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.
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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.

Take Corn?

Blake and I are very thankful that we have limited allergies. Neither one of us can have Penicillin, but that really doesn’t bother us as my “doc in a box” will fire a Cortisone shot in my tail and dish me out a Penicillin-free Z-pack if I walk in the door with a sniffle.
 
My sweet niece, Caroline, on the other hand has some serious allergies. Her whole face gets swollen when we cook any shellfish in the house, and peanuts will close her breathing passage ways right up. That being said, we have all become very conscience of being around her when we have peanuts or shellfish.
 
For the past three years, my family has gone on a week long family vacation to Carolina Beach. The first year, I had a one year old, the next year I was pregnant and had a two year old, and this year I had a three year old and a three month old. Needless to say, I have had limited time with my toes in the sand. I haven’t even had time to snap a picture of them to post on Facebook to make all of my friends jealous. When I see the cliche “toes in the sand” photo on any method of social media, I immediately think of a terrified toddler who needs two adult hands when a wave is in sight and trying to anchor down an umbrella, which is guaranteed to blow a half mile down the shoreline, to cover up my infant who won’t nap on the beach anyway. Then I picture myself packing up the chair, the umbrella, the bag of sand toys, the towels and whatever infant sleeping tent I got ripped off on that summer and making my way back to the house where I look forward to a 3 minute shower and a moist towel that has clearly dried in humidity. I know, better beach years are to come….in about four years.
 
It is normally Thursday that everyone is dying for a break from the sand and pool, and we need something else to do. We always opt for the local zoo with ample shade, a decently price gift shop and mediocre fencing for thier fierce and deadly animals such as crocodiles and tigers. I mean, we literally are one foot from the mouth of a crocodile behind a thin and wobbly chain linked fence, but on ‘Family Beach Vacation Thursday’, we will do whatever it takes to use our time and keep the kiddos happy.
 
If there was an award ceremony for the trip to this zoo, Caroline would earn “Most Easy Going” every time. When you purchase your ticket, you can buy corn and peanuts to feed the animals. Remember what I told you about the proximity to deadly animals? Well, this simply decreases said proximity. This is not just a petting zoo with the likes of a few goats, a friendly pig and a turkey or two. This is a full on zoo. “Here, here, here crocodile, have some peanuts…Oh tiger, come here… I have come peanuts for you.”
 
As noted earlier, Caroline can’t even touch peanuts. For the first half mile of this zoo, every animal only eats peanuts. At each cage, we would remind Caroline that the animal couldn’t have corn. She patiently held her full bag of corn while everyone else was firing peanuts at every animal in sight. She kept a good attitude for awhile, but soon she began to get sad. She just wanted to feed an animal. We all got enthralled at a monkey that would catch our peanuts and throw it right back at us, hard. I mean he would peg us with the peanuts, not hungry I guess. In the distance, we looked over and saw Caroline standing by the goat named Jack. She yelled across the zoo, “Daddy, does this one ‘take corn’?”

 
Of course the goats ‘took corn’, and being a goat is synonymous with being bad at something in our family, we really took on this term. “Did you play well or did you ‘take corn’?” When you lose at anything you will get heckled by goat sounds coming from the mouths of every original Smith.  With all of the negative stigma flowing in the direction of goats and corn, we have to stop and pay respects to the delicious cuisine that corn can be the foundation of.  This corn salad is always a hit, and it is super simple!  Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
 
Mom’s Corn Salad

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Ingredients
– 4 drained cans of white shoepeg niblet corn (this is important not to alter)
– 1 bunch of green onion, chopped
– 1 container of grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
– 1 tsp mayo (if you want, not necessary)
– salt and pepper to taste
 
Directions
1. Combine above ingredients.
2. Refrigerate.
3. Enjoy!

So a Boar Walks into a Bar…

I am a weird and particular drinker. Of course, for those of you who know me, you know I have a love for wine. I love it’s complexity, variety and constant changing flavor. When I moved out west, I fell in love with the world of fine dining. It was in these wonderful and extravagant restaurants that I learned that wine was more than just a drink. I was educated on the individual grapes, the regions of growth, how the weather alters the flavors and depth of wine, etc. I also learned how it could increase the flavors and enhance the experience of food.

For all of the above reasons, when I drink, it is hard to stray from wine. Every summer, I buy a 12 pack of Bud Light Lime because I picture myself by the pool having one from time to time. Every summer, Blake drinks 11 Bud Light Limes in August when it is clear that I am not going to drink more than the one I attempted to drink on the pool’s opening day. I simply don’t like beer.

When I go to a fancy, dark ambiance, steak restaurant, I always feel myself surrounded by people sipping from martini glasses. I absolutely LOVE a martini glass. I always fall into peer pressure and order a dirty martini. To increase my chances of actually drinking this drink, I order it “dirtier than most people would ever order it.” Even if I am drinking chilled olive juice (which I love), I often can only get through a few sips, and it is back to my wine.

This summer, Blake created a new martini that I actually like. In fact, I can drink almost a whole one. The original martini was made with gin, not vodka. I am not a liquor fan, but if I had to choose, I would always opt for gin. This martini, like many others can be made with either.

The Boar’s Head Pickle Martini

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Ingredients:

-3 parts vodka or gin

-1 part Boar’s Head Kosher Dill pickle juice (could probably subsitute Claussen) Boar’s Head Pickles are found at Kroger in the fancy meat and cheese and take and bake pizza section.

-1 Boar’s Head Kosher Dill pickle spear

-Ice

Directions:

1. Pour in liquids over a generous amount of ice in a martini shaker.

2. Shake well, I mean really well for extra icy goodness.

3. If you like them really cold, put in freezer for 5-10 minutes, shake again.

4. Serve in a fun martini glass

5. Add a pickle spear for garnish.

*Enjoy, but remember, don’t drink and drive!

Saucey Pants

I am on a constant search for the perfect sauce. My definition of perfect, as it relates to a sauce, is something that doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, isn’t fancy, doesn’t cost too much and can be used on several different meats or vegetables. I am pretty sure I have found it.

When I make pork tenderloin, my” go-to” flavors are BBQ sauce or Paul Newman’s Olive Oil and Vinegar salad dressing. As a pulled the tenderloin out of the freezer the other morning, I knew neither of the above were going to cut it. I wanted something bold, clean, and slightly citrusy. I found a similar recipe and browsed my pantry.

The result of what I created is PERFECT! We had it on pork, but I think it would add a great spin on fish, beef or chicken. It would be delightful on grilled shrimp thrown into a salad.

The PERFECT Marinade

The PERFECT sauce

Ingredients

– 1 can (8 oz.) pineapple juice

– 1/3 cup fresh lime juice

– 1 tbsp lime zest

– ¼ cup orange marmalade

– 3 tbsp Hoisin sauce

– 2 tsp minced garlic

– 1 tsp Dijon mustard

– ¾ tsp ground ginger

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil 5-6 minutes or until mixture is thickened.
  2. Coat meat or veggies of your choice in marinade and prepare.

*We used ½ on our grilled pork tenderloin and used the other half as the sauce on the plate*

If You Roll It, They Will Eat

Lottie ate anything I put in front of her until the day she turned two. I think a lot of it is her developing the cognitive skills she needs to make a decision based on taste. She will still eat some broccoli and she is ok with beans, but that is about it as far as healthy goes. We do make her mac ‘n cheese home-made with wheat pasta and parmesan, but I am still not putting that in the healthy category.

My best friend’s nieces are the cutest things in the world. Their mama, Janice Hudgins, is always making them these wholesome, food pyramid meals that they actually eat. Every time Lottie plays with them, she scores one of these meals, and she does eat them.  The one component of the meal that I loved was Janice’s rice balls.

Rice is a healthy grain, and Lottie really likes it. Here is the problem: My OCD and rice don’t mix. It sticks to everything and when Lottie ate it, she was covered head to toe in it. Then I discovered…the rice ball. Now I like to add a few fun and healthy surprises in her rice balls, and we are good to go. Making them into small balls makes them fun to eat and mess free!

Rice Balls

Serves one toddler for 5 meals

Rice that Kids Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

–          1 cup of rice

–          1 cup of water

–          1 tsp salt

–          1 tsp soy sauce (optional)

–          Anything you want to add to the balls

Directions

  1. Cook rice in rice cooker as directed (sushi rice works best)
  2. Make a bowl of warm salt water.
  3. Dip hands in warm salt water.
  4. Grab a little rice, roll it into a ball.
  5. Put on plate and top with soy sauce and anything else you want to try.

 

Money Saving Tip: Buy rice in bulk. It lasts forever. Go to an Asian market and get a big bag so you always have it!

 

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.

Jicama Dicama Dock

SNACKS:  The enemy to anyone who is watching their figure. Sure, you can bring an apple to work, but are you really going to choose that over the chocolate snacks in the break room? I don’t think so!

The snacks that we made are crunchy, salty, refreshing, cheap and low calorie. Talk about a win-win. Snack away my friends!

Jicama Sticks

Jicama Sticks

–          One bulb of Jicama, peeled and cut into sticks

–          1 tsbp lime juice

–          2 tbsp fresh cilantro

–          ½ tsp garlic powder

–          1 tsp sugar

–          ½ tsp salt

–          ½ tsp paprika

–          ¼ tsp chili pepper

  1. Combine salt, sugar, cilantro, garlic powder, paprika and chili pepper into a bowl.
  2. Coat jicama with lime juice
  3. Sprinkle jicama with spice blend.
  4. Snack away!
  5. Keep refrigerated

*The cool thing about Jicama is that they are a blank slate. If you want a sweet snack, try cinnamon and sugar. Feel free to mix up the spices for some variety.*

SALES USED IN THIS RECIPE

Jicama- $1.99/lb at Kroger. Average Retail $2.99/lb