Milwaukee’s Best (Wine Bar That Is)

We headed north for our first real musical outing since 2019 – it’s really hard to believe! One of my favorite bands was playing at Summerfest in Milwaukee, and since the venue was requiring either a vaccination or a negative COVID test to get in, we thought “why not”!

Milwaukee is one of my favorite places to go … it’s only about a 4 1/2 hour drive from Springfield, the weather is normally cooler in the summer (which to me is better), and the people are really friendly. Plus I may have found my “home away from home” wine bar.

We found Vino Third Ward a couple of years ago during one of our treks to Milwaukee – it was either Irish Fest or German Fest (two festivals that are also super fun). If you are staying downtown you can walk to there, and it is close to the Summerfest grounds so it is a logical stop (in my mind anyway) on the way to the festival.

What I really love about Vino Third Ward is it reminds me almost exactly of my favorite wine place in Springfield – It’s All About Wine. They sell wine by the glass/bottle to either drink on premise or take away. Vino Third Ward also serves cheese and Italian sausage to nibble on.

They have their regular crew that shows up every Saturday as well (sound familiar??) Everybody knows everybody, and even if you are not a so-called “regular” you get drawn into the conversations.

After two visits on this trip we felt like regulars, and will definitely make sure we go there when we visit Milwaukee 🙂

Oh and The Struts really rocked it!

Hidden (When They Say Hidden, They’re Not Kiddin’) Lake and Copper Dock Wineries

Some days girls just wanna have fun … and that’s the kind of day Sharon and I had when we decided to drive south of Springfield and venture to Hidden Lake and Cooper Dock Wineries.

First of all, it was a beautiful day – really gorgeous! All of the heat and humidity, as well as the unlimited rain, just seemed to leave the area once September arrived.

So on the road we go! We decided to go to Hidden Lake Winery in Aviston first since on a map it looked like it was the furthest away, and we could jog over to Copper Dock before heading home. Hidden Lake Winery is a little over 100 miles from Springfield, and we had a plan to get there by lunchtime. Take I-55 South to Exit 33 (IL Route 4) and go towards Lebanon. After you get to Lebanon, turn towards Trenton (which by the way has a very cute ice cream shop called Dairy King). After this you will definitely want to use your GPS if you are not familiar with the area (like us). Turn on to Wesclin Road, then turn on to Wellen Road, wind around a bit, then you will find the Hidden Lake Winery!

It was a really beautiful drive, and could lead to a discussion about the differences between a highway, 2-lane road, hard road, black top, gravel road, lane, etc. Just sayin’ …

There is so much to like about this winery – beautiful grounds with lots of seating. We shared the chicken bacon ranch flatbread and a small charcuterie plate which was plenty for the two of us. They also have cabins for rent – I see a future road trip here again!

On to Copper Dock! It is located in Pocahontas (home to Gretchen Wilson) and will take you about a half an hour to get there from Hidden Lake Winery. Another beautiful, very peaceful, setting on a lake with lots of outdoor seating. They also serve food here, which is something we will have to try on our next visit.

We had a table right next to the lake – I could see the little fish from where I was sitting, and very scraggly looking turtle scared me LOL! He must have been looking for food.

We decided to stay off of the interstate highway and instead took the long way home – which is much better in my opinion if you have the time.

We went through Old Ripley, believe it or not, which led to a conversation about how towns and villages were named. Sharon and I are both familiar with a village named Ripley located in Brown County, so was Old Ripley originally just called Ripley? And then this new village unknowingly also decides to call itself Ripley, so the oldest of the villages just becomes Old Ripley? Why is there not a New Ripley? Maybe there is …

We realized we were going to go through Hillsboro, so naturally we had to stop at Cozy Cafe for egg rolls. I was introduced to these delicacies by my friends who own the wine store – they (or their family members) would bring them to the wine store, and I would be lucky if I could get one. Seriously, these are the best! I had actually never been to Cozy Cafe, so another first for me on this trip.

Lots of corn ready for harvest on the drive back … to me it is a beautiful site.

I would say Girls Day Out was a success – Cheers until next time!

Let There Be Brunch

Few things get me as excited as a good brunch – usually something sweet, something savory, and of course day drinking! Nancy was the hostess for this shindig, and nobody loves brunch more than her 🙂

Every good brunch needs a good drink (or two), so Nancy set up both a Mimosa and a Bloody Mary bar. Can’t go wrong here!

On to the food! Robert’s Seafood is the best place for seafood in town. It’s a cute little specialty grocery store, and I love it! Nancy got some smoked salmon there, as well as a very addictive dip called Mango Crab Chutney.

Nancy also made a delicious Peach Tomato Caprese salad. This salad screams summer! It’s peak peach and tomato season here in Illinois, and this was of course delicious.

I had been wanting Nancy to host a brunch so I could bring Ina Garten’s Cranberry Orange Scones. These are so delicious and easy to make – I have made a few other scones and in my opinion these really are the best.

No brunch is complete without a quiche or some sort of egg dish. Nancy served Zucchini Quiche with Basil – another great choice since we have zucchini in abundance.

Add some grilled sausage, a cheese tray, some fruit, bread, and shrimp, and there you go – Brunch!

Even dogs enjoy brunch 🙂

Our after-brunch entertainment was reading the Hillsboro Journal – nothing better than local news with insight from the Hillsboro natives! We learned many things, including a man’s love for junking 🙂

An egg-cellent time was had by all!

Movin’ to the Country, Gonna Eat a Lot of Peaches (and other Good Stuff)

I love this time of year – peak Farmer’s Market season – tomatoes, zucchini, and especially peaches. And when I think of peaches, I can’t help but think of this song by The Presidents of the Unites States 🙂

We wanted to choose a cookbook that would highlight local ingredients from the farmer’s market, and chose Emeril Legasse’s Farm to Fork. There are so many good recipes in this cookbook!

We started off with a Watermelon Limeade with Tequila as our cocktail. Very refreshing, and highly recommended by everyone (even without the tequila)!

Dee was in charge of the appetizer and made the Tomato, Zucchini, and Leek Galette. Oh. My. Goodness. This was so delicious, and looks pretty easy to make! According to Dee, the hardest part was chopping the vegetables, which can actually be therapeutic in my opinion. And you can’t beat puff pastry as the crust – just roll it out!

Laura was in charge of the salad and made Beet Salad with Cheese Crisps and Walnut Dressing. Even if you don’t like beets you would like this salad – tastes good and is good for you! And, as Laura discovered, there is a difference between sherry vinegar and sherry – you don’t want to confuse the two ingredients or you will end up with something that does not taste very good. Luckily she tasted the dressing before tossing the salad (always a good idea to take a taste of your food before serving to guests).

We served The Ripper from Booker Vineyards with the salad – the grenache really complemented the earthiness from the beets. Yum!

Nancy was the hostess and made the entree – Herb-Crusted Cod with Tomato Tapenade served with Rosemary Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. She had everything prepared ahead of time, and was able to cook the fish quickly after we finished our salads. I need more fish in my diet, and this is something I will definitely be making in the future. So good and fresh! And the potatoes were perfect!

We drank a chardonnay from Whitcraft Winery with the fish – it was delicious! Even if you don’t think you like chardonnay you will like this wine – I kept asking Nancy “are you sure this is a chardonnay?” So good!

Finally, the dessert – and the inspiration for this post’s title. I made Ricotta Napoleons with Fresh Peaches – and the peaches really were the star! This is peak time for them in Illinois – they are so sweet and juicy and just perfect! Also, this dessert can be made ahead of time, and then assembled right before serving, which makes it a good choice for a dinner party. The recipe calls for fresh berries, but you can substitute whatever fruit is fresh and in season. This was my first time working with phyllo dough, and I guess I really didn’t understand how thin the layers were, or how much I needed to buy. Since I was doubling the recipe I bought four packages of phyllo dough, and now I have 3 1/2 packages left – oh well, I’ll just need to make something else!

And you’re welcome for the earworm!

Drinkin’ With (Abe) Lincoln in Menard County

Petersburg and the surrounding area has always been one of my favorite places to visit. It is a short drive (around 30 minutes) from Springfield, and is the home to New Salem, where Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man. It is definitely worth checking out! There are several things to do in Petersburg and the surrounding area, and I am only going to touch on the things we did on this date. There will definitely be a future blog post about more fun stuff to do in Petersburg.

We arrived in Petersburg in time for lunch and decided to go to The Corner Cafe. This nice little restaurant is nothing fancy, but they serve really good food with lots of things to choose from. If you can’t find something on the menu to eat, then you must not be hungry!

After lunch we decided to go to Hill Prairie Winery in Oakford, which is only about 15 minutes away from Petersburg. Since it was a Thursday, they were not very busy, just another table besides us. On the weekends they have usually have bands, so plan accordingly! It’s a good idea to bring your own lawn chairs. We shared a bottle of wine and solved all of the world’s problems.

Decisions, Decisions

Next stop was back in Petersburg to a new wine bar called 1st and 3rd Boutique and Wine Bar – this a really cute place to go shopping plus get your drink on! They have a small selection of wine you can purchase to take home or drink there. We chose to drink there and enjoyed sitting in the upstairs part of their shop.

Final stop was at West of Wise Winery, which is located about 10 minutes south of Petersburg on Route 123. I believe this is actually still considered Petersburg (or at least I always consider it Petersburg). It is small winery with a large area to kick back and enjoy some of their locally made vino. Again, since it was a Thursday, there weren’t very many people, but we did see the group of ladies who were at Hill Prairie Winery – I wonder if they were doing the same thing we were? We enjoyed a bottle and chatted about how much we loved being retired 🙂

Fun and pretty drive out in the country, but still close to Springfield. A great way to spend the afternoon!

Illinois Amish Country (and a Stop at a Winery)

We decided to go east and travel to Arthur, home to the largest and oldest Amish community in Illinois. Arthur is about an hour and a half from Springfield, and we wanted to get there for lunch.

If you are eating lunch in Arthur, and a first time visitor, you really need to go to Yoder’s Kitchen – just for the experience. They have a buffet, which I normally don’t like, but there were some tasty items (like the fried chicken!). You can also order off of the menu. There was some peanut butter on the table that was out of this world! Very sweet tasting so you wouldn’t want to eat a lot of it, but I would imagine it would be great on ice cream or pancakes. It is a large building that can seat a lot of people, so even if you have to wait it won’t take long for a table to open up.

After Yoder’s we decided to go to a few stores looking for Amish goods. As we found out, most of the stores carry items made by the Amish in Ohio and then shipped here. Next time I go to Arthur I plan to do more research so I can find where the local farmers are selling their items.

We ended up at Beachy’s, which is the main reason I wanted to go to Arthur in the first place. My friend Tracie has been talking about Beachy’s for years, and it was on my list of things I had to do. I didn’t know what to expect … Beachy’s is a huge warehouse-like store full of bulk goods, with a focus on the Amish community. If you are looking for obscure ingredients, you will probably find it here! I was overwhelmed and definitely under prepared for this store – next time we go I will have a list!

Before we departed from Arthur, I wanted to stop by a local butcher shop. Laura texted me to try Das Schlacht Haus, and I am so glad we found it! This butcher shop is actually located outside of Arthur on a farm. It is small inside, with about four stand-up freezers full of meat. I purchased a couple of New York Strip steaks and some bacon, and Sharon got a couple of ribeye steaks. We all agreed – the meat is so good! Worthy of another trip to Arthur!

We headed out of Arthur towards Pana to go to Arpeggio Winery. This took us about an hour, winding through the countryside.

Arpeggio Winery is definitely worth visiting – the owners converted a 100-year old barn into a beautiful venue. It is really stunning! They have music most Sundays, and are only about an hour away from Springfield.

Definitely going to hit up these spots again in the future!

Chatham to Medora

I’ll be the first to admit, 2020 may not have been the best year to retire if your plan was to travel extensively. And that was my plan. And even though we are still in the pandemic, it was time to start venturing outside of my small bubble.

Instead of hopping on a plane or driving for hours to get somewhere, I wanted to start exploring the area I have lived my whole life and find fun things to do. I guess my point is living in Central Illinois doesn’t have to suck! There are lots of things to do and explore, you just have to be open to it.

First stop was Chatham to hit up Sangamo Brewing for some grub. I love this place! I have never had a bad meal there, and it is just a real gem. If you love craft beer this is the place. If you love a great beer garden, this is the place. If you love great food … well, you get it. If you have not tried it I highly recommend taking the drive to Chatham to try it out. The quesadillas are sooooo goooood!

After lunch we ventured south on Route 4 to Auburn, then Route 104 to Waverly, and finally south on Route 111. Our destination was Wild Pickens Winery, which is technically between Chesterfield and Medora. It will take you about an hour to get there from Chatham. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

I had driven by Wild Pickens Winery several times coming home from St. Louis but had never stopped, even though I was very intrigued. The winery is located in the country, and it is a really pretty setting. I would usually be driving by on a Sunday, and it always looked like they had a huge crowd. We were visiting on a Thursday so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. They have a big dining room and a huge outside area. They make their own wine, but they also serve other wines as well, as well as beer. As we were leaving, Todd, the owner, came out to introduce himself. What a nice guy! He’s living the dream right now, so go out and support him! They have music most Saturdays and Sundays, so if you go, get there early.

This is Tim, not Todd!

We decided to head north on Route 111 and stop at Vixen Hill Winery in Palmyra. Vixen Hill Winery is located one mile off of Route 111 on Palmyra Road. It will take you about a half an hour to get there from Wild Pickens Winery.

I have been to Vixen Hill Winery a couple of times … very nice people own and work at the winery, which makes it easy to come back! They make their own wine there, and we shared a bottle out on the patio. Since it was a Thursday we had the place to ourselves. They usually have music on the weekends. Another great place that is not very far from Springfield.

We headed back towards Auburn to stop at a couple of places that I love – Bewitching Botanicals and Slauterhouse Brewery. If you have not been to Bewitching Botanicals – go there! The owner makes a lot of the products herself – face soaps, body polishes, shampoos, conditioners, bath bombs, etc. Way too many to list here! All made from natural, sustainable ingredients. The rest of the store is stocked with tons of unique products – let me just say you have to go see it! Go, go, go!

After shopping we met the guys down at Slauterhouse Brewery. It is located in a former meatpacking plant, hence the name (very clever). The beer is fanatastic – soooo good. The very nice people working behind the bar will help you decide what to order, or you can order a flight. Very cute patio set-up, and they usually have music on the weekends.

After this, we headed back to Chatham and Springfield – but what a fun day with great company! More fun local trips coming!

No Reservations About Rao’s Restaurant

My midwestern family has a connection to the famous Rao’s Restaurant in New York City. Not a strong enough relationship to ever get a reservation mind you, but it is a good story. My mom was adopted as a baby, and in the course of discovering who her father was, she befriended a lady named Ruby, who was the sister of my mother’s biological mother’s husband (this is tricky). Ruby became “Aunt Ruby”, even though she is not a blood relation, but she was kind and treated my mother like family. Aunt Ruby’s daughter moved to New York City and married one of the owners of Rao’s Restaurant, and Ruby followed her there. My mom would get a big basket full of Rao’s products at Christmas, and I was introduced to their bottled marinara and pasta sauces. Seriously, if you are buying pasta sauces, these are the best!

I have two Rao’s Cookbooks, but for Cookbook Club I chose the original one – Rao’s Cookbook – Over 100 Years of Italian Cooking. There are so many good recipes in this cookbook, but my absolute favorites are the marinara sauce and Anna and Frankie’s Meatballs.

We started off the evening with a Negroni and some Italian Cheeses. The Negroni was very refreshing and a great way to kick off our Italian-themed dinner.

For starters, Dee made the Rao’s Simple Mixed Green Salad. Tasted exactly like a salad from an Italian restaurant should taste like! The fennel was really good and something I normally don’t use.

I made the main dish, and chose Braised Veal Shanks (Ossobuco) and served it with polenta. I used pork shanks as well for those in our group who do not eat veal, and both meats turned out really good, fall off the bone tender.

Nancy made the sides – Peas and Prosciutto and Sautéed Mushrooms. Confession time – I hate peas, always have. But as an “adult” I’m trying to eat vegetables I would normally pass on. These peas were great! So great I will probably even make them myself! Nancy used the La Sueur brand of canned peas, and I think this made a huge difference. And who doesn’t love mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and white wine? So easy but so delicious!

Last but definitely not least was dessert. Laura made a delicious cheesecake – a lot of cheesecakes can be dense and heavy, but this one was very light and delicious. And instead of a graham cracker crust, you use a dusting of bread crumbs. It really lets the cheesecake shine! You can serve it with fruit, but I thought it was excellent on its own.

The food and wine was delicious, and it’s always great getting together to cook. Bon Appetit!

Cioppino in the Garden

“Summertime … and the living is easy …” This is how I feel this year! So good to be out and about, socializing with friends. This is not a “typical” Cookbook Club event, but since there were two members present, and a whole slew of fabulous cooks coming, I wanted to highlight our friend Jacob’s party.

Jacob lives in the country and is widely known in our circle of friends as a fabulous cook and host. He makes entertaining look effortless, and does not seem to stress about anything! The setting was perfect for an outdoor soirée.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had cioppino. I know I have never made it, and now I’m not sure why. Let me just say this – it. was. so. good. In fact, Jacob gave us the leftover broth when we left! Jacob used Giada’s recipe for cioppino, with a few modifications: He replaced the fish stock with two 6.5 ounce cans of clams in sauce; one 28 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes; four cups of vegetable stock; 1/2 cup of good fish stock; and 1/3 cup of Bragg Liquid Aminos.

I brought Ina Garten’s Panzanella – this is my go-to side dish for summertime potlucks and parties. It is so good, easy, and looks really pretty.

So many good dishes to choose from – we did not go home hungry!

For dessert, Jacob made Mexican Sweet Corn Cake – this is a great summer dessert, and not too sweet! Beautifully presented, with just a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

Friends, food, and fireflies (and dogs) – what else do we really need?

Midwestern sunsets are beautiful!

An Early Father’s Day Lunch With The ‘Rents

Technically, this does not fit the format or rules for Cookbook Club. But it was another gathering with a couple of fantastic recipes that I wanted to share, and did include half of the Cookbook Club.

This year we had to move up our Father’s Day Celebration since my mom is having surgery. One of my biggest takeaways from 2020 – do not take getting together with your family for granted!

I offered to host, and to keep it simple I decided to cook hamburgers on the grill. You can’t go wrong there! My only comment on this – key to a good burger is a toasted bun. Am I right?

My sister Dee is famous for her French Onion Dip – she gets asked to bring it everywhere. And it is the most delicious and addicting thing out there – I dream about this dip! Plus it comes from Ina Garten, who is THE QUEEN of entertaining! Pan-Fried Onion Dip

Dee is also famous for her baked beans, but she routinely spills them in her car when transporting to a party. So, I decided to take on the baked beans, even though there was a lot of pressure to make them as good as hers. I found this recipe for Katie Lee’s Peach, Bourbon and Bacon Baked Beans – I won’t say this recipe was as good as Dee’s, or that my family would even agree with me, but I personally loved it! I cooked it in the oven for much longer than the recipe stated, only because I like my beans to be thicker and not soupy.

The star of the meal was the dessert – Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova by Nigella Lawson. I have been wanting to make this recipe for years, and finally had the time and opportunity to make it. Plus, I put Nigella up there in the same category as Ina – wonderful, no fail recipes, and somebody you would like to have a cocktail with 🙂 I made it with strawberries since they were in season, and thought it turned out perfect.

I hope I pass on my love of cooking to my nieces 🙂

Every gathering feels extra special this year, and I can’t wait for our next party!