No-Cook Meals for Summer

No-Cook Meals for Summer

I don’t know about you, but turning on my oven or stove when it is 115 degrees out is not my idea of a good time. During these hot summer months I like to eat cool dishes and minimize the amount of time I spend in my kitchen with that hot afternoon sun pouring in. I try to get as much cooking and prep work done as possible on Sunday mornings. This means I’ll spend an hour or so washing and chopping veggies and boiling up a couple batches of pasta to use later in the week. I could eat pasta salad pretty much every day without getting bored, but my family doesn’t share that love (this Greek one is my favorite, in case you’re wondering).

Enter Pinterest, the busy mom’s lifesaver! I have been hesitant to try a lot of recipes found on Pinterest because I constantly hear about (and see pictures of) the failures that come from these untested concoctions. With no-cook meals, though, it’s pretty easy to tell when something isn’t going to work, and no-cook meals are usually simpler to prepare, meaning they are easier to tweak to your liking. After a couple weeks of the kids complaining about turkey sandwiches for dinner AGAIN, do yourself a favor and peruse the internet for some ideas to spice up your routine.

There is an unlimited supply of inspiration for no-cook meals like wraps, salads, and frozen treats on Pinterest!

Here are a few ideas to get you going for your no-cook meals summer:

  • Wash and prep your produce at the beginning of the week so it is ready to use when you need it. Here’s a handy chart we put together for storing summer fruits and veggies.
  • Don’t discount those pre-cooked rotisserie chickens at the grocery store – they add some tasty protein to countless dishes with almost no work. When I get one home I like to pull all the meat off and toss the bones – this way it is ready to use at a moment’s notice!
  • Get creative with the old standbys! Sure a turkey sandwich is boring, but what if you added goat cheese and cranberries and wrapped it up in a basil tortilla instead of sandwich bread?! Yum!
  • Have the kids use cookie cutters to cut fun shapes out of watermelon or other fruits, slide a popsicle stick in, freeze for a couple hours, and you have  delicious and healthy frozen pops for the whole family.
  • Go buffet-style at the end of the week to use up your leftover produce, deli meats, cheeses, and breads. Just pull everything out and let each member of the family come up with his or her own meal. You might surprise yourself and come up with a new favorite combo!
  • Check out our No-Cook Meals Recipes board on Pinterest for some great ideas!

Do you have any favorite no-cook meals or some more tips to help us get through the summer? Let us know below in “Speak Your Mind”!

Memorial Day BBQ

Memorial Day BBQ

This week we have another guest post from Chef J!  I can tell you from many personal experiences that Chef J is a master at the grill! Here are simple steps for preparing a delicious smoked brisket, just in time for your Memorial Day BBQ!

It’s almost Memorial Day! Hopefully that means an extra long weekend by the pool, surrounded by family and friends. And if that is the case, you will need to do some outdoor cooking! A Memorial Day BBQ is the only reason I stick around through these sweltering Sonoran summers. Phoenix in May and June will leave even the toughest crying for lemonade and air conditioning, but if you plan it right, the smell of slowly roasting meats and a nice cool pool can make this the best place in the world.

One of my favorite things to BBQ is beef brisket; it’s rather inexpensive and most importantly, it’s straightforward to prepare. If you are lucky enough to have a fancy BBQ setup like I do then this will justify  your dedication. My blood type is Spicy Hickory, so I love an excuse to spend an afternoon tending coals! But even if you don’t have the fancy pit you can still create some mouthwateringly tender, delicious treats!

For a perfect Memorial Day BBQ brisket, the right temperature and time are most important!

The recipe for brisket is 225 degrees for 10 hours.  That’s it!

Spices, sauces, and smoke are all up to your own taste. If you have ever heard BBQ people talk ,they will  tell you their BBQ is the best. And they are right. It’s all about you. I like to start mine smothered in a spicy rub, uncovered in the smoker, with a pan underneath to catch the drippings.memorial-day-bbq-brisket

My favorite rub:
¼ cup ground coffee
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 TBS chipotle powder
2 TBS salt
1 TBS black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground mustard powder
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground coriander

Mix everything together and rub that brisket down!  Make sure that your fire is hot enough to keep the temperature around 225 degrees, and that there is a bit of smoke sneaking out.  The meat will only absorb smoke for the first few hours, so after that you are strictly cooking (you could actually move it to the oven at this point).

After the smoking, I mop it down with liquid about once an hour- this could be your favorite BBQ sauce, vinegar, wine, juice, beer, etc. This will help keep the meat moist but also help build a nice “bark” on the surface. After the ten hours, place the brisket in the pan that will now be full of delicious dripping and cover in foil. Let that sit for a few minutes before carving, and it will be tender, juicy and delicious. If that sounds like a lot of work, you can smoke the brisket in your backyard grill (that black, three-legged dome we all know and love) the day before for a few hours, wrap it in foil and put it in the fridge. The next day unwrap, baste in liquid, put it in a pan and cover it, roast in the oven at 225-250 for about 6 hours. If you throw it in first thing in the morning it will be ready for lunch, and you won’t have to think about it until your timer goes off.

So crack open a cold one, skim the pool, and get your Memorial Day BBQ started!

 

End of School Picnic

End of School Picnic

The school year is winding down and the kids are getting excited for summer!  It’s that time of year for end of school picnics, parties, and potlucks. Kids, parents, and teachers alike will appreciate a fun day to celebrate all of the achievements of the school year!  And the teachers really appreciate it if a few parents volunteer to pull a party together for them.  All it takes is organization and communication. With very little effort you can avoid that party where the only food choices are pretzels, potato chips, cookies and more cookies!

Here are a few tips for a successful end of school picnic:

      • Assign specific dishes to your guests. You can break this up by last name:
        • A-F bring a main course
        • G-L bring a dessert
        • M-Q bring salads and fruit
        • R-T bring paper plates and cups
        • U-Z bring plastic silverware and napkins
      • Get volunteers in advance to bring ice, coolers and some extra serving utensils just in case.
        • This is a great option for full-time working parents who may not have the time to prepare a dish, but will feel uncomfortable if they aren’t able to contribute.
        • Serve food immediately or make certain you keep it refrigerated prior to serving.
      • Make a large cooler of Lemonade, with powder or fresh.  Skip water bottles, juice boxes, and soda cans to avoid wasted drinks and excessive trash.
      • Set up a buffet table that can be served from both sides, so you can accommodate a large number of hungry guests.
        • Serve the kids the main meal and drinks. Get a few parents to help out.  Kids will get their food and drink fast, and you will make certain that portions are controlled.
      • Set up games to keep the kids (and adults) entertained. If you are entertaining at the local pool, this is pretty easy – all you have to do is open the gate and the kids are guaranteed a good time!
        • If it is a backyard pool party, hire a lifeguard for the day so adults can enjoy the party too.
        • If you are having it at a park, there are always water balloons, sprinklers, bag toss…you get the idea.
      • Make sure you have plenty of shade and sunscreen available for adults and kids. No need to start vacation off with a sunburn!
      • Before you let the kids leave, gather up all of the abandoned socks, shoes, shirts, towels and have them at the door and ask every kid to look to see if they are missing one of the lost items before they go!

With just a little bit of planning, you can host a spectacular summer kick-off that everyone will enjoy! We would love to hear your plans for an end of school picnic – share in the comments!

Looking for brunch ideas  or entertaining tips, see our earlier posts.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

We are so thrilled to introduce you to Chef J Whiting! Chef J has played an integral role in many Arizona restaurants, and travels extensively within the Southwest. Today he enlightens us on the common misconceptions of the Cinco de Mayo holiday, and shares his fantastic recipe for Hibiscus Margaritas.

We all love Cinco de Mayo – happily enjoying our margaritas, fajitas and a day off- but most of us have probably never thought much about it. Maybe like me, you had heard that it is Mexico’s independence day; something akin to the 4th of July here in the U.S. With just a bit of digging, though, I discovered the true meaning of this holiday and now have a real reason to drink margaritas this weekend.

Cinco de Mayo is, in fact, not a Mexican holiday at all. The day is a celebration of the battle of Puebla in 1862 in which the outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French, throwing a wrench into Napoleon’s plans to prop up the Confederate South. Many scholars believe that the Civil War would have had a drastically  different outcome if the French had not been stopped at Puebla.

Hearing the news of the battle, Mexican immigrants in America began to celebrate and used that battle as a symbol to rally around. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture and how it has impacted the destiny of the United States.

So while you are enjoying your tequila and maybe something a little spicy, remember that without a small group of people standing their ground against the greatest military in the world at the time, the U.S. could be an entirely different place.

And like any celebration, it is best with food! Cultures move a meal at a time and the American culture has been deliciously inspired by Mexico. I am lucky enough to live in the Southwest where cuisine has blurred the border. We have amazing food to explore here, and Mexican ingredients can be found all over. Do yourself a favor and make friends with a chile!

 Hibiscus Margaritas – Courtesy of J WhitingCinco De Mayo Hibiscus Margarita

  • 1 handful of dried hibiscus flowers
  • Juice of 6 limes
  • 6 oz of honey
  • 4 oz of triple sec
  • 12 oz tequila
  • 32 oz water
  • Salt or sugar from rimming glass

Bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and add the hibiscus flowers. Let that steep for about 5 minutes or so. Add honey to hibiscus broth and stir to dissolve. Let cool. Combine honey mixture with remaining ingredients. Test for desired taste. Add more lime juice if too sweet or a bit more honey if too sour. Serve over ice in a salted or sugared glass. Repeat if necessary!

Spring Brunch Ideas

Spring Brunch Ideas

Throwing a brunch has always seemed like a daunting task to me –pleasing various palates with both breakfast and lunch foods, all while making everything look a little more fancy than usual? Not exactly my idea of fun. But I’ve been thinking about brunch ideas more lately, as this beautiful spring weather beckons me outdoors and encourages casual family events. I can totally pull this off! Even if you don’t have two chef brothers (I know – I’m the luckiest gal in the world!), the good ol’ internet is full of delicious and easy recipes (there’s one below!).

Use these simple brunch ideas, and you too can pull off a great spring event that will leave everyone talking!

Variety – Make sure you have options for everyone.

Breakfast is pretty easy, but make sure you have some good lunch options available, too; a spiral ham on a carving board next to  a cheese tray, for example, can be combined with croissants and condiments to make lovely sandwiches. You’ll also want to be aware of any vegetarians/vegans who may be attending. As much as I love bacon, it’s important not to make every dish meat-centric.  A pasta salad with fresh veggies will be a crowd pleaser. As far as drinks go, though, you can keep it pretty basic – a full bar is not exactly brunch appropriate. If you do choose to serve alcohol, keep it light –  mimosas or a pre made punch. You should definitely have coffee, tea, and water; throw in some lemonade or iced tea to keep things interesting, but anything beyond that is up to your personal taste.

Style – You don’t need fancy china to pull off a gorgeous brunch!

If I had to throw a party with all matching dishes, well… that just wouldn’t happen! You know what’s fun, though? Thrift store finds! Hit up your local thrift stores for an eclectic mix of vintage plates and serving ware – you can stick to a set color scheme or go all out and have a unique plate for every guest. You’ll make everyone feel special without breaking the bank! And if you don’t want to keep them, you can just donate them back (basically just renting dishes!). If you would rather have something more permanent, beautiful wood serving boards never go out of style, and can be used for years to come. Add a few displays of pretty spring flowers and you’ll be all set! Like your drink selection, you can take your decor as far as you’d like – just don’t clutter up your buffet table too much.

Simplicity – Don’t drive yourself crazy – it’s just brunch!

Even if you don’t want to cook, you can still satisfy your guests. A nice layout of pastries from your local bakery (or, you know…Costco), is perfectly acceptable when paired with a variety of fruits, cheeses, deli meats, etc.  The point is to spend time with your guests, right? You don’t have to provide show-stopping delicacies to have a good time.

Logistics – Hammer out those details!

Make sure you have plenty of seating for all of your guests, or at least areas where they can set their plates and drinks and eat comfortably. Cafe tables are a great option if seating space is limited. Also, if you can stick with foods that are fine at room temperature, you will save yourself the hassle of hot plates and ice baths. If you are serving something that needs to stay hot or cold, make sure you have the proper equipment – you want this to be memorable, but not because of food poisoning!

Now go forth and brunch!

To get you started, here is a great recipe for a savory taco quiche:

Taco Quiche

Courtesy of Sandy McGaffic

Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 inch) deep dish pie shell (frozen ok, just let it thaw for 10 minutes)
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper

Garnish

  • shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped or sliced tomatoes, sliced avocado or guacamole, black olives.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Prepare crust and put in pan or pie dish; let stand 5 to 10 minutes before baking.
  • Bake pie shell 7 minutes; DO NOT PRICK PIE SHELL. Remove shell and reduce oven temperature to 375°.
  • In 2 quart sauce pan combine next 8 ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until ground beef is browned and onions are tender. Drain mixture. Layer shredded cheese, green chiles and ground beef mixture in pie shell.
  • In medium bowl combine eggs, half and half, salt and pepper. Beat with a fork or whisk until mixed well but not frothy. Pour egg mixture over ground beef mixture.
  • Bake 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with remaining ingredients. 

 

It’s That Time of Year Again!

It’s That Time of Year Again!

It’s time for spring cleaning! The kitchen is a great place to start! As the most used room in many homes, it is important to have a kitchen that is organized in a way that fits your needs. Next time you prepare a meal, take note of where you keep things, and what you reach for most often, and how you use your storage space.

Reorganize to promote a good flow to your kitchen.

Do you find yourself walking across the kitchen to get a knife, or digging through a drawer to find your favorite spatula? Your commonly used kitchen tools should be within reach of the areas in which you use them – knives next to the cutting board, utensils next to the stove, etc. One of my favorite additions has been to add a small magnetic spice rack on the side of my fridge, so I can keep my most-used spices right next to the stove (but I pretty much just throw things in the pan with no rhyme or reason…). Now that is a smart use of storage space!

Found Space.

Trying to maximize storage space and organization in my own small kitchen, I have begun to understand the importance of “found space.” See, I have very little cabinet space, and you’ll remember my struggle with tripping over pans on my kitchen floor. I have a fairly big butcher block table with two drawers and a shelf, but it was a cluttered mess and I couldn’t accept that there was so much open space above the shelf (I can only stack my pans so high!). My solution was to add another shelf – it seems so obvious now, but for some reason it has taken me years to notice the potential in that big open storage space! I also added a pot rack above it, and have now turned an empty wall into functional storage space. (Can’t put holes in your walls? Think about a table/pot rack combo like this) When shopping for storage solutions in your kitchen, take into consideration how to best maximize the footprint of each item you choose – adding shelving, cabinets, or a pot rack will create extra storage space on a piece that takes up the same amount of space.

Country Butcher Block

John Boos Country Butcher Block via butcherblockco.com

 

Hide it when you don’t need it.

If you just need some extra workspace from time to time, I highly recommend a folding kitchen cart. The handy wheels make it easy to get your prep done in the kitchen and then roll your cart out to your party for serving. These fabulous options are easily compacted into a slim little number that will slide into your pantry or that storage space next to the refrigerator! Seriously, how cool is that folding cart shown in the header?!

Speaking of that storage space next to the refrigerator, have you seen these awesome DIY pull-out shelves floating around on Pinterest? Talk about found space! I am cooking up plans to build something similar to this in the very near future!

 

Space Saving

Source: learning-to-b-me.blogspot.com via Butcher Block Co. on Pinterest

 

Have you gotten creative with your kitchen storage space? We would love to hear your ideas!

At the End of the Rainbow

At the End of the Rainbow

Pot o’ Gold (Candice Whiting)

I have a bit of Irish somewhere in my bloodline, but it has never been a particularly dominant cultural force in my life. The only “Irish” thing I can remember from my childhood came from my second grade class on St. Patrick’s Day. When we arrived at school that day, we found little green boot prints running across the walls and into the air ducts. Our teacher told us Leprechauns had come to visit in the night to leave us St. Patty’s surprises. We had so much fun following the footprint trails to find our little pots filled with gold-wrapped chocolates and popcorn! So much fun, in fact, I made one for my son to surprise him! (The rainbow is made from eyeshadow!)

Now that I am no longer a wee one, however, my St. Patrick’s Day tastes have matured a bit, and I’d rather have a green beer and an Irish car bomb cupcake! I have been making this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for about three years now, and it never disappoints! Cocoa and stout in the cake, whiskey in the ganache, and Irish cream in the butter cream! How could you go wrong?!

I make them so often, I even bought a special tool to hollow out my cupcakes (which is totally unnecessary, but it does make hollowing out two dozen cupcakes quite a bit quicker)! I usually don’t add the ganache, as they are sinfully rich enough without it – just switch the filling to butter cream. If you don’t want the booze in yours, you can use Irish Cream flavoring instead, but only add a bit at a time – that stuff is potent! For St. Patrick’s Day, you obviously have to add green food coloring to the icing to make them festive! I have a sneaking suspicion these Irish car bomb cupcakes would be delicious with crème de menthe instead of Irish cream…I might have to give that a try!

I have made this as a cake, too, and it works out beautifully.

Without further ado, here’s what’s at the end of my rainbow:

Recipe here: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/01/car-bomb-cupcakes/

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes (Candice Whiting)

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes (Candice Whiting)

Does your family have a St. Patrick’s Day tradition? Is it more Irish than mine? I would love to hear how you celebrate!

Kitchen Fitness: Use it or Lose it!

Kitchen Fitness: Use it or Lose it!

Having grown up in a gourmet kitchen store, I have a fabulous collection of kitchen essentials. Unfortunately, I have a mass of non-essentials, too! I need to focus on my kitchen fitness!! Honestly, who really needs six whisks of the same style?

The new year brought a new home with a smaller kitchen and, let me tell you, this kitchenware collector did not adjust well! For a solid month we lived with pans literally stacked on the floor, utensils pouring out of boxes, and a butcher block table so overloaded with stuff I couldn’t even use it! After stubbing my toe on a cast iron skillet for the 27th time, I’d had enough. I painstakingly went through every piece of cookware, bakeware, gadgetry, and appliance and whittled my way down to a manageably fit kitchen.

A few of the more ridiculous things I ousted:

  • Five whisks (kept four!)
  • Three 8” fry pans. THREE!!
  • Two nasty 12” skillets
  • Two garlic presses
  • A brand new ravioli rolling pin (why??)
  • Two identical carrot ribboning tools (why I even had one is beyond me)

A few things I can’t live without:

  • Counter-space-hogging espresso machine
  • Super quality cookware and knives
  • Silicone spatulas (colorful AND functional!)
  • My KitchenAid mixer
  • Quality cutting boards
  • Cake pans (endless uses!)
  • Cheese graters (yes, plural – don’t judge.)

And a few things I WON’T live without:

  • Vita-Mix blender – Don’t use this enough to justify the hefty price tag, but it’s magic!
  • All 22 of my wonderful German knives (seven are steak knives – it’s not that excessive!) –I use about four of them regularly, but they’re all in one block, so getting rid of some won’t save me any space!
  • My 23-year-old gigantic Scanpan “witch’s cauldron.” I have used it exactly two times, but it’s the bee’s knees and holds 9.5 quarts of stew AND 23 years worth of family memories.
  • Absurd (someone said that!) amounts of cookware. After getting rid of about a dozen pans, I still have a full pot rack (excellent addition to a small kitchen, by the way) and then some.

Clearly I have a hard time letting go of things I might possibly-some-day-in-the-distant-future use (looking at you, pasta machine). Getting rid of some of my unnecessities, however, made me appreciate the value behind the pieces I kept. I can do just as much with a simple set of tongs, spatulas, and bamboo spoons as I could with the multiple boxes of utensils I chucked (donated, don’t worry).

before & after

Moral of this story is that investing in quality multi-tasking pieces not only makes sense financially, but will improve your kitchen fitness. Plus you end up with space to keep the occasional frivolous purchase (*cough* individual instant popsicle makers).

You know that feeling when you clean out your closet and it’s like you have a whole new wardrobe with room for new boots? It’s like that. So next time you throw a spatula in frustration because its fat rubber handle won’t fit into your utensil crock, do yourself a favor and get your kitchen fit!

What are your must-haves for the kitchen?