Monday, June 25, 2012

Salty, Sweet and Crunchy, Oh MY!!

Here is the recipe for the dessert treat I made on Father's Day. This recipe has several things going for it. First, it's a no-bake cookie bar/fudge kinda' thing, and it doesn't heat up the kitchen. Even though we've got a/c here in Central VA it can still get hot in the kitchen. Secondly, since it's sweet and salty, it hits all the things that my family loves to eat. And finally, it's easy to keep the ingredients on hand and make this whenever your little heart desires!

I get this from the Nestle's website:
Gotta' give credit where credit is due, the folks at Nestle's have been baking with us home cooks for a long time!

No Bake Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars
Salty and Sweet, these Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars were the bomb!
Non stick cooking spray
2 cups creamy peanut butter, divided use
3/4 cup ( 1 & 1/2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, divided use
4 cups (roughly 1/2" pieces) broken small pretzel pieces, divided use
2 cups (12 oz. pkg.) semi sweet chocolate chips

Line a 13X9" pan with foil leaving 2" overhanging on the 2 shorter sides. Spray foil w/cooking spray.
Beat 1 14 cups peanut butter and butter in a large bowl until creamy. Stir in remaining cup powdered sugar, 3 cups of the broken pretzels and 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips. Spread mixture evenly into he prepared pan. Smooth top to as even a layer as you can. (An offset spatula would work best but a regular one will do. It's kind of hard to do, mixture is very thick and lumpy!)
Microwave remaining chocolate chips and peanut butter in a large, heat proof dish or measuring cup. Start out at medium power for 1 minute. Check and stir if you can, and then heat again for 30 seconds on high. Continue at 15 second intervals, stirring between each one, until all the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy. Spread mixture evenly over the top of the bars in pan. Top with remaining broken pretzel pieces.
Put pan in the refrigerator and let sit for at least 3 hours or until bars are firm. Remove from pan by lifting the overhanging flaps of foil. Cut into 60 pieces. Store them in the frig, they are too gooey to sit out on the counter!
Cut the Peanut Butter Pretzel bars into bite sized peices, after they have chilled. Don't make them too big, they are RICH!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers Day, Crabs and Hushpuppies

It's Fathers Day weekend, so like most moms out there in blogland, I am busy worshipping the Father of My Children. It's his weekend, so he gets to do what he wants and eat what he wants. Last night, he wanted to pick crabs. Since this was going to be dinner, I whipped up some dessert and hushpuppies to go along with the crabs. (Dessert turned out great, but that's for another post!)

Picking crabs takes a long time, and when all is said and done, you really don't get THAT much meat, but what you do get sure is good! There's nothing better than Chesapeake Bay Blue crabs, and that's the truth! Pair them with some fluffy balls of fried cornbread with Vidalia Onion and man, oh, man, that's good eatin'! I don't know if you can get some Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs to pick where you are, but I know you can make these hushpuppies. They were light and fluffy, with a crispy crust and surprisingly easy to make!
Crabs & hush puppies with all the fixin's!
2/3 c. yellow cornmeal
1/3 c. all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 heaping T. minced Vidalia Onion
1 tsp. hot sauce (I used Texas Pete)
1/3 c. milk
2 large eggs
vegetable oil for frying

Mix together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, hot sauce and onions. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix well.
 In a large, heavy skillet, heat about 1 to 1 1/2" vegetable oil until hot. The oil is ready when you drip a little bit of the batter in and it starts to sizzle immediately and floats to the surface. Drop the batter by rounded spoonfuls into the hot oil. Don't overcrowd the pan -- keep an inch or two between each hushpuppy.
Cook them for a minute or 2 on each side, flipping them once, until they are lightly browned and crisp looking. Drain them on paper towels. I like to eat them with butter, but my guys like to dip them into catsup and sprinkle on a little extra hot sauce.

Hush Puppies draining on paper towels
And while I am posting on Fathers Day, I can't forget to mention my dad. Long gone, but not forgotten. He was a nice guy.
My dad, with his mom, going off to boot camp at age 17
That's him and his mom, circa 1941, right after he finished high school early, so he could enlist in the army and serve in WWII. He was a career army officer, who came up through the ranks and served his country in 3 wars, WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. Love you, Dad!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Grilling Shish Kabob and Back Yard Living

I think Shish Kabob is one of  the easiest meals to make and yet still delicious. My family has always done it, especially when there were lots of us to feed, because it is very budget friendly. You can take an inexpensive cut of meat, cut it into cubes and marinate it and it will go a loooong way. While I am sure there are much more sophisticated marinades, I still use the same one my grandmother always made to cook outside in her big backyard in Hampton, VA. Vegetables were always plentiful and cheap, so it was easy to fill out the meal, paired with a big dish of rice.

Grilling shish kabob and eating it brings back so many happy childhood memories for me. My grandfather worked long, hard hours, so my grandmother and mother always "manned" the grill. When we visited in the summertime, there were always lots of cousins, aunts and uncles who ostensibly came to "see us",  but the reality was, our family always loved to get together. Any old excuse to eat outside was good enough! SO, out came the bags of charcoal and the long picnic table, set up under the crepe myrtles that were in the middle of the yard, and put us kind of in the shade. Corn would be shucked, mostly by the kids, pitchers of lemonade set out, along with a few cans of bug spray. Highballs were mixed, beers chilled in old metal coolers or washtubs and the party would be on it's way.

We tried to get dinner ready so that we ate as the sun was about to set and the temperature would start drop a little. My grandfather would arrive, just in time to get cleaned up and eat with the family. No man has ever been welcomed home so joyfully! Hot and tired as he was, he always had a big smile and hug for every one of us.

The timing of the meal was such that it was light enough and you could still see your food, but starting to cool off. We could just barely stand to be away from the fans and one huge, hardworking air conditioner that labored away overtime. We could only eat outside in the backyard if the heat and humidity had receded a little. The Virginia peninsula is a hot and humid environment, with notoriously sticky summers. The kitchen was always hot during the summer months, no matter how hard we tried to cool it, as was the "breakfast room". While eating outside was sticky, it was often hotter in the kitchen. Late 50's and even into the 60's, almost no one had central air in Virginia, especially in an old house.

After dinner, if the bugs weren't too bad, we'd lounge around the back yard, kids chasing lightning bugs, or organizing games of "No Bears Out Tonight" while the grown-ups sipped their libations of choice. If we were lucky, or it was a holiday, we'd wave sparklers with wild abandon, conjuring up spells and making rainbows in the night. There were always a few mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids, so we could collect the lightening bugs we caught. Rich chocolate cakes or strawberry shortcakes were usually the desserts of choice, but Grandaddy always retreated, sooner rather than later, to inside and the air conditioner and a bowl of ice cream. He'd had enough of the heat and humidity.

Big, fat, lemony smelling citronella candles in clear and colored oval glass holders would be lit and set down the length of the picnic table and next to the lawn chairs on little metal tables. Later, out would come my grandmother's mouth harp, and she'd softly warm up with "You Are My Sunshine". If the bugs got too bad, we'd retreat to the nearby screened porch.  Many nights we just stayed where we were, under the crepe myrtles. Those who felt inclined, would sing and sing and sing:  Old hymns and folk songs, sung and hummed in gentle harmonies, until the little ones would nod off and be carried away, to sleep on any available bed or couch. It was a dear, sweet way to grow up.  I can still smell the nearby marsh and creek, mixed up with scents from my grandmothers' flowers and the honeysuckle that grew in the hedge. How lucky we were...

Eating Shish Kabob over brown rice, outside on a perfect night on the patio!
Making Shish Kabob
This is a method, as opposed to a recipe. It's easy and inexpensive and guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser!
One large London Broil or Sirloin Steak, cut into 1:" cubes AND/OR
2 - 3 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1 green pepper, 1 large onion, 1 pint fresh mushrooms, 1 pint cherry tomatoes or 4 - 5 large slightly under ripe tomatoes
Zucchini and or yellow squash, cut into 1" thick rounds (optional)
3 c. cooked rice (at least this amount for 6 or more servings)
Metal or bamboo skewers
Marinade for the Beef: 1 c. Wishbone French Dressing, 2 T. Worcestershire Sauce, pinch black pepper, 2 tsp. Adolf's Meat Tenderizer, no MSG kind
Marinade for the Vegetables and Chicken: Your choice, 2c. Wishbone Light Italian or French Dressing, or mixture of one on one vegetable, one on another (see below for how I do it).

It's easy, cut up the meat and wash the veggies. Cut the peppers and onions to about 1' sized cubes. Leave the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes whole; If using big tomatoes, cut them into quarters. Put the meat in one bowl with the marinade, and the chicken and veggies in another. Keep the MEAT AND CHICKEN SEPARATE! Don't mix them in with the veggies or with one another (food safety, you know!).
Don't marinate the chicken, tomatoes or mushrooms until about 30 minutes before you plan to grill them. You can marinate the meat overnight if you like to cook ahead. I like to marinate the onions and peppers in French dressing and the chicken, tomatoes and mushrooms in Light Italian. I also prefer the squash and zucchini in the Italian dressing. My grandmother did everything in the French, and she did not include any chicken, so this is purely a matter of preference.
Shish Kabob skewers ready for the grill
When you skewer the meat, push it together on the kabob so one piece touches the other one, not loosely with space between each square. Same way for the vegetables, as shown in my pictures. (no chicken shown in the pictures) Skewer the meat separately from the veggies. I know the cooking shows on TV always have the meat and veggies skewered together, but I find that the harder vegetables take longer to cook than the meat and the softer vegetables. We usually skewer the the peppers and onions together and the tomatoes and mushrooms together or each on their own skewers. Same thing for the squash, if we are using it.

The big chunks of onions and peppers will take the longest, next the meats, then the soft veggies. We eat our beef rare, so we don't cook it too long, usually about 4 - 5 minutes on each side. Cook it longer if you like well done. Conversely, we prefer our vegetables a little more cooked, so they soften, so we cook them about 8 - 10 minutes on each side. Be sure to cook the chicken completely through, with no pink showing.
When we serve it, I like to put the rice on a LARGE serving platter and then just pile on the meat and veggies. Keeping them in separate piles, which I did when my kids were younger, allows each person to select their own choice of meat and vegetables. This is great served with fresh corn on the cob or all on it's own. Don't forget a chocolate cake or strawberry shortcake for dessert!

My Grandmother and me, picking flowers in her big backyard, under a crepe myrtle tree