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While on vacation in Seattle, we went out to dinner with my brother and his family. He chose a place named Jak’s Grill which is located in Issaquah Washington. We arrived about 20 minutes before they opened, and there were already some people there waiting. As opening time got closer, more people starting showing up. My brother said that if you come later, there is a very long wait to get in, and they didn’t take reservations.
When they opened, we quickly got a table. We started with appetizers of stuffed shitake mushrooms, and also garlic mashed potatoes. Both of these were delicious. The rest of the table with the exception of my niece shared a couple bottles of wine. I don’t drink wine, so I ordered a Coke, or a Pepsi, only to be told they had RC Cola. RC Cola? I took the RC Cola, but didn’t drink a lot of it. I never figured out why a place that serves such wonderful food, then serves it with such a foul tasting cola! RC Cola sucks!
For dinner, I ordered the filet mignon. Oh man, it was so good! I have never had a better filet mignon, and I have tried many others! Jak’s filet mignon just melted in my mouth!
When I got home from vacation, I set about to figure out how to make filet mignon like they had at Jak’s. Over a two week period, I made filet mignon for dinner about 10 times. I have to admit that many of the nights, I only prepared a single tenderloin, instead of two as the costs were adding up. My wife was getting tired of filet mignon. But after many tries, many of which were good, I hit upon a recipe that came very close to the filet mignon at Jak’s Grill. Here it is:

Steak Butter aka (aka Maitre d’Hotel Butter)
1/2 Cup butter (softened at room temp)
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tsp. (3-4 cloves) garlic, blanched, and minced
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. parmesan cheese

Blanch garlic by placing unpeeled garlic cloves in boiling water for 5 minutes then peel – garlic a milder, smoother flavor.
Mix all ingredients in a food processor (or bowl). Form into a log, and wrap in foil or parchment, and refrigerate. Melt over steak or filet mignon.

Filet Mignon almost like Jak’s Grill
1 approx. 8oz beef tenderloin filet per person
olive oil

Filet Mignon is very easy to make. Buy beef tenderloin filets at your local grocery store butcher. Generally one 8oz fillet person is good. Leave filets out on counter about an hour to warm up to room temperature (don’t leave em out TOO long though).
Brush filets with a light coat of olive oil. Sprinkle them with salt & pepper. Grill filets, turning frequently, until center reaches 130 degrees.
Serve on warm plates. Melt Steak Butter over filets.

Here is a recipe for Garlic Mashed Potatoes similar to what I had at Jak’s Grill:

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
1 lb potatoes
1 Tbsp. butter
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 Cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Slice potatoes into cubes. In a large pot, cover potatoes with cold water. Heat on high until water begins to boil. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook for 15 minutes.

Melt butter in small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Using a garlic press, crush garlic, and add to butter to saute for 2 minutes. Add cream, and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring ofter to prevent burning. Add salt and pepper to cream mixture.

When potatoes are done, drain off water, and then mash with masher. Add cream and garlic mixture to potatoes, and mix well. Serve.

Yield: 2 servings
Note: recipe can easily be doubled.

When I was a kid, my family drove across country from Seattle to Pittsburgh and back again every two or three years. We visted many tourist traps, but my favorites were around the Rapid City area. And there are just so many of them. I think this maybe the largest concentration of tourist traps in the United States.

If you are in the area, you have to visit Mt Rushmore, which is basically a government sponsored tourist trap. It is really is cool seeing it in person. On one visit, I actually took a helicopter ride and flew over and around Mt Rushmore.

In the area is one of my all time favorite tourist traps named Cosmos. Cosmos is a place where the laws of physics are supposed to be all out of whack. You stand in a building, and you are leaning. Tall people are shorter, and short people are taller, water flows up hill, etc, etc. It’s basically one big optical illusion, but still a lot of fun. I have been to a similar tourist trap in California named The Mystery Spot.

Another tourist trap is Rushmore Cave. It is a cave you can go through that is filled with salactites, stalagmites, and other cool cave features. This cave is cool, but I like Lewis And Clark Caverns in Montana better. But then those aren’t near Rushmore.

Reptile Gardens was a family favorite! This place has reptiles of all kinds! Snakes, turtles, and all kinds of other stuff. I have a picture in an album somewhere of my grandmother with a giant snake wrapped her. I remember a glass dome filled with tree that you could walk through. And there were snakes of all kinds hanging from the branches above you.

Another one of my faves as a kid was The Flintstones Bedrock City, in Custer, SD. This place features full size mock ups of Flintstone cars, houses, characters. I still have a pictures of my family with our faces shoved in the holes in plywood scenes, replacing the faces of the Flintstones. I know the place is cheesey, but it was fun.

There are many other tourist traps in the area. Just watch for signs, billboards, and pamphlets

A couple years ago, my wife won a free trip for two to Las Vegas as a door prize at her company’s summer picnic. Included were the flights, and accomodations at Caesar’s Palace. Since the trip wasn’t costing us much of our own money, I decided I wanted to try one or two of the celebrity chef restaurants in Las Vegas. I began studying, and reading menus, and decided on Delmonico’s Steak House which is located inside the Venetian. Emeril Lagasse is the executive chef. I figured that Emeril probably wouldn’t actually be there since he has restaurants all over the place, and a TV show, and books, and well, etc.
We decided to take my dad, and his wife to dinner, so I made reservations for four. Afterwards, I started worrying about a dress code. I hadn’t packed a suit or anything, so I called them to check the dress code, and they said casual was fine. Later I started worrying that the restaurant might be more expensive than I had even imagined. So we walked down to the Venetian, and I checked the menu that they had posted out front. The prices were in line with what I thought.
We arrived a little before our reserverations, and we waited in a little area in the front of the restaurant. We didn’t have to wait long before it was our time to be seated. There was a guy and a girl and they bought us to our table, and pulled out our chairs for us. They then unrolled our napkins, and placed them on our laps for us. We ordered drinks, and browsed the menu. I ordered a cola as I am not a wine drinker.
My wife and I ordered a Caesar Salad for two. I ordered the Bone In Rib Steak which was about $45 by itself. My dad’s wife and I split an order of Delmonico’s Potatoes. And I also ordered the sauteed garlic mushrooms. The captain of the waiters came over and prepared that salad table-side from scratch. And it was very very good! The rib steak that I had was probably the best steak I have had in my life. The sauteed garlic mushrooms were good. I unfortunatly didn’t care for the Delmonico Potatoes, and neither did my dad’s wife. Otherwise, all that food was great. Everyone enjoyed themselves. It is a night, and a meal that I will always remember!

On a driving trip from Rochester, NY to Dallas, Texas, and back, we stopped for the night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I had prebooked rooms evenly spaced out along our route. This night we were staying at a Super-8 motel. We hadn’t eaten, so we were going to check into our room, dump off our stuff, and then head off to find food. When we are away, we try not to eat at restaurants that we have at home. So we avoid the generic McDonalds, and Burger Kings. We will however try other fast food chains such as Sonic, or Chick Fil-A that we don’t have at home.
When we got into our room, I found a little card advertising a place called Dreamland BBQ (5535 15th Avenue East, Tuscaloosa, AL 35405, 205-758-8135), and said they had award winning ribs. I like ribs. There was a rough little map on the card, so I memorized it, and we jumped into our car, and headed off. I pictured the map in my head, and we followed the road, but we didn’t find this Dreamland BBQ place. So we turned around, and started considering alternatives. Then I saw a side road which had a name that I remembered from the card. So we turned down the road. This took us through an industrial area. Then we came to another road which had a name that sounded familiar so we turned down this road. Pretty soon we are dringing through a residential area. Then we came upon Dreamland BBQ. The building looked a bit ramshackle. We questioned whether we wanted to eat here. But being adventurous, we decided to give it a shot. The inside was kind of dark. The walls were covered with pictures, and license plates. There were Christmas lights draped from the ceiling, and this was June. We look at the menu, and the choices were relatively limited. We ordered a full slab of ribs. They brought out the ribs on a plate. They also brought out a plate of sliced white bread, a bowl of Dreamland BBQ sauce, and a roll of paper towels. We tried the ribs. Oh man, were they good! Pretty soon, we are just chowing down. We also took time to look at the stuff on the walls. There various news clippings, and letters about famous people who had eaten there. The sauce didn’t seem spicey hot, but the more ribs we ate, the more we started to feel the slight tingle of the hot spices on our lips. It had an interesting delayed spicey heat that never got too hot. Soon, we were sopping up the sauce from our plates with the bread. These ribs are the best I have ever had. When I got home, I did a search, and found a BBQ sauce recipe that came close to the real thing.

Almost Dreamland BBQ Sauce

1 can (28 oz.) tomato puree
1/3 cup yellow mustard
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

In large saucepan, whisk together the tomato puree and mustard until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm.

Making The Ribs

Pork Spare ribs

There is a thin membrane on the back of the ribs. Use a knife to peel up corner, and peel off as much of the membrane as possible. Slice into sections of 3 ribs each. Bake in oven at 325 degrees for 1 ½ – 2 ½ hours. Finish on grill if desired. Slice into single ribs. Drench ribs into warm BBQ sauce, and place on plate. Pour sauce over ribs. Serve along with a plate of sliced white bread (for dipping, and wiping up sauce), and a roll of paper towels.

Round’em Up! Take the Family on a Modern-Day Cattle Drive Vacation by Peter Shannon

Looking for a rewarding and memorable family vacation idea? A cattle drive may be just the thing. We’re talking about real ranchers on real working cattle ranches. Ranch vacations are a good way for them to help support the ranch. But it’s not all business with them. They want to share their way of life and educate people about a quickly disappearing aspect of our American history and culture.

Don’t worry if you’ve never sat in a saddle before. Sure, some riding experience is helpful but the activities are geared for whatever skill level you have. All the ranches provide horse riding instruction for anyone who needs or wants it. .

In general, the more experience you have, the more you can expect to get into the thick of things on the cattle drive. Less experienced riders put in the back or at the sides. But that doesn’t mean you will be bored. There’s still plenty of action and hard work for everyone.

Yes, I said hard work. This is not a lay-about-on-the-beach vacation. But that’s the idea. You work hard and you play hard. This is a chance to tackle unique challenges in a fun and adventurous way. A cattle drive vacation can be a rewarding experience, particularly for children. It’s a tremendous opportunity to build their self-confidence and self-esteem.

You can typically expect to spend between 4 and 10 hours a day in the saddle. This will most likely mean a little discomfort but the rewards are worth it. Just be sure to bring a long pain relievers for muscle aches and antibiotic cream in case of a saddle sore or two.

Some ranches have cabins or lodges where you sleep at night. Others put you in a tent on the trail. Some will even have you sleeping out under the stars.

Besides cattle drives you can also participate in real cowboy stuff. You can help sort and brand the cattle. Learn roping. Check out the fence lines. And it’s not all work and no play. Relaxing around the campfire, playing cards, pitching horseshoes or some good old-fashioned saloon dancing.

Every ranch has a different program so check them out for what suits you and your family. Whatever ranch you choose, I think the whole family will be challenged and have a heck a lot of fun too.

About The Author

Peter Shannon is the owner of Here you will find a large collection of vacation and getaway ideas for travelers searchable by theme and location.

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