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Thanksgiving Day...

I can only hope your Thanksgiving day was as wonderful as mine...


Great memories...and details later...
But let's just say my favorite holiday lived up to it's billing...
Life is good. And I am THANKFUL.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The table is set...

Turkey Napkin Rings?  Yup...

And the pies are baked...

A Coconut, A Pumpkin and a Meyer Lemon Pie...All Family Requests!

And now...the best part.  (Nope...Not the turkey!) Tonight I'm counting the minutes...and listening to hear the long-awaited sound of our front door bursting open, and the arrival of FAMILY!  Because THAT is what makes this holiday my favorite one of all!  I LOVE the cooking, and the treasured recipes, and the familiar foods...but FAMILY TIME TOGETHER this weekend?  Priceless.

So HAPPY THANKSGIVING to ALL of you...and to those YOU love!

Words To Live By...

A memory from MY childhood brought a smile to my face today.

When I was growing up, we had a plaque hanging on the wall in our farmhouse...and the engraved message popped into my head today as I began to dust, do loads of laundry, prepare all the bedrooms and clean three bathrooms in preparation for my favorite FAMILY holiday of the year....THANKSGIVING!

The Message?

"Our house is clean enough to be healthy...and dirty enough to be happy."

Mom...I couldn't agree more.  HAPPY IS THE BEST!!!

So as I walk through on my "final inspection" of our house...I'll skip the "white glove" dust test.  And instead, I'll HUG THOSE GRANDKIDS when they walk through the door!  They won't remember a little dust, but they WILL remember the FOOD and FUN we'll have...with FAMILY!

And I can always clean the house AFTER they leave...
(Enough to keep it healthy, that is...)



A BENCH Scraper?

Most kitchen gadgets are purchased on a whim, and soon you'll find them shoved into over-stuffed utensil drawers or collecting dust on the kitchen counter.  But a few kitchen items are worth their weight in GOLD...And a bench scraper is one of them.


When chopping vegetables, a bench scraper makes short work of transferring the veggies from the cutting board to the skillet or soup pot...without losing half the veggies onto the floor during the transfer.

It's also used to cut dough into pieces, or to scrape up the stuck on bits of dough that cling to your work surface when making rolls or bread...or even cookies.

So invest in a bench scraper, and you'll spend less time sweeping your floor and cleaning your counter tops...and more time enjoying the dishes you create!

Shepherd's Pie

When the weather gets cold...it's time for COMFORT FOOD.  And I had no idea my Shepherd's Pie recipe was NOT on my blog.  If I've verbally given you the recipe before..you may see several changes.  As you will remember, I cook by "feel" and not by recipes...so my ingredients and method may not be the same from one time to the next.  But as the old saying goes..."Change is GOOD"...and I think you'll like my latest version of this old classic.

So here goes...First in PICTURES...

Start CHOPPING!

Boil Potatoes With Garlic Cloves and Salt

Drain, Mash, and Add 1 or 2 Egg Yolks, Parmesan Cheese, Milk and Butter. Set Aside.

Brown the Ground Beef And Remove From Pan

In Same Pan Saute Carrots, Celery, Onion, Garlic, Thyme, Salt and Pepper

Saute the Tomato Paste.  The browned 'bits" are a GOOD thing!  (It makes rich sauce later.)

Add Red Wine...and DRINK SOME TOO!  :-)

Ahhh...A Veggie/Wine Steam Facial...

Add Beef Broth...Cook til Al Dente and Reduced

Add Browned Ground Beef

Add Mushrooms And Cook Several Minutes

Add Frozen Peas...Stir and Immediately Pour Into Casserole Dish

I Made Enough for TWO Meals...Eat One...Freeze One

Bake At 375 Degrees for about 20 Min.   BE SURE TO PLACE ON TRAY 

YUM...

Serve With A Salad...

Winter?  No Problem!!

A Real COMFORT MEAL...


SHEPHERD'S PIE

Prepare mashed potatoes with butter and milk. Make them garlic or plain...use left-overs or fresh...
Add 1 or 2 egg yolks (depends on how many potatoes you've used) and Parmesan cheese..Mix and set aside.

FOR THE FILLING
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
3-4 stalks celery, diced into 1/2 inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced (or to taste)
3-4 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 box (or more) Portabello mushrooms, sliced
1 C. frozen peas
2 to 3 C. beef broth
2-3  Tbsp. tomato paste
Fresh Parsley, chopped (Can use dried.)
About 1/2 C. red wine (I use Cabernet)
1 Tbsp. (Or even more) Worcestershire sauce

METHOD
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In large skillet, brown ground beef and remove from the skillet.  In same pan combine onion, garlic, celery and carrots, dried thyme and "sweat" until beginning to soften.  Make a "well" and add tomato paste so it touches the bottom of the skillet.  Stir it and cook several minutes. (This will  "cook" the tomato paste and remove the "tin can" flavor from the tomato paste.)  Add the red wine and cook several minutes to reduce and remove the "alcohol" taste.  Return the beef to the skillet and add the beef broth, mushrooms and fresh parsley, and cook several minutes.  Stir in the frozen peas and stir all together to combine.

Pour into greased casserole dish and top with the mashed potatoes.  Drag the tines of a fork through the potatoes to make "ridges"...this will help the mixture to brown.

When casserole is bubbly and hot you can stick it under the broiler for a minute for more color if you like.  (I didn't bother with this step...)

Remove from the oven and let stand for several minutes to "firm up" before serving.

I hope this dish will warm you up this winter!

The LINCOLN CAFE, Belle Plaine, Iowa

The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway for automobiles across the United States, and it runs smack-dab through Iowa.  The highway is known for it's small towns and good food, so on our return from Ames we decided to skip the Interstate and take "the road less traveled" and head into Belle Plaine, Iowa for dinner.  




I had Googled many diners along the way, and we picked a great one...especially because it was Friday night.  Because on Friday night, we were surprised to learn, the Lincoln Cafe serves "all You Can Eat...WALLEYE" for $8.95!  (FYI...I forced myself to stop after two pieces.)




For those of you who have never heard of Walleye...it's the biggest, "toothiest" member of the perch family of fish...and it's DELICIOUS!  (Just like I'm sure many of you have never heard of Branzino...one of my faves in Florida.)



Hubby decided on a good old Midwestern "hamburger steak", and his side serving of corn had to be at least 3 cups...definitely enough for four people!  


We skipped dessert that Friday night, but I wanted you to see how small-town Iowa rolls...The homemade pies in the pie case looked delish!


And even though we stopped in early (5:15pm) it appeared that most of the already-packed restaurant had started eating about 4 o'clock!  (Getting an early start on that ALL YOU CAN EAT event?)

So when you're traveling...take advantage of your smart phone and check for places off the beaten path.  You'll surely find a great meal, and you'll get a better understanding of the "real people" who populate our awesome small towns across America.  

Real people...and REAL GOOD FOOD.

So Bon Apetit...and Safe Travels!

Oh DEER! Dinner?

You never know what you'll see while traveling through the Midwest in Autumn.  But THIS was something I never expected to witness...


We whizzed past this vehicle on the Interstate...And apparently this poor deer got too close to a hunter's gun.   So I guess he's headed for someone's freezer-by way of a butcher shop.

YIKES...

University Of Iowa Hospital's Rooftop Cafe

The University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics is a wonderful place, filled with expert and caring staff who treat their patients with respect.  The huge hospital relies heavily on volunteers...And two of my friends make Monday mornings at the Rooftop Cafe a VERY welcoming spot on the 8th floor of the hospital.

So...When it's TEN DEGREES with a bitter wind blowing outside...and you could stay in your pajamas in your warm house...what would YOU do?  I decided to brave the elements and surprise my friends...just to see what their volunteer mornings are like.

And even though it's only a few blocks to the hospital (we can see it from our kitchen window) I asked my hubby to drop me off and pick me up at the hospital's main entrance, just to ensure that I wouldn't need treatment for frost bite!

Cindy and Karen...A Warm Welcome
A BEAUTIFUL Outdoor patio...(in the SUMMER!)
Fifteen Degrees...Brrrr!
A Patio in the Clouds...And The Kinnick Stadium Pressbox in the Distance
The Staff and Visitors Are Greeted With Smiles
And the HOT SOUPS were a Big Hit on a Cold Day
These Volunteers Know Their Stuff!
All kidding aside...I watched both of these women make each and every staff member and visitor feel special and well cared while they filled their food and drink orders.  And that's a priceless gift to give to ANYONE who is spending time in a hospital...whether they are working or visiting.

The world needs more people like Cindy and Karen.  And I'm sure they warmed many hearts (and stomachs) on this frigid day in Iowa.

Chicken Wing Dip...Hawkeye Style

And speaking of the Hawkeyes...Our Hawkeye tailgate pals are some really good cooks...And I'm NOT just talking about the women! 








Brad brought an awesome Chicken Wing Dip to a recent tailgate and I asked him to share his recipe...



CHICKEN WING DIP
 2 blocks of softened cream cheese (8 oz. each)
2 large cans (12.5 oz each) of canned chicken
1 Cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1 Cup Ranch Dressing
2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese

Blend all ingredients together (Brad uses a mixer) and bake at 350 degrees for approx. 40 minutes.

THANKS BRAD...Your dip was a real winner...Just like the Hawkeyes that day!

AUNT MAUDE'S...Ames, Iowa

As you may have already surmised, we are University of Iowa Hawkeye fans.  Period.  And we had never set foot in "arch-rival" Iowa State University's college town of Ames...until last week.

It took a VERY SPECIAL invitation for us to cancel our "boycott of enemy territory".  But it was worth it...in EVERY respect! 


Turns out, downtown Ames is a really cute town!


Sort of a "Back to the Future" vibe...

But the reason for our visit wasn't to check out the town or the campus.  It was to finally meet a person who had become a very close friend via email...yet we'd never met in person...

Our dear friend Ruth...


She invited us to meet her in Ames for lunch...and we couldn't resist!  And she selected a wonderful spot for our first "face to face" meeting...a lovely restaurant called Aunt Maude's.
Check it out...


And the only thing better than the food (and the unending conversation) was that BIG HUG we had waited SO LONG to share!

My Salmon and Asparagus Quiche with Salad and Fruit
Fred's Chicken Noodle Soup and Salad
Ruth's Turkey Chili
The restaurant was cozy and warm, and the staff was attentive and friendly...without being intrusive.


We "Out-Visited" The Entire Lunch Crowd!
The afternoon FLEW by...as often happens when good friends begin to visit.  And we only scratched the surface of topics we wanted to discuss...so we hope this was the first of MANY visits to come. 

And that city of Ames?  It  now holds a very special place in our hearts...something I never expected to happen in a million years...
  
Never expected, that is, until Ruth came into our lives and became a warm and wonderful part of our extended family.

The world can be FULL of surprises...
Even in Ames.

HOME SWEET HOME...For The Winter

Ahhh...WONDERFUL WINTER!
I can say that...and MEAN it.

All I have to do is look at THIS picture...



But today, here in the Midwest, it's BACK TO MY CURRENT REALITY.
We've had our first dusting of snow...and FRIGID temps...and the wind cuts like a knife.  (And it's still Autumn!)

So homemade chili and honey cornbread have appeared on our menu.  But just changing our dinner menu is no longer enough to warm my old bones...so I thought I'd share this photo of our WINTER home...our condo in Fort Lauderdale.  A place I'm anxious to see...God willing...

The photo was snapped by our neighbor's sister who was taking helicopter flying lessons at the time. And our condo's four HUGE Royal Palm trees made it easy for her to identify our building since those majestic trees are the largest ones found anywhere along the canal.

It's a wonderful, beautiful place to spend our winter months, and once we arrive, we make it a point NOT to mention the weather when we speak to family and friends "up North"...

That would be like rubbing salt (and sand) in their wounds...

But until then...Please pass the chili!

BLARNEY Pub and Grill...In Dinkytown, MN

Like I said....after that truly awful football game (followed by a hot shower) it was definitely time to drown our sorrows...and BLARNEY Pub and Grill was the PERFECT spot to do it!
Check it out...

http://www.blarneymn.com/

As we crossed the street and headed closer to the bar I got a sinking feeling in my stomach since there appeared to be a LINE OUT THE DOOR...and I was in NO MOOD to wait outside in the cold. But when we got to the doorway, the crowds parted like the Red Sea, and we pushed our way into the crowded pub.



We felt like salmon swimming upstream as we made our way toward the bar.  And believe it or not...there was Ally...again! (She later told me she had been there since early morning even though she had also worked the previous night when we first met her.)

Amazing Ally...and Blarney's Owner Mike
When she saw us through the crowds of people (who were clambering for her attention and for drinks)  her eyes lit up and she yelled "Hi Fred and Patty!  Would you like two Miller Lite's?"


Now THAT'S A GREAT BARTENDER! 

And when two seats finally opened at the bar (Thanks to some awesome YOUNG Hawkeye fans who gave up their seats for us "old-timers") we sat down to order some food, and to visit with Ally and everyone around us.


Fred wanted a plain old burger and fries...and both were perfectly cooked.  And Ally suggested I try the Chicken and Wild Rice Soup which she said was her favorite thing on the menu...


And I SEE WHY...It was DELICIOUS.  And a perfect way to warm up on such a cold night.  She said the soup is home made...and where better to eat a wild rice dish than in Minnesota!


I noticed homemade potato chips on several menu items...and before I could blink, Ally was gone from behind the bar.  She returned minutes later with some for us to try.  (And please keep in mind how many hours Ally had been working...yet she had a genuine smile for every customer and her ability to multi-task was as entertaining as the crowd around us.)


When we realized the gentleman counting the money was Blarney's owner, we were quick to tell him how fortunate he was to have a bartender who was such a ray of sunshine.  But I don't think that came as a surprise to him.  It was obvious how well-liked and competent his entire staff seemed to be.

We were still in for one more surprise from our new best friend in Dinkytown.  When she was FINALLY off the clock she sat down with us for a few minutes...and she told me she has her own floral design business in Minneapolis!  It's called Poppy Lane.

Check it out on Facebook:

So Ally is a gal of MANY talents.  And (thanks to her) we put that ugly football game behind us. And we spent a fun-filled evening filled with good food, cold beer and our new best friend...at Blarney Pub and Grill...in Dinkytown.