Monday, February 5, 2018

Monsieur Bocuse, Bringing Me Back To The Kitchen

Guess who's back? Me! You might not even have noticed, but over the holidays I took an extended break from writing, and cooking. Many of you can relate, but the holiday season is often just TOO crazy for me to manage everything in our schedules and this year was no different. That's all in the rear view mirror now and it's time to get back at it. A number of things have come up since taking a break. I received an invitation to attend the 2018 Iowa Pork Taste of Elegance competition again. Restaurants have open and closed here in Des Moines. New chef friends have come into my life. One of the culinary world's great Master Chefs has passed away. I've added to my collection of Mouli food shredder/slicers. I've become obsessed with china tea sets. Numerous cookbooks have been added to my collection. Lots to talk about, and lots to cook. 

One of the most impactful events for me is the passing of Chef Paul Bocuse on January 20, 2018. I was so saddened to hear this news. Originally from Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or, France, Chef Bocuse is widely known as the creator of nouvelle cuisine, and helped shape generations of new chefs, through his incredible Michelin star restaurants. Many of his students have gone on to earn Michelin stars of their own. Many organizations created awards in Chef Bocuse's honor, including the prestigious Bocuse d'Or, a biennial chef competition held in Lyon and is probably the most prestigious competition in the world. Bocuse received a number of honors and awards of his own over the years including the medal as Commander of the Legion d'honneur

His most regarded restaurant is L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges near Lyon in France. Bocuse's accomplishments and culinary triumphs are numerous indeed, and include preparing the meals for the maiden flight of the Concorde in 1969 and the world famous soupe aux truffles he served at a Presidential Dinner at the Elysee Palace in 1975. This soup, known as Soup VGE, remains a mainstay in his restaurant today. 

Once I'd heard Chef Bocuse had passed away I immediately hit the cookbook shelves, pulled out some classics, and began reading. I knew this was the kick in the pants I needed to get back to cooking and hit the laptop to share. The vast majority of my cookbooks are newer with contemporary chefs but I do have a few gems in the collection, especially vintage cookbooks and European chefs. This is where the real influence lies for me. Not the current television cooking personality, but in the old time chefs who didn't have time for celebrity instead focusing on classic preparations, the Mother sauces, the roots of cooking. I can lose myself for days in these kinds of cookbooks, almost like textbooks to me.

As soon as the cool weather in October hit, I became obsessed with autumn cooking, and got my heart set on osso buco, so Found myself again looking for this classic recipe in those old books. Authentic osso buco is made with veal shanks. I set off on my quest to track down some veal shanks locally. That's when the whole plan went awry. No luck. So the search went to online sources. What a kick in the reality check- the best price I could find for two, yes only two, pieces of the veal shank was $59.99. Now we love food, we love GOOD food and we will pay the money for something truly exceptional when we want it, but I really had trouble plunking down $30.00 each for a couple pieces of veal shank, so I started to research alternative cuts. The results were interesting. Other chefs were using everything from pork shanks, to venison cuts to pieces of beef chuck roast. Right away I knew I wasn't going to go with pork. That just didn't have the right flavor or consistency of tender veal. Venison? We love venison but for this dish, I had to pass. Beef chuck, however, is easy to come by and much much less expensive, so chuck it is. Once I had all my ingredients purchased, I set about making this slow-braised dish that fills the house with delicious aromas and is perfect for a cold and blustery autumn day. I chose a Cabernet Sauvignon for my red wine. You want a dry red that you would also drink, so don't go with a super cheap wine or "cooking wine"- might as well throw your money away.

Osso Buco

2-4 sections veal shank*
salt and pepper
2 carrots, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 stalks celery, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bottle dry red wine
4 cups beef broth
olive oil

* Unable to locate veal shanks locally, I used similar sized pieces of beef chuck roast.

Season the meat all over liberally with the salt and pepper. Heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat and add a couple swirls of olive oil. Sear the meat on both sides. Remove and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pot and add the carrot and celery. Cook, occasionally until starting to caramelize. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and saute a minute or two. Add the tomato paste, stirring to coat the vegetables.

Add the wine and broth to the pot. Bring to boil stirring to loosen any browned bits from the pot. Add the meat back to the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for one hour. Watch and add a little water if necessary. You want the sauce to cook to a rich and thick consistency.

While the osso buco is cooking, prepare the polenta for four servings. Mix Parmesan cheese to taste into the polenta. Serve the polenta in shallow bowls with the meat and sauce on top.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Just when you thought it couldn't get any sillier, I found a Mouli

The things that took place during our childhood years are often the most influential things in our lives. Good memories and bad ones alike become a part of who we grow up to become. I've talked about my dad being the original foodie back in the 1970s, and my mom with her unique life story and German American fusion style of cooking. I've also talked about my never ending love for gadgets and interesting utensils and appliances destined to make food prep easier. Way back in the filed away memories of my childhood there is a utensil so interesting, old and unique, and FUN to play with, that I've never forgotten about it, talked about it often, and recently acquired a couple of my very own. I'm talking about the Mouli Shredder.

Long long before the word "mandolin" was part of my vocabulary I was slicing and shredding things like a pro when my mom broke out the old Mouli. Her lentil soup and potato pancakes is the stuff of legends, but shredding all those potatoes was a nightmare, unless you had the Mouli. What exactly is the Mouli? I thought you'd never ask. Long long before I was ever a thought, a company in France had a brilliant idea. In 1932 Jean Mantelet created a food mill. Made of metal, probably tin of some kind, his goal was to make the kitchen chores of the average housewife a little easier by creating utensils that did a lot of the hard work for her. After the food mill, a rotary grater, a ricer, and the "coupe"- the Mouli I love so much, were introduced in 1935. Millions were sold! The company became known as Moulinex in 1956 and continued to introduce kitchen helpers over the years. 

In the 1960s, as more women joined the workforce, technology was advancing and Moulinex introduced electric versions of some of their appliances. By the time the 70s rolled around, 50% of the company's business was outside of France, and they began selling appliances such as blenders, electric coffeemakers and even microwaves. Today, the company still provides a variety of appliances to perform all kinds of kitchen tasks. They look drastically different from the old Mouli still tucked away in my parents' kitchen cabinet!

This is ridiculous amounts of fun.
Browsing thrift stores with Jessica, my almost sister, is one of my favorite things to do. I always hit the kitchen section immediately, always on the hunt for unique knives, cool old utensils, maybe some delicate china teacups, and, you guessed it- Moulis. I already have three!! I can't help but feel a close connection to this crazy looking thing that folds up for easier storage and comes with a stack of disks of death- sharp edges and slicy blades and shreddy grooves. Yes, each one comes with the same disks, and the style is always basically the same, but I have both the original metal Mouli and a crazy orange plastic (so 70s!!) Mouli and I love them all the same. 

A modern version of the Mouli.

Since reconnecting with the Moulis in my life, the Chef and I don't even own a box grater. Need some cheese shredded? I'll get out the Mouli! Cole slaw? Break out the Mouli! Making some hash browns? You guessed it, I'll use the Mouli. I can't help myself. If I sit there at the kitchen island, and close my eyes while turning the crank handle around a few times I can almost travel back in time to my mom's kitchen, and piles of potatoes waiting to be shredded, and turning til my arm was rubbery felling.......and I can't help but smile.

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."

Friday, November 10, 2017

Summer School- All About Tea Chapter Five

I PROMISE we are going to finish up our "summer school" before the dead of winter!! Chapter Five focuses on the health benefits of teas. This is a big reason a lot of people are seeking out teas and trying new types. Green tea in particular is very good for you. Let's talk about some of those benefits. Of course, we know tea has zero calories. I prefer my tea unsweetened so I'm not adding a bunch of empty calories to my cuppa, but if you like a sweeter tea consider the type of sweetener you use and switch plain sugar for something a little more healthful. Or not- it's your tea, drink it how you like it! Teas are loaded with antioxidants, and many other compounds that help our bodies stay healthy. Most are low in caffeine or caffeine free, as well. 

Green tea, including matcha, is one of the most popular teas in the world. Green tea has so many valuable benefits it's hard to believe it comes from a humble little plant. Your immune system is enhanced by consuming green tea on a regular basis, and it helps your body maintain regular sleep cycles. We all know how important sleep is to keeping us healthy and sane. It can also give your metabolism a little kick in the pants, helps your memory and eases anxiety.

Detox is a hot topic these days with all kinds of crazy concoctions being touted as the miracle detox cure. Just do a quick Google search and you will find some pretty disgusting sounding (and tasting) mixtures that promise much more than they deliver. Herbal teas, instead of vinegars and hot peppers, taste so much better and have proven benefits. Milk thistle, dandelion, ginger, mint and turmeric are wonderful herbs to steep and drink. Your skin will be hydrated, your mind will be eased, and your guts will thank you.

Back to green tea and matcha, where you can get a little metabolism boost, and cinnamon tea for lessening the appetite are both natural and healthful options for people looking to lose weight. Again, zero calories in tea make it the perfect beverage. Tea made from the peeled skin of the garcinia cambogia fruit may contain properties that inhibit the production of fat cells. 

Janet's beautiful china*
Do you ever turn to sports drinks to rehydrate after a work out? You might want to take a look at the labels next time. Many of those "healthy" hydration drinks contain shocking amounts of sugar, and others contain artificial sweeteners, plus artificial colors, and chemicals and other things you might not want. Herbal teas make a much better, and healthier, hydration option. Teas that include turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties and can help rejuvenate muscle tissue and aid in healing by reducing swelling and pain. Basil teas helps increase your endurance when exercising and helps your body cope with the demands. Much better than a sugary energy drink! Rooibos tea help balance electrolytes as well, and again, without all the chemicals and unnecessary sugars. Looking for an extra boost of hydration? Brew that tea with coconut water and you'll really be steeping a powerhouse beverage.

And finally, if you are anything like me, you need some help in the relaxation department. My job can be stressful and high pressure and after a long day of dealing with insurance issues, I can have a little trouble letting go and letting down. This is when I reach for floral and herb teas. Lavender and rose are not only delicious and beautiful in the glass, but sooooo relaxing. Even the smell of lavender helps your mind and body let go of everything that's weighing you down. Chamomile is a proven sleepy time tea. Herbal teas are free from caffeine, remember, and there is nothing better than a warm, soothing cup of tea to help you unwind, settle into your comfy zone and zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

**** Photo of Pop Gosser "Fleurette" china courtesy of Janet Barcheski Green. Her treasures can be found by clicking HERE.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Caramel Macchiato Cheesecake

I swore I was never going to get hooked on coffee. I had friends and coworkers that couldn't function without coffee. My mom was a major coffee nut. Heck, she would brew several POTS a day and have a cup full at all times every day. Plain black coffee. I always loved the smell, hated the taste. It was bitter and weird and not something I thought even cream and sugar could make palatable. That all changed. The more I explored different foods and recipes and cultures, the more I played with and sampled new ingredients, the more I began to see coffee as something more than gut torching brown liquid. I discovered....... the cappuccino. We are talking the real deal here, not the sugary junk you get from a convenience store, the real coffee shop, Italian cappuccino made by a barista. I fell hard. Bought myself an espresso machine and, surprise surprise, a cookbook of coffee beverages. Lattes, macchiatos, flat whites, foam, whip, butter- you name it. I became somewhat obsessed.

I won this in a giveaway and it's perfect for baking.
I became a coffee snob. I only bought "the best" coffees, fancy cups to drink from, imported flavorings to change things up, specialty roasts and imported beans, to grind myself at home for the freshest possible cup of coffee. Then I discovered ICED coffee. Holy moly. A whole new world opened up for me and along with that came iced lattes and macchiatos. I joined the membership program at every local coffee place. Baristas began to recognize me. My espresso machine wore out. Starbucks came to Des Moines. The obsession grew.

I began exploring recipes using coffee in different ways. Brewed coffee in marinades, gravies and sauces. Ground coffee in rubs and spice blends. I learned that a little bit of coffee combined with chocolate in baked goods really made the chocolate flavor pop. I began to look at coffee in a whole new way. Fast forward a few years and I am now, like many others, hopelessly in love with coffee. I still don't like a plain cup of black coffee but make me a macchiato and I'm yours forever.

One day I decided to make a cheesecake. I had the greatest idea in mind- matcha green tea and raspberry. The beautiful green color of the tea and the bright raspberry red would look gorgeous together, right? I stocked up on everything I needed, cookies to crush for the crust, two pounds of cream cheese. Looked through the matcha powder to be found. Grrrrr. I needed a Plan B and fast! That's when my love affair with foo foo coffee came in. I always have coffee around, and just happened to have some caramel sauce. It was a natural and obvious conclusion- Caramel Macchiato Cheesecake, featuring the incredible gourmet chocolate from Sinful Food. I used about two squares from the Espresso bar, grating it with a small cheese grater and added half to the batter itself and the rest sprinkled over the top of the caramel sauce, so you get the added boost of flavor of the crushed espresso beans and the super high quality chocolate. Garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a chunk of Sinful Food espresso chocolate for a beautiful presentation.

You can get the Sinful Food gourmet chocolate by clicking HERE. You can buy Sunny Day Organics products by clicking HERE.

Caramel Macchiato Cheesecake

1 1/2 crushed vanilla wafers
1/3 cup melted butter
2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons flour
4 eggs
1/4 cup cold espresso or very strong coffee
1/2 cup prepared caramel sundae sauce
2 squares Sinful Food Espresso Chocolate, grated, divided

Set oven to 325 degrees. Fill a baking dish with hot water and place in the oven on the lowest rack. Prepare an 8 inch springform pan- butter the sides and bottom well.

On a small bowl toss the crushed cookies and melted butter until combined. Press evenly on the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside.

Place the cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl- using a stand mixer makes this batter super easy. Use the paddle attachment and beat cheese until fluffy. Gradually add the sugars, vanilla, flour and eggs. Mix in the coffee and half the grated chocolate. Pour the batter over the crust in the pan, smoothing the top. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until cake feels first and has a slight "jiggle"- it will continue to set on cooling. Cool on a rack, then cover and chill completely. I usually refrigerate this overnight before continuing.

Use a knife to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Place on serving plate and carefully remove the sides. Spoon the caramel all over the top or the cake. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate over the caramel sauce. Serve with whipped cream and additional caramel sauce, if desired.

After I made this cheesecake I asked for a few volunteer taste testers and chose four coworkers, Katie, Lia, Janelle and Taylor. Everyone loved it. I asked all four the same questions- how was the level of coffee flavor, too much or too little? Is the cheesecake sweet enough? Too sweet? Everyone agreed, the coffee flavor was on point with the caramel sauce being a perfect complement and the cheesecake was the right level of sweet for a dessert without being too sugary. I'd call this one a success!!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Summer School- All About Tea Chapter Four

Christian Littell's mug with a cute
ManaTEA infuser
Chapter Four was all about the caffeine. I never really thought much about the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea, I just drank it because I like it and since I never really had a problem with caffeine keeping me awake I often had tea in the evening, so chapter four was very informative for me. The typical cup of tea has less than half the amount of caffeine as the same amount of coffee. Tea contains the compound L-Theanine which works with the caffeine to create a sense of alertness but without the jitters often associated with coffee. Interesting to know, but I've never really felt like tea gave me any kind of boost like coffee, which is ok too.

Now, one thing that was very interesting to me was all the similarities between tea processing and winemaking. Where the tea leaves are grown, their cultivation, and how they're handled after picking all influence the level of caffeine in the finished product, just like wine grapes. Leaf size, the length of time you allow it to infuse as well as the water temperature can always change the level of caffeine in your cuppa. A tea that has a lot of leaf "tips" will usually be higher as well since caffeine tends to accumulate in the tips of the leaves. All of this was totally new to me and very interesting. A lot of science goes into making tea!

Laura Duffield Beigger has this cute collection
Teas can also be decaffeinated, although tiny amounts will remain after the process. Caffeine is extracted either by chemical processing or with high pressure and no chemicals, which obviously is more environmentally friendly. The process varies from brand to brand, so always read and do your research if you are concerned about chemicals you might be consuming or environmental issues. We all should be concerned, if you ask me! Just like some tea is decaffeinated, other teas have the caffeine increased, usually by the addition of green tea extract. This is your tea if you're looking for a big caffeine buzz. 

Only two more chapters remain in this fun tea course. I've learned all kinds of interesting facts about tea and it's made me want to learn even more. I know a chapter on matcha tea is coming, and I'm really looking forward to that!

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."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Is This Heaven?

It doesn't take much to get me excited these days- and a new store in a brand new shopping mall here in our city hit the nail on the head with one, and only one, store included in the project. Now some people need to drive an expensive car. Some women want the best, biggest and highest clarity diamond jewelry. Other people spend hundreds of dollars on hairstyling and spa treatments, and others spend hundreds on designer bags and clothing and shoes. I'm over all that stuff. Now, I spend my "big money" on things that are important to The Chef and I- high quality kitchen equipment and "good" grocery products. Seriously, those things go hand in hand. You might splurge on a $500 piece of AllClad but if you're just going to cook Hamburger Helper in it, save the money and buy a big box store cheap skillet. For us, we prefer to purchase what we consider investment pieces, things that will outlast us. 

Good knives are a must. I have accumulated a very nice collection of Wusthof knives from their open stock- I was able to purchase exactly the pieces I wanted and didn't end up with a knife or two that I'll never really use. I bought my block from eBay and saved a nice chunk of money on that. In fact, I often still do browse the eBay offerings and just see what's out there for sale. I sometimes grab a good buy. Now, don't think I don't also own some other knives, because I do. I have a couple Mercer Genesis knives and I'm quite impressed with their quality. Guy Fieri suckered me in to buying a big Knuckle Sandwich chef's knife when they first came out, and I couldn't resist a set of Tomodachi knives one day when I was wandering around a Sam's club. Cute, colorful, somewhat practical and disposable when they become too crummy to continue to sharpen. 

My real and true love is cookware. I've owned a set of Calphalon for a good ten years now and while some of the pots have seen better days, they are heavy, solid, the lids are all still intact with no loose handles or broken pieces. These guys are built for the long haul for sure. My next true love is cast iron. All kinds of cast iron. I love the old fashioned black cast iron that needs to be seasoned and has to be hand washed and might have been passed down for generations. There is something really special about owning a skillet that a great grandparent used to cook with. Just imagine all the breakfasts, all the bacon, steaks and burgers, all the pancakes and fried potatoes. You can't buy that kind of history. When it comes to cast iron, for me, the great French Le Creuset does it for me. Sure, I own some of the old fashioned black cast iron too, but the color pop of the Le Creuset just makes me happy. Sturdy and heavy, these beautiful cast iron, and a few ceramic, pieces are absolutely investment pieces. My first piece was a Dutch oven. I chose a color that was perfect for me- Marine, a dusty and deep turquoise that wasn't really bright or pastel, it is smokey and has a gray tint to it. I wish I had bought more pieces in this color because...... ugh, it's discontinued.  Instead now you have to make your choice between beautiful bright cherry red, sunny yellow, the perfect lime green, deep blue, a bright and pretty turquoise, pumpkin orange, and even pink. They do add new special edition colors from time to time as well.

My LeCreuset Dutch oven in Marine.
I said this is a field trip so that means we are going somewhere, right? You bet! Have you ever hear the old movie line "Is this Heaven? No, this is Iowa"? That sentence holds an entirely new meaning for me. Heaven, in Iowa, is the brand new Outlets of Des Moines shopping mall that features one store that fills my heart with joy- the Le Creuset store. My sister/friend Jessica and I made the trip the brand new mall on opening day and we had only one destination in mind- Le Creuset. She and I have a lot in common. Besides being family, we have an obsession with kitchen stuff. Cookware especially and beautiful things like bright enameled cast iron. We do the majority of our hunting at thrift stores, where you can score some great vintage pieces but we never pass up a chance to wander around, touching, holding, lusting over the beautiful brand new Le Creuset pieces.

Before we continue any further, let me insert a very brief lesson in French pronunciation here, because we cringed outwardly at the mispronounced name being spewed by literally ALL the other customers in the store and at least one employee. Say it with me: Le Crew Say. Again, Le Crew Say. Not Le Crew Set. Got it? Ok, let's move on.

The entrance walkway into the mall, which, by the way is a gorgeous open-air mall with coverings like an open roof over some of the walk ways, lovely glass store fronts that aren't looking over parking lots (those are all "behind" or around the outside of the plaza type setup), plants and benches sprinkled about, very contemporary and classy, leads right straight to nirvana......... the Le Creuset store.

Floor to ceiling glass walls give Jessica and I an incredible view of the goodies inside the store. Every size, every shape, every color of the rainbow.  We can hardly contain our glee. I said WE because she was just as giddy and giggling as I was was. Walking through the doorway literally brought tears to my eyes. I'm not even exaggerating here, guys. So many gorgeous cast iron pieces in such stunning colors, and we can TOUCH them and pick them up and hug them. Red, orange, deep blue and turquoise met us at the door and I immediately latched on the braiser. I have been wanting this piece for several years. I've entered every giveaway I've found trying to win one- and nada.

Off to the right the orange pieces have been transformed into pumpkins. I understand you can easily do this with a dry erase marker but I'm not so sure I'd try it. I was nearly jumping up and down like a kid in the toy store at this point. 

Just beyond the pumpkin display- kitchen linens. Gasp!! Le Creuset kitchen LINENS!!!!! OMG OMG OMG! Don't laugh, you people ought to know my by now.

The back wall of the store features all kinds of fun add-on pieces, like mini coccottes and mini baking dishes, utensils, a variety of cookbooks, teeny tine serving tureens, butter keepers, and crocks for all kinds of things. They even had wine glasses every bit as delicate and well crafted as Riedel. 
Teapots!!!! I die!!!!
If you wanted to, they had a table set up with filled pepper mills, in colors to match all your Le Creuset pieces, for you to try out and give it a few grinds. 

Rounding out the store, the pink pieces that you see in October and again near Valentines Day- shaped like hearts and flowers and super cute, a big selection of ceramic baking dishes, again in colors to match all the cast iron pieces, apple shaped pie pans, casserole dishes, lasagna pans, and a selection of teapots I could barely keep my hands off.

Floor to ceiling Dutch oven wallpaper

Jessica and I wasted no time getting signed up as Preferred Customers and believe it or not, we left the store without making a purchase, BUT, we both made a shopping list and we plan on working our way down the list in the very near future. We just could not pass up a visit on Opening Day!!

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."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Fireside Winery and Ackerman Winery

One lovely, rainy, windy autumn Saturday my daughter in law Janelle and I headed east to one of my favorite places on earth, the Fireside Winery. What better place for Girls Road Trip than a winery? Fireside is nestled in the rolling fields of Eastern Iowa, just a stone's throw from the famous Amana Colonies. It's a beautiful winery with a number of delicious wines all made from Iowa-grown grapes from their own vineyards. Founded in 2007 the winery has grown by leaps and bounds since the first time I visited there in 2008. Rona and Bill Wyant, the owners, were inspired by the loss of a dear friend to jump in and make their dream come true- build a winery. The tasting room is beautiful with dark woods and stone floors. The vineyards, known as Brickyard Hill Vineyard, stretch out as far as you can see. Named after an 1800s-era brickyard that once stood in the same place, the vineyards were planted in 2005 as planning and building the winery was in it's early stages.

In these vineyards you will find a variety of Iowa grapes, so let's talk about them- Frontenac Gris is a grape that reminds you of tropical fruits, citrus and stone fruit like peaches. Le Crescent is a white grape that produces wines similar to Riesling, and one of my favorites! St. Pepin is often left to freeze on the vine, which concentrates the sugars, increasing the alcohol in the wine and creating Iowa's version of Ice Wine. Brianna is another white grape that produces a lovely a perfumey sweet white wine. LaCrosse grapes have a lot of citrus notes. St. Croix is a popular red grape and makes beautiful single varietals, and is included in many red blends. Frontenac is a red grape with aromas of cherry, stone fruit like plums, and blackberry. It is used in roses and port wines. Marquette is a relative of the Pinot Noir grape and creates a fantastic red wine with a spicy note and cherry flavors.

The winery hosts special events all throughout the year, from music around the firepit in the summer, weddings, parties, and appetizer nights. In the tasting room you can also enjoy wine slushes in the summer, wine cocktails and of course, a glass of Fireside wine. They even have something for the non-wino in the group, a great selection of craft beers and non alcoholic beverages. We went for one of these special events- a Sip and Celebrate Tasting, which is geared to groups. The winery is just as much fun just to pop in for a visit. You can order from a pretty nice menu of appetizers, cheeses, meats and even flatbreads, grab a glass or bottle of your favorite wine, and head for a seat on the patio, or when the weather is less than friendly, at a table in the lounge near the fireplace.

I bet you're wondering what wines we sampled, right? Well, here is the rundown. Let's start with the whites- Seyval, which is a lightly oaked dry white. It has a sweet citrusy aroma and pairs perfectly with spicy or rich foods. Brianna brings hints of pear, apple, and a hint of butter aromas but brings citrus and "green grass" flavors. Our tasting guide told us Brianna is the first grape to be harvested each fall, and the grapes are also delicious when eaten fresh, unlike many wine grapes. Frontenac Gris is a lovely off dry white that has luscious honey flavors, apricot and pear. Sunset was a sweet and lovely wine, with a very fruit forward peach flavor. It's light and summery and makes perfect white sangria or wine spritzers. LaCrosse is another dry white with citrus and green grass notes, slight minerality, and perfect for pairing with seafood and garlicky dishes. Blu is Fireside's Riseling-style wine, made from Geisenheim grapes. It's spicy, citrusy and has that lovely minerality. Great for sipping on a hot summer day. Glow is another white that's perfect for moscato drinkers. Loads of tropical fruit, and stone fruits- apricot and peach.

We tried three reds. Hearthstone is a red that will surprise you. Very much like a Cabernet, the heady cigar aroma- not smoke, but the tobacco and leathery smells- and dark cherry flavor will make you fall in love. Made from Marquette grapes, it's lightly oaked and it perfect with rich red meats, and of course, pizza. I was craving a big juicy grilled burger with this one. Serenade, a sweet red made with Concord grapes, this wine is known as the "Happy Wine". Take a big breath in with your nose in the glass- you'll go right back to childhood and grape jelly sandwiches. It's sweet and fun. Firefly was the last red we tried. This is one of the winery's top sellers, and you can tell why. Berry notes, especially strawberry, are very pronounced in this wine, and it's perfect for taming spicy foods, or just sipping with friends.

The last two wines we tried were known as the special occasion wines. Autumn Spice is a sweet white with pear and citrus flavors, sweet spices and lemon and honey. Holiday Spice, also a white semi sweet wine, reminded me of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oranges, cloves, cinnamon are very forward in this beautiful wine. Both of these wines are perfect for warming in the crock pot and serving around the holiday tree, chilled with dessert, or just a glass or two when you're curled up by the fire, with a cozy blanket and a good book.

Despite the heavy downpour and kind of windy conditions, Janelle and I made the most of our day in eastern Iowa. After leaving Fireside, we drove to the Colonies and did a little additional wine tasting at the Ackerman Winery. Ackerman is one of Iowa's oldest wineries and also one of the highest awarded wineries, winning competitions all over the country. It is also the "sister winery" to Fireside. They have a huge variety of wines, from fruit wines, to grape wines, and the Amana favorites- dandelion and rhubarb wines. Here at Ackerman we were on a mission to buy just a couple wines- peach and blackberry for Janelle, and peach and red raspberry for me. These wines combine for some pretty delicious wine cocktails. We also sampled a few others, including pomegranate and cranberry wines. The pomegranate was very unusual but also quite lovely. Of course, the shop also has all sorts of cute gift items as well, from t shirts and wine racks to cute wine toppers and candles with wine fragrances. 

After leaving the winery we were starving! We were slightly tempted by the German bakeries, but behaved ourselves, knowing we'd be having dinner. Anytime you're in the Colonies you just have to try and have a German dinner, and there are several wonderful options. We had a lovely early dinner at Ronneberg Restaurant too. Just stepping through the door was like a trip back to my childhood. I was reminded of my mom as we sat in the quaint and cozy dining room, decorated with beautiful Amana wood cabinets, chairs and tables, and shelves lined with lovely china and pottery. Real hardwood floors and plush carpet made it so warm and welcoming. Our server was so friendly and efficient, she made us feel very welcome. 

 The food was exactly like something my mom would have prepared. Janelle had the Bavarian chicken, which was a pan-grilled chicken breast wrapped in Black Forest ham and melty Swiss cheese. It was quite similar to Cordon Bleu but without the breading and deep frying, resulting in a lighter dish. I had a hard time deciding but went with the weiner schnitzel. Here at Ronneberg it's a tender veal cutlet instead of the pork that you usually see, lightly breaded and then pan-fried, served with a big lemon wedge to squeeze over. This is exactly how I remember eating this so many times as a kid. Both of our dinners came with Amana bakery bread, lovely rye and crusty white, homemade coleslaw which was perfect and not too mayonnaisey, two vegetables, and these super crispy and golden brown home fried potatoes I'm sure came from a cast iron skillet. No room for dessert, darnit, but we left full and happy and ready for a nap! Our day was wonderful and a great chance to hang out together, and even though we both got soaked by the rain a couple times, it was a fantastic road trip. We can't wait to do it again.
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."