My Boy’s Birthday…from Baklava to BBQ

My son’s birthday was mid-week in summer.  This means something small and intimate – which is great by me.  He chose to go to La Mediterranee in San Francisco for his birthday dinner.  He had his favorite food – Chicken Celicia, followed by a new favorite dessert – baklava.  He was quite happy.

 

 
a smiling hummus face

I don’t do kids’ birthday parties every year.  In fact there have only been 1 or 2 parties in my children’s lives so far.  Last year my son wanted a party with lots of his friends.  We invited and send out the invites, however only one could come (that summer thing) – so we had to postpone until September.  It was fun but not as festive.  This year my son wanted to have a few friends for a few sleepovers.  This is fine.  That’s what happens at age 9 in the summer anyway.

 

ready for the grill

 

ready for sleep...not

We had two boys over for a cookout and backyard campout.  My son wanted cheeseburgers (however there was also tofu for my daughter and portobellos for my husband), homemade chips and homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream sandwiches.  The boys went to town on the cheeseburgers.  I of course love when kids eat their food and one even asked for a second burger.  The friends were disappointed there was not going to be cake…until they tasted the ice cream sandwiches and loved them.  We have an ice cream sandwich mold which makes these treats easy to assemble.  I made the vanilla ice cream (same as my daughter’s b-day) a few days prior, and the chocolate cookies the night before.  So assembling the morning of the party was simple.

 

cut cookies...
scooping and molding
voila!

The camping part was tricky as we just put in artificial turf.  Thus we realized we couldn’t steak the tent into the ground.  We didn’t worry too much as the boys played with flashlights, told jokes and giggled for about an hour and one half inside the tent.  However a gust of wind came through the yard about 10:45 pm and my husband and I heard “Help! We can’t get out!”  I went out to find the tent and boys tipped up on the back wall of the tent and the boys couldn’t reach the zipper (now on the roof).  Laughing and tired, I got them out and they came inside to “camp” in the living room.

Breakfast of course was my husband’s famous pancakes.  Studded with chocolate chips for the occasion.

 

Stay tuned to read what’s in store for the final July birthday of the year….mine.

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Remembering Memorial Day…Forgetting the Carnival Food

This memorial day weekend was filled with activity…some related to remembering those who fought for our country (parade and discussion with our kids), but mostly gatherings of friends and community (parade again, carnival, San Francisco Bridge celebration, sleepover, BBQ and some I’m sure I can’t remember).

 

With all the events there was a wide variety of food, of course.  We enjoyed everything from a mexican fiesta at friends (complete with margarita machine), to BBQ (chicken and tofu), the freshest fish in Marin (Fish Restaurant) and too many pancake breakfasts.

 

Thankfully one event we did not try food was the carnival.  First of all the dizzying rides were hard enough for me, if my kids would’ve asked for a corn dog or cotton candy I would’ve died.  I think both the rides and concessions looked like the same ones I had as a kid.  No updating here.  Actually when we got home from the carnival my daughter asked “How come all the people working at the carnival had brown and yucky teeth?”  This was quite an observation.  My husband and I were thinking the carnival workers seemed more tidy than those we remembered from carnivals when we were a kids.  Anyways my answer to her was “Maybe it’s because they work all day and have to eat the carnival food all the time”.  O.K. I’m not sure that’s true, but it stands to reason right? (I was too tired and nauseous to tackle the possibility of smoking too).

 

Unfortunately the weekend ended on a personal memorial as my son’s hermit crab, “Hermit” died tonight.  I told my son I’d post a photo of happier days with Hermit to share of his beloved pet.

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Camping Cookout 101 – Go Veggie

My family just got back from a camping trip with extended family and friends to Lake Millerton, CA.  We had a great time boating, swimming, visiting, reading and cooking.  I must admit our camping meals were pretty great.  No simple hamburgers and hot dogs at this campsite.  We had everything from sausages, to grilled veggies, to homemade chili (my sister’s prize winning),  to scratch scones (pumpkin and lemon poppyseed, thank you), to grape leaves and hummus wraps, to orzo salad, etc… Did I mention pretty much everything was vegetarian, or vegan?  My sister organized the trip and she and I divided meals and shopping.  Since she is vegan and other family members are vegetarian (my daughter of course) we went with what would be easy and satisfy everyone.

Surprisingly, the most beneficial part of the vegetarian cook outs was no bees.  There are so many times I dread eating outdoors because I think the bees are going to come eventually.  Do you eat fast?  Or buy something to keep them away?  I’ve heard everything from citronella candles to dryer sheets (not what I want to breathe when I’m eating).  Now we know, just don’t cook meat.  Ah ha!My extended family sat quietly enjoying our camp dinners, while our friends at neighboring tables were running and screaming from yellow jackets.  Not fun.  Especially with little ones.

There is a great spread about camping, cookouts and favorite chef recipes in this month’s Sunset Magazine.  Ironically, I read it while camping.  I plan to make this fire-roasted veggie salad at home on the grill for Labor Day and keep the pests away.

Fire-Roasted Vegetable Salad

(by Russell Moore of Camino in Oakland, CA)

1 garlic clove

  • 2 tablespoons high-quality red wine vinegar
  • 4 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise 1/2 in. thick
  • 3 ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, cored
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • About 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • About 1/2 tsp. pepper, divided
  • 2 whole onions, unpeeled
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1. Build a wood fire* in a camp grill or fire ring, using about 4 logs and some kindling; let burn to medium (you can hold your hand 5 in. above cooking grate only 5 to 7 seconds), about 1 hour. Adjust fire so there’s a thick area of embers and smaller logs in the middle and larger logs to the sides.

    2. Smash garlic, put in a small bowl with vinegar, and set aside. In a large bowl, toss zucchini, corn, and tomatoes with 2 tbsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

    3. Place onions in embers between some smaller logs and cook, turning every 10 minutes or so, until completely black and soft when squeezed with tongs, 25 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, set peppers on embers and cook, turning every few minutes, until completely charred, about 20 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a board and let cool.

    4. Set cooking grate in place, if using a portable one. Grill zucchini, corn, and tomatoes (in batches, if needed), turning occasionally, until grill marks appear, 5 to 35 minutes, depending on distance from fire.

    5. Pull off blackened outsides from onions and peppers. Cut corn kernels from cobs into large bowl. Cut remaining vegetables into slices or strips, discarding seeds; add to bowl.

    6. Stir remaining 6 tbsp. oil into vinegar with remaining 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Toss gently with vegetables, add mint, and more salt and pepper if you like.

    *Or cook all the vegetables over (but not in) a medium (350° to 450°) charcoal fire, adding 8 briquets every 30 minutes.

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    It’s Father’s Day…Go Grill the Crap Out of Something

    I saw the message above on a greeting card and think it’s very funny.  I don’t believe it’s an accident that Father’s Day is at the begining of summer and dad’s are ready to cook and eat outside.  I guess it’s like getting back to nature and feeling like you’re living off the land and providing food for the tribe.  Or maybe it’s just to get out of the house and away from the kitchen where most of the usual action (good and bad) happens.

    Whether your dad is a BBQ guy or not, celebrate everything he does (or did) for you and your family.  I sure miss mine.  I’ll make sure my husband feels appreciated and loved by our kids and even let him watch some golf (before he grills our dinner).

    Happy Father’s Day Dad’s, Grandad’s, and Husband’s!

    Speaking of grilling, I received a copy of the new Cookouts Veggie Style, 225 Backyard Favorites – Full of Flavor, Free of Meat., by Jolinda Hackett.  This has some great inspiration for using the grill without the meat.  Note this is a vegetarian cookbook and not vegan (although there are many recipes) as there are many dishes with cheese (grilled Haloumi – yum).  Putting on a steak is always good and easy, but what if you want to grill something lighter?  Or you have a few vegetarians for dinner guest?  Or your daughter doesn’t want to eat meat today? (yes, that’s speaking personally).   We discovered putting tofu slices on the grill with our steak suits her just fine (and the rest of the family too sometimes).  See recipe below.

    Review

    Pros – Lots of great sounding recipes, with simple instructions for a variety of tastes and flavors.  A few mouthwatering photos.  Good grill basic intro.

    Cons – Serving sizes and yields seems very large on some recipes (4 people eat an entire head of cabbage for slaw? 1/2 cup of butter for 4 ears of corn!).

     

    Easy Herb-Marinated Tofu

    3 tablespoons lemon juice

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    3 cloves garlic, minced

    1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

    1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

    1 package, firm or extra firm tofu, sliced

    salt and pepper to taste

    Whisk together juice, oil and garlic until emulsified, then add in basil and rosemary.  Marinate tofu for at least 20 minutes or up to overnight – the longer the better.

    Remove the tofu from the marinade and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place on a well greased grill over medium heat for 5 – 6 minutes on each side.

    (Make etxra for left overs.  Grilled tofu is great for salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes)

     

    tofu in marinade
    Tofu on grill - oops I forgot to slice first

     

     

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    Happy Memorial Day – Corn on the Cob Tip

    I hope you and yours had a relaxing Memorial Day.  It’s a tough one to explain to kids.  And when they ask “So what does BBQing have to do with celebrating and remembering the soldiers?”  My answer is “It’s a good way to gather friends and family, and it’s usually nice weather, so you can cook and eat outside”.  Although here in the Bay Area we sure had a mix of weather – rain, sun, clouds, wind.  If you didn’t time things well the annual memorial bbq could’ve been better enjoyed by the fireplace, inside.

    Luckily we were able to host some friends and enjoy a bit of the sunshine this weekend.  We did chicken kebobs, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes and strawberry shortcake (more on that in my next cookbook review).

    I want to share a corn on the cob tip.  I love corn, but sometimes when cooked on the grill it burns and shrivels.  So now, what works for us, is precooking in the microwave.  I suppose you could precook by boiling as well – but takes so much longer.  Two cobs takes about 4 minutes to precook in the microwave.  Then it gets a brushing of olive oil and is finished on the grill for a few minutes.  Just long enought to get some grill marks and a bit of carmelization.  The kernals are still plump, and the cob doesn’t get too black.  Check it out.

     

    wrap corn in wax paper and sprinkle with a few drops of water
    microwave about 4 minutes for 2 ears of corn

     

    Place over hot grill and rotate a few minutes for grill marks

     

    Looking to grill something out of the ordinary?  Here’s a few tips for your next unique cookout.  Grilled avocado anyone?  Get ideas here.

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    Dad’s Magic Chicken

    My 4 1/2 year old hasn’t eaten chicken in 4 or 5 months.  She says she doesn’t like the flavor, although I think it’s more a texture thing.  She didn’t eat much turkey at Thanksgiving either.  Or maybe it’s because she adores her aunt, who is vegan.  She loves to ask “Can TT (Aunt Christy) eat ______?”  The other day is was “Can TT eat snow?”  Although when she says she’s vegan like her aunt, her brother is quick to remind her of all the lamb with mint jelly she likes to eat.

    As you probably imagine, I do most of the cooking at our house.  Although my husband does most breakfasts (including weekend pancakes and waffles) and all outdoor cooking.  When the weather is nice you’ll find me inside as sous chef:  making side dishes and prepping veggies and meats for my husband to grill outside.  However sometimes my husband doesn’t wait for the weather to turn warm.  Last weekend he decided to make a new recipe for chicken from the How to Grill Cookbook.   We tried to remember the last time he made a new recipe from a book or even cracked this book (he’s had it about 7 or 8 years).  I was poking fun of him and told the kids he was making “Magic Chicken”.  It got them excited and it was such a hit, my daughter not only tried and loved it, but asked for more.  So much for her vegan ways (this week).  There’s always a tinge of jealousy from mom when dad comes in and makes a great meal (once a month) and gets lots of kudos.  (My son even said “This is the best chicken I’ve ever had!”).  I must admit it really was good.  Now I’m trying to come up with a “mom’s magic” something recipe to compete.  Or maybe I’ll step aside more meals, and suggest dad make more magic.

    Dad’s Magic Chicken Marinade

    (aka Chicken with Walnut Dill Pesto from How to Grill by Steven Raichlen)

    makes enough for 6 – 8 pounds of chicken

    1 bunch fresh dill, washed stemmed and chopped

    1 bunch basil, washed, stemmed and chopped

    5 cloves garlic, chopped

    1/2 cup walnut pieces

    1/2 cup freshly grated romano cheese

    2 strips lemon zest (1/2 by 2 inches)

    1 cup extra virgin olive oil

    1/4 cup lemon juice

    1 teaspoon each coarse salt and black pepper, or more to taste

    Place the dill, basil, garlic, walnut, cheese, and zest in food processor and process until very finely chopped.  With the machine running add the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and 3/4 cup water.  Taste for seasoning (it should be highly seasoned). 

    Marinate chicken for 2 hours or up to 12 hours, turning once or twice.  The longer the chicken marinates the richer the flavor.  Grill or cook marinated chicken as desired.

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