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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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

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

Image

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*

Pasta Salad Goes Bowl-Less

Pasta salad is just an easy, versatile and well-liked food. Personally, I like the oil based pasta salads over those that are based in mayonnaise. Pasta salad would be such a fun thing to make for party, but the delivery of it is such a hassle. You either need a bowl or a plate and a fork. You basically have to be sitting at a table or the pressure of the fork on the plate while its being supported by only one had can end up in a disaster on the entertainer’s floor.

As I was shopping at Costco, I found another “must share” deal: Three pounds of dry cheese tortellini for $5.99!!!

What a steal!

I knew I had to have it. Lottie eats it for dinner with butter and parmesan, and I love it in a salad. After buying this great deal, I was determined to find a way to make tortellini pasta salad easy and accessible for a party or a tennis match.

I decided to go with Antipasto Salad Kebabs; easy to eat, simple to prepare, inexpensive to make and taste wonderful! Happy Eating!

Antipasto Salad Kebabs

Makes: 30 kebabs

Antipasto Salad Kebabs

Ingredients

-½ lb uncooked cheese tortellini

– 30 large green and/or black olives

– 1 block of your choice of cheese, cubed

– 1 cup of your favorite Italian salad dressing

– 1 package of hard salami cut into fourths and folded in half

Directions

  1. Cook pasta as recommended on package.
  2. Add ingredient in any order to the bamboo skewer
  3. Coat in Italian dressing for 30 minutes
  4. Chill in refrigerator and serve

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.

Put a Little SPICE is Your Night

I wish I liked  margaritas. I think they are so fun to make and so fun to drink. I have just never just found a liking for the flavor of the sour mix. Even when I add orange juice, it still just doesn’t do much for me. I decided that I was going to find a way to take the idea of a margarita and tweak it a bit more to my liking.

I read a magazine article about a restaurant owner in Mexico who spiced up his tequila with peppers and used other juices to make margaritas. I decided to swipe his idea. Swiper no swiping.

Be prepared: they are spicy!!! If you are not a big fan of spicy, be sure to reduce pepper steeping time or dilute tequila with more juice.

Spicy Grapefruit Margarita
Serves 8

Ingredients

– 2 cups of tequila (I buy cheap for this drink because it is diluted anyway)
-1-2 Habanero peppers, halved (the more you use, the spicier the tequila gets)
– 2 tbsp sweetened lime juice
– juice of one lime
– 5 cups grapefruit juice
– 1 cup of sour mix
– Sea salt

Directions

1.Combine tequila and Habanero peppers in a pitcher and allow to steep for 2-4 hours depending on spice desire (this can be done up to one month ahead).
2. Rub the rim of each glass with a lime to moisten it.
3. Pour sea salt onto a plate and dip rims of the glass into it to coat the rims.
4. Combine remaining ingredients and mix with tequila. Stir.
5. Serve on the rocks and have fun!

Just a little tip… Take it or leave it

I have never been a big advocate of Walmart. The one by my old house was typically filled with people with far too many children who seems to cough constantly. I know how much money I could save by going there, but not having to go there was worth the $10 extra I paid in groceries per week. There is nothing worse fighting my way through the people who think no one else exists and park their carts perpendicular in the aisle just enough that no one can move through, being coughed a gazillion times, and then seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, only to be discouraged by a 17 minute check out time with all of the same people that irritated you along the way.

I will admit now that it is not all Walmarts, just the one by my old house. Since we moved to Suwanee, I have been going to the Walmart quite frequently. In fact, I think it is going to be where I do my grocery shopping. The Kroger by me is far to hard to get out of. It requires waiting for an opening to get across three lanes to the turning lane just to be able to make a U-turn to go in the direction of my home. The Publix by me is nice, but quite a hike. I will likely go there once a week because the mail out $5 off of $30 every week. I will not pass that up, but the rest of my grocery shopping will be in Walmart.

Anyway, I promised a tip, and here is it: WALMART MATCH ANY COUPON OR ADVERTISED PRICE. I thought I would see if they would match my Super H coupon book prices on the produce which is incredibly cheap. They did!!! I got cucumbers for $0.29/lb, Horizon Organic whole milk for $2.99, broccoli for $0.39/lb, Sriracha for $1.79 for the big bottle, and Morton salt three for $0.99. They had no problem matching the prices. So grab a Super H coupon book or just the flier from the paper and shop away!

Great Prices!

Sincerely,

New Walmart Shopper

Grill Envy

Jones Bridge pool is one of my favorite places within the Georgia state lines.  I became a member when I was a baby, and spent approximately 50 hours there a week until I was 16. Last year, Blake and I were looking for a community pool to join so that we could establish some new friends with kids for Lottie as she was getting a little bored of watching Blake play video games and grocery shopping with me. I knew that Jones Bridge was going to be place we were going to join. From the second I made the decision, it was as if my Barracuda fins instantly grew back in.

The coolest thing about this pool is that you don’t know a stranger there. Everyone talks to everyone whether they have been introduced or not. In fact, I have met several friends there that I was never introduced to…we just started talking. It just feels like home when I walk into the gate.

This summer Blake and I have been grilling out a lot. The other night we decided to grill at the pool. We ran through our options…steak, chicken, fish, veggies…. I was simply bored with the choices. Blake decided that pizzas would be fun. Instantly, I thought pizza stone, rolling dough, expensive, hassle….

Blake proved me wrong. He headed out to Ingles where he found Naan, an Indian flat bread, on sale for about a dollar each. He picked up six of them and we were ready to go. We pulled out all of the cheeses and toppings we could find in the fridge, and created an awesome meal that was quite impressive. Of course, we made enough to share with our friends at the pool and a little more for those we hadn’t yet met.

Grilled Pizzas

-Naan, Indian bread

-Olive oil

-Pizza sauce

-Cheese (be creative)

– Toppings (be creative)

Directions

1. Brush a bit of olive oil on the Naan bread.

2. Top with pizza sauce of choice, olive oil, pesto, or whatever sounds good.

3. Apply toppings and cheese of choice.  These can be made ahead of time and wrapped in aluminum foil to make at a later time or assembled right at the grill.

4. Preheat grill to medium-low heat

5. Place pizzas on grill and leave on until crust is at desired crispness and the  cheese is melted/browned. (about 8-12 minutes)

6. Leave lid down as much as possible.

Pizza Ideas

-Bacon, ham, jalapeno, pineapple, mozzerella cheese and pizza sauce

-Caramelized onion, goat cheese and Gruyere, arugula, and olive oil (Thanks Jenny!)

-Buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, tomatoes with olive oil

-Grilled onion, mushroom, red and green pepper (slice them up really small) and Gruyere or mozzarella

-Traditional sausage and pepperoni

– Pulled pork, cole slaw, BBQ sauce

– Hot sausage, Granny Smith apples, reduced Balsamic vinegar, blue cheese, mozzarella and olive oil

– Shrimp with buffalo sauce, diced celery, blue cheese, mozzarella cheese

– The list keeps going on and on….. this is an amazing meal to get rid of leftovers or have fun with whatever is in the fridge.