Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ice Cream Cupcake Challenge

Ask any of my friends what kind of beer I prefer, and they will tell you I’m a stout girl through-and-through. There is nothing I love more than sitting at the pub with a nice frothy pint of stout: oatmeal, coffee and most of all chocolate! I just love the way it feels in my mouth, dense and full bodied. It’s like adult carbonated-chocolate milk! Of course, even I can’t drink even a half of stout in the warmer months – the thick heaviness I love in the fall and winter weighs me down too much during the sweltering spring and summer here in Georgia. So, full of sadness, I move onto lighter and brighter beers, shoving my longing for the dense and dark into the far recesses of my heart.

So, imagine the seed of happiness that took root inside me when I came up with an idea which would enable me to partake of my beloved stout in the sweltering spring and summer! What was this idea, you may wonder… Chocolate Stout gelato! It is sooo good, and it’s really no wonder. I mean chocolate stout is already chocolate-y, creamy and richly textured – add some milk, cream and egg yolks and you’re on your way to heaven! Each bite is so exquisite – smoothly creamy and icy at the same time, with just a hint of bite from the roasted barley and cocoa powder of the stout. So satisfying on a hot and humid day! And I know that some of you are going to be thinking seriously? beer gelato? is she crazy? But hear me out: we put beer in tons of other recipes – chilis and batters and breads and cupcakes… so why not gelato? But just do me a favor – try this out! You won’t be disappointed – I mean, my neighbors love this gelato and they only drink Budweiser!

So anyway… I was over at my good friend and neighbor Becca’s house a couple weeks ago and found out about the Ice Cream Cupcake challenge hosted by The Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious. So I got to thinking what cake/ice cream/icing combo should I try out and submit. And, of course, it wasn’t long before my mind wandered to my beloved chocolate stout ice cream. And then I thought what is the most delicious thing a scoop of ice cream can rest on and of course the answer to that is a dense and chewy, super-chocolate-y brownie just waiting to soak up the rivulets of melting deliciousness! And of course I have to top it all off with a good hefty slab of super rich Irish buttercream!

Now this cupcake is super-duper rich. The brownie is really dense and chewy and studded with chocolate chips, the gelato is malty and slightly chocolate-y with a balance of rich and refreshing, and the frosting is thick and rich. These have to be stored in the freezer (duh, right?) and I think the best way to eat them is: take them out of the freezer, peel off the wrapper (if you used one) and let them sit for about 5 or so minutes – just long enough for the gelato to melt a little and begin saturating the brownie. Trust me – these are soooo good, you’ll want to share them before you eat the whole freezer-full!

Okay, so a few notes before I post the recipe: I used a chocolate stout to make the ice cream, but a coffee stout would also be spectacular as would any stout, really. Just be sure that you like the flavor of the beer to begin with… because, well, that’s what the finished product’s gonna taste like! And remember: use organic ingredients whenever possible! I haven’t been able to find an organic Irish Cream yet, but there are many great organic stouts out there to choose from!

Brownie Bottomed Chocolate Stout Ice Cream Cupcakes

1 batch brownie cupcakes - recipe follows
1 batch chocolate stout gelato - recipe follows
1-3 batches of Irish buttercream frosting - recipe follows
cocoa powder

1. Take the gelato from the freezer and allow to soften up a bit.
2. Using a sharp knife and a spoon, remove a flat-bottomed cone shape from each cupcake. (you can discard the middles or throw into a batch of bread pudding - yum!)
3. Fill the center and up to the top of the cupcake liner with gelato. Smooth out with the back of a spoon.
4. Freeze the gelato filled brownies for about 5-10 minutes or until the gelato is no longer drippy.
5. Remove from the freezer - one at a time worked best for me - and top with a generous portion of frosting (or not, your choice!).
6. Dust the tops lightly with a bit of cocoa powder (this not only looks pretty but helps cut the sweetness of the frosting).
7. Eat 'em up! (or, if you must, return to the freezer for storing)


Brownie Cupcakes
you're making these for brownies then fill them 3/4 of the way full and it will make 12. If you're making these for ice cream cupcakes, fill 1/2 way full and it will be enough for about 18 (depending on how much batter you eat first!).

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs + 1 yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon coffee
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven the 350 and either grease or line a cupcake pan. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and coffee. In batches, beat in the flour, cocoa powder and salt until well mixed. Fold in the chocolate chips and pour even portions into prepared cupcake tins.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the brownie is set. Let sit until cool enough to handle and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Yum!

Chocolate Stout Gelato

1 can/bottle chocolate stout
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour the stout and brown sugar into a small sauce pan and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, then lower the heat a little and cook for about 5- 10 minutes or until reduced to about half. Pour the milk and cream into another larger sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer as well.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow in color, then beat in the vanilla. AS SOON AS the milk and cream come to a simmer remove from the heat. Add the milk mixture to the egg mixture in a thin and steady stream - if you add to fast the eggs might scramble, so go slow!

Cover the cream mixture with plastic wrap (press against the milk so it doesn't form a skin) and place in the fridge for a couple hours to cool. Once the stout is reduced you can either place it in the fridge too, or just let it cool on the stove.

When cool, remove from the fridge and combine the milk mixture with the reduced stout and whisk to blend. Pour into an ice cream mixer and freeze according to the directions. After it's set, pour into a Tupperware container and store in the freezer. So good!

Irish Buttercream Frosting
If you want to frost your cupcakes with a nice hefty slab like mine are, you'll need to triple the recipe. Just casually block out the large amount of butter you'll be consuming!

1 stick butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons Irish cream
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Place the softened butter into the bowl of a mixer. Beat until fluffy. Beat in about 1/2 cup of sugar and then the Irish cream. Blend in the rest of the sugar and the cocoa in batches, beating well to make it nice and fluffy. This makes a very thick, dense frosting. If you want it a little thinner, add a bit more Irish cream or some milk.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Now I know that when life hands most people lemons they will make lemonade. But me, my friends, when life hands me lemons, well, I add some sugar and some butter and make myself some lemon curd! Trust me: if you’ve had lemon curd before, then you understand my obsession I’m sure. And if you haven’t… well, you need to try some STAT! Lemon curd is the world’s most perfect blend of sweet and tart. So tangy and creamy… I have dreams about this stuff!

I love lemon curd in the late Spring and early Summer. Lemon curd is the warmth of the sun plus a still-cool breeze and minus the dripping humidity to come. Lemon curd means garden tea parties full of cucumber sandwiches and fresh fruit and scones. All of this eaten on impossibly pretty and dainty plates and accompanied by a choice of fruit-scented teas. Oh, and of course in order to partake of the fare one must be adorned in a flowery frock and a very large, very pretty, very over-the-top hat. I simply and utterly adore lemon curd. I love it on scones the best, but it’s equally sublime spooned onto fruit, spread onto toast, or as a filling for a simple tart. It’s a great cake filling, donut filling… and, well… eaten right out of the jar with a spoon. If you’re me, that is!

But, if you’re like me you are simply not willing to spend $5 plus on a teeny-tiny jar of the stuff that would be eaten in one sitting before it even made it onto a scone. And, if you’re like me, you’re not willing to stand over a hot stove patiently watching and stirring the lemony concoction. But you still need to feed your addiction to this ambrosia… what to do? Well, people I have a solution to both shelling out the big bucks and standing over a hot stove. I have a recipe for lemon curd made in the glorious microwave! It is so easy, and so delicious that it’s really easy to overlook the overwhelming amount of butter involved! And trust me, once you try this… the amount of butter won’t matter at all because you’ll be too busy eating it to care!

Remember to always use organic ingredients if they’re available; they make a difference!

Lemon Curd

1 stick butter, melted
½ cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest (about 2-3 lemons)
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks

In a microwave-safe mixing bowl whisk together all of the ingredients really well. Place in the microwave and cover with a paper towel. Zap at one minute intervals, whisking well in between, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes and usually takes me three. Don’t worry if it seems a little thin, it’ll thicken up as it cools. Pour into a bell jar or a Tupperware container and store in the fridge. Simple and delicious!

Note: if you cook it a bit too long and there are cooked egg bits in it, just push it through a strainer. It’s a pain but it will save your concoction!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Man, it's been awhile since I've posted! Which is weird, since I haven't really been doing anything special... well, I've been at the pool a ton! It's been so nice lately, usually in the low to mid 80's and it's perfect for laying out in the sun at the pool. Especially with a beer or a rum & organic soda by your side!! (doesn't quite have the same ring as rum & coke, eh?)

However, if there's anything I love more (well, at least as much as!) than being nice and warm at the pool, it's BACON! Sweet & salty, chewy & crispy... seriously, what is better than some [good] bacon?!? Nothing, that's what! So when I was tasked with coming up with a portable dinner for The Hub and I to tote along to a concert-in-the-park it was super easy to come up with a dish... BLTs!

These BLT's are sooooo delicious and it's for three reasons: using quality bacon (not the $3 a pack kind), the way the bacon is seasoned and cooked, and the seasoned mayonnaise. Also, I suppose the bread is kindof important. And using good, ripened tomatoes. Well, I guess when it's only 5 ingredients all of them are pretty important!

These are good when the bacon is hot, but they're just as good at room temperature which is why they make great picnic fare. Remember to use organic ingredients whenever you can! They almost always taste better, and they're usually fresher!!!

BLT's with Rosemary Mayo

Bacon, 8-10 slices
brown sugar
black pepper
cayenne pepper

1/4 cup mayo
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
3/8 teaspoon dried rosemary
dash of salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

4 slices of bread
lettuce (I like red leaf)
1-2 tomatoes, sliced

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Place a cooling rack on a foil-lined baking sheet and arrange the slices of bacon on the rack. Sprinkle the slices with the brown sugar, black pepper and cayenne - use your judgement depending on how sweet/spicy you want it. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until crispy. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the mayo and the rest of the spices and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Once the bacon is done and cool enough to handle you can assemble the sandwiches. Slather each of the bread slices with the mayo, and then layer on the sliced tomato, the lettuce and the bacon. I like the bacon in the middle, but you can layer it any way you like. Delish!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Shrimp in the Street

So yesterday was an awesome spring day! I woke up late, dallied on the internet, and then spent the afternoon on the beach with one of my girlfriends. Of course, it was only the beach at the lake, but that's better than nothing, right? Why is going to the beach so relaxing? Lying in the sun, reading and relaxing and listening to the [in this case, small] waves lapping at the shoreline. Is there anything more perfect?

When I got home, I did a small amount of half-hearted cleaning. My neighbor's son, who's 4, actually helped me vacuum... and was excited about it! Wish I was... no, actually, that'd be a bit weird! Next, I went to the store to get some stuff for an impromptu shrimp fry in the street orchestrated by the neighbors.

After about 15 minutes of serious debating on what I should contribute, I decided to make an avocado and mandarin orange salad with honey-lime dressing. Of course, almost none of the ingredients were organic because I didn't want to drive 30 minutes away, but despite my guilt it was still delicious. I chopped my avocado really small, and I wish I wouldn't have. I think the flavor impact would have been much better had I been thinking more about what I was doing instead of chatting with the neighbors and downing pineapple-infused tequila shots! They are such a bad influence, my neighbors! I must've been thinking a little bit, though, for I used a whole-grain mustard w/ garlic and I think it added tons of flavor. Of course, if you aren't obsessed with mustard like The Hub is, you could just use regular whole-grain mustard and add a clove of finely diced garlic.

All the food was sooo good! We had fried shrimp and crawfish, french fries, my salad, baked beans and mac & cheese. Yum! I think I gained about 10 pounds eating so much of everything!! but it was DEFINITELY worth it! All in all, I think we had four pounds of shrimp and a pound of crawfish. And among 7 adults and a handful of kids, we ate every last bite! We definitely know how to eat on the street!

Avocado and Mandarin Orange Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing

2 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard with garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
pinch salt
1/4 cup olive oil

2 hearts of romaine, shredded
2 small bunches of scallions, or 1 large bunch, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 avocado, diced into pieces just a little smaller than the mandarin oranges

Make the dressing: In a bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the dressing, minus the olive oil. Once thoroughly combined, slowly pour the oil in, whisking briskly. You can also pour everything into a jar and shake to combine.

Make the salad: Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and drizzle with the dressing, tossing to coat. Yum!

Note: If you're not going to serve the salad immediately, then don't add the dressing until you are and be sure to coat the avocado in a teaspoon of the lime juice so that it doesn't brown.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gardening is hard work!

So for the past few days The Hub & I (okay, mostly The Hub) have been working on our backyard. On Saturday afternoon/evening we laid sod in our side yard thanks to a barter of sod we got from our neighbors. Of course, you have to pre-order your sod. And it has to go into the ground (onto the ground?) within 24 hours of you receiving it. And of course... it was raining and thundering all day. Oh well! Truthfully, I didn't really do much work per se but I did stand in the rain with The Hub and offer unhelpful advice and gripes. And I did dig up some weeds and help level out the yard! Okay... I went and had margaritas with the girls while The Hub did the job of actually laying down the sod. But he told me I would be less helpful if I stayed! So I went.

Sunday I mostly lazed around the house, refusing to do any housework and recovering from the pitcher of margaritas + beer I drank the night before. Take my advice: do not drink a whole pitcher of margaritas by yourself. Or rather, do not drink 4 pitchers of margaritas with three of your friends. Oh, and also don't do karaoke after partaking of the margaritas. And don't demand to the wait staff that each subsequent pitcher be "stronger! They need to be stronger!". Yeah. Apparently, I was "funny". Whatever that means (I think it means I maybe embarrassed myself... which would probably be mortifying if I truly cared).

Anywho, I -gasp!- did actually make a good dinner! I know, right! Mainly, for The Hub to thank him for his awesome sod laying job. I would have made steak (I think steak is almost as good as sex to him!) but I didn't have any in the freezer and there was NO WAY I was leaving the house, so I made burgers out of the ORGANIC ground turkey I had in the freezer.

These were some damn good burgers, let me tell you. I grated cabot spicy habanero cheese in them along with some spices and YUMMY!

I made a really good mediterranean-inspired potato salad to go along with them and it too was damn good! Of course, I really believe that anything with sun-dried tomatoes and capers is delicious. But, I really love sun-dried tomatoes and capers!

Monday, I did a [very] little bit of cleaning and one of my best girlfriends and I went and looked at plants for the yard. When I got home, I found out that The Hub, just home from work, had already weeded our largest raised flower bed, relocated the multiplying and spreading tropicanna lilies and transplanted our pineapple mint (which, let me tell you, could take over 10,000 acres of forest, FOR SURE)! Of course, I got roped into helping him, and we weeded the graveled area of our yard. I was actually really surprised, because once I got gloves on to protect me from the nasty bugs, pulling up the weeds really didn't take that long. Then The Hub raked all the gravel around and leveled it out all nicely. By the time we were done, though, it was late and I was tired from being not-lazy and did not want to cook. So we had [ORGANIC] spaghetti & canned sauce. Awful, I know, but surprisingly we were still sustained.

Today we [hopefully] almost finished the yard, except for a couple of little things.
We bought marigolds and azaleas and a mandavilla and a garden arch. And two tomato plants, a red pepper, a california wonder pepper, a jalapeno, and a habanero. Did you know you can buy organic vegetable plants? You can! And -gasp!-I know this is gonna really freak you out... they don't cost any more! Freaky, right?!? I was pretty excited about it, personally.

I really hope that everything grows well, especially the newly relocated tropicannas. They're so very beautiful when they grow up, I will just cry if they don't!

It all looks really stark and beautiful, and I just want everything to GROW! GROW! GROW! But, I think it will. Last year, our little yard was absolutely overflowing with marigolds and tropicannas and I hope we get a repeat!

I can't wait until the mandavilla covers the green garden arch. Did you know those are hard to find? Fancy-schmancy $300 super-embellished arbors and trellises, yes. Simple garden arch who's purpose is only to support the beautiful climbing vine so that it can shine on it's own? It took a trip to 6 stores to find one! (thanks to The Hub's perseverance!)

Really, the last thing we have to do (and by we, I of course mean The Hub) is cut the sod around the tree-bush thing in the side yard and put some pine straw around it and the azaleas that The Hub planted. Oh, and pull up the weeds that are invading from our neighbors yard. I'm guessing we'll do that tomorrow!

Damn Good Turkey Burgers

1 lb ground turkey
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used Cabot habenero)

Pre-heat the grill to medium high. In a bowl, mix all ingredients well using your hands. Shape into four patties. Place on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, or until done. Serve on buns with arugula (or other lettuce) and mayo and hot sauce, or your favorite toppings. Enjoy!

Arugula-Potato Salad

4 medium potatoes
6 tablespoons mayo
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons diced sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon capers
2 cups arugula
2 tablespoons (or more!) of crumbled feta
Salt & pepper to taste

Dice up the potatoes into bite-size pieces and place in a pot. Cover with water and bring the potatoes up to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until they are fork tender. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a bowl, mix together the mayo, sugar, vinegar, and spices.
Once the potatoes are done, drain, rinse in cold water and place in a serving dish. Add the arugula, tomatoes, capers and feta, top with the sauce (you might not need all of it) and some salt and pepper (taste for seasoning) and stir gently to combine. This would also be great with some diced or sliced red onions or shallots, but I was too lazy to chop up anything else! Still, this is so good!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hockey & Pizza

So this past week was a busy one. I got a job on Tuesday, realized it was no good a few days later and quit. Which really sucks, because I was really good at it, but I am not going to work for someone where I will be working my ass off for 55+ hours a week and not make enough money for the effort. So, cooking wise, I didn't do so hot this week. I made pizza on Monday, then we ate out Chinese for Tuesday (since I was working and then had to go to the store I didn't get home till LATELATELATE), Pizza again on Wednesday using leftover dough and ingredients, Thursday we went out to dinner with our neighbors and yesterday we ordered pizza (don't really know why, because mine is BETTER, but everyone else was doing it, I was tired, it was hot, and I was lazy) and ate it on the street with everyone else. Organic-wise - I was 2 for 5 this week. Pretty sad. Though I did learn that I really need to work harder on making stuff and freezing it for easy and fast meals!

One problem that I'm having is this: I go shopping once a week at the Whole Foods market in my area - there are two close to me - but they're both a 30 minute drive away. Of course, no matter how meticulously I plan and execute my shopping list, something (or many things) inevitably gets left off. So then, I have to go to my local Publix. Which doesn't have a very lot of organic ingredients. For example: the mozzarella for the pizza which I totally forgot to put on the list! It really sucks, because I really would rather have organic mozz, but I just can't justify driving 30 minutes (an hour if it's traffic time) out of my way for just a couple of ingredients. Oh well, I guess you can only do as good as you can!

The [hockey] playoffs are going on right now and I think my blood pressure will remain raised for the duration. I am a DIE HARD (might not be strong enough adjective) fan of the Washington Capitals and right now we're up in the first round against the Habs 3-2. NOT GOOD ENOUGH Caps! My neighbors call after me mockingly as I rush in from the street on game days - something about it's not that big of a deal and why am I turning anti-social. The Women of RiverPark (our neighborhood, really just us on the street) had plans for Margarita Saturday and The Hub told them on Friday night (while I had myself hunkered down in front of the game), "You know if they have a game tomorrow she's not coming." LOL. What can I say, the Caps are like crack to me!

The pizza I made this week is SO GOOD. I make mine with a thin layer of garlicky ricotta cheese, but The Hub likes his with no ricotta. Do make sure if you use the ricotta that you either put the pizza pan/baking sheet on a HOT pizza stone or else directly on the pizza stone or the crust will get soggy, and soggy pizza ≠ delicious. You can put on whatever toppings you want, but I love the combo of mushrooms, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and red onions. It would also be really great if you put a sprinkle of diced pancetta on top of the cheese so it would get nice and crispy and ooze yummy goodness all over the pizza.

Mushroom, Caper & Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza

Prepared pizza crust for 1 personal size pizza - recipe follows
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Diced sun dried tomatoes, sliced red onion, sliced mushrooms, and capers
Mozzarella – diced, sliced or shredded (I prefer diced or sliced)

Pre-heat the oven to 425˚. Prepare the pizza dough according to directions for a personal sized pizza. Mix ricotta with the garlic powder and salt. Spread over the pizza crust. Top with the sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, capers and mushrooms. Grind a little bit (or a lot) of black pepper over everything and then sprinkle liberally with the cheese. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the crust is brown and crispy. Let sit for 5 minutes for the cheese to set, then cut into wedges or squares and serve. Yum!

Brandy Brooke's Delicious Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
1 package yeast
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups AP flour
1 cup whole wheat flour

Combine yeast, sugar & warm water and stir to combine. Let stand until foamy, about 5-10 minutes.

Mix in the salt & olive oil. Add the flour a little at a time (you may not need it all). If sticky, add a bit more flour. If crumbly, add more water. Mix for about 5 minutes until the dough forms into a ball, then dump out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until elastic. Form the dough into a round and place into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth. Place the bowl some place warm (72-80) and let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour.

When double is size, knead the dough a little bit. For a medium/large pizza, divide the dough in half. For a personal size, dived the dough into fourths. Form each section into a round and let the dough rest for 10 minutes so it will roll out more easily. Roll into a round or rectangle, top with items of your choice and bake in a 425 oven for 15-20 minutes. Delicious!

Note: For thin crust: after rolling out, top and immediately place in oven. For thicker crust: top and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until the dough rises a little bit.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend Grill-Out

This past weekend was truly a great spring-time weekend. We had so much fun stuff to do and soo much yummy stuff to eat! Plus, it was warm without being sweltering for once (hi Spring!) and it even got a little chilly at night.

Our fun weekend started Friday afternoon: The Hub and I had a pork loin and a boston butt in the deep freeze from our pre-organic days and I decided that there was no point in wasting it and that we might as well share with all the neighbors... so we planned a grill-out for Friday night. That afternoon I made BBQ sauce, a BBQ rub, and broccoli-cauliflower salad while The Hub lugged our tables & chairs and the grill from the garage and the backyard and set them up in our street (we live in a cul-de-sac, so it was okay!). Then, about 3:30, the pork-butt made it onto the grill, rubbed with mustard and dry rub. The loin followed not too long after, about 5:30.

As everyone trickled home from work, we all sat in the sun (or shade) and drank a few beers (or lemonade for the kids) and ate Sun Chips and peanuts. As soon as the pork was taken off the grill to rest for a few minutes, everyone brought out their contribution - a dip with tomatoes, black beans and avocado, baked beans, potato salad, brownies, cherry pie, and LOTS of chocolate chip cookies. And let me tell you - it was ALL delicious... I mean, it must have been, because there was absolutely nothing left at the end, save for a few chocolate chip cookies and a couple of brownies!

The pork was sooo delicious, (I tried not to think of the poor pig, but I mean, what would be the point in just wasting the meat?) moist and lightly smokey and very flavorful from the rub. Even the loin was moist - thanks to generous beer basting! We sliced the loin and shredded the butt, and served BBQ sauce to go with everything - not that you needed it! (I do - I LOVE BBQ sauce!) And the sauce I whipped up is sooo sweet (might be too sweet for some) and smokey and not too spicy. All in all, everything was too yummy for words. I even think we inspired others to cook some pork butt! I don't really know why more people don't cook it. I guess it can be a little intimidating, because you have to cook for a long time, but it's really easy and it's such a cheap cut of meat.

On Saturday The Hub had to go into work and I went yardsaling with Mom. We were just going for fun, but as luck would have it, I found a new dining room table! We have a rectangular table now and while I love this table, I've been pining away for a round table for some time because I think it would fit the space more nicely. Plus, you can fit more chairs- our rectangular table is huge, but you can only fit 4 chairs because the legs are weird. Now, we can fit 6-8 chairs! Waaaay better for dinner parties! I'm going to have to paint the table (it's wood - which is nice, but not what I want) and round up some chairs, but I think it's going to be so fun - I like the eclectic look of purposeful mis-matchy so I won't have to bother with finding a set of matching chairs.

As soon as The Hub got home from work and changed we headed out to the ball field with a cooler of lemonade, tea and beer for our neighbor's office baseball game & crawfish boil (They needed extra players, so he invited all of us neighbors. I did not play - I was spectator/kid watcher/beer drinker). Hub's team won, and now The Hub has been recruited for their team, lol.
After the game, we all ate our weight in crawfish, shrimp, potatoes, corn and fried fish. It was sooo delicious - although my fingers and mouth were on fire! Crawfish boils are such good food for a group of people - especially people who don't all know each other - because I think it demands camaraderie. You can't be squeamish about eating food other people touched, or getting juice all over your or squirting juice on someone else! If you're not having fun dissecting and eating crawfish, then you're doing something very, very wrong!

When we all got back to the street, we all helped peel the leftover crawfish to freeze. We got two grocery bags full of heads and shells and two small zip-top bags full of tail meat for about an hour or so of peeling! Oh, well - it was a ton of fun!! I think we need to have another one, just on the street! We spent the rest of the night hanging on the street, drinking beer and chatting. Good suburbia fun!

Sunday was a lazy day. I slept in, read, and did a little bit of cleaning. Hung out in the street in the sun with the neighbors (yes, I do that a LOT!), and one of my old high school friends, who I just found out lives down the hill (small world, right!) came over for a couple of hours to hang in the street with us. All in all, it was a super-terrific Spring weekend.

Dry-Rub & Grilled Pork Loin

1 pork loin
Dry Rub - recipe follows
1 beer
BBQ sauce - recipe follows

Pre-heat the grill to medium-hot - 350-400*. Rub the pork loin generously with mustard, then cake generously with dry rub making sure to pat in well. Sear the loin on each side for 10 minutes over direct heat, about 350-400*. Then, move to a place on the grill over indirect heat and cook for 70-90 minutes or until done. Meanwhile, drink a couple sips out of a beer and put a tablespoon of rub into it. Stir carefully, so it doesn't foam up. Every 20 minutes or so, use this to baste the loin so it doesn't dry out. When done, cover with foil and let sit for about 10 minutes, then slice and serve with BBQ sauce. Yum!

Dry-Rub & Grilled Boston Butt

1 Boston butt
Dry-Rub - recipe follows
BBQ sauce - recipe follows

Pre-heat the grill the medium to medium hot - about 300-350*. According to your grill's instructions, add hickory wood chips. Rub the butt generously with mustard and then dry rub. Make sure to pat the rub in well. Place on the hot grill, above the smoke plate and cook for about 3-4 hours until done. Make sure you watch the temperature - 300 is better than 350, but 350 is okay. When done, remove to a cutting board, cover with foil and let sit for about 10 minutes. Then, cut into large chunks and using two large forks shred the meat. Serve with BBQ sauce. So good!

Dry BBQ Rub

3 T brown sugar
4 T paprika (or 3 T paprika & 1 T chili powder - both are good)
1 T salt
1 T black pepper
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T cumin
1 T oregano
1 t cayenne

Mix contents in a bowl or jar- I usually double or triple and store in a Bell jar. This is good for pork or chicken and would probably (though I haven’t tried it yet) be good on roasted potatoes.

Super Sweet & Smokey BBQ Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
3 teaspoons liquid smoke
1/2 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t paprika
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t salt
1 t black pepper
2 t cocoa powder

Dump all ingredients into a saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 15-30 minutes. The longer you simmer, the thicker the sauce will be and vice versa. If it gets to thick, you can think it with a little water. Serve as a dipping sauce for pork or chicken. To wet-bbq - marinate in the sauce for at least an hour or overnight, then brush with more sauce during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. Delish!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last Minute Dinner

Yesterday was a good day. It was warm without being hot (yet!) and I even managed - Gasp! - to get some cleaning done. A very minute amount as I only managed to wash the dishes, clean the two upstairs bathrooms and re-organize the DVDs. But still, for me, any amount of cleaning - no matter how small - is a triumph!

The Hub had the day off too, but unfortunately we barely spent any time together. He spent the morning on the golf course, then came home and napped quite loudly on the sofa for a couple of hours. I finally shook him awake around six to remind him he'd promised me to clean out the garage - he was not happy (he's always grouchy after a nap), so I escaped to the street to hang out with the neighbors.

By the time he decided he was hungry (and done cleaning the garage and chatting with the neighbors), it was eight-thirty and I wanted something quick and easy. I gave him the option of boxed soy-tacos or black bean quesadillas with corn. He chose the quesadillas perfectly predictably - he thinks he doesn't like soy (it tastes great to me!). The quesadillas are so very fast and easy to prepare and also very delicious. If you want, you can totally leave out all of the spices I add, because the salsa does add a good amount of flavor on its own, I just personally always like a TON of spice. You could also add about a tablespoon of taco seasoning instead. I prefer to pan fry them myself, but if you so desire (say, if you were gonna make a bunch) you can place the prepared quesadillas on a baking sheet and toast them in a 375* oven for about 10-15 short minutes.

Black Bean Quesadillas
1 can black beans
1 cup prepared salsa
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon each cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano.
dash cayenne pepper
dash of salt if needed (depends how salty your salsa and beans are)
6 10" tortillas
grated cheese - I prefer sharp cheddar, but Monterrey jack is good too... or whatever you like
oil or butter for greasing the pan

Dump the black beans into a bowl and warm in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Using your hands (or a fork - not as fun!) mash up the beans. Add the salsa and spices and stir to combine - always taste for seasoning!

Oil/butter a skillet and put over medium heat. When hot, add a tortilla swishing it around to make sure it's coated in the oil/butter. Sprinkle with a good amount of cheese and let it melt a little bit, then add a good dollop or two of bean mixture and spread it around about 3/4" from the edge. Sprinkle with more cheese and top with another tortilla. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, being very cautious as you flip. When toasty and melty, cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and more salsa. Yum!

Makes 3 10" quesadillas.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moral Dilema

So, we had a wonderful weekend full of hanging out with the neighbors and it really was a blast. I am so blessed to have such an array of great neighbors! On Saturday, the hub and I cooked for everyone - Jamaican black bean burgers, roasted mixed potatoes and grilled zucchini - Yum! (all organic of course) I even got some meat lovers to eat my veggie burgers - and they liked them - Gasp! Of course they did - they're delicious! Unfortunately, I was so busy cooking and flitting around and yappin' away that I didn't get any pics of the food, so the recipe for the burgers will come at a later date. (PLEASE tell me you don't need a recipe for roasting potatoes and zucchini... you do? Oh... well, I'll post that too!)

The moral dilemma came on Sunday. Our neighbors across the street wanted to reciprocate our cookout for one of their own. Nice, eh? And it was. I went over to help Her make a salad tossed with vinegar (organic) and oil (she grows her own lettuce in the kitchen - genius!) and mac & cheese (Annie's) while He started the grill for the MEAT (fillets for the adults and pork chops for the kiddos).

Now, I ate everything - including a fillet, which was DELICIOUS might I add - and my moral dilemma is this: the MEAT was not organic. That means, basically, that the whole time I was eating the delicious hunk of charred goodness all I could think was "I hope the stunner killed the cow" among other things. (Gross, I know.... so are most of the thoughts in my head!) Now... for in the future- do I suck it up and eat the meat to be polite (I don't expect everyone else to shell out extra $$ for humanely treated meat for me... though they should!!), do I bring my own meat, or should I just eat the sides???

I know most vegetarians or vegans would choose the latter two, but I don't know... it seems kindof rude to me not to eat what people have kindly (or not so kindly for the cow) prepared for me. I mean, if it was disgusting I would still choke it down, if I didn't like it would still eat it... it's how I was raised (I know, politeness is a fastly dying art)! And plus, more than likely, the sides are not going to be of local, organic or non-overly-processed origin anyway... do I eat nothing?

So, basically, I think the answer I've decided is: err on the side of politeness. Because, if you offend someone they may not invite you back or ever cook for you again - and it's not really fair to expect someone to cook for you following your exact dietary specifications, no matter how noble they are.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Did I Miss Spring?

It is HOT here in Georgia - well, considering it's only the beginning of April! It's been .80s all month, so far - it was almost 90 yesterday and 85 today. I just can't bring myself to turn on the AC, so we've been sucking it up. It's not usually that bad (stays 80-82 with the windows open) but when you have the oven on... Unfortunately, I had the oven on today. :-(

We had bruschetta for dinner tonight and I was planning on grilling it, but I was in la-la land as I assembled everything. I didn't even think to turn on the grill to preheat and sometime during the assembly/salad making process un-thinkingly turned on the oven to pre-heat! When the oven dinged signaling it was all warmed up I figured "What the heck, the damage is already done" and just decided to throw the bruschetta in there. Relatively a minor misstep if I do say so myself.

Anyway, it was delicious, although I do like it better on the grill - I like the subtle smokiness it imparts. I made a simple chick pea salad to accompany it (originally, so I wouldn't have to turn on the oven ;-)) and it was good too - it would have been better if I hadn't forgotten I was out of onions! Usually I keep a bowl full on the counter, but I used the last one a couple of days ago and didn't remember to pick a few up at the market yesterday. Oh well! It was great anyway - you should be able to tell by the way I'd eaten half of it before I remembered to take a picture! And remember - always use organic if you can find it - it may cost a little (or sometimes a lot) more, but it's worth it in the end.

small loaf of french bread
olive oil
1-2 tomatoes, sliced or chopped depending on your preference
fresh basil, whole of ripped into pieces
garlic clove
mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced thinly
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. I use a demi baguette and slice it in half horizontally and then vertically so there are four pieces - just enough for two people (well, if you're a pig like me!). But if you prefer, you can cut the bread into rounds. Place the bread on a baking sheet and place in the oven for a few minutes until lighted toasted. Remove from the oven and rub the toast with the garlic cloves.

Drizzle the bread liberally with olive oil. Top with the tomatoes and the basil. Season with salt and pepper. Top with cheese. Season again with salt and pepper (don't go overboard, you just want to bring out the flavors). Place in the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melty and bubbly.

Chickpea Salad
1 can chickpeas
Few leaves chopped lettuce (I use red leaf)
1-2 tablespoons diced onion
1 tablespoon Capers
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

1/3 cup mayo
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic, diced finely
dash cayenne or red pepper flakes (if you like a little kick)
salt & pepper

Throw the first five ingredients into a medium sized bowl. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients to create the dressing, making sure to taste for seasoning. Pour over the salad (be careful, depending on the amount of lettuce/personal preference you may not need it all). If you're not in a gigantic hurry (like I was today), let the salad sit for a few hours or overnight - it will be a million times tastier. I usually sprinkle with a dusting of freshly grated parm and some fresh parsley right before serving. Yum!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Season of Change

The arrival of spring this year is heralding many things - new life, warmer weather, and a new leaf in my book: I have finally convinced my husband that now is the time to turn organic. Of course, he has a few stipulations: I'm not allowed to give him any grief on eating non-organic (even meat) at a restaurant, I must keep the fridge and pantry stocked with available (and tasty!) snacks and fast meals, and I can't spend a fortune. Do accomplish this, we are going to only consume meat once a week, fish once a week and beef once a month. (My husband is VERY depressed about the last one - I think man is usually a synonym for beef lover)

I must admit I'm a bit nervous about my new adventure. I've always been a great cook, and I'm worried about finding yummy and filling recipes that will keep my meat-lover happy and full (and not cheating at McDonald's!) for those five vegetarian days of the week. I'm also apprehensive about finding enough organic options. Of course, I am going to support my local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and community farmers market (because I feel that fresh and local trumps out-of-town organic) so supplementing that shouldn't be too much of a problem, at least during the spring and summer.

So, with this new season and new challenge I have decided to start a blog to chronicle the experience and my recipes. Hopefully, this will help keep me on track, because I'm sure there will be quite a few rough patches along the way!

Reasons for the change:

If you read any book at all about our current food system (Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Skinny Bitch, plus more and more) I just don't understand how you could not want to change the way you eat. Reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and watching the subsequent movie Food Inc., well, it changed me forever. I don't want to eat vegetables permeated in chemicals. I don't want to eat food that's genetically modified. I want real food, natural food. I want food that's not going to make me sick, physically or spiritually - I want food that is going to feed my body and my soul.

Now, I like meat and I want to include it in my diet. However, every time I eat non-organic meat from some "factory farm" I just think about the poor pig/chicken/turkey/cow's life. I'm not against eating meat, but I AM against the inhumane treatment of animals. And I am against reconfiguring their bodies so they produce more meat. And I am against pumping them full of antibiotics and growth hormones. I just don't think that ingesting the flesh of something that has been genetically modified, pumped full of chemicals, mistreated and tortured can be good for you in any way - not your body and certainly not your soul.

I guess it's really a personal choice to be healthy. But, more than that, I want to choose for the world - because I really do believe that if enough of us practice local and organic eating and support smaller local and organic farmers, the world will have to change with us. And that is something worth believing in.