Craft Beer and Kitchen: A first impression

The restaurant scene is always changing, which is part of what makes living in a culinary playground so much fun. However, I am always heartbroken to see establishments close, especially ones that have been around for years and been enjoyed by generations (or the ones on my restaurant dream list that close before I get to them). The past few months have seen the closing of some favorites such as Pracna on Main, Spill the Wine, and Nye’s Polonaise.

The only thing that offsets the sadness of one closing is visiting a new restaurant and being reminded that new favorites will open, chefs will continue to hone their skills, and we will keep sharing meals and memories with friends and family. A recent visit to the new Craft Beer & Kitchen in Woodbury, MN got us excited about exploring new places again.

Opening in the old Sunsets location the new look is modern and inviting with low lighting and dark wooden accents. The menu also received a bit of an upgrade with some interesting twists on old classics. The thing that really made this trip stand out, however, was the excellent service.

Today wait staff doesn’t tend to make that big of an impression on me since it is high turnover and often people who don’t enjoy what they do. The waitress we had the night we visited Craft was phenomenal. My daughter started to feel like she might be running a temp so my husband left to run across the street to CVS for some fever reducer. The waitress was kind enough to hold his meal in the kitchen and then she was so attentive she saw him come back in and she had his food out to the table seconds after he sat down.Cheese curds

The food is of course what we were there for and it didn’t disappoint. We started with breaded cheese curds and char wings. They were beautifully presented on a wooden board with delicious dips – honey mustard for the cheese curds and blue cheese for the wings. I’m not a big fried food or cheese curd person, but the cheese curds tasted like light and fluffy mozzarella sticks and were gone in moments. Between the six of us we had a hard time narrowing down entrees, but each settled on something different.

The jerk burger was well balanced with a little kick after the fact. The tree hugger grilled cheese was light years beyond any American cheese sandwich made at home.

Pumpkin ravioli

The pumpkin ravioli were little clouds of pasta sprinkled with chunks of savory sausage nestled into a light creamy sauce.

chicken sandwichThe open-faced chicken rotisserie chicken sandwich was piled atop perfect ciabatta bread with a layer of tart cherry chutney aioli keeping everything balanced.

The food and service will have us returning soon and we wish the team at Craft good luck!


A foe named Migraine

I’ve really been enjoying sharing stories of motherhood, cooking, and exploration with everyone. I had planned on a story of this wonderful place we recently ate at, but I got sidetracked by an old nemesis.

As I’ve done for years with this enemy I was going to work through it and share the planned post, but then I realized how many people deal with this same thing and how it really can affect everything you are – mother, wife, friend, cook, employee, writer.

Lego splitting headache

Photo: Matt Brown

The name of my nemesis – Migraine. We started doing battle in my teens and really went at it in my college years. I can usually feel it coming, but often feel paralyzed to do anything against it. The fuzzy blackness begins at the outer corners of my vision and moves in until only bright pinpoints remain. And sometimes even those disappear leaving me blind for a minute. The ringing in my ears. The pounding at my temples. The searing pain with every change in position.

I’ve had all the scans and they’ve come up empty. I’ve tried the medications – the very first one I tried made me look like a lobster only a few hours after taking it. I’ve been told to track everything: stress, workouts, mood, weather, food and drink consumed . . . all in the hopes of pinpointing that moment when it all goes wrong. Nothing has given me the answer.

So I have learned to keep going on with my daily life even when I can’t always feel all my limbs and my head is screaming “curl into a ball!” I try to stay hydrated and watch my caffeine intake. I work out daily, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid highly processed foods. I try to get enough sleep and have learned ways to help reduce stress. Yet, Migraine and I still duel on occasion.

I hope my daughter never has to deal with this, but if she does I want her to know she isn’t alone and I understand. I know there are many people out there who deal with the same thing and have found their own ways to cope. For a day or two I might be consumed by my enemy, but I always return to be mom, friend, cook. And that story will get told after all.

Roasted butternut squash and quinoa salad

I can remember Christmas day at my grand parents house with all four of my dad’s siblings there with their families. More than a dozen of us crammed into a little farmhouse, but having a great time.

The meal was the main event – okay, besides the presents. We would have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, broccoli rice bake, rolls, and much more. The drinks and conversation would flow and there seemed to be a glow coming from the house.

I still remember the cookies, pies, and homemade chex mix being pulled out; as if we needed more food to sustain the long evening ahead of us. My brother and I use to sit under the large wooden table and listen to the stories and laughter as the adults reminisced about days long past.

Recently I had a holiday potluck at my new office and there was something about that table full of varied foods, the stories and the laughter that took me back to the farm. I am thankful I have had both those opportunities and grateful that I have a new group of people to get close to. And this time I don’t have to sit under the table.

The recipe that follows ended up being the perfect dish for our holiday potluck. Easy to share, colorful, a little crunchy and a little surprising – reminds me of my extended family and all their stories.

Roasted butternut squash and quinoa salad

Butternut Squash salad

Serves 4-6 as main course or 8-12 as side dish


  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (I prefer the low sugar version)
  • 3/4 cup baby spinach
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey or agave
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups quinoa, cooked
  • 1 8oz microwave package of farro, cooked

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Toss diced squash with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Spread on a greased baking sheet.

Roast the squash for 15-20 minutes or until tender and golden brown.

While the squash is in the oven, heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil in a small saute pan over medium/high heat. Saute the onion slices for 2 minutes then reduce the heat to medium and continue to saute for another 5-6 minutes, until onion is caramelized.

Once the squash is done place the lemon juice, honey, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and whisk.

Add the butternut squash, onions, quinoa, farro, spinach, and cranberries to the bowl. Toss with the dressing until well coated.

We added feta and some chopped almonds when enjoying it as the main dish, but it also goes well as a side dish with fish and other simply prepared meats.

Enjoy with good friends and family 🙂


Looking forward to 2015 . . .

Well, 2014 is over already and what a year it was! It was a year of change and growth for all of us. I started my MBA. I started a new job I adore. We welcomed a new little girl to the Benner clan. My youngest sister started college (wow I am feeling very old). Olivia moved into a new daycare class and away from the teachers we all adored (we still have to go say “hi” to her Brooke). We took Olivia on her first trip to Disney. Olivia said “I love you” for the first time!

FamilyRolling right into 2015 I know we are going to have a happy jar full of little moments like these. We are already planning and looking forward to so many things. There are six things I am excited for that with a little attention on my part will make this year the year to top.

1. Visiting new places and revisiting old places with new friends. We are already planning a camping trip to South Dakota. I’ve never been and this will also be Olivia’s first trip there and first time camping. For years I have also wanted to do a girl’s weekend with my sisters. A time where we can just focus on fun and ourselves. So we are headed to Chicago for a long weekend of good food, shopping, and a little pampering. This past year also saw the birth of a new business idea that will mean gathering stories. Starting close to home, we are headed to the Amana Colonies in Iowa for some food tasting, shopping, and a little history lesson. I can’t wait to hit the road!

2. Experiences not possessions. As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve seen people dear to me age and slow down I’ve realized even more that the experiences are what make up a life. So for this year I am focusing on not passing up opportunities that come my way for experiences that have been on my bucket list. I am going to be skydiving and traveling and we will see what else!

3. Foster friendships. With starting my MBA, a new job, and having a toddler I feel like I have let the few friendships I had developed slip away. I’ve never been the one to be the center of attention so as the person who sits back and observes making friends has always been a slow process for me. I have met some amazing people over the past year and learned a lot about them, but it is time to let them into my world a little more and set aside time to get to know them even more. I know that as I get older friendships will be even more important and I want to encourage Olivia to do the same.

4. Celebrate life events. We have had so much to celebrate these last few years, but I don’t feel like we have done it right. So this year I want to throw a special birthday party for Olivia’s third birthday. I want to celebrate my husband and mine’s further growth into our 30s. Each celebration doesn’t have to be a big blow out filled with gifts and hoopla, but they will be special and unique and build happy memories we can carry forward. Happiness jar

5. The happiness jar. Last year I started a happiness jar and this year I want to over stuff it with things big and small. This simple mason jar sits on our mantle and last year I’m sure I overlooked some little joys to write down on a scrap of paper and stuff inside.

6. And to top it all off after 10 years of waiting and signing the petitions – Crispy M&Ms are coming back to the US! Since 2005 I have had to stock up as my in-laws made trips to Australia and New Zealand, but not anymore 🙂

Crispy M&Ms2015 is going to be amazing!