Mid-March BBQ

When you live in Michigan and March gives you 80 degrees, make ribs and invite your friends over. We did just that last week! My dad has this tiki hut which is his version of a "man cave," equipped with a sink, fridge, ice maker, fan, TV, stereo. Plus, it's right by the water. Pretty much the perfect hangout for a barbeque.

Remember all those summer foods I was babbling about here? Well this meal is almost my quintessential summer meal: ribs with my mom's BBQ sauce, potato salad, and fruit. It was only lacking watermelon and corn on the cob, but don't worry! Summer will come soon enough and I will share my perfect summer meal with you.

There are two very important recipes that I am going to share with you today, amongst others. Consider yourself lucky because both of these are very nearly family secrets! (That's not true. I love sharing things with people, especially recipes. But they are so good that I could see why someone might want to keep all the fame and glory for themselves.)

First, the BBQ sauce. My mom found this recipe in her very first copy of The Joy of Cooking that she probably bought when she was my age. Unfortunately, she bought it in spiral bound and when it started to fall apart, she bought a newer, more recent copy of the book. Tragically, the new version didn't have the BBQ recipe in it! So we copied it down on probably a dozen recipe cards just to make sure we wouldn't misplace it. Plus, I'm writing about it now on the Interwebs, so it's never going away.

Second, the potato salad. Back in the glory days of my adolescence, my family took the boat to Mackinac Island where we met a whole bunch of nice (and crazy) people, including Mike from Side Bar. Mike spent many an evening telling us all kinds of delicious tricks for cooking on the boat, including grilled pizzas and his famous potato salad. I'm pretty sure the potato salad actually came from Julia Child, but I usually credit Mike for introducing us to it. It's pretty much the best potato salad you've ever had.

Mom's BBQ Sauce
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(makes about 2 cups)

  • 1/4 c chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp dippings (like rendered bacon fat) or butter
  • 1/2 c water
  • 2 Tbsp vinegar (cider vinegar is good)
  • 1 Tbsp woresterchire
  • 1/4 c fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 c chili sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
1) Sauté 1/4 c chopped onion in 1 Tbsp drippings or butter until brown.

2) Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes.

Mike's Potato Salad
  • 2-3 lbs baby red potatoes
  • 1/3 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 c olive oil
  • 1/3 c potato water
  • 1 bunch green onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c celery, finely chopped
  • 1 c mayo
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard (more or less to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish (more or less to taste)
  • 6 eggs, hard boiled
1) Cut potatoes into cubes and place in stock pot. Cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving some of the water.

2) Place potatoes in a large bowl. Mix vinegar, olive oil, and potato water in a measuring cup. Pour over potatoes while they are still warm. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

3) Mix onion and celery with potatoes. In small bowl, mix mayo, mustard, and pickle relish. Fold mayo mixture into potatoes. Add sliced eggs. S&P to taste. Refrigerate.



Chicken w/ Orzo Salad

This orzo salad is one of my favorite dishes ever. Really. If I had to eat one thing the rest of my life, this would be a contender. It's a recreation of a side dish from J. Alexander's and since a serving of this probably costs $8 at the restaurant, being able to make it at home makes me a very happy girl.

Another thing I love... sharing a nice dinner with my parents. It was warm enough to eat outside when we made this, which is pretty much unheard of for March in Michigan. Enjoying a fresh, tasty dinner and listening to my dad talk about "the old days" reminds me that I'm the luckiest girl in the world. (Sorry if you thought you had that title, but I'm pretty sure I have to claim it.)

Back to the orzo. It has a lot of ingredients, but it's worth it. A lot of the ingredients are things you probably already have and can easily be used in another dish. It's a little sweet and a little tangy and SO GOOD. Make it. You won't be sorry.

Oh yeah! The chicken was good, too.

"J. Alexander's Orzo Salad"
  • 1/8 c sweet white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fresh chopped basil
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 c orzo
  • 1 c (cooked) wild rice
  • 3 Tbsp diced red onion
  • 3 Tbsp currant
  • 2 Tbsp corn niblets
  • 3 Tbsp each of diced yellow, red, and green bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 c chopped parsley
1) Cook 2 c orzo according to package directions. Cook wild rice so you have 1 c once it's cooked. Shock in cold water and refrigerate.

2) Make the dressing: combine in a small bowl 1/8 c sweet white balsamic vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp honey, 1/4 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1/4 tsp minced garlic, 1/8 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp fresh chopped basil. Slowly whisk in 1/4 c canola oil and 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil.

3) In a large bowl, combine orzo and wild rice with red onion, currant, corn, bell peppers, basil, S&P, parsley. Add dressing and stir. Serve cold.


Meatless Monday: Zucchini Cakes

"This is not Meatless Monday. This is zucchini cakes." -Mom

I beg to differ. I was rather a fan of this simple dinner. It was light. It was delicious. And at only something like 38 calories per cake, it left room and calories for a sweet treat!

This is one of those recipes that we've held onto with a death grip. I came across it on Big Girls Small Kitchen a while ago, mentioned it to my mom, and it has become a go-to for summer. It's great for a warm day when you don't want to spend a lot of time slaving away over a hot stove. Or for Meatless Monday + dessert.

Sure, the Pender family's dinner plates have seen a variety of zucchini cakes, like this one from Ina Garten, but we keep coming back to this one. I especially like the sauce with it. Check it out, kids!


The Golden Pancake

Amanda-Proof Pancakes
(from Paula Deen)

I love pancakes. I love cooking. I love eating. I do not, however, love eating the pancakes that I cook myself. Seriously, I have more trouble making pancakes than a dog has not wagging its tail. They come out soggy and never seem to cook all the way through.

And then came Paula Deen. I don't know why I didn't try her recipe earlier. She is, after all, the queen of comfort food. The trick? Separate the egg, beat the whites, and fold it into the batter. Every single pancake came out delicious and edible.

I'm a big eater, but I can't eat an entire batch of pancakes. (That's not true. I probably could, but I would get a wicked stomach ache.) So I cooked up the entire batch and laid the extras out on a cooling rack. Once cooled, and after I devoured my plate of fluffy goodness, I cut wax paper into small squares and laid a piece between pancakes, creating little stacks. I stuck the stacks into a plastic freezer bag, put them in the freezer, and had pancakes for days! My mom says you can lay them out on a cookie sheet and stick them in the freezer, but let's be real. Finding room in the freezer for a cookie sheet (let alone multiple cookie sheets) is just not going to happen. So I do it the lazy way. When it's time to heat them up, put them on a cookie sheet in the oven or pop them in the toaster! If you have a toaster oven, even better.

As for toppings, I'm a fan of mini chocolate chips, greek yogurt, and real maple syrup (my grandpa happens to make his own, and I'm a lucky recipient!). Oh, and powdered sugar because pancakes are always better sprinkled with powdered sugar. What are your favorite pancake toppings?

Paula Deen's Pancakes                                             Printer friendly
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c milk
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted, plus more for cooking

1) Heat your pancakes skillet over medium-ish heat. In a bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt). In another bowl, combine milk, egg yolks, and 3 Tbsp. melted butter. Add this to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

2) Beat egg whites at medium-high speed with an electric mixer (unless, of course, your arm has a medium-high speed) until stiff and fold into the batter.

3) Melt some butter in the skillet, drop some batter in it, and cook until bubbles form on top and the sides look a little cooked. Flip and finish cooking until golden. If you need to keep them warm, put them on a cookie sheet in the oven at a low temperature. Otherwise, gobble them up!


Sloppy Joe, I love you so

Sloppy Joe
(from Ellie Krieger)

When the weather starts the get warmer, something happens in my brain. It goes a little something like this: "S'mores! Hot dogs! Burgers! Ooh, yeah, eat a burger! Potato salad! Corn on the cob! Fruit! Strawberries that actually have flavor! Ice cream sandwicheeeessssss!!!"

Also included in the insane mess of "summer foods" flying around in my brain is sloppy joes. But since my family is sort of into eating healthy-ish, we usually try to make things homemade whenever possible (opening a can of Manwich doesn't count). That way we know just what is in our food and can alter it to fit our needs. Ellie Krieger has this wonderful recipe for Sloppy Joes that has all the same flavors as a Manwich Sloppy Joe, but fresher. I never thought I would hear myself call a Sloppy Joe fresh, but there it is. 

One thing to note here is that Ellie Krieger is a health-food diva extraordinaire. I, on the other hand, am not quite the diva she is. I like to keep it healthy as long as it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of the food. Ellie's recipe almost hits the mark, but there's one thing I would change: the beans. I would probably leave them out or mash them up a little bit and mix them in with the ground meat. Also, use any kind of ground meat your heart desires. My family is cutting back on the beef these days, so we went with half ground beef and half ground chicken. Just do what feels right!

P.S. Be prepared. All those summer foods flying around in my brain will be showing up here over the next few months. 

Sloppy Joes                                                                Printer friendly

(serves 8)
  • 1 lb. ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork- whatever you want)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, minced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • one 15.5 oz. can small red or pinto beans, low-sodium, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 c no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. unsulfured molasses
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • S&P
  • 8 whole-wheat burger buns

1) Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Dice an onion and put it in the skillet with the meat. Brown meat about 5 minutes, breaking it up into bits. While meat is browning, mince garlic and jalapeño, and dice red pepper. Drain drippings from the pan (there may not be enough to drain depending on what kind of meat you use).

2) Add garlic, jalapeño, and red pepper, cooking about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. If you choose to mash the beans a little bit before adding them, mash them now.

3) Stir in the rest of the ingredients (except the buns), reduce to low heat, and simmer for another 5 minutes.

4) Put 1/2 cup of the mixture on a bun and get sloppy!



They say you shouldn't eat your meals standing up, that you should sit down and enjoy it. But sometimes I like to put lunch meat on crackers and eat them standing up on my back porch. Is that so wrong?



Mexican Tacos

If I had to describe my perfect day, it would sound a lot like this...
Enjoy some delicious pancakes with raspberries for breakfast. Get all ready for a solo bike ride, but change plans last minute for a bike ride with my boyfriend (he lives an hour away, so these things take some planning). Ride bikes along the river trail in East Lansing/Lansing, enjoying the lovely sunny weather, until we get to Old Town. Stop for lunch at an authentic mexican restaurant. Sit outside and  eat 3 amazing tacos (2 ground beef, 1 marinated pork) and a refreshing mexican Coke. Ride bikes back, much slower because of all the food we ate, and run into friends! Then eat ice cream.

This is what happened this past Friday and what was going to be a pretty average day turned quickly into one of the best days ever. 
Pablo's Panaderia has quickly won itself a special place in my heart for being some of the best mexican food I've ever had. Plus the service is so unbelievably friendly, AND they have mexican Coke. If you've never had mexican Coke, you're missing out. It's made with real sugar and makes a surprising difference. It has recently become much more available. I have found it at our local one-stop shop (Meijer) and some other supermarkets.

The mexican tacos were incredible. The tortilla was SO fresh and soft. I'm normally anti-cilantro, but the simplicity of the tacos, with just meat, cilantro, and onion, was just right. The only thing I would change is the refried beans. Next time I'm ordering my own so I don't have to steal bites from Tom. He shares, but I know deep down he's thinking "MY refried beans. ALL MINE." Or maybe that's just what I would be thinking...


Guess what!

You can follow me on Bloglovin!

More soosakooki, please!

Greek Pita w/ Lamb and Tzatziki

"May I have some more soosakooki, please?"

Um... what?

Last night we stuffed greek salad into a pita with mini lamb burgers and tzatziki. Or if you're my dad, you slathered it with "soosakooki". This recipe came from Great Food Fast and it's just that: it tasted great, it was food, and it was totally fast. Plus, with the unseasonable 60-something temperatures we've been having here in Michigan, grilling up those lamb burgers on the grill was a real treat!

Greek Pita w/ Lamb                                                              Printer friendly
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • S&P
  • 4 Pitas
  • Greek salad (follow your heart on this one)
1) First, make the lamb patties. Put the lamb, onion, parsley, and oregano in a medium bowl and mix it together with a fork. Gently form the mixture into about 16 small patties being careful not to over-handle them. They should be about 3/4" thick.
2) Start the grill. While it is heating, put salt on the cucumbers for the tzatziki to draw out the water. Combine the rest of the tzatziki ingredients in a bowl while the grill heats up.
3) When the grill is hot, put the lamb burgers on and cook until medium-rare (about 2-3 minutes per side). When those are done, put them on a clean plate and "tent" it with foil (don't cover it tightly- leave the sides not pressed down). Go back to the cucumber and squeeze it to get the water out of it. Mix it in with the rest of the tzatziki ingredients.
4) Put the pita on the grill for a quick minute to get it warmed up. And now it's time to eat! Spread some tzatziki in the pita, stuff some greek salad in there, and add a lamb burger or two.

Note: This is supposed to serve 4, but I found that there were lots of extra lamb burgers.

  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
  • 1/2 c plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • S&P
1) Sprinkle the tzatziki with salt. Let it sit for a few minutes on a paper towel and then squeeze out all the liquid.
2) In a medium bowl, combine the cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, and garlic. Season with S&P to taste. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready for it.


Meatless Monday: Pizza Pizza!

Pizza Margherita + Salad Pizza

Once again we embark on another Meatless Monday. This time we're bringing you everyone's favorite delicacy... PIZZA!

Pizza Margherita is a classic combination of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil. It's a little tangy from the tomato and a little creamy from the cheese and, well, it's delicious.

As for Salad Pizza, it's something we sort of made up that was inspired by a pizza from California Pizza Kitchen. Basically, it's a yummy mixed greens salad thrown on top of a pizza crust. Really. There's nothing to not like about salad pizza. My favorite combination is mixed greens, balsamic vinaigrette, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and goat cheese. However, you could easily put any salad at all on top of a pizza crust and call it Salad Pizza.

Making pizza at home is a lot of trial and error, especially with stretching the dough from a ball into something that resembles pizza. Be patient. You'll get it. Here are some tips:
  • Turn the fan on above the stove if you have one. 
  • Making pizza is a great way to test your smoke detector. Be ready because it WILL go off.
  • Use plenty of cornmeal underneath the uncooked pizza dough. You should be able to shake the cookie sheet and have the dough slide easily.

Pizza Margherita                                                             Printer friendly
  • tomato pizza sauce (recipe follows)
  • fresh pizza dough from the store or your local pizza shop
  • fresh mozzarrella
  • fresh basil
  • corn meal
1) Preheat oven to as high as your oven will go. Put a pizza stone in there and let it heat up for about 45 minutes.
2) Spread your pizza dough into a pizza shape. First, pat it into a disc shape. Use your knuckles and gently stretch the dough at the ends.
3) Sprinkle corn meal on an edgeless cookie sheet. Put the pizza dough on top and make sure it will easily slide off.
4) Spread some sauce on the pizza dough, layer slices of mozzarella, and tear basil on top.
5) When oven and pizza stone are preheated, with a quick, swift movement, slide the pizza dough onto the pizza stone.
6) Let the pizza cook until it looks delicious!

Salad Pizza

1) Make a salad and keep it in the fridge so it doesn't get soggy.
2) Cook the pizza dough the same way as above.
3) When the pizza crust is golden and looks tasty, take it out of the oven.
4) Toss salad with dressing and pile it on top of the pizza crust.
5) Enjoy!

The Easiest Pizza Sauce Ever

1) Saute some chopped onion in a pan until soft. Add chopped garlic and cook for about 30 seconds so it doesn't burn.
2) Pour a can of San Marzano tomatoes (or any kind of tomatoes) into the pan, add some tomato paste, and some torn fresh basil. Let it simmer for a good while until it's a nice consistency.
3) Cool sauce before using on pizza