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Wonderful wine tasting

8 Sep

Beer and wine tastings are so much fun and relatively cheap for an hour or so of entertainment, education and libations.

I’ve been on many a brewery tour (Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee has the best tour) and wine tasting (Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wis.) has the best wine and most beautiful setting) throughout the Midwest, but I’ve been thinking it’s time for some new ventures.

Mindy and I met at Lemon Creek Winery in Grand Haven for a $5 tasting event last Saturday. We sidled up to the bustling bar, perused the menu and started planning the five wines we each wanted to sample.

I started with the 2008 Kerner, “a unique German varietal (that is a) cross between Riesling and Trollinger (and) creates a delicate wine with floral aromas, spicy flavors and light notes of smoke enveloped by a crisp, clean finish.” I enjoyed this wine quite a bit for a dry white, and I really could smell the notes of smoke.

I next selected the Grand Lacs Blanc, “a lusciously fruity, late-harvest Vignoles with exotic citrus flavors and a seductively smooth finish.” I liked this wine, too; I was reminded a bit of Riesling because of the dry, citrus taste.

I moved on to the Grand Lacs Rouge, “a semi-dry Chancellor wine (with) a rich aroma of cherry and butterscotch…a touch of sweetness (and) a soft, velvety texture.” I enjoyed this wine a lot for a dry red, and I really could smell and taste the hints of butterscotch.

I next selected the Silver Beach Sauterne, “a richly sweet, fruity, lightly golden wine.” I liked this wine very much and was reminded quite a bit of Moscato because of the sweet, fruity taste.

I finished with the Cherry Wine, “a (wine) with a spicy cinnamon fragrance and mouthfuls of luscious sweet cherry with a soft, smooth finish” and made exclusively from Michigan Balaton cherries. I loved this wine! I could almost feel the cherries bursting in my mouth and I could practically smell cherry cobbler in the glass. It was delicious.

Mindy and I also received a ticket for a cookout with our tasting, so we finished up our wine and headed outside to check out the eats, provided by Chef Tom Reinhart of the Real Cool Cooking School, where I went to a couple cooking classes last winter. We were disappointed first, with the lack of food in general and next, with the utter dearth of vegetarian options. But we ate nonetheless. I sampled a crispy tortilla cup filled with grilled chipotle-lime pork and mango salsa and a barbecue meatball before we both tried (and had seconds) of a Mediterranean pasta salad with ditalini pasta, red peppers, green onions, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and an Italian-inspired dressing.

We weren’t quite ready to part ways, so we headed across the street to Starbucks to chat (for almost two hours) and catch up.

I really enjoyed the Lemon Creek wines and definitely will be looking for them at the local wine shop, but I was a little disappointed with the service we received. I know they were busy—probably busier than usual with the special and the holiday weekend—but we were acknowledged by two different servers, then questioned about whether the first one actually checked our IDs, then hurried through the explanation of the tasting process.

I was so glad to spend time with my dear friend, though. We had such a wonderful weekend, and I’m so glad it’s becoming a habit that we’re seeing each other more often.


Boys of summer

14 Jul

Another summer evening, another fun-filled trip to the doggie beach…

Last night, Christopher and I and our friend, Sarah, took our dogs to Kruse Park, which has a section of Lake Michigan beach for dogs to run off leash and play in the sand and water.

We let the boys run freely in and out of the water, after the tennis ball and Frisbee and up and down the shoreline. We even let them play with other dogs.

Dexter and Ranger made fast friends with Bear, a black lab-shepherd mix, who was celebrating his 2nd birthday, and the three of them rough-housed for more than an hour and a half.

Bear, the biggest of the three dogs, dominated play. But Ranger and Dexter occasionally presented a challenge, especially if they tag-teamed him.

They stopped monkeying around only to check up on any visitors…and when we made them take a break.

Sarah, Christopher and I had such a fun night. We loved watching our boys play with each other and with other dogs—and behave so well!

We’ll probably have another beach date before the week is over…

Taste of Muskegon

20 Jun

I love “Taste of…” events. I think it’s an excellent way for people to explore a town through its food and for a town to draw people to its center.

Christopher and I checked out the fifth-annual Taste of Muskegon in downtown Muskegon on Saturday and Sunday.


Almost 20 local restaurants had items for sale from $1 to $5 apiece—from barbecue ribs to crab cakes to ice cream. We tried to sample things we’ve never had before, so that ruled out a few places, like Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Robin and Texas Roadhouse.


Here’s what we tasted over the course of lunch Saturday, dinner Saturday and lunch Sunday:

  • The Twist pizza and The Fire Bird pizza from BernieO’s
  • Strawberry smoothie from The Coffee House
  • Jerk chicken and jambalaya from Donnie’s BBQ
  • Applewood smoked BBQ ribs and smoked pulled BBQ pork from Greek Tony’s




  • Cha sui (BBQ pork) and egg rolls from House of Chan



  • Tennessee toffee ice cream and Scout’s honor mint chocolate cookie ice cream from Ruth Ann’s Ice Cream
  • Cannoli from Teddy Spaghetti’s


Christopher’s favorites were The Fire Bird pizza, which is topped with ghost pepper, the hottest pepper in the world, and the Tuscan bean and goat cheese dip, which came with homemade, seasoned tortilla chips and homemade, toasted pita triangles.

My favorites were the jambalaya, which just spicy enough for me, and the Maryland-style crab cake, which came with a spicy remoulade for dipping.

We worked the Muskegon Lumberjacks table, getting the word out about tickets and the free All-Star games that were going on this weekend, in between walks and mini-feasts. We also took in said hockey games and stopped home in between shifts this weekend.

All in all, we had a great time—soaking up the sun, tasting some yummy food and discovering new restaurants. We’re pretty stoked for Taste of Chicago next weekend. 🙂


Does your community host a “Taste of…” event or have you ever been to one?

Poaching proclamation

13 Feb

This weekend, I attended another cooking class at Bekins Real Cool Cooking School inside a home appliance store in Grand Haven, about 20 minutes south of Muskegon.

Last time, I learned about roasting, a dry cooking technique. This time, I learned about poaching and steaming, a wet cooking technique.

Chef Tom Reinhart demonstrated poaching using shrimp. He created two poaching liquids, one with a southwestern flair and one with an Asian flair. The southwestern poaching liquid contained water, tequila, lime juice, lime zest, garlic and chili powder. The Asian poaching liquid contained water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, scallions and blood orange zest. (He even threw in the stems of broccoli after he cut florets to serve with our other dish.) He let them heat through and simmer for quite a while, never allowing the liquids to come to a boil and keeping them between 160 and 180 degrees.

Reinhart then added the shrimp to the liquid and cooked them until they just turned pink, only about 3-5 minutes.




Reinhart demonstrated steaming using chicken, jasmine rice and two vegetables, broccoli and asparagus. He rubbed a bit of soy sauce on a few chicken breasts and sprinkled some ginger, garlic and scallions over the top. He did nothing to the rice or vegetables, allowing the natural flavors to stand out on their own.



Reinhart put the chicken, rice and vegetables in a convection steam oven, which was interesting to see but not all that practical to use, since the majority of people don’t have a steam oven in their homes. He set the timer for about 25 minutes and put the veggies in with only about 5 minutes left, because they don’t need to cook as long.


We tried everything, of course! I was most impressed with the southwestern shrimp. I could really taste the tequila, lime and chili powder. I also enjoyed the chicken, but I felt that while it retained much of its moisture in the steaming process, it hardly absorbed any of the flavors of the soy sauce, ginger, garlic or scallions.


DSCN1558 (That’s a blood orange segment on top of the chicken, by the way.)

Overall, I once again enjoyed my time Saturday afternoon. I learned a lot about poaching (including how to properly poach an egg after a bonus demonstration while the chicken, rice and vegetables cooked steamed), and I loved the poached shrimp. I learned, too, about steaming, but I was disappointed with the food—I found it pretty tasteless—and the use of the steam oven.

I can’t wait to incorporate these techniques in my kitchen soon—maybe even this week!

P.S. I don’t have any of the “professional” pictures from class yet, but I will add them when I see them on Facebook. 🙂

Roast report

30 Jan

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you’ve probably gathered that I like to cook—and I want to learn more about how to perfect my craft.

I took a step toward that this weekend: I attended a cooking class at Bekins Real Cool Cooking School inside a home appliance store in Grand Haven, about 20 minutes south of Muskegon.

I had my choice of dozens of themed class—some centered around specific dishes, such as sushi, stroganoff and seafood soup, and some themed around basic techniques, such as pasta-making, roasting and poaching and steaming. I chose to go with two technique-based classes (roasting this month and poaching and streaming next month), with the hope that I would learn something I would use in perpetuity, rather than in the near future or for a special occasion.

The “chef’s kitchen” is in the very back of the store, set in between a display of cabinets, ranges and dishwashers. Chef Tom Reinhart has a wealth of culinary knowledge and shares it with others through two or three classes each week. The classes are not interactive—in other words, participants do not cook anything, but rather sit and listen and observe the chef—but are informative. (I was a bit caught off guard by this aspect of the school, because I had attended a class in Lake Geneva last year and was a part of the whole process, from choosing ingredients, to cooking, to plating.)

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Reinhart demonstrated two different roasting techniques on two 2-pound beef top round tips (the tip of the top round cut): The first involved seasoning the meat with salt and pepper and searing it on all sides in a screaming hot pan, then slow roasting it in a medium-heat (335 degrees) oven. The second involved seasoning the meat with a chili-based rub and putting it in a high-heat oven (450 degrees) to “sear” or brown it, then roasting it in a slightly lower-heat oven (425 degrees).




Reinhart also demonstrated roasting on vegetables—red potatoes and carrots, both drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.


He cooked the meat to between rare and medium-rare (about 120 degrees), removed both roasts from the ovens, tented them in aluminum and covered them in dish towels and allowed them to rest and come up to temperature (135 degrees). He cooked the potatoes until they were golden brown and crispy on the outside and the carrots until they were slightly browned and tender.


Reinhart carved up the roasts to reveal some interesting differences between them: The roast that had been pan seared then oven roasted “bled out,” or let out its natural juices, far more than the roast that had been totally oven roasted. He also topped the potatoes with grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley and sozzled (Yes, that’s a technical term, right Mom?) the carrots in a bit of butter.

We tried pieces from both roasts along with a helping of each of the sides. What a delicious lunch!


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Overall, I enjoyed my time Saturday afternoon. I realized I already knew quite a bit about roasting, but I picked up a couple tricks and interesting factoids. (Did you know roasting and baking are pretty much the same thing, but the terms got separated in the late 1800s?)

I am anxious for my next class, and I now am curious about the dish/food-specific classes. I definitely would return, but I might choose different classes based on the fact that they’re more “sit and get” and less hands on.

Have you ever taken a cooking classes? If you haven’t, what would you want to learn about?

Lazy lasagna

25 Jan

I went for a 4-mile run this evening, and I think it was by far—and I’ve put in a lot of miles in the last couple years—among the worst runs ever.


I’ll give you three guesses. Too tired? Nope. Too cold? Nope. Nearly sprained your ankles or twisted your knees because the Muskegon area lacks residential snow-removal ordinances and the sidewalks are covered in at least 3 inches of snow and you slip and slide all over the place? Ding ding ding ding! We have a winner, folks!

Here are the abysmal acceptable stats, including many, many short walking breaks to navigate deep snow and rest weary ankles:

Distance: 4 miles*
Duration: 54:46
Average page: 11:26 per mile
Mile 1: 10:12
Mile 2: 11:27
Mile 3: 12:02
Mile 4: 11:35

*I use the Nike+ for iPod system to track my runs. I have calibrated it, but I know it still often is wrong; I use it only as a gauge.  Online maps have this run at 4 miles, but Nike+ has it as 4.75. My splits are only an estimate.

I came home to an apartment smelling of lasagna, which I threw into the slow cooker when I got home from work so it would be ready when I got back from my run.


Let me tell you, as awful as that run was, dinner was pretty darn good—and satisfactory motivation to boot!

IMG_7241 (The first piece out of the pan never, ever turns out the way it’s supposed to, doesn’t it?)

Here’s the recipe:

8 ounces lasagna noodles, broken in half

1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground turkey

1/3 cup finely diced onions

1-2 cloves garlic

2 cups tomato sauce

2 cups diced eggplant

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or mixture of parsley, oregano and thyme)

1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1 egg white, slightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or other Italian-style cheese)

Bring a large pot of water to rapid boil. Drop in lasagna noodles and cook until almost al dente. Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.

Brown ground turkey in nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in tomato sauce and eggplant, sprinkle in spices and mix to combine.


Cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender and flavors are nicely developed.

Combine cottage cheese, egg white, parsley, salt and pepper in small bowl. Set aside.

Spread a little sauce on the bottom of the slow cooker insert to prevent noodles from sticking. Arrange noodles to form first layer. Spread about a third of the sauce mixture on top. Arrange noodles to form second layer. Spread about half the cheese mixture on top. Arrange noodles to form third layer. Repeat with remaining sauce and cheese mixtures. Top with shredded cheese and cover.






Cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours.


Mmmm. I liked making this in the slow cooker because I could set it and forget it while I did something else. And I like how it turned out just the same as it would have if I had made it in the oven.

You could easily adapt this recipe to your liking or dietary needs—mushrooms would be delicious in place of turkey; zucchini would be delicious in place of or in addition to eggplant; ricotta would work instead of cottage cheese.

The turkey and eggplant gave the dish major chew, while the tomato sauce (and little added salt) kept it tangy and sweet. The cheese gave it nice creaminess.

Give this a try. It’s so easy and makes a great weeknight meal!

How do you “bribe” yourself to do things you don’t want to do?

Dreary day and a rockin’ recipe

18 Nov



I am staying home sick for the day, Christopher is working from home today and we are getting our first bit of “snow” today.

I thought it was a good time to share a great recipe with you…


I made these crispy chicken fingers for dinner the other day, and Christopher declared it the best thing I have ever made.

Here’s the recipe:

9 ounces chicken breast or chicken tenders

1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

3 to 4 tablespoons flour

1 egg, beaten

3/4 to 1 cup Panko

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon chili pepper

1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Thaw chicken, if frozen, and cut breasts or tenders into strips or “fingers.” Place in shallow bowl or dish, cover with buttermilk and set aside. Let marinate and tenderize for at least an hour.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet or roasting pan and set aside.

Gather three shallow dishes (baking/casserole dishes work well) and line them up on the counter or a table. Place flour in the first dish, beaten egg in the second and Panko in third. Season flour and breadcrumbs with 1/4 teaspoon of each spice (i.e. 1/4 teaspoon salt into the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt into the breadcrumbs, and so on) and mix with fork. Add parmesan cheese to breadcrumbs and mix with fork.




Remove chicken from buttermilk, one piece at a time, and shake off excess liquid. Dredge chicken in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs and place on baking sheet or roasting pan.

(I did not take pictures of this step, as I had to maintain one dry hand and one wet hand to bread the chicken. I really didn’t want egg on or in my camera.)

Place chicken in oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and breading is golden brown and crispy.


I also made dipping sauces—spicy barbecue sauce for Christopher, and honey mustard for me. I just mixed 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce with almost 1 tablespoon hot sauce for Chris’ sauce, and I just mixed 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard with 1 tablespoon honey for my sauce.


I got three servings out of this recipe, and I paired the chicken fingers with a heap of corn—no fries, no potatoes, no chips necessary. These chicken fingers were tender and flavorful; the breading was light and crispy and flavorful (with a kick); and the dipping sauces were an excellent complement to the meal.


I hope you’ll try it. I plan on trying these again very soon and making an Italian version with dried herbs and either green beans or asparagus or something… There are lots of ways to adapt this one.

Enjoy your afternoon and evening—whether your weather is as gloomy as ours or much more pleasant.