Saturday, April 22, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Small Town Iowa and the Kitchen Outlet Store

Springtime is springing all around Iowa so Katie, who I would describe as my little sister, suggested we go on a Saturday road trip to somewhere fun. Nothing we have to pack for, or overnight, just a short drive, some interesting sights to see, lunch in a new spot, and maybe a little shopping if we find anything cool. Our original plan called for a very early, up-with-the-chickens day, on the road by 6:30 and headed to Owatonna, Minnesota for some shopping at Cabela's, the outlet mall in Faribault, lunch at Nick's Pizza and then a leisurely drive home. Mother Nature did not agree and her plans for the day included severe thunderstorm watches and warnings, and not wanting to be hundreds of miles from home driving in tornado strength wind, we opted for something a little closer. 

We made our plans Friday night. We'll sleep in a little later and drive about 30 miles away to Ames and then Boone. Lots of things for both of us to discover in Ames, and Boone is home to a very well known bakery. Surely we would find antique shops and cute gift type stores and things like that along the way. We are both chefs' wives so we wanted to track down something good to eat for lunch along the way. Both Ames and Boone have lots of great foodie spots, like The Cafe and Hickory Park.

Our trip started out with a quick stop at a toy store so Katie could pick up her little boy's Easter gift. It just so happens that the toy store was pretty close to a new coffee and bagel shop we've both been wanting to try, 5 Borough Bagels, was right up the street. Every day we have seen them advertising very tempting coffee flavors and since we're both coffeeholics, that had to be the kickoff for our day. Katie got the Birthday Cake latte and I got the Scotcheroo. They were......ok. The coffee flavor was good, but the Birthday Cake latte was awfully sweet even though it's flavor did remind me of birthday cake.The Scotcheroo latte didn't really have that peanut butter/butterscotch flavor at all. It just tasted like a regular latte. Not overly sweet it was good, but not great, and came with a big pile of whipped cream on top, which is something I would rather leave off. Another drawback- the coffee only comes in a 16 oz size. No small, medium, large. No tall, grande or venti. Just one size. It was worth trying but since it's out of the way for most of my running around town, I don't know if I'll go back or not.

We hit the highway after the toy store and while chatting decided to it up and head east instead of north and check out the outlet mall in Williamsburg. Talk about happy happy happy- they have a kitchen outlet!! Foodie heaven! It's a good hour drive and by the time we got there we figured it would be best to feed our young traveling companion before hitting the shops so we headed into the town of Williamsburg, just south of Interstate 80. It's a cute little Iowa town, postcard perfect with a coffee and antique shop in an old Victorian house. Businesses such as banks, shops and restaurants circle to town square which is a grassy park. I'm so glad we visited when we did. The recent spring rains have changed the grass into a lush green carpet and spring flowers are blooming everywhere.

Just off the square is the Sundown Bar and Grill. After googling options in the area we decided to check out the place. Now, I have been to many many mom and pop small town eateries over the years and some are barely mediocre with a menu packed full of deep fried everything but that was not the case here. There were a number of fried things, like onions rings, breaded mushrooms and cheesesticks and fried pickles, but they also offered a nice selection of hand pattied burgers, breaded or grilled pork tenderloins, steaks, broasted chicken and even a wood fired pizza menu. Since we were there at lunch they had not yet fired up the wood oven, so Katie chose a generously sized and juicy cheeseburger with fried mushrooms and I went with the Iowa classic- the tenderloin. The tenderloin was fantastic- one of the best I have ever had and it came with crinkle fries- the absolute BEST crinkle fries I have had in forever. If our simple sandwiches were any indication of the care and quality of the rest of the food, this town has a goldmine right on the main street. 

After lunch we headed up to the outlet mall. Kitchen Collection was our destination and I wasn't five feet in the door before I found something I have been wanting- a mandolin. A few feet later was a wall of cast iron. Knives, utensils, linens, gadgets, seasonings, small appliances, cookware, dishware, coffeemakers and tea pots- everything a foodie could possibly want and at incredible prices. A few items mysteriously fell into my cart of course.  After the kitchen store we hit a couple clothing stores, jewelry, chocolate and sporting goods shops, and an Amana store where you can get Amana products like pickles, jams cheeses and so on. 

The sky was darkening and storm clouds threatened so we headed back towards the city, thankfully missing the crummy weather. We didn't make it to the winery because we had Pupcake with us so we made plans to head that way again soon, and you know we'll tell you all about it.

So what did I buy at the kitchen outlet? Just a couple things. A handy small blender for making smoothies and shakes- so I probably will share some recipes and suggestions with that in the future and I also purchased a mandolin. Now, just to get you up to speed about ten years ago I bought a mandolin. LOVED that thing, I was so excited to use it and its many exchangeable blades for different types of cutting. The very first time I used it, I was slicing onions and cucumbers for salad. Silly me, holding that onion, I didn't think I needed that safety guard- I'm a seasoned pro, right? WRONG! I ended up cutting my thumb in a very horrible way which ruined the salad and absolutely ruined my day, and many to follow as the pain was one step away from unbearable. I threw the mandolin away swearing them off for life. Seeing chefs on cooking shows using them with their unprotected hand gave me the creeps- seriously, like it made me queasy. They always WHIZ through slicing things and I fear for every finger on their hands.

Fast forward ten years and here I am again. Wiser. Much wiser, and also very willing to accept the fact that the safety guard is provided for a reason, and I will be using it. I have a couple veggies to play with so let's play with the new mandolin. Since I am such a sucker for a good potato, that was my first vegetable to play with. I had a sweet potato and russets, so I went with the russets. I carefully unpacked the mandolin from its packaging, where it was all safe and snug in a relatively small box. I knew right away this was NOT going back in the same box- no way, no how. Anyway, the unit comes with the v-shaped cutting blade in place. There is a safety cover on and to be honest, I damn near cut mu hand off trying to get the safety cover off. Whoever designed this- let's just say I don't like you much. I did NOT touch the blade but eyeballed it from a safe distance. The attachments include a julienne slicing blade (I left that securely wrapped up) and two more slicing adjuster things- basically you swap them out on the unit for thick, normal and super thin slices. The unit is set up for super this straight out of the box. Those attachments are easy to remove, there is a push button and they pop right off. The base and "runway" are sturdy and don't slip around on the counter.

The food safety guide thing- I wouldn't even think of not sing it this time around. Following the instructions that came in the box I cut the potatoes in half first then stuck them on the pins in the food guide. There are a bunch of pins in there and they held the potatoes firmly in place. I gathered my guts and started slicing and guess what? I got potato slices with NO FINGER MEAT!! So excited! Since I had left the thinnest slice attachment in I had slices you could easily have made homemade potato chips with. Instead, since I don't like deep frying at home, I made a dish similar to Potatoes Anna but I call it Potatoes Erika because my mom always made this.

I used a medium skillet and added a good swirl or rosemary Sinful Food olive oil and heated until the oil was screeching hot and very fragrant, then I placed the slices in the pan overlapping and covering the bottom and built up until I had used all the potatoes and seasoned well with salt and pepper. I turned the heat down to mediumish and covered the pan to make sure the potatoes cooked through. I left them untouched for about 10 minutes and then checked them- the bottom was nicely browned and crisp. Grab a big spatula and flip them over (after drizzling a touch more oil over) and cook uncovered until the bottom is also browned and crisp. Slide out of the pan and slice into wedges to serve.

Get your Sinful Food oils by clicking HERE.

I ate the whole thing. Ha!! It was only two potatoes to begin with so it wasn't piles of food, and you know what? I wasn't that scared! I actually like how this mandolin performed and cleanup was super easy- I used running water and a brush on a LONG handle- piece of cake! As I predicted, it did not go back into the box so I'll have to figure out a good way to store this but I guarantee I'll use this again and again, in fact........ I have something in mind for a post in the very near future! Stay tuned!

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