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Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012: Eat and Repeat - Bogart's Smokehouse

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This month kind of slipped away from us, even more so than usual. With my sister Julia's wedding and our trip to Napa, September kind of happened in one big whirlwind. Realizing we had just a few days left to get in our 2012 Eat and Repeat challenge for the month, we quickly made it over to Bogart's Smokehouse yesterday, inviting Ryan's parents to join us. I was more focused on enjoying time with my in-laws than snapping photos, which is why this post is lacking many photographs.

Pappy's has been the heralded BBQ joint in St. Louis for many years, and Bogart's joined the scene in 2011, causing the ongoing debate: Pappy's vs. Bogarts. Having reviewed Pappy's as part of our Best of 2011 challenge, I was anxious to compare the two and weigh in. We knew Bogart's had to be good, making Sauce's Best New Restaurants list...the question was, was it better?!

We thought Pappy's was small, but Bogart's manages to be even smaller, with nothing more than a handful of tables. Showing up around 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon, I expected a long line and was pleased to find there were only a handful of people ahead of us. The line moves quickly and our few minutes in line were spent deciding what to order. Our decision-making was interrupted by a Bogart's employee who stopped by with a platter full of wings, which may have been my favorite part of the meal! The meat was tender, heavily smoked with a sweet finish...the chicken falling off the bone and causing my father-in-law to change his order at the last minute!
The four of us grabbed half of one of the picnic tables outside, taking advantage of the beautiful St. Louis weather we're having lately! The tables were equipped with four kinds of BBQ sauce with varying levels of sweet and spice as well as the very necessary paper towels! We had barely taken a seat when our trays of food were delivered. After our meals at Pappy's, Ryan and I knew better than to each order our own platter of food. We opted to split the half rack of ribs and got an extra quarter pound of pulled pork, which came with our choice of two sides. Having heard that the sides were the best part of Bogart's from a few other visitors, I had settled on the applesauce and their baked beans.
The rib meat wasn't falling off the bone, like we prefer, but it was still fairly tender, and well seasoned and sauced (I think I read that they use an apricot glaze). I mixed three of the BBQ sauces together and mixed that with the pulled pork, which was dry but nice and smokey. I wouldn't have minded bottling the sauces and bringing them home with me--the contrast of sweet and spicy had me wishing we had more than a quarter pound of pork! Ryan was underwhelmed by the baked beans, claiming none can beat his dad's (sounds like a recipe I need!), but I couldn't keep my fork out of them! The applesauce was spot-on in terms of texture (chunky), but I wouldn't have minded a deeper flavor.

I think Bogart's wins for location and outdoor seating, but if I'm looking for outstanding BBQ (and those to die for sweet potato fries!), you can find me at Pappy's! Then again, I would definitely return for some of those wings...!

One Year Ago: Zucchini Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
Two Years Ago: Pomegranate Banana Bread
Three Years Ago: Best Ever Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (really. make these!!!!)

Bogart's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Two Days in California Wine Country

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Rather than my usual Odds & End post today, I want to briefly talk about our recent trip to Napa Valley. We were in California to run the RAGNAR relay and then stayed for a few days afterward to reward ourselves with copious amounts of wine. Had we arrived in the area with no real plan in mind, I think we would have been terribly overwhelmed. The sheer amount of wineries around there is astounding! Thankfully my dad put together an awesome two-day itinerary for all of us, based on knowledge from his previous trip there and some research he did. I figured I'd briefly run you guys through where we spent our two days, in case you plan to be in the area anytime soon (which I highly recommend! I couldn't get over how beautiful and relaxing our time there was!).

Silverado Vineyards: This was our first stop, on the morning of Day 1 (a Sunday). Didn't you know it's completely acceptable to start drinking wine at 10:30 am in Napa Valley? It is! Upon arriving we were greeted with glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and led on a nearly hour and a half long tour of the property. Though long, in part because our group asked so many questions, it was incredibly informative. We learned everything from the history of the owners (Walt Disney's daughter and her husband!) to the way the machinery works to the insane precision that goes into putting labels on each wine bottle. After the conclusion of the tour, we sampled a number of their wines on their gorgeous deck overlooking the valley. It was a great way to kick off our tasting--a good introduction to the wine-making process, particularly for the larger vineyards. (Cost: $25)

Shypoke: Our next stop of the day (after an incredible lunch at Mustard's Grill that I'll talk about another time!) was to Shypoke. This was actually a somewhat random discovery--one of our RAGNAR teammate's dad had visited this vineyard over ten years ago, fallen in love, and become a loyal customer ever since. My dad got in touch with Peter, the owner, and arranged for a tasting. We showed up, having no idea what to expect, only to discover that we were essentially invited to their backyard (Peter's parents actually live on the property) to sit and sample all of their wines. It was much more laid back than our experience that morning...we still learned a lot and asked a lot of questions, but it was like we were sitting around with old friends. More gorgeous scenery (a common theme I soon realized!) and incredibly good wine! Shypoke is family owned and for passion, not profit. Peter has a full-time job as a winemaker for another winery yet maintains his family-owned vines for the love of the product. We went home with a bottle of his 2009 Napa Valley Charbono, an incredibly rare (only 65 acres grown worldwide!) and difficult to maintain grape! (Cost: Free!)

Three Clicks: Like Shypoke, Three Clicks is owned and operated by two individuals who have full time jobs with other vineyards. The husband and wife duo met while studying viticulture and after ten years in the business began their own winemaking company. They don't actually have an onsite location, but are friends with Peter (of Shypoke) and were invited to our tasting to share their wines...something we were all quite thankful for! One unique feature: all of their wines are screw caps, something that is so frequently looked down upon by traditional wine drinkers and yet these two are adamant about their decision and why they made it (read a little more about their decision here). I'm not normally big on dessert wine, I like to keep my dessert and my wine separate!, but theirs was fantastic and we found ourselves headed home with two bottles! (Cost: Free!)
Quivera: We started our second day of wine tasting at Quivera, which was very close to the house we were renting in Healdsburg. It was a spur of the moment addition (we had plans to go elsewhere but decided to stick near the house) and our group of 11 took our chances and showed up in the tasting room. Given that it was a Monday, the place wasn't crowded and they didn't have an issue accommodating us (big groups are typically frowned upon in the area!). This was probably my least favorite of the places we visited. The wine was pretty good and the grounds were of course beautiful, but I found the gentleman helping us to be a bit condescending. He didn't bother the others quite as much, so maybe I was just picky and spoiled after such fun people the day before! (Cost: $10)
Scribe Winery: My parents fell in love with this place last November when they were in Napa and it was finally time for all of us to see why! Completely unassuming from the road, unlike many wineries in the area, this place is best described as 'hipster'. The place has an interesting history. What started as a vineyard, then a bootlegging outpost and brothel during prohibition and more recently a turkey farm is now returning to its roots. The mission of the winery is to be scribes of the land, essentially seeking to preserve the history of the area and let the land do the speaking. The decor & grounds are eclectic and rustic and while I could see how some might consider Scribe pretentious, we fell in love with everyone we encountered there. My dad arranged for us to have a private tasting and picnic out on their lawn. We tried four different wines while enjoying a few incredible snacks specially prepared for us--everything from fresh tomato and garlic crostini (the produce from their own garden) to Japanese-spiced popcorn to panfried chickpeas. It was a fantastic place to end our two days and Ryan and I walked away as the newest members of their wine club...so it's safe to say we really liked the wine! (Cost: $75 for the specially arranged picnic and tasting)
When we weren't out and about wine tasting, our group could be found drinking wine on the patio of the house we rented. We actually opted out of a few winery visits in favor of doing this instead. I can't recommend HomeAway enough when you're looking for a house or condo to rent while on vacation. Our place was perfect for a group of our size--if you plan to be in Napa Valley (Healdsburg is where our house was), email me and I can let you know the details!
In short, I now understand the appeal of wine country. On top of that, I have a new appreciation for the winemaking process and a particular interest in knowing the story behind the wine I'm drinking (although I'll still probably choose wines based on how much I like their label!). I can't wait to go back!

Note-none of these places asked me to blog about them or even knew I was a blogger. Just wanted to share my experiences! Don't hesitate to email me at natalie@thesweetslife.com if you have any questions!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Herbed Sundried Tomato Tapenade

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I've gotten into the habit of keeping a little notebook in my purse. The book is filled mostly with to do lists and grocery lists, but I also tend to jot down recipe ideas or food combinations. More often than not they're from something I eat somewhere or see on a restaurant menu. I also shove ripped out recipes into the pages (like that time I took that recipe from the nail salon!). Once I fill up a notebook I can't throw it away because it contains too many treasures!
This recipe was a bit unique. I jotted it down, but the inspiration didn't come from me. My mom and friend Maggie went to lunch at Crushed Red, a newish restaurant near us, and ordered a sundried tomato tapenade to eat alongside their salads. My mom texted me during lunch (while I toiled away at work-boo) to tell me I simply HAD to recreate it. I was of course up for the challenge, never mind that I'd never seen or tasted the product to be made!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars with Cheesecake Filling

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There are some recipes that you just know, without a doubt, that they'll be a hit. These are one of those. Chocolate chip cookie bars? Cheesecake filling? A guaranteed win! My hunch was proved correct when I brought these to church one Sunday and kept refilling the plate until they'd all disappeared. I liked them best straight from the fridge when they were still soft and chewy but the cheesecake filling was firm and chilled.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Black Bean and Grilled Corn Salad with Avocado

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I try to avoid the outdoor grill, leaving that for Ryan. I'm not completely incapable, but Ryan will admit he has a fear of me blowing up the neighborhood while trying to light the darn thing so I typically keep a distance. So although this Cooking Light-inspired recipe called for grilling the vegetables, I opted for an alternate route: my panini press. Have you ever tried to grill corn on the cob within the plates of a panini press? Take my lesson learned and don't even try it, unless you want your corn cobs to come barreling out of the press! Plan C, then, was to use a skillet over medium-high heat.
It made for a less traditionally grilled salad, but the skillet did a satisfactory job of charring the vegetables. I turned the corn and jalapeƱo a few times until they were evenly cooked and then removed them and let the onion grill until it had grill marks (I turned up the heat to high). By the time it was all mixed up in the bowl and topped with my favorite healthy fat (avocado!), you'd never guess that it had been untraditionally prepared. In other words, don't let the cooler temperatures or lack of a grill stop you from giving this a try! We loved this healthy salad, which could easily be tossed into a burrito or served as a salsa with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicken, Apple, and Sage Pesto Sandwiches

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Five days a week Ryan and I head into work, in the same car, and pass through a security checkpoint where we have to show our badges to be admitted. Most days, there is an older gentleman working at the checkpoint who checks our badges and lets us through. Most days, this older gentleman sees me briefly glance up from whatever magazine or book I'm reading to grab my badge and show him. The days I'm not reading he never fails to mention "hey, no reading today, huh?".

Little does he know, I'm usually still reading, but on my iphone vs. a book or magazine! I'm catching up on blogs, stalking people on instagram, or scrolling through recipes on my Epicurious App. Sometimes I'm actually meal planning and looking for a specific recipe...other times I'm just browsing and saving recipes that catch my eye. I stumbled upon these sandwiches several months ago and 'favorited' them within the app, only to forget about them until recently. I was scrolling through my 'favorited' recipes, saw the words "sage pesto", and remembered that giant sage plant that is still thriving in my backyard. These were immediately added to the weekly menu!
We deemed these a fantastic Fall meal. The earthy sage pesto is nicely matched with the tart apples. Next time I'd pound the chicken even thinner (or even use shredded chicken!) so that the sandwiches didn't tower quite so much. You could swap out a different kind of bun or bread, but I liked how the lightly toasted bread paired with the crunch of the apples. The bread you see above is actually everything bread (like an everything bagel!) which added an extra flavor element. Paired with our beloved kale chips, this made for a much healthier dinner than we'd get from any of the sandwich shops around us.

One Year Ago: No Bake Snack Bars (I love love LOVE these!)
Two Years Ago: Cinnamon Raisin French Toast with POM Syrup
Three Years Ago: Cinnamon Cranberry Almond Oat Scones

Chicken, Apple, and Sage Pesto Sandwiches
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit July 2003
*makes 6 sandwiches
-3/4 cup lightly packed fresh sage leaves
-3/4 cup (4 oz) pine nuts
-1/4 cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
-1 garlic clove
-3/4 cup olive oil plus additional for rubbing on chicken
-6 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-French bread, cut into 12 slices
-2 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced

1. In a food processor, add sage leaves, pine nuts, parsley, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Pulse until a thick paste forms. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Pound chicken breasts (between sheets of waxed paper) until they are a half inch thick. Brust chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Grill chicken on an outdoor grill or in a grill pan until firm to touch and cooked through (about 5 minutes a side).
4. Broil or grill bread until lightly toasted. Top 6 pieces of bread with sage pesto and sliced apples. Add chicken and another bread slice. Serve sandwiches.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday Brunch Ice Cream [Cinnamon French Toast Ice Cream]

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Can you consider eating ice cream and then eating MORE ice cream a hobby? If so, it's my new hobby. To be more specific, I prefer to eat a new-to-me ice cream flavor out somewhere, and then go home and recreate it. I did it with the Maple Whiskey Bacon Ice Cream and now I'm back doing it again, this time with Sunday Brunch ice cream! What happens when you mix breakfast with dessert? MAGIC. This particular ice cream is inspired (read: copied) from Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn, NY which I told you all about.
This is cinnamon ice cream, which is fantastic enough to stand by itself. But then Ample Hills Creamery went ahead and added pieces of french toast to it which of course blew my mind, and now here I am at home doing the same thing! I started with a cinnamon ice cream recipe and simply added a few pieces of french toast that I'd made using an egg batter with extra cinnamon in it. If you love cinnamon toast, snickerdoodles, or french toast, you will love this ice cream! I liked it best when it was still pretty soft from the ice cream maker and I might add a tablespoon of vodka next time to keep it a little softer after it's spent some time in the freezer.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Easy Crockpot Recipes for College Students

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When I heard my college-aged brother Quinn was looking for some easy recipes to make, my mind first went to the crockpot. I knew if he could get his hands on a crockpot, meal prep would be infinitely easier for him. I appreciate the crockpot for its virtually hands free cooking, ideal on evenings I'm working late or have something else going on. The same can be said for Quinn, who has basketball practice on top of classes and working.

I have quite an archive of crockpot recipes here on the blog, but I picked out a few that I thought would be particularly easy / Quinn-approved! Here you go buddy, cooking doesn't get much easier than this!

Slowcooker BBQ Beer Chicken --All college students have beer on hand, right?! This is literally a dump it and forget about it recipe. Quinn had this a few times while living here this summer and so I already know this one is a hit!

Crockpot Buffalo Chicken Chili-Quinn goes to school in Minnesota. Have you ever experienced a Minnesota winter? I made the mistake of visiting Quinn last December and learned my lesson! They need all the heat they can get out there and this spicy chili fits the bill!

Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches-This was another recipe I made when Quinn was around this summer and it got two thumbs up...particularly because we really liked to say "au jus". Now you can make it yourself Q!

Shredded Beef Sandwiches-You can't get much easier than this--only 4 ingredients! This was one of my mom's staple recipes when we were growing up and it screams "comfort food" to me. I myself will be making this this winter (and taking a better picture!).

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken-Another recipe with minimal ingredients! Grab a bag of instant rice and this meal is pretty much complete!

Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup-You know a meal is good when it's made more than once in our household and this one has been made multiple times! Like all of the others, the ingredient list is relatively short and prep work is pretty much nothing!

Any other crockpot recipes to share with Quinn (and other college students, and busy people, for that matter!)? Leave a link!

One Year Ago: Peanut, Peanut Butter, Pretzel Bonbons
Two Years Ago: Sweet and Spicy Citrus Tilapia
Three Years Ago: Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Odds & Ends

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Rather than do my usual odds & ends post today, I thought I'd instead share a few of my favorite pictures from my sister's wedding two weeks ago. These aren't the professional pictures--rather, our dear friend Colleen was the master behind my camera all weekend and managed to capture some awesome shots. I think you can tell just by glancing through how much love and joy were evident all weekend long!

Thanks for letting me shamelessly relive the weekend today! :)

Two Years Ago: Greek Turkey Burgers