5 Essential Positives








These 5 positives really struck me; I had to share them:

5 Positive Things

1) Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.

2) Never let a bad day make you feel like you have a bad life.

3) It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

4) If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

5) Begin each day with a grateful heart.

We saw these at Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen from a trip to Chicago a while ago.  (As a side note, the food we had was excellent and recommended.  I had one of the bowls- spicy Thai brown rice with tiger shimp, along with the butternut squash soup.)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


(But be careful with the name!)  Celebrate with the history and some green, as well as favorite dishes (even though they may not be historically Irish).  Of course, there is nothing like a glass of Guinness.  Visit a local Irish pub, and don’t forget dessert!  I’m not Irish (but I’m adopted Irish through my wife).

We didn’t go with the typical dishes this year; instead, I made a sweet pea and asparagus risotto to celebrate with green.  I’ve made a basic (somewhat healthy) risotto recipe for a while now and have found ways to adjust it to tasty effect.  I have a couple of cooking adjustments so it is not so heavy (1% milk instead of cream, butter added just before the end, olive oil to start).  Enjoy!

Sweet Pea and Asparagus Risotto

olive oil

1 large white onion

2 cloves garlic

2 c white wine

1 tablespoon parsley

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon marjoram

1 tablespoon coriander

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups risotto rice (Arborio or another kind)

1 cup milk

6 cups water (added one at a time)

chicken-flavored stock granules (or veggie, if desired)

1 small bag frozen peas

1 bunch fresh asparagus, chopped into pieces (tough part of stem removed and discarded)

2 tablespoons butter

8 oz fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded

I cooked this using a wok, but a medium-large non-stick saucepan should work.  Add olive oil to pan and set heat to low-medium.  Chop onion and add to pan.  Saute for a few minutes.  Add garlic using a garlic press (or mince).  Cook for about a minute (don’t let garlic burn), and add white wine.  I added the herbs at this point.  (I tend to like a lot of seasoning, so my herb and spice measurements were more along the lines of 2 tablespoons each.)  Add the rice, and cook so the wine bubbles and starts to reduce.  Add peas and asparagus.  Add milk, and then add the water 1 cup at a time (as the water cooks away and evaporates).  (Add chicken, chicken-flavored, or veggie stock granules according to the package directions.)  Keep heat at about medium so the mixture is bubbling, and keep stirring frequently to prevent burning/sticking and to build the creaminess with the rice.  Taste the rice as you cook so it does not get completely soft (you may need to add additional cups of water if the rice is not yet done, though).  Add the butter just before you are done.  Allow it to melt and stir it into the mixture.  Remove the risotto from the heat and add the shredded Parmesan (while stirring).

A note- fresh peas may be better, but we did not have any available.  The frozen peas we had seemed starchy, but we did enjoy the flavor of the peas, so frozen baby peas may be the way to go (more sweetness, less starch).   Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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.

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!

The Fireside Review #2

My wife and I went to the Fireside to see Legally Blonde The Musical partly because we had heard it was an excellent show and partly because my wife loves the movie, but it was completely as enjoyable as we were expecting.  The casting was very well done.  It’s always intriguing to compare movies to other iterations of a similar story, like musicals.  This one held true to the original source, as well as adding to it.  If you are thinking of seeing the show- hurry!  The show’s run is almost over.  And, as before, the show was not the only star. Part of the difficulty in choosing a show time is choosing which tasty meal you will get to enjoy.  This time we chose Sunday Brunch (all you can eat!).

Sunday Matinee Brunch
Chef-Carved Jones Cherry Wood Smoked Premium Ham and Roast Breast of Turkey,

(Both were delicious- and juicy.  Nothing’s worse that having dry turkey or ham, which was most certainly NOT the case here.)

Chicken Breast Tempura with Brandied Apricot Sauce,

(I’ve had this before, and I think it is one of my favorites- like a more flavorful and grown-up version of chicken nuggets- with a sophisticated sauce to boot!)

Eggs Benedict on Jones Hickory Smoked Canadian Bacon,

(I’m not a fan of over-easy – runny eggs, but this is definitely a personal preference rather than any comment on the dish.)

Scrambled Eggs,

(Both plain and with vegetables and cheese-  a breakfast classic.)

Jones Cherry Wood Smoked Bacon and All Natural Sausage Patties,

(Another set of delicious breakfast staples.  The bacon is the kind I prefer- not too soft.)

Fresh Norwegian Salmon,

(I love salmon in general, and The Fireside makes theirs well.  It’s a pleasant addition to the buffet- and again, it was not dry- a major plus!)

Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Tomato Butter Sauce,

(This is an example of a dish I would present to someone who says a vegetarian dish can’t be tasty.  I could have just kept eating these, if it wasn’t for all the other food I had to have.)

Bouquetierre of Garden Vegetables,

(A good mix of veggies.)

Beef Tenderloin and Broccoli,

(A nice flavor contrast to the other items on the buffet, paired with rice.)

Buttermilk Pancakes with Maple Syrup,

(I wasn’t in a pancake mood, but my wife enjoyed one of them made with M&Ms.)

and Home Fried Potatoes. 

(These were quite excellent- I’ve had a LOT of this type of potato, and often they are heavy and one-note.  These seemed lighter and had plenty of flavor.)

Your Brunch Buffet is accompanied by Chilled Strawberry Soup,

(Scrumptious and refreshing- a great idea for the start of the meal.  Not too sweet and with real strawberry flavor.)

Pastries from The Fireside Ovens,

(This was the opening item- a perfect appetizer.  A lot of variety and complexity in flavors.)

Banana Crème Brulee,

(A dessert well-done.  I’ve had other brulees of theirs, and they will all have you scraping the dish for the last bit.)

Coffee, Tea and Milk served at your table.

(I always have the coffee- a flavorful blend.)

Thanks again, Fireside, for a wonderful show and tasty meal!!

A Taste of The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned

My wife and I went to The Old Fashioned (“Inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs”) for a late dinner (if you can call our meal at near-midnight dinner) the other night.  The restaurant is located on the capitol square in Madison, Wisconsin.  We were quickly seated at a nearby table of our choice.  The space was comfortable, and allowed us enough room amid the other customers.  The music was a touch loud, but not unexpected for that time of night.  I sampled the brew of the month, and was happily surprised with a second glass free for their double bubble special.  It was an excellent beer to pair with my meal.  I was torn between the mac and cheese (which I’ve heard is delicious) and the No. 36 – beer battered walleye sandwich, which was my eventual selection.  I also upgraded to include a cup of their beer cheese soup (with popcorn!), but this was no mere cup.  The portions on both my soup and my fish sandwich were appropriately generous, making the meal a great deal for the price.  The soup was wonderfully tasty, and not over-reduced and thick as I might have feared for that time of night.  It paired well with my fish sandwich, which had a nice crunch with the toasted bread and cabbage/radish complement.  The tartar sauce was unique and flavorful.  My wife had a bowl of chili (also very generous-sized), and we also split an order of cheese curds.  Everything was excellent, and service was speedy.  Our server was welcoming and friendly.  We’ll be back, and I recommend giving the restaurant a try if you have not already.

Meal Review- The Fireside

I’ve often entertained the idea of taking a family “food vacation” to many excellent restaurants in an area, including any other food-related locations of interest, as well. Why should vacation attractions have all the fun?  Finding that gem of a restaurant out of the local area is enriching, as well.  Anyway…

I recently was able to attend The Fireside for their Viva Vegas show (only showing until March 4).  The show was excellent (although the music is before my time, there was little I had not previously heard).  The musicians/actors/actresses were able to put a unique spin on the presentation.  It’s theater in the round at its finest.  I wanted to comment on the consistently excellent food (and shows) that they offer.  My wife and I had the following before the show:

Bellagio’s Green Guacamole
Topped with Red Tomatoes and served with Crisp Tortilla Triangles

The guacamole had complex, tasty flavor.  There was perhaps a slight note of cilantro with the avacado.  My wife doesn’t care generally for guacamole, but she liked this.

French Onion Soup
Flavored with Spanish Sherry and crowned with a Rye Muenster Crouton

I love French Onion Soup, and often order it whenever it’s on the menu.  I was excited to have The Fireside’s take on it, and I was not disappointed.  The rye bread topper added a heartiness to the pleasantly onion-laden soup.  The stock, a critical element in this soup, was the perfect blend of flavors.

Caesar Salad
Smoked Turkey over Belgian Endive, Curly Frisee and Romaine Lettuce, Ribbons of Wisconsin Sartori SarVecchio Parmesan Cheese, and Classic Creamy Caesar Dressing sprinkled with Sesame Buds

The Parmesan balanced with the sesame croutons and Caesar dressing- with a slight bit of heat.

Freshly Baked Breads from The Fireside Ovens – They came by the table often with warm, fresh cheese bread and a darker walnut bread.  Both delicious!

Roast Boneless Pork Loin
Served with Herbed Crouton Dressing with Sauerkraut and Jones Original Sausage, Whipped Potatoes glazed with tasty Pork Stock Gravy, Fresh Carrots Vichy and a ramekin of our specially crafted Cinnamon Apple Sauce.

The pork was so tender, I didn’t even need a knife to cut it.  The combination of potatoes, gravy, carrots, and dressing is a classic combination for the wonderful ways the flavors work together, and this was no exception.  The cinnamon was a powerful note in the flavorful applesauce; I love the complexity of cinnamon.

Global Vegetarian Medley
Marinated Fresh Portabella Mushroom stuffed with Squash, Roasted Red Bell Pepper, Boursin Cheese and Pesto Sauce; Teriyaki Seasoned Rice with Orzo; Curried Couscous tucked inside a Roma Tomato; Grilled Polenta; Spinach Roulades; Steamed Fresh Asparagus; and a turban of tri-color Linguine topped with Marinara Sauce.

The above vegetarian combination was not technically my meal, but my wife was kind enough to let me sample a bit of it.  The portabella was imbued with so much flavor from the grilling; it was most certainly the best prepared portabella I’ve tried.  The roulades had an excellent flavor and consistency.  It was an excellent example of how vegetarian foods do not need to sacrifice flavor.

Black Jack “Golf Ball in Sand Trap”
Housemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Ball rolled in roasted ground Pecans, placed on Hot Fudge, striped with Caramel Sauce and served with a Shortbread “Poker Chip” Cookie

The presentation reminded me a lot of fried ice cream (though it didn’t taste like fried ice cream).  Overall, it was a delicious way to end the meal.  I found myself trying to identify all of the components in the complex dishes- guess I need to keep working on it!  There was a lot of good and nothing bad.  The Fireside knows how to prepare a great meal!

Tenuta’s (Added Link)



If you haven’t yet visited the local wonder that is Tenutas, you certainly should.  Make it part of a vacation or a foodie excursion!

You won’t be able to avoid the deli counter, as it would be a travesty of epic proportions.  Their tiramisu is sublimely delicious, and their cannoli have the perfect balance between the cream and the pastry.  I’ve only had the pleasure of the desserts, but plan to return for their assortment of other delectable deli foods.

Their shelves are fully stocked with a wide variety of goods, ingredients, and implements for the cook or connoisseur.  A word of advice- bring the shopping cart through right away; you’ll need it!

If you’re too far from Wisconsin, no worries!  Their online catalog is ready to serve.  Check out Tenuta’s; you won’t regret it!