We never did get around to making and decorating cut-out cookies this year (I think we’ll make that a Valentine’s Day activity!), but I thought it would be fun to take a look back at all of the holiday baking we did do, from Thanksgiving Eve through Epiphany.
16 Dozen Cookies (four different kinds):
11 Pies (a total of eight varieties):
Bûche de Noël:
Apple-Cranberry Bread Pudding:
Lussekattes for Santa Lucia Day:
Even without the cut-out cookies, this may have been the busiest year of baking yet…it was delicious fun!
I am a huge fan of the Food Network. I’ll watch just about anything they broadcast, but one of my very favorite shows is Guy’s Grocery Games (or, Triple G, if you will). Aside from the fact that Guy Fieri is super entertaining, they judges he has on are some of my favorite Food Network personalities, and the games are so ridiculous they’re amazing, it’s also about as close to my favorite part of the old Supermarket Sweep as you can get…because if you win, you get to run with a cart through a grocery store, and who wouldn’t love to do that? (Also, really excited about Supermarket Sweep being rebooted with Leslie Jones as the host, but that’s a topic for another time.)
Anyway, I always enjoy watching Triple G. Actually, one of my favorite things about recently changing our Hulu subscription from a basic package to Hulu + Live TV is that more episodes are available in the archive, and I can watch new episodes live. I didn’t realize just how important that little detail would be until today, however. Why? Because I learned that David Sandusky, of Beast Craft BBQ fame, is going to be competing on the September 11 episode! I’m already a huge fan of Beast (obviously), as well as the new Beast Butcher and Block, so getting to see this episode is going to be a total thrill, and I can yell “I know him!” at the TV while I’m watching.
Anyway, if you’re curious about the creative mind behind my favorite BBQ restaurant, I highly recommend you tune in tomorrow…I know I’m going to! Meanwhile, I’ll be over here hoping that maybe this will lead to Guy Fieri coming to Beast to film an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Not that I’ve filled out the online recommendation form and/or tweeted at Guy more than once or anything. I’m just saying.
I promised a closer look at the foods we tried making at home for our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school. This was probably the most specialized cooking we’ve ever done for a school unit, and not only did we get to try a lot of new things (plus a few old favorites), we also learned some new cooking techniques and got to use some new kitchen tools!
Our first European meal featured French dishes. We started with a cheese course, the star of which was a famous French cheese, camembert:
We enjoyed boeuf bourguignon and French bread for dinner, and Crème Brûlée for dessert. The main course was delicious, but took a lot of time and effort to make. The dessert, which I assumed would be a challenge, was super easy, and possibly the most delicious thing I made this summer!
For our (European) Christmas in July, we tried two recipes from the Rick Steves’ European Christmas book: Gimmelwald fondue and Norwegian Julekake. Both were excellent, and not too much trouble to make.
I looked forward to making a Spanish dinner of paella all summer, and it was delicious, and quite spicy! The dessert of flan was good, but a total pain to make.
Ladybug begged me to make chicken paprikash for Hungarian night, and it was also delicious. I really liked that instead of using sour cream like I expected, the recipe called for heavy cream plus white wine vinegar. For a side dish, I made nokedli (pretty much just our standard spaetzle). For dessert, I made a chocolate cake called Rigó Jancsi, and it was amazing…the star of the recipe was the chocolate mousse filling.
Our British dinner was a simple (but tasty!) one of bangers and mash, plus a lemon-berry trifle for dessert.
For our “Taste of Italy” I made mushroom risotto for dinner, and Panna Cotta with fresh berries for dessert. The Panna Cotta was sweetened (and flavored) with honey, which was a pleasant surprise.
We almost didn’t have a German meal, but while watching our very last episode of Rick Steves’ Europe for the summer, we saw him eating Black Forest cherry torte, and the children reminded me how much they like it when I make that dessert, so I decided to go full German and make rouladen, spaetzle, and sauerkraut, too.
Our final meal took us away from Europe and into the Middle East, because there are a few episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe that also step into that region. We tried Shakshouka (made with a new-to-us ingredient, harissa paste), plus pita bread and pomegranate juice, and it was also delicious!
The vast majority of these recipes were new to us, and there was nothing that was a total flop (although the flan was temperamental, it came close!). Some things were more work than I would do on a regular basis (the boeuf bourguignon and the rouladen), but some were easier than I was expecting (the Crème Brûlée and Shakshouka). I know for sure that we’ll be making many of these recipes again in the future!
Last month when we went to the new Beast Craft BBQ location in St. Louis, Beast Butcher and Block, I was excited to see the #beercheesesteak on the menu, because it’s something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time! Aren’t I lucky that it’s something that has now shown up at both locations?
So here’s the deal. Chopped brisket (which of course, I already knew I loved), tallow, beer cheese, and onions. On that amazing bread Beast uses. And I got some of Beast’s delicious fries to go with it. Perfect dinner. Melt-in-your-mouth perfection. And I didn’t really understand how tasty tallow is before Beast. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve really ever had tallow prior to Beast!
Every time I try something new at Beast (no matter the location…I love that I can say that now!), I figure that’s it, there’s just no way they can top that. They always do, though, and I am constantly waiting to see what they come up with next! And now that they’re on both sides of the river, if you’re in the St. Louis metro, you have no excuse not to taste just what that might be for yourself!
I’ve mentioned that our summer school theme this year is built around Rick Steves’ Europe, and focuses on learning about the cultures of various European countries. It’s a great topic, but as you might imagine, it is a little difficult to plan field trips in the midwest that relate to the topic (although we did pretty well with exploring German culture in Frankenmuth, MI, earlier this month!).
There was one thing I knew I wanted to do for sure, that would give us as close to an immersive experience as we could get here in St. Louis. Actually, St. Louis is the best place outside of Europe for this experience, as St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population outside of The Continent. So after looking at many restaurant options in St. Louis, we went out for dinner at Berix, a Bosnian restaurant in South County.
The inside of the restaurant was just what I expected, and completely charming:
We tried a variety of Bosnian dishes, including Cevapi (small beef sausages), Doner Kebab (with the most amazing flatbread I’ve ever had!), Sarma (cabbage rolls), and a banana dessert that was delicious.
I also had Turkish coffee for the first time. I was a little shocked at the sludge of grounds in it (and thankful that the waiter explained how to prepare it!), but it was the most delicious coffee I’ve ever had!
We all really enjoyed our experience at Berix. Our waiter was amazing, and explained the food (and the slow-paced meal culture of Bosnia). The food was excellent (and the portions were quite large, which means leftovers, which I’m a huge fan of!). I’m sure we’ll go back, because there were many other delicious menu items that we’d like to try someday!
Last week, Beast Butcher & Block opened on Manchester in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis. I was really looking forward to seeing the new location, so I was especially excited when we were invited to preview the restaurant at their soft opening. As soon as we walked in, I was impressed with the look of the place. Notable are the colorful chairs and cool artwork:
Beast Butcher & Block isn’t just a restaurant, though. Yes, you should go for a meal, which better include meat prepared in one of their six smokers. You can also buy uncooked meat and other items in “The Butchery” at the front of the store. But my favorite part (well, other than the food!), is The Skullery (allow that name to sink in and enjoy).
The Skullery is a private event space, which I’m sure is going to host many awesome occasions in the future. Just look at that grill!
Did I mention the food? Here’s a look at some of the items we enjoyed, including the #beercheesesteak, spare ribs, wings, and turkey.
And check out the lineup of sauces!
The exterior of the building looks just as cool as the interior!
OK, let’s be realistic. Parking in the Grove can be an issue, and the parking lot at Beast Butcher & Block is small, so I recommend you give yourself extra time to find a place for your car. I would also assume that you should be prepared to wait in line, because this restaurant is going to draw large crowds. But as is always the case with Beast, the food is worth the wait, especially if you’re on the Missouri side of the river, and don’t want a long drive into Illinois for the best BBQ in St. Louis!
When we decided to go to Frankenmuth, we knew we’d have to try one of their famous fried chicken dinners. There are two places in town that offer such a meal, and they’re right across the street from each other! After checking out the full menus, we chose to dine at the Bavarian Inn:
It’s a beautiful (and extremely large!) building:
There are many dining rooms, each one as charming as the last:
They had both their own beer and root beer on the menu:
And they start you off with bread, both plain white bread and stollen. They also offered us fresh rhubarb jam to go with it!
We decided to try their ultimate family style Bavarian dinner (the perfect fit for our European-themed summer school this year!), which we had a coupon for, and which would allow us to sample many of their offerings, including the famous fried chicken.
We started with noodle soup and a variety of salads:
The fried chicken was just as good as promised:
We also tried the sauerbraten, bratwurst, kasseler rippchen (smoked pork loin), and schnitzel:
There were also plenty of side dishes, including buttered noodles (my favorite!), vegetables, dressing, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and potato cheese puffs. It was seriously delicious, and we definitely did not leave hungry!
The meal included housemade ice cream for dessert, and I tried the cranberry, which was amazing…I can’t believe I’ve never had cranberry ice cream before!
We also split a piece of apple strudel:
This was a pretty expensive meal for our family, even with the coupon, but it was definitely worth it…and we even had enough leftovers for a second dinner once we got home!
Of course, one of the best things about visiting any city is finding out what foods that location is famous for and trying them for yourself. Chicago is no exception, and foods that I grew up with as just food are now special treats when we travel. I’m sure people could argue all day about constitutes a Chicago food, but here are my favorites…Chicago-style pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, Rainbow cones, gyros, Eli’s cheesecake, and Italian beef:
Ryan thinks I should have added the Italian combo to my list, but I really don’t like Italian sausage that much, so the best I can do is mention it. Also, not pictured, but extremely delicious and addictive…Chicago-style popcorn. I could eat that stuff by the (cheesy Christmas) tinful!
If you have traveled on IL 159 in Swansea recently, you may have noticed that there’s a new taco place in town. Specifically a taco truck and a taco stand…Valle Taco Express. The stand is only open when the truck doesn’t have an engagement, so you want to check their Facebook weekly page for their hours and locations.
Now, on to the food. I tried the taco plate, which included three tacos…steak, chicken, and fish, plus sides (I had a double order of the street corn), while Ryan had the steak and chicken Fuego burritos.
We both thought the steak options were a little dry, but still tasty. The sauce on my other two tacos was great…it had a nice kick to it. The meat was also cooked just right. The real star of the meal, though, was the corn. It had a nice char, and the addition of the cheese was the perfect topping.
I definitely enjoyed my meal, and I’d like to eat there again…it would also be fun to catch their truck at an event!