National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day should happen at least once a week, in my opinion. But if I got my way, we’d all be getting paid to eat sandwiches and play with puppies and kitties  and the economy would collapse…so maybe we should leave Sandwich Day alone. I am always happy to have a new idea in my sandwich arsenal, though, which is why I am particularly thrilled with Sarah today. Not only does this sandwich look 100% phenomenal, I never knew about cilantro in a tube, and I think my life may be forever altered in the best possible way. I hope you feel the same about this creation. Sarah, if you would be so kind, show us the way to sandwich perfection.

Happy National Sandwich Day, folks! I am a big fan of putting things between bread as a meal, as well as the season of FALL, and so when I discovered that National Sandwich Day happens to be in November, I knew we had to cook up a hearty fall sandwich to celebrate.

I have always been enamored with “weird” foods. This may have begun when my dad brought home a coconut from the grocery store when my brother and I were little kids. We cracked it open with a hammer and chisel, I think, and while none of us really cared for what we found inside, I retained the fascination with food that required a little bit of work to get to the good stuff. Shellfish, avocados, mangoes, and pomegranates are huge favorites of mine, possibly for this very reason.

Not many things speak “fall” to me more than pomegranate—we’ll leave the turkey and cranberry to Thanksgiving (which is SO SOON, you guys!).

Today we will be making a Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Chicken Sandwich with Smoked Gouda, Anjou Pear, and Cilantro Aioli.

Ingredients:

  • Good loaf of bread
  • Cooked chicken (you know my favorite shortcut is a rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup pomegranate seeds (about 2/3 of a pomegranate)
  • Sriracha
  • Ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Mayonnaise
  • Smoked Gouda
  • 1 Anjou pear

Let’s get started! The first step is to open your pomegranate. After googling this lazily (I believe my search keyword was “open pomegranate”) and clicking on the very first video, I found an acceptable method which only requires a bowl of cold water and a knife. The idea is to score the pomegranate along its sections (I followed the splits in the top of the fruit with my knife), break it open with your hands, and proceed to pull the seeds apart from the casing in the water. The dense seeds sink to the bottom, while the vaguely pool noodle-like outer skin floats. This science checks out. It took the longest for me to break the thing open, but start to finish I think I had all the seeds out in about ten minutes.

sandwich

Once you have your pomegranate seeds, chuck them in a small pot with ½ cup of balsamic vinegar. I let mine come to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. You basically want to cook the vinegar until it thickens and loses its bite. I can’t leave things be, so I added a squeeze of Sriracha and a squeeze of ginger (herbs in a tube are the BEST shortcut) to amp up the tart pomegranate and sweet balsamic flavors.

While the glaze was thickening, I cut up my pear into thin slices, sliced my Gouda, cut two thick slices of what my grocery store told me is “Tuscany bread,” and broke down my chicken into vaguely bite-sized pieces. Now would also be an excellent time to toast your bread and cheese, if you want a toasted sandwich. The pear adds some crunch, but not quite as much as I wanted. I think next time I make these, I’ll definitely go toasty.

Once your glaze is making thick bubbles and doesn’t have a watery consistency (taste it, too—the vinegar “bite” should be mostly eliminated), throw it (pomegranate seeds and all) into the container with your chicken and coat well.

Now it’s aioli time! Guys, aiolis are the easiest things to make. You know the fancy, creamy dipping sauces you get in some restaurants. “Sriracha garlic aioli” is usually mayonnaise with a squeeze of Sriracha and some roasted garlic (this is over-simplifying things—but not much!). Let’s make a fancy-sounding super tasty cilantro aioli with—wait for it—two ingredients. I took a small container, added a squeeze of mayonnaise and about a teaspoon and a half of cilantro from a tube (I love fresh herbs, but this stuff packs a lot of flavor and doesn’t go bad quickly) and mixed it together. Congratulations, you’ve made a fancy, restaurant-quality dipping sauce. Spread it on your bread!

sandwich

So the steps of sandwich-building today are going to go: aioli Sandwichand pear on one piece of bread, Gouda and chicken on the other, then quickly slap them together. I apply some pressure to kind of hold this guy together, and cut it in half to make this less unwieldy to eat. The Gouda brings creaminess, the chicken has a nice sweet flavor thanks to the glaze, the occasional pomegranate seed gives you some tartness, while the pears are a bit crisp, and the aioli adds a bit of salt.

This is a heavy, but well-balanced sandwich, in my opinion. Perfect to welcome fall and get ready for sweaters and blankets and bonfires and raking leaves in the crisp air.

What are your favorite fall flavors? Would you toast this sandwich (I should have toasted this sandwich)? What kinds of aiolis are you inspired to make this season? I think I want to try something with figs…

 

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!

 

 

Butcher Block Co. Giveaway Promotes Tiger Wood Cutting Board, and Safe Food-Prep Practices

Butcher Block Co. Giveaway Promotes Tiger Wood Cutting Board, and Safe Food-Prep Practices

Consumer Sweepstakes Aims to Educate Public about Safe Use of Cutting Boards

Butcher Block Co., a leading online seller of “all things butcher block,” has a consumer sweepstakes giveaway slated for August. The grand prize is a spectacular end-grain cutting board made of South American tiger wood, designed and constructed in West Texas by the artisanal studio, Cotton & Dust. It’s reversible, 2 inches thick and 22 by 11 inches. All Cotton & Dust boards carry a Lifetime Reconditioning Guarantee. You can return the board for a free annual refurbishment and reconditioning.

According to the company’s Marketing VP, Kathleen Grodsky,

“This giveaway promotion will serve two purposes. First, it will draw attention to Cotton & Dust’s magnificent cutting boards. Second, it provides an opportunity to remind consumers of the best, safe practices concerning the use of cutting boards.”

“Summertime is peak grilling season, when the risk of cross-contaminating food through unsanitary practices is at its highest. With that in mind, Butcher Block Co. is disseminating the following information and helpful tips across various media outlets.”

Reminder – Unsanitary Use of Cutting Boards Can Pose Risk to Your Health

The Center for Disease Control estimates that foodborne illness sickens one in six Americans each year. A key cause is the mishandling of food, which allows for the transmission of bacteria and viruses. Since cutting boards play an essential role in the food preparation process, their unsafe use can contribute to the problem. For example, using a single cutting board both to cut up raw meat, poultry or fish, AND to slice fruit or vegetables, can result in cross-contamination. In other words, microbes can be transferred from contaminated food to clean food.

Best Practices for the Safe Use of Cutting Boards

  1. Use Two Cutting Boards – Dedicate one board to cutting raw meat, poultry and/or seafood. Reserve the second board exclusively for fresh produce and bread. This will help prevent cross-contamination.
  2. Wood vs. Plastic – While it’s true you can sanitize plastic cutting boards via dishwashers, cutting on them can leave deep grooves where bacteria can hide, persist and thrive. In contrast, any bacteria that remain in grooves in wooden cutting boards do not multiply; they die off as the wood dries after cleaning.
  3. Cleaning – Plastic cutting boards should be washed in very hot water. To thoroughly clean a wood cutting board: rinse off debris; scrub with soapy, hot water and a bristled-brush, sponge or dish rag. Dry the board thoroughly. Moisture promotes bacterial growth.
  4. Disinfecting – Once in a while, and after prepping raw meat, fish or poultry, disinfect with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Pour it on the board, spread it around and let it stand for 10 minutes, rinse and dry.
  5. Moisturizing – Re-oiling (at least once a month) helps prevent butcher block from drying out or cracking. Apply food-safe oil liberally and allow it to soak into the wood overnight. Remove any excess the next day.

For more information, including instructions on how to care for and repair butcher block cutting boards, visit our Help Center:

https://butcherblockco.com/butcher-block-info

To enter our August 2016 Cutting Board Giveaway visit our Butcher Block Co Facebook page.

Home Bartending – Basic Bar Gadgets and Classic Cocktails

Home Bartending – Basic Bar Gadgets and Classic Cocktails

Just in time for the weekend, our Cocktail Queen, Sarah, is back! This week she is sharing with us some basic bar gadgets plus how to use them to make three classic cocktails. I own all of these bar gadgets, but I have never used any of them (well, my muddler has been used to break up ice a few times, but I don’t think that counts…), so I think it’s high time I graduate from pouring bourbon and opening beer. Let’s see if Sarah can teach me a thing or two about making real, grown-up cocktails! You can come along for the lesson, too, and we’ll practice our new-found bartending skills together.

So let’s talk classic cocktails. You don’t have to be a film noir star to be able to enjoy an old fashioned, but you will need a few basic bar gadgets to help craft your masterpieces.

I’ve been expanding my own collection of home bar gadgets as of late, and my cocktail game has never been stronger.

The bar gadgets in question today are:

Bar Gadgets

Cocktail Strainer

This should fit perfectly over a pint glass or other shaker, allowing you to strain ice and any other bits you’ve mixed into a fresh glass.

Muddler

We will get into the finer details of proper muddling in a later post, but this is great for crushing ingredients before adding alcohol – we’ll be using it to make old fashioneds really easy to make.

Stirring Spoon

This is surprisingly helpful, especially when you are stirring a cocktail in a tall pint glass. Your average spoon won’t make it all the way down to the bottom, and the slender, spindly handle maneuvers more easily around bulky ingredients (believe me – I was as surprised as you that a FANCY SPOON is a great bar gadget).

Channel Knife

This is the most technical tool we’ll be using today. The best tutorial I’ve ever seen on cutting twists is here. It demonstrates three easy ways to make a fancy-looking garnish. I like the channel knife because I LOVE gadgets, but it’s also handy if you aren’t making a lot of drinks or don’t have a use for fresh-squeezed lemon. Twists cut with a channel knife are also a little more delicate-looking than ones done with a vegetable peeler, making for extra fancy. I found the bulky handle of the channel knife easy to control once I had practiced a bit. Oh, and the bonus citrus zester on this one is nice to have on-hand. Pro tip – have friends over for “practice cocktail night;” it is VERY fun.

So on to actually making these bad boys. Today, we’ll be delving into Negronis, Old Fashioneds, and Cosmopolitans. Negronis are probably the most obscure on that list, but my sources say they’re coming back in a big way as of late. There are a few special ingredients you should have, both to have a nicely stocked home bar, as well as to impress your guests.

The well-stocked bar will contain:

Sweet Vermouth

(the red kind)

Angostura Bitters

(Peychaud’s are also acceptable)

Campari or Aperol

I, personally, have found that the bitterness or orangeness of Campari is not something I prefer to be able to taste in a cocktail, but Aperol is another bitter alcohol that I find palatable. Either of these is going to be a bright orange bottle, giving your cocktail an unmistakable color. One bottle of this will last you quite a while, since it’s rarely called for in drinks, but its presence in your home bar will make you look like an esoteric expert.

Fancy cherries

It might seem silly to spend $20 on a jar of cherries, but these will last you a good long time, and Luxardo is the bartender’s gold standard cherry. I tried several fancy cherries for this post, and the thick syrup of Luxardo helps this guy stand up to a boozy drink. I promise you can taste the quality. Woodford Reserve also makes a decent cherry for slightly fewer dollars.

The drinks!

Bar Gadgets

Old Fashioned

  • 2 sugar cubes
  • Angostura bitters
  • Seltzer or water
  • Bourbon whiskey
  • Orange
  • Cherry

Drop 2 sugar cubes in a heavy-bottomed glass (they’re actually called old fashioned glasses for a reason!) and shake a few dashes of bitters on them.

Add half an orange wheel and a cherry.

Pour a splash of seltzer or water in the glass. Seltzer is going to lighten this drink up in a surprising way if you’ve only ever had these with water before. It’s a nice change of pace that I encourage you to try even once.

Mash gently with your muddler. The sugar cubes should no longer be cube-shaped, and your fruit should have released some of its juice, but don’t pulverize the fruit.

Add ice. The giant fancy ice thing that’s a trend? The reasoning behind it is that the bigger the ice cube, the less surface area it has compared to several smaller ice cubes. So you get the same amount of chill factor with more time to drink before the ice has completely melted or waters down your drink too much.

So add your ice, then 2 parts whiskey. I used my trusty Bulleit Bourbon, which has lately been housed in a fancy schmancy decanter and looking very stylish. Stir it gently and let it sit for a few moments before sipping. Garnish with an orange wheel and a fancy cherry (snacks with drinks are always appreciated by me).

Bar Gadgets

Cosmopolitan

  • Sweetened lime juice
  • Vodka
  • Lemon
  • Triple sec
  • Cranberry juice

In a cocktail shaker, start with ice. Any ice is fine here, since we’re going to shake this guy.

Add 1 part sweetened lime juice.

Add 1 part triple sec.

Pour in 2 parts cranberry juice.

Finish with 3 parts vodka, and shake thoroughly for about twenty seconds – your shaker should be cold to the touch.

Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Bar Gadgets

Negroni

  • Campari or Aperol
  • Gin
  • Orange
  • Sweet Vermouth

In a pint glass or shaker, start with ice.

Add 2 parts gin.

Measure 1.25 parts sweet vermouth and pour it in. (Note to purists – I reversed the proportions of Campari and sweet vermouth to match my own tastes. Traditionally, you’re adding more Campari than sweet vermouth, but I preferred it this way)

Add .75 parts Campari.

Take your long-handled stirring spoon and stir this for about twenty seconds, or long enough that you feel silly stirring. This is going to make sure your drink is cold.

Strain into a glass. This can be served up (no ice) or given some ice cubes to keep it company. Garnish with an orange twist.

Bar Gadgets

Which drinks should I mix up for you next? Do you have an obscure bar gadget that you’ve never used?

What’s Trendy? Low-Carb Veggie Noodles!

What’s Trendy? Low-Carb Veggie Noodles!

Veggie Noodles are the latest trend in the food world, and I’ve got to admit, I kind of love it. I LOVE vegetables, and I’ve been using spaghetti squash as an occasional pasta substitute for years. With the introduction of the spiralizer, I can now make noodles out of zucchini and other squashes, carrots, and just about any other firm veggie! You don’t have to use it as pasta, though. Another great way to use veggie noodles is to simply prepare them as a side dish. Sautéed in a little butter or olive oil with garlic and salt, they make a great addition to any meal. This is one trend I’m happy to jump on board with! Lucky for you, Sarah W. is also a spiralizer fan, and has a spectacular zucchini noodle and meatballs recipe to share with us. This one is particularly friendly if you are on a low-carb diet. Take it away, Sarah!

I have a foodie confession to make: I am not a huge fan of Italian food. Pasta has never been a religious experience for me the way that it seems it should when gauging my social media feeds. (I am fully aware that Italian food consists of more than PASTA, and have indeed eaten my share of other dishes. All are quite good! It’s just not my favorite food genre.) People. Love. Pasta. I am not a finicky eater, but when I go out to eat, I prefer to order something I couldn’t easily make at home, and when I’m cooking at home, my comfort spices include chili powder, thyme, cumin, and hot sauce.

That being said, whenever I picture cooking in the kitchen, it stems from the image of someone’s Italian grandma making sauce and noodles from scratch, stirring a bubbling pot smelling of garlic and love. To me and my fanciful brain, that’s traditional cooking. I just don’t do very much of it myself. So for this week’s blog, I decided to push myself back to basics and see if I could modern it up without being too crazy. The current trend of veggie noodles seemed like a good compromise.

We recently had our neighbors over for dinner, and they are pasta fanatics. I knew I wanted to make something at least Italian-inspired that would also be flexible enough for my current gluten-avoidance. Some Googling led me to this awesome recipe for Lasagna Meatballs, which I adapted and served with a choice of zucchini noodles or traditional pasta in fun shapes. I got a yield of 40 meatballs, which, including sauce and cheese, netted me 1.3 carbs per meatball. Not bad for those counting carbs! Your mileage will vary, depending on the cheeses (ricotta and mozzarella both contain carbs) and sauce you find around you, but this is a pretty delicious recipe that can be easily adapted to different diets by changing the base.

In order to make zucchini (or carrot or let-your-imagination-run-wild other vegetable) noodles, you will need a spiralizer. You can julienne your veggies, but they won’t have the same flexibility and movement that a pasta noodle does. I have a small, basic one and it’s served me well. Its size makes it easy to store since I don’t use it very often. Vegetable noodles are really trendy right now, and it’s easy to see why. They’re not labor-intensive; they can be tailored to go with a variety of dishes; they’re visually appealing and a way to get more color on your plate.

I had never made meatballs before, and these are a little wet, by virtue of the ricotta cheese. I skipped the breadcrumbs/flour usually called for in meatballs, and decided to use some extra Parmesan cheese instead. This was a good idea.

Zucchini Noodles with Lasagna Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey (I used turkey)
  • 1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage (I used sweet)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • parsley, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 cups pasta sauce (I used the lowest carb I could find – 5 carbs per serving)
  • 1-2 roasted red peppers
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cup mozzarella cheese
  • 3 zucchinis
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine the sausage, turkey, eggs, ricotta, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic to make your meatballs. Dice or finely chop the roasted red pepper and add to the mixture. I found it was best to have some “rings off” time and combine this by hand. At this point, the meatball mixture is very wet.

Add ¼ cup of your Parmesan cheese. If you still don’t like the consistency, add another ¼ cup.

Form 1-2” meatballs and line them up on a large baking sheet. They can be somewhat close together, as they won’t spread while they bake. Pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Bigger meatballs may take more time. As mentioned above, I got 40 meatballs out of one batch.

Grab a baking dish and start loading your meatballs in. I was able to cram all 40 into a 13” x 9” dish. Cover with sauce. Cover that with mozzarella cheese, finishing up with the remaining Parmesan. Cook this for an additional 30 minutes.

Trendy Veggie Noodles

When you have about 20 minutes left on the bake, use the spiralizer to prep your zucchini noodles. These are fairly simple. Trim the ends of your zucchini. Hold the zucchini firmly in the spiralizer and turn so the blades cut the vegetable. This will produce noodle-shaped ribbons. These can be sautéed in a pan over medium heat for 4-5 minutes in butter. Twenty minutes out is a good time to start boiling water if you’d also like to serve pasta as an option.

Trendy Veggie Noodles

I served these to my pasta-fiend neighbors (while calling them “lasagna meatballs”) and got this reaction: “The meatballs themselves don’t seem like they’d be cheesy, but they’re really cheesy!” They were a hit.

Trendy Veggie Noodles

Have you jumped on the veggie noodle trend? What’s your favorite vegetable to use, and how do you prepare it?

Printer-friendly recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Lasagna Meatballs

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving is just a week away! Are you ready? I’m always ready for my favorite holiday, and this last week of anticipation can be brutal. This year I’m trying to focus that energy into making some awesome side dishes to share with my family, and I know just the place to find the perfect recipes – our very own blog! I am thankful for our extremely talented guest bloggers who have shared so many amazing dishes over the past year. Everything I’m bringing to the table this Thanksgiving comes from one of our posts. I bet you can find some inspiration here, too!

Here is a collection of some of our most favorite recipes and tutorials for Thanksgiving. You’re sure to find something to be thankful for in this roundup of delightful dishes!

So, what are you bringing to the table this Thanksgiving? Did we inspire some great ideas? Let us know what you are thankful for this season and share with us your favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

All of us at Butcher Block Co. are thankful for you, our wonderfully supportive customers. Have a happy, relaxing Thanksgiving!

Halloween Roundup – Spooky Foods and Superstitions

Halloween Roundup – Spooky Foods and Superstitions

Halloween is more than just costumes and candy – there are tons of spooky foods and stories to share, too! We love trying new recipes and hearing new scary stories, so if you’ve got some to share, send them our way! And, check out our roundup of past Halloween posts, plus a few extra superstitions we’ve come across since last Halloween.

Last Halloween we compiled this fun list of food-related superstitions, and they were so interesting, we decided to dig up some more!

  • Salt sure seems to carry some bad luck. Besides the well-known superstition about spilling salt, in many cultures it is also considered bad luck to pass salt hand-to-hand. So if your dinner guest asks you to pass the salt, make sure you set it on the table in front of them instead of putting it directly in their hand!
  • Chinese legend has it that for every grain of rice left in your bowl, you will get a freckle or mole on your face! I wonder if you can leave one piece strategically behind to get that Marilyn Monroe look.
  • Refrain from eating peanuts at any type of performance – supposedly it gives the performers bad luck. This one has to be completely debunked by now because of circuses, right?
  • Don’t sit at the corner of the dinner table or you will be single FOREVER! Oh, the horror! Too bad the corner seat is the most convenient for sneaking scraps to my cats… (P.S. Today is National Cat Day!)
  • In Italy, if you spill alcohol, you are supposed to dab a bit of the spilled sauce behind your ears to bring good luck. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to keep the booze gods on my side, so I will be adopting this one for sure. Plus, smelling like champagne is never a bad thing.

Speaking of wine, grab a glass of spooky Halloween-themed vino and get ready to carve your pumpkins. We’ve got some handy tips and tricks for making a fabulous jack-o-lantern! Finish off the night with these to-die-for (ooh spooky!) Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie Bites if you’re not too full of candy!

Happy Halloween from all of us at Butcher Block Co.! We hope you have a frightfully good time with many treats and minimal tricks!

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?

Removing A Dent From Butcher Block Is Easy!

Removing A Dent From Butcher Block Is Easy!

We at Butcher Block Co. take great pleasure in helping our customers, whether it is answering their questions or providing solutions to their problems regarding butcher block. Some questions are about basic daily care for their butcher block or how to remove stains and scratches, and others are more complicated issues like how to repair butcher block. Most recently we had a couple customers call in and ask about removing a dent in their butcher block. One customer dropped a heavy object on their top, and another customer had a dent that occurred during installation. While most dents are minor, they can bug you endlessly when you see them every day! So that was the motivation for our blog this week.

“The Experts In All Things Butcher Block” are happy to share with you how to remove a dent from butcher block, using an iron!

Repairing a Dent for Email and Blog

Removing a dent in wood using an iron is easy, really! This method of removing a dent from wood is well known by woodworkers, but not so much by consumers. It works best with soft woods that are dented – the dent will totally disappear. With hard woods used to make butcher block, like maple, walnut and cherry, the process still works pretty well.

Repairing a Dent for Email and Blog

Removing a dent from butcher block with an iron requires that the bare wood fibers be exposed. Most butcher block has an oil finish, so it is very easy to sand a bit to expose the bare wood fibers. The challenge is if you have a Varnique finish on the butcher block. You must sand through all layers of the Varnique to get to exposed wood. That will allow the water to be absorbed by the wood and the steam to help lift the dent.

Repairing a Dent for Email and Blog

Removing a dent from hardwood butcher block will require repeating the steaming process a few times.

Repairing a Dent for Email and Blog

Removing a dent in butcher block may not work completely, every time, but it can significantly improve the appearance. It is much better than the alternative, which is to see the dent every day and have it bug you.

Do you have questions about caring for or repairing your Butcher Block?  Let us know. We are happy to assist you. If it is not something we have already blogged about, we could cover it in a new blog!

Here is our printer friendly version.

The Art of the Cheese Plate

The Art of the Cheese Plate

Cheese is my soulmate, so when Sarah W. sends me photos of her cheese plates (which she does every week or two), my heart speeds up and I get butterflies in my stomach. Then I remember that Sarah lives in Ohio and we can’t share. It’s the worst kind of long distance relationship. I have been enlightened, however, with the knowledge that I’m not the only one who eats cheese for lunch sometimes, and that it’s actually a socially acceptable thing to do as long as you lay it out prettily on a plate before consuming. If I pick myself up one of these gorgeous boards, I may even convince the world that my midnight raid of the cheese drawer is because I’m fancy, and in no way related to, you know, beer consumption. I think we’ve delved into my issues enough for one day, so I’m going to pass the cheese plate to Sarah now. If she can inspire me to be a little more classy, just think what she can do for you! Spread the cheese, Sarah!

I don’t actually have a lot of meaningful memories associated with cheese or cheese plates (besides my mother telling me to never use low-fat or fat-free options because, “What’s the point?”), but I have to say, there are not a lot of things that rank higher than sitting outside on a beautiful day with a bottle of wine, a plate covered in cheeses, crackers, veggies, and fruit, accompanied by my best friend or husband.

Cheese Plate

Two kinds of olives, pickled carrots, fresh cherries on the left. Gouda, pepperjack, 5 county cheddar, cucumber slices, sharp white cheddar, porter-marbled, and crackers. Perfect with white wine.

So let’s talk composition. There are so many kinds of cheese. Washed rinds, soft cheese, goatsmilk, sheepsmilk, bleu cheeses, sharps, extra sharps, mild, layered, studded, alcohol-marbled. Going to the fancy cheese section of your local grocery store with the idea to lay out a bangin’ platter can be intimidating, let alone setting foot in a fancy cheese shop. And then, what if you don’t like your choices?

Real Simple has a nice article on selecting cheeses and all the niceties that go along with that, but I don’t always like following rules. Off the top of my head (and from copious field research), I would have guessed cheese plates are usually grouped bleus, creamy, sharp, and mild, and I wasn’t far off the mark. But I’m bored already discussing textures and types.

So how do you pick winners for your own cheese plate?

Cheese Plate

My winners from last summer – a 5 county cheddar (five cheddars of varying sharpness and softness layered one atop the other) and a porter-marbled

Answer one is to taste everything. Any cheese shop worth its salt and cream will hand you a sample. Taste, ask questions. It’s a lot like wine-tasting in that you’ll eventually find yourself with a few solid staples that are both unique and undeniably suited to you. Which leads us to answer two: know your tastes. Sample a mango-studded cheese if you spend all summer obsessively squeezing mangoes at the grocery store to see if they’re ripe for smoothies. Try a cheese marbled with dark beer if your favorite part of St. Patrick’s Day is drinking your dinner in form of Guinness or other stouts and porters. Be on the lookout for ingredients that you know and love in other preparations — artisans put a lot of things in cheese now!

To address the cheesy elephant in the room, if you have never liked any bleu cheese you’ve ever eaten (like my cheese-heathen husband), then ask your cheese shop associate what they’d recommend as an alternative. You might find yourself with a tasty gorgonzola or feta instead. Your guests will have a pungent cheese, and you won’t feel like you’re forcing yourself to eat mold.

Cheese Plate

Pepperjack, multi-grain crackers, sharp white cheddar, brie with strawberries, swiss, garlic-stuffed green olives, mango-studded, and honest-to-goodness air-popped popcorn.

Once you’ve settled on your cheeses, start thinking about what else you’d like to put on your plate — crackers, fruits, vegetables, meats. Brie with fresh strawberries is a super yum combination that finds its way onto my platters on many occasions. The beef sticks I’ve known my whole life as “smokies” make a great accompaniment sliced into inch-long pieces, while thick slices of fat smoked sausages and summer salamis are also a great standby. I have a little garden, and fresh cucumbers and green beans make their way onto my plates, as well as pickled carrots from the year before. And if you love the taste of salty, pickled things, grab feta- or garlic-stuffed olives as garnish. Fresh berries and cherries make a sweet statement against mild cheeses like jarlsberg and swiss. Multi-grain crackers, cheese crisps, even the humble saltine all make mini cheesy sandwich bites, and one of the most delightful things I’ve put in a cheese assortment has to be popcorn. Because why not?

Cheese Plate

These Vans gluten-free cheddar crackers are one of my favorite finds for cheese plates. Super thin and crunchy! Soppressata and salami picante are great cheese plate additions, and white cheddar cheese curds are the main attraction.

The only real rule I’ve come across in cheese plating is to keep wet things (olives, freshly-washed berries, pickles) away from anything they will get soggy (crackers, popcorn, chips). Other than that? Go nuts! I, personally, am not one for smears and smudges of jams and chutneys on a cheese plate, but you do you. Heap preserves on top of a small wheel of brie and pop it in the oven for about 8 minutes. Absolute heaven.

To prepare your cheese for plating, let it guide you. Firmer cheeses do well in thin slabs that easily stack on crackers. Softer cheeses can be cut into rough cubes with a very sharp knife, or allowed to crumble as they will. Creamy cheeses and spreads need to be accompanied by a knife. Layered cheeses, like my 5 county cheddar favorite, made a cute presentation cut into little matchsticks, but it wasn’t the most stable, and liked to fall apart. You can make your cheese plates as Alice in Wonderland landscape-ish or as neat as you’d like. Fan out slices or make a pile of cubes — it’s all up to you!

A last few recommendations: Slice your cheese reasonably close to when you plan on serving it. After several hours, it can start to get hard around the edges and get that greasy, unappetizing sheen. If you have leftover cheese, the best thing to do is have a leftover cheese plate for lunch the next day! Check out this guide on the best ways to store cheeses based on type. I’ve had good luck wrapping cheese in parchment, then plastic wrap, although sometimes you still need to trim hard edges, which is fine! Using the same cheeses over and over won’t get repetitive provided you add something new each time. Finally, I didn’t address dried fruit or nuts, but those are both excellent cheese plate accompaniments.

So, what’s your favorite kind of cheese? Does talking about cheese texture bore you to death, too? What’s the most unique cheese you’ve ever tried — and was it good?