How to Barbecue Chicken Thighs…

Hey! This is my 100th post! 🙂  Thank you to all my wonderful friends & readers, who enjoy reading about what I do in my kitchen, The idea all started when several of my friends had been asking me for some of my recipes via Facebook (of all things). Since it was the same few recipes, I decided to make this blog as a means of everybody being able to see what I create in my little yellow kitchen. I’ve had a lot of fun blogging and I’m looking forward to sharing many more delicious recipes and such with you all. So again, thank you for stopping by and reading my spicy simmers 🙂

Today, we’re hosting a party today for Labor Day – and Mike is planning on making chicken thighs.

This is the method he swears by.

It’s a great technique for cooking chicken thighs, and the article is pretty hilarious, too. Mike has used the author’s method before and they turned out delicious! I expect nothing less from the grill & grillmaster today.

My job for the day is simply putting together a veggie plate and getting the house in order, since it’s looking like it may rain right around party time. Mike has been a big help today; he got the garage ready to and will be doing some last minute grocery pick-up while I finish up the house. So, thank you, Hubs! 😀

Tomorrow I’ll be doing some baking…whatwhat? And getting ready for school on Tuesday. I’m looking forward to sharing those goodies with you this week!

Happy Labor Day Eve & Day!

CSA 2013: Week 9

Mother Nature turned the heat back on 🙂 Just in time for a visit from my  in-laws this coming weekend and my last true weekend of summer vacation (teacher meetings & open houses next week). I know that many of you out there are not fans of hot weather, so I won’t gloat anymore!

This week’s pick-up was a heavy one!

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  • corn – 6 ears! Which is perfect because whenever I make corn, my husband will eat 2 ears.
  • a white pepper – ok, maybe yellowish white?
  • banana peppers (two were a top-off)
  • a jalapeno pepper
  • green cauliflower
  • fresh thyme
  • onion
  • eggplant
  • lettuce
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • a patty pan squash & a round squash
  • tomatoes (two were a top-off)

With last week’s haul, I dried the basil in my oven and found a great way to freeze parsley. I also diced up the squashes & froze them for soup. Several pints of salsa (I gave in and used Mrs. Wages), dill pickles, and pickled jalapenos are all now stashed away on a shelf in my basement stairwell; it’s looking as though I have canned enough to move everything downstairs – which is both a blessing & a curse, as I have a cool-temp Michigan basement full of lots of cobwebs 😦

As I mentioned before, one set of in-laws is coming to visit this weekend & we will be cooking a meal or two for them. We haven’t exactly figured out what to make yet, though…but we’re getting there 🙂

CSA 2013 – Week 6

What wacky, wacky weather. Last weekend it felt like fall – thankfully we are back up to perfect summer temperatures; not too hot, not too cold.

This past week was Week 1 of Band Camp – so it was my husband’s job to pick up the CSA (meaning he got to choose our top-off veggies!). I’m glad that the farm is on his route home, so he can take care of things while I am working late – thank you, Hubs 🙂

This week included a nice variety of produce:

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Week 6, with my kitchen ‘helper’, Bandit

  • zucchini
  • beets (top-off)
  • eggplant
  • thyme
  • an onion! (Coveyou grows the best onions)
  • tomatoes (one was a top-off)
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower – it has hues of purple in it
  • green beans
  • a ginormous basil plant, roots and all

Today will be spent playing ‘catch-up’ with making sure our CSA vegetables are processed for canning or the freezer, or ready to go for this week’s meals. This past week we ended up dining out twice – once because our potluck fell through, and the other because it was our 5-year anniversary.

My gift from Hubs

My gift from Hubs

Our tradition for our anniversaries is to stick to the “traditional gift” theme. The traditional gift for the 5-year anniversary (as much of a milestone as it is), is wood. I purchased an oak barrel for my husband – who doesn’t hit at gifts very often, but hinted again and again for a barrel so that he can brew a bourbon beer of some sort.

For me, my husband purchased a beautiful bread & oil board, made out of maple. It’s so pretty! He also purchased some wine, cheese, & crackers so that we could break it in before we went out for the evening. We weren’t sure, though, if it was okay to put cheese on it, so we put it on a plate – I’ll have to do some research between now and the next time we plan to use it (which will probably be soon, as we have some leftover cheese in the fridge! Mmm….:-))

Well, it’s off to the store for some grocery shopping before our productive day commences…if this blog seems a little quiet this week, it’s because I ran out of time to schedule posts – it’s Week 2 of Band Camp! Have a lovely Sunday 😀

Foods & Brews from the East

Recently Mike & I went on a vacation out east. We flew down to Raleigh/Durham, NC, to visit friends & family, then rented a car and drove up the coast to Delaware, to spend some time with even more family. It was a whirlwind vacation, but needless to say, we wanted to make the most of our trip out there and sample the foods, flavors, and beverages of the areas we visited. Here are a few highlights from our trip:

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

Being homebrewers, we can never pass up an opportunity to support local breweries when we travel. We hit up Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, taking the bus from our hotel to get there (which apparently you never do in Durham, but we did, and survived). They had a nice selection of beers, and I know that Mike was very pleased with the quality. The highlight of the visit was splitting a bottle of their First Frost persimmon beer, aged. It was absolutely divine and probably a brew that will be very hard to find in the future, unless we head back down south.

Dane's Chicken & Waffles

Dame’s Chicken & Waffles

In planning for our trip, Mike mentioned to his stepbrother (he & his fiance live in Chapel Hill) that he really wanted to try chicken & waffles. So, he took us to this great place in Durham (Dame’s). It, in short, was awesome. You choose your dish based upon what kind of cut of chicken you want, then choose your waffle and ‘schmear’ (flavored butter. Genius). I chose the classic waffle, with a chicken cutlet and maple-pecan schmear. The flavor combination was so unique – sweet meets savory, but done right. When we head back to RDU next May for their wedding, we may have to drag some of the family back here. Yes, it’s that good.

The next portion of this post may make some people uncomfortable because it involves whole crab. If this is you, scroll down. You’ve been warned! No hate, please! 😉

Mike & I lived in southeastern Pennsylvania for the first 8 months that we were married; the 2008 crash moved us back to Ohio. We lived about an hour north of Baltimore, MD – a great place for fresh seafood. This is where my husband introduced me to the world of blue crab. He would have it when he’d go on vacation growing up – I on the other hand was a bit creeped out by the fact that it was a whole crab in front of you. I took him out to Baltimore for his birthday that year and he taught me how to eat blue crab. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely and remember that evening fondly; thus when we came back to the East Coast this past week, we had to find ourselves some crab. My father-in-law recommended Claws, a seafood place out in Rehoboth Beach.

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Please, disregard the carnage.

With blue crab, you eat all the meat in the claws & body; rarely do you get anything out of the rest of the legs because they’re so small. In short, the blue crab are steamed, covered with Old Bay, and dumped onto your table where you get crackin’ with some small wooden mallets & your fingers. The crab is delectable, and for many it takes a while to get all the meat out of the crab. As a person who got ‘turned on’ to seafood after graduating high school, I can say that it’s definitely well-worth the effort. Even if you cut both of your thumbs on the claws and they sting from Old Bay (sorry, Hubs ;-)) We had a great ‘date night’ on our vacation at Claws and walked off our crab coma on the beach.

End Whole Crab portion.

The last portion of our trip took us to Baltimore for the Indians vs. Orioles game. We went with Mike’s sister & brother-in-law, and had a fantastic time. Of course, we arrived in Baltimore that evening during a huge thunderstorm, and rush hour. We drove around and ended up at the Rusty Scupper, which happened to be one of the nicer places in town, but had wickedly awesome seafood. I believe really hit the spot for my sister-in-law, who was 8 months pregnant. 🙂 I had the shrimp scampi – a dish I probably could make at home, but really had a taste for since I was still a bit ‘hungover’ from crab.

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Shrimp Scampi

We had a wonderful vacation, and I had fun documenting some of the culinary adventures that I had. Maybe I’ll have to document more as we travel in the future!

Homebrewing 101

This post has been a work in progress for quite a while. And it’s long. But if you’re curious as to how beer is made, read on.

In case I didn’t mention it before, we are avid homebrewers – as in we brew our own beer. This tasty hobby started way back in 2009 when my husband was laid off; I bought him a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit for his birthday, just for fun. And boy, did he have a lot of fun…

…he began doing a lot of research on homebrewing. Buying lots of books, reading up on the internet, etc. Later that fall, happily employed, he upgraded his system to simply a 5-gallon bucket, kits with liquid malt, & bottling system. In 2010, we switched from bottling all our beer to kegging all our beer – quite a sight when you live in an apartment. In 2011 we moved into our house, and shortly after we moved from using beer kits to all-grain (making beer through the use of crushed grain). The amount of gadgets, books, tools and supplies that we’ve accumulated over the past 4 years is both impressive and mind-boggling. Yet, it’s a hobby I do not see us letting go of any time soon. With summer coming on, we are constantly brewing beer for gatherings to attend, and guests to entertain. Thus, we wanted to give you an inside look at how we brew.

Uncrushed grain

Uncrushed grain

Mike creates a recipe with the help of a beer brewing software he purchased. He determines the type of beer he wants to make, then calculates the ratios of grain/malt, hops, water, and special sugars, spices or other fun things to add. Sometimes Mike will come up with the recipe weeks in advance, so that he can order supplies from the internet and plan ahead for future brews.

We always start boiling about 6 gallons of water. Typical batches of homebrew yield 5 gallons;

you always want to have more just in case your batch cools off rapidly, it spills, and of course, evaporation. While you wait for your water to boil, you prepare the grain that you want to

mash. Mashing is where you break down the starch in your grain into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Before you process your grain, you need to crush it with some sort of grain mill or grinder. Mike’s grain mill is operated via his cordless drill, which I have to admit is still kind of funny to watch. He weighs out exactly how many pounds he needs into a 5-gal bucket, processes it through the mill, and into the mash tun (the vessel we use for mashing.

Once all the grain has been, well, ground, it is time to add the hot water. The water needs to be at a specific temperature, depending on the type of beer you are

Sparging

Sparging

brewing. You add it a little bit at a time, stirring it constantly with a paddle to make sure all the water gets dispersed throughout the grain.

After that, you close the cooler and let the grain sit, periodically checking its temperature – which needs to be at a lower, specific temperature than the hot water you added. You always have a pot of hot water on the stove, though, to add to the grain if it cools off too much. You let the grain sit for at least an hour, so that the sugars are extracted from the grain.

photo (17)Once the grain has sat long enough, you drain it into the boiling pot. Because of our mash tun set up, we are able to drain the wort (liquid) via siphon into the brew pot. The leftover grains make great cow feed and/or compost.

The wort is now ready to brew. Instead of using our stove (which can be really obnoxious when you want to cook dinner, or it’s too hot to use the stove), we boil our wort on a propane turkey fryer. This system has worked very well for us, except with three feet of snow and negative temperatures outside (then I let my husband brew in the house ;-)) The boil process typically lasts an hour or more. During the boil process, you have to keep an eye on the temperature and the clock. If the temperature gets too high, you risk a boil over  – creating a loss of product and a huge mess. You need to watch the time, as there are certain points in the boil where hops, fruit peels, sugars, etc. need to be added.

The boil (after hops)

The boil (after hops)

After all hops & additives have been added, it’s time to cool the beer. We have a wort chiller (seen behind the brew pot) which attaches to a hose or kitchen sink & is placed inside the brew pot. When the water is turned on, it runs through the coils and helps cool the beer faster – a process that without a chiller can take several hours (unless, it’s winter, then you just sit the pot in the snow!).

Once the beer is cooled to the specific temperature needed (“room temperature”, so I’m told), you transfer it to either a 5-gal bucket, or a glass carboy to ferment. You then add the yeast. The yeast eat up the sugars and cause them to release carbon dioxide, thus creating alcohol. The more sugary the beer, the higher the alcohol content.

From there, you at least a week or two for the wort to ferment and the yeast to do their work. You then transfer the beer to a clean keg, or to a clean glass carboy if you want to do a secondary fermentation (that’s for another day, folks).

You then carbonate using priming sugar (bottles) or CO2 (kegs). And serve nice and cold.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, is how we homebrew.

Any questions and/or comments will be directed to the head homebrewer, my husband. 🙂

Blogging Against Hunger

Statistics currently state that 1 in 4 children in America right now are not sure of where their next meal where come from. Between rising poverty levels, unemployment, and rising food costs, more and more people (let alone children) struggle to get food on the table. Those families where the parent/guardian works multiple jobs to try and make ends meet.

While I have been sincerely blessed with never struggling with this problem, I am still humbled.  My job has me teaching in a very low-income, high-poverty area in rural Michigan; many of the students that I see everyday qualify for free & reduced breakfast/lunch.  On Fridays, the needier report down to the office, where they receive a bag of food items to get them through the weekend.

What concerns me most about this hunger crisis is the fact that healthy, wholesome food is often found to be more expensive. It’s cheaper to eat products laden with chemicals, sodium, and fats, or just to swing by the fast food joint on the way home.  Whatever will fill the belly, the most ‘bite for the buck’.

All this cheap, poor-quality food is a strong contributor to climbing obesity rates, and the lack of nutrition leads to poor health. How can a kid learn properly in school when they’re worrying about where their next meal is going to come from, or when they’re feeling absolutely awful from illness derived from poor nutrition? There has got to be a way out there to start turning the tables around.

What can we do to help?

My favorite budget-friendly meals include:

  • Red Beans & Rice – All you need is a can of kidney beans, and two cups of cooked rice. If you have spices or a half-eaten jar of salsa laying around, this makes a satisfying meal with great and plentiful leftovers.
  • Spaghetti – A jar of sauce and some pasta can go a long way.
  • Chili – If you can, buy a pound of ground meat. In a pot, brown it and add some diced tomatoes, an onion (diced), chili powder, salt & pepper, and some kidney beans if you’d like. If you also have it, corn. The  more vegetables you have laying around, the bigger the ‘batch’ will become. We like to stretch our pots of chili by serving it atop of spaghetti, rather than by itself alone.

Rachel over at Rachel’s Table has some great resources for recipes on her BAH post.

I Won A Giveaway!

I won a giveaway last week! I never win contests of any sort…until now 🙂

Bebe over at Life’s Little Epiphanies decided to hold a giveaway on her blog, giving away some of her favorite healthy snacks, as well as the book Working Out Sucks!. I’ve followed her blog for at least a year now and it’s packed with great musings about learning how to live a more healthy lifestyle – something that I’m slowly learning how to do. I follow her on Twitter also and she is a fun person to chat with during the day. When she writes, sometimes it feels like she’s writing out the thoughts/feelings in my head.

Needless to say, I was honored to win her giveaway!

Thank you, Bebe!

Thank you, Bebe!

I was pretty impressed that some of Bebe’s favorite snacks were some that I’ve either had before, or are right up my alley:

  • dried cranberries
  • organic peanut butter cups 😀
  • Two types of KIND bars (which I had to immediately hide from my husband)
  • Mario olives – packed without the juice!
  • The book Working Out Sucks!…I completely forgot that this book is supported by the gym I attend…I can’t wait to start reading it

So again, thank you, Bebe, for your wonderful giveaway! Thank you for motivating me 🙂