Category Archives: Des Moines Dining

Hy-Vee Dish: Happy Hour for the parent set

I’m not sure what it says about my life that the Hy-Vee “Dish” freezer meal workshop I just attended was fun and exciting, but it kind of rocked my world. (Well, nobody got me tickets to the  Beyoncé Formation World Tour!) My friend Kate from babysitting co-op got together 15 women for a Monday night happy hour situation and we all left with 10 meals (four serving each) for under $150 – and no cost to attend.

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Our workshop was from 6-7 p.m., which was perfect timing to take advantage of the Hy-Vee Market  happy hour before we started in on our meals. My grandpa always used to write recipes with “Step 1: Pour a drink,” so I felt right at home. The packaging itself happens in the market cafe, too, and you can bring your beverage right over. (My friend’s jaw dropped when they gave her a bill for just $4 for two local brews. Good deals. Or she’s just cute.)

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The Hy-Vee staff (shout out to Jenn and her team at the Valley West location) did all of the shopping/chopping for us before the event, and each meal had a prep zone with all of the ingredients, instructions, measuring spoons, labeled bags – everything. You just don an apron, gloves, buddy up and measure and dump.  The ingredients were high quality, and whatever is left over you can arm wrestle your friends to take home.

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There’s a variety of meal options, so Kate was a genius and invited us all to a Facebook event and posted the options as a poll, so we could vote for our favorites. Here’s what we took home:

  1. Chicken Pad Thai
  2. Southwest Marinade Steak
  3. Party Chicken
  4. Firecracker Grilled Salmon (super excited about this one!)
  5. Honey Garlic Meatballs
  6. Baked Ziti
  7. Chicken Asada Fajitas
  8. Crockpot Italian Beef
  9. Chicken and Dumplings
  10. Orange Chicken Stir Fry

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I brought my sister-in-law and caught up with my friend Kimberly at the Chicken Pad Thai station. Then, once all of the meals are prepped, they divvy them up for you and you just pay at the register.

I could totally see organizing one of these as a great “stock the freezer” party for a mom-to-be, with everyone chipping in to buy her portion of the dinners. I could also see a group of dudes doing this, or a couples date night thing with a bunch of friends.

Really, just, everyone with a mouth – if you’re the kind of person who uses the slow cooker on the regs, sign up for this. Hy-Vee always manages to make grocery shopping fun for me, and they really outdo themselves with the Dish event. I think you can get a group together and call to schedule a workshop, but certain Hy-Vees also have them on their events calendar.

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An evening on the town

Date nights are few and far between. It felt so, so good to enjoy a night out together.

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Joe got us tickets to see one of my favorite bands, The David Wax Museum, play the Temple Theater as a Christmas gift, and I’ve been excitedly counting down.

We started the evening with tapas, churros and a bottle of red wine at Lurra Cocina, with a view of the Sculpture Park.

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{ENSALADA REMOLACHA – roasted beets, farro, fresh goat cheese, shallots, sunflower seeds, and a sherry-sunflower oil vinaigrette}

The Temple is honestly not my favorite venue, because I like to be up and dancing, but Des Moines Performing Arts obviously treated the band well, which is important. I love the sincerity in The David Wax Museum’s music and (maybe it was the wine and hormones), but I teared up once or twice.

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Total DSM Moment – we were seated right next to Jay Byers, the CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. We geeked out over the fabulous POLITICO article “How America’s Dullest City Got Cool” that just came out.

I got Suze’s new lullaby album (they take their 2-year-old daughter on tour with them!) at the merch table and was a total fangirl and asked for a photo.

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We left our kids with his sister and brother-in-law, and they were so worn out from playing with cousins that they mercifully slept in. Tonight we’re swapping and watching the cousins overnight. There will be five under the age of six. Wish us luck!

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Des Moines Dates: Strudl Haus

Ever since I’d heard about the Austrian restaurant Strudl Haus opening, I’ve wanted to try it. My tastebuds were craving the flavors we experienced on our Austrian honeymoon in 2010, and I’d heard it was a delightful spot.

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This morning, Joe and I decided to take advantage of Emmett’s playdate and make a day-date for brunch, with baby carrier in tow. What a difference five and a half years can make in a marriage! While we aren’t currently in a position to book a flight to Salzburg, it’s a mini-escape to hop on Indianola Avenue for a taste of Europe on Des Moines’ near south side.

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The small, sunshine-colored cafe opens into a compact dining room of unexpected elegance. A case of pastries catches the eye as you walk in – convenient if you’re just swinging by for a simple breakfast or dessert treat.

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We navigated the narrow room and took a seat in the burgundy-upholstered back booth, where we were quickly greeted. The crowd was an mix of couples and families with well-behaved small children who seemed excited about an after-Church treat.

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For starters, we split Nutella crepes, and for brunch I opted for the omelette with sausage and Joe went for the Strudl Haus eggs (served over easy and smothered in hollendaise sauce). The food was delicious, but the little details – like the coffee service on silver trays and petite chandeliers on the ceiling – made the meal feel special. We reminisced about all of the food we enjoyed on our honeymoon, and were in-and-out in about an hour.

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The spot impresses me as super-versatile — as perfect for a weekday morning coffee and croissant as I imagine it would be for one of their more expensive themed wine dinners. Since Strudl Haus specials change frequently, it would be smart to check their Facebook page or call to see what the weekly offering may be. Prost!

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Super fancy summer drink

OK, totally not fancy at all, but a refreshing staple on muggy summer nights:

Ice in a glass + carlo_rossi_sangria_1
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You can try the ratio that works for you, but I typically do half-glass Sangria, 1/3 glass juice and spritz of Fresca. Super fancy cocktail hour.

Favorite spots in Des Moines for Sangria: Stam Ingersoll secret garden, El Patio, Dos Rios.

I haven’t been to Malo yet, but I’m sure it would be on the list.

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Weekend recap

Finally: A long weekend that actually felt like a long weekend! And not a moment too soon, as I’ll be going back to working Fridays with my new gig. My mom and aunt flew in from Chicago on Friday afternoon and left Sunday evening, so we had lots of time to both be productive and relax and try to make Emmett giggle.

We went straight to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden from the airport and had lunch at Trellis, the new cafe by the talented Lisa LaValle.

20140228_134313Our plates were a bright contrast to the snowscape out the window, and the chance to walk around in 50% humidity and 80 degree temps was just what I needed headed into more freezing weather.

Friday night, I ditched the fam for my ladies’ book club. Seriously such a great group of women. I think we met for more than four hours, and discussed the book for maybe 20 percent of the time. Our next read is The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I enjoyed The Namesake, so I’m looking forward to this.

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Saturday, we ran a few errands, which included popping into Stitch to get a few more fabrics for a quilting project my mom and I are collaborating on. I joked on Instagram that we were having a mother-daughter stripping session this weekend. (Gross, sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

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We love to get Jethro’s carryout when they visit because two of the “Dinner for Two” selections is enough for four adults to eat a hearty dinner with enough leftovers for lunch the next day. Emmett definitely approved. He wasn’t into meat before this, but loved himself some smoked, pulled chicken.

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(I gave him plain corn, but if you’ve never had Jethro’s jalapeño creamed corn it is ridiculously good.) Thankfully the meat didn’t shock his little tastebuds too much and he still ate his typical sweet potato dinner the next night.

While the ladies crafted and the baby slept, Joe worked on our beadboard banister project, which we’re hoping to complete before E figures how to crawl forward. He’s been scooting backwards and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. He also started to take some steps when we were “walking” holding his hands. Eeek. We have a long way to go before our house is baby-proof.

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Sunday afternoon we made a batch of pretzels – our second in as many weeks. Joe and I made them for a Downton Abbey “picnic dinner” last Sunday from Alton Brown’s recipe. They turned out awesome:

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Joe made the dough, which is the hard part, but I got into the dunking-in-boiling-water bit. We ate them with queso because we’re real fond of “light” dining options. 

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A fancy $10 dinner in Des Moines

Don’t you love finding “hidden gem” spots? I used to stumble upon a lot of great places in my Juice magazine reporting days, but it’s been awhile. This week, I got to experience the amazing dinner deal at the DMACC Culinary Institute. Students prepare and serve what might just be the fanciest $10 three-course meal in the metro at the Bistro. (The Culinary Institute is on the DMACC Ankeny campus in a conference center building. Reservations are required.)

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We hosted the  “I Have a Dream” mentor appreciation dinner at the bistro on Wednesday night, and it was a great place to provide the kids with training in good table manners. We were able to have a semi-private area partitioned off and Tyson from Dardis Communications put together a dining etiquette program for us. Even I learned something new: Apparently you’re supposed to spoon your soup away from you? Can’t take me anywhere.

The etiquette focus also meant I couldn’t spend the evening snapping photos of the gourmet food. I’ll have to use my words to convince you. We started with a garden salad that featured a decoratively cut deviled egg and fresh shredded carrots, onions, peanuts and other goodies atop a bed of various greens. I ordered pork osso bucco, which arrived terrifically tender on a plate pooled with a rich, brothy gravy. On the side were a white (jasmine?) rice and carrots cooked with cinnamon. The dessert was cheesecake or a berry pie. Our group didn’t order wine, but it’s available for $5 a glass.

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Quite the menu for $10, I’d say! The ICI also has options for lunch and a $90 gourmet dinner, which I’ve heard is quite the experience.

The dinner itself was delicious, but for me, the occasion was bittersweet. After the last bite of cheesecake, I let my Dreamer friends know I’m starting a new job in March. I hate goodbyes, but I know that because I live in the neighborhood, I’ll continue to see the students.

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The Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation has opened up the Des Moines community for me. I’ve met some really great kids, mentors, board members, donors and community partners through my work. I’m excited for my next adventure!

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Des Moines Dates: East Village Hipster edition

Driving downtown on Saturday night, Joe and I realized how long it’s been since we’ve been out — sans baby. I almost opened the sun roof and howled at the moon. Really, I checked my phone every five minutes to make sure I didn’t have any texts about baby meltdowns.

Some friends offered to watch Emmett, and we hemmed and hawed about what to do on a kid-free night. We’ve been wanting to try Louie’s Wine Dive, which is nearby, but the news that I have to cut out dairy for awhile made me not want to go anywhere that would cause me to lust after menu items I can’t have.

So instead we decided to do a totally hipster East Village date: Dinner at the vegan New World Cafe followed by drinks at Up-Down, Des Moines’ new “barcade.”

My handsome date, about to challenge me to the “Iowa” course on Cruis’n USA:

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I wouldn’t say that New World Cafe exudes romance — it’s really more of a lunch spot — but it was fun to try something new. The menu here changes weekly and is influenced by what’s available seasonally. Joe got the East Walnut Street Burger: a walnut-veggie-quinoa patty topped with pickled veggie slaw, tomato jam, parsley-cashew “aioli,” arugula and sunflower sprouts. I ordered the Mexican Bowl: a mix of grains, beans, roasted potatoes & yams, veggies, avocado and green herb salsa. It came topped with a  smoky cashew “cheese” that gave the dish that melty flavorful finish I come to rely on (too much?) from the real thing.

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We were both worried the meal wouldn’t be filling, but it was nice to not feel overstuffed after dining out — and I didn’t feel the need to make myself a midnight snack!

Up-down was packed; it definitely feels like the new hotspot. We got an invite to the preview party, but it was while Emmett was in the hospital after his surgery, so had to miss out on being the cool kids who get first dibs on skee ball. But I did beat Joe for our first best-outta-three round! (Those are not our scores below.)

Are you following Up-Down on Instagram?

Are you following Up-Down on Instagram?

I grew up being terrible at video games — totally move the controller with my hands instead of pushing the buttons. And at public arcades, I mostly had to pretend to play because my parents would never give us quarters. Up-Down was offering double tokens before 8 p.m., and all games are just one token, so we got to play quite a bit on $3. My go-to games are skee-ball and pinball, and we hit up those, but we both became mildly obsessed with Burgertime.

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You basically run around trying to assemble burger patties before little fried eggs and hot dogs kill you. You can destroy them by throwing salt on them or plopping a bun/lettuce/patty on top of them. It’s totally sophisticated.

We have a few friends we do informal babysitting trading with, but Joe and I also joined a local babysitting co-op that uses an online point system to track sits. It’s a nice alternative to having to pay a sitter, and when you request a specific date everyone gets e-mailed with the option of picking it up instead of you having to make individual asks. One of the women from the co-op lives just down the street from us, so it’s introduced us to some new neighbors, too!

P.S. What’s the going rate for babysitters these days? 

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