Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Door County Weekend Trip - Part 1

My guy decided that we needed a little getaway and asked if I was interested in a long weekend in Door County. I jumped at the opportunity for a mini-vacation with him and checking out a part of the state that I haven't been to in decades.

We headed out Friday morning and had a smooth ride up to Sturgeon Bay.

Once in Sturgeon Bay, we stopped at The Draft Haus for lunch. The bar has a nautical, sports bar feel - light fixtures made out of boat wheels and awesome etched mirrors with sports team logos on them. Our server recently moved from Milwaukee to the DC--she welcomed us and told us a bit about the area. It was at this bar that I tried the only Door County beer of the weekend, Door County Brewing Polka King Porter. It was pretty heavy with coffee and hops but it warmed me up on the cold day.

From the menu, I chose the Asiago Chicken sandwich that came topped with a sundried tomato and kalamata olive spread. It was really tasty. The warm chicken melted the spread and brought the flavors together well. 
My guy had a giant walleye sandwich, that was the special that day. It came with fresh tomato and really good tartar. I found out my guy doesn't understand the value of a pickle after a meal. That is one of my favorite parts of the meal! A crisp pickle spear is lunch's dessert. I got half his pickle from him :)

After lunch, we had some time to burn before we could check into the B&B, so we decided to drive around and explore. The Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial is in Sturgeon Bay, so we made a stop hoping to pay our respects to a fallen rider friend. I found out from the family that this park is the only one of its kind in the US currently. Although the memorial bricks were covered with icy snow, and we couldn't find his, the park was very peaceful. You can see and feel the love that friends and family of fallen riders have put into the park.

After the memorial stop, we tried to check out a few stores on Hwy 42 but had no luck--they were closed for the season. We back-tracked to downtown Sturgeon Bay and walked the main drag, wandering in and out of stores. We found a great antique shop and picked up some unique finds, and the owner suggested we check out two other antique shops in the city that would be open this time of year. We also found a candy shop with amazing chocolate dipped pretzels, a home decor store with cute Christmas items on sale, and a really interested kitchen gadget store. You want a gadget, they had it!

Then it was time to head to the Chanticleer Guest House and check in. It's out of town a bit on a back country road. When we arrived, I already loved it. The barn building is adorable from the outside and it's the main building for the B&B. Next to it is another building with guest rooms and both face an open field where we saw lots of animal prints in the fresh snow. I'm sure in the morning, guests see lots of wildlife.
We met one of the owners and got the key to our cabin. Chanticleer built four cabins across the road from the main building tucked into a wooded area. My guy thought this would be a little more private for us and we would have our own kitchen to cook together in. He is always thinking about my love of food, not to mention he is a huge fan of my cooking :)

Here is a video tour of the cabin.
Because my video doesn't do justice to the beautiful sunset, here is our view from the upstairs of the cabin.
Although we had a full kitchen, we did decide to go out to eat for night one. Many friends told me we had to try Wild Tomato and to get there early so you don't have to wait. Wild Tomato is located in Fish Creek, so we got in the car and headed north up the peninsula. We arrived shortly after five pm and the restaurant was already hopping. It's not a very large place--a community table for eight, six tables of two and a bar that seats four people is the entire dining area. The wood-fired oven is viewable from all the tables. It was very awesome to watch the cooks toss the dough in the air and move the pizzas around in the oven.

The last seats left in the place were at the community table, so we joined another couple whose meal was already in progress. We picked out wine and beer to enjoy and then had the daunting task of deciding on a pizza. Everything sounded so good and the place smelled soectacular. Our server informed us that we could do half and half but substitutions aren't allowed. I let my guy pick and he made the decision to do half Fun Guy and half Sausage and Pesto.
The pizza was beyond amazing. The crust was thin and crisp at the edges but softer in the middle. Our server brought us freshly grated Parmesan too. My first piece was the Pesto and Sausage. The sausage had a ton of flavor and wasn't too spicy. The pesto tastes fresh and was a nice compliment to the sauce and sausage. I really enjoyed this slice, but it didn't compare to the Fun Guy slice I had next. The onions were caramelized perfectly and the garlic cream cheese sauce was amazing. I couldn't figure out all the different mushrooms but each held its own on the pizza. My guy loved the Sausage and Pesto the most and raved about the sausage and how much flavor it had.

I wanted to eat more but I just couldn't find any more room in my tummy. We took half the pizza back with us to the cabin. Then it was time to for us to relax after a long day of driving, shopping and eating.

My guy made us some of his Whiskey Old Fashioned Sours and we enjoyed some time in the Whirlpool tub while watching the Food Network and having the fire place going. I was in heaven and it was only day one. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the vacation coming soon!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Valentine's Treats

I just saw on Facebook that today is National Cream Cheese Brownie Day. What food will they think of next to celebrate and give it its own day?  In honor of all things sweet and Valentine's Day coming this weekend, I want to share a few yummy desserts with you.

Oreo Cream Stuffed Brownies
I love a rich, chocolatey brownie and recently I found a recipe on Pinterest for Oreo Cream filled brownies from the Cookies And Cups blog. I made them twice and both times they were a huge hit. I did learn its best to use the recipe for the brownie that she provides on her blog. I tried to use a box mix and the brownies weren't the right consistency. I had to throw away that batch and quickly make another. Her recipe provides enough cream filling to make these as "Double-Stuffed" Oreo cream brownies - how wonderful!

Assembling was a little tricky for me, but I found that if I cut the brownie sheet on half and then the unfrosted half, on half again, I could easily get this on top without it cracking and crumbling apart.

Once assembled, I cut the stuffed brownie into really small pieces because they are rich. I added some crushed candy canes on the plate for a little mint flavor for the holidays.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Sticks
I like to make homemade gifts every year and this year it was hot chocolate on a stick. I used the recipe I found (again) on Pinterest, but I added my own flavors to jazz them up. 

Instead of making them in a pan like the blog suggests, I bought ice cube trays at the dollar store and added a small amount of cooking spray to each cube. This will help the finished cocoa sticks come out of the tray easier.
Your house smells decadent while making these! I used a Tbsp measuring spoon to put the chocolate into each cube on the tray. I chose mini chocolate chips, mint chips, Andes Candies, caramel bits and sea salt. Just sprinkle the toppings over the chocolate and then lightly press them into the chocolate to help it stick. Make sure you do this right away so they don't cool off too much.
Insert a stick into each cube while the chocolate is still soft. I then transferred the trays to the fridge for a few hours to help them solidify quickly .

Run a warmed knife (run under hot water) around the edges of each cube to help it come out easier and then wrap each one in plastic wrap. Then, when you want to use them, unwrap and dip it into a cup of hot milk (or water) and swirl around so it melts and provides you a cup of delicious cocoa.

I gave these to friends and family for the holidays and asked my guy if his daughters enjoyed them. He laughed and said that I never told him he had to share them with his girls and also that they are great enjoyed just as a chocolate fudge treat. He makes me laugh so much. Guess I'll have to make some more so his girls get to try them this time :)

Finally, I am sharing with you a family recipe from my mom's side - Kruschiki's (Polish Love Knots). Every Christmas we would make these with my grandma. 
Although they look simple enough to make, the recipe needs to be pretty precise or they end up soggy and not fluffy.
Cutting the dough and flipping the knot can be tricky because it is a delicate dough, but the knot gives it the signature look.

They fry up in a matter of a minute and you have to watch them closely because they will turn brown fast. You want just a light golden color to each side.


I even took a turn at frying them this year. You can't take your eyes off them!

Fresh out of the pan, you can let them cool on paper toweling and let that absorb some of the oil.

A light dusting of powder sugar and the Love Knots are ready to be served. We eat these as Christmas dessert and then again the next morning with our polish sausage and eggs.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cafe de Arts Lunch Date

My guy works for a financial institution and gets extra postal holiday days off throughout the year. This allowed us to have lunch together on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last month. Because of its proximity to my job, and the fact that my guy had not been there yet, we went to Cafe de Arts.

I cannot say enough nice words about Ayhan, his wife and the staff of Cafe de Arts. No matter how busy they are, which is all the time, they stop what they are doing for a moment and say hi to everyone that comes in. It's that extra step of customer service that really sets them ahead of the pack.

We chose a small table with comfy wingback chairs by the front window. Menus were brought to us and I ran down a quick list of my favorites to my guy. I always have a tough time deciding because everything is consistently delicious!

I went for one of my faves, the chicken Caesar salad, and my guy chose something I had never tried before, The Fauve, a breakfast sandwich. It came highly recommended by the owner :)

While we waited for our lunch, I explained to my guy that the interior was recently painted and looks great. The warm wall colors were replaced with a refreshing blue. The owners really have a knack for design and it shows with the mural concepts inside and on the outside of the building. 
Our lunches soon arrived and looked splendid. The thing that makes the chicken Caesar salad my favorite is the perfectly grilled, juicy chicken. Just the right amount of dressing coats the salad but doesn't take away from the other flavors. Excellent croutons and Parmesan cheese complete the salad. The crusty roll with butter on the side is top notch too!
My guys sandwich was presented with a gorgeous and refreshing side of strawberries and apples atop lettuce with light dressing. The sandwich itself was a revelation in the words of my guy - something he would have never thought would go together and it did. I tried a bite and was pleasantly surprised I could taste each flavor. Just a small amount of jelly added sweetness and the warm egg and bacon made the peanut butter creamier. The egg was also cooked perfectly to my liking.

We were both really big fans of our lunch and left full but not stuffed. I couldn't finish my salad but ate up every bit of chicken and croutons I could find.

Although neither my guy or myself are coffee drinkers, the way the place smelled of fresh brewed coffee made us feel energized and happy. My coworkers grab coffee regularly on there way into work and rave about it. He sells the roasted beans by the pound as well and has a small selection of other coffee related merchandise.

This is definitely worth a stop for a cup of joe on your way into work, breakfast or lunch, or just to to have a drink with a friend and catch up. Many people also hold small meetings or do work at one of the tables while enjoying a drink and eat. The place is very conducive for those purposes. They are only open through lunch and then they begin roasting the coffee for the next day so get there early in order to enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Easy Peasy Fruit Tarts

With Valentine's Day coming up next weekend, I wanted to share with you an easy treat that is quick to make and delicious. Besides baking the cookies and chopping the fruit, we let my guys' girls do the rest of the work to make these gems. 

It was my guy's birthday was a few weeks ago and he decided he wanted to spend some quality time with his daughters while he had them that weekend. I suggested that we work together to cook a wonderful meal and he could pick out what he wanted to eat. 

From my new cookbook "SkinnyTaste," he chose the Oven-Fried Chicken. I suggested garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables to go with it and he loved that idea. More on that crispy, juicy chicken and mashed potatoes in a future post.

I then showed my guy the world that is Pinterest and my dessert board. He wanted to pick a treat the girls could easily help make. He scrolled and scrolled until he came upon a recipe for fruit tarts (or mini fruit pizzas) and it was decided that was the perfect dessert. 

Because we wanted four fruits used on the tarts, I let each girl, my guy and myself each pick our favorites. Kiwis, raspberries, mandarin oranges and blackberries were chosen. Unfortunately the grocery store didn't have any kiwis so green grapes were used in place. 

To keep the recipe efficient, I bought pre-made sugar cookie dough and while the girls were watching a little TV with their dad, I popped the cookies on a pan and baked them off. My guys oldest helped with making the "frosting" for the tarts by using the electric mixer to "whip it good!" And because our cookies were smaller, I chopped each piece of fruit on half to make them fit. Then it was time to assemble.

Take a cookie and slather it with as much frosting as you like. 

Then take a piece of each fruit and decorate the top. 

It's really that simple and his girls got pretty creative with it. 

We made 24 cookies in total - check out those masterpieces! We put the tarts in the fridge while we ate dinner, which by the way everyone loved! Then it was time to sing my guy Happy Birthday and have a treat!
He ate one from each girl, and then maybe a few more later that night. And maybe that was breakfast the next morning too! They were really good and the cookie was a bit softer the second day.
This recipe called for shortbread cookies, but we used sugar cookies instead. I think this recipe could be something to try with the Shortbread cookies I just bought from my guy's oldest daughter who is a girl scout.Also, we had a lot of extra frosting. We didn't skimp on the tarts either. My guy ended up buying more cookies and brought all the ingredients to my house later that week for an after dinner treat for us.

We all really enjoyed the tarts and it made for a very memorable birthday for my guy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Key Westconsin Soup N Salad

I have been trying to bring a lunch with me to work every day, but occasionally I like to splurge and head on out in Waukesha and grab a bite to eat. Sometimes it's with friends and other times I take the meal back to my office.

It was a snowy Wednesday a few weeks back when I didn't bring a lunch and craved a warm, thick, creamy soup. I scoured every soup menu in town I could think of, yet couldn't find a soup that was tempting my buds. Then I remembered Key Westconsin has soup. I called them up to find out the flavors and was told they had a Cod Chowder and Baja Chicken.

I worried the chowder would be too fishy for me, and I inquired about the spice level of the Baja chicken. Rita, the owner, told me it just had a mild kick and was really delicious. I decided on ordering their soup, salad and cheesy bread combo I saw on the lunch menu.Baja Chicken was my ultimate choice, despite the 'mild kick' warning. So, with my decision made, I began my journey.

I bundled myself up and headed over the river to the restaurant. I was able to snap a few shots of the beautiful snow covered Riverwalk on my walk over.

Upon entering Key Westconsin, I immediately regretted my decision to take my lunch back to the office. The tropical vibe was just what I needed to warm me up. (Sorry I didn't take any pics of the inside, but check out their Facebook page for the view). I still took the lunch to go, but I am definitely keeping their inside atmosphere in mind for February and March when I need a break from the gray and snow.

I got back to work with piping hot soup and a delightful salad. The soup definitely had a kick of spice but I liked it - it warmed me up! I could have used a dollop of sour cream, for both the creaminess it would add to the soup and to help mellow the spice a bit. Any person that likes some spice would find this soup excellent. I chose the mango dressing for the salad and was pleased with my choice. It was the perfect amount of sweet to counter the spice of the soup. I was definitely a member of the clean plate club that day!

And the cheesy bread!! I remembered this from other times I have dined at Key Westconsin. It is crispy, melty, and full of yum!

I have dined at Key Westconsin for the Fish Fry, lunch and dinner and it's always consistently good - so full of flavor. A friend of mine keeps mentioning that we need to go back and her birthday is coming up, so I think we are due for another visit very soon.

They are also really well known for their Gluten-Free menu. Some of my fellow blog friends have mentioned this place in their writing about dining Gluten-Free in the Milwaukee area.

From their Facebook page, I saw they just celebrated their 4th Anniversary. Congratulations to them - well deserved! I have also read that the Shrink N Drink dinners are extremely popular and sell out regularly. From what I have read, a doctor or psychologist gets anonymous questions from the diners and using her knowledge and some cunning wit, she answers them. I have been told it is a laugh out loud event. Pair that with some amazing seafood dishes and this sounds like a fun evening.

The Key Westconsin bartenders come up with some great tropical cocktails, Card Game Night looks to be a new feature, and live music on the weekends brings in the crowds. There's a little bit of something for everyone - all decked out in Jimmy Buffet, Johnny Bahama style!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Carrot Cake Cream Pies

One of my favorite treats as a child was a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie. I didn't get these very often because they definitely aren't the healthiest treat, but I would save my money and ride my bike up to the gas station to get one with my friends. I loved the soft cookie and who can resist the creamy frosting in the middle!

I was searching around on Pinterest a few weeks ago and came across Carrot Cake Cream Pies. Instantly my mouth started to salivate at the thought of these delicious treats. It just so happened I was invited to watch the Packers' playoff game at a friends and because I can never show up empty handed, I decided to make these.

The only ingredient that I didn't have was the grated orange rind and I didn't substitute anything else in its place.

I had carrot chips that I put in my food processor and chopped down quickly. Before this recipe, I didn't know that you needed to let the carrots drip in a strainer, but it makes sense because they do have quite a bit of water in their makeup.
 Then it was time to mix part of the dry, then add some wet, then more dry and more wet.

They did take a bit longer in my oven to be done to my liking. I think I added about 5 minutes to the cook time, but remember these are a softer cookie, so don't expect the edges to crisp up. 
I put them in a storage container for a day before frosting them. I realized that sealing them caused them to get a bit softer, so I actually spread them out on a pan for an hour before frosting.

 Then I paired up cookies of the same size and started frosting them.
Voila! I ended up with 14 cookies to take to my friend's house. They were enjoyed by all and I was told to keep this recipe as one of the favorites because I should definitely bring these again sometime! I'm glad they were such a hit.
I did learn another thing about carrots with this recipe. If your baking soda is olde, or if you don't mix it thoroughly through the recipe, it can cause the carrots to change pigment - in this case: green! It's a known effect. My baking soda wasn't old as I just bought it at Christmas time. But I could have skimped on the thorough mixing of the dry ingredients and caused this occurrence. I'm also wondering if the missing grated orange peel would have helped in this situation. (After all, lemon juice helps with apples and other fruits not turning brown when exposed to air.) The green carrot doesn't affect the flavor of the cookies at all.

To eliminate any chance of worrying my friends  about the green parts of the carrot cake cookies, I planned to tell them it was zucchini that I added for Packers cheer! (Plus, who wants to hear about alkalinity imbalance during a Packers party?!?!)

Thankfully, no one questioned the color. :)