Summer of Salads, dressings…

Salad

First, an apology.  Right out of the gate, I dropped the ball on my posting this series, when I said I would. Originally I hadn’t planned to start this until this weekend, but I wanted to give you a little something to start with, over Memorial Day weekend and so I stupidly started earlier than I was ready for.  I am sorry for that.  I want you to be able to count on me to post when I say I am going to!  So, let’s get back on track, starting with this dressings post!

My husband usually doesn’t use dressing when he has a salad.  Unless its a Caesar Salad, or comes dressed at a restaurant.  So, for me, I sometimes end up just grabbing the bottled varieties, as I just don’t want to go through the hassle of making something special just for me. Not my favorite thing to do, as most of those are filled with things I can’t pronounce and don’t belong in a dressing.  We have tried a million different types of creamy Caesar dressings, which my kids tend to like best.  Recently we tried Ken’s Steak House brand and it was pretty good.  Blue Cheese dressings are also one we tend to buy instead of make.  I like Marie’s Super chunky Blue Cheese dressing, that you find usually by the other refrigerated dressings at the grocery store.  I will also buy the packets of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing at the store for my son and make my own with that, but still don’t feel like I am making the best choice there.  I did find this recipe for homemade Ranch dressing that I am going to try.  If you do, let me know what you thought of it!

Do you make your own dressings ever?  Do you know where to start?  I found a couple of GREAT resources online, that I couldn’t have done any better with, so I am linking them both below.

Gonna Dress You Up In My Love:  Four Easy Vinaigrette Recipes To Make Now” – by The Cuisinerd.  They also give a great “Gear for Yo’ Greens Salad Making Tool Box” list!

and

StoneGable Blog and their “Salad Dressing Primer” where they show you the basic “formulas” for making dressings & vinaigrettes.  I am TOTALLY going to try the Caesar & Green Goddess dressing recipes!

Watermelon Vinaigrette - Liv Life

I also was on Facebook the other day, and one of my foodie friends posted a link to this gorgeous Arugula Salad with a Watermelon Vinaigrette from the food blog www.http://livlifetoo.blogspot.com (photo credit to Liv Life) and new cookbook “Vinaigrettes and other Salad Dressings” written by Michele Anna Jordan.  I NEED this dressing & cookbook!

Strawberries

And last, one of my favorite things to do it Pin things on Pinterest!!!  It’s actually been super helpful, researching for this series and my #summersippers cocktail series as well.  One recent Pin, was for this Roast Strawberry Balsamic Dressing, I am dying to make!  Strawberry patches around me will soon by bursting with fresh fruit destined for this dressing!

dressing bottles

So, you don’t have time to make your own dressing and need help narrowing down the overwhelming store-bought varieties?  It’s okay, don’t freak out!  In addition to those I mentioned above, a couple other  favorite lines for us are Newman’s Own Dressings.  I especially like to use the Parmesan & Roasted Garlic to make a killer & quick pasta salad to take to potlucks in the summer.  We also like to buy packets of Kraft-Good Seasons Zesty Italian dressing and then we can add our own favorite oil & vinegar to it.  Store-bought dressings can be expensive as well.  Shop around, read your labels & share with me some of your favorites!

vinegars

Speaking of vinegars, the choices you’ll find at the grocery store can be just as many!  We usually have several varieties of vinegar on hand.  The basic-white distilled, apple cider, rice wine, red wine and then usually a couple different types of balsamic vinegars, like dark, white, fig and/or pear.

Alessi Vinegars

My favorite line of store bought vinegars are Alessi brand.  In researching them online, I found they also make a Ginger Infused Balsamic & a Honey Balsamic vinegar I have to get my hands on!

Trader Joe's Balsamic Glaze

Last year, while shopping at Trader Joe’s, I found this.  Balsamic Glaze.  I want to put it on EVERYTHING but what I tend to put it on most, is salads.  It’s great when I want the taste of Balsamic Vinegar, but not the tart.  I’ve put it on little crostini’s with fresh Ricotta cheese.  Or on bruschetta made with roasted grapes, Brie cheese & Rosemary (my homage to Swirl My Wine’s dish I had on my birthday…read on!) A little drizzle goes a long way and, like everything at TJ’s, it might not be available when you go in.  Don’t be mad at me for teasing you.

Stillwater Olive Oil Company

Last summer, I spent my birthday with my sweeties in Afton at Swirl My Wine eating delicious nosh & sipping on cold, sweet glasses of wine.  From there, we headed to Stillwater to walk along the St. Croix River and found this great little shop, the Stillwater Olive Oil Company right on Main St.  The Minneapolis-St. Paul area offers many of these great stores, where you can purchase different varieties of olive oils & vinegars.  At the Stillwater Olive Oil Company, they specialize in imported extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and specialty oils from award-winning artisan and small-run producers around the world. You can sample & browse as long as you need to & offer many different sized vessels to take your purchases home in.  I picked out a bottle of Organic Persian Lime Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon Vinegar.  They were both AMAZING!  It was extremely hard to pick just one of each, but I had to limit myself the first time out!  If you haven’t been, plan a trip soon!

Thanks for reading along today.  I hope I have provided you with some great resources & ideas!  Just remember, a dressing is made to enhance your salad, not take it over!  Plus, many extra calories lie in those creamy, delicious dressings!

Until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Chronicles of a crazy 20 days!

Wow, it’s been a CRAZY month so far and it’s only the 20th of June!  I constantly complain about the months of May & June, as every year, they completely derail me with field trips, the end of school, parties etc.  This year, I threw in a couple extra new events, just to challenge my strength…or because I am crazy.  I know the days have been ticking by, still no post since last month….and now that I’ve had the chance to catch my breath, I thought it would be fun to, instead of the usual post, do a little recap of my activities!  Yea!  Hope you enjoy the ride…….

June 2, 2012#TECHmunch, an event I had been anxiously waiting to attend.  It is a one-day conference for food bloggers, sponsored by BakeSpace.com and was held at Studio 514 in Minneapolis.  You can read more about it here.  Because I have never learned the art of “sitting on my hands” (like they used to say in Girl Scouts so you wouldn’t volunteer for everything!) I decided to volunteer to help with set-up the day before and during the event!  All kidding aside, let me just share one piece of advise I have learned over the years…if you really want to make the most of an event you plan to attend, volunteer to help.  It exposes you to (work, which oddly enough, I actually enjoy-so be prepared if signing on in this capacity) many more people than if you just came as an attendee.  I met & got to know better, some really great people (Babette, Tammy, Lisa, Brenda, Meghan, Emily, Joy, Cathy, Stephanie, Scott, Molly & anyone I forgot (so sorry!) and all the food-famous speakers & panelists!) that hopefully over time, I will become better friends with!  I helped with the manual labor part of set-up the day before, something of which after my years of banquet management/service I am very familiar with.  The next day, I was assigned to help with AV.  That stands for Audio-Visual….yeah, for those of you who know me, not exactly my forte. Ha!  I managed through and the only real glitch of the day ended up not even being my fault!

The day consisted of seven different topics:  Eating your way to the top; a Fireside chat with Andrew Zimmern & Jason DeRusha, Mastering your Story, with Daniel Klein of the Perennial Plate.  SEO for food writing; with experts in the field of SEO Lee Odden, Joshua Unseth & Erik Deutsch.  A panel discussion on creating, distributing and syndicating mouth-watering content with Shaina Olmanson, Zoe Francois, Amanda Rettke & Brenda Score.  Design & Page Optimization with the Geek Girls, Meghan Wilker & Nancy Lyons.  Lessons in partnerships & monetization with Babette Pepaj and Erik Deustch. And finally, a session titled, How to get on a Food Editor’s Radar, with Stephanie March, Lee Dean, Rachel Hutton & Joy Summers.   It was a GREAT event and I was thrilled to have been able to attend.

Of course a food blogger conference isn’t complete without amazing food, which you see a bit of above.  We had beautiful pastries donated by Patisserie 46 and gorgeous berries from Driscoll’s Berries.  Fresh squeezed juices  were provided by Whole Foods, Joia Life donated some of their amazing natural sodas, Bull Run coffee helped us all stay fueled up and I cannot forget that Sangria…made by Scott Pampugh.  A backyard picnic lunch was catered by Tastebud Catering and included Chicken & fresh Corn off the grill (with a couple of amazing butters to spread), two awesome salads (a carrot slaw I NEED the recipe for!) and a refreshing Basil Lemonade that I am totally recreating at home!  Dessert, decadent chocolate brownie like confections was sponsored by (and eaten early by many of us standing in line for lunch!) Bogart Loves.  An afternoon nosh, consisting of pita breads, hummus, olives, cheese and roasted veggies was provided by Whole Foods and served along with more of that magical Sangria.  We had swag bags donated by and filled with nourishing snack bars, natural produce bags and awesome coupons from Land O’ Lakes &. others.  (sorry I didn’t link any of those….& hopefully I am not missing anyone but holy crap we had a lot of great sponsors that day!!!)

A geeky moment of the day, pictured below, is where I asked the legendary Scott Pampugh (who was also volunteering that day) to take a picture with me.  We are both from Winona, MN (that automatically makes us kindred spirits right? Although he was a Cotter boy…I won’t hold that against him!) and if you don’t know much about Scott, he’s out to change the landscape of food as we know it.  Read more about him here.  The day finished off at Fulton Brewery, where attendees got to tour the facility, dine on Hola Arepa & Anchor Fish & Chips food trucks, conveniently parking outside and of course drink beer!!  There’s gonna be a #TECHmunch in Philadelphia in October…hmmm maybe I need to plan a trip out to see the Pennsylvania relative contingency!

   

I got a day to rest up, (although I spent most of it standing in my kitchen prepping for dinner the next night!) after being on my feet at that event for 13 hours, before my Dad and his family, packed into their new RV, rolled into town.  We got him for one night, and he requested his Mother’s Rhubarb Pie.

 Oh that pie.  What did I ever do before that pie… Want to make this pie?  Check out my previous post with recipe here.  And this time I made it with homemade pie crust, another first for me.  He said “his Mother never made it better” which I guess means he liked it.  🙂

This is my almost 7th grader, just after finding out she tied for first place in overall books read for the year with her class.  When I look at this picture I just want to wail…she is growing TOO damn fast.  It truly takes my breath away.  The kids last day of school was June 7th and took the day off to hang out with them.  They both had carnivals, and my daughter had a 6th grade graduation picnic that I helped with.  It was bittersweet watching her with her classmates.  I know that next year I won’t be able to volunteer like I had this past year, going on field trips etc.  I also know that Junior High is tough, not like grade school.  At the beginning of this year I felt like there was no way she would be ready to take on the challenges of 7th grade, but now, I feel differently.  My baby, growing up so fast

   

On Sunday June 10th, we went to our first ever Minnesota Twins game.  Yeah, I know, lame.  Lame that we hadn’t gone in the last two years!  I had bought tickets through the kids school and as luck would have it, ended up sitting right next to our close friends and their kids!  It was a HOT day and I worried about us actually making it through the whole game (at one point I looked over at my daughter, and if you have kids, you’ll know the look she gave me…something between “I am about to puke or I am about to pass out”)  It was a bit terrifying, but we persevered and made it through the game!  The pictures above are of my first ever Big Ginger a delicious drink made with 2 Gingers Whiskey & Ginger Ale (again lame, that I work at the hotel, connected to The Liffey and haven’t had one yet!) and the Nacho Helmet helped!  (seriously $14 well spent!)
  

June 12th brought another day I had been looking forward to for a long time, my #OinkOutings trip!  I had been so looking forward to my Oink Outing, not only because I love pigs…(loved them since Wilbur & love to eat them, in any form), but also because I had never been on a pig farm. I had no idea how pigs were birthed, raised etc. I’m happy to tell you that my expectations were met! I was well-educated that day & although it wasn’t the life I pictured, (Wilbur) I was happy to see the care taken by the Bode family both towards their pigs and staff that tends to them, 365 days a year. They are meticulous about the safety of those pigs, so that the end result, that bacon or pork loin you are cooking for your family is the best quality & safest it can be. Technology has changed pig farming; helping farmers raise pigs that are lean & delicious. Something dictated by consumer desire for leaner meat while still preserving the flavor.

It was a great day, getting to know everyone involved that advocates daily for the Pork producers of Minnesota. We started at Brackett’s Crossing where I met Chef Bryan who had cooked us delicious Pork Carnitas which we then had in that gorgeous taco shell pictured above.  From there we set out to Rebco Pork, the Bode family farm. Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!  We made a pit stop on our way down at Schmidt’s Meat Market were we toured their smoking facilities, sampled their delicious summer sausage & were treated to their award-winning Raspberry-Chipotle Bacon as a take home gift!  Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!

June 15th brought yet another birthday for me…sigh.  I am thirty-six this year.  LOL!  Really though, birthday’s aren’t a big deal for me.  I don’t expect to be lavished with gifts, but I do like to spend the day doing something I enjoy.  And, if you know me, that’s eating, drinking & shopping!  I decided We haven’t been to Stillwater in quite some time, so I thought, because it worked out that the hubby was on vacation that day, we were free!  I knew for quite some time that I wanted to check out a place called Swirl Wine Bar.  It is located in the sleepy and gorgeous little town of Afton, MN  So, that was stop number one.  There I purchased my first birthday present, a Redneck Wine Glass.  Yea, I know….don’t judge me.  I LOVE using jam jars to drink out of.  We were doing that before it was cool.  We also ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and three delicious appetizers which were devoured by the four of us.  I HIGHLY recommend making the trip and be sure to order the Grape & Brie Flatbread & the Truffle Fries…DELISH!
We then moved on to Stillwater, ducking into a few shops after strolling along the river.  One store we visited for another birthday treat was the Stillwater Olive Oil Co.  I love how these little shops have popped up all over and hadn’t actually been in one until that day!  They had many different varieties of Olive Oils, some infused and Vinegars-rich, syrupy aged Balsamic’s and a great variety of flavored white Balsamic’s.  We chose a bottle of Persian Lime infused Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon white Balsamic vinegar.  The vinegar just exploded the second it hit my tongue… I thought it would be fun to start a hashtag to chronicle my day; you can find my posts by searching for #BirthdayNosh and the picture collage above was some of the deliciousness of the day!

Gorgeous Strawberries!  Ever since I was young, I wanted to learn to can.  It’s been one of those things on my food bucket list, that I have been scared to try.  All it really takes is patience and organization.  The Strawberry Jam I made this weekend was SO good!  Stay tuned for a future post on canning.  I plan to do a Rhubarb Beer Jam for my next ‘Beer for a Year‘ post, and just last week, we signed up for a CSA share from Natura Farms and they have Currents and Elderberries, so hopefully I will get the opportunity to use those in future canning endeavors.  I also plan this summer to make Chow-Chow; a pickled vegetable deliciousness I had back in Pennsylvania Amish country.  Again posts to follow…..

And finally, June 17th, Father’s Day…..

The hubby loves ribs, so I decided that I would break out the smoker and attempt to make a scrumptious dinner for him.  The weather forecasters said “a gorgeous day is on tap for Sunday” and guess what?  It rained on and off ALL day!  The picture above was taken by my daughter, as she came out laughing at me standing there with the umbrella.  Yes, I could have let it go, but seriously at one point it rained for over an hour.  I know this because I stood there that long…and for the first time ever, I was maintaining a consistent temp on the smoker and didn’t want to ruin that!  The things we do for love…..

Oh yeah, his present?  The gorgeous cookbookVolt Ink” written by brothers Michael & Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame.  It was really a win-win gift. 🙂

So, there it is people.  The last crazy 20 days of my life.…hope you enjoyed following along.  I promise to get back on my regular schedule of posts, none of which hopefully will be this long!

Until then,

Shawn