy November to all – grab a hot cider, a cookbook or two, and settle in for some fun reading!

I’ve always loved November.  To those in Minnesota, this might make me sound crazy.  Right about now, the weather starts to get gloomy, gray, and cold.  We start to accept that there won’t be many sunny or warm days ahead, reluctantly bring out the heavy coats, and prepare ourselves for SNOW.  Last year, at the beginning of November, we had our first major snow storm of the year…and dealt with the harsh realities of winter until the end of April!

So far so good – no snow here.  And despite what most people think about this time of year, I love it.  It’s chilly, yes, but it’s crisp and refreshing. I happen to like my hat and gloves.  All the coffee shops have their “holiday” cups out.  And, best of all, I know that the semester is almost over…and THANKSGIVING is just three weeks away!

Thanksgiving, 2010

The one place that always gets me ready and excited for Thanksgiving is Williams-Sonoma. Whether we go in July or at the end of October, I crave turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.  My sister and mom totally gets this – for the past few years, we’ve stopped in before Thanksgiving to get our “essentials,” and always end up leaving with something (usually several somethings) that we didn’t know we needed to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Andrew has admitted to me that this is probably his favorite store, so I’m pretty sure that this tradition will continue long into the future! We have already studied (numerous times, I might add) Sonoma’s Thanksgiving Guide 2011, as we’re hosting both sets of families for dinner.  I’m guessing there will be several trips to W-S over the next few weeks…

Now, to focus on school just enough to finish what needs to be done before all the fun begins!

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Changes

Well it’s been about a month since either one of us has posted on here. That is our fault and we should make more time for it, but it’s tough when both of us are in graduate school and work. I am nearly done with my thesis (next week!) and the reality of the situation is slowly sinking in, making it harder for me to commit free time to this blog. Natalia is very busy trying to help her clients and it’s difficult too for her to find energy to write. But perhaps some recent news will provide a renewed impetus for writing: WE GOT ENGAGED!!!

That’s right, we took a trip to Chicago and I got a bride, she got a groom. There are no timeframes for the wedding (at least a year away probably), but until then we get time to plan, toast, and cook. It must be said that while we were in Chicago we ate at some of the best restaurants in the country. Our meals at The Purple Pig, The Publican, Cafe Spiaggia, and Q were all beyond anything we could have imagined.

In fact, the meal we had at The Publican preceded our engagement and it provided us the opportunity to have duck hearts. The duck hearts come from Au Bon Canard, a local farm (to Minnesota), and they were single-handedly the greatest dish we’ve had since we ate at Piccolo in June. In June the dish that won our hearts (pun intended) was the Tete de Porc, or pig’s head to the Englishly inclined. It was a beautiful melange of creamy fat and unctuous flavor and truly exceptional. The duck hearts at The Publican were a completely different dish: smooth and buttery, but had a wonderful starchy quality provided by the lentils. The dish was completed was then topped with slices of kumquat which added a wonderful citrusy element to the salt and starch. Natalia was hesitant about this dish, but afterwards was completely blown away by the experience.

I guess there really was no better way to later win her heart by feeding her hearts before hand. Thanks Chicago for the memories, we’ll be back soon!

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Gone too Long…

Well, this post has been a long time coming. Honestly, it has nothing to do with our lackadaisical approach to cooking or the fact that we haven’t been to any new restaurants recently; neither are true. In the last week alone we’ve recreated Willie Mae’s famous deep-fried chicken recipe, made home-made hot sauce, braised fennel, and created an entire bunch of dishes that were worthy of at least a few minutes of our writing.

But beyond anything we made this last week, we had quite possibly the most FUN meal we’ve had at least since our first to Piccolo and possibly exceeding it. Travail in Robbinsdale has recently been named to Bon Appetite’s “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in the Country,” and in all fairness I wouldn’t have pushed to go to this restaurant without such a strong recommendation from a noted publication. For God’s sake, my dad read that magazine when I was kid! How could I not at least heed some attention to them?

Regardless of how we found out about Travail, the fact remains: if you haven’t been there, you need to be. Furthermore, if your idea of a good meal is going to Applebee’s and getting their “spinach artichoke dip” is your definition of a small-plate, then you probably won’t be too interested in what Travail has to offer. If, however, your idea of a great meal is 10 courses, punctuated with FREE amuse-bouche, then you need to go to Robbinsdale and park in front of the TCF Bank or in the McDonald’s lot and walk up to what is arguably the most enjoyable food experience in Minnesota.

I have had better meals,I have had more romantic meals, I have had meals of equal length with better taste. But nowhere in this state have I had a meal with such a strong ability to create a myriad of delicious, exciting dishes.

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Happy Fall!

Although the temperatures haven’t really reflected it (we’ve been having lovely weather lately – high 60s, mid 70s…), the calendar says we’ve come to my favorite season of the year – FALL!
While I’ve been spending a lot of time at school, Andrew has been, lucky for me, baking breads and making soups! We had talked about making soups last year, but hadn’t really made any from scratch until just recently.  For dinner last night, we had onion and rosemary focaccia, wonderfully spicy roasted tomato soup (adapted from a Tyler Florence recipe), and, as a treat, some beautiful chanterelles on the side.

The soup was SO good, perfectly spicy and creamy at the same time.

Drizzle 2.5 pounds of tomatoes (a mix of vine and cherry), 6 peeled garlic cloves and 2 small yellow onions, sliced, with some olive oil, then roast until caramelized. Transfer to a stock pot, add 3 cups of chicken stock, 2 bay leaves, and 4 tablespoons of butter.  Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Use an immersion blender and puree until smooth. Add 1 more cup of chicken stock, and season to taste.  We added a bit of cream to thicken up the recipe, and topped it off with some shredded asiago cheese.  YUM.

Side note: we didn’t have an immersion blender last night, so we were transferring the soup to our food processor.  For some reason, though, it would leak all over.  We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from or where there could possibly be a hole, so it turned out to be a messier experience than planned.  Long story short, we now have an immersion blender!

It turned out great – perfectly homey, orange, and autumnal. The fact that it matched our candle made it just that much better, too! And, we have leftovers!

Tonight’s menu: jerk chicken wings, french fries, and roasted veggies.  Definitely a happy fall!

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