Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

City Girl Wine Journal- Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Let's just say I was having one of those nights. My day didn't start out very well and it wasn't improving much as the evening progressed. Maybe it was the weather- the oppressive heat and humidity. Maybe just a passing phase. Mopey, anxious, worried- about what I'm not sure, but I knew I needed a glass of wine. Stat.

That's where Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 comes in. The Nobilo winery was founded back in the 1930s when the family, fearing the impending war, fled Croatia for New Zealand. The Nobilo family had been making wine for nearly 300 years in their native country, but uprooted and took that expertise to a new land and began again. At first they struggled getting New Zealanders to embrace wine the way Europeans did, but in the end, that drive to succeed paid off, and today the Nobilo wines are enjoyed worldwide.

Which is how I got to experience the Sauvignon Blanc here in the middle of Iowa. This pale yellow wine was very fruity and not too sweet. The usual grassy and herbaceous notes typical of a Sauvignon Blanc were present, the slightest bit of minerality that I find very common in New Zealand wines, and believe it or not- maybe it was the age of the bottle, but a slight banana edge to it. Maybe it was the lush mouthfeel and creamy texture. Reading the winery's tasting notes they describe a "cut tomato plant" essence and I agree- the herby aroma has that faint familiarity.

I loved reading about this wine also. They harvest these grapes at night, which is something I had never thought of- does the time of day affect the finished product? Yes! Nighttime harvests protect the fruit's flavors and pressing them immediately and getting the skins out of the way very early keep the tannins very low and ups the "sipping quality" of this beauty of a wine.

Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with spicier foods, curries, and seafood. It can help tame the richness of roast poultry dishes as well. It's a great buy for the money, usually in the $15 range, and obviously, ages pretty well. My bottle was a 2008 that has been cellared since then. 12.5% alcohol gives it some potency and a nice bite, with a fair amount of acidity. I highly recommend this wine and will be looking for a new vintage to try in comparison (and to stash away for a few years).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fair Season 2014- Adair County Fair

It's Fair Season in Iowa! That means every county has put on their best show of the year- live entertainment, agriculture displays and competitions, artistic competitions- and the best part of all- FAIR FOOD. This year the Adair County Fair really caught my attention with their Pride of Iowa Cooking Contest. This year twenty chefs-in-the-making are competing in three divisions: Senior, Intermediate and Junior. The requirements? Each chef must prepare a dish using at least one Iowa product, in front of the audience and judges. How fun, right?

The competition took place in the 4-H and FFA Center on the Adair County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. According to the department superintendent Grace Evans "We have an excellent variety of foods to be prepared during the contest."  Each chef is judged on their skill level in preparing food, safety in the kitchen, how they chose to use Iowa products and the final product.

MaKenna Lilly makes Individual Oreo Turtle Cheesecakes.
I wish I could have judged her recipe. Sounds yummy!
Competing in the Senior Division this year, and their dishes, we have- MaKenna Lilly- Individual Oreo Turtle Cheesecakes; Hank Bohling- South of the Border Casserole; Katharine Hrubetz- Loaded Chicken Alfredo Gnocchi Bake; and Bailee Huddleson- Bailee's Breakfast Bacon Bowls.

Check out Alan Evans- he had meatballs ready for the
oven in just ten minutes!
The Intermediate Division is bringing some serious competition- Alan Evans, Meatballs; Cody Mertz- Chicken Pot Pie; Kyra Evans- Cheese Puff; Jill Wallace- Jill's Petite Hamballs; Reba Lonsdale- Sausage and Pepperoni Pizza Puffs; Skyler Rawlings- Korean Beef Bowl; and Alexis Shelley- Italian Salad

Two cooks compete side-by-side, each with a judge just for them.
Can you believe these are kids cooking? I need to figure out how to be a JUDGE for next year's fair!

Every cook made a poster of their recipe
The Junior Division also is showing some pretty impressive kitchen know-how with Erin Ford- Delicious Corn Bread; Gaige Schwochow- Gaige's Omelet; Zayden Rawlings- Enchilada Meatballs; Riley McCall- Tortellini Soup; Shelbee Woosley- Pizza in a Pan; Ethan Blomme- Red, White and Blue Smoothie; Storm Hoadley- Pepperoni Bubble Pizza; Rylie Mertz- Breakfast; and Bella Rubio- Chicken Nuggets.

Erin Ford makes her Delicious Cornbread recipe. She was very
confident in the kitchen, got right to work and impressed the
heck out of me!

Gaige Schwowchow sits with his judge during the tasting part of judging.
Gaige's omelet was a meaty, cheesy omelet I want to make myself!
I am SERIOUSLY impressed! I was most definitely NOT cooking when I was a kid- not even in high school. Enchilada meatballs? Pizza puffs? Individual cheesecakes? We're talking Superbowl Food here! And how did they do?

Zayden Rawlings makes Enchilada Meatballs. I am anxious
to make his recipe at home myself- it looked delicious.
The Junior Division Champions-

Ethan Blomme, Erin Ford, and Isabella Rubio
The Intermediate Division Champions-

Alan Evans, Skyler Rawlings and Alexis Shelley
And the Senior Division Champs-

Bailee Huddleson, MaKenna Lilly and Hank Bohling
The weather couldn't have been more perfect for a day to visit the fair. The breeze was brisk and cool, lots of shady places to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of a laid-back rural county fair. I wandered through all the exhibits and saw everything from beautiful floral arrangements to vintage quilts and, of course, canned foods! It's really gotten me even more excited for my county's fair, which takes place next month. Guess I better get busy canning!

Sponsors included Hometown Foods, Stuart; Fareway, Greenfield; HyVee, Creston; Adair County Pork Producers; Adair County Cattlemen; Rose Acre Farms, Stuart; Adair County Corn and Soybean Growers Association; Midwest Dairy Association; Iowa Egg Council/Iowa Poultry Association; 3 Bee Honey Farms; and Adair County 4-H Booster fund.

*** Thanks to the Adair County Extension Office for providing pictures of the winning kids

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."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Riesling and White Schoolhouse

How about a little Saturday night wine tasting at the Little Lake House? Sounds like a fine idea to me, and I happen to have a couple bottles chilled and ready to open. It's a beautiful, cool evening so The Chef and I decided to give them a try.

Polka Dot Washington Riesling 2012. This is a wine that is definitely marketed towards women. Cute name, cute label, and a big pink polka dot complete the packaging in the tall blue bottle. If you shop with your eyes, you'll definitely be picking up a bottle of Polka Dot.

That is not a bad thing either. It's really good- sweet but not too sweet, peachy and melon flavors, and takes the edge off spicy foods. I get a lot of peach notes in tasting, medium in body and mouthfeel, creamy and soft. A very very very tiny hint of grassiness finishes it off. In the glass the wine is a pretty light amber and clear. It has beautiful floral notes and fresh herbal aromas. Served alongside a spicy Asian dish, this wine would be perfect!

Dale Valley White Schoolhouse 2013. This is a wine I've had many times already- obviously it's a favorite of mine. It reminds me so much of Riesling- many of the same flavor notes and aromas. Peach and stone fruit, sweet cantaloupe and honey highlight this summer favorite of mine. I think it would be awesome with a nice bowl full of Dragon Noodles.

Sadly, unless you live in Iowa you may not be able to try Dale Valley's White Schoolhouse, but if you can- definitely try it. It's worth the drive.

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."

Date Night- Jethro's

I know it's canning season, and I've really been bombarding you guys with canning posts, so let's do something a little different. Let's go out for dinner.

When you share your life with a professional chef you don't often get to enjoy a lot of weekend nights out for dinner like everyone else. Sunday nights are the closest thing to Saturday we have- it's his first day off and my last day off. This Sunday we decided to take advantage of a gift card I received as a thank you for participating in a special promotion hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and head to Jethro's for some delicious grub.

If you are a fan of Man vs. Food, Jethro's might sound familiar to you! Adam Richman and crew were visiting the Des Moines area back in 2010 and he attempted (and failed!) the Adam Emmenecker Challenge (more on that later) at Jethro's Forest Avenue location in Des Moines. Locally owned, Jethro's now has five locations around Des Moines and some of the best barbeque around. Jethro's was also a sponsoring partner in the IPPA pork promotion and provided awesome gift packages for the bloggers who participated to give away to lucky readers.

We live in west central Iowa and so the closest location to us is in the far-west suburb of Waukee, Jethro's Jambalaya- a barbeque powerhouse with a Cajun twist. The menu is impressive, appetizers, barbeque specialties, sandwiches, burgers, chicken- and a whole menu of Cajun dishes. We are big menu researching people, and always like to check out a restaurant online before we even head out the door, so we knew before we got there what we wanted- the famous tenderloin.

Waiting for our food to come out, which took just a few minutes, we were able to browse the fun wall displays- the Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame...... the results of the many attempts to defeat the Adam Emmenecker Challenge. The challenge was created to honor former Drake University basketball player Adam Emmenecker, who was a regular at the original Forest Avenue location, and includes all of his favorite foods on one plate: cheeseburger, bacon, smoked brisket, fried cheese curds, white cheddar cheese sauce, buffalo chicken tenders, pork tenderloin, a bun, spicy pickle AND a pound of waffle fries. You have 15 minutes to eat it.......

Only 3 have defeated the Challenge at this location

but has three walls of those who failed.

The restaurant has been featured in many magazines and newspapers including being one of the Top Ten Manliest Restaurants on Mens Health Magazine. Articles and covers are proudly displayed. It's fun and exciting to see a local business have such an impact.

Our tenderloins arrived and all I can say is- wow. Just wow. They are HUGE! I couldn't even see the plate! The Chef got down to business right away but I knew mine was going to be a two-meal event. Every table at Jethro's has all of their sauces on the table, so there is no way I am going to go with ketchup and mustard. I set the bun aside for now and just did the fork and knife thing, trying all the sauces. Each one was very different and unique. I found myself going back to the Traditional and the Thick and Sweet sauce. 

I could only manage the outer "rim" of my tenderloin and a handful of the yummy waffle fries before I had to give up. Not a bad thing- just means I have another meal tomorrow!

The Chef however.......he wasn't messing around. Empty plate club lifetime achievement member!

Though we didn't actually try any of the barbeque, we left full and happy, and we know we will be back. Lots of seating inside and out means a short wait if at all, and the Cajun menu bring a whole new dining option for us in the future. We can't wait to try it everything!

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." A free giftcard was given to me as thank you for participation with the IPPA.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Copa di Vino

Funny thing about wine- lugging bottles around gets heavy, especially if you're lugging a cooler around and wine is the beverage of choice today. That's where Copa di Vino comes in. These cute little single serve "glasses" are the brainchild of James Martin have been on the market a mere 5 years and have sold over 15 million glasses in 45 states and in 13,000 retail locations.

I remember these little guys hitting our small town grocery store here when they were brand new. My sister bought one for me and one for her and I thought they were just the cutest things ever. They are perfect for throwing in the cooler or keeping on hand at home- just the right amount for cooking (open up and throw a Cabernet in the pasta sauce- yum!) and are very very good drinking wines! You just can't beat the packaging either- peel off the foil liner and enjoy- plus you have a plastic lid so you can cover your wine and keep the flying friends out between sips. 

Riesling, for one thing- my all time favorite white grape, and probably my favorite of all WINES period, is one of the wines offered by Copa di Vino. It's fantastic!! Not too sweet, not too acidic, and not overly "appley" it has great tropical fruit notes and a hint of pineapple. Delicious with food and as a sipping wine.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is amazing. Pure grape everything packed in that little "glass." Very fruity, very jammy and with berry and cherry notes, with a hint of something herbal. It's dry and it's a great steak wine or an excellent choice with a hearty pasta dish like lasagna or veal parmesan.

Their Merlot is also a favorite of mine. I have used it several times to cook with- what's a good all-day  red sauce simmering away without a little wine? Same with a pot roast- you get an excellent gravy base at the end of he cooking period.

No, in case you're wondering, I don't drink wine in the office. My sister happened to pop in one day and drop one off, she had been shopping. Sisters are fun!

Another thing I admire about this company is their faith in their own abilities and their entrepreneurial spirit. They twice appeared on the ABC Show Shark Tank and turned down offers from the Sharks that they felt went against their beliefs and their values- and they were super successful in spite of saying no.  So next time you're in the store, grab a couple of these fun little glasses. You won't regret it!

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."

Canning Cookbook- What to do with all these blueberries?

So blueberries were on sale. Seriously on sale- 99 cents a pint. That never happens. So I bought some. Well.... a lot actually. I already had plans for some of them but now I have so many- I don't want to keep the freezer space filled with fruit so it's got to be made into jam. Soon.

I also have one single fresh pineapple leftover from the 4th of July weekend cooking (tacos al pastor- oh my goodness YUM) so I need to do something about this beautiful tropical fruit. I love making fruit combo jams, as you know, so it just naturally occurred to me- Blueberry Pineapple Jam. A quick peek at the measurements in the pectin pouch and some basic math skills and I am in business. 

First on the agenda- tackle the assorted bags and boxes and messy stacks of empty jars that need to be sorted before I start canning. Our storage room, affectionately known as The Room of Doom is where I store all my canning supplies. Usually neatly, but by the time spring rolls around and we've used up a bunch of jars over the winter I have jars of all sized piled on the table and sitting in bags and boxes on the floor. I'll spend a half day sorting the different jar sizes into their appropriate Rubbermaid tub (I have a system with a rolling cart to easily move canning items in and out of the kitchen) and check my inventory of lids and jars. Once I've made sure I have enough jars and lids, I'm good to go.

We are making Blueberry Pineapple Jam, so we will need:
  • 10 cups blueberries
  • 1 medium pineapple, cleaned and diced fine
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 6 cups sugar
Start by cleaning the pineapple and cut up into small dice, or pulse chunks in a food processor to break it down. Place pineapple in large stockpot. 

Add lemon juice, heat to boiling, cover, set aside until cool. Once the pineapple has cooled, add the berries and crush them with a potato masher (or pulse in food processor). Stir in the pectin until completely dissolved. 

Bring mixture to boil over medium high heat stirring constantly until it's reached a full rolling boil. Add all the sugar at once. Continue stirring and return to boil. Boil one minute. Remove from heat. Ladle into jars, fix lids and rings, and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 

Super easy,right? And so delicious. This is going to be delicious warmed up and melted to use on pancakes too. I can't wait to try it!

Monday, July 14, 2014

City Girl's Wine Journal- Winestock

I may have missed out on the big city's annual Winefest, but I wasn't going to miss out on this year's Winestock! Dale Valley Vineyard and Winery near Stuart sure knows how to throw a party. So this year, City Girl got to experience a wine festival, country style. Four bands, a beautiful Iowa summer day, lots of great food, vendors with interesting items. And of course, the wine.

My sister Lisa and I don't get to spend a whole lot of time together, with busy work schedules, kids and grandkids, so Winestock became Sister Day, and we thoroughly enjoyed it! Arriving at the winery, we were able to park among the vines and stroll through them on our way to the festival grounds. Of course, our first stop was the outdoor patio/bar and grabbing a pitcher of Red Sangria Winearita. Icy cold and slushy, it was delicious and a great prelude to the wines ahead.

We grabbed the best table in the house, on the covered patio overlooking beautiful lawn and festival grounds, and right next to the stage! The first band up was Larry Berenguel and Friends, and they were awesome! A great mix of hits and a reggae vibe, they played a long set filled with so many great songs. His band is a very talented group of guys and we thoroughly enjoyed their show.

It didn't take too long for the Winearita pitcher to be empty, so we switched to wines and Time Out was our first choice. Time Out is the winery's award winning Concord wine, and it is a sweet red wine. It smells like grape juice as soon as you pour it in the glass (and by that I mean Welch's, since wine is really just that- grape juice) and has a smooth, sweet drinkability that makes it so enjoyable.

Flipside was the next band to hit the stage and they also provided some of the best singalong party music. We also started to mix and mingle with some great folks in the crowd- another pair of sisters from the Quad Cities, folks vacationing from Indiana and lots of great people from the various bands. Singing and dancing, laughing and sharing stories, the breeze is softly blowing, it's a fantastic day in the Iowa countryside.

Lisa and Larry enjoying the party atmosphere
Well that bottle of Time Out didn't last very long, so up next we shared a bottle of Serendipity. Dale Valley describes this wine as a complex semi sweet blend of estate and local grapes offering flavors of apple and lime, hinting at subtle apricot and kiwi. I didn't really pick up any apple or lime but this lush, and less sweet, wine was very floral to me. Perfumey and delicious. This is another red that's a great sipping wine and delicious well chilled.

The music continues with Boomerang- they opened with Badfinger and it just got better from there. Lots of songs from my childhood-what a great trip down memory lane! They interacted well with the crowd and even a little rain didn't spoil the show. Funny story there- sitting under the canopy we had no idea it was even raining!!

Our next bottle was a drier red- Katydid. Katydid is made from Marechal Foch grapes (my favorite Iowa red grape) and is aged with oak for a little bit drier but not overly tannic wine that's amazing. It's also a multiple award winner for the winery. Our ice in the bucket had pretty much melted by now and that's fine, because this wine is best not overly chilled. It went fabulously with the pork chop on a stick and house-made kettle fried chips and reminded me a lot of Pinot Noir.

Abby Normal was the last band of the event. A little bit of everything, from the Beatles to White Stripes to the Scorpions kept the crowd dancing and singing along. The evening was winding down and the band was packing up, time to say goodbye to new friends and think about how much fun NEXT year will be, and time to grab a bottle to take home. The night was still young and it would be a great night to sit on the deck at The Little Lake House and enjoy a last glass or two and listen to the sounds of the country night. So White Schoolhouse it is, and a quick rest in the wine chiller gave it the perfect chill to bring out the hints of peach and stone fruits and ever so slight hint of citrus from this perfect award-winning wine.

It was a great Sister Day, a great Winestock and a great way to spend a Saturday. I can't wait for next year!

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."