Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Last Hoorah?

Are you one of those people that gets all depressed that it's Labor Day and summer is over?  If you're a teacher I'm sure you are.  Personally, I'm pretty sure it's going to remain hot out for another few weeks so It doesn't bother me much.  Of course, gone will be the days of "summer hours".  Basically that's the excuse we use for eating dinner at 7:30ish every night (we're guilty of pushing 9pm as well).  With School (homework) and sports (soccer) starting up, I need to get back on the ball and back to planning dinners that can be made simply and quickly (and at a normal time).  But for those of you wrapping up the summer season with festivities in the form of cookouts, I've got one fantastic summer side for you to share with your guests.  Grilled Potato Salad with Bacon Scallion Vinaigrette from Melissa D'Arabian of the Food Network.
Forgive me for starting out with a blurry picture.  On this particular day I was making three new recipes simultaneously!  So you chop up a sweet potato (or yam) into large chunks.  Then you quarter 7 medium red skinned potatoes.  You cook them in boiling water and then drain and set them aside to cool.
While that's going on you whip up a dressing of light mayo, Dijon mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and of course some salt and pepper.
Once the spuds are cooled you add the dressing to them, mixing gently to keep them well in tact.  Next you move them to the grill where you grill each side for a few minutes.  Don't fret if you loose some in the grates, happens to the best of us.
The final step is to make a vinaigrette that involves a slice of bacon and it's juice (just kidding, grease), a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, scallions and parsley.
Whisk the vinaigrette and then toss with grilled potatoes to coat and this magic occurs!  This is good stuff.  I hope you decide to try it, your guests will dig it for sure.

Grilled Potato Salad with Bacon-Scallion Vinaigrette

(For the potatoes)
7 Med red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup light mayo
1 TBS Dijon mustard
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

(For the vinaigrette)
1 slice bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
2 TBS red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 scallions, chopped
2 TBS chopped fresh parsley
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat a grill to medium.  Put red potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 2 inches.  Bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Once the water begins to boil, after 10 min, add the sweet potatoes.  Return to a boil and cook 10 min more.  Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk the mayo, mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.  When potatoes are cool to the touch, gently toss them in the mayo mixture to coat.

Make the vinaigrette: Cook the bacon in a small skillet over medium heat until crisp, then set aside to cool in the skillet.  Once cool, pour bacon and drippings into a small bowl along with the olive oil.  In a large bowl whisk mustard and vinegar.  Slowly drizzle in the bacon-olive oil mixture, whisking to emulsify.  Add the scallions, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste and whisk to blend.

Using tongs, place the potato pieces on the hot grill and cook on all sides long enough to cook through and make grill marks, 1-2 min per side.  Handle potatoes gently so they don't fall apart.  Remove the potatoes from the grill and place in the bowl with the vinaigrette.  Gently toss to coat completely and serve warm or cold.

Yum.  That's all I've got to say about that.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Teach Your Children

If we're going to get this childhood obesity thing under control we have to do more than just sign our kids up for a bunch of sports and activities.  Teaching them about food is pretty critical.  I'm sure this comes as no surprise but we talk alot about food in our house, and we sit down together for dinner at least five nights a week, sometimes seven.  Hayden is especially into it and even asks if his chips have trans fats in them and things like that.  I love it.  Yesterday Phoebe had a major hankering to get in the kitchen and cook something.  It was kind of late and we were going to whip up a pizza for dinner so she settled for picking out a recipe to make in the morning for breakfast.
They settled on a Ham and Egg casserole (I'm going to spare you the recipe details as it involves a can of cream of chicken soup and hard boiled eggs).  Not counting the 20 minutes it took to hard boil the eggs, it took over 1 hour and 45 min for them to make this casserole totally on their own (I was was kicked out of the kitchen at one point and told no peeking).  We decided it would be more appropriate to call it brunch.  Hayden diced ham and phoebe peeled eggs.
They read the directions on the tube of biscuits and baked them until they were nice and golden.
They worked awesome together as a team.  I overheard things like "Hayden can you chop the eggs while I grease to pan?" and "Phoebe, go clean off the table while I put the food on the plates".
Hayden made me send proof to Nana that he was no stranger to chopping with a real knife.
Phoebe decided to find a table cloth and set the table for this lovely family brunch.  They really took alot of pride in their work, that is for sure.
She even tied the place settings with a ribbon (she really is a chip off the o'll Nana).
They decided to serve cut up strawberries and blueberries along with their casserole.  It was a lovely addition to a rather rich casserole.
Phoebe prepared a tray to bring everything out to the table.  I have no doubt that these kids will be perfectly prepared to entertain guests when they have homes of their own!
Finally the brunch was served.  They suggested that we "cheers", they felt so accomplished (and rightfully so!).
Here are the featured chefs, so pleased and ready to eat.  Of course we were all totally starving at that point.  They're already talking about "next time".  If your kids are still at home, no matter what their age, get them talking about and helping out when it comes to food.  When these little birds fly the nest, they won't need to hang out in a McDonald's parking lot. (They'll probably be cooking good food for all of their friends!)

Friday, August 17, 2012

What's The Dilly-O?

Ever just get on some random kick and find that you are suddenly into a food you were never really into before?  Typically I don't use much dill when I cook but this summer that has changed.  We planted four dill plants in our garden and they smell so good when I'm out there that I find myself craving dilly foods. I really liked this Orzo Salad with Shrimp and Feta that was in Food Network Magazine this summer. I ate it as a meal with a side of grilled zucchini but I think it would be a lovely addition to a brunch menu.
You start by cooking some orzo until al dente.  I'll be honest, I was a little nervous that my pasta was going to be a clumpy mess but it loosened up nicely once the oil was added.
Next you chop some shrimp and toss it with olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper on a cookie sheet.  Pop it under the broiler for a couple of minutes and you have the easiest tasty shrimp ever.  I will definitely use this quick method for other dishes that would benefit from a few added shrimp!
You'll need some lemon and cucumber and feta.  I used less lemon than what was called for because we have some sort of a lemon sensitivity in our house (not like an allergy, we just don't like our food over lemony).  This recipe also calls for olives which I left out because, well, I just don't like 'em.
In addition to dill, the recipe also calls for mint, which I also don't like.  I thought it was perfectly delicious, even with all of my omissions.  Don't be afraid to try out a recipe because of an ingredient or two that you don't like.  I'll give the recipe as it was written and you can do with it what you will.
Stir it all up and toss in some chopped scallions and a lovely summer salad is born.

Orzo Salad with Shrimp and Feta (Food Network Magazine)

Kosher salt
8 oz orzo pasta (about 2 cups)
1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails removed), coarsely chopped
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper
Grated zest of two lemons (I did one), plus 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint (I left this out)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup diced English cucumber (I'm not sure what nationality mine was)
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
3 Tbs halved kalamata olives (I left these out too)

Preheat the broiler.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cool water; shake off excess.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside while you make the shrimp, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping.

Toss shrimp on a baking sheet with 1 Tbs oil, the garlic and salt and pepper to taste; arrange in a single layer.  Broil the shrimp, turning once, until opaque and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the shrimp, lemon zest and juice, scallions, mint, dill, cucumber, feta, olives and remaining 1/3 cup olive oil to the bowl with the pasta; toss.  Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 6 hrs. (Bring to room temp before serving.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Off of the Couch and into the Mud!

A few months back I wrote a post about how I sign up for races as incentive to keep moving.  I need to be prepared when the time comes so I stay motivated to get out and run a few times each week.  Back in November, my friend Melanie and I decided to do the Warrior Dash (which was on Saturday).  This race is described as a "5k from hell" on their website.  There are 13 obstacles that range from crawling through mud under barbed wire to pulling yourself over a 15 ft wall with a rope to jumping over fire.  Temporary mental impairment? Midlife crisis? Who knows what it was that made me think this was a great idea.  I mean, it wasn't a bad idea, but I should have done a little more event specific training (besides running up that mile long hill while on vacation a couple of weeks ago).  Now would probably be a good time to thank the nice woman and fellow Warrior for saving me on that one stupid wall by pulling me over, one leg at a time.  Thank you.  Other than that, I think I did pretty good.
This is Melanie and I before the race.  Moments before this picture was taken there was thunder, lightening and a torrential downpour.  We had access to this fabulous VIP tent because we raised over $650.00 for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.  Having access to that tent (and private showers afterward) made the whole experience much less....painful? Is that the word I'm looking for?  I don't know but I can't imagine not having all of those little perks that we received.
Here we are all lined up and ready to go.  The rain started up again (as did the thunder and lightening) and we were freezing waiting for this thing to start.  Trust me, it only took about 4 minutes of trying to run up that mountain until we were sweating our butts off.  The rain continued for about the first half hour that we were on the course (this 5k took an hour and a half to finish!) then the most amazing thing happened.  We were on a trail running through the woods and just coming to our first obstacle.  A mud pit that upon entry was just over ankle deep.  Then I took another step and I was in up to my waist!  After that we were a little jammed up as people entered a tunnel (think big drainage pipe).  As I was waiting to enter I heard another rumble of thunder and looked at one of the staffers to see if they tell people to go back if it's lightening.  He did not.  I got into this tunnel that was probably 12 feet long maybe (I stink at judging these things) and right as we're approaching the end I see sun shining on the grass!  No kidding, we got out and it was perfectly sunny without a cloud in the sky.  Alllllrighty then.  That was weird.
So after a whole mess of rigmarole (I have no pictures of that stuff because o'll Nels was only able to see us at the start and at the finish) we enter the final mud pit (1hour and 30 min after starting).  This is a good time to thank Melanie for her patience and waiting for me here and there along the way (have you seen the guns on that girl? What the...).  Thank you.
Shockingly enough, my only battle wounds were from this type of activity.  All that crawling on my bony knees in the rocky mud left me a tad scraped and bruised.  Could have been much worse (if that nice girl hadn't helped me over the wall I might not be here to write this post, I'd be in a hospital bed in the Catskills). 
Here's Melanie looking spunky at the finish.
And myself, emerging from the mud for the final time.
Ah yes, a couple of Muddy Mama's.  That was our team name for fundraising.  I think it suits us.
They even collected our muddy shoes to recycle into new shoes for people who need them.  Those Warriors really know how to lend a hand.
And when all was said and done we had our free Miller Lite (best damn beer I ever had) and got to get all cleaned up with the shower we earned.  Now would be the perfect time to thank everyone who donated on our behalf!  You can now see the why I was so insistent on getting that shower.  So the moral of the story is, get up off the couch, try something new, have some fun doing it and live to tell about it.  Cheers!