The Gourmet Colony
The Flying Grilled Chicken

Our first home came complete with a deck that had a gas grill attached to it.

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The home had a walk-out basement that opened to a severely sloping lot that over looked a wooded “ravine”.  We loved it, as it allowed for some privacy and the deck was elevated 10 feet off the ground so the bug issue was never too bad.

Both Mary and I love grilled chicken but one of the problems with chicken on the grill can be flare-ups so I always had a little water in a squirt bottle ready to put out the flames. The weather on this day was slightly threatening but I figured I could beat the rain so I fired up the grill, threw the hind quarters on and dropped the lid. 

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The chicken was coming along nicely while the weather become increasingly threatening and the wind was starting to gust.  As I recall, we were probably 10 minutes away from enjoying our meal of grilled chicken, salad, some bread and a nice white wine when I noticed a large flare-up.  I sprang into action and opened the lid of the grill, as I turned to get the water bottle a huge gust caught the opened grill lid that had instantaneously become a sail.  The grill snapped at the base, which had apparently rusted through, and went sailing done the ravine with that evening’s chicken dinner!  I’m sure I just stood there stunned for a couple of moments processing what had just happened.

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As a result, we turned to another Rettig Family staple for the evening meal—the Frozen Pizza.     

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Selecting the right club.

If you play golf, then you understand the importance of having the right club in your hands.  Watch a professional golfer work with his caddy and you’ll notice the discussion going on before each shot. 

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They’re analyzing the distance to the pin, the wind direction, where the trouble is before the golfer reaches for the club.  This is all done before each shot because they know without the right club the result is going to be less than perfect.  Should he used a 6 iron and hit is hard or is an easy 5 iron the shot?

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While I’m not a golf professional by any stretch of the imagination, I certainly found out this year the same process they use in a tournament holds true in grilling.  For my entire grilling life I have used basic (read as inexpensive) equipment.  My first grill was a small Hibachi and although it worked, there were certainly limitations. 

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I then graduated to a hand-me-down full size charcoal grill that was on its last leg.  That grill had been installed on the deck of our first home and had just a single burner.  One particularly windy day, a gust got the better of it, but that’s a story for another day.  So, we needed to quickly replace that grill and I opted for the cheap route and purchased a Sears model that looked similar to the one that came with the house. 

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It wasn’t until this year that my caddy (Mary) gave me great advice to go get a grill that would make the cooking easier.  As always, I took her advice (she had been giving me this advice for several years; funny how my hearing isn’t very good). I purchased a Weber with 3 burners (separate controls for each), a temperature gage and plenty of power and …  What a difference it makes!  There are so many things I can do now and even the most simplest of cooking is completed faster, with better quality and far less effort.  image

Take my advice, the next time you line up that shot take your caddy’s advice and hit the easy 5-iron. Just don’t take 2 years to do it.    

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How long to let wine age?

Wino’s!  

Lately, I have noticed that some professional writers/publications have changed their tune on what is the “proper” length of time to age fine wine.  Of course, there is no “one right answer” but generally speaking, the time frame is getting shorter. 

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About 30 years ago, starting with the French, wine makers got more picky about what gets thrown into the fermentation vat.  No longer is every grape bunch dumped in, regardless of maturity.  Grapes harvested today are much more carefully selected which produces a better and slightly different product.  This effort, especially not using under ripe fruit, has helped eliminate much of the excess and/or “rough” tannins. 

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This means many of the better wines no longer need decades to balance out properly.  Today, I feel the “good to go” date is no longer than 10 years.  Not that some wines won’t and can’t change for the better if held longer but the risk in doing is rather high, so why take a chance.  Time and again, I’ve had old wine that is clearly ”over the hill” or just plain “bad”, disappointing both me and the person who kept it so long. 

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Also remember that unless your wine storage area is very cool, wines tend to age quicker.  I’ve said before at least 95% of wines produced today are for immediate consumption.  That is a good thing for both producer and consumer, no waiting, but that 5% or less which has the need or potential to get better with time needs special care if you plan on holding them for a decade.  

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In my experience, I think more cellar-able wines start hitting a good ”drinking window” at 5 years.  That’s for both reds and whites.  With very few exceptions, they drink really well so start pulling those corks!  Just remember the golden rule, if you are not sure, drink them early rather than late.    

Ar, ar,  

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Wine Pirate

Get a taste Explosion

Tasting something wonderful for the first time is an WOW experience. 

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Flavors explode in your mouth and your taste buds send signals to your brain trying to figure out what you’re tasting.  You quickly compare it to all those things you’ve tried before and then realize it is something new.  You can see it in the person’s eyes as it happens.  WOW, is this good, Wow, that’s wonderful!

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It must be like that for children but in most cases they aren’t thinking about the flavors - they’re too busy enjoying.  I’d often wished that I could have that “wow” sensation more often; an explosion of flavor, the discovery of something new.  Well, sometimes you should be careful of what you wish for.

As a two-time cancer and chemo survivor, that wish came true a few years ago.  Interestingly, it occurred with a glass of wine.      image

When you have chemo treatments the chemo does something to your taste buds.  It deadens them and changes them so flavors are not the same and certainly not as vivid.  Although you eat, often you don’t really enjoy the flavors.  In some cases, the food almost has a metallic taste.  For me this lasted for some time after the chemo treatments stopped … But then one day I experienced that flavor explosion!     image

It was with a glass of relatively inexpensive red wine.  I took a sip of it and WOW! I felt like I could taste the grape right off the vine.  The flavor was vivid once again and it was wine.  I was drinking wine again, not some metallic-laced, nondescript juice. How wonderful it tasted. Since that day I have looked and tasted each glass of wine differently.

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It is said that distance makes the heart grow fonder and while I’m not sure that’s true, I can tell you that if you really want to taste something  like it’s the first time you’ve tasted it,  just give it up for a while.  Six months to a year should do it, then take a bite, you’ll have that WOW experience. 

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The Favorite Amana food—-

If you ask the visitors that frequent Amana restaurants what their favorite item on the menu is you might be surprised.  Oh sure, you will hear Fried Chicken, Weiner Schnitzel or maybe Swiss Steak but just as often it’s the fried potatoes.  Yep, that’s right, a simple potato. 

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I think we take Rohgeroesti (raw-fried potatoes) for granted in Amana.  Heck, most of us grew up eating them at least twice-a-week and sometimes more frequently.  The funny thing is most of my friends from outside the Amana Colonies don’t make this version of potatoes very often.  

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Now all real potato connoisseurs know that not all potato varieties are created equal - or, at least not all make exceptional Rohgeroesti.  Over the years I heard my Dad mention the name Kennebec with great reverence.  It makes the best Rohgeroesti.  Now this guy would know since he not only ate is fair share but was in charge of cooking them in our house.      image

As with all things, a tried and true system works best and Dad’s system was to use an electric skillet with the temperature control set to a specific point.  A certain amount of oil in the pan and a minimum number of flips along with salt and pepper in the exact amount and the lid on the pan for only a certain time frame.  Sure, you might argue that it could be done differently and still produce an edible potato, but to be done to perfection, this method must be followed.  Mom could help but there was no question who was in charge.      image

I’m sure this system was developed over years of practice (but it certainly wasn’t learned while he was a cook in the Army).  Rather, this was refined in the Rettig Test Kitchen through trial and error.   Thank goodness Mr Kennebec developed that one strain of potato.  It became the key ingredient in a very finely tuned process.      image

Living on the Edge

Some people live “on the edge”.  As a youngster, I lived “on the Ridge” – Waterloo Ridge, that is, where potlucks rule.  I don’t think I can recall my first potluck, but I do know that potluck knowledge (or lore) is fully entrenched within my soul.

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The best potlucks have no assignments regarding what to bring.  In a community where potlucks happen on a monthly basis, the menu simply works and there is always ample variety spread out on the tables. As my Mom once said, “I make what I’m inspired to make on Saturday. 

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As such, her contributions included 3-4 items including a “hotdish” – often in her big red Pyrex casserole (a wedding gift back in 1949).  She was partial to hotdishes that called for potatoes, ground beef, a couple cans of creamy soups and some seasoning.   Since most people had their own sweet corn, some frozen corn might be added, too.

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Although the church potluck is the best known, sometimes a potluck was spontaneous and relied on whatever the Moms had “on hand.”  Since they were stay-at-home moms, and unplanned gathering could yield an interesting conglomeration of foods.  I recall one summer night when we were with my parents Card Party Crowd.  One Mom thought we needed a little more to make a full meal and opened a can of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans.  We were allowed to dish it right out of the can!

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When you’re on the Ridge, that’s about as close we ever came to living on the edge.

A Rose’ by any other name…
Ahoy!
Many people, especially novice drinkers, seem to be confused about Rose’.  They think ”White Zinfandel”.  While it can be, most Rose’ is not made from the Zinfandel grape at all.  A few decades ago, here in the US and before the country turned into the “wino” nation it is today, “White Zin” was introduced to the masses primarily by “Sutter Home Winery” which at the time, practically had the market to itself.  
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Historically an inexpensive jug wine, it’s a quaffer that is typically sweet, soft and low in alcohol.  It had tremendous appeal, especially with gals.  They sold oceans of the stuff for many years.  Perfect for newbies and porch sitting on hot afternoons.

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Rose’, also called “Blush”, regardless of varietal, is produced by pressing red or black grapes but limiting juice contact with the skins.  The longer the contact, the more red the juice.  Rose’ is one, if not the oldest known type of wine.  The color can vary from very light pink to almost near red or purple.  Some have an orange tint.  Rose’ can be made still, semi-sparkling or sparkling with a wide range of sweetness levels from bone-dry Provencal to the sweet White Zin written about earlier.  

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Rose’ wines were first introduced here in mass quantity by Portugese producers “Mateus” and “Lancers” in the 60’s.  They made and sold a ton of it.  Today, Rose’ is made from a variety of grapes and can be found anywhere in the world.  

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Most Rose’ drinks fruity and light but make no mistake, some do have fairly substantial alcohol levels.  Last weekend, I pounded one down at a BarBQ.  Although it tasted just right and refreshing, the label said 14.1%.  I was shocked, much higher than expected which maybe explains my “tipsiness” afterwards.  

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Nothing goes better with summer.  Last June, while pillaging southern France, me mates and I had Rose’ with lunch every single day.  It was wonderful.  Although not as popular as it should be, get with the program and don’t miss out.  With it’s very low price, Rose’ is a screamingly great value and more than worthy of your time, effort and glass.  ”Ar, ar”

 
Wine Pirate
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Places in History

There are places on this earth that transport you back in time, placing you in a specific event in history.  For example, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, takes you back to Nov 22, 1963.  A visit to Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C., will make you feel that you’re in the midst of the closing days of the Civil War, on an April, 1865, evening.

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I expected to have that feeling when we visited the Palace of Versailles, but as our tour bus pulled into the parking lot, it was greeted by an ocean of tour buses and a throng of people waiting in line to purchase tickets to enter the palace.

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Alas, the heat of that June day combined with the hordes of tourists lessened some of the aura of the palace and that acute sense of history.  The crowds were so large as we went through the living quarters that, as an individual, you had almost no control of where or how fast you moved.  Instead, you simply followed the flow.

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That feeling of being transported to a different time had escaped me until I stepped away from the crowd toward the windows and turned to look out.  What I saw as I looked down from the second floor to the courtyard, the marble courtyard where in 1789 Citizens of Paris had rushed up from the gates to the marble court and forced King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette to travel to Paris and eventually meet their fate at the guillotine.  

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Looking down towards the gates of the palace and seeing a throng of people waiting to get in I could easily imagine how it looked in October of 1789 as the crowd rushed up to the palace and eventually unto the marble courtyard.

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Eventually, we left the palace and walked down the slope to the town below and enjoyed a leisurely lunch amid the shade of the trees in the boulevard.   A glass of wine, the plate du jour, but - with all due respect to the Queen - we did not eat cake.

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Finding Hidden Gems

For our final evening in Paris, our goal was to experience a neighborhood Bistro, something off the beaten path.  We strolled out of our small hotel and meandered a couple of blocks down a near side-street and happened upon a rather plain looking restaurant with a large chalk board perched just outside the front door.  With my limited French food vocabulary I thought it looked promising and so we decided to give it a try.

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The interior was quite quaint but, alas, there was only one diner - a young lady sitting at a window table.  I walked up to the bar/counter and asked for a table, to my surprised the gentlemen behind the counter opened his book and asked if we had a reservation.  I think I chuckled as I looked around the empty dining room and said, “No I don’t.”  He looked back down in his book, made a mark and then said, “Please, this way.” 

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Seated at a centrally located table he brought a large floor standing chalkboard that contained the menu in French.  As I pulled out my handy Rick Steve’s pocket French Dictionary, he said, “Allow me to translate.”  He helped us with our selections and brought us a little something to enjoy with our glass of wine while our first course was prepared.

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In due time, the other diner finished her meal and, from her thank you and his reply, I could tell she was an American working in the area and a regular customer.  Those facts where comforting and led me to think that we had found a hidden gem; which in fact, we had.

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The food was classic French, expertly prepared with wine recommendations perfectly to our food.  As we finished our meal the little bistro began to fill up.  Apparently, we had beaten the rush.

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Sometimes when you go looking for “hidden gems” you find fool’s gold but this time we got the real thing.

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Seine River Cruise

When people make recommendations about a dining experience you might hear them say “you go there for the view”. 

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That line can either says a lot about the scenery or very little about the food.  That is certainly the case for many “attraction” dining spots around the world.  Quite often you are paying for the atmosphere/scenery/entertainment and the food is an afterthought. 

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I had those concerns when we booked a Seine River Dinner Cruise in Paris last June.  The idea is you push off at dusk and travel up the Seine which runs through the heart of Paris.  You see all of the famous sites - i.e., the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame, all while enjoying a meal cruising the river at a leisurely pace.

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As we cruised along, to my delight, not only was the scenery great but [somewhat] surprisingly, the food was spectacular, as well! (Leave it to the French to have great food with a view)!  In typical French food fashion the quality was excellent, the presentation and service was immaculate.  Add those ingredients to the scenery the evening was a huge success.

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It got me thinking that maybe we should do an Amana Mill Race Dinner Cruise?!?  We could serve a fine Amana meal as we cruise by such famous sites as the Middle Amana Overflow, the Middle Amana Hill Top Marina, and the Middle Amana Slough.  With all these attractions I have a feeling people would say “you go there for the food”.

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