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Food critic Tonya Kuxhausen writes reviews of meals she prepares for herself at home. Food is at the center of each article but the whole dining experience is considered and commented on. To paraphrase Socrates, an unexamined meal is not worth eating.

5 hearts = excellent! | 4 hearts = very good | 3 hearts = good | 2 hearts = not good | 1 hearts = yuck! | broken heart = ouch

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5 hearts

Five alive

My roommate's boss, Bob, had invited himself over for dinner, and I'm glad he did. We'd been wanting to have him over (he is also a friend of hers) but months went by without us making any effort. And actually, months have gone by since our dinner and I haven't written the review. That's what happens when you're in nursing school: You don't have a life. You don't eat well. You get mono. You fall behind in all your affairs. But back to January. I took notes that night; and tonight, half drunk on cheap sangiovese, I fetched the notes from the recycling bin.

So Bob came over with two great bottles of wine and wonderful made-from-scratch créme caramels. My roommate and her boyfriend provided the salad and cabernet, and my other friend brought the bread and olive oil. It was ambitious to plan soup and kebabs - something I had never made before. In fact, I wasn't even sure we had a broiler. After several trips to various grocery stores and co-ops, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen. The marinade for the kebabs was a fragrant and mouthwatering mix of peppers, cilantro, lemon and spices. I was intrigued with the saffron. It is expensive and hard to find. It's dried in tiny threads and packaged in pretty bottles. I had hoped to be blown away by it, but it's actually quite subtle and earthy. I kept adding more to see if I could actually taste saffron, and you know, I really couldn't. More than anything, it seems to impart a bright red color to everything it comes near.

The Menu (01-16-05)

To eat:
Organic field greens, tomatoes and Israeli feta
Spicy North African peanut soup
South African tempeh kebabs (broiled!)
French bread with rosemary & olive oil
Chocolate créme caramels

To drink:
Crozes Hermitage le papillon French wine (2003)
El Vinculo la mancha red wine (2001)
Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon (2002)
Concannon cabernet sauvignon (2001)
Le Grand Noir cabernet shiraz (2002)

I was stressed out with the timing of things. I've made the soup so many times (from the nostalgic Sundays at Moosewood) but I've never been able to make it without also making a huge mess in the kitchen. I had to build in time to clean up. I like to make it extra spicy and add in tons more cayenne and garlic; I think the creamy peanut-butter base can handle the zing. My one friend said it was too spicy, but everyone else seemed to like it. The salad could have been bland, but my roommate did a typically nice job with the sliced red onions and Israeli feta. (Her boyfriend had set the table while I was looking for the broiler.)

After the soup, salad and bread, I brought the glorious kebabs into the dining room. They were nicely browned and gorgeous (see photo). I think we all were full at that point, but the kebabs were irresistible. The marinade was complex but not as spicy as I expected. The tempeh, itself flavorful, slightly overpowered it. I was thinking a flaky white fish might be better. But who likes fish? The vegetables were juicy and tender, the cherry tomatoes giving away with a warm burst of flavor. I was pleased with my thoughtful and deliberate stacking pattern on the skewers, but I don't know if anyone else noticed that. The kebabs were fun to make and fun to eat, but the button mushrooms shriveled up like necrotic flesh. I couldn't eat them.

photo by roommate

I think at least four of us were a little drunk. My one friend had to drive back to St. Paul to let the dogs out (finally answering the question, Bob said, "Who let the dogs out?") but the rest of us talked about going out to play pool, though it was already midnight and weĠd finished five bottles of wine (two were less than half full when the night started). Bob had brought the French and the Spanish wines, and I was impressed with his taste. Three of us thought the Spanish wine had notes of butterscotch and dill, but don't let that discourage you from trying this fabulous wine. Also, if youĠre searching for a good French wine, go with the blue butterfly. It's outstanding.

photo by roommate

Our conversation ranged from music (Guided By Voices and Dave Brubeck) to wondering what was up with the redesign of Rudolph's at Lyndale and Franklin. We agreed it looks like Block E, and as my roommate's boyfriend said, "it's neutering the culture of the city." We laughed hard about the mouse's nest in the engine of my roommate's boyfriend's old teal Cavalier wagon, a car we greatly miss. We joked about being mistaken for gay by our insurance agent and our neighbors. We all smoked fake cigarettes at the table and ashed on the floor. Bob disappeared into the basement for a while and returned with a lousy chocolate martini. My roommate, though pretty drunk, used the word "crestfallen" to describe how we felt about our garden last year. Don't you want to hang out with us? We're planning to go to Murray's sometime for drinks (I named my former cat after that delightful pink room). Come meet us there, and then we'll all go down to City Billiards for pool.