Magic Hat #9

In the last of my series for National Beer Drinking Day, I am highlighting one of my all-time favorite beers.  My friend Kelly introduced me to Magic Hat #9 on a July afternoon about 9 years ago.  I had just started a new job and the happy hour crew was out to celebrate.  My love of IPA’s was immediately transformed when I took my first sip of this “not quite pale ale” – and what an awakening it was!


Rather than a shin-kick of hops and bitterness, #9 is a beautiful ale made with 2 kinds of malt, Cascade and Apollo hops and a hint of apricot.  That’s right, I said apricot – if you don’t have a well-developed palate, you’ll be searching your mind and tongue for that ingredient with every sip.  This beer is light and refreshing, but heavy on flavor.  You almost get the mouth feel of a heady pale ale, but it goes down smooth like a light beer or wheat.  It’s crisp and slightly fruity, but not at all sweet.  If someone doesn’t like hoppy beer, chances are they’ll fall in love with #9 – sounds like the love story from a James Bond movie, right?!

While it used to be hard to find, you can now get Magic Hat at many grocery stores and bars and restaurants.  Imagine my delight when I found #9 in 16-ounce cans at a local golf course and at our concert venue – jackpot!!  Pair this beer with just about anything, but it goes amazingly well with a charcuterie platter and cheese assortment.  You’ll think you’re drinking wine the way the flavor is enhanced by different foods.  Try a little crusty bread with camembert and dried apricot and listen to #9 sing with that one.  Check them out in your area or find out more online at


Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy

Traveler Beer Company was first introduced to us 4 years ago while we were living in Minneapolis.  Being in the backyard of Leinenkugel’s, I was plenty familiar with a shandy. While I enjoy a great number of the lemon varieties on the market today, most breweries make these a little sweet for my taste.  Ever take frozen lemonade concentrate and mix it in a pitcher with 6 light or wheat beers?  There, I just taught you how to make your own shandy year-round!  Seriously though, I need a little more depth of flavor and less sweetness.


Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy is a great brew with a melody of flavors in a lighter beer.  Pour this one in a glass to get a look at it’s beautiful light amber hue, cloudy enough to know you have some hefty malted barley and wheat.  The aroma gives you a good sense of the wheat, but also a hint of the citrus.  Lightly hopped, the citrus flavor of lemon and lime stand on their own and lend a a crispy taste without being sweet – thank you!!  With 4.4% ABV, you can enjoy a few with dinner or plow through a Saturday of golf without getting actually plowed!

Lemon Shandy goes with almost any food, but I love it paired with peel-and-eat shrimp or a great BBQ chicken thigh.  You won’t go wrong with cheese doodles as far as I’m concerned.  Enjoy this at home or tailgating and camping as you can usually find it in both bottles and cans for easy cooler packing.  You can find out more about their great beers and Vermont-cool beer gear at

Schlafly Grapefruit IPA

I know it’s a shocker that I write about an IPA with citrus notes since that’s one of my favorite beer combinations.  However, this tasty brew from St. Louis has a ton of character and offers a good punch of grapefruit without being “fruity”.


Schlafly brews their Grapefruit IPA with the pulp of the fruit mixed in with the wort (early stages of beer when grains are steeped and malt added).  The result is a great floral aroma and a good dose of flavor.  With the addition of Cascade and Citra hops, there is a great blend of hops and citrus to really let the beer shine without punching you in the mouth with bitterness from either the hops or fruit.  The end result is a an all-day IPA that you can enjoy at a game, cookout or watching your favorite sports.  At 5.0% ABV and 40 IBU it’s not going to render you useless after a couple – or a bunch!

Pair these suds with all kinds of foods, but I’m going with a cajun snapper and corn salad combo this evening.  You can pick up Schlafly in your local store or at their two restaurant/taproom locations.  With five year-round beers and some great seasonal selections, there’s a taste for everyone.  To learn more, visit their website at

Scalloped Potatoes With Crispy Shallots

Growing up my mom always made scalloped potatoes that came from a box and tasted like the freeze-dried potatoes and fake cheese they were – sorry mom!  I honestly never really liked them much, but came to like good scalloped potatoes and various versions of potato casseroles through my adult years.  I came up with this easy recipe that gives a creamy salty casserole a little punch from some crispy oniony/garlicky shallots.




  • 3-4 Lbs. Russet Potatoes
  • 1 1/2 Cups Half and Half
  • 2 Tsp. Salt
  • 2 Tsp Black Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Romano Cheese
  • 4-5 Shallots, Thinly Sliced
  • 2 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 Tsp. Sugar


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Peel potatoes and slice in 1/4-inch slices on a mandolin or with a knife.
  • Grease a 2-quart baking dish and cover bottom with a single layer of potatoes.  Pour 1/4 cup of half and half over potatoes and then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Top with 1/8 cup of cheese.
  • Continue this process with six successive layers of potatoes, half and half, seasoning and cheese.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 375 degrees.
  • While baking, melt butter in a saucepan and add thinly sliced shallots.  Sprinkle with sugar.
  • Cook shallots, stirring occasionally, over low heat for 30 minutes or until brown and slightly crispy.  When finished, set aside.
  • Remove foil from potatoes and return to a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender, bubbly and slightly browned.
  • Removed from oven and evenly coat top with crispy shallots.
  • Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

I recently made this recipe with grilled pork chops, but it is excellent with beef, chicken or some crispy breaded fish.  You’ll love the nuttiness of the romano cheese while not being overwhelmed with a ton of stringy cheddar or other variety.  The shallots also add some depth of flavor and a little texture to this creamy spud casserole.  And trust me, it’s way better than the box stuff your mom used to fix!

Creamy Dill Dip

There are countless tailgates and holidays in the coming months and there will undoubtedly be an equal number of veggie trays.  Despite my love of all things bacon-and-cheesy, I do enjoy and appreciate fresh vegetables and a really good dip.  Disappointing though are the prepared dips you find in the store.  They lack the right consistency and enough flavor to really keep your interest beyond ranch dressing.  My wife’s family has been making this creamy dill dip recipe for as long as she can remember and it is absolutely the favorite wherever we take it!




  • 16 Oz. Sour Cream
  • 16 Oz. Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 2 Tsp. Accent
  • 2 Tsp. Dried Minced Onion
  • 2 Tsp. Dried Parsley
  • 2 Tsp. Beau Monde Seasoning
  • 2 Tsp. Dried Dill
  • 4-6 Drops Hot Sauce


  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix sour cream and mayonnaise until thoroughly combined and smooth.
  • Add all other ingredients and mix until evenly distributed.
  • Chill at least 2 hours and serve.

There might be a lot of ingredients for just a dip, but you will definitely not be disappointed in the outcome!  Serve this with your favorite raw vegetables.  I also can’t get enough of pretzels and even chips dipped in the famous “dill dip”.  Either way, I can guarantee you’ll never buy store-made vegetable dip again.  Dig in and enjoy!!

Jerusalem Mediterranean Restaurant – Myrtle Beach, SC

When you think of vacation/beach cuisine, most people dream of crab legs, endless piles of shrimp, fresh fish and the like.  We’ve enjoyed a lot of that in Myrtle Beach, but found a new favorite “beach dinner” spot at Jerusalem Mediterranean Restaurant last night!  If you love Middle Eastern food you’ll find some of the best I’ve had at this beautiful family-owned place.  With a new building, beautiful and spacious interior and occasional live entertainment (think traditional and modern belly dancing) you’ll find it a perfect spot for a date-night or a large party of family and friends.  I love the colors, feel and shadow boxes full of pottery.  You’ll immediately be whisked away from coastal Carolina and off to the Middle East!

There is an ample selection of cocktails, beer and wine at the bar.  While we didn’t have drinks tonight, there were some interesting choices.  The menu is a good size with a fine mixture of starters/small plates, traditional fare and wonderful-smelling tagines.  Abandoning any sense of healthy, it’s vacation after all, we settled on the Jerusalem Combo Platter.  The lightly fried treats from falafel to kibbeh to potato wontons were perfectly cooked, well-spiced and delicious.  It’s hard to beat any of these crispy treats dipped fresh tahini!



For dinner we split the kabob – a traditional mixture of spiced ground beef and lamb grilled and served on saffron rice.  This was absolutely the best we’ve ever had!  The crisp grilled outside sealed in a perfectly pink juicy inside.  It’s a large portion and almost too much for a single person to eat – good thing we split it!  Dinners are also served with warm naan bread cooked in their tandoori oven and a selection of chef’s salads of the day.  Let me tell you, these aren’t a side-thought, they are like bright little firecrackers of flavor to brighten the main attraction.  Spicy garbanzo beans, Israeli salad, soft warm curried carrots and creamy cool dill sweet corn were tasty and amazing compliments to the kabob.



Honestly, I can’t think of a single improvement I would make at Jerusalem.  Take a right where most people go left and you’ll end up with one of the best meals you’ll eat at Myrtle Beach.  When you see the family and friends of the owners interact with each other you’ll know for sure there’s love in this food!  Check out their website at  Brush up on your belly dancing skills and dig in!!

Tupelo Honey Cafe – Myrtle Beach, SC

You don’t often find me writing reviews of chain restaurants because most people have exposure to places they can find everywhere.  When we stepped into Tupelo Honey Cafe, we had no idea they had about a dozen locations around the southeast.  And let me tell you, this place is anything other than ordinary mass-produced food!  Their focus on locally sourced ingredients with beautiful southern dishes offer a twist on many classics.

This restaurant offers a ton of seating, indoor and out, with a full bar and ample large tables for groups.  The atmosphere feels more like a small southern kitchen though with comfortable chairs, soft lighting and a warm color palette.  There is a large local beer selection and some great craft cocktail choices.  After settling on a Westbrook IPA, brewed in South Carolina, we ordered the SC Pecan-Encrusted Goat Cheese.  Warm and creamy as you spread it on toasted bread, the cheese is complimented by a mixture of figs, grilled apples and pimentos.  We loved every bite!

Warm buttermilk biscuits are brought to your table before dinner, but won’t last long after they’re smothered with blueberry compote and buttery honey.  The small plates and dinner choices are vast and varied.  My wife settled on Cackalackie Pulled Pork with a tangy vinegar-y mustard BBQ sauce.  Served with fried onion straws and house pickles, she loved the creamy rich baked mac-n-cheese and roasted brussels sprouts.  There wasn’t a bite on that plate that either of us didn’t love.  I chose the Carolina Mountain Trout seared with brown butter – a huge filet with great texture and crispy edges.  My basil sautéed green beans and eggy Appalachian corn souffle were outstanding and Sunday-supper-feeling.



The only regret here is that we didn’t get to try more!  The menu definitely will have us coming back again.  Banana Pudding served with fresh whipped cream and crumbled vanilla wafers was an awesome treat we brought home to enjoy later in the evening.  I highly recommend visiting their website and checking out where you might find them on your next trip around the southeast.  You can find them here at  Mostly, just find them and dig into a taste of the south!

FireLake Grill House – Minneapolis

On a recent visit to Minneapolis we spent a night at the Radisson Blu at the Mall Of America.  Given a fun weekend of the State Fair, grill-outs with friends and probably a little too much indulgence all the way around, we were ready for a quiet light dinner.  Luckily, the FireLake Grill House in the Radisson Blu was close and offered a ton of options.


Modern and rustic, the atmosphere is warm and comfortable.  There’s seating for small parties and large groups, but it all seems to fit together perfectly.  The aroma of wood-grilled meat and sweet cornbread swirled as we sat in a puffy leather booth.  The menu is pretty extensive heavy on the grilled/smoked meats.  There are beautiful small plates and salads as well with a focus on fresh local ingredients.  We started with the Chicken & Minnesota Wild Rice Soup and Heirloom Tomato & Buffalo Mozzarella Salad.  Both were some of the best versions we’ve ever had!


Looking for lighter options for dinner, we ordered the Minnesota Salad (a wonderful blend of greens, bacon, corn, cranberries, tomatoes and rotisserie chicken) as well as the Asparagus Risotto (with asparagus, roasted tomatoes, herbs & mushrooms).  The fresh ingredients really were stars in these dishes.  Carefully crafted combinations created by the chef gave you mouthfuls of summer and happy bellies.  If those weren’t enough on their own, the CornBread Skillet made with heirloom polenta and served with honey butter made from their own bee hives on the hotel roof was a special treat.


Everything coming from the kitchen looked ridiculously good!  I can’t wait to make another trip and get my hands on there 12-hour smoked brisket and a bourbon on the rocks.  Whether you’re near the Mall Of America or in downtown Minneapolis, you should make it a point to have brunch, lunch or dinner here!  You can take a look at their menu at

Hanky Panks

Much like its “frisky” name, these spicy cheesy sausage toasts will light a little fire in you! I often get requests for appetizer recipes that are easy for someone to take a bite and go.  These hanky banks are hearty, delicious and sturdy enough to grab one and mingle with your drink vs. standing around a chip and dip bowl or carrying a plate around.  Prepare these in a large batch and freeze to keep them handy for parties or a quick appetizer with drinks or for unexpected company.  Kids and adults both will love them!




  • 2 Lbs. Lean Ground Beef
  • 1 Lb. Mild Pork Sausage
  • 1 Lb. Spicy Pork Sausage
  • 1 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tsp. Dried Oregano
  • 32 Ounces Velveeta, Cut Into Chunks
  • 2 Loaves Light Party Rye



  • In a heavy pot, brown ground beef and sausage along with garlic salt, oregano and pepper flakes.  Drain meat throughly.
  • Place meat back in pot and add chunked Velveeta.  Stir over low heat until cheese is melted and mixture is smooth.  It will be thick, but should be able to stir.
  • Remove from heat and spoon roughly 1 1/2 Tbs. of mixture onto each slice of party rye.  Place each finished rye bread on cookie sheets until all bread and mixture is used.  Put cookie sheets into freezer for 20 minutes until they are frozen or at least solid enough to stack in gallon freezer bags.
  • Bag in servings of one dozen and freeze until ready to use.
  • When ready to serve, place frozen hanky banks on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees until they are bubbly and slightly browned.  Serve immediately.

It never fails to please a hungry crowd when you bake up a few dozen of these spicy snacks.  They’re perfect for football season and holidays or basically anytime you have no awareness of calorie count!  If you have an aversion to spicy food, feel free to use all mild sausage and/or eliminate the red pepper flakes.  If you want to make these in smaller batches you can also halve this recipe.  However, if you’re going through the process, I highly recommend making the full amount – your family and friends will love them!!

Tortilla Roll-Ups

I love a good party and even more so love great party snacks!  Appetizers can fall into a rut of traditional dips and platters of veggies.  I love small bites so I have TONS of great take-and-eat appetizer recipes.  Try this recipe for perfect southwest bites – it might just be a hit for your picnic today or a party in the near future!  Either way, I’m sure it will be a new favorite to add to your go-to recipe box…

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  • 1 Package Large Flour Tortillas (10)
  • 3 8-Ounce Bricks of Cream Cheese
  • 3 Tbs Taco Seasoning
  • 5-6 Green Onions, Chopped
  • 1 Small Can Chopped Green Chiles, Drained
  • 1 Cub Shredded Cheddar or Colby Jack Cheese
  • 1 Jar Salsa (for dipping)


  • Set out cream cheese to come to room temperature.  Place in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth.
  • Add taco seasoning and chiles and mix with mixer until incorporated.
  • Add green onions and cheese and thoroughly mix with hand mixer.  Use a spatula to scrape sides of the bowl and make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • With a spatula, spread cream cheese filling in a thin layer (about 1/4 inch) on each tortilla and then roll up.  This amount of filling should cover 10 tortillas.
  • Place rolled tortillas in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to firm up.
  • Cut ends off of chilled rolls and then slice into 1-inch slices.  Arrange on a platter by themselves or around a small bowl.
  • Serve with your favorite salsa for dipping.

These small bites pack a lot of flavor and provide the right combination of creamy and spicy.  Want to kick it up a notch?  Try using pickled jalapeño instead of green chiles.  Don’t like taco seasoning?  Try using ranch dressing mix.  There’s a lot of possibilities and all of them will be crowdpleasers.  Dig in!