’Tis the season to be eating, fa la la la la . . . wait, does that mean it’s also the season to be cooking? Not necessarily. The Park is graced with eateries that can seamlessly meld with your home entertainment plans; local spots offer delicious comestibles that you can incorporate into any of your own holiday plans, in any way that strikes you. Here are some delectable ideas to get you in the mood without breaking into a sweat.
Holiday Party Potluck: MEAT LASAGNA
A big pan of lasagna doesn’t just feed a crowd, it pleases a crowd. Vescio’s makes a solidly good one: wide noodles layered with well-seasoned beef and pork, mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, mushrooms, and the inimitable “red sauce,” a lush mantle of simmered tomatoes, garlic and herbs. You can arrange for pickup or delivery, initial setup or full service: They are blessedly flexible. You can order it with the restaurant’s bread and salad accompaniments, build your own fantastic meal with a favorite salad or better yet, ask your guests to bring a few lasagna-friendly side dishes. Prices vary based on order size; $9.95–$130. 4001 County Road 25; 952.920.0733.
Family Week Night: CRANBERRY CURRY
We are lucky, lucky, lucky: our beloved neighborhood Thai joint, Thanh Do, is now delivering the wildly delicious fare that we crave— even less work for us! Chef and restaurateur Thom Pham hails from Vietnam; since then, he’s become very Minnesotan—perhaps more so than many of us. Pham’s first culinary brainchild, cranberry curry, delivers “classic Asian spice meets Minnesota nice.” Minnesota nice or no, it’s spicy-hot—a welcome warmer-upper that you can dial up (or down) on request. Fresh mushrooms, onions, scallions and Thai curry are simmered with coconut milk and plenty of the holiday favorite, cranberries. The dish’s complexity of spice is alluring and fun to decipher; we caught a tickle of ginger, a nudge of cilantro, a slap of hot chilies. As always, fresh lime steps in for a dash of acidity. Pair this with any kind of protein: mock duck, veggies or tofu, chicken and pork for $13.99; steak, shrimp and squid for $14.99; and scallops for $16.99. Get at least one order of brown rice to amp up the fiber factor,99 cents extra. 8028 Minnetonka Blvd.; 952.935.5005.
Festive Brunch: SOUR CHERRY PLUM COFFEE CAKE
Vitali’s Bistro, a new kosher deli, is one of the few kosher eateries in the greater Twin Cities area, and they’re raking in the raves already. Their coffee cake is, to abuse a cliché, to die for. It’s best to call ahead and see what flavors are available—like us, they’re into the seasonal and local; inspiration flies around like snowflakes at this place. We swooned over the sour cherry plum coffee cake, a not-too-sweet cake studded with pretty red fruits and topped with a heady mixture of walnuts, almonds and honey. You’ll want to cozy up in your Snuggi while you enjoy this one. Everything is made on-site. Special requests or suggestions? One day in advance, please. 12-inch coffee cake, $25. 5101 County Road 25; 952.929.1075.
Cocktail Party: APPETIZER/CHEESE PLATTER
Trader Joe's was once known as the party store, the go-to spot for discounted wheels of imported cheese, interesting crackers and spunky salamis. The wine and beer selections were amazingly priced and the store was open at weird hours—i.e., party-people hours. TJ’s has expanded its inventory to include staples like vegetables and meat, but feel free to ignore the tiresome healthy stuff when the holiday crunch is on. Instead, head for the scores of whimsical appetizers in the freezer case: chicken egg rolls, mini crab cakes, mushroom tartlets, spicy chicken wings, Asian pot stickers and oh-so-much-more from all over the world. Maybe opt for a cheese selection: Get one soft, one hard, one stinky, one mild. Need specific advice? Ask for Shawnee Braun. She can suggest good wine pairings and suitable garnishes (Marcona almonds? Quince paste?). Prices vary.4500 Excelsior Blvd.; 952.285.1053.
In Appreciation: TURTLE CHEESECAKE
We’re not sure how the name “turtle” came about—maybe because the outrageously yummy confab makes a person want to retreat to enjoy it in private. The turtle, a rubbled mixture of chocolate, gooey caramel and chunky pecans, is one of Muddy Paws’ most popular cheesecakes, and it will delight any party-giver, hard-working cleaning staff, favorite teacher, loyal dog sitter, etc. The only challenge here is to keep your own muddy paws off the cake as you deliver it from shop to recipient. Good luck. Nine inches, 12 slices, $32. 7600 W. 27th St., Suite B2; 763.545.7161.