The {We Finally Have a Grill!} Perfect Steak Marinade

This is my favorite steak marinade that is easy to throw together and will give you delicious steaks whether you marinate them from two or twenty-four hours.  I always change things up slightly each time I make it based on what I have on hand but this is the basic outline. As I wrote in my last post, we had family over for dinner last night and we successfully used our grill for the first time.  Is anything better than food hot off the grill (and a clean kitchen to boot!)

What to buy (serves 6-8):

  • enough steak to feed your crowd (I made 6 smaller filet mignons and 3 flank steaks to feed 6 with some leftovers)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ginger paste
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon coffee grounds

What to do:

  • whisk all of the ingredients except steaks until combined
  • pour marinade over steaks and marinate for a few hours in the refrigerator, discard marinade
  • grill steaks on medium high to your desired heat

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Charred BLT Salad with a Pesto Vinaigrette

Happy Friday friends!

We had my family over for dinner last night and marked the occasion by firing up our grill, a hand-me-down from my parents, for the first time! It was great to have my Dad on hand to teach Joe the ins and outs of the grill that he has mastered over the last 10 years.  We’re excited about using this puppy all the time this spring and summer.  DSC_0465

These puppies were banished to the yard when the smell of meat started to fill the air.  DSC_0463

Fully in the grilling spirit, I decided we’d grill everything for dinner including steaks, potatoes and our salad, the Charred BLT Salad with a Pesto Vinaigrette.  This salad is based on the classic BLT sandwich with bacon and tomatoes. We grilled the tomatoes in foil  and finished the salad with cheese that melts as it hits the warm lettuce.  If you’ve never had grilled romaine I recommend you give it a try because it’s delicious and a crowd pleaser. The grill adds a lovely smokiness and the high heat releases great flavor in the romaine.

What to buy (serves 6):

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling on lettuce
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 romaine hearts, halved lengthwise
  • 8 strips bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

for the pesto vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons kale pesto (or whatever pesto you like)
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard

What to do:

  • to make vinaigrette stir all ingredients until combined
  • make an aluminum foil packet large enough for the tomatoes and sprinkle them with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • preheat grill to medium high heat
  • drizzle cut sides of lettuce with olive oil and place lettuce, cut side down, on a grill rack coated with cooking spray
  • wrap tomatoes in foil and add to grill, cooking for 10-15 minutes or until tomatoes shrink and are soft to the touch
  • cook romaine side for 5 minutes or until the leaves begin to wilt and are marked with grill marks, remove to a platter
  • top romaine with  cheese, bacon, tomatoes and pesto vinaigrette

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Some Good Reads {Spring 2014}

It is finally feeling like spring outside so today I’m finally sharing my spring reading list.  The usual suspects of cookbooks, books about food, biographies and mysteries are represented as well as my newfound unrelated interests in pregnancy and football.  What’s on your nightstand these days? If our reading tastes are aligned and you want more book recommendations you can find my fall 2013 list here, summer 2013 reads here and winter books here - happy reading!

  1. John Grisham’s latest, Sycamore Row, revisits the courthouse from A Time to Kill and is centered around a handwritten will that leaves a fortune to an unlikely and unsuspecting recipient.  It’s a quick read and classic Grisham.
  2. If you liked the hugely popular novel Gone Girl, check out The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison.  It’s dark and creepy with plenty of twists to keep you hooked.
  3. Investigative journalists, Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian take on college football in The System.  I really enjoyed this in-depth look into the world of college football from the “hostesses” willing to do whatever it takes to land a top recruit to the seven-figure black box recruiting slush funds.
  4. I’m a fan of comedic memoirs from the likes of Chelsea Handler to Kathy Griffin so I was anxious to read Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) and it did not disappoint. It’s part memoir, part self-help with a dose of inside-Hollywood commentary that’s as funny as you’d expect from the star of The Mindy Project.
  5. I always have a few cookbooks on my reading list and this spring is no exception.  My Aunt Perry introduced me to the briney Pickles and Preserves, a cookbook from a Chapel Hill author who has mastered the arts of pickling and preserving everything from yellow squash to peaches.  Pickled okra, muscadine jam or habanero gold pepper jelly anyone?!
  6. Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers) is from the the editor of the New York Times’ popular “Modern Love” column and tackles ten aspects of love: pursuit, destiny, vulnerability, connection, trust, practicality, monotony, infidelity, loyalty, and wisdom. It’s a hopeful read that despite its many themes, focuses on the pursuit and preservation of monogamous marriage.
  7. Last weekend I travelled with my husband on his work trip to LA and Dana Point.  On the long flight out to California I read what only seemed appropriate: Andrew Morton’s Tom Cruise: An Unathorized Biography.  If you followed my previous book lists you might remember I read and recommended Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.  This biography of the star takes a similarly well-researched look at the controversial religion and one of its most outspoken, notorious advocates.  It’s a quick and interesting read for anyone with an interest in pop culture or biographies.
  8. To counter the admittedly low brow #7, I started A Short History of Christianity  by the prolific Australian historian, Geoffrey Blainey on the plane ride home to NC.  This is, as the name suggests, a portrait of Christianity from its inception up through the modern church and Blainey’s impressive storytelling ability keeps the book from being too academic or meandering.
  9. I checked out quite a few books on pregnancy from the library after we found out we were having a baby but most of them only served to scare me about pregnancy and parenthood.  Thank goodness a friend sent me this gem: Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What YouReally Need to Know. This book breaks down the common misconceptions about pregnancy using economics and hard data and is more reassuring than terrifying.  I appreciated its   real world, useful advice and I’d recommend it to anyone who is thinking about having a baby or is already pregnant.
  10. The next three books are on my to-be-read-next list as I either don’t have them yet or haven’t cracked into them.  Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty From Amazon: “Often compared to the Kennedy clan because of the tragedies and scandals that had befallen both wealthy and powerful families, Crazy Rich, based on scores of exclusive, candid, on-the-record interviews, reveals how the dynasty’s vast fortune was both intoxicating and toxic through the generations of a family that gave the world Band-Aids and Baby Oil.”
  11. I love David Lebovitz’s blog which chronicles his life in France so I’m anxious to read his new book My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories which comes out in mid April.
  12. Bread and Butter is a behind the scenes look at two restaurants in a struggling Pennslyvania town.  Amazon describes it as “Kitchen Confidential meets Three Junes in this mouthwatering novel about three brothers who run competing restaurants, and the culinary snobbery, staff stealing, and secret affairs that unfold in the back of the house.”

California Dreaming and Puppy Love {in pictures}

 We’re headed home today from Joe’s quick work trip to Dana Point, CA. It’s gorgeous here and we lucked out with great weather.

We neglected to get a good picture besides this selfie photo-2but I did get some beach shots:

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While this trip wasn’t technically a baby moon, my bump is big enough now to garner attention from strangers and kind waitresses who bring me surprise dessert.  If I can’t drink a beer on National Beer Day, at least I can chocolate?!

IMG_1213We’re sad to leave such a gorgeous place especially as temps rise into the 80′s today but we’re more than excited to get home to see our furry babies who are getting so big! I can barely pick them up anymore but Red loves to be held (as evidenced by her arm placement)  and Bengal tolerates it for a few seconds (note the squirmy pose.)  They’re big enough now for me to use a tandem leash and it has made our walks so much more pleasant.

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Spicy Cucumber Cashew Salad

The Roasted Tomato Feta Salad I posted last week was so well recieved I decided to share another one of my favorite healthy, simple and flavorful salads.  This salad will taste best if you have some time to let it set in the fridge for a few hours before serving chilled or at room temperature.  The fish sauce gives it a delicious Thai flavor and you could substitute mint, parsley or your favorite herb for the cilantro.

What to buy (serves 4-5):

  • 2 large cucumbers, halfway peeled and sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon Texas Pete or other hot sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1/2 cup cashews, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

What to do:

  • cut ends off cucumbers, then peel but leave thin strips along the cucumber so that you get a striped effect when you slice them
  • combine salt, pepper, lime juice, olive oil, fish sauce, sugar, Texas Pete, garlic and ginger, stirring to mix well
  • pour dressing over cucumbers, sprinkle with cilantro and cashews

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Roasted Tomato Feta Salad

Joe has to travel a bunch this week for work which means I’m cooking for one.  Well for one and a half; this baby of mine has been demanding an inordinate amount of Panera bagels and mac n’ cheese, and not the made from a roux kind,  the Kraft, bright orange, squeeze from a pouch kind.   To mitigate these meals and in the absence of my carnivorous husband, I’m also eating a lot of big salads and roasted veggies like these cherry tomatoes. Roasting caramelizes and intensifies their flavor and they’re perfect with salty feta, sharp balsamic and fresh basil.  Substitute mozzarella if you want to go the traditional Caprese route.  DSC_0411

What to buy (serves 2):

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 12 fresh basil leaves

What to do:

  • preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan (I line mine with aluminum foil for easier cleanup)
  • combine olive oil, balsamic, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper and drizzle over tomatoes
  • roast for 20-25 minutes until the tomatoes skins begin to shrink
  • sprinkle with feta and scatter the basil on top
  • serve warm or at room temperature

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Buffalo Chicken Salad {in your Crockpot}

 

I love buffalo wing sauce and I’ve posted several recipes in the past starring the orange goodness like Buffalo Shrimp with Blue CheeseSpicy Buffalo Chicken Soup and Buffalo Blue Cheese Dip.  Today I’ve got another one for you! The best part about it is you  can make in your slow cooker with under ten ingredients.  It’s truly simple and delicious! Alternately, you could make this as lettuce wraps or sandwiches and if you’re a dressing fan, it would be great with some ranch.  DSC_0431

What to buy (serves 2):

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce
  • 1 head lettuce, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled

What to do:

  • combine chicken, onions, garlic and broth in crockpot cook on high 3-4 hours or low 6-7 hours until chicken is no longer pink
  • remove the chicken, save  1/2 cup broth and discard the rest
  • shred the chicken, return to the slow cooker with the 1/2 cup broth and the hot sauce and set to on high for an additional 30 minutes
  • using a slotted spoon so you don’t get too much liquid, serve on a bed of romaine, sprinkled with blue cheese

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A Blue Coconut Birthday Cake for the BOYS in my life!

DSC_0415This weekend we’re celebrating Joe’s birthday and we both got the best present ever on Friday at the doctor’s office when we learned that we’re having a BOY! I was convinced it was a girl because both of our families are full of girls but I’m thrilled!  Having a son is going to be a whole new world and I’m happy to remain the only woman in the house.

To celebrate Joe and the the little man on the way, I made a decadent blue coconut cake that looks disastrous (how’s that for honesty on a food blog?)DSC_0409 but thankfully still tastes pretty good.   The trouble started after I planned to make coconut cupcakes but realized at the last minute that my muffin tins didn’t make the trip from VA to NC.   I used a bundt cake pan instead but didn’t vary the recipe.  I promise I sprayed the pan well but half of the cake stuck when I tried to flip it out.  I did some surgery to cover the uglier bits with icing and served already sliced to hide my handiwork.

Admittedly, I’m a huge cheese ball so I also wanted to dye the cake according to baby news but my Target didn’t have food coloring so I picked up some blue jello mixDSC_0387 and using the zebra cake technique I found here, tried to give the cake a marbled look.  It sort of worked (!?)DSC_0423 and the cake has a slight blue tint and subtle blueberry flavor.  I sprinkled the top with edible gold stars to make it festive and served with blueberries.  I hesitate to share the recipe as the finished results aren’t beautiful but decided to post anyway because it tastes great.  If you decide to make this recipe I’d recommend making cupcakes or using 9 inch cake pans to make a layer cake instead of a bundt pan.

What to buy:

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs at room temperature
  • 2-3 tablespoons food coloring or jello mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk (I used 2%)

for the frosting:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons coconut milk

What to do:

  • preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  • cream the butter and sugar on high speed with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes
  • with the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition
  • add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well
  • in another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  • alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry
  • spray or butter and flour pan
  • set aside half the batter and to the remaining half add food coloring or jello mix, stir until blended
  • using an ice cream scooper, pour two scoops of vanilla batter into pan and then pour one scoop of colored batter on top of vanilla
  • continue to alternate between vanilla and colored layers until pan is filled
  • bake cake for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean
  • cool cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely
  • to make frosting, using a mixer, cream together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, salt, and coconut milk
  • add the confectioners’ sugar and coconut flakes, mix until combined
  • frost the cake and sprinkle with the remaining coconut if you like

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Kale Pesto Stuffed Baked Potatoes {in your Crockpot}

DSC_0427This recipe was inspired by one from the Easy Sides section of my April Food Network magazine.   I’d heard you could make baked potatoes in the crockpot so I decided to give it a go and it worked great.  I was using my slow cooker to make a chicken recipe so I cooked the potatoes at the same time using my metal shelf insert.  If you’re not using this you can just lay your potatoes in the base of the crockpot.  I also used pine nuts instead of walnuts in the pesto and parmesan instead of Swiss cheese.  Kale makes for a wonderfully flavorful and beautifully green pesto.  I doubled the magazine’s recipe so I could freeze half of the pesto to use another time.  DSC_0407

What to buy (serves 2 if serving one potato per person and makes 4 cups of pesto):

  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2/2 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons for baked potatoes
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated plus more for garnish
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 cups chopped kale

What to do:

  • pierce potatoes a few times with a fork, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil per potato and sprinkle with salt and pepper, wrap in aluminum foil
  • add wrapped potatoes to crockpot and cook on hight for 2-3 hours or until softened
  • puree pine nuts, olive oil, cheese, salt, pepper, garlic and kale in a blender or food processor
  • serve potatoes warm with pesto spooned inside halved potatoes (the amount is up to you and how much you like pesto!) and sprinkle with parmesan

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Apple and Blueberry Hand Pies

I often use frozen berries in smoothies and in baking so I jumped at the chance when Wyman’s of Maine asked me to try their frozen blueberries in a Sally Cooks recipe.

I was having a few friends for dinner so I decided to make individual apple and blueberry pies for dessert.  I experimented with a few different ways of making the pies.  My first attempt sprung from a Pinterest image but didn’t work out very well.  I cored two apples, drizzled the inside with lemon juice to prevent browning and sprinkled a filling of brown sugar, spices and oats inside.

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Then I mummified the apples with pre-made pastry dough, using half a pie crust on each apple.  DSC_0231

I baked them until the dough was golden brown and while they smelled wonderful, I wasn’t thrilled with the results. The apples didn’t bake all the way through so they had a uneven texture and mushiness.  The pastry flaked off the apples when I cut them which would make serving difficult and a whole apple plus half a piecrust worth of dough made for a too large serving size.

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So, the following recipe is my second attempt which allows you to use frozen blueberries and to make serving size smaller. Again I used pre-made pie crusts but feel free to roll out your own pasty dough.  You’ll see from my pictures that I tried a few different ways of folding my hand pies but I think a triangle shape worked best.DSC_0222

I served the bubbling fruity hand pies with vanilla ice-cream and an oat crumble topping. DSC_0249

DSC_0259They were a big hit and the blueberries couldn’t have tasted sweeter or fresher.   Wyman’s guards against mushy berries by freezing the fruit within 24 hours of harvesting to prevent the slow growth of ice crystals inside, which expand and destroy the cell structure.

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Thanks to Wyman’s for the delicious berries!

What to buy:

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 apple, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 pie crusts, chilled (not frozen, if they’re too cold or too warm they’ll be hard to work with)

What to do:

  • preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • in a blender or food processor blend butter, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt
  • cut pie crusts into 2 or 3 triangles (depending on how many you’re serving/how big you want the pies to be)
  • spoon apples and/or blueberries onto triangles, sprinkle with oat mixture and fold closed, dough should stick to itself
  • place remaining oat mixture on a lined baking sheet (or you can use the aluminum pie tin as I did) and toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes
  • at the same time as oats are toasting, place pies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake until crust turns golden brown, about 25 minutes
  • serve while still warm with ice cream and sprinkled with toasted oat topping

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