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Potato Gratin

Last week I found myself faced with an over-abundance of sweet, heavy cream, thanks to a sale at US Foods Outlet Store.  (Too much cream is a great problem to have, I might add...) so I decided to make a simple Potato Gratin.



Start with a shallow casserole dish and spray it with cooking spray.  Then peel and thinly slice enough potatoes to almost fill the dish.  Finely dice a medium onion and some fresh parsley leaves, salt and pepper.



Then layer all the ingredients, adding a rather generous sprinkle of salt and pepper as you build the layers in the dish.  Top the bowl with another sprinkle of fresh parsley.



Now comes the crowning glory...Fill the dish almost to the rim with heavy cream.  Cover all the potatoes with the cream.  Yes...FILL THE DISH.


Place the casserole on a baking sheet (you can line it with tin foil to speed clean up.)  The casserole will almost certainly spill over the edge...and that's OK.  Life isn't perfect.  (But this dish comes close!)
Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 min. or an hour.  The timing will depend on the depth of your potatoes and the size of your dish.  Just bake until a knife inserted in the center of the dish easily slides through the potatoes.  

When cooked, remove the dish from the oven and allow to set for at least 10-15 minutes.  This will allow the casserole to firm up.

I served this yummy dish with a grilled steak...and the leftovers are awesome!

You can also add minced garlic, Parmesan cheese or diced ham to this dish which would turn it into a main dish.  The possibilities are endless...and delicious.

Tequila Grill, Kalona Iowa

Recently I met a friend for lunch in Kalona.  We met at Tequila Grill on Main Street.  It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside on their porch to enjoy our lunch.  (We forgot that the horse and buggy traffic might attract flies to the outside dining, so we learned quickly to eat with one hand and wave with the other...Ughh..)

Our server quickly arrived with complimentary chips and salsa, and the iced tea was delicious.


I chose a lunch beef burrito plate, complete with rice and beans.  The salsa verde was good, and the avocado was tasty.  The tender chunks of beef were well seasoned and the rice and beans were well seasoned and delicious.

All in all, it was a good lunch, and I wouldn't hesitate to eat there again.  But next time I would probably choose to eat indoors...unless the flies leave town with the horses!


Summer SUDS...

Ahhhh...Summer in Iowa City...


Tonight was one of those rare summer nights...when we sat outside and never once thought about the weather.  Not too hot...not too cold...
A PERFECT NIGHT.

And our salad and wings (and BEERS) at Donnelly's on the Ped Mall were just what the doctor ordered.

Great food, cold beer, and the best server we've had downtown in a LONG time...(Erin!)
A great summer night in Iowa City...

IOWA SUMMER...On a Plate

Summer in Iowa...
You may not like The HEAT, The HUMIDITY and The BUGS...

But Summer in Iowa is worth putting up with ALL of those nuisances so you can enjoy a meal like this...


Sweet corn...fresh from the garden...
Tuscan bread...toasted and crunchy...slathered with fresh basil mayo...
Then stacked with crispy bacon, heirloom lettuce, and a ruby-red, vine ripened tomato, still warm from the sun.

(Even my left-over potato salad was a delicious addition.)

Ahhh...SUMMER...
Or should I say YUM-MER!

Bleu Cheese Chicken Wrap

I'm always looking for ways to make left-overs NOT taste like left-overs.  And since I had two pieces of left-over fried chicken in the refrigerator, I turned them into a Bleu Cheese Chicken Wrap for lunch.


I chopped up the cold chicken, and mixed it with some finely minced onion and a sprinkle of salt.  Then I added a handful of chopped lettuce and a small drizzle of my homemade bleu cheese dressing.


Then I piled the mixture onto a tortilla shell, and tightly rolled it up.


Voile!  Lunch is served!!!  
(And next time I may try Ranch dressing with some dried cranberries or chopped fresh grapes and shredded carrots.  The choices are limitless...)

Garbage...In the Freezer?



If you've ever thrown chicken bones or meat scraps in the garbage during hot summer months, you know your garage can begin to smell like a CSI crime scene before the garbage men come to empty it.  But I've figured out a way to prevent it.

Just label a zip lock bag as GARBAGE...throw in the scraps (including meat wrappers, etc.) and FREEZE them until garbage day.  Then pull out the bag that morning and throw it in the can.

Problem solved!

A Picnic In July...FRIED CHICKEN

My husband is amazing.  It's almost 90 degrees today, and the humidity is off the charts.  (My glasses fogged up when I walked out of the grocery store...You get the picture...)

So where is Fred?


He's across the street...painting the neighbor's house!



I'm watching him from the comfort of our air-conditioned living room.  And I'm sipping an iced tea (wine later!) and I've decided to surprise him with some indoor picnic foods for dinner.

FRIED CHICKEN
I thawed some chicken pieces and I've got them soaking in buttermilk, salt, and lots of fresh ground black pepper.  (I try to let the chicken pieces soak for at least several hours to allow the buttermilk to tenderize the chicken.)  And I made a big bowl of my potato salad.  (It's MUCH too hot for any other kind of spud.) FYI...my potato salad recipe is already posted under SALADS on my blog.


About an hour before dinner, I coated the buttermilk soaked chicken in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper, and I added a dash of paprika too.  I heated about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in the skillet.  You can't beat a cast iron skillet for frying chicken...it holds the heat and allows the chicken to cook evenly.  I cooked the chicken over medium/high heat, turning pieces often to allow even cooking.  COOKING TIP:  Start cooking dark meat pieces first...they take longer than white meat.  And overcooked chicken breasts are NOT a good thing.  

When all the chicken pieces are cooked, place them on several layers of paper towel to absorb any excess grease, or place them on a cookie cooling rack on a sheet pan and place in a 200 degree oven until dinnertime...or until hubby gets out of the shower!

We started our meal with a cool salad...




And then the "PICNIC" fare...in air-conditioned comfort...



You know the old saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"...?
Well...I don't buy it.

A welcome home, cool down, home cooked dinner is least I can do for a worker-bee like Fred...even when it's hotter than H outside!  (But it DOES help to have an air-conditioned kitchen...)

BASEBALL...and BOOZIE'S Bar and Grill, Davenport, Iowa

We love a ROAD TRIP...and we especially love one that allows us to enjoy both family fun and some time to explore the area on our own.

We did that this weekend when we drove about an hour from Iowa City to the area known as the Quad Cities.

First, Ignore the QUAD part.  There are FIVE closely connected cities...Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline, and Rock Island in Illinois.

We spent the weekend there to watch our grandson, Jackson, and his fellow eight year old baseball players compete in an 18 team tournament called the Battle of the Bats in Bettendorf.  It was an awesome time spent with family...and Jackson's team won the tournament!  (They deserved to win...and they showed sportsmanship far beyond their age.)

The 8 Year Old Cougars of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
CHAMPIONS...
Battle of the Bats Tournament,
Bettendorf, Iowa

Jackson, His Dad (and Coach) Aaron, and Bat Boy Brother Luke

The Whole Mishler Family...A Great Cheering Section!
With Mom Sara, Sister Sophie, and Little Bro Gavin


So how many games did they play to win the BIG trophy??  NINE!!!  Count 'em...NINE GAMES in TWO DAYS!  And yes...we watched EVERY one.

After the three games on Saturday, hubby and I left the rest of the crew and headed to our own hotel for a shower and some R & R...adult style.

We stayed at the Clarion in Davenport.  It was a good choice.  Not fancy, but the service was good, the room was clean, the bed was decent, and they offer a FREE SHUTTLE to the  downtown area of Davenport.  That was a good thing, because we wanted to head to the older part of town and find a historic old "watering hole" where we could unwind...

We found a GREAT spot called BOOZIE'S.  The picture on the menu was a clue...And yes...the bar was apparently named after a CAT...




And, of course I needed to sample THEIR wings and fries...



(Very good, I might add...) And their "special sauce" for wings was really good...kind of like the maple BBQ sauce at The Vine in Iowa City...And you KNOW that is the BENCHMARK for wings in the USA!

Sorry the photos are so dark...but I didn't want to attract TOO much attention with a flash...
It was karaoke night at Boozie's and we had fun listening (and not-so-quietly judging) the quality of the singers who stepped up to the mike.  


Our bartender/server Andrea was AWESOME.  She was happy, friendly and smart.  A great combo for a bartender anywhere!  She made us feel right at home...and that's the kind of place that people choose to make their favorite "local" hangout.  In fact, Andrea offered to take me to the "upstairs" to check out the area of the building said to be haunted, and I was excited to go...but a crowd suddenly arrived at the bar and she was much too busy to leave her post.  (The building housed a brothel at one time, and who knows what spirits might still be around from THAT!)  

 The 'locals" love Boozie's...And that explains why Boozie's has been there since 1979.  

I rest my case.

So a great weekend at the ball park also allowed time for some "grown up" FUN too...The best combo of ALL worlds...an awesome time for sure.

Kitchen SAFETY Tips

It pays to play it safe in the kitchen...so take a minute and read these kitchen rules...

TO PUT OUT A FIRE IN YOUR KITCHEN:

  • Slide a pan lid over the flames of a grease or oil fire...then turn off the heat.  When you cut off the oxygen, the fire will go out.  NEVER pick up the pan to carry it outside!  
  • Pour baking soda on other food fires.  NEVER put water or flour on the flames!
  • Keep the oven door shut and turn off the heat to smother an oven or broiler fire.  (Again...with no air the flames will go out.)
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen...and know who to use it.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke detector in your kitchen...and CHANGE those batteries every Spring and Fall.


TO PREVENT A FIRE IN THE FIRST PLACE:

  • Keep an eye on your cooking and stay in the kitchen.  Unattended cooking is the #1 cause of cooking fires!
  • Wear short sleeve clothing or close-fitting sleeves!!  Really Important!  Loose clothing can catch fire!
  • NEVER LET CHILDREN COOK ALONE.  And teach kitchen safety along with good eating habits.
  • Keep kitchen CLEAN.  A build-up of grease on counters or cabinets is an invitation to disaster.
  • Keep curtains, towels, and pot holders away from cooking surfaces!
  • Keep pot handles turned INWARD to prevent pots and pans from accidentally being knocked off the stove.

Food AND Flowers...

No need to head to the flower shop these days...
I just pick some of my fresh herbs and stick them into a vase.

Dill and Basil...



Garden Party...

Summer in Iowa is a double edged sword.  On one hand, we have BEAUTIFUL flowers, herbs, and vegetables galore...But on the OTHER hand, we do have BUGS!

Here are some pictures of our back yard right now...but the pesky gnats are enjoying it with me!






I hope your summer is a blooming success...and I hope you also have a screened in porch like we do...so we can enjoy it without swatting!


Peeling Peaches...the EASY way!

If you've ever struggled to peel peaches without wasting half of the fruit...reach in your utensil drawer for that trusty carrot peeler!


It works so much better than a paring knife!  Try it...







My Pastry Fork Mystery...

I've already shared some stories about my Mom.  She loved to travel, and she loved to entertain.  (Sound familiar?)  My Mom was a "city girl" when she married my Dad... (if you can call Kalona, Iowa a city!) And she knew how to set a BEAUTIFUL table, complete with lace tablecloths and stemmed glasses.  I never really appreciated her attention to detail before she died, but I look back now and marvel at her style and sophistication.  And I wish I could tell her now.

My Mom in front of one of her family's businesses in Kalona
But today I am mystified by a discovery in one of my dining room hutch drawers...and only my dear mother could answer my question.  I'm wondering why a land-locked Iowa farm wife would be in possession of a boxed set of pastry forks imported from Great Britain...


The box is complete with the Customs Declaration...and a brochure from the "Around The World Shoppers Club" describing in great detail the Loxley Pastry Fork Setting designed by the firm of Maurice Stables from Sheffield England.  (It seems my Mom liked to travel the world through food and entertaining...just like her daughter!)

Let me quote from the brochure...

"Of course, every silver setting must have a name in addition to its hallmark.  The official registered name of your pastry set is LOXLEY.  When we asked Mr. Stables where he got the name for the setting, he stated that it came from the valley and river of Loxley where an ancestor founded the company generations ago by setting up his first grinding wheel.  

But we prefer to think that Robin Hood gave this silverplate setting his own name.  If you'll recall the story of the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, you'll remember that on his return from the crusade, Richard the Lion-Heart restored Robin his title of Earl of Locksley and the lands thereof-which very well might have included the very ground on which the Stables factory stands today.

That's the kind of romance we moderns like, and we hope you'll cherish your setting as a little bit of timeless England in your home."
                           -Around the World Shoppers Club

Apparently these utensils have been tucked away in my dining room for years.  So the next time I set a table for six, I promise to polish them and USE them for dessert.

And I know my Mom will be smiling...and maybe Robin Hood will be too!

(We "moderns" STILL love a good romance!)

Chili...in July???


 Imagine a July "cold snap" in Iowa...so chilly I made CHILI for dinner tonight!

And here's a chili cooking secret...

Sauted onions, peppers and celery...and a spot for the dried spices to heat up in the pan.

Sprinkle your dried spices (chili powder and cumin) into the pot and let the dried spices "bloom" in the hot pan.  You will wake up the spices (who knows how long they've been in YOUR cupboard!) and allow them to become more fragrant and flavorful.  Just make sure the spices touch the bottom of the hot pan and stir them for several minutes to release the oils...or you can stir them into some hot extra virgin olive oil if you'd like.  (Just don't let them burn.)

I will share my chili recipe later...maybe when Fall officially arrives! 

jt walker's...Mahomet, Illinois


It's not every day we stumble onto a new "favorite stop" on our drive from Iowa to Indiana.  But last week we found a town so picturesque and a restaurant so tasty we think we might spend two  nights in the town during the college football season this Fall!

Check out the restaurant website:

http://jtwalkers.com/


jt walker's...a beautiful spot!
We sat at the bar to eat our lunch so we could visit with the bartender and the waitress serving the lunch crowd in the dining room. Both Chelsea and Kendall were friendly and willing to share information about the town, the restaurant, and the menu.  Since we had eaten breakfast just a few hours earlier, hubby and I decided to split a grilled chicken wrap...and the bartender's menu recommendation for our lunch proved to be a great one.  The wrap and the crispy fries were both delicious.

A Delicious Wrap...and and extra plate was provided without asking.
Both Kendall and Chelsea were Great!
We can see why this spot was so popular for lunch, and we're anxious to stop in for dinner during the football season.

A great place...with friendly people...What more can you ask for!

(Oh, yes...just one more thing...a Hawkeye win against Illinois this Fall...)