one crazy summer

I had high hopes for this week’s food for fun post. Last weekend, a friend and I threw an 80th birthday party for one of the most amazing women I know. This woman, and her party, are a natural fit here and I was looking forward to telling you how I came to meet my amazing friend 20 years ago, giving a brief recap of what she’s meant to me over the years, and finishing sweetly with three of the cookie recipes served at the party.

party time

party time

But.

undoubtedly the first non-food picture shown here

undoubtedly the first non-food picture shown @ food for fun

Summer has thrown me for a crazy loop–the kind you ride full speed at amusement parks. It happens every year–me thinking I can keep up with work projects, etc with my kids home from school, then realizing midway through that I just can’t. My only choice at that point is to give in to the free fall, hang on tightly, and enjoy the ride. This post, then, is about enjoying that ride. Here are a handful of the summer adventures that have eaten up my blogging time.

  • Took my daughters to a riding stable for a pony party. Of course there were treats. (thanks, Marlaine!)
yeehaw :-)

yeehaw 🙂

  • Enjoyed phenomenal meals at local treasures.
ribs, coleslaw, and collards @ Big Daddy's

ribs, coleslaw, and collards @ Big Daddy’s

Buttered Tin's salads, sandwiches, and sweets are top-notch

Buttered Tin’s salads, sandwiches, and sweets are top-notch

Minnetonka's General Store

Minnetonka’s General Store

  • I could say my kids dragged me to a nearby town for a candy shop tour, but that wouldn’t be entirely true as I had a hand in planning our day.20130711_12490020130711_12343120130711_125104
oh, the bounty

oh, the bounty

two words: lemon. juice.

two words: lemon. juice.

first time grilling bacon--I highly recommend

first time grilling bacon–I highly recommend

ice cube trays, oh my

ice cube trays, oh my

  • Wrote another Funny Names in Food post at Blog of Funny Names. Check it out here for more on the foods of summer.

Will close with a picture of me and dear friend and mentor, Ann.

at MIA last winter, seeing the Foods of Shakespeare exhibit

at MIA last winter, seeing the What Would Shakespeare Eat? exhibit. Thanks, Mary G for taking photo.

Hope to see you back next week when food for fun unveils Ann’s story and offers up her tasty cookie recipes.

smokin’ apples

My husband had the day off today and decided to use some of his extra time to haul out his smoker. I’ve posted his smoking adventures before (hard-cooked eggs!) and he’s been known to think quite far outside of the (smoker) box for “recipes.” Experimentation aside, I knew I’d benefit come suppertime, so bought him a pack of the best thick-cut pork chops I could find. He seasoned the chops, then chopped up an onion and threw it all on the smoker.

onions and pork chops on the smoker

He filled the water pan with cola, water, and beer and topped the charcoal with applewood chips. The smoker ran low and slow, achieving a maximum temperature of only 200°F. (The windy 25°F outside temp kept him from getting to the 225°F he was looking for.) After two hours on the smoker, the food had to come in for a quick turn in the microwave as we had evening activities and needed to eat. When the pork was at 150°F, we served it up. The onions were slightly crunchy, slightly tender. The pork chops were juicy and flavorful. And everything hinted of smoke–perfect.

at the table

The big surprise came after the meal. I had seen a packet of apple crisp topping (a thoughtful friend had gifted us with a gourmet crisp mix–thanks, Mary!) and apples on the counter earlier in the day. Who would think to “cook” apple crisp on a smoker? My husband, that’s who. The crisp sat with the pork chops and onions the entire two hours, then needed another half-hour in a 375°F oven to bake the apples tender.

When it came time for dessert, I had my doubts that the crisp would be any good–smoke and apples? Color me surprised: it was phenomenal. The apples, buried under the crisp topping, hadn’t picked up any of the smoke. But the buttery, salty crumble on top had soaked up an intense hint of something spectacular. It may or may not have been recognized as “smoke,” but it was something different, something special. A spoonful of sweetened whipped cream was a nice touch–giving it visual, textural, and flavor contrast. Until today, I would never had guessed that smoking would work for a baked dessert. But it was a fine way to cook up an apple crisp.

smoked apple crisp

an awesome burger

I do 99% of the meal prep in our house, if only because I like to be in charge of what we eat. When I’m grocery shopping and making breakfast, lunch, and supper, I can make the meals I enjoy and feel good about putting on the table.

But sometimes I wonder if I should back off and let my hubby do some of the cooking. He’s a decent cook and while not as adventurous and health-driven as I (raised on meat-and-potatoes he was), can still pull off a great meal. His latest: Tomato-Topped Burgers.

Yesterday, I returned home from a long bike ride just after noon. Realizing what time it was on the ride, I’d made mental plans to quickly pull together turkey sandwiches with sliced garden tomatoes and sides of carrot and cucumber sticks and watermelon slices once home. But opening our front door, I was greeted with an amazing waft of savory. Hubby was grilling burgers.

My daughters and I agree that his burgers are the best. They’re seasoned with salt, pepper, and a brush-on marinade he picked up from his mom. (Measurements are never taken, but it’s a glug or so each of soy sauce, red wine, and Worcestershire mixed with a dash of garlic powder or salt.) Not only had he grilled his fantastic burgers, but he’d covered each patty with a thick slice of a just-picked tomato while they grilled. The juices from the tomatoes kept the lean burgers moist and the tomatoes themselves cooked down slightly, rendering them extra tender and even more richly flavored. The texture and flavor combo was brilliant.

I was impressed with the difference that the simple addition of a tomato slice made. The burgers were awesome and made me think that maybe I should let hubby do more of the meal prep. Even though I love being in charge in the kitchen, it was a great pleasure to be treated to an amazing meal.

bison grilling

A few years after college, I decided–for a variety of reasons–to go vegetarian. I was good about subbing legumes etc. for meat, so felt I was doing the right thing by my health. But, on the advice of an acupuncturist (go figure), I eventually parted with my vegetarian ways. I still remember how difficult it was to take the first bites of a pork chop after a few years off. It got easier somewhere along the line and I now very much enjoy animal proteins.

That said, I also try to eat lots of veggies, whole grains, etc. (And dessert–must save room for dessert.) So, I enjoy animal protein in relatively small quantities. Then there’s the source: After watching Food, Inc (sensationalistic for sure, but influenced my buying habits just the same), I stay away from meats sold by corporate farms. Our beef comes from a friend and I like to find chicken, pork, and the like at farmers’ markets. It costs more, but when you don’t eat much of it, it’s worth the splurge.

On a recent farmers’ market trip, I paid the big bucks for a one-pound package of ground bison. I’ve enjoyed this meat before as it’s leaner than beef and has (to me) a more interesting flavor. It went into our freezer and was there today when I asked my usual “what’s for dinner?” question.

I pulled the bison to thaw earlier in the day, then (gently) mixed it with a packaged seasoning along with a slug of red wine and Worcestershire sauce (love Worcestershire). I made six patties from the one-pound package–not quite fast food quarter-pounders. They grilled up spectacularly well with loads of flavor and not a lot of fat. My girls had no qualms eating bison and my husband is always happy to see red meat on the table.

As someone who has studied nutrition and loves all things food, I try to keep meals varied and healthy. It follows, then, that I should be doing more with vegetarian fare. And occasionally I do. But it was plenty fun to grill up bison tonight.

lined up on the grill

bison patties

plated up

smokin’ eggs

Our Easter ham was amazing this year, and it’s because my husband has taken up smoking. It started with his finding a Brinkmann vertical water smoker in his parents’ garage a year or so ago. They’d collected it somehow, but had no use for it so he took it off their hands. He researched smoking online, found a website he liked, and a hobby was born.

This year’s holiday ham–bone-in and spiral-cut per website instructions–was first basted generously with a locally sourced maple syrup. Next step was a light coating of a cranberry maple rub I had picked up on a recent trip to Colorado. The ham then smoked over boubon-soaked barrel chips for three-ish hours. The final result was beyond amazing and I’m thrilled to have leftovers for sandwiches and the like.

Crazy-good ham aside, this post is really about everything else that was smoked that day. My girls and I joked that if we stayed in one place too long, my husband would have put us on the smoker. He threw all of the following (though not all at once) on the smoker that day: a handful of carrots and leeks (part of the roasted veggie side dish I was making), hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pork chops, corn-on-the-cob, and eggs.

My husband had read somewhere that peeled hard-cooked eggs could be smoked. Being the day before Easter, we had plenty of hard-cooked eggs around. We peeled a dozen and he put them directly on the smoking rack. They smoked for about 45 minutes, then came off the rack a mustard yellow with gorgeous grill marks. Cut in half, the inner whites were brilliantly white and the yolks golden. The layers of color were dramatic. Sprinkled with freshly ground pepper, the eggs made a great hors d’oeuvre while we waited for the ham to finish. The slight smokiness went well with the neutral, savory flavor of an egg. They’ll make fantastic deviled eggs and egg salad for sure.

Eggs are known for their versatility, and this discovery only adds to their repertoire. We’ll be playing this one again soon. And who knows what my husband will find to throw on the rack when he starts up the smoker again.

bowl of smoked eggs

ready to eat