Tag: lunch

Exploring the Minneapolis Skyways: My New Favorite Lunch

I’m really picky about my favorite places.

And by favorite places, I mean the places I return to time and again. The same goes for my favorite people, including hair stylists, butchers, car shops, tax preparers, and veterinarians.  I’ve had to find my new favorite places and people more often than most. Each time we’ve moved I had to start the process from scratch. Sometimes I find my favorite person or place right away and sometimes it takes a while. But when I find it, I just know.

A lot has to fall in place for a place to become my favorite place. The actual product, noise level, availability of snacks, music choices, smell, location, customer service, parking, table spacing, outlets (in the case of coffee shops), temperature, and price.

When I first started a position in downtown Minneapolis, I set a goal to try a new restaurant once per week. And I have failed miserably because I’ve found a favorite place. 

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Do You Ever Just Want To Eat Pasta Salad? My Favorite Version.

Do you ever just want to eat pasta salad? I’m having a lot of deep questions this week:

  • Do you ever just want to drink Lambrusco? You know, the good stuff, like they serve at Olive Garden.
  • Do you ever just want to buy those frozen potato disc puffs shaped like happy faces?
  • Do you ever just want to wear something Bedazzled?
  • Do you ever just want to eat a corn dog?

I didn’t end up caving for Lambrusco, potato happy faces, Bedazzled clothing or a corn dog, but I did make pasta salad.

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For Better or For Worse: Most Memorable School Cafeteria Foods

Next month, I’ll return to Waverly, Iowa for the first time since my college graduation and it’s got me in a school [food] state of mind.

A Chowhound discussion about memorable school cafeteria food continues to pop-up and I never get tired of reading people’s memories. School cafeteria food is vividly burned into my memory and I can still taste and smell meals decades later.

It’s interesting to learn about the different iconic school cafeteria meals that exist even between states within the Midwest. Many of my Iowan friends fondly remember chili and cinnamon/caramel roll day and Crispitos, which I never saw in Minnesota. My college roommate grew up in a small town in Iowa and recalled the combination of “Pork shape on a bun” and butter sandwiches, which were spread with something that was definitely not butter. In fact, I don’t remember seeing pork served on lunch menus at my Minnesota schools during grade school.

These are the school cafeteria foods that are burned most clearly into my memory. Feel free to add yours in the comments section:

Elementary School (Diamond Path, Apple Valley, Minnesota)
Diamond Path became a “magnet school of international studies” in 2007. I have especially vivid memories learning about Frank Lloyd Wright in art class and making homemade pizza as part of a unit about Italy. As you can see in this photo, there’s a tiled pool in the entryway. During the year this pool was built, we all designed and painted our own clay tiles which I believe are still there.

Picnick

In 3rd grade, I was a picnic table. Where are those dunkers?

Memorable:

  • Turkey Gravy: This was the most popular lunch item. The meal was simply a clear gravy with cubes of turkey served over mashed potatoes, but even the teachers would forgo their sack lunches on Turkey Gravy Day.
  • Tony’s Pizza: Our lunch menus always specified that it was Tony’s Pizza. Of course, there were the big rectangles of cheese, sausage & pepperoni covered in pale cheese that never browned. The Mexican pizza (technically called a Fiestada) was extra special because it was octagon-shaped and covered with bright yellow cheese. Tony’s still produces Fiestadas but only sells them through distributors like Schwan’s by the case of 96! They’re listed under the “Sheeted-Pizza” category because how else do you produce pizzas shaped like octagons?
  • French Toast Sticks: I actually bought a box at the grocery store last year for giggles. Sure, I can make my own french toast now, but these still tasted good.
  • Flavored/Seasoned Rice: This is the only food that stands out as being especially unappealing. And if I remember correctly, the menu literally this “Flavored Rice” and flavored it was. With something nose-wrinkling salty and chicken-bouillonesque that also turned it bright yellow.

Middle-High School (Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, MN)

All of my former schools’ menus have changed to include more fresh vegetables and fruit. In fact, I am gawking at the current elementary school menu that lists fresh spinach salad and fiesta bean dip and the high school menu which offers kidney beans, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes. These foods totally weren’t on our menus a decade ago. Times have changed! Italian dunkers are here to stay, though, I see no mention of that infamous elementary school turkey gravy.

Memorable:

  • Italian Dunkers: Italian Dunker Day was as popular as Turkey Gravy Day. Our cafeteria didn’t serve pizza, so this was the closet thing. Everyone left their sack lunches at home for hoagie halves spread with margarine and garlic powder, toasted with cheese and served with pizza sauce. My mom always complained that I reeked of garlic whenever I ate dunkers for lunch. And when I posed the topic of memorable school lunches on my Facebook pages, Minnesota friends mentioned Italian dunkers most frequently with favor, while Fargo friends mentioned them with loathing.
  • Salad Dressing: At Minnehaha, the cafeteria ladies would squirt the salad dressing onto our salads from big jugs with pump dispensers. Our choices were french or ranch, but all of the cool kids got both. Every once in a while when I’m at a salad bar, I’ll drizzle a sald with both and think of those giant salad dressing jugs.
  • Squishy Bagel Breaks: The cafeteria opened in the mornings and during breaks. The most popular snack among students were these squishy $1.25 bagels in which the cafeteria ladies would melt a slice of white or yellow American cheese for exactly 90-seconds in the microwave. The trendy thing to order was to dip a bagel with white cheese into cream cheese. I’ll recreate this snack about once every two years.
  • Weird Croutons: We always noticed our salad bar croutons were different the day after grilled cheese day. They transformed from their normal crunchy selves into cubes sandwiching a terribly chewy layer. Cutting leftover grilled cheese into croutons is a good idea in theory, but the fact that they were impossible chewy and kept at room temperature made us whisper.

College (Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa)
For a small liberal arts college, Wartburg’s Mensa (a.k.a. the caf) offered many choices. It wasn’t the wonderland of food that was the St. Olaf cafeteria, but good nonetheless. Our cafeteria meals were set at a single, all-you-can-eat price.

Our cafeteria featured several stations including the main hot food option, vegetarian, make your own sandwich and salad bars, grill & “International” dishes. You could sign-up on a hardcopy paper list located at the campus coffee shop and diner to transfer meals. I see the sign-ups are now online. Have I mentioned times have changed? The school also offered special, themed lunch buffets of which students could sign-up for $.50.

Towards our graduation, the cafeteria started providing more locally grown vegetables and vegetarian options. The staff also invited students to submit their favorite recipes which they would try to recreate and serve during meals.

Memorable:

  • BLT’s: Every once in a while, the main lunch line would feature hotel pans of toast, crispy bacon, lettuce, sliced tomato and mayo of course.
  •  Goulash: I was confused to find this was not Hungarian goulash, but ground beef and macaroni noodles mixed with a bland, slightly sweet tomato sauce. It never became a favorite, but was comfort food to the students who grew up eating it.
  • Inferno Wings: The Den was our on-campus diner that was open into the evening. I was obsessed with their Inferno Wings, a frozen product that the employees deep-fried to order. The wings were coated in a spicy batter, hense the name inferno. I’d squirrel a bag of these back to my dorm where I’d enjoy them with a Michelob Golden Light or Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss, beers that seemed fancy at the time.
  • Cool Cookies: The den also offered ice cream sandwiches made with homemade chocolate chip cookies and a variety of soft-serve ice cream flavors like chocolate-mint and cherry-almond.
  • Fish Fillet & Nachos: Whenever the cafeteria served fried fish fillets in the main hot lunch line, they were always accompanied by corn chips and cheese sauce. I always wondered what kind of pairing this was!
  • Wartburger Sandwich: I think these were Warburg’s version of a loose meat sandwich, but I avoided them due to the name.

What were your most memorable school cafeteria lunches? 

Ally’s Virtual Baby Shower: Little Cream Puffs With Egg Salad

I’ve attended plenty of baby showers but this is my first virtual shower. Iowa bloggers Stephanie of Been There Baked That and Yudith of Blissfully Delicious are co-hosting this virtual baby shower for Ally, of Ally’s Sweet & Savory Eats. I’ve enjoyed following all three of their food blogs and got to meet Ally and Stephanie at a blogger meet-up last fall. Ally graciously connected me with this group of bloggers and I’m excited to contribute a recipe to her virtual shower. We send our congratulations and best wishes to Ally and her family.

I recreated the savory, salad-filled cream puffs that I used to serve at Josie’s Coffee Corner Cafe in downtown Fargo, ND. Customers looked forward to the days the owners offered them as summer, chalkboard specials.

Filled Puffs

Cream puffs are made from pate a choux, a dough you begin preparing on the stove top. I made it for the first time when I baked Lois’ Cream Puff Sticks and was happily to find it wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. Most recipes for cream puffs are essentially the same. Really precise recipes will instruct you to weigh the ingredients and measure out a cup of eggs. I’ve followed less precise recipes with good results.

For this batch, I followed Steamy Kitchen’s recipe and made my own piping bag from a ziplock.

Piping Bag

You can also fill these pastries with sweet foods like fresh whipped cream and berries. I like making my pate a choux dough with very little (or no) sugar in either a sweet or savory application, but you could certainly add more sugar.

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Cream Puffs Ingredients:
1/2 cup water
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425℉.
  2. In a saucepan, melt the butter in the water over medium heat.
  3. Stream in the flour and incorporate it into the water-butter mixture by stirring quickly. Let the dough cook briefly and remove from heat.
  4. Allow dough to cool until it’s warm. For quicker cooling, transfer dough to a stand mixer bowl or wait longer before adding the eggs. If you add the eggs when the dough is too hot, they will scramble.
  5. Once the dough is not screaming hot, quickly stir in one egg at a time. Don’t be alarmed when the dough becomes slippery and separates. Just keep stirring and it will come together.
  6. Stir in the salt and sugar.
  7. Pipe the dough onto a greased baking sheet (or one lined with parchment) or drop by the spoonful. Leave a little room for them to expand. Try to make the dough balls the same size and squish down any points to avoid burning.
  8. Bake for about ten minutes. Reduce heat and bake small cream puffs for about 20 minutes until they are puffed and golden brown. Remove earlier if you think they will burn. Larger puffs may take about 30 minutes.
  9. Final words of advice: Try not to open your oven too often, otherwise you’ll release the heat. If you undercook the cream puffs, they will deflate and have a gummy texture inside. Look for a pronounced golden brown color.
  10. Cool completely before storing in a bag or container. I store them in the fridge after a day.

Jeni’s Favorite Egg Salad
Egg salad is another food that we made so often in culinary school that I can practically make in my sleep. I never measure, but add whatever I like and taste as I go. Here is my not very precise method:

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Ingredients:
Hard boiled eggs
Mustard
Mayonnaise
Onion, finely minced or grated
Celery, finely chopped
Pickle, your favorite variety finely chopped (or relish). I used part of a sweet and spicy pickle spear.
Salt
Black Pepper
White Pepper
Dill

Instructions:

  1. Prepare as many hardboiled eggs as you’d like. I used six for a small bowl of egg salad. It’s an adequate amount to fill one batch of cream puff halves. I put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. I bring them to a boil, remove the pot from heat, cover and let sit for about 12 minutes. Then, I submerge them in ice water until cool and peel.
  2. Cut eggs in half. Add the yolks to the bowl and chop the whites.
  3. Add a couple dollops of mayonnaise, a good squirt of mustard, and minced onion, celery and pickle. Season with salt, black pepper, white pepper and dill.

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