Monday, August 31, 2015

Grab It & Growl, August 30, 2015

Since we had a late lunch at Sonic, we weren't hungry for dinner any time before we went to bed at 9. Jeannene had to arise early, early for work, so she was asleep by 9:30. I ended up snacking in bed on a handful of trail mix, a mini Babybel cheese round, and 2 clementines. Don't be too jealous! (actually, it was perfect & scrumptious, if a bit unorthodox)

Sprague Farm & Brew Works, August 29, 2015

Our oldest is marvelous at picking perfect places to eat. Whenever we visit him, we always go to Flip in Edinboro, PA, for breakfast. This past trip, he even chose what we would each order: a Fat Plate for his mom (country-gravy over a whole host of yumminess including scrambled eggs) and a Johnny Smash for me. He also got a Johnny Smash---basically eggs, hash browns, cheese, and onions all smashed up together. My darling girl always has to order the cinnamon flips, too. These are like a heavy, cinnamon-y beignet.

We asked him also to choose dinner and, after sifting through the possibilities, decided we'd like Sprague Farm in Venango, PA. He warned us ahead of time that it wasn't going to be anything like what we might expect, but that it would be good. We pulled into the lot of what appeared to be a farmhouse with some gravel for parking and a bunch of cars also parked on the grass.

We followed Boot to a large barn, admiring chainsaw art (my favorite was a wonderful lion throne that looked fit for Aslan---or, at least, a Pevensie) and petting kitty cats. One gorgeous white cat was tucked beautifully underneath a bush. As we entered the barn, we heard live music drifting from the back. People inside Beerhalla (think Valhalla on earth, with beer) were drinking the house-made beers and wines and relaxing to the sounds of the band.

There is no formality whatsoever at Sprague's. Classmates of Boot's leaned over the balcony railing to shout a hello and little kids ran around. You find seats where you can---Boot says it's usually crammed with people, but the local fair was keeping people otherwise occupied and we were able to snag 3 stools at a rough-hewn counter. It was fun to look around and see all the random items displayed, from a stained glass window to a sign explaining that the cat and its housekeeper live there to an old tapestry depicting creatures from Indonesian mythology to old advertising signs. Eclectic is definitely the word!

You check out the whiteboard by the kitchen (called Bitchin' Kitchen), which closes at 8 or 8:30 on Saturdays. They'll have a few things listed---some sandwiches, maybe, some pizza, perhaps. Everything looked like something I'd be happy to eat, but the pizza from a wood-fired oven sounded best of all. I released all control of what I was going to eat to the others, offering to hold our seats while they ordered for us. Soon, we were all nomming on a basket of house-made cheese (cheddar and swiss, from the cows out back), meats (salami, pepperoni, and ham chunks, also from the farm, according to Boot), and warm, soft pieces of pretzel, all served with mustard for dipping. It was a terrific appetizer. We also shared one of the best Buffalo chicken pizzas I've had the pleasure to eat. Boot informed us that everything is made on the premises, with no artificial crap.

Oh, and for drinkers, you go up to the bar, which is the big window cut out next to the kitchen window and order what you want. You can have a mason jar of beer or jelly glass of wine for there or you can take a can of beer home. Boot had a rich porter called HellBender in honor of a giant salamander, while my wife opted for the grapefruit saison, which she loved enough to buy a big can of it to bring home with us. Boot chose the Niagara wine for me, since I'm not a beer guy, and it was lovely. A great night with my family!

Gas Station Food, August 28, 2015

There's this gas station on the way to NW Pennsylvania from SE Michigan. I know that it comes after Toledo and before Sandusky, but that's about it. Inside is a Subway and a little mom & pop restaurant where we've eaten with Boot before. I Googled and it might very well be Joe's Pizza Kitchen in Oregon, Ohio, but I can't say that with any real degree of certainty. Anyway, I remembered having a really great fried bologna sandwich there, with tater tots, and Boot had really enjoyed his pizza, too. Jeannene, I think, had a patty melt that first time.

This time around, she got the fried bologna and I had the special, a sloppy joe with a ridiculously generous portion of mac & cheese. I could cheerfully have eaten Jeannene's fried bologna sandwich, if I were a person devoid of compunction. They do those just right. My sloppy joe was quite good, too, although not quite as tangy as I prefer. The mac & cheese was pretty flavorful, too.

The atmosphere, well, it's a bunch of booths in a gas station. But the food is so good and the service so quick that it makes an ideal spot for us to stop on the way to see our boy.

Roast Chicken, August 27, 2015

When your wife brings home a beautiful roasting chicken and requests in her sweetest tone to have it roasted and presented to her for dinner in the next couple of nights, it's delightful to comply! She was looking for homey and I was happy to oblige. I'd been planning pork chops & sauerkraut, so it was to be a comfort food night, anyway, and I'd not yet bought the pork. So, I brushed the chicken with melted butter, rubbed it with herbes de Provence & garlic powder, salted and peppered it, replaced the innards with a big handful of fresh rosemary, and stuck it in the oven surrounded by baby carrots, quartered red potatoes, and onion wedges. Half an hour at 425 degrees, another hour at 350 degrees, and our meat thermometer reported that supper was ready. Of course, I had to let it stand another 10 minutes for the juices to settle back into the meat. It was tender and scrumptious!

CJ's, August 26, 2015

Last Wednesday, the wife texted from work saying she wanted to go out to celebrate a good visit from the folks at corporate HQ. We thought we'd either go to Sagebrush or CJ's in Lake Orion. Sagebrush sounded good to me, but I suspected they would be, as always, packed. They were, with a 45-minute wait on a Wednesday night! The food there is good, but it definitely doesn't warrant, to my mind, a long wait like that on a weeknight. I will cheerfully wait that long if a place is fabulous, but if there are other good places around, I'd just as soon pop over to one of them. Being as CJ's is right next door, we took our business there, instead.

There are two sides to CJ's, the bar area, which is dimly lit and loud, and what I think of as the breakfast area, which is more brightly lit and much more tranquil. I sampled the chili (isn't it nice that they're willing to bring soup samples---I can't tell you how often I've made the mistake of ordering chili in Michigan without checking to see that it's what I think of as chili, rather than a bowl of coney sauce) and pronounced it good. So, my supper was that and a grilled cheese. I'd've liked them to come out at the same time, since Jeannene had also ordered an appetizer, but no big deal. We munched on tempura shrimp with our soup (she had German tomato soup, which has cabbage and ground beef in it---we'd never heard of it before & found it quite yummy). When my grilled cheese came, Jeannene had a plate of fish tacos to enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Artichoke Mozzarella Brat, August 25, 2015

Last night was a final gathering, at our pastor's home, for our book discussion groups at church. We've spent the last year reading and discussing Emerging Church theologian Brian McLaren's book, We Make The Road By Walking, which is a terrific read and helped us think a lot about ways we can be more intentional about our own spiritual paths and the direction our congregation is walking, too.

I was greeted at the door by our pastor, who was taking orders for main course---burgers, apple gouda  brats, or artichoke mozzarella brats. I'd never heard of an artichoke mozzarella brat, so I chose that. It was so very delicious! We had all kinds of wonderful sides to choose from---veggie trays, fruit platters, salad, salt & vinegar kettle chips, and so forth. I opted to take my plate out to the deck, to join 3 other women from the church. It was so nice to sit outside and enjoy great conversation with these women. My wife and I are fairly new to the church, so it's always great to get the opportunity to get to know people better.

Dessert was also a display of many options. I chose to have a sliver of cheesecake and a small square of the most spectacularly good rhubarb cake! The woman who made it said that her husband has been growing tons of rhubarb this summer---so much that she has run out of things to do with it. I am so happy I got to sample some of it in cake form. Really amazing!

Grilled Cheese & Chicken Soup, August 24, 2015

I went to a henna workshop Monday night, so my darling took on dinner and had it all ready and waiting for me when I got home. Not only was it lovely to arrive home to a hot dinner, but the dinner itself could not have been more perfect for a cool August night. She made us grilled cheese sandwiches & Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup, with the "golden egg." Yum yum!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sunday Dinner: Steak, August 23, 2015

I always joke that when it's Jeannene's night to do dinner, it's almost guaranteed that we'll have steak or pasta. Those are definitely her favorites. A few weeks ago, she was marinating steaks (I believe she used some sort of Montreal Steak Seasoning & beer) for Sunday Dinner when we got word that our youngest was ill. Dinner was off and we stuck the steaks in the freezer, going out to dinner, instead. This week, she pulled the steaks, t-bones, from the freezer, and broiled them (she ran the grill out of propane on the chicken wings she made for appetizers) for Sunday Dinner. They were much appreciated and now Pie and Bubbles have all our leftover steak to top salads later this week.

We did a really pretty simple Sunday Dinner, no dessert, although a bit appetizer heavy. Jeannene tends to go kinda crazy on those each Sunday. In addition to the wings, she also did a Velveeta queso blanco dip with Tostitos Scoops. That was stellar and I was glad the kids wolfed it because it kept me from doing so! Jeannene fried up some pierogies and I did a beautiful salad with the veggies on hand from the farmer's market, which happened to be zucchini, yellow squash, & an orange bell pepper. I chopped those and added them to some butter lettuce and sliced Bunny Luv carrots, my favorite brand. We always have a bunch of dressing on hand---Pie and I chose the Newman's Balsamic Vinaigrette, his first time trying it---he was delighted with it! I think Bubbles and Jeannene went with ranch.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

51 North, August 22, 2015

Since summer is waning and our time to eat outdoors is growing short, I decided to treat my sweetie to dinner alfresco. So, when she got home from work yesterday, I asked which patio she would enjoy---or whether she'd like me to make dinner to eat on our own patio. She immediately suggested 51 North, a brewery in Lake Orion that has a lovely patio, complete with planting boxes filled with herbs and a couple of hops-covered pergolas. We've not eaten there yet this summer and it's always wonderful to sit there.

I honestly am not a huge fan of most of the food there, although the salads always look good. It's not that the food is bad. It's just not amazing and there aren't many category options---mostly burgers and pita pizzas. We do love the steak bites, served with little toasts and blue cheese dressing, and the potstickers are good, as well, although we usually ask for soy sauce instead of either of the sauces that come with them. Neither of us is a big fan of ginger in savory dishes, so the pineapple ginger sauce isn't our thing, although I suspect a lot of people really love it. The Asian sauce is fiery and, again, not for us, but probably terrific if you like hot.

The beers here are quite creative and they offer generous flights. I can't recall all the beers Jeannene had in her flight last night, but I know one was peppery and hot, another was coffee-based, one was quite smoky, and another was very tangerine-y. The servers are incredibly knowledgable about the different beers and it's fun to talk with them about brewing techniques, different experiments they're doing with flavors, and so forth.

If you just want drinks and appetizers in a great atmosphere, this is a stellar place in the summer. It's in a former filling station and feels cold, cramped, and loud in the winter, so we tend only to go in summer. There is live music sometimes, as well, and when you're on the patio, the garage doors are open and you can hear the music, too. Last night's band was quite good, mellow and warm.

Chicken Pot Pie, August 21, 2015

A couple weeks ago, Jeannene suggested that it was about time for me to make my chicken pot pie again. Friday night, it seemed sufficiently cool and pot pie-ish to fulfill her request. I learned to make my chicken pie from my friend, Teresa, in Tennessee. It's good, although I think I used a bit too much chicken this time. Jeannene disagrees. Since I'd just been to the farmer's market and had all kinds of marvelous produce, I added a tomato and cucumber salad and a corn and zucchini sauté to complete the meal. I experimented with putting a little oregano in the tomato and cucumber salad and discovered I didn't like it at all, but add it, by all means, if you like it. I felt it muddied the clarity of the flavors. I also had some parmesan & onion hanky pankys ready to pop out of the oven when Jeannene came home. These little toasts go by all kinds of names, but I like the playfulness of hanky pankys. My favorite version is my aunt Holly's Gloria Hardingtons, which I have written about here before. There is also a version involving sausage and Velveeta, which I have not yet tried. Honestly, I've been reluctant to try any but the Glorias because they are so stunningly good. But this parmesan version was pretty tasty, too. This is the basic recipe for the appetizer, which should be enough for 7 people. You can easily cut the amounts if you're just making it for 2 people, but in my experience, when making these type of appetizers for larger groups, it's actually better to double the recipe, just because people love them so much.

Parmesan & Onion Hanky Pankys
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. mayonnaise 
1/4-1/2 c. grated parmesan
Pepper & a little garlic powder
14 slices cocktail rye

Preheat broiler. Mix everything but rye together. Broil rye until lightly toasted. Turn over and spread with topping. Broil until bubbly and nicely browned. 

Chicken Pot Pie
2 pie crusts (I use the pre-made refrigerated kind)
1/2-1 pound chicken breast chunks, cooked (I used about 1 & 1/2 this time, too much for me)
1 can Veg All, drained (You can use other mixed veg)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (I almost always use low fat, low sodium versions of the soups)
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put one crust in a pie plate. Mix the rest together & pour into crust. Top with second crust, crimping & sealing. Cut slits to vent the top (or use mini cookie cutters for make designs). Bake 1 hour. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Tomato & Cucumber Salad
1 large tomato, diced (I like to use an heirloom tomato here)
1 cucumber, peeled & sliced thickly
3 or 4 leaves basil, sliced in chiffonade
1/4 red. onion, diced
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. oregano, opt. 
1-2 tbsp. olive oil

Mix everything together and let stand 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6. 

Corn & Zucchini Sauté
2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 zucchini, diced
1 onion, diced
1 jalapeño, seeds and membranes removed, minced (or to taste)
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder
Kernels cut from 2-3 ears corn (you can do this with frozen corn, but it's not the same. I only make it in season)

Melt butter in skillet and add everything but the corn. Cook until veggies are tender, then add corn and cook another few minutes, until corn is tender. Serves 4. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Vaca Frita, August 20, 2015

I've had vaca frita (literally, "fried cow") in Cuban restaurants and really liked it, but had never made it at home before. I cooked & shredded the beef before going to a picnic with my friends, then marinated it when I got home. When Jeannene got home from work, all I had to do was fry it. It's not so healthy, but really yummy for an every now & then treat. I had some guacamole & tortilla chips waiting for her when she arrived. Not a Cuban dish, but she loves guac, so I decided to make it to go with our Cuban food. I'd made a Cuban green bean salad for the picnic, so I served that, instead of my usual avocado & onion salad. I also made black beans & rice.

Vaca Frita
2 1/2 lb. flank steak, cut in half
2 bay leaves
1/4 c. lime juice
1/ c. lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & pepper
Olive oil for frying
1 lg. onion, halved and sliced
Lime wedges

Cover beef with salted water. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, on low for 90 minutes. Allow to cool, then slice into 2" wide strips and shred those so you end up with 2" long shreds. Mix the juices, garlic, salt, & pepper. Mix with beef and marinate at least an hour. Squeeze dry. Fry in a bit of olive oil for about 7 minutes. Add onion and cook another 5-7 minutes, until crispy. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 6-8. 

Cuban Green Bean Salad
2 lb. green beans, trimmed and halved
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/3 c. Spanish olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Heaping tsp. sugar
Heaping tsp. salt
A bit of minced parsley (dried is okay, if you don't have fresh)
1 small onion, sliced

Drop beans into boiling, salted water and cook about 8 minutes. Make sure not to overcook them. Mix everything else together. Drain beans and toss with dressing. Marinate at room temp at least an hour. Serves 6-8. (If you want to make these ahead of time, they are also good cold.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Grillin' with Greg, August 19, 2015

Our pastor went to our denomination's national gathering in June. The idea of pastors going is that they will bring back info from the gathering about what kinds of resolutions were passed and what happened. Not all pastors do this, but not only did our pastor, Greg, provide us with info about what the national body is up to, he fed us. Smart guy. About 50 of us got together for burgers and dogs from the grill, complete with all the usual bottled condiments plus onions and green peppers. He used to work the grill for a ball team, so he definitely know what he's doing. We had a gorgeous salad, a couple different kinds of kettle chips, pretzel rods, and a lovely array of desserts. I was thrilled to get a lemon cupcake because my wife doesn't like lemon. What she really loves is Bumpy Cake, a Ho-Ho cake sort of concoction, and that was there, too. We, of course, supplied some big ol' pickles for people's munching pleasure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Potato, Pea, & Onion Frittata, August 18, 2015

I'd planned to make vaca frita, a traditional Cuban dish that requires hours of cooking time, for last night's supper. However, I unexpectedly got to meet my friend, Kerry, and her 11-year-old daughter at the Toledo Zoo, a couple hours from home. Luckily, I had the ingredients to make a frittata, which I paired with a bagged Caesar salad, peaches, and a batch of truly scrumptious s'mores bars (Betty Crocker Hershey's S'mores Bars). Frittatas are great life-saver meals because I almost always have some veggies, some eggs, and some cheese on-hand and they are so quick.

Potato, Pea, and Onion Frittata
4 or 5 smallish new potatoes, finely diced
1/3 c. frozen peas, thawed
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
8 eggs
Salt & pepper
A handful grated parmesan
A handful grated cheddar

Preheat broiler. Cover potatoes with water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Heat oil in 10" oven-safe skillet (I like my cast iron skillet for frittatas). Cook the onion translucent, then add potatoes and cook another 7 minutes or so. Make sure the potatoes don't get browned and crispy. Add peas and cook a minute. Beat eggs with salt and pepper. Add cheeses. Pour into skillet with veggies. Cook until the bottom is set, 5-7 minutes. Broil until the top is set and golden-brown. Loosen the edges gently and invert onto a large plate. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves 6.

Broadway Grill, August 17, 2015

I'd planned a dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, along with homemade onion rings & 3-bean salad. At the last moment, though, that just didn't sound like what I wanted. I didn't know what I did want, but it wasn't that. Luckily, Jeannene had commented, the last few times we'd passed The Broadway Grill, that we should go back there sometime. It'd been quite awhile since we'd eaten there. When I told her I wasn't in the mood for our dinner & I wanted to go there instead, she was delighted.

Since she's been jonesin' for wings, I agreed to an order of wings as an appetizer. I am not as wing-mad as she is, but the couple I had were tasty---not the best I've had, but good. Our waitress, who was very friendly and happy to make recommendations for us, brought our soups just about the same time as the wings, so we had a lot on our hands right away. My beef vegetable soup was yummy and her bean soup was good, too. I ate all of mine and wasn't hungry for my California club when it arrived, so I have it for lunch today. Jeannene loved her ribs, most of which also came home with us, and she said her baked potato was the best she's had out in years.

I was considering dessert, but they were out of the strawberry shortcake, which was what I really wanted. I thought about a teeny sundae, but they only have chocolate syrup and not hot fudge, so we just came home. Dessert's not so good for me, so why eat it unless it's exactly what I want?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chicken & Rice, August 16, 2015

My dear wife needed a cozy, home-cooking, comfort food sort of dinner last night. This chicken & rice, a recipe from one of my former parishioners, Roselyn Faulkner, fit the bill perfectly. I made some fresh green beans to go with it and put out a veggie tray left over from Saturday night's picnic. Roz says the dish is great to take to people who are recuperating from surgery or sickness and also that it freezes nicely. How many people it feeds depends on how many chicken breasts you use, 1 per person. It's incredibly easy and quite comforting.

Roz's Chicken & Rice
1 c. rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use Healthy Choice)
1 can cream of chicken soup (likewise)
1 can cream of celery soup (and likewise)
1 soup can of water
2-3 tbsp. dry onion soup mix (optional)
4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix soup and water with rice, as well as onion soup mix, if using. Pour into greased 13x9 baking dish. Place the chicken breasts on top of the rice. Season with salt and pepper. Top with dots of butter. Bake about an hour. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pizza in the Park, August 15, 2015

My dear friend from my hometown lives, with her husband and adorable little boys, only half an hour from us, as we discovered last winter. We got together back then, just the two of us with her boys, for lunch at her place. I got to meet her husband briefly then, but we've been meaning to get together, all of us, for dinner ever since. Tonight, we finally did, meeting at a wonderful park with big trees and a great playground for the boys. Nicki suggested meeting for a picnic supper and I loved the idea! She and Gus brought pizza from Buddy's and Chips Ahoy, while we added some veggies and dip and a bowl of grapes to round out the meal. It was a yummy meal and a fantastic visit!

Roman Burgers, August 14, 2015

Last night, we had burger night, but with a bit of a twist. One of the sub shops we used to go to when we lived in Cleveland had Roman burger hoagies. I decided to try my hand at making them. I'd meant to do a salad with them, but I forgot to pick up salad greens at the grocery, so it was just the burgers with crinkle fries.

Roman Burgers
6 tbsp. dry breadcrumbs (Italian, if you have them on hand)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 c. water
1 lb. ground beef (I used 90% lean---you could also use frozen Italian-seasoned veggie burgers & omit the breadcrumbs and water)
1 (10 oz) can tomato soup (Healthy Choice works great)
Salt & pepper
6 slices mozzarella cheese (low-fat is good)
6 burger buns 

Mix breadcrumbs with 1 tsp. Italian seasoning & water. Add ground beef and mix well, but not over-much. Form into 6 patties (or 3 oblong ones to put on hoagie buns). Brown in a skillet coated with cooking spray. Mix soup with remaining 1 tsp. Italian seasoning. Pour over burgers. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes. Place a slice of cheese on each burger and cook another couple minutes. Serve on buns with extra sauce from the pan. Serves 3-6. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Russian Sandwiches, August 13, 2015

Mmm, mmm! Nothing like sweet corn and tomatoes from the Farmer's Market---unless they're from a little roadside stand like the one where my grandparents got their on the way back from table tennis nearly every day in August each year. They had Russian sandwiches (I do not know the provenance of the name---I'm fairly certain they're not any sort of authentic Russian food!) and sweet corn just about every day in August.

I stopped by our local farmer's market on Wednesday afternoon and picked up mine, along with some handmade bagels. To make a Russian sandwich, you toast your favorite kind of bread (I used country white last night), top it with ripe tomato slices, crisp bacon, and extra-sharp cheddar (I prefer either Tillamook or Cabot). Then, you broil it until the cheese is nice and melty and starting to brown. We had a salad with ours. Then, I had another for today's lunch. I love August! I do have to say that the Ohio tomatoes seem to have a better climate for producing a great tomato. But these were better than grocery store tomatoes for sure!

Oh, and to stave off any hunger pangs while the bacon cooked, I made an appetizer of slices of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, along with basil leaves, on baguette slices I'd brushed with olive oil and crisped in the oven, then rubbed with a smashed garlic clove. Before serving, I drizzled them with a smidge more olive oil and sprinkled Maldon salt on them. Scrumptious!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ram's Horn, August 12, 2015

Since Pie was sick on Sunday & we didn't do Sunday dinner, we had him and Bubbles meet us at Ram's Horn in Rochester. Ram's Horn is a diner that serves breakfast all day, burgers and sandwiches, and comfort food. The theme seems to be "Umbrellas, Cars, & Jesus," making for an interesting visual. I love the colorful umbrellas hanging from the ceiling! The service, every time we've been, has been good and friendly. There are even some choices that are healthy. I did not make one of those last night.

Jeannene is big on appetizers, especially when we go out for meals with the kids, so she ordered boneless wings (which were fairly good) and mozzarella cheese sticks (which were completely pedestrian, as they so often are). For her main course, she had liver and onions with mashed potatoes and corn (which she promptly mixed together). She and Pie really loved the liver. Bubbles and I just took their word that it's good. It was Pie's first time to have it. I suspect it won't be the last. Bubbles opted for the salmon, as expected, and got mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables with it. We were all surprised to find that the mixed veggies were, rather than the corn/peas/carrot cubes we expected, random veggies like broccoli florets, red onion slivers, shredded carrots, and mushroom slices, all fresh! Bubbles was not enthused, but Pie kept stealing her veggies. He had a tuna melt and fries, which he reported were excellent. I also got a sandwich, a grilled cheese, which was good, but not as good as the one at Restaurant. The chili I had was pretty good, but the beans were a bit odd. I think they were "chili beans" rather than kidney beans. I haven't been able to find chili I really love up here in Michigan yet. Often, when I order a bowl of chili, I get a bowl of coney topping. Good thing I know how to make it!

Chicken Roll-Ups, August 11, 2015

My friend, Kira, gave me this recipe for chicken roll-ups years ago, but I never got around to trying it until Tuesday night. I will definitely be making it again, as my wife said, as she moaned in ecstasy over them, "Put five stars by this one so you'll make it again." She also said she thinks it's the best chicken she has ever had in her life and rates 10 out of 10. I thought it was pretty dang good, myself. I served with with mashed potatoes, cornbread, and lima beans. I meant to serve some peaches with it, too, but I forgot. Ah, well.

Kira's Chicken Roll-Ups
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
Garlic powder or garlic salt
Parsley, snipped
Chives, snipped
4 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cream cheese evenly on the chicken breasts. Sprinkle with garlic powder, parsley, and chives.  Roll up and wrap each with 2 strips of bacon. Secure, if needed, with toothpicks. Bake 30-40 minutes, until done. Broil for the last 5 minutes so the bacon gets browned. Serves 2. 

Cheesy Cornbread
1 c. self-rising cornmeal
3/4 c. self-rising flour
1/2 c. oil
8 oz. creamed corn
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream (reduced fat works fine)
1 c. shredded cheddar (reduced-fat works fine)
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix everything. Pour into a well-greased cast iron skillet. Bake 1/2 hour. Serves 8-10.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sauce

My wife is a huge fan of peanut butter in probably every one of its forms. I'm not so hot on it, but sometimes I do like it, when I am in the right mood. I must have been in the right mood the other night because I made a chocolate-peanut butter sauce for Jeannene's ice cream and ended up thinking it was completely terrific! We had it on Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. Talk about gilding the lily! This would also, I am certain, be pretty amazing just eaten from a spoon. Yum yum! Complete decadence!

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sauce
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate
14 oz. sweetened, condensed milk
2 tbsp. peanut butter (I think the creamy kind is best here)
2 tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla

Melt all the ingredients but the vanilla together on low heat, stirring the whole time. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Serve warm. 

Korean-ish Beef, August 10, 2015

Last night's dinner was totally scrumptious, an Asian-inflected comfort food. Both of us had a hard time controlling our portions with this ground beef and rice dish that echoes Korean flavors. The broccoli, which I tossed with a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce and roasted about 10 minutes at 450 degrees, was stellar, too! I added some jasmine rice to round out the meal.

Korean-ish Beef
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 lb. burger (I used 93% lean)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1/4 tsp. ginger
Salt & pepper
1/2 -1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch scallions, sliced

Heat oil in skillet. Brown beef with garlic. Drain & add the other ingredients, except the scallions. Garnish with scallions. Serves 4. 

Mediterranean Mahi Mahi, August 9, 2015

I have never, until the last couple of weeks, made fish cut in chunks. Just in the last couple of weeks, I have done catfish wraps with the fish cut in chunks and now this beautiful mahi mahi dish. I am kind of digging it. Sunday night, our plates were just gorgeous with colors! Along with this fish dish, I made a lovely (and yummy) primavera pasta salad and green beans in coriander sauce.

Mediterranean Mahi Mahi
1 lb. mahi mahi, cubed (or similar---grouper, red snapper, halibut, and tilapia would probably all work nicely)
3 or 4 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 c. kalamata olives, halved (unless you have someone, like Jeannene, who hates them)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper (I used a green one)
1/4 c. dry white wine
A drizzle of olive oil
1/4 c. feta, crumbled or cubed
1 lemon, cut in wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss everything except feta & lemon together. Bake about 15 minutes, until fish is cooked through, in a 13x9 baking dish. Toss with feta and serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4. 

Green Beans in Coriander Sauce
1 lb. green beans
1 1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 tbsp. butter
Chives, snipped over the top for garnish

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook green beans in it for about 7 minutes. Reserve about a cup of the cooking water before draining the beans. Bring cooking water to a boil with coriander & cumin. Simmer on low about 15 minutes. Stir in butter. Return green beans to pot and toss to coat them. Garnish with chives. Serves 4.

Primavera Pasta Salad
1 lb. rotini or similarly shaped pasta (I used trottole because it's what I had on hand)
A head of broccoli, cut into florets
3 slender carrots, sliced
1 bell pepper, diced (I used an orange one)
2 stalks celery, chopped
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese
8 oz. Italian dressing (I used Newman's Own light)
(or whatever veggies you like)

Cook, drain, and cool pasta. Toss with everything else. Serves 8-10. 

Italian Sausage with Peppers, August 7, 2015

My wife loves Italian sausage with peppers and the poor thing never gets it unless she makes it herownself. I am not a big fan of Italian sausage, so she got me some hoagie-shaped Italian-seasoned burger patties, in hopes that I would like those, and also grilled some chicken spinach & feta sausages. At her request, I made some rice pilaf to go with labneh for the side dish, a treat we both really love. The burgers were a little overly seasoned for me and neither of us liked the chicken sausage much, but Pie came over the next day after his dermatologist appointment and wolfed down half the leftovers, taking the rest home with him, so nothing was wasted. Even though it wasn't a meal I was into, it makes me really happy that Jeannene feels free to make dinners that please her. The whole point of both of us cooking (besides it being fun) is for both of us to get to eat what we love. My grandmom used to get together with my great-grandfather, Denis, for lunch when she was a young married woman and they would always eat the foods Grandma Sadie hated. Isn't that funny? I wish I could have joined them for some of those lunches. He sounds like he was such a lovely person!

Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash, August 6, 2015

When I make breakfast for dinner, it's usually pretty straightforward---eggs (fried, scrambled, or omelet), sausage or bacon, toast, fruit. However, the other night, I went to a bit more trouble and made a sausage & sweet potato hash with fried eggs (that, sadly, I cooked too hard---ah, well), toast, and cantaloupe slices. It was fab! I might try the hash with chorizo next time. I served it with some jarred tomatillo salsa, which was a great complement.

Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled & diced
1 lb. breakfast sausage, browned
2 bell peppers, chopped (I used one green and one red)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp. cumin
Salt & pepper

Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Cook the peppers, onions, & garlic in the sausage grease (plus extra oil, if needed) until tender. Add sausage & sweet potatoes, along with the cumin, salt, & pepper. Cook about 5 minutes. Serves 4-6. 

Lasagna Casserole, August 5, 2015

I've had some "easy" or "quick" lasagnas that aren't any good at all, but this one is. It's more like a lasagna-flavored Johnny Marzetti. Just add a big salad and, if you like, some good bread (we like Pugliese).

Lasagna Casserole
1 package spaghetti sauce mix (1 1/2 oz. size)
6 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 lb. ground beef, browned
1 tsp. salt
A good grinding of pepper
12 oz. macaroni, cooked
8 oz. pizza sauce
16 oz. ricotta
16 oz. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. grated parmesan
1/4 c. chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare spaghetti sauce according to directions on package, adding the tomato paste. Mix with ground beef, salt, & pepper. Simmer 20 minutes. Mix macaroni with pizza sauce, ricotta, & mozzarella. Add spaghetti sauce. Put in 13x9 baking pan. Top with parmesan & parsley. Bake 1/2 hour. Serves 8-10. 

Smothered Pork Chops, August 4, 2015

Dinner a week ago was definitely one of which Jeannene's parents would have approved. They were southerners, born and raised in coal country in Eastern Kentucky. I have so much fun listening to stories about the meals my father-in-law used to make when Jeannene was a kid. He was still a terrific cook when I met him. The first meal of his that I got to eat was Easter dinner and I was impressed. His cooking tended either to the fancy end of the spectrum (think gorgeous steaks and shrimp cocktail) or to comfort food. He especially loved to make enormous breakfasts---pork chops, grits, fried eggs. I think he would have loved to join us for diner last Tuesday. I made smothered pork chops, cheesy grits casserole, and sautéed cabbage. I never used to like grits at all, but then we visited Charleston and I acquired a taste for them.

Smothered Pork Chops
6 slices thick-cut bacon
1 lg. onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 c. flour
6 pork chops
1 c. hot water
1 c. milk 

Fry the bacon and set aside to drain on a paper towel lined plate. Fry the onion in the bacon fat until it's tender and a bit browned on the edges. Add to the bacon on the plate. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the pork chops in the flour. Brown them on both sides in the bacon grease, adding a bit of oil, if necessary. As soon as the pork chops have browned nicely, remove them to the plate, too. Then, add the hot water, then the milk. Stir well and bring just to a boil. Season with extra salt and pepper, if needed. Return the pork chops, bacon (crumble it), and onions to the skillet. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Serves 6. 

Cheesy Grits Casserole
2 tbsp. butter, melted
12 oz. evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 c. cooked grits (about 1 c. dry)
1 1/2-2 c. shredded extra-sharp cheddar
1/2 tsp. paprika
1-2 dashes cayenne
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix butter with milk. Whisk in eggs. Gradually add to grits. Mix in most of cheese, setting about 1/4 c. aside to top the casserole. Add seasonings. Place in a greased 2-qt. casserole and bake 25 minutes (until browned). Top with the rest of the cheese and a sprinkle of paprika. Cook another 5 minutes, until cheese is melted and starts to brown a bit. You could probably omit the butter, use non-fat evaporated milk, and sub 2% cheese to make this healthier. Serves 6. 

Sautéed Cabbage
1/4 lb. bacon, chopped (you could also use a little oil and some veggie bacon, crumbled)
1 small cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. heavy cream (you can sub half and half and probably even low-fat or skim milk)

Cook bacon crisp. Add cabbage and salt. Cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add cream and cook on medium low until cabbage is tender, 10-15 minutes. Serves 4. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

After-Work Nuts

This time of year is crazy in the pickle business, so my darling's been going in before it's fully light out and getting home sometime between 7 & 9 most nights. She is wiped out! Last week was tough and this week is shaping up to be as difficult. So, yesterday, I sent her flowers. Today, I have whipped up some spiced nuts for her to nibble on when she gets home from work. She's usually pretty hungry by the time she arrives. They're yummy, a little sweeter and less spicy than the rosemary walnuts I give away at Christmas. They make a nice gift, as well as the perfect after-work nibble.

After-Work Nuts
10-12 oz. can mixed nuts
1 tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary 
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. flaked sea salt (like Maldon)
1 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a baking sheet, evenly, and toast them until they're light golden, about 10 minutes. While the nuts are toasting, mix the other ingredients together. Toss with nuts, making sure they are completely coated. These are best warm, but are also tasty once cooled. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Burgers, August 2, 2015

For our Sunday dinner, Jeannene grilled burgers she picked up from the freezer section of the grocery. She had a box each of bacon cheddar burgers and portabella burgers. Pie chose onion buns for them, which I never think to do. I love them, but I forget, so that was a nice change of pace. They'll be nice to have on hand for turkey sandwiches this week, too! She made some burgers with cheddar, some with baby swiss, some with pepper jack, and some with American cheese. To go along with them, she picked up some microwavable (steam in box) small potatoes with herb packets---you're supposed just to add olive oil or butter with the herb mix after they're cooked. The technology was fine, but I didn't really dig their herb blend. I think I would toss their seasonings and do my own with the olive oil, next time. We also had mixed veggies, which she loves but never gets because I tend to do mostly fresh vegs when I cook. I had a lovely cantaloupe I sliced up to go with the meal and dessert was chocolate truffles from Trader Joe's.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Flank Steak & Manchego Bruschetta and Garlic Soup, August 1, 2015

Thinking I was making it for Friday supper, I began marinating my flank steak Friday morning. By the time we actually had it last night, it was amazingly flavorful and wonderfully tender. The flank steak and manchego bruschetta I assembled after Jeannene had grilled the steak was one of the best things I've eaten in a long time. Jeannene liked it quite a bit, but it was the garlic soup she was oohing and ahhing over the whole time she ate it. I found the texture a little bit creepy and, to me, the flavor was kind of blah. I was glad she loved it so much, though! I'd intended to do a green salad, too, but by the time I got finished cooking, I was too lazy even to move it from bag to bowls. I did put a decent amount on the bruschettas, at least. Those are (pretty loosely) based on a recipe from The Delachaise in New Orleans. The soup comes from Bayona, another New Orleans eating spot, although I used twice the half and half they recommend (the soup seemed to need thinning), subbed roasted garlic bread for the French bread, and added marjoram. I suspect the Bayona folks would sniff at my technique (or lack thereof) and the soup may have seemed heavenly to me, had it been made in their kitchen and not by me. However, I've long been skeptical about the use of bread to thicken soup, but had never tried it. I know now that I am not a fan. However, Jeannene gives it rave reviews.

Flank Steak & Manchego Bruschetta
1 Vidalia onion (any sweet onion works here), roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped
A big handful of parsley, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
A glug of olive oil
1 flank steak
Crostini (I made mine with roasted garlic bread)
Salad greens
Manchego cheese slices

Whizz onion, scallions, parsley, garlic, and olive oil together in a food processor or blender until it makes a smooth sauce. Marinate the flank steak in the resulting sauce for at least 8 hours. My 35 hours worked out fantastically. Grill flank steak over high flames for 4-6 minutes per side. Allow to rest no less than 30 minutes. Longer is better. I had Jeannene do the grilling just as I started the rest of the meal so that it had plenty of time to rest and re-absorb its juices. Meanwhile, if you are doing the crostini from scratch rather than buying it already crisp, slice a loaf of nice bread thinly. Ciabatta, French bread, and Tuscan bread are all lovely, if you don't spot roasted garlic bread (or don't want garlic on top of garlic). Brush both sides with olive oil, then bake about 15 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. Make a few extra to float atop the soup, if you're doing the soup. Top each piece with salad greens. If you like, you can smear the crostini slices with aioli or mayonnaise before adding the greens, but the steak is juicy enough that you won't miss it. Lay a couple pieces of the steak, sliced thinly against the grain, atop each toast, then top with a slice of manchego. I think a bit of snipped parsley makes a nice garnish. You could also reserve a bit of the marinating sauce, before you put the steak in it, and drizzle it over the finished bruschetta. It's a stunning bright green that would look terrific on a platter of these. 

Garlic Soup
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
2 onions, chopped
2 heads garlic, chopped
1 qt. chicken stock
1/4 loaf day-old bread (such as French, but I used roasted garlic bread), cubed
3 parsley sprigs
3/4 tsp. marjoram
3/4 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
Large pinch salt
Good grinding pepper
2 c. half and half

Heat oil and butter on low heat until hot and melted. Add onions and garlic. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to turn brown, about half an hour. Remove lid, raise temperature to medium, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are a deep golden brown (caramelized---this mellows the flavor). Add stock, bread, seasonings (I threw in the manchego rinds from the cheese for the bruschetta, too). Bring to a boil. Simmer on reduced heat for about 15 minutes. Remove parsley, bay leaf, and cheese rinds, if you have thrown some in the pot. Puree the soup using a blender or food processor (carefully). I love my immersion blender for this sort of thing. Return the soup to the pot. Add half and half and return to a boil. Serve topped with crostini or croutons, if desired. I also sprinkled some shaved parmesan and some parsley snippings into the bowls. Serves 4-6. 

Diner Days, July 30 & 31, 2015

I'd planned to have our usual monthiversary out dinner on the 30th and to make garbanzo cakes on the 31st. We did go out on the 30th. We decided it would be good to have some kind of dinner in honor of my mother-in-law's birthday. I was thinking we might go to a steakhouse or Ruby Tuesday, since Lucy really liked those places. Jeannene, however, thought her mom might have been pleased for us to go to a home-cooking kind of place, so we popped over to The Golden Nugget in Oxford. My in-laws used to love to order the fried veggies when they went out, so we started with an order of some of the best fried cauliflower I've ever had. For her main course, she had turkey cutlets with mashed potatoes and carrots while I opted for the (very good) roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and carrots. We both just barely managed about a third of our meal, so the rest came home for lunch. I had wanted to get some pie, because it's almost always really good in places like that, but the waitress was in a hurry to finish her shift and dropped off the bill without asking about dessert. Since she never came back, I was left with a pie craving.

I expected to make flank steak & manchego bruschetta and garlic soup for our Friday supper, but our youngest and his girlfriend were going to their favorite restaurant & invited us to tag along. This place is just around the corner from where they live in Auburn Hills and they swear it's called simply "Restaurant." That's certainly what the big yellow sign says. It's official name is Four Korners, but it's kind of cute to hear Pie talking about going to get grilled cheese and grilled ham and cheese (he always orders one of each, nothing else needed) at Restaurant. The prices are low, with the four of us eating for $40, and the service is very, very friendly and on top of everything. It's nothing to look at and you can expect other customers to eavesdrop and even chime in on your conversation. This is actually kind of fun, if you're expecting it.

I followed Pie's advice to get the grilled cheese, although I didn't also order a grilled ham & cheese, as he advised me to do. He got his usual and let me taste the ham version, which was delicious. My grilled cheese was seriously the best grilled cheese I've ever had. I like fancy grilled cheese with real cheese and good bread just fine, but my favorite grilled cheese is the sort with American cheese (and not a ton of it) and cheapo white bread (the kind I object to so strongly when it's used for communion). This rendition was perfectly proportioned and exactly the right degree of doneness. It was the kind of beautiful crisp I seldom encounter in a restaurant grilled cheese. The other food looked good, but frankly, I can't imagine ordering anything but this Platonic ideal of grilled cheese there. Pie's girlfriend, Bubbles, almost always orders seafood of some sort when someone else is paying and, given the Sunday dinner choice between fish and just about anything else, will always choose the fish. True to form, she got the salmon. It's fun to watch her dig into her fish because she so obviously enjoys every single bite. I don't think they do a lot of cooking at home, so I don't think she gets to have seafood often. Jeannene made all the rest of us shudder when she ordered the veal cutlets. She loved them, though. And I finally got my pie, a beautiful piece of lemon meringue. Jeannene's coconut cream pie was even good & I don't like coconut. Both were incredibly light and flavorful. We'll definitely return!