Thursday, August 27, 2015

Random Thursday

Tonight I have a few not-too-important ramblings...12, to be exact.

Each of these are somewhat cryptic, and some will be much better suited to a longer blog post of their own.  I don't want to forget my thoughts but I'm too unfocused and busy lately to write... so I'm shortening them.

1.  KINDNESS.  I am amazed by the amount of it around me lately.  It's humbling.  It brings me to tears, honestly.

2.  PARENTING.  Holy buckets of difficulty.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Or the weak-stomached.  Is "stomached" a word?

3.  SCHOOL.  It's here.  I love my job again.  Yes, again.  Last time we had a first day of school, I did not like my job.

4.  SUMMER.  I'm thanking my lucky stars that we have cool weather for the first week of school...summer would be a lot harder to leave behind if it were 80 degrees and sunny.

5.  ICE CREAM.  Just....thank you, Jesus.

6.  RED WINE.  See #5.

7.  HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL.  Easily one of my favorite, most-watched shows on TV.  I can't get enough.

8.  MARRIAGE.  I married up.

9.  NIGHT TERRORS.  They happen (to me) and they suck.

10.  BOOKS.  Thankfully, I have a stack of fantastic Christian fictions next to my bed and whenever I get freaked, I read.  Instant peace.

11.  BATH AND BODY WORKS.  The hand soap and plug-in air fresheners.  Amen.

12.  1-YEAR-OLDS.  Because this:


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Two Words: Beurre Blanc.

One of the last projects I had to complete for my last class was a presentation.

"Invite three interested adults to participate in your presentation."  So, Tom of course, and our BFFs Hollie and Brett.  That was easy.  

"Include a visual."  How about a PowerPoint?  Done.

"Create an activity that they must participate in during the presentation -- sitting and listening to you describe the activity does not count as participating."  Well, my research was on pitch-matching in 10-11 year old male voices, so they will sing through some of the exercises and complete the same assessment that my student subjects had to do.  They will sing in their "kid" ranges -- this should be entertaining.

I knew this wouldn't be a complete presentation without dinner, so I invited them over for an entire evening and got the menu planned.  Keeping in mind that I needed to utilize the massive quantities of herbs from the garden overflowing our backyard, this is what I came up with:

Brown Sugar Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
Summer Strawberry Salad with Poppyseed Dressing
Salmon Beurre Blanc
Roasted Vegetables
French Bread with fresh herb compound butter
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Craft Beer
Sparkling White Wine

The dinner was a success even though I felt the salmon got a little too overcooked and I didn't have enough time to bake the cupcakes...Hy Vee bakery to the rescue!  We had mini vanilla cupcakes with pretty sprinkles on top.  Oh, and by "craft beer" I mean "Michelob Golden Light."  We forgot to pick up a growler from MC Brewing.

I fell into deep, committed love with the main course.  Beurre blanc is a French white wine butter sauce and OH MY LANTA.  Fantastic.  

Needless to say, I feel obliged to share this beurre blanc recipe with you, which is slightly adapted from one of Mr. Alton Brown's recipes.  These photos are not from the original sauce-making experience, but the emotions most definitely are.

1.  Chop up some shallots.  I used a half of a medium-sized shallot, about a tablespoon and a half.

2.  Remember your ski goggles under the sink and put them on.  My eyes were already watering after about .5 seconds of chopping.  Does anyone else have super-sensitive eyes?!

3.  Put the shallots in a prep bowl with 6 whole black peppercorns (I used 7 because I am a rebel) and one bay leaf, and set aside.

4.  Get to work on the star ingredient, the butter.  Here is one stick.

5.  Do a double-take at the recipe.  OMG this recipe calls for three.  THREE.  Three sticks of butter.  Wallow in the gluttony that you are about to experience and go to the fridge and get two more sticks.

6.  Stop wallowing and do a joy dance because this is going to be delicious.

7.  Cut the butter into cubes.  Halve them the long way:

Then into quarters:

and into cubes.  Put them in the fridge so they stay cold.

8.  Grab another small prep dish and measure 2 tablespoons of dry white wine.  I used some of my beloved Naked Grape Pinot G.  Also, add 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar into the same prep bowl.  It's not pictured because vinegar is boring.

9.  Gawk at your cutie-pie son who is having his own supper.

10.  Get to work on some fresh vegetables.  1/4 of a red onion!  Ski goggles back on, stat.

(Stat.  What does that even mean?  I know that medical pros say it and it means right away.  Why "stat?"  Feel free to fill me in, medical friends.)

11.  Red and green bell pepper, half of each.

12.  Red skinned potatoes...I think probably 4 or so, cut into bite sized pieces.

13.  Go into your backyard and crawl into the literal jungle of herbs.  I picked parsley, thyme, and rosemary.  I would have included sage so I could sing Scarborough Fair while picking them, but I didn't really have a need for sage.  Next time.

14.  Realize that the photo of herbs also includes a hair brush.  Why a hair brush?  Jude likes to carry random objects around with him and this was one of the objects of the day.  Promptly move the brush somewhere else.

15.  Chop up the lovely fragrant herbs and set aside.  I mixed the rosemary and thyme, to use with the roasted veggies.

16.  Prepare salad ingredients.  In this photo I forgot the radishes.  Shame on me.  Radishes are one of my top 5 salad toppers.  Imagine romaine, these strawberries, green onions, carrots, thinly sliced radishes sprinkled with sea salt (they are so good) and fresh parsley.  Salad perfection, I believe.  Any sweet vinaigrette like raspberry or honey mustard would be good, but ours was Panera poppyseed dressing.  

17.  Put your toddler to "work" in his cupboard, filled with baby-friendly kitchen things.

18.  Toss veggies and potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary/thyme mixture.  I always cook the potatoes on a separate pan and give them a 15-minute headstart.  If I cook them together, the onions and peppers burn.  I also used asparagus on the original recipe.

19.  Roast in a 425* oven, potatoes in first, then veggies after 15 minutes.  30 minutes total.

20.  Notice that Jude has declared it "break time."  He is all about that blue sippy cup.

21.  Start the glorious, heaven-sent, wondrous beurre blanc.  Shallots, peppercorns, bay leaf (I guess there were two in mine), wine and vinegar all get hot together.  Boil, then simmer and reduce until there is about 2 tablespoons of liquid left.

22.  Add 1/4 cup heavy cream.  I didn't mention that in the ingredients before.  Don't you go and forget it though, because it is miraculous.  Bring this to a simmer and let it reduce by half.

23.  While the sauce is becoming magical, put some chicken breasts in a saute pan.  Just salt and pepper and olive oil, nothing fancy.  My veggies were done at this point so there they are, cooling off a little on the side.

24.  Put some bread on the veggie pan and plan on putting it back into the oven right before serving, so it gets warmed.  This bread is one of my favorites from Aldi.  It's a big round loaf of Italian bread and you can find it in the bread section.  Duh.

25.  When the sauce is reduced by half, call your handsome husband in for help.  Ask if he would rather be the "feeder" or the "whisker."  Tell him that he should be the whisker, because he has whiskers.  LOL.  He's not laughing.

26.  Add the cold butter one piece at a time while your Whiskered Husband "vigorously whisks" the butter into the sauce.  This takes a while.  Look at that mountain of butter cubes.  If you've ever seen Julie and Julia (one of my favorites!), this is the sauce-making process that Julia Child describes to her sister in a French restaurant while they eat Brie and drink wine.

I want to be Julia Child.

This isn't pictured, but don't forget to flip the chicken over!  :)

28.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh colander and you're all done!  It will smell amazing.  Don't taste it yet, because you'll burn your mouth.

29.  When all is brought together, you'll have THIS:

Chicken with the awesomesauce, topped with parsley.
Roasted veggies which taste great with the awesomesauce.
Bread with compound butter -- this particular one is garden basil and garlic.
Pinot Grigio

30.  Revel in the deliciousness.  You're welcome.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Vino Vednesday: Copa di Vino

Disclaimer: This blog post contains an informal, somewhat amateur review of Copa di Vino wines.  Copa di Vino has no clue who I am nor are they paying me to talk about their product.  All the opinions are 100% my own.  The favorable opinions on The Naked Grape and Barefoot wines are also unpaid and completely belong to me.  Read on, wine drinkers: you will thank me and my friends for this one.

This week, Shelby and Loni came over so we could have a much-needed Vino Vednesday and the 3 Amigos could have a playdate.

The boys jumped into the toy pile and the mamas got down to business.  We had The Naked Grape Pinot Grigio (one of my personal summer favorites), Barefoot Bubbly Pink Champagne, and three mini-glasses of Copa di Vino: Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay.  Copa di Vino, which literally means "wine in a glass," is a new product in the states.  

According to the website,

"Copa di Vino wines is America's leading producer of premium wine in the glass.  Founder and owner, James Martin, discovered the concept on a bullet train adventure through the south of France.  A year later he brought it to the states.  His passion for the wine [led] to Copa di Vino - wine in a glass - a ready to drink wine glass that could go anywhere without the need for a bottle, corkscrew, or glass.  Just open and enjoy!  Wine is no longer trapped in the bottle."

Prior to this evening, I had noticed these cute little ready-to-drink wine glasses at Hy Vee Wine and Spirits, displayed next to the cashier.  I hadn't really given them much thought.  When Loni brought them over, she told us they had been on Shark Tank!  I enjoy watching the show but haven't watched in several years.  Shark Tank is a show on ABC where inventors and innovators present their ideas to investors.  Some are accepted, most are declined.  Apparently, Copa di Vino had some offers from the Sharks but the founder declined the offers, "knowing his dream was worth more than the offers" (

Loni admitted that the cashier warned her when she purchased the three tiny wine glasses: "They're awful!" the cashier proclaimed.  We decided to try it anyway.  Sometimes people are too snobbish when it comes to wine, we said.  How could this be bad if the company has had so much success?

We opened the Cabernet Sauvignon first.  My first sip was pretty tart but I attributed that to the Tropical Sno I'd just eaten with my husband and son at a (super-fun) neighborhood birthday party.  The rest of the glass (we split it into three even mini-glasses) wasn't bad.  It was actually pretty good.  It didn't, however, taste anything like a Cabernet should.  I described it to the girls as tasting like a "pretty mild Pinot Noir."  We all finished our mini-glasses and moved on to the next: Chardonnay.

If you know me, you know this:  I hate Chardonnay.  I do.  I think it tastes like a moldy old log of oak wood that has been covered in rancid butter and sour grape juice.  When I was a fresh 21-year old junior in college, I ordered it at weddings and restaurants because I didn't know any other names of white wines.  I thought, well, this tastes like crap but I guess all wines must be pretty hard to choke down.  I thought I would learn to appreciate it and just get used to it.  When I had my first glass of Riesling my life was changed and I never gave in to Chardonnay again.  Ugh...even the thought of it makes me want to urp.

Anyway.  We opened the cup and sniffed at it.  First impression on the nose was, honestly, sulfur.  I passed it to the girls and their noses curled up just like mine had.  We tasted it carefully and decided it wasn't as bad as the smell had been.  However, just like the Cabernet, it tasted NOTHING like the variety it claimed.  Nothing about it was Chardonnay-ish.  We took another tiny sip then down the drain it went.

The next one was Pinot Grigio.  I adore Pinot Grigio so I was very hopeful.



We sniffed.  We almost gagged.  The cup claiming to be Chardonnay smelled like sulfur, and this one was worse.  This so-called Pinot Grigio was sewage.  Oh my gosh it was so terrible.  Shelby wouldn't allow it into her glass and Loni and I were scared...but we sipped it anyway.

Honestly, it tasted the exact same as the "Chardonnay."  Very basic, and nothing like real wine should taste.  The smell was so off-putting that I couldn't think of taking another drink, so like the Chardonnay it went down the drain.  We eagerly filled our glasses with The Naked Grape PG and Barefoot Bubbly champagne, hoping they would diminish the nastiness lingering in our senses from the Copa di Vino.

**Side Note:  Copa di Vino's website is very boastful about the concept of wine sold in a glass-shaped container being a "new" thing.  I agree, I haven't seen wine in a ready-to-drink glass.  But the actual concept of wine-to-go isn't new.  There are several brands that sell wine in mini plastic bottles, ready to take on-the-go.  Sutter Home and Beringer are the first two that I think of.

(And by on-the-go, I mean picnics, boats, backyards, etc....NOT ON THE ROAD.  Please don't be stupid and drink alcohol in a vehicle.)

The Naked Grape Pinot Grigio is an inexpensive, tasty white wine that is one of my go-to whites in the summer.  It is perfectly sweet-tart and balanced.  No burn, no funky aftertaste, and fresh.  Love it.

Barefoot Bubbly pink champagne is everything you'd want for a bridal shower, girls' night out, cocktail party, or celebration drink.  Uncomplicated, sweet, fizzy and fun.  It was a great choice after we'd been bad wine-scarred.  

Here is my saint of a husband, who cooked and served us (and the babies) frozen pizza.  It was the 3 Amigos' first pizza party, Loni said!  They were so cute.  We can't believe how big they are getting.  

They had their traditional photo shoot as usual!  Jude, Everett and Easton.

Not so sure about this, mommies!

We were making ridiculous faces and noises...Jude thought they were pretty funny!

For our next Vino Vednesday, which I'm hoping will be soon - I love these girls and their boys! - I have my sights set on some more expensive reds.  I'd like to do one without the babies so we can have a real dinner, too...maybe do a tasting at one of the restaurants in town?!

Happy wining!  Remember to stay away from Copa di Vino!

Love, Betsy