Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Monday, December 1, 2014

Easy as Pie Almost Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

Sometimes you just have to cheat a little with some shortcut products. 

I've said it before and I freely admit it, I make terrible chicken gravy. Of course, my mother set the bar incredibly high with her homemade gravy, and my friend Mary set it even higher with her perfect cream gravy. Me.......... I have to stick with gravy mix or gravy in a jar to have edible chicken gravy. Unlike gravy, pastry is my area of expertise. Really. It's not hard to make pastry but I make REALLY good, super flaky, buttery pastry. But that also means dragging out my food processor, flouring the table, rolling pin, and rolling it out. Some days I'm really thankful for ready-made pastry!

I really love pot pie. It's so homey and simple, but filling, comforting- just the thing on a cold, drizzly gray day. Chunky chicken, mixed vegetables (my favorite!) and rich gravy bubbling away under a crisp pastry crust, this is really comfort food. It's not only comfort food, it's super easy to make with just a few store-bought shortcuts. This easy pot pie gets a big flavor boost from Feiny's Everything Rub. You want to try this stuff, folks. You can get yours by clicking HERE.  Now, for the recipe-
  • 1 refrigerated pastry sheet (the rolled kind)
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 potato, cut into cubes
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (allow to thaw for an hour or so)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 jar chicken gravy (about a cup and a half)
  • 2 teaspoons Feiny's Everything Rub (plus more for poaching chicken)
Set the pastry out to come to room temperature. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Place the chicken in a stockpot and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper and a couple shakes of Feiny's Everything Rub. Bring to boil over medium high heat, then simmer until done (usually about 15 minutes or so). Cover and let rest.

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter. Add the onion and potato. Cook and stir for a couple minutes, then add the water. Cook until the potatoes are almost tender. Add the mixed vegetables. When the water has mostly evaporated, remove from heat add the gravy and the Feiny's Everything Rub. Mix well.

Can't finish any recipe without some Feiny's Everything Rub

Remove the chicken from the pot and cut into cubes. Add to the vegetable mixture. Unroll the sheet of pastry dough and place over the top, pressing to seal around the edge of the skillet. Cut slits in the pastry and pop into the hot oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until deep golden brown and gravy is bubbling. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, just heat everything in a skillet and transfer to an oven-safe baking dish.

Super easy, almost homemade pot pie! This is a great way to use up leftovers from Thanksgiving too- just use about 2 cups of cubed turkey instead of chicken and some leftover turkey gravy. I like mine deep dish style with only a top crust but you can also line a deep pie pan with pastry, add the filling and top crust and bake about an hour.

Now, just a quick note about Feiny's Rubs- I love supporting friends and their business ventures, and Feiny's is the company founded by Adam Feinberg, a chef and pitmaster from Denver. He has a nice line of rubs already with more in development. You can find out more about Adam and his rubs by visiting Fein Tasting Foods.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Life and it's crazy ups and downs

It's been a pretty crazy couple of weeks here at The Little Lake House.

Winter has arrived, and with much fanfare. No, not feet of snow or crippling ice, but with single digit temperatures and just enough snow to make it beautiful. Normally I am so excited to see the first snowfall and this year inside I am still a little bit giggly about it, but with our furnace on the fritz it's not as enjoyable. But like life's many challenges this too will pass and we will soon be warm and toasty again. It's strange to think that a few weeks ago people were still boating, and today the lake is nearly frozen over.

The Chef is in the midst of his busiest time of year, with the country club hosting dozens of events and Christmas parties, a big Thanksgiving Day meal and a few weddings here and there. Speaking of weddings, The Chef surprised me the other night with a beautiful engagement ring! I was so happy I cried! Now we just need to agree on a date and make it official. It was a very touching moment as he gave it to me, and yes, it's mushy but he truly is the love of my life. I can't stop staring at my beautiful diamond ring.

Recovery has been slow going, but I am finally getting back up and around more. I have missed cooking! I have even missed washing the dishes to be honest. Knee surgery seems pretty simple but those are joints you bend all the time, without even thinking about it. The Chef has been an amazing caretaker and spoiled me terribly.

It has been a couple weeks but Halloween was fun with the grandkids- my oldest grandson was a scary hockey masked slasher this year, his first ever scary costume, my granddaughter was a princess, as she truly is, and my youngest grandson was a ninja turtle. Halloween is always such a fun time with kids in their cute costumes. We don't get trick or treaters at The Little Lake House which is one thing I do miss about city life. It's also hockey season for my oldest grandson, and as soon as I get back to driving all the time, I'll be watching him on the ice.

I've been thinking about decorating for Christmas this year. After many years of missing my holiday spirit, I feel like it is creeping back a bit. I have so many things to be thankful for in this life, and so much to be happy about, it's time to reignite that flame and at least do a Christmas tree and some stockings by the fireplace. I'd love to have more of those holidays where everyone drives out in the country to Gramma's House, where it's decorated so cute, with lots of delicious things in the oven, cookies on plates and bowls of homemade candy to share. I miss those big family gatherings at my house, now that my kids are grown and on their own, they like to host the holidays at their homes.

So friends, as Thanksgiving is right around the corner, please take a few minutes to reflect on the good things in your life, your family and friends, the people you love, the blessings you have received. I am so very thankful for everything I have in my life- my amazing children and grandchildren, wonderful friends and the man I love with all my heart, and for all of you, who inspire me. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Autumn in the country

Leaves are like spring flowers. Shades of red, yellow, orange dot the landscape, rustle and whip around in the breeze. Dust from the corn harvest fills the air. The sound of combines off in the field create the soundtrack. Deer poke their heads out from the cover of the woods. Autumn has arrived in the country.

"Knee high by the Fourth of July"is now dry and brown and
ready to harvest. Summer is officially over.
The fall season is so different at the Little Lake House than it was living in the city. No crowds pack the stores trying to get a jump on holiday shopping. The holidays still seem so far away right now. There is work to be done for country people. It's harvest time, and the fields are busy with activity. Late into the night farmers drive combines and grain trailers back and forth. The wild blows stray corn husks all over the highways. Farmers markets are closing for the year, apple orchards and pumpkin patches are overflowing with visitors from the city. Here at the lake people are busy readying their homes for the winter. Stacks of firewood line the sides of sheds and garages of the full time residents. The weekenders are packing up their fun in the sun toys, loading up boats and four wheelers and closing up houses til spring. Most days the air is heavy with the warming smell of burning leaves and fire pits.

photo by Todd Leech
It's time for us to clear out the gardens, dump out potted plants and clear the deck- anything that shouldn't freeze needs to be put away. It's bittersweet. This is my favorite time of year, and I definitely am looking forward to the first snow of the winter, but I will miss the garden and fresh herbs and stepping out the door to grab a couple of fresh tomatoes for dinner. Vegetables are now packed away in glass jars, lining the shelves of the kitchen cabinets. Jars of dehydrated herbs and peppers are crowded onto the bookcase shelves. Almost 40 pounds of peppers make a lot! Only a handful of cold-hardy plants remain out there-some kale, a couple of herbs. Lots of amazing winter meals will come out of those jars- chili, roasts, apple pies, toast with homemade jam and apple butter.

Long, leisurely drives in the country often reveal real gems
like this old farmstead, long abandoned and left to decay.
Another year has gone by and I didn't collect any walnuts for picking over the winter. I always say I am going to but.......the squirrels outnumber me. Leaves don't need to be raked here, so The Chef and I let nature do what it does with leaves. Mostly I enjoy watching them blow in the breeze and the way they smell during a cool fall rain. I love that they get stuck in the corners of the deck- I love their pop of color against the worn wood of our rustic weathered wood deck. It's also time for pumpkins and winter squash and all those amazing "fall foods" we love so much. Wonderful smells that fill the house, roast turkeys and beef stew and apple and pumpkin desserts. All those things remind me of holidays when I was younger, when my children were younger, time spent with relatives.

Autumn is definitely my favorite time of year, a time of giving thanks, reflection over the year that's coming to a close, and getting prepared for the year to come. It won't be long and the first flakes of snow will begin to fall.......

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Country Life: After all, Iowa IS a farm state, but wind farms ??

Over the last year I wrote several posts for a tourism project in my region of Iowa in which the Little Lake House is located. The tourism project fizzled out but the stories and pictures endure. It's time to share them with you!

Renewable energy. That's been the buzzword for some time now. Since the gas shortages of the 70s to high prices of today, we are always looking for newer, more affordable, and more environmentally friendly ways to generate power to keep our tech gadget-dependent society plugged in and connected.

Ever since Ben Franklin discovered electricity humans have been studying ways to make more, and more, and more. But who discovered WIND energy ? That's an ages old answer. Humans have been using the wind for centuries, to power windmills to grind grains, to propel sailboats across bodies of water. Years of experimentation and research have led to a new kind of Iowa farm- the Wind Farm.

Adair County is home to one of the largest wind farms in Iowa, and you can see the massive turbines for miles as you drive alone Interstate 80. On the west-bound side of the interstate the Adair rest stop is dedicated to the history and development of the wind farm and features an actual turbine blade. The sheer size of the blade gives you an idea of how MASSIVE these turbines really are, even tho they seem so small spread out over the farmland.

I stood beneath this incredible blade and it just seems to go on forever ! 

At the base of the blade there is a plaque that explains how the turbines work, who the manufacturer is, and a lot of other information.

Even though it's technically a rest area on the interstate, it's also a goldmine of information. The walls are lined with tiles that provide facts and figures about the turbines and how they work. 

For a weather buff like me, the tiles provided a wonderful learning experience- about so many things about Iowa wind and weather patterns I have never heard before. 

Pretty incredible to think about the amount of energy generated, just from the wind that's part of every day life on Earth.

And the wind never goes away..............

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Artisan Baking and why I love it

I love baking. Turning the oven on, warming up the house, the wonderful smells that fill the air. Of course in the autumn that means pumpkin, apple dumplings and apple crisp, pear tarts and lots and lots savory things like stews and roasts and casseroles. I have a giant roasting pan that holds enough lasagna for an army and it takes all day to bake. Don't forget roast turkey and chicken and pheasant- the smells coming from roasting birds are just about the best smells of autumn.

And bread. I love love love baking bread. I love bread pans, I love bread machines, I love clay baking stones. I love all of it! The yeasty smell of bread dough is one of my favorite kitchen smells of all. It really doesn't matter to me if it's a yeast bread or a quick bread, muffins or cheesy biscuits, I love baking it. The approaching holidays usually include banana bread, pumpkin bread. Gardens are giving up the last of the zucchini, many of them too big to use for anything but baking. Let's not forget, the holidays are coming- you're going to need lots of dinner rolls for holiday dinner.

Baking also is a way to express yourself, show off your skills. Hence the term artisan. Now some people say it's thrown around too often, too cliche, used for every recipe that is a little off the beaten path. I think some people just have a real deep passion for the food they produce, whether it's bread, cheese, condiments such as mustards and sauces, or charcuterie, just to name a few. I mean come on-artisan cheese? Sign me up! I recently watched an episode of Real Girl's Kitchen and Haylie visited a farm and creamery that made artisan goat cheese. Yum! That is my idea of artisan, and especially bread. Think of the beautiful loaves you see in the windows of bakeries. Long golden baguettes. Round loves of earthy, crusty whole wheat bread. Seeds sprinkled over. Herbs mixed inside. Cinnamon swirled in layers of tender dough. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

So I am going to bake some bread. I always have yeast on hand. Flour- check.Whole wheat flour- check. I even have cracked wheat to sprinkle on top. And I think I am going to go artisan and make a beautiful round loaf of crusty bread. Maybe I will even throw a pot of soup. 

To make a really good loaf of crusty bread, you will need-
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (keep it around 100 degrees so you don't kill the yeast)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 2 tb honey
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-2 tb crushed wheat for sprinkling

In a large bowl combine the water, yeast, honey and stir until dissolved completely. Add salt. NOTE- I was out of honey, so I used a couple tablespoons of sugar.

If you don't have honey, you can use sugar- I had to today.

Combine the flours in another bowl. I wanted an herby bread to go with my dinner so I stirred a couple tablespoons of Penzey's Parisian Herb mix. 

Add to the yeast mixture a cup at a time, mixing well after each cup. The dough is very soft and not a "kneading" type of dough. 

Form dough into a soft ball in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in a warm spot for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Get the oven ready for baking: place one rack in the lowest position and the other in the upper middle. We want our bread to have a crusty and chewy crust and you need steam to make that happen, so place a metal baking pan on the lower shelf. Choose one that holds at least 2 cups of water. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Get your baking pan ready: all I need to do today for this bread is lightly grease the pan.

Now for the dough.  Flour your hands, sprinkle the dough with a teeny tiny bit of flour (remember, it's sticky) and dump it onto prepared pan. With floured hands again, form the dough into a round loaf, or boule as the French would say.

Using a very sharp knife cut three slits in the top of the loaf. Brush or mist the dough very lightly with water and sprinkle with crushed wheat. Let the dough rest for ten minutes while the oven reaches temp. Go ahead and place the pan on the upper rack in the oven, and add at least 2 cups of warm water to the metal pan on the bottom rack. Don't use glass or you might break it and have a real mess.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Remove to a rack and cool. You can serve the bread warm but you should let it cool for 10-15 minutes minimum. 

This is the perfect kind of bread for sopping up rich gravies and soup broth. Round loaves are the perfect bread for a party size muffuletta too. I love round loaves of bread because you get more "bread butt" and THAT is the best part of any crusty bread if you ask me. This one took a little more work than the Dutch oven crusty bread I have made but it was still fun, and I'd definitely make it again this way. I hope you give it a try! Be an artisan baker for a day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fast Food- Thirty Minute Chicken and Noodles

Let's face it, some days all we want is a fast dinner we don't have to fuss with. For some, that means call the pizza man, for others, drive-thru or a deli meal. When you live in the country you often don't have those options. Fast food becomes junk in a box or junk from the freezer. It doesn't HAVE TO be that though. With a little planning when shopping, and a mindfully stocked pantry you CAN get a home cooked meal on the table in thirty minutes or less.

So what is in a mindfully stocked pantry? The basics. Chicken and beef stock. Noodles, pasta and a grain like rice or quinoa. Vegetables. You all know I'm a home canner so I have loads of veggies in the cupboard as well as homemade stocks, but if you don't can, just stock up on a few things your family likes. Some basic seasonings like garlic, onions, a few spices, chicken and beef soup bases. Every kitchen should have a thickening agent- flour or cornstarch, as well as baking basics like brown and white sugar and yeast. Keep a couple packages of easy to cook meats in the freezer/fridge and you're all set!

Faced with starvation this evening, no desire to cook a big dinner, and the closest pizza man an hour away it was up to me to make magic happen in the kitchen with a package of chicken breasts. So..... here is the result of five minutes of assessing the situation and making sure I had what I needed.

Thirty Minute Chicken and Noodles

You will need-
  • 1 package boneless skinless chicken breasts (mine had 3, I'm guessing roughly a pound)
  • 1 one-pound package wide egg noodles
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • cooking oil
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons chicken soup base (or 4 cups chicken stock/broth)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper

Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized cubes. Season with salt and pepper. In a large measuring cup place the flour. Add about 1/4 of water- just enough to mix it with a fork until smooth. Add the chicken soup base and water to make 4 cups. Set aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a skillet. I used my new ceramic skillet and it was awesome!! Add half the chicken and saute until browned nicely and cooked through. Remove to a bowl and keep warm. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add the noodles to the water when it's come to a full rolling boil. Most noodles take 7-9 minutes. Drain and set aside.

After all chicken is cooked, remove from skillet. Add a tablespoon of oil if needed and add the scallions and garlic; reduce heat and cook several minutes until garlic is softened but not browned. Switch to a whisk, stir the water/flour mixture again and add to skillet all at once. Return to higher heat and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened like a gravy. Return the chicken to the pot. Add the noodles. Sprinkle with thyme, mix and serve!

Wasn't that easy? It was super easy and fast, as delicious as something cooked all day and perfect for a cool autumn night. I recommend keeping low salt soup bases on hand because they CAN be pretty salty sometimes, but this was just right. Some buttered green beans and dinner was on the table in the Little Lake House- I kid you not- 24 minutes. Yes, I timed it!In fact, it all came together so quickly, I didn't have time to take many pictures.  Anyone can have 2 pans going at the same time- so give up the garbage food and make your own fast food!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Time for a road trip- Back to the city!

Once in a while...... the city beckons me. On a cold rainy fall day there isn't much to do around here. The garden is done. The leaves are gone. It seems a little desolate at the Little Lake House. What's a former city girl to do? Go on a road trip! Days like this are when the city beckons to me. I have always loved shopping on "crummy weather" days. Everyone else stays home. I don't have to participate in parking lot combat and traffic doesn't seem as bad. Pair that with the middle of the workday, and you have the perfect time to hit the store.

Generally speaking, I hate shopping. I hate the mall. I hate the stores, the pushy salespeople, lugging an arm full of bags around. HATE it. I'm no big fan of grocery shopping either. While it might be fun browsing the produce and different areas of the store, pushing that huge cart, lugging all the bags in the house. Just not fun. Less fun than laundry. Unless........ isn't there always an unless? Unless my grocery shopping trip has taken me to Gateway Market.

If you aren't familiar with Des Moines, Gateway Market is a small, upscale grocery store in the historic Sherman Hill neighborhood. Unlike the big supermarket chains, Gateway features local and organic produce, unique foods, gourmet items, fresh bakery, deli hot case, amazing beer and wine selections and a cafe where you can sit down and enjoy a nice meal and a bottle of wine. In warmer months they have a lovely patio to enjoy. The location is great, Sherman Hill is beautiful and close to downtown. Lots of big beautiful trees line the road and the store is just........heaven.

Walking in the door the first thing you see is the amazing produce. Today they had locally grown hot peppers- Hatch, Scotch Bonnet and ghost chilies (first time I have ever seen ghost peppers in a grocery store), cremini and shiitake mushrooms (score for me on the creminis), several colors of beets, beautiful multi-colored carrots, French fingerling potatoes, Peruvian purple potatoes, many varieties of squash, organic microgreens, and so so so much more. I'm only a few steps in the door! 

Fish tacos are on the menu so the next thing in my cart was a package of gorditas. I thought they would be a nice change of pace from the usual bland tortilla. The gorditas have a heartier texture and are a bit more substantial as well. I think they will be perfect. I have a table filled with garden tomatoes and fresh spinach in the fridge, and jars of salsa so we'll be all set. 

My heart was broken when I saw that the olive bar was disassembled. The olive bar is my sole reason for shopping there! Well, not really, but almost! There are usually about twenty or so different olives on the bar, plus olive combos, salads and Peppadews. Once in a while you will find something really different and exciting like pickled baby pattypan squash. Oh well. Probably just as well. I would have spent a big chunk of cash on tubs of olives.

Craft beers and imports- ice cold and ready to go
Balsamic vinegar has been the topic around here the last couple days, and when it comes to balsamic vinegars, Gateway has a great selection. From the everyday balsamic to the truly special imported bottles, several shelves in the store house several dozen different vinegars. There is an equally, if not more so, impressive selection of olive oils and other unique oils. Looking for truffle oil? You'll find it here. Imported and domestic, you can find an oil in any price range here.

The grocery shelves at Gateway are something to behold. Hot sauces are all the rage right now, and Gateway has a great selection. I was surprised to see pure capsacian extract on the shelf. I've never seen it in a store before. One million Scoville units. Of course, with ghost chilies and Trinidad Scorpion chilies and so on, one million isn't all that impressive ..... with an extract you are adding that to something that's usually already THAT hot...... well, at least that's what ChiliHeads do. Anyway- lots of fun hot and spicy sauces. Lots and lots of interesting Indian foods, most of which were cooking sauces and things like that. A nice selection of Asian ingredients- not as much as an Asian store of course, but enough to make a pretty decent Asian meal. 

Brave enough?
And then........we have the pasta aisle. I didn't get any pictures in the pasta aisle. My hands were restrained by The Chef (just kidding, but you can imagine). I wasn't interested in the dozens of pasta sauces available. Oh no, I was eyeballing the many unique pasta shapes! If you've never heard of it. they have it! I did spy a few familiar faces on the shelf- pappardelle, fusilli, spaghetti, a couple different styles of lasagna and penne rigate. I think I might sneak back there without The Chef and bring a few cool pastas home. I know I can always whip up a fabulous pasta dish no matter what we have in the cupboard.

The Happiest Place on Earth
Just across from the pasta aisle is the Happiest Place on Earth. No, not Disneyland- the wine section! Gateway prides itself on it's amazing wine inventory and knowledgeable staff and rightfully so. Wines are grouped by region and are easy to explore. A tasting bar has something for everyone and will open a bottle you are inquiring about for you to taste. They have a great selection of over 100 imported and craft beers too. Having dinner in the cafe? You can pick a bottle of wine to take over with you- there is never a corkage fee. They will even chill it for you in the express chiller at no extra charge. The cafe is a great spot for a quick lunch or dinner with friends or a casual date.

The wine staff will be happy to open a bottle for you.
Gateway hosts all kinds of fun activities throughout the year as well. Wine tastings and classes, such as Wine 101, provide guests with lots of opportunities to learn and explore new things. Speaking of wine, wine and cheese are a natural pairing and Gateway Market has a full-service cheese department boasting over 200 cheeses. You can have your cheese cut to order, sample different cheeses- both artisan and imported cheeses, and they always make sure to have a great assortment of crackers, and their house-baked South Union baguettes right nearby.  Having the South Union Bakery in the same building is genius. You get the freshest, most incredible breads......just steps from the ovens. I am hopelessly addicted to the bread. The bakery case is also filled with fabulous pastries, cakes, and the most meltingly delicious macarons I have ever had. Today I got Pumpkin Chai Macarons.......ohh my. Heaven!!!

If you ever get a chance, you simply must visit Gateway Market. If you're anything like me, you'll be right at home.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Girl Time- Girls Night Out

Many of us have one of those friends- you know the one, they are family, but not technically, but you find a way to make them family, like their niece is married to my son so that makes us- sisters!! For me that friend is Jessica. Over the years we have enjoyed so many good times together. Concerts, road trips, wine tastings, baking days with a stack of CDs of 70s music, epic marathons of making apple butter, dinner in, dinner out, everything a couple of sisters would do. Like it has a way of happening, life sometimes got in the way. Kids, jobs, busy lives and before you know it you don't spend as much time as you once did. We decided to make time for sister time. Do all the things we used to enjoy so much and make it a point to make time to slow down, catch up and enjoy life. 

We picked a popular local restaurant for our inaugural Sister Date. Since we are both wine enthusiasts we wanted a place where we could get a really good steak, and a really good glass of wine. She suggested John and Nick's, a very nice locally owned restaurant in Clive. That's about the midway point for me driving in and her driving west so it worked out great. I had never been here before and was impressed by the dark woods and cozy atmosphere. Candles on the table warmed the feel of the room and we were seated under a picture of the Eiffel Tower- my dream vacation destination. I liked it already!

The wine list was really pretty good. Now, if you're used to Michelin star restaurants with a sommelier and wine attendants on staff you will not be impressed, but if you are looking for good variety and some really good house wine, the wine list is for you. Jessica chose the house Cabernet. It was big and bold and filled the glass with amazing jammy fruity aromas. It was the perfect wine for a cut of beef like prime rib and was one of the better Cabernets I have had in years. We did ask for the name of the wine, but.......I forgot !!!! Anyway, I chose a Riesling. Yes I knew I'd be having steak for dinner but I don't believe in those stuffy old "rules," I believe in drink what you like when you like however you like. So Riesling it is, and I chose the Kung Fu Girl 2013. I might be a little bit biased because Riesling is my favorite wine, but this one was the best ever. Light and fruity, the perfect blend of tart and sweet, I loved it so much I found a store that sells it and bought more for home!

Like all the old family-owned restaurants here, and maybe everywhere, John and Nick's has the old standby- the salad bar. Normally I stay away from salad bars but theirs was very fresh and inviting. Lots and lots of fresh choices, vegetables, salads, and of course the odd fruity fluffy things I've never quite figured out. But besides the fresh salad and great selection of dressings, I added cubes of cheese and some beautiful olives to my plate. Of course, fresh bread arrived at the table. Some of these old traditions I just really enjoy, and the warm loaf of bread is one of them.

Choosing our entrees was not as easy as I thought it would be. They have a great selection of steaks and prime rib. I chose a New York Strip with crab stuffed shrimp and Jessica went with the prime rib. She ordered hers in a way I had never heard of before- seasoned and seared. It was delicious! Apparently, they slice off your prime rib, season it with their house seasoning, I'm guessing salt, pepper and garlic, and sear it on the grill. Now my Chef says he hates it when people order it that way, but I thought it was absolutely fantastic. My steak was perfectly cooked medium rare and was juicy and expertly seasoned. The crab stuffed shrimp were very good, although I thought they could have used a little bit more of the stuffing. And Jessica's prime rib was perfect as well- I was leery of it being overcooked once it's seared but apparently these chefs make this often- it was the perfect doneness.

No girls night, in or out, is ever complete without dessert. I deferred to Jessica to make the choice- we were both so full (Seriously, us girls are meat eaters. We don't "do" doggie bags.) that we decided to share dessert and she chose the chocolate lava cake. It was as lush and delicious as it was beautiful and we devoured it in no time, of course with a second glass of wine. Dessert and wine just go together.

We have a full lineup of Sister Dates to look forward to- days, nights, even a slumber party! We have wines to drink, movies to watch, dinner to cook, pies to bake, Downton Abbey to watch (from the beginning- I have never seen it) and so much more. Brandy, sherry, port. Beautiful teas and froofy coffees. Our favorite wine movies. Laughs, tears, memories and the kind of love only sisters share.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Cutler Creek

Good grief it is HARD to write about a wine when you can find virtually nothing about the vineyard or vintner. This is the problem I am having right now. The Chef brought home a couple bottles of Pinot Grigio for me to try and I have searched, searched and searched for any information about Cutler Creek Vineyards, and ............... nothing. So I have no interesting back story to share at all. No long family history or unique location, just my experience in the glass.

As a Pinot Grigio goes, this Cutler Creek wine was enjoyable. This one goes in the class of wines I like to call "girlfriend wines." If you are a wine drinker at all, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Barefoot, Flip Flop, Lulu, any wine with a cute label of stick figure girls- obviously marketed to women-  tend to be light, sweeter and simple flavors. Don't get me wrong, I like these wines as well, and often will grab one for sipping, they just aren't very complex. Cutler Creek Pinot Grigio is almost a perfect clone of Barefoot. It's sweet with a hint of tart. It's fresh and makes a good wine for sipping as well as splashing into a light and fresh pasta sauce, marinade or a sprightly vinaigrette. It has an alcohol percentage of 12.5% which is a nice little kick for a low price wine and makes it a great choice for a white sangria if you want to tame the alcohol a bit. 

The Chef and I were tasting and trying to pick out the notes. We both found something very different in the wine. He got a lot of green apple and fruity notes like pear and peach, but I found it to be slightly citrusy, with grass and herb notes, and some minerality underneath. Almost a flinty flavor. It made me wonder about where the grapes were grown, which launched my search to learn more.....that led me nowhere.

Would I buy this wine again? Sure- it makes a nice "stock your fridge" wine, a nice end-of-the-day sipper, would be great in wine cocktails. In fact, I may just grab a few just to play with- wine cocktail party anyone?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family traditions- A Grandmother's Story

Sometimes the story should have nothing to do with me. Nothing to do with a canning recipe. Nothing to do with vegetables or fruits or cakes. Sometimes the story has everything to do with the history of how we got to where we are today, and today my story begins with two little girls I would not meet for many years, Lisa and Daiynna, and the many memories they have of their grandmother.

Grandma's 1950s era Westinghouse Electric Roaster
Through the magic of the internet I learned that my friend Daiynna was selling off a few things she didn't need around the house. All kinds of things from yard equipment to appliances. One thing I really really needed was a large electric roaster. I've been borrowing my sister's for the last couple years and really wanted one of my own. Daiynna had three. One was sold right away and picked up before I ever saw it. Another was sold but not yet picked up when I staked my claim on the third. "It's a little older," Daiynna told me, "but it works just great. It belonged to my grandmother." I am totally ok with that. I only use one a handful of times a year- it will be perfect for my needs.

Modern roasters don't come with time and temp charts.
My own sister and I make a trip to the city and stopped by Daiynna's to purchase the roaster. It just so happened that the other, newer roaster was again available because the other person changed their mind. But as soon as I heard the story of the older roaster I just knew......there is so much more here than just an appliance. There is a story, a history, love and memories that need a place to be preserved and kept safe. I knew that roaster belonged with me.

I was soooo excited to see that light fire up!
At this stage in my life I no longer have any living grandparents. All the remnants of my grandparents' lives were divided and disposed of and my sister and I, living in Iowa, were never given an opportunity to have a piece of their lives to remember forever, which makes this roaster all that more important, not just to Lisa and Daiynna, but to me. I never knew their grandmother, but I know she is smiling happily knowing her hardworking roaster lives on, feeds families, and is just as treasured as if it were my own grandmother's.