10 July 2011

July 4th BBQ and Smack Down Challenge

 So here I sit unexpectedly home at 3pm with a post July 4th food hangover. Yup. I get food hangovers. Tight jeans, headache, a lack of sleep when holidays fall on a blasted Monday, fatigue and the inability to have a good attitude. For me, physical well being affects psychological well being affects the emotional well being or any combination of all the above. I had a very productive, very busy weekend...don't ask me what I did because...well because of the hangover. It hurts to think and I must nap before an evening of soccer practice but I am determined to share the fun I had at the famous Coleman 4th of July BBQ on Monday (check out Jill's blog here) and the first ever smack talk challenge that I gave my BFF Kelly prior to the holiday. Kelly is always telling me to shut it on her blog but it's because I know her just a bit too well :-) Little does she know how much our brains work the same...birds of a feather, right? We both LOVE to eat cook and when Kelly decided to start a food blog I proposed the idea that we give each other periodic "food" challenges just to keep us excited and, well, embrace our competitive sides. I had been entertaining the idea for months but I wouldn't commit since I have a habit of, well, over-committing and underachieving. What better way to take the plunge than to make it into a little cut throat friendly competition. Kelly is an amazing cook. Kelly's fearless personality to try new things has opened up doors for me I didn't know needed opening. She is an amazing cook and friend so whatever smack talk I give her, I know she can not only handle but will also return. Here's her blog. As you will find, her hubby is in the military and they just PCS'd (moved) to Guam. Lucky dawg! She has 4 kiddos and less gray hair than me (no fair!). Our differences start at our hunkering for what makes our bellies happy. We aren't completely divided but she definitely has Asian food (specifically Korean) at the top of her "love" food, I prefer Mexican or Italian. Either way, the challenges will sometimes be easy and other times, well, challenging. For now, life is crazy for both of us so we are starting with the obvious...the 4th of July smack down. But before I go there, I introduce to you a few pics from our Independence Day celebration here in the Pacific Northwest. The good news, it didn't rain. I can handle that. My daughter said the water wasn't warm, but she still sacrificed herself...

Cute kid! But there were lots of cute kids there :-) I won't post all their pics here simply because I'll enjoy it, but you'll be bored to tears. Let's carry onto the fun, fare and details of the day. Of course the biggest thing I was looking forward to was the grub. Jill had her eyes on a new slaw recipe and stuffed jalapeno poppers, Bret had the meat marinating in a dry rub and everybody was showing up with something different. I think the fact that I'm Southern Baptist worked out perfectly....and if you know Baptists, we sure like to eat. The table was scattered with everything from chips, baked beans, cupcakes, cake pops and all kinds of salads to sweet tea, lemonade and pie.Yea baby! Here's a glimpse at some of the goodies...

Our resident BBQ'r and smoking pro, Bret! When you want meat, he is your go to guy. He hunts all kinds of game, raises pigs and chickens, makes his own jerky (I can't get enough of it!) and brines his own fish. I'd want this guy on my team if I was stuck on an island. Who cares about the boat, a girl needs to eat ;-)

Please note the crowd around him. No, it's not because everyone was starving, it's because of the smell of cooking meat that teased you the entire time it was cooking. His awesome wife, Jill, is on your left and his Mom is on your right.

You see what I's the other white meat. Yum!

Ok, I'm a rotten friend. Jill asked me if I had a kitchen item that would julianne and I said "duh of course and yes, I would bring it over! I own a food processor with a julianne attachment and I thought "oh, I'll just bring my pampered chef mandolin...that will be easier to transport and just as quick". Well, that only works if you bring the correct blades. Fail.  I tried to redeem myself by cutting it all up by hand...which I do like to cut things up but lemme just say that I have appreciation for any and all kitchen utensils that save you time. Here's my tan (yes I'm jealous) friend Jill stirring up the zucchini/carrot slaw. Again, no picture of the final product since by then my overtired brain was in eat mode not picture/blog mode. Imagine that.

Here is some bacon wrapped jalapeno stuffed poppers that Jill found a picture of on Pinterest. If you haven't ever wasted even more time of your busy life checked out Pinterest, it's fun if you are the creative type. Check it out heremojo rolling. Kudos to Jill for seeing a mouth watering picture of something oooey gooey and delish and trying it AND for her uberly resourceful husband for improvising on the popper holder. I would have gone to Cabela's and paid way too much money for one, only to discover the jalapenos were too dang hot for me to eat. I liked the idea of grilled bacon and the aged white cheddar that filled the inside. On to dessert...There we lots of yummy items there with suga...I know I's not good for gives you belly fat, the more you eat the more you want and let's not talk about what it does to your heart rate...blah blah blah. One day maybe I'll snap out of it but for me the love baby...

Cupcake design by Annette...her husband bought a Harely and she decided to take up a new hobby and go full force. Ok, that's the short story but she did decide to sign up for a basic cake decorating class and Michaels. She "needed" support, so I did Maggie :-) I just want to point out that she did this BEFORE we even had the first class.

Again, this is Jennifer. A year or two ago she picked out a recipe for some berry nilla wafer combo stuff. Now when Jennifer was little she baked and cooked with me ALL the time. Next thing you know I realize she is hardly ever with me in the kitchen lending a hand and having fun. I wasn't going to say no. She wrote up a list of ingredients for me to purchase and I let her have at it. It is not only 4th of July festive and it's pretty but it has sugar is the only time the entire year I use this trifle bowl. Now I don't have to get rid of it cuz I DO use it :-) That's a win win.

Ah, the cake pop craze. It's a cake, it's a's a cake pop. Aren't they awesome. I personally haven't tried to make my own gf ones yet and frankly the idea of mixing together the cake and the icing and dipping it in chocolate doesn't sound that great to me. My friend Deanna and her son Bridger made them.

Now on the the finale'. I started this post 5 days ago but nothing in life cooperated with me :-( Dislike. I spent a few hours 2 days in a row but I just couldn't stop adding pics and blabbing with my fingers. In my defense my laptop doesn't upload pics very fast. This whole blogging thing has a bigger learning curve to it than I thought. I promise to get more efficient...some day. So here they are 4th of July challenge smack down contribution. Gluten free mini chocolate cupcakes (from scratch) with Chocolate Vegan Frosting.

I topped them off with yummy blueberries, chopped walnuts, white chocolate chips and fresh strawberries from a local farm. If you even sorta like strawberries and you are from this area you have had Spooner Farm strawberries. We joke around and say that you can actually sit and watch them rot which really isn't TOO far off from the truth. You buy them, you can or freeze them the same day or you will be throwing most of them out.

I bought these in the morning and by that night we threw away an awful lot of strawberries. Boo!

So here's the down low...I got the recipe out of my new gf cook book, appropriately titled Gluten Free Cupcakes. The cupcakes on the front looked good and the recipes didn't look difficult with a short list of ingredients. I figured that was a good place to start... with my new motto in life, keep it simple.,

Here's the recipe. I'm too lazy to type it out and hey, this works.

 The cat wanted to help by diggin stuff out of my "baking drawer".

Jennifer and my friend Annette were my first official taste testers. They said they were gooooood! All three of us took a bite on the count of three...I was more than pleasantly surprised the the Vegan Chocolate tasted just like ganache to me. It's a good thing they were mini...they were rich!

Jonathan got first dibbs at the party. Recently has gone gluten free too so I wanted to show him that gf can be good. He gave it thumbs up.

Carolee is another BFF that specializes in baby delivery (she's a midwife/ninja) but what smart woman doesn't like a chocolate challenge. She has had other vegan treats and she said there is some NASTY not so tasty vegan treats out there. This won her over. Score!

Jill is also a gluten avoider. I say that because she avoids it when possible but hasn't done much dabbling into the world of cooking or baking gluten free. She is willing to try anything I throw her way and again, she is a smart woman. Bring on the chocolate. I caught her with this big ol' smile on her face just after her first bite. Score!

Sooooooo Kel. What do you think? The reviews are in. I even got quite a few guys to eat some AND like it. BUT I loved your idea of thinking outside the box on an All American fav AND you included a tropical go to with the coconut in the crust. Check out her Apple Pie with a Twist here. Oh, let's not forget you had the grocery shopping challenges being on an island with limited choices. I say you win! I can't wait to come up with a gf version that I will sneak into a church potluck and not tell a soul ;-) Hope you enjoyed the culinary love folks!

03 July 2011

Cupcake Wine, Expresso and Pizza

My, what a day! We didn't get to sleep in but that's ok since I hit the sack just after 10pm last night and I in I don't even remember laying my head down. Bam - out! Somehow, for a change that left me to wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed by just after 6am. I think that should be a punishable crime on a Saturday...even if it is one of the ONLY days this year I woke up to sunshine. We started out day by going to help a U10 girls rec team do their practice. Needless to say I think I've been in competitive sports to long to appreciate the "casual" atmosphere of a low turn out and little regard for the passion of the sport. Nuf said. Then off to Wally World. Why on God's green earth did I think I would "beat" the 4th of July crowd out buying their BBQ grub. I found myself standing in line hunched over the cart going "could be please pay more than minimum wage to the cashiers and expect some kind sort of fast service. Should I really wait in line 20 min with only 3 customers in front of me. Bad attitude - check! That was WITH my double (or maybe triple) expresso on board this morning. Snap that sucker was strong. I don't measure things so no two expressos are the same in my kitchen. Her she is!

Ok, so it's NOT pretty but I took this pic BEFORE I drank it and taking a picture was an afterthought but I did remember the whipped cream and drizzle of carmel sauce. Why was I even thinking about blogging before I was worthy of facing the world...who knows. Hey, we all have issues :-)

My original plan for the day was to do who knows what with my friend Jill. You can find her blog here. She's a stamper.  She likes to eat but not cook. I'm down with that. She likes stuff with "character" and vintage-y type decor. I also down with that. We over think every conceivable thing but we are working hard to change that. We balance each other that way. She also has an awesome husband, Bret who loves his grub smoked and grilled and tasty. He is only one of two guys on this planet that I "let" talk smack to me and give me a hard time. We get in each others faces but I also respect him greatly and we can talk food. Yea baby!  Anyhoo, Jill had a moment of energy and texted me her ideas for a plan for the day but my stupid, wretched, unreliable phone did not receive any such message. I got home and called her but it was already too late to go hit the Olympia Farmers Market. Dangnabbit. My lack of planning bit me in the butt but sometimes it's nice to just pick up and go. After I grab I tuna sandwhich I head over to her house. Shortly after I get there, the guys came home. Boo! Bret wanted to crank out some dry rub for his selection of meat he has piled in his fridge for the annual Coleman 4th of July BBQ on Monday. My ears perked up when he said he wasn't sure if he had enough paprika (or pap-pah-ree-kah as he calls His new place of excitement in grocery land...Cash-N-Carry. Mkay...I'm a Costco junkie but I'm down with that. They have massive amounts of food so how can we go wrong...and heck, they are buying AND I get big girl time. Woot woot! I think Jill was thinking that she'd rather watch the grass grow than go grooocery shopping on a stolen moment with a friend. She smiled and asked if I was sure that's what I wanted to do was run errands with her on "our" time. I think I saw her jaw tighten and her body language change. I was too excited to oblige the hint I was being given. Next thing you know we are off on a mission. I don't remember the trip there so well.  I talked so much I couldn't possibly slow my mouth down enough to multi-task and pay attention. Next thing you know, bam, we are in the parking lot. It's not the most visually appealing store around and the carts they have are the stupid flat carts that have swivel wheels in the back. I guess that's the punishment you take for great prices and a foodie's paradise all wrapped into one package. She pushed the dumb cart...thank you Jill! At the front of the store, restaurant style "stuff". Not a lot but enough to make me almost create a traffic jam. I carried on. Jill is mission focused and we got a late start. I could go on and on about this store but let's just say I found a whole aisle of coffee flavorings, donut filling stuff and some kind of Reese's peanut butter drizzle stuff in a massive jar. Think of the possibilities...oh gosh! Breathe....Then off to Fred Meyer (which I don't frequent for no reason cuz they do have great stuff!). We got the call that Bret wanted to crank out some fresh salsa too. I insisted we NOT get a cart so that once our hands were full we had to leave. That was a fail. We didn't even make it out of the produce section and Jill got a cart. Then we had to find white wine vinegar (is there a difference between that and white vinegar Jills asks....pppppft...uh, yeah!) I feeling a sense of urgency by now since the clock is ticking. I'm trying to find someone who speaks "vinegar" and Jill has her nose poked into an end cap of "pretty" wine bottles. Oh snap. The next question on I like Merlot or does Red Velvet sound good. Red Velvet never sounds bad  to me. She grabs a bottle of each. SQUIRREL! (That's what we say when we get distracted)

You just can't deny these labels are pretty...even with my crummy cell phone pic. And I mean it's named CUPCAKE wine for pete's sake. We have to try it or we'll never know. See....

If you name your Vineyard after a dessert then you are worth a sip..and that's what I had and it has won my heart over. I don't have a glass often but when I do...Cupcake wine...yup, I'm all over it. Our day rounded out at Target where I spotted a new bag I "need". Those wretched marketing people cleverly display their purses and handbags right smack inside the door. Ugh...I didn't know I needed one till I walked in. Ok, focus Denise. Our final stop was at one her friends' house who had a dresser to get rid of.  Jill is going to give it a new life at her abode. Ahem, do people not realize I'm needy too? Please someone donate an old dresser to ME? Maybe when she gets sick of it, I'll be next on the list.(cough!) Then we headed back to Jill's house only to discover we forgot to refuel the truck. Sorry Bret but it DID have enough gas to get not only INTO town but back home again. I'm gonna pull the girl card on that one :-D. Time for me to head home after I downed the rest of Bret's sweet tea. I asked for an IV of that stuff but they wouldn't oblige me. Maybe next time. I was pretty much fried by now so I was convinced that a bowl of my coveted rice chex cereal would suffice for dinner. I did get my meat fix at Jill's house too. (How on earth do these two stay skinny - NO fair!) Bret pulled out a dish of fresh jerky and I hoovered like crane over a fish pond. Once they offered, the door was open and I was gettin' ma protein. YUM! I get home and Jennifer is just pulling a freshly frozen pizza out of the oven. I don't care that thing smelled good. I don't know what the heck a "naturally rising crust" is on a frozen pizza but it smelled good. Oh how I LOVE pizza. Seriously. It should be on the food pyramid towards the bottom. Do I just do it, take a benedryl and suffer out the rest. I wouldn't have to cook. Here's the freshly baked frozen circle of torture...

No, I behaved and I reached for my Udi's gluten free and everything else "free" pizza crust I put in the freezer. I can't let that thing mold since I paid $5 for two winky little frozen crusts. These better be good. I've had other Udi products and none of the have disappointed me, but pizza...only Garlic Jim's has made my heart soar when it comes to gluten free. I'm a creature of habit so I grabbed the pizza sauce in the fridge (prob NOT gf free now that I think about it which explains my need to scratch everywhere...ugh!) and slather some on the crust. I had fresh pineapple in the fridge which has been there about 2 weeks (which doesn't make it fresh anymore, does it?) so let's see if we get lucky. Nope, I don't think it's supposed to smell like vinegar. Snap! I love pineapple on my pizza. I guess I'll just suck it up with cheese...shoot, I had alfredo sauce and mushrooms...why the heck didn't I think. For a moment I consider rinsing off the crust. Ok, that's gross. I'll just leave the red and do better next time. I don't have any chicken to accompany the alfredo and shrooms anyhoo. Wait, I have onions. I love onions. I sauteed up some onions, shrooms and tid of garlic. There's my topping. Then I realize I have a Costco size container of grape tomatoes too. Oh this is getting goooood. Let's not leave out the basil...fresh basil mind you. Here she is...

It's not earth movingly pretty but I am just elated that I haven't killed it. And aren't you glad you got the see the nasty lookin' porch that should have been refinished 2 deployments ago. Oh well. You see, I kill plants. I don't mean to, it just happens. I under water, I over water, I put it outside and say "hello God, you said you are the Gardener, so have at it". But this basil, it's special. Last week it didn't have nearly this many new leaves. I bought this before I left for China in April at Trader Joes. Complete impulse buy. I just couldn't pass the smell and beauty and next thing you know it's in my cart. I have slowed down a bit now but I have been eating Caresse Salads for weeks. You can't possibly eat a Caresse salad without fresh basil. It would also look pretty on my pizza. I popped it in the oven for 10 min and it was per-fec-to!

I have to admit, I was a bit worried. Did I just overkill the pizza. I took my first bite. Hail to the no I didn't ruin it!!!! I would have gotten up and danced but Jennifer and I were parked in front of the TV watching an episode of "Numbers". (We can't get to the dining room table since it's loaded with crystal to pack and we like our TV time together.) I mmmmmmmhed enough that she asked for a bite (minus the tomato please Mom). Whateva...the tomatoes are the bomb. More for me! She liked it too but I wasn't going to offer anymore. YOU wanted the $5 frozen junk so have at it...this IS mine :-) Since I am sick of hearing myself "talk" I'll just show you a pic of dessert tonight.

I ate WAY too much. And don't reprimand me for not buying Spooners (a local berry farm). They are a bit spendy and you have to eat them like NOW since they are perfectly ripe when you buy them. I will buy some for the BBQ on Monday. Until belly is about to burst and my eyes are droopy...good night all!

01 July 2011

Gutes Essen!

Over the weekend I looked in the fridge only to discover that the gi-gantor pack of fresh mushrooms that I HAD to have from Costco was about to fly south (as my Mom used to say). I set my sights on those shrooms (that's what I call mushrooms since it's SO much work to say mush at the to compliment the equally as gi-gantor pack of boneless pork chops that I bought from them a few weeks back. For those of you of German descent or those that have done a tour in Germany and just couldn't get enough Schnitzel you know where I'm going with this. There was this killer schnitzel place in Germany where we were stationed called (appropriately) the Schnitzelhaus or House of Schnitzel. Oh, the money they made on us...I know they felt a pinch when we left and couldn't show up there 2-3 times a week anymore. What I wouldn't give to go back...(mind fading away here...) So until I can, I was determined to make my own rendition of my favorite jagerschnitzel. It's a creamy sauce with shrooms and onions...oh, the grilled onions...I used to ask for a double portion. I'm guessing by now that it's not hard to figure out that my stumbling block is gluttony :-/  This give you an idea what it would look like before I inhaled a plate of it in Germany...

This particular picture that I found on the Internet is being served up with a side of spatzle. That's yummylicious too but we usually got french fries and an extra side of gravy to dump on them. My taste buds are dancing just thinking about it!!!!!
So here's a small rundown of what I use to make jagerschnitzel...

I'm sure it's not the "right" way but I like this recipe....I don't usually add cornmeal either but sometimes I like to try new things and see what comes of it. I also discovered that I can cut up a whole onion in about 2 minutes.

Yes, I can see that the whole onion is not cut up in the picture but I bet you'll sleep better tonight now that you have seen a half a cut up onion...snort! And, my apologies Kathy B but my favorite knife is my Rachael Ray furi and I don't like using the food chopper for onions. I love to cut food up by hand...there is just something satisfying about it although I do need to work on my technique. Of course the cutting board is all Pampered Chef and I love the grooves and built in rubber thingy on the edge that keeps it from sliding around. No more fumbling for those green things you used to have to put under their boards.Oooops, sorry about the rabbit trail....OK, so I trimmed the fat off my pork, layered saran wrap over it (this minimized clean up from the splatter) and pretend it's someones face that has made me angry pound the snot out of it with a good ol' cast iron skillet.

To answer Kathy B's first question, yes I own the pampered chef meat tenderizer but sometimes I'm going for the gold with the bigger smashing power circumference and noise of the good ol' days. If you want success with this, you must do this on a hard surface and not something that has any give to it. Wow! That's a stress reliever! I dip them in egg, then in flour/cornmeal mixture then pan fry. Keep the cutlets warm in a 200 degree oven while you whip up the gravy. Half way through cooking I had a brainstorm. Let's have fries too. I have potatoes...I swear half my brain power is spent going on rabbit I thought I'd give Jennifer an extra carb bonus on her plate tonight. It's a good thing we eat a lot of salads for lunch cuz there were NO veggies in this meal. Woot woot!
Of course I can be satisfied with just cutting the potatoes and throwing them in some oil, I needed to look up a recipe *sigh. The one I found said to soak the potatoes in 2 cups of warm water with (I don't remember how much) sugar for 15 min. Sugar in potatoes...yea baby! Come to Momma! They didn't get the 15 minutes but the 5 that they did get sure made them yum-o! I fried them in peanut oil and topped them off with a sprinkling of sea salt. I felt them go right to my hips but I was too busy plowing them down to care. Here's Jennifer getting to the food before me :-)

This is a girl after my own heart...or I've just spoiled her. Today she said she had ramen noodles too many days in a row and that she was dying for a salad. A trip to Costco's produce section made her day. She stayed up late getting her salad ready for tomorrow. I sat downstairs and blogged this so needless to say I hope I hear the alarm go off in 5/12 hours. I hope this made you hungry and you sleep less too (not really I'm just getting grumpy). Here's the final meal.

I have no idea why there is a shadow in the picture but I was too hungry to mess with it and I went easy on the gravy for the sake of a "pretty" picture but I assure you I went back and loaded up. And homemade fries NEVER hurt my feelings although normally I douse them in malt vinegar. Das it gut!

I end today's blog with my first ever challenge for my BFF and fellow blogger Kelly C. You can find one of her blogs . Cook (or bake) or favorite 4th of July side dish or dessert. Think outside the box...don't give me the proverbial strawberry and blueberry flag cake (unless that's what you REALLY like). Get out your oven mitts girl cuz I'm gonna bring it! Show me what you got!