Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Wonderful Meal (aLONG post, but with Four Recipes)

We enjoyed a fantastic evening yesterday with several friends. Tammy and I decided to throw a "wine and dine party", with four courses and a different wine paired with each, hopefully paired to enhance the flavors of both the food and wine. (I say hopefully, because I will admit to only amateur-status with food-wine pairings.)

The first course was a modification of an appetizer that we first tasted while on the Bites of Boston Food Tours. At Orinoco, we were served an almond-stuffed, bacon-wrapped date. It was delicious and when we came home, I attempted to copy--and then modify--the recipe.

Stuffed and Wrapped Fruits

The bottom bite is the same recipe as we ate in  Boston, but the top is the same creation but using a prune instead of a date. Both were good, and are served here on a small wedge (0.5 ounce each) of creamy and mild Gouda cheese. We decided to pair this sweet and savory bite with a sweet, almond-flavored sparkling wine. The wine helped bring out the almond from the bite and the bubbles help mellow the sweetness. The idea to serve the bites on cheese came to me while on the Bites of Boston Tour, when Alyssa took us to a cheese shop a few stops after Orinoco.

The second course was the salad course and I made a variation of the salad pictured below (I omitted the olives.) This salad is simple to make. I just layer thin slices (less than 1/4 inch thick) of tomato, top with 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) crumbled feta cheese, and a chiffonade of fresh basil. For dressing I use nothing more than a touch of fresh cracked pepper, some kosher salt, and a teaspoon extra virgin olive oil.


Because the tomatoes were fresh, sweet and aromatic, the cheese a touch salty, and the basil brightly flavored, I wanted a semi-sweet fruity white wine. When we were on vacation, we stayed at Buccia Vineyard B&B, and spent an evening learning about the wines from owner Fred Bucci. We fell in love with his Agawam white table wine. It is light and fruity with a sweetness to offset the acid in the tomatoes.

The main course is something that I first ate when Tammy surprised me with reservations for the chef's  table at Chives, in Suamico, Wisconsin. It was duck confit with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and potato gnocchi. I attempted to replicate it for this dinner, subbing oyster mushrooms for the hen-of-the-woods (just because of personal preference.) This turned out really nice, and Tammy told me that it tasted like what she tasted at Chives. (I am not trying to compare my skills to chef/owner JR Schoenfeld--that guy is awesome!)

Duck confit, with oyster and crimini mushrooms on potato gnocchi

If you have never eaten duck, it has a taste similar to turkey dark meat, but meatier and richer. It is also much fattier. That makes the food taste incredible but not something that I could eat every day. I served this with another Buccia offering, their Cabernet Franc. This grape is usually blended with other varieties, but Buccia makes this wine with just this one grape. It is lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a hint sweeter. Tammy generally does not like dry wines, but she liked how the dryness of the wine help attenuate the fattiness of the dish. Also, the wine had spicy (black pepper) characteristics that just fit perfect. (We are going to need to drive back to Ohio and go to Buccia again. I wish they could ship out of state, but they are forbidden by law.)

Of course, no meal is complete without a dessert. Tammy and I had an idea (I'll be honest, we stole the idea when we learned of it at a wine-and-food class at Peller Estates, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Another place that cannot ship to us, which means another trip to Canada!) At the class we sampled a delicious eiswine, and the facilitator of the class told us that a nice dessert can be made by freezing a scoop of ice cream and making a hole (a well) in the middle and then filling the well with eiswein.

Simplicity itself! Except it isn't. If you don't get the ice cream frozen enough it slides all over. Then making the well is not as easy as it sounds. Eventually, we just decided that we were not going to serve that for dessert. So, the night before the meal, we started digging through cookbooks. In Rocco DiSpirito's Now Eat This! we found this homemade mocha mousse.

Yeah. A REAL mocha mousse.
This isn't pudding with whipped cream blended in!

The dessert was almost ridiculously easy to make and impressive as heck to serve. We paired that with a locally-produce sweet dessert wine, Parallel 44's Frost Bite. While not truly an eiswein, it has many of the characteristics of one. The rich sweetness is balanced by a nice acidity, which helped bring out the chocolate and espresso flavors of the mousse. The mousse itself was not very sweet which resulted in a nice pairing.

Okay. Here are the recipes.

Date/Prune Bites:
Serves as many as you make.

Using pitted fruits, stuff a roasted almond inside. Pan-fry a strip of bacon, just a little to partially cook it. You don't want it to get brown. Wrap the fruit in the bacon and secure with a toothpick. One strip of bacon will wrap three fruits.

With the rack NOT on the top setting, preheat your oven's broiler to high. (If you put the rack as high as it will go, the bites will quickly burn. I set my rack one level lower.) Two minutes under the broiler and they will be done.

I used low sodium bacon.

Nutritional data for 1 bite (excluding the cheese):
Calories:         44
Fat:                 2.1g
Sat fat:           0.6g
Chol:             3.3mg
Sodium:      73.3mg
Carbs:           5.4g
Fiber:            0.6g
Protein:        1.4g

Tomato Salad
Serves 2
2 tomatoes, ideally one yellow, one red
Crumbled feta cheese
Salt, Pepper
Olive oil

Slice tomatoes. Layer them on your plate as you prefer. Top with cheese and drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil. Sprinkle pepper and salt.

Nutritional data:
Calories:        86
Fat:                6.9g
Sat fat:           2.1g
Chol:             8.3mg
Sodium:    110.4mg
Carbs:           4.9g
Fiber:            1.4g
Protein:        2.4g

Duck Confit, with Oyster and Crimini Mushrooms, on Potato Gnocchi
Serves 6

(I used store-bought gnocchi, since I had never made the recipe before. I wanted to control for variables and concentrate on the duck. Next time, I will make the gnocchi from scratch.)

1 ounce dried oyster (or other) mushroom
8 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 duck, approximately 5 pounds, whole or in pieces
1 bottle dry wine, a blush or a white
1 pound gnocchi (approximately 60)
1 cup flour

1.   Bring 1.5 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat. Place dried mushrooms in water and allow to rehydrate. This will take 10-15 minutes. when rehydrated, strain mushrooms, and set aside. RESERVE the mushroom water.
2.   Place flour in a Ziploc bag. Add your preferred seasoning.
3.   Cut duck into pieces, leaving skin on.
4.   One piece at a time, place duck in Ziploc, and shake to coat. Remove duck and set aside.
5.   Heat a non-stick skillet (or your pressure cooker). Add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Working in batches, brown the duck on all side.
6.   If you have one, prepare your pressure cooker. Add 1 cup mushroom water and 1 cup wine to cooker. Place all duck pieces in. Seal according to your unit's directions. Cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. Allow pressure to drop naturally.
7.   Remove duck, let cool a little and then shred. Return the shredded duck to the broth and keep warm.
8.   Prepare the gnocchi as per instructions. I dropped my into boiling water/wine (2 cups each) and let them cook until they floated.
9.   While the gnocchi is cooking, preheat skillet with 1/2 tablespoon oil. Saute crimini mushrooms over med-high heat for 1-2 minutes. Add rehydrated mushroom.
10. Drain gnocchi and add to mushrooms. Saute until they are beginning to brown (3-4 minutes)
11. When every hot and cooked, add the duck to the mushrooms. I kept the broth in a separate saucepan to keep it warm and to help me portion more accurately.
12. Divide into 6 portions. Top with 2-3 ounces broth.

Nutritional data:
Calories:      371  
Fat:                 8.7g
Sat fat:            3.0g
Chol:             67.3mg
Sodium:         469mg (Almost entirely from gnocchi)
Carbs:           45.9g
Fiber:              2.2g
Protein:        22.8g

If you do not have a pressure cooker, use a large kettle and bring mushroom-wine to a boil. Add duck and cook until finished. (I'm not sure how long that will take. You will need to test from time to time. My guess will be 30-45 minutes.)

Mocha Mousse
Serve 8

1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon water
2 teaspoon gelatin (one packet is a little more than that amount)
3 whole eggs egg yolk (or 2/3 cup egg substitute--I used real eggs.)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (if you can't find that, use 3 tablespoons instant coffee)
8 egg white, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup Splenda

1.   Place a perfectly clean large glass or metal bowl in freeze 2-3 hours before you plan to make the mousse.
2.   Combine water (room temperature), vanilla and gelatin in a large bowl. Set aside to allow the gelatin to "bloom". (2-3 minutes) It will look like solid Jello when ready. That is okay.
3.   Set a 2/3 full saucepan on stove and bring to a boil. Set a small metal pan on it (or use a double boiler.)Add whole eggs, honey, salt and whisk together.
4.   Add espresso powder and chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate melts. This will take about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour over gelatin, whisking together until the gelatin is melted into the chocolate-espresso mixture.
5.   Remove bowl from freezer. Place egg whites in and begin beating with an electric beater.
6.   When the whites begin to froth, add cream of tartar and continue beating.
7.   When the whites are getting thicker, but still soft, add Splenda while continuing to beat the egg whites.
8.   When the egg whites form soft-medium peaks, fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mix. FOLD CAREFULLY so the whites are able to retain the air.
9.   Continue to add the whites in two more additions.
10. Carefully spoon into serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours. Top with whipped cream and fruit or chocolate chips and another light dusting of espresso powder.

Nutritional data:
Calories:        135
Fat:                8.2g
Sat fat:            5 g
Chol:             79mg
Sodium:        81mg
Carbs:           11.6g
Fiber:                 2g
Protein:        7  .6g

NOTE: This recipe uses raw eggs throughout. When using the double boiler, they are not held at a temperature high enough to pasteurize the eggs. The egg whites are never exposed to any heat. Raw eggs can cause illness, especially the elderly and those prone to infections. Make and eat this recipe at your own risk. (That being said, we all ate them, as did my children.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Souffles Wait For No One (and other lessons learned)

I made souffles for the family Friday night. Two different souffles. One was a savory souffle (Spinach-Asiago) for the entree and the other was sweet (Kahlua-Chocolate) for dessert. I have made souffles before and I know that while they are not actually as difficult as they might appear, they are rather finicky kitchen creations.

They also take time. Time to make, and time to bake. And with only one oven, that presents some challenges. It would be easiest to bake both at the same time but that won't work for a couple reasons. One is the simple fact that I want the savory souffle to be served as the meal and the sweet souffle for dessert, and a finished souffle will not wait even five minutes after removing it from the oven. The second is that I can only make one souffle at a time. It takes about 10-12 minutes production time to get a souffle in the oven. I can't let the first souffle wait 12 minutes before I begin baking it, nor can I open the oven to quickly start baking the second souffle (the cold air rushing in could collapse the souffle and once collapsed, it is done.)

So I decided the best method will be to bake one, serve and eat it, and then make and bake the second. That will leave about 45 minutes between courses, but it can't be helped.

Spinach-Asiago Souffle, as it came out of the oven.

Four perfect portions.

I served this with a  mixed tomato and mozzarella pearl salad, dressed with a bit of olive oil.
(All the tomatoes were from my garden, as were the basil shreds.)

Everyone in the family enjoyed the souffles. With souffles, timing is everything and it went perfect. Everyone was at the table, enjoying the salad as I pulled the souffle from the oven. I briefly showed the uncut souffle to everyone (I am a proud chef sometimes) and then portioned and served it.

That's when the lessons began. When the timer on the oven began to sound, I canceled it but left the oven on to bake the dessert. Then I ate and after eating, I assembled the Kahlua-Chocolate souffle. I was hurrying a bit but everything went together well, and about 12 minutes after starting I was able to get the ramekins in the water bath. But I had extra souffle batter, so I needed to quickly prepare another 1 quart casserole and I baked the remaining souffle in it. I didn't have room in the water bath, so I decided to risk baking it naked. I set my timer for 28 minutes and went back to the table.

At about 20 minutes, I went to look in the oven, and the souffles were not rising as expected. I dared to open the door to take a closer inspection, and immediately found the problem. When I canceled the timer, I also turned the oven off. It still had residual heat when I put the second souffle in, enough heat that I didn't notice that the oven was in fact off.

I stood up, chuckled and told my family that dessert would be delayed. I turned the oven back on, and hoped for the best. After laughing at me a bit, and reminding me that I have done that in the past, we sat down as continued to just talk.

Actually, the family time was the sweetest dessert I could have asked for. We all sat at the table for an hour waiting for the second souffle to be baked. The boys were in a great mood. We spent the time reminiscing about their childhood, the previous homes we've lived in, childhood friends, and generally just had a wonderful time laughing at our remembrances and anecdotes. I think that my mistake was the luckiest thing I have done in a long time.

Eventually, the timer sounded again. All conversation stopped as I went to the oven, and pulled out the ramekins.

Four individual Kahlua-Chocolate souffles.

Nice! They survived 20 minutes in a cold oven, and then a slow warm-up to baking temperature and were nicely baked. Not a tough exterior but with a slightly moist interior.

Then I pulled out the casserole. I did not take a picture of it in the casserole, because ... well, it had a rough life.  Here is what it looked like on the plate:

Kahlua-Chocolate Souffle, DOA (Dead on Arrival)

That is my thumb on the plate, right next to the "souffle" for a scale comparison. (And I have small thumbs.) The souffle is maybe 1/4 inch thick (6mm). I essentially made a Kahlua-Chocolate flourless pancake. Don't get me wrong. It still tasted good, especially with a little whipped cream. But countless generations of chef are rolling in their graves at what happened.

Why did this large souffle die while the small ramekins survived? The water bath. That water was still HOT when I put the ramekins in, and that kept the dishes warm enough to maintain the air in the egg whites. The casserole was baked naked and the 20 minutes without heat was enough to let the millions of air bubbles deflate. I also rushed this batch a bit. I only whipped the egg whites to soft peaks, and didn't cook the butter-flour mixture as long as I should have.

Moral of the story? I don't know; I'm not Aesop. But I know that in the future, I will not rush my souffles (or other foods). At the same time, I will plan future meals so that I bake a dessert while eating the main course. I will pick a dessert that everyone loves, because last night's dessert helped hold my family together for an extra hour. If you have growing/grown children, you know how brief those times can be. I will find ways to make us take more time together. Meals are quickly forgotten, but time spent with those important in a life is eternal.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two Souffles



Each recipe makes one 1.5 quart souffle dish or 6 small ramekins

Here is the basic recipe. The two different flavoring recipes will follow. (This recipe look long and complicated, but it really isn't. There are simply specific steps that need to occur at specific times. If you have a stove, a whisk and an electric beater, you can make these.)

4 tablespoons fine panko crumbs or granulated sugar (not Splenda, Stevia, etc). Use breadcrumbs for savory souffles and the sugar for sweet souffles.
3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil (olive for savory, coconut or a nut oil for sweet)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 egg yolks at room temperature
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/8 tsp salt

1.    Place mixing bowl (glass is preferred) in freezer at least 2 hours before you plan to start making the souffle. An ice cold bowl will help the egg whites get foamy and hold their shape better. This bowl must be perfectly clean, with no traces of oil/fat or dish soap residue,or your whites will not form.
2.    Preheat the oven to 375. Place a 9x13 pan, half full of water in the oven as a water bath.  (A water bath will let the souffle's interior get fully cooked without burning or drying out the exterior. You may find recipes that don't have you use a water bath, but you really do need it.)
3.    Prepare all ingredients, measuring them out and having them ready to use. Souffles are not difficult, but they are a bit fussy and you won't always have time to measure your ingredients as you go along. It's best to have everything measured out and in their own little ramekins (like you see on cooking shows).
4.    Prepare your souffle dish or ramekins. Spray the entire inside with cooking spray. Put the panko crumbs (or granulated sugar) in and rotate the dish until the inside is completely covered. Dump out the excess. (The crumbs and sugar help the souffle rise by giving the eggs something to "grab onto" as it climbs.)
5.    Prepare flavoring. Set aside.
6.    In a small saucepan, heat the milk on medium-low heat until it steams. Do not let it scorch.
7.    In another saucepan, add butter and oil over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, slowly add the flour, whisking as you add to avoid lumps. Cook and whisk for 2 minutes. Do not let it brown.
8.    Slowly add the milk to the oil-flour mixture, whisking as you pour. Continue to cook this together until the mixture has the consistency of thick pancake batter (2-4 minutes.)
9.    Transfer the hot mixture to a large bowl. Add egg yolks one at a time, whisking until completely incorporated.
10.  Whisk in flavoring.
11.  Remove mixing bowl from the freezer. Put egg whites in bowl. With an electric mixer on low, start beating the whites. As they get foamy, increase the speed. Add salt. Beat until they whites are shiny and stiff. (Stiff is when they hold stiff peaks when you lift the beaters out. If the peaks bend over, you have soft peaks, and the eggs are not done yet.)
12.  Using a rubber spatula, add 1/3 of the egg white to the yolk-flavoring mixture and GENTLY fold together. Do not rapidly mix the two, that will deflate the egg white. Fold the remaining egg white in. It is okay if white streaks remain obviously visible.
13.  GENTLY spoon the batter into the ramekins or souffle pan.
14.  Bake until puffed up and firm to the touch. For 6 ramekins, that will be 20-24 minutes, for a souffle dish it will be 38-42 minutes. If your oven has a glass window, leave the light on and check frequently as you near the cooking time. Do NOT open the door to check, because the in-rush of cold air can deflate the souffle, as can shutting the door hard.
15.  When the souffle is done, immediately serve. Have your dinner guest at the table and ready for the souffle. As the souffle cools, it will begin to deflate. That will in no way detract from the flavor, but it will alter the potentially beautiful appearance. "A souffle waits for no one."

Flavorings. These can be completed in advance.

2 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1.5 ounce shredded Asiago cheese (you can also use Romano or Parmesan, or any other dry aged cheese)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1.  Place thawed spinach in several layers of cheesecloth or a white flour sack towel, and tightly wring out as much water as possible. Place in a small bowl
2.  Add cheese and pepper, and mix together.

2 teaspoons instant coffee
2 ounces Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur such as Tia Maria)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup granulated sugar (I used an equal amount of Splenda)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1.  Mix coffee granules, vanilla and Kahlua until the coffee dissolves.
2.  Add sugar and cocoa.
3.  Stir together until smooth. If too thick, add another tablespoon Kahlua.

Nutritional Data (for 1/4 of each recipe):
                Spinach-Asiago           Kahlua-Chocolate
Calories:         188                                 154
Fat:                   12.6g                               10g
Sat fat:                5.6g                              3.7g
Chol:                 126g                             116mg
Sodium:            272g                                80mg
Carbs:                 7.2g                              8.7g
Fiber:                  0.6g                              0.9g
Protein:            10.5g                              7.6g

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bites of Heaven While Camping

Camping.  It brings to mind food like hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. Baked beans, cole slaw and potato chips. Soda and beer. Sounds nice. But average. And I don't do average very well, as you can see by the other meals on this blog.

Never believe that you cannot eat like a king while camping. It only takes planning and preparation. Here is what we ate while camping.

We arrived at the campgrounds Tuesday afternoon. We set up camp and relaxed a bit. When it was time for dinner, I made pan-fried tilapia, a fresh tomato and feta salad, and a piece of home made whole wheat bread. And a beer (of course!)

I always keep an electric skillet in the camper and it was perfect for the fish. I brought along some tomatoes from the farmer's market and had baked a loaf of bread Tuesday morning before we left home. I just pan-fried four tilapia fillets in a teaspoon of garlic-infused olive oil. The beer was a new one for me. Velvet Chicken is a Belgian Trippel-style ale. Crisp and hoppy, slightly sweet and highly carbonated, it balanced the fish and tomatoes very well.

Velvet Rooster. Unusual name. Good ale.

Later in the evening, I make popcorn over the fire. I used one tablespoon coconut oil and six tablespoons popcorn in a campfire popper. Tasty! No need for butter when you use coconut oil. I seasoned it with a non-sodium salt.

Fresh and hot popcorn.

This is a nice fire but not good for cooking. It is mostly pine, and that eruption is the pine sap bursting out of the wood. Looks good, tastes terrible.

In the morning, I made pancakes and eggs. The recipe for the pancakes are here. They are protein pancakes and only have 1/2 cup oatmeal as grain in the cakes. I fried some eggs to go along with them and as usual I topped the cakes with Greek yogurt. Again, I used the same electric skillet from the evening before. Before leaving home, I made a package with all dry ingredients pre-measured. Then I only needed to add the egg whites and applesauce.

Breakfast prep.

My breakfast.

Tammy's breakfast.

After breakfast, we hit a few antiques shops in Door County, Wisconsin and found some milk glass and bar glasses for my collection. That was a lot of fun, but when we got back to camp, I needed to get a fire going for dinner. The plan was nice, thick rib steaks, sauteed broccoli, homemade bread with garlic-infused olive oil and grilled apples.

 Rib steaks, about one pound each, one inch thick. We don't normally eat steaks like this.
I wanted to splurge and make something big and marbled and juicy.

Remember how my plans usually work? Well, this time the plan got derailed when I forgot to pack the campfire tripod. And this camp only has a fire ring but no other cook equipment. No grates, grills, and anything else. So, in the spirit of multi-purposing, I seared and pan fried Tammy's steak in the electric skillet. I seasoned it simply with a salt-free blend that I made (black pepper, celery seed, mustard seed, coriander and a hint of crushed red pepper--sorry, no link to this so you can buy it.)

Mmmm, on its way to a medium finish.
Five-six minute per side.

Tammy's steak was going to work perfectly, but I wanted to try something different. And, with a nod to grillmaster Steven Raichlen, I wanted something a lot more primal. I seasoned mine with a lot of fresh cracked pepper and some coarse salt. And I made it caveman-style. What do I mean by caveman-style?

Cooking right on the hot embers! This is a good cooking fire.
I used all birch logs to build this mound of embers. 
That is an unpeeled onion at the top of the picture and two foil-wrapped apples on the right.

This is after flipping my steak.
I cooked it about four minutes on the first side, three minutes on the flip side. My goal is medium rare. (Warm but red in the middle, but with a crusty, charred surface on the outside.)

Tammy's on the left, mine on the right.

On my plate, with the grilled onion and some broccoli.

When I cut in, I found medium-rare!

So, what was it like eating a steak that cooked right in the embers? Abso-freakin-lutely delicious, juicy, tender and with flavor to die for. I brushed off the bigger chunks of ash when I took it off the embers, but not much was really sticking to it. The outside was crusty, and the inside was perfectly warm and red. I will cook steaks like this again!

The grilled apple, filled with crushed Fiber One cereal
and a bit of butter and Splenda brown sugar, and finished with whipped cream

Do we always eat like that? Actually, yes, we do. You should know that from reading this. But it still fits into our calorie budget. And we enjoy it. We like to eat good food.  

Remember, if you want to do this you need to plan ahead. Tammy and I sat down about a week before we left and planned out each meal. Then I shopped for everything as needed. We made this easy by packing each meal in its own plastic bag, so all I needed to do for each meal is pull the bag out of the cooler. Anything that needed to be measured was pre-measured and packaged.

And all the food fit into our budget. That huge steak was 14 ounces (after removing the bone) still fit into my calorie budget. (It helped that we only ate two BIG meals that day, but that was just because we spent a lot more time shopping than I expected.)

Don't be afraid to eat good food, at home, while camping and on vacation. Life is short. Enjoy it! I have a lot of good recipes here. Make them. Change them to meet your tastes (tell me about your adaptations--I like to read about different ideas.) And have fun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Music and Beer (Not At the Same Time)

Saturday was a great day! An noon, I watched my son's band perform their last gig together. It was an outdoor show at a local music store. They play heavy metal and most of the music is original pieces that they wrote.

From left to right: Charlie on bass, Ethan R on guitar, Don on drums and my son, Ethan L on guitar.

Yeah. I'm a proud dad. He's a great guitar player!
After the performance I went to downtown Green Bay to a foodie-fest, Savour Green Bay. It features local restaurants, breweries and wineries, with an emphasis on the local food cuisine. I went there, not for the food--of which there was plenty--but because a local homebrewer is living his dream because he opened his own brewery. Stillmank Brewing Company makes one beer, Wisco Disco, a hoppy and smooth Americal Amber Ale. A great beer! Currently only available in the Green Bay area on tap, soon he will be canning in 16 ounce cans and distributing to local grocery stores.

Brad Stillmank, founder and brewer of Stillmank Brewing Company.

After enjoying his wonderful amber ale, I felt incomplete. One beer is always a lonely beer, so I stopped at another vender, Titletown Brewing Company. One of their brewers (another homebrewer from the area's homebrew club) Dave Malcom was present and pouring several selections, including a German Schwartzbier (black beer), Dark Helmet. It is a black lager, smooth with flavors and aromas of coffee, chocolate, caramel and toast--and yet NONE of those ingredients are used. The brewers make those flavors and aroma from the different malts. This beer took a bronze award at the World Beer Cup. A seriously good beer, and one that I could have drank all day. But since I needed to drive, I stopped at one. But that's okay. I know where I can get more.

Dave Malcom, standing proudly in front of his beers.

All that before 2pm! It was a great day!

That's all. Nothing profound to talk about, nor any new recipes. Sometimes that's just the way it goes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zucchini Fries

Zucchini Fries
Serves 4

1 medium (6-8 inches long) zucchini
1 egg white
1/4 cup water
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Your preferred seasoning (I used Penzey's Sunny Paris.)

1.  Preheat oven to 375
2.  Cut zucchini in half, giving you two halves, each 3-4 inches long. Leave the skin on.
3.  Slice zucchini into strips, approximately 1/4 inch wide. They should end up looking like raw french fries. 
4.  Put egg white and water into a bowl and whisk until frothy.
5.  Mix panko crumbs and seasoning together in a bowl large enough to hold the zucchini strips.
6.  Taking a few strips at a time, dunk into egg wash, then lay in crumbs. Toss to coat. The zucchini will not be covered completely.
7.  Place in a single layer on a grease baking pan or pizza stone.
8.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm but not crunchy.
9.  Serve with ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce or honey-mustard (seen above).

Honey-Mustard Dressing
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon coarse-ground German mustard

Nutritional data (Zucchini only, no sauce):
Calories:       75
Fat:               0.6g
Sat Fat:         0.1g
Chol:               0mg
Sodium:        80mg
Carbs:        12.7g
Fiber:           1.5g
Protein:       4.5g

Personal Pizzas, Two Ways

Personal Pizzas, Two Ways

We woke up this morning and decided that we wanted leftover pizza for breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn't have any. But we had some ingredients on hand and I made these. They both start with a 6 inch La Tortilla Factory Wrap. I spread one teaspoon olive oil on each and then added the various toppings.

In the background is the Mushroom, Tomato and Spinach Pizza. I layered, in this order:
4 ounces sauteed crimini mushrooms
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
5 Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup baby spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons shredded cheese

In the foreground I have a Mushroom, Onion and Bleu Cheese Pizza. Again, in this order:
1 ounce bleu cheese
4 ounces sauteed crimini mushrooms
1 medium Vidalia onion, sauteed with 2 ounces port wine
1 ounce bleu cheese (I was fortunate to find a mild bleu jack cheese, cut into 1 ounce slices. that made making this pizza easy.)

Sauteing onions with port is also easy. Thinly slice the onion. Heat a non-stick pan and heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add onions and cook over medium-high heat until they are getting translucent. Pour port in the pan, cover and cook for another 5-6 minutes, or until very soft.

Bake these pizzas on a pizza stone or other pan, at 375 for about 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Nutritional data:
Mushroom, Tomato and Spinach Pizza
Calories:    296
Fat:                21g
Sat Fat:         6.7g
Chol:             30mg
Sodium:      848mg
Carbs:           22g
Fiber:         10.5g
Protein:     14.1g

Nutritional data:
Mushroom, Onion and Bleu Cheese Pizza
Calories:    483
Fat:            29.6g
Sat Fat:      13.4g
Chol:            60mg
Sodium:     464mg
Carbs:       32.2g
Fiber:        10.2g
Protein:       21g

Friday, July 20, 2012

Taco Salad--a Great Summer Meal

Taco Salad
Serves 1

This isn't a recipe post, because I'm not going to tell you how to make a salad. I am posting this as a reminder that meals can be very easy and delicious.

Whenever I buy ground beef, I always buy an extra pound and brown it off. Then I freeze it for use at a later time. Today was a later time. So all I needed to do was thaw and heat the meat.

The pinto beans are made from scratch in my pressure cooker. They went from dried beans to ready-to-eat beans in 40 minutes. (I cooked them in beer instead of water for added flavor. Even Tammy, who does not like beer, said that the beans tasted of beer, and that they were good.) You can certainly use beans from a can, but I prefer mine fresh because I can control the sodium content. While they were cooking, I prepped all the toppings and warmed the meat.

The red tomatoes are from the farmer's market, but the yellow are from my upside down tomato baskets. The red jalapeno is also from my container garden.

I used only 2 tablespoons each of cheese and plain Greek yogurt, and 1/4 of a mashed avocado, and I built the salad on an ounce of tortilla chips and three cups of mixed greens.

And of course, I served this with a cold beer. This was Totally Naked, a seasonal offering from New Glarus Brewing in New Glarus, Wisconsin. It is a simple pilsner-style beer, clean and crisp. Perfect to cut through the spices of a taco salad. I'm sorry if you line somewhere beyond the Wisconsin borders. New Glarus does not distribute out of state. (Yup. We keep it all for us! And for any tourists that visit.)

I hope you decide to make a similar meal.

Are you Satisfied? Or Just Full?

Seriously. I want you to think about this question after your next meal. "Am I satisfied with this meal, or am I full but still want to eat more?"

Satiety is more than filling a stomach. If it were that simple to trigger satiety, drinking a liter of water should satisfy your your appetite, because most stomachs hold about a liter. To feel satiated, you need to do more than distend your stomach, you need to fill it with the right foods.

I'm not talking about endocrine signals that your body produces. (Well, indirectly I guess I am, but that is not my area of expertise and I don't pretend to have such aspirations.) I am talking about foods that make us feel good.

Let's think of it this way.  If you had 200 calories of salad (spinach, carrots, cucumber, and low-fat dressing) or 200 calories of Edy's Slow-Churn Ice Cream, which would make you feel fuller 1 hour after eating? Which would make you happier in a visceral, deep down way? I can't answer for you, but I know that the ice cream would make me fuller, and happier, longer than that salad.

I'm not advocating giving up on veggies and eat only ice cream, Oreos, and potato chips. But I am saying that if those are food items that you really enjoy, include them in your food budget. Maybe not everyday--but if you can fit it, everyday is okay, too.

Life is short. And without being morbid, no one knows how many more days we will be walking around. Life is meant to be lived. Enjoyed. Relished. Cherished. Tammy and I recently were shopping and before we headed to the car, we saw a frozen yogurt vendor. Frozen yogurt (nutritionally) is not much better than ice cream. But we both saw the treat and immediately realized that we needed a cone.  Not want, but need. So we each bought a cone.

It was delicious. Rich and sweet and creamy. And it still fit into our budget. After eating that, I felt full, even though the cone itself was not large, maybe four ounces. But it filled that psychological and physical gap that our lunch ignored.  I am not suggesting that you go out and buy a big bucket of ice cream and a Costco size tub o' fudge sauce and get your feed on, but if your budget allows it, go out and buy a single scoop of an indulgent ice cream or frozen custard. Sit down and really enjoy it. Then log it and move forward.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Simple Tomato Salad

Simple Tomato Salad
Serves 1

3 slices red tomato
3 slices yellow tomato
4 kalamata olives, halved
1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil

1.  Layer tomatoes on the plate. Arranges olives and cheese. Top with olive oil.

(The garnish is thinly sliced fresh basil.)

Nutritional data:
Calories            162
Fat:                   15.5g
Sat fat:                2.7g
Chol:                   17mg
Sodium:            441mg
Carbs:                5.5g
Fiber:                 2.1g
Protein:             1.9g

The sodium is primarily due to the olives. Remove or reduce them to help limit your sodium intake.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The Past is the Past ... "

"The past is the past. It is what made us who we are. Now we move forward from there."

Sometimes I find inspiration from the oddest of places. That quote was from an episode of Burn Notice, Season 5.  And while in the show, the quote refers to how people change while growing up with an abusive father, it applies to all aspects of our personal history.
We are what we are, because of what we have done in the past. Now the only question is "What are we going to do to help control our future?"

If you are overweight, what are you going to do to change that? If you are not physically fit, what will change that? And a fundamental question to both is, "What costs are you willing to accept?" Losing weight will require a change in your food consumption. You will need to eat less, measure and weigh your food and record everything to eat. The recording piece is vital because it signifies that you accept responsibility for your actions, and that you understand the cause-and-effect nature of weight loss and weight gain. Are you willing to be dedicated to yourself? 

You might receive negative comments about your attempt. Friends and relatives may try to sabotage your efforts, consciously or not. People may get angry at you, for attempting to make personal improvements. Are you willing to accept those risks?

Are you ready to embark on a lifelong journey? This will not be a short process. In fact, personal acceptance and self-control will need to be part of your life, for the rest of your life.

If you want increased physical fitness, you will need to change your daily actions. You will need to move more. Walk. Run. Bike. Swim. Maybe you will join a gym, maybe you will buy an exercise DVD. But the cost is that you need to change your daily habits. It may require that you get up a half hour or hour earlier in the morning. Are you willing to do that?

You may feel self-conscious at first, when entering the gym or jogging on the road. People may look at you. Or people may ignore you. Are you willing to put your efforts on public display?

Physical fitness is not a "one time event." You can't start a new exercise plan, and after a few weeks or months, simply stop because "you are done." Physical fitness is for life. Can you commit to that?

I know. You already knew all this. But if you are anything like I am, you sometimes need reminders.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Shrimp and Asparagus on Gnocchi

Shrimp and Asparagus on Gnocchi
Serves 6

1 pound store-bought potato gnocchi (or approximately 60 homemade)
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound raw asparagus, tough ends trimmed off, and cut into 1 inch lengths
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup sliced onion
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best, of course)

1.  Bring 1 liter water to a boil. Add gnocchi. Let simmer until they float.  Drain.
2.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Carefully add gnocchi.  Saute, stirring often, until the gnocchi begin to brown. Remove from the skillet, cover and keep warm.
3.  Add remaining olive oil to skillet. When hot, add onions.  Cook over medium heat until they turn translucent -4-5 minutes.)
4.  Add garlic. Stir often, for 1-2 minutes. The onions should be just starting to turn brown.
5.  Stir in asparagus, broth and wine, turn heat to medium-high.  Cover and cook until the asparagus are just beginning to get tender.
6.  Add shrimp. Reduce heat to medium. Cover, simmer until the shrimp turned pink and opaque (about 3 minutes.)
7.  Return gnocchi to pan. Add lemon juice. Cook until heated through (about 2 minutes)

Nutritional data:
Calories:         219
Fat:                    5.1g
Sat fat:              0.8g
Chol:                 54mg
Sodium:          481mg
Carbs:            31.8g
Fiber:               3.7g
Protein:            9.6g

Note: This recipe was amde using store-bought, shelf-stable gnocchi. Use that added a lot of sodium. When I make this next, I will make homemade potato gnocchi. (I've never done that before and before I make a new dish, I try to make it as easy as possible.)

If you want a much more detailed review of asparagus and many more ideas on how to prepare and use it, here is a great web resource: How to Cook Asparagus

Thanks to Lita Watson for sharing this information with the blog and all of my readers!

If you want to a new podcast on your play list, listen to my show Make Your Someday Today (MYST). Here is a link to the first episode, where I tell my personal story of how I went from wearing a 3XL shirt down to a Medium, from 48" waist to 34", and my jacket went from a 54 Portly to 44 Regular.

And before you go to the grocery store for good gnocchi, here is a podcast episode that will help you make the best possible choices to help your weight loss journey!

Two Different Bean Salads

Chickpea Salad
Serves 10 (1/2 cup portions)
1 cup dried chickpeas (or 3 cups canned)
1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
1 cup diced red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1.  Prepare dried beans according to package instructions. (If using canned beans, pour into colander and rinse with water.)
2.  Place all ingredients into a bowl, and mix.
3.  Refrigerate overnight.

Nutritional data:
Calories:    62
Fat:           2.3g
Sat fat:      0.2g
Chol:           0mg
Sodium:    11mg (This is using dried beans. Canned beans will add about 215mg per serving.)
Carbs:       13g
Fiber:       5.9g
Protein:   3.4g

Four Bean Salad
Serves 16 (1/2 cup portions)

This salas is a bit more sweet than the first salad.

1 cup dried kidney beans (or 1 can kidney beans)
1 cup dried navy beans (or 1 can navy beans)
1/2 cup dried Lima beans (or 1/2 can Lima beans)
2 cups fresh green (or yellow) beans
1 cup onion, diced
3/4 cup table sugar (you can replace some or all of the sugar with stevia or Splenda, if you want)
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil

1.  Mix sugar, olive oil and vinegar.  Stir until sugar is dissolved. (Warming in the microwave will help.) Set aside.
2.  Prepare all beans according to label directions. (If using canned beans, pour into colander and rinse with water.)
3.  Trim green (or yellow) beans, and cut into 1 inch pieces.
4.  Bing 1 liter water to a boil in a 2 liter pot. Blanch the beans in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain water off.
5.  Combine all beans with onion.  Pour dressing over, and mix. Refrigerate overnight.
6.  Add black pepper to taste.

Nutritional data:
Calories:    110
Fat:              1.8g
Sat fat:        0.3g
Chol:             0mg
Sodium:      14mg (This is using dried beans. Canned beans will add about 225mg per serving.)
Carbs:         26g
Fiber:         9.5g
Protein:     5.6g

Other option for this salad:
Add sweet bell pepper, jalapeno or other hot peppers, tomatoes, or corn.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Herb Crusted Chicken Thighs with Steamed Broccoli and Acorn Squash

Herb-Crusted Chicken Thighs, with Steamed Broccoli and Acorn Squash
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approximately 5 ounces each)
2 large eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Herb blend of your choice (I used Penzy's Sunny Paris.)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1.  Whisk the eggs in a large bowl.
2.  Mix herbs and panko crumbs together in a shallow dish.
3.  Dunk the chicken in the egg wash, and coat in crumbs.
4.  Preheat non-stick skillet with olive oil over med-high heat.
5.  Place chicken in skillet and cook until done (about 6 minutes per side.)
Nutritional data (chicken only):
Calories:      281
Fat:            16.3g
Sat fat:         3.6g
Chol:           193mg
Sodium:      186mg
Carbs:          9.7g
Fiber:           0.5g
Protein:      28.4g

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Serves 2-?

Every antepasto platter will be different, based on your geographical region, food preferences, and budget.

My wife and I decided that since it is quite hot out, we did not want to cook, but we also did not want to eat out. So I rummaged through the pantry and fridge and came up with this selection.

Today's antepasto included hard boiled egg, marinated artichoke hearts, fire-roasted red bell peppers, dilled Brussels sprouts with garlic cloves, two different Wisconsin cheeses, green and black olives, and a fresh tomato bruschetta of ripe tomatoes, onion and olive oil. I also grilled some pita breads.

Traditionally, an antepasto platter will also include aged and cured meats (ham, salami, prosciutto) but we didn't have any on hand.

I won't include any nutritional data, because everyone that reads this will make a different version. Go a little crazy! Mix it up and at the same time, use what you have readily available. Make it easy on yourself.

And have fun eating!

Pita, with Egg and Avocado

Warm Pita, with Eggs and Avocado
Serves 1

1 pita
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 mashed avocado
5 cherry tomatoes, halved

1.  Heat non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil.
2.  Place pita into a 6 or 7 inch skillet and warm it (about 1 minute).  Remove and keep warm.
3.  Crack eggs into skillet.  Cook to your preference.
4.  Place eggs on pita. Top with avocado and tomatoes.

Nutritional data
Calories:        468
Fat:              26.2g
Sat fat:           5.2g
Chol:             423mg
Sodium:         178mg
Carbs:          41.7g
Fiber:             5.5g
Protein:        21.1g

Wines, Antiques and Covered Bridges

We awoke to fine breakfast delivered to our room.

Nothing fancy. A cream cheese filled pastry, a fruit cup, orange juice and coffee.
A very nice breakfast!

After we ate, we talked to Joanna about a few ideas for antiquing and dinner. Since it was Sunday, and most stores didn't open until noon-ish, we relaxed with the coffee. We were offered some wine samples, but since we wanted to visit other wineries, we chose to wait. (Wine with breakfast? What, are we back in Wisconsin?)

And now we take a break from our usual topic (food, wine and sometimes even weight management) and delve into a couple other topics. Don't worry. Food and wine returns later in this post.

We programmed a series of antique shops into Samantha, our GPS. She brought us to the first two addresses. Unfortunately, there were no stores at those addresses. At the third address, the store existed, but it was out of business. The fourth store ... well, we walked in and immediately walked out. It wasn't a store so much as it was an indoor garbage dump. And it smelled like it.

We gave up on the idea of antiquing. I decided it was time to start drinking ... er, sampling wine. As we drove out of town headed to the first winery, we drove past an old home (a old 40-room mansion) that had a small sign out front saying "Antiques." I drove past it and Tammy pointed it out. "Do you want me to turn around?"

Her response, "It's up to you."

We had been to five addresses, and all five were strike outs. Well, let's go for six strike outs. I turned around, found parking and we went inside.

No strike out here. A home run! The owner walked us around and we found a number of nice milk glass pieces. The prices were reasonable, and in some cases, very good. We ended up filling a moderate sized packing box with beautiful pieces to add to Tammy's collection. While she was paying, I noticed a small flier on the counter that advertised another shop, just four blocks away. We got in the car (which we realized was getting rather full) and I said, "Let's give this shop a try." Between the 40-room mansion and the second shop, we drove past two other antiques dealers (both closed.) We got out at the shop and entered. It was the smallest of the antiques stores that we perused on this vacation, but immediately Tammy found a Westmoreland footed candy dish. (Another score!)

I kept wandering the store. I was beginning to enjoy spotting the antiques for Tammy, but I was also on the lookout for books. I love books! I always have, and always will. And whenever I go to a used bookstore or an antique shop I look at the "classic" books. I sometimes find unique books related to nursing, or cookbooks from the 1800's, or history books. It is always a surprise what I find.

But I am also on the hunt for a few specific books. When I was about eight years old, my dad gave me a box of books that a coworker gave him for me. They included three books from the 40's, published in three different series. They were designed for teen boys, glamorizing the war and essentially serving as enlistment material. But they were fun to read. At some point over the years, my parents got rid of them (probably at a rummage sale.) I had found a couple titles on Amazon, but the tightwad in me didn't want to spend the $40+ so I never bought them.

Oh my God!!!!

Tammy said I did a goofy little "happy dance" when I saw those books on the shelf. (I am soooo glad she didn't have a digital recorder with her!) Twelve books, published from 1941-1944, for a total of $32.00! Of the Dave Dawsons, those are eight titles that I did not read. My dad gave me "Dave Dawson and the Pacific Fleet." But "Yankee Flier in Italy" was one of the books that I received. In fact, I still remember one of the characters, because he loved blueberry pie (which is also my favorite) and the book starts with:

Anyway, as you can tell, I am seriously geeked that I found those books. And for a great price! Now I am only looking for the missing Dave Dawson (noted earlier) and a book that I cannot even find referenced anywhere. It is a hard cover book, and "Don Winslow of the US Navy" is the main character. I primarily only find references to the comic books of the same name and the movies from 1942 and 1943, but a deeper look shows that Gaylord DuBois ghost wrote some novels with that character. I have no dates or title names. If anyone knows of a copy, I'd appreciate if you would let me know.

Back to food and wine.

We headed to the first winery, The Lakehouse Inn and Winery. Tammy and I each chose five different wines, and shared so that we could taste them all. None were worth buying, and to be honest, we left most samples unfinished. Oh well. (That is ten wines so far.) From there, we went down the road to the Old Firehouse Winery. Here we each chose a ten-wine sample, and most of these were very good. We bought a bottle of their Lighthouse Niagara, a semi-sweet white table wine. It was the best of the 20 we sampled. (We are now up to a total of 30 wines sampled.)

We needed food, so we went a few miles further to the Old Mill Winery, and a ten-wine sample platter. (Forty wines now.) We also ordered dinner. Tammy had a delicious burger, and I had BBQ pork ribs to die for.

(There should be a picture of the meal here, but at this point my brain
was not at peak operating level and I forgot to take one.)

I also had a locally produced Dortmunder Gold Lager from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, a crisp and hoppy German-style beer, with enough body to stand up to the ribs. (I simply needed a change from wine.) The meal was excellent, one of the best of the vacation (excluding the lobster roll in Maine, of course) and we enjoyed the meal on their open patio. It was very relaxing.

We decided to find one more winery, Laurello Vineyards. We tried two more wines, but seriously, by the time anyone tries a total of 42 wines, their taste buds are gone. However, we still thought Connie's Blush (a semi-sweet blush table wine) was very tasty, so after buying a bottle we headed back to the B&B.

But I heard so much about the many wooden covered bridges in the area that I needed to see them for myself. The way residents talk about them, I thought they must be something special. We drove through a few. They are wooden. And covered. And are bridges. Truth in advertising. (I guess I can cross that off my bucket list.)

Back to the B&B, we relaxed on the patio, and strolled the vineyard.

The perfect place to relax.

Tomorrow, we drive home. It will be about a ten hour drive. And we are ready to go home. It has been a long time away from our sons, our dog, our bed and our pillows. And I cannot wait to cook for us. As much fun as it sounds, eating in restaurants all the time gets old. But I have new ideas for future meals!

Friday, July 13, 2012


From left to right: strawberry, nutella-strawberry, and lemon

Basic Crepe Recipe
Makes 12 crepes

6 oz milk
5 oz beer
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt

1.  Put first four ingredients in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, mix for 30 second. Scrape the sides and mix for another minute, or until thoroughly mixed and smooth.
2.  Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
3.  Re-whisk the batter just before you begin frying the crepes.
4.  Preheat 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with non-stick spray.
5.  With the skillet off the heat, pour 2 oz (1/4 cup) batter in the center of the skillet. Tip the skillet so that the entire bottom is covered.
6.  Return to heat. When the top begins to dry and the bottom is beginning to brown, flip using a wooden or rubber flipper. The edges will begin to curl away from the pan at this time.

Beginning to lift up at the lower left corner.

This is a perfectly fried first side.

7.  Fry the crepe for another 10 second. The crepe should be be very lightly brown.
8.  Remove from skillet.
9.  Add fillings, fold or wrap and serve -OR- stack with wax paper between layers for later use.

Nutritional data (per crepe, without any filling):
Calories:         64
Fat:               1.2g
Sat fat:          0.5g
Chol:           36.5mg
Sodium:       43.8mg
Carb:            9.2g
Fiber:            0.3g
Protein:         2.7g

Possible fillings are endless:
A whole banana
Nutella (or peanut butter) and banana
Nutella (or peanut butter) and strawberry
Any other fruits (fresh or canned pie filling) with whipped cream
Lemon juice and powder sugar
Greek yogurt and your favorite fruit

Bacon and eggs (with a touch of cheese)
Ham and cheese
Cream cheese and smoked salmon
Shredded chicken and salsa
Thin-shaved beef with horseradish yogurt

On to Ohio. But first ...

We woke up on our last morning in Niagara. I sure will miss having Marilyn Monroe look down on me as I sleep.

Something unsettling about that print.

We left the hotel and decided we needed a good breakfast before we move on to the next winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our "Food and Wine" teacher, Jane, gave us two free tasting passes to another vineyard that they own and to a wine shop. We stopped at a little family restaurant and ate a hearty breakast (three egg omelet, toast, potatoes and bacon.)

By the way, in Ontario they don't call those potatoes "Tater Tots" but instead "Breakfast Potatoes."

As we left the restaurant, I realized that we had left all our wines and beers in the fridge in our hotel room. So we drove back and retrieved them. (Another delay!) Eventually we arrived in downtown N.O.T.L. right in the middle of a Cherry Festival, so parking was an issue. We found the wine shop and sampled three wines from different vineyards (including one from Wayne Gretzky.) They were nice, but none really buyable. From there we stopped at a small grocery store, and picked up the makings of a picnic lunch (some feta-stuffed jalapenos in olive oil, a veggie platter, a package of dates, some cream cheese, rice crackers and some nice prosciutto) with the plan that we will eat on the road between Ontario and Ohio. Such a good plan! (Foreshadowing maybe?)

We also decided to hit some antique shops. One was small and nice, and Tammy found a piece of milkglass that she bought. But we struck the mother lode. It was at a mini-mall of sorts, allowing many antiques dealers of all sorts to display their merchandise in one location. We covered it front to back and were happy to reduce their inventory of milkglass by quite a bit.

But now it was almost 5pm. We a still had about a 2.5 hour drive so we packed everything up and headed for the border.

And waited.

In line.

With cars.

Approximately half the cars on the continent.

We started at the end of the line at 5:17pm. We cleared US Customs and Border Patrol at 6:19pm. I didn't know that you are not allowed to bring food into the US. When the Border Patrol agent asked me if I was bringing any foods, plants or animals, I kind of stammered, "Uh, we bought a some veggies and cheese for a lunch while we drive." But he was also talking to another agent at the same time and when he turned back to us, he handed us our passports and said, "Have a nice day, drive carefully."

There is no risk to the food supply of the US. We "disposed" of all the picnic foods. (Tasty!)

Onward to Ohio! We called the innkeepers while en route to let them know we wouldn't be checking in until about 8:30pm. When we arrived, the class reunion was in full swing! It's good we arrived when we did, because one couple was trying to take our reservation.

Buccia Vineyard and B&B

We checked with the innkeepers, Fred and Joanna, and quickly settled into our spacious room (with a hot tub, sliding glass door to out private patio, and a comfortable bed.) Fred told us that as soon as we were ready, we could have a tasting of the vineyard's wines. So, we thought, "Sure, we could taste a couple wines."

He makes 12 wines. All good, some incredible. We enjoyed generous samples of each, along with lessons on wine growing, and why he makes the styles that he does. (Probably his best wine is one that is very unusual, Agawam, in that less than 600 acres of this grape is still grown.) We decided to take a bottle of Agawam to our room and unwind. (I was already pretty unwound by that time!)  Fred made sure that we were aware that he and Joanna live in their home next door and when the class reunion ended, they would return to their home for the night. If we need them, they have an intercom system. But if we only need more wine, we could help ourselves. He knows his inventory and we would just settle when we check out.

A comfortable room and a self-serve wine bar? Just add a Maine Lobster roll and I am set for life!

By the time we emptied that bottle, I was ready to relax in preparation for the next day. We had found a number of local wineries and antiques shops, and we were ready to take the town by storm!

(I went to bed hoping that Agawam would not cause lingering hangovers.)