Try Our Recipe For Easy Grilled Sweet Potatoes

Try Our Recipe For Easy Grilled Sweet Potatoes

I would like to introduce you to our newest guest blogger, Erin Higgs, who is a food blogger at Food Wise Family. She creates wholesome, delicious paleo recipes with a focus on family, and she will be contributing to our blog monthly. When Erin is not in the kitchen or writing, you can find her playing peekaboo with her toddler. We hope you enjoy her first, of many, blog recipes!

The long weekend celebrating Labor Day is almost here. I imagine you probably already have an idea of what meat you’re grilling up for the holiday, whether it is a juicy hamburger or some tasty chicken kabobs, so I’m here to talk about making a side dish.

A side dish should be appetizing, but simple. With only five ingredients and quick prep, easy grilled sweet potatoes fit both of these standards.

Easy Cleanup
One of my favorite parts about grilling is the cleanup, or should I say the absence of cleanup. There is no messing with pots and pans. This sweet potato side dish is entirely cooked in an aluminum foil packet, making cleanup a cinch. I double up the aluminum foil to make sure there is no break in the foil packet while cooking.

Sweet Potatoes Are Amazing
We cook sweet potatoes a lot in our house, and there is no exception when it comes to grilling. This nutrient-rich vegetable is not only versatile when it comes to cooking, but also just absolutely delicious. For this recipe, I leave the skin on the sweet potatoes, but you can certainly peel them before cubing them if you prefer.

Easy Grilled Sweet Potatoes Prep
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Grilling Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes

Ingredients:
2 large sweet potatoes, washed and cubed
2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted) or olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

* Other spices to consider are sweet paprika, cinnamon and rosemary.

Instructions
1. Place two large sheets of aluminum foil on top of each other.
2. Position the sweet potatoes in the center of the aluminum foil, while keeping plenty of room to fold the foil up. Bring the sides of the aluminum foil up and lightly fold at the top. (Make sure it’s a light fold because we will be opening this back up in the next step.) Tightly bunch both ends of the foil.
3. Open the foil up at the top. Add oil and spices to the potatoes and gently stir to coat the potatoes. Firmly refold the aluminum foil on the top.
4. Place sweet potato foil packet on a hot grill and close the lid.
5. Cook for 30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft. Remove foil packet from the grill with tongs.
6. Allow sweet potatoes to slightly cool and serve directly from the foil packet.

sweet potatoes cubed

spiced sweet potatoes

I believe that the food we put on the table should not only be healthy, but easy and full of flavor. Check out my website foodwisefamily.com for more wholesome recipes.

Try Our Spanish Paella – Meat and Seafood Recipe

Try Our Spanish Paella – Meat and Seafood Recipe

National Spanish Paella Day is March 27th, but you can make this amazing rice dish any day. There are many versions of paella recipes but what they all have in common is rice, meats, veggies and saffron spice, which turns the rice a beautiful golden color.

Spanish Paella originated in the Valencia region in eastern Spain. Classic paella usually is made with rabbit, chicken, snails, beans, and artichokes and seasoned with saffron and spices. Still hugely popular in Spain today, the recipe for paella has expanded over the years, and now many different varieties of paella are passed off as authentic. Paella is cooked over an open fire in a traditional paella pan. It is commonly made with rice, chicken, fish, seafood and any veggies you would like.

Today, Spanish Paella can be found all around the world. If you order paella outside of Spain you will likely get a rice dish with chicken and seafood.

My introduction to Spanish Paella came in October 2014 when my husband and I traveled with family to Madrid, Spain. It was October and the weather in Madrid was absolutely beautiful – ideal for strolling down the streets and eating at outdoor cafes. Here, we found an abundance of restaurants serving tapas and paella, family-style, in festive outdoor patios.

We fell in love with Spanish Paella so much that my husband came back and assembled this paella recipe with an assortment of Spanish meats and seafood. The beauty of paella is that you can make it your own, adding and subtracting ingredients as you wish. It is not difficult to make paella, but it is best to be organized ahead of time. Here are a few tips before you get started:

  • Tip 1– Prep and chop as much as you can in advance
  • Tip 2– Grill outside
  • Tip 3 – Invest in a real paella pan  – a large, flat, open pan that has handles on both sides for easy lifting. We recommend a pan 15” to 19” in diameter.

Ingredients:  We have organized our ingredients for this recipe by the different prep components, including the brine, broth, meats, veggies, seafood and garnish. 

BRINE (for chicken)
1-1/2 cups water
½ cup coarse salt
¼ cup sugar
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
Peel from a small orange
4  Star anise
¼ cup loose green tea

BROTH
6 cups very strong chicken broth (bouillon)
1/2 tsp saffron
4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
1 small onion, peeled

Spanish Paella broth

MEATS
¼ lb Spanish Salame
¼ lb Spanish Ham diced (Jamon serrano ham)
1 ½ lbs Spanish Chorizo cut into ½” pieces
2 lbs Boneless Chicken Breast or Thighs cut into bite size pieces (approx. 1-1/2” square)

Spanish Paella meats

VEGGIES/RICE
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
4 Tbsp chopped garlic
2 fire roasted red peppers from jar, coarsely chopped
3 cups short grain Spanish rice, such as Bomba or Calasparra
5 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bag frozen artichoke hearts (12 oz.)

SEAFOOD
18 clams and/or mussels, scrubbed, or 12 oz. Peeled shrimp or frozen langostino tails

GARNISH
Lemon wedges for garnish
Parsley for garnish  

Preparation: 

BRINE THE CHICKEN – Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Stir to make sure the salt and sugar have dissolved. Let cool to room temp. Strain out all of the herbs and discard, keeping the brine broth.
Add the cut-up chicken to the brine. Refrigerate for at least two hours or as long as overnight. Remove chicken from broth, drain well and pat dry with paper towel. 

COOK THE CHICKEN –  Coat the chicken with olive oil and sear it in a preheated pan on the stove for 3 minutes. Transfer the pan to a 350 degree oven and cook for about 10 minutes. Set the chicken aside for later.

BROTH – Heat the chicken broth with the saffron, paprika and the whole onion. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the onion and measure the broth — you need exactly 6 cups for later.

MEATS – In a paella pan over medium-high heat add the ½ cup of olive oil. Once hot, add in Spanish Salame & Spanish Ham. Cook for 5 minutes. Then add the Chorizo to the pan and stir fry about 10 minutes.  (Do not add the chicken). 

Spanish Paella prep

VEGGIES – In the paella pan with the cooked meat, add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, & roasted red peppers and sauté until the onion is wilted. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat it well with the oil. Sprinkle in the chopped parsley and the crumbled bay leaves.  Stir in the 6 cups of boiling hot broth. Add the wine and rice. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat about 10 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and bury it in the rice.

SEAFOOD – Add the clams and the mussels (or other seafood) with the edge that will open facing up, pushing them into the rice mixture.

COOK MIXTURE – Scatter the paella with the artichoke pieces, then bake at 325 degrees F, uncovered, for 20 minutes. If using a grill outside, close the lid and grill for 20 minutes. 

GARNISH – Remove paella from the oven/grill and let sit, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. Before serving, decorate with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.

Spanish Paella

What does authentic Cuban Paella look like? My girlfriend Michele in Florida hosted a Paella party featuring Seafood Paella and Meat Paella. This looks spectacular!

Cuban Paella

 

 

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

Like seemingly everyone else in the U.S., I have become fairly obsessed with La Croix, a delightful sparkling water that comes in a variety of flavors. I’ve had to cut myself off recently, as the shame of burning through two flats of it in one week was a bit more than I could handle. So of course Claire is writing about La Croix this week. It’s fine; I can handle a little temptation (no I can’t). I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ll be stocking up at the grocery store if you need me. Claire, refresh us with your sparkling wit (and water)!

When Labor Day was first conceived, the idea of labor unions was still a relatively fresh one, and somewhat controversial. Celebrating the American worker, taking time to remember that the nation runs on the backs of hard working men and women was a revelation. Like most holidays, I think a lot of the original sentiment has disappeared in our remembrance today. What’s left of the holiday is a day off from work, the reason for which that most people aren’t completely sure they understand, but the weather is nice, so what the heck, it’s a three-day weekend. I have to work on Saturday and get my week’s errands done on Sunday, so for me, Labor Day mostly means that I will be sitting through another backyard BBQ with some of my husband’s work friends that I may have met once or twice a few years back. You might assume that I would prefer to drink my way through an event like that, but in fact just the opposite is true. I’m planning to remain fully sober so I can hop into my car and skedaddle as soon as it doesn’t seem impolite.

If I’m not drinking beer or cocktails, I will need to substitute in an alternative beverage. In the face of a hot afternoon among strangers, I am not interested in drinking something sugary and dehydrating like juice or soda. If I stick to water, I’m afraid my boredom will be too obvious to my hosts and someone will try to pour me a drink. I need something fun and refreshing and light in calories to make up for the three hot dogs I plan on inhaling. I need to feel like I’m back in Michigan, floating around the lake on that giant unicorn with a cold drink in my hand.

I need La Croix.

La Croix

As a Midwestern girl, I have been delighted to see several of my favorite regional beverages hit the national market, including Vernors Ginger Soda, which I love for nostalgic reasons and because I am not a traitor to my home state, but secretly, Vernors will never be my favorite ginger soda. Faygo brand sodas were a staple of my terrible diet in high school, but their reputation has since been tainted by the fanatical devotion of the Insane Clown Posse, so who even cares about Faygo anymore. La Croix’s emergence into America’s consciousness over the last decade has been the most delightful to witness by far. These lightly flavored sparkling waters have fizzed their way into the hearts and homes of consumers across the country, and there is nothing in my California grocery store that thrills me more. Though most stores don’t stock all of the brand’s twenty flavors, the three most important flavors have become fairly available in most grocery stores, and those flavors are of course lime, pamplemousse (grapefruit), and most wondrous of all, coconut, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.

These sparkling waters are perfectLa Croix on their own, but they also make fabulous mixers. I have been extending the life of a delicious but too-sweet pineapple Jarritos by adding just a small pour to a tall glass of coconut La Croix. The lime flavored is so gentle and versatile, it’s great for basically all cocktails, but I also like to add just some fresh or frozen fruit to make a pleasant warm-day beverage. The grapefruit flavor is a little more tart than the lime, and it is actually perfect with just a little bit of mint and a splash of gin, but of course, I’m leaving the gin at home this weekend. Honestly, my favorite way to drink La Croix is any flavor poured over ice, and then I like to chew on the little ice bits at the end. I haven’t decided which flavor I’ll bring with me to the BBQ, but no matter which I choose, it will be sublime, because each can I open sends me right back to the lake, where I know I truly belong.

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

There’s still a little time left for some summer fun! We’ve been compiling recipes and ideas for a few years now, and we figure it’s the perfect time to share the summer fun with you.

Adult or kid (or kid at heart!), there’s something for everyone in this summer fun roundup!

First and foremost, get a batch of Boozy Poptails in the freezer right away. These adults-only frozen pops will surely get you through the last few weeks of summer!

Poptails Done

If that booze gets you feeling nostalgic, come share your childhood summer fun memories with us here.

Doing any camping this summer? Or attending a bonfire? Sarah’s fire pies are a definite must!

Campfire Pies summer fun

Another fun way to eat outdoors is having a build-your-own kabob party! Everyone gets exactly what they want all grilled to perfection!

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, Claire’s grilled salad brings the best of summer onto your plate.

Grilled Salad

Or if the heat is just too unbearable, stick with something delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Ceviche tacos make for the perfect dish on a hot day – no grill required!

The very best way to finish off summer is with the most refreshingly delicious dessert: homemade mint ice cream. Can you think of anything better? I sure can’t!

Mint Ice Cream

What are your go-to meals and activities for summer fun? Share with us!

 

 

Light and Tasty Shrimp Burgers

Light and Tasty Shrimp Burgers

Have you ever had a shrimp burger? The thought of making a shrimp burger would have never occurred to me, and I LOVE shrimp. But that’s why we keep Claire around, right? She’s always available to treat us to something delicious and unexpected! So let’s get to it. Claire, tell us why these shrimp burgers should be our new summer staple!

Something about summer makes me want to just start mainlining hamburgers. I’m a big supporter of letting my body decide what it wants to eat most of the time, but even I think there needs to be a limit, and 24-hour burgers is surely over that line. That said, I think a small increase in burger consumption is mostly harmless, and I’m willing to make some excuses to justify a few extra burgers. I’m not too worried about getting my body beach-ready – as far as I’m concerned, my beach bod is whatever bod I happen to take to the beach – but I do still like to keep my calorie consumption on a relatively even keel, and beef all day err day doesn’t exactly fit with that plan. For that reason, I have developed a work-around: Shrimp burgers!

Seafood is such an obvious choice for summer fare, and especially shrimp. It barely takes any heat to cook, and it goes equally well in a salad or cold pasta dish. Besides that, shrimp is almost always a great, sustainable choice. Its sticky texture makes it ideal for manipulating it into a patty, and just a tiny bit of panko is plenty of binder to help keep a great shape. If you’re lucky enough to live close to the ocean, you can usually find a fishmonger with a supply of fresh shrimp, but frozen raw shrimp will also work great.

These shrimp burgers are so magical, they actually feel decadent and light at the same time. They just take a few minutes to put together, and when I’m done eating, they don’t leave me feeling heavy and lethargic.

Like traditional beef burgers, there are basically endless ways to top your shrimp burgers, but I like to keep it pretty simple with a piece of crisp butter lettuce, maybe some onion slices, and some avocado. I also like a creamy dressing. My husband says he hates mayonnaise, but he goes nuts for aioli, so I just added a bunch of Old Bay seasoning and whole corn kernels to some mayo and called it aioli. He loved it, obviously, and it went perfectly with the shrimp burgers.

To make four patties, you will need:

  • 1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 jalapeño, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions, chopped small
  • Small bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons panko
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Shrimp Burger prep
Pat the shrimp dry with some paper towel, and drop it into your food processor with the garlic and jalapeño. Pulse a few times until a lumpy paste starts to form. Add the shrimp together with the rest of the ingredients, and then divide the paste into four roughly even sections. Using your hands, form each section into a patty shape to fit the bun. I like to wear kitchen gloves for this section because the shrimp seems to stick to them a little less. Heat a grill or well-oiled griddle over medium heat. Cook the patties for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, and assemble your burgers.

shrimp burgers plated

 

I like to serve these with just a nice green salad on the side, though if you want to skip the bun, they are fabulous on top of a big salad. These shrimp burgers are also good cold, so wrap them up and get that hot bod to the beach!

Printer-friendly recipe: Shrimp Burgers

Lighten Up with Grilled Salad

Lighten Up with Grilled Salad

This grilled salad is killing me. I want to eat it right now, exactly as Claire has made it. I can’t even come up with words for how perfect this looks, so I’m just going to pass the tongs to Claire now so that you all can join me in drooling. Fire it up, Claire!

Like most people, I love cooking out on the grill. I don’t have a great grill, but I do have a little fire table with a grilling surface, and it does the job just fine for my postage-stamp of a back yard. Right now, my town is experiencing prime grilling weather. It’s summery enough that I’ve been thinking a lot about hamburgers lately, but it’s not so hot yet that I’m sweating through my shirt as soon as I step outside. I’ve been smelling BBQ smells in the neighborhood, and it’s got me primed. I’m pretty excited for this summer’s inaugural meal off the grill, but I think I’d like to keep it on the lighter side. My husband has been a little sick, so I’ve been ladling chicken soup down his throat for the last five days, and it seems a little extreme to go right from broth to burgers. Besides, I really need some roughage in my diet after soup week, if you know what I mean. Anyhoo…

A couple of years ago, my best friend took me out to dinner at this super swanky restaurant for my birthday. There were so many things on the menu we wanted to try, we decided to just order them all and split them, tapas style. We must have tried a dozen different things, but try as I might, I can’t recall a single one of them except the grilled salad. It was a full romaine heart, halved lengthwise and grilled. They topped it with some kind of balsamic and little crunchy things. We were so surprised by the grilled lettuce; it seemed so novel to us! In retrospect, it seems so obvious. I mean, grilled veggies are sort of notorious for being awesome. So are grilled fruits, and grilled everything else, for that matter, which brings me to this week’s recipe.

A grilled salad is the perfect transition into summer fare.

Grilled Salad

The best thing about grilling out is that the food gets so much flavor from the grill, there is barely any prep involved. The flip side of that is, because you’re not doing much to dress it up, the quality of the food you start with will be reflected in the meal you end with, so start with the good stuff. When I got to the store, I already knew I wanted to do a grilled salad, but I believe in letting the groceries direct the meal, so I also got some shrimp and apricots. It’s still a little early for stone fruit, but I caught a whiff of these as I was walking past the display, and they just really called to me.

Grilled Salad

For the salad’s base, simply slice the lettuce lengthwise, drizzle or brush a little olive oil on the sliced side, and place them on the grill. Repeat with the apricots, slicing from top to bottom and removing the pits. With the produce, you’re not trying to cook the food through. You just want to get a light char and imbue it with that good smoky flavor.

Grilled SaladFor the shrimp, skewer them, drizzle them with olive oil, and then give them a good hit of salt and pepper. Don’t put too many shrimp on a single skewer, and don’t crowd them, or they won’t cook evenly. With a high heat cooking source like an open grill, they will cook quickly, so probably no more than 30 seconds per side. You want them just barely opaque.

Grilled Salad

To dress your grilled salad, you can go premade, but I like to pull out my food processor and whip something up. In this case, I’m going with basically an eggless Caesar dressing. A spoonful of Dijon mustard, a generous pour of sherry, a couple glugs of extra virgin olive oil, two or three cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a good heap of Parmesan, a few grinds of pepper, and five anchovy fillets. Whir it all together until it’s smooth, lightly dress the lettuce, and top with your favorite salad fixings. Serve it with a good bottle of chilled white wine, and dig in. This grilled salad is a joyful herald of a season of good eating and I can’t wait to get down to it!

Grilled Salad

Campfire Pies for Outdoor Fun

Campfire Pies for Outdoor Fun

I’m predicting this summer’s food trend is going to be campfire pies. I really want this to be true, at least… Campfire pies are so beautifully simple and remind me of childhood. I had completely forgotten the magic of campfire pies when Sarah mentioned them a while back, but now she has me on a mission. This is going to be the best summer. You should get on the campfire pie train, too. I promise they will make all your outdoor fun even better, and with Memorial Day coming up, you’ve only got a little time left to get your supplies. Sarah is here with all the details to get us started. Let’s make some pies!

Oh, Memorial Day weekend. That extra day off of work that feels desperately needed as you gear up for summer, the chance to get away for a weekend, the cookouts. The cookouts. My favorite thing about the holiday weekend is naturally food-inspired.

For the past ten years, my husband and his friends have been going to a cabin in a nearby state park to celebrate Memorial Day weekend. Due to us being a number of people spread out over the state, we have a Google Drive spreadsheet that goes back several years, listing who brings what. This, guys, is an excellent idea.  The cabin trip is the best kind of tradition – over the years we’ve rented boats, hiked, gone swimming, played games, played putt-putt, and gotten ice cream. Every year we add new things to do, but a few mainstays never change. One of these is the cooking out.

The firepit outside our cabin gets heavy use year after year. The first night of our trip is always dedicated to campfire pies. Consider the grilled cheese sandwich. Buttered bread, hot skillet, melty cheese. Yes? Now add the satisfaction of cooking those suckers outside on the coals of your bonfire and a fun gadget (I love fun gadgets). To make campfire pies, you will need a pie iron. I recommend having two for maximum production efficiency. You have a few options based on how you like your sandwiches. If you don’t like crust, go for one of the round pie irons, but be warned! These result in smaller pies, and you can’t stuff them as full. For bigger pies that include crust, go with this guy. Your campfire will need to have some decent coals – I recommend waiting at least half an hour after starting your fire to begin cooking.

Campfire pies are endlessly customizable and the perfect addition to your outdoor fun!

You can basically make any kind of sandwich or sweet pie with these babies. I’ve gone grilled cheese, hot ham and cheese, any kind of dessert pie you can think of, and even ooey gooey brownies (oh yes!). Sandwiches are pretty easy – some element of sauce and/or cheese is necessary to hold your pie together and give it a lot of flavor. Dessert is pretty much anything your heart desires that fits between two pieces of bread. Pie filling of any kind, pudding if you’re feeling a chocolate pie. The best dessert I’ve had is the aforementioned ooey gooey brownie, which is brownie batter poured straight into the pie iron, no bread required. Cooked correctly, you’ll open your pie iron to a molten chocolate mess that is absolutely delicious (add marshmallows for a s’mores-ey kick). Today, we’ll be making pizza pies with cherry pies for dessert.

Ingredients:

  • Stick of butter
  • Bread (go white bread, here)
  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzerella cheese
  • Pepperoni
  • Cherry pie filling

-Preheat your pie irons. Once your bonfire has some coals, position your (closed) pie iron against them to get the metal hot. It doesn’t need to be screamin’ hot, but a little preheat will help your buttering game.

-Butter! This is what gives your campfire pies that delicious sear. There are two opinions on buttering- butter your bread, or butter the pie irons. I find you use less butter (and can therefore make more pies!) when you butter the pie irons. So unwrap the end of a stick of butter and rub it on each pan of your open pie iron. Enjoy the sizzle.

-Position your bread, being careful not to burn yourself. Add pizza sauce, a good handful of mozzarella cheese, and some pepperonis. You can load up both sides of your bead if you like, but while that results in mega-flavor, it can also make your pies burst open like a hot pizza roll when you bite into it. One side of toppings is sufficient.

Campfire pies

-Close your pie iron. Many come with latches, but they can be difficult to open when your pie is done if you’re not keen on burning yourself or your food. Make sure your pie iron closes completely, or you’ll be picking ash out of your food.

-Position your pie iron on your coals. This cooktime is tricky, because it depends on how hot your coals are. After 5-8 minutes, pull your iron out of the flame, find a decent light source, and, while holding your pie iron parallel to the ground, open one side to check the doneness. You want to lift the side of the iron that has been sitting on the coals, since that is the part that has been cooking. If you have a nice grilled cheese sandwich-style sear, close your iron, and put it back on the coals on the other side.

-Once your pie is done, things get slightly tricky. Have a plate ready on a flat surface. Hold your pie iron over the plate, and open both sides slowly to pop out your sandwich.

Campfire Pies

-When it’s dessert time, butter your pie iron.

-Position your bread, then add a few spoonfuls of pie filling.

-The cooktime is about the same, maybe a little less. Be sure to check it often and flip halfway through.

-Enjoy your dessert!

Campfire Pies

One safety note: Be very, very, very careful where you place your pie irons while they are still hot but not in use! Campfires generally take place in the dark, and pie irons unfortunately do not glow in the dark or light up. My group of friends has resorted to a designated pie iron area, where all pie irons live if they are not on the fire being used. Trust me, you do not want to add a hospital visit to your fun holiday weekend because someone burned themselves badly. And it should go without saying that children should be very carefully supervised while using pie irons. To be safe, the wooden handles are the only portion of the pie iron that should be considered safe to touch.

Do you have any Memorial Day weekend traditions? What kind of campfire pie are you most excited to try first?

Labor Day BBQ Recipes and Tips

Labor Day BBQ Recipes and Tips

Labor Day is just around the corner, bringing with it backyard barbecues and time with friends and family. Are you preparing to host this year’s BBQ? If you want your Labor Day BBQ to be a smashing success, check out this round-up of some of our best BBQ posts!

Before you get your grill going, read up on our tips for making delicious BBQ plus the coolest new grill tool, the Scrapesation.

Labor Day BBQ

While watermelon is still in season, try these unique Watermelon Ricotta Starters as an appetizer.

Let your guests create their own masterpieces by setting up a Build-Your-Own Kabob station. It’s a great way to keep your Labor Day guests entertained and satisfied while they’re waiting for your perfectly smoked ribs to finish up!

Don’t forget to pick up a good selection of local brews to go with all your BBQ delights. You’ll need something frosty if you’re going to be standing over a hot grill all day, after all!

To finish off your feast, surprise your Labor Day crowd with a tart dessert that will help cut through all that smoky, meaty goodness. Key Lime Pie is the perfect way to end your Labor Day party and say farewell to the summer.

Key Lime Pie

Fun Food: Build-Your-Own Kabobs!

Fun Food: Build-Your-Own Kabobs!

We love to have fun with our food, and letting your family or guests get creative with their own kabobs is the perfect way to bring fun to your summer cookout! We’ve shared lots of grilling tips already, but today Sarah W. is here to tell us about making the perfect kabobs. Whether you’re just grilling up a meal for yourself, or having a Build-Your-Own Kabob party, Sarah’s got you covered. Skewer us with wisdom, Sarah!

Growing up, my family loved to grill out on a nice summer night. Chicken breast, the occasional steak, maybe pork chops. There’s something totally transportive about the smell of barbeque and smoke on a hot summer evening. It’s a safe zone for me. We couldn’t always afford the best cuts of meat, but a tasty sauce and an element of fun easily made those childhood memories great ones. My dad is the family’s grillmaster – the man loves to cook, loves to experiment with new recipes, and he knows how to handle anything you can think of to throw on the grill. I didn’t inherit his knowledge of perfect grill temperatures and how to test meat’s doneness by feel over a fire, but my husband is also a great grill guy, and I slip into my mother’s role of preparing the food, as I can remember helping her slide meat and veggies onto skewers as a child.

First things first: kebab or kabob? Technically, kebab is a big hunk of meat, usually lamb or beef, slow-cooked on a long metal rod and shaved off in thin slices to pile onto amazing sandwiches like gyros. Shish kabobs are meat and veggies cooked on skewers – the Americanization of kebab.

Either way you slice and dice it, there’s something very primal about cooking meat on a stick. I was thinking of cavemen huddled around a fire roasting things while assembling and flipping these on the grill. They’re an easy dinner to throw together – anything grillable is game. Kids can help assemble their own masterpieces, and picky eaters or guests with allergies can have their own selection of stuff on a stick to be grilled on a separate part of the grill.

Kabobs are the perfect FUN FOOD!

So let’s get down to DOs and DON’Ts.

  • DO make your own kabobs. Grocery stores will sell you pretty prepackaged kabobs with meat, onion, and bright pepper slices on wooden skewers. DON’T buy them. It’s much more cost effective to make them yourself.
  • If your are just cooking up a few skewers for yourself or a small gathering, DON’T assemble skewers the way you see them in grocery stores. You can make pretty patterns, but some veggies have different cooking times, and it’s important to cook your meat thoroughly. Having a skewer of meat, a skewer of mushrooms, a skewer of peppers, etc, will ensure that things with short cook times can be taken off the grill before they burn or turn mushy.
  • If you are having a party and want your guest to build their own kabobs, DO par-cook your veggies ahead of time so everything cooks evenly on the skewer. You can either grill or oven roast your heartier vegetables until they are about halfway done, and then set them out for your guests to add to their skewers. When grilled along with the meat, these will have just enough time to get piping hot and acquire those beautiful grill lines (and flavor!).
  • DO season these suckers. I found an herb-seasoned vinegar that added a great splash of flavor, and helped my other spices stick. You don’t necessarily want to crust your ingredients, but seasoning is, as always, so important to make food taste good. And why expend energy on cooking something that turns out bland? I would, however, shy away from garlic or garlic powder, as it burns easily. If you’re working ahead, this is a great opportunity to marinate your meat.
  • DON’T leave your grill unattended. These don’t take super long to cook, so stand over that grill like the world’s best babysitter or guard dog. Also, unattended fire can lead to bad things.
  • DO pick vegetables that cook up firm and won’t get mushy. Eggplant, while delicious grilled, is most likely going to fall off your skewers. I would also skip potatoes. This is a meal for squash, mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, anything that holds up well.

Fun Food Kabobs

When we first moved into our house, my husband and I could never find wooden skewers anywhere. This resulted in my mother-in-law and mother each buying us giant packages when they saw them next, so I’ll probably never have to buy them again. You can also use nice metal skewers, but be careful! These usually have nice loops on the end for an easy handle, but they get VERY hot and stay VERY hot. Don’t grab the handles without a potholder until you’re sure they’re cool. I have both metal and wooden skewers, and find myself with a preference for the wooden ones. Part of this is that we have six metal skewers, and usually end up with seven or eight skewers worth of stuff to grill. Another factor is slippage. Wooden skewers tend to have a grain to them, which helps grip your food even as it cooks. Metal skewers, as they get hot, have a tendency to help cook your stuff from the inside, which is great for chicken, but keep an eye on your food, as it may be more done than you think.

Ingredients:

  • Beef or chicken
  • Veggies (I used half a container of mushrooms, 2 small summer squash, and a green bell pepper)
  • Seasoning (I used an herb-infused white vinegar, chili powder, salt and pepper)
  • Skewers

Directions:

  • Cut your vegetables into square-ish pieces of a uniform size. You don’t want these to be too much bigger than your skewers- they should be easily separable. I went for pieces at least an inch wide and two or three inches long. Some things, like the mushrooms, I just cut in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Do your vegetables first so you can use the same cutting board for meat after without cross-contaminating anything.
  • Cut your meat into 1″ to 1.5″ -sized chunks.
  • Skewer it! Try to skewer in the very center of your bits and pieces. This will ensure that they stay balanced and don’t try to make an early bid for freedom as you’re flipping and transporting them. With vegetables, skewer through the skin if possible. Squashes and zucchinis have skin that will stay pretty firm as it’s cooking, and the extra grip on your skewers will help keep them from sliding off.
  • Season it. I splashed herb-infused vinegar over everything, then sprinkled chili powder, salt, and pepper. I only did one side, then seasoned the other side once everything was on the grill.
  • Once your grill is hot, throw these bad boys on, seasoned-side down. This gives you an opportunity to season the other side without making a huge mess. We used a grill mat, which can be helpful if you’re afraid things will slide off the skewers and between the grill grates.
  • Your vegetables will probably need 5-6 minutes before flipping. Our meat cooked quickly, and needed to be flipped after about 2 minutes. This is going to vary based on your grill, and any hotspots it has. A good reason to use seasoning is that it facilitates a sear, and can make it easier to tell when your food is ready to be flipped. I used long grill tongs to turn these once I saw a nice sear on the bottom.
  • Cook for the same amount of time on both sides to ensure even cooking and doneness. Use a fork to slide food from skewers.  This can lead to food flying everywhere, so be cautious and supervise any small children attempting this trick.

 

What’s your favorite fun food to assemble or cook?

Memorial Day BBQ – Watermelon Ricotta Starters

Memorial Day BBQ – Watermelon Ricotta Starters

 Since many of us have the day off and the kids are ending their school year, Memorial Day has become the unofficial kickoff to summer, with the scent of back yard BBQ wafting through the air. If BBQ is in the plans for you this Monday, try these refreshing appetizers from Sarah B. Sarah may have gotten a little confused with the west coast lingo, but she knows good BBQ, and she definitely knows good snacks! So, Sarah, give us a little lesson on BBQ and teach us how to make those awesome watermelon bites!

Since moving to California from North Carolina, I’ve come to realize there are tons of cultural differences that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to otherwise, generally when it comes to what things are called.

Here, the big road you drive on is called a freeway, not a highway. If you go to a Mexican restaurant and order a taco, the odds are good it won’t have a hard shell a la Taco Bell. Most importantly, though, is that people here use the word barbeque to refer to a gathering where you grill hot dogs and hamburgers, and not to refer to a meal that involves pulled pork.

In North Carolina, barbeque (or BBQ more often) is something of a religion, and the side of the state you originate from will determine the kind of barbeque you proclaim to be the best. If you’re from Western NC, you’ll likely go for the Lexington Style BBQ, made from pork shoulder and served with a sauce seasoned with ketchup, vinegar, and pepper.

If you’re from Eastern NC, you’ll be more likely to prefer Eastern Style (otherwise known as “the correct choice”). Eastern Style BBQ is vinegar and pepper based and includes no part of a tomato.

It should be noted that it’s next to impossible to find real BBQ around here, so imagine my surprise when I heard a couple of colleagues talking and one mentioned that her Memorial Day plans were to have some people over “for barbeque.”

I got really excited hearing this and jumped into the conversation, thinking at the very least I could procure some leftovers, and at best, I might score an invite.

“You’re having barbeque?” I asked, maybe a smidge too enthusiastically. “I haven’t been able to find barbeque anywhere since I moved here.”

She looked at me oddly for a second, then said, “They don’t have hamburgers near your house?”

After another round or two, we determined that when she said she was having people over “for barbeque,” that meant they were grilling out, having what I would call a barbeque. For me, having people over for barbeque means you’re probably having what they refer to in NC as a “pig pickin’” and would be rewarded with delicious pulled pork.

Needless to say, I’m still on my eternal quest to find some good BBQ west of the Smokies.

So I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend, whether you’re having BBQ sandwiches (yay!) or plain old grilled hamburgers (boo!). If you get invited to a cookout, take along these fun appetizers, made with the quintessential summer fruit: watermelon! They’re super easy and super delicious.

Watermelon Ricotta StartersMemorial Day BBQ

Ingredients

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 container ricotta cheese
  • Several mint sprigs
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste

Dice your watermelon into large enough chunks that they won’t fall apart if you take the middle out. Remove the center with a melon baller (or even a small spoon).

Fill the holes with ricotta cheese.

Drizzle olive oil over the cubes and add a dash of salt and pepper (to taste) over the platter.

Garnish each ricotta-filled cube with a mint sprig.