Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation cooking is something I typically manage to avoid, as most of my vacations consist of visiting friends or staying in a hotel. I do like to cook, but I’ll be honest, there is nothing quite like having Claire cater your meals for a few days while you relax (don’t worry, sometimes I help)! This week, Claire is here to share some of her family’s traditions, along with some fabulous food. This is how you do vacation cooking! Take it away, Claire!

One of the tragedies of adulthood is the end of summer vacation. For most of us, the summer months carry on nearly identical to their colder counterparts, except perhaps that a higher percentage of the day is spent casting desperate looks out the window, accompanied by discontented sighs. Or maybe that’s just me? I think I probably spend more time than most on nostalgia, but it’s easy to cast my mind back and envy my younger self her idyllic mid-western summer breaks. As a kid in Michigan, I spent the whole summer in the water. Whether it was the dinky little pond at the far end of my subdivision, or the beautiful clear waters of Long Lake in Traverse City, my summer days were defined by the presence of water.

These days, the mid-west is still rich in waterVacation Cooking, but in California where I live, climate change and careless over-use of water has led to crisis-level drought, and the small lakes that used to exist near me have dried up completely, leaving only muddy pits and a rusted out car to mark where they used to be. The dryness of my adult existence has only exacerbated my need to indulge in memories of long days spent paddling around the lake in goggles and a snorkel, digging up clams and crayfish and interesting rocks. Eventually, I get to a point where day-dreaming isn’t enough, and I count up my vacation hours and trade them in for one precious week with my sisters in our family home on the lake.

In past summers, my parents have always been there at the lake house taking charge of our vacations. My mom did nearly all of the vacation cooking, and my dad arranged all our activities around the best times of day to be out on his catamaran. This year, they were too busy yachting down the eastern seaboard to join us, so the role of head chef fell to my sisters and me, and I must say, we rose to the occasion.

Vacation cooking presents an interesting set of complications, especially when you’re with a large group.

What are all the dietary restrictions to consider? Who is doing the grocery run? Who is doing the inevitable second grocery run when we realize that we’ve forgotten something crucial? What pots and pans are available in the vacation house? And most importantly, what can be easily made in a large enough quantity to feed 13 people without forcing some unfortunate soul to spend all day in the kitchen?

For my turn in the kitchen, I decided to make carnitas tacos. Anything that can be set up build-your-own style is a good idea in a group, and Mexican food is easy to make gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Plus, there is something so summery about tacos, especially when they are topped with salsa verde and fresh cilantro. When I cook carnitas, I always use the Serious Eats no-waste recipe. Prep is quick and easy and I can walk away for 3 hours while it cooks, float around on the lake on a gigantic unicorn until my skin starts to crisp, then head back to the kitchen, whip up the salsa verde in about 15 minutes, and bing bang boom, dinner is served. I made this for the family last year, and it was such a huge hit, we ran out of meat. This year I added two additional pounds of pork, and we still ran out. I’m telling you, this recipe is a winner.

Vacation Cooking

The next night, we did brats and burgers with sweet corn and salad, all essential summer crowd pleasers. Anything that can be thrown on the grill and served up directly is a good pick for a large group. Another night, my younger sister made meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Meatloaf isn’t exactly a quick meal to execute, but it is a family tradition, and works well for a crowd because it can be made ahead of time, and it can be easily scaled up or down as the group requires. In our family, we go huge with the meatloaf, and then we make sure there is lots of good bread for leftovers sandwiches.

Vacation Cooking

Speaking of leftovers, since we only stay in the house for week, we try very hard not to over-buy groceries, so on our last night we had a big salad to use up the remaining produce, and we served it with whatever we could scrounge out of the fridge on the side. I ate every meal on the patio overlooking the lake, surrounded by my favorite people, with my bathing suit under my dress and the sun setting in the background.

Vacation Cooking

A week at the lake is never enough, but I live for adding more lake memories to my nostalgia bank, so I take what I can get.


Corned Beef Recipes – Just in Time for St. Patrick’s Day

Corned Beef Recipes – Just in Time for St. Patrick’s Day

CORNED BEEF! I feel like that’s a good enough introduction to today’s topic. I’m going to let Claire jump right in here, because if I have to talk about corned beef any longer, I might skip out of work early to head to the deli. Take it away, Claire!

I’m not Irish – at least, not that I know of – but I am Jewish, which means that, while most Americans associate corned beef with traditional Irish fare, for me, it’s always been more closely tied with the Jewish American culinary tradition. I have a very distinct picture in my mind of my mother, closing her eyes and savoring the first bite of a piece of toasted rye bread piled high with corned beef and mustard. As a kid, I was pretty sure I didn’t care for corned beef. I assumed that corned beef was just like pastrami, and I hated getting pastrami in my lunch at school, with that peppery crust on the outside; all the other kids thought I was so weird with my weird meat sandwich. When my mom would take us to the Jewish deli after Sunday School, I would always skip right over the meats and go right for the blintzes. Kids are so dumb sometimes.

Now, of course, I know better. Not only have I changed my mind about pastrami, but I have also learned that, aside from the animal of origin, pastrami and corned beef have basically nothing in common. If someone promises me a Reuben sandwich and instead gives me a pastrami sandwich with Swiss cheese, Thousand Island, and sauerkraut on rye, I will calmly inform them that replacing the corned beef in a Reuben with some other kind of deli meat immediately and irreversibly nullifies the sandwich’s Reuben-ness, because nothing in the world compares with corned beef. It would be like replacing the jelly in a PB&J with Nutella. It might still be good, but it ain’t no PB&J. I mean, I’ll still eat the pastrami sandwich, but I’ll be thinking about corned beef the whole time.

Every time March rolls around, I think I should make my own corned beef from scratch.

I always look up recipes for brining my own brisket, and then I write a grocery list with things like saltpeter on it. And then I realize that I’m never going to actually brine my own brisket, and I’ll just scratch out the saltpeter because, seriously, who even has the time? I still want corned beef, though, and with St. Patty’s Day right around the corner, all the grocery stores have stocked up on corned beef, already brined, just waiting to be cooked. So this year I went to the store and bought two. Hey, if I have to celebrate a Catholic saint to get easy access to a corned beef, I am willing to put on a green dress and down a Guinness or two. I just really love corned beef.

When I got home with my two corned beef briskets, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to boil them the traditional way or slow roast them to change it up, so I did one of each, because I guess I also just really love doing dishes. We did a side-by-side taste test, and they were both equally good, so I don’t even have a clear recommendation. Corned beef, man. It’s the best.

For the roasted one, put the brisket fat-side up in a ceramic dish and preheat the oven to 325°. I used the spice packet that came with it, plus some more ground pepper and dry mustard to make a nice flavorful crust on top of the meat, but if there’s no spice packet, just pepper and dry mustard will work great. Cover the pan with foil and pop it in the oven. Slow and low is the theme here, so set the timer for two and a half hours. When the timer goes off, remove the foil and let it roast for another 45 minutes. Test the texture with a fork; it should slide right into the center of the brisket with no resistance. If it feels even a little bit firm, let it cook for another 15 minutes. Repeat fork testing and cooking until the fork goes in easily. When it’s tender, take it out of the oven and tent with the foil to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Corned Beef

For the boiled one, just place the meat into a large pot. Cut a couple of onions and some carrots into chunks and throw those in the pot. Bundle some fresh herbs together – I used thyme and sage because that’s what was still fresh in my fridge – and throw those into the pot. Add the seasoning packet, ground pepper, and a tablespoon or so of dry mustard. Cover the meat by one inch with cold water. Gently bring the water to a boil and then drop it to a simmer. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 2 hours. Cut a head of cabbage into quarters and add it to the pot. Simmer another hour or two more, until the meat is fork tender.

Corned Beef

For either cooking method, when the meat is ready, put it on your cutting board and identify the grain. For the most tender serving, you want to slice across the grain. I sliced the meat on the thicker side and served it with some of the cabbage and broth for dinner. Just for kicks, I also cut a second head of cabbage into eighths and pan cooked it in some extra virgin olive oil while the roast brisket was resting. It added a nice crunch to the meal and it would make a nice alternative if I didn’t feel like boiling anything. After dinner, I sliced the leftover meat very thin for sandwiches.

Corned Beef

If you love corned beef like I do, I recommend making way more than you need and buying a loaf of rye bread ahead of time. That way, the leftovers will keep you in lunch heaven for the rest of the week. I’m telling you, a pre-corned brisket is so easy to cook, I think I’ll even do another one next week because we’re already running out, and I’m not ready for it to be gone yet.

Do you have a Saint Patrick’s Day tradition? Do you serve your corned beef with Irish soda bread? May I have some of your soda bread?


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

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.


  • 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


  • 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?

Waffles! Don’t Be a Square – Jump on This Hot Food Trend!

Waffles! Don’t Be a Square – Jump on This Hot Food Trend!

Waffles are pretty much the best thing ever. Which is why I’m amazed it has taken this long for everyone to jump on board the waffle train and make this breakfast delight the hottest trend in food. There is even an entire website dedicated to putting things in waffle irons and seeing what happens! Not to be left out of the trend, Chef J has created a delicious dish that puts twists on both waffles and cheesesteaks!  These are two of my favorite things, so this is your invitation to wow me, Chef!

It’s time to face the awful truth, people! Breakfast breads are breaking through the preconceived boundaries of established meal paradigms. They are — oh shoot… I should have said “waffle truth”! That would have been a great pun…  Anyway. Waffles are good for food times other than in the morning. That was the whole point of that emphatic outburst. How about waffles for dinner? Great idea! Let’s eat them with steak and cheese, and maybe some beer, too!

If you have a waffle iron gathering dust and dog hair, sitting in the back of a long-forgotten shelf, it’s time to dig it out and dust it off.

A waffle iron is one of the best appliances a kitchen can have: it has two heating elements, allowing for the revolutionary ability to cook from above and below!

It can handle any dough you can throw at it — try pizza, muffin, biscuit, cake… you get the idea. Try smashing your sandwich in a waffle iron! Use a soft bread and lots of cheese; you might just have your mind blown.

Here is one of my favorite recipes. It’s something along the lines of a Philly cheesesteak, but with a Phoenix twist.

Phoenix Cheesesteaks with Cornbread Waffles


  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 12 oz. milk
  • 4 oz. maple syrup
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 TBS oil

Sift dry ingredients together.
Mix in wet ingredients and stir to combine.
Cook in waffle iron.


  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 8 oz. grilled sirloin, flank, or similar steak; sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 red pepper, roasted and sliced
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 oz. beer
  • 1 TBS tamari
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 6 oz. jack cheese, sliced
  • 6 oz. mahone or mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Salt & pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet.
Sauté garlic, pepper, and mushrooms until garlic browns.
Add sliced steak, 4 oz. beer, tamari, rosemary and cumin. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and reduce by 1/3.
Spoon the mixture over half of the waffles, top all waffles with cheese.
Broil for 2-5 minutes on high. Put the two waffles together to make a sandwich.
Dip in remaining pan juice.

Printer friendly recipe: Waffle Cheesesteak

Stone Soup: Community Comfort Food

Stone Soup: Community Comfort Food

Are you familiar with Stone Soup? I had never heard of it, but when I asked Sarah B. if she was interested in blogging about it, of course she knew just what to do! Sarah wrote about some of her favorite football foods last month, but she’s not just about appetizers! Stone Soup is a great way to bring friends and family together, and Sarah’s got all the answers as to what Stone Soup is and how you can go about making it. Take it away, Sarah!

You’ve heard the Stone Soup story, right? Some travelers carrying a pot happen upon a village, and they ask the villagers for some food. The residents say they don’t have anything to spare, so the travelers tell the people that they’re going to make a delicious soup out of water and a single stone. They mention throughout the “cooking” process that it would be just wonderful if they had an onion, and maybe a potato to add, and the villagers all come up with bits and pieces to add to the soup and, in the end, everyone comes together to make a delicious soup for everyone to share.

I’m under the impression that Stone Soup would be an excellent theme for a dinner party – assign everyone an ingredient, throw everything in a pot, and let it cook while you have some drinks and swap some stories. Also, though, it’s a great mentality to have when you want to make something great for dinner, and don’t have an actual plan, but you do have some beef. And some beef stock. And maybe an onion or two.

For me, my Stone Soup moment didn’t come from all my neighbors rallying together to make dinner or even from a dig through the cabinets. Instead, it came from my step-daughter, Kelly, who wanted to make soup, and who had a list of ingredients she thought maybe should go in it…but that was about it.

She handed me a list that said: Onions, carrots, cabbage, beef, celery, potatoes, salt, lemon pepper, beef stock. OK, cool. We were going to Stone Soup this thing. Gather a bunch of stuff. Throw it in a pot. Cross our fingers and let it all boil.

The soup turned out really, really well, and we had enough to eat for a few days, since it was just the three of us.

When you’re making this, against all cooking advice ever given, don’t chop or dice everything ahead of time. Do each after you put the previous ingredient in. If you decide to have people over for this soup and they bring ingredients, have them chop up their own contribution! The point of Stone Soup is that it’s a community effort, so why not bring that into your own kitchen?

Beef and Vegetable “Stone” Soup

  • 50 oz. beef broth or stockSoup meat 300
  • 2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 lbs. stew beef
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 celery stalks
  • ½ head of cabbage
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Stone Soup 4Place a large stock pot on a burner on high. Add your beef stock and diced tomatoes with juice.
Cut up your beef and add it to the pot.
Dice your potatoes, onion, and celery and add those to the pot. If at this point your mixture is boiling rapidly, turn the heat down a little, to medium-high.
Chop your cabbage and add to the pot.
Add your lemon pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Simmer for 15 minutes, then check the doneness of the meat. (It should be at least 160°F.) If it’s cooked through, move on to the next step. If not, continue to simmer until the meat is done.
Taste your soup and add additional spices if desired.
Chop your green onions and add them to the pot. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot (with crusty bread, if you’ve got it!).

Bowl of Soup 300

Sarah Buchanan is a cookbook addict and Riesling aficionado living in Southern California. Even though it’s on hiatus at the moment, her blog,, tells the story of her attempts to cook out of every cookbook in her massive collection.

Printer friendly recipe: Stone Soup

Labor Day BBQ – Perfect Beer Pairings

Labor Day BBQ – Perfect Beer Pairings

Labor Day is next Monday — are you ready to say goodbye to Summer? WE ARE! There’s no better way to bid adieu to this nasty heat than with a nice, frosty brew. As you can see in the photo, Chef J inspired me to try a few new brews myself (I even found a few treats from nearby states!). Chef J has some pairing tips for your Labor Day fest featuring some AZ local brews. We’ve got some spectacular breweries around town and I bet you do, too. Even if you can’t get these exact ones, this is a great jumping off point to try something new in your locale!  Beer me, Chef J!

It’s time to get the crew together for one of the last excuses to fire up the BBQ this season. Labor Day is upon us once again! So mow the yard, skim the pool, and scrape down the ol’ grill. I usually go into some long-winded rant about how barbequing is a great way to waste the day away with friends and family, eat too much, and drink some delicious beer; since we have covered the ins and outs of grilling and smoking, it’s time to turn our attentions toward the sweet, sweet nectar that washes it all down. Though the suds market is still almost entirely controlled by cheap, bland, mass-produced swill, there are more and more craft breweries popping up all the time. Take a look around your town and chances are you’ll find a cold, refreshing gem or two.

So get your burgers pressed, your ribs rubbed, and your chickens ready to fly — but don’t forget about the main ingredient of the classic back yard party! Here are some of my local favorites for Labor Day. They aren’t all available everywhere, but wherever you are, there is probably a tasty brew not too far away.

Whatever you decide to grill up for Labor Day, there is a perfect beer to go along!

Four Peaks Peach Ale

Last time around I went on and on about my love for peaches. Unfortunately, more often than not, fruity beers come off as overly sweet and overpowering next to anything they are served with. Four Peaks Brewing Company has managed to capture the essence of a Labor Dayperfectly ripe peach without it being too strong. This golden ale is incredibly refreshing and easy to drink. It goes great with a warm day and pairs nicely with lighter foods like fruits and cheeses, though it can be a cleansing addition to a plate of spicy ribs. [Pardon the interruption, but if you are anywhere near Arizona, get thee to a Four Peaks retailer immediately and try this ale. It is fantastic! -Candice]

San Tan Devil’s Ale

San Tan Brewery has a number of great beers, ranging from everyday staples to unique special occasion brews. This is my favorite of their offerings. Devil’s Ale has a golden red color with a rich citrus flavor. It has a strong body and a hoppy taste but doesn’t overwhelm; the flavors are delicately balanced. The gentle caramel makes it a good match for either grilled pork chops for a casual dinner or a big, fat cheeseburger on a hot afternoon.

Lumberyard Red Ale

Lumberyard Brewing Company has been supplying northern Arizona with a variety of their lovingly crafted beers for 20 years now, but their Special Bitter Red Ale is their most popular — and for good reason. It is incredibly balanced and gets along nicely with a wide variety of foods; from lightly buttered shrimp to spicy brisket to picant Gorgonzola. Using crystal and caramel malts along with a tempered serving of hops, Lumberyard has managed to create a full flavored beer that won’t get in the way on a hot day.

Nimbus Pale Ale

For those who like a strong PA (and there’s at least one at every party), Nimbus has crafted a Northwestern style pale ale that is almost out of control. While this beer is very clean and refreshing, it might not be the best introduction for novices looking at pale ales for the first time. The beer is hopped four times during the brewing process and five malts are packed into each batch, making this PA very intense. While the flavor packs a punch, the bitterness can stand up to fatty, spicy meats cooked over wood or charcoal. Not for the weak of palate, but definitely recommended for those looking for something bold.

Papago Coconut Joe

For years Papago Brewing Company has been a favorite watering hole of locals because of their huge selection of bottled and tap beers from their own stash and around the world. One of my favorites is their Coconut Joe stout. Even on the warmer days, this thick coconut and coffee beer hits the spot. Though it is very dark and tastes rich, it is an easily approachable stout for those who may not usually go for dark beers. The slightly sweet coconut and roasted coffee flavors can fit in with either grilled shrimp, barbequed beef, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a grown-up summer float!

What are your plans for Labor Day? Do you have a favorite brew to go with your favorite BBQ? Let us know in the comments!

Father’s Day Celebration – Sliders and Appreciation

Father’s Day Celebration – Sliders and Appreciation

Father’s Day is this weekend and we’ll all be taking time to celebrate the great dads in our lives. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Chef J is my brother, so I am the lucky lady who gets to sample all of the delicious recipes he shares with us here. Regardless of the great food, though, J is an awesome guy to have around. He was the father figure in my life from a very young age and shared that role when our amazing step-dad came into the picture (J will expand on this awesome dude in a moment). Older brothers don’t often get recognized on Father’s Day, so I’d like to take a moment to give J a little shout out. Thanks for always being there and taking care of me. You have a huge heart and have helped me in more ways than I can count. Double thanks for being such a fantastic uncle. You’re always up for babysitting and cooking lessons, comic books and video games — you’re just pretty super all around!

Before I start crying (ha! you know I’m already crying…), let’s have Chef J share some Father’s Day goodness! The floor is yours, Chef J!

This Sunday is Father’s Day, as the third Sunday of June always is. The origin and history of this holiday is a story with murky details, contentious claims, and the occasional absurd political rant — like any good patriarchal tale. Though there have been numerous claims made about who originally thought of the idea of setting aside a special day to give dads ugly ties, the holiday that we celebrate today is the result of the work of a plucky young lady by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd. She was the daughter of William Smart, a Civil War veteran, widower, and father of six. Dodd rallied support for a celebration of dads, much like the established Mother’s Day. The idea took root in her town of Spokane, Washington, and in 1910 on June 19th, the first Father’s Day as we (kind of) know it was celebrated. Though there was some initial opposition for the first, oh, fifty or sixty years, it was eventually signed into national law in 1972. Many who did not support the holiday spoke out in fear of the impending commercialization they assumed would surely follow. But those naysayers were quieted by the focused promotion of gift-giving by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers in the ’30s. So…

So, this Father’s Day, make sure to get dad that terrible tie he’s been wanting. Or a new grill utensil set! How about some slippers? What do you do for the guy that devoted his life to raising you? I posit appreciation is the greatest gift you could give the old man. My biological father took off after realizing that a wife and four kids cramped his style. So it goes. But my step-dad is the best. Not only is he the wise, strong, supportive guy you would imagine the classic super-dad to be, he stepped into a role that he had no obligation to fill. He took on four kids that, frankly, were kind of terrible at times. He chose to be the father that we needed; he stuck around because he wanted to, not because he had to. So this Father’s Day I will be celebrating the hard work, love, and patience that my old man has given over the years. What’s more, my brother-in-law has recently become a father! Candi has already mentioned the sweet little Piper in her Mother’s Day article; she is a precious little goober, and her parents couldn’t be happier.

So how do I show the fathers in my life how much they mean to me on Father’s Day? With tiny hamburgers, of course!

SlidersFather's Day Sliders

  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • ½ white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 12 small buns or soft dinner rolls, sliced
  • 3 slices of American cheese, cut into quarters
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Dill pickles, sliced
  • Salt & Pepper

Roll the beef flat until it is about 1/4” thick. Cut into 12 squares and season with salt & pepper.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan.
Add the onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent.
Place the beef patties on top of the onions, place a slice of cheese on each one and cover.
Cook for 4-5 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan; if you need to cook the burgers in batches you can reuse the onions a couple times.
Sprinkle the onions over the buns. Place a patty on the onions, top with condiments and pickles, put the other half of the bun on last. You know, build a burger!
You can get away with a pound and a half of beef for really thin burgers.
You can double them up, add jalapeno, bacon, etc. Whatever Dad likes!
These also go really well with fries and milkshakes!

Printer friendly recipe: Fathers Day Sliders

BBQ Tips for Memorial Day

BBQ Tips for Memorial Day

BBQ season is officially here! Kick off summer this Memorial Day weekend with some awesome BBQ to share with family and friends. Master griller Chef J is back to share some important BBQ tips to make sure your weekend is as delicious as possible! Take it away, Chef J.

In my town, summer can fill people with dread. Temperatures will soon be in the mid-200s, leading to cranky, sweaty, dehydrated Phoenicians. On the other hand — there is a pool party every weekend, you can wear flip-flops anywhere, and BBQ. Sweet, smoky BBQ! This time of year is great for both those who have been eating salad all spring in anticipation of wearing a bathing suit, and those who just want an excuse to drink beer and eat meat.

We have already covered ribs and brisket in previous blogs. There are plenty of recipes floating around the internet and many more that have yet to be created, but let’s start with the basics.

Here are a few tips that can help novices confidently host their own backyard BBQ, and maybe even give the most hickory-seasoned pro an idea or two.


The best advice for any cook, especially a budding backyard gourmand, is “don’t mess it up!” That might sound a little too simplistic, but the truth is that most ingredients are pretty good on their own. The best thing you can do to a quality piece of meat is sprinkle a little salt and pepper on it and not burn it. Fancy spice rubs and secret family recipes are fantastic, but the star is the meat. If you have a good butcher shop in your town (and you probably do) talk to the experts about what they have. Fortunately there is a growing trend toward local, natural ingredients — this is good if you like to tell your friends about how socially-conscious you are, but it’s even better if you enjoy eating really delicious food. You might be surprised by what you find in a real butcher shop. At my local shop I can get locally raised, all natural meat for the same price or less than the junk available at the supermarket.


There is really no debate BBQbetween gas or charcoal. Gas is efficient, cleaner burning, and faster. But charcoal is at least a million times better. If you want a clean, efficient, fast hamburger then you probably should eat a turkey sandwich. Smoke tastes good! Take the time to start a real fire. Hopefully you have access to a BBQ supply store that can help you pick out a charcoal or wood that add some authentic flavor to your food, otherwise there’s always the internet. Again, just like with all other ingredients, go for a more natural option. It’s not that hard to start a fire; you don’t have to buy briquets that are pre-soaked with lighter fluid. Take an old #10 can (like a giant coffee can), cut the top and bottom off with a can opener, place it on your grill, wad up an old grocery bag or some paper, put it in and light it on fire. Pile your charcoal or wood on top of that and in about 10-15 minutes you’ll have white-hot coals. There are a number of gadgets and products available to help you start your fire but try to avoid lighter fluid — it leaves behind a bad taste. If you are going to be BBQing something for a long time, like ribs or brisket, go with a milder wood like apple or pecan. If you want to add some smokey flavor to something that will only be cooking for a little while, like steak or burgers, try something bolder like mesquite or hickory.


Other than meat, fire, and something to contain it all, you will need a few other gadgets. Two good thermometers are important, especially if you are cooking things that require a slower and lower method — you want one to test the temp of the grill and one to test the meat. You will also want a pair of long-handled tongs; that giant fork that comes with all BBQ sets is not recommended since it will puncture the meat and cause it to lose juices. Get a heavy duty grill brush to keep things clean. Oh, and that coffee can method I told you about; there are fire starter cans that come with handles that are pretty handy to have around.


Grilling can be done relatively quickly, but real BBQ takes time. Beer and company help pass the time. If you are making ribs then be prepared for your day being spent at or around the pit. But patience is also required for even the smallest cut of meat. Letting your steak or burger rest for a few minutes after cooking and before eating or cutting will allow the meat to reabsorb the juices that are flowing around inside of it. If you cut a steak open right off of the grill it will lose all of it’s moisture — leaving you with a tough, dry dinner. Let your steaks rest for at least 5 minutes and let your brisket hang out for 20-30 before carving; keep them in a warm place, but not so hot that they over-cook.

The best part of any BBQ is the whole gang getting together, so don’t stress too much. Wanting to get everything right is one thing, but remember that a backyard cookout is about having fun with the people you care about! Ask mom to make her famous potato salad, put the beer on ice, skim the pool, and have a wonderful Memorial Day!