Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vegetable Broth Recipe

I will be honest. I often just "make up" or "make do" with what is in my kitchen when I am cooking. Not to the point of letting go of the most important ingredients, but substitutions that make sense can sometimes turn a favorite recipe into a new treat. 

Whenever I wing a brand new recipe I always figure the worst that could happen is we will reheat leftovers if it doesn't work out so well. Other times I just slightly change a basic staple of the meal, because everything else that I am cooking will make it taste divine. One of these basic recipes that I just whip up is a vegetable broth base for soups and stews. Good tasty broth is important, but once you add all those other goodies in the soup or stew they provide tons of good flavor that can compliment a tasty basic broth. 

Over the past few years I have slowly cut out pre-made broths or broth mixes by making this simple broth. To make this broth I use vegetables that aren't bad but they are not good enough to be featured as a main course of any meal (whether we learn that we just don't like that vegetable as a main or we didn't eat it up fast enough). I think it is a great way to use up some less desirable produce and it gets us closer to an existence without processed packaged foods (not to mention lower the cost of our grocery bill).

Below is the basic recipe I use to make veggie broth that will be used in so many other recipes...

Vegetable Broth

Ingredients that I never skip:

6 to 8 cups of water
1/2 to 1 full onion 
1 pepper
3 to 6 garlic cloves
1 potato
course sea salt
black pepper
3 or 4 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 to 4 carrots
either several celery stalks or a small cabbage or a small bunch of kale
a few shakes of soy sauce
Any other desired vegetables

When making this recipe be mindful of the amount of ingredients available. If your produce is on the lighter end then only boil with 6 cups of water, if you have loads of produce boil with 8 cups of water. For example if you only have 1/2 onion, 3 garlic cloves, and 2 carrots to add with the other listed ingredients then boil with 6 cups of water. 

I often add mushrooms, tomatoes, turnips, radishes or small pieces of parsnip if I have them in the fridge and they should be used up. Also I am known to use up fresh herbs this way. If you choose to add a variety of herbs make sure to add herbs that will easily pair with soups or dishes that you make at home often.

Clean all vegetables, remove unwanted sections of produce (bruises, etc) and chop (minimal chopping required). Add all veggies, herbs, and soy sauce to water. Bring to boil. Simmer for one hour or longer. Strain all vegetables from broth (great for compost!) and there you have it! (If the broth is too strong for your taste add water, if you would like more flavor add desired spices.)

Ladle up your broth into containers for freezing or use it for cooking your next dish. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bell's Inspired Brewing in Kalamazoo, MI

Our third brewcation brewery stop was Bell's in Kalamazoo. Since we have purchased their brew from several of our local stores that carry Bell's six packs we had actually considered not going to this brewery. But after some thought we decided a true brewcation to the Southwest area of Michigan required a visit to Bell's. We were able to check out their General Store, Pub and outdoor patio.

First impression: Where are we going to park?! By this time of the day it was late enough for after work crowds (on a Friday too). We had to circle the block twice to find a parking spot. It was worth the hassle, but it was a hopping place and pretty packed.

Service: The tables were clean and we ordered at the bar. The bartender was knowledgeable and answered our questions about the "Beer Engine" (see more below in beer descriptions)

Food: We did not have any food here. Our original plan had been to eat at the cafe, but since we had made our impromptu stop in Indiana we weren't really hungry. If we ever go back I definitely want to try something because the food that was passed around the nearby tables looked AMAZING!

Prices & Other Notes: 

We spent some time in the General Store which was really neat. They had Bell's gear, home brew supplies and a chilly walk in cooler.

We noticed the use of Greenware cups for the patio and the crowd seemed pretty laid back. Mostly groups of friends meeting to start off the weekend. Some groups did have children with them, many of them sat outside and the kids ran around the patio area. It was very relaxed.

As for the beer:

The bar selection was awesome! So many brews on tap and they even had Two Hearted Ale on the "Beer Engine". Which we thought was fun to try. The beer was less carbonated with accentuated hop flavors. It tasted as if it was straight from the fermenter. It was also served a little warm.

We ordered two specialties beers from the bar and one year-round brew:

Le Contrebassiste Ale (specialty) - a "French Bier de Garde" style ale, it was smooth, nutty and had a rich maple flavor.(7% alcohol by volume)

Wedding Ale (specialty) - mmm! Honey flavor (more so than the orange peel and coriander) but not very sweet. Pretty strong ale at 8% alcohol by volume. 

Oarsman Ale (year round) - A tasty session beer at 4% alcohol by volume it was easy to drink. It is described as palate-cleansing beer which makes it great for drinking with different foods.

Beautiful bar, great location, tasty brews. Definitely recommended. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Backyard Heaven: It's all in the plans...

When we purchased our home we had been looking for something perfect - or at least something with potential. Affordable potential. Anyone out there who has been involved in the home buying rigamarole knows that there isn't really perfect. And if there is, well, then the home is surely out of your price range. (That's the American way, right?) But that leaves room for us to add some of our personality into our home.

We wanted to buy a home either in walking distance of the down town area of our village or a bit further out so that we could own some land. The best fit was a little brick ranch, just on the edge of town, on a lot that looks a lot larger than it is. We loved the backyard, the quiet street, and the old pine trees on the lot. We knew that making a space for spending time in the backyard was important to us and how we enjoy using our space at home.

Thus began dreams of having a little patio and a fire pit or fire place. We're working on listing ideas of different uses we'd like to have in our outdoor areas. Along with researching materials and ways to create our "backyard heaven".  We have begun preparing the yard that will someday be the patio, marking off where stones will be and measuring out where to dig.

We hope to get a bit further this fall. Wouldn't it be great to enjoy the space while the leaves are changing?! Oh the dreams of a homeowner...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek, MI

Our first "scheduled brewer" was Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek, Michigan. However after our surprise stop at Mad Anthony Brewing it ended up being our second brewery and pub to visit on our "2012 Michigan Brewcation".

First impression: We parked across the street from the building, which gave us plenty of time to start peeking in the windows of the brewing side of their current location. It was fun to be able to see workers cleaning and preparing the brewing space while we were drinking one of their fine crafted beers (as you can see the brewing area from the bar as well). I was excited to learn that they are expanding and will soon be brewing in a bigger Michigan location (around Spring 2013). It was evident they needed more space as we had noticed that they are cramming a lot of work/equipment in their brewery in order to supply the demands of their customers (because the beer was tasty and people like a good thing). 

Service: Prompt and attentive. The bartender checked on us often and had descriptions and explanations for us about various beers. She also refilled the water of our designated driver often, which was much appreciated!

Food: We were only tasting a few brews at this location and did not order from the kitchen. However, they had wood fire pizza and several people ordering food when we sat down. We were there in the late afternoon and not during any sort of dinner rush which made us believe the food must be good. There were lots of options of fresh foods and interesting appetizers on the menu. If we ever go back I am definitely trying something!

Prices & Other Notes: 

We were actually there during their happy hour, so we enjoyed very affordable brews ($1 off each brew)! 

I loved the packaging at Arcadia! Their images and designs were awesome. I could look at the labels for each brew all day!

Something else we noticed in the menu was the pride of serving local food. They are using locally grown products whenever they can. Whether it is in the brew or the food. 

This is something I love about breweries. The idea of local. Drinking local and eating local. Makes so much sense and for such fresh tastes.

As for the beer:

The great thing about having a brewcation at the beginning of September is that many places still had summer beers and were just starting to have fall beers. Some of my favorite brews are pumpkin beers and fall harvest ales. 

Jaw-Jacker (spiced amber wheat ale) was one of those fall beers that we thought was truly AMAZING!

Lochdown was a sweet and malty scotch ale.

Whitsun was a pale wheat ale, reminiscent of Blue Moon with a citrus and coriander taste... so good!

Sky High Rye was a rye beer that reminded me of sweet rye bread.

We left with more gifts for friends (and a few beers to take home)... a six pack of Sky High Rye in cans as a gift, and two six packs of bottles (one Jaw Jacker and one Nut Brown). 

It has been so chilly the past few days, drinking a  Jaw-Jacker after dinner just feels like fall to me... well, maybe its all the butternut squash bread I've been baking(find my favorite recipe here). But either way, I want to take a drive and pick up a bit more of that fall spiced brew. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Inspiration: Lake Michigan

I don't think there are many more places that are as relaxing and beautiful as a quiet morning on the shore of lake or the beach sand near the ocean. Something about a view of only water, sky, and land adds layers upon layers of pure loveliness. 

So lovely.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mad Anthony Brewing in Auburn, Indiana

Our first brew on the brewcation was a bit of a surprise. We had planned several brewery visits for once we got to Michigan. We did this knowing we would make stops along the way for shopping and eating. It just so happened we were hungry at the right time for a Mad Anthony lunch stop at their Auburn, Indiana location.

First impression: Hoppin' little town! There were loads of people having lunch in the local restaurants (we were there on Friday around noon). 

Service: Just fine. The place was busy and we had a nice waitress who gave suggestions. We didn't feel unattended even though there were so many patrons.

Food: We ordered the Scooby Snacks and the Bavarian Pretzels for starters. The "Scooby Snacks" are considered one of their signature appetizers - crispy little potato wedges with spicy (but not too spicy) seasoning and a yummy dip. The pretzels were awesome with jalapeno beer cheese (a bit spicy too) and mustard dipping sauces. For our actual lunch my husband and I split the turkey and avocado pita sandwich - so tasty!

Prices & Other Notes: Affordable. We spent about five dollars an appetizer and a little less than eight dollars for the sandwich. They sell six packs ($10 per six pack) and growlers to take home (even on Sundays). Also, on Mondays they have half priced pints!

As for the beer:

We tried two different brews...

One was "Ol Woody Pale Ale" which was crisp and had a distinct hop flavor and the other was "Summer Daze" which was a smooth crisp wheat ale.

We decided to purchase a six pack for a friend and he is trying out their Auburn Lager for us. 

We really enjoyed our lunch and considered it to be a pretty lucky stop!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Butternut Squash & Sausage Over Pasta

We are getting so much of my favorite squash from our CSA right now! I love butternut squash in loads of recipes. So tasty in soups, breads, and to me the texture screams "fall".

Last night I decided to whip up a little something that I hadn't tried before. It contains all the foods we like together - onions, peppers, garlic, and sausage. I like the taste of butternut squash and mild italian sausage together as well, so I decided to mix it all up! Before the end of the meal my husband was saying, "this is my favorite... absolutely" between bites. Which if you haven't guessed from some of my other posts my hubby comes from a long line of men who can eat. He likes everything, but only LOVES some dishes.

So if you're like us and you've got butternut craziness in the house try out this recipe...

Butternut Squash & Sausage Over Whole Wheat Pasta

1 medium butternut squash
1 pound of mild italian sausage
olive oil
1/2 onion
1/2 red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves (chopped to preference)
4 sprigs of rosemary
sea salt
black pepper
whole wheat pasta of choice
shredded mozzarella (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Peel, remove seeds and chop butternut squash. Place chopped squash on greased baking sheet, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle fine bits of rosemary (save about half for later) and black pepper. Bake the squash for 25 minutes (if you choose to have larger butternut squash bites increase baking time) or until squash is soft. Brown sausage in skillet on stove top. Chop onions and peppers. Cook them in skillet with olive oil (or small amount of grease from sausage) over medium heat for about five minutes. Add garlic. Cook about four minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Boil water and cook pasta according to package (or desired softness). When the squash comes out of the oven, increase the baking temperature to 450 degrees fahrenheit.

Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of 9 by 13 oven safe dish. Mix together the baked squash, sausage, onions, peppers, garlic and pasta. Drizzle more olive oil over top. Sprinkle remaining rosemary bits and a few shakes of pepper and salt. Bake in the oven for about ten minutes, add shredded mozzarella if desired (allow cheese to melt).

Remove from oven and allow dish to sit a few minutes. (If your pasta is dry in some areas from baking either drizzle a bit more olive oil or mix the dish to redistribute the oil and moisture from the vegetables)

Plate up and enjoy!

**While eating we decided that next time we have this for dinner we might add either roasted red peppers or sun-dried tomatoes. Feel free to experiment with that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

End of Summer Brewcation 2012

I love to "start" and "end" summer with little trips. It can be something short and sweet like visiting family, or camping. There is something about the changing of seasons... it always inspires travel in my bones. This fall we found ourselves coming back to thoughts of breweries, tents, hikes, and lake shores...

We've just returned from taking a long weekend camping trip - after 4 days, 2 campsites and 8 breweries (1 official brew house tour) we had completed my goal of a 2012 "brewcation".

Friday morning started our short roadtrip up to Michigan. We stopped along the way for antique stores and a brewery that had not been part of our original afternoon plan! It was the perfect stop for lunch on our way (thanks flexibility and Mad Anthony Brewing Company)!

We went on this little getaway with two great friends who also have a taste for good brew and beautiful scenery. These interests were what led us to choosing to camp near Lake Michigan.

After crossing into MI we hit up Arcadia Ales, Bell's, and Paw Paw Brewing, before we even landed in our campsite on Friday night. On Saturday we started out with a morning walk on the lake shore, and an awesome breakfast. 

That afternoon we had a ton of fun on the official brewery tour of New Holland Brewing's brew house and shopping at Holland's farmer's market! Our brewery stops that afternoon and evening were: New Holland Brew Pub, HopCat, and Founders. We had two rainy evenings while camping in Michigan, which wasn't the worst thing ever, but it did cut into our campfire time!

We saved Sunday for camping and hiking in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (and a quick taste test of nearby Shoreline Brewery). It was a very lovely national park (which surrounds a state park) and the only night we encountered zero rain! On the way to Indiana we stopped at Luisa's Cafe which was the home of the most lovely little Swedish bakery. Don't even get me started on their cherry jam.

Monday was for traveling back to Ohio, so one more cute bakery stop and we were ready for home!

Can't wait to share more about the breweries and great craft beer we enjoyed (responsibly as we always designate a driver) in Michigan's Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and also Indiana's Auburn and Michigan City!

Friday, September 7, 2012

10 Years

Sometimes I just can't believe how fast time has flown. It is the beginning of September 2012. Where did the summer go? I am already sweeping leaves off our back porch and trying to save as many summer goodies as I can for the upcoming winter. But I do love the start of fall. One thing about this time of year is that it always makes me want to tell one of my favorite stories. The story of "how we met". (side note, our friends tell us to make a romantic short story out of this so if you go stealing my plot I expect some recognition, financial payment, or at least props in your dedication section)

My story consists of a few important ideas: it was the fall that I moved out of my parents' home -  Freshmen Move in at college, and meeting my soulmate... can you believe that all of these things can happen at once? Well they can, and is yet additional support of the statement "I am a lucky girl".

September 2002 I met my (future) husband in a dorm room of a friend from high school (I actually only knew three people at my new school so I was up for making friends). I came over to see his dorm and meet his two "random" roommates. I wouldn't call it love at first sight, but it was easy to see that I wouldn't have any trouble becoming friends with these guys.

The night continued, several random kids from all over the state of Ohio sitting around chatting amongst slightly unpacked containers and one quietly strummed guitar. (Isn't it always the guy with the guitar? *swoon*) We definitely sang some Dave Mathews and we all promised to hang out again more during our fall classes.

Flash forward a bit, and years passed with being the best of buds with my favorite fella. You know the friend in college that you always go to eat with or cook dinner at each other's apartments. You somehow end up running into them at the perfect time to invite them along to just about anything. (Late night snack runs, 45 minute drives to the nearest mall, walks to the library) We had met each other's families and visited hometowns because of various crazy schemes or similar interests. It's the friend that you never think to date - until you know that there is no other option.

So after three years of just being friends we realized that sometimes friends decide to not be friends anymore, which for us was a bit of an awkward start of dating. It was the best decision we've ever made.

Well, making the guitar he was playing on the first night we met the actual guest book at our wedding... that may have been the best decision we've ever made.

Engagement Photo taken by Life in Balance Photography

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Precious Produce: Slowly Growing a Green Thumb

I've been wishing for a garden for a few summers now. But living in an apartment with zero yard and then moving all last summer made it difficult to find time for a garden. This is our second summer in our new house, so I decided to start small. 

This summer I'm working on researching gardening ideas and saving some time for canning. We belong to a CSA that we LOVE and I have just a few containers for growing veggies (tomatoes,  peppers, squash, sweet potatoes). This way we still get wonderful local vegetables and I can care for a few plants while spending a bit more time learning. However I will be completely honest, I do love running outside to grab a few little tomatoes or a pepper from our plants!

Container gardening has taught me a lot. I've learned more about fertilizer and what parts of our yard get the most sun. With these dry months I know that I'll have to think more about a watering system for the garden I hope to put in within the next few years. It has also provided time for us to really get our composting situation underway and other outdoor work we need to do for our home.

Hopefully soon I will have a bit more produce (and variety) growing just outside my kitchen door. But until then I will gladly visit the farmers market and sort through my CSA box feeling grateful for having such a resource of quality food so close to our home!