Tag Archives: beer

The Big Banjo

22 Feb

Eating in restaurants is a much larger part of the american lifestyle in 2015 than when I was young.  Being one of five kids in a big catholic family, it was a feat to not only get us all out, but surely it was a budget buster too.  Good thing we had the Big Banjo just a short car ride away.  When I was little, going out to the Big Banjo for pizza was a big treat.  Families lined up on picnic bench seating while old black and white films showed on the back wall.

When the movies stopped, words to sing-a-long songs appeared on the screen, and we would sing old favorites like Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Big Banjo was a blast.  The kids got pizza and soda pop, a big treat, and the parents got a pitcher of beer with all of the other parents because, after all, it was Friday night.  The restaurant was always packed.

The Big Banjo.  A Friday night favorite for my family when I was a kid.  This picture does NOT include my parents huge evergreen colored Oldsmobile Delta 88 parked out front...

The Big Banjo. A Friday night favorite for my family when I was a kid. This picture does NOT include my parents huge evergreen colored Oldsmobile Delta 88 parked out front…

(photo Courtesy of Jean Turley)

Family restaurants are a little more sophisticated these days, and it just isn’t the big family event to dine out like it was 15 or twenty years ago.  A generation ago about 25% of the family food budget went toward eating out, and now that number has more than doubled.  Since families dine out more, it isn’t the “splurge” it was years ago.  Today when a family dines out, healthier options are available.   How do we eat healthier when we eat out?  Lets talk about that.

Healthy choices now abound at restaurants.  Here are a few tips to remember when dining out:

  • Order your protein steamed or baked instead of fried.
  • Make water your beverage of choice.
  • Ask for salad dressing on the side.  You tend to use less dressing when you dip.
  • Have tomato sauce over cream sauce.
  • Eat slowly.  Set your fork down between bites and sip your water.
  • Order veggies as a side dish with your meal.  If you are getting pizza, leave the meat off of it.

Even a small change can make a big difference toward healthy lower calorie dining options.  Do it for yourself, and be a good example to others.  At Big Banjo, we splurged with our food.  Now, eating out as a family happens more frequently, so choosing more nutrient dense food is important and getting easier at restaurants.  .

My beloved Big Banjo is long gone.  You can still find restaurants that are a splurge with the food.  But for a family, dining out is a regular event these days.  So make good choices.  What changes can you make with your family?

 

 

Beer and ball

5 Jan
Local beer1  YUM!

Local beer1 YUM!

 

Fact: I am of german descent.  Fact: I like beer, especially a microbrews made from a small brewery. And with football hitting the end of season frenzy, lots of people will be getting together, watching football, eating fun nibblers, and drinking beer. Good thing beer is good for you! Who knew?

Beer has been around for a long time. It was a beverage of ancient Africa and Egypt. Some beer that Egyptians made came from unbaked bread. (Some beer today is known as a “sandwich” for that reason). Beer pretty much stayed the same from the ancient times until the Germans started working on it.

What influence did Germany have on beer? Germans had been brewing beer for hundreds of years, but could not do so in the warm months because the beer would spoil. They began to brew only in the cold months and store their brewed beer in caves in the Alps. The climate in the mountain caves were cool, and they discovered in doing so that the beer did not spoil. This was the fermentation process at work, but they did not know that at the time.

It was called the lager method. They did not know why it worked, but it produced a better beer, so onward and upward! An advancement in the beer we love today.  Some unlikely scientists also contributed to beer.  Like who you ask?  Even the genius of Louis Pasteur influenced beer in the mid 19th century. What? Louis Pasteur and beer? You bet!

Louis Pasteur, famous French chemist and biologist, contributed advancements in science with yeast and fermentation. Fermentation is a chemical process involving sugars turning into alcohol. This method was used to preserve beer long before it was applied to milk and other foods. This was his contribution to beer and brewing. We only know the french for their wine. Now we can thank them for our beer too! Anyway, Pasteur also discovered the relationship between heat, fermentation, pasteurization leading to better beer. Thank you to theAfricans, Egyptians, the Germans,  French scientists as well.

I particularly enjoy microbrews and “craft” beers. The brew masters of smaller craft breweries play with the recipes and flavor a bit. For a foodie like myself, beer can be every bit as much fun to match with food

Watermelon beer.  A refreshing summer treat!

Watermelon beer. A refreshing summer treat!

as fine wines. Alterations in recipes and ingredients can provide interesting flavor variances, which is a lot of fun to taste. Beer from small breweries can also be interesting to taste regionally. In addition to local food, it can provide another way to sample local flavors while traveling. There are dozens of variations of beer, maybe even hundreds, so it can really be a celebration of the palate to go beer tasting!

Believe it or not, beer does have health benefits. Any alcohol, when consumed in moderation, will lower “bad” cholesterol , reduce the risk of blood clots, has been associated with lowering the risk of kidney stones and heart disease, and decreases the risk of other diseases. Beer is made with natural ingredients including plant sources, so it is nutritional.  As far as vitamins and minerals go, beer has niacin, folate, calcium, potassium, and even fluoride! So when you flash that dazzling smile,  you can thank your local brewer!

But again, beer, like all alcohol, only has health benefits when consumed in moderation, so be mindful

A delicious classic beer to enjoy,

A delicious classic beer to enjoy,

when drinking. Grab some classic beer,  like Guinness, or go local, like I sometimes do when trying new neighborhood small brewries.   Start enjoying local influences in food, wine, and even beer when traveling.  Or grab some great local brews and support local entrepreneurs.  Bon Voyage!

 

Healthy Choices

9 Jun

I love cooking at home.  In my opinion, home food preparation with the freshest ingredients that the budget will allow is key to good health.  But for me, it is also a way to express my creativity as well as my commitment to wellness.  Most days, I find pleasure in going to my kitchen and creating a lovely healthy meal for my family, even after a long day at work.  But lets face it.  As a single mother of 3 kids, it just isn’t always feasible.  So what do I do then?

Sometimes when I don’t have time to cook or grab leftovers,  I go out and make some poor choices with food.  Lack of time means fast food wins at times.  And that’s okay.  Occasionally.  That’s the life of a busy american family nowadays.  We often get the kids off to school, zip to work, run from work to a school meeting, a sport practice, or to run errands.  Time, for most of us, is our most precious commodity.

Recently though, I made a decision to eat healthy even when I ate out.  Actually, I wanted to see if it was possible, especially on my tight family budget.  I am happy to report that it was challenging, but doable.   Not only that, it was enjoyable, flavorful, and satisfying.  What in the world do I mean?  Let me explain.

Have a breakfast meeting?  No time to make a lunch to take to work?  Is the family schedule and soccer practice making cooking at home impossible today?  Well I have good news.  A family can eat healthily at a restaurant.  Last Friday night I met friends out for dinner.  I ordered a hamburger and opted for sautéed veggies instead of french fries.  And this was at a “sports bar” type of restaurant.  I ate my hamburger without the bun with the veggies and it was delicious.  True confessions…Yes, I had a beer too.  But that is a good natural beverage, right?  I mean, hops are all natural flowering plants after all.  I am just saying…..

Back to the food!  A few days ago I went to out breakfast with my daughter.  I was able to have a fresh fruit cup with an egg white sandwich on whole grain bread.  It was a well rounded breakfast that held my tummy till lunch.  (Nothing bothers me more than my stomach “growling in the late morning!”).  Upon seeing my order and how delicious it looked, she also ordered a low cal fresh fruit cup and a nutrient dense sandwich to go with her fruit.  It is entirely possible to have healthy meals out and continue with a commitment to wellness!  When you can’t make a good home made meal, what change can you make today to eat a little better when you go to a restaurant?  Let me know!

A fresh fruit cup from a restaurant.  Eating out in a healthy manner!

A fresh fruit cup from a restaurant. Eating out in a healthy manner!

FRESH SALSA!

21 Aug

It’s time to really dig into the fresh tomatoes and corn of the season.  There are a million things to do with beautiful summer vegetables.  I just love the versatility of grabbing some tomatoes and thinking of so many ways to use them.

Speaking of the summer bounty…it’s time to make some fresh salsa.  Who doesn’t  love salsa, served with corn chips-I love the low sodium baked version-Now make some super fresh salsa from scratch.  Fresh salsa is also great on meat and fish.  It packed a punch of flavor, and you can make it as zippy as you want.

It’s time

And be creative. Start with:

  • 5 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped (sometimes I use green onions instead)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1-2 finely chopped jalapeno peppers
  • 2 T. lime juice
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Throw all these ingredients in a bowl.  Give it a quick stir.  Refrigerate.  Yup, it’s that easy!

Then add, if you so choose:

  • Fresh corn, just cook it and cut it off the cob
  • Black beans, rinsed
  • A variety of other peppers chopped-they are bountiful in the summer!
  • Chill your salsa, and serve with baked corn chips

Grab the chips and a beer.  Enjoy!

Brats versus onion breath

15 Dec

That’s right.  Brats on one side, onion (and a wee bit of garlic…if there is such a thing as a wee bit!) breath on the other.  Decisions decisions!  As a foodie, this is the never ending battle.  Food versus breath.  Blue cheese breath only works if you are talking to other blue cheese eating folks all night.  Onions are another offender.  Double offense as this has some hang time with our breath, as well as a being a solid gas producer.  You get the picture.

As a foodie, I happen to be a chronic tooth brusher and self breath tester.  I am a big fan of mints too.  As much as I love great food, I am aware that while socializing with friends or anticipating a possible  romantic moment, good breath is a must.  But when you enjoy good food, lets face it.  There is the possibility that our breath can become unpleasant sometimes.  Fresh breath is fantastic, but it isn’t realistic after certain food indulgences.  So do you indulge in good food knowing that bad(ish) breath is almost certain to follow?  Heck yes!

I am an eastern European mix, but raised mostly influenced by my german heritage.  And I was raised in Chicago, a city with proud ethnic diversity and celebrations.  Brats were one of the basic food groups of my youth.  And, of course, where there are sausages-or most any protein for that matter- in any german influenced kitchen, you have sauerkraut.  How delightful!

Brats, in the home of my youth and now the home of my children, are cooked first in German beer and onions.  They simmer on the stove top, filling the house with the most amazing earthy scents.  The house smells like brats, onions, yeasty beer, savory herbs.  The delicious steamy aroma of this cooking stops one in their tracks, and taking a moment to just breath deeply is involuntary. Your head drifts back, nostrils flair, eyes drape closed, and a satisfying moan might even escape as the senses are treated to these aromas!

After bubbling in the kitchen for a bit, the pot of brats is then ceremoniously taken out to the grill.  Popping the brats onto a piping hot grill creates quite another gift for the senses. Loud sizzling, satisfying smoke wafting off the grill, and nose twanging scents float through the air.  Black grill lines begin to appear, adding to the immense satisfaction of cooking these sausages.  While these are cooking, sauerkraut is quickly heated, buns steamed, and a plethora of mustards stand at the ready as the perfect accoutrement to the brat.  Aaahhh!  Major yum!

Ah yes.  Back to the bad(ish) breath. Can’t eat this without the casualty of altered breath, and probably even a solid belch or two.  But it’s oh so satisfying!  Totally worth it in my book!  It’s the never ending dilemma for any one that loves good authentically prepared food.  Eat a marshmallow and there is no party foul.  Eat an oniony brat, your gonna pay.  But go for it anyway.  Grab the Altoids, a piece of gum, or simply giggle in a charming manner and ask your companions to excuse you.  Better yet, make these for your friends.  After all, a skunk can’t smell himself.  Eat fantastic (albeit offensive) food with friends.  Then your all in it together!   Let me show you my brats in picture story form.  Then you too will choose onion breath!

Brats simmering in beer and onions.  Prick the brats with a fork first so they don't explode.

Brats simmering in beer and onions. Prick the brats with a fork first so they don’t explode.

Brats go onto the grill!  Look at those grill lines!  Great job Denis!

Brats go onto the grill! Look at those grill lines!

Steam or grill those buns!

Steam or grill those buns!

While the brats are cooking, heat  up that sauer kraut!

While the brats are cooking, heat up that sauerkraut!

Grab some mustard!  Do not leave those brats naked!

Yikes! Grab some mustard! Do not leave those brats naked!

Oh yeah!  There you go!  A loaded brat!  Grab a beer, some potato salad, and enjoy!

Oh yeah! There you go! A loaded brat! Grab a beer, some potato salad, and enjoy!

Refrigerator cook

7 Dec

I was recently called a “refrigerator cook”.  Everyone who knows me knows how much I love to cook.  I have taken oodles of cooking classes.  I have attended  all sorts of classes, from Le Cordon Bleu to local celebrity chef classes.  I have been cooking my whole life.  I love food, I love the socializing that happens around meals, I love healthy cooking, and I love bringing family together with celebrations of food.  But a refrigerator cook?  Whats that?

I am told that I have a talent for opening up the refrigerator and pantry and coming up with something fantastic.  Whether it is an appetizer or a whole meal, I seem to be able to pull something yummy together.  And I have a blast doing it.  What let to my label of being a newly crowned refrigerator cook?  Recently, it was my Saturday afternoon football watching bar food.  Here’s what happened.

After a morning of running errands, we came home hungry.  We turned on college football, and unloaded from the errands.  I looked in the fridge to see what I could throw together.  What is better than bar food for a Saturday afternoon?  I pulled out leftover chicken taco meat, cheese, flour tortillas, a can of black beans, some fresh cilantro, salsa, and sour cream.

Next, I pulled my big skillet and put it on the stove.  I warmed up the taco meat in the microwave.  While that was heating, I sliced some delicious cheese and chopped up a bit of cilantro.  I turned the burner on under the pan and sprayed it with non stick cooking spray.  Then I started layering up my quesadillas.  Meat, beans, salsa (not too much or it gets soggy), and cheese.   Into the pan it went with a medium fire under it.  I like to cook my quesadillas slowly so the cheese can really melt!

After a few moments, I took the quesadillas out of the pan and put them onto a cutting board.  They cooled for a moment, then I sliced ’em up.  I put it onto a plate, garnished it with some fresh cilantro, and added a small bit of sour cream.  Yum!  Grab a beer, and a napkin too.  Enjoy that good game with a simple and easy food!  This can also be a great after school snack, or you can add some fruit and make it a nice meal.

I like to keep staples on hand so I can always pull something out to cook quickly.  This takes planning and experience, but anyone can do it.  Now is a great time to start gaining experience!   And the only way to get experience is to get busy.  Get some extra items at the grocery store for the fridge and pantry, and you too can become a refrigerator cook!  How to stock a pantry?  Tune in next time.  I will guide you!

Saturday afternoon home made bar food!  Perfect for watching college football!

Saturday afternoon home made bar food! Perfect for watching college football!

Saturday Splendor

18 Sep

Every once in a while, a little gift comes along.  Sometimes we know its coming, sometimes it surprises us.  But regardless of when this gift appears, it is always appreciated!  Always rich and plush!  And gone in a flash!

As a mother of three children, my weekends, like my weekdays, are tied up.  And that is exactly where I love my life to be.  With family.  With my children.  Spending time with friends, at sporting events, parties, and even running errands.  Sharing with them, laughing with them, kissing them goodnight, and just plain loving them.   That is good living in my book!  My family and my children make my life glorious.  Timeless.  Joyous.

As much as I love sharing every day with my children and being their mother, everyone needs a break every now and then.  And that is a healthy part of any good relationship.  I think my children and I welcome time apart occasionally, and that is normal.  Distance can lend appreciation and perspective to a relationship.  All good stuff.

I had one such break on a recent Saturday.  A precious Saturday with no scheduled games, events, or obligations.  My house was clean, my grocery shopping completed.    My children were otherwise engaged, and my house was blissfully quiet.  I seized the moment!  I welcomed the gift of some quiet time in which I could embrace some very rare “me time”‘.  I was determined to use this gift to it’s fullest!

Denis, with whom I share the same adventurous culinary spirit, and I decided to have a light and delicious lunch on this particular Saturday.  We discovered a refreshing summer beer that was made with watermelon, and had been waiting for just the right occasion to try it.  Voila!  This quiet day presented our opportunity.  As we so often do given the opportunity to try an offbeat food or ingredient, we took the watermelon beer and created a wonderful culinary event!

Watermelon beer. A refreshing summer treat!

We made the most amazing sandwich to accompany our beer.  Fresh turkey, rich swiss cheese, creamy wedges of avocado, and crunchy sprouts.  Oh did we pile that sandwich high!  We topped it off with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The building of a fabulous turkey sandwich!

It was a breezy summer afternoon.  The screened porch was beckoning us.  We could not resist.   Out to the porch with sandwich and glass of beer in hand, the location was adding to our culinary experience.

My porch. The perfect spot for morning coffee and afternoon lunches!

The beer was very interesting.  When it first hit the tongue, it tasted like a nice pilsner.  On the exhale, tones of watermelon gently chimed in.  It was a delicious summer treat.  The sandwich was packed with flavor.  A delight for the palate!   The beer paired with the mile high sandwich was fantastic.  Good well thought out food, a crisp refreshing drink, a breezy afternoon, and fabulous company. What a gift!  An appreciated treat!  A sweet and wonderful summer afternoon.

It wasn’t just the lunch that made the afternoon so special.  After a long lunch, the dishes had to be done.  Once the dishwasher was stacked, another gift.  The house was still blissfully peaceful.  Now it was not the porch beckoning, but the couch.  A nap.  Yup…that’s right.  I said it.  A luxury to cap off an another luxury.  A lazy, breezy summer afternoon.  A quiet house, delicious food, and a little nap.  A fleeting gift…but appreciated like no other!