So Much More Than Cake!

Oliver's Bakery sign with sunset

(Photo from Oliver’s website:

One of the businesses that I truly wish we had in our town is a bakery; sadly, the one that was here closed before we even moved here.  Regardless of our town’s bakery-having-or-not status, we make a point to stop at Oliver’s when we visit Kenosha- and for good reason.  I was initially introduced to Oliver’s goodness via my wife’s recommendation.  While their doughnuts are some of the best quality I have had, they offer a robust selection for those sweet options, as well.  It is the perfect place to visit if you are looking for the classics, but also if you want to consider something less common (they have custard filled, but also are purveyors of a tasty peanut butter and jelly doughnut).  I’ve had several doughnuts, and they are always fresh and flavorful.

Oliver’s is more than just exceptional doughnuts.  We’re also fans of their muffins- there’s a similarly delicious wide selection here also.  I’ve had Kringle from a few different vendors, and I can write with certainty that theirs is also among the best.  Particularly, they have plenty of filling (some other Kringles are rather light on this… and someone should not have to think to discern a Kringle filling or flavor!  Certainly not a problem here- delicious!)

Our recent visit was on a Friday, and we were surprised to note that they also had fried fish and shrimp.  While fish fry in Wisconsin is definitely not a surprise, availability at a bakery definitely was.  While we were there selecting our purchases, several customers came in to pick up both fish and shrimp. Upon noting this to my wife’s parents, we were told that an uncle was known to have driven for hours to get their fish fry.  Oliver’s website (corroborated by my wife’s parents) notes that this has been available for quite a while.  I will have to give it a try next time we are in on a Friday.

In addition to our typical doughnut purchase, we decided to try one of their pies in the refrigerator case- a pecan pie.  It truly was an excellent choice.  The crust was flaky, and the filling was a perfect sweet complement to the nuttiness of the pecans- without being too sweet (an issue I notice quite often with an average pecan pie).  We certainly will be buying one (and more!) again.

If you’re in Kenosha, make sure to stop by Oliver’s. And don’t forget the coupon!


Recipe: Chettinad Tomato Lentils

I have to recommend the recipes in The Curry Bible by Jacki Passmore; we’ve tried a few so far and they’ve been excellent quality and variety-wise.  The base spice mix for this curry (from pg. 90) is my favorite so far.  There are so many curries, and they go beyond the pre-bottled store curries for sure.  We have made this recipe several times, and it is a pleasant mix of hot and spice.  It could very easily be made hotter with more/other peppers.  We’ve modified the original to be less hot to work for both of our palates.  (I’m more of a heat fan.)   The original calls for chicken as the main ingredient, but I wanted to give lentils a try as an alternate option; it’s also a little more affordable.  The lentils also hold up well in the curry, even as they are already cooked. (I was a little nervous it would be mush.)

1 lb lentils, made according to package directions

3 dried red chilies, seeds removed (I used 1 each of guajillo, ancho, and mulato chiles)

1 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

4 teaspoons cardamom

3/4 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon salt

7oz dried coconut (unsweetened)

Oil (I used olive)

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1 1/2 teaspoon star anise

6 oz tomato paste (I used the whole 12 oz can to use it up.)

2-3 cups water

2 tomatoes

1 fresh chili pepper (I used Poblano)

Additional salt to taste

Lemon juice

Make the lentils in a pot according to package directions.  (Ours were at medium heat – simmer/boil for about 20 minutes, and they were tender.)  While lentils are cooking, prepare the curry. (When the lentils are done, remove from heat and drain.)  Roast the coriander seeds in a pan on medium-low heat for a minute or two and remove from heat.  Put the deseeded peppers, roasted coriander, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, and salt in a blender and blend to a powder.  Add coconut and blend until fine.

Curry powder mix

Curry powder mix









Heat the oil in a pan.  Chop the onion and add to the pan.  Let cook for a few minutes, stirring as needed.  (The onions don’t need to be completely soft.)

Onions in the pan







Crush the garlic- (a garlic press works well) and add to pan with the onion.  Add the ginger.  Don’t let the garlic cook too long- you don’t want it to burn.  Add the star anise and tomato paste.

Tomato paste added







Stir in the cooked lentils slowly.  Add the water- you don’t want soup, but you don’t want it to burn.  Keep stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

Lentils added






I chopped and added the tomatoes and chili pepper at this point (you may want to wear gloves with the pepper), but depending on how cooked you would like them, you could add them earlier.

Tomatoes and pepper added







Almost done!  I cooked the mixture with the added vegetables for about 5 minutes more, so they were not cooked completely through.  Keep stirring as needed, and add more water if needed so that the lentils do not stick to the pan.  Season with additional salt to taste, and top with a splash of  lemon juice.

Finished dinner!







Enjoy!!! Remember to have fun and experiment with curry!


Also, here are some quick general spice equivalents, if you have whole spices:

1 stick cinnamon= 1 teaspoon

1 pod cardamom= 1 teaspoon

1/4″ piece ginger= 1/4 teaspoon

1 star anise pod= 1/2 teaspoon

1 whole clove= 1/4 teaspoon

(Vegan) Marshmallows

Dandies Marshmallows

Dandies (Vegan) Marshmallows (Photo from website)

I found these marshmallows not because I am a vegan, but rather, my wife needed to find an option to bring for a church gathering.  We also brought some of these to a party hosted by some of our friends, one of whom is a vegetarian.  My wife did some research online and looked for what was available, since we didn’t really have many ideas about what options were out there.  She looked into recipes (somewhat time consuming, and we didn’t really have the right materials/equipment) as well as options and this stood out as one of the few vegan-friendly options.  We were able to find some at Whole Foods, but weren’t able to find them at our local co-op.

In comparison to typical store-sold marshmallows, they are a little more firm (but not much), but most importantly, they are quite delicious!  My wife also thought they had a nicer (more vanilla) flavor, and they passed the S’mores test at the campfire.  They browned well, paired well with grahams and chocolate, and got melty, though they didn’t puff up quite as much.  Overall, they greatly exceeded what I thought a vegan marshmallow would be and were a welcome equivalent (my wife, I think, liked them even a bit better than ‘regular’ marshmallows!)   Our friends agreed that they were tasty also.   I would certainly get them again and recommend them to anyone looking for a vegan (or non-vegan) marshmallow!

Cuban Food in Key West

El Meson de Pepe on Map

As part of our trip to Key West, Florida, we wanted to visit as many local restaurants as we could.  One of our stops brought us to El Meson de Pepe.  We wanted to try a little of everything, so we opted to split a #80- a plate that had three different dishes: Lechon Asado (pork), Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), and Picadillo Habanero (ground beef).  I tried a bowl of the black bean soup, and our meal came with both sweet plantains and the yucca.  We also split a piece of their Key Lime Pie (Torta de Limon).  We are also fans of Tres Leches cake, but could not pass up Key Lime in Key West.

I had not had Cuban food before (just hadn’t had the opportunity yet).  My wife had Cuban food previously, and she felt the flavors and tone of the restaurant were consistent with her previous experience. They had musicians playing outside, and had set up heat in the covered outdoor dining area since it was a little cooler that night (though still plenty warm, as back in Wisconsin it was nearly below zero!)  Overall, it was relaxing, yet invigorating atmosphere.

The food was delivered super-quickly.  My black bean soup was quite delicious, and a great way to start off the meal.  My wife is not much of a fan of pork, so I had that dish to myself, and it was excellent.  The shredded beef was just as tasty.  I was the most excited to try the ground beef dish due to the combination of “tomatoes, onions, garlic, bell peppers, cumin, bay leaves, oregano, olives, capers, and raisins”.  I was perhaps a little surprised that the flavors on the dish weren’t a little stronger given the ingredients, but it was tasty nonetheless.  We both loved the plantains, and I had never had yucca before, but it was also good- a unique flavor.  The Key Lime Pie was a refreshing way to end our meal, as well.  All considered, we would certainly go back, and recommend that you do too, if near Key West.

The Keys to Eating in Key West

Mr. Z's Logo

Mr. Z’s Logo

Well, I’m back to the frigid northlands… I mean… Midwest… after a much appreciated surprise trip to Key West from my wife to celebrate my birthday.  It took me a little bit to get accustomed to signs showing ‘January’ being in mental juxtaposition with the warm weather.  It was my first visit to Florida, and I truly enjoyed it.   We hope to return to catch even more of the things we missed.  It was a long weekend trip, and we visited several museums and, of course, had to visit Duval Street.  I’ll be posting some food highlights of the trip, in the event they may be useful in your travels.

First up was Mr. Z’s: a restaurant that offers cheesesteaks, pizza, and stromboli.  We were wandering Duval Street and trying to decide what we were hungry for.  We ran across Mr. Z’s, partly due to the enticing aroma that reached us on the sidewalk through the open window screens.  It’s not a very large place, with a main counter and some seating on stools along the wall.  This might make it easy to overlook amid all the food options available, but it was certainly worth our time and easily handled our hunger.  I ordered the sausage and (sweet) peppers sandwich for a very reasonable $7, with an extra $1 for fried onions and cheese.  It’s a sandwich that I will get hungry for from time to time, and this one did not disappoint.  Coupled with a tasty red sauce, it was flavorful and satisfying.

My wife ordered a small veggie and four cheese stromboli, and they are not kidding when they say it will serve two people- my wife had leftovers.  Again, it was a very reasonable price – $10.  She let me try some, and it was prepared well.  There was a good mix of vegetables complemented with the perfect ratio of cheese to the vegetable ingredients.  The crispy crust held all the ingredients together well, also.  They do advise it takes a while to cook, but it didn’t take too long to get our meals.  I would certainly recommend Mr. Z’s in Key West if you’re looking to satisfy a craving or get a delicious meal for a reasonable price- just make sure not to miss it!

Pasta perfect

Bionaturae pasta

Photo from Amazon

We belong to a local food co-op that offers organic and other healthy food options; we do our best within our budget to maximize our options.  One of the products they carry is Bionaturae pasta.  They had a coupon available, so we thought we’d give their organic whole wheat spaghetti a try.  I have to admit that my expectations weren’t too high… I’ve tried some other whole wheat pastas from other grocery stores before, and they’ve tasted more ‘wheat-y’.

(That is a similar issue I have had when attempting to use whole wheat flour.  I used it for cookies before, and the wheat taste was very easily detectable…)

We were pleased to discover that Bionaturae had a taste like ‘regular’ non-whole-wheat pasta.  It took a little longer to cook than regular pasta, but it held up well in the cooking process and was pleasantly toothsome texture-wise.  It also paired well with sauce.

It is not available everywhere, but there is a store search feature available on their website and it is also listed on– (no specific recommendation implied).

Overall, this product holds true to its motto on the package: “Exceptional tasting whole wheat pasta! Enjoy the health benefits of whole wheat pasta without sacrificing great flavor.”

Prairie Bay

Prairie Bay Logo

This is the last (for now) of my vacation-based food reviews from Baxter, MN.  Let me start with a question.  How long do you remember what you had to eat?  Is it possible to go back… a week?  Perhaps- and maybe the memory gets fuzzy after that.  Good food should inspire a good memory- and I still remember what I had (Coconut shrimp and pasta!) when I first visited Prairie Bay, more than a year ago.  (This was a eagerly-awaited repeat trip!)

It is easy to notice the welcoming and classy ambiance right upon entering.  I visited with my wife and sister-in-law for lunch, and the restaurant was busy, but not overly noisy or cluttered.  The most difficult part was choosing what to have with expectations of such delicious food.  I eventually decided on the Chorizo Mango Cilantro Tasty O- their wood-oven take on ham and pineapple pizza.  Now, I am quite a fan of ham and pineapple, but I am also quite devoted to complex and tasty flavors.  This pizza certainly handled my pizza craving while hitting the sweet/salty notes expected from ham and pineapple, plus providing the complexity I desired.  The cilantro was the perfect flavor to complement the chorizo, which was tempered by the mango and the cheese.  The pizza crust is excellent- one of the best I have found.  My food was delivered quickly and was a generous portion, well worth the price.  We did not order dessert this time, but I recall the desserts we shared last time were sumptuous without being pricy.  They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and my only regret is not being able to try something from each menu yet!  If you are in the area, create yourself a vivid meal memory, and eat at Prairie Bay.


Sunshine Moonshine Logo

Another wonderful restaurant we found on our trip to Baxter, MN was the Sunshine/Moonshine.  We visited on a recommendation and ate with my wife’s brother and his wife.  We arrived at the restaurant for lunch and were greeted and waited on quickly.  The food did not take long to arrive- I was hungry for some Pad Thai, so it was the Thai Peanut for me.  It was a generous portion of noodles and vegetables; I opted not to add chicken.  The peanut sauce was excellent- perhaps a bit spicier than I was expecting, but flavorful nonetheless.  The dish certainly satisfied my craving and was very reasonably priced for the amount of food I received.  The included egg roll was a tasty bonus.  I’d highly recommend a visit!

Rafferty’s Pizza

Here is post #1 of a few vacation-food related posts.  I have often thought that a restaurant-based vacation would prove to be an intriguing one.  (Perhaps sometime in the future…)  While our most recent vacation was not of this type, I am always eager to find some good eating wherever we are going.  This was a repeat trip to the area, so we were expecting a repeat of tastiness.

Thus, we arrive at one of our dining highlights: Rafferty’s Pizza of Central/Northern Minnesota.

Rafferty's Pizza Header

I am a mega-fan of their cheeseburger pizza.  There are frozen varieties of other brands of cheeseburger pizza in the supermarket, but none compare to theirs.  It captures that burger essence and flavor in a pizza format.  I’ve always enjoyed pickles on hamburger pizzas, also.  I wouldn’t change a thing about their recipe.  It satisfied the craving while making me want to eat more cheeseburger pizza- a delicious conundrum.  It’s unfortunate that more places near us don’t offer cheeseburger pizza on the menu.  (It’s similarly unfortunate that we don’t have a Rafferty’s nearby.)

We also went off of the specialty menu and ordered a classic ham and pineapple, which was also tasty.  Their creation evoked the best of the ham and pineapple mix.  We’d order both pizzas without hesitation again the next time we are near a Rafferty’s.  The true difficulty is trying additional specialties, because we like these so much we have to reorder!

Vegetarian Ground Beef

Veggie Ground Beef

Let me start by saying that I am not a vegetarian (but my wife and I don’t have meat included in our meals every day).  It’s not so much that we don’t enjoy steak/burgers/chicken/shrimp/insert other food here, but rather part expense/part health.  Meat can be expensive, and we are trying to eat as healthy as we can.  We both come from families that have had meat as part of meals more often, and that’s ok.  We don’t have anything against it (and I love home cooking).

As a part of trying to eat healthier, we have tried some vegetarian products, one of which is Lightlife Gimme Lean ground beef.  It’s in the refrigerated case in the vegetables/fruits section of our local food market.  I’ve now had it a few times in a few different dishes, and it doesn’t disappoint or make me long for a non-vegetarian substitute in its place (a key component for someone like me).

There’s this perception that trying to eat vegetarian (even if it’s only so often) leaves someone with few, bland food choices, or you only eat vegetables themselves, or it will leave you hungry somehow.  This product is a perfect example of how that is not true.  I’ve made this into tacos with black beans- tasty with some unflavored Greek yogurt and salsa.  (Seriously, try some unflavored Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.)  I couldn’t tell any major difference using Gimme Lean with lasagne. Most recently, we made cabbage soup with this-a tomato base with red wine and kidney beans.  It’s simple to include this in multi-component meals.  I’m not sure that I would use it by itself and it crumbled a bit in the soup, but it’s a quick-cooking, easy substitute for meat, if you’re looking for something to try as an introductory meatless product.  Enjoy!