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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cooking Out

Our friends are retiring in droves.  The first one who really got to me was Chris.  Every once in a while we take a long weekend trip with Chris and Mark.  All of the sudden, we didn't have to abide by a teacher's schedule.  That's when it finally dawned on me that I have less than ten years to my own retirement.  Oh, my.  I absolutely love what I do so I'm not sure I'll ever totally retire.  But, there will be a time I'll slow down because there are so many other things I'd like to do.

We'd had a busy week.  Monday was Memorial Day so there was a family party at brother John's house.   He did ribs on the grill  I brought the other stuff.  All too often he does the ENTIRE dinner and I feel like a freeloader so I was totally thrilled that he actually let me bring almost everything.  I took David's cheese dip, Brown sugar shrimp from Gastro Grilling, brie with brown sugar and pecans, Casa d'Angelo Salad, Aunt Bebe's Bean Bowl, vinaigrette potato salad, deviled eggs and Strawberry Torte.

Tuesday night we were actually home for burgers on the grill smothered with onions and mushrooms. 

Wednesday was a retirement reception for our friend Phyllis Geeslin who has done such an incredible job as executive director of the Benjamin Harrison House.  Thursday was dinner out with our dear friends George and Steve and Ellen.  We were celebrating Ellen's retirement.  Are you seeing the pattern here???  So, Friday evening we were going to celebrate our friend Brenda's retirement.  Brenda and Janet used to sit behind us at Colts games.  They were some of the first friends we made as a couple lo those many years ago when Connie and I first met. 

My wonderful housecleaner, Debbie, hasn't been here for a couple of months.  Between her mom's surgery and getting engaged and all kinds of things, life has interfered with her visits to my house.  Needless to say with our schedules at work and the fact that it's spring and our yard is VERY needy, the interior has been sadly neglected.  The dust is thick and it's obvious we have a dog and a cat cohabitating with us. 

Now, what would you do?  I've been out all week with the exception of one evening.  I really wanted to eat dinner at home.  But, we were supposed to go out with Brenda and Janet.  And, my house wasn't quite ready for prime time.  Good friends ignore the dust and the dog fur.  Indeed they do!  Instead of going out, we ate at home.  What a lovely, relaxing evening.

I marinated pork tenderloin in a fabulous marinade from Cuisine At Home magazine.  That's going on my list of go-to marinades.  Then, I did fingerling potatoes in a foil packet on the grill. 

And, corn on the cob with a mustard/maple/thyme glaze.  I've made that before.  It was the star of the show.  We had a salad of lettuce and strawberries from the garden.  It also had asparagus, orange segments and toasted pecans.  Last but not least, I took an idea from Food Network magazine and ran with it.  Bananas grilled with toffee bits, chocolate and mini marshmallows. 

All in all, between Memorial Day and Friday, there wasn't a bad recipe in the bunch.  I do love the story behind David's cheese dip.  Son number one, David, pulled a deli container out of the fridge and told me he'd found this FABULOUS dip at the store.  It was kind of expensive - like $8 for a pint - but he loved it.  I tasted it and it tasted for all the world like swiss cheese, red onions and mayonnaise.  I read the ingredient list and yup, that's what it appeared to be.  So, next time we went to Columbus to visit the kids, I started at Sam's Club.  There, I bought a mongo wedge of Jarlsberg and a bag of red onions.  Shredded part of the cheese, minced the onions and moistened the whole thing with mayonnaise.  Exactly alike.  And, maybe 25% of the cost...

Here's where to find the recipes that I've already included in this blog:

Casa d'Angelo Salad
Aunt Bebe's Bean Bowl
Strawberry Torte
Corn with Mustard/Maple/Thyme Butter

Now, on to the new recipes:

Brown Sugar Shrimp.  This recipe actually had two dipping sauces with it.  A cocktail sauce and a white horseradish.  Both were good but I felt that both detracted from the shrimp.  This recipe came out of a cookbook called Gastro Grilling.  I've made it about halfway through the cookbook and want to try just about everything in it.  Actually, we've made another recipe and it was equally fabulous.  And, as you'll note, no photos...

Brown Sugar Shrimp


shrimp, tail on, shells removed, deveined
brown sugar


Put the shrimp in a bowl and pour bourbon over them.  You don't necessarily need to fully cover them as long as you toss them every couple of minutes.  We used frozen shrimp so didn't worry about refrigerating them.  Marinate them for about fifteen minutes.  Toss the bourbon or use it to cook with as long as your'e going to heat it but do not drink it!  Pat the shrimp dry.  Now, the recipe calls for dipping the shrimp in butter then refrigerating it again.  I didn't have time to do that so here's what I did - Dip the shrimp in melted butter then roll it in dark brown sugar.  Put it on a grill pan.  Refrigerate it until you're ready to grill.  Grill on both sides.  You'll have lovely golden brown shrimp that just melt in your mouth.

Soy Marinated Chinese Pork Tenderloin.  See the gorgeous char on that pork tenderloin?  It tasted equally good.  I can see this on ribs, burgers (pork, beef or turkey,) pork loin, pulled pork, chicken...  Just about anything.  Even a really meaty fish would be fine with this marinade. 

Chinese Soy Marinade


1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
1/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c purchased barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Rays and doubled this)
2 T sesame oil
2 T minced fresh ginger
2 T dry sherry or mirin
1 T chili garlic sauce

Mix and marinate your meat for about an hour.  Brush on as you're grilling also.  If you've set some aside, you can serve this on the side as a dipping sauce. 

Gooey Bananas.  I saw this idea on Food Network Magazine's calendar of ideas at the front of the magazine.  They called for splitting the banana and stuffing it with toffee bits, chocolate and mini marshmallows.  Ummm, great idea but there's not enough STUFF.  So, I peeled the bananas and laid them on heavy duty foil (you do NOT want to use a pan you've got to clean later or you will be scrubbing from now until next May...)  Then, sprinkle them liberally with toffee bits, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows.  Seal the packets and toss them on the grill.  You'll need to peek and see how they're doing.  Once the chips have melted and the marshmallows are nice and gooey, you're good to go. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Asian Lettuce Wraps

I never expected to find a savory FIVE on a blog specializing in sweets.  My Secret Recipe Club assignment came and I immediately clicked on the link.  And, I saw sweets on sweets on sweets.  Argh!  What was I going to make?  It was May 1st. At o'dark thirty on May 10th we were heading south.  First to Nashville, TN to do a couple of client reviews.  Then, down the Natchez Trace.  Followed by one and a half play days in New Orleans.  Followed by three days of NPC conference.  And, home through Memphis to see some dear friends.  Arriving Monday night, May 20th.  Almost 24 hours AFTER my post is due.  Better get my tookus in gear, eh?  Hunt for a savory recipe that'd work.  By the time I got done I had Asian Lettuce Wraps, Frito Chili Pie, Chicken Gnocchi Soup, and Funeral Potatoes.

How to decide?  Connie LOVES Fritos.  There used to be a chili parlor downtown named Charlie and Barney's.  Their specialty was chili with Fritos and grated cheddar.  I'd only eaten it once.  Connie, dozens of times.  Now, when we walk past what used to be Charlie and Barney's he always bemoans their demise.  This was my opportunity to bring a bit of that taste back.  But, I love the lettuce wraps at PF Changs.  I've never tried to make them myself.  And, Connie loves gnocchi.  He's not fond of soup but maybe if I combined the two...  I decided the Funeral Potatoes were an indulgence at this point and bought the ingredients for the other three dishes.

On top of all of the Secret Recipe Club frivolity, there's Nancy and Roy's party on Saturday.  I'm in charge of a couple of appetizers and a dessert.  Yeah, I know I could've chosen one of Heather's sweets.  But, MANY months (ok, over a year ago,) I found a recipe for Payday Bars on another Secret Recipe Club blog.  I've wanted to make them ever since.  Since we just don't do sweets around here, this is my opportunity.  Appetizers?  What's better than pickle dip?  Umm, not much.  It's the bomb.  And, yes, I got it from a Secret Recipe Club blog called Melissas-Cuisine. I'm also going to do my friend Betsy's Mexicorn Dip.  And, La Brea Tar Pit Chicken Wings.  I should've gotten two trays of wings because those things are always inhaled.  But, there will be tons of other food there so nobody will go hungry.  Me?  I'll have a plate of Nancy's German Potato Salad.  The best version of that I've EVER had.  She always sends me home with leftovers.  Now, that's a true friend!

Did I mention that on top of everything else I've been hungry for Aunt Bebe's Bean Bowl?  The ingredients for that went on the list too.

We left the office before five.  I know, don't faint, we really did.  First to Sam's.  Then to Marsh.  I made two lists - outside of the aisles and inside.  We divided and conquered.  In two hours we were home with the car unloaded and a glass of wine in hand.  I chopped and Connie opened cans.  Two saucepans with half ground turkey and half ground beef were cooking away on the stove.  Prep work was done for Saturday's festivities.  The chili for the Frito Pie was simmering away, ready for Friday night before we go see Les Miserables at Civic Theatre.  The meat for the Asian Lettuce Wraps was just about done.  Connie's beloved Boston Bruins played at 7:30.  It was 7:10.  We'd left the office at 4:30 and could actually sit down at the dining room table and eat dinner before the game.  YAY!

The head of lettuce went in one bowl.  The filling in another.  Candles were lit.  Game on.  Connie says, "Wow, this is something I used to love to eat at PF Changs."  I laughed and agreed.  So, what would you give them?  He says a four maybe a five.  No, a five.  I was going through the same thing.  What finally made this dish a five was the fact that I'd not change a thing.  They were just perfect as is.  Not only was the flavor great, but these were super easy to make.  And, in our case, they had all pantry ingredients.

Now, you're probably wondering where in the world I found these wonderful things?  You can click here to see Heather's recipe:  Asian Lettuce Wraps.  Her blog is itsyummytomytummy.    I wish I could tell you a lot about Heather but she doesn't share a bunch about herself in her profile.  She's got two kids.  And, I think they live in the Midwest.  And, she makes some killer lettuce wraps :-)

Asian Lettuce Wraps


1 head iceberg lettuce
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 -  1 1/2 c shredded carrots
1 - 1/1/2 c finely diced mushrooms
1/2 c finely diced onion
2 T minced garlic
1 small can diced water chestnuts
1 t red pepper flakes (the original recipe called for 1 T but I'm a baby when it comes to heat)
2 T soy sauce
1/4 c hoisin sauce
1 t sesame oil


In a medium saucepan, brown the beef, turkey and onion. 

When it's almost cooked through, add in the mushrooms and carrots.  When everything is done, add the balance of the ingredients.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. 

Serve the filling in lettuce leaves.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"Payday" Bars

It was time for a party on Roy and Nancy's deck.  Two anniversaries, three retirements and three 60th birthdays among the group of us.  We decided a pitch in would be fun.  My assignment was an appetizer and a dessert.  I couldn't make my mind up.  Connie wanted me to make LaBrea Tar Pit chicken wings.  I was thinking about pickle dip and mexicorn dip.  Why not make all three?  Dessert was easy.  For months now I've had the "Payday Bars" from Melissa's Cuisine on the tippy top of my list.  Along with Butterfingers and Mounds Bars, Paydays are my three favorite candy bars.  I found the "Payday" Bars when I was assigned Melissa's Cuisine for The Secret Recipe Club.  That's the month I made the pickle dip which has become a staple of our appetizers. 

So, it was decided.  La Brea Tar Pit chicken wingsPickle DipMexicorn Dip.  And, "Payday" Bars.  We were due at Roy and Nancy's at 3:00 Saturday afternoon.  Friday night we chopped up two cups of hearty garlic kosher dill pickles.  We also shredded two cups of pepper jack cheese and a quarter of a cup of parmesan.  Otherwise, nothing was prepared in advance.  The Bruins had a playoff game Saturday at 12:30 so we headed home from the office about noon.  Connie chopped the tips off six pounds of wings while I started the sauce to cook them in.  Once the wings went in the oven, I started in on the pickle dip and the mexicorn dip.  Finally, fifteen minutes til time to leave and I was ready to start on the dessert.  Peanuts in a 9 x 13 pan.  Filling in the saucepan, melted.  Poured.  More peanuts.  Cover everything with foil and pop it in the car trunk and head out for our 30 mile drive. 

The highlight of the party was Janet imitating a race horse jockey and a race horse at the same time.  Alas, none of us got a photo of that.  I did, however, get a photo of Janet and her last minute Derby hat.  And, the paparazzi snapping photos. 

Nancy's brats and German potato salad were fabulous as always.  We also had baked beans and broccoli salad.  Then, it was time for dessert.  Turns out I was the only one who'd brought dessert.  It was a hit.  Actually, it was pretty much a homerun.  I brought a few home so I could take photos.  Ok, it really sounded like a good excuse.  Or, so I thought it did - lol. 

By now you've figured out we loved these bars.  They're super easy to put together.  As Al said yesterday, "They taste just like a Payday Bar, only fresh."  I think that pretty well sums it up!

"Payday" Bars


2 c peanut butter chips
2 1/2 T butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 c mini marshmallows
4 c roasted, salted peanuts (the recipe called for 3 c but I found it took 2 c to cover the bottom of the pan...)


Grease a 9 x 13 pan.  Pour in 2 c of the peanuts. 

The bottom of the pan should be well covered.  In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and peanut butter chips.  Pour in the sweetened, condensed milk and the marshmallows.  Stir constantly until the marshmallows are melted. 


Slowly pour the filling over the peanuts.  Use an offset spatula to smooth it. 


Pour the other two cups of peanuts over the filling.  Very gently press them in with the palm of your hand.  Refrigerate the bars.

Many thanks to Melissa's Cuisine for another winning recipe!