Superlative: Most Delicious

I met my two best friends in the 6th grade. I will never forget our first interaction together. Jenny and Kelly had already been friends since they were itty bitty, and I came later. I can honestly say that we had almost nothing in common, but we managed to hit it off right away…well not right away. Kelly and I met through our families who happened to share a mutual friend and vacationed together. We were also both cheerleaders. Kelly because she looked hot in those teeny skirts and me because I could lift 100 pounds above my head without a sweat.

Let me paint a little picture of the three six graders we were.

I was a jock. I cut my own bangs on a weekly basis until I literally had a buzz in the bang area. I typically wore short-sleeved, button-down, collared shirts, unbuttoned to show my even looser white Fruit of the Loom undershirt or a T-shirt with some silly sayings on it. I always rolled up sleeves like James Dean minus the biceps and cigarettes, and I wore school-appropriate hemmed jean shorts and some kind of athletic sandal with ample amounts of unnecessary Velcro. Thank Heavens I was funny otherwise I would have had zero friends. Superlative: Most Humorous

Jenny, who I knew very little about at the time, was cute. She had dimples, a plump and naturally pouty bottom lip, fine blonde hair, long skinny legs, and big feet in comparison to her tiny little body. She always kept us guessing on her clothing. One day she wore sunny yellow shorts and a sassy white tank with Birkenstock sandals, and the next she busted out a partially spandex blue plaid sundress and tennis shoes and socks. She was not afraid! Superlative: Nicest

Then there was Kelly (insert in music from the scene of a movie where the hot girl comes walking down the hallway holding her books and all the boys stop in their track to look at her). She came right out of the elementary gates with a gorgeous, developed body, long, bouncy hair that she never had to “do” and always fell directly where it would had someone placed it while doing a photo shoot. She looked all too much like Alicia Silverstone during the release of Clueless. I mean she could bat her eyes are the hottest guy in school, and he was hers. Superlative: Most Attractive

Recess at our middle school was going into the bus lot and socializing. I remember looking up the hill everyday and seeing Jenny sitting alone on the curb just waiting for the subpar recess to end so she could get back into being Teacher’s Pet. One day Kelly and I were hanging out, and I asked “What’s up with your friend Jenny up there?” We decided to go and chat with her. She was wearing tight little skinny jeans in 1993 and an American flag hoodie. I do not mean one with an American flag on the front. The entire thing was printed like one giant American flag. Instantly Jenny was defensive. I can imagine questions like “Why is hot friend hanging out with aggressive jock? Why is aggressive jock pretending to be nice to me? What the heck is the deal with aggressive jocks bangs? Can’t hot friend explain to aggressive jock that buzzed bangs are just plain creepy?”

Needless to say, I grew on her; she has been by my side for every major event in my life. There is a bond between the three of us that nothing can break. To this day, we are all completely different people, in different places in our lives, with different believes but with one thing in common. We all three love each other unconditionally.

The best way for us to have expressed this love was via our high school rings. Well, I can think of a dozen more practical, less expensive, more fashionable ways not but in 1999, this was our way! We were all three about to go to separate colleges. Kelly got into UGA (brat! She was hot and smart), Jenny decided on West Georgia and I opted for University of Tennessee (Go Vols!). We knew we could stay connected with our high school rings, and we would wear them FOREVER or at least until the middle of the summer after our graduation. For me, this was actually an accessory upgrade. Jenny, Kelly and I decided to have “JKM” engraved on the inside of all of our rings. The cool thing about these rings is how personal they could be.

Just the other day, I found my nerdy husband’s class ring in my parent’s basement (yes- you are not crazy…that IS a weird place to find your husband’s class ring). I was excited to bring it home to him to put into his memory box. When I got it home, we both pulled out our rings and looked at them. Mine had the Norcross Blue Devil on one side and a golf emblem on the other since I was proudly a member of the Varsity golf team for four years (flashback to shaved bangs, hemmed knee length jean shorts and Velcro sandals). The golf team didn’t do a lot to increase my non-jock, feminine stance. Ugh…once a jock, always a jock. I showed Blake the “JKM” on the inside. Then we looked at his. His had the same Norcross Blue Devil on one side and wait for it….Yosemite Sam on the other side. “Blake, why Yosemite Sam?” I just knew there had to be a good story to back this up, and I was dying to hear it. “Everyone had to get Yosemite Sam on one side,” he told me. “Um, baby, why would anyone, much less everyone be entitled to having Yosemite Sam on their high school class ring?” The room went silent. I looked at Blake trying to figure out what in the world would lead him to this horrible and random decision. “I don’t know babe, I just don’t know.” It was one of those times that the conversation simply had to end with no explanation. Superlative: Most Likely to be Talked about Behind Class Ring Saleman’s Back (“Dude, I totally just convinced that guy to get Yosemite Sam on his ring- hahahaha.”

Anyway, the whole point of this story was to lead into this delicious recipe that Kelly’s mom introduced to us. Jenny and I call Kelly, Fankee (long story-whole different blog post). Her mom made this pasta for us one night when Kelly was visiting from NYC. Jenny and I absolutely fell in love with it. Her version is vegetarian, yet another example of our extreme differences (Exhibit F- Beef section of the blog). I like to add chicken or shrimp. It can be pricey so here are my tricks to bring down the price.

– Get the pine nuts from Costco. You will have a ton of them but they are so good to add into pasta, quinoa, salad, casseroles, etc.

– Get 10oz of spinach from the grocery store ‘price by weight’ salad bar. It is light and is about half the price as the spinach in the salad section.

– Grow your own tomatoes. 🙂

– Since you use the entire container of feta, get the ones that are marked for quick sale. They normally do that when they have three days before sell by date and you will use it all that night.

Swanky Fankee Pasta

Serves 6

Swanky Fankee Pasta

Ingredients:

  •  10 oz. spinach
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 6 tbs. olive oil
  • 4-5 tbs. pine nuts
  • 7 cloves minced garlic
  • 12 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • 6 large plum/roma tomatoes sliced
  • 1 lb. penne pasta

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta while sautéing other ingredients so noodles are hot when you mix
  2. Melt butter with 2 tbs. olive oil in a large sauté pan
  3. Sauté pine nuts and garlic for 5-8 minutes or until pine nuts are slightly toasted
  4. Add spinach and tomatoes , sauté until spinach is completely wilted and tomatoes are very soft
  5. Pour mixture over drained pasta
  6. Immediately Add crumbled feta and 4 tbs. olive oil
  7. Stir thoroughly and add some salt and pepper
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Forever Disqualified

Blake and I love the show Chopped on Food Network. When Lottie was in the “she-is-cute-to-look-at-but-does-absolutely-nothing” stage, we always looked forward to cooking dinner. We had tapped out our baby staring-o-mometers and we needed something else to entertain us. We cooked every night. Soon, we became bored with that  as well. One night when we were engaged in the highlight of our week, the new episode of Chopped, it hit me! We can play our own version of the show.

For those of you who are not familiar with the show. Four chefs from around the country compete in a culinary challenge. Each of them are given a “mystery basket” filled with four ingredients. They are given a short limit of time to create a restaurant-worthy dish to present to judges. The worst dish gets “Chopped”, and the remaining chefs move to the next round until there is one winner.

“Foster Chopped” is a little different. At first, Blake and I competed. He gave me a basket, and I gave him one. We made one small plate each, and made honest judgement and against one another. This form of “Foster Chopped” was ended abruptly when I almost put my precious “cute-to-look-at-but-does-absolutely-nothing” infant in the ER.

Blake opened his basket, and I treated him with flank steak, black beans, gnocchi and grapes. He hit me with Kielbasa sausage, pineapple, peanut butter and habenero peppers. At the time, Blake and I were living in a condo on the lake. Outdoor grills were not allowed so we had an indoor grill pan. Definitely more dangerous. I envisioned myself creating an Asian grilled meal with Thai peanut sauce. I just knew I was going to win.

My plan was simple: heat up the grill pan and start grilling. I always saw the likes of Emeril and Bobby Flay grilling up pretty much anything. They always found a way to get that delightful char on the outside of their peppers. I was going for this. The sausage, coated in its Asian style marinade, went on without a hitch. I cut the pineapple into unique shapes just to show off. “Boom” they hit the grill. On to the peppers…

I decided to skewer a few of them. I knew that Habeneros were hot peppers, but I didn’t know how hot. After skewering them up, I tossed them on the hot grill pan inside our less than adeqautely ventilated condo. I immediately turned to finish my peanut sauce ensuring I make every item in the mystery box a stand out. Within 30 seconds, Blake and I were tearing up and coughing, and Lottie went from a peaceful siesta to a screaming rage. I thought for sure we had been gassed. It was the end of the world. This wasn’t just happening to me, but to everyone in the world. “What do we do? Where do we go? Hold your loved ones tightly people.”

“Meredith, are you serious?” I heard my passive and overly kind husband say to me with an unheard of brusque tone. At the time, I am still running through my memory book, and I am cupping my palms over my sweet girls air passage ways to protect her from the deadly fumes. Blake raced over to the grill pan, turns it off, takes my skewer of peppers to the deck and promptly tosses them into the receeding water levels known as Lake Lanier. He walked back in coughing and grabbed Lottie from my arms. He grabbed my hand, nearly ripped my cooking shoulder square out of the socket and guided our little family upstairs and out the front door.

In my still oblivious mind, I am picturing my neighbors racing out their doors in a panic from the world-wide gassing. I was shocked to see it was just Blake, Lottie and me. I peek over at Blake who is looking into our helpless infant’s eyes to make sure she is ok. She is calm at this point. He looks up at me. His look is abnormally unplesant. “Are you serious about grilling whole Habeneros with the seeds?” he asked me in a belittling tone. I peek behind him, then behind me hoping to see others evaucating. Still just us. “Bobby Flay grills peppers all the time,” I say as I run through my Boy Meets Grill Episode schema hoping to picture him grilling a hot pepper. All I see in my mind of memories is green pepper, red pepper and poblano….nothing hot. “Whoops” I say to my disappointed husband and zoned out infant. I knew I had really messed up. The house was a danger zone. Blake went in to turn on the fans and open the windows. I followed him in thinking for sure things would be fine by now. SIX HOURS later, we were able to return to living within the walls of the condo.

From this point on, I have stayed out of the kitchen. I opt for shopping, finding deals and creating challenging mystery baskets for Blake to prepare. I am forever disqualified from “Foster Chopped”. Blake on the other hand has made some amazing dishes. Here are the recipes from the highlights of each basket.

Last week he was given:

Trout
Brazil Nuts
Brussel Sprouts
Apple Sauce

Boom!!! He busted out Bacon Wrapped trout on jalapeno-apple grits and sauteed brussel sprouts. It was amazing!

Chopped Round 1

Bacon Fried Skin-On Trout

Ingredients:

  • 2 skin-on trout filets
  • 4 slices bacon
  • Pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder/salt

Directions:

  1. Pat the trout dry with paper towels.
  2. Season the trout on both sides with a little salt, pepper, and garlic.
  3. Place 2 slices of bacon on each trout filet on the side without skin, covering the filet.  Bacon should be trimmed to evenly cover the trout in a single layer, let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Heat a saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat.
  5. Place the trout bacon side down in the oil, it should sizzle.
  6. Cook until the bacon is cooked through and a crispy golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.
  7. Flip the trout and cook skin side down in the bacon grease until crispy and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

The next night he was given:

Pork Chops
Potatoes
Apricots
Pimento-Jalapeno Cheese

He created Pimento Cheese scalloped potatoes with a saffron, yes real saffron, cream sauce, fried pickles and okra and grilled pork chops with apricot compote. Really dude? How awesome are you?

Foster Chopped Round 2

Fried Okra and Pickles:

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pinch of pepper, garlic powder/salt, cayenne, and paprika
  • 12-16 okra halves
  • 4 pickle spears
  • Oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Mix eggs and milk with a pinch of salt, garlic, cayenne, and paprika.
  2. Place okra and pickles into the egg and milk mixture and toss.
  3. Mix flour, panko, 1 tsp salt, pinch of pepper, garlic, cayenne, and paprika.
  4. Place the soaked okra and pickles into the flour mixture(let excess liquid drain), and toss.  Let sit and set up for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Heat oil to around 375 degrees, until a okra piece really bubbles and sizzles when it is dropped.
  6. Drop the okra and pickles and let fry until they are floating and are a deep golden brown.
  7. Remove the okra and pickles onto a plate or in a bowl lined with paper towels and let sit for 2-3 minutes before eating.

Apricot Balsamic Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 3 Diced Apricots
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter

Directions:

  1. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan.
  2. Add in diced apricots and brown sugar, stir.
  3. Cook mixture until it is nicely browned and set, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. When the mixture is cooked and the pan is nice and hot add in the balsamic vinegar, it should sizzle and simmer rapidly.
  5. Let the sauce cook together and reduce by about 1/3rd.  Add more balsamic if it gets too reduced or thick. 
  6. Serve over meat of choice.

For the final night I thought Blake deserves a really tough basket. I gave him:

Filet Mignon
Mushrooms
Anchovies
Nacho Cheese Doritos

He created Grilled Filets with Caesar Broccoli and zuchini stuffed mushrooms topped with crushed Doritos.

 Dorrito Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 8 mushrooms caps
  • 1 slice bacon diced
  • 1/2 zucchini and/or squash julienned (cut into thing strings like pasta)
  • 2 tbsp crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos

Directions:

  1. Hollow out mushroom caps, drizzle lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, set aside in a pan lined with olive oil.
  2. Heat diced bacon over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add julienned zucchini and cook with bacon until entire mixture is browned, about 4 minutes.
  4. Spoon zucchini and bacon mixture into mushrooms.
  5. Preheat oven to 375.
  6. Place mushrooms into the oven and cook until they darken and moisten, about 6 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle crushed dorritos over the mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  8. Serve hot.

Food and Meredith Sittin’ in a Tree

I want to preface this post by saying that this may be a little more serious than most of my overly-adjectived blog stories. Typically after making what we feel like is a blog worthy dinner, we discuss a story that leads into or makes us think about the recipe at hand. Before we know it, the recipe is in the shadows of a funny experience. So I will disclose, this post may lack humor, but it won’t be sad either. It is simply allowing you as a reader to get to know a little bit more about me and perhaps understand my healthy relationship with food. Feel free to scroll past personal story to killer, healthy, Weight Watchers “Anything Marinade”. No offense will be taken.

Chapter 1 of 1:

I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. I won’t say I was a fat kid because I wasn’t. I attribute that to my endless energy and hand-eye coordination. I know what you are thinking…”What does hand-eye coordination have to do with not being fat?” Well, in my opinion, if you are 12 and under and live under the same roof as a PE teacher with insane natural athletic ability, an avid golfer of a dad and an incredibly competitive brother who has the ability to become a professional in whatever sport he begins to play, and you add hand-eye coordination into the mix, you are bound to burn a massive amount of calories in your day-to-day schedule. This was me.

It wasn’t until high school when I began to drive that I began to have an unhealthy relationship with food. Food became the center of my world. I constantly thought about what meal was next, where it was from and when I was going to eat it. I will admit that my family can cook a great meal. My mom cooked for us all the time and when dad cooked, it was something southern… I mean white gravy-white biscuit-deep fat fried southern. Don’t worry, this has not been eliminated, but it is no longer a weekly treat.

My great-grandmother, Lottie, (yes that is where my Lottie’s name came from) and her husband Bob owned a restaurant in High Point, NC called River Road Inn. Though my brother, my cousins, Jeff and Brad, and I (zero percent chance that comma use is correct) never had the chance to truly experience River Road, it is a big part of our lives. We have lived stories our in our heads that have been told in detail by our parents. We cook with the cast iron pans that were used in the kitchen there. This place was a landmark. If you talk to anyone who lives in Greensboro, High Point or any of the surrounding areas  and are between the ages of 50-70, they will know about the River Road. The will know that they paid minimal money for the best fried chicken, whole flounder, hamburger steak, hand cut french fries and homemade apple cobbler in the world. It was here that my daddy learned to cook this delicious food that I fell in love with.

My life revolved around food in a bad way for a long time. Each morning on my way to high school, I chose between two breakfast options: 1/2 dozen chocolate donut gems and an Orange Fanta from the BP station if I was running late or a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and a Coke from the Magnolia Bakery Cafe if I had time to run in somewhere and wait on a hot meal. Most of the days, either of these meals didn’t touch my hunger level, so I would run through the school cafeteria to top off my stomach cavity and make sure I was uncomfortably full. Next was school lunch. I was in school when the cafeterias were much less nutritionally-conscience, and even if a healthy food was offered, I steered clear. I would leave school and my addiction to food would kick in again. I was a tomboy-hippie, so I didn’t care much about my body. Most of my hippie skirts were elastic-waisted and floral coated so I could be a size 2 or a size 20 and people would see me the same. Almost daily, I pulled through the McDonald’s right off of our campus and ordered a combo meal and ate while driving my friends to their houses. This cycle continued, and I left for the University of Tennessee in 1999 at a weak 175. I am 5 foot 3.

To not bore you with the details, I gained more than the freshman 15. By the end of 1999, I weighed over 200 pounds. I will never forget the day I went to my obgyn, and he showed me that I landed in the extremely obese category. I was 19. It was then that I decided to change my life. I moved to Colorado, focused my life on the outdoors, ate only when I was hungry and became healthy. After a few years I moved away from Colorado to Wilmington, NC where natural activity was lessened. Any guesses for what happened? Gained weight again……. (fill in several life experiences and give or take a few 20 pound weight fluctuations).

I met Blake (when I was 170), and we fell in love. We decided to get married…. Any guesses to what me and my unhealthy relationship with food did? Virtually stopped eating anything besides steamed vegetables and raw fruit for six solid months to look “beautiful” (aka skeletal and boney) in my wedding photos. Ugh looking back, I wish I looked like me, healthy Meredith, and not Skeletor in my wedding photos. I weighed 204 in 1999 and 104 in 2007. Hello unhealthy!

After we got married and I had Lottie, I feel like I have developed a healthy relationship with food. I accredit that 100% to Weight Watchers. I think Weight Watchers is a lifestyle, not a diet. I do not count points, though I would in a heart beat if I got above my comfortable weight. It works. I have seen a huge change in my friend Sean who has lost 65-70 lbs since November 2011, redeveloped a relationship with exercise and met the woman of his dreams. My mom who is shrinking away by the day and numerous other friends who have created healthy relationships with food with the help of Weight Watchers.

My mom and I have talked WW all summer. We are really into it. Tonight she introduced me to the most simple and wonderful marinade for salmon, pork, chicken, steak or tofu. She calls it the “Anything Marinade”. It is delicious and only adds 0.25 points to any meal.  We used it on Salmon where we would normally use a brown sugar based marinade. It was awesome!

The “Anything Marinade”

“Anything Marinated” Salmon

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. Mix ingredients
  2. Marinate chosen protein
  3. Baste protein with excess
  4. Enjoy!

Thai-ing The Knot

Blake and I honeymooned in Thailand. It was beautiful, romantic and much more than I ever imagined. It was a long trip, but we would both gladly make it again to be in such a unique place with friendly people. We had the most wonderful and extravagant cabana all to ourselves. We felt like modern-day movie stars.

We didn’t do too much touring, but we did ride elephants, play with monkeys, made curry with all ingredients from the jungle and ate many local dinners and lunches. All of the tours and excursions were fun and we felt fairly safe EXCEPT the zipline tour. Needless to say, I thought our marriage was going to be a short one. At many points on this zipline tour, I was completely sure our lives together were going to begin and end in Thailand.

When we arrived back at our hotel, we had Authentic Spicy Basil Chicken to celebrate not dying. For the whole story, continue past the recipe and keep reading. It was quite a day!

Spicy Basil Chicken

Serves 4

Spicy Basil Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 Bunch Thai Basil (at asian market, not normal basil)
  • 2 Bell peppers
  • 1 Vidalia Onion
  • 2 Jalapeno pepper
  • Small handfull of sesame seeds
  • 5-8 Cherry Tomatoes (optional)
  • 2-3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
  • 1 lb. Chicken breasts
  • 1-2 tbsp low sodium chicken stock
  • Sesame Oil

Directions:
1. Deseed and dice jalapeno peppers or leave in seeds for more heat
2. Cut bell peppers and onions into desired size and set aside
3. Cut cherry tomatoes in half
4. Cut up chicken into desired size (1 inch long strips or so) and set aside
5. Heat 2 tbls oil in wok (1 tsp sesame oil if available)
6. Add onions, peppers to wok and saute for 5-6 minutes
7. Add cut up chicken to wok or large pan and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until white edges start to form
8. Turn up heat, add sesame seeds, and continue to stir fry, add drops of sesame oil (regular if no sesame) as needed to keep from sticking
9. Once everything is sizzling loudly and starting to get a fried color add chicken stock and soy sauce in small amounts to create moisture and steam as needed (this is not a very wet dish it should be moisturized but mostly dry)
10. Continue stir frying
11. Add pulled basil leaves, halved cherry tomatoes
12. Add lime juice, shrimp if using, cherry tomatoes if using and turn heat to low or off while continuing to stir fry with remaining heat
13. Let sit for 2-3 mins stirring ocassionally and serve over rice. We always like to add a fried egg to our meals.

Honeymooning in Thailand was like being on a bipolar vacation. Within the walls of the resort, it was magical. The staff, dressed in their pristine uniforms, stopped and bowed at us as we walked by. After walking through a lobby of luxury, we passed several pools overlooking a crystal blue ocean. The property was lined with lush green plants, orchids and simple trickling natural streams of water which enhanced the sounds of paradise. After meandering down the most beautiful path, we engaged on our personal gate which enclosed the most romantic and private cabana steps away from the gently crashing waves.

We arrived to a bottle of delicious champagne on the lip of our own personal pool whose surface was covered in local flowers. I literally felt like I was in a story book. I opened my 10 foot glass french doors and walked across the mahogany hardwood floors and fell face first onto a pile of rose petals on my four-posted king sized bed wrapped in the freshest, 1000 thread count white sheets my body has every made contact with. Blake brought a special bottle of wine for me, but I didn’t have a glass. He pressed “0” on the phone, mentioned a wine glass and before he hung up, a polite gentleman was at our gate with a crystal wine glass on a tray waiting for my arrival. Story book…I know.

We settled into our cabana with a dip in the pool, a few chapters in my easy-to-read Nicholas Sparks’ book and a midday nap in the previously mentioned extravagant sheets. After a well worth it 26 hour travel day, we were pretty tired. Unfortunately when we woke up it was 4:30 am Thailand time. Hmmmm…. we had to figure out how to kill an hour and a half before the obnoxious breakfast buffet opened.

I could get used to this.

We decided to walk in the ocean as at low tide in front of our resort you could walk a mile toward the horizon and only become knee-deep in water. It was a wonderful time in our memory book. When we returned, the buffet was opened. We walked up the stairs to the open air octagonal dining room surrounded with ocean views. Before entering, we were greeted by the staff. We were presented with every fresh fruit on the island upon a bed of crushed ice, waiting to be chosen to be our juice of choice for the morning. I typically chose watermelon and lychee and Blake opted for kiwi and mango. We waited briefly while our fruit was transformed from one state of matter to another. 

The juice bar

Needless to say, we were living a dream. If people hadn’t noticed my abundant freckles, 5 foot 3 frame and bushy eyebrows, and people hadn’t noticed Blake’s asymmetrical face, narrow backside and knob knees, one may have mistaken us for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Wait….I just got a little caught up in the dream.

Anyway, the bipolar begins when we stepped outside the front door of our resort. This doesn’t mean that Thailand was not nice outside the doors, it was just a different world. A world of Muy Thai boxing where boys aged 10-18 beat the ‘you know what’ out of each other on a homemade wrestling ring, with a non-educated referees who were more into  a good fight than keeping the children safe. The likes of blood, saliva and teeth were flying everywhere. My vision of a honeymoon night: looking at stars and having Chardonnay on the shoreline. Blake leaned more towards Muy Thai and Red Bull and Vodka. I guess he won 1/14th of the time. This was a night to remember. Romantic….not so much.

Date night under the not-so-romantic lights of Muy Thai Boxing

One afternoon, we decided to go for a walk around the island. It was scary but memorable for sure. Along the way, we were convinced by a nice local fella to book a tree top zipline tour. “This seems fun” we thought. He told us he would pick us up at 8:00 in front of our resort. Since we were rising at 6:00 most days, 8:00 seemed perfect, plenty of time for a pre zipline nap and consumption of local fruit juice.

7:30 am hit, and we had finished our overly extravagant breakfast, walked passed several bowing staff members who knew us by name at this point, jumped over the flowing waters that encompassed the lobby and waited on the bamboo chairs by the breezeway where guests were picked up for such tours.

Blake and I watched as several European couples were whisked away for their jungle tours, beach tours and waterfall trips. Each couple being picked up in a white vans or buses with very authentic logos decorating the sides. 8:10 rolls around and all of the other parties have been picked up. Blake and I begin to think we booked the wrong day. In the distance, we see a small 1990 Suzuki Sidekick ripping down the gravel drive. The vehicle is so small that the dust from the gravel covers the windshield.

“Beep, beep, beep!” Blake and I look behind us thinking for sure the 15-year-old driver is coming to pick his girlfriend up from the night shift on duty at the resort. We continue to sit, waiting on our white van with an authentic logo. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” Blake and I both instantly look behind us to see who this local teen was honking at. Said teen approaches with his hand out saying “you Mr. Bake? Bake? Mista Bake?” I turn to my new husband and make the “there-is-zero-percent-chance-I-am-getting-in-the-Suzuki-with-this-child” look at him. He looks at me and passively says to the teen, “Yes, that’s me.” My feet concrete themselves into the luxurious lobby floor as I grip onto the bamboo chair. The whiteness in my knuckles tells Blake that I am not on board, but he and his non-confrontational ways grabs my hand and pulls me towards the two-door, logoless Suzuki. “Get in” the local teen says as he pushes the front seat forward for us to load up. Blake jubilantly jumps in the back, reaches for my newly blinged left hand and looks me in the eye for what I thought was going to be the last time.

Twelve miles of careless, bumpy, off-road driving later, we arrive at anything but a licensed and insured zipline tour. The teen straps on our harnesses and pulls out his Nokia flip phone. After exiting the home screen which was decorated with a naked woman with blonde hair and delicious fake breasts, he began to give us the ziplining “demo”.

He flipped up the screen and began to play a self-made video of himself and his friends doing this zipline tour. This was our safety video/training. Then he let us strap into a non-name brand harness and “practice” ziplining on a 6 foot wire where our feet still hit the ground. Training complete. “Let’s go” he said.

Notice our ride in the background

Hesitantly,Blake and I climb up a tree 75 feet on a homemade ladder to a homemade platform to stand and overlook Thailand before we delve into what I think it my adventurous honeymoon death. I pictured Monica Kauffman on Channel 2 Action News saying “Two newlyweds from Atlanta ziplined to their death yesterday in Thailand. The company was a group of teenagers who were attempting make a few extra dollars. The fled the scene. One was found with a local prostitute in a pub and the other three are still on the loose.”

If I had only known how to slow down

Pretty far fall

Blake commits and follows our non-english speaking, adolescent leader who gives us hand signals to instruct us. He makes it safely to the next platform. I am so in love with my husband that I drop as well. I did not understand the sign language instruction which told me to use my hand to slow down. Instead I went full speed into an off brand spare tire which was attached to the tree for”cushioning”. Yeah, that’s going to be a bruise. Aside from the direct danger we were in, the views were to die for. We did snap a photo hoping those who found our bodies would see that we were happy in the moment.

A moment where to pros outweighed the cons

We got the hang of it and went from platform to platform. We landed in the middle of the course when I noticed that there were no ladders along the way. It was zipline to the end or jump 150 feet to the bottom of the jungle. Miraculously, but we made it to the end. ‘Teenage ring leader’s mother’ was waiting for our arrival with juice boxes and fresh lychee-esque fruit to curb our appetites. We ate, spoke different languages, smiled and I gripped Blake’s hand until my knuckles where white as we drove back to our little “Yuppie Paradise”. I took a deep breath as I arrived back at my cabana. Needless to say, the staff knew to follow me with a wine glass and a bottle of the finest chardonnay. For the next two hours, I relaxed by my personal pool (vacation bipolar at it’s best).

I told Blake that for dinner I wanted a classic. Spicy Thai Basil Chicken. We went to the city and had ourselves some local cuisine. Every month or so, I ask Blake to recreate this meal for me. It always reminds me how precious life is. For this reason, we always grow our own Thai Basil. Life is good and Thailand is my favorite place on Earth. Enjoy a recipe from our memory book and celebrate the fact that Monica Kauffman is still not familiar with our names.

Life is Sweet

I can be your GYRO baby.

My personality is a bad combination of an always prepared, clutter-hater. When Blake and I cook, I always want just the right amount of food. I don’t like a lot of tupperwares in my fridge with small portions of sauces or toppings that will sit there until the night before trash day when I chuck it into the trash can in my over-purging. This over-purging leads to another grocery trip to “stock up” so we always have what we need. Then, the fridge gets too full again, and the purging starts back over. See the cycle? It never ends, it’s wasteful, and it makes Blake crazy.

Blake had the idea to make Gyros and Greek salads the other night. Instantly, I pictured too many pepperoncinis, extra pita breads, a one third used red onion, extra green pepper slices and a head of partially shredded lettuce sitting in my fridge for three days before being thrown away on trash night, but I REALLY wanted the Gyro and Greek salad.

Then it hit me….Subway- home of the most delicious and soft flat breads and all of the necessary ingredients for the Greek salad offered as free toppings. I walked into the Subway where I was going to have the most practical sandwich ever created before my eyes, while saving a lot of money and a lot of wasted left over ingredients.

“May I please have a foot long veggie patty sub on flat bread?” (Side note- veggie patties from Subway are the very best I have ever had)

“Toasted?”
“No thank you.”
“Cheese?”
“No thank you.”
“Just tomatoes, cucumbers, pepperoncini, green peppers, olives and red onion. No mayo or mustard, no oil and vinegar.”
“Easiest sandwich I have ever made, ma’am. That will be $5.13. Have a nice day!”
“You too! Thanks.

Problem was totally solved. We spent less than half of what we would have spent on all of the components, and had just the right amount of toppings for our Gyros and our salad. I also had two veggie patties for lunch in the following days.  Well played Foster, well played.

We used Alton Brown’s Gyro meat recipe. It was not simple, but it was definitely doable for a beginner cook. You just need the time and a food processor. This was an awesome learning experience for me. To be honest, I never knew exactly what gyro meat was. I actually just thought it was a cut from a lamb, not an actual loaf of sorts.
       
We also grilled our Romaine lettuce for our salad. I am in love with the unique taste and texture of a grilled Romaine heart. Haven’t tried it? Do it tonight!

The Meat by Alton Brown

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped or shredded
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried ground rosemary
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Tzatziki Sauce, recipe follows

Directions

  1.  Process the onion in a food processor for 10 to 15 seconds and turn out into the center of a tea or paper  towel.     
  2.  Gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed.        
  3.  Discard juice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  4.  Return the onion to the food processor and add the lamb, garlic, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and pepper and process until it is a fine paste. one minute.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  5. Stop the processor as needed to scrape down sides of bowl.                                                                                                                                                                        
  6. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  7. Place the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press into the sides of the pan.                                                                                                                                 
  8. Place the loaf pan into a water bath (we just put water in a casserole pan and then put the baking pan in that water) and bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the mixture reaches 165 to 170 degrees F.                                                                                                                                               
  9. Remove from the oven and drain off any fat.                                                                                                                                                                                       
  10. Place the loaf pan on a cooling rack and place a brick wrapped in aluminum foil (we just used unused cans of chicken stock in a loaf pan) directly on the surface of the meat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees.                                                     
  11. Slice and serve on pita bread with tzatziki sauce, chopped onion, lettuce, cucumbers tomatoes and feta cheese.

Tkatziki Sauce by Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces plain yogurt
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 mint leaves, finely minced 

Directions

  1. Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint.

Grilled Romaine Salad

Ingredients

  • Romaine Hearts cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • salt and peper to taste
  • desired toppings

Directions

  1. Brush lettuce with olive oil
  2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  3. Grill on medium high until slightly charred.
  4. Quick tip: if you like crunchy and charred, freeze lettuce for 20 minutes before grilling.

My Saturated Fat Costs How Much?!?!?!

Wendy’s makes me so mad. If I am going to consume a generous amount of saturated fat, sodium and sugar, I expect it to be cheap. Blake and I always treat ourselves to fast food on road trips. Wendy’s used to always be in the running for our choice of meal. I absolutely love the Chicken Club with bacon and mayo only (picture of health, right?), and Blake loves the option of chili for dipping his sandwich. The last time we went to Wendy’s the lady on the other side of the static-laden speaker said, “That will be $20.09, please pay at the first window.” I politely ask her to repeat herself as I was sure the static had interfered with that total. “That will be $20.09, please pay at the first window.”

Needless to say, against Blake’s pleading for me not to, I told the kind lady that we would like to cancel our order, and I moved onward to the next saturated fat jungle. Blake gets so mad at me when I change my mind on things at the last minute based on price.

The one that makes him the most mad is when we decide to shop at Whole Paycheck Foods. I absolutely love Whole Foods. I love the way they set up the produce with such design and pattern. I love the crushed ice where the fresh fish are displayed, I love the free floating wine selection, and I love the olive oil tasting bar. Not to mention, the deli guys always seem to be incredibly good looking with their tattooed forearms and wide ear piercings. For all of these reasons, I always find myself loading my basket and heading toward check out. It is almost guaranteed that every time I round the corner past the salad bar and fresh baked breads, I begin doing the grocery cart math in my head. $5 for this plus $8 for this plus $17 for this plus $3.50 for this…… $75 for one meal! Blake glances over and sees the color in my face quickly fading. Instantly, he takes the cart, begins putting all of the collected groceries back on the shelves and tells me he will meet me at the car. Off to Kroger we go.

One day, one of the women on my tennis team told me about Luciano’s, a small yet elegant Italian restaurant near my house. I was anxious to go. Blake and I walked up to the door and it looked beautiful. I opened the door and saw the dreaded white tablecloths. Don’t get me wrong, I love white tablecloth restaurants, but not with my 3 year old who has no concept of volume when speaking. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a take out menu….Bingo! Blake went in and ordered us two sandwich and sides, and we waited to pay. “That will be $16.16” the beautiful and polite hostess said. Being that there was no static to interfere, I simply assumed she had not done the math correctly. I asked her if that total was correct and she printed me a receipt showing me that she had in fact computed the total correctly.

Here I stand in a beautiful restaurant with an open grill, granite top bar, fresh herbs growing in the foyer and chefs in white coats, paying $4.00 less than I would at Wendy’s.

This little experience led us to the creation of our dinner last night. Luciano’s makes an Italian Chicken BLT. It is on Ciabatta bread with a pesto aioli and pancetta instead of regular bacon. They serve it with house made truffle and Parmesan potato chips. Blake recreated it last night with home cut truffle french fries. It was amazing!

The Sandwich

Image

Ingredients

– 2 chicken breasts

– 2 ciabatta rolls
– 6 slices of pancetta, cut thick
– lettuce
– tomato, home grown when possible
– 2 tsp pesto aioli
– italian seasonings and salt and pepper to taste
 
Directions

1. Slice rolls
2. Slice tomatoes into sandwich sized slices
3, Cook pancetta (cook just like you would regular bacon)
4. Season chicken with a little salt and pepper and Italian seasoning of choice
5. Grill chicken
6. Grill bread
7. Put a layer of aioli on both slices of bread
8. Add chicken, then stack with tomato, lettuce, and pancetta
9. Cut the sandwich in half and spear the two halves together with a toothpick or skewer
 
The Aioli
 
Ingredients 

 
– 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
– 1 1/2 tbsp premade pesto
 
Directions 
 
1. Mix two ingredients
 
French Fries
 
Ingredients
 
– 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut
– Frying oil of choice
– Pinch of truffle salt (this can be expensive but lasts forever. We get ours at William Sonoma)
 
Directions
 
1. Peel baking potatoes, or leave skin on if you like skin on fries
2. Slice your potato into french fry sized slices, or use a mandolin for quick and perfect sized fries
3. Heat oil to 350 degrees and drop in 1 potato worth of fries
4. Cook each set of fries for 8-12 minutes depending on desired doneness
5. Remove fries and place in a bowl lined with paper towels
    (Fries can be fried a 2nd time for extra crispy, or one time for more mushy fries depending on what you are going for)
6. Repeat for each potato
7. Sprinkle with a few pinches of truffle salt and toss, serve immediately

Once Upon a Time in Mexico…

Going to a Mexican restaurant is always something I have done for Blake. I don’t like the smell of the frying tortilla chips, margaritas or the taste of melted cheese. I don’t mind cheese slices or cheese platters, I just don’t like it melted. The hard part is I love Mexican ingredients, tomatoes, beans, cilantro, cumin, corn, etc.; I just don’t like the saucy and cheesy execution.

The last time I was “taking one for the team” at a Mexican restaurant, Blake and I were waiting at the bar for our table. In this particular restaurant, the kitchen door was right next to the bar. Blake and I were engaged in a conversation when something caught my eye. I noticed one of the employees carrying a 5 gallon paint bucket. As he walked behind the bar to grab a dish cloth, he set down the bucket. Guess what was in the bucket? LARD, 5 gallons of it. Needless to say, we didn’t wait for our table, and we left determined to use the amazing ingredients that Mexican food offers in a lardless way.

The cool thing about this dish is it’s versatility. You can top it with avocado

Disclaimer: I do love seeing all of the new trendy, fresh Mexican restaurants popping up all over the place. They are a whole different ball game.

Black Bean and Chicken Casserole

Serves 6

Black Bean Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced (more if you are an onion fan)
  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1-1/2 cans black bean, drained
  • 3 ounces green chile peppers, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tbsp dried cilantro
  • 1 ½ tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 cup uncooked instant rice
  • ¾ cup frozen corn (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Stir in onions, and cook until soft and translucent.
  4. Stir in chicken; cook until golden on all sides. (this may take two rounds in the pan)
  5. Pour onions and chicken into a casserole dish.
  6. Stir in tomatoes, black beans, corn, chile peppers, cilantro, cumin, and rice.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.
  8. Allow 10 minutes to cool and enjoy
  9. Serve with sour cream.

Sales used in this recipe: Black beans- buy one get one free- Kroger, cilantro free from the garden, chicken from Costco.

Dress Me Up and Take Me Out

Anyone else in the grilled meat, fresh vegetable, no creativity, summer cooking slump? I absolutely love summer food, but the meat choices are becoming boring to me. I was looking for a way to dress up my steak, without losing it’s flavor.

Until recently, I have been a salad-dressing -mariander. The idea of making my own marinade had never crossed my mind. Blake headed out to work the other day and took some filets out of the freezer. As he was walking out the door he said, “steaks on the grill OK, babe?” “Sure” I replied dropping my shoulders and thinking about the monotony of another grilled steak dinner.

Right then, I knew it was time to give my steak a boost, and I got to work.  I have always liked the flavors in a Chimichurri Marinade, but I never knew how easy it could be. I got the meat marinating, threw a little cilantro spin on our potatoes and took the corn off the cob and added black beans. Soon, we had a transformed dinner packed with flavor and ready to hit the grill.

Chimichurri Marinade

(We used on Filet Mignon, but would also be delicious and tenderizing on skirt steak, flank steak, hangar steak, London broil, lamb blade or lamb chop)

Makes 2 cups- MUST use fresh herbs, not dried!

Chimichurri Marinated Steak

Ingredients

– ½ cup red wine vinegar

– 1 tsp coarse sea salt

– 4 cloves of garlic sliced thin (if you don’t have a mandolin, try using the long side of a cheese grater)

– 1 shallot chopped finely

– 1 red jalapeno, finely chopped

– 2 cups of minced fresh cilantro (use a food processor if you have one)

– 1 cup of minced flat leaf parsley

– 1/3 cup chopped oregano

– ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine vinegar, shallots, garlic and jalapeno in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in FRESH herbs.
  4. Whisk in olive oil using a fork.
  5. Remove ½ cup of marinade and put aside as a sauce.
  6. Put meat in a glass dish and cover with remaining marinade.
  7. Allow to sit in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight for more tenderness.
  8. Remove meat, pat dry and grill as usual.
  9. Top meat with reserved sauce.

Curry in a Hurry

I rarely cook. Typically, I buy the groceries and bring them home for Blake to use. He is just a million times better than me at cooking. He is the “a little of this a little of that” type of chef. I am the OCD type that reads the entire recipe, measures everything out and puts in into little bowls, prechops everything and THEN I start cooking. It’s definitely an ordeal.

The other night I was flipping through Cooking Light when I found a healthy and fast Indian Curry dish. It said 20 minutes. I begged to differ knowing my cooking style. I made a few changes to suit our tastes, and believe it or not, had it done in 27 minutes flat!

Be warned, it is pretty spicy, but you can alter the amount of crushed red pepper that you choose to add. Blake loves it miserable-hot, so I took one for the team. Happy Eating!

Bombay Indian Curry with Shrimp and Filet Mignon

Serves 4
Total Cost- $8.80
Total Cost per person- $2.20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sales used in this recipe-

Spices from Big Lots, Filet at Costco, frozen shrimp from Costco, Frozen veggies $0.50 off

Ingredients

–  1/4 cup Canola oil

–  1/2 lb peeled a deveined shrimp

–  1/2 lb steak- cubed

–  3/4 tsp salt

–  1/4 tsp black pepper

–  1 1/2 small onion chopped (buy prechopped to save time)

–  1 1/2 tbsp curry powder

–  1 tbsp mustard seed

– 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (don’t overdo this)

– 1/8 tsp ground red pepper (more or less to heat liking)

– 1 1/3 cup hot water

– 1 cup frozen mixed veggies

Directions:

1. Heat 2 tsp canola oil in Dutch at medium high heat.

2. Salt and pepper shrimp and cook on both sides until just underdone.

3. Remove from pan and repeat process with steak. Remove from pan.

4. Reduce heat to medium, add remaining oil.

5. Add onion and cook until translucent.

6. Add remaining salt, curry powder, cinnamon, mustard seeds and red pepper. Cook one minute. Stir constantly.

7. Add hot water and frozen veggies and bring to a boil.

8. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 4 minutes.

9. Add shrimp and steak back to pan and cook one minute.

10. Enjoy!

*** Serve with rice***

FUN TIP: When you cook your rice, replace some of the liquid with light coconut milk for a more authentic Indian flavor.

Showing Off

Well, I did it again. I decided I was going to cook for the family. I guess the summer thing is leaving with me too much time on my hands and too many food magazines for inspiration. I am initially inspired by home grown produce in the summer, then by magazine recipes. I absolutely love the concept of fruit and fish.

When my father in law visits, he typically brings us something fresh from a road side stand from his drive down. The last visit came with peaches. I could smell a ripe peach for hours. It is definitely on my top 10 list of favorite smells, toward the bottom, but still on it.

I knew I wanted salmon, and I knew I wanted peaches, but I had to figure out how to combine them. I went with salmon with a peach salsa. We had two home grown tomatoes, some fresh basil, a perfectly ripe avocado and red sea salt I picked up on sale the other day. In about 25 minutes, I had dish that was gorgeous. I will admit, I was showing off a bit with this one.

Salmon with Peach Salsa

Serves 4
Total Cost- $19.90
Total per person- $4.98

Salmon with Peach Salsa

Sales used in this recipe- Free peaches, free tomatoes, free basil, red sea salt on clearance at William Sonoma, salmon from Costco, buy one get one free olive oil at Publix

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients-

– 4 filets of salmon
– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1/2 ripe avocado, cubed
– one tomato, seeded and cubed
– one ripe peach, peeled and cubed
– 3 tbsp chopped basil
– 1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded (if desired)
– 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– 1 tsp coarse sea salt
– 1 tsp cracked pepper

Directions-

Peach Salsa
1. Combine avacado, tomato, peach, basil, lime and lemon juice, jalapeno, salt and pepper and a tbsp of olive oil in a bowl.
2. Put int he refrigerator for. 10 minutes at least

Salmon
1. Pat the salmon filets dry and allow them to reach room temperature.
2. Rub them on both sides with olive oil.
3. Sprinkle with a good sea salt and cracked pepper.
4. Sprinkle with a little lemon juice.
5. Turn grill to medium high heat and spray grill grids generously with butter spray.
6. Cook salmon for 5 minutes on each side or to your liking.
7. Top with peach salsa and enjoy.

***We ran out of propane, so we broiled the salmon for 7 minutes on each side, and it was good this way as well. I just like to grill in the summer, so that was my first choice in preparation.