Monthly Archives: April 2014

Drink Me: GSM


Happy Wine Wednesday!

Last week we talked about Grenache, a grape varietal grown mainly in France and Spain and usually blended with other grapes to yield an elegant wine.

Many wines from the Rhône Valley in France are made by blending Grenache with Syrah and Mourvèdre. If you find this blend in the new world, however, the trend is to label it as a:


I’ve often seen this label when this traditional Rhône Valley blend comes out of Australia. But our last South Coast Wine Club shipment included a 2008 GSM from Temecula, California:

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Legally, in the U.S., a wine must be made up of 75% of the grape in order for a wine to be labeled as that varietal. Generally speaking, in the new world, if the primary varietal is less than 75%, it is listed on the label first, along with the other grapes. For example, a wine labeled Cabernet-Merlot, is typically made of Cabernet and Merlot, but with a higher percentage of Cabernet than Merlot.

However, the exception to the rule lies when the vintner lists the percentage of each grape, as shown above. Here, Syrah dominates, just like in the northern Rhône Valley of France. Whereas the primary grape found in southern Rhône wines is typically Grenache.

Why does this combination work so well?

  • Grenache offers red berry flavors, such as raspberry and strawberry, with hints of warm spices such as cinnamon.
  • Syrah adds dark fruit flavors, earthiness, peppery spice and tannin.
  • Mourvèdre provides acidity and balance with some floral notes. It’s rare to find this grape standing alone, but I once had a Cline Small Berry Mourvèdre that was incredible. I haven’t been able to find it in years. They do make an Old Vine Mourvèdre, but I was already spoiled by the Small Berry version that I couldn’t be converted. Good news! I found the Small Berry online and they still make it. Bad News: It’s twice as much per bottle from when I first tried it.

Here is what our South Coast GSM offered:

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Have you had a GSM before?

What about a wine from the Rhone Valley in France?

What do you think of this blend?





Trying Something Gnudi


Gnudi (nyOO-dee) is a bit like gnocchi, only made with ricotta instead of potato. It’s like a “nude” piece of ravioli – just the filling. I learned about gnudi through Plated. With two free plates left, I put an order in to give it a try. Get your two free plates here.


Ricotta Gnudi with Asparagus, Peas & Mint
940 calories (30 – 40 minutes)

The gnudi was pretty easy to make, but I had trouble getting it to a non-sticky consistency. I had to add a little more of my own flour. They definitely reminded me of gnocchi!

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gnudi in the pan!

Other than that, making these from scratch was pretty darn easy. I just wished I could get a better sear on the little dumplings, like I like my gnocchi. Although, maybe potato just sears better than ricotta?

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Ricotta Gnudi with Asparagus, Peas & Mint

I liked the gnudi, but it just seemed like so. much. food. There was also a lot of green going on in this dish!

What we learned after our second Plated dish with mint: Keep the mint out of our food. I’d rather save it for a good mojito. I think basil would have done this dish better.


Thai Basil Beef Bowl with Quinoa Stir-Fry
710 calories (30 – 40 minutes)

I’d only made quinoa once before, but was all messed up with the rinsing. I had little pieces of quinoa everywhere. I decided to give it another go. And this quinoa didn’t require me to do any rinsing prior to cooking, so I thought that would make it easier. I still had quinoa everywhere.

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And that was just the pot after my half-attempt to scrape everything out of it. I found much more on the stove and in crevices between the stove and counter. Why doesn’t anyone talk about this when they blog about all of their wonderful quinoa dishes? Is it just me?

I did like the idea, though, of using quinoa instead of rice as part of the stir-fry:

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And the finished product with the marinated steak was beautiful:

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Thai Basil Beef Bowl with Quinoa Stir-Fry

Again, this was a ton of food. I loved the smell of the Thai basil when I was chopping it. But because there was so much food, it got lost in the shuffle. I actually forgot about it until I tasted it just once in the dish. Both of us bit on something hard and sandy. Was that the quinoa, perhaps because it was not rinsed?

The beef marinade was excellent and an easy one. To give the dish more flavor after tasting it, I squirted it with a healthy dose of extra sriracha and stirred it right in.

And now for next week:







I can’t believe we are on week 7 of the couch to 5k. I have to admit that week 6 was pretty rough for me.

  • Monday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 7, Day 1
  • Tuesday – Yoga
  • Wednesday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 7, Day 2
  • Thursday – REST
  • Friday – REST
  • Saturday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 7, Day 3
  • Sunday – Recumbent Bike/Yoga

Do you cook with quinoa?

Got any tips for easy cooking or less mess?

Favorite quinoa recipes?




Chili & Burgers at The Loon Café


About a month ago, Rob and I were off to a concert in downtown Minneapolis and were looking for a place to dine pre-show that was within walking distance of the venue.

Enter The Loon Café

I’d been there probably ten years back, but only stopped for drinks. I don’t even think I lived in Minnesota quite yet. Perhaps I was visiting a friend? I didn’t really remember much about it, except that it was one of those really packed bars you go to… like when you’re in college.

I believe this place has been around since the 80s. By the looks of the interior, I don’t think much has changed. But that shouldn’t keep you from going there. In fact, one of the reasons Rob and I chose The Loon {which it is affectionately called here in Mpls} was that it has earned awards for its chili and burgers!

We decided to be the judge of that.

I checked out the menu online prior to our visit. If we had the Internet in the 80s, then this is probably what the website would look like! No, that’s not quite right. An 80s website would be all DOS and dot matrix, right?! But their website (like my blog) does need a bit of an overhaul. {Any takers!?} I don’t think it’s a priority for them, though. Based on their downtown Minneapolis location, within easy walking distance of the Target Center and Target Field, they’ll get traffic whether they updat their website or not.

Still, there was no online beer or drink menu.

We arrived pretty early before our show, but the place was already pretty busy due to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff taking place at the Target Center that evening. {That’s the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament, for those of you who are wondering.} Many of those sporting their University of North Dakota apparel were already half in the bag having a good time. Despite the fact that The Loon is by no means tiny, the crowd made me feel kind of like we were at a small town bar. Good people watching, for sure.

Luckily, we were able to pull up two seats to the bar.



The first thing we had to figure out was what to order to drink. There are no lists of beer selection online, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Due to the growing American craft beer movement in Minnesota, many bars and restaurants in Minneapolis have a  pretty decent selection. Such is not the case at The Loon. If you are visiting Minnesota or Minneapolis for that reason and only have a bit of time, this is not the place to stop. Here, you will find the local Summit EPA and Grainbelt Nordeast, which are proper, somewhat-historic local representations in their own right. They just really aren’t my style, nor what I would consider “craft” brews.

For those of you looking for that online beer or drink menu, here is what was offered on March 21, 2014:

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The Loon Drink Menu – March 2014

I see now that they had Fulton {an excellent Minneapolis craft brewery} on tap! It must have been the Lonely Blonde, because if it were the Sweet Child of Vine IPA, Rob would have ordered it. {Besides, there is no way Rob is going to order a “Lonely Blonde” at a bar with me sitting right next to him! Tee hee.}

As an aside, The Loon is the home of The Grape Ape, a shot made with vodka and a Minnesota grape soda. As much as Rob loves grape soda, he refused to order one. I mean, as a Packer fan, who would drink that purple stuff? 😉 I love that man.



I knew that I’d be getting the chili that night. {And it was the perfect night for it.} But my biggest question was which one to get! Decisions, decisions. Really, when you offer five different chilies on a menu, there should be something else you offer:

A Chili Flight!

Am I right?!

Because that is what I would have ordered! I love that there are so many different, regional styles of chili in the U.S. and that everyone is so passionate about how chili is supposed to made. To be honest, I’ve never really found a chili that I didn’t like. In Northeast Wisconsin, I grew up with spaghetti noodles in my chili. I didn’t know that noodles weren’t always in chili until I moved just a few hours west to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to go to college. My Minnesota friends laughed at me that this was the trend that I knew!

I believe the chili that won the most awards for The Loon is the Pecos River Red Chili. They even serve it over at Target Field now. I’m going to have to remember that if I ever end up at a game there on a chilly {get it!?} or rainy day. I felt like that’s the chili I should have ordered at The Loon that night. But I wasn’t feeling it. I know that traditional Texas-style chili calls for it, but there’s something about cubed steak in my chili that turns me off. Maybe it’s the chance that the meat can be tough?

So here were my chili options:

Pecos River Red (Served at Target Field) Their only chili that can be ordered mild, medium or hot. “Lean cubed sirloin steak and onions along with Tex-Mex spices and chile peppers. A classic Texas-style chili.”

Dirty Pork Stew A green chili pork stew loaded with onions, chiles, tomatoes, lean hand-cut chunks of pork in a delicious spicy garlic sauce. As served at the LaTolteca Tortelleria in Azusa, California for over forty years. We top it with cheese, green onions and sour cream. Served with flour tortillas.”

Pinto’s Diablo ChiliA Minnesota-born chili, created by Pinto, “this is a ground beef, kidney bean and veggie chili that is very hearty and pleasantly spiced.”

Veggie Chili A wonderful medley of veggies and beans simmered in a sweet-hot tomato base. Topped with green onions. Served with jalapeño corn bread & tortilla chips.”

Chicken Chili ala Ski-Dad A thick, rich, spicy blend of chicken, peppers, onions and green chiles served with jalapeño cream cheese, green onions and fresh warm tortillas.”

All chilis are $5.75 for a cup and $8.95 for a bowl.

I was having one of those days when I couldn’t make up my mind {aka most days}. I requested the advice of the bartender. He raved about all of them; but the one that stuck out when he was describing them was the Chicken Chili. And I’m so glad I ordered it!

chicken chili

Chicken Chili ala Ski-Dad

This chili hit the spot for me, especially with the yummy jalapeno cream cheese. I would get it again in a heartbeat! But I still wish I could have tried them all. Should we start a petition for a chili flight? Who’s in with me?

Rob’s mission was to judge the Loon Burger – “Our unique, large, lean ground beef patty served on either a Sourdough or Black Russian Rye bun. Specify add-ons of mayonnaise, tomato, onion, lettuce and cheese (American, Swiss, cheddar or hot pepper). Great with cajun spices!”

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Burger Loon on sourdough with cheddar, onion, mayo and cajun spices.

I was surprised when Rob chose to have his burger served on sourdough, as much as he loves rye. But it was like a sourdough baguette! The burger was pretty darn good. Not Top 10 good, but very good enough that either of us would order them again. Rob said that the meat quality was excellent and obviously shaped to the baguette. But overall, he found the flavor pretty bland. I didn’t realize this until I remembered that he ordered Cajun spices. I didn’t taste those at all. And fries? Just average, according to the fry-master.

Overall, The Loon offers mostly bar-style food. But I think the chili and burgers are the way to go here. If you are in from out of town and want to try a little “Minnesota Cuisine,” you might want to go with some creamy Wild Rice Soup. It’s perfect on a cold day. And if you’ve never had walleye before, give that a try, too.

What is the traditional style of chili where you live?

What is your favorite style of chili?




Drink Me: Grenache


Happy Wine Wednesday!

If you are newer to wine or stick to well-known varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, you may not have heard of Grenache. But you may have had it!

Grenache is a red grape varietal grown mostly in the Rhone Valley in France. If you’ve ever had a Côtes du Rhône or a wine from the region, it probably was made with Grenache. Grenache is most often blended with Syrah and Mouvedre. In Spain, it’s called Garnacha and is regularly blended with Tempranillo.

Why does it make such a great blending grape? Because it adds lots of fruity berry flavors without all of the tannins. There’s a bit of acidity to add structure and sometimes a bit a spice. Rob waivers on Grenache, because sometimes he finds a hint of white pepper – which he does not like!

You may have also seen Grenache from the New World, as well. When I used to do in-home wine tastings, one of my favorites was the Catch a Thief Grenache from McLaren Vale, South Australia. Then, when I earned an all-expense paid trip to Napa, California, one of my favorite Grenaches came from one of The Traveling Vineyard’s suppliers, Stonehedge. I splurged on a case of the $30 bottle because we were offered a significant discount. Absolute heaven.

So you can imagine how delighted we were when we received a Grenache in our South Coast Wine Club shipment.

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When we were in Temecula, California last year, we found that a lot of vineyards produced wines made from Rhone Valley grapes. Perhaps the climate is somewhat similar to that of the southern France and Spain. Still, the Grenache vine is a hardy one that survives better than most others in windy and drier conditions, much like the semi-arid climate of the Old Southwest.

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The Grenache grape depends on a long growing season to ripen, which in turn leads to high sugar levels and the potential for a wine with high alcohol content. You will find this with many New World Grenaches. However, Rhone Valley wines can be dialed back with the other blending grapes.

Here is what our South Coast Temecula Valley Grenache had to offer:

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While this was probably one of my least favorite South Coast wines, it was still very good. What I tasted was a hint of eucalyptus, which brought me back to the days when I had a really bad Petit Verdot from Australia. That one was all eucalyptus and not palatable at all. Here, there was only a hint, which may have even been the violet or lavender they include in the description.

For a bit more information about Grenache, check out these fun facts.

Grenache Food Pairings:

  • Stews, roasts, anything braised or cooked low and slow.
  • Game, grilled sausages.
  • Warm spices like garam masala or Moroccan spices found in a traditional tagine.
  • Casseroles or “bakes” such as goulash, macaroni and cheese, vegetable bakes, lentil and bean dishes. Minnesotans, perhaps a Tater Tot Hotdish?
  • BBQ – perfect with that hint of smoke.

Have you had Grenache before?

Alone or in a blend?

What are your thoughts?


Scaling Back Generous Portion Sizes


It’s supposed to be 60-degree weather this week here in Minnesota. YAY! It’ll make for great outdoor running weather. And with that I want to send my well wishes to all of the Boston Marathoners today. I know it’s going to be an emotional run. Cheers to all of you participating!


Last week, I made this Beer and Beef Risotto. It was only my second time making risotto; but I think it turned out pretty well. It seemed to consist of more beef than risotto. But I think I prefer that.

Beef & Beer Risotto

Beef & Beer Risotto

The only changes I made were that I used an amber beer instead of a wheat, beef broth instead of chicken {you know, that whole fins and feathers thing}, two cups of baby portabellos instead of one and three cups of chopped spinach instead of four. Oh, and I added a sprinkling of shredded parm on top because, I mean, who doesn’t like that? I think the beef broth may have given it some added depth. It made four servings clocking in at about 610 calories each. The portion sizes were generous. It could definitely serve six.

When portion sizes are generous, break ’em up into more portions.

Speaking of generous portion sizes, we tried our second round of Plated this past week because we had two free plates coming. Get your two free plates here. For my full review of Plated, click here.

The Plates
Fontina Polenta with Roasted Spring Vegetables
770 calories (30-40 minutes)

I was really surprised when my husband agreed to a meatless meal. When he gave the approval, I jumped on it! We had our first polenta in Italy and fell in love with it. This was my first attempt at making it.

Before making this dish, while I was amidst my Couch to 5k run that night, I wondered what would happen if a Plated customer was missing an ingredient. I mean, because warehouses make mistakes all the time, right? We’ve all had missing items from online orders. Missing an ingredient could make or break a dish! And what if you had no backup plan?

After I began chopping and separating the veggies, I noticed that there were no carrots for me to chop. How could this be that I the night I thought about it, I’d be missing an ingredient?!

I finally accepted that our roasted vegetables would be sans carrots; but it was not a make or break ingredient. So I began unwrapping the other items. DOH! The carrots were in the same bag as the asparagus, just hiding on me. So it ended up that we weren’t missing any ingredients. In fact, we were plus one shallot!

My trouble making this dish was that my polenta wasn’t turning smooth and creamy, like the recipe card stated. Instead, it was a sticky, massive clump. I am wondering if I should have measured the polenta. Maybe I shouldn’t have made the assumption that what was in the bag was what I needed. My solution was to add more water throughout.

I should have used a bigger dish for this massive amount of polenta and roasted vegetables. How could this serve just two people?!photo 4

I don’t know if adding more water to the polenta to smooth it out increased the size/amount of polenta that was yielded; but even when I put it on the plate, it looked like so much food! I even left some polenta in the dish and just scraped out all of the roasted veggies.

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Rob thought the polenta tasted more like grits. The flavor was fine, but neither of us ate all of it. It was just too much. But we did gobble up the veggies. If there is any one thing we’ve learned from Plated, it’s that we do love roasted veggies! This blend of carrots, peapods, cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, green onions and asparagus was the perfect mix for me, tossed in a vinaigrette and roasted for 15 minutes on 450. We will be having those again!

This dish could have made three or four servings, with the amount of polenta I made.


Lemongrass Pork with Vermicelli Noodles
800 calories (20 – 30 minutes)

When we received the ingredients for this dish, I couldn’t believe the amount of vermicelli that arrived for just two people. I didn’t understand. Did it shrink when cooked?  I don’t think I’ve ever made this style of rice noodle before.

But I was right, there was waaaaayyy too much vermicelli. Enough for at least four people. I dished up huge portions on our plates and still had this leftover:

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No worries. I put it into a container and plan to add some peanut sauce and some sort of protein to it this week. But it still left a lot on our plates.

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Rob was disappointed because in his mind, the sauce wasn’t really a sauce. I knew it was going to be a runnier sauce, of which he is not a fan.

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But that wasn’t the issue. It was the fact that you could barely taste the sauce because it didn’t cover the mound of vermicelli on the plate. All of that being said, the pork was so tender, juicy and just perfectly seasoned. I must say that Plated really knows how to do a pork marinade. That’s 2 for 2 for us!

So in sum, here’s what we learned this week:

  • We love roasted vegetables.
  • We love marinated pork.
  • Plated offers generous portion sizes and we should break them down into three or four portions if need be.

I wouldn’t count on getting three or four portion sizes every time you order two plates, though. Instead, think of it as a bonus and just be mindful when plating.


And now, for this week!



*Another Plated week for us! Get your first two plates free (minimum order of four plates) by clicking my referral link here! To read my Plated review, click here.


  • Monday – Another Meatless Monday! Ricotta Gnudi with Aspargus Peas and Mint from Plated.
  • Tuesday – Having some girlfriends over for dinner. I’ll be making this Greek Turkey Casserole (thanks to Racheal’s suggestion!). For dessert, I’ll be making Easy Homemade Mango Frozen Yogurt, based off this recipe.
  • Wednesday Basil Beef Bowl with Quinoa Stir-Fry from Plated.
  • Thursday – Our Anniversary! You’ll probably find us here. But it is Dining Out for Life night, so it would be probably more appropriate to dine at a restaurant that supports the cause.
  • Friday – TBD
  • Saturday – TBD
  • Sunday – TBD




I wanted to share a Yoga Downloads deal I got the other day: Just $18. Yes, you can find lots of free yoga apps online. I just need a real routine and to start from the beginning to go back to where I was pre-back surgery. Plus there is a lotincluded. I think it’s going to be #worthit. Trying it out this week!

  • Monday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 6, Day 1
  • Tuesday –Recumbent Bike/Yoga
  • Wednesday –RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 6, Day 2
  • Thursday –REST
  • Friday –REST
  • Saturday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 6, Day 3
  • Sunday – Recumbent Bike/Yoga

Dessine-moi un mouton…


Sophie & Shamrock Saturday

When Sophie starts to look like the sheepdog that punches the time clock in the cartoon above, we know she is overdue for a grooming.


Returning from the groomer, she looks like a completely different dog. When people see her fluffy, they ask if she’s gained weight. When they see her just after being groomed, they ask if she’s lost weight. I guess, technically, she has.

We like to call our post-groomer-visit Sophie Jean our “little goat.”

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But truthfully, she reminds me of the little sheep from The Little Prince.

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“Dessine-moi un mouton…photo 4

What do you think?

If you have a pet, do they resemble another animal sometimes?